They walked down the corridor and into a high, galleried space. Light glinted off the hexagonal ceiling of polished rock high above them. Every tiny sound reverberated around the walls, their human presence disturbing a deep and ancient silence.
Fulgar took them to a tall door on the left of the chamber. He knocked and waited. A thin trickle of water emerged from the flask on his back, but the strap held firm.
The door opened and Fulgar ushered them into a vast, nearly empty space, so high that it was not possible to see the ceiling. A huge cube of black rock was positioned against one wall like a sacrificial altar. On either side of this block was a long table, each with seven chairs positioned behind it. In the pale light, David could see two words carved in the stone. It simply read ‘Quos Ego’.
From the centre of the ceiling hung a cauldron of burning oil. This lamp provided the only light in the court, its irregular flickering throwing patches of light and shadow randomly across the chamber.
Fulgar led them to a stone column and instructed them to climb the staircase that curled up around it. As they did, Fulgar climbed a second, identical column fifteen feet or so away. Three sets of footsteps echoed around the empty court.
At the very top of the pillars was a small cage, just big enough for two people. David and Sarah in their cage, and Fulgar in his, awaited the arrival of the judge.
Soon it became apparent what the two long tables far below them were for. From a side door fourteen people entered, each dressed smartly in long black robes. Seven women sat behind one of the tables, seven men behind the other, their eyes averted from those who had been called for trial. From somewhere behind the stone pillars a bell began to ring, each soft boom hanging in the air of the courtroom for several seconds. On the stroke of midnight, heavy black brocade curtains behind the stone cube drew back and the two prisoners caught their first glimpse of the judge.
Even in the poor light there was no mistaking the sheer size of this man, if a man he was. Easily twice the size of Fulgar, he was muscular and powerful, with veins standing out from his smooth bronzed skin. Minos stood regally for a moment on the block, surveying the court assembled below him.
‘Court is in session,’ he boomed. The judge stroked his thick black beard and sat down on the black stone. He propped himself up on one elbow and looked across at Fulgar. It was only then that David noticed Minos’s smooth, reptilian tail, curling itself around his body, the thick tip twitching pensively.
‘Fulgar, do you speak for the defendants?’ His deep voice was still and quiet, but powerful enough to reverberate around the polished walls.
‘Defendants? What are we supposed to have done?’ David whispered to Sarah.
‘Silence! The defendants will address the court only when instructed to do so,’ Minos said.
‘Forgive them, Minos. They are not used to our ways. Your Lordship, I do come here today to speak for the defendants.’
‘Then speak.’ The tail tightened a little around the massive body.
‘Your Excellency, I bring before you two most unusual visitors to our world. I have reason to believe that they came by way of a Time Machine, which is now situated somewhere beyond the Mormo Plain. I scarcely need to impress upon you the importance of these two visitors, and what they mean for the Prophesy as told by the Keeper of the Great Secret.’
‘Fulgar, I scarcely need to remind you that this is not the first time you have been before my court. I will tell you now, however, that this is my jury’s last trial before they are sent for sacrifice. As such, they, and I, will be most displeased if you are wasting our time with your stories. You escaped our justice once; you will not do so again.’ Minos cast the merest glance at Fulgar as he spoke.
‘No, your most High Majesty. I would not presume to waste the court’s time.’ He bowed his head for a moment, then began what he thought would be his decisive evidence. ‘Before I present the evidence, would you permit me to ask whether you have seen anyone else who looks in the manner of these two recently?’
‘I have. One such was brought before me last night.’
‘Exactly, Sir. These two came with that boy. They are all Travellers together.’ David caught a glimpse of the triumphant look on Fulgar’s battered face.
‘But that boy was not a Traveller,’ Minos said.
‘But, but…’ Fulgar was completely at a loss. His carefully prepared speech was now useless. He looked around anxiously. Minos allowed Fulgar to flounder in his own awkward silence for some time before he spoke again.
‘Fulgar, you are wasting my time. If you can not mount a convincing case, I will hear directly from your two prisoners.’ He turned his head slightly. ‘You, boy, what have you to say?’
‘Sir, Your Majesty,’ David did not even know how to address a judge, let alone what he was supposed to say in his defence. Fulgar had told him to stick to the truth, and that was what he was going to do, memory or no memory. ‘I don’t know anything about the prophecy. We came to Orbis by accident. We sort of got lost, and Fulgar was going to help us, but he brought us here instead, and I don’t know what we’re supposed to be, but…’
‘Minos, my lord,’ Fulgar interrupted, ‘the youngsters have travelled a long way. I think they might benefit from a little refreshment. Might I be permitted to pass them some water?’
‘Do.’ Minos shook his head wearily.
Fulgar leaned through the bars of his cage and fixed David with a ruthless stare from his one eye. He swung the water bottle twice, making clear that he was about to throw it, and that David had better catch it. David, however, did not get the chance. On the third swing, the strap broke, and the bottle tumbled to the floor below. Even without the loosened stitching it would have burst, but the sabotage ensured that it exploded in a spectacular shower of memory-reviving droplets. The skin flask lay empty at the foot of Fulgar’s tower.
‘Fulgar, you are trying my patience. What is the meaning of all this?’
‘Your Highness, the boy does not remember coming in the Time Machine, that is all. In order to get them here quickly and safely, I gave them water from the Dimeninx Fountain.’
‘You dared to use the Fount of Lethe?’ Minos now lost his calm, quiet manner. ‘I decreed that no one must ever drink from the fountains. That water is for the time to come!’
‘It was the only way. Their minds had been filled with lies and propaganda by others, and they would not have come here with me of their own free will.’ He hung his head, avoiding Minos’s gaze.
‘You, the girl. Is this true?’
‘I don’t know. I can’t remember anything. All I know is that we are lost. We don’t know anything about any of this.’
‘You liar!’ shouted Fulgar.
‘Silence!’ Minos stood facing Fulgar’s pillar, his eyes wide and bright, his tail curled tightly around his vast waist. ‘Fulgar, you might be able to trick the inhabitants of Orbis, but I am not one of your fools. These people are not Travellers, any more than the other was. The Law insists that I defer the final decision to my Jury, but I doubt they will find any differently. You may now step down to await the verdict. And Fulgar, do not dare to waste the time of my next jury with your frivolous claims. You were a competent engineer, and a valuable inventor, but as a bounty hunter, you leave much to be desired. You are dismissed!’
With that, he turned and walked back behind the brocade curtains. Before David or Sarah could begin to descend the stairs from their cage, the pillar began to sink into the floor. The jury filed out of the court below them.
When their pillar had reached ground level, a tall, muscular guard met them. Fulgar strode over from his own cage, but the guard brushed him away.
‘The prisoners will await the verdict. They will be released into your care after that. For now, please don’t make things any worse for yourself.’
‘You idiots! You’ll get what you deserve for this!’
Fulgar stormed out of the chamber.
‘Please, come this way.’ The guard led them to a small antechamber to the left of the stone cube. ‘I am Abaddon. If you need anything while you are waiting, please just call me. I will be outside the door.’
He ushered David and Sarah into a waiting room and closed the door behind them. Sarah immediately knocked on the door.
‘Yes?’ Abaddon looked surprised to be summoned so quickly.
‘What will happen to us? Once the jury has given their verdict?’
‘It’s not for me to say. I’m just a guard.’
‘But what normally happens in these cases?’ she insisted.
‘Well, whether you are Travellers or not, you will be taken to the Walls of Dis. If the Jury has decided you are part of the Prophesy, you will be permitted entrance to the city, and will go to the Ice Palace to appear before the Keeper. If you are not, you will await deportation to the Isle of Fortunates on the next ship.’
‘There’s no other way? Can’t we just go back to Orbis?’ David asked.
‘No. Outlanders can never pass back through the mountains. Minos has guards along the paths. If you are caught, you will be sent to the Isle of Fortunates anyway.’
‘And that’s where the Cerberites hunt with dogs?’ asked Sarah.
Abaddon nodded slowly. ‘If they do send you there, stick together. You will not survive the hunt, but the end will be quick. Together it won’t be so frightening.’ He paused. ‘Now, if you will excuse me, I’m not supposed to talk to prisoners awaiting sentence. Sorry.’
With that, the door closed once more and they were alone to consider their fate.
YOU ARE READING
A world ravaged by war; humanity on the brink. A stranger comes from another time. Is he the saviour mankind has been waiting for... or something far darker? When an accident with an experimental Time Machine plunges David Tweed into another dimensi...