The gift of judgement, p.1
The Gift of Judgement,
The Gift of Judgement
? 2015 by Gabriel Just
The demon's grip tightens around the paladin's throat. His weapon shatters on the ground, filling the otherwise completely empty cathedral with the sound of final defeat. He uses his last breath to demand an explanation for all that has happened.
"Your name... Tell me? your name!"
The demon laughs. "Now that your death is imminent I might as well tell you this secret! And maybe even something else! For I am sure that you will tell no living soul." He then grins, snaps the paladin's neck and throws his lifeless body on the ground, where it slides for a few moments before coming to an eternal halt. The demon slowly turns his head and it is only now that you realize that he was talking to you all along. "You thought I could not see you? Just because you are not of this world. You must be new. Easy prey. Let me tell you a secret. All demons can see you. And all can hurt you. You cannot escape our gaze. You cannot escape our grasp. And if you are eager to learn my name as well..." He comes even closer until his eyes are directly in front of yours and you can feel his warm breath on your cheeks. He leans forward and slowly whispers into your ear, "My... name... is?"
A volley of gunfire forces the demon's body to the ground, a second one ensures his death. The four knights lower their rifles again. "Demon down!" one of them shouts.
The knight captain enters, now that the cathedral is secured. Only a ragged cape hints at his higher rank, apart from that his uniform is indistinguishable from the others. A kevlar vest protects him against bullets, but would be no match for demonic claws.
"Report!" he yells while overlooking the scene.
"The demon is dead. He killed a paladin and we think he was going to attack an... an observer, Sir."
"An observer?" the knight captain asks while carefully examining the room. Briefly he looks you straight in the eye, but he does not seem to realize it. "Was it killed? Or do you think it is still here, watching us?"
"There is no way to tell, Sir. It was attacked, maybe it fled, maybe it is still among us."
"Well, if you are watching, noble observer, let me tell you this: It is beyond my comprehension why you follow our sorrow. Do you enjoy to watch us suffer? You wander on a dangerous path. This time we saved your life, but next time you might be all alone, with no one to protect you. You wouldn't be the first observer who was killed by a demon, nor will you be the last. I recommend you leave this world and never return! And now leave us, and let us mourn in peace!"
The air in the crypt beneath the cathedral is filled with dust from a long forgotten time. Two flashlights illuminate the long corridor, but their light is swallowed up by the thick dust before it can reach the other end of the room. Suddenly one of the two patrolling knights stops dead in his tracks.
"Can you feel it too?" he whispers.
"Feel what?" the other one asks.
"A presence. I feel? watched."
"I don't think so. More? peaceful. Might be an observer."
"Are you sure?"
"Of course not. It's just a feeling."
"Why would an observer watch us? I thought they are only interested in heroic deeds and huge battles. Why would they watch two knights patrolling an empty tunnel."
"I don't know. Maybe some of them are different. Or we might be more interesting than we think." The knight grinned briefly before continuing his patrol.
"I highly doubt that. There is nothing more boring than our mission. The demon who hid here is dead. And it was only a minor demon, I am sure he never even had any demon spawn under his command. I don't know why they are even sending us here. Protocol, I guess."
"Or maybe there is more to it. You know what I've heard? It was not just a minor demon they found here. And he was not slain by knights, but by Saint Lawrence himself."
The other knight tries to change the subject so that he doesn't have to respond to such rumors. "You know I saw a Saint once? In person, I mean."
"Yes! Saint Michael. He was giving a speech a couple of years ago. That was of course before? you know."
"And how was he?"
"It's hard to tell. There was a huge crowd, I didn't really come close to him. But his speech was more than inspiring."
"It is hard to believe that now he-"
A terrifying scream interrupts their conversation. The knights ready their rifles and run down the corridor with great haste. They come to a big metal door; strange noises are coming from behind it. One of them takes aim. You can see his hands shaking. He knows what is behind that door and is obviously terrified of it. With a subtle sign he orders his companion to open the door. He opens fire before you can see what is behind it. Dust fills the room and impairs your vision. You hear breathing, but it does not sound human. The dust finally settles and you can see a horned silhouette in the door frame. Dozens of bullets lie to his feet, flattened by the impact with his stalwart scales. The knights know that this is a fight they cannot possibly win, but they are bound by oath to stand their ground. They draw their knives, but before they can attack, they are blown to the ground by a single swipe of the demon's deformed claws.
"They are of no interest to me," he hisses while taking a step towards you. You can see his face now. He fixates you. Your heart beats so violently that you feel pain inside your chest. Somehow you know that the demon could stop it forever, with a single motion. His gaze penetrates your thoughts and he starts to grin.
"Don't worry. If my master wanted you dead I would have ended your existence already. I fear your fate will be much worse."
You try to take a step back, but the demon already grabbed your shoulder.
A shout, coming from behind you, echoes through the tunnel and makes the walls tremble.
"Demon! Face me!"
You turn around to find out where the voice is coming from. A paladin is standing only a few steps away. Her armor shines like polished silver, golden filigree decorates the edge of every plate. She wields a big sword that she raises high above her head and repeats her claim.
The demon tries to fight the urge to attack her, but ultimately fails. He pushes you away angrily and charges towards the paladin. You hit the ground, try to stand up, but can't find the strength to do so. The cold seeps into your spine. As you turn your head to watch the paladin, it feels as if time would slow down. The demon's furious charge reduced to a crawl. The moment he reached her, she brought down her sword with one swift motion, cutting through the demon's scales and flesh, more powerful than any bullet ever could. Foul blood splatters coat the paladin's armor as the demon's head separates from his body. His lifeless remains collide with her and she pushes them away with disgust. Now that she takes off her helmet she sees the knights on the ground and realizes that there is nothing she can do for them. With great pain and sadness in her eyes she turns around and leaves you behind, all alone.
Signs of battle are still visible inside the cathedral. Some of the marble tiles that decorate the floor are shattered and broken, reminding everyone that there can be no peace. There is no furniture of any kind, everything that once was here was torn away by demonic flames.
Nevertheless people gather here. Ordinary people, dozens of knights and a few of their superiors. They seek light in a time where all they can see is darkness.
The crowd falls silent as Master Gavin enters. His robes are torn and carry many scars, as does his soul. Nevertheless he manages to smile as he steps towards two pieces of slate that resembled an altar a long time ago.
"Thank you all for being here. I know, that this is no time to celebrate. Nevertheless, even now we have to focus on the t
A paladin pushes her way through the crowd. You recognize her. She walks up next to Gavin, faces the crowd and smiles. The smile does not looked forced in any way, yet if you look into her eyes you see the exact same sadness and pain you saw earlier.
The people applaud and Gavin continues his speech.
"Paladin Jezebel! On behalf of everyone I want to thank and congratulate you. With great pride I can look back on your personal history. You rose quickly within our ranks. In your time as knight you proved not only your strength and resolve, but also your bravery. When you chose the path of a disciple and I bestowed the gift of empathy on you, you excelled, where others would break. The gifts, given to us by the prophet, are not easy to master and sadly many disciples fail. You however wielded your gift with great virtuosity and soon became a paladin. With every evil you fought, your powers grew and the council decided that you were ready to receive further gifts. I personally bestowed the gift of tongues upon you; since then your voice comes through to even the most ignorant and stubborn. And I must admit I never saw somebody wield the gift of serenity in combat the way you do."
People cheer, especially some of the knights start clapping frantically. Master Gavin continues.
"But we are not here to reminisce about your past, but to look into the future. In light of your most recent victory I am honored to announce that you will have the rank of High Paladin from now on. This brings great change, not only for you. Until now you fought the battles that were chosen for you, and also the gifts you received were selected by the council. As High Paladin you will no longer need that guidance. You'll have to find your own path. As is customary, you take your first step on this path by choosing a gift by yourself. You can choose whichever you want and I shall bestow it on you. I am convinced that you will decide wisely. What is your choice, Jezebel?"
Jezebel takes a deep breath before announcing her decision.
She hesitates for a second.
"...the gift of judgement!"
Gavin's smile instantly freezes on his lips. The audience is equally shocked, people fall silent and then begin to whisper.
"Maybe," Gavin suggests, "we should not discuss this publicly. Please follow me."
He grabs her by the wrist and pulls her into the back chamber of the cathedral, leaving the bewildered crowd behind. You decide to follow them. Gavin shuts the door behind them and as soon as it closes he addresses Jezebel in a serious voice.
"What do you think you are doing? Asking for judgement in front of all those people? Judgement is not a gift. It is a terrible burden and I would not wish it on anyone. Why? Why would you choose it?"
"Because I need to know for sure. I need to know if what I am doing is right."
"Why, Jezebel? Why must you question everything? Even our most fundamental principles."
"I simply need to know. The gift of judgment is the only way."
"Are you not capable of believing in something? Do you need to know in order to accept? I will not discuss this any further. You will not receive the gift of judgement, I won't allow it."
"Then at least be honest with me. As master you do have judgement. You see those people, all of them, gaze into their souls and see who they are, what they are capable of. If you do not allow me to find out by myself, at least tell me. Are we even worth saving?"
Gavin clenches his fist. "I? I must ask you to leave."
The walls of the cloister look ancient, some bricks are shattered, others long gone. The same holds true for the people here. Jezebel knocks on the wooden door, but nobody answers. It is not locked so she enters, her weapon ready, unsure of who or what she will find. You try to stay close behind her.
"Hello?" she shouts. Her voice echoes through empty rooms but remains unanswered. The paladin proceeds to the next room, where an old nun reads a book; both she and her book are equally ravaged by time.
As she notices Jezebel she speaks up. "Sorry, but we do not allow visitors. I must ask you to-" All of a sudden the old woman realizes who she is talking to. "I beg forgiveness. My eyes did not recognize you as a paladin, but now my heart does. How may I be of service?"
"I come to you with a grave request. I understand that it may be difficult, but I need to see Saint Michael. I was not sure if the rumors were true, but now that I am here, I can clearly feel his presence. I need to request an audience."
"I don't think this is possible. It is true, Saint Michael is here with us, but meeting him is out of the question since what happened. You need to understand, he is not the man he once was. What he once was is now broken and what is left is something... different."
"I am aware of his condition. Still, I need to see him."
"I can only advise against it. You are a paladin, you have the gift of empathy. You must feel his pain, even from here. Being in the same room as him might harm you as well. Since what happened, the gift of empathy is stronger in him, than in anybody before him. He feels the pain of each living being in this world, every single second of his existence. This is why he is hiding here. To protect people like you."
"I fully understand what happened. I know the risks and the danger. Nevertheless I need to talk to him. I want to make clear that I will do anything in my power to achieve this goal. I do not ask that you understand."
The nun nods, a dolorous expression on her face. "Everything in your power? I see. I suppose there is nothing I can do to stop you then. But do not expect too much from this encounter. Saint Michael has not said a word in years. His soul is lost. The thing that is in the chamber down this corridor is nothing more than his body."
Jezebel thanks the old woman and heads towards Saint Michael's chamber. The door is made from metal, nearly as thick as the old walls. When she enters, Saint Michael does not look up. He kneels in the middle of a round, empty room, his eyes opened, but without any life left in them. It looks like he is meditating, but the expression on his face is restless and twisted with pain.
"Saint Michael? Please forgive me, but I need to talk to you. I know that you are concerned with other things, most likely beyond my comprehension, but understand that this conversation is more important for me than anything before. Talk to me, I beg you."
Jezebel waits patiently, but there is no reaction. Maybe the nun was right and what is left of him is just an empty husk. However, Jezebel cannot give up.
"If you don't want to talk, I understand. I just need you to listen to me. I have a suspicion and you might be the only one who can help me. It would change everything for me, for all of us even. I will voice my suspicion and either you react to it or not, in any case I will have my answer."
Jezebel pauses for a moment, waiting in vain for some form of consent. Even without any response, she speaks up.
"It is not the gift of empathy that broke your will, but the gift of judgement."
Very slowly Saint Michael's head moves, as if awaking from a century of rest. He looks up to Jezebel, silent tears running down his cheeks, and for the first time in years he speaks.
"The things we will do..."
Only the feeble light of a small candle illuminates Master Gavin's room. He is writing a letter; every move of his quill threatens to eliminate what little fire is left, in the room as well as in him. He is startled by someone knocking at his door. Jezebel does not wait for a response, but forces the door open.
"Jezebel! We need to talk. I am sorry for-"
"Why have you lied to me? To everyone? I visited Saint Michael. I was right all along."
"Forgive me. I? People look up to the Saints. They feel protected by them. Nobody can find out that one of them abandoned us. Hope is all they have left, who are we to take that away from them?"
"Lie to your people if you think it is best for them, but to me? How dare you? Don't you think of us as equals?"
"Of course. I just? I did not know how you would react. It was foolish of me to hide things from you. But I simply could not risk losing you. Not now. I promise, from now on I will be absolutely honest with you."
"Then I have one last question for you, before we part ways forever. Use the gift of judgement. Look into the souls of all the people of this world and tell me: How many of them are even worth saving?"
"You know the answer to that," Gavin whispers.
"I need to hear it from you. I need to be sure."
"None of them!" Gavin shouts and bashes his hand on his desk, knocking over the candle. It goes out and a burnt smell fills the room. "What did you expect?" Gavin cries. His voice sounds tormented. "All those people are born into a terrible place. What else should they become? With the hardships they endure there is no place for kindness and benevolence. The good people sacrificed themselves for the others a long time ago. What's left is us. I see us for what we really are and the only thing that separates us from the demons is that we are weaker. In a position of power, we would do the same things, bring misery to others for our own benefit. We even corrupted the gifts the prophet gave us. They were never meant to be used as weapons. Empathy is not a gift to guide us, he gave it to us so that we stop fighting. We do not give it to our disciples because it is tradition or the right thing to do, we give it to them because it is impossible to receive other gifts without the gift of empathy. The prophet made it that way. He thought that if we feel all the pain we cause, we would stop. He thought if we felt the agony of those we kill, the grief of all those close to them, it would end. But what did we do? We learned to endure the pain, accept it as a part of our existence, part of our mission. I am afraid this is your answer. None of us is worth saving."
"So why do we keep fighting? Why not give up and finally end the sorrow once and for all?"
"I can't help you with that. I cannot give you a reason to carry on, for it is not mine to give. This is something you have to do yourself."
"And you? Why do you continue this war, if you know none of us even deserves victory?"
The Gift of Judgement by Gabriel Just / Fantasy / Horror have rating 3 out of 5 / Based on18 votes