Home > Dreadgod (Cradle #11)

Dreadgod (Cradle #11)
Author: Will Wight





Iteration 001: Sanctum



Even for Judges, it was impossible to travel directly into the Hall of Judgment. For security reasons, Suriel had to escort Ozriel back to Sanctum’s only entrance from the Way before they could travel to the Hall.

The central planet of Sanctum was so covered by one city that every landmass shimmered silver and gold from orbit. Pockets of green here and there were carefully cultivated gardens designed to keep the planet in balance, though tourists tended to prefer visiting pocket worlds or other Iterations if they wanted to explore wilderness.

The eight Judges drifted down into the atmosphere like shining meteorites, though they barely disturbed the air they passed. Floating obelisks the size of skyscrapers hovered in orbit, dormant as the orbital security Presence recognized their origins.

Though Ozriel had been berated by most of the other Judges non-stop, he hadn’t said a word since leaving Cradle. There was a good reason for that: Gadrael, the Titan, had sealed his mouth. The scripted metal band covering the lower half of Ozriel’s face was so powerful that Suriel herself would have to exert her full power to remove it.

At least Ozriel was cooperating, though she didn’t like the glimmer in his eye as they descended on Sanctum.

The Vroshir had never made it here during their intrusion, but the effects of their war were obvious nonetheless.

Crowds massed around the greater Hall of Judgment complex, some crowding the streets while others hovered in the air. The Hall itself was a shining golden tower on an artificial hill, a palatial structure that existed to radiate confidence and security throughout the Iteration. In most worlds, it would be large enough to hold a city itself.

No one down there dared to push into the Hall borders, but Suriel could feel their fear like a stench behind the air. When the crowd saw the Judges, their relief was like an audible sigh that gusted over the whole planet.

Normally, there would be Abidan among them. Most Abidan Divisions were headquartered here in Sanctum, so it was hard to travel down a street without seeing at least one figure in smooth white armor.

Now, she felt only a handful in the entire world, and most were here only to recover themselves before returning to the fray. The ordinary citizens could tell the difference, and they had panicked more by the day until the Judges returned.

Then Suriel sensed a spark of anger ignite beneath the blanket of relief, and she knew they had spotted Ozriel.

It wasn’t hard. He was the only one among them who wore black.

As the Judges descended to the golden apex of the Hall of Judgment, a cry went up all around. A cry for vengeance. For justice.

The crowds were miles away, but Judges could hear anything.

And Ozriel, with most of his power locked away, would hear their voices whether he wanted to or not.

The golden roof of the Hall melted away as the Judges drifted down. Each of them descended to their seats, tall silver-and-gold spires that loomed over the center of the room. Suriel’s seat was marked with a spread-winged phoenix, and she let her armor disappear as she settled into a plush seat designed specifically for her comfort.

Seven seats, facing the center.

An eighth seat had been added, one marked with a crescent-bladed scythe. But the Reaper didn’t descend there.

He was shoved down into a cage at the center of the room. The Seat of the Accused.

Telariel, the Spider, caused his cane to vanish as he settled into his spire marked with eight stylized legs. The prim man shifted a tie that he had just manifested and pushed up glasses that needed no adjustment.

“They haven’t retreated,” the Spider said. “We can spare no more time on this than necessary.”

In his cage, Ozriel rolled his eyes ostentatiously.

Makiel glared down on the Seat of the Accused. “This won’t take long.”

The Ghost, Darandiel, toyed with some construct that resembled a cat’s cradle of string, but which Suriel suspected was made from enough power and possibility to rewrite worlds. “We should unseal his mouth so he can speak.”

“That’s the one seal I want to keep,” Makiel said.

“He’s guilty!” Zakariel snapped. She shifted in her seat and slapped a hand down on the metal surface in front of her. “Hurry up and toss him in Haven. We can get everything else out of him later.”

“Half of the defenses in Haven were designed by him,” Gadrael said. The Titan’s blue-gray fingers were interlaced as he stared pure hatred into the Reaper. “I’ll need to overhaul them myself before I can be sure they’ll hold him.”

Ozriel wiggled his eyebrows, and Suriel was sure she could read what he meant to say: how sure were they that Gadrael could hold him?

The Titan interpreted that signal too, because his hand came up and complex blue symbols began spinning in his palm. A working of the Way, a seal no doubt intended to inflict further pain on Ozriel.

The Wolf snarled at him, her fiery hair blazing up with her anger. “Gadrael! Control yourself! You too, Makiel. Every second counts, so remove his gag and let’s hear what he has to say.”

“All in favor?” Telariel asked, and the Spider’s hand was the first in the air.

None of them needed to raise their hands; they could radiate their intentions directly into the minds of the others. But tradition was tradition, so Suriel lifted her hand to signal assent as well.

Only three kept their hands down and their disapproval clear: the Fox, the Hound, and the Titan…who always voted as Makiel did anyway.

Four to three.

Gadrael slid down from his seat and placed a hand on the back of Ozriel’s neck. The clasp holding the metal band over his mouth unsnapped, with a subtle release of power that echoed silently through the courtroom. This artifact was worthy of holding a Judge.

Ozriel let out a breath of relief. “Whew! Thank you, Gadrael. You know, I never asked you, but now that I have the chance: how do you care for your horns?” He nodded to the row of short horns that served Gadrael instead of hair. “Do you polish them? I have to assume you wash them. Come to think of it, I never looked into why your people had horns in the first place. Was it a defensive adaptation, or—”

The back of Gadrael’s hand, covered in his gauntlet, cracked against Ozriel’s chin.

“—some kind of cosmetic mutation?” Ozriel continued without missing a beat. His skin was unmarred. “Oh, I see you found the kindness in your soul to help me work the muscles in my jaw! My thanks. A century or two in that thing and I would have gotten sore.”

“How dare you speak to me?” Gadrael’s every word seethed with rage. “I was here! You have given up your right to—”

“That’s enough, Gadrael,” said Makiel, who could have stopped his right-hand man at any time. He gestured, and Gadrael flew back to his seat.

Ozriel blinked widely as though something had occurred to him. “Wait, were you trying to hurt me? Surely not. You of all people should know something of that level could never hurt the Titan.”

The Fox threw up her hands. “This is why we should have kept the gag on!”

“We can seal your mouth again, Ozriel,” the Hound said.

“And I was up for the mantle of Titan,” Ozriel went on, ignoring the others entirely. “You remember, right? I was your predecessor’s first choice. That was true for…oh, I think five of you, actually. Guess I should have accepted. Too much to think a bunch of backup choices could handle things witho—"

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