I turned to face the professor and McCall floating in the darkness with me. I felt warmth dripping down my throat and knew I was going to bleed to death before I ever had the chance to stop them. I felt something touch my throat and when I looked down, it was a small wooden idol of the Medicine God, Bastill. It put its finger to its lips as it lightly touched the cut again and I felt the wound close. It smiled to me and vanished as the professor and McCall woke up.
“Where are we, McCall?” The professor demanded.
“I do not know…” McCall turned and saw me, “How did you-?”
I smiled, “A Guardian helped.” I looked around the darkness, “I know where we are… This is Judgment…”
As I named the place, a stone floor with three daises and a tribunal set of seats rose in front of us. The seat to the right the lowest at about two stories tall, followed by the left for a middle height and the center being the highest at three stories. I looked at the three daises and starting from the left, I noticed one was made of gold, another diamond and another of wood. The professor rushed to the gold, as McCall rushed to the diamond. They both looked at me with loathing in their eyes, as I took my place at the wooden dais.
I looked to the tribunal, as three beings appeared. Sitting on the left was the Goddess of Life and Queen of the Gods, Sadin, on the left was the God of Death and the Prince of the Gods, Saslla. I looked to the center at the God of All Things, the Gods’ King, Illuminarium. I bowed deeply to the tribunal of Gods, kneeling to the ground in their presence, before pressing my forehead to the dais.
Saslla spoke, his voice loud and booming, “You have been brought here to be judged for your deaths.”
“Deaths?” The professor asked loudly.
McCall spoke as well, “We were not supposed to die! We were supposed to be granted the power of control!”
I stayed silently kneeling to the Gods, as their gaze passed over me. Saslla continued when it became evident that I was not going to speak, “You are to be judged separately and by a simple test.” He looked to the professor, “You will be first.”
The tribunal vanished, as did the professor. I sat up on my knees and thought quickly of all of the knowledge I had gained in my life. There were things I wished I still could have done and dying tended to screw that up. I touched my throat and felt the scarred flesh. Bastill would not have healed me, just to die again. We were not here to be tested for death; this was a test of worth…
I looked to McCall as he spoke, “I knew we did not die. The stupid fool thought that he would control the world with his mind. I seek to control it with my might and with the power of time by my side, I will not be found wanting.” He looked to me and sneered, “You could never hope to stop me now. Once I gain the power of time, I’ll go back and kill you instead of just slashing your wrists.”
The professor reappeared, jolted by his experience. A single form stepped forward to him, and I knew who it was. The form spoke, his voice raspy, “I want you to take a step forward.” The judgment chamber fell away, leaving only the three daises and the form floating in the darkness.
The professor sought to fool the blind form, “I did.”
The form nodded, “How did it feel?”
“Like a normal step.”
The form smiled viciously as I saw a ring of light get bigger around the professor. The ring reached the outer edge of the golden dais when I heard the professor scream. He slumped to the ground, as the screams echoed in the darkness. The form picked up the professor, “You should have taken the step. Lies are not tolerated and because you lied, your bones, organs, muscles, everything within your skin shattered into an oil-like consistency.” The form turned to us, “Heed my words and let his mistake be your triumph.”
The form, the professor’s body and the golden dais vanished. McCall looked to me, “Who was that?”
I gulped down my stomach, “That was Temondin… He is the Devourer of Souls… He is blind to the world, except for what He sees in your heart…” I wrapped my arms around my body and shivered.
We waited in silence, sobered by the professor’s death as it weighed on our minds. I unwrapped my arms, not wanting to look weak to the Gods. The tribunal seats reappeared and the Gods took their places. I once again pressed my forehead to the ground before them. They looked to the place the golden dais used to be.
Saslla spoke, “He failed the test and Temondin found him wanting.” McCall gulped as Saslla pointed to him, “You are next…”
The tribunal vanished, along with the diamond dais. I sat up, but stayed on my knees. “Please let me survive this… I just wanted to help the others…” I felt a tear fall and hit the wooden dais.
It felt like ages that I was alone in the judgment chamber, before I realized that I was not alone. I looked to the side to see Temondin staring at me through his blind eyes. He was sitting not three feet away from me, yet I had no idea when he appeared there. He spoke softly, his voice more fatherly than what I could have expect of the Devourer of Souls, “I remember your parents…”
I felt my heart jump to my throat. “You… were there?”
He nodded solemnly, “Two scared people who both stood where you are now. They told the tribunal they were sent there by another spilling their daughter’s blood for a sacrifice. They wanted nothing but to go home and take care of their darling child.” He stood up and walked over to me, staying just off the dais. “The tribunal wanted to send them back, but something prevented that. The Gods learned later that the parents were meant to be sent to be judged, as commanded the Women of Fate.”
I felt my tears fall but I did not have the energy to wipe them away. “Where are they now?”
He smiled to me, “They were sent to Paradise. They had no want to control or rule, so the Gods sent them to the Paradise for their afterlife.” He reached his hand forward and cupped my cheek in his palm. “What are your wishes?”
I felt a cold comfort in his hand. “I want to prevent a group of four men from being framed, to prevent all of this. If could I stop that one incident, then they would be free to feel the sun on their faces. Then I could stop the professor and McCall from using the pit to be sent here. I don’t want to control the key to time, I just want to borrow it for this one mission… Then I want to return it to the Ruins, where it belongs and seal the Ruins I found so the Guardians can finally rest.”
“You believe you that saving James, Alex, Marcus and Chris from the human prison will prevent all of this?” He asked softly.
“With all of my heart, I believe it.” I closed my eyes and felt the belief fill me my heart and soul.
He pulled his hand away, as I opened my eyes. He and I turned back to the tribunal seats; I looked up to the three Gods and blushed as I figured out that they must have heard the entire thing.
They turned to one another and when I tried to bow, something prevented it. Sadin and Illuminarium looked to each other, knowing. Sadin spoke, her voice sweet honeyed wine, “Child, we wish to see the face of the girl who wants to do so much.”
I looked up at the tribunal and felt small, “I apologize, my Lady. I was just doing what my mother and father had always taught when greeting anyone above my class.”
Saslla smiled as he spoke, his voice no long booming, but a gently velvet touch, “You did not speak when the others did. Did you parents teach you that as well?”
I nodded, “Yes, my Lord.” I watched the tribunal seats vanish; the Gods became my height, as they walked towards the wooden dais. The first instinct was to run, but I fought against it with everything I was. Here were four beings that could destroy me without a second thought and there was nothing I could do about it.
Saslla stepped onto the wooden dais in front of me, but I knew better than to look into his eyes. He lifted my chin to meet his gaze and spoke softly, “The power of time is nothing you can mess with. You could completely alter history and end up destroying those you are trying to save. There is also the chance that by giving you this power, even temporarily, could rip your soul apart. Could you live with the consequences of your actions or with the idea of never seeing Paradise?”
I gulped hard and thought about his words. Even if I saved the accused, how would that stop everything else? I had my answer, I had to get rid of the professor and McCall, but when? Going too far back would really disrupt time, but not going far enough would make it all for naught.
My brain clicked in gear when I put all of the facts together and gasped. The day I found McCall in the Ruins was the same day the others were arrested. The professor had taken McCall into custody until the police arrived. Until then, I had no reason to suspect anything of the professor to do anything wrong, but now I did. I knew what needed to be done.
“Yes.” I was decisive in my answer. “But there is something I need first, I need their criminal records for this to work.”
I watched the wheels turn in Sasalla’s mind and I realized he reminded me of Chris… Who after this was over, I would never see again… If it worked, he would have no reason to work for the team and we would never meet… I mumbled to myself, “If such a price is to pay…”
Saslla leaned forward and kissed me gently. He pulled back, “You have the power to do as you need to for the next six human hours. When the time is up, no matter what you are doing, you will be sent back here to see what you changed. Understand?”
I felt the heat rise to my face when I realized what the Gods’ Prince just did. I did not trust my voice, so I nodded. He smiled at my reaction and everything around me vanished. I chose my time and date when I wanted to be to fulfill my plan. I felt four folders appear in my hands, giving me the strength to do what I needed to.