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Red Judgement

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11th Harvest, 8294

There is blood on the walls, and none of it is theirs.

Aislinn from the North Library, who now lies with her skull bitten in two. Niall, an apprentice at the bakery on Oak Street, whose entrails now tangle across the cobblestone. Séafra, who worked two jobs to support his widowed sister, now a greyed and half-eaten corpse. Ana knows all of these people whose blood now washes the streets of Iadlain, because it is her responsibility to. They have always been, through her own wish and will, her responsibility.

Her knuckles are pale but her hand is steady as she holds the blade of her staff by Tomaltach's head. The newly crowned Count is still hunched over from her last onslaught, breathing ragged and unsteady, face stained with blood and water, eyes downcast. Ana's gaze is so cold it is frozen. There is fury churning in the back of her mind somewhere - how did it come to this, why had she not foreseen it - but she holds it back, just like she holds her hand back from eviscerating the man before her.

"Count Tomaltach," she says, voice raised enough for the Jury gathered on the rooftops to hear, to witness. "By the will of the Red Court, whose duty remains ever in root and never bough, I judge you guilty of foul play and fouler ambitions that have crippled the survival of our entire people. The Court hereby strips you of both title and clan, and assumes guardianship of Iadlain."

☙-—-

“Don't touch me.”

Mallaidh’s voice, normally so gentle and light, is brusque to the point that it stops Tomaltach mid-gesture. He stares at her, hand still halfway to her arm, in the middle of the crumbling stone bridge where he had finally found her. Below and behind them, one of Iadlain’s many waterfalls thunders down, drenching them both in fine mist. It makes Tomaltach’s stunned expression, with his bruised face and already-soaked hair, look even more pitiful.

"Mallaidh, what’s–”

“I can't believe I wasted fourteen years of my life for you to amount to absolutely nothing,” she continues, merciless. “Not that years matter to me, but..." Mallaidh sighs, a touch dramatically, and half-turns away to survey the wreckage beyond the bridge. This district of the town has been secured for now, but the gouged buildings and bloodstained roads still paint a grim picture. After a moment, she settles for: "Men are consistent disappointments. You, Éimhín, Liam... ugh, Liam. That one couldn't even contain that mad Count in the end, despite talking so big. He had so much promise too. The fool."

Mallaidh flicks her hair irately over one shoulder. Then, without any further explanation, she turns around fully to go. "Well, I'm leaving."

"Wait!" This time Tomaltach does grab her, shakes her elbow in unbridled confusion. "Mallaidh, dear– what's gotten into you? What are you talking about?"

She sighs again, louder this time, then peels her arm away. "Do you really not get it, Tomaltach 'darling'? This was a ruse. A few years of my elven life thrown away to be your dear, helpless little wife, in the hopes that something would come of it. Well, I won't say you were completely useless. But the whole thing about making you Count so Iadlain could dance to our tune? That's a bust. So, I'm out."

Tomaltach's face is drained of all colour at this bald confession, but Mallaidh just smiles, a trace of cold amusement in the crooked slant of her mouth. She turns away again, striding off the farther end of the bridge, and this time her husband doesn’t stop her. "See you never, darling."

☙-—-

"Was that really necessary? Your poor husband."

"Ugh, don't you dare." Mallaidh shoves Aalok's shoulder, once and none too kindly, as she passes by him. Ahead of them both, a sleek Estran airship awaits slightly above the treetops. Mallaidh easily catches the rope ladder trailing from it and hoists herself up. She doesn’t spare the Consul another glance, even as she demands over her shoulder,

“Just get me out of this hellhole.”



This has been sitting in my stash since 2020 TY AZ FOR ALWAYS REMINDING ME TO POST IT...........

This is mainly to cover some loose plot ends in the immediate aftermath of the Playing Gods event - namely, what happened to Tomaltach and his leadership grab in the end. In short, it ended spectacularly badly. While not weak, Tomaltach was never a particularly remarkable battle mage and he was not equipped to govern Iadlain in such dire circumstances. Ana and the Red Court, who already suspected him of underhanded tactics for his own gain, beat him down along with the monsters and reclaimed Iadlain's authority from him, in order to salvage the city. Then Tomaltach's wife, Mallaidh, who had always been perfectly nice and normal, pulled a top 10 anime betrayal on him. (Part II of Checkmate is about her, actually!) In the wake of so many shocks, Tomaltach became a shell of his former self, hardly speaking to anyone anymore. No one but him knows about Mallaidh's betrayal - to everyone else, her disappearance looks like just another fatality amidst the chaos. And no one at all knows that she boarded one of the retreating Estran airships...

That's it for this story though - for now. The only result that anyone needs to know is that Ana is now the provisional leader of Iadlain, and things seem set to stay that way so far.
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