The Beginning After The End | Chapter 332 | Broken Chains

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 332 - Broken Chains



 Chapter 332: Broken Chains



“Grey didn’t kill them,” Ada said, louder this time.


Titus Granbehl’s hand reached up to cover his daughter’s mouth. “Ada! What are you—”


Slipping from her parents’ grasp, she stepped toward the judges. Words began to spill from her in rush as her face grew more and more red. “I was trapped in a mirror and Grey was trying to save me but Ezra wouldn’t listen and freed the horned ascender from the magic mirror while Grey was working with this artifact thing, and the other ascender killed my brothers, and I would have been stuck there forever but Grey saved me.”


The girl hid her face in her hands as her parents stood stiffly to either side of her.


Darrin gave me a victorious look before turning to Blackshorn. “Well, there you—”


“Lord Granbehl,” Blackshorn said, speaking over my council, “it is clear that your daughter is incredibly distressed. While we appreciate your blood’s bravery in attending this trial in person, it is the opinion of this panel that we cannot accept Ada’s testimony at this time, and will instead use the written account of events we have already received.”


Ada gaped up at the high judge as her father nodded, his cheek twitching as he suppressed a smirk.


“You may go, all of you,” Blackshorn added.


The chains began tightening once more as I failed to suppress my growing annoyance. I pressed my hand into the sharp, twisted metal where I’d torn the armrest free, letting the pain burn bright in my mind as it cut into my skin.


Someone behind me yelled out how this wasn’t fair, wrapped neatly in a string of curses, and in seconds the entire courtroom had exploded into a chorus of shouts and insults being thrown at the judges.


“—got to be kidding—”


“—even listening what the girl said—”


“—a sham, a total fraud—”


“—better let Ascender Grey go or—”


All the judges were on their feet—except Tenema, whose wrinkled old face had scrunched up in displeasure—as Blackshorn hammered with his gavel over and over again, but the courtroom was in full revolt behind me. Hearing the eager crowd turn against the corrupt judges helped settle my nerves just enough for the chains to simply restrain me and not try to take my head off.


“Silence!” the high judge was howling. “Silence! Silence!”


Harcrust turned to an official who had been half hidden behind the desks. “Clear the room. Do it. Now!”


Suddenly, soldiers in black armor were pouring into the courtroom, but everything was happening behind me. I twisted in my seat to get a better look, but the chains bit down, cold and hard, keeping me pinned to the iron chair.


Regis let out a scoff. ‘They’re pushing everyone out.’


A panicked scream resounded through the court.


‘Damn, one of the soldiers just knocked someone out. And of course the Granbehl guards are helping them.’


In front of me, Darrin watched in horror as the High Hall’s enforcers escorted the mob through the huge double doors and out into the long hallway. The judges wore looks of mingled disgust and satisfaction.


The doors slammed shut, and the shouts and heavy, stomping steps were dulled, then slowly disbursed, until the courtroom was left in a state of eerie silence.


Aside from the five judges and a handful of the black-armored High Hall guards, only Darrin, Alaric, Matheson, and I remained in the room.


“Is there any point in reminding the high judge that a trial before a panel of five should be open to the public?” Darrin asked, his voice a growl of suppressed fury.


“None at all,” Blackshorn snarled, staring grim-faced down at the four of us. Darrin and Blackshorn locked eyes, but after a few seconds my council submitted to the judge, looking down at the floor of the platform.


Alaric had moved to stand at my other side, while Matheson kept his distance. Alaric leaned down a little and whispered, “I know this looks bad, kid, but don’t go doing anything stupid. We still have a couple tricks up our sleeve...I hope,” he added in a slightly hesitant undertone.


Blackshorn cleared his throat, a wet, rasping sound like a blade being sharpened. “It is clear to me that someone has worked to antagonize this rabble and disrupt these proceedings. Fortunately, we were forewarned this might be the case.”


Frihl let out a sharp “Hah!” that silenced the high judge and caused the rest of the panel to turn toward him expectantly.


“When I heard someone was spreading stories, riling people up, I knew it must be ‘man of the people,’ Darrin Ordin, fouling this trial with his sense of low man’s justice. Bah!”


Frihl’s face melted into an exaggerated frown. “You’ve become predictable, Ordin. But your games won’t work this time.”


‘I wonder how many horned asses he had to kiss to become a judge?’ Regis asked in a tone of mingled wonder and horror.


“Thank you, Judge Frihl,” Blackshorn said placatingly. “As I said, we were expecting such tactics, but won’t allow this trial to become some kind of circus.”


I laughed, cold and humorless. Darrin shot me a warning look and Alaric shook his head, but I was done.


“It seems like Ascender Grey is finally revealing his true nature,” Blackshorn said, raising his brow. “His ability to laugh after such dire events have occurred speaks volumes.”


“Honestly, I feel as though this has been a trial for my patience rather than the Granbehls’ ridiculous allegations,” I said matter-of-factly. “What’s next? Perhaps the honored judges will reveal that the corpses of Kalon, Ezra, and Riah were magically recovered from the Relictombs, and their wounds prove beyond a shadow of a doubt—somehow—that I’m the killer?


“Or, better yet, perhaps you’ve found my secret diary that I conveniently misplaced in some public place somewhere, detailing my evil plan to kill all the Granbehls, except of course the one I saved.”


Frihl shot up from his seat, his gnarled finger pointed at me. “How dare you utter such blasphemy in front of—”


Blackshorn raised a hand, quieting his colleague before leaning back in his chair. Rather than being angry at my not-so-subtle sarcasm, he merely studied me, his fingers steepled before him.


Frihl’s face was crimson with seething rage, but he held his tongue, as did Falhorn and Harcrust. Tenema was the only one who appeared uninterested, seeming to find more interest in a loose thread on her robe than me.


“The absence of physical evidence is hardly an issue, considering the compelling witness statements we received,” Blackshorn answered with a slight shrug of his shoulders. “Which brings us to the deliberation portion of this trial, I believe.”


Tenema, frowning slightly, plucked the thread loose and let it drop on her desk. “Guilty, I’d say. I can see it clear as day.”


Darrin’s face fell as he glanced back at the main doors. Opposite him, Matheson let a self-satisfied grin creep across his face.


‘At this point, it’s hard to tell which ones are corrupt and which ones are just stupid,’ Regis said with a sigh.


“No deliberation necessary. Guilty,” Judge Harcrust spat, his finger again twirling his oily goatee.


Falhorn’s jowls jiggled and swayed as he shook his head. “A piteous display. Guilty.”


Frihl’s sharp gaze locked on Darrin as he hissed, “Guilty, three times over.”


A slight movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention: Lord Granbehl, standing in the shadows of an alcove at the far edge of the chamber. Even in the gloom, his bright white teeth shone as he smiled victoriously.


Blackshorn leaned forward over his high desk. “Guilty,” he said slowly, savoring the word.


Alaric was shaking his head, as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “They didn’t come, damn them,” he said in a hoarse whisper.


“As to the matter of punishment,” Blackshorn said, suddenly businesslike. “First, all material possessions and wealth of Ascender Grey are forfeit immediately, and will be transferred to Blood Granbehl in recompense for the loss suffered at Grey’s hands. Ascender Grey, you are to turn over all assets, including whatever items were brought back with you from the Relictombs, to this court immediately. The location of any wealth or possessions you may own, but are not carrying on you at this moment, must be divulged, including partial ownership of any blood holdings.”


“Don’t forget, High Judge,” Matheson simpered, “whatever illicit artifacts the ascender has been in possession of.”


“Of course,” Blackshorn added. “In the event, Ascender Grey, that you refuse to divulge the location of your possessions, then your mind will be peeled apart by our most powerful sentries before your execution.”


He paused, his eyes boring into me as he waited for my response.


I gave him a charming smile. “I can’t wait.”


“Guards,” Blackshorn said, his nose wrinkled up like he’d just stepped in something foul, “put this murderous thug in the deepest, smallest cell available.”


‘Now are we going to kill all these clowns?’ Regis pleaded. ‘I call dibs on the jackass with the goatee.’


No. Not here, I replied coolly.


The noise of shouting reached my ears from outside the courtroom; there was some kind of commotion in the hallway beyond the huge double doors.


“That could be our trump card,” Alaric hissed. “We need to keep your ass in that chair, kid.”


As I scanned the guards slowly surrounding us, an icy calmness spread through me. In a way, there was a cold sort of comfort knowing that their decision had been made and my trial was over.


Darrin and Alaric were forced back away from me and out of view. Even as the dozen black-armored guards advanced toward me, weapons at the ready, I remained seated, dispassionate and composed.


“I’d like to walk to the cell on my own two feet,” I said, my voice even and smooth despite the number of sharp, mana-charged weapons pointed at me.


“Do you still think you’re entitled to such a freedom?” Blackshorn retorted. “No. You will be stripped and bound until the moment you die.”


I let a wave of aetheric intent surge out of me, swelling through the guards and rendering them immobile. Some of the weaker ones fell to their knees, eyes wide and gasping for breath.


The judges were all pale, their eyes scanning for some answer to explain exactly what was happening. I was a prisoner bound and stripped of any access to mana, after all. Normally, something like this would never happen.


Normally.


“I d-demand to know what you are doing!” Frihl managed to shout.


“It must be a relic, your honor! I knew he was hiding it somehow.” Matheson marshalled enough strength to crawl up from his knees, his expression strained as he turned toward me. “I demand that you hand the relic over at once!”


My gaze fell to the steward, making him recoil in surprise. “Why don’t you come here and take it?”


Matheson, his thin brows lined with sweat, swallowed heavily.


Time stilled in the room, as none of the people present were able to muster the courage to take a step closer toward me.


It was only when the doors of the courtroom slammed open that I released the suffocating pressure I was holding in the room. Twisting against the tightening chains, I looked back over my shoulder to see a couple of familiar faces.


“It’s about time,” Alaric breathed.


‘Our cavalry has arrived, Effeminate One,’ Regis said with a grin.


The first man I noticed was the brawny, crimson-haired Striker named Taegan, and next to him was his trim companion, the swordsman Arian. The two ascenders flanked a muscular, olive-haired man that I didn’t recognize, who in turn was following a furious woman with burning red hair and blazing ice-blue eyes. The four paused at the head of the stairs, glaring down on the standoff between the guards and me.


“Vritra’s grace…Blackshorn, why have I had a dozen different people hammering to get into my office for the last fifteen minutes? Explain yourself at once.”


The high judge shrank back from the authority booming within the woman’s voice, and his mouth began to open and close like a fish drowning on the shore.


“Oh good,” the olive-haired man said from behind the woman, gesturing to the courtroom with a stack of parchment held in one hand. “We appear to have arrived just in time to prevent a gross miscarriage of justice.”


Harcrust’s face had lit up when the doors opened, but fell again at the sight of the red-haired woman and her entourage. “High Justice! And…the Denoir heir, here, in person. Have you, um, brought us Lady Caera’s statement?” he asked, his air of lofty superiority fading. “You needn’t have bothered, of course, we’re nearly finished with this deranged criminal. High Justice, there was no need for you to—”


When the woman’s ice-blue eyes turned on Harcrust, it was like they froze him right through to his mana core. “Don’t presume to tell me what I need to do in my own hall, Harcrust.”


“The thing is,” the olive-haired man said, “we’re here on behalf of the deranged criminal.”


The Denoir heir…So Caera convinced her blood to help after all. I couldn’t help the flicker of a smile that crossed my face.


“Be quiet, Denoir,” the woman snapped.


Harcrust began to bluster, finally having regained a measure of his composure, but the woman snapped her fingers, silencing him.


“If even half of what I’ve been told is true, you’ve made a mockery of the High Hall’s justice, flouting every rule we hold sacred.” Her cutting gaze swept across the five judges. “Disallowing cross-examination? Forceful removal of public observers? Stationing of third-party soldiers within these hallowed walls?”


Based on the intensity of the woman’s glare, I was surprised that Blackshorn and the others didn’t burst into flames right then and there.


“High Justice, I mean no disrespect when I say this,” Blackshorn mustered, straightening his robe. “But in the interest of time, we could not strictly follow standard protocol. We only sought to keep our citizens safe from this murderer.”


“Is that right?” An amused grin stretched across the high justice’s face as she was handed a stack of parchment from the Denoir man. “So I suppose this extensive list of your many back-alley deals, unethical promises, and fraudulent actions leading up to this trial, was all in the name of keeping our citizens safe, Blackshorn?”


The old judge’s mottled skin paled. “T-that…High Justice, allow me to expla—”


“As high justice, principal arbiter of the Relictombs’ High Hall, I declare this trial null, and release Ascender Grey, effective immediately.”


“But—”


A fiery look from the high justice forced Blackshorn’s mouth shut.


I relaxed, letting the chains do the same, and scanned the dark alcoves around the courtroom looking for Titus Granbehl. He had taken a step back farther into the shadows at the arrival of the high justice. Our eyes met briefly—his glaring furiously, mine squinting in amusement—before he turned and vanished.


“Guards, see to it that the judges of this panel don’t go anywhere, and for Vritra’s sake someone get those chains off that man,” she snapped.


“No need,” I said simply.


A sharp, metallic groan filled the courtroom as the chains restraining me burst apart. Shards of metal flew across the room as the guards’ gazes widened in shock and awe and they stumbled back, half of them pointing their weapons at the judges, the other half at me.


Blackshorn and the other judges were staring disbelievingly at the chains, any semblance of poise they had left gone.


Rubbing my wrists, I turned to Blackshorn, whose jaw had gone slack.


“My apologies for ruining your artifact, but…” I flashed him a smile. “You know…in the interest of time.”


*

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