The Dead: Book 3 (Frag. 4)

The Book of the Story

THE JUDGE TOOK THE JAR FROM RALPHY and set it on the stone pavement. He grasped the cork in both hands, and pulled.

It came free suddenly, and a scent of herbs and alcohol filled the air.

He reached into the jar with one arm, up to his shoulder, and pulled out a meaty mass.

Ralphy gasped. It was a heart, and it looked human, though it was perhaps too small to be an adult's heart.

The judge carefully drained all the remaining liquid from the heart, then bent over it, mumbling something long and complicated.

When he finished he carried it carefully to the second tray on the scales, and placed it in the center.

The tray sank with the heart's weight at first, then rose again.

The judge exhaled deeply, and smiled in satisfaction.

The dog-man shook his head.

"With your great intelligence, you should have done better than this."

For the first time, there was fear in the  judge's eye.

"But—the scales! My heart is lighter!"

"And it has been treated. Tampered with, to make it lighter. And you pronounced an incantation to affect its weight."

"I only did what I was taught, what I spent years learning."

"Indeed. Your great intellect didn't warn you that it would be impossible to fool the gods?"

The judge fell to his knees.

"I'm sorry," the judge stammered. "I didn't know. I'll take it back. Is there some way I can..."

"Yes. There is a way to get a true weighing."

The dog-man snapped his fingers, and an assistant held out a box with various weights. The dog-man picked the largest, and held it next to the judge's heart.

"This weight is the penalty for attempting to deceive the gods."

"I didn't," the judge whimpered, "I didn't understand it was deceiving. I thought those were the rules. I always followed the rules."

The dog-man considered, then returned the weight to the box.

"Very well. I believe that about you. I will suspend the penalty."

He reached into the box, and brought out another, smaller, weight.

"But you cannot falsify the true weight of your heart. This is the weight lost by your preparations and your spells."

A tiny whine came from the judges throat, as the dog-man placed the weight on the scale, next to the heart.

It didn't move.

And then it did—sinking slowly to the ground.

"Please!" The judge croaked. "Please—let me pass. I throw myself on the mercy of this court!"

The dog-man shook his head.

"You were a judge, in life. You had many chances to show mercy, and yet, from the looks of this scale, you rarely did."

Suddenly frantic the judge leaped to his feet and made a dash for the door.

The crocodile-lion was on him in an instant, fastening first on a leg, then gulping him down, inch by inch until his screaming face vanished among the cruel teeth.

Ralphy felt the heat of the creature's sulfurous breath, and he thought he could hear the judge's screams coming from the lake of fire in the belly of the beast.

And then, the dog-man turned to him.