Lawyers in Hell

Lawyers in Hell

Heaven lays down the law and Hell gets more hellish as the greatest shared universe of all time makes its malevolent return. Souls you hate to love and souls you love to hate reunite for Lawyers in Hell, in twenty-two infernal tales from the underworlds, where Injustice must be served.

Story list:

Interview with the Devil – Janet Morris and Chris Morris

Tribe of Hell – Janet Morris

The Rapture Elevator –  Michael Armstrong

Out of Court Settlement –  C.J. Cherryh

Revolutionary Justice – Leo Champion

Tale of a Tail – Nancy Asire

And Injustice For All – Jason Cordova

Measure of a Man – Deborah Koren

The Adjudication of Hetty Green – Allan F. Gillbreath

Plains of Hell – Bruce Durham

The Register – Michael H. Hanson

Island out of Time – Richard Groller

Appellate Angel – Edward McKeown

With Enemies Like These – David L. Burkhead

The Dark Arts – Kimberly Richardson

Heads You Loose – Michael Z. Williamson

Check and Mate – Bradley H. Sinor

Disclaimer – John Manning

Orientation Day – Sarah Hulcy

Remember, Remember, Hell in November – Larry Atchley, Jr.

Theo Khthonios –  Scott Oden

Erra and the Seven – Chris Morris

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About the Book

[excerpt from Lawyers in Hell]

Tribe of Hell

by Janet Morris

Be not too hard for my wits and all the tribe of hell

– William Shakespeare, Othello


Kur had been in hell long before the first cast-down gods and their damned worshippers took the fall; he would be here long after the last of them were gone. Kur was born here in Ki-gal, home of the indigenous tribe of hell. Golden-green sulphur tickles his nostrils, billowing down sweet and warm from the mountaintop. He breathes deeper, expanding his mighty chest, rippling the surface of the dark pool where he floats, content. Beneath his backside, tar bubbles pop, massaging his wide-spread wings, his long spiky tail. His red skin is gleaming, dusted with quills, warning all comers of his poisonous bite and his rank, highest among the tribe.

A sudden flurry of motion sets the tar sloshing: little black Eshi has arrived.

“Almighty Kur, I need to know something!” Young Eshi splashed toward him, tail flailing (black tail, black wings, black skin; crimson tongue and sharp white teeth); then clambered atop him, nearly sinking them both.

“You will need to know more than one thing, Eshi, to grow up red and strong. Which particular thing do you most need to know now?” Eshi was his eromenos: his protégé, his beloved, his passion and his joy. “Look what you’ve done, boy: I don’t need a tarry front today. Lick me clean – every quill, every hair.” Kur stretched his wings wider and the pool’s surface calmed.

The black Kigali boy bent his head and began licking Kur’s red skin. If Eshi lived to mature, his black skin would turn red as he sprouted quills. Yesterday, that fate had seemed certain. Today, little was certain. Trouble was coming, falling from the heavens.

Young wings, dripping tar, rustled and folded tight. “I need to know who Erra is and why he’s coming, and about the Seven, and who they are and why they’re coming, and why the tribe is afraid of mere men and gods from the heavens.”

“And this is what you most need to know now?”

“I need to know, great Kur, if the others are right. Should I be afraid? You’re not afraid,,,” Eshi shifted, slid, and nuzzled Kur’s groin. “See? You’re not.”

Kur reached for Eshi and brought the boy up into the curve of his strong right arm and the hammock of his wing. “Never listen to rumors, Eshi. Erra … deserves my attention. I always host his kind when they come. No one has come to Ki-gal who wields such power in a very long time. Erra is an ancient god of plague and mayhem, who lays low the mighty and makes politicians weep. And he brings with him the Seven – the Sibitti – peerless champions, personified weapons, pitiless and terrifying: sons of heaven and earth. Hell is under audit from on high, and Erra and the Seven shall deliver punishment summarily, as they see fit, where injustice has been unfairly distributed. The Seven destroy guilty and innocent alike when they roam the earth, but in hell there are few innocents – only those of us in the tribe. So the tribe is worried.”

Eshi squirmed and kicked his feet, making tarry spume, scrambling for purchase. “So they’re right, the tribe, to worry? There is destruction coming? Havoc? Requital? But I’m innocent… Aren’t I?” Glowing eyes implored him.

“Perhaps the tribe is right; perhaps wrong. The future is unknowable. You are with me. You are without quills, having yet to stir your blood with a kill: in that way, you are innocent. It is my honor to succor Erra and the Seven and guide them through hell. I always do so, whenever great powers need lodging and meals and local wisdom. You will meet Erra, and you will help me in my tasks. Now, a little more licking, please, just a bit to the left… We must look our best when we greet Erra and his Seven on the Downward Road.”


In the dung pit, two men met with Lysicles to decide the fate of his soul: Draco, lawgiver of Athens, tall and lean with a wooden triangle in his lap and a linen robe belted round him that was gray and long and dirty like his hair and beard; Hammurabi, his inky Babylonian coif oiled and jeweled and his beard resting on his ample paunch, with a pile of stone tablets beside him on which his two hundred and eighty-two laws were inscribed. Facing them sat Lysicles, the supplicant: still the same muscular, war-braided Athenian commander who’d been executed for rashness after his infantry was routed by Philip and Alexander’s Macedonians.

Begging tastes bitter. Lysicles was desperate but dared not show it. These two ‘old dead’ might be his only hope: Draco had set the precedent for Lysicles’ downfall long before the soldier was born; Hammurabi had set humanity on the path to endless slaughter with a code of laws that made one man right, another man wrong, and allowed punishments to be inflicted by third parties and levied by a state. These two were the most influential lawmakers in hell: they had made laws that later, lesser men reinterpreted and misapplied. Lysicles had done terrible things to secure this meeting: worse things than had sent him to hell in the first place. While alive, during battle, he had been as innocent as a general could be: those he had killed with his own hand, or with his armies, deserved death with honor and got it. Now he was no longer so innocent. But no one was asking him what he’d done since he’d gotten to hell: only why he thought he deserved to get out of here.

“Eye for eye; tooth for tooth,” Hammurabi reminded the other two. “No presumption of innocence is possible when a thousand died following your orders, Lysicles.”

“Let Lysicles finish making his case,” suggested Draco, who had created the law-code by which the Athenian assembly had duly ruled to execute the general.

“But my commanding officer, Chares, walked away, a free man – exonerated.” Exasperated, Lysicles stared at Draco until the other soul lowered his gaze.

“And was he innocent, by the law, this Chares?” Hammurabi asked, twirling an oiled curl of beard in stubby fingers.

“Innocence has little to do with this. Chares had better orators in his pay, making his case,” Lysicles said. “I followed my orders to the letter: if I hadn’t, I would have deserved to be put to death. And if I was guilty, Chares should have died by my side. If I’m in hell, he should be too. One commander cannot have been wrong and the other right, when the result to our forces was the same.”

“How do you know this Chares is not in Hades? In Tartaros? Alexandros has raised a new army: they war as they always have, against other Greeks and Asiatics, until the ground runs red with blood and shades of fighters long dead decide the winner of the day… Go fight it out again: find your fellows, and go you back to the battlefield.” Draco was haughty, cold, and always harshly logical.

“That’s not what he wants, you Athenian imbecile. If justice has miscarried here, it is because your laws were too strict, with no humanity applicable. He wants a new trial. The auditors from Above are coming, so it’s said. He wants to talk his way into those much-vaunted Elysian Fields of yours, see his lovers again, his wives, his sons… How many eromenoi did you have, Lysicles? That alone, according to my law code, could bring you here for infidelity or sexual misconduct.” The Babylonian’s eyes were sharp in their nests of fat; they pierced Lysicles to the heart.

“Irrelevant,” he said, head high. “I did what men do in my culture. Are we judging all souls by all standards? In that case, none would be in heaven, neither men nor gods. All the gods had eromenoi, and wives as well: take a man’s son for your lover, send him a fast horse or two; sleep with a man’s wife and beget a bastard demigod, give the child immortality in exchange for the human parents’ forbearance. And goddesses played the same game with mortal heroes. I –”

“We’ll take your case,” Draco interrupted, looking past Lysicles and up, where three men were peering at them over the dung pit’s rim.

“Crap,” said Hammurabi under his breath. “Not them.” And, louder: “Yes, Draco and I will appeal your sentence. It is decided: we are the best in hell; we shall win your release if the Seven have souls.”

The three newcomers above elbowed each other. The tall, bony-nosed one said, “You don’t say? ‘The best in hell?’” He wore khakis, motorcycle boots, and had bound a scarf around his head. He looked to be in his late thirties. He assessed Lysicles with a warrior’s precision … and something more.

The short, even prettier one in flashy Macedonian armor put one hand on his hip and said, “O wise Aristotle, let’s help them. At the least we can be character witnesses… I fought against Lysicles. I know his rage, fierce; his bravery, unquestionable. And my word still means something.”

Then Lysicles stiffened where he sat, realizing the identity of this handsome youth. Bastard. Liar. Fool. Alexander, you little fop, you know no such thing. You fought on the Macedonian left that day, on horseback, behind daddy’s crack hoplites, surrounded by daddy’s best generals, and never risked a hair of your beautiful head.

The balding old man in robes said, “Alexandros, you mustn’t mix in where you’re not wanted.” But Aristotle slipped and slithered his sandaled way down into the dung pit and the other two followed. “Shit,” said Aristotle when they reached the bottom, hiking up his skirts.

“Best place to meet, if it’s something like this,” said the tall, pale-eyed man from the legions of the ‘new dead.’ “Offal’s just food and water.”

“We know, T.E. Gentlemen, as you heard, I am Aristotle, and I fancy myself a bit of a tutor. This is my student, Alexandros – he tells the truth: he fought in that battle against Chares and Lysicles.”

“So … who’s the soldier?” Lysicles asked, pointedly ignoring Alexander and looking past him to the man in khaki.

Alexander frowned. “I’m Alexandros Philippou Macedon, called ‘Alexander the Great’ by history.”

“Not you, Alexandros,” Draco said, tapping his wooden triangle on which the laws of Athens were written. “You, tall one – who are you?”

“Thomas Edward Lawrence … I fought in the desert for queen and country.”

“Queen?” Hammurabi wanted to know.

“Queen of England.” The newcomers squatted down in the muck, extolling their curricula vitae, until Lawrence asked, “Lysicles, do you believe in the Card? Wouldn’t it make sense to send out operatives to try to find it, if you want out of hell so much? Although I could show you some places and people that might make you decide this place isn’t so bad.” Lawrence smirked suggestively.

“Ssh,” said Hammurabi with a shake of his curls. “This place is bad enough. Don’t tempt the gods.”

“Card?” Lysicles asked.

Before the new-dead officer could answer, Draco told Lysicles: “It is said there is a Get Out of Hell Free Card somewhere and whoever finds it … gets out of hell free.” Draco snorted. “I wouldn’t waste time trying to find it. No one knows what it looks like, so how could you know if you have the real one? It’s a cottage industry, buying and selling these so-called cards, along with relics from every age – holy water, shrouds, grails, what have you. Let’s get back to the matter at hand: if Lysicles can be saved by anyone, then we’re the men to do it.”


Whenever Erra goes to battle, the world is turned upside down: righteous and unrighteous alike are slaughtered by his terrifying Seven, his Sibitti, the personified weapons of heaven and earth who do his bidding. Everyone knows this. The strong and the weak are equally afraid. Always.

So why, on the Downward Road to hell, are these damned not cowering? Erra cannot fathom it. All around him are fools staggering toward their just deserts, bleary and wan. New dead and old dead, sinners from every epoch crowd the wide road with disbelieving souls. Some cry and bewail their fate. Some snarl, full of hate. But none make way for Erra and the Seven, on their way to Ki-gal, bumping and jostling through the forlorn and irate.

Then up comes Almighty Kur, red as blood, with a black Kigali boy. Now the crowd parts. Souls make way and skitter back like leaves in a gale.

Seeing this sign of respect for the Kigali but not for them, the Seven are incensed. Slighted. Shimmering in their dusty cowls, promising fury barely under wraps, they wax impatient to unleash their plagues and blades and flames, their torrents and storms and ice, their chasms underfoot. But the Sibitti will wait for his command. He is Erra. He is the wrath of eternity, ready to visit annihilation on gods and men alike.

“Kur, time to begin. We shall cleanse this place, for a start.” Behind Erra, his Seven spread out silently across the road, hands on hilts, cowls tossed back: dividing up their targets, each facing a compass point among the throng of victims.

“Erra, well met,” Kur says, regarding him narrowly. “I see you have changed out of your divinity and made yourself like a man, ready for battle. These damned are not yet at the gates of hell, but still trekking toward their fate.”

“Think you that I care where they are? Or who they are? They need to know their fate is nigh. Fear me, and mine. Now.” Above Erra’s head, the sky goes dusky and stars, the soldiers of the gods, deploy amid the distant heavens.

Unknowing or uncaring, a knot of newly dead begin a brawl nearby, kicking and screaming and pulling one another’s hair. Their curses rend the air.

And the wind picks up those curses and brings them home to each and all.

The first of the Seven draws his shining sword and stabs its tip into the ground: the ground falls away, into a chasm that spreads and cracks the earth under foot until the brawlers tumble into the abyss, screaming and clawing as dirt and sand and rock fall on their heads. The ground closes over them as another chasm opens, chasing after more damned souls, hungry until it catches them and sucks them down. And from that chasm, yet another crack in the earth pursues fleeing souls like a serpent hunting mice. And another. The Seven sidestep the chasms as if they were puddles in the grass.

The Kigali boy spreads his wings and flutters them anxiously, then reaches for Kur’s long-nailed hand. “Almighty Kur,” says the youngster, “look at them: the Seven. So big, so strong, so fast.”

The second of the Sibitti peers over his shoulder, turning his molten gaze on the Kigali youth.

“No,” Erra tells his weapon. “Not the boy. Only the damned today.”

Then the second of the Seven drops his eyes, frees his sword and lightning splits the air, surrounding men and women, swathed in tight clothing, who clutch at one other. The lightning dances over them, over their faces, over little boxes in their hands, over their belts and shoes and over the clips on their ears. They scream and dance and fall, flaring, blackened into ash, while those around them push and stampede, trampling one another, trying to escape.

“Be very still, Eshi,” advises the Almighty Kur, and grips the Kigali boy’s hand tightly. “Move no wing, take no step.”

The third of the Seven has a sword of ice and this he waves before his eyes, and breathes upon it. One mighty breath sends the cold into a clutch of folk who turn pale, then white, then blue, then fall crashing to the ground and smash into sparkling shards.

The fourth of the Seven doesn’t unsheathe his sword. He points a finger toward three women in the crowd, whose skins turn purple. Boils sprout and break and spout pestilence onto all those around. Wailing folk drop to the ground, retching yellow bile.

The fifth of the Seven points his blade to heaven and his cowl falls away entirely. He is all edges: sharp points and glittering blades sprout from his limbs until he is a juggernaut, a man-high ball of death that rolls and undulates and smites and shreds and slices through the souls who are pushing and shoving at one another, frantic to get away. When that ball of bright death is dripping blood, it stops. A tall man in a dusty cowl emerges from its center, holding just one sword in his hand. All around his legs, piled high, are bodies dead and bodies dying, limbs askew, blood in pools, heads piled upon buttocks, eyes sightless and mouths spewing gore. The fifth steps over the carnage and resumes his position behind Erra.

The sixth moves not one step, but stabs at the dusky vault above. A torrent comes rushing, swirling into a river abruptly roaring along the Downward Road, washing away the blood and the dead and the dying, and those too weak or small to withstand a tide that knows their names and overwhelms them with no regard to whether a flood should be able to reach so high or be so bold … or so selective.

Now the last of the Seven bares his head completely: an heroic form, all muscle, glowing eyes ablaze. Like a cat, he swipes his weapon across the vista: fire breaks out in once-mortal flesh wherever his sword points. Damned bodies, engulfed, hiss and snap like kindling. Howls of agony come from incandescent folk who run hither and yon and set all nearby flesh alight.

The cacophony of the damned is deafening. Those souls remaining upright before Erra on the Downward Road are bleeding or pestilential or charred. Yet they stagger toward one another, away from the chasms and the Sibitti and the gory mud.

Almighty Kur says something to his boy that Erra cannot hear over the din. The wailing of the damned becomes a symphony. Erra throws back his own cowl and makes a sign. The Seven resume their formation behind him, each wrapped once again in dusty raiment: on the faces of his warriors, Erra sees the pride of weapons well deployed.

Beyond Erra and his Seven and the two Kigali, the would-be denizens of the netherworld crowd and push and run wildly (if they can) or limp slowly (if they can) or crawl sobbing (if they can) toward the gates of hell.

When the skirling and the yowling and the counterpoint groaning and praying have subsided, there are none around them on the Downward Road. A crowd waits silently, far behind them, afraid to approach. Before them, the terrorized damned disappear toward their new home.

The boy says, “If they die like this, not in hell yet, not anywhere yet … are they still reborn on the Undertaker’s table? Are they resurrected?”

“What do you care, child, about the evil damned?” asks the second of the Seven, the most beautiful of the sons of heaven and earth, and cocks his head and stares again through those molten eyes at the young black Kigali.

“He does not care,” Kur says before the boy can answer. “He is here to learn. The young question all. It is their nature.”

“Let it be so, then,” says Erra, raising his hand from his hip just enough to forefend any strike from his Sibitti against this boy. “Keep him with you, and he will learn what heaven and earth and hell are made of. It shall be our pleasure to show your protégé what the young should see.”

“We are here to serve your purpose, Erra,” Kur says. “You and the Seven are generous. This I knew. And your message now precedes you into hell. They shall fear your righteous wrath hereafter. They will know you whenever you come: all your plagues, your blades and flames, your floods and storms and ice, your chasms as deep as the underworld itself. Welcome, Erra and the Sibitti, to my realm. And now, perhaps a hot meal and some rest for the deserving…”

Erra saw the Almighty Kur smile down at his boy, who was rubbing the back of one hand where black skin was pimpled and raw: the first quills of adolescence were beginning to sprout.


“Are they demons, these Seven?” Eshi demanded of Kur as they sat amid golden smoke billowing down from the mountaintop, awaiting the appointed time. Below, folk of the tribe strode back and forth until the feast-boards on the flat were bent low with delicacies being laid on by artful hands.

“The Sibitti? Not demons. They are sons of heaven and earth,” Kur told him patiently. Eshi yet had the shimmer of the innocent: Kur could see it out of the corner of his eye in the light of heaven’s vault burning overhead. But the carnage had awakened the adult in the child, and Eshi was beginning to change: he still rubbed the back of one hand absently with the other; quills, their needle-sharp points plainly visible, were poking their way through his velvety skin.

Seeing the slaughter had stirred Eshi’s blood. All too soon, he would be full-grown, a mature Kigali. Then everything would change between them. Would they sit here together then – in a year, a dozen, a hundred, a thousand – as they did now, on the hillock where the sulphur springs bubbled, above the tribe’s agora, enjoying the beauty of land and sky, smelling the piquant wind blow down the mountain’s slope?

“You told me that before, Kur – that the Sibitti are sons of heaven and earth. But what does that mean?”

“That means they were born of unions between humans and gods; that they have the attributes of both, and allegiance to neither. They are the terrifying Seven, personified weapons in service only to Erra, lord of pestilence and destruction, here to visit retribution and havoc among the damned and their fallen gods.”

“These Sibitti destroyed so wantonly. How can they be allowed to do that?”

“Who would stop them, Eshi?”

“You.”  Eshi looked at him imploringly.  “You could.  You could.”

“Why would I – or anyone – try to stop them? The damned are not here on holiday, or to make new lives: they are here to suffer the fates they have earned.  They live shadow lives here, and die shadow deaths, and are reborn into the torment they deserve – again and again. And keep it clear in your mind: the damned are already dead. You are not. Life is a precious gift to those who have it, and to those who have lost it. Gods and men, banished from heaven and earth, are no friends to the Kigali. The Kigali are no friends to the damned.”

“But Erra and the Seven are so cruel… Are we friends to them?”

“We are the Kigali. We live here. We lived here before any of them came; we will live here when they’re gone. We tolerate the presence of the downcast gods and their damned among us. We cooperate with those who rule over them from Above. And we keep the tribe safe. I do. You will, in your turn, someday … when you take my place.”

“My place is by your side – forever, Almighty Kur,” said Eshi softly, and climbed into his lap.

Kur scratched Eshi’s downy spine, comforting him, and felt the young body relax; Eshi began to hum contentedly. They sat that way until a rush of wings shadowed the ground, soaring on the updrafts and diving with the downdrafts: the tribe was gathering, turning the sky into a canopy of Kigali riding the wind, blotting out the smoldering vault above, fluttering to earth to honor Erra and the Seven at the feast.

Kur and Eshi went among their own, greeting and blessing the flock.

When the tribe was all gathered in a circle, wing to wing, before the laden feast-boards, Erra and the Seven came down the slope from Kur’s cavern to join them. They were robed in splendor and beautiful to the eye, glowing with the sanctification of the heavens. Up to Kur they came, Erra in the lead, the first of the Seven on his right hand, the others by twos behind.

“Almighty Kur, we bring greetings from on high to you and yours. Our merciless vengeance will cleanse this land of evil and satisfy the heavens above.”

This land? Among the gathered Kigali, every head turned suddenly, in unison, staring at Erra. Wings went up high. Silence dropped over all the tribe like sudden death.

Again all heads turned as one, looking to Kur. Kur must say something. The tribe is waiting. Eshi is waiting. Eshi cranes his neck and fixes Kur with wide, luminous eyes. Beside and behind ancient Erra, the bloodthirsty Seven stare not at Erra, but at Kur. This breach of protocol is no accident. Erra challenges Kur and Kur must respond in kind, or more than face will be lost this day.

Restate the agreement. Make its limits clear. “This land on which you stand belongs to neither men nor gods, but to the Kigali. So it was agreed, long ago, when your betters first traveled here. This Kigali world of ours was made not by men or by you gods; its fires burned before you came, and will burn when you are gone: keep this clear in your mind and in the minds of your seven weapons, Erra. Satisfying elder gods is your task, not mine. But by the mountain that bears my name behind us, and by the tribe that shares my blood, we shall keep to our agreement and assist the will of heaven as we may, if it is consonant with Kigali ways.” Kur’s mouth was dry, but these words must be said to the arrogant Erra and his peerless emissaries of destruction. “We shall feast you and house you, assist you in your work among your believers. You shall be as guests of the blood in Ki-gal for howsoever long you do remain here, until you withdraw once more to your godly seat in Emeslam. And you shall behave as good guests should, on Ki-gal’s beloved and honored ground. And now, pile your plates high and taste of Ki-gal’s bounty, brought fresh here for your pleasure.”

Eshi slides his young hand into Kur’s. Kur squeezes it, feeling new quills scrape, but then must let it drop. Eye to eye, he faces Erra while not a wing rustles and the Seven barely breathe.

Too long they consider one another. Too hot is the blood of Erra and the Seven, brought to boiling with their day’s labors. Too hot is Kur’s own skin, blazing as if it might burst with rage: Eshi is not the only one stirred by the carnage on the Downward Road. If there was war between the heavens and Ki-gal, who would win? The skies would flame and rip with battle, if the Kigali ever went to war against gods who depended upon faithful for their strength…

Behind him and high above, the mountain that bore Kur’s name growled, and grumbled, and brought forth smoke and flame and shook the ground underfoot: sometimes Kur slept in the mountain’s bowels; sometimes the mountain slept in his; forever they were linked. All his Kigali waited, motionless, wings yet unfurled, to see what Erra and the Seven would do.

Erra drew himself up, aglow with righteousness; his Seven cocked their heads and spread their legs wider.

Eshi tugged on his hand again. Never looking away from Erra, Kur put his hand on the boy’s head. A great cloud of sulphur rolled down the mountainside toward them; the ground trembled beneath his feet.

Finally Erra looked away, to his right, where the first of the Seven waited, attentive; and behind him, to the others of the Seven, ready for war. Then Erra looked back at Kur and said, “Your generosity overwhelms us, Almighty Kur. The friendship of the tribe of Ki-gal is highly prized by all of us from the heavens. We thank thee, and accept thine offered bounty.”

Close enough to a battle to taste it, he and Erra both step back.

“Now, if it pleases you, godly Erra: get your plates before the food grows cold.”

So they went to the feast-boards together and heaped their plates with Ki-gal’s bounty of meat and grain and toothsome fruits and wine. And they ate together, as friends together, sitting amid the circle of Kigali together: two wary lords of inconsonant domains. Erra sat shoulder to shoulder with Kur, with the first of his Seven on his right. On Kur’s left sat Eshi, staring about, eyes as wide as the sky, and on his left sat the second of the Seven.

“You haven’t touched your food, Eshi,” said the molten-eyed weapon. “Is it not pleasing?”

“I wanted the tail of one of those,” Eshi said boldly, pointing to the sulphur cloud above in which a bevy of red-tailed flying lizards hovered, chirping loudly. “There were none left on the feast-boards. Kigali love the taste of red-tail best of all; but they know we want to eat them, so they’re hard to catch.”

“Are they? Hard to catch?” Those eyes like the inside of the mountain weighed the boy, then caught Kur’s: “With your permission, Almighty Kur, we will get the boy his lizard treat.”

“Go you, then, but be warned: red-tails are canny quarry, fast and tricky.”

The second of the Seven and Eshi got up together, and left the circle together, while Kur watched uneasily as this most beautiful weapon led Kur’s precious one away. Perhaps this was a good thing, he told himself.  Kur knew why Eshi couldn’t eat, and it wasn’t because of any lack of food: Eshi was still full of the events of this day. Even Kur had lost his appetite, but ate because he must.

When Eshi and the second of the Seven stopped under the thickest billows of sulphur, the tall weapon spoke softly to him. Eshi stretched out his wings, and his arms, and pointed. Then the second of the Seven raised his sword. Lightning spat from its tip into the cloud and the bevy.

There was a snapping sound, then a squawk, then a screech, and Eshi nearly took wing. But before the boy could leave the ground, down plummeted two fat red-tails. The second of the Seven caught them both before they struck the earth, so fast was he.

Erra’s molten-eyed destroyer bent down on one knee and, with teeth bared, solemnly presented Eshi with the two fresh kills. Eshi took them both, then made a gesture worthy of a lord: he gave one red-tail back to the weapon of the god. The pair of them squatted down there, Kigali boy and son of heaven and earth, and ate their lizard tails raw, together, tearing off the wings, cracking the spines, and letting the blood dribble down their chins.

At this Erra said, “Good. Your boy and my bringer of lightning will be allies.”

“Good,” Kur agreed, not sure that this was so, but proud of Eshi: there was a leader growing in this child of Ki-gal.

When the two returned to sit once more in the circle, Kur took the boy under his arm and told him so: “You are brave and you are clever, Eshi. You have made a friend.”

Then Eshi and the second of the Seven presented Kur with both pairs of chewy wings in front of everyone, and the tribe began to call and chirp and sing, once the gift to their leader was bestowed.


In New Hell, there was but one Hall of Injustice, where the gravest cases were tried. Overnight the primordial sea, Tiamat, had flooded city streets knee-high; flotsam and jetsam bobbled on an ancient tide: Erra was in town. Or so Draco had told Lysicles.

Flanked by counsel on either side (with Alexander, Lawrence, and Aristotle bringing up the rear), Lysicles splashed through streets awash in brine until they reached the slippery stairs of the Hall of Injustice. Here and there, Hellions with rubber rafts and leaky dinghies floated, hawking their services. But few rode the rafts and boats: a plague was abroad, and no one in New Hell wanted to be close to anyone else. On stoops and from second-story windows, vendors offered prophylactic amulets of the god Anu and lesser charms guaranteed to keep the boils away.

Someone had written with paint or blood on the marble pediment of the Hall: “He who steals my words steals my soul.” And someone else had crossed it out and scrawled: “We, the resentful, do the minimum for the incapable. We have done so little with so much for so long, we can now do nothing with everything.” And a third scribe had scribbled under that: “The truth shall get you torment.”

Lysicles took one greaved step after another, looking neither left nor right, climbing up the slick stairs toward his judgment. His senses were sharp: he could hear his five companions breathing; he could smell the garbage floating in the brine. Now, finally, confrontation with his accusers was upon him. He felt joy.

Battle is battle, and a battle about to be joined always calms him. No more interminable delays. No more unanswerable questions. He was and is a man of action. Today he would act: his gut thrilled with anticipation. In hell where food has no taste and drink no intoxication, where all is hopeless, he tastes hope. A second chance for glory might lie behind those tall bronze doors.

At the top of the stairs, they are stopped by two scaly green fiends, to whom Hammurabi announces: “We are on the docket.”

The doors open, creaking and scraping across the muddy marble.

Then they are inside, in the dimness of futures unformed and chances to be taken. Almost, Lysicles thinks he sees the three Fates, Atropos and her sisters, unsnarling his life. But it is just a wall carving of the Fates. Beyond them, on the opposite wall, the dreadful Erinyes, personifications of the anger of the dead, are carved: dwelling here beneath the earth to punish those who swear false oaths, waiting for a taste of irredeemable flesh. Will they step out of the wall, shed their marble skins and flap overhead among the damned? Bite throats? Tear out hearts? They might: it’s hell.

It is so quiet here, footsteps are too loud. They walk and walk in silence, turn and turn and turn again amid labyrinthine corridors, looking for their appointed judgment hall.

When they find it, there are hundreds waiting, and these are all murmuring at once. Row after row of benches against the walls have signs above them: gluttony; sloth; murder; theft; rape; betrayal … and on and on. The gluttons overflow their benches, their vast envelopes of flesh bulging, eating ceaselessly from stained sacks, complaining about the tasteless food. The slothful stink, sitting on the wet floor atop stains and mud and their own feces, tangled and disheveled. The smell is so bad even the murderers put their bloody hands over their noses and turn away. The thieves are nearly buried in their treasures, guarding all with promissory stares, hands too full to fend off one another: they curse and threaten anyone approaching. The rapists are skeletons in coffle: heavy chains keep their hands bound at their waists (below which no fleshy organs remain) and their feet together. Near at hand, the shifty-eyed betrayers promise anything for a price, if only you will forsake all others and place your trust in them alone….

Lysicles has seen it all before. He remains unmoved. With his champions beside him and his hangers-on behind, he leans against the marble wall and waits: he knows how to wait – he is a soldier yet.

Then they are called: the doors screech back like harpies; within, there is no one: empty benches; an empty dais.

Behind them, the doors screech shut again with no human or inhuman hand upon them. Every hair on Lysicles’ body stands up straight. A chill pervades his soul. His mouth dries up. His hand wants a weapon; his belt holds no comfort for him: he has come unarmed, but for the truth.

The bailiff’s voice from a gallery high above intones, “All rise to honor the godly Erra and his Seven, weapons of pitiless justice, auditors from Above.”

Erra and the Seven arrive, dreadful in their raiment, their tread heavy and loud, glorious and proud as their power is announced. They wear cloaks of human skin, decorated with long-haired scalps like fringe. Teeth are their buttons; braided entrails hold their scabbards on their hips; pouches made of scrota dangle from their horrid belts.

Erra and the Seven climb the dais.

“Present the accused.” Near the source of the bailiff’s voice in the gallery, Lysicles sees two pairs of glowing eyes catch the light.

Lysicles and his counselors are already standing before the dais in plain sight… He looks around: Aristotle, Lawrence, and Alexander have taken seats as if they were an audience at a play.

With Hammurabi on the left of him and Draco on the right, Lysicles takes two steps forward. His future hangs by this thread. He knows what he sees in the Seven: warriors from the home of the gods, mythic, heroic in form, bloodthirsty and full of rage under wraps: these are here to render judgment, exact punishment, carry out whatever sentence is pronounced. They are not the ones to reason with.

Hammurabi begins detailing the facts of the case, as the Seven flank their lord and master and Erra looks Lysicles up and down.

Hammurabi is saying, “And on the battlefield, our client was brave and true, fighting beside his soldiers, never quailing, until the enemy, with its oblique phalanx and its longer spears and its mercenary cavalry, broke through Athenian lines…”

“Enough,” said Erra. “I know. I walked that battlefield. I saw that carnage. But this death was inflicted by senators, by orators, by the most civilized, upon the accused – for rashness causing death to a thousand. Is it so, damned soul? Were you rash?”

Draco attempted to intervene: “My lord Judge, he was merely following his orders. And his commander was tried on the same evidence and exonerated. This soul is innocent of all but doing his duty…”

“Quiet, fool,” said the second of the Seven, whose eyes were hot like the deepest pit of hell. “Let him answer. It’s his fate, not yours, at stake.”

“But my laws were used to –”

“Silence or I will silence you myself,” said the first of the Seven in a voice like chariots rumbling over carcasses. “One more outburst, and all here will share his fate. Who are those behind you, Lysicles? More of the damned? Here to gawk?”

Then Alexander popped up, his hands waving. “I am Alexander the Great, victor in the very battle under discussion, here to testify to the glory and heroism of this soul, unjustly condemned.”

Old Aristotle pulled hard on Alexander’s pteruges, jerking the skirt down to his buttocks.

But it was too late. The second of the Seven said, “Out, or the bailiff will eject you – all three of you – unless you wish to hold the accused while judgment is rendered. We are the auditors here. We know the facts. We come prepared. Will you hold him, or will we?”

Now Alexander took his seat, and huddled with Aristotle and Lawrence. Lysicles liked the sound of this not one bit: he looked first at Draco, then at Hammurabi. Hammurabi looked away. Draco shook his head and spread his hands.

Lawrence rose, speaking for all three character witnesses: “We will stay and perform whatever service is required of us.” Then he sat down quickly, one hand on Alexander’s shoulder.

Lysicles wished he’d never met those three. Something here was very wrong. This Erra was godlike; the Seven were executioners, terrifying even at rest; and the word ‘audit’ meant ‘judicial hearing’ in the most primitive meaning of the term, today. But he had asked for this and here it was. He squared his shoulders. He tried to see in his mind’s eye his wife, his sons, his lovers, laughing and running through the green fields of Elysion to greet him. All he risked was his eternal soul, he presumed to think. Hell was forever if he did nothing to better his lot. And he had never been a man for standing by and doing nothing.

“Once more, Lysicles: do you say you were rash? Or were you just when you led your men to their death?”

“I was just. I believed we could win. And we could have won – if so many citizen-soldiers had not deserted; if Philip hadn’t outsmarted us; if our allies could have held the line…”

Were you just?”  Erra’s booming voice boxed his ears and

caromed around the room, echoing: “Just…ust…us…s.”

“I was just. I, Lysicles, say it so.” Old formula, from wars gone by, from days standing straight and tall. Athenian generals were meant to die of old age, or at least in old age … not the way he had died. He blinked back tears that had never overcome him in all this time: he wished he had never brought that battle to the enemy, never gone along with Chares’ plan, never had marched his men into that valley of doom….

Erra looked into him, past his eyes, into his heart, into his soul. “Good,” said the god of pestilence and mayhem, now auditor of Lysicles’ fate. “You see the truth. You speak the truth. And here is my judgment…”

The Seven rose up on either side of Erra and strode down, off the dais, to form a semicircle in front of Lysicles, Hammurabi, and Draco. Hammurabi and Draco took two steps back, away from Lysicles.

And he was alone, facing his judgment.

“Character witnesses, approach and do your duty,” said the molten-eyed weapon of the god, one hand upon his sword-hilt. “Take hold of this damned soul. Hold him tight.”

Now the hands of Lawrence, Aristotle, and the hated Alexander were upon him. He almost fought: insult to injury, was Alexander’s touch. But the irony was not lost on Lysicles, only unwelcome. He kept his head high and his eyes on Erra’s awful visage as it changed from beautiful to horrible and back again.

Erra said: “Your audit is complete. My judgment is this: we shall cut out both your eyes, which have seen the truth; we shall cut out your tongue, which has said the truth; we shall cut out your heart, which knows the truth. Then we shall eat them and we shall know the truth. If the truth is as you say, you will be sent to Erebos, in the realm of Hades, and from there to Elysion, where you believe you belong. If you are lying, then you shall go from there to Tartaros, and suffer its tortures thereafter, never to leave again.”

Lysicles nearly staggered, but held his ground. He said nothing. He had a soldier’s pride. The three souls holding him from behind tightened their grip. Alexander, I’ll find a way to take you with me if this goes bad. Hammurabi blustered and Draco began officiously to object.

Then the second of the Seven fixed Lysicles with that fiery stare from an impassive face and said only, “I am very skilled at this, have no doubt.” He drew his glittering sword.

Lysicles reached around and grabbed Alexander in a death- grip. Then lightning exploded in his face, in his brain, in his heart and soul, and Lysicles knew nothing more.


Erra and his Seven eat the eyes and tongue and heart of Lysicles the Athenian, and of various other defendants of the day,until the auditors can eat no more. In the corridors of the Hall of Injustice, crowds thin as liars and nuisances and the guilty learn what sorts of verdicts are being handed down and what punishments meted out. Fools flee, but all petitioners and their counsels are apprehended and brought back to await their turn in the dock. Those who have come to bear false witness sneak away, only to be returned to their places in the lines that stretch to the street…

When darkness falls over New Hell, Erra is content with the day’s labors: the wailing of the adjudged is like a paean to heaven. Out the back of the Hall of Injustice he goes with his Seven. Up in the air they rise, and Kur and Eshi take wing to lead their charges back to Ki-gal. The damned queued there will still be there in the morning: anticipation is its own special kind of torment. Lesser evildoers will be processed all night long, and the next day, and the next, to await Erra’s pleasure whenever he and his Seven may return here. There are many cities in hell, and many sinners, and the work of Erra and the Seven has just begun. Fear must overtake so many wizened hearts. This audit of the underworld will be neither quick nor easy.

“Godly Erra, how do you fly on invisible wings?” the Kigali boy wanted to know when they reached the burning mountain of his ancestral home and wings were folded. “And what will happen to that first man, Lysicles, who was so brave? And to the others: so many blinded and made dumb, with no hearts in their chests to beat.”

“Do you question my judgment, son of Ki-gal? Why do you care about the fate of one damned soldier out of millions? Like my wings, my judgments come from on high, perfect and without peer, whenever I need them. Like my wings and my Seven, my judgment is unerring, every time, for every crime – past and future.” Go carefully with this Kigali and all the children of Ki-gal under Kur’s protection. It has been long since Erra felt need to tread softly; so long, he’d nearly forgotten how. But war with Ki-gal was not his mandate right now, and this Kur had shown his fangs and a rage bright as the stars in heaven when Erra tested him.

“But I want to know what will happen to him. He was so brave –” said Eshi.

Kur put a hand on his eromenos’s shoulder:  “Eshi, Erra is fatigued. It is time to rest.”

“No, Almighty Kur, let him ask his questions. As you say: the young question everything. It is their nature. I have not been young for eons. But you are right, as well, great Kur: the day’s labors were strenuous. I will rest. The second of my Sibitti will answer all, to your boy’s satisfaction. Take me to my cavern and let the boy stay here.”

So Kur took Erra up the slope with six of his Seven, and the molten-eyed one stayed behind with Eshi. When Kur stopped at the mouth of the tunnel leading to the cavern where Erra and the Seven would sleep, Kur said to him, “Eshi will keep asking until he’s satisfied, so tell me: What will happen to that first soul you judged: was he innocent? You ate his eyes, his tongue, his heart. What did they say to you?”

“Lysicles the Athenian? He thinks himself just.” Erra shrugged. “But he is full of hate and regret. When he awakes in Hades, his heart will beat again; he will learn to see again; he will learn to speak again. Then he will begin a different journey, full of the pain he has earned. For a soul to make its way out of hell is not easy, but that one has a chance now. He will remake his own fate. It’s what the best of humanity always does.” Erra looked past Kur, at his six Sibitti waiting patiently in the blazing green and gold billows of the Kigali night. “I see why you cherish this place, Kur. But the night is short and we must rest. Be you well. And thank you and the tribe for sharing your joy in Ki-gal with us who see so little of joy.”

The Kigali lord bowed his regal head and backed away with risen wings. So things were not healed between them, only controlled. Sometimes, control is enough.

So be it. Eternity was long and Erra could have great patience when it was warranted. He signaled his Sibitti and the six of his Seven surrounded him. Safe from all harm, even from the Kigali, in the arms of his peerless weapons, he made his way into the sulphurous cavern of this deepest underworld, and from there, to sleep. And Erra dreamed there, in the stench of hell: he dreamed of his bright, sweet-smelling home in Emeslam, where the sky was blue and the stars his protectors and the will of the gods ennobled heavens and earth.


“Eshi,” said Kur. “Come to sleep. Your new friend will be here in the morning.” Come away. That warrior is not to be trusted.

Eshi left the molten-eyed weapon of heaven and came running to him, all aflutter, then jumped into his waiting arms. “Almighty Kur, that one says the soldier, Lysicles, will have a new chance, that Erra is always fair and his judgments are the will of the gods.”

“Eshi, I must ask you: why do you care? Is that soldier Kigali? Is he even alive? No. He had his life. He pays for it in his death.”

“But he loves his family, as I love you. I understand him. He is lonely.”

“Eshi, he is dead. You are alive.” His boy squirmed in his arms. Eshi wrapped both legs around Kur’s waist, both arms around Kur’s neck, and held on tight. Not until then did Kur realize that the boy was shivering.

“Time for bed, Eshi. Long past time for bed. We will sleep in my cavern tonight, close to the heart of the mountain, as you love to do.” The mountain would soothe him, bring the boy warmth and comfort with its thrumming. Sometimes, in the bowels of the mountain that bore his name, in the darkest night, Kur could hear the heartbeat of creation. Someday, Eshi would hear it too.

“What happens when Kigali die, Almighty Kur?” came a small voice from the boy in his arms. “Where do we go? We won’t be tortured like these human damned, reborn into torment – will we?”

“What happens to the snow when it falls and melts, Eshi? What happens to the wind when it doesn’t blow? We are Kigali: we are part of Nature. We go back to Nature and become one again with the sea and land and sky. We live on in the tribe of Ki-gal who remember us and share our blood. We are the wind; we are the earth; we are the fire in the mountain. Don’t worry, Eshi: you will have your fill of life before you leave it. Kigali live a very long time. And when we die, we are still part of the world we love. We sleep content. Do you understand?”

“Yes, great Kur.”

As Eshi trembled against his chest, Kur carried the boy up the slope and into the cavern, while the boy asked him questions no one could answer about the cruelty that men and gods visited upon one another – cruelty Eshi had seen repeatedly since Erra and the Seven had come.

Kur did his best to answer every question, knowing full well that these moments were critical now that Eshi’s innocence was besieged from within and without. And Eshi’s innocence was more important to Kur than the fate of every soul in hell.

When Eshi’s body relaxed, and not before, Kur put him down and lay down by his side, stroking his downy skin until the boy began to cry softly. When at last Eshi started humming even more softly, Kur promised him that all would be well with them and with the tribe in Ki-gal, forever and ever.

Kur had expected Eshi’s questions. Kur had told Erra the truth: the young question all. He had not expected Eshi’s tears, but he was glad for them.

Eshi would be everything Kur had hoped, someday, if Kur could keep him safe until he was red and strong.

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About the Author
Janet Morris

Best selling author Janet Morris began writing in 1976 and has since published more than 30 novels, many co-authored with her husband Chris Morris or others. She has contributed short fiction to the shared universe fantasy series Thieves World, in which she created the Sacred Band of Stepsons, a mythical unit of ancient fighters modeled on the Sacred Band of Thebes. She created, orchestrated, and edited the Bangsian fantasy series Heroes in Hell, writing stories for the series as well as co-writing the related novel, The Little Helliad, with Chris Morris. She wrote the bestselling Silistra Quartet in the 1970s, including High Couch of Silistra, The Golden Sword, Wind from the Abyss, and The Carnelian Throne. This quartet had more than four million copies in Bantam print alone, and was translated into German, French, Italian, Russian and other languages. In the 1980s, Baen Books released a second edition of this landmark series. The third edition is the Author's Cut edition, newly revised by the author for Perseid Press. Most of her fiction work has been in the fantasy and science fiction genres, although she has also written historical and other novels. Morris has written, contributed to, or edited several book-length works of non-fiction, as well as papers and articles on nonlethal weapons, developmental military technology and other defense and national security topics.

Janet says: 'People often ask what book to read first. I recommend "I, the Sun" if you like ancient history; "The Sacred Band," a novel, if you like heroic fantasy; "Lawyers in Hell" if you like historical fantasy set in hell; "Outpassage" if you like hard science fiction; "High Couch of Silistra" if you like far-future dystopian or philosophical novels. I am most enthusiastic about the definitive Perseid Press Author's Cut editions, which I revised and expanded.'

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the page above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."