With each martial victory, Kohar was ready to remind her opponents that they were the ones who chose to escalate things to the level of a war. It was even ninety percent true. The last ten percent was the fact that a war was going to happen anyway, it was just going to have fewer deaths.
Unfortunately, just like in a physical war, the courtroom had wins and losses. Real battles relied on power and strategy, and it was the same in the courtroom. While Kohar was pretty confident in always having the moral high ground, that didn’t always help in court. She also had the legal high ground as well, but unfortunately the enemy had reinforcements in the manner of a myriad of people willing to lie for them and some judges still in their pockets.
It was no good for their position if judges actually presiding over their cases died or disappeared. That was why they’d done their best to narrow the pool before things actually started, but some were quite happy to play both sides and either ultimately favored the slavers or was paid more by them. If there were a reasonable oversight on the judges their obvious corruption would be their downfall, but that was something else Kohar had to fight for.
But here she was, facing down something of a final battle. The other cases she’d been working on in and around Sarton had come to an end. Others elsewhere in the country were ongoing, but she wasn’t directly responsible for those. Now she was back in Veron, close to the border between Ofrurg and Graotan. The Iron Ring Slavers were strongly based there, and some careful sneaking about, courtesy of Velvet and some others, had gotten Kohar some top quality dirt.
Several of their highest ranking members, cultivators who ‘retired’ into those positions to live in luxury, were currently in possession of people enslaved illegally. Not the company, but the individual leaders. Either they thought they wouldn’t get caught, highly valued the particular slaves, or actually forgot about those particular crimes. Kohar didn’t care which was true, because she now had a firm grip on their tender parts. She just had to not screw up.
Kohar locked eyes with one of them. An older woman, wrinkled and with a stern face. An angry, murderous one. She was glad she was safe in the courtroom, and had bodyguards beyond. Milushka Struna. She was an Essence Collection cultivator, though she’d stagnated long before and had been living a fairly luxurious life by relying on the business of the Iron Ring Slavers to support her.
Currently Izabel was making a desperate attempt to do something. With the way things had been going, Izabel wasn’t exactly popular. However, she was also the best match for Kohar. The fact that she had some success with the weight of facts against her at every moment showed how good she was. Kohar might have even respected her if she hadn’t devoted her life to working for the wrong people. There were limits to what people should do.
“… even if we were to accept this testimony, which I still contend is inadmissible, there are other matters to consider.” Izabel was harping on the fact that the testimony of a slave wasn’t allowed in court- a poorly worded that Kohar was going to tear apart later, hopefully permanently. “The time in question here is very important. Over two decades in some cases. That means any supposed crimes are well past the statute of limitations.”
It was a valiant attempt. Unfortunately, when starting with a pile of crap it was hard to make it look like anything else. And even if one happened to polish crap to a fine shine, upon knowing what it was people still didn’t want it around.
“An interesting conclusion,” Kohar said. “I’ll refute things in order. First, because none of these people are slaves, just illegally held, their testimony is of course valid. The time involved only exacerbates the severity of the crimes, it does not diminish it. Even if the initial capture happened decades ago, illegally holding someone captive is still a crime.” Kohar had several sections of law to quote, strongly backing up her point. “And of course, the fact that these are still active, ongoing crimes means that the statute of limitations is meaningless.” Kohar wasn’t going to suggest it, but there was some chance that Izabel would somehow finagle a way that only the portion of time still within the ten or twenty year limit, depending on jurisdiction, would be counted.
Even so, she had enough to put some of these people away for life. Izabel had already tried the trick that they were ignorant, but with more than a year of ongoing litigation in related cases before this one even began and nearly five years since it was public knowledge that people were illegally enslaved, that wouldn’t fly. If they had released the slaves sometime during that time, it might have. But they stubbornly held on for whatever reason.
Maybe, as cultivators, the ‘for life’ time of ten or twenty years, possibly more, wouldn’t bother them too much. Especially if they could get it reduced later and get out. Which was why Kohar wasn’t gunning for imprisoning them. Instead, she was going to hit them where it hurt. Up to this point, fines and fees could only be assessed on the slaving groups and some individuals they threw under the bus with some evidence that they acted independently.
The resources of their executives were off limits from such things, but Kohar was going to finally get to the juicy piles of cash and other less flexible property. She could already see the wealth adding up, multipliers for intentional and repeated disregard of the laws of the country making numbers go to great heights. Unfortunately, that would hardly make up for all the lives they had ruined, and people that had died. And the ongoing pain and suffering they would be causing that was technically still legal.
Though Kohar would get them to fork over as many slaves as she could as payment. Then she would hope they rotted in hell when they died. Which would hopefully be soon, though she had no control over that.
A week later, Kohar was sleeping peacefully. Other people were overseeing most of the actual physical transfer of things, and preventing valuables from being squirreled away where they couldn’t be found. She’d done all the paperwork, and while there would be more… it was only a few piles. She was actually getting time to rest. It was nice.
She felt warm and cozy in her blankets. Actually, a bit too warm. And her blankets… were already kicked off. And it was bright. Had she somehow slept in until noon? She sat up and looked out her window, staring into the noonday sun. Except while it was certainly bright enough, it wasn’t quite right. There was supposed to be one big ball of fire in the sky, not a wall of fire climbing up the walls of her building.
Kohar sighed. Well, this was it. She’d pissed off enough people, and they’d found their way to her. Now she was dead. She just hoped what she’d done would pave the way for others to finish the job.
It sure was taking a long time, though. Sure, it was uncomfortably warm, but with the entire outside of the building on fire she’d thought the inside would have caught by now. Maybe some burning beams crashing down on her head or something. She pressed her face up against the window and found the glass was just… warm. And she could just make something out beyond the flames.
It was a bit difficult to pin down the face, with the layer of burns. However, the wrinkles and general unpleasantness indicated it was Milushka. A woman very capable of killing Kohar if she got anywhere close.
Kohar was still waking up. While she knew many cultivators could spring into action immediately, she was not one of them. It took her a couple minutes to wake up, which wasn’t a problem if she didn’t have to fight.
She was still waking up, and she wasn’t dead. She also didn’t remember Milushka having fire-related cultivation. And if she did, the burns seemed like they didn’t fit. Ah, that’s what it was. Kohar hadn’t been able to feel the other presence because it wasn’t really contained to a direction. It was like looking into a bright light. You couldn’t actually see it, until your eyes adjusted.
This was… Sarka. Elder Sarka, of the Glorious Flame Palace. Kohar didn’t know she was in town, but she was certainly glad for it. Then she heard her voice.
“Alright, that’s enough. You can back off now, and you get to leave with your dignity slightly intact while we later come and take the rest of everything you have for this attack.”
Milushka snorted. “You think I don’t believe you’ll take everything I have left anyway? I might as well get a little something done now.”
Kohar caught the old woman’s eyes looking directly into hers, but it was too late to back up from the window. The old woman’s very agile arms flicked as she pulled a pair of throwing axes from her belt. They streaked towards the window and Kohar. She felt the sharpness of the blades even before they sliced through her. Then she couldn’t see.
Too much fire. But the fact that she could comprehend there was too much fire meant that she was alive. She touched her hand to her shoulder and winced. That was an actual wound, dripping blood. But she hadn’t been chopped into pieces. If the axes had reached her, she would have died. But instead what remained of the axes lay in the street next to Milushka, who was on fire.
But only very briefly. Kohar thought she should have been turned to ash, but upon being able to see her figure once more Kohar kind of wished she didn’t. It wasn’t a pretty sight. And not because she was horribly mangled or something. Kohar had seen plenty of that in her time.
“I can burn whatever I want, you know,” Sarka said. “Just because that’s usually everything doesn’t mean I don’t have control. You should be happy that you get to walk away with minimal wounds. But you already lost your chance at dignity.”
Dignity could mean several things. In truth, Kohar wasn’t sure if an Essence Collection cultivator being completely overwhelmed by a Life Transformation expert would lose them their dignity. But something else would. Like having everything except their body burned away.
Kohar stepped away from the window. The attack had been so close, and she didn’t want to look at a naked old woman. Kohar made notes to not piss off Elder Sarka. Not that she ever intended to make anyone that powerful angry at her, but most of them would just kill her instantly and she wouldn’t have to regret it.
There was quiet in the streets for a moment. Even so, Kohar could almost hear Milushka fuming, her energy flickering angrily. What hadn’t been burned away, anyway. Then she felt her turn and leave.
“Have fun on your way back!” Sarka yelled. “I’ll send someone to make sure everyone on your route is awake.”
Kohar wasn’t sure if that threat was real or not, but she didn’t really care. She just fell back into bed and hoped the fire would go out soon so she could sleep. “Thanks, Elder Sarka,” Kohar said vaguely towards the roof. That was something she didn’t want to forget. There was no response except perhaps a flicker of amusement from the fire.
The ‘war’ didn’t end with anything that could be called a climactic battle. In fact, though deaths had escalated for a time, when everything settled down some disturbing facts were pondered by various groups involved. Specifically, a troubling lack of Life Transformation cultivators. A few had supported the slavers in various ways, but for something that shook Ofrurg to its core very few of them got involved.
Glorious Flame Palace had more than just Elder Sarka involved, and there had been others as well, but perhaps that was also the reason. If they couldn’t match them, then they would just be throwing away their lives.
While ultimately that meant the total death count was less than it could have been, it meant that powerful people with grudges were still alive. That might even include those who would be powerful, as there was no telling how many ships had left for other continents, full of cultivators who would just be biding their time.
But at least for the moment, there was peace. At least as much as could ever be expected with so many different cultivation factions present, but minor squabbles were just everyday life.