“ALL RISE for the honorable Judge Aaron Asha’da!” the faceless bailiff called out, and the courtroom’s population stood as the Pyromander Judge entered the courtroom.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Judge Asha’da began as he sat down, signaling for everyone else to do the same. “This looks to be an interesting case. Let us begin, then, shall we?”
The Prosecutor, an Iconox man wearing a Pizza Parlor Costume, stood from his chair, and began to approach the Jury. “Today, Ladies and Gentlemen, we will try the murderer of Joan Hayamoto, whose life was tragically cut short the night before her wedding. By the end of this case, we will have proven without a shadow of a doubt that the Changeling, alias ‘Ba’rune‘, killed her in cold blood in an unprovoked crime, and then further to cover up that crime, killed at least two more people.” And so he began to lay out the series of events, sparing no detail that could barely be remembered afterwards.
The Defense Attorney, a Leprechaun woman wearing the face of Izumi Lockhart, grimaced as she looked at the changeling sitting next to her. It was clear she’d rather not be here, but she was going to have to do her job regardless. From the audience, Kana Mayoi waited for her name to be called to the witness stand.
They’d managed to get this Trial put together easily enough. Finding a jury of people who weren’t biased against Changelings wasn’t hard either… And as much as Kana would have loved rigging the jury against the damned changeling… that wasn’t how things worked with Justice. They were going to do this right.
Ayako fidgeted next to her, toying with the edge of the tie she was forced to wear. Even students had to be presentable if they were called to the stand. It wasn’t expected for this case, but for the one after. The one for Caria Calvert. The one that… that shouldn’t be happening for another day?
Why did she think it was happening with this case?
The Prosecutor finished his detailed recounting and offered the floor to the Defense Attorney. The Leprechaun woman shook her head with obvious disgust as she got up to do. No, definitely, the Defense Attorney was the one they had to worry about. She was the only one who had volunteered for it, and though the court had tried to draw another name at random… it had been her name that came up in the random draw as well. The Defense Attorney took a breath, bracing herself. In those moments, Kana Mayoi frowned, wondering what the Leprechaun was about to say… and then the Defense Attorney spoke with Caria Calvert’s voice, mouth movements not quite matching the words spoken.
“You know…” She began. “Changelings were mind controlled in the old over a thousand years ago. This one’s age dates back that far too.” She looked to the Changeling in the cage. “I won’t deny that. No, it’s imperative that you understand that this Changeling knows things about Kyiahlnah’s reign than we could possibly imagine. All of that knowledge could be lost if you vote guilty and have him imprisoned for life…”
Ayako whined, and Mayoi took notice of her daughter’s discomfort, “Aya?” She whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m not here,” Ayako said in the strained, creaking voice of her dead mother/sister. “This isn’t real.”
“Do you understand what I’m saying?” The Defense Attorney continued, eyeing the jurry. “From a sheer historical perspective, keeping this one changeling alive and in the public light where we can learn all about that time is the most important thing that you could vote for. Sure, he might have killed some girl fifty years ago, sure, he might have killed others to cover it up, buuuut….”
Mayoi felt a chill run down her spine, even as Ayako muttered, “I’ve got a really really bad feeling about this…”
“I’m sorry to say,” The Defense Attorney’s eyes suddenly took on a crimson glow. “I can’t allow that to happen.”
Before anyone could react, the apparently possessed woman spun on her heels and launched a fireball at the cage the Changeling was imprisoned in.
“NO! YOUR HIGHNE–” Was all the Changeling could squawk out before it was incinerated on the spot.
The Faceless Guards all readied their stunning and containment spells, with the Judge’s personal body guard stepping forwards to protect him. None of it mattered- for the possessed Attorney’s fire aura ignited in that moment and pulsed across the room, forcing everyone into a sudden case of heat stroke. Of the few spells that went off and hit, they were absorbed, or burned away at the seams by the protective aura.
Ayako growled as she tried to push herself up to her feet- Mayoi had the foresight to wrap her arm around Ayako and hold her down. “Ssh!” She hissed. “Don’t…!”
“But, mom…!” Ayako growled. “I have to fight her!”
The possessed attorney turned towards the judge and smirked at him. “Tell me, Judge Asha’da, do you recognize me? Does your soul recognize the presence before you and tremble in fear?”
Judge Asha’da stood from his chair, growling at her. “Kyiahlnah,” He spat, his own fire magic flaring up with a barely visible aura. “I’d thought we might see you… we warded the courtroom. How did you get in?”
“I hitched a ride in a doll tagged for evidence,” The Flame Prince said, even as her host’s clothes already smoldering and burning away in places. “Then, by sheer happenstance, this little beauty- a worshiper of mine- happened to come in and review the evidence for a case,” She motioned at her body through the burnt open holes in her clothing, and directly at the once golden skin that was browning and blackening from the heat the aura was generating. “Then I had to prepare, and wait a few days until I finally got to this moment… The moment that is happening right here, right now…’
She began to float into the air as her clothes flash ignited and burned away, revealing that her skin was definitely charring by the second. There was no way her host would last much longer with the way she was burning away.
“BEHOLD, CITIZENS OF THE WORLD!!!” She roared, “YOUR PRINCESS HAS RETURNED FROM EXILE!” She pointed a finger at Judge Asha’da, and then smirked. “AS MY FIRST ACT… ANY WHO REFUSE TO SIDE WITH ME WILL BE EXTINGUISHED!” Her fingers snapped, and the Judge let out a pain filled scream as his fire aura ignited and then began to consume him and everyone else in the courtroom.
“NO!!!!” Kana Mayoi screamed as she threw herself at the Demon who was just a dream. Kana Mayoi’s eyes snapped open as she woke up from the nightmare with a scream, her body was already half-way out of the bed and tumbling to the floor.
She couldn’t brace for the impact of her front hitting the floor with a dull thud.
“Ow….” But she could groan, and then curse up a storm at the nightmare she’d just had. Then, once done with that, she would peer across her room- still dark as the sun had yet to rise- at her calendar. At the date that was not yet crossed off and instead circled with a big red circle.
December 17th, 1618 A.C.
Today was the first day of the trial. Ayako wasn’t supposed to be in a courtroom until tomorrow. Ayako was safe. Ayako was SAFE. Ayako was- Ayako was out in the world investigating another bank robbery on the Jaw’s Tusk Islands.
One of the weirdest cases in months and here Mayoi was stuck at home so she could focus on a case involving a Creators Damned Changeling.
Chief Nahgi Llewellyn was stubbornly half asleep when Kaie’s apartment phone rang. It was with little trouble that she dragged herself out of bed, out the hallway, and to the apartment’s phone.
“Y’Llo?” She answered with a yawn.
_“Hey, Nahgi, sorry if I woke you,”_ Kana began.
“No, it’s fine. I’ve been up and down all night.” Nahgi shook her head. “What’s up?”
_“Nightmare. Kyiahlnah possessed Izumi who was the Defense Attorney, and talked with my mom’s voice while killing everyone in the courtroom,”_ Kana summarized.
“Shit, that’s a rough one,” Nahgi grimaced.
_“Tell me about it,”_ Kana sighed. _“I don’t get why this trial is bugging me so much.”_
“Because the Spoiled Brat has been suspiciously radio silent?” Nahgi offered. “Because you’re worried your mom will get off scot-free? Because…”
_“Because some part of my subconscious thinks the same way about three completely different people?”_ Kana asked with a heavily dripping sarcasm.
“I was going to say ‘because our lives are filled with crime to a near cosmic level of insanity,’ but that works too.” Nahgi smiled as Kana laughed at the joke.
_“I’m just afraid that this is Kyiahlnah taunting me,”_ Kana admitted. _“Either that, or Mizar’s trying to warn me with some prophetic dream.”_
“Taunting? Maybe. But seriously, Kana, if you’re worried about this being prophetic…” Nahgi sighed. “Our dreams are just our brain’s way of telling us what’s bugging us. I haven’t heard once of anyone having prophetic dreams, and I’m a Lamia who can peer at people’s Auras with the Sight.”
_“So I’m being taunted maybe?”_ Kana asked.
“Or it’s just your mind being weird.” Nahgi shook her head. “Look, Kana, if you’re that worried about it being Kyiahlnah taunting us, then tell me what she said, and I’ll pass it on to Hecate.”
_“Thanks, Nahgi,”_ the relief was evident in Kana’s voice. _“I’d appreciate that.”_
“This is the seventh bank in just as many days!!” Detective Kaie snarled as they looked at the burnt out ruins of yet another bank. “What the hell are they searching for?”
“And why leave such a distinct calling card?” Lizzy frowned as she inspected yet another “Void” Circle- this time with the floor stolen from the last bank that had been robbed, which had its floor replaced with the floor from the last bank, and so on back to the first bank robbed and torched.
“I asked Mika’n yesterday,” Ayako began. “She thinks its a banking pun. Y’know, like a ‘voided check’?”
“So what, they’re voiding checks made at the specific banks?” Tony asked, frowning over at his Soul Bonded mate.
“I dunno,” Ayako shrugged and started towards the bank vault. “She didn’t really have the time to elaborate.”
“Why not?” Miri asked, following Ayako.
“Packing,” Ayako answered as she peered into the vault.
Meanwhile, Lizzy knelled down to inspect the uneven edges of the floor where the different surfaces met. “Hmm…”
“Packing for what?” Miri asked, frowning.
“Her Glitter Fest Holiday Visit back home,” Ayako answered as she went over towards a section of wall that seemed relatively untouched by flames. “Which means we’ll probably not see her again until the new year… but maybe sooner, depending on how things go.”
“What do you mean by that?” Miri pouted as Ayako began looking over the vault’s wall.
“Maybe…” Lizzy took out a cotton swab from a small plastic cylinder and swiped at the edge of the transplanted floor. Lizzy stuck the swab back into the container and screwed a lid on.
“There’s not really much I can explain,” Ayako answered, “Mikari never talks about it much. Probably ’cause of her sister, I guess. Too many sad memories.”
“Did something happen?” Miri asked.
“Well, it’s–” Ayako was cut off as Lizzy suddenly exclaimed from the lobby:
“ZUZOL!!! I FIGURED IT OUT!”
Both Lycan girls hurried back into the bank lobby as Lizzy brought out an imaging gem and broadcast a few images into the air, matching them to a section of floor she’d highlighted.
“About time we got a lead,” Tony grinned.
“I found some residue on the edges of the floor-” Lizzy began, pointing at the point where the edges of the floors didn’t quite line up, then at pictures of the previous bank floors. “I missed it before because the edges usually fused together too perfectly, but in this case…” She grinned, “The floor in this particular bank wasn’t leveled! It’s sloped!”
“So there was something that didn’t fuse with the floor this time,” Kaie nodded. “Right, so what did you find?”
“Water!” Lizzy helpfully answered.
“….Water?” Ayako frowned. “How does water help us?”
“Because water is like a fingerprint,” Lizzy answered, “especially on these islands. Where-ever they’re basing their magic teleportation device from, it’s got a lot of water access- probably whatever they teleport out of the banks winds up resting in water until they teleport something new in, and the old floor out to replace it.”
“That makes sense,” Kaie nodded. “Whatever magic they’re using for this probably needs a margin of error to exactly get the thing they want to get, and nothing else.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Lizzy nodded, and flipped the small tube into the air once like a coin before catching it. “Now to find out what body of water this thing came from.”
The hum of the way-gate shut off with a hiss, and Mikari Yuki sighed as she looked around the Rainbow Line main plaza. This time of night, there wasn’t likely to be anyone around, and that much was fine with her. It was more unlikely anyone she’d used to know would be here. Still, like every year she came out this way since her Sister had died, there was the chance that someone she used to know was now working a night shift and would recognize her.
Then would come the sympathy and the concern… for…
‘Don’t think about it,’ Mikari shook her head, and hefted her backpack properly onto her back before setting off on a well remembered path through the streets and alleyways. A glance here would reveal some minor change since last year (The Hendersons had repainted their shop window), or maybe a look there would show something huge that had been changed (The city had finally tore down the old Archery Store and was rebuilding something new there), but for the most part, it was… comforting? Yes, comforting to see what was the same.
Rainbow Line was just one of many port towns along a rather large bay that, despite having a well and proper name, everyone just called “The Bay.” It was known for being high tier happy all the time and prided itself with a low crime rate compared to elsewhere in the world. Such tragic incidents like her sister’s death at the hands of a teacher who killed his wife were outliers of the normal kind, peaceful nature of this town.
Even with a few weeks left to go before the Glitter Festival rightfully kicked off, there were lights and decorations already starting to go up. People were happy, and most had likely forgotten about the deaths that had happened… Had happened…
Mikari stopped as she sniffed and wiped away the tears from her eyes. Seven years. Almost Seven Years now and she was still choking up over it.
“Damn it,” Mikari took in a stabilizing breath, and then marched on to the town cemetery.
Someone had a grave sense of humor to name a cemetery “Shadow Line” in a town called “Rainbow Line,” and even worse to give its gates and fences a Gothic theme that clashed heavily with the bright nature of the rest of the town.
Shadow Line Cemetery in the town of Rainbow Line. It was like a pun of some kind, or maybe some obscure reference that Mikari wasn’t aware of. Who did something like that, though? She’d asked that question ever since her sister had been buried here. She’d asked it every time she came to visit. She’d likely never get an answer.
Unsurprisingly, like every year, the side gate closest to the grave she was visiting was unlocked despite all the others being locked. If Mikari looked, she’d see someone off nearby wearing the traditional Grounds Keeper robes, sweeping idly at the leaves that had fallen from a tree. There were always trees losing leaves at cemeteries- even if it wasn’t the season for it. That, however, Mikari could lay fairly at the feet of Yaovi, the Reaper.
Finding the right grave was a matter of counting steps, and then walking down a row for another set of counted steps. Finally, “Six, seven, eight…” Mikari stopped, turned to her right, and knelled down to inspect the gravestone.
[-Aikari Hinomoto Yuki-]
[May 23rd 1600 – March 29th 1611.]
[Beloved Sister and Daughter.]
[May you Rest in Peace before Rebirth.]
Mikari took a breath, then shrugged off her backpack and pulled out a small box of chocolates to lay on the ground in front of the gravestone. “…Hey, Aik’o,” she began. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” She smiled sadly at the stone. “I brought you another box of chocolates. I hope the Reaper has the courtesy to deliver it to where-ever you are now.” She had no idea if the grounds keeper took it for their own, or if Yaovi even actually did what Mikari thought she did, but even so… “I’m going to see Mom and Dad after this. They… they were worse last year. I dunno if that’s just because I left or not…” Mikari trailed off, unsure of where to go with that. “But happy thoughts. Things could be looking up this year.” Could? More like… “Should be, anyways.”
Though the gravestone held no ties to Aikari’s soul, long since put into the reincarnation cycle, Mikari could imagine her sister sighing in return, and giving her a hug, stating it would be alright. Everything would be alright. Then, a poke and a prod, ‘enough about last year,’ she’d remark. ‘What’s new with you?’
“So, what’s new with me?” Mikari smiled. “I’m taking classes to get Black Arm Certified. I… it’s…” She sighed. “The series of events that got me there is just… Where do I even begin?” The obvious place, of course, was that fateful August morning… or maybe a bit before that. No, it would be better to start from her perspective for sure.
“August First of this year, we got called to a case on Aura’s Dawn. The little shipping town there, called Egg Roost. You remember geography? How we’d poke fun at the whole cluster of islands looking like a chicken?” A glowing smile, a half forgotten memory of laughter growing stronger by the second. “Yeah, that was where things really got weird, Aik’o…”