December 17th, 1618.

“Cah’le,” Yaovi mused as they sat down in the back of the courtroom- perception filters kept them disguised from mortal eyes. “I want to ask you a question.”

“Oh?” The young girl asked.

“Tell me, what do you think of our decision to try the Changeling in light of the dream miss Mayoi had last night?” Yaovi asked, not even looking at her young protege. Her glassy eyes were keeping track of every soul in the courtroom, keeping a look out for any anomalies.

“Dreams are dreams, aren’t they?” Cah’le asked in turn. “Even if it was a baited taunt, she would know we would be here, wouldn’t she? Know that we would see her before she could do anything.”

“But can we?” Yaovi asked. The answer of course was that she, as the Reaper of Souls, had a very unique perception and insight into the nature of a Soul, and what happened when two inhabited a single body. But the question was directed more at if…

“Can I, you mean?” Cah’le frowned.

“Yes,” Yaovi answered.

“Then yes,” Cah’le stubbornly committed to the answer.

“Then I expect you to tell me if you see her,” Yaovi turned her head to smile at the dark skinned girl. “Perhaps then we may fact check each other. My eyesight is not quite what it once was, after all.” A lie that both of them knew was meant as a joke.

“Of course,” Cah’le nodded her head as she accepted the test for what it was.

Yaovi would surely intervene if she failed this test… Wouldn’t she?

“Mom, are you sure you don’t want me in there?” Ayako frowned as she helped fix the tie around her mother’s neck.

“I need you outside, Kiddo,” Kana Mayoi smiled. “We’ve got the courtroom warded up to hell and back. It’s the rest of the place I’m worried about.”

“But what can I do?” Ayako asked. “I mean, if someone wanted to do something…”

“You and Tony turn wolf and persuade them not to do that something,” Mayoi firmly declared, putting her hands on Ayako’s shoulders and looking her in the eyes. “Understand?”

Ayako considered it for a few moments, then nodded. “Understood.”

“Good,” and then Mayoi pulled Ayako into a hug. Ayako was quick to return it, and both squeezed tightly. “You stay safe, okay? No unnecessary risks while persuading people, okay?”

“Yup, yup,” Ayako nodded. They stood there like that for another moment before Ayako continued, “Good luck in there.”

“Thanks,” Mayoi smiled. “I’ll need it.”

Ayako watched as the courtroom doors closed with a heavy THUD, and locked with a magical CLICK. Beside her, Tony reached out and took her hand with his.

Neither said anything as they moved towards the bench next to the doors, and sat down to wait for anything to go wrong.

_“The Court Case of the Izala Family Vs. Changeling is now in session,”_ the personal radio chirped into Mikari Yuki’s ear as she stepped off of the train that had taken her east-ish from Rainbow Line to the neighboring town of Lightsygn. It too, was a port town on the very large bay area, and once more, she felt like a pun had been made somewhere. _“All rise for the Honorable Judge Aaron Asha’da!”_

If there was one think Mikari could be grateful for her Extra Classes, it was access to the the recent invention of a Personal Radio. Normal Radios were essentially one way telephones- which in of themselves were voice only way-gates- and were exactly the same in terms of design- large, bulky, and expensive to make. That these Personal Radios existed in a form small enough to put a speaker in an ear while keeping the main bulk of the device in a small rectangle no bigger than the palm of her hand? Well, it was no doubt super expensive.

Very super, mega, ultra expensive.

How Professor Llewellyn could get access to these devices was a mystery in and of itself… though Mikari had her suspicions it had to do with the Restricted Island somehow, and probably had even something more to do with trying to bribe his blackmailed students with impressive technology. (She’d take the tech, if only to turn it on him at the right moment.)

Still, mysteries and conspiracies aside, it let her keep an ear on the case that was being tried right now, and would let her listen into the other one that happened later on. With bad timing for various events all around, it was the best Mikari could do to be there with her team, in spirit, if not in person.

Mikari shrugged her backpack into position, and started walking down another familiar path towards her parent’s house.

Half an hour in, it was with a growing sense of dread that the courtroom proceedings went without problem so far. Tyler Obonz had just been called to the stand.

“What can you tell us about Miss Nuhar’s remains?” The Prosecutor, a Lamia female with violet hair, asked.

“Well,” Tyler began, “At first glance, I could tell you that they were strangled by root growth. With hours of digging, I could confirm that the root growth almost certainly had been promoted by magic. The growth was targeted to try to obscure evidence- to make it seem as if the breaks in the bones were caused by the roots rather than a weapon.” He paused, and then continued. “After fully exhuming the remains? I can tell you with one hundred percent certainty that roots are utter shit at obscuring blunt and sharp force traumas.”

There were a few chuckles from the jury and the audience both that quickly silenced themselves.

“What can you tell us about the physical evidence on the remains,” The Prosecutor continued, “specifically about the series of events that transpired?”

“First off, it’s nearly impossible to order every injury without first identifying cause of death,” Tyler answered. “That said, causes of death was easy to determine- a separation of the skull from the neck. From there, everything else that implies a struggle has to come before it.”

As he began to recount the series of wounds- shown to the Jury by way of Imaging Gem- Mayoi glanced at the Defense Attorney, a Gnomic Woman who was grimacing as she heard every gruesome word being spoken by the Dragon on the stand.

Finally, the Prosecutor finished, and turned to the Defense Attorney. “Your witness.”

The Gnomic woman paused at that, then shook her head towards Judge Asha’da. “No questions, your honor.”

The Judge nodded, then said to the Prosecutor, “Call your next witness.”

“Detective Mayoi, Kana, to the stand,” the Lamia woman looked towards Mayoi, and she stood up, internally bracing herself for things to go wrong. She approached, sat down, and was sworn in without incident. “Tell me, Detective, what happened after you arrived through the Way-gate?”

“We walked to the scene of the murder,” Mayoi answered. “Intern Obonz began exhuming the body, and I questioned the two who discovered the body.”

“Could you point to them in the Audience?” The Prosecutor asked, and Mayoi did such. Albert Gillipup and Qua Traen were in the second row, right side. The young boy who was reincarnated from the deceased Nuhar Izala gave a smile her way. “Thank you, Detective. Now, what happened after you finished questioning them?”

Mayoi remembered easily, and described it. “We headed into town to search Missing Persons Records, sequestered in the Mayor’s Office. We walked there, and entered the building.”

The sound of Mayoi’s voice steeled Mikari’s will as she stopped outside the gated yard of her parent’s home. Everything was smaller than the one she’d grown up in with Aikari- of course it was. Why would they need such a large house with one daughter dead and the other preparing to leave for Mystryal? The house was smaller, the yard was smaller, even the mailbox was smaller in that it was just a single color, and not painted in the wildly bright colors she and her sister had left it in when they were six.

The last few times she’d been standing in this spot, waiting to approach, it was at a holiday. None of them went that well. The only other time before that of note was when Faye had been waiting here too, but that was just before Mikari had left for Mystryal…

Mayoi spoke of entering a building, and so Mikari would do the same. She was just stalling, after all, trying to put off the inevitable.

Mikari opened the front gate and walked down the stone path to the front door. The walk was over before it even begun, it seemed like, and Mikari raised her hand to knock on the door.

Knock. Knock. Flesh met wood twice, and that was it.

She waited, and as she waited, she listened to more of the trial going on.

_“From there, we notified the Izala family,”_ Mayoi continued. _“We learned what little of Nuhar’s final moments were known, and we retreated to the Town Guard Offices to question a suspect.”_

_“That suspect being one Kinsey Hoss?”_

_“Yes, that was him,”_ Mayoi said.

Mikari frowned, and knocked again.

Knock. Knock. Each one a bit more forceful than the last two.

Her parents had foregone a doorbell, and she could only guess why, since they’d had one at the old house. Surely that would be easier than trying to keep an ear open for a knock at the door?

_“And he refused to answer your questions?”_ The Prosecutor asked.

_“At first, yes, but he came around eventually,”_ Mayoi answered.

Mikari went to knock again.

Knock– The door opened inwards, and Mikari pulled her fist back quickly before she knocked through onto something she wasn’t meant to.

“Mikari?” the Imp man who answered the door had some more grey hairs peppering his jet black hair, and his face was a bit more wrinkled than she remembered, but it was definitely her father who stood before her. His Violet colored eyes were practically unchanged.

“Hi, dad!” Mikari smiled at him.

A heartbeat passed before Takeru Yuki pulled his daughter into a hug, which was returned immediately.

Several moments passed like that, and then Takeru took a step back to look at his daughter. “Let me get a look at you…” He smiled as he put a hand up to the top of her forehead, and then moved across towards his own body. His hand came up higher than he’d remembered, and he laughed. “What are they feeding you over there, fertilizer? You’re sprouting up like a weed!”

Da~ad! I’m not a Spriggain!” Mikari giggled in answer.

“C’mon, let’s get you inside,” Takeru stepped aside to let his daughter in. “It’s a cold one out there today.”

“I know!” Mikari agreed with a nod as she stepped inside. “I walked from the train station.”

“You did, huh?” Her father grew silent for a moment before snapping out of it and smiling. “So! How have classes been going?”

“They’ve been… Interesting. I can say that much,” Mikari admitted as she entered the house. “So, how’s work been?” She focused next on shrugging off her backpack and jacket, and hung them both off of the nearby coat rack while her Father closed the door, and composed an answer.

“Oh, you know, the usual,” he said. “It’s a lot easier to manage people from higher up the fishing food chain than where I was back in Rainbow Line. I got a promotion this year, too! That’s made things easier too.”

“Oh, really?” Mikari asked as she pulled out the radio and lowered the volume.

Mayoi was still answering questions from the Prosecutor for the moment, but it was all stuff that Mikari was sure was going to go smoothly.

“Yeah,” Takeru nodded. “You’d be surprised how much clout a slightly shinier nonsense title can give you.”

“I probably wouldn’t, actually,” Mikari shook her head.

Her father just gave her a sad smile, even as the Prosecutor turned over Mayoi to the Defense Attorney.

The Defense Attorney approached the stand, eyeing Mayoi with… not suspicion, but a resigned look? Either way, Mayoi wasn’t relishing the idea of rehashing the same story she’d just gone through.

“So, Detective Mayoi,” the Gnomic woman began, “When dealing with a near fifty year old case, how reliable would you say testimony of those events are?”

“Depending on the witness?” Mayoi asked, and received a nod in confirmation, “People not directly involved tend to have poorer memories than those who are directly involved.”

“As a percentage?” What kind of bullshit question was that?

“A forty-sixty split, in the same order as before.” Mayoi answered.

“And about what percentage would you put those same testimonies when dealing with Changelings?” The Defense Attorney flinched as soon as she’d said it- had she misspoken?

“The same amounts,” Mayoi answered after the woman made no obvious move to correct herself, “changelings are no more inherently magical than you or I, Ma’am. Not in terms of memory editing magic, that is. Which is illegal, need I remind you.”

The Defense Attorney opened her mouth, then closed it, and grimaced. She’d definitely misspoken then- but was unwilling to backpedal now. What ever for? Mayoi felt a sense of unease as the Defense Attorney shook her head and told Judge Asha’da she had no further questions. That unease grew as Mayoi was dismissed back to the audience.

‘What the hell was that about?’

Mikari frowned as she thought that exact same though. She couldn’t ponder it for long, though, as her mother derailed that thought with a rather tight hug the moment she saw her walk into the dining room.

“Oh, Mikari!” Madoka Yuki playfully scolded as she held her daughter close. “You should have called first! I would have been waiting at the train station for you!”

“That’s exactly why I didn’t call, Mom!” Mikari laughed as she hugged her mother back. “I didn’t want you waiting out in the cold all morning long.” Not that the could would affect her mother that much due to being an Iconox, Mikari mused, but it was other things that made her keep quiet on when and where she was arriving.

They broke the embrace to look at each other. Madoka Yuki was an Iconox woman whose bright violet hair had only frosted slightly with age and worry. The same crimson eyes Mikari had inherited stared back at her with a weariness that made that concern all the more justified. A glance back at her father was returned with a pained glance away.

Ice Elemental or not- Mikari knew her mother wouldn’t have fared well alone at a train station for hours on end.

“Oh, I’d be fine!” Madoka smiled, though it wasn’t a full smile. Not the one that had been absent since Aikari had died. “You two worry too much, you know!”

‘No,’ Mikari thought as she said something meaningless to carry on the conversation, ‘sometimes I wonder if I’m not worrying enough.’

Now came the most tenuous part of the Trial. Qua Traen was called up to the stand and given a soul resonance test to prove that he was the reincarnation of Joan Hayamoto. The ‘test’ was really just an enchanted stone slate the size of a small book that glowed red if the user was lying about who their past life was- a fail- and green if the user was telling the truth- a pass. The only problem was that it took several moments to run, and had a very small chance of not even glowing at all.

Since the magic contained on that stone was given to the Courts for use by Only the Courts by Yaovi and Hecate, it failing to glow implied that something so traumatic had happened that it had scrambled a person’s soul beyond the magic’s ability to recognize a past life. It had only ever failed three times within the last fifty years to Mayoi’s recollection. Each time it happened was usually involved in a case where someone’s soul had gone through multiple traumas in its past lives in very rapid succession. Three times was a small percentage in the long run, but it was a chance that Mayoi was dreading could happen here and now, thus screwing everything up.

But, she needed not worry, as the tablet glowed green, and confirmed the Reincarnation of Joan Hayamoto into Qua Traen.

The Prosecutor then began the final hammering of this case’s coffin nails with a single question: “Tell us, Qua… Joan. What do you remember?”

If the Defense Attorney had screwed things up before, there might still have been a chance to recover. But, as Qua began to recite what he remembered of his past life as Joan Hayamoto, that hope was rapidly torn to shreds. Had the Gnomic woman been a Dragon instead, you could have seen her wings being torn to shreds with each each description of a shovel swing. And with each description of those gruesome events, anyone keeping an eye on the Caged Changeling would have seen it trying to curl itself up into the tiniest spherical shape it could manage while restricted to a single form.

When the Prosecutor turned to the Defense Attorney and asked her if she had any questions… the answer of “No questions” sealed the case’s fate then and there. The Jury recessed, and Mayoi dreaded Kyiahlnah’s intervention yet to come…




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