Before I get to the fic, though, I'd really like to ask you all: what can we do to encourage more activity in this community? I want to do a secret Santa this year, even though we've skipped them recently. What do you think?
The video was dark; Nicky and Pearl could barely make anything out, but they could hear just fine. Phoenix was crying, and pretty hard, muttering to himself every few seconds. The two exchanged looks, apprehensive, but neither stopped the recording. They had to know what was on this video.
Another voice came over the speakers, one that neither viewer recognized. Phoenix clearly didn’t, either; his sobs subsided and he looked up, to put the camera on the figure approaching him instead of on the ground. The stranger spoke, “Hey, are you alright, sir?”
Phoenix sniffled. “I’m okay,” he replied in a watery voice. “I just had a fight with my girlfriend, that’s all.”
“Man, that sucks- wait- wait. You’re Phoenix Wright!”
“I am. What of it?”
“My name is Ashe Sanguine,” the stranger said, urgently, looking over his shoulder. Nicholas gasped sharply, a hand flying to his mouth as he spoke. “You have to take me to Kurain village. Something terrible is going to happen, and-“
Just as Phoenix was speaking over him, trying to get him to slow down and explain better, another voice from outside of Phoenix’s vision shouted, “Ashe!”
The man who called himself Ashe cursed sharply. “Run!” he said urgently. “You need to warn the Master! Caduta Scuro is-“
Ashe never finished his sentence; Phoenix shouted in horror as someone struck Ashe from behind. The man fell forward and Phoenix caught him. “What the hell?!” Phoenix managed to get out, before something struck him as well. He crumpled to the ground in a heap, still holding Ashe; the angle the camera was at was just right to keep them from seeing anything. A female voice spoke from out of their range of sight. “What do we do with him?”
“… kill him,” a male voice responded.
“Do as I say, Megan!”
“He’s a threat.”
There was a pause. “No, I won’t,” Megan replied vehemently. “He may be a threat but there are ways to deal with that. I’m not going to just kill someone. You want him dead, you do it.”
“I don’t want him dead!” Alex snarled back. “I don’t want this at all! Do you think I’m some kind of monster?!”
Despite Alex’s protest, a second later, there was a sharp bang!, and the video turned to static. Pearl and Nicky watched the screen in open horror at what they’d just witnessed. “One of them was murdered that night,” Nicholas said dully.
“And you know it was either Alex or Megan that did it,” Pearl replied quietly.
“Which one of them did they kill?”
He shook his head. “No. You know better than that, Pearly. We didn’t see who died, and Dad thinks he’s Ashe. What if… These people do some kind of spiritual manipulation, like us. I can’t assume that it was Ashe who died that night.”
Pearl reached out and put a hand on Nicholas’s. “Who was killed doesn’t matter right now. The most important thing is that Megan and Alex were involved in a murder, three years ago. Either Phoenix or Ashe died, and the other man is currently on trial for a string of brutal killings he didn’t commit. That is the mystery you need to focus on right now, Nikki. Consider these new facts and questions, but consider them in the context of this serial killer you’re trying to find.”
Nicholas took a deep breath. “You’re right. One thing at a time and the rest will fall into place. That’s how it’s always worked before.”
“Right. And you, sir, need to get to sleep. You have to be up super-early if you’re going to make it back into the city in time for the trial tomorrow.”
He nodded in agreement. “Yeah, okay. It’s been an exhausting day besides. I’ll just pack up the evidence I got from Caduto Scura and get ready so that I can just shower, eat, and go.”
“Alright. I- Trucy may want to go with you.”
Pearl waved a hand tiredly. “I’m not a child, Nicholas,” she said with an exhausted smile. “I’ve the whole village to help me if I need it, and I’m more than aware of how a pregnant woman needs to handle herself. I understand and appreciate the concern, but Nick needs his children more than I do right now.”
“Alright. You’re right, this is foolish. She can come if she wants but I can’t wait for her.”
“Of course. Go pack your evidence and get some sleep. It’s already very late.”
Apollo nervously watched his client’s reaction to being told that the young woman accompanying the prosecutor today was Phoenix’s adopted daughter. Phoenix’s expression went blank; he acknowledged Apollo’s statement with a short, “I see,” and let Misty guide him to the Defendant’s area. He sighed heavily, his eyes on Nicholas as he began setting up; the dark-haired man’s face was pale, and he looked utterly exhausted, but determined. Blue eyes met Apollo’s from across the courtroom; Nicky nodded, very slightly. He’d found something, at least.
The defense attorney wished desperately that he’d had a chance to speak with him before court convened!
But that wasn’t an option. “We will now resume the trial of Mr. Phoenix Wright,” the Judge said, once he’d taken his stand.
“The prosecution is ready, Your Honor.”
“The defense is ready, Your Honor.”
The Judge nodded, pleased with how smoothly this was going already. “Very good. Your opening statements, Mr.- er- Mr. Wright.”
Nicholas smiled sardonically at the Judge’s hesitation. “Yesterday in court, we discovered the name of a witness to the attack on Miss Lies,” he said smoothly. “Today, we will hear from him about that attack.”
“Very well. Call your witness.”
“The prosecution calls Mr. Alex Sanguine.”
Nicky’s eyes were on Phoenix as he made that statement. Phoenix leaned forward, his face grim and determined. Whoever that really was, he was as ready for battle as Nicholas was. He smiled tightly as Alex took the stand. Good. He’d need all the help he could get; nothing of what he found in Caduta Scura was plainly related to the attack on Megan.
Alex knew that no matter what happened, he was walking out of this. There was no way to link him, personally, to the murders in the city; nor was there any way to claim that he’d hurt Phoenix in any way. And even if that insolent prosecutor could do so, it had nothing to do with the murders. Secure in his confidence, Alex replied easily, even smarmily, when Nicholas asked his name and profession. “Alexander Sanguine, the leader of the village of Caduta Scura.”
Nicky crossed his arms over his chest- probably at the arrogant note in Alex’s voice. “I’d like to have the witness first testify about his village and his role in it, Your Honor.”
“What is the relevance?”
“Yesterday, Megan Lies testified that she was a resident of Caduta Scura, as was the defendant, and that Mr. Sanguine was her boyfriend,” Nicky said thoughtfully, clearly trying to connect the dots already. “Considering that it is physically impossible for the defendant to be who he is claiming to be- and Ms. Lies never contradicted him,” Nicky added pointedly, “-I think the first thing we need to get out of the way is the question of the defendant’s identity, and why in the world they are claiming so vehemently that he is someone he obviously is not.”
Alex’s eyes widened. No. No! His identity was completely irrelevant to the murders, wasn’t it?!
Mr. Justice held his silence, simply looking at the Judge. Of course the defense wouldn’t object. Anything revealed here would be benign to his case, at worst. At best… The Judge’s head was bowed, his eyes closed in deep thought. Finally, he said, “I agree. One of the points yesterday was the possibility that Mr. Wright was not mentally competent to stand trial. I must admit, as he is still claiming to be Ashe Sanguine, and earnestly at that, I’m still not entirely comfortable not declaring him unfit to stand trial. If some light can be shed on this question, I would sincerely appreciate it. In fact…” The Judge looked up to Nicky. “If you cannot prove that there is a logical explanation for the defendant’s behavior, Mr. Wright, I am going to have to end the trial so he can get treatment.”
“Understood,” the young prosecutor said, and his gaze flicked back to Alex. “Well? We’re waiting. Tell us about your village.”
Alex fought to keep control of himself. “V-very well. As I said, I am the leader of Caduta Scura. If the court is familiar with the Kurain school of Spirit Channeling, as I assume it is, my position is similar to that of Maya Fey’s.”
“Hold it!” Mr. Justice exclaimed, before Alex could continue. He repressed a wave of irritation as the defense attorney said, “Clarify for those in the court who aren’t familiar with Kurain, please.”
“As you wish… Kurain is a village founded on a particular supernatural ability, namely, the ability to channel the spirits of the dead. Ms. Fey, being a direct descendant of the founder of the technique, is the Master.”
“So the people of Caduta Scura can engage in spirit channeling?”
“Objection!” Nicholas said hastily. “That is irrelevant to the case at this time.”
The Judge looked from one lawyer to the other. “Mr. Justice?”
“Question withdrawn,” Apollo replied, giving the prosecutor a trusting look.
Nicky nodded to him gratefully. “Continue, Mr. Sanguine.”
Alex continued, unsure of himself now, “We’re a peaceful people, more or less, but we want little to nothing to do with the outside world, to the point where many of our people go their whole lives without interacting at all with the government.”
Apollo called for Alex to pause again, asking, “So, that means you don’t leave the village unless it’s absolutely necessary?”
“Why were you in the city the night Ms. Lies was attacked?”
“I was visiting her.”
“She said in her testimony that you are her boyfriend,” Apollo said flatly. “Did you witness the attack on her?”
He shifted uneasily. He’d underestimated them, gravely, it seemed. “Yes, I did.”
“The defense calls for Mr. Sanguine to testify to the attack.”
“Objection,” Nicky called out, a hint of aggravation in his voice. “Mr. Justice, we’ve asked him about his village. I hardly think he’s given us enough information.”
“I think he has,” Apollo replied calmly. “We know that they’ve a similar authority structure to Kurain, we know that they’re reclusive to the point that they will not leave the village without cause, and we know that Alex, Megan, and possibly Ashe have, in fact, left the village.”
“I know where you’re going, Nicky. Wait.”
The judge reprimanded Apollo sharply for his breach of proper court decorum, and then banged his gavel to get the two lawyers to actually pay attention to him. “I agree with Mr. Justice. I’m not sure where you’re going, Mr. Wright, but we know the basics about the village. If anything else becomes relevant, we can revisit this topic. Mr. Sanguine?”
“Y-yes, Your Honor.” Alex took a deep breath, considering his options, and then started talking again. “The night of the attack, I was visiting Megan. She’s adopted; she isn’t a part of the Caduta Scura village by blood. She was raised there her whole life, but decided she wanted to seek out her biological family on the outside. I regularly come to visit her, as does Ashe.”
Apollo interrupted, “Ashe? Do you mean the defendant, Phoenix Wright?”
“I mean the defendant, Ashe Sanguine.”
“Mr. Sanguine,” Nicholas said firmly, “that is Phoenix Wright. It is impossible for him to be anyone else.”
Alex smirked, his plan forming in his head. Maya Fey wanted nothing to do with Phoenix, he knew, and was likely too infirm to travel to the city anymore, anyway. If his information was correct, neither Nicholas nor Misty had much training in the spirit channeling. It was a gambit, but one that Alex believed he had a chance of winning. “I’m sorry, Mr. Wright, but that is Ashe,” he replied, just as firmly.
The young prosecutor paled, already seeing where this was going. “We have DNA tests and dental records that identify the defendant as Phoenix Wright-“
“You’re familiar with the concept of spirit channeling, are you not?”
“Explain yourself.” Nicky’s voice was soft, venomous, and terrified.
“Spirit channeling involves the medium calling a deceased spirit into their body. For all intents and purposes, it means that the medium ceases to exist: they become the deceased person. That is what is happening.”
“Objection!” Nicholas cried. “Then why is the defendant claiming to be Ashe Sanguine?!”
“You just said it yourself: the medium ceases to exist! Wright would identify as himself- not Ashe!”
Alex chuckled. “Things don’t work the same for the Sanguine family as they do for the Feys, Mr. Wright.”
“That still doesn’t explain-“
“It doesn’t?” Alex interrupted, sneering. “My brother is treacherous. His plan is obvious. Commit these heinous crimes, channel Phoenix Wright, and blame it on a dead man!”
Every head in the courtroom swiveled to the source of that outburst. Phoenix was on his feet, glowering in pained fury at the man on the stand. “I would never do the things I’m accused of,” he said in a venomous tone, “and you know it. But you would!”
The gallery erupted; “Is that an accusation?” Alex demanded above the din of the audience.
“Yes! Shall I tell them who killed-“
Ashe’s threat was lost in the chaos of the courtroom, as the Judge wailed on his gavel, his booming voice demanding order. Up in the gallery, the woman Alex banked on not being present was watching the chaos calmly. Beside her, her husband leaned closer in order to be heard better. “Well?”
“That isn’t Phoenix.”
“I agree. But the witness is full of it.”
“Will you object?”
“Not yet,” was the soft, determined reply. Maya narrowed her eyes at the man down on the stand; he couldn’t see her. “But soon. He’s walking the line. He’ll cross it soon. Until then, let him have more rope to hang himself with.”