“I had half expected you to leave town,” said Lady Ann Willing. She sat with one leg crossed over the other. “Though the damage your home suffered was a nice touch. Why have you come back, Atina LeRoux? Come to claim that your client, through no fault of your own, escaped? That you should be allowed to live unmolested in Binghamton again, and to continue to find legal work here? That you were simply suckered in, and are innocent of all of these things?”
I raised an eyebrow, sitting in damp clothes in the sitting room. “No. I won’t deny that we considered it, but I am here, and so is Jenny, in a safe location. Ready to stand trial, and be found not guilty.” This prompted a reaction from Lady Ann Willing. She set her cup down, and stared at me.
“Really? After what I said at our last meeting?” She caught my expression, and sighed. “I am sorry for that, by the way. It was unfair of me. My feelings are unchanged, but it is part of my duty to be better than that. To be above my own grudges.” She stirred her black breakfast tea slowly with a silver spoon, before taking a sip. “Edwin Link and Chaac have both stated an interest in meeting me here tonight. Am I to take it that is your doing?”
“Yes.” I took a deep breath. “Someone attacked me, the night before the last trial, and tried to kidnap me again. They staged a second attempt shortly after the jury selection, at which point they assaulted my house, and nearly killed my friends, while trying to take Jenny and I captive. I have every reason to suspect that they were trying to interfere with this case.”
“Do not lie to me.” Lady Ann Willing set her glass down on her china cup, her cold silver eyes locked on mine. “I am not a fool, though the Strix appear to think I am. They were responsible, and you-” She stared at me. “You think I will use it as a reason to justify a mistrial. A reason to kill your client.” Her shoulders visibly slumped, her talons rattling against her saucer as she tapped them. “Is that what you think of me? That I will seek any opportunity to execute an innocent young woman because of an ancient grudge? Have I fallen so far, become so distant, that I have become a tyrant without even noticing it?”
“I can’t afford to trust in this case, my lady. I’m sorry if that makes you feel hurt, but I need to do what is best for my client, even if it means distrusting you.” I winced at her expression. “I do feel bad about it, though.”
“I will not move for a mistrial. I wish to win this thing cleanly, if at all possible. A mistrial would mean questions, doubts, suspicions. Procedural victories are never clean.” She gave me a weary smile. “And you? Do you truly believe that you are going to win this case for your client?” She tilted her head, and her eyes widened. “Of course you do. You wouldn’t have returned to the city if you didn’t think it was possible. What have you done?”
“A lot of things,” I sighed. “But first and foremost is the spirit Tadodaho. He will be attending the night court, and it sounds as though he intends to attend it regularly. I think he’s interested in taking a hand in Binghamton undead politics. He gave me a message for you: Old grudges will only lead to new tragedies.” The hard, angry look in Lady Ann Willing’s eye died like a snuffed candle flame at those words, and she lowered her eyes towards the floor, shame-faced. The room was quiet for a while, as I sipped at my tea. I wanted to say something, to do something, to show her that I wasn’t trying to betray her and everything she’d accomplished. But she beat me to it.
“You must think I’m quite a monster. Sitting here, passing judgment upon innocent children for crimes that they did not commit.” She stared down at her fingers. “I hope you have something good up your sleeve.” Then she looked up. “Ah, they are here.”
Edwin Link stepped through a door, followed shortly after by Chaac. The two of them took seats, as Link crossed one leg over the other. “Alright, LeRoux. What the hell is all of this about? You bring us all here a few hours before the case, you must have something damn fascinating to be telling us. I flew in through the storm, and I thought I was in serious danger of dying again!” He crossed his arms, and watched me. Despite his gruff tone, he was grinning.
“Someone has tried to co-opt me, twice.” I looked at Lady Ann Willing. “I suspect that whoever is doing this is working with the Strix, but I have no proof. Any one of the three of you could, conceivably, be responsible; But I am certain that no more than one of you could be responsible, as you all have separate motivations in this case. So I wish to make an agreement, to make sure the trial can continue. Each of you will provide bodyguards during the next three days. Each of them will do their best to ensure I am not murdered, taking eight hour shifts in my office.”
Edwin frowned. “Wait. That makes it sound like you’re going to only be having bodyguards from one set of people at a time-” He sat back in his chair, and grinned. “Oh, I get it. Clever.”
Chaac frowned. “I’m sorry, I-”
“It is to put us in competition,” said Lady Ann Willing. “If she dies, whoever was guarding her at that time will be suspect, as will be their patron. It would not be a guarantee, but it would make life very… very difficult.” She sighed. “And of course, she has a good reason for asking this protection, doesn’t she? If we refuse, perhaps Jenny will not show up at her court date tonight. Perhaps we will find they have fled-”
“Oh, that reminds me.” I took out my phone, and texted the all-clear to Polly for another fifteen minutes. “And I would never claim to have such a base betrayal planned, Lady Ann Willing, but if you want to act as though I do, it would make my life a great deal easier.” I smiled politely. “I just want to do everything I can to make sure I don’t get killed. And I don’t trust our esteemed judge, for reasons that I hope are clear to everyone in this room.”
Chaac tapped her forefingers together, and nodded. “I will agree to this. I have already extended the services of the two bodyguards who I have enlisted while here; That offer still stands.”
“I wouldn’t mind that. I’ve got a couple favors I can call in. Hell, I could even stand watch for you myself.” Edwin grinned. “Been too long since I got the opportunity to engage in some youthful hijinks. And I’m sure I could find a few people who’d be willing to pitch in.” The two of them turned towards Lady Ann Willing, who sighed.
“Yes, it would be something of a tragedy to have you die now, before you have a chance to become an even greater thorn in my side.” But she smiled as she said it. “I think that I can agree to this. I may consult with Fang Fen about her covering for you. While I would never normally expect it of the prosecutor in a case, she does have an unusual connection to you. I suspect that she would appreciate the opportunity. I would normally consider it improper, but…”
“Nobody would accuse Fang Fen of being improper.” I nodded. “That sounds agreeable to me. Then, I think that I will see the three of you in a few hours, at the trial.” I smiled. “I’m going to get a bite to eat.”
I moved to go. Chaac stopped me in the entrance hall, running to catch up with me. “Have you found anything about what is hunting my people?” she asked, her voice soft, her eyes full of concern. I felt a little string of guilt.
“I haven’t. Not yet, anyway. A lot of people are curious about it.” I gave her a little smile. “I think that Hun-Came’s going to show up tomorrow. I’ve got something planned for tonight that should force her hand. I won’t tell you now, but I’ve got a good feeling about it.”
Chaac’s expression practically melted with relief. “I am so glad to hear that.” She gave me a strained smile. “Her disappearance has been… difficult for me. And the thought of Jenny dying because of Hun-Came’s fear…” She shook her head. “You know, I was not Mayan, either. My village was Aztec. It was destroyed, and I was taken in by Hun-Came, made into one of the Camazotz. She always showed a certain willingness to flout tradition like that…” She smiled. “I am glad that Jenny has you to watch over her. My associates will be at your office tonight after the trial to watch over you. I trust them; they would not betray me. I chose individuals of honor.”
I smiled. “That means a lot to me, Chaac. But let’s not count our chickens until they’re hatched. There’s still the trial.”
I considered stopping at Shark Belly’s for food, but lost my nerve at the last minute, and picked up Chinese food instead. I wanted to see Roy, but I was frightened. Frightened that he’d be angry, frightened that he’d be hurt, maybe even frightened that he just wouldn’t care. I couldn’t bring myself to face him yet. After the trial, I promised myself. Just a couple more days and this would be behind me, and maybe I’d even have enough money that I wouldn’t do this anymore. Or could at least help him to find a better job, doing something more meaningful.
These were the thoughts swimming in my head as I arrived at the graveyard. I popped the trunk of the car while Polly called Jenny and Alfred, and slid the briefcase out. I looked up as Dean Morton stepped out of his slender black Mercedes. I stepped up to him and shoved the briefcase into his hands, making him stumble back a foot. “What is-?” He opened it, and his jaw dropped. Then he closed his mouth and looked up at me, an expression of annoyance and awe mixing on his face. “You cheated.”
“No, I got lucky. You’re not going to try to weasel out of the deal, are you?”
“Heavens no.” He slid the briefcase containing a hundred thousand dollars into the back of his car. In frankness, the briefcase was mostly padding- A hundred thousand dollars would have to be in five-dollar bills before it could warrant a whole suitcase. Still, the look of the thing was important. “I look forward to your arguments tonight. I’m sure that whatever they are, I’ll find them incredibly persuasive.” He gave me a wink, and started down the hill. Tarps had been set up, providing places of shelter from the rain, and keeping things relatively comfortable. It looked like a circus had sprouted up in the middle of the graveyard. Polly stepped up beside me, and Jenny and Alfred arrived not long after. The four of us made our way down to the court.
Twelve great chairs sat in a row, sunk into the green grass, covered by their own private tarp. A stand for the judge sat before two lecterns. There were no barriers, nothing between the attorneys, the judge, the jury, and the audience. There wasn’t a need for that kind of thing in the Night Court. Anyone foolish enough to throw themselves at the jury would get exactly what they deserved.
Fang Fen was dressed formally, a gray wrap-over coat and a tight hat covering her. She did not look terribly happy as she stood at the right lectern. I took the left, while Jenny, Alfred, and Polly set out their folding chairs, taking a seat in the audience. The twelve jurors had already settled into their chairs, and were waiting with obvious annoyance for the last person necessary to start the court: Sofia Marzetti. A young man stood with a very precise looking watch by the entrance to the tent, counting out minutes and seconds with exacting precision.
As twelve struck, he opened his mouth to announce it, only to be interrupted by the wet tent flap slapping him in the face as Sofia entered. She strode down the makeshift aisle between the seats of the audience, and settled in the chair as the damp announcer finished tolling the hour. “I think we may dispense with the formalities. Would the prosecutor like to start?”
Fang Fen cleared her throat, and straightened her back. “Ladies and gentlemen of the court. Thank you for hearing me tonight. The charges against Jenny Nishi are straightforward. First, she is accused of the crime of Murder by Gluttony, devouring the blood of a mortal, Anthony Jones, to the point that it caused his death. And second, she is accused of being a Wastrel; a vampire without lineage, without parent, without family. The punishment for these crimes is Death by Dawn.”
The court muttered, as Alfred and Polly exchanged whispered words. I could see Jenny swallow nervously. I stretched my neck, joints popping and cracking as I settled my hands on the lectern. “Your honor, the defense will show that each of these charges is without merit. That Jenny Nishi was not responsible for the death of Anthony Jones, and that she is not guilty of being a wastrel.”
“Really?” asked one of Lady Ann Willing’s cadre among the jury. A slender, pinch-faced man, with eyes like a pair of runny eggs. “You’re going to produce some evidence that she has a sire, then? Or perhaps you’ll prove that she’s not actually a vampire?” A ripple of laughter, most of it merely polite, filled the air as some of his sycophants made themselves known. Lady Ann Willing silenced it with a single raised finger. Fang Fen cleared her throat, and straightened her back, turning to address the jury.
“The charge of gluttony exists for a specific reason. We must live in unity with humanity. We cannot do this if we are predators, or parasites. We see how humanity responds to such things. The death of a human at the hands of a predator means a culling. We are blessed, because we can live in harmony with humans. We can take only what we need, and leave those we feed on unharmed. It is the basis of our society, and the root of our power, that we need not kill to survive; Along among perhaps all of the creatures on this earth, we may live in peace. When we kill, it is a greater crime for its waste.”
I took a moment to look across the crowd. A charge of Gluttony was rare, she was right; Most of the time, when one of the undead killed a human, it was for something other than simple hunger. There were just so many humans out there, and not many creatures would take enough to harm them, even if they didn’t have many humans to feed from. The undead prided themselves on being in control, on not being killers, on having refinement and civilization and delicacy. Gluttony spat on all of that. It was killing another person- Someone who might be lesser, but who was still a person- all for the sake of a meal. I could see the dark looks on people’s expressions.
“I personally witnessed the body of Anthony Jones, drained of every drop of his blood, with two wounds on his throat. He had been drunk dry. Juror Chaac, can you tell us: What is the Camazotz method of creating a new Camazotz?”
Chaac took a deep breath, standing. I wished this was a human court, where I would’ve had all the time in the world and all the formalism needed to question, to counter-question, to make sure the witnesses were prepared. But no such luck. I could only watch as Chaac spoke. “The prospective new Camazotz is drained of all of their blood, and fed the blood of their maker. This triggers the change.”
“So, the newborn Camazotz is typically starving when they arise?”
Chaac hesitated, frowning. “Yes.”
“Then if she were a Camazotz, it would be likely that Jenny, awakening, would find herself starved of the very thing she needed for life. She would, therefore, be extremely hungry, and close by to a prospective meal?” It was about this moment when, were this a human court, I would’ve leapt in with an objection. Earning my fee with outrage, and all of that. But in the court of the undead, it would simply insult everyone. The judge and jury knew what was being argued here, and would expect me to wait my turn to point out why it was invalid.
“It is possible,” said Chaac, not bothering to hem and haw around the question. Everyone involved knew the reputation vampires had. They were one of the few creatures likely to break the strictures against gluttony. Whatever little instinctual reminders kept other forms of undead from taking too much, from draining their victims to death, didn’t always work properly in vampires. That was just another of the reasons why they were so troublesome.
“No further questions at this time.” Fang Fen looked towards me. I took out the thermos of green tea and poured out a cup, taking a long sip while I let the silence stretch out. When the tension felt right, I spoke.
“Chaac. Is there a way of telling which vampire was responsible for the draining of Anthony Jones that you know of?”
“Not off the top of my head. Saliva samples could give us evidence in the forms of DNA, but Fang Fen’s contacts with the forensics department have not, so far as I know, found anything conclusive there.” Fang Fen frowned as I continued.
“Do you know if Hun Came’s saliva would still contain DNA? She was an extremely ancient vampire, who has lived thousands of years. It seems like she might not be entirely human after all that time.”
Chaac looked slightly offended, but nodded. “It is certainly conceivable. She never needed a doctor’s checkup, of course.” She frowned. “The teeth marks were difficult to distinguish, as well. Hun-Came didn’t leave any dental records, of course, but the bite marks could have been consistent with almost any Camazotz, or other vampires.”
I nodded slowly. “My point here is that we know of at least two vampires who were in the room that night- Jenny, and her maker. There may have been more, potentially many more. Dean Morton.” The man gave an ingratiatingly oily smile. “Are you familiar with the concept of a Dreamwalk?”
He snorted. “Ah, yes. Not my department, understand; A bit too soft-science for me. But I know of it.”
“Could you describe the procedure?”
“Well, it’s fairly simple. An individual takes a combination of psychedelics and deliriants, channeled and magically activated so as to produce a state of hyper-awareness and emotional sensitivity. A form of psychometry, really, it allows them to experience events in the recent past. The clarity of the events depends on a few things- The sensitivity of the individual, access to those who originally experienced events, and where the events took place. I would hardly call it decisive evidence- Ah, but of course, I’m sure that if you have something to present to the court along those lines, it is worth listening to.” He gave me a shark-toothed smile, and I wondered when he’d gotten a new set of dentures.
“Alfred Jones, would you please stand up?” He did so. “Two weeks ago, on the Monday evening following the jury selection, you, Jenny Nishi, and I engaged in a dreamwalk. Correct?”
“That is true.”
“During a dreamwalk, are the viewers capable of lying about what they’re seeing?”
“No. Part of the mix removes inhibitions on speech; They might hold back about what they’re seeing, but they won’t be able to lie about it.”
“Did I speak at the end of the Dreamwalk?”
“Yes. You went into rather graphic detail about watching Jenny being drunk by Hun-Came, followed by Hun-Came doing the same to Tony, before beginning to rant and rave about-”
“Thank you. No further questions.” I gave him a hard look, and he shrugged haplessly.
Fang Fen tapped her chin. “The Dreamwalk. Does it provide fact?” she asked, her eyes on me even as she asked Alfred.
“It’s… complex. It shows what is true-”
“Let me clarify. Is the dreamwalk vulnerable to expectations and desires? Could it provide a false impression of what has happened, if someone desperately wanted it? Can we trust what is attested to in a dreamwalk, even through a third party?”
Alfred frowned, his mouth twisted. “I suppose that it could provide a false impression.”
Fang Fen turned more fully towards me. “You are an excellent attorney, all things considered. Dedicated to your clients, and fiercely certain that they are in the right. I will not, therefore, ask whether you think that you may have been mislead by your own strong feelings about his case. However, I hope you can see how your view of things may not be proof.”
I gave a smile. “My own visions aren’t submitted as a sole proof. They are simply another piece of suggestion. Unless we have a witness to the act itself, nobody in this court room can give much of a proof one way or the other. But I think that there’s something else to realize, here: Whether Jenny Nishi killed Tony or not is hardly material to this case.” I luxuriated in the murmurs of consternation, the narrowing of eyes, the suspicious frown from Edwin Link. “I know that may sound strange. After all, if anyone in this room should be concerned about undead feeding on helpless mortals, well, it would be me.” The tension was broken with a light chuckle, as I raised my hands. “But you yourself said the reason for the existence of these laws, Li Fang Fen. Coexistence. Humans can’t live with a career predator, with someone who may kill at any time.”
I looked around the room, and then pointed towards Jenny. “Jenny. Will you please stand up.” I watched as the members of the court stared at her. She was shivering. A cheap jacket pulled around her shoulders, her face pale, her hair stringy and plastered to her forehead by the rain. She looked miserable, and frightened, and very, very small. “This is Jenny Nishi. Two weeks ago she woke up in the hotel room, her boyfriend of over a year dead. She had been changed into something strange and unfamiliar. She was feeling something that she hadn’t before.” I turned towards Fang Fen. “And she’s gone through nearly five pints of blood in that time. A surprising amount for someone accused of draining a full grown human male dry.”
Fang Fen frowned. “Even so-”
“Yes, it could be that she is in greater need of blood for other reasons, some sinister hidden power or a relic of her lineage that makes her need more blood than she would otherwise. But again, the question here is not ‘Did Jenny drink someone dry.’ The question is whether she will drink someone dry again. I have known her for only a couple of weeks, but she is not a murderer.” I turned my eyes on Fang Fen, and saw the hunted look in her eyes. “Jenny. Shortly after we met, you were emotionally vulnerable, and you spoke with Fang Fen. Could you please share what happened in the conversation?” I saw the look she gave Fang Fen. The guilty look.
“She… She told me that I was a good child, and that she respected my feelings towards others, and that she hoped that I would be safe. She told me that Tony’s death was not my fault, and that I should not bear guilt over his dying.” She looked down at her feet. “She said that she didn’t believe I would hurt a fly.”
I looked at Fang Fen. “And have your feelings on that matter changed?” I braced myself, prepared to come after her when she backtracked, when she tried to circle around-
“No. They have not. I do not, in all honestly, believe Jenny Nishi killed Tony. Even starving, I do not think she would have it in her to kill anyone, let alone the young man who she was in a relationship.” Fang Fen stood very straight and stiff, her fingernails digging into her lectern. She was emphatically not looking at Lady Ann Willing, whose expression was volcanic. “In the balance of evidence… If Jenny Nishi were to be absolved of her crime, I suspect that she would spend the rest of eternity doing no harm to anyone who had not grievously harmed her already. I think that executing her for the sake of Anthony Jones would be a miscarriage of justice.” She took a deep breath. “I would personally recommend to the jury that the charge of Gluttony be dropped.”
Sofia leaned forward, smiling indulgently. “Really? I don’t know that it’s your place, as the prosecutor, to put forth such a… conciliatory appro-”
“I do not care,” Fang Fen hissed, meeting Sofia’s eyes. The vampire narrowed her gaze, knuckles growing white. “I would recommend leniency.” The effort of saying it seemed to cost her something.
“That is all very well and good,” said Lady Ann Willing. “But the true matter of this case is not the death of the young man, tragic though it was.” I could hear the sharp intake of breath from Jenny. “The true crime here is what Jenny is, which is without connection, without patron, and without safety.”
“Ah, yes.” I smiled. “The charge of being a wastrel. It’s a strange thing, really.” I tapped my lectern. “There is all of this fear that you might take a cuckoo into the nest, that Jenny is an infiltrator. In other words, that she is a threat because she might be made more powerful than you when her patron actually appears.” My smile turned very wide, and very unpleasant. “And what if I were to tell you that Jenny’s maker will be here tomorrow? That when we reconvene tomorrow, I will bring with me the one who made Jenny into a vampire. Hun-Came, a vampire so powerful that she predates Christ. A vampire who is several times older than anyone in this tent.” I lifted my hands. “I wonder, Lady Ann Willing, if she will appreciate the hospitality you have shown to her kind while she was here.”
“You dare threaten-” the pinch-faced man began.
“To exist is not a crime! To be without parent is not a crime! To be born cannot be a crime! This is the only thing Jenny has done: To be the victim of someone else’s actions. If she killed Tony, it was because every drop of blood in her body was taken! If she was made a vampire, it was not her fault!” I pointed at the jury box. “Every one of you knows that you are called monsters by those who don’t know you. You feed on humans, you stand separate from them. If they discovered you exist, they would come down on you, en masse! They would slaughter you, and we all of us know that is why you hide: Because they could! And if you condemn Jenny to death because of the circumstances of her birth, then it is nothing less than what you deserve!”
I took a deep breath, turning to scan the jury box, the judge, Fang Fen, and the audience. They were shocked. Pitbulls that had just been bitten by a mouse. I squared my shoulders. “Hun-Came will be here tomorrow, and she is going to reveal Jenny’s true lineage, and make her what you fear. This court exists around the concept of power. Its rulings, its precedent, its laws, all of them are enforced by power. The most powerful rule here, and that’s why you’re frightened of Jenny! Because if she is what you think she is, you’re looking for an excuse to kill her to hold onto her power! And that kind of behavior will turn on you!” I could see the shock in Chaac’s eyes. She wouldn’t have wanted me to take this path, I’m sure- But I needed to do something. “But!”
I held up a single finger. “But, I am a pessimist. I believe in the worst of people. I thought Fang Fen would squirm out of what she had said. I thought that I couldn’t trust any of you. I may be wrong about you. You may not need a threat to do the right thing. It may turn out tomorrow that what you really want is not to condemn Jenny, not to sentence her to death for something she could not be held responsible for. But to give her the chance to live if she deserves it. And I sincerely hope that is true.” I let my hands drop to my sides. “The mercy that you show today is the mercy that will be shown to you. Sometimes, a great shock is needed to change tradition. I hope that you can all view what I have just said in that light.”
I let my arms fall. Sofia sat with a deeply indulgent smile, toying with a gavel between two fingers. She slammed the block of flat wood into the desk, breaking the momentary trance with a sharp crack. “Thank you for that performance, Miss LeRoux. If counsel has nothing further to be said, then we will adjourn till tomorrow night.” She smacked the gavel once more, and the courtroom erupted into chaos. I stepped up to Fang Fen. She gave me a quick look, and then moved to hurry away when I caught her by the shoulder.
“Thank you,” I said softly.
“I didn’t do it to help you.”
“I know. That’s why I’m thanking you.” I smiled.