She deserves this...
It's for the good of all of us...
It is only natural...
(Unlike everything she has brought upon us...)
And so, it is decided...
This will be her fate...
The sun was just beginning to set over the mountains when the last train to Kurain Village finally arrived at the station. A small crowd was already gathered on the dusty platform, ready to board and return to their modern comforts. Yet, as the doors opened, a single passenger stepped off to remain behind, alone, as the train hissed back to life and started its return trip.
The man took a moment to look both ways down the shaded bare platform, searching.
(The train was only a couple minutes late. I wonder where she could be?)
He set his duffel bag against one blue pant leg as he moved to check his wristwatch. However, he had to wait only a moment for the person he was expecting. He was barely able to react to the familiar sound of incoming sandals smacking at full sprint before he was thoroughly and utterly tackled in a bear hug.
“Niiiick! You made it!”
Phoenix grunted slightly as his back twinged at the force, but he smiled down at the young woman gripping him nevertheless, “Hello to you too, Maya,”
She giggled, eyes shining under her dark bangs as she gave him one last squeeze before mercifully letting go. Their lives were nearly unrecognizable from the time they had first become friends but moments like these remained a constant. Her face softened as she looked at him, “Heh, I know it’s only been a couple months since we saw each other, but it feels longer. I’m glad you’re here,”
“Me too,” Phoenix said, “Although, I was kinda worried. I thought you might be in trouble,”
“You just sounded really excited when we talked on the phone,”
Maya puffed her cheeks, suddenly indignant, “Hey, what's that supposed to mean? Are trying to say that me being excited just means ‘trouble’ to you?”
“No, well… not exactly,” Phoenix rubbed his neck.
She pouted, folding her arms, “Nick, really, I’m a responsible, all powerful, super wise spirit channeling master now. I find your lack of faith disturbing,”
“Nick, put the Magatama away.”
“Just double checking...” he muttered, relaxing his grip on the stone in his pocket, “So everything’s really alright? You didn’t call me to help with a case or anything?”
“Nope!” Maya clapped her hands, “No work. Just old friends having a weekend visit. Although, I did have something special planned,”
“So, you know how since I finished my training I’ve taken over as Master of Kurain?”
“I do,” Phoenix nodded, “Still very happy for you, Maya. You worked long and hard for that,”
“Thanks!” she beamed, “But see, Kurain Village is my responsibility now, and well…I’ve had a lot of ideas to improve things, and I’ve already started to make some big changes around here,” Maya suddenly seemed nervous as she twisted her hands behind her back.
“Changes? Like what?”
Maya brightened, emboldened. She leaned forward, grinning, “First, brace yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally, and take out your cell phone right now,”
“My phone?” Phoenix frowned, reaching into his pocket, “What about it? Are you finally going to show me how to change my ringtone?”
“Never. C’mon, look closer! Notice anything different?”
Phoenix squinted at the tiny flip screen while Maya practically vibrated over his shoulder. However, she quickly grew impatient with him when he failed to look impressed, “Look at the bars, Nick! You actually have them now!”
“Oh yeah,” Phoenix looked at the little icon she was pointing, “I have a signal out here, when did that happen?”
“Heh, since I twisted the city council’s arm as Master of Kurain and got us a couple cell towers,” Maya said smugly.
Phoenix raised his eyebrows, “Y-you can do that?”
“Don’t underestimate me, Nick,” she said sagely.
(Wouldn’t dream of it, Maya.)
“And that's only the beginning,”
Phoenix shook his head, tutting, “First you took over my office, and now the city,”
“Next the WORLD!” he watched as Maya took off running out of the station, sandals slapping her feet and fist raised in triumph.
A moment later she poked her head back around the corner, grinning expectantly.
“C’mon! I got a lot more to show you,”
“Is this why you called me down here?” Phoenix asked wryly, throwing his overnight bag over one shoulder, “Just wanted to show off your new toys?”
“Basically,” she chirped, falling into step beside him, “Oh, and I guess I kinda missed you,”
Maya smiled at him brightly then, as they began their walk down the tree-studded lane that would lead them to the village. Phoenix couldn’t help but return the gesture as nostalgia bubbled warmly in his chest.
With his free hand, he pulled Maya against him in a one-armed hug, “Missed you too,”
At first glance not much seemed to have changed in Kurain Village. The weather-beaten old payphone and bus stop were still there, as well as the general sense of having stepped back in time at least a hundred years. However, the more Phoenix looked, the more little changes he could see. The old thatched roofs on the houses of the villagers had been replaced with proper tiles to match the refinement of the Fey Manor. Fresh flowers and herbs for incense grew in newly tilled flower beds. Even the curse seals on the Kurain Boulder looked new. Everything shone a little cleaner, brighter. And that included the people. In fact, there seemed to be more villagers than Phoenix remembered. Before, Kurain Village had almost felt like a ghost town (no pun intended) with a scarce handful of acolytes residing there to train, although Phoenix rarely saw any of them. However, now, the earthen street was dotted with purple robes as people moved out and about, occasionally stopping as they buzzed about their duties to softly greet Maya.
For a town of spirit mediums, all the activity took away some of the mystique and macabre, but in exchange it seemed Maya had made a warm place to call home.
“Welcome to Kurain 2.0,” Maya said with a satisfied wave of her arm.
“Wow, you weren’t kidding when you said things were different. This place is so much more… lively,”
Maya smirked, “I figured just ‘cause we deal with dead people, doesn’t mean the village has to be, you know,”
“You mean you did all this?”
“Eh, not really,” she shrugged, pausing to smile at a couple passerby, “Kurain was kinda picking up over the last few years, ever since the Hazakura Temple case. I just gave it a little TLC to help it along,”
“Like going to the LA city council just to give you cell reception?”
“Hey, don’t think I didn’t sense that sarcasm,” Maya elbowed his ribs lightly as they walked, “I also asked them about boring stuff like getting garbage services and a better bus route, too,”
Phoenix blinked, “Really? That’s… actually pretty thoughtful and mature of you, Maya,”
Her golden colored magatama clinked as she bounced ahead, grinning, “Don’t worry, I also asked about getting wifi service. I’m not old and boring yet,”
Phoenix rolled his eyes, but really, he was impressed by how far Maya had come. She had accepted her mantle with grace, while remaining ever bubbly and impish. Now the village seemed to be flourishing under her leadership.
So, when Maya suddenly stopped, and refused to meet his eyes, he was confused.
“Be honest, do you… actually like it?” she asked, voice soft.
She was stronger, but still so unsure.
Looking around, he took in the view of people making candles, meditating in the grass, sweeping their porches, reading in the sunshine…
“You should be proud of yourself, Maya. I know I am. And I’m sure Mia would be, too,”
“You mean it?” she asked slowly.
Phoenix nodded, “Kurain Village has never looked better,”
She blushed a little darker, but it seemed like the right thing to say, “In that case, want to see the biggest new addition?”
He followed Maya as she began to trot happily down the path to the last building on the row of houses.
“Wasn’t this Dr. Buff’s home?” Phoenix asked, looking up at the wall of windows he knew looked into the study. The house was larger than most of the others in the village, enough to accommodate the large collections of books and artifacts. However ever since the Professor’s death almost a year ago, Phoenix wasn’t aware they would be able to use any of it.
“It used to be,” Maya said, opening the front door for him, “But Armie and me have been working together since before she left on that dig,”
As Phoenix stepped inside, it was like the house had undergone the same treatment the village had: mostly recognizable, but with definite changes. The floor-to-ceiling wall of books was still there, and there was indeed a large collection of artifacts on display. But now the collection looked like it had at least tripled in size since the last time Phoenix saw it. The middle of the room was now taken up by large shelves of relics that nearly reached the high ceiling.
“There’s even more upstairs,” Maya said proudly.
“Maya, what is all this?” Phoenix breathed, neck straining to look up at the topmost shelves.
“We have a cool lab now! Isn’t it exciting?” she chirped.
(I’m sure Ema would approve.)
Various bowls, urns, magatamas, beads, and the-spirits-knew-what-else were all carefully stored and displayed on the shelves. Around the room larger stone statues stood by, along with pieces of scientific looking equipment and computers.
“What kind of things are you researching exactly? Spirit mediums and science seems like an unlikely combination,” Phoenix said.
“Oh, mostly just artifacts, rocks, and some writings. We haven’t been experimenting or anything so much as organizing and cataloging stuff we’ve found so far,” Maya tapped her chin, “We used some of Dr. Buff’s findings like a springboard to start digging up things on Kurain. A lot was lost over the years, or stolen. I’m hoping eventually we can rebuild Kurain, not just the physical village, but our knowledge as well,”
Maya lovingly swept a hand over a cracked urn that Phoenix recognized, resting on a pedestal. Although permanently damaged and stained with pink paint, Maya brushed the dust off it with care.
“This is all really great, Maya. Although, I have to admit,” his lips quirked into a smile, “I knew you were dedicated, but I hadn't quite pegged you for the one to be passionate about old stuff like this,”
Maya shrugged at him in the reflection on the urn, “I guess they kinda grew on me while I was in Khura'in,”
“Funny, I thought you were going to say something about me being old,”
“Dang, you’re right,” Maya’s eyes widened, “I’m losing my touch,”, their eyes met in the gloss of the urn, “We’ve been away way too long,”
“Agreed,” Phoenix said.
Their heads pricked up as a door opened on the upstairs landing.
Maya’s face broke into a smile, “Oh hey, perfect timing!”
Phoenix watched as a young woman descended the stairs. She was obviously a spirit medium, with her deep purple garb, although hers looked fairly over-sized. Her robes dragged on the ground behind her and the sleeves went clear past her hands which she had folded in front of her as she approached them.
“Nick, this is Sister Aoi. She’s been training here as a spirit medium, but lately she’s also started working here in our lab!” Maya explained, “And Aoi, this is my old friend, Mr. Phoenix Wright. He’s an attorney,”
“Nice to meet you, Aoi,”
The woman puffed a breath, lifting a couple strands of the long onyx black hair that veiled her face, just long enough to take a peek at him, “…Likewise…” she said in a slow, gravelly voice.
Phoenix was a little taken back, immediately finding the acolyte fairly creepy, but he managed a friendly smile, “So, uh, what do you study here?”
“…I read…I like language…so I help translate… and transcribe… the old scrolls and books… on Kurian spirit channeling…” was the monotone reply.
“O-oh. That sounds really interesting,”
Aoi made a stiff motion like a very slight nod, “Meaning across languages…is a challenge.… interesting look… into cultures…but also…you can tell… a lot about a person… from their word choice…”
“Really?” Phoenix asked, “Can you tell anything about me?”
The woman gave another puff, moving her hair again to peer at him through one eye, “…Your words…are awkward…perhaps you are not a reader…and don’t know what to say about the art…of language…or perhaps…you simply find me…off-putting…”
Phoenix laughed nervously.
(Well, if I wasn’t awkward before I definitely am now!)
Maya clasped her hands brightly, “Heh heh, she read you like a book, Nick! Don’t mind him too much, Aoi. Nick here is a strange one,”
(Wait, I’m the strange one?!)
“Sister Aoi has been great. She helped me start the lab. None of this would be here without her and Armie’s support,”
Aoi replied in the same gravelly dull voice, “…I am filled with an overflowing joy…at being able to do fulfilling work…”
He cleared his throat, “Eh-heh, well, you …seem really observant anyway. I’m sure that makes you really good at your work here,”
“You are…very kind...” the acolyte bowed, “But I'm sorry...I would stay and chat…but I have…other duties to perform…before dinner…”
“Oh yeah, it’s almost supper time isn’t it? Don’t let us hold you up, we’ll see you in the dining hall!”
“…Thank you…Mystic Maya…” Aoi gave another creaky bow before shuffling out the door, however not before she gave Phoenix one last look through her inky hair. Phoenix stiffened as an involuntary shudder ran up his spine at the unsettling image.
“She seems…nice,” Phoenix said lamely.
Maya looked bemused at his uncomfortableness, “It’s okay. You kinda get used to her after a while. We don’t have to sit with her at dinner or anything, if you don’t want,”
“N-no no, it’s fine. I’m glad you have good people to help you at the village. It’s really great, Maya,” Phoenix scratched the back of his neck sheepishly, “Maybe you could show me some of the stuff in here tomorrow?”
Maya brightened at that, “Sure thing! But for now, I believe the dinner bell is calling our names,”
“Lead the way, Master Maya,”
Phoenix followed Maya as she locked up the lab for the night. An orange glow of dusk had settled over the village, and everything seemed to be slowing down into a lazy peaceful haze as night approached.
Phoenix could smell something cooking as they started toward Fey Manor.
“Mmm food,” Maya sighed wistfully, “You know, that’s another good idea. I should get some food shops up here for the village. You think if I ask, Eldoon will open up a route here?”
“You managed to weasel some cell towers from the city, a food truck will be child’s play for you, I’m sure,” he said dryly.
As they turned the corner however, Phoenix frowned, “Uh Maya, is that another new addition?”
He pointed toward a sleek looking yellow camper, which had suddenly seemed to appear near the entrance of the village, glaring brightly in the setting sun.
Maya’s face fell a little as she caught sight of the banana colored bulk on wheels. She chuckled sheepishly, “Heh, no that’s actually-”
“Miss Fey! Just the girlie I wanted to see!”
There had been two people standing near the camper talking, a man and another acolyte. However, as soon as the man, the apparent owner of the camper, caught sight of them he had called out enthusiastically. He immediately began to saunter towards them with a thousand-watt smile, a straw skimmer hat cocked proudly on his neatly kept head. The acolyte he had been talking to looked very weary and harassed. She seemed to hasten to stop him, but the man moved with the swiftness and determination of a loping bull. So she was forced to settle for meekly treading in his wake.
“Whoa, another friend of yours, Maya?” Phoenix asked.
“Uh, kinda, I guess?” Maya gave a slightly pained smile, waving her hand meekly in greeting.
The other man was about as conspicuous as his camper against the rustic village with his crisp tan colored pinstriped suit and lime green bow-tie. As he approached, he immediately shook Maya’s hand. Although, handshake would be an understatement, as he was so vigorous he shook Maya’s whole arm.
“So glad to see you, Miss Fey, just so glad. How are you doing this lovely evening? Isn’t it lovely? Gotta love that country air,”
“Sorry, Mystic Maya. I tried to tell him it was getting too late for unexpected visitors,” the acolyte apologized, breathless. Her bright mane of yellowish-orange hair looked frazzled.
Maya gave a reassuring nod to the trembling acolyte, “Don't worry about it, Marigold. I'll deal with him,”
“'Deal with him'?” the man laughed heartily, “You wound me, Miss Fey!”
Maya chuckled good-naturedly, “I mean it in a good way, Mr. Shun, like how Nick here has to 'deal' with me! Which reminds me, Mr. Shun this is my old friend Mr.-”
Phoenix suddenly found himself on the receiving end of the same rigorous handshake, “Pleasure to meet you, sir. An absolute pleasure. Name’s Shun, Loki Shun. I’m with Zashiki Realty, best real estate business this side of the country, I’m sure you’ve heard of us,”
“R-real estate business?” Phoenix asked weakly.
“Yeeees sir,” the man beamed, “You know we’re not normally based in these parts, but I’ve been taking my yellow beauty over there and helpin’ out folks, makin’ their dreams come true. Their dreams for the perfect home, that is. People get all misty eyed over the mountain views around here, you know, so here I am. You know why? I know just what people want and how to make them happy. Yes sir, you are looking at the best man in the business, in the best company in the business.
You know what they say,” he fluffed his bow-tie proudly, “The most important real estate agent’s mantra: Loki Shun, Loki Shun, Loki Shun!”
Phoenix deflated, “I’m pretty sure that’s not actually what they meant when-”
“Tell me my fellow sharply-dressed friend, are you buying or selling?”
“W-what? Me?” Phoenix blanched as Shun threw one arm around his shoulders, “N-no I’m not buying or selling anything! I don’t even have a lawn, much less a house!”
The admission only seemed to spur the other man on, he looked like a cat that had just caught a canary by the tail, “Oh ho, well we’ll have to fix that! After I’m done doing business with the little lady, of course. Why don’t you give me a call as soon as you get the chance, there. I’ll set you up real nice. Get you a nice bungalow. You seem like the bungalow kind of guy,”
It took all Phoenix’s frazzled brainpower just to keep up with Loki Shun’s racing words. Meanwhile his equally fast hands had whipped out a handful of paper that at first Phoenix thought was a wad of cash but was actually a stack of acid green business cards. Before he knew it, the man had forced about a dozen of them into Phoenix’s hand while he was talking.
Shun was about to slip more business cards into Phoenix’s breast pocket when Maya mercifully stepped in, gently prying him away from Shun's grip on his shoulders, “That’s very nice of you, Mr. Shun, I’m sure Nick and his old dingy apartment are grateful,”
“Uh, yeah, sure,” Phoenix blinked as his brain seemed to catch up, “But wait, did you just say you had business with Maya? What kind of business?”
Shun fluffed his bow tie importantly again, “Well, if you must know, my friend, I was just going to restate my offer to Miss Fey, here,”
“Offer?” Phoenix asked, growing more and more suspicious.
“Mr. Shun has been visiting nearly every day for the last couple weeks. He’s been making an offer to buy the whole Kurain Village lot,” Maya explained. Off to the side, the other acolyte, Marigold, looked extremely nervous, her eyes fell down at the ground as she wrung the sleeves on her purple training robe. However she remained silent.
Phoenix frowned, “Buy? But you’ve been all excited showing me the new things you’ve done to the village this whole time, why would you sell it?”
“That’s what I’ve told Mr. Shun,” Maya said, giving the other man a pointed side-eye, “Kurain is still not for sale,”
Shun hardly seemed to hear her, his Cheshire Cat grin as wide as ever, “Well, you know what they say, can’t blame a guy for trying, now can you, Miss Fey?”
“I suppose not. But like I’ve said before, Kurain Village is extremely important to myself, my family, and all of the people who train here. I couldn’t possibly give it up for any amount of money,”
Shun tipped his straw hat low, almost managing to look sorry, “That’s a shame, Miss Fey. A right shame. Still though, you’ll have to forgive me for being a bit of a scoundrel. This valley is a hot spot right now, which is the best kind of spot to be. I’m afraid I’m not quite done with you yet,”
“Whatever you say, Mr. Shun,” Maya shook her head lightly.
“Ah, Mystic Maya?”
They all turned towards Marigold. It seemed like she had finally found her voice again, although she still looked very small and uneasy, “S-s-sorry to interrupt, but I think everyone is waiting for us in the dining hall. Shouldn't we be going there now?”
“Right you are! We really should be on our way. Unless you would like to stay for dinner, Mr. Shun?” Maya quirked her head at the real estate agent.
“Ah, you're so kind to always ask me, Miss Fey,” Shun clapped his hands together, still grinning pleasantly, “But my answer is the same as well. I’m afraid duty calls. You know what they say-”
“Sell, sell, sell,” Maya chuckled, “Goodbye then, Mr. Shun,”
With that the man left as quickly as he seemed to arrive. He bade them all farewell and left with a tip of his hat and a cloud of dust in his retina searing yellow camper. The village suddenly seemed much quieter as he rumbled away.
“Jeesh,” Phoenix sighed, patting himself down. Shun’s business cards seemed to have gotten everywhere on his person, they even clogged up his Court Record, “Where do you even find these people, Maya?”
Maya giggled, “Eh, between Shun and Aoi, I like to think they balance each other out,”
A soft sniff nearly made Phoenix jump, he had nearly forgot the other acolyte was there, she was so quiet. She was still ringing her hands, “I... I have to admit, Mr. Shun makes me nervous. He seems tr-tr-tricky...”
“Don't you worry,” Maya said, “I'm pretty sure Shun’s harmless. He's just a bit excitable, like a golden retriever,”
“Yeah well,” Phoenix lowered his voice, “If that guy or anyone else gives you trouble, you know you can call me, right? I am a lawyer. Most people are kind of scared of those,”
“L-lawyer?” Marigold asked, “Does that mean you-you're Mystic Maya's friend, Mr. Phoenix Wright?”
“Why, yes. You know about me?”
Maya threw one arm around the girl's shoulders, “I've kinda taken Marigold here under my wing. I might have bragged about you a couple times while we've been training,”
The acolyte bowed, her bright hair bouncing with the movement, “It's nice to finally meet you, Mr. Wright. It's good to know Mystic Maya has a friend to watch over her. I wo-worry sometimes,”
“That makes two of us,” Phoenix sniffed a small laugh.
“Hey, it's okay, you two,” Maya grinned, “I am a strong independent woman. I buy my own burgers and everything,”
(I’ m pretty sure one of those is a lie.)
“Speaking of food,” Maya continued, “I hereby declare it to be dinnertime. Let's go eat!”
As they all started toward the manor, Maya poked fun as Phoenix's stomach gave a loud growl, while Marigold followed behind quietly. Soon the three were seated, along with all the other acolytes in Kurain Village, on cushions at one of the long tables in the dining hall. Candles and lanterns gave a soft cozy glow as heaping bowls of stew and rice were passed out. Maya was quick to dig in.
“Ah, hits the spot,” she gave her belly an appreciative pat, “The only thing that would make this better is if Pearl didn't have to go away for training. We all could've been together,”
“Yeah,” Phoenix said around a mouthful, “Guess it gives me a reason to come visit again,”
“That'd be wonderful!” Maya beamed, “Bring Trucy too, we'll make a weekend of it. I tell you, things are really looking up around here,”
Phoenix shared a smile with Maya as a couple younger acolytes approached her. As Phoenix turned back to his food while Maya talked to the others, he noticed Marigold sitting across the table. She looked very distracted but downcast, staring at her food while she mutely pushed it around, not eating.
The young woman jumped, dropping her chopsticks with a chink against the side of her bowl, “Huh?”
“Is...something wrong?” he asked.
She suddenly looked more troubled, avoiding his eyes, as if embarrassed, “Sorry. It's fine, don't worry about me...”
He found his interest suddenly piqued. Maya had seemed to have created such a nice new Kurain Village, it was hard to think that anything could be amiss to make someone like Marigold so troubled. Although he did have one suspicion. Casting a sideways glance at Maya, still happily absorbed in conversation, he leaned forward slightly so only Marigold could hear, “...Is it about Mr. Shun?”
Her eyes widened slightly, but she said nothing.
When she didn't continue, Phoenix softened, at once more casual and warm in a way that he had found good for not only dealing with clients but numerous pseudo-children in need of comfort.
“You know,” he started, “I have a daughter that likes to put on a show, not just with magic. Between her and the courtroom, you could say lies have kinda become my specialty,”
Marigold looked at him hard now. Phoenix met her gaze gently.
“...I know we just met, but a friend of Maya's is a friend of mine. Don't feel like you have to hide from me,”
She blinked at him as if surprised before ducking from his gaze again. She seemed to mull him over as she poked around in her rice.
(Well, it was worth a shot, anyway...)
Phoenix had just picked up his own chopsticks when her small voice spoke up.
“It's not Mr. Shun, per say...”
Her voice was even more quiet than earlier, he strained to hear over the soft drone of conversation in the dining hall, “I wasn't always like this, always scared...it's just, I've been having strange feelings lately...like something bad is about to happen...almost constantly...”
Phoenix hummed, tapping his chin, “That doesn't sound pleasant. Although, I would imagine that strange feelings must be common in a place filled with spirits like Kurain. Is it possible they could be affecting you?”
Marigold nodded thoughtfully, “I have been training pretty hard lately,” she sighed, “Maybe I just need a long break...I just can't shake the feeling something is going to happen to Mystic Maya...”
Phoenix gave her a warm smile, “You must care about Maya a lot to be this worried about her,”
Marigold brightened at that, “I look up to Mystic Maya very much! I struggled with training so much when I first got here, but she was so kind and encouraging. I'm doing so much better now because of her,”
(Yeah, that sounds like Maya...)
She continued, “It's not just Mystic Maya either, Kurain Village means so much to me as well. My Grandmother Lily trained here many years ago before she had to leave the village. I feel closer to her being able to come back here and follow in her footsteps. My family has always been close to the spirits, but none of us have practiced any spiritual training since my Grandmother, not until now anyway,”
“Is that why Shun makes you so nervous?” Phoenix asked, “That he's trying to take Kurain away?”
Marigold wrung her hands, “Yes... I've met so many good people like Mystic Maya here, and this is such a good opportunity for me. I would hate to lose it so suddenly...”
“It's okay to be scared,” Phoenix said reassuringly, “But I'm sure everything will be fine. Maya would never let anything happen to Kurain Village,”
Marigold looked over at the Master, still chatting animatedly. She seemed almost wistful but her face darkened when she turned back to her bowl, “It's not Mystic Maya I'm worried about selling the village...”
“What do you mean?”
When Marigold turned back towards him, she suddenly looked so serious it chilled him, “Mr. Wright...you're really a lawyer, right?”
That immediately put Phoenix on alert. He ducked his head towards her, “Yes, I am... Is it that serious?”
Marigold hesitated, worrying her lip. After drawing a shaky breath, she finally met his eyes and had just opened her mouth to speak when a sudden small cry from Maya startled them both. Phoenix looked over just in time to see Maya fumble with her cup and bowl before they both clattered to the floor, spilling their contents everywhere.
“It's okay, it was just water,” she said, shaking her dripping hands, “I think I just knocked it over with my sleeve,”
He let out the breath he had been holding.
“I'll help you clean it up,” Phoenix offered, scooping up the dishes. Another acolyte offered to get a broom. Marigold watched them in still silence. As Phoenix was blotting his damp sleeve, he noticed her hands gripping the edge of the table with white knuckles. Her face was nearly unreadable, but her eyes were wide. Terror-stricken.
As another plate of food was set for Maya, Phoenix watched Marigold worriedly, “Marigold, did something-?”
“Excuse me...is this...seat taken?”
Marigold visibly stiffened as she looked up at the speaker, Sister Aoi.
Aoi stood, looking unaffected as ever, holding her own bowl of food expectantly in front of the empty seat next to Marigold.
“Sure, Aoi. Have a seat!” Maya chirped.
Marigold solemnly watched out of the corner of her eye as Aoi bent to sit on the open cushion. She curled into herself slightly as Aoi settled. Neither touched their food nor looked at each other. Phoenix frowned.
(Huh...I understand Marigold's feelings to Shun but why the visceral reaction to someone like Aoi? Aren't they all Maya's friends?)
Maya seemed oblivious to the tension that had settled over the other side of the table, or at least refused to acknowledge it, and continued to chat and eat happily. Phoenix struggled to join her, stiffly taking bites of food.
However it wasn't long before Marigold suddenly stood, “I think I'll turn in early for the evening,”
“Oh, already?” Maya asked, “You didn't really eat. Are you not feeling well?”
Phoenix could see the acolyte determinedly keep her eyes down, away from Aoi, who appeared to be just as oblivious, looking at and saying nothing under her veil of dark hair.
“Good night, Mystic Maya...” she said quietly.
Before Maya could say anything else, Marigold had speed-walked away, her bright hair chasing behind her as she hurried out of the dining hall.
“Good night...Marigold?” Maya pouted, now appearing worried as she watched her leave.
Across the table, Aoi calmly sipped from her cup.
Phoenix was left wondering about what Marigold was about to tell him. She seemed like a pretty anxious person in the few minutes he had known her. Was that just her being paranoid or could there be something else happening that he wasn't aware of? She seemed really intent on Aoi just then, but Maya seemed to trust her. As carefree as Maya could be, he knew her well enough to know there were certain things she took quite seriously, Kurain being one of those things, as his trip so far had proved. They had also been through a lot together and met many types of people. He didn't believe Maya would be so ignorant and naive to the threat of a dangerous person, especially one close to her. With everything they had seen in the courtroom from their clients to witnesses to criminals, there was nothing that could surprise them when it came to what people were capable of.
Phoenix's thoughts were interrupted when Aoi stood, just as sudden as Marigold had, although her voice was as flat and unhurried as ever, “I believe...I should...turn in...for the night...as well...”
Maya bade her good night as she slipped away from the dining hall, her long robes still dragging behind her. Silence settled amid the soft hum of conversation around them at the table.
Phoenix ducked his head towards Maya once Aoi's robe trail had vanished around the corner, “What was all that about?”
Maya sighed, picking at her food, “I'm not entirely sure... I just know that Aoi and Marigold haven't been getting along the last few weeks,”
“Not getting along?”
“Nope,” Maya frowned, tapping her cheek thoughtfully, “It's been hard. I really like them both and I depend on each of them helping me around the Village. I couldn't imagine what could have come between them though...”
“Have you asked Marigold about it?”
Maya nodded, “I tried anyway... she always clams up whenever I bring it up,” she shook her head. Phoenix could tell the issue was really wearing her down, but when she turned back to him she looked determinedly brighter, “Listen don't worry about it, Nick. I'm keeping an eye on them. It's probably just silly petty drama, so let's just enjoy the weekend together,”
“...If you say so Maya,” Phoenix returned her smile, and they turned back to their food.
He still had his lingering doubts, but he put them aside for Maya's sake. Their visits were still so few and far between, he wouldn't want to tarnish a chance like this. Maya was Master now, if she insisted that she could deal with villager drama and pushy real estate brokers, then he trusted her.
Phoenix of all people knew best that Maya Fey was a force of nature.
When they finally left the dining hall, the tension had been lifted significantly. They chatted lightly as Maya led Phoenix down one of the dimly lit corridors.
"-so now Tucy's wanting to upgrade her doves to trained owls for her magic show,”
Maya laughed, “You could compromise. Have her use parrots instead, those seem to like you better,”
“Ha ha, very funny,”
Maya flicked the loose lock of hair on his forehead teasingly as they rounded a corner, "Your rooms down this way. I'll say goodnight, but then I'll have to go help with evening training sessions,"
The hallway they were in was deserted and amicably quiet save for the distant chatter through the walls as acolytes moved about, lit only by candlelight. He and Maya settled into an easy silence as they walked. But then a sudden noise cut through the peace.
Phoenix paused at the sound of the soft hiss. Maya stopped when she noticed he wasn't following her.
She frowned, “Nick, what is it?”
He strained his eyes, looking around when a figure from the shadows around another corner stepped out.
“M-marigold?” Maya called out.
The acolyte did not respond, remaining half hidden. The only thing distinguishable about her was her hair and part of her normally sweet looking face. Instead she simply said, voice soft as ever, “I have something important to tell you,”
Phoenix stiffened at that, numerous ideas suddenly sparked in his mind. Maya looked just as serious, despite herself, “Is something wrong?”
Marigold slipped back around the corner, hardly pausing for them, “Follow me.”
Maya and Phoenix shared a look, before following Marigold down another darkened side corridor. The acolyte did not say anymore nor even turn to look at them, so they merely trailed several steps behind her.
“What do you make of this?” Phoenix whispered.
Maya winced, “I'm...not sure..."
"Do you think it has something to do with what happened at dinner?"
"I guess. I didn't want to think it was this bad, though," Maya said hoarsely.
“This does seem pretty serious,” Phoenix admitted.
“Sorry, Nick. I'm sure you don't want to get involved in Kurain drama while on a weekend vacation,”
Phoenix touched her sagging shoulder reassuringly, “It's okay, Maya. Kurain is important to you, so it's important to me too. I'm happy to help,”
Maya gave a small smile in spite of herself, reaching up to squeeze his hand, “Thanks, Nick. You're a good friend...”
Ahead of them, Marigold had turned into the doorway of a room. Phoenix and Maya followed silently, only briefly pausing in front of it before Phoenix slid the door open. He let Maya enter first, closing the door behind them before looking into the room.
Nothing seemed amiss, at first.
Marigold was stood, facing away from them in the center of the room. Lit candles around the room created stark flickering shadows. Phoenix recognized it as one of the channeling chambers.
When Marigold didn't move, Phoenix took a step forward, “What did you need to tell us?”
All at once things began to happen very quickly yet very slowly.
The acolyte inclined her head to him slightly, before her body followed to turn around. He first noticed the blank look on her face, so different from the nervous but sweet person he had met before. But then he caught the glint from the revolver in her hand, and it was all he could think about.
The moment only lasted a second, but it felt like an eternity, an entire conversation had taken place as Phoenix and the girl met eyes.
She raised the gun.
Her eyes shifted over to Maya.
His body followed her gaze before his brain was even aware, without thought he flung one arm out to pull Maya behind him. He reached to open the door, to retreat, but he never got there.
There was a single loud sound. He knew there was more noise going on, but nothing else seemed to get through. It was like every sense in his body had been replaced with cotton. Everything was muted, fuzzy, and disconcertingly light.
He could feel himself stagger as another one of those loud sounds came through the strange haze. With that one though, he slowly realized there was a really troubling pinching sensation that was blossoming in his chest. It grew more painful, until it began to burn. His shirt was sticking to him unpleasantly.
Suddenly all the cotton turned into lead.
He belatedly realized he could not stand until he was already falling under his strangely heavy body. The floor seemed so close, yet it seemed like a lifetime for him to reach it. He vaguely wanted to reach out to brace himself, but his arm wouldn’t obey him. Nothing would.
He was falling like a puppet with its’ strings cut. Or a felled tree in the forest. A toppled monument.
And soon, he was just as lifeless.
To Be Continued…