It was morning, and an important morning at that. It was the day I'd begin the next stage of my life. It'd been on my mind ever since I filled out the job-shadowing paperwork and I was anxious to finally meet the man.
It was summer, so the Sun was already shining brightly when I moved my bedroom window's curtain. The others were probably all enjoying the midway point through our sophomore year at M--, and with good reason. After the hellish three weeks in August last year, well, nothing is quite as reassuring as having a whole semester without having to worry about monsters and saving the world.
As for me? Well, there was only so normal things could get for someone when their girlfriend was a demon.
My name is Soma Elpiz. I am the son of Greek Orthodox missionaries to Japan and a sophomore studying law at Tokyo's famous M-- University. My life took a turn for the worst last year for a couple of weeks but things have settled down now. I have a steady relationship with the sister of a good friend of mine, help prep that friend and another old friend of hers for track and cross country seasons and discuss the finer things about literature with a particularly grumpy miko whenever I've got the chance.
M-- had various job-shadowing opportunities over the course of the year and between solid grades and good recommendations, I had landed the coveted position of working with Tokyo's most famous prosecutor: the upstart Ikki Higashi. I had wondered what the man was like in person; the most I'd ever seen from his was during televised press conferences or when he issued a statement to the news media. Well, no need to wonder about that anymore.
My daily commute to the district courthouse where I was going to meet the man was brief; pay for my subway fare and read a bit from the newest volume of Sea Ruler Oceanus. Upon reaching my destination, I grabbed my (tragically) empty briefcase and exited the train. Appearances in a place like a courthouse meant everything.
That being said, dressing up as if I was going out there to deliver justice in a tailor-made suit was a little out there for me for practical and economic reasons, so I opted for a white dress shirt under a sleeveless green vest, and matching slacks. The look worked, either that or Hokuko was a goddess when it came to suppressing laughter.
Okay, Soma… it's showtime.
"So… uh… what's the case exactly about?"
"… You mean you don't know?"
"Well, I'm not an attorney yet, am I? Besides, the only way I would know is if you would've bothered to tell me."
The man laughed as we walked down the hallways, student and de-facto teacher side by side. Ikki was, well, he was certainly a lot more affable than I'd expected. Usually prosecutors in legal dramas are so serious and stoic, the tall Higashi was anything but. He looked kinda wiry and seemed to have spent more than a little time out in the sun, judging by his tan. His dark-blue suit was professional enough, but his wooly head of violet-black hair seemed almost like something out of an anime.
Well, to be fair, plenty of people had called me out for having white hair. Best not to call him out on it, Soma.
"Heh. You raise a good point, Elpiz." Ikki handed me a few documents before elaborating. "The case is pretty basic, if you ask me. Small birthday party for a woman and she had just invited a couple of friends. Everyone has a good time, at least at first. Then someone gets drunk, inhibitions slacken, words get thrown around, and a while afterwards the birthday girl gets a nasty fall down the stairs to the basement and breaks a leg."
"So… one of the others pushed her?"
"What? No. They were friends, not like alcohol makes you that screwed up," Ikki answered as he snatched away the paper on top of the stack and pointed about halfway down the next page. "That was the preface to explain the situation when the murder attempt happened. Here."
He motioned for me to look through another few pages, where I found a triplet of photos two of men, one of a woman.
"Where do they fit into all of this?"
"Simple. After the accident, the others call for an ambulance. A short while later, the vehicle arrives bringing those two men. The first comes out and walks to the house, the second was the driver and stays in the car. The girls get suspicious but play along before the man produces a gun and tries to kill the birthday girl. Someone grabs a frying pan and hammers him on the head, and then the police are called in."
"… You mean the guy was like…"
"An assassin? Yeah. Who else would have a gun, considering they're outlawed for civilians?" Ikki gestured towards a set of doors on our left. "The would-be-killer's already up the river, as is the woman who hired him. Motive dealt with competition in the business world, issues aren't really important though. We're here to determine the guilt of the ambulance drivern nothing more and nothing less. The trial's gone on for a day already, cross-examinations take time, after all."
"Will I be able to follow it then?"
"Sure. Just keep track of the documents. You probably wouldn't have missed out on much anyways. Well then… ready, Soma?"
"Uh, yeah. I'm prepped."
"Good. Sit back, watch, and learn. And no matter what methods I use, don't interfere, okay? I know what I'm doing."
"Getting to the truth. What else?" Ikki turned to me and flashed me a smile before giving me a thumbs-up. "Now let's get going."
One gavel-strike later, and the trial for Kenji Nagare was underway. The Japanese legal system differed from those in Greece, England, and the rest of the Western World, with a great deal of favoritism leaning towards the prosecution during cross-examinations, as well as the absence of a jury. Reforms had been underway to improve on the system, but they wouldn't do Kenji any good.
Nagare himself looked actually quite respectable in a black suit, although his unkempt hair gave him a dangerous look. Why he hadn't tried to comb it back was beyond me. He stood next to his defense attorney, where he would stay unless called to the stand. His lawyer was a newcomer, a man in his thirties named Simon Tyer.
Tyer looked American, either that or maybe English or Canadian, with short blonde hair and a black and blue suit on. I had heard a little about him, how he had initially planned on becoming a prosecutor but changed his mind during his last year in law school. He stood opposite of Ikki, dead serious all the while, all but ignoring the fact that I even existed.
At the head of the courtroom was the judge, an older-looking woman who would be overseeing the proceedings and alone determine Kenji's status when the trial was over. Higher above in spectators booths, ordinary people were getting their share of live courtroom drama.
"He's focused, today…" Ikki remarked calmly and quietly to me. "Tyer's got a good, if sullen, head on his shoulders when he bothers. The rest of the time, well, he sometimes lets his scrutinizing nature get the better of him."
The judge quickly recapped what had happened yesterday, which wasn't a lot. The police had given their statement about the case, the only one of the women that saw the driver confirmed it was him and Kenji himself had been called to the stand.
The evidence established that Kenji had been driving that ambulance. The defense admitted as much, as well as the fact he was unemployed. The other man had approached him with an offer of driving an ambulance along with enough money to secure him a reasonable living for a few months, and Kenji accepted. The crime itself, however, had not been mentioned.
Looking through a few of the papers Ikki had left on the desk, I got a grasp of what was going on. Essentially, if Kenji didn't know what was being planned, then he was completely innocent. Otherwise, Ikki could accuse him of being an accessory, someone who had helped with the attempted crime but hadn't been present during it.
The judge was asking Simon what the defense plead, which was the predictable "Not Guilty." Simon also requested for Kenji to take the stand again, since it was the only way to get to the truth.
Nagare walked to the witness booth and sat down, and Simon Tyer went to work.
"Mr. Nagare," Simon addressed him, "We have already been over this several times before, but did you know the would-be assassin?"
"Well, sorta," Kenji answered. "I talked with him a bit whenever we ran into each other down at my usual bar."
"I see. " Simon answered, before moving on with talking with his client. "So when he offered you the job, how exactly-"
I was quickly getting lost in what Tyer was bringing up, such as the information about Kenji and his employer. All I could do was simply roll with the punches, fill in the numerous gaps with guesses since I was lacking the necessary lengthy exposition.
Courtroom dramas are frequently glamorized in fictional stories; battles of wit between the witnesses and the attorneys. Instead I was getting a slow and concise testimony, one in which the defense was sure to iron-out and take care of any contradictions.
Kenji's story was sound. His friend offered him a job, simple enough. All he had to do was drive an ambulance. The details of the murder plot were beyond him. All discussions between him and his employer had gone through his friend. He had been paid in cash and he certainly hadn't expected to be involved in a criminal case of this magnitude.
Finally, Simon Tyer nodded to the judge, the single sign that he had no further questions to ask. And like any court case, it was now the opposition's turn to deliver a cross-examination.
Very solemnly, Ikki Higashi rose up and looked at Kenji.
"Is everything you have said so far true?"
"Of course!" Kenji answered with a bit of agitation in his voice. I couldn't blame him. Everything he had said so far seemed solid. "Didn't you just finish hearing was Mr. Tyer got done asking me? Honestly-"
The gavel sounded, silencing Kenji instantly. The judge issued a warning to Kenji, one nobody else paid any attention to. Instead, I watched as Ikki placed his hands on the table and sighed.
"Everything you have said today… and yesterday as well…
His eyes snapped up, glaring at Kenji. "Everything you have said in this courtroom has been a lie!"
Again the gavel echoed, Higashi being scolded for such an inflammatory remark without any justification whatsoever. I could hear him give a response, before he and Simon Tyer got into what amounted to a shouting-match at an indoor-voice level. This was more like it, the style and charisma of a legal thriller.
And yet, all I could think was how it scared me.
And it did scare me, because I could not take my eyes off of Kenji Nagare, tensed up in pain as a horrible gash tore its way across his face with a slow, deliberate pace. He was screaming and there was blood, and nobody else in the room was acting as if they noticed it at all.
I had heard from Akane about how the White Tiger of the West could rip and tear people apart from a distance, with deceptively simple and easy-to-miss gestures. I had seen her handiwork one time. This… this was something entirely different.
It was supposed to be over. The Dai Makai, the Imperial Regalia, the Candidates, the Shiko, Loretta Brauner, Matei Jun and Taiyotei Amaterasu, that had been all been wrapped up nine months ago! Wasn't-
"I had a private talk with your employer last night," Ikki continued, with enough force to break my train of thought. Kenji looked at him, fear in his eyes, whereas the judge seemed interested in what he had to say.
Simon Tyer looked as if he were provided with the means to kill Ikki right at that moment, he would have done so. After all, he was a lawyer by trade, so he'd defend himself for free.
"Wha-what did she…" Kenji managed to say, "What did she say?"
"She said you had a much bigger role than just be an oblivious driver, for one!" He produced a cassette from his suit pocket, throwing it down on the table in front of him. "And this proves it! If you want her to sign an affidavit, then that won't be a problem either!"
Everyone in the room except for Ikki, Kenji, and I suddenly acted in unison, shouting out various statements revolving around accusing Higashi of obtaining illegal evidence and using it in a court. We all reacted to the chaos in a different way.
Ikki stood amidst the storm, unflappable. He was getting his truth, after all, and there nothing inherently wrong with that.
Kenji on the other hand, was bent over, his hair hiding the gory sight that was his face from me for at least a few precious seconds. I'd been lucky to not bear witness to any grisly deaths those nine months ago, because I was not Mizuki Rajoshin and had no stomach for it. All I could do was look at him, fearing for both my own mental sanity and the physical health of this man I had never met before.
And then I finally got a look at the man's face… and I was wondering how that kind of injury can be inflicted without several jet-turbines.
The fact he was still alive, practically screaming his lungs out as nobody paid him any heed was, well… it had more than just a jarring effect on me.
To put it simply, I blacked out.
Here's a funny story for you, true more than anything else. People have this idea that if you lose consciousness, you'll fall backwards. Unfortunately, that's not the case, simply do to a human's center of gravity… unless you're standing on the edge, and then maybe you'll fall backwards.
But me? The world punished me for my weak stomach and I fell forward, banging my head against the table, causing quite a commotion as well as completely make me lose consciousness.
I really hated this. Things had been shaping up in my life and suddenly this happens. Even from the most optimistic angle, where this was some sort of hallucination, well, I was still going to be remembered for blacking out in the middle of a rather tame trial.
That was… Higashi's voice?
"… Yeah?" I managed to open an eye, seeing the prosecutor looking down at me. "Uh… hi there."
Ikki smiled before standing up straight and helping me to my feet. "Are you okay?"
"Sure, I guess," I answered. Looking around, I realized we were outside of the courtroom and in the lobby. Did that mean-
Ikki's reassuring hand fell on my shoulder. "Don't worry. You didn't screw anything up."
"We just got a bailiff to get you outside and proceeded as usual. Come on," He led me to a bench and sat down, gesturing for me to do the same. "Things worked out in the end, so don't think your actions let a guilty man go free."
"He cracked, then?"
Ikki chuckled. "Like a brittle eggshell. Nagare was in on it, no doubt about it, and by the end he was confessing everything. He'll get a reduced sentence, since he's going to tell us what he knows about anything we ask. Unfortunately," The prosecutor leaned back and sighed. "Unfortunately, if he would've just come clean in the beginning, well, things might've ended better for him." Higashi looked down at the ground, shaking his head sadly.
"You… saw that, didn't you?"
"I'm not sure what you're talking about, Mr. Higashi."
Looking over at me, the man's eyes narrowed. "Please, Soma, do not lie. A Prosecutor's duty is to search for the truth no matter what, lies do not become us. Look, Soma…" he gestured in front of us across the hall to a set of double-doors. "That is a portal, separating us from the chamber in which men and women determined the nature of those that stood accused of crimes. Our only weapon, both prosecutors and defense attorneys alike, is mere fragments of the truth. Together, we must fight tooth and nail to put the pieces of that truth together. That alone is our greatest duty, one we can never shirk away from.
"You… saw something in there, didn't you? You saw Nagare in pain, as if opposing his lies caused him physical harm. You heard screams, tortured yells of a man begging for mercy."
My heart sank. It hadn't just been my imagination, as much as I would've liked to believe that to be the case.
"… Yeah. And I don't understand it."
"Neither do I, Soma."
"All I really understand, is that I woke up one day with this power. This power to bring out the truth out of those that are on the stand. In the months that followed, I managed to make some semblance of it.
"People lie about lots of things. Children lie to their parents, parents lie to their children, men and women lie to their spouses, sometimes shamelessly. The truth is something precious, yet it is trampled on endlessly and it is made no more obvious than in a courthouse.
"Sometimes, those lies prove to go too deep for those that say them. They may grow to believe them, simply because they sound better than the truth, and should therefor replace it. The worst of people can do this to anything, call a sunny day one of darkness, vilify heroes, and justify anything to themselves.
"My power, it is the antithesis to these lies; to sense and bring out the truth from people no matter what. To rip the truth out of the dark recesses of their hearts, to punish them for their crimes against this institution of justice. It is what the world has tasked me with, a duty I will not ignore. I could not forgive myself if I did."
Ikki finished, smiling to me. "Are things a little clearer now, Soma?"
"Clearer? Yeah, lots." More comfortable, hell no.
"I'm… a bit confused, though. How were you able to see the exposure of Nagare's lies?"
My heartbeat stalled for a second as Ikki Higashi asked me the dreaded question, looking at me with a stern look on his face.
"Soma Elpiz," Ikki said as he leaned in close, furrowing his brow. I looked into his dark eyes, feeling as it was now I on the stand. The truth would set me free, but into a world I did not want to be part of. "If you are going to study and learn under me, you must be honest with me. Now how are you capable of seeing my ability in action?"
Closing my eyes, I dreaded what I was about to say.
"I don't know."
Technically, that was the truth. I didn't understand, I wanted that part of my life to be over, and couldn't understand how things were falling apart around me again. It was a small miracle I hadn't cracked.
"I swear to God," I looked at Ikki pleadingly, "I swear to God I don't know why this is happening."
A moment passed where neither of us moved nor spoke. The lack of people around us made me think that perhaps time had given pause around us.
Finally, however, Ikki nodded.
"Very well then. I'll try to explain things to you."
"Some other time, please," I said as I stood up. "This is a whole lot to let sink in." Boy, was that an understatement of the year. "I'd like some time alone, if you would be so kind as to give it to me."
Rising up, the prosecutor bowed his head. "If you feel you need it, I am not one to deny you it. I hope you have a good day, Soma Elpiz."
A sense of relief growing inside me, I praised whatever god out there had decided to cut me a lucky break at that moment before turning and walking away.
I could have very easily taken a cab or subway ride back home. That would have been the economically practical thing to do. Well, walking was technically free but it took more time, and you know what they say about time being money.
I had to walk. I had to give myself something to do, not much, but something specific, requiring the most basic level of thought to be directed at it to keep me occupied. Otherwise, that little nagging thought in the back of my mind would zoom to the forefront, and, well… things would go to hell for me.
Because I had watched a man I had respected and thought the world of dutifully reduce someone to a quivering, soundly broken individual all in the name of justice.
Part of me said that it was not akin to murder, and the people closest in my life outside of my immediate family had killed a number of people only nine months ago. They had killed without mercy and in Mizuki and Minako's cases, killed women that could have very easily traded shoes with them.
But another part of me said that as morally objectionable as that had been, personal reasons were behind those horrible acts. Ikki Higashi did not personally know the would-be victims, nor Kenji Nagare. He had simply brought out the truth, in spite of the cost on Mr. Nagare, in the name of the vague and abstract concept known as "Justice". "Justice" he could have discovered in other, less objectionable ways.
… Wait, why wasn't I walking now?
I quickly realized I was standing to the side of my bed. I was out of road to walk so as to avoid thinking.
"Well…" I whispered as I fell onto my bed, "… damn…"
This shouldn't be happening, and I didn't deserve it.
I did not deserve this.