Andre slowly moved to his feet, brushing the dirt from his hands. He was a good foot taller than Althea, but despite the woman’s diminutive stature, she cut quite the intimidating figure. He took a deep breath, wondering which direction to steer the conversation.
Should he accept the help that Althea was offering? She was definitely someone who could ensure his plan came to fruition. Her position on the council and high standing amongst the villagers would almost ensure that. Or should he continue to feign ignorance? Morgan had been explicitly detailed with her meticulous planning and would no doubt be furious at Andre for being overheard. She had specifically mentioned how Althea was to unknowingly support their cause. The less people who knew what was going on, the less likely were mistakes.
He scowled as new thoughts raced through his head. Mother didn’t listen to him. She didn’t want to be around him. She didn’t want to talk to him. She certainly didn’t want to help him. All she was interested in was making sure that her beloved Pearl was the Master. That useless brat. Mother wasn’t concerned at all with making Maya and Phoenix pay for what they did. Why couldn’t she see that he was doing all this for her? They took his mother away and they would pay.
Why didn’t she see? Why wasn’t she proud?
But Althea... she was different. Althea cared about him. She listened to what he had to say. She understood him. That made his choice all the more clear.
“Meet me back here at sundown. I’ll explain everything.” Andre said emotionlessly. The gardens would be quiet at that time of evening. He watched Althea, waiting for her response.
She said nothing, only nodded curtly before turning and heading away. She asked no questions and seemingly understood the need for discretion at this time. Andre was impressed by that.“Mother will most definitely not be pleased at all...”
Andre thought to himself. But the game had changed, and he had to adjust the rules accordingly or else he would lose.
He was not
going to lose.
Maya walked briskly towards the council chambers, and Phoenix struggled to match her pace.
“Hey, slow down will ya?” he complained as he reached her side. “Where’s the fire?”
“Althea is already going to be ready to tear my head off,” Maya explained. “If I’m late it will be even worse.”
“I thought she didn’t scare you...” Phoenix said with a smirk.
“Oh no...” Maya said, shaking her head to signify that Phoenix was incorrect. “She terrifies me. The key is though, to not let her know about that.”
“I see...” Phoenix said, nodding. “Well I’m pretty sure you have it under control, and unless we need to walk another 30 miles to the council chambers, you’re not going to be late. In fact at this speed, we’ll get there yesterday.”
“You’re getting old, Nick.” Maya said with a laugh as she began to walk a little faster again.
“Hey!” Phoenix cried. “I am not! Augh!”
He jogged to catch up to her before taking her by the arm and turning her around to face him. She raised an eyebrow.
“Need a breather, Grandpa?” she asked with a chuckle. Phoenix shot her an annoyed look.
“No.” He said flatly. “But if I’m going to be your legal counsel, I need to ask you some questions before we get in there.”
“Like what am I meant to do?”
Maya squinted thoughtfully, trying her best to come up with an intelligent answer. Giving up, she shrugged. Phoenix’s shoulders slumped.
“I have no idea.” Maya said simply. “You’re the lawyer. Just do lawyerly things.”
“Lawyerly things?” Phoenix asked. “I’m so proud that you’ve learned so much in your time as my assistant, Maya.” He finished sarcastically.
“I’m sorry, Nick.” Maya said, her expression apologetic. “Althea had me all riled up and it just came out. I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”
“It’s not.” Phoenix said, shaking his head. “I just don’t want Althea to claim I have no business being there, and not have some sort of witty comeback to shut her up.”
“You’ll think of something.” Maya said with a grin. They began walking once more, although at a more leisurely pace.
“Besides. I’ll be able to stand up to her with you there.” Maya said quietly, watching the ground as she walked. “I’m more confident when I’m with you.”
Phoenix smiled, taking her hand in his and giving it a light squeeze. He dropped it quickly, feeling uncharacteristically self conscious about being seen holding hands with the Master. As they walked, passing villagers did little to hide the fact that they were staring. While it was probably due to the fact that Maya had not been in Kurain for such a long time, the fact that she was accompanied by a strange man probably didn’t help matters much.
Maya didn’t seem to notice, she was once again lost in her own thoughts. They stopped outside the doors of the council chambers. Phoenix stuffed his hands into his pockets and watched Maya, waiting for her to make a move.
“ You ready?” Phoenix asked, interrupting the silence and surprising Maya. She looked up at him, her face calm.
“You know what? I think I am.” She said, before smiling. “I’ve prepared for this meeting. I didn’t expect it to be so soon, but I’ve done my homework.”
“Too much homework.” Phoenix quipped, rolling his eyes.
“Don’t start.” Maya said with mock seriousness, pointing a finger at him.
“I’m kidding.” Phoenix said, placing a reassuring hand on her shoulder. He smiled at her, that same dazzling smile that always made her heart melt. Maya felt butterflies, but she knew they weren’t because she was nervous about the council meeting.
“You’ll be great.” Phoenix said earnestly, before leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her cheek. He chuckled softly at her slightly surprised expression and the tinge of pink on her cheeks.
“Let’s go.” She said, exhaling loudly. She opened the door and stepped inside, with Phoenix close behind.
Phoenix looked around as he sat at the bench next to Maya. Kurain’s Council Chambers definitely looked nothing like he had expected, given the traditional Japanese style of the rest of the village. The room they occupied was definitely much more modern. In fact, it sort of resembled a court room, which helped lift his confidence somewhat, the illusion of familiar territory. The only difference was instead of having one judge in the centre, five elderly women peered down at them from the front of the room, and there were no attorneys on either side. Only Maya and himself right in the middle.
He looked over at Maya, who sat calmly, fingers laced together and eyes locked on Althea Fey. She was waiting for the head council member to officially begin the meeting and despite her earlier admission that Althea terrified her, Maya was staring the woman down as if that was the absolute furthest from the truth. Althea shuffled some papers and adjusted her glasses before settling her eyes on Maya.
“I would now like to call this council meeting to session.” She said formally. “Although we normally convene much later in the month, in light of the unfortunate circumstances which have brought the Master to Kurain , I felt it prudent to call this meeting to discuss village business in her presence. It will be a privilege to actually hear her thoughts on village matters,” she finished. The note of sarcasm in her voice was not lost on Maya, but she decided to ignore it. She had no doubt that Phoenix heard it too.
“Unfortunately, as our first point of order, we must nominate a replacement council member due to the passing of Lillian Fey. I move to nominate Lillian’s younger sister Lisbeth. All in favour?” Althea asked.
The four other women at the front of the room all raised their hands. Maya didn’t move.
“I see that none are opposed.” Althea said. “By unanimous decision, Lisbeth Fey will be inducted as our sixth council member.”
Phoenix leaned over to whisper in Maya’s ear.
“Were you supposed to vote?” he asked.
“No. I’m not a council member.” Maya whispered back.
“Oh. Okay. I thought she was being her usual charming self and making a point of ignoring you.” Phoenix added. Maya stifled a laugh.
“Something amusing, Mystic Maya?” Althea asked, shooting the young woman a scathing glare.
“Not particularly, Mystic Althea.” Maya said, meeting the woman’s gaze. Phoenix was amazed at the fact that Maya was refusing to back down. Amazed and impressed. This was going to be an interesting afternoon.
“Very well then.” Althea said calmly. Both women were attempting to play the same passive aggressive game. “My first question of you is to ask why you feel that you need legal counsel for something as simple as a mere council meeting.”
Phoenix groaned inwardly. He knew this question was coming. He had told her this question was coming. And she hadn’t had an answer. He knew he had to think fast. He opened his mouth to speak, but promptly snapped it shut again when Maya beat him to it.
“The answer is quite simple, Mystic Althea, if you’ll allow me to elaborate.” Maya said confidently. Without waiting for an indication from Althea to continue, she began speaking again.
“I haven’t had to the opportunity to attend a council meeting in this capacity before, as the Master, and I have many things that I would like to bring to your attention. Kurain is behind the times in many aspects and I would like to begin my time as Master to instigate changes and progress that I feel overdue. I have requested Mr Wright’s presence to simply overlook proceedings and to ensure that if any of my changes proposed are rejected by the council, that they are rejected for a substantial reason and not just an aversion to change or a personal opinion of me and how I plan to run this village. While we may govern our affairs internally, we are not exempt from the law and I have every right to legally challenge your decision in a civil court if I feel discriminated against in any way.” Maya paused, lifting her chin slightly.
Phoenix was stunned. Ten minutes ago she had shrugged and said she had no idea! That answer was even better than what he would have come up with!
“Hence, I have employed Mr Phoenix Wright as my legal advisor. Is any further clarification required?” Maya asked, raising an eyebrow.
Althea’s jaw tensed. She had not been expecting this from Maya. The other women on the council bench shook their heads to signify that they had no further questions. Althea’s gaze remained on Maya. She vowed to break this facade of hers before the meeting was over.
“Very well, Mr Wright can stay.” Althea conceded, her cool outwards demeanour a stark contrast to the contempt she felt welling within her. “I planned to speak next about the details surrounding Lillian’s unfortunate passing, but I will leave that until later. Given the fact that the Master has spent so little time in Kurain over the last year I am curious to find out what changes she feels need to be made to make Kurain so much more effective than it is now.” Althea drawled, not bothering to even try to mask her sarcasm this time.
“Well if you’re done taking pot-shots at me and what you feel is my lack of duty towards this village, I’d like to begin.” Maya said, raising her voice slightly. Althea looked slightly taken aback as the other women on the council gasped. Phoenix marvelled at Maya’s gutsy response. He really hadn’t expected so much from her, but oh boy, was he ever enjoying himself!
“I know that some
people may think that I have been neglecting my duty as Master,” Maya began, casting an annoyed glance in Althea’s direction. “But I’d like to begin by assuring you that that is most definitely not the case. The role of Master was bestowed upon me at a very young age; it is all I have ever really known. And although I am not yet old enough to officially accept the title, I still take my position very seriously. Up until three years ago, I had never really travelled outside of Kurain, save for brief visits to my sister. I had little knowledge of the workings of the world at large, as well as next to no idea as to how to run this village. I have spent my absences over the last three years studying the way things work outside Kurain, and the changes the world has seen that have yet to be reflected in our village. I plan to bring that wisdom back with me to be able to run Kurain more effectively and help all our people to lead more enriched lives. That being said, I will continue to base myself outside of Kurain for the time being and move back and forth when necessary.”
The council ladies nodded in understanding and acceptance, one even smiled in response to Maya’s enthusiasm for her position. Phoenix was thrilled. They seemed more than happy to let Maya run things from outside Kurain. All except Althea, that was.
Maya went on to outline all the improvements she planned to introduce to Kurain. From electricity upgrades and phones, right through to internet access and distance education for the young acolytes. She had plans to digitise the old texts so nothing was lost as the years went by and the books degraded. She suggested upgrading the channelling chamber with three more rooms to allow for more appointments and she had also completely planned a tiered system of channelling, which would categorise their jobs and give the harder tasks to more accomplished mediums and the easier channelling to younger girls in need of experience. This would allow for more work to be done, as more mediums would be available and therefore more money generated. The council women were incredibly pleased with her suggestions, asking questions and commending her ideas. Althea was uncharacteristically quiet.
“And finally, I would like to express an interest in sending funding and acolytes to Hazakurain.” Maya said.
“I don’t feel that will be necessary.” Althea responded, perhaps a little too quickly.
“Under what grounds do you object?” Maya asked. She looked over at Phoenix who began to write notes.
“Kurain would be foolish to squander its resources on another village that should be self sufficient. What is he writing?” Althea asked, annoyed.
“That is not your concern.” Maya said. “Kurain has wealth and population beyond its requirements, while our sister village does not. It’s a simple matter of math.”
“We do not have the funds to spare!” Althea said, growing slightly more flustered.
“I don’t know which bank balances you are referring to Althea, but according to my calculations we have plenty to spare.” Maya challenged. “I plan on doing a complete audit on expenses for the last five years anyway to ensure we are stable before sending any money to Hazakurain. I understand all the old bank records are stored in the vault.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Althea said quickly, fidgeting with her magatama. “I withdraw my objection.”
Phoenix reached into his pocket and quickly found Maya’s magatama. Not that he needed it. Althea was acting strangely enough at the mention of Hazakurain. The magatama just confirmed things.
“She’s hiding something.” He whispered to Maya.
“I know.” She whispered in return, not moving her gaze from Althea. “I wonder what. Isn’t it wonderful to see her panic like that?” Maya quipped. Phoenix smiled.
“Very good, Mystic Althea. Does anyone else have any objections to such an action?” Maya asked the rest of the council. No one raised their hand. “Excellent.” Maya smiled in a satisfied manner.
“Is there anything else you would like to add before I call a recess, Mystic Maya?” Althea asked.
“No.” She said with a small shake of her head. “I’m finished.”
“Good.” Althea said. “We will take a five minute break. Mystic Maya, please stay where you are. I wish to speak to you.”
The other four ladies stood and moved towards the rear exit, while Althea made her way over to where Maya and Phoenix remained seated.
“Mr Wright. Would you mind?” She asked, motioning to the door. Phoenix glanced over at Maya. She shook her head.
“He stays, Althea.” Maya said, annoyed. Althea crossed her arms. “I know your here to chew me out for being disrespectful in front of the council, so you can say anything you have to say in front of him.”
Althea slammed her hands down on the desk in front of Maya. The sudden action made Phoenix jump slightly, but Maya remained unmoving, glaring up at the older woman.
“I could care less about him!” Althea seethed, motioning flippantly towards Phoenix. “I don’t know who you think you are, but how DARE you waltz back in here and try to change everything. I’ve had to run things for so long because you’ve been off running around with him.” She finished her sentence with a snort of disgust and an annoyed glance at Phoenix. But she wasn’t finished yet. “Things were just fine before you came back with all your changes and improvements. You know NOTHING about running this village and you have no respect for its traditions!”
Maya stood, leaning her hands on the desk so that she was face to face with Althea.
“You don’t want to accept that I’m doing what is best for this village.” Maya said angrily. “You don’t like me, so you try and paint me like I’m some sort of useless child with no sense of duty or loyalty. Well I’m not useless, and I’m not a child! It’s disgusting that you would allow personal opinions to affect the wellbeing of the village. I know you don’t like me, you certainly didn’t like my sister and you didn’t like my mother either.”
Althea stood up straight, turning her back on Maya. She laughed strangely.
“Your mother.” She said, shaking her head. “You’re so much like her that it sickens me. I see you, especially when you’re with him, and it’s her all over again.”
“What? What are you talking about?” Maya asked, puzzled. Althea spun around quickly, her face contorted into a twisted grimace.
“Ha! Your mother… We sent her away to be educated as a teenager thinking it would benefit the village, and that little harlot fell in love with a lawyer and wound up pregnant. She was nineteen, just like you. She came back here and he convinced her she could change everything. It’s always the lawyers that cause the problems. And surprise, surprise. Here we have history repeating itself.” Althea said with disgust, glancing over at Phoenix with contempt. Phoenix knew that she was insinuating a physical relationship between him and Maya and he felt anger rising within him. He narrowed his eyes and clenched his fists.
“Hey!” Phoenix yelled. “You can’t talk about her like that! It’s not like that.” Althea ignored him as if he wasn’t there, and Phoenix fought the urge to grab the woman and make her look at him.
“I… I don’t understand...” Maya said, her confident grasp on the situation fading.“Oh no, Maya. Don’t lose faith in yourself now. You’ve done so well so far!”
Phoenix silently pleaded with her.
“You didn’t know your father was a lawyer, did you? They were married immediately and Mia was born only days after your mother turned twenty. Who do you think convinced your mother to help with that damn case that caused all the trouble?” Althea asked. Maya was dumbfounded.
“Right before he died.” Althea added cryptically, tilting her head slightly, making Phoenix wonder what that had to do with anything.
“Why would you even mention that?” he couldn’t help asking her.
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to, lawyer.” Althea shot back.
Maya was desperately trying to process this new information as the other women began to walk back into the chamber.
“You’re a disgrace, Maya. Just like Misty.” Althea spat, just low enough for the other women to not be able to hear, before turning around and heading back to her seat. Maya sat stunned, a tear running down her cheek. Phoenix’s shoulders slumped. She had been so strong, but Althea had found a way to attack her mother and turn it around on her. She had used the fact that there was so much Maya didn’t know to try and rattle her, and she had succeeded.
Althea began to speak again, but Maya wasn’t paying attention. Her eyes were glazed over and she stared at nothing. Phoenix glared at Althea.
“Now that we are all back here, it pains me to do so, but I must inform the council of the circumstances surrounding Lillian’s death. This information is not to leave this chamber, and the rest of the village must go on believing that Lillian’s death was caused by heart failure.”
A surprised gasp and small murmurs could be heard from the other four ladies sitting at the council bench and Phoenix could not believe that Althea had waited until Maya was upset and barely functional to no doubt drag her beloved sister’s name through the mud.
“Lillian was murdered by Mia Fey, poisoned in fact, while being channelled by Pearl Fey.”
The council members looked positively stunned. Phoenix was beside himself. He stood and pointed his finger at Lillian.
“Objection!” he shouted on reflex, immediately realising that probably wasn’t the right thing to do. He had forgotten where he was.
“Objection?” Althea asked. Phoenix smiled awkwardly and fidgeted with his tie. “I am sorry, Mr Wright, but this is a council meeting, not a court case. If you have nothing constructive to add, then please sit down.”
“What I meant to say is, how can you know that? What proof do you have? Mia Fey was special to both of us and we will not have you tarnish her name without evidence!” Phoenix cried. Maya was finally paying attention to what was going on, but didn’t appear to be in any condition to contribute.
“Her fingerprints were found on the bottle which contained the poison. She also attacked one of the villagers with a knife reported stolen by her from the vehicle belonging to Lucas Fey. The attacked villager in question has reported everything he witnessed.”
“Who was attacked?” One of the council ladies asked.
“Andre Fey.” Althea replied.
The ladies murmured once more but Phoenix was not about to give up.
“I question the credibility of your witness!” Phoenix cried.
“On what grounds?” Althea snapped. Phoenix thought for a moment.“On the grounds that he’s a lying jerk?”
he thought to himself. He couldn’t say that out loud.
Althea seemed to think that he had no response.
“Mr Wright, Mystic Maya’s claims of discrimination due to personal opinion don’t just work in her favour, you know.” She said, turning Maya’s words against her. “You can’t discredit Andre simply because you don’t like him.”
“I question his credibility as a witness due to his relationship with Morgan Fey, who has previously made attempts at my client’s life!”
More surprised murmurs could be heard from the council bench. Althea clenched her teeth together.
“This meeting is adjourned.” She seethed. The other ladies simply stared at her, silent.
“NOW!” she bellowed, causing the women to immediately pick up their belongings and scuttle towards the door. She stepped down from the bench and walked towards Phoenix, who stood quickly, placing a hand on the desk protectively in front of Maya, as if that would shield the girl from whatever Althea had planned.
“You just don’t know when to keep your mouth shut, do you Mr Wright?” she asked, her eyes narrowed into small slits. Phoenix stood defiant.
“You don’t scare me. I’m not afraid of you.” He said. Althea smirked.
“You should be scared.” Althea said dangerously. “For her.”
With that, she turned and walked away. Phoenix watched her close the door to the chamber behind her, before turning his attention to Maya. He crouched next to her chair, tilting her face so she was looking at him.
“Maya, are you alright? We need to get out of here.” He said, his voice filled with concern.
“I didn’t know.” She said quietly. “I didn’t know about my mother or my father. Why does this family have so many secrets?” she sighed and shook her head. “Althea… she knows something about my father’s death, I know it! How could she say those horrible things about sis…?”
Maya’s brow furrowed. Phoenix stood and pulled her to her feet. He pulled her into a hug and she buried her face in his chest.
“We’ll get to the bottom of this,” he said as he stroked her hair. “I think it’s time to dig all of the skeletons out of Kurain’s closet.”