Dae is not granted the right of a lawyer. It is a right limited to the rich and the powerful. His fate is decided from the moment he walks through the courtroom doors. Had he looked to the floor rather than the judge's eyes, there would likely not have been a trial at all. That is how things go in Atlas Park.
"My name is Allen, I will be your judge. You, Dae, of no last name stand accused of countless acts of murder in the first degree, of the destruction of public property with the intent to kill, of vandalism of private property, of carrying a concealed weapon, of evading the law, of- I could go on. I won't." The judge sets down his stack of papers and devotes his gaze to Dae. "How do you plead?"
Dae looks around. The room is filled with people he doesn't recognize. Reporters, officers, crying citizens. It dawns upon him that he has no friends in this place. But then, he came here knowing that. He has never felt so much like a carcass being picked clean by vultures more than now. "Your honor, I plead innocent of all charges."
The gasps are quick and sharp. Some people are unsurprised. Most are.
"Very well. Do we have any witnesses?"
The room is quiet, in waiting.
Footsteps march up to the stand, growing ever so much louder as they near it.
It is Blebbeh.
When she takes a seat, she immediately throws her feet onto the podium.
The judge looks at her. "Well?"
"I have seen this man commit every act you have spoken of more than once. He is a wolf in sheep's skin."
Dae stands up. "Blebbeh, what-"
"Sit down!" The judge booms. "Continue."
Blebbeh does. "He is quick. He is unmerciful. He is murderous."
Now, Dae is more disappointed than angry. He doesn't stand. "Why?"
Blebbeh looks at him and smirks.
Is he hallucinating? Did she just wink at him?
"That is all." She steps down and leaves.
Another person comes up after her. A man Dae has never seen before.
He seems nervous. His fingers twitch and dance restlessy. He looks like he doesn't want to be here. He pulls a slip of paper out of his pocket and clears his throat. "I have seen him kill, for sure."
Wrait follows with more incriminating comments. As does a strange girl who looks to still be a teenager, and Wrait's old partner, Proc.
The decision is made without a jury. As always.
He is judged guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Three weeks earlier...
Blebbeh walks out of the hospital room. She thinks about waiting on Wrait to leave, but decides against it. Instead, she walks past a painfully long row of identical doors, past an old lady in an officer's uniform, struggling with a vending machine, past an oblivious receptionist, and out of the doors of the hospital.
She spreads her black wings in the form of a raven, perching herself on a billboard walk, a short distance from the hospital. Then, she goes back into her human form.
Looking down at the world, a hundred feet below her, she breathes a sigh of contemplation.
A rowdy muscle car speeds out of the parking lot.
Only a few minutes after she settles in, a blaring siren slices through the air. An ambulance screams into the lot and stops in front of the emergeny room entry way.
As physicians and nurses scramble to unload the passenger, Blebbeh can't help but feel like the man on the gurney is familiar. Something about his unkempt hair, his ruined suit, his pale skin, and his twitching fingers, visible even from her viewpoint. Then she remembers.
That is her brother.
Vale has been walking on the streets for a long time. He watches the sun rise from the East and listens to the songbirds twitter to the breeze.
He decides to let Bleb find him, because eventually, she always does.
A car speeding down the road like a loose cannonball collides with him, sending him into the air and back onto the pavement with a force.
He remembers little. Red and blue lights. Blurred figures. A trauma center.
He swears he sees Blebbeh standing over him as he is rushed to the operating table.
Then blackness consumes him.
Wrait leaves the hospital as soon as he gets the opportunity. When he settles into the seat of his car, a power-hungry muscle car shaded in black and trimmed with gold,he takes a minute to contemplate Dae's requests. It is one thing to convince an old acquaintance to help out, but it's been a long time since Wrait has taken up arms against a troll. A troll king is not something to be taken lightly.
He could try to do the first one at least. Maybe the answer to the second would present itself.
He turns the key in the ignition and the car roars with approval. He breaks at least three laws exiting the parking lot alone.
As he speeds down the street in the direction of Proc's old flat, he reaches into his pocket for a cigar.
Digging through an untidy mess of bullets and loose cash, he takes his eyes off the road just long enough to find what he's looking for.
He finds it, but in that second, he speeds directly into a pedestrian.
He stops for a moment, to look for a body. He sees one, of course, and a lot of blood.
He tells himself what he always does in these kinds of situations. He reminds himself that he isn't a good person.
That is all the motivation he needs to drive off.
But, morality is as pestering as its counterpart, and he is at least compelled to call an ambulance.
Proc is sitting on the edge of his worn recliner, tinkering endlessly with a small heap of scrap. The television is his only light source as his curtains are drawn closed on every window.
It's a shitty apartment. That is a fact. But Proc is resourceful, and it has everything he needs.
A loud screeching radiates from outside. The smell of burnt rubber captivates the atmosphere.
He recognizes it pretty quickly, because only one person in the entire city is enough of an asshole to drive a Rogue.
He yanks open a curtain with enough haste to nearly blind himself with the might of the sun. When his vision comes to, he can plainly see his old workmate Wrait, waving from the parking lot.
He never did like Wrait.
Dae is thrown into an empty, pitch-black cell. There is no bed, window, or luxuries of even the most minor sort. Only cold concrete.
The sharp twittering of a rat permeates the musty air.
He throws himself against the wall, swinging his head back and forth in the darkness, hoping for light to appear.
A voice does make itself present, however. The voice of an old man.
"Your friends are good people. They don't know it, but it is so."
"You... what do you want?"
"What do I want? I saved your life, my friend."
"That is disputable isn't it?" He tries to gesture his hands, but it is a futile effort.
"You needed to come back to prison. I can reach you here. It is here you will be safe from the coming storm."
"Indeed. You have already figured out I am a skinwalker, I presume?"
"Yes, my friend is one."
"She is young yet. I have lived a long time, and my powers stretch much farther."
"Well, I see more than the average man. My vision spans farther than your cell walls, than the blue sky, than the frosty mountain peaks on the horizon. I can see the future."
"So, what is the coming storm?"
"The explosion was not the end of that onslaught, I am afraid."
"The trolls? They are still coming aren't they? Aren't they?" Dae is speaking into the silence now, and there is no one there to answer."
"Been a while, Proc."
"Damn right. I like it that way."
"You still work for Tree?"
"Tree is dead, didn't you hear?"
"Someone rigged his gun. I guess they knew it was only a matter of time before he pulled the trigger."
"No need to play games. You're the only one with that kind of expertise."
"Well, I'm not on trial, now am I?"
"No, but Dae will be."
"Dae, the troll-killer?"
"That'd be the one."
"So? What do I care?"
"You don't, I can safely assume. But, he asked for you?"
"Well, I only met the guy once. What does he want with me?"
"Your guess is as good as mine."
"It will take a lot of convincing to get me to run with you again."
"I am not asking you on a date. Dae wants you to help with something. What, I don't know. But his gut told him, and his gut hasn't been wrong before."
Blebbeh flies down to where the ambulance is parked, watching with shock and fear as they wheel her brother hastily into the hospital.
She sprints after them, disregarding the nurses and doctors who make shoddy attempts to stop her. After a little while, they don't try at all.
She finally reaches the gurney, and tries to keep pace as she looks at her wounded sibling. He looks back but only for a second.
He is not as beaten as Dae, not after the incident, but it can't possibly be good.
She is stopped at the door to the OR by an overweight male nurse. She catches her breath and almost takes a punch, but stops herself.
After being hurried to the waiting room and after explaining in as simplified terms as possible that she is the patient's sister, Blebbeh tries again to go see him.
A man, sitting in a chair, decorated in a fine black coat and hat, who looks almost asleep in his waiting room chair, juts out his cane to block her. He is old, as is evident by his lengthy grey beard. Blebbeh isn't a fan of old people.
"I wouldn't advise you to go back in there. You won't like what you see." His voice is experienced and sure.
"Put down your cane. I am trying to be a good person today."
"You do every day. But you slip up as well as anyone else."
"How would you know? Are you a clairvoyant or something?"
"Exactly, my dear. The truth will mystify you."
"It is clear as ever. You're a crazy old fool, and if you're half as psychic as you claim to be, you know what always happens to fools." She slaps his cane to the ground and walks on.
"Fly, little bird."
She stops. This man can't possibly know she's a skinwalker.
"Your friends are going to walk through the door in about thirty minutes, that is enough time for me to explain to you what to do, and you to explain it to them."
"What is that?"
"Testify in court, put Dae in prison. You need to trust me."
"Why should I?"
"Decide your own reason to do so. I have told you nothing but the truth."
"No, why should I put Dae in prison?"
"It is for his safety. That is where he must be for the proper events to be set in motion."
"Okay, say I do, what do I get?"
"Your life, little bird. Yours and everyone elses'."
"What do you take me for? I won't put my friend in prison."
"You may not know it, but you already have." The man abruptly turns into a cloud of smoke, only then taking the form of a tiny squeaking mouse, and disappearing into a crack in the wall.
The nurse walks out, fat and ugly as two minutes before. "Ma'am, your brother is going to be fine. Operation is necessary but he is far luckier than others before him. A few fractured ribs, a broken jaw, some burst blood vessels. He will live." He walks away, and Blebbeh is nearly floored by all that she has to take in.
So, she contemplates. She doesn't want to believe herself but knows already that she will testify. She will get her brother, Proc, Wrait, Wrait's fifteen-year-old groupie, anyone and everyone she can, to join her.
To be continued...