1 – The Courtroom
“Your Honour, does that,” said Felix, pointing at his client, “look like the sort of man who would terrorise an entire district?”
He darted his eyes to the person in the defendant’s chair, an enormous figure in black-iron armour, whose very posture dripped with malice. What wasn’t covered with terrifying runes promising untold torment was dotted with spikes, curved and horrifying, or festooned with nightmarish trinkets, skulls and fetishes.
Felix gestured with his free hand, miming lifting something from his face. His client made to raise an arm, and the seven wizards that maintained the crackling cage of power that restrained him winced. As he moved, a squeal like the keening of the abyss emanated from him as metal ground against metal. An obsidian gauntlet reached slowly for the visor of his snarling-demon face plate, and began to lift.
This was his last case as a ‘junior lawyer’. After this, he was no longer contractually bound to work for the firm randomly allocated to him upon graduation. From here, he could seek a firm of his choice, or, if he was feeling particularly entrepreneurial, start his own.
Kurrip & Kurripe was a decent enough firm, but he wasn’t a fan of the South Country. He had thought to move out West.
Far from this stinking city.
Truth be told, he relished the challenge of starting fresh in an unknown part of the world. It’s not like he had any friends to leave behind. Friends were something that happened to other people. It’s not that he didn’t want friends, it’s just that he hadn’t met any. Evenings were spent reading case law or studying precedent. There were people he knew, of course, but no one he knew. And, of course, by extension, no one who really knew him.
He had been told by Kurripe (or was it Kurrip?) that this last case was essentially a crapshoot, but as the client was quite happy to pay upfront and in cash, they were going to take it and ‘might as well give it a go’. No other firm in the city was willing to touch it, which, on the one hand, made Felix want to run a mile, but on another, larger hand, sparked the bonfire of challenge in his head. Besides, he had a soft spot for the downtrodden. Though, judging by the details in this case, downtrodden was perhaps the wrong word.
This case was defending a young-ish lad called Bupp. ‘Unlucky Bupp’ was what Felix called him. ‘Warlord Bupp The Devastator’ was what others called him.
It had been quite a story.
Felix had been scribbling a few notes on his pad when Kurrip had gestured to him to follow, explaining that a gentleman had called upon the firm, and Felix was to be representing him.
“Don’t be too frightened, lad,” Kurrip had crooned as he swung the door to the defendant’s interview chambers. “He’s really not all that bad.”
Felix had walked through the doorway and regarded a figure in menacing black armour, spiked and covered with ghoulish carvings. He looked like the sort of man-hunting monster that stomps from the deepest, darkest kingdoms of Beyond to collect souls for the Black Harvest. Felix was sure that if this thing lifted his horned helmet, a laughing skull, black with death, would greet him and chaperone him to a plane of torment.
The door closed behind Felix with the sound of promised horror.
Felix fidgeted with his notebook as he sat opposite the figure, who shifted his weight, causing the wooden chair beneath him to creak pitifully. His gauntleted hand rose to his face, and began to peel back his visor. Felix tensed, his soul bracing itself.
“Oh thank goodness you’ve taken my case, fella. I’ve had a right mare of a year, I have," said the figure in a voice broken with worry. The face beneath the helm was a scrawny, freckled one, lank haired and pale. Not with the pale clamour of death, just a bit ill-looking. He looked at Felix.
“Have we met?” he asked, peering at Felix’s face.
“Uh-” Felix had begun.
“No, I suppose not. Name’s Bupp. You can call me ‘unlucky’ Bupp, if you like.”
Bupp… Bupp… Why did that name ring a bell?
Felix took a good look at the man opposite him.
Surely this wasn’t THE Bupp?
Felix glanced at the carving above the front door of the courtroom. It was a small one, no larger than a cat, the features worn away from years of cold rain and harsh wind. A robed figure with long hair, blindfolded, yet averting its gaze downwards. It might have had wings, once, but they were long since eroded. Whatever it held it its hands had likewise been victim to the elements, abraded to stumps of nothing. Could it have been a sword? A set of scales? A glass of mead? A stick of rhubarb? It was impossible to tell.
It looked… sad. It did not swell Felix’s breast with inspiration as it might have done to lawyers past.
“Wish me luck,” Felix mumbled to it as he entered. The figure did not reply.
Passing through the doors, Felix looked up at the dock, where Bupp was chained. He was still in his armour; in fact, it was impossible to remove it from him. Bupp had explained that the armour was laced with sorcery, and cursed the wearer never to remove it until death. The best he could manage was lifting the visor, which he had now done at Felix’s suggestion. He was fidgeting with his gauntlets, looking pathetic.
The prosecutor opposite Felix was a young woman about his age. She introduced herself as Ettyson, recently a partner of Jurviles.
He cursed inwardly. They don’t hire just any old person.
He tried to suss out the competition in a subtle way, but failed. “This your first case with them?”
“Oh yes," she said. Every word she said sounded practiced, as if delivered to a script she had prepared the night before. “They gave me this case because it is so open-and-shut. Even a ‘rookie’ like me can oversee it without supervision.”
“Uh, yes. Well, good luck," said Felix, returning to his desk.
The courtroom was, as courtrooms go, fairly meagre. There was the dock, where the accused normally waited alone (though in this case, very much supervised). The two desks, one for the prosecution, one for the defence. Behind them were the benches where members of the public could watch, if they so chose. It was full today, no doubt the thought of the notorious Bupp the Horrendous undergoing trial was hard to resist for the morbidly curious. Lastly, the raised dais at the front, where the Judge would oversee proceedings.
Some courtrooms had ostentation on every surface, from gilded candlesticks to great stained-glass portraits of Habeus, God of Judgement, bathing the unjust in bright beams of scrutiny. Placenamia courtroom had a small statue of a set of scales on the far-end of the judge’s table, a sign that said “No Smoking” at the front, and a faint smell of old shoes.
Judge Gunter would be leading this case. She was a judge Felix had had plenty of dealings with before. She was one of the long-standing judges who were both seemingly minutes from death’s door and apparently immortal at the same time. Felix had no idea how long she had been a judge. All he knew was that she had been presiding over courtrooms from at least the time his old university lecturer was still practicing, and he was ancient.
Gunter entered without ceremony, and Felix noticed the quiet sound of her shuffling footsteps a heartbeat after Ettyson did, and rushed to stand, as was customary. She regarded him and Ettyson without comment. She finally cast an eye over Bupp, looking like a nightmare king on a throne of obsidian. She narrowed her eyes a fraction, then turned to the court.
“Court is in session. Please read the charges, prosecutor Ettyson.” Her voice was thin and reedy, but carried across the room.
The judge recognises her by sight? I thought she was new.
She stood, and lifted a roll of paper she had taken from the neat bundle of documents in front of her.
“Don’t be fooled when they say ‘alleged’ counts,” Felix told Bupp, who had calmed down a little since Felix entered the interview room. He was nursing a small cup of tea in his enormous, armoured fists. “That doesn’t mean it’s potential, or just hearsay. They’ll only bring it up when they have evidence to prove it, so be prepared for the world to hear it.”
“O-okay,” stammered the Warlord. He sipped at his drink and winced at the heat. “Ooh, that’s hot.”
Felix almost went to ask Kurrip if this was some sort of practical joke, but then remembered Kurrip had absolutely no sense of humour. Instead, he flicked open his notepad, and readied his pencil.
“Now, what sort of offences list are we going to be looking at?”
Ettyson unfurled the scroll. When it was fully unravelled, the bottom of it brushed against the cobbles.
“The royal district of Placenamia brings this case against the Warlord Bupp the Mangler, also known as Bupp the Family-Killer, Bupp the End Of Days, among many other names. The crimes we allege are, as follows. One count of Unsanctioned Warfare, seventeen counts of Attempted City-Sacking, two counts of Attempted Genocide, fifty-seven cases of General Nefariousness, one count of Evil Witchery…”
Felix rubbed his chin, pencil tapping on the paper.
“That’s quite a list, Bupp.”
“I know! Buh-but it’s not worrit sounds like!” his client whimpered, eyes starting to moisten. Felix leaned over and patted him on the arm. The armour stung him where his hand came into contact with it, and began to numb slightly. He whipped his hand back, and tried shaking some feeling back into it. He licked his pencil and prepared to take notes.
“Okay. Start from the beginning. Leave nothing out," he said. His client looked nervous, but nodded.
“...and six counts of Theft.”
Ettyson furled the paper into a tube and tied it with a green ribbon. She handed it to an aide, who tucked it into a bag.
Judge Gunter turned to Felix.
“How does the defence plead, Defence Counsel, hm..?”
“Sacramentum, Your Honour," he said, straightening himself and thrusting his chest out.
“How does the defence plead, Defence Counsel Saccharine?”
His stance faltered an inch, but he still proclaimed in a confident voice: “Not guilty, Your Honour, to all charges.”
The assembled crowd of observing public began murmuring at this. Felix caught snippets of conversation before the judge shushed them all with a tap of her gavel.
“Not guilty? He’s a flaming war criminal!”
“Bloody smarmy looking lawyer...”
“Order!” said Gunter. “The client is entitled to have his defence heard, despite the sizable list of charges. Now, if the prosecution would like to begin, please, with their opening statement.”
Bupp looked close to tears. “It all happened like this, y’see. It were an accident.”
Felix tilted his head and glanced at his notes.
“You accidentally committed ‘Attempted Genocide’?”
“No, no - well, tha’s not quite what I meant. I mean, like, this whole Warlord thingie. I’m not a Warlord, I’m a farmhand from yon village down Wart-Bottom.”
“A… farmhand, hm?”
“Aye. I was just a normal lad, working the fields, courting my lass, normal stuff. Well, one day, I found this amulet down by yon river, I did.”
“Yes, gurt big red stone on it. Beautiful, it was. I were going to give it to Zaya and ask her to be my missus.”
“Okay, so what happened?”
“Well, it weren’t no bloody ordinary amulet, were it?”
Ettyson swept from the prosecutor’s bench to the open area in the front of the room, looking every bit the perfectly turned-out prosecutor. She took two deep breaths before starting.
“The man you see sitting in the dock is, perhaps, the most evil force to ever walk this earth. His wave of destruction began when, at the mere age of fifteen, he commanded the forces of darkness to lay waste to his village through dark sorcery. He was found standing, alone, in the middle of an untouched patch of grass, surrounded by death and destruction, flames and ashes. A trinket from which he drew his dark powers clutched in hand, an expression of delight on his face as he turned to the brave men and women of the Peacekeepers. Those brave, selfless souls laying their lives on the line to bring this creature to answer for his crimes. As you will hear later, the survivors still sometimes wake up screaming, so terrible was that sight.”
Felix chanced a look at the judge, who was following Ettyson’s every word with great interest. That was a bad sign. Gunter was normally half asleep, and that was on a good day. He glanced down at his notebook.
Felix scribbled a few things, then paused, tapping his pencil against his mouth.
“When you say it… went off?”
Bupp was well onto his second cup of tea by now. He had been offered something stronger, but had refused. (“It hurts me ol’ tummy, I’m delicate, see”).
Bupp clutched his black gauntlet to his chest, the metal grating on Felix’s ears.
“Yes, it were awful. It was ‘ot to touch, so I went to dip it in that bucket by the well, ‘n’this awful swirlin’ heat burst from it, burnin’ and flamin’ everything in sight, except for me. Oh, it was terrible, mister! I were so glad when th’Watch came for me. I just wanted to get away from them awful sights and smells, and from everything I held dear burnin’ in front of me.”
“So, you submitted to the Peacekeepers?”
“Yes I did, sir, yes I did. But, uh, tha’s when it got worse…”
The crowd were spellbound by the prosecutor. She was like one of those famous actresses from the theatre.
I wonder if she’s had stage training? I wonder if whoever gave those lessons is still taking on students? I wonder if I could afford them?
“However, this was merely a fraction of his malevolent scheming!"
A flourish of the hand.
“Allowing himself to be detained by the brave guardsmen, he waited until he was locked up, secure behind bars, before wreaking further havoc, freeing himself and all manner of terrible prisoners, binding them to his will. And thus, the seeds of his fledgling army were planted!”
Felix handed Bupp the Terrible a hanky, who accepted it clumsily. “What happened in prison?”
“Well, some of them other prisoners, horrible people they were, they saw I was young’n’skinny with long arms, and they said I should try‘n fit through the bars. I wasn’t that skinny, but I tried, because they said they’d hurt me if I didn’t…” he sniffed, dabbing his eyes.
“Well, I reached me arm through, then some guard saw me’nd came over to tell me to stop, and he tripped, and I don’t know how, but he landed badly, proper badly, and was stabbed by his own sword! His keys clattered over t’me, and I reached ‘em. The other boys, superstitious like, had heard something about magic when I were led in, but not believed it. Now they started thinkin’ I was some kinda awful wizard who bewitched the guard to kill his-self. Well, I held the keys in my hand, and one of them took the keys and unlocked the door, then the next door, until they was all unlocked, and there I stood, among a sea of villains. They all looked to me, askin’ what I were gonna do next.”
Felix took a thoughtful sip of tea.
“Right… so, what did you do next?”
Edison thrust her index finger on the table before Bupp.
“Leading this new prison revolt, he stormed Hillsgate Guardsquarter, slaughtering all who stood in his path. By the time he was finished, barely one man in ten lived. The survivors saw Evil Bupp being carried like a demon king through hell, high on the shoulders of the men he freed. He was carried towards the mountains, no doubt to carve out a kingdom diabolus fit for the monster he truly was.”
Bupp blew his nose wetly. Felix mentally disowned the handkerchief.
“These criminals, nasty bunch they were, they thought I was lucky, or powerful, or both, and so they took me with’em. Turns out just the same day some bandit gang, the Black Eye, had been arrested, all of’em at once, and they all had a big hideout not too far from where we were. Their boss had died in the arrests, so they needed someone else. They liked the idea of a wizard to lead them, so they chose me.”
“Just like that? They chose you?” Felix said, frowning. Bupp looked at him earnestly, bottom lip starting to wobble.
“Yes sir, just like that. I couldn’t say no, could I? They’d have killed me!”
“But didn’t they find out that you weren’t a criminal? Just a farm boy? No offence, but it can’t have been that hard for them,” Felix said, feeling a touch guilty.
Bupp fidgeted with the now-snotty rag and mumbled, “Well, not exactly…”
Ettyson strode to the centre of the room, her back to the defendant.
“Three long years of terror reigned on the district, with the newly formed Black Heart gang holding the area to ransom. Only when setting his sights on a greater prize was the county spared. Bupp the Conqueror led his evil forces southward to claim the jewel of the south: Placenamia.”
Felix passed Bupp his fourth cup of tea. Bupp leaned forward to take it, his chair creaking in protest. He blew gently on his drink, which appeared to grow warmer judging by the steam, then sipped. Felix was trying to wrap his head around the physics of this - and was coming to the conclusion it was probably magic - when Bupp started speaking.
“There were this fella, see, called Chiv. He knew I were a fraud, and he held me by knifepoint once, and told me that the leader is the one who gets killed when things go sour, but if I did everythin’ he said, I could stay leader and I’d be safe, while he made the choices and whatnot. So... I agreed. He told me what to say and when to say it, and, uh, the gang flourished…”
“So, you did lead a gang?” said Felix, raising an eyebrow, but not looking up from his pad.
“I never chose to! I feared for me life!” Bupp said, clutching his hands together and holding them to his chest.
The whole tale carried on much like this. Every few months some new bad bit of chance or coercion would see poor old Bupp take the next step on his terrible career. After four years, his meagre mountain home became a mighty citadel, and he spent his time on a great throne in armour black as midnight. His armour? A gift from a supplicated rival warlock gang, which he was honour bound to wear, lest blood spill between them. He only found out later that it was un-removable, and no amount of tugging or scraping would give him release. The screaming sword? Pressed into his hands by a necromancer who feared for his unlife, begging the mighty Bupp to leave him be. It had never been swung. By Bupp, that is.
As his notoriety grew, so did Chiv’s coercions. Sieges, sackings, all manner of terrible crimes attempted, but, due to a lack of crucial tactical understanding or callousness, all failed at the last moment. Mostly these were split-second decisions that people expected Bupp to take in the heat of the moment, and, Bupp being Bupp, and with Chiv not always being present, he constantly made them wrong. However, no one was brave enough to call him out on it, content to hide their concerns in their cups. No one wanted to be the one to challenge their overlord.
Eventually, Chiv died under mysterious circumstances (“Nothin’ to do with me, honest!”, blubbered Bupp), so everyone assumed Bupp had killed him out of spite or boredom. From then on, his rule was absolute and his volunteer bodyguards, itching for favour, were plentiful. His fate was sealed.
Since then, his gang had committed no major crimes, the assumption being they were biding their time for the “big one.” Why else would their evil wizard-king brood for days at a time on his dark throne, if not planning the raid of the century? The cult of the Black Heart swelled, and their reputation spread like an infestation on the country.
This was going to be an interesting case, thought Felix.
Back in the courtroom, Ettyson finished her lengthy and heartfelt tale of Bupp’s exploits and returned to her seat. Felix stood, and at a gesture from the judge, took his place. He looked at the room, taking in the tense atmosphere. Fear, disbelief, anger. These emotions filled the room like mist, and he felt it fill his lungs as he breathed. He swept the court with his gaze, from the severe looking judge to the agitated crowd, disbelieving that anyone could defend such a monster. The only sound was the gentle fizz-crackle of the cage that held Bupp.
Well, here goes nothing.
He licked his teeth before starting.
He flung an arm up, first finger extended in the sky. “Wrong place, wrong time. A phrase we have all used, and a phenomenon we have all experienced. I fear to say, Your Honour, it is a phrase I will be referring to quite frequently this afternoon.
“A series of dreadful, unlikely circumstances have led to this modest farmhand, this skinny, harmless nobody, being, quite accidentally, elevated to the level of terrible warlord.”
Ettyson’s first witness was one of the two survivors who apprehended Bupp at the village on Wart-Bottom Hill. Her name was Guardswoman Wellity, and she was a blocky, nervous looking person with a sandy dusting of short-cropped hair. Despite her clear discomfort at having to recreate that terrible day, she maintained the stiff expression of the veteran guardswoman. She didn’t look up at Bupp as she marched in.
In the dock, she explained a distressing tale of dark magic and evil sorcery, much as Ettyson herself had described. The prosecutor would often ask for further details on certain aspects of the tale, getting the witness to repeat words like ‘Malevolent’, ‘Dread’, and ‘Terrifying’.
When she was finished, Felix prepared to cross-examine her.
He gave her a good ten-second stare, trying to unnerve her. She did not falter.
“Guardswoman Wellity,” he began. His voice echoed around the chamber, and the sound died off before she replied.
“Yes?” she answered tersely. She had large, scared eyes, like a deer, but the rest of her face was stony. Her guards’ uniform was pristine, all reds and whites, not a speck of muck or a thread out of place.
“How did Bupp look when you saw him?” he began.
“He looked most sinister, sir.”
“I mean, his expression. His face.”
Her responses to Felix, in contrast to those towards Ettyson, were guarded and brusque.
“But it was dark, there was fire and ash swirling around, you said. How could you tell?”
“I saw it, sir, no mistake.”
“From a distance, at night, in the middle of a flaming village?”
“I see.” He paused, then started pacing slowly around the room. “Did the defendant attempt to fight you when you arrived to arrest him?”
She didn’t answer, evidently trying to figure out how to obscure the truth without actually lying. Felix didn’t give her the chance.
“Answer me, please, witness, yes or no will suffice,” he snapped. “Did the defendant fight you, or put up any resistance at all when you went to arrest him?”
“...No, sir.” She turned her eyes away, looking at the floor.
“In other words, he handed himself in?”
“Objection,” interjected Ettyson, and Felix froze, waiting to hear her reasoning. “One does not mean the other. ‘Handing in’ implies he came to the guard to admit his crimes, which he didn’t.”
Gunter nodded. “Sustained. Felix, next question, please.”
“Thank you, Your Honour,” he nodded, discarding that line of questioning like an apple core. He turned back to the guard.
“Now, I wonder.” Another theatrical pause. “Guardswoman Wellity. Are you a wizard?”
She blinked, and swallowed. “No sir.”
He produced a strip of parchment of his own from inside his inner jacket pocket, and began theatrically crossing entries off of them as he made his way down.
“A relic-master? Archaeomancer? Necromancer, temporomancer, witch-doctor, curse-breaker, or any other kind of profession that casts or removes curses, spells or magic?”
His pencil scratched loudly with each line. He’d practised getting the sound just right. Schwit.
“Certainly not, sir.” the witness answered, sounding more indignant with each reply. Felix took on the mannerism of an irritated schoolmaster, struggling to get a simple question from a misbehaving pupil.
“Perhaps you are an alumnus of a prestigious university, having obtained a degree studying the arcane or, perhaps, the mysterious ways of magic?”
“No, sir,” she said through gritted teeth.
“Have you any part of your history, professional or personal, that might give you an insight into the specifics between different types of magic?”
He scrunched up the paper and put it into a pocket. It had been completely blank, of course, but it wouldn’t do for someone to notice.
“So, you wouldn't be able to tell at a glance, for example, the difference between a spell cast by a benevolent forest spirit and a, let’s say, cursed amulet?”
“...Well, that depends!”
Felix considered this, and tilted his head in mock-overthinking.
“On what, witness?” he asked, genuinely.
“On, umm… Well…” she glanced at Ettyson, who watched impassively.
“You couldn’t, could you?” said Felix.
“...No, sir.” She seemed less defiant and more deflated.
“So, this dreadful scene you took in… You say you saw a dark wizard flaunting his powers, whereas it could have been a cursed amulet, much like the one submitted as evidence, performing its own dark magics despite the handler trying to stop it?”
Her face hardened, her brow furrowing. She didn’t look happy.
“I don’t agree, sir," she said, firmly.
He smiled. “In that case, would you be able to tell us how to differentiate between the dark magic of a mad sorcerer and the dark magic of a demonic amulet? To me, an inexperienced lawyer, they seem quite similar.” He had reached his desk, and leaned back on it, arms crossed. “I’m dying to know the difference.”
She fidgeted, before again looking to the prosecutor for help. Ettyson just stared at her.
“Uhm…” said Wellity.
“Please speak up, witness," said Felix.
“Uh, I… I couldn’t sir.”
“I see.” he bowed his head, as if disappointed. “So, in answer to the previous question; Guardswoman, can you be sure you saw the defendant casting evil magic, or could it be something else, something perhaps being summoned from that terrible jewellery?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“You don’t know if you can be sure? Would it perhaps be more accurate to give a single word answer? Let me repeat the question. Can you, guardswoman, be sure you saw the defendant casting evil magic, or could it be something else, something perhaps-” he emphasised each word “-being summoned from some demonically possessed jewellery?”
Her face flushed, and her eyes flicked to Bupp, and back again. “No, sir.”
Felix nodded. “That will suffice. No further questions.”
The next witness for the prosecution was a shifty looking man, all sinew and suspicious glares. Darting eyes- short, greasy hair. He looked like a career criminal, if such things can be gleaned from a single glance. He wore an ill-fitting overcoat of an indeterminate brownish-grey, and it seemed to swallow him up, leaving only his head poking out.
“Name, witness, and profession,” stated Ettyson in a flat monotone.
He slicked his hair back before answering in a husky voice. “Sticker, and I’m, ah, um… an insider, if you like..”
“Who for, and what does that entail?” She could well have been asking a stranger for the time of day, so direct was her tone.
“For the Black Eye, uh, I mean the Black Heart. I work with the townsguards though, help them and whatnot, information, and they protect me.”
“Tell me what you know of the last ten years in the Black Eye Gang.”
“Well, it’s not called that no more, it’s the Black Heart, on account of, er…” he nudged a head towards Bupp. “Oh. it’s been the most terrible time. Since he took over, there’s just this atmosphere, you know?”
“In that time, has the severity of the crimes you committed increased?”
“Oh, yes. Before, it was just some small robbings, a small amount of strong-arming, then it was all sorts. Capturing towns, burning bodies, oh it was awful. We might be crims, but we’re not rotten, you know? There’s a world of difference between nicking something and burning a city down.”
He looked side to side, before leaning closer to Ettyson, though his voice was just as loud. “Also, between you’n’me, some very strange types turning up lately. Fellas in black cloaks, muttering about the end of the world, the final judgement, end of life as we know it, that sort of rubbish. Gives me the willies. S’gone to the dogs.”
Felix strode to the witness, and tried not to imagine quite how one in such a dangerous profession managed to live to such a ripe old age. It can’t have been luck.
“Witness Sticker.” He enjoyed speaking out the witness’s name before starting questioning. It always gave him a natural starting place, and he felt it focussed attention in the right way. “Did you ever, at any time, see the defendant personally command any member of the Black Heart gang to commit any of the alleged crimes?”
“Yes," said the crook.
“Ahem, okay.” Whoops. Felix tapped his chin with a finger, eyes pointing upwards in a ‘thinking’ pose. “And... how did he seem when he did so? When he gave these commands?”
Sticker paused, and started moving his hands in front of him, trying to shape the correct word.
“Calculatin’.” he settled on.
“Calculating, you say? Calculating… or hesitant?”
“Eh?” Sticker wrinkled his nose.
Felix smiled as if he realised he hadn’t quite explained the joke correctly. “Allow me to elaborate. What do you mean, when you say ‘calculating’?”
Sticker shrugged. Something in his coat jingled when he did so.
“He spent a long time thinking of what to say, so he could make sure it was as evil as possible, I reckon.” he nodded, jingling again, happy with his own interpretation. Felix shrugged.
“Or, perhaps he wasn’t sure what to say, and was trying to remember what Chiv had prompted him with earlier that day?”
“Uh-”, Sticker began.
“Objection,” said Ettyson, rising. After a nod from the judge, she explained. “Who exactly is Chiv? I believe the defence has suddenly conjured this name out of nothing.”
“Sustained. Defence counsel?” enquired the Judge, looking at Felix like he was genuinely an idiot.
Getting ahead of myself… maybe I can make it look intended?
He nodded to Ettyson. “A jolly good question indeed. Witness, do you know of a man called Chiv?”
“Aye, I do.”
“Is he a member of the Black Heart gang?”
“Yes, he was.” Sticker itched the end of his nose. “Was bein’ the key word. Good riddance t’bad rubbish, I say,” he muttered.
“What was Chiv like?” Felix asked. Sticker whistled, a long, low drawn-out whistle that carried on for a heartbeat too long.
“Oh, now he was a sneaky bastard. Always wanted to be top dog, but never wanted to be the one taking the heat. I always knew he’d end up with a knife in the back, I did.” He spat, remembered where he was, and glanced up at the judge. She didn’t notice. Felix continued.
“Could Chiv have ruled from ‘behind the throne’?”
Sticker nodded, absentmindedly. “Oh, sure, he did it once a while back. The last leader was a right pushover, did whatever Chiv wanted, until Chiv got fed up with him and had him killed. Proper, hmm, wasstheword… perfidious.”
Felix was not expecting that sort of word from this sort of witness. He nodded, despite himself.
“No further questions, Your Honour.”
Felix regarded his defence witness. There hadn’t been many to choose from, and he had decided that putting Bupp on the stand wouldn’t have done his case any favours. He’d have been painted as an actor, feigning weakness, and Ettyson would have ripped him apart.
He had scraped the barrel, perhaps, but something was better than nothing. And, who knows? Perhaps this would be enough.
“Just exactly what are the chances,” Felix said, leaning back on his desk. “Of, for example, a butterfly entering through the top window during this case?”
The Aleaomancer twitched his hand in the air in front of him, mouthing silent calculations. Tiny sparks flickered on his fingertips. His white hair seemed to defy gravity, sticking almost straight up.
“Well, let’s see. Any sort of butterfly, the case is likely to take X long, so multiply over and…” he paused. He spoke very quickly.
“Around two-hundred and sixty to one," said the small, frizzy haired man. He seemed to always be moving, unable to sit still for even a moment. Felix couldn’t help contrast him to Ettyson, who sat as if carved from stone on the prosecutor’s table.
“I see. And, based on the evidence you have heard, and the narrative given to you by the defence, what are the odds of our defendant, Bupp, experiencing the series of events as described?”
The chance-wizard whistled a long, low laugh.
“Well, those are long odds," he said.
“Please, just answer the question," Felix said. He never much cared for wizards.
The man was quiet for some time, suddenly still, larger sparks and crackles popping around him. He sat up as if shocked, then blurted out: “around four-hundred-and-seventy-five-thousand-billion, one-hundred-and-sixteen-million, nine-hundred-and-sixty-eight-thousand, six-hundred sixty-six to one.”
“So, you’re saying there’s a chance?” Felix said, hoping he didn’t appear as desperate as the argument sounded. “It’s not impossible that things happened as described?”
“Oh yes, me boy, there’s almost always a chance," smiled the wizard, playing with his collar. Felix thanked him, and stepped away.
Ettyson approached for cross-examination.
“Two questions for you, witness. Can you think of any event that you have encountered in your long career that has odds as unlikely as the one just described?”
The man considered. “No, sorry. It’s very much on the high end of the sorts of odds we can, hmm, generate.”
She nodded, then continued.
“What are the odds for the defendant being found innocent of all the crimes accused?”
“Probably around four-hundred-and-seventy-five-thousand-billion, one-hundred-and-sixteen-million, nine-hundred-sixty-eight-thousand, six-hundred sixty-eight... to one." He smiled again. He seemed to like long odds.
“No further questions," she said. Felix groaned internally.
Ettyson’s closing speech was very much like her first, full of emotive descriptions of maimed villages and other poetic language. It was at odds with her style of questioning, but she delivered both speeches and examinations expertly.
Felix’s close was succinct. After a quick round up of the evidence, he appealed to the judge directly.
“I implore you, Your Honour, please consider not what appears easy and straightforward, but what appears possible, and remember that, despite all this, my client, Bupp the Apparently Utterly Evil, handed himself in. He turned up, hands outstretched, to allow himself to be arrested, just so long as he got a fair trial. Would a true monster throw himself at the feet of justice? No, I move that he would not. Thank you for your time.”
The judge waited for him to sit down, then stood up herself.
“I have heard all the evidence and arguments presented and shall now retire to my chambers to consider them. Expect a verdict within the hour.”
And with that, Judge Gunter shuffled out of the room.
Felix stretched his neck out, sighing. It didn’t look good for poor old Bupp. He’d done his best, but barring a miracle, he reckoned his last case for Kurrip & Kurripe’s was going to be a blowout.
It’s a shame, because I actually believe him.
He looked around the room again, trying not to make direct-eye contact with anyone in the audience. Heckling, he could deal with. He wasn’t a fan of being pelted with rotten vegetables, however. The chance of that happening was low, at least in the courtroom itself, but Felix figured that if anyone was going to ‘decorate’ him just outside the building, they’d almost certainly be giving him an evil glare from within. He picked a few likely contenders out and made a mental note to avoid them if possible.
Bupp was still up in the dock, within the blue power-cage. He looked uncomfortable. The seven wizards keeping him in check had been swapped out a few hours ago for fresh ones. They’d been tense during the switchover, but it had apparently gone well, based on how Bupp was not rampaging through the city. Instead, he just sat, looking sad. He was perhaps naive in thinking the law could help him, but he had trusted anyway.
Felix wondered what would have happened if Bupp had decided to try and break free, and felt a slight chill.
Almost exactly one hour after leaving, Gunter returned. She didn’t sit, and instead just looked out over the room.
“The prosecution makes a very strong case," she began, addressing the room in a solemn voice. “The mountain of evidence is almost as large as that in which the defendant has made his stronghold these past ten years.” She took a deep breath. “There is some room for doubt, however.”
Ettyson tensed, letting the mask of professionalism slip ever-so-slightly. For one as her, it was equivalent to another bawling and tearing her hair out. Felix felt the tiny flame of hope spark deep within his gut. Surely not…
“But, as our Aleaomancer friend has noted, the room for doubt is microscopically small. Sometimes, the law must understand that on the balance of probability, certain actions were likely to have occurred, and others are unlikely. In this case, disregarding as fantasy the infinitesimally unfortuitous series of events presented by the defence, this court finds the defendant Guilty of all crimes accused. Sentence shall be death, to be meted out in one week’s time.”
She struck her gavel on the plate, and nodded once each to Felix and Ettyson, before leaving again, much more quickly than the last time.
Cheers erupted from the audience, and Felix found it hard to look up at the dock. He heard the sound of something wet and hefty hit the cage, and it fizzled and puffed when it impacted, leaving behind the smell of cabbage.
Felix knew he should try to speak to his client, but before he could, Bupp was whisked away by the team of seven Cabal wizards, keeping him contained within a web of blue energy. Felix thought he could hear him trying to speak, but the sound was drowned out by the hubbub.
I’m sorry, Bupp.
Kurrip knocked lightly on the interview room door and poked his head around. He gave Bupp a nervous glance, then spoke to Felix.
“I’m about to head off, Felix. Have you got everything you need from our, eh, esteemed client?” He was trying a calm and easy smile, but it wasn’t quite making it to his face.
Felix looked at this notebook. It was as full as it was likely to be, and, truth be told, his wrist hurt. He turned to Kurrip.
“Yes, I think so. I’ll be out in a moment.”
Kurrip nodded quickly and shut the door behind him. Felix waited until his footsteps receded out of earshot.
“Bupp,” said Felix, putting down his pencil and flexing his wrist. “There is one question I haven’t asked you yet.”
The armoured figure of Bupp the Merciless gave Felix a tired look. “Oh?”
“Yes. Why exactly did you hand yourself in? You must know that it’s not going to be easy to get the result you want.” He tried to sound comforting, but that was never his strong point.
His client sighed and dipped his head.
“I s’pose I just thought, enough is enough, you know? And when I were a nipper, my folks, they taught me, they said: do the right thing, Bupp, even if it’s hard. I been thinking about this for a long while. I decided it’s about time I faced the music, so to speak. And it can’t be too late for me, not if I believe in man’s good nature.”
He looked up at Felix, his eyes glistening.
“I got faith, sir.”
Felix was gathering his papers from the desk, half-listening to the gentle bustle of the crowd as it shuffled from the courtroom. Some voices were excitable, some were fearful. What would happen to Bupp now? Ghoulish speculation floated from a few noisier punters. Execution, certainly. Maybe they’d draw it out, if they’d make him suffer.
You did your best, he thought.
Could he have done better? Did he miss anything? Did he say too much?
He knew it was pointless thinking this way, especially so soon after the sentence was passed. And, with time, this would just be another individual tried and found guilty, Felix’s name a footnote at the end. Legally, this was the right course of action. On the balance of evidence, Bupp was guilty. Justice had been served.
A thought bobbed to the surface, and he paused, bag in one hand, document in another. Bupp, blowing on his tea, and it warming as a result. Why did that memory stick out?
He was aware of a presence behind him. He turned, and saw a middle-aged woman he didn’t recognise, who appeared to be waiting for him. She was wearing her hair in a tight grey bun, and light gleamed from a single glass lens that covered an eye. She had a half-smile, as if privy to a secret joke. It irked him.
“I’m sorry, have we met?” he said, perhaps too curtly.
There’s no need for rudeness.
“Sorry," he added, embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to sound rude. You know how it is, you saw...” He waved a hand towards the dock.
“No offence caused, young man, and we haven’t met. I must say, you fought a tough fight.” Her voice was musical, and she didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered by his attitude.
He shrugged. “I did my best, it’s just a shame it didn’t quite turn out how I had hoped. But there’s always more clients in hopeless situations. Perhaps not quite as hopeless as that, but we have to try, eh?” He turned back to his papers, and began ordering them, ready to pack away. Or I could just burn them.
She nodded. “Quite. Might I enquire as to which company you represent?”
He stopped, and pursed his mouth. “Oh, well, no one, now. I’m currently looking for somewhere, as it happens.”
She reached into a bag she was clutching and passed him a card. He took it, and it took a few moments to register what it was. She gave him a full smile.
“Well, if you haven’t quite made up your mind, might I recommend Lunchers & Co. They’re based out in the West Country, and I know for a fact they would gobble up a lawyer with your sort of spirit.”
Felix looked at the card. It had old-fashioned lettering, and the corners were slightly dog-eared.
“Thanks," he said, “I’ll think about it.”
She smiled at him one last time, and she looked so genuine that he felt guilty for immediately dismissing her firm. When she was gone, he looked at the back of the card.
“Representing the downtrodden, the misused, the abused, the voiceless. Lunchers & Co: Lawyers for the Underdog.”
He thought long and hard about that.