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KIYOTAKA ISHIMARU: ACE ATTORNEY

Chapter Text

Evidence Updated:

 

-Map of the Carnival

A somewhat blurry photograph taken by Detective Lang's busted old flip phone. Reveals a hidden section of the carnival that was not previously investigated.

 

-Ryota Mitarai's Broken Tablet

A drawing tablet, originally broken into three pieces—One found under Yukizome's feet by Kirigiri, one held in her purse by Byakuya, and one handed over by Sakakura.

 

Four key pieces of evidence are saved on this tablet.

      1. A drawing of the three teachers at the Ultimate Talent Academy from the back—Juzo Sakakura, Chisa Yukizome, and Kyosuke Munakata. A strange red dot has been drawn at the back of their heads.

      2. A portrait of Chisa Yukizome. Her eyes are stained red with blood.

      3. An abstract sketch of Juzo Sakakura. His face is distorted and covered in shadow, and his arms are outstretched as if about to attack the viewer.

      4. A video, mostly unwatched by the defense and prosecution. Miaya declared it to be “evil” for their psyches.

 

Profiling Updated:

 

Kazuo Tengan (72)

AKA “The Old Man,” as Byakuya refuses to learn his name. The principal and founder of the Ultimate Talent Academy. Personally invited most if not all of the students in attendance. Strives to develop a personal relationship with each of them, which is why he is so worried about Ruruka's decision not to claim temporary insanity.

He must not hold a lot of faith in her. Then again, this was Ruruka. It was a challenge to hold any.


“Court is now resumed for the trial of Mr. Sohnosuke Izayoi. Oh—I got the name right this time!” The Judge proudly cleared his throat. “Is the defense ready?”

Kiyotaka's eyes swam as he stared down at his court record. He'd circled his two new pieces of evidence something like ten times each in red pen, all but smothering the rest of his written accounts.

He didn't think the other pieces would be necessary, now that he had conclusively proven the events of yesterday—that Ruruka struck first, and Izayoi second—but he couldn't help but sweat in place as he worried.

Mondo had to tap his arm before he snapped up to cry, “Yes! Yes, we're ready!”

Mondo grimaced. “Don't worry, Udgey. He's just jittery.” How Mondo could say this with a straight face while his outstretched hands shook before him indicated great restraint, or perhaps willful ignorance. Their sleep last night had been fitful, and they'd drunk copious mugs of coffee prior to the trial. Mondo had suggested they pace themselves, but Kiyotaka would not let him bring any coffee into the courtroom (what if they spilled it? onto their evidence?!) so they had to down it all beforehand.

Casting a dubious look over the defense, the Judge turned to the other side of the courtroom. “And is the prosecution ready?”

Byakuya stubbornly straightened, preening once more over the sweating defense. “Of course, Your Honor. I would never enter the courtroom unprepared.”

Taeko sneered, pounding a fist into the desk. She had decided to join them again today, what with how they looked about ready to collapse at any given moment. “OBJECTION!” All eyes turned to her; she blushed excitedly. “You almost got me a guilty verdict to a crime that was never committed! Fuck you and your big fat fucking lies!”

His face blurted red. “That... I was as prepared as I could be!” he shouted back. “You lied, so I based my evidence off of an attempt to catch your lies!” Snarling, he leered up at the Judge. “This woman should not be on the defense's team! She does not belong in a court of law!”

The Judge took in Taeko and shrugged. “I don't see any problem with it. She's just another weirdly underage female assistant. At least this one doesn't also claim to be a master in psychology.”

“OBJECTION! Your Honor, she staged the entire trial for Ms. Sakura Ogami's fake death!”

“Yes, and how impressive it was!” The Judge allowed a moment of applause for the giggling Taeko. “I am honored that she's made the decision to grace us with her presence once more!”

Scowling, Byakuya backed off. Taeko waved at him, then gave him a piece of sign language that roughly translated to “read between the lines”.

“Now, Prosecutor Togami. Your opening statement?”

“Right,” the prosecution huffed. He drew out a single manilla folder and fanned his hot face with it. “I had a second autopsy performed after the shocks revealed yesterday. My source confirmed that the victim suffered three wounds in particular—two great cuts down the front of her body, and the skull-piercing knife to the back. Other than these three wounds, no other physical trauma has appeared to surface on the victim.”

No other surprise wounds, then.

Kiyotaka raised his hand. “HOLD IT! I have a question about this autopsy, Prosecutor.”

“Yes?” Byakuya's eye twinkled.

Somehow, in the tension that traveled between the two of them, he could physically sense that Byakuya had received a certain detective's help in the autopsy, for it to be so accurate. A detective who was supposed to be off duty.

“Does the examiner have a reason for why the victim appeared to cry blood?”

“Ah...” Byakuya hesitated. “Not... as of yet. It does not appear that the victim suffered any concussions or other head injuries that would have caused this phenomenon, nor was she wounded in her eyes prior to her death. It may have been a trick of the eye to those who reportedly saw it, from when she coughed up blood.”

Kiyotaka drew in a sharp breath. He needed to get this answered by the end of today's trial. If—somehow—Yukizome faced a fourth wound that caused her to cry blood, and this wound came before the others... or before they caused her collapse... it was possible it had killed her first. But what with her having swallowed Ruruka's candies, she was on a timer up until the tiny internal knives had cut her open—not to mention Izayoi's knife in her skull.

The defendant's bench had gained a second chair to make room for Ruruka today. The defendant and the in-custody-not-quite-defendant sat as far away from each other as they could. Ruruka kept trying to whisper to him, which caused Izayoi to dump his hoodie over his head and pretend to be asleep.

Glancing over the sorry lot, Kiyotaka winced. If he could just prove the possibility, then perhaps... perhaps another entry point would surface for Yukizome's time of death—and for a third potential murderer.

His thoughts gasped for air in his head, on the verge of drowning in all this information. Three potential murderers...

Byakuya cleared his throat. “I would like to call my first witness to the stand. This witness has not yet appeared in court for this trial, so... here is my hope that new and integral evidence shall be disclosed shortly.”

Ah. This must be...


Surely enough, a familiar wrestler approached the stand. He stood tentatively, arms seizing the support before him. When the wood cracked, threatening to splinter, he jumped back.

He'd changed out of his grass-stained clothes, having switched to a comfortable baggy jacket and pants not unlike something out of Mondo's wardrobe. A similarly sagging tank top peeked out from under his long-sleeve's zipper, which left on display much of Juzo Sakakura's brown-skinned chest.

From behind him came the gasp of a voice: “Juzo—Wait.” Then followed the pristine, white-suited Munakata, who clung to his side like a snowy shadow.

Sakakura's momentary nerves evaporated, and he wrapped an arm around his companion.

The Judge gaped. “Have we two witnesses at the price of one?”

“I—Uh.” Sakakura blinked, blushing. “I'm the one testifying.”

Munakata cleared his throat. “You understand, don't you, Your Honor? After this... After the horrible occasion that has brought us all together, I don't want to be separated from him. May I stay?”

The Judge himself blushed gazing down at the embarrassed couple. “Of course you can! Oh, this brings back such wonderful memories of when my husband would visit me in court. I could never take that from you.”

Byakuya sputtered. “Th-Then I suppose we have two witnesses.” He recovered quickly. “Please—Names and occupations.” His gaze listed over the place Makoto would have stood had he joined them. He must have been relieved he hadn't brought Makoto today, either, with the return of Munakata.

Kiyotaka himself didn't understand what Munakata had against Makoto and his... and his “platitudes,” but it was likely for the best Makoto sit out the rest of this trial, just to keep Munakata's inexplicable hackles from raising.

“Juzo Sakakura,” indicated the wrestler, “and this is Kyosuke Munakata. We teach at the Ultimate Talent Academy.” He hesitated, mumbled, “But I don't really know what the future for us'll look like, now that a third of our staff is gone.”

He had this piercing dark gaze that scrolled across the gallery as he spoke. With his ridiculous muscular form, permanent scowl, and edgy black jacket, Sakakura would have given off an incredibly intimidating vibe were the softer Munakata not affixed to his side.

“Excellent.” Byakuya had carefully resorted and arranged the evidence he intended to use for today. Mitarai's tablet had been placed at the top of his documents, and Kiyotaka noted the blatant lack of weaponry lying about his desk. It was for the best. He cringed at the bandage on Byakuya's cheek. “Now, would you testify to us about the murder of your colleague? I believe you are our second eyewitness.”

Sakakura's brow furrowed. “I'll do my best. I've, uh, been told I can be pretty stupid, so...”

“It's alright.” Munakata took his hand. “I'll be here with you.”

Just about everyone within their immediate vicinity flushed. Kiyotaka covered his face with his hands. He willed them to just go on with their testimony already...

Testify: “Chisa Turned to Me as She Was Dying”

(Mondo scooted over to him. “Why am I already so anxious?” he muttered, letting their shoulders touch.)

Sakakura stared out upon the courtroom. His eyes were these great black holes. “Her face was caked with blood. I—I panicked. It was all coming in streams down her cheeks, her mouth—everywhere!

“I was looking around like an idiot, trying to figure out what to do, when her throat split open.

“She was already sinking to the ground when I heard this nasty popping sound, and the balloon behind her head had deflated—and she slammed into the booth in front of us. I remember our carny backed up and fainted.

“And then... and then I was running, desperate to find the monster who... no, wait, no...

“She was chasing me. Taunting me. Juzo, give up. You know you're nothing compared to me. Shit like that. Her voice was all destroyed, but it hissed out mercilessly.

“I don't know for how long I ran until my body shut down on its own.”

Jaw quivering, Sakakura forcibly shut his mouth.

The Judge blinked. “How... creative!”

Kiyotaka winced. “What does that mean?” he hissed to Mondo.

“I dunno. I'm worried about that too. Sounds like he's still not all the way here.” Mondo drummed his fingers over their desk—their considerably sparser desk that merely held Kiyotaka's notes of of the tablet and a printout of Lang's grainy map.

At any moment, Byakuya could come in with some crazy evidence he couldn't have possibly predicted... but he swallowed and straightened. He'd have to be prepared to take it.

This was his only opportunity to chase the truth of what had actually happened at the scene of the crime. It was possible that Juzo's lucid memories contained secrets that none of the others could have possibly revealed.

...Sucking down a long breath, Kiyotaka pounded a fist onto his desk. “HOLD IT!” he cried. Mondo gently patted his shoulder. “Please explain your fifth statement to me in greater detail. How did Ms. Yukizome begin to... run after you? And do you recall her doing anything to you after you collapsed?”

He hated asking to clarify what sounded like a vivid nightmare—but he didn't know if the rest of his testimony, already corroborated by yesterday, could be of any further use.

He swallowed tightly. This was necessary, he reminded himself. These students... they were children. Misguided children committing the obscene and inexorable, but children all the same. He had to know for himself whether Ruruka or Izayoi had had any chance not of being the murderer.

Juzo's gaze settled on the defense's side. “How did she..?” He drew off, chewing his lip. “Y'know, I never actually considered that part. I guess that's not possible, huh, since she was supposed to be dead...”

A dread-filled pallor had whitened Munakata's strained cheeks.

“Um, I don't know how to describe it. I just remember her—launching out at me. The most notable part of it was her eyes, though. That's where it all started.”

“Where what started?” Kiyotaka pressed. Taeko's head snapped between the witness and defense with giddy excitement.

“Where... everything started.” Juzo cleared his throat. “I mean—that's when she first started speaking to me.”

“Are you saying she spoke to you while she was dying?”

“Ye—Umm...” He glanced at the opposite bench. Izayoi was still pretending to be asleep. Ruruka made a pathetic attempt at a smile.

Juzo appeared to recognize that his testimony was carefully sorting out which murder attempts came when. He glanced between the two defendants, rethinking what he'd already said.

“W-Wait,” Kiyotaka squeaked. “Before you confirm or deny this, I need to know. Did the blood pool in Ms. Yukizome's face before the wounds of her chocolates had set in, or prior to the knife tha—”

Yes, before the knife,” he confirmed. “About the chocolates, well... that one's a little trickier to tell. It almost was like they happened at the same time. But that can't be... Let me... Let me, uh...” As he drifted, Munakata squeezed his hand. They huddled against one another, insufferably sweet. “No, no, her eyes were first. Before the coughing. I know because the first thing she said to me wasn't hard to understand.”

Kiyotaka blew out a breath. “What did she say to you?”

“She said...” Juzo's breaths came in heavy. “She begged for me to go check on Kyosuke's students. I didn't understand—why his? Why right then? But now I'm starting to...”

Munakata's students. Excepting that Izayoi was a special case, the suspicion on him was beginning to lessen. Kiyotaka would say he could breathe easier if he only could piece together what this infuriating conversation Juzo had had with the victim meant for the rest of her murder.

“I think she knew,” Juzo declared, “who killed her.”

Byakuya smacked the back wall. “Then what did she say? Stop floundering in circles, and testify about this crucial piece of information!”

Juzo looked down at his fisted hands.

Testify: “Chisa's Suspect”

“She said... She said...” Juzo squeezed his eyes shut. “She said that they didn't know what they were doing.

“She kept—trying not to reveal who it was, being really vague. It must've been someone she really cared about.

“They didn't understand what they were doing because this school's so shit at teaching our students anything outside of pursuing their fancy ultimate talents, or whatever the hell.

“She seemed to think that something else had brought them to murder—not their own convictions.”

Kiyotaka gaped after the witness.

Mondo stole his “HOLD IT! How the fuck did she say all those things in the span of a few bloodied seconds?”

Juzo blinked. “I don't know.”

“Y-You don't know?” Munakata gripped him. “Juzo, are you still hallucinating some of these statements?”

“N-No...” The witness stilled. “I don't... think so. I hear her voice saying all that. I mean, that's something she'd say, right?” He glanced to Munakata for confirmation.

His companion slowly, haltingly nodded. “She's too selfless for her own good. But—To think that she'd be fully aware of her murderer and still implore you to take care of them, I... Wh-Why was she talking to you, anyways? What about—”

“I think the second the blood came down her face, you sorta shut down, Kyosuke. I know you pride yourself in having a better memory than mine, and all, but not even you could handle what happened. You've known her for longer, so it... it hit you harder.”

“Ah.” Munakata bit his lip. When he let himself appear this vulnerable—and those edges dulled—and like a window, one could peek into his psyche—he really gave off this pleasant, almost alluring demeanor. Mondo seemed to notice as well by the way his brows rose.

While his brain swam, struggling to pick apart Juzo's testimony, Taeko grabbed him at the arm. “This is going around in circles! How do we know whether anything that weird big man is saying is true or not?”

“That's cross-examination,” Kiyotaka said. “I try to poke holes into his testimony. What doesn't hold wasn't the truth.”

“His brain is full of holes!” Taeko shrieked. “I don't like this at all. Is Sir Prosecutor hiring a replacement? Because I am getting bored, and he looks quite lonely over there.”

Byakuya did in fact look rather lonely just sort of standing there without an assistant to bicker with.

“W-Wait—You'd turncoat us?” Kiyotaka returned, cheeks coloring. “Taeko!”

“Not... turncoat! Just devil's advocate. It looks like it is more fun giving you a hard time, Kiyotaka.”

Of course it did. Of course it did.

Kiyotaka's head fell into his hands. On top of Taeko's shenanigans, he really was having trouble figuring out what in the world was the truth. Juzo just sort of said things without much rhythm or reason to them, but there was nobody else who could verify this conversation. It appeared Munakata hadn't heard it whatsoever—but that could be chalked up to a total hallucination on Juzo's part, if they only had proof that Juzo had suffered some sort of hallucination.

Proof that he'd spoken with Yukizome would have sufficed, as well... but they had nothing. Only Juzo and his infuriating testimony somersaults.

He sensed a fist pound into their desk. Mondo's gruff tone filled the restless courtroom. “So do you have any idea who killed your friend, Juzo? From the context clues she's given you?”

“Um... It sounds like someone she cared about. And it wasn't me. And it wasn't Kyosuke.” Kiyotaka spent all of one useless second trying to figure out if this was a lie only to shake himself and drop it. As ludicrous as this case had become, he didn't want to entertain the thought that a man without any evidence to his name had rushed in to kill his best friend.

Someone Yukizome appeared to care about... And she had allegedly said something about checking in on one of Munakata's students—so it was a first year.

This had occurred prior to Ruruka's chocolates setting in, so she hadn't yet realized she had swallowed two deadly weapons.

If he couldn't disprove Juzo's fever-dream statements—and it appeared Byakuya couldn't, either, by the furious frown on his face—then he would take them at face value. If nothing else, it appeared to have revealed another witness for them to question.

Juzo seemed to realize it as he did. “That's right! We still need to get—”

Abruptly his voice cut off. The wrestler's proud, tough head tilted, then dropped. Beady red droplets slunk down his cheeks.

His dark eyes had overflowed with vivid crimson.

His body pitched forward. His legs slammed into the ground, his head rushing to meet the witness stand.

Munakata froze, his mouth stretched wide in a soundless cry.

“Bailiff!” the Judge shouted. “Call an ambulance!”


The defense team sat on their usual courtroom lobby couch. Even Taeko had drawn silent, letting her thick black hair smother her face. The people of the gallery milled about them, talking up this new sickening twist. Kiyotaka's stomach knotted.

A recess had been called while Juzo was rushed to the hospital. Whoever had tried to stifle the witness had been unsuccessful, as Kiyotaka had come to the same conclusion to hunt down Ryota Mitarai. A part of him wondered whether his own eyes would have erupted with blood had he spoken up first.

He nudged Mondo now. “What's up?” his friend murmured. Their shoulders were hunched together, legs almost overlapping.

“Why... Why do you think that happened?” Kiyotaka whispered. “First Ms. Yukizome, now Mr. Sakakura. Why were they both targeted? I—How were they both targeted?”

What kind of weapon—something invisible to even the courthouse cameras—could activate from afar so seamlessly, shutting down a person's motor functions in such a manner? And the only way of knowing was the bleeding from the eyes... what sort of ruthless weapon were they up against..?

Whomever had used it, they'd done it in the middle of a trial. They clearly had no qualms with disrupting the law. Had... Had they thought nobody would be able to trace it?

“How they were both targeted...” Mondo drew a taut sigh. “We don't have anything that might show—I dunno—some sorta correlation between the two of them, do we?”

Kiyotaka scowled. “We have hardly any evidence that hasn't already proven something else!”

“Maybe flip something over?” Mondo suggested. “You never know when a conclusive piece of evidence is hiding right in plain sight, and you just—you just gotta get out your stylus and use the touch screen to—”

“Mondo, what are you talking about?”

Mondo shut up. “I have no clue.” He made a poor attempt of a laugh. “Sorry, I shouldn't joke at a time like this.”

Taeko still trembled at Kiyotaka's right side. He gently addressed her shoulder with his hand. “Taeko, are you okay? Do you need to talk about it?”

She shrunk further into herself. “I... I do not like things that I cannot understand,” she finally said. “I cannot understand the murderer. I do not know how their weapon works. What targets the eyes...”

“Maybe it has to do with the brain, or something?” Mondo interjected. “Can blowing up someone's brain make their eyes get all—like that?”

“Head trauma could cause it,” Kiyotaka murmured, “but I... I've never seen it this severe—and following up after a person collapses, no less.”

He seethed in place. Was there going to be a second victim? Would it be followed by a third—a fourth? The speed with which even someone as strong as Juzo had been incapacitated was crippling.

They needed to find out who had murdered Yukizome as soon as possible. This next witnesses would have to give them something that could take them to the end of this. Kiyotaka's one big piece of evidence revolved around him—so here was hoping blindly that their reveal would bring them any closer.

He took Mondo and Taeko's hands in his. “If either of you wants to step out now, you can. I don't want you to do anything that feels too much to handle.”

They'd witnessed what could have been a murder right before their eyes. Kiyotaka would forge through this alone if he had to, but he wouldn't drag his friends along, especially not when it could end their lives in the process.

“No,” Mondo said softly, his lips at Kiyotaka's ear, “I'm with you all the way. You think I'm gonna fuckin' let you take on this murderer by yourself?”

He couldn't help but smile to himself. “Thanks, Mondo. But”—turning now—“Taeko, if you don't—”

“Kiyotaka! No! Maybe I am scared, but I do not want to leave you! G-Goodness gracious, you are... silly!” Pouting, she wrapped her arms around him and stuffed her head into his shoulder. “We just have to be very, very, very careful. I-I know we can do it...”

He didn't call her out for the way she shook, or how her eyes couldn't quite meet his.

He knew. He was scared too. But he couldn't leave this pursuit of the truth behind simply because of that fear. He had to use it—to let it push him forward so that he worked faster, harder, until they could ensure that murderer wouldn't take any other lives.

Mondo attacked him from the left, and they devolved into a messy, tangled, laughing hug.

If they couldn't do this, who would?


They met an empty prosecutor's bench on their way back into the trial.

The Judge coughed into his sleeve, tapping his gavel gingerly. “It appears that Prosecutor Togami has gone missing...”

They gave him the benefit of the doubt and a minute or so to gather himself back up.

In the silence that followed, the Judge cleared his throat. “By default, the defense—”

“OBJECTION!”

In the split second offered to her, Taeko had sprinted over to Byakuya's bench. “I am filling in! Do not prematurely end this trial, Sir Judge!”

The Judge blinked. “But Miss Taeko, you don't even have a lawyer's badge! Were you at least certified to be a defense attorney, I'd likely overlook this—legality, and all—but... this?”

Taeko bravely pounded her freckled fists into Byakuya's evidence file. “You let Sir Makoto prosecute by himself all the time! I am simply filling in for Sir Makoto, who would be filling in for Sir Prosecutor if he were present! See? It is perfectly legal!”

The Judge's brow furrowed. “I don't believe I can argue with that logic. Let the trial resume!” He cleared his throat as Taeko shot a beam at her partners. “Miss Taeko, have you a new witness to call?”

Oh, gosh. Out of necessity, Kiyotaka understood what she was doing, but it was starting to get on his nerves just how excited she looked. She was jumping in place just a little bit, and her smile only kept expanding.

“Yes, I have a witness to call! U-Um...” She bit her lip.

Byakuya had to be searching for Mitarai at this time. Kiyotaka could only presume that that was why he'd missed the end of the recess.

So she couldn't call Mitarai, the only witness they had yet to cross-examine. In the drought that followed, the gallery's heated gazes swam over them.

Who could she call that would actively further the trial without obviously stalling? They didn't have any other witnesses left—everyone important save Miaya had already testified, and Miaya hadn't actually witnessed anything, as far as... as far as they knew.

Wait.

Taeko had reached the same conclusion. Proudly she squared her shoulders and cried, “I call Miss Miaya Gekkogahara to the stand, please! And—And Miss Seiko Kimura as translator, too!”

“Sure,” said the Judge, “I don't see why not.”

It was honestly impossible that the oblivious Judge could've realized how last-minute this setup was.

Her friends dutifully approached the court. Seiko squeezed her girlfriend's hand one last time before stepping aside to let her take the space at the witness stand. Miaya stood carefully, her eyes roving about the area while keeping Seiko close by. When Taeko started speaking, Seiko pointed to her before signing.

“Witness, name and profession, please!”

Miaya steadily began signing in return. She closed her eyes while she signed, and it helped keep her hands from shaking.

Seiko spoke for her. “This is Miaya Gekkogahara—third year at the Ultimate Talent Academy. She's also a part-time online therapist.”

Miaya's azure gaze snapped open again when she'd finished, awaiting Seiko's signal.

“Miss Miaya,” Taeko resumed, “please testify to us about the day of the crime. What did you see or—” she bit her tongue before she accidentally said hear.

Miaya squared up her shoulders. Shaking our her lovely blue hair, she turned to face the gallery. An odd tension had crackled between her brows.

Testify: “I Saw No Murder”

(Momentarily Kiyotaka was speechless. They had definitively picked the wrong witness to split-second cross-examine.)

Shoulders bunching, Miaya shook her head and quickly began to sign. Seiko rushed to translate. “But I saw other important things! So I'm going to just start testifying about that instead!”

(Taeko giggled and nodded approval. The mauve pantsuit she'd chosen for today fit her role as prosecutor perfectly.)

“I saw Seiko try to stop Izayoi, but he ran away. When she lost sight of him, she went searching, but I was bored. I wanted to play the bad crane games and win stuffed animals.

“No stuffed animals for me.” Seiko took off her mask to frown in sympathy for her girlfriend. “But I watched Ryota Mitarai win multiple. I wanted to ask for pointers, but he disappeared when I offered him a pen and pad.

“I am unsure where he could have gone. I looked a little, but I couldn't find him for the rest of the carnival.”

When Miaya finished signing, Seiko quickly added, “I was trying to find Izayoi because I was the one who saw Ruruka—and I had a really bad feeling. Turns out I was right, to nobody's surprise. But I only found him as he was throwing the knife, as we all know.”

“Shut up, Kimura,” muttered the defendant. “I get it. You don't have to keep rubbing it in.”

Ruruka stared at the space that separated her from her ex and all but withered.

“I really do, though,” continued Seiko, “because she deserves it and I feel bad that, like, you were totally under her control? But also—”

“SHUT UP!” squeaked Taeko. “Let Kiyotaka cross-examine you already!” The goth blushed around her mask.

Kiyotaka breathed a sigh of relief when the Judge seized the moment to signal for him. He nudged Mondo as he thought over Miaya's testimony. Mondo appeared just as confused.

He'd have to trust that Seiko had faithfully spoken everything, since they had literally no other way of knowing. This was all last-second, so he hoped the girls hadn't the time to stitch great lies for them to stumble through.

Then again, Seiko hadn't lied before, so there was no reason for her to lie now... right?

Evidence... Did he have anything—anything at all—that might somehow link Miaya's statements to something else...

“HOLD IT!” he shouted. Seiko pointed to him, catching her girlfriend's attention. He tried to speak a little slower to accommodate for her signing. “Miaya, you are the only person in the building who saw Ryota Mitarai on the day of the crime. Where did he go? What was he doing?”

Miaya's brow furrowed. Her signs came haltingly.

“I don't know. He didn't want to be near any other people, it seemed.”

Didn't want to be—

“Please add that to your testimony!” he squeaked, and, confused, Miaya turned and shrugged at her girlfriend. She made two thumbs-up with her hands and brushed the knuckles together, turning her thumbs away from each other.

Seiko snorted. “Just... here.” She signed back rapidly. “You just gotta appease him, alright? He said add it to your testimony, so just stick it between two statements or something.”

Oh, her eyes seemed to say. She thought about it, then appropriately stuck her testimony between two other statements.

Her last statement became, “I am unsure where he could have gone. I couldn't find him, maybe because he didn't want to be near any other people.”

Mondo hummed thoughtfully. “Wait, wait, how the fuck do you go to a carnival and not be near any people?”

“Well, with Izayoi,” Kiyotaka replied, “he decided to sit on a booth's roof... so, where else could Mitarai have hid to avoid other people...”

“Man.” Mondo dragged a hand through his hair. “What idiot brought a bunch of neurodivergent introverts to a carnival? They really should've seen the whole murder thing coming. That's like, the last place you're gonna wanna bring these poor kids.”

“Unfortunately, you were not their teacher.”

Mondo actually paused at that, his brows furrowing. “Is it hard to become a teacher?”

“Four years of college.”

Damn. Who the hell got that kinda money? Certainly not the fucking teachers. They get paid shit, don't they? What clown made the system work like that? That just seems totally counterproductive.”

Kiyotaka couldn't help but break a smile. Mondo's gaze alighted upon him, and, cheeks pink, he grinned in return.

The attorney added, “Just have Taeko forge a graduation certificate for you.” It was truly unfortunate that she would not charge nearly as much as four years of university. How did Mondo even exist? He just wanted to provide for children and give unnervingly accurate therapy to their parents. But the way life was built, that option just wasn't there.

“Nah, it's alright.” Mondo's fingers addressed his shoulder. “When I'm working here with you, I get more than enough chances to do what I would've done if I had money, time, resources, uh, less mental health problems. So it kinda evens out. Plus, I get to spend my days with... uh...” He conspicuously turned away as his ears were inflamed red.

Kiyotaka blinked as he noticed how quiet the rest of the courthouse had become. In fact, the eyes of the gallery, the defendants, the witnesses, and even the Judge had been drawn to them. Taeko politely glanced off, but she had that knowing smile on her face like she'd concocted this whole trial so that she could get them trapped in moments such as these.

Blushing, he shook himself and pounded each fist onto his desk. “HOLD IT!”

Seiko pointed to Miaya and said, “Again? Dude, you're really confusing her.”

“I'm confused myself! If we already examined the booths' roofs, where else could Mitarai have snuck off to? Do you think he left the carnival?”

Miaya's scarf bunched up around her face. She shut her eyes again to sign more clearly.

“She thinks he must've. She looked really hard for him. She didn't wanna really make it clear since that's kind of embarrassing, but she was desperate for this stuffed bunny in one of the crane games and Mitarai was kind of her only hope.”

Taeko pouted. “Seiko! Tell her I said I could help her! And I still will!”

Seiko signed, and Miaya blushed, shaking her head. “She said it's okay. You already got her that figure.”

“No! I would love to assist you further! Those asshole carnies had it coming!” She pounded her fists into Byakuya's desk, reveling in the power it granted her.

Kiyotaka all but forgot about the evidence he had on top of everything else when his eyes skittered over his map and he froze.

Mitarai was...

Juzo hadn't been the only one there, had he? Kiyotaka almost smacked himself. Of course! There were stuffed animals in that blanket fort!

“OBJECTION!” he shouted, and the mutterings of the courtroom drew silent. “There is one place at the carnival I believe Mitarai could've been hiding in when he hadn't wanted to be seen. I don't yet understand why he was there, but I did locate some stuffed animals in this hidden corner.”

He offered his map to the court. “This spot here, in the middle, is blocked off by other booths in the center, but their backs all face one another, creating a small clearing. There's a gap between the balloon pop booth—the scene of the crime—and the one before it that would allow someone to sneak in. I propose that Ryota Mitarai went here while he was missing!”

The gallery bubbled with theories, but there was no Ryota Mitarai present, he realized, to contradict him. Where was Byakuya?

He didn't have the prosecutor's number, either. No way of contact.

But Byakuya wouldn't just evaporate during a trial... he wouldn't leave unless he had a reason.

“Well,” the Judge spoke through the chilly silence, “I don't believe Ryota Mitarai is currently here for us to cross-examine this statement, and Miss Gekkogahara has already confirmed that she doesn't know where this potential witness disappeared to, so we will have to table this theory of the defense's for now.”

Mondo blew out a sigh. “You're getting really good at this, Taka. But—Fuck, what do we do now...”

He leaned into his partner. He... He didn't know. They couldn't just wait around for Mitarai to show up, especially not if the boy had gone missing after all. There had to be something else they could do...

“Oh!” Seiko spoke up. “Mi says she wants to testify about another matter that she thinks is important to make clear.”

Taeko smiled brilliantly. “Yes! Go ahead! Testify about whatever you want!”

She was both the best and the worst prosecutor Kiyotaka had ever worked with. Then again, Taeko wasn't even a prosecutor, legally or otherwise.

Miaya jumped in place, readying herself.

Testify: “The Video”

(The video... Kiyotaka swallowed tightly.)

“I can't describe it, but I know it was evil. We found it on Mitarai's drawing tablet yesterday.

“Didn't watch enough to see whether he had drawn it, or maybe downloaded it, or it was malware, but it emanated a tremendously malevolent energy.

“Scared for the others, I wouldn't let them watch it, so we—”

“NOT SO FAST!”

The sheer tonal whiplash of a certain detective's wolfish howl knocked even the signs out of Miaya's hands. While she couldn't hear Lang, he had strode in front of her, his coat flapping behind him like a majestic cape, and whether or not she continued to sign, Seiko couldn't see them with Lang so securely standing in front of the witness stand.

“Hi,” he said. Then he waved. “Detective Shi-Long Lang. Sigma wolf. Menace to all prosecutors, defense attorneys pending. Deliverer of key information, for once in my entire life.” He snapped his fingers, plopped his double eye patch shaped sunglasses onto his face, and continued.

“I am the one who analyzed this key piece of evidence, after the girl standing behind me so kindly let me borrow it.” For effect, Lang produced the chipped and blood-coated tablet. “I didn't watch the video myself, but I had a computer simulation run it, and the computer actually exploded, so that taught us as much as we needed to know about the video's contents. This scar?” He pointed at a nicked spot on his chin. “From the computer exploding.

“I got this way too enthusiastic forensics expert lady to help me analyze the video in every other way, and she managed to figure out that it's connected to uh, to this thing, what's it called...” He put down the tablet to look at some scribbled handwriting on his palm. “Blue... Blue... fangs? Bluefangs? What is that, a rival faction to my own?”

Kiyotaka cupped his hands and hissed to Lang, “Bluetooth.”

“Ohhhhh.” Lang whispered a thanks in return. Mondo gave Kiyotaka this weirdly violated look. “Bluetooth. Yeah, apparently the video was bluetoothed to three sources. One connection had failed, but right before my eyes, another one shut off today!”

...another one shut off today. And one was already disconnected.

Three in total.

Three in total...

Kiyotaka felt his eyes swiveling as they landed upon the three images he had found on Mitarai's tablet, one of which had indicated a red dot at the back of each Academy teacher's head. That—He swallowed tightly—That did in fact make three sources.

And he had no other leads so far of what had caused the transmission that shut down Yukizome's mind... nor the one that had sent Juzo to his knees...

...and there had to be a reason why nobody else appeared to be affected—why the murderer had only taken out two teachers rather than the surprisingly competent detective, or the attorney, or the pros—

...the prosecution. Where was Byakuya? Was he... Had he been..?

But—No. This evidence, if it was to be believed, proved that Byakuya couldn't possibly be incapacitated in this manner.

If this proved what is appeared to be supporting...

Shaking, Kiyotaka pounded a fist. “Detective Lang! This evidence is crucial. And I... And I think there's only one way to find out what it means.”

Lang, clearly befuddled, stared back at him with the same dopey expression as always. And as always, it was inexplicably endearing.

“One of the witnesses was recently incapacitated. It may be because this dangerous video that demolished a computer is hooked up to—to his body. Would you visit the hospital and check to see if there happens to be—a chip, a speaker, something—connected to him?”

“AIIIIYA!” Lang leaped to attention. “A patrol! Sure!” He whistled, and various howls broke out across the gallery. “C'mon, boys. We gotta go do a thing for Ishimaru.”

Taeko's mouth fell open as the detective and his lackeys rushed out of the room, leaving a bewildered Miaya in their wake. Seeing that he'd forgotten the tablet, Kiyotaka went over to pocket it. Mondo blinked, then hissed as he returned, “What the hell was that? Why's he so—trusting of you?”

Kiyotaka shrugged. It was one of those things that couldn't be explained.

“Oh my!” exclaimed the Judge once all that excitement had whirled itself out of the room. “What a bombastic trial! Not only has our prosecutor been replaced, but for once, it appears the defense attorney is calling the shots. That never happens. It's probably not legal, but it's rather exciting, so I'll okay it for now.

“Mr. Ishimaru, should we hold a recess to give Detective Lang time to report back with his findings? I couldn't exactly follow what makes these blue teeth so important to the trial for myself.”

“Yes!” broke in Kiyotaka. “Yes—These findings are integral. We should wait and see what they reveal.”

“Alrighty, then. I assume thirty minutes will be enough time.”

Thirty minutes. They had thirty minutes to locate Byakuya—and hopefully Mitarai as well.

Lang had thirty minutes, too... Kiyotaka hoped he'd make it back shortly.