Ultra Course

oOo

February 16, 9:56 PM
Hazakura Temple
Sacred Chamber

With a loud metallic clang, the inner temple doors fell shut. The rattling of chains could be heard; not the steady, dramatic noise of a Psyche-Lock snapping into place, but the sounds of ordinary, mundane chains that had to be put into place by human hands. Still, I was sure that in a few moments the other side of the door would look just like one of the ethereal arrangements of chains and locks that I had faced numerous times when questioning unwilling witnesses. Shivering from the bitter cold that was starting to envelop me and creep through my very own training clothes, I turned to the only other person in the room: "Tell me again, Maya. Why did we agree to this?"

The black-haired girl in the acolyte's training garb sighed softly. "This is kind of my duty, isn't it? As the Master of the Kurain Channeling Technique, I should be able to complete any and all of the spiritual training courses that exist. Pearly doesn't always make sense, but I agree with her on that much."

The irony of hearing this from the girl who came up with more hair-raising ideas and bizarre comparisons than I could point my finger at wasn't lost on me. I carefully schooled my features into an impassive mask while trying my hardest to contain my amusement. We're spending the next twelve hours together in this cave. Somehow, starting this off with remarks of pots and kettles doesn't seem like a good idea to me.

"There are probably those who will have a problem with me as the head of the Fey main family." the young spirit medium went on as she fingered the amulet around her neck, an uncharacteristically serious look on her face. "If I can prove I'm dedicated to building my spiritual powers and furthering the Kurain tradition, I may be able to sway some of them."

"Okay, so you're biting the bullet for the good of the clan." I said, secretly impressed with the maturity of her line of argumentation.Looks like the sense of responsibility is making her grow up a little. "But what does that have to do with me? Why do I have to be here?"

"Nick." Maya shook her head, a sheepish look appearing on her face. "You know how Pearly gets. She has these strange romantic notions about us. Do you really find it in your heart to destroy her dreams?" she demanded, a disapproving glint entering her eyes.

"No, I guess not." I sighed, putting a hand over my face and letting my shoulders slump. If I did, I wouldn't have agreed to this in the first place. Disabusing Pearls of her illusions sounds like a lot of hard work I'm not ready for...

"Besides, we already did the Special Course together." Maya said, a broad grin splitting her face. "How much worse can the Legendary Extra-Special Ultra Course possibly be?"

"Please, Maya, don't ask questions like that." I groaned, shivering at the mere memory of that experience. "I've only just recovered from that cold." Sitting on a block of special extra-cold, slow-melting spirit ice while being hit by a relentless shower of frigid water is tough enough, but try repeating a mantra 30,000 times when your teeth are chattering so hard that you can barely form the words! "Seriously, if I had to choose between a repeat performance of the Special Course and another trip down Eagle River, I'd pick the dive off that bridge any day!"

"It wasn't that bad, was it, Nick?" Maya asked wide-eyed, almost as if she hadn't been there right next to me, going through the same thing. I didn't dignify that with a response, but turned around to examine the setup of the room in detail.

For all that this Ultra Course was only set to last half the time of the previous one, it sure promised to be a whole lot more intense. The full array of waterfalls at the back of the room was running, all opened to the maximum, radiating fine mist that froze into glittering diamond dust in the cold of the cavern. Additionally, about a dozen of the bulky, specially prepared ice blocks were arrayed on the rocky floor, magnifying the chilly atmosphere a hundred times. Looking at them, I could almost feel the icicles grow on my nose, chin and hair.Sister Bikini must have spent the entire time since we completed the Special Course making all these. It kind of screams 'overkill'.

In the center of the room a large rug had been spread to protect our naked feet from the cold stone floor, the only obvious concession to our comfort. Looks like we don't have to sit under the waterfalls this time, at least. At its center sat a small folded square of paper. Those must be our instructions. I thought as I bent down to pick it up. Unlike the last course, the contents of this one apparently were so secret that we hadn't been told what to expect before entering the room. Somehow, staring at the ominous little note in my hand gave me a chill that had nothing to do with the room temperature. I have a bad feeling about this.

"What's wrong, Nick?" Maya had apparently picked up on my unease. She took the still closed scrap of paper from my fingers. "You don't think these are instructions for me to channel someone we don't know, do you?" She asked with an innocent look, tilting her head cutely.

Maya... I let out another anguished groan. Sometimes I wish you didn't have quite such an unfortunate sense of humor. I watched her face closely as she unceremoniously opened the note and started reading it. It was very interesting to observe her reactions as she went over it: first there was recognition, a fond smile which slowly faded and turned into confusion, which was in turn replaced by horrified shock. Her face finally settled into an expression of thorough outrage as she struggled to come to grips with the contents. Enraged, she threw the piece of paper at the ground and began stalking the room, breathing heavily and muttering furiously all the while. "Aaaarrrrgh, this is too much! This is going too far! Really, I love her to bits, but this time she went too far!" She turned to me, an unholy gleam in her eyes. "Nick, you'll help me teach the brat a lesson, right? As soon as we get out of here!" She didn't wait for an answer and resumed her pacing instead, looking for something to vent her frustration on.

My heart sank as I realized I had just become the victim of another plot. Why, oh, why didn't I see this coming? The signs had been there from the start, and the last piece of the puzzle had just fallen into place. I didn't yet know the specifics of the scheme, but given Maya's reaction, the perpetrator and thus the thrust of it was abundantly clear. I knew I was right, both my gut feeling and my experience told me so. Sighing, I picked up the crumpled note on the ground and straightened it out, then began reading:

Dear Mystic Maya and Mr. Nick,

Welcome to Hazakura Temple's
Legendary Extra-Special Ultra Course!

Your task is to survive for the next twelve hours,
using the time to meditate on yourselves and each other.

As this is spiritual training, only a minimum of material goods
is provided, so that you may grow from this experience.

You can find the blankets in the supply closet.

–Pearl Fey

"Blankets? ...hell no. She wouldn't – she couldn't possibly mean–"

It took a few moments for my brain to restart, but eventually my muscles started working again and the silence in my ears faded. Looking the room over once more, I spotted the mentioned supply closet in one corner. Brushing uncomfortably close past two blocks of spiritually infused ice, I stood in front of it. The upper of its pairs of doors was guarded by a Psyche-Lock miniature like always, but the lower one was missing the obstruction that prevented the doors from being opened. They must be pretty fond of these things... I thought, momentarily distracted by the red trick lock.

Inside the closet there was indeed a pile of thick, comfortably warm covers. Gathering everything up into my arms, I carried it over to the rug on the cave floor, the presence of which suddenly made a whole lot more sense to me.

"Nick! You can't seriously be considering to go along with this!" Maya protested as I dumped the blankets in a large heap on the ground. It looked like a generous amount... for one person.

"Hold it, Maya." I tried to placate her. "I'm just trying to take stock of what we have here." I gave her a doubtful look. "Do you still want to train even though this course is totally bogus?"

Maya grimaced. "Not really." She sized up the pile of covers critically. "You think this might be enough for both of us?"

I poked through the pile for a moment, then shook my head gravely. "Normally yes. But look around you." I gestured at the blocks of ice and the waterfall array. "Haven't you noticed it's steadily getting colder?"

"I did notice, yeah." she said while rubbing her arms. "But it's going to stop getting colder at some point, isn't it?"

"Oh, I don't doubt that." I said, rubbing my chin sagely. "I'm thinking this point you speak of will probably be about three times lower than during the Special Course." I shook my head. "We've only just entered the room; we're not really feeling the cold yet." I gestured at the blankets and coverings, pointing out the different materials. "This is more than enough to survive; I believe you'd actually be comfortably warm under that, but for it to work under these conditions, it must be put together correctly. This thick blanket to store warmth, this one on top to isolate the outside from the inside, and so on." During my explanation, I had already begun arranging the various pieces of bedding in what I hoped was the correct order, trying to figure out which layer came after which.

"Wow, Nick, I didn't know you knew so much about wilderness survival!" Maya exclaimed, amazed, causing me to sweatdrop. Then her face fell. "Let me guess: there's not enough to go around for two people?"

"Nope. Look, there's only one pillow and down blanket. We've got a few more isolation layers than strictly necessary, but they're not much good on their own."

Maya growled, making strangling motions with her hands. "Oooh Pearl, wait until I get my hands on you, you scheming little brat... I'll kill you very slowly, and when I'm done I'll summon your spirit to do it all over again..."

"She had help, you know." I cut her off, putting the finishing touches on the makeshift bed.

"Huh?" Maya blinked, pausing in her twisted fantasy of choking her little cousin to death.

"She couldn't have done all this on her own." I pointed out, mentally preparing to reel off the contradictions. "Pearls still has trouble reading and interpreting words correctly; she couldn't have written this note. If she had, it would be riddled with misspellings, but instead it's flawlessly written and very well composed to boot. Also, while her influence is unmistakable, this letter is far too subtle to be her work. 'Meditate on yourselves and each other.' – does that sound like Pearls?"

"Not really." Maya grimaced, probably imagining how Pearls would have phrased it.

Not done yet, I gestured around me. "She would also have required help preparing all this. She's probably powerful enough to help create the ice cubes, but putting them here would be impossible with her small body. Besides, she couldn't have planned the room layout on her own. I'm guessing the conditions for these training courses have to be very carefully adjusted to be effective, but not lethal. In this case, the key piece is the construction of the bed, which is a whole lot more complex than Pearls is able to grasp yet."

"Are you certain?" Maya asked, pointing at the finished product. "That didn't look too difficult to put together; I think Pearl would be able to memorize it easily. She's not stupid, you know."

"Very true, but could she have figured out the exact combination of materials to give us to put us into this sort of quandary? Enough to build a very comfortable place to sleep, but little enough to ensure we can't create two adequate ones from it?"

"You're right." she admitted, shaking her head. "Wow, Nick, you're pretty good at this." she teased.

"How do you think I keep saving your goose in court?" I grinned at her, the attention making me feel much less cold all of a sudden.

"Hey!" Maya huffed at me, punching me playfully. "I never asked to be accused of murder, kidnapped or locked up!"

"I know, I know, take it easy." I grinned, holding up my hands and stepping back slightly. "Neither did I..."

"But who would help Pearl with this?" Maya asked, growing serious once more. "Who would support her in her delusions?"

"Who wouldn't?" I sighed, plopping down next to the prepared bed and putting my feet under it. "Sister Bikini? I suspect she'd be delighted to help out in any of Pearl's plans concerning us. Skeptical, eh?" I raised an eyebrow, noticing the sidelong glance Maya was giving me. Using Pearl's note, I struck my best 'according to this evidence...' pose. "Let's go over the witness' testimony once more, shall we?"

"I can't believe this guy actually jumped into the river! Think of all the fun things he might have enjoyed if he had just lived... Relentless spiritual training alone is no way to lead a complete life, huh..."

Maya laughed at my impression of Sister Bikini. She sat down and put her legs under the blankets as well. There was more than enough room there that we didn't touch. "That's not actual testimony from the trial, is it?" she asked.

"Nah. This is something she said to Edgeworth when he asked her about me."

"If she only talked to Edgeworth, how come you know about it in such detail?" Maya asked, giving me an intrigued smile.

"Ol' Edgey is a meticulous note keeper, didn't you know?" I winked at her. "After the first day of the trial, he gave me everything he thought might possibly be of use to me."

"Knowing you, that's every single one of his notes, isn't it?" Maya grinned.

"That's what he said." I nodded, taking a second to look smug. "Anyway, Sister Bikini is probably firmly on Pearl's side. Larry... well, he's the Butz. Do I need to say anything more?" Maya grinned and shook her head in agreement, so I went on. "Hell, for all we know, Mia or your mother are in on it as well. I'm less sure about Mystic Misty, but your sister might think it's a hilarious joke. She doesn't let it show often, but she has a wicked sense of humor."

Maya gasped, her mouth dropping open. "You think Mia is in on this, too?"

"I think it's a possibility." I differentiated. "She and Pearls did have a few private conversations these last few days, when you were channeling her. They had the time necessary to plan this through. After that, Pearly only needed to get Sister Bikini's help to get things set up. She's the undisputed master of this temple – she'd know all about how these training courses are designed."

"But she couldn't have put all these blocks of ice in here with her bad back, could she?" Maya objected.

"She couldn't," I agreed, "and neither could Pearls with the body of a 10-year-old. But she could easily have enlisted 'Uncle' Larry to to help out, or channel Mia to do it for her." I put a hand over my forehead, rubbing the bridge of my nose. "This is looking more and more like a conspiracy."

Maya shivered, huddling closer to the mound of blankets. "Damn it, I'm getting cold. Okay, let's hear our options. Can you think of a way to defeat their scheme?"

"Honestly?" I shook my head. "Whoever helped to come up with this, I think they've got us good. I don't see any other choices than the ones they want to trap us between."

"Hmm, the obvious ones are pretty, well, obvious. Cuddle up or freeze to death. Well, I don't want to freeze to death." She looked away, a little embarrassed at how frankly she had spelled that out. Suddenly she perked up again. "Hey, we could let you freeze to death and then I'll channel you to haunt Pearly for revenge!"

I chuckled at Maya's 'idea'. Heh. That's exactly the kind of hair-raising scheme I was thinking about earlier.

"Okay, seriously. Let me think." Maya concentrated, trying to come up with ideas to bounce off me, playing the role of devil's advocate like she had done for me so often. "Just keeping our distance wouldn't work. There's not enough space, and all the heat would escape through the huge hole between us. Um... what if only one of us uses the bed at a time and we switch places every now and then?"

"Won't work. The bed would be kept warm all the time, but we'd still cool down faster outside than we'd warm up inside. And neither of us would get any sleep."

"Okay, forget that. What about... what about if we try to sleep like this?" She gestured at our legs which disappeared under the blankets. "Heads sticking out at opposite ends?" Her face reddened slightly as she desperately cast about for a solution.

"This might be workable, but it has its problems, too. For starters, there's only one pillow. We'd lose more heat that way as well. Not too much, but it might matter under these conditions. And, uh... well, I tend to thrash around while I sleep." I could feel my face heat up as I continued. "There'd be no guarantee of where my feet might end up."

"Oh." Maya just said, looking somewhat shocked as she covered her mouth with one hand. "Better leave that one alone then." She paused a second. "Wait, you said we have extra covers. Couldn't we take one of them and put it between us?"

"We only have extra isolation layers. Putting one of those between us sounds like a bad idea. We'd effectively isolate our body heat instead of keeping each other warm. Sorry."

Maya appeared to be out of ideas, she just looked down with a disappointed look on her face. "Maya. Hey." I prodded, causing her to look up. "What's wrong?" She's not panicking; I don't think she's actually terrified of the possibility of us sharing this thing. And somehow I don't believe it's just the idea of Pearls getting one over on her that's bringing her down... Could it be... "Are you afraid of something?" I reached into my pocket for the Magatama, wondering whether I'd have to crack a few Psyche-Locks to get to the bottom of this.

However, Maya pleasantly surprised me once again by deciding not to lock her heart against me. "Well, I'm a little worried." she admitted. "Not about you, Nick, I'm pretty sure I trust you." she hastened to assure. "It's just that... if we go ahead with this, what if it changes things between us? I'm worried that things might get awkward and then we can't talk to each other anymore or fool around like we usually do. I don't want to lose this really great friendship we have." Her eyes started to look suspiciously moist. Aw man.

"Hey." I got up, walked around the bed and sat down next to her, pulling her into a hug. "You need to have a little more faith in our friendship." I moved away slightly to face her and shook my head. "This won't change a thing between us and I can prove it. With evidence."

"Proof of our friendship?" Maya blinked, amazed that such a thing might exist. "But you left all your stuff in your room, didn't you?"

"Not all of it." I contradicted her. "There's one thing I've always carried with me, ever since you gave it to me two years ago." Pulling out the Magatama, I presented it to her.

"Hey, that's my Magatama!" Maya smiled, recognizing the glowing green jewel. "You can see people's secrets with that, right?" She frowned. "But Nick, I don't have any secrets from you."

"And there's your proof." I confirmed, causing her eyes to go wide. "I carry it around because you never know when people are going to lie or keep secrets from you. But in all the time we've known each other, I've never had to use this thing on you. It never reacted to a single thing you said. Even just now, you were faced with the choice of telling me about these doubts of yours, or locking them up in your heart. The fact that you didn't is proof positive that we share the most important thing, the foundation of any type of relationship – trust."

I gave Maya a moment to digest that. "So you see, there is no way this can damage our friendship, because the kind of awkwardness you mentioned only happens if people don't talk to each other. As long as we can tell each other anything, our friendship is only going to grow stronger."

"Nick..." Maya smiled, looking already a lot more reassured.

I blinked as a sudden epiphany hit me. "A little prank from Pearls doesn't really measure up to all the things we've been through together, does it?" I asked myself out loud, smiling at how easy it was to answer that. "No matter what we do, you're still going to be the most important person in my life."

Maya's eyes widened in surprise at this revelation, surprise that was partly shared by me. "You know, I've never actually stopped to think and realize how much you mean to me. But when I look back on the crazy things I've done when I thought you were in danger, it's quite obvious. I tried to cross a burning bridge to get to you and ended up going for a swim down the rapids. Hell, I was prepared to get a guilty man declared innocent so his assassin wouldn't kill you. "I shuddered. "I'd do terrible things in order to keep you safe, Maya. That's how important you are to me."

"Oh, Nick!" Maya cried, throwing herself into my arms. I held her close, stroking her hair and comforting her while she struggled with her emotions. Eventually, she pushed herself away from me. "Thank you, Nick." she said while she rubbed the tears out of her eyes, smiling beatifically. "I can do this, no problem!" Still grinning, she gestured at the bed on the floor. "Come on! It's not going to get any warmer out here!"

I gulped, feeling a mild sweat break out as I looked at the pile of blankets that promised warmth and possibly several other things I felt not remotely ready for. As I stared at it, I could almost hear Edgeworth's voice mocking me: Hmpf. Who's the one who's scared now? You talk a tough talk, Wright, but whenever the time for action comes, you falter and stumble. It baffles me how you made it through all those trials with that much doubt in your heart... I shook my head, trying to shake off the negative thoughts.

"Nick? Are you all right?" Maya asked, shooting me a questioning gaze.

Come on, Wright! Or were all those things you just told her just a big lie? I suppressed a wince as I realized that my inner voice had a point.If I don't prove to her that I believe in what I've just said, how can she ever believe another word I say? I shook my head. That won't do at all. It's time to face the music.

Making as little a production out of it as I could, I crawled under the covers, lying down on my back. I was surprised when I found it was noticeably less cold inside. The air inside this room must be cooling down faster than I thought... Not wanting to subject Maya to that any longer than necessary, I held up one edge of the covers, inviting her to get in.

For a moment, Maya just stood there and looked down at me, a little unsure of herself. But then she nodded resolutely and quickly stretched herself out next to me. I wrapped my left arm around her and pulled her close so that she rested halfway on top of me, her head lying on my shoulder, while I used my other hand to check the blankets around us, arranging them until I was satisfied that no warm air would be escaping.

"There. That's not so bad, is it?" I asked, a little surprised at my own daring. Maya responded by making herself comfortable, swinging one of her legs over mine and rearranging her head on my shoulder. "I guess... it's not all that different from the hug you gave me earlier. We've hugged before, haven't we?" She smiled up at me. "Only this one doesn't end."

I smiled back at her, and for a while we just lay there, drinking in the sensations of feeling each other's warmth and breathing. As I started stroking Maya's hair and she unbent her neck and closed her eyes with a sigh of contentment, I couldn't think of a moment in my life where I had ever been this much at peace. All the memories that came even close had this girl in them as well. What does she mean to me? I asked myself, watching our bodies rise and fall. Could it be that Pearls has had the right of it all along, from the very beginning?

"Hey Nick." Maya said suddenly, looking up. "You'll still help me get revenge on Pearly, right?" Wow, is she reading my mind or what?

"All the way." I affirmed. "We'll get her back, her and her co-conspirators." I rubbed my chin, wondering if Mia was really party to this. "I don't know what we're going to do about Mia yet, if she's actually part of this. Pranking someone who has to be specially summoned for it sounds tricky."

"I'm sure you'll think of something, Nick." She resettled herself on my chest, closing her eyes again. "Who knows, Pearly might even be willing to help us once we're through with her."

"You know, I wonder how much faith Pearls really has in this crazy plan." I commented after a while. "What if she's outside there, biting her thumb with worry as she wonders whether we're popsicles yet? Maybe we should hide ourselves before they come to check on us in the morning."

"Nick, that's too cruel!" Maya admonished, nevertheless grinning at the imagery. "Let's try to come up with something that won't traumatize her forever!"

Another couple of minutes passed in comfortable silence. Despite how cold the air was and how comfortable I felt, I wasn't tired yet. Apparently, neither was Maya, because after a while she raised her head yet again, facing me. "Hey Nick... You said that no matter what happened between us tonight, it won't change things between us." She looked at me with wide eyes. "Did you mean that like you said it?" Getting up on her hands and knees, she slowly moved forward.

Gah! Is she for real? I prepared to back away from Maya's scary face, but she didn't get very far before her predatory grin collapsed and she burst out laughing. "Oh Nick, you're so easy to tease. Don't ever change." She lay back down, gazing up to me. "But seriously... this does change things a little after all, doesn't it?" She shook her head in amazement. "If I had known how nice this feels, I'd have given in to Pearly months ago." I responded by putting both arms around her and giving her a gentle squeeze.

"Hey Nick." Maya prodded again after a while, a grin audible in her voice. I grinned too, realizing she kept starting the conversations the same way. "There isn't anyone else, is there?" she wanted to know. "Someone else you're interested in?" Suddenly, she seemed slightly vulnerable again.

"Let me think." I hid my grin, realizing this was a golden opportunity to get her back for that little scare just a moment ago. "Actually, there's something I think I should tell you." I paused for dramatic effect. "Maya... I'm in love with your sister, Mia."

"WHA-WHAAAAT!?" Maya's jaw dropped as she stared at me in horror, propping herself up with both arms. "But Nick, she's DEAD!"

"Yes, well, you see..." I hedged. "That's kind of why we've been using Pearl's body for our little trysts..."

"..." Maya just stared at me, eyes empty, her view of the world utterly shattered. I lasted a full two seconds before I exploded into laughter, my head falling back onto the pillow, tears leaking out of my eyes which were still only seeing Maya's priceless expression of stupefied disbelief.

"Nick! You big meanie!" Maya shrieked, sitting up and repeatedly hitting me on the chest with her fists. "That's not funny!"

Of course, that just made me laugh even harder. Maya continued to hit me and rant at me. When the punches were starting to become painful, I finally got my laugher under control enough to catch her fists and raise our arms above my head which caused her to fall on top of me, our faces inches from each other. Maya's tirade cut off abruptly and a blush spread across her face as she realized just how close we were.

For an endless moment, I just held her there, wondering how to proceed. Maya's expression was hard to read, but I thought I saw a hint of hopeful anticipation there, so I decided to risk it. Tilting my head slightly and reducing the pressure I was exerting on her arms, I allowed her to sink lower and our lips to meet. Releasing one of her hands and placing it on the back of her head, I gently applied pressure as I brushed my lips against hers. Maya's eyelids fluttered and closed on their own accord, the hand I had dropped earlier moving forward and snaking into my hair. Our locked pair of hands slowly sank towards the floor.

After several long seconds, I released her and withdrew. Maya just looked at me, her mouth hanging open slightly, once again struck entirely speechless, but for a decidedly different reason than before. Blinking, she touched one hand to her lips. "Wow, Nick, you're good at that!" she exclaimed, clearly surprised.

"Uh... thanks." I said, feeling embarrassed all of a sudden. It's not like I got to practice doing that a lot during the last six years... or at all, for that matter.

"So..." Maya grinned slyly, making herself comfortable on my chest, resting her chin on her hands. "You and Mia, huh?"

I grinned at Maya, recalling her reaction once more, but that grin faded to a soft smile of fond remembrance as I thought back to my early days at what was now Wright & Fey Law Offices. "Mia and I were already a terrific team back then, you know. And since she died, we've only gotten better." I laughed. "Doesn't that sound weird?"

"Try absurd!" Maya smiled.

"But it's true." I continued. "Mia helped me through a lot of very tight spots, keeping me going when I was ready to throw in the towel. If it weren't for her, I'd probably have lost all of the most important of my cases. But thanks to her, I've persevered time and again. I owe a lot to her." I smiled at Maya. "And I owe just as much to you and Pearls, for being my link to her through all those years. Without you three, I don't know where I'd be right now." Holding Maya close and squeezing her tightly, I laid my head back and waited for my roiling emotions to calm down.

"She was there during the end of that last trial, too." I eventually pointed out, recalling the final events in the courtroom. "When I proved the only place Godot could have hidden that knife wound, I could feel her standing there, right next to me as if she had never died, joining that attack on Godot."

"WHAT!?" Maya cried, dumbstruck. "You mean I didn't imagine that?"

"Nope." I said, shaking my head. "You couldn't have, because Godot saw it too. I could see it in his face. That moment, when Mia, the person who he was doing all this for, leveled her finger at him and accused him, that's when he realized what kind of sad, psychotic creep he was becoming, and that's when he turned around, stepped away from the abyss and saved his soul."

"Wow..." Maya mouthed. "I had no idea..."

"Sometimes I wonder what would have become of us, if she had lived." I mused, reflecting on those lost opportunities. "Would we have become the greatest pair of attorneys the world has ever seen, or is it actually the border of life and death that separates us that is the source of our synergy?" I shook my head. "I don't know. But on some nights, I think that, had she lived, the two of us might have ended up together."

"..." Maya was silent, lost in her own memories of her sister. I mussed her hair affectionately, bringing her back to the present. "There's no need to be worried about competition from her." I told her, winking. "Her not having a body of her own introduced a few too many problems, so we decided to shelve those plans."

"...did you really talk about that to Mia?" she asked dubiously.

I grinned roguishly at her. "To find that out, you're going to have to ask her yourself."

"Nick!" Maya scowled playfully at me. "You're incorrigible, you know that?"

I just grinned back at her. "You're the only one who brings out this side in me." It's true, too. I thought privately. I'm probably enjoying this way too much, but boy, do I love winding this girl up!

Maya smiled shyly, seeming oddly moved by my remark, but then she puffed out her cheeks, not ready to concede defeat yet. "Fine, if that's the way you want to play it, let's call her right here and now and ask her!"

I boggled at Maya. She must have seen one too many of my patented courtroom turnabouts... Envisioning Mia's reaction to being summoned right on top of me like this, I burst into laugher once more. Maya blinked, a concerned look growing on her face, but I waved her off, snickering helplessly. "What's so funny about my idea?"

You mean apart from the fact that you wouldn't even be around to ask her your question? I took a few deep breaths to calm down, lifting Maya up and down like a bizarre hydraulic elevator. "I just imagined what kind of face Mia might pull if you channeled her right here, right now... lying on top of me."

Maya blinked owlishly as she tried to picture that image, then she collapsed into giggles, slumping down on my chest. "Nick, that's perfect!" she panted, sweeping strands of hair out of her vision to grin at me, her eyes sparkling. "Earlier, you were wondering how to get revenge on Mia for helping to set us up like this! Don't you see – this is absolutely perfect! Channeling Mia into one of our cuddling sessions – Nick, you're a genius!" She leant forward and planted a big kiss on my lips, leaving me speechless this time for a second. However Maya didn't notice because she was all caught up in her plan. "Of course, we'll have to set up a camera to record it! I want to see her face when she realizes just what she's barging in on!"

"Maya, you're evil. I approve." I grinned, imagining Mia's look of horror. However, an unwelcome possibility suddenly reared its head in my mind, and my smile faded to worry. "Hey, what if Mia decides to up the ante and tries to seduce me?"

"That doesn't matter." Maya said blithely, eyes unfocused. "We'll still have the three seconds of pure, genuine shock on the video."

"Maya!" I admonished. "I'm not talking about the video, I'm talking about ME!"

"Huh? ...oh. OH!" Slowly, Maya's look of elation changed to panic. "Nick, you can't let yourself be seduced by my sister!" she protested. "It would ruin the whole joke!"

"Yes, that's exactly what I'm concerned about." I said, rolling my eyes. "I'm glad you understand so well." I shook my head, realizing that this time, my sarcasm was going straight over her head. "Maya, I'm fearing for my virtue here!"

"Wait, are you telling me you are actually in danger of being seduced by my sister?" Maya asked with disbelief, sitting up and straddling me, letting a gush of glacial cold air drop down on us in the process. "I thought you were just kidding when you said you were in love with her!"

"I was!" I exclaimed with desperation.

"Well, you're not exactly reassuring me here!" she said, crossing her arms.

"Look, Maya." I placated her, trying to explain this with patience. "Think of the position I would be in. Mia would be lying on top of me, and she's a lot heavier than you are. I could probably get away from her, but it wouldn't look very dignified, and it would – like you said – totally ruin the joke."

"...you just told me this was about your virtue, not about the joke." Maya observed flatly. Damn it, Wright! You've taught her too many of your tricks!

"You're right." I sighed, looking up at her. "What it all boils down to is that I'm not sure how to deal with being trapped by a scantily clad Mia who might just get it into her head to try and call our bluff." I laid my head back on the pillow and closed my eyes, feeling slightly emotionally exhausted after that short argument.

"Huh... Hey Nick, you're really new to all this, aren't you?" Maya asked softly. I could feel her lie down again and pull the covers back over us. "I thought a great guy like you would be more experienced than that... I mean, the ladies should be all lining up to meet you and stuff, right?" She looked aside, raising her hand to her chin. "But I guess that's not how it happened, huh?"

"Nope. I think you would have been in a position to notice if it did." I quirked a small smile. "But you know, I don't think I mind so much now."

"Aw Nick." Maya smiled teasingly. "You do seem to know how to sweet-talk a girl." She leant forward eagerly. "I think we'll just have to desensitize you properly before we get our revenge on Mia." Closing her eyes, she met me in another long, sensual kiss that had us both short of breath when we separated a minute later.

"...and you're absolutely sure that you have no idea what you're doing?" Maya whispered breathlessly, hovering mere inches above me, our noses still almost touching. In response, I merely put a hand on the back of Maya's head and pulled her back in, kissing her again. Maya didn't complain; in fact, she was getting noticeably more enthusiastic each time. When we came apart for air, I quickly took her head into my hands and carefully placed it on my chest, guiding her ear to where my heart was beating fast with excitement from the kiss just now.

Maya's eyes went very wide. "I-I did this?" she asked, amazed.

"That's right." I confirmed. "This is what you do to me with just one small kiss."

"...wow." She said, struggling with that concept while continuing to listen to my slowly steadying heartbeat. I smiled and closed my eyes, caressing her cheek with my hand. "You know, if I had more experience with this stuff, it probably wouldn't have taken Pearls to get me to notice you." I admitted ruefully.

"You mean, you never noticed me up until now?" Maya wanted to know.

"Actually, I phrased that wrong; I did notice you." I clarified, looking at her tenderly. "How could I not? You were always around me, making things interesting and bringing color into my life. Those months when you were gone, I really realized how boring my life was without you in it. I pretty much just moped about all the time."

"Was it really that bad?" Maya asked, abashed that her absence could have such an effect on me.

I paused in my ministrations to thoughtfully finger my chin. "Thinking back on that now, I suppose I really was that bad." I said, intentionally changing the phrasing of that statement. No sense in making her feel guilty about this now. "Actually, I'm surprised that no one caught onto that. Someone really ought to have connected those dots between your absence and me acting like a lovesick puppy. Maybe it's the age difference between us that is the reason why no one did."

"You don't think I'm too young for you, do you?" she blurted out.

"I used to think that way, too." I admitted, laughing softly. "It's probably the reason I didn't fall for you right from the start. But, the more time I spent with you, the less I thought about those seven years that separate us." I smiled encouragingly at her. "Trust me, it's been a long time since I thought of you as Mia's little kid sister."

"But you did think of me like that..." Maya pouted.

"That's mainly because you actually were Mia's little sister, silly." I said, flicking her nose with my thumb. "It was the only first impression I had to go by. But as I got to know you for yourself and learned things about you, that image of you slowly faded away."

Seemingly satisfied with that, she bent forward, giving me a teasing smile. "So what do think of me right now?"

"I'm not sure whether I should tell you..." I grinned back. "What if it bloats your ego so much that you fly off to the ceiling? We'd have to spend the rest of the night apart, looking at each other, but not being able to touch." I bent close to whisper in her ear. "I like touching you, Maya."

"Now you're being silly, Nick." Maya protested, fighting off the blush my words had caused. She grinned, an idea coming to her. "If you're that worried, just hold me really tight while you tell me. Come on, Nick, please!" she wheedled. "I do want to know!"

"Oh alright..." I said, pretending to be swayed by her argument. Following her suggestion I tightened my arms around her, pressing our bodies together, which was rewarded with a soft gasp from Maya. "What else can I say, after I've already told you you're the most important person in my life?" I asked, wondering how to express what Maya meant to me. "You're my partner at Wright & Fey Law Offices, the one person I trust unconditionally with the details of my work. I love to go out there with you to collect evidence for a case. You've never failed to turn what would otherwise be a dull and thoroughly depressing job into an adventure."

I paused, more things coming to me. "I love your sense of humor. You always come up with these funny ideas, and you never hesitate to tell them to me. You're the only person I can crack jokes with like that. I hope we never lose that part of our relationship."

I took a deep breath. "And I admire your strength. You're one of the strongest people I know, Maya. No matter what life throws at us, you just keep going. And in doing that, you help us normal people to cope as well. I think you're amazing."

"I do it for Pearly, you know." Maya said, blushing madly. "And it's you who gives me the strength to do that."

I smiled at her. "So you see, there's no reason to feel overshadowed by Mia. You are a very attractive person in your own right."

"Attractive?" Maya gasped, a look so full of hope and anticipation in her eyes that it took my breath away. "Please Nick, tell me you're not having me on right now."

"Maya, I'd never toy with your feelings like that." I promised, a strong desire to fill that need in her eyes rising in me. "I do think you are beautiful." I kissed her gently, trying to give a little bit of extra meaning to my words. Her cheeks were flushed when I drew away which I took as a sign of encouragement. "I've spent a lot of time observing you over the last three years, you know." I blushed, whispering into her ear. "I even noticed you have, um, curves..."

"Really?" Maya asked timidly. "You never told me..."

I tilted my head and stared at her, wondering whether she was already teasing me again. Sure enough, she was holding back a small grin. "Unlike my friend Larry, I'm not afflicted with terminal foot-in-mouth disease." I pointed out, causing that grin to grow slightly. "Really, you have nothing to worry about in that department." I gave her another brief but heartfelt kiss, willing her to believe. "But I guess I can see how it would be a concern for someone who grew up with Mia."

Raising myself up slightly, I embraced her and kissed her lingeringly, enjoying the way it left her all breathless. "Let your sister flaunt herself all she wants." I told her, whispering into her ear. "I've stopped paying attention to it years ago. But I do occasionally find myself wondering what you hide under that acolyte's robe of yours."

"...thank you, Nick!" Maya whispered, blushing fiercely, throwing her arms around me and hugging me for all she was worth. Returning her embrace, I gently caressed her face and down her backside. Now's probably not the best time to tell her that I never used to allow those thoughts to live very long... I thought bemusedly. Who'd have thought a little Butz-style bluntness can be a good thing?

"Hey Nick..." Maya spoke up from my chest, the vibrations of her voice sending a pleasant shiver through my body. Once again impressively divining what, or rather, who was on my mind, she asked: "From what I've seen of Larry, he's gone through way more than his share of girlfriends, right? Why does he keep losing them so quickly? What's the secret to his failure?"

"That's one mystery I never wanted to solve." I responded. "I find it far more baffling how he keeps attracting them in the first place. But after last week, I think I can safely say the reason he loses them must be the peculiar way he shows his affection. You do not want to know what that guy thinks constitutes a love letter." I sighed, shaking my head sadly. "Did you know he had a crush on Iris?"

"Oh no..." Maya said, hiding her face against my chest as she realized where this was headed.

"Uh huh." I confirmed, continuing my tale. "On the day of the murder, he sent her a love letter."

"...what was wrong with it?" Maya hardly dared ask.

"Oh, nothing." I said airily. "Except that I first thought it was a blackmail letter. So did Edgeworth, by the way – he was the one who found it in the first place. We had a good laugh over that." I grimaced, realizing that was slightly inaccurate. "Well, I had a laugh and Edgey had one of those pained facial contortions he calls a grin."

"Nick!" Maya admonished me, fighting back her own grin. "Don't be so mean to poor Edgeworth!"

"Anyway, I've still got it lying around with Edgeworth's notes somewhere. You can have a look later if you like. It's a fitting testament to all that is wrong with our friend."

"He really concentrates on his art these days, though." Maya mused. "When he's not looking for a motif, he holes up in Heavenly Hall all day to paint. Do you think that means he's changing?"

I shrugged. "He certainly seems to have some actual talent as an artist. But whether it will actually change him as a person? The jury is still out on that one. I guess only time will tell."

Maya seemed satisfied with that answer and laid her head back down, her arm moving down under mine and past my shoulder to hug herself against me more effectively. However, she stopped a moment later, and I could tell she had another thing on her mind. "Nick, I've been meaning to ask you about Iris..."

"Oh. Right." Guess I should have seen that coming, after mentioning her earlier. "Um... you aren't worried that she'll steal me away from you or something like that, are you?" I probed, preparing to reassure Maya once more.

However, to my surprise, she laughed softly. "Nah, that's not it. I'm still getting used to the idea of us together like this, but after hearing what you think of me and listening to your heartbeat like that, I'm pretty confident it's really me you want here." She patted my chest for emphasis. "But I'm still a little confused. You were acting all lovey-dovey in that courtroom for a moment there at the end, and I didn't quite know what to make of it."

"Is that what it looked like?" I wondered, thinking back to that moment, trying to view it from an outside perspective. "I think it was mainly her who acted lovey-dovey, if that's what you want to call it." I looked intently at Maya. "You think she mistook my meaning there when I said that I had never stopped trusting her?"

"Could be." Maya grimaced. "I mean, I kinda mistook your meaning there, too."

"Damn..." I muttered, chagrined. "I had better set that straight the next time we visit her. I was just happy that this mystery which had been plaguing me for years had finally been solved." I paused and thought feverishly, trying hard to find the correct words to get across why this was so important to me.

"I was never able to connect this vicious, spiteful jezebel of a woman who showed up at my trial six years ago to the girl I had been dating until then. Even before Mia shattered that harmless, innocent girl facade Dahlia liked to present to the world I thought something about her was just patently false. Despite all the evidence proving her guilt, I just couldn't believe the girl I had been dating could be such a scheming bitch. I questioned my own ability to judge people's characters, but I trusted her to the bitter end."

"So I hung onto that trust, preserving the image of my 'Dollie' in my heart, but I still carried the doubts with me all this time. And then, suddenly, WHAM! There she is again, on the cover of that 'Oh! Cult!' issue."

"Oh..." Maya said, several things clicking into place for her. "That explains why you were so interested in her on our first day here."

"Yeah." I agreed. "I was trying to figure her out, but not because of romantic interest. I was trying to figure out whether she was Dahlia Hawthorne."

"So... the reason you got so flustered when I teased you about her on the day of the murder was..."

"...was because I didn't know how to explain all this to you in a couple of words." I finished. "I needed to find out the truth, for my own peace of mind, and I wasn't able to deal with that bit of ill-timed humor just then. So my frustration got the better of me, ending up reinforcing your suspicions."

Seeing Maya nod in understanding, I continued. "All through the incident, I was confronted with the same confusion, because I received both the shy affection of my former girlfriend and the phony vibes of the woman Mia convicted of murder most foul. I just didn't know what to think anymore. Even Dahlia's own appearance in court shed no light on that subject. Only when Iris made her confession at the end of that harrowing trial did I finally understand."

I smiled at Maya, feeling the relief from that revelation course through me once more. "As it turns out my instincts never led me astray. The illusion I had refused to surrender through all those years had been real from the very start. Iris and I were able to reaffirm our trust in each other and ourselves. In the end, Dahlia wasn't even able to take that much away from us. The only thing I regret is that Dahlia wasn't around anymore at that point so Mia could have thrown that in her face as well."

"What do mean, Nick? What did my sister do?" Maya asked, surprised and slightly confused.

That's right... I realized. She wasn't there because she was channeling Dahlia, and I don't think anyone ever told her what happened during that part of the trial."You should have seen her, Maya, she was magnificent!" I grinned broadly, my eyes far away, picturing the scene in the courtroom a week ago rather than the cavern ceiling.

"Dahlia didn't even bother lying when she testified for the court that day, instead using the opportunity to gloat about how she only played along in Morgan's plan to get revenge on Mia. Only..."

"Only there were still contradictions in her testimony." Maya finished as she looked up at me, resting her chin on my chest.

"Exactly." I smiled. "Because she didn't have the faintest clue what really happened that night." I chuckled, shaking my head at my own folly. "For a few seconds, she actually had me thinking she really managed to arrange your death somehow. But once I thought about it, it was actually quite obvious. There's no way you could have been dead, because who else could have been providing the body she was using to taunt us? The only person that could possibly be channeling her right then... was you." Using an arm to support my head, I looked right down at her.

"See, Nick, that's why Mia has such a high opinion of you..." Maya smiled tenderly at me, glowing with admiration. She reached for the Kurain Master talisman on her neck and opened the clasp. Several rolled up pieces of paper fell out, landing on my chest. Most of them looked to be photos but one of them was a simple scrap of paper, torn off from a small notebook. She gathered the others back up and put them back into the small capsule, then offered the remaining one to me. "Here, have a look at this."

"Is this...?" I took the note from her fingers and rolled it open.

Don't worry. Phoenix will
save everyone in the end.

–Mia

"I nearly bawled my eyes out when I read it that night." Maya confessed, shaking her head in wonder. "The insane amount of trust this shows she has in you... it staggered me. But even more, I realized that she was absolutely right." She looked at me, eyes gleaming. "That's why I keep this note close to my heart, to never let me forget that fact."

"Oh Maya." I whispered, drawing her close and burying my face in her neck. "Thank you. To have you trust me like that means more to me than I know how to tell you right now." I rolled the little note back up and returned it to her. "Keep this promise." I instructed her, looking at her earnestly. "I'll do my best to keep living up to it."

"Thanks, Nick." Maya said gratefully, leaning in to kiss me. "I have faith you will. After all, I'll be right there, next to you, helping you do it."

"I'll count on it." I assured her, smiling confidently. "Although I still hope we'll get a case someday where nobody we know goes missing or gets kidnapped, threatened, blackmailed, murdered, accused of murder... you get the idea, huh?"

"I guess I do..." Maya said, thinking back on our history. "Most of our cases had us or someone else we know personally involved, didn't they?"

"Yeah. We need to change that." I agreed. "When we get back, we're going to work out a foolproof catalog of questions that must be answered under Magatama influence to ensure that any clients we take are actually innocent. Then we can take some cases and get some work done."

I shook my head, realizing we had gotten sidetracked a fair bit. "Anyway, let's get back to me telling you about your sister's ultimate revenge." Maya nodded eagerly, looking even more intrigued than before. "The reason why Dahlia had no compunctions about telling us all about her plan was because she thought herself immune to any and all forms of retaliation – a miscalculation that cost her dearly. As she pointed out correctly, we couldn't inflict our mortal punishment on someone who was already dead."

I grinned shrewdly. "However, your sister knew all about being dead and, genius that she is, had accounted for that little problem. When I pointed out Dahlia's one fatal oversight, her superiority evaporated. She just couldn't comprehend that she had been duped, that she could have misread the situation so badly. That's when Mia arrived and, like a true pro, she seized onto Dahlia's only weakness and hit her with all she had, right where it hurt... her psyche."

"Her... psyche?" Maya queried.

"We couldn't imprison her spirit, and we had already executed her body. But her massive ego which had been inflated by manipulating people for so long, getting them to do whatever she wanted with nothing more but that vapid smile of hers – it was vulnerable. It had already taken a massive blow from having her big plan which she had spent so long concocting go down in flames before her eyes. Mia caught onto that and began heaping the verbal abuse on her. She pointed out that this was only the latest in a long string of failures and screw-ups, all borne of her own incompetence."

I smirked, remembering the satisfaction of finally striking back at the demon who had brought so much ruin over our lives. "I realized what your sister was doing and followed her lead. Together, we recounted her past crimes, how she had defeated herself at every turn. We rubbed it all in her face: that she was a joke as a criminal, unable to get anything right, and most importantly, that she'd have to spend eternity with herself – her thwarted ambitions, her failure to accomplish anything noteworthy in her life, and her utter impotency against her archenemy Mia Fey, then and forevermore."

I shook, my head, marveling at how thoroughly Mia had crushed the other woman's spirit. "She's out there somewhere, tormenting herself." I ended with conviction. "Spending her eternity thinking about how she had this one chance at revenge, how she was this close to achieving it, and how she went and blew it through sheer stupidity, costing her everything."

Silence reigned in the small chamber, only impaired by the muffled background noise of the waterfalls. "Wow..." Maya breathed. "That sounds like it was one hell of a show. I'd have paid to see my sis in action like that."

"Yeah, Mia pressing an offensive is a sight to behold." I agreed. "Now you know why I have such a high opinion of her, too."

"...do you think I'll ever be as good as you two are?" Maya asked, giving me another yearning look.

"Maya, you're already great at what you do. I know I wouldn't want anyone else at my side." I told her earnestly, putting a hand on her back. "And whatever you decide to do with your life, I'll be there to support you and watch you succeed."

"..." Maya said nothing, her eyes looking right through me, at something only she was able to see.

"...you're thinking of being an attorney, aren't you?" I took a stab at the dark.

Maya flinched, then shook her head, grinning ruefully. "You found me out once again, Nick. I don't know why I'm still surprised when you do that."

"This is just an idea I've been toying with..." she began haltingly. "But I could be more than just your assistant." I opened my mouth, but Maya put a finger on my lips, forestalling my protests. "I know that we work together as a team of equal value, where each of us is indispensable for our success, and that's totally fine the way it is. It's not the way the roles are split that bothers me, either. I love working together on a case with you, too, you know!" We shared a smile to reassure each other that there was no misunderstanding between us on that point, and I realized I had once again underestimated this young woman I was holding.

"What I mean is that I want us to be flexible. Right now, it's you in the front, questioning witnesses, dissecting testimony, prying out those pesky secrets that people like to keep from us and generally pointing your finger at people." Maya ignored the suspicious glance I was shooting her after that last bit, blithely continuing on with her summary. "And then you have me in the back, supporting you, helping you gather clues and come up with ideas, and provide your final trump card when the end of the line is reached. This setup has carried us to success time and again, and I don't want to change it."

She looked at me excitedly, her eyes lighting up with enthusiasm. "I want us to be able to switch, to alternate positions, to tag-team the opposition and keep them guessing. We'd be able to roll with the punches instead of having to hunker down and take whatever life throws at us! Instead of being two halves of a coin, we could each be a whole coin, ready to flip over at a moment's notice, but still able to combine heads and tails like we have done all this time! I know there's a word for this concept–"

"It's redundancy." I supplied automatically while my mind was reeling from the magnitude of Maya's vision. I was floored by the amount of thought she clearly had put into this and the fervor with which she pitched her idea. "Damn..." I whispered hoarsely, inexplicably finding tears well up in my eyes all of a sudden. Maya looked down at me with concern, surprised at seeing me so overcome with emotion. Pulling her down, I buried my face in her hair, holding on to her while I tried to ride out the tremors. "Oh Maya..." I whispered in her ear. "And to think that I had still sold you short all this time..." I pushed her back to look at her face. "If I ever need proof that Mia's blood flows through you, I'll look no further than this moment just now."

Maya teared up as well and for a while we just held each other as I marveled at her ability to catch me unawares, to still totally surprise me like this. "You've really thought this through, haven't you?" I finally asked when we had both calmed down a bit.

"Yeah." Maya nodded at me sincerely. "I have. I want to keep working with you. I know I'm already an equal partner to you, but I want the rest of the world to acknowledge it as well. And I want to be prepared for a time when being your trusty sidekick might not cut it anymore. I hope such a time never comes, but with us, you never know." She gave me a searching glance. "Do you think I can do it?" she wanted to know. "Be a lawyer?"

"Five minutes ago, I would have said 'maybe'. 'If you really want to, give it a try', that sort of thing." I shook my head, grinning confidently at Maya who looked confused at this initial assessment. "But now, after hearing your vision, I can already see us standing there at the defense table, unassailable, ready to shake the foundations of the judicial system!" I grinned broadly, watching Maya's face light up with realization. "I want to make it a reality now. If this really is what you want to do, then hell, yes, let's do it!"

Maya blushed from the approval. "So you think I have what it takes?"

"I'm convinced of it. Getting your degree will take a few years, of course, and the studies aren't always very interesting, but if you can do all these kinds of spiritual training, then you can make it through university. After all, I made it through, didn't I?"

"Yeah, and unlike you, I can always channel Mia in the middle of an exam!" Maya smirked.

"Just make sure to ask her before you try that, or you might wake up to an exam paper that has 'GUILTY' written on it in big, fat letters..."

We shared a brief grin before I continued: "But more importantly, I've seen you show the necessary instincts. Don't think I didn't notice that bit of cross-examination at the end of that trial."

"Heh, so you noticed, huh..." Maya mumbled, overcome with intense embarrassment at her boldness back then. "Was I good?" she eventually wanted to know.

"You were." I smiled at her, cupping her face with one hand and stroking her cheek with my thumb. "You pointed out the flaws in my thinking and made me consider the questions I really should be asking myself. Without your help, it would probably have taken me a lot longer to get to where I realized it had to be his mask. So you see, I think you have everything you need realize that excellent dream of yours."

"There's only one problem." Maya said, holding forward the Master's talisman around her neck. "I have a responsibility to my clan, too."

"That old thing?" I asked, deliberately making light of it. "Pearls can wear that, you know. Just give it to her."

"Nick!" Maya glared at me. "Do you really think the other branch family members will just accept that?"

I gave her one of Edgeworth's patented underhanded smirks. "I was under the impression that whoever holds that little talisman of yours and the title that goes along with it makes the rules. If anyone has a problem with that, just give them that look and they'll shut up."

Maya blinked. "You're right. I'm the Master, I could just tell them to shut up. It wouldn't go over well, but I could do it if I really wanted to." Maya grinned cheekily. "You know, for some reason, that thought really appeals to me."

I sighed, closing my eyes. The Kurain clan elders have no idea what's in store for them...

"Actually, isn't that kind of ironic?" Maya asked pensively. "After everything that happened, Aunt Morgan might still get her wish after all. After all the plotting and scheming to have me killed, when all she had to do was ask. I always thought that Pearly should be the next Master anyway." she confessed, and I dimly remembered hearing her say something like that before. "She's the more powerful one of us two. And when I think about it, the Kurain tradition can probably do with having things shaken up a little."

"If I needed someone to shake things up, I know who I'd pick," I told Maya skeptically, "and it wouldn't be Pearls."

"Hey, you're right!" Maya said, grinning proudly. "Guess I'll have to do most of the shaking myself before Pearly takes over. She still needs a little more growing up before she's ready anyway."

"Do you think Pearls is going to want to be the new Master?" I asked her.

"Actually, I don't know." Maya admitted. "If I asked her right now, she'd probably agree to do it if she thought it made me happy. Guess the two of us will have to make do until she is old enough to really understand the responsibility involved."

"And you aren't worried about juggling the responsibilities of the Master with working with me and possibly university as well?" I boggled at her calm acceptance. Wasn't she worried about this whole Master thing just a moment ago?

"Nope!" Maya confirmed cheerfully. "After all, I have you, Nick!"

"Me...?" I gulped, not sure I liked the direction this was going.

"Who else!" Maya asked, grinning eagerly. "After the cases we've handled together, I dare say you have fairly good insight into our recent history! You know all about our school of channeling! And I'm sure being a lawyer doesn't hurt either! Like I'm helping you run Wright & Fey, you can help me manage the duties of the Kurain Master! I've said it before and I will say it again: You, Nick, are one of us!"

"I'm honored and all that... but do you think that will work? I don't even have any spiritual powers myself!" I objected.

"You may lack the characteristic channeling abilities of the Fey bloodline, but your spirit is certainly strong enough, otherwise you would have killed yourself years ago using that Magatama, or so I'm told. That thing's not a toy, you know?" She looked at me intently. "One of these days you're going to have to show me how to actually use it, though."

"Good idea." I said thoughtfully. "I think I have an idea already. Getting Pearls to divulge who her co-conspirators were should be more than adequate for a training exercise."

Maya grinned in anticipation, until another thought distracted her a moment later. "Actually, the training courses here are probably already increasing your ability to use its powers." Maya theorized. "You always looked really lethargic after you used that thing on someone and couldn't get them to spill the beans. With more training, failing to uncover a secret might not burn so much of your spirit anymore! Now tell me again that spiritual training is only something for spirit mediums!" She grinned like only someone with an impenetrable argument was capable of, causing me to groan internally.

"And I'm still thinking about that time in the courtroom when Mia manifested next to you..." Maya continued excitedly, looking like she had come up with another inspiration. "That's not the first time something like that happened, is it? Mia appearing to you without me or Pearly being nearby and channeling her?"

"No, not by far." I confirmed. "Although it has never been this strong. Usually, I get glimpses of her, flashes of her insight, when I'm about to break in court."

"This is interesting." Maya commented. "You have a very strong empathic bond with Mia. Strong enough to be able to channel her without the use of the Kurain technique – through the sheer force of your will and personality!"

"Wh-What!?" I exclaimed, incredulous. "Y-You think this is channeling!?"

"I think it's a possibility." Maya said earnestly. "I don't know about the earlier cases, but this time, Godot and I both saw her as well – that's the difference between a delusion and a supernatural phenomenon right there. Hm... I wonder if the rest of the courtroom saw it, too."

"There are two other people we can ask." I pointed out, intrigued by the possibility. "I don't know what Iris was doing at the time, but the judge would most certainly have been watching." I think we should pay ol' Udgey a visit the next time we're in town.But let's get back to the matter at hand...

"But what did you mean when you talked about me channeling her with my personality?" I asked her.

"We're not the only school of channeling around." Maya explained. "Maybe you just discovered a different way to communicate with Mia's spirit. You and her are very close, so I think it may be your matching personalities and your emotional state during those times of crisis that allow her to bridge the gap between the living and the dead to support you."

"I'm not sure that makes sense... One thing I know about Mia is that she has no respect for weaklings. So why would our compatibility be the highest during what were some of my most shameful moments, when I was on the verge of giving up?"

"There is a fine distinction between being on the verge of giving up and actually doing so. You were still desperately searching for inspiration to pull one of your famous reversals, weren't you?"

"Yeah, I was..." I was forced to admit. "I guess I don't have it in me to just roll over and die."

"That's why I think Mia helped you. I don't know a lot of the details of her disastrous first case that was exactly seven years ago today, but after feeling that sort of helplessness, I think she can empathize very well with the desperation you must have been feeling."

"Hmm... Guess that does make sense after all." I mused. "Only this last incident kind of falls out of the pattern. I wasn't desperate then, more the opposite, actually. And instead of appearing to me like the other times, she actually... manifested next to me, as you called it. I'm going to have to ask Mia whether she knows anything about these things. See if she even remembers them." I shook my head. "So what do you want me to do with this?"

"Well, we try to find out if it's possible to train you in it, of course!" Maya answered promptly. "Try to see if you can do it on purpose! Imagine being able to talk to her at will!" She grinned excitedly. "The Kurain spirit mediums would probably go green with envy, because for all our vaunted powers, we can't talk directly to the spirits we channel."

"What if you just stopped halfway through channeling a spirit?" I questioned. "Instead of yielding your body to it, you could both occupy it and sort of commune with each other for a moment. Has something like this ever been tried?"

"We aren't big with experiments like that, because if you screw up, the results can be pretty nasty." Maya explained, looking subdued. "Things like your soul getting lost in the void, or losing your body permanently to a hostile spirit. Our early history is rife with examples of this sort of thing – spirit mediums who got too careless and turned themselves into vegetables or even a danger to others. Of course, in our family, it's not too difficult to clear up the cause for a mistake even if the responsible party manages to kill themselves, but we're not so numerous that we can afford to lose talented spirit mediums to accidents like that."

Maya shook her head, realizing she was digressing. "Anyway, when you channel someone, you can sort of feel your consciousness slipping away as the spirit of the other person takes over. It's probably very hard to stop the process exactly at the point of balance, if it's even possible at all. But if it was possible to stop at that point, you should be able to commune with the spirit, just as you theorized."

She shook herself. "Anyway, like I said, we're not the only channeling school in existence. I'm new to this whole Master thing, but I have to have some connections, right? Gotta ask my mother about that... I'm pretty certain there are more people out there who have lost loved ones appearing to them. There's bound to be information on it somewhere."

She grinned eagerly at me. "This is kind of exciting, actually – I'm not sure anymore whether I want to foist the job off on Pearly. You're the first guy in ages who is interested in this stuff and isn't discouraged by the fact that only the women of our bloodline are actually able to channel. Maybe together we can bring innovation back into the Kurain tradition and actually expand our knowledge instead of merely preserving it and passing it on!" Maya's eyes gleamed as she slowly drifted off into the realm of fantasy again. "A spiritual renaissance – if that doesn't constitute shaking things up, I don't know what does!"

"Maya, you're scary, you know that?" I commented. It really is unsettling... I added within the safety of my own mind. Her twisted fantasies never made this much sense before. Should I be worried about my own sanity?

"Hey Nick, when we marry, you're going to take the Fey name, right?" Maya ignored me, the gleam in her eyes intensifying. "'Phoenix Fey' – it does have a nice ring to it."

"Your sister would never allow it." I shook my head sadly. "She's really fond of those 'right/Wright' puns... wait, what... marriage!?" I looked sharply at my obviously insane girlfriend. "Maya, don't you think we're getting a little ahead of ourselves here...?"

Seeing that Maya was rapidly disconnecting from any semblance of reality and degenerating into a drooling wreck, I did the only thing I could to shock her out of this dangerous state of mind: pulling her head down, I captured her lips in a searing kiss.

"Mmmh..." Maya licked her lips as we broke apart. "Is that your way of saying 'I do'?" she asked, grinning saucily.

"Maya!" I exclaimed, scandalized, realizing I'd been had once again. Deciding that something like this couldn't go unpunished, I tightened one arm around her while lifting the entire pile of blankets with my other hand and rolled over, pinning Maya beneath me. I let the blankets drop down on us again and quickly grabbed the pillow from my old position, putting it under Maya's head as I gently let her down. She looked up at me in surprise, not expecting to be moved that suddenly. Making sure not to put too much of my weight on her, I opted to milk that surprise for a bit longer as I pressed down on her and kissed her again. "Hey Maya, I'm going to press you now, okay?" I whispered after releasing her, my face still hovering over hers.

"Wh-What? P-Press?" Maya asked, startled and more than a little disoriented from the two kisses. "What do you mean?"

"For more information, silly. It's what I do." I smirked down at her, twirling a lock of her hair around my finger. "What did you think I was talking about?"

"Never mind." Maya said bravely. "So what did you want to press me on?"

"Well... let's just say there was something strange in your earlier testimony..."

Maya grinned, having seen me put many a witness on the spot with that line. "What is it, oh great and mighty Ace Attorney?"

I looked down at her gravely for a couple of seconds. "Mock me at your own peril, lest you be found guilty next time you enter a courtroom." I finally said, affecting a smug, self-important look. "Anyway, you were telling me how much you liked the idea of 'channeling Mia into one of our cuddling sessions'." I repeated her earlier statement. "So, that must mean you want to have more of them, right?"

"Very astute, Mr. Lawyer." Maya smirked, reaching up and putting her arms around me. "So what do you plan to do with this new information?"

"Why, append it to the testimony, of course!" I proclaimed, wrapping my hands around her head and leaning down for another kiss. "You can never be too clear on critical information like this!"


Author's notes: Hope you liked this short piece that just demanded to be written after I saw Pearl's lines in the credits of Trials and Tribulations. Thanks to the friendly people at Court Records who assisted me in my fact-finding for some jokes and other small bits. Credit for the awesome cover art goes to Fanguy.

Here's a few of my comments about the aspects I found most interesting about this story:

Maya's vision: The idea of Maya becoming a lawyer was a spur-of-the-moment thing, but it evolved beautifully from the moment of the story. I could imagine her envying the sort of trust Mia and Phoenix have in each other and feeling the need to live up to her sister's image, as well as wanting to be able to support Phoenix in a broader range of areas. Maya's powerful fantasy almost wrote itself from there. Was it convincing?

The future of Kurain: The idea of Phoenix and Maya revolutionizing the Kurain Channeling Technique was also an idea that only hit me when I was already almost done, but I'm quite happy with how it ended up balancing the idea of Maya as an attorney, showing both paths as possibilities that can be pursued to varying degrees. Now matter how it turns out, I think these two have a glorious future ahead!

Humor: Maya's unique sense of humor is an integral part of her character that I believe will always remain with her, and I think it is also one of the features Phoenix likes most about her. From a writer's standpoint, it isn't always easy to judge to how a joke will be received, so I'd appreciate comments in this area. Did you laugh? Which part did you think was the most funny? And was there a joke that you think totally failed?

until next time

Quizer