In this twilight how dare you speak in grace?
-Mumford and Sons
The woods are dark and cold. The air smells of moisture, fresh and clean and touched with something sweet. Flowers? If he must be out at this hour there are worse places he could be.
Edgeworth starts walking and quickly disappears into the forest. He doesn’t know what he’s looking for. Not yet. Presumably he will know it when he comes to it. Until then he will breathe in the aromatic air and pick his way carefully through the woods by the light of the moon. It’s full tonight; somehow it shines down on the forest floor as bright as if the trees didn’t have such thick heads, or even had no heads at all. It makes it easy to make out everything: his path; the silvered moss covering the base of each tree, only on one side; bushes sparsely decorating the space in between, festooned with flowers whose colors are washed out in blazes of shining white. It’s beauty like he has rarely seen outside of glossy photo spreads in magazines, and better than any of those because of the scent and the chill and the perfect, peaceful stillness.
There’s a clearing ahead. He hesitates, curious but unsure. There is something about the place, something sacrosanct and foreboding. Not menacing, per se. It’s simply a place not meant for the likes of him.
Slowly he walks into the circle.
It is warmer in this glade. The floor is covered in countless blades of shimmering grass. In the middle there is a small spot of soft, dark dirt; it looks like the beginnings of a garden, the kind that will eventually yield a variety of delicious things, large and succulent. There is a hum in the air, a tingling on his skin. It’s exhilarating. He spins around, taking in the wall of majestic trees surrounding him. He is almost tempted to do something foolish, like throw his arms into the air then fling himself onto the dewy ground, laughing like a schoolboy. For a moment he feels like he can believe in magic.
Then the ground lurches out from under him, draining his joy as easily as a pin pricking the air out of a balloon. He stumbles and has to steady himself with his arms out at his sides to keep from falling. He looks down to find he wandered into the garden, and now he isn’t sure it is a garden. The surface is thick mud. It is covering his shoes, undoubtedly ruining them. All good feelings towards the forest fade quickly, leaving him irritated and disappointed. Grumbling expletives under his breath, he shifts his weight to work one foot out of the mud.
That foot won’t come. Neither will the other one. Puzzled, he puts more effort into it, twisting and pulling, and when he’s done the mud is up to his calves. The first stirrings of concern flit through his chest. He frowns and, after one more counterproductive attempt, leans over to reach for the firm grass. It’s just out of reach. He only succeeds in getting the muck all over his palms and soaking his pants in front, halfway up his legs.
It is then that he realizes he is sinking. No, the mud is pulling him down, hungrily. It’s up to his knees now and rising quickly. Panic starts to take hold of him, driving him to flail about without direction. He pulls on his legs, pushes on the muck until his hands are swallowed. It takes a monumental effort to extricate them, and a monumental force of will to power on through the panic and keep searching for an escape.
When the muck reaches his waist he realizes he is not alone.
“What are you doing?” It’s Wright. He’s standing there in front of Miles, his hands in the pockets of his jeans and an infuriatingly casual smile on his lips. Miles’ heart skips a beat. Fear? Or something else?
“…Working on my opening statements for tomorrow. What does it look like I’m doing? Fool.” He spits the word out as if it’s bitter on his tongue and goes back to floundering in the muck.
“From where I’m standing it looks like you’re…not getting out of there.”
Miles glares heatedly at him. “Leave me alone.” Something flashes across the other man’s face, but he cant decipher it.
“Are you sure you want me to do that? I mean, you kind of look like you need—”
“If I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t have said it,” Miles snaps. “I don’t need anything. Go away.”
Wright hesitates a moment then hunkers down beside the mud (no, quicksand, it’s quicksand, God help him) pit. He makes no move to help Miles, he doesn’t leave. He just hovers there with his arms resting on his knees. Miles does his best to ignore the man. It isn’t too difficult, really. He has much more pressing matters on his mind. Quicksand pressing on his legs, groin, ass, and waist. The mire tugs at him, seeps under his clothes, squeezes him in places that haven’t seen any attention in years. It’s claiming him, inch by torturous inch, and his fear is rising. His efforts become more fevered, less sure. He doesn’t know what he’s doing anymore except trying to get out. Trying to save himself. The pit is warm, residual heat from the day’s sun, and it smells of decaying plant and animal matter, a thick, cloying stench. The world is unstable. It rolls about him like an ocean, and he bobs up and down with each desperate motion that stirs the mire. The combined effect, along with his fear, makes him dizzy. His struggling saps his energy until his desperate movements weaken and slow. When he’s in up to his chest with the mud compressing his lungs, he comes dangerously close to passing out.
Through it all Wright watches him, his expression shifting as Miles sinks deeper. Finally he lowers himself onto his knees, brushing the very edge of the pit. “Come on, Miles. This isn’t funny anymore.”
It was a line right out of their childhood. It stole his breath away, his name and the connotations of it. “This wasn’t funny to begin with!” he cries, horror-stricken. “How can you be so…so callous?”
Wright has the decency to look stung. “I just want to help…”
“I already told you I don’t need it.” He doesn’t, does he? Quicksand doesn’t kill you. Not like in the old jungle adventure movies. He learned that when he was a child—a period when said old jungle adventure movies had him terrified to go hiking or camping or even to the botanic gardens for fear of stumbling into quicksand. His father had looked it up on-line for him, and showed him articles and videos explaining everything—how quicksand was really a suspension of very fine sand floating in water, how people were more buoyant than the sand so they would eventually stop sinking, and how you could get out of it by swimming or using a long, heavy stick to pull yourself out backwards.
The memory calms him. But this doesn’t feel like sand, and he’s too tired to swim, and he has no stick. He is still sinking.
The mire is over his collarbone now. He stopped moving entirely a minute ago. Not that he had the energy to continue, but he hoped it would also slow his descent. It isn’t helping much. It’s still going to swallow him whole. His arms float on the surface, stretching his torso as he sinks and making it harder and harder to breath. Does crucifixion feel like this?, he wonders idly as the panic drives his mind into strange directions. Wright’s leaning over the pit now, his hand just out of reach. Only a little further and…
“Miles, please,” he whines. Miles realizes the man is terrified. Terrified for him.
Abject fear grips his chest, his heart, tighter than the mire could ever be. It’s creeping up his neck now, touches his chin. He leans his head back, keeping his face turned upwards, out of the mud for as long as possible. In moments it will fill his ears.
As his mouth is swallowed he shouts “Hel—” and chokes on mud before he can finish the word. His hand is groping, reaching for his friend. His eyes grow wide, the white showing all around his pupil. He closes them just before the mud claims them. The last thing he sees is Phoenix leaning precariously over the edge, desperately trying to reach his hand but still just out of reach.
Then it’s dark and silent and terror takes hold of him completely. His struggles resume. The surface of the pit rolls with his writhing, rippling from one side to the other. He kicks furiously, one last ditch effort to push himself within reach, to let Phoenix save him.
When only his fingertips are still marring the pit’s perfectly smooth surface and he is on the verge of taking one last, fatal breath—salvation. Impossibly, Phoenix’s hand grasps his under the mud. He feels a great, wrenching force dragging him up. Cool air brushes his hand, his arm, the muck is caked on every inch of his body as he reemerges. It freezes on his skin and clothes. His lungs feel close to bursting when his head finally breaches the surface. He yanks his other arm free with his last scrap of strength and claws the mud from his nose and mouth, freeing him to noisily fill his lungs. His deep, shuddering breaths wrack his entire body. He’s covered in mud, runny where it mingles with tears he didn’t know he cried. His upward momentum stops when his upper arms are free. Coughing and shaking, Miles rubs the mud from his eyes and looks up at his rescuer.
His words of thanks die on his tongue. Manfred von Karma is standing over him, standing in the pit as if its gravity has no hold on him.
“S-sir? Thank you. I—”
“Hold your tongue, boy. I don’t want to hear any more sniveling from you.” Miles’ mouth snaps shut audibly. Dread begins to pool in his stomach.
“You make me sick. A von Karma gets himself out of his own messes. A von Karma is the pit, not its victim.” He leans down, close enough for Miles to nearly gag on his cologne. A sneer twists his lips. “A von Karma does not ask for help. Especially not from spiky-haired fools.”
There is a terrible menace in his tone that frightens Miles more than the pit. “Please, sir,” he began, obsequious to a fault. “I didn’t—”
“You are a fool who’s not fit to represent the von Karma name.” His voice has the warmth of a stone lying in snow. Under the muck covering Miles’ face, his cheeks blanch. “You are a disappointment. I refuse to waste any more time on you.”
Miles doesn’t even get out a word before he’s sinking again, this time forced down from above, forced down by the hand clutching his wrist in a rigor mortis grip. Miles cries out easily this time, terror making his pleas high and sharp. The words fall over each other, following him down until the mud claims his mouth again. He grapples with his mentor to no avail. The man has weight and leverage and solid ground to stand on. Miles’ desperate yanking and clawing does no more than pull threads in the pristine fabric of the man’s suit jacket.
This time, the last thing Miles sees is Manfred von Karma, his mentor and adopted father, the hub of his entire world, staring down at him with absolute dispassion. A sense of utter betrayal stabs him, but even as he looks up at his mentor with fear, pain, and confusion in his eyes, he knows this is only what he deserves.
The muck closes over him again, and this time there is no helping hand to be found. Drowning in fear, Miles holds his breath as long as he can, but there’s no safety waiting for him at the other end. Only slow suffocation and oblivion. Tears flow again as he opens his mouth to scream—
He wakes in a cold sweat. His office… He sits up and finds the couch did a number on his neck. He slept wrong, hadn’t meant to sleep at all. But it’s a minor annoyance when compared with the fear slowly fading from his chest. His heart is beating wildly, a staccato beat he focuses on to center himself. Deep breaths, almost desperate this time. Hungry, as if he came too close to drowning. All in all, it’s a familiar routine. But still, this is one of the harder nightmares to come down from, especially when sensations and images from it still linger on his mind.
His subconscious has never been subtle with the nightmares. Admittedly, the subject matter on this one was entirely new. His mentor never featured in them, and Wright was…an unfamiliar element. He wondered over the dream, what parts he could remember as he was finding it harder and harder to remember them. If this nightmare meant anything (he finds it hard to believe nightmares don’t have meaning, after the ones he has struggled with for most of his life) it was that he must not let his childhood friend worm his way back into his life. He can’t let Wright make him weak or turn him off his course.
Edgeworth moves to his desk and logs back into his computer. He may have admired the defendant once, but this new case is his to win.
Losing is not an option.