I sprang to my feet, and illuminated the room with a shower of sparks from my fingertips. The demon had a red face; black, empty pits for eyes; and yellow daggers for teeth.
“Oh, it’s only you,” I said, “I was worried there for a second.”
The monstrosity sighed. “It annoys me that I can’t get a rise out of you anymore. Anyway, you needed me?”
“I did. I’m in trouble Worm.”
“I gathered that. It might surprise you to know that I’m here quite a lot,” he said. We both sat on the bed, which faced the door of the cell.
“Can you get me out of it?”
“Maybe, what were you thinking?”
“I don’t think I’ve ever needed to ask about the limits of your power before. Can you turn back time?”
“Can you bring back the dead?”
“Can you erase peoples’ memories?”
“Dammit Worm, what exactly can you do?”
“I find that murder is often solved by more murder.”
I couldn’t tell if the demon was joking or not. Comedy does not come naturally to their kind.
“I don’t think that’s a very helpful suggestion. And anyway, it wasn’t murder, it was an accident.”
“Do you think the judge will see it that way?”
“He might. I’ll have to word my defence carefully. It really sounds worse than it was.”
“I can see the headlines now,” said Worm, “student wizard kills instructor’s cat, adds insult to injury by killing instructor.”
“Look, it wasn’t on purpose.”
“I don’t judge people, you know that. They might be more lenient on you if you show remorse.”
“But I’m not sorry. It wasn’t my fault. The instructor wasn’t supposed to be home!”
“That’s it! That’s how I can get you out of this!”
“How?” I asked. I couldn’t stop myself from smiling. For a minute I thought I had wasted my time calling him here. “Can you teleport me out of here?”
“Don’t be silly, boy, the enchantments on this building means you’re not going anywhere. Even I can’t teleport here.”
“Then how did you get in?”
“I slipped the guard fifty bucks. Anyway, here’s the thing: we won’t teleport out, we’ll walk out of this place, together.”
“How? Can you cast a mind-control spell over the guards?”
“I told you my powers are more or less useless here. And stop guessing, it’s not your strong suit.”
“I’ll be your lawyer.”
THE MORNING OF THE TRIAL
“Your honor,” started Worm, “these charges against my client are ridiculous. I intend to show this court that not only was my client not at the scene of the crime, but he wasn’t even in the same country. However, if your honour is not with me in respect of my primary position, I will show your honour that my client only acted in self-defence-”
“Against an elderly professor and his cat?” The judge interjected.
Worm was silent for a worryingly long time. His red, pointed tail, that stuck out the back of the trousers of his pinstripe suit was wagging nervously.
“Well, it was a very big cat your honour.”
The judge sighed and massaged his temples, “continue.”
“Thank you your honour. If your honour is not persuaded by my averment of self-defence, then my... third-ary position is that he was provoked to the point of using deadly force. The deceased and his cat had both been tormenting my client mentally, physically, and sexually in the months leading up to the incident-”
“Wait a minute, shorthand writer, could you read that last sentence back to me?”
The shorthand writer cleared her throat, and re-read Worm’s last statement, with just a little too much emphasis on and his cat both.
“Are you telling me that the deceased’s cat had been harassing your client?”
“Yes,” Worm said, “mercilessly.”
The judge looked over at the prosecutor, who simply shrugged.
Unfortunately, Worm continued.
“The deceased and his cat harassed my client to the point where he could no longer control his rage, and he lashed out. And finally, if that position is not accepted either, I shall show the court irrefutable evidence that both the deceased, and his cat, died painless-ish deaths, and that the court should think very long and hard about not imposing a death sentence. Thank you.”
The demon sat next to me. My head was in my hands. He looked pleased with himself for some reason. The prosecutor was giving his own speech to the judge, so I took the opportunity to have a discussion with Worm about tactics.
“What the fuck was that?”
“It was my opening statement. Sorry, this is all a bit technical, you should just trust me.”
“Trust you? I thought we were going with the ‘self defence’ angle. Where did all that other stuff come from?”
“We’ve got to cover all the angles.”
“Worm, I know this is a very late stage to be asking you this question, but were you really a lawyer?”
“Of course I was! I was in practice for twenty years.”
That was something of a relief. I knew that I should have quit while I was ahead, but I kept asking questions.
“What kind of law did you practice?”
“Well, mostly agricultural. But I have court experience.”
“What was your biggest case?”
“Biggest case... let me see, which was my biggest... oh yes! I once defended a case where my client had been spray painting pigeons white and trying to pass them off as chickens. He sold thousands of these things by mail. Made himself a fortune, and the statues in the local town had never been cleaner.”
“Did you get him off?”
“No, he killed himself during my closing statement. However I think the judge was looking persuaded by what I had to say.”
My head hit the table, hard.
THE KEY WITNESS
The prosecutor had just finished his examination in chief of the deceased’s elderly neighbour, who had just testified that he had come into the house to find me standing in the living room, with the professor dead at my feet, and half a cat in each hand.
Worm was grinning.
“Don’t worry, I’ve got this,” he said to me. Worm had eventually admitted that he perhaps hadn’t given the most favourable opening statement in the world, but he absolutely assured me that cross-examination was his forte.
“Mr Jones, I notice that you’re wearing glasses. Tell the court, if you would: were you wearing your glasses on the night in question?” Worm turned and winked at me.
“Yes, of course I was.”
Worm spun back to the witness, almost losing his balance. “Are you absolutely certain about that? Bearing in mind you are under oath.”
“Yes, absolutely certain. I was out walking my dog. I can’t see where I’m going without my glasses.”
“Hmmm, and do you often walk your dog in the middle of the night? Where were you really? A bar? A whorehou-”
“Sustained,” said the judge, “Mr Worm, I’ll thank you to keep your manner professional, and please take a few steps back from the witness, your horns are practically taking his eyes out.”
“Of course, your honour,” he said, stepping back to the middle of the room, and regaining his composure. “Mr Jones, I put it to you that my client is completely innocent of all charges, and that the real murderer is in this very room...”
All at once, the judge, the prosecutor, and I dropped our faces into our hands in anticipation.
“I put it to you, that you are the real murderer, Mr Jones!”
“Mr Worm,” the judge groaned, “this accusation didn’t form part of your opening statement. Do you have anywhere to go with this?”
“Well he hasn’t denied it your honour.”
“I deny it!”
“No further questions.”
Worm stood in front of me, waiting for the judge to tell him to start. He was rocking on his heels, grinning confidently, and winking at me.
“Alright Mr Worm, you may begin.”
Worm began: “I wonder if you could tell me what happened on the night in question.”
I took a deep breath, and began. “I had broken into the professor’s house. He was compiling our final grades to send to the Archmage. I knew that he was going to fail me, so I wanted to get in and change my grade so that I wouldn’t be expelled.”
“Well, I think we can all sympathise with that. Go on,” said Worm.
“I found the papers in the desk in his study. I was so nervous as I rifled through them. I was extremely jumpy. I heard something behind me moving. I don’t know what I thought. I reacted in the moment, and turned, casting a cutting spell as I did. The thing that was moving was the cat. It had jumped onto an armchair, and I cut it in half. It was then that I noticed that the professor was in the armchair. I hadn’t aimed my spell very well. I ran over to make sure he was okay, but he was already dead.”
“And did you mean to kill him?”
“No, I swear!”
“Your honour. My client may have killed the professor, but-”
“Before you go on Mr Worm, I just have to check something. Mr Prosecutor, I have a copy of the death certificate here. Could you turn to your copy and tell me what was the cause of death?”
“Heart attack, your honour. Most likely caused by the shock of the spell.”
“Heart attack? Not blood loss?”
“No...” The prosecutor said.
“Were there any cuts on the professor at all?”
“No, your honour.”
The judge stared at the prosecutor for a few seconds. “Isn’t it possible that the professor could have died of natural causes before the accused arrived?”
“Well, I suppose it’s possible.”
The judge sighed and turned to me: “Son, if you plead guilty to breaking and entering, and assault. I’ll give you a year of probation and we’ll drop the murder charge. If you keep your nose clean you won’t go to jail.”
“That, I want that.”
The judge banged his gavel, and I hopped out of the witness box. Worm put his arm around me and he began to walk me to the door at the back of the room.
“Court rise!” Yelled the Bar Officer.
“Actually, just a second,” said the judge, “Mr Worm, could you come back for a moment?”
Worm looked at me, confused, and walked back to the front of the court.
“Approach the bench, Mr Worm.”
Worm edged towards the judge’s bench, slightly apprehensive.
“Mr Worm, it’s highly unusual for me to ask this, but which law society are you accredited by?”
“The Maverro Law Society, your honour.”
The judge raised an eyebrow. “Maverro?”
“The same Maverro that was wiped off the face of the planet by giants two hundred years ago?”
“That’s the one.”
“And you haven’t ever joined another?”
“No, your honour.”
“So let me get this straight: the country whose law society which accredited you was destroyed two hundred years ago, and you have never been accredited since then?”
Worm froze for a second. “Well, um, you see, um, we demons are timeless creatures and-”
“Take him to the cells.”
“Ha, I’d like to see you try!” Said Worm.
The demon, in a burst of fire, disappeared, but instantly reappeared with a loud thud at the ceiling. His horns were stuck in the ceiling, and his legs dangled frantically.
With a crack, and a rumble of dislodging plaster, Worm fell to the floor, and groaned loudly.
“Take him to a cell with demon-shielding.”
Worm screamed at me: “If you get me out of here I promise I’ll give you your soul back!”
“Worm, you didn’t ask me for my soul...”
“Crap!” He screamed, as they dragged him out of the room.
I hope everyone is well. To my fellow amateur authors: I hope you are keeping at it. To all the published and successful authors out there: congratulations, I'm looking forward to reading more of your stuff. And to the good people at Ourmeets.com, who for reasons unknown to myself, keep getting directed to my little writing blog: best of luck finding each other.
Here's where I am:
1. The Werechicken. It's done, completed, wrapped up with a bow, and currently under scrutiny by the robots at Angry Robot publishing. If it turns out that they don't want it, my plan is to self-publish it.
I've got a little bit of experience self-publishing short stories and novellas (see sidebar), but have never published anything as long as a novel yet. The Werechicken will be my first. I've been reading about creating a professional product when self-pubbing and that one of the things that absolutely should not be done is just to submit a Word document to Amazon and trust their automated system to get everything absolutely correct. Unfortunately, that's exactly what I've been doing thus far. Boo at me.
2. The Vampire Horse and Technically a Dragon.
Parts 2 and 3 of the Werechicken Saga are being written in tandem as 2 parts of a long story. I'm writing each character's story separately (on an experimental basis). I'm currently 82k words deep into the main character's stroryline, which will finish up at about 90k words. In total I'm expecting the whole thing to be over 200k words, which will hopefully split nicely into two novels.
3. Other Ideas.
I have no plans for any shorter works in the near future, I have six so far, which is enough to supplement my bookshelf for now. It will all be novels from here on out - for the time being anyway. So quite apart from The Werechicken Saga, I have a few other ideas.
I think the best idea would be to finish TVH and TAD, leave them for a long while, and in the mean time get a few other ideas down on paper. Once those are done: get redrafting (my least favourite part of the process).
So the year ahead should be exciting. Not just in terms of my writing career, but I also qualify as a fully-fledged lawyer, which certainly won't give me any extra time for writing, but I'm committed to it, so I'll make time :-)