Follow the Fool
“You are not my daughter.”
The voice was deep and rough, a rumbling, gravelly bass that one felt as much as heard. It was oddly calm, though anyone who knew the voice well could pick up the inflections that suggested a deep, hot streak of anger and disappointment. So much was contained in the subtle tones, that the voice would often influence people’s emotions and attitude without them being aware of it. It was a hypnotic, powerful voice that wormed its way past one’s defenses before striking like an unseen serpent at its prey.
Franziska von Karma knew those hidden inflections well. Her father’s voice was maddeningly calm on the outside, but carried with it undercurrents of rage and disappointment. In her mind, the bass rumble was the dark thunder-clouds looming ominously overhead, the harbingers of the coming storm. The little girl willed herself to stop trembling in abject terror and didn’t entirely succeed. Manfred von Karma’s infuriatingly calm voice was as potent a psychological torture as ever devised, and an increasingly vocal side of her wanted to break down and beg for the punishment to come, to be over with. Franziska knew that if she did that, though, it would be even worse.
“You are not my daughter. You are not what I have raised you to be,” her father repeated, holding up a piece of paper in front of the young girl’s face, silently demanding that she look up and face it. Though every nerve in her body screamed at her to look away in shame, Franziska forced herself to look up at the red line angrily slashed across the middle of the page.
In his efforts to forge a worthy successor, Manfred von Karma would often test Franziska and her companion, the young man standing off to the side silently. He would ask them questions that they should know, and they would answer them. The questions were always precise and exact, and their answers were expected to be equally as precise, exact, and perfect.
There was no praise, should they answer everything perfectly correct. Manfred would look at it, nod, and toss it into the fireplace where it would be consumed by the flames. “Adequate,” he would say. There was no praise, no congratulations—only adequate. Perfection was what was expected, what was demanded.
This time, Franziska had not been perfect. She had briefly confused the order of the laws of proper evidence introduction. It was a minor mistake, and in court would likely not be pressed or even matter at all, really. But it was a flaw nonetheless, and that was absolutely not acceptable. The harsh, blood-red line across the page marked that flaw and exposed it to all the world to see—or at least her papa and Miles, which to the young Franziska von Karma, was effectively all the world. She wanted to break down and cry in shame, but refused to let herself succumb… for it would be worse if she did.
Another part of her wanted to explain that she had been up so late studying that she had been exhausted, and that was the reason for her mistake. Franziska knew that her father would never accept any excuses, though—whatever the reason, the mistake had been made, and there was no judge or court of law that would say “It’s okay, Prosecutor von Karma, you’re tired, we can hold this trial tomorrow.” There were no excuses. There was perfection—adequate—or there was nothing.
“Failure,” said her father in that hateful calm voice, tinged with insidious fragments of disgust. “Abject failure. You are weak, and do not deserve your last name. You are no von Karma.” As Franziska forced herself to watch, her father slowly tore the paper down the middle twice, ripping it into quarters, then letting the pieces fall to the carpet. “Look at me,” he commanded, and Franziska obeyed, no longer to stop from quivering in fear at what she knew was to come.
For a moment, the little girl swore she could see a sadistic grin cross her father’s face as he raised his hand high—but that was foolish to think—and slowly, inexorably, that hand descended.
Franziska’s world exploded into a thousand pinpricks of light as the back of Manfred von Karma’s hand caught her across the face in a powerful blow that sent her crumbling to the carpeted floor, barely managing to catch herself with her arms from falling prone.
The little girl coughed as she pushed herself onto her hands and knees, a loud ringing in her ear—and she could feel a little trickle of hot blood on her cheek, where her father’s ring had left its own mark. Though the entire room spun beneath her hands despite her best efforts to will it steady, she fought the urge to collapse and succumb to the dizziness. Through the head-splitting ringing in her ears, Franziska dimly heard that maddeningly calm voice say, “Come, boy, leave her. She will not be dining with us tonight.”
The next thing she knew, there was a strong, warm arm and shoulder beneath her body, supporting her. There was no transition… the arm was just there, raising, helping her to slowly climb to her knees… “Boy, I said leave her! The weak are not worth your trouble! Are you listening to me?”
Yet there was no reply, only the warmth and strength of that arm that Franziska clung to as the world swam back into focus. Blinking, her gaze met the eyes of Miles Edgeworth, her younger brother. He gave the subtlest of smiles as he helped the young girl steady herself, either oblivious to Manfred von Karma’s growing ire or choosing to temporarily ignore it. Franziska’s eyes grew wide and she tried to shake her head in warning, though it didn’t actually come out…
If there were one thing Manfred von Karma tolerated even less than imperfection, it was disobedience. Seeing that she could stand on her own, Miles Edgeworth stood up straight, turning to face the elder prosecutor, whose infinite composure was clearly masking a frightening rage beneath. Franziska wanted to protest, to shield her little brother from the impending catastrophe, but knew that there was nothing she could do, even if she had the strength.
Von Karma’s wooden cane was little more than a prop, and he would often eschew its use while not in public. However, it was nevertheless with him… and Miles Edgeworth stood straight and calm as the cane swept through the air to catch him on the side of his head. Miles staggered, his legs bending beneath him—and then a second strike knocked him to the floor, where he lay motionless for a few terrifying seconds before stirring weakly.
Enraged, Manfred von Karma strode to the dining table, and swept the plates and food off the wooden piece of furniture with his cane, a thunderous crash echoing through the hallways of the von Karma estate. “Neither of you two failures may dine with me tonight—or at all, until you prove to me your worth,” he hissed, before calling to the servants to come clean the mess up and feed the food to the dogs. With that, Franziska’s father stalked off, leaving the two children behind.
There was no transition—a rather jarring sensation, to be sure—and Franziska suddenly found herself sitting at the kitchen table opposite Miles, whose face was bruised and swollen from her father’s cane. She squeezed the excess water out of a washcloth before taking it and cleaning the dry blood off his forehead and cheek.
“Fool…” she spat out in white-hot anger, even as she cleaned and dressed the wounds he’d received for daring to help her up, ignoring the own small cut and bruise on her own face. The older sister should always care for the younger, more foolish brother first, of course. “You… you should know better, Miles…” was all she said in that trembling fury.
The room spun again, and Franziska found herself alone in a room, with no Papa, no Miles. It was a large room, filled with books and reference manuals, but otherwise bare, devoid of any personality—no pictures or ornamentation on the walls of any sort other than the eternally burning fireplace opposite the large, barren desk in the center of the room.
Franziska recognized it as her father’s private study. She had only been in it a few times, she knew… it was surprising how vivid and alive it seemed, even then. As she walked gingerly through the empty room, cold and frigid despite the crackling fire, Franziska caught a glimpse of herself in the window’s reflection. She was an adult, a grown woman…
…that made no sense. She had not seen her father for three years, and had not returned to their ancestral estate for even longer. Franziska stood in a place she had rarely seen, in a time when she’d never been there… it was jarring and disorienting, but somehow felt right.
A memory…? No…
The young woman noticed a lone picture on her father’s desk that she hadn’t remembered ever being there, and walked over, picking it up and examining it. It was a faded photograph in a dark black frame of two people… one, dressed in a tuxedo, was undoubtedly her father, though far in the days of his youth. The other figure was female, in a pure white wedding dress.
Though Franziska could recognize every detail of her father’s face in the photograph, her mother’s head was blurry and out of focus, and she could barely make out the lines of what would have been a human face. The young woman had long blue-gray hair, identical to her daughter’s in color if not style or length. Though she couldn’t see any details, Franziska thought that she seemed… sad, somehow. Manfred von Karma certainly didn’t seem happy even as a young man on his wedding day, but dour and serious as usual.
Franziska couldn’t remember what her mother had looked like. This picture… it was dim and foggy, but she thought she remembered her sister taking it with her when she went off to study at University. She hadn’t talked to her sister in many, many years.
“She was weak,” came a soft, bass rumble from behind her. Startled, Franziska turned around quickly, the picture flying from her fingers and falling to the floor, clattering across the hard wood to rest at the black boots of her father, who she hadn’t heard enter. It was almost as if he had just materialized behind her, a dark, cruel grin on his face as he picked up the black picture frame, almost casually.
“A weak woman who tried to interfere with my plans. She sought to shield our first daughter from me, conspiring to hold her back from the greatness she was heir to as a von Karma. I could not risk the same thing twice… so after she served her purpose, I cast her aside—she would not interfere with my shaping a true successor.” To punctuate his words, Manfred von Karma flung the picture-frame into the fireplace, where the paper shriveled and twisted faster than what Franziska thought was normal.
As the picture burned and died, Franziska thought she saw long blonde hair on the figure that was now standing where her mother had been.
Manfred von Karma took a step towards the young prodigy, who reflexively stepped away. “And now what do I see? My own flesh and blood succumbing to the same temptations. Falling for a weak, insignificant woman who will only taint the bloodline with imperfection. It’s disgusting.” As he spoke, that same diabolical grin never left his face.
“F-falling for?” stammered the young woman, every step backward matched by her father stepping forward. “I… I don’t know what…”
Her father cut her off. “Spare me, child. I did not raise a successor to be an idiot. But then again, I have apparently not raised a very good successor, have I? Look at you. Pathetic. An imperfect failure. Not only were you bested by that bumbling idiot Wright… but now another loss to that buffoon of a defense attorney here in Germany. In your homeland. You’re pathetic, girl. You are not worthy of being called a von Karma.”
Franziska found herself against the wall of the study, with no more room to back up. “I… I am a von Karma… but… the defendants… they were innocent, Pap—”
With a roar, Manfred von Karma jabbed out with the butt of his wooden cane, striking Franziska in the shoulder, directly where she’d been shot not half a year before. The blue-haired girl cried out in pain, clutching at her old wound, sinking to the floor where she lay, trembling in terror of that nefarious grin and torturously deep voice. “YOU ARE A PROSECUTOR! ” howled her father, a dark rage surrounding him. “You decide who is guilty and who is innocent! You are the law!”
He struck her in the shoulder once more, and Franziska cried out in pain once more. “Do you understand me, child?! If the suspect is innocent, you do not put him in the defendant’s chair. Whomever is in the defendant’s seat, though… is guilty. You will prove him guilty, whatever it takes. That is perfection. That is what it means to be a von Karma, girl.”
Franziska’s face flushed as she attempted an angry glare. “You… that… is not… how it works,” she bit out every word. “That is not how it should be!” She shook her head intensely, dredging up courage that she didn’t really feel to continue speaking. “If… if that’s what it means to be a von Karma, then…”
Manfred looked almost amused in that diabolical smirk. “Then you don’t want to be one?” He struck her shoulder once more, eliciting a gasp of agony from the girl. Her shoulder felt… hot, and wet. Franziska looked over to see a large red stain spreading, soaking through her white blouse… she grabbed at the gunshot wound, trying to stem the flow of blood, but it seeped through her fingers, a bubbling hole.
Even as she tried to stem the tide, she saw a similar red stain start to spread across her father’s shoulder, though Manfred von Karma didn’t seem to pay it any attention. “Yes…” he hissed malevolently. “Which is it, child? Are you a von Karma… or aren’t you? A flawed, imperfect, weak heir to the greatest of bloodlines… or nothing at all?”
“After all, girl, the sins of the father… are the sins of the son.” Her father’s teeth bared in a chillingly hateful grin, the grin of a predator about to pounce on its prey. “Or the daughter. This wound is just one of the things we share… you and I. You do not deserve your name. You should let the weak ones falter and discard them… toss them away after they have served their purpose.”
His cane impacted her wounded shoulder once more, a pain so intense and dreadful that Franziska thought she would die from the agony alone. “Which is it? You are… a prosecutor. You are a von Karma. Toss that girl to the side… or are you not my daughter? Are you just another pathetic wretch…?” With a maniacal laugh, Manfred von Karma slammed the butt of his cane into her shoulder yet again—
—Franziska’s eyes snapped open as she gasped, a strong, sharp intake of air.
It was dark, she was lying in her bed in her small apartment, alone. A nightmare…? Just a bad dream…? Her shoulder throbbed in pain, a particularly vivid pain that was as bad as any Franziska could remember after the actual injury. Franziska could feel her heart racing, her chest rising and falling quickly as she gasped for breath, and beads of cold sweat dotting her forehead.
The prodigy slowly sat up in her bed as she tried to compose herself. She hadn’t had a nightmare like that about her father in… well, in a very long time. It had seemed so vivid and real, though… like a memory, even though that could have never actually taken place. Franziska grabbed her shoulder with her left hand, gently squeezing and massaging the tender skin, trying to rub the pain away.
Franziska shook her head, trying to calm her jumpy nerves. Manfred was long… long gone, and he would not be coming back. It was foolish to dream about his presence like that, merely the work of an overactive mind, nothing more.
There was suddenly a chill in the room despite it being late July, a deep cold that bled through Franziska’s skin and froze her to the bone. Outside, she could hear the wind pick up for a moment, the nearby oak tree outside her apartment’s rear window brushing its branches against the building’s rooftop. One... two-three. One… two-three. It was a frighteningly familiar rhythm, of a man walking with a cane.
For a brief moment, Franziska felt that she was no longer alone in her room. Her heart racing, she shook her head vehemently. It was a trick of the mind, the last remnants of the shadow of her father on her psyche. Ghosts were irrational, they had been proven to not exist. This was… this was foolish.
Still, there was a presence in the room that she hadn’t felt in three years, and knew almost too well. The specter of Manfred von Karma loomed nearby, silent and invisible—but undeniably there.
Franziska took a deep breath, shivering despite what she consciously knew to be the intense
“You always… saw things in such absolutes, Papa,” she knew it was foolish and she was talking to the empty air, but Franziska spoke out loud. “Perfect, adequate… imperfect, shameful. There was black and there was white… guilty and innocent. I… I don’t know if I… I believe that anymore.”
Her voice picked up, a brief flash of passion shooting through her body. “I am a Prosecutor. I am a prodigy, the youngest ever to pass the bar exam and begin practicing. I am a von Karma. I am… I am my father’s daughter. These are facts, cold, true facts that cannot be disputed.”
The young legal prodigy shook her head, raising her voice just a bit as she clenched a slender hand into a fist. “I am all of those, Papa. To deny that would be… it would be foolish. But,” her eyes flashed with intensity, glaring at nothing in particular, “that is not all I am. For my entire life, that was what I defined myself as—Manfred von Karma’s daughter, the legal prodigy, the heir to von Karma perfection. But… I am more. I don’t have to define myself in terms of you anymore. I am Franziska.”
“Who… who are you to say how I define me? Shouldn’t a father wish the best for his child? Isn’t a parent supposed to want greater things for his or her progeny than they ever attained themselves?” Franziska closed her eyes, anger and frustration building up inside her that she had let dormant for eighteen years. “You never wanted that for me… or Miles. You wanted a carbon-copy successor, or someone who was not as good. So that you would be the most perfect that had ever lived. Manfred von Karma—nobody would ever surpass him.”
She dropped her voice to a whisper, though it was no less intense or impassioned. “You know what, Papa? I will be better than you. Miles will be better than you. And we will do it without your deceit and trickery… on our own.”
Franziska felt a sudden lump in her throat and swallowed. “You told Miles to leave me behind, that I wasn’t worth his time. That the weak should be discarded and tossed aside and forgotten until they had proven themselves. Miles disobeyed, and you punished him.”
“But… Miles was right. You are…” Franziska shook her head. He was gone, there was no present tense. “You… were… wrong, Papa.” She managed to force out despite herself, her heart pounding. “All you wanted of me was a successor, an heir to the von Karma name. You never cared about anything else, as long as I gave you that.”
“She… that woman who might be weak but… but accepts that and wants to grow… she… needs me. She doesn’t need a successor, or an heir, or a Prosecutor, or a von Karma. She needs… she needs Franziska.”
She could be lying. She’s weak, what if she was just saying that to appease your fears? Such a foolish child.
The young woman shook her head again, startled at how much that inner voice sounded exactly like her father. “No… she wasn’t. I… I don’t know how I know, and it doesn’t make sense, but… I know. It isn’t rational, it isn’t logical, but it makes sense and somehow I know it’s right.”
“You were wrong, Papa,” she said softly, quietly, to the air around her.
There was silence.
For once, this was actual silence, not heavy and foreboding and intimidating. The thick presence that had been choking, filling the room… was gone. The heavy specter of her father that terrified the young child inside the prodigy—it felt light, nebulous. Franziska von Karma exhaled, a long, deep breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding in.
She was thirsty. Slipping her long, bare legs out from under the bedsheets, Franziska slowly opened the door—wincing as it gave a little squeak. However, the blonde woman curled up on the pull-out bed that was normally a couch by day didn’t seem to hear it in her sleep.
Walking softly and quietly to the kitchen area, Franziska poured herself a tall glass of filtered water, careful not to make any more sound than was necessary. The water felt cool as she sipped it, and her mouth had been rather dry for some reason… for a foolish conversation with her own imaginary fears, it had left her rather shaken.
Her gaze wandered to the small figure sleeping on her secondary bed. She had been certain that
Irrational, illogical, and frustrating… and somehow wonderful. Wonderfully imperfect.
Dammit, she was blushing again. Stop that, Franziska chided herself. There was no reason to… no reason to behave like a teenage girl. Actually, Franziska… you are a—Shut up. I’m more than that. Ever since
Clearly, she was too exhausted to think properly. Finishing her glass of water, Franziska crept back down past where
It wasn’t until sleep was just about to claim her that she remembered something that her father had said in the dream… about her and Adrian… something that rang oddly true. Before she could remember what it had been, though, the sandman had brushed her eyes, sending her into a quiet, restful, sleep.