323: A Paladin For Hire

on December 2, 2008 in Book 12

In Which Mackenzie Finds Her Way

Apparently, the Bloodstone Building was enough of an Enwich landmark that it was very clearly marked on the big map inside the transit center. Studying the map, I also learned why the coaches had to come underground: there was a big c-shaped section of the old town walls, taking a big bite out of the heart of downtown Enwich.

I found what I thought was the right set of stairs, and braced myself to be confronted with a maze of unfamiliar streets and unfriendly faces. It was… well, by this point my pessimism was an effort borne out by habit. There couldn’t be two mid-city transit centers that looked like they’d been decorated by ogres. Goth ogres, even… goth ogres who thought they were vampires.

Anyway, I actually wasn’t that surprised or disappointed when I came up into the cold Calendula sun to find it was glittering off windows that looked strangely familiar. The towering buildings of the inner city center still gave me the heebie-jeebies, but they were a welcome change from the authentic Early Imperial Lich King-style architecture of the underground. I could understand if the city owned an old dungeon that happened to be in a great spot for people to switch coaches, but you’d think they’d do more to retrofit it than putting up some timetables and places for posters.

I only made one wrong turn on my way to the Bloodstone, and that was more of a false start than a detour. At an intersection where the streets came together at crazy angles, I read a sign wrong and started to turn down a street only to immediately think, no, that isn’t right. We went that way last time.

I was getting around in the city. Despite my general obliviousness, my lousy sense of direction, and my lack of enthusiasm for the whole thing the time before, I was making my way. If I could do this in the heart of the city center, inside the walls, then the market quarter around the entrance could hold no more terror for me.

It was only when I made it to the lobby of the Bloodstone that I began to feel the first crawling bits of apprehension that had afflicted me when it was time to climb onto the coach. Lee had been very accommodating and done a lot to put me on my ease, but in dealing with lawyers and law firms and legal things I was in territory that… while not exactly hostile… wasn’t exactly familiar and friendly, either. I’d faced up to the whole bout of “grubby little college student” inadequacy on my first trip there with Amaranth… but that had been with Amaranth. And even then, I had been rebuffed by a magic barrier before I even got properly in the door.

Everything about the visit had seemed to go so smoothly after that that I hadn’t given it another thought, but now here I was back in the downstairs lobby and heading towards the front desk. Lee had said they were fixing the problem, but had it been taken care of? Would the guard know or should I say something?

It turned out the keyword was “guards”, as in plural… the guy behind the desk was an older gentleman, but he was no aging desk jockey. The lift was flanked by two men in the same uniform. They wore a silvery shield over their hearts, shaped like a horsehead in profile. I thought the strip beneath it read “Platinum Dragon Security”, but the badge hurt to look at, a little… was there such a thing as a paladin for hire? It seemed to me like that would be a contradiction in terms.

“Can I help you, Miss?” he asked me when I stopped a few feet back from him.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “I have an associate with Jenkins and… with Pendragon and Associates,” I said.

“Name?”

“Mackenzie Blaise,” I said. “Blaise, Mackenzie. Last name Blaise.”

“Alright, Ms. Blaise… one moment,” he said. He fiddled with something out of sight and then had a brief, quiet conversation with the air. “Somebody will be down shortly.”

“Okay,” I said, and took a few more steps back to wait.

Chet Howell came out of the lift not two minutes later, a wand in his hand. He waved it around the lift doors before stepping out. It was long, slim, and black, tapering to a point that had been covered with a soft plastic nub. Of course a personal injury law firm wasn’t going to let anybody wave around a sharp piece of magicware where it could poke somebody’s eye out. The wand was tethered to a key ring, which was fastened to a big block of wood like some teachers did with their bathroom passes in high school.

“Ms. Blaise,” he said, stepping halfway out and using his back to block the door.. “Mackenzie. Great to see you again. Your carriage awaits,” he said, gesturing.

“Thanks,” I said.

“Sorry to keep you cooling down here,” he said. “It’s nothing personal or, you know, particular to you… we’ve actually added more wards to the lift since the craziness this weekend.”

“Did somebody actually get into the office?” I asked.

“You know, I’m just an apprentice, so they don’t tell me those things,” he said. “I’m not even a senior apprentice. If I knew, of course, I probably wouldn’t even be telling you that there’s anything to know. You know?”

He chuckled, and I tried to smile. Infernal interference. It was hard not to see a connection, whether it was there or not. If nothing else, there was cause and effect… because of me, they had an decades-old anti-demon protection nobody had known about taken off the building, and the next thing anybody knows they’ve got gremlins or something in their mirrors.

“Did you have a good weekend?” Chet asked out of the blue.

“Huh?” I said without thinking. I didn’t find myself in a lot of small talk situations. Outside my immediate circle, the only people who didn’t ignore me hated me. “Oh. Yeah. We went to the arena matches on Saturday.”

“Oh, wow, did you get stuck there?”

“No,” I said. “I think we left right as things were getting bad. A bunch of us ended up taking shelter in a friend’s dorm, though.”

“I hope nobody got hurt,” Chet said.

“I heard somebody was killed, but it didn’t sound like it was the storm.”

“Oh?”

“Monsters,” I said.

“A kid I went to school with got killed by blood wolves,” Chet said.

The bell dinged right then, fortunately. When the conversation got to “people you know who were killed by blood wolves”, at that point it was officially over the legal limit of awkwardness.

“Well, here we are,” he said. “Lee’s ready for you, so I’ll just show you to his office. I’m sure you know the way, but… security.”

He gave a shrug and an apologetic smile, but I was grateful for the escort. Even after my triumph in finding the building, I wasn’t at all confident of my ability to successfully navigate the warren of offices and conference rooms. The law office took up an entire floor, and they’d packed as much as they could into it.

Lee had a swivel mirror attached to his desk and he was talking to somebody in it when Chet knocked on his doorframe to let him know we were there. Lee acknowledged us with a nod, without looking away from the mirror. He looked grave. He was nodding and “mmm-hmm”-ing.

“Excuse me,” he told whoever he was talking to. “My client’s here, I’ve really got to go… we’ll put it on the schedule for four, though. Okay? Great. We’ll talk to you later, then.”

I could tell when the image dissolved, because he maintained a dignified and somber pose for a few seconds and then abruptly relaxed all at once. He looked like he’d just put down a great weight… or passed a big stone.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “The entire compound is on high alert, and she still somehow gets through to me every time… my future mother-in-law, by the way.”

“Uh… congratulations?” I said.

“Thanks,” he said. His face lit up. “K’thindi more than makes up for it.”

“Cut what?”

“K’thindi,” he said. “It’s short for K’thynthia.”

“Seriously?”

“Her parents came up with it as a compromise. Her mother wanted to give her an orcish name, and…”

“You’re marrying a half-orc?” I asked without thinking.

“Quarter, actually,” Lee said, a tiny bit of frostiness creeping into his voice. His face became a professional mask. “Have a seat and we’ll get to it.”

“You need anything else?” Chet asked.

“I think we should be fine,” Lee said, and Chet left, closing the door.

“Sorry,” I said. “I was asking out of interest, not… my best friend is dating a half-ogre.”

My best friend is… Yeah. That wasn’t something a bigot would say. My lovers were dating a half-demon. I was in no position to say anything.

“How nice,” Lee said. “But let’s get to business.”

I wanted to apologize more, enough to make him understand that I meant it, but I knew there was no way to drive home the point without belaboring it, and I was sure he didn’t want to dwell on it. A quarter-orcblood would have to be visible, and marrying one meant he’d be dealing with that kind of prejudice for the rest of his life.

Orcs ran into a lot of prejudice in the IRM because they were distant and exotic enough to serve the role of cultural bogeyman. The ogres were confined to their mountains, the reptilefolk had all been wiped out or pacified, and the same was more or less true for the surface goblins. There were still quite a few human/kobold clashes, but the kobolds’ mercantilism kept it from becoming out-and-out war. Orcs, though, weren’t native to the continent, and outside a few enclaves in the northeast where ex-soldiers had settled after the Magisterion War there weren’t any large populations of them. Orcs existed in the popular consciousness as a horde of marauders ready to swoop in and end civilization as we knew it. They were the archetypal Other: foreign, ugly, and violent.

“First of all, to answer your question… it wasn’t you,” Lee said.

“What wasn’t me?” I asked. “What question?”

“You’re wondering if our problem over the weekend had to do with you,” he said. “There’s no reason to think so. Your case doesn’t involve any demons and it doesn’t hinge on your demon blood, and it’s not like the university would have anything to gain by playing diabolical pranks or compromising our astral space. Even if they gained information that somehow helped their case, it couldn’t possibly be worth it. Even if they got the whole thing dismissed somehow. The risk just wouldn’t be worth it.”

“Okay… I’ll admit I was a little bit worried about that,” I said. “I mean, not that the school… it just seemed like too huge a coincidence.”

“It isn’t, really. We’re a law firm, Mackenzie. We don’t deal with demons, of course… that would be illegal,” he said. “But we do a lot of work on behalf of people who have dealt with them.”

“Isn’t that still illegal?” I asked. “For them, I mean.”

“Perhaps,” Lee said. “But sometimes people run… if not quite afoul of the law, then a bit astray of it, and in cases like that it can take a lawyer’s expertise to make things right in a way that’s fair to everybody.”

“You mean, without going to jail,” I said.

“Or being hit with punitive fines,” he said. “Or whatever. The law is the law, but I’m a big believer in the idea that people shouldn’t necessarily spend their whole lives… or longer… paying for a mistake, even a big one.”

I nodded. Considering what I’d been through with the pitchfork, I could appreciate that sentiment.

“So, when do we, you know, go to court?” I asked. “So to speak, I mean.”

“Well, there’s a bit of a script to these things, but there isn’t really a timetable that goes with it. It will be up to our arbiter to set the first hearing,” Lee said. “And while we’re all hoping for a speedy resolution, here’s where we run into the downside of dealing with elves: they have all the time in the world. That’s good, in that a hasty judgment does nobody any favors… if a judge makes the right ruling for you for the wrong reason, it just hands the other side a rock for their catapults… but it can be frustrating to deal with. Anyway, that’s jumping ahead.”

“So where are we at now?”

“I told you before that this is going to come down to a simple finding of facts,” Lee said. “My father was a lawyer, too… and a tribunal judge after that. Whenever I thought I was in trouble, I’d start rambling like crazy, trying to throw out excuses and explanations… and he’d always cut me off and tell me that was all he needed to hear to know that I was in the wrong. ‘The facts will always suffice, Leroy,’ he’d tell me. ‘As long as they’re on your side. If they aren’t, then nothing will ever be enough.’”

He reached into his desk and pulled out a thin sheaf of papers clipped together. I mean thin for a sheaf… less than a ream, certainly, but there were still a good number of pages there. For a panicked moment I thought that was the “interrogatory” he’d mentioned me filling out, but he set it down, pulled out another, much smaller set of papers that had apparently been beneath it.

“This is what the school’s counsel sent over,” he said, holding it back. “I’d like to go over it before we get to the matter of the possibly cursed artifact. We will get to that… I’m very interested in hearing all about that… but I like to keep things linear. It’s a way of keeping things on track. Anyway, this is… well, they’re gathering the facts of the case and since we believe the facts favor you, there’s no reason not to give them. You said you’ve never been involved in a court case before…”

“I did?”

“Amaranth did, I think,” he said.

“Well, it’s true,” I said.

“A lot of times, the first time somebody fills out one of these they try to plead their case to the paper,” he said. “Don’t. There’s no reason for that. These are court documents, but you have to remember these are questions being posed by the school’s legal team, not a persuasive writing assignment. Be concise and complete… and truthful. Lying here is the same as lying in court. Don’t exaggerate, don’t dissemble. Got that?”

I nodded, a little worried. Was he just going to turn me loose with this thing like a pop quiz, where my grade decided if I won a shiny pile of justice and equality or a fine for contempt of elf?

He stood up and came around the desk, pulling the chair next to me a bit to the side and then sitting down half-facing me. He put the papers on the desk, between us so we could both read.

“Right, then,” he said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.”


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3 Responses to “323: A Paladin For Hire”

  1. MentalBlank says:

    Until now, I hadn’t realised that the lawyers’ name was Leroy Jenkins. Love the reference 🙂

    Current score: 3
    • capybroa says:

      And that so far, he’s the most down-to-earth, level-headed character in the mix. A lovely play against type.

      Current score: 7
  2. Jack V says:

    I love Lee too. It’s so nice that someone’s quiet, professional and competent, and genuinely wants to help Mackenzie. I hope he’s happy 🙂

    Current score: 7