In Which Mackenzie Is Made An Offer She Can’t Accept
The chancellor’s office came into view in much the same way that the labyrinth had vanished.
We were materializing in front of a large desk. A woman who I took to be Chancellor Davies was seated behind it. Behind her and to her right sat a man in a suit.
It was a large, somewhat dimly lit room, with thick curtains on the windows. Everything was plushly upholstered or paneled in wood. There was a separate seating area off to the side, with a huge fire place. Two was sitting in one of the high-backed chairs there, calmly eating a banana.
“Hi, Mack!” she said, as soon as I’d fully materialized.
“I’m supposed to be in class right now,” she said, a little shakily. There was an oddly triumphant look on her face as she got the sentence out.
“Oh,” I said.
“Miss Mackenzie? I’m Beth Davies, the chancellor,” the woman said. “And I’m so very pleased that Professor Smith managed to find you.”
“Actually, my dear, it was a group of my students who found our wayward student,” Smith said. “I hope that this little incident will do something to mend the perception of delvers among non-human students.”
“It would be nice to have something positive come out of this, yes,” Davies said.
“In any event, dear chancellor, I hope you will excuse me but I really should get back to my office. I have six groups in the maze and nobody is monitoring but a teaching assistant.”
“Of course,” the chancellor said. “You have my gratitude for your role in Miss Mackenzie’s recovery, no matter how small.”
The professor made a low bow and faded out.
“Now, before I say anything else, I’m sure you would rather have this conversation fully dressed,” Davies said. She gestured towards Two. “This young lady was kind enough to bring your clothes from your dorm room.”
“No, I wasn’t. You didn’t tell me to bring her clothes,” Two said. “You told me to bring clothes for her. You did not say they had to be hers.”
I repressed the urge to roll my eyes or groan.
“Whose clothes did you bring, then?” the chancellor asked. She was a little pale. I wondered if her mind was flashing to the fictional depictions of too-literal golems and she was imagining Two taking the nearest suitable garments, regardless of owner.
“Mine,” Two said proudly. “I like them better. She does not have very nice things.”
Chancellor Davies turned towards me, at a loss.
“It’s okay,” I said. “She’s done stuff like this before.”
“Well, in any event, they’re laid out in the washroom over there,” she said, indicating a door recessed in the wall. “Miss Two, if you wouldn’t mind, please go tell your friends that Miss Mackenzie has returned safely.”
“Okay,” Two said, getting up. “I wouldn’t mind.”
She dropped the banana peel in a wastebasket by the desk.
“Take another banana, if you want,” Davies said, holding up the fruit bowl.
“Okay,” Two said, taking the banana from the bowl. Another one appeared in its place.
“Miss Mackenzie?” Davies asked, holding the bowl out.
“No, thank you,” I said. “I’m just going to go get dressed.”
“Bye, Mack!” Two said.
At least the jeans Two had selected for me this time had nothing stuck to the seat, though bizarrely there were no back pockets. It did have little rhinestones in spiral patterns on the legs, but those weren’t so bad. The shirt had a big butterfly made out of glitter.
Differing styles aside, it seemed like a bad idea for her to keep loaning me clothes like this. I didn’t really like the odds of me managing to get from the administrative building back to Harlowe without losing some of the jewels or wrecking the shirt’s design.
Her jeans seemed to pinch a little bit more than I remembered, or maybe this was just a tighter pair. It seemed unlikely I could have gained enough weight in a week to make a difference, especially since I’d pretty much always been the same size.
There were a pair of butterfly hair-clips with the same blue and green glitter as the one on the shirt, but since Two wasn’t around to insist, I didn’t bother to put them on. I wasn’t exactly sure how to do it properly, anyway.
“I’m sure that feels much… well, a little better,” Davies said, when I came out. I’d had to roll up the legs of the jeans, and the shirt was a bit too long, too. “She’s a bit… different, isn’t she? Miss Two.”
“There’s nothing wrong with her,” I said.
“No, of course not. Please, have a seat. Would you like something to drink? Some food? I can have something sent in.”
“No, thank you,” I said, taking a seat in the plush chair in front of the desk.
“Miss Two was with the first group who showed up, at just past eight,” she said. “They came directly from the healing center, arriving before I’d even finished speaking with the director. I spoke with them, but I’m afraid I didn’t have much to tell them. The others started showing up a little after. We had to move them out of the lobby for safety reasons. At last count, there were over one hundred students protesting for your return.”
“Are you sure all of them were protesting for my return?” I asked.
“What else would they be protesting?”
“In any event, I felt it was wiser and safer to speak with you privately first, rather than simply dropping you into the crowd,” Davies said. “That’s why I asked your roommate to wait in here, so that she could let all your friends know you were safe.”
“Why her, in particular?” I asked. It seemed odd to me that Amaranth wouldn’t have insisted on being there. Had Davies picked Two because she was the most tractable?
“There was no shortage of volunteers, but as both your roommate and emergency contact, Miss Two had official status,” Davies said. “When Lynette reported your disappearance, she forwarded the card you’d filled out to change your emergency contacts with a note saying you would not wish us to use your contact of record.”
“Well, she did that much right,” I said.
“Lynette Havilland is a very gifted healer,” Davies said.
I could have said something about healing ability not being a good measure for leadership skills, but it didn’t seem productive. I still wasn’t quite sure why I’d been brought before the chancellor, unless it was simply because this was where the protest was.
“Is Two going to be in trouble?” I asked instead.
“What? Oh, of course not. We try to instill a sense of social consciousness in our students. Sanctioning them for participating in a peaceful protest would seem a little counterproductive,” Davies said. “That, and it always seems to lead to more protests.”
“I meant, for skipping classes,” I said.
“Well, at the rather vocal insistence of a, ah… Miss Stephanie, I think… I’ve taken steps to have Miss Two’s professors excuse her from her classes for the day,” Davies said. “Most professors will probably do the same, and I’m sure we can do something officially to ensure nobody is penalized. Students do disappear rather more permanently from time to time, of course, but in a case when the university itself is at fault…”
“Though fault has yet to be determined in this case,” the man seated behind her quickly said.
“Well, yes, I suppose,” the chancellor said. “This gentleman, Miss Mackenzie, is Leon Arnett, from our legal department.”
I looked at him. “A lawyer?” I asked. He nodded. “Why do you have a lawyer here?” I asked Davies.
“To put it bluntly, you have been wronged,” she said. Arnett cleared his throat, but she held up a hand. “As the highest representative of the institution responsible, it’s my duty to acknowledge that and make some sort of amends. However, I also have a duty to the university. That’s why Leon is here.”
“I’d like to point out that while her regret is no doubt sincere, the chancellor is not empowered to assume responsibility on behalf of the university,” Arnett said.
“Call it a figure of speech,” Davies said. She sighed. “Before I’m slapped with a gag order, Miss Mackenzie, let me just say that I’m deeply sorry for any part the university faculty may have played in your ordeal. We have started an investigation into the healing center’s policies and are issuing a memorandum on the subject of remote magic use.”
“What exactly happened there?” I asked.
“Professor Proust says that ‘infernal interference’ disrupted his spell, but he thought he could ‘power through it’,” Davies said. “I’m sorry to inform you that he did not immediately realize you had left the environs of the healing center, and his subsequent attempt removed your clothing and weapon from the scene.”
“What?” I asked. “He actually kept trying?”
“We’ve circulated a description of your knife and clothes,” Davies said. “I think the odds are very good they’ll turn up within the university grounds. After all, you did.”
“Has anybody stumbled across the bed yet?” I asked.
“Well, ah… no,” the chancellor said. “Not as such.”
“The university is prepared to compensate you for the value of your missing effects,” Arnett said.
“That’s a start,” I said.
“And, of course, we’d be happy to provide you with a temporary replacement so you can meet the weapon policy,” Davies said. “Unless that pitchfork you’re carrying around signifies that you’ve already found a replacement?”
I couldn’t really picture myself carrying the pitchfork around. It was too bulky to take into class and it didn’t really project the sort of image I wanted.
I was definitely not giving it up, though. I felt I needed something to show for my time in the maze, though, and as Smith had said, “finders keepers.” Anyway, it might be worth something. Morally, I couldn’t sell an infernal weapon on the open market, but maybe the diabolism department would buy it from me for study.
“I don’t want to carry a weapon,” I said. “I’m a fierce creature, right?”
“Well, yes, you are technically eligible for that exception,” Davies said.
“Then I want it,” I said. “If I’m going to have people throwing signs at me and warding doors against me because of my race, I might as well get some benefits out of it.”
“We’ll make sure your new ID reflects that status, then,” Davies said.
“And I want it retroactive,” I said. “I got hit with a fifty silver fine for not carrying an accessible weapon, the first weekend here. I want that back.”
“Fifty silver?” Davies repeated.
“That’s the maximum fine,” I said. “And you know, I really think the reason it was that high… and the only reason we were stopped in the first place… is because we were a group of obvious non-humans, on our way to the student union.”
“Well, I think we could agree that fifty silver is a little excessive for a first-time offense and have that ticket canceled,” Davies said.
“Though it should be noted that this is not an admission of bias or responsibility on the university’s part,” Arnett added.
“All things considered, I’d rather have an admission of bias and responsibility than the money,” I said. “Do you have any idea how things really are around here, for the non-human students?”
“While I understand there’s certain… resentments, there’s no policy of harassment or discrimination towards students of any race,” Davies said.
“There doesn’t have to be,” I said. “Everything having to do with race around here is so half-assed. Any intelligent being can attend university, but no efforts are made to actually accommodate us.”
“Well, now, I hardly think that’s fair,” Davies said. “We’ve made a place for students of all races in Harlowe Hall, and appointed a dean to make sure your needs are met.”
“Yeah, you’ve given us a place and appointed a dean, but she seems to think her job is keeping us in our place,” I said. “Like catering in meals instead of addressing the problems in the dining hall. It would be one thing if the meals were more tailored somehow, but do you know what they get for us? Stuff like pizza.”
“Forgive my ignorance, but don’t most people your age like pizza?” Davies asked.
“Humans, not people. Some races can’t eat cheese. Some can’t eat wheat. Some can’t eat any animal products at all. Some of them probably need more meat. Some of them don’t have mouths that are set up for chewing. Can you imagine trying to swallow a piece of pizza whole?” I said. “A mass pizza order’s about the worst thing you could do if you’re trying to accommodate a bunch of different dietary needs. What else do they get? Sub sandwiches… same problem, but at least it’s easier to take one of them apart. Deli trays at least let people build their own, but it’s still pretty hit or miss. I don’t eat the catered food, so I don’t have a lot of examples, but I’m sure it’s all stuff like that.”
“Well, this is rather beyond the scope of what I meant to discuss, but since you’re here and this is on your mind, what would you suggest we do instead?” Davies asked.
“First, make sure the dining hall is accessible to everybody,” I said. “Not just ‘officially’ but in fact. You’ve already got vegetarian options and stuff there, and people can choose what they eat. Take some of the money you’re spending on catering in Harlowe and use it to add more options. More mushrooms. Fresher vegetables. Raw eggs and meat to students who request them… that wouldn’t cost anything, actually, since you’ve already got the items.”
“Raw eggs and meat?” Davies said. “That isn’t safe.”
“For humans,” I said. “Cheese pizza isn’t safe for goblins.”
“Well, this is certainly something to think about,” Davies said.
“And you could get non-human resident advisors,” I said.
“I believe the advisor program recruits from every dorm,” Davies said.
“Like student activities are advertised in every dorm, right? Except they aren’t. The people in charge of things like that forget Harlowe, or don’t think it counts, or are afraid of going near it… and the fact that nothing is ever done about anything like that just makes it seem legitimate,” I said. “You need to make sure the rules are actually being enforced, and that’s not all. Some of the humans are afraid of us, or they don’t consider us people. For me, I can actually understand that… but apparently some people think that way about all non-humans. A bunch of new rules and policies aren’t going to change that.”
“I’m afraid you’re right about that,” Davies said. “So the question is, what would you have us do?”
“This is a school, isn’t it?” I said. “Educate.”
“Well, there are sensitivity programs out there, but they all deal with things like not calling a dwarf ‘Mr. Clan Name’ and not forgetting a gnome is standing there,” she said. “The problem is, there aren’t any that deal with dark elves or goblinoids or… people with extraplanar ancestries.”
“There,” I said. “You’ve identified the problem.”
“I said, ‘you’ve identified the problem’,” I repeated. “So what’s the next step?”
She stared at me in confusion.
“This is a major university,” I said. “You can’t tell me it doesn’t have the resources to create its own… well… resources.”
“I understand you ran for student senate for your floor,” Davies said. “How did that turn out?”
“Tie,” I said. “The vote’s tonight.”
“Forgive my frankness, but I can’t decide if I should hope you win or not,” Davies said.
“I’m not going away, even if I lose,” I said. “This whole stupid thing happened because one person was afraid of me, and another person couldn’t understand that her transgressions were that big a deal. The f… messed up thing is, a few weeks ago I wouldn’t have considered somebody warding against me a big deal, but none of this is happening in isolation. I’ve got friends who look as scary as I am to humans.”
“Well, I honestly wish you luck,” Davies said. She sounded sincere, but her smile had drooped a bit. “However, it would be good for you to bear in mind just how ‘scary’ you are, as you put it. This is part of the reason I wanted to speak to you in private.”
I said nothing, but waited for her to elaborate.
“A crowd of riled up people… non-human or not.. being led by a demon is the sort of thing that can make people justifiably nervous,” she said. “If Professor Smith had delivered you directly into the company outside… well, you seem reasonably calm and in control of yourself. I had to be cautious.”
“What, you thought I might incite a riot?”
“You’d have every right to be angry, but I do have a responsibility to the university,” Davies said. “I’m trying to be forthright with you here, Miss Mackenzie.”
“I prefer Ms. Mackenzie,” I said. “‘Miss’ seems a little degrading.”
“Ms. Mackenzie, then,” Davies said, though it seemed she had to work her mouth or mind around the idea. “I’m trying to be forthright with you. I regret what happened, and promise you a full accounting will be made, but it would be dishonest to pretend I was not apprehensive about your emotional state. Anybody would be upset, but not everybody would have your destructive potential.”
“You’re right,” I said. “But about this ‘full accounting’… I was shot with an arrow in the maze.”
“Yes, Professor Smith mentioned that,” Davies said.
“It was one of his students,” I said. “He didn’t know I was another student, but the whole group was prepared to leave me to die instead of summoning help.”
“Yes, well, unfortunately, by my understanding, they were following the letter of the rules of their exercise,” Davies said. “It’s up to their instructor to exercise whatever leeway he has in their grades, but I don’t believe they can be penalized beyond that.”
“Two of them were talking about killing me when they thought I might have killed a human,” I said.
“Did anybody witness this?” Arnett asked.
“Just the other members of the party,” I said. I sighed. “Look, I know they probably won’t be punished. I just don’t want them getting any medals. I don’t want the headline to be ‘Heroic Student Adventurers Rescue Half-Demon.’”
“I don’t think that will be a problem,” Davies said. I couldn’t imagine it would… it would look better for the university if a professor ended up with the credit. “Is there anything else on your mind?”
“Not off the top of my head,” I said. A tiny little voice in the back of my mind gave me a mental prod. So far, the only mention of money had been for stuff I had actually lost. I’d spent the entire morning wandering around a deadly maze. I could have been turned into a cursed scarecrow thing for all eternity, or until somebody wandered in who didn’t have a cheat sheet. I’d been threatened with death. I felt awkward bringing it up, but I think I was entitled to more than fifty silver and a new knife. “Except, you know… compensation. I think… I think I’m entitled to something. For my suffering.”
“Well, I think that’s Leon’s department,” Davies said.
“Your claim will be submitted to the arbitration committee, pending the resolution of investigations into the events of today,” Arnett said. “Under the terms of the student arbitration agreement, you have the right to forego arbitration and take the matter to court, though you must inform the committee of this in writing no less than thirty days in advance.”
“Thirty days?” I asked. “Just when is this arbitration going to happen?”
“Some time after the investigations have been completed,” Arnett said.
“These things do take time,” Davies said.
“Should I get a lawyer?” I asked. “And will I get the money for my knife and stuff now, or do I have to wait?”
“The arbitration committee will assign you an advocate. Additional legal representation is up to you,” Arnett said. “As for your knife and clothing, the university is prepared to admit responsibility for the loss of your possessions. If you’ll simply present an itemized list of each item and their value, you will receive full compensation in seven to ten business days.”
“You’ll take responsibility for vanishing my stuff, but not for sealing me in a room and dumping me into a deadly dungeon,” I said. “Nice.”
“A hasty judgment benefits nobody,” Davies said. “It’s better to do these things properly.”
“I’d like to see my friends now,” I said.
“Of course,” Davies said. She reached beneath her desk and produced a small card, which she pushed across the table. “Here’s a temporary ID. I’ll send a note to the registrar’s office not to charge you for a new one. We’ll put your weapons exemption in the system today, but give it until Monday until you have a new card made.”
“What about meals?” I asked. “And my room keys.”
“Your senior R.A. will have extra keys,” she said. “And that card’s been tied to your meal plan.”
“The arbitration committee will be sending you some papers to fill out,” Arnett said. “I suggest you be thorough. The more detail you can provide, the faster the matter can be resolved.”
“Thank you, Leon,” she said. “If you don’t mind waiting here while I escort… Ms. Mackenzie… out, there’s a few things I’d like to discuss with you.”
“I can find my own way,” I said.
“Please, it’s the least I can do,” Davies said.
I found out the real reason when we got outside the double doors of her office. There was a small reception area, decorated in the same fashion but slightly better lit. The receptionist’s desk was vacant.
“I wanted to tell you… you don’t have to include the bit about the students threatening you when you fill out the report,” she said.
“Arnett said ‘be thorough’,” I said.
“This could ruin their lives,” she said.
“They would have done worse to me,” I said. “But you’re not thinking about their lives, you’re thinking about how it reflects on the university.”
“We all have our jobs to do,” she said. “I understand you want what’s coming to you… you deserve it… but you don’t need to go dragging in a lot of extraneous details. I promise you, you can still get the full compensation that you deserve without those parts.”
“You promise me? Can you put that in writing?” I asked.
“Of course not.”
“I’ll think about it,” I said, thinking about it.
I didn’t say anything else, but I didn’t have to think long.
The delvers had all been thinking in terms of human vs. non-human. Justin would have killed me if he thought I’d given a human up to the field, but he wouldn’t concern himself if it was a non-human. They’d all thought very little about the idea of me dying. If they didn’t suffer any consequences for their actions, that would make their impression correct.
If I had the power to do anything about that, I would.