419: Mark Of A Paladin

on November 12, 2009 in Book 15

In Which Scripture Is Used As A Weapon

“Say that again, Lee?” I said, hoping I’d misheard him somehow.

I must have… I had to have heard him wrong. My grandmother was hundreds of miles away. She’d shown no inclination to follow me to MU when I first left. It seemed impossible that she should show up now, in the midst of everything that was going on.

“Martha Blaise,” Lee repeated. “Is she your grandmother?”

“What’s my grandmother doing here?” I asked.

“Sounds like she’s advocating for you… somewhat,” Lee said. “She’s in a conference with the lead finder on site. Closed door, but very loud. I figured she was a student’s parent or relative, but I asked one of the locals who she was when I realized she was talking about demonic traces, or rather their absence.”

“So you haven’t talked to her?” I asked.

“No, I haven’t,” Lee said. “She seems to be arguing with… it sounds like she thinks the case against you is stronger than it is. She’s trying to cut a deal on your behalf. You folks weren’t kidding about thin walls.”

“Her voice sort of carries,” I said, and in fact I could sort of hear her in the background of the reflection. “I don’t want any part of a deal she makes.”

“Mackenzie, you’re a competent adult,” Lee said. “I represent you, not her… she’s not in a position to make a deal for you and you’re not in so bad a position you’d need her to. I don’t know your whole family background, so I’m sorry if this is upsetting to you, but overall it’s a good thing. Her word isn’t going to be definitive, given her obvious bias, but if she knows what she’s talking about and can be assumed to be telling the truth…”

“I really can’t imagine her lying,” I said. “I think she’d probably burst into flame or something.”

“Yes, well, that’s a huge trump for us,” Lee said. “We can already establish that you were elsewhere. It’s going to be established that you weren’t here. My job is just going to be making sure these facts aren’t overlooked, and that neither are your rights.”

“Um, can I butt in?” Ian said, sliding around next to me and leaning into view of the small mirror. “Hi. Again, just going by the TV version here, but don’t you think this could actually look kind of bad? Her, um, lovers vouch for her whereabouts, her close relative volunteers her demon-scanning expertise to prove it wasn’t her…”

“Yes, there are some potential pitfalls there, but I’m not in the best place to discuss strategy,” he said. His voice dropped. “I’m about to interrupt the conversation… let both parties know that I represent Mackenzie and that you are ready to talk to Inspector Gregory whenever it’s convenient for him. I think we should be able to wrap up your part of this investigation this afternoon.”

“If we can do it without any interaction between my grandmother and me, I’d appreciate it,” I said.

Amaranth grabbed the mirror from me. Lee swore as the image in front of him undoubtedly spun like crazy.

“Lee, don’t worry… do whatever’s most certain to see Mack through safely,” she said. “We’ll sort out the family stuff later.”

“I wouldn’t do anything else,” he said. “And please… please don’t do that again.”

“Oh, sorry!” she said.

“I’m attracting stares now,” he said. “So I’m gonna get to work. You three sit tight.”

“Okay,” Amaranth said. “Good luck!”

“Uh, thank you.”

She snapped the mirror shut with a satisfied smile that wobbled a little when she saw my glare.

“I’m sorry for snatching him away like that, baby, but you shouldn’t let your feelings about your grandmother jeopardize your safety,” she said.

“Is that really what that was all about?” I asked. “Or are you just jumping on a chance to attempt some kind of reconciliation?”

“Baby… this would so not be the time for that,” Amaranth said. “Honestly, I wouldn’t want even a happy reunion to distract you before we know you’re out of the woods.”

“But otherwise… once I am out of the woods… you think it would be a happy reunion,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be difficult now, of all times,” Amaranth said. “I was being hypothetical.”

“Well, you’re hypothetically wrong,” I said.

“‘Hypothetical’ isn’t exactly a strong suit around here,” Ian said.

“I know you think that everyone should just love each other, and Dee can’t understand why I wouldn’t want a relationship with my maternal…”

“Excuse us,” a voice said, pleasant and musical. I thought it had come from nowhere, but it had actually come from one of the two cloaked elves, who had both come up upon us so suddenly they might have teleported. “We do not mean to be intrusive, but by ‘Dee’, are you referring to Delia Daella?”

“Well, yes, actually,” Amaranth said, “but this is sort of a private conversation. We’re actually waiting for our lawyer, so if you have any questions…”

“Oh, we wouldn’t dream of bothering your legal advocate,” the second one said.

“Then you probably shouldn’t be talking to us,” Ian said. “I’m pretty sure that’ll bug the crap out of him.”

“We would, however, appreciate a few words with friends of our willfull charge,” the elven woman continued as if she hadn’t even heard Ian’s snarky interjection.

“Yes, you may be able to help her a great deal by speaking to her as friends.”

“Oh!” Amaranth said. “Well, if there’s something we can do to help Dee, we’ll be happy to talk about it just as soon as our other friend gets back to advise us.”

“Please, it’s no matter of great legal complexity,” the hooded woman said. “We just wondered if you have had a chance to observe her condition. She seems so drained, so fatigued from her self-imposed vigil… but she won’t admit to the possibility that she may have fallen asleep at some point during it.”

“I don’t see…” Amaranth started to say.

“What, you think Steff did it?” I asked. “Or Viktor?”

“We venture no opinion on the question of who is responsible,” the second elf said. “Our duty is to see that our Delia Daella is shielded from blame. The light of doubt is already falling upon those with whom she has sequestered herself. It is not in her interest to offer them a defense.”

“But is Dee really going to be a suspect?” I asked. “And if she was, their defense is her defense. They were all there together, right?”

“That is what Delia Daella says. But she perhaps may not be in the best condition to positively assert that.”

“Steff is our friend, too,” I said. “And Dee’s. You’re not going to get any of us to sell her out.”

“That really is enough,” Amaranth said to me. “It was so nice meeting you,” she said to the elves, “but I don’t think we have anything to talk about.”

“Please forgive the interruption, then,” one of the elves said, bowing and backing away.

“Perhaps we should speak to your advocate,” one of the elves said.

“I don’t think you’ll find him receptive to any proposals to lie,” Amaranth said. “Trying to frame someone else isn’t going to make anyone look good.”

“We would not ask anyone to lie,” the elf said. “We are not attempting to ‘frame’ anyone, just to… reframe the circumstances.”

“Again, we really don’t have anything to talk about,” Amaranth said. “Thank you.”

I wasn’t sure what she was thankful for, but it seemed like a polite attempt to end the conversation, and the elf didn’t have anything to say to it. She bowed and went back to her group. In addition to the gorgon and the mushroom person, there was now also a small rock-like humanoid huddled under the protective aegis of the shimmering fish-beast. The gorgon had stepped a few feet away and was chatting quietly with the harpy from the skirmish team and her human boyfriend.

Lee made a reappearance in the room shortly. He had a small cut on his forehead, right underneath a lump that seemed to swell visibly in the time from when he entered the big room and when he reached us.

“Your grandmother moves quickly for a woman her age, Mackenzie,” he said.

“Uh, yeah,” I said. “Sorry.”

“You didn’t do anything,” he said.

“I’m still sorry,” I said.

“Expressing unearned guilt is a bad habit for a suspect to have,” Lee said. “Though I don’t think that label exactly fits. There’s a lot of interest in you… but you’re definitely not the only name on the short list, and I got the distinct impression that it’s not just your whereabouts and doings last night that they’re interested in.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

His voice dropped.

“The point man upstairs, Agent Nevis, told me they ‘mainly’ have questions about some of your acquaintances,” Lee said. “I think part of that emphasis was to make sure we’re not going in overly defensive. I guarantee you that they’re going to ask about your whereabouts and that they will check on what we tell them, just as they’ll double-check what Ms. Blaise told them about the scene.”

“Do they just let anybody’s grandma wander into crime scenes and start divining?” Ian asked.

“She has some credentials, apparently,” Lee said. “I don’t know who gave her access or what was going through their head.”

“She was an exorcist,” I said. “I don’t know if she was certified, or if it’s still valid.”

Lee looked at me in surprise.

“I don’t think it matters as much in small towns… where there aren’t boatloads of powerful clerics in the temple… if someone’s licensed or not,” I explained.

“Mackenzie, she’s a paladin,” Lee said.

“What?” I said.

“Dame Commander in the EWD Reserves.”

What?” I repeated.

“She showed me her badge right after she threw the book at me,” Lee said. “Figuratively, I mean. Paladins are only empowered to act as peace officers in places where there’s no other active law enforcement.”

“Hold on,” I said. “I think there must be some kind of mistaken identity thing going on. You’ve been misinformed or you’ve mixed a couple people up. The woman who hit you, did her badge identify her by name?”

“Mackenzie, there’s no confusion… she introduced herself, and she said she was your grandmother,” Lee said. “Her shield is inscribed with her name.”

“My grandmother is a little old lady who chases away disembodied demons,” I said. “She’s not a paladin.”

“I’m pretty sure I read or heard that she was,” Ian said. “In the news or something.”

“If the woman I spoke with isn’t your grandmother, then she stole a badge from your grandmother who is still a paladin,” Lee said. “But this is all very far afield of the point.”

“Mack… you do know that your grandmother must have had a life before you were born, don’t you?” Amaranth asked.

“Yes, but… I can’t imagine her lying about something like this,” I said. “Or about anything. She hated lies more than just about anything. She said they were the beginning of all sins, and that they give other sins shelter.”

“Um… did she ever tell you she wasn’t in the White Dragons?” Ian asked.

“You know, Mack, if you picked up your outlook on lying from her, then it seems like she can’t have nearly as big a problem with lies of omission as other kinds,” Amaranth said. “And frankly, if it was part of her life that she’d left behind, I’m not sure I’d count it as a lie not to mention it, either.”

“If it makes things any clearer at all,” Lee said, “I should mention that she only produced her shield with great reluctance, after I raised questions about her right to be present and after I dismissed her family-related argument.”

“It doesn’t make anything clear,” I said. “Okay, yes, she’s always been sort of… militant, I guess… but in the old-lady-who-loves-Khersis kind of way, not the knight-in-holy-armor kind of way.”

“Mack… I don’t mean to keep harping on this point,” Amaranth said, “but you do know that people aren’t born as old ladies, right?”

“Of course I know that,” I said, though, of course I couldn’t really picture my grandmother as a young woman and I had never really tried.

When I did, though… when I tried to imagine what someone who was so pious, so stern, so uncompromising in her beliefs, and so powerful in her faith but who had never been a cleric…

“Holy fuck,” I said, as the image came into my head of my grandmother clad in mail and holding a blessed broadsword.

“I’m sure this must be an interesting revelation for you,” Lee said. “If you need a few minutes to digest it, take them… but let’s not get completely sidetracked. I spoke to Nevis and I told him that we’re eager to help, but that we’d prefer it if we can deal with Mike Gregory and if you can talk to him as a group. He’s having Gregory paged when he’s done at the admin building. Nevis couldn’t make any promises. I think that they may want to talk to you two ladies individually afterwards, or at least you, Mackenzie, but I will be there handling things for each of you if it comes to that.”

“Why would they want to talk to Amaranth alone?” I asked. Obviously they would if they were going to try to pick our story apart to somehow indict me, but Lee was acting like that seemed like a remote possibility. Besides that, Ian as the human and the one who’d probably be less strongly linked to me in the eyes of anybody else they talked to would seem to be the weaker link.

“You’re both Harlowe residents,” he said. “Truth be told, there are a lot of prospective suspects in here… a lot of members of predatory races, races with anthropophagic history.”

“Um, sort of on that subject, Lee,” Amaranth said, her mouth twisting in between her words. She looked like she had the urge to chew her lower lip off with worry. “I know I said that I supported you doing anything to keep Mack safe, but we want you to know that we’re not willing to say things to implicate other students, even though that might shift suspicion off Mack.”

“To be clear: are you saying you would withhold evidence from the investigators to shield your dormmates?” Lee asked.

“Oh, no, I’m not talking about withholding anything,” Amaranth said. “But say someone comes at us with a theory that implicates someone else, and they ask us in a leading sort of way if we ever noticed that person sneaking out at night, or something like that.”

“If you’re not comfortable with a line of questioning, look to me to intervene,” Lee said. “My first responsibility here is to you three, not to your friends or your neighbors, but I will not allow you to be compromised for the sake of a lazy investigator’s convenience.”

“Thank you,” Amaranth said.

“May I ask what prompted that?” Lee said.

“This is a discussion I would rather have somewhere away from prying ears,” Amaranth said.

Lee nodded, and his eyes flickered almost imperceptibly towards the underworld contingent… the only ears in the room that were likely to overhear a quiet conversation in a large room full of quiet conversations being elven was probably a dead giveaway.

“Let’s take a walk outside,” he said.

“Is that going to be okay?” I said. “If that Gregory guy gets here and we’ve vanished…”

“I told them to reflect me if they need anything from us,” Lee said.

With that settled, I had no objection to getting away from the pair of cloaked underelves who were willing to use us and throw Steff under the behemoth’s feet to make double sure that Dee wasn’t implicated. I wondered if there wasn’t some racial animosity involved there… if my job was to make sure that someone wasn’t tarnished by a murder investigation, suggesting that one of the people she spent the weekend in the company of might have been responsible wouldn’t be my opening gambit.

Though… they had said that suspicion was falling on Steff and Viktor anyway, so maybe it hadn’t been their choice of a first move, either. That thought kind of gave me chills. How much suspicion, exactly, would it take for “maybe I fell asleep and didn’t notice them going out and murdering someone” to sound like a better defense to her advocates than “no, I was with them the whole time and there was no murdering”?

Lee had told Ian that if I were under suspicion, he’d be suspect, too, for providing part of my alibi. The same would be true of Dee, with regard to Steff and Viktor. I trusted Dee to know whether or not she’d fallen asleep, and I certainly trusted her to tell the truth. I hadn’t given much thought to the blowup we witnessed earlier… with Dee and Viktor both taking her obligation to Steff’s health so deadly seriously, her actions seemed perfectly understandable as a reaction to being pulled away from Steff’s bedside.

It also fit in nicely with how I imagined she would react if it were suggested that she bend the truth to save her own skin at the expense of a friend… maybe with a little extra indignity thrown in at the idea that she might have fallen asleep on the job without immediately realizing it.

These were the thoughts that swirled around in my head as we headed out onto the patio and up the uneven stairs. We headed south away from the front of the building, towards a group of school buildings I’d never been in. Lee didn’t say anything until we were on the other side of one of them from Harlowe.

“What happened?” he asked, straight to the point.

Amaranth recounted the interruption from the eavesdropping elves.

“Hmm,” Lee said. “This ‘Dee’ is the Delia Daella who’s been in the news? The so-called ‘naked priestess’?”

“That’s her,” Amaranth said, nodding.

“They call her ‘the naked priestess’?” I asked.

“Do you never watch the news?” Ian asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“I don’t sit down and watch it very often, but… it’s on sometimes,” he said. “You pick things up.”

“There are more TVs in your dorm than in mine,” I reminded him. “We don’t even get the student newspaper.”

“Listen,” Lee said. “There may be a reason why the dark elves think that Dee’s friends would be under special scrutiny. That may be difficult if they’re your friends, too, but that can’t distract you. If charges are brought against them, I’m sure you’ll have chances to speak out on their behalf, offer testimony about their characters, what have you… but for now, if it comes up, the most you can honestly say is that you were gone all weekend and so you can’t really speak to anything that might have happened on campus. If the imperials ask you about them, I’ll say that. Don’t let them goad you into saying anything else.”

I kind of expected him to look at me after he said that last bit, but he kept his gaze on Amaranth. I suppose she had as little self-control as I did when it came to some things. He only knew her because of her protective impulses towards me.

“Thank you, Lee,” Amaranth said, nodding. “Really, truly… I know this is your job, but you’ve been so helpful, and I don’t know what we would do without you.”

“Remember, Amaranth, that technically the fact that you’re speaking to them at all is a courtesy,” Lee said. “You have divine privilege. They can’t arrest you. They can’t question you against your will. They can’t make you testify or go on record. For questions about Mackenzie’s whereabouts, you’ve got every reason to answer, but if they stray to other topics, you could tell them to go to hell and they couldn’t do anything. Don’t, incidentally.”

“Oh, I could never do that,” Amaranth said.

“The point is that you have a pretty big trump card if they get in your face,” Lee said. “I mention this because you seem somewhat… delicate, in some regards. If things get too stressful, tell me that you think you’re done and I’ll manage the damage control on that. It’s likely to be better for our side than if you snap.”

Amaranth nodded. She nibbled at her lip a little bit.

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “I just realized… your head. I should have offered earlier. Would you like me to do something for it?”

“Is that going to limit my proximity to Mackenzie?” he asked. “They offered me healing, but I wanted to wait until we were finished for the day.”

“It shouldn’t make a difference,” she said. “It’ll only take a touch. As long as you don’t headbutt her or dance cheek-to-cheek, she shouldn’t even be able to feel it.”

“Shouldn’t or won’t?” Lee asked.

“Won’t,” I said. “She’s healed worse in front of me before. It can be… uncomfortable… to look at while it’s going on, but the aftereffects are pretty negligible.”

“Well, alright, then,” Lee said. “I suppose it’s probably best if I don’t have an untreated head injury when I’m representing.”

“What did she throw at you, exactly?” Ian asked.

“Her librum, I think,” Lee said. “I would imagine that’s what it was. It was very impressive-looking.”

“Ouch,” I said. My grandmother’s travel librum had metal brackety things protecting the corners of the dragonhide cover.

“Yes, exactly,” Lee said.

“Better take a step back and cover your eyes, baby,” Amaranth said, and I did step back, though I only shaded my eyes and lowered them slightly… after my experience at the club, I was curious how much I could really stand to be exposed to her healing energy.

The glow was far more intense, and I had to quickly drop my gaze to the ground, but the pain wasn’t that bad… it was intense, but it wasn’t bad.

Far worse was the feeling I got in the pit of my stomach when I heard my grandmother’s voice in my ear.

“Of course you avert your eyes from a display of her pure spirit, after spending all day lustfully ogling her corrupt flesh.”

Tales of MU is now on Patreon! Help keep the story going!

Or if you particularly enjoyed this chapter, leave a tip!

Characters: , , , , ,

8 Responses to “419: Mark Of A Paladin”

  1. Christy says:

    I would think that if there was a suspect not of extraplanar descent, they would just send in some subtle artists to check…

    Current score: 0
  2. pedestrian says:

    I just realized, Dee is Heir Possible to one of the downside Elvish thrones, will it turn out that Steff has some connection to the upside throne? Viktor of course a claim to Orge leadership, at least two goddesses are represented by friends of Macks. Ian’s family connections and that of a number of the rest of the Harlowe students and other students sympathetic to Mack or at least neutral but willing to stand up for University Rights or at least collegial autonomy.

    Where was I going with this, yes uhh, Daddy Dearest claws seem to be stirring a number of bubbling cauldrons. If His Infernal Majesty’s plot within a plot within a plot is to sow discord and chaos, triggering violent confrontations that could result in Mack rising to be a Power Upon The Land.

    The game is afoot for very, very big stakes.

    Current score: 0
    • Kanta says:

      Plan B could be a giant TenchiMuyo-style wedding that results in Mackenzie being queen-consort of basically everywhere.

      Current score: 2
  3. Erm says:

    “Her librum, I think,” Lee said. “I would imagine that’s what it was. It was very impressive-looking.”

    So she threw the book at him literally.

    Current score: 7
  4. 'Nym-o-maniac says:

    I just realized that her Librum has a dragonhide cover…

    Current score: 6
  5. Moridain says:

    “Of course you avert your eyes from a display of her pure spirit, after spending all day lustfully ogling her corrupt flesh.”

    Um, someone didn’t get the memo about ‘permanently pure and clean’ huh?

    Current score: 8
    • Jechtael says:

      It’s a divine edict from someone she doesn’t consider properly divine.

      Current score: 3
      • Kalamorda says:

        And she believes all women to be corrupt.

        Current score: 3