The strike squad remained tense and cautious as they escorted her through the exit, constantly checking and rechecking the tunnel behind her until she was through the gate and they were able to seal up the exit. Only once they were sure that the way behind them was well and truly impassable did they start to relax.
Maggie, on the other hand, was just pissed. “What the hell is going on?”
A particularly tall commando with an upward tilt on his ears looked at her with just a touch of awe. “You killed one.”
“I killed one what?” Maggie demanded. “And why did you send me to work on that when you knew those things were in there?”
“I didn’t send you in, ma’am,” he said. “As soon as we heard you were in there, I got my team geared up. I’m just glad we made it in time. How did you kill it?”
Maggie raised her knife, folding out the blade with her thumb. “With this.”
Another of the commandos noticed her knife. “Is that Wayland steel?”
She shook her head. “Cartwright steel.” He didn’t seem to understand, so she pointed a thumb at herself. “Maggie Cartwright. I made it myself.”
“That’d do it,” the leader said. Sticking out his hand, he said, “Darius. Head of containment.”
“Containment?” Maggie asked, not accepting his offered grip. “What are you containing?”
When she didn’t shake, he took his hand back and rubbed his neck, sheepishly. “It’s a new role. We’re still, uh, figuring that out.”
“So those- things, they broke the carrier engine and you’ve had to shut off this whole section of the subway because of them?” Maggie asked.
“That about sums it up, yes.” He pursed his lips. “Nobody was supposed to be down here without an escort. Why were you down here, anyways?”
Maggie’s eyes narrowed. “That’s a damned good question.”
Typically, Maggie didn’t mind doing negotiations and planning over the phone. Sometimes, though, an in-person conversation just couldn’t be beat. For example, you couldn’t kick a door in over the phone.
Navigating through Kansas City Below was a bit of a maze to anyone who wasn’t native to them, with a design similar to many subway systems across the world, save for the fact that there were no simple, well-illustrated maps and signposts. Maggie chose to live above ground, but she knew the way around well enough to navigate, even if she couldn’t tell anyone the fastest shortcuts.
The tribunal offices were reasonably close, anyways. A twenty-minute walk if she took a main thoroughfare, pushing past other fae who might slow her down.
The walk gave her time to build up a furious head of steam.
The tribunal offices were carved out of stone in a wide circle, an aesthetic call to when they’d held council around a fighting ring. Trial by combat was out of practice these days, but much of the iconography still remained of their old ways, even if the hardwood moulding and design had more aesthetic similarities to expensive human offices than classic elf architecture.
Maggie stormed in through the front door of the tribunal building, feeling like she wanted to bring the old ways back just long enough to kick someone’s ass.
Noticing her, a secretary got to his feet, but she just stomped past. He sat back down and started quickly dialing a number; stopping her wasn’t his job.
That’s right, call security, she thought. By the time they get here, I’ll be done anyways.
There was one tribunal judge she was after in particular, and she made a beeline for his office. It was easy to spot, because the door was emblazoned with a brass hammer – a brass hammer that Maggie was preparing to kick in as she finished concocting in her head what she was going to say. She was undecided on just how many epithets to use, but there were a few particularly colorful ones she already had ready to go, and she was going to season the rest of her rant to taste.
She got to the door, leaned back to sink her weight into a kick, and—
“Maggie!” the willowy bureaucrat said, greeting her with a look of concern on his face. “By the earth, I’m so glad you’re okay. I was so worried when I heard what had happened!”
Mich wasn’t a warrior, but he could do social judo with the best of them. His preemptive response deflated Maggie’s rant before she could even get started, though she tried anyways. “You- What the hell was that?”
“Come in, have a seat,” he said, stepping back so she could get through the door. His office was particularly garish, with a convincing illusion of a window overlooking Paris projected onto his back wall and a dry bar set to the side, set up with clear bottles full of expensive amber liquids. “Please, let me explain. I thought the monsters were all contained—I mean, we have a containment unit for cripes’ sake, I had no idea they were having such difficulty! If I’d been aware that there was still such a danger, I naturally never would have asked you to come down and work for us.”
He seemed genuine. Even though Maggie suspected that he was probably bullshitting, she felt a twinge of guilt at the idea of calling him out on it. While she tried to decide what to say, now that her rant had deflated, Mich looked past her and gave the tiniest shake of his head.
Maggie looked back, noticing the two burly security guards who’d walked in. Upon the signal from Mich, they nodded in reply, turning to step out of the office once again.
“It’s just been a, frankly, hellish couple of days,” Mich continued, shutting the door behind her and walking back to his desk. “The tribunal’s been working overtime – I’ve barely seen the inside of my home except to go back and shower. We wanted to get this dealt with as fast as possible, and it seems that in all the shuffle, a miscommunication happened. I thought the problem was contained, and wanted to get the subway up and running ASAP, so… I guess what I mean to say is, I’m sorry for not confirming with my colleagues before hiring you.”
Maggie sat down opposite from him, idly reading the engraved nameplate. ‘Tribunal Justice Michal Smith.’ The surname wasn’t one he’d gotten from his parents; it was another anachronism, more akin to a title that denoted his role on the tribunal as the Justice of Assembly. He didn’t do any smithing, and he really didn’t do any judgement either; he was largely in charge of zoning law, permits, and construction. As was often the case with fae, though, the old titles long outlived the point where they had any meaning.
“I could have been killed,” Maggie said, though the words weren’t as angry as she had intended. “I nearly was.”
“And it’s a blessing that you weren’t,” Mich replied. “You have no idea how relieved I was when we got word that you’d been escorted out safely.”
“My truck and gear were all down there.”
Mich nodded, marking down something on his notepad. “If it’s still down there once the creatures have been dealt with, I’ll make sure it gets returned to you.”
That almost sounded reasonable, and his tone was so placating that it took Maggie a second to realize that it wasn’t. For one, he was the one at fault. For two, her truck was already a wreck, and those creatures seemed to delight in tearing apart metal to nest inside – her truck was probably already scrap by now.
“Now, wait a minute,” Maggie started, sitting forward. “This is your fault, and I need that gear to work. You need to reimburse me.”
Mich pursed his lips. “I mean… I can put in a request with the Justice of Finance, but we’re in a budget crisis, and I can’t promise she’ll bend. Maybe, once the creatures are dealt with, but…” He sucked in a breath through his teeth, shaking his head. “It’s just a tough situation.”
Ah, anger. That’s where you went. Maggie leaned forward, jabbing a finger at him. “Now, you listen here—”
“I’m doing everything I can,” he said, leaning back quickly and putting up his hands. “I want you to be treated fairly, Mags, but—”
“Don’t call me Mags.”
“Maggie, then, I want you to be treated fairly, but I’m just one justice of nineteen, and the others aren’t going to go for this unless you give me something to work with.”
He was good with words, but Maggie caught it when they reached the actual point he was driving towards. This whole thing was a setup. He wanted something that only she had, and everything—from asking her to fix the engine, to conveniently ‘misunderstanding’ what the containment squad was doing—was all done to get her over a barrel while remaining just blameless enough that she couldn’t pin it on him in any way that would matter.
Maggie had a sneaking suspicion she knew what it was he wanted.
“What sort of ‘something’ were you thinking?” she asked.
He shrugged. “We need to deal with these errekin creatures before we do anything else. I’d hoped our containment team would be able to deal with them, but it looks like that just isn’t the case – we don’t have the sort of tools we need to—”
“You want my swords,” Maggie cut him off. “Stop bullshitting.”
He chuckled. “Well, you suggested it. That would be a solution, though, if—”
“I’m not giving you one of my swords,” Maggie said.
Mich nodded, reasonably. “I never suggested you should. But if you wanted to lend us a couple, just for a few weeks, they’d be returned to you after the fact.”
That was a lie. The swords would certainly be misplaced, or just appropriated and never returned. At best, she’d be reimbursed for a fraction of their value.
Maggie kept the supply of her hand-forged swords limited for a reason. If she wanted to ramp up production, she could. Maybe not to industrial levels, but certainly to more than one blade a year. She didn’t do that, because they were never meant to be so common that they could be purchased by any two-bit sword fighter who wanted to show off. Her blades were for masters only.
That didn’t stop bureaucrats from trying to get ahold of them, to put them in a storage locker to be passed out like Halloween candy to anyone who asked. Maneuvering to get a few of her blades would be a nice feather in Mich’s cap, politically speaking – he’d be the one responsible for ridding their community of the monsters, putting him above the justice in charge of those matters, and he’d also have scored some tools that he could keep in his back pocket to use as a trump card whenever he pleased.
“You ass,” Maggie said, quietly. “You’d really risk my life to score a couple points in your political game?”
Mich shrugged, the insult bouncing off him. “It was just a suggestion you’d brought up,” he said. “If you wanted to help out, I could ensure you were paid rental for your swords, and reimbursed for the cost of any equipment you lost.”
“Who’s in charge of the containment team?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t see why that’s relevant, seeing as you never engage in politics to begin with, and I can’t even remember the last open court you attended,” Mich said, continuing to suck the air out of the room. “But—”
“Justice of War, or the Justice of Law? I know it’s one of them.”
Hesitating for a second, he said, “The Justice of War, but—”
Maggie shoved back from the desk, her chair scraping on the floor. Getting to her feet, she stormed out of the room, crossing the tribunal’s ring of offices. Mich followed, but not past the end of his office. If he’d pursued, Maggie would have strongly considered slugging him across the face.
She marched straight towards the door that had a pair of crossed swords emblazoned on the front. Spite was fueling her; the very specific desire to make sure that Mich wouldn’t be able to gain any political favor from this crisis.
Opening the door, Maggie ensured that the Justice of War was at her desk and spoke without preamble. “I’ve got a proposal for you. How’d you like for someone to deal with your monster problem and give you all the credit?”
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