I managed to get to Erin’s office before I threw up. Actually, I got to the curb and bruised my knees, but I got out of the car in time. I did it again once we got into her crowded office, but this time I made it to the bathroom. Ten minutes later, I managed to yank on the brass handle that sent liters of murky water through the porcelain bowl. Wiping my mouth off and making a face, I staggered out of her private bathroom and into Erin’s office.
There is something about that loud-mouthed, smelly woman that is in complete contrast to her office. Where she would happily wipe her greasy hands on her shirt or drop her pants just to get me a belt to repair her precious van, her office was immaculate. Piles of papers, thousands upon thousands, were neatly stacked along the walls. She lined up the corners so sharply they could slice open your hand if you even considered touching them. Behind the papers, bookshelves lined every meter of the walls. Neat sets of thousands of legal guides, probably ever law and ruling every brought in this city, actually gave the hint she was a lawyer.
But then again, Erin’s idea of justice is punching out the judge while dragging me out of a court room. That was a lie, by the way, she was in court at least once in my life. She broke down the door while her thugs fired six times into the room with their crossbows. I was just a minor criminal at the time, caught for overcharging one of the senator’s new air ship and sending him firing out over the river. I was laughing so hard from their screams that the guards caught up with me. Stupid mistake, I know, but worth it.
If you can’t guess, I’ve had my troubles with the law. Nothing like murder, but I’ve heard the words “criminal mischief” more times that I really wanted to count. Plus, in a world ruled by mages, the engineers are still… on the edge of legality. In magic, when someone uses your artifact to harm someone, you are directly responsible because that artifact is still “part” of you. I don’t really understand the details, but you control the power in that device, even from a distance. For me, if someone takes my riding vehicle and goes racing through town, they still think I’m responsible since I would be if it was one of those magic cars banned in the city. Actually, my first arrest was for “allowing free use of an artifact along city roadways.”
Reminder to self, sling-shooting yourself through town on a board with casters is a) stupid, b) painful when you hit the cobblestones, and c) arrest-worthy when you go careening into a street guard.
I sat down on the leather chair Erin used for guests. It creaked from my weight and I watched a few curls of paper creep across her desk. Erin looked unhappy for a moment, then swept the dust from her desk.
“You really screwed up, Oile.”
I nodded bashfully, I didn’t really know what else to say.
“Sorry doesn’t cut it. Murder is a pretty serious thing, you know.”
She grabbed a peach from her desk and started to eat it.
“Better lay low for a few months, or better yet, get out of town.”
My eyes shot up and she smirked, “I know, terrified of leaving town. Can you at least stay in that sewer cave of yours for a few months? Only come up for air? And maybe ale?”
The idea of crawling back home was very appealing. I think I could duck down there for a few months. The nice part about this town is that you can disappear in it very quickly. Even faster if you have friends in the right place.
I looked up at Erin with my question. She stared at me for a long time before answering.
“Yes, I can get Chini to come. She’s doing another job for me, but you’ll have a new face by winter.”
Forgot to mention that part too, having mages able to change your face and body makes it really easy to hide in large cities. Takes a few months for that magic to “settle” and it always leaves a mark of being shaped, but better than prison. It is also why none of us really worried about my freedom. Everyone knew, criminals and guards alike, it would be a matter of days before I disappeared.
“Thank you, Erin. If there is anything I can do-”
“Yeah, yeah, just call you. All I really care about is you fix my damn car. I love that thing.”
It was also the reason I had the life I did. Who knew fumbling with that old GWF fifteen years ago for a few measly coins would somehow lead to me sitting in front of the so-called Lawyer of Smoketown.
Erin, the smelly but very powerful, woman, waved with her hand and finished up her peach. A neat flip of her wrist and the pit flew threw the air, barely missing a stack of papers and rang out loudly from the bottom of a garbage can.
“Go on, Oile, fix my car and dive underground. I’ll call you when I need you.”
I stood up and bowed slightly, like the old warriors of the coast. Erin didn’t really pay attention. Spinning on my heels, I quickly headed out already planning on my repairs for her vehicle.
I almost made it to the door when she called out to me. It was a soft, but very dangerous voice. I considered my options, standing in that door. Turn around or keep on walking. If I walked, there would be no more help from my lawyer and I would be very alone in this dark world.
Didn’t really have a choice, did I?
Turning around, I took in her look. She looked thoughtful as she tapped on her impeccable desk blotter.
“I might have something…”
Hesitantly, I pushed myself from the door frame and walked across the office. Before I saw down, she pulled out a beautifully tooled satchel from next to her desk. I took it in my heads, surprised at the weight. Someone carved (is that what they do to leather?) horses and roses in the front, but all I could smell was old oil, grease, and leather. It was the bag of an engineer.
“Go on,” she said carefully.
I flipped the latch and opened it up. Papers slid out into my hand and I fanned through them. Blueprints, very dense blueprints where I normally worked with sketches of half-formed ideas. But these, these were professionally made. I turned one of them around, looking for the engineer’s mark but it was blank. No signature, no sigil. Very strange in a world where every design is a badge and every blueprint is proof of talent. Instead, just an empty space like someone forgot to mark their amazing work.
“Can you do it?”
I looked up at Erin and saw interest burning in her eyes. My eyes dropped back down to the papers. I flipped slowly through them, staring at the dense blue lines across the white paper. The impeccable writing, worthy of the best class I’ve never been do, and the amazing detailed diagrams. And sub-diagrams. And details. It was almost art, no, it was art. Like holding a Dlaci or Mresu in your hands.
But, then I had to focus more. It looked complicated, but very broken down. Individual screws and angles. Everything documented from the length of wires and the number of coils around a screw. It was the work of someone very precise and very exact. I could follow it, if it was important.
I looked up at Erin and decided, yes, it was very important. I nodded, only half confidently.
“Good, how long?”
I tried to guess, taking in the five or six centimeters of folded papers.
“Coup… couple of months maybe? Depending on supplies, of course.”
“I’ll make sure you’re provided for.”
I looked up at the hard voice. Erin stared back at me, her jaw growing tight as she regarded me.
“Call it the price for your new face.”
That little voice was beginning to speak up.