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   Chapter 3 The Ravenwood Arms

The Ravenwood Arms By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 13064

Updated: 2018-03-14 10:22

Chapter 3

When I woke up the angle of the sun had changed. The sun fell in thick bands through the open curtains looking almost solid and for a moment, I imagined it was summertime and that outside it was warm as well as light. I knew however that bright cloudless days usually meant that the temperature outside would be downright frigid. I felt better for my sleep, but knew that with little effort, I could sink back into slumber.

"And then tomorrow would be hell when I had to get up on time, " I reminded myself knowing I needed to get back into routine. We had a large order going out this week. While I knew the basic furniture the boutique hotel wanted would be ready, the bulk of it being knocked out before I left, I still had to finish the unique, stand-out piece they wanted for their lobby. The drawings had been approved, materials ordered and work begun. In fact the only reason I felt comfortable leaving for the Commission's job was because several of the pieces that comprised the lobby's showstopper needed to sit in clamps while the glue dried completely before I continued the assembly and finishing process.

"Everything should be ready to continue tomorrow morning, " I told myself. I stretched and forced myself to leave the bed. A shower and clean clothes made me feel better about being awake. I headed into the living room and found Sean seated on the couch reading through the new list of regulations Bradford chucked at my head. My suitcase had been wheeled out of the way and Winston was chewing on a large rawhide bone.

"I thought he finished the bone, " I said pausing to rub Winston's head before taking a seat in the living room. Winston snorted at me and then went back to his toy.

"He did, I picked up another one when I ran out, " Sean said, frowning at the regulations without looking up.

"Thanks, " I replied. "Something have you concerned?" I gestured to the regulations booklet.

"You know I never really read these, " he told me. "I mean they were always around since you've been taking jobs since we were kids and I always thought it was cool that you could make shields to keep the monsters out, especially after seeing them first hand."

Sean absently ran a hand over the small scars on his left arm. With time they faded and merely looked like light lines drawn over his skin rather than the claw marks left behind by some shadow creature craving the taste of his blood. I knew he sometimes still had nightmares about the attack; not as many as he once did, but still they occurred. Sometimes I still had nightmares too. It wasn't something we discussed.

"And I always thought that getting people to agree with you was a nifty trick, " I countered, pretending I didn't notice his sub-conscious attention to the scar.

"It did make my time as a trial lawyer quite profitable, but also quite boring, " He said with a weak smile as he looked up from the booklet. Sean finished top of his class in law school and sailed through his bar exams. His one magical talent meant that when he argued in court, everyone agreed with him, including the opposition, jury and judge. Essentially, he was a lawyer who couldn't lose. It didn't take long for people to start to notice. He was paid quite well by those who hired him until his brief career as a star attorney was brought to a close.

The Commission pointed out that he was gaining too much notoriety and people were beginning to question his uncanny ability to win cases. Unfortunately, Sean's gift only worked on those without magical ability of their own and Sean was unable to convince them to let him continue. He switched to contract work instead and when our grandfather became sick, began putting in more time with me at the shop, eventually the two of us running it together. While Sean still maintained an office in the one story building next to the shop and occasionally worked on legal matters not related to the business, the bulk of his work was for Appleton Furniture. He claimed not to miss it, but I often wondered.

"These regulations are quite strict, " he told me.

"I know, " I said nodding.

"Somewhat unnecessarily strict if you want my opinion. I mean, once the shield is put up and all of the other bits are put on top of it, you can't even tell it's there. Yet the commission limits who can actually have a shield put on their domicile in the first place."

"Yeah, " I said with a sigh. It was often a bone of contention, but I had long since given up arguing with James over the restrictions. He hadn't listened to my arguments of policy any more than his predecessor, Jeffrey. I pointed out that the restrictions left too many without even the possibility of shields even beyond the actual cost of paying the person installing them. In addition, since they couldn't be seen once they were installed, what did it matter who owned the property? His answers were always the same; this is the way things are, the Commission has its reasons, there is plenty of room for you to work within the confines of the law, and my personal favorite, the restrictions place no undue burden on you so let it be.

"I think it's so they can control the pay scale, " I told him. "And so they can get people to move to the suburbs." The restrictions always seemed heavier for those who lived in the city, at least to me anyway.

"They control the pay scale?" he asked with a frown.

"Yup, each person capable of creating shields is tested when the Commission gets a hold of them. Essentially for our test, we had to create a shield for a room and then they had people come in to test it until the shield broke. How long it takes to break and what force it takes to break it, determine your shielding level. The Commission then assigns you a category and tells you what that category's pay scale is. I'm in the twenty dollars per square foot range."

"Oh, " Sean said. He looked back at the regulations. "You do realize that according to this, the only reason our apartment has a shield is because you live here?"

I sighed and brought the specific regulations to mind. "Article two, paragraph six, section twelve point four, " I began, and then remembered the regulations had just been updated. "Unless they've changed it with this new set, of course. The building in question must be the sole property of a member of the magical community, in good standing, in order to be eligible for shield placement. If the building in question is a multi-unit dwelling, each unit

must be occupied by members of the magical community or be the sole property of the individual creating, not purchasing, the shielding." I nodded as part of the punctuation. "There are other sections that deal with the sale of said properties as well as non-residential properties, but I didn't memorize them."

"I'm impressed, " he told me.

"The rules don't really change much. At least that one doesn't anyway, regardless of Bradford's thoughts on the matter."

"Is that why you are an imperialist's dupe?" Sean asked letting a smile slip onto his face.

"Yup, " I replied. "Apparently Bradford has a friend from a good family who wants his current apartment shielded despite not owning it or having any of the other requirements."

"And Bradford thought yelling at James would change that?" Sean chuckled and shook his head.

"He probably thought he could get James to bend the rules just for him."

"Of course he did."

"He also didn't want to pay for the shields."

"Sadly, that doesn't actually surprise me." Sean replied shaking his head. He glanced back down at the regulations booklet and then back up at me. "You do realize that we live in a multi-unit property, not owned by a member of the magical community and that very few, if any of our neighbors are members of the magical community either?"

"I realize that, " I said. There was a note in Sean's voice I couldn't quite identify. "There is also a section that removes a lot of the restrictions for anyone who can actually create shields. I can shield away to my heart's content if I or one of my family members lives here, regardless of who owns the building or whether or not they are considered to be in good standing. Admittedly, I think they put that part in because they knew they couldn't prevent us from shielding the places we lived in regardless of who actually owned them."

"Sooner or later we are both going to have to actually look at getting places of our own, either with or without Gracie's foreclosure auction. We're already older than most of the people in this building. When Mark spilled his charcoal, he apologized to me, called me Sir and promised to clean it up right away. I think he was worried I'd be the cranky older man reporting him to the super."

I smiled, even though I could see Sean was serious. As Mark and his friends routinely referred to me as either Ma'am or Miss Alice, I understood his pain. While there were many apartment buildings throughout the city where residents lived their entire adult lives, ours wasn't one of them. It tended to attract people in their twenties who only stayed a few years at best. Sean and I moved in when we were both still in university and because it suited us, never really left, watching the apartments around us frequently change occupants. "Then when we get our own places, I will make certain you have the best shielding I can provide."

Sean waved the invoice sheet I stuck in the back of the regulations booklet. "And you think I can afford this on top of buying a house?"

"Are you planning to buy an enormous mansion complete with pool, pool house, boat house, manmade lake, two tennis courts, a guest house, a two story dog house and practically miles of winding picturesque pathways connecting them all?" I countered.

"Well no, " he said with a frown. "Wait, a two story dog house?"

"Of course Swizzle Stick, the Labradoodle, deserves only the best, " I replied loftily.

"Now I feel bad for only getting Winston the rawhide." We both looked over to the busily chomping Winston. Sensing our attention, he lifted his head up and looked around. He wagged his stump of a tail when he saw us looking at him, but seeing no edibles in evidence, he quickly dismissed us and returned to destroying his bone.

"Look, " I told Sean returning to our conversation. "When the time comes and we both get off our butts and actually look for places to permanently live, I'll get the estimate for whatever house you buy. You'll owe the Commission their fifteen percent. I'll waive my fee." Sean frowned at me. I sighed dramatically. "If you prefer we could get a giant jar and every so often you can toss a nickel into the jar until you've paid off the rest of the shielding cost. Does that make you feel better?"

"Marginally, " he replied, the worry easing back from his eyes. "But what about all of the people who can't just pay you on the jarred nickel scale?"

"I don't know, " I replied. "I tried arguing with James about it, but he insisted the Commission knew what it was doing." I snorted remembering the discussion. It had been less of a discussion than I wanted. Fired up with a sense of justice, my much younger self wanted an argument where I could fight for what was right or at least have my points of contention validated. Instead, I more or less got an indulgent smile, a pat on the head and a 'don't worry your pretty little head about it' attitude. After countless repetitions of the same with little to no variation in the scene, I gave up trying. I thought of Bradford and my frown deepened. Was he right about me being an imperialist's dupe after all?

"He wanted his friends to have shields without paying for them, " I reminded myself. "So maybe not completely right, but maybe not completely wrong." While I thought I deserved some compensation for the work I did, Bradford's comment about providing shields to people who really needed them stung. While I loved dogs, I knew there were a host of people more deserving of a proper shield then Swizzle Stick. I sighed, hating for a moment that I was considering siding with Bradford about anything. The thought just seemed… wrong.

"Enough of this, " Sean declared, setting the regulations aside. "No more doom and gloom for tonight. What do you say to ordering pizza? We could veg out with grade B monster movies, pizza and beer and do nothing productive until morning."

"That sounds like a plan, " I replied, willing to shake off any potential mental alliances with Bradford. While Sean called in our order, I took my suitcase and the regulations booklet to my room. I filed the invoice in the folder with the rest and made a determined effort to put all thoughts of shields out of my mind until a later, but unspecified, date. I emptied my clothes from the suitcase and into the hamper and pushed all thoughts of Bradford into a deep, dark, mental hole before rejoining Sean in the living room for a nice quiet, mentally uncomplicated evening.

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