Welcome to Flavortown - Lavinia of the Tenth
Lavinia of the Tenth | Illustrated by Will Murai | Cover Art Design by Luminarch
Lavinia, Ace Attorney
Prisoners in Ravnica were the first to know when it would rain. There was a rumor that the condensation would fester in the cracks of the street's tiling. Moss that caught droplets of water would begin to shift and startle to life as a preamble to rainfall. Beneath them were the dizzying rows of jail cells, hidden under a few dozen feet of concrete and stone. It was the people incarcerated within that felt the rain. That growing sense of dampness that worked its way up one's spine. At this time of year, it felt like you were drowning in these cells. When Arrester Lavinia arrived to visit these tunnels, she found this rumor to be quite accurate.
The man sat across from her, the two separated by a thin translucent barrier of magical energy. Its corners hummed with symbols of the Senate. Lavinia thumbed through a binder of forms and paperwork with a frenzy that reminded him of the Izzet's goblin magehands. She thought there must be something here that would absolve the man, some file that got mismanaged somewhere down the line. Or perhaps there was a miscalculation by the verity sorcerers. Anything to find a flaw in the accusations leveled against him.
"Vi-Vi, they didn't make a mistake. It was intentional." said Vennick. His normally neatly combed brunette hair now lurked near his shoulders. A thin layer of dirt and grease coated his face. The prisons had taken their toll on him. "I'm the fall guy for this. Your people want someone to declare guilty, and I got unlucky."
"No. No, I won't believe that." Lavinia eyes darted up from her papers. "We're going to get you out of here. You didn't kill him, I know that."
"Does it matter if I killed him or not? Those arbiters are hungry for a verdict. I'm food to feed to those sharks." He rested his head against the magical barrier, its energy crackling at the touch. "I'm chum."
She looked back at the files she had been given by the judges. Senator Nhillosh was found dead just one week ago. His body was found riddled with stab wounds and scorch marks in his home, a horrid sight for the detectives who discovered it. In the investigation they had chosen to investigate some of the folks close to Nhillosh. Which led them here.
"It says here that they found something in your home." Lavinia said. "Why were they investigating you?"
Vennick sighed. "Nhillosh was helping some of us guildless keep our apartments. The Obzedat was gonna evict us. He was defending us pro bono." He stared at Lavinia, tears festering in the corner of his eyes. "When they visited, there was a bloody sword in my apartment, which the detectives learned matched the divination magic they placed on the body."
"They found the murder weapon in your apartment?"
"And you wonder why they assumed it was me."
"It wasn't you, though." Lavinia placed her hand on the barrier, its electric hum tingling against her skin. She was inches away from him. She wanted nothing more than to rip through the barrier and run away with him now. But they couldn't. Not with the laws of the guildpact in place. "I know it wasn't you."
"Course' it wasn't. I'm being framed. But they don't bloody care about that, do they? I'm going to court without a damn lawyer."
Lavinia had known Vennick for years. Even back when they were both on the street, fighting for their lives. He knew her from her earliest days. The two stole and fought together just to survive. Two kindred souls bonded by the binds of youth. He knew her before she knew she was a woman. Vennick was the first person who she told about who she was. In fact, he was the first person to call her by the name "Lavinia." It was this man who had effectively named her. So many firsts with him. If Vennick was lost to whoever was framing him, she would never get to share any more firsts with him.
"No, Vennick. You're not going to go to court without a lawyer. Because I'm going defend you and save you."
"You're lying. Vi-vi, you know this case is dead in the water. You can't risk your reputation over me." Vennick knew the gravity of her declartion. The guildmaster incumbent defending an accused murderer was an absolutely insane idea that he would not entertain.
Silently, she produced a small stone from her packet that bore the Azorius symbol on it. A verity stone, capable of compelling members of the Senate to tell the truth. It couldn't be used to absolve Vennick, but she could use it here. She clutched the stone in her hands and felt the law magic pulse through her. A simple affirmation to tell the truth was all it took to activate.
"I am going to save you, Vennick. I know that I will."
The courtroom was abuzz with energy, some of it literal electric energy. Lavinia hadn't realized how beloved Nhillosh was until she saw the vast amount of people that had arrived to view the trial. Izzet Chronomages, Gruul Rubblesmashers, Rakdos Painseers, all of them had been represented by and defended by the deceased vedalken. Now they all stared at Vennick with hatred.
Perhaps this was going to be a more difficult case then she thought.
Judge-Arbiter Leonos presided over this trial. An ethereal spirit draped in ghostly robes, the judge was a powerful member of Ravnican society. His eyes burned into Lavinia's head, and she feared he may erupt from his chair and banish her into aether right there. An owner of many towering buildings that oversaw the city, Leonos delivered swift and merciless verdicts in both business and law.
Yes, this was certainly going to be a more difficult case than she thought.
With a surge of arcane energy, an astral projection of a soldier appeared in the center of the room.
"I call to attention the Tenth District Court of Order. Once an affirmation of guilt or innocence is made, the guildpact will take effect. Now let us proceed. Will the court stand for Judge Leonos?" spoke the spirit. The court obliged, saluting the elderly ghost. However, Vennick sat still, as if any motion would trigger a calamitous downfall. The dark aura of Leonos had him rooted to the spot. Lavinia dismissed this as normal court jitters as they sat.
"Vi-Vi, that's my landlord." whispered Vennick. "Why the hell is he here?"
"He's got his hands in a lot of things. I'm sure he's the landlord of half of the people here."
He wrung his hands as the prosecuting attorney prepared to give their opening statement. "No. No it's not right. The man hates me. Especially for working with Nhillosh. There's gotta be something we can cite, something we can do to get someone else."
Lavinia skimmed the trial notes, motes of law magic fluttering around her. Droves of fine print flew past, any sort of explanation evading her. However, she found one bit of note that felt helpful. Upon the charges being filed against Vennick, Leonos personally requested to oversee the trial, something quite out of character even in a case as widely known as this one.
The judge launched into a long, wandering speech on the procedure of the trial. What caught the defense's eye was a sudden change in the structure. Due to the case's gravity, both the plaintiff and prosecution would be allowed to call exactly one witness each. This was supposedly to expedite a trial that had a great deal of media attention around it. Neither of them bought this excuse, however. Whatever Leonos was doing was in service of getting Vennick in shackles as quickly as possible. Certain Azorius judges would call for expedition when they dealt in particularly unscrupulous means.
"They'll have me in the dungeons by tonight." Vennick stared blankly at the floor, his gaze growing distant and disconnected. "Vi-Vi, I'm scared." Lavinia gripped his hand tightly. Certain judges were adept at worming that psychological torment into the minds of the accused. If Leonos broke both their spirits, the case would be lost. Thus, she'd have to hold on for both of them.
The prosecuting attorney, a slender elven man, approached the center of the courtroom with an air of confidence. The man held a large writing quill whose tip glowed with runic mana. He was known for being quite the ruthless debater. Lavinia was familiar with him: he was at the center of a complex web of allies and connections, and trials with this attorney often had key witnesses that could debilitate entire cases in one fell swoop.
"The prosecution would like to call a witness to speak to the character of the defendant," he said, writing a name in the space in front of him. Lavinia tried to think of who it could be. The magic of the guildpact would be able to conjure almost anyone on Ravnica. Perhaps an old lover of Vannick or former employer. She wasn't worried, though. Anyone who truly knew Vannick would have only good things to say about him. After all, he was an honest man, and the court would support an honest man.
There was a bright flash of light as the arrester felt a force rip her body from the spot. She found herself sitting on the witness stand. Once the magic cleared and her mind was grounded she glanced up at the prosecutor. He leaned down to match her eyes.
"The prosecution calls Arrester Lavinia, former co-conspirator of the defendant, to the stand."
The man paced in the space in front of her, eyeing Lavinia. She shuffled in her seat, still finding that sense of grounding from the sudden transportation. Various arcane seals already began to creep over her. The magic of the guildpact was sealing itself around her. Though it was ineffective on constructs and geists like Leonos, it would be able to detect any lies in a mortal's speech.
"Miss Lavinia, can you explain your connection with the defendant to the court?" he asked. Lavinia searched for the right words. She did not plan to lie to the court, but pure admission could cause some issues.
"We are friends. Friends since our youth. The two of us grew up near Anasis Plaza." she said. "That's not a crime, is it?"
The prosecutor chuckled to himself. "No, no it isn't. Not yet at least." Turning to the court, he continued. "But what are crimes are petty theft and trespassing. Two things you and Mr. Vannick have quite a history with. Could you explain?"
No. That shouldn't be public knowledge. Lavinia had exonerated herself from those charges years ago. They were desperate actions the two took to stay alive. Stealing from greedy merchants just to get enough food to live off of. They'd done their service, it shouldn't be accessible to the courts. She turned to Judge Leonos for some sort of explanation. All she saw was a sick and vile grin across his ghastly face. Of course.
"Miss Lavinia," the judge croaked, "This is certainly a shock to me." Even here his words seemed to be dappled with sarcasm. "My my, if you continue to defend this man, that would look quite poorly on the record of an arrester such as yourself. That could even lead to your decommissioning."
Lavinia raised her chin. "Vannick and I did things in the past we aren't proud of. But both of us have worked to change that. Myself in the Senate, himself alongside the guildless."
"What I'm hearing, Arrester, is an admittance to a history of crime. One so pertinent to your station that I would suggest following the judge's words." The prosecutor leaned in close and spoke so the rest of the court would not hear. "You stay on the case or you stay in the Senate. Your choice."
There were no further questions.
There was a short recess where the members of the court convened outside. Vannick and Lavinia shot theories back and forth. Obviously it was a sham trial, no doubt about that. Even more obvious was that Leonos had something to do with it. Where the issue remained was in how to handle these revelations. Leonos's status as a ghost prevented them from invoking the court's verity magic on him. The only truth-compelling magic would have to be from magical constructs, which were banned in the courts. As they bickered, Lavinia caught sight of the judge exiting the room to speak with some people in the hallways. Promising to return, she approached the spirit with a confident strut.
"Judge Leonos. Thank you for your insightful words there."
The spirit rolled his eyes at her. "We're outside the court Miss Lavinia. You can stop pretending things are pleasant." Waving away his allies, he scowled at the arrester. "Drop this case. Let this guildless rat rot in the cellars."
"Oh, well, I hate to tell you this, but I wanted to approach you just to tell you I won't be doing that." Lavinia carefully patted the side of the ghost's robes. The coat was corporeal. Good. "You see, Vannick is my friend. And when people hurt my friends, I get quite mad. Follow me?"
"I'll see you in the court, Miss Lavinia."
"Certainly, most honorable Judge Leonos." She gave a performative bow complete with a twirling of the hands and departed. As Vannick stood confused, she waved him off. The case was won. What came next was merely her victory lap.
Back in the courtroom, Lavinia mimicked the prosecution's peacock-esque strutting. She spoke vague platitudes about the value of justice and order within a courtroom. About how we must expect the truth from any of our representatives. As she spoke, the judge grew bored.
"Call your witness or forsake your right to one, Lavinia."
She smiled. "Certainly. Judge, would you take the stand?"
A great murmur filled the courtroom. Journalists of the New Prahv Gazette fired off cameras to try and capture the shock on everyone's faces. Confused, the judge arose from his throne with a ghastly float and seated himself in the witness box. Shaking his head, he spoke. "At this rate I doubt you'll be an arrester by the end of today."
"Judge, I'll ask you a few questions about the law, just to set a baseline. Do you believe in the value of truth in a court of law?"
"I do," spoke the judge. "And I encourage you to find anyone here who would disagree."
"Of course. Do you plan to tell the truth in this examination, despite the inability of the court's magic to compel such?"
"Why wouldn't I?"
Lavinia cleared her throat. "We just want to make sure. Now for the record, do you promise to tell the truth in this examination?"
"I am a judge of the Azorius Senate, a decorated veteran of the Battle of Ravnica, and a patron of the people. I order you not to question my veracity."
Lavinia darkened her eyes, pointing a finger at the spirit. "Will you speak the truth then?"
There was a flash of light. Subtle enough that it blended in with the clicking of cameras. But it was that flash of light that sealed the judge's fate.
"Then how did you kill Nhillosh?"
"Very carefully." The judge's mouth seemed to be compelled to move on its own. Spirits of long-dead justices reached out to grab his form, coaxing the words from his throat and into the courtroom. "I apprated into his home, stabbed him with my ceremonial sword, and left. I then planted the sword in Vannick's apartment."
The court began to panic. Chaos sprung from the people, spilling out into the benches. Leonos looked furious with Lavinia. "What did you do?" he shouted.
"And why did you frame my client?"
"He's a no good rent-dodger! He and Nhillosh were going to cut off one of my most profitable revenue streams. I figured I'd kill two birds with one stone." He attempted to cover his mouth with his hands, though his incorporeal form meant there was no buffer for his admissions of guilt.
"So you admit to the crime?"
Leonos looked weary, his spiritual form wavering in the space. "I do."
At that moment, Lavinia flicked her wrist. Flying from the judge's coat pocket was a single verity stone. One placed in his pocket during their discussion and activated by his admittance of guilt. It was illegal, yes, as such devices were banned in a court. But it made no difference to the guildpact.
"You'll never claim me. You think the guildpact can seize such a power judge as I?" Leonos rose above her, floating in the rafters of the court. "You dare cite laws that I wrote? You're a fool!"
"Under the laws of the guildpact, I bind your spirit to this place and sentence you to repent!" His confession had triggered the guildpact's magic. A normal mage wouldn't be able to handle this, but Lavinia had some special training. Thanks for the lesson, Jace, she thought to herself. Lavinia knew the traces of the leylines. Now, she ordered them to seize the former judge.
Strands of glowing light wrapped themselves around Leonos's form, tearing his soul away from the people. His form sunk into the walls of the courtroom, which hummed with the consumption of another guilty spirit. The guildpact let out a triumphant roar which echoed across the Tenth District and rippled through the minds of its people. Lavinia held a new power over the city, and she wouldn't let greedy spirits tear apart the people.
She turned to face Vannick as her eyes glowed blue and white. "Told you I was telling the truth."