Only the Stars

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Only the Stars An Obscure Wanderer
Previous Hermit Abode
Salaryman A icon.png
Man in a Suit (Hamm)
Male Kuranta B icon.png
Village Messenger
Female Kuranta icon.png
Young Bartender
Wilderness Dusk
Kazimierz Village
Kazimierz Bar
Kazimierz Village Night
Kazimierz Lounge
Deszcz the attorney's business trip is heavily delayed by an unexpected vehicle breakdown. She spends the night in a village about to be sold for a rock-bottom price thanks to her own work, and gazes at a starry night sky forgotten by Kawalerielki.
<Background 1>
November 28th, 5:00 P.M.
Southern Kazimierz, on a small road hard to traverse by car...
Cheerful Female Voice Mr. Młynar, please try a bit harder to remember.
We've met before, when you and a representative from the Westland Company were bidding on a Gale Industries engineering contract!
Młynar I told you, I don't remember.
Cheerful Female Voice It would've been three years ago, when the Blood Knight won the Major! They were broadcasting the awards ceremony at the restaurant where they held the banquet after the auction.
Młynar I've never paid any attention to those knight games.
Cheerful Female Voice Then do you remember toasting with every last representative from Gale Industries? You were pretty drunk by the end.
I can remember it like it was yesterday. I never imagined it could be so difficult for the sales department of a large company to make a single deal.
Considering the results, though, I'd say you got a pretty good deal yourself. At the time, a lot of our representatives were quite impressed with you, even though–
Młynar Flattery will get you nowhere.
We just happened to have crossed paths. You don't need to see this as a favor, nor should you expect me to ask for anything in return.
Cheerful Female Voice How can you say that? If I hadn't met you, I'd still be wandering around lost in the wilderness!
Look, I'm not trying to suck up to you - I really just wanted to thank you. After we get back to Kawalerielki, I swear I'll find a way to express my gratitude!
Młynar If you still plan to make it back on time, then you'd best focus on the road and watch your step, Miss–
[The female trips...]
Less-Cheerful Female Voice Sorry, these heels are way too high, and it's hard to keep my balance...
Młynar ...Miss Deszcz.
[ her name is revealed to be Deszcz, a Kuranta lawyer.]
Deszcz You'll have to forgive me for looking so unprofessional... Shoot, where'd my lip gloss go?
At least I had the papers in a binder so they didn't get dirty.
Please, give me a minute to get my stuff back in order.
Młynar ...Let's take a break here.
Deszcz O-Okay!
I really am sorry about all this, Mr. Młynar. I wouldn't have had to bother you like this if my rental car hadn't broken down.
I only just drove it from the rental company to the hotel last night, and the engine was already dead by morning. I'm going to have to sue those guys for renting me a defective car!
By the way, if you ever run into any other little problems like that, I might be able to help you out! It's my area of expertise.
Młynar ...I'm good.
Deszcz Oh right, I still haven't told you about the case I'm working on.
It concerns a little village called Twierdza. It was originally owned by a noble knight named Marek, who mortgaged the land to Gale Industries about seven years ago.
But after that, he turned around and sold it to the villagers living there.
Naturally, they assumed they'd finally have the opportunity to own land, so they bought the farmland for ten years' worth of taxes.
But half a year ago, Mr. Marek passed away to illness, and only then did Gale Industries put the development of Twierdza on the agenda. That's when we discovered that a lot of the titles had gone underwater.
A good chunk of the villagers defaulted on the loans they took out years ago to buy the land, and were suddenly informed that it no longer belonged to them. Isn't that a bit outrageous?
Młynar ...I don't recall asking you about any of this.
Deszcz I just thought you'd be interested in the dark underbelly of a business you're working with.
Młynar I don't need to hear yet another story of a lawyer seeking to right the world's wrongs.
Deszcz Righting the world's wrongs? I certainly wouldn't say that... This is just my job.
By the way, Mr. Młynar, why are you leaving Kawalerielki? Are you also on a business trip?
Młynar Vacation.
Deszcz Oh, lucky you.
I don't even remember the last time I took a vacation. Maybe it was back when the Black Knight won the championship...?
I had money on that tournament, so I thought it'd be a good time to treat myself.
But my earnings didn't actually add up to much.
[Deszcz's phone rings...]
Deszcz S-Sorry, I have to take a call real quick!
[...and she picked it up.]
Deszcz Hello? I'm very sorry, I still haven't arrived at my destination, due to some unforeseen circumstances along the way.
Ah, no, don't worry, there won't be any delays. I swear I'll complete the negotiations by today and report back to the company.
Yes, yes, I'm fully aware that this was an error on my part, and I'm fully responsible for the consequences– Oh, they hung up.
*Sigh*... The director's going to chew me out again when I get back... And I thought getting sent all the way out here was already bad enough.
Młynar You said you were here to handle the suit regarding the acquisition of the village's land?
Deszcz That's right.
Młynar But you mentioned something about "reporting back to the company" over the phone?
Deszcz I think you're misunderstanding something, Mr. Młynar.
I am in charge of the land acquisition suit, but I represent Gale Industries.
<Background 2>
Deszcz Phew, we're finally here!
Młynar ......
Deszcz Are you alright, Mr. Młynar? Should we find somewhere to rest?
Man in a Suit Excuse me, are you Miss Deszcz, the attorney?
Deszcz And you must be the attorney who contacted me earlier, Mr. Hamm.
Sorry for being so late. As you can see, there were some unexpected issues along the way.
Hamm No worries. It's perfectly understandable, considering how far we are from Kawalerielki.
Deszcz So, Mr. Młynar, want to grab a drink after I'm all done with this? I hear the villagers here have a tradition of brewing beer.
Młynar I'll pass.
Deszcz Mm, alright then! In that case, thanks for all the help!
Hamm Miss Deszcz, can we get started right away?
Deszcz Oh, of course! Lead the way.
Hamm Good. Now, follow me please.
(So, lawyers from big companies even take special attendants with them on business trips, huh?)
<Background 1>
Deszcz When I took the case, I thought I'd have to take the time to explain all the legal mumbo-jumbo to the residents, but I never thought they'd hire a lawyer of their own.
Hamm The villagers turned to an NGO called the "Kazimierzian Rural Dispute Mediation Association," which sent me to deal with the situation here in Twierdza.
Deszcz Great, having a professional on their side makes this much easier.
But before we officially get started, Mr. Hamm, I'd like to make sure we're both on the same page.
According to our prior communication, you've already informed the residents about the ownership dispute over Twierdza's land, and everyone has agreed to the demolition of the village.
Hamm Correct. I also reached out to Mr. Marek's sole heir: his son, Mr. Marek Jr.
He is currently serving as a campaign knight and has no interest in reclaiming ownership.
Though the legal dispute has not yet been satisfactorily resolved, our most urgent task is to provide relief to the villagers.
Furthermore, we hope that both parties will be able to privately reach a peaceful resolution, so as to avoid the complicated deliberation process of the National Council.
Deszcz Naturally, time is of the essence. The quicker we can wrap this case up, the better.
Hamm The villagers of Twierdza have authorized me to negotiate with Gale Industries on their behalf, and I promised to secure fair compensation for the demolition of Twierdza and their relocation.
So with that said, let's start by discussing the plan proposed by the villagers.
We hope that Gale Industries will allocate housing to each inhabitant at a ratio of 10:1, according to the area of arable land owned by each household, and compensate the demolition at 80,000 marks per household.
Deszcz May I ask how they arrived at these numbers?
Hamm They were the result of a professional market valuation as well as collective discussion among the residents.
Considering the detriment the relocation will have upon their lives, as well as the strength of Gale Industries' financial position, I believe these numbers are fair to both parties.
Deszcz Mm. Naturally, you have the right to offer your price in a negotiation. If you have nothing more to add, I'd like to present Gale's initial offer.
We will provide housing within the city at a ratio of 3:1, according to the area of each person's residence, as well as 800 marks per household to compensate for the demolition.
Hamm ......
Deszcz Umm, if you couldn't hear me clearly, I can repeat that–
Hamm Miss Deszcz, I don't think this is the time to be cracking jokes.
Deszcz This isn't a joke, Mr. Hamm.
Hamm In that case, I suppose I'll have to start from the top and break down our valuation of Twierdza's land.
Deszcz Let's hear it.
Hamm Let's compare it to the closest neighboring village, Strumykowo.
The lord there made a deal to sell all his arable land to Mieszko, at a final price of 600,000 marks per hectare.
In terms of the quality of the arable land, as well as geographical location, it is very comparable to Twierdza's. As such, that price should certainly serve us as a reference point.
Deszcz Coincidentally, I also happen to be familiar with the sale you just mentioned. But isn't it too early to equate these two situations?
Hamm Please elaborate.
Deszcz First of all, despite the fact that both villages are the same distance from Kawalerielki, there is a road leading straight to Strumykowo, whereas Twierdza is only accessible via a long, rugged mountain trail.
The two villages also differ significantly in terms of traversibility and accessibility. A large portion of the land in Twierdza is occupied by mountainous terrain.
Secondly, the "quality of the arable land" you brought up is a fictitious concept. By conventional standards, it is more sensible to assess farmland by the value of the crops it produces.
In Strumykowo, the village has a complete production line, from the planting and harvesting of grains to the processing of foodstuffs. The value of the land's output is indisputable.
By contrast, Twierdza's main crop is hops, and the village's sole beer processing factory closed down months ago. Reportedly, the site also had serious problems with environmental pollution.
Therefore, any valuation of Twierdza must take into account the profitability of its crops as well as the detriment posed by its lack of accessibility.
From a multifactor analysis, the land occupied by these two villages could hardly be more different. I fail to see how it can serve us as a "reference point."
Hamm There may be truth in what you say, but our claim for compensation does not arise solely from the value of the land itself.
We must also take into account the fact that the villagers here will be forced to relocate, changing their way of life and requiring them to learn a new trade. It is primarily for this reason that they require compensation.
Deszcz Mr. Hamm, I'm not sure if you've checked the statistics or not.
Ten years ago, there were 215 households in Twierdza, of which 85% were engaged in agricultural production, using 95% of the arable land.
But as of right now, there are 137 households, with the two aforementioned metrics falling to 15% and 21% respectively.
In other words, in light of the fact that most residents have already shifted to light industry and handicrafts as their main livelihood, the notion that Gale Industries has an obligation to compensate them just for living on arable land is...
Perhaps a little unreasonable?
Hamm Even the smallest voices deserve to be heard.
Deszcz Mr. Hamm, did you know that a little over ten years ago, you could still see newsstands and the like in the streets and alleyways of Kawalerielki?
People who couldn't get their hands on a ticket for the knight competitions could only wait at these newsstands, hoping to get the results of the games from a paper hot-off-the-presses.
Hamm Of course. I was one of them, back in my teenage years.
Deszcz However, with the recent rise of intercity networks and logistics, you'll be hard-pressed to find a single newsstand in the city these days.
Tell me, did the people who used to run them for a living get a single bit of compensation from the government? Is that your idea of "fair"?
Hamm I don't think your analogy is entirely appropriate here, but...
Now that we're talking history, Miss Deszcz, you should also know that across the history of civilization, the endless annexation of land has always been a major destabilizing factor.
When we settle on a price for the land here in Twierdza today, we will also be setting a reference point for other villages' land transactions in the years to come.
If the National Council were to weigh in on this matter, do you think they would allow Gale Industries to buy Twierdza's land at such an absurdly low price?
Deszcz Mr. Hamm, you seem to be misunderstanding the fundamental issue at hand.
Gale is paying compensation, not buying the land. When you trace everything back, Mr. Marek's deal with Gale came first, while his deal with the villagers came afterwards.
From a legal standpoint, we already own the land.
While we have an obligation to compensate the residents out of social responsibility, your attempt to treat this as a payment for the land itself is completely unfounded.
Hamm I... I...
Regardless... I'm afraid the villagers will find the meager sum you proposed to be quite unpalatable.
Deszcz Of course, that was only our initial offer, and there is still room for negotiation. Even in the worst case scenario, both of us reserve the right to request arbitration from the National Council.
But when that time comes, the judge will hear all the exact same arguments I've made today. How confident are you that you can fetch a higher price in court?
Hamm Hmm... That's, I...
Deszcz Then how about we reevaluate what a "fair" compensation for the demolition and relocation would be?
<Background 3>
Deszcz A toast to a successful negotiation! To a signed contract!
Hamm Ch-Cheers...
Deszcz Pwaaah! I can't remember the last time I got to kick back and knock down a drink like this! Guess this business trip wasn't all bad.
Hamm Your business trip has been a total disaster for me though...
Deszcz Don't be so hard on yourself, Mr. Hamm. There's not a lawyer out there who wins all the time. Besides, this was just a private settlement. It's perfectly normal not to get everything you want.
Take it easy. A lawyer's career is long and meandering, so just keep working at it. All I know is, right here and now, the beer is amazing!
Hamm To be honest, Miss Deszcz, I've known your name for a long time now.
The Red Wine once reported that you've never lost a case on defense. You're considered a gold-star attorney even among the many experts at the Longrein Law Firm.
Deszcz You're gonna make me blush, haha...
Hamm When I heard that you would be representing Gale in this case, I already knew it would be hard for me to gain any sort of advantage.
Nevertheless, I tried to prepare for the negotiation as best as I could, but... you're indeed more capable than I imagined.
So there's something I'd like to ask you, Miss Deszcz.
As an experienced professional, what do you think went wrong with my handling of the case?
Deszcz Oh, I can tell that you put a good amount of time into it, but all in the wrong direction...
Hamm The wrong direction?
Deszcz Alright, alright, enough talking about work. No discord, no concord! C'mon, bottoms up!
Hamm Um, now that the contract has been signed... can you answer a question?
How much money do you stand to make from handling this case?
Deszcz That's a fairly touchy subject, wouldn't you say? Well, why don't you take a guess?
Hamm Considering your reputation within Kawalerielki's legal circles, I'd guess at least 50,000 marks, if you can get the price down to within the expected margins?
Deszcz Try again.
Hamm A hundred thousand?
Deszcz (Shakes head)
Hamm I don't even want to think about it then...
Deszcz Actually, Gale gave me one million marks to resolve this case. In other words, if I can get the price down below that, the rest of the money is mine.
Oh, but I'd still have to cough up for taxes.
Hamm I don't think I'll ever see that kind of money in my life...
Deszcz But the most important thing is, the beer here is somethin' else! Gimme another mug, barkeep!
Young Bartender Right away. The beer here uses our signature fermentation method. You won't taste this stuff anywhere else.
Deszcz Huh? Nowhere else?
Ma'am, can I interest you in talking business? I'd be willing to buy the recipe from you, just name your price.
Young Bartender I'm afraid I can't do that. Dad would never agree to it.
Besides, even if I gave you the secret recipe, you wouldn't be able to do anything with it. This kind of beer can only be made with hops grown in Twierdza. If you like it so much, buy some extra to take with you!
...Also, the land here was just purchased by the General Chamber of Commerce. The next time you come, there might not be any hops left.
Deszcz Oh, what a pity...
Hamm Miss Deszcz, do you think I have any chance of getting into Longrein?
Deszcz *cough* *cough*... *cough*... Excuse me?
Hamm Sorry, I know I have a long way to go, but please, if you could put in a good word for me, even if it's just for an internship... I swear I'll give it my all!
Deszcz And here I was thinking a well-intentioned lawyer representing these poor villagers would look down on a firm that specializes in corporate clients.
Hamm No, I've never thought like that... A lawyer's job is to fight for their clients, no matter who they are. There's nothing I can say to that.
Deszcz Even if it's to help large corporations squeeze out innocent and helpless civilians? There's no justice in that, is there?
Hamm I've been practicing law for five years now. Who still believes in justice in this day and age?
Even if I rummaged through all those massive codices of law, I doubt I'd find a single mention of the word.
Actually, I do remember this saying from a book on legal theory... How did it go again? Laws only bring absurdity, never justice...
Deszcz "The notion that justice can be achieved through manmade laws is absurd on its face."
Hamm Right, right! That's the one!
Not to mention, how can a small-time lawyer like me... How can I even afford a decent place to live in Kawalerielki? What do you think...? Miss Deszcz?
Deszcz Huh? Oh, sorry, I spaced out a little.
I was just thinking, if that nice girl knew that I'm the cold-hearted lawyer who squeezed them out of their compensation money, would she kick me out of the bar?
My bad, I think I've had a bit too much to drink. I need to go outside and cool off, so let's talk about all this work stuff later.
<Background 4>
Deszcz Phew...
She lifts her head and suddenly realizes how out-of-place her long breaths seem.
The quiet night shrouds her, as if she's remembering for the first time to pull down the curtains to block the never-ending stream of lights.
Deszcz So you can still see the stars outside of Kawalerielki...
How many years has it been since I last saw a starry sky?
<Flashback starts here>
<Background 5>
Deszcz Hello everyone. My name is Deszcz, and today, I'll be starting as a novice lawyer-in-training.
This is my first-ever case. Starting today, I'll use everything I know to uphold the dignity of the law and protect justice!
(Hey, why is everyone laughing... Did I say something I shouldn't have?)
<Flashback ends here>
<Background 4>
Deszcz It really has been... so many years.
[Młynar walks in.]
Deszcz Oh, Mr. Młynar, you're still here!
Thank goodness! I've been busy all day and was worried that you already left and I wouldn't get a chance to thank you.
Młynar ...There was an incident along the highway, and they had to temporarily block the road.
Also, don't forget your things next time.
Deszcz Oh, that's the ID badge on my work uniform... Wait, when did the strap break? Was it when I fell down earlier?
Młynar Someone took note of you.
Deszcz Eh?
Ah, ahaha... Th-thank you! I guess that means you saved my hide again...
Młynar You seem to be in a good mood. Did you secure a good price for Gale?
Deszcz It was a passable deal, ahaha... Um, do you also think I'm an unethical lawyer?
Młynar You'd never hear such naive, senseless words out of my mouth.
Deszcz ...There's something I'd like to ask you.
Did you know that after that bidder conference back then, our rival Westland Company was sued for serious defects in their construction materials?
Młynar ...I might've seen something like that in the papers.
Even in a place like Kawalerielki where it isn't uncommon to cut corners in the construction industry, the reporter still gave it a full page article.
Then you throw in the fact that the National Council slapped enough fines on them to bankrupt them. People are going to remember that.
Deszcz You really do know your stuff, huh... Or rather, you knew all along, didn't you?
Młynar ......
Deszcz You knew how Westland operated, which is why you spared no effort trying to secure the contract. So they wouldn't get the hospital construction project.
Młynar ...I didn't expect to hear such naive, senseless words from a seasoned attorney.
Deszcz Naive?
Młynar I have no idea how you came to such a ridiculous conclusion, so I'll just assume you were trying to insult me.
Deszcz Sorry, not at all! I was just trying to make small talk.
Młynar ...It's getting late. I'll be heading back now.
Deszcz You're not going to try the specialty beers here?
Młynar I never liked drinking.
[Młynar leaves.]
Deszcz I just wanted someone to chat with, but looks like I said something I shouldn't have again...
Deszcz slowly walks towards the not-so-vast farmland by the side of the road.
After the autumn harvest, the fields of straws were neatly pressed down, resembling an all-natural mat. The aroma of hops coalesces with the scent of the humid air, leaving a deep impression in her nostrils.
She lies down and extends a finger, gesturing at the stars in the sky as if searching for something.
Deszcz Where are the stars that make up Libra right now?
[Deszcz calls someone.]
Deszcz Hello? Yes, it's me. There's nothing to worry about - there were no issues in signing the contract.
I'm very sorry, but it's too late for me to return to Kawalerielki tonight. Mm, yes, you may deduct the extra day from my annual leave.
I assure you, there will be no further delays, and I'll submit the contract to the company– Oh, hung up again...
Jeez... I just wanted to gaze at the stars in peace...
[After some thought...]
Deszcz Maybe it's time I changed things up a little.
<Background 2>
Hamm Miss Deszcz, I still have some things to attend to here, so I won't be seeing you off.
I've learned a lot from our negotiations. Thank you very much.
Deszcz You're too humble, seriously. If I ever see you back in Kawalerielki, I'll take you out for another drink!
Hamm I should probably be the one picking up the tab next time...
Oh, and one more thing... About the Longrein Law Firm...
Deszcz That's still on your mind, huh? To be honest, it's not like I can't give you a recommendation.
So how about I give you a simple examination first? Take a look at this.
Hamm This is... the land sale contract between Mr. Marek and Gale?
Deszcz Take a closer look. Do you see any problems with it?
Hamm I don't see anything wrong with the terms, and the details are fairly comprehensive as well... Wait, the signing party isn't Mr. Marek, but rather his son?!
He was still alive at the time, and the contract provides no evidence that he ever authorized his son to act as his agent.
Marek Jr. should not have been eligible to sign this on his father's behalf.
But that's not all... Marek Jr. is a campaign knight now, so why does he have so many dealings with Gale?
In other words... Based on this, Gale Industries has no claim to the land of Twierdza village!
Deszcz Not necessarily. After all, Mr. Marek has passed away, and Gale has countless other ways of backing up the transaction.
Hamm But... this is a critical breakthrough in the case. Miss Deszcz, couldn't maliciously leaking confidential information like this... lead to disbarment?
Deszcz I happened to accidentally lose some sensitive information at the site of the negotiation. How could that possibly be considered malicious?
Hamm I should've seen this coming...
Deszcz Actually, you should've requested these documents from Gale Industries at the very beginning of negotiations.
They'll probably look for a way to cover it up, but it'll at least set them on the back foot.
But failing to take this into consideration was an error on your part.
Hamm So instead of making a fuss over the value of the land, I should've tried to challenge the legitimacy of Gale's claim in the first place.
Is this what you meant when you said I went "in the wrong direction"?
Deszcz See? All you needed was a little hint. You're pretty sharp after all.
For a lawyer, having the right evidence is akin to having a bullet. But you still need the right gun for it to be effective. So, Mr. Hamm, what do you plan to do next?
Hamm I'll need to think this through carefully...
Deszcz I'll still submit the contract we already signed to Gale Industries. During that time, you can file a lawsuit with the National Council on the basis of newly discovered evidence.
It doesn't matter whether you want to renegotiate the compensation or reject Gale's ownership of the land altogether.
Regardless of the final outcome, you can still put this whole experience on your resume. Then, you can try to talk to Longrein.
Hamm But... why are you doing this?
Why are you taking such a huge risk? To help the villagers here?
Deszcz Oh, don't get it twisted. I'm not that great of a person.
Just think of it this way: I'd like to have another opportunity to enjoy Twierdza's beer in the future.
<Background fades out and in>
Village Messenger Yes, these are the victims from the incident last night. A minibus bound for Dzwonek.
Do you recognize this old man? That's strange... I've been delivering letters for decades, and I've never seen him send or receive anything.
He's never even bought a paper before. Doesn't seem like an educator at all.
By the way, want a copy of today's paper? Find out about what happened in the incident, for the low price of fifty Hellers.
Word on the street is that some Infected was causing trouble, protesting about how they couldn't live in the city. Get a load of those thankless thugs. Who do they think let them in in the first place?
[Deszcz runs toward Młynar...]
Deszcz Mr. Młynar!
[ inform him that...]
Deszcz My car's all fixed up now, but mind showing me the way again?
Młynar I'm heading to Dzwonek. It's not on the way to Kawalerielki.
Deszcz Oh, I won't be going back to Kawalerielki for a while either.
Hmm, heading to Dzwonek too doesn't sound so bad!
Młynar And what do you plan to do there?
Deszcz I don't have anything particular in mind yet.
But maybe I'll treat myself to a little vacation, and then... find a new job.