He gazed out the window of the posh boardroom, admiring the view from seventy stories up. A faint smile creased his pale, angular face, and his soft blue eyes took in the evening sky. Dusk painted the heavens in beautiful hues of red and purple, unbroken by the other edifices surrounding him. So much beauty, unmarred by the city itself... and yet it did nothing to salvage his mood. The buzzing of indictments and complaints and thinly-veiled threats from the directors refused to be ignored. With a sigh, he ran his hand through his short blond hair and turned back to the group arranged around a polished conference table.
Silhouetted by the dying sun, Brent stood tall, unyielding, and determined. His pure white suit accented his lean physique, and both the gold tie clip and the watch on his wrist betrayed every sign of success and affluence. More than that, though, the sheer confidence that radiated from him was something any executive would be proud to possess, especially after the brutal series of events which had brought him to this point. His smile didn't fade as he focused on the latest speaker, an older woman with a severe, sour expression. "...breach of contract! You violated our NDA, and we're within our rights to take you to court for every last penny we've paid you, just for a start! What do you have to say to that, Mister Morgenson!"
At the close of her diatribe the entire board, eight men and four women, all stared at him. Its combined hostility was like a physical force, and it was clear that they were speaking with one voice on this. Not even Teresa Arms, one of the more influential directors and the closest one to a friend he had in the room, was speaking up in his defense. No, her steel-gray eyes were carefully neutral, a perfect mask that she slipped on so easily.
The others wore nearly-identical frowns, and none of them so much as glanced away from Brent's inquisitive gaze. Then, wearily, Brent answered, "If you look at it in purely literal terms? Yes, I broke my non-disclosure agreement. Technically, yes, you could take me to court. If you were to do so, I wouldn't have a defense. But... of course, that's not the real point, is it? If it was, you'd have already served me my papers and let your lawyers off their leash. So, let me ask the obvious question. What are you really hoping to accomplish with this hearing?"
Then their leader spoke up. John Jacob Goldwater, chairman and a credit to his old, influential family, cleared his throat and growled, "We're here to discuss whether we'll drag you to court and making a public example of you, throw you to the inquisitors- who make a very tempting offer for your custody, let me say- or just fire you quietly, Mr. Morgenson. Any other points are irrelevant to this discussion."
Brent quietly nodded, and then spoke on as though Mr. Goldwater hadn't said anything. "None of you are wizards. None of you really understand what happened. And I think, understandably, that you want to know what you're dealing with. You know that 'dark magic' was involved, but you don't even know what that means, let alone the implications of it. And... in the end, I think that you all know I did the best I could, not just for this company but for the world as a whole."
Mr. Goldwater slowly smiled, a vicious and bitter little smile. "I know as much as I need to. I know what you did, and you are not dragging this company down with you, no matter what you try to spin it as! We do not deal with diabolism!"
The entire room fell silent. Teresa softly hissed through her teeth, but that was the only audible response. Brent himself winced as though the chairman had struck him, and he took a second to compose himself before he answered, in carefully guarded tones, "You don't even know what you've accused me of, Mr. Goldwater. I never summoned a demon-"
The chairman leaned forward, his ice-blue eyes glaring through his gold-rimmed glasses. Though an older man, with white hair and some of the softness of age, there was no denying the anger in his every word. "But you made a pact!"
"-nor did I do anything wrong-"
"You ordered it to kill someone!"
"-and while you may not understand this, Mr. Goldwater-"
"Admit it! You lost control and you indulged in the black magic you're addicted to!"
"I did the best I could in a situation you couldn't begin to imagine!"
Brent's expression grew grave, haunted, and John Jacob Goldwater fell silent. The wizard's eyes slowly took in every member of the board in turn, and when Teresa gave an encouraging nod, he softly answered, "I... was a diabolist, yes. I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I was younger, and I'm still paying for them now. Calling it an 'addiction' is an understatement, like calling the sun a 'little warm.' But... I didn't lie to you, to any of you, when you asked for my services. That was years ago, and I've changed now. To extend this metaphor, I'm 'clean' now. Even after what happened."
He paused, and then firmly added, "...I've gotten used to people calling me a 'black magician' as a result of that. Diabolist, warlock, or any number of vile names. But that's not true, there's a fundamental difference that you should be aware of. I'm a hermetic mage, not a sorcerer, and the thoughts and emotions of the people around me can impact me on a spiritual level. Too much, especially when I am dealing with someone that evil, and-"
The chairman cut in. "Are you trying to say that you aren't responsible for your actions? That your magic made you do it?" He sharply laughed, ridicule dripping with every word.
Before either man could speak again, Teresa calmly interjected, "Gentlemen, this isn't getting us anywhere. We still have a decision to make- what is to be done to our wizard, who both did something inexcusable and who saved our company? For that matter, what exactly happened over the last few days, and how did everything play out- did he really save the world, as he claims? We're having ourselves a witch hunt here, and I think that does us a great disservice. Don't you agree, Mr. Goldwater?"
The old man considered her for a few seconds, then slowly removed his glasses, placing them on the table before staring right into Brent's eyes. "...I can't deny, as much as I'd like to, that you did do a good job for this company, up until the incident. Neither can I deny that Mrs. Arms has a point. We should at least give you a chance to explain yourself. ...briefly."
"I can't give a full explanation 'briefly,' Mr. Goldwater," Brent answered, returning the stare without blinking, "but that's all I ask, a chance to explain."
Teresa sighed, and her shoulders slumped as though she had all seventy stories of the headquarters pressed on them. "I guess that's the best I can hope for... why don't we start at the beginning? Once Mr. Morgenson recounts his story, I think we'll be in a better position to decide whether our angel investor has saved our company and deserves praise... or whether he's fallen and should be dealt with appropriately."
The entire board murmured assent, some more willingly than others, and Brent quietly laughed. "That's the only place I could start. But you know, it's kind of funny, thinking about it now."
Mr. Goldwater scowled. "I don't see the humor in it."
"Not humor. More... irony, I guess. In our first meeting, I had to convince all of you that magic actually exists, and now here we are, arguing over whether I'm using demonic magic or if I'm a good guy." Brent grinned and shrugged. "I just wanted to remind all of you about that. I think... once you understand how my magic works, you'll see that I didn't really have a choice."