Sliding his hand lazily through the different images that appeared before him, the Mediator continued to frown. This wasn't his first high profile case and surely wasn't going to be his last. The one thing he never got used to, was the staring as he did his work. Sure enough, when he glanced up from the documents, hundreds of eyes met him.
The meeting room was spacious and only the key players were seated at the main table. Everyone else crowded around the walls and windows, much to the Mediator's annoyance.
"A bit crowded today, aren't we?"
He asked tersely with a knowing glance aimed toward Elvira.
The Lawyer had the good graces to roll her eyes in response. They had all been packed into the room for hours already and tensions only seemed to be mounting.
Victor Romero turned in his seat and waved his expansive legal team back in a hurried warning. They only managed to amble left and right a bit before resuming their original positions.
The smile on Victor's face as he turned back to the Mediator was as transparent as it was sickly.
Sighing audibly, the Mediator rubbed at his face with his palms before he regarded the group at his table.
"Due to the sensitive nature of this case, both parties have agreed to using an independent adjudicator. I, Francis Logue, will be delivering a verdict."
Francis explained calmly as he dismissed the files in front of him. Since there were no interruptions, the Mediator continued.
"Do you both agree to accept my ruling as final? If either of you renege on my judgement, it will result in certain sanctions against you or the employers you represent."
Elvira didn't hesitate as she nodded her head and smiled at the Mediator.
"Understood, Mr. Logue."
Victor took a few more moments before following suit and nodding his head.
Francis stared at the man with an expectant look on his face, but before Victor could reply another voice at the table sounded out.
"Apologies, Mr. Logue. Counsel for Mr. Romero agrees to abide by your ruling."
The voice answered testily as he gave Victor a withering look.
The Mediator exhaled in relief as he tapped the table. A gentle smile crossed his face, which made him seem a lot less threatening than a few moments ago.
"Thank you both for your trust and your patience in this process."
As his fingers made contact with the table, the documents that he had previously been inspecting had been reversed and amplified so that everyone in the room would be able to see them. Even a non-legal professional would have been able to identify that the documents were the legal contracts for both Ethan Davenport and Frederick Hargreaves. On each of those documents, certain segments which held compensation information were redacted. Other areas of the contracts were highlighted, which is where the Mediator wished to begin.
"I'm not a fan of stretching verdicts out, so I'll get to the point first and explain how I got there."
Francis explained as he looked at Elvira, Victor and his Counsel. All three nodded in acknowledgement.
"Frederick Hargreaves was unfairly dismissed."
Neither Elvira or the Counsel reacted to this statement, knowing that Mr. Logue wasn't finished.
Victor's fist clenched, but he had the sense to remain quiet throughout the proceedings.
"Based on the objectives of his contract, Frederick Hargreaves was exceeding expectations."
Francis then gestured at the other contract that was displayed to the room.
"Ethan Davenport is also exceeding expectations against his contract, which is different in design. It is my recommendation that Ethan Davenport continues in his role as a Hero in the game."
An excited cheer burst out from the back of the room where droves of men and women started to congratulate each other and chatted excitedly about the verdict. Others were frantically sending messages to their higher-ups.
The Mediator shouted as he held down another button. It amplified his voice to the point that it was thunderous.
The excited chatting died out immediately and fell into more of a muted muttering. Many continued to whisper to each other while some guilty looking faces slid out of the room.
It took a few moments for the group to finally quieten down. A glare from Victor's Counsel managed to shut up the remainder of the crowd.
Francis took a steadying breath as he lifted his hand from the amplifier on the table.
"In the case of Frederick Hargreaves, I would recommend that a new position be made available to him within Abidden and his wage to be reinstated with back-pay."
Victor's Counsel nodded his head in agreement before raising his hand slightly to catch the Mediator's attention.
"May I speak, Mr. Logue?"
Waving his hand, the Mediator invited the Counsel to speak.
"Thank you, Mr. Logue. My employers have given me the authority to negotiate certain terms which I would be happy to explain."
Victor's face showed that he had no idea what was currently happening and it was killing him on the inside.
Elvira nodded slightly when the Mediator looked in her direction. Francis then gestured that the legal representative could continue.
"You can explain, but with brevity, Counsel."
Francis added with a gentle smile.
"Of course, Mr. Logue. I represent the majority shareholders of Abidden Zoetic Enterprises, and they have given me certain allowances that I can negotiate on their behalf."
The Counsel tapped his wrist which caused a series of documents to appear in front of him before he sent them in the Mediator's direction.
"My employers are happy to compensate all former Paragons, with full back-pay, adjusted for inflation."
Elvira's expression didn't change as she watched the Counsel speak. The Mediator smiled wistfully before laughing.
"I hear a 'but' coming."
The Counsel smiled ruefully as he spread his hands wide.
The Mediator chuckled before signalling for the man to continue.
"But they feel very strongly against the Paragons returning to Abidden. As you have seen yourself, the nature of the contracts have changed over the years. Abidden is an entertainment and media platform more than it is a game. With a new age of consumers, comes a new age of Heroes. I've shared fourteen case studies that have been conducted by our research partners over the last two years which clearly show how our viewership demographics have changed."
The Counsel sent a number of files to the Mediator as he continued in an empathetic voice.
"My employers feel as though the Paragons would be lost in such an environment. Abidden is a completely different landscape to what it was when they were players."
Francis laughed as he waved for the Counsel to stop speaking.
"Helena Murdoch is still a player in Abidden. She is also a Paragon. Your argument is that a Paragon would not be able to thrive in such an environment, yet Helena is still going strong after a decade."
The Counsel winced ever so slightly at those words.
"Mr. Logue, I'm afraid Helena is also being cut from the roster. The details of that should be in the original dossier we opened the case with?"
Francis Logue's smile didn't leave his face.
"Mr. Troy, I'm afraid you didn't hear the rest of my ruling in this mediation."
The Counsel flinched at the mention of his name.
Elvira turned to look at the Counsel with fake shock on her face.
"Troy? As in... Troy Legal? A Hero in Abidden?"
The Counsel gritted his teeth, but Elvira continued.
"I didn't think you worked mediation cases! Is this like a pro bono thing for you?"
Ignoring Elvira, Troy opened another document and attempted to speak, but Quentin's lawyer threw in one last quip.
"I genuinely thought you only defended A-Class sex-offenders."
Troy's face contorted in rage, but Elvira jumped in one last time.
"Sorry, Mr. Logue... that was tasteless of me. He's also a Hero."
Francis held his finger over the amplifier for a moment in a silent warning to everyone in front of him.
Elvira and Troy quietened down as the Mediator finally spoke.
"Helena is not being cut from the roster, Mr. Troy. As I've said already, Frederick Hargreaves was unfairly dismissed... as were the other Paragons. If you were to replace Helena, it would need to be with a qualified candidate."
Francis shook his head to stop Troy from interjecting.
"To remove any doubt from that statement, I would like to clarify. A qualified candidate, would only be an individual that can compete against Helena's original contract. The person would need to have a higher gaming aptitude than her, otherwise it would be once again an unfair dismissal."
The Mediator looked at Troy who nodded begrudgingly.
"In answer to your negotiations, Mr. Troy. I believe that the Paragons would have adapted, as Helena did, to the changing landscape of Abidden. By removing them from the game, your employers denied them that opportunity. It is my firm recommendation, that each of the Paragons be reinstated into Abidden, with back-pay."
Francis proceeded to fold his hands in front of him as he waited for a response.
Elvira raised her hand, which the Mediator consented to.
"Quentin Bell, the CEO of AZE has given me the authority to speak on his behalf. As noted in our opening statements, Victor Romero has stated on the record that he and the board represented the interests of the investors. The interests of the investors at that time was to replace the Paragons of Abidden with who they deemed fit. Their argument is contractually sound, as they have secured the rights of all Heroes within Abidden."
Troy watched Elvira with a confused expression on his face. Victor merely nodded in agreement with her words.
Francis rotated his hand as if to ask Elvira to get to the point.
"Quentin has no interest in reinstating the Paragons as Heroes of Abidden. As stated, he has no control over Hero selection and management. Furthermore, Quentin has arranged for Helena's departure from the roster of Heroes, which will take place tonight. During the launch of the new expansion to Abidden."
Mr. Logue frowned at the statement before his eyes brightened.
"Did you just say an expansion?"
Troy whirled around to Elvira, his face stricken.
"What are you talking about? There's no such expansion on the calendar. Nothing has been cleared by the board outside of Helena's departure tonight."
Elvira tilted her head slightly to the side as though it was obvious.
"Quentin doesn't need board approval for changes to Abidden. The board, as stated, only have control over the Heroes."
The Mediator silently brought up the contracts that Quentin had signed over the years. After a few moments of searching, he found what he was looking for.
"Miss Corbeau is correct."
Victor started to speak but Troy waved at him to stay quiet. The aggravated Counsel turned to look at Elvira with suspicion all over his face.
"What is the nature of this expansion?"
Elvira bit her lip as though she was apprehensive about answering.
"Mr. Logue, due to the sensitive nature of the expansion... I'm unable to tell Mr. Troy, as he's technically a Hero. It could give him an unfair advantage over the other players."
The Mediator nodded in agreement.
"That's a reasonable argument. Is there any way you would be able to elaborate while Mr. Troy is present?"
Elvira pretended to think for a moment before a wide smile crossed her face.
"If Mr. Troy takes responsibility for any information leaks regarding the expansion, and agrees to not participate in tonight's broadcast... then I will be happy to oblige and give further details on the expansion."
Victor shook his head in warning but Troy ignored it.
"I agree to those terms. Now tell us."
Francis laughed from his seat but didn't interrupt, he was enjoying the direction this mediation had turned.
Elvira smiled once more, but this time it was predatory.
"Abidden's first ever expansion will launch tonight. It will feature a wide roster of new players in Abidden, all of which have been handpicked by Quentin and Helena. These new players will be Villains, who will offer a unique new challenge to the existing Heroes of Abidden. Each of the Paragons will be returning to the game with a new character. Helena will be making a deal tonight with the Prime Evil, which will transform her current character into a Villainous one. When that happens, the Villains will be released into Abidden. Some will be going straight for the Heroes, while others will be hidden... waiting for the right moment to strike."
Troy's face went white and he couldn't keep the anger from his voice.
"You have no right!"
Francis' laugh echoed out again from the other side of the table.
"Yes she does. It's right here in the contracts your employers drafted. Quentin has full control over the remainder of the game."
Suddenly a new voice joined the table. Victor had started to speak. His measured tone hid the anxiety he was feeling.
"How many new players? We can arrange sponsorship interviews with the investors, create some new deals... turn this into a beneficial solution for both parties."
Elvira had to marvel at how quickly he was able to find a potential angle. She did however relish in bursting his bubble.
"At current count, we have eight players which will be logging in over the next two days. All of them have secured their own private sponsorship and have signed personal contracts with Quentin Bell."
Victor's face paled at the words, but he kept trying to find out more information.
"Helena, Greaves, Khance, Scarr and Varya. There are only five Paragons. Who are the other three?"
Elvira simply winked at Victor in response.
"Guess you'll just have to wait to find out!"
The sound of the door closing drew everyone's attention to the back of the room. Troy's already pale face went even whiter when he realised what was happening. The once packed crowd had severely dwindled, with many people leaving the room to make calls.
"You know you're personally liable for any leaks, right?"
Elvira teased as the Counsel jumped to his feet.
"Mr. Troy, my ruling has not yet been finalised. Take your seat."
Francis Logue spoke firmly as he gave the Counsel a level stare.
Troy placed his head in his hands as his knee bounced up and down anxiously.
Victor snorted derisively as he disregarded his legal adviser and turned back to hear Francis' ruling.
"Taking all of this new information into consideration, I have changed my final judgement."
Troy looked at the Mediator with a hopeful look on his face while Elvira stifled a laugh.
"Both parties enlisted my services to mediate on an unfair dismissal case. My judgement is that Frederick Hargreaves was unfairly dismissed. Legal Counsel for Quentin Bell, Elvira Corbeau has indicated that they are not interested in reinstating the Paragons as Heroes. It is my judgement that reparations be paid to each of the dismissed Paragons. Finally, on the basis of Helena Murdoch, I have an additional ruling. It is clear to me that it was the intention of your employers to remove Helena Murdoch from the roster of Heroes and be replaced with someone more in line with the results of your case studies. Since her removal was premeditated, she features in this unfair dismissal case. I am upholding my earlier requirement."
Francis dismissed the documents around him and folded his hands before finishing his statement.
"Helena's position as a Hero can only be replaced by finding someone of equal or greater merit."
With that said, Francis got to his feet and extended his hand to Troy who looked physically ill.
The Counsel closed his eyes for a moment before opening them, thanking the Mediator and shaking the offered hand.
"I appreciate your compliance, Mr. Troy. You may now leave the chamber to ensure you're not found liable."
Troy bolted from the room to chase down the legal aides that had slipped out of the room earlier. He knew that if any word of the expansion leaked, it would be Troy Legal that would be hit with the bill.
Elvira's smile was broad and genuine as she shook the Mediator's hand.
"You know, Miss Corbeau... I genuinely have no idea why everyone in this industry thinks you're so terrifying."
Victor Romero got to his feet, but instead of walking after Troy, he paused and looked at the Mediator.
Much to Elvira's surprise, the former representative wasn't sickly or panicked. He instead looked determined and focused.
"All I need to do... is find someone who is, or was, better than Helena?"
Francis nodded his head.
Victor grinned widely before shaking the Mediator's hand.
"Excellent... thank you."
Francis and Elvira watched as Victor practically danced out of the chamber.
Elvira watched the retreating figure of the man for a few moments before turning back to Francis with concern on her face.
"I don't think I'm the terrifying one."