So it was a great relief when Shar-Chi set up a meeting a few days later.
Pet shook her head as she signed off from Shar-Chi. She hoped she hadn't looked as desperate as she was beginning to feel. That was never good for negotiating. A string of Aztlan cuss words in assorted languages floated through her mind. Meegai had been letting her know her concentration was off during her lessons. The kittens, picking up on her mood, were out of sorts. She'd even cut herself running through a fairly simple sword kata!
"You'd think between whatever is happening with Spike and the tech and Shar-Chi and the magic, money would just frellin' appear out of somewhere! Or at least that somebody would want someone kept alive or made dead!" she thought irritably.
She decided she needed to get outside before she destroyed something, so she opted to go for a run. "The meeting with the Old Man can't come too soon for me," she thought as she locked up and turned from her door. "Crumb! I'm probably not going to be any good at the "tea game" this time. How the heck am I going to focus on that?"
Shaking her head again, she decided to run until she was too tired to move. She sort of hoped someone would have the poor taste to get in her way while she was doing so. Cutting something besides herself, even with one of the small blades she carried while running, would definitely improve her temper. Or heck just beating them to a pulp would get rid of a lot of tension!
With that thought, and after a few quick stretches, she started out on what was bound to be a long afternoon run.
Fortunately for the inhabitants of the 'Parts, they didn't get into Pet's way on her run. She did feel better, and the fact that she had meeting in another two days helped her to relax. It felt like there was some forward motion at least.
At the appointed hour, she arrived and went through the usual security. She settled in and bit her tonugue as Shar-Chi poured the tea. He picked up his cup and sipped it gently.
With a small, hopefully unnoticed sigh, Pet sipped from her own cup. After rolling the tea around in her mouth for a moment or two, she ventured, "Angelica Root?" knowing she sounded more hesitant than usual.
Shar-Chi shook his head, then moved without preamble to business. "These things you gave me," he placed the bag containing the small stone, the snake or dragon charm and the compass-looking thing back on the table, "I gave them to an associate. For the amount of money you paid, he was able to determine a few things which may be of interest." He opened the bag and poured out the contents. He picked up a chopstick and poked the compass. "This is much like what it seems, a compass. It points toward ... something. Not North, but it is a detector. This," he prodded the stone, "is something similar. It detects on contact. Together, they might serve to get someone close to the desired object or person, and then confirm it. This last, appears to be magically inert."
Pet grimaced a bit, unhappy she'd failed to guess the name of the new herb in the tea.
Then she really frowned as she focused on his explanation about the objects. "Object or person? Does he have any more information about what or who this object or person is?"
"My understanding, imperfect as it is, is that deciphering that information is a far more time-consuming and, therefore expensive, proposition."
"Of course it is," she responded, looking even less happy. "Unfortunately, I can't expend any more resources on that right now."
She drank a bit more tea. "I don't suppose you know of any work at the moment?"
"Nothing for you, at the moment," he said. "I am keeping you in mind."
"Much appreciated," she responded respectfully.
She quickly finished up her tea, then taking the objects, left Shar-Chi's. On the way home, she thought about what he had said. Once she got there, she spread the objects on a table and considered them.
"If the bloody thing points to 'something,' I suppose I may as well see if I can find the 'it'," she thought. "It isn't as if I have anything else to do right now and all this waiting is making me crazy."
With that thought, she ran though some more katas - a little more calmly than usual of late, ate dinner and spent some time with her cats, before turning in. "I'll start first thing. Maybe a new day will be a new beginning."
The next morning, after completing her morning routine, Pet tucked the identifier object into a pocket, held the "compass" in her hand and wearing her normal compliment of knives and extendable swords, set off to walk a grid around her neighborhood, setting the center at the point where the original owner had died. "What the heck, since I don't know where I'm going I suppose I can start anywhere," she thought.
While the walk was pleasant enough, the compass proved frustrating. Every place she took a reading, the arrow seemed to point in a random direction.
Pet stopped, a frown on her face, and considered for a bit. She walked back home, and left the identifier object taped under a cabinet in her house, then walked outside to see if the compass behaved any more "compass-like" away from the other object. Unfortunately, she could see no difference in the way they compass worked.
"Well... bother... What now," she thought somewhat grumpily because that had been her best idea. She walked back into the house, intending to take out the identifier and touch it to the compass to see if that did anything. But whenshe got home, she found KK loitering around the front door. He waved as she approached.
She was a little surprised to see him, thinking it was a bit early for the rent, but she waved back. "Hey," she said when she was close enough.
"Hey," he replied. He looked a bit uncomfortable. "Can we, uh, talk?"
While they sparred together, she and KK were not exactly close. Besides which British Steel tended to keep their business to themselves. Still she responded "Sure" in a friendly enough manner.
"Well," said the troll after a long silence, "umm. I think I need some muscle. Might need. I might need some muscle."
Although she was trying hard to keep a straight face, Pet couldn't help raising an eyebrow. "YOU... need... muscle?"
KK shifted uncomfortably, "Can we go inside?"
Pet hesitated. She didn't generally allow people inside her home. Still, she'd never seen KK look this way, and she supposed everyone got in uncomfortable situations from time to time. She certainly did.
"Give me a minute," she said. She went into the house, disabled the security, then let him in.
"Tea?" she asked, gesturing him toward a seat.
"Sure, thanks." As Pet started to make the tea, KK asked, "You remember a month or two ago we were talking about missing cats?"
Now Pet truly was surprised. She turned to him. "Of course! Did you find them?"
"No. Not exactly," he shook his head. "I found bodies. Over on Dayton in a basement. It was starting to smell, I found the cats, also some guy, and, another body," he paused, "I think it's one of the kids from the squat. Hard to tell."
Pet just stood for a moment, looking at the KK. When he mentioned the body of the kid, her eyes had grown hard. "I have other questions, naturally, but the first is - why you are telling me this? Not that I don't care. I do. A lot. But whatever may have happened, it happened in the Steel's territory." She raised an eyebrow and waited.
"Well," he looked embarrased, "it didn't actually. It's actually a little too far south, just over in FD territory." FD, Pet recalled, meant Freaky-Deaky, the gang that ran the area sout of the Crosscounty Parkway.
"Ah," Pet said, setting the teapot and a couple of cups on a tray which already held dishes containing milk, sugar cubes, and lemon slices. She added a small plate filled with fresh pastries she'd intended for Meegai's desert tonight, walked over and slide everything onto the table in front of KK.
"That makes a little more sense to me,' she said as she poured the tea, handed KK a cup, then indicated he should help himself to whatever else he wanted. You need me because you can't really do much outside your own territory, right?"
"Well, two things, really. One, I can't count on the Steel in EffDee-land. Second ..." he trailed off, took a sip of tea, then looked up. "It was freaky in there. Things painted on the walls, and the cats and the kid were cut up pretty good. The man, he was just dead ... but it smelled like magic gone wrong. I hate magic," he said seemingly oblivious to the incongruity of his own existence as a troll because of the resurgence of magic. "The Steel, we don't know squat about magic. I thought of you ... I can't pay much, but I can see your rent slides for a month or two."
Pet sipped her tea and hoped her face didn't show her relief at the idea of no rent for a couple of months. Because she would have done this for nothing if needs be. She just nodded at KK and began her questions. "When did you see all this? Is it all still there? Or can you describe exactly what you saw?" In the back of her mind, she was wondering which weapons were the most appropriate since weapons were often less than effective against magic and what she would have to trade Shar-Chi for the name of that mage who'd helped them out on the boat run. She was pretty sure she was going to need that kind of help on this.
"I found it a couple of days ago," he shifted and the chair creaked under his troll-weight. "It might still be there. Probably is, it had been there for a while. Didn't smell too good."
"No doubt," she responded. "Any chance you could go over there with me?"
"Yeah, sure," he said. " When do you want to go?"
She was torn between wanting to go right over and look at everything immediately; and wanting to see if she could get the mage, or a mage, to accompany her.After a few moments hesitation, she replied, "I'd like to go over as soon as possible before someone or something else stumbles into it."
"Well, it's been a couple of days since I was there, but it's up to you," he said.
"Oh," she responded disappointment evident. "I don't suppose there's any real urgency then. Let me try to contact someone who might be helpful and I'll get back with you in the next day or two." She paused, then offered KK some more tea.
KK nodded his thanks and took up the cup, which looked ludicrously small in his enormous hand. He looked around, "Nice place."
"Thanks. The cats and I are happy here. They have room to run and I have room to... practice my arts."
He nodded. "Nice," he repeated. He set the cup down, "You can probably find me when you're ready." He stood. "I'd best be getting along."
Once he was gone, she put her security back in place, and went to her phone and put in a call to Shar-Chi.
Soon she was facing the wizened fixer in her screen. She greeted Shar-Chi politely. Then asked "Might you have a few moments for me to bring over some fresh pastries in the near future... and perhaps enjoy a bit of tea?"
"Of course," he nodded and glanced off screen, "today at four or tomorrow at eleven?"
"Today at four would work. Thank you," she ended respectfully.
She slipped the pastries across the table to the old man, then she summarized what KK had told her, adding whatever background seemed appropriate. "I am hoping I might ask you the favor of providing an introduction to the mage who helped us out on the sea run. I am also hoping, with such an august introduction, that he might be willing to help me assess the magical elements of this situation with the promise of... the trade of future assistance from me."
"I do not think that he will work on spec," said Shar-Chi. "Although I can ask." He shrugged eloquently.
"Of course, that is a great deal to ask," she agreed, not really surprised. "Do you have any suggestions about how I might get some magical help on ... eh... limited funds?"
Shar-Chi opened his mouth, then paused, then spoke plainly, "No. Magical help never comes cheap."
Again she nodded, saying "I had to ask. I guess I will have to proceed as best I can without that sort of help. Thank you for your time. I hope you enjoy the canolli."