‘She was a bombshell, Duncan, you know?’ Joe said, as we returned from Channel Cross.
‘What?’ I returned, as we turned a corner, heading back to the office.
‘It was like this…’
She walked in, six foot and a copper, rounded with curves a man would have to be a specialist to handle; a traps expert that is. Her chassis was a reconditioned airship bomb from the war, and though an approximation of a feminine form had been hammered in to it, she was all business. Wasn’t often that a warforged really forged in war came around; they tended to be even less human than the other ‘forged walking round these streets. They didn’t try to change their ways, to make a life for themselves beyond their battle-bred purpose, they were forged in war, and tempered in battle, and set in steel.
Her eyes, red like burning coals, assessed my office like a pro, searching for what, I’d never know, but I was dismissed with the same speed as the rest of the furnishings. She slammed my door closed with a casual flick of her fingers, stomped in, and
there was no other word for it lounged, in the faintly rickety chair reserved for guests.
A rich contralto voice purred from this amazing vision, and commanded my attention, “Investigative! You are ordered to accept our request for your assistance!”
I hadn’t heard a plea for help like that since the war, but, even now, it sounded more like a challenge. Still, just like the war, best to play along. I was also concerned with the fate of my only other chair.
“How can I turn down a lady who wears her heart… ah, impeller on her sleeve,” she quickly glanced down her arm, checking for the position of that critical part, like a heart, that should be on the inside. “Figure of speech,” I muttered, “What’cha need… sister?” It may be best to keep this platonic.
“So,” I said, “what then?”
“She gave me a vague outline of what we were supposed to be looking for. I suspect those rubbings were part of it,” He glanced around, and reached under his cape murmuring, “and now let’s see what that ‘Guard’ ”, the air quotes fell naturally, but irritatingly, into his speech, “was carrying.”
“Aw, nuts!” I said, “Did your light fingers get into that guard’s purse? What did I tell you about that?” Now it was MY turn to look around nervously. One of the bums that frequents the cogs looked over in interest at the implication of money, but I flashed him the hilt of my weapon, to let him know that I was packing, and, more importantly, that I was watching him. The bum withered visibly, and returned to the alcove he was currently haunting. It was warm in the Cogs at least, and, even if he was hungry, he shouldn’t give into temptation like that.
“Hey, I was just returning the favour, fellow was busy picking into my purse.” He pulled something small and shiny on a thong from the fold of his cape, and studied it for a second, holding it up to one of the rare lanterns. “Besides, he wasn’t no guard. What guard shows up that fast to quell a couple shouting drunks …”
“Well,” I interjected.
”... in the cogs?” He said, closing the issue to his satisfaction.
“Wait; he was going after you? What did he take?” I returned.
“Huh?” He grunted, “I guess I should take a look. Meantime, what you make of this?” He said, as he tossed a small, stylized bronze gear on a chain to me, then proceeded to pick through his own pockets.
I chuckled at the idea of him picking his own pockets, and had a look at the little ornament. The teeth were far too rounded to be of any actual use in a real machine, and all the tarnish but in the deepest crevasses was polished free of the thing. I delved into my own knowledge of religion and symbols, and drew a blank. Maybe it was like an old royalist’s ring, getting you access into some sort of special club. Thirteen teeth on it… something about that struck me as odd.
“Gute nacht,” he said in old Karnathi, I think, “look what we have here.” He passed me a copper penny, one obviously fake.
First petty larceny, and now… “Forgery?” I boomed, “now I KNOW I’ve talked to you about this before! We had a Discussion about…”
“Nah, nah,” he waved me off, “you got it wrong. This is what is different about my purse, it was added in by our guy. Now give me my gear back, I want to have another look.”
I glared at him, and traded for the penny. It was the wrong size, bent out of shape, unrecognizable stamping, clipped, and discoloured in a way that bespoke impure metal. Everything, in fact, was wrong about it, but it was still somehow a penny. I Looked again, and saw that it was magical, that it was cursed, something clicked.
“This is a Bad Penny.” I announced.
“I know, right?” He said, while peering gimlet-eyed at the gear medallion, holding it up to one of the rare lights in the Cogs.
“No, it’s a… watch me closely,” I grimaced and drew back my arm to throw the thing, holding it pinched in my fingers until I had his attention. He caught the motion at looked at me startled. I whipped the thing, carefully having it strike the ground a certain measured distance from me. It only bounced once, the metallic ring summoning a horde of the unfortunates to scramble at it’s location.
He growled, “what you do that for?”
I held up a finger, requesting him to wait, put my hand in my purse, and withdrew the Penny. “It’s a bad penny, it always comes back, and, if I’m thinking clearly, I bet it’s being tracked somehow.” He muttered at this revelation, but I continued, “it’s a cursed thing,” he gasped at this, and started to look nervous, “but can be passed to another if accepted willingly.”
His look of horror transformed to craftiness, and he turned to see a local street informant that he had not been on good terms with, due to some previous transgressions. “Hi Grigg, I got a present for you,” he said as he wandered over to him. I could see an animated explanation, and the same throwing demonstration I made. I could almost see the petty illegalities going through Grigg’s head as he accepted the cursed coin.
“Two birds with one coin,” he chuckled, “let’s get back to the office. We need to see a man I heard about; a fellow who knows how to find people. Mordecai will get us in touch”