The land mine had been well-positioned, the explosion supernaturally-enhanced – and his naginata wounds had already been grievous. Death had come swiftly.
Fortunately, for a native of Battling Business World, that simply meant waking up at home the next morning.
In Todd’s case, “Home” meant his office chair. There had been that embarrassing episode when it had been repossessed while he was out, and he’d woken up the next morning in a warehouse – but they’d given it back to him. It was a bit battered for the second-hand market anyway…
It wasn’t a very good office either; his ex-wife’s curse allowed him just barely enough money to keep his corporate raiding credentials up to date.
Still, those few clients who trickled into his shabby office/apartment in search of freelance muscle for throwaway raids were usually pleasantly surprised; Todd might be cursed and insane, but he was more than competent – and bow specialists were rare in American battling business, where knives dominated.
Fortunately, poor Todd had a better understanding of the barter system than most battling businesspeople, and regularly requested payment in meals and in paying his phone bills.
This morning, things were going to change. There was someone waiting to see him when he woke up.
(Jacob, one of Kevin’s Thralls) “Good morning Sir!”
(Todd, half-asleep) “Terry… oh, love… (Todd reached out to embrace his dream… which felt all wrong somehow) You’re not my wife!”
(Jacob) “Sorry Sir! My name is Jacob Smythes the Fourth! But I have a package for you! And Tea!”
(Todd) “Tea? Well, no hard feelings then? I’ll get the kettle.”
(Jacob) “I have tea already sir!”
Todd sat back down in his chair. He wished he could offer the youngster one, but it had gotten repossessed – and they hadn’t given that one back… The boy was busy pouring tea anyway.
(Todd) “Do you need any help, young man?”
(Jacob) “I was bringing you a package sir! But you looked terrible, so I couldn’t just leave it!”
Todd blushed… but the boy was busy arranging teacakes, buttered scones, marmalade, and lots of other breakfast food. He had to fight not to drool, That looked like the most solid meal he would have had in a week! And there was plenty! With bacon and sausages too!
It never even occurred to him to wonder where the boy had come up with all that food. He was busy wondering if he knew the kid from somewhere… Or perhaps parents? That definitely was NOT an American name! The kid did look like a schoolboy, throughly formal, definitely English.
It was HARD to be a good role model when you hadn’t eaten in ages! Especially since he’d lost a chance at free food with that scary looking cook. The wall was looking so appealing, too…
The boy’s presence was… oddly soothing somehow though. Perhaps a younger peer, wetting his toes in the Tradition of Empire? It didn’t quite feel like it; but he definitely made the place seem cheerier, far more english, and much saner.
Todd settled down to enjoy the rare tranquility – and to hope that no creditors showed up. The poor boy was probably going to shower after he left the office, the place was so dirty!
Wait… It didn’t really seem to be dirty at the moment. It seemed like the kid carried his own personal pocket of serenity around with him.
Todd went over his payment schedules while Jacob was setting things out. How many meals this month? It looked like… roughly one a day – if they were skimpy. He’d have to do a lot of scrounging. At least that wasn’t counting this meal – or any leftovers.
The package contained… several of his favorite teabreads, tea, and a letter from Fred Gelman.
Fred Gelman? He hadn’t spoken to him in ages! They’d agreed that each of us was depressing the other too much…
Todd read the letter while eating the bara brith. Ah, just like back in Wales!
There was some general catching-up – and a request that he come and visit, and where to leave a message – which did sound kind of crazy.
(Todd) “In that woman’s tree? With the squirrels?”
He fought hard to resist the urge for a wallbanging. Gelman was one of the few stable people he knew, and he’d apparently gone nuts.
(Jacob) “That’s just a disguise sir!”
(Todd) “Hm. Witchery in America? But I thought Salem settled that!”
(Jacob) “We’re just visiting sir!”
Todd was still a bit twitchy – and was noticeably looking wistfully at the far wall (which Jacob quietly ignored) – but he started looking the boy over for signs of psionic activity. He didn’t have a path for that, but his skills were pretty good… There were some pretty definite signs – and some traces of a quick psionic cleanup. That, sadly, wasn’t one of his own skills… The boy must be a prodigy!
(Todd, somewhat more warmly) “Well. You should have told me you were a psychic. You’re the first one I’ve met in years.”
(Jacob) “It’s a standard part of the training sir!
Was the boy connected with some extradimensional power? Like Terry?
(Todd) “Is breakfast ready?”
Indeed it was – and an extremely generous one it was too.
(Jacob) “Mr Gelman expressed concern about you, so I’ve been assigned to assist you Sir!”
(Todd) “Oh. He didn’t really need to go to the trouble.”
Oh dear… His office was in a nasty inner city area and his suit was in tatters!
Far more tellingly, he had no pupils-a sure sign of mental breakdown in Battling Business World. He just barely managed to maintain proper British table manners – although Jacob tried to subtly reassure him that his suit wasn’t as bad as all that – just what a British person would say.
After breakfast, Todd asked how long his old friend wanted him to visit.
(Jacob) “A week at least Sir! If you’d like to stay longer, that can be arranged!”
(Todd) “Well… business has been slow lately. We’ll see.”
Packing took under a minute, as it involved nothing more than throwing his cell phone and his extra underwear into his briefcase.
Zero, of course, generally had better things to do that to personally torment his mortal plaything – but he did make sure that there were a few minions keeping an eye on him. It was good to know just where your toys were when you became stressed. It was at those times that Todd suffered the horror of the mad Number Lords full focus.
He wasn’t watching at the moment – but a few lesser numbers were. Still, as of yet, nothing was TOO far out of order. Even Todd had a few old friends, and the tiny zeroes fluttering around had seen nothing too untoward to report. Still, Jacob’s magical meal-summoning had marked him as an outsider.
Jacob had noted the Numbers too – but was resolutely ignoring their presence. Sadly, he’d been startled enough to give that away to the perceptive little entities. Another point against him; a normal boy would have fled.
Todd thanked Jacob for the breakfast and locked up the office… not that that ever did much good, it got caught in the crossfire a lot.
Jacob had a cab waiting, although the cabbie had been amusing himself by throwing molotov cocktails into the windows of passing cars, and had several tucked into his pockets, already lit.
Oh dear! He couldn’t afford to pay for a cab! And those moltovs looked pretty vicious!
Todd sighed and got in anyway. Hopefully his mastery of Footwork would be enough to get out of the fare – and it wasn’t like that wasn’t the normal method in Manhattan.
(Cabbie, holding out some flaming molotovs) “Hey mac! Would you hold these while I get the cab started?”
(Todd) “U-um… certainly.”
At least the walls were farther away on the street.
Sadly, attempting to hold three flaming molotovs (with the malevolent “assistance” of a little zero) led to one pouring itself down his pants, sending the flames roaring up his legs!
Oddly, it was less painful than he’d have expected. Perhaps the guy was only using rubbing alcohol for his molotovs?
Jacob snatched the other two away.
Todd tried for classic British stoicism – but it only lasted for a few moments before he began to twitch and wince. Forget about replacing his poor trousers! That would have to wait until he renegotiated with a client or got a new one.
The fire went out oddly easily, although the cabbie seemed a bit surprised…
(Cabbie) “What, you on fireproofing meds or somethin mac? Most guys yell and scream a bit before their car goes up!”
(Todd) “I’m Welsh.”
(Cabbie) “What, so you’re like, full of water?”
(Todd, smiling slightly) “It’s rainy there, so yes.”
That was a giveaway; molecular telekinesis… the boy was definitely a witch. As a tradationalist, he’d been taught to look down on them, but he couldn’t help but be grateful for Jacob’s presence.
The cabbie had the car going – and the car wanted to know where they were going.
Todd left it up to Jacob to provide the address. When he’d gone there, it had been on the backside of Terry’s suspension.
(Cabbie) “Hey, I’m not rated for more than two passengers! The Numbers will have to get their own cab!”
(Todd) “Numbers? Oh dear.”
(Jacob) “Well, it says occupancy limit is “two persons”. If sapient cell phones aren’t persons, I don’t see why numbers should be!”
(Cab) “Well, are you paying? The numbers always stiff you on the bill!”
(Todd, turning toward where he thought the Numbers were). “Could you please get your own cab? Surely you can afford it.”
He was grateful to his wife for sending the numbers to look after him, but surely they could manage their own transportation?
(Jacob) “I suppose I can cover the fare for the numbers! Surely it will all balance out in the end!”
(Todd) “Oh, you don’t have to do that, lad.”
(Jacob) “I can put it on the expense account sir!”
It took some arguing to make Todd sheepishly relent. Jacob had done so much for him already…
Unfortunately, during the argument, that “assigned to assist” thing had come up again before Todd gave up. It had been what made him relent; Fred Gelman was a fondly remembered friend.
It had also sent one of the little zeroes will zipping off… Someone who could keep them from playfully setting Todd on fire had been assigned to help the man, and it actually seemed to be for real! That was definitely something to report to Lord Zero!
Zero would not like that.