Khell had stood adamantly until Fenway had answered her, and had immediately felt foolish about how little the answer meant to her. A Principal, it turned out, worked directly for the King, and answered only to him. Principal Valen was the Principal of this area.
Principal Valen was one of several Principals, though Fenway had only heard of a few others. In other words, Principal Valen was a very important man that Khell had never heard of before. Dejected, Khell accepted the description with a slight nod, and let Fenway and the crew lead her to the small café.
Fenway sat Khell and Sprogs together at a table near the back of the café. He ordered Khell a drink that he called Juiji berry, which smelt like bananas, and tasted like passion fruit. Fenway reminded Khell to keep her hood up, and left the girls together.
Khell stared at her drink, not wanting to look up. Sprogs sat across from her, smirking at Khell. If Sprogs did have anything to say, she hadn’t said it yet. She hadn’t said anything since they’d sat down. She hadn’t touched her drink (which was a white milky substance served in a shallow bowl). Sprogs had just stared and smirked and made Khell very uncomfortable.
Urrah and Fenway sat at a booth closer to the front door. Khell snuck a glance at the two from beneath her hood. Urrah took the entirety of the booth’s cushioned bench, while Fenway was perched on a tall stool. Both of them looked to be relaxed and casual, but there was a tension underlying their relaxed poses and whispered conversation.
“Don’t you want to know what we do?” Sprogs asked suddenly. She ran her fingers in a slow circle through her drink, and sucked the milky fluid from her thick black claws. “You question everything, but you don’t seem to care who we are, or what we do.”
Sprogs leant over the table, and stopped Khell mid sentence. “I’d ask,” she whispered. “I think it’d be the first question I’d have.” Sprogs cleared her throat, and spoke in a perfect mimicry of Khell’s voice. “Who are you people? Where are you taking me? What are the stakes?”
Sprogs switched back to her own voice. “You heard us talk about selling you,” she accused. “You know we work for Principal Valen, and yet you don’t ask what we do, or what we intend to do with you.” Sprogs leant back across the table, and resumed staring at Khell.
Khell wasn’t sure what she was being accused of, but Sprogs suspicion was thick in the air. She did have a point. Khell had been quick to trust Fenway, and had never questioned the intentions of the Copper Cicada’s crew. It occurred to Khell that she was, in short, being kidnapped. She felt a sudden cold dread in her gut; a feeling that didn’t go away as she looked into Sprogs black eyes.
Khell took a deep breath. “You talked about selling me,” she accused Sprogs. “No one else: just you. Fenway said that he wouldn’t sell me.”
“And that was good enough for you?”
“Yes,” Khell replied. She tried to hide the doubt in her voice. “I trust…”
“An absolute stranger with your life,” Sprogs interrupted. “You trust someone that you have no reason to trust, simply because he smiled and told you everything is going to be fine.”
Khell bit her lip and looked about frantically. The panic leapt to her throat. Sprogs grabbed Khell by the wrist before she could rabbit out of the café. Khell pulled against Sprogs iron grasp futilely.
“I did ask who you all were.” Khell muttered feebly.
“And we gave you our names.” Sprogs replied; venom hidden just beneath her calm tone. “That was enough for you?”
Khell tugged at her arm again, and looked up at Sprogs. “I…” she swallowed hard, and tried to calm down. “What do you do?” Khell asked in a small voice.
Sprogs smiled coldly, and let go of Khell’s wrist. She ran a finger through her drink again, and let the question float in the air for a moment. “We’re Jacks,” Sprogs answered finally.
Khell rubbed her wrist. “I don’t know what a Jack is,” she admitted.
Sprogs’ smirk twitched, momentarily exposing her oversized canines. A low growl formed in her throat before she composed herself. “Of course you don’t,” she replied in a calm even tone. “Because you don’t know things.”
“I don’t,” Khell mumbled, mostly to herself. Sprogs ignored her, and went on.
“A Jack takes jobs for money,” Sprogs explained. “Any job,” she verified before Khell could ask, “so long as it pays well. No questions asked.”
Sprogs dipped and licked her fingers again; her claws made a scraping noise against her course tongue. “If a client is willing to pay us to break into The Library, and find an item of interest there, than we’d go find the item, and bring it to the client.” Sprogs sneered at Khell. “We would bring the client whatever that item turned out to be. That’s what Jacks do. We do the job we’re being paid for. No. Questions. Asked.”
“But,” Khell replied desperately. “But Fenway said he wouldn’t.”
Sprogs let out a bitter chuckle. “He won’t,” she stated accusingly. “Fenway has a clear set of jobs he won’t do, and kidnapping is right there with killing on the list of don’ts.” Sprogs thought a moment. “Normally, with any other client, you would simply be a deal breaker.”
“But not with Principal Valen,” Khell acknowledged. “Who is he, really? Fenway said one of the Principals, and that they only answer to the King, but there’s more than that, isn’t there?”
“Oh you’d like that wouldn’t you?” Sprogs barked sharply at Khell. She lowered her voice as Fenway and Urrah stared over from their booth. “You’d love to hear me badmouth the Principal, wouldn’t you? Catch me talking treason?”
Khell stared confusion at Sprogs. She got that Sprogs didn’t believe her, but Khell wasn’t sure what Sprogs was actually accusing her of. “I don’t understand,” Khell managed. She considered adding more, but really, I don’t understand summed up Khell’s entire day.
Sprogs growled again, not bothering to try and control her anger. She opened her mouth to respond to Khell, but whatever she had to say was lost when the doors exploded off their hinges, and flew through the café. Two Cogstables stormed in through the destroyed portal, and scanned the room.
Where the Cogstables in the library had looked like they’d been built out of woodstoves; these two Cogstables looked to be made from old trucks. They were a similar mess of metal and cogs as the other Cogstables, but much bigger. Their bodies were dark green, but the paint was cracked, and peeled in places as if it was trying to escape the fire that burned white behind the double grills on the Cogstables’ chests.
The café shook as the Cogstables marched through. Everyone hustled to get out of the way of the two metal behemoths, and several patrons made straight for the door.
Fenway watched with calm disinterest as the two Cogstables stomped towards his table. Fenway pulled out a new cigar as they towered over him, and lit it with the heat from one of their chests. “So, I take it your boss was too busy to come in person,” Fenway observed.
The Cogstables both tooted sharply; an ominous sound similar to a fog horn. They stepped away from each other, and opened their hands. Thick cables sprouted from their palms and grew together. Cogs and metal sheathing blossomed from the cords as they intertwined to create a large hoop between the Cogstables.
Khell watched in amazement as the center of the circle rippled like a soap bubble. It flickered slightly, with old television static, and the image of a man formed in the middle. He was thin and tall, with sharp facial features and long pointed ears that swept back behind flowing white hair. His body was a spring of tight muscles under robes draped and cut to show off his bare chest. There was a symbol painted on his torso; a series of smaller circles orbiting inside four larger ones. Khell gasped as she stared at the paint on the Principal’s chest.
Sprogs grabbed the front of Khell’s hood and yanked, nearly smacking her head on the table. “You don’t ever look directly at a Principal,” Sprogs told Khell in a whisper. Her normal snide was missing, and Sprogs stared wide eyed at the table.
“I didn’t know,” Khell mumbled. She dared another peak from beneath her hood at Principal Valen. There was no mistaking it; the symbol painted on his chest was the same one that had been on the front of the book!