Ryel got some sleep. She woke some time later, alone in the bed. A half-barrel tub of warm water sat a little way away. She got up, naked, and practically dove into the tub. She surfaced long enough to unwind the bandage from her wrist and discard it. By that point, the soapy water had completely seduced her. She hadn’t yet gotten the courage to come out when the door opened and Arkmar and Davalon came in with a tray of fruit and coffee.
“Well, come right in, boys,” said Ryel. “Nothing to see here.”
“I’ll close my good eye,” said Arkmar.
“I don’t think you need be concerned,” said Davalon, pulling up a rickety chair. “In any case, I suppose time is of the essence, and besides, in order to figure out what your reward might be—?”
“You need to know what I’m doing,” said Ryel. Still lurking up to her collar bone in the soapy water, she looked from Davalon to Arkmar and back. “Okay,” she said, “it’s like this. I don’t trust you, Davalon, but I trust you as much as I trust Arkmar here.”
“You don’t trust me?” they both said, not offended but as if laughing along with her.
“Arkmar,” said Ryel, “grab my bag. I see it over there.” He went and grabbed it, while she lifted her left arm out of the suds to look at her wound. It was well along toward healing. She took a moment to wonder about herself, her survival, her continued life. It was just a scratch, of course. But Thaeron had meant to kill her, and he had not been the first to have a go at that. Several were dead who had tried to kill her, several who had thought themselves better than her. But here she was, the survivor, the fittest competitor. And for what did she survive? What was she fit for?
But that was thinking like a human. She need not be made for a purpose. People who thought they had a purpose did not know what purposes were. They did not have a clue how much more they might be worth than some mere purpose. She had a job. That was different. When this job was finished, there was another job.
But that left her where it always left her. It left her with no idea what it meant that she was constantly reparable, restored to mint condition by a poultice and a bath and a nap and a smoke and a really, really good fuck. And it left her wondering what it was about this job.
She realized she was kneeling in the tub, her upper body out of the water, her hands out, together, palms up, and Arkmar was placing in her palms the three, no, four bronze items they had accumulated so far: the ring, the right-angle bend, the F pipe with the silvery cylinder, and then the new one: an X or a plus sign with some sort of wing nut valve closure.
“What is it, then?” asked Davalon.
“I don’t know,” said Ryel vaguely. Davalon gave her a look. “No, I don’t,” she said. “It’s just a job, lover boy. I’m just—!” But she stopped and stared at him.
Davalon let his eyes take a stroll down to her chest and back. They were serious when they returned. They were greenish brown, at least in this light. “There’s no such thing as just a job,” he said, “when the bits you’re looking for look like this. What are they paying you for this job, anyway?”
“Oh, I’m expensive,” said Ryel.
“So it must be something you really want.”
“I was wondering myself,” said Arkmar.
“Yeah, and what do you want for pay, Arkmar?” she asked. “You seem to never have actually asked that question. Just along for the fun times, are you? What do you want?”
“I want treasure, I want excitement,” said Arkmar just a little indignantly. “What else would I want? Bit disappointed with the treasure so far. Now if we help this gentleman—!”
“Yes?” She looked at Davalon. “You pay in cash?”
“No,” said Davalon. “We pay in transportation. We can put you wherever you want to go on the surface, with some exceptions.”
“Leng, sure,” he said. “You want to come out inside the monastery or outside?”
“You could put us inside that monastery?” said Arkmar. “I’m impressed, though I don’t think I’ll be taking you up on that one.”
“Well, I’m not impressed,” said Ryel. “We can get to the surface on our own. What else do you have?”
“Part of transport,” said Davalon, “is knowing the pass codes.”
“So you give us some passwords.” She held the ring and the F in her left hand, the X and the right angle bend in her right. “And you say, ‘there is no such thing as just a job when the bits look like this.’ So is it important, or not? Is it all just a deal to get another deal, or do you know something about these pieces, or is this just a bluff?”
“Maybe it is just a bluff,” said Davalon. “Are you up for my job? Looking for a lost book?”
“I’m not sure,” said Ryel. “It seems out of the way, and I don’t like gugs, their mouths open funny.”
“And it’s how they close that concerns me,” said Arkmar.
“So until you show us a little more about what you know and what you can do for us,” Ryel began, and stopped.
Davalon stood up and stepped to the tub side. He bent to look at the pieces which Ryel held out. He took the new one, the X, and the second one, the right angle bend. He tried them this way and that and all of a sudden they were attached.
“Gonna do my job?” he asked.