The first step in dealing with the witch Iona and my mother was to locate them and since there are limits to my ability to track missing people (I’m not a bloodhound after all), we called in an expert.
Or at least as close to an expert as we could find on short notice.
“So, you’re friend Akemi, she’s a witch too?” Penny’s father asked.
“No, there are all kinds of magical people out there,” Grandma Apples said. “She’s an entirely different sort of special than Penny is.”
“But she can help us find the witch who wants to kidnap my daughter?” Penny’s father asked.
“I think so,” Penny said. “She’s really good. Like superhero good at finding things.”
“Is it safe for her to be coming over this late at night?” Penny’s father asked. “We could go and pick her up.”
“I don’t think she lives around here,” Penny said.
“How is she going to get here then?” her father asked. A moment later there was a knock on the door. Because that’s how our lives work.
“She can run pretty fast,” Betty said as Penny went to get the door.
I followed my witch, in case she needed me. I had no illusions that I could out fight someone like Akemi, but it was always possible that someone else was knocking at the door.
“Rodriguez, you called?” Akemi Maki asked.
“Wow,” Penny said, blinking in amazement. “And, yeah, I did, we need a hand with finding someone.”
“That’s what you said on the phone,” Akemi reminded her. “Are you going to invite me in?”
In almost all circumstances where someone has to ask you that question the proper answer is “No”. A lot of things can’t enter houses uninvited because they’re not supposed to be mingling with normal folks at all. This was an unusual case though.
On the one hand, Akemi’s family was polite. Not nice, necessarily, but definitely sticklers for proper behavior. I don’t know if they could harness any magic from the taboos they lived by but it wouldn’t surprise me if they did.
On the other hand, Penny’s house wasn’t setup to be overly friendly to other magical people. The mystical protections that Penny and Grandma Apples had put on the house weren’t perfect. They could be broken down by a more experienced witch, or via other means, but it wouldn’t be easy or quick or painless for the person who tried.
So Akemi asked nicely. Like people who are friendly will do. And Penny invited her inside. Like people who call other people to help them out will do. Witches have a reputation for turning people into toads just because someone looked at them funny, but in my experience nice people like Penny and Grandma Apples don’t need to do that sort of thing and mean people tend to be horrible whether they’ve got the power to turn you into a toad or not.
“Before you tell me anything,” Akemi said as we went back into the living room and joined the others. “I need to let you know that I can’t do this for free.”
“What do you mean?” Penny asked.
“She’s doing you a favor here,” Grandma Apples said. “She’s going to need something in return.”
“What kind of something?” Penny’s father asked.
Akemi looked embarrassed at the question but Penny guided her to the chair at the far side of the end table they were all seated around.
“Something magical,” Penny said, guessing at Akemi’s answer.
“But you helped us out before didn’t you?” Rosie asked.
“We helped each other,” Akemi said. “It’s different.”
She squirmed in the chair like she’d been dreading this exact moment for a while.
“It’s ok,” Penny said. “Your help is worth a bit of magic. I just don’t know what I have to give. I can’t do much of anything yet.”
“Maybe we can offer something we have, instead of something we can do,” I said, hopping into Penny’s lap as she sat down. It was by far the best seat in the house because it came with light skritches on the back of my ears. If you’re not a cat, you should arrange to become one at some point, and then you should arrange for back-of-the-ear skritches. They’re worth all the trouble you’d go to in getting them.
“That’s an interesting idea,” Penny said. I could see the wheels turning in her head. “What about a day of my luck? That you can give to anyone else you like!”
I saw the scheme within a scheme there and nodded in approval. Akemi had to ask for payment because that was how her family survived. They were guardians by nature but that didn’t mean that doing the job came easy to them. For as true as that may have been though, Akemi still didn’t look like she would be willing to take a fair payment for her time. She had issues in terms of valuing herself enough. By making the offer one that was transferrable though, Akemi would have the option of passing on the good luck to someone else and the chance to do a good deed like that was one that Akemi wasn’t able to pass up.
“That sounds good, I think it will be fine,” Akemi said and relaxed.
Penny smiled and I saw that Grandma Apples looked pleased too.
The girls took turns bringing Akemi up to speed on what we knew and what we guessed might be the case. Once the story was laid out for her, Akemi breathed in deeply and said, “I can find her, I think.”
“Where do we start looking?” Grandma Apples asked.
“The Fair Fields,” Akemi said.
I swallowed nervously. We’d been to the Fair Fields before. It was a demi-plane, a little world that bordered our area of the Earth and was home to powerful magical families who had little need for regular contact with the normal world. The last time we’d visited the Fair Fields, it had been as prisoners of the Miser King. He was no longer our problem, but plenty of other people there could be.