Edhem found Shannon leaning against a square concrete arch in Gasworks Park, and nodded to her before stopping to unroll the king-sized blanket he'd brought. He was smiling behind his mask, which was absolutely ridiculous: there was no way to get to know her without pushing into Malachi's business, and he knew full well that pushing into Malachi's business was dangerous. And yet... he wanted to get to know her. He was glad to see her. It had been years since he'd felt this way.
Suicidal, you mean? asked the voice of his worse-if-wiser self, but he closed it away and set the paper bag in the middle of the blanket. Shannon strolled casually over, then knelt over the bag and pulled out the coffee he'd brought for her. He could see her smile even behind her mask -- which probably meant that she could see him grinning like an idiot behind his -- and retreated to the opposite corner of the blanket.
The park was surprisingly empty, but then it was nine in the morning on a Tuesday, and all the solid citizens were probably either at work or huddled in their homes -- or, where possible, both. They were far enough apart that the risk of transmission was negligible, and there was nobody close enough to hear them. The air was chilly, but not unpleasant.
"You're not a ghoul, are you?" asked Shannon.
Edhem shook his head. "I don't even know what that is."
"It's what I am," she told me. "I asked you who you belonged to because I belong to Malachi -- though it's loyalty, not slavery, despite how it might sound."
Edhem nodded slowly, putting things together in his mind. "And this... belonging... is what allowed you to move the way you did?"
"Well, partly. Practice plays a big part, you know."
"I know." He shook his head. "I've never met anyone like you, that I know of."
"Then how were you able to keep up?"
"Practice does play a big part, but... I belong to a tradition, an ancient one. My ancestors were the defenders of the First City, and something of their strength lives on in my blood." He met her eyes. "I think that's how I got caught up in this: I was trying to find out what happened to Jack and Valeria, and something... like Malachi... saw me using one of those ancient skills."
"Ah," said Shannon. "Yes, that would explain a lot. Especially if the one who caught you belonged to Jack's bloodline."
Edhem hesitated a moment, then said: "They're real, then."
Shannon tilted her head. "You've never met one?"
Edhem shrugged. "That I know of. We hunted dark spirits, rogue magicians, unquiet ghosts."
Shannon nodded slowly. "That explains... I doubt they know any more about you. At least, Malachi's never mentioned anyone like you. Everybody keeping their secrets so carefully that they didn't realize that others around them were as well."
Edhem considered that. "I'm not sure that's an entirely bad thing," he said.
"I don't know," said Shannon. "Things are bad now, and seem to be getting worse. It might be better if you walked away and pretended that you never learned anything."
"I don't think the one who found me would let me go that easily," Edhem replied. He'd been thinking about turning his back on all this, but it didn't seem like the same sort of escape route now that his secrets weren't entirely secret. "...And I don't know how to escape it, not with any certainty."
Shannon shook her head. "I don't know what to tell you, then. They do recruit allies, sometimes, but they're... obsessive about loyalty... and they have ways to ensure it. If you've caught the interest of an Elder, my advice would be to be as boring as possible and hope it becomes distracted by some other entertainment, but that isn't much of a strategy and you're probably not helping it by meeting with me."
"Honestly, meeting with you has been the best part of this whole thing," said Edhem, and was rewarded when Shannon smiled. "No, I think the only thing I can do is press forward -- cautiously -- with this investigation, and hope that I can reach some sort of accord with this thing when we're done."