Lash was in a panic. When he had walked out the pawnshop with the guns and noticed that Nick wasn't there, he had worried, but only a little. He didn't think Nick would have gone very far. He had poked his head into some of the other shops on the street. He had gone back to the terminal. He had searched through the restaurants and bars around the docks. Now it was almost dawn. He had searched all night and found no traces of Nick anywhere. He was afraid to ask, lest anyone realize he was looking for the same kid the BII had just put out a reward for. He wondered if the Slider had shown up and grabbed Nick. He wondered if the BII had found him. He had heard nothing and seen less, and now his employer's son-in-law was walking down the dock towards the bench where he sat with a cup of coffee and no explanation.
"You lost him," Ryan said.
"Yeah. You noticed, did you?" Lash said. "How exactly does one go about losing a kid who can't lose himself in a crowd?"
Ryan handed Lash a fat envelope. Lash shoved it in his pocket.
"I'll find him again."
"You bet your ass you will."
"The old man's psychic, isn't he? Can't he just tell me where Nick is?"
"He didn't see that. He saw falling. But you were there."
"Can't he just try harder?"
"It doesn't matter."
"Don't apologize. Just do what you need to do. And remember the name Leviathan."
"Why? What's that?"
"It's a ship. It docks later today."
"Anyone on it I should be concerned about?"
"Then why should I remember it?"
"Just do it."
Ryan turned around and walked back the way he came. Then he stopped and turned back to Lash. "Fuck it," he said. "I'll take you to him."
"I know exactly where Nick is. Come on."
"I thought you said you weren't going to interfere."
"This isn't interference. I'm giving you a pointer."
"How do you know where he is?"
"I can feel him. That didn't go away. I always know exactly where the three stars are."
"Excuse me, what did you just say? You mean the three angel stars?"
"Do you want to find him or not?"
"Okay, all right. You lead, I'll follow."
Lash almost couldn't keep up with Ryan's harried pace and was out of breath by the time they stopped in front of a wooden gate in the middle of a long, white stone wall.
"He's in there," Ryan said.
Lash bent over and took several deep breaths through his mouth. He rubbed at a cramp in his side. When he caught his breath and straightened again, Ryan was gone. He looked up and down the road but saw no one.
He knocked on the gate. No one answered. He pulled. The gate opened, so he stepped inside and pushed it shut behind him. He heard running water and a strange, steady thocking sound. The huge, sprawling house in front of him looked empty. He saw no lights and no sign of movement. There wasn't even anything that looked like a front door he could knock on. He walked down the path towards the building.
Part of the wall slid open, and a man in a dark green suit stepped out. He stared at Lash quizzically for a second. He shook his head and then smiled. "You must be Lash Larabie," he said.
Lash was too surprised to say anything. He opened his mouth then closed it again.
"Nick told me to be expecting you about now. I'm Galen Schweitzer. Nick and I went to school together."
"Is he okay?"
"He's fine. Honestly, I think it's taking its toll on him, but he would never admit that. If you would wait here, I'll see if he's ready to leave yet."
A few minutes later, Galen came back with Nick, and as soon as he saw Nick, Lash launched into a tirade.
"Where the hell did you go yesterday? Didn't you think I'd be worried about you? You should have told me where you were. Do you know what I thought? I thought that Slider got you. I thought the BII got you. I had to tell Ryan I lost you. Don't you ever, ever do that to me again!"
Nick grinned. "Okay, dad," he said. "And I did tell you where I was. I told you I was going to the bookstore."
"Oh. I looked in the bookstore. I didn't see you. You didn't want me to find you, did you?"
"I didn't want you to have to see me die."
"You're not gonna die because we're leaving now. And I'm taking you to Teatree. I don't think I can take much more of this job. You're making my hair turn grey."
"Galen's going to have us flown over to the port in Newton. Ghostshadow's already seen me. And we're going to Aria."
"What the fuck do you want to go there for?"
"You asked me the same thing about Junket, didn't you? And what did I say? Trust me."
"Not this time. I don't think so. Teatree."
"I think it's probably time I told you everything."
"That might be helpful. You could start by telling me why Ryan knew you were here and didn't stick around to try to help you."
"He was once the fire that created the universe, God and the three guardian angels. He feels the presence of the three stars, though he claims he no longer has any power of any sort. For some reason, it's starting to look like I'm the Shaman. Ryan is also my cousin. The man who hired you is my uncle, Rowen Falkenberg, better known as Talon Konstantine. I was hired to steal the Shikkongou by Archer Esterhazy. He was born in a test tube, and whatever was done to his genetic make up, it's causing him to decompose. He wants the jewel of blind vision because he thinks it will help him come up with a cure and possibly help the rest of his staff live longer, healthy lives as every single one of them has been tweaked in some way, including Ghostshadow. We're going to Aria because we need to make sure we can prove that Esterhazy is running these illegal experiments, and then we're going to Walden City so I can find Kitsune, and then we can go to Teatree so I can give the jewel back to Talon."
"That's all well and good but ... " Lash trailed off as everything that Nick had said sank in. He shook his head. "Okay. Let's go."
"Oh, and one other thing. Don't worry about me fighting Ghostshadow."
"Why? Are you gonna tell me you're some kind of martial arts expert and you actually know how to use that sword that Duncan gave you?"
"Yes, how did you know? Are you psychic now?"
"Is there anything else about you that I need to know that I wasn't told when I was hired for this job?"
"I killed Blackeye Hart when he tried to rape me, and I really don't like being touched."
"Okay. That's all I need to know. I'm completely surrounded by crazy people. Let's go. Let's get this over with. Not only is all my hair going to be grey by the time this is done, it's not going to be on my head. I told them I wanted hazard pay for this job. If I had just refused it in the first place, I'd be fine. But no, I had to jump at all the money he was offering me, and then I had to go and start to care."
"Are you done now? Can we go?"
"Yes, let's. Please."
Newton was about a hundred miles away from Xebec City, and instead of driving, Galen had them flown there in his private helicopter. Nick started to feel uneasy about twenty minutes into the flight. Chills crawled up the back of his neck. The blue glow washed over his vision. When it faded, he could see the air in front of him ripping apart and fraying. The black light of Ghostshadow's void was seeping through the tears. Nick grabbed the wakizashi and stood up. There wasn't going to be room to use it.
"Nick, what are you doing?" Lash asked.
"He's coming," Nick said.
The helicopter lurched, throwing them all to one side. "What the fuck?" the pilot yelled.
Ghostshadow slid into the helicopter. He looked even more pissed off than he had when Nick had given him the slip back on Lyric. He had a knife in his right hand, and he came straight at Nick.
"Keep it steady!" Galen shouted to the pilot, looking for something to use as a weapon.
Lash had drawn his guns, but he wasn't going to get a clean shot.
Nick was able to block the first slash with the sheathed sword, but he was pinned back against the seat and Ghostshadow was too close. The second slash tore across his fingers. He kicked at Ghostshadow's stomach. Ghostshadow took the blow and drove the knife into Nick's shoulder. He wrenched the sword from Nick's hands. "We'll save that toy for later," he said.
"Fuck you," Nick said.
Ghostshadow bared his teeth. He drove the knife into Nick's gut and twisted. Nick screamed.
Galen had gotten his hands on the fire extinguisher and pulled the pin, aiming the nozzle at Ghostshadow's face.
Covered in white foam, Ghostshadow backed away from Nick. Nick slumped forward. Ghostshadow laughed. He turned and rammed his knife through the back of the pilot's seat. The helicopter lurched again, dumping Nick towards the open side. Galen caught Nick's wrists just as he went over the side, and Lash had to grab Galen around the waist as Nick's weight and the lean of the helicopter threatened to dump them all out. Ghostshadow laughed and slid away.
"I have to get to the controls!" Lash said. "Let go of him!"
"I can't," Galen said.
"Let go or we'll all fucking die!"
Nick looked up at Galen. His eyes were glowing. "Let go," he said.
Galen let go. Lash pulled him safely inside then scrambled for the controls, righting the helicopter just before it got too out of control to save. Galen looked down. He prayed he would see that Nick had miraculously grown wings and was flying. He was an angel, after all, and angels had wings. He saw nothing but blue sky and brown earth. Nick was gone.
Greyson Olivia Seosaph had been fourteen years old when the war ended. When she was taken from the lab, she had been catatonic. Doctors at the nearby hospital she had been taken to had found nothing physically wrong with her, and they kept her in the psychiatric ward. In a few days, she recovered, but she remembered nothing about what had been done to her. Attempts were made to locate her parents with no results. The people on Commonwealth had suffered greatly during the war, and it was safe to assume that Greyson's parents were dead. In another month, a family on Walden City adopted Greyson. She was sent there, had one visit with a local doctor and was never seen again.
Fortunately, Aaron and Gaston did have a decent picture of Greyson, although it was twenty-one years old. With a little bit of age progression, they matched their picture of Greyson to descriptions of a thief who called herself Kitsune.
"So there's lucky contestant number two," Gaston said.
"Yeah, but where the hell is she now? She's long gone," Aaron said.
"And she's not with Tsyplakov."
"We don't even know if he's involved."
"He has to be."
"Why would they split up?"
"Something had to have gone wrong. Maybe one of them double crossed the other."
"So they'd be chasing each other down."
"Let's see what else we can find out about Kitsune."
They dug a little more and discovered that for the last five years, starting with the hold up of the passenger liner Heartlight, Kitsune had been working with another thief named Nick Tsyplakov, who was rumored to be a Falkenberg and to have killed the pool hustler Blackeye Hart after beating him.
"You know, there is something I just don't get about this," Aaron said. "If they've operated successfully on Walden City for five years, why the hell would they try to pull something like stealing the Shikkongou?"
Gaston shrugged. "They're good. Maybe they got bored. Maybe someone hired them to do it."
"Which makes me think of the strips they used to disrupt the laser grid, which were made with a material manufactured by an Esterhazy company and which aren't found on the black market anywhere and weren't stolen from the company, which means they were probably made specifically for a job like this."
"I'm thinking we need to go pay Mr. Esterhazy a visit."
"Yeah, I'm thinking that, too. There are all kinds of nasty rumors about the way he runs his business anyway. Even if it's a dead end, it's better than what we've got so far."
"I think the kid on Junket was lying to us."
"Oh yeah. Lying through his damn teeth. If Tsyplakov really is a Falkenberg, he's related to Talon, so Duncan had every reason to lie."
"We oughta haul him in for aiding and abetting."
"I don't think so. Do you want to leave a place like Junket without a leader? Do you want to do something that will piss off Talon?"
"Hmm. Good points, both of those. Let's go to Aria."
Kitsune didn't like Commonwealth one bit, and she couldn't have come up with any good reason why. The place filled her with an overwhelming sense of sadness and dread. She knew she had been born there and that she'd been in the Empire's labs there, but she didn't remember anything about those years of her life. She wanted to know what had been done to her. Just looking at what had happened to Archer because of whatever had been done to him made her afraid of what might happen to her. But she didn't have the time to try to find out anything. She was hoping she would find something in Archer's offices. If not, she could always come back to Commonwealth.
The birdman sat down next to her as she was reading through a news slate while she waited for the flight to Aria. The bird hopped from his shoulder to the back of his wrist. He stroked the bird's head. "Nick's gone," he said, sadly.
She put her hands over her mouth and closed her eyes.
"It's strange when they go like that. To know where they are and then feel that emptiness on the line. Mostly, I know they come back to me at some point, but it feels like forever sometimes. He'll come back."
"How did it happen?"
"It wasn't Ghostshadow?"
"He was there, but it was the fall that killed Nick, not the stabbing."
Kitsune said nothing.
"How's your cash?"
"Low, but I've already paid for passage to Aria."
He handed her another envelope. "That should be enough to get you back to Walden City."
"Thank you. I think I know who you are now. You're Ryan Phoenix, aren't you?"
"What gave me away?"
"Things I know about Nick that he doesn't think I've figured out yet. And I did pay just a little bit of attention to what happened when the war ended."
"I'm glad someone did. I tried not to."
"You really didn't miss much. You had other things to pay attention to anyway."
"I sure did. What happened to your cheek?"
"Ghostshadow. He tried to rape me. I whacked his head with a rock. I should've killed him. I had the chance. I just ran."
"He won't last much longer."
"Do you think Nick's parents will like me?"
"Andre will love you. He'll love anyone Nick loves. Valeska hates everyone, which is why he ran away in the first place."
"I'm curious. Why was the Shikkongou in the Museum of Antiquities if it belongs to Talon?"
"Um ... it was stolen."
"Where was it kept?"
"At the estate."
"You won't answer my next question, will you?"
"It had been there for a little less than seven years. Nick ran away when he was fourteen, which was seven years ago."
"What goes around comes around, I guess. And I guess Talon knew all this would happen so he just let it sit there."
"You're being rather short."
"If it had been up to me, I would have never let any of this happen to Nick."
"But it had to."
"No, it didn't have to. But if not, he might have never known the things he's about to find out."
"Why would you want to keep him from it?"
"Because he's the first kindred spirit I've ever known. Well, besides Peter. And ... and he's not going to be like the other Shamans."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm not sure yet. I'm hoping he'll be able to tell me more when you two get to Teatree."
"You know I'll take care of him."
"I know. Good luck on Aria."
Kitsune watched Ryan walk away. She wished he hadn't had to tell her that Nick was gone. It seemed to hurt him more to have to tell her than it did for her to hear it. She went back to reading the news slate and waiting for her flight and tried not to think about it.