Those Left Behind: Part Eight
We all went to sleep early that night, having nothing to do but a lot to think about.
The ferry arrived at Krawk Island early the next morning. As we all walked from the harbor to the town, the pale pink tinge of the sky and the intrusive sounds of petpet calls through the quiet gave the impression that I should have been groggy and yawning. Instead, I felt fully awake, the cool air giving me energy and sharpening my senses.
We found a small tavern that was either open very early or very late, and got a breakfast of day-old bread, chewy eggs, and coffee strong enough to melt through the mug.
The tavern's only worker, a grizzled brown Skeith in a stained apron, was watching us suspiciously from behind the bar. Once we were all finished eating, Lapnir got up and sauntered over to him.
"We're looking for someone, and I was hoping you could help us find him," he said amiably.
"There're a lot of people on this island," the Skeith responded after a pause.
"He's a brown Eyrie," Lapnir continued. "Big, a bit taller than me. Name is Hephen." Despite apparently trying to keep his face neutral, the Skeith showed a flash of recognition.
"I might've heard of him. Why are you looking for him?"
"We're old friends," Lapnir answered.
"'Old friends' is a dangerous phrase around here."
"We used to work together."
"That's even more dangerous."
"If you haven't heard anything about him, it's fine," Lapnir said, flashing and immediately pocketing a 20 dubloon coin as he turned away. "Maybe someone else will be able to help us."
"Hold on," grumbled the Skeith. "I never said I didn't know him." Lapnir paused, turned around, and walked back to the bar. I got the distinct impression that I was watching a carefully staged performance.
"What can you tell me?" Lapnir asked, putting the coin on the counter but not letting it go.
"He comes to town once or twice a year, and he occasionally patronizes my humble tavern when he does."
Lapnir slid the coin across the counter, let go of it, and pulled out another. "Do you know of anywhere else he likes to visit when he's here?"
"I think he mostly hangs out around the Golden Dubloon. I never go in there myself due to... professional differences, but when he's there, he's always got a crowd around him."
"Thank you, you've been very helpful." Lapnir let go of the second coin and turned to walk away.
"You might want to be careful, though," the Skeith called as we walked out the door. I looked over my shoulder at him. "It always seemed to me like he didn't want to be found."
Day had properly broken by the time we left, and people were starting to come out onto the streets. We asked around at several more places, but while everyone seemed to know Hephen, nobody could (or would) say specifically where he was. As it approached dinnertime, we finally decided to try the Golden Dubloon.
Even over the commotion of the most popular restaurant in Krawk Island, a very familiar voice could be heard as we came near. "So he looks at me, and his face is just covered in dust. Now I expected him to be mad, 'cause he'd just had to carry these Vaeolus all around the city. But then his eyes light up and he goes, 'I can't wait to do that again next month!'"
Hephen was sitting on a table, one arm around an Aisha waitress and surrounded by listeners. When he saw us standing at the door, however, his expression faded. "If you'll excuse me, there's something I need to deal with." He unwrapped his arm from the server, and all eyes turned toward us.
"Who're they?" someone in the suddenly quiet crowd asked.
"Just old friends," Hephen answered, "Come to pay a visit."
"D'you need us to beat 'em up for you?" another asked. "Or run 'em out of town?"
"Nah, it's fine, I can handle it. But you should probably come too, kid."
A familiar green face appeared from the other side of the table. Else made a stifled noise. Feld had no such reservations, however, and bounded over the table. They met with an embrace.
"I never found out what happened to you," Else said after a long pause, her voice trembling. "I always hoped you got away safely, but I never knew."
"It was too dangerous for me to try to see you again," Feld answered. "Sometimes I'd see your name in an advertisement for a play, so I knew you were doing well. But I've done so many things, and I've seen so many places! I have so much to tell you!"
"I figured you'd want to see Bren again," Hephen interrupted. "But clearly I don't know the whole story." He turned to the young Cybunny. "You must be Else. Feld has told me a lot about you. Good to meet you."
Else made a gesture that was more than a nod but less than a curtsey. "It's a pleasure to meet you as well." She paused awkwardly, apparently searching for something to say.
"It's fine, go," Hephen chuckled. "You two probably have a lot to talk about." Else opened her mouth, said nothing, and closed it again; Feld simply nodded. Hand in paw, they walked off down the street. The rest of us turned and began ambling slowly in the other direction.
Hephen turned to Lapnir. "I checked the news occasionally, but never heard anything."
"Which either meant I kept everyone out of trouble..." Lapnir began.
"...Or the whole gang fell apart before they could be caught," Hephen finished.
Watching their expressions, a whole unspoken conversation seemed to pass between those two. Eventually, Hephen laughed, and Lapnir joined him.
"So, where's everyone else?" Hephen asked. "Don't tell me you got the whole crew over here for a reunion."
"I dropped out. Passed the torch and returned to respectable society."
"I'm in no position to judge you for that. So, why'd you come all the way out here, then?"
"Peace of mind, I guess." Lapnir gazed up at the surrounding rooftops. I just had to find out, one way or other."
"Well, you got your answer." Hephen turned toward me. "What about you? Did you manage to get out of that life?"
"Yeah," I responded curtly.
"Why'd you come back here, then? Don't tell me you were just trying to reopen old wounds."
"Because this whole thing looked like it was going somewhere," I said after thinking. "I wanted to see where it all ends up."
In a long pause, Hephen considered this. "Good enough." He turned away from me, and looked at Haldan. For the first time I could ever remember, there was hesitation in his voice. "Are you here for revenge?"
Haldan, who had spent the entire journey glaring at someone or other, now had an expression I couldn't comprehend. "I'm here because I don't know what I want to say to you."
Hephen now looked genuinely confused. "Let me know when you decide what it is." Finally, his eyes fell on our mysterious benefactor, Mellis. Despite being apparently chatty in a frustratingly obscure way, I hadn't heard him say anything since the previous afternoon.
"I'm an observer," Mellis answered before he could be asked. "I was fascinated by this story, and like Bren, I wanted to see it to its conclusion. I gathered this group together to come find you."
"You just so happened to find four people, some of them very well hidden, whose backgrounds all tied into mine?" Hephen asked. "And on top of that, you managed to find out that I was currently slumming it on Krawk Island?"
"Yes, well, I think you can infer quite a bit from that, can't you?" Mellis countered.
"I think I can see where this is going," Hephen said. "So let's hear it."
"They never like playing my games," Mellis muttered with what sounded like genuine disappointment. "Very well. My name is Mellis. I am the chief special investigator of the Altador state police, and I'm placing you under arrest." He looked over toward Lapnir. "And you as well. There is a squadron that is prepared to subdue you if you attempt to fight or flee."
"If I tried to fight, the rest of that crowd at the Dubloon would join in," Hephen said. His voice was completely steady. "Do you really think you could win against that?"
"Yes," Mellis answered simply. "But a more pressing question is, would you really want that to tarnish your legacy?"
Hephen said nothing.
"I've figured out what I want to say," Haldan interrupted, and Hephen looked over to her. "Fold your wings and put your front paws together."
Hephen thought for a moment, and turned to Lapnir. "Best do as she says."
Lapnir nodded. "It was a good run."
"So you joined the Altador police?" Hephen asked.
"Shenkuu," Haldan answered as she fit heavy metal bands around his closed wings. "This was a joint effort between our two nations. I'm a sergeant working at the capital."
"Well done!" Hephen sounded genuinely pleased to hear this. "I knew you could make something of yourself."
I cleared my throat. "Are you planning to take me in as well? And what about Feld?"
"We'll overlook both of you," Mellis told me while putting cuffs around Lapnir's front legs. "So long as you don't go back to thievery."
"Why'd you ask me to come along then? Or Else for that matter?"
"I was being honest when I said your story tied everything together. Establishing a timeline is necessary for prosecution. As for Else," Mellis smiled slightly. "We simply thought she would want to see Feld again."
"Can I get a last request?" Hephen asked.
"That depends on what it is," Haldan answered.
"Don't tell Feld about this. I can tell he's not going to be a thief, he--" Hephen cleared his throat. "He cares too much. Spends more time giving money away to kids than he does getting it. Tell him I left, get him a job at the Soup Kitchen or something, but don't tell him about this. Let him be just another one I left behind."
"All right," Haldan said. She and Mellis led their two captives toward the harbor.