“Where have you been?” Kyden asked, running up to Belinda on the basket platform to Varnell.
“Holy fuck. What are you doing out here?” Belinda asked, her mouth hanging open. “I haven’t seen you out of the house since the accident with the windmill blade.”
“I don’t want to talk about that,” Kyden said, waving his hand between them. “Did you know about Varnell?”
“I had no idea,” she answered.
Belinda turned to look at the crowd where she saw Elisha and Iliana standing on the outskirts. Belinda yelled their names. Elisha heard her and looked over at them before tapping Iliana on the arm. The two of them walked over to join Kyden and Belinda.
“Did you guys hear?” Iliana asked as they came closer.
“Ky? You’re outside?” Elisha asked at the same time.
“Hear what?” Belinda asked Iliana, both her and Kyden ignoring Elisha’s question.
“Who found out Varnell was gone? It was Raiden. He was on his way to some memorial thing for his sister and all the other victims of Gautier early this morning, so he was the first one out to see Varnell missing.”
“Did he see what happened to it?” Belinda asked her.
“Nope,” Elisha shook her head. “From what we’ve heard, he was out first thing in the morning and saw that the island was gone. Then people are saying that a couple of men in black and red uniforms came and took him away.”
“Protectors,” Belinda growled under her breath.
“Protectors?” Iliana and Kyden asked at the same time.
“Yeah. I saw them outside the capital building when I brought the newest bomb to Spense. There was a ring of them. They’re armed. It’s just clubs that they carry, but it’s still an escalation from the unarmed Keepers.”
Elisha sighed before saying, “If the Protectors work for Spense, then at least Raiden’s someplace safe.”
“First,” Belinda said, holding up a finger, “is anywhere really safe? I mean, Varnell was here yesterday. I was on it. Now it’s not. Who says this person won’t start destroying islands during the day time? Second, I’m not so sure I’d keep considering Spense as ‘safe.’” Belinda made air quotes with her fingers as she said that.
“Spense? But he’s our friend,” Elisha said.
“No, he was our friend,” Belinda hissed, lowering her voice. There was no one all that close to them, but she still wanted to ensure that there was no way someone could be eavesdropping on them. “Last time I talked to him, he basically told me to back off of looking into the exact thing he asked for our help with. He was surrounded by Protectors. I think being a part of the government has changed him somehow.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Iliana said. “When did he ever ask us for help investigating this? From what I remember, Spense just wanted Ky too look at the first bomb. To see if there was anything he could find that the government guys missed. It sounds like you took this whole investigation thing upon yourself. Then you took your cause and forced it on the rest of us. Again.” Her voice was starting to get louder. “It’s no wonder Fax bailed this time. I was starting to think he was all talk.” Belinda narrowed her eyes at Iliana while also raising one of her eyebrows.
“Whatever. It doesn’t matter anymore. Belinda’s right. We need to make sure we are safe. We can’t trust Spense or his Protectors to do that for us. Stories in history class always mentioned how long it took the Ascenders’ government to get anything done. Who says this government will be any different?”
“And how long do we continue with our ‘investigation,’” Iliana began, mimicking Belinda’s finger air quotes, “before Spense sends his Protectors to come and take us away to wherever they took Raiden?”
“Our choice is to either wait for Spense to come and get us, or this guy to figure out that Hailey’s still here so he can come and set more explosives that we don’t catch. Either way, no one wins.”
“Hey, guys,” Rook said, walking up to the group. Belinda jumped slightly as she had been so engrossed in the argument they were having that she hadn’t noticed him walk up. “I just heard that Raiden’s back.”
“What? How did they get him back here without anyone seeing him?” Iliana asked.
“Looks like Spense had his thugs take him the long way around,” Rook said. “He’s back at his place.”
“That settles it,” Belinda said. “Let’s go see him.”
“Settles what?” Iliana yelled. “There was nothing to settle. Spense told you to back down, so that’s what we need to do. It was one thing when we thought we’d been asked to help look into things, but now that he’s told us directly to stop, that’s what we need to do.”
“Let’s at least go and see what Raiden can tell us,” Elisha said, putting her hand on Iliana’s shoulder to try calming her down, but Iliana just shrugged it off.
“How do we know that there aren’t any Protectors watching the place? Or even inside with him?”
“The Screaming Eagle,” Kyden said.
“What are you talking about?” Rook asked. “It’s a little early, don’t you think?”
“It’s perfect,” Kyden continued, ignoring Rook’s comment. “We are delivery people. We run a delivery business. Everyone here knows that we’re friends with Raiden. If there are people watching the place, we can just say that he asked us to come pick up a package for him.”
Belinda started off toward the bar before the others could grumble their ascent, leaving them to hurry to catch up to her. She walked purposefully across the island, straight for her destination. She didn’t look around her as she walked, but out of the corner of her eyes she saw some people she didn’t recognize from the island standing around. There were two things strange about them. One, they weren’t over staring at the place where Varnell had been with the rest of the people from Hailey. And two, they stared at the passing group of people before hurrying off, all in the same direction.
Belinda squared up to the door and knocked as soon as they reached Raiden’s home, behind The Screaming Eagle. She could hear some scuffling inside with some whispered voices, whose words she couldn’t make out. Then the door cracked open with a creak until it was just wide enough for Raiden to fit his head through.
“Hey. What do you want?” he said.
“We wanted to…” Belinda started to say before Kyden cut him off.
“We’re here to get that package you asked us to pick up this morning,” he said, nudging Belinda.
“Package?” Raiden said. Belinda could barely see the shapes of a few very large men moving around inside the house behind Raiden. “Oh, right. The package. Here.” Raiden dug around in a bowl next to the door before his hand snaked out of the door to drop a set of keys in Kyden’s hand. “It’s up front in the bar. I should be finished up here in just a few minutes. Why don’t you guys just go on around and let yourselves in. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Raiden quickly shut the door before any of them could respond.
One by one the group turned and walked around the corner of the building. Kyden fiddled with the keys and the knob until he got the right one and the door unlocked with a click. He turned the knob and pushed the door open. Belinda heard a click and the lights came on inside before the rest of them entered the building.
It was odd to see the inside of The Screaming Eagle with all of the lights on, as Raiden only turned on the low lights when the place was actually open for business. Much of the paint and decorations were brighter in the regular light than they ever looked during business hours. And, contrary to what Belinda had expected, the place actually looked cleaner under bright lighting than it did in dim.
“Alright, did anyone else see the two guys in there with Raiden?” Iliana asked once the door had been shut.
“No. What guys?” Rook answered. Kyden nodded his head while Elisha shook hers.
“Yeah,” Belinda answered, pulling one of the stools from the top of the bar to place on the floor before climbing on it. “I recognized them. From the first time I talked with Spense and he gave me the first bomb.”
“Well who are they?” Kyden asked, leaning on the pool table.
“All I know is that their names are Jyff and Dante, but they also have numbers. 12 and 18. I don’t know what the numbers mean, but they work for Spense. Or, at least, for the government.”
“12 and 18?” Iliana said, “That means there’s more of them? At least sixteen others.”
“What did they do when you saw them before?” Elisha asked, perching on one of the tables and putting her feet on the chair nearby. Belinda knew that Raiden would hate that, but he wouldn’t say anything to Elisha. If anyone else did it, Raiden would have them cleaning the table and the seat with a tiny brush. Elisha knew this too, and she took advantage of it.
“They brought me from Hadley’s office up to Spenser’s.”
“What were they like?” Rook asked.
“Jyff, 12, was nice enough. Both of them were very quiet, but he was decent. Dante, on the other hand, was a huge jerk. He shoved me a few times and laughed about it every time.”
Kyden had his mouth open to say something else but he was silenced when the front door to the bar banged open. Everyone’s heads whipped around as their mouths slammed shut, not wanting the wrong person to hear what they were talking about, and all afraid that either Dante or Jyff had come to check on them. They breathed a sigh of relief when they recognized Raiden standing in the open doorway, his body silhouetted by the sunlight behind him, but the light inside was still bright enough to determine it was him.
“Hey, Raiden. What’s going on?” Iliana asked.
Raiden didn’t answer her. Instead, he took a few limping steps into the bar, letting the door swing shut behind him, until he could lean against one of the chairs for support. He was also holding his right side with his left hand crossed over his body.
“Oh my god. What happened to you?” Elisha gasped. They could now see that some blood was trickling from Raiden’s nostril to his lips, and one of his eyes was bruised and beginning to swell. Rook rushed over to him and got Raiden’s arm around his shoulder to help him to a better place to sit down.
“Those assholes from Spenser,” Raiden finally answered after he had been gingerly lowered into a seat. Regardless of how careful Rook was setting him down, Raiden still winced with every movement and sucked air through his teeth with the pain of finally settling into his chair. “Spenser told them to escort me back home after he’d finished talking to me, but it seems like they wanted to make sure I didn’t talk to anyone else.”
“Look, Raiden,” Iliana said, pulling up a chair near him. “If you don’t want to say anything about…”
“Fuck them,” Raiden spat, cutting her off. “They wanted to stop me from telling anyone what I saw, but I didn’t see nothing.” He rubbed under his nose with the back of his hand, then, seeing the blood on it, rubbed that off on the front of his pants. “If anything, I learned more from talking to them than they learned from me. So, to reiterate: fuck them, and fuck Spenser.”
“There’s no way Spense could have known they were going to do that,” Elisha said, rubbing Raiden’s shoulders, which caused him to wince.
“It doesn’t matter if he knew anymore,” Belinda said, standing from her stool so quickly that she accidentally sent it toppling over backwards. “Just the fact that he has people like that working for him means that he’s not the same guy we knew who left for Fairchance because he wanted to make the world a better place. Shit, absolutely nothing has changed since Spenser became President other than someone trying to destroy the islands. And if you ask me, they’re doing a pretty fucking good job of it right now.”
“Belinda,” Kyden said, walking toward her with his hands slightly raised in the air between them. “It’s only been a few days since Gautier. You can’t expect much to happen in such a short amount of time.”
“Sure,” Rook laughed. “Just a few days. But how many lives? How many people lived on Gautier? Or Parth? Shadow?” He threw his hands in the air as he sat down. “Shit. How many people live on Hailey?”
“Wait,” Raiden said before coughing into his hand, which once again came away with blood on it. “Why are you asking about Hailey.”
“Oh? Our fearless leader didn’t clue you in?” Belinda said. “That figures.” Raiden just looked around at the others, his eyes searching for answers.
“Hailey was supposed to blow up last night too,” Iliana said in a soft voice, just barely above a whisper. Raiden’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open slightly. All the rest of them sat in silence for a few moments.
“Look, Riaden,” Belinda said, her voice now calm. “We’re trying to figure out who’s doing this. Who killed Erity when they decided to destroy Varnell. We could use your help.”
“I’m in.” Raiden spoke immediately, no time for a second thought. Belinda nodded in response, knowing he didn’t need to think about it.
“Then we need you to tell us everything you talked with Spenser about.”
“Gladly,” he replied. “I just wish you guys had clued me in sooner.”
“We were trying not to tell anyone,” Iliana said.
“Didn’t want to cause a panic. And a panic is the only thing more people knowing the truth about what’s going on would cause. That and more deaths,” Rook added.
Raiden bobbed his head in agreement before saying, “Makes sense.” He continued to tell them everything he and Spenser had said, as well as what he had discussed with Jyff and Dante before they had worked him over. The rest of the group didn’t learn anything new, other than the fact that Deadwood had been destroyed the previous night as well. The group, mainly Belinda, was also able to fill in some of the blank spots Riaden had due to the secrecy Spenser had spoken to him with.
“I guess knowing the full story makes some of the more strange questions Spenser asked me make more sense,” he said when he had finished updating them.
“Questions like what?” Kyden said, his head perking up.
“Things like what my chemistry grades had been in school. Where I was on other nights. What my relationship with Erity had been like. Just strange things. But now I know he was really trying to see if I was the one who destroyed Varnell and the other islands.” A tear appeared at the corner of his eye and rolled down his face where Raiden wiped it away halfway down his cheek with a sniffle. “I don’t know how he thinks I could have done that to so many people.”
“You’re sure there was nothing else?” Rook asked him. Iliana glared at Rook when he asked the question. She had been sitting, leaning back in her chair, arms crossed over her chest and silent the entire time Raiden told them what had happened. “Any little thing could help.”
“No,” Raiden shook his head. “Nothing. But, what do you guys want me to do? How can I help?”
“While you’re healing, just keep an ear out. Bars are places that people go to from all over. See if you hear anything strange that people travelling here from other islands say.”
“Do you guys know if there is anyone Spenser and his goons have started looking at?” Raiden asked. Everyone shook their head but Belinda. Kyden noticed.
“Who is it?” he asked. All the eyes in the room turned toward her.
“Tavion Wald?” Kyden asked. “You mean The Tavion Wald?”
“Yeah,” Belinda said. “Why? What’s so special about him?”
“Tavion Wald is the foremost expert on Ascender technology. I actually consulted with him when setting up our windmill and battery arrangements. Why would Spenser think he was doing this?”
“Apparently he was the only witness to what happened on Parth since he lives on Ezra and is basically nocturnal.”
“Sounds like him, but I don’t think he would do something like this.”
“Why not?” Elisha chimed in.
“He’s just too… polite. I guess that would be the word. He’s never rude. Doesn’t get flustered. Always willing to help.”
“Yeah, until you ask him about what he saw with Parth.”
“You mean you’ve actually spoken with him?” Kyden asked. He looked at Belinda in shock and awe.
“Yeah. Dropped a package off for him. He came out and we talked for a minute. He was really polite, like you said, for most of it. But he got to be very short and rude when I brought up Parth.”
“He, Tavion Wald, let you in his house?” Kyden asked.
“No. He came outside.”
“But everyone knows he has a severe allergy to the sun,” Kyden said. Belinda could see his brows scrunch down as the gears in his head began working a bit more. “That’s why he only ever comes outside at night.”
“Yeah. Spenser told me about that. He has some extendable awning that comes out over his front door that he stood under while talking to me.”
“So should we look at him more?” Rook asked.
“Probably not,” Elisha said. “If he never leaves except at night, then the only way to look into him would be to sit outside his place and watch it every night. If we do that enough, someone will notice and eventually call the Keepers.”
“It wouldn’t be eventually,” Belinda said. “I just realized what it was.”
“What what was?” Raiden asked.
Belinda shook her head before answering, “There was this box thing mounted outside the door to his house that moved to face me the whole time I was there. It must have been some sort of security camera.”
“You mean he actually got the thing working?” Kyden yelled in excitement. “I heard rumors that he was working on an old Ascender camera. The Ascenders used to have those things all over the place to keep an eye on people, but none of them survived the Ascension. I can’t believe he figured it out.”
“Alright,” Rook said. “So watching Tavion is out. Is there anyone else Spense mentioned when either of you talked to him.” Belinda and Raiden looked at each other before shaking their heads. “Great,” he continued, falling back in his chair. “Then we have absolutely no idea where to start. Right back at square one. Except for all the other people who’ve died.”
“What is wrong with all of you?” Iliana finally exploded from where she was sitting. Everyone looked over at where she had been sitting, away from the main group. “Do you really think we can fix anything? Who do you think we are? We’re no one. Spenser has people to do this kind of thing for us. People who are paid to do this because they’re good at it. We have been told specifically to not do anything about this, yet that is exactly what all of you are doing.” Iliana stood from her chair and started stalking around the bar near her chair. “The only thing you’re going to accomplish is getting more people killed. You know what? Maybe Fax was right.” Iliana turned from them and power walked to the door.
“Lia, what,” Rook said standing up, but she just slammed the door behind her. Rook continued after her, calling her name, letting the door swing shut behind him.
Belinda, Kyden, Elisha, and Raiden were left sitting around in a loose circle inside the brightly lit bar. No one said anything for a few minutes, they just kept staring at each other, then staring at the door, and back at each other again.
“Is doing this really all dangerous as that?” Raiden asked.
“Of course it isn’t,” Belinda said quickly. “She’s just overreacting. We’re all under a lot of stress knowing about the stuff going on right now. And that’s exactly why we need to stop it. Ky, have you found anything new we can use from the newer bombs?” Kyden shook his head. “Then, it’s like I said. Raiden, you just keep an ear out while the bar is open. Ask questions if you hear anything weird. Elisha, we need to keep going around and getting deliveries. The more we travel, the more chances we have to hear something on our own.” Elisha and Raiden nodded at her.
“What about me?” Kyden asked.
“You willing to travel?”
“That’s what I thought,” Belinda continued. “Then send messages to other people who know Tavion. See if you can find out exactly what it is he’s working on.”
The group sat there, the absence of Rook, Faxon, and Iliana were glaringly obvious in the much diminished size of their group.
“Well,” Belinda said, clapping her hands before standing up. “I’m going to get moving then.” She and Elisha gave Raiden quick yet gentle hugs so as not to aggravate the injuries Spenser’s henchmen had given him. Kyden shook his hand and told him to get well soon before the three of them turned to leave. Belinda looked back at Raiden, who was climbing from his chair to hobble behind the bar, one more time before pushing the door open and walking out into the glaring sunlight of the day.
“What do you mean Hailey is still there?” the man asked Breton.
“I mean, sir,” Breton stammered, “that Hailey was not destroyed with Varnell and Deadwood.”
“Now, Breton, let me ask you this,” the man sat back in his chair, crossed one leg over his knee and tapped his chin with a finger. “How in the world is that possible?”
“I don’t know, sir,” Breton answered, bowing his head. “Would you like me to plant your devices a second time?”
“No. Don’t bother,” the man said with a wave of his hand. “We proceed with my plan as it was designed.” Breton nodded his head quickly and frantically. “For now, go get some rest. We are going to have a busy night again.” Breton bobbed his head one more time before turning and marching into a dark room in the back of the house.
The man turned his stool so he was facing a tall square table. He lowered a pair of dark goggles and began welding pieces of metal together to make the casing for his devices.
Author’s Note: In this chapter, I do not think that the destruction of a single island is enough to get Kyden to come out of his house, especially considering other events that happen later in the novel. I have decided to remove him from this scene and either replace with a different character, or have other characters say his lines.