Memry climbed back on board the Vanguard and hurried down the ladder into the hold lounge without taking off. Jowd sat on the lower level’s couch, staring at the kitten nestled in his hands as it napped with absolute trust in him, while Cabanela paced around the upper level, his nervous energy seeming even more frenetic than usual as another kitten chased the fringe on his white wrap.
They’d had another one of their arguments before she’d escaped to the city, taking her uncle and Kamila with her to escape the sounds of their fury. Memry rolled her eyes at that memory. She wasn’t one to long for the simple, or the past, but all that angry noise made her stomach ache. She couldn’t imagine how she’d ever had that ill-starred crush on Draco. All that singing all the time? No, thank you. She wanted it on her terms or not at all.
In any case, their fight, as all their fights seemed to be when boiled to essentials, was essentially meaningless. They spiraled ‘round each other like a whirlpool, emotions crashing like tides on rocks. She couldn’t imagine how it never drained, never seemed to exhaust itself. How had they lived that way, before, in those years before Jowd was taken? Yet she knew how. They’d had someone to help smooth the rough edges between them, and they’d been too happy to notice that the rocks were always there, waiting. Well, perhaps at least the news she brought would be enough to soothe those turbulent waters for a time.
Kamila had followed her down the ladder, Cidgeon behind her.
“Did you tell them yet?” she asked Memry, her voice soft.
“Tell us whaaat, baby?” Cabanela said, pausing in his pacing just long enough to pick up the kitten chasing him. With careful hands he handed the kitten to Memry. “Nothin’ like ‘em, baby, but my coat’s sufferin’. Give him a little distraction, hm?”
“They’re saying the ruins of Doma are haunted by a masked ghost,” Cidgeon said, his dour face set in grim lines. “That the dead queen is keeping out scavengers…and anyone else besides.”
“What?” Jowd’s head came up. “That can’t be. Alma and I saw them…” His face filled with that remembered pain. “We…” he swallowed. “We said our goodbyes.” There was no laughter in the words, not even Jowd-ish black humor. It was clear that experience had been a profound one.
Cabanela slid him a glance; there were details about that long-ago visit to Doma that had never been shared with him, either by Alma or Jowd. It had been too close, too painful for Alma, back in their travels together before the world had been shattered, and he and Jowd could barely share a pleasant word these days, much less a conversation so fraught with painful recriminations on both sides.
Memry gave Jowd a quizzical look as she twiddled her fingers at the kitten’s paws where it lay contentedly in her arms. “Huh? Like you saw their ghosts?”
Jowd’s face relaxed again as he watched her and the kitten, and a corner of his mouth lifted, although his eyes remained dark and shadowed with the memory of the grave. “Mm. After I tried to suplex the train they were on.” He gave a great shout of laughter at their faces. “And succeeded too! But it wasn’t enough to stop them from going.”
The others on the airship fell uncomfortably silent, and Kamila sat down next to him, leaning against him. “I don’t think we really get it, papa, but it sounds like you really tried.”
His arm went around her, the kitten shifting easily to her lap, and his eyes softened. “We did. We really did.” They were quiet for a moment. Almost under his breath, he added, “I should go back there, check and see if anyone else we know has taken that ride…”
Cidgeon gave him a sharp look. “If you’re talking about heading to Doma, boy, I think it’d be a good idea for us all to go. If there’s a ghost haunting the place, it could be a lost esper, could be a monster…”
“Could be a demon,” Sissel added, his tone casual. “Like the one back in Mobliz.”
“Or we all know who it could be,” Jowd’s words fell into the conversation like lead, and everyone stopped.
“Nah, baby, there’s nooo living there,” Cabanela said, waving his hand to dispel the wave of dread his words had provoked. “She’s not sittin’ in the old homestead when she could be here with you and Kamila.”
Jowd’s face went hard as stone and his arm around Kamila tensed, the knuckles going white as he clenched the cushions of the couch. “Easy to say, isn’t it, old friend?”
“Papa!” Kamila put her hand on his. “It’s probably not mama, but if it’s Aunt Meg’s…ghost, or grandma or grandpa…”
“It’s not.” Jowd spoke with utter conviction. “It’s Alma.”
“She’s nooot dead, baby,” Cabanela said, his shoulders going stiff but his voice still resolutely light. “We’d know.”
Jowd stood and walked over to him, overshadowing Cabanela until they both stood in the darkness of his shadow underneath the hanging lamps above. “You know we wouldn’t. Your spells may be useful for fighting and espionage, but they don’t make you all-knowing any more now than they did before the end of the world.” Whether your double thought so or not; the words hung in the air, unsaid, but heard.
Cabanela ducked under his arm and whirled back into the light as he opened his mouth, his face incensed in a way no one but Jowd could pull from him, but Kamila interrupted his angry rebuttal.
“I’ve had enough of your fighting!” She didn’t stand, and the kitten on her lap never stirred from its nap, but her glare could have cut glass. When she looked at them, her face was older than a little girl’s should ever have to be. It was purely her mother who stared out at them for a moment. “It shouldn’t matter whether it’s mama, or Aunt Meg, or anyone or anything else haunting the ruins. Whatever’s there in mama’s old home is hurting the people of the kingdom she grew up in, and she wouldn’t want that.” She faltered, just a little, looking more like a child again. “We can’t let mama’s kingdom die this way. I may not have gotten much training as a princess but as Missile would say, even I know that.”
Jowd’s glare dropped from Cabanela’s, and they both turned away. Jowd’s guilt was perhaps more visible in his body language; a casual watcher wouldn’t have known Cabanela felt shame at all, but these weren’t casual watchers, and they all knew he had heard and been chastened.
Cabanela spoke first. “Anyhoot, it was neeever a question of if, but when we went to Doma, baby.” He frowned, his hand wiping down over his face. “There’s somethin’ there...”
Phantom spoke from the low pedestal they’d constructed in one corner of the room so the Esper could have a place to be with Seraph, now that they were reunited. “I feel it too. Something…like a dream…”
Cabanela cast a glance over to Phantom, his face perplexed. They had all expected the Esper to be ecstatic to be rejoined with Seraph, and they had been, but it was plain there was something still missing. It wasn’t like Cait Sissel had been, wherever she now drifted, but Phantom still mourned something or someone there.
Cabanela shrugged, then bowed to Kamila in his most ambassadorial fashion. “So you see? Dooon’t you worry, we’re on the case.”
Jowd snorted, turning his back on Cabanela and walking back to the couch. “He’s right about that. I’d be going whether he wanted to or not.”
Cidgeon spoke, probably rolling his eyes behind the thick smoked-lens goggles he wore, his tone dry, “If there’s a masked ghost or esper or demon or monster there, I don’t know why it was a discussion in the first place. We all know the harm these War of the Magi relics have caused. It needs research and—probably--disposal.”
They all nodded, Cabanela the most firmly of all. The mask, whatever that thing was, couldn’t be allowed to corrupt another esper as it had done with Cait Sissel.