“Shinobu?” Quin asked when she saw him stirring. “Are you awake?”
“I think so,” he answered slowly.
Shinobu MacBain’s voice was thick and groggy, but he raised his head to look for her. It was the first time he’d moved in several hours, and Quin was relieved to see him conscious.
She carefully tucked the leather book she’d been clutching into her jacket pocket and crossed the darkened hospital room to where Shinobu lay, in a bed that looked too short for someone so tall.
Even in the dim light, she could make out the burns on both of his cheeks. They were mostly healed, and his head was now covered with a thick, even growth of dark red hair--but she was stuck with the memory of the singed and blood-caked hair the nurses hadshaved off when he was admitted for surgery.
“Hey,” she said, crouching next to the bed. “It’s good to see you awake.”
He tried to smile, but it ended up as a grimace. “It’s good to be awake . . . except for every part of my body hurting.”
“Well, you don’t do anything halfway, now, do you?” she asked, letting her chin rest on the bed’s railing. “You’ll help me even if it means throwing yourself off a building, crashing an airship, and getting cut in half.”
“You jumped off that building with me,” he pointed out, his voice still thick with sleep.
“We were tied together, so I didn’t have a choice.” She managed a smile, though the memory of that jump was terrifying.
Shinobu had been in the London hospital for two weeks. He’d arrived close to death--Quin had brought him by ambulance after their fight on Traveler and the airship’s crash into Hyde Park. She’d been in this room, walking restlessly and sitting and sleeping in its uncomfortable chair, ever since. She had, in fact, turned seventeen several nights previously, while pacing between his bed and the window at midnight.
Behind Shinobu, the hospital’s monitors beeped and whirred, glowing lights traveling across their screens in shifting patterns as they measured his vital signs. They were the familiar backdrop of Quin’s days.
She lifted his shirt to look at the deep wound along the right side of his abdomen. The nearly fatal gash he’d received from her father, Briac Kincaid, had healed into a tender purple line, seven inches long. It had been sewn up so neatly, the doctors said the scar might disappear altogether, but at the moment the wound was still swollen and, judging from Shinobu’s expression, terrifically painful whenever he moved.
Aside from that injury and the burns on his face, he’d entered the hospital with a badly broken leg and several crushed ribs. The doctors had bathed the wounds liberally with cellular reconstructors, which were forcing him to heal at an accelerated rate. There was one drawback: the process was rather excruciating.
Quin brushed her fingers over a lump beneath his skin near the sword wound, and Shinobu caught her hand.
“Don’t make it drug me, Quin. I want the doctor to take those things out. I’m sleeping too much.”
To help with the quick-mending wounds, he’d been implanted with painkiller reservoirs near his worst injuries. If the pain became too intense, or if he moved too vigorously, or if someone pushed on the reservoirs directly, they released a flood of drugs, which usually knocked him out. That was why he’d been mostly unconscious for the past two weeks. This brief conversation was already one of the longest periods awake he’d had in days, and Quin took it as a very good sign. The doctors had told her his recovery would happen this way--slowly at first, and then accelerating unexpectedly.
“You’re refusing drugs now?” she asked him archly. Shinobu had been on very friendly terms with illicit substances back in Hong Kong, a habit he’d only recently broken. “You’re full of surprises tonight, Shinobu MacBain.”
He didn’t laugh, probably because that would have hurt, but he pulled her closer with the hand that didn’t have an IV running into it. Quin eased herself onto the narrow bed, and hergaze instinctively swept the chamber. The room was large, but bare of furnishings except for the bed, the medical machinery, and the chair in which Quin had been living. Her eyes stopped on the large window above the chair.They were on a high floor of the hospital, and through the glass was a panoramic view of nighttime London. Hyde Park was visible in the distance, emergency lights still erected over the broken bulk of Traveler.
Shinobu pushed his shoulder into hers on the bed, bringing her back to him. Her mind went to the journal in her pocket. Perhaps he was awake enough to see it.
He whispered, “There are things to say, Quin, now that I’m awake. You kissed me on the ship.”
“I thought you kissed me,” she responded, teasing him lightly.
“I did,” he whispered seriously.
That kiss . . . she’d replayed it in her mind hundreds of times. They’d kissed and held each other during the nightmare, whirling crash of Traveler, and it had been right. They had been so close as children. They’d remained close during all of their Seeker training, even when John came to the estate and altered the dynamics of their lives. But it was not until they’d met again in Hong Kong, changed and older, that she’d seen him for what he was--not just her oldest friend but the other half of her.
“Is it too strange, the two of us?” she asked before she could stop herself. She wasn’t sure of her footing in this new and unfamiliar territory of intimacy.
“It’s so strange,” he replied immediately. Quin didn’t like that answer at all, but Shinobu drew her hand up to his chest before she could respond, kissed the palm, and whispered, “I’ve wanted to be with you for so long, and now here you are.”
The words and the weight of his hand filled her with warmth. “But . . . all those girls from Corrickmore . . .” she said. There had always been lots of girls in Shinobu’s life. He’d never once given the impression he was waiting around for her.
“I expected those girls to make you jealous, but you never noticed,” he told her. He didn’t say it bitterly; he was simply opening his heart. “All you cared about was John.”
She responded softly, “You took care of me anyway. When John attacked the estate . . . and in Hong Kong . . . on Traveler . . . You’re always taking care of me.”
“Because you’re mine,” he whispered back.
She glanced at his face and saw a sleepy smile appearing. He moved her hand closer to his heart, held it there. She turned toward him on the bed, thinking it might be time to kiss him again--
“Ow!” he gasped.
“What happened? Did I--”
“It’s--at your hip.”
“Sorry! That’s the athame.”
Quin scooted away from him and drew the stone dagger from its concealed location at her waistband, where it had just been crushed into Shinobu’s hip bone.
“Oh, there it is,” he said, and he took the ancient implement from her hands. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot while I’ve been lying here half-asleep--or dreaming about it, maybe.”
The athame was about as long as her forearm and quite dull despite its dagger shape. Its handgrip was made up of many stacked circular dials, all of the same pale stone. This particular athame belonged to the Dreads. The Young Dread had handed it to Quin after the crash of Traveler, and it was somewhat different from the other athames she and Shinobu had seen during their Seeker training, more delicate and also more complicated.
Shinobu shifted the stone dagger’s dials with practiced ease, his IV tube bobbing as it trailed off his left hand. “It has more dials, so you can get to more specific locations than you can with other athames, don’t you think?”
Quin nodded. She’d spent hours in the quiet of the hospital room examining this athame. As on all athames, a series of symbols was carved on each dial. By rotating the dials, you could line up seemingly endless iterations of those symbols. Each combination was a set of coordinates, a place a Seeker could go using the ancient tool. The additional dials on this particular dagger meant one could choose locations with much greater precision. During their fight on Traveler, the Dreads had used it to enter the moving airship. It was a feat that would have been impossible with any other athame. None but the athame of the Dreads could access a moving location.
Watching Shinobu study the dagger so intently and rotate the dials so nimbly, Quin decided that there was no reason to wait; he was alert enough to hear more. She pulled the leatherbook from her jacket and held it out to him.
“Is that . . . ?” he asked.
“It arrived this afternoon.”
It was a copy of thejournal that had belonged to John’s mother, Catherine. Quin had had the real journal with her when she and Shinobu had parachuted onto Traveler during that crazy night two weeks ago, but she’d lost it--or rather, John had found it and taken it during the frenzied confrontation on the airship.
What Quin was holding was a copy--a copy she’d made back in Hong Kong weeks ago, before they came to London. Her mother, Fiona, had been with them on Traveler during the crash, and then in the hospital. Fiona had returned to Hong Kong a few days prior, and the first thing she’d done upon arriving was send the copied journal to Quin. She’d even bound the pages in leather, turning them into a new journal in their own right, an accurate copy of Catherine’s original in size and shape.
Quin flipped through it, with Shinobu watching over her shoulder.
“Some of it is so old, I can’t read it well, but the parts I can read are about the different Seeker families.”
“Families besides ours?”
“Yes, but our own families too,” she answered.
While Quin and Shinobu were growing up on the Scottish estate, they’d understood--theoretically--that there had once been many other Seeker families. But they’d only ever met members of their own two houses--Quin’s, the house with a ram for its emblem, and Shinobu’s, the house of the eagle. They knew that John came from another Seeker house. But John’s family had already fallen apart and mostly disappeared before his generation, and she and Shinobu hadn’t given his ancestors, or anyone else’s, much thought. Quin’s father, Briac, had even removed the insignia of other houses from the estate.
Other Seeker families had felt like distant history. They were part of the old tales Shinobu’s father had told them as kids, about Seekers who had unseated terrible kings, hunted killers, driven criminals out of medieval lands, and been the force of muchgood in history. If . . . , Quin thought angrily, any of that was true. They’d grown up believing that Seekers were noble, but Briac had changed their world. He’d used their ancient tools and once-honorable abilities to turn Seekers into little more than hired assassins, collecting money and trading on power, and Quin couldn’t help but wonder: How long has it been like this?
“We know Catherine and John belonged to the house of the fox,” she said, turning pages until she reached one with a simple, elegant drawing of a fox at the top. Beneath this picture were paragraphs in small, neat, girlish writing, which continued for several pages. “These notes are about older members of the house of the fox,” Quin explained, running her finger down a list of names and dates and locations. “Catherine was writing about her grandparents and ancestors. She’s trying to account for where everyone was, and where they all went.”
“ ‘She.’ You mean John’s mother, Catherine?” Shinobu asked.
Quin nodded. “This is her writing. See?”
She flipped to the very beginning of the journal. Beneath the front cover, on an otherwise blank page, was a small inscription in the same hand:
Catherine Renart, a traveler
“That’s what she says. Her handwriting is everywhere in the journal. Though there’s also writing from a lot of other people in the earlier entries.”
“So . . . you get this book a few hours ago, and the first thing you check is John’s family?” he asked, his head bumping softly into hers on the pillow to take the sting out of his words.
She rolled her eyes and poked him gently with her elbow. “It’s because I’m still in love with him. Obviously.”
“I knew it,” he whispered.
He pulled her closer. Quin thought about closing the book, but Shinobu was looking at it intently, and she wanted him to see it while his mind was sharp, before he drifted off again.
“I read about John’s family first because his mother took the best notes on her own house,” she explained, trying to ignore, for the moment, each place where her leg and arm and shoulder were touching Shinobu’s. “But it looks as though Catherine was trying to keep track of all the Seeker families for a long while. She wanted to know where they’d all gone.”
“And where did they go?” Shinobu asked.
“That’s still the question.” Quin fanned through the journal. “When I’ve read all of this, maybe we’ll get some answers.”
Shinobu struggled to sit up a bit, then gave up and lay back on the bed. He took her hand again and looked at her seriously.
“Quin, what are you doing?” he asked.
She glanced down at the journal, closed it. “I thought we should follow--”
“We aren’t Seeker apprentices anymore,” he told her. “We’ve gotten away from your father and from John. When I get out of the hospital, we don’t have to be anything. We could go somewhere together and just be.”
Quin was quiet for a time, thinking about this. That simple future sounded lovely when Shinobu offered it. He had set the athame on his chest, with his left hand over it, protectively. Quin put her own hand on it as well, feeling the cool stone and the warmth of his hand. Why couldn’t they go off somewhere and just live--live as ordinary people? Their life as Seekers would never be the life they’d expected as children; that future had been a lie. So why not become something else?
But she knew the answer already.
“The Young Dread gave this athame into my keeping--for a while at least,” she told him. “She wanted me to have it.”
“That doesn’t mean we have to use it,” he responded gently.
“I think maybe it does.”
He regarded her for a long moment, then asked, “What is it you want to do, Quin?”