Justin walked into the small infirmary room on Kon Kalona, now that he was allowed in. After waiting what felt like forever outside while they treated Max.
Though Shades sat next to his friend, with only a few bandages and his ankle wrapped, Max reclined in a cot in the corner. Wearing even more wrappings, with his arm in a sling. Bandit, whom the medical staff had tried to eject before Shades set them straight, lying on the floor next to him. Max was finally awake, and he and Shades were talking when he walked in.
For having endured three brutal battles in little more than a day, Justin figured, he could have looked worse.
“Hey Justin,” Max smiled weakly, “how’s it goin’?”
“Okay, now that you are.”
“Compared to you, Max, this is nothing!” Shades laughed. Considered it a good sign to see Justin making more jokes. Especially less cynical ones.
“It wasn’t a clean break,” the doctor informed them as he came in from the next room, “but it’s still pretty serious. He has a single fracture, and it’s amazing he didn’t break his arm completely in a fall like that. I would recommend you be careful with those hands, too, for the next week or two. Your arm, though, will take more than a month to heal. Just take it easy for a few weeks, and you should be well on your way to making a full recovery. You’re lucky to even be alive.”
Max nodded gravely.
“You’re luckier than you know, young man,” Chief Toma told him as he strode in behind Justin. “I did some more digging now that we don’t have a crisis on our hands, and from what I can gather, this Erix is bad news. Before, I was mostly telling the Council what I could recall about him— and hoping they wouldn’t call me out on it— but in the meantime, I found the papers I was looking for before. I’ve got a small pile of bounty notices from all over the place. Most of the rewards on this Erix fellow are six- and seven-figure amounts.”
“You mean if we caught him,” Justin asked, “we could’ve got a reward?”
“Don’t push your luck, Mr Black,” Toma replied. “It’s not like the Council has that kind of money to throw around. Besides, do you know how many people he’s killed? No one knows for sure, but just the ones I read about hint at hundreds.”
“Seriously?” Shades spoke for all of them on that account.
“I already told the other Council members we would do well to downplay his involvement in what happened here the last couple days,” Toma said. “Just the name will draw the attention of every bounty hunter and mercenary passing through.”
“Is he still alive?” Max demanded.
“I don’t think so, but we’re not really sure,” Toma answered bluntly. “Sentry I scoured the surrounding waters while Sentry II escorted you back here, but there have been no sightings. No sign of Checkmate, either. If we just found his ship, he might be dead, but…”
“Yeah, but that ship was submersible,” Shades pointed out. “What if he just left it waiting for himself underwater somewhere?”
Max, recalling that it was supposedly close enough to target Toma’s ships, already doubted they would find it.
“Captain Harper’s been helping us with that,” Toma replied. “Now that the Seeker is mostly repaired, they’ve got a sonar they use for salvages, and Harper’s quite adamant about tracking down the man who hijacked her ship. But we’ve had to be careful with Larson’s house, on the other hand. Bastard set up booby-traps and alarms strung up to pots and pans and stuff all around the place. If one of my men hadn’t noticed a hand-grenade rigged to the back door, anyone going in that way would’ve been blown to bits. I’m guessing the collapse of the front part was also his doing. We still haven’t found Larson himself, though…”
“No clue there,” Shades shrugged glumly, wishing he could be more help on that one. “All Erix told me was that he killed him.”
“I see,” Toma sighed in resignation. “I feared as much.”
“I hope that son of a bitch is dead,” Justin remarked.
“Oh, and I almost forgot,” Toma told them, turning to Max, “I originally came here to tell you that, on top of the amount the Kona Council was going to pay you for monitoring the salvage, they also agreed to set aside a reward of one thousand, two hundred credits for your part in retrieving the treasure and stopping the thieves.”
“Hazard pay,” Shades commented. “Not too shabby.”
“Personally, I wish we could give you more,” Toma continued, “but with all the repairs and medical expenses and everything, it’s what we can spare.”
“Thank you,” Max replied. “You are most generous.”
“Well, I suppose you have some things you want to talk about,” said Toma, “and I hear we caught some stragglers on Kon Aru this morning, probably the last of that gang, so I’ll be going for now. See you around.”
With that, Toma took his leave, the doctor a few moments later, after checking on Max.
“Not bad. Not bad at all!” Justin crowed after they left. “Even if they didn’t have a reward, I picked up a little something for our troubles…”
As he dug frantically in his pocket, Justin’s face abruptly shifted from elation to confusion, to outright consternation.
“What’s wrong?” Max asked.
“Where did it go?…”
“Tell me you didn’t,” Shades remarked, already getting an idea what Justin meant.
“Yeah,” he admitted, “I kinda pinched one during that first battle, but…”
“Justin!” Max looked at him crossly.
“There’s a hole in my pocket,” Justin informed them, the very face of sheepish. Now he recalled something Toma said earlier, in the aftermath of the Aru raid. Looks like one of the thieves got greedy, ’cause we found one of those ingots lying on the ground back in the shantytown… And now he couldn’t believe he hadn’t checked his pockets in the meantime through one mess after another. “That was mine?…”
“There, there, Justin. Easy come, easy go, right?” Shades tried not to laugh at Justin’s little heist falling through like that. “They say that’s what happens to those who steal from the Islands, but who am I to say? I’m no philosopher,” he continued, “but I think some things in life are supposed to be a mystery. I believe I told you, not long after we escaped that haunted island, there are more things in heaven and earth— especially in this world— than are dreamt of in your philosophy, my friend.”
“Yeah, yeah, I get it.” Justin hated it when Shades started in with the obscure sayings shit. “Maybe money just burns a hole in my pocket, right?”
The three of them enjoyed a good laugh, even Justin lightened up.
Then Shades sobered up sharply. On the subject of mysteries, he had finally put his finger on what was bothering him ever since they discussed whether or not Erix was still alive. Now that he was no longer worried about his life, and Max’s, he finally remembered where he knew that name from. Could still see the ominous pronouncement printed on the page…
“I think Erix is still alive, and I may know why.”
“What do you mean?” Justin demanded.
Max immediately turned serious, as well.
“The Book of Fate,” Shades answered, seeing his friends tense up at the mere mention of that sinister tome. “I’m sure I saw his name in there. If I remember right, it said he was going to die from falling from a great height, or something like that… And they never found him.”
“If we survived that, so could he,” Max concluded darkly.
“Unless they turn up a body,” Shades advised, “it’s probably safer to assume he is alive.”
“And mad as hell, I’ll bet!” Justin laughed, though he would be the first to admit that he didn’t particularly relish the thought of running into him again.
“Though given the shape we’re in,” Shades remarked, “I doubt he’s currently in any condition to fight us, we should probably still watch our backs until we’re sure whether or not he decided to stick around.”
From there, the conversation wound down, and Shades decided to let Max and Justin hang out for a while. Wanting some fresh air, Shades treaded lightly, favoring his injured ankle as he made his way to the nearby docks. There, he found Toma sitting on a bench, looking over reports.
The weathered lawman looked up from his work as Shades walked by.
“Pleasant morning, isn’t it?” Toma intoned, and Shades paused in mid step.
“Yes. Yes it is,” he replied.
“My friend, it’s always a good day when you live to see it,” Toma told him. “So, if you don’t mind me askin’, have you decided what you’re going to do after the Festival?”.
“Yeah,” Shades told them, “we’ve been talking about it, and we’ve decided to hang around for a while. At least until Max’s arm is mostly healed. After that…”
“I see,” Toma nodded. “No need to rush. You’re still young. I just hope you don’t make a habit of being so reckless. Everybody likes a hero, but ‘young’ is a tragic way to die.”
“So Erix told us,” Shades conceded. “Then again, it’s not like we set out to be heroes or anything… It’s really more like we were put on the spot… So many people killed…” Still hadn’t gotten used to all this… “To tell you the truth, I’m not entirely comfortable with guns.”
“I find that rather reassuring,” the island lawman told him. “Your friend there whips out those guns of his a little too casually for my taste, so I’m glad to hear that.”
“I’m sure he means well, that’s just the way he is,” Shades explained. “But I never trained for anything like this. I carry this power pistol only because I feel I need it in this world…”
“Nothin’ wrong with protecting yourself,” Toma smiled. “The fact that you don’t like that weapon tells me you’ll only use it at great need. Just know what you’re shooting, and why you’re shooting it, and you should be fine. And if you ever find you’ve reached a point where enjoy pulling the trigger, my advice would be to throw that gun as far as you can, and run in the other direction.”
“I think I would,” Shades answered. “Thank you.”
“No problem,” Toma nodded.
And Shades resumed his walk, pondering the Chief’s words, for it was indeed something to think about.