She hadn’t been there. She was never there, he thought as he ran his fingers over the smooth, black metal.
He’d gone off with the others after that day, in search of Mordecai’s brother. They drove, and drove, and Vel sat there, sunk into an uncomfortable passenger seat, gazing out the window. He hoped that the familiarity of the dust and sand filling him, the familiarity of his travel companions, would ease him out of his sadness. It didn’t.
They hadn’t found Mordecai’s brother either. They just drove and drove.
Vel and Pike had eventually given up the chase, unable to bear a moment longer a venture wrought from a heartache that wasn’t theirs. He said he was looking for his brother, but, then again, he’d always been looking for his brothers, ever since they’d known him. This time though, Vel could see it wasn’t really his brother or any of his gang members he sought. It was Bonnie he wished to find. He never would: Vel had pulled Bonnie from the sea, a ten-inch-thick spike of metal through her sternum.
Vel hoped The Deadman wouldn’t wander the desert forever, he hoped he might come back to Swiltholm so at least those that were left could comfort one another. But, then again, maybe he’d become a ghost, friend only to dust.
Vel understood. He let his fingers slip from the edge of the jet black aquatic craft. He looked around the hanger, listened to the echo, the hollowness of a place that no one quite knew what to do with now that things had settled.
You hadn’t seen her for years. It was really only a few weeks. It shouldn’t matter this much.
But it did. It did enough for he and Pike to venture out to that place, that husk of memory. They took a boat, at first they went every few days, then every week. He wanted for some part of her to wash up on that shore, but it never did. Pike eventually gave up, stopped coming to the island with Vel for the same reason that they’d both abandoned Mordecai. He had Van, after all.
Could he overcome this feeling, could he get back to a life? Sit and have a drink with Pike, Trickfoot, Mordecai, and the others? He wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to admit that maybe there could be so much sadness shared between people that it would always come between them. But maybe it was true.
Every time he’d let his guard down, by the time he’d gotten the courage to trust, to stop being afraid of people, they always vanished. He kept telling himself he had his other friends, but something was raw about him now. A frayed nerve, exposed from cauterizing a wound only to have it be ripped open again and again.
It wasn’t just Draca. When he was confident no one was in the hangar with him, he collapsed to his knees, gripping the edge of the large metal disk.
Where was the creature that had killed his parents and gotten away? Where was The Old Woman when he wanted to give her a piece of his mind? Where was Torque? Where was Draca?
Where was the horror that had taken her away?
As he watched his tears quietly plink against the metal floor, he truly knew that he wouldn’t have his answers to those questions. All except the last one.
He saw that thing when he closed his eyes at night. Tentacles and eyes layered on top of each other to such a minute degree that the sheer swarm of looking at it was overwhelming. Terrifying.
It was still out there. Whatever covered this submarine was a part of it, connected to it. Fortiscue had been connected to it. He could be connected to it.
He gritted his teeth, breathing out a sob as he wished again that he’d thought that before what had happened. Before the creature had taken what it came for, leaving little left. Who could he have saved? But he’d seen what happened to those who took on that substance. It had chilled him. It was the type of thing he could really only consider once it was too late.
He had a chance to understand this one thing. To know it, and, he dared to hope, to find a way to beat it. To kill it. To rend it, one minute piece at a time.
In some ways, he knew he was kidding himself. He faced down his masked face in the mirror, wolf jaw smiling back at him, and he asked himself: you cannot even move on from them, how could you conquer this thing?
Would they even want him to? He could perish, drowned in sentient metal, he could kill without will. Would they want him to?
“I don’t know,” he said, gripping the metal tighter.
“I don’t know.”