Demma paced nervously, her slippered feet growing chill against the smooth, cold floor.
"I have the strangest feeling," Starless said. "Like I'm back on V, but with you this time."
"V?" Demma made herself smile. "Your memories must be coming back. What is V?"
"The place it took me. The shepherd, I mean."
"Honey, I'm sorry, I don't understand," Demma said. The bedding shifted.
She flinched, drew back-the blanket was rising.
All the blankets were rising; floating weightless into the air, like slow ghosts.
"He's here," Starless said.
The thing rippled towards them. Eighteen feet tall and shaped like a squid, it existed as an absence in the air. A no-thing. Demma felt its gaze and realized it could see everything about her. Her past and everything yet to come. It saw the way her body was put together, every injury, every recovery. It understood her and then categorized her in seconds.
She gazed back. "Hello," she said.
In response, the Shepherd began to rock from side to side.
"Sssh," it said, although the room remained silent. "Take heed, daughter of Earth. There are two roads. One of pain. One of the Lost." The Shepherd's body flickered and pulsed, gathering itself into images. It became the image of Howl, floating before her.
But he was dead.
"No!" Demma screamed, flew forward in the darkness. The Shepherd held her at a distance, made her watch.
"Two roads," it said again. Howl's dead body began to move, as if puppeteered. "He is in danger. You can help him."
Demma ran. The carpeted halls were silent; empty; eerie. Where was everyone? The perfectly conditioned air ran over her skin like trailing fingers; the image of Howl, dead in her mind, wafted everywhere she looked. Her heart beat hard in her throat. It was only when the doors released her to the bridge that she remembered to breathe.
And there stood Eriphet, white as a knife. His gaze flickered on Demma and then returned to Howl.
"Shall we?" he said. He gestured towards the shuttle bay. Whatever they'd discussed, its answer was decided.
And now the Phyrnosian was leaving, taking Howl away with him. The Evoken threw herself forward. She had to save Howl. She knocked into him just as he stepped into the shuttle, pushing him off balance so that he bumped into Eriphet. There was an awkward scramble as the doors closed behind them.
The white Phyrnosian turned on Demma. "Hello," he said.
Below in the hold, Starless clutched her stomach. "No," she said.
"The road is walking, Cat Starless. Now it cannot stop."
Howl stared angrily at Demma. "Ye disobeyed explicit orders," he said. "Ye left the girl." Worse still was his unspoken accusation: You left the Shepherd alone.
She was still breathing hard. Something terrible was happening and she did not know how to stop it. But she would be with him. She would be with him, when it happened. That was only right.
"The girl is fine," she said. "I had a vision, Howl. We have to return"
Eriphet looked at her coolly. "The Pleaser shuts its face or this won't work."
"She understands," Howl said. "She'll button it. Won't ye?" His gaze was hard.
Oh Jesus, honey, will you pay attention, she thought. "Something is happening," she said. Urgency moved in her like an edge.