The station’s artificial day turned to night as Chevalier made his way towards the Gray Cat. Despite how frequently he visited Junkheap, he wasn’t entirely sure where to find the bar, and had to ask several people for directions along the way. Thankfully their directions were good and Junkheap was small enough that Chevalier found it without too much trouble. It also helped that there was a giant scrap statue atop the bar’s roof that looked like a cat…so long as you squinted and turned your head so much that it was almost touching your shoulder.
He hoped the owner’s drinks were better than their sculpting.
The bar was surprisingly quiet when Chevalier stepped inside. There were no rowdy drunks breaking tables or each other’s skulls, and the trio of droids playing snappy music in the corner were positively dignified. He looked around, didn’t see Rivi or the cosmorcs, and decided to get a drink.
“You want anything, Selene?”
The dragon’s claws appeared just over the edge of the bag. “Maybe a thimble or two of gin, if they have any good bottles.”
“I’ll see what they have.”
He approached the bar and exchanged a smile with the bartender. She was about two heads taller than Chevalier’s own height, and large muscles bulged beneath her tattooed green skin. Her pink hair was braided and hung over her shoulder.
“Haven’t seen you around before. Welcome to the Gray Cat, stranger. What brings you to Junkheap?”
“I’m just passing through,” Chevalier said. “Met a friend earlier by chance, decided to come and catch up over a drink. Talk about the good old days. I’m sure you know how that goes.”
The barkeep threw her head back and laughed. It was a raucous, barking thing that startled everyone around. “Of course, of course,” she said. “There’s a group of old star chasers at that table over there, and that’s all they ever do. Every night they’re in here swapping stories about their adventures through the empty…or accusing each other of cheating at cards.”
Chevalier looked over at the table where she was pointing and saw three people who all looked to be distinctly different ages sitting around it. The apparent oldest was withered and looked brittle, with stringy hair and eyes set deep amidst a face of wrinkles. The apparent youngest looked like a child, and the third was somewhere in the middle. They were playing some sort of card game, and sure enough, he could hear them arguing about who’d won the last hand.
“So what’ll you have?”
Chevalier looked back at the rows of bottles behind the bartender and pointed to a purple spirit in a squat glass bottle. The bartender looked back at it, smiled and poured him a glass. He also requested and received a small glass of gin, from which he could siphon out thimbles for Selene throughout the night. After paying, Chevalier settled down at a table and waited for Rivi while he nursed his drink. His purple liquor was sweet and a little spicy, and he didn’t recognize the flavor. Selene drank two thimbles of gin almost instantly before settling down in the bag with a third. It must have been pretty good, because she didn’t even pretend to complain about it.
A couple hours passed and Chevalier had another few drinks once he’d finished the first. Though he pointed to the same bottle each time, all of the flavors were different. He didn’t recognize any of them. A pleasant warmth tickled the tips of his ears, but he knew himself well enough to know that he still was not truly drunk. His good mood was somewhat soured by the fact that Rivi still had yet to show up. To be late was unlike her, and as the minutes continued to pass – some fast, others slow, due to the rocking in Chevalier’s skull – his anxiety grew.
When the clock struck fourteen, Chevalier decided that Rivi probably wasn’t going to show up after all. He finished his last drink, left a sizeable tip for the bartender and got up to leave. He slowly made his way to the street and felt the cool night air wick the sweat away from his skin as he returned to his ship. The alcohol had turned his thoughts to mush, but he couldn’t stop wondering what had happened to Rivi. Beyond that, he remembered that there was something else he had wanted to do at the bar, but he couldn’t remember what it was just then. It probably wasn’t important, or at least, the booze didn’t think so. He returned to the elevator, rode it down to the dock and after a bit of fumbling around, clambered aboard the Spitfire and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, Chevalier woke up on the floor with a headache that was far too serious for how little he’d drank the night before. Stuff must have been stronger than it looked, he thought as he sat up and rubbed his head. It felt like someone was drilling a hole through his skull. He looked around the room and was relieved to see that it was clean and free of vomit. Small victories.
Selene was nestled away in her little box-bed in the middle of the ship. She whistled ever so slightly with every exhale, and sleepily nipped at his fingers as Chevalier scooped her up and perched her on his shoulder before heading towards the cockpit.
As he walked, he thought about the night before. What was it that he was supposed to –
The cosmorcs. Duh. He’d wanted to size them up and see if he’d be able to do as Bartholomew had asked, but they’d never shown up to the bar last night. That made the fact that Rivi hadn’t shown up either all the more concerning.
Selene landed hard on the ground and cursed at him as he scurried to his wardrobe and yanked out a clean bodysuit to change into.
“What’s gotten in to you this morning?”
“I think Rivi got tangled up with the cosmorcs last night. I want to go and look around. See if I can figure out why she didn’t show up.”
Selene rolled over and let her eyes fall closed. “Suit yourself, but count me out. I’m going to go ahead and get some more sleep. Come back and get me when it’s time for lunch.Or dinner.”
Before Chevalier could answer, the little dragon was asleep once more. Shaking his head, he pulled his boots back on and hurried to the hatch to leave.
It was a cooler day on Junkheap, with the artificial sky having been set to a slate gray and filled with clouds. Not all space stations put in so much work to ensure that their weather was varied. In fact, most of them had a single “day” and “night”, and never deviated from them. Layla was a huge proponent of the variety though, and the long-term residents of Junkheap seemed to appreciate it.
Chevalier combed the station’s narrow streets and alleys for some sign of his friend. He didn’t find anything, and as the station’s lights shifted to simulate midday, he started to wonder if maybe he was overreacting. After all, Rivi had said that she wasn’t sure what she was going to be doing for work next. It was possible that after he’d seen her she’d gotten an offer to work guard duty or go on a star chasing expedition and had gone off station right away. It wasn’t terribly likely, but it was possible.
He hadn’t found any sign of the cosmorcs either, though he wasn’t entirely sure what to expect to find. Hoverbike exhaust burns on the sides of buildings? Half-eaten animal corpses? His own experience with cosmorcs was limited to what he’d seen and read in dispatches and holograms. Hardly reliable sources. Maybe the reality was that cosmorcs were a species of hoverbike scholars, better versed in long-dead languages than in raising hell.
Shaking his head at the absurdity of a cosmorc reciting a classic poem, Chevalier turned a corner and came to a trash site. Bags of rotting food mixed with broken pieces of all sorts of stuff. The smell was vile, and it made his hangover worse, but before he could turn around and leave, he saw something near one of the dumpsters that caught his eye.
Rivi’s blaster. Cracked into pieces. Suspecting the worst, Chevalier ran to the dumpster and threw up the lid. Nothing. He did the same to the second and it was as he feared. Rivi was laying inside with her eyes closed. She’d been on the wrong side of something nasty; her face was bruised and her prosthetic arm broken off at the wrist.
“This can’t be happening,” Chevalier said as he struggled to lift the star chaser out of the dumpster. She was heavy though and it was not an easy task. Straining, he managed to leverage her up and out, though he fell down onto the ground to do so. Rivi landed face down on the ground next to him.
“Chev? What the hell?”
He jumped back and his heart went to his throat as Rivi groaned and pulled herself up to a sitting position. Her non-prosthetic eye was swollen shut and her other eye’s lens was cracked. Wincing as she braced her weight against the ground, she managed to push herself up to her feet. Chevalier hopped up as well and caught Rivi as her swaying legs almost gave out. She tumbled into him.
“Heh,” she chuckled. “Guess you’re a bit stronger than you look, Chev. This isn’t exactly the way I envisioned ending up in your arms.”
“Me neither, but that’s not important right now. What happened to you, Rivi? Did you get into a fight with the cosmorcs?”
“Cosmorcs? No, though I’m not going to lie, I wish I had. Cosmorcs aren’t too bad. They’re not too bright, so you just have to think a little bit and they won’t give you any problems while you bash their brains in. I got into a bit of a scrap with a girl. Reminded me of you, actually.”
“Well, she had a pet that she seemed really protective of. Carried it around in a bag the way you carry Selene around.”
Rivi coughed hard a few times and gratefully took Chevalier’s canteen when he offered her a sip. “Plus, she had a ring like yours, except it was red instead of blue. After I punched her, it lit up and before I knew it she was wearing armor. Big pauldrons, horns on her helmet, a cape, the works. Kind of looked like your blue moon get up, except that she had a big lance instead of a sword.”
“Huh. Well, what did you get into a fight with her about?”
Rivi looked up at him and smiled. “We collided in the street, and both thought the other should apologize. Our discussion kind of escalated from there. I threw the first punch. Probably one of the biggest mistakes I’ve made in years. She was like something out of a storybook. Swatted me around like I was made of paper. I guess I’ve gotten soft with all this easy guard work lately.”
“Dont’ worry about it. Let’s get you to a medbay so you can get patched up. Do you think you can walk?”
“Not on my own, but if you give me a hand I’m sure we can figure it out.”
Throwing one of his friend’s arms over his shoulders, Chevalier helped Rivi “walk” down the alley and back to the main street. The people passing by gave them both a wide berth, and while none of them gawked or seemed alarmed, they didn’t offer to help either. Chevalier hadn’t really expected them to, but it would have been nice. Rivi was heavier than she looked.
“Do you even know where the nearest medbay is?”
Rivi mumbled something, but she seemed to be losing her grip on consciousness because her words were slurred and she was slumping more and more on Chevalier’s shoulder.
Thankfully a droidkin passing by on the next block was able to point Chevalier in the right direction, and even offered to help carry Rivi there. Apparently it felt a sense of camaraderie with her, seeing her prosthetics as a bond between the two of them. Chevalier thought it was a little weird, but didn’t say so. Who was he to turn down free help? Besides, he was getting tired and his head still hurt.
The medbay was a clean, spare space, with boxes of supplies stacked neatly on the far wall and a bevy of machines Chevalier didn’t recognize. He’d been lucky enough to avoid major injuries during his adventures, somehow, and so had never had much reason to visit a medbay.
An onkell doctor, tinted purple, took one look at Rivi and started spouting orders that Chevalier couldn’t understand. The star chaser had basically passed out by that point and her breathing was shallow. A group of onkell nurses appeared almost out of nowhere and gently put Rivi on a floating stretcher. They led her away to an operating room, and Chevalier was left to wait alone in the small lobby near the street. The droidkin, having done its duty in helping carry Rivi, bowed to Chevalier and left without a word. He didn’t bother trying to call it back. Droidkin didn’t make great conversation partners even during the best of times, and he wanted to think.
He wondered what time it was. There were no clocks anywhere inside the medbay and he’d forgotten to put his communications device back on when he’d changed his clothes. It felt like he’d searched for hours. Selene had probably woken up by now and was probably furiously stalking the corridors of the Spitfire while waiting for him to return with/for lunch. Or, maybe dinner.
His gaze wandered down to his right hand and lingered on the ring he wore on his index finger. He idly toyed with the silver band, feeling the warmth emanating from the stone. It whispered to him as it always did when he touched it directly. He couldn’t quite make out the words, but then, he didn’t really want to. Nothing good probably came from listening to the telepathic ramblings of an old ring. Chevalier hastily took his finger away from the blue gem and shook his head. He still didn’t trust the damn thing.
The Ring of Blue Moon, an artifact from an ancient era that possessed powers he didn’t fully understand. Maybe he never would. Its history was murky; some legends claimed that it was made during a time before humans traveled in space. Others said that it was forged by the greatest smiths to ever wander the empty and tempered in the breath of space dragons. Selene, of course, laughed at both types of legends, but she hadn’t told him the truth of the matter, either. He suspected that despite having lived in the ring for more years than she could count, the little dragon herself didn’t really know how it came into being.
Chevalier looked away from the ring and closed his eyes until the last of its whispers in his thoughts had faded away completely. Though he wore the ring and did as he pleased from day to day, in many ways it was his master. It was the reason he was now and would forever be called Chevalier, instead of going by the name he’d been born with. It was the cornerstone of his bond with Selene, and it was the reason he was shaking with anger now as he hoped that Rivi would be okay.
She had a pet that she seemed really protective of. Carried it around in a bag the way you carry Selene around. Plus, she had a ring like yours, except it was red instead of blue.
He replayed Rivi’s words over and over in his head. Wondering if it had been someone else –someone like him— that had beaten Rivi up so badly.
He knew that the Ring of Blue Moon was not the only artifact of its kind; he’d read other legends and histories that mentioned different artifacts with similar origins, but he couldn’t remember if any of the tales had specified other rings. Ultimately, it didn’t matter if she was like him, he decided. He wanted to talk to her. After he got out of here and retrieved Selene, he’d ask around and see if anyone else had seen the girl with the red ring. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was all he had. Then, once he solved the cosmorc issue for Bartholomew and unloaded the Plagtos goods, he’d spend some time tracking her down. If Rivi didn’t make it then he’d seek his revenge, and if she did…then he could just talk to her. If she did have an artifact ring, they could share experiences and maybe he could learn something about the Ring of Blue Moon’s history.
Just then, there was a loud hum and a crash outside, and Chevalier hopped to his feet. He didn’t dare invoke the ring without Selene nearby, but he grabbed a broom and clutched it ready. The wooden handle was much lighter than what he was used to working with, but he was confident he could do some damage with it if the situation warranted it.
The doors to the medbay screamed open and three cosmorcs rushed inside. They were beaten and burned, and it was obvious that they’d been crying. Clutched between the three of them was the body of a fourth cosmorc, and unless Chevalier was mistaken, all of the ornate jewelry and tattoos adorning his body meant that it was their chieftain.
Talk about a coincidence, but Chevalier had a bad feeling. A really bad feeling. Because, unless he was super mistaken, the cosmorc chieftain was already dead. It was the gaping blaster wound in his chest that gave him away. Chevalier was sure that the chieftain’s companions hadn’t realized it yet, based on the fact that they’d brought him here, but it was only a matter of time until they realized what had happened.Once they did, all hell was sure to break loose.
So much for getting rid of that haul anytime soon. What would a cosmorc rampage even look like, anyways?
“Medic!” the first cosmorc yelled, pulling Chevalier back from his idle thinking. It’s voice was rich and husky, yet distinctly feminine. “Medic come now! Come now or we burn down medbay!”
As another onkell nurse scurried forward to assess the bay’s newest patient, Chevalier’s perception of the situation was turned completely on its head and he was made to feel like a fool.
Because just then, the cosmorc chieftain sat up and growled before punching his underling in the face.