Chevalier took a sip of his drink and smiled at Bartholomew, who was sitting across the table at the Gray Cat with his arm slung around the cosmorc chieftain’s shoulders. If someone who’d never seen them before had walked by just then, they would have probably assumed that the two were old friends. Rivi was sitting next to the arlai and she was laughing hard. She looked much better. The only real lingering injuries she had were the bruises on her cheeks and beneath her non-prosthetic eye. They’d started to turn color and fade though, and in a few more days she’d be completely back to normal. The medical droidkin of Junkheap did good work, and Rivi herself was tough as hell.
His friend’s speedy recovery had done wonders for Chevalier’s nerves, but he still planned to seek the girl with the red ring and ask her some violent questions about why she’d felt the need to beat someone near to death over what had been an absolutely tiny issue in the grand scheme of things. Tomorrow, he promised himself. Tomorrow he’d start his search.
“And then, what do you know?” spluttered the chieftain as he slopped some of his drink into his mouth and more onto the table. “We were in the vault and it was filling with water faster than we could have ever imagined. All that planning, all that work to dodge the planet’s guardians, all that caution and none of it mattered. There was a crack in the wall! The treasure was going to be destroyed before we could excavate it. Can you believe that?”
Bartholomew burst out into laughter and clapped Durzol – the cosmorc chieftain – hard on the back. Had he not seen it for himself, Chevalier would have never believed that a few days earlier the cosmorc was on death’s door. The wound on his chest had completely healed up since, thanks to the cosmorc’s borderline supernatural healing ability. Apparently, if the wound hadn’t been pseudo-cauterized by the blaster bolt that caused it, Durzol would have healed on his own without any issue. Though Selene had assured him that the sword of Blue Moon would still be more than capable of killing the creatures, Chevalier was glad that the tension between Durzol and Bartholomew had mostly resolved itself, thanks to a stroke of genius from Hurkwin. The mechanic had apparently solved the problem of fixing Durzol’s bike in a dream. Hell of a lucky break.
The drinks had been flowing for the better part of two hours, but Chevalier had limited himself to only a single cup of the strange flavored liquor from the other night, remembering all too well the potency and after-effects. Beyond that, he wanted to make sure that he recalled every word that Durzol said throughout the night.
Because it turned out that the cosmorc chieftain was a treasure hunter, just like Chevalier. He’d grown interested in ancient legends as a youngling, he’d explained, and his insatiable lust for knowledge had led him to usurp his predecessor and turn the tribe into his own treasure hunting crew. They flew around the galaxies with their hoverbikes tethered to one another while they sought out the truth behind all sorts of mysteries. Durzol was full of stories, and Chevalier was grinning at the current one, which was the tale of the cosmorc quest for the Calypso Templar, a long-lost starship that had vanished over a thousand years before. If the rumors could be believed, it’d been carrying enough gold and silver to buy an entire fleet of modern starships. This was ultimately Durzol’s goal, to build up his very own cosmorc shipping company capable of competing with Onyx Starsk, Yos Carriers, and even Plagtos.
“Then people won’t think of us as nothing more than stupid raiders and thieves,” he’d explained.
The chieftain’s treasure hunting experiences mirrored Chevalier’s own. There were dead ruins that weren’t entirely dead – or at least, the inhabitants weren’t – maps that led to the middle of nowhere, informants and information dealers who lied to make a quick buck, and a few maddeningly close hunts that ended in tragedy. Durzol’s methods for surviving such encounters was also similar to Chevaliers: talk as much as possible, and then start chopping your way to the future (though the cosmorc used an alloyed axe instead of an ancient sword).
“So, Chevalier, where did you get that ring?” Durzol asked at the conclusion of yet another tale. He gestured to the Ring of Blue Moon. “It looks fancy.”
Chevalier smiled and took a sip of his drink, though he was a bit concerned about the cosmorc’s emphasis on his name. Technically the ring’s origin wasn’t a secret, and he didn’t generally exert a lot of energy into hiding the fact that he possessed the Ring of Blue Moon, since barely anyone even remembered the body of legends from which the stories about his ring originated. However, every once in a while he met somebody or something that had heard the tales and decided that they wanted the ring’s power for themselves. The first time it had happened, Chevalier had tried to give the ring over to the seeker, only to learn that it had a very specific method of being transferred: the current bearer had to die in order for the ring to take a new servant. Since Chevalier was pretty sure that he preferred being alive to the alternative, he’d decided to defend his claim jealously.
Durzol seemed like a good enough fellow, and Chevalier wasn’t looking to make a fresh enemy just then, so he chose his words carefully.
“I found it a few years back on an old deserted planet. Place looked like it hadn’t been touched in centuries. Maybe even longer.”
“Now that’s a story I’d quite like to hear,” Durzol said with a grin.
“Me too,” Rivi said with a belch. “I’ve heard it before, but it’s always fun to listen to. Sometimes you change things.”
Chevalier glared at the star chaser who blew him a kiss in return.
“Well, I suppose I don’t have much of a choice,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he launched into his tale, selectively edited and simplified though it may be.
Later that evening, Chevalier and Bartholomew were walking back towards Chevalier’s ship. The arlai had mentioned an interest in taking a closer look at a few of the pieces Chevalier had recovered from the Plagtos wreck. Durzol and Rivi had both headed off on their own after Chevalier finished telling them the abridged version of how he came into possession of the ring and the group finished their last drinks. Rivi had headed off towards the residential quarters, swaying ever so slightly from the effects of the drinks and Durzol had returned to wherever his gang was sleeping. Chevalier noted that the cosmorc didn’t seem to be inebriated in the slightest, despite the fact that he’d drank more alcohol than Chevalier, Rivi, and Bartholomew combined.
Junkheap’s night had been set to a balmy and pleasant warmth that reminded Chevalier of the summers of his childhood. The fresh air caressed Chevalier’s skin as he and Bartholomew took the lift down to where the Spitfire was docked. Chevalier lowered the orb of anonymity and boarded the vessel alongside the Arlai. They went to the jump dock and Bartholomew got to looking at the pieces he wanted to see. Grunting and cursing in his native tongue, Bartholomew picked up the things he could, rotating and examining them with a small magnifying glass. With a small light in both of his top hands, he crawled around and investigated the nooks and crannies of the ones he could not.
While he waited for his friend to finish his professional assessment of the goods, Chevalier and Selene hung out in Chevalier’s small sleeping quarters with the tiny dragon curled into a ball near Chevalier’s legs.
“That Durzol may end up being a problem yet,” Selene yawned. “He seemed really, really interested in the ring. I think you should be careful around him. The last thing we need is another Hampton.”
Hampton had been a friend, long ago, who’d come dangerously close to taking the Ring of Blue Moon for himself. Last Chevalier had seen him, the Singer-turned-gunslinger had been falling into a chasm of molten iron. But getting him to do so had been one of the toughest fights Chevalier had ever experienced, and his hands still shook at the memory.
“I’m always careful, Selene.”
Chevalier’s companion rolled onto her back and breathed sparks at him that he brushed away without issue. “I’m serious, Chevalier. There’s something scary about that cosmorc chieftain. I’ve seen cosmorcs in battle plenty of times, and while they can heal better than any human could ever dream of, there’s no way that the wound you described wouldn’t have been fatal. The fact that it wasn’t and that Durzol was capable of brawling with a giant hole in his chest like it was nothing tells me that he’s got some serious power supporting him.”
Chevalier thought about the way Durzol didn’t stumble after the booze either. Selene may be right.
“What sort of power?”
This earned him a nip on the hand from the dragon’s miniature – but still sharp – teeth. “How should I know that? There are hundreds or even thousands of things that it could be. The Empty is full of secrets that I am as ignorant of as you are. Even the greatest among my kind do not know everything. Unless Durzol chooses to reveal his powers himself or we end up seeing more of what he can do some other way, all we can do is guess.”
Chevalier leaned back and looked up at the ceiling of his quarters. Above his head was an old star chart that he’d inherited from his grandfather. It felt like a lifetime ago that the old man’s tobacco stained hands were tracing the paths through the stars that he’d followed as a young man searching for great treasures. Chevalier smiled.
“That ship he’s looking for sure sounds interesting though. Full of silver and gold. I wonder where it is.”
“We should look for it too! As soon as we get out of here, let’s go hunt it down!”
Feeding off Selene’s excitement, Chevalier spent the next half hour or so pointing at different places on the star chart. The two of them discussed potential theories about how the lost ship could be at each of them, ultimately discarding every theory after a bit due to how unlikely it was to be there. Unfortunately, that was probably true for any theory about the Calypso Templar, since there were thousands of stars and planets along the long, meandering route that it had been following when it vanished. According to Durzol’s tale, the ship disappeared about halfway between Rozaulia and Decrars, two minor planets near the edge of the Aguelot Empire’s third sector, but the cosmorc had admitted –and Chevalier and Selene both agreed—that it was likely the ship had drifted pretty far off course in the thousand years it had been missing.
Their discussion was cut short by Bartholomew.
“Hey, kiddo. Where ya at? I’ve got something ta talk ta ya about.”
Chevalier and Selene hopped up as Bartholomew came in from the jump dock. Clutched in the arlai’s hands was the small purple gem box that Chevalier had rescued from the wreckage of the Plagtos carrier.
Selene let out a cry and darted through the air to land on the gem box. The blue space dragon clawed at the quartz-like stone, trying to get her claws into the seam in order to pry it open and get her scaly mitts on the bracelet inside.
“Mine! Mine! Mine!”
Bartholomew held up the box-and-dragon-amalgamation. “I don’t remember seeing this on the memstick you gave me. Don’t suppose it’s for sale tah? I know a good number of buyers who’d be more than happy ta pay premium for this little beauty.”
“Do you know what it is?”
“No clue,” Bartholomew admitted. “But it looks downright magical, doesn’t it?”
Chevalier had totally forgotten about the box and the glowing bracelet inside with the events of the past few days, but he agreed. The glowing purple bracelet did look like something out of a wizard’s den, and that was why he knew that he couldn’t sell it. Magic still existed across the galaxies, but it was rare, and in his heart, Chevalier was a collector and couldn’t bear to part with something so special, even if it ultimately had no power. Plus, Selene had already “claimed” it for her “hoard”, and Chevalier felt like the little dragon deserved a little present after having to give up the Plagtos haul.
He explained as much to Bartholomew and the arlai threw back his feathered head and laughed.
“That’s a damned shame, but I understand. Sometimes it’s good ta keep some treasures for yaself.”
He put the gem down on the ground and smirked as Selene purred all over it.
“I’ll take the rest of the cargo off ya hands. It’s all good stuff, and I’m sure I can get it sold without tah much trouble. How does fifty seven hundred sound for the whole haul?”
“I was hoping for a bit more. It wasn’t easy to bring it all here, you know. Spitfire’s got the damage to prove it. Don’t suppose you can do six thousand even?”
“Kid, I’m already clippin’ my wings here. Fifty eight hundred is the top for me. Take it or leave it.”
Chevalier sighed and reached out to shake one of Bartholomew’s top arms.
“Pleasure doin’ business with ya. Mind if I go and take a look at ya ship’s damage? I’ll tell the boys ta get started on the repairs as soon as they unload all the loot. It didn’t look tah bad when I was outside, but I figure that I might as well get a better look while I’m here instead of having ta come back later.”
“That’s fine by me, go ahead.”
Bartholomew left and Chevalier sat in his cockpit doing some mental math as he waited for the arlai’s professional assessment of the damage to his ship. Fifty eight hundred seemed like a lot of money at first glance, but the repairs that Spitfire needed to be space-worthy again would probably eat up at least half of that. Maybe more than that. And that was taking into account the free replacement to the shields that Bartholomew had promised. If only he’d managed to keep the rest of the treasure during his escape, then he could—
No, he’d already made his peace with that decision. If he hadn’t dumped the cargo, he wouldn’t have made it to Junkheap. It was that simple. There was no point in re-litigating it in his mind now.
Outside Chevalier heard some cursing, clanging and Bartholomew’s frantic footsteps as he huffed his way back into the ship’s jumpdock.
“Kid, we’ve got a big problem! A big fuckin’ problem, I tell ya!”
The tone of his friend’s voice made it clear that the arlai wasn’t screwing around and so Chevalier bounded to the jump dock.
“What’s wrong, Bartholomew?”
He’d been expecting some sort of big broken part, and had already adjusted his mental haul down even further. Maybe he wouldn’t end up making any money on this salvage after all. Maybe the minnows had just done too much damage. That sucked, but Chevalier could live with a scrape of a payout. He’d just go back out into the Empty a bit earlier than he’d planned and let his ship carry him to his next adventure. That sort of thought process had always served him well in the past, and Chevalier saw no reason to expect otherwise.
Unfortunately, Bartholomew was not bearing such easily dismissed bad news. In his bottom left hand, he was holding a tiny disc of metal. Chevalier watched it blink with a steady rhythm as his heart jumped into his throat.
“This was latched under yah back flaps,” Bartholomew says. “It’s unmarked, but I’d be willing ta bet my whole shop that it’s a tracking device and it was put there by those Plagtos scouts ya tangled with. Was probably part of a flak or missile.”
Chevalier sucked in a hard breath.
“Now, I don’t think that the signal would have been able ta get out tah well with the bubble ‘round yah ship, but each time ya lowered the bubble to get in or out it could have transmitted the location right ta Plagtos. If there’s one thing that separates them from all the other shipping companies out there in the Empty it’s that they chase down their goods harder than anyone else. A lot harder.”
Chevalier took a step forward and without any fanfare, yoinked the omni-tool off his belt, activated the plasma cutter and sliced the tracking device in half.
The broken pieces fell sputtering and sparking to the floor. A thin tendril of black smoke rose into the air and Chevalier wrinkled his nose.
“Cute gesture, but I’m sure they already pinpointed ya location based on the transmissions from today alone.”
“How long do you think we’ve got before they send a repo ship?”
Bartholomew shrugged. “It’s already out and on its way, I bet. They could arrive anytime, but I’ll do what I can ta get ya ship all taken care of before they get here. Hurkwin has been complaining ‘bout being bored ever since he fixed that damn cosmorc hoverbike. I’ll give him a call and have him come by right away ta start the repairs. The rest of my boys will be by later ta start unloading the goods. Shouldn’t be tah long of a job.”
“Can I help at all? If I can make the unloading easier, I’d be happy to—”
“Don’t bother, kid. My boys know what they’re doing and they’re stronger than ya. What ya can do though is ya can go track down Layla and let her know that a ship full of angry Plagtos employees are going ta be landing soon so that she’s not caught totally unaware.”
Chevalier grimaced at the prospect. Layla was famous for her temper, and there were few pieces of news that were more rage inducing for a small station master than a massive shipping conglomerate visiting with vengeance on the brain. That sort of trouble tended to spiral out of control right quick.
“Nothing can ever be easy, huh?”
Bartholomew smiled at him and shook his head.
“Kid, this is easy. Ya don’t see any Chillswords running at ya, do ya? Trust me, if there’s one universal truth about things going ta shit, it’s that they can always get worse.”
As if to prove that there was a divine entity that controlled the cosmos, and that it had a bad sense of humor, there was a loud thunk near the lifts and Chevalier turned to see two massive, armored figures walking towards him. Chillswords. He glared at Bartholomew.
“You just had to go and fucking jinx me, didn’t you?”
The arlai threw up all four hands into a shrug at the same time. He was smiling.
“That’s life for ya, kid. Now let’s see if yar all yar cracked up ta be.”