The Chillsword took another few steps towards Chevalier. Up close, Chevalier could see that the mercenary’s armor was heaving ever so slowly. Though he still could not see through his foe’s helmet, the Chillsword’s posture was resigned and weary. This was not a great triumph, nor a righteous act of punishment. Perhaps it had seemed that way seconds ago, but the moment had passed, and Chevalier saw nothing but grim determination in the way his death approached.
Where the Chillsword’s blade hovered above the ground, a thin layer of frost appeared on the silver of the dock, and the energy around the weapon’s blade hummed with mechanical menace. The orbs of plasma sitting ready in the pockets of the Chillsword’s pauldron cannons crackled and popped, and Chevalier felt as if he was staring down a pair of hungry beasts.
Very hungry beasts.
The currents were dim in his vision, their blue light having faded to almost nothing and he didn’t bother reaching for them. He doubted that he would have been able to control any power he managed to draw, and frankly the entire effort seemed to be a waste of time.
He looked over at the Sword of Blue Moon. Too far to grab, and likely not much use even if he somehow managed it. Would it fade away when he was killed and return to the ring? Or would it be simply remain there to be picked up by the Chillsword and given to Plagtos? It was stupid, but he resented the idea of the conglomerate taking his sword for themselves. What did they need it for? They hadn’t struggled or sacrificed to get it. It didn’t belong to them. It was his, and his alone.
It was a stupid thought, and the knight was glad that it was fleeting.
Chevalier fought back the urge to close his eyes. He stared into the Chillsword’s opaque sockets and grinned. He might be dying soon, but he’d be damned if he was going to go out like a coward.
“Any last words, scum?”
Before Chevalier could answer, there was the telltale zing of a laser blaster and a bolt ricocheted off of the Chillsword’s back. It hadn’t done any damage, but it got the mercenary’s attention and so stayed Chevalier’s execution. For the moment anyways.
Chevalier and the Chillsword both looked at the source of the shot.
Bartholomew, his feathers raised and his four arms shaking, stood on Spitfire’s ramp. He held a weapon in three of his hands, a single blaster and two knives. In his fourth hand was a small communicator with a blinking red light.
“Station master and her security forces are on their way,” the arlai said. “I suspect that she won’t take kindly ta the damage ya’ve caused ta her station dock.”
The Chillsword took a step towards Bartholomew and pointed his sword at the contraband dealer. “Your associate is to blame for that. In addition to being a thief, this man is a murderer and killed a Plagtos employee who—”
“Who attacked him first,” Bartholomew interrupted. “I saw it happen. I am a well-known merchant and mechanic here on Junkheap, sell-sword. The station master will trust my testimony, of that I am certain. Ya should avoid making things worse for yaself and wait for her ta arrive. I’m sure that yar employer would say the same.”
There was a moment as the Chillsword thought through the implications of Bartholomew’s bravado. Plagtos was meticulous when it came to protecting their reputation, as any massive conglomerate could reasonably be expected to be. Especially when doing business in the Aguelot Empire, who were known to be more than a bit prickly when it came to making and abiding by rules. Chevalier didn’t think much of Augustian Aguelot, the Emperor, but the man was undoubtedly a force of good for the average citizen. Under the yoke of Imperial control, regular people didn’t need to fear the whims of shipping conglomerates, crime syndicates, or feudal captains the way that they might have if they’d lived in independent systems. Safety was one of those things you could never have too much of in the vast sea of stars, and whatever taxes they paid to keep Augustian’s fleets in good repair were probably seen as worth their price many times over.
“You make a fair point,” the Chillsword said. He deactivated his shoulder cannons but kept his sword poised to strike. “So long as the blue swordsman remains peaceful, I will cause no more trouble for this station.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Chevalier coughed as he failed to stand up. “I can barely move.”
The Chillsword regarded him coldly. “You murdered my companion, swordsman. You should be conversing with him in the afterlife.”
Chevalier didn’t respond. Partially because he couldn’t think of a proper rejoinder and partially because his chest ached like hell and his breath was coming in quick, ragged gasps. Definitely a few cracked ribs, at the bare minimum. His focus flickered and he saw the light coming from the gem in his sword fading. His scarf fell to his side as the hidden wind faded and almost at the same time the Armor of Blue Moon started melting off his body. Like water, his pauldrons dripped down his arms and splashed onto the ground before fading into the ether. The breastplate followed them, as did his gauntlets and boots. His helmet was the last thing to go, and the world’s colors slowly returned to normal without the visor over his eyes.
The Sword of Blue Moon, however, did not melt. It remained on the floor of the dock, and didn’t seem to be on the verge of vanishing any time soon. With the armor gone, the weapon’s gem regained some of its luster, and Chevalier glanced down at the ring on his finger. It looked the way it always did, but Chevalier didn’t sense the whispering presence at all. Anxiety about the blade wormed its way back into Chevalier’s thoughts.He could not let Plagtos or anyone else possess it.
“Chillsword, would you grant me a favor?”
“What might that be?”
“Would you let me retrieve my blade and return it to its sheath? I fear losing it, and as a swordsman yourself I’m sure that you can understand my apprehension. I assure you that if our positions were reversed I would not prevent you from reclaiming your weapon.”
The mercenary was quiet as he stared into Chevalier’s eyes. “And why should I allow you to do that? What’s to stop you from attacking me with it if you’re allowed to take it back into your possession? Only a fool would let his foe collect his weapon without condition, and I am not a fool.”
Chevalier gestured to his outfit. His clothes were stained and had a few tears that probably hadn’t been there before the battle. Chevalier still wasn’t entirely sure how the Armor of Blue Moon interacted with his clothes, but it wasn’t important enough to really think about. Especially not now. “You have nothing to fear from me. I am wounded, and my power wanes to naught. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure I could even swing my sword right now, let alone have the strength to pierce your armor.”
“Your blade doesn’t seem like the type to need much strength to cut through things. I do not like this risk, swordsman.”
With a shrug, Chevalier took a step towards his sword. He took it as a good sign that he wasn’t cut to pieces instantly, and took a few steps more. Walking was harder than he thought it’d be though, and he had to stop to catch his breath twice as he limped along. It was embarrassing to be so winded from such a short distance, but Chevalier did his best to remain dignified.
The Sword of Blue Moon was cold to the touch when he picked it up and it was awkwardly balanced. The grip was too big for his hands and Chevalier found the weapon’s design garish instead of beautiful. A wave of revulsion rushed through him. He’d been such a fool. This is what he’d risked his life for? To pick up this worthless blade? Who cared if Plagtos wanted it – or anyone else for that matter? He should give it to them and thank them for the trouble of taking it away from him.
“’Tis a fine blade,” the Chillsword said, interrupting Chevalier’s thoughts and breaking the sense of wrongness that filled the knight’s hands. With a great deal of effort, Chevalier found the narrow gap in reality that allowed him to return the weapon to it’s sheath, and the blade vanished in his hand. He felt better almost instantly, and wondered if perhaps his aversion to the sword had been the doing of the whispering presence.
“It is indeed,” Chevalier said. “Do you have a name, Chillsword, so that I might thank you properly, one swordsman to another?”
“You may call me Kellen.”
Chevalier bowed, blinking back tears as the movement caused pain to erupt in his torso. “I thank you, Kellen.”
Kellen nodded, but said no more. Chevalier stumbled back to his wall and sank down to the ground. He heard the distant whirring of the lifts all around the dock, and smiled at Bartholomew.
“Looks like the station master is here,” he said.
“Sure does,” the arlai replied. “Fair warning, kid. She’s not going ta be real pleased with ya. I wouldn’t be surprised if ya end up spending a month in the brig while she calms back down.”
There was a hum and a mechanical growl as the elevators opened and Layla and her security staff came onto the dock. The onkell was carrying a heavy rifle and was decked out in a combat vest. The tentacles that made up her mouth were writhing back and forth and her irritation was palpable as the station master approached Chevalier and Kellen.
“What the hell happened here?” She gestured at the holes in the walls, the burn marks on the floor, and the smoldering halves of the ship that had been demolished by Kellen’s plasma cannons. “This is the worst damage that my station has suffered since I became the master, and I will have answers for how it happened.”
She turned to Bartholomew, who inclined his head toward her in an informal bow. “I am not surprised that your sticky feathers are tied up in this, Bartholomew.”
Bartholomew threw his head back and laughed. “Master Layla, I assure you that my reasons for being here are completely legitimate.” He pointed at Chevalier. “My crew repairs this guy’s ship from time to time and I was down here to diagnose a problem with his ship’s shields.”
Layla gwarbled. The onkell expression was a combination of a snort, sneer, and chuckle. She didn’t press the point any further though, which Chevalier was grateful for. It wouldn’t do his cause any favors if the station master of Junkheap accused him of dealing in black market goods.
There were eight members of Layla’s defense force. Three of them were onkells, with varying colors and patterns. All of them carried heavy blasters and wore vests similar to Layla’s. They had the grizzled look of veteran soldiers. Two of them were droidkin, made of silver and black metal and they both had glowing red eyes. They looked like they were specifically designed for close combat, with a dizzying array of blades and saws popping out of their arms and chests. Chevalier thanked his stars that he wasn’t going to be expected to fight them up close.
The last three members of Layla’s crew were humans, and they all carried different weapons. One carried a spear, the second carried a pair of blasters, and the third wore heavy gauntlets that crackled with electricity. They looked like serious, well-trained people, but Chevalier didn’t think they were in the same weight class, threat-wise, as the rest of the security staff. Or Layla herself. The humans walked over to the fallen Chillsword and Chevalier saw Kellen tense up as they inspected the corpse of his deceased comrade.
“I’m taking the two of you into custody,” Layla said. “Our interrogators will listen to both of your stories and figure out exactly what happened. Until we can discern the truth of the matter, you both will be held in the brig so as to prevent further damage to our station. Do either of you object?”
It was clear that the question was rhetorical.
Kellen bowed. “I do not, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my contract with Plagtos requires that I report to them as soon as possible. Should I be detained from doing so, they may send additional members of my order to investigate and that may cause additional damage to your station.”
Layla shook her head. “We will contact them on your behalf. Each of you Chillswords has an identification number, do you not?”
“We do,” said Kellen. “Mine is RK-118.”
“And your companion’s?”
There was a pause. “RK-117”
Onkells did not have eyebrows, but Layla tilted her head and the impression of intrigue was obvious. “I must admit, I am not terribly familiar with your order, but the fact that those two numbers are so similar implies a degree of…closeness…does it not?”
“You are correct. RK-117 was my elder brother.”
Chevalier looked at the crumpled form and felt a twang of regret.
Layla shook her head. “I am sorry for your loss. I will ensure that your employer is aware of your brother’s passing and your own incarceration. Please sheathe your weapon and we will escort you to the brig.”
Kellen did as requested, and without a word the humans led him towards the far elevator. The Chillsword’s footsteps were heavy against the dock – clang, clank, hiss – but they also carried a hint of sadness with them.
Turning towards Chevalier, Layla lowered her blaster and nodded at the droidkin. Without a word, the mechanical creatures sheathed their weapons and hovered over to him.
“You appear to be injured. Do you require assistance to be taken into custody?”
“Yeah. I’m afraid that my legs feel like they’re made of gelatin.”
The droidkin buzzed back and forth to each other for a few seconds and a stretcher appeared between them. Chevalier wasn’t sure where it came from, and frankly he didn’t really care. They lifted him up as if he was a child’s toy and laid him down on it. The stretcher hovered in the air as he was led to a different lift than the one Kellen had ridden up. The lift opened as the last vestiges of Chevalier’s strength faded away and he felt his grip on consciousness slipping away.
However, as he fought to keep his eyes open, Chevalier saw a familiar face driving a cargo bike towards one of the other lifts. He smiled as Hurkwin caught his eye and winked at him.
Good old Bartholomew. Seems like he had a backup plan after all.
Feeling much better, Chevalier drifted off into nothingness.
When Chevalier woke up he was stiff but felt better. He saw the telltale marks of healing on his chest and forearms – he didn’t even know how his forearms had been injured – but there was no pain anywhere and that was a good thing.
His cell in the brig was tiny. It made his quarters on the Spitfire, which were hardly luxurious, seem fit for a king. Gray walls, gray floor, and a tiny porthole above the narrow bed. That was it. Instead of bars, like some brigs Chevalier had spent time in, the cell was sealed off with a light green force field. It didn’t hurt Chevalier’s hand when he reached out to touch it, but it numbed his fingers and sent a tingle up his arm after a few seconds. Pushing was fruitless, and Chevalier sat on his bed to wait for the interrogator. It wasn’t like there was anything else to do.
He looked out the porthole above his bed. His field of vision wasn’t great, but he could see a pair of aquaponic ships out in the stations orbits. The farm vessels were small squares of blue and green, and workers dressed in heavy space suits slowly moved along the pools in sequence, harvesting fish and plants and cleaning and testing water. Chevalier watched them for a few minutes, but they didn’t hold his attention for long and he soon turned his attention to the sea of space that surrounded the station.
It was beautiful in a melancholy sort of way. There were shimmering stars off in the distance, and they almost looked like stairs as Chevalier avoided blinking. He also saw movement near the station, tiny pods of starpisces with brightly colored fins and eyes that glowed. Not for the first time in his life, Chevalier looked both near and far, hoping to see a starwhale’s silver sheen gliding effortlessly through the Empty, but alas, today was not his day. That was fine. There’d be other chances. Hopefully.
The light changed in his cell, and there was a quiet groan as the walls moved ever so slightly closer to one another. Chevalier smiled and shook his head. Layla wasn’t going to crush him, and the movement was simply a play to stress him out enough so that he’d be easier for the interrogator to manipulate. It was a cruel, clever tactic, and it would have probably had the desired effect on most people, but Chevalier was unfazed.
The truth of the matter was that small spaces didn’t bother him. After all, he’d spent the first twenty standard years of his life aboard a scholar’s vessel as a novice, which meant that in addition to the grueling physical labor of carrying and copying ancient texts by hand, he’d also had quarters that were less than half the size of the cell. Whenever he wasn’t transcribing texts or training in combat – another skill that was required of all novices – he was in his room sleeping or studying. Eventually he’d learned that the amount of space surrounding his physical body was less important than the amount of space he occupied within his mind. No walls could impinge on that.
The walls creaked again, but this time Chevalier was pretty sure that they were returning to their original position. If his intuition was correct, this cycle of shrinking and returning to normal would repeat over and over until the interrogator arrived.
Putting his arms behind his head and closing his eyes, Chevalier settled himself for a nap. The walls creaked again.
Back aboard the Spitfire, Selene wrestled with the glowing purple gem box. She knew that it was a foolish waste of time – her Chevalier had been taken into custody and probably needed her help – but she couldn’t stop herself. The dragon sickness was too strong to resist.
The bracelet inside the gem box called to her, and she wriggled her claws into the seam, straining against the seal with all her might. Rolling onto her back, the little dragon pried and pulled, flexing her wings and her legs as hard as she could. She was getting close to opening the gem box, she could feel it. Just one more good pull. Maaaaaybe two.
But first, a break. She’d been struggling for the better part of an hour with the box and she was tired. Kicking at the gemstone with a combination of frustration and playfulness, Selene curled up next to it and drifted off to sleep.
The monochrome sigils appeared in her dreams, like they always did. They squelched and squished together, made of something that was part liquid and part metal. Twisting and contorting, they turned themselves into shapes that Selene could make no sense of, alien things that simultaneously intrigued and terrified her. Eventually, they melted away, replaced by a blue star that she did not recognize.
The dream was always the same, and Selene knew it well enough now to preserve her lucidity as she slept. In a way, she was grateful for the psychedelic paddle-boat ride through the tunnel of her thoughts. It gave her time to plot and plan.
But then, where there was supposed to be a bevy of white noise as the planet disappeared, rain and snow appeared around it instead. A long, dark ship crossed its horizon and Selene watched the light of a nearby star reflect off of its crimson and gold plates. The mystery ship sailed off into the Empty, its engines flaring purple as it picked up speed. Growing smaller and smaller as the distance increased, Selene watched the purple finally wink out amongst the stars as the ship faded from her sight. Then came the white noise she’d been expecting as she returned to consciousness.
Selene tilted her head and yawned. A tiny spark of flame blew into the air.
That was new, she thought. Maybe the dream wasn’t always the same after all.