Hours turned into days but hadn’t quite turned into weeks. At least, Chevalier didn’t think they had. He was still in his cell, and admittedly was feeling the first twinges of boredom as he stared out the small porthole.
A movement caught his eye. Just past the first row of satellites that surrounded the station there was a long string of objects flying away from the station–hoverbikes, Chevalier realized—connected to each other with neon green tethers. There were two per bike, which gave the group the appearance of a long glowing chain, or a snake. The hoverbikes slithered out past the second row of satellites and then the third before disappearing into the Empty. Chevalier watched them go with a smile –and a sense of relief.
Good luck, Durzol. I hope that you find the Calypso Templar and that I never see you again.
The Ring of Blue Moon was quiet, which Chevalier was grateful for. Confined as he was and far from Selene, he didn’t think he’d be able to ward off the whispering presence if it had decided to assail him once again.
There was a scraping sound outside, and Chevalier turned to see the gray-red onkell who brought his food twice a day coming through the door. In its hands, as always, was a thin metal tray containing a bowl of gloppy gruel that had the look – and taste – of the ancient bookbinding paste Chevalier had used during his time as a scholar’s novice to repair and replace lost pages and bindings of old manuscripts. Despite the nostalgia, Chevalier couldn’t say that he particularly enjoyed his meals. But food was food and he was grateful for it.
“Excuse me,” he asked as the caretaker-guard passed the tray through the forcefield. “Do you know how much longer I’ll be detained? I have not heard any further news on my case.”
The onkell shook its head. “The station master is closely monitoring the situation.”
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean? Am I going to be here for another week? Another month? Another year? Until I die?”
“I’m afraid that I cannot tell you that. The station master is closely monitoring the situation.”
Chevalier glared at the onkell, recognizing bureaucratic nonsense when he heard it.
“Fine. Does the station have any terminals that can access the Imperial Libraries? If so, may I be permitted to have one? Reading would help alleviate the boredom of my captivity.”
“I will inquire with the station master.”
The onkell bowed ever so slightly and left. Chevalier returned to his bed and looked up at the ceiling. He wondered what Selene was up to, and if Bartholomew and crew had managed to successfully offload the goods from the Spitfire before the authorities managed to investigate properly. That would cure multiple headaches before they had the opportunity to come into existence.
With nothing better to do after finishing his meager meal, Chevalier decided that he should probably do some calisthenics to help pass the time. He got down from his bed and did as many pushups as he could until the shaking in his arms and burning in his shoulders made him doubt that he’d be able to press himself back up to the starting position if he did another rep. Gasping for breath and covered in more sweat than he thought he should have been, Chevalier leaned back against the wall and let his arms relax against his sides. That was a good start, but not enough. He resolved to do other exercises until his body’s protests were too much to push through.
Unfortunately, that time came far faster than Chevalier had expected it to, and as he slumped to the floor, shaking, he was furious at how weak he’d gotten. Crawling up onto his bed and staring at the ceiling, Chevalier tried to think about the last times he’d actually trained with intent. He couldn’t remember any, and decided that was a problem. For too long, he’d simply relied on the boon of the Armor of Blue Moon to handle his physical needs and had neglected his own contributions. He probed around his body, and while he was not fat, per se, there was a noticeable layer of fat around his stomach, thighs, and chest. It wasn’t much, but it was there, and Chevalier resented it.
He was going to get rid of it, Chevalier vowed. So long as he was in captivity, and as long as it took after that, regaining his lost physical prowess was going to be one of his top priorities.
Selene would crow about his change of heart when she saw him training, and frankly he deserved it. He couldn’t even count the number of times she’d pushed him to be more diligent and he’d always brushed her off. There’d always been something else going on, something else to do, some other use of his time that seemed more important.
He regretted that, now. If he’d been faster and stronger, maybe his fight against the Chillswords would have gone better. If he’d been more competent, he could have dispatched both mercenaries without trouble and avoided the sequence of events that had led to his captivity.
Crossing his arms behind his head, Chevalier drifted off to sleep.
His dreams were feverish, troubled things full of colors and shapes that he didn’t recognize and a hulking mass that reminded him of the whispering presence inside the Ring of Blue Moon. He pursued and was pursued by it through corridors of shifting shadows that grew and shrank with every step, waking just as a maw full of too many teeth to count closed around his limbs.
The outside door scratched again as it slid open and Chevalier sat up fast. Heart pounding in his ears, he rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and tensed as a shadow appeared on the wall, only to relax a moment later as he saw that it was the onkell who normally brought his food and not the creature he couldn’t quite remember from his nightmares.
The onkell knelt in front of Chevalier’s cell, reached out and passed a small tablet through the force field barrier. “The station master says that there is no harm in allowing you to access the Imperial Libraries while you remain in custody.”
Chevalier grinned and took the device. It was small and rectangular, with a series of buttons and a small projector that would display the accessed resource in hologram format. He pressed the power button and watched as the emblem of the Aguelot Empire materialized in front of him. It was a simple thing, just a crimson shield surrounded by eight stars that alternated between silver and gold. After a moment it faded and Chevalier bowed to the guard.
The onkell smiled. “You are welcome. I too enjoy reading, and could not leave you without it in good conscience. I hope that it helps you pass the hours more easily.”
Returning Chevalier’s bow, the onkell stood up and left. Chevalier returned to his bed, and began scrolling through the Empire’s reserves.
Partially because he’d seen Durzol’s gang earlier and partially because he was a treasure hunter at heart, Chevalier searched for stories about the Calypso Templar. Hundreds of news articles, stories and essays appeared, and he scrolled down the list until he found the earliest one. It was a shipping announcement from roughly eleven hundred standard years ago.
The document had originally been written in an older version of Standard that Chevalier could read with a good deal of effort, but thankfully the Empire had a veritable army of librarians, scholars and translators who endeavored to keep the reserves translated into modern cant. Both versions of the article were available, but it was the modernized version that Chevalier opened and read.
When the Calypso Templar departs from Dionope in three days, it will be the largest treasure ship to take to space in our Empire’s history. The ship is slated to carry a whale ship’s worth of silver and gold out to Rozaulia, where it will be melted into statues and jewelry by the artisans there…
The story went on from there, detailing the ship’s crewmembers and their familial histories. Though those things were fascinating in their own way, Chevalier read past them in a search for other pertinent details about the voyage itself. Man, what I wouldn’t give to see a ship filled to bursting with gold and silver like that, he thought as he closed the first story and opened a second, and then a third. He felt a familiar burning desire to learn all that he could about the doomed vessel. To see where it had traveled and to speculate on what had happened. Part of him smelled an opportunity. Maybe there was some clue hidden in these ancient texts, something that would put him on the ship’s trail.
That desire was what ultimately doomed his prospects of becoming a scholar. Most of his cohorts had been content to seek nothing more than treasures of the mind, but the allure of real treasure had pulled too strongly for Chevalier to be content spending his life inside the monasteries and libraries of the order. As soon as he’d been able, he’d petitioned to leave and struck out on his own to become a treasure hunter after he’d been approved to do so.
Humming softly to himself, as he always did when he focused hard, Chevalier traced the line of the Calypso Templar’s intended voyage with his index finger. It was a zig-zagging path between planets and space stations that Chevalier had never visited. He’d never even heard of some, and a cursory check of the records showed that more than one had been destroyed hundreds of years ago.
Never one to ignore an enticing sidetrack, Chevalier read a few entries about the ever-shifting border of the Aguelot Empire. Positioned as it was against the never-ending expanse of the Empty, the Empire was in a constant cycle of growing and shrinking. Some centuries, the Emperor or Empress made substantial gains, pushing their border of influence deeper and deeper into the sea of space and conquering new planets aplenty. In others, they were forced back by the beasts that dwelled in the gaps between stars, enemy factions, or the simple logistics of empire. In these grim cases, Chevalier tried not to think about the innocents who paid the price for the hubris of the Empire.
It was getting tough to focus. His eyes were starting to glaze over, a uncomfortable headache was forming behind them, and so Chevalier decided to stop for the night. He turned off the tablet, closed his eyes and fell asleep once again.
This time, instead of horror, his dreams were filled with wonder, as he explored systems and planets he’d never visited before, on the trail of missing treasure.
Chevalier woke the next day with aches in his shoulders, arms and chest that made any sort of movement difficult. Despite that, he felt happy. There were new things to read and discover. He drank some water, relieved himself and bunkered down once more with the tablet. He spent the morning reading, and looked up excitedly when he heard the telltale sound of the door opening. He’d expected to see the onkell who brought his food, but instead it was Layla herself who stepped into the small area just outside his cell.
The onkell’s red and yellow tinted skin looked lighter than it had at the dock. Chevalier wondered if the intensity of the color had something to do with the intensity of an onkell’s emotions, but didn’t dare ask as he stared into the station master’s grim gaze.
“How are you doing?”
It was a surprisingly polite question, and Chevalier tapped the tablet next to where he sat. “Much better, since you let me have this. However, I have to wonder why I have been held this long. Surely you must have a decent idea of if I’m telling the truth or not.”
Layla’s mouth opened and then closed, as if she’d thought to say something and had decided otherwise at the last minute. “Your case is complicated,” she said finally, “The Empire’s rules for salvage are clear, but the circumstances surrounding this entire situation are shrouded in enough mystery that Plagtos can make a strong case to be allowed to reclaim the things you took.”
“The things I took? And what might those be?”
The onkell sighed. She’d probably been hoping that he’d fall for her trap. “That’s another problem. My investigators found nothing aboard your vessel that could reasonably be considered to belong to Plagtos. However, there were signs that something had been loaded on your jump dock and there’s the fact that they tracked your ship here after you got into a battle with their minnows. Those things would seem to imply that some of their goods had been aboard the Spitfire. I don’t suppose you’d like to make my life a bit easier and just tell me what they were? I’d also settle for your version of events.”
And so Chevalier explained the minnow attack, though he kept it ambiguous as to whether or not he had goods from Plagtos aboard his ship. As Layla said, the Empire’s rules for salvage were clear, but long term he’d probably be better off – and get out of this mess faster – if there was no reason for those laws to be brought up. From the sounds of it, Bartholomew and Hurkwin had succeeded in offloading all of the goods and there was no reason to put either of them at risk by confirming that they’d been involved with cleaning up his ship.
He finished it with a description of his battle with the Chillswords.
Layla was a good listener, but when the story was done she still shook her head and shrugged. “I’m afraid that with what I know I can’t make a decision either way. Both you and Kellen tell complete stories that seem reasonable, but there’s no way for me to be sure. We’ll have to wait until the Magistrate arrives.”
“Magistrate? There’s a Magistrate coming?”
Layla nodded. “I filed a complaint. Since it named Plagtos, they were given the opportunity to request an Imperial opinion in response, and they did so. In such a case, the Empire’s policy is to dispatch a Magistrate that will adjudicate the situation. The Magistrate will arrive the day after tomorrow, and I’ve been informed that they’ll have a Soothsayer with them as well.”
A Soothsayer. Chevalier felt his stomach turn over. Having to deal with a Magistrate of the Empire was bad enough, but the prospect of facing down a never-aging being who had fun crawling around in your thoughts was entirely undesirable. The Soothsayers were the remnants of at least three priestly orders, two sects of scholars, and various other mystics that the Aguelot Empire had conquered over the eons of its existence. Their teachings, talents and techniques had been blended together into an amalgamation of truth-seeking prowess that gave each of them an uncanny knack for sniffing out lies. Chevalier had heard horror stories about how they obtained answers, and had hoped to avoid an interaction with one forever. Alas.
He met Layla’s eyes and saw the onkell studying him, looking to glean information from how he reacted to the news. Determined not to tip his hand, Chevalier bowed his head. “I appreciate you telling me. I have nothing to fear from the Magistrate or the Soothsayer, and am looking forward to clearing my name so that I can resume my wandering ways.”
That earned him a smile, and Layla stood up to leave. “Fair enough, Chevalier. One of my staff will retrieve you when the Magistrate arrives. Enjoy your reading until then.”
Chevalier watched her leave and returned his attention to the terminal. He clicked through a few more stories about the Calypso Templar, ultimately settling in on a news article from about two centuries ago. It was an interview with a froglin shaman named Luffin Greentoe who claimed that he’d solved the mystery of the ship’s disappearance.
“It was a pocket galaxy,” said the shaman. “Had to be. The escort mentioned that they saw a great flash of purple light surround the ship and when their vision returned the Templar was gone. What else could that be but a pocket galaxy?”
When asked if there would be any way for searchers to enter the pocket galaxy and find the ship, Greentoe is open to the possibility.
“If you could find the same resonating energy, you could probably find a way to enter the pocket galaxy and I’d be willing to bet that the Templar would be right there…”
Chevalier read the rest of the article, but he wasn’t really focused on it. Instead, he was fixated on the possibility raised by the shaman. He hadn’t even thought about a pocket galaxy. Normally, those were tiny things, useful for rich people who wanted to keep their valuables away from the prying eyes and sticky fingers of robbers, but of no real practical purpose for most people. He’d never heard of – no, he’d never imagined – a pocket galaxy large enough to hold even a minnow, let alone a whale-class ship or larger. Plus, once the ship was contained within the pocket galaxy, there would be a massive amount of energy required to keep it there. However, he supposed that there was no absolute inability for pocket galaxies to be as large as necessary. He just couldn’t imagine what the power source would be.
Thoughts racing, Chevalier moved onto other stories, looking for hints and clues that might support the froglin shaman’s theory. He read one written by an escort ship’s captain, which detailed the purple light, but his enthusiasm waned as it failed to offer any additional specifics and he found no others. Eventually, he quit reading for the second night in a row to rest his aching eyes,but his mind continued racing with theories and possibilities and sleep didn’t arrive for over an hour.
Two days later, Layla herself came to collect him and bring him before the Magistrate and Soothsayer. The three humans from the dock were with her, and they were all dressed in their finest clothing. Chevalier could see that pomp and pageantry were not familiar to them, as they fidgeted with their tight outfits and well-shined shoes.
He walked in front of two of them but behind Layla and the third as they led him to the station master’s mansion, a hulking gray and green building with pillars in the front. It seemed that this was where he would be interrogated. His body ached – a combination of his training and the small bed – and it felt weird to walk more than the few steps his cell’s size allowed. However, despite both of those things he was glad. Being back amongst the people, shops and atmosphere of Junkheap was a joy, and he drank in as much of the feeling as he could. Who could say if he’d see it again after the interrogation? For all of its belief in justice and fairness, the Aguelot Empire was also deeply pragmatic and especially rigid. They did not hesitate to punish criminals harshly if the situation demanded it.
There were a series of onkell guards around the entrance to Layla’s residence. They bowed to their leader as she nodded at them, and nodded respectfully to the humans who accompanied her. For Chevalier, they had nothing but cold glares that sent a shiver down his spine.
I did nothing wrong, he told himself as he followed Layla through the doors into her mansion. It wasn’t as reassuring as he’d hoped it would be.
Inside, the decor was minimalist and professional. Shades of gray and brown dominated the walls, and the floors were all made of tile that looked like the surface of a lake. There were lots of windows, and pieces of contemporary art and sculpture filled the empty spaces.
Chevalier was led into a sparsely decorated room with a large black table in the center. He sat down and was freed from his shackles by one of Layla’s staff members.
“I suppose I don’t have to say this,” the human said, “but if you try to escape you’ll be filled with holes faster than you can say ‘oops’. Understood?”
“Of course,” Chevalier said.
He looked around, wondering how long he would have to wait for the Magistrate and Soothsayer. As it turned out, the answer ended up being not long, as the door soon opened and a procession of people streamed into the room. Dressed in a crimson uniform with golden robes, the Magistrate stood out. He was an older man, and his long gray hair was pulled back into a ponytail. He moved slowly, but with grace and poise that befitted his station and Chevalier almost buckled under the weight of the man’s gaze.
The Magistrate sat down across the table from Chevalier and steepled his hands together as the rest of the people came inside. There were a few guards and then came a figure in silver robes who seemed to glide across the floor. The Soothsayer. Her face was somewhat obscured by a veil that seemed to be made of both gold and silver thread, but she looked young and smiled at Chevalier as she took her seat next to the Magistrate. He did not feel any probing into his mind, as he’d feared, but remained on edge as she watched him for over a minute without blinking.
“Your Excellency –” Chevalier started to say but the Magistrate held up his hand and Chevalier felt the words turn to ash in his mouth. He wasn’t sure if that was an entirely natural phenomenon, for he’d never heard of a power that could silence speech before, but if anyone would have it, it would be one of the Empires Magistrates.
“Please wait for a moment,” the man said. His voice was warm and sonorous, and it reminded Chevalier of bells he’d heard as a child.
Clank. Clang. Hiss. Clank. Clang. Hiss. Clank. Clang. Hiss.
Chevalier turned toward the sound and saw the hulking form of Kellen approaching. Walking in front of the Chillsword though was a hunched and twisted figure. Dressed in a neat suit and with the soft body of a lifelong bureaucrat, Chevalier realized that this must be the representative of Plagtos. He immediately felt a surge of dislike and sneered instinctively.
Kellen and the newcomer took their seats further along the table. The last guards came inside and closed the door. Layla remained standing, but she nodded at the Magistrate.
“Everyone is here, Your Excellency.”
The Magistrate smiled at her and turned to Chevalier. “Excellent. Thank you, Station Master. Now, we have not spoken before, young man.”
Chevalier waited for him to go on, but when the Magistrate said nothing further he coughed into his hand.
“We have not, Your Excellency.”
The Magistrate smiled. “You may be wondering why you are here at the same time as the other party in your dispute. Normally, I would have heard each of your stories separately and issued a ruling after a consultation with my Soothsayer, but I’m afraid that my time is at something of a premium these days and I cannot do so now. There are things happening throughout the empire that my lord has requested I attend to. As such, I hope that we can efficiently resolve this matter. With civility, of course.”
He paused for a moment before continuing.
“I have already heard most of the details of this incident from Station Master Layla, and so we are here to discuss three points. Firstly, were there goods that once belonged to Plagtos aboard the vessel Spitfire when it landed on this station? Secondly, was the owner of the Spitfire involved in any of the actions that led to the destruction of the Plagtos vessel originally carrying said goods, which would render the Empire’s laws of salvage irrelevant. And finally, we must decide who is responsible for the damage done to this station’s docking bay in the dispute between the Chillswords and this young man, Chevalier. Those are the matters at hand, and we will not stray from them. Do you all understand? Any objections?”
When none were raised, the Magistrate steepled his hands once more and closed his eyes. There was a crackle as his robes started to glow and energy filled the room. Chevalier could have sworn that he heard a whisper of “Truth be told” in his ear – or was that in his thoughts? – and when the old man opened his eyes they were filled with golden light.
His voice changed too, shifting away from the wizened and friendly tone and turning into a reverberating dissonance that sounded like dozens of people all speaking as one. It was terrifying and awe-inspiring and Chevalier desperately missed the comfort and security of his cell.
“Excellent. We will now begin.”