The room warped. The Magistrate seemed to grow and grow until Chevalier had to crane his neck to look up into the golden eyes. So far as he could tell, he was alone, the features of the room and everyone else in it had vanished.
Chevalier’s body started shaking. No matter how he tried to calm his muscles, his arms and legs trembled uncontrollably. His stomach rolled over, and he felt as if he was in danger of trying to crawl out of his own skin. What was this power? Was it a boon? An ancient technique passed down through the generations? Some sort of manifestation of the Emperor’s will? Plain old magic?
It didn’t matter. He put his hands to his throat and mouth, and it took all of his will power to avoid throwing up.
The Soothsayer appeared next to the Magistrate’s statue. She moved quickly, but did not rush, and after a few gliding seconds stood in front of Chevalier. Her veil had been lifted and he could see her face. She was beautiful, with sharp features that didn’t seem entirely human. One of her eyes was gold, and the other was silver. She had a long, narrow smile that hinted at secrets known but never spoken, and when she reached up to touch Chevalier’s chin with a slender hand, a jolt of electricity sizzled through the knight’s nerves.
“What you feel is normal,” she said. Her voice was poetry given sound, and it washed away the adverse effects of the Magistrate’s gaze, replacing them with a profound sense of calm. “You are a man of many secrets, used to untruth. Being forced to endure the yoke of truth is unpleasant for one such as you.”
“But I promise that what you are feeling will be temporary, and when we have seen your story you will be returned, unharmed, to the room in the station master’s mansion.”
“Seen? Not heard?”
The Soothsayer shook her head. “Normally we would have you tell us your side of the story, but alas, as my companion has already said our time is short and we are needed elsewhere. With your permission, I can facilitate the viewing of your memories.”
“I don’t suppose refusal is a real option, is it?”
When the Soothsayer didn’t answer, Chevalier shrugged. “So be it. Do what you must.”
With her free hand, the Soothsayer traced a circle around Chevalier’s head in the air. To his surprise, a trail of golden sparks followed her movements. The sparks smelled like freshly mowed grass. After the circle came a pair of triangles around his eyes and a series of smaller rings that pointed toward the Magistrate.They all smelled like flowers.
“Are you ready, Your Excellency?”
A deep, resonating sound like the tolling of a bell answered her and she clasped her hands together, as if in prayer. Chevalier’s throat felt squeezed, as did his head and then, with a twisting feeling, an image appeared in front of his face. It was like a hologram being projected, but instead of a piece of machinery, it was his own eyes and mouth that were creating the picture.
The Soothsayer started chanting, changing the shape of her fingers as she did so, and Chevalier watched an encore of his memories. He was powerless to stop the playback or to hide any of them, and felt the urge to protest as the Magistrate sped some things up, slowed others down, repeated sections multiple times and skipped others entirely. The actual salvage of Plagtos’ whale ship was passed over at what felt like triple speed, as was the entirety of his trip to Junkheap, but Chevalier relived the fight with Kellen and his brother no fewer than seven times. On each viewing, the Magistrate – and likely the Soothsayer as well – pored over every second to see who was responsible for each bit of damage to the station. Some aspect of the Soothsayer’s power allowed them to zoom in and out, providing a level of detail and clarity to the process that Chevalier would have never dreamed possible.
He wasn’t sure how long the entire thing took, and was grateful as could be that the myriad of symptoms he’d experienced before the Soothsayer had appeared were mostly gone. However, he still breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the memory caught up with the moment and the Soothsayer stopped her chanting. The shapes in front of his face all vanished and Chevalier slumped forward, suddenly exhausted. His eyes rolled in their sockets of their own accord, and a great shudder wracked his body.
The room slowly faded back to normal, and Chevalier found himself staring at the Magistrate, who still had glowing eyes but had returned to his regular size and didn’t seem quite so imposing.
He looked at the Soothsayer. Once again, her features were obscured by her veil, but he thought he saw her eyes crinkling as if smiling and felt an echo of the calm he now associated with her.
To his side, the Plagtos representative shook and trembled. With a mumbled curse, the portly man reached up to his forehead and wiped away a thick bead of sweat. He was pale and looked as if he’d just been ill. Perhaps he had. Next to him, Kellen was hunched over the way someone might be if they had a stomachache. Or if they’d been punched.
Layla and her staff all looked totally unfazed. In fact, they all wore the bored expressions of people desperate to be somewhere else but bound in place by prior obligation.
“I have made my decision,” the Magistrate said. “After watching the memories of those involved and discussing the matter with my companion, I declare that Chevalier is innocent of all charges. The damage done to the station is solely the fault of Kellen, and by extension, the Plagtos Corporation, as it was in the adherence of their policy that he attacked the Spitfire and damaged the station dock.”
Chevalier let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding as the Magistrate and Soothsayer stood up. He bowed to them both as they started to leave, but as the Soothsayer reached the door she turned back and smiled at him.
I have taken a liking to you. We will meet again, Chevalier of Blue Moon.
It was her voice, but in his mind. Other than Selene and the creature of the Ring, Chevalier had never heard of being able to speak into the minds of others. He blushed at the sound – feeling? – of her voice. Stupid thoughts that had no place in that room filled his mind, and he hoped that the Soothsayer’s powers to commune with him didn’t extend to the reading of his inner monologue.
As soon as the Imperials were gone, the Plagtos rep stood up and adjusted his collar. He looked like he was already recovering from the adverse effects of the testimony.
“Well station master, it appears that the matter is settled. Plagtos is very sorry about the entire situation, and we will be turning all of Kellen’s assets over to you in the next few hours. Of course, we will also be happy to provide the assets from RK-117 as well, as we discussed previously.”
“I remember. I’m sure that you’ll remember that, as I said when you first brought up this plan, that the cumulative amount of their assets is not enough to pay for the damage,” Layla said. “Your firm will have to pony up the difference.”
“Nonsense,” the representative said as an evil smile crossed his face. “Based on your estimates, the combined assets of RK-117 and RK-118 will pay for most of the serious structural damage. I believe the remainder can be paid for by transferring Kellen’s contract to your station. Based on the average Chillsword’s lifetime earnings, such a transfer would more than pay off the remainder of your station’s damages. You could either utilize him as a mercenary for your own purposes – as part of your security staff, perhaps? –or you could sell the contract to another bidder. I’m sure there are many in the Empire who would jump at such an opportunity, and I would be happy to put you in contact with some of them if you desired it.”
Layla’s eyes flared open. “You would give me a slave to sell and think that it absolves you of your responsibilities? What if I refuse?”
The Plagtos man kept his cool and shook his head. “I don’t think you’d be so foolish. And besides, you’re looking at this wrong. Kellen would not be a slave. He would be a contracted mercenary with a lifetime bond. He chose to join the order of Chillswords of his own free will, which means that he’s assented to something like this. While uncommon, contract transfers do happen.”
The onkell looked at Kellen, who was still sitting hunched at the table. If the mercenary had any sort of emotional reaction to the prospect of being traded like a piece of cargo he didn’t show it. Willing contract or not, Chevalier couldn’t help but agree with Layla’s initial assessment, that this was the sale of a slave, not the payment of a debt. However, Layla was nothing if not pragmatic, and Chevalier saw the wheels turning in her head at the implications of Plagtos’ offer. Chillswords were certainly valuable assets, and getting one’s contract would be a huge boon for station security. Though, Chevalier couldn’t imagine what Layla could possibly need such an impressive fighter for. Her own staff seemed competent and well-trained. Perhaps she had ambitions that were greater than simply administering Junkheap.
After a moment, Layla nodded at the Plagtos rep. “Fine, I’ll accept your company’s offer.”
“Excellent, I will have the papers drawn up immediately.”
With a bow that seemed more than a little mocking, the Plagtos rep left the room and Layla glowered at Chevalier.
“Why are you still here? I thought that you would have left already, since the Magistrate absolved you of any responsibility for the station’s damage. I’d prefer it if you got onto your ship, flew far away and never came back, but I won’t make you. You’re innocent, technically.”
Chevalier ignored the barb as he looked at Kellen, and decided to do something that had been bubbling in his mind for the past few minutes. He generally wasn’t this impulsive, or at least, he tried not to be.
“The Magistrate freed me of obligations to your station but there is another debt I owe. I’d like to discuss paying a bloodwit for the death of RK-117. Since you’re going to be holder of Kellen’s contract soon, that means that you’re probably the best recipient for it.”
That got Kellen’s attention, and the mercenary looked up at Chevalier.
“Your brother offered to pay one for me, and I feel obligated to do the same.”
Layla looked at Chevalier. “I am not going to say no to money, but how do you propose to pay this bloodwit? During our investigation, I spoke extensively with Bartholomew about your financial dealings here on Junkheap. He was clear that you were…not well off.”
Chevalier smiled. “That’s true, but I have a plan. You see, I’m a treasure hunter and while I was experiencing your hospitality, I had the time to do some reading. Station Master, have you ever heard of the Calypso Templar?”