Chapter 15


The atmosphere aboard the ferry was that of a carnival or festival. People were jammed together in a burbling mass, and snippets and snatches of music from at least a dozen different worlds filled the air. Chevalier weaved through the crowd with careful steps, wary as he always was of someone bumping into him and stealing Selene’s bag. He was far more cautious here than he was on Junkheap; there were bound to be plenty of people aboard who could recognize a space dragon.

Kellen, on the other hand, was like a stone in the middle of a river. Everyone gave him a wide berth and often incredulous stares to go along with it. The mercenary was taller than all but the tallest of aliens and so intimidating that there was a palpable sensation of fear that followed his every step.When he moved he did so carefully, surely knowing that he could accidentally cause serious injury or worse if he stepped on someone.

Despite the crowd and the very real dangers that it presented – Chevalier had heard enough stories about hapless travelers aboard ferries being impressed into service aboard military vessels to be wary for the rest of his life – Chevalier felt himself relaxing. Traveling through space was dangerous, and no matter how safe the sector there was always some threat of attack that forced you to stay on your guard. It was a low level anxiety, more like a buzzing in the back of the skull than a full-throated panic that filled your every limb, but it was there nonetheless. However, the might of the Aguelot armadas and their devout protection of the ferry lanes meant that traveling aboard one of the massive whale ships was as safe as space could be.

He didn’t know exactly how long the shipping lane lasted, but guessed that it ran for at least thirty thousand waves or so. The Empire kept fleets of warships every five hundred waves, and had an outpost station every two thousand. Along with their satellites and other defensive measures, any prospective attackers would have to travel through so many layers of protection in order to reach a ferry that none of the big gangs were willing to try it and none of the small ones could manage it.

Monsters too were deterred, since each outpost station had a full cadre of Imperial Maesters armed with artifacts capable of deterring even a celeretsnom for up to three days.

It was this sense of security that made the Imperial ferries so popular, despite their high price and comparatively slow travel time.

Chevalier paused in front of a small group of people that were watching a woman dance. She stood atop a sphere of crystal and danced with languid, sensuous energy. Her outfit was as simple as it was eye-catching: pieces of glittering fabric that somehow managed to accentuate her motions and draw attention to the curves of her body no matter how she moved. Bangles of copper, silver and gold adorned her arms, and necklaces heavy with gemstones hung from her neck. She had long, rippled hair that was streaked with red and black, marking her as one of the grynaith, a wandering people who all possessed the ability to shift between human and monstrous forms at will.

If he’d had any doubt as to her origin they dissipated immediately when the dancer met his gaze. Her irises were pools of milky shadow that evoked shades of gray, white, and lilac. Chevalier felt his entire body warming as she seemed to stare right through him. Her smile made him feel as if he needed to sit down. He wasn’t sure how long she held him in thrall – it couldn’t have been more than a few seconds for all that it felt like an hour, or a day, or the entirety of his existence. When she finally looked away, doubtlessly to bewitch some other poor bastard, Chevalier’s shoulders sagged and he let out a sigh that was equal parts depression and relief.

“You okay?” Kellen asked. “I was worried that you were going to start drooling. What’s the matter with you? Haven’t you ever seen a grynaith dancer before?”

“Of course I have,” Chevalier snapped. “But I’ve never seen one like that.”

“Then you must not have been looking too closely,” Kellen said with a chuckle. “More of them are like that one than not. I’ve heard that staring into the eyes of a grynaith can be quite the disconcerting experience.”

“Have you never done it?”

Kellen shifted in his armor ever so slightly, which Chevalier took to mean no. “With my helmet on, I do not see the same way you do. There are plenty of dangerous gazes and glances out amidst the stars, and so the company takes precautions to ensure that members of my order are immune to such things. Until recently, I hadn’t removed my helmet in…probably more than a decade.”

Chevalier blinked, unsure what to say. Thankfully Kellen continued, “This dancer is talented, and one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen. I do not think that most  people would blame you for falling into her spell. Just take care that you do not fall too deeply into it. Most of my experiences with the grynaith are not pleasant. They are fierce fighters and can be devious.”

Next to the dancer was a grynaith man playing an instrument almost as tall as he was that looked like a cross between a flute and a horn. He was dressed simply, but his muscles bulged as his hands moved up and down his instrument’s sleek shape, pressing keys and buttons to change the intonation from deep to high and back again. With his tune, the crystal orb his companion danced atop changed colors, shifting from orange to blue to green to yellow and back again. The crowd all stood watching as if bewitched. Maybe most of them were. Chevalier certainly felt that he was.

However, eventually, like all good things must, the song slowly came to an end. As the last few notes trilled and faded into silence, the woman stopped dancing and stepped down from the orb. She looked shorter on the ground, and while her movements were still graceful, they seemed little different from anyone else’s.

She bowed and held out her arms. “Thank you for watching. Should you feel compelled to show us any tokens of your appreciation, my partner and I would both happily accept them.”

An empty basket flickered into existence in front of her. It was small, but Chevalier saw a small blink of blue light near her waist. Pocket galaxy. Within seconds, coins and markers from all around filled the basket and the crowd slowly dispersed.

He wasn’t sure why he waited, but Chevalier decided to stay where he was until the rest of the watchers had made their way elsewhere and then approached the grynaith dancer. She smiled at him as he walked towards her and Chevalier felt as if the air had grown thick. The sensation was similar to what he imagined people felt when he used his boon’s power. He trudged forward and found himself embarrassed as she waited for him to speak.

“That was…quite the performance,” he said, forcing each word through his lips as if they were pieces of a puzzle that hadn’t been quite cut to the proper sizes. “You’re a beautiful dancer.”

“Thank you, traveller,” the grynaith said as she fixed her color mess eyes on his. Her voice made him feel like he was basking in the sun on a summer’s day. She smelled of flowers and spices.

Be careful, she’s dangerous, Chevalier thought to himself. His heart was thumping in his chest and the awkwardness of moments before had vanished into thin air. Now, he felt as if he wanted to start babbling and only barely managed to keep himself from doing so.

“Where are you heading?” The grynaith asked. “I’m always curious to hear about the places people are going aboard these things.”

“I’m hunting for treasure,” Chevalier said. “My companion and I are searching for the Calypso Templar. It’s a ship that was rumored to be full of gold and silver, and it disappeared a long time ago.”

“Oh? And no one has found it? Have you perhaps found some secret map or hidden hint that would allow you to succeed where everyone else has failed?”

She batted her eyelashes at him. She battered her eyelashes at him. Chevalier clenched his jaw, told himself to focus, and answered her. He didn’t give her the details, though lucky stars he wanted to.

What is wrong with me? I need to get out of here.

“Well, I enjoyed your dance,” Chevalier said. He reached into his pocket and drew out a few Imperial marks and tossed them into the basket. “I would love to watch you again sometime.”

She laughed. “Well, I am sure that I will dance at least a few more times before it is time to depart. This is my trade, dancing aboard these ferries for the generosity of the patrons. It would make me happy to see you again. Perhaps even away from the stage, if you were interested.”

Selene popped her head out of the bag and gave the grynaith a glare. “If you knew how interested he was,” she growled, “you wouldn’t be saying that.”

The dancer threw back her head with a laugh. “Oh, you’re a precious one! What’s your name, little one?”

She bent down and reached for the space dragon, but Selene pulled away, turned to Chevalier and snorted a few sparks into his stomach. “We should leave. If you keep talking to this woman, steam is going to start coming out of your ears.”

“Don’t be like that,” the grynaith dancer said. “I don’t mean you any harm, and your scales are so beautiful!”

Selene purred at the compliment and the dancer held out her hand to Chevalier. “My name is Charlottia, traveler. What’s yours?”

Chevalier introduced himself and Charlottia gestured to Selene. “I know we’ve just met so please forgive me for being so forward. But, would you be willing to part with your tiny companion? My sister is an animal tamer, and while she’s very talented she’s hit a bit of a rough streak. The patrons aren’t interested in her shows of late, and feeding her creatures is expensive. Having such a beautiful specimen join her troupe would make all the difference, I think.”

She gestured to the basket in front of her. “As you can see, I have plenty of money. Or, if money isn’t enough maybe there are other things I can interest you in. Name your price.”

“I’m sorry,” Chevalier said with a shake of his head. “I’m afraid that she isn’t for sale.”

“Everything has a price,” Charlottia purred. She picked up the basket and turned toward her companion. Looking over her well-sculpted shoulder, she winked at Chevalier. “Won’t you think about it?”


“You’re not actually thinking about it, are you?” Selene asked as Chevalier and Kellen worked their way through the crowd. There were other performers here and there, but none of them attracted a crowd – or Chevalier’s attention – the way Charlottia had. A group of arlai stood in a circle playing a game of dice and shouting at each other in their native squawking tongue as they traded money back and forth. Chevalier had been known to enjoy a throw of the dice or two in his time, but there weren’t any non-arlai in the crowd and he didn’t much fancy trying to be the first.

“Of course I’m not actually thinking about it,” Chevalier said as he reached down and scratched Selene behind her ears. “Do you really think I’d do such a thing?”

“It kind of looked like you were thinking about it to me,” Kellen rumbled behind him. Chevalier turned and scowled at the mercenary.

“You said yourself that your eyes don’t work right with that helmet on. What could you see?”

“I said that I do not see the same way that you do. I never said that my eyes don’t work right. You were damn near totally immersed in her gaze back there. A few more minutes and she would have had you agreeing to whatever she wanted. Grynaith are not inherently evil, but you need to understand that their ideas of morality are not the same as yours, human. Or mine, for that matter. You shouldn’t talk to her again.”

“I agree with Kellen,” said Selene.

“Of course you do,” said Chevalier. “There’s no harm in a few casual conversations. Both of you are overreacting.”

They stopped in front of a large screen hanging from the ceiling that was broadcasting Imperial news. The sound wasn’t audible in all the din from the rest of the passengers, but there were subtitles beneath the anchor’s portrait and Chevalier read a few of them. For the most part, they were meaningless to him, but then one caught his eye.

Imperial fleet missing without a trace. Contact lost between sectors eight and nine. Investigation underway, but analysts are unsure that authorities will find answers. Other fleets have been placed on high alert.

“Looks like the Imperials are facing the same problems as Plagtos,” Kellen said.

Chevalier turned towards the mercenary and saw that he too was staring up at the screen.

“Well, maybe not the exact same problems, but a similar one. Whatever is attacking Plagtos likes to leave scraps of whale ships and company property.”

“What do you think it is?”

Kellen shrugged, his massive shoulder pauldrons heaving up and down. “I can’t say. I don’t know much about these types of things. Few in my order were ever expected to handle tactics or answer questions like that. We were simply a weapon to be pointed in whatever direction the company wanted.”

Chevalier sat down on a nearby bench. His legs felt more than a little weak and he relished the rest. Kellen remained standing, his head tilted back ever so slightly so that he could keep watching the screen.

The crowd swelled and moved around them, oblivious to anything but the spectacle of itself.



Three days later, Chevalier and Kellen were in the same places again, but Chevalier was shifting around on the bench anxiously, casting his eyes back and forth through the crowd in a vain attempt to spot Charlottia somewhere. He fixated on every shock of red or black hair that he saw, almost snapped his neck as he jerked his head toward every flashing gold or silver bracelet, and glared at every other performer that wasn’t the grynaith dancer.

“Still mooning?” Kellen asked. He looked away from the news screen and studied his companion. Chevalier flashed him an obscene hand gesture in response and folded his arms over his chest.

“I didn’t know you were like this,” Kellen said, “You seemed so serious back on Junkheap. Who could have guessed that you’d be as bad as a teenage boy who’d just gotten his first kiss? It’s more than a little embarrassing, to be honest.”

Chevalier leaned back on the bench. “Screw you. What would you know about it? You’ve been in that armor for almost your entire life, right? I can’t imagine that you have much experience with romance, huh?”

Kellen didn’t answer and Chevalier looked down. It had been a bit of a low blow and he knew it but he didn’t care. Part of him – a small part that was getting smaller with every passing minute – agreed with the chillsword’s assessment that he was acting foolish. It was a bit ridiculous, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the grynaith’s eyes or her smile, or –if he was being honest with himself – her curves. Not his most chivalrous moment, to be sure.

He stood up and gestured into the throng. “I’m going to see if there’s anything interesting going on,” he said. “You just stay there and watch the news.”

“Good luck finding the girl,” Kellen said as Chevalier disappeared into the crowd.

Chevalier bobbed and weaved as he made his way across the length of the ferry’s recreation deck. His head swiveled back and forth as he did so, but to his frustration and chagrin Charlottia was nowhere to be found.

A hand grabbed his and Chevalier turned toward it. Charlottia grinned at him, and excited heat spread throughout his entire body before he could even say hi.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said with an seductive smile. She pressed her body into him and breathed into his right ear. “Follow me, there’s something I’ve wanted to show you since we met.”

Chevalier was not the type to normally allow himself to be pulled through a crowd by a veritable stranger, but the grynaith’s beauty had so affected him that he wasn’t thinking straight. All of his normal care and caution melted away and he gleefully followed her towards a corridor on the far end of the recreation deck.

The doors slid open and Chevalier followed Charlottia down a nearby hallway. The floors were white and the walls bare, this was a place that most passengers didn’t go. The knight chased the dancer down the hallway, and no matter how he tried to pull her into his arms, she always slipped away. Laughing and daring him to keep up, she led him deeper and deeper into the bowels of the ferry. Chevalier had almost forgotten his own name, so fixated was he on the beauty in front of him, but when he turned a sharp right corner, his senses returned with stunning speed.

Four burly grynaith stood in a line, each heavily armed.

Charlottia ran over to the tallest one, stood up on her tiptoes and gave him a kiss on the cheek. The grynaith wrapped a beefy arm around the dancer’s waist and glowered at Chevalier. Recognition dawned on the knight. This grynaith was the one who played the flute during Charlottia’s performance.

Though he knew perfectly well what was about to happen, Chevalier still felt compelled to ask what was going on.

Charlottia looked at him and once again he felt that flash of heat, but this time Chevalier kept his head. The dancer grinned – had her smile always been so feral? – and winked at Chevalier.

“It’s nothing personal. Hand over the space dragon and there won’t be any problems, okay?”

“And if I choose not to?”

“Then we’ll take it.”

At the same time, the grynaiths all began to shapeshift. Their bodies lengthened and thickened, their nearly perfect human proportions replaced by a grotesque mockery. Their skin turned to scales, and their eyes narrowed and shrank until they were barely visible on each face. Fingers transformed into claws, Chevalier got the distinct impression that their weapons were more for show and convenience than necessity.

When they finished transforming, Chevalier found himself facing five massive reptilian creatures. They smiled at him menacingly, and the one that had once been Charlottia extended her right hand towards the knight.

“What’ll it be, traveler?”


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Chapter 14 [M]


“It’s useless!” Maerin cried as she threw a stack of papers into the air and collapsed into her chair. It had been the better part of a standard month since she’d started looking into the mysterious piranha attacks against Plagtos whale vessels. She’d checked travel manifests, Imperial news reports of piranha activity, and reached out to every information broker that she knew, even paying for their rumors and whispers out of her own meager salary.

She’d learned nothing. A few planets produced rumblings about a mysterious group offloading black market goods that seemed suspiciously like Plagtos property and buying supplies, but every time she’d tried to dig a bit deeper into the specifics the trail had faded into nothing.

It was frustrating beyond belief to have every effort turn to dust, for every lead to stop cold and to be in the exact same place as you started after weeks of serious effort.

But she refused to give up. Reaching out, Maerin grabbed one of the pieces of paper that had fallen nearest to her chair and looked at it. It was a map of the stars near the Aguelot Empire’s third region, where the first whale ship had been attacked. In the flurry of excitement that had first spurred her to action she’d covered the page with writing. Her messy pen strokes and half-solved calculations were all that remained of her attempts to find relationships between the nearby planets, stations, and the location of the attack. It also had other scribbled thoughts and ideas. Frowning, she tried to make out a few of the words near the cluster of stars that she’d first started studying. Perhaps she’d had the germ of an idea that she’d forgotten about as she tracked down something else that seemed more promising at the time, and reading it would spark new inspiration.

Naturally, each and every one of the notes were completely illegible. Damn.

“Someday I’ll make the time to work on my handwriting,” Maerin vowed. It was probably the hundredth time she’d made such a vow, and if she was honest with herself, she knew that she’d probably make it a hundred times more before she actually followed through on it.

Leaning back in her chair, Maerin looked up at the ceiling and closed her eyes. She spun herself around in circles, wondering what she’d overlooked, what she’d missed or failed to take into account. There were strange and inexplicable things in the vastness of space, for sure. The Empty held many secrets that it may never give up, but she was positive that the method making these attacks possible wasn’t one of them. There had to be some sort of logical explanation for a fleet of pirates that could appear out of nowhere and sink whale class vessels, even when those vessels were protected by entire companies of Chillswords. For the most part, the shipping conglomerate’s famed mercenaries had failed to stop the raiders, and Maerin had heard whispers that the company was hurrying to recruit new members to replace those that they’d lost. The panicked tone of these whispers and the way they invoked eldritch horrors gave her pause. She did not know much about the dark and arcane process by which a recruit became a full Chillsword, but she’d heard through snippets mentioned over years that the transformation took months, if not years to complete. Given that timeline, was it possible that Plagtos might end up short staffed for some time until they managed to replenish the ranks? The company had other foes beyond these pirates, and Maerin didn’t like the possible futures where they learned that Plagtos was under strength.

An intriguing line of thought, but not a relevant one. Maerin shook her head and tried to focus on the task at hand. Unfortunately, her brain protested the effort and her thoughts came back…hollow. She couldn’t muster the energy to bear down on any theory or idea for how the piranhas appeared, couldn’t connect any dots that she seized on, and decided that it was time for a break. She’d learned that there was no benefit to pushing herself further when this happened. Instead of great insights and clever solutions, she just ended up with a killer headache.

The alarm on her terminal beeped and reminded her that it was time for her to actually do some work that she was paid for. Luckily, completing her regular duties wasn’t much of a challenge and didn’t require much effort. Ever since her lost cargo ship, the captain had given her nothing but the simplest navigation tasks. Moving component ships from one dock station to another in company-controlled space, handling the logistics for payment vessels to and from headquarters, those types of things. They were the types of jobs that were almost so simple and consistent that they didn’t require a logistics navigator. These were far cries from the artist’s tapestry of uncharted space that Maerin had been born to work with. There was no chance for flourish, no chance for individual expression, no way for her to plot a course and watch the ship navigate it, solving problems and rerouting as necessary in real time.

The most exciting thing that’d happened in her new normal was when a random ion storm had caused her to reroute a tool ship carrying some heavy duty welders to the Borak shipyard. However, even then she hadn’t really had to do much. Ion storms were fairly common in the waves near Borak, and the ship’s pilot had already known of all the alternative routes that she considered. In fact, he’d flown all of them more than once during his years as a pilot and had been annoyed that she’d had to walk him through the pathing process.

“Damn fools think us pilots can’t find out asses with both hands, as if it ain’t us that make these damn routes in the first place,” he’d said. Maerin hadn’t been sure how to respond, and so she’d let him take his favorite route. While that was technically a decision, it was basically the same type of thing as deciding whether to boil or bake vegetables for a given meal. Ultimately, it didn’t really matter much since the end result was basically the same. What a waste of her time and talent.

Of course, that waste was the point. For some reason, the captain was hellbent on punishing Maerin for the loss of the whale. His animosity didn’t make any sense, since several other logistics navigators had vessels which suffered the same fate, and none of them had been so severely reprimanded and forced to complete such mind-numbing work. She couldn’t fathom why she was the only one to attract such ire, and the more she thought about it, the more it pissed her off.

Maerin punched the keys at her terminal with a bit more force than she was used to and brought up the day’s assignment. She sighed. It was another payment delivery, from one of the small stations in the empire to another. Another boring waste of time. With another few clicks, she brought up the report of expected adverse travel events for the sector, scanned it, saw nothing interesting, and spent less than three minutes typing out the route in the coded dictation that was company standard. Another button press – CLACK – and she was done with work for the day. Maerin balled her hands up into fists and squeezed them hard. It was so frustrating! A few weeks ago, she’d relished the extra time to work on the piranha issue that these simple assignments had given her, but the boredom of simplicity was wearing her down, especially when it joined forces with the frustration of not being able solve her bigger problem. Every day it seemed a bit less important than it had the day before to find the answer to the piranha attacks, and though she was disciplined enough to keep picking at the knot, so to speak, a few more weeks – or worse, months – and her heart wouldn’t really be in it.

Standing up, Maerin decided that she’d had enough of her workstation for the day. She walked past the other logistics navigators at their desks, and she smiled at the way they all studiously considered their holo-maps and terminals as they struggled with routes that she could make in her sleep. Oh well. Captain knew best, right?

She left the navigator bay and made her way down the hall to the lift. She wasn’t really sure where she was going, but she was comfortable enough to follow her feet and see where they took her.

Naturally, they led her to a series of lifts and shuttles before eventually setting her firmly in front of the cargo bay where Ballou worked, though she didn’t see him as she looked into the mass of young men and women wearing tan jumpsuits hauling boxes and crates back and forth. Mildly disappointed and shaking her head, she went back to the lift and headed for the cafeteria. Even if she’d been able to see Ballou, what would she have done? Asked him to skive off work and come to the cafeteria with her? Ask if he wanted to take a walk? Something more than that?

Maybe? Everything else aside what Maerin had really been hoping for was someone to talk to. Someone who, while maybe not terribly familiar with the finer points of logistics navigation – or pathfinding, as he called it – could have helped her see her problem with fresh eyes. The disconnect between their worlds was big enough that what she thought of as glaringly obvious might seem completely novel to him. Surely the reverse of that would be true as well.  Over the years, there’d been plenty of times when she’d been working on a hard problem and had talked to Ballou about it, only for one of his “stupid questions” as he called them to give her a spark of inspiration that ultimately led to the solution.

Alas, this time she was stuck on her own.

As the lift silently carried her toward the cafeteria, Maerin looked around. This action in and of itself was nothing new, for she was constantly observing the ship as she moved through it, but this time she tried her best to still her thoughts. Instead of letting her mind freely move from thought to thought, path to path – the lift above her was going to the captain’s bridge, the one below going to the residence deck, things like that – she forced herself to fixate on a single lift and watch it move until it reached its destination or moved entirely out of view. It was a strange thing, to just look at the way things worked and moved. She wasn’t sure how to feel about it. Certainly, it was a means of focusing, but it was different than what she normally did. It was quieter, if that made sense. It was easier to experience too, with the single train of thought to keep track of instead of a shifting and malleable collage of futures that could shift in a heartbeat.

In all honesty, Maerin wasn’t sure what she hoped to gain from such an exercise. While novel, this way of thinking was slow and likely ineffective at handling complex problems. The environment of the ship was extremely simple compared to navigating through space and – okay, she was derailing herself again. Taking a deep breath, Maerin started at the beginning of her thoughts once more.

Maybe she could apply this technique of only watching a single point to the piranha attacks. So far, she’d worked on them as a chain of events, tried to force them into a set pattern and draw conclusions from there. Since that hadn’t turned up anything useful, maybe she should simply go back and look at the way the piranhas moved. Was there something that she’d missed there? Maybe there was a hint in the way they –

Her thought was cut off by the fact that the ship’s lights all dimmed at once and were replaced with a weak ruby glow. Muffling lights. Emergency lights. The vice-captain’s voice crackled over the loudspeaker.

“All crew, stop your tasks and control your breathing. Celeretsnom passing nearby.”

Maerin’s heart started racing, but habit honed by training took over and she drew in slow, deep breaths, held them for four seconds, exhaled slowly and then held no air in her lungs for six seconds. She repeated this process over and over again until her pulse returned to normal. She was sure that basically every other employee aboard had done the same. Plagtos was meticulous about such training, and anyone who couldn’t keep up with it was quickly relieved of their duties. Such a practice might seem harsh to the ignorant, but it wasn’t. After all, while the ruby bulbs of the ship’s emergency systems emitted a force field that muted regular heartbeat noise, they weren’t perfect, and for reasons unknown the great beasts of space were supernaturally attracted to the beating of human hearts. As such, it was in everybody aboard a space ship’s best interest to do what they could to reduce the chances of it being their heartbeat that the monster noticed.

What was a celeretsnom doing so close to the Heartbreaker? Usually the behemoths that “ruled” the Empty, dwelling between stars and planets in the most dangerous pockets of the most remote systems and sectors remained in their lairs. Celeretsnom kept to themselves, but devoured almost everything they came into contact with. It was speculated that the only reason spacefaring races knew that they existed was that sometimes they weren’t hungry.

There was no uniform shape or size for these creatures, and similarities in terms of physiology or biology were unknown, as any and all who attempted to study them closely met grisly, albeit rapid, ends. However, there was one physical feature that all celeretsnom shared: ash gray scales and eyes that glowed the truest red anyone could ever imagine.

Trying to move as little as possible, Maerin looked around the ship. She had no idea how close the beast was to the Heartbreaker, but if it was close enough to trigger the alert, it had to be close enough to see.

She spotted it beneath the ship. Longer than a hundred whale ships bow to stern – no, make that five hundred ships – and covered in an elaborate mesh of scales that seemed to crisscross, it looked like a snake, or a space dragon. Maerin had never seen one of the latter, but she’d heard the stories as a kid of the mighty creatures prowling through the Empty in a never-ending quest to expand their horde.

Whatever it looked like, it moved lazily through the void, as if it relished the opportunity to be seen. The way it wriggled and writhed almost made it look like it was showing off for its audience. The old, grizzled star chasers back home who were the source of almost all of her knowledge about the Empty had said that to be near one of the beasts was to know fear in a way that you never had before, but she didn’t think any of them had ever seen one, let alone been this close. At this moment, Maerin certainly didn’t feel fear. Instead, she felt something like elation.

The celeretsnom rolled over and Maerin saw that its underside was a slightly lighter shade of gray and the scales that covered its back were gone. In their place was a mat of tendrils that looked a bit like fur mixed with goo. The creature rolled back over and Maerin heard a voice inside the ship. Low and smoky, the voice crooned a tune that brought tears to Maerin’s eyes at the same time it made her want to break everything she could reach. The song filled her bones, tainted her blood and dominated her thoughts for eternity, and then was gone so quickly that she couldn’t remember the sensation a moment later. As the song faded, the massive creature did too. Its body faded away into space from the tip of its head to the end of its tail until there was no evidence that it had ever been there in the first place. Certainly, if it hadn’t been for the continued red glow of the ship’s lights and the lingering tingle of amazement, the logistics navigator would have doubted what she’d seen.

A few minutes passed, and the ship remained on alert, in case the monster returned. When it didn’t, the needs of business overwhelmed the desire for caution and the lights returned to normal. The vice-captain’s voice echoed over the intercom once again.

“Attention all staff. The threat has now passed. Please resume your tasks. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Maerin’s lift started moving again, as did the rest around her, and the hubbub of voices discussing what had just happened was a dull roar. Standing by herself on the lift, loneliness filled Maerin. She wished that someone else had been there with her, had seen the creature from the same angle she had. She’d find Ballou later, she told herself. Hear about what had happened in the cargo bay.

What if someone was holding something heavy when the celeretsnom appeared? Would they have just had to grit it out or were they trained to slowly put the load down?

There was a bump as the lift connected to the end of its route and Maerin stepped off.The cafeteria looked like a beehive angry after being disturbed. Workers scurried around with trays and drinks, and it was as loud as could be. Maerin looked up before she joined the fray and walked toward the serving bars.

Up on one of the nearby catwalks, she saw the Singer. Their silver robes flapped in a wind that was not there, and the jewel on the end of their staff was glowing ever so slightly. Though Maerin could not see their features through their starmarble mask, she got the distinct impression that the towering figure was happy. She wasn’t sure why she thought that, but there was something odd about the way the Singer’s shoulders were set. They were moving up and down, as if the Singer was laughing. But why? Were they happy that they’d gotten rid of the monster? No, the inner voice she associated with her intuition told her. They’re happy that it came so close.

But why?

Unprompted, Maerin thought back to Ballou’s offhand comment about the piranhas. Maybe it’s magic of some sort. Maybe the Singer was the key to figuring out the secret of the piranhas. She couldn’t quite see how the Singer’s attitude towards the celeretsnom was in any way related to the destroyed whale ships, but she trusted her mind and resolved to find a way to ask them some questions.

Maerin smiled.

Something inside of her mind had clicked.

She just wasn’t sure what it was yet.

That was the fun part.

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Chapter 13


The trip to the shipping lane took a little less than two days, as Chevalier’s mental clock counted it. His sense of time would get fuzzier eventually, but for now he still had a decent circadian rhythm that anchored his thoughts.

He’d slept twice during the trip, and had been more than a little happy each time he’d woken up afterwards. Despite his sincere belief that Kellen wouldn’t take the opportunity to seek revenge for the death of his brother, he hadn’t been completely certain and had slept pretty lightly with a blaster near to hand. Admittedly, such a small weapon wouldn’t have really had any impact on Kellen’s armor, but he could do a good bit of damage to the Spitfire with it. Mutually assured destruction was as good a deterrent as anything out in the Empty. Thankfully, it hadn’t been necessary and Chevalier felt himself relaxing a bit around the Chillsword.

That was thanks to Selene.

She’d taken a shine to Kellen, and it was clear that the Chillsword was intrigued with the dragon at the least. The two of them talked – well, really it was just Selene chattering and Kellen answering her barrage of questions or grunting that he was still listening, but that probably still counted – and Chevalier was free to fixate on the dozens of little things that kept their trip smooth. Keeping the engines balanced, accounting for the strange pulses of energy that knocked the ship to one side or the other from time to time, restoring cameras that stopped working due to a faulty connection, things like that. It was boring, quiet work that normally was made far more difficult by Selene’s yapping, but with her focus on Kellen, Chevalier breezed through each task and their trip was easier than any in recent memory.

Bartholomew, or more honestly, Hurkwin, had done a pretty good job on the ship’s repairs. He hadn’t really noticed it before, but the Spitfire had definitely developed a minor rocking before he’d docked at Junkheap. Now that it wasn’t there, Chevalier felt a bit unsteady as he walked around the deck. It was odd, the way that the lack of something was far more noticeable than its presence had been in the first place.

He looked out at the horizon, taking comfort from the inky blackness of space and the pale glow of stars, planets and stations far in the distance. They’d passed a few ships here and there as they traversed the well-protected Imperial lanes, but none had hailed them, and Chevalier hadn’t felt much like starting the conversation himself. Some of them flew the flags of local planets, others sailed under the protection of various guilds or factions, and there was even an Aguelot vessel broadcasting Imperial news.

A few small therzons fluttered past the Spitfire’s main camera, and Chevalier watched the reptile-bird things bob and weave in seemingly random patterns. He smiled. Chevalier had always liked therzons. Even during his days as a novice, they’d inspired him. That such small creatures could survive the ravages of space was incredible, as was the fact that they ventured so far into the Empty, perpetually migrating to some mythical roost. Somehow they managed to avoid the attention of the great beasts that slumbered between stars and avoided being eaten. In their own way, therzons were the natural wanderers and adventurers of space that humans and all other peoples did their best to emulate.

Kellen came into the cockpit and stood behind Chevalier. Chevalier turned and pointed at the console to his right.

“If you’re going to be in here, stand where I can see you.”

Kellen did as requested, but there was a definite note of satisfaction in his voice as he responded with “Why? Are you worried that I may not be as pragmatic as you thought?”

Chevalier shrugged. “It’s crossed my mind, I’ll admit. You’re here against your will because your new owner told you to come along. Add that to the fact that I killed your brother and you have a pretty decent case for being justified in wanting me dead.”

“Well, that’s good to know. I’m glad you’re not as stupid as you seem. However, you don’t need to worry. My brother and I were…not particularly close. Back on Junkheap, it was more that I was shocked. I’d never felt rage like that before I mean, I’d heard that we were prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, but I thought that with everything…I thought I’d never experience it.”

“Who experiences fits of rage? I’ve never heard of Chillswords being particularly emotional.”

“Heh. That’s not what I meant. Let me show you.”

There was a hiss and Kellen reached up to his helmet. He clasped it with both hands and lifted it away from the armor. It looked heavy, even dwarfed as it was in Kellen’s gauntlets. Without the helmet, Chevalier found himself looking at a leathery face with two knobby horns, a pierced septum, and wide bovine features that Chevalier didn’t have to have seen before to recognize. Kellen was a Taurolk. Descended from ancient guardians of labyrinths, Taurolk had taken to space and become more modernized guardians. The winding walls of stone from their history had been replaced by sprawling paths of stars, but ultimately, Taurolk performed the same tasks that they always had.

“Before you ask,” Kellen said, noticing the expression on Chevalier’s face, “no, not all Chillswords are Taurolk. Many of us decide to enter the corps, but we are far from the only species that gravitates to mercenary work. The company can build anyone to become a proper Chillsword, and they do.”


“Yeah. Build. Afraid that I can’t say more than that. Physically and mentally, every member is modified and reconstructed to be the perfect soldier, the perfect weapon. The specifics are a Plagtos secret, not that I ever learned any of them. Those undergoing the process don’t really have a lot of time or energy for questions.”

Kellen’s voice was fairly different without his helmet on. The mechanical buzz that permeated every word was gone, and it made him seem…tired. Well, maybe drained was a better way to say it. It was thin and reedy, and he definitely seemed lesser than he did with the helmet on.  Less intimidating, less in-control, and less of a machine. Chevalier thought it was a good change.

“Is the process painful?”

“It is…unpleasant. They give you a variety of tonics and capsules to minimize the physical discomfort, but there are things that are worse than pain.”

“Like what?”

The taurolk shook his head and gave Chevalier a look that made him decide not to press the matter any further. Instead, he changed the topic of conversation to the topic of the treasure ship.

“Well, uh, anyways. What do you know about the Calypso Templar?”

“Hadn’t ever heard of it until you mentioned it.”

And so with the autopilot directing them safely towards their destination, the next few hours passed with Chevalier explaining the history of the ship and the various theories that had been put forth in an attempt to find it. Despite having heard all of this at least twice, Selene curled up on her side next to Chevalier’s foot and listened intently with a small grin on her face.


As they drew close to the dock, Chevalier trained, ate, and slept. Kellen sulkily stared through the monitors into space, and Selene took great pleasure in chattering at both of them about what she was going to do with her treasure once they found the Calypso Templar. The thought that perhaps they wouldn’t find it, that they would meet the same fate as all the other searches throughout the centuries and return to Junkheap with empty storage bays and a jump dock free of loot didn’t seem to cross the little dragon’s mind. Chevalier didn’t feel like mentioning it to her.

A jam of ships greeted them as they slowed to a stop in the ferry waiting area. Their comms were open and Chevalier heard a gaggle of languages from all around that he didn’t speak –mostly insectoid dialects made up sounds his throat wasn’t compatible with – and picked up snippets of a few that he sort of understood. From what he could tell, it was mostly the idle chatter of those with nothing to do but wait.

“How long until the ferry arrives?” Kellen asked. Chevalier checked his charts, punched some numbers into his computer and waited a few seconds until it finished calculating.He hated the tiny computer, hated the way it blinked, the way it beeped, and everything else about it. Unfortunately, he’d never had the head for paper calculations and so was forced to use it.

“Let’s see…uh, it looks like two and a half standard hours…ish.”

Kellen raised an eyebrow.

“Well, in that case I’m going to go and enter a rest cycle until then. Please wake me before we board the ferry.”

With a clank, clang and hiss, Kellen turned and clomped down the hall. Chevalier reclined in his chair and opened up his Imperial codex. He’d spend the wait time browsing random stories and articles. His incarceration had been an exception: normally reading time was hellishly hard to come across during a trip through space.

There was a ripple of energy and the Spitfire rocked back and forth as the ferry arrived. It was a whale ship, twenty waves long and painted green, with no fewer than five decks. Plenty of room for ships and cargo. A fleet of minnows launched from its massive bays and zipped out to the ships waiting. The din of voices coming over the general comms disappeared one by one as each ship discussed their cargo and intent with the ferry reps.

Chevalier turned off the codex and waited for the telltale beep that signified it was his turn to answer the standard list of questions that accompanied every trip on the ferries. When it came, he turned off the general comms and waited for his main monitor screen to flicker to life.

A haggard human with a thin mustache and eyeglasses appeared.

“Ship and Pilot name, please.”

“This is the Spitfire and my name is Chevalier.”

Normally, humans blinked at his name or asked him to repeat it, but this guy didn’t seem to care. Chevalier noticed the dark bags under his eyes and wondered how long it had been since the man last slept.

“Any cargo aboard that would be subject to Rule #3728: Quarantined and hazardous goods?”

“Uh, I don’t think so? What sort of goods are even covered by that?”

“Fruits and other foodstuffs mostly. Some types of fuel, batteries, and computers also apply. Any Satton-Haurs goods aboard your ship?”

“No, I don’t have any of that aboard. The only food I have has been approved for long distance travel by the Empire’s standards board. Same for everything else you listed.”

“Do you mind if I verify that? We had some exploding lpeppua fruits a few trips back that almost put the ferry out of commission, so we’re extra careful these days.”

Chevalier assented and the ferry rep sent over a small drone. It was ball-shaped and socketed itself to Spitfire’s side. After that, it beeped and buzzed as it scanned the ship’s manifest and verified the cargo for itself. Now, if Chevalier had been smuggling something, it wouldn’t have shown up on that scan, but he was on the up-and-up (this time) and the report was accurate.

“Thank you,” came the toneless, exhausted voice. “How many aboard your vessel? Will you be paying now or should we send the charge to an on-station account?”

“Three passengers. Please send the bill to the following bank address on Junkheap.”


“Jnk-HP07. It’s a space station.”

The sound of clicking was loud in the ship’s cockpit as the employee searched the listings of known planets and stations and then the man grunted and stopped typing once he found it.

“Thank you. We will have you go ahead and board right away. Please go to dock four on the stern side of the ferry. Have a pleasant trip.”

The screen died before Chevalier could answer, which was fine. He released the anchor field and directed his vessel toward the ferry’s bow. As he sailed alongside the massive ship, he truly felt tiny. Each of the plates that made up the ferry’s hull was twenty or thirty times the size of the Spitfire and there were too many plates to count. Each one was fastened by a string of rivets, and all of those were all bigger than he was. He’d seen and been on whale ships before, but the sense of awe at their size never left.

Chevalier landed the ship on the dock as directed and went to wake Kellen. The Chillsword was crouched in the corner of his quarters. He hadn’t put his helmet back on, and his unarmored head looked small and out of place compared to the hulking size of his pauldrons. His armor was dull and dark, the sigils and runes that covered it devoid of the light that Chevalier was used to seeing. Kellen did not look like a living creature asleep; instead he looked like a machine turned off and put into storage.

Kellen’s weapon had been wrapped in a material Chevalier didn’t recognize and stored in the corner, but when Chevalier let his hand hover over the blade he could still feel the chill coming through the fibers. Thankfully, it didn’t seem like the cold was freezing the ship at all. That would have been pretty bad.

“Hey, Kellen, can you hear me?”

The mercenary stirred immediately, his armor blinking back to life as he did so. He opened a sleepy eye and looked at Chevalier.

“I don’t feel any movement. Have we landed already?”

Chevalier nodded and Kellen stood up. A symphony of hissing creaks followed the motion, and Kellen’s shoulders clicked back into place. He moved his arms and legs slowly, as if testing to make sure that they were aligned properly and then went to pick up his sword.

“Sorry, you’ll have to leave it here,” Chevalier said. “Plenty of people who ride these things tend to not see eye to eye – or eye to stalk, appendage, or second head in some cases – with one another, and so the ferry company banned weapons for passengers.”

“That’s a foolish rule, how are we to protect ourselves if the ship is attacked during its voyage?”

“We don’t have to worry about it. The shipping lane is protected by an Aguelot fleet, and the ferry has plenty of its own guards. The shipping lanes haven’t been attacked in years. Don’t worry about it.”

Kellen paused for a moment and Chevalier could see the struggle to take his sword play out on the taurolk’s face. Finally, he relented. “If you say that it is safe, I won’t protest. However, I’ll remind you that the whaleships of my former employer also thought that they were safe from attack, and we both know how that turned out.”

Chevalier didn’t know how to respond, so he turned and left to disembark. Selene was waiting next to her bag with a grin on her face.

“I wonder what sort of yummy food I’ll get to try,” she said.

“I doubt that there’s anything aboard that’s much different from the normal ferry crud. It’s a transport vessel, not a gourmet ship.”

Pshhh. You and I both know that there’s always some sort of shady little restauranteur type who sets up a tiny kitchen and fries their local delicacies up in the middle of the recreation area. The ferry guards never give then any trouble, and the stuff is usually pretty good too.”

Selene was right. While the selling of goods during the trip, including food, was technically forbidden by the ferry officials, the reality was that the ship was too large and carried too many passengers to effectively police. As such, all sorts of black market deals were made aboard the ferries, and contraband cuisine was almost certainly at the bottom of the list for enforcement.

Chevalier walked to the jump dock and pressed the button to open its outspace door. He stepped out onto the hard metal floor of the ship and looked around. He was in an absolutely massive docking bay, surrounded by ships of all makes and models, painted in every color and pattern imaginable. Other pilots and their crews were lurking in the shadows between vessels. Some talked and joked with each other. Some stood straight and still, silently surveying every other passenger they happened to see.

On his own, Chevalier didn’t attract much attention. After all, who would pay attention to a regular sized human with boring features and short brown hair? With so many other species and people to see? Basically nobody. However, Kellen was a different matter. He’d put his helmet back on and looked every part the menacing mercenary. However, without the weapon hanging from his back, he wasn’t immediately recognizable. There were plenty of groups other than Plagtos that favored big, bulky armors for their members. Luckily, other than a few wary glances, there was no trouble and Chevalier breathed a sigh of relief.

Selene poked her head up out the bag and pointed off towards the far side of the ship. “Let’s go that way! I smell meat!”

Chevalier and Kellen did as suggested, and made their way deeper into the maze of ships and passengers.

A few hundred feet behind them, a figure in gray weaved through the crowd.


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Chapter 12


The streets of Junkheap were busier than Chevalier expected. Or, maybe it was just that he hadn’t seen them in so long that his mind was playing tricks on him. Either way, he felt as if he was constantly stepping to the side or dodging diagonally to avoid crashing into somebody. This delicate dance was made all the more difficult by the fact that he was carrying a heavy sack of foodstuffs that was supposed to keep him well-fed for at least a few weeks.

“You know, I have to ask. What makes you think that I won’t just kill you as soon as you’re asleep?”

Chevalier turned back and grinned at Kellen, who was traipsing along behind him with a crate of supplies almost as big as he was. The former Plagtos asset didn’t seem to be struggling under the weight at all, and his cadence of steps –clank, clang, hiss, clank, clang, hiss – had barely changed.

It was a good question, all things considered. Chevalier wasn’t even sure what sort of fey mood had taken him in that conference room, as he’d negotiated with Layla to have her assign her new mercenary to his damn fool errand. The thought had just popped into his head as he’d gone through the details, and he’d somehow managed to convince the onkell station master to accede to his request. And, to be completely honest, he wasn’t entirely sure that Kellen wouldn’t take the first opportunity presented to exact revenge for the death of his brother. Still, he didn’t have to let the Chillsword know that. Kellen had argued against the venture, but the station master had made up her mind and hadn’t listened to his protests.

”Pragmatism,” Chevalier answered, “after all, do you know how to navigate a ship through the Empty? Or, not even the Empty. What about shallow space? If not, killing me would mean that you’d drift aimlessly along until you run into someone charitable enough to stop and pick you up. Or raiders, who’d kill you and sell your fancy armor for scrap.”

When Kellen bristled but didn’t respond, Chevalier turned back and resumed his trek through the streets. He’d done some reading about the Chillswords on the little Imperial Codex (which he had “accidentally” forgotten to return to Layla upon his release) the night before, and had learned that they were treated almost as glorified cargo. Even the vast reserves of the Aguelot Empire had little about the origins of the corps, or their practices but he’d seen enough to have a rudimentary understanding. Without fail, they were forced into small cubbies and put to sleep for long journeys, and most members were never allowed anything remotely like control over a spaceship. As such, Kellen would be totally hopeless at piloting the need came up.

They walked for a few more minutes in silence before a loud voice got their attention!

“Chev! You’re out!”

Chevalier put down his bag of supplies just in time as Rivi barreled into him and lifted him a few inches off the ground in a crushing hug. The star chaser held him there for a few seconds and gave him another rib-wracking squeeze that drove the last bits of air out of his lungs. He tapped on her shoulder a few times and managed to choke out “Glad to see you too, Rivi!” and breathed a sweet sigh of relief when she returned him to the ground.

Rivi stepped back and looked him up and down. “You look like you lost weight. They probably didn’t feed you much, huh?”

From there they talked for a few minutes about Chevalier’s incarceration, and when they were done, Rivi looked at Kellen.

“That doesn’t sound like much fun at all. I’m glad you got off the hook. What’s with the clanker?”

“I’m going on a treasure hunt. He’s coming along.”

Rivi looked at the patches of rime on the ground where the tip of Kellen’s weapon almost touched the ground and nodded at him. “Chillsword, huh? Thought you all worked for Plagtos.”

“I did. My contract was transferred to station master Layla as part of the company’s repayment for the damage incurred during my battle with Chevalier.”

The star chaser raised her eyebrow at Chevalier. “Didn’t you kill one of the Chillswords down on the dock?”


“And you think it’s a good idea to have him along with you? You two fought on the docks, right? You got a death wish or something?”

Chevalier shrugged. “Nothing risked, nothing gained, right?”

Rivi shook her head. “I always forget that when it comes down to it, you’re crazy. Well, Selene will be thrilled that you’re going on a treasure hunt. Have you seen her yet?”

“No, I only got out a few hours ago and have been working on getting supplied. I’m heading back to the Spitfire pretty soon. How about you? You want to come treasure hunting? I could use a friendly pair of eyes to watch my back.”

“Wish I could, but I’m heading off station in a few days,” Rivi said. She’d replaced her lost trident and gotten a new blaster, which hung in the same place as the old one. “Joined up with a star hunting crew that was passing through. Apparently they’ve been chasing a yrelion for the better part of the last three years. I’m going to help them find it.”

Kellen tilted his head to the side. “Yrelion?”

“Big glowing balls of energy,” Rivi said. “They seek out stars to collect energy from them in order to grow bigger.”

“What’s so special about that?”

“Yrelions have an almost uncanny knack for finding fresh stars, so to speak. We don’t know why, but they seem to prefer to draw energy from stars that no one has ever seen before. Lots of stars have been discovered by following them. So, hopefully we can track it down and then it can lead us to glory.”

Chevalier smiled. He recognized the glint in Rivi’s eye. It was the same as the one he was sure was in his own when he was hunting for treasure. He held out his hand and Rivi took it. Her grip was firm, but not overly so. “Be safe, friend.”

She looked at Kellen once more and her grin faded. “You too,” she said once she turned back to Chevalier. “Don’t go and get yourself killed.”

Having said everything that needed to be said and a wave, they went their separate ways.  Chevalier led Kellen back to the dock where they’d met, though he hoped that this time the end result wouldn’t be the station master’s prison.


Selene leapt onto Chevalier’s shoulder the instant he boarded the ship and crawled all over him. The little dragon scolded, licked, scratched and cried –often within the same sentence – as she reunited with her companion.

“You idiot!” she hollered as she nipped at him. “How could you have let yourself get beaten like that? Don’t you know how worried I was? Did you ever think about what would happen to me if something happened to you? Don’t you—”

Chevalier plucked her up from his shoulder and held her out in front of his body. “It’s fine, Selene. I’m back now. I’m sorry to have worried you.”

“That’s all you can say? I’ve been sitting here for weeks, scrounging for food while you were rotting away in your cell. Since I couldn’t get into the storage locker, I had to eat bugs, Chevalier! Bugs! How are you going to make that up to me?”

Selene was writhing in his grip, and little bits of smoke were floating up from her nostrils.

Chevalier smiled as he heard a noise from Kellen that might have been the start of a laugh.

“Well,” said Chevalier, “I was thinking we’d go on a treasure hunt.”

Selene’s mood changed in an instant. Her rage, sadness and irritation were all gone, replaced by the little dragon’s borderline rabid lust for gold.

“Finally! I’ve been so bored salvaging shipwrecks that I thought I was going to die. We’re going to get to have a real adventure! Where are we going?”

She babbled and blathered as Chevalier and Kellen loaded the supplies into the Spitfire’s hold. It was only when she paused to take a few deep breaths that she seemed to notice the Chillsword for the first time. To her credit, she didn’t seem scared or startled by his presence, she just walked in front of him and looked up.

“And why are you here?”

The Chillsword pointed at Chevalier. “Ask your boss.”

Selene glared at Chevalier – no doubt he’d get an earful later – but raced up Kellen’s armor and braced herself up in front of the mercenary’s eyes with her forelegs.

“Let’s make one thing clear,” she hissed. “Chevalier is not my boss. Forget again and I’ll rip your eyes out.”

Chevalier tensed as Kellen shrugged his shoulders. Without a doubt, the mercenary could reach up with one of his massive gauntleted hands and crush Selene into blue scaly paste, but he didn’t. Instead he reached up and tapped the lens protecting his right eye.

“You think I care if you’ve got a helmet on? I’m a dragon! A dragon!”

This time Kellen did laugh. It sounded reedy and awkward, and Chevalier imagined that Kellen hadn’t often had an opportunity for laughter during his employment with Plagtos. Had he laughed with his brother? Impossible to know.

“And what a fine dragon you are,” Kellen said. “Though I’d always heard that space dragons were bigger.”

“That’s his fault!”

Kellen looked up over Selene’s accusingly pointed tail and nodded.

“I apologize for my mistake. I’ll endeavor not to repeat it.”

Selene stared at the mercenary for a moment and then nodded. She scampered down his shoulder and glided to the ground before scurrying up the ramp and onto the ship. Before disappearing from view, she looked at Chevalier. “Will we be leaving soon?”

The knight nodded and picked up another box of dried noodles. “Soon as we finish packing up.”


A little while later, Chevalier fired up Spitfire’s thrusters and eased the vessel out of the dock. It felt good to be back aboard his ship and even better to be back behind the controls. The grip of the sticks, the comforting lumpiness of his seat, the incessant blinking of lights above his head, and the familiar vibrations of flight. All of it was perfection, in its own muddled way.

Kellen stood behind him, Spitfire didn’t have any seats big enough for the Chillsword’s heavy armor, and they both watched the flow of ships in the station’s orbit. Junkheap was starting to get busy as word of its amenities spread and weary star sailors sought respite on its well-maintained shores. Selene had perched herself on Chevalier’s shoulder and probably would remain there until it was time to put the ship on autopilot and go to sleep.

“So, where are we going?” Kellen asked. “I can’t imagine you’re thinking about flying us all the way into the Empty in this ship. There’s no way it could survive the trip, and that’d take months, if not years.”

Chevalier pulled up his map of the Aguelot Empire on his secondary monitor. He pointed to a long red line a few days trip from Junkheap.

“There’s a shipping lane not too far from here with gates every few thousand waves all the way out to the edge of the empire. We’ll pay for a spot on one of the ferry whales and that’ll take us close enough to Rozaulia that we can explore and search for the Calypso Templar on our own. The ferries are pretty quick, so it shouldn’t be too long of a trip.”

Kellen grunted, but said no more.

Chevalier couldn’t help it. He smiled. There was an air of excitement in the cockpit as he carefully navigated through the bits of debris and other ships circling Junkheap before accelerating into open space. Like a man dying of thirst in the desert might drink water, Chevalier drank in the sense of anticipation, the beckoning unknown and the feeling that no matter what happened in the days to come that his entire world would change.

There was only one name for such a feeling.



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Chapter 11


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.”

Chevalier nodded.

“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?”


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Chapter 10


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.

“Thank you.”

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.”


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Chapter 9


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.


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Chapter 8


Chillswords. Twin hulking masses of armor bearing frosty blades promising a swift, painful death. Chevalier studied them for a moment. They were both well over eight feet tall, and their purple and black armor was so bulky that they seemed to be at least six feet wide. A thick cape of black velvet hung from their shoulders, giving them an air that was something bordering on the aristocratic.

Complex runes were carved into their chest plates and pauldrons, and these glowed with a silver and blue light. The same light came from the short horns that jutted out of their almost skeletal helmets. Pools of black occupied the space that should have held their eyes, and a series of tubes and grates covered their noses and mouths. Chevalier could not see through the helmets – and he wasn’t entirely sure that they were helmets, to be completely honest – but he suspected that whatever was behind those rigid faces didn’t resemble humans. Or any other life form that he’d ever come across, for that matter.

Their footsteps were heavy on the floor of the dock as they moved towards him. Clank, clang, hiss. Clank, clang, hiss. Chevalier could see small jets of blue fire on the bottoms of their boots and at regular intervals in a straight line along their legs. Since their armor was so heavy, Chillswords relied on a series of small thrusters to help them move around, and the devices could be put to devastating use in combat as well.

He sighed. That was pretty much all of what he knew about the mercenary band. Their origins were shrouded in mystery, and the fact that they worked almost exclusively for Plagtos meant that most folks had virtually no interaction with them. Generally speaking, they were imposing figures that one occasionally saw near ports and at shipping docks, standing vigilant in case someone tried to relieve the shipping conglomerate of their hard earned goods or profits.

Their reputation for recovering lost goods was legendary, as were the consequences for those who had tested their luck.

Selene scurried out from the Spitfire but stayed near enough to the hatch that she could get back inside if things took a turn for the worse. Not that the ship’s doors would do much good against the Chillswords’ namesake if it came to that, but Chevalier didn’t feel like letting any more visitors aboard his ship today. Except for Hurkwin or any of Bartholomew’s other people. Or Rivi. Or really, anyone else who may have wanted to come aboard and wasn’t a Chillsword. Chevalier’s feelings were always somewhat fickle things. The tiny dragon looked at Chevalier and he felt her presence enter his thoughts. Here, she was much larger than he was, and her entire being felt like sapphire-tinted flames. Her voice – if it could even be called that – was scratchy, and it gave Chevalier the distinct sensation of cinnamon.

These two don’t look like they’re the type to stand around and swap gossip, Chevalier. I don’t think you’re going to be able to talk your way out of this one.

Looking at the Chillswords, Chevalier couldn’t help but agree with her. They had stopped about fifteen feet away from where he stood and while they had yet to draw their blades, he was sure that moment wasn’t far away now. He looked down at the Ring of Blue Moon and sighed. Sensing his attention, it started whispering to him. Though he still didn’t understand the words or the sentiment, the image of the ring in his mind’s eye was that of a slithering creature with far too many eyes and razor sharp teeth that sought his flesh. The whispering grew louder and louder in his ears and might have overwhelmed him had Selene not reared up in the back of his mind, crackling with anger and azure flames that seemed as old as the stars themselves. There was nothing diminutive about the dragon now, and though she was on his side, Chevalier still experienced something that was a mix between awe and bone-shaking apprehension at the sensation.

Cease your muttering, shadow.

Each of the words was like the sound of a spaceship’s engine roaring to life, and the scurrying monster of the ring fled in the face of the dragon’s presence. As it disappeared, the nonsensical whispering in Chevalier’s ears and thoughts all but dissipated and the heat of Selene’s flames formed a wall around Chevalier’s thoughts. For the time being, the ring’s whispering wouldn’t be a concern.

“Thanks,” Chevalier said. “Some day soon we really need to have a talk about what exactly that shadow thing is.”

Heh. You need to survive this encounter first. Now, defend yourself! I do not want to be forced back into that damned ring for another epoch until some other treasure hunter finds me by accident.

“It wasn’t an accident,” Chevalier protested. “I spent months tracking down stories and paying good money for damned-near useless tips. I found you through hard work!”

If you say so, my knight.

Chevalier was about to say plenty more, but the Chillswords interrupted him.

“You there, is that your ship?”

Chevalier felt Selene’s presence retreat ever so slightly and turned his attention back to the Chillswords. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the space dragon sag to the ground, looking extremely tired. She was panting and curled up, her tiny wings settling over her sides like a blanket. Her telepathic display of strength had taken more out of her than she’d ever admit, and Chevalier made a mental note to give her some treats later. If he survived, that is.

“Aye, it is. What do you want with it?”

The second Chillsword stepped forward and quick as lightning drew his sword from its sheath. It crackled and chilled the air around its edge. “You are in possession of Plagtos property. We are here to reclaim it, and should you choose to resist we will treat you as hostile. Do you have any affiliations? Any guild or trade company to whom we should send bloodwit?”

Chevalier squared his shoulder and stood up as straight as he could. “I serve no one but myself. This is my ship, and the objects stored inside are my rightful property, per the Aguelot Empire’s salvage laws. I came upon the wreck after your ship was destroyed; I played no part in its destruction, and only took small objects. Your company failed to protect your vessel, which is no fault of mine. You have no legal claim.”

“Be that as it may, scavenger, the goods belong to us and we will reclaim them now. We may not have a legal claim, but we have swords and will not be deterred from our mission. These goods will be returned to Plagtos, even if we have to carry them over your corpse.”

Without a word, the second Chillsword drew his weapon and the two armored soldiers advanced in lockstep. Chevalier shook his head. As expected, talking hadn’t worked and the time had come for the matter to be settled in the most pure way possible. With blades.

Closing his eyes, Chevalier focused on the Ring of Blue Moon and felt the stone in the center grow warm. He didn’t open his eyes, but if he had he would have seen the gem glowing with a vibrant neon blue light. He would have also seen the Chillswords step back, suddenly wary. People who survived for more than a few months as part of mercenary corps didn’t take any potential threat lightly.

Covering his left hand with his right, as if balling his hands together, Chevalier took a deep breath and swung both arms out to his sides as hard as he could.

There was no incantation, no relic of an ancient age where like time in the Empty, power had been a little soft. Instead, the blue light from the ring’s gem enveloped Chevalier’s body and in the span of a few heartbeats, he was draped in the Armor of Blue Moon. Slender and elegant, his clothing had been replaced by a combination of mesh and plate the color of Selene’s scales. The caress of the cosmos, the little dragon had called it the first time he’d ever done it, and the name was a fitting one.

His armor was not extravagant, but it was an impressive sight in its own way. Oversized gauntlets covered his wrists and forearms, and sharply angled boots rose to his calves. His own pauldrons were nowhere near the size of the Chillswords’, but they too were exaggerated and embossed with dragon wing emblems. A thin scarf was wrapped around his neck and shoulders, and it blew in a breeze that no one but Blue Moon Chevalier could feel.

His helmet settled onto his head and his view of the world changed. Tinted gray-blue by the visor that covered his eyes, it was easier to make sense of things. The Chillswords were still daunting, but Chevalier now saw that their bulk was almost as much of a hindrance as it was a benefit. While he was certain that they could move forward and backwards quickly and with ease, he wondered how fast they’d be able to react to an attack from the side.

Looking up, Chevalier confirmed that he could see the faint spiderweb-like strings of energy that he thought of as the currents. They were thin and blue, and thrummed with energy that Chevalier could sense and draw from. Like leylines, they were arranged in patterns and crossed each other regularly, with the breeze near their intersections stronger than elsewhere along their lengths.

Last to appear was Chevalier’s sword, summoned from the final flickers of the gem’s neon light. There was the barest hint of a whoosh as the Sword of Blue Moon left its ethereal scabbard and settled itself in his left hand. Despite its age and its history of other bearers, the weapon’s weight and balance was perfect, and the grip fit as if it had been forged specifically for his hand.

Chevalier’s weapon looked vaguely draconic itself, with a narrow, plated grip of silver and black. The pommel was covered by a plate that housed two bits of metal that looked like a pair of eyes and a thin spike protruding from its bottom looked like an outstretched tongue. The guard was segmented, and looked like a pair of wings in the process of opening for flight. A white gemstone the same size and shape as the one set in the Ring of Blue Moon rested in the space where the guard met the hilt, flickering and glowing with energy.

The blade itself was long and beautiful, with plates along its length that gave it the appearance of sunglight reflecting off water, and at its tip the metal was bare and looked like plasma though it was cold to the touch.

Taking a deep breath, Chevalier gripped his sword with both hands, lifted it in front of his body in a defensive stance and stared at the Chillswords.

“I’ll only warn you once,” he said with a confidence that his rational mind did not feel. “You two are not a match for me. Don’t throw your lives away.”

The first Chillsword made a noise that might have been a snort. The jets on the mercenary’s legs flared to life and he slid towards Chevalier far faster than the knight had expected. Raising his weapon up and over his head, the Chillsword swung down at Chevalier with enough force to cleave the hull of a spaceship in two without much effort.

Chevalier raised the sword of Blue Moon and braced his shoulders as his own blade met his foe’s. Under normal circumstances, the strength of the blow would have been too much for Chevalier to resist, the difference in strength too great, but the boon of his armor made that not the case. In addition to seeing the world differently and possessing better control of his emotions and mental state, the Armor of Blue Moon also enhanced Chevalier’s strength, reflexes, and endurance. He was more than a man, so long as he wore it.

That was going to be important.

Chevalier pushed and the Chillsword was forced back. Chevalier stepped in and launched a flurry of strikes, swinging high and low in an attempt to break the Chillsword’s guard. He was unsuccessful, as the mercenary beat back each and every blow with one of his own and sent Chevalier’s teeth to rattling from the impacts, despite the boon’s best efforts.

The second Chillsword joined the fray and pressed Chevalier with a series of stabs and thrusts that came entirely too close to Chevalier’s torso for comfort. Reaching out with his mind, Chevalier grabbed one of the currents above his head and pulled himself up off the ground as the two hulking monstrosities swung at him from opposite directions. Their blades met with a clang and bounded away from each other but neither lost their grip on their weapon.

Tucking himself into a roll, Chevalier landed behind them both and stabbed for the nearest one. The Chillsword tried to dodge but wasn’t quite fast enough, and Chevalier’s sword found purchase in a plate of armor. Sparks shot out as some of the machinery inside screamed and some of the jets lining the Chillsword’s right leg dimmed and winked out. The Chillsword stumbled and stood off balance.

But before he could capitalize on the opportunity, Chevalier was forced to retreat once again beneath the onslaught of the uninjured Chillsword, who used his weapon’s almost comical range to keep Chevalier from getting close enough to strike back. Each blow was every bit as strong as the last one had been, and the cadence was almost so precise that it seemed mechanical. Despite his enhanced awareness, Chevalier saw no flaws in the Chillsword’s guard, and without a way to get to his foe’s side, he began to feel frustrated. Gritting his teeth, he reached out with his mind once more. However, instead of grabbing one of the currents and pulling himself towards it, he pulled energy from it and spread it around the Chillsword’s body. The cool energy coalesced into something like a soup thickened the atmosphere around his enemy’s weapon. The effect would only last for a moment, and it would be minor, but for that moment the Chillsword would feel like he was swimming and the increased resistance would give Chevalier an opportunity to strike.

There was a light in the air surrounding the Chillsword, and Chevalier rooted himself to another current and slid forward as is flowed to its next intersection. It was as if he’d turned gravity onto a different axis, and he moved as if falling. Slipping his blade past the Chillsword’s, Chevalier aimed his at his foe’s chest, but his target sidestepped just far enough that Chevalier’s blow landed on his arm instead. It was only a glancing hit and the Sword of Blue Moon bounced right off of the purple plate, but Chevalier had the advantage now and pressed it for all he was worth. Sweeping cuts and short, direct stabs pushed the Chillsword back. The hulking titan’s guard was flagging and Chevalier scored a series of light wounds that left scars in the armor. Just before he could land a decisive blow, however, the one-legged Chillsword barreled into him at an incredible speed. The mercenary didn’t need the currents to move forward explosively, and while he probably wouldn’t have been able to maneuver much in normal combat with only one leg’s worth of jets, he was more than capable of accelerating a hell of a lot.

Struggling against the Chillsword’s iron vise grip, Chevalier realized with horror what was quickly approaching in his future.Tangled together in the Chillsword’s acrimonious embrace, the two bodies zoomed toward the wall, where Chevalier was certain that he’d be crushed under the weight of his enemy’s armor. Smashed like a clove of garlic, he thought as he writhed in vain, desperate to break free.

Any ideas, Selene?

They covered a few more feet of floor before the dragon in his mind answered. There weren’t many left now.

Would probably be best if you got out of that guy’s grip.

Fat lot of help you are, Chevalier mentally snarled. His legs were too far from the ground to find purchase, but he’d shifted enough for his right arm to wriggle free. Better yet, he’d gotten his sword free too.

There wasn’t much space left before Chevalier got an intimate acquaintance with the thick walls of Junkheap’s docking bay, so he didn’t have time for anything fancy. Even cutting the Chillsword’s head off would spell his death, as the momentum would be enough to grind Chevalier into paste. Praying that the sword wouldn’t break, Chevalier thrust the blade down into the ground with all of his boon-enhanced strength. It sank half it’s length before stopping and Chevalier held on for dear life as the Chillsword continued rocketing forward.

The sword caught and momentum pulled at him. Chevalier strained to keep his grip on the sword’s handle. His shoulder felt as if it was going to pop out of its socket, his forearm ached and protested and his hand threatened give out, but before any part of his body could fail Chevalier cried out and some of the energy from the currents above and below flowed into his body. Somehow, he managed to hold strong and the Chillsword lost his grip, letting Chevalier swing free.

His enemy cascaded into the wall, alone. There was a muffled whimper, and the mercenary slumped to the ground in a heap of purple armor.

Relief surged through Chevalier as he waded back to the ground, but there was no time for relaxing. It was an unpleasant thing, what had to come next, but he knew that there was no alternative. Gripping the hilt of his weapon with both hands he yanked up as hard as he could. The blade grudgingly came free, leaving a narrow scar in the dock. Turning, Chevalier took a few steps toward the incapacitated Chillsword and thrust the Sword of Blue Moon into his enemy’s chest. There was no light that faded from the helmet’s eyes, nor any cry of agony or dismay. There was just an end, as all life left the mercenary’s body.

The second Chillsword roared in fury and Chevalier turned just in time to see the giant’s pauldrons rolling back to reveal twin plasma cannons.

“Shit,” Chevalier said as the cannons glowed orange with life. He barely jumped out of the way as the Chillsword fired and massive orbs of energy collided with the walls. The corpse of the Chillsword’s companion was virtually obliterated as they orbs exploded into fragments. Even through his armor, Chevalier felt their heat as they landed on his chest and shoulders before dissolving into nothing.

Continuous fire meant he couldn’t close the distance to his foe, and was left scrambling along the ground of the docking bay. Vaguely, he wondered if other Chillswords were on their way. It was true that they tended to travel in pairs, but they also regularly worked in groups as large as eight. I’m pretty sure that I can’t handle six more of these guys, Chevalier thought. Especially if they all start shooting at me like this.

He’d overestimated himself, and swore that if he somehow survived this he’d start taking Selene’s demands to train more seriously.

Thanks to his ability to ride the currents and his boon-enhanced reflexes and speed, Chevalier managed to avoid being hit for a minute or two, but it was only a matter of time until his luck ran out. He was getting tired. The blasts demolished the dock wherever they landed, leaving gaping craters in the walls and floor, and cracking one of the orbs of anonymity in half. The next shot sailed right through the silver ship that it had contained, and there was an explosion that set Chevalier’s ears ringing. Chevalier hoped that no one had been aboard at the time. He hoped that he wouldn’t have the death of an innocent person on his conscience.

Ducking, diving, and skating across walls, he managed to loop around behind the Chillsword and after extending his arm, he tried to increase the resistance of the air again.

Alas, that trick would only work once, it seemed, as the Chillsword was unaffected and aimed another salvo right at Chevalier.

There wasn’t time to dodge and both of the plasma orbs hit Chevalier square in the chest. He was thrown back, tumbling head over heels like a child’s toy until he crashed into the far wall. Chevalier groaned and rolled onto his back. Somehow, his chest plate had staved off the worst of the damage and though he felt like his ribs were probably cracked, he was still breathing.

After a moment, of course. The wind had been definitely been knocked out of him.

Clank. Clang. Hiss. Clank. Clang. Hiss.

Hearing the distinctive cadence of the Chillsword’s footsteps, Chevalier sat up with a wince. The mercenary was approaching him with his cannons readied and his sword held tight. Chevalier was no psionic, but he didn’t have to be to guess what was running through his enemy’s thoughts. Live by, die by, et cetera.

He looked around. His own sword was laying on the ground half a dozen feet away, and Chevalier was sure that if he tried to grab it the Chillsword would give up his notions of poetic justice and simply blast him to smithereens. The Armor of Blue Moon had survived one shot from the plasma cannons, but it was cracked and Chevalier doubted that it would come close to blocking a second one.

Chevalier grinned. He wondered if this would be the moment where Selene would come to his rescue, or if he’d manifest a perfectly timed method of surpassing his limits, or if it was just– as seemed increasingly likely – he was going to meet his end here on Junkheap. If that was the case, he’d do it with a smile on his face, watching his enemy.

The Chillsword raised his blade and pointed it at Chevalier’s face.Chevalier refused to blink.

It had been such a nice day, too.


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Chapter 7


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.”


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Chapter 6 [M]


Out in deep space, far away from where Chevalier was now witnessing a full-blown cosmorc brawl – which definitely shouldn’t have been possible, given the chieftain’s wounds – Maerin Haldorf was standing at attention on the command deck of The Heartbreaker. Okay, so technically the ship was known as FC-3 (short for Fleet Command – 3), but she always thought of it as The Heartbreaker. FC-3 was a Kraken-class ship, one of the few deep space command centers operated by the Plagtos conglomerate, and it was so big from end to end that if Maerin had been forced to walk its length, the trip would have taken her days. Thankfully, there were lifts and belts that made the trip much faster. Unfortunately, the engineers hadn’t developed any technology to make the reasons for the trips any more pleasant.

Her commander, Rufus Bluetongue sat in his chair and looked at her over steepled hands. Maerin clenched her jaw and remained still, though she couldn’t stand the way that the froglin’s bulbous eyes swept up and down her body, lingering on her chest and hips.

“Ah, Haldorf. What do you have to say for your recent, guh, failure?” His voice was thick and more than a little wet-sounding. His triple chin and protruding stomach wobbled as he stood up and took a step towards her.

“A failure, boss? I’m not sure its entirely fair to call it that.”

“Oh? Do you deny that CC-17, a ship that you personally handled the routing for, guh, was attacked and destroyed in the deep space fairly close to sector five of the Aguelot Empire less than two weeks ago? Are you aware that the ship was carrying valuable cargo and since it was our responsibility to route it safely to its destination, we are now responsible for collecting sufficient additional, guh, income to pay back the loss?”

Maerin sucked in a breath and shook her head. “No, sir, I don’t deny any of that, but I must push back on calling it my failure. There had been no reports of piranha activity in any of the nearby sectors, and CC-17 had made a similar trip twice before without any issues. I followed the company’s protocol for creating safe voyages to the letter, and it’s not my fault if they failed to defend themselves when attacked.”

“Bah,” Rufus said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Excuses, excuses. It’s always the same with you logistics navigators. Nothing is ever, guh, your fault. You all should be ashamed of your incompetence. We’ve lost four ships in the past two months!”

“I was not involved with the voyages of the other three. CC-17 is the first cargo vessel I routed that fell to piranha attack. I remind you that I’ve solo routed almost seventy voyages, which means that my success rate is still the highest on this ship.”

“Be that as it may, you’re no longer perfect, are you? Beyond that, you failed to anticipate the threat to CC-17 and must be held accountable. How do you propose that you make amends?”

Maerin felt her cheeks redden with anger, but before she could answer there was a hiss at the door to the command deck. Maerin and Rufus both turned to look at the newcomer. It was the Singer, and Rufus mumbled something in his native tongue before dismissing Maerin with a curt gesture.

“We will discuss this more and finalize the details at some future point, Haldorf. It seems that I have other business to attend to at the moment.”

He turned to face the Singer and Maerin took her leave, grateful to be out from beneath the froglin’s scrutiny. As she walked across the thin steel bridge that led back to the lifts, she paused and bowed deeply to the Singer as they walked by.

Draped in a silver robe and wearing a thick starmarble mask that obscured all of their features, the Singer was a mystery given – human? – form. They were tall and willowy, and carried a twisted rod with holes like a flute carved into the side and a red gemstone affixed to the tip. Singers were responsible for helping navigate the deepest sectors of the Empty. Their ethereal songs allowed ships to safely travel through places where no mechanical or computerized navigational tools functioned, and their ritual magics warded off the aggressive, nightmarish monsters that called such places home.

The Singer stopped and turned toward Maerin. Though their mask was a smooth plane with no defining features, Maerin couldn’t help but feel that the Singer’s eyes were burning into her.

“Be at peace, child. Your heart is heavy, and it should not be.”

What a strange, melodious voice, Maerin thought as the door slid closed behind her. She’d never heard the Singer speak before, and wondered if she ever would again. It would be a shame if she didn’t, she decided.

The hallway that led to the lift was a long and narrow corridor of gray panels interspersed with soft lights. Near the end of the hall, a lone cube of blackened metal zipped and zoomed back and forth. It was a cleaning droid, tasked with collecting the random bits of detritus and debris that found their way up the lift shaft and disposing of them. The droidkin beeped and buzzed to itself and occasionally stopped to deploy the small broom and dustpan mounted just above its wheels.

Maerin saw no sign of any mess as she passed the droid and pressed the button for the lift, but she didn’t doubt that the little droid had cleaned something up.

She took the lift down to the main dwelling level of the ship and, ignoring the way her stomach had twisted itself into a knot during the rapid descent, decided to make her way to the nearest mess hall. The stress of being called to report to Captain Bluetongue directly had manifested itself as a ridiculous hunger, and before too long she was sitting at a table scarfing down a bowl of soup. It wasn’t the tastiest thing she’d ever had – the broth was bland and the vegetables were soggy – but it was hot and filling, and that was all she was really interested in just then.

“Maerin! Hey!”

She looked up to see Ballou heading towards her with a tray of his own. Like her, he was a human with brown hair, but he was tall and heavily muscled whereas she was short and skinny. Ballou had worked in the Heartbreaker’s cargo bay for just over six years, where he helped hoist heavy boxes and bags into ships that docked. He was a decent, honest guy and a good friend. And also…maybe something more than just a friend? Maerin had a rule where she tried not to think about it, and took a big bite of soup to help her do so as Ballou sat down across from her.

“So, I heard that you got called up to Bluetongue’s office,” Ballou said as he dug into his heaping plate of pasta. “Everything okay?”

Maerin shrugged. “I’m not sure. One of the ships I plotted a course for was destroyed for piranhas a few weeks ago. We tried to recover as much of the cargo as we could, but there wasn’t much left and scavengers snatched up a good bit of it too.”


“Yeah, piranhas. Pirates. It’s an old nickname for them. I don’t really know where it came from.”

“Huh,” Ballou said through a mouthful of food. “I’ve never heard that before, but some of the guys in the warehouse said there’ve been a lot of pirate attacks recently. One of my buddies over in the repair bay has said that he’s been having to do way more battle damage repairs than usual, too. But, I don’t get it. Where are all these pirates coming from, and why hasn’t the company made a deal with their king or whatever to get our ships safe passage?”

Maerin shrugged. “We don’t know who their king is, or if they even have one. These piranhas, sorry – pirates,  aren’t like the ones Plagtos is used to dealing with. Most of the time, pirates just hang out near shipping lanes and harass slow carriers that pass them by. Our ships don’t really fit that description, and so most of the time they leave Plagtos vessels alone.”

“And these attacks are different than that?”

“Uh-huh. Almost all of them happened in deep space. Pirate activity is pretty uncommon out there; it’s hard to successfully equip and maintain a ship big enough to spend prolonged periods of time out in the Empty like that. Even when piranhas do pop up from time to time, there are usually plenty of signs we can detect that give us some warnings so we can avoid them. Big, stationary energy signatures, thermal images, things like that. These recent attacks don’t fit that mold, though. Reports from the vessels that have escaped say that the pirates just appear next to them. One second everything is fine, the next second you’ve got jumpers crawling all over your hull and trying to cut their way in.”

Ballou shook his head. “Sounds like a nightmare. How do you think they’re appearing out of nowhere like that?”

Maerin took another bite of soup. “No idea. None of us have ever heard of anything like it before. Even small ships are too big for most teleportation technology to work, so that can’t be it. I know some of the other logistics navigators have been combing the company’s logbook and guidelines for any hints, but no one has found anything.”

“Maybe it’s magic of some sort. I mean, the Singer can carry us through space, right?”

“But there are less than a hundred living Singers, and all but three of them work for Plagtos.”

“See? Maybe it’s those three!”

Maerin relaxed and smiled. She could see from Ballou’s expression that he was just winding her up.

“Yeah, I guess that could be it.”

With a burp, Ballou pushed his plate away and started cleaning his teeth with a small pick. He smiled back at her. “Well, I bet the captain is furious. Must have been a rough meeting.”

“It was,” Maerin said as she also finished her meal. “Bastard said that I’m going to be held responsible for recouping the ship’s losses. I’m not sure if that means the ship and its cargo or just the cargo itself, but either way, it’s way more than I’ll ever be able to afford.”

“I’ll say. Heck, you’d have to become a pirate yourself –and a damn successful one at that— to ever get enough money to do that.”

A droidkin ambled over to the table and took the dirty dishes away. Ballou and Maerin thanked it, and left the cafeteria side by side. As they walked, they  left the topic of the pirates and Maerin’s debt behind and chatted about nonsensical things that didn’t matter. Maerin mostly just enjoyed hearing Ballou’s voice. With plenty of things left unspoken, the two parted ways at the workstation lifts, and Maerin headed back to the navigation center. She’d looked back as it was leaving the hub to see Ballou looking back at her, and so she spent the entire trip thinking about the things she didn’t like thinking about that instead of CC-17.

When she got back to her office, Maerin focused. Sh.e’d have plenty of time to figure out what to do about Ballou later, and she’d be damned if that froglin bastard Bluenose was going to make her pay for the lost ship out of her wages. Sitting down with maybe a touch more force than necessary, Maerin started rummaging around the stacks of papers in front of her, looking for her star charts. Maerin’s desk was cluttered, but not messy. She had a system, albeit not a particularly neat one, of keeping things organized, and so the search didn’t take her too long. She pulled the binder onto her lap and opened it up. She flipped through page after page of systems, smiling at the notes and calculations she’d scrawled in the margins over the seven years she’d worked for Plagtos.

“Sector three. Sector four. Ah, here it is. Sector five of the Aguelot Empire. Let’s do some looking.”

She typed the coordinates into her nav computer and watched the holographic projection flicker to life on her planning table. She slid her chair over to it and consulted her chart. Most of her colleagues preferred to only work with the computerized models, but Maerin always felt that the old paper copies offered the best field for analyzing space. She couldn’t explain why. The flattened lines of shipping lines and cosmic weather phenomena just felt right. The computer was better at calculating distances and disaster probabilities, but when it came to just looking nothing compared to the yellowed sheets of paper she had on her lap.

“Now lets see,” she said as she closed her eyes and visualized the expanse of the sector in her mind’s eye. “What could I have missed?”

Maybe it’s magic of some sort?

She mulled the possibility over. Honestly, she couldn’t really think of any other way that the piranhas could have appeared out of space the way they did, but she was going to figure it out. If she couldn’t come up with a solution the normal way, she’d consult the Plagtos company digital archives too. The task was exciting, and part of Maerin was looking forward to it. She was one of the best logistics navigators Plagtos had ever hired, and she wasn’t going to let any more of her routes be ruined by piranhas.

As she scanned her charts and consulted tables of historical and current data, Maerin imagined Captain Bluetongue’s face when she showed him the method the pirates were using to appear out of space. The information would be so valuable that he’d call off her debt, and then she could get back to solving the real problem she was interested in. It was one that she’d been fixated on for the past three years.

Finding a way to get the hell off The Heartbreaker. Forever.


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