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.