Chapter 18


After sneaking back through the maze of the ship to the recreation dock, Chevalier, Kellen, and Selene needed a rest. And a snack. Definitely a snack before rest.

They found a man sitting in the corner on the recreation dock selling filets of space jellyfish. The meat had been shaved into thin slices, coated with garlic, oil and other spices and then fried until crispy. It was salty, a little chewy, and utterly delicious. Selene ate an entire skewer by herself, the same amount as Chevalier and Kellen.

She seemed to be taking her capture, captivity and escape well in stride. Despite the woman’s claims that Selene would be unconscious for hours, Selene had been up and crowing for food less than half an hour after being rescued. The only concession to the situation was the fact that she refused to leave Chevalier’s shoulder and dug her claws into his flesh every time he tried to move her away.

Chevalier looked at Kellen. The mercenary had removed his helmet to eat the jellyfish and looked so small once again. He chewed slowly and methodically, but his expression didn’t seem to change much from bite to bite. Maybe he couldn’t actually taste food? Not having to worry about liking or disliking something seemed like the type of “advantage” that Plagtos would have taken for its elite mercenaries, but Chevalier didn’t want to ask.

Instead, he reached over and rapped the chillsword’s pauldron with his fist.

“Thanks for coming and saving the day,” Chevalier said. “I wouldn’t have been able to rescue Selene without your help. How did you realize something was wrong?”

Kellen looked at him and tilted his head ever so slightly. “You’re welcome, though I did it more for Selene’s sake than yours. I noticed two men following you through the crowd when you went looking for Charlottia. No matter how you moved they stayed a fixed distance away from you, and both of them were watching you with a stalker’s intensity. Once Charlottia grabbed your hand they nodded to each other and returned to the crowd. I figured that there had to be something weird, so when she started dragging you away, I decided to follow you.”

“Well, at least you have a brain in that head of yours,” Selene said.

They finished their snack and returned to the Spitfire, and Chevalier felt as if everything was right in the world as he watched Selene collapse into her bed and fall asleep.

He went to do the same but was interrupted by a knock on the spacecraft’s door. He and Kellen made eye contact as he walked toward the sound. Kellen took his blade in his hands and nodded, and Chevalier hoisted his pistol into his free hand as he opened the door.

Standing there was an imperial knight and three regular guards. They all wore the crimson uniforms of the empire, though the accents on the knight’s uniform were gold and those for the guards were silver.

The knight was tall and limber, with light brown skin and bright green eyes. His hair was cut short, and his hand rested comfortably on the pommel of the thin saber he wore on his belt.

“Hello,” he said in a friendly, but firm voice. “Some time ago, there was a bit of disturbance below deck, and our security team is fairly sure that you were involved. Care to come with us so we can talk about things?”

“If talking is all that you want to, we can do it here,” said Chevalier, returning his pistol to its holster and opening the door further.

“Well, that’s true, but I’m afraid that my superiors would like to talk to you as well, and I’m afraid that the demands of their duties means that they can’t come all the way up here to speak with you. Please, we mean you no harm. Would you come with us?”

Kellen started to stand up, but the imperial knight held up his hand and shook his head. “Just Chevalier of Blue Moon, please. We have no questions for you, Kellen Chillsword.”

“I’ll keep an eye on Selene,” Kellen said when he saw Chevalier’s eyes flick back to the spot where the space dragon slept. “She’ll be safe here.”

The knight gestured to the space beside where he stood. “If you’d be so kind.”

Chevalier didn’t want to go and submit to questioning – make no mistake, that’s exactly what this was – but he didn’t really have a choice. The knight was being friendly now, but only a fool would believe that would last. So, despite the exhaustion that plagued his limbs and made the edges of his vision hazy, Chevalier nodded and stepped down the ramp until he was next to the knight.

The knight led the way and the guards followed Chevalier as they went over to a lift on the far side of the docking bay. The knight lifted his hand in front of the scanner next to the door so that the camera there could scan the band he wore around his wrist and the door opened right away.

Inside the elevator was sleek and silver, clean and efficient. There was plenty of room for the knight, guards, and Chevalier.

“My name is Sir Lenos,” the knight said as the door closed. “I am a member of the 348th Legion, and I’ve been a knight for fifteen standard years. I’ve seen many  strange things during my tenure in His Excellency’s service, but just a few hours ago I saw something even weirder. Do you know what that might be, Blue Moon Chevalier?”

Chevalier didn’t bother trying to lie. The ferry was probably full of cameras and staff assigned to watching them. He doubted there was more than a few feet of the ship that was truly invisible to imperial eyes, and so figured that the question was merely a formality. Perhaps he could score some points by being forthright.

“Did you see me chasing down some grynaith thieves to get my friend back?”

Lenos smiled. Unlike the seductive promise of Charlottia in her human form, or the vicious snarl she’d had in her monster body, Lenos’ smile was friendly and genuine.

“Indeed. That’s the reason we wanted to talk to you.”

The elevator slowed to a stop and the doors opened. Lenos and the guards led Chevalier into a hall that, to Chevalier’s great surprise, was not bare and minimalist. Instead, there were paintings hanging from the walls, depicting great moments in imperial history. Chevalier recognized the coronation of Augustian, the triumph of the imperial fleets at Basliarc, and a few other scenes. Next to some of them were small vases of crimson flowers. Chevalier had seen them before but didn’t know their name. They had small, pointed petals and thin stems and from time to time, Chevalier caught a whiff of their fragrance and smiled at the bright, clean scent.

Lenos led him into a spacious, well-lit room with a large table in the center. There were two other knights seated at the table, and six more guards.

The first of these was an older man with an eyepatch and a neatly trimmed silver beard. He was heavy with muscle, and every time he moved his uniform strained.

The other knight was a woman with skin a few shades darker than Lenos and curly hair that wore in a ponytail. Her hands were folded in front of her and resting on the desk, and she smiled at Chevalier as he came into the room.

“Here is Chevalier of Blue Moon,” Lenos said with a bow. “Shall I take my leave while you two talk to him?”

“No need,” the woman said. “It would be good for you to be here as well, since you’re the one who brought this matter to our attention in the first place.”

The muscled man gestured at the seat next to his own. “Go ahead and sit down, Chevalier. I know the look of a man running on fumes.”

Chevalier did so, grateful to be off his feet. The chair’s cushion was soft and comfortable, and he let himself sink into it for a moment, waiting for the nasty bit of the interrogation to start. However, the knights were all perfectly pleasant as the woman reached under the table and drew out a piece of metal. She carefully laid it on the table.

“Do you recognize this?” she asked. When Chevalier didn’t immediately answer, she tapped on it. “This was one of the supports for the catwalks that you cut through during your pursuit of the grynaith.”

“Oh,” said Chevalier, putting his hand to his head and scratching at his ear. “I’m sorry about that. I was in a hurry and didn’t fancy climbing down the stairs.”

“The damage is significant, but our metal workers are already on the job of repairing the catwalks. We will not request any compensation from you if you can answer a question for us.”

So far, this wasn’t turning out as Chevalier had expected it to at all. “Sure. What do you want to know?”

This time, it was Lenos who answered. “Where you got your sword, and what its made of. Those brackets were forged by some of the finest smiths in the galaxies, and they were supposed to be nigh indestructible, but you sliced right through them as if they were nothing but cheap iron links of chain. What sort of weapon do you possess, Chevalier?”

He explained as best he could, but he didn’t know the whole truth of the matter and so only told them the bits and pieces that he’d guessed: that the sword of Blue Moon was forged from the scales of a space dragon, and probably the armor as well. That seemed to sit right with the knights, because all of three of the nodded sagely and didn’t ask any further questions.

“It’s a strange thing,” said the gray-hared knight, whose name was Rollins. “In the last year, I’ve heard rumors of a girl in red armor and a lance that doesn’t break. It’s rumored to be forged of space dragon scales too. Have you ever heard the name Red Sun Lancer?”

Chevalier’s mind went back to the girl on Junkheap. Kind of looked like your blue moon get up, except that she had a big lance instead of a sword, Rivi had said. “I have not, but I’m not familiar with all of the old legends.”

Rollins laughed. “Well, I’m not either, but that’s apparently what this girl has been calling herself. Rumors are saying that she’s nigh unkillable, and she’s dueled some seriously nasty folks that we’re all better off without. I would say that the naming convention she’s chosen is awfully similar to yours to be a coincidence, so I was just curious as to if you two knew each other.”

“We don’t,” Chevalier said. “But I might have some business with her on behalf of a friend.”

Rollins seemed to understand what he meant, because he smiled and clapped his hand on the table. “Now that’s something I’d like to see,” he said. “Though, if the rumors are to believed you might find yourself having bitten off more than you can chew.”

Chevalier agreed. He couldn’t help but think about how tough it’d been to deal with Charlottia and the grynaith. Not to mention Kellen and his brother back on Junkheap. He definitely needed to get stronger if he was going to stay alive on the hunt for the Calypso Templar. Maybe he should start sparring with Kellen.

Sir Lenos leaned forward. “Say, would you be interested in a deal?”

Chevalier felt himself grow wary. “What sort of deal?”

“While we would never dream of trying to take your dragon from you, we would be interested in obtaining some of her scales. We know that she’s yet too small to really have big enough scales to forge armor and weapons like your own, but would you be interested in selling us some number of scales once she gets bigger?”

So this was the underlying hook they wanted to sink into him. The idea was somewhat appealing, to be honest. Chevalier was pretty sure that Selene would naturally shed some scales as she grew, and selling them to the empire would be both lucrative and help him stay in their good graces. It was a good thing to have friends in the depths of space, and the Aguelots were an especially good friend to have.

But still, he didn’t think it was a good idea to commit to selling Selene’s scales without her permission, and he told the knights as much. They seemed surprised that he was so concerned about the opinion of a dragon, but didn’t push the matter any further and let him go without issue.

Lenos led him back to the Spitfire without his guards. The entire process had taken less than an hour, and Kellen seemed visibly relieved when Chevalier boarded the ship once again.

“Selene hasn’t even woken up yet,” he said as the hatch slid closed and Chevalier went to pour himself a stiff drink from the vessel’s small bar.

“What’d they want?” the taurolk asked as Chevalier finished his first and went for a second, and then a third after that. Chevalier explained their questions about his sword and then the request for Selene’s scales. The mercenary nodded sagely at the end of the explanation as if he’d expected something like that.

“The Aguelot Empire is famous for constantly seeking out new sources of materials. Their researchers are every bit as good as the ones that Plagtos employs, but they’re much more moralistic. I’m surprised they didn’t just try to take Selene for themselves.”

“Me too, though I’ve never heard anything about the empire being like that. Augustus is a right bastard, but he’s not evil.”

“That’s true,” Kellen said.

The two were silent for a few minutes and then Chevalier stood up. “Hey, would you be willing to spar with me once we get out of here?” he asked.

Kellen’s eyes narrowed. “Why do you want to do such a thing? Aren’t you plenty of good at fighting already?”

Chevalier shook his head. “I thought I was, but after fighting you back on Junkheap and the grynaith I’m realizing that I’ve been relying too much on the boon that comes with my armor and weapon. I need to be stronger. I don’t ever want to risk losing Selene again.”

Kellen smiled. “I thought she drove you nuts. You two are always snipping at each other.”

“She does but that doesn’t change anything that I said. That’s just how we are,” Chevalier said.

Kellen laughed. “Well, it’d do me some good to spar as well. So I’ll help you train so long as we’re shipmates.”

“Good,” said Chevalier. And without another word he stumbled down to his cramped quarters, fell onto his bed and promptly fell asleep.


<<: Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter :>>

Chapter 17


Chevalier caught up with Kellen a few minutes later. He’d got his second wind when Selene had reached out and was feeling fine for the time being. The chillsword slowed to a stop and though he wasn’t panting as Chevalier stood beside him, his voice had the barest hint of fatigue in it.

“Any idea where we’re heading?”

“Selene woke up,” Chevalier said. “She said that the grynaith are down near the garbage hatch and there’s a ship coming to take them off the ferry. I don’t know how long we have until it arrives, but it can’t be long if Selene can see it. Have any idea how close we are to the garbage hatch?”

“Can’t be sure, but I don’t think it can be too far. We’re already pretty deep down”

They ran down hallways and jumped down staircases, delving ever deeper into the bowels of the ship. They weren’t picky about which way they went, so long as they went down. If it was like most ships, the ferry’s garbage hatch would be the bottommost location.

Chevalier let Kellen lead. The taurolk had an instinctive understanding of all things labyrinthian and found routes down time after time.

Finally, they pushed open a set of doors and found themselves in an open, frigid bay that could only be the garbage hatch. The piles of refuse standing against the walls were dead giveaways, as was the smell.

The grynaith gang looked at them and Charlottia glared. She still had Selene clutched in one hand, but pointed at Chevalier and Kellen with the other. “We were followed! Silence them!”

The biggest grynaith charged forward, raising his hands in preparation of grabbing Chevalier and ripping him apart, but Kellen stepped into the monster’s path with a casual confidence and met the beast grapple for grapple. There was some shifting and shuffling as hulking armored mass contested with hulking monster mass, but before long Kellen let out a yell of triumph and threw the grynaith to the ground. Before he could get back up, Kellen kicked him with one of his massive boots and sent him skidding across the ground.

However, the grynaith clearly wasn’t really very hurt because he bounced right back up and started approaching again. This time, though, the approach was more cautious and less aggressive, but still extremely fast. Kellen ducked the first punch and launched one of his own, but the monster was no slouch and danced away.

Chevalier didn’t have time to stand around watching. He could now see the minnow approaching the ferry, and even if Kellen won his fight, it wouldn’t matter if Chalottia escaped with Selene.

He dashed forward, unslinging his sword as he did so. His path was blocked by one of Charlottia’s other gang members, but a quick flurry of cuts bought the knight enough space to squeeze past and make a break for the dancer-turned-seductress-turned-thief.

“Give me Selene!”

She smiled and dashed back out of the way of his blow. “I wondered if it was you,” she said as he snarled and missed her two more times. It was just like when he’d chased her in the hallways earlier, except instead of hoping to grab a kiss (and maybe something more), Chevalier was swinging to kill.

“That armor doesn’t suit you, traveler. You look like a child wearing daddy’s coat and shoes, fitting into neither and making a fool of yourself.”

Chevalier slipped on a piece of garbage as the momentum of his swing carried him past Charlottia and he hit the ground hard. Thankfully, his sword only skittered a few inches away and he snatched it back up and lunged for the grynaith once again. This time, instead of stepping out of the way or jumping back, she simply bent backwards and let the strike pass over her stomach before snapping back up and landing a kick on Chevalier’s chest. There was enough force behind the blow to send the knight flying into the far wall. The armor absorbed most of the impact, and Chevalier was back on his chase almost immediately. He was mad now, and even through the blue gray of his visor he was seeing red.

As he charged he looked over at Kellen. The chillsword was holding his own against the rest of the grynaith gang, his heavy armor shielding him from almost every monstrous attack and his heavy gauntlets dishing out plenty of his own. His foes weren’t stopping but for the time being he seemed unbreakable. Chevalier wondered which would give out first. He knew full well that eventually one side would break.

The garbage hatch groaned and started to open. Chevalier saw a green bubble getting closer to the ferry, and watched the way it got pulled close to the ferry, as if caught in a tractor beam. The minnow ship was painted green and had a wide brown stripe down its side. There was an emblem on the front of the ship of a tree and crescent moon, and Chevalier thought that he recognized it from somewhere but couldn’t be sure. Heraldry was common amongst the stars, and it was entirely possible that Chevalier had only seen an emblem that looked similar to this one.

With a quiet hiss, the ship landed and its hatch opened. A small arlai with thick glasses came out. She wore a puffy yellow vest and a pair of dusty slacks, and had an innately bookish aura.

She squealed at the sight of the battle in front of her and the door to the ship hissed closed once again. Her trembling voice crackled over the speaker.

“This was not the deal, Charlottia. Ya promised that there wouldn’t be any danger on the pickup! What if the empire catches me?”

Charlottia danced away from Chevalier’s blade and held up her fist so that the arlai could see Selene struggling in her grip. “The deal was for you to buy this space dragon. Think about how rare of a chance this is, and what it’ll mean for you to bring this little baby back to the museum. Everything else is just details.”

“Well, I don’t like it!”

Chevalier took advantage of the conversation to get closer to Charlottia, but the grynaith batted him aside and leapt toward the ship. She stood on the ledge until tThe hatch hissed open and she stepped inside.

“Kellen, they’re getting away!” Chevalier hollered.

A bestial cry from one of Kellen’s foes answered him. “I’m a bit busy here,” the mercenary grunted as he threw a grynaith away from himself. He was definitely panting now and there were a few angry gashes in the plates of his armor. “She’s your dragon, the ship is your problem.”

And problem it was, because the minnow’s engines were blinking to life and it was slowly starting to lift off of the floor. As it turned, Chevalier ran and made a mad grab for the ship’s bottom rail.

“The knight got aboard,” cried the arlai, who apparently hadn’t remembered to turn off her comms. “What do I do?”

“Go into space,” Charlottia said. “He won’t be able to survive without a suit.”

The ship lifted off the ground and turned towards the open hatch. Chevalier clambered up onto the ship’s ledge as it left the garbage hatch and went out into space.

Chevalier held his breath. He didn’t know if the armor would protect him the way his normal armor would, but he was sure that if he let the ship escape he’d never see Selene again, and that was worth risking death for.

As he moved away from the ferry the armor began to glow. A blue bubble of energy appeared around Chevalier’s body and he breathed a sigh of relief as he realized that he wasn’t about to face the void of space without protection and that he could breathe normally. With that particular problem solved for the moment, he pulled himself up and began working the door open. The metal was sleek and well maintained, but with the strength of the boon of Blue Moon coursing through his limbs and the adrenaline that pumped through his blood, he managed to pull the door open ever so slightly. He didn’t give a damn if it caused Charlottia and the pilot to die in the void, they’d taken Selene and had it coming.

Charlottia was waiting for him inside the ship, and in the confined space, Chevalier wouldn’t have room to swing his sword freely. Instead, he lowered his head and tackled the grynaith to the ground, grunting as they landed hard and the impact knocked the air out of his lungs. The small space had kept her from dodging. He rolled over and tried to catch his breath, but Charlottia kicked him in the stomach and sent him sprawling against the partially opened door.

“You’re persistent as hell,” the grynaith said. “Normally I would say that I like that in a man, but right now it’s just annoying.”

Chevalier scrambled to his feet and dodged the blow intended to knock him back out into space. He grabbed her leg and shifted her momentum so that she overcompensated and lost her balance.

Before she could move, Chevalier had his sword out and pointed at her throat. While it was true that he couldn’t really swing the weapon here, stabbing was an entirely different matter.

“I yield,” she said.

Chevalier had her stand up and lead the way to where the pilot was. The diminutive arlai blinked at him with fearful eyes, and Chevalier poked Charlottia with the tip of his sword.

“Where’s Selene?”

The woman gestured to a small box next to her. It was a terrarium of sorts, with a large rock in the center and a small tree branch buried in some gravel, all under a faint yellow light. Selene slept atop the rock, her tiny body rising and falling with every breath.

“Is she hurt?”

The woman shook her head. “She’s sleeping. I gave her a sedative because she was really trying ta get free.”

“How long until it wears off?”

“A few hours. Half a day at the most.”

Chevalier took the terrarium and kicked Charlottia into the seat where it’d once been.

Holding his sword ready to stab either of them if the need arose, Chevalier nodded back at the ferry.

“Well that was fun. Now ladies, if you’ll be so kind. Take us back.”


<<: Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter: >>

Chapter 16


Chevalier reached for the ring of Blue Moon, but before he could grab it, two of the grynaith leapt forward and seized his arms. He struggled against them, but his arms were as frozen as if they’d been buried in concrete. Needless to say, his efforts to free himself were in vain. He lifted his right leg and slammed his foot down into one of the grynaith’s knees, recoiling at the jolt of pain that surged through his foot. The creature’s scaly flesh was hard as stone and his target laughed. In response, the grynaith gave him a shake that caused Chevalier to fear that his shoulder was about to be ripped free from its socket.

The shortest grynaith, Charlottia, stepped forward and neatly sliced the strap of Selene’s bag with a clawed forefinger. She caught the satchel before it hit the ground, and when the little space dragon tried to scurry away, she snatched Selene by the tail and held her up.

“Look at this mess you’ve gotten us into,” Selene cried as she wriggled with all of her strength to free herself from Charlottia’s claws. The grynaith’s grip was too tight though and she pulled Selene to her chest over the blue dragon’s protest.

“Look, love. See how shiny her scales are? Isn’t she beautiful?” Charlottia asked the big grynaith.

The big grynaith nodded and smiled. A monstrous thing, that, but well-befitting a monster. “It is as you said, my heart. A real space dragon. However, I did not expect her to be so small. Are you sure that the client will want to buy such a little creature?”

Charlottia spun once. “Of course, darling. Of course. She’s small now but will grow over time. The client is sure to know that. We’ll get paid so much that we’ll be free of this awful life. Free from performing for fools and praying that they throw us a few dirty coins. Free to go back home! With this money, we’ll be heroes!

“They will not welcome us,” said one of the grynaith holding Chevalier’s arms. “Let alone welcome us as heroes or any other such nonsense.The council has long memories; they will not forgive our sins so easily. Even if we return with ships overflowing with coin they will be loathe to accept us.”

Charlottia raised herself up to her full height. “Do you dare to tell me about the way things work, Urlus? I don’t remember you challenging me for leadership. Have you decided to do so?”

There was a threat in her voice, a promise of swift violence should her companion say “Yes”. Chevalier shivered at the sound, at the way she cocked her head to the side and smiled, and at the fact that none of the others seemed inclined to step in and de-escalate.

The grynaith, Urlus, shifted, and the strain on Chevalier’s left shoulder momentarily lessened.

“No, of course not. However, I don’t need to challenge you to tell you that your idea has flaws, do I? Surely you all can see that there are some problems with the idea of walking up to the council and telling them ‘Oops, sorry about all that stuff we did, here’s some money to fix it!’ Right?”

None of the grynaith spoke for some time as they weighed their fellow’s words. Chevalier struggled and strained in the grip of his captors, but he could not break their vice-like grips.

Finally Charlottia spoke. “Fool though you are, Urlus, you raise a fair point. I will think on your words. However, I still believe that the council’s greed means that they will welcome us with open arms if we can grease their palms with enough gold. Even if they don’t, it costs us nothing to try.”

Selene nipped at Charlottia’s fingers and the dancer-turned-monster flicked her with the same. Selene whimpered and fell slack, unconscious from the force of the blow.

“Don’t take her,” Chevalier pleaded. “She’s my friend and my companion. I have money that I can give you for her. You just talked about how you need money and I can give you some. Please. Don’t.”

“I doubt that you have as much as we’d receive for selling her,” Charlottia said. When Chevalier scowled and looked away she nodded. “As I thought. Though I wish we parted under different circumstances, I do not regret my actions here. But, I don’t ever want to see you again. If we meet elsewhere out in the Empty, I will kill you without hesitation. Farewell, traveler.”

She turned and walked away. Selene’s body swung back and forth like a pendulum in her grasp. Most of the other grynaith followed her, but the two holding Chevalier remained firmly in place. As the group disappeared around the corner of the hallway, Chevalier turned to the one who had spoken up against Charlottia.

“Urlus, was it? Let me go, I beg you.”

“So that you can chase after our leader and get killed? Then have to face my leader’s wrath for letting you escape? No, we will not do that. We do not want to cause trouble for ourselves.”

Chevalier snarled.

“By not letting me go you’re making a huge bit of trouble for yourselves. I swear upon every star and planet in the Empty, by the scales of every dead space dragon, and to every demigod wandering the cosmos that I’ll chase you bastards to the end of the galaxy to get Selene back. And trust me, when I find you, I’ll leave you all fucking corpses.”

Urlus smiled. Or at least, Chevalier thought it was a smile. It was hard to be sure, given how thin the monster’s mouth was shaped. “You’re welcome to try, human. Unless you have some sort of secret weapon, you have no chance. We hold you like a parent does a child, and you are similarly unable to break free.”

Chevalier was about to respond, but before he could he heard a familiar sound that was more than welcome: clank, clang, hiss. Clank, clang, hiss. CLANK, CLANG, HISS.

He grinned as a massive shadow struck the other grynaith and sent it flying. Chevalier swung his newly-freed arm back and punched Urlus in the face as Kellen straightened back up and swung his massive hand into Urlus’ gut. The strength of the monster’s stomach was no match for the chillsword’s armored gauntlet and like his companion, Urlus flew off into the wall, where he crumpled with a diminutive sigh.

Kellen saw Selene’s empty bag on the ground and shook his head.

“You really went and did it now,” Kellen said as Chevalier rolled his shoulders and winced at the way they tingled. “I tried to warn you that the grynaith could be trouble, but you weren’t thinking. At least, not with your brain.”

“I know, I know. Beat me up about it later,” said Chevalier. He started running down the hallway. “We need to get Selene back and then we can talk about my shortcomings.”

Kellen clanked along behind him, and as they ran Chevalier reached over to the ring of Blue Moon, twisted it on his finger and called to his boon. Part of him feared that the creature inside the ring would strike and render him useless. Without Selene to protect his mind if it appeared, there was more than a little risk of things going bad. Chevalier weighed this against the stark reality that without the armor of blue moon he had no chance of rescuing Selene and decided to roll the dice, so to speak.

Thankfully, no whispering invaded his thoughts as he balled his fists together and then thrust his arms out to his sides. He felt the familiar warmth of the ring’s light covering his body, but when the effect ended, his armor felt wrong. Like, it still fit and he could move alright, but it was heavier than he was used to and made strange noises as he ran down a corridor that felt like it’d never end. He was heading toward the bowels of the ship now, and there were no traces of Charlottia and her gang up ahead. Apparently, in addition to being strong and durable, grynaith were fast in their monster forms.

The world had turned the comforting shade of gray-blue that he expected it to with his helmet on, but Chevalier couldn’t see the webby threads of the currents that he’d been hoping for.

Kellen caught up to him soon after, the jets in his legs aglow as he maneuvered his heavy armor through the halls. “What happened to your armor? It looks wrong.”

Chevalier looked down and saw that the chillsword was right. It turned out that the strange sensation he’d felt hadn’t been all in his head. Instead of the sleek plates and mesh armor that he’d gotten used to during his time as Blue Moon Chevalier, he found himself wearing armor made of heavy plates. It was bulbous and square, and it was a slightly darker blue than his normal kit. More, it looked old, though Chevalier couldn’t say for sure how old it was.

He reached into his mental scabbard and withdrew the sword of Blue Moon. It was different too, a simple weapon with a blue hued blade, an unadorned grip and hilt that he didn’t recognize. It was light and well balanced, but there was no doubt that it was a different weapon. It fit with the armor in terms of its appearance and styling and Chevalier hoped that it would be tough enough to do the work needed ahead. Urlus had made a good point about how big the difference between the grynaith and humans were, and while he would have normally had faith in his boon’s ability to even the playing field, the capabilities of this new armor and weapon were a mystery.

He slung the sword over his left shoulder and felt it lock into place. Despite the alien nature of the weapon and the holster, Chevalier felt a bit more confident.

Hopefully the blade wouldn’t shatter on the first blow.


If he focused hard, Chevalier could vaguely sense Selene. The dragon’s presence in his mind was dim and growing dimmer with every step, but Chevalier could still faintly get a sense of the direction Charlottia was taking her. The details were less important than the general idea, and the general idea in this case was down. The grynaith were taking Selene down into the deepest reaches of the whale ship. Perhaps they had a ship stored down near the cargo bays, or the maintenance hangar, or a dozen other places that Chevalier wouldn’t have time to check. He hoped that Selene would wake up sooner rather than later, because then she’d be easier to track.

The hallways were long, narrow, and sparsely decorated. That was unsurprising, as these hallways were unlikely to ever be traversed by anyone but staff and the Aguelot Empire was not keen on wasting effort and energy on aesthetics where they were unnecessary. In a way, Chevalier was grateful for their dedication to efficiency. It made it easier for him to see that the hallways in front of him were empty and that he had not caught up to Charlottia and her gang yet. That spurred him on to greater speed and provided fuel against the first twinges of fatigue that were working their way through his limbs.

Luckily, all of the doors that he’d come across so far had been unlocked. While he had no doubt that Kellen could smash open all but the most persistent blast door without issue, he’d prefer to avoid the attention such an act would undoubtedly attract. He pushed one open and found himself standing at the top of a long diagonal lift ramp that led deeper into the ferry’s guts. From here, things would probably get a lot more restricted.

Activating the lift required a key card, but the shaft was open and Chevalier looked at Kellen. The chillsword didn’t hesitate, but took a running leap and jumped off the platform into the darkness below. His jets fired evenly as he slowly descended and before long he had vanished into the darkness.

“Show off,” Chevalier muttered as he looked down into the shadows below. Normally, he could have just ridden a current down the shaft and been fine, but he still couldn’t see them through this unfamiliar helmet’s visor and didn’t know how to grab them without seeing them first.

What he could see, though, was a series of plates and crevices that he could use to clamber down. Or at least, he prayed that was the case. Taking a deep breath, Chevalier got a running start and jumped into the chasm. He fell down faster than he moved forward, but he made it to the other wall well before the bottom and grabbed a jutting ridge.

He winced at the impact as he slammed into the wall and lost his grip. He started falling again, but kept his wits about him and managed to catch the next plated ridge after only a few more feet of distance. His shoulders protested the weight, but his grip didn’t give out and that was what he was more worried about.

Once he was sure that he was safe, Chevalier let go of the wall and let himself fall to the far side of the shaft. He hit the ground hard but the armor absorbed the impact and then he was back to running in an attempt to catch up with Kellen. The chillsword had stopped at the end of the shaft and looked back at him. Chevalier would have yelled for him to keep chasing the grynaith but he didn’t think he could make himself loud enough to be heard that far and so waved his hands in the universal gesture for “Get Going!”

Kellen got the message because he turned and sprinted through the next door. Chevalier’s breath was catching in his chest now, and his legs were starting to feel more than a little heavy. He forced himself to keep running, chastising himself for having gotten into this situation in the first place.

“If you weren’t stupefied by a pretty face and whispered innuendo you wouldn’t be having to run right now,” he told himself. “Stupid, stupid, stupid!”

Anger flashed through him and momentarily staved off his fatigue, but it was a bright flame that wasn’t meant to last and when it faded Chevalier could feel his motivation flagging. It was frustrating, because he knew that the armor had to have some gifts from the boon, but he had no idea what they were or how to use them. This wasn’t the time to find out, either.

Finally, he reached the end of the lift shaft and pushed through the door. Kellen was nowhere to be seen, and Chevalier swore.

Worse, his sense of Selene was also getting weaker. The distance between them was growing, and she still hadn’t woken up.

He looked around. The room he was in was a wide, circular space with plenty of staircases and little machines that probably didn’t do much by themselves but did plenty in total. It was hot in the room, and every now and then there was a hiss of steam.

Chevalier spotted the next door. It was down what looked like more than twenty flights of stairs, at the bottom of the room.

To say that he was not in the mood for climbing stairs would be putting it far too lightly. He had no patience for it, detested the thought of it, and was going to be damned if he did it. Lucky stars, his anger was building now, fueled by circumstance rather than his own self-stoking, and he unfastened the sword from its sling and set to work cutting away the supports on his level of the catwalk.

The blade made quick work of thin pieces of steel, and there was an angry metallic groan as the catwalk fell, with the back going before the front. Chevalier braced himself as it slammed down into the level beneath it, and as soon as his footing was secure he cut down the next one.

This process was repeated over and over again until he found himself on the ground, where he returned his sword to his back and ran towards the door. He felt a bit better. He wasn’t sure if cutting the catwalks down had been faster or slower than not, but there was definitely more spring in his step as he resumed his chase.

There was an intersection up ahead. Chevalier wouldn’t have known which way to go had it not been for three massive punch holes in the steel that formed a crude arrow pointing right. Good old Kellen.

Then, something happened that caused Chevalier to grin.

Hurry up you fool!

Selene’s thought voice popped into his skull. With it, her presence grew much stronger to his mind’s eye and he redoubled his efforts. Selene was at the bottom of the ship, basically. Near the garbage hatch.

I’m coming. He told her. Just hang tight a little longer.

That’s the plan, but be quick about it. I can see a ship in the distance, and it looks like its heading this way.


<<: Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter :>>


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?”


<<: Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter :>>

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.

<<:Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter :>>

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.


<<: Previous Chapter                                                                     Next Chapter: >>

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.



<<:Previous Chapter                                                        Next Chapter:>>

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?”


<<:Previous Chapter                                                                      Next Chapter:>> 

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.”


<<:Previous Chapter                                                        Next Chapter:>>

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.


<<Previous Chapter:                                                                       Next Chapter:>>