The Dead Ferryman by Brian P, Chapter 1

The Dead Ferryman

Starring Milo Pulsar and Shaula Bluestar

Chapter 1

“Milo, Please. There is nothing here.” Shaula called to me in a calm, but lightly pleading tone.

“I just want to be certain!” I turned and called back to her. “Just stay calm for a minute, think about… an ice-star, or something.” I couldn’t see her directly, but she was glowing a brilliant blue that illuminated the cave for hundreds of feet. Shaula gets uncomfortable being underground. She isn’t claustrophobic, but she gets agitated when she can’t see the sky.

“An ice-star? You just made that up, didn’t you.”

“No. Yes. I thought it might make a calming mental image.”

“No need. Stop looking for an extinct creature and accept that the locals just got freaked out by some drakes.”

“Shaula, was that an attempt at irony? You must really be agitated. I don’t see anything interesting down here anyway.” I studied a few lines of energy through my Etheral Mask; they were small naturally flowing streams of Mana. My curiosity satisfied, I removed the mask and climbed back up the rocky incline and found Shaula making a face that was a mix of embarrassment and frustration.

“Then let’s go, Milo.” She composed herself, turned to leave, and didn’t wait for a response.

The cave was located in a small granite quarry, and the grey stone matched the pale color of the dusk sky. Shaula made a small grin at the couple of stars that could be seen. She was still star gazing at the bottom of the quarry by the time I had reached the open plain that surrounded it.

“I know you’re not going to tell me what the stars are saying, so I’m not going to ask. But, could you please wrap up the conversation?” Starbeings are a mysterious bunch, even by Wizard standards. Shaula kept her eyes on the sky while my attention was drawn to a herd of triceratops. Two bulls were circling a sow, kicking bits of dirt and making displays of their horns. The three-horned dinosaurs are not as violent as their appearance makes them out to be, but an undomesticated 10 ton herbivore could be dangerous.

“Looks like we’ll get a nice starlit hike.”  Shaula appeared next to me and shook the dirt from her hands.

“Come on starprincess.  I think triceratops generally eat grass, but I don’t want to find out what they think of nibbling on Wizard robes.”

“Your robes are so threadbare I’m not sure they would get much of a meal.”

“Alright Bluestar, next planet we’re on I’m going to wear nothing but my thermal wraps.” I laughed at my own joke and Shaula made a small dignified smile.

Shaula and I started back towards civilization, taking a long detour around the herd of triceratops. We had spent the whole day looking in caves and holes for a ‘monster’ the locals had reported seeing. I was marking this one as a drunk local causing a stir about some dinosaurs, but Shaula kept accusing me of investigating only because I was hoping to find a Troglodyte. Really, this was more of an excuse to get away from the Tower. Usually these kinds of rumor-debunking investigations are assigned to Apprentices, but I needed a break from hunting Nebula Vampires. I had commissioned a small ferry instead of taking Androsus, who needed some rest after last week’s encounter.

We arrived in the city late at night, went to our rooms and slept soundly. Well, soundly enough until a shrieking voice awoke me. My eyes snapped open and I sat up, staring into the blackness of the room. Another shriek jumped through the window and I laughed softly to myself. The old wooden inn had drafty windows, and the gathering storm outside was starting to produce odd noises as the wind buffeted the house. I yawned and stretched; I knew I wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep quickly, so I slipped out of bed and lit a candle.  Taking my Tome, I left for the large common room, intent on enjoying the lovely fireplace while reading.

I stood for several moments in the hallway, holding my breath, and straining to remain as silent as possible. The door to Shaula’s room was rattling on its hinges in the most erratic fashion. I couldn’t detect anything too bizarre, but then, without my Etheral Mask on I couldn’t see auras, only sense their presence, like a faint odor.  Stepping forward quickly, I shoved the door open and barreled my way into the room. I stumbled to the side as I slipped on wet floorboards.  The candle went tumbling from my hand as I splashed into a puddle of water.  The flame went out with a pathetic fizzle, and I found myself half soaked.

“Um, Shaula, did you leave the bath on? Wait, did I pay extra for a room with a private shower? I had to use the common bath…” I stopped and stood up. Shaula clearly wasn’t here. If she had been sleeping, her blue glow would have been noticeable. If she had been awake, she would have remarked dryly on my sarcasm. With incredible deductive reasoning, I realized the open window had been the source of the chaotic winds buffeting the door, as well as the copious water soaking the room. Oh great, a kidnapped starbeing? This was supposed to be a cake walk, a vacation, a break from this kind of nonsense. I stared at the window for a few moments considering how I should go about sorting out this mess.

I didn’t notice the blue glow at first because I was running through explanations I could give the Innkeeper for how I had managed to soak the entire room.

“Is something wrong, Milo?” Shaula’s voice brought me back to the present. She climbed back into the room through the window and slide the panes back into place.

“Shaula! I thought you were kidnapped!” I noticed Shaula was even more soaking wet than I was.

“Why?” Her expression was flat.

“Well, um. I assumed you were kidnapped, starprincess. I couldn’t think of a good reason for you to have willingly climbed out your window into the rain.”

“I wasn’t resting well, so I went onto the roof to gather more starlight.”

“Well, don’t catch a cold. I’m not sleeping so well either, and now I’m soaked.” I twisted a corner of my sleeping robes and water dribbled out onto the floor. Shaula started glowing brighter and I had to squint my eyes. A sizzling mist rose off her skin as she heated up and boiled away the rain.

“I don’t think I’ll catch any colds. Perhaps a game of cribbage will get our minds off of this disturbing storm.”

“Nice trick, starry. Let me put on fresh robes, and you get the fire blazing in the common room, I’m chilled to the bone.” I returned to my room and put on my heavy Wizard robe, tying a silver sash around my waist. I was determined to enjoy this vacation, even if I had to find that enjoyment in the middle of the night over a game of cards.

Several rounds of cribbage helped calm my nerves. The Innkeeper was probably fast asleep, so we had no ale or wine. I should say there was no ale for me; I didn’t let Shaula drink without proper safety measures in place after the last time she went on a bender.

“Red Galaxy and Blue Five for two points…” I always had to count my points out loud but I could tell I was finally feeling tired as I struggled to accomplish simple math.

“Wake that Wizard up now! He will settle this matter!” A disheveled looking man had slammed open the front door. His dark eyes scanned the room, as if he was expecting to find a full crowd attending the bar at the crack of dawn. His gaze finally settled on our table as five more people entered the inn dragging a body between them. The group took several slow steps towards us, either because they had realized they were interrupting a lovely game of cribbage or because a glowing starbeing tends to be an odd sight in most any place humans are.

“Sorry gents, you just missed last call.” I tried to look disinterested and stared at my cards, trying to remember where I left off. If Shaula was bothered by any of this, she didn’t make any sign of it. She probably has a killer poker face, but we don’t gamble with cards.

“Mind your business, stranger.” Another of the men stepped forward. He pulled back his rain hood, and I could see his hair was damp with rainwater. He approached the fireplace, extending his hands for warmth. The whole group was soaked; I assumed they had traveled a decent distance in this weather to get here.

“Burt, shut your damn mouth! You think that heraldry on his chest is just gaudy fashion?” The dark eyed man barked the words. He took a step towards Burt and raised a fist.

“I didn’t mean nothing by it.” Burt turned away from the fire to face me and his eyes widened with understanding. There aren’t a lot of Wizard Orders in the Galaxy, so even the common man can recognize the symbols. Burt clearly didn’t really know what the lines signified, but he got the general idea.

The disheveled leader leered at me for a moment as if he was trying to decide if he wanted to intimidate me or apologize for his cohort’s behavior. He stepped to one side and gestured at the other rain-soaked men. They dropped the body in the middle of the floor and stepped back. Everyone was looking at me expectantly.

“I don’t think it matches the decor, perhaps you should try a bear-skin rug.” I smirked and started shuffling the cards. “I think I’m finally feeling tired, Shaula.”

The men shuffled about, confused by my remarks, but the leader maintained his resolve. He flatly said, “Wizard, there has been a murder. We demand you pass judgment and deal with this murderer.”

“Murder? What has that got to do with me?”  I continued to pack up the cribbage kit.

“I, Horace Lems, legal resident of Phaeton, request your judgement.”  He was obviously struggling to mimic some formal phrasing he had overheard at some time in the past.

“I’m just here investigating a possible Aberrant sighting and nothing else. Doesn’t this planet have some kind of local government?” I shrugged my shoulders at the small mob.

“We don’t want to interfere with your planet’s normal legal system, even we are bound by the same laws.” Shaula stared unflinchingly at Horace.

I rolled my eyes as I said, “I know we’re a little far from the Nexus… okay, we’re really far from the Nexus, but I have to assume you have at least a constable or sheriff or… something!”

I realized then that this was not a drunken mob, but a lynch mob. They wanted me to use my authority to condemn someone so they could kill them guilt-free. Whatever the specific local laws were, I was sure this was not how crimes were tried and punished.

“Sheriff Newton died of old age a month ago, we’re still picking a new one. You’re the highest authority now.” Horace didn’t seem like the type I could quickly outwit, even if his logic was slightly flawed. Surely there was a Mayor or Councilperson that took precedence on these things.

“She’s bleeding…” Shaula’s voice cut through my scheming as a roar or thunder split the silence in the room. Shaula was kneeling next to the body and had pulled back the hood, revealing a middle aged woman with a gash on her temple.

“She?!” Every time I thought I had perspective on this situation, the circumstances changed. They had beat up and dragged a woman here in the middle of the night, expecting me to somehow resolve their little mess.

“Alright, back up, everyone just step back and let me think.” I kneeled next to Shaula. The woman’s eyes fluttered a bit, but she remained unconscious. She was alive, for now.

“I am taking this woman into my custody, there will be no trial today. Everyone go home and get some rest.” I figured someone should get some rest, because I clearly wasn’t going to be getting any at all. The group of men looked at Horace as I tried to evaluate his reaction. His dark eyes were unwavering and he only hesitated for a moment.

“You should have plenty of time to deliberate, Wizard. She has murdered the ferryman.” Horace delivered bad news with the same grace he had used to knock out the woman. I stared at him as he left with the rest of his brute squad. Yet again, I realized I didn’t know what was going on. I looked at Shaula, who was still seemed to be ignoring most of the situation. She was being oddly distant, even for her.

“Help me move her to my room.” My levitation wand was in my room, we would have to move her by hand for now.

“Why did those men demand such things from you, Milo?” Shaula looked me in the eyes.

“The Wizard Orders were started to help humanity. Some people have come to expect a lot from us. There are some strange expectations however, and overseeing law and justice is not the responsibility of a Wizard.” I sighed wistfully.

“The Order of Paragon protects humans from magical threats, and does not protect humanity from itself.” Shaula had a wonderful way of simply stating things when she wanted to.

We made quick work moving the woman to my room.  I lit a few candles and placed them near the bed.  Removing her cloak, I noticed her hands were covered blood.  This woman had been involved with some kind of violence.  Murder, self-defence, or something else, but certainly something violent had happened to produce enough blood to coat her hands and forearms.  Shaula cleaned the blood with a damp cloth while I prepared a bandage with small runes that would ease the pain of the head wound. She didn’t wake the whole time, and I knew I would have to keep a close eye on her until she was well enough to answer some questions. While I applied the bandages, Shaula moved to a seat under the single window in the room. The lady star had not said much, and looked glum.

“Is a little bit of blood bothering you, starprincess?”

“I feel sick, Milo. This storm is upsetting me.”

“You and me both. Heck, you don’t even have to worry about silencing the voices of the elements fighting out there. Don’t worry, I’m sure the storm will have passed by morning.”

“Thank you, friend. I will retire to my room for now.”

“Shaula, your room is soaked. Sleep on the floor here. I don’t expect to sleep tonight, myself.” She reluctantly agreed, and I sat in the chair under the window to wait for daylight and brood in my best Wizardly fashion.

(c) 2011 Brian Paul

On to the next Chapter!

One Response to The Dead Ferryman by Brian P, Chapter 1

  1. Steph says:

    When do we get Chapter Two?! I simply must know what happens next.

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