The Dead Ferryman by Brian P, Chapter 2

The Dead Ferryman

Starring Milo Pulsar and Shaula Bluestar

Chapter 2

Daylight never arrived. The clouds reluctantly shifted from an oppressive black to a sober grey.  The ambient lighting was enough to allow us to extinguish a few of the candles. I managed to sleep for a few blinks, but I couldn’t shake the groggy sensation building up behind my eyes.   I slipped out of the room for a few moments once I could smell the aromas of breakfast and paid a stable boy to fetch the local mayor for me. Grabbing a heaping plate of eggs and potatoes in one hand and a steaming cup of black coffee in the other, I headed back to my room at the inn. Shaula was sitting in the single chair speaking with the woman, who was sitting up in bed.

“Peace, ma’am. You are safe here.”

“Wesland was a faithful husband for many years, why would he treat me like this now?” The woman covered her face and groaned.

I closed the door to the room and handed the plate of food to Shaula. She quickly ate several large mouthfuls, causing me to pause for a moment. I had never seen Shaula eat like that. It was both un-ladylike and an unnecessary amount of food for her to eat, considering her primarily light-based metabolism. My curiosity was interrupted by the woman turning to address me.

“Wizard, thank you. This… woman… has explained what happened last night. I don’t claim innocence, but I request your protection.”  She made pleading eyes at me that softened the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes.

“Stop. Stop right there. Why does everyone on this planet think I’m some kind of Public Servant Wizard?” I took a large gulp of coffee. I needed to curb my grumpy attitude. I was acting too much like some of the arrogant Masters from my University days.  Shaula put down the plate of food and looked at me, silently begging me to curb my annoyance.

“Ok ok, before I vex this up anymore, who are you?” My cussing seemed to sober her up for a moment.

“My name is Joan. Joan Ruthell.”  She spoke her name with an obvious choke in her throat.  A few tears crept down her face but otherwise she kept her composure.

“Hello Joan, my name is Milo Pulsar, Space Wizard of the Paragon Order, and this is my partner, Shaula Bluestar.” I gestured at Shaula, and she made a small nod.

“Milo, please. This is a barbaric planet, the men here… act like savages.”  Joan’s face showed a sudden vitality.  I read fear in her eyes, but the way she clenched her jaw, for just a moment, hinted at something else hidden away.

“Joan, I think Phaeton is a rather lovely planet, and your husband lived here. It would seem you are quite comfortable with a barbaric attitude.”

“Peace, Milo. Her husband has just died.” Shaula cut in. Her face seemed flushed, or off color; she was blue, but fainter.

“Her husband died by her hands, Blue. I didn’t miss any details.”

“I am a good wife, and he is a good man!” Joan balled up her fists and slammed them into her lap.

“Was, Joan. He was a good man.”  I already knew more than I wanted to about this whole situation.  I could see something else was motivating Joan, but I didn’t want to know.  My curious nature was picking up details and I was trying very hard to ignore them.

“Would a good man be unfaithful to his wife?” Joan turned to Shaula, probably hoping someone would give her the sympathy she was seeking.

“I grieve for your loss, Joan, but the customs of human planets are still strange to me at times,” Shaula spoke softly.

Joan started to make a response when we were interrupted by a loud banging at the door.

“This is Deputy Ashlam Corrina, I am here on behalf of the City Mayor.”

“You call this a city?” I mumbled to myself as I crossed the room and opened the door. A common looking man greeted me, a silver star pinned to his chest and a laser whip holstered at his side.

“Well met, Deputy.  I am Milo Pulsar, and I have a disheveled woman here who has been accused of a crime.  I am going to turn you over to the authorities now, Joan. I can’t stand in the way of the law just because I’m a Wizard.”

She resigned herself to this without a struggle, verbal or physical.

“The Mayor would like to speak with you, Wizard.” The Deputy was firmly holding Joan with his off hand.

“Lovely, I’ll be over as soon as I have made arrangements to get off Phaeton before I get assigned vexing jury duty.” I slammed the door and turned to face Shaula.

She reached out and placed two fingers on my wrist. “Stay calm, Milo. They mean no disrespect. You must show them why they should esteem a Wizard of Paragon.”

I poured the remainder of the black coffee into my mouth and swallowed it quickly. “Lets pack our bags. Our vacation is over.”

“Fine. It will be good to return to Deepsight. I miss the starlight from the observation deck.” Shaula smiled at me and left the room.

I didn’t have much to pack; with no plan for any major investigation on this planet, I hadn’t brought more than the most basic supplies. Shaula and I paid the Innkeeper an extra sum for her water-damaged room and walked through the dirt streets to the edge of town, where the small space-port was located. It was the usual sort of sad affair found on rural planets, a large scorched field with a few hangars and odd buildings circling it. There were several rough-looking skimmers and the small barge we had arrived on. The late ferryman’s barge was the only one in sight.

“Do you think we will have to wait long for the next ship off the planet?” Shaula knew I was going to try to avoid admitting the futility of my plan, so she had asked the obvious question.

“Our esteemed visitors, Horace and lynch mob, assured us it would take a while. But I’d like to find out for myself.”

I strode into the main building of the port, which was more of a barn than anything else. A lot of livestock and crops were moved through here onto barges, probably this planet’s only export. After a little wandering I found the spaceport’s operator, who confirmed that the only barge that resided permanently here was owned by the late ferryman; and furthermore, the next mass export wasn’t scheduled to head out for about a month.

At this point, my options were limited.  Flying a barge is about as similar to riding a dinorocket as driving a skimmer is to riding a horse.  I could probably energize the flight and navigation runes, but properly controlling large pithium rockets was never a skill I picked up.  This is of course, assuming I stole the barge, because why would they let me take it anyway?

Contacting someone at Deepsight, which was nearly halfway across the Galaxy from here, would require a week of work to collect the mana needed send a simple message.  Without the proper tools, which I certainly didn’t bring on my vacation, the next barge would arrive before much of a conversation could be conducted.

I would have to hope I could barter for passage on the next barge, or wait for someone at the Tower to come looking for me.  I explained these particulars to Shaula as the rain continued to pour down and dampen the dirt roads and our moods.  In the end, Shaula and I went to see the Mayor, hoping he might have some contacts with other ferryman through whatever Council he reported to.

We were ushered into a humble stateroom that was entirely lacking in decoration, save for a plaque bearing the heraldry of Phaeton: a green circle below a four pointed yellow star.  The simplicity of the design spoke of how little had happened on this planet.  Nothing of importance had occurred to warrant a change in heraldry, as was the custom on most planets.  There was nothing else of cultural significance in the room.  Most statehouses are eager to display the works of the great talents of the planet, but apparently Phaeton was a planet filled with laborers who lacked any artistic ability.

Three men were already seated in the room; one I recognized as the Deputy that had collected Joan from my custody.  A young man- well, younger than me- sat across from the Deputy, and I immediately recognized the Novum heraldry on his shoulder. That went a long way to explaining why people were expecting so much from me; this guy was probably green from the Novum College and eager to make Journeyman so that he could be stationed on a slightly more civilized planet.

Finally, I concluded the third man in the room was the Mayor. I’m so astute. The three men rose as Shaula and I walked to the circle of chairs in the room.

“I’m so glad you could join us, Wizard of Paragon!” The Mayor, a man approximately sphere-shaped, took my hand and shook it heartily. “And the lovely starbeing! A pleasure to meet you, ma’am, I am Mayor Jared Hullan.”

Shaula bowed her head and smiled at the Mayor, but said nothing in reply. I took a seat without waiting for an invitation. “Mayor Hullan, it would seem you have no strange creatures roaming about your planet. I am concluding my investigation today, and hope to be off planet shortly.”

Hullan flopped back down into his chair. “Oh yes, well that is certainly reassuring. Perry is a very busy Wizard, so we have to outsource sometimes, I appreciate your help. But this is not the matter I wish to discuss; phantom monsters are not my top concern, murders are.”

“Sir, I must ask again,” Ashlam interjected before I had a chance to. ”Please leave the impending trial and process to the legal bodies that exist. I don’t need a Wizard to help me do my job. No offense, Perry.”

“I understand, Deputy.” The Novum Wizard spoke in a lightly quivering voice.

“I have to agree with your under-Sheriff,” I interjected, “Some citizens of the town, Horace, I recall, also seem to think the legal system is inadequate. Seems like an unfitting opinion for a Mayor to distrust his own system.” I gave Hullan a hard look.

The Mayor revealed a small smile that made his round face distort to compensate for it, “Gentleman! You have entirely misinterpreted my meaning! Horace and I share a similar opinion on this topic because he has uncovered something interesting about the matter, and shared the details with me.”

“The situation seems plain enough. I wouldn’t trust much of anything Horace has to say, considering he seems to have the personality and intelligence of an ox.”  Perry spoke quickly and looked over his shoulder, as if Horace might somehow hear the unimpressive insults being slung.

“Now Perry,” Hullan began, “I understand you and Horace have had your differences, but this is a serious matter. There is the disturbing indication that Wesland was involved with some kind of Wizardry.” He scanned each of us for our reaction.

“Magic? But he was a simple ferryman,” Perry spoke as if was defending the integrity of all Wizards in the Galaxy, “Surely Horace has mistaken some simple trick for magic. I’m not surprised.” Perry angled his head so that he seemed to be looking down his nose at the words he was speaking. I got the impression that this Wizard wanted to be arrogant, but was too shy to pull it off.

I turned my attention to the Novum Wizard and spoke. “Perhaps the Mayor is too timid to introduce us, so allow me to strike up the formalities.” I extended my hand to him. “I am Milo Pulsar, Champion-Errant and Space Wizard of the Paragon Order.”

He took my hand and gave it a light squeeze and a slow shake. “A pleasure, fellow Wizard. I am Perry Kingsly, Second Order Journeyman Wizard of the Novum Order.”

The Mayor tried to ignore the slight and adjusted his leather vest in an attempt to seem distracted.

“I’m sure between the two of us, we can sort out whatever suspicions the Mayor and Horace have about magic contributing to Wesland’s death,” I said in a bored tone. “So, is there any evidence, or just accusations?”

“Horace found a most peculiar item in the Ruthell household.” Hullan produced an ivory box from a vest pocket. It fit within in the palm of his hand and was covered in precisely carved runic equations. He didn’t offer it to anyone, only held it out for all of us to peer at.

“Jared, please, please tell me you didn’t open that.” I felt a quick pang of anxiety.  I was so stunned by the obvious mystical nature of the box that I almost neglected to realize I had used the Mayor’s first name.

“I’m no Wizard,” Ashlam muttered, “but I know that common goods don’t have that much inscribing on them.” Ashlam shifted in his seat to put a few more inches between himself and the ivory box.

“What… What… is that?” Perry’s face was a pale sweaty frown.  “I don’t recognize some of those Runes. What are those formulas?”

“Are you convinced yet?” The Mayor bellowed, and then in a calmer tone, “I’m not so foolish as to tamper with such things, and I am wise enough to recognize dangerous magics.”  Hullan said in in a serious tone. He placed the box on the small table between us.

Shaula leaned forward and pointed at the box with a slender blue finger, “I recognize that center emblem. That isn’t a Rune, that is heraldry. Milo, this was made by the Order of Nogg.”

I exchanged a look with Shaula that probably didn’t make much sense to anyone else in the room. Could this be the work of the Nogg Wizard that had nearly killed the two of us several times over? I realized I couldn’t leave this planet without finding the origin of this little ivory relic.

“Lady Blue, you’ve been studying.” I offered her a small smile, then turned to address the Mayor. “If the Order of Nogg is involved with this murder, then the Lady Bluestar and myself will contribute our efforts to any investigation.”

“The Order of Nogg? That’s just a story mothers tell children on rural planets to scare them.” Perry said with a nervous laugh. “This box is likely dangerous, but more likely the product of a hedge mage than some fictional Wizard Order.”

“Either way, Perry, a proper analysis of this box should be conducted. Perhaps we could make use of your lab?” I rose from my seat as I spoke; Mayor Hullan had changed my mind, and I didn’t want to give him any time to gloat about it.

Perry agreed, and a quick bit of pleasantries were run through as each person pulled on some kind of heavy rain gear. Once we were suited up, he led us to the municipal building where he maintained the magical systems of the town, and left Shaula and I in a small workspace while he attended to his daily duties.

I set about scribing a ritual circle. Shaula alternated between meditating and taking walks in the rain. She was restless; matters concerning the Order of Nogg unsettled her normally imperturbable decorum, but I was too preoccupied with my work to offer much consolation.

Towards nightfall, I had completed copying the equations out of my Tome into the control zones of the ritual space. I placed the ivory box in the center and activated the ritual by drawing a circle connecting each corner of the controlling square. There was no notable change as the circle started to accumulate mana and energize the runic equations, but I could sense the ebb of mana at the very edge of my perception, like the first scent of brewing coffee reaching my nose on a groggy morning. I had decided to skip adding visualizing formulas to the ritual circle to save time and instead donned my Etheral Mask; billowing shapes in bold colors appeared before my eyes as I gazed through the lenses.

If I was doing this the standard way, several hours would pass before enough mana had been soaked into the runes to form an ideal working area, and I would have to attend to it the entire time to make sure any small errors in my inscribed figures did not cause a disruption. Being a Wizard requires a lot of patience, unless you learn the shortcuts.

But I wasn’t willing to wait that long. I placed two fingers on the edge of the outer circle, and covered my eyes with my right hand. Sometimes energizing a circle too quickly could cause a mass dissipation of mana – not usually harmful, but blinding to watching with an Etheral Mask. I flexed my will and forced mana into circle, holding it there for a moment with a simple evocation.

The final result was fully formed globe of control, created in less time than it would take most wizards to sharpen a quill. I could see some small leaks in the circle’s formation; this wouldn’t last longer than a day, but I wasn’t aiming to set up any permanent work spaces here.

I sat for ten minutes in the circle, breathing slowly and watching the patterns of auras cascade off of the ivory box. Satisfied that I didn’t see anything to indicate traps or poisons, I opened the box with my right hand, keeping two fingers on my left hand placed gently on the null rune equation I had set up.

The box clicked open without any resistance. The inside was lined with a red enamel, with a mound of paste in a shallow recess . The substance would have been white to the naked eye, but within the circle I saw a very different image. The patterns of careful ritual magic resonated from the material; I realized now that the box had been crafted to mask the presence of the contents.

I flipped open my Tome and looked over notes I had rarely looked at since my early apprenticeship. These were not Auras I saw often; patterns of influence designed to twist and bend emotions radiated from the paste.

This was not the kind of magic I expected to find from a Nogg Wizard. I furrowed my brow in contemplation, my Etheral Mask shifting on my face. Despite the mask being soft and well worn hide, I could feel my frustration making every thought feel like an itch on my forehead.

I closed the ivory box and left the circle. Placing my Tome and Etheral Mask on a bench, I collapsed into a wooden chair and massaged my forehead in a futile attempt at shaking loose some much needed inspiration.

“Wizard Pulsar!”

I snapped to consciousness to find Deputy Ashlam standing in the room.

“Deputy… I ah…” I could feel the bleary sensation of a short nap fizzling away.

“Forgive my intrusion, but I felt you should know as soon as possible.” Despite his words, the Deputy didn’t appear very apologetic about interrupting my nap time. He dusted some rain off of his coat.

“Excellent, I’m glad to hear another ferry has finally arrived. I could use a few days of rest in my own bed.”

“No, the next ferry is still a week from now.” Ashlam made an annoyed face.

“Then what the vex are you bothering me about? I’ve got work to do and I’m sure you do too.” I stood up quickly from my seat and pulled a piece of chalk from a belt pouch. “Now please give me some peace and quiet, I still have more formulas to to scribe.”

“Wizard, there has been another murder,” he replied dryly.

The weight of the words pushed me back down into the chair. I exhaled loudly and stared blankly forward. “Ashlam, I agreed to help with this investigation because of Wizardly involvement. I’m just not at all inclined or interested to help with every vexing murder and crime that comes up on this planet. I’ll sort out what this box is and you can figured out what Joan has to say about the situation. I leave the deliberation of her guilt up to the local powers that be.”

“I suppose if anyone wants to ask her questions, we’ll need a Necromancer,” Ashlam continued in the same dry voice. “Joan Ruthell is dead.”

 

(c) 2011 Brian Paul

On to the next Chapter!

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