The One called Wayfarer is half an elf
And half a demon, and half himself.
He wanders the spheres in search of prey
And brings them to justice for daily pay
At least three hundred histories have been written about the expansion of sentient races through known space. The dracon, the neogi, the illithids, the giff; nearly every species of spelljammers has its own version. Generally, the elven Imperial Chronicles is considered to be the most accurate.
Hands down, though, the 'history' best known and most often quoted by spacefarers of every race was that which was composed by the elven bard Lamruil Skyflower, better known as the Storyteller.
It wasn't really a history, just an epic ballad about the hunters, traders, pirates, outlaws, and adventurers he encountered in his wanderings through the spheres. The Storyteller liked unique people. And the spheres had plenty to offer.
No-one knew why the Storyteller gave Reanyn Al'nuoth the name Wayfarer. There were certainly others to whom the name would have better applied. Twilight Jack, for instance, or Lonely Pyrador. But the Storyteller was the one writing the ballad, and the moment he looked into Reanyn's cold grey eyes he knew the name to use. So Wayfarer went to Reanyn, and, like all the Storyteller's nicknames, it stuck.
The Storyteller devoted exactly one stanza of his saga to the Wayfarer, which is really quite a bit considering the ballad details the inhabitants of the entire known multiverse. Still, it was no surprise he did so. The Wayfarer was one of the most feared and respected bounty hunters the spheres had ever known. Once he was put on a trail, his quarry's days were numbered.
He hadn't always been a bounty hunter, though. Once he had been an officer with a promising career in the Imperial Elven Navy who had distinguished himself in both the Second Unhuman War and the Vodoni Incursion. But his service was abruptly cut short when it was discovered he had lied on his application. Reanyn was not, strictly speaking, a pure-blooded elf, and only full-blooded elves were permitted to hold officer's positions. A dishonorable discharge had swiftly followed.
Afterwards, he disappeared for several years, and it was widely assumed he was dead.
Then he turned up on one of the moons of Armistice, and set up shop as a bounty hunter. Reanyn had changed; elven society had branded him an outcast, and he wanted nothing more to do with it. He held his former ties with the elven military in contempt. In fact, it was an open secret that he often had dealings with the goblinkin of Armistice, an action expressly forbidden by the Imperial Fleet.
Bounty hunting wasn't an easy profession. The universe was a pretty big place, and there were a lot of places to hide. With the staggering number of spacefaring and groundling societies, a fugitive from one nation could easily escape justice simply by fleeing into the boundaries of another nation. Tracking a man across wildspace was a formidable task. It took a special breed of man to be good at bounty hunting across the spheres.
But Reanyn wasn't just good. He was the best. He built his reputation by going after the fugitives no-one else could touch. His first chase was after One-Thumb Guthrie, who was wanted in nine spheres.
Guthrie had been on the run for nearly seven years when Reanyn went after him. He'd raped, maimed, and murdered citizens of twelve worlds and put twenty-two lawmen in their graves. He'd once bragged that there wasn't anything that walked or breathed that he couldn't kill..
It took Reanyn Al'nuoth a little less than three months to track him down and bring him back.
One-Thumb Guthrie wasn't the most famous fugitive Reanyn hunted down, or even the most dangerous. He was just the first.
Like most bounty hunters, Reanyn was pretty hard to find. Either he was out on a chase or he was home, preparing for one. And a person didn't go looking for him out on Armistice, not if he wanted to keep breathing. Reanyn was very territorial about his home.
Once every so often, though, Reanyn would touch down on Minos V, a small moon which orbited Talfas, sixth planet of the Skyspace system. There was a tavern there called The Hanging Lantern that he unofficially claimed as his own. It was run by one of the fugitives Reanyn had hunted down early in his career, a gnome named Lucian Tanaquil. Instead of turning the gnome in for the bounty, Reanyn had set him up as a tavern master and information gatherer. Some said that Lucian was innocent of the crimes of which he'd been accused, and that Reanyn had a soft spot for him. Others maintained the gnome was just a good bargainer. Whatever the case, it was common knowledge that if a person wanted to hire the Wayfarer, he went to The Hanging Lantern and left his offer with Lucian. (Incidently, there was still a mark on Lucian's head. No one ever tried to cash it in, however. The gnome was under Reanyn's protection.)
Whenever Reanyn stopped in, he would sort through the offers that the gnome had collected. Rarely, if the bounty was high enough, he would accept one. Most went into the fire. Reanyn was as selective about who he accepted contracts from as he was about who he accepted them on.
So it was that he found himself facing a large pile of papers scattered across a desk in The Hanging Lantern's back office.
"Anything interesting?" he asked, plainly not eager to sort through the stack.
"Most of them are for third rate criminals," replied Lucian dismissively, "although a few are more in your line." The little gnome sat atop an emptied crate nearby, idly fingering a miniature Rylithian labyrinth. Lucian had a fascination for exotic puzzles and was rarely found without one. "Of course, there were several for the Raver. There always are."
"You tossed them into the fire, I assume."
Reanyn heaved a sigh and began the tedious task of searching through the papers.
"By the way," said Lucian after a few moments, "there's someone here to see you."
Reanyn spared the gnome a glance. "You know I don't negotiate contracts face to face."
Lucian shrugged. "I told her that, but I don't think she heard me. It is my experience that women, especially elven women, tend to have selective hearing."
"Elven? What did she want?"
Lucian laughed. "She wouldn't say. And since she's still here, I suppose the correct term would be what does she want. She's been hanging around for nearly four months now. It's been unpleasant, to say the least."
Lucian nodded. "Unpleasant. She's elven. Didn't I mention that before? And female. And, unless I miss my guess, she's Fleet. Add all that together and you get 'unpleasant'. With the knife-sharp tongue she's got I'm surprised I haven't started to lose customers."
"Fleet?" Reanyn considered. "It would have to be something awfully important for the Imperial Navy to approach me. You're certain?"
The gnome shrugged. "Well, I suppose I could be wrong. And, of course, neogi could make excellent babysitters."
* * *
Even though it was nearly midday, the main tavern room of The Hanging Lantern was bustling. After all, whether it was day or night didn't make much difference when off planet. There was the usual crowd of miners and tradesmen, mostly human but with a few dwarves and more exotic races mixed in as well.
Still, it wasn't difficult to pick out the elf Lucius had described. She sat in the corner, as far as possible from the other patrons, with an untouched glass of spacesea wine sitting on the table in front of her. Her chair was strategically positioned so that most of her face was in shadow.
She looked Reanyn up and down critically as he approached. "I expected someone taller."
"I'm sorry to have disappointed you," he replied casually, taking a seat.
She was younger than he had expected, probably not past her second century. She had lustrous black hair, deep green eyes, and the delicate, pale features typical of a high elf. A long silvery-blue scar ran vertically down her face from the left side of her forehead through her eye and coming to rest along her cheekbone. The eye was undamaged, and the scar was obviously old, but Reanyn realized that it was the reason she took such pains to remain in shadow. He realized, too, why the Fleet had sent her. Elves couldn't abide anything that marred the beauty of their race. They'd sent an outcast to meet with an outcast.
"Let's come straight to the point," he said. "Who are you and what do you want with me?"
"Tianna Snowmantle, lieutenant commander second-class." Her voice was crisp and unforgiving. She may have been an outcast, but he was a mutant, and infinitely more grotesque in her eyes. "I've been waiting to see you for nearly two months now. You're a very difficult person to contact."
He shrugged. "I'm worth the effort."
"Your concern for my time is touching. I was sent to find you because you are supposed to be the best there is."
"Sent by the Fleet, I assume?"
She gave him a nod. "We've kept records on you since your discharge. The Fleet dislikes unstable elements, and you caught the attention of a great many powerful officers when you set up residence on Armistice." She sniffed. "Not a nice place, Armistice. Too many goblins for any decent person's taste. You haven't been consorting with the beasties, I hope. I'd hate to think even an Impure would 'go native' with goblinkin."
"The Fleet has declared Armistice to be off limits to spacefarers," he replied impassively. "I would have thought you knew that."
She sniffed again. "As I said, you are considered an unstable element."
He shrugged. "What is it the Fleet wants with me?"
"We have a mission for you."
He shook his head. "I don't take orders from the Imperial Navy. I haven't for some time."
"You do take contracts, don't you?"
"On occasion. It depends on the contract."
"The Fleet wants a man found."
She leaned forward. "You have heard of the Raver?"
Reanyn chuckled. "Destroyer of Worlds, Reaper of Spheres? He's a myth."
"Oh, he's real enough," she insisted. "We have an extensive file on him."
"You have an extensive file on nothing. He doesn't exist. It's a folktale, a legend." He made to rise. "I don't chase fairy tales. I'm sorry you wasted your time."
"You haven't heard how much we're offering yet."
He stood. "It doesn't matter. I'm not interested."
"But it isn't the Raver we want found."
He stopped. "Who then?"
"A man named Jarren Windhook."
Slowly Reanyn eased back into his chair. "Of what is he accused?"
"Accused?" Tianna shook her head. "He's not a criminal. He's an astrobotanist from Goldenmount, in Weyrspace."
"So why is he hiding from the Fleet?"
"He's not hiding from the Fleet. He's hiding from everyone."
"What do you mean, 'everyone'?"
"I mean everyone. The neogi, the arcane, the illithids, the human nations; everyone."
"As well as the Fleet, naturally." Reanyn nodded, understanding. "So he knows something about the Raver, or at least the Fleet thinks he does. It must be something important too, for them to think he's genuine and not a common braggart."
"As I said before, the Fleet has known for some time that the Raver is real. There is extensive documentation on the subject."
"How much?" asked Reanyn.
She was startled. "What?"
"How much are you offering for this man?"
Her eyes narrowed. "Twenty thousand."
He shook his head. "Fifty thousand."
"I'm not authorized to go beyond thirty."
"I don't bargain. Fifty thousand in Imperial gold for me to bring this man in. And that's whether he really knows anything about 'the Raver' or not."
She considered. "Done, with one provision. I come with you."
He shook his head. "My offer is non negotiable."
"I know what Windhook looks like," she insisted. "I can help you find him. You need me."
"I track fugitives for a living. I don't need your help. Do we have a deal or not?"
"Not if you won't take me with you."
He rose. "Fine. If you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to."
She was furious. "Wait a minute! You can't just walk out on this. I'm offering you fifty thousand gold pieces!"
"And I'm refusing," he said flatly.
She did her best to swallow her outrage. She had been sent to do a job, and she would do her best to carry her instructions out. "Very well, then. You go alone."
He turned back. "I told you I don't bargain. The price just jumped to fifty-five thousand."
"For fifty-five thousand I should be allowed to go with you!" she protested.
"Take it or leave it."
Her fists were clenched. "Very well then. I'll take it." She nearly spat the words at him. "You drive a very hard bargain, Wayfarer."
He shrugged. "Tell me about Windhook. And don't call me that."
"You want to hear about Windhook's connection with the Raver?"
He shook his head. "Save the fairy tales for children. I want to know about Jarren Windhook. He's the man I'm after."
She sat again, collecting her thoughts. "As I said, he's an astrobotanist from Goldenmount. He's been working for the past twenty years or so on a Zoocraft orbiting Sivak, in Gorthspace. He's old for a human, about seventy or so, with bad eyes and thinning hair." She thought. "He favors pipes."
"Where was he last seen?"
"The Wench's Kiss, A tavern on Gwydion's Rock. That was about six months ago. That's all I know."
He nodded. "Good enough. Where should I bring him to collect the reward?"
"Karpri, fifth planet of the Realmspace system. The old orbiting military base there has been reactivated."
Reanyn was a little surprised. "The Karpri base? That thing was shut down before I was born. The Fleet must be taking this pretty seriously."
"Seriously enough to pay fifty-five thousand gold pieces for your services," she said cynically.
He stood. "You'll hear from me, within three months at the outside."
"We want him alive, Wayfarer," she cautioned. "He's no good to us dead."
"That shouldn't be a problem. And don't call me that."
It was just at that moment that the doors burst open and the assassins entered.