Voidchaser, voidchaser, sing me a song
To call my heart back to the place I belong
Midst the stars and the spacelanes that I call my home
Where the voidscavvers prey and the windrunners roam
It took very little time for Reanyn, Tavras, Barundar, and Nym to make their way back to the port. It took more time (and a few gold pieces) to get past the port authorities. Apparently taking on non-human passengers was against the regulations, and Barundar and Nym were not to be allowed to leave.
After thirty minutes or so of haggling, Reanyn was more than fed up. He'd paid out ten gold pieces in fines, and filled out three forms, and still the port authorities were refusing to allow the giff and the dracon to board the Nightwarder. Just when he was at the end of his patience, Tavras stepped in. After a few smooth words (and some subtle mind manipulation) the party was finally cleared to leave, and boarded the ship.
The small wooden ladder wasn't made for giff or dracon use, and at first it looked like getting the two newcomers aboard might present a bit of a problem.
After a moment, though, Barundar simply reached up and seized the rail of the ship, hoisting himself on deck. Then he turned, leaned out, and grasped Nym's hands. With a mighty heave, he pulled the dracon aboard. The whole affair took less than half a minute - obviously the two had been presented with this problem before.
"So, this is the mysterious Nightwarder," declared Barundar, looking about him. "I can't wait to lift! I've always wondered what it feels like to travel aboard a hummingbird class. Does it vibrate much?"
"Not much," answered Reanyn, but the giff's attention was already elsewhere. Tianna had appeared on deck.
"Who are you?" she asked, looking down her nose at Nym.
"Traveling companions," grumbled Tavras darkly, passing her and going below. "We're giving them passage. As if it wasn't crowded enough."
Tianna was not pleased. She glared at Reanyn. "Is this true?"
Reanyn shrugged. "Something like that, yes."
"So now we're taking on freeloaders?"
"Actually," said Reanyn, "they're partners."
"Well, well," said Barundar wonderingly, looking Tianna up and down, "what have we here? Has the great and untouchable Reanyn Al'Nuoth taken a mate at last?"
"I'm thinking not," snickered Nym. "She's far too pretty for him."
"I am Tianna Snowmantle, lieutenant second-class, attached to the Imperial Elven Navy," she snapped frostily, " and from now on, you will refer to me as such!"
"Feisty," said Barundar appreciatively. "I bet she's a handful."
Tianna gave a sniff of disapproval, turned her back, and promptly disappeared below deck.
"I think you offended her," said Nym.
"What did I say?" Barundar asked. "She is your mate, isn't she?"
"Hardly that," answered Reanyn.
"What then?" asked the giff. "Another partner?"
"No, not a partner."
Reanyn thought for a moment. "It's difficult to explain. She's an emissary of the Fleet. She's the one who put me on Windhook's trail."
"But she's aboard your ship," Nym pointed out helpfully. "I wasn't aware that you invited all those who offer contracts to come along for the chase. Certainly we don't."
"It wouldn't be very efficient," mused Barundar.
"She's only aboard because I'm protecting her." Reanyn was becoming irritated. "Let's leave it at that. In any case, I fail to see how you could make the insulting error of presuming we were together."
"Well excuse me for making the unforgivable mistake of assuming that a girl you were 'protecting' was your mate," grumbled Barundar. "I don't see why the two of you are so ruffled about this. Is it such an insult to think you might be 'together', as you put it. After all, she's an elf; you're an elf-"
"I'm not an elf," snapped Reanyn. "Now, drop it before I start having second thoughts about taking you two on as partners."
"You look like an elf to me," said Barundar doubtfully. Reanyn fixed him with an icy stare. "Oh, all right. Consider it dropped."
* * *
The ship was crowded, but not unbearably so. It was well-stocked with food and water, and with careful rationing the crew and passengers could make out for months before making a landing. Certainly the air envelope would be depleted more quickly now that there were more people consuming the air supply, but that wasn't much of a concern either, since the ship didn't have that far to travel before reaching the Flow.
The main problem was space. With the normal crew, plus Tianna, plus Tavras, plus Barandar and Nym, there just wasn't much room. The crew of the Nightwarder were far too disciplined to allow tempers to flair but, as often is the case when so many different people are crowded into a confined space, there was a strain. The crew members were icily polite and brutally efficient, but it was obvious that they regarded the newcomers with distaste. Tavras kept his own counsel, shunning everyone aboard, and offering only biting comments, if he deigned to join conversation at all. Tianna was in a rage whenever she was near the psionicist (which was often, due to the small ship, although each did his best to avoid the other), and that added to the tension. Reanyn was considering putting one or the other off at the next stop, simply to maintain shipboard harmony. The problem was partly alleviated, however, by the giff and dracon's happy-go-lucky personalities.
They got along well with everyone. Even Tianna forgave them their initial blunder quickly, although they often teased her about her sensitivity. Although she pretended at first to frosty disapproval, she soon warmed to them. After Reanyn's aloofness during the long voyage and the crew's reticence to accept her as anything other than 'jalhadi', their friendly banter was a welcome relief to her. (Everyone aboard noted a distinct improvement in her temperment whenever she was with them.)
Of course, Tavras was an entirely different matter. He kept his distance from everyone, especially the giff and the dracon, meditating on the aft deck more and more often. His sessions with Tianna were few and far between, and he was generally irritable when spoken to.
There was no love lost between Barundar and Tavras. Nym kept his distance and seldom spoke with the psionicist, but the giff seemed to go out of his way to express his dislike. Tianna began to wonder whether or not Reanyn would have to step in and separate them before they came to blows. Of course, she wasn't altogether certain that he would step in even then. Aside from a warning to Tavras that he was not to use his psionic abilities while on board, he ignored the obvious tension between the two as if it were irrelevant.
"I don't understand it," said Tianna after one particularly heated exchange between the two, wondering at Barundar's open contempt.
Nym smiled at her from where he stood near the railing, cleaning and oiling his arquebus. "What is it you do not understand, lieutenant commander Snowmantle?" Not for the first time Tianna reflected how threatening a dracon's smile could be. The lips pulled back on a maw from a childhood nightmare, filled with razor sharp teeth that could rend sinew and bone as if it were pudding. On Nym, however, the effect looked slightly comical, like a lopsided grin, and knowing the dracon as she did, she was often tempted to laugh. Nym's grins were infectious.
"Why does he dislike Tavras so?" she asked him. "I'm no fan of the man myself, but Barundar acts as though we had a neogi aboard."
"Barundar had a sister, once. She was taken as a slave by the illithids when he was much younger," explained Nym. "They massacred a mercenary unit she was attached to, and shipped her off to the slave mines of Glyth. He never heard from her again, though he has searched. It is a tender subject with him. The illithids, as you know, are a powerfully psionic race. I suspect he associates Tavras with them. He has always harbored an acute distrust of all beings psionic."
"Oh," said Tianna. "How awful!"
The dracon shrugged philosophically. "Life is often a difficult thing. It is how we face our difficulties that matters, not the obstacles themselves. Barundar harbors distrust, yes, but he is getting better. But it is difficult for him."
Tianna stared at him. "You're the strangest killer I've ever met," she said at last.
Nym laughed, a deep throated barking sound which for all its harshness was strangely gentle. "I'm not a killer. I'm a wanderer. By profession I'm a bounty hunter, but really I'm an adventurer."
"Most adventurers I know aren't very philosophical."
Nym shrugged. "Then they are missing the adventure. The wonder of the universe only shows itself to those who may appreciate it. Others may view it, but they'll never see it."
She considered. "It is strange to me, what you and Barundar do."
The dracon was surprised. "Why? Many men follow our profession - Reanyn, for instance."
"Yes, but he's different. It seems to suit him. You two are..." she paused, trying to describe the difference. "Well," she said at last, "I just find it hard to see either of you killing anyone."
The dracon's ridged and horny eyebrows lifted. "Why should we kill anyone?"
"Well, haven't you?"
"Of course. If someone is trying to kill us, we defend ourselves. But you make it sound sinister as if we were murdering women and children in their beds. Killing is a disagreeable necessity in our profession, on ocassion. We certainly don't go out of our way to do it." The dracon smiled that toothy grin again. "Most of the men we go after are worth more alive than dead, after all. I imagine Reanyn is the same way."
She shook her head. "He's different. More lethal. Definitely not an 'adventurer'."
"I agree," mused the dracon, "he's not an adventurer. I haven't quite worked out what he is, yet. What do you think drives him?"
Tianna shrugged. "I think the Storyteller hit it. He's the Wayfarer."
"Don't let him hear you call him that," warned Nym with a smile. "He's very sensitive, you know." He shook his head. "I'm not sure I understand what that means anyway."
"I'm not sure I do either, but it's still right."
Nym pondered for a moment, then nodded. "I suppose so. Reanyn is Reanyn - I know what drives him but I cannot describe it in words. He is what he is." He gave her a wink. "I'm not certain I can say the same about you, though."
She was startled. "What? I don't understand what you mean."
"Well, for one thing, you're the first elf I've met since the Storyteller who doesn't seem to mind the presence of goblinkin. And especially one attached to the elven fleet. Most elves would be up in arms about the mere existance of a ship piloted and crewed by goblinkin, but you seem to get along well with them."
Tianna was instantly defensive. "It wasn't my decision. I'm just making the best of a situation that was forced upon me by Reanyn. He's the one who consorts with goblins, not me.."
"So you do disapprove?"
"Of course I disapprove! What kind of an elf do you take me for?"
He held up his palms placatingly. The gesture was curious, as each of his thick jointed fingers were tipped with black claws which curled out threateningly. "I didn't mean to cause offense. All I meant was that most elves I've met aren't nearly so tolerant as you."
"What about Reanyn?" She still felt the need to defend herself.
"He's not an elf," Nym reminded her. "Well, he is biologically," he amended quickly, "but, then again, I suppose that biologically he isn't an elf, either."
Tianna swallowed her arguments and jumped at the chance to learn more about Reanyn. "What do you mean by that?" she asked. "He either is an elf or he's not. And according to the Imperial Naval Records, he's not a pure-blooded elf. That makes him a half elf."
Nym shook his head. "He's not a half elf. The blood that flows through his veins is pure. It's just... altered, I suppose, would be the correct term."
Tianna was mystified. "What do you mean?"
Nym stared at her. "You really don't know?"
She said nothing.
Nym shook his head. "Well, if he doesn't want you to know, far be it for me to tell you."
Blast! she thought to herself. So close! She decided to try a different approach. "I don't really think he cares one way or the other." She said, and flushed. She had meant to sound casual, as if the subject held little interest, but her tone had been that of a disappointed child, almost whining.
He shook his head slowly, a ponderous gesture. "I wouldn't be too certain about that. It isn't something he particularily advertises. He hid it for years from the Imperial Fleet."
"You're not going to tell me, are you?"
"I'm not going to tell you." He smiled playfully. "But if you want a hint, take a look at his sleeping quarters sometime."
"What do you mean? What's wrong with them?"
He shrugged. "I haven't seen it, but I'd be willing to bet my life that it isn't a normal bed he sleeps in. Is it?"
She absorbed this. "I've never seen the captain's quarters on this ship," she admitted after a moment. "I don't even know where they are. He's restricted access to some areas of the ship. But why wouldn't he have a normal bunk?"
She was taken aback. "What?"
"Nightmares," the dracon repeated.
"I wouldn't think that Reanyn would be the type of person who had nightmares. He's more the type that creates them."
"I think you would be surprised. Anyway, that's all I'm going to say." He looked past her. "Oh, hello, here comes Barundar now."
"Magnificent!" exclaimed the giff as he approached. "This ship is a marvel! Simply a marvel! Did you realize that it has greater manueverability than a flitter? That's incredible for a ship of this size!"
"I see you've snapped out of your melancholy," observed Nym. "What happened? Did they jettison Wayland Tavras?"
Barundar gave a dismissive gesture. "Nothing so fortunate, although we've a long voyage ahead of us and anything is possible." He gave a broad wink. "For the time being I've put him out of my mind." He gave a broad laugh at his own pun.
"How can you be certain?" Tianna mumbled, half to herself.
"There's so much to see! So much to do!" He clapped one broad grey hand on the dracon's shoulder. "Nym, my friend, we stand aboard one of the marvels of the universe and there's only one thing I can think of to say. Why don't we have a ship like this?"
The dracon smiled. "I suppose Reanyn gets all the good toys."
The giff laughed broadly, a great roaring sound reminicent of thunder. In his own way, the giff was even more alien than the dracon, with his massive gray head and his gigantic gaping mouth which made Nym's look almost delicate. "It often seems that way," he said, shaking his head. "We reach the shell sometime tommorrow, you know, and we'll be well out of the sphere the day after."
A cry went up from the front of the ship. One of the two orc helmsmen (they looked enough alike that Tianna couldn't tell whether it was Macha or Chowat) stood in the bow, pointing out towards the void. Already Keryth was hurrying forward. A moment later Reanyn was on deck.
"What is it?" Barundar asked Tianna. "I don't speak the language, remember?"
Tianna shook her head. "I'm not certain. Earlier, on our voyage to Rym, we were followed for part of the trip by another ship, which kept a good distance back. Reanyn thought he'd lost it in the Flow, but they've been keeping a lookout. Perhaps..."
"But that isn't possible," interrupted Barundar. "There's no way to track a ship through wildspace. Besides, they're looking forward, not back."
"Well, it does look like they've spotted something." Nym stood. "Do you think it would be improper to ask?"
Garn came up on deck, and Tianna snatched at his arm. "What's going on?" she asked. "Has the ship that was following us returned?"
The little goblin listened to the conversation between Reanyn, Keryth, and the orc priest for a few moments. The first officer and Reanyn asked quiet questions, while the orc pointed repeatedly outward, speaking calmly but insistently. Reanyn called for a spyglass, and began peering out into the void with it, searching for something.
"Macha say he see something briefly," reported the little goblin translator after a moment. "Glowing green light, moving very fast. Impossible to say how close. Keryth and Kitchva-lanrac look, but see nothing."
Reanyn put down the spyglass and passed the signal for 'all quiet'.
"What is he doing?" asked Tianna quietly after a moment. "Sound doesn't carry across the void."
"There may be something in the air envelope," explained Nym. Reanyn glanced at them, and they fell silent.
The silence stretched for several minutes.
Then a piercing scream and a brief crunching sound came from the aft deck.
Tianna whirled in time to see a huge dark shape, all furious teeth, disappear over the rail with Tarlach, the hobgoblin assistant cook, in its maw. She felt a droplet of something wet strike her cheek, and realized it must have been blood. For a moment she felt nothing, rooted to the spot in shock.
"Scavver!" exclaimed Barundar. "A big one!"
"Must have been twenty-five feet long!" whistled Nym.
"To arms!" shouted Reanyn, rushing to the aft deck, Keryth just behind. "Protect the helmsman! Seal the hatches! We don't want it getting belowdecks."
"What about Tarlach?" asked Tianna in horror.
"The hobgoblin?" asked Barundar. "He's done for by now. Probably swallowed whole." He produced a battle axe. "What a monster! I hope I get a chance at him."
"He'll be back," predicted Nym, arming himself with a finely wrought flint lock arquebus. Quickly he shoved a ball and some smokepowder down the barrel. "I wonder how long he's been with us?"
"Not long, I'd wager," answered Barundar distractedly. "Scavvers of that size don't lurk about waiting for scraps. They go after food whenever they see it. It probably just now fell into the envelope." He glanced at Tianna. "You'd better get below, lieutenant."
She stared at him as if he were speaking another language. "Tarlach-" she muttered.
"Tianna," barked Reanyn, "get below!"
His words snapped her out of her shock, at least momentarily, and she hurred belowdecks. Dangerous, she thought dully, the thought swimming up slowly from the rational side of her mind. Scavvers are dangerous. She realized with surprising calmness that she was very near to panicking.
Scavvers were sharklike-creatures who had adapted to the environment of wildspace. They were shaped like fish, with fins and a tail, and 'swam' through space. With gaping toothy maws and a single glowing eye, scavvers were mindless killing machines. Generally they lurked like scavengers around populated asteroids and space cities, looking for a free meal. The larger ones were man-eaters, and roamed through wildspace.
The hatches were quickly sealed. Garn and Tianna kept below; the rest of the crew armed themselves (generally with polearms and repeating crossbows) and surrounded the helmsman (who, while manning the helm, was virtually defenseless). Reanyn was the only one who was unarmed among them, and somehow he looked the most lethal of all.
"There!" yelled Barundar, pointing. "Three o'clock, to port!"
The massive scavver came in fast and low, angling down towards the deck.
"Fire!" ordered Reanyn, and several crossbows whirred as their wielders snapped off bolts. Two of the bolts missed entirely, arcing over the scavver's body and out into the void. The third struck a glancing blow, deflected by the scavver's thick hide.
The scavver made straight for Keryth, who raised the pike he held, grounding it.
A sudden blast shook the ship as Nym fired his arquebus, the muzzle flashing.
The scavver roared in pain as it was hit, twisting slightly in its path. Instead of hitting Keryth head-on it veered slightly to the left. A furious bite snapped Keryth's pike in half, the blade disappearing down its maw. And then it was past, and out into the void again.
"Well done, Nym!" exclaimed Barundar with a grin. "First blood goes to you!"
The dracon made no reply, working quickly to reload.
"Get me a new pike!" ordered Keryth calmly. He spoke in Wravvish, but it was clearly evident to Barundar and Nym what he had said, as one of the other goblinkin hastily supplied the gnolll with a replacement. If his near brush with death had shaken him, he didn't show it.
The crossbow men quickly reloaded, while Reanyn and the rest kept a sharp lookout.
The second attack came as quickly and furiously as the first. This time there was virtually no warning: the scavver came flying over the side, appearing out of nowhere.
"Mine!" growled Barundar, leaping forward, brandishing his battle-axe.
It lunged for him as he leaped, but misjudged his position, striking only the deck where he had stood.
The giff gave a mighty roar as he struck out, scoring a deep hit in the scavver's side.
The scavver gave a piercing whine and disappeared over the side again.
Frantically the crossbowmen worked to reload.
Several minutes passed. The crew began to become impatient. There was no way of knowing from which direction the next attack would come.
"Where is it?" asked Barundar of no-one in particular.
"Stay sharp," said Reanyn. "It hasn't gone yet."
This time it came from directly overhead, streaking down to wreak its havoc.
"Above!" Reanyn called, catching sight of it as it descended, aimed straight at Gryth, the ogre-mage helmsman.
Keryth and Vimal, the ship's quartermaster, grounded their pikes over the helmsman's head.
The scavver sliced through the air, altering its course at the last moment, avoiding the pikes and headed straight at Reanyn.
Reanyn stood calm until the scavver had committed itself, then, in one incredibly swift motion, ducked under the gigantic creature, avoiding the slavering jaws and as it passsed overhead, and reached up, grasping the scavver's right lower fin. At the same instant he took hold of the ship's rail with his other hand. With a squeel of surprise, the scavver was hurled straight into the deck with bone-jarring force. It was stunned only for an instant, but that was all the time Reanyn needed. He leaped atop it.
It squirmed beneath him, trying to rise, but Reanyn held firm. Still it would have bucked him off if Barundar hadn't appeared at that moment, leaping onto the scavver's head and delivering a tremendous blow to the scavver's eye with his battle axe.
Blinded, and screaming the creature writhed furiously, and it was all the giff and Reanyn could do to hang on.
The pikemen sprang forward, thrusting, and the scavver roared in pain and fury as it was impaled.
In a moment it was all over, and the crew stood silently over the scavver's dead body.
Tianna and Garn made their way up on deck.
Reanyn shook his head sadly. "Jettison the remains. Tarlach was a good man. He deserves a void burial."
Somberly the group gathered up the scavver's remains.
"Damn shame," murmured Barundar. "Scavvers are good eating." (As a matter of fact, they were a delicacy.)
Tianna stared at him. "You know, suddenly I don't have any trouble believing you're a killer."
Barundar gave Nym a confused look as the elven woman turned her back on him. "What was that all about?"
"You offended her again," the dracon answered.
"Apparently she thinks it's terribly inappropriate to make light of someone's death." Nym sniffed. "Incidentally, so do I."
Barundar was taken aback. "We didn't even know him. You can't very well expect me to be all broken up over his demise."
"You could at least keep a respectful silence."
"Oh, very well," the giff grumbled. "Look, I'm sure the fellow was a good crew member and all that. I just don't see the need to descend into gloom and doom. How was I supposed to know that an elven naval officer would mourn the passing of a hobgoblin?"
Nym didn't reply, and Barundar lapsed into silence.
The crew wrapped the scavver in dark cloth, and somberly jettisoned it over the side.
Tianna watched it until it fell out of sight behind the ship, tumbling end over end. A single tear made its way down her cheek, tracing her scar. She probably would have been angry with herself if she had noticed it.