A bronze-clad figure makes his way through the crowd gathered about for an upcoming slave auction. Trying his best not to attract unnecessary attention, he strolls into the reviewing area and begins scanning the “merchandise” for any familiar face.

It’s hard NOT to pay attention to someone who looks like he’s wandered in from a medieval Earth re-enactment.

A little wiry human man with mousy brown hair waves a hand to get Lyddmull’s attention and asks: “Looking for a new squire? We’ve got the best!”

The Seamel raises an eyebrow at this, but makes his way over towards the man. “I seek Javel,” he says simply, “I was told he had one such as I need.”

That gets wide eyes and a shocked gape from the dealer. “You’re making a mistake, stranger.”

“So I have been told,” Lyddmull replies with a quick nod, “It rather makes one curious as to whether or not he actually sells merchandise.”

“He does,” the wiry man replies. “Through folks like me. I’m in sales. He’s more of a…merchandise acquisition manager.”

“So, you are a broker,” the Fastheldian replies, his brow furrowed, “Then perhaps you can help me after all.” He draws the picture from his pouch. “This is the youth I mean to acquire,” he says, showing the image to the slave-seller.

The broker eyes the picture, then shakes his head. “Sorry, friend. He went with the batch three days ago. Acquired by the Nall. Cried like a baby all the way to the transport. But, I mean, wouldn’t you?”

“Possibly,” Lyddmull says, setting his jaw in frustration. He looks away for a moment, none-too-pleased with what he is about to say. “In that case, I am afraid that it is indeed Javel I must see,” he says.

“Why?” the broker asks. “And who the hell are you?”

“Who I am does not really matter, does it?” the knight replies with a sigh, “I need to find the boy, Javel knows to what Nall labor camp he has been sent.”

“Fine,” the broker says with a shrug. “You want to see the man? Go to Candlelight Imports on Nebula Street. Tell the bot you need a facial.”

Lyddmull sizes the man up for a moment to determine whether or not he is lying, but nods either way. “My thanks,” he says simply before turning away and leaving the market.

It’s not far to Nebula Street, with most of its dusty storefronts shuttered with metal plates. One of the few open enterprises is Candlelight Imports. A tripedal Phyrrian lurks outside, plasma rifle in hand, scanning its surroundings with optical sensor clusters arrayed on its triangular head.

The Bronze Rider, sans charger, strides up to the mechanoid. “I have been told to request a facial here,” he says, opening his visor.

The Phyrrian clicks and whirs. “Have you? Then step inside. Enjoy your stay.”

Lyddmull hesitates for just a moment before he steps past the Phyrrian, his jaw set as he enters what is sure to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, surrounded by an entire city of scum and villainy.

Inside, he finds a well-appointed showroom with several display cases under amber plasma lanterns. A thin man, six-feet-tall, wears a dapper black suit and spats. Tufts of white hair sprout from behind his ears. The man stands behind a display case that sits between Lyddmull and a closed door with a digital lock. “Welcome,” the man greets. “How may I be of assistance?”

“Greetings,” Lyddmull says, his eyes scanning the man before him quickly.  He takes several steps across the floor towards the man. “I seek Javel,” he says simply, “Are you he?”

“Oh, heavens no,” the man replies. “I am Lutheran Prady. I handle day-to-day affairs and appointments for Javel.” He pulls a PDA from behind the display case and activates a HUD. “I have an opening on Friday next.”

“That is … not likely to be sufficiently early, Mr. Prady,” the Seamel says. He pauses for a moment before continuing. “Perhaps you can help me,” he says, “A transport of your merchandise left three days ago for Parallax space. I need to know the location for which it was destined. Now, my question is, what would it take to get such information?”

The well-groomed old man gives a pained sigh and winces. He pinches the bridge of his nose between two fingers like he’s fending off a headache. Then he regards Lyddmull with a rather predatory gaze. “You will have to address such inquiries to Javel himself. If you wish to make it a priority, well, that can be arranged. I cannot guarantee that it will be without hazard.”

“Do I seem like a man not accustomed to hazard?” the heavily armed and armored knight inquires, a hint of a smile flickering across his face, “The matter is, of course, a priority to me and my business is of no threat to Javel’s. I would appreciate what could be done to expedite the matter.”

“What you are accustomed to is hardly my concern,” Prady replies. He tilts his head, then taps out a sequence on the PDA. The door behind him unlocks and hisses open, revealing a shadowy corridor beyond. “Find what you seek down that hall, good sir.”

The Seamel sighs a bit then nods, moving past the display case and into the corridor. He pauses for a moment, allowing his eyes to adjust to the relative darkness.

The door clunks shut behind Lyddmull, and then beeps as the lock reinitializes. He’s plunged into total darkness at this point. And more or less total silence, except for the faint hiss of air cycling through the overhead vent.

The knight actually rolls his eyes. Invisibly, in the darkness, that is. His left hand taps a control on his helmet and the visor flips shut even as his right draws the Songblade from its scabbard. He stands still while getting used to the faint glow of the blade, shrugging the shield on his back free and bringing it forward on his left arm.

“If I wanted you dead, you would’ve been dead days ago,” comes a disembodied male voice over a loudspeaker. Apparently, it’s sunken in the ceiling above the door at the far end of the corridor. “Still could be, if I don’t enjoy the outcome of this conversation.”

Moving slowly forward, Lyddmull nods to the invisible voice. “I have been warned as much,” he says, “So theatrics aside, what is it you want?”

“Let’s start with why you’re so insistent about finding just another sad fool who ran afoul of reality on Tomin Kora,” Javel wonders.

“I am not certain the answer will make much sense to you,” the Seamel replies, smirking faintly, “He leaves behind a young wife and unborn child. I would that a moment’s cowardice not leave his child fatherless. While I am aware that he may already be dead and that even if I find him, I might be unsuccessful in counselling him to return, I have given my word to do my best to locate him, and that is what I shall do.” He continues down the hall, the sword in his hand granting only a few feet of visibility.

“Tomin Kora boasts a rich tradition of orphans and bastards,” Javel says. “Fairy tale knights ought to know better than come looking for happy endings.”

“If you think a knight expects a happy ending,” Lyddmull replies, coming to a stop near the speaker, “I do think you might be reading the wrong stories.”

“The one you want is gone, bought and paid for,” the disembodied voice explains. “He’s probably mining polydenum on Shadin IX already. If he’s lucky, he’ll die in the first week. But he didn’t strike me as lucky.”

“I do not disagree,” the Seamel says with a faint shrug, “And while I thank you for granting me the name of the world to which he has been sent, I somehow doubt you would go through all this trouble to tell me that.”

A light chuckle. “You want to find him? I’ll help you, friend! The Nall are going to *love* you. Might not waste you in the mines, though. The noble warrior schtick should go over great in the arena.”

“I imagine it might,” the Bronze Rider replies, “Though that might prove more costly to them than simply whatever you hope to receive.” He remains still, cautious.

The hissing sound intensifies overhead: a bluish-green gas starts roiling into the corridor. “We’ll see. How long can you hold your breath in that getup?”

“The filters should be able to handle this for some time,” says the Seamel. Still, he uses the faint light of his sword to see if there is any other exit. If not, he’ll return to the door through which he entered. “So your intention is to drug me into senseless so that I will not prevent you from taking me to the very place I want to go,” he adds, “It seems a bit wasteful, does it not?”

“Tarcyx gas is cheap,” Javel replies. “Easy enough to make with a few chemicals and exhaust fumes.” The doors are locked, with digital interface pads that seem to want alphanumeric codes. Beyond that, there’s just the vent overhead that’s spewing gas. The conduit might be large enough for a pre-teen to enter.

The Seamel nods slowly. “Well, I do not suppose you mind if I raise the cost a bit, then,” he says as draws a rarely used plasma pistol from his side and aims it up towards the vent, pressing the firing stud.

The gout of energy from Lyddmull’s weapon ignites the combustible chemicals in the gas mixture. The concussion of the blast flings him back toward the showroom and against the door with a THWUMP! The conduit is sealed before the fire can spread deeper into the building, so the fiery blast is contained within the corridor.

Upside: The fire consumes the gas in the air and is quickly exhausted. Downside: Lyddmull is baking inside his armor for a few seconds.

The Seamel cries out in pain from the burn and removes his helmet once the fire is out. The bronze-clad composite armor is, of course, not true medieval plate armor, it is simply designed to imitate it. Nevertheless, it certainly doesn’t tickle. Catching his breath from the impact against the door, he eventually speaks up. “Are you still there?” he asks the disembodied voice.

“Oh, good, you’re not dead yet,” Javel answers.

“Not yet,” Lyddmull says, forcing himself to his feet. “You know, this really is not necessary,” he says.

“Necessary? Perhaps not,” Javel agrees. “Amusing? For me, at least, yes.” A few moments of silence, then: “I was going to unleash the ninjas and thugs in wave after wave. Then I was going to try the spike trap beneath your feet. And if that failed, I was going to crush you between the corridor walls. But that really would result in the squandering of some resources and, well, no, you aren’t worth the mess. You want to go find your little friend? Be my guest. Go ask the Nall to give him back.” The light on the digital lock by the door to the showroom flickers from red to green. CLICK. “You are free to go.”

“Well, I am glad you are amused,” Lyddmull replies wryly, stooping to take up his helm and replacing it on his head. With a grunt of pain, he reaches out to open the door.

The door slides open with a hiss to allow the Seamel to depart the corridor for the showroom. Lutheran Prady waits outside, hands clasped behind his back. The brief widening of his eyes is the only hint of surprise at the knight’s return.

“A satisfactory meeting, I trust?” Prady inquires.

“Rather surprisingly, yes,” Lyddmull says, replacing shield and sword, “I, hopefully, received the information I needed. Of course, I should rather my next steps were less … for lack of a better word, terrifying, but that is not the fault of this particular parley.”

“Terror, when it comes to the Nall, is healthy,” the old man says. “Pursuit of this quest, on the other hand, is anything but. You really should reconsider. Even assuming you make it past the Line of Pain – and that is a serious assumption in the wake of that horrible creature’s recent incursion – you’re unlikely to reach the mining planet or the encampment without an encounter with our reptiloid friends. Whatever his family offered to pay cannot be worth your life.”

“His family is certainly in no position to pay anything,” Lyddmull says with a faint smile, stepping out of the perilous corridor. “And you are not incorrect,” he says, “I certainly would not bet upon the odds of my survival in this venture. However, poor as a measure of morality is cold pragmatism. Were I to step away now, my word would count as nothing.”

Prady sighs. “A man with morals on Tomin Kora. Next you’ll tell me a communist is running the Odarite Merchant’s Guild.” He shakes his head. “Javel must like you. He didn’t kill you outright.” He does his best not to glance at the mop and bucket waiting beside the doorway. “I feared I would be on cleanup detail.”

“I confess my joy at your avoiding that duty is entirely self-motivated,” the Seamel replies with a broad grin, “At any rate. I had best go in search of either a ship to stow away on. Or a crew of mad men…”

“You’re rare as a unicorn in a field full of boars as it is,” the old man muses. “Good luck finding more than the usual pigs.” With that, he takes the mop and bucket and disappears down the corridor toward Javel’s inner sanctum. The door closes behind him. The digital lock telltale shifts from green to red.

The Bronze Rider considers the lock for a moment, deciding whether or not to be concerned for the man’s safety. He can only do so much, however, and so he maneuvers himself gently towards to door, wracking his brain in search of a plan.
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By Brody

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