Mace Black, Page 422-428 by Wolfenshire ()
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Mace Black, Page 422-428
“Crystal Bridge, please…”
“Bridge of Crystal, please…”
“Crystal map, please…”
“Oh come on, I said please,” shouted Koael.
The white feathered raven cawed.
“I know it’s not working,” replied Koael. “I think Aestar has locked me out of using the Crystal Bridges.”
Koael crouched down and put a hand on his chin, thinking. How was he supposed to get home? They had crossed one Crystal Bridge to get to this world. He could step outside to the Paths of the Dead, but there was no way he could know which Crystal Bubble out there was the one with the ranch, and years could pass in just a few minutes before he re-entered a world. He was stuck on the Sherata jungle world.
At least the whole world here wasn’t a jungle - that was a bonus. But, the Sherata tigers were excellent trackers, he would be on the run forever and eventually he’d get caught. He needed an idea. “Come on, Koael, think, there has to be a way out of this.”
The raven cawed.
“I know, I know, I’m thinking.”
The raven cawed more insistently.
“What? Are you hungry again already?” Koael reached into his pocket, then heard it – the gallop of hooves, a Post Rider was coming, but a Post Rider only delivered from the roads, and Koael was nowhere near a road. Koael stood and drew his dagger. The Post Rider appeared from the shadow realm and galloped between the trees. The Rider reared his horse dramatically, also something a Post Rider didn’t do. The Rider came to a stop a few feet from Koael.
The Rider held a crumpled envelope down to Koael. “Letter,” the man announced.
Koael tipped his head and stared at the man, then his horse, and lastly the envelope. The Rider’s saddle and gear didn’t have the neat shiny look of a Post Rider, instead, the gear was worn and unkempt, and the man’s uniform was a disgrace of mismatched parts. Koael took the envelope and turned it over, the seal was broken open.
“This has been opened, somebody read it, what kind of Post Rider are you?”
The man shrugged. “It was a nice letter, very touching, and I’m not a Post Rider, I’m a Shade Rider.”
“You read my letter? What the heck? Why didn’t a Post Rider bring this letter?”
The man reached into a saddle bag and retrieved a piece of paper. “Post Riders don’t service outlaws, buddy. You get us, and be grateful you get anything.” The man handed Koael the piece of paper. Koael unfolded the paper. It was a poster with Koael’s picture in the middle of the paper with printing across the top that read, ‘KOAEL RAVEN – WANTED FOR ASSUALT AND ATTEMPTED MURDER – 1000 SILVER REWARD’.
Koael looked up at the man. “Oh come on, seriously? Do the tigers have a printing press in the middle of the jungle somewhere? This is Master Aestar’s doing, tell him to get bent.” The man was shoving something from a little can under his lips. Chewing tobacco? What civilized planet still used tobacco? What had he fallen into, a spaghetti western?
“Well, you gonna read your letter or what?” asked the man. “The part at the end had me in tears I tell you.”
Koael glared at the man, but it was a wasted effort. He pulled the letter out and unfolded it.
Do not return to the ranch, they are watching it. Go to a Raven hide-down position and wait while we try to work this out. Batheba has gone to speak with the Sherata Court. The Post Riders won’t take a letter to you, so we’ll have to use the Shade Riders. I am sending some emergency funds with the Shade Rider for you.
Hang in there, brother, we love you,
Koael read through the message twice, there was only one hidden encoded message in the letter at the end above Roael’s name – seven words that represented the amount of money sent.
“Where’s my money?” demanded Koael.
The man tossed a money purse down. Koael quickly counted the money inside. “There’s a thousand missing,” said Koael. “There should be seven thousand.”
The man frowned and spit something brown over the side of his horse. “Humph, so there was a secret message in there, I figured there was, being you’re one of them Temple Ravens, but I’d be darned if I could find it.”
“Give me my money,” said Koael.
The Rider shook his head. “Naw, I think I’ll keep it, we’ll call it a fair wage for services.”
“What! A thousand in gold script for delivery of one letter?” shouted Koael.
“Shade Riders offer a bit more services than Post Riders, I suggest you accept my terms.” The Shade Rider lifted a small money pouch in his hand. “But if you really want it back, I’m not a thief, I’d never make it back to Post Rider if I did that.”
Koael balled his hands into fists and willed himself to remain calm. “Oh, I get it, you’re a disgraced Post Rider demoted to a Shade Rider for outlaws.”
The Shade Rider smiled. “What’ll it be, do you want the money back?”
Something about the man’s posture told Koael it would be foolish not to purchase whatever services this man was offering. “Alright, I’ll pay you a thousand for your services.”
“Wise choice,” said the man. “There’s a few rules to your new life you need to know. You no longer have access to the Crystal Map, or the Crystal Bridges, or the Traders, or anything else good folk are entitled. You’ve been removed from the communication grid, and the locator service. That’s an old treaty signed a long time ago to protect the civil rights of outlaws like you.”
“I am not outlaw,” said Koael, his hand tightening around his dagger.
“Yeah, you might be right about that, being that your only reference as an assassin is an ‘attempted’ murder’.”
Koael took a breath and loosened his grip on the dagger. “Why are you trying to provoke me?”
The man smiled and pulled a medallion from a coat pocket. “These are valuable.” The man tossed the medallion down to Koael. “I didn’t want to give you one if you have a temper and are just going to get yourself dead. Folks that find them on outlaws’ bodies usually put them up on auction. It costs us a fortune to buy them back.”
Koael examined the medallion, it had three concentric interlocking rings engraved into it. “What’s it do?”
“Like I said, no Crystal Bridges, no calling Post Riders or Traders, but it also means your location is not available on the map. Bounty hunters have to find you the old fashion way, but we do have a few things available. You can use that giddily gadget to call for a Shade Rider, me usually, you’re my client. You can also call up a Shade Map or a Shade Bridge, and even a Shade Trader. Careful dealing with Shade Traders, those guys are crooks, but they can usually fence anything you got. So, do you understand?”
“Yeah, I understand I’ve been railroaded.”
The man laughed. “Yeah, all outlaws are innocent, just ask ‘em. Anyway, there’s no profit in it for me if I lose a client before they can get their feet under them, so I need to know you understand.”
“I understand, okay?”
“Now, I’m going to tell you something and we’re square on the thousand you paid me.”
“Really? What little tidbit is worth a grand?”
“They’ve got your trail, you got about fifteen minutes before the bounty hunters are here.”
“That’s not worth a thousand gold script, I can just fly away.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
“This section of the Crystal Universe is the civilized section, it was built by Nano-construction bots the Creators made. When Aestar activated the Crystal Generator, all the monsters were banished to one world, and that’s where the Nano-construction bots keep them, but there’s still plenty out beyond the border.”
“Yep, about the size of fifty-two thousand galaxies, which is about .00000001 percent of the total, or something like that. Did you think the Creators were omnipotent? That was the extent of what they could build, after that, it’s the badlands. That’s where I suggest you go right now, Shade Mountain is just on the other side of the border. Have a Shade Bridge take you to the Outlaw Bridge. It’s actually a World Bridge, but we control it.”
“Hold on, I’m still back on the monsters. What does the Nano-bots have to do with…oh my gosh, the monsters were dinosaurs. My other form is a dinosaur. When Aestar first got here his species was one of only two or three species in the universe. Every other world was still pre-historic. This place was filled with dinosaurs, that’s what the monsters were, and the Nano-bots think I’m a dinosaur that escaped.”
“I knew you were a smart boy.” The Shade Rider looked up at the sky. “I wonder who’s going to get here first, the bots or the bounty hunters.”
Koael scowled at the man then turned away and raised the medallion up. “Shade Bridge, please.”
“You ain’t got to say please, that’s the first thing we hack out of that contraption.”
The Shade Bridge didn’t appear.
“Well, where is it?” asked Koael.
“Give it a moment, should be here soon, longest wait I’ve seen is about four days.” The Shade Rider pulled a pocket watch out and checked the time. “But it is early, most outlaws are still asleep, so not much demand yet. You know we only got a limited supply of them things. Aestar gets annoyed every time we steal another one.”
The Shade Bridge appeared. Koael’s mouth dropped open in shock. It was a Crystal Bridge, but an obviously stolen and hacked one. The bridge was covered in graffiti and wires hung out from every possible access panel. There were two long rows of what looked like car batteries tucked against the side with cables running between them. The Crystal Pedestal was in even worse condition. The access panel hung off the side precariously and held by...coat hangers? Koael went to the pedestal and inspected the three dimensional map. Only half the map was working, and the half that was working flickered on and off.
“Is this thing safe to use?” asked Koael.
“Heaven’s no, I would never go across that thing, it’s a death trap. But, seeing as you don’t really have a choice, welcome to what we call ‘Playing the Shade Lottery’.”
“Let me guess, because making it across alive is like winning the lottery?”
“Bingo, you’re a smart one, I think you’ll make it,” said the Rider. “I knew you’d be a good long-term investment.”
Koael sighed. “Outlaw Bridge,” he gave the destination to the pedestal.
The portal event horizon in the middle of the bridge activated and appeared. It was a dull purple color.
“Ouch, you just lost the lottery, sorry kid, bad luck.”
“What do you mean?” asked Koael.
The Rider spit another glob of the brown stuff on the ground. “The event horizon has to be an ice blue color, anything else is bad news. Well, you got about twelve minutes left, I suppose you could try to make a run for it.”
“You really don’t know anything about the Darai, do you?” said Koael, leaning over the open panel on the pedestal. “Okay, there’s the quantum processor, cooling unit, power regulator, memory crystals…” Koael pushed a group of wires out of the way and found the power cable. “This doesn’t look right, hooked up like this would cause a feedback loop in a memory crystal.” Koael pulled at the wires until they came out, then set them aside. He followed one of the cables over to the bridge, then up to the portal housing unit and ripped the wires out of there.”
“Now it’s really broken, good job, kid,” said the Rider.
Koael ignored the man and ripped a battery out of the long bank of batteries. He carried it around to the other side of the central portal column and set it down, then put his hand on top of an unopened panel on the other side of the column. The entire bridge lit up with a soft blue glow and a control panel of liquid metal flowed aside and a pedestal rose out of the side of the bridge.
The Rider sat up in his saddle. “What the blazes? You’ve accessed the emergency battle pedestal. We’ve never gotten that panel open before, it’s made of liquid metal. How did you do that?”
Koael placed his hand on the side of the emergency pedestal and another panel opened. He grabbed a cable from the battery and connected it to a terminal inside the pedestal. A full working three dimensional Crystal Map appeared. He had worked with Moeth trying to unravel the mysteries of the Crystal Bridges but had been unsuccessful in getting this far. Moeth theorized it was because even though they were seeded descendants of the Creators, a piece was missing in their DNA to use more advanced Creator technology. They could operate simpler Creator technology, like the Talon dagger and the Moon Spear, but when Master Aestar had altered his Elemental tattoo given to him by the Night Goddess, he had bridged the DNA gap to use Creator technology. Maybe his plan was that simple, it could be possible Aestar was trying to re-create his lost species by giving Jasai and his brothers that push they needed to cross the genetic threshold to become true Creator descendants.
“Outlaw Bridge,” said Koael, setting the destination. The portal opened with a nice clean ice blue color. He jumped off the side of the bridge and went to the Rider. “Give me back my thousand gold script, and I’ll tell you how I did it.”
“I’ll keep the money, you keep your secrets,” said the Rider, shaking his head.
Koael shrugged and went to kneel in front of the white feathered raven next. “Hey bird, I have to go now, if you want to stay here with your raven friends, I understand.”
The white feathered raven hopped up on Koael’s shoulder and cawed. “Cwaw, keep the money.”
Koael laughed. “Well, at least you got your priorities right.”
Koael ran to the bridge and stepped across the event horizon of the portal, but he had made a mistake. He had disconnected the cables at the main pedestal. The moment he stepped off the bridge on the other side, the emergency battle pedestal closed its access panel, severing the battery cables to its power source. The bridge disappeared on the side Koael was now on, but remained in the clearing with the Shade Rider. The bridge used its last remaining power to collapse and lock the battle pedestal.
A few moments later Master Aestar, Sern, and Saeber strolled into the clearing. The Shade Rider watched calmly as Master Aestar went to the main bridge pedestal and examined it. He shook his head at the mess, then went to where the battle pedestal was locked. He pulled a device from a pocket in his coat and snapped it into a spot made for the device. The bridge lit up like a festival day tree. Master Aestar called up the battle pedestal and checked the map, then closed the pedestal again and retrieved the device.
“He’s on the way to the Outlaw Bridge, go ahead and pay the Shade Rider,” said Master Aestar.
Sern handed the man a large money purse. “That’s one-hundred thousand gold script, as agreed,” said Sern.
“It would have been easier if you had just let me knock him on the head and drag him there,” said the Rider.
“It needs to be his idea, that boy is too stubborn to do it any other way,” replied Master Aestar. “Make sure he gets to Shade Mountain and restarts his Temple training, he’s had a long enough vacation.”
“That Raven Priestess you found is waiting, she’ll ‘accidently’ bump into him after he arrives,” said the Rider.
“And find him some contracts to cut his teeth on,” added Master Aestar. “Hmm….let’s start him on… …how about that nest of drug dealers on the Grestor Crystal World.” Master Aestar turned to Sern. “Can he handle that?”
“Yes, Master Aestar,” said Sern. “Koael has always hated drug dealers, they’re the scum of Darai. But, you do know Koael likes to trick his victims instead of direct confrontation. You saw that with the tigers, and when he did his Crystal World challenge he saved that owl boy by actually eating a raw boar’s heart to trick the hunters into running away.”
“That’s good, I would rather most of his contracts appear to have met their demise by accident,” replied Master Aestar. “But, we need at least one very ruthless and bloody contract to get rid of that ridiculous ‘attempted’ off his wanted poster, if he is to ever become the Shadow Enforcer, he will need to be feared.”