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The Traveller: Sorrow Has The Swiftest Wings – Chapter 4

Finding a conference room with a stunning view of open space, Jason and The Traveller sat down opposite each other. Jason, facing no objection from The Traveller, spoke first.

“I read the files”, he said. “I know why you’re here; to retrieve the shards of the ‘crystallised consciousness’ of the daughter of The Goddess and Overlord Guixander. Three of said shards give the local hero ‘Doomstone’ his power – and have probably influenced his choice of name – and with them, he has done a lot of good…

I know“, sighed The Traveller. “Darkhawk’s report from this region went into considerable detail concerning this individual. I know what he represents.”

“Peace. Freedom. Hope – for millions“, interrupted Jason. “Only when you live that life do you understand its power, its potential…”

“Yes, and we are dangerously short of Overlords“, reminded The Traveller. “The daughter represents a possible opportunity to reset the balance of power in the universe – and most likely beyond. You know Vaarla D’Yanu – do you think Mistress Vaarla should be swaggering around with the majority of the combined powers of the Overlords unopposed?

“Vaarla isn’t an absolute monster…”

“…but can you guarantee she won’t become one?”

“Of course not”, muttered the AGK leader. “But what if the girl doesn’t want to be an Overlord? You’ll have deprived these people of their champion for nothing.

It took four words for The Traveller to take the wind out of the sails of Jason’s argument. “Saluq Irinati is dying.”

“I… you can’t tell…”, mumbled Jason. “I’m sorry…”

“It doesn’t sound like it”, The Traveller responded. “I’ve been recording her bio-signature every time she seeks out a shard, and her pattern is steadily growing weaker. Her mind may be being restored, piece by piece, but the longer this continues, the weaker her underlying psychic structure becomes. In time, and it won’t be long, she will discorporate, and blow away on the wind – and on that day, you may just lose what’s left of your brother forever.”

“And that’s supposed to make me want to deprive this region of its most powerful defender?”, spluttered Jason. “Tell me Dominion will pick up the slack…”

“If I tell them it’s necessary, it will happen”, assured the explorer. “I will make you a solemn, binding promise that the people of The Consolidation Of Species will not be without a champion – even if I have to go and find one, or even be that champion myself.”

“It… it sounds fair”, said the AGK leader, his elbow on the table, resting his head wearily in his hand, “but we still have to find out for ourselves what Doomstone thinks about it.”

“We should travel together for now”, suggested The Traveller. “At the very least, your brother and my companion will be thankful for the time – and when we encounter Doomstone we can do it together. We can put both sides of… our argument in a civilised manner.”

“We should take this to The Supreme Comprehensor, the ‘leading light’ of this region”, Jason recommended. “He allows Doomstone to operate without interference from outside agencies, official or otherwise.”

“I’ll leave that in your hands”, said The Traveller. “I’d request that you provide The Supreme Comprehensor with all the facts, including Miss Saluq’s predicament…”

“Provide me with your data, and I…”

The Traveller took out the Omnisensor, flipped it open, and placed it on the conference table. The display interface lit up the explorer’s borrowed features as he navigated through the device’s memory core to the necessary information, and offered it up to the master computer system of the Pride Of Kraan II. “There you go”, said The Traveller as the ship accepted the data, and made it available to Jason. “Records of the shards we’ve located, and Miss Saluq’s bio-patterns, over the same period.”

“Thank you”, said Jason. “If it’s any comfort, my time as a member of Team: Defender has led to me making a whole heap of contacts in the super-powered community – and actually, it’s fortunate you mentioned Vaarla, ’cause her ‘family’ are still operational, and available to assist whenever someone gets the notion to call upon them. Now would be as good a time as any.”

“The D’Yanu family”, mused The Traveller, “The ‘Power Patrol’. Ah yes – no point in wasting the talent we have. I’ll arrange for Dominion to provide a suitable starship, a Battlehawk at least.”

“Perhaps you should try the Lu-Khians”, suggested the AGK leader. “I suspect Dominion doesn’t have an infinite supply of battle-cruisers, and the Lu-Khian fleet still have some old Void-Masters in their inventory. Shouldn’t take too much work to update one sufficiently – and it avoids having people turning solely to Dominion for help with starships.”

The Traveller gave Jason a smile. “Indeed – now see how lucky we are to have crossed paths. You’d almost think it was preordained.”

“I prefer not to think about things like that”, murmured Jason. “No point in making the universe out to be more complicated than it already is…”

“That’s exactly the problem”, said The Traveller, getting up and flipping the Omnisensor shut. “It already is.

Jason half-laughed, half-sighed as the agent of Dominion left the room. The Traveller felt sure he heard the AGK leader mutter something under his breath as the door closed. “And this is why we don’t give lifts…”

Returning to the observation gallery, The Traveller sat on one of the luxurious couches facing the panoramic view of the stars. At the other end of the couch sat Suya, trying her best to not look as though she was keeping a close eye on Irinati and Cloudmane, and when The Traveller noticed what she was struggling to do, he edged closer, hoping maybe to offer advice. “I honestly don’t think your brother-in-law is going to come to any harm, Mrs Derwent.”

Suya laughed. “By all the stars, do you know how weird that sounds? ‘Mrs Derwent’ – no-one ever calls me that! It’s either Suya, or Warpsinger…”

“Or ‘momma’?”

“Usually it’s ‘ma’ha’ – the old Ealvonhaian version”, Suya replied, then a tiny sigh escaped from her lips. “Stars, how I miss that…”

“Again, another family member I don’t think you need to worry about”, offered the adventurer. “I imagine the ‘Little Miss’ will be studying on Mystalorn – now that’s something that’s making me seriously jealous.”

“I’d be there too, honing my warp-singing, but I have plenty of time for that”, added Suya. “I… I think it’s good that Sable is spreading her wings a bit – we all need to do that some times – and, well, you’re only a child once.”

“If you convince yourself of that, then you’re doomed”, sighed The Traveller. “I hate when people talk about going through a ‘second childhood’ – I still haven’t finished with the first one yet!”

They laughed, but all too soon, it faded, and Cloudmane and Irinati became the centre of attention again. “It seems as though two broken people can become whole, in each other’s company”, said Suya as she looked over at the pair. “Do you think it will last? beyond today, I mean.”

“I honestly can’t say”, The Traveller replied, wearily. “I would very much hope so – and if they’ve experienced your ‘love at first sight’, then maybe something permanent has resulted from this encounter.”

“We could all use an extra spark or two of brightness and hope”, Suya thought out loud as she saw Cloudmane pointing out several star-formations to his fellow star-gazer, and Irinati responded energetically about them, and indicated another all by herself. “They’re two, right there, who’ve found their own, it seems.”

The Traveller had nothing to add, and instead just sat there and watched a more lively, more conscious Irinati than he had ever seen before. Despite all the negatives, the inescapable down-sides of their quest to reunite the shards, it was at this moment that The Traveller became convinced that their course of action was absolutely, and undeniably, the right one.

It was that, or extinguish two of Suya’s precious “sparks”.

…o O o…

The edge of the Rusha’daath System…

Standing on the surface of a small comet, the man now going by the name Doomstone gazed into space, not quite sure what he had just sensed. He had felt a… presence in this region of space for some time, something strangely familiar – and then that presence blossomed, and demanded that he pay attention to it. A smouldering ember of familiarity that had become a persistent… spark.

Doomstone felt the urge to investigate, but there were so many other things either requiring his attention, or in imminent danger of requiring it. A cargo ship was in difficulty on the edge of the Ula’Tora system… a large and powerful ship was cruising through the region… a passenger transport was passing dangerously close to the disputed space between the orbits of the fifth and sixth planets in the neighbouring Rekla’daath system…

The hero allowed his mind to overlap with the energy fields given off by the crystal splinters fused to his chest, and the backs of his hands, and through them, communications traffic flowed into his brain, as clear as spoken speech…

“…the last thing we want to do is ditch the cargo, but we may have no choice…!”

“…better stay well clear of that system. I heard those Iekalon established bases there, and their creatures may be hanging around – bet they’re hungry now…”

“…of course, Master Derwent. I would expect nothing more from you and your associates – this is not for your ears, my boy…

The last voice had been that of The Supreme Comprehensor, the intellectual power-house of The Consolidation of Species. He had sensed Doomstone’s intrusion, and had gently discouraged such conduct, nudging the hero’s mind back into its proper place at the centre of its physical existence. The name Derwent had a familiar ring to it – a name associated with a family of heroes, the core membership of The Adventurers’ Guild of Kraan…

That ship – the big one, thought Doomstone.The Pride Of Kraan II – that’s where that “spark” is coming from. Is it one of them that I’m sensing? The Derwents… this new Defender they’re talking about – could one of them be the source of what I can feel…?

Doomstone’s course and that of the AGK starship appeared to be converging. It seemed that a chance would soon come to find some answers – but for now, there were a dozen matters left to address. The cargo ship, the passenger liner… all manner of lesser incidents on nearby planets – Doomstone had to be ready to respond to any of them, perhaps even all of them.

Such was, he had long ago learned, the life of the hero.

…o O o…

On board the Pride of Kraan II

That evening, after a luxurious dinner provided by the automated catering facilities of the Adventurers’ Guild’s starship, the heroes relocated to the “environment sphere” at the rear of the ship’s central hull, and the “island” contained within it. There, seated around a roaring camp-fire, next to a pool kept fresh and clean by special android fish, the AGK and the crew of The Endless Sunrise relaxed in the fragrant, shadowy embrace of the small forest that grew on the island. Wrathwing took to the air, exercising her great dragon-wings as she soared and swooped over the little lake, Suya sat and talked with Irinati at great length, and Cloudmane approached The Traveller…

“Excuse me, ah, sir…”

“Sorry – Traveller-Man ain’t in right now”, responded Mariella. “Jus’ me.”

“Ah, yes”, said Cloudmane, sitting next to the girl. “Irinati tried to explain your situation, but she seems to be just so… comfortable with it that she doesn’t give it any thought.”

“Good f’r her”, said Mariella. “But then she ain’t the one with a super-genius campin’ inside her head!”

“Is he… there now, inside?”

“There’s just some sorta connection, but he’s not keepin’ a watch on my thoughts, or anythin’”, said the girl. “‘S like a… a connectin’ door, only right now, it’s shut, an’ locked. The Traveller’s back in his own body, restin’.”

The girl smiled, briefly and rather weakly. “I guess we’re kinda alike”, she told the white-haired hero. “You died. I died. We both got new bodies, new lives…”

It was a clumsy thing to say, and said without thinking about how Cloudmane might feel. The hero didn’t suddenly explode with emotion, rage or sadness as Mariella had feared. “I envy your ability to embrace your condition”, he sighed. “I was younger than you when I… died, but then my mental essence wasn’t directly transferred into a new body. I had to start again, right from new, and it’s taken this long to get to almost how I was when I first came into being. So much of the time, I’m… detached, like I’m dreaming about my life, and seeing it from outside…”

“An’ Irinati, she… she makes that better?”

Cloudmane nodded. “I don’t understand why – maybe I never will…”

The hero paused. His eyes went down to his hands, folded in his lap. “Do you think The Traveller will let me come with you?”

Mariella was delighted with the idea. “Sure he will!”, she exclaimed. “I’ll make sure of it – if he eva wants t’borrow this fine piece a’ass again…”

Before Mariella could “open the door” to The Traveller, and tell him how things were going to go, like it or not, an unexpected guest arrived – Orb, the levitating, eyeball-like computer entity that served as an interface between ship and crew, hovering above the pond. “Please excuse the intrusion”, said the device, “but I have received an urgent message from the Ula’Tora system. A cargo vessel has shed its load of protogenic compounds on the edge of their system, and they are requesting assistance from a vessel sufficiently shielded to clean up the spill before it threatens any of the inhabited planets. Shall I respond?”

“Sounds like we’re the only ones around who can”, said Jason, rising from his seat. “Inform the relevant planetary authority that we’re on our way.”

“Oh joy unbounded”, sighed Sleek. “Clean-up duty…”

“Y’hear that?”, exclaimed Shadowsnake, the girl’s scaly giantess of a partner. “Sleek just volunteered!”

That set off a heated argument between the two warriors, and in the end, both of them found themselves assigned to piloting whatever emergency craft were required “Looks like my talk with The Supreme Comprehensor was premature”, Jason said as he looked to the person he assumed was currently The Traveller. “The ‘moment of truth’ with Doomstone is going to have to wait.”

Mariella just nodded, maintaining the illusion that the explorer was present. Their arrangement worked well enough, and hadn’t led to any tension or unpleasantness between them, but the girl treasured those times when she had her body to herself, and as long as she didn’t do any damage to property, persons or reputations, The Traveller was happy enough to sleep the time away, until it became imperative for him to be called back into action.

Only Cloudmane knew the truth, and with his request perhaps hanging in the balance, he wasn’t about to say a thing.

…to be continued…