Starblaze and Blasterfire: Part Six
A portly Tonu snorted. "Surely you jest, Lord Firetamer."
Suroxano was completely unruffled – Cassius admired how cool he was, surrounded by these lords and ladies all scoffing at him. The Grundo replied, "Summon was perhaps the wrong word to use. She owes us no more allegiance than space itself does. But she hearkens to the cries of those in need, and if we are not in need here, what are we? I do know a spell to contact her, though I have never used it before now. She could help turn the tide."
Marzai said, "As head of the Council, I say we have no time to debate. Lord Suroxano is correct, and you may have any help you wish in setting up your spell."
There were a few mutterings that were quickly silenced. A tall Lenny woman asked, "While he's getting ready, I'd like to hear from these pirate experts that you brought back, Sir Kyrival."
Before anyone could shush him, Yaxal cried, "Pirate experts?"
Bea stood up and stalked straight across the floor to where Marzai and Kyrival sat. "What is wrong with you? First we're merely a taxi service, then we have to fight our way across your Fyora-forsaken wastelands, and now we've become pirate experts? What'll you be asking us to do next, lead a battalion? Marzai, I'm getting sick and tired of all this nonsense. Trinian, we'd do best to get out of here, reward or no reward, before we get ourselves killed."
Marzai said quickly, "Trinian, could you talk to your crew privately, please, and make a decision? I'm afraid that they were misrepresented or misunderstood – while very valiant, they never claimed to be military men, though their captain did serve under Commander Valka."
Trinian nodded. "Very well. Crew, I want all of you to decide what you'd like to do – we'll all talk after Suroxano does his magic bit."
Cassius got to his feet – the room was dead silent as all of the lords and ladies watched them stand.
Then a blue Lutari cried, "Jormund? Jormund Steelclaw?" He stood up and ran to Jory, hugging him tightly. "Jormund, it's you! For Fyora's sake, we thought you were dead!"
Marzai asked the question before anyone else could. "General Zeptimius, what is the meaning of this?"
Zeptimius said, still astonished, "Don't tell me you haven't heard of this man – he's a legend! I've seen him take down legions single-handed."
Cassius couldn't help but stare. Their Old Jory, Jormund Steelclaw? The famous mercenary? He was just a depressed old Wocky who played cards a lot. But this general seemed so astonished – could it possibly be true? Jory looked so pathetic standing there in front of the bench where he had sat in his worn spacesuit, vest, gloves, and boots – he couldn't possibly be the sort of person who traveled in the company of the general in his shining armor.
Then Jory sighed heavily. "I'm Jormund Steelclaw no longer, Zep. Yeah, Zep Lightstar – I recognized you when I saw you."
The general looked a little angry now. "Then why didn't you say something? Jormund, we need you here!"
Then Jory leaned down and undid his right boot. When he removed it, there was an audible gasp – when Cassius glanced over at his companions, even Bea looked shocked. Yaxal cried, "Sweet Fyora!"
Instead of a flesh-and-blood foot, he had a robotic leg.
Next, he took the glove off his right hand – Cassius realized that he'd never seen Jory with his gloves off an instant before another mechanical limb was revealed.
The general asked in horror, "Jormund, how much?"
The old Wocky sighed. "My right arm up to the shoulder. My right leg up to the hip. You all thought I'd been killed after the raid of the Pirate King's palace, and you weren't far wrong. I can still defend myself, but I can't do the old battle-dance any more – not with a leg and an arm made of metal." He bent down to replace his boot on his foot.
The general said, "I need to talk to you, Jory – would you come with me? We'll be back in time for Lady Mira's transmission."
Suroxano said, "It would be best if I could prepare this in private. Could everyone return in – I think an hour would work."
Marzai barked, "Adjourn! Return in an hour!"
Cassius, Zaraq, Yaxal, Beatrice, and Trinian were the only ones besides Suroxano left in the room. Trinian said, shaking his head, "I never knew. The captain of the Aurora, and I never knew. Bea, did you know?"
Bea asked, "How could I have known? Sure, we worked together most, but he didn't talk to me more than he talked to anyone else."
Suroxano chuckled as he laid some string out on the floor. "You all know that you keep secrets. And you are surprised that your comrades do the same? Oh, it's no wonder that I prefer my own company – we mortals do the silliest things when we're put together."
Cassius said, "I'll be back in an hour." He didn't want to stick around any longer – he needed to make a plan.
As he walked through the halls of the palace, not knowing where he was going and not caring, he didn't know how he was going to proceed. He knew that he wanted to stay in Eoxan-zortha and help in whatever little way he could. Such a beautiful place as this couldn't be allowed to be destroyed without someone having tried to fight for it. But it would be so much better if he could persuade everyone else to stay. Zaraq had his talents with explosives, Trinian was a good fighter, Bea was a great fighter, Yaxal was an ace pilot even if he tended to be bad with people, and it turned out that Jory was a living legend.
Old Jory – Jormund Steelclaw. That meant he was the same one who'd commandeered an entire space-pirate cruiser single-handed. He'd helped in every resistance against Sloth. All throughout the recent history of the space territories, he showed up – mostly fighting something several times his size all by himself. He'd been presumed dead, caught in an explosion that destroyed the Pirate King Xarrgra Zor-axa's asteroid palace.
Maybe Jory would help him convince the others. He was Jormund Steelclaw, after all. A man couldn't change that much – he would still want to fight for what was right. And if the others admired him now, perhaps he could convince them where Cassius couldn't.
How could he appeal to them? Rewards only went so far. Better natures - they had to have better natures under their cross-grained exteriors.
But he wasn't a speaker, and when the hour was past he was no closer to figuring out something inspirational. He wandered back to the council chamber with his tail dragging, rubbing the scar along his cheek with one of his paws.
He was just outside the door when someone grabbed his shoulder. He turned to see Jory looking more animated than he'd ever seen the old man. He hissed, "Cassius, you need to help me! We have to convince Trinian to stay in Eoxan-zortha!"
Cassius asked, "What's going on?"
Jory said, "Aside from the people who need our help, Zep just took me to visit the doctors. He can get me a new arm and a new leg. These I've got, they're ten years out of date. Zep'll get me the newest technology – I'll be practically good as new!" The Wocky's eyes shone.
Cassius didn't quite see what the problem was, but then Jory continued, "Your contract's different from mine, Cassius. You can jump ship any time you want. I was desperate when I signed on with the Aurora – unless I have the money to buy my contract back, if Trinian leaves I need to go with him, or I'll have the Virtupets police after me. Cassius, I can get my life back!"
That was when a gong rang inside – Jory shot the Xweetok a last imploring look, and they both went into the council chamber.
Everyone else seemed to be standing very close to the walls, and Cassius understood why. Suroxano had laid out an elaborate pattern in the floor in string, wire, and moondust, all with a crystal ball on a pedestal in the middle. He was murmuring something, and then he set his hand on the crystal.
A light flared up in the room, which then shaped itself into a transparent person – the Space Faerie! All of the nobility in the room bowed deep or curtseyed low, and Cassius followed their lead.
She said, voice echoing more than the room should have allowed for, "I know of the plight of Eoxan-zortha, though I had not realized it had become this dire. But I have been seeking for the amulet which contains Sloth – I am in a galaxy far away. I will return as quickly as I can. One thing only I can offer now – your princess is not in the hands of Jalitha. She is safe. She has her own purpose."
Cassius could hardly look away from the Space Faerie's ethereal form, but he saw Marzai slump against his podium in relief, and Kyrival's eyes shone.
And then the magic ceased, and Suroxano collapsed to the ground looking completely spent. The general helped him to his feet, and Trinian gestured to the crew of the Aurora to come join him as the others in the room began to disperse. Cassius's stomach sank – if Bea didn't shoot him, he'd consider this conversation a victory.
Jory said slowly to open the conversation, "My vote's for staying in Eoxan-zortha."
Cassius added quickly, "I'm staying no matter what the rest of you do."
Bea said, eyes narrowing, "I expect this sort of Fuzzles-for-brains nonsense out of Cassius, but you, Jory?"
Yaxal said, "I agree with Bea. Let's be sensible, here. All we'll do is get ourselves killed. Jory, are you really Jormund Steelclaw?"
Jory said softly, "I was. I haven't been. Jormund Steelclaw didn't keep to himself playing cards because he hated himself too much to face the worlds. But by fighting here – and by letting Zep help me get a new arm and leg – I can be Steelclaw again."
Zaraq said, "Which of us has something more important to do than help Jory? If you don't, I'm for staying here."
That meant the deciding vote went to Trinian. He was the captain – the others would have to stay or leave depending on his word. If only Cassius could read his expression behind his visor! He looked around at the group, and realized that Bea seemed to be struggling to keep her face set in its scowl. What was that behind the mask? Sadness? Fear?
Suroxano had referred to the warrior and the runaway. Since the warrior was clearly Jory, the runaway had to be Bea. And Cassius didn't want her to make them all run away from Eoxan-zortha when it could need them the most. He asked, "When's the last time we did something that mattered? Any of us? When's the last time that we looked out for someone besides ourselves? Look at us! We're a bunch of misfits who were on the Aurora because we had nowhere else to go! What if we helped the Zorthans? We'd be heroes – we'd finally have a place in the worlds where someone didn't think we were dirt underfoot! Come on, Trinian – you served under Commander Valka! He was all about fighting for people who couldn't fight for themselves! Isn't that what this is?"
Bea said, "It'd be a drop in the bucket, that's what it would be!"
Cassius said, "Jory's not a drop in the bucket – he's a whole additional tub of water. And at the very least, you should stay here for his sake, if not for your own."
Jory actually smiled at him when he said that – Cassius didn't know if he'd ever seen him smile before. Trinian said, "Very well."
Bea stood up and stalked over to Cassius, jamming her blaster into his chest. He took a breath and looked up at her, meeting her narrowed blue eyes. "Okay, Cassius, I'll stand and blast my way through as many wraiths as these people would like. But if this goes south, I'll either hunt you or haunt you – you have my word on that!"
To be continued...