StarCrossed Chapter 1


By Cain

Mystician Empire. Terrenus Solar-System. Terrenus VII. Trell City.

Year: 323 A.A. Month: 4. Day:15. Time: 13:25 P.M., Trell Standard Time

Tartingill was lost, and lost badly.

This was his first day in Trell City and, possibly, his last. Not that he was fortunate enough to be rescued from this place, oh no. It was more likely to be his last day of life. Already he had narrowly avoided being mugged and possibly killed, and he’d been made surprising offers ranging from drugs to sex to something called “gasoline”, and he was feeling altogether tired and disoriented. There were hardly any lights on in the entire city, presumably because nobody liked to look at their surroundings too closely. It wasn’t a city that appealed to the eyes. However, Tartingill would have gladly (well, not really gladly) endured the sight of the ugly city if it meant he wasn’t wandering alone and cold in a dark alley in a wrinkled and sooty business suit, trying to find a woman he’d never heard of before tonight.

He’d arrived at the one starport on this miserable planet and been flown by shuttle to this horrid city almost immediately. His innocent questions as to the character of his destination had mostly been laughed at, and he’d even heard a few of his fellow passengers on the shuttle jokingly making wagers as to how long he’d survive in Trell City. Tartingill, having been raised in a fairly civilized area of Mysticia, had become rather worried at the picture he’d been getting of his destination, and had asked a relatively friendly co-pilot if there was anything he needed to know if he wanted to survive in the city.

“Keep your head down,” was the co-pilot’s main piece of advice. “Once you’ve settled down to your job, you should get the hang of it. What’s your job going to be, by the way?” After Tartingill revealed that he was a Tax Collector, the co-pilot had taken a long look at him, and written a name on a piece of paper. “Find her,” he ordered grimly. “You’ll need her. And for your sake, I hope you’re not staying long.”

Once Tartingill had successfully deciphered the man’s sloppy handwriting, he could see that Crystal McKenna’s Protection Agency was written on the piece of paper. There was no phone number or address, or even a tip on how to find the woman, just the four words. Tartingill had tried to get the co-pilot to elaborate once the shuttle landed, but people had been so willing to get out of the shuttle and into some (relatively) fresh air that they’d literally pushed and pulled him outside with them, and the shuttle had taken off before it could be spray-painted or, just as probably, bombed.

His fellow passengers had not, of course, been interested in helping him find this woman, assuming it even was a woman. If it was unrelated to money, rest, or more money, nobody had been interested in helping him out. He’d tried to ask around the city, but this had actually resulted in him nearly getting stabbed, an experience he was quite unused to. He’d considered using his powerful Mystic magic on some thugs who pushed him around a bit, but had promptly remembered that he had no powerful Mystic magic. He’d always been more interested in studying other, more physical subjects in college, such as math or women. That in mind, he used what magic he had to create an illusion of himself and ran away as quickly as possible. The thugs soon figured out that it was an illusion, since it didn’t whine or plead as he had, but by then he was long gone.

He was certainly glad that, assuming he survived the night, he’d be leaving in a month, though he would rather have left much sooner. He’d always wanted to work for the Mystician Empire, but he had never expected to become a Tax Collector. It wasn’t a very popular job, to put it simply. Tartingill would have wagered that the average Tax Collector in Trell City had the life expectancy of a mayfly. Which would explain the rather exorbitant sum he was being paid for one month’s work. There was always a catch.

Tartingill stiffened. He’d heard something behind him. He found himself quietly whining and made himself stop it. He listened, but heard nothing further. He looked around, but saw only darkness. He took a deep breath and decided to find somewhere to sleep, even if it was a cardboard box. Or even somewhere... disreputable. He was starting to regret having refused all of those offers from women who seemed nice enough, if a little suspicious-looking.

He didn’t have time to make good on this new course of action, though, because he turned a corner and ran straight into a brick wall. He fell roughly to the ground and looked up at the unexpected wall, only to realize that the light of the moon was shining down, not on a wall, but on a wall-like man, who looked none too happy at having been run into. In fact, he didn’t look much like he was ever happy about anything. Except perhaps money. Behind the wall-like man were several less wall-like people. Tartingill would have guessed that they were all men, but with miners it was safer not to make assumptions.

“Well, hi, there,” the man greeted Tartingill with some false warmth. His eyes, however, looked as if they didn’t know what the word “warmth” meant.

“Uh... hi...” Tartingill managed feebly. “How... you doing?”

The wall-like man looked as if he might crack a smile, but decided firmly against it. “I was doing just fine until you ran into me. I don’t pertickly appreciate that, ya know?”

Tartingill gulped. “Uh... sorry. I was just... trying to find... I’m lost, you see, and-“

The man chuckled, and Tartingill didn’t go on. “Lost? You shoulda just given up when the sun went down, ya know? ‘S dangerous in Trell at night. Some unsavory characters around.” One of the people behind him suddenly burst out in high-pitched laughter, but a glance from the man silenced him or her. He continued, “And you jest met a few of ‘em.”

Tartingill’s shoulders slumped. This was a turn of events he would have preferred to miss out on. “Sorry I bumped into you... Is there... any way I can make it up?”

The man seemed genuinely surprised at the offer. “You always give up that easy?” When Tartingill didn’t have any response, the man continued, “What’s in the briefcase?”

Tartingill blinked. There were only official papers in his briefcase, and he told them so. The wall-like man, however, seemed unsure, and some of his companions seemed homicidal. “Papers, my ass!”, “He’s gotta have somethin’ in there!”, and “I say we see for ourselves,” were a few of the less obscene things they said on the subject, and the man, who was obviously their leader, thought the matter over carefully. He was big and brutish, but he didn’t seem stupid.

“Arright. You look honest enough. But you’ve got money, though.” It wasn’t a question.

Tartingill sighed, and reached into his pocket. He reached as deep as he could, but all he found was empty space. His eyes widened, and he dropped his suitcase, reaching into his other pocket. It, too, was empty. He gathered his courage and calmly, reasonably, tried to explain that his pocket had apparently been picked at some time during his time in the city. This, of course, didn’t go over well with the man and his companions, and they soon expressed their displeasure by grabbing him and pulling him into the alley to join them. He landed flat on his butt, and closed his eyes. This was not looking to be a good night.

“How do ya get this open?” the wall-like man asked Tartingill. Tartingill shrugged and, resignedly, told them that the key had been in his wallet and the briefcase was designed to be tamper-proof. He only had a chance to raise up his hands to protect his face as the tamper-proof briefcase flew at his head, rebounding from his hand painfully to smash into some non-tamper-proof trash cans. He’d managed to avoid having his eye knocked out, but in a moment the wall-like man had Tartingill by the collar and slammed the unfortunate Mystic against one of the alley walls, knocking some other trash-cans out of the way in the process.

“Okay,” the man continued, rather calmly. “Stop screwin’ around and give us your money. Or tell us where and when we can pick it up. We’re not above breaking a few bones, ya know.”

“Yeah, like you broke your skull,” a woman’s voice called. The wall-like man, Tartingill, and all of the thugs turned their heads to look at the far end of the alley. There was a figure standing there, thin and female, but other details were unclear in the shadows.

The wall-like man frowned. “If I remember correckly, you broke it for me.”

The woman chuckled. “Somebody had to. Now put him down, Gaje.”

The wall-like man, Gaje, screwed up his face. “Come on, Crys. We’re low on cash, ya know? Besides, this jack-ass started it.”

“Don’t be stupid,” the woman responded, stepping forward so that Tartingill could get his first look at her, though the moonlight didn’t reveal much through her trench-coat. She was thin, and shapely, if the trench-coat hadn’t thoroughly misled him. Her coat’s right arm was sewn up at the elbow, as if she were missing everything from the elbow to the hand. However, despite this handicap, she didn’t look afraid of Gaje or his cohorts. “You don’t even know who this guy is, do you?”

Gaje blinked. “An’ you do?”

“I make it my business to know,” Crys responded. “And if you had three brain cells, you’d realize he’s a Mystic. He just arrived in town today.”


“I swear, Gaje, you were born with more biceps than brains, you know that?” the woman responded, exasperated. Gaje, unsure as to whether or not to take that as a compliment, remained silent as she continued, “He doesn’t have any cash! All he has, if he hasn’t had his pocket picked already, are some credits.”

Gaje turned to look at Tartingill. “This true?” Tartingill nodded, and tried to explain that he hadn’t yet had time to exchange for whatever the currency was around here, but Gaje ignored him. “Damn.” The wall-like man dropped Tartingill, and the Mystic was extremely relieved. “Get outta here.”

Tartingill obliged, and tried to run from the alley as quickly as possible, but he was grabbed on the way out by the woman. Her one hand held him as firmly as Gaje had. She continued, “You really need to stop picking on people, Gaje. One of these days, you’re going to go too far, and then you’ll either end up sleeping with the Adamantine or making new and interesting friends in an interplanetary prison.”

“You can’t talk to our boss like that!” A high-pitched voice wailed from among Gaje’s comrades. The owner of the voice was tall, with short red hair, but so thin as to erase any sign of masculinity or femininity from his body. His face, with a weak beard, provided the only evidence of his gender. Gaje turned to the gang-member, his expression smoldering, but the thug didn’t seem to notice. “Teach this bitch a lesson, boss!” Gaje suddenly straightened as if somebody had kicked him from behind. He slowly turned to look at Crys.

She raised a delicate eyebrow. “What did you just say?” By her calm tone, she might not actually have heard him.

The high-voiced thug began to notice that nobody was backing him up. The other thugs were slowly backing away from him, and Gaje was simply standing still as if afraid to move. Nonetheless, the thug decided that bravado would win out in the end. “You heard me. Now get outta here, before I decide to teach you to respect your betters.”

Gaje closed his eyes. “Crys, he’s a new guy. He-”

“Shut up, Gaje,” the woman replied. There was no anger in her voice, but no fear, either. Only... self-assurance? “So, you’re going to teach me a lesson, Prae?”

The thug jerked back in surprise. “How... how did you know my name?”

She smiled, and released Tartingill. In the sudden tension, he hadn’t realized that her grip was starting to hurt his arm. He considered leaving now, but the coincidence of it all was too obvious. A mysterious woman rescues him, named Crys? Too convenient. He was pretty sure he’d found the woman for whom he’d been looking.

She didn’t look back to see whether he was leaving or not. She knew. “You shouldn’t threaten ladies, Prae. Especially not this lady. Would you like to teach me my lesson now, or later?”

Prae glanced around nervously. Something was weird here. His fellow gang-members were standing out of the way. The woman didn’t appear armed. Prae looked to Gaje for some indication of what to do, but the wall-like man simply shook his head and stepped out of the way. Prae looked back at Crys, but she was standing with the impatient air of somebody waiting on a train. He didn’t know what was going on, but Prae decided he sure as hell wasn’t going to just walk away when she’d just challenged him.

As confidently as he could, Prae walked up to the woman and looked her up and down, trying to give the impression that he wasn’t impressed. Her expression didn’t change one way or another. Prae blinked uncertainly. She shouldn’t have been so confident.

Abruptly she sighed. “Come on, Prae. I don’t have all night. So either hit me, or go home.”

This challenge thoroughly confused Prae, and he shook his head as if trying to figure out what was going on. Frowning, he turned around, and began to walk away, until he realized what he had just done. She had just challenged him, and he was walking away? His teeth bared in anger, he spun and threw his fist at her mouth.

Prae was thrown completely off balance when her hand came up and slapped his bony, but big, fist aside. He stumbled, and nearly bowled into her, but she simply stepped to the side, allowing him to fall to the ground. “Is that it?” Crys asked, bored.

Outraged, Prae jumped up, turned, and leaped at her. His tackle was brought up short by the woman’s knee slamming into his chest. Prae stumbled backwards, trying to catch his breath. Crys, on the other hand, stood as straight as if she had never moved in the first place. Finally, Prae caught his breath. By the way he was standing, he considered Crys a serious threat. Surprisingly, he smiled, and charged again.

The woman didn’t even bother hitting him this time; she simply spun on one foot out of his path. Prae stumbled to a halt, and let out an oath of surprise. He turned around to see Crys dropping a knife into a pocket of her trenchcoat. Tartingill could only assume, by Prae’s expression, that the weapon had been in the thug’s possession only a moment ago. Prae’s eyes took on a hunted look, darting back and forth in the moonlight (or maybe he was still dizzy from trying to catch his breath). This was no ordinary woman. Tartingill could see Prae considering whether he might not be able to get away.

She didn’t give him a chance.

The woman simply stepped forward and casually punched him in the face. Prae fell against the alley wall, but Crys grabbed him by the collar and lifted him back to his feet. Prae stared at her with real fear now, as she looked into his eyes. She shook her head, as if disappointed. “A knife. You couldn’t afford a short sword, or a black market gun? I won’t even get fifty for pawning this piece of junk.”

Prae didn’t have a chance to respond before she hauled him up into the air as if he weighed nothing. “This,” she calmly told him, “is for calling me a bitch,” and she slammed him into one of the alley walls. Then she slammed him against the other one. “That was for pulling a knife on me,” she said. Finally, she threw him among his comrades, knocking over several who were too slow. “And that was for that ugly beard you’re trying to grow.”

Prae lay in a state of near-unconsciousness, nursing a broken nose, but Crys was already walking away, leading Tartingill into the night. As Tartingill followed her, he thought he heard Prae mutter one final broken-nosed “Bidge!” before collapsing.


Time: 13:32 P.M.

“Don’t I know you?” Tartingill asked as he and the mysterious heroine walked along in the dark. Now that he had somebody with him, the dark didn’t seem quite so oppressive. Besides, she did look familiar. “Have I met you somewhere?”

“You should know me. You’ve been looking for me all over the city. There’s not a single mugger out there that doesn’t know you exist.”

Tartingill nodded. This was probably true. He’d asked everybody he met, until he started getting threats, and even then he’d asked relatively harmless-looking people. “Yes, I supposed you were Crystal McKenna. But you look familiar. Are you a Mystic? Maybe I know your family.”

“I’m human,” Crystal responded. “At least, I think so.” She reached into her trenchcoat and pulled something out. Without looking back, she tossed it to him.

Tartingill fumbled with it, trying hard not to drop it, but he eventually got it still and looked at it. It was a wallet. He squinted. It was a very nice wallet. He opened it up and saw an I.D. “Hey! This is mine!”

“You catch on quick. You ever consider becoming a detective?”

Tartingill was too confused to catch her sarcasm. “But... how’d you get it? Did you find the pick-pocket?”

Crystal shook her head. “Oh, come on, Gill. You can’t be that dense.”

Tartingill blinked at the nickname, but also at a realization. “You picked my pocket!”

“If you were any sharper, you’d be a spoon, Gill.”

“But... but why?” Tartingill was flabbergasted, and in fact stopped in the street for a moment, until he realized that she wasn’t going to slow down, and had to hurry in order to catch up with her again.

“I was testing you,” Crystal replied, as if explaining that the sky was green (on Terrenus VII, it was). “I wanted to see when you’d notice. The fact that you didn’t notice until you were about to have your face rearranged wasn’t encouraging. You really will need my help.”

Tartingill looked up from his wallet. “Hey, I’m missing twenty credits!”

Crystal shrugged. “Finder’s fee.”

“Finders fee!? You stole it!”

Crystal rounded on him suddenly, and he had to pull up short or run into her. “Alright, then, how about the ‘just saved your ass five minutes ago’ fee?” she responded irritably.

Tartingill winced. She had a point. But she didn’t belabor the point, instead turning around. She walked on, and left Tartingill to follow or not. He followed.


Time: 14:04 P.M.

Tartingill had to blink sleep from his eyes as he walked. “How long are the nights here, anyway? Is it winter?”

Crystal shook her head. “Thirty-hour day. It’s an hour ‘til midnight.”

He absorbed this in silence, and continued to follow her. However, in about two minutes he hit his toe and nearly tripped. He looked down, and found that he was standing in front of a short set of steps leading up to a door. He looked back up to see Crystal unlocking the door and walking in. He quickly followed her in, and blinked in surprise at the vision that assaulted his sleep-deprived eyes.

Stuffed toys. Lots of them. Literally dozens, maybe even a hundred. Fuzzy bears, cuddly puppies, playful kittens, something he supposed was a Raccoon (an animal not native to Mysticia), and even a jelly-filled sac that was apparently supposed to be an amoeba, or maybe a giant Mystician slime. A refrigerator was in the corner, covered with adorable little magnets, all of some little large-eyed child or kitten or something equally loveable. Here and there were scattered shirts or pants, often fuzzy, not to mention too small for any humanoid to wear comfortably. The couch was green and red, in such a way as to suggest that it was a Venus’ flytrap in disguise.

Crystal stared hard at him, waiting for him to say something. When he finally smiled and shrugged as if saying “I’ve seen worse,” she sighed. “This is my roommate’s. I live on the second floor.”

Tartingill nodded, relieved. He’d hate to have a bodyguard that loved stuffed animals. Crystal took off her coat, threw it among the other clothes strewn along the floor, and walked to the refrigerator, completely ignoring the magnets. Tartingill used the chance to get a good look at her in the light.

Now that she had taken off her coat, Tartingill could see that she was indeed very nicely shaped. Thin, lithely muscular, with multicolored (ranging from red to blue, and everything in between) hair cut short at the shoulders. She wore a very simple greyish-blue outfit, one he assumed that all miners wore. It consisted of a shirt that would have hung to her knees if she hadn’t tucked it in, and long-legged pants. Her left sleeve was ripped at the elbow, leaving her forearm unprotected, and her right sleeve was folded at the elbow, so that her half-an-arm was kept from all scrutiny.

Her face drew most of the attention from her arm, though for different reasons. Her face wasn’t especially clean, but it was extremely well-shaped, the kind of face that Tartingill usually saw in some of his dreams. Her eyes were violet, and he was unable to read anything from them. All in all, her face was... regal. He considered telling her so, but figured that she already knew. Plus, he didn’t want this to get personal. She was his bodyguard. Maybe she’d do a little more than guard my body, he thought, but firmly put a stop to those thoughts. Survival was more important than sex. If he ever met her again on another planet, maybe...

He blinked again. “You!” Crystal turned around, looking only slightly surprised at the outburst. “You’re... you’re...”

Crystal rolled her eyes. “Oh. The hooker. Yeah, that was me.”

Tartingill winced. “I was going to say ‘Lady of the Evening’, but yes, that’s what I meant. You’re the one I met on the street.” She’d hidden her arm and worn something so wispy and thin and tight that he’d completely forgotten to look at her face for more than a second. “So, you work... two jobs, eh?”

Crystal stared at him for a moment before putting her hand to her mouth. Her shoulders started shaking, and Tartingill thought for a moment that he must have somehow made her start to cry and maybe these dolls were hers, and maybe she wasn’t such a great bodyguard-

Crystal burst into hysterical laughter. It was as if he’d just made the funniest joke in the world. She laughed so hard that she had to lean against the adorably decorated refrigerator. She finally ground to a halt, but the smile on her face transformed her in a wonderful manner. She no longer seemed harsh and tough, a child of the streets. She now seemed to have some memory of happiness in her eyes, which were not so impenetrable anymore.

“That was your pick-up line?” She asked, and Tartingill turned bright red. “You want to sleep with me, and that’s the best you do?” She shook her head, still smiling, and turned to rummage through the refrigerator. “Hell, no, I’m not a hooker. If you’ve got to know, and you probably won’t give up until you do know, I was looking for you. I’d gotten a tip from a friend at the shuttle drop-off that you’d be looking for me. While you were so fascinated with looking down the dress I borrowed from my roommate, I picked your pocket, though you probably thought I was trying to do something else to you.”

Tartingill tried very, very hard not to look disappointed. He wouldn’t have paid for her services. Of course not. He was a gentleman, and he was simply curious as to what she did in her spare time. He looked disappointed.

Crystal stood up and swallowed something she’d eaten straight out of the fridge. She wiped her mouth and leaned against the refrigerator again. Her smile was now nothing more than the sides of her mouth rising very slightly. “So. Since you don’t have your own place yet, where do you want to sleep?”

“What do you have?”

“Well, there’s the couch here,” she gestured to the green and red monstrosity. Tartingill grimaced, and Crystal told him, “It’s more comfortable than it looks.”

Tartingill remained unconvinced, and said so. “What’s that room?” he asked. He pointed to a door that had a sign tacked to it that said “Candy” in big, blocky letters.

“That’s Candy’s room,” Crystal replied. “My roommate. You can sleep there if you want, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The last guy who decided to sleep in her room got a warm welcome. Warm, wet, and sticky.”


“Yeah. She threw up on him and passed out. If she’s not drunk, you might get a hug and a heart-felt welcome to our ‘fair city,’ but I wouldn’t take the chance if I were you. And finally, there’s my bedroom.” She pointed towards a set of stairs in one corner of the room, right by the front door.

Tartingill raised an eyebrow. “Your bedroom?”

Crystal nodded. “That’s what you want?” Tartingill didn’t immediately say “no,” so she continued. “Great. I’ll sleep on the couch, then. I told you it was more comfortable than it looked. My bed’s hard as a rock.” She dropped to the couch. “Sleep tight, and don’t make a mess.”


Time: 14:17 P.M.

Tartingill climbed the last step and turned on a nearby light switch to get a better view of his surroundings. This room was much more like he’d expected from Crystal. Her warning not to make a mess could only have been a joke, because the room was as messy as rooms got.

There were weights scattered around the room, as well as random t-shirts, pants ranging from shorts to jeans, and some pillows with frills around them. It occurred to him that these might be gifts from Candy, but somehow he doubted it. A woman needs frilly pillows, bodyguard or not.

There were also pictures up on the walls. Some were pencil sketches, some were paintings, and some were black-and-whites, done in a method he’d only seen in museums. Something to do with an old fuel, Coal. Most of them seemed to be either action scenes or portraits, apparently of people she knew. One was of a pale Mystic man with long blue hair. He appeared in several battle scenes, wielding, of all things, a scythe. There were also scenes of a spike-haired man, a woman with glasses, an oddly-designed mec, and others. Most of the pictures, though, were of one man. The length of his hair changed from picture to picture, and so did a few of his facial features, like a scar on his right cheek, but he was always blond, and his green eyes could always be seen. There wasn’t a single portrait of him. They were all action pictures.

After having looked at all of the art, obviously all done by Crystal, he looked around a little more. The bed did indeed look hard as a rock. In fact, it didn’t look like she ever actually slept in it. She probably always slept on the couch, and tricked everybody into sleeping in her bed. There was also a safe with an extraordinarily complex-looking lock. In a place like this, it was probably necessary.

A crash from below made him flinch. Fearing trouble, he hurried to the top of the stairs, only to see the door slam shut. A beautiful woman with long black hair was trying to stand still in the entrance. She was trying, because she was obviously very drunk. She ended up leaning against the closed door. “Hay, Cryss,” she slurred. “Yurr uplate.”

“Nothing gets past you, Candy.” Tartingill couldn’t see Crystal from his vantage point, but he could tell her expression was sarcastic.

Candy, however, smiled. “I told you before, I’m a geenius.” She made a gesture with her hand, but what it was meant to be, nobody could say. “You’d have to get up pritty urly to slip sum’n past me.” She belched softly, and giggled. “But you don’t get up early.”

Crystal came into Tartingill’s view, and took Candy by the shoulders. Slowly, she led the drunken beauty out of view, towards her own room. “Yeah, I know. But, uh, keep it down, okay? We’ve got a guest upstairs.”

“You mean... there’s a guy up there? In your room? Way to go!” Candy shouted before Crystal could have gotten her to the door.

Crystal sighed. “He’s a client, Can. You should know better than that.”

“Crys, you know I’m only looking out for ya, right?” Candy asked. Crystal must have made some sort of gesture of agreement, because she continued, “Good. You need to trust me. You’re not happy. I am. You know why?”

“Now’s not the time, Can-“

”Because you never get any!” Candy shouted. “I mean, you’re almost as pretty as I am. If I were a man, I’d jump on you like... like... well, I’d jump on you. No, let me finish.” Crystal let out a sigh, but Candy kept on going. “You’re too uptight. You need to loosen up. There are plenty of big, muscalur men in Trell. Just walk up to one, and say-”

”That’s enough!” Crystal interrupted, exasperated. “Damn it, Can, it’s none of your business what I do or don’t do enough of. Go to bed.” Candy tried to reply, but Crystal repeated her order, and Tartingill heard the sound of Candy’s door slamming.

Tartingill waited a moment, but finally decided he should just go to bed. It was hard as a rock, but he slept like one, too.


Month: 4. Day: 16. Time: 10:00 A.M.

Tartingill awoke to a quiet hiss. He’d slept in his business suit, so it looked a little wrinkled, but he didn’t change. He didn’t think it would make much of a difference to his bodyguard or her roommate how he looked. Still, he decided to check himself out in a nearby mirror, if only to check on his hair.

His hair was fine, in a way; it didn’t look more messy than usual. It was white hair, and stuck out in all directions anyway. He was a Mystic of the Tareole family, and white hair ran in it. So did white irises. So also did Human-shaded skin, so he supposed a Human would look like him if his hair were bleached and he wore white contact lenses. He wasn’t particularly muscular, or fat. He was ordinary. His face was unremarkable, perfect for the thankless profession of Tax Collector. He thought it was handsome enough, with its strong jawline and straight nose. Like most Mystics, though, he wasn’t particularly hairy. This wasn’t a trait he missed, just one that he noticed, especially in a city mostly full of humans. Of course, he’d pass for Human if you didn’t know what to look for, and in fact he could have a child by a Human, if he so wished. He didn’t, but it was nice to know there was something to fall back on if he couldn’t settle down with a nice Mystic girl. His parents would have heart-attacks again, (between them they’d had about seven, without sign of slowing down) but he could live with that if they could. And they could.

Tartingill had never really compared himself to Humans before. He’d grown up in Mysticia, part of an influential Mystic family. True, there were Humans on Mysticia, but they usually kept their heads down, and worked odd jobs, like gardeners and mechanics. Here on Terrenus VII, though, things were different. Humans were the majority on this world, not the minority. True, the city officials were Mystic, but they comprised about two percent of the population.

Tartingill was very curious about Humans. All of his life, he’d heard many things about them, but he wasn’t sure what to believe. That Humans were more violent than Mystics was obvious, and made sense since Humans didn’t live long enough to really value life. Humans reached middle age in less than half a century on normal-gravity planets. Mystics, on the other hand could live anywhere from two to six centuries, depending largely on how much magic they used during their lifetime. As rarely as Tartingill used magic, he supposed his life span would be around two-hundred-fifty years, unless he took some Ether Control classes. He frowned. He’d never really thought about old age before. Being around Humans could lead to morbid thoughts.

Tartingill himself was seventy-eight years old according to Mysticia’s yearly cycle. This translated (he believed) to about twenty-five years old for a Human. A thought leapt to his mind, of a story his grandfather had once told him, of a time when Humans were allowed to learn magic, when they could live as long as (or longer than) Mystics. Nobody had believed him, of course, but Tartingill couldn’t help but wonder. Humans, living six-hundred, seven-hundred years? Seven centuries to squabble amongst themselves, using magic to wage their wars. If they had once used magic, the Empire was probably safer now that they couldn’t. As a weapon, magic was too dangerous a weapon to put in any hands but a Mystic’s.

Abandoning these speculations, Tartingill descended the stairs, and was pleasantly surprised to find Crystal, who hadn’t changed during the night either, cooking breakfast. She nodded at the couch and Tartingill sat down on it, clearing some junk from the semi-circular table, conveniently placed a foot away from the couch. One object caught his eye, though. It was round and shiny. He picked it up. It looked to be glass, and... He chuckled. It was a fake eye-ball. He shook his head, wondering where Crystal and her roommate had come across something like this, and why they’d kept it.

“I’d wash my hands before I eat if I were you,” Crystal told him, walking up to sit beside him on the couch, setting a plate down in front of him with hastily cooked bacon and eggs.

Tartingill was about to tell her that of course he’d wash his hands, but then he got a look at her face. It was different from the night before. Her right eye was covered by an eye-patch. “What happened to your eye?” he blurted out, baffled.

Crystal looked up from her food just long enough to say, “Guess,” and continued eating.

Tartingill blinked. Guess? How would he know what happened to her... He glanced at his own hand. “Ugh!” he shouted, and threw the glass eye away from him, across the room. It hit a wall with a thunk. He quickly started rubbing his hand on his hip.

“Told you you’d want to wash your hands. Before you do, though, go pick it up. I’m going to need to put it in before I go to work.”

Crystal seemed completely unperturbed by the fact that her eye had been thrown against a wall.

Tartingill grimaced, but got up and began to look for the small orb. He soon found it, but it appeared to be broken in half. It lay in two hollow hemispheres, as if cracked along an invisible seam. A small nugget of silvery metal lay between the two pieces. He leaned down to pick up the nugget, but quickly drew back his fingers and stuck them in his mouth. That metal was hot!

He squatted down to get a better look. Either the two broken pieces just happened to land on either side of the small nugget, which was unlikely to say the least, or the nugget had been hidden inside the hollow eye. Why in the world Crystal would want to hide a nugget in her own glass eye was beyond him, unless... “Crystal,” he called. “Where do you work? You’re not a full-time bodyguard?”

Crystal stopped eating for a moment. “I’m a miner. And no, I’m not full-time. Nobody needs full-time protection, unless they’re real important, and then they’d be paying more than you. Don’t worry though. You’ll be alright alone here until you find your own place, which I hope is very soon. If you don’t move out, Candy might take it upon herself to play match-maker.”

Tartingill frowned. She was a miner? “What do you mine?”

“What is this, an interrogation? You gonna eat your breakfast or not?” Crystal asked, annoyed. “If you don’t, Candy’ll get to it.” Tartingill tried to mumble some sort of apology, which seemed to earn Crystal’s indulgence. “I mine Adamantine ore.”

Tartingill nodded to himself. He flicked the nugget again, and it still felt hot, although the carpet suffered no burn. He tapped his magic briefly, just enough to get a look at the nugget through the Ether. It was completely dark. No magic flowed through it, or even near it. It was a dark zone. Which would explain why it burned a Mystic. The question was, what was it doing in her eye?

The answer suggested itself immediately, for Tartingill, who had both an eye for making money and a good memory. This Adamantine, though he’d never heard of it, was obviously a magic-resistant metal. Such a metal was probably resistant to most types of energy. It would be very useful to the Empire or to anybody who wanted it, and it would probably fetch a high price on whatever Black Market there was around here. Tartingill had heard before coming to Trell that miners were watched like hawks, and were even given cavity searches, just to avoid any theft. But who would suspect hiding something in a glass eye? Tartingill himself hadn’t been able to see anything odd about her eye when she was wearing it, and those who did notice it probably wouldn’t think of it as a feasible hiding-place. It was brilliant.

And illegal. Tartingill’s first instinct was to confront Crystal, and say something along the lines of “Don’t you know better? Give this back right now, young lady.” This, of course, was a bad idea, but no other idea immediately suggested itself. If he ratted on her, he’d be short a bodyguard. If he told her he knew, he’d be short a bodyguard, and possibly have a new enemy besides. He certainly didn’t want Crystal McKenna for an enemy.

In the end, he decided to put off the decision, and picked up one of the halves of the eye. With it, he scooped up the nugget, and put the two halves together. With a slight twist, they were joined again, and he couldn’t tell they’d ever been separated. He picked it up, and glanced over to see if Crystal had noticed something odd about his hesitation. But no, she was absorbed in her food. Tartingill carried the eye to the sink in the kitchen, and as he washed it, Candy’s door opened.

She was still beautiful, though obviously hung-over, and obviously only Human. Her long, dark hair hung around her pretty and heart-shaped face, with its small nose and mouth, and big eyes. The hair was cut so that it hung down exactly low enough to reach her breasts, obviously to draw attention to them. She didn’t look to have changed her clothes since the last night, but the rumpled t-shirt and faded jeans made her look somewhat... wild. She saw him, and smiled blearily at him. Her eyes, though muddled, were green.

Then she noticed the breakfast already cooked, and forgot all about him. She jumped over the back of the couch, and joined her roommate. Tartingill frowned as she began to tear into his breakfast, moaning joyfully about eggs, but his mind was too preoccupied with the glass eye in his hand to care too much about the loss of the cold bacon and eggs. Crystal had not been overly nice to him, but she had protected him when nobody else would have. On the other hand, she was a thief, and he was an agent, however low on the ladder, of the Mystician Empire.

What he wouldn’t realize until much, much later, was that this decision would affect the course of events in the Galaxy for centuries to come. His decision would save countless millions, or destroy untold millions. Yet the thing he worried about most was whether or not he’d ever see her smile again.

“Oh, how I rue the day I discovered that nugget. And yet, if I hadn’t, I would have still been a lowly Tax Collector. Am I happier, now? Maybe. Maybe not...”
-The Tartingill Manifesto

Chapter 2

Cain's Fanfiction