Here is a story by Richard Berrigan. It’s a bit older and doesn’t necessarily reflect the current version of Jack that he’s working on now. Your thoughts are welcome!
THOSE WHO TRUST THE STARS
By Richard Berrigan Jr.
Jack’s teeth grinded together.
He threw the doors open, and the people in the office craned their necks towards him, sitting up like dogs that had heard their names called. Each of them had a startled look: the raven-haired noble wearing the blue frockcoat and an assortment of gaudy rings, the plump middle-aged woman with stacks of papers in her lap, and Mayor Jetta herself.
Jetta’s red hair was pulled back into a ponytail. She wore a dark purple coatiehardie and sat at a massive oaken desk that was neatly organized. Bookshelves stood against the far wall, and the eight foot by eight foot window behind her gave her a prized view of Capitol City’s sprawling gables and orange and yellow treetops. Her violet eyes narrowed slightly, and she folded her hands together in front of her lips.
“Guildmaster Windsword, and Alusus. To what do I owe this honor, gentlemen?”
“You care to explain what’s going on here?” Jack thundered.
“I’m having a meeting. Mayors do that, sometimes.”
Jack dismissed the remark with a wave of his arm. The middle-aged woman flinched. “You know what I’m talking about. I just got word from Alusus that you’re giving those thirty acres of land out in Maple Field to him.” Jack pointed at the noble, who now reclined in his plush arm chair, grinning.
Alusus crossed his arms. “We were under the impression that you were going to give the land to us, Madam Mayor.”
“It’s my land. I can do with it what I please.”
“You went back on your word,” Jack accused.
Jetta perked an eyebrow and shrugged. She leaned back in her chair. “I said I could give it to you. But now I’m giving it to him because Baron Ponitus offered me something that you can’t.”
“What?” Jack asked.
“Money!” Ponitus laughed.
Alusus muttered an oath and put his hands on his hips.
“Ten crowns worth,” Jetta added.
Jack crossed his arms and narrowed his flinty brown eyes. “You know the Hunter’s Guild needs that land.”
“There is other land I could give you.”
“No. We need those acres and you know it. It’s barely within a mile of the city. My hunters need training grounds and space to build a prison that’s still close enough so we can be here fast if there’s trouble. We need it. And the city needs us. But you’re going to give us the shaft for ten grand?”
“The city does need your guild, Jack. But the city also needs money.”
“It has enough.”
Jetta offered a snide, airy laugh. “Consider this. Your guild protects this city from wizards, cults, demons, monsters, and all that lovely business. But do you protect them from themselves?” Jetta rose from her desk and turned to the window, leaning towards the pane and gazing out at the horizon. “There are at least ten thousand people in this city who are starving, Jack. And they cause the majority of standard crime. Remember what that is? It’s what your guild doesn’t deal with. But commerce will generate jobs for needy people, which will drastically reduce the crime and decay of my city. Baron Ponitus has offered to buy the land and turn it into a commerce area.”
Ponitus cleared his throat and turned over a glinting coin in his fingers as he spoke. “Yes. I have plans to begin a large business operation. I’m going to set up trading outposts, restaurants, smithies, and coaching services. And I’m not going to use workers from the guilds to run them. I’m going to use free agents. Risky, I know.”
“So you see, Jack,” Jetta continued. “Ponitus is offering something you can’t offer. Yes. We need your protection. But we need more than that.”
Jack put his hands on his hips and shifted his weight to one leg as he looked to his partner. Alusus just shrugged his armored shoulders. What was there to say?
“I—I have a suggestion,” the middle aged woman spoke up in a squeaky voice. Jetta and Ponitus drilled incredulous stares into her like hungry falcons, and she shrank under their gazes. But when her eyes met Jack’s inquisitive stare, her cheeks flushed. She stared at him for an awkward moment. At last, she broke her stare and looked down, shuffling the stack of files and papers in her lap. “Forgive me. I spoke out of turn.”
“Indeed,” Ponitus growled. “I swear upon my ex-wife’s grave, the only thing you’re worth is your weight, Bimi!”
“I’m sorry, Lord Ponitus.”
“As always.” He waved his hand at her and looked away, disgusted. He looked at Jetta and added, “My ex-wife’s sister. I promised her before she passed that Bimi would always have work—you know how it goes.”
Jetta nodded absently while she studied Bimi.
Ponitus rose with a grunt. He straightened and smoothed his coat, tucking his coin into his pocket while absently fishing for his pocket watch. “Perhaps we’ll take our leave, m’lady. I think we’ve already covered everything of key importance—you do have the handouts I gave you, yes?”
“Bimi!” Ponitus hissed. “Give her the paperwork.”
“I’m sorry,” Bimi said, flustered. She fished through the papers and folders and slapped some more papers on Jetta’s desk. “I thought I’d already given—”
“Well we both know what happens when you attempt to think, don’t we?” Ponitus grumbled as he stepped away from the chairs and made way for the doors. He looked back at the mayor. “If you have any questions, send a runner.” He bowed. “Till the next!” Ponitus opened the doors and shoved through them; Bimi clumsily caught one of them as they fell closed behind the baron. While clutching a messy stack of papers to her chest, she squeezed through the doors, but not before casting one more flushed smile back at Jack.
Jack gestured to Alusus, and his partner nodded back and left the room, closing the doors behind him.
Jetta stepped around her desk and leaned against its edge, arms folded. “I’m surprised little Kimmy let you out of the house today.”
Jack wheeled towards her and spoke in a hushed, angry voice. “Cut the crap, Jetta. We both know why you cheated me out of that land, and I’m getting sick of it. This has to stop.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“This isn’t the first time you’ve denied my office funding. I can count at least two other times in the last year you’ve done that, and I know why. It’s time for you to grow up and get over your heartache. Just because I dumped y—”
“Oh that’s preposterous!” Jetta tossed her arms in the air. “I had a very legitimate business reason to sell that land!”
“Bull!” Jack shouted. He quickly closed the gap between them. “You could have given him all of Cedar Acres! You only gave him that land because I wanted it.”
Jetta’s lidded eyes studied Jack’s chest.
“Ponitus got the land because he made me an offer. You haven’t got ten crowns…” She ogled his pecs and swept his whole body with her appreciative gaze. “But you could still make me an offer. You’ve got something that Ponitus can’t give…”
Jack grunted and crossed his arms.
Jetta straightened, and Jack took a step back from her. She let her hair down, shaking it around so her bangs drooped over her eyes. “You always preferred my hair down. Is this better?”
She pressed her body to his. He didn’t pull away.
“I know you still think I’m beautiful. Remember how well we used to fit together?” She ran her fingers over his arms. She drew her lips towards his. “I know you still think about me,” she whispered. “About us. Let’s stop kidding ourselves already.”
“You’re only…proving my point,” he whispered, drinking in her every breath.
“Your heavy breathing is only proving mine,” she whispered back. “Don’t you want to taste me?”
“I…” Blood surged through Jack’s veins. His head became light; he teetered slightly. Her soft flesh was just centimeters from his powerful, hungry hands, hands that still remembered their way around Jetta’s body the way he remembered maps of towns.
“I’m still your favorite flavor…”
And he knew that she knew his weaknesses better than his greatest enemies.
He peeled himself away from her and inhaled.
“Kimmara’s my new favorite flavor.”
Jetta wrenched her hands away and moved sharply around her desk, putting it between them.
“I’m very busy. I have a city to run.” She put her hair back up in a ponytail. Jack’s heart sank.
“We can’t let this get in the way. We have a greater responsibility to the people—”
“I said I’m busy!” she shouted.
“I’m not going to—” Just then a bell began chiming. Both Jack and Jetta froze at its sound. It was the emergency bell to summon the city guard.
The doors burst open and Alusus barged in. “Jack! The alarm!” Jack, Jetta, and Alusus crowded around Jetta’s window and gazed out to see a small gathering swirl of clouds, like a miniature hurricane, not thirty feet from the ground. Magic.
“You’re busy too, it seems,” Jetta said gravely.
Jack cursed, wheeled, and darted out of the office, Alusus in tow.
Billies made cheap help, especially for the turban-wearing Pavan Takshak, zealot priest of the southern Bendalyah deserts. The yellow-eyed Alaman’s quest to summon the old god Uru had at last neared completion. All that he had been lacking was the Brazier of Bardi, a sacred Bendalyan relic that somehow ended up north here in Ravina. Jack and his hunters had been looking for Takshak for quite a while for murdering children as sacrifices, so the savage man-goats of the Tehhran Mountains, the Billies, were more than eager to help Takshak in his quest if it meant getting another shot at the last Kimmeriorian.
The body count was already in the double digits by the time Jack, Alusus, and another hunter arrived on the scene. Alusus, the blond-haired, silver-armored knight in a crimson cape, wielded Thunderstroke, a master sword with lightning powers. Knives, one of Jack’s first rate hunters who was adept at knife throwing, was the other man who was available to answer the call.
Soldiers from the army had already arrived to help fight the Billies, but the captain of the city guard didn’t understand what was happening, hence his presence was ineffective.
Two Billies, draped in hauberks and carrying iron-tipped spears, attacked Alusus. The warrior glided between spear thrusts and countered with electric sword strikes.
“You were a bit harsh with Jetta,” Alusus called out to Jack as they battled.
Jack had his back to the knight, and at least ten paces separated them. A Billy swung a heavy club, which Jack sank beneath and countered with a disemboweling slash across the animal’s stomach; the stroke was one fluid motion, drawn from the scabbard at his side like a samurai. “I thought I told you to leave the room,” Jack answered.
“I did.” He grunted and vaulted over a goat who was charging with its horns. He landed and wheeled, severing a goat head in a flashing arc. “But I heard some of it through the door. She’s lonely, Jack. If you’d just spend a night with her, this would all go away. We’d get land to build a bigger guild. There are worse prices you could pay if you think about it.”
Jack stepped aside from a spear thrust, allowing it to pass close to his ribs, so he could clamp the weapon down with his arm. Then he grunted and shoved the spear back through the steely grip of its owner; Jack drove the blunt end into the wielder’s chest, then lopped off the goat’s head. “I’ve been trying to quit my addiction,” Jack said, tossing the spear—and the corpse attached to it—to the ground. “My wife doesn’t like it when I drink from other cisterns.”
Knives, who was holding his own with acrobatic kicks and precision knife stabs into arteries and veins, entered into the conversation. “I believe in this guild, gentlemen,” he said, ripping a knife from a goat’s throat and kicking the dying foe aside. “And I’ll do whatever it takes to see it flourish.” He paused to look at his superiors and declare: “If the mayor needs a bedmate, I will make that sacrifice for the sake of my team!”
“Shut up, Knives,” Alusus mumbled. He glanced up to see a huge dark shadow drip down from the eye of the swirling cloud overhead. He squinted at Takshak. “What did this guy want again?” he asked.
“Conquer the world,” Jack answered. Then he turned towards Takshak, who was eight paces away and surrounded by five Billies. “Or destroy the world. I forget now.” Jack flung his sword at the ground; it stuck in the street like a crooked sign post. Jack spread his arms wide at his side, then crashed his palms together in a mighty clap. The ensuing shockwave floored the Billies, hurled Takshak backwards five paces, and spilled the brazier and its glowing magical incense. It also blew Jack’s hat from his head. Immediately, the clouds overhead vanished, and some ethereal specter gave a howl of anguish that faded away. The afternoon sunlight returned to the sky.
Jack plucked his sword out of the ground and winced at the surrounding damage: Three buildings now had cracked walls, shattered glass, and at least two private residences now lacked flowers and shrubs out front. “Nuts,” he grumbled, picking up his hat and dusting it off. “That’s property damage. Again. City council will be thrilled.”
“What’d you say?” Alusus shouted.
A humble fire crackled in the hearth of Jetta’s office as she continued to peruse papers. Her eyes were still slightly puffy from crying. She had sent the guards home for the night; she wanted to be alone anyway, so no one would see her looking at the old picture of herself and Jack that she kept in her desk.
It was time for a drink.
As Jetta poured some Cognac into a crystal tumbler, someone rapped gently at the door, which was ajar. Jetta’s heart leapt into her throat, and she snatched the loaded flintlock that she kept in her top right drawer. She rose swiftly and pointed the barrel at the crack in the door. “Who’s there?”
Baron Ponitus’ secretary slipped her head into the room. She had a sheepish expression on her round face.
“Bimi?” Jetta squinted.
“A thousand pardons m’lady. I was out late, and I saw the light burning here, so I thought I’d chance a visit.”
She returned the gun to its place and sank back into her plush armchair.
“If I’ve inconvenienced you I can—”
Jetta shook her head while she grimaced from a sip of her drink. “No, no,” she said. “Good drink should be shared after all.” She retrieved another tumbler from a cabinet and poured Bimi a drink.
“Oh thank you,” Bimi said as she took the drink and sniffed it.
Jetta leaned back in her chair and let her drink hover just under her lips. “So what brings the secretary of Ponitus back to my office at this hour? Certainly it wasn’t to drink my brandy.”
“I…I hope you don’t think it forward of me.” Bimi set her drink down and slid to the edge of her seat. “But they…they say you used to be a witch…” Bimi tensed, waiting for Jetta’s reaction.
Jetta just perked an eyebrow. “They? They is a conspicuous and slanderous entity. You shouldn’t listen to ‘they’, you know.”
“All I meant was that, I…I know you used celestial magic. You prayed to the stars.”
“I pray to the stars too! I just wanted to know. How—ah, how can I say it? How do you actually…get what you pray for?”
Jetta stared at Bimi for a space as she swirled her drink. A wry grin crept across her ruby lips. Jetta sat up in her chair and sipped her drink. “Tell me, Bimi. What is it you pray for?”
Bimi blushed. “I—why?”
Jetta’s grin got bigger. “I saw how you were looking at Jack Windsword today.” At these words, Bimi stiffened and cast her eyes at the carpet. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. He’s handsome, isn’t he?”
Bimi could only nod.
Jetta smacked her lips on her drink. “Quite handsome.”
“Weren’t you two…er…” Bimi caught herself in mid sentence.
“Once. A long time ago.”
“It was only two years ago.”
Jetta looked at Bimi hard enough to slam her against the back of her chair. “It was a long time ago.”
“Forgive me, m’lady. I’ve taken this conversation too far.”
“It isn’t your fault. Things just…” She poured some more liquor as her words trailed off. “Just didn’t work out.” After a space, she snickered. “Of course that doesn’t mean it can’t work out for the two of you.”
“Oh m’lady, please! Let’s be honest here. He’s the Mightiest Man in Ravina. Young and strong. I’m old. And I have the figure of a rum barrel.”
“Jack isn’t shallow, Bimi. Take it from me. Character goes a long way with the owner of the Godblade. If your character is strong, your chances are strong.”
“He barely looked at me today.”
“Then get his attention.”
“Do him a favor.”
Jetta shrugged and sat back in her chair. “I’m sure you can figure something out. But it needs to be big. Remove an obstacle from his path, for instance. He’ll take note of you for certain then.”
Bimi’s brow furrowed, and she looked to the side pensively. “An obstacle…”
Jetta slid her drink aside and took a blank sheet of parchment. Using her pen, she carefully drew a pair of circles on the paper, adding lines and dots, creating what looked like small star charts, side by side. She labeled each one and passed the leaf to Bimi. “Here. They’re called Sigillums.”
Bimi’s eyes widened. “Witchcraft? But witchcraft is outlawed now. If I used these powers, Jack would notice me alright. Shackle my hands he would. Or maybe smite me with his great sword!”
“Or you could prove your worth,” Jetta countered. “Jack is hard-pressed to admit this, but his Hunter’s Guild needs a spellcaster.” Jetta smiled. “Take those Sigillums, pray to the stars. Then show Jack that you can use your powers—your faith—to serve his needs. His cause. That’s what he’s really looking for.”
Bimi glanced between Jetta and the paper repeatedly.
“It’s getting late,” Bimi said, rising from her seat. Already, Jetta could see Bimi had become preoccupied. “Thank you for your help, Mayor Jetta.” Bimi curtsied and left as silently as a specter through a wall.
Jetta quaffed her drink.
It was early the next morning when a servant found Baron Ponitus in his drawing room, hurled against a pillar with superhuman force. All of Capitol City’s council members (who did not trust the Kimmeriorian) who knew of the contest for land between Ponitus and Jack swarmed the Hunter’s Guild, demanding his ouster. Alusus did what he could to buy the guild time to investigate, among those things, he convinced Jack to voluntarily turn himself in until his name could be cleared.
At least he had time to draw a little.
Jack reclined on his bunk in a holding cell at the Hunter’s Guild, which was nothing more than a small, weather-beaten counting house. The cell walls were made of Nullstone for the purpose of containing spellcasters and magical beasts. Unfortunately, his magic strength and healing powers were completely nullified. Alusus was kind enough to let Jack take some of his art equipment into the cell with him.
Knives stood on the other side of the bars. “This is insane,” he grumbled, shaking his head despondently.
“Relax, Knives,” Jack said unperturbedly.
“How can I relax? You’re the boss. What will the others say when they find out about this?”
“Nothing worse than they already do, I’d imagine.”
Takshak was in the cell beside Jack’s. He sat solemnly on his bunk and glared at anyone who came near his cell. At Jack’s last remark, Takshak began to chuckle. Knives thumped his fist on Takshak’s bars.
The click of high-heels brought Knives around. Jack heard the footsteps, but never looked up from his drawing. He knew who it was.
Jetta crossed her arms and shook her head, all with a wry grin on her lips. “So it really is true,” she said.
“Get back to work, Knives,” Jack commanded.
“Just cuz I’m in here doesn’t mean you get a holiday.”
With one last mean look at Takshak, he slipped silently from the guild, leaving Jack and Jetta alone.
“They’d said you had murdered Ponitus, but I didn’t believe it until now,” she said.
“They? Since when did you listen to they?”
“Since I investigated it for myself.” She glanced over her shoulder. “Where’s your partner? Out searching for a different killer?”
“Yep. I suspect we’re looking for a magic user. Someone with wind-powers.”
“And Alusus thinks the same? Then why did he lock you up?”
“I’m just keeping the guy’s seat warm for when we find him.”
She huffed a laugh. There was a silent pause.
“If you would have just spent the night with me, you wouldn’t be in this mess, you know. I would have vouched for you.”
“Uh huh. My wife would be the first one you vouch to.”
“And what has SHE said about all this?”
“She doesn’t know. I’ll be out of here before sundown. Al’s the best. He’ll find out who did this.” Jack put his pad down and swung his legs over the bunk, resting his elbows on his knees. “Unless, of course,” he began as he peered up at her from under his eyebrows. “You’d like to make a confession.”
“If I find out you were somehow involved in this…”
“That’s absurd. I’m out ten crowns because of this mess. Why would I have killed Ponitus? Besides. I haven’t cast a spell in years. You know that.”
Jack’s gaze was too intense for her to hold.
The doors of the guild opened, and Bimi stumbled in, clutching a green cloak to herself. Surprised, she looked at Jetta and asked, “What are you doing here?”, as she clip-clopped towards her. When she saw Jack in the cell, she balked and covered her O-shaped mouth with her hand. “Oh…oh my…” she said.
Jack squinted at her. “You’re Ponitus’ assistant. I remember you from yesterday.”
Bimi stood stiff as a post, her eyes darting nervously between Jetta and Jack.
Takshak rose from his bed and stood at the bars of his cell, glaring at her. He spoke in a Bendalyan accent:
“Lo there, the spirit of death hangs
Murder dealt by her hands
A magic serpent with poison fangs
A killer in our midst now stands.”
Jack moved to the wall of his cell. “What’d you say Takshak? No more rhymes! Answer me straight! What did you mean? One of them is a killer? Is that what you said?” Takshak smiled grimly and returned to his meditative state on his bed. Jack thumped the wall. “Takshak! Answer me!”
Bimi cast horrified eyes at Jetta. “He’s…in jail?” she asked. “That’s not what was supposed to happen.”
Jetta nervously crossed her arms.
“What?” Jack asked, pressing his head against the bars. “What did you just say?”
“Be quiet, you twit!” Jetta growled back.
“You lied to me!” Bimi growled back. “You told me the stars would answer my prayers! You told me!”
“Alright, that’s it!” Jack said, pointing through the bars. “Neither of you move! You’re both under arrest!”
Takshak started laughing again. Jack couldn’t argue. He looked silly giving orders from behind bars.
“We can discuss this later,” Jetta answered Bimi through gritted teeth.
“No!” Bimi turned away and bawled. Her sobbing sounded like hysterical gibberish, and neither Jack nor Jetta recognized what she was really saying until a fierce wind stirred up around Bimi. Like a dust devil growing out of the little woman, papers from the desks flew around the building into the air in a spiral pattern. Jack shook his bars; some sediment rained down, but without his super strength, he was stuck.
“What’s happening?” he cried.
“Stop praying, blast you!” Jetta shrieked. “You’re gathering energy!”
“You lied to me,” Bimi said, over her shoulder. “You told me that if I helped him…that he would…would…”
Knives dropped down from the second floor, landing eight paces behind Bimi. Before his feet touched the ground, he let fly a glinting dagger that sank into Bimi’s back up to the hilt. Bimi howled in pain. The wind disappeared and she crumpled to the floor.
“Good thing I never left,” Knives said, approaching the fallen woman.
“Is she dead?” Jack asked.
“I didn’t aim for anything vital.” He knelt down over the groaning, writhing figure and picked up a crumpled sheet of paper in her hand. He unfolded it and found a Sigillum. “We’ll patch her up, she’ll be fine.”
Jack rattled his cage again. “Get me OUT of here.”
“I don’t remember letting you out,” said Alusus, who stumbled into the smelly old counting house. Jack stood by the cell that he’d once occupied. Bimi now sat in the cage, her upper body wrapped up in healing cloth. “What happened?”
“We caught the real killer,” Knives said, sitting on the edge of one of the desks. He was absently fiddling with one of his blades.
“She all but confessed to it,” Jack said. “Apparently she killed the baron with some kind of wind-spell Sigillum. She was trying to do me a FAVOR. Hnh!” At those words, Bimi buried her face in her hands and turned away from her captors.
“Sigillum?” Alusus asked. “Jetta used Sigi—”
After a pause, Alusus asked. “Anything we can arrest her for?”
Jack shook his head. “It’s Bimi’s word against hers. Since Jetta appoints the judges…”
“The fat woman did tell us one interesting tidbit though,” Knives added. “Turns out the good baron had already paid for the land. A MONTH ago. They were in the process of transferring the deed over when you and Jack interrupted them. Ponitus never signed.”
Alusus’ eyes bulged. “By the sword. So Jetta—”
“Has all the money and all the land,” Jack growled. “And this woman is the one who goes to prison for it.”
Takshak rose from his seat, gripped the bars, and spoke:
“She who sits behind bars
Has now a life of regret
To heal her scars
For only doom awaits
Those who trust the stars.”
The hunters grimly nodded.