1. Welcome to Seahorse Port
The journey to Seahorse Port was uneventful. Peric almost expected someone to try stopping them while they were unprotected, but instead he and Bertram took the chance to show Lucille some of the more interesting plants and animals in the area. She asked questions they didn’t have answers to, which showed Peric he needed to learn more about the world around him if he was ever going to be a successful tour guide. Lucille never minded, writing notes in the book he’d given her so she’d remember to look things up at a later date, and did her best to seem unaffected by thoughts of what might come next. If he hadn’t been able to feel her then he might even believe the act, but it was much harder for him to keep a hold on his own abilities when he was worried.
As they got closer to Seahorse Port Peric did his best to plan for what might come next. They wanted to deliver all the information they had to the local authorities, find out anything they knew, and then leave. Yet there was this nagging feeling of it being far more complicated than he wanted it to be, so he found himself thinking about how they might be able to help with the investigations, if there were any, in the city they’d been sent to. He’d visited before, but it wasn’t for him. Sheepshank was quieter, and it was easy to get to know people. The city had been busy, full of more people he’d ever seen before, and he’d been happy to leave.
“You can’t plan for everything,” Lucille said, the night before they reached Seahorse Port, making him jump because he’d thought she was asleep.
“I know.” Peric shrugged. “It just makes me feel more comfortable if I have some idea of what I plan to do in certain situations.”
“What options do we have when we get to Seahorse Port?”
“The one we all hope for is, unfortunately, the least likely scenario. We have a lot of information, but it isn’t always enough just to read a few pages of reports. Instead what they may need is someone who has actually been involved in the arrest of one of the crime syndicate.”
“Which is what you’re worried about.”
Peric nodded. “I don’t want to stay in Seahorse Port.” Their eyes met for a moment, over the still warm fire which gave off enough light for him to see the emotions in Lucille’s eyes. “I don’t want to get involved in something I honestly don’t think I’m capable of dealing with. At the same time I don’t want to just walk away. Knowing there’s a group out there who want to flood our world with counterfeits makes me angry, and I want to see them caught. If I don’t I think I’m always going to worry that someone else might start importing counterfeits into Sheepshank the same way Dubranna did.”
“I feel the same way, but I also know that the Moonjumper Bureau’s record book is out there somewhere, and I need to find out who has it.” Lucille sighed. “Getting involved in anything is seriously frowned upon at the Council, and I know they aren’t going to be happy about the choices I’ve made, but I don’t know how they can expect me to let an unknown criminal know about the Moonjumpers who have visited Quiar. Most of them are still alive. They just never made the connection to Quiar I did.”
“Why do you have a connection with Quiar?”
There was a long silence. Eventually Lucille said, “I honestly don’t know, Peric. When I first started learning about the worlds I knew I wanted to have the opportunity to travel to every single one I could. It meant I spent a lot of time alone preparing for the exams, and knowing I only had one chance to get each tattoo. The Council do allow retakes, but if you have to retake an exam they often don’t allow the Moonjumper to get a tattoo for that world.” She smiled. “There are lots of rules when it comes to becoming a Moonjumper. Some think too many, but there were set up to discourage people.
“Anyone who truly wants to be a Moonjumper works as hard as they can within the rules. Quiar was a world I knew wasn’t often visited, because people are put off by the inhabitants, so I always wanted to come here and find out exactly what you were like. It’s easy enough to look at pictures of the races of Quiar, to have the knowledge of how things work, but that isn’t understanding this world, and that’s what I wanted more than anything. I wanted to understand all the worlds I’d learnt about.” She sat up, pulling her blanket tighter around her. “Until a Moonjumper steps onto a world they don’t know if they’re going to connect with it or not.
“I wanted to connect with Quiar, but that didn’t mean it was definitely going to happen. The world might not have wanted me. I left Quiar until last, because I hated the thought of feeling unwelcome here, and thankfully the moment I stepped through the door I knew I’d made the right choice. Quiar was one of my worlds, and now I’m never just going to walk away, no matter what the rules are, because those feelings mean more than rules. Had it been someone else they might not have made the same choice, but I’ve always been different from most of the other Moonjumpers.”
“What if we hadn’t accepted you?”
“That’s…” Lucille shook her head. “My choice was made based on what Quiar needed, and not on what the Quiarans needed. What I’m here to do is protect Quiar from the very worst that can happen. It’s too easy to let the inhabitants of a world drown out what the world itself needs, and if you hadn’t accepted me I would have had to carry on regardless. Thankfully I always seem to have been lucky with the people I meet here, because it appears that you’ve all seen me as me, rather than a Council Moonjumper, and I’m beginning to understand why so many Moonjumpers rebelled again the rules before.”
“Would you ever rebel?”
“That’s a question I don’t have an answer to. I’ve been brought up believing that the Council are the law when it comes to Moonjumpers, and yet I can’t stop myself from thinking that some of their rules were, probably, created by fear of what we could do to the worlds and the Web.”
“Having an effect on a world isn’t always a bad thing, though.”
“No, it’s not, and that’s part of the problem. I could easily have made the decision the counterfeits and the crime syndicate were your problem, but that could have an adverse effect on the worlds around Quiar, on Athare itself, and on the Council. Getting involved might lead to the Council being unhappy with me, but at least I’ll have done all I could to keep the Web safe. Yet there could easily be a rogue Moonjumper here that would happily help the crime syndicate with their goals. It’s all about how you get involved.”
Lucille couldn’t stop thinking about the conversation she’d had with Peric the night before, as they made their way into Seahorse Port. The longer she did her job the more she thought about the rules she had to deal with, and how they affected her, as well as the other Walkers, the Demons, and the worlds of the Web. It wasn’t a bad thing to be thinking about. She touched one of her tattoos, thinking about the position it gave her within the Walkers, and knew she could easily help to make changes to the current rules. Unfortunately she just wasn’t sure if those changes should be made. There were too many Walkers who would happily change the worlds to make them entirely different, which was something they couldn’t allow.
Soon being in the city took her attention away from her thoughts. Lucille hadn’t been sure what to expect, because she’d done her best to stick with the small villages, and occasionally visited a larger town. A city had seemed too much for her while she was doing her best to learn all about Quiar, but it was possible she’d made a mistake. From what she’d read the city was a place that mixed many races, hames, phyles and urns, so could easily be the place to learn about the whole world, rather than just parts of it.
Even though Peric was speeding through Lucille did her best to view as much of it as possible as they went. For the first time she actually hoped she might be able to stay for a short time, although the wouldn’t want to without Peric and Bertram, and she also wanted to go back to Sheepshank to get to know the people better. Every time she visited Quiar she found herself making new friends, learning about the world she loved, and realising exactly how little the Council really knew about the wonderful world that had chosen her to be it’s Walker.
When they reached the guard station Lucille procrastinated for a few minutes at the door. It was then she realised some of the people she’d passed had stopped what they were doing in order to stare at her. She smiled at them, shyly, still not used to being the strange thing everyone wanted to look at, and a couple smiled back before returning to whatever they’d been doing before she walked past. Feeling conspicuous she stepped into the guard station. A vulture was reading through the file Peric had brought with him.
“So you have arrested the raven you believe was in charge of importing the counterfeits?”
Peric nodded. “She says she’s given us all the information she can on the crime syndicate she was working for, and, even though we don’t believe her, we haven’t been able to get anything more from her.”
“Her contact was codenamed Snow Cloud?”
“That’s what she said. Unfortunately the codenames don’t really seem to connect with anything, because Dubranna said her codename was Water Fisher and that would have made a lot more sense had she been a seagull.”
“Okay.” The vulture wrote a couple of notes on a piece of paper next to the file. “It also says here that Sheepshank’s Moonjumper record book was stolen.”
“It was,” Lucille said, stepping forward. “I have worries someone might be trying to find out about the Moonjumpers who have visited Quiar in recent times, because at least three I know of are still living.”
When the vulture looked up at her she could see the surprise he quickly pushed away. “You’re the Moonjumper, Lucille?”
“Yes, I am.”
“It’s unusual for one of you to be involved in something that really does, so far, only appear to affect Quiar.”
“According the Dubranna there is reason for a Moonjumper to be involved,” Peric said, glancing at Lucille. “The syndicate apparently wants to send counterfeits to other worlds, so Lucille needs to know if it’s likely to happen, who might attempt it, and also who stole the record book just in case there is something more.”
“Well, then I’m glad you’re here.” The vulture smiled, looking relieved. “I would like you all to stay and help us, because we haven’t got anywhere near catching anyone involved in this. It’s not through lack of trying, either. They, whoever they are, just seem to keep staying one step ahead of us.”
“We were lucky with Dubranna.” Peric seemed calm, but Lucille didn’t believe he was. Not from what he’d said before. “I think she panicked, which was why she ended up getting someone to steal files that she hoped would keep her safe, but in the end it just led to her arrest.”
“Maybe you’ll get lucky here too.”
Peric looked at Lucille, then at Bertram. Bertram’s only reply was to shrug, and Lucille stared at the raven, wondering what his opinion was, before turning her attention back to the Peric. It was easy to see the tension in his shoulders, and she knew he’d never truly given up hope he would simply be able to hand over the file.
“I’m not promising anything,” Peric said finally.
“I wasn’t expecting you to. Just do what you can to aid the investigation.” The vulture looked at Lucille. “You might be a greater help here than you planned to be. This whole mess is causing some tension between the Larnachians and the Thesians. Having someone here who has no connection to either of them might lead to them talking more about why there are such problems between them.”
Lucille nodded. “I’ll help in any way I can.” She found herself smiling back at the vulture. “If you can find out anything about the record book I’d be very grateful.”
“That is something I’d be happy to do,” the vulture replied. “We haven’t heard anything about a record book,but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t travelled through. I’ll get a couple of guards out to listen for any rumours.” The vulture sighed. “At the moment rumours are really all we have, apart from the counterfeits.”
Peric nodded. “Up until we found Dubranna that was all we had. We probably never would have found her if it wasn’t for the records that we kept.”
“What I think is the best plan for now is for you all to get set up in a bed and breakfast, because I would really appreciate it if you could have a chat with the raccoons from the night watch. They’re working hard on finding any clue that might get us somewhere, and as Dubranna did work at night it seems like we’re on the right track, but we have a very busy night life here which makes things more difficult.”
Sighing, Peric glanced at Bertram again. The raven seemed nonchalant, but Peric knew Seahorse Port was a wonderful place for anyone with wings. He wasn’t happy with the way things worked out, even though he’d suspected they would be asked for help, and the thought of not being able to return home for an unspecified period of time filled him with dread. Finally he summoned a smile for the vulture.
“Do you have any suggestions as to where we should stay?” he asked, as Lucille gently rested a hand on his shoulder.
The Moonjumper kept surprising Peric, and once again he was grateful for her support. “Maybe somewhere quiet,” Lucille suggested. “We will need to have somewhere we can work comfortably away from any distractions.”
The vulture tilted his head to the side, in a movement telling Peric the bird was thinking. “There are a couple that would suit, but I think the best one would be the Sleeping Chimera. It’s on one of the most northern streets of the North Quarter, run by a lovely deer, and the perfect place for an unexpected group of arrivals.” The vulture looked at Lucille. “We haven’t had a Moonjumper visit Seahorse Port in a long time, so you’re going to be a person of interest for a long time. That may be an advantage for you or it may be a disadvantage, but that’s simply the way things are, and there’s nothing we can do about it.”
“I was expecting it,” Lucille replied, sounding understanding. “I am what I am.”
“We’ll be back tonight to speak with the night guards,” Peric said, as he picked up his small travel bag. “Is there any specific time you’d like us here?”
“About sunset would be best. That’s when the raccoons begin getting ready for their shift.”
“Let’s go and get ourselves set up at the Sleeping Chimera then.”
Lucille took her hand off Peric’s shoulder, and he found he missed it, missed knowing for certain she was there to help him, even though he knew she was still right behind him. It was strange to think how quickly he’d come to rely on her as an ally, but not a surprise considering how they’d been thrown together. He looked at Bertram, who was making certain he still had all his shinies, then at Lucille, as she pulled her own bag onto her shoulder, and smiled. Maybe being in Seahorse Port wasn’t what Peric wanted, but at least he had the right people with him to help him get the problem sorted as quickly as possible.
Together they walked into the North Quarter, which felt more like home than anywhere else, but Peric still wasn’t comfortable. Seahorse Port was huge, compared to Sheepshank, full of people he didn’t know, and he had to work to keep his empathy at a comfortable level. It had been years since he’d had to, because he was so used to having to do it, but with all the thousands of people around him, some who projected more than others, it was a chore rather than something he just did. He walked between Lucille and Bertram, grateful again that they were there, and hoped they’d be at the bed and breakfast soon.
“How can we help him?” Lucille asked, looking at Bertram.
“I don’t know.” The raven shook his head, worry filling his voice. “Being as empathetic as Peric is never easy, and Seahorse Port is going to be full of people with different levels of projection. We never bothered to find a charm to help, because he never needed it before, and now we have worries about charms being counterfeits I wouldn’t buy one just in case it happened to do more harm than good.”
“So we just have to hope he’s going to get used to being here?”
“I can hear you,” Peric said, sounding amused. “Give it a couple of days and I’ll be fine, but I wasn’t expecting this level of noise. There appear to be a lot of projectors in Seahorse Port.”
“Are you sure?” Lucille reached out, and squeezed Peric’s shoulder. “If you’re going to be this uncomfortable it might be best to leave Bertram and I here to do what needs to be done while you head back to Sheepshank.”
“I am sure, and thank you for the offer, but I couldn’t simply walk away now, especially if you stayed. I’d spend the whole time worrying about you, so I’d much rather be here.”
“If you do feel like it’s too much then the offer is always open.”
The Sleeping Chimera was at the end of the street they were walking down, and Lucille breathed a silent sigh of relief. During the entire journey she’d been able to feel eyes on her, but there was nothing she could do about that. It had been easy enough to say she could cope with being a ‘person of interest’. When she was actually being stared at by numerous races who’d probably not seen someone like her in their lifetime it was entirely different. She was also worried about Peric, who seemed to be suffering much more than he was letting on. Only Bertram seemed his normal self.
With one hand Lucille opened the door to the bed and breakfast, allowing Peric and Bertram to enter first. As she stepped into the building she felt a wave of calm wash over her. Smiling, she followed Peric and Bertam to the front desk, where a deer was standing waiting for them. The deer looked first at Peric, then at Bertam, and finally at Lucille.
“Rumours of your arrival beat you here,” the deer said, smiling at her. “It’s very nice to meet you, Moonjumper, and your companions. My name is Meriwether. I own the Sleeping Chimera, which I’m certain was recommended to you because I won’t let anyone in you don’t want in.”
“That’s a relief,” Lucille replied. “We’d like two rooms if possible.”
“Do you have any special needs?”
“No,” Peric replied firmly, making Lucille jump.
“Then I’ll give you rooms 7 and 8. One is on the front of the building, and one is on the back.” The deer wandered over to the key board, and took off two keys. “If you lose these then there are spares, but the loss will incur you a minor fee. Any damage to your rooms will also incur a fee, the level of fee depending on how much damage there is.” It made its way back over to them, and passed Lucille the keys. “The first night is complimentary as is the first morning’s breakfast, and after that… we can work something out.”
“Thank you,” Lucille replied, not certain if the deer was acting differently because of her, or if there was some other reason.
“I know a few tour guides. There’s one I think would be able to help you the most, and if you wanted I could get him here to show you around. You have some time before sunset.”
“How do you know about that?” Peric asked, and Lucille could hear the mix of emotions in his voice.
“I was informed of the reason you’re here. Hereward, the vulture, sent someone to talk to me, knowing that this was best place for you.” Meriwether smiled. “Of course rumours about the Moonjumper reached here before Hereward’s guard, which wasn’t exactly a surprise to any of us. You are special, Lucille, and having you here is going to have a good effect on Seahorse Port. I’m not so certain it will have a good effect on the crime syndicate, but if I can protect you I will.”
“Why?” Lucille asked.
“You’re a neutral party. People will talk to you because you have no connection to any specific race. If anyone is going to do any good around here it’s going to be you.” Meriwether looked at Peric and Bertram. “I’ve heard good things about you as well. It’s amazing what stories get told around here of the council in Sheepshank, and who you go to if you need help with anything. Both of your names have been mentioned, and everything I’ve heard has been good.”
“I didn’t think anyone would talk about us.” Peric sounded mystified. “We just do what needs to be done.”
“That’s why people talk about you, Peric. You do do what needs to be done, with the help of Bertram, and it doesn’t go unnoticed. Sheepshank and Seahorse Port are close enough to have an effect on each other, so when good things are done by the people of Sheepshank we get told about it.”
“I never realised.”
“It’s easy not to.” Meriwether shrugged. “Some things are more noticeable than others, and knowing people in Seahorse Port have heard of you is something you wouldn’t have any reason to know, until now.” Smiling, it stepped out from behind the desk. “Go get settled in. I’ll get in contact with the tour guide, and knock on your doors when she’s here.”