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Sun shone down warmly on Nina’s face as she sipped blue wine from a thin clear flute and stared out over the railing of the terrace. Zo’Dair was a large planet with and even larger sun and something about the unique photosynthesis of the Zo’Dair vine for which it had been named led to creating the best berry wine in the known universe. The Zo’Dan, an alien race of traveling settlers, had been so enthralled (not to mention intoxicated) by the drink that they had named the planet after it. After a time commerce had evolved the planet into one of the finest luxury getaways in the Major Quadrants. Nina returned here from time to time to relax and regroup, while being a legitimate lady of privilege could be irritating in a gathering, it could be quite nice on one’s own when your day job began to take its toll on you and Nina had quite the day job so she enjoyed a good pampering to its fullest.
Nina was not the only one being pampered, her ship was also getting a nice recharge, all weapons and cells being tuned and calibrated. Even the outer hull was getting a makeover, asteroid dents being hammered out and Nina could not wait to see the Pale Mistress gleaming proudly at her in the massive golden beams of Zo’Dahl, Zo’Dair’s impressively large pale yellow sun. Zo’Dair had no moon, and no tides, at least not on the surface. The whole planet was green and alive, suspended atop a swell of underground aquifers that birthed fresh springs and crisp mists everywhere. There was very little rain, but rather all that fresh water below was mirrored by a sort of thin firmament above which magnified the stars in a way that drove both poet and artist mad trying to capture and emulate their beauty. The Demon Slayer sighed contently at the thought.
It truly was paradise, and just what she had needed.
“Forgive me humbly, Lady Nina.” An apologetic voice of one of the resort staff cut in. “But it seems Mr. Jameson will not be dissuaded from dinning with you on this terrace and well, seeing as he does own the resort…”
Nina sighed, this time not out of pleasure and turned to face the pale man eying her nervously and biting his lip, expensive custom hat in hand as he stood sweating through his equally expensive custom suit. Nina had never met the man, but she could easily recognize the CEO. He was one of the wealthiest humans in the universe and Nina was certain something must be very dire indeed to bring him to her in such a desperate and disheveled state.
Damn. Vacation over then. She thought dryly, smiling coolly and rising to shake his sweaty hand.
“Lady Nina.” He half bowed, half extended a hand. “Your reputation–”
Nina smiled directing a hand to a chair across from her, she would shake his hand properly at the end of their discussion when he would feel back on equal terms. Those of power and pride had a hard time asking for things. “Sit. Relax. Then speak.”
So he did. Jace Walter Jameson was the CEO of Horizon Corp. Horizon preserved old luxurious past times from championship gaming to golf on entire planets designed like country clubs. He had bought Zo’Dair from the Zo’Dan once they had tired of the settlers life and gotten a taste for the commercial and turned it into this resort paying the pleased tribe in lavish royalties which they continued to invest in settling and exploring new Zo planets and shipping exotic Zo goods to Horizon Corp’s clientele.
The Horizon Dawn was Horizon Corp’s luxury cruise liner. It toured a collection of small native and exotic luxury planets with all the luxury promised in its inspiration the Titanic and none of the danger. Ships in space literally cannot sink.
However there were darker things in space than subzero waters and mountains of ice lurking beneath them, and it seemed the Horizon Dawn had picked up a stowaway on one of its various trips. A dark man in a dark hat pulled down so only you could see his gleaming grin and pale thin hands in the hallways on the decks as he dashed away from his latest victims rooms.
“The clients have begun to refer to him ‘the Dagger Man’.” Jameson swallowed, a bit pale himself now. “On account of his small pale hands and how they catch the light in the darkness.”
Nina said nothing, waiting for him to finish and calmly sipping her cerulean hued port.
“He’s not human.” He whispered. “So many victims, never a mark.”
Jameson smiled wistfully. “It’s beginning to get bad for business, you can understand.”
Yes. Nina most certainly could, she looked at the wine then tossed it back rising and extending her hand. “I want to make a deal, as I suspect this will not be our last meeting as we are both sure to have very long lives.”
“The Universe, and my exceedingly massive donations to Galaxxy Industries science department, willing.” He concurred, slapping his palm against hers and gripping tight. Creatures of power loved deals, kept the power balanced and gave them back both their self-respect and sense of control. “Name it, for I know you will deliver and I have much to offer by way of reward.”
Nina smiled. “Till death I will hunt and slay any demonic entities stalking Horizon Corp or its employees in exchange for unlimited top access and enjoyment of all Horizon Corp’s luxuries. That way, the next time you need a little hunting done, I can just make an appointment and hop on over.”
“Fantastic.” He beamed. “Brilliant. You must have this same deal all over the universe.”
“Only with the best, Sir Jameson.” She smiled, and it was true. In a way Nina was slowly conquering the entire universe with her mercenary jurisdiction. Her smiled widened as she thought of her gleaming ship and the pampering it would receive under Zo’Dair’s care.
Fantastic was most certainly the word.
The ship was breathtaking. Larger than even the biggest mining vessel Nina had ever seen. It was “roped off”, the large massive red woven titanium wire strictly for show rather than any scientific purpose, to a massive floating space dock where one could buy souvenirs and snacks before the ship left.
Someone let out a small breath from behind her.
“Stunning.” He said.
Nina turned, expecting the stranger to be gawking up at the ship like all of the other passengers waiting to board, but he was looking at her and Nina felt a slight blush creep across her cheeks at his still, calm staring.
Staring was perhaps the wrong word as rather than locking his gaze, Nina’s eyes met the ring of a GI Halo which ran around his head. He wore it over both his eyes to see, and rather than pulling his hair out from under it he left his chin length locks trapped underneath it like some sort of headband. Nina had the strong suspicion this gave him the ability to have digital eyes in the back of his head, so to speak.
He was dressed simply, a nice pressed black suit and stood griping one black gloved wrist in a his other black gloved hand. There was a small glinting piece of jewelry on his wrist and he seemed to play with it there behind his back out of habit.
He bowed lightly. “Hello Nina, I am your Horizon valet for the trip, Zeries.”
Nina eyed him, it was a good choice, a blind servant that the average noble would underestimate to be nothing more than the help, but Nina was a warrior, and warriors knew other warriors. Still, she did not get a vibe of threat from him, he was there seemingly just to observe and probably help her dispose of the threat as quickly as possible by being as much her intel as he would later be Jameson’s in his debriefing.
“Thank you, Zeries.” Nina smiled kindly, lifting a hand. “Please show me to my quarters and give me the run down.”
The Horizon Dawn had seven levels, Nina and her five other luxury passengers had the top level to themselves. The other six were genuine passenger transport as the ship made four popular vacation stops before returning here to port. Tickets were far cheaper than a GI Shuttle so if you were comfortable with a day or so wait, which clearly many were, you could get your dream vacation for quite a steal.
Zeries gave her the rundown of her other five nobles before they dined in the ornate main hall. There was Doctor Harrison, a leader in the field of genetic manipulation. He specialized in one goal, immortality. There were two strains of thought in this, quantum genetics, which specialized in attempting to quantum lock human genes (so far to no avail) and biological manipulation. Some humans, like Nina’s own clan, had over the course of breeding established longevity naturally. Genetic Biologists always found them a fascinating study and that was why Harrison was on this ship, he and the four other guests, believed the so called “Dagger Man” to be one thing and one thing alone.
The Dagger Man, was death.
All of his victims had been dying already, the first had been Madam Fridell, simply old age. Very impressive old age, like her sister Madam Duport siting beside Nina in her teleportation chair, but old age none the less. Duport was also dying, teleportation was dangerous, but an effective form of transportation when you had nothing to lose.
“I want to see him.” She rasped with a wan smile. “Find out what he’d seen in my sister that had made him stick around.”
Nina had a feeling she knew. Death was a love of the past. No one thought of it romantically or necessary anymore, it was a dreaded inconvenience at best. This ship however was built for those who remembered, who appreciated and found culture in the past. Nina had a feeling Death would stay here as long as he could, or until he got what he needed to move on.
“Even I cannot kill, Death.” Nina whispered to Zeries under her breath. “Will Jameson tolerate me simply removing his unnatural stowaway instead?”
Zeries left for a moment and Nina took in the other three passengers with very little interest. One was a poet, much to the disappointment of his parents who were in manufacturing. They made a tiny handle that went on the bows of mining ships. The young “Baron”, Lord Neil was now heir to all of that. Neil was not dying, but his poems seemed to suggest he wish he were. If he survived all of this, Nina would heavily advise him to sell his corporation and just go be happy. It was a big universe out there, someone else could tend the empire of small industrial handles.
The last two were a couple, although it was clear neither was supposed to be. Sir Vodgel’s wife had died on this ship while he had been off on a Horizon Ski Resort Planet with Lady Ducress here. Clearly their relationship had suffered from it and her disdain for being dragged out on this ludicrous confrontation showed hard in her sharp features just as his own sagged heavily with guilt.
“Yes.” Zeries whispered in her ear. “Containment or removal are both suitable means to holding up your end of the arrangement.”
Nina nodded, rising up and excusing herself.
“Let’s get some sleep then, Zeries.” She said pensively.
“Tonight we hunt Death.”