Interesting Times


#1

The ride into Grand Casar had been uneventful since the greatwolves had attacked. Paul Derry thanked his luck for that. While seeing the rangers’ skills in action had confirmed for him that they’d hired the right men, he did have to agree with his more pessimistic partner that being down one ranger made him nervous. The itinerant workers were both in the wagons now, with the injured man getting a plaster put on his cuts and a bandage around his arm for a more substantial one. Paul watched as the young ranger did this.

“You’ll want to go get these looked at proper once we get to town,” Ed Dour told the man, as he packed the little medical kit away.

The worker flexed his arm a bit and gave a quick little stretch of his shoulders and back. “I think I’ll be okay to help these guys unload their stock,” he said, nodding to Paul and his partner. “But yeah, I’ll go to hospital soon as I can.”

“It’s your health, your call,” Ed shrugged as he handed the worker his shirt. He turned his gaze to the merchants. “See anything?”

Carel Rosse shook his head. “Nothing that I can see, but my eyesight’s not what it used to be.” After a moment’s pause, he harrumphed. “You really should be riding out in front, keeping an eye out. It’s what we’re paying you for.”

“Neither of you two gentlemen know first aid,” the ranger replied as he moved to one side of the wagon, his gaze sweeping through the surrounding woodland as he continued, “And the sooner those cuts got looked at, the less likely they’d get infected.”

The woodland was giving way to grasslands and they could see the tomb ship tower coming up ahead. “Aldressor coming up,” Paul pointed out. “We’re almost there. About an hour’s ride.”

“Close enough now that the city guard should be able to spot us, if needs must,” Carel added.

“Leave the grim prognostication to me, sir,” Ed Dour interrupted. “We’re not in the clear yet. Greatwolves won’t trouble us, but there’s still other animals that could trouble us.”

“Saladragons,” Carel muttered. “Caskobos…”

“Carel,” Paul had to stop himself from slapping his face into his own palm, just from hearing his own wheedling tone to his partner. He collected himself and admonished, “You heard the man. Let him worry about the wildlife. You just concentrate on driving the cart.”

It was as they were passing the Aldressor ruin that the Seraphim swept past overhead. The suddenness of its passage caused their little convoy to draw up short. Their chocobos gave a distressed kweh, but Paul reached forward to stroke their neck plumage, calming them. He glanced back and saw Greg doing the same, though he was watching the great flying humanoid machine as it finally alit a short distance away.

“What in the gods’ names is that?” the worker blurted out, staring in amazement, as were they all. Even the ranger was staring in complete astonishment, his mouth open. It actually would have made Paul smile to see it, were the same expression not on his own face.

“Probably something from the ship that just crashed,” Ed Dour swung his scattergun around and into his hand. He scratched at his jaw in thought. “They’re near our path. Just keep going. If there’s trouble, I’ll keep them busy while you get to town.”

Carel flushed, turning to him, his mouth opening to spill forth another bluster of indignation, but one glance at the young ranger’s flat gaze made him clamp his jaw shut and turn back to driving the cart. Ed moved up in the wagon, gesturing for Paul to sit in the back with the worker, then sat down beside the terrified merchant.

As they approached the kneeling machine, he saw the chest open and two people start to climb out. The first was a woman in a white and gold uniform, one that Ed had only seen in books. The second was some he recognized from his and Grimaldi’s visits to the city in the past, a young man in the Far Patrol. Sel Harcourt was good at what he did, in Ed’s opinion, but his wandering tendencies struck the ranger as unprofessional.

Ed signaled for Carel to slow down, and stood in his seat, holding his scattergun in a loose, casual grip as he raised his hand to them. “Harcourt,” he called. “Strange to meet you in such a situation.” He looked from the younger ranger to the woman, who had removed her helmet to look them over. “Who’s your new friend?”

“Hauptmann Meriana Casterian,” the woman answered. “Who are you?”

“Edmond Dour. Are you from that ship that just came out of the sky?”

She nodded. “I am. Are you from the city?”

Ed shook his head. “But heading that way. You’ll be wanting to meet with the chamberlain, then.” He turned his gaze from her up to the machine. “I expect he’ll be wanting to meet with you, too.” He swung his scattergun back across his back and gave a rueful shake of the head, still unable to tear his eyes away from the Seraphim. “You’ve just made our lives all much more interesting.”