The discussions with the leaders of Grand Casar took a lot of time. Meri found that she was the officer in charge, at least for the moment; while the Malakim had been trained like any Grand Army officer, it was a new and not entirely welcome experience for her. She wasn’t used to giving commands, except in battle, and mostly to be sure that fighter squadrons stayed out of her way. She wasn’t a natural diplomat, so speaking with Chamberlain Darbur and Old Man Ruger felt intensely stressful and ultimately unproductive. Two hours of talk confirmed two things: that the Reinhardt crashed and that Grand Casar would try to help.

Sel went on his way after they got there, to return with the Grand Casar relief efforts; the only other company that she had was Ed Dour, who agreed to meet after the deliberations were done. Old Man Ruger had invited himself along, too.

She could tell what the Chamberlain’s role in Grand Casar was, but Meri was at a loss to define Ruger’s. He seemed to be something of an informal leader; he showed himself to be decisive in the discussion, asking quick questions, and she had the sense that he knew more of the Web than he let on. He didn’t seem fazed, even when she described a Seraphim. The Chamberlain and the head of the royal guards had looked truly confused.

She hoped to ask Ed, but Ruger beat them to the place. Of course he did, Meri thought. Ruger had been the one to suggest Sarbin’s Tavern for dinner. He established control over this quickly.

It was the dusty, dry sort of place that she saw in movies about the Great War. Its roots, modeled off a medieval tavern, showed as soon as she entered. Stone walls, wooden floors, and big wooden tables reminded her of the pictures of taverns in Crystal that she saw; the sorts of exciting, adventurous vacations that people took when they wanted to recapture the “Old Web.” The lighting, the flatware, and the kitchens were all vintage Great War era, though, and the food had the hearty smell of traditional Doman cooking. She saw rice porridge and noodles being consumed readily. Beer was served aplenty and the grilled, peppered chicken made her hungry.

She licked her lips and saw Old Man Ruger sitting at a table already, with Ed Dour next to him. The younger man had his head bowed, thoughtfully, while the older man looked quietly stately the way that he always did. Meri adjusted her flight suit’s collar, while the sinking feeling that she arrived to another diplomatic meeting set in. She sucked in that dread and strode over.

“Good evening,” she said, smiling at both.

“I’m not so sure that it’s good,” Ed said with a sigh, “but it’s certainly evening.”

Ruger nodded, but kept his silence. She took a seat, looking between the two men. “After this,” she said, “I’ll need to get back to the Reinhardt. They’ll need a report of everything that went on.”

“Expected as much,” Ruger said. “Wanted to talk to you about that.”

Right to business, then, she thought. She glanced at Ed, but he stayed silent and his expression remained largely unreadable. “Yeah?”

“What I’m hearing is, there’s a lot of damage. I don’t think you’re gonna get the Reinhardt flying again, but I think if we can get some of her systems working, it’ll be better,” Ruger said. “The power systems, whatever production it can muster, food and water supplies. Grand Casar’ll need the help to feed all those people.”

Dour frowned. “Seems like it’d be hard to do, old man.”

“It will be. But worth it.”

Meri couldn’t argue with that. “You have an idea?”

“The Aldressor,” he said. “It’s that ruin south of here. You couldn’t have missed it. It’s got some old junk lying around. Might be that old junk could help fix up the ship.”

“Might be,” she said. She couldn’t say; she wasn’t an engineer. “I’ll have to talk to Länglich about that, but seems like it’d be worth asking him about. We can probably get at least some salvage from it, though.”

“Glad you think so.” Ruger’s tone suggested that he did not give a damn if she approved and that he was not making a suggestion. “We’ll need to make this a joint thing. That wreck’s crawling with local fauna and you ain’t gonna wanna go in blind, even with the latest GA gear.” He looked, briefly, at Dour. “Tell Grimaldi that I want him leading the crew going in. Usual rate of pay for something like that. Don’t reckon he’ll say no.”

Ed hesitated a moment, before nodding. “Of course. The team?”

“His discretion, plus whoever the GA wants to send,” Ruger said. He looked at Meri. “Try to make sure you got folk good on your feat.”

“I’ll talk to Arn, too,” she said.

There was a flicker of recognition in Old Man Ruger’s good eye. Meri wondered about that, but she couldn’t put anything on it; it seemed impossible that he had met Arn Kestrich before, and Arn wasn’t an unheard of name. It could have been something else – but then she thought of the passive way that he took in knowledge of the Seraphim, of the Grand Army’s civil war, and the rest. At that, she had to wonder, and she could find no answers. The look he gave her dared her to.

“Dour,” Ruger said, finally looking away. “I want you flying back with her after we eat. You need to get to Grimaldi quick as can be.”

“I’m not a fan of flying,” he sighed.

Meri glanced sideways at Ed, then she grinned. It was a little too wide to be entirely sincere, but she could have a little fun at his expense. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll make sure you don’t puke. Much.”

The ranger looked up at the ceiling, then sighed again. “Bother.”