Fire in the Sky

Sel wove through the bustle of Grand Casar’s market with practice. It wasn’t the largest market on Avalon, and when he went ranging, he saw some of the towns built a few days’ travel from here. Some of those had larger markets, but Grand Casar’s had some of the most variety and some of the most activity. The Balon Highroad and the Crossway intersected here, which put Grand Casar’s finger on the pulse of two of the greatest Avalonian trade routes. Merchants came here in no small numbers, bringing with them wares. Any child who grew up here learned to dodge past the buyers, slip between the stalls of the sellers, and edge along the crowd.

He kept a hand on his rifle while he walked, though, lest someone grab it mistakenly. Sometimes people were curious, because a Ruger-made weapon was rare enough. The Far Patrol needed them, though, and the militia sprung for its members to be well-armed.

More than that, Old Man Ruger knew it to be necessary.

Visiting the old man led Sel here today. He carefully slipped into a brief gap in the crowd, down one of the pathways in the market, and came face-to-face with Ruger’s storefront. The painted wooden sign read “Ruger Arms,” and no crowd had gathered here today. People knew that the old man didn’t want loiterers.

He was on his porch today, watching people come and go. Everyone called him Old Man Ruger, but he wasn’t as old as the name suggested. His hair had more black than grey and his face was lined, but it was the often severe expression and eyepatch that made him look old. Sel thought him to only be in his mid-forties. But he looked tired. He always looked tired.

His good eye caught Sel walking up. He saw him, but didn’t wave. That was his way. Sel waved as he got closer. “Ho, old man!”

“Keep calling me that,” Ruger grunted to him. He didn’t protest when Sel fell in beside him, leaning forward on the wooden railing. “What’re you looking for?”

“We’re going on patrol later,” Sel said. “Need some more ammunition.”

“Just bought some last week.”

Sel frowned. “Yeah,” he said quickly, but then hesitated while he searched for an explanation. “More critters out than usual. Someone must have tripped something somewhere.”

Ruger shrugged. “Don’t make excuses for your piss poor aim.”

Sel’s eyebrow twitched and he started to grin with annoyance. The retort coming to his tongue fell off, though, as he caught a flicker of a bobbing yellow ball in the crowd. Moogles weren’t unheard of in Grand Casar, and both he and Ruger knew this one. Kupello wore the same dark green jacket of other members of the Far Patrol, though he carried a small enchanted tome at his side instead of a firearm. He raised one hand and waved, before calling out.

“Ease off the boy, Ruger,” Kupello said. “He’s not being a bad shot for once. We ran into more than usual.”

Old Man Ruger looked at Sel, who flashed his best shit-eating grin. Then he sighed. When Ruger came to Grand Casar eight years ago, Kupello had been at his side then. No one was quite sure where they came from, but they had always been here. While the old man ran his store, Kupello had joined the Far Patrol and rose through the ranks. The erstwhile comrades still commanded a great deal of respect with one another.

“I’ll get you some, then,” Ruger said.

That prompted a laugh from Sel. He crossed his arms behind the back of his head. “See? Told you I wasn’t screwing around.” He sighed, looked up at the sky, and grinned. “I’m always prepared. I–”

The sky broke above them. A shockwave of force preceded a fireball in the heavens, rattling every building and person in Grand Casar. Streamers of flame and smoke poured off something that came crashing through the crowds. None came close to town, impacting the ground. Plumes of fire shot into the heavens from the forest beyond the town, while the object continued its descent. As the flame and smoke parted from it, Sel got a good look at it. It was a huge white thing, shaped like a fat wedge, and big enough to look hazy through the air. Flame and smoke trailed from parts of it.

He recognized it from paintings, though it was far larger than any of those. It resembled the great ships that brought them to Avalon, from the distant Web of Worlds, but far larger in size than those had been. Many of those were moored on the ground, now, hollowed out and converted into buildings for other towns.

This starship eclipsed all of them in size and it was crashing.

It hit the ground a far distance away. A massive wave of dust shot into the air, rolling out to cover the forest, though it never made it further. The market fell silent, every person in Grand Casar staring dumbly at that.

“Gods preserve, kupo,” Kupello whispered, as it finally fell still.

Sel blurted out the first question that came to his mind, before he could think better of it. “What the hell was that thing?”

“Battleship, if I didn’t know better,” Old Man Ruger said. He looked at the horizon with his good eye narrowed, all grey and lost in thought. His fingers tensed on the wooden railing outside of his store. “Storm’s coming, boy.”

It took Sel a moment longer to have everything click into place, to overcome the shock of seeing such an immense starship slam into the earth. He still felt weak in the knees, and not just from being nearly bowled over by a shockwave. Then, he realized that the Far Patrol was the only thing that could respond to this. Grand Casar had little to speak of in the way of military forces; the town guard would be needed to make certain injuries and damages were taken care of. He looked down at Kupello and saw the moogle looking up at him.

They had the same thought.

“We need to go, kupo,” Kupello said. He clutched his tome tighter. “There might be survivors.”

Sel nodded, loosely from his daze, and then nodded a second time with more conviction. “Yeah,” he agreed. “Let’s go find out.”

Ruger looked at them in turn, then nodded his head. He said nothing more. Kupello began to run, darting back into the crowd. With his size, he could get through it quickly. For Sel, the easiest way past the market was over it. He took a step forward, and then he leaped – no, jumped. Dragoon training let him propel himself high into the sky, over the roofs and heads of Grand Casar below, and towards the distant wreck of the ship. There could be survivors, he reminded himself.

He had to find out what that meant.