Chapter 2 - It's a Long Road
It was nice to be on the move again, and even better to be with some of my friends. The previous few weeks reminded me what it was like to be on my own. Let’s just say it wasn’t the kind of life I felt I could go back to at that point.
“So, Terry.” I said, raising my voice so I could be heard over the rushing wind. “Any guesses as to what’s waiting for us in Brigsonstrat?”
“Given our track record, anything from a fiona to a behemoth.” Terry replied dourly, checking his plasma rifle for the sixth time since they started their journey.
“Maybe it’s not that bad.” Meryli said, one hand on the steering wheel while the other rested on the driver’s side door. “I mean, just ‘cause it’s a Dreamer sayin’ it don’t mean it’s life or death. Maybe we just need to go flip a switch or something.”
“I doubt it.” Terry said, shaking his head. “Why would One ask us for something that simple?”
None of us had an answer for that. Then again, how could norms like us expect to understand the whims of a Dreamer?
The floater traveled the skies uncontested; the road from the Saybaro to Brigsonstrat had long since become overgrown. We passed several abandoned buildings on the side of the road, but most of the journey was filled with long fields of waving grass.
About an hour down the road, Terry asked, “Have you seen Miss Terra lately?
“No,” I admitted. “Not since I left Iniagusville after the dragon incident.”
After a short pause, Meryli said, “Don’t worry, Jimbo. She’ll be back; probably just had Queen’s Shadow business. Her Majesty keeps them running.”
“About that.” I asked, “Why does the queen have her own shadows?”
“Because the king alternates between jumping at his own and thinking it’s his best friend.” Terry said with a snort. “The queen takes her position seriously, unlike some royalty, and retains her shadows as both personal guard and a means to stop Iniagus’s more disastrous plans.
“So Terra reports to the Queen, not the King.” I said, nodding. “That explains why she doesn’t have to wear the female guard outfit.”
“Well, yeah.” Meryli said with a light-hearted laugh. “Kinda hard to be a covert operative when you’re uniform is designed to catch the eye.”
I couldn’t help but smile at thought of Terra wearing the same revealing armor I had seen Princess Sera wearing when we first met.
Meryli grinned made it clear she knew exactly what I was thinking about. “I’m sure she’d put it on for you, Jimmy.”
“Of course you were. You may be a hero, but you’re still a guy. Nothing wrong with that.”
I fidgeted in my seat. “I’m not a hero.”
“Phhb. Fine; knight, samurai, whatever you prefer. I’m just saying thousands of years of biology ain’t something you can just wish away. Isn’t that right, Terry?”
What little of Terry’s mouth was visible went red. “I told you it was an accident.”
“Sure it was.”
Seeing my curious glance, Terry said, “I’d rather not discuss it, sir.”
As the sun began to set, we came across something that piqued all of our interest: an old windmill a short ways from the road. It had obviously been abandoned for a considerable amount of time, but amazingly still seemed to be functioning.
“Ah, an old windmill from Iniagus’s green power program.” Meryli told us, steering the floater away from the road so we could get a better look. “Certainly makes a pretty picture, eh?”
I was inclined to agree. The paint on the wood and metal may have faded, but the windmill still looked like something out of a storybook. The building itself was a larger than I expected; it wouldn’t have surprised me at all to find out someone lived there.
I marveled at the construction for a few moments more before shaking my head. “As much as I’d like to take a closer look and maybe a photo or two, we do have pressing business to-”
I stopped, my eyes catching on a lone figure a little ways down the road from the windmill. It was hard to tell from that distance, but the massive sword strapped to his back was a dead giveaway.
“I’ll be damned. Looks like you two weren’t the only ones heading to the Saybaro.” I said, pointing him out to the others.
“Well, I’ll be. HEY! ARC! YOO-HOO!” Meryli honked the horn for emphasis as she started her descent. The figure stopped walking and looked up at us.
“Yup, that’s Arc all right.” Meryli said with a chuckle. “I can’t believe he’s still carrying that big-ol’ thing; it’s almost as big as he is.”
“He did pretty well with it against the dragon.” I said as we drew near him. “Besides, the more the merrier, right?”
Meryli snorted. “As long as he doesn’t start getting touchy; Sera warned me about him, you know.”
As we drew nearer, I could make out more details on my friend and fellow hero. I’ve never understood what made him decide on the flight goggles or the clothing that looked as though it survived a trip through a trabi thresher, but at least it made him easy to recognize from a distance.
“Hey, Arc!” I called out as the floater touched down a short distance away from him.
He looked at me strangely. “Jimmy Olsen Sakamota?”
“Luminous Arc Skylad?” I replied, raising an eyebrow at him. “My apologies; I can’t call you that anymore, can I? It’s just Arc, right?”
To my surprise, Arc didn’t flinch at the sound of his name. Instead, he continued to stare at me strangely, as though he thought I was some sort of illusion.
A bit concerned, I asked, “Are you okay, Arc?”
Arc continued staring at me for a moment before seeming to snap out of it. “Sorry, Jimmy. You said something?”
“I asked if you were okay.” I repeated. “You look like you were staring into the dream realm.”
“Yeah, I’m good; I was just thinking. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, what with gettin’ ready for the move and all.”
“Oh? Having any trouble?”
Arc didn’t respond. I had the distinct impression that our sudden appearance had caught him completely off-guard. I started to put my hand on his shoulder, but he quickly jerked away.
“Arc?” I asked, understandably worried about Arc’s strange behavior. “Is something wrong?”
“I said I’m fine!” He snapped, making me pull my hand back in surprise. After staring at me for a moment, he let out a sigh. “I’m just a little tired, that’s all. Where are you all headed, anyway?”
“Brigsonstrat.” I told him. “One contacted me through the doll; apparently something’s going on that needs some investigating.”
“Really? I’m in.” He said immediately.
Meryli stretched until her back popped. “We’re still a few hours away from Brigsonstrat. Might as well settle down for the night.”
My gaze fell on the windmill once again. “Think we can stay in there?”
“No need.” Terry hefted a metal canister about the size of the trash can in my study. “Brought my cabin with me, just in case.”
“Oh ... right. Good thinking.” I said, neglecting to mention that I had brought mine as well.
I looked at the windmill. I wanted to take a look inside, but after the safety nightmare that was the Nation of teh Noobs, my curiosity in Iniagus architecture was limited at best.
Terry and I set up the cabin while Meryli parked the floater beside the windmill. Arc simply stood by himself as we worked. I didn’t say anything, mostly because there wasn’t truly anything for him to do.
Meryli rejoined us just as the cabin finished forming. “Wow, a Trygon model. Didn’t think you Royal Guard types earned that kind of money.”
“Standard issue for all field specialists.” Terry said matter-of-factly.
I had to suppress the urge to snort at this; I had never gotten such a device despite the fact that Iniagus had put me in the middle of nowhere by myself. Still, I couldn’t complain much now that the Saybaro and its sizeable mansion were technically mine.
“I’ll take first watch.” I volunteered.
“Watch for what, Jimmy?” Meryli asked, giving me a strange look. “You expecting something?”
“Well, no, but there are only three beds.” I told her.
Terry shook his head. “That was the last cabin. I made sure to get one with four beds this time; I figured we might need the extra space if we went wandering again.”
Sure enough, the sleeping space was equipped with four serviceable beds, each fully made.
As Terry plopped down into one of the beds, Meryli asked, “Don’t you ever take that armor off?”
“It takes over an hour just to get the chest piece off.” Terry replied, his voice muffled slightly by the pillow. “I’d rather just go to sleep in it and deal with it tomorrow morning.”
Meryli wrinkled her nose. “Ugh; you’re going to smell something foul.”
“I’ll shower in the morning.”
I held up a hand to stop Meryli from arguing anymore. “We should get some sleep. I don’t want to delay our mission any longer than we have to.”
Sighing, Meryli replied, “Sure, Jimbo. I got dibs on the bathroom, though!”
I half expected Arc to leap over to the bathroom just before she could reach the door, but he calmly passed by her, laid his sword against the wall, and sat down on the edge of the bed.
“Are you sure you’re feeling okay?” I asked him as the bathroom door clicked shut.
Arc shook his head. “I’m just tired, Jimmy. Listen, I think I’m gonna go ahead and crash early.”
Without waiting for a response, Arc lay down on the bed facing away from me. I stared at the back of his spiky blue hair for a moment before sighing and laying down on my own bed.
“Terry?” I asked turning in my bed so I could see my armored friend. “You awake?”
Terry let out a snore. I must admit, I was a little surprised he didn’t say ‘sir’ afterwards.
Sighing, I nestled against my pillow and closed my eyes. After a few moments, I fell asleep to the sound of Meryli humming to herself in the shower.
I dreamt I was standing out in a flat green field. It wasn’t covered with grass; it was solid green. The ground stretched as far as I could see, while the sky above me was an endless field of white.
The moment I stepped forward, grass and wildlife burst to life around me. Trees rose from the ground, wildflowers burst into full bloom as I stared around and watched. The ground rippled as the plant life spread further, forming hills and valleys as far as I could see.
As I was marveling at the sudden change, I heard someone calling my name. She stood on top of a nearby hill, her beautiful hair rippling around her long hanging ears in the wind like the silk of her floral-patterned kimono.
“Terra!” I called out before breaking into a run. The plant life continued to burst to life around me with every footfall.
She met me with open arms and a kiss that left me breathless. As she pressed against me, her warmth permeating me as her cream-colored fur rubbed against my skin, I knew I never ever wanted to let her go.
A cold wind brushed against my cheek, startling me into opening my eyes. Dark clouds were gathering in the distance. The wind began to pick up, raving the tall grass wildly as the clouds grew nearer.
I saw a dark figure floating above the valley, directly beneath the darkest of clouds. I couldn’t make out its shape very well, but it looked vaguely humanoid. The very sight of it filled me with fear, not just for myself, but for Terra’s safety.
I quickly broke away and stepped in front of my love. She tried to hold me back, but I slipped from her grasp and ran toward the distant darkness.
The closer I got to the mysterious figure, the harder the wind pushed against me. Eventually it was all I could do to hold my ground.
As I struggled to not get blown away, the figure began to laugh. It stretched out a single hand. My fear peaked; I couldn’t let him touch me. I tried to draw Glint, but the wind knocked it out of my hand the moment I pulled it from my sheath.
Still laughing, the figure drew near, its hand soon only inches away.
Something made it pause; the black pools that were its eyes narrowed. Without warning, it vanished along with the strong wind. Braced against no resistance, I immediately fell on the ground. The dream broke as I crashed to the floor of the portable cabin.
I thought it was the fall from my bed that had awoken me until I heard Meryli shouting coming from the open door of the cabin.
Still a little groggy, I pushed myself off the floor and hurried to the door just in time to see our floater zoom past the cabin. Meryli passed me a moment later, chasing futilely after the chaser.
I stared at the rapidly retreating floater as Terry ran up to me.
“Arc.” He said, sounding furious, “He just stole the floater!”
Now alarmed, I turned back to the now distant floater. Meryli had given up chasing it and was now bent over, her hands resting on her knees as she gasped for breath.
I asked, crouching beside her. “You okay?”
She spat on the ground. “I’m gonna get that little brat if it’s the last thing I do! All my stuff was in that floater!”
“Mine too, sir.” Terry told me.
I thanked the Creator I had thought to bring in my pack the night before, and not just because of food I had brought; Plush One was in my pack as well. Unfortunately, my portable cabin had been in the trunk of the floater.
“Well, this is just great!” Meryli said, still fuming. “What are we gonna do now?”
“Call Bethany.” I told her, tapping the face of my PIM. “She should be able-”
I stopped and frowned. The PIM didn’t activate. I tapped the face again, but the screen still remained dark.
“That’s odd.” I said. “With the connection to Yaevin back online, I should be able to connect with Bethany pretty much anywhere in Rimstak, let alone Wenapaj; there’s no way we could be out of range.”
“Interference from the power stations in Brigsonstrat, sir?” Terry suggested. “I know they mess with the cellular network something awful.”
Meryli shook her head. “We aren’t anywhere near close enough for that.”
In the ensuing silence, I couldn’t help but wonder if Arc did something to the PIM while I slept. I discounted the idea almost immediately; he was a student of Kindred tech, not Glyche tech.
The sun was already rising. Shaking my head, I said, “Okay, here’s the plan; I need one of you to go back to Bethany and let her know what happened.”
“On foot?” Meryli asked disbelievingly, “That’s at least a two day walk!”
“By which time Bethany should be finished with the Ascendant.”
“Why not just head to Brigsonstrat and rent another floater?”
“Because we have no idea what kind of shape Brigsonstrat might be in; One didn’t elaborate much on his plan, just who i needed to contact.”
Sighing, Meryli said, “Fine. I’ll go; Terry will roast if he walks in that oven all the way back.”
“I’ve had longer marches.” Terry said, sounding a little insulted.
I held up a hand to forestall the coming argument. “Okay, Meryli. I’ve got some rations in my pack. We’re only a day away from Brigsonstrat, so go ahead and just take the pack.”
As Meryli headed inside the cabin, Terry asked, “You think she’ll be okay?”
I nodded. “She’s resourceful. Besides, your firepower might come in handy. She’s a tekker, but then again, so am I.”
“Only because you were raised in Rimstak.” Meryli called out from within the cabin.
Terry and I looked at the cabin for a moment before turning back to each other.
“What about Arc, sir?” Terry asked. “Why would he steal the floater from us?”
To that, I had no answer, and I told Terry as much. “Perhaps he had some need of it. Perhaps he forgot something back in Naidyr. I honestly don’t know, Terry.”
Meryli exited the cabin with my pack on her shoulder. I held up my hand, saying, “Hang on; let me grab a few things before you head off.
She shrugged and turned around so I could access the pack. I pulled out Plush One and enough rations to make it through the rest of the journey; I was accustomed to not eating for a day or two every now and then, but I didn’t know if Terry could handle fasting as well as I could.
I started to grab a set of clothes from the bag, but thought better of it. I didn’t need to get burdened with too much baggage, and I could always wash my clothes in town.
“Here.” Terry said, handing his portable cabin to Meryli. “You’ve got a longer walk than us.”
“Besides, I’ve still got my-” I stopped abruptly; I had put my portable cabin in the trunk of the floater. Sighing, I said, “Well, take it anyway; I’m sure we’ll manage.
“Thanks.” Meryli said, hefting my pack and Terry’s portable cabin. “Well, try not to have too much fun ’til I get back, y’hear?”
“Fun.” Terry said in a flat tone. “Right.”
I bowed politely. “Stay safe, Meryli.”
She gave me a salute before turning around and starting down the long road home.
As we watched her leave, Terry commented. “Maybe she’ll get lucky and someone’ll give her a lift.”
“Maybe you’re right.” I honestly doubted it; we had only seen a handful of floaters. The road to the Saybaro was never well-traveled.
Shaking my head, I said, “Well, let’s get going. We’ve got a long walk ahead of us.”