I take a seat across Vert, who sits right behind the driver side. Once I’m seated, she closes the door and orders Rosalys to go.
“You can go now.”
“Yes, lady Vert.”
Rosalys ring a bell, and the coach moves, accompanied with the pegasuses snort and flap of wings. Nobody stops us from leaving the inn
“We will take the main road and head to the north. On the next town, we will use the train to head south east, where my home is,” Vert says, continuing her explanation from before. “There will be a checkpoint, of course, but it should be fine with our disguise.”
“Won’t they know my face?”
“I doubt it. It’s easier to tell people to look for a white haired young man than distribute a portrait they may have or not have. Besides, you look very different from when I found you. Nobody would recognize you—not immediately.”
“That’s a relief. What should I do at the checkpoint?”
“Just play as a visually challenged nobleman who has a really sore throat; let me and Rosalys handle the conversation.”
Visually challenged. That’s one way of putting it. In other words, sit tight and don’t do anything. Simple enough.
“Speaking of visions, your sight has come back, right?”
“Yes, but it’s a little bit dark. I can’t see very well.”
“Maybe you need more light. Hold on, let me turn up the lantern.”
Vert leans sideways to reach the lantern placed on a small plank fastened between the seats. She turns the knob, and the room becomes much darker.
“Vert, you got it wrong. You made it darker,” I say when Vert makes no attempt to fix it.
“No, I didn’t. I made it brighter.”
“But it’s darker for me,” I say, earning a frown from Vert.
“Perhaps…” Vert reaches the knob again and turns it to the opposite direction.
Vert turns the knob further.
“Much better. I can see very well now.”
“And I can’t. I think I know what’s wrong with your eyes now. They’re weak to light.”
“So I can see when it’s dark, but not when it’s bright?”
“Yes. That’s probably why you can suddenly see. It’s night now. When you woke up, it was noon and the room was bright from sunlight.”
“I see.” It’s a good news, but troubling. How am I supposed to do activities on daytime? It’s not like I can turn off the sun.
“I need sunglasses.”
“Sunglasses? What’s that?”
She doesn’t even know sunglasses? On what century is this place?
“Glasses with dark lenses. Lenses are plates of small glass that you can wear on your eyes.”
“I know what glasses are,” Vert says with a huff. “I just don’t know what sunglasses are. But it’s a good idea. Perhaps we can fashion one at a glasses shop.”
“Yes.” I hope it won’t be like grandpa Cor’s round and old fashioned glasses. The lenses are too big and he looks like a mad doctor when he wears it.
The conversation ends there. Vert adjusts the light so both of us can see. After that, it’s silence between us.
It makes me think. Now that the hectic-ness subsides, questions surface in my mind. Where am I? Somewhere far away from home, that’s clear. But where—or when—exactly? The past? No way, they have pegasuses and back at home pegasuses are only a fantasy creature. Another world? Most likely, since there’s another Vert and another me here. But how did I get here? And why there are people looking for me?
Or maybe the explanation is much simpler; I am still sleeping and this is all just a dream. But no. This is too lucid to be a dream. There’s no way I can replicate the sensation of riding a coach in my dream—because I’ve never rode one—and there’s no way I can imagine Vert’s adult version face in this much detail.
Speaking of Vert…
I sneak a glance at her. She has closed her eyes and appears to be taking a nap. Now that she relaxes, she looks even more like the Vert I know. She still has some baby fat left and only now I notice how stern and mature she looks when she’s awake. Now, she looks like an ordinary girl sleeping.
And I’m disillusioned with how she looks in her dress. Sure, she’s wearing a cream colored, long sleeved blouse paired with a green, two layer skirt and black high-heeled boots, but she does not look feminine at all. It’s like I’m looking at a pretty boy dressing up as a girl. How did she manage pulling that off? Is it the boots? The short hair? Her face? Or is it the way she crosses both arms and legs?
Vert opens her eyes. They’re green like pine’s leaves.
“What is it?”
“Nothing. I just thought you really look like Vert—my sister, I mean, you look better with pants.” I lie straight away.
Vert sniggers. “And you too, like my brother’s long lost twin.”
Boy, does this Vert eats my lie raw too?
“By the way, what’s your name?”
“…You’ve been calling me brother and only now ask my name?” I ask incredulously.
Vert shrugs. “It just occurred to me that you may share the same looks, but not necessarily the same name.”
“Right. It’s Argent. Same with your brother?”
Vert sighs. “Yes. Why you’re not my brother again?”
That question is rhetorical, but I answer it anyway.
“Because we think memories and blood ties are necessary to be brother and sister.”
Vert goes still. No wonder, even I’m surprised by myself.
“Are you saying that we can pretend to be brother and sister if we want?” Vert asks, voice tight.
“Yes. Not as a replacement for each other though,” I quickly say.
“Sounds interesting, but I’ll have to think about that.”
“Why you too? You’re the one who suggested it.”
“Yes, but on the spur of the moment. I need to prepare my heart to handle another Vert in my life,” I say, half serious half joking, which earns me a raised eyebrow from Vert.
“Surely my counterpart is not that bad.”
“She’s a dirt magnet. Everyday she comes back as if she has rolled a hundred times on the ground and thousand times on the mud.”
“Oh, then I’m as bad.”
I want ask what that means, but I notice the coach slows down to a stop.
Vert peeks through the curtain and shakes her head.
“No. It should be further down the road. Rosalys? What’s wrong?”
“There’s a huge line in front of us, lady Vert. I have yet to know what is wrong though.”
“Can you see the front?”
“No, milady. It’s too dark. Please wait for a moment; I will inquire what’s wrong.”
Rosalys comes back a minute later.
“The army is sending reinforcements to north-east defense line. The road is closed to allow them to come through.”
“The reinforcements should be taxied by the pegasus riders. What do they need the main road for?”
Vert’s question is answered by a tremor.
“…oh, right. I forgot. There’s that.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Why don’t you look outside? It’ll soon pass.”
Another tremor. I lift the curtain and look forward. At first I only see other coaches, pulled to a stop for the same reason. Then the sky shifts.
No. It’s not the sky. It’s a lizard. A giant, around thirty stories high and several blocks long freakishly over-sized lizard. Its torso is shaped like a round bread, but its skin is like cone shaped rocks put together, especially on the back. Its tail is short; only half of its torso’s length, but its end is shaped like a club—with spikes. Its head is like a turtle’s but with scales and two short horns.
I close the curtain and face Vert.
“What is that?”
“A stone dragon called Groundsweeper. Cute, isn’t it?”
I look at the lizard again. Yeah, it’s cute; if it was palm sized and weighed several hundred grams instead of several hundred tons.
“And you’re saying that that overgrown lizard is the reinforcements.”
“Nah, that one is the reinforcements’ weapon of mass-destruction. The real reinforcements are the army escorting it. You can only see the pegasus corps from here though.”
Vert is right. There are tenths of pegasuses flying alongside the dragon. Some maintain their altitude close to the dragon’s head, wings flapping only once or twice as they glide beside its unblinking eyes.
“Amazing. How do you put something that big under control?”
Vert hands me a spyglass. “Here. Look at the top of its head, between the horns.”
I do as instructed. I see several uniformed people riding on their pegasuses before I find the spot mentioned. There are silhouettes, people sitting in a circle between the horns.
“See those people? They’re its summoners; the only ones who can give command to it and bring it under control.”
“If it’s a summoned being, why make it walk? Why don’t you just summon it on the battlefield?”
“It’s not that simple. To summon a grand class familiar like Groundsweeper, you need years of preparation and tremendous amount of resources, so you can’t just dismiss and re-summon it as you like. Of course they summoned it near the battlefield where it’s stationed. But now they’re being moved because there’s another battlefield that needs its assistance and they can’t wait for years.”
The noise grows outside as Vert explains the situation. People are getting off their coaches to see the dragon better. There are ‘ooooh’s and ‘aaah’s accompanied with excited finger pointing; a complete opposite to Vert, who isn’t fazed by the sheer scale and grandiose of the dragon. She just stares at another direction, looking concerned.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“It’s strange,” I give Vert a questioning look, and she elaborates. “The Groundsweepers are the west Ulrika base’s familiar. I heard they’re planning to send one to the northeast Geneche base, but I see two.”
“Two?” I look out again and yeah, there’s another Groundsweeper, quite far behind the first one. There are less pegasuses around it. “What’s wrong with two?”
“Think about it. How much resources and time will it take to move a creature of this scale across the country? The answer is two battalions of combined corps and three weeks. That means for three weeks, the whole border defense is one familiar and two battalions short. Anything can happen within that span of time.”
“If they’re that concerned, why send the army too? Don’t you have it under control?”
“To keep the creature in line in case it goes berserk of course. Groundsweepers may appear calm, but they’re actually very sensitive. If they accidentally acknowledged a city as an enemy because some idiot provokes it, then, well, it’s hard to change its mind.”
I look at the dragon again. It’s blinking again, so slowly. Yeah. I think it can flatten a city or two before it can be convinced otherwise.
“Long story short, moving a Groundsweeper takes months of planning and calculation. You can’t just plus one when you feel like it. Even if you’re desperate.”
“Perhaps they have no other choice,” I say, trying to make sense of the reason behind.
“That’s what I’m afraid of. In any case, this works for us. It’ll take around three to four hours to let the dragons pass. The checkpoint will be lax with the growing line.”
“And the patrols?”
“Won’t come. They trust the checkpoint guard to do their job.”