Like Old Times
"So what happens now? Am I packing up and moving to another city?"
Seida turned as the office door shut behind her, surprised to find a young man waiting outside the Overseer's office. Maera had mentioned that he would be brought to the house later that day, and yet here he was. He slouched against the wall, arms crossed with his fingers drumming on his arm. He refused to meet her eye, keeping his gaze focused on the two bags at his feet. A curtain of coiled dark hair hung in his face. Putting on the most casual face she could, she took a step toward him. "You must be Gregorim."
"Obviously," he grunted, still refusing to look at her. "Well? Am I going with you or not?"
"Obviously, yes, you are," Seida rolled her eyes. Leave it to Maera to give her a feisty one. At least things wouldn’t be boring. "Come on, kid. Let's go get you settled in and ready to go. We leave soon."
His head snapped up, as if he had expected her to say something different. Seida turned to walk towards the exit, leisurely but enough to get the point across. Now was not the time for dawdling. Not when something so exciting was going on. She heard him scramble to pick up his bags and run after her.
"Hey, wait! You're serious? Where are we going?"
"I'm completely serious. Now hurry up; we've got to meet with the dispatch team back here before late afternoon and I don't want to be late."
"You're not what I was expecting."
"Oh? And what were you expecting?" She opened the door to the main hall and led him back towards the main entrance of the barracks. Seida looked over at him, lifting an eyebrow as she waited patiently for an answer.
He faltered, looking awkwardly down at his feet. "The Overseer didn't really say much, just that she was summoning her 'last resort'. I expected you to be… I don't know, more cross? Stern? Surely she told you all about me in there."
"That she did."
"You're not going to say anything? No comments on my history? No words of warning about what will happen if I don't obey you? Nothing?" It seemed he was only growing more perplexed by the second. For a moment, Seida wondered if his brows would touch if he frowned any deeper. "I don't get it."
"What is there to get? You are a young apprentice who needs someone to show him the ropes, and the Overseer asked me to take you on and show you how we do things in the field. It's as simple as that. Whatever happened between you and your former masters is no concern of mine."
That seemed to surprise him. His brow relaxed and for a moment, it seemed as though he was about to smile. But he quickly returned to his grumpy scowl. Hopefully it wouldn't take her too long to fix that. "So… we're really going into the field?"
"Yes, we are."
"You don't really talk much, do you?"
"There are things to do before we discuss the mission, and I'd like to get your things dropped off so we can meet with Requisitions and get going. The sooner we meet the dispatch team, the better. Then, I can explain exactly what we’ll be doing. Fair enough?"
"I guess so."
The guards at the entrance of the barracks opened the doors to the streets. As she passed through, both guards wished them luck. Wading through the usual afternoon crowd of deliveries, couriers, and officials reporting in, Seida led the way towards the outer gates. Here and there, people waved to her through the crowd, shouting cheery greetings as they passed. Seida would wave and sometimes shout back, feeling glad to be back in this part of the city. It had been far too long since she'd gotten out of her usual haunts on the outskirts and made her way to the heart of Varaelia.
As they passed through the gates separating the commons and the administrative districts, Gregorim took in a deep breath and let out a long, loud sigh. Seida chuckled to herself. Judging by his record, it probably had been a decent while since he had stepped foot outside of the Scouter's barracks. After glancing up at the sun, she slowed her pace a bit. It was still only midmorning. They had some time to spare.
The longer they walked, the more Gregorim seemed to loosen up. He looked about eagerly, pausing for a moment or two when a particular vendor or shop window caught his eye. Despite the obvious longing in his eyes, he kept pace with her, casting glances back over his shoulder every so often when something really caught his eye.
"You know, for the Overseer's last resort, I'm surprised I've never seen you around or heard of you. I didn't know that Scouters lived outside the barracks," Gregorim said. "Is it a special privilege?"
Seida shrugged. There was a mounting suspicion in the back of her mind that he would be another talker. "That would be because I'm retired—or was, as it seems now—and therefore do not live in the barracks. Maera needed a favor and I thought it would be nice to get out of Varaelia for once."
"You don't look that old. Master Yadia looks way older than you and he still serves the Scouters. But you fairies are always so cross that maybe they are just frown lines, not wrinkles."
"Yadia is a cross old man. Why the Overseer gave you to him is beyond me. He's ancient and not overly skilled in dealing with chatty apprentices." Seida laughed. The old man had been well past her current age when she was just an apprentice. And that was long ago. "I was given an honorable discharge and allowed to retire early. Sometimes I still do work for the Scouters, but it is usually just assistance in domestic affairs."
"Why were you discharged?"
"That is a story I don't have the time to tell." Seida lifted her military ID as they neared the gates toward her residential district. The guards inspected her ID briefly, casting a curious glance over at Gregorim as he lingered quietly behind her. "He's with me. Show them your ID, kid. You know the drill for military checkpoints."
With a thud, he dropped his bags and held up the ID hanging around his neck. The guards parted for them to pass, bidding her good luck on her journey as well. It seemed everyone knew she was leaving the city. As they cleared the wall, Gregorim whistled. The road sloped downward into a small valley. Unlike the rest of Varaelia, her home district was full of one acre plots, lush gardens and small ponds, and several farms spaced along the Outer Wall in the far distance.
"This is where you live? What's an elf got to do to get in here?" He shook his head in di...