Walkabout Chapter 6

Spring came to the Veldt not with a whimper, but with a bang. Several bangs, in fact, sharp cracking noises that startled the winter-wearied wildlife and rang out in the frosty night air like shots from a cannon. The ruckus so scared Relm, lying asleep in her bed, that she ran to Sally’s room in a panic, pounding on the door frantically for what seemed like forever before the older woman finally yanked it open in high dudgeon.

”What in all of Ifrit’s hellfires are you banging this door down for?” she grumped, blinking owlishly at the girl and her bristling dog. “Can’t a poor old woman get any rest in the world?”

”Can’t you hear the noise, Sally? We’re under attack! Maybe it’s a monster, or there’s been an airship crash, or …”

Sally squinted disbelievingly at Relm for a moment and then laughed her big laugh. “You are a hoot, Relm Arrowny. That’s the sound of the ice breakin’ on Triangle Sound, you silly gosling. Go back to bed and put a pillow over your head if it bothers you so.”

She slammed the door shut again, leaving a slightly abashed Relm and Interceptor alone in the darkness of the hallway.


The sounding of the ice seemed to be a signal to all of nature, a bugle call that lured green patches of grass back to the surface through the melting snow and birds back to the skies around the cabin in increasing numbers. Relm watched the changes with fascination, growing a little more restless each day as time went by and the weather became warmer and warmer. Interceptor’s winter coat began to come out in thick black clumps and even Bill started to moult, until the landscape around Sally’s homestead was piebald with their castings, great sable piles of wolf-wool and chocobo feathers dotting the snowy expanse in wind-blown tumbleweeds. The returning wrens and sparrows had a field day with all the nesting material available; long after Relm had Interceptor had gone south, families of swallows were being born and raised on Interceptor’s shaggy fluff, shed countless months before.

Sally observed the turning season with joy, as she always did, but also with a little sadness. She knew that her young friend would soon feel the pull and move on, and she had also begun to realize just how much she was going to miss the girl’s endless chatter and smart mouth. There was nothing wrong with being alone and Sally wouldn’t have traded her life on the Veldt for anything, but it was still gonna be a shock when the cabin was once again empty and she was cooking for one.

Doing the chores all by her lonesome wasn’t going to be a cakewalk either, but she kept that particular thought to herself.

Sure enough, one evening in early March while the two of them were on the front stoop peeling potatoes, Relm announced her intention to go.

”I think I’ll start off tomorrow morning, Sally,” she said, sounding both excited and somewhat subdued. “I’m, like, really thankful for all your help, but I’ve gotta keep going. I’ll come back and visit after I’ve found him, honest, but …”

”No need to explain things to me, honey. You go and find your daddy and get things settled, just be careful, alright? Then you can come back and paint me a portrait like you promised.”

“I will, Miss Sally. I won’t forget about you.”

And next time I’ll bring Clyde with me, she added mentally, trying not to smirk at the thought.

Sally sat twisting a half-peeled potato in her hands thoughtfully after they had finished talking, obviously giving some matter a thorough going-over in her head. She carefully sat the tuber back with its brethren and placed a starchy hand on Relm’s shoulder.

”Wait right here, child,” she said, with a small smile. “I’ve got a few things I want to show you. Keep peeling those taters and I’ll be right back.”

”… It’s not the clippings again, is it Sally? Or the bullet they dug out of your shoulder? Ew. You could’ve kept that secret, I wouldn’t have minded.”

”Neither. Hush your trap, Adamanchyt Tongue.”

She disappeared into the house, leaving Relm to wait on the steps. Peeling potatoes was proving boring, so after awhile she began throwing the skins to Interceptor, who snapped them up gladly. It was one of the weirdest things about him, his love of vegetables. Looking at the dog you would think he was a strict meat-eater, but there you’d be wrong, because Interceptor was a strict everything eater. His especial favourite was tomato. Relm chunked another slice at his head and cheered him on as he caught it in mid-air, bolting the potato wedge down like it was a prime cut of sirloin steak.

Sally soon returned, a black velvet satchel in her hands.

”Should I come back later when you’re done, or do you want to get some presents?” she deadpanned, standing directly behind Relm’s back. Relm jumped nearly a foot and sheepishly moved over so Sally could sit back down, wondering as always how the robber-woman moved so damned quietly. Sally had often said the same thing about her, but she certainly didn’t feel stealthy. More and more she felt that her limbs were too long and gangly, like a yearling chocobo with too much wingspan. People said it was all a part of growing up, but Relm wasn’t so sure about this herself.

Gingerly, as though she were handling gold chocobo eggs, Sally slipped her hand inside the bag and extracted two items, both of which gleamed dully in the starlight. She carefully handed the first to Relm, placing it in her grubby fingers with as much reverence as Relm had ever seen the old lady display. Looking down at the object Relm realized it was a silver compass, well-built and extraordinarily heavy for such a small instrument.

”It was my grandpappy’s,” Sally said, staring at the navigational tool fondly. “He was a cartographer and often had need of such things. It’s fancy and it’s old, so take good care of it, y’hear me? That way you won’t be gettin’ lost and wandering into some other widow-woman’s kitchen. I’m jealous that way.”

Relm sat clutching at the compass, awestruck by such an important gift. It was almost overwhelming, being entrusted with such things. “Wow. You didn’t have to give me this, you know, I might lose it, or break it …”

”Here’s hoping you do neither. If I keep it the damned thing will just sit in my dresser and tarnish, at least you’ll be givin’ it a use. Now, as for the next sussy, it ain’t as expensive or antique, but I love it just the same.” She held the item aloft in the air, the better for Relm to see. Moonlight glinted and glimmered off six inches of polished steel, razor-edged and pointed and deadly. Sally seemed to relish the sight, looking upon it with as much love and pride as she had the old compass.

”This … this is my baby. I bought this dagger in Doma long before the Magi Wars, back when people still lived there, and there weren’t no finer metalsmiths in all the world than the Domans.” Sally smiled. “It came in handy on many a heist and many an adventure, but my caperin’ days are over. You take it, girl. You never know when you’ll need a good knife; it might come in handy someday.”

She aimed the weapon at Relm, handle-first. Relm took it carefully, hefting the blade experimentally with her right hand. She made a few false jabs at the air to see how it felt and Sally laughed, amused with the girl’s boldness as always.

”There’s a fine scabbard that comes with it, but I’d advise you to put it in your knapsack and not wear it around like a piece of flashy jewellery. Keep it clean, watch your fingers, and don’t treat it as a toy.” Sally thumped Relm on the back, nearly knocking the wind out of her lungs. “You can’t lose with that weapon in your hand. You’ll be fine, I warrant. Paintin’ illusions is all good and tricksey, but sometimes cold steel settles arguments better than brush-bristles.”

”Sally, I … really don’t know what to say. Goddesses, how am I supposed to pay you back for this?”

”Oh, you just come back safe and see me someday and we’ll call it even. Well … that, and you can get a move on peeling those potatoes. No shirkin’, I don’t care if you’re going to the bleeding moon tomorrow. Tonight you got peelin’ to do.”

Relm suddenly wondered if the gifts were quite worth it after all.


The morning dawned fair and cool, pink candy-floss clouds drifting northward in an unsettled red sky. Relm was up with the larks, packing her things, making sure and doubly-sure she had plenty of supplies (after that lean month on the Veldt the fall before, Relm was taking no chances with food; her knapsack was filled to bursting with enough provisions to at least get them to Nikeah eating like kings), and generally being a nuisance and a pest to her host in their final hours together. Sally understood the bee in Relm’s beret and eventually ordered her to a chair at the kitchen table, slipping the restless girl an earthenware mug of chai tea while she gathered the last of the dry goods herself.

”If I don’t do it myself you’ll be all gettin’ up under me the entire morning,” she said, pushing her spectacles up the bridge of her broad nose authoritatively. When Sally adjusted her wire-rims like that you might as well just give in, because the iron will was firmly in place and not even a team of draft chocobos would budge that obstacle. “Just sit tight and you’ll be back to freezing your butt blue on the Veldt before y’know it. Enjoy the hospitality of my kitchen in the meanwhile.”

It was a very nice kitchen, Relm had to admit. She hadn’t even known kitchens like this existed outside of fairy tales and real estate brochures. The floor was cobbled, the stone fireplace gigantic, and if there wasn’t something delicious simmering on the big iron stove yet there probably would be, if you waited a moment or two. It was one of those spacious kitchens that perpetually smelled like gingerbread, and Relm was going to be sad to see the back of it. The sight of the morning sunlight glinting off the polished black surface of the stovetop and Sally’s copper cookpots made her feel a little depressed, but she consoled herself with the thought that she would be back someday and pushed the low spirits to one side. She’d cook dinner for Sally and Clyde in here soon, wait and see.

Sally soon returned with the final items and they were packed neatly in Relm’s sack alongside all her other belongings. There was nothing stopping her from leaving.

They set off for the borders of Sally’s land in silence. The robber-woman had been quiet most of the morning but insisted on coming along to see them off, saying it was good luck to watch companions out of sight at the beginning of a journey. Relm didn’t mind. Sally was a big, protective mamma bear that way, and having a big protective mamma bear see you off had to be good luck of some kind.

When they finally reached the rotted old post Sally had set up as a boundary marker, Relm was suddenly and unceremoniously grabbed into a rib-snapping, breath-crushing bear hug, smothered head-first in a warm calico bosom that smelled like pipe smoke and lye soap and freshly-cut hay. She managed to untangle her arms long enough to reciprocate the embrace; it was like hugging a big flannel barrel with boobs.

I’ll miss you, big flannel barrel with boobs, she thought, and she meant it.

”Come back and see me like you promised, girl,” Sally finally said, releasing Relm so she could come up for air. The old fedora’s brim had been pulled down until a low shadow hid its owner’s eyes; Relm couldn’t be sure, but she thought Sally might be crying, and it made her own eyes sting in sympathy. They stung even worse when Sally landed a powerful slap right on the small of her back. “Now, git, before you embarrass the both of us. Shoo! B’gone! And no lookin’ back! I hate soppy goodbyes.”

Relm didn’t look back, but she kept her hand on Interceptor’s steadying ruff the entire way. She could feel Sally’s eyes on them until they crested a hill and went out of sight.


With the help of Sally’s compass and despite the onset of a freak cold snap shortly after leaving, Relm and Interceptor made good time moving southward, their journey unblighted by any other kind of delay or danger. The temperature was chill and the wind had an edge to daunt even Sally’s sharp dagger, but with the aid of her Mobliz cloak – a wonderfully thick blend, if still a little too bland-looking for Relm’s taste – and Interceptor’s shaggy presence she managed to stay warm, if not entirely comfortable. Your fingers turned the most peculiar shade of blue in bitter cold. Relm had already decided to try and mix up a batch in her paints next time there was an opportunity for such things, and she knew exactly what she would call it: Hypothermic Harmony. Oh yes. It would sell like …well, some kind of cake, if not exactly a hot one.

Nature strained against the unusual weather, for it was approaching April and the land was already covered with a fine layer of green fuzz, like the down on a newly-hatched chocobo chick. Almost every morning there was frost on the ground, coating the grass, the rocks, and Relm’s sleeping blankets in chilly condensation. Scraping it off her belongings gave Relm the heebie-jeebies and each day she hoped the next one would be warmer, but they never seemed to get that way. She began to wish they had stayed back at Sally’s for a little while longer, maybe until July or August or whenever the sun finally exploded in a raging inferno. Anything for some heat. Interceptor wasn’t bothered in the least by any of this; he and his kind were creatures of the cold, and had adapted to their environment by evolving thick, dense coats and massive paws to act as makeshift snowshoes. There wasn’t much snow about, but the fur came in handy, keeping him snug and warm when cold winds snarled across the Veldt.

The weather was foul, but the two travellers had each other, and this was all that mattered to either. Together they crossed the plains, helping each other when help was needed, and soon enough the mountains of Doma appeared on the distant horizon, craggy and black against the broad expanse of dirty-white sky.

Chapter 7

All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition

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