Rygdea’s eyes widened in surprised as he took the heap of wrapping paper and duct tape. “Don’t know what to say, Chocoboy,” he said as he ripped the paper cocoon away, never mindful of neatness. He tore the rest of the wrapping away as he gingerly held up the cowboy hat, turning it around in front of his face.
“I, uh, didn’t really get you anything,” he muttered dejectedly. “To be honest, I kinda… forget it was the holidays. Workin’ and all.” And I didn’t get anything for… he thought while looking at the hat. Stupid!
“Well, anyway, how’s it look?” He grinned as he donned his present, adding a “howdy pardner” as he fingered the brim to adjust it. “Actually—you got some time? I just thought of somethin’. I didn’t get a chance to get you anything, but maybe I know a place in Gran Pulse that might interest you. Hold on, I’ll give Wedge a call to bring the ship around. You sure your pal blondie can wait up a little while? Think you’ll like it.”
Bartz shook his head at the apology, offering a quick, “It’s no problem!” Honestly, the only presents he had received these holidays were the happy faces of the recipients, and he was completely alright with that. He loved seeing Rygdea’s grin when the pilot donned the hat, the brunet himself grinning from ear to ear in excitement.
“It looks great! Reeeeeal smooth.” Bartz looked a little confused, mouthing “howdy” like it was a foreign word. He rarely heard the term used. He was cut off by Rygdea’s question, perking up. “Yeah! I got plenty of time. Cloud’s a little busy, I’m sure he won’t mind.” With a bounce in his step the wanderer followed the sanctum worker through the base, his eyes grazing over all of the strange technology surrounding him.
“Your ship…? Uh— is it the flying kind…?” Bartz was still irksome about heights. Even though he has jumped from great heights, it was more out of adrenaline than anything. Doesn’t mean he was any less terrified— perhaps even more so.
“You bet,” the cowboy said, fiddling with the brim of his new hat. “Why, you scared of heights or somethin’?”
With the press of a button, the gargantuan hangar doors of the Lindblum II slid loudly upward, revealing a room full of dozens of velocycles and ships of various sizes. Wedge was there, his mop of golden hair hanging free from the combat helmet that he held under his arm. “I got a ship for ya, Cap!” he yelled with an excited, if lazy, salute. He had pulled to the center of the hangar a small transport ship, yellow sides emblazoned with Cavalry insignia (as were the rest of the aircraft in attendance), good for three passengers and cargo.
“It ain’t farwhere we’re going, right over the mountains there,” Rygdea said, swinging into the cockpit in a single motion. “If you close your eyes the flying ain’t so bad. Got a bag there for you if you feel you can’t handle it.”
As soon as Bartz was seated—but before he could make himself comfortable—Rygdea gunned the engine at Wedge’s good-to-go and the craft shot through a narrow grey shaft, picking up speed at a fast clip, drag metallic surroundings blurring past all sides. It left the hull of the Lindblum fast enough to create a large boom, a sonic soundblast that could be heard even at ground level over a kilometer below. The sunshine hit them with an equal intensity—this corner of Gran Pulse was temperate, but it didn’t do winters.
As Rygdea piloted the ship, rolling grassy hills and dips slowly began to become more pronounced, heightening and deepening into rocky crags and crevasses full of sunlight and shadow under the late morning sun, the ridge of snowless mountains drawing nearer. The cowboy stared straight ahead, silent, his jaw moving like he was chewing tobacco rather than words.
“So, bird boy,” he said finally, masking the thoughtful tenor of his voice with another nickname, “you spend a lot of time hangin’ out busing at the cafe. Miss NORA—” here he hesitated— “I mean, I’ve been out on duty a lot the last few months. Don’t get back often. Not since Bodhum’s festival few months ago. Does she… what has she said? About me?” He sighed. New Bodhum was on the other side of the world right then, but if he could he would cross it in a heartbeat. Though he wouldn’t say it to his face, Rygdea was glad Bartz had been able to pay him a visit, though he wished he could see the rest of the crew at the cafe as well.