“A… lost chocobo?” Amon glanced up from the job flier. “Really, Mocho?”
The Lalafell spread his arms with a furrowed brow. “Sorry. I’m not quite the sniffer-of-opportunity that Ajir was. Pickings are slim, and this seemed like something the two of us could handle since the girls are busy today.”
“Shopping, you mean.”
“They deserve a little recreation time,” Mocho said softly. “They’re just young lasses, still.”
“Aye, I suppose,” Amon gave in, slinging his quiver over his shoulder.
“Probably a wise idea to bring that. Raincatcher Gully is full of all sorts of wildlife. Much of it dangerous.”
The Elezen nodded, glad that one of them knew the area they were headed into. This new Eorzean geography, especially far outside the establishments, was still a mystery to him. He had become more familiar with the Shroud lately, but their jobs kept them moving into unknown locations. He didn’t like not being prepared.
The trip to Wineport was uneventful. When they arrived, Amon allowed Mocho to iron out the details. It seemed pretty straightforward – a merchant travelling the trails of Raincatcher Gully suffered a spooked and run-away chocobo. Since he had two others, he was able to safely bring his wares to town, but the loss of one bird was enough to put his livelihood in danger.
The way the merchant talked, this particular chocobo was of important stock. Not fully trained yet, but a prize among its kind. Their job was to located the bird and bring it back unharmed.
“I still think ’tis beneath us,” Amon muttered as they left the gates. Mocho had to maintain a near-jog to keep up with the Bard’s much longer strides. That’s what he got for picking lousy jobs.
“I know, but the pay is good.” The Lalafell reasoned in return.
“The pay is good for a lot of things, my friend. That doesn’t mean they’re worth doing.”
“Are you going to grumble the whole way, Amon?”
Mocho just sighed. Then, after jogging along for a short time, began, “You know, when I was a lad…”
And that was it. The Lalafell began to spin one of his “When I was a lad” stories that always pacified Amon. Since the Bard was a storyteller himself, and eager for knowledge about the Eorzean people, Mocho seemed well aware that his tales were welcome, and often flourished them to ease what was an otherwise somewhat awkward companionship.
It wasn’t that Amon disliked Mocho. But his charm didn’t have the same effect on the older Lalafell as it did on Zuri and Koh. There was something in the way that Mocho watched him that told Amon the paladin-aspirant knew more than he let on about. This put a distance between the two.
In fact, this was the first job he’d taken that paired him with Mocho alone. For the current moment, the Lalafell was content to keep things amiable between them. And Amon welcomed the stories he told.
So they walked together with that one thing established between them.
“Listen,” Amon put a hand out to Mocho, indicating a full stop.
They’d been travelling for about a bell, moving deeper into the sub-tropical forest. Bugs hummed around them lazily and the sound of water trickling in the distance capered in the air.
The Elezen had always had sharp hearing – even his cloned form maintained that trait. He knew what he heard now, though it came from far away…
“Where?” Mocho squinted, trying to hear what his companion did without result.
“This way,” Amon motioned to him, moving carefully, trying not to make too much noise as he followed his senses. No good in spooking the creature further into the forest when they’d only just tracked it down.
The sound of a bird in distress became louder as they pushed through vines and undergrowth. The ground sank under Amon’s weight as he walked, firmament too saturated with swampy moisture to remain solid. Soon, it began to bog down his motion, making it nearly impossible for poor Mocho to wade through.
Thankfully, a flicker of red feathers in the middle of the clearing indicated they’d located their target. However, the bird, too, was stuck in the mire, struggling with mud-splattered wings to try to free itself. It was the largest chocobo that Amon had seen, and while powerfully built, its size and weight were working against it, pulling it deeper as it fought.
“Amon!” Mocho’s voice sounded behind him, distressed. As small as he was, there was no way he could make it any further into the swamp.
“Hold on…” The Elezen grit his teeth, working his way a backwards few steps. He reached down with both hands, and like lifting a child from under the arms, hoisted Mocho up, and deposited him on a spot of higher ground.
From the look on Mocho’s face, he was rather embarrassed about the whole exchange. But they had a bigger situation to worry about.
Amon was already pulling out a rope and tying it around his waist.
“You’re going out there?”
“What option do we have if we’re to bring it back, alive?”
Mocho’s worry grew, reflecting on his face openly. “I don’t know that it’s worth the risk.”
Amon flashed him a slight grin. “Aye, and you won’t know until you try.”
The Elezen tossed him the other end of the rope, cutting off any other attempts of dissuasion. He knew this was insane and had no idea why he was putting his neck on the line for something like this.
“If it gets too much, I’ll turn back,” Amon promised.
“All right,” Mocho finally agreed, having secured the rope to the sturdiest tree he could find.
The Bard then turned, making the long, arduous path through the mire towards the struggling bird.
It was nothing but pure grit and determination that carried Amon’s steps forward. He ignored the weird things that squished about him as the mire rose from his shins to his upper legs, then almost to his waist. Had Mocho tried to come this way, he would have been swallowed whole.
Finally, after carefully picking his way, Amon was able to reach out and take hold of the chocobo’s bridle. The huge bird rolled its eyes at the Elezen in pitched fear.
Under normal circumstances, the beast could have easily taken his arm off in a beak that size. But it had worn itself out in the struggle with the elements, and while it balked at a stranger’s approach, it could not pull free of Amon’s strong grasp.
“Shhhh, now,” the Elezen murmured to the bird in calming tones. He had little experience with these creatures, but he did have one thing to fall back on.
He began to hum softly, just an old tune his mother once sang to calm him as a child. He’d long forgotten the words, but not the melody. And in weaving some of the meager aether invested in his Bardic abilities, Amon became a bastion of coaxing calmness.
The chocobo responded to the sound, soothed, and stopped struggling against his rescuer’s hand. Somehow, very carefully, Amon was able to get the bird moving through the mire, back towards the higher ground where Mocho watched expectantly.
Amon didn’t stop humming until they were well out of the muck. By then, the bird was completely under his thrall, following with placid strides.
“Look at you,” the Elezen tissed at it with his tongue while removing the rope from his waist. “What a mess.”
“He seems unharmed,” Mocho observed, walking around the chocobo to confirm.
“Probably just spooked himself into the swamp. He’ll be all right, now. A little smelly, but all right,” Amon nodded, brushing some of the mud from the bird’s feathers.
“Might have been a blessing for him since that means nothing else could get…” Mocho’s words trailed off as his face paled. His eyes widened, staring at something in the forest behind Amon.
The Bard swung about sharply, following his companion’s gaze. Just in time to see the flash of fangs and claws as a coeurl leapt for them.