It was late morning and Amon was shaking off the sleep-cobwebs with a freshly brewed cup of sweet Thanalan tea. Though several documents lay scattered over the small table, he was far too groggy to deal with any of it. The process of getting approved passage into Kugane was proving arduous, which was ironic considering their open policy for accepting trade and ships.
Had Amon been a merchant instead of a Bard, they may have let him in. Perhaps he could rope their new merchant employer into considering foreign trade ports.
In the middle of sorting through all these thoughts, the Elezen’s ears caught soft footsteps behind him as someone moved carefully through their Free Company house. The wood floors gave up sound easily, and since they still hadn’t fully decorated, noise tended to carry.
Amon knew the soft padding was from someone who didn’t wish to be noticed. He’d skulked about that way, usually unsuccessful, many times before. Though he was quite aware of what was going on, he didn’t move or make any indication he was aware until the door cracked open and the sneak was on their way out.
He caught a glimpse of soft white hair and thin white tail – instantly figuring it to be Zuri. But where she’d usually be wearing her blue bardic outfit, she was dressed in her battle gear and she carried her bow slung across her back.
The Elezen set down his tea, now fully awake. It was not at all like Zuri to be sneaking about, and more so, to simply up and leave without saying something about it. She had to have known he was sitting there, and had purposely avoided him.
All of these things compounded into something akin to worry. And much to his own surprise, Amon found himself quickly dressing in his own armor, grabbing his bow, and heading out the door after her.
It took him a moment to locate her – once the Au Ra had left the house, she’d thrown all secrecy out the window. Apparently, she was convinced no one knew of her departure. But she was also making time quickly, as one does when they don’t want their absence to be noticed too soon.
All the while, Zuri studied a faded parchment that she clasped in one hand. From time to time, she’d look out at the horizon and squint with the expression of someone trying to find something.
Amon kept his distance as he trailed the girl. As she eventually led him to the marshes in Upper La Noscea, his concern faded into curiosity. This whole thing was very peculiar, and he couldn’t quite work through what Zuri was up to or why she’d come there.
Eventually, she stopped, still staring at the parchment in her hand, and took a few paces around the area. Then, she reached back along her pack and pulled out a small shovel. She began to dig.
The Elezen remained hidden behind a stone pillar – close enough to observe, but not so close as to give himself away. He watched as the girl dug and dug, sometimes struggling with stones and ground debris, other times wiping her brow and taking a long breath in. Finally, her shovel hit something audibly solid.
Zuri stopped, leaned over the hole she created, and poked around with the shovel a bit more. Then, with an excited sound, she reached in, and hauled up what appeared to be… a small treasure chest.
Amon felt his breath catch. The girl had found a treasure map! And she’d come all the way out here to claim it? But by herself?
That didn’t add up. Zuri was never one to keep secrets or material things to herself. Why did she go through so much trouble to—
His thoughts were interrupted by the girl’s shout. Just as she’d gone to open the chest, enemies appeared. Apparently they, too, were drawn by the idea of treasure.
The raptors leap from the brush faster than the eye could blink, a blur of white, gray and fangs. Their hoarse screeches bore down upon the girl with feral ferocity.
Zuri was so taken by surprise that she fumbled to draw and position her bow. Arrows tumbled out of her quiver as she tried to nock, backing away from the raptors with shaky steps.
Immediately, Amon’s own hand grasped his weapon, readying an arrow from the secrecy behind the pillar. But then, as the girl backed closer and closer to his position, he heard something.
She was summoning a Bard song, just like he’d taught her. Zuri’s voice quavered as she struggled to find the clarity to draw on the Bardic aether, but with each note, she became more sure. The music rang about her, pure and true.
Even from where Amon hid, he could feel the symphony rush through him, a song that stilled fear and drummed up courage for battle. And he watched as the girl took a firmer, more focused grip on her bow.
The Elezen lowered his own weapon, though keeping it nocked, just in case. It was not his place to interfere in Zuri’s battle. Not now. Not yet. Not until she really needed him.
True to his hopes, she proved quite capable of working it through on her own. Her arrows flew strong, fueled by song and determination. Her feet carried her surely, and while the raptors struck a few blows in return, she was able to dispatch the creatures in short order.
The fight left Zuri winded and slightly battered. She slumped down to her knees, not far from where Amon remained concealed. Her little body shook all over from a mingled shock and exhilaration.
Amon felt warmth replace the tension he’d not even realized was gripping him. He didn’t know what the sensation signified. Relief? No… this was something more. It was the feeling one got… when a nurtured child was able to find their own strength for themselves.
Eventually, Zuri gathered her wits and walked to the chest to claim her prize. Opening it, her face fell into disappointment. He could hear her soft, discouraged voice, “Oh…”
Whatever she’d expected, it was not what she received.
It was time to make himself known. Trying to cover the pity he felt at her reaction, Amon slung his bow over his back and slowly walked into the clearing.
Zuri was so intent on her disappointment that she didn’t realize he was there until his large shadow dropped over her. She startled, clearly not expecting or knowing someone to be there, until she saw who it was.
“Amon!” the Au Ra breathed, one hand on her chest.
“I apologize. I didn’t intend to startle you.”
She got to her feet, tossing a guilty look at the treasure chest. “Wh…what are you doing here?”
“You don’t really believe anything can sneak past these big ears of mine, do you?” Amon pointed to himself, tone gently teasing.
Zuri’s mouth opened, a flush of color spreading over her cheeks. Finally, after fishing for a reply, she said, “Clearly not.”
The Elezen chuckled warmly, then looked down at the chest, too. “If you were treasure hunting, you could have invited me. I wouldn’t have taken claim of your reward.”
The girl straightened, luminous eyes flicking up to his face as she shook her head. “It wasn’t like that!”
“Oh? What’s all this about, then?”
Zuri folded her hands behind her back, head down again. “I was hoping there’d be a great treasure that I could bring back for profit.”
“With us being in Shirogane…” the girl gave him an appealing look, hands spreading as she tried to explain. “I just want… I want to show you my homeland so much. I think you’d really like it there. It might help with…”
Amon furrowed his brows, having not expected this answer. He prompted her to continue. “With?”
“I don’t know exactly. I do know that you don’t tell me a lot of things – but that’s fine,” Zuri pursed her lips. “And I know you’re not as happy as you try to make me think you are. I think seeing Yanxia might help cheer you up… just a little.”
“Zuri,” he choked on her name, unable to find any other words in the face of such benevolence.
“But the fees to cross the Ruby Sea can get costly,” she didn’t seem to notice his internal struggle. “It wasn’t right to ask the others to fund this. I wanted to find a way to make the gil on my own.”
Amon just looked at her. He had no words.
“I wanted to surprise you.” Her face fell. “I guess I failed.”
“No.” The Elezen told her, his voice deep with suppressed emotion. “I’m very surprised.”
“You’re just saying that,” Zuri’s mouth twisted into a part-smile.
The girl came to him, and in her child-like way, hugged him. Usually, this would have caused protest, but with Zuri, he’d become accustomed to sudden affection.
“I know that Koh helps you,” the Au Ra told him. “I’m not as smart as she is, but I want to help, too.”
“You do,” he tried to reassure her, but was fighting off a welling of panic.
He was getting too close. Too attached. All the reasons he wanted to care were all the reasons he should be pushing her away.
But he didn’t. Instead, he gave her head a soft pat, then knelt down to her level. Trying to keep his voice in check, he said, “Why don’t we work on this together? Just you and I. ‘Twill be our project.”
Zuri’s face brightened at this. She brightened and brightened until Amon doubted there could be any more joy squished into one little body.
And with that, he assumed he had his answer.