Amon’s concern continued to mount until they got to Revenant’s Toll, where it was fully confirmed and realized. Zuri appeared to be an idealistic youth, with a passion for bardic lore and a hopeful outlook. But that didn’t mean that the ones she called her “friends” shared the same sentiments.
The young Au Ra – Amon had learned more about her kind during their walk there – spread her hands to majestically announce two parties at once. Her smile was wide as she motioned first to Amon, then to the two strange individuals who watched their approach.
“Guys, this is Amon,” Zuri told them. “Amon, this is Ajir and Mocho.”
Oh… Oh… I have been gravely mistaken.
Where Amon had originally thought Zuri was the most gruesome creature he ever saw – an opinion that was changing – this creature most certainly overtook that spot in his mind. He grit his teeth as he studied one of the individuals that she just called “guys.”
Another Au Ra – Amon assumed was Ajir – who was similar in some ways to Zuri… but much, much larger. Even taller than himself. The creature was all dark spikes and sharp points with wicked horns and slitted green eyes that did nothing to welcome a stranger. The downturned mouth was so opposite to Zuri’s disposition that Amon had to wonder how she could count such a dour beast as a friend.
Ajir didn’t speak. His angry eyes just sized Amon up. Then, he promptly turned to Zuri with a grumble. “You were supposed to recruit us a healer. Is he a healer?”
“Well, no…” Zuri responded, trying to sound optimistic. “But he’s a great Storyteller!”
“Another Bard?” The dark Au Ra snorted disdainfully through his nose. “If he’s not a healer, we don’t need him.”
“Aji!” She protested, looking put out. “You’re being rude.”
“I’m being realistic,” he argued. “Funds are running low, we haven’t had a solid job in weeks, and we’re not about to start getting one until we get a functioning party.”
Hate to tell you, friend, this is not the way to get one of those.
Amon wasn’t particularly bothered by the creature’s tirade. After all, he could walk away any time he pleased.
Thankfully, the situation was salvaged by the other “friend.” A small fellow – they call them Lalafell now – who held himself with an air that spoke of experience and age beyond what his round little face could confirm. His manner was calm and deliberate, his words carefully measured.
“I apologize, Master Amon,” the one Zuri called Mocho told him. “You haven’t caught our group at the best of times.”
“I can see that,” Amon finally spoke, since Mocho seemed to have the social graces to speak to.
“We’ve been searching without luck for a healer.” Then he gave a sigh. “I’m afraid it may be my fault.”
“Don’t be silly, Mocho,” Zuri quickly interrupted him. “You’re doing fine.”
Amon noted that the Lalafell was garbed in the most cliché of adventuring outfits… like someone dressed as what they thought an adventurer was supposed to look like. A short blade hung at one hip and a small shield was strapped on his back. This tiny fellow was the protector of this team.
“A Weaver turned up-start Gladiator doesn’t inspire confidence, I’m afraid,” Mocho explained. “Especially at my age.”
“Everyone has to start somewhere,” Ajir’s gruff voice cut in, surprisingly supportive.
So he’s not just all prickles and burrs…
“Have you tried to find smaller jobs in the meantime?” Amon didn’t know why he bothered to offer a logical suggestion.
“We have,” Ajir growled, fingers tracing the shape of the sword hilt at his hip. Amon was unfamiliar with its make. “There’s no glory found in grunt work. How’s a proper Samurai to make a name for himself in this land?”
Zuri crossed her arms, “There’s also no glory found in starving to death.”
He snuffed at her but didn’t retort.
It seems his friends can keep him in check, at least. That’s a promising thing.
“Well,” Amon said, taking a step away from them to test the waters. “I see that you are quite busy. I’ll not take up any more of your time. ‘Twas a pleasure to meet you.”
Zuri’s eyes widened in response. Then she, and surprisingly Mocho, both began to protest politely that he wasn’t a bother and he didn’t need to go anywhere.
“You haven’t told me any stories yet,” Zuri exclaimed. Without hesitation, she grabbed his arm in a familiar way, as if to keep him put. “You promised me a story!”
Amon let himself be kept put. For some reason, he heard himself laugh, “I never promised…”
But she looked so disappointed – and so eager – to hear a story from him that the showman within him couldn’t resist. It wasn’t every day that one had a rapt audience, after all.
Even if it is just an audience of one.
“I admit, I could use a good tale, too,” Mocho agreed.
Audience of two!
Even harder to turn down.
Ajir could see quite plainly that he was outvoted on the matter. He crossed his arms and grunted, “Shall we see what your land offers in the way of stories, then?”
Three! Audience of three!
And a tough audience at that.
Amon let out a long, pained sigh to accent the drama of the situation. “I suppose you’ve twisted my arm.”
He glanced down at where Zuri still, quite literally, was holding his arm. She beamed right back up at him, clearly relieved that he’d chosen to stay.
“Where’s the nearest establishment?” he asked.
“You mean the tavern?” Mocho clarified. Then he motioned to a building that looked similar to all the others there, “That’d be the Seventh Heaven.”
“’Twill do,” Amon reclaimed his arm, while leaning down to murmur to Zuri. “Perhaps I can show your friends another way to earn their coin.”
She furrowed her brows at him for a moment, a puzzled expression that turned to surprise as she realized he’d just “borrowed” her rustic hand harp. Snatched it straight off her back.
Yep. I still have it in me.
Then, with a fetching grin, Amon turned and led the way towards the waiting tavern.
It was only then that he became aware of it… the prickling feeling of eyes on his back. This wasn’t the kind of gaze of someone curiously looking – he knew that all too well. No, it was the heated sense of someone watching him with strong intention.
Only, when Amon turned to glance over his shoulder, it all vanished. He saw nothing. No one out of the ordinary. Just the adventurers and scholars who typically roamed around the place.
“Cold feet, Mr. Storyteller?” Ajir taunted.
“No. Of course not.” Amon covered his momentary unease with a quick smile.
He could see the calculation in Ajir’s eyes, and knew the Samurai wasn’t fooled. The Samurai had noticed Amon looking over his shoulder.
And the Samurai remained watching his every move.