The first inkling that things might not be going as expected didn’t come until the group passed north through the settlement of Dragonhead and left it behind. Ajir frowned at the map, which indicated nothing but wilderness lay ahead.
“This isn’t adding up,” Mocho noted.
“Maybe we’re not delivering to a town,” Ajir suggested.
“Guys,” Zuri’s voice held a hint of warning. “Why did the cart stop?”
Amon jerked up to see that, yes indeed, the cart they were escorting was no longer moving. Leaving Ajir to frown at the map some more, he and Zuri walked forward to investigate. What they found was… unexpected… at best.
The Roegadyn driver had lost no time in unhitching the chocobo from the cart and mounting up. He gave them a rather frightened, wild-eyed glace as he rounded the bird. “Look, I don’t know who wants your head, but this was as far as I was paid to go. Sorry!”
Before either of them could find words, the driver-turned-rider was already clucking to his mount, heading back towards civilization as quickly as he could.
Amon’s eyes narrowed, and he knew.
This was all a trap.
He thought back to all the times he felt he’d been watched while in Mor Dhona. He’d tried to shrug it off back then, despite what his instincts told him. Now it was coming back to bite him.
“Zuri, stay alert,” he told her.
The danger hadn’t fully registered on the girl yet. She stared at him, mouth slightly open, “What’s going on?”
A shout from the other side of the cart was her answer.
Amon rushed back, moving as fast as the snow would afford him. He saw Ajir drawing his blade while Mocho, also armed, stood ready for battle. A pack of bird-like beastmen – they now called themselves the Ixali – leapt down the snow-mounds towards them.
Someone’s going to a lot of trouble to get this job done.
The Bard grit his teeth, loosening his bow and gathering his quiver. This was the first serious combat that his new body would experience. He could only hope it would respond the way he needed it to.
He knew Beastmen of any kind were nothing to trifle with in this world. Though having animalistic features, they were intelligent enough to form communities, language, and battle tactics. These rushed at them wielding spears and one even seemed to have command of wind magics.
It’s amazing how they’ve evolved so much left on their own like this…
Though Amon wanted to muse more on the things he saw before him – creatures that he knew originated back in Allagan laboratories – that would do nothing to help the very real threat that bore down on them now.
Zuri gave a shout of dismay as Mocho took the forefront. It was a move of pure desperation, the Lalafell throwing himself in front of the enemy to defend the others. Zuri saw what the rest of them did – Mocho was far outclassed in this battle. His actions, thought admirable, did nothing to even slow the avalanche down.
The leader of the Ixali pack swung down into the Gladiator’s defenses, the spear piercing right through the small shield, ripping it out of Mocho’s hand. Ajir rushed forward to intercept, but wasn’t near enough to prevent the second blow, which sent the Lalafell spinning backwards into a snowbank.
Where he landed, white began to bleed red.
Zuri ran for Mocho.
Ajir roared – literally roared – his blade sparking off the lead Ixali’s spear-haft, the sound of ringing metal a warning to their attackers. The Samurai’s pure bulk and fury knocked the beast backwards, almost beast-like himself, causing the other Ixali a moment of concerned hesitation.
You didn’t expect a fight, did you?
Zuri finally reached Mocho, choking sobs as she pulled his body out of the snow.
From the corner of Amon’s eye, he saw the Ixali mage turn full focus on where the girl cradled the Lalafell. The beast began to summon the winds, aether-magic rising to his call, casting the snow around him in wicked winter gales.
Zuri’s attention was fully on Mocho. She didn’t see the danger.
Amon felt his arms move of their own accord. Arrow knocked. Bow drawn. Aim fully on the casting Ixali in the distance.
He let the arrow fly.
It sang through the air, a thing of beauty and death.
Striking true, the point plunged into the Ixali’s throat. The call of magic stopped as the beast staggered, screeching out a bubbling, inhuman cry. Then it fell, also leaving a red stain growing over the white ground.
Amon looked at his own hands in surprise. But there was no time to celebrate… striking down one of the pack had only served to enrage the rest of them. If there was any hesitation to their charge before, there wasn’t now.
With the caster out of the way, Ajir began to cleave through the others, his blade shattering their rude weapons and slamming them back time and again. The Samurai needed no defense – he was a war machine all by himself.
“GET THEM OUT OF HERE!” The Au Ra flicked his fierce gaze on Amon.
For a moment, the Bard thought to argue. But seeing what a poor state Mocho was in – he was losing a lot of blood fast – and the shock this caused Zuri, Amon knew getting them back to safety was the only course he could take.
Besides, Ajir didn’t appear to need much in the way of help. If anything, his silent rage reveled in this battle and the fall of his enemy.
“We have to go,” Amon told Zuri in a low voice, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“We can’t… we…” She was inconsolable, the shimmer of near-frozen tears on her cheeks.
The Elezen just gathered up Mocho in his arms, ignoring the crimson that began to stain his own coat. His tone was urgent. “Mocho needs you to help me help him.”
She couldn’t really argue against that.
As the sound of battle and beast-death rang over the snowy hill behind them, Amon and Zuri fled, carrying their unmoving companion back to the halls of Dragonhead.