Coming Together 8- Odd Job

That night, as they sat around a table in the Seventh Heaven, Ajir detailed the job they were starting the next morning. The more they learned about it, the more Amon thought that it didn’t sound like fun. However, because Ajir went through so much to make sure to include him, for Zuri’s sake, Amon didn’t have it in him to back out.

“So let me get this straight,” Mocho clarified after Ajir was through. “We’re hired to protect a small, unknown shipment – a lone chocobo and driver – through Coerthas?”

“Yes,” the Au Ra nodded.

“To where in Coerthas?” The Lalafell was asking the important questions.

“Well, I’m not completely certain. I don’t know much about that area.” Ajir frowned a bit. Then he lifted a weathered piece of parchment and waved it for them to see, “However, the employer has furnished us with a map.”

“Does any of us know much about Coerthas?” Mocho countered, frowning, too.

Zuri looked down at the table, indicating her lack of knowledge.

Ajir glanced at Amon and demanded, “He should know, right?”

It was the Elezen’s turn to frown, “Excuse me?”

“You’re a Long-ears. Isn’t that where your kind come from?”

“I’ve only set foot in Coerthas once that I’m aware of. That was coming here to Mor Dhona,” Amon retorted, which for all purposes, was as true as he could tell it. There’d never been a wasteland of snow so near to his homeland during his time. And it certainly wasn’t called “Coerthas” back under Allagan rule.

Ajir grimaced, “And here I thought you’d be good for something.”

Amon opened his mouth to respond with something he would have probably regretted, but thankfully, Mocho intervened.

“I’m not getting a good feeling about this one, Ajir,” the Lalafell told him, not beating around the bush.

“I know, but there’s not much to choose from without a full, functional party,” the Au Ra’s tone heaped more scorn upon their lack of a healer yet again. “Not to mention, the pay is good. Very good.”

“Yes, well, this may be a dangerous job,” Mocho noted. Then he put it in their hands. “Do we think we’re up to this?”

There was silence at the table.

Finally, Zuri spoke up, “I think we should try it. We could be just fine.”

Mocho gave her a soft look, “Your optimism is always welcome, Zuri. But ‘could be’ and ‘will be’ are very different things.”

This made the girl press her lips together, and reword her approach, “We can do it.”

Amon leaned back in his chair and murmured, “I will go.”

Mocho looked at Ajir. The Samurai spread his hands, “I got us the job. I feel we’re fit for it.”

“Alright. If everyone agrees,” the Lalafell sighed a bit, dismissing himself from the table. “I’m going to catch some shut-eye. I assume we leave early in the morning.”

Amon watched him walk away, only speaking after he was long out of sight, “Is Mocho all right?”

“He’ll be fine,” Zuri answered. “He does this every time.”

“Oh?”

“He appears to have paternal instincts over our group,” Ajir stated.

Amon laughed at this, picturing such a little fellow being fatherly over everyone else. But, his laughter faded as Ajir’s expression indicated he was being very serious.

“Mocho worries he won’t be strong enough,” Zuri added. “We’re trying to help him get acclimated, but it’s a big shift for him to make.”

“’Tis a big shift for anyone,” Amon agreed.

There wasn’t much conversation after that. They all said their good-nights and left to get rest for the next day.

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Coming Together 7- Intermission

The group stayed in the Seventh Heaven for a few more days. During the evening, Amon would play old Allagan tunes to delight the folks who passed through. He never filled the house or anything, but there was a curiosity for new songs from these people that made it worth his while (not to mention meals and board).

During the day, Ajir would head off to look at other job prospects, since they knew they couldn’t stay there indefinitely. The warlike Au Ra was getting antsy from being in one place too long, anyway. Mocho would look into recruiting a healer, an ongoing situation that never panned out. Sometimes he’d spend his time training.

Amon felt a little sorry for him. The Lalafell really did try so very hard.

And then, there was Zuri.

After Amon’s first performance, she approached him all starry-eyed, absolutely convinced he was some sort of master Bard. He didn’t have the heart to tell her the songs he played were basic Allagan folk melodies, sometimes nothing more than children’s songs and nursery rhymes.

His hands weren’t cooperative and coordinated enough to play his people’s more masterful works… not that he really knew them off the top of his head. He was a passing dabbler in the ways of music – enough to impress the unwashed masses, but hardly incredible to the trained and professional ear.

Still, Zuri’s inspiration was a bit catchy, so he found himself offering her advice where he could. How to better tune the rough harp she had. How to tighten the strings without breaking them. In fact, how to change the strings – they’d seen more than their fair share of travel grime and practice.

In return, the Au Ra gifted Amon with the songs of her people – a place called Yanxia. These were completely unknown to him, with tunes that almost seemed to come from a different world.

Her performance was rudimentary in his eyes, though her voice was pleasant enough – with some training it could improve. Yet, just the stark contrast of cultures was something to spark an interest within Amon. To make him wonder what else was out there.

By accident, he let that remark slip, and Zuri laughed, “I’ll take you there sometime. I think you’d like it.”

“Oh?” Amon tilted his head at her.

“I mean, compared to places like Ul’dah or Kugane, I suppose our mountains are fairly boring.” She mused. Then, she glanced back up at him. “But I think you’re someone who would appreciate my homeland.”

“And why’s that?”

Zuri squinted at him. “You see things in a way other people don’t. I think you’re from somewhere else far away, too… aren’t you?”

The words made Amon shiver. She was hitting so close to home, though he’d never told her anything about himself.

He tried to laugh it off. “You’ll make a good Bard yet, Zuri.”

“Huh? Why?” It was her turn to ask the questions.

“You’ve got a nose for story,” Amon grinned a little. “To get your story, sometimes you have to sense it, deep within you. And then follow it until you see it through.”

Zuri shot him a coy smile in return. Her tone turned teasing, “Oh, I plan to, Mister Storyteller.”

He threw up his hands playfully, exclaiming, “Not me! I’m not story material!”

“My nose tells me differently.” The Au Ra turned from him, plucking her harp idly.

That’s the moment Amon started to worry… just a little. Though, he had to admit, the worry was edged out a bit by flattery.

He wondered if his past life was one of old stories in this new world. He wondered what they said about him. Nothing good, for certain. His people, Xande in particular, were often looked upon with a mixture of wonder and disgust, it seemed.

Sitting there, talking Bardic Things with Zuri, he wondered if there was a chance to write a new story. About himself.

She seemed to think so. And there was something about Zuri’s unwavering trust in him that made him… not want to disappoint her.

I’m getting too deep in this.

Before Amon could change his mind, Ajir strode into the room. His sharp green eyes took in the sight of the Elezen and the Au Ra, sitting closely together in a bond of music and story.

Those eyes slitted in warning, telling Amon without words all the terrible things that Ajir planned to do to him should anything happen to Zuri. Subconsciously, Amon leaned away from the girl, straightening to frown at the Samurai.

“I believe I’ve found us a job,” Ajir told them, his tone slightly accusing, indicating that at least one of them had done something worthwhile that day.

“Really?” Zuri was oblivious in her excitement.

“One that didn’t mind having two bards.” The Samurai gave Amon that usual eat-choco-dung look.

That being said, Amon was surprised he was part of the job offer at all. He thought that once Zuri’s group had found their next gig,  they’d probably all part ways.

“Oh… well… I…”

“That’s wonderful!” Zuri hopped off the stool and rushed up to Ajir. “Thank you!”

Just for that passing moment, the Samurai’s face softened. Then, Amon knew exactly why he was included in this job. For all of Ajir’s outward disgruntlement, the Samurai truly wanted Zuri to be happy.

Deep down, Amon had to respect that.

“I’ll go tell Mocho,” Zuri beamed. “When do we start?”

“Tomorrow,” Ajir told her. “But I’d like to brief us all tonight before we leave.”

“Great!” The girl rushed off, looking for their wayward companion.

Left alone, the two exchanged knowing glances. Neither of them said a thing. But, the Samurai was the first to turn away.

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Coming Together 6- Bard Song

There was already a Bard in Roost at the Seventh Heaven when Amon walked through the doors. This was a strange looking fellow with an admirable mask, who idly strummed a few chords from time to time on his harp in the corner. The instrument sounded good and the man was dressed like the real deal.

Amon didn’t know if things had changed during the time he’d been away, but where he came from, there was a code of honor among Bards. One did not infiltrated another’s Roost… without permission, at least.

So, he approached the other minstrel with the politest airs he had. “Good evening.”

The other nodded his acknowledgement.

“I came to provide some local entertainment,” Amon explained. “But I see this Roost is well-tended already. Would it be that I have permission to play in your establishment?”

The minstrel merely smiled, like someone who knew the secrets of the world, and stopped plucking his harp. No words were exchanged, but Amon took that to mean that permission was granted.

He bowed his head in a motion of thanks and scoped out the room. A few travelers were there, and what seemed like a few locals. Not a large crowd. But seeing Amon hadn’t performed in this new body yet, and he wasn’t certain how much muscle memory would get him through, it was probably a good thing.

Must be confident… I did this for years. I can do this again.

Amon found an out-of-the-way spot next to the fireplace where he first took a moment to tune Zuri’s little harp. It was in bad need of alignment and some of the strings were far too loose. She really needed something better to learn with.

Why… am I even concerning myself with that?

Zuri and the others had followed Amon inside, and now sat around the table nearest to the fireplace. She watched him with a hopeful look, while Ajir just glowered and Mocho seemed to be drifting off to sleep.

The Bard steeled himself and played a few shaky notes.

Come on hands. Work for me.

He tried to strum the start of a simple tune that he’d known since childhood, but the sounds came out all wrong. He paused, glared down at his uncooperative fingers and Hmmmed at himself.

Ajir gave a snide comment, leaning back. “A great Storyteller is he? One that can’t pluck a note.”

Zuri hadn’t given up hope. She placed both hands on the table and spoke quietly, “You can do it Amon. Don’t be nervous!”

Did he look nervous? Was he nervous? When had he ever been nervous in front of a crowd?

Music. Performing was… what brought him joy… even in the darkest moments of his past life.

They never understood it. They thought he was strange and eccentric. They were right. He was.

This is who I am.

With a flurry of memories, old emotions rushed through him. Amon’s hands began to play. Remembering the notes. Drawing out a song of his people, a music long lost to this strange new world.

The Allagans were best known for their technology, but they had just as much culture as any people. They had songs and stories and things to celebrate and dream of. They may have failed to capture the stars, but deep down, people are still people.

Amon wove the words of song into the little harp’s offerings. From the look on the faces that watched, he was right to think that they’d never heard this tune before. He knew many, many songs, and most of the songs held ancient stories. Though, he was very careful to choose only those that would not give away his origin.

By the time he segmented into a second song, other people in Seventh Heaven had begun to take notice. Amon didn’t know if the melody was as exotic to them as they were to him. He didn’t know if it stirred within them the same emotion… some universal truth that all people share in the vibration of light and sound.

But they did come. They did listen.

As the final notes of the song sounded through the room, Amon let out a long breath. It had been a while since he felt… truly felt… anything like that. But his reveling was short-lived.

The tavern keeper walked to the edge of the counter closest to Amon and remarked, “Sir Bard, I’ve had a lot of songs performed here, but n’aint none I’ve heard like that.”

“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure how to reply, so he chose the humble route.

She looked at the counter, then at the small audience that had stopped to watch Amon’s performance. Finally, the tavern keep asked, “What would it take to get you to stay a bit longer and play a full set tonight?”

This was exactly what Amon was hoping to hear.

“Well,” the Elezen tilted his head as if taking time to think it through. He already knew exactly what he was going to ask for. “I’d be willing to share a few more songs for supper and a room for myself and my companions there.”

The tavern keep followed the motion of Amon’s hand as the Bard indicated Zuri and her two friends, who were still seated at the nearby table. Now, it was the tavern keep’s turn to consider things.

“Well, as long as your friends don’t treat this as an all-you-can-eat, you’ve got yourself a deal.” She reached a hand out to shake on it, requesting a name, “Mister….?”

“Amon.” The Elezen offered and shook her hand in return.

“A pleasure to do business with you, Mister Amon. You can call me Alys.” She nodded with a smile. “You just keep strumming those songs. I’ll have a supper out to yall soon enough.”

Amon glanced over at the table to where Zuri beamed at him, absolutely delighted. Mocho was now fully awake, anticipating the meal. Even Ajir seemed fairly pleased by the turn of events.

“Very well,” the Samurai muttered. “He can stay. For now.”

The Bard smiled to himself and gave the Au Ra a mocking bow.

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Coming Together 5- Not a Healer

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.

Hm.

“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.

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Coming Together 4- The Most Gruesome Creature

“Hello? Are you all right?”

An unfamiliar voice woke Amon with a start.

Did I fall asleep? In the middle of Mor Dhona wilderness?

When he peered around, it sure seemed that way.

And I’m still alive? Drat my poor fortune!  

“Sir?” The voice prompted him again.

This time Amon looked up… straight into the face of the most gruesome creature he’d ever seen. He wasn’t a timid soul, and had seen his share of lab-jacket rejects, but this sight caused him to jerk back.

“Did I startle you? I’m so sorry!”

The voice – decidedly a female voice – was coming from the creature’s mouth. Some conglomeration of girl and dragon-void smooshed all together, she could have been something that came straight out of the Labyrinth.

Everything about her was alabaster. Ivory skin. Colorless hair. Horns? Snow-white… scales? Are those scales? And a tail? Really? Hair, scales, and tail?

What manner of creature is she?

If she noticed his scrutiny, which she probably didn’t due to the inability to see his upper face, she didn’t respond. Instead, she gave what appeared to be a genuine smile of relief.

“I thought maybe you were dead when I first saw you propped up like that.” At this point, she was talking for her own sake, since Amon hadn’t replied yet. “What are you doing out here?”

Getting over his initial response of distaste, Amon finally answered with a surprisingly truthful statement, “I came to see the Tower.”

“Oh?” Her eyes lit up. Well, brighter than they were a moment before. Here eyes were the only part of her that wasn’t devoid of color and shown a bright pink-orange. Even in the coming daylight, they held a strange internal glow. “You came out here to seek the stories, too?”

Too?

Amon should have known there was danger in the word. But he still said, “Something of that sort.”

She leaned in closer, almost causing him to recoil again. That’s when he saw the pure excitement and wonder in her expression. “Did you find anything? About the Tower, I mean! I want to go there and see it, but I can never get very close.”

For the first time, he noted that she was dressed in plain leather armor, much like he saw the Wood Wailers wear in Gridania. A bow was slung across her back, and next to that hung a tiny, misshapen hand-harp. Nothing a true bard would be dare to be seen carrying.

It told him everything he needed to know.

“You fancy old stories, then,” Amon motioned to the harp.

“Oh… this… well…” She seemed a little shy to admit. “The people of Eorzea seem to think archery and the bardic ways have an overlap. I’m a fairly good shot. Not so good at song or story. But I’m trying to learn.”

He could hear the unyielding passion in her voice. There was a rather refreshing naivety to it.

That’s a lot to tell a stranger you just met in the middle of Mor-Dhona-nowhere.

“The world could use more Storytellers,” Amon admitted.

That may be the only way our struggles are not forgotten.

“Are you a Storyteller?” She asked, words coming with more perception than he’d given her credit for.

“Sometimes.” Amon wasn’t sure how to answer that. “Maybe. Long ago.”

That was all that she needed to hear. She extended one small hand down to him, as if her tiny frame would be able to hoist his much taller form up.

“My name is Zuri,” she told him.

“Amon,” he introduced without flair. He wasn’t sure why, but he took her hand, though he made no motion of getting up.

“Why not come back with me to Revenant’s Toll? I have friends waiting for me there… they’re probably wondering if I was eaten by a nix,” Zuri’s eyes laughed at the prospect, though he’d consider that a pretty loathsome way to die.

Amon attempted to excuse himself from the situation, “I appreciate your concern, but I–”

She quickly interrupted, as if she sensed something under his motives. “Do you have somewhere else to be?”

He opened his mouth, but didn’t have an answer.

No… No I don’t.

Now that he’d established that there was nothing for him at the Tower, Amon really wasn’t sure where to go or what to do. He could always just stay there and mope in the desolate land that had once been his childhood home. Or he could…

His gaze flicked back to Zuri.

“You don’t, do you?” She pressed with an upraised eyebrow.

She has eyebrows, too… tail, horns, scales and eyebrows..?

He sighed and admitted, “No. I don’t.”

“Then…” Zuri’s mouth twitched with a smile as her little hand closed tighter on his. Then she pulled upwards, as if to lift him out of the pit he’d dug for himself.

For some reason unknown to himself, he got back on his feet. Standing like this, next to the much smaller creature, he felt like a tower himself.

This didn’t bother Zuri in the least. She beamed up at him like someone who had just made a new friend.

What did I just sign on for?

Amon tried not to let a preemptive sigh of exasperation sound. Instead, as they walked back to the outpost, he asked, “So… from what you say…  I gather that you’re not from Eorzea?”

“What? Me? An AuRa? Of course not,” she laughed at him gently as they strode down the path towards the settlement. “Where have you been? Sleeping in the Crystal Tower?”

“Well…”

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Coming Together 3- When One Door Closes…

Amon didn’t waste time gathering up all his little belongings and gil – the currency that passed for money now days. He checked out of the inn – he didn’t plan on returning to Gridania – and found a shop where he could pick up a traveling map.

Looking at the map, he realized that so much about the world had changed from what he remembered. At first, he didn’t have a clue how to get to Syrcus Tower from where he currently was. But after a little chat and an exchange of gil, he had a better idea of the path that lay ahead.

“Aye, that Crystal Tower. I’ve heard of it,” the shopkeeper told him. “Get yourself to Mor Dhona and you won’t be able to miss it. A right bright monolith in the sky.”

This eased something in Amon’s mind just a little.

These people may not remember their history, but at least they respect Allagan majesty when they see it.

The shopkeeper was right. And so was the map.

Amon wasn’t very practiced with riding the giant, smelly birds that were commonly used as mounts in Eorzea. Still, chocobos were the fastest means of travel at his price point, so he hired a chocobo porter for as far as he could afford. This carried him past the Gridania forest, and through an area that slumbered under deep, unnatural snows. Not a place he wanted to linger longer than he needed to.

Finally, he arrived in a blighted, aether-soaked land – the area they now called Mor Dhona.

This had once been Amon’s home. He remembered this land covered in lush beauty, untame forests, and rushing waterfalls. There had once been vast, majestic gardens that lined the walks at the base of the Tower, and a settlement that sheltered snuggly in the Tower’s light. That was where where his family had lived in the ages forgotten so long ago.

All of that was gone now, the earth itself twisted and broken by time. He didn’t know if that was due to the fall of the Tower or something that had happened more recently. Still, it sparked a sharp pang of sadness within him as he realized there was truly little left that he remembered of his own time.

He didn’t idle long in the sole, roughly-hewn settlement that struggled to survive under the pressure of wildly fluctuating aetheric weather. Nothing in Revenant’s Toll held any interest for him.

Nothing… because in the distance, he saw it. Just as promised. A beacon from the ancient past rose. The Crystal Tower. It stood, still brilliant, still a light in the darkness, with the stars shimmering all around it.

Amon felt a powerful yearning within, something calling him home. He was unable to take his eyes from the Tower for a very long time. Then, he chided himself.

Not a time to get sentimental. I must get inside. If I can just get to my tools… my research… my lab…

He steeled himself, stabled the rental chocobo, then took to the path on foot that lead towards his destination.

Things continued to not work out the way Amon had hoped. At this point, he wondered if he truly was cursed.

Not only was the path to the Tower winding and deceptive with all of its broken crystals and dead ends, but filthy creatures roamed the lands. His people would have purged such beasts back in his time… and maybe captured a few for observation. But that was neither here nor there.

These roads had once been safe. Now, what he traveled upon could hardly even be called a trail.

In his previous life, Amon would have feared nothing that lurked in the aether. Now, while his archery skills were meager enough to hunt small game in the Shroud, he knew this wouldn’t keep him safe from the monstrosities that fouled the area.

He spent many hours sneaking and hiding among the crystal outcroppings, no easy feat seeing that he got turned around time and again. Everywhere seemed to lead to a dead end.

Finally, after several close calls, he found what he was looking for – a tilted door, mostly concealed in stone. Even after so many thousands of years, the ornate etchings and runes still shimmered electric blue. The mark of Allagan handiwork sparked his nostalgic excitement.

Amon gently pressed his hands against the structure and found the door was already open. No doubt, the Eorzeans who broke into the Labyrinth many moons earlier left it that way. He could see the tracks of countless people that passed along the path that overlooked the sheer side of a cliff.

Amon sucked in his breath as he gazed out over the fractured earth near the base of the Tower. Then he began to carefully pick his way over the stone, following the faded tracks.

The Eorzeans were clever enough to break our outer defenses. Strong enough to clear out the Labyrinth. Powerful enough to kill Xande.

He furrowed his brow as the path led him through the shattered remains of several pairs of Guardian statues that stood watch over the gates. These were once the initial line of defense for the Tower, but now lay in ruin, the first signs of destruction left in the invaders’ wake.

So, where are the Eorzeans now? Why aren’t they still here? Surely there’s still much for them to excavate.

Amon knew his way through the depths of the Labyrinth that served as the lower catacombs of the Tower. The architects originally built it to serve as several chambers of ever-growing defenses meant to protect from invasion. In his time, the Allagans had filled with horrors and science-project-rejects that the Technologists of the Tower developed.

Now, the halls were silent and empty save for the quiet bubbling of lava around the base of the huge stone platforms. The invaders had succeeded in slaying the Allagan creatures and disabling the traps. They’d even taken down the once great Guardian, Phlegethon, who stood as the final defense before the Tower doors.

It was a marvel to believe that the Eorzeans were people so ignorant of their past, yet so proficient at overcoming it.

Amon froze once he finally made his way out of the Labyrinth, peering at what loomed tall above him.

“No.” His voice cracked in a hoarse whisper. All of his hopeful anticipation drained, as did the color in his cheeks.

The Tower doors stood shut.

Hissing, Amon rushed up to them. He knew what this meant, but he still had to try.

Pressing both hands against the ornate etched surface, he pushed.

And pushed.

And pushed.

And cursed.

And pushed.

And… nothing happened.

“No!” He miserably demanded of the unmoving doors. “How could they have sealed it?”

It was well established among his people that once closed, the doors to the Tower would only open for someone of the royal Allagan bloodline. Despite all his pride and presumptions, Amon was not Allagan nobility.

An embarrassingly broken sound passed his lips as he crumpled slightly, both palms still pressed against the cold metal. Amon would not be seeing his research… his lab… his tools… none of it. He would not have the means to prevent his downfall to madness. Nor could he restore strength into this this weak cloned body to kindle the magic he once commanded.

After staring miserably at the face of his doom, Amon finally reasoned it would serve him nothing to sit there and mourn. Instead, he dejectedly journeyed back out the way he came.

Feeling disillusionment and loss weigh down his limbs, Amon knew it would be suicide to try to maneuver all the way back to the safety of the outpost at night. Instead, he huddled down under a rocky outcropping in the middle of rustic-Mor-Dhona-nowhere. There, he tried to push back emotion and rationally work through what to do next.

That didn’t work very well, either.

It might be easier for me to just let a wandering beast have a meal tonight.

The taunting merciless light of Syrcus Tower silently shown down on him… as if to agree.

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Coming Together 2- Life After Death

Amon awoke, disoriented, his body laced in a chilled sweat. The pulse of adrenaline running through his body left him in tremors.

He shuddered as the image of Xande’s twisted face filled his thoughts. That voice, his words…

Glancing around, the quiet Gridanian inn room looked so normal in contrast to his dreams. The lack of light outside the windows told him it was still the early hours.

Now came the difficult part. Another price for cheating death – this cloned body didn’t always like to obey him. The mind instructed one thing. The body did what it wanted.

After much deliberation – this is still a work in progress – Amon finally managed to get his feet to drop to the floor, where he sat perched on the edge of the bed. He buried his face in his hands – a very natural reaction, good – and collected his thoughts for a long time.

Amon knew what his dreams were trying to tell him. Eventually, he couldn’t keep avoiding things – namely his death – and hoping they’d go away.

It was odd. Most people get a tinge of fear when thinking about their future death. But for him, he avoided thinking about how it’d already happened.

The enemy storming up the flights of the huge Crystal Tower. His fevered attempts to set everything up, hoping that no wires were crossed and all crystals were charged.

He’d been ready for just this sort of invasion – living in an Empire built on bones and blood, he had to be prepared. But knowing something can happen is very different from experiencing that moment.

Amon had devised an aether transfer mechanism designed to place his soul within a clone of his younger self. If he should be slain – like he had been – the machine would activate upon his death and complete the transfer on its own.

The methods he used were still untested. It was a miracle it had worked at all. But Amon knew he’d taken a huge risk in being revived by the very same method that had driven Xande to madness.

How much longer did he have before he also paid the price?

These uneasy thoughts demolished any hopes he had of returning to sleep. Amon decided he may as well get up and try to clear his head. Stepping to the wash basin, he splashed his face with water. As he patted it dry with a towel, he took a moment to study himself in the mirror.

This clone was a recreation of himself from his younger days. He appeared to be in his early 20’s, though he’d previously lived a much longer life than that. His boyish face and outwardly charming ways easily hid his troubled past to those who knew nothing about him.

Like any other Elezen, Amon was tall, long-necked and somewhat lanky. Whereas many of his race had innate grace, his cloned body was over-awkward with gangling limbs that often had a mind of their own. His pointed ears were longer than most of his kind, poking through unkempt silver hair that spilled down to his shoulders. His great height and his sharp golden eyes tended to attract unwanted attention.

Once he’d washed up, Amon decided to stretch his legs. It was still dark outside, but he knew the town was as safe and well-guarded as a backwater place could be. Still, he didn’t escape the notice of the overseer of the Adventurer’s Guild, Miounne, as he stepped out into the odd hour.

“Is everything okay, Amon?” she asked with a hint of concern, arching a motherly eyebrow over the top of paperwork she sorted.

Amon had been around long enough to be on a first-name basis with a few of the locals, such as Miounne. He knew that her worry for him was genuine, as it was for all travelers who passed through the inn.

“All is well, kind lady,” he answered with a hint of jest. Then, he offered her a Bard’s playful bow to off-set his lie.

She tisked her tongue at him, never one to fall for his charms. “What sort of trouble are you in now, sir?”

“In trouble? Me?” Amon gasped as if it was too scandalous to even consider. Then he phased into an easy smile, “I just decided to take in some early morning air, if ’tis alright.”

“By all means,” Miounne responded with a shake of her head and a slight smile of her own. Likely, she thought him walking off a drunk stupor, or such. That wasn’t uncommon since the tavern and the inn shared the same grounds. “Let me know if you need anything, will you?”

“Aye, of course,” Amon gave her another teasing bow before heading out through the tall wooden archway to what passed as the town’s main street.

The sound of rushing water passing through the creaking waterwheel was lulling. The wind shifting through the ancient trees cast about the fragrance of flowers and life. Though the moon hung heavy on the horizon, the rustic peace of the forest town was still in every breath Amon took.

He wasn’t fully certain how he’d ended up in Gridania, but a part of him was grateful for it. It was a good starting point for someone like him, who’d lost everything he ever had. Including a sense of direction.

Amon was starting from nothing in a world that had changed so much from the Empire he knew. The people were different, their cities and government were different, even the food was different!

Not having many options, Amon had chosen to embed himself within the local culture. There were plenty of jobs for adventurers in this town, and this gave Amon the opportunity to blend in and observe. The people accepted travelers moving about, as long as those travelers provided some benefit for their town. That seemed fair enough.

Amon had taken up training at the Archer’s Guild. There, he found a chance to physically hone his mind-body coordination, something that this new body struggled with, through a rather focused and relaxing sport.

Once he had the basic skills, he took on odd jobs. From hunting, to culling, to reinforcing the guard… Amon managed to make enough to pay his room and board. It wasn’t the glorious life of an Allagan Technologist that he was used to, but he was surviving.

I was doing so well. And now… who knows what’s going to happen to me.

Dark dreams. The past closing in on him, dragging him back into the grave.

The past doesn’t forget wickedness of my sort.

With all of the crimes he’d committed in his previous life, he didn’t deserve a peaceful life among the common people. He knew very well that he’d not changed a bit.

If he saw an opportunity to regain his power and position back, he knew he’d drop this life in a heartbeat. It had never mattered who he had to step on to get the things he wanted before… it was no different now.

What am I doing here, trying to fool myself into thinking that I can live a quiet life? ‘Tis naught but mockery to sit waiting for madness to come and rip me apart.

One fist balled at his side, a motion his body made without a thought.

I’m made for things so much greater than this.

A deeper perspective fell into place as the last of the fireflies began to fade into the oncoming morning. He breathed in the clear air one last time, deciding what he needed to do.

Amon had to find his way back inside the Tower.

There, he would have access to his lab and the resources he needed to find a way to fix what was happening to him. Perhaps he’d restore the magic that he’d lost. Perhaps, he’d even once again master the power of Syrcus Tower, and restore himself to his rightful place as an Allagan Technologist.

If ’tis to be a curtain call for me, I’ll make it a show this world will never forget.

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Coming Together 1- An Emperor’s Madness

Cheating death always comes with a price.

Amon knew this from experience. Though he didn’t consider himself stupid by any means – admittedly, the jury might be still out on that – he’d still taken a huge risk when he brought himself back from the dead.

Okay, so maybe he had only been dead for a few seconds. But that still counted – dead was dead.

The first change he noticed upon returning to the living world was that sleeping was now especially difficult for him. His dreams were always… loud. Amon really needed to look for a better word to describe them. Jarring? Haunting? Nerve wracking?

His dreams were also almost always a repetition of the same memory from his previous lifetime.

This memory played out in an endless loop, jittery like a broken stop-motion film. Each time, the same things happened. Each time, Amon was helpless to change the events, even though he knew exactly how it always ended.

In his dreams, Amon was still the the lead Technologist of the Allagan Empire. He was once a celebrated scientist and mage of his people, where his area of study had been bio-aetheric-chemistry and vivimancy.

He knew those were just fancy titles he gave to his work. All they really meant was that he was once a mad scientist who shut himself up in his lab most of his life trying to unlock the secrets of immortality.

Ironically, Amon’s greatest mistake came when he actually succeeded in figuring it out.

Unfortunately, it hadn’t helped him all that much. He still ended up dead, after all.

Immortality wasn’t the same as invulnerability. It had only lasted until someone stuck a sword through his chest. Then it was the final curtains for him, the same as anyone else.

Ah, but that dream. It came upon him, yet again…

Amon strode frantically into the throne room where Emperor Xande sat brooding in darkness. A massive beast of a man, the Emperor was built like the war hero he once was. His sickly sallow skin was in sharp contrast to the shock of white hair and his lifeless white eyes. His face was lined with immeasurable suffering.

Traced across Xande’s skin were aether etchings that empowered him and kept his soul locked within his cloned physical form. The real body of the Emperor had long ago turned to dust, and the soul always longed for escape from its unnatural prison.

This…creation… was Amon’s first success in bringing the dead back to life. Yet, from this, Amon learned very quickly that being alive and actually living were two different things.

“Your Majesty!” Amon’s voice wavered as he approached. “Is… what I’ve heard the truth?”

When Xande’s fevered eyes turned to fix him, Amon immediately regretted the question. However, instead of condemning his technologist’s outburst, Xande did something worse. He answered Amon’s question.

“‘Tis the truth.” The Emperor’s voice was low and rumbling, causing the stones of the Tower to tremble with gravity. “I have seen what waits beyond the veil of death, Amon. There is nothing. Life means nothing. Death means nothing. ‘Tis a kindness to end this world’s cycle of suffering.”

Amon didn’t know how to respond. He could only observe Xande silently, a feeling of sickness welling within his chest at what he heard.

There had been whispers within the halls of the Tower. Through those whispers, Amon had discovered Xande’s intentions. He’d learned that the Emperor meant to sell their people out to the darkness of the Voidsent – creatures born of a shadow that sought to consume any life they could find.

Instead of finding something intelligent to say, the him-of-the-past tried to change the subject. Perhaps an attempt to please the Emperor could lighten the mood. Perhaps, somehow, in earning his favor, Amon could change his mind. He was, after all, Xande’s chief advisor.

“Forgive me, Your Majesty. You must have immeasurable things weighing down your mind.” Amon cracked a showman’s smile and gestured grandly with his hands. He produced a Bard’s harp from a pouch at his side. “Let me take your woes away with a song… a story… a spot of mummery?”

He was grasping at straws, he knew.

Xande wasn’t swayed. He just sat on his cold throne, his body motionless, like something chiseled from rock. His dead, gravelly voice repeated, “There is nothing.”

Amon let out a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. At that moment, he could see that his life’s work was fragmenting away into madness before his own eyes.

How had it ever come to this?

Things had seemed fine when Xande was first revived. The procedure had worked flawlessly. The soul that had been locked in stasis for so long had perfectly transferred into the cloned body that Amon had created.

Even better, the revived Emperor had immediately got to work in picking the stumbling Allagan Empire up out of the dust. He shook the people out of their stupor and inspired armies to rise again.

The Allagans gloriously marched over the continents and claimed the world for their own once more. The Crystal Tower shimmered brilliantly at the heart of the land, a symbol of the majesty born of science and magic fused into one.

Amon had never felt more fulfilled than when seeing his Xande make all his hopes a reality. Finally, after struggling for a lifetime to find an answer to their decaying society, their savior had come!

But then, something unforeseeable began to happen. It started small.

The darkening of Xande’s gaze. Sleepless nights. Mood swings. Sharp, reckless orders. Angry outbursts.

Then, the worst… long sessions of brooding and silence.

Amon tried to lift his Emperor’s spirits. After all, he wasn’t just a mage and scientist. He fancied himself a whimsy of a performer, and had studied acting as much as machines and aethermancy.

But this was beyond mortal hands to fix. Something was broken within the Emperor. Death had left its mark, and Xande had not returned to the world of the living as he’d left it.

The Emperor’s fevered ambition and deepening madness only grew. But Amon had never expected it to drive Xande to make a bargain with the Void.

Amon now watched helplessly as the very thing he created to save their people transformed into something that would undo them all.

“Sire, please,” Amon tried to reason, “You’ve accomplished so much. No other man has ever–”

“It is nothing!” Xande’s face contorted, a huge fist slamming on the arm of his throne. Had it been made of anything less than crystal, it would have crumbled under the force. “All of it! Let the Void take it!”

Amon fell silent. He knew anything he said would only enrage the Emperor further. He may have been the one who had given Xande another life, but even he wasn’t immune.

This was usually where the dream ended, leaving a residue of awkward stiffness in Amon’s mind. But this time, something was different.

The dream continued. But it no longer followed the path of the memory. It became something aware. Something else.

Xande collected himself, his gaze growing strangely coherent. He looked at Amon… staring into his soul… as if reaching beyond the memory and into reality.

“The madness has already begun to take you, Amon.” His voice almost sounded sad. Tired. A once-shining hero fallen to darkness due to influences far beyond his control.

“What?” Amon found himself able to speak. There was so much that he wanted to ask, and all he could manage was one pathetic word.

“You will join me in darkness soon.” Xande’s lips folded grimly.

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