The passage over the Ruby Sea was uneventful. In fact, it felt too easy compared to the stories of pirates and danger that Zuri relayed to Amon. He expected something more brutish in terms of their hosts. But though they were not as washed as he’d liked, the pirates took the fare for passage and transported them to the other shore without issue.
It wasn’t until they’d passed through the small cave network that lead to Zuri’s homeland that Amon dared to exchange his glassed for the wide-brimmed straw hat. He practiced dipping his head, a motion he knew he’d be doing often, and found it satisfactory in concealing his upper facial features when needed. Of course, with him being so tall, anyone could look under the brim, but he hoped no one would try.
His nerves were such that it took Zuri finally grabbing sleeve and shaking him from his self-centered thoughts. “Amon, look!”
The AuRa pointed out before them. His eyes traced the motion, peering for the first time into the lands beyond.
There were few things that marveled his jaded soul, but this place… Yanxia… was everything that Zuri told him it would be. With rustic strength sculpted into graceful beauty, tall fingers of stone stretched above them, towering to tickle the underside of the passing clouds. Everything had a cool, misty quality, blanketing the natural colors in a feeling of peace and a wisdom far more ancient than even himself.
Amon took a deep breath in through his nose, noting the clarity of the air and the feeling of tranquil life that gently pulsed through the forgotten aether of the land.
“Welcome to my home,” Zuri whispered up to him with a hopeful look. “What do you think?”
“I…” The Bard found himself without words. It took him a moment to collect himself and find a witty reply. “’Tis wondrous, Zuri. But, having met you, I shouldn’t be so surprised.”
The girl brightly laughed off his compliment, something she did often. Sometimes she seemed impenetrable when it came to his charm. “Just wait! There’s tons more to see!”
With that, Zuri led the way down the rustic path with a skip to her step.
When the village came into view – a place called Namai – Amon felt his chest tighten with mounting anxiety. There were so many things that could be feared in the world, things that didn’t bother him in the least. He still could not manage to unravel why something as normal as facing other people without a mask would cause his body to tense with cold terror.
He knew how it had started. Knew he had to stave it off. But didn’t know if he could brave it.
Just as his breath began to rasp loudly to his ears, he felt something. Zuri, calmly slipping her slender hand into his. Offering comfort.
Normally, Amon would pull back from such a display of weak affection, especially in front of others. But at that moment, he was too locked within his own mind to do anything but grasp for the courage of someone else.
Trust in Zuri.
He told himself that. Repeated it like a mantra.
His trust was hard-won. However, the time they spent together proved that she was not there to betray him or lead him astray. Her innocence, something he normally scoffed at as ignorance, was too bright and pure for him to believe anything ill of her.
He held on to that as they strode up the hill into Namai. The Elezen fixed his eyes heavy on the ground, bowing his head and hiding behind the brim of his hat. It felt thin and weak as protection, but it was all he had.
His ears picked up the sound of people around them, and his feet followed the path where the AuRa led. Voices approached them with the sound of pleasure. People noticed their arrival. Mostly they noticed Zuri, with sounds of welcome and homecoming.
Just as she assured him, not one person gave him any thought or questioned his presence. Well, aside from his willowy height and the fact that he was Elezen. This didn’t appear to be a place many of his race chose to live, though he couldn’t fathom why not.
Just as the voices had come, they shifted away into the mists. Amon dared to peek out from under the hat to see… life carrying on as normal in the tiny rustic village. And though a few smiles were cast at him, and at the tiny AuRa who still held his hand, no one responded in any way out of the ordinary.
Not until they got towards the upper paths of the village.
“Zuriiiiiiiiiii!!” a voice called down from the incline above.
The AuRa gasped and almost hopped up and down in excitement, waving one hand over her head. She shouted back, “Zuru!!”
Amon regulated his breathing as another young woman hitched up her robe and rushed down to greet them. “Kami above! I didn’t know you were returning!”
Zuri laughed, tugging him along in her wake as she met with what appeared to be a friend. “I’ve been saving for the Ruby Price, but I did well intend to return!”
That’s when the AuRa loosened her hold on his hand and threw her arms around the Hyur woman in a strong, friendly hug. The two of them uttered all sorts of happy girl-sounds, obviously thrilled to see one another again.
Amon just stood by, stealing peeks from under the brim of his hat when he dared.
That’s when Zuru turned her dark eyes towards him, sizing him up.
He fought down the lump in his throat. After all, if this woman was Zuri’s friend, he would strive to be brave before her eyes.
“So this is what you left to find in Eorzea,” she said in a teasing tone. Her eyebrow lifted in approval as she looked the Elezen over again.
“What!?” The AuRa’s eyes widened, taken off-guard.
Zuru covered her mouth with a hand as it curled up deviously. “Are all men from overseas such a treat on the eyes?”
Amon choked and instantly dropped the brim of his hat.
“Manazuru! It’s nothing like that!” Zuri scolded her, trying to defend her Elezen friend without giving too much information. “Please, he’s quite shy about… some things. Don’t make him uncomfortable.”
“Oh? Well, if you’ve not claimed him, perhaps you can introduce me,” the other woman grinned, a hint of mirth hung in her words.
“Please?” The AuRa almost begged, eyes flicking to her companion in concern.
“Oooookay. I’ll go easy on him.” Zuru sighed in mock disappointment. “But do introduce us?”
Amon finally caught his voice, trying to shove the embarrassment out of it. “I think you’ve introduced yourself well enough already.”
“Ooooh… you have a tongue, too?” She leaned forward with an impish smile.
“Aye, I do.” He responded, knowing he was asking for trouble with this sort.
“Then you can’t be all as shy as Zuri claims.”
“Under certain circumstances only,” he murmured. However, he’d already found his trepidation fading faster than it usually did.
Perhaps he just didn’t know what to do when a complete stranger of the fairer gender spoke a genuine compliment about his appearance. Perhaps… Zuri was right. There really was nothing for him to hide.
“I am Manazuru,” she introduced herself, offering a bow in the way of her people. “But as a friend of Zuri, you may call me Zuru.”
He responded with the bow of his people, which seemed to delight her in its same difference. “I am known as Amon. ‘Tis a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“So formal,” Zuri chided him with a laugh.
He flicked a grin in her direction from the lowest point of his bow.
“Well, Master Amon, I insist that you both come to sup at my home tonight. Zuri and I obviously have a lot to catch up on,” Zuru walked forward and took Zuri by the crook of the arm.
Then she did to same to the Elezen.
Again, Amon would normally not accept such contact with a stranger. But if this was the normal thing these people did, he didn’t want to mark himself as too different. So, he allowed himself to be led to the small cottage at the top of the hill, where he would sample the hospitality of Namai.