Descent: Nightmare Scape – Ego

Coupled with a constant state of mental disarray, Amon struggled to make sense between the waking and sleeping hours. He was aware of drifting in and out of troubled dreams. Unlike the recurring dreams he once had of Xande, these were different. More personal. More vilifying.

The first thing he was aware of was the feeling of soft, deep carpet under his feet. The familiar scent of a place long-known filled his mind. As his eyes adjusted, he knew where he was. The Final Curtain.

Great, ornate red carpet stretched from one edge of the stage to the other. Far up on the walls hung balconies that were placed for an audience only imagined in a fevered madness, but rarely truly used. The whole place was an indulgence gifted because others lacked the courage to deny his whims and demands.

In the center of it all, he saw himself.

Himself as he once was – towering and imposing, dripping in deranged finery, face hidden behind a skull-like mask. It had been so long since he’d thought of himself this way that he was nearly taken aback at the sight.  

Completely vulnerable, he stood before his monstrous once-self, and wondered where this nightmare would lead. He couldn’t even tell if his Other was looking at him at all.

For once, he understood the disorientation that he caused others when he watched them from behind a mask.

“So, you’ve finally taken the stage,” spoke his Other. The voice was familiar, but older, worn weary by the long years. It still held the strength of a performer, but there was no pomp in his tone.

“Why am I here?”

“You say that as if you actually left,” the tone became amused and sly.

“I did leave. ‘Twas more than you could ever do.” Amon growled.

“Don’t get self-righteous with me. Shall I remind you that under it all, we are the same?”

“I’m…” The Elezen grit his teeth. “Trying to change that.”

“He’s trying to change that, he says. What say you, good people?” His Other gave a mocking flip of his cloak, gesturing grandly to an invisible audience in the balconies. “Shall we give him a round of applause? Let’s hear it for… growing attached to the commoners! Losing sight of everything that’s important! Trading a life of kings for a life of struggle! Giving in to weakness and failure!”

Amon winced, the words slicing him. Knowing exactly where all his doubts lay.

“’Tis over with,” the Elezen’s voice was low, a sour taste in his mouth as he admitted defeat. “Xande is dead. The Tower is beyond my reach. ‘Tis no bringing any of it back.”

“Have you even tried?” His past-self loomed above him, suddenly huge and frightening.  

“I don’t think–”

“HAVE YOU EVEN TRIED?” His Other’s voice rose into a roar, echoing through the vast, empty room. 

Amon let out a ragged breath. Standing his ground, he snapped back, “NO! I haven’t! I’ve seen this new world, and ’tis no place for something like you in it.”

“Since WHEN has that ever stopped YOU?”

The Elezen winced and said nothing in response.

“You are content to let everything we built fall to dust? Our life’s work thrown to the winds! The Allagan Empire fallen without a chance of revival! All for what? Because you suddenly grow a conscience and decide to ask questions of morality?

“Perhaps everything fell apart because we asked everything except the right questions!” Amon shouted back, his voice small in the midst of what he faced.  

His Other peered down at him for a long moment, then he began to chuckle. This turned into an outright laugh. A terrible, inhuman sound without emotion or mirth. “Did that just come out of your mouth? You are so precious. Really. Do you think ‘asking the right questions’ now is going to excuse your past deeds?”

The Elezen looked away, taking a deep breath. “No. ‘Twon’t. But maybe ’tisn’t about me.” 

“’Tis always been about us,” came the retort, spoken in a melodramatic cadence. “Even our greatest schemes were always about the glory we’d achieve as we brought the Empire greatness. Argue if you want, but I know your mind. ‘Tis no logic in fighting with yourself.”

“Maybe not. But I do know one thing that you don’t.”

“Oh? Do tell.” 

“I know what life’s like outside of the Tower.” 

“Color me unimpressed.” His Other leaned back and mimed playing a violin sadly. “What sentimental drivel. Next you’ll be troping about how your fuzzy magical friendships taught you more than all your years slicing people apart in the lab.” 

The Elezen snarled in return, a vicious look twisting his face. “I also know I’m not falling back into this… this mind-clouded insanity that corrupted everything I did. Look at you! Look at how pathetic I became!”

“Mmm…. We shall see if you have the strength to back those words,” a grin touched his Other’s voice as he turned and walked away, “Or… if you’re just as pathetic as I am in the end.”

Amon stumbled as the world around him began to tilt and distort. A sign that the nightmare was breaking up, giving way to consciousness.

Just as it all faded to black, he heard the voice of his Other, a sound within his own mind. So clear and enticing came the words: “The Tower is sealed to you, but ’tis always Azys Lla.”

Amon woke suddenly, letting out a shaken breath. However, the name remained on his lips. He whispered to himself, “Azys Lla.”

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Descent: Nightmare Scape – Id

Amon’s strength had deteriorated rapidly, leaving him unable to leave bed, much less throw books at a certain offending dragon who now observed everything he did. Through it all, he could sense that Koh was there, working tirelessly to fit the pieces of the puzzle his sudden illness left in her hands.

It was impossible for him to feel much beyond his own pain at that point, but even in his weakest moments, he withheld the truth from her… knowing that if he told the cat-girl what was really happening within him, she would likely turn away.

He tried to tell himself that he did this to ease her burdens. The truth was more akin to the fact that he was afraid the only person who knew enough about him to save him might leave.

When his visions and hallucinations got too much to bear, someone must have given him something to help him sleep. This would have normally been a good idea. But in his state of mind, it only threw him into a nightmarish dreamcape.

Amon recognized the tall vaulted room as a place within Syrcus Tower. The glittering stone walls rose above him on every side, somehow seeming threatening now. His mind swam, trying to make sense of what was happening.

This wasn’t right. The Tower was closed to him. So how had he come to be there?

Looking down at his own form, he saw that he was as he remembered, dressed in scruffy bedclothes. Still very much himself. And feeling so very tiny in the vastness of the Allagan structure that housed beings much, much larger than he was now.

Last time he’d been there, it was from a very different viewpoint.

That’s when Amon heard a sound that caused every muscle in his body to tense. A terrible, vast, almost-mournful howl shattered the air around him, bringing with it a presence of something huge and threatening.

His breath caught in his chest, sending a jolt of pain through his form. It was almost enough to wake him from this predicament. Almost… but not quite.

The heavy sound of armored paws moved across the crystal floors. Amon felt his pulse quicken, as dread kept him from turning to meet what he knew was waiting there.

“Ahhh…mon,” The voice came distorted, like something speaking through a mouth never meant to utter words. “Have you come to gaze upon my beauty?”

He felt a trickle of fear, but more than that, of revulsion bordering pure hate. He knew this voice. He loathed this voice. But even when the hounds were put into place, this did not silence what he detested most.

Scylla always found a way to yap.

Amon slowly turned to face her, schooling his expression to blank away the apprehension he felt. The scent of dog was almost overpowering.

“Perhaps you’ve come to feed the hounds instead?” She taunted, looming huge above him, all claws and fangs and poorly-covered flesh. Somehow, she managed to make a TSK sound as many judgmental eyes bore down upon him. “Though seeing how pitiful you’ve become, you’d hardly make a worthy snack.”

“And you’re nothing but a fabrication of fevered dreams,” he said, trying to convince himself this wasn’t real.

“Ahhhh-mon. Are you dreaming of me?” Scylla teased, the foremost head cackling, an alarming, twisted sound of laughter mingled with barking. Then, the other heads joined in.

Amon was about done with this dream. “More like a nightmare.”

“Good.” She sounded pleased. “Be afraid. You NEED to be afraid.”

“Do you think I’ve ever been afraid of you?” he sneered.

“Oh dear. Dear, dear Ahhh-mon,” Scylla said pleasantly, though one of her heads was snarling in open contempt. “The true question is… which one of us is the real monster?”

The Elezen lowered his brows, but remained silent. He wasn’t going to allow her to bait him into this conversation.  

“You… so nice and pretty and shiny… with a new, wonderful life, walking the world once again… as if nothing ever happened,” her tone was light and airy, though slowly each head began to bristle and growl, “Or me, the creation of your malice, hate and envy… a symbol of what your knowledge and power really is? I will be locked into this twisted form for all eternity, known as nothing but a beast to the generations that come after! When my most grave crime… was to displease you.”

Amon curled his lip, almost growling at the dogs in return. But still, he fought to keep his silence.

“There is no regret in your eyes, now is there?”

“No.” He responded, though he told himself he shouldn’t.

“Of course not,” Scylla hissed, a strange sound coming from a canine form. “You would do this again in a heartbeat, wouldn’t you?”

“To you. Yes.”

This elicited another chilling laugh from her. “I may have my share of sins on my hands, but the difference between you and I is… I never hid it from the people who dared to trust me.”

Amon opened his mouth, but she continued, talking right over him. She was always annoying like that.

“Here you are, parading about Eorzea, wearing your mask and acting your friendly part. Winning the hearts and minds of others – you were always good at that,” Scylla chuckled, stroking one of her heads to calm it. “So now you pretend to be the wise, benevolent Allagan, who has secretly come as a gift to the poor, ignorant children of Eorzea. There, you show them only what you want them to see… dropping tidbits of your knowledge whenever you wish to string them along… dreaming of the day when they will worship you and raise you up the way the Empire once did.”

“’Tisn’t true!” he snapped quickly.

“My… my… so defensive. Have I struck a nerve?” she tittered at him. “Or perhaps I speak the truth that you don’t want to admit to yourself.”

“These people… some of them… are my friends.” The words were hard for him to say. And they sounded fake as they hung in the air. Like a sentiment he’d borrowed from someone else, one that didn’t fit within his own vocabulary.

“Ahhhh-mon. You know very well your ‘friendship’ never came without a cost. What do you seek to take from them?”

“None of this is any of your business.”

“Of course not. But, I always did pry unwanted,” Scylla said lightly.

The hounds began to bare their fangs, like creatures that could no longer withstand the hunger within them. She started to close the ground between them. Her voice was no longer pleasant, accented with growls and snapping.

Amon backed away quickly, despite trying to prove his courage. This was not going to end well.

Howls rang out in fury as she bore down on him, “You do not deserve a second chance! You who have mangled and destroyed so many lives should not be given another! Your victims demand retribution! Why were you the lucky one?” 

The huge maws opened, an acrid scent filling his senses. And just as the fangs closed around him, Amon jolted awake, shivering in the cold silence of his own bed.

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Descent: Dragon’s Jeers

Amon knew he was suffering from heavy hallucinations among other vicious symptoms akin to withdrawal. That’s why he almost ignored the vision of the tiny dragon when it first appeared in his room.

But the snark that poured out of the creature was enough to convince him this was beyond something even his mind could conjure up. No. This was a real spirit-form of the dragon Midgardsormr. Just… much… much smaller.

It had followed him. All the way back to his apartment.

And now the wretched creature sat on the back of his chair on the other side of the room and made jeering noises at him. It was enough to force Amon to muster the strength to get out of bed, despite the fact Koh would have a fit if she caught him.

A heavy thunk sounded – not for the first time that night – as Amon hefted the largest book he could find at the thing’s face. His aim was sorely off, mostly because the world still spun and shivered around him.

The Elezen swore under his breath with every Allagan curse he could muster.

-A funny way to treat thy evaluator, Allagan.- Midgardsormr remarked, unruffled.

“Get out of my apartment!” Amon slurred and furiously threw another book. This time it hardly made it across the room.

The tiny dragon looked at the pitiful trajectory and noted. -Thou hast missed.-

“Silence! Another word and I’m going to come over there and wring your scrawny neck!”

-I shall excuse thy poor behavior for being lost in a fluster of the moment.-

“I’ll show you the fluster of the moment!” The Elezen fumed and stumbled across the room as if to make good on his threat.

This got Migardsormr to move, winging slowly into the air and re-perching on the top of a book shelf, far out of reach. –Thy mindset is worse off than I anticipated, Allagan.-

“And whose fault is that?” Amon threw yet another book. This time, it only succeeded in dropping back down on his own head.

-Thine.-

This was enough to cause the Elezen to waver and flop down in the chair next to the bookshelf. Emotionally spent, he just folded in on himself, hands covering his face. His words sounded like a childish whine. “You’re destroying everything!”

-‘Tis not my doing, Allagan. ‘Tis thine own. Until thou canst take responsibility for thy crimes, situations like this shall cycle in and out of thy life.-

“Why couldn’t you just leave me alone?”

-Thou must pay thy dues, Allagan.-

“Fine,” Amon grit his teeth, gathering himself back up again. He shot a baleful look at the dragon. “I accept that for myself. But what you’ve done is made me a danger to others. They shouldn’t get caught up in this!”

-‘Tis a simple answer to that.-

“Which is?”

-Don’t be a danger to those thou carest for.-

“’Tisn’t that easy!” Amon protested.

-Indeed. I said it was simple. Not easy.-

“You’re absolutely no help.”

-I am not here to help. I am here to judge.-

The Elezen just threw another book at the dragon, then slumped in the chair in a sign of miserable defeat.

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Descent: Dragon’s Trial Part 2

The Void closed in on him. At first, the spark was but a tickle in the back of his mind. But it grew exponentially, overwhelming him, as his awareness unfolded into the aether. A voracious inferno shot through his veins, consuming him from the inside. Threatening to erupt, though he struggled to keep it within.

The aether. The hunger. The agony he knew so well from his previous life. It had returned.

And all the things that once kept it in check – the advancements and infusions and injections – there was none of that in this world to fall back on. This was so, so much worse than he could imagine.

Why? Why had he chosen to return? Why had he not just embraced the inevitable in the Tower?

It felt as if his form was buckling under the energy, pieces of him shattering and drifting into the Void. Somewhere within the darkness, a deep laughter resounded. Midgardsormr. He sounded satisfied.

It was too much – even the vast pride of Amon of Allag could be broken. A wretched, agonized cry frothed from his lips as he crumpled to his knees. It rang across the Void, perhaps the most human sound of despair he’d uttered in so very, very long.

Echoing with it came the sound of many voices. Voices in torment and prolonged anguish, their misery mingling with his own. For a split moment, he could see them – specters of his past. Faces of countless victims. Those sacrificed for his ideal of the greater good.

Back then, he didn’t think of them as victims. Now, he knew better.

Amon clutched his head, trying to blot the faces out of his vision. Trying to drown the mournful chorus that cried out for retribution. He couldn’t give it to them. It was so far beyond him, even his death could not balance the scales of his sins.

Then, from the welling of chaos and horror he saw… a light.

A voice. A soft voice. It called his name… and where the sound drew across the surface of the Void, the gristly images of the past rippled and parted like oil on water.

He felt a touch on his shoulder. Then another. 

And with a shuddering jolt, he found himself doubled over on the mangled metal platform, the gaping maw of the Keeper of the Lake leering down at him from above. Midgardsormr’s corpse almost seemed to smile.

“Amon!” Koh shook him, concern written on her face. “What happened? Are you hurt?”

“He doesn’t look hurt,” Zuri’s voice came from behind. “But the way he shouted…”

They’d heard his scream. It’d passed from the mind-void into the waking world and drew them to him. And now they hovered over him in worry.

Panic added to the welling of pain, which still shot through his body from moment to moment. They had no idea what had just awakened. 

Amon wanted to shrug off their hands, to do anything to drive them away from him. But the flames that seethed within him seemed to calm at their presence. As if they were the only things keeping him together at the moment.

“I’m fine,” the Elezen wheezed.

“There was a bright light,” Mocho noted. “What was that?”

“A trap,” Amon half lied. “I sprung a trap. I was careless.”

“We need to get you back to the house so I can check you over,” Koh said, helping to hoist him to his feet on one side.

No. No…

He wanted to protest as he stood shakily. He could visibly see the aether energies swimming around him, like sharks waiting for him to put a toe in the water.

But Zuri held fast to his other arm, helping him along. “We’ll take it slow.”

Step by step, they walked him down the planks. The world dipped and blurred, as if he was viewing an image of the world imprinted upon another world, neither of which he could decipher was really there. It was all he could do to keep his balance.

Somewhere, from the corner of his eye he saw it. A tiny winged form flitting among the aether-tinged wreckage. Perhaps… a dragon.

But when Amon turned to look, the vision was gone. Instead, it was replaced with images of the new life he’d attempted to build, now shattering and falling apart between his cursed hands.

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Descent: Dragon’s Trial Part 1

The job was unexpected and the employer unknown, but the pay was very, very good. That, on top of Amon’s curiosity of the Keeper of the Lake, was enough for him to agree they take it. The goal itself was simple – scour what was left of the Agrius and bring back any salvageable parts or technology that hadn’t already been made off with.

So many things about this job seemed tailor-fit to Amon’s interest. He probably should have taken that as a sign to be more careful. But time and good fortune in Eorzea had whittled down his natural suspicions.

This was one day he would have been better served to follow his mistrustful instincts.

“Was this really a ship once?” Zuri gawked up at the mangled ruins of metal entwined in the carcass of the legendary beast, Midgardsormr. “It’s huge!”

“Aye,” Mocho responded, scanning the area for anything hostile. “’Twas a Garlean battleship. Such was its threat that the king of dragons himself was moved to cast it out of the sky.”

“And then he died?” The Au Ra asked mournfully.

“Well, ’tis to be determined,” Amon interjected, also squinting up into the heights of the wreckage.

“What do you mean? He looks pretty dead to me.”

“Dragons work differently than ‘mortals’,” Koh told her, jotting something down in her book. “It’s been proven that their spirit and influence can linger even after what we would consider death. No one really knows what they are or where they came from. There’s even speculation they aren’t of our world.”

Zuri’s eyes grew round. “How exciting!”

“How bothersome,” Amon muttered.

“What?” the girl tilted her head at him.

“Nothing.”

Mocho interrupted the discussion prudently. “History lessons are all good and well, but things seem to be clear of danger for now. I propose we make the best of this.”

“I agree,” Koh nodded eagerly. “Let’s see what we can find!”

-Allagan…-

At first, Amon thought it was just his imagination. Nothing more than a strange wind warping through the splintered metal and bone that made up the dragon grave. But then, the word resounded again, less a spoken word and more something almost within his mind.

-Allagan…-

It beckoned him. Coaxed him, full of a slow, sonorous patience.

Glancing over his shoulder, Amon verified that the rest of his group was focused on their own tasks. Then, he quietly slipped away from them, walking up the sloped metal incline that may have once been the ship’s deck. Or side. Or bottom. It was hard to tell.

The Elezen knew he should be more wary, but his curiosity drove him further and further towards the top. Nothing hindered him as picked his way up the wreckage, and finally emerged at the upper platform.

Looming huge over him was the proud head of the dead Dragon King, maw still open in fury and defiance of his enemy. The years had weathered away scale and hide, leaving remains that seemed stronger than the steel and stone surrounding it.

More vast than time itself.

The dragons were no strangers to his people. Like all forms of unknown power, Allagans sought to harness and enslave the dragons, and bend them to their purpose. Little doubt that should the father of dragons look upon him now, there would be no friendship extended.

And with those thoughts, something happened.

The deck beneath Amon’s feet shuddered and a brilliant light bloomed around the form of the wyrm above him. That which he’d thought inert became fiercely and dangerously alive.

-So thou hast the foolishness and pride to respondeth to mine summons, Allagan. ‘Tis irony at its most.-

Amon took a step back, head craning to face the maw of the dragon that hung, still unmoving above him. Though power and light filled the platform, the beast’s form itself did not stir. This was something well beyond the physical… and yet, very much the voice of Midgardsormr.

Tension froze the Elezen place, and he had no words to exchange.

-Does thou looketh upon me in surprise? Surely one of the finest minds of thy people knew what thou wouldst find at the summit of this place.-

“Perhaps you’ve given me too much credit,” Amon quipped, trying to lighten the situation. He didn’t know what was about to happen, but none of it could be good.

-Thou mayest hide thy truth from other mortals, Allagan. But thou cannot pass trickery and lies upon mine eyes.-

The Elezen grit his teeth, fist balling defensively at his sides. “What do you want from me?”

-A simple thing.-

When the beast did not follow up, Amon demanded, “That is?”

Demanding things of the mighty Midgardsormr wasn’t the smartest thing he’d ever done. However, if this was to be the end of him, he wasn’t going to let it be in a cowering whimper.

-Thou thinkest thy presence has gone unchecked in this world. ‘Tis but wishful thinking. If thou desireth the gift of new life in Eorzea, I shall have the truth of thy soul laid before me for judgement.-

“I’ve done nothing to harm the people of this world since I’ve returned,” Amon protested. “If you don’t believe me–”

-Oh. I do believe.- The dragon interrupted. -Thou hast not brought harm because thou hast not the strength to bring it. I intend to change this.-

“What?” he breathed, his stomach curdling at the prospect.

A shaft of pure gold light condensed before the dragon’s mouth, an ominous portent of what was about to happen. If Amon had half his wits about him at that moment, he would have run. But pride and arrogance, his two best friends, had locked his feet in place, even in the face of certain death.

-A man who avoideth contact with temptation only shows his ability to circumvent. This proves not the mettle of his spirit.-

As those words resounded in Amon’s mind, the shaft of light streaked through the air, striking him through the chest.

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The Greatest Treasure

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.”

“Mmmm?”

“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.

“I’m not.”

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.

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A Chocobo’s Tale — Part 6

The Lalafell said nothing else about Amon’s magic after the fever vanished. Likely, it was illness that led him to talk out of turn. Once Mocho was back in full awareness, he didn’t even give a sign that such things concerned him… though Amon had a feeling that they did.

They remained in Wineport for a few days, allowing Mocho to rest as his fever began to subside. Under Koh’s careful watch and healing, he sprang back much more quickly than Amon expected, even having full use of his arm in very short order.

Koh, on the other hand, was in extremely high spirits after their talk. Amon saw something within her transform, as if some huge weight was taken from her shoulders. He had no clue that he’d been the cause of so much of her stress.

Seeing her happier made him certain that the choice he made was the right one.

Thankfully, Zuri remained unaware of the whole thing. Amon wasn’t sure how much longer that would be the case, especially with Mocho having caught on to him. Something in him dreaded trying to explain the truth to the girl, so he kept silent about it… whether that was the right thing to do or not.

In fact, Zuri was sitting with him when the letter arrived that afternoon.

“Mister Amon?” The delivery boy inquired, peering at him with the folded paper in one hand.

The Elezen glanced over curiously, “Aye?”

“Message, sir.” He handed the note over and gave a bow, being on his way.

“Oooh… what’s that?” Zuri instantly hung over one of his shoulder to get a look. She teased, “A love letter?”

“Zuri, no,” Amon half grimaced, half laughed, but allowed her to watch as he opened it. His eyes capered over the words, a frown forming slowly.

“What is it?”

“’Tis from that Lalafell merchant…”

“The one with the chocobo?”

“Aye,” he said slowly. “Sounds like something’s happened with the bird and he wants me to come to the stables.”

“Oh no! I wonder what’s wrong.”

“He didn’t specify. But I suppose I should respond.”

“I’ll come with you,” Zuri offered.

Amon peered at the Au Ra for a moment, then agreed as he got to his feet. “Very well.”

“We thought he might shake himself out of this,” the merchant told Amon. “But he refuses to touch his feed or come out of the stall.”

“My job was to return the bird. I’m afraid I can’t take responsibility for an illness it obtained during its time in the swamp,” the Bard responded as diplomatically as possible. This chocobo was an expensive piece of stock, he knew, so if he was getting pegged for damaged goods after the fact, he knew there was no way he could afford to pay the recompense.

“No… no. It’s nothing like that,” the merchant motioned him towards the stable. “I just have a hunch that I’d like to test.”

“Mmm…” Amon followed the Lalafell suspiciously, then peered into the paddock.

The red chocobo was curled up at the far end of the stall, looking just about as sad as any chocobo ever could. Greens were left untouched in one corner as it emitted what sounded strangely like a sigh.

Zuri had to climb on the fence to get a better look, concern plain on her face.

That’s when the merchant asked, “Would you humor me and talk to him?”

“Talk… to…” Amon thumbed a motion at the chocobo. Then he groaned, leaned in over the fence and directed his voice at the creature. “Hey, bird! What’s going on here?”

Instantly, the all top feathers perked up as the chocobo lifted his head with a questioning warble. Dark eyes focused on Amon and it trilled in what could only be delight, struggling to his feet to come and greet the Elezen.

“That’s what I thought,” the merchant mused.

The bird butted its head gently against Amon’s hand, acting for all the world like an excited puppy.

“He likes you, Amon!” Zuri laughed, and petted the chocobo, too.

“Indeed,” the Lalafell nodded to Amon. “The chocobo appears to have bonded with you when you rescued him.”

“What?” the Bard frowned.

“It happens sometimes, especially with ones that haven’t had training. They connect to someone, and pine away if they are separated too long.”

“’Tis very nice and all,” Amon nudged the chocobo away as it began nibbling his hair. “But you’ve made it clear this bird was a big investment to you.”

“He is,” the merchant sighed. “And to see such a fine creature waste away is more shame than the loss of income. That’s why I was hoping you could help.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have the kind of gil it would take to…”

“That’s not what I’m after.”

“Mmm. Then what?” Amon frowned. This was getting more and more complicated.

“I’m willing to offer you a work arrangement in exchange for the chocobo,” the merchant told him.

Zuri turned to watch the Elezen with large eyes, not sure what that would mean for their group.

“I…” the Bard thought for a moment.

This Lalafell was a stranger, but it was obvious that he went above and beyond for even just his chocobos. Though Amon didn’t fully trust him yet, it was hard to believe the merchant had any other motives behind the offer. Still…

“I know this is a lot to consider…”

“My main issue,” Amon began, “Is that I have obligations to my Free Company party.”

Zuri perked up hearing that. Then she said, “I’m sure we could help, too, Amon. Since you really like the chocobo so much!”

He spluttered, “What makes you think I like…”

“Oh, I can tell,” she laughed at him.

“How many are in your Free Company party?” the Lalafell asked, rubbing his chin.

“Four of us.”

“Hm… I had a feeling you’d say that.”

“Is that a problem?”

“Funds would be tight to offer you all a paid position. However,” the merchant tilted his head. “I suppose with such a collective protecting my cargo, I could finally expand my trade routes into more profitable locations.”

“I can’t speak for the rest of my company on this agreement, though,” Amon told him.

“I’m sure they would help,” Zuri interjected. “Besides, we could always use a more stable job, rather than hunting something new every few days.”

“I suppose so. But we still need to discuss it with them.”

“That’s understandable,” the merchant nodded. “Talk with your people. You know where to find me with your answer.”

“Fair enough. I’ll return shortly,” Amon gave the chocobo’s head one last rub as he and Zuri walked away. In the distance, he could hear the bird’s troubled warbling.

“That poor thing,” Zuri said sadly.

“Couldn’t it have chosen someone else?” the Elezen sighed.

“Come on, Amon. It’s exciting! We might have a real job! This could be a good thing!”

He glanced down at her beaming face, observing. “You’re always so excited about everything.”

“Why shouldn’t I be?” Zuri laughed at him. Then she ran ahead, the sun shining off her pale hair.

Amon just smiled a bit as he watched her, and followed in silence.

“I don’t see why not. The merchant already paid us well for a smaller job. He’s proven somewhat reliable,” Mocho rubbed his cheek once Amon finished explaining the situation to the others. Then the Lalafell glanced over at Koh. “What do you think?”

“Oh… uh… me?” the cat-girl sat up straighter, not used to being asked for her input on the status of a group. “Yes. I think this could be a good longer-term job. And it seems to be important to Amon…”

The Elezen coughed into his hand. “More like ’twas dropped in my lap.”

“You’re fond of that chocobo,” Mocho disagreed. “I saw the way you talked to him.”

“Mmm…”

“Well, then,” Zuri clapped her hands together brightly. “Is that a Yes to this?”

“It sounds like it,” Koh grinned back.

Amon just sighed, “Appreciate it.”

“Of course! We’re all friends. You can count on us for anything!” Zuri trilled at him cheerfully.

He didn’t know what to say to that. He just hoped that his surprise didn’t show too much under the shadow of his visor.

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A Chocobo’s Tale – Part 5

In the deep recess of night, Amon awoke to the distant sound of someone talking. It took him a moment to remember where he was – a sickbed in Wineport, where he’d been tended for gashes along his shoulder after the coeurl attack.

His whole arm felt hot and stiff under the bandages, and it ached to move too quickly. He wasn’t concerned about it, though. He had faith in Koh’s healing abilities.

Maybe that’s why when her voice drifted into his dreams, it woke him. He didn’t know who she was talking to, but she sounded very upset.

With a groan, he pushed himself out of bed and padded across the stone floor to peer out into the hallway. Following the sound, he eventually found Koh all alone, under one of the stone archways in the moonlight.

At first, he was going to approach her, curious as to why she was talking to herself. But then, realization of whom she was talking to came to him as he listened.

“Noah…” Koh said softly, clutching her hands in front of her chest. “Please. I need your help. I don’t know what to do.”

The cat-girl was silent for a long moment, as if waiting for some internal response. She didn’t appear to get it, so she continued talking.

“You heard what Mocho said today. I… I believe him. I don’t think it was a fever dream.”

Amon pursed his lips, having an inkling of what this was about. Staying absolutely still, tucked in the shadows of the stone, he waited to see if he was correct.

“If Amon gets his magic back, are we going to lose him?”

The Elezen was taken aback at the sound of near-tears in her voice.

“Will he really just give into the temptation of power, like he said? Would he really go back to being…” Koh stopped, as if she didn’t dare speak the rest out loud.

Amon stood in the shadows, drowning under the weight of miserable guilt.

He remembered the day that he told her those things, just to be belligerent and cruel. And though he’d apologized for upsetting her the day after, he hadn’t realized that something about that conversation had remained and caused her this much distress.

Why was she so concerned about a wretch like him? He couldn’t understand.

Koh’s head was bowed as he approached her. Though he tried to move quietly, her ears perked, catching his sound. She whirled around to face him with a start, then quickly began to scrub her face with her sleeves, trying to cover her emotion.

Amon didn’t even pretend. There was no point to it. He cut right to the chase. “What Mocho told you was true.”

“You were listening.” She sniffled accusingly and continued to wipe her face as he came to stand next to her under the arch.

“Yes,” he said. Then he asked curiously, “Does Noah respond when you talk to her like that?”

“Sometimes.”

“Not tonight, though.”

“No.”

“She probably doesn’t want to deal with me, either,” Amon attempted to joke.

Koh’s ears just remained folded back against her head. She wasn’t in the mood for his humor.

He cleared his throat, then told her, “Something about this cloned form doesn’t connect to the aether quite right. It blocks my ability to channel and cast. But, from time to time, I’m able to break through that block and make it happen.”

“So what does that mean?”

“I don’t fully know. I told you before that I can’t make any promises about what’s going to happen to me,” Amon grimaced. “Trust me, I’m not happy about that either.”

Koh’s eyes flicked up to his face. “Don’t you want your magic back?”

He looked out at the quiet stars for a long moment before answering. “If it means that I lose myself like I did before… no.”

She gave a tiny gasp. “Do you mean that?”

“Mmmm…”

“That’s not what you said before.”

“No, ’tisn’t,” Amon agreed. “I’ve thought about it. And I’ve changed my mind.”

Koh’s ears perked forward, eyes rounding, reflecting the moonlight.

“Is that such a surprise?” He muttered. “’Twas a miserable existence in the end. Now that I have another chance, I want to do something different.”

Her surprise transitioned into relief mingled with joy. “Then… you’ll…?

He nodded slowly. “I’ll try not to let myself get swallowed up in the temptation of magic like I did before. Still no promises, though.”

“You don’t know… how… much… I’ve wanted to hear you say that,” Koh’s eyes misted up again, this time with happiness.

He still didn’t understand why she was so emotional. “You’re welcome, I guess.”

She had a strange expression on her face as she continued to watch him.

“What?”

“I’m going to hug you now,” Koh warned him.

Amon took a step back in surprise. “No… Koh…”

“Yesssss!” she came for him with open arms. “You owe me, Amon!”

He rolled his eyes and groaned. “Fine. Just… do it quickly.”

Koh wrapped her arms around him, her little face beaming as Amon frowned down in return. The Elezen then sighed, patted her head gently, and complained, “’Tis inappropriate.”

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A Chocobo’s Tale – Part 4

When Amon finally reined the chocobo in at Wineport, he was met with worried shouts from Koh and Zuri. The girls had come looking for them, and finding them no-where, had grown more and more concerned as the night settled over the land.

Koh took one look at Mocho’s wounded arm and Amon’s sliced shoulder and gave her customary, “Oh my gods!”

“What happened?” Zuri echoed. “Mocho! He looks sick!”

Amon grimaced and slid down from the bird’s back. Then he helped pull Mocho down to his feet.

“I can stand,” the Lalafell said woozily.

“You both need a sickbed right away!” Koh demanded.

“I have to finish the job,” Amon told her, motioning to the chocobo.

Zuri was already fussing over Mocho, taking him to the nearest place for rest.

“You did all that to get a chocobo?” the Miqo’te frowned up at him, her ears folding back in disapproval.

“I guess so.”

Then Koh frowned. “Okay, finish your job. But I’ll come looking for you if you take too long.”

“I’m earning threats now?” Amon grinned.

“Coming back looking like this? Yes, you are!” She huffed and walked off in the direction that Zuri and Mocho went.

“One chocobo, returned. A little muddy but unharmed. As contract stated,” Amon handed the reins of the bird back to the merchant who originally hired them.

The Lalafell just beamed and fussed over his re-acquired mount, then turned a keen eye on the Bard. “Where’s the other fellow that was with you?”

“We had some trouble with local wildlife,” the Elezen admitted. “He’s being tended to in the infirmary. I’m headed there myself.”

The merchant took notice of Amon’s wounds and pursed his lips tightly. “I apologize. I wasn’t aware you’d be walking into that kind of danger.”

“’Tis a risk you take.”

“I shall add extra to our agreed amount in order to cover—“

“’Tisn’t necessary,” Amon held up a hand. “We have an acting healer in our Free Company. She’ll be able to take care of it.”

“If you insist?” The merchant eyed him, as if never seeing an adventurer turn down more Gil than was originally agreed upon.

Amon wasn’t sure why he’d done that himself. He simply accepted the payment and turned to head out of the stables.

That’s when the chocobo began to warble in concern. The further the Elezen walked, the louder the bird’s distress became. Then, much to the surprise of the merchant, the bird shook itself free of the lead, and rushed behind Amon, lightly butting the Bard in the crook of his back with his head.

Amon winced at the pain this caused and turned quickly. “What… no. You’re back with your master. Go on now.”

The chocobo warbled again sadly, followed by a short series of chirps.

“You heard me.”

By now, the merchant approached, taking the bridle again. “He seems to be fond of you.”

“That’s because he’s a silly bird,” Amon said, running a hand over the chocobo’s top feathers with a sigh. “Take care of him.”

The chocobo just continued to make distressed sounds as the Elezen walked way.

Mocho’s fever was high but not untreatable. Amon had done a surprisingly good job of wrapping the wounded arm and keeping it clean. But as Koh worked her healing magic into the Lalafell’s system, his words, more than his health, began to concern her.

At first, he was just rambling woozily, as if he’d had more than he could handle to drink. It didn’t make a lot of sense until he began to talk about Amon.

“Did you know he can cast magic?” Mocho asked from out of nowhere.

“What?” Koh blinked at him, her own magic stuttering in surprise.

“Amon.”

She laughed, trying to cover up her unease. “What makes you say that?”

“I saw it.”

“You also have a very high fever, Mocho,” Koh tried to misplace his experience. She didn’t like the feeling of bending the truth, but she also was determined to keep Amon’s identity a secret… at least, until Amon deemed it was time to reveal himself.

“It wasn’t my fever,” Mocho argued, slurring his words. “This happened before I fell ill.”

“Maybe it was Bard trickery.”

“No, Koh,” The Lalafell said, suddenly looking quite lucid. “He wrapped a coeurl in a block of ice. Froze it dead on the spot. That is far from Bard trickery… it’s high-grade Thaumaturgy.”

She didn’t know what to say to that. If that’s what really happened… if that was true… The prospect of Amon’s magic coming back to him made her shiver.

“Just rest for now.” Koh bit back her fear and led the Lalafell to the nearest bed.

But Mocho wasn’t done. As he lay back on the pillow, his eyes growing heavy, he murmured, “Koh, be careful. He’s not who he appears to be.”

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A Chocobo’s Tale – Part 3

“You and I need to talk.”

Amon reached out with both hands, placing them gently on either side of the chocobo’s broad head. The bird shivered, still aware of the danger that lay just beyond their door, but focused on the Elezen, giving a soft chirp at the touch.

“Mocho’s not looking too good. I’m not sure how much time we have,” the Bard told the chocobo. “I don’t know how much of this you understand, but I could really use your help.”

“Kweh.”

“Is that a kweh you’ll help or a kweh just to kweh?”

“Kweh.”

“Fair enough,” Amon stroked his fingers through the dirty feathers, thinking how majestic the creature would look should the grime of the swamp be washed away. “We came out here to rescue you. You know that?”

“K-keweeh.”

“I don’t know if there’s some sort of chocobo etiquette about who gets to ride or whatever. But Mocho’s just a little fellow. He’s not that heavy. Do you think you can carry him? Just back to town?”

The chocobo seemed to muse about this, one eye focused on Amon. Then finally, it gave a soft whistle.

The Bard smiled in amusement. It was hard to believe that this creature wasn’t understanding the things he asked. “I appreciate it, friend. I’m going to do what I can to see that you both get out of here safe.”

The bird responded by nibbling some of Amon’s silver hair.

“Alright. Alright. ‘Tis inappropriate,” he laughed softly, nudging the beak away from his head.

Then, the Elezen turned to regard his companion.

Mocho was curled up against the stone, shivering and sweating at the same time. The fever had come upon him quickly. Even a taste of the healing potions did little to help the situation. No doubt, these creatures had some kind of venom in their bite – the reason they waited so patiently outside of the cave was for their prey to succumb. Only, Amon had no intention of letting Mocho die there.

The Bard strode over to the Lalafell, kneeling down next to him. He felt a little guilty for having been so sharp with Mocho earlier. After all, the reason his companion was suffering now was because he had jumped in to protect Amon from the first blow.

“Mocho,” his voice was a good deal softer than before. “I need you to wake up.”

The Lalafell stirred, his eyes watery and dim. He struggled to talk, “Amon… something’s not right with me.”

“I know. I’m going to get you back to town. The longer we stay here, the worse you’re getting.”

“How…?”

“I’m not giving you an option in this,” Amon said sternly. “You’re going to let me lead them away. Then, you ride the chocobo back to town.”

“Wha…”

“You heard me.”

“I’m not going to leave… you…”

“You’re not leaving me,” Amon frowned. “I choose this. I can handle myself.”

At least, that’s what he hoped.

“Amon… no…”

“This is not up for debate. I’ll lash you to that bird and make you ride if I have to,” the Elezen crossed his arms, looking as large and intimidating as he could manage.

Somehow, this just made the Lalafell weakly laugh.

“You don’t believe me.”

“Someone like you… sacrificing yourself… for me?” The words were very quiet. Almost so quiet that Amon wasn’t sure he actually heard them.

“What did you say?”

But Mocho didn’t answer. He seemed lost in the folds of his fever again.

Amon burst from the mouth of the cave, flute raised to his lips, piping a cacophony of sound as he sprinted. If seeing their meal running out under the nose didn’t rile them up enough to chase him, the terrible noise he was making should be enough to put them in a rage.

He never claimed to be the fastest runner. His cloned body was still having problems adjusting to motor controls, despite him spending hours working with it. Still, Amon was able to break the through the underbrush on the far side before the beasts began to chase in earnest.

As soon as he saw the cave entrance clear, he hit the highest note he could on his flute. The signal for Mocho to make his escape.

From the corner of his eye, the Bard caught a flash of red, and knew they were on their way. He smiled a brief moment.

Then the pain ripped through him, nearly sending him stumbling. One of the coeurl had come upon him faster than he realized – maybe it was waiting out further than the others for an ambush.

Twisting, he began firing into the beast’s face. The pain in his shoulder where the claws tore in made it hard to hold his arrow straight, and many of his shots fired off-target.

Breathing heavy, he pushed himself to keep running. But the reality was, he didn’t have much ground left to him. The felines were much faster than he was, and there were so many more of them than before.

Amon squeezed his eyes shut, hoping for that hint of aether to come back to him as it did earlier. For the magic that might save him.

But it was like screaming into an uncaring void. There was nothing there.

And he knew he was on his own.

Mocho held on to the chocobo’s make-shift saddle, struggling to stay awake and balanced. The bird’s strides were huge and uneven, like a mount who had never had training with a rider. But there wasn’t much to be done for that.

Amon was right about one thing… this was the only way they were getting out of that cave. But what the Bard didn’t realize was that Mocho had no intention in being told what to do. Not when that led to the death of one of his companions… no matter who that companion really was.

The coeurls caught up to Amon faster than Mocho expected. He saw one leap and strike, saw the Elezen take the blow and reel. Knew that there wasn’t much time.

“Hey! Hey!” Mocho shouted to the chocobo, trying to get its attention. One of his brothers was a chocobo handler by trade, and he’d picked up a few tricks from this over the years.

The bird chirped, indicating it knew it was being addressed.

“Amon needs our help,” the Lalafell pointed. “I know you don’t like the coeurls, but if we don’t do something…”

The chocobo warbled in worry.

“Come on, you’re huge! You could flatten those cats!”

The chocobo warbled again, though sounding a bit thoughtful about its place in the food chain. Then, as if this was the deciding factor, it gave a solid chirp and charged straight towards where Amon was fighting to stay ahead of the claws of death.

Mocho’s eyes widened as he felt the massive bird launch itself upward. Clinging tight, he winced as sharp talons came down with a ferocity, shredding the mottled hide of the coeurl closest to the running Elezen, leaving the beast tattered in the huge chocobo’s wake.

Amon did a shocked double-take over his shoulder. Even half hidden by a mask, the expression was plain to see. He bellowed at them, “YOU’RE CRAZY!”

“SO ARE YOU!” Mocho shouted back. Then he threw his good arm out towards the Bard. “GET ON!”

The surprise transformed into a wild grin, and Amon laughed, leaping for the back of the chocobo.

The bird stumbled a bit as new weight was added and the Elezen fumbled to pull himself up and become seated. But then, with a burst of amazing speed, the three of them shot out of Raincatcher’s Gully, down the path towards safety of Wineport.

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