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