“Are we there yet?”
A few minutes passed before Nodd chortled again.
“How about now?”
“No,” Ben answered quietly.
The Half-Lunar might have responded with irritation by the twenty-eighth time this particular question was reworded in the space of half an hour. But his mind was too occupied with the peculiarities of chocobo-back riding. Something about it felt very familiar — as if at some time or place in his past he may have went through these very motions. But his memory would not yield him any answers.
It never did.
“By gourd… I’m so bored!” the Kitt complained.
“Why not count the trees then,” FuSoYa grumbled sarcastically.
“Okay!” Nodd’s ears perked up, and he began to count, “Tree… Tree…. Tree… Tree…”
FuSoYa quickly learned the error of his suggestion. There were a lot of trees to number.
Ben, however, was too engrossed in his thoughts to notice.
It’s lucky for us that Father’s maps detailed even the location of the Chocobo forests.
It had been these very notes that have given Ben the idea to search for chocobos to begin with. He remembered reading how the large, ostrich-like birds were a common means of transportation across the Blue Planet. After talking at length with FuSoYa, they decided it was the best way to make haste to Baron.
And it’s even more lucky that they’re a friendly sort of creature.
Upon finding the forest, Ben had pleaded their case to the chocobos. The birds had responded with a friendly feathery-headed warble of agreement. They were quite surprised and impressed that the “man-thing” that could speak their language.
Even FuSoYa grudgingly admitted that Ben’s linguistic studies, as odd as they were, might have been of some use after all.
His father’s notes highlighted that chocobos were, for the most part, easily domesticated. It was for that reason that they were trained and bred as beasts of burden. Their mildness of temperament and need for companionship often made them loyal creatures to their human masters.
Of course… there is always the exception.
And Ben just happened to be riding it at the moment.
The Half-Lunar’s new mount claimed that his last owner had named him “Ebonytide”. Ben couldn’t tell how many masters that the huge black bird had laid a claw into. Somehow the chocobo had bolted free from captivity and had eventually found a place among the chocobos of the Baronian forest. However, it was apparent that Ebony was not very well liked even among his own kind.
Actually, it seemed as if the flock was quite glad to be rid of him.
The narrow shape of the bird’s eyes alerted Ben to his stormy temper at first sight. Still, there wasn’t much choice given to the Half-Lunar.
He was the only chocobo in the whole forest that was large enough to carry me.
The two of them had struck up an agreement. Ebony would take Ben as far as Baron — just as long as the Master Wizard released him upon arrival at the city.
All in all, the black chocobo didn’t seem too grieved about the situation. This was because, Ebony had informed him, the chocobos of the Baronian forest were pretty dull. And he was a bird in search of high excitement. A jog to Baron was just the thing to break his boredom.
A smaller white chocobo had offered her services in carrying FuSoYa. She was young and had neither name nor chance to explore beyond the border of the forest. This would be her first trip to Baron and she seemed rather excited… in a placid kind of way.
Despite Nodd’s constant nagging, the two chocobos were making good time. They were both fresh for a run and were enjoying the prospect of racing along side each other down the unmarked hill sides. With only a word from Ben to point them in the right direction, they were bearing quickly down upon Baron.
These chocobo are more impressive than they look… no wonder Father spent time writing about them. Especially in a world that hasn’t evolved enough to use airships as a major means of transportation.
“How are we faring?” FuSoYa asked.
“Not too bad, actually. If we keep this pace up, we should arrive in Baron before nightfall,” Ben answered.
“Good. I do not wish to be traveling the wilderness at night if we do not have to.”
“It’s nothing we can’t handle, I’m sure.”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” the Lunar intoned. “With the Blue Planet, you must never be too quick to underestimate. You should know that, Golbez.”
Ben winced. “Uncle… I asked you not to call me that here.”
“So you persist on hiding behind this ‘Benjamin’ nonsense?” he grunted. “You cannot avoid the truth forever.”
“Maybe not,” the Half-Lunar’s face set sharply. “But I should be able to choose who I broadcast the truth to… and who I do not.”
“The humans will find out that you are Golbez, be it sooner or later. Might as well be sooner, yes?” FuSoYa noted in his irritatingly unconcerned way.
“They’ll know when I feel it’s fit to tell them,” Ben growled.
His face grew flushed with the first hints of anger. “I forbid you to tell them!”
“You forbid me?” the High Sage snorted.
The chocobos were growing restless at the sound of the brewing argument. Even Nodd fell silent from his tree-counting and pulled the top to the pack down over his head to hide.
“This wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” Ben’s voice lifted. “We weren’t supposed to come anywhere near Baron!”
“Do you have a better idea?” FuSoYa finally asked.
He didn’t. So he remained silent.
“You know as well as I do that your brother, Cecil, has access to the best fleet of ships on the Blue Planet,” the Lunar stated firmly.
“He also has contact with those who have the knowledge to traverse this world better than you or I do.”
“I know… I know!”
“Unless you remember a whole lot more about the Blue Planet than you let on about?”
“I don’t remember anything. You know that,” the Half-Lunar huffed softly and turned his head away.
“This is about Cecil, yes?” FuSoYa noted suddenly.
Ben fell quiet.
“It is,” the Sage answered in his stead. “You do your brother very little justice, boy.”
“Justice or not, he’s a Paladin — a Holy Knight of Light. And I’m…”
They both rode quietly for a ways.
“And you are what?” FuSoYa finally prodded.
“You know what I’m trying to say.”
“I am afraid I may have misunderstood?”
“Uncle!” Ben grated.
FuSoYa turned his attention back to the road ahead. He looked a good deal less ruffled than his nephew.
How dare he threaten to reveal my identity! And to Cecil, no less!
Ben fumed silently to himself. He and his Uncle weren’t always on the best of terms. The old Lunar was stubborn and unyielding. And though Ben didn’t want to get into a fight with him at the moment, the last thing the Half-Lunar would put up with was the old Sage telling him how to handle his own business.
He knows nothing! Absolutely nothing!
A rising dread began to grow in Ben’s chest. The feeling had weighed heavy upon him since he had discovered that Incrytan was missing. Things had only proven to get worse from that moment on.
I thought we’d be able to rift down here to the Blue Planet, retrieve Incrytan and go right home… no need to alert anyone to our presence.
The caged, desperate feeling was nearly unbearable.
Especially not Cecil.
But now everything had turned inside-out. With the Ways blocked, no longer did they have means to travel quickly. There was very little choice but to seek out aid from the humans.
The last people I ever wanted to have to face again…
For a time, the only sound that could be heard was the rhythmic pace of the two birds along the dirt path. When Ben’s voice rose, it held a subdued and broken sound.
“I never wanted to come back here.”
“This wasn’t something I wanted to happen either,” the Lunar offered, voice as gentle as stone could manage. “I know how you feel abou–”
“No. You don’t know.”
FuSoYa fell silent.
“No one could ever know!” Ben fixed his uncle with a sharp glare.
Then the Half-Lunar urged the black chocobo into an even swifter trot, putting a good five paces between them. Having deciding that where there were words there was danger, he resigned himself to the safety of silence for the rest of the ride to Baron.