The Road to Bastok (Spring, 898)

As I walked along the long, dusty road toward Bastok, I couldn't help but curse the situation that had brought me here.

"Stupid farmers.." I muttered under my breath, ignoring the fact that my own parents were considered among that group. "Not making enough money..stupid military service," I continued muttering, trudging along with my head down.

"Look out!" I heard from somewhere to my left, just before an enormous, jagged sword came slashing down in front of me. I looked up slowly, directly into the ugly, grinning face of a Quadav.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Quadavs, imagine a turtle the size of a man, standing on its hind legs. Then give it plenty of muscle, armor, and a huge sword. Yeah, that's about right.

I broke into a cold sweat, dodging to the right side as the Quadav raised his sword again, but he proved to be quicker than I had expected, and knocked me to the ground with a quick bash from his shield. I exhaled and closed my eyes, waiting for the inevitable as the Quadav raised his sword again.

Nearly half a minute later, I dared to peek out again, as the inevitable seemed to be taking an awfully long time to arrive. Instead of a six-foot reptile, there was a very short Taru looking back at me, struggling very hard to hold in his laughter.

" should have seen the look on your face!" he said, holding his stomach as he doubled over with laughter. "Just sitting there with you...with your eyes closed," he nearly squealed, literally falling over in gales of laughter.

I picked myself up, my face burning. "Thanks...for your help," I muttered, brushing my tunic off and looking for my dropped pack. I found it a minute later, and shifted it onto my shoulder, resuming my travel toward the road.

"Wait..wait," came the voice from behind me, as the Taru came running up behind me, his short legs pumping. "All I get is a grudging 'thank you'? I saved your life there!"

My face burned again as I turned to face my savior. "I would offer you some money," I began, "but I really don't have much beyond the clothes on my back. I'm headed to the city," I continued, inclining my head in a general eastward direction.

"I..I don't think I would want your gil anyways," he responded, looking over my clothes briefly. "You seem like you're having a hard time of it, and I would hate to make it even tougher." He began to walk beside me, keeping up with my slow pace. "Why don't I come with you," he suggested, his eyes growing bright. "I've been to Bastok at least a hundred; no, two hundred times!" He giggled again, looking me over.

I blushed again under the scrutiny. While I certainly wasn't wearing rags, the budget of a simple farm family doesn't really allow for finery. My favorite blue tunic wasn't too patched, and my boots weren't even a decade old, yet.

"I suppose I wouldn't mind a little company," I said slowly, wondering if I would end up regretting this decision. "Makes the trip go faster, and I who knows when we might run into trouble." I smiled, as if to allay my silent fears. "My name's Aspen," I said, extending my hand down to the Taru.

"I'm Kuto-Lulu," said the Taru, grinning broadly as he put his little hand inside mine. "I made the trip from Mahura. You ever been there? It's all the way across the ocean. I took a big ferry, and we saw some pirates! And a giant squid-thing!"

I smiled back, listening to Kuto-Lulu's tales grow even taller as we headed down the road together. If anything, perhaps the trip would be a little less dull.