In Defense of Flowers
Note: There are two more sections after this, if I actually can manage to get around to finishing them. Yay for chapters. Cornel and everything in it--including my opinion of Auron and his eye--are my own work for the fic, but the game itself belongs to Square.
SPOILERS FOR FFX re: Auron, up to and including Yunalesca.
Carnation, violet, daisy. Lily, magnolia.
Plants spoke poetry between their stalks. Auron knew them only as a footman might, caring little for the earth save what it would tell him about the path ahead. He had not needed to learn that sparser floral growth meant progression away from water. Common sense had told him that at a young age, but had neglected to inform three of the other students in his class.
When the senior monks had set them loose in the wild as a test of survival,
one had been found raving from dehydration on the plains. Another, half-devoured
by the native fiends when he had been too weak to defend himself. Only the youngest
of them, little more than a boy with a forelock that refused to stay slicked
back, had had the wit to follow the shadows of a canyon in the expectation that
a river had helped to carve it.
He had been correct, but disappointed to find the streambed dry.
The coasts could also deceive if one thought to trace only plantlife to their banks and neglect the type of growth. At fifteen, Auron had been among those too confident to read the warning in the scraggled grasses until they had broken into sand dunes. He and the other boy with him had screamed until they were hoarse, waving their arms like maddened dancers to attract the attention of a vessel almost out of sight.
Their mistake had not been as fatal as the others. Civilization clung to that
border of salt, and there would always be a sloop out fishing, the crew with
one eye on their lines and the other for their own deaths. The water Auron had
begged from them was sweet as wine to his throat, and he had returned the flask
After that, Auron never neglected to keep a watch out for the colors of flowers
underfoot. Years later, when he and his pilgrimage companions had tasted dust
every time they swallowed, he had used the same trick to find the shore and
offer Braska the first sip.
As dangerous as the oceans were with the risings and tumblings of Sin, humans refused to leave that edge between water and land. They invited destruction in exchange for the blessing of the sea. The twists of their wooden bridges changed every month or more, and still they laughed and played games to keep their minds distracted while they nailed their homes back into shape. Cheap bouquets were set in vases as signs of life and hope. Long before all was rebuilt, the wildflowers would brown and wither and be thrown into the water. Their rotted hearts would break apart on the waves to be taken away by the same beast that had swallowed lives into its maw.
But not everyone could be born a fisher, a trader, or a blitzball star. Those who had the fate to live inland had to accept the ocean as a rarity, and Sin as occasional. It could be a good life, though dangerous in its own way.
Auron repeated this now to himself as he trudged up the mountain path to the
thin banners of grey smudged against the sky.
In villages where they had to pump water uphill in order to have it at all, a Summoner was a luxury that was even greater than heat. Deaths went unsung save by throats knowing only fragments of prayers, their notes cynical. A sword was more defense against a Fiend than a lyric.
They knew that lesson well in the cliff towns.
It was tradition in these wayward villages of Yevon that flowers be placed
upon the eyes of the fallen. The language of plants had been born through the
troubles of mortality. Merchants in the ports would hawk roses of many colors
to residents who thought it quaint to attribute meaning to a plant, but the
demand was still high inland for balsam sticks and pressed hyacinth.
The further in one traveled, away from the shores, the more you would find
adherents to the real tradition--that the orbs of one's eyes be removed and
the stems placed snugly within the cavities. It was in the hope that any fiends
who would later rise might be sightless; disconcerted, kept from recognizing
their own forms or the world around them, they might dissolve into pyreflies
and be lost without a battle. Usually, they became monsters. Easier all around
if they look like that, many would nod, and Auron felt found it hard not
to sympathize as he continued to forge ahead in search of a friend that had
become a slave and a city that had become a dream.
Villages like that were as common as ticks on sheepdogs; if a Summoner managed
to make it all the way here, they would be as lost as surely as if they embarked
on a Pilgrimage. There was always another body to Send, another fiend to try
and lay to rest, and only the thin hope that Bevelle would remember to send
someone to bury you once you were the last one standing.
The valley of Cornel was such a place. It was tucked west of the Calm Lands
deeply into mountains, and he found it only by trailing the smoke from its huts
in the misguided belief that he would find traders to ride with. The temples
of Yevon had written it off long ago. They only remembered it existed because
of a particular wool blend that appealed to those with rustic fancies. Too much
trouble in their opinion to send a priest, though they accepted its sporadic
tributes with ease.
Auron had come after a death.
The board propped in the center of the rough square had blue paint splashed
upon it in a hurry, framing the name of one Joshua and his memorable honors
beneath it. As the leading craftsman of Cornel, the village had turned out appropriately
to remember him. Garlands were everywhere, woven from any plant on hand and
several that had been saved for such events. Their colors and shapes were painfully
irregular. The village resembled a garden in progressive states of the seasons,
most of it dried. Summer had performed the feat of being warm even in the mountains
this year, and the fragrances of the blooms mixed like spoiled fruit in the
The smoke Auron had seen from the road came from the fires placed around the
casket. Their fuel was the stalks of water lilies imported long enough ago to
have lost all their original color, turned a shy yellow from age. The bundles
were spotted dark in places from strawberry leaves hung in clumps.
Goats bleated arrogant protest when the Guardian had strode into their herd expecting them to make way. In his mind, the animals had no right to block the path. When they seemed about to stand fast and resist, Auron gave a snort to mirror their own and stamped his foot. They fled the man-bull in crimson at that, and the Guardian found himself suddenly wondering when he had acquired gruffness in his repertoire of behaviors. He could guess the source, and the man had looked nothing like a farm beast; only, perhaps, a very shaggy dog.
Auron moved among the thin crowd surrounding the memorial. His steps were as
carefully chosen as if he was walking not on stone, but the treachery of a meadow.
The wake-robin faces of the villagers parted to accept him in a rustle of their
Gossip was as thick on the air as pollen.
The man was survived only by his child, a daughter of perhaps eight years as
the seasons were counted. His wife had passed away some time ago, victim to
pneumonia that they had neither the funds nor access to medicine for in order
to keep her alive.
They had left the daughter with a cousin on her mother's side. From what Auron
could gather, the girl was named Celsia. The Guardian assumed the choice to
be the universal perversity of misguided sire's pride, and only gathered slowly
from the whispering that it had been meant to bless her with immortality.
Three days after they had set the first vigil, binding weeds in clumps about
the grave marker to represent the flowers that had gone out of season, the guards
at the narrow exits to the village had reported hearing strange, wet noises.
They had risen just out of range of the torches. The wind blowing southwards
had been fouled with rot.
They were not superstitious enough in Cornel to pray aloud to Yevon, but the
guards all formed a loose circle with their hands when they reported the incidents,
muttering low and with their eyes darting to the corners of the hut.
On the fifth night, when Auron was kicking small stones out of his boots in
the wide tent of the communal dining hall, they reported seeing the beast at
"A face like bloody meat," one man kept repeating over and over as
they tried to force hot teas down his throat. The two others with him refused
to speak save for spurts of description: elongated limbs, a spider's rhythm
of crawling. Teeth. Too many teeth, and between them, they could not decide
how many mouths either.
In the confusion surrounding the village, Auron had been pleased to discover
that he was almost invisible, despite carrying the rare status of a visitor.
No one had tried to force food upon him yet. Pleasure at this was a warm cloak
around him as the fire crackled and spat on its meal of dry wood. Lulled into
the illusion of privacy, the Guardian was startled to find a man taking the
seat across from him.
"Am I in your way?" A hand still holding the heel of his boot waved
at the long table. They ate as a loose community in Cornel; still, Auron suspected
that if all the inhabitants sat down at once together, there would remain empty
seats in abundance.
The figure shook his head. In the foliage of shadows and light from the hearth, Auron could see grey in the man's hair. "Not at all." His voice was equal in gravel to the Guardian's own, though not as worn. "I heard we had a traveler, you see. Oraster, the headman of Cornel," he added by way of introduction, and when he extended his hand to clasp Auron's, the Guardian hesitated before letting his own cool fingers touch living ones.
At the contact, the man grunted.
"You're chilled still?"
"The winter gets into one's bones." Ignoring the fact that the season
gave him the lie, Auron returned to the task of buckling up his boots once more.
"I'll be out of your way by tomorrow's light."
Oraster nodded. Generations of herdsmen in his blood gave him the instinct
to know when not to taunt the wolf. "No, no, feel free to stay." He
held his hands up, palms wide in surrender. "We can empty one of the huts
and allow you a bed at the very least. We've had so few here that I'm afraid
we customarily use our inn to store trade supplies. I admit, I must apologize
for the limited hospitality we can offer just now--"
Smoldering wood cracked in the fireplace, broke open, and the sparks rose like
pyreflies up the chimney.
Switching to a different tack then, the headman settled back on the wooden
bench. "What are you doing here, traveler? Come from the port cities?"
"I'm looking for someone." If a city counted as a person, and an
Aeon for a friend.
Oraster had spread his hands at that, surprise clear and yet restrained at
polite. "You've come to Cornel for that?" His fingers lowered and
returned to touch the table. On one wrist, Auron saw, there was a braided vine
of what looked like straw that had been studded with yellow sunflowers. A set
of fingers twitched in the direction of the Guardian's greatsword, and the beads
shifted. "I should hope that it would be a friend you seek here, and no
The warning was clear. Auron bowed his head. "I wish for no disturbances
to your people. That I can assure you." The boot went back onto his foot,
jarring on the heel and requiring a tug to have it on firmly.
Silence grew and then devoured the conversation there, sucking on its bones
on the hearth. Oraster rose after the last muscle spasm of a word to inform
the Guardian of the direction of the guest quarters.
The women gathered to light torches at the entrance of the tent had been muttering
to each other when he left.
"Should have known he would have been attached..."
"He won't leave his girl behind."
"Celsia's too young for this, she shouldn't have to see--"
"His -wife-," a matron hissed in a tone meant to shut all their mouths, and then Auron had pushed the canvas flap aside to walk into the night.
The skies were clear enough in the mountain ranges to navigate by. Stars revealed themselves in the wild as they would not in the city, and the shape that blotted out Auron's view of them came swiftly enough that he could not draw his sword in time.