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Castle In The Sky

By xaphanea

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Chapter Four: When Paths Overlap

My world was spinning, and I was overcome with a faint falling sensation as my surroundings began to take shape. At first I had witnessed a blur of fire, but now, I could clearly make out buildings and people stumbling around under the flames. I began to feel nauseated as I was thrown forward and back, right to left, the movement jumbling my pulsating brain. I managed to stifle any heaves by realizing that it wasn't me that was moving, it was the area around me. All of a sudden, everything became still, and I wavered for a moment. My eyes felt as if they were going to explode from their sockets as I realized I was standing in the center of Kilika. Everything was ignited, the houses, the grass, the trees, the docks, and to my horror, the people. My friends were stumbling around, caught aflame, blood curdling screams erupting from them. I wanted to help them, I wanted to reach out to them, but I was powerless to move. I felt an anger surpassing every other feeling inside of me as I thought of Arathena. This had to be her doing, it was the only explanation. It must be an illusion she was casting upon me, some sort of black magic. Yet, it all felt so incredibly real. I could feel the heat threatening to melt my skin. There was smoke billowing up above the fair forests as they too were engulfed in the hellish flames. I felt a tear streak down my face, creeping ever lower to mourn the torture that the villagers were enduring. If I could have moved, I would have reached for my staff, to prepare to send the fallen. If I could have moved, I would have attempted to cast a NulBlaze spell to save whatever was left to be saved. My entire mind was cursing my weakness, my powerlessness to help. Then it fell entirely blank as I watched a figure approach me, staring right into my eyes with her deep sorrowful pools. Seneca. She was as beautiful as ever, and completely unfazed by the deadly plague that had befallen our homes. She was moving towards me slowly, step after step, and my entire being ached for her to be nearby. My eyes stung desperately, feeling the smoke, but I didn't dare to close my eyes. I didn't dare to create a barrier between Seneca and myself. Just before she reached me, I watched in fear as she fell to the ground. She was coughing horribly, and I breathed rapidly as I watched her suffer. Her voice came out in a raspy whisper, but I could hear her clearly enough as if her voice were inside of my head.

"Why, Rune?" She hissed, staring up at me with those eyes that I could get lost in for eternity. "Why did you do this to us?"

It took me a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, and I was confused at a strange moist feeling on my forehead. My heart was pounding, I was sweating profusely, and my chest felt constricted as each of my breaths came out ragged. As my blood slowed somewhat, I realized that I was back in the hotel room, on the bed nearest the window. The moonlight was faint, but I could make out a figure seated beside me, her arm reaching above my head. The moistness was a cool damp cloth, which suddenly felt very soothing to my raging body.

"You've come around." It was Arathena's voice that reached my ears, and I blinked slowly. As much as I tried to fight it, I feared her. She looked like nothing more than a traveler with some battling skills, but I sensed an underlying wisdom there that showed much more. It was unsettling. She removed the cloth, as it wasn't as cool as it had been, and dipped it gently into a bowl on the nightstand. There she left it, folding her hands in her lap. My eyes drifted away from her to the balcony door, where I saw the moon slowly inching it's way to fully illuminate the room.

"Where are the others?" I inquired, my voice slightly hoarse. I forced a cough to try and rectify it, as I slowed my breathing to drawn out deep breaths. My mind trailed down through my veins into my heart, where I calmed it, soothing it. Summoners learned to be very in touch with their bodies, every part of it. The main purpose of that was likely to keep us in control at all times. Although, with Arathena in my presence, I didn't feel as if I were in control in the least.

"They are out buying provisions." She answered me, and I watched her turn her head towards the semi-elegant glass doors. I studied the contours of her face, trying to delve deeper in to determine the lines of age there. But it fatigued me to try; she had perfect defenses. "Talyon was restless and worried, so I sent him out to keep his mind off of things. Maere went along to make sure nothing happened to him." There was a twinkle of amusement in her eye, and I wondered at it. Arathena was truly an enigma.

"Talyon is capable of taking care of himself." I countered, jaw clenching at her insinuation of my companion's weakness. He was trained by crusaders, and I knew he could defend himself, as well as guard me. Talyon wasn't weak by far.

"Every warrior has a weakness." Arathena said, as if reading my mind. She ran her hands back behind her, and leaned onto them. Her gaze was still carried out the window, captivated by something beyond my understanding. To a normal person, she would simply be a pretty girl perched on the edge of the bed. But I carried a knot of dread in my stomach that twisted as she called Talyon weak. "Talyon's weakness is his friendship with you. Although sometimes that is a strength, at times like this he is unsure of who to blame for your condition and feels helpless." But then, I grasped the truth that rang through her words. If I were to be in danger, Talyon's care for me would drive him to reap those responsible. But with me simply lying there at nobody's fault, he was likely fuming with worry and anger, with nobody to take it out on. I closed my eyes, admitting defeat to Arathena's wisdom. "You can ease his worry right now." At this statement, my body sprang tense, and I propped myself up to a sitting position as quickly as possible. Her eyes were now locked on mine, and my brow furrowed in evident confusion. She was some sort of mage, that much was easy to see, but the hazard of her was difficult to measure.

"Where do you come from?" I inquired, before I even thought the question. If it caught her off guard, I wasn't aware, as she didn't so much as flinch. Her even stare simply continued. It didn't make me uncomfortable this time, however, as I had frozen before. This time her gaze was soft, almost gentle, and in the back of my mind I was reminded of waves lapping the serene Kilika shore. She had a complete calming effect on me, and any thoughts of needing to tranquilize my heart rate were gone.

"You have the ability to soothe your body, slow adrenaline, and such." Arathena told me, utterly ignoring my previous question. "You can also do it outside of your body, although it takes quite a bit more energy. Try it on me. Just read into me as you normally would for a person, and then merge your senses with the pacifying abilities you have on yourself." I almost didn't follow through, but I understood that she was trying to teach me something new. This was all part of journeying, and the power to ease other people could be a useful skill in the future. I decided to jump at the chance of gaining what I could from this interesting and deep woman, and closed my eyes. This time, when I tried to locate Arathena's center, she didn't block me. There were many things in shadow that I was not able to reach, and I assumed they were her personal truths. When I reached her heart, I felt a pain in my head that almost caused me to recoil. She was scarred, deeply, and it was agonizingly obvious despite her shadow magic. I could feel her heartbeat, and then she started to increase her rate, giving artificial nervousness. I then tried to focus my soothing prowess on it, and my muscles seemed to clench and scream. I ignored the pain, my brain shuddering and thumping as I fought to break free of my own body and embrace hers with my mind. The strain was terrible, but I pressed on, determined to break the wall down that separated my senses from the outside world. I felt something build in the pit of my stomach, almost an itching feeling. It started to grow and become more prominent to me, and then suddenly I was there. I was inside of Arathena. It was as if my mind had carried into her body, and I was looking upon myself. Yet in the back of my mind, my eyes were still closed in my own body. I was somewhat split, but still connected by a thread of intuition. Overcoming my shock, I relaxed myself, and then reached down into Arathena's heart, encircling it. I eased it, slowing the pace, until she was tranquil once again. She then put her defenses up without any warning, and I was thrown back to myself. I was actually knocked backwards, and blinked rapidly as I regained my sitting position.

"That was... incredible." I stammered, unable to find the right words to describe the sensations I had felt while inside of her. It was something I hadn't known any Summoner to do, and it increased my curiosity towards her. I studied her openly, as she shifted herself to face me frontally. I terribly wanted to read her, I had so many questions.

"Why don't you try asking them?" Arathena spoke softly, sounding almost offended. I was at a loss for words, but then dismissed my surprise at the fact she had been reading my thoughts the entire time we had been sitting there. I decided that I would no longer find shock in her abilities, as she seemed to have so many different ones. She was right, I knew, and cursed myself for being so ignorant. I hadn't even thought of coming out and asking her anything, save where she was from. And that had been so rudely right in the middle of her teaching me something new and exciting.

"I'm sorry." I said, and I honestly meant it. I felt guilty for attacking her with my senses before speaking. She had helped me find some new power inside of me. Arathena put a hand up before I could say anything else, and I closed my mouth when she did so.

"First, help Talyon. It won't hurt this time." Her expression was hard to understand, as it seemed like a mix between pride and sadness. But I shook it off, readying myself to concentrate on finding Talyon. "He hasn't gone far." Sure enough, as I cast out my senses I felt him in a weapon shop with Maere on the other side of the court. I immediately felt his agitation, even as he tried to keep a calm front for Maere. I dove down inside of him, and almost immediately was witnessing the world through his eyes. Not a second of hesitation this time, to my pleasant surprise. In the back of my mine, I observed Arathena smile warmly. It was so odd, witnessing two point of views at the same time. I urged Talyon to relax, as his muscles were insanely tense. His jaw was throbbing from clenching it so tightly. I felt him jerk with surprise as I centered him, slowing his heart rate, and giving him an overall serene feeling. I planted comforting and assuring thoughts into him, and he relaxed to near completion. It was very successful, and I left Talyon in good spirits. It was gentle this time when I returned to myself, and I let out a deep sigh of contentment. I returned Arathena's friendly smile, and then hers dissipated completely. She was preparing herself to answer my questions, I could tell that easily enough.

"Where do you come from?" That was the question that had been bothering me for a time, and I cocked my head slightly as she blinked slowly, adjusting her position on the bed.

"I will answer you honestly, but you have to promise you won't ask me anything more about it until I decide it is time." She stared at me expectantly, and I nodded, satisfied for the moment. I watched her draw in a breath and hold it in a millisecond longer than she normally did. "I come from Zanarkand." After saying this, she was silent, and my entire being screamed and urged for her to continue. My curiosity was sparked to thorough electrocution, and she knew it as well. But I had promised not to say anything more, and when I was sure she was finished, I held my tongue and contemplated my next question. I was ready to speak when I was cut short by my senses telling me she had let a hint of amusement slip from her guard. I narrowed my eyes slightly, and she knew what she had done. Her deep orbs apologized, and I shook my head in contempt.

"What happened to me in the bar?" I asked, figuring that she knew exactly where that vision or dream had come from.

"When you were frozen, or when you were thrown into forethought?" Arathena sat up a little straighter, as if she were complimenting herself on her power threshold. I forced down any angry comments I had, and licked my dry lips.

"I have an idea what happened when I was... frozen." I paused, crossing my arms. I judged my words carefully, which was almost futile considering the woman could read my mind. There was really nothing I could hide from her. But I still wanted to make everything that I said count. "You called it a forethought? Does that not mean that I saw the future?" My heart fluttered as an image of Seneca weeping in the flames flashed though my mind. For a moment, my heart stopped, and I felt that cold helplessness return. Arathena's voice cut me back into reality, and I found my body under control once more.

"Technically, yes." She frankly replied, and I tensed. "But, there is much you can do to counter it." Reaching to the nightstand, she retrieved the wet cloth and wrung it over the bowl expertly. She took my hand in hers, and wrapped the cool dampness around my wrist. It was a welcome sensation, and felt wonderfully alleviating.

"Counter it?" That was a comfort. "But wait... where did it come from?" I drew my hand back from her sharply. The cloth flopped onto the sheets, leaving a damp blotch as Arathena replaced it to the bowl.

"There is a very old Guado who lives in Bevelle." She began, looking at the ceiling. She seemed to be reliving old memories, searching the back of her mind for some forgotten facts. "He has been around for centuries, and is said to be able to witness the future. He also has the power to show people what he can see. Only in fragments, however. When he was a boy, he thought they were dreams. But when his dreams began to come true, the Guado appointed him as a shaman. Yet eventually, the Maesters captured him and locked him away in Bevelle. Of course, they told the Guado that he fell sick and died, but that is hardly the case. One of the High Mages in Bevelle gave his life conjuring a powerful spell to keep this man alive until the end of time. You see, the Maesters love power, and the power to foresee the future is priceless. So he's been there ever since, decrepit and old, locked away in the depths of Bevelle." She hesitated, disgust evident in her voice and expression. She swallowed once, and then regained her calm stature, returning to normal before continuing. "Sometimes, when this old Guado sees very disastrous things are to happen, he tries to warn people that can help. That way it can be prevented." She concluded, and I was quiet for quite a while. I wasn't sure what to think of all that Arathena had told me, that something disastrous was to happen to Kilika, and I was to prevent it? It was too much to take at the moment.

"How do you know this, if he was kept secret?" I suddenly asked, before even thinking.

"That is not your concern." She answered just as abruptly, and I respected her decision not to reply. I stored all of that information neatly in the back of my head, to be relocated when I was able to have a talk with Talyon. Another curiosity suddenly hit me, and I furrowed my brow.

"Just before I... forethought, you seemed surprised that I had told you Talyon and I were on our way to Zanarkand." Her eyes were drawn back to mine immediately, and this time, she let her amusement slip purposely. My eyes widened in question, and she literally laughed out loud.

"Foolish boy." She shook her head, stifling her laughs. "Why do you think there hasn't been a pilgrimage in forty years? Bevelle. People are afraid of Bevelle, because they're stopping Summoner parties from reaching the Final Aeon. Why is all politics, but that's not the point. You know that it's dangerous to be a traveling Summoner these days, and yet you openly told me and whomever else was listening that you were on a pilgrimage. Anyone could have been a spy for Bevelle. For Yevon's sake, I could have been a spy. I could have sent Talyon and Maere out, and killed you in your delirium." She paused for effect, one which had completely consumed me. Arathena was right; her truths rang free within my muddled brain. How had I been so thoughtless? "For future reference, be discreet about who you are and where you are headed. Spira is at war with herself, Rune, that you must learn. Kilika is a peaceful place, but the wide world though which you must travel is harsh. There is no compassion, and you must be careful." I didn't even bother blurting out how she knew I was from Kilika. And even if I did, there would have been no time to answer. Talyon suddenly burst through the door, a wild look in his eyes. Maere followed not too far behind, claws glinting in defense.

"Rune, thank Yevon you're awake!" Talyon gushed, unsheathing his sword firmly. Arathena was on her feet in a moment, questioning what was going on mentally. I could sense frenzy, and got off of the bed as quickly as I could, standing beside the heated female warrior.

"What's going on?" I asked, and Talyon glanced back over his shoulder.

"There's trouble." He motioned to us. "We have to run."

END CHAPTER FOUR