Chapter IX: Hollow Concession

"Death awaits you."

The hooded apparition hovered towards Braska, deathly scythe in hand. The disoriented mage no longer had enough life in him to distinguish what was happening. He just lay on the floor limply waiting for the end.

With one quick slash of its scythe, the hooded figure reduced itself to a black smoke then evanesced. Braska still lay motionless on the floor. The only difference was he has now lost consciousness.

"Is he…dead?" asked Giera cautiously as he stared at the unresponsive body.

"Giera, you simple little fool," replied Seymour as he pocketed his right hand, hints of black wisp still swirling around it. "You know no form of magic can take a person's life. The only exception to that is the Ultima spell." He stepped over Braska's body and approached the round table of his subordinates; the Guados.

"It is time, my minions," Seymour reverberated as he raised his hands commanding power. "Now we face another scenario of twists and deception. Heed my orders a few more moments and each of you will be handsomely rewarded. And at long last…Yuna will belong to me."

All the Guados and Rin the bartender gazed at Seymour in awe and respect. One by one they applauded and stood up from their seats.

The resounding clapping across the pub continued until Tromell once again raised his cup and proclaimed.

"To Master Seymour!"

"Master Seymour!" echoed the Guados as they too raised their mugs.

Rin refilled Seymour's wine glass with the same plum-colored liquor. He took a mild sip and stared at the volatile matter. "Zazi and Pah," he said without turning to them. "Take Braska to the atelier and stand watch. Provide him with adequate rations. Keep him imprisoned until my bride-to-be comes seeking him."

He drank the entire glass with one swig then gently placed it back on the counter.

"Master Seymour," asked Rin as he poured him another glass. "Do you actually think it's wise to maltreat Yuna's father like that? Wouldn't that cause her to be more hostile towards you?"

Seymour shot him a threatening glimpse. "Do you doubt my intellect, Rin? Or should I hammer this glass to shards using that dim head of yours?"

"N-No Sir," Rin fumbled. "That's not what I meant. All I'm saying is-"

"I know very well that woman would lower herself for her imbecile of a father. I'll repeat, Rin. The trap is finally set and the bait, which is of course that imbecile, has come into our hands. I'm very much certain she wouldn't refuse my…proposal."

Auron trudged, each step sending off resounding echoes, across the hallway right underneath the sepulchral one where Yuna found her father. On his shoulder was his cumbersome oriental blade, Masamune. Why he always carried it with him, nobody knows for sure. It's a mystery quite akin to why the Slasher would never be found parted from his cobalt steel, Caladbolg.

The west hallway was designed with monarchial grandeur compared to the other sections of the bastion. The walls were gilded magnificently and burnished suits of armor aligned both sides. Ceiling-high windows condescend to welcome the ungenerous moonlight. An unlit chandelier hangs at the very end on which a white massive double-door is built. To the right was another grand stairway that served as a route to the western tower. Wakka stood at the foot of the stairway, spiked ball in hand.

"Just following orders, ya?" said Wakka coyly. "Though what are the chances the prisoner would be wandering around here? I just don't know why the young master is so damn edgy about it."

Auron acknowledged him with a curt nod and turned back to the white massive door. He raised his gloved fist and knocked thrice.

"Crusaders. It's time."

The door opened inwards as Auron stepped inside. It was a barracks. The walls were made of grey bricks. Five cots aligned one side of the room and on the other were shelves of different weapons; swords, spears, daggers, bows and arrows and the like.

On each cot sat a person half-clad in armor. A woman with red shoulder-length hair stood up from her cot and approached Auron, one arm held across her chest, her hand closed into a fist. This was the Crusaders' salutation.

"Greetings, Sir Auron."

"Greetings too, Lucil."

He leaned his Masamune on the wall and sat on Lucil's cot. Another woman with short black hair stood up and went to Lucil's side. The three other men merely remained seated and looked at Auron intently.

"I'm surprised you haven't forgotten my name, Sir Auron." said Lucil, "You and the young master have been quite evasive this past year since the Black Spell was cast. Perhaps you also remember my second-in-command. This is-"

"Elma. You haven't changed much." Auron said as he turned to look at the raven-haired girl. He then acknowledged the four other men who were observing him. "Luzzu. I pray your sword arm still hasn't rust. Gatta, I expect you have improved since training with Lucil. And Clasko…I think you still haven't gotten over your affinity for Chocobos."

The youngest of the five suddenly looked up to Auron. He wore a submissive expression and a rather craven disposition. Auron made an almost indiscernible smile to them and faced Lucil once more.

"Tidus has a young woman imprisoned at the eastern wing as we speak."

"The former lady's chamber?" said Luzzu, the bulkiest of the men. "I was quite expecting she'd be at the dungeons right above."

"Well she was at the dungeons right above," interrupted Elma as she sat back down on her cot and rested her chin on her palms. "I thought I heard a racket from the ceiling just the day before."

"Yeah," added Gatta, "But I never really wandered around in this spooky bastion. I mean all we Crusaders normally do is hunt in parts of the forest we can access and restock on ration and supplies."

"I just don't know why we can go farther and deeper into the woods than you can, Sir Auron." added Luzzu, "Maybe that's just how the Black Spell works. I'm sure Lady Yunalesca wouldn't be evil enough to starve us to death."

Auron remained silent as the Crusaders each drew their theories and conclusions. Only he, Wakka, Lulu and Rikku could venture not farther from the bastion's vicinity. It was fortunate that Braska was near the gates that night when they rescued him. A little farther and all that would be left of him is a reeking cadaver.

"Before everything else," injected Auron that quieted them all at once, "The young master has specific orders for the rest of you. You are all assigned to the restoration of the bastion beginning with the pinnacle."

They all nodded in agreement. "Let's get going then," said Elma happily.

"And with all those Dingo hunting and food foraging, I kind of miss doing housework." joked Luzzu.

All of them stood up and left the barracks one by one except for…

"Clasko, the young master has a certain task for you."

The submissive man swallowed. "S-Sir Auron? Just what did I do for the young master to-"

"Calm yourself. You might even like this task. The prisoner owns a Chocobo which is at the stables. Attend to it now and keep it nourished."

"Alright!" Clasko smiled and exited the barracks. "I'm gonna raise it like a first-class Chocobo!"

Auron stood up from Lucil's cot and heaved a sigh.

Hope has come…

Despite the hallway's grandeur, the darkness of the surroundings always prevailed giving the bastion a desolate feel. The moonlight wasn't radiant enough to illuminate the golden walls of the western hallway.

Wakka was still rooted by the foot of the staircase bathed in weak lunar light, boredom enveloping him. He was about to give in to the temptation to abandon his post until he saw, hidden in shadow, his scar-faced master turning from the hallway that led to the western tower. He merely walked past Wakka as if he didn't exist.

"Hey young master." called Wakka, trying to sound casual.

Tidus stopped but didn't turn to face his servant. "What is it?"

"Just wondering, ya? Why have me stand watch here when you have the prisoner all cooped up in the east wing?"

He still did not turn but his voice now seemed hostile. "Are you questioning my orders?" He drew out his cobalt steel but did not raise it. "It's been quite a while since Caladbolg tasted human blood. Perhaps you'd like to be its victim."

"Nope. Th-That's not what I meant, ya?" replied Wakka, now sounding unnatural. "It's just…why all the security? Why keep her here? You actually hoping for the Black Spell to-"

"You're hoping that by keeping her here, I'd fall in love with her and break the Black Spell? Don't delude yourself, Wakka." The scar-faced Slasher interrupted, his voice low and solid. "And don't even think the Black Spell will ever be broken. I choose to endure it from that cursed spellcaster. I'm keeping that wench here for she offered to take her father's place. No more, no less."

Wakka simply stared at the floor. "Sure thing. I'm just kinda hungry. Can I just have an hour break for dinner?

Tidus's cold blue eyes glinted abruptly.

"Which reminds me…"

And with that, Tidus walked away, his heavy footsteps echoing less and less.

The kitchen was located at the basement via another stairway behind the grand one at the antechamber. It was an ostentatious kitchen fitting to be in this bastion. The long mahogany table sat at the very center with several chairs surrounding it. On one side was the oven, a kitchen counter and the stove. Luxurious pots, pans, plates, cutlery and various kitchen utensils were either placed among the shelves or hung neatly against the walls. The walls and floors were made of brimstone. A fireplace burned quietly in one corner providing generous light to this submerged part of the fortress.

Wakka just entered the kitchen and was greeted by Auron who was sitting on one of the chairs, booted feet rested on the table. His Masamune was leaning on the wall beside him.

"Done with your duties so quickly, I see." Auron said as he raised a sake jug to his lips and drank continuously.

"Yeah," replied Wakka as he placed his spiked ball on the kitchen counter and sat opposite to Auron. He grabbed the bowl of mashed potatoes and ate away. "The young master just gave me permission. I'm glad he just let me seeing how hungry I was."

They both sat in silence not knowing which topic to start a conversation with. The only things that dominated theirs minds were the new prisoner and whether they should place their hope upon her or not. Yet talking about it seemed the most logical thing to do.

"It…just ain't fair, ya?" Wakka broke the silence as he poured himself some sake. "All this Black Spell mumbo jumbo is the young master's fault. Just why do we all have to be involved?" He emptied his glass with one swig and poured himself another. "But now that she's here, at least all this will finally over. It's been a year since Yunalesca cast the Black Spell. Turns out we won't have to go through this for the rest of our lives after all!"

"Regret is a highly negative emotion." said Auron as he covered his sake jug. "Judging from Tidus's disposition, I don't think we'll ever have a chance."

Wakka looked slightly crestfallen.

"You're a lot like Lu, Sir Auron. You're always the pessimist." Wakka replied as he chewed two spoons of mashed potatoes. "I ran into the young master just a while ago. He got my hint but he just said he's not betting on it. One thing I'm also wondering about is why he's keeping her in the lady's chamber than in the dungeons."

"I know my godson." Auron said as he too served himself some potatoes. "He may not admit it to us. He may not even admit it to himself but I presume he too is hoping. By keeping her here, he too prays the Black Spell will finally diminish. He chose the lady's chamber for it might somehow encourage the prisoner to stay. We may not expect any effort from him but…"

Auron looked forlorn. He lowered his spoon back onto his plate and sighed.

"Sir Auron?"

"I'd rather be damned than not hope at all. If he fails to win her heart, which I expect will happen, it's still fortunate that hope passed by this dire bastion at least once."

"Stop crying now, Yunie, please." Rikku comforted the solemn White Mage as she patted her shoulder.

Yuna hiccupped in between sobs and unknowingly made a smile. The new nickname sounded endearing. She caught a glimpse of Lulu and saw that she too couldn't resist a smile.

"Please Yunie." pleaded Rikku.

It was more than enough to diminish the grief. Yuna took the ends of her blanket and wiped the remaining streaks away. She returned Rikku's embrace.

"Thank you Rikku." said Yuna. "Thank you for returning Vitalixir. I'm fine now. It's just…my father. I…I pray he's still alive." She said with a few more and sobs.

Lulu poured themselves cups of tea and sat on Yuna's other side. "Don't think of such things for now, my lady. You've been through a lot. I've prepared turkey and potatoes downstairs. Perhaps you're hungry."

Yuna suddenly remembered as she felt a slight pain in her stomach. "Now that you've reminded me, I haven't had anything since I came here."

"Alrighty!" chirped Rikku as she hopped to the door. "Dinner will be sooo delicious! I'll go ahead and prepare desse-"

The sound of breaking glass…

Rikku dropped her teacup in surprise as the door suddenly flew open and smashed against the wall. Had Rikku gotten just a few inches closer to the door, she would have suffered from a concussion.

Lulu immediately got up and warily walked to Rikku's side. The petite blonde was cowering at the shaded figure of the Slasher, cobalt steel in hand. His hollow eyes scanned the azure chamber and placed them upon the vulnerable White Mage.

"She is to have dinner with me and no one else."

As if controlled by unknown force, Lulu and Rikku submissively stepped aside to make way for their master. Tidus steadfastly walked towards his prisoner sitting on the bed. His cold blue eyes and her vulnerable blue and green ones met.

"Come with me."

Yuna's mismatched eyes trembled in fear at her captor's hollow gaze. Yet she wouldn't concede this time. Summoning up all the courage she could, she put aside her cup of tea, stood up and faced Tidus with a determined impression.

"I won't…"

His eyes flashed malevolently. The weak moonlight illuminated Caladbolg as its wielder's hold tightened around the hilt. The White Mage, now with an even braver face, took one step towards the Slasher and glared at him.

"I won't come to dinner with you."

He took a step forward and grabbed her by her wrist causing her to stumble towards him. He pulled her so close to himself that they both could see the emotion in each others' eyes and feel each other's breaths.

"Nobody refuses me."

Yuna shuddered from this sudden physical invasion as she looked deeper into Tidus's eyes. Nevertheless she reacted by forcefully releasing herself from Tidus's grasp.

"I still won't come with a…with a bloodthirsty monster such as you are!"

Rikku gasped and started hyperventilating. She was certain it was just from the near concussion. Yuna? The prisoner? Standing up to their young master? She ran to her raven-haired companion, clung onto her arm and buried her face on her shoulder. She was afraid of another storm from Tidus.

As expected, Tidus raised his deathly Caladbolg and pointed it towards Yuna who let out a slight cry as she saw the sword's lethal tip.

"What did you just say to me?" Tidus said, his grip around the hilt firm and compact.

Yuna clasped her hands together and took a step backwards away from this cold-blooded man. She took a deep breath and responded with a near shout, "Y-You heard me! I said I won't come with a heartless monster like you! You…you killed my father!"

Tidus swung his Caladbolg to a different direction, obliterating a cerulean vase in the process. Another sound of breaking glass. Rikku tightened her clasp around Lulu's shoulder and sobbed harder as miniscule shards of cerulean glass rained upon Lulu and her.

"You don't know what you're talking about!" shouted Tidus as he again grabbed Yuna, this time by her upper arm. "I may once have been the cold-blooded Slasher but I've never killed anyone!"

Yuna's eyes began to water out of fear and pain. His hold around her was becoming merciless. She struggled to break free from his inhuman strength, pushing his strong arm with her free hand.

"From what you did him, you've as good as killed him!" She cried as she fought back. Tears began to fall liberally down her cheeks to Tidus's gloved hand. "He was the only one left precious to me and yet you sent him away like a dog! I'll never forgive you…you vile murderer!"

Tidus's cold blue eyes began to burn, a burn as intense as a white roaring flame. Lulu noticed her young master's sword arm beginning to tremble uncontrollably thus causing Caladbolg to vibrate like a bell.

"You've gone too far." Tidus's voice was now murderous. He threw her back onto the bed and looked fiercely at the frail White Mage in front of him who was now disheveled, shuddering and breathing hysterically. "Perhaps I shouldn't have allowed you in my bastion in the first place."

He now raised Caladbolg to its zenith, its jagged edge gleaming in the weak moonlight.

"And since you think I'm a vile murderer, I might as well be."

Somewhere below the fortress, Auron and Wakka suddenly came to their full senses as they heard a human sound indicating extreme fear.

"The girls!" exclaimed Wakka, his heartbeat gaining momentum. "They might be in danger!"

They both grabbed their weapons, stormed out of the kitchen and raced down the hallway.

"This better not be bad." replied Auron as he ran with Wakka, his oriental blade Masamune on his shoulder.

Yuna shrieked as she closed her eyes and shielded herself with her arms, waiting for the end.

This is it… The end…

Rikku too screamed as she watched Caladbolg slash down towards the White Mage. Their screams were drowned and interfered when a sudden shock of thunder took place between the prisoner and her captor.

Yuna opened her eyes. There stood Lulu with her back towards her, facing her berserk master. One of Lulu's hands extended in front of Yuna whilst the other was still emitting sparks of electricity.

"Punish me if you must, young master, but I will not stand aside and watch you harm her!"

The two other women noticed, however firm and composed Lulu may be, her outstretched hand was slightly trembling and that her chest was rising and falling rapidly. Her ruby red eyes glared back at Tidus's void azure ones.

Rikku was now sobbing madly in a corner, her fragile body shaking from shock and terror. Tears were running from her bright green eyes which were now swollen and bloodshot.

Tidus lowered Caladbolg and glared back at his female subordinate with tenfold the hostility. A fierce look was enough for Lulu to step backward and lower her lightning-emitting hand.

He let out a brusque sound as he sheathed his cobalt steel back. "Consider yourself fortunate." He said as he returned his glare to Yuna. "I'm lacking in servitude. It would be a waste if I am to lose one more servant."

He turned around and retreated towards the massive door frame.

"One more thing." He stopped, not looking back to face them. "You haven't even told me your name yet."

Yuna looked at his back with bloodshot eyes. After a few sobs she managed to say…

"Yuna… It's Yuna. I…I was named after the Heavenly White Mage Yunales-"

"Yuna is enough."

And with that he exited the azure chamber. Afterwards they heard running footsteps reverberate across the hallway.

The three women were all in a state of shock. They became quite unaware of what has just happened. Rikku was still sobbing in a corner, her petite body shivering from the relentless tears. She had her hands on her mouth and was breathing irregularly. Lulu was breathing hard and fast and took utmost effort just to sit back down on the bed. Yuna was now trapped in a horrible reverie as tears unknowingly slid from her mismatched eyes. Never was she close to death before.

"What happened?!"

Auron and Wakka stormed into the chamber and were surprised to see their two female companions and the new prisoner in such a traumatic condition. They both lowered their weapons and scanned the room. Nothing seemed to be damaged except for a thousand shards of cerulean glass.

Auron approached the paralyzed Rikku and led her to the bed. There he sat beside her and patted her shoulder, comforting her.

"We saw the young master running away from this room. We got worried something might have happened-"

Wakka wasn't able to finish what he was saying. Lulu unexpectedly flung her arms around his neck and sobbed away on his chest. This caught Wakka off guard for a moment until he responded by wrapping his bulky arms gently around her and caressing her braided hair. This was the first time he saw Lulu lose composure.

Auron looked mercifully at the weeping Yuna. He found it hard to believe that his godson would go as far as victimizing someone as defenseless as she is. With his other arm, he pulled her close to his shoulder like a father would to his daughter and let her cry away.

"My name is Auron…" he chuckled as he patted her brown hair. "I guess now's not the right time for introductions." Comforting her felt as if it was Braska he was consoling.

"You must be Braska's daughter…" he said in a quiet voice. "You both had the same gentle eyes…"

She's wrong…

Tidus screamed as he scythed the now lacerated curtains in the western tower.

I'm not a bloodthirsty murderer.

The White Sphere glimmered calmly atop a small rosewood table. It radiated as if it never empathizes with its owner's nature. Its smaller white orbs revolved hastily around it as the Slasher was now hacking away on the annihilated furniture. It seemed as though the more unsound Tidus was, the more vigorous the revolutions were.

And I'm not a heartless monster.

His fury at no particular subject came to halt. The White Sphere then began to illuminate as brightly as the midday sun that Tidus had to shield his eyes. It then faded back to its normal glow and the little revolving orbs immediately stopped. To Tidus's horror, the White Sphere became another shade of grey darker.

Until this sphere fades into black, it's going to be too late.

Those immortal words from the accursed Yunalesca revisited his mind again. Misery began to swathe him as he watched the White Sphere, the very relic of his reprimand, show it contained nothing that could save him from the Black Spell.

I'm not a vile murderer.

He had an epiphany. For the first time in that one year since the Black Spell was cast, he realized that cold hollow eyes such as his are also capable of something human. They could contain tears.

Maybe I am…

Author's Notes: At long last! Another chapter done! It may have taken almost half a year but I'm confident to say that I did a great job with this chapter. Obviously I've added extra dosages of angst and darkness as to not be alike the Disney version. It may be based on the movie but it's not directly the movie with FFX characters playing the roles of Belle and company. After all why did I write this in the first place?