The sun is a heavy red orb on the horizon.

Private lifts hum through the air, industrious bees carrying officials back and forth. It is so obvious now, but machina exists everywhere in Bevelle. I only had to open my eyes.

Children whelped inside Yevon's watchful fold are simply raised to question everything save that which is directly in front of their faces.

I was one of them.

The sunset should have taught me that the first time I watched it descend in a way I thought I wanted to remember; Bikanel's desert, endlessly looped in my mind, with Paine's legs bent up and Paine's fingers in my hair and Paine's breath mixing with the sighs of the surf.

I'd never realized before that eve that arguments could be simpler than the maester-wrought ploys. People could quarrel just because they cared. But the danger in believing in others was that you could get so lost in their eyes that you forgot not to be blinded; when you were fooled into thinking that anything could be surmounted as long as you had another in your arms, you only changed one lie for another.

Like me.

I should have learned the second time I watched the daylight die. My attention had been on Gippal, all his antics and the noise of his boots clomping over the deck. The ships that pulled away from the docks only carried Bikanel's survivors to their deaths, but we hadn't known that at the time; we'd been ecstatic to have even reached the shoreline, caught up in our own excitement. Ocean waves warned us by turning shades of red from the lowering sun. We'd sailed on a wide river of blood all the way to Luca and only thought that we were escaping to the final test, and from there to freedom.

Gippal had believed in a future where all four of us would be together. He kept telling me about it as the clouds darkened to slow blues before they faded into the rest of the night. The Al Bhed kept going on about it for so long, I think I fell asleep on him. I know his voice followed me into dreams filled with crimson waves and a melting sun.

The Al Bhed was convinced of the success of our Team. He couldn't think of a reason we wouldn't fail so long as we all stayed together. Gippal's logic worked wonders on machina; solve problems by cleaning the parts, disassemble, then repair. Modify, tinker, rebuild. Everything runs smoothly so long as there isn't grime between the gears.

He convinced me, too. I watched him as a silhouette on the railing until his outline dissolved into the darkness, and it was only his voice trailing back to me in the night.

It was Nooj who taught me at last about the consequences of friendship. Three times it took for me to learn; three suns setting before I finally caught on. Our Deathseeker fooled us all with his stories so well that even I believed him. We had been duped by his cynicism, drawn into reaching out to him in hopes he would respond.

Nooj fed us small drabs of encouragement that were flavored over-sweet to hide the bitterness of his ambitions beneath. All of us ate our fill.

Now I am aware of my meal, as rotting as the meat may be. Yevon stinks of it. It smells like Nooj, like the rancid whale-reek left behind on the beaches after the maesters had given the Crusaders to Sin. The halls here swarm with people whose breath is cloying with machination. Some have had be publicly exposed when Spira's towns wanted a brand of justice that would appease them. Others who were equally guilty have managed to bargain for safety in private deals with the priests.

Yevon is very good at choosing its sacrifices. Summoners go to Sin, Sin goes to Yevon; Crusaders die, summoners die, even Sin dies, but the spiral continues even through the Calm. I only needed that lesson once and have become careful not to repeat my previous errors. After a Deathseeker reminded me of the cost of vulnerability, I have not allowed myself to become even accidental fodder as a temple scapegoat.

I owe Nooj for that. The irony makes me smile sometimes.

Evening at Bevelle is not like the view from Mi'ihen. I do not like the Highroad any more than I think I enjoy ocean voyages these days, or revisiting coastlines. Each location is haunted by the forms of my teammates. All save Bevelle, which means that my home is the safest place to stand and watch the sunset from, squinting against the ruddy dimming of the light.

Thankfully, nights have different memories for my association.

"We never did get that spare."

"Did you say something, lord?"

The downside to the temple lies in the company I must keep. I should have noticed when one of the attendants surfaced. Ghosts of the Crimson Squad are sloppy in crossing into my personal domain; they distract me even on the Highbridge.

I give my answer before I have finished turning to see who has joined me. "Nothing important. Is there something you needed to summon me for?"

The unlucky acolyte bows, keeps his head down. He senses that he has interrupted a moment of private reflection. He is right. "We have reports that claim a sphere fitting your description has been seen among those tallied in the Kilika excavation." Heavy layers of his robes crinkle as the man organizes his arms parallel once more, bowing again in hopes that I will dismiss him now that the message has been relayed.

Too bad for him. "Kilika?" Strange for records locked to the Squad to have traveled so far away. Whoever must have fled with them must have run quickly. "So... Nooj's teams will have first chance at it?"

"I am sorry, my lord." A nervous swallow on the part of the acolyte is sign that I sound less than enthusiastic. "I do not know which Seekers have been formally assigned to the task."

Kilika is much too far from Bevelle for me to be able to nip out the back and investigate on my own. If it is a record from the Squad, the distance has already ordained it as lost. "I see." The result is not pleasant, but until I have more influence in the temple, I must accept that I do not have as many capable agents as I would prefer. "If anyone needs me, I'll be with lord Trema."

Though I have dismissed myself by that crisp statement, my hands linger on the marble balustrades. I am loathe to depart the Highbridge. Not while the daylight is still in the midst of expiring itself, at least, and its heat dissolving like a fever-dream.

"Is there something else on your mind, lord?"

Crimson is in my thoughts. Crimson and salt-spray and hair. Machina parts spread out on my shirt in the tents, Al Bhed eyes grinning. Metal limbs.

Metal bullets in my back.

"The sunset is spectacular from these heights," I lie. "It's so... illuminating."

I hear an exhalation behind me, the acolyte grateful that I have not found something to punish him over. Another priest might have conjured annoyance, used pretense to vent their frustration. I only look at the weather. "Praise be," he murmers in agreement, and his voice is relieved.

I find myself answering in kind while my thoughts are filled with something quite other than the sky.

"Praise be."

~ fin