Author's Note: I'm sure I should have spent my time on finishing the rest ofBlind Spot. Instead, have an explanation of why Braska wears those robes, and what might have compelled him to leave his daughter behind and go on a deathquest. Since I wrote it in a haze in the middle of another fic, I have no real idea why I did it. FFX SPOILERS. Etc.
A Certain Way of Walking
When he had first announced his decision to try for High Summoner, they claimed he was disqualified from the Pilgrimage due to his leg. The attack from Sin that had taken his wife had left him with a scar from hip to ankle, a filmy slab of tissue a hand's breadth wide and ragged all the way down. When revealed in the sun, it looked as if a particularly messy potter had just smeared glaze across him before setting him aside next to the kiln.
He was an unfinished product. It was determined he would crack in the firing, and so he never was shoved in the ovens with the others.
To conceal the defect, Braska had chosen to start dressing in formality with as much vengeance as he had once refused it. He'd worn layer upon layer of cloth, hiding legs, hiding hands in sleeves so long that they concealed when he clenched fingers into fists while his face was busy smiling. Shades of red overlapped his body in scales like a fish and still that armor did nothing to protect the real wound; like the petals of a flower stretched out by a child playing at dissection of objects, the robes displayed themselves in a language of the living.
The formal crown was an afterthought. It was a stamen with nothing to say.
He had a way of hiding it in all save the worst of times. Villagers spoke with awe when Bevelle sent him to their tiny settlements and he would dance with no sign of halting. Noon turned to dusk, dusk to dawn, and still Braska was leaving stately footprints on the shore to usher the laggard pyreflies home.
Those were the ones he had most sympathy for. Flickers of light clung to the shore pleading not to be forced into the Farplane, even though the cost of staying would turn them into monsters. Other Summoners commanded the unwilling sprites, stamped their staffs with authority in the tides. Braska merely waited with them, letting the hours turn onwards and sharing their grief until they finally wept themselves into oblivion.
Every time he walked upon the waves, the muscle would pull itself with a twinge against the bone.
The first time that Auron had to pick him up out of the surf, Braska had been ashamed to worry his Guardian so. The weak leg had warned him hours before by shivering, then turning to fire, and from there to flatly refusing to bear his weight. Braska had compensated for the tremble by letting the cycles of his staff carry his whole body with it; the lopsided exaggerations of each twist covered the way he was falling during the rotations and barely catching himself each time.
He could hear fisherfolk whispering about how lucky they were to have a Summoner so devout to Yevon that he ran himself to exhaustion. Sweet wines were his reward afterwards. Soft cots and warm food, and mournful faces clinging to hope of their loved ones safe from any threat of fiend-manifestation.
The vintages tasted like dead fruit. Auron had been worried the first time, but he had been even more concerned when each subsequent Sending had resulted in his Summoner's collapse.
Scarred skin was skin dead to his touch. Like she was.
He ran his fingers over the tissue so many times that he memorized the small ridges as he had once the back of her hand.
It ached in damp weather. It hurt especially around the sea.
Even in dreams, the wound intruded. Braska would rouse clutching his palms to the dull fire of mishealed nerves, the hurt of it waking him from the memory of her sliding out of his hands. The shattered wood that had planted its shrapnel edge in his thigh and dragged inwards was only an afterthought, barely remembered as Braska had fixated on her face slipping away, telling himself that she would be all right, Al Bhed were excellent swimmers, she would be fine--
He kept telling himself that even when they had tried to recover bodies out of the water, the ones too waterlogged to float. They'd found her because she'd been wedged between two beams of the railing from where a lazy swipe of Sin's tail had nearly snapped the ship in two.
Correction to that, his memory informs him. They'd found most of her there.
They hadn't let him dance for her. They hadn't let him dance for any of the dead, citing the fact that he couldn't even stand and no Summoner could perform the ritual while crawling. Braska had been feverish enough to raise his voice against them. He had tried to insist that any staff would work, even a broken one. He told them he could do it on his knees if he had to now if they could just let him up and he would go to her and everything would be made better.
But they had won in the end, with cool cloths smelling of poultices left upon his brow and teas that made him drowsy before he remembered not to swallow.
By the time he came to, she had already been long gone.
The living room of their home is inappropriately named.
Braska and his wife had picked out furniture for it following her preferences. There were to be couches facing inwards, she had decided, on either side of the low table meant for guests to place their drinks upon. Braska had not pointed out that they were not likely to receive any, but she had wrinkled her nose at him. Laughed. Said that it was the loss of those who scorned them if no one came.
And they hadn't. Bevelle blacklisted him so quickly when they learned of his union with an Al Bhed that Yuna was left with playground taunts and empty afternoons when the rest of the children were out jostling one another in the sun. Her relatives hadn't wanted to visit Yevon's heartland either, though they had tolerated the stigma of Yuna's mixed eyes better than any of the priests. Bevelle was no place to raise a child, but they had been able to pretend for a time.
Their living room stood hollow. Beautiful, eternally ready to be used, and absolutely empty.
Auron left him there after they had returned from an emergency case that had involved fiends storming wild from the plains and attacking a trading caravan on its way to Guadosalam. The Guardian was hesitant to leave at first. His frustrated concern had sent Auron rampaging through the kitchen in well-meaning search for dinner supplies, coming up with mismatched plates and some noodles that he'd falsified into a soup to urge upon his Summoner. Braska had sat on the couch and refused to eat. The smell on the air reminded him of fish, and the sea.
Eventually Auron had coaxed half down Braska's throat. He had departed to deliver their report to the Temple, with the warning clear in his eye that he would return afterwards and check if his Summoner had consumed the rest. Braska had kept his hands hidden in his sleeves. Smiled. Shook his head, and that had answered everything and nothing and then Auron was out the door and gone. The Guardian hadn't wanted Braska to walk another step without resting first, so the swordsman shouldered the burden himself.
Braska waited fifteen minutes in the silence before he stood up.
Auron had left the staff in easy reach in case his Summoner needed the support. It was exactly the kind of consideration that made the dishonored monk so fitting for his role; Auron's desperate thoughtfulness kept Braska assuring the man that everything was fine. By the time Braska had time to feel the burden of the lie, his Guardian had already returned to check on yet another concern, and the distraction carried them both through another day. Then another.
It was a routine that had worked for weeks between them both, and on the surface, answered the priests of Yevon when they came nosing after the status of their Summoners. None stayed to notice the increasing fear banked in Auron's eyes each time Braska came home with sand in every inch of his clothes.
The beaded decorations clatter as Braska scoops the stick into a hand and tries to ignore protest of his hip in the bargain. Traveling had not been easy. While journeying itself was not hard so long as he and Auron could move at a moderate pace and rest when Braska's leg would twinge its herald of pain, they had set out to return to Bevelle almost instantly after the caravan had been finished.
Auron would want him to rest. The soup was lukewarm. Night was turning rapidly into the next day.
One tap, then a second from the staff thudding against the ground to calibrate his heartbeat, and the trance takes him.
The first swing of the ritual is meant to describe an arc that becomes a shape that becomes a message. This is the circle we are all a part of, so went the meditative prayer Summoners were trained on. This is the circle we return to.
The next, and the weight of the staff is what guides his arm as his momentum carries him around, one lazy dream of a shape changing directions when put into motion. An endless spiral rotating around a single point, which turned it into a sphere. Spira.
Chants hailing Yevon mutate into prayers of Beloved, in his mind, Beloved, please let me catch up. Please let me catch you. I couldn't then, they wouldn't let me, so forgive me for having to Send you so late.
I miss you.
Never once when he has performed the ritual for her has it worked. The weight of his wife in his arms is a phantom memory kin to the old misfirings of his damaged nerves. Every time when Braska spreads his hands for balance, he can feel her sliding into their ring just as she had so deftly on their wedding night. Her palms against his hips are pyrefly hallucinations. They are not real. The voiceless shadow of her on the Farplane is not either, would not be until he himself manages to cross there himself one day and learn the truth between the false hope of memories, and fear.
Neither will the fiend she might have become return to him, no matter how many times he enacts clandestine fornication with the air.
One ankle gives unexpectedly from exhaustion. Braska is too awkward in the attempt to recover, knocks the soup off the table with a graceless swipe of his staff, and for a second the trance is shattered while he tries to remember who is alive and who is currently dead.
His daughter's voice accompanies the crash of the bowl, the death rattle of the spoon. She is calling for him, but dares not leave her bed to pursue his presence. Yuna knew of her father's return by the fuss of Auron's kitchen experiments; peeking one green eye around the door, the girl had yawned sleepily before disappearing back into her bedroom.
Now she is awake again.
Father? Is that you?
Someone must have been telling her stories of fiends again, creatures that would appear from the darkness of closets and beds and come crawling underneath her sheets wearing the faces of her favorite stuffed toys. Likely her classmates.
Father, I'm scared.
Braska does not answer her. All his breath is going towards trying not to fall.
He does not know what to tell her even if he had any to spare.
Yuna was too young to be parted from her mother. One woman asked Braska if the girl had started wetting her sheets at night; even though she was well past being a toddler, the matron had warned him knowingly, children frightened can return to younger habits. Watch her, the woman had told Braska. Watch her for what she's concealing from you. Oh, there'll be things that poppets don't like to show their parents. They like thinking they're so strong.
Yes,Braska had repeated dolefully back, automatic. Yes, strong.
Then the woman had bustled away and left Braska staring at the face of his wife in the ghost of his child.
Perhaps it had been the other way around.
If he had Sent his Beloved, would she finally be laid to rest?
So long as he keeps moving, his hair will not slap him in the face and tangle. That was the role of motion while dancing the spiral. If you slow down for even a moment, you will have your bangs in your eyes and in your mouth when you pant from exertion, so you must continue onwards. Don't stop. Don't look back. You will stumble if you do.
No matter how many times he dances, he cannot banish the face of his wife when she turns up breathing against his ear during sleep.
And he cannot Send himself either. No matter how many times.
The sound of the waterways lapping around the residential quarters is the sound of sussures his wife would whisper at night. It blends from memory into his surroundings, and from there into his daughter's voice as she whimpers in her bed. She is a good girl. She has learned that she cannot interrupt the fate that has devoured her father until it is through burning him alive, and that it is better not to watch.
Who will Send his Yuna when her time comes?
Can he risk knowing that she might be stolen away too, to risk doom as a restless spirit because someone found fevercloths to be higher priority than the peace of death?
No. No, better to Send her now, better to send her himself.
The staff turns in his hand and pulls him along with it. By now his sense of balance is so dizzied from the rotations that it is only training keeping him upright by ordering numbed muscles to pretend to the business of feet; blood is rushing in his ears, the world is spinning. It is devouring him in an endless spiral that drags him down, down, down until he stumbles to catch himself and the imbalance repeats.
Quicksilver contact with memory blurs with his realization of the present; Braska thinks he stepped in the cooling remains of the soup, but it might be a corpse or the ocean or all three. None of them matter. He can almost see his wife's face again before him, overlapping with the palsied visage of a fiend, mixing with the bland smile the pyreflies had worn on the Farplane.
Forgive me for being late.
The prayers that should be to Yevon are useless as his ankle, so Braska ignores them both.
Before it would all be over, he would need to take care of the matter that took her away and stole both their lives. Until then, things like pain could wait.
Beloved, I will catch up with you soon.