The hovercraft slid silently across the top of the grass, every now and again brushing up against a clump of taller grass, but they were largely ignored. Rin knew how to guide his craft without troubling over minor bumps; in fact, he enjoyed the control and finesse the scarred and pitted Calm Lands required of him. The icy road past Macalania forest that led to his Travel Agency stationed there was too easy to navigate. Chuckling slightly to himself, Rin pulled a sharp turn and then headed straight off the edge of one of the lightning-bolt cracks in the Calm earth.
No one currently traveled in the Calm Lands, allowing him to indulge his fancy for hovercraft hot-dogging without worrying about any Yevonites or plain old garden-variety Al Bhed haters getting on his case about it. So he went on enjoying himself, reveling in speed for a little while longer before he made his way to the edge of the Calm Lands, just before the so-called sacred Mount Gagazet officially began. He was only there because he rather wished the Ronso would allow him to build a Travel Agency somewhere on Gagazet. Although he knew that would never happen, he liked to go gaze at the perfect spot for one of his many branches now and again.
He slowly pulled back the throttle on his hovercraft and settled it into an idle as he sat gazing wistfully at the perfect spot. It took him a good bit longer than it should have for him to notice the man crawling across the field he had staked out in his imagination for the Agency. When it did register, Rin made an exclamation of surprise in Al Bhed and hopped off his craft.
Crawling was hardly the most advantageous manner in which to begin a crossing of the Calm Lands. They may have been called Calm Lands, but the fiends there paid no attention to what the living called any given place. Rin stepped slowly to the man's side, bending down to examine his face. The first thing to catch his eye, oddly enough, was the gray sidelocks the man wore. He looked too young to have that much gray in his hair. But that thought was quickly pushed aside for more immediate concerns. Rin could see the man's coat was naturally red, but he could also tell how much of that color was stained with a red of a different sort entirely. His movements were dogged, as if there were nothing in the skies above, the earth beneath, nor anything in between that would stop him from moving forward. It was admirable persistence, but Rin, not knowing why the man would push himself so hard, felt it was decidedly unwise.
"Are you all right, sir?" Rin asked, his accented voice calm. Of course, it was a patently absurd question to ask; the man was clearly not all right, but it seemed the best way to open a conversation.
The young man stopped crawling and slowly turned his head to set his glassy gaze on the blond Al Bhed. He moved his mouth, but no words came out. Then he began crawling forward again.
With a better look at the man's face, Rin was certain he recognized him, despite the evil, messy gash across his face. This must be Sir Auron. Rin was surprised; of the summoners that managed to battle Sin, not one of their guardians had survived, certainly not any of them who guarded a high summoner. Sin historically killed them in the battle, or they would mysteriously turn up dead in other places. And from the looks of things, Sir Auron would be joining all those guardians before him in death.
"Come, stop moving, Sir Auron," Rin stated, placing a hand lightly on Auron's shoulder. This tiny movement caused Auron to collapse in the grass, and Rin instantly pulled his hand away. "My apologies, I see that did not help you any." Rin sat there thinking for a moment, while Auron struggled back to his hands and knees. Rin nodded once and said, "I could not in good conscience leave you here unaided; we may not have been able to stop Lord Braska from sacrificing himself, but I shall make certain at least one guardian will live to tell the tale."
At this, Auron glared with as much heat as he could spare for Rin, but the Al Bhed remained unaffected. "Come now. I see you are a very determined man; I don't know how you have come to be in this state, but it would be blind of me to think you feel a need to simply lay down and die. If you had, you would already be dead. So, allow me to do what I can. Come to my Travel Agency; I have some skill in healing. It would no doubt serve you to be in better health in your quest to get wherever you are going, would it not?"
Very slowly, Auron nodded, and gently collapsed again. Carefully, Rin turned Auron onto his back and gave the guardian a more thorough examination. The entire left side of his pale face was coated in dried blood and ichor; his hand, the uncovered one, was scraped raw and the tips of his fingers were an unhealthy shade. Likely frostbitten. The red coat was soaked in blood, and whatever colors his belt had been, it was now a darker red than his coat. The knees of his pants were ripped, as was the one sleeve that he wore. Certainly, there must have been some injuries Rin could not see; although Auron's chest plate was intact, blood seeped out from beneath it. The Al Bhed was surprised that whatever fiends had done this had not lived to finish their work. Without another word, Rin lifted Auron onto his craft, as carefully as he could. That Auron would not let go his death-grip upon his massive sword did not make this action any easier. Perhaps he couldn't let the weapon go; there was a good chance his hand muscles had cramped around the hilt.
Rin did not comment on this, instead he shifted himself so that the weight of the sword would not pull Auron out of his hands. Then he set the injured man on the back of his hovercraft and used some of the rope and netting he reserved for transporting cargo to secure Auron to the craft. As he worked, Auron lifted his six-foot sword with one hand and laid it across his body. The action surprised Rin; it was another testament to the strength and determination of the guardian that he could move that weighty monstrosity of a sword at all, much less with only one arm. "Well, I can see perhaps why the fiends did not bother you as much as they might have; even in such a state as you are in, they must have recognized that you were no easy meal."
After a few more minutes, Rin declared, "There. Now I shall take you to my Travel Agency here in the Calm Lands. There you can rest and recover your strength. I shall make every effort to keep the ride as smooth as possible." With that, Rin hopped up onto the craft and pulled the throttle, moving as fast as he dared over the grass. He felt the need of speed, but too fast would be damaging for his charge.
It was early afternoon by the time Rin arrived at his Calm Lands Travel Agency. Most of it was open air, as the Calm Lands were quite temperate and pleasant, but the building did have several rooms indoors. Rin carried Auron into one of the larger rooms, wincing slightly as the sword, still clutched in the guardian's hand, drew a sharp-edged line in his floor. But repairs for his ruined flooring could wait.
Once inside, Rin did his best to disrobe the silent Auron without causing him more pain than he already felt. As for the sword, it was as Rin suspected; Auron's hand had clenched it so tightly for so long his fingers had locked upon it like a steel vice. It took the better part of an hour of prying and massaging his arm to get Auron's grasp to loosen enough to pull the hilt free. Once that was done, Rin took the sword hilt in both hands and with much cursing under his breath, scraped his floor up a good bit more dragging it away. He simply lacked the strength to lift the hunk of forged steel for more than a few moments at a time.
Rin returned with several potions and various supplies that only the Al Bhed used for medical purposes. Then he sat down to examine Auron's injuries as closely as he could. He found, to his great consternation as he cleaned the blood from Auron's body, that there were eight gashes of various lengths and shapes across his stomach and chest, and that one extended slightly down his right leg. Any wonder he had been crawling; no one could walk like that, Rin thought to himself. But for the life of him, he could not figure out what sort of fiend could inflict such injuries without damaging Auron's clothing and armor. "Magic, perhaps, Blizzaga," he muttered to himself. He then examined the cut on Auron's face. Rin sighed slightly. "That will be the most trouble, I think, Sir Auron. It is quite destroyed, and it will only rot if I leave it."
The only acknowledgment Auron gave Rin was a slow blink with his good eye. It seemed that the guardian had completely lost his voice.
"I will do what I can," Rin replied. "Drink this, if you are able." Rin opened a highly decorated container, a potion specially made by the Al Bhed. With one hand, he held up Auron's head, ignoring the blood in his hair, and with the other, he set the potion to his lips so he could drink it. Auron managed as well as he was able, and surprisingly little of the potion was wasted.
"Thank you," Auron managed to say, his voice very quiet and rough.
"Ah, it is good to hear, you have your voice back," Rin said with a smile. "I wish I could take you Home; it would be easier on the both of us, but we must make do with what we can." He held up a different liquid for Auron to drink, and when he did drink it, he nearly gagged on it and made a face, which given his wound, must have been painful. "No taste for lyldic feha? I'm sure given the chance you might come to like it. The important matter to note is that it is feha, that is, wine, and if you drink enough of it, it will spare you a good deal of pain."
Auron made a noise that sounded enough like a concession that Rin helped him drink more of the feha, despite his opinion on the taste of it. After Rin was happy with the amount of feha he had forced down Auron's throat, he waited a few moments for the alcohol to take effect. The vintage of lyldic feha Rin had on hand was not the most potent available, but it worked well enough, and soon Rin was satisfied at the degree of Auron's inebriation. He quickly went to work on the most painful part of his doctoring, and if Auron felt even a hint of pain over it, he did not show it.
Many hours, several Al Bhed potions, and at least two bottles of feha later, Rin had finished doing what he could and had left to sleep. Auron was certain Rin would be soundly asleep after how much work he had done. The guardian waited for about a half-hour before making any move to get up. It took a good deal of work, but Auron did manage to stand, the first time he had since attacking Yunalesca. It was difficult and painful, but he was glad he would not have to crawl all the way to Bevelle. He slowly gathered his blood-soaked clothing and donned it over the cloth and gauze Rin seemed to have swathed him in. Before Auron took his sword, which Rin had managed to prop up against a wall, he looked at the bottles of feha. Each one was labeled in Al Bhed, and each one had a finely drawn picture of a cactus on it. "Hmph," Auron muttered to himself, "people will make alcohol out of anything." Then he took his sword and with some effort and a quiet grunt of pain, he shouldered it.
Stepping as softly as he could, Auron left Rin's Calm Lands Travel Agency in the very early morning, before dawn. He left all of his gil in the room in which Rin had doctored him. A small part of Auron wished to stay there, to recover...to make public the entire awful truth of what happened to summoners at the end of their pilgrimages, and worse by far the fate of their chosen guardian, but he had more pressing matters on his mind.
There was Braska's daughter to be found. And after that, Zanarkand...Jecht's Zanarkand.
It didn't take long before Auron found himself crawling again. Half the fiends seemed wary, having seen him dispatch others with far more deftness than his condition should allow for, while the other half tested their luck and were destroyed. But the effort of defeating fiends was telling; Rin's ministrations had simply bought Auron a few more miles. He was grateful for it; without Rin, he knew he would not have lasted all the way through the Calm Lands before some fiend finally caught him and ate him. He had just entered the fringes of Macalania Forest.
It looked as though he might be caught anyway. He was tired, and the fiends smelled his weariness. Nevertheless, Auron would continue to Bevelle even if it meant leaving his bones behind as he crawled. He felt he might literally have to do that; Macalania had as much crystal in it as wood, and it was slashing his hands and knees. What was left of Rin's bandages had been torn away.
At the crossroad that led to Bevelle, a Chimera attacked Auron, certain of a fresh, if well-beaten, meal. The fiend sized up its prey, while its prey managed to lift himself to his knees one last time, sword ready. The Chimera was quick, and Auron slow; it hit him in the side of the head with one great paw, intending to knock him unconscious. Before he fell, Auron slashed with his sword, putting the force of a Zombie Strike into the blow. It connected, and the zombie-stricken Chimera howled angrily. But Auron had fallen, and he would be lucky indeed if he could get a Phoenix Down out of his pocket before the creature killed him.
Instead of the bite of the Chimera's teeth, Auron felt the beast fall across his stomach before it burst into a cloud of pyreflies. His head still spinning from the Chimera's slap, Auron looked around, unable to focus his eye, but he thought he saw something bipedal and blue. Then he felt himself being picked up.
He weakly waved his bare hand at whatever had picked him up, trying to get it to stop. The movement stopped, and Auron felt warm breath on his face. He took a moment to try to pull his mind back to full consciousness, and after a moment he succeeded. Looking up, he found himself face to face with a Ronso. Auron squinted his eye; he recognized this one, although because of his weakness he couldn't remember where they had met. This Ronso had a broken horn.
"Kimahri?" Auron asked quietly.
The Ronso nodded.
"Set me down. I cannot go further."
Kimahri frowned, a ferocious look on a Ronso's leonine face. "Sir Auron needs medical attention," Kimahri explained.
"I am beyond that, Kimahri." He felt for certain that he had moved his last and would go no farther forward. "What I need is a favor." Auron was glad to have met up with someone he knew and trusted; the Ronso were fierce but honorable, to what some might call a fault.
"Kimahri has done that; I used my last X-Potion on the fiend. Let Kimahri take you to Bevelle."
Auron shook his head. "It is of no use. Bevelle will not help me, and I am beyond aid. I need you to find Braska's daughter and take her to Besaid."
The Ronso looked confused. "You know you will die before I can take you to Bevelle?" The switch in his normal way of speaking showed his concern as obvious as anything could.
Auron dipped his head in a nod; he hardly had the energy for that. Almost at a whisper, he said, "As you see me I have crawled from the top of Mount Gagazet; if not for the kindness of another, I would surely have died in the Calm Lands, my promises unfulfilled."
Kimahri's yellow eyes widened. "That is far to crawl. Sir Auron is a warrior of valor and honor to do this for a promise."
"For Lord Braska...find his daughter, take her to Besaid."
"In honor of Sir Auron's valor and in honor of Lord Braska's sacrifice, Kimahri will do this."
Auron wanted to say something more, but he found himself unable. Life slipped away from him, sliding between his fingers.
His mind wavered for a moment, and he thought he felt Kimahri moving again...seeking a summoner. Fingers clenched; Auron had another promise to keep. Life continued to slip, but Auron's clenched fingers became steel.
It slipped away.
Nevertheless, Auron's fingers maintained their adamant grip.
The guardian saw Kimahri drop a body, his blue face a study in shock, his ears flat against his skull. Kimahri looked to his feet, where the body lay, clothes torn, bloodied, broken. Auron watched Kimahri with a strange feeling of dispassion. He narrowed his lone eye, turning his gaze to the body at Kimahri's feet.
Perhaps he should have expected it. The Ronso had dropped the body of a guardian in red. His own body. He cocked his head and almost smiled. "I did tell myself I would go on even if I left my bones behind...."
Kimahri speared Auron with a hard look. "Sir Auron...do you want Kimahri to fetch a summoner?"
Auron silently shook his head. "Go get Yuna, as you promised me. I have another promise to keep."
"What will you do?" He pointed at Auron's dead body.
Auron picked up the fallen sword and hefted it onto his shoulder. He felt weak; however, it was in a different way than he had when he lay dying. He had lost his power. He would need to relearn many things. "I...will find something to do with it." It felt strange to talk about his own dead body like that.
Kimahri narrowed his eyes, then nodded once and turned away, towards Bevelle.
"Say nothing!" Auron called after him.
The Ronso turned, his tail twitching. "Kimahri will say nothing. What Sir Auron has now done for a promise is a hundred-fold more than crawling down sacred Mount Gagazet." Then he left the small crossroads.
When Kimahri was gone, Auron sat next to his body, lost in thought for a while. He noticed that his hair had grayed suddenly; he had heard of such things. His ruined face no longer looked as young as it should. Perhaps that was why he had taken so long to die from the wounds Yunalesca had inflicted on him. He had used years of his own life when his body had lost every other resource just as he had reached the peak of Mount Gagazet. No wonder he could sit now and gaze on his own dead body...in a way, he had died long before...he just hadn't acknowledged it yet. But what to do with it?
Auron looked down the path that led deeper into Macalania.
A foreign thought intruded on his mind. To the sea.
It sounded like Jecht.
To the sea, then. He picked up his dead body and started towards the sea, making his way through the uncharted vastness of the crystal forest, following no path. He bartered his way through the fiends by cutting off parts of his dead body and giving it to them, because his strength in arms was no longer enough to defeat them.
At the shore, Auron looked to his right. Saint Bevelle could just barely be seen in the distance; a faded pink bump against the horizon. He hoped it was far enough. In his hand he held one last part of his dead body; he had kept the heart, and a little blood still trickled from the horrible thing.
He turned his gaze out to the sea, looking for Sin. Yes, the defeat had been recent, but Yu Yevon would be quick to make himself invulnerable again. Auron had seen with his own eyes why a summoner who defeated Sin died. The Calm would not last long.
There it was. Auron saw the glow beneath the waves, far off, of millions of pyreflies being brought together to reform Sin. He didn't know how long it would take Yu Yevon to bring the pyreflies together into a full-fledged Sin. He didn't intend on waiting to find out.
"I know your secret!" Auron shouted at the sea. "Come silence me!" With as much strength as he could muster, Auron threw the heart out into the sea, hoping the scent of the last guardian standing would draw the nascent Sin near.
He saw the deep glow of pyreflies react, although he didn't know if it were to his words or actions. Auron could hear voices in his head. Two voices, saying the same words, shouting denial.
"Yes, it is true! You cannot deny me! You cannot kill me! Silence me in the only way you can. Take me to Zanarkand."
This time, one voice denied while the other was silent.
Auron paced furiously up and down the narrow shore. "Take me to Zanarkand or I will tell every summoner what questions they must ask. I will tell them of Yunalesca. I will tell them of the Final Aeon. And they will listen to me, because I know. I am the last guardian standing, and you can't hurt me."
Now there was a smile in his mind, and a distracted assent. One from Jecht, the other...from Yu Yevon. To one voice, Auron was a friend, to the other he was a gadfly to be brushed aside as quickly as possible. Auron had gambled with Sin, hoping that with Yu Yevon's faltering attention he could use him without notice. It seems to have worked. Auron had been Unsent for a very short time; if Sin chose to, it could tear him apart for his pyreflies with ease. Perhaps Jecht had helped distract Yu Yevon.
The onrush of water was unexpected. Sin was fast, and larger than Auron expected. Not large enough to terrorize Spira for a while yet, but still a fearsome thing. Pyreflies flew around in its wake. The small version of Sin waited in the ocean just past the breakers, and Auron swam out to it.
Hold on, I'll getcha there...
I know this has been done before. Probably lots and lots and lots of times. I don't know why I felt the need to add my own version to the mix. Maybe because I thought my take would be interesting...
I figured that Auron knew about Yu Yevon, or at least the general details on how and why a summoner dies fighting Sin, since there was a decent chance he was there helping Braska when Yu Yevon swiped Braska's Final Aeon. Something tells me that being a guardian doesn't end when the summoner receives the Final Aeon. "Oh, hey, by the way Auron, you can go home now." Naaaah. I don't have any proof of that; it's just a gut feeling.
Anyway...on a minor note, what I have called "lyldic feha", cactus wine, isn't exactly made up. People do make cactus wine. It's not the same thing as tequila or mescal-those are made of a different sort of plant. So...well, there you go, cactus wine exists, and I'm certain the Al Bhed have made some.