Summoners' Rest Chapter 1

Normally, Luca was a beautiful city, clean and bright and filled with happy, colorful people. At the moment, however, Isaaru was hard-pressed to enjoy it. His boat had come in nearly a whole day late, and he'd missed the first meeting of a symposium of former Summoners in which he'd enrolled. With it, he had also missed the meal they had planned to serve.

To make matters worse, dull grey clouds had gathered over the port almost just as soon as he'd set foot on solid ground; clouds from which a steady drizzle had been leaking all day. Then he'd arrived at the inn where he had made arrangements—dammit, he KNEW he should have called ahead—only to find they'd given his room to someone else. The man at the desk had been very apologetic, but there was nothing he could do. Isaaru had missed his check-in time by several hours, and there had been a demand for rooms with the Blitzball playoffs going on.

The one possibly good thing that had happened all day was that the desk clerk HAD at least been able to recommend several places to eat in the city. Isaaru looked for one of these places even now, though the pessimist in him had kicked his normal optimism into submission and was currently raging about just getting back on the boat, going back to Kilika, and forgetting about Symposia and Yevon-forsaken inns.

He was about ready to give in. He was certain he'd taken a wrong turn somewhere…after a while, in the rain, one cobblestone side street began to look very much like another. Something caught his eye.

It must have been the movement that drew his attention. There, hanging by a pair of s-hooks, a painted wooden sign swung gently over a sky-blue door. "Summoners' Rest", it proclaimed, with an arrow pointing at the door as if it feared being unclear about what it meant.

"Summoners' Rest?" Isaaru said aloud, testing the miracle. Warm yellow light gleamed from the swirled glass that served as a window in the door. It looked like the most welcoming place he'd ever seen. "I will take it as a sign, then." He stepped over the gutter and its tiny river of rainwater, pushed open the door, and went in.

Inside, it was every bit as comfortable as he'd hoped. A bright-flamed fire snapped in the hearth, serving to both light and warm the room. A few benches were lined up against the wall, stacked with seats together. A pair of trestle tables ran half the length of the room, and the other half was scattered with smaller tables and chairs. Isaaru wiped his feet on the thick straw mat and hung up his outer robe on the peg shelf by the door. Aside from himself, the place appeared to be completely empty. "Hello?" he called, unwilling to move until he was sure someone was there.

"Oof, dammit," he heard a woman's muffled voice come from behind the counter that served as a bar. Louder, she said, "Bear with me a moment, I'll be right with you."

"I'm not—uhm, disturbing anything, am I?" he asked uncertainly. How embarrassing would it be if he'd stumbled upon something private! His fears, however, were immediately put to rest with her low chuckle.

"No," the woman said, still hidden from view, "I was just trying to clean out the cabinets while it was quiet." She stood, her back to him, and she wiped her hands on her apron. Her dark hair hung in a simple braid to the middle of her back, the end tied with a black ribbon. When she turned and came out from behind the counter, he noticed that she limped slightly. "Welcome to Summoners' Rest. I'm Mina. What can I do for you?"

Isaaru stared at her. There was a familiarity about her, as though he'd met her before, but he was positive he'd remember the ugly scar that began under her ear, ran down her neck, over her collarbone, and disappeared into the wide neckline of her homespun shirt. The other half of her face was untouched, however, and his eyes widened in shock even as hers did the same.

"Isaaru?" she gasped, stepping back.

"Dee?" he replied, stepping forward. She retreated another step. He hadn't imagined the limp, it was definitely there. She shook her head and turned as if to flee. Isaaru caught her arm. "Dee, how did you—what—you're alive!"

Shaking off his hand, she moved away until the counter stood between them. "I don't know what you're talking about. My name is Mina." She looked him dead in the eye. "This Dee person you keep talking about is obviously dead. Let her remain that way."

The entire day crashed down on him right then. He braced his arms on the bar, gripping the edge with white-knuckled hands. "So help me, don't play games," he said with heat. "I haven't eaten since yesterday, I have no place to sleep, I've been wandering around in the rain looking for a room that hasn't been booked yet, and I just ran into someone on whose grave I've placed flowers more than once. I am cold, wet and hungry, and you ARE Devanee of Kilika." He fought the surprise that rose up within himself for acting like that. He must be more miserable than he had thought.

The woman met his eyes, then deflated a little. "Sit down by the fire, Isaaru. I will get you some stew and tell you what happened." He opened his mouth to speak, but she held up a silencing hand. "I will answer all of your questions, but do me one favor. Do NOT call me Devanee. My name is Mina now, for reasons of my own." She turned the gesture into a shooing motion. "Go. Sit. Now."

He did as she bade, pulling one of the chairs closer to the hearth. Already, the warmth was seeping into his bones, making the day a little easier to bear. A thousand questions spun through him, however, all of them begging to be asked at once.

Mina returned with two bowls of steaming hot beef stew, a loaf of warm bread and two mugs of coffee. "Here. Eat." She joined him and began to tuck into her food. When he merely watched her, she raised a brow. "Is my cooking not to your liking?"

"I was hoping you'd tell me what happened." He began to eat, watching her carefully. "Last time I saw you, you were on your way into Ifrit's temple. Then we heard you scream, and by the time I—we reached the center room…" He glanced away. "…You were gone, and Ifrit slumbered."

She put her bowl down and picked up the mug. "I was an idiot and a child," she murmured, gazing into the fire. "The worst idea I ever had in my life was to try to become a Summoner in the first place." At Isaaru's protest, she shook her head. "Don't say it. I had a lot of time to do nothing but think. Trust me, I know the answer to this one. I should never have thought I could do it, and I should never have gone into that room feeling the way I did."

"But…five years, De—Mina. Five years. Do you know what's happened in all that time?"

"Yes," she replied, her voice emotionless. "Kilika was attacked, my family died. I would thank Lady Yuna for destroying Sin for me." Now she looked back up at him, the fire reflected in the anger in her eyes. "It's difficult to exact revenge when you're supposed to be dead."

"You still haven't told me what happened."

Instead of speaking further, Mina stood and piled the dishes onto the tray. Picking it up, she asked over her shoulder, "Do you need a room?"

Isaaru followed her. "Mina…"

"Do you need a room?" she repeated, enunciating each word. Isaaru realized he wouldn't get anything further from her tonight.

"Yes," he said coldly, "I need it for several nights."

"Follow me, then." She led him, limping up a set of stairs to a narrow hall. "Here. I'm a little out of the way here, so I don't have many guests." She pushed open a door to reveal a small but cozy room. The bed looked so inviting to Isaaru that he almost forgot his curiosity about her.

Almost. "Mina, please—" He didn't know what to say, how to articulate how good it was to see her as well as how frustrating it was not to understand what was going on.

She saved him the trouble. As if she read his thoughts, she nodded in understanding. "Good night, Isaaru," she said softly and with infinite tenderness as she reached up and touched his face. Then she snapped into business mode again, her face closing of all emotion. "I serve breakfast and dinner for my guests. Let me know if there's anything you want in particular, and I'll try to be accommodating."

"I just want to know about you." Isaaru nodded and turned away before she could argue further. "Good night, Mina." He waited without looking at her until she finally made a dismissive sound and went back downstairs. He listened to the uneven rhythm of her walk down the stairs, and it wasn't until he heard her working in the area of the bar again that he relaxed. He stripped down to the pair of short-legged pants he wore under his robes and laid the discarded layers over various pieces of furniture to dry.

What had happened to Devanee, or Mina, or whatever she wanted to call herself? Why had she disappeared, why had she let them all believe her dead? What had she meant when she said she shouldn't have tried to become a summoner? Isaaru pondered his questions as he worked, continuing while he removed his shoes and took his hair out of its customary ponytail. He was still wondering when he lay down on the soft feather mattress, and still wondering when he pulled the lavender-scented quilts over his tired body, and still wondering when he couldn't hold his eyes open any longer.

Sleep claimed him then, and he dreamed.