Spoilers for FFX and Bevelle in FFX-2. A Ronso short, Kelk-centric. Set pre-FFX.
It is said that the first summoners came from Zanarkand, but no one knows now, no one cares.
Kelk Ronso has seen three decades in service as Maester to Yevon. He was chosen for this position in honor of his obedience. While his rough hands have not gripped a lance for fifteen years, Kelk produces each stroke of his pen with the same stoic concentration. Words have grown eloquent in Kelk's throat. Experience with the priests of Bevelle taught him the necessary familiarity with pronouns, clauses, conjunctions. Human is the dialect that Kelk speaks; human is the excess clothing that he wears, printed with the twist-runes of a human's religion. He bears with it all. Such is required of him, and Maester Kelk does not like to shirk his responsibilities.
When not in Bevelle, Kelk walks the pathways of the Sacred Mountain. He knows every inch, has touched every pebble. He has traced the routes of forgotten towers on the highest peaks, sagging in stained nests of marble that decay further each year; he has drunk deep the air of the hot springs that bubble inside the hidden caves. Gagazet defines his people. Generations of Ronso have been born in its shadow, and here is where many will die.
To know the Mountain is to know himself.
The glare of noon off Gagazet is painful as hot lances jabbing into one's skull. Careless visitors do not think to ward against the sun in a land so full of cold, and many deal with tears rolling down their faces that freeze as their eyes weep against the light. They go sun-blind, struck sightless by the vision of Gagazet ringing double-blurred behind their eyelids. It is burned into their retinas. They see it, dancing, even when they have bedded down for the night. Their dreams are full of mountain-stone. They walk it in their nightmares, accompanied by the constant orchestra of the storm's howl.
The Ronso have pupils that can constrict to a sliver no wider than a needle against the ice's mirror-glare. They have thick fur that protects them from the killing winds. Every inch of their muscled bodies is designed for survival in the frigid wasteland, which has been their home for hundreds of years, and will be for hundreds more.
The Ronso are nothing if not loyal.
They are steadfast. Other races would have quit the joyless post long ago, settling lower into temperate lands. Other races would have mimicked the Guado, sloughing up against the nodule of the Farplane and declaring luxury to be their duty and right. To either side of Gagazet lurk temptations; the warmer fields of the Calm Lands, the crystalline waters surrounding Zanarkand with an abundance of fat-scaled fish. Each time the Fangs return from blitzball tournaments in Luca, they deliver evening after evening of stories about the wonders to be found at the trading port. Huddled around dirt-pit fires, the Ronso listen.
Doubt might erode the spirit of weaker races. The Ronso know better. Mount Gagazet is a holy ground, and they have been ordered to guard it. They dare not fail. Fiends may boil over from Zanarkand and invade the Calm Lands. Al Bhed may think to settle near the ruined city. Sin may come over the mountain and try to devour them all. Again.
The greatest danger of all is an untried summoner, who is not ready to receive the Final Aeon and will provide nothing but a false hope. The Mountain is a testing field, and it must be ruthless. Spira can afford nothing less.
So the Ronso have been charged.
It is said the first summoners came from Zanarkand. But no one knows now. No one cares.
Since the Ronso know their sacred duty, they are aware of the risks that go with it. No Ronso is trained as a summoner; none need to be, for unwillingness to accept death is a refusal of Spira's natural laws. That is how the theory goes. Bevelle's humans may offer aid, but a Ronso who is Unsent is a shame. They are a tarnish upon the silver of the Mountain.
Still, Kelk knows, there are times when a Ronso refuses to die and summoners must be called in to handle the matter.
He does not know if that is wrong anymore.
Bevelle is living on death. That much, Kelk is aware of. The human Maester Mika passed his natural lifespan on the floor of a council chamber of Bevelle; a heart-attack, it was termed later, which caused the man to paw at the carpet like a child and mewl soft, crying breaths. Those who had been privy to the matter totaled two guards, one helpless medic, and one Kelk.
At the time, Kelk had thought he understood the cycle of life. The affliction that sent Mika tumbling from his chair had been sudden; any efforts to help the aging Maester had failed, and Kelk had watched the withered human tremble between his massive paws with no idea of how to solve the problem. Death. When Mika's eyes had finally filmed over and his body had gone slack, Kelk had stood confident in the knowledge of what was to come next. There is nothing more to do, he had rumbled to the guards, and sought out Jyscal Guado to inform him of the news.
Jyscal, who had drilled the Ronso in cool demands to learn the identities of those who witnessed the event, ordered Kelk to bring him to the chamber where Mika's body had been laid. No talk of Sendings had been made. Nor successors. He strode through the disorganized cloud of pyreflies already beginning to surround the corpse and pulled back the funeral shroud with a stiff yank.
Kelk trailed behind. Speechless. Waiting.
As the Ronso stood ready for orders, every fiber of his being awaiting explanation, Jyscal pressed his long, taloned thumbs against Mika's face and bid the human rise again.
Two decades later, in the depths of his lion's chest, Kelk feels the renewed stirrings of uncertainty. This time, he cannot banish them.
Yevon is dead. Maester Mika is dead, but that has not stopped him from leading discussions in the temple halls. In time, he will have to be replaced by another face in the decades yet to come, another leader who will be ruled by the voices of the deceased. They will take council from the Via Infinito, as Mika himself is wont. An unending string of Maesters stews beneath Bevelle, compounded as the generations go by.
It is a great pool of knowledge. The Maesters are their mouthpieces.
This is the truth of Yevon's enlightened rule; this is holy, Kelk has been told, and he lowers his shaggy head in token acceptance to the law.
The Guado Jyscal is not dead, but the Guado have always been a strange race, full of whisperings and high collars that hide their faces when they speak, puckered veins that pump multicolored fluids across their bodies. Their blood is not always red. When it comes time for Jyscal to pass into the Via, disguised as a Sending to the Farplane, Mika has planned for Seymour to take office. Jyscal has already picked out the colors for his son's final funeral shroud, hanging them alongside his own.
Maester Kinoc is still alive, but it might only be a matter of time.
Kelk Ronso was brought to the Via Infinito twice in all his time serving Bevelle. He was pointed towards it like a dog. The pyreflies caused his nose to wrinkle; the underground labyrinth was broiling with mist and the ozone smell of the Thunder Plains. The acuity of his hearing offered up waterfalls of noise. Whispers in the distance. Fiend-howls from afar. His ears twitched as if to shoo away a fly, though Kelk managed to keep his tail still in a motionless rope between his legs.
Look, Mika said, his ancient's voice having none of the quaver that he falsified during speeches. This is where you too will go upon your death, Kelk Ronso. Be honored. No Ronso has been chosen to enter the Via Infinito before.
This is the honor bestowed upon you, in exchange for your years of service to Bevelle.
This is your reward for your loyalty beyond death.
Every time Kelk Ronso returns to the Sacred Mountain, he buries his face in snow to cleanse it of the stench of the Farplane. He inhales deep breaths until his nostrils burn and water melts down the back of his throat, mixing with clots of oxygen until Kelk must cough out his own air in order to breathe.
Snow, like ice, is cold fire. It sears the body. It crisps the eyes.
Kelk spends all morning staring at the whitened fields of the Sacred Mountain, until he cannot see Zanarkand save as a jagged silhouette branded on his sight. He cannot see the duty of his people. He stands with his arms crossed, over his heart, which beats in a steady, unfaltering rhythm.
His back is to Bevelle.