Journey of the Fallen
Red blood — gathered in little pools and running in rivulets on a blank shroud of snow — attracted no fiends. Beasts born of hatred had no hate for the dying. It was the living that reaped their bitterness, because the living had what they had lost, and still desired; but those whose red life fell from them were invisible at best, contemptible at worst, for loosing what should be precious to them. So the bashura rested, and the snow wolves mutely looked on, as the bloodied guardian pulled himself down Mt. Gagazet. Dressed in crimson, seemingly dyed by the blood of fiends (as if they had any) that he had shed, and trailing the cold, biting blade that had shed that blood, he had once been an awful adversary. Now, he was just a man, crushed beneath the weight of duty, sacrifice, and love. The first time through the mount, he had made the beasts to flee before him; now, those same beasts mocked him, who had once been their destroyer.
He cursed them: duty, sacrifice, love. They had blinded Braska, even Jecht, and had led them to their fruitless, pointless ends. They had blinded him too, as they had blinded all of Spira, and now, he too would die from his blindness. Love for his crushed companions had made him turn back, against Yunalesca, and fueled his rage. With rage had come a havoc that drew the blood from him, and made it drop onto the ground on which he crawled. Love, sacrifice, duty: rage, havoc, death; these were intertwined as closely as bedfellows. One came not without the other, and it was a sad thing that Auron did not figure that out until now. But still, he went on.
Behind, the wolves, their tongues lolling, lapped up the fallen blood, as if by doing so they could gain back the lives that they had lost. And still, he went on.
The peak of Gagazet still lay ahead, where the bitter cold laid waiting for him. Yet still, he went on.
Spira had been founded on a lie, and that lie would never die. Still, he went on.
The Ronso with the broken horn first smelled it on the air. The odor of gore was not at all unusual for Mt. Gagazet; and yet, it made him pause. It was the timing that caused him to halt, because while it was often that blood flowed on the mount — the blood of summoners and their guardians, as the many makeshift tombs bespoke — it was unusual that it should flow so soon after the beginning of a Calm. This Ronso did not have memory long enough to know such a thing, but the memory of his people was long, and that was enough. His nose told him that the blood was four days old, and the Calm had begun five days previous. Blood had no business being grounded at such a time, on this side of the mountain. That meant that it had to have come from…a guardian.
Kimarhi thought of Braska — High Summoner now — and of his two guardians. They had passed through only a week ago, and no one had come after them; after Sin was gone, there had been no need to. Yes, it definitely must be one of Braska's guardians, which was amazement in itself. No one survived Zanarkand: something about it killed all who entered there — except, apparently, for this one. A survivor of Zanarkand was unprecedented.
Kimarhi feared that it was nigh impossible when he saw the blood, and its trail up the mountain. Apparently, Zanarkand had enacted its fee, after all.
He stepped quickly, following the red dots. If it was a guardian of Braska's, he had an obligation to find the man and help him, before he died. And if already dead, then Kimarhi's burden was erect a just and right monument to the man that had helped to save Spira from Sin. That was Kimarhi's burden; that was his duty.
Even as Auron lay in the grass, spent and dried, he thought the chant in his brain: He must move on, he must move on, he must move on, he must move on. It had been his heartbeat ever since Mt. Gagazet, when the desire to lay his head down and shut his eyes grew great. He must move on, he must move on, he must move on. It drove him forward, even when the searing in his body swallowed all other senses. He must move on, he must move on. He had even lost the reasons why he must move on, but he still followed its urgings, when everything else told him to stop. He must move on.
But he couldn't move on anymore, no matter how his heart and mind and lips told him to.
This was how Kimarhi found him: in the Calm Lands, fallen on a bed of grass, lips silently repeating the urging that had driven him forward so far. Auron's condition appalled Kimarhi, who had hoped, with the ceasing of a bloody trail, that the guardian had recovered. The ever-constant thin line in the dirt, just the thickness of a blade, had told him otherwise — but still, he had hoped. Now, it looked as though the hope had been in vain.
He tentatively turned Auron over, and looked at the wound. When he saw it, he knew that the man was dead. It was only a wonder that Auron had made it this far; a whisper of impossible life hid back in one, good eye. Obviously, however, the life was readying to leave, because there was no response when Kimarhi lifted Auron. The man still repeated his litany, but he wasn't conscious of it. His soul was cutting its bindings, readying to lift off, and had no more use for a body.
Kimarhi left Auron's sword, blade stuck down into the earth, standing the weapon upright, at the crossroads of Beville and Zanarkand. This way, all who passed would know that a great guardian had come to his end there, on the way back from Zanarkand, towards the holy city. It was a strange thought, and would enter legend.
That done, Kimarhi hefted Auron to his shoulder, and turned his way towards the nearest bit of civilization: an Al Behd trading post. Perhaps, there, the guardian would spend the last moments of his life in comfort and warmth. It was the least that could be done.
Rin stared down at Sir Auron, and was distressed. Only a few days before, the young man had been vibrant, healthy, and strong, as much determination as he was power. He, Lord Braska, and Sir Jecht had stayed at his little inn, and had left leaving the impression that if any men would defeat Sin, they would be those men. If they had seemed wearied, it had made Rin proud that they had chosen his inn to regain their strength. But now, their end had come: Lord Braska, dead; Sir Jecht, for a certainty dead; Sir Auron, dying. It was a terrible thing, especially because it was all for naught. Strong men and women, cut down for nothing. It was enough to make him sick.
Sir Auron lay in the bed, wounds dressed, sleeping fitfully. The Ronso told Rin that Auron had somehow crawled down Gagazet and through the Calm Lands in that condition. His determination to keep going was incredible — so incredible, in fact, that it wouldn't even let him rest on his deathbed. Only the refusal of his body to put forth any more effort kept him still.
Rin started a fire in the hearth. Night was coming, and nights in the Calm Lands were chilly. The winds coming from Gagazet cooled the land, keeping it pleasant during the day, but frosting it at night. Rin wondered if the Ronso would mind the fire — fur had to be warm — but a quick glance assured him that Kimarhi minded not. Immobile, expressionless, silent, the Ronso sat in front of Sir Auron's bed, staring ahead at the wall. Rin's experience with felines had him convinced that they could see things that none other could — hence the reason why they stared at walls. He supposed Ronso were no different.
Kimarhi broke the silence. "He will soon need a summoner."
Rin did not answer. He didn't understand. He knew that he should, but he did not, and was confused.
"For the Sending," Kimarhi explained. "It is the way of his people."
Of course. "Tomorrow morning, I will send someone to Beville to fetch one. I'm sure that there are summoners enough who will be glad to perform the dance for Sir Auron."
Rin had seen the Dance of the Sending once before. It had been the most beautiful, poignant thing that he had ever seen. The sweeping of the robes, the graceful arching of the summoner's instrument, and the rising of the pyreflies — bits of captured rainbow — so in concord with the silent music of the dance, that it looked choreographed. It had been beautiful. But the contrite expression of intense concentration on the summoner's face, and the weeping, had brought the true nature of the dance to light. It was Rin's wish that it would never be performed again.
But that was unlikely to be…not in Spira.
Rin worked the fire into a right old blaze, and Kimarhi's ear twitched briefly, as the only indication that he thought thoughts in his head. Perhaps he was thinking the same things as Rin.
"Sir Auron," Kimarhi repeated. Now, at least, he knew the name of one who had burned brightly, but briefly.
Rin continued feeding more wood into the fire, because he didn't know what else to do. In truth, the presence of the Ronso made him uneasy. He could find no reason for Kimarhi to remain here; the Ronso had done his duty, had he not? What else?
"Excuse me," Rin began, "but let me assure you that if you should desire to move on, it will be acceptable and understandable. I will be happy to take care of Sir Auron."
"Kimarhi will stay," Kimarhi rumbled, his tone brooking no refusal. He even crossed his arms, and became the thesis of a stern, stubborn statue. Nothing could more him. "Duty demands it."
That, Rin understood. Duty was the thing that had made him open doors and bed to a man who would likely be dead by morning anyway. Sir Auron had done his duty to Spira; now, Spira must do her duty to him. And by association, even if it were weak, to the Ronso.
"Do you require a room? I can — "
"No. Kimarhi will stay here."
"But when you want sleep — "
"Kimarhi will not sleep. Need only potions and elixirs." Kimarhi motioned towards the collection of bottles of rainbow glass, full of pure cleansing liquids, on a nearby tabletop. Washrags, to soothe Sir Auron's brow, and water, to soothe his tongue, were there as well. Apparently, that was enough.
"Would you like someone to sit with you?"
"No. Kimarhi take care of him. Alone." It seemed that the Ronso wished to be as unproblematic as possible.
"I see. In that case, I have other duties that I may attend to. But if you need anything, please be sure to ask."
Kimarhi nodded once, and continued to stare straight ahead. He stayed still, as Rin left more wood by the fireplace, cursing in Al Behd as he dropped them on his feet and dug splinters underneath his fingernails. He then took Sir Auron's things — his clothes and armor — to wash, so that he might be buried in them. When Rin finally left, shutting the door softly behind him, so as not to disturb the dying, Kimarhi still sat still — sitting in front of Auron's bed, his arms crossed, staring forward at who-knows-what.
Auron awoke very early in the morning, when the stars still speckled the darkening sky, and the moon still lay as a measureless beacon. Kimarhi had kept the fire going strong, to keep Auron's journey to the Farplane comfortable. The dying grew cold, as their warmth left them, and often cried out for heat.
Auron still had warmth in him when he opened his eyes, because, after one brief moment of disorientation, he struggled to rise. Kimarhi was upon him, gently pushing him back. It pained Kimarhi to see how quickly and easily Auron gave under him. It would not be long now; it was stealing fast.
Auron lay, gasping weakly, and Kimarhi turned quickly towards the table. One moment late, and he was lifting the guardian gently in his arms, nudging elixir liquid past the man's lips.
"Do not move," he said. "It is no good."
Auron went to speak, but the Ronso drowned his words with potion. When they were finished, Kimarhi lay Auron back down, and again sat in his seat. His whiskers shone brilliant and white by the fire, and Auron found them distracting. They caught his attention, and held it there. Whenever the Ronso shifted, a flash of light glided down the length of each whisker, glowing bright and brighter before flashing brightest of all, and then out.
"I must get to Beville," Auron said. His voice sounded terribly weak, in his own ears, and had a strange sort of echo in it — an otherworld quality.
"Stay, rest," Kimarhi insisted.
Auron was no less insistent — the only problem was that he had no power to be forceful. He struggled, for a time, to lift himself, even if only his head, but he eventually had to quit, his resources exhausted. He barely even had energy to keep his eye open, and to speak. He spoke out of fear of what may happen if he grew still and silent.
"What is your name, Ronso?"
Auron considered asking him what accident had laid short his horn, but it was revealed to him that that question was impudent. The Ronso were, by nature, proud; this Kimarhi had a pride about him that was born, not from his strengths, but from his weaknesses. His pride — and more likely, his sense of duty — had brought him low.
Auron's revulsion for sacrifice, love, and duty choked him mute.
They were silent for some time. The lights in Kimarhi's whiskers grew brighter still, pulsing with rapid energy. The sky grew lighter, raising the curtain of the night, and Auron's breath grew raspier. He shut his eye against the glowing of the white threads. When he opened it again, he opened to pain.
Terrible tearing, splitting. He felt lovely hands — Yunalesca's hands — reaching into him, deep into him, and out through the back of his skull. They were probing, tearing, ripping, splitting him apart. They were lovely hands, powered by the arms of Yevon, the deceiver.
Outside, the dawn came. The sun was making its approach, and spread the sky pink and glowing orange.
Blue hands were lifted him, teasing his lips with the edge of a vial. He jerked his head away. He did not have time for that. He felt it coming fast.
"Kimarhi, stop," he gasped. The lights were so bright now — brilliant and yellow, then green, now orange, and white — and they blinded him. The fingers — soft fingers — were opening him from the inside. The sky grew gray. He grasped out blindly, and a warm hand caught his hand, and held it.
"Sir Auron," a voice rumbled in his ear.
"I cannot die. I have too much to do."
"No!" It was suddenly hard to breath — and the lights were so bright. But he couldn't shut his eyes to them. Let them burn his sockets if may be; he would not close his eyes! "Listen…I made — I made a promise. Braska's…"
The warm hand tightened on his. "Yes? What is it?"
"Braska's daughter — Beville. I promised…"
The lights came closer, until they were all that he could see. Threads brushed against his cheeks. "What does Sir Auron need? Let Kimarhi…"
The answer came without hesitation. "Duty. Sir Auron do duty to Kimarhi, to Spira; now Kimarhi do duty to Sir Auron." Let Kimarhi be useful, was Kimarhi's wish. He was displaced.
Fingers spread Auron wide, nails brushing soft tissue. He thought he would scream. "Duty, yes, duty." A humorless smile; panting.
"What does Sir Auron need?"
"Braska's daughter — Yuna…in Beville. He made me promise, before…to take her to Besaid."
"Yes, Besaid. A small island…peaceful. I must take her there, before I die."
"Kimarhi take Yuna to island, to Besaid. Rest, now." Kimarhi felt Auron loosening in his arms, the hand relaxing beneath his fingers. The light was dimming in his eye. "Rest, Sir Auron. Kimarhi take care."
"Thank you…Kimarhi." The body grew cold. The lights had finally gone. The eye, glassy in pain, finally closed.
It flicked open again, an instant later, a brown marble rolling in white and red. "Jecht!" he cried. "I forgot — Wait!"
He died before he could explain what or whom should wait. One long exhale, and all was gone.
The sun rose.
Kimarhi did not move. He listened to the sound of the fire crackling in the hearth; it reminded him of the Ronso story of life. Of how the soul was a burning fire, and it took all the strength of the body to contain it. It explained why, when a person was ill, their body weakened, that it burned; and it explained why the dying body, when the soul was leaving it, grew cold: the heat was leaving. When the body was weak enough, the fire of the soul consumed it, and up went pyreflies — licks of fire — leaving no remnant behind. Kimarhi thought that Auron's body would burn the hottest.
He remembered the promise that he had made. He dropped Auron's hand, and reached out to gently shut the sightless eye closed. It had remained open, when the man had made his last entreaty. Kimarhi brushed the lid with his thumb, and considered the face of the corpse. Auron did not look peacefully asleep, nor younger. He looked anticipatory and stubborn, even in death.
Kimarhi rose quickly, turning his sight away. There was something foreboding in the face, and he feared for the owner. He blood was chilled for the first time that night; he was glad for the fire.
He hastened to leave, and so ran into Rin, who stood outside the door.
"Ah, pardon me," came Rin's over polite voice. His Al Behd gesture of beg for forgiveness was the obsequious that Kimarhi wondered why the man didn't just prostrate himself on the ground outright.
He was impatient, and attempted to pass; Rin caught him on the shoulder.
Rin stretched his face in two directions: the bottom went down, with his jaw; the top went up, with the brows. "Why?"
"Kimarhi must attend to other duties."
"Then you mean — "
"No need to any longer attend Sir Auron."
Rin bowed his head, dropping his hand from Kimarhi's arm. "I see. I must thank you kindly for — "
"No. Kimarhi thank Rin for giving Kimarhi and Sir Auron refuge."
"It was necessary."
In that moment, an understanding passed between the Ronso — creature from the snows of mountains — and the Al Behd — creature from the sands of deserts. It was the unifying principle of Spira that caused its peoples to cling together, when they had the foresight to do so: duty, sacrifice, love…and death.
Giving each other Godspeed, the pair separated. Rin went to enter the death chamber, to lay down the burial clothes; red spilling over his arms and down near his feet. Kimarhi headed towards Beville, what he had seen in the face of Sir Auron's death mask hastening him on his way.
AN: What does it mean when a character doesn't become really interesting until he's dead? I don't more. But there's more to come, so don't go away!