Thanks to all that read and reviewed the last chapter. Really appreciate it guys.
NB: Griselda Banks: Hehe, didn't think anyone would notice that little statement I put in about Tidus agonizing over Yuna. I guess he's still in denial at that point.J
….But no longer I' m afraid folks. The dreaded Spring chapter is looming over my head like guillotine. I'm gonna TRY not to force it though.

Chapter 21: Nayto du ku!

Searing tears spilled, scorching his face as they descended in violent trails from his trembling eyes. Hopelessness beckoned, pummelling him with insurmountable pain. The stiff spasms traversing his finger tips conquered, driving them painfully into his scalp he clamped his hands over his ears. Anything to drive out the venom that now festered and churned within; the agonizing consequence of his companion's words.

The turbulent beating of his heart replaced all sound, flooding into his ears hotly. A terrible clock, ticking with spite, as the ebb and flow of life evaded him. All that remained was this encompassing pressure, and the unmitigated rage that followed.

The distant roars broke through over the pounding metronome in his head--the sound of battle pervading. Cold, shrill tingles swarmed the surface of his skin sending frenetic prickles up the spine to the head, bringing him back to life. Quivering uncontrollably, he collapsed, crunching down into a crippled ball. Sweat trickled from the deepest pores.

The tension was wound like a rusted spring, grating on his insides. The triumphant cries of the aeons thundered in his head as they banished the unsent, tormenting him to near madness.

He couldn't bear the tirade much longer: this unendurable pestilence. Like a cat, he sprawled forwards, eyes refocusing and locking on a tall shape in the distance; winged and veiled in a shield of glistening light: the source of his pain.

The spring snapped.

Like an automaton, his feet sprang to life from under him, and before he was aware of what he was doing, he was already laying heavy punches into the aeon's feathered chest.

"And I've been telling Yuna- " He blazed, "Let's go to Zanarkand together! Let's beat Sin! I told her all the things. We could- We could-. But all along the whole time I didn't know anything!" Despair loomed over as the magnitude of what he was actually doing struck him. The fluid-etched motions of his limbs solidified, his crumpled fists uncurled, and stared blankly at his palms, as if the answer lay deep in the lines of the leather that clothed them. He stumbled down onto his knees, the rough, blood-stained surface gouging them open. "But Yuna… she..." He trembled, azure eyes brimming with tears as words almost too difficult to say escaped him. " …she'd just… smile."

Clawing the ground once more, he felt a pleasant breeze escalate from Valefor's wings as the majestic aeon beat them forth. Somewhere in the back of his mind he wished this was all part of some sick toxin dream; that he was back in the desert before this all happened, and that that vulture had just knocked him out cold. But it was not so. This was real.

A warm, soothing rush enshrouded him as those same ethereal wings enclosed his weakening form tenderly in their soft depths; blocking out the world. Valefor cooed benevolently and a sweet, eloquent voice resonated through the darkness pervading his flooded mind.

"Hey, watch!"

Watering blue eyes stretched open wide.

Yuna.

From somewhere deep within, he was transported back to Luca, to a memory that played dear in his heart; back when the pilgrimage was young and the days were as careless as his curiosity.

Carefree times.

He recalled her now, transcending loveliness as the tranquil ocean breeze whipped the hair from her porcelain face, revealing dazzling blue and green as she tip-toed struggling to reach the rail before her. He remembered his reaction as she applied her thin, white fingers to her mouth and whistled gently over the harbour. He was mightily impressed at the time, but other things were playing on his mind.

This was the day that Auron told him Sin was Jecht.

"Hey, you got pretty good." he'd mumbled, masking the sorrow in his voice abysmally.

"You sound sad." She said, venturing closer as she detected it.

"Yeah, maybe." He'd drifted off from her compassionate concern for him, not wanting to spill and feeling terrible for it.

"Wanna scream?" Her face brightened hopefully in a bid to liven him up.

He'd screwed his face up good-naturedly, "I really don't think that's gonna help this time."

Suddenly she turned back, gazing far off over frothing waves ahead. "You know what?"

"Hm?"

"It's embarrassing to say this myself, " she said, with a demure smirk tugging at her face. "…but summoners and their guardians are kind of like Spira's ray of light. A lot of people in Spira depend on us. I learned to practise smiling, when I'm feeling sad, you know." She sobered suddenly somewhat, looking at him now understandingly, "I know it's hard."

"Yeah, I understand, I think." He'd replied, unsure.

She laughed then, beaming with sudden exuberance, "Right, now let's see what you can do!"

He remembered then how she'd turned the tables completely over with laughter; the best cure. In one small move, she alleviated his fear and condemned it to ridicule, without even knowing. Moments like this he'd taken for granted, so many moments. And words spoken to him then, refined in graceful tone, came floating back with renewed poignancy.

"I want my journey to be full of laughter."

Her eyes had met him then, steadfast and brave; knowing her fate, knowing that she was to die.

The memory ended, and he emerged back to reality. Red-hot guilt rose in him suddenly as Valefor disappeared in a sea of glittering stars back to whence it came; deep self-loathing. He'd said all that stuff about Zanarkand, and been so proud that it was his home, when all along she was going there to die. He hated himself.

Everything made sense now. All the heart-felt glances, the sorrowful goodbyes- she was on a journey never to return, and everybody knew, everybody but him. And, to make matters worse, they were all willing to sit back and allow it. Bubbling defiance simmered, boiling over sorrow. His desperation clung to his grief and combined. He sprang to his feet tenaciously. This was all wrong, and it had to stop… now.

"I can't let her die!" he spat wildly with fierce determination. "I'll find her!"

A low rumble shuddered from the back of the chamber in rejoinder. He swivelled rapidly and latched onto the opening door before them, previously concealed in the mesh of rolling cogs. Steam belched from its hinges as it swung to. Ear- engulfing sirens blasted out with it. Before anyone had chance to act, several Al Bhed dove into the sanctum beckoning Isaaru and Dona to follow with exuberant sign language. The summoners followed without question, taking Maroda and Pacce with them. Possessed, Tidus sprang into action, diving into hot pursuit, and leaving the others to chase him raggedly.

Beyond, he found a wide reaching staircase leading up before him to a strange white structure, seemingly alien as it nestled motionlessly in the of myriad of steel bars and chains that encompassed it. As he mounted the steps, Tidus felt the warmth emanate from them with dull vibration through the soles of his boots.

Voices reached him as he sped up the oncoming ramp into the dim innards of the pale container. Bright green strip lights pulsed, leading his way onwards into a wide dim room. In the very middle of which, a pedestal rose up housing an bizarre blue orb, that emitted a strange preternatural glow. Beyond that, the machina-adorned walls tapered to a blunt point which was made of sum sort of translucent fluid that ebbed and shimmered, looking very much akin to the entrance to the Farplane.

Shadows flitted before it, washed with the crimson beating from the frantic dials and screens either side of the room.

"Hu desa! Ku! Ku! Ku!" Cid growled loudly, bounding across the room, gluing his piercing gaze on a buzzing screen fixed in the wall.

Brother, Rikku's aptly named brother with flamboyant flame tattoos; their assailant from Macalania and the leader from the salvage ship all that time ago, was there also. "Three minute mavd!" He flapped his heavily adorned arms like an oversized turkey and sprinted about on the spot as if he didn't know what to do with his copious amount of energy.

"Rinno! Rinno!" Cid interjected, rattling buttons and knobs haphazardly and casting firing glance at another Al Bhed at the head of the room. "Oui ryja one minute!"

Disregarding their display, Tidus raced over the threshold, "Where's Yuna?" he thundered angrily over the incessant hum now progressing all around them.

"Ajanoputo uh-puynt?" Cid continued, paying no more heed to Tidus than he would a sand fly.

"Ajanoputo ymeja-"

"I said, where is she?" The blitzer roared, positively seething. Like a wild beast provoked, he tore at Cid's broad shoulder, twisting him round roughly to meet him. "Answer me! Answer me, damn you!" Swiping Cid by the collar he hoisted him into the air furiously, his eyes crackling into molten balls of tempestuous rage.

The moment he did so, his fellow guardians meandered into the room with a collective gasp, and the enormity of what he was doing hit him like a brick wall. Violence had never been his thing--he'd never attack someone if they didn't deserve it, and here he was, for the second time, acting just like Jecht. He stared up into those wild olive eyes, now towering down over him, probing him with intent; looking very much like the vulture that attacked in the desert.

Cid raised an enquiring eyebrow, "What'll you do when you find her, huh?" He couldn't sound more unfazed by Tidus' aggression if he tried.

Instantly realising the jeopardy he'd thrust himself into, Tidus baulked awkwardly and lowered Cid back down to his feet with a clumsy thud. "I- I didn't know anything about what a summoner is supposed to do." He admitted, stammering to rattled despair, "-and I told her all those things without even knowing. I've gotta tell her! I've gotta tell her I'm sorry!"

Cid's oil-stained face contorted into a derisive sneer. "That's it? You're gonna tell her you're sorry? Then you just drag her to Zanarkand and make her fight Sin, huh?" His spiralled pupils seemed to twist with contempt. "You're all the same- Let the summoner die so we can all live in peace!" With alarming speed, he caught hold of the braces on Tidus' gear and hurled him clean across the room, putting the blitzer's lifting act to shame.

Tidus plummeted with a resounding crash, cracking his back on what seemed to be a large steering wheel at the head of the room. Dizzying from the collision, he sprang to his feet with fierce determination.

"No!" he argued vigorously, ignoring the pain now throbbing dutifully down his spine. "I'm not gonna let Yuna die!"

Cid scoffed with a cynical laugh, "Hah! Words! Show me action!"

"I'm telling you, she won't die!" Tidus bit back savagely, tossing caution to the wind.

The heated resolve in the blitzer's words seemed to sting his new adversary bitterly, and the Al Bhed's face stiffened like a mad dog. "Boy, don't you forget those words, 'cause if you do…" his voice darkened, prickling with hostility. "…I'm gonna make you regret it."

Tidus withstood the cracking of the Al Bhed's knuckles with fierce resolution. "I won't."

Cid's eyes narrowed momentarily, and Tidus braced himself for another charged attack. But to his surprise, Cid turned away with a purposeful grunt, gluing his menacing eyes back on the object he was so intently watching when Tidus first launched his assault.

The blitzer ventured a peek over the bulky Al Bhed's shoulder and was met with the same sphere he'd seen upon entering the room, looking very much like a giant crystal ball. Somehow, Tidus doubted that Cid would be interested in divination as he eyeballed the sphere intently.

Trapped within it, tiny tracks, blushing a vivid blue raced just below the surface. They twisted, undulating fluidly like helix-shaped serpents doted with tiny mauve speckles. Every so often smoky violet symbols materialized from the core, and trickled like water down the shimmering surface.

Cid goggled them with a face fit with befuddlement and scratched his head slothfully, yet again acting as if the summoner party weren't there. His face scrunched up tightly in sudden concentration with his tongue peeping out of the side of his mouth.

"So, do you know where she is?" Tidus asked hopefully, knocking Cid's attention askew once again.

The tongue snapped in and the thin line of his mouth hardened. "'Course not!" He snapped loudly, knitting his brows as if the answer was blindingly obvious. "That's why we're gonna look…. Using this airship!" his face relaxed with indulgent relish at the word.

Wakka's face blenched a deathly hue, his silence supplanted by horror. "A-Airship?" He spluttered, floundering frantically for the exit like a scalded cat.

But he'd missed his chance.

In a blinding flash, the room exploded with sudden light, exposing all that went unnoticed within. Now a machina-imbued room was the expansive bridge of an airship with buzzing controls and a cockpit adorned with red leather seats: Al Bhed emblems imprinted on every surface. Cid beamed with satanic glee.

He shot a colourful gesture to Brother, who snapped his goggles over his dark eyes and leapt into the driver's seat. A loud bang emitted as he manipulated the controls, sending the bridge into tremulous disarray. "Vydran! Nayto du ku!" He chirruped, swinging his flame-endowed arms haphazardly into the air.

Cid thrust his hands on his hips with a triumphant grin, "Yeeeehah!! 1000 years ujantia!!"

Wakka screamed clinging to the walls in terror as the floor vibrated with the unmistakable roar of engine fire. A great surge of power propelled them upwards, defying gravity and scattering the party gracelessly. The light of day exploded in above them, showering the ship with a titanic volume of sand as two giant trapdoors above peeled back, hissing thunderously. So terrific was the sandy weight pummelling them, Tidus feared that they'd tumble down with it as it cascaded heavily down the glittering windscreen. Wakka screamed again.

With an effort, the ship jarred, buckling as it ripped free from its hindering chains and shot up with frightening speed into the blinding light of day. The painful wreckage of Home came in view once more, bathed the cloak of carnage as they ascended. The flying fiends were still besieging the emaciated structure with an insatiable, voracious pleasure. Brother squealed, pumping giant levers and dials frantically; the blond shock of hair flapping mercilessly on the top of his shaved head in a panic. "Fruy! Ed sujac!"

"Necg pek! Feh pek!" Cid vociferated loudly.

Tidus gulped, fumbling onto the nearest thing he could manage… this looked too much like a test drive. With a terrific screech, Brother wrenched back on the controls. Cid screamed with laughter as they gathered speed, whipping high into the air effortlessly. The fiends assailing Home caught sight of them through rage-engorged eyes and beat their wings forth in hot pursuit, abandoning their enduring quarry. But their tatty-plumed limbs were no match for the newly-roused vessel as it soared through the blackened cloud cover with ease. Brother cackled like an old witch, squawking various retorts in Al Bhed as their rancid-feathered bodies transformed into mere specks on the horizon. He giggled, wriggling his goggles atop his head and kicked his feet up leisurely.

But the instigator of the revelry had other ideas.

Cid stomped his way toward the front of the ship and grunted something loudly in Al Bhed, causing Brother's goggles to fall askew as if he was caught unawares. He turned to meet his father with a contorted look of dismay and annoyance.

"Frydajan oui cyo…." he sighed heavily, slouching back into his seat, manoeuvring the ship lower and slowing it somewhat.

Then, to everyone's complete amazement, he began to sing. Cumbersome as it sounded, rolling from his awkward lips, the tune was unmistakable: the Hymn of the Fayth. Cid joined him shortly; neither of them were great singers, and to Tidus' ears it sounded as if Brother was loathe to sing in the first place. He stared at Rikku questioningly, why on earth would the Al Bhed sing a Yevon song?

But Rikku's small face was wrought with grief, her eyes would barely meet his.

"W-what's goin' on?" Wakka managed to babble amidst his disbelief.

Rikku cowered somewhat, not daring to lock eyes with aught but the floor. "We're- we're gonna blow up our Home."

"H-How?" Lulu gasped in horror as Cid viewed her, looking extraordinarily blasé.

"Using one of the forbidden machina!" He grinned proudly, bouncing back and forth on the balls of his feet, yet again savouring the fact he was committing a horrific blasphemy in their eyes. Without waiting for a further hindrance, he screamed, "Nayto?"

A great surge of energy awoke suddenly beneath their feet, groaning up through the steel-endowed panels. Cid turned back, setting his sights on Home as if for the last time. His gaze hardened, "VENA!"

The ship erupted in answer. Either side of the bridge, violet wing flaps, previously concealed, peeled back like two great jaws, salivating great clouds of dusty miasma. A myriad of crimson-streaked darts discharged wildly in their wake. Ferocious trails of smoke pursued them as they screamed toward their spent target, still in the midst of mutilation.

They made contact, uniting with a exultant boom, engulfing Home in a torrent of molten flame. Earth-shattering tremors followed, splitting the terrain asunder as the great swell commenced. Now the hunters became the hunted.

The air, swollen with the unsustainable pressure, transformed into a tremendous burning sphere, liquefying its surroundings and blasting up and out with supreme force. The unsurpassed energy chased them rabidly over the sands at break-neck speed, tinting their view with blinding vermillion. The ship struggled to break free as the vice-grip chains of turbulence battered them roughly. But it was not to be, as the full strength of their new vessel charged through like an angry bull, breaking the bonds to blue sky ahead.

A few moments seemed to pass in silence before Tidus was aware again. Stillness endured as the ship skimmed over the last of the sands, and sea met sky in one glittering vista of shimmering sapphire. Yet, as he gained his balance languidly, Tidus' ears were consumed with wild, roaring laughter. He was struck still with disbelief as the image of Cid met him, doubled over laughing like a mad-man, chuckling something mysterious Al Bhed. Brother, however, was the complete opposite and found no shame in bawling his eyes out loudly in full view of everyone.

"Hu haat vun daync!" Cid put forward heartily giving his son a manly punch in the arm. "Fryd ed kuut ypuid machina ec drao lyh pa piemd yhaf, oui caa?"

Brother snivelled wetly, wiping his nose on his buckled cuffs and shot a red-rimmed glare at his father. He didn't seem at all enlivened by Cid's destructive nature or his hearty words.

Tidus surveyed his fellow guardians inquisitively for answers. Auron and Kimahri were the furthest from him, lingering near the violet emblazoned door by which they'd entered, both were stony-faced as ever. Lulu, on the other hand, seemed a little shaken, as did Wakka. Rikku was still frozen in the same spot as before, her now hardened eyes cast down. It seemed as though all the tears she had in her had already been shed.

The dull drones of the engines rang through once more, and Tidus watched with growing curiosity as Wakka ventured toward her nervously with a kind of imploring awkwardness shining through in the vigorous scratching of his stubbly chin.

"Hey, look, down get so down." He said, sympathy bleeding through. "Boom! Heh, heh!" he laughed suddenly, throwing his arms up dramatically in a crazy effort to spur her. "Like happy festival fireworks, ya?"

His dire attempt went down like a lead balloon as Rikku's eyes found him, twisted with a brave new anger. "You can cram your happy festival, you big meanie!" she struggled, marching off and leaving him standing there solidified, like he'd been kicked hard in the guts.

He slapped himself upside the head. "Why didn't I just shut my big mouth?" He grumbled disheartened as the small Al Bhed plonked herself down roughly in one of the leather seats near where Tidus was standing.

"I'm okay, I'm fine. Really," she mumbled, avoiding Tidus' gaze, focussing determinedly on the humming screen above her.

He could already sense a spark of her old self reigniting once more, her anger was always short-lived, as was her despair. That Spiran resilience was rearing up again.

"This is tough on all of us." Lulu interjected, endeavouring as always to keep the peace. But her marble-like complexion was drained with lingering fatigue. The stress imbued in her was plain to see, she was struggling and, uncharacteristically, finding it hard to keep it concealed.

Her carmine eyes, consistently sharp, dwindled sorrowfully and fell onto the Al Bhed leader, scanning him as longingly as Tidus now was. Cid in the meantime was patting his thick, worn fingers over the glistering surface of the central orb almost obsessively. Tidus' thirst and desperation for knowledge was too much to withhold, he just had to unshackle the tirade of burning questions within, without anger this time. There was one question, however, that stood out over all the others.

"Did you find out anything about Yuna?" He fiddled with his chain anxiously, running his fingers over the links, warmed by his flustered skin.

"I'm lookin' into it, okay?" Cid snapped with scathing ferocity.

Tidus recoiled in severe exasperation. He had no idea Cid was going to turn out to be so damned tetchy. They were all suffering in this together, it was like Lulu had just said. But then again, from what had happened already, it seemed that under the rugged shell, Yuna's uncle was desperately set on finding her safe. And for Tidus, that was all that mattered.

"Don't worry," Cid assured suddenly, observing the blitzer fold his arms tensely over his chest. "I'm using a sphere oscillo-finder. If she's out there, we'll find her."

"A sphere oscillo-finder?" Tidus echoed, not bothering to veil his scepticism. So, far the orb hadn't produced a single shred of information.

"It's an ancient machina." Cid explained impatiently, not breaking his engrossed glare. "I don't know how it works, either. So, don't ask me, okay?" He snapped once more not wishing to dilute his insane vehemence. With the ending of his words, he pushed his face even closer, squashing his nose against the glowering surface and looking more akin to a demon than ever before.

"And you still use it?" Lulu exclaimed, analysing the oscillo-finder somewhat distrustfully.

Cid broke free of his indulgent stare with a robust chuckle. "To be perfectly honest, I don't even rightly know how this rig flies, either!"

Tidus gawked and Wakka trembled in sudden terror.

"All 'cause of the Yevon taboo on machina, we're runnin' around in the dark here!" Cid's rotund face creased into an elated leer. "'Ain't it a rush kiddos?"

The summoner party addressed him with stark objection: it sure wasn't.

The minutes were draining away quickly, and the atmosphere, thick with tension, muted their voices. Melancholia was slowly encompassing them in its dark shroud, as was the slow realisation that waiting was the only thing they could do.

Bereft, entombed in doubt and fraught with frustration, Tidus made for the door, echoing the movements that Kimahri and Auron had taken seconds earlier.

"Careful what you touch." Cid warned frankly to his back, not braking from his absorbed trance. "Ship's not as stable as she looks." He trailed off in to a heavy laugh.

A small gasp emitted from Rikku's direction and she swung round in her chair with a highlighted twinkle in her eyes, looking more like herself by the second. "Hey, you'll remember this ship, won't you?"

Tidus shrunk back in confusion.

"You remember-" she enthused now, jogging his memory with an entreating sheen on her small face. "It's the one we found under the sea!"

"Oh." he ventured, feigning surprise and recalling the deep salvage mission he underwent the first time he met her. "You guys did a pretty good job patching it up." he said, looking around leisurely, although his gaze was drawn to the door. "I'm gonna- You'll let me know if you find anything, won't you?" he corrected.

"Yeah," she sounded as if she were swarmed with sudden guilt as he wandered off briskly.

But not nearly as guilty as Tidus felt inside, he was sure. He felt the entire bridge lock onto him steadily as he deviated from their company, wondering if they were still the people he once thought he knew. The people he thought he could trust. They were changed, but still the same. Different in mood, but same in appearance. Maybe all that he knew about them wasn't real, that their personalities were as deceitful as the truth they'd kept hidden. That everything he'd learned about them was all just a smokescreen for them to hide their real selves. He wondered… did he know them at all?

A long corridor filled his tiring eyes as the door slipped shut behind him, he was still musing, still pining, still reeling in agonizing guilt. He'd been such a jerk, an ignorant one at that: at least that's what he kept telling himself.

The interior of the ship beyond was vastly decorated just like the bridge, with chrome-surfaced walls and light-lined pathways. Neon hues shone out from under foot and overhead; cerise and lime. All in all, Tidus likened it to being stuck in a gigantic can, daubed in effervescent light.

Wide, smooth doorways branched off either side of him, leading to all manor of rooms. His head for discovery was not screwed on, and judging from what he'd discovered inside most of them, his presence wasn't welcome.

Within all he'd come across, wounded Al Bhed had filled them. Men, women, and children alike: all suffering, all tortured over the destruction of their beloved Home. All they had was their lives now, and they had Cid to thank for that.

Tidus felt a new respect swell for their leader. In the time it had taken for Tidus to reach the summoner's sanctum, Cid had gathered all the live Al Bhed and piled them onto his airship. It was no mean feat, which wasn't surprising given what Cid was capable of. He really was a true leader, even if some of them didn't see it right at that moment.

Dawdling unconsciously, Tidus ambled on, sticking to the long winding corridor, not knowing where he'd end up. And not caring.

"Praise be to Yevon. You are safe." Isaaru's soft spoken voice alerted him suddenly, gaining his dwindling attention. "-But maybe not so well…" the summoner surmised thoughtfully, scanning the blitzer with concern.

For the first time, Tidus looked down to get a good look at himself and the surprising grade of his wounds startled him. Both of his knees were gouged open and clotting deeply, dried blood was smeared over both arms, and now that he came to think of it, his mouth stung in the left corner; it had split.

"Please, allow me to heal you." Isaaru ventured kindly, producing his staff of ornate silver.

The blitzer nodded, and in a matter of seconds, his body was tingling with the vibrant chords of the summoner's incantation. It didn't feel half as good as when Yuna healed him. Yuna.

Tidus fell back into raptures thinking of her, entwined with the aftertaste of sickening bile. She probably hated him, he admonished himself again. Slow words reached him, and realising he was being spoken to, he reluctantly surfaced back to reality.

"-we owe our lives to the Al Bhed." He caught the last of what Isaaru was claiming gravely, and watched as the summoner gazed with distended awe at the blonde stragglers that flitted past them every so often.

"How did you end up in the sanctum, anyway?" Tidus inquired, halting Isaaru's silent observance.

"The same way as the others." He replied simply. "We were tracked making our way to the temple in Besaid. The Al Bhed took Pacce, so we had to give up our weapons and do as they said." He motioned downwards at the mention of his younger brother and Tidus caught sight of Pacce's curled up form on the floor, blissfully unaware as he visited the land of nod. Beyond him Maroda, who was chatting energetically to a couple of Al Bhed that managed broken Spiran, spun round to greet him.

"Hey, man." he waved, taking his leave of his new companions and venturing over, the links of his crusader-like garb chinking as he did so.

"We needed to take a rest from the pilgrimage, anyway." He confirmed, picking up where Isaaru left off with a slight grin as he passed his eyes down to his little brother. "Pacce was getting pretty tired. He never should have come on the pilgrimage, little kid like that." He added, clouding over dolefully with a sad shake of his head.

"It was his choice." Isaaru argued calmly.

"Yeah, I know." Maroda sighed. "But, he does do pretty well for his size!" He reinstated, perking up somewhat. "He's gonna be something someday!"

Tidus smiled in spite of his dark mood, wishing he was as ignorant to the goings on of the world as little Pacce: it would be so much easier…

"Yet, despite this, our pilgrimage must continue." Isaaru interjected, as stalwart as ever, and reminding Tidus of Yuna once more with his sheer determination. "No matter how much the Al Bhed beg, I will not quit."

"Even though you'll die?" Tidus asked, broaching the subject with caution.

"I have known my fate ever since I was a child." Isaaru informed openly. "My will is set."

Tidus quelled slightly upon hearing his words, if Isaaru was this determined, Yuna would be worse. "But-"

"Understand." Isaaru put forwards, cutting over him gently. "If I do not do it someone else must."

Tidus nodded stiffly, he understood, but disagreed totally with the morality behind it. "I-"

"Hey, I know what you're getting at…" Maroda interrupted, cutting the blitzer short again. "I'm not looking forward to my brother dying when this is done. I don't agree with it, either, if you ask my opinion." his cast his gaze to his elder brother tauntingly, making Tidus think this wasn't the first time the subject had come up between the two of them.

Isaaru sighed, with a casual laugh. "You always liked playing the rebel."

"Yeah, sure did… Hey, I still do!" his voice fell to a slow murmur as his elder brother stooped to pull Pacce's cloak back over his sleeping form. "If only there was some way of doing it without anyone dying…"

Tidus looked to him suddenly. This was the first time he'd been introduced to such a thought since hearing the tragic truth and the excitement it bore send quivers down his spine. But just when the light was beginning to glimmer at the long end of the tunnel, the blitzer was sent plummeting back down into the depths of despair.

"Too bad there isn't another way." Maroda put bluntly, folding his arms in unveiled vexation.

Fuelled by his fellow guardian's matching unease, another thunderbolt struck him. "Let's think of something together!" Tidus said hopefully, surely there was something that they could do.

"Easier said than done," Maroda began contemplatively, "Sure, if we had all the time in the world, we'd think of something. And then while we were thinking, Sin would kill us all. Spira doesn't have that sort of time. And, besides, you'd think someone would've thought of something in the past one thousand years…"

Crushed, Tidus huffed with displeasure. Maroda had obviously given it some serious thought. His hope was now teetering on a knife edge, clinging to the blade perilously with its last frayed string.

The ship jostled suddenly causing Isaaru to tremble awkwardly, stumbling backwards into the wall as if an invisible assailant had struck him.

"You alright?" Maroda quizzed, catching hold of his brother to steady him.

"Yes…" The summoner struggled, batting off Maroda's fussing hands. "It's just, being on this airship… I'm amazed it can fly, truly! I suppose it must be sacrilege to think so highly of a machina…" his musings were soon surpassed by a sudden tremulous nausea. "It makes me feel uneasy just being aboard it."

Maroda rolled his eyes.

"You sure it's not just motion sickness?" Tidus asked, trying a rational approach as opposed to a mere blasphemy occurring, and forgetting completely that he was in Spira.

"Motion sickness?" Isaaru repeated, turning a sickly shade of green. "What infirmity is that?"

"Come on, bro!" Maroda whined, throwing his arm around Isaaru's back as if the summoner were about to swoon. "You're probably just felling peaky 'cause of the motion thingy Tidus mentioned. Remember how you used to get sick riding the shoopuf? It's nothing to do with this thing being a machina. Take Dona for instance, she's doing just fine!"

Tidus' stomach churned as Maroda passed a darkening look toward the set of double doors just before them, knowing what would arise of her mention….

Much to Tidus' displeasure the machina doors snapped open accordingly, and as if she'd answered to her name, Dona swaggered over to join them, partially clothed as ever. It was almost as if she'd been listening through walls to their discussion, a fact that Tidus found easy to believe.

"My, my, my. So, you're on here, too. Tracking the summoner, are you?" Yep, the attitude was back, as was the repulsive glare in her eyes. Tidus cringed internally as he passed under her dark, microscopic analysis. A confrontation with her was all he needed.

"Nice ship, even if it is a machina!" She sneered, thrusting her nose in the air.

Tidus caught Maroda rolling his eyes tiredly. He wondered how on earth they'd managed so long in the summoner's sanctum with her. From the looks on their faces, it seemed they'd been at their wits end.

"Hey!" she vociferated suddenly like a drill-sergeant, catching sight of Maroda's faux pas with her roving x-ray eyeballs. "I wouldn't put up with that kind of insolence from a guardian, if I were you!" she cried, prodding Isaaru in the chest with an accusing finger.

The summoner brushed her off with a polite, but awkward smile. "He means well."

"Hmph! You could do to get yourself a guardian with a bit more gusto! Take mine for instance-"

Maroda cut her short with a deriding laugh.

She bit back with wild malevolence smeared on her dagger-sharp face, turning suddenly to Tidus, who squirmed in upheaval. "Say, you haven't happened to chance upon Barthello on your travels, have you?" Her tone was intended to sound casual, but Tidus could sense the faintest glimmer of concern dripping through.

"Yeah, we saw him in the Macalania woods." He claimed, wondering whether Barthello was still bumbling through the trees like a great ape, driving all the wildlife crazy.

"Hmm," she mustered thoughtfully, placing a decisive hand on her chin. "That is good."

Tidus raised a questioning eyebrow, wondering what she'd surmised from the statement, but the answer would never reach him as she clawed her face veiling a dramatic yawn.

"Well, as you can see, I'm extraordinarily tired. And, a summoner must get her beauty sleep, as you well understand." she addressed Isaaru, who returned a courteous smile, ignoring the fact it was only early evening.

She made for the door, but turned back shortly thereafter, both hands placed stringently on her hips. "When you do find her, would you tell Yuna something for me? Tell her she still has a rival in this. Me! She'll have to do her best or be bested!"

Tidus shot her a deceitful nod as she slipped away, knowing he would never tell Yuna that in a million years.

The time passed slowly as he conversed with Maroda, learning all about how life was in Bevelle and about his strenuous training to become a guardian. It was arduous stuff, learning about all the sacred oaths and decrees that entailed a guardian's tuition. He was glad he didn't have to go through all that rigmarole, but then again he felt like he didn't deserve it, like he'd got the job on default. Yet, this was all superfluous detail for the real reason he was extending his conversation. Yuna was the main thought encroaching his mind, and in truth, over the past half hour or so, he'd hardly heard a word Maroda had said.

That was until a flash of scarlet met his gaze from afar, altering him suddenly from his drowsy state. Making some hasty excuse, he drifted off to find it, leaving a parting gift for Pacce: a silver badge from his blitz gear.

Tidus had hardly rounded the corner, before Auron had reeled him in for a lecture.

Dangling at the warrior's mercy, he listened half-heartedly as Auron off-loaded his chest. "-whether Yuna's safe of not, there's trouble brewing." He hinted gravely, rearranging his cloak so his right arm could hang loosely through the middle like in a sling.

The blitzer nodded stiffly, Auron was right as always. Trouble was brewing. The Guado attack on the Al Bhed, the kidnapping of Yuna. It all lead back to Yevon, with their musty pages and hokey traditions.

"How are you feeling?"

Tidus looked up, surprised to hear such a consideration from such a person. It was the first time anyone had asked him, and it felt strange.

He reciprocated Auron's query with a quiet sigh, "I- I don't know," He said numbly, he felt as though the protective bubble encompassing him had literally burst. As if he was now exposed to the outside world for the first time with all it's harsh enmity. Auron shared his gaze as he leaned casually against the wall of the corridor, his staunch demeanour unrelenting.

To the Tidus' surprise, he found his tiresome feet had wandered full circle and dropped him off near the bridge once more, close by to the foot of a narrow staircase leading up to the next level. He looked back to the bridge, stealing a glance at Lulu and Wakka before the electronic doors swept shut to conceal them.

"Don't be too mad at them," Auron stated quickly, reading his mind as he shared the blitzer's view. "Their secrecy came with good reason."

"I know." Tidus replied with light exhalation, "well, at least, I think I know."

Auron regarded him shrewdly over the rim of his glasses. Tidus hated it when he did that, it meant he was going to come out with something momentous.

But the warrior remained silent, and cast his gaze down behind the dark glare of his shades.

"I just-" Tidus began, before realising. He ceased, feeling slightly abashed now Auron's penetrating gaze was back on him; reading him again like he always did. "I just can't believe they-"

"-Kept it from you for so long?"

Tidus nodded dully, but hastened to add, "Not just them though. You too, Auron." His blue eyes darkened unintentionally.

Auron stared as apathetic as ever, as if to say: 'no different than usual.'

"Put it this way," He started, as Tidus began to bristle. "Better you finding out now than at the beginning of the pilgrimage. You were vulnerable then. You knew nothing of Spira. You couldn't have nearly comprehended the importance of what we were trying to achieve. I needed you to remain as you were then, and from here onwards I need you as you are now. If was perfect timing in my opinion. You needed to wake up to the reality of what we are doing, the seriousness of the summoner's plight. And now that you've realised, I hope you'll be of more use to us…"

Tidus grunted, Auron was playing at riddles again, and he was not in the mood. He scowled harshly, absorbing the main point and discarding the minor details. "You think I've changed?" He quizzed bluntly. "well, yeah, I have actually. I feel like complete crap now, and an idiot! That's the only difference to before!"

Auron sighed jadedly and fell back into deep rumination, provoking Tidus' frustration further.

Sure, maybe Auron was right in a way. Maybe, the pilgrimage would've felt different if he'd known from the start. He thought back to what he was like at the very beginning. Sure, he'd acted like an ass at times, he'd admit that. He'd even admit that he'd been rash on more than one occasion. But that was no different to now, he figured. And besides, he and Auron had had this conversation before… Tidus narrowed his eyes, remembering their chat at Djose temple, when Auron had accused him of being emotional. The blitzer frowned, he'd brushed it off at the time, and been proved wrong, and now Auron was saying he'd been vulnerable too. What the hell… vulnerable to what?

"For a second there, I thought you were going to deny it."

Tidus looked up at the warrior heavily.

"There is something, you know." he continued pensively. "It's the same thing that prevented Wakka and Lulu from telling you the truth. It's called love."

"And what would you know about love, Auron?" Tidus spat fiercely, feeling deeply patronised.

The warrior regarded him with whimsical composure. "Apparently more than you."

He sauntered off through one of the side doors leading deeper into the ship leaving Tidus flushed and speechless.

He'd been ensnared in Auron's vicious trap and slapped hard in the face with the truth. He wondered, had everyone been as perceptive as Auron…? Or was it just the fact that he'd made it obvious…?

For what felt like the first time on the journey, the yearning to be alone was stronger than ever before. Of course he knew his thoughts would torture him to breaking point, but it was like he'd heard Lulu mention to Wakka earlier, "We're powerless as long as were on this ship." She was right. There was nothing any of them could do but hope and wait.

And that was the worst thing of all.

Tidus mounted the steel-plated staircase to the upper level with slow, arduous rhythm into the oval-shaped room above. The walls were completely comprised of glass, creating a perfect viewing room for watching the vast plains of Spira shoot by. Strangely this was the only place he'd encountered on the airship with a carpeted floor, coloured a deep red. Above him, vivid banners billowed like little sails down from the ceiling, giving the room as slight Lucan feel.

Several Al Bhed men were scattered here and there within, taking no heed of him as he entered. Their eyes were locked resolutely on the vista beyond, stark determination shining through. The Guado would pay for what they'd done, as would Yevon. Hundreds had died by their musty hands. Some Al Bhed had even given their lives to protect Yuna and the others. Tidus glanced over to his left, catching sight of a small child weeping quietly in the arms of a stranger: orphans had been born out of this. The Al Bhed deserved their revenge; Yevon would pay dearly for this.

Tidus continued on, selecting the furthest reaches of the room, away from anyone else. The timbre of another's footfalls trailed his, following him to where he settled in the far corner.

"Kimahri never forget the Al Bhed sacrifice."

It seemed as though he wasn't alone with his opinion. Tidus looked up to the towering ronso, it felt as though they now had an official bond. Kimahri studied the vast panoramic view that encompassed their tiny ship, the broad arms as always crossed firmly over his wide chest. For the first time, Tidus reckoned he caught a shred of emotion pass over his stoic friend as those feline eyes flickered to and fro over the horizon. It only took a moment for the blitzer to look away before the ronso was gone, in a shimmer of sapphire he'd vanished as softly as he'd appeared.

The sun was setting; brilliant red melting into exquisite pink, permeating delicately into the billowing cloud above. Tidus sighed, running his hand down the links of chain and twisting it over his fingers thoughtfully. This was the same sun that entertained his gaze on the Mi'ihen Highroad, reminding him again of the past. Reminding him of Yuna.

He leaned forward, digging his elbows into his knees, absorbing the dazzling sight that bathed him warmly. The melancholy sting was still there within, as was the excruciating longing. It almost felt as if nothing mattered anymore, not Sin, not anything… only Yuna. He recounted a dozen times in his head what he would say to her when he saw her again, but his mind was consumed wholly by the image of her face. Each delicate feature of her enchanting visage spattered every channel in his brain. Every inch of that captivating smile that he'd secretly indulged in watching, taken for granted.

He knew now why Jecht had changed. Auron, in his complete irritation of Jecht's behaviour, had told him the real goal of the pilgrimage earlier than intended. And, Jecht like his son, had realised the 'summoner's plight'. He couldn't just stand there and let Braska journey to his death…

It must've been hard, Tidus mused-getting all the way there- knowing and fighting all along the way, all to lose Braska at the end of it. For Tidus, this had only just started, and the feeling had settled now in the bottom of his stomach like an iron ball. Void of thinking, he reached down and fumbled in the side pocket of his shorts, producing an object he'd all but forgotten was there. He did something then, something he never thought he'd do again; he watched his father's sphere.

The seconds ticked by like minutes, as he sat there cross-legged staring at the sun-kissed horizon; Jecht's sphere now safely back in its hiding place. He stared widely as if his eyes could pierce the clouds like a radar and swoop down to find her. The situation was felt as if it was verging on bleak; hopelessness loomed. He reprimanded himself suddenly for thinking so, he'd dredge every inch of the earth before he gave up hope. He leaned back onto his outstretched arms: mind empty, numb. Eyes flickered shut and his ears latched onto the distant hum of the engines.

Strident voices buzzed over the constant drone, rising suddenly in heated antagonism. Tidus stole a glance down the wide stairs. The steely tones of Auron crept up to meet him, heightening the brewing suspicion within. He frowned, wrenching himself to his feet and making his way to forge a good vantage point of what was going on.

But at the head of the stairs he froze, the darkened glare of Auron repelled him. The door to the bridge had been flung wide open and Tidus could see the others flitting about somewhat uncomfortably within. Cid was marching about on the lower landing where Auron was leaning nonchalantly against the cold wall. "After rescuing Yuna, then what? You want to keep her safe, correct? Would you seek to stop her pilgrimage?" Nonchalant or not, the warrior's voice was a sharp as a razor.

Cid shrugged gruffly in defiance; Auron's venom merely bouncing off him. "Of course!" He barked loudly. "If she continues this fool pilgrimage, she will die. Sure as if you killed her yourself. No hare-brained law or teaching can send my little niece to her death! When I save her, I'll make her give up being a summoner quicker than a desert melts ice!" His voice rose lavishly with exultant surety, so that all within were aware. Especially Brother who was now nodding vigorously.

"Even against her will?" Auron cut in harshly.

"Better than a dog's death!" Cid remarked loudly, marching back into the bridge. "And I'll take down anyone who don't agree!" his virulent eyes scanned the room haughtily for disputers.

"You are the captain." Auron stated, coveting his place at the foot of the stairs once more.

"Good! So it's settled." Extremely pleased with himself, Cid busied himself with his globe again.

Tidus was struck dumb. Never had he seen Auron beaten in a battle of wills. As the door slid shut behind Cid's heels, Tidus padded down the steps to where Auron was still lingering.

"Let him say what he wants." He cut in reproachfully as Tidus inhaled to speak. "No matter what, Yuna will not quit her pilgrimage."

Tidus slouched knowingly, Auron was right. But he kept the fact that he agreed with Cid to himself for now. He knew from experience never to test Auron when he'd been riled. He'd sooner ride an over-excited chocobo.

Liking Cid more by the minute, he stepped over the threshold to the bridge, and was instantaneously engulfed in flashing red light. The deafening wailing of sirens followed. The oscillo-finder had detected something.

Accompanied by Auron, Tidus burst onto the bridge energetically, catching their companions looking as startled as if they just been awakened from sleep.

"Vydran!! Fa fuiht Yuna!!" Brother screamed over the tumult.

"Where is she?" Tidus blurted out loudly as Cid fought to calm the machina down. He succeeded eventually after trying every knob and dial in the room. And, doubling up as a sphere screen, a startling image materialized over the celestial surface of the windshield.

Tidus gawped, rooted and transfixed.

It was her; ethereal aura glowing from her skin as she traversed a long carmine walkway, surrounded by warrior monks. Her garb was white; a glittering dress of satin with a train of white chocobo feathers. The tiny bells in her hair tinkled as she proceeded, elegance incarnate.

Someone seized her arm suddenly and the fear in her eyes, although veiled, was plain for him to see. His blood boiled, observing for the first time the long, withered nails attached to that grappling hand. The limb's owner, clothed in the regal shroud of Yevon, looked up to the pulpit with contented evil. The sapphire in his extravagant hair shimmered brightly from under his sloping ceremonial cap.

Seymour.

To be continued…..

AN: Well, hope you liked it! I know, I know… when I first wedged it all together only two words came to mind… long and winded. But, somehow I felt that the other characters, i.e. Isaaru, hadn't been included enough in the way I've written so far. It seemed as though the summoner party were just springing from one place to another without actually living the pilgrimage. This experience is affecting all of them in different ways, and I needed to put a different slant on things- namely the opinion of Isaaru on the pilgrimage and his own personal sacrifice. Also with the complete absence of Yuna, I thought would add to the seriousness of the matter at hand.

From hereon in the game I think the peril of the main characters is significantly heightened. I remember when I always got to this point in the game and started to rush-- out of excitement or what, I don't know!

There is just one thing I need to ask before I quit blabbing!!

Has anyone else played ffvii crisis core on the psp? I just finished it the other night, and although I knew what was going to happen at the end (don't we all) I found it twice as horrificL Jeez, I was so disturbed and enthralled by the beauty an sorrow all at once. I'm loving Cloud all over again! Somehow when I originally played ff7 I hated Aerith and Zack… no idea why…

I promise that's the end of my chatting now, it's late and I've got a manga recon to sort out tomorrow! Yikes! Hope the crazy guy with the red hair and the massive gourd on his back doesn't show up again!!

Will update as soon as I can!!