Prologue

The sun was bright over Bevelle. Auron, who was young but did not feel so today, lifted a hand to block the sharp light from his eyes, and smiled very softly at the wide expanse of blue sky above him. It was hard to believe that Sin was harrowing Spira when the sky looked like that, but he forced himself to admit it; the smile disappeared slowly from his lips, and was replaced with a scowl.

He would be leaving soon, out of safety and necessity and some odd sense of pride and indulgence that had made him agree to be the Guardian of Summoner Braska. Or course, he had been named Guardian before it had been noted at large that Braska was a heretic—he had wed an Al Bhed; they had borne a child—but Auron had stuck by the decree.

Now he had to. The Priests were out for his head, grumbling of dishonor and prideful things that made Auron grumble right back, though his were in foul words and stumbling, annoyed speech. He sighed a little, and looked back up at the cloudless sky. Before very much longer, he'd have to leave to meet with Braska.

"Auron!"

He turned, slowly, and looked towards the slightly older man walking towards him; he bowed a little, and then focused back on the sky for a moment as the man approached him. They stood in silence for a long time, before Auron quietly murmured, "It's a lovely day, isn't it?"

"It is. You'll be leaving soon?" The quick cut of it made Auron smile ruefully and resolve himself to his decision to leave, just that little bit more. He nodded, and looked back to the man. There were others with him, watching him skeptically; one had a sphere recorder, and Auron frowned a little, and tried to ignore them.

"Thanks for everything Kinoc." The man nodded a little, seemed almost to wave it off. He puffed up a little, shaking his head.

"I know I don't need to tell you this, but guard Lord Braska well." Auron sighed, and nodded a little; perhaps he was regretting his decision, just a little, but not enough to wander back in and speak with the Priest. He would not stoop so low.

"That I will. And you'll be busy too." He smiled a little bit then, and crossed his arms over his chest. "I heard they made you second-in-command."

Kinoc sighed, and hung his head, almost chuckling under his breath. His eyes were a little annoyed, a little vengeful; "You know that promotion was meant for you. You were always the better one, even until the very end."

Auron shifted uncomfortably. He didn't enjoy being glorified; he was only twenty-five, and hadn't thought the idea of being made so important a wise one. Perhaps that was why he had turned down the hand of the High Priest's daughter. But no, he knew the real reason behind that; it almost made him smile.

"Well then . . ." Kinoc looked up at Auron, and then at the sky high above them. He sighed, and nodded a little.

"Going already?" He paused, then softly uttered, "You will tell me about Zanarkand when you return, won't you?"

Auron smirked a little, and chuckled under his breath, looking back up at the sky. "Farewell," he murmured, and stepped around Kinoc and the other warrior monks, moving quickly down the bridge into the proper city of Bevelle.


The apartments that Braska resided in were small, all things considered, and with a considerable noise admitting from them. Auron was a little surprised when he came in—he knew Lord Braska had a child, but had expected a calm, reserved, well behaved child, not some crazed hoodlum rushing about the summoner's apartments with a smile on her face and a small wand in hand.

Auron caught her by the back of the shirt, and shut the door with his back. Braska came into the room, chuckling softly, and spotted him. He stared for a moment, before smiling gently, darting a lock of hair out of his eyes; he took the little girl from Auron's grasp, and held her upside down until she began to giggle helplessly.

"And what do we say to guests, Yuna?" Braska questioned. The little girl continued to giggle, before finally squeaking out a breathless 'hello!', at which Braska placed her properly on the floor, and pushed her into the next room. "Go sit down, you little fiend. I'll deal with you later."

Braska turned back to Auron with a breathless smile, and Auron felt his cheeks heat a little. He ducked his head in a quick, deeply formal bow, at which Braska chuckled gently.

"Come in, Auron, come in. I'm afraid I'm not quite prepared. Yuna thought it fit that we play one last game before I was off." He began to wave about at the main sitting room, than stopped, and shrugged a little at the disarray. "You'll have to forgive the general lawlessness. Come into the kitchen?"

Auron nodded a little, and followed after Braska, trying to convince himself that the tightening in his chest was from the unexpected display of ease, not from the way Braska's eyes sparkled a little when he smiled—. He stopped, and shook his head, berating himself.

Yuna was sitting on the table in the kitchen, swinging her legs back and forth. Her large eyes, mismatched and as brilliant as her father's, trailed from Braska to Auron, and she smiled brightly. In her most stern child's voice, she asked, "Are you gonna keep my daddy safe?"

"Yes," came Auron's immediate, perhaps too hasty retort. Braska chuckled softly, and kissed his daughter's brow.

"Yuna, haven't you anything better to do than terrorize the poor man?" He smiled back at Auron a little, and plopped his daughter onto the floor again. "Go on. You've got plenty of lovely toys in your room. And you should be packing before we leave."

She hurried out of the room, waving at both of them, and Braska sighed, leaning against the table a little. He laughed, and smiled brightly, his eyes trailing over to Auron, who coughed to cover his unease; Braska waved a hand dismissively.

"Ah, you wouldn't understand children, would you? You're practically a child yourself."

"I'm . . . I'm almost twenty-six, Sir," Auron grumbled. Braska raised his brows at the proclamation, and smiled slightly.

"I was that old when I married Yuna's mother. You're a child." Auron bristled a little, and Braska quickly continued, "Youth is a wonderful thing, Auron. You'll be much faster in battle than I will. For battle we will come to, don't you doubt. Come, help me with the last of my things, and then we'll be off."

"So soon?" Braska smiled over his shoulder a little, and disappeared down a short hall. Auron followed without a thought. Through the door across from the one Braska slipped through, they could hear Yuna talking to herself, as was the fashion of small children of her age. In his room, Braska stood over his things, his hands flat on the bed as he eyes darted over the last of what he wished to take.

Auron stood in the door and simply stared for a moment, before berating himself again; nothing constructive could come of such rampant, wanton thoughts, he deduced, as nothing could have come of them when he'd been in the Temple. He pushed them aside, and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning against the doorjamb.

"I've already received the aeon from the Temple, you see, so once I've made sure Yuna is settled, we'll make one stop, and then be on our way."

"One stop, Sir?" Braska looked up from the careful folding of some item or another, and nodded very slowly.

"I heard, from a Priest, that there was a man being held at the Temple. He says he's from Zanarkand." Auron scoffed, and rolled his eyes as he shook his head a little. Braska smiled a little, and shrugged. "I believe he may be telling the truth."

"You believe some raving lunatic? There are plenty of those on the road. And it is my duty to make sure you aren't harmed by any of them." Braska's smile was one of warm appreciation, but his eyes twinkled in a fashion that seemed to tell Auron that his mind was already made up, and no amount of discussion would sway him otherwise.

"I'd like you to come with me when I go to speak with him, Auron. It would mean a great deal."

Auron almost swore, and cracked the knuckles on his left hand instead. He nodded absently, than more resolutely, and agreed in a soft murmuring grumble. Braska finished the last of his packing, and slapped Auron's shoulder gently as he passed him out the door, and crossed the hall to Yuna's bedroom; he knocked softly before opening and ducking in to smile at his daughter.

Yuna stared up at her father with huge bi colored eyes and smiled. She had a small, brilliantly pink pack held in her hands in front of her, and proclaimed firmly, "I'm coming too!" Braska smiled at her gently, and ruffled her short brown hair. Auron could see, in his profile, the pain in the young summoner's eyes, and bit his lip gently.

"I'm sure you'd be a big help, Miss Yuna," he suddenly supplied. Braska looked over at him a little, cocking a brow. Auron knelt down before the little girl, and smiled a little unsurely. "But your father would be so worried for you, he'd not know what to do! You'll be fine with the Priests, won't you?"

"I . . . I s'ppose," she mewled quietly, kicking at the floor a little. Auron smiled a little more genuinely, and offered his palm to the little girl.

"I know some of the Priests you'll be staying with," he stated as they walked towards the door out of Braska's apartments. "They'll take good care of you. You'll hardly notice your father is away." Yuna nodded a little. Braska came up beside Auron, and offered a quiet little smile as he fixed his headdress and straightened his outfit entirely.

He displayed himself as Yuna turned, and smiled slightly. "How do I look, my precious?" Yuna clapped and bounced about happily, having dropped Auron's hand. Braska's smile grew, but the pain in his eyes did not leave.

He bundled Yuna to his chest as they left the apartments, and Auron quietly took up his bags. The thanks in his eyes was clear and pure, and Auron could only duck his head a little, shrugging nonsensically at that appreciation.

Though, truthfully, he was a little surprised with himself. In the hour—had it been so long?—he'd been in the summoner's presence, his heart had stoned to his resolve to protect this man to his end, however that might come about. There was a doubtful voice in the back of his mind; he supplicated it with the firm resolve that he would keep his promise: he would protect Yuna's father.


The prison of Bevelle was not a pleasant place. As a warrior monk, Auron had been down there once or twice. He knew some of the Crusaders who guarded the place by name, for one reason or another—no reason that he would ever mention, take mind, but reasons nonetheless—but was still uncomfortable entering the prison after leaving Braska's daughter with the Priests.

Braska seemed to have no trepidations to speak of. He had spoken with one of the head Priests before entering the prison, had learned a few more things about his mysterious inquiry—Auron used the term lightly; from what he understood of the exchange, he was likely to believe that the man was a drunken lunatic—and had adjourned to the cell block that held the man.

He was brute, rough-looking thing, somewhere between Auron and Braska's ages, with dark hair and richly tanned, brutalized flesh. It was not his muscular build that drew any attention though, or even the obscure marking he had plastered across his wantonly bare chest. Auron remained fixated for some time by simply the man's eyes.

Braska was watching him critically, scanning him over. The man sneered offensively.

"Who're you?"

Braska did not immediately answer. Instead, he asked, "You are the one they call Jecht, the man from Zanarkand, are you not?"

The man snorted a little, watched Braska closely for a moment. There was something in those eyes then, racking over Braska's body, that set Auron's blood to boiling; he began towards them as the dark man demanded, "What of it?"

"Watch your tongue, knave!" he snarled to the man, placing himself just a little in front of Braska. The older man chuckled very softly, nodding towards Auron consolingly; he deflated a little, but kept a hand on the pummel of his sword.

Braska turned his attention back to the dark man, inclining his head slowly. He spoke with a congenial air: "My apologizes. I am Braska, a summoner." From the look in the man's eyes, this meant nothing. He continued with, "I've come to take you from this place."

The man rose from the floor, and approached the bars, leaning against them. He smirked slightly. "Sounds sweet," he uttered. "What's the catch?"

Auron bristled at the brusque statement, but Braska laughed, almost a little shyly. "That easy to see, was it?" He sighed a little, and explained in an airy tone, "I soon leave on a pilgrimage. To Zanarkand."

He seemed unsure of the words, straightened a little. "Seriously?"

Braska nodded, and stated, "I'd like for you to join us. It will be a dangerous trip." The dark man shrugged at that, rolling his eyes a little as Braska continued, "Yet, if we reach Zanarkand . . . my prayers will be answered. And you will be able to go home, we think."

For a moment, there was only silence. Braska smiled, just a little. "What say you?"

"Great. Let's go." Braska's smile seemed infectious on the other man, though his was far less pleasant. It unsettled Auron uncontrollably. Yet Braska was chuckling a little at the other man's enthusiasm.

"So quickly?"

"Anything to get outta here."

To that, Braska only nodded. "Then it's settled."

Auron broke in, uncomfortable with this new arrangement. "But I must protest. This drunkard? A Guardian?"

"Hey," the man growled, leaning towards Auron a little. "You wanna step in here and say that?" Auron ignored him pointedly, making the man swear a little under his breath. Braska shrugged one shoulder, and resettled his robes a bit.

He voice was far lighter than his words. "What does it matter? No one truly believes that I, a fallen summoner wed to an Al Bhed, could possibly defeat Sin. This is what they say." He looked at Auron, smiling slightly. "No one expects us to succeed."

"Braska, sir," Auron tried, stepping just a bit closer to the summoner. His smile grew a little as he looked between the two other men.

"Let's show them they're wrong. A fallen summoner, a man from Zanarkand, and a warrior monk doomed to obscurity for refusing the hand of the Priest's daughter." He laughed lightly then, his eyes almost bright. "What delightful irony it would be if we defeated Sin!"

From the cell came the rough grumble of, "Stop gabbin' and get me outta here."

Auron shook his head, and walked off, listening to the clang and slide of the cell being opened. He could feel Braska following behind him, but didn't turn and voice his concern. They strode into an upper antechamber, and into the office of the High Priest. Yuna was still there, speaking with a priestess who smiled and was offering her sweets.

Braska smiled at his daughter, settled into a comfortable chair. Auron bristled, shifting from foot to foot absently. Finally, the summoner chuckled, leaning forward in his seat, watching Auron for a moment.

"What's on your mind?"

"Sir," Auron began respectfully. He gave up the respect in exchange for the honesty he thought was desperately needed. "I think it unwise to bring this man with us."

"And why is that?"

Ignoring his sudden urge to grab the summoner and shake him until the sense came back into his head, Auron shot into a rather pointedly edited—Yuna was still in the room, after all, and now watching them intently—and pervasive litany of just exactly why they should have kept the man in his cell.

Finishing just as the door opened and said man strode in confidently, smirking a little to hear the end of the tirade. "Nice to see my presence is appreciated." Auron ignored him, watching Yuna be escorted out of the room by the young priestess.

After a tense bit of silence, the man stretched widely, sighing slightly. "Ah. Free at last!"

"Now Jecht," Braska began, standing and striding to the man's side. "I'm in your hands until we reach Zanarkand."

"Right, right." He waved it off a little bit, then looked a bit sheepish. "So . . . what's a summer-ner, anyway?"

Auron buried his face in his hands and prayed for some righteous salvation as Braska laughed brightly and began to quickly explain the situation.