Chapter Seven

In the foothills of Mt. Gagazet, there was a light, warm breeze coming off the Calm Lands, ruffling through the sparse, dry grass trying to make a living on the cold-dirt slopes. The path was slick with frost from a few nights earlier. Braska stumbled periodically, holding his head and grunting under his breath. Auron held him by the elbow, and worried over the pain flashing in his eyes. He wondered if it was supposed to hurt—no other aeon pained Braska so; why would this final aeon do so? Were the fayth not all human at one time?

Auron didn't want to think about that, didn't want to think that Jecht was there, an aeon within Braska's soul.

Braska began to tumble, and Auron caught him, holding him tightly and only releasing him by firm conscious thought. Those too-blue eyes, so thankful and yet regretful, flashed with red when they fell on him; a smile broke lips paled with pain. They continued on.

The Calm Lands were too quiet. There were no fiends, no quiet 'kweh' of chocobos. It was utterly silent, except for the whisper of wind through the tall grass, a quiet noise almost akin to the very breath of Spira.

Braska's grip was harsh on his arm. It hurt, squeezing the muscle and bone enough to make him cringe. The expression never met his face. He had promised to be strong, to protect Braska until there was no Braska left to protect.

"Lord Braska," he murmured, turning to look at the older man. It took a moment before the summoner sluggishly looked over at him. Auron frowned, and turned, grabbing the wrist of the hand that gripped him so tightly.

He said, "You don't have to do this."

"I haven't much longer, Auron," Braska murmured, staring beyond his shoulder. The winds shifted, grew harsh and cold and biting, like the winds on the slopes of Mt. Gagazet.

Auron wrenched his arm free, and grabbed Braska's shoulders firmly.

"Braska, what will it matter now? Please, don't do this!" Those blue eyes flashed with red again, then grew knowing and lucid. He grabbed Auron's hands and leaned in, kissing his brow gently.

"I want you to go. The Al Bhed will be leaving, very soon. You must go with them; you'll be safe."

"I promised, Braska—Yuna, and Jecht—that I would keep you safe," he growled, keeping his hands firm on Braska's shoulders and the flush out of his cheeks. "Now, in your hour of need, I will not abandon you. I am your guardian—."

"And as my guardian, you must do as I ask of you." He smiled, and dislodged Auron's now slack grip, stepping around him. "When Sin arrives, run. Stay with the Al Bhed. They'll keep you safe, know where to go."

"Lord Braska," Auron bemoaned. Braska was moving steadily away from him, his back ramrod straight, his staff held in a white-knuckle grip. The sight of that man, so simple and small against the vast expanse of the Calm Lands and the swiftly darkening sky . . .

Auron snapped, and roared over the sound of the wind, "I love you, Braska!"

He stopped, his grip still far too tight. His eyes were pained when he peered over his shoulder. They flashed red as a smile broke his lips, and stayed thus as he gave Auron a thumbs-up. Then, he turned away, and was that silent, solitary figure against the backdrop of nature.

The Al Bhed were rushing away, shouting between each other in their strange language. Braska stood still, even as they moved around him, and looked over his shoulder again as they began to pass Auron.

Auron didn't move, staring at Braska. The summoner frowned a little, turning to face him. The wind picked up violently once more, whistling shrilly through the valley. Braska turned away without saying anything, and began to stride away once again.

An Al Bhed caught his arm, speaking too swiftly and worriedly in his own tongue to be even vaguely understood. Auron allowed himself to be dragged along with the tide of fleeing people, peering over his shoulder as Braska kept his advance against the tide.

Sin was there, with a stunning, fierce abruptness. Auron stopped, staring stupidly back at the sight. Braska had begun to summon. His steps were stumbling shambles of his perpetual grace; jerky, uncontrolled movements. There were no glyphs around him, just a dull red glow, like he was being lit from the inside.

The summoning itself took on a much more wild suddenness. Auron's stomach turned at the sight he beheld, unable to tear his eyes away. The display before him . . . no, it couldn't be real. This was all some terribly nightmare, entrapping him in its death throes.

He fell to his knees, and vomited violently between his hands. Someone hauled him to his feet, dragging him away from the disgusting sight. His brain was a balefire of disbelief and denial, his feet stumbling weights as he was practically dragged along with the stream of people.

This wasn't how it was supposed to happen . . . this wasn't—.

The ruins of Zanarkand were strangely alluring, the first beads of light a peaceful grayness over strew rubble and old emblems. It was peaceful, quiet; the shuffle of his feet through grating stone and dust seemed to be the only noise besides the gentle ocean breeze coming in from the bay-fronts.

Sin was gone now. Braska and Jecht were dead. Auron's gut and chest were tight, his mouth dry and sooty. He had promised to keep Braska safe, and had failed. What else was there to do, but face the source of the anger and pain that clenched his chest like a rough grip?

Everything was as it had been, dust settling over their footsteps through the dome and the cloisters—those had not reverted to their waiting slumber, but remained as gaping as they had been when they had left. The stairs to the Chamber of the Fayth did not seem so forbidden and ominous. He mounted them with a swift determination, almost frightened that, if he lingered, he would lose the gallant fearlessness he'd gathered when he'd left the Al Bhed's care.

The Chamber of the Fayth was nothing like he had imagined. Stars glimmered in constellations unknown to him, stretching far beyond the human sight to become an indistinct gray line all around the 'room' that housed the thick stone slab he stood upon. Rubble was scattered here too, overturned stones that looked to hold the faces of men and women.

Yunalesca was a shimmering apparition on the edge of his sight, her face a mask of feral anger. Auron met her gaze evenly, his fist tight on the pummel of his sword.

"Was it worth it?" he hissed venomously. She arched one cultured silver brow at him, taking a cautious step closer.

"You cannot be here, guardian," she murmured as her only response. He sneered, his shoulder stiffening tightly.

"I'm no guardian now. Were their deaths worth it?" She did not look at him, and waved a hand almost flippantly.

"Of course," she purred gently. "Sin is gone, is it not? Be at peace, guardian, and leave this place."

"But Sin will be back," Auron pressed. Yunalesca stared at him darkly, her fists slung to her hips provocatively. She tossed her head a little, her long silver hair falling around her shoulders like a shimmer fall.

"Of course."

"Then how were their deaths of any use?" he demanded, stepping towards her. She stiffened, her eyes widening at the offense of being approached so brusquely. He stilled, his fists tight at his sides.

"The summoners and guardians bring Spira hope," she said quietly, her voice an eerie echo upon itself. "Without Hope, Spira has nothing. Without Sin, there are no summoners. Sin brings Spira hope, guardian."

"What? But the teachings say: if we atone for what we have done, Sin will be defeated. The Eternal Calm—!" Yunalesca sneered beatifically down at him.

"Sin is eternal."

"No!" he roared, stepping quickly towards her, drawing his sword as he went. She flinched back reflexively, her eyes wide again. He shook his head violently, saying, "Braska believed in the teachings and died for them! Jecht believed in Braska and gave his life for him—."

"They chose to die . . . because they had hope."

He could take no more of this foolishness. With a roar, he was upon her, slashing madly down.

Then, he was on his back, staring at the slanting and spinning stars, hearing the clatter of his sword and feeling a strange tightness and sting to his entire right side, searing through his body like a brand. Yunalesca was talking shrilly down at him, but her words were indistinct, distant. Everything felt quite peaceful, like the cool Zanarkand early morning.

The sun broke and rose over the bay-front of Zanarkand, a burning brand of golden joy on a Spira once more renewed with hope.

He was at once aware of three things: the biting cold of the wind on his face; the displaced sensation of his hands resting heavy on the ground; and the distant sensation of someone standing over him, looking down.

Eyelashes fluttering, the right sluggish and tacky, he trained his lethargic gaze noncommittally up at the figure towering over him, cringing at the sharp light that silhouetted the shape. Still, there was something remotely familiar about the shadowed frame.

Slowly, everything drew into near-sighted focus. Auron found himself looking up the long lines of a young, blue-furred Ronso, who snorted a little, staring down at him with this sort of puzzled and chagrined expression.

"Braska . . ."

He choked on the word, turning his face away from the Ronso for a moment. Vertigo swept over him fitfully with the movement, and he grumbled under his breath, all foul words and stumbling, annoyed incoherence.

He forced himself to look back at the Ronso, to keep his voice serious and free of the waver it had held with his summoner's name.

His summoner.

"In Bevelle . . . is the daughter of Summoner Braska. Find her. Take her—." His vision clouded for a moment, and he felt his spine tense painfully against the stones he leaned upon. The Ronso knelt before him, grasping his shoulder. Auron didn't look at his face, staring instead at the sky. It was so blue . . .

He mumbled, not even worried if the Ronso could hear him, "Take her away. Besaid. To Besaid. It's . . . what he wanted."

The sky was so blue . . .

There was a hazy quality to everything, like the dull area between sleeping and waking, when you thought you could still touch your dreams, but you could hear everything around you as well. He was rather fond of that gray area, found so many times in the early morning as warm arms had slid around his waist and quiet words had brushed his ear, barely waking him.

He was dead, then. There was something humorous about the knowledge. Did the dead know they were dead? Presumably. And those that refused to acknowledge it would become the Unsent. Yes. That made sense.

If he laid very still, he could even feel the haze of everything. He opened his eyes slowly to the haze, looking around with that lethargic grace that came with sleeping, and apparently death as well. There was nothing but that haze, farther than the eyes could see—though they couldn't really see, could they, because in both sleep and death, there was no seeing; only having the knowledge of what something would look like.

Logic had no place in the haze. His feet were heavy. He walked, without direction or purpose. There was a strange niggling in his gut, some small voice in the back of his head telling him: "You can't keep going on! What about your promises?"

But hadn't he kept his promise? Or at least passed along that promise.

"And what of Jecht's promise?"

The haziness took on a dully sharp cast, like cutting glass, shards of broken panes all over a flagstone floor. He blinked—not really, but there was that knowledge of that—and wondered over that little voice stupidly.

Yes, he had made a promise. A stupid one. One borne of duty and pride and . . . and perhaps love, as well. There was no way to keep it. He kept walking.


That voice. He turned slowly, looking over the haze slowly.

The figure, silent and sentinel, was a common staple of his dreams. There was no question in his mind as his pace drifted towards the back turned to him, as his arms snaked around a tanned, lightly scarred waist and his hands rested flat to warm abdominals. Hands drifted to his, covering them. He buried his face fruitlessly in warm shoulder blades, thinking that perhaps he was not dead.

Perhaps this was all just a dream.

But if he woke up, would any of it have happened? His fingers drug over the thin, indenting scars closest to them and the definition of firm muscles. If he woke up, would any of it be real?

"Are you a dream?" he asked without really speaking. He could hear the words in his head, but they were instantly swallowed by the consuming void around them.

There was no answer. He wondered . . . . If this was a dream, perhaps he could simply crawl inside the skin presented to him and never leave. Perhaps he could sleep away the rest of his days. That wouldn't be so bad, he supposed.

"Are you anything?"

The hands on his fell away, slid back and gently touched his hips. They burnt, so hot through the fabric of his slacks. He thought he might have sobbed. He wouldn't mind sleeping a bit longer.

"Are you real?"

The hands fell away entirely. He shuddered, his eyes shut to that rich-tanned back and the swallowing gray of all of it. His own hands fell away, and there was nothing but the abysmal cold of nearly waking.

"Alright," he whispered, just able to hear his words instead of simply know them. "I'll go."