FINAL FANTASY X:
Her eyes called out to him in the darkness. Sinister patterns slithered above him, like burnt skin squirming where sight gave way to imagination. Hundreds of feet beneath his floating body a village roared afire, pyreflies oozing from charred remains. A pestilent wind swept over and scattered the captured forms of suffering into ash clouds.
The beach nearby was washed in blood, clotting in the grains. Bloated bodies rocking in the waves were pray to competing monstrosities, tearing away an arm here, a kidney there. The skin was blackened and cracked, exposing raw, pink under flesh. It was the scene from a thousand nightmares… but apparently not his. He had only moments before been immersed in familiar lapping water that had lovingly caressed his waist. What happened to the grippy rubber ball in his hand and the towering city behind him... What happened to Zanarkand?
As in response to his bombardment of questions, shadowy creatures converged and tore chunks out of the spasming flesh canvas from within. A gash stretched wide, white beams of reality blazing through. He threw his arms across his eyes, only for them to stretch into the spiraling white hole that drew all matter inexorably towards it. An instant glandular fatigue struck him and his eyelids fell heavy. All that remained was loneliness. He wanted someone -anyone- to be there with him. And then, a sweet, solitary voice emerged from the pained choir.
The distantly familiar words peppered his mind: "Stop fooling around, Jecht! I have something really important I want to say! I need you. Jecht… I love you."
Jecht's stifled moans conceded to a shrill laugh. He gave into the invisible tide, his voice falling to a whimper. "I know, baby, I know."
Bevelle's Tower of Light was even higher than he could have dreamt. It pierced the clouds like a blade crafted in the name of Yevon, as testament to man's defiance.
The vantage point afforded Braska a total view of earyl evening Bevelle, its masses still pulsing through the city's narrow streets. The city was divided into quadrants like the wings of a butterfly, with homes, parishes and open-stall markets. Such construction recurred throughout the city: gold, green and silver onion domes atop lanky red clay, steepling upwards and inwards towards the tower, as though elevating it towards the heavens.
Braska stood at the base of a soaring flight of steps leading up to the grand altar at the pinnacle of the Tower and quite conceivably, the world. This ancient chapel was the brainchild of hundreds of skilled architects. Sturdy arced stanchions held it steady, decorated by fine silk sashes that fluttered in the gentle breeze. All of it was painted in a flaming vermillion by the thick dusk that grappled for supremacy with whatever remained of the day.
Beyond Bevelle's eastern borders lay an interminable ocean, still with the balmy autumn air but teeming with life beneath its surface. The imposing Mount Gagazet dominated the north, its summit ravaged by blizzards. It denied Bevelle's only possible view of the fabled city of Zanarkand, its mystique growing with each failed pilgrimage. Eighty nine years past and still Spira hoped for the ascension of a new High Summoner.
Braska found himself immersed in fantasy. Though it was only sanctioned for the union of Maesters and the wealthy, he saw his daughter there at the altar, wed to a fine man: a man of substance, of significance. From his initial embarrassment, an impish grin erupted. An old man could dream, could he not?
Though Braska was not what you would call 'old', not like the high priests of the temples. He was still youthful and vibrant in heart and mind, his break into a fourth decade not enough to slow him down. But increasingly in Spira, to reach thirty-five was quite the achievement.
In a world fraught by the destroyer known as Sin, summoners were journeying from twelve, thirteen, fourteen years and up. While mothers and children slept obliviously in their beds, these young warlocks would do battle with the most grueling fiends in the most hostile climes of Spira.
"Please, milord. We should go."
The reverent, yet somewhat anxious words of his guardian brought him back to the task at hand. He had sidetracked again. Smoothing down the tassels of his layered red gown, Braska reset his form with an elegance that underpinned his every motion.
The Palace of Saint Bevelle at the base of the steps behind him housed the Chamber of the Fayth, as decreed by flapping sashes suspended at either sides of the entrance. Braska did not need to read the scribing to understand what was expected of his conduct. Very few men were deemed worthy to address the Fayth but there he was, soon to meld minds with Bahamut, Aeon of Bevelle. That is if his mind was not crushed in the process. Swallowing deliberately, as to punctuate his doubts, he strode into the hall, devoted guardian shadowing him. It led into a gloomy, spiraling descent to the bowels of the temple. If anything, it was more like a pit, with a coiled staircase angling down into its black recesses.
"Ah, if only there were a faster way to the trials…" pondered Braska, stroking the dimple of his chin. "Perhaps a machina of some kind?"
The ironic tone in his voice would have been obvious to anyone in Spira but his utterly staid guardian -face now drained of colour.
"Ugh, it was a joke, Auron. I'm fully aware that machina violate the teachings. Just try to relax. The world isn't about to end."
Auron waited for his lord to step into the disguised depths before uttering, "Isn't it?"
"Aren't you going to help him?"
The air was thickest there, in the antechamber at the bottom of the Palace. It had gathered and fermented, matching the mood. To say the people gathered there -summoners and guardians alike, were concerned was obvious. Many just wanted their turn with the Fayth after a particularly taxing Cloister of Trials; others, including the would-be summoner who had yelled to Auron, were genuinely worried about their fellow man's health.
Auron declined to acknowledge the young man, just sipping the bottle from his right hip vacantly. He sat slumped at the foot of a wall, his left hand propped on his raised knee. The guardian did all he could, from opining the more trivial features of the room, to chugging back the fiery Nog in his decanter, all for the purpose of fleeing from the possibility of Braska's premature demise.
"It's been nearly an hour now!" the teen pleaded. "He may die!"
"You would have me disobey the precepts, fool child?"
The guardian's retort boomed through the startled youngster, who's figure visibly contracted. Auron considered an apology, but opted against it. Though taciturn and often crass, he was an idealistic young man who hoped to change the world. He was also a bearer of wide-ranging emotions that he had been taught to repress. At that moment, the nihilism the alcohol provided was still insufficient to smother his anxiety. His black, sleeveless Bevellian breastplate did little to mask the pounding of his heart.
Braska had not even began the pilgrimage; Auron did not know what he would do if his lord failed so cruelly and so soon. He was a Warrior Monk no more, cast out for refusing the high priest's daughter in marriage. His mind wandered to dark possibilities: a mercenary, a vagabond, a memory.
He covered his exposed arm with the scarlet coat that had been pulled down to his waist on the right side. He was certain the room temperature plunged in that instant, hopefully a sign his lord had successfully addressed the Fayth.
From within the chamber, Braska did not know how to act or what to feel. Not only was this his first time with a Fayth, this was Bahamut, a true legend of bedtime tales whispered to him as a lad. Priests had reveled in the telling of ancient tales of summoners dispatching machina armies with the great dragon beside them, its flares of energy enough to fry circuits. And there he was, facing the sacrificed child behind the beast.
The boy was not entirely there, floating inches above his statue, but his presence was overpowering. It was like the child possessed the room, only ancient divine seals detaining him in the room. Though his mouth was sealed, the Hymn of the Fayth emanated from him somehow. The poignant tremolo of a choirboy betrayed a glimmer of the solitude that was the existence of a Fayth.
The statue was laid flat in the centre of the room, trapped in raised, curved glass. It part resembled the beast, but also had traces of humanity, as though frozen in metamorphosis. Its strapping wing bared a likeness to the child's purple robe, whooshing across a taloned hand beneath, neither human nor beast. The Fayth's waist was immersed in a circular tracery of golden curls, something Braska connected from his upbringing in the Temple as the Garland of Divine Sun, a mysterious emblem from ancient Zanarkand. It supposedly symbolised the cycle of life, death and rebirth and was a symbol of great reverence. The sacrificed was facing away, drowning in the rock.
Braska returned to the child, shrouded by the hooded robe which, along with his bowed slavish posture, veiled his eyes. Braska presumed the child had been a guttersnipe in his mortal life, judging by the tattered coat which was severed roughly at both shoulders and faded pants torn at the knees in the same manner.
"Were you expecting a prince?" asked the Fayth.
Braska's cheeks flushed beet red and he lowered his glance. Not even a stray thought was private in this chamber. "My apologies. I shouldn't have judged you. I'm so sorry."
Without further embarrassment, Braska pinned back his robe and sat in seiza. The summoner slipped into a state of meditation as he had been taught. From here, he was able to became one with the dreams of the Fayth.
I am the first of my kind, from the days before recorded time, in Bevelle. Summoners such as Yevon were desired, and many. Machina was but an idle fantasy. But something changed. In the subsequent generations, summoners began to lose their command over pyreflies; their abilities deserted them. The need for a replacement grew, and that is why there was machina. This was the dawn of the machina civilisation, and machina cities appeared throughout Spira in an industrial revolution.
A long, long time later came Yevon, the first summoner for millennia. He was ostracised as a boy, until he demonstrated to the world how his powers could benefit them.
Whilst on a pilgrimage as a young man to Bevelle, he took me as his Aeon. And as I forged a mental nexus with him, he managed to steal a particular memory from me that only a summoner with such potential could, a thought most ancient. This was how he learned to create new Fayth.
He must have been so powerful.
Like no other summoner in history. Summoners were 'extinct' then, yet he somehow emerged, a new hope. Indeed, he was so influential that his teachings are all that Spira hang onto in these desperate times.
He rose to prominence as the leader of his home city Zanarkand, as a peerless summoner and a canny diplomat. He attained a skilful blend of machina and Aeons to bolster the defences of his city. But then emerged war and eventually Sin, to destroy the world of machina…
Braska's eyes fluttered open and he was awake. He had returned from the dream of the Fayth, wearied and prostrate, his body asprawl on the stone floor. The boy was nowhere to be seen, his statue no longer throbbing with the same orange light as before.
"I am linked with you now, summoner. You have me; use me to aid you in your defeat of Sin. Do not grieve for those who have and will become lost along the way. The past is changeless. Do not allow yourself to be consumed by negative emotion. Your future is yours to make…"
Braska leant on his staff and worked his way up the shaft until he was standing. Flashes of the Fayth child and the Aeon Bahamut became a feedback loop in his head until it shook his skull. The black King of Dragons, with its powerful thighs, its proud jutting chest and its crimson wings, was a creature to awe and to fear.
Like the memory of a dream, the images slipped away and Braska was allowed to leave through the opened door to the antechamber. Auron bolted to his feet on sight of his master, vacant now like a phantom. Braska took a couple of toddler's steps and collapsed into the sturdy arms of his guardian.
"Is, is it done, milord?"
Braska nodded, not entirely sure where he was. "I am a summoner."
Auron eased him to the ground so that his head was resting in his lap. Braska stared into the ceiling, thoughts of vengeance taking flight in his mind. His pilgrimage, his last chance to prove them wrong, had begun.