Players to Zanarkand

Zanarkand reminded Auron of an old toy he used to play with as a little boy. A wooden soldier, egg-shaped, that no matter how many times it was struck, returned to the same standing position with the same smile on his face.

In his life on Spira before his last encounter with Yunalesca, Auron had embraced the intended lesson: No matter how many times fallen, the victor remained the one who stood up at the end. His death, and the ten following years in Zanarkand revealed another side though, the one he thought about how as he led everyone through the half-rebuilt city.

The solider kept the same wan smile on his face, not because of determination, but from pure ignorance. Never knowing that it fell, it could never feel adversity; not know that, it could never march forward.

Zanarkand had been like that. People lived and died, but few ever knew what it meant to mourn. In the ten years he watched over Jecht's son, Auron had watched one funeral, held in the honor of Jecht; a man greater than the whole of the city. When his wife had died, shortly after hearing the news of Jecht's death, her son had mourned, but few others ever remembered a woman of her name or stature ever being born.

Then, he had thought the people were the toys set against the backdrop of a great city, This time around, Auron suspected the entire city played the same way. Not even three months after Sin-Jecht ravaged his home and nearly the entire city had been rebuilt in the original plan. Little ever changed in Spira, but even there, Sin provoked some motion in the community.

Not even a day returned to the city, and still it troubled him.

"Sir Auron," Yuna seemed to have cheered up from her early doldrums. "What was this place like, before he was carried away?"

She always attempted to disguise her longing and curiosity about the boy in her interest in his city, but Auron read the real question beneath it, the one he much preferred to answer. "The people here are cheerful with the lights all around them; he was no different. He followed in his father's footsteps, even when he so vocally despised Jecht. He cried a lot though, but he excelled despite of that."

Yuna's mouth stretched into a gentle smile. "Thank you, Sir Auron." She sounded like a well-trained pet having been given a treat. And just so, she showed her tidbit to more interested parties.

Zanarkand, a place so frivolous, that even he could no longer see the importance in anything; unless he tried.

Shortly after, Lulu matched his pace and separated herself from the pack of gossips behind her. He nodded in acknowledgment of her presence thought he didn't speak. If she had something to say or ask, she would, in her own time.

"You know something important about this place." In it's own right, it was a question they both knew the answer to, and, like Yuna, Lulu had other questions behind the statements, ones that he would answer, if only to confide in someone with the wisdom to understand.

"This place is not for us, no matter how seductive it might be. These people are different from us, and this world is different from Spira."

"You think there is danger here?" Lulu asked, keeping the tone of alarm down to a mute note.

Auron motioned to Kimahri, at his usual spot in the entourage watching for dangers others missed. "He has changed, as have I. Look at him."

At first Lulu seemed perplexed, though her eyes opened in understanding soon enough. "When did Kimahri regrow his horn?"

"When he entered his world, if his horn, or what it represents to him, is his strongest desire, then that is what this world granted him. None of us are aware of it, but the people here are, and that is all they are aware of."

"The castaway is different." Lulu spoke, from shock, but also from fact and observation.

"Ah, but he is Jecht's son, and he is very different from everyone here as well. People remembered Jecht, as they will remember his son. Ask everyone about his wife though, the mother, and you will find that such a woman never lived. They do not mourn their dead here in Zanarkand. There is no Farplane they visit to conjure up the spirits of loved ones."

They continued to walk along, their presence here mercifully ignored by the rabble in the street. Lulu nodded in agreement, lowering her voice. "You don't seem to like this Zanarkand very much."

For all her wisdom, sometimes she stated the obvious too many times. Though with the explaining she often had to do for Wakka and the others, he understood where the habit formed. "I find it frivolous. This whole world is little more than a drama. Entertainment while it exists, but once ended has brought nothing productive." He recalled his conversation with Seymour, and the similar disdain for his farce of marrying Yuna.

Lulu feel into silence again, and they each stepped forth, leading the way through a city that seemed too heavy for them in its utter lack of significance.

Cities always gave Kimahri a sense of claustrophobia and weakness. Ears that could hear soft footsteps or a nose that could pick up a trail over snowy rocks meant little in a place so crowded with sensory overload that he could become sick if he actually paused to take it in.

Everyone rushed by; neither caring nor noticing that people with strange clothes and one with strange shapes roamed among them. No one paused in their conversation, or looked up when they passed by. While Kimahri never believed himself to be an expert on human forms and culture, it still made his fur go on edge.

A rumbling sound, so low as to be felt rather than heard, unnerved him even more. The others moved along almost merrily, none of them noticing the danger approaching. His pupils dilated and his muscles tensed. If the menace approached Yuna, Kimahri would keep her safe.

The faint sound grew higher in pitch and louder, as it approached from behind Kimahri. No time to think, he pounced Yuna and pinned her to the ground when the blur of a machina gone crazy passed by. A child's high-pitched scream as the sound grew lower and softer again.

Kimahri stepped up, releasing Yuna from his grasp. "Kimahri, sorry." he said, stepping back to give Yuna room.

"No, it's all right Kimahri. Thank you..." her attention switched from Kimahri to the injured child just ahead of her. "Oh no. I have to..."

Auron stepped forward. "Yuna. Don't heal him."

While Kimahri had respected and understood the older guardian's wisdom, his duty was to support Yuna in any endeavor, so he stepped between Yuna and Auron, knowing that she would defy him.

As she did. "I'm not going to leave anyone injured. Not when it's my fault." Staff in hand, she walked towards the hurt child, clearly intent on healing any wounds inflicted upon him. Kimahri followed her.

The hover had struck the little boy hard, and while a woman who could have been his mother cried, the majority of the crowds remained apathetic, going about with daily transactions as if the child had merely tripped and scraped his knee.

"I'll take care of him." Yuna said. The woman in tears nodded, and stood aside so Yuna could kneel closer to the child. Kimahri stood at a distance, while the rest of the party moved in closer to watch the healings. All but Auron, who turned away and looked over the bridge.

The light and soothing music that came from healing spells enveloped the boy, and when it ebbed, he stood up, coughing. Kimahri could see scrapes across the child's face, and some blood still reached his nose; however, he should still be all right.

"Thank you." The woman bowed to Yuna, "If there's anything we can do to repay you."

"Oh no. It was my pleasure."

"Are you sure?"

"Actually," Yuna said, lowering her eyes, "We're searching for someone, maybe you could help us."

The woman nodded, taking the boys hand in hers. "I'll tell you what I know, miss."

"He's the star player of the Zanarkand Abes."

The woman shook her head. "I wish I could tell you, but to tell the truth, everyone's been at a loss since he failed to show up for that game against the Duggles three months ago. 'Course, being a Duggles fan myself, I was a bit happy for the forfeit. Just a bit. No one's seen him since."

"I see."

"He lived in a houseboat down at block A. Go northeast a bit and there's the Zanarkand Dome. Just northeast of that is a large harbor and a row of houseboats. His is the first one. Now if you'll excuse us, we still have errands to run." The woman, who had been so concerned when her son was in peril, seemed to have forgotten everything that had happened only a few minutes ago.

"No, wait!" Yuna called out to them, and Kimahri ran forward to stop them until Yuna changed her mind. "It's okay, Kimahri, let them go."

He obeyed, and stopped pursuit, even though he could catch them in two strides, three or four at the most as they retreated. His summoner looked a bit crushed at the encounter, so different than how a similar situation would have ended in Spira.

"Please forgive me, Sir Auron." Yuna bowed to him.

"I understand. It is your nature to help others. You could not have known." Auron turned away from the bridge, looked both Yuna and Kimahri in the eyes and moved on. "There's no time to waste, we need to find Jecht's son and get out of here."

Everyone walked in complete silence. Even Rikku and Wakka, ever talkative, fell to the hush that descended upon them. Kimahri felt the shame now. For defying Auron, who after Yuna, was the next person he owed his loyalty to. If not for him, Kimahri would never have been able to find the courage to leave Gagazet and find a place in the world after losing his horn. And for not shielding Yuna. She was a strong girl, always had been, from the first time he met her in Bevelle, but even he could tell how the pilgrimage, and now this voyage into Zanarkand had cracked her, made her fragile.

For the first time in ten years, Kimahri felt unworthy of the title of warrior. His people. Yuna. Who would he fail next?

He followed the rest with that question weighing on his mind.