Disclaimer: Obviously, I don't own Final Fantasy X. I know, I know, everyone's looking for something clever and funny. Too bad. Read on. ;)
Chapter 1—Unwise Decisions, Unfortunate Meetings
"That was not wise of you, my friend."
I barely looked up from my contemplation of the floor tiles, just enough to see two temple-issue combat boots. The same I was wearing. The toes were a little scuffed, proof of their age. I looked back at my own feet. My shoes would get a lot more scuffed before I got new ones.
"What was I supposed to do, marry the girl?" I shook my head. If I ever did get married, though I couldn't think of anyone I would volunteer to be around for that long, it wouldn't be to further my career.
He sighed, and I could almost feel his rueful smile, "At least you could have phrased your reply better. No one's ever accused you of being tactful, Auron, but I'm sure even you could have done better than look horrified and practically yell no. Besides, marrying her would have assured you a promotion. Probably several."
"As it is," I responded, still studying the blue tiles under my feet, "I'll probably get shipped off to some backwater island and get eaten to death by bugs. And I didn't yell. I simply told him no thank you."
"You looked," he bent to sit beside me on the floor, "As though he'd asked you if you would be so kind as to eat your own liver."
". . .That was needlessly graphic."
He shrugged, "You were needlessly blunt. Besides, I don't see what's so bad about her. She seems nice enough. Quiet. Fairly pretty. And, oh yes, she's the High Priest's daughter. If he'd offered her to me, I would have married her."
"Well, why don't you go propose then, Kinoc?"
"Right after you rejected her? I'll look like the understudy. They at least need some time to cool off. Why didn't you just agree to marry her?"
I looked up at my friend. He had a frank face, clear eyes, and a friendly smile. He didn't really stand out much in any way, but people, important people, seem to have a way of remembering him anyway. He did have some skill as a tactician, but he was decent, not remarkable. He could use a weapon well enough to defend himself, but not well enough to earn any sort of medals or honors. What he said made the difference was who you knew, not what you new. He used that friendly smile, a warm handshake, and a good but not brilliant record to get where he was now. He'd laughed about it more than once, often while I glowered, "We all know you deserve a higher rank, Auron, and I a lower. Just try to smile a little; you would be surprised what it can do for you." Just to spite itself, my scowl deepened.
Kinoc chuckled at my lack of response, "Despite everything else, you still believe in fairy tales, Auron. You're the last one I would suspect of waiting for 'true love'."
"Who said that's why I didn't marry her?" I snapped, "As you so clearly pointed out, she's the High Priest's daughter. She'd be needy, whiney, and spoiled. I don't want to live with that for the rest of my life."
"Your secret's out now," Kinoc laughed, "You really are a sentimental under all that sarcasm."
"I am no such thing!" But before I could continue the argument, we were distracted by the sound of small sandaled feet racing down the hall. They stopped in front of us, "Uh, Auron, sir?"
The acolyte took a step back, "Uh, um, th-they've requested your presence in Sir Liam's office, sir."
"Tell them I'll be there immediately." The boy nodded quickly and ran off, too-big sandals flip-flopping all the way.
"You didn't have to scare the kid, Auron."
"I didn't do anything!" I protested.
"Sure. You just looked like you wanted to chop his head off and feed it to a fiend."
I just rolled my eyes and got up, turning down the hallway to my commanding officer's office.
"Auron, we're transferring you to Killika. They've been short-handed there for some time, and since you have demonstrated your capabilities as a fighter time and time again, we know you'll be of great help to them."
I stood stiffly trying to control the anger thudding in my ears, "I'm being demoted for proving my skill, sir?"
"It's not a demotion; it's a transfer," Captain Liam tried to say off-handedly. When I didn't return his smile, he handed me my transfer papers, "You have a week to get your things together. There's a map in that folder."
I walked back down the hallway slowly. Killika? Everyone knew Killika was where they sent the screw-ups. The guys that were never going to be anything. They supplemented their ranks with volunteers from the village. 'Not a demotion,' I snorted, 'Like shoveling shoopuf excrement isn't a demotion.'
"Jeez, Auron, you look like you just swallowed a Flame Flan. Was it that bad?" I waited until I was closer to answer.
"They're transferring me."
"Transfer?" Kinoc smiled, "Is that all? You'll be able to work your way back to Bevelle, so long as you don't flub up again—"
Kinoc went silent. The word stretched between us. Killika. Middle of nowhere. The end. I was already imagining myself as an old man (Back when I was a young'un I used to live in Bevelle). If I made it that long. The islands got hit by Sin all the time.
"I thank you for being such a friend to me, Kinoc—"
"Wait," he held up his hands, "Wait. Listen, we've to be able to get you out of this. We just need to slow down and think."
"Kinoc, this isn't negotiable. They're transferring me; it's an order."
"Wait," he grabbed my shoulders as I tried to push past him, "Everything is negotiable. We can fix this. I'll just go back and talk to him, I know some people—"
"No, Kinoc," I shrugged him off, "I better be going. See you around."
He let me leave. I wasn't sure where to go, but I just had to keep moving. Walk, don't run. Running is for boys. Keep it controlled. One foot, then the other. Breathe. Control. I didn't watch where my feet were going. Didn't matter as long as I kept moving. I didn't notice how long I'd been walking until my stomach growled. I looked up and noticed with surprise that I was on the High Bridge, and that the sun had gone down. A light wind was blowing off the water, pulling loose pieces of hair out of my ponytail and blowing them into my face. I put my hands on the rail and leaned on it. I let out one shuddering breath. Killika. The word even sounded bad. Like spitting out nails. Kill. Ik. Ka.
The light posts flickered on, and my reflection suddenly appeared on the dark water. Hmph. Kinoc was right. I did look stern. I chuckled. The High Priest might be angry, but his daughter was probably thanking Yevon that I had said no. I tried to smile. It looked strange.
The temple didn't have any lights inside, except for a few oil lamps hanging on the walls and whatever prayer candles had not yet burned themselves out. I wished that we could just put them out, so we wouldn't have to worry about the temple burning down, but to put out someone's prayer candle was to extinguish their prayer, so I just tried to avoid stepping in any puddles of wax, or brushing my clothes against any still-flickering flames. Unfortunately, I was thwarted by a rather large lump on the floor.
The two of us ended up in a tangled heap, trying to extricate ourselves without hitting the candles or touching each other any more than we had to. I heard amused chuckling, "Are you alright?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't know that there was anyone still praying in here," I stammered, trying to untangle myself from the man's long robes.
"It's quite alright. I suppose it has gotten dark in here," the man called up a ball of light in his hand, illuminating our faces, "Ah. Auron, is it not?"
"Ah, um, yes. Yes, I'm Auron," I sputtered. Great. Of all the people to run into . . .
He smiled patiently, "I'll guess by your expression that you already know who I am."
Of course I knew who he was. Everyone knew him. And if I was seen with him, forget a transfer, I could get kicked out of the Warrior Monks entirely! "Of course, Sir Braska. I'm sorry to interrupt your, uh, training."
"Oh, I wasn't training. Just . . ." he paused, looking off into the darkness, "Looking for guidance."
I wasn't sure how to answer. I've never been any good with things like that. And it's not even like I really knew the man. I knew he'd been a priest, years ago. Then he'd married an Al Bhed, and hadn't even converted her. There had reportedly been a child, though I'd never seen it. Then the wife had died, and Braska had begun the summoner's training. Everyone was shocked; even if you took his marriage out of the equation, Braska had never been what you would call orthodox. Why would the fayth bestow an aeon on someone who had married a heathen, anyway? How he had even begun his training was a mystery; I was under the impression that the temples wanted nothing to do with him. There were rumors that he had been excommunicated. Some said that he had begun the training as a sign of repentance for his "sinful" wedding. I doubted it. He didn't seem to be the sort of man who repents anything.
"Forgive me for being so bold, but we're both in quite the predicament, aren't we?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," I answered shortly.
He pretended as though he hadn't heard my tone, "Not the same predicament, mind you. Though, if you ignore the small details, not too different. You see, I am the Fallen Priest. Married an Al Bhed and all that. And you," he turned to me, "Are a monk who has recently fallen out of grace yourself, are you not?"
My eyes narrowed, "How do you know about that?"
He seemed so calm, so nonchalant. It was infuriating. How can one be a complete outsider, cast aside by Yevon, and be so calm about it? "Well," he answered, "It doesn't take long for word to get around here. How funny, though, that I should be ostracized for marrying, and you for refusing to do so." He chuckled.
"I don't see what you find so funny!"
He shook his head, "Forgive me. I do not laugh at you, friend."
"Then what do you laugh at?" I bristled.
"Sometimes, laughing is all you can do."
The man had clearly been isolated too long; he was going insane. "You should be going now. Be careful in the dark," I answered.
"You too," he called, not rising from the floor. I turned and, while I didn't bolt, I certainly walked at a steady clip back to my room. There was something completely unnerving about him that I just couldn't put my finger on. I carefully walked down the Warrior Monks' corridor and entered my room. I silently changed and crawled on to the bed. My stomach rumbled.
"Be quiet, you," I commanded, turning over to study the wall. Six days left until I left this place; the only home I'd ever known, probably never to return. I felt a hard lump in my throat, and I tried to swallow it away. My chest hurt. I turned my face to the wall and tried to sleep.