Disclaimer: See chapter 1.

Chapter 15—Mi'hen

It took longer than we expected to get down the other side of the Mushroom Rock road, but we were being far more cautious going down than we had been going up. Besides, our packs were much heavier this time around, and so we felt we had the option of dawdling a little—we weren't worried about running out of food before our next stop. And not having to worry about running out of things, food or medicinal supplies, made the fighting much easier. I hadn't realized how distracting our penniless state had been until it was somewhat lifted, but Jecht and I both had been making careless mistakes while attempting to be cautious. Braska too, to a lesser extent, though his position as our mage had kept him further from the fiends anyway. Now that we felt more confident in our ability to recover should we make a mistake, we fought much better. Jecht hardly ever missed his targets now (though he insisted on attempting to hit our aerial enemies, even after I'd told him several times to leave those to Braska), and when the blows connected, they hit harder. It truly was remarkable how fast he was catching on. I wondered, not for the first time, if physical talent was inversely proportional to intelligence.

Jecht pointed out that it had been me who had stepped on the basilisk. I felt that fact irrelevant to the current discussion.

He then proceeded to prove my point by running off into a shallow cave nearby, claiming to have seen a treasure chest, and waking up a cluster of fungi. It was hard to tell who was more startled, Jecht or the strangely animate mushrooms, but it was the specimens of overgrown mildew that sent spores flying through the air in golden showers.

"Don't breathe in!" Braska called, but I could already hear Jecht choking and coughing. Not that I could blame him, as we ran in, we were hard pressed to avoid similar reactions. The poisonous dust tickled your nose in a way that made you instinctively want to breathe in to sneeze, and smarted as it landed in your eyes, making them tear so the whole scene blurred like a watercolor left in the rain. I heard the magic churning before I could see what spell was being cast, and where from, but before I could clear my eyes and swing, I saw a blur run ahead of me, and heard the sound of a sword being buried in disturbingly spongy flesh.

"Use these," Jecht rasped and placed a bottle in my hands. I thumbed the lid, feeling for the distinctive raised design that marked eye drops apart from other potions (had to be able to find them when you were blinded) and found it. The bottle was half-empty (why could I already hear Braska saying "half-full" in my head?), but there was still enough to clear my eyes of the pollen. I put the drops in, feeling incredibly vulnerable all the while—was there a fiend behind me, before me, right by my side?—but felt incredible relief and surprise when I wiped my eyes on a clean bit of my shirt and saw Jecht and Braska.

There were three fungi still fighting us. Whether the others had been killed or fled deeper into the cave I did not know. But Jecht kept himself between the semi-sentient mold and Braska, and had lured all three away from me while I'd recovered. Time now to do my part. Again, I heard the sound of swelling magic and saw one of the mushrooms waving its odd arms as it gathered the spell together, and ran to it, slicing it in two before it could finish. Jecht ran to another one and the cut sliced deep, but not all the way through. The thing hissed and moved to wave more of that pollen into the air again, but Braska sent two quick fire spells in succession, one to the left, where Jecht's injured fungus moved to attack, and the other to the remaining mushroom, which promptly burst into flames, then pyreflies.

I looked up at Jecht. "A treasure chest? What are you, a pirate from a child's tale? Who leaves treasure chests lying around?"

Jecht looked chagrined and touched his sword to a jutting bit of rock, with red and yellow mineral stripes running across it. "Sorry. With the sun coming in…it really did look like one." His voice was still rough, probably newly un-silenced, and his smile sheepish. "I guess this world's got me thinking anything's possible, with so many things being so different from home."

"Well, we escaped unscathed," I said, and let my hand fall heavily on his shoulder, "You did well."

Braska coughed before speaking in his own rough whisper. "That was working like a team."

I gave a curt nod, and, against my will, a small smile curved around one side of my mouth. A team. What summoner parties were supposed to be. What Braska had wanted us to be. And, I was just realizing, what I wanted us to be. I had been thinking about this journey as something to tough through, simply assuming that I would be carrying Braska along the way, and carrying Jecht only until he inevitably quit. But this could very well be the last journey any of us ever take, not just Braska. And I didn't want to go to the Farplane with my only memories being about how I'd toughed my way through life. If that was what people died remembering, it was no wonder Spira was overrun with fiends.

Jecht nodded heartily and through his head back in a hoarse laugh, "Yeah, we kicked some ass, didn't we? Sin's not gonna stand a chance against us!"

And even a comment like that, something that was such a reminder of what was coming at the end of this journey, of how different Jecht was from us, how little he understood, couldn't bring us down.

"If it isn't shaking in its shoes when we get there, it should be," Braska agreed, grinning.

"We're all going to be shaking from cold if we don't find a place to camp that's out of the wind."

"Aw, Auron, don't be such a stiff. We both saw you smile. There were witnesses!"

"That's true, Auron. You'll never be able to convince us with the stern demeanor now."

"Too bad I didn't catch it on the sphere cam; I'm pretty sure it'd make the Spiran history books."

"Yes, that is too bad. I suppose two eyewitness accounts won't be enough to make it stick there. But with only eyewitnesses, you have a legend. And people remember those much longer than they remember history as it actually happened."

"If I'm going to be in a legend, can I be in one where we actually make camp by nightfall?"

"You sound like an old man, Auron. Do you need your strained prunes before you go to bed with the sun?"

"Fine, stay here if you want. Make your own camp."

"As long as you don't share those prunes."

We ended up making our camp just past Crusader Gate, which separated the rocky sea cliffs from the tall grasses and dusty path of the Mi'hen Highroad, in the lea of the boulders that marked the beginning of the Old Road.

"I'll take first—"

"I'll take the first watch." Jecht interjected, jaw already set stubbornly.

I nodded. "Alright. Then I can take the second watch. Just wake me at—"

"Actually, I thought I'd take second watch, Auron." Braska said calmly.

"Braska, sir, with all due respect—"

"We are a team, Auron. If I cannot pull my weight here, how will I be strong enough to defeat Sin?"

"And you believe that depriving yourself of sleep will make you stronger?"

Braska sighed and gave me an irritated look. "Depriving yourself of sleep is not going to help anyone, either. We would let you take one of the earlier shifts, but we worry that you would attempt to stay up all night again, so you are on third watch until further notice."

"Braska. Jecht and I are your guardians. We can simply make two longer watches instead of three. There is no need for you to wake in the middle of the night."

"And I say no. If you recall, Auron, I was prepared to take this journey completely alone."

"And I don't plan on being useless, either. Can't have a kid showing me up." Jecht smirked.

I looked from one to the other. Clearly I was outvoted. "Fine. But you will wake me."

"As soon as my watch is over, yes." Braska nodded. I paced around a bit restlessly, but I could feel two pairs of eyes on me as both refused to move from their places by the fire. Mutiny. Nevermind it was Braska who was the summoner, and therefore Braska who was the leader of our little band. This was clearly mutiny.

The fact that I fell asleep within minutes of crawling into the tent just proves that my body was in on the revolt.