This story is something I've wanted to write for months and months. Since it's been in my head for so long, there's no way I can ever be completely satisfied with it on paper - but you know? This came pretty close to "just right" as far as my imaginings went. Beta read by both kj8673 and Sirea1182, who deserve everyone's undying love for helping this thing - not to mention for being better writers than I to start with. ;)
This story is technically AU, but I tried to make it fit in with canon as best I could.
harvest of ravens
Lately Master Seymour had been applying perfumes and powders to himself in the mornings, filling his chambers with cloyingly sweet flowers and sticks of incense. It was not out of vanity or religion, but to hide the growing scent of death. The Unsent's body would not rot as a human's might, but the smell was particular and obvious to those who knew it. To be betrayed by a smell simply wouldn't do, as with the fact of Master Seymour's death. Baralai knew this, even if he did not approve.
He hadn't been privy to Bevelle's darkest secrets before, but now he knew enough to cast his lingering faith into doubt. Operation Mi'ihen had been a trial if nothing else; to be in Master Seymour's services was surely the ultimate test. And despite everything, despite the growing list of wrongs and mysteries, Baralai wasn't ready to give up his faith yet.
The hospitals in Luca were full, so the Al Bhed had arranged to ship Baralai out towards the Moonflow for healing. He had only learned of that later. His memories of the shooting were clear but too short. Had he been the only victim of Nooj? Had the other two been in on it, some sort of conspiracy? They weren't to be trusted if they were, so Baralai hadn't turned back. If they were victims too, it was too late for them. If they had survived, then they would likely be as mistrusting as he. The thought of the event as a tactic had crossed Baralai's mind, of course, but he had dismissed it. Concentration was everything now. He wouldn't let his mind cloud with doubts and possibilities. Master Seymour would know.
Dear Mother, the letter he had been writing began, forgive me my delay in correspondence. Much has happened these past months, and... and that was as far as he had gotten. He had pretended there was a flaw in his handwriting and recopied the two sentences onto a new sheet of paper. Baralai had pretended struggle in using the correct, formal language, after months of casualties. The truth was that he did not know what to say. Had Master Seymour not ordered him, Baralai would have just gone without. He wasn't particularly close to his parents, and since he had run away from Saint Bevelle, he supposed he was even less close to them than before.
For now, Baralai gave up. He rose from his chair, rubbing idly with his palm at the sore spot below his left shoulder. It was mostly healed, but the dull pain from the pressure of his hand served him a good reminder. Trust was too valuable to give out frivolously.
He left his rooms. Baralai was in hiding, at least technically. He was confined to the manor of Lord Jyscal in Guadosalam, a deceptively small palace with passages and rooms and tunnels like roots underneath despite its outward appearance. Since Baralai was in hiding, he did not technically exist as a guest of the palace; the servants pretended not to notice him and he was expected to avoid other guests. As long as this pretend invisibility was maintained, as long as Baralai did not appear on paper or in an announcement as a resident, then he by Guado protocol would be invisible.
This suited Baralai just fine. The halls were more crowded than usual with servants, hurrying from one place to another in preparation for their Master's trip to Bevelle—not just his trip, but his wedding, too. The bride's room needed to be prepared and furnished, transportation needed arranging... a thousand things, several Baralai couldn't even guess at. The marriage of a Maester and the daughter of the High Summoner. A grand occasion. Yevon bless.
He felt nothing joyous about it, no stirrings of patriotic happiness, religious fulfillment. Baralai had been told he would attend the wedding—that was why he was supposed to be writing home; to ask his mother for lodging in the family home or money if that failed—but his role there would not be one of celebration. It would be the start of a mission.
"I'd like an audience with Maester Seymour," Baralai said to one of the Guado guards once he reached the grand hall. The open door to the banquet hall revealed his master, speaking with Tromell. It was a brief stop in Guadosalam for Master Seymour. He had arrived very suddenly from Macalania, freezing with anger and disoriented. A fresh cut on his forehead hadn't bled. It was not Baralai's business, so he had tried not to notice, just like he had tried not to notice the perfumes. It changed nothing about his mission.
"Yes?" Master Seymour asked, turning to see. He smiled down at Baralai. Baralai bowed in response before entering. This was where he wanted to be. Where he needed to be. Misplaced trust could not be taken back, but it could be avenged. Baralai had every intention of doing just that.
"And do you trust me?" Master Seymour asked on the carriage ride to Saint Bevelle, tone light and mildly amused.
"Of course," Baralai replied loyally, truthfully.
The Maester nodded. "It's easy to understand those like you, after all."
A banquet was being held in honor of the Maester's wedding. The bride wasn't in attendance, and the talk was generally centered on the recent discovery and destruction of the Al Bhed's secret Home. It was in itself a cause for celebration, most said. That it would happen on the eve of Maester Seymour's wedding was surely a good omen. Baralai kept quiet and didn't offer his opinion when asked. He was expected to attend as Seymour's vassal, but had no official duties that evening. He was trying to lie low. The other Maesters were also in attendance.
It was unlikely that Kinoc would see and recognize him among all the people dancing and talking. But not impossible. Seymour had promised his protection, but it would still be best if Baralai remained unnoticed. Not that he exactly had the desire to dance and flirt anyway. He hung back near the grand glass doors leading to a terrace, the heavy drapes pulled aside to let in the moonlight and panoramic view of Saint Bevelle. The view did nothing for him. He leaned against the glass and watched the dancers instead, drinking some wine and thinking.
The Al Bhed Home was destroyed. Baralai knew what most of the partygoers did not, that it had been attacked only to retrieve Maester Seymour's fiancée, that the Al Bhed had been hiding her, that she was part Al Bhed herself. He doubted that many of the guests knew the two events were so closely linked. Baralai hadn't been thinking much about the event, telling himself that it had nothing to do with him. If Gippal had survived the shooting and returned to Home, there was nothing Baralai could do. And for all he knew, Gippal had been in on the conspiracy from the start. In which case, he would have gotten what he deserved. Distrust, he noticed vaguely, was almost too easy to apply. He emptied his wine glass and crossed the ballroom to place it on a table. On his way back, a woman stopped him.
A simple dress that didn't hide a warrior's calluses and scars. Red hair knotted and tied up, exposing a graceful neck. Baralai recognized the Captain of the Knights at once, although he had never seen her off-duty before. She'd recognized him, too, to judge by her approach. Captain Lucil was famous in the Crusaders—youngest captain of the Knights ever, renowned for her skill in battle. For her fame, she had been an acquaintance of Nooj, in a similar position himself. Baralai and Lucil had met, but never spoken past greetings in the past.
"Baralai!" she said, "it is you. I'm glad to see you," she said, disarmingly friendly. "You're very distinct looking, so I recognized you from across the room—are you off-duty, too?" She was being too friendly. Baralai was at once suspicious.
"Captain," he said by way of greeting, his voice calm. "A pleasure to see you again."
She nodded and took him by the arm, taking the position of a woman under escort. But her grip was strong. She was the one leading him, past the doors he had earlier stood at and out to the terrace. It was a cool night, and the terrace was empty. Lamps flickered in corners, only partially illuminating the walkway and gardens on both sides of it. Lucil lead him firmly away from the party. Baralai didn't resist, and she let him go once they were out of hearing distance from the dancers. "What is going on?" she asked, curt. "You're the last person I expected to see in a Bevelle society party, last person aside from myself. You're a wanted man, Baralai, you and the others of the Crimson Squad. I was told you and your companions killed the other candidates and fled."
"I did nothing of the sort," Baralai replied, unsurprised by the line of questioning. He was grateful she wasn't skipping around the point.
"I don't believe it either," Lucil said. "I'm not exactly a close friend to him, but I've known Nooj for years. We entered the Crusaders about the same time. He's not the type to kill," a fraction of a pause, "other people. Not without a good reason."
"Do you want me to supply you one?" Baralai asked, crossing his arms. "I assure you, I don't have any."
She gave him a dark look. "Do you not have a reason because he didn't kill anyone? Or because you don't know why he did."
Both, Baralai thought, but didn't answer her question. "Maester Kinoc tricked us. He tricked all of us that fought in Operation Mi'ihen, you included. We were never meant to defeat Sin, simply meant to be killed or beaten into meek submission."
"Of course I know that," she snapped. "I lost all but two of my men that day! Don't think I'm so foolish as not to have figured it out. Even before the battle, even hearing the plans..." Lucil trailed off. "There was no way my men could have won. Charging the water fiends? Spread over such a distance? But what was I to do? If I had defied the Maesters—if any of us had—it would have meant my death anyway. If I was to die either way, I might as well have died leading the charge." She smiled, bitter. "Of course, here I am today. I'm to be promoted, to head a squad meant only to protect the Maesters. Congratulate me."
Baralai's smile matched Lucil's in bitterness. "The Crimson Squad was created from misfits," he said instead. "An Al Bhed, a Crusader that wished for nothing more than his own death—a runaway from Bevelle. And more. People with talent, people that couldn't well fit in. We thought we were special to have been chosen for the group, but in reality, we were picked because we were expendable. They sent us into the cave under Mushroom Rock to investigate. They didn't want any of us to survive to tell of what we saw. Most of the Squad was driven mad in the cavern. The four of us that survived were meant to be executed after our report."
"And you have proof of this speculation?" she asked in reply. When he didn't at once answer, Lucil nodded curtly. "I didn't think so. It doesn't matter. You escaped, anyway, thanks to that Recorder. She would have been punished severely if she hadn't escaped and the Operation hadn't begun. You had lucky timing." At Baralai's surprised look, she smiled. "I've done my own investigating. I don't much care for you and your friends, but I owe Nooj a favor. I don't want to hunt him and his friends down without knowing the whole story. And you still haven't told me why you're in Bevelle, of all places. Do you want to be caught?"
"I am in the care of Maester Seymour," Baralai said quietly.
"Who happens to hate Maester Kinoc," Lucil said. Her expression didn't change. "Well."
"I left home because I didn't like the way things are run in Bevelle," Baralai explained. "My father was a priest in the main temple, my mother the favorite daughter of one of the commanders of the Warrior Monks, before Kinoc came to power. I grew up around treachery and backstabbing. I thought the Crusaders would be a more straightforward way to become known. But just because I never liked it here doesn't mean I'm ill suited for it."
"You really," Lucil said slowly, "shouldn't brag about things like that." Baralai hadn't thought he was bragging. She shook her head. "You're still young. I'm not much older than you, but I'm old enough to know that. You think you're in control, but the higher ups have more power and more experience than you. Don't get in over your head."
"And you as well, Captain," Baralai said. The silence was stiff for a moment, neither of them willing to break it.
Lucil finally smiled and spoke, brushing some hair behind her ear, an earring glinting in the light. "They'll wonder why we disappeared," she said. "I'm off duty, but my superiors know I'm here. And I'm sure Lord Seymour has been keeping his eye on you." There was a subtle warning in those words, but Baralai let it pass. "Shall we return together?" Lucil asked, holding out her elbow. "I'll let you dance with me."
"That would be my pleasure," Baralai said, and didn't smile.
He knew how to ballroom dance from his childhood, but where the Captain had learned the skill was a mystery. They didn't speak, Lucil's smile pasted on. She gained a grace while dancing that hid her minor missteps, and her greetings to officials and the like were polite, seemingly sincere, and charming. She was a diplomat as well as a Crusader. Who would have thought? Baralai could see why the Maesters wanted her for themselves. She would be a dangerous enemy, but a powerful ally. It was a thought he stored away for later examination. He was not yet in a place where he could begin recruiting allies.
After the dance, he bowed to her and made his retreat. She was high in Kinoc's favor, and the idea of her being a spy crossed Baralai's mind for the first time. It was unlikely, he had to admit, but who knew with people like Kinoc? The Maester was hardly a person to start with. No. He wasn't a 'person' at all. Even the most common of street filth, Al Bhed whores and Guado thieves, they were more human than the Maester. Than all the Maesters.
Kinoc would get what he deserved. The crime of 'murder' could not go unpunished. Baralai was aware of Lord Seymour's eyes upon him as he exited.
It was hours later. Restlessness and curiosity had combined in Baralai, leaving him anxious for the time to arrive that he would fulfill his duty. Until then, he couldn't sleep. With luck, it would be only a week or so—but Baralai hoped to receive news sooner than that. Lord Seymour had been careful not to give him any direct orders, to keep his service in name only: to allow Baralai to remain out of sight until the proper time arose. This unfortunately had the side effect of binding Baralai to Seymour's side without giving him any tasks. He did not have to work or do anything unpleasant—but he wasn't allowed to do anything else, either.
He had played at sleep before leaving his parent's house behind. He'd go see Lord Seymour. Half way to the palaces, Baralai had a different idea, a curious one. Tonight had been the wedding party, tomorrow the wedding, but the bride hadn't been seen since her arrival to Saint Bevelle. Baralai had heard she was High Summoner Braska's daughter—so she was about his age. He wondered what she was like; the sort of a person Lord Seymour would marry. Under Lord Seymour's service, Baralai was also obligated to serve the Maester's family. That would, he presumed, include his bride-to-be. Simple boredom and curiosity masked into something more noble, he knew: when it came down to it, Baralai just wanted something to do.
She was locked away in a south-facing suite, the elegant double doors guarded by a set of Guado. "Milady is sleeping," one of them said. As if to contradict him, something crashed and shattered against the other side of the door, the breaking of glass muted by the wood's thickness.
"Milady is having busy dreams," Baralai replied. They didn't stop him from moving closer to the door. He knocked. "Are you awake?"
"Come in," Seymour's bride called back, angry, "and I'll Summon." Her prison was also her safe house.
"I won't come in, then," Baralai replied, liking this diversion so far. "I just wanted to meet you."
"The pleasure is mine," she said, polite out of habit, her voice shrill from fear. "If you're a friend, let me go. I have to finish my Pilgrimage—my Guardians—"
"Lord Seymour is your Guardian now."
She threw the other lamp at the door, too.
The bride wore white and a long veil, the groom formal robes and sweet powders, the guards were all adorned in full costume, their machina guns gleaming at their sides. There were many guards. It was all very ceremonial, but Baralai noticed a distinct lack of the public among the onlookers. Even the wealthy nobles that made a habit of attending the weddings of important people were conspicuously absent. There were only priests and soldiers present on the Maester's wedding day. Baralai wondered, absently, which group he belonged to.
He was expected as a vassal of Lord Seymour, but he had tucked himself into an alcove to the side of the alter, largely uninterested in the affair. That wasn't true—that was a lie. Baralai was acutely interested, curious about the High Summoner after a night of watching her door—what sort of person would his Lord want to marry? The sort of woman who threw lamps at doors, who cried for her guardians, begged for release, and threatened all in hearing distance with painful death. A series of contradictions. Baralai wondering which of the bride's sentiments had been the most true, what she was like to talk to and look at and stand with—and it was because he was so curious that he refused to allow himself to know. She would be nowhere near his expectations, so there was no point in meeting her.
He wouldn't admit to himself the sympathy and feeling of likeness he felt towards the Summoner, a woman whose face he had never seen. She had been dragged into this affair against her will, she had been locked away, threatened, and betrayed, and she was making the best of the situation—fighting back. There was much to admire in her, but Baralai was ashamed at how quickly he had decided all this.
Because he was thinking, because he was looking away from the wedding procession, Baralai was among the first to see the airship.
It felt like a slap. I want to fly that thing, the distant smell of metal combining with the reek of Lord Seymour's incense. The screaming of engines and retort of guns, mixing gently with cheerful talk of long ago. A slap, a punch, a kick to the stomach of someone already fallen.
It was a mammoth thing, nothing graceful in its form. A utility vehicle, meant for nothing but work, tearing its way through the sky. Dark smoke billowed behind it. It moved clumsily and swiftly towards Baralai—no, towards the wedding—it screamed through the air. His heart pounded in his throat—for the briefest of moments he felt a different sort of pounding in his throat—expectation, hope, a faint memory of the past yet untarnished—then the airship fired upon the assembly, then the Warrior Monks shot back, and then the spell was broken. Baralai ducked away, into the temple. This was no longer his story.
His back against the wall, Baralai listened to the fighting outside. Some forgotten particle of training kicked in—he found himself identifying the battle by sound. The creak of the fighting machina, the slash of swords and cackle of magic, the retort of pistols— Two younger fighters shouted gleefully at one another in a mixture of Al Bhed and Common, taunting and betting and cheering one another on. Captains shouted orders. Baralai closed his eyes.
The room he had retreated to—hidden in—was cool, dark marble. A small cloister, used for storage. A beam of dusty light came in the open doorway, illuminating several boxes and a folded tapestry and the clear blue lacquer of a staff.
Lord Seymour turned to his bride to see her wielding her staff against him, a barrier between them. "Stop," she said again, the bell tied to the staff ringing loudly in the silence. "Don't harm them."
"Do what I say, and they won't be killed," Lord Seymour replied. Her guardians watched silently, machina guns to their heads. By the time Seymour's bride leapt from the tower, Baralai was on the Highbridge, his head jangling like the staff's bell.
It was nearly a week before Lord Seymour sought him out. "I'm really quite angry with you," his master said, sounding amused rather than upset. "The Summoner almost escaped us, and managed to gain Bevelle's fayth in the process."
"Forgive me, My Lord," he replied, stopping his walk to bow formally. It was night on the Highbridge, but an odd, bright night. Lights were trained over the path, illuminating it fully, eerily. Units of Warrior Monks were positioned here and there over the length of the road, heavily armed and on the lookout.
Baralai had been sleeping when the messenger arrived, sending for him. He was wanted by Lord Seymour on the Highbridge, and when he had arrived, buttoning his coat, the Maester had been waiting for him, his gaze level and cold.
The messenger had told Baralai to come armed. He had been carrying a pistol since he had first entered Guadosalam, but the machina gun seemed especially heavy tonight. So did his stomach, so did his chest. Tonight Baralai would be punished for his actions at the wedding. Tonight Baralai would be useful.
He had imagined it many times.
Despite the tension in the air, the unnatural light and the clumps of Warrior Monks, Lord Seymour walked slowly, calmly, towards the rough center of command, up by the temple gates. Baralai followed, his head ducked politely, listening for anything, anyone—or someone in particular.
In the command center, Maester Kinoc was briefing a small bunch of Warrior Monks armed with rifles and flamethrowers. He hardly spared Lord Seymour and his meek aide a glance. "Lady Yuna and at least three of her Guardians escaped the Via Purifico—they'll come out somewhere along the canal, so keep careful guard. Take the Summoner alive, if possible. The others are expendable." He turned to greet Lord Seymour at last. "Glad to see you finally reappeared. I thought you were going to finish them off yourself, and here I am doing all the work."
Kinoc was young for a Maester, although Seymour was still younger. His casual attitude and generally cheery attitude had made him popular, and his tactical skills had put him high up in the Warrior Monks. Months ago, he had supervised the creation of a group of Crusaders to be called the "Crimson Squad." But if he recognized Baralai, the Maester made no sign. His concentration was on Seymour and the escaped Summoner.
Protocol stated that Baralai should bow. He didn't.
"It's almost pity that we have to kill them all," Kinoc said thoughtfully. "Even if they are traitors. High Summoner's daughter, and Auron among her guardians…"
"Death is hardly a punishment," Seymour replied mildly, his tone warm and eyes frozen. "Think of it as freedom for an old friend. Were he captured alive, he'd be punished."
"Yes, yes—" Kinoc was distracted. With a brief gesture, he dismissed the Monks around him. "I'm just glad I won't have to see that."
"You will see nothing," said Lord Seymour.
His tone had been polite and neutral, but Kinoc gave him a warily amused look. "Was that a threat, Seymour?" The dropped title a subtle insult in reply. Baralai watched, angry and curious in turns. He was pleased with himself for keeping his temper. He had worried that he would unable to control himself.
"You are in my way," Seymour said, reveling in the moment. This was his revenge, revenge against a crime Baralai didn't know, a crime that might not even exist. His master was not particularly fair or loyal.
Kinoc shook his head in affected weary amusement. "Now isn't the time, Seymour. When we've caught the Summoner, then we can have an airing of grievances."
"I can wait that long," Lord Seymour replied. "But can all present?" It was just the three of them, Baralai mostly invisible by way of his vassal status, but Seymour's words drew Kinoc's attention to him for the first time. The Maester looked Baralai over, examined his face, and turned back to Seymour with annoyed confusion in his eyes.
Kinoc didn't recognize him.
Baralai had planned for this day, planned for it since the moment he had gone to Guadosalam, planned on it from the moment he had breathed the air outside the Den. Revenge, first for his friends, then for himself. Then for the sake of it, for the wanting of it, for the dark feeling of making someone, anyone at all pay, pay for the crimes—were it not for the Maester, Baralai would never have met the others, never been betrayed by them. He had traveled to Guadosalam and made himself the aide of an enemy, all with the intent of reaching this day. Of finding Kinoc.
He didn't remember Baralai.
For the first time, Baralai found himself at a loss. Schemes and plans and imagined scenarios; begging and pleading and steely cold revenge—nothing. There was nothing. He had nothing.
A man clothed in full armor jangled up to the three silent men. "My Lord! Three of the prisoners have emerged from the canal! They swam out of the Purifico—" his words were punctuated by a small explosion, an Al Bhed grenade lobbed at some monks. For the first time, Baralai could see the Guardians of the Summoner; a tall, broad shouldered man, a small, fast moving Al Bhed, and a teenaged boy with blond hair. The boy glanced up the Highbridge for just a moment. From this distance, he looked familiar to Baralai—it was a distracted thought. He turned his attention back to the Maesters, feeling rage boil up in him at last. That Kinoc should not remember him was just another insult. Was Baralai so insignificant that he did not warrant remembrance? Was the man so arrogant that he would so casually forget his enemies? Baralai looked to Lord Seymour in a silent plea.
"I do believe you've been introduced," Lord Seymour said grandly, ignoring the growing chaos; the Guardians were making a mess of the Warrior Monks and would no doubt be heading towards them soon. "Nevertheless, Lord Kinoc, this is my servant, Baralai."
"Have we met?" Kinoc said crossly. "Never mind that. Seymour, my men are being slaughtered. Are you going to make no move?"
"Are you?" Baralai asked harshly. Kinoc looked surprised and angry, more at the servant's speaking than his words. Baralai didn't care. "Are you incapable of fighting your own battles? If you are concerned for your men, you should be fighting alongside them. But that's not your style at all, is it?" Venom dripped in his voice, and he had never felt so clear-headed in his life. "You prefer to send in your men to die."
"You fought in Operation Mi'ihen," Kinoc said, recognition dawning at last. "No—the Squad. You're one of the renegades who escaped! And here you are in Bevelle. I like your nerve," he said. And as he started to chuckle, shake his head in amusement, Baralai drew his gun.
Gippal was always the one to bring up the strange questions, back then, but the question he asked one night was oddly serious and oddly, in retrospect, morbid. "If we finish training, we'll be captains, right? D'ya think we'll ever have to kill someone?"
"Maybe traitors," Paine had suggested. "You might have to do that."
"'You' might have to? Dr. P, I promise that if I ever get orders to kill a guy, you're gonna go right along with me, even if you are just the Recorder—" he laughed and ducked as she threw a handful of sand at him.
"Would you be able to kill someone?" Baralai asked. Gippal was cocky, brash, loud and ultimately childish. He acted big but Baralai could hardly imagine him doing something so serious, finding the strength and the nerve in the end.
"Nah," Gippal replied. "Fiends are one thing, but people? Forget fiends, the Al Bhed get killed by Yevonites, too. People killing other people is worse than when Sin does it, I figure." He ended with an attempt at a mocking joke, bowing his torso to Paine. "I'll just keep Teacher here with me, she can be my hit man. Y'mind, Noojster?"
"Do what you'd like," Nooj had said. In Baralai's memory, the man's face is hidden in shadow, his voice a bit darker than in reality.
He had asked him: "Would you kill someone?"
Gippal had cheerfully added, "Not counting yourself, sir." Paine had snickered and then given Nooj a quiet, serious look. The man had raised and lowered a shoulder in a shrug. "There's no point to such talk. If someone requires death, I should give it to him."
Those words had stayed with Baralai for a long time, forgotten and then remembered after the shooting, after the betrayal, after the Highroad. Had he required death, in Nooj's eyes? In the end, he always came to the same conclusion: No. Nooj was merely a fool. You shouldn't trust a death seeker.
"What about you?" Paine had asked Baralai, that night in the desert. "Could you kill someone?"
Lord Seymour was enjoying himself. "Baralai, my faithful servant," he said, prone to grandness when amused, "I honor your service to me with a reward. This man is a nuisance, and I would kill him gladly myself. But as a favor to you, I'll allow you the deed."
"This is a pretty terrible joke, Seymour," Kinoc said, forehead glistening. "There's no need to kill me, even if we don't get along—just because you're an Unsent doesn't mean—"
The trigger word. Perfumes and incense to mask the faint rotting smell that follows the Guado Maester. Seymour's eyes darkened and he abandoned his games. "Baralai. Kill him."
Baralai went to Guadosalam, knowing the Maesters hated one another. Use me, he'd told Seymour. Just allow me one favor in return.
"Why not kill Nooj, then?" Seymour had asked, after patiently, uninterestedly listening to the whole tale. But it was different. Nooj would be dealt with in time—Nooj, Gippal and Paine, all three of them—Baralai had thought it out, and he knew the answers. Nooj and Paine had been—and Gippal and Paine were like brother and sister—he was the odd one out, he had been shot, they had done it, they, they—Nooj wished to die. Killing him would not be adequate, he had told Seymour. And then he'd asked for one small favor—
"Come on now," Kinoc said, focusing beady eyes on Baralai, his voice shaking from the effort to stay calm, trying despite everything to be jovial. "I understand you're angry. But this isn't the way to handle this! I like you, you have guts. Let's just put this all aside, and—how'd you like to be a captain in the Warrior Monks?" Baralai removed the gun's safety cache. Kinoc flinched and stepped backwards, a broad smile peeling across his face. "There's a new squad being formed, meant to protect the Maesters. In the past it's just been Warrior Monks, but this'll be a specialty group—how'd you like a spot in it? A young man like yourself—you'd get wealth, popularity…"
The spot you offered already to Lucil, Baralai didn't say. Seymour, smiling, turned his gaze to Baralai. "Are you going to kill him or not?"
Kinoc leapt at the chance. "He won't—he's troubled, but you're a good kid, I can tell. You won't kill me. You can't." He stepped forward again, cautiously. Baralai knew already what he was going to do; he would reach for the gun and push it away, disable him carefully. The Maester's tone was soothing, as if to an angry child.
You are the reason, Baralai thought calmly, I was shot and left for dead.
When Kinoc reached his hand out slowly, fingers splayed, Baralai remembered everything Gippal and Nooj had ever taught him about aiming. He'd never liked machina weapons, but he'd always been the best of the three at sharp shooting, better than even impatient Gippal.
His first shot went straight through the center of the Maester's palm. There was a brief second of nothing, of no thought or movement or sound; not even blood, it seemed, escaping the wound, a tidy hole the size of a coin, big enough to see through.
Then Kinoc screamed, an oddly high-pitched cry, blood staining his robes as he clutched his hand to them, screaming and whimpering from shock and pain. But his eyes were dry. It was not a fatal wound, Baralai knew, and Kinoc's shrieking mouth was a simple target. He aimed and hesitated, watching the man before him, watching the blood soak his clothing, watching Kinoc stop his cries and begin to hastily tear a bandage out of the hem of his robes.
"Will you finish?" Seymour asked lazily, looking down the Highbridge at the Summoner and her Guardians, healing and regrouping. "Or shall I?"
It was Seymour Kinoc looked to in fear. Baralai fired.
Seymour shows up on the Highbridge with a body, Seymour drops the corpse of Maester Kinoc at Yuna's feet. Despite herself, she is horrified. Were they not allies? Beside her, Tidus looks shocked, and on her other side Auron's face has become drawn. "He has been freed," Seymour says grandly.
"He was still my friend," Auron says, drawing his katana. "I will have my revenge on you, Seymour."
And Yuna doesn't understand why the Maester laughs.
Baralai: The Crimson Squad is no more. Maester Kinoc betrayed us. And my friends... they turned on me as well. I have no place else to go.
Seymour: Then, why do you come to me? I, too, am a Maester of Yevon.
Baralai: I don't suppose Maester Kinoc and a certain other Maester might by vying for power behind the scenes?
Seymour: So an enemy of an enemy is a friend.
Baralai: I will not fail you.
O W A R I
In the Norse language, kennings were used to poetically describe words and events. For example, saying, "breaker of trees" instead of "wind." The title is a second kenning - A raven's harvest is a corpse.
In canon, we never see how Kinoc dies. Seymour merely shows up on the Highbridge with his corpse. We also never see where Yuna gets her staff from, at the wedding. Although this story is AU, I tried to keep it as close to canon as I could.
There is no way Seymour could actally have gone to Guadosalam after being killed and before going to Bevelle. But FFX's timeline is so abstract that I don't feel guilty its inclusion - if we imagine the Guardian's trip across the desert took more than a day, then Seymour stopping off at home doesn't seem so far fetched.
Yuna and her Guardians were imprisoned for a short time before their trial. I doubt the trial was on the same day as their capturing, so I added a week of jailtime. Those are my only deviations from the main canon in terms of timeline.