Same stuff. Major spoilers. Disclaimer: FFX isn't mine. Follows the story, but kind of AU. It's an Aurriku (didn't start that way). Getting close to their meeting. This is about characters and the gradual building of a relationship. I'm pretty sure this is all -T- right now, or even less. I think--I think--I'm starting to get a handle on the lines across the page.
Soldier of Spira
I have traveled far and seen many things.
I have seen brilliant colors carving the far northern skies, and the dying sunset on the westernmost ocean shore. I have seen the absurd underwater cities of the Hypello in the shallow eastern seas. I have seen the legendary Phoenix Flower bloom on far Vadaka, and I have seen mighty Evrae in flight, playing in the air over Bevelle.
I have seen the towers of Zanarkand blazing with light. I have seen machina that fight, laugh, and make love. I have seen the Zanarkand fayth dance in the Hall of the Summoners. I have seen horrors walk the streets, worshipped by the people. I have seen the virtuous fall, and the wicked sacrifice themselves to save the innocent.
I have seen the fury of the Thunder Plains, the peace of the Calm Lands, the mysteries of Macalania Woods. I have seen the sky from the top of Mt Gagazet, so blue it hurt.
I have seen the fiends break like glass on our shield wall at Klannathe. I have seen the subtle, secret phases of the Farplane Gates. I have seen the bitch goddess Yunalesca in her cold lair. I have seen Guado laugh and Ronso weep. I have seen one Sin die and another Sin born.
I have seen a generation of young Crusaders butchered.
I have seen the last charge of the Chocobo Knights.
The End of Stories
We run from the agency to the corral. The fiend is behind us, on the roof, with a terrified chocobo screaming in one claw. It jumps to the ground and we rush to get into formation. Once again, Yuna tries to step into the front rank before I stop her and send her back. I definitely need to start more regular training sessions.
The fiend is huge, and yes, it is the same kind Braska, Jecht and I fought years before. Perhaps the same one? We had killed tha-- The thing claws me across the chest. I need to pay attention. I am still woefully out of practice at fighting fiends this powerful. I have the blitzballer use his Dark ability, and the fiend is momentarily blinded. I quickly motion him back and the Ronso forward. Tidus leaps in to land a quick blow. In a battle like this everyone has to work together.
I've seen it happen where two young fighters both stepped forward to strike at the same time, then each stopped, waiting for the other, then both started to move again. While they tried to sort themselves out the fiend took off one of their heads, then swarmed the other before I could do anything. They should have been able to take it easily, but they were inadequately trained. My fault. I should have trained them better. Attoc, a brown haired boy who fought left-handed. He had a sweet tooth. He loved the pastries the kitchens made at week's end. Elma, black hair and deep blue eyes. She was ticklish, and horribly embarrassed by it. She loved the smell of wildflowers, and wore them in her hair. They were best friends, maybe more. They died at Klannathe. I should have been harder on them. My fault.
The fiend will try to push us from the cliffs to the old roadbed below. That knowledge, from the last time I fought it, is precious. I know what to do from the start—-powerful blows to knock it on its back, then push it further from the edge. We are all Hasted by this time, and I have Lulu and Kimahri pounding the fiend, bringing the blitzballer in to blind it as needed. We finally have it up against the edge, and I call in Yuna. This is what she's been waiting for, training for. She steps up as we withdraw, and performs a series of stylized moves. A feathered dragon drops from the sky and finishes the fiend with one mighty blast. It will take time for Valefor to prepare another, but this is why we have them ready.
They remembered their lessons. They did well, Yuna in particular, and I tell them so. I move aside to let Tidus add his congratulations to the young summoner. For the moment, I am well pleased. After the battle, Rin was gracious, and the chocobo trainer was almost pathetically grateful. I closed my eye and mentally sighed. I knew what was coming, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
Wait for it. It's coming. Wait...
"Please," Rin said, "Use these chocobos free of charge in gratitude."
There it is.
The others quickly accepted, delighted by the offer. We spent the next hour recovering from the battle and loading the birds. I am not comfortable on chocobos, but I am a tolerable rider. We mounted up and moved out on the road north.
I will say this for chocobos—they are fast. They can outrun almost any fiend. It's a wonder that they don't trample more innocent travelers. We sped past people on the road. I think we may have passed Maechen. In less than two days we were almost to the Mushroom Rock gate. There I pulled to a stop. The others looked at me in surprise. I spoke to Yuna. "I've been told of an object nearby that could be of use on the pilgrimage. If you are willing, it shouldn't take too long to collect with these chocobos."
"Oh. Of course, Sir Auron. Whatever you say."
I looked around for the side-trail that Rin had told me was around here. When we found it, it led us down to the old, original road that ran beneath the high road we came in on. We rode down through heavy woods, the walls of the gorge rising to either side, then came to an open area where a woman was training chocobos. We plunged back into the woods and down a narrow, twisty path, finally ending in a cramped little clearing. There was something half-buried in the dirt there. We dismounted, and Tidus rushed past me to open the old chest. He reached in, then held something out to me.
A wave of anger washed through me. The Mars Crest! I brought these people here for this trash! I pulled it from his hand and threw it as far as I could. Sigils, crests, legendary weapons, all useless! What wins battles, what keeps you alive when others would die, is skill and training! Trust in your comrades! Swift and appropriate response! Nothing—nothing!—that comes in a chest! You live because of the tedious hours you spend preparing for a few extreme moments of combat. When the fiends are coming closer, when all you can hear is your heart drumming in your ears, there's sweat in your eyes, blood in your mouth, fear in your veins, and it's now! It's here! And you're doing everything right, and so is everyone around you, and you're not even thinking but your arms and legs are moving, hacking, slashing, blocking, and you're covering the people around you, and they're covering you back because that's the way you trained! Hours and hours and hours of training! A lifetime of training. That's what will keep these young people alive, not...
They were staring at me. "I was...misinformed. I apologize." We remounted the chocobos. I do not anger often. They all kept their distance on the ride back to the gate. The trip was not a total waste of time. They explored a bit, and found some useful items in hard to reach areas—some weapons, and a sphere. But I would need to have a word with Rin, or Maechen, or whoever I next met, over just what is vital, and what is not.
We returned to the gates to find them closed to traffic, even summoners. The guard there finally explained to the others what was going on. Operation Mi'ihen. It was a joint Crusader/Al Bhed plan. The Crusaders had been gathering live fiends from the entire region, hoping Sin will be drawn to the concentration. Their role was to lure Sin to the op-area then pin him while the Al Bhed attacked with powerful but not-very-mobile weapons they'd salvaged from ancient ruins. They believed that if they could get Sin into just the right range and hold him there, they could kill him. It would be tricky. The kill-zone was apparently pretty tight. It wasn't a bad plan as far as it went. But it wouldn't work. They didn't really understand what Sin was. Of course, some people already knew that. There was more than one plan unfolding here.
Well, well. Here's Maester Seymour.
"So we meet again, Lady Yuna." The man's hair fascinated me—-was it a statement of some sort? A protest? Lose a bet?
"Y-Yes?" she stumbled.
"You look troubled. Is there anything I can do?" Would it stay up in a wind? How did he put a shirt on over it?
"Well..." Yuna replied, glancing at the gate.
"I see." Obviously he couldn't wear a hat. How did he sleep? Special pillows? Seymour ordered the guard to let us pass. We followed him through the gates and he stopped to address a group of Crusaders that were formed up on the other side. "Brave Crusaders of Spira, protectors of all Spira. Believe in the path you have chosen, let faith be your strength! I, Seymour Guado, maester of Yevon, will bear witness to your deeds today."
How does he wash it? Perhaps he uses a team? Would he pay by the hour, or by the yard? The young Crusaders he was addressing responded to his words enthusiastically. Wakka was less impressed. "What's goin' on? Why's Maester Seymour backing the Crusaders, eh? They're using Al Bhed machina! They're violating the teachings!"
Good questions, blitzballer.
"Even going against the teachings," Yuna answered, "They're willing to risk it for the greater good. Wakka, I think Maester Seymour sees that too."
Not even close, Yuna.
"Ask him yourself," I said. He was coming over. He walked up to me.
"Ah, Sir Auron. It is an honor. I would be most interested in hearing what you've been doing these past ten years."
Well, of course all of my charity work keeps me pretty busy, you—
"I've got nothing to say about it." I walked away, leaving Wakka and Seymour to their doctrinal discussion.
Alternate answers to Seymour's question:
World Poker Tour.
I sold propane and propane accessories.
Kicking ass and taking names, Seymour.
Holed up in a cabin in the woods writing Snape/Hermoine fanfic.
Seymour, I am your father.
When Seymour left, the party started up the Mushroom Rock road. There were a lot of Crusaders rushing around. Many of them stopped for a moment to say a few words to Yuna, and even give her little gifts. This didn't bother me as much as it had before. Perhaps because, while these Crusaders appreciated what Yuna was trying to do for them, they also held the thought in the back of their minds that if Operation Mi'ihen succeeded, Yuna wouldn't have to try to sacrifice herself. There was a kind of innocent hope in these young warriors.
Your cadets had an innocent hope at Klanneth, Auron. How did that go?
Mushroom Rock was a region of strange, twisted stone formations. The area was unpopulated, and there were fairly strong fiends wandering about. We had encounters, and I could already see some results from my training program. The young people knew what to do. They were beginning to foresee what would be needed from them, starting to follow the combat as an unfolding process, anticipating rather than merely reacting. They showed promise.
Your cadets showed promise, Auron. Too bad so many of them died young.
The road wound back and forth, up and down, but generally northward, and upward. Every now and then a runner or a chocobo rider would pass us. I called regular breaks to rest and heal up. I didn't want to arrive anywhere near Sin tired and unprepared.
Not good to be unprepared, Auron. Ask any of your cadets.
Just shut up!
We reached the command area, and found Yuna's two Crusader friends there, arguing. "Why only you, sir? I want to fight, too!"
"Orders are orders."
"I'm not a cadet anymore, sir! Let me go with you, and I'll prove it to them!"
"Guarding the command center is important too, you know."
"But I came all this way from Besaid to fight Sin, sir!"
Lord in heaven, the boy wanted to fight Sin. Of course he did. Sixteen years ago, all the cadets I was training wanted to go defend Klannathe, and I was ordered to take them. Young fighters—always afraid that combat won't wait for them, as if there will never be another fight after this one, never another chance to lose their lives. I knew without asking, knew almost without thinking, knew in my bones, that the older Crusader had arranged this post for the younger. It almost made me smile. Old soldiers take care of young soldiers. Teach them to keep their heads down. Stay alert. Stay alive.
Huh. This old soldier was on the ground. The blitzballer had punched him, and now Tidus was holding him back. I ran back over the last bits of conversation that I had heard without listening to. Ah, the man convinced Wakka's older brother to enlist in the Crusaders, then he was killed. Yeah. It happens.
"When we used to play blitz, together," Wakka spat, "Chappu used to say... He'd say that—when we won the Cup, ya?—he'd propose to Lulu. And then one day...he goes off and becomes a Crusader. Just like that."
The Crusader stood. "Chappu also said to me...that being with your girl is good...but keeping Sin away from her is better."
Wakka turned to Lulu. "Lu, you knew?"
"Luzzu told me...before we left."
"She hit me, too," the Crusader said.
A chocobo knight rode up and ordered all Crusaders to the beach.
"That's my cue," the Crusader said, and walked away.
Wakka let him walk a moment, then called, "Luzzu! Don't die out there."
"So you can hit me more?"
"Lots! Lots more!"
Interesting. This blitzballer shows more depth than I expected. He is willing to let go of some of his anger. The Crusader turned away, and Yuna stepped in front of him. "Sir Luzzu, please! Please, don't go!"
"I have to, Yuna."
The man had to go. "Let him go," I told her. "The man has already chosen his path... As you did when you became a summoner." She understood that. She looked at him a moment, then looked down, and stepped out of his way. The man walked away, and we went to the command post. We passed massive Al Bhed cannon positioned on the cliffs. Down on the beach were sinspawn in cages, and lines of Crusaders and knights.
A knight rode up to us and spoke to Yuna, "Lady Summoner! There you are! The command center is that way. Maester Kinoc is also there."
Kinoc? I looked down at beach again, at the way things were laid out, and I knew. Of course, Kinoc was here.
The young Crusader was guarding the entrance, unhappy with his lot in life. The others tried to cheer him up. I told him to do his job.
In the tent, Kinoc stood and embraced me. We were students together, then warrior monks, then young commanders. He was the best friend of my youth. He's changed over the past ten years. He's out of shape. He doesn't spend much time in the field with the troops anymore.
"I'd heard from Seymour, but I didn't know if we'd actually meet. Good to see you Auron! Ten years, is it?"
The young Crusader ran in and reported to Kinoc that the troops were ready. Kinoc nodded and dismissed him. He turned back to me.
"Tell me, Auron. Where have you been the last ten years?"
What an interesting question, Kinoc. Seymour Guado was watching closely. When Seymour asks me that, it's a ploy. He knows where I've been. His masters have told him. But he doesn't know that I know that he knows. But what do you know, Kinoc? How far up in the power structure are you, really? Kinoc was head of the military arm of the Church, the warrior monks, the Crusaders, and the Special Temple Guard. He was a maester, one of only four. He earned his position with both ability and loyalty. But does he know the truth? Does he know what really lies at the heart of everything?
Does he know about the war in Heaven?
"We don't have time for this now, do we?" I asked.
He leaned in closer. "This plan won't work, you know that. We'll just let them dream a little longer."
But Seymour called, and Kinoc went with him to start the operation.
"That Kinoc," I murmured, just loud enough for him to hear, "A maester?"
He turned back. "I heard that, Auron. A lot has happened the last ten years. What were you doing, and where?"
"Fulfilling a promise I made to a friend. I still am."
He walked past me, stopped just behind me, asked without turning, "Just tell me one thing. Have you seen Zanarkand?"
How much do you know, Kinoc? Zanarkand is a battle zone, the Farplane is restless, and there is turmoil even in Sin. The fayth rebel, the aeons plot, and armies of the dead will try to force the Farplane Gates. There is a war in Heaven, Kinoc. What do you know? I turn away without answering him.
I stand with the others at the top of the cliff and look down at the beach below, at banners brave with bright colors, at masses of Crusaders and knights drawn up in lines, waiting, at frantic activity in the Al Bhed pavilion, as they struggle to bring their weapon online. The defenders will meet the sinspawn at the water's edge—no, you fools! They're water fiends! Meet them further up the beach! But the knights need the room for their charge.
Kinoc, what have you done? This is your plan, isn't it? It has all the earmarks. You put them on a beach that's too narrow. There's only one small, steep path up to safety. Did you tell them it will be easy to defend if they have to retreat? But they won't all be able to fit, will they? So they'll be pinned to the cliffs, crushed up together, most of them unable even to swing a sword, trapped and picked apart. You didn't tell them that. And the Crusaders and the Al Bhed, both perfectly placed to carry out their own missions, but completely out of position to provide mutual support. Sin will be able to destroy first one, and then the other. Small shifts would have let them cover each other, and still been almost optimal for their own roles.
And I don't know for sure, but in that command post, I didn't see any Al Bhed. There's no communication between the forces, is there? No way even to talk to each other directly. Are all the messages going through your staff, Kinoc? So neither Crusaders nor Al Bhed will retreat, because they can't warn the others, and they won't abandon their allies without warning. And even if they wanted to retreat, neither has any clear line of withdrawal.
They were always going to fail, Kinoc. You've managed the battleground to multiply the dead. The Crusaders will be a generation recovering, and much more obedient to the Church. The Al Bhed will be weakened, and blamed for the debacle. And the Church will be proven right all along.
Kinoc, we stood together at High Reach. You risked everything for me at Oconal. Your face was the first I searched for after the carnage at Klannathe. I look down at the beaches of Mi'ihen and wonder what you have become.
I'm distracted when one of the larger fiends escapes, and the party has to dispatch it. I almost smile at how much better they work together, cycling in for Tidus' Haste spell, Wakka keeping the head busy while we attack the body. The fiend isn't quite reduced to pyreflies as I hear shouts from the beach. We rush to see. Something is reaching into the narrow bay, like a black web spreading under the surface of the water. Like contamination. Like corruption. I can feel it. I can smell it. It's Sin.
----Battle of Mi'ihen----"O Fortuna" (Carmina Burana)----Carl Orff----
Sin erupts from the waves, rising up and up, towering above the water! Now the cannons are firing from the cliffs, they strike Sin, and pieces fall from its skin into the water. They turn into fiends and race for the shore. Now a thousand more drop from Sin. The beach is a heaving chaos of flashing blades, of courage, of fear and desperation, but a trained eye can see—on the left the line bends, men are going down, going under, the spawn are breaking through. The Crusaders commit their reserve. The horns blow, the lances come down, and the Chocobo Knights charge home! There's blood in the water, blood in the air! The ground shakes, chocobos are screaming, cannons roaring, men and women are yelling, crying, praying, dying.
Sin! Sin is...
"Look out!" I cry, and throw myself and Yuna to the ground. There's a white flash, and I lose consciousness for a moment. I come around and stagger to my feet. Behind me I can see Seymour Guado confronting the fiend our party failed to finish off earlier. But my eye is drawn to Sin. Sin is surrounded now by a shield of energy. I had seen the beginning of a pulse, just before I moved. I looked down on the beach. Crusaders, knights, fiends, chocobos, all are just...gone.
Behind me, Seymour is throwing spells at the fiend, and Yuna has almost recovered. She will insist on helping him. I turn and take control of the battle, eliminating both shield arms, then calling on Seymour to use this special attack of his—Requiem. He doesn't want to, but I have heard of it and want to see it. I insist.
It is certainly...colorful.
When the fiend is dead I turn once again to the beaches of Mi'ihen, Sin is approaching the Al Bhed pavilion. The Al Bhed weapon fires. It's powerful, it bends back Sin's shield, it inches closer to Sin itself, and for a moment I allow myself to hope.
I should know better than to hope.
Sin's shield is stronger. It rebounds, it expands, it reaches out toward the weapon. They touch. There's a flare, and a flash, a massive blast. The weapon is falling in pieces, explosions rock the Al Bhed pavilion.
Hundreds of stories have ended today.
Who will write the letters?
Next: Big Smile!