Hello, welcome back to Assassin's Blood. It has been quite awhile. Whether you're a new or old reader I hope you enjoy this installment and I will see you in the next.

Papa is in his study again. It seems he's always in his study now, he barely has time to play anymore. He's always looking pictures of that man with the strange, blue hair, but he won't tell me why. He only tells me that the Maesters have given him a very important mission, one that makes it okay for us not to be together a lot anymore. He says that as soon as he's done with this mission though, he'll be free to leave the Summoner's Service and we can be together all the time! So I guess I can be patient. I'm lonely a lot though. Gippal never comes around to play anymore. Last time we were together I asked him why he always acted so funny when we were out in the city. He said his parents told him to keep out of sight. Peopl- especially people in Bevelle-don't like the Al Bhed very much. I told him that was silly because Papa and I like Gippal and his family plenty! Gippal said I was the exception. I asked him why he lived in Bevelle if people didn't like him to be here and he said it's cause Bevelle is the safest place in Spira. I didn't know that Bevelle wasn't the only place in Spira until Gippal first moved here and told me he came from a place called Home where all the Al Bhed lived. Gippal is nice; he always tries to teach me to play Blitzball. But I'm still not very good at it. It's ok though because he also goes with me to the Summoner's Sanctum where all the pretty fish swim in the tiny pools, even though the Summoners there give him mean looks and say things like "heathen" really quietly. But I hear them, and I think so does Gippal, cause his ears always turn red and he grinds his teeth. I give him hugs though and tell him that he's the greatest boy I know. That makes him smile. I miss him. I wish he would come to play again, but I think maybe his parents are afraid of letting him come over anymore. I wish Papa would come out of his study, it's lonely and boring inside our house. But wait! Now there's someone knocking on the door; a visitor! At first, I don't recognize him. But he smiles down at me and suddenly I realize that his face is the one that Papa has on the papers on his study desk. This man is the one that Papa is looking for, I should go tell him that he's here! But this man doesn't wait until I invite him inside. He steps in and I step back. His smile is scary….

I was there. I saw his blood painted on the walls and the floor, his body strewn across his desk, shock stretching his face wide. His mouth opened and closed like the fish in the pools at the Sanctum, but I couldn't hear him if he said anything. I felt like the world had gone silent and everything around me wasn't real anymore. I couldn't comprehend what I was seeing, what had just been done. His blood looked silver; it seemed to shine in the moonlight that drifted through the study window. I turned away from the scene and became violently sick. He was behind me, watching, with cold, blue eyes.

Yuna squeezed her eyes shut and brushed the tears away angrily. She hadn't cried like this in years but now she could not stop the flow as the memories engulfed her. Memories that she had kept locked away deep inside herself for years now bubbled to the surface, each one flashing before her eyes in a furious bout for dominance. Ever since Tidus had taken her to see her father in the Farplane the images had not stopped; they played in an endless loop, robbing her of sleep and opened her eyes and gazed at the dancing flames of the small enchanted fire she had created. Because of its magical conception, it did not emit any smoke and thus relieved her of the possibility of being spotted, although she doubted that even a normal fire would be easily seen among the rocky caves and outcroppings of the Thunder Plains. As it was a creation of her own small amount of mana, it was a constant, albeit slight, drain on her already depleted stores of energy making it even more difficult for her to focus and gain control of her emotions. She stood up, stooping slightly to avoid knocking her head against the top of the natural cave, and walked along the narrow tunnel that lead to the entrance. The eternal storm was raging outside, a natural occurrence characteristic of the Thunder Plains; but a small, irrational part of her wished that it would at lessen enough for her to venture outside.

After subduing the three assassins that had separated her from Tidus in the woods outside of Guadosalam, she had fled deep into the Thunder Plains, fighting the wind and the rain until she had found a suitable cave to take shelter in that had been formed by the Plains rocky terrain. She was sure Tidus, on the other hand, had been captured. He was not yet skilled enough to defend himself against more than one assassin and if last night had been any indication, they had been ambushed by a group at least seven large. Anxiety washed over her as she imagined what the assassins, or worse what Seymour, might be doing to him now. For a brief moment, she considered running haphazardly into the storm and charging back the way she had come, refusing to stop until she had found her lost companion and destroyed the men who had taken him. At that thought she balked and mentally berated herself for her foolishness. Angrily she realized that her concern for Tidus was becoming a weakness. If she became obsessed with his safety she would lose her focus, her drive. Regardless of the situation he was in, it would do neither of them any good if she abandoned all reason in order to save him. For a moment she was disgusted with herself for allowing herself to become so involved in someone else's life that it had become a distraction. Hadn't that been the exact reason she had distanced herself from everything for what seemed an eternity? Wasn't that why she had created the cold, hard exterior she displayed, to protect herself and those innocent people she came into contact with. It was dangerous to have such a connection with a person, as had been aptly demonstrated when Seymour's forces had followed her to Besaid and destroyed Tidus' home and family. It was her fault. And she continued to endanger him by keeping him so close. She should hurt him, abandon him…something. Would he be safe then? If he no longer traveled with Yuna, would Seymour leave him to his own life?

No, she realized miserably. He knew too much, they were in this journey together too deeply. And even if this were not the case, his fierce, misplaced loyalty would keep him glued to her side, she realized with a rueful smile. She wandered back into the cave and sat by her fire, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them for warmth. Was it truly a weakness to have someone that needed her and that, she realized suddenly, she had come to rely on as well? Perhaps it was more dangerous now that she had to care for more than just herself, but Tidus had proved himself time and time again an enthusiastic opponent in battle and a fiercely loyal companion. He had saved her life multiple times in more ways than she cared to admit to herself. It had been a long time since she had been in the constant company with anyone and Tidus had an aura about him that burst with hope and enthusiasm in spite of their deadly predicament. It was infectious and, if she was honest with herself, a welcome change to the dreary reality she faced every day. It was unorthodox, inappropriate, foolish, and dangerous…but she enjoyed his companionship. And she was worried about him now. She needed a plan. Settling into a more comfortable position before the fire, she reviewed the options available to her. She could return to the woods, pick up the assassins' trail and follow them back to where Seymour kept his headquarters and locate Tidus. She dismissed this idea almost immediately as she considered the how unlikely it was that she would actually be able to rescue him from within a hive of assassins once she had found him. She could, of course, use this opportunity to rid herself of the responsibility of Tidus, but that thought passed easily. She would not abandon him. Her only other feasible option was to continue onward and to try and find the aid that Tidus has suggested. But who would be willing to face such overwhelming odds for a stranger, and one who could not provide any proof of Seymour's actions other than personal experience? The only person who had ever helped her in the past had been Gippal; once her childhood friend and later, that night long ago in Zanarkand, her rescuer and partner. But would it be fair of her to ask him again for his help? When she and Tidus had met with Gippal in Luca he had told her he wished to return to the peaceful life that awaited him at Home. He had wanted to offer her his assistance, but her situation had unnerved him and he no doubt feared the punishment the assassins would rain down on him if they discovered he was in league with Yuna. Of course there was the option of asking her uncle…But…no, she hadn't even seen the man since she was a child. It seemed that Gippal was the only person Yuna could imagine would assist her in finding Tidus and defeating Seymour. The Al Bhed were strong and willing fighters- if she could convince Gippal to help, perhaps he could convince his kin in turn. For now, it was the only plan she had, and she clung to it as if it were a lifeline and she was adrift in the open sea.

The rain fell so heavily that Tidus could not see but a few yards ahead of him. Thunder and lightning crashed overhead and made the towers shake so violently it seemed they would spring to life of their own accord. The rain fell in heavy droplets that soaked into Tidus clothes, chilling him to his very bones. He deeply regretted leaving his shelter in hopes of returning to the woods to search for clues of Yuna's whereabouts, as he had almost immediately become lost and achieved nothing more than wandering a large looping circle around the hundreds of rocky outrcroppings. He stood shivering as he examined the barren landscape that lay before him. Or at least, he thought it was barren until he heard a deep rumbling growl that sent a second chill, unrelated to the temperature, crawling up his spine. He turned slowly, his hand sliding instinctively to the knife that hung on his hip, and came face to face with a very large, very dragon-like fiend. The creature was taller than him, the top of Tidus' head only reaching its shoulder, and atop its wedge shaped face were two large, antler-shaped growths that sparked with electricity. Its blue and green skin looked iridescent and hard as diamond. Its feet were long and tipped with dagger-like claws the length of Tidus' own hand. Tidus swallowed hard; barely maintaining his grip on his blade as he raised his trembling hand to face the creature.

"B-bring it on," he heard himself stutter, his lips numb with cold. The creature roared, as if it had understood him, and thundered forward, the ground quaking with each bound it made. True to his training, Tidus tucked himself into a dive and rolled around the fiend as it charged headlong into empty air. As he had suspected, its weight could be made into a weakness as it wasn't nimble enough to turn mid-charge and spear him with its antlers. Using his speed to his advantage, Tidus dodged a second charge and twisted around to rake his dagger along the fiend's side. His blade bounced harmlessly off of the creature's rough hide and he felt it fly from his hands and careen into one of the large, stony towers, then bouncing away into the darkness. Tidus' heart sank as he watched the glint of the dagger disappear. He did not have time to collect himself before the fiend grew tired of their charge-and-miss game and instead opened his large maw and belched a pillar of flame in Tidus' direction. Tidus yelped in surprise and stumbled backward, throwing his arms up in front of his face as the flash of bright flame momentarily blinded him. He fell back, knocking his head against the stone tower behind him. Blinking bright spots from his eyes he looked up just in time to see the fiend charging him once more. He rolled away just in time to avoid the fiend's attack and instead watched as it crashed mercilessly into the tower. The building shook and bits of rubble crumbled from its peak.

An idea sprang to the front of his mind. He got to his feet and began to shout insults at the fiend, which it no doubt did not understand, but nevertheless would not plainly pass up the opportunity to crush the tiny, annoying creature that stood before him. As it charged once more Tidus realized too late that he had underestimated the creature's intelligence; when he rolled to the side to avoid the large lumbering paws, the fiend swung its massive, horned head and caught Tidus underneath his armpit, tossing him across the rocks and straight into the unstable tower. Stars danced before his eyes and his chest heaved uselessly as he gasped for breath. Against his back, he felt the tower shake and tremble unsteadily. Forcing his numb legs to cooperate, he stumbled out of the way as the tower slowly collapsed, the large rocks from the top crushing the fiend as its last cries echoed across the rocky expanse. Tidus stood a ways away hardly able to believe that he had escaped alive, although not unscathed he realized as the deep breath he took sent pain shooting through his chest. Wincing, he squinted past the rain trying to discern if there was a natural cave hidden somewhere among the rocks where he could take shelter from the endless storm and formulate his next move. Placing one aching foot, in front of the other, he focused on one step at a time, breathing shallowly to avoid the stabbing pain in his ribs. Time slowed to a stop as he inched his way across the plains, the freezing rain sending shudders through him while the thunder boomed loudly and lightning sizzled across the sky.

Fate, or luck, (luck Tidus decided when he was conscious enough to make the choice), brought him to the camouflaged entrance of a cave tucked away neatly inside a pile of boulders. He squeezed his way inside the tunnel and limped along the narrow path, one hand dragging along the wall to help guide him through the darkness. As he went deeper into the cave, however, he was surprised to see that it was becoming lighter, not darker. A soft, orange glow danced along the walls in front of him, guiding him into a cozy cavern where a tiny fire crackled in front of a hunched figure. As the stranger raised its head, blue-eyes met mismatched ones and Tidus laughed loudly, almost hysterically, his voice amplified inside the cavern.

"Found you," he breathed when his hysterical relief left him drained. Yuna rushed to his side to support him just as darkness filled his vision and he collapsed to the floor.

When he opened his eyes again, the cavern had grown visibly darker. Yuna was crouched beside him, her hands glowing as she performed the healing incantation and hovering back and forth across his wounds. The small fire sputtered and flickered feebly as she continued to heal him and Tidus realized that the fire must have been produced magically as it appeared to lose power as Yuna did. He watched her in silence as she did her work, feeling the restorative energy course through him. He took a few moments to gather his thoughts before he spoke.

"I thought those thugs got you."

Yuna scoffed quietly, "You still don't seem to fully comprehend my capabilities. I was afraid they had captured you, I've barely had enough time to train you properly."

Tidus forced a laugh, regretting it instantly as the movement sent a shock of pain through his bruised ribcage, "You underestimate…how fast I can run."

He glanced furtively at her and smiled when he saw the corners of her eyes crinkle with amusement. The light of the fire continued to dim as Tidus strength returned and his bruised and battered body was knit back together. By the time she finished treating him, Yuna slumped against the wall, her skin turned an ashen gray. Tidus sat up slowly, shivering as the chill of the storm outside began to creep into their tiny hideaway. They sat in silence for what seemed like a long time, gazing at the dying fire and listening to the endless storm that raged outside.

"I've been thinking about what you said in Guadosalam," Yuna said as soon as her complexion had returned to a healthier palor. "You were right; we need to find help."

Tidus shivered again and scooted closer to the tiny fire, "Can I hear you say that again?"

She looked at him quizzically.

Tidus couldn't help but laugh at her expression, "C'mon…You said I was riii-"

Her face softened into a chagrinned smile, "You were right."

He thrust his fist into the air and grinned at her before settling into a more somber mood, "Any ideas where we should start looking?"

As she spoke, Yuna also moved closer to the ebbing fire and Tidus' face grew hot as he became aware of the fact that their shoulders now touched, "Gippal has been an ally of mine for years. If we could convince him to help us once again, he could convince his people in turn. The Al Bhed are masters of machina and skilled warriors. If we had an entire race of fighters on our side, we may stand a chance against Seymour's forces."

"How come Gippal never told me about any of this?" Tidus asked as he realized how deeply his old friend had been involved in Yuna's journey. "I've known him a long time too, but I never even knew that he had lived anywhere other than Zanarkand in his entire life."

"Maybe he was trying to protect you," Yuna suggested gazing steadily at him. "Helping me the way he has has put him in a lot of danger. When we met with him in Luca he told me he was finished. He's scared…He wants nothing to do with this anymore."

"Then why are we asking him for help again?"

"Because we've got no other choice."

Silence engulfed them once more as they considered the gravity of their situation. A cold breeze rushed through the cavern, sending chills up and down their bodies. Tidus stomped out Yuna's tiny, enchanted fire and opened his arms, gesturing for her join him as he snuggled against the rocky wall, "It's best if you save your strength and we sit together for warmth."

She didn't make any move to accept his offer and instead gazed at him wearily.

"For survivals sake," he insisted letting his arms fall to his sides. Tidus' heart skipped in his chest as Yuna offered him a tiny smile before joining him against the wall and pressing herself against his side, wrapping her arms around her knees.

"For survivals sake," she agreed.

It's too bright here. I can't breathe. There are too many lights here, I'll be seen too easily. This must be a city, but what city is this? Where am I? I don't even remember how I got here, everything's happening so fast. Oh, I can't breathe. Just keep running…Just keep going. Don't stop. If you stop he gets you. If you stop it's over. What was that noise? I'm too close to people here! What the hell was I thinking coming to a city. Someone's following me. Don't panic. You're armed. It's fine. It's fine. STOP NO!...Oh no….oh no…NO!

Yuna woke in a sweat, her heart doing its best to beat its way out of her chest. She fought to control her breathing, glancing at Tidus to see if she had disturbed him. He sat still against the rocky wall, his face quiet and serene. She untangled herself from his arms and pressed herself against the cool rockface, her breathing finally returning to normal. It had been a dream. Just a dream. Or perhaps a memory. She rubbed her eyes and stood, stumbling across the dark cave and wandering towards the entrance to examine the ceaseless storm outside. Sure enough, thunder rumbled and lightning flashed across the sky. The rain continued to pour in heavy sheets across the desolate landscape. Nonetheless, Yuna knew that they needed to move now. Everything in her burned with the urge to run, to run and never stop. Whether the cause was her recent dream, or just a result her the ever present fear she felt, she was unsure. But it didn't matter. One thing was sure, they could not stay here any longer.

They stumbled through the heavy rain for hours, avoiding fiends and ducking behind boulders at every lightning flash. Tidus kept a firm grip on her hand, although after a short time Yuna became too numb to feel his grasp. When he fell, Yuna pulled him to his feet. When she sagged behind, Tidus called encouragement and propelled her forward. They became a single unit, cooperatively fighting the storm. It was endless and the cold had seeped its way into their bones, locking them in its icy grip. Their salvation came long after their lips had turned blue and they were shivering too much to move. A small, yellow light appeared in front of them and as they drew closer they realized that the light emanated from tiny window situated squarely on a mid-sized hut. Hope bloomed within their chests as they stumbled forward with the last dregs of their energy. They reached the door and threw open the door with no regard for who might already reside inside the building.

The room they entered was small and cozy and significantly warmer than the storm they had been lost in for hours. A tall, dark-skinned man stood up from behind a counter in the center of the room and quickly called to some unseen attendants for blankets. He closed the distance between them in a few long strides and pulled them towards a small fireplace. He pushed them down into two plush chairs and then set about lighting the fire. If he had said anything else to them while all of this had happened, Yuna was not sure. Everything around her seemed muffled and dull; things were moving too slowly and she was so sleepy….

A sudden impact jarred her into consciousness. She blinked rapidly and stared at their golden-haired host as her cheek began to sting acutely. Slowly, she realized that the man had slapped her in order to keep her awake. Unorthodox, but, she had to admit, effective. Her body began to shake vigorously as the heat returned to it and she watched helplessly as the man began slapping Tidus as well.

"Whatever it was that convinced you two that you could navigate the Thunder Plains on your own is quite beyond me," he murmured to himself with a thick Al Bhed accent. "Was it luck or fate that led you to the Agency tonight? I do not know."

He turned his bright green gaze on Yuna and flashed a brilliantly white smile at her, "Something powerful is watching over you, young miss. Welcome to Rin's Travel Agency."

The man called Rin continued to bustle about around them, setting logs on the fire and draping the blankets his attendant brought him around their shoulders. He called to a smaller attendant, who looked barely old enough to be employed, and ordered him to prepare a room for their two new guests.

"W-we c-can't pay you," Yuna quickly interjected as the little boy hurried off to fulfill Rin's commands.

The yellow-haired man turned around and smiled that blindingly white smile once again, "Do not worry about the cost my young friend. Rin's Agency never turns down a traveler in need."

"Thank you," Tidus said inclining his head toward their host. Rin returned the gesture and smiled even more widely, "Now what brings you two to the Thunder Plains without map, guide, or vehicle?"

Yuna glanced nervously at Tidus, attempting to communicate without words the importance of disgression. Her concern was unnecessary she discovered, as Tidus simply said, "We're on our way to see some friends further south and we ran into a band of thugs. They forced us into the Plains without any preparations."

"I see," Rin murmured. "Then it is quite lucky indeed that you made it here in one piece."

He paced to the counter and returned with two cups of steaming hot liquid, giving one to each of them. Tidus took a large gulp of his beverage only to spray it across the room a moment later as the liquid burned his tongue. Yuna took a more sensible approach and sipped tenderly at the sweet liquid. A velvety, warmth spread through her limbs making her feel content and drowsy. As Tidus took a second try at consuming his drink, Yuna turned to Rin and said, "We cannot thank you enough for your hospitality. I don't know how much longer we would have lasted out there."

"Oh, not very long at all," Rin answered with the same unnerving smile. "But I'm quite glad to be of assistance, we do not get very many visitors out here in the Thunder Plains division."

"Hey, you said you're a travel agency right?" Tidus asked, having recovered the use of his tongue. Rin nodded smiling. "Then would you be able to give us a lift to um…where we need to get?"

"And where would that be?"

Tidus sent Yuna a conflicted glance. She turned to Rin and said, "We're trying to get to the Al Bhed capital. We need to get to Home."

"Ah!" Rin exclaimed, his smile widening. "That happens to be one of our most traveled routes, that should be no problem of all. The only issue I forsee is that of immediate payment."

Tidus gave Rin a dumbfounded look, "I thought you said we didn't have to worry about paying."

The Al Bhed man let out a loud laugh, "My hospitality is free, of course, but we are a travel agency and our travel fees are not free. We must make our income, you see. But do not worry, we will work out a way for you to pay your fare, for now you must rest! Come I shall show you to your rooms."

They followed Rin into the back of the building down a narrow hallway, until they came upon a row of doors set into the wall. Rin released a set of keys from his pocket and opened the middle door, swinging it open and allowing Tidus and Yuna to step inside. It was a small, square, unadorned room with a large white bed against the far wall and a shaggy, slightly worn carpet draped across the floor.

"I wish you both a wonderful nights rest," their host said as he closed the door behind him.

"I'll take the floor," Tidus mumbled, kicking off his damp boots.

"No," Yuna protested. "I had the bed when we stayed in Luca. I'll take the floor this time."

"There's no way I'm letting you sleep on that old rug," Tidus argued crossing his arms.

"You're not letting me do anything!" Yuna shot back. "Just sleep on the bed, stop being so stubborn!"

"Oh, I'm the stubborn one?!" Tidus yelled. "I'm trying to be nice here! Just take the bed!"


Tidus groaned and rubbed his face angrily. He took a deep breath and then suddenly began to chuckle. Yuna blinked in surprise, her frustration turning to confusion.

"Are we really fighting about this?" Tidus said laughing loudly. Laughter erupted from Yuna's lips as well as she considered their argument. The two continued to laugh at themselves as their exhaustion began to make them feel hysterical.

"Alright," Tidus finally said, rubbing his tired eye. "How about we share? Just this once."

His blood coated her hands, it was slick and warm and made her feel sick. His eyes rolled back into his head and he crashed to the ground with a sickening thud. She was by his side, on her knees, in an instant, pressing her hands to the wound to stop the bleeding. Words of panic and apology fell from her lips, but even she could not seem to comprehend what she was saying. Her hands glowed white as she attempted to reverse the damage. But even as the devastating wound disappeared, she knew it was too late. She sat back on her heels and gazed at the tall, dark-haired man who now seemed so much smaller and less intimidating. She could still smell the beer on his breath and realized that if someone found him they would believe it was an accident. No one would know what she had done. No one….No one but her.

Yuna's eyes flew open and she bolted upright. Anger, fear, and guilt sent shudders through her and before she could stop it, the tears were pouring down her cheeks.

Why? She thought. Why now? Why is all of this coming back to me?

As she sat upright in the bed trembling, she felt a hand lay itself on her shoulder. She stiffened instinctively and hurried to wipe the tears from her face, but they would not stop falling.

"Yuna?" Tidus whisper was full of concern as he sat up in the bed beside her. "What's wrong? Are you ok?"

Yuna could not answer, she was paralyzed with the wave of emotions she had struggled for so long to keep in check. She felt Tidus wrap his arms around her shoulders and pull her slowly into his chest. She expected herself to recoil at the intimate contact but instead found herself pressing herself closer into the embrace. Tidus's arms tightened around her as her tears dripped into the fabric of his shirt. Yuna could hear the steady beating of his heart and feel the strength in his arms around her. She had not been touched with such care in years and the feeling was unequivocal. Her tears began to slow as she began to match her breathing to that of Tidus'. She closed her eyes and focused on feeling the warmth of his skin against hers. She felt vulnerable and yet at the same time, protected. The last thing she felt before she fell asleep, was Tidus press his face against the top of her head. He whispered something into her ear, but by then, sleep had taken her far away and she did not hear.

It's ok. Everything will be ok, I promise.

Thanks for reading, Fuzzyfezz