Emotive unstable you're like an unwinding cable car
Listening for voices, but it's the choices that make us who we are
Go your own way, even seasons have changed just burn those new leaves over
So self-absorbed you've seemed to ignore the prayers that have already come about
This is the correlation of salvation and love
(Don't drop your arms)
Don't drop your arms, I'll guard your heart
With quiet words I'll lead you in
~ Anberlin (The Unwinding Cable Car)
Straightening the strap of his satchel, Baralai smiles and waves goodbye to the nearby priests, before heading out, breaking out into a jog after passing the temple's entrance. Eluding his duties, the mental labor, and constant responsibilities, Baralai dives headlong into the great outdoors. His legs are locomotive wheels, hair whipping his face and partially blinding him as he weaves pass loyalists of the infantile doctrine "one thing at a time"– one step at a time, one leap at a time, Baralai runs.
A brisk breeze brushes his skin. Cool sunlight. Goose-bumps smooth and asleep in the afternoon heat. Contrasting sensations, which can only belong to Bevelle's unique climate. Baralai breathes in the fresh air, freedom he can grasp at with his fingertips, and he throws his head back to drink in the clear, cobalt sky. Bold color assaults his sight, dizzying Baralai with its raw lucidity, and closes his eyes for a moment to enjoy the orange darkness.
Everything feels different after assuming Praetorship, serving New Yevon as the elected head. This weight of serious leadership on his young shoulders, acting as the representative for all members, proactive in their noble cause, stubborn in their pushy opinions, it overwhelms him. Holing himself up inside the safety of secrecy and slow progress, guiding a prejudiced party against a bitter rival and former friend of another, viewing the world behind closed windows and formal documents, Baralai finally scheduled his first day off after three long months. Now he can claim this day for himself. For one day, Baralai has the right to ignore formality, to cancel appointments, to dismiss excuses and be himself.
Nearly bumping into a warrior monk on patrol, Baralai slows his pace, turning around to bow his head in apology, laughing, earning a curious look from the elder man.
"I'm off-duty. Don't mind me." Spurred by spontaneous energy, Baralai continues on his way, picking up speed and weaving pass the thin crowd in the narrow road, planning to cut through the plaza to see the sights and admire the commercial flourish and maybe have some tea to wake himself up–
–and barrel into unsuspecting townspeople. Reeling from the impact, Baralai stops in his sprint, facing the woman and bowing low. "My apologies. Excuse my impertinence..." Lifting his face, he gasps in surprise, straightening his stance stiff and composing his excitement. "Lady Yuna? A-An honor..." he says, moderating his bated breaths, almost neglecting the customary Yevon greeting, "to see you on this, ahem... beautiful day."
Yuna nods in greeting, smile polite, seemingly self-conscious, and he glances at her arm, guilt-ridden as she massages the bruised biceps. Reaching out to touch her, clasping her hand over the wounded area, Baralai wishes for nothing more then to wipe the pain away, to fix this mistake and somehow repay her. "You are hurt and it is my fault. I am sorry." Pinpricks of light glow between the gaps of their fingers, warmth seeping into his palm; a Cure spell.
"There is nothing to worry about. See?" Peeling their hands off, Yuna reveals the unblemished skin. "It's gone." If only her magic can heal the remorse, too. Baralai sighs, relieved, though not entirely free from self-blame. "What were you running from earlier?"
"I suppose you can call it work. It is my day off." That would explain the absence of his formal robes. Navy blue tunic, sleeves short and collar loose, light grey capri pants, and the sleeves of a dark coat wrung around his waist, serving as a makeshift cape. His platinum hair falls free on his face without a headband, windswept and glinting, bangs parted for his eyes to see. The dark tones bring out his masculinity more and Yuna blushes, smitten by his effeminate looks, too. How does he pull off such an uncommon, attractive combination? 'He's handsome, especially so in casual clothes...'
"Something wrong, milady?"
"No, ah... you look different."
He shrugs, nonchalant, rubbing his neck, unused to the bare exposure. 'Has it always felt this drafty without a collar?' "A cause for relaxation. Speaking of which," he says, pausing to extend his elbow, an offer of companionship, "Let's find a comfortable place to talk."
Bevelle, home to a dense population of people constantly on the move, crowding the busy streets and causing traffic for electric-powered carriages. Steam rises from manholes, the hot fumes disorienting Yuna, as she wonders at the depth and complexity of the sewage lines, unable to recall if they were there during her childhood days before she departed for Besaid a decade ago. Hovercrafts race across canals to transport passengers and airships soar above skyscrapers, delivering all manner of things to various places, such as goods, packages, and provisions to companies, family businesses, and the wealthy middle class.
Yuna never felt so stranded in her life; it seems every passerby, be it man or woman, even child, take to pointing, blaming the "traitor", spouting idle accusations, and they don't stop. In spite of her obvious discomfort, people continue to stare, and she's paranoid to believe the people congregating in groups are talking about her. The waitress at a nearby café, giving furtive glances, or the construction worker pounding smoothness into the craggy sidewalk using an electric drill, glaring through dusty goggles and helmet, or the parents dragging their children away from Yuna's line of sight.
It's too uncanny to be innocent coincidence, the occasional stranger "bumping" shoulders with her, deliberate force suspicious, and an arm wraps around her shoulders, tugging Yuna near. Uncomfortable of the proximity, Yuna clings onto Baralai's side anyway, allowing him to guide her through semi-familiar corners and streets warped by industrial modifications. She shrinks from the pointed staring, sensing eyes, multiple pairs of eyes, boring into her back.
"Careful, Lady Yuna," he says, voice quiet, closer than all other cacophonous noise. "I do not want you to trip." His polite remark serves as a guise to his real concern, emphasizing presence to protect her from unpleasant attention, the majority avid New Yevon advocates, despite the fact he's worsening it. Baralai's chivalry does little to alleviate her worries, only provoke passive discontent further, yet the masses lack the nerve to bully the High Summoner; no one wants to lose face in front of the Praetor. Ironic that Yuna feels safest in the arms of the "enemy" leader.
Between a simple shopping spree, in pursuit of female goons in uniform, and getting separated from the girls, wandering aimless in enemy territory only to bump into Baralai himself, 'what have I gotten myself into? Rikku, Paine, where are you?'
"Here is your crepe, milady." Startled out of her dismal observations, Yuna turns in her seat, greeted by an amiable smile and a delectable treat, sincerity questionable. Yuna graciously receives it, feeling shy and foolish.
Baralai sits across from her, digging into his treat, slow and cautious, somehow without spilling one drop of chocolate or whip cream. Yuna grins, giggling; trying to figure out one man's mindset is no different than surveying a maze in search of a secret garden, and she decides to allow time to judge his true character instead of hasty paranoia. 'There's more than meets the eye, right?'
"A shame I didn't start my day early, however, I do believe it is a blessing in disguise for we have crossed paths." Yuna clears her throat, embarrassed by his roundabout verbal display of gratitude, so casual and without coquettish intent.
"O-or it could have been pure coincidence."
"Regardless," Baralai says, smiling behind his crepe, licking his sticky lips, "I'm happy to meet you again, milady, and not under the pretense of business. Ah, it seems you have whip cream right..." Reaching out to touch her chin, he wipes the cream off the corner of her lips with his thumb. "There." Yuna touches the spot, giddy despite herself, and amends her previous thought, 'Obviously more than meets the eye with this one...' A holy man with natural charm and a pretty face, he's young, kind, a smooth-talker, the ultimate gentleman, and a powerful political figure. If Baralai possessed physical prowess and high magic intelligence to match, he could very well be the most dangerous person in the world.
"What is the occasion of your visit?"
"Well... The girls and I were having a shopping spree, but it's insanely difficult keeping up to speed with Rikku. We somehow got separated when the crowd thickened. I grew bored after awhile of searching for them, so I thought 'why not revisit the temple?'"
Baralai chuckles. "Interesting tale, though I doubt everyone there would give you the warm welcome you deserve, Lady Yuna." At hearing this, Yuna frowns and hides her sulking face behind comfort food. Leaning across the table, he grasps her hand before she can pull away, startled by the gesture, wary of his intentions. "Do not let it bother you."
"I-it doesn't bother me..." Her stutter betrays the white lie at face value and reassurance squeezes her hand. "Erm, actually... that is, I... I don't know how to face you. You must be disappointed for us to have stolen something that originally belonged to you and... giving it to your enemy..."
"I do not hold it against you, milady. Yes, I cannot deny being disappointed. The Gullwings caused riots of discontent within the New Yevon party, nothing but trouble for my faction from your selfish actions, yet– though what Yevon has done to you shouldn't be any excuse– you don't have true obligations to support me. More than anything, all I request is not to allow political hostilities to tarnish whatever relationship we have yet to establish.
"To put it in simple words..." Flustered by his long-winded response, he clears his throat, and says, "I wish to be friends, Lady Yuna."
Oddly happy by his rambling, finding his embarrassment endearing, Yuna reciprocates the sentiment, squeezing his hand. "The feeling is mutual."
"Let's have a race!"
Yuna hops across stone steps, which forms a bridge to the gazebo, pristine water flowing in soft, circling rivulets, a decorative moat. Her silly remark distracts Baralai; amusement and pleasant surprise provides her a momentary head start, yet he instantly recovers. Hands suddenly grasp her sides, intercepting her reach to the finish line, and Baralai leaps to steal her victory after placing her two steps directly behind.
Laughter, the sound heartfelt and cracking at the lack of use. He keels over, clutching his abdomen and slapping his knee once at the hilarious sight of her indignation. Embarrassed, Yuna pouts, stomping her foot, giggling, and with a mischievous smile skips to his side. "That's not fair." A light, playful shove accompanies her retort.
"I don't recall you mentioning any rules."
Both recline on the cool wall, lounging on a vacant bench, eyes closed, minds clear, enjoying the quaint silence and remote solitude. Nature, a little piece of her favorite garden; the outskirts of Bevelle and Macalania woods intermingle, untarnished by modern civilization. Blue ice and white crystal have melted off the trees exposed to hot daylight, the frozen sheen and moonlit glitter replaced by aging green and robust brown.
Sunlight filters through the holes of the scalene rooftop, a wooden canopy to shade them from the heat. Yuna raises her hands face up, marveling at the flickering flecks dancing all over the lines of her palms. Quiet is the cute twitter of birds, the lazy rustle of the trees and its leafy tambourines, the liquid flow of aquamarine diamonds, the whistle of the windswept grass, and the whispers of their breathing.
Fluttering, rapid pages brushes the idle patience of a thumb. Yuna takes a peek out of curiosity, spotting Baralai opening a book he fished out from his satchel.
"What are you reading?"
"Loveless. A classic of love, friendship, and adventure."
"Hmm... it sounds familiar... looks familiar, too..." Yuna remembers when she'd sometimes find Paine alone in the cabin, indulging in a novel, either seated on a bed upstairs or on a stool at the bar, always that one same book. Not that Yuna perceived her as a slow reader, but the warrior never seemed to finish reading it. Unless she continuously re-read it from time to time.
"Would you like me to read the interpreted version of the poem? I guarantee it is easier to understand."
He shifts to face her, knees touching, gives voice to the first stanza, sensationalizing the text with wise, grave, and sympathetic tones. Yuna listens, attentive and intrigued, legs locked together and hands lying flat on her lap. "When the war of the beasts brings about the world's end, the goddess descends from the sky. Wings of light and dark spread afar, she guides us to bliss, her gift everlasting.
"The infinite mystery; the gift of the goddess is what the three men seek. We are disquieted by our actions, but their fates are scattered by war. One becomes a hero, one wanders the land, and the last is taken prisoner– but the three are still bound by a solemn oath to seek the answer, once again. Though the prisoner escapes, he is gravely wounded. His life is saved, however, by a woman of the opposing nation. He begins a life of seclusion with her which seems to hold the promise of eternal bliss, but as happiness grows, so does guilt of not fulfilling the oath to his friends. As the war sends the world hurtling towards destruction, the prisoner departs with his newfound love and embarks on a new journey. He is guided by hope that the gift will bring bliss and the oath he swore to his friends. Though no oath is shared between the lovers, in their hearts they know they will meet again."
Yuna dreams of hardships and happiness, of fairy-tales, of unfulfilled wishes, "I'm sorry I couldn't show you Zanarkand," of a lost love, Ripples form on the water's surface, sleeping in a faraway ocean, reconciling, dreaming.
The wandering soul knows no rest, Yuna dreams, and Tidus never stays whenever she wakes up, There is no hate, only joy
Urban streets, a city that never sleeps, neon lights, holographic images, flashing billboards, electric colors that blend amongst the distant stars. Walkways constructed high above shallow water, complex structures overlook a local sea, a popular beach, and she walks invisible amongst the modern masses. Faceless, unfamiliar, foreign, Hero of the dawn, Healer of worlds, until liquid blasts of energy ignite death into the night.
Gargantuan buildings crumble, skylines shatter, implosions of glass and metal, one after the other, laying waste to prestigious architecture and transcendent wisdom. Reenactment of an infamous nightmare, an example of all the rest that will follow. Fate, destiny, doom, karma, justice, trapped in a vicious cycle; death after death after death, a life of a valorous Summoner, and more deaths.
The apocalyptic scenery dissipates, revealing the living room of a mansion, place of a political, marital proposal, My soul, corrupted by vengeance, Seymour, a half-breed responsible for summoning nightmares.
The look in his cyan eyes, poisonous, repugnant, desperate, a shinigami at his own wedding, her own husband, a harbinger of genocide, a cold-blooded killer, Maester of Yevon, psychotic mastermind, "Spira is a land of suffering and sorrow caught in a spiral of death", a very lonely child.
Hath endured torment, to find the end of the journey
Yuna dreams of sand and palm trees, of waterfalls and miniature rainbows, of machina ruins and sun-kissed greenery. Valefor scales the skies, protecting an idyllic paradise, this island home to a mortal goddess. Deep, dangerous waters play with hopeful sportsmen. Families coexist in peaceful repetition, where violence disappears, and people pass on the baton of happiness within future generations.
In my own salvation, And your eternal slumber
Children build their whole lives on chastity, until they bleed. Men challenge egos, until they bleed. Women conceive children, until they bleed. Death does not reach life, until they bleed. Spiral. Dreams of the morrow hath the shattered soul
Yuna faces the ocean from the docks of Besaid, seated on a foldable chair, silver hair glittering in tragic lore like Yunalesca before her.
Legend shall speak of sacrifice at world's end
Hymn of the Fayth, the words are broken, The wind sails over the water's surface, lost in the forgotten memory, humming a fragmented tune, Quietly, but surely, waiting.
My friend, do you fly away now?
Waiting for a miracle, waiting for the sun to rise from the ashes like a sleeping phoenix.
Even if the morrow is barren of promises
Demented and lovesick and waiting, she treats her seat like a rocking chair, tipping the plastic legs, teetering...
Nothing shall forestall my return
A harsh wind blows, blowing her backwards, falling...
My friend, the fates are cruel
Gravity, The arrow has left the bow of the goddess, it shreds the wooden slabs to smithereens. Nails rusted by time and sea-spray shoot free into Sin's hurricane.
To become the dew that quenches the land
In the midst of this phantasmal chaos, Yuna closes her eyes, crying, To spare the sands, the seas, the skies, not ready to fall asleep, not ready to say goodbye.
I offer thee this silent sacrifice
Collision in liquid glass. Cold clarity. A cruel, merciful awakening.
Yuna blinks, groggy, a dull ache pounding in her neck. Head pillowed on a misshapen cushion, a cushion that seems almost alive, rising and falling in accordance to human breathing. Something soft and feathery tickles her forehead, and the slightest of motions alerts her to the presence of another.
Hands seemingly slathered in blood-soaked earth cradles a fuchsia book on a folded lap. Her eyes trace the connecting arms, lifting a limp hand to touch the forearm, slinking down to feel skin, real solid warm skin. Invigorated by a surge of nonsensical joy, Yuna clasps his hand, hugging the arm with the other, nuzzling. "You're alive..."
Baralai's attention strays from the novel to acknowledge the physical contact, wondering whether or not Yuna's conscious of her words and actions. Laying his book down, he strokes her forefinger with his thumb, contemplative. She's not a cold, regal statue deserving of worship, but a human being, a young woman in want of companionship.
A ghost of a smile; Baralai clasps her hand and gives a soft squeeze.
"Sorry about this. I've occupied most of your day..."
"No need to worry, milady. I enjoyed your company. Though I wish..." Wary of his sudden pause, Yuna straightens the sleeves of his coat, too baggy for her skinny arms, courtesy of Baralai's generosity, before facing him. He seems tentative, thoughtful, demure almost, as if afraid of confessing something personal. "That we could spend more time together before you have to leave."
She blushes, stifling her stammers. Yuna doesn't want to appear too friendly, too interested to the point of misunderstanding, but she doesn't want to hurt his feelings, either. 'Besides, it's not like I'm interested, or seriously interested, or– I'm in love with him! What am I thinking?'
Recalling the recent outburst from her worried cousins through her ear-piece, and Paine's unusual defense of the Praetor's company to reassure the paranoid siblings, Yuna sees little reason to accept. "I... I have to go, before it gets too dark. I don't want the others to worry."
She observes a nearby koi pond, dismissing the disappointment in his eyes from sight. The sudden formality in his neutral tone cannot be denied by her ears. "I understand. Allow me to escort you. The streets tend to be more dangerous when it's dark."
They tread the long Highbridge in direction of the exit where the Gullwing's airship awaits, passers-by few and far in between, as Baralai's strides are lessened to match Yuna's otherwise casual pace. The sun dips low in a pastel horizon, creeping behind tall spires and regal sky scrapers, and as the minutes pass the stars peek too late in the evening sky.
"The stars don't look very bright," Yuna says, musing aloud. He follows her cue to break the ice.
"It's because of the pollution. Shortly after the Eternal Calm, Bevelle has taken overwhelming steps to tolerate machina, even going as far as conduct open trade with Al Bhed. Electrical appliances have been installed in buildings, and shops have been promoting the use of machina units for the convenience of faster and more efficient work."
Not sure what to say about Bevelle's hypocritical liberal stance on machina use, not sure how to feel, proud, conflicted, disappointed, or unconcerned towards the harmful effects to the environment, Yuna chooses escapism through positivity.
"In Besaid the sky is clearer and you can see more stars."
"A magnificent sight, I can imagine."
"It truly is. You should come to Besaid one of these days and see for yourself. I... actually, I, um... I'd like to show you myself, if that's possible."
Her invitation and unspoken promise to see him again startles Baralai out of his sad deliberations of her departure, banishes his dread to quell the nasty rumors about the Gullwings and pacify unhappy, tantrum-throwing Youth League-haters the next day. Slowing his pace, he glances at her, smiling despite himself.
"I'll be sure to pay a visit to the temple, or plan a vacation there."
Yuna nods, and sneezes twice. Burrowing her nose and chin in the fuzzy collar, Yuna hugs herself, sniffing. She doesn't remember Bevelle ever being this cold. 'My nose is getting runny...'
Concerned of her comfort, Baralai touches her arm, stepping close, "Milady, let me see your hands," and they soon halt in their walk. Yuna loosens her stiff fingers from the baggy cuffs and clasps his outstretched hands. Her body shivers, heart fluttering at the physical contact of his lips on her knuckles; Baralai breathes warmth into them, and Yuna almost forgot how to breathe. His bold benevolence scatters her thoughts, makes her blush at the tingles, and Yuna wishes he would stop seducing her to like him so much.
He smiles, child-like, as if wanting to entrust a secret. "Hold my hands, please. I'd like to show you something." Smitten into submission, Yuna acquiesces without excuse.
Baralai summons flames between his palms, small and warm, glowing so bright in the ink of nightfall that, from some distance, someone may have thought they were holding the sun in their hands.