(A/N): There are quite a few allusions in this chapter that I used outside of FFX-2.
The first scene and the second half of the second scene were originally written for The Pilgrimage, and I revised them to fit into this continuity. The quote 'Whose eyes are those eyes...' was taken from the anime series Chaos;Head; the beginning dialogue of scene two was inspired by Inception (2012).
Chapter Song: The Clockmaker ~ Artist: Vexare
Main Song: Stars Align ~ Artist: Lindsey Stirling
Chapter 4–Inner Child, Inner Demon
Pleated robes of burgundy and blue blow within the evanescence of sea-salt waves and tropic winds. Muted footsteps clack on cold cobblestone and creaking wood, journeying across snow, and grass, and sand beneath the dark of night and phantom of sunlight. Incorporeal hands caress the tendrils of a weeping willow as the ghost envisions the hieroglyphic glowing walls of Macalania temple. Benevolent eyes perceive the superfluous seasons of past lives, until Braska reaches the border between reality and dreams at long last.
Braska trespasses upon the catacombs of memory, leaving behind the Farplane in order to enter a man's unconsciousness. Reminiscence traps a young boy in eternal recurrence: Baralai throws rocks at a still ocean. Misshapen stone frogs hop on liquid glass, splashing ripples all over the mirror's sky in the form of luminescent cracks. Stalactite pours rain and sadness on the lost soul who suffers in solitude and the boy soon collapses to his knees in tears, separated from his favorite playmate. Once temporary calm settles over the water, a silhouette of a growing woman smiles in the lucidity. 'Yuna...'
Touched by this object of attachment they both share, Braska approaches the acolyte and stoops to pull him on his feet. The High Summoner coaxes eye contact, cradling his lanky arms as calm curiosity smooths the wet storm on the boy's cherubic face. "L-Lord Braska..."
"You will return to someone very precious to us, very, very soon. Take care of her for me, and I guarantee she will take care of you. Cease dreaming on the brink of suicide, child. Please, don't make this your time." Braska takes him by the hand and moves to guide him home, but Baralai's feet remains firm on the ground.
"I'm not the one you are looking for."
"You are Baralai, right?"
He shakes his head and takes a step back, another and another, until he lets go of his hand. "I am Baralai, and I am not. I am... who am I?"
"Okay, then." Braska walks forward, dropping to one knee and looking up at a face so young and downcast. Whose eyes are those eyes that have yet to see true happiness in the face of so much horror? "Can you tell me where the real Baralai is?"
"Are you sure? I don't think he wants to come back. I mean, would you?"
His cryptic words unsettle him, but Braska dismisses it. "We will never know until we try, won't we?"
"He will hurt you."
"Well, we don't know about that. His friends are worried about him and I promised to make sure he is of sane mind. Won't you take me to where he is?"
"...okay, but don't say I didn't warn you."
Baralai runs to escape the fiends hot on his trail. Halcyon monsters dive in midair to strike him down with their long and arrow-shaped bills, and he jumps aside to dodge each one, slashing at underbellies one after the other. For each kill and parry he delivers, the Mushussu looms ever closer, and the sand wolves sprint ahead of the fire drake, tongues lolling out the mouths and licking at their rotten sharp fangs. Baralai can hear them pant and bark from close behind, snapping at his heels, until the leader lets loose a short howl. He hears their paws disperse, sees the wolves enter in both sides of his periphery, and realizes they are trying to flank him in an ambush.
Baralai recalls in his moment of pure adrenaline that beast-like fiends are weak to fire, and he bounds forward to push some distance between him and his pursuers. Twirling on the balls of his feet, he plants his stance firm in the sand and stares in the face of so many stampeding fiends. Baralai pulls his arms in close to accumulate mana and projects an explosion of fiery magic to incinerate the wolves surrounding him. Only the drake survives the blast, plunging through the flames to inhale its fire. Baralai comes back in to conjure a wall of wind using the gyrations of his staff, resolving to stave its Fire Breath, but the flames sear his hands and force him to let go of the razor rod.
The Mushussu barrels into his abdomen, tackling him down, and Baralai doubles over in excruciating pain, flying to skid across rough sand. Struggling to breathe or even stand, Baralai can hear it huff and snort somewhere several feet away. It stays in place, digging its forefoot into the sand, and Baralai pushes himself on his feet, breathing hard. He risks a glance, spies his staff lying five feet away, and looks back at the drake. They watch each other, waiting for the other to make their move. It bows its head, Baralai bends his knees, and they charge.
Baralai lunges for his weapon and the drake curves its dash to meet him headlong. Scrambling for the razor rod, he stands upright and catches its horns against his staff in the nick of time to weaken the brunt of that headbutt. Baralai grits his teeth, striving not to budge while its acrid howls burn his nostrils. Perceiving the long inhalation of breath, he somersaults above the stream of fire, and drops to saddle the drake. Reigning in the monster beneath the brutal clench of his staff, Baralai maintains his grip as it rears and roars and spews fire. Clasping its cranium under one hand, he manipulates gravity to squeeze its brain within merciless pressure until it bucks him off its backside.
Baralai lands on the sand, winded by the impact, and stands at once to face the fire drake. It buckles on its knees, struggling to keep itself steady, blood dribbling off its gaping mouth. He waits for it to move, but it collapses, no longer possessing the energy to fight. Striding towards the monster, Baralai looks down to see it still breathes, lying there haggard and dying. In a moment of fleeting empathy, Baralai remembers that fiends were once human, only born when people's souls are unable to move on. They envy the living until hatred twists them into a single-minded, tragic existence.
Baralai resolves to end its suffering, and summons solid ice to smash its thick neck.
Counting the number of scorched cadavers that litter his immediate surroundings, he ambles to the center and prepares to perform a Sending. He lets go of the fear and anger he held towards the fiends – sentient, wrathful creatures who have lost their humanity – and begins to sing the Hymn. His footsteps dance to form the lines of a six-pointed star, and he mingles minds with those of the liberated pyreflies, watching as they ascend into the starry sky. Bodies disintegrate into dust, becoming one with the blood-soaked sands, and Baralai stands alone in the cold dark night.
He climbs another sloping incline where he knows a nest of Sandragora rests between two stone outcroppings. Once at the top, he stops to peer into the crater where two plant-like fiends sleep. How to sneak by without awakening them? He won't be able to stand the might of Sand Bursts pelting him into a state of never-ending confusion, unless he uses magic to burn them in their slumber. They will treat the pain they feel as part of a nightmare. Casting double the amount of Fira, Baralai dives in to dash across and throws himself through the flames, seething at the sudden emergence of heat that chokes him. The moment he slams onto the other side, he hustles to climb up and haul himself out before the fiends start stirring.
He races down the hill under the pull of gravity, his arms pumping at his sides. It takes a moment for the slightest stagger to send him tripping, and Baralai shields his face as his body hits the sand and starts rolling down the hill. He coughs once he reaches the bottom, having inhaled some sand by accident, and gropes for his canteen. Jerking upright, Baralai takes a long swig of water and exhales, coughing some more, before collapsing back onto the sand. He sighs, regulating his breathing to normal. Staring transfixed at the empyrean, he smiles. Such a beautiful night, in such a forsaken hot place. Baralai would never be able to see as many stars as he does now if he were still in Bevelle.
Before he can risk the chance to wonder why, Baralai sits up to lean on his propped knee and scan the area. That large and foreign looking structure located several miles out into the distance, it bemuses and mesmerizes him.
'I found it, whatever it is. It looks like... a machina city, a fitting enough place for the Al Bhed to live. What do I do now? It took me several hours of scouting to find it. I might be faster getting back, but if I don't leave now I won't be able to make it.' Dawn will soon come, and he must make haste, if he wants to slip back into camp without anyone noticing. Maybe on another day, he can return and perhaps speak with the Al Bhed leader they call Cid. There are plenty of things he wants to talk about, and Baralai will risk his life if it means he can help break these racial barriers.
Lingering sentiment flares on site and Baralai's face tightens. He stands straight and shatters the illusion, reforming the landscape to replace the sand with metal plating. The hum of machina working as a collective whole reverberates around him, walling off the hot desert winds. Whoever had followed him did their best to conceal their presence until the sight of this fortress brought forth incriminating sentimentality. Baralai turns, and there they are. High Summoner Braska, a man of legend, and a boy who looks so much like himself it shocks him. What do they want? Why are they invading his dreamscape?
They are not figments of his imagination; they feel real. They do not belong here. They must be exterminated.
Baralai resolves to flush them out where they will never hope to return again.
"What are you doing here?"
Braska stutters, startled. "I'm–."
"I know who you are. What are you doing here?" He can feel Baralai channeling his feelings of betrayal at the boy who only fidgets and looks away out of guilt.
"Yuna, your friends..." Clearing his throat, Braska dares to take a step forward, yet his wrath intervenes on their good intentions.
"How dare you lead him here. You have profaned my privacy!" His counterpart gasps and hangs his head, ashamed and unable to deny the truth. Braska sees his eyes start to water behind the curtain of his bangs, and frowns, more determined than ever to set this right. Yuna and her friends fought to defend the Eternal Calm and save Spira. They deserve to have their friend returned to them safe and sound, regardless of his inner demons and insecurities.
"I only wish to save you. Come back with me."
"Who ever said I wanted to be saved?"
Foreboding energy floods the chamber, pervading their senses, and Braska strives to breathe, overwhelmed by this negative pressure. Whatever hangs in the air motivates the younger Baralai to cast aside his tears of fright, and he charges to yank Braska behind him. "Lord Braska, you mustn't! If you stay, he will dominate you and ensure the erasure of your existence!"
Baralai glowers, spreading his arms out and slinking back into the shadows.
"You shall see... why I don't deserve to be saved..."
"On my signal."
Braska hears a voice on the other side of that door.
A flash of thunderbolt short-circuits the wires, jamming the machina.
Braska flinches when the door slides open and reveals Baralai. Baralai, a tad bit shorter and bearing fresher scars. Baralai, still wearing the long dark dress robes of his falling faith. Baralai two years ago, invading the Summoner's Sanctum.
Dozens of Al Bhed sharpshooters await as sentries surrounding three Summoners, and a trio of Aeons materialize by the beck and call of their owners. Ifrit roars, spewing fire from his nostrils, as he claws his way through metal and compacted sand to reach his master's side. The female Summoner glares daggers at Baralai upon recognition as she strokes her canine beast, taming his impulse to pounce at bay. Ixion neighs, followed by a single discharge of hot electricity from his horn, as he jitters outside his electromagnetic prison to settle by the male Summoner. He clenches his staff, face calm in contradiction to his trembling hands while a Guardian flanks each side, one a toddler and the other a boy reaching his prime. Valefor croons, coming to life within the portal of holy green pyreflies, whose wings obscure the young lady in the kimono dress.
Baralai stops before them all, pausing to extend his left hand.
"I'm sorry, Lady Yuna, but Lord Seymour requests to see you safe and sound. Come."
"Please inform him I decline."
Braska senses the furious beating of Baralai's heart in the prison of his ribcage, senses the fear and determination like they were his own. They shadow his footsteps, his very breath, and prey on the memory of his weaknesses. Braska retreats from the scene, holding the young one close to him who trembles with unadulterated fear. Baralai has every reason to be afraid when two dozen men and women take aim, flaunting sacrilege and imminent harm in the name of premature trauma. His adult self maneuvers around the still souls suspended in time; a dimension most cruel and illusionary as the manipulator himself.
"You have felt this way before, haven't you? Of course you have. You have experienced them, just like me. The feelings of rebellion you can never cleanse from your soul..."
Everything about Baralai aims to disarm them; his pleasant voice and quiet saunter, they are calculated actions that pacify the prey and give the predator enough time to close the distance. He kneels down to his child's eye level, caressing the cheek that clenches with rejection. "...but you, you wouldn't know of rebellion unless it shot you in the back, would you? My precious, naive young self?"
Baralai seethes at the self-belittlement, unsheathing his wakizashi, yet keeping his impulse to strike back at bay in respect of their power difference. Although he cowers from his mocking touch, the courage found in his quiet voice rivals the magnitude of his adult self's rage. "I do know. I know things, like pain and sadness... and betrayal, too! But I'm nothing like you. You are the fiend of hatred, and you deserve to be slayed."
Baralai backhands him and the memory comes back to life.
"Tnub ouin faybuhc... and no one will have to die."
Baralai collapses to his knees faster than a bullet can scrape its way out the barrel. Rapid-fire bullets fly and ricochet off the wall of iridescent light, instilling temporary cracks in his magical barrier. He coughs from the sheer force behind that spiteful hit as metal punctures magic in vain; before he can regain his bearings, his adult self stomps his back and pins him down to the ground. Baralai pulls out a golden hourglass given to him by his master, reciting the activation spell, before planting it upright on metal ground.
"Whom would you rather save? A child?" Baralai cocks the pistol, points his Crimson Squad gun straight at his head, and tightens his finger on the trigger. "Or your very own daughter?" When faced with this heartless sight, and torn between two impossible decisions, Braska can't think pass the chaos in his head or the stress in his Unsent heart. He would never allow for the other to suffer; in reality, the only choice he can make depends on which would he rather suffer the loss of – his family or his morals?
Gravitational energy warps sensory perception, delaying actions under the immediate immobilization of cerebellar functions. Sixty precious seconds trickle down the minuscule filter one by one for every grain that dribbles to the bottom. Although Aeons possess immunity against this manner of magic, humans are rendered debilitated, and Guado flood the chamber to wage battle against divine fury. Mana accumulates in lethal amount until fingertips snap the thread of restraint and Baralai releases the darkness of a thousand nightmares.
"Drop your weapon, I beg of you. He is only a child."
"Or are you going to just stand there and do nothing while everything around you burns to the ground?"
"Why are you doing this? You don't need to do this. Please, don't do this. There is still hope for you."
"Or are you too helpless to stop it? What would you do if you were me? What would you do?"
Flesh suffers wicked frostbite, machina experiences swift corrosion, and not even the Al Bhed's dark goggles can block the white-hot flashes that induce instantaneous blindness. Explosions erupt inside the chamber, searing cold blue bodies beyond hope of salvation. Black smoke and hot sparks permeate the air along with the stench of whatever remains in the destruction. The majority of Guado move to exterminate survivors, banishing weakened Aeons and disoriented Al Bhed from the living realm.
The death knell tolls to the number of souls fated to fall. Baralai holds his breath, unable to breathe, unable to close his eyes or shut his ears from the sight and sound of macabre – and he screams.
"Stop! Stop! You're killing them! You're killing them all~!"
Utter hysteria threatens to drown out his voice, and the man detaches from his young self who curls into the fetal position, trembling. Baralai holds total disregard for a child, let alone a priest who failed to save said child from his own inner demon. Braska contemplates the cruelty of a single man while witnessing the memory of his daughter's capture, helpless to have protected her like a father should.
Baralai moves to retrieve Yuna, undaunted by Summoners and Guardians alike who stand up to defend their own. "Summon and I will spare no lives, including the child," he says, and torches their resistance to ash. Yuna lies there on the verge of unconsciousness as he hitches her legs over one arm and holds her torso on the other, leaving blood, debris, and bodies in his wake as the intercom continues to blare.
"Ajanouha ihtan! Ajanouha ihtan!... Ajanouha ihtan!..."
"...Are these... your true feelings... no, this is... self-loathing..."
Baralai looms over him, hand outstretched and glowing white. "Suffer."
For one minute Braska sits there, eyes closed and hand outstretched above Baralai's forehead in concentration. Everyone either watches with bated anticipation or kills time wandering, until a swirl of emerald gold pyreflies swarm to suck Braska's life force. Jecht and Auron spring up to pull him away, protecting what remains of his dim silhouette. Braska collapses, soul flickering to the violent pull of absorption, and everyone stares dumbfounded as Baralai's body begins to rise. Scarlet clouds of corrupt pyreflies surround his head, eyes blank white and tan skin turning green from the fingertips and growing.
"Father? Father?!" Yuna crouches by his side, bewildered.
"What's happening to him? He's glowing..." Paine braces herself, readying her sword.
"He's become overexposed to the pyreflies' influence," Auron says, "The possession may have proved too much for him to handle, especially given the extreme circumstances. We could stave the side effects with holy water, but the root of the problem still remains."
"You don't mean..." Rikku pales, hands flying to her mouth.
"What? What?" LeBlanc hisses, impatient. "What is it?"
Nooj takes up his gun and glares. "Zombification."