The Story So Far: Thirteen years after Yuna falls defeating Sin, Isaaru and his brothers return to pilgrimage, teaming up with Auron. He's keeping his secrets, including Sin's identity.
A spectacular Kilikan sunset of amber, red and gold had painted a sphere-perfect backdrop for the departure of Isaaru and his guardians, duly recorded by several spectators. The whole village had turned out to see them off. They had been escorted aboard with cheers, hymns, a refill of Auron's jug from Kulukan the innkeeper, and an unusually sober, "Good luck, Isaaru— sorry you're finally getting your chance," from Dona. Now they sailed north in lonely silence, muffled in a fog that seemed intent on blotting out the ship's lanterns, crew's voices, and any sign of a world beyond the ship's rails. The gates to the Farplane could hardly be more impenetrable.
Auron sat in the dank, gloomy night outside the door to Isaaru's cabin, methodically sharpening the cast-off Crusader's blade that Pacce and Barthello had found for him. It had barely sufficed for an ochu's hide, and while that had given them a chance to show off to their idol, it might cost someone dearly.
Maroda slouched against the cabin wall on the other side of the door. The quiet, steady snick of the whetstone had been cutting the air between them for an hour, keeping awkward questions at bay. A delaying action at best, but it had given Auron time to prepare.
"So who was the wreath for?" Maroda said finally, breaking the unspoken armistice. Before his watch, Sir Auron had gone aft and cast the bedraggled garland overboard. The fog had swallowed it without a sound.
"A woman Sin killed on my last pilgrimage. She...mattered to me." Auron's former comrades would have been floored by the oblique admission. It irked him that a thirteen-year-secret could be so casually breached for the sake of tactics.
"Hunh." Maroda's double-edged cordiality softened a notch. "Sorry, man. No offense, but you don't seem the type. Is she the one you were looking for today?"
"Yes." Strange how easily truths could serve as lies. "I saw her in the water. Sin's toxin, perhaps."
"Well, we all saw somebody," Maroda said. "But to me it looked like High Summoner Yuna. I could almost believe that Sin was marking the anniversary of its own destruction."
Maroda exhaled explosively. "Okay, look, Isaaru may be as patient as a Hypello, but I'm not. You've been holding out on us. You know what we'll find in Zanarkand, but you won't say a damned thing. You've survived two pilgrimages, when as far as I know, all your fellow guardians and summoners are dead. You know where Sin's going. It spared you today, and I don't think that was the first time. Just what is Sin to you? Your ticket to fame? Your...pet?"
Auron smiled sourly. Maroda's gambit was a good one, but it was not the first time a guardian had tried to provoke him into spilling secrets. Of course, Lulu's technique had relied on barbs more than a spear's thrust, using his oaths against him.
"So that's it? You're going to withhold every scrap of knowledge about Zanarkand, so you can play some game with Yuna's life? And Tidus' too— or is he party to your plan?"
"I promised to protect them. They still have to find their own path."
"And wind up dead like Sir Jecht and Lord Braska! Exactly where in the teachings is it written that summoners have to enter a fiends' den blindfolded?" In her desperation, Lulu had let slip a secret of her own. And yet her impotent cruelty had almost swayed him, for he guessed its source. She had seemed too young to bear the weight of a dead summoner on her shoulders, but that night— just the second of their journey together, before she had come to matter — he had suddenly understood what anvil had forged the mage's twice-hammered steel.
"If I reveal what lies ahead, Yuna might turn back from the pilgrimage. But perhaps that's what you want." He, too, could wield words like a goad.
"What I want is not a matter for discussion. And there is nothing and no one in Spira that can convince Yuna to turn aside."
"I take it you tried?"
"For two years." The ache in her voice had echoed the one that kept him this side of the Farplane.
Then he had slipped. Auron had not realized until much later what seeds his words had sowed, or how far back Lulu had set foot on the first step leading to Yunalesca's lair. "I will tell you this. The summoner isn't the only one who pays the price for the Final Summoning."
"Maybe." The curious calm in that one word should have alerted him, but Auron had been distracted, trying to head off her next question. "Except... you said Sir Jecht is still alive, did you not?"
"If Yuna knows the Final Summoning's true cost, she might turn back— or, if her will is as strong as you say, she'll give us the slip, try to finish the pilgrimage alone, and die far from our aid. No, Lulu. Let her find the answers she seeks in the Hall of the Final Summoning with all of us at her side."
Auron grimaced. He had broken his resolve after all, and his words sent Yuna to her death. Or perhaps they made no difference. One guardian was gone by the time they reached Yunalesca. He might have changed the story.
Maroda was waiting. The crack of knuckles in the dark was a subtle hint that the younger guardian would sooner or later resort to more than mere words to get answers. Had Auron already said too much? No, this warrior lacked the witch's knack for doubling half-truths.
"Her name was Lulu," he said. "Another of Yuna's guardians. She trusted no one and nothing else to protect her summoner so well as herself. A trait you share. Yet when at last I answered all her questions, it changed nothing: except that she then chose the path I meant to take, and perished in the Final Summoning."
"Ah." Maroda affected sympathy. "I think I remember her. Busty, wore black?"
Auron smirked, wondering what sort of verbal fireworks that description might have earned from her. "Yes."
"You know, I'm sorry to hear about your friend— honestly— but that still doesn't explain anything about Sin. What's it doing? Why's it wiping out whole islands one day and showering us with flowers and rainbows the next? And what's with that vision of Lady Yuna that it plastered across the sky?"
Auron stared into the clinging, dismal fog, recalling the texture of dew-drenched fur and the scent of wet leather. Was tonight's weather natural, or was Lulu out there somewhere in the darkness, grappling with Yu Yevon's toxin and the more potent poison of regret? "Sin destroys. Sin grieves. It kills and honors the fallen. It's trapped in the spiral as much as we are."
"Hunh. So why's it killing off the Fayth this time around?"
"Freeing them is my guess," Auron said. "Maybe it thinks they're trapped in the same spiral."
"Except they volunteered for the job. A little like us, eh?" Maroda missed Auron's wry expression in the dark. "You know, if it succeeds, Isaaru won't die. He can't fight without aeons."
"Would that stop him?"
Maroda slapped the wall with an angry thump. "And sooner or later, it'll kill us all. We've simply got to stop it from getting to Djose. Any ideas, old man?"
"Steal the fayth."
"Remove the statue from the temple."
"Hey, that's a thought."
"It may not work. It depends on whether Sin can sense the spirit inside."
For once, Maroda's respect sounded unreserved. "Yeah, but it's worth a try. Thanks, man."
Second Cloister of Trials passed. Now Auron simply had to deal with Isaaru. The man seemed as innocent as Pacce, but Auron knew better than to judge summoners by their smiles. And he was still a maester of Yevon.
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