Isaaru and his comrades begin the covert operation to steal the fayth from Djose Temple, hoping to save it from Sin.
"Sir Auron, I must protest! You mean to tell me they're not even guardians? They should never have been permitted—"
"Neither are you, Father," Elma said.
The priest stood spread-eagled in the open doorway of the Chamber of the Fayth, blocking the workers who had been dismantling its ornate frame. "Your presence here is sheer outrage! Your men have ruined the Cloister of Trials, desecrated the fayth's very sanctuary! Why, it will take us years to repair the damage!"
"If there's anything left to repair," Pacce said.
"Hey," Maroda said. "Isaaru's communing with the fayth, remember? If you want your aeon in one piece, I respectfully suggest you shut up."
Elma, the summoner and his guardians were gathered around the fayth's statue, keeping vigil with varying degrees of awe. Lightning flickered, crawling the walls and tickling along the seams and rivets of armor like invisible insects. From the open doorway came the clatter of hammers and chisels, workmen's oaths. Yet Isaaru knelt with an expression of profound benison on his upturned face, oblivious to all disturbances. The benign, beaming smile of a summoner had slipped away, replaced by the shy, tentative smile of a boy catching his first glimpse of some rapturous vision that would anchor him all his days. A sheen of sweat lay on his brow, but for the first time since Besaid, he looked rested, whole, and at peace.
At last his eyes fluttered open. Auron, planted behind him, reached down to keep the younger man from toppling face first into the glass dome over the statue.
Isaaru nodded to him and stood, swaying. "It is done," he said. "The fayth understands and accepts. Father Kyou, I beg you to do the same. If there were any other way, believe me, I would never condone this extraordinary breach of holy ground."
"B-but, my Lord!" He clenched his hands. "What of the teachings? Crusaders are ever apt to abandon Yevon for rash schemes. Even maesters betray us. But you...you were the one who warned us that day, when we brought Sin's wrath upon us."
"Kyou, I remember. After Operation Mi'ihen, I swore an oath that I would vanquish Sin before any more lives were sacrificed to such folly. High Summoner Yuna postponed my vow, but it still holds." Isaaru met the man's distraught gaze with compassion. "But I cannot fulfill my vow if every aeon is lost. Three are gone. Four remain. We must save this one, so that I can save Spira. The temple can be rebuilt. Its fayth is irreplaceable."
The former Crusader wilted. "Yes, Your Grace."
"Blessings to you." Isaaru bowed to him, cupping his hands in Yevon's sign. "And thanks. I will need your prayers, Father."
"So now what?" said Elma.
"We must crack its seal and free the statue from its bed." Isaaru said. "Sir Auron?"
"The fayth asks if you would deliver the blow. He... trusts you."
"Very well." Expressionless, Auron hefted the borrowed sword like a child's plaything. "I suggest that everyone stand back."
They retreated to the doorway, crowding into the next room with the workmen. Auron peered at the glass lens covering most of the floor, trying to gauge its thickness. Below lay a giant figure of a man pressed into a stony bed as if the mass of rock floating above the temple had magically been transferred onto his broad back. Auron brushed aside a pang of regret— the broad-bladed weapon tucked under the statue's arm looked to have the weight of the one he'd lost — and selected a point just past the apex of the shallow dome. His boots rang as he raced forward, leapt, and raised an ear-splitting shout timed to match the downbeat of his sword-stroke. Sparks flew. The blade snapped off at the tip, but the floor held.
Glowering at his reflection, Auron caught a glimpse of a different shape looming above him, four-legged, all bone and sinew and scars. Ixion, Yuna had named it. Ki-rin, to her father. Eyes like embers blazed.
Remember, guardian. Your power is to break things... and to free them.
He grunted. "Thanks." Armor Break or Magic Break? Probably both, if he could manage it.
A second time he charged, flinging out his free arm with a shout as he brought the sword crashing down. Reflected in the glass below he saw the aeon's horn arcing upwards, mirroring his swing. The sword exploded in a shower of glowing fragments. There was a brilliant blue-white flash that burrowed through skin, marrow, and nerve. Auron went sprawling as the floor collapsed beneath him.
Groaning, he extricated himself from blocks of crystal strewn across the floor of the shallow pit, covering the statue like broken chunks of ice. Pacce came running over while the others, recovering from dazed shock, began to file back around the room.
"I'm fine," he said, fending him off. "The fayth?"
Isaaru dropped to his knees at the rim, hands cupped over his heart. The chamber had darkened considerably: the pulsing glow of the floor faded when Auron broke through it. Now the lines of electricity arcing overhead were beginning to fizzle out one by one.
"Shaken," the summoner said, "but intact. Father Kyou, I need you to help me with the Hymn of Renewal, to sustain the aeon's spirit while—"
The chamber shook again with a thunderous boom, and concussion after concussion followed.
"Sin!" Maroda said. "Isaaru, we've got to get out of here!"
Kyou gave him a scornful look.
"No... no..." Isaaru said. "Have no fear. That's Lightning Rock closing its armor around the temple and its sleeping fayth. But we have little time and much to do. Commander Elma, we are in your hands now: it is time for your engineers to work their wizardry."
"Aye, my lord." She beckoned to her crew. "You three, finish up with the doorway and start clearing away the statue. Do not touch the fayth directly. The rest of you keep working on that wagon. Pacce, run and tell the rigging team we're ready for them."
The boy saluted and headed for the stairs, pushing through stonemasons and carpenters laying rails on the steps and assembling a heavy wheeled cart in the center of the guardians' antechamber. Auron trailed after him.
"Hey!" Maroda said. "Where are you going?"
Auron grimaced, flexing his glove-hand. "To find another sword."
They threaded their way back through the Cloister of Trials, its gleaming lines of current on the floor providing the only illumination. Decorative pillars had been removed, doorways cleared and widened, and piles of chipped stone and masonry lay scattered in careless heaps left by Elma's engineers.
"Sir Auron? Can you... do you sense Sin coming?" Pacce said.
"W-what about now?"
The youth sighed. "I almost wish it would just get here and be done."
Auron grunted. "Concentrate on the task at hand. Thinking about a foe you can't see won't help."
They had reached the landing at the rear of the Great Hall. Here the light was stronger, cast by dazzling pillars of electricity dancing like fountains over crystalline plinths. To Auron's eyes, however, they seemed dimmer. When he and Pacce descended the stairs, the few remaining clergy, scurrying about like rock-squirrels in the shadows, halted and looked up anxiously.
"The fayth confirms it," Auron said, voice booming out. "Sin is coming. Lord Isaaru and Father Kyou are securing the statue against attack. You have fifteen minutes to evacuate, by order of the high priest. Move!"
They scattered at once, snatching up bundles and rushing for the exit.
"Won't you get in trouble?" Pacce whispered. "I mean, Father Kyou never said—"
"Hmph." The white-haired guardian glowered over the wall of his collar. "Who's going to tell him?"
Pacce broke into a grin. "Not me!"
Auron nodded, resting a hand on his shoulder briefly. "Get going. Tell Isaaru I'll be outside keeping watch."
It was barely brighter outdoors. A heavy curtain of rain hung beyond the point of Mushroom Rock Ridge across the bay. Dark thunderheads formed a vast ceiling that stretched for miles, roiling over the temple like gravity-defying boulders. In the stony yard before the gates, soldiers were bustling to and fro. A line of monks, nuns, and temple orphans straggled towards the bridges spanning a narrow inlet between the temple and Djose Highroad. Dark silhouettes of Crusaders fenced the edge of the cliff, facing out to sea. The steep drop hid the bay from view, but a stiff wind scoured the eyes with salt.
Auron skirted the line of evacuees and trudged towards a brigade of soldiers standing at attention. Unlined faces, not a whisker among them: evidently Yevon was still recruiting children. Their captain was haranguing them in stern tones.
"...escorting them to Moonflow Village. You are authorized to engage Ochu, but don't waste men or time: your first priority is to protect civilians. Once there, erect a temporary lodge and guard the town until you receive the all-clear from Djose Command." Luzzu raised his voice over a smattering of grumbles. "Your mission is a vital part of this operation. I know that you're itching to fight Sin, and that's commendable. But I shall not be adding your names to Gatta's wall. If I find any of you trying to sneak into the front lines, you'll be demoted to cadet and sent to Clasko for four months of stable duty. Do I make myself clear?"
"Sir!" A wave of crisp salutes answered him.
"Dismissed. Yevon be with you." Standing confidently with arms folded, Luzzu lowered his voice as Auron walked up. "Everything in order?"
"Yes." Auron ignored the eager glances darting in his direction. "Everyone's evacuated except the high priest. He and Isaaru are securing the Chamber of the Fayth."
"Filling the whole temple with rocks, or what? I hope the commander returns some of my engineers to operate the lightning shield." Luzzu arched an eyebrow. "So what happened to you?"
Auron glanced down at the blood dripping from his sleeve and grunted noncommittally. Blood was preferable to pyreflies, but it still felt like a cheap counterfeit.
"Ah." Luzzu grinned wryly. "Something else the Lodge Captain isn't supposed to notice. So. Is there anything you need?"
"Good grief. I hope you'll fill me in after this is over." He nodded towards a small outbuilding next to the temple. "See the quartermaster in there; we're using the inn for stores."
"And... Sir Auron?"
The guardian halted testily.
"Sorry about your glasses."
Auron shrugged. "At least now everyone will stop taking me for Al Bhed."
"Ha. Hey, if you've got time afterwards, drop by the command lodge. I want to show you the bouquet I've picked out for an old friend. It's just her color."