Rikku picks Auron's brains and gives him a piece of her mind.
The children were a blessing and balm to the spirit, apart perhaps from Etta, who had roused Auron by targeting his wide belt as a landing pad from the windowsill. They swirled around the dining room table, apparently under no particular orders to stick to their own seats or plates as long as no food wound up on the floor or in each other's hair. (This latter rule required occasional reinforcement.) The younger children's chatter was largely in Al Bhed, apparently reflecting a switch in the household's primary language. To Wakka's annoyance, Yuna quickly latched onto Auron with a child's knack for sensing parental disapproval. Her father watched tensely while Auron answered endless questions about Ronso cubs and snow.
After the meal, Auron atoned for the damage to the garden by washing the dishes. Rikku went to work on a new batch of potions. Fleeing the stench of Al Bhed alchemy and the presence of their unwelcome guest, Wakka took the children out for a swim. As soon as they were out of the house, Rikku cornered Auron in the kitchen and proceeded to interrogate him on recent events. For once, he was willing to speak frankly; there were only a few secrets left that Rikku did not already know. His report on the Djose operation left her shaking her head.
"Agh! Stupid Crusaders. Didn't they learn anything last time?"
"They learned to duck."
"Fat lot of good that does when Lulu kicks into overdrive. Walls block some energy attacks, but when she goes ultima on your ass, you'd better be ten miles away. That Lightning Shield sounds buff, though. I may have to smuggle somebody over there for a look. Of course, for all we know, she just soaked it up and shot it back at you."
Auron shrugged and moved to the flatware. "That's possible."
"Rrrgh. Getting usable intel out of you is like getting intelligence from Brother." She looked up from the pot she was stirring. "So anyway. My real question is, what brought you here? And if you say 'Lulu,' this spoon is going right up your nose."
Auron applied himself to the scouring-rag.
"Hmph," she mimicked, rolling her eyes. "Okay, Mr. Legend, I want an answer. Lulu's steered clear of Bikanel for years. In fact, we think she's been trying to shield us; she targets only Yevon ships in the Western Sea. So... did you put her up to this? Why?"
"Yes. You know why, Rikku," Auron said. "I need your help. I need Wakka's advice. He knows her best."
"Wakka won't help," Rikku said. "Unless maybe you've got a plan to free her...but even then, he wouldn't trust you."
"Of course not!" She rapped the back of his head with the spoon. "You'll do whatever it takes. Whatever you think is necessary. We've got family to think about. And Wakka, he..." she sighed. "Look. It's not fair to leave Lulu like this. But killing her isn't the answer. After the kids are grown, maybe Wakka and I can find a way to get her out. But we're not gonna help you kill Lulu just so you can put someone else in her place. Who's it gonna be this time, Auron? That Elma lady...is that why you're travelling with her?"
"No. Her abduction by Sin was an accident, I think. But Lulu needs us now. It's not just Djose that's been hit; Lulu's been targeting all the temples. Soon, summoners will no longer have any aeons left to fight her."
"Well, good!" Rikku said. "Wish she'd listened to me sooner. I don't see the problem, Auron."
"Hundreds of Crusaders died at Djose, Rikku," he said. "Hundreds more on the southern islands. She obliterated Besaid. It was Wakka and Yuna's home and hers, the place where they grew up together. This isn't what Lulu wants."
"Ugh." She addressed herself diligently to the foul-smelling concoction, pondering. "I'm sorry, Auron, but that's what Sin does. You know what your problem is? You know Yevon's a sham, but you still think you've got some righteous mandate to fix everything. You can't stop the weather, you can't stop people being idiots, and you can't stop Sin. They're just—" Rikku paused. "Ah, hell. She's targeting the fayth?"
"Vilg." She dropped a lid over the pot she had been stirring. "Watch this. I need to make a call. If it starts to boil over, turn the heat down to sixty. If it does boil over, run."
Hurrying to the other end of the room, Rikku reached for a sphere sitting on a side table. There was a flurry of curses. After rummaging around for a base to set it on, she tapped the sphere and plopped down on a chair in front of it. She switched to Al Bhed for the call, but Auron could follow most of it.
"Linna? Hey, Linna— yeah, what? Sure, everything's cool! It's just that...oh. Oops. Sorry, Wakka left the sphere off the charger again. Could you get Pops? Great, thanks for warning me." Sprawling sideways across the armrests, Rikku kicked her feet in the air and waited.
Finally, Cid's voice bellowed through the static. "Rikku! Where in Spira have you been? We've been trying to reach you for—"
"Sorry, Pops. I didn't realize the commsphere was on the fritz. We're fine, okay? Sin didn't touch us. Wakka's got the kids outside swimming. But listen, Pops, I've got news. Sin's attacking all the temples of Yevon. All the fayth. It may be headed for Baaj next."
"What? Are you certain? Who told you this?"
She hesitated. "Sir Auron, Pops. He just washed up here."
"You're kidding! Why didn't that blockheaded husband of yours—"
"Pops," she said sternly. "You have to evacuate, NOW. I don't know how much time you've got."
"Roger that." There was a pause. "You all stay put, kiddo; no sense in coming down here 'til Sin's blown past us. Hug your babies for me. But once this is over, you bring Auron to me. You hear me? He and I have unfinished business, and it's long past time for him to pay up!"
"Uh," she said, glancing towards the kitchen. "Okay, Pops. Now scram, please?"
"You bet. Home out."
Rikku trotted back to the kitchen and her concoction just as the lid began to quiver ominously. She seized the pot and transferred it to a cool burner. "Sorry, I think," she said. "You wanna take your chance with the sand wyrms, you know where the door is."
A soft chime sounded in the hallway.
"It's all right. I should apologize." Auron toweled off the last plate and put it away. "Your people should have time to evacuate. Even at top speed, it will take Lulu a few hours to reach them."
"Well, yeah, but you've been here a few hours." She sighed. "No, you're right. They'll be fine. We've got a good evacuation plan and plenty o' practice. I just hope she doesn't wreck everything; this Home's even better than the last one." Setting the pot on a centrifuge and locking the lid, she flipped a switch to set it spinning and moved to the sink to wash her hands. "There. That chime means Elma's awake; wanna come check on her?"
Rikku led Auron into the back of the house, opening a door at the end of the hallway. "Whoa-whoa, lady, don't you be gettin' up yet. You'll pop a seam." She scooted in and moved to the raised cot which filled most of the room. A crib— decked out with fresh blankets and a mobile of ribbons as if awaiting another occupant, Auron noticed— had been shoved into the hallway. "Hiya. Name's Rikku."
Elma, bracing herself against the walls and struggling to sit up, gave a strained smile as Rikku slipped an arm behind her shoulders. "Thanks." Her voice sounded raspy. Her hair had been shaved short on one side to tend some kind of head injury, her face was covered with patches of the smelly green ointment Rikku used to quick-heal cuts and bruises, and her arms and upper body were wrapped in bandages that disappeared under the blankets, but Elma seemed to have all her limbs. "Don't... remember you, soldier. Good work."
"We're not in Djose," Auron said, standing in the doorway.
"S-sir?" She turned her head slightly and winced. "Report, please?"
"We were carried to another place by Sin. Rikku is Al Bhed. Former guardian to Lady Yuna."
"Ah...oh?" Elma peered at the younger woman's eyes. "Thought... that name was familiar."
"Ex guardian," Rikku said firmly. "Nevermind. Look, Auron's filled me in. You might pass out before you dig the whole story out o' him, so basically: a pack of sinspawn pulled you off the wagon and nearly tore you in half, Sin dropped a cliff on Djose Temple, we don't know how many Crusaders were squashed, and Sin yanked you halfway across Spira. I found you here the next day bleeding on our front porch. Here being Bikanel Island." Rearranging the pillows one-handed as she spoke, Rikku eased Elma back in a sitting position and patted her shoulder. "Did you get all that?"
"I think so." The woman sat staring at the blankets, absorbing the news. "We failed, then. Failed /them./" A fit of coughing doubled her over with pain for half a minute before she could whisper, "Yevon guide the fallen."
"I'm sorry," Rikku said with some feeling, reaching for a tumbler on the nightstand. "Here, drink this. It'll settle your stomach. I had to use a lot o' potions on you. Ours work faster and pack a lot more punch, but they're rough on the system after the buzz wears off. You're gonna feel like crap for a while."
"Thank you, Rikku." The knight swallowed the drink gingerly. "What about Isaaru?" Her voice rose and cracked. "Lucil?"
"Unknown," Auron said. "The wagon was hit by lightning. Isaaru was farther away than I. Lucil was closer."
"No." Elma's eyes squeezed shut, damming tears. Rikku took the cup slipping from her hand before it spilled on the blankets. "How far is it back to Djose?"
"Far. We're five days west of Moonflow North by ship." Auron folded his arms. "I'm sorry."
"Huh?" Elma's jaunty smile looked ghastly under the oily green salve. "Oh, don't worry, sir. The general's alive; I'm sure of it! I'm just worried about my troops."
"You still suck at cheering people up," Rikku muttered to Auron.
The front door flew open with a loud thump. Shrieking, laughing children burst into the house. Elma started at the commotion, cocking an eyebrow at Sir Auron.
"That was quick," Rikku said. "Um...excuse me. Need to corral some cactuars. Back in a minute. Move, ya big meanie." She squeezed past Auron and scooted down the hallway. "Hey, hey, no running— Vidina! Mbela! You're soaking wet! Everybody /up/! Get towels and dry off before you sit on the furniture! And put some clothes on; we've got guests!" The sounds of chaos faded several decibels as she took charge.
A moment later, Wakka popped his head into the small room, gripping the doorframe. His hair was dripping, and he appeared to be clothed only in a towel and sandals. Breathing hard, he drew himself up as if for another double serving of vitriol, then spotted Elma sitting up against the pillows. He ducked his head. "Uh. Hi. Sorry, ma'am. Good t' see you're in one piece." Then he turned to Auron, growling, "You didn't think to mention you'd gotten a new summoner, eh?"