Lulu closed her right hand into a fist, bracing herself against the pain...
There was a familiar swish-thump. Through half-closed eyes she saw the guard's body fall away from her in two pieces, blood leaping out in a red arc. No, not blood. A coat.
"You're late, Auron," she whispered. An arm slipped around her as she slumped against the chains. His skin felt like a furnace, or else she was freezing.
Chains were severed. Keys jingled. Excruciating manacles opened and fell with a double bang. Freedom.
Lulu was dimly aware of being carried, of cries of anger and dismay, of stiff leather and metal chafing against bruises and broken skin, of the shimmering sound of metal shearing through metal, bone, flesh, clearing a path before them. The world was swimming by. I'm dead, she thought. My body is dying, and this is a final dream as the mind slips free. At least he is here to catch me. "Let me down," she murmured.
"Save your strength." It was his voice, gruff as ever and brittle with anger directed at everything in the world apart from her.
The noise and chaos built. Cries of stop them and intruders on deck/, and /chief calling for reinforcements swirled around them. The voices would not subside, nor would the pain, and Auron did not seem to be able to carry her without jostling her wounds. Why did he have to keep fighting even now, when they had both earned their rest a hundred times over? Was it always this much of a struggle to reach the Farplane? Finally, he set her down. The ground was harder than she had expected. She opened her eyes to find him crouched over her with brows and shoulders knitted in concentration, gripping the hilt of his sword and bracing it against the floor close by her ear. Shadowy figures were closing in on all sides, haloed by murky blue lighting. The voices had stopped, apart from angry, intermittent mutters and epithets. Some instinct made Lulu reach for the black blade, although it hurt to open her hand. She felt the searing pulse of power burrowing down through the metal under her fingertips.
"It is you," Lulu breathed, all but unaware of the ominous clack of triggers being cocked.
Auron's smirk was mostly hidden by his collar as he met her gaze over the rim of his glasses. At the same moment, multiple dark pillars of fire exploded on all sides. Screams and cries added to the din. The loading bay was plunged into billowing smoke, hot steam, and an acrid reek of smoldering machinery.
""Your ride's waiting," Auron murmured, covering her hand for a moment before scooping her and easing her over his shoulder once more. Taking little notice of the gauntlet of darkness and destruction around them, he strode onward.
~ * ~
"The dream isn't over yet
Though I often say I can't forget
I still relive that day..."
Yuna pressed against Tidus' back, feeling his ribs heaving from his exertions. "Well, come on, then!" he taunted, evidently goading other enemies behind her.
Lenne's lyrical vision of her and Shuyin's last moments washed over Yuna in a flood of resigned sorrow. Had it been prophecy after all? The weapons, the faceless masks and dour faces of their assailants were different, but the odds were much the same. Her arms suddenly felt heavy, and she found herself lowering her pistols. "Tidus," she whispered. "I lo--"
A gurgling shriek rose up from the main hatch, and two men caught in the act of turning towards it suddenly collapsed in a swift rain of blood, heads sheared away. Yuna gaped. A tall figure in red was climbing into view, hefting a ridiculously large sword in one hand, the other cradling Lulu's limp form against his chest and shoulder. Two of the gunmen facing off with Yuna glanced over their shoulders nervously.
"Break for it!" she barked, recovering her composure and charging, firing point-blank into the foes surrounding them. She felt a vague horror at all the slaughter, but atonement would have to wait. Tidus' angry ow reassured her that the footsteps pounding behind her were his. Auron strode towards them, scything a path around himself. Some of the raiders were crying out a name that she had not expected to hear again. Tears brimmed in her eyes. Nearly everyone in Spira had heard of that sword, that coat.
"No way," Tidus blurted out, staggering to a halt beside Yuna and whirling again to guard her back.
"Fools!" The Guado captain had retreated along the dock and was shouting back towards the ship. "Kill him!"
"That might prove difficult." If matters were not so dire, Yuna would have joined in Auron's soft, dark laughter.
"Sir Auron," Yuna gasped, sketching a quick bow. "We've lost Rikku, too!"
Right on cue, another explosion showered sparks and bits of broken glass over them in a light rain, scattering the sailors fleeing across the gangway. A familiar figure was clinging to a ladder at the end of the dock. "Guys? Guys? A little help here!" Rikku shouted across the water.
"We're leaving," Auron stated, wrapping both arms around the mage. Coat flapping, he took a running start and cleared the gap from ship to dock in one long leap.
"Thanks a lot, old man," Tidus grumbled. "Let's go!" Limping slightly, he dashed onto the gangway where a few shellshocked sentries were still barring their way. "Legendary hero comin' through!" he barked, hacking and slashing a path for them. On the far side, Tidus and Yuna found Auron crouched with his back to the shore, shielding Lulu with his body. Rikku was dancing around him like a drunken hornet, keeping enemies at bay with a haphazard spray of sparklers and small explosives.
"Hey, Mister Grumpy!" she called, heaving a grenade over Tidus' shoulder to discourage pursuit. "Was that boom-boom down in the ship your Dragon Fang thingie? You knocked me overboard!"
"Sorry," he smirked. "Where's your ship?"
"On its way. Yo, Tidus, gimme a hand with this." The two of them moved together to heave crates off one of the flatbed loading carts, upending it to form an improvised shield against sporadic gunfire.
Yuna hurried to Auron's side, postponing questions and awe for the moment to examine the semi-conscious mage. "Oh, Lulu." There were so many slashes, bruises and gashes on every exposed area of skin -- and elsewhere, to judge by the blood seeping through the woman's tattered dress -- that she barely knew where to begin. Biting back worry, Yuna holstered her guns and placed her hands over Lulu's forehead and heart.
Reaching for a fire gem, Rikku suddenly paused and peered through the colorful smoke wafting up from her last round of pyrotechnics. "Uh oh."
With a whine of hydraulics, the fore and aft batteries of the raiders' ship were rising out of the hull, one bank of cannons swivelling towards them, the other canting skyward.
"Oh boy," Tidus muttered. "Um, Rikku?"
In a light healing trance, Yuna saw Auron's lips brush against the mage's ear. "Lulu. We need you."
The sorceress sighed, stirred, and extended a pale arm striped with red. Auron reached out and scooped Rikku towards himself with the flat of his blade. Coming to herself just in time, Yuna grabbed Tidus by the hood and reeled him in.
Rikku's surprised squawk was lost in a silent, eardrum-pounding explosion. Spreading out from them in a blossoming circle, the invisible shockwave sheared off cannons, pilings, and the top of the stone wall lining the harbor. Stacked cargo and helpless victims were seized and flung like leaves in a hurricane. Every window facing the waterfront shattered. The Sin-ship groaned and began to roll inexorably on its side. As the ringing in their ears subsided, the sounds of battle were replaced by the rush of water pouring into the main hatch, the patter of falling masonry, and faint, muffled cries coming from the vessel settling beneath the surface. Earlier, Yuna might have felt a pang of remorse, but Lulu's grave condition had hardened her heart.
"Yeah!" Tidus crowed, sitting up and pumping his fist. "That's for the Aurochs and Wakka!"
Yuna thought she saw a weak, smug smile flicker across Lulu's face, although the woman's eyes had fluttered shut again.
There was a whoosh and a roar overhead, the sound of braking thrusters firing. Rikku glanced up and sighed with relief, afraid for an instant that Lulu's blast wave might have eliminated their escape route. "There's the /Jecht/. Right on time."
Auron exhaled, expression opaque. "Take care of her," he said gruffly.
"Wait!" Yuna exclaimed, clutching the folds of his coat.
Pyreflies burst upwards in a swirling fountain of ghostly jewels that brushed against the faces of the three friends like the whisper of a sword-blade's passage. He was gone.
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