Yuna & Isaaru, and the whispers of the past. Post-game. (also Gatta, Braska, Auron) (Written for holiday 2004. Not ffX-2.)
Behold Him Arise
so bury fear, for fate draws near, and hide the signs of pain
with noble acts, the bravest souls endure the heart's remains
discard regret, that in this debt a better world is made
that children of a newer day might remember, and avoid our fate.
And in the fury of this darkest hour we will be your light
you've asked me for my sacrifice and I am Winter born
without denying, a faith is come that I have never known
I hear the angels call my name and I am Winter born
- The Cruxshadows, Winter Born (This Sacrifice)
"The Ronso say the paths are good. They don't expect another significant snowfall for several days." Gatta tapped the butt of his spear into the packed snow, and glanced uneasily at the narrow slippery track leading to Zanarkand. "But I must offer my own precautions, Lady Yuna. You need not do this."
"I want to do it, Gatta. That should be sufficient." Yuna did not flinch, looking up the impossible spiraling distance of Zanarkand's head and shoulders, lost in the clouds. "It is something that should have been done long ago."
"I agree." Isaaru folded his hands in his sleeves, and tried to match his High Summoner's fearless gaze as he peered into the low heavy clouds. He did not quite succeed, his eyes showing faint trepidation. This was his first time to cross to Zanarkand, and he had not yet come to terms with the mountain. "Not only that is a right and fitting thing to do, but that my lady's will is sufficient to convince me of the importance of this enterprise."
"We shouldn't waste the daylight," Yuna said, hefting her staff in her hand and striding purposefully towards the arch marking the trail. "Come on then."
"Isaaru," Gatta said, as the other summoner gathered his heavy robes to follow, "remember when you told me to let you know when you were sucking up?"
"That was one."
"Er... you think so?"
Gatta nodded, and would have elaborated, but Yuna's voice interrupted him.
"Are you two coming or not?" she called, some distance up the trail already, and the crusader and summoner hurried to catch up.
"I'm not so sure," Gatta said, some distance later, when casual conversation was more effort than it was worth, "that this will even succeed."
"Where's your faith, Gatta?" Yuna turned back to smile sweetly at him, the wind ruffling the fur hood of her Ronso-made snow coat. "Here, this is the first one."
The pitiful pile of rocks was almost lost in a drift of snow. If not for the faint sparks of pyreflies spiraling lazily around, the small monument could have been entirely overlooked. Gatta sighed, and leaned on his pike to rest.
"Shall I do this one?" Isaaru asked, but Yuna shook her head, thumbing the toggles of her coat open.
"I've been thinking about this since I first passed to Zanarkand. I'd like to do the first one." She shrugged out of the heavy garment, and the bell on her staff jingled brightly.
"As you wish." Isaaru held out his arms for her coat as Yuna stepped forward to dance. Her arms looked cold in the lightly falling snow, but her eyes were bright, her cheeks flushed.
Isaaru had never seen his lady do a sending, though he knew she had done more than he himself had done. It was strange, he thought, as Yuna twirled her staff above her head, that even though they could no longer bring spirits to them, they could still send them away.
Gatta turned his head. He did not care to watch sendings.
Yuna danced and the pyreflies no longer wandered aimlessly but came to her call, winding around her staff. Tiny colored lights landed in her sleeves and her hair, fluttering around her fingertips and lighting the snowflakes with their reflections, making them seem twice as many. The snow shifted and fountained under the summoner's bare feet as she twirled in the air, dancing long-dead souls to freedom.
"They're all fiends by now anyway," Gatta muttered, but fell silent at Isaaru's sharp glance.
"These are not," Isaaru said. "Look."
Gatta lifted his head as the pyreflies twined together, fluttering long streamers like jellyfish in currents of the air, and dissipated into the clouds above. The snow under Yuna's feet went still. She had finished.
"Are you all right?" Isaaru asked, holding out his summoner's cloak as she pulled her boots back on and shivered.
"Fine." Her smile was still there, but strained at the edges, her eyes dark. "It was more difficult than I thought it would be. They've been dead for so long, they didn't want to go."
"I will do the next one," Isaaru said. "You are tired, and I did not come all this way to only be extra baggage."
"Honestly, Isaaru, you're worse than Lulu." Yuna finished the straps on her boot, cold fingers not willing to move as quickly. "One sending is not going to--" she stopped, peering at the snow next to her boot. She crouched closer, poking at something caught in the rocks of the summoner's cairn.
"My lady?" Isaaru prompted, holding out her coat. "You'll catch a chill."
"Yes," Yuna said vaguely, a flicker of blue vanishing into her sleeve. "Yes, thank you, Isaaru."
"We should seek shelter," Gatta said, looking up at the sky. "The first series of caves is not far ahead, it should be quite warm enough in there to pass the night."
"Uncle said if the weather got too much for us, to call him and he would send the airship to fetch us," Yuna said, her smile back now, hands shoved deep into her pockets. "But really, it's not as bad as I remember."
Though her summons may have been gone now long past recall, Yuna still was master of more than a little black magic. A handy thing, she had learned, when a fire needed conjuring in a damp mountain cave, or when she needed a little bit of privacy. She was a little bit guilty, she admitted, as Gatta's head nodded onto his chest and Isaaru's breathing became deep and regular. But she was willing to spend one small sleep spell to examine the object she had found, and though she knew the odds were slim that her find was what she hoped it was, she was still willing to take that risk.
The sphere was old, and scratched with time and snow, even sheltered as it had been in the crack between the stones of the cairn. Yuna picked at sediment lodged in the frame, and worked at the switch until it would turn. At first she thought it would be no use, and the sphere was too old and damaged to play. But light stirred at last in the heart of the sphere, and the memory hummed to life under her hands.
Dawn was long in coming. Auron waited for it, huddled in the depths of his coat, watching the slowly ebbing flames of their fire. It burned on nothing except perhaps Braska's own will, summoned from Ifrit in the dying light of yesterday.
Auron had watched the flames all night, folding and flickering and feeding on themselves, and still he had no answer. Zanarkand lay, ruined and unquiet, less than two days away, and still he had no answer.
"You should rest." Braska's voice had begun to sound like the mountain itself, full of frost and time. His spirits, however, had only brightened as they neared the end of their journey.
"Fiends," Auron said quickly, turning away from the fire, boots scraping as he shifted his weight on the rock. "They might be drawn to the light." He nodded to a small sad pile of stones, not five yards from their fire. Bright flecks of pyreflies wove sleepily in and out of the rocks on the lonely grave.
"It grieves me," Braska murmured. Tatters of cloth still clung to the staff wedged in the rocks. "Someone should send them."
Auron's fist closed. "It would have to be a summoner not journeying to fight Sin. Otherwise all the sendings would leave him too weak for the battles ahead."
"No guardian would permit it, I'm sure." Braska laughed lightly to himself, "And you need not say it, Auron. I won't risk this journey to lay a handful of souls to rest."
"I'm not sure I would have it in me to stop you," Auron said. "I no longer am fit to judge the cost of a life."
Silence, then on Gagazet. The wind howled. Jecht, rolled in a fur bought from a Ronso trader, slept as soundly as he would have in St. Bevelle's finest inn.
"You would have me stop this journey," Braska said softly, so that the wind almost took it away.
Auron said nothing for a long moment, as the silk petals of Braska's robes whispered against one another in the wind, and the tassels on his staff struggled for freedom. "I would," Auron said at last, as though the words had broken him to get out. "But I know you will not."
"I don't understand," Auron said. "I do not understand, my lord."
"...There will come a time," Braska said, resting his hand on Auron's shoulder, "when you realize exactly what your life is worth, and what can be bought with it. I know full well I could endure the mockery of others, as a fallen summoner, and spend my life watching little Yuna grow up." Braska dusted snow from the edge of Auron's rock and sat down beside him, settling the folds of his robes and looking up at the cold blue sky beyond Gagazet. "But Auron, when my time came to die, years later, I could not go to the Farplane content, knowing that I had traded a few years of happiness for a later death, and my life could have bought so much more, for so many." He looked at Auron's profile, turned away in the lingering darkness. "I would be selling myself short, and squandering what I had been given."
Auron was silent, and save for the white mist of his breath in the cold air, would seem to be made of stone himself. "...My ears understand you full well, my lord." Auron put his face in his hands. "Your logic is sound, but my heart cannot accept it."
"But not your heart." Braska sighed. "You are a warrior, Auron. A soldier. Surely you know you would give up your life in battle if need be, one sacrifice to save many..."
"Of course." Auron said. "But to go without even a fight--"
"Have I not fought?" Braska smiled wryly. "This is the greatest battle of our age, Auron. The burden of our time. Just because it is not fought in steel and shouting does not make it any less warfare."
Auron said, "But--" and then could find nothing to follow it.
"One day you will know," Braska said, confident. "And you will put down your life without question."
"I thought I did know," Auron's eyes followed the shape of the forgotten summoner's grave in the lee of the outcropping. "It was for you, to make safe your pilgrimage."
"It may still be; we are not to Zanarkand yet." Braska looked the other way, to Jecht sleeping by the dying fire, flames making the scars move over his face like the hand of a old lover.
"I would think he would be doing more to find another way," Auron said, the faintest trace of frustration in his voice.
"Jecht?" Braska shook his head. "I'm surprised you didn't notice before now. I chose Jecht because I recognized him, and though it took him some time, he recognized me, as well."
"Recognized?" In Luca, or even Guadosalam, Auron's tone would have been full of ill-concealed bitterness, now it held only bewilderment. "My lord, while Jecht has shown that he is more than a drunken castaway, I fail to see any commonality."
"You are younger than both of us, Auron." The summoner indeed looked far older than the decade separating them, graying like the stones of Gagazet as the snowy not-yet-dawn pulled the color from his robes and face. "And while you have looked Death in the face no less, it has not yet come whispering to you in the quiet tide of morning, it has not yet bid you to surrender and come along quietly, willing to sit patiently at your side until your days of glory are long past you and you dwindle away without complaint." There was a sphere in Braska's hands, flashing blue like the first moments of Shiva's summon. Auron had not noticed it before. "Some men," Braska murmured to the sphere, "Would find enough to feed them in the love of their children. But I would not place such a burden on Yuna, only to find it lacking at the end. She would blame herself, as children do, and not understand."
"I do not understand," Auron said, and a gust of wind scattered long-fallen snow into their humble shelter, hissing as the tiny flecks of ice met the fire. "Though you may reason it with me again and again, there is a fundamental wrong in it that I cannot penetrate, like the path to the trials in the heart of St. Bevelle."
The sun rose, splashing Gagazet's white slopes with red, creeping faint warmth on Auron's hands like a summoner's lifeblood.
"Hearts are poor soldiers, my friend." Braska turned away, to wake Jecht for their day's journey. "I was born to this task, as you were born to yours. A man has only one life to sacrifice. He must make the most of it he can."
The Sphere went dark.
When Isaaru woke, the grey light of morning was visible from the mouth of the cave, and he swore for sleeping too long, and not spelling Gatta's watch. But he rubbed the remnants of dreams from his eyes-- what had he dreamt? Lord Braska was dancing-- and saw Gatta slumped and sleeping near the fire.
"Lady Yuna--" He saw her, sitting just outside the circle of firelight, her fists curled against her eyes, her shoulders bowed and shaking.
Even when she was wandering lost and betrayed in the Via Purifico, he had never seen her so look so defeated. "Lady Yuna?" he whispered, reaching out a hand to her, afraid she had somehow hurt herself. "Are you all right?"
She looked up at him, her mismatched eyes too bright, tears shining on her face, and tumbled, sobbing, into his arms. Isaaru froze, not sure what to do with a shuddering armful of Lady High Summoner.
"My lady?" he murmured, his hands uncertain. He touched her hair, smoothing it back from her face. "Did you have a bad dream?" Yuna shook her head against his chest, her fists curled tightly in the front of his robes.
"I'm sorry, Isaaru, for dragging you out all this way." She lifted her head, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "Everyone thinks it's a waste of time."
"I don't think it is a waste of time, my lady." Isaaru did not pretend to know what to do with women, much less ones that were crying, but he produced a clean handkerchief from his pocket and offered it to her.
"Thank you," she said, thickly, and blew her nose. "I'm sorry to fall apart and be disgusting on you--"
"I don't mind," Isaaru said, and it was the truth. Even red-eyed and sleepless, Yuna made Isaaru feel as though he had a summon that he could not quite manage to get out of his throat. "I think it's a good thing, and a right thing. I am a summoner too, or was, and so I think we are the only ones who can say whether or not what you are doing is worthwhile."
Yuna gave him a watery smile, and nodded. "I was just thinking about my father. I know he's already in the Farplane, but no summoner ever danced for him, so when I send, I always felt as though I was sending him."
"And you were." Isaaru brushed his hand over Yuna's face, catching a tear she had missed. "The dead are sent first in the hearts of those who remain. That is the first law of sending."
"I was thinking about him," Yuna said, "and how he wanted to send the fallen summoners on Gagazet, about how every summoner who came this way must have wanted to send them. I don't know why it made me so sad."
"You are lucky to have known your father, even for so short a while."
Yuna blinked. "But, you have two younger brothers, surely--"
"And it is as obvious as daylight and dark that the blood between us is not whole." Isaaru smiled wryly. "I was born under the shadow of this mountain, in a tiny village near the border of the Calm Lands. We had no temple and no fayth, so not many knew of us, but sometimes summoners would take rest with us before crossing the Calm Lands."
"I didn't even know there were any villages," Yuna murmured. "Sir Auron said there were none."
"I don't blame him. To a summoner going to face Sin, it would be the last temptation of a peaceful, hidden life. My mother offered shelter to a summoner party one night, and it was good enough that a childhood friend of hers offered to marry her afterwards. But I was born blue-eyed and too soon, all the same."
Yuna put her hand to her mouth. "Then, your father--"
"Was the summoner, I'm sure. And if he is anywhere, he is among the stones of Gagazet." Isaaru turned away a moment, his hand across the bridge of his nose. "So," Isaaru said, his voice strained, "I would be the last person to tell you this is a foolish task. If I cannot send for my father, I would be honored if you would."
"I did," Yuna said, very quietly.
Isaaru stilled, and said nothing for a long time. Yuna reached out as though she would put her hand over his, but hesitated, not quite certain of herself.
"I'm glad," Isaaru said at last, making a deft motion across his eyes, and turning to smile at her. "Though it is a pity, he did not make it very far." He stood, reaching down to help her up off the cold rocky ground. "Come sit nearer the fire, my lady."
Yuna grasped his hand and he pulled her up, and perhaps it was her strength of will that made him think she would be heavier. She rose, off-balance, and had to grab his forearms to steady herself.
"Sorry," she said, laughing a little in the way that comes after a heavy heart. "I've always been clumsy. I would never have made it across the mountain the first time, without my guardians."
"I think I would have been better as one of them than as a summoner." His hands tightened on her elbows, standing close enough to feel her warmth. "Though I think they have the hardest path. I'm not surprised that yours could not let you go."
"I gave them enough trouble as it was." Yuna began, her hair hiding her expression. "My father would never have--"
"Lord Braska is not hailed as the greatest summoner of all time, Lady Yuna. You are." Isaaru reached up, brushing Yuna's hair behind her ear and running a finger over the beaded tassel. "If he had not brought the calm, you would not have destroyed sin. If my father and ten thousand summoners had not given their lives for false hope, you would not have seen through the lies of Yunalesca, and Spira would still be ruled by death."
"...A man has only one life to sacrifice," Yuna said, her eyes distant as though with memory. "He must make the most of it he can."
"Lives were not meant to be sacrificed." Isaaru said. "They were meant to be lived." Isaaru thought then, as well as after, that it was probably the least romantic line ever spoken before a kiss. But he was a summoner, and living his own life was something new to him. And his Lady High Summoner agreed.