"Well, I am a goddess, you know." An encounter that readers have been waiting for.
Auron slogged through darkness. He felt the lash of bitter rain against his skin like tiny sullen barbs, warning him to keep his distance. Now and again lightning flickered, but never long enough to show him what kind of landscape this dream-world might be. He felt parched despite the rain, and his feet and limbs were numb with cold. At last, after what seemed an eternity, he found a leaping wall of flame barring his path. He braced himself for the searing heat and pushed through.
On the far side of this barrier the darkness took on clarity and shape. It was the black and silver of moonlight, wisps of cloud, and patches of night sky overhead where stars glittered. At his back was a whispering jungle, shimmering with crickets and the distant cries of fiends. Its lush, fiercely alive scents nearly smothered him. Before him lay a placid harbor, gentle flecks of crested waves rising and falling like a woman's breast in sleep.
Sure of his destination now, he kicked through sand towards the breakers beyond the point where seaweed flexed over rocks jutting out from shore. When the sand gave out, he waded into the warm saltwater. Water had never been his element, but it was Sin's, and it suited her now as much as fire's wrath, lightning's flash and icy disdain had suited her before.
There. A glimmer of white. Easing himself over the sharp edges of shells, he pulled up short, arrested by the same vision that had spawned a cult. Familiarity was no defense.
Lulu lay back against the rocks and purple seaweed with regal indolence, braids swirling around her waist each time a wave lapped over her. Fishnets still clung to her legs, but that was all she wore. No, not quite all. Her hands were cupped behind her head, but black manacles bound her wrists, discreetly hidden by hair. She was chained to the rocks.
He stood gazing too long, apparently. A stinging smack of seawater drenched him, burning his eyes with salt. "Yevon has me still," Lulu warned. "And you, I suppose. You never meant to stay."
He shrugged. "I made a promise."
For a moment he was not certain whether he still had his sword— Sin's dream was a haphazard slice of reality— but then he felt its reassuring weight. Bracing himself for the downward stroke, he raised it slowly, inexorably, like a guillotine's indrawn breath. Lulu, watching him, did not flinch. The blade dropped. There was a bone-jarring clang. Sparks flew from the chains, but it was the sword's edge that came away notched.
"Yu Yevon has me," she said again. "I am nearly his now. I've fought him for so long, Auron...and he rides anger so easily." For a moment an image of Yuna was dancing on the crest of a nearby wave, then the surface broke and she tumbled beneath it, lost from view. It was hard to see in the moonlight, but the damp sand left behind by retreating waves was now stained red.
"Yes, I knew all their names," she said, eyes remote. "Even the baby's."
"You make a good Sin."
That set off a ripple of laughter, enough to set the waves sparkling under the moon. "Of course," she said with a hint of professional pride. Then the haughty smirk faded, and the moon withdrew behind a cloud. "Thank you for stopping me, this time."
"You stopped yourself."
"No." The mage shook her head, chains clanking faintly as she flicked a hand dismissively towards herself. "There's just one way I've found to keep him out for a while. One way...and it is a momentary diversion at most." Her lips twisted in a faint smile, self-deprecating, coolly amused. "None of them are you."
With a wrench it came whirling back to him, those nights late in the pilgrimage when weariness and delay were eating at his mind, threatening to unravel him with the transition to fiend that all unsent must undergo soon or late. She had helped him keep the madness at bay with a different kind of abandon.
He gave a soft snort. For Lulu, even the arts of Venus were a weapon.
Even now he sensed the siren's allure of her presence like the tug of the moon on the tides— dream though this was, and both their bodies a lie meant to fool the living. Stooping, he wedged the black sword in a bank of mussels, then lowered himself into the tidepool and dropped to one knee, gathering her face in his hands.
She greeted him with a profoundly private, delicate, almost reverent kiss, like those she used to give his ruined eye the few times he'd let her touch it; yet the merest graze of her lips now threatened to drag him under and drown him on the spot. Perhaps he waited a little longer than necessary for her lids to droop and her breathing to quicken. The wind picked up, driving flecks of foam against his face and bare arm. Reluctantly he pulled away, caressing her cheek. Even that seemed to sear his skin right through the glove.
"Sorry," he said. "No time for worship. Lulu, I must know: why is Yu Yevon freeing the Fayth?"
Sir Auron! Abruptly a voice from a different life cut shrilly through the timeless music of lapping waves and surf, transgressing Sin's inner sanctum. Please, sir, wake up!
The dream-world rippled, shattered in spreading rings, and smoothed out again.
"Isn't it obvious?" she said, oblivious to the interruption. "Yuna and I, and you and Kimahri, we came very near to destroying Yu Yevon. The pilgrimage has become a threat."
Auron frowned. Something was inside out. For a moment he could not place it, until he realized that they were no longer seeing eye to eye, his left mirrored by her right. The sweep of black hair covered the wrong side of her face. He reached out to brush the black curtain aside; when it fell back, her face had reversed from left to right beneath his touch.
"You know," she whispered urgently. "Yu Yevon thinks he knows."
"Sir Auron!" The braying summons came again. Auron abruptly felt himself fighting for air, choking, straining to hold the fabric of the dream around himself like a fraying cloak. The sea hissed angrily. Lightning tracers scurried across the sky. Her braids coiled around his arms, his legs, his chest and throat, spilling into his lungs. Mine, mine, the surf seemed to snarl. His vision went from half to none. It felt like a crew of Al Bhed was nailing his brain to the inside if his skull.
Then smooth arms were lifting him towards the surface as gently as jungle fronds reaching for the sun. Sharp concern washed over him in a fading echo. "Go. Hurry. Be. Look for me in my garden, Auron; we'll talk later."
And the dream tore.