Categories > Games > Final Fantasy X-2 > Unwavering Symphony

Chapter 8

by animeangelash 0 reviews

As the video within the sphere ended with a click and Lenne all but dropped the tiny orb in disbelief, she understood why the man who delivered it had looked so forlorn.

Category: Final Fantasy X-2 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance - Characters: Lenne, Shuyin - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2006-06-06 - Updated: 2006-06-07 - 7136 words

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters or settings described herein. They are the official property of the Square-Enix corporation.


Lenne had felt certain that tonight was going to be a good one. Outside, the evening was pleasantly quiet (excluding the din that was ever-present, which she could easily ignore after having listened to it all her life). For what felt like the first time since Emperor Yevon's announcement, things were relatively calm. She'd been looking forward to a comfortable night at home, and maybe trying to hunt down a few of the unfinished songs she knew were lying around somewhere.

Those plans, however, abruptly vanished when a knock came at her door. She opened it to find one of the clergy members standing there, looking somber and burdened. They exchanged a few quick greetings before the man handed her a sphere, bid her goodnight, and wandered down the hallway to the elevator. Confused and more than a little nervous, Lenne had slowly closed the door, sat down on her bed, and, taking a breath to steady herself, played the sphere.

Now, as the video within the sphere ended with a click and Lenne all but dropped the tiny orb in disbelief, she understood why the man who delivered it had looked so forlorn. Slowly, she turned it over in her hand, watching as light from her lamp reflected off of its smooth, orange surface. Her eyes remained upon it, wide and unblinking, as if a new video might start up and declare that the one before it was some sort of horrible joke. This, unsurprisingly, never happened.

Slowly, she bent down, letting the sphere roll to the floor and deposit itself against a rumpled shirt. As an afterthought, she plucked a second shirt from the floor with her toe, using it to cover the distressing little orb.

Pushing her pillow to the side and scooting up against the wall, Lenne leaned her head back, staring at the ceiling and blinking rather rapidly. Her hands, meanwhile, gripped her unkempt sheets tightly, wringing them between her fingers in an attempt to release the trepidation that was eating away at her insides. Even alone, she refused to cry. Her summoner's upbringing, it seemed, was a stronger influence on her than she realized.

After a few minutes of this inner battle, Lenne bent her head and took a raged breath. Then, after laying out across her bed and groping around for the light switch, she turned off the lamp, plunging herself into darkness.

For a time, she tried to force away the fears and doubts that plagued her mind, trying to call upon sleep so that she may forget, for a time, the message in the sphere and the heavy burden that it carried. However, after nearly an hour of tossing, turning, and being jolted from her light sleep by said terrors, she submitted to the fact that even sleep could not rid her of them. This was true for one fearful question in particular. One that, upon her eventual rise from bed, was still foremost in her mind as she stood under the steaming cascade of the shower.

"How am I going to tell Shuyin?" she asked herself, though the only response she received was the coarse drumming of the water against the shower door.


"What do they think we're going to do?" Yasuo asked agitatedly, or at least his version of agitated. "Swim out of here?"

From where he was lazily treading water, Shuyin turned his head, glancing in the general direction of Yasuo's gaze. There stood a guard, balancing on the nose of a ferryboat and trying to seem attentive, despite the dull job he'd been assigned.

"Probably," Shuyin replied in tired resignation, letting himself slide underneath the chilly waters of the western sea. Blitzball practice had been exceedingly boring as of late, and this one was no different. This was most likely due to the players' extreme lack of motivation, among other things. Even Nirui had lost most of her vigor, and she had resigned to merely giving her players dirty looks whenever she spotted them being lazy (though, given their almost constant display of sluggishness, the near-permanency of her scowl pretty much made up for the lack of shouting).

However, it would all be ending soon, he reminded himself. For nearly three weeks, Nirui had somehow managed to convince the proper officials to allow the Abes to go out to sea and practice, under the condition that they have a guard or two accompany them. Her latest few requests had been denied, however, and those in charge had made no indication of changing their minds. So, for all intents and purposes, this was their final practice.

Popping back up and shaking his head in a distinctly canine manner, he glanced about the surface of the water, searching for the captain. Briefly, he glimpsed the keeper Velne speaking rather animatedly with Paru, the second defender, and trying to wave Yasuo over to join them. Nearby, Kilea was passively trying to balance a blitzball on her nose, squealing rather humorously when one of the studs hit her in the eye. Finally, he spotted Nirui floating off near the guard hover, her expression a mix of disgusted and relenting. "Hey!" Shuyin called, "Captain! How long is it gonna be 'til you let us go?"

Slowly, Nirui turned her angry scowl toward him, her eye twitching rather impressively. She paused for a moment, taking her time as she lifted the blitzball she held into the air, and then gave it a good, hard smack. Quickly, he ducked to the right, the ball just barely grazing the side of his face as it shot by. He turned to watch its progress as it skipped across the water in a manner very similar to a pebble, and then turned back to Nirui, waving affably. "Okay!" he called with a smile, which only succeeded in making the captain twitch more.

Lazily, he dove back underwater and paddled over to where the ball had come to rest several yards away. Just as he was scooping it up, feeling the familiar slippery surface beneath his fingers, a terrified screech rang out over the sound of the rolling swell.

Jerking his head in the direction of the shout's source, Shuyin spotted Kilea, her head now barely a spot bobbing on the surface of the water. "Captain!" she was shrieking, nearly in hysterics, and pointing frantically toward the horizon. "Everyone! Look!"

Immediately, five pairs of eyes turned in the direction that the scrawny girl was indicating, and it took but a second for them to spot the source of the upset. Almost simultaneously, they all widened significantly, their owners quickly sharing in Kilea's distress.

"Get in the boat!" Nirui shrieked, before quickly diving below the water and bolting like a silverfish toward the guard vessel. Her team followed suit as rapidly as possible, anxiously glancing at the horizon whenever they surfaced for a quick breath of air. There, shooting across the water with frightening speed and coming closer every second, were six cruisers, all of them moving with obvious aggression. The insignia of Bevelle reflected the afternoon sunlight, glaring at the players ominously from where it was painted upon the cruisers' sides.

By the time the team reached the safety of their hover and scrambled aboard, the guard was already laboring frantically with the controls, attempting to simultaneously get the boat moving and radio his superiors to sound the alarm.

"Go!" shouted Nirui, whacking the guard upside the head as if that would make him go faster. He scowled at her angrily, barking something about assaulting an officer before going back to his attempts to start the engine. However, given their current situation, Shuyin doubted that the captain really cared about being persecuted. The enemy cruisers were closing in on them, and if the guard's horrible driving earlier that morning was any indication, they would quickly be overtaken if the didn't get moving.

Cursing under his breath, Shuyin shoved Yasuo to the side unceremoniously, pushing his way to the hover's stern. Even though both his sword and combat blitzball were tucked away in a bag in the corner of the tiny vessel's deck, they wouldn't be of much use to him. The hover was far too small and crowded for him to attempt to use the blitzball, and by the time they were close enough for him to use the sword, it would be practically useless anyway. Unfortunately, that left him with only his badly aimed magic, and all things considered, it would probably be safer to grapple with a few dozen armed soldiers than use that.

Finally, just as the hair color of the first cruiser's driver was beginning to become apparent, the hover's engine sprang to life with a chug and whir. With six simultaneous shouts of "Go!" as a green light, the hover shot across the water, swerving every once in a while with the nervous twitch of the guard's hands.

For his part, Shuyin misjudged the potential force of the tiny vessel, and was nearly sent flying overboard as a result. Luckily, he merely slammed against the inside of the stern with a shout and a curse. From there, he was immediately struck with a surge of water as it bounced off the hull and into the vessel, blinding him for a moment and making him sputter.

After a bit of confused and sightless thrashing, he slowly struggled to his feet, using the boat's side for support. Coughing, he glanced back at the Bevellian cruisers, and saw that, thankfully, they were further behind than they had been a moment before. His gaze shifting, he caught sight of one of the long piers that jutted from the west side of the city, supported above the water by several gigantic columns. By now, he could see the ant-like shapes of the people along it, all of whom were fleeing the buildings with great haste. Though he couldn't hear it over the sound of the engine's strained whine, he could easily guess that the alarm had already begun blaring throughout the city. That had to be the case, if even the people inside the buildings were taking notice.

Swiftly, he whipped his head back and forth, looking between the cruisers and the pier, making a few quick estimations in his head. He groaned loudly, though the sound was lost against the roaring of the engine. The cruisers were far too close, moving too fast, and he had never been one for luck (which his constant losses to Lenne at cards easily proved). Still, if he wanted to be of any use as Lenne's guardian, he had very little choice in the matter.

Shielding his eyes against the spray that was continuously being thrown back by the engine, he scanned the pier, looking for some means of getting onto it from the water. After a few moments of searching, he spotted the outline of a thin safety ladder protruding from the water, one end attached to the pier above.

Whirling about and all but diving onto the deck, Shuyin jerked his bag out of a puddle at the stern and ripped it open, quickly extracting his sword and combat blitzball. Sliding the scabbard through his belt loop and praying that it wouldn't snap, he jumped up onto the side of the boat, clinging to the slippery metal as best he could.

"What are you doing?" Yasuo shouted, having noticed Shuyin's foolhardy actions a little earlier than the blonde man would have liked. He had hoped for at least a moment of concentration before the others began to take notice.

Ignoring the inconvenience that Yasuo presented for a moment and narrowing his eyes against the flying foam, Shuyin turned his gaze from the pier to the enemy cruisers, then back again. Based on the way they were directed, he was almost certain that they would be attacking the pier. The hover he was on, on the other hand, would most definitely veer to the right soon, toward the dock from which it had come. After all, if the guard did try to get the blitzers to the pier, they would most certainly be overrun before they could get far, and Shuyin doubted that the soldiers would leave them be just because they were civilians. Bevelle had already proven that it was all too willing to take out as many as it saw fit to meet its ends.

"This thing's heading back to the docks!" Shuyin finally called over his shoulder at Yasuo, the volume necessary to make himself audible hurting his throat. "But the summoners are going to be here!"

"Come back after we've landed!" Yasuo pleaded feverishly. "You're not even that good of a blitzball player! How are you going to out swim things with engines?"

Deciding to pay Yasuo back for that comment at a more convenient time, Shuyin kept his eyes trained on the safety ladder. By now, the hover's other passengers were beginning to squawk at him as well, saying the same sort of things that Yasuo had already tried. A hand wrapped around his wrist at one point, and he guessed it was Nirui's by the rigidity of the grip. However, suddenly, the guard began to rapidly spin the wheel, turning the hover sharply away from the pier and the path of the cruisers. His stomach twisting violently, Shuyin quickly approximated the distance from their current position to the ladder, and, unfortunately, it looked too far for him to manage in time. However, as he had convinced himself earlier, he really had no other option.

Ripping his wrist free of the hand that clenched it, he propelled himself off of the hover's side, diving headfirst into the frigid bay. Knowing full well that it was crucial to make use of every second he had, he took only one to get his bearings before he went darting through the water frantically, the seemingly impossible distance ahead of him all that was on his mind. He could hear the cruisers' engines humming angrily not far off, though he tired his best not to focus on them. After a few moments, he reluctantly shot to the surface, sucking in a lung-full of air and checking his position. After gauging the remaining distance and chancing a glance over his shoulder for anxiety's sake, he dove back under, working his muscles to their maximum capacity.

Still, it wasn't enough to outrun the first cruiser. It shot by a few yards behind him with staggering speed, the force of the engine and the water displacement sending him pitching headlong through the water and froth. Terror sliced through him so viciously that, for a moment, he was sure that he'd been cut through by one of the engine's blades. Even after this notion was speedily thrown aside, he was sure that he was about to be sucked into the cruiser's engine, or promptly run over by one of the other cruisers. Sufficiently disoriented, he scrambled madly, reaching out for something to hold onto for support and simultaneously trying to regain his orientation. Fortunately, his arms quickly surfaced into the warm inlet air, the rest of his upper half quickly following with a gasp and a cough.

Forcefully wiping water from his eyes, he saw with an overwhelming sense of relief that the ladder was nearly within arm's reach of him. Immediately (and not particularly gracefully), he threw himself forward, splashing about clumsily until his hands clamped around one of the corroded rungs. Just then, the second and third cruisers shot by, threatening to tear him clean away from ladder and send him reeling through the water again. However, he held tight to the tread, the rust that grew there biting at his fingers as if it were in league with the cruisers.

Then, when the water had calmed sufficiently and he no longer had to fear being dragged back into the bay, Shuyin swiftly clambered up the ladder before the fourth, fifth, and sixth cruisers could arrive. All but throwing himself over the guardrail and into the deserted vicinity of the pier, he wasted no time righting himself, and instead immediately turned and barreled down the avenue. Already, he could see the pyreflies gathering to form aeons, and could hear the blasts of various spells being unleashed on the cruisers below.


Though by all appearances the current clash was just like all of those that had come before it, there was a subtle uniqueness to it that Shuyin couldn't help but notice. The summoners were being more heavily guarded than normal, pushed back against the opposite guardrail and almost hidden from view by their guardians (making it nearly impossible for the summoners to command their aeons as a result). The guardians, meanwhile, were even more ferocious than usual, using every measure possible to keep themselves between the summoners and the soldiers.

Though Shuyin found it noteworthy in its peculiarity, he was more than willing to conform when Lenne showed up. She arrived only a few minutes after the battle began, bumping into him clumsily as she skidded to a stop. She was already rather winded, and Shuyin could only guess how far she had had to run in order to get here. A few months before, he would have wondered if she wouldn't need to rest before calling an aeon. Now however, he wasn't at all surprised when she immediately stepped forward, stony-faced and daunting, and called forth the hissing serpent that was the water elemental aeon. As it tumbled from the pier and quickly got to work capsizing one of the cruisers, Lenne followed the example of her fellow summoners and moved back against the guardrail, Shuyin quickly stepping in front of her.

After roughly a half hour of crackling spells, earsplitting battle cries from the aeons, and bullets digging into every susceptible surface (or pinging dangerously off those that weren't), the Bevellian soldiers finally withdrew, the cruisers spinning in place and shooting off toward the horizon from whence they came. However, only five of the original six cruisers participated in the retreat. The other remained, broken, smoldering, and unmanned, but still afloat. This is where Shuyin focused his gaze after the battle's end as he leaned heavily upon the guardrail, the trials of the past hour finally catching up to him. Every part of him felt as if it had been molded from flan-jelly, and might fall off at any moment if he so much as twitched.

"What do they do with those things anyway?" he asked conversationally as Lenne came up to stand beside him. "I mean, we don't do anything with them, but they're gone the next day."

"I'm not sure," she answered, glancing at the craft herself. "But I've heard that the parts are donated to a place downtown after they're inspected for anything that might be of interest."

Shuyin could only respond with a tired, "Hmm," of interest before they were interrupted by the sound of someone calling Lenne's name. The two turned simultaneously to find one of the other summoners-who appeared to be about twice their age-approaching them.

"Lady Lenne," the woman said carefully, looking a bit troubled. "Could I speak with you for a moment? The clergy and most of the other summoners have already departed, and I didn't have time to ask any of them about the order from the emperor . . ."

"Y-yes," Lenne replied hastily, holding up her hands to quiet the woman. Out of the corner of his eye, Shuyin saw her glance at him quickly before turning away, letting her hands lower back down. "I'll just be a minute," she said to Shuyin, trying to sound calm. However, the effect was destroyed by the fact that she wouldn't meet his eyes.

He watched them curiously as they moved off to the side, stopping in the doorway of a nearby building. Before either began to speak, Lenne glanced in Shuyin's direction, and he quickly turned away, looking down at the water made murky by the agitation of the muddy floor beneath.

He kept his gaze there for a moment, watching the mud swirl about as his mind began to do the same at break-neck speed. There had been some kind of announcement? One that had involved the entire organization? He hadn't heard anything of note lately, though by the look in Lenne's eyes when she had walked away, that had probably been intentional.

Slowly, his curiosity got the better of him, and he chanced another glance at the two out of the corner of his eye. At some point, the older summoner had produced a small orange sphere from somewhere on her person, and she now held it loosely at her side. The look on her face was slowly turning from the anxious and somber one that she had arrived with, to one of discouragement and near grief. To Shuyin increased worry, Lenne was obviously putting quite a bit of effort into keeping her features from doing the same, though they weren't exactly obeying her readily. As she lay a gentle hand upon the other summoner's arm, stroking it kindheartedly in an attempt to console her, Lenne's face twisted into a smile that even the dimmest of complete strangers would have been able to seen through.

Then, lifting her head slightly, the other summoner said something that made Lenne raise her own eyes, glancing over the other's shoulder and letting her gaze upon Shuyin again. Once more, the blonde swiftly turned his eyes down and away, staring at a space of concrete not far from him that had been burnt black by a misaimed fira spell. There his eyes remained, for he didn't bother to chance another look over his shoulder. Whatever was going on, it wouldn't become any clearer by merely watching the two of them talk. If anything, doing so would only make things even more confusing for him. Better to wait for Lenne to return and ask for an explanation then. Until that time came, he'd have to resign to pondering what he'd seen and heard, and trying to make as much sense of it as he could on his own.

Fortunately, he was only left to the worried imaginings of his mind for a few more minutes. As he was watching a group of men beginning to haul the destroyed hover to the shore with their own chugging mess of a vessel, Shuyin spotted the other summoner out of the corner of his eye, waving halfheartedly at her guardians in an attempt to get their attention. A moment later, the rail that he was leaning against creaked and shuddered, and he turned to find Lenne leaning heavily upon it, eyes trailing after the hover much the same way his had.

"Lenne?" he chanced carefully, noting that the false contentment was slowly starting to fade from her features.

"Yes?" she said quietly, as if she already knew what he wanted to ask (and, truthfully, she probably did).

"Lenne, what's going on?" he asked, his words coated with a distinguishable layer of concern. "What's wrong? Is there something I should know?"

Slowly, she tilted her head to the side, met his eyes, and then promptly turned away once again. She looked incredibly spent, he realized, more so than she usually was after a battle. She hung limp and weary on the guardrail, like a rag-doll tossed to the wayside by a forgetful child. "Please don't make me tell you right now," she said weakly, running her fingers absently over the metal of the rail. Though he could now see little of her eyes due to the angle he was at, from what he could see, they seemed very vacant and lost. "I just . . . I need little time. I'm still trying to get my own head around it."

"Is it that bad?"

She bobbed head a bit in affirmation. "I'm afraid so," she answered. Then, she shut her eyes, laying her head against her arms and nestling into the crook of her elbow with a sigh.

"Hey," Shuyin said carefully, lightly resting a friendly hand on her arm. "Do you think you should head home? You look like you're about to pass out."

A small, tired, halfhearted smile spread across her lips for a moment before she tilted her head away, obscuring her face with her mane of hair. "No . . .no. I'm fine. I just need a few minutes." She grew quiet and still then, an occasional fatigued groan the closest she came to coherent speech.

After roughly ten minutes of this near-silence, Shuyin began to glance in her direction a bit more often, ready to catch her the instant she began to slip from the rail. The rest of his time was spent staring at the water, watching the mud settle out and the normal cerulean hue return.

As could be expected, he thought of little else but the strange announcement that had left both Lenne and her comrades-all of whom lived with a continuous façade of ease-visibly rattled. Obviously, it wasn't something that could be taken lightly. Briefly, he remembered that the other summoner had mentioned something about the clergy before departing with Lenne. Did it have something to do with them? Maybe they'd learned something new about Bevelle? Yet, even after the disaster at the stadium had occurred, all the members of the organization had been relatively calm and professional when they had next met. The thought that something worse than that could be just on the horizon made a sickly sort of coldness run through him, as if his blood was freezing in his veins.

"Hey," Lenne muttered from beside him, bringing his attention back to her as she groggily pushed her hair out of her eyes. "I think I probably will head home." Momentarily, she glanced over the guardrail. "I don't trust myself not to go to sleep and end up falling."

"You wouldn't," Shuyin remarked, carefully hiding the fact that he had feared that for a while himself. "Besides, even if you did, you'd have me here to fish you out."

Lenne giggled, despite her drowsiness. "It's nice to know that, but I still think I'll go home. Sleeping there would probably be more comfortable."

"Do you want me to walk you?"

"No, that's all right. I'll be fine." Standing up and stretching her arms out, she smiled kindly at him, brushing a hand gently against his shoulder as she walked past. "Bye," she said with a wave, her fingers curled toward her palm as if they too were too exhausted to stand properly.

"Can I stop by later?" he asked, doing his best to keep his voice nonchalant. However, when he saw her smile falter just slightly and her eyes turn down to dart across the pavement, he knew he had failed in doing so. Though in the next moment her smile had returned, and she nodded her agreement before turning away, he could tell that she knew exactly what he wanted to talk about.

He watched her for a moment as she made her way around one of the buildings on the pier, apologizing profusely when she accidentally bumped into a person returning to the area. Then, as she disappeared behind one of the buildings, he turned away, staring absently out toward the watery horizon. Given the state she was in, Lenne would probably be out cold for at least a few hours. Any time before sunset would most likely be too early for him to show up, and even that was pushing it a bit.

Tilting his head and inattentively listening to the hushed conversation of those returning to the pier like so many animals to a grazing area, he mentally leafed through his options. He could just go home and wait there, though that would all but guarantee a decent stretch of anxiety and mental torment at his own hands. He could also try to meander about for a few hours to take his mind off things, though he somehow doubted that would be particularly effective, given how annoyingly steadfast his focus was. His best option, he supposed, would be to try and find someone else to talk with, since that would be the most distracting thing he could currently do.

Sighing, he stood up straight and rested his hands against the back of his head, then turned and headed down the boulevard that would take him to Zanarkand's interior. Going to see Yasuo was probably his best bet, if the man was even home. Each had a bit of rage to take out on the other, and that would probably keep his mind busy and off the dreaded topic at hand. At least for a while.


By the time Shuyin finally knocked on Lenne's door several hours later, the sun had long disappeared beyond the calm sea, the stars above shining a cold light that, as always, fell far short of the brightness of the artificial city lights. The wind was sharp that evening, whistling amongst metal and glass, and biting ruthlessly into anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. Unfortunately, the hallway of Lenne's building wasn't much better, and Shuyin and had to work to keep his teeth from chattering as he waited to be admitted.

"Come in," Lenne's muffled voice called from within the apartment a moment later. All too happy to get out of the frigid hallway, Shuyin quickly complied, slipping through the door and shutting it hastily as to keep the comfortable heat of the apartment in.

He crossed the length of entryway in a few quick strides and glanced around the corner, quickly spotting Lenne a few feet away. She was comfortably splayed out across her bed, her thick comforter covering all but her face and arms. Her eyes skimmed one of several papers covering the mattress before her or, having slid from there, laying unceremoniously on the floor amongst forgotten sheets. She held a pen loosely in one hand, scribbling on the papers here and there.

"Whatcha up to?" Shuyin said, walking over and glancing at the papers. Musical notes and words cluttered them, in some places sharing space with large black scribbles. Some new notes were scrawled into the margins or in between lines, occasionally accompanied by nearly illegible text.

Glancing up at him briefly before looking back down at the paper before her, she said, "Just some songs. I never got a free minute to finish them until now."

"For your next concert?" he asked, scooping a few up off the floor and skimming them.

"Maybe," she answered, expertly plucking them from his hands, a small smile playing across her lips at his look of mock-disappointment. "If any of them end up being good when they're finished." Pulling all the papers on the mattress together and stretching over the edge of the bed to reach the others, she shuffled them into a messy stack, each page poking out at an angle that didn't quite match the others.

Though she tried to make it seem as if she were merely taking care to arrange them correctly, Shuyin could tell that she was intentionally biding her time. The burden of the mysterious, terrible secret weighed heavily between them, trepidation clawing away at his ribcage as if some sort of horrible creature within was struggling to escape. From the way she moved about-slowly, resignedly, as though she were trying to avoid something but knew she could not-he could only guess that she was feeling the same thing.

Slowly, he looked away from her, letting his eyes flick about the room as if one of the many objects cluttering the floor might be able to diffuse the tension that was threatening to asphyxiate him. Alas, he found nothing there, though he was occupied for a moment or two when he spotted her songstress dress hung up near the door. It had replaced her robes not long ago as the garment she most often wore in public, hence making her easier to recognize. It had been by the suggestion of one of the clergy members, he remembered. She had pointedly remarked that, because of the songstress's popularity, her being more overt might help too boost the people's morale. Lenne wasn't particularly happy with the extra exposure though, which Shuyin realized after a few painfully busy outings with her. Merely walking from one part of the city to another was a bit of a challenge, since numerous enthusiastic individuals were regularly accosting her. However, she continued to wear it regardless, saying that the initial excitement would die down soon enough and that it was, after all, helping to improve morale.

Shuyin's moment of welcome forgetfulness was interrupted, however, as Lenne threw the comforter aside and slid from her mattress, her bare feet clapping against the floor as she moved. After taking her time in neatly setting the papers beside a couple of impulsively strewn books, she turned back toward him, the look on her face fully illustrating her reluctance to speak.

"This is . . ." she started, wringing her hands nervously. "This is really . . . hard." Slowly, she walked back over to her bed, plopping down at the foot of it and motioning for him to do the same.

"What's so hard?" he asked, trying his best to seem calm and collected as he pushed aside the comforter and took a seat. He couldn't quite get the mild trembling out of his voice however, so he settled for hoping that she wouldn't notice.

Lenne paused, watching her fingers absently as they danced about atop her knees. For a moment, Shuyin wondered if she was just going to remain that way: stagnant and silent, refusing to confide in him the information that troubled her so.

"Lenne," Shuyin nearly pleaded, leaning forward to better meet her downcast eyes. Seemingly of its own free will, one of his hands moved to touch her forearm, squeezing it encouragingly. "Lenne, you can-"

"Shuyin," she interrupted, taking a deep breath to gather her resolve. "Those Bevellian spies that were captured after the stadium was bombed have been under interrogation for several weeks now, and they've . . . started to talk. They've disclosed a few things." Slowly, Shuyin straightened himself out, conceding the sight of her eyes so that she might be more at ease. His hand, however, remained encouragingly upon her arm. "We-Zanarkand I mean-after the attack, Emperor Yevon didn't have many options to keep us safe," she continued, speaking quickly, as if faltering for even a moment would force her resolve to drain away like wine from a shattered bottle. "Bevelle had us in a corner. If Zanarkand's borders weren't shut down, more spies and operatives would be able to sneak into the city and maybe cause as much damage as before, or worse. Though, now that they have been shut down, we're having just as many problems.

"Shuyin, Zanarkand's weakening. Morale is horribly low right now, and there are a lot of people in this city who would gladly betray the emperor in order to escape. We're getting desperate for imports, too. None of the other machina cities want to ship any of their exports to us, because that might make it appear as if they've allied with us, and Bevelle might go after them. A few cities are shipping things to us in secret, but Bevelle takes out any cargo ships headed too far north to be going anywhere else. The ships that are still being sent over have to be escorted by a defense convoy of ours. It's stretching our defense units thin, and making us vulnerable. We . . . there was no good option for us. We'd have ended up playing into Bevelle's hands no matter what Emperor Yevon decided. Either way, Bevelle would still be able to do exactly what it wants to: cripple us.

"Even the attacks against the summoners were part of weakening our defenses. Really, the soldiers in those cruisers had never intended to get access to the city. Of course, they would have if the opportunity had been there, but that wasn't their real purpose. Bevelle found out early on that we summoners are Zanarkand's best defense against foreign assaults. So, they decided that they could deal a huge blow to Zanarkand's defenses if they got rid of us."

A pang went through Shuyin's stomach as she said this, his insides feeling as if they were wringing themselves into an unbearably tight knot. All those attacks, all those times that they could have been killed, and that was what the enemy had wanted the entire time. The mere thought of it made him sick, and reflecting upon what could have resulted from all those near misses made it even worse. Suddenly, he had the strange compulsion to embrace her out of the mix of relief and dread that was building up in his chest, but he wisely decided against it. Instead, he remained where he was, leaning forward a bit as she proceeded with her narration.

"It . . . gets worse than that, though," she continued, wringing a corner of the comforter between her fingers. "Weakening us isn't their whole plan. It's just necessary for the second half.

"In a few months, Bevelle is planning to attack us head on. They're going to try and bring their most powerful machina over Gagazet and fight us here. If that happens, when we're as weak as we are now . . ." She faltered some then, gulping back her next few words as if speaking them would sear her tongue. However, her pause was just as effective at conveying the information to him as any words would have been.

"We won't have a chance," Shuyin finished absently, forgetting for a moment that he was trying to remain silent to make the account simpler for her to tell. Her head bobbed a bit in confirmation.

"Yes," she responded, lifting her eyes and looking at him for the first time since she had begun. Then, she promptly looked away once again, this time her gaze running inattentively over the ceiling. "And we can't let that happen. We can't let Bevelle's forces reach Zanarkand. That's why Emperor Yevon . . . that's why the summoners are being sent out of the city to meet them."

"What?" Shuyin cried in alarm, a moment later scolding himself for his accidental harshness.

Lenne however, was not nearly as disturbed by this reaction as he had thought she would be. In fact, she remained just as she had been a moment before, as if she had already known that his response would be something similar to that.

"Those of us that are close to obtaining all of the aeons will be finishing our training in the next few months. Then, we'll join up with the other summoners that have completed their training, and leave the city under order of Emperor Yevon. We're going to try and make it down Gagazet as quickly as possible, so we won't have to fight Bevelle's forces under its harsh conditions. The rest of the summoners will remain here, and continue their training. They will serve as extra protection, so if any machina break through our line of defense, there will be a second line ready to stop them." She said all this with an overwhelmingly mechanical tone, as if she were providing a stranger with directions to another district.

After that, the silence between them was so absolute that, if Shuyin had been paying attention, he probably could have the sound of the elevator bell pinging at the other end of the building. However, he was far too busy staring at Lenne with the sort of glazed, lost look that could only accompany the most acute kind of disbelief.

And still, there was one last question to be answered. One that, due to the information that preceded it, he could hardly muster up enough determination to ask.

"Why didn't I know, Lenne?" he asked quietly, gazing at her with fearful, nearly beseeching eyes. "I'm your guardian. Why didn't anyone tell me?"

This, it seemed, was the part of the conversation that Lenne had been dreading the most. She returned his gaze with one that held the same sort of fear and foreboding, her hands twisting about the fabric of her bedspread until it began to sigh with the strain of her grip. Gulping, she got to her feet, slowly padding across the room to where her songstress's outfit hung. Shuyin watched as she sifted amongst the material there, time seemingly slowing to taunt him.

"Shuyin," she murmured helplessly, turning and walking back toward him. In her hand was a small blue pamphlet, no larger than her hand and no thicker than a coin. She took her seat once again, handing it to him. Slowly, he took it (with the air of a man being forced to pick up some sort of poisonous insect), and opened it, leafing through its pages. Her picture was contained within, as well as an assortment of personal information, among other things.

"This is my passport. All of the summoners have been given one. If someone wants to leave Zanarkand, having one of these is the only way they can," she explained quietly, fingers flicking over his as she guided him to the first page. It was completely empty but for a thin black line. "Emperor Yevon has to sign them himself in order for anyone to leave Zanarkand," she said, tapping the paper above the line to indicate where the signature would go. "We summoners are departing by his orders, so he's willing to sign ours. But, if he believes it's best to deny release to someone, they will not be allowed to leave."

Delicately, she took the passport from him, running her thumb across the cover. He stared at her, his eyes wide as he slowly began to grasp the subtleties behind her strange tangent. She couldn't possibly be saying what he thought she was, he tried to tell himself. The mere concept was too absurd and hazardous for words, and it certainly wouldn't have been given as an official order. It was ridiculous, he convinced himself, as Lenne turned poignant eyes up to meet his. It couldn't possibly be what he thought it was. It was just his mind jumping to conclusions, playing tricks . . .

Gently, she rested a hand upon his shoulder, seemingly trying to comfort him. "Shuyin," she started warily, her fingers trembling in a fearfully foreboding manner. "Do you remember when you became a guardian? How simple it was, because Emperor Yevon doesn't have authority over the guardians? Because he doesn't recognize them?"

All he could hear after that was the faint sound of the world shattering.

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