"So what've you got?" Tidus leaned over Rikku's shoulder, squinting at her scanner. Yuna shifted her holsters and wedged in next to him, pushing Rikku's hair aside to see.
"Hey, hey, back off, you two! Gross! Here." The contents of the pilot's console flashed up onto the forward windows. "Look." Rikku pointed. "Can't tell much about that thing, but it's big, it's metal, it's moving, and it's half a mile underwater. And that--" a cursor flashed over one of the island chains obscured by clouds-- "is its present heading. Look familiar?"
"Ummmm." Tidus turned to Yuna, who was chewing her lip thoughtfully. "No?"
"'S where I found you in the first place, dork," Rikku answered. "Baaj temple. There's a ton of ruins, plus that creepy Guado mansion out in the middle of nowhere."
"Where Seymour and his mother lived after they were cast out," Yuna murmured tightly.
"Oh, right." Tidus made a face. "Anima." He had never entirely trusted the powerful Aeon they had picked up from Seymour's aborted pilgrimage.
"Coincidence?" Yuna stared off into the distance, eyes unfocusing on the screen. "Or simply the raiders' next target?"
Her cousin shrugged. "Well, there's a whole lot of machina down there in that sunken city. It's where Pops' airship came from. Maybe that's where the raiders found theirs."
"So that island's their base," Tidus said excitedly.
"Could be. Which means we'd better make sure they don't blow us out of the sky before we can land." Rikku tipped her head back, nudging Yuna's elbow. "What's the gameplan, boss?"
Yuna smiled down at her wanly. The Gullwings would probably have gone in blazing with no plan whatsoever, but caution was finally starting to rub off on her cousin. Unfortunately, Yuna was still more of a diplomat than a tactician. Her Summoner's training had strongly discouraged independent thinking. Guardians were provided to open doors for their Summoner when puzzles needed solving. Not for the first time, Yuna found herself missing Lulu's prudent counsel. "Look for a site to put down where the ruins may help conceal us. Scan for any new structures. A ship that size has to have some kind of dock, right?"
"Yep. Though it may be underwater. But if they've got heavy-duty unloaders, the sensors will probably pick 'em up."
Tidus paced in a tight circle behind them, idly slapping the empty seats' armrests, causing the cousins to exchange patient smiles. Rikku turned back to her console, checking the scanners. "Hey, guys? Just one thing. If the kidnappers are pirates, why didn't they just plunder the ship and leave? Kimahri said they asked for Lu by name. They wanted /her/."
"Ransom, maybe?" Tidus jabbed a thumb towards himself. "Legendary Guardian and all that."
"Why didn't they try to nab Kimahri, then?" Rikku pointed out. "He's Yunie's Guardian and Elder of the Ronso."
"They said, 'Lulu of Besaid,'" Yuna mused, a painful thought dawning on her. "You don't suppose--"
"They're using Lulu as bait to catch Besaid's biggest celebrity?" Tidus scowled. "Well they're not going to get you or her!"
Rikku killed the forward display. The green ocean was much closer now, rushing up to meet the ship at a sickening velocity. "Then why not Kimahri? Unless the raiders decided both of them would be too much to handle."
"Thank goodness they didn't. Poor Vidina." Yuna exhaled explosively. "How much longer?"
"About ten minutes. Better take your positions. We're comin' in low; this could get rocky."
As Yuna moved towards the lefthand gunner's chair, Tidus caught her hand. "Yuna." He cleared his throat. "You know, just in case it's you they're after, maybe you should guard the ship while Rikku and I--"
"Not a chance!" She gave his hand a sharp shake. "How many times do I have to tell you: you're not my Guardians any longer! Besides, I don't let you out of my sight, remember?" They shared a quick kiss, then slid into their seats.
"Shoot to kill?" Tidus whispered across the aisle, strapping himself in.
"Anything or anyone in our way," Yuna replied firmly. "Whatever it takes."
"Right on. For Lulu." His thumbs settled on the triggers. One of Letty's old cheers drifted back to him, and he added softly, "And for Cap'n Wakka."
Rikku flipped off the autopilot and seized the steering yoke. "Hang on!" she whooped. The Jecht dropped, banked, and skimmed close to the wavetops. Rising out of the sea ahead of them and spreading towards either horizon was a labyrinthine forest of submerged pillars, crumbling walls, and ancient spires.
~ * ~
Baaj Manor. Lulu's nails picked mechanically at another tangle while she mulled over her situation and attempted to set her coiffure in order. The Guado captain had ordered her to be removed to a holding cell, perhaps noticing her eavesdropping. She gave an idle kick to the anti-magic sphere dropped in the corner, slightly too large to be shoved between bars. She could not even muster a simple water spell to wash the salt away.
Drained and numb, the caged sorceress circled the tiny room like a sleepwalker while she brushed out her long hair. Had the ferry sustained too much damage to reach land? Where was her son? The invisible weight of the ocean separating her from Vidina felt like the crushing weight of Gagazet. She had absolute faith in Kimahri, but little hope left that she would see either of them again.
Not no hope, however. If her captors let down their guard, there were no loved ones here, no innocent bystanders, no precious young to be endangered by an inferno unleashed. That made her perilous. "Wakka," she whispered tiredly. "I wonder if you understand how vengeance could be love." Another man would, but he was lost too, and thinking of him now would make her feel even colder.
So. Baaj Manor. Apparently these scavengers had reoccupied the ancient complex that Yuna and her Guardians had discovered while seeking weapons for their battle against Sin. Lulu recalled that the residence near the temple had been severely damaged, exhibiting signs of a Sin attack. She guessed that the raiders must have rebuilt it. Was she their only prisoner? Maybe--
A booted tread in the corridor cut short her pondering. A masked guard in an old warrior monk's uniform halted outside the door and levelled a rifle towards her. The Guado captain strode into view a moment later, unlatching the door and planting himself in the threshold. He bowed deeply. "I apologize for the limited accommodations, milady; you will find more comfortable lodgings once we reach the manor." He folded his hands across his waistcoat, a simplified version of the livery that Lulu remembered from the old days in Guadosalam. "I am Burrell. You probably don't remember me; I was one of Lord Seymour's retainers. I have not forgotten what you and your friends did to him in Macalania Temple."
Lulu darted a wary glance at the guard, feeling tepid satisfaction when he tensed and gripped his weapon more tightly. "So this is payback?" she queried coolly.
"Sadly, no." Burrell favored her with a cloying smile. "Lady Yuna has been very insistent about leaving old quarrels in the past. Spira is a new world with new opportunities, as she is fond of informing us! Therefore, we have seized one. Recently, it occurred to me that you, in particular, possess certain abilities that could enhance our new Sindicate."
Lulu frowned scornfully. "You're working for LeBlanc?"
"No, no, that coward Trommel has not seen fit to dislodge the rabble occupying our former Lord's estate. Their name, however, seemed too apt to resist, since we have found a way to engineer Sin's return, in a manner of speaking. Thus far, we have confined ourselves to small targets at sea. My sources suggest that your powers might allow us to mimic Sin's land attacks."
The mage snorted. "Surely you know that I would sink this ship before turning Ultima against innocent Spirans."
"Perhaps." Burrell shrugged expressively. "And if Lady Yuna's safety were contingent on your cooperation?"
"Still no." Lulu fixed him with a frosty glare. "And you don't have her. But if you did, I would refuse. Yuna would never permit what you are doing, even at the cost of her life."
"So we fear." Burrell sighed. "A pity. I'm afraid that if you will not join us, we cannot risk having you-- or High Summoner Yuna and her associates-- against us. Alas for Spira! Without Lady Yuna, Old Yevon, or the Fayth, I fear that Summoners and Guardians will have few means at their disposal to combat the terrible menace of Sin." He shook his head mock-sorrowfully. "Good day, milady." With another glib bow, he exited the cell and slid the door shut.
He did not draw the bolts, but Lulu's slender hopes were immediately dashed by his next words. "Oh. One final matter. I would be remiss if I did not give you a last chance to reconsider. I understand that some of my crew are eager to try their own methods of--" he coughed delicately, "persuasion." Burrell removed a metal case from his sleeve and slid it on the floor through the bars. "Don't let her die before we reach Baaj," he instructed the guard mildly, nodding to the small package. "Use healing potions if your men become overzealous." He fixed Lulu with one last oily smile. "Do let them know if you change your mind, milady."
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