Chapter 21: "Love Her and Despair"
Final Fantasy X
Characters: Auron, Isaaru, Maroda, Elma, Rikku, Gippal
Word Count: 3500
Summary: Revelations from Yuna's pilgrimage.
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Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters
Our Story So Far: On a rampage to destroy the temples of Yevon, Sin transports Isaaru and companions to Bikanel Island, where Wakka and Rikku are raising a family. Gippal gives Rikku and Isaaru's party a lift to Baaj to the south, where Sin has just attacked the new Al Bhed Home.
The flyer wobbled under the weight of extra passengers, with occasional commentary provided by Rikku swearing in two languages. Maroda rode white-knuckled, his brother with serene resignation. Elma, the machina-phobe, clung to her seat with a dour expression, but gave herself away with a whoop when the flier hopped over a sand-worm that unexpectedly rose up behind a crumbling ruin. Auron simply played barnacle. Gippal was quiet too, for once, focused on steering for the sake of the two passengers with no proper seats.
They were streaking towards a gray hump emerging from the shoulders of the dunes. The shape soon resolved itself into a bulbous, unlovely hulk of an airship with the profile of an oversized bathtub, its hull a crude patchwork of fins, engine pods, exhaust ports and mismatched panels. It was anchored on the southern tip of the island with the bulk of its fuselage hanging out over open water. An aft loading ramp extended down to the beach. Gippal banked sharply, angling towards it. For a terrifying moment, collision seemed inevitable. Then the flyer slowed to a crawl and slithered up the ramp into the hold, jerking to a halt against a stack of barrels. The engines' roar grew to a crescendo in the enclosed space, then faded to a whine and silence. Deafened passengers roused themselves and surveyed their surroundings. Floor-to-ceiling stacks of crates and gun racks loomed on all sides, making it a wonder they had not struck anything on the way in.
"Well, here we are," Gippal said, hopping up onto the flyer's windshield to kick a knob set in the wall. The ramp and cargo bay doors began to close with a hiss of hydraulics. A few dingy amber lights flickered to life in the ceiling as the rectangle of daylight behind them narrowed and vanished.
"You gotta get a new paint job for this bucket, Gippal," Rikku said, standing and stretching. "It looks like a flying turd."
"Flies like one, too." Gippal dropped to the floor, circling around the small craft to secure it with magnetic clamps. "Joyride's over, people. Head upstairs. I'll be there in a minute."
Rikku pushed past Auron, scrambling over the side and heading for a long ladder on the forward bulkhead. Auron climbed up after her. The others followed slowly, feeling their way in the alien environment. They emerged in a dim corridor lined by steel doors. The bulkhead at the far end opened onto the flight deck. Here the Yevonites pulled up short. The walls, floor, and ceiling were made of a clear material that looked like glass but clanked like metal. There were four crew stations arranged in a diamond in the nose of the ship: a pilot's seat suspended from the ceiling, a gunner's station inset in a well below, and navigation and operations consoles on either side.
Rikku slid into the navigator's station and started pecking at the controls. A sphere of blue light materialized above her fingers, a smaller version of the scanner on Cid's airship. "Oh," she said, glancing over her shoulder at the logjam of people on the short tongue of metal in front of the doors. "Take any seat but the top one. Don't touch anything."
Gippal emerged from the back as they were settling in. He chuckled at the shellshocked expressions of his Yevonite passengers. "First time flying, eh?"
Elma daringly lowered herself into the gunner's bubble with nothing beneath her but ocean. "Wow. I think I'm gonna have to do all kinds of atonement when we get back to Bevelle."
"We, uh, were on Cid's airship once," Maroda said, helping Isaaru into the engineer's seat. "But we couldn't see out like this."
"The Fahrenheit's a luxury yacht. This slug's an old army transport, with a few customizations. Hey, Rikku, you remember how to work the scanner?"
"I'm on it." She waved Maroda over. "Take a look. Red dots are fiends. Green dots are alive. Green dots with a white circle around 'em are alive plus metal, which means people. Simple, eh?"
"Or a sand worm that's eaten a machina," Gippal said, climbing into the pilot's seat and pushing the steering yoke forward. The airship swooped lower, swinging out over the waves and back inland. Dunes began to scroll beneath them, gradually accelerating to a blur. "Sing out if you spot anything."
"I'm not sure if Lucil's carrying anything metal," Elma said, watching the desert rushing between her feet.
"Boots," Maroda suggested. "Buckles. Her cane. Is that enough for the sensors to pick up?"
"Should be," Gippal said. "Oh, that reminds me...Rikku, what's Nooj done to get himself locked up this time? He got left behind when Home was evacuated. Cid blew me off about it."
"Oh," she said. "Gip, Nooj had another fit and shot up the R & D lab. Landed Shinra in the infirmary. Pops is still trying to decide what to do about him. He's a whiz with ancient machina, but if Shinra can't figure out what's making him fritz, I'm afraid he may get his death wish." She sighed. "Assuming Sin didn't save us the trouble."
"The Nooj?" Elma said. "He's still kicking? I thought he was dead."
"Not for lack of trying," Gippal said. "lnywo vilgehk sukchukkan."
Isaaru eased out of his seat and walked back to Auron, who had planted himself against the rear bulkhead beside the doors.
"Sir Auron?" he said, lowering his voice. "Your thoughts?"
"We're running out of time." Not for the first time, he felt the maddening tug of a goal receding into the distance, as he had so often those first years in Dream-Zanarkand before he mastered slidewalks.
"Yes. But we must make certain that Pacce and Lucil are not lost in this Yevon-forsaken wilderness." Isaaru smiled at Auron's sour expression. "I know: Sin won't wait. But in all honesty, my friend, do you believe we are ready to face Sin?"
"No." Auron grimaced. "This pilgrimage is going nowhere."
"As I thought," Isaaru said, unruffled. "I must speak with Elder Cid. His machina may be our only chance of saving Bevelle."
"We won't reach it in time. Sin's heading north. We're headed south." Auron considered. "Except...its next target may be Macalania. And it's expending a great deal of power. Eventually it has to rest."
"May Yevon grant it so." Isaaru moved through the motions of prayer, then turned towards Rikku. "I'm eager to learn what is on that sphere. Do you know, Sir Auron?"
"You don't sound pleased." Isaaru tilted his head. "Are you afraid of what it will show us?"
"You'd learn sooner or later," Auron said, voice flat and tired. "I just hope 'sooner' turns out better than 'later.'"
Two hours later, they had found nothing more than patrolling machina, a salvage team in the ruins of Old Home, and a territorial zu that kept bouncing off the glass until they gave up on that sector. Elma was starting to drift off after miles of featureless sand. Gippal nudged her with his foot. "Yo. Don't touch that, lady, or you'll really have something to atone for." He leaned back, turning to Isaaru. "Well, that's the whole island. You folks satisfied? We've got to turn for Home sooner or later. Cid's gonna blow a gasket as it is."
"But—" Maroda said.
Elma jerked away from the gun controls. "I know how you feel, Captain, believe me." She stared at the monotonous landscape spread out below them. "But we've got a job to do, eh? Pacce's a trooper. He'll be fine wherever he is. And the general wouldn't want us wasting time on her."
"We must pray that they were left behind in Djose," Isaaru said. "Meanwhile, Sin continues its pilgrimage. We must resume ours."
Rikku rolled her eyes. "Yevonites."
"I'll take that as a yes," Gippal said, throwing the steering yoke hard to one side. Elma yelped as the ground tilted steeply and a burst of acceleration pressed them into their seats. Maroda went skidding backwards. The dunes below quickly gave way to reef, then open water, dropping away rapidly as the ship climbed.
"Whew," Rikku said. "You've been tinkering with the engines again, haven't you?"
"You'd better believe it. Though I can't take full credit. I'm testing a new booster design for Shinra."
Maroda righted himself and looked irritably at Auron, who had not budged. "Give us a little warning next time, Gippal, okay?" He came forward again as the ship began to level off. "So how long till we reach Home?"
"We've got about five hours," Gippal said. He pressed a button, pushed away the controls and propped his boots on the handlebars. "Phew. I'm beat. I've locked us on cruise. Rikku, think you could handle things up here if I crash for a while? I haven't slept in two days."
"Sure, leave it to me!" Rikku chuckled at Elma's expression, which had changed to alarm at the word crash. "Don't worry. I know how to fly this thing. I just can't land!"
"Oh, great," Elma said.
"All righty, then. No rearranging the control preferences while I'm out." Gippal climbed down from the pilot's seat. "I'll see you in a few hours. Buzz me if the scanner starts pinging." With a wave, he ambled past Auron and through the doors.
"Well." Maroda cleared his throat. "Since we've got some time—"
"Gotcha," Rikku said, digging Wakka's sphere out of her beltpouch. "Gimme a sec. I think I can project the recording onto the forward screens." She hopped up and moved to the console in front of Isaaru, popping Wakka's sphere into a socket. She paused with her finger over a button. "Um...Auron? If you've got anything to say, better do it now."
Auron shook his head. "Just do it."
The breathtaking panorama of ocean and sky receded behind a floor-to-ceiling hologram, a nebulous darkness spattered with stars and swirling lights. At first, it was impossible to decipher what they were looking at. Then the lower half of a girl's face flashed into view, filling most of the screen. Elma gasped. Thirteen years had passed since anyone had seen the High Summoner alive, but her etherial, sweet smile was unmistakable.
Rikku squatted down on the floor next to Isaaru, folding her arms tightly around herself.
The view tilted crazily as Yuna set the sphere down and stepped back, revealing a night-shrouded landscape of rubble and broken spires. The darkness was not merely black, but a tapestry of somber colors too subtle to distinguish. Rivers of pyreflies flowed over the ruins in sluggish eddies, weaving across the shells of pulverized walls and broken pavement. It was a beautiful, terrible, unreal vision, a dream flirting with the shores of nightmare.
"Zanarkand?" Maroda said in a hushed whisper.
Isaaru rose to his feet in reverent awe, sweeping his arms in Yevon's prayer.
Floating before them, Yuna's slim form seemed to soar through a daylit expanse of open sea and puffy clouds. As their eyes began to adjust to the double image, a dark figure standing behind her stepped forward into focus. Yuna's companion was camouflaged by her black garments, so that her pale shoulders, neck and head seemed suspended in mid-air. Black hair falling at a slant over her left eye reduced her face to a white triangle.
"The Lady," Isaaru said. "In Yevon's name, who...?"
"Hello, everyone!" Yuna said brightly, clasping her hands and beaming out at them. "Um...I just want to say...thank you so much. And I'm sorry. Lulu and I have gone on ahead. But before you go chasing after us, I...I want to explain. Please, hear us out."
"Giving you a bigger headstart," Rikku grumbled under her breath.
"I know..." Yuna took a long breath, steadying herself. "I know this isn't what we talked about last night. But we've come so far. All the way to Zanarkand. I can't stop now. If I did, all we've been through— all the sacrifices of the people we've lost— would be for nothing." She trailed off and turned away, fingering a charm necklace with a Y-shaped design. Lulu opened her arms and held Yuna until she regained her composure. "And now...Sir Auron says the pilgrimage itself is a lie. But fighting Yunalesca won't bring my father back, or save Sir Jecht, or help Spira."
"A lie?" Maroda said, turning to glare at Sir Auron. He did not answer, having moved away from the wall to stare transfixed at the projection. His detached mask had fallen away, replaced by raw, impotent anger so bleak that it seemed to hold a tinge of madness.
Yuna, stubborn and certain beyond the reach of any protests, kept talking. "Sir Auron, you were right: there is another way. We've talked it over. Lulu's thought of a plan to break the cycle, really and truly. When we've finished, we'll be with our loved ones, and Spira will be free of Sin...forever. So you mustn't be sad for us."
"Yunie," Rikku breathed, eyes starting to water. "We loved you too."
"But we'll need every one of you for this to work. So I've got to ask you to help me one last time, although it's the hardest thing I've ever asked you to do. Please. Help me...help us end Spira's sorrow. I know we can do it, together." Again Yuna's smile flashed out like a pyrefly's gleam.
Lulu placed a hand on her shoulder and began to speak in the same measured tones that she had used to instruct Tidus in Spira's mysteries. "Sir Auron has given us a weapon possessed by no summoner or guardian before: the truth. At last we know what the Final Summoning means, and we can prepare for it. Yuna and I shall vanquish Sin. Then it will be up to you to defeat the next Sin, before Yu Yevon can replenish it. Listen closely." Another audience, one that neither Yuna nor Lulu could have anticipated, held their breaths. "In the battle against Sir Jecht, I shall expend as much power as I can. Thus, when Yu Yevon joins with me, I will be weak, and Yu Yevon at his most vulnerable. That is when you must—"
"Jecht?" Elma said, bewildered. "Yu...Yevon?"
A gruff voice cut through Lulu's speech. "You're not going."
Isaaru started, jarred from his trance by a familiar voice. But this, too, was part of the recording. A younger image of Auron stepped into the field of view.
"Sir Auron?" Yuna said. "You would stop me now, after guiding us all this way?"
"No." He moved towards her, looming over the sphere's lens until the red of his coat filled the sky. "If you are resolved, I am still your guardian. But there is no reason for Lulu to die."
Yuna flinched. "I...I don't want anyone else to die. But if it truly ends Sin forever..."
"Sir Auron," Lulu said, apparently interposing herself between them. "I have trained for this moment all my life, although I did not understand clearly until now what I was preparing for. When Yuna chose the summoner's path, I made my choice, too. I told Yuna the morning we left: This is our journey."
"Lulu," Yuna said, voice raw.
"I made a promise to Jecht," Auron said. A shift in his stance uncovered the spherecam again. Yuna was just stepping back from embracing Lulu. "And there is no need to sacrifice another guardian, when—"
"Which is precisely why you cannot be the Final Aeon," Lulu said. "Above all others, you cherish Sir Jecht and Lord Braska. Loyalty to them is what brought you here. I came here for Yuna. Did you not say that the bond between summoner and summoned is what gives the aeon its power? But even if Lady Yunalesca accepts you, and what you are—" she gave him a pointed look— "how could we hope to destroy you, when nothing else has? Please, Auron. Help us. Don't hinder us. The others may awaken at any moment."
He stared down at her. Viewers waited with bated breath for history to reaffirm itself. Finally, he gave a grudging nod. His answer was couched in a surprisingly gentle whisper. "Let's go."
Yuna smiled fondly at both of them. "It has been an honor, Sir Auron."
Marching away, the two guardians fell behind their summoner in lockstep. Forgotten, the abandoned sphere kept recording until they were swallowed by Zanarkand's ruins and its pyrefly custodians. Back on the flight deck, Rikku wiped her eyes, reached forward, and switched off the recording. The unobstructed view of sun-washed clouds and sky returned.
"So," Elma said into the heavy silence, when no one else seemed inclined to break it. "About how many years should I atone, do you think, for hearing that? Operation Mi'ihen took three."
"Don't you get it?" Rikku said. "Yevon's a stupid lie. It's a big fat leech that eats guardians and summoners!"
"Hey!" Elma said, starting to rise from her seat. "That's blasphemy!"
"Elma, Rikku, please," Isaaru said. Even now, he sounded unperturbed, although his smile was melancholy. "The truth, it seems, is that love defeats Sin. It transcends even Yevon: both the foe whose ravages inspired our religion, and the wise teachings that arose from that unpromising beginning."
"Sir?" Elma said. "Do I wanna know what you just said, or can I just forget it and wait for orders?"
"You've gotta be kidding me," Rikku said.
"The truth," Maroda said, turning and storming towards Auron, "is that he wasn't going to tell us any of this. So when were you going to let us in on the big secret? In Zanarkand? After me or Pacce volunteered for the Final Summoning? After Isaaru was dead?"
Auron sagged back against the wall, face hidden in his collar. As Maroda reached him, he slid to the floor, doubled over. A single pyrefly drifted from the folds of his coat. When Maroda stooped over him, Auron suddenly lashed out, swinging a wild punch that Maroda dodged with a startled curse.
"What the—?" Rikku said, jumping up.
"Sin's toxin?" Elma said, starting to climb out of her seat.
Exasperated, Maroda threw himself at Sir Auron. He fell upon the older man with his full weight channelled into a knee to the gut, his other knee pinning the man's arm to the floor. Maroda seized his collar, barking into his face. "Just what are you playing at, old man? Are you trying to stop Sin...or protect it? No, her! The Lady's your girlfriend, is that it? You've been talking to her all along, haven't you? Haven't you?" More pyreflies floated loose as Maroda shook him. Auron snarled with bared teeth, freed his right arm from his coat and reached for the man's throat.
"Maroda!" Isaaru said, starting towards them. "Sir Auron, stop!"
"Toxin, yeah," Rikku said, darting forward to cut him off. "I guess if Lulu doesn't make 'em horny, she gives 'em PMS. Isaaru, Elma, hold up! And hold your breath!" She tossed a pellet towards the grappling combatants.
There was a yellow flash, a bang, and an acrid stench. Everyone's vision tunnelled. Isaaru staggered. Maroda and Auron went down, collapsing on top of one another in a heap blocking the doorway. Rikku sat down on them, kicking her heels against the floor with an air of triumph. "Wow. Is there something in the teachings that says guardians have to be blockheads?"
Next Chapter: The Falcon Cannot Hear