Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 35: The Council of Yevon
Final Fantasy X/X-2
Characters: Auron, Isaaru, Pacce, Lucil, Baralai, Shelinda, Cid, Rikku, Elma, Nooj, Paine
Rating: PG-13 (Language)
Word Count: 3900
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Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters
Our Story So Far: Sin has destroyed most of the temples and their fayth, putting Isaaru's pilgrimage in jeopardy. The maesters convene an emergency meeting to plan a radical new strategy for fighting Sin.
Weary as he was of piecing himself back together, Auron still resented unsolicited aid.
Gravity had been hijacked. A subtle realignment of currents had swapped Spira's core with his own heart, drawing bone and sinew and spirit towards it like so many nested shells around axis mundi. The prayer was a variant of the Hymn of the Fayth, the one recited in temples across Spira to renew the bonds of fayth to statue. Two voices rose and fell in a plodding chant, weaving the binding prayer around him once, twice, thrice: once for Yevon, once for Spira, once for the end of Sin.
Auron wondered whether Yojimbo had gone mad before or after the priests stopped coming around to burnish his chains.
His body was no statue, but the dizzying pull of the Farplane seemed to lessen, as if he had fetched up on a sandbar in the midst of a rushing torrent.
The binding ceased. The stronger voice fell silent. The ritual shifted to healing magic, a deeper, more potent strain than Zuke's. Damaged organs and hairline fractures missed by Cura were patted back into wholeness, like clay wetted, shaped, and baked anew. All pain vanished except for the stinging in Auron's palm, and that was now bearable. Finally, a simple cleansing spell — petty magic, but useful for long pilgrimages — sloughed off the stench from the gutter where Lulu had dropped him.
Auron opened his eyes and sat up with a grudging nod of respect. "Thanks."
"Thanks be to Yevon," Zuke said, moving around the cot to help Isaaru into a chair. The cramped space and Yevon's sign on the door suggested a monk's cell.
Isaaru's face was ashen. Why was there blood pooling in the hollows of his eyes? "Welcome back," he said, taking a clean cloth from Zuke to wipe his face. Then he raised his voice. "Pacce!"
The door opened with a jerk, and the room became even more crowded as the boy bolted inside, slamming it in the faces of a press of spectators in the hallway. "S-Sir Auron?"
He nodded a greeting.
"Our brother?" Isaaru said, addressing Auron.
Pacce made a choking sound, probably trying to keep from breaking down in front of his idol.
"As I feared." Propping his head against the wall, Isaaru gave Zuke a weak smile. "Father, we deeply appreciate your help...and your discretion."
"Eh, well, I doubt the Grand Maester will excommunicate me for this." The bald man bowed, giving Yevon's sign as much as the close quarters permitted. "Your chambers are ready, Isaaru. I expect to find you there shortly. If you need to talk—"
"Thank you, old friend. Perhaps later."
"Sir Auron, it has been...a most unusual honor. I pray you find what you seek." Zuke bowed again and slipped out.
"Forgive me for enlisting Father Zuke's help, Sir Auron," Isaaru said, after the door had shut. "Your... condition... presented a challenge, and I am rather spent."
"Understandable." Auron gave Pacce a measuring glance, but his eyes registered no comprehension. In fact, they registered very little. His gaze had fallen on Auron's sword propped in a corner, and he seemed absorbed by it. Auron had seen that look before: Braska after Anna's death, Liddy pining after Jecht, Yuna cupping Tidus' head in the snow, barely able to stumble through a sending. Auron's track record in consoling bereaved comrades was dismal, but the boy reminded him enough of Tidus to prick a vague sense of duty. "Pacce. I have a message."
"The blade is not to blame for the hand that wields it."
Isaaru's expression softened. "He means you should not assume guilt for Shuyin's crimes."
"Oh." Pacce's chin trembled. "I know, but—"
"Only a summoner of Isaaru's talent could have opposed his will," Auron said. "You had no defense, no weapon you could have used to fight him."
Pacce nodded halfheartedly. Then his eyes widened. "Wait. Was that message from Maroda?"
"He doesn't blame you. He feared you'd blame yourself."
Pacce blinked back tears. "Oh."
Isaaru, watching his brother's face, relaxed slightly. "So. By your leave, Sir Auron, we should avail ourselves of the guestrooms prepared for us. Assuming that I still have two guardians?"
"You intend to keep going?" Auron said.
Pacce looked stricken, but held his tongue.
"You're a hard man, my friend." He passed a hand over his eyes. "I know I must, but I do not know if I can. Allow me to defer my answer a day. Unless you have cause to think Sin will return tonight?"
Auron shook his head. "No." He frowned, recalling Lulu's puzzling reference to Zaon. "She's gone off to give us more time."
"The Lady is kind." Isaaru rose with a groan. "Follow."
Threading their way through a stream of healers, Isaaru leaned close to Auron as they pressed against a wall to allow a stretcher to pass. "Maroda never had your way with words," he whispered. "But thank you. Losing one of them is enough."
Sin might grant a day's grace, but Yevon would not. The whine of engines braking overhead sparked a fresh panic, sending priests and nuns scurrying into the courtyard. They cowered and prayed as a huge, ungainly hulk flew low, eclipsing the sun before disappearing over the rooftops. The warrior monks fired after it. Juno, just returned from her errand, stormed out and quickly took charge. Guards were deployed to barricade the entrance. A squad of marksmen fanned out on the roof. Tense minutes ticked by. Fortunately, all precautions proved unnecessary. Baralai arrived alone, walking slowly from the direction of the plaza.
"Casualties?" he said, pushing through the wall of guards.
"One more since last we spoke," Juno said, falling into step beside him. "Maroda."
"Ouch." Entering the courtyard, Baralai ignored scattered greetings and queries. Instead he sought out Isaaru, whom Auron had herded under the shelter of an archway. Baralai bowed low. "Lord Isaaru. You have my condolences...and my sincere apology for doubting you."
Isaaru returned the bow, but politic speech had deserted him.
"Lucil's awake. Shelinda's on her way," Juno said. "Lucil's called a meeting when she arrives."
"Very good," Baralai said, lowering his voice. "Gippal's watching over the package in a safe place. We need to tell him where to deliver it."
They convened in the cloister refectory, hastily cleared for their use. Elma met them at the entrance, keeping out baffled clergy who had missed the announcement. Lucil was already there, seated opposite the doors when those she had summoned began to trickle in. Light refreshments and drinks had been set out for them on a large circular table.
"Elder Cid, Lady Rikku," Lucil said. "Thank you for coming. We may not have time to discuss it today, but be assured that the maesters will not allow Shuyin's deeds to trigger retaliation against your people. We know you were not to blame."
"Uh...well, good." Cid harrumphed, momentarily at a loss. "Makes a nice change."
Rikku rolled her eyes and flopped down in a chair. "He means, 'Thank you.'"
"My Lady," Shelinda said, rushing in and bowing breathlessly. "I'm glad to see you well!"
"And you, my lady." Lucil waited for the others to file in, then motioned to Elma.
"Ma'am." She locked the doors behind Nooj and activated a recording sphere set on a tripod in the corner. As the others took their seats, she moved to stand behind Lucil's chair.
"This emergency Council of Yevon is now in session." Lucil's eyes rested on each face as she greeted them, starting on her left and circling the room. "Lady Shelinda. Lady Rikku. Elder Cid. Sir Pacce. Lord Isaaru. Sir Auron. Sir Nooj. Captain Juno. Lord Baralai. Commander Elma." She inclined her head towards the empty chair between Rikku and Shelinda. "The day began with sorrow, and there is another who should be among us. But I give thanks to fate— or, dare I say it, to Sin— for making possible such a roll call."
"Praise be to Yevon," Shelinda insisted.
"As you will." Lucil looked grim. "In truth, this is a Council of Yevon in name only. For today we do not speak only for Yevon, my lady, nor does Elder Cid speak only for the Al Bhed. We must take thought also for the Hypello and for the few Guado and Ronso that remain. Our choices may dictate Spira's fate for the next thousand years. Therefore I urge you and Baralai to set aside titles in this room, consider this a Council of Spira, and regard all votes as equal to our own."
Baralai said nothing until he had scanned around the table, lips moving silently as if he were making a tally. Then he nodded. "Agreed."
Shelinda darted an uneasy glance at Nooj and his metal limbs. "But I don't even know all these people!"
"Nooj," Juno said. "Former Crusader. He and Baralai served together. I mentioned him when I briefed you about Vegnagun." She took a deep breath. "I'll vouch for him."
Baralai's shoulders hunched, but he nodded. "So will I."
Nooj shook his head, muttering, "I don't deserve you people."
"And I'm Rikku!" Rikku waggled her fingers. "Ex-guardian to the High Summoner. Yuna's mom was my Pops' sister. We bumped into you a few times on her pilgrimage."
"Oh!" Shelinda said meekly. "Hello again. All right, I agree."
Lucil steepled her hands on the table. "Baralai, first: what is Vegnagun's status?"
"On standby," he said. "Gippal has it parked on Lake Macalania. Speaking of which, we've lost Macalania Temple. It looks like Sin attacked yesterday. We found no survivors."
"Oh, no." Shelinda looked stricken. "The monastery, too?"
"I'm sorry, milady." After a somber pause, he went on. "Gippal's guarding Vegnagun. His crewmate, Shinra, met us there and flew me back in their airship. They've got special spheres that broadcast to one another. We can call Gippal from here."
"Very good. Lady Shelinda, how goes the evacuation?"
"Fairly well, thanks to the warrior monks," she said, nodding to Juno, "but we're short on tents and rations. Some are waiting in line for hours for food and water. A few fights have broken out. I'd like to start moving the people back into the city as soon as possible."
"The city is not yet safe," Lucil said. "I've recalled the Crusaders of Yocun Lodge with instructions to bring extra food and rations. I'm placing them under your command for the duration of this operation."
Shelinda bit her lip. "That may help, but I'm not sure the camps are any safer than Bevelle. Sin's been circling us like a shark. Everyone's terrified."
Auron, slouched in his chair and half-dozing, sat up with a jerk.
"Sin!" Isaaru said. "Where is it now?"
"Please," said Lucil, "describe exactly what you saw."
"It's flying," Shelinda said, voice trembling. "Just like one of those airships. I've never seen anything so awful. The first time it happened just before midnight: a big dark mass in the sky howling in from Bevelle. I was afraid Isaaru's warning had come true. We all started praying for anybody still in the city. Then it swooped down over us and headed out across the Calm Lands. About five hours later, just after the watch spotted fires in the city, Sin popped out of nowhere, right on top of us! It flew back towards Bevelle. We lost sight of it in the smoke. Just after dawn, it passed us a third time, heading northeast. It's like it's hunting for something!"
"Isaaru?" Lucil said. "What do you make of this?"
"I'm not quite sure," he said. "Shortly before Lady Yuna's festival, Sin began a pilgrimage of its own, destroying temples and eliminating the aeons. That's why I sent warning to Bevelle." He turned to Auron, but the guardian had turtled behind his collar. "Sir Auron guessed Sin's next target would be Remiem Temple, beyond the Calm Lands. Something...or someone...must have caused it to turn back."
"Maybe it decided to target the temple of Bevelle during the confusion," Baralai said. "Isaaru, have you been down there since—"
"Nope!" Rikku said. "Pops and I were in the Chamber of the Fayth. It's a-ok!"
"You?" Shelinda looked appalled. "What were you doing in there?"
"I hid them there," Isaaru said. "I feared Juno's troops might be hunting Elder Cid. If he had died at our hands, we might now be facing war between the Al Bhed and Yevon."
"Wise move," Juno said.
"Sir Auron," Lucil said. "How do you read Sin's movements?"
"It was heading for Remiem until the attack on Bevelle drew its attention. It turned back to investigate. Now it's resumed course."
"Whose attention?" Rikku said, reaching for a fruit to nibble on. "Lulu's, or Yu Yevon's?"
He grimaced. "Probably both."
"Investigate?" Nooj frowned. "That's bad. Depending on how much Sin 'sees,' Yu Yevon may have spotted Vegnagun before Baralai moved it away."
"Yu Yevon?" Shelinda said, bewildered.
"Lulu?" said Juno.
"Blast it." Baralai pinched the bridge of his nose. "I should have stranded Vegnagun in the Farplane before it was too late."
"Or I should," Nooj put in.
Juno hissed under her breath. "Don't you dare."
"Hold." Lucil raised her hand. "Elma has explained Yu Yevon to me, but this is something that everyone needs to hear. I myself find it difficult to accept. Isaaru, explain."
"If I must." Isaaru rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, visibly collecting himself. "Yu Yevon was the ruler of Zanarkand a thousand years ago: Bevelle's arch enemy, Spira's greatest summoner, the father of Lady Yunalesca. When Bevelle threatened to use Vegnagun to end the war with one stroke, Yu Yevon countered with Sin, the most powerful aeon ever summoned. Yu Yevon became eternal, wielding Sin as weapon, armor and dwelling.
"The teachings of Yevon were not written by Yu Yevon, but to appease Yu Yevon. The rites worshiping Sin outright were suppressed long ago, but now and then the Cult of Sin crops up in a new form."
"A form like, say, five foot six and a pair of blitzballs?" Elma murmured.
"Elma!" Lucil said.
"Sorry, ma'am." The blush in the Crusader's voice was audible. "You can't help seeing her, if you patrol Djose's shore long enough. I assumed it was just toxin."
"Isaaru, this story— you found it in the archives, yes?" Shelinda said. "It must be a forgery, a heretical lie meant to shake our faith. Didn't Lady Yunalesca and Lord Zaon sacrifice everything to defeat Sin?"
"Except they didn't defeat it, did they?" Nooj said. "Nice bit of Yevon propaganda."
"Exactly," said Isaaru. "Shelinda, I found most of this in the archives, but a sphere left by Lady Yuna confirms it."
"Um," Pacce said. "Isn't...Lady Yunalesca...the Lady?"
Isaaru placed his hand over Pacce's. "That was my guess before we set out, but I was mistaken. Listen. The fayth of the Final Summoning is drawn from a guardian who sacrifices herself for her summoner. But when Sin falls, Yu Yevon endures. He possesses the Final Aeon, and from that unwilling host he conjures a new Sin."
"Her name's Lulu," Rikku said. "She was, like, Yunie's big sister. She was always the smart one, you know? But when Yunie wanted to try the Final Summoning, she...she just...augh!" She slapped her hands on the table. "Auron, you should've stopped them."
Cid snorted. "Yevon's the real toxin. Makes 'em act like idiots, every last one of 'em."
"It doesn't matter who she is," Juno said. "Right now, she's the enemy. How do we fight her?"
"Lulu has some freedom to steer Sin's course, provided she plays her part. That may give us an opening." Auron frowned. "There was something she said—"
"You speak to Sin?" Baralai said, eyes narrowing.
Shelinda made a despairing whimper and reached for a pitcher of water.
Auron ignored him. "'Tell Zaon when you are ready,' Lulu said."
"Anyone here got a commsphere to the Farplane?" Cid quipped.
"Ugh," Rikku said. "Don't tell me we gotta go to Guadosalam. Those ruins are creepy."
"No." Isaaru gave an odd laugh, drawing a raised eyebrow from Auron. "She means the fayth of St. Bevelle. Their true names are usually forgotten. But that child...he was a prodigy, worthy of the father he was named for. The war began when Yu Yevon's grandson was taken hostage."
"And when Zanarkand refused the price for his release, Bevelle's priests ripped out his soul." Nooj said. "Typical. I always wondered how the temples came by their 'willing sacrifices.'"
"So, like, if you talk to Zaon, he can signal her somehow?" Rikku said.
"I find all this very difficult to believe," Lucil said. "But if Sir Auron is not suffering from Sin's toxin, it comes to this: he is proposing we call Sin to Bevelle, inviting it—or rather, her—to complete the city's destruction."
"What happens if you don't call her?" Baralai said.
"She'll continue attacking Spira," Auron said. "And we forfeit our chance to choose the battlefield."
"She's dictating the battlefield," Juno said. "I don't like it. Whoever she was, she's Sin now. Slave to another Shuyin."
Pacce went white. "Um..."
"Won't she come back for the last fayth anyway?" Rikku said. "Sooner or later, Bevelle's gonna get clobbered."
"Um..." Pacce said again.
"Vegnagun," Nooj said, tossing out the name almost absently.
"No!" Baralai and Juno snapped in unison.
"Pacce," Lucil said. "Have you a suggestion?"
He blushed and dropped his eyes. "Well...um...we moved a fayth before, right? We hoped the Lady wouldn't find it. But she did. So..."
"Get it away from Bevelle, then use it as bait!" Elma said. "Good thinking, kiddo!"
Isaaru sighed. "A clever idea, Pacce, but I fear it may be impractical. The Chamber of the Fayth is deeply buried. Moving Djose's statue was challenging enough. How could we raise Zaon's, let alone carry it down and away from the citadel?"
"That glorified conveyor belt's a start," Cid said. "I reckon that's how the builders got it down there in the first place."
"Yeah!" Rikku grinned at the others' blank expressions. "The Cloister of Trials, you ninnies! It doesn't just move people. It got a little banged up, but it's mostly intact. We could fix it, couldn't we, Pops?"
"Only trouble is, the temple's fallen over the entrance," Elma said. "We could detail work crews to clear it, but that would take weeks."
"Gippal's got heavy lifters," Nooj said. "Cutters, excavation equipment for salvage operations. Assuming they weren't damaged on the way here, we could clear the temple, pick up the statue and ship it wherever you like."
"Then fire up Vegnagun, and boom! No more Sin," Cid said. "Hot damn, I think you've finally hit on a plan with all this yapping."
"Just one problem," Baralai said. "We can't use Vegnagun. It's more dangerous than Sin."
"And a machina," Lucil said with distaste.
Shelinda nodded vigorously. "I don't care what you say about Yevon, we can't use that!"
"So let me get this straight," Cid said, "You've got the one weapon that can blow Sin out of the sky, and you're too damned chicken to try it?""
"Pops," Rikku said, elbowing him.
"Didn't you hear what Baralai just said?" Juno said. "If we lose control of Vegnagun, it could start wiping out cities—whole islands—the way Sin eats villages."
"Yes." Lucil leaned back in her chair. "Sin was foe enough. But if not Vegnagun, then what? Isaaru, I should like our summoner's counsel."
"I..." he sagged. "I do not know, my lady. I tremble at the thought of using Vegnagun. But we are running out of weapons. Three of my aeons are gone. Sin is destroying another temple as we speak."
"Then let it," Baralai said. "Isaaru, think. The Calm never lasts for more than a dozen years. What makes you believe Vegnagun will be any more effective than the Final Summoning? Maybe we should stop lying to the people and to ourselves. Sin isn't going away. We just have to learn to live with it. We've survived with it for a thousand years, after all."
"Chickabos," Cid muttered. "Every one."
Rikku looked troubled. "No, he's right, Pops," she said. "It's why you were protecting the summoners, remember? The pilgrimages were just a fancy way to knock people off. This'll kill Lulu for sure, and it could blow up in our faces. We've got to put up with Sin until we can think of something else."
"Rikku's right," Elma said.
Lucil nodded. "Sir Auron?"
"There's another voice at this council you aren't hearing," he growled, "although she's burned her message from one end of Spira to the other. Lulu says it's time for this farce to end. Now. If we wait, she'll no longer have the will to help us at all."
"In that case," Isaaru said with a hint of temper, "What does the Lady suggest?"
"She has no answer," Auron said. "If she had one, Yu Yevon would read her thoughts and put a stop to it. But Lulu's destroyed the aeons because she still has faith. In Spira. In life. In us. She's challenged us to find a new way to fight Sin, one that doesn't involve the Final Summoning. Baralai has found one. If you refuse it, Yu Yevon has won."
"Sin," Isaaru said, "Spira's sorrow…is asking us to hope?"
"So you say," Baralai said. "I'm sorry, but I could just as well say that Vegnagun votes no because it doesn't want to die."
"Pacce," Lucil said. "Your voice has also not been heard. You are a part of this council."
"I...I don't know." He swallowed, avoiding everyone's scrutiny. "But...Maroda would say we should fight. So I do, too."
Baralai's expression hardened. "Ten votes, Lucil. Five for, five opposed. So what do you say, General? Shall we gamble with every life in Spira, use a machina we barely understand, and hope Sin and Vegnagun annihilate each other without taking Spira along?"
"It's Mi'ihen, all over again," Lucil said, eyes going distant. "Three thousand Crusaders perished the last time we counted on machina to do what summoners cannot. The Al Bhed paid the price as well, Cid: I buried some of them with my own hands. Baralai nearly died there. Shelinda tended the wounded. Isaaru tended the dead. For thirteen years, their ghosts have haunted us. So the Four Maesters of Yevon swore never to repeat our predecessors' mistakes. Yet seven days ago, Isaaru convinced me to take a stand at Djose to preserve an aeon he needed for the fight. We failed, and more Crusaders paid the price."
Elma gripped the back of Lucil's chair, leaning close.
"And yet Sir Auron is right: if we refuse this battle, we surrender. The summoner's art will die. Even if we could find brave new souls to volunteer as fayth, Sin would destroy them. Spira's sorrow will be eternal. And sooner or later, another Shuyin, another Seymour will arise and lay hands on Vegnagun. Then all Spira will pay for our prudence." Lucil raised a hand as Baralai started to rise from his chair. "I heard you the first time, Baralai. You propose to fly Vegnagun to the Farplane, sacrificing yourself like a summoner. In the end, that may be our only option. But I shall not surrender Spira to Sin without a fight.
"Sir Auron, I accept the Lady's challenge. Vegnagun is our weapon. The ruins of Guadosalam will be our battlefield. This war began a thousand years ago. It is time for us to end it, once and for all."
Next Chapter: Thaw Before the Storm
They were silent for a while. At length Aragorn spoke. 'As I have begun, so I will go on. We come now to the very brink, where hope and despair are akin. To waver is to fall. Let none now reject the counsels of Gandalf, whose long labours against Sauron come at last to their test. But for him all would long ago have been lost.' ~ "The Last Debate", Return of the King