Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 4: "For the Fallen"
Final Fantasy X
Characters: Isaaru, Maroda, Pacce, Auron, Lulu
Word Count: 2600
Summary: Sin's going after Kilika. Again.
Navigation: Previous Chapter | Next Chapter
Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters
The Story So Far: Thirteen years after Yuna fell defeating Sin, Maester Isaaru returns to the pilgrimage with his brothers. They find and team up with Sir Auron at Besaid in the wake of a devastating Sin attack.
"You have my thanks. And Lady Yuna's as well, you may be sure. May she guide our path and shield us from Sin's fury. For now we sail...to Kilika!" The maester raised his hands and drew them together in Yevon's sign.
A tepid cheer rose from the sailors and monks gathered at the waterline. They scattered at once to make ready the rowboats, even before the torches had reverted from blue to orange. It was disrespectful to the dead, but Isaaru did not begrudge their eagerness to quit this marred island paradise.
They had worked hard. The beach was swept clean, and they had even washed down trunks and leaves to remove clinging ash. Prayer flags— many of them products of Besaid's weavers— fluttered on poles thrust into the sand. The ocean sparkled under a noonday sun, masking the pyreflies drifting up from submerged coffins jostling on beds of coral. Besaid's harbor had been too choked with flotsam to use for the sending, but they had ferried the dead around to a more sheltered cove.
"Will somebody rebuild here, do you think?" Pacce asked Maroda as they headed for the boats.
"In the next Calm, maybe," Maroda said. "Not before."
Both looked to their brother. Isaaru seemed oblivious to the exchange, although he walked between them. By silent accord they held a boat steady for him to board before dragging it down into the water where the stern floated free.
"Hey," Pacce said, tumbling into his seat, "Where's Sir Auron?"
"For a guardian, he sure doesn't seem to guard much," Maroda said.
Isaaru smiled. Auron was descending the short cliff at the back of the cove. He trudged out to them and stepped into the bow without breaking stride.
"No sign of Sin," he said. "We should have clear running tonight, although it may be another story in Kilika."
Captain Kiyuri shot Auron a jaundiced stare over the backs of the rowers that told what she thought of the legendary hero: landlubber.
It was a subdued company that ferried the maester and guardians back to the ship. Isaaru had not spoken a word since his speech. He sat with chin lowered, gripping the sides and swaying jerkily as if struggling to match the rhythm of the swells. Halfway across the open water, Kiyuri ventured a soft, "Are you all right, my lord?"
"My heart is heavy, Captain." He turned in his seat with a well-honed smile. "But I am also pleased. The dead of Besaid can rest, and we have gathered much that should assist my pilgrimage. Our trip was not in vain."
"We have?" Maroda mouthed behind him.
"Yeah, and we've got Sir Auron, now!" Pacce said.
"Yes, Pacce." The maester studied at the man's broad back and shoulders. "Ah, that reminds me. Captain, there’s no need to hoist my sigil. In fact, if you can, fly no symbol of Yevon at all."
”Your Grace?” Kiyuri's voice rose in astonishment. "But it is an honor to convey the Grand Maester, and ill luck to sail without Yevon's blessing!"
"Yevon's blessing you will have, Kiyuri, so far as it is in my power to grant it," Isaaru said. "But your crew has faced perils and sorrows enough. If Sin's wrath is truly roused against Yevon, then I shall not needlessly endanger them. Yevon will bring Sin to account, but that battle is for summoners and guardians, not sailors and soldiers."
There was a faint hmph from Sir Auron. Maroda's somber nod conveyed more. Thirteen years gone, the ghosts of Operation Mi'ihen still haunted all those who had witnessed that bloody debacle.
"Aye, sir." Kiyuri braced her elbow against the tiller to give Yevon's prayer. "And thank you."
Back aboard the SS Konna, Isaaru remained on deck just long enough to make sure the sails had been changed to ordinary canvas. Then, yielding to Maroda's urging, he retired to his cabin.
"For I am weary," Isaaru admitted. "Five sendings in three days is a record I hope never to repeat."
Freed from duties for a while, Pacce joined Sir Auron on the observation deck. The older guardian acknowledged him with a nod. Side by side, they watched Besaid shrink and fade into the blue haze.
It took Pacce some time to muster the courage to speak. “Sir Auron? Do you think Sin is after Isaaru?"
"Not directly," Auron said. "Or not yet. But Isaaru's guess is correct. Sin is targeting Yevon."
"Wow," Pacce said. "I didn't know it could think."
Auron said nothing.
Pacce folded his arms along the railing and rested his chin on them. "I don't get it. Sin's the punishment for our sins, right? Isaaru says that good deeds can balance lack of faith, so we shouldn't blame Sin's return on the heathens. But why does Sin leave the Al Bhed alone and attack us? Shouldn't it be the other way around?"
"Yevon directly opposes Sin. The Al Bhed avoid it."
"Huh." Pacce ran a hand through his hair, leaving it flattened on one side and straight up on the other like a half-mowed field. Wrestling with Yevon's teachings and coming no closer to a solution, he changed tack. "So, um. What happened to Lady Yuna's other guardians, anyway? Is Sir Tidus still alive?"
"Aw, man." The boy drooped. "I liked him. He was cool."
"He lived well," Auron said with more gentleness than was his habit. "And he died protecting the summoner he loved."
"The Final Summoning, huh?"
"Maester Seymour? Wasn't he...unsent?" Pacce blanched at a memory. "You got rid of him, right? Lady Yuna sent him?"
"Yes." So much could be packed into one brittle word: a summoner's tears, the death of hope, a holy fury that had reduced Auron's last bellowing charge against Yunalesca to a mere squeak. Lulu must have been proud of Yuna, through the teeth of her own bitter rage. They had all come to love Tidus, each in their own way.
"And the others?" Pacce said. "The other guardians?"
Auron grimaced. "I never found a trace."
"Damn." He kicked at the deck. "I'm sorry."
Auron roused himself, focusing on the youth beside him. "I didn't see them fall. Yuna's last command was for us to stay back when she performed the Final Summoning. I didn't listen, and nearly paid the price. If they obeyed, there's a good chance they're still alive." There. A vital lesson. A lie of omission, too, since Kimahri had remained at Yuna's side to the last. But Auron's task now was to prepare new guardians for another pilgrimage, not brood over the last. There was one loose end, however, that Auron could not leave unexamined.
"What happened to Lord Mika?"
"Oh!" Pacce's cheeks reddened. "Grand Maester Mika? He, uh...Didn't you hear the proclamations? Maybe you were still coming back from Lady Yuna's pilgrimage. He got sick and died. Isaaru said his heart gave out when he learned how Seymour had murdered the Ronso."
"Ah." Auron's eyes narrowed. "Was that before or after your brother was appointed maester?"
"After...no, before, I think." Pacce ducked his eyes. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't really understand everything that happened back then. I was just a kid. You should ask Isaaru or Maroda about it."
Fidgeting, Pacce abandoned the railing and straightened in a self-conscious salute. "Well. Speaking of Isaaru, I'd better go check on him. It was, uh, nice talking to you, Sir Auron!"
Hurrying forward, Pacce found Maroda guarding the door to their cabin. "Isaaru's asleep," Maroda said in a low voice. "Pacce, did Sir Auron say anything about how he got to Besaid?"
Pacce shook his head. "I didn't ask."
"Or why he knew Sin was coming?"
"Not really." The youth raised his eyes, troubled. "You don't trust him, do you?"
"Don't worry about it. Just be careful. I know he's Sir Auron, and Isaaru wanted him as guardian. But he's not telling us everything he knows."
"Yeah, well." Pacce shot him a guilty grin. "Who does?"
A clear, star-drenched night sent the S.S. Konna flying on the wings of a cold wind that blew them towards sunrise. Only a few wisps of haze hung in the southwest. A lacy curtain of lightning had danced there for an hour or so, but it had faded away before dawn.
By mid-morning, Kilika's green spur was rising out of the sea like a prow against the sky. Gulls flew out to escort them. A few leagues out from land, the Konna passed through a necklace of fishing boats floating in a wide arc where the ocean changed from jade to blue. Fishermen hailed her with cries of welcome and wonder. The stately two-masted vessel dwarfed any ferry that had plied these waters in living memory.
Isaaru and his guardians joined the captain in the wheelhouse to discuss plans for the brief layover.
"We only need to re-water," Kiyuri was saying. "But I wouldn't mind a few hours to inspect the hull. There's a slow leak somewhere. The hold's damp."
"Very good," Isaaru said. "Meanwhile, my guardians and I will pay our respects at Kilika Temple. There are one or two old friends there we must consult."
"Wait, are you serious?" Pacce said. "A leak? That's not good!"
"You'll find the same in any old ship, boy," said the captain, giving the wall a rap. "We're not going down, don't worry."
As if in response, there was a hollow boom underfoot, and the deck began to tilt. All the lanterns suspended from the ceiling swung to one side. Compartments and trunks rattled. On the upper deck, the ship's bell began to clang wildly.
"Sin," Auron said. Outside, sailors began taking up the cry.
Kiyuri swore and lunged for the door, only to be flung back by a wall of water blasting into the wheelhouse. Thrown into Maroda, she elbowed him in the ribs. "Well, don't just stand there, man! Defend the ship!"
"Stay here," he said, setting her down. "Pacce, come on!"
Isaaru and Auron followed them out into all-too-familiar chaos. The ship was heeled over at a terrifying angle. Towering waves broke over the rails. A seething tide of sinspawn rampaged across the deck, squat crablike creatures armed with jagged claws. They caromed off hatches and bulwarks, tearing into the limbs of anyone who held their ground. Sailors who let go of handholds to dodge them risked being swept overboard.
The three guardians waded into the fray, cutting a wide swath. Auron took point, whirling his sword in a figure eight and hammering shells until they cracked in a burst of sparks. Maroda and Pacce closed ranks behind him to skewer and hack the weakened fiends to pieces.
"Above you!" Isaaru cried, following in their wake as he sought a clear space to summon. Pacce skidded to a crouch and stared upwards, aghast. A small fishing boat, raised on high by the surge, hung suspended at the level of the mast-head for a surreal moment before plunging down, down, smashing upon the deck. The trio scattered, barely leaping clear in time.
Before they could regroup, an anemic salvo of gunshots rang out from above. Either the warrior monks had been swept away, or their rifles had been damaged by seawater. There was no time to check. Just off the bow, a white curtain of water had parted to reveal a looming wall of scabrous gray flesh. Sin's shadow blotted out the sun.
"It's heading for Kilika!" Maroda shouted.
"I have to turn it," said Isaaru. He grabbed for a metal cleat bolted to the mast, bracing against another deluge.
"But that'll bring Sin back on us!" Pacce cried, dragging a sailor out from under one of the snapping crab-creatures.
"No good." Auron's blade sliced through its arms at the joints. "Your aeons aren't strong enough."
The bulk of Sin had nearly passed. The ship groaned with a long, rattling vibration as its pitted hide scraped against the hull. They could hear Kiyuri's foghorn voice bellowing orders in the wheelhouse.
"I won't let Kilika follow Besaid," Isaaru said, raising his hands to begin his most potent summons.
"So be it." Auron banked his sword across his shoulders, broke from the melee and charged towards the bow where the sides drew together, sloping upwards in a steep ramp. He picked up speed, ignoring the bucking of the ship.
"Sir Auron!" Pacce cried. He stared in horror as Auron barreled up the bowsprit and leapt, vanishing into the surf. "He'll drown!"
Sunlight streamed through the curtain of water off the bow. Sin had passed them by. A shout went up as the spray cleared. Sir Auron, a tiny red figure against the sky, was climbing a horny peak of scale and bone. He held his sword above his head, fending off sinspawn tumbling down on him from above. Abruptly he dropped to his knees, raised the blade high and slammed it downwards, crying out a name.
The mountain convulsed beneath him. Huge green waves rolled forward off the sloping snout. Sin's momentum abruptly slowed.
For a moment a collision seemed certain, but the captain's orders had come just in time. The ship canted in a steep turn. One of the rowboats hanging over the side was sheared off and tumbled into the sea, but the Konna staggered clear of Sin and rode out the swells beyond it, righting herself with a heave. Her crew saw the surge racing ahead of them to crash over Kilika's seawall, built to shield the port against such assaults. Many of the fishing vessels were dashed against the breakwater, but the town was spared the brunt of the onslaught— for now.
Sin halted. Vast and menacing, it loomed above the Konna's main mast, brooding over the sprawling fishing port laid out on the water before it. A hive of gigantic eyes roiled on Sin's brow below a shelf where spires bristled like a city's skyline. Human sight seemed to slide off Sin's sides. For an inexorable moment, it gathered itself for some cataclysmic assault that would vaporize everything in its path. Then the field burst. Bracing themselves for dissolution, the watchers found themselves bathed in a drizzle of warm, gentle rain, salty like tears. A shower of rose petals came whirling on the wind, sticking wetly to cheeks and hair, deck and masts and stays. A rainbow arched overhead.
Murmurs of The Lady rippled across the battered ship.
Motionless now, Sin wreathed itself in a soft cascading mist. Above it reared a wavering vision familiar from temple portraits, yet on a far grander scale. High Summoner Yuna danced on a flowerlike pillar of water, whirling and dipping with her staff to paint ribbons of pyreflies on the wind. Higher and higher she spun, hypnotic, dreamlike, achingly joyful: an image of innocence so pure it burned the soul as the sun seared the eyes. At the apex of her dance, there was a flash and a rumble. An enormous bolt of flames carved a blinding path overhead, stabbing towards Kilika's highest point. A fireball mushroomed over the tops of the trees in eerie silence.
Isaaru gasped and clenched a hand over his heart. "Grothia."
Boom. The sound reached them several seconds later.
With an inrush of water and a mournful wail at the edge of hearing, Sin sank beneath the waves, leaving only a vast drift of rose petals bobbing on the surface of the sea to mark where it had been.
Of Auron, there was no sign.
Next Chapter: Pearl
Meta: In FFX, Grothia was the name given to Isaaru's version of Ifrit when he dueled Yuna in the Via Purifico.
Originally posted: May 20, 2008 (Comments)