auronlu: (Lady)
[personal profile] auronlu
Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 6: Half-Truths
Final Fantasy X
Characters: Maroda, Auron, Isaaru
Rating: PG
Word Count: 2600
Summary: Maroda calls Auron on his BS. Auron doesn't call out Isaaru on his.
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Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters

The Story So Far: Thirteen years after Yuna falls defeating Sin, Isaaru and his brothers return to pilgrimage, teaming up with Auron. Lulu-Sin has attacked Besaid and Kilika, destroying their temples and fayth.


illustration by [personal profile] mintywolf

A Kilikan sunset of amber and gold had painted a dramatic backdrop for Isaaru's departure, duly sphere-recorded by spectators. The whole village had turned out to see him off. He and his guardians had embarked with cheers, hymns, a refill of Auron's jug from Kulukan, and an unusually frank, "Good luck, Isaaru— sorry you're finally getting your chance," from Dona. Now they sailed north, muffled in a fog that seemed intent on blotting out the ship's lanterns, crew's voices, and any sign of a world beyond the ship's rails. The gates to the Farplane could hardly be more impenetrable.

Auron sat outside Isaaru's cabin, sharpening the Crusader's blade that Pacce and Barthello had found for him. It had barely sufficed to cut through an ochu's hide. While that had given them a chance to show off to their idol, it might cost someone dearly in his next battle. He wondered if his katana was still lodged in Sin's skull.

Maroda slouched against the wall on the other side of the door. The steady snick of the whetstone had been cutting the air between them for some time, keeping awkward questions at bay. A delaying action at best, but it had given Auron time to prepare.

At last Maroda broke the unspoken armistice. "So, who was the wreath for?" Auron had gone aft and cast the bedraggled garland overboard soon after departure.

"A woman Sin killed on my last pilgrimage. She... mattered to me." Auron's former comrades would have been floored by the admission. It irked him that a thirteen-year-secret could be so casually breached for the sake of tactics.

"Huh." Maroda's double-edged cordiality softened a notch. "Sorry, man. No offense, but you don't seem the type. Is she the one you were looking for today?"

"I saw her in the water. Sin's toxin, perhaps."

"Well, we all saw somebody," Maroda said. "But to me it looked like High Summoner Yuna. I could almost believe that Sin was marking the anniversary of its own destruction."

"Could be."

Maroda let out an explosive breath. "Okay, look. Isaaru may be as patient as a Hypello, but I'm not. You're holding out on us. You know what we'll find in Zanarkand, but you won't say a damned thing. You've survived two pilgrimages, when as far as I know, all your fellow guardians and summoners are dead. You know where Sin's going. It spared you today, and I don't think that was the first time. Just what is Sin to you? Your ticket to fame? Your... pet?"

Maroda's gambit was a good one, but it was not the first time a guardian had tried to provoke Auron into spilling secrets. Of course, Lulu's technique had relied on finesse more than a spear's thrust, turning his oaths against him.

"So that's it? You're going to withhold every scrap of knowledge about Zanarkand, so you can play some game with Yuna's life? And Tidus' too— or is he party to your plan?"

"I promised their fathers I'd protect them. They still have to find their own path."

"And wind up dead just like Lord Braska and Sir Jecht! Exactly where in the teachings is it written that summoners have to enter a fiends' den blindfolded?" In her desperation, Lulu had let slip a secret of her own. And yet her impotent barbs had almost swayed him, for he guessed their source. She seemed too young to bear the weight of a dead summoner on her shoulders, but that night— just the second of their journey together, before she had come to matter— he had suddenly understood what anvil had forged the mage's twice-hammered steel.

"If I reveal what lies ahead, Yuna might turn back from the pilgrimage. But perhaps that's what you want." He, too, could wield words as a goad.

"What I want is not a matter for discussion. And there is nothing and no one in Spira that can convince Yuna to turn aside."

"I take it you tried?"

"For two years." The ache in the mage's voice echoed the one that kept him this side of the Farplane.

Then he had slipped. Auron had not realized until much later what seeds his words had sowed. "I will tell you this. The summoner isn't the only one who pays the price for the Final Summoning."

"I...see."

"Do you?"

"Maybe." The curious calm in that one word should have alerted him, but Auron had been distracted, trying to head off her next question. "Except... you said Sir Jecht is still alive, did you not?"

"If Yuna knows the Final Summoning's true cost, she might turn back. Or, if her will is as strong as you say, she'll try to finish the pilgrimage alone, and die far from our aid. No, Lulu. Let her find the answers she seeks in the Hall of the Final Summoning, with all of us at her side."

Auron grimaced. He had broken his resolve after all, and his words had sent Yuna to her death. Or perhaps he had made no difference. One guardian was gone by the time they reached Yunalesca. Tidus might have stumbled upon something overlooked by Yevon-trained minds.

Maroda was waiting. The crack of knuckles hinted that he would resort to more than words to get answers. Had Auron already said too much? No, this warrior lacked the witch's knack for adding up half-truths into a whole.

"Her name was Lulu," he said. "Another of Yuna's guardians. She trusted no one and nothing else to protect her summoner so well as herself. A trait you share. Yet when I answered all her questions, it changed nothing, except that she chose the path I meant to take, and perished in the Final Summoning."

"Ah." Maroda affected sympathy. "I think I remember her. Busty, lots of belts?"

Auron smirked, wondering what sort of verbal fireworks that description might have earned from her. "Yes."

"You know, I'm sorry to hear about your friend— honestly— but that still doesn't explain anything about Sin. What's it doing? Why's it wiping out whole islands one day and showering us with flowers and rainbows the next? And what's with that vision of Lady Yuna that it plastered across the sky?"

Auron stared into the fog, recalling the texture of dew-drenched fur and the scent of wet leather. Was tonight's weather natural, or was Lulu out there somewhere, grappling with Yu Yevon's toxin and the more potent poison of regret? "Sin destroys. Sin grieves. It kills and honors the fallen. It's trapped in the spiral as much as we are."

"Huh. So why's it killing off the fayth this time around?"

"Freeing them is my guess. Maybe it thinks they're trapped in the same spiral."

"Except they volunteered for the job. A little like us, eh?" Maroda missed Auron's wry expression in the dark. "You know, if it succeeds, Isaaru won't die. He can't fight without aeons."

"Would that stop him?"

"No." Maroda slapped the wall. "And sooner or later, it'll kill us all. We've simply got to stop it from getting to Djose. Any ideas, old man?"

"Steal the fayth."

"Huh?"

"Remove the statue from the temple."

"Hey, that's a thought."

"It may not work. It depends on whether Sin can sense the spirit inside."

For once, Maroda's respect sounded unreserved. "Yeah, but it's worth a try. Thanks, man."

Second Cloister of Trials passed. Now Auron simply had to deal with Isaaru. The man seemed innocent, but Auron knew better than to judge summoners by their smiles. And he was still a maester of Yevon.

horizontal divider

The lights of Luca glittered across the bay, a child's playhouse erected in memory of a half-forgotten dream. Tinny strains of music drifted over the water. Apart from that faint heartbeat, the city slept.

Auron stood on the upper deck and took a swig of Kulukan's ale. He frowned. Either he was forgetting how to taste, or it lacked the bite of Zanarkand's brew. Then again, that dream of a dead city was stretched across the threshold of the Farplane like a spider's web. No surprise its spirits suited his tastes better.

Auron had not returned to Jecht's ghostly Zanarkand in thirteen years, although he had heard the whisperings of its fayth flowing down from Gagazet's peak. He'd killed Jecht and failed to save his son. What more could he do for the rest of the city's damned souls? Of course, his sword would have found plenty of fiends to cleave there now. Sin's attack on the dream-city had made it real, transmuted the memories of the dead into a living nightmare. Or had Gagazet's fayth reset their dreaming to a time before the attack? Maybe Jecht and Tidus had been resurrected, pyrefly simulacra playing out variations of their story in another endless cycle.

No, Auron would not return to dream-Zanarkand. He had unfinished business in the real one.

A kindly voice sliced through his reverie. "You, at least, will not be wanting a blessing."

Auron looked down at the summoner standing on the deck below. Isaaru had emerged from his cabin a short time ago, taking care not to rouse Pacce dozing by the door with his head buried in his arms. They would leave the S.S. Konna in Luca, where she would remain for much-needed repairs. Isaaru had been making his final rounds of the vessel, seeking out each member of the crew, speaking soft words of praise and blessing for their part in tending Besaid's dead and saving Kilika.

Isaaru mounted the stairs and joined Auron on the observation deck. The shadows cast by the ship's lanterns gave the summoner a hollow-eyed look, but his guardian noted it was not merely a trick of the light. He moved with slow deliberation, as if will were required. Auron knew the feeling well.

Compassion aside, it was time to inventory weapons. "You still have three aeons?"

"Two," Isaaru said. "I have not been to Macalania."

"There's one more in the Calm Lands... maybe." Remiem Temple was intact, as far as Auron knew, but the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth was deeply buried. The Ronso had come out of hiding to dig out the Crusader camp in the nearby canyon, but he had not asked them to unseal the cave. The Ronso were too few to risk in that death-trap. Besides, its statue had likely been pulverized. Yuna was not the first summoner Lulu had lost.

"That is good to know," Isaaru said. "Sir Auron, I am depending on you as no summoner has relied on a guardian before. Yet I understand your reasons not to trust me."

Third trial. Auron shrugged. "If I didn't trust you, Isaaru, I wouldn't have offered my services as guardian."

"Unless you had other motives." Isaaru nodded towards the northern horizon. "Lady Yunalesca, for example?"

"What?" Auron's eyes narrowed.

"You seek revenge. She killed Lord Braska, Lady Yuna, Sir Jecht and his son Tidus, no?" The summoner spoke with quiet compassion, but the rhythm of his speech was too well-rehearsed. "Our goals are the same, Sir Auron. I want to free Spira from her grip... and from her lord father's. I want the teachings, the good we now call Yevon grown from roots of fear, to be disentangled from their lies. Which include the pilgrimage."

"And yet you intend to make one."

"For the same reason you remain a guardian, I suspect. We must play Yunalesca's game and defeat her." He shook his head. "Yet I am at a loss. If I refuse the Final Summoning, what weapon will suffice?"

"I don't know." Twenty-three years, and Auron still hadn't come up with a surefire way to beat the bitch and free a friend. "Did Mika tell you this?"

"No. Maester Mika... passed... without instructing a successor. But I have spent long nights combing Bevelle's archives for clues. Not easy, with so many records purged." Isaaru sighed. "At least you can confirm my guesses, perhaps? First and foremost: Sin dies and is reborn. That makes it an aeon, surely, for aeons return from seeming death, summoned again and again. Only by destroying the housing of their fayth can we truly vanquish them."

"Correct." The housing of their fayth. Cold words to describe the Venus-blessed curves of a young woman's body.

"In Yevon's name." Isaaru smiled crookedly at Auron's expression. "Yes, that's the second lie, isn't it? We pray now in ignorance to Bevelle's ancient foe. Yu Yevon, Zanarkand's greatest summoner and tyrant, girded himself with Sin, using it as both armor and spear of vengeance for his fallen city. What we now call Yevon's teachings were originally rites, taboos and austerities meant to appease his wrath. The question is this: if Sin is an aeon, then whose is its fayth?"

Auron was silent. How could this man bear to uphold the teachings of Yevon, knowing them to be an embalmed corpse with a rotten core?

Isaaru lowered his voice to a whisper. "It's Yunalesca, isn't it? That was the truth that eluded me for so long. I once thought that Sin was her husband, Lord Zaon, but no. He is the Final Aeon, a two-edged sword gifted by Lady Yunalesca to summoners who pose a threat. He is the one aeon who could not, would not destroy the one he loves more than his own life. The Calm is a sham meant to raise our hopes. The pilgrimage is a net. And now Spira is beginning to worship Yunalesca, the Lady, just as we live in thrall of her Lord Father." He sighed. "Lady Yuna came near to defeating them, I guess, and so they have changed tactics. Have I hit the mark?"

"Close enough." Auron thrust aside a twinge of irritation at Zaon being named Sin's lover. Irrelevant. Isaaru understood almost everything that mattered. Surely he was ready for the rest. Yet something in his manner still smacked of Yevon hypocrisy. "What happened to Mika?"

Only one trained in melee would recognize how Isaaru tensed as if to dodge a blow. "Passed away in his sleep. I fear grief and remorse were too much for him, after the summoner he had condemned sacrificed herself to bring the Calm."

"I... see." Stalemate. They both had secrets to keep. "I take it the other maesters have not heard what you just told me."

"No. Although Maester Baralai knows something. He, too, frequents the archives, and he never says what he seeks."

"Baralai?"

"A former Crusader, a survivor of Operation Mi'ihen."

"Ah."

There were more voices below now as the ship awoke. A gray light was growing. Isaaru paused to listen, head cocked, then went on. "Well, it is some comfort to have a confidante. But we are no closer to a solution. We must protect the other fayth, since Sin seems intent on wresting away those weapons. Sooner or later we must confront Yunalesca. But will the remaining aeons, my brothers and your strength be enough to defeat her?"

"Too close to call." Lulu's magic might have tipped the scales, but there was no coming back from the path she had chosen. Unless…

"Then we need machina. It will not be easy. Some of my fellow maesters blame the disaster of Operation Mi'ihen on the use of forbidden machina, and the Al Bhed remain wary of Yevon. Have you any allies left among them?"

"A trader, but no one of consequence."

"Maester Baralai has negotiated with them, but he's in Bevelle. First, we must—"

The sounds of raised voices on the deck below were growing distracting. "What do you mean, you don't know where he is? Isaaru! Isaaru!"

"First, I had better calm Maroda before he rips out Pacce's hair. Excuse me."


Next Chapter: We Interrupt This Broadcast...

Author's Notes

Art Credit: Many thanks to [personal profile] mintywolf for the fantastic illustration!

Chapter Renumbering: This combines Chapter 7 (posted Jun 10, 2008) & 8 of the original version.

Meta: An awful lot of LHAD owes its genesis to owlmoose's comment posted way back in 2007 on Ch2: "I really like [Isaaru] as Grand Maester. I hope you delve a little more into how he got here (like why Mika abdicated his seat even though the cycle continued)."

I had forgotten that my AU timeline diverged from FFX canon before Mika bowed out! So I had to manufacture an ass-pull to paper over the plot hole. That led to "Isaaru's hiding something," which snowballed into "nearly everyone in this story is hiding something." hits counter  

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