Chapter 9: "Memorial Gardens"
Final Fantasy X
Characters: Isaaru, Maroda, Auron, Pacce, Elma, Luzzu
Word Count: 2850
Summary: Journey to Djose. At the Mushroom Rock Crusader Lodge, Luzzu and Auron discuss an old friend.
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Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters
Our Story So Far: Thirteen years after Yuna falls in the Final Summoning, Auron has joined Isaaru on a new pilgrimage. A Cult of Sin has arisen, and some now call Sin the Lady, both destroyer and benefactor. Whatever Sin's nature, she seems to be attacking the temples, and Djose may be the next target.
Three days out from Luca, they were approaching the turnoff to Mushroom Ridge. The Highroad had once been a beaten shelf of dirt exposed to the elements and scoured by the wind, but now berms or seawalls shielded it on the seaward side. Out of sight, leaden waves sighed against the rocks. Ahead, a finger from the cliffs arced down over the road to form a flying buttress. Beyond it, the land was transformed.
It was difficult to make out individual shapes in the growing dusk, but swaying dark fronds draped over the arch in a lush curtain. Nodding white flowers as wide as a woman's hand winked between broad leaves. A profusion of plants carpeted the path below, crushed or snapped by the passing prints of travellers, despite which they seemed to thrive: blue blossoms from Besaid and the coral-pink orchids of Kilika, ivy and hibiscus, lilies and irises, even the glassy trunk of a Macalania sapling with glowing seed-pods in the forks of slender stems.
"Yevon," Isaaru breathed, reining in his chocobo and gazing up at the floral tapestry in wonder. "What enchantment is this?"
"Nobody knows," Elma said. "Good thing it's so remote. Even so, we rescue a few tourists from fiends every month. They forget the danger. Speaking of which, be on your guard. Those vines can hide a full-sized iguion. Nasty buggers— their bite can paralyze. We try to keep the path clear up to the lodge, but the plants grow back fast."
She turned into a narrow cleft in the cliff-face which widened into a ravine. Sentries drew back spears and saluted as they passed.
The path was mostly cleared, but creeping vegetation spilled over the lumps and crags of the cliffs on either side. Sea-fog had collected on rocky shelves and dimples along the edges of the winding track. The larger basins held mats of dark-green pads with pale flowers illuminating the shadowy ravine. Glowing wisps of pyreflies spiraled up from their fragrant blossoms.
"I don't believe it," Isaaru said. "Moon-lilies. I thought they were unique to the Moonflow."
"Well, it rains here fairly often now." Elma spoke in a hushed voice. "Folks say it's Sin's doing. Who knows?"
"They're so pretty," Pacce said, turning to gawk as they passed a ledge overflowing with white blossoms.
"Keep your eyes open," Maroda said. "Macalania's pretty too, and it's got chimeras."
They jogged along in silence, slowing their pace so those riders who did not know the way wouldn't steer their mounts over a precipitous drop. Rustlings in the undergrowth kept them wary.
As they penetrated deeper into the canyon, they began to pass cleared patches on the walls where registers of names had been carved into the cliffs. Here the vegetation was sparser, but ferns and stonecrop tumbled over the inscriptions. Isaaru cupped his hands in Yevon's prayer. Maroda and Pacce, unusually solemn, followed his example.
Auron bowed his head, although he did not pray. He noticed a white vein of quartz cutting through a pair of glyphs that might read Gatta.
Auron felt his hair stirred by a gust of wind from above, bellowed "Down!" before he remembered why, and rolled from the saddle as two huge claws came out of the gloom to rake his mount's shoulders. The chocobo shrieked, thrashed in a flurry of feathers and blood, and bolted. To his annoyance, Auron found his left foot caught in the stirrup.
His sword was out of reach, its sheath lashed to the saddlebags. He was dragged a dozen yards before his flailing fingers closed over the hilt. A black crevasse yawned under him. Cries and shouts were erupting behind him. He felt the air pulse with the forceful beat of a garuda's wings.
Bumping and bashing against the chocobo's flank, Auron's patience had run out. He swung the sword around for an awkward blow, striking the neck and a vital artery. It wasn't a clean kill, but it sufficed. Auron leapt free as the wretched bird, jerking in its death-throes, tumbled over the edge.
He would have to apologize to Elma later. These Djose Knights took their birds seriously. Staggering on legs stiffened by a day's ride, Auron ran back towards the fray.
Overkill, really. Seven fighters, minus the knights herding a protesting Isaaru out of harm's way, were more than enough to handle a garuda. They would probably have made short work of it. Auron, however, was tired, stiff, and eager to press on. He barreled in from one side, raised the sword high, and threw all his momentum behind a scything blow to the neck. The blade was nearly wrenched from his hands. Standard Crusader issue could not shear through a spine like his old sword. Nevertheless, it was enough to bring the garuda crashing down. As reward for his impatience, he was smothered under a heavy, leathery wing.
The fiend wasn't quite dead, but now it was an easy target. Maroda, Pacce, Elma and the other knight waded in to finish it off. Auron lay under the suffocating weight and hoped that no one passed a spear through him. A few moments later, the fiend dissolved into pyreflies.
Pacce crouched at his side. "You okay, Sir Auron?"
"Fine," he said, standing and wiping bloody feathers off his coat. Forestalling an awkward conversation, he added, "My chocobo didn't fare as well. I think it fell." He gestured towards the edge of the crevasse.
"Damn," Elma said. "That's one of Clasko's chicks. Lord Isaaru, are you all right?"
"Perfectly, Commander," Isaaru called. "But one of your knights is not. I will tend her." There was a blue shimmer off the walls as they trooped back to find a circle of chocobos and knights fencing the summoner and his patient. The prone rider groaned, stirred, and sat up groggily.
"All right there, Yuyui?" Elma said. "Good. Let's move before anything else pops out looking for dinner. Sir Auron, if you'd care to—"
"I'll walk," he said. "I remember the way."
"Hm." Elma gave him a skeptical look. "Suit yourself."
He might not have been so eager to have ditched the bird, Auron reflected a short time later, had he realized the Al Bhed lift had been replaced with switchbacks.
They emerged onto a wide shelf sweeping around to the promontory overlooking the bay. A fierce wind off the ocean scoured their cheeks with salt. Lightning flashed in the distance, outlining the temple's cliffs on the opposite side of the bay. Somewhere out there in the dark, where breakers crashed on a lonely beach below the bluff, a generation of Crusaders had met their deaths in a hopeless campaign against Sin.
Elma turned away from the ocean towards the lanterns of the sprawling Crusader camp. A clamor of voices and smith's hammers spoke of preparations for the coming battle. As they dismounted, a tall red-haired man emerged from the gates and marched towards them. More Crusaders hurried to keep up with his long stride, fanning out to take the chocobos' reins and lead them away.
"Lord Isaaru." Luzzu drew his fist to his chest in salute. "Commander Elma. Captain Maroda. Welcome. We have quarters prepared and supper waiting for you in the main lodge."
"You'd better. A garuda tried to make dinner of us back there," Elma said.
"I'm very sorry, ma'am. Does anyone require a healer?"
"It's taken care of, Captain," Isaaru said. "Don't worry. My guardians needed the exercise." He gestured towards Auron, who had just trudged into view. "Some more than others," he added with a chuckle.
"Is that…Sir Auron?" Luzzu stared hard at him, then straightened and beckoned to the party. "Please, follow me. If you wish, Commander, we can review plans for the operation over your meal."
"Food first," Elma said. "Young Pacce here isn't used to a long day's march. He's only had warrior monk's training."
Auron paused outside the entrance to the camp and glanced down. There in the shadows was a delicate, ground-hugging variety of rose pounded into the dirt by foot traffic. Stooping, he found one intact blossom. Its color was impossible to guess. A patina of salt had painted it a ghostly white. Auron plucked it, tucked it into the beads dangling from his belt, and followed the others into camp.
Troop deployments. Supplies. Wagons. Signals. Triage tents. Auron found the evening's routine both restful and irritating. He was no longer directly involved in such affairs. Many might die tomorrow, and for their sake, he had paid attention. But he had little to contribute, or too much that needed to remain unsaid. He was mildly interested to see how Djose's Lightning Shield worked, and what effect it would have on their opponent.
His knuckles brushed against salt-rimed roses hunched low against the wind. They grew here on the promontory in stubborn defiance, overlooking the beach where her boy soldier, Chappu, had met his end. Was his name etched somewhere on these cliffs, or was he one of the forgotten? For every hero remembered, there were a thousand whose names were never memorialized in stone. The only mark they left was a scar in the hearts of those left behind.
Auron took another drink. After riding all day, it was foolish to be sitting out here alone in the damp, watching the clouds rolling in off the ocean, half-dozing in the scent of roses mixed with the sea's tang. The bay was black, impossible to distinguish from the sky except when far-off lightning peeled away the darkness for an instant. The promontory beneath him quivered, but that was only from unseen waves striking the cliffs. He kept scanning the horizon for an answering flash. Sin, as usual, was moving on its own schedule.
Lulu could be here within the hour, the day, the week. He was not concerned about what others might say if his prediction seemed to have failed, but it would be awkward if Isaaru chose to press on.
Slow footsteps crunched towards him. Auron straightened and waited, unsurprised to see Luzzu's head and shoulders rising above the berm that encircled the camp. The lodge captain had barely exchanging two words with him during the strategy meeting, but he had watched Auron intently during Pacce's enthusiastic account of their last run-in with Sin.
"Sir Auron." The Crusader descended the short slope and folded his arms, staring down at the man seated between the weathered stumps of Kinoc's observation platform. "I thought I might find you out here."
The man gave a bark of laughter. "No one's called me that since Lady Yuna died."
"So." Luzzu gazed out to sea, relaxing when another fan of lightning revealed the flat horizon. "Sin?"
Time for another sparring session. Auron was hardly in the mood, but their mutual association with Lulu demanded an answer and might yield a few more. "What about it?"
"Lord Isaaru said you knew... it... was coming here."
"It fits the pattern."
"Besaid Island, Kilika Temple, and that's a pattern?"
"And one other before that. It buried a fayth statue in the Calm Lands."
"Ah," Luzzu muttered to himself, as if something had clicked. "So, you've been following Sin for some time. Did you actually see it strike Besaid?"
"No." Auron could hear the strain in Luzzu's voice, knew the man was watching him as warily as the ocean, seeking some sign of Sin's passing. What did Yevon do to heretics these days, now that it was bursting with so much goodwill? "She," he amended, voice softening.
"The Lady?" Luzzu demanded, making the honorific an accusation.
"She was that." A memory brushed the edge of Auron's thoughts, no more than a fleeting impression of self-possessed elegance, a regal pillar of black and white holding the rearguard at his side.
Luzzu exhaled. "Not that we ever called her that."
Even now, Auron noted, the Crusader had danced around self-incrimination for heresy. "Luzzu. I know who she is. It's all right."
"Like hell it's all right!" He lowered his head and brought up his fists, struggling to keep his voice down. "What's happened to her? Is she dead... unsent? Or is she a prisoner inside Sin? That's what I thought at first, but lately..." He made a harsh, angry sound. "Dammit. Lulu was a fine woman. A good fighter, too. What went wrong?"
Auron hesitated, keenly aware of what had happened the last time he had answered that question. But Luzzu already knew the what, if not the why, and Auron needed information. "Sin... doesn't die. You can cut it down, but it grows back." He gestured towards the scraggly creepers spilling over the berm. "It puts down roots in whoever defeats it and reforms around them."
"And you did not think to tell them this?" Luzzu said, voice quivering like a cocked harpoon.
"I told them," Auron said. "Lulu thought she had come up with a way to break the cycle."
Wham. Even braced for it, he was rocked onto his back by the force of the blow. His glasses cracked and went flying, skittering off into the darkness. Pyreflies whined in his ears. Auron righted himself with a grimace, watching the man in case he wasn't finished.
The Crusader stood panting, hands clenched at his sides. "Everyone I grew up with in Besaid is dead now. Chappu. Gatta. Yuna. Kimahri too, I suppose?"
"And Lulu... worse than dead. No wonder she's so angry." He shook his head slowly as if to clear it. "You said... 'whoever defeats it.' What about the Final Summoning?"
"Lulu is the Final Summoning. The fayth of the Final Aeon must be a guardian's soul, bound by love to the summoner. Her choice. She's a stubborn woman."
Luzzu's breath hissed between his teeth. Auron recognized the sound of a swallowed oath: what was there to swear by, once Yevon had proved false? "Gatta was stubborn too," he conceded. "That's always the way, isn't it? The young get themselves killed. We atone."
"Regrets won't bring them back, Luzzu." What was it Lulu used to say? It's pointless to think about, and sad. Yet here they were, still dwelling on immutables. It was time for answers. One name was conspicuously absent from Luzzu's list. "Wakka. Where is he?"
"I'm not sure. Lulu sent him somewhere far away, out of harm's reach— and hers. At least, that's the impression she gave me."
Auron winced. Wonderful. Dream-Zanarkand, the same place Jecht's Sin had sent him. He should have checked, but that possibility had never occurred to him. He was so tired of going in circles. Wakka would hate it, of course. Lulu had an odd knack for being cruel to him.
"Is there any way to free her?" Luzzu said.
"Ah." Luzzu slumped. "Maybe you should just let her be. She's good at what she does. She terrorizes Spira, but she makes us stronger. Not much changed, really."
"I can't leave her like this, Luzzu."
"No, I suppose not. So. What do you mean to do?"
"Take her place, if we can't find a better way. Has she told you what she's planning?"
"No. At least, I don't think so. She doesn't speak to me in words. Just feelings, images." Luzzu shook his head. "The last time Lulu came by, she was brooding over the summoners she'd lost. She showed me how Lady Ginnem died."
"Ah." That explained her attack on the Cavern of the Stolen Fayth, although Auron had already guessed as much.
"Is it true what Lord Isaaru said, that Besaid's been wiped out?"
"Yes," Auron said. "I'm sorry."
"Maybe it really is time to… end her pilgrimage."
"Past time." If not for her, for me.
"Is there anything else I should know about this operation? I'm not a fool, Sir Auron. When the orders came in, I thought this was simply a roundabout way of granting me an honorable discharge: death by Sin, instant glory. But Maester Lucil wouldn't dispatch Commander Elma out here just to evacuate a handful of nuns and priests. They're getting us out of the way so they can open that cave below Mushroom Ridge, aren't they?"
"Down in the canyon. Rumor has it a crack team of Crusaders was sent in there just before Operation Mi'ihen, and none of them came out. I've heard crazy rumors that they went mad and killed each other, or that Maester Kinoc trapped them in there to die. It's sealed off now, anyway. We use the area in front of it as a hazardous items dump to keep people away."
"I don't know anything about that."
"Maybe they're keeping you in the dark, too."
"Possibly." Auron shrugged. "Just be ready to retreat, Captain. If a bubble of light starts to form around Sin, take cover. That's the only warning you'll get. You remember what happened last time."
"Right. Thanks." Hunching his shoulders, Luzzu turned to leave. "You planning on staying out all night?"
"Inform the sentries if you see her."
Next Chapter: Breach of Fayth
Meta: FFX in-game inscriptions were English words disguised by a Spira-ish font. Since both the Hymn of the Fayth and Japanese ↔ Al Bhed are syllable-based ciphers, I posit that in-universe, Spiran glyphs actually transcribe syllables, not letters, like Hiragana. (This will come up again later.)
Chapter Renumbering: This was originally Ch 12 (Jul 17, 2008) and Ch 13 (Jul 18, 2008).