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FFX: On the Precipice of the World, for xianghua
realities beyond reach
cyrnelle wrote in ff_exchange
Title: On the Precipice of the World
For: xianghua
Medium: Fanfiction
Request: I think the culture of the summoners is fascinating. Why do some summoners have tons of guardians and others one or none? What makes someone decide to become a summoner — and how does the church of the summoners keep it from being suicide by giant monster for every emo idiot who comes along? My favourite characters are Yuna and Tidus, and I think the way that their relationship echoes, in some ways, the relationships of their fathers throughout X is really interesting.
Fandom: Final Fantasy X
Characters/Pairings: Yuna, Rikku, Tidus, cast (with a strong leaning towards Tidus/Yuna)
Rating/Warnings: PG
Feedback: concrit very much welcomed!
Spoilers: Everything up to Zanarkand, with foreshadowing of what comes after
Word Count: 6,400
Summary: The closer they get to Zanarkand, the harder it gets to let go.

When Rikku thought about it, the Calm Lands wasn't that much different from the desert. Sure, the gentle swell of the plains were greener and had vegetation growing and was a whole lot cooler, but it was also vast and empty and lonely. Bikanel was a lot like that, too: long stretches of sand and dunes and wretchedly desolate.

There weren't many people around, though she knew there was some kind of inn or resting place roughly at the middle of the plains. At first Rikku had thought there weren't any fiends around either, but learned she was wrong the hard way when a coeurl jumped out from the tall grass when she was having an argument with Tidus. Auron had been the only other person close enough at the time and he hadn't been much help. "There's a malboro behind you," was the first thing he said when Tidus managed to kill the coeurl.

Rikku missed the towns and villages.

She was glad when they reached the small shop, though there were no friendly Al Bhed faces she recognised. She was bargaining for a few remedies (malboros were hateful creatures), absently slipping a vial of antidote into her pockets when no one was looking, when a man dressed in a monk's garb stopped to speak to their group, causing a mild commotion. They were wanted dead by Yevon now, according to him, but that didn't really come as a surprise to her. She was surprised, though, that the man was once a summoner, and his only intent of coming to meet them was to warn them about Yevon.

Perhaps some Yevonites weren't really that bad after all.

She stood by the counter a while longer, listening to the rustle of the grass and the voices of the others in discussion. She saw Yuna talking to Tidus, her cousin's forehead creased in a frown. They were traitors now, Yevon's enemies. (Of course, Rikku had always been the enemy, being Al Bhed and all, but it must be something that Yuna could have never had fathomed.) Tidus's voice carried to where Rikku stood: "And if it gets rough, just yell!" he was saying, and Rikku had to smile. She couldn't imagine Yuna yelling over anything.

Tidus had changed over the journey. He wasn't the boy she had met in the abandoned ruins of Baaj Temple any longer. He was more confident now, not as carefree as before. The closer they got to Zanarkand, the more serious he became, and Zanarkand was definitely much closer now. She could almost feel the shadow of Mount Gagazet looming over them. Tidus didn't talk about going home any more, or much about Zanarkand at all. All he seemed to be thinking about, this close to the place he had once so desperately wanted to return to, was how to save Yuna. Rikku admired him for that, but she couldn't see a solution to the whole mess. Yuna will summon the Final Aeon and die. Rikku didn't want Yuna to die. She still hadn't figured out a way to save Yuna, and she was running out of time.

She made the decision without thinking. Glancing back to make sure the others couldn't see her, she ran after the Yevon monk.

His eyes crinkled in a smile when he saw her approaching. "Good evening," he said, before performing the ritual prayer. Rikku gave him a clumsy bow and made eye contact, holding the man's gaze for a few seconds. He didn't flinch. "Can I help you?"

"I . . ." What was she supposed to say? I don't want Yunie to die; do you know how I can stop her? She fumbled for words and settled on tact. "Thanks for telling us about Bevelle."

The monk — Rikku didn't catch his name earlier and didn't want to be rude and ask now — inclined his head. "It was something I felt like I had to do." He was quiet for a while. "I suppose you must resent me for failing my pilgrimage." The sudden change of topic threw her off. "Had I succeeded, your friend would not have had to go on this pilgrimage. Not now, at least. Not this soon."

"No!" she exclaimed. The man looked startled. Rikku tried to control her voice but it still came out vehement, too loud. "I mean, I don't want anyone to die. No more summoners sacrificed to Sin for Yevon's sake. Not you, not Yunie. Not anyone else."

"How do we stop Sin, then?" the monk asked. He wasn't trying to antagonise her, Rikku realised, or to convert her to his ways. He was just asking.

"I don't know, but it's not by getting more people killed by it!"

"More people will be killed by Sin anyway, whether or not the summoners go on their pilgrimage." He folded his arms, hiding his hands in the thick fabric of his robes. "So you do not think one death to save many others is worth it, even if it is for a greater good?"

She shook her head. "No." Especially when it was Yuna's life. "No." Her mouth was dry. Her eyes were smarting and she pushed her hair out of her face. This was worse than arguing with Wakka. Wakka was all blind acceptance to all he was taught and following the teachings to the letter. This man was trying to discuss logic with her.

The monk regarded her for a moment. "This is what Yevon teaches us: there is a natural order of things. There is a cycle for everything, of life and death, of creation and destruction. For everything that dies and disappears, something new will take its place. This cycle is eternal, unending." His high collar hid his face, very much the way Auron's collar hid his. Rikku was beginning to hate high collars. "Knowing that does not help, does it?"

"No, it doesn't." She heaved a sigh, feeling both weary and aggravated. "You were a summoner. You must have been to the inner chambers of the palace in Bevelle. You must know how Bevelle has betrayed the teachings, how they used machina even though it's forbidden!" It rankled her, and she had never even believed in the teachings. The man was silent. "Why do you still believe in them?"

"I do not think it is Yevon we should blame, but how the current order has warped the teachings." He spread his hands, a plea for forgiveness, understanding. "I have little else to put my faith in."

Rikku drew in a deep breath, and held it long enough to make herself dizzy. Strange how hope and faith was stronger than physical evidence. There was a moment's hesitation but she decided do away with tact and ask anyway. "So why did you quit the pilgrimage?"

The simple answer he gave surprised her. "I was not ready. Not the way your Yuna is. I did not think Lulu and Wakka were ready either."

"They weren't?" She considered it for a moment. "Maybe Wakka. But Lulu's always ready for anything!"

"I think," the monk said, "she was a lot like you. She went on the pilgrimage as my guardian to save someone she loved." To save someone she — oh. Rikku had never thought of it that way before. "My bonds with them were not strong enough. They were tied down by other things, other concerns."

She had never really figured out what the Final Summoning required, even after all this while. She wasn't sure even Yuna knew what it was all about. The one person who did know wasn't talking. "But why?" The whole line of reasoning grated on her. "You were going to die anyway, why did you need any bonds with anyone?"

"It is part of the test of the strength of the summoner. You cannot save the world if you are not attached to it." The man shrugged and there was something self-deprecating in the gesture. "You must have someone you love, someone you want to protect, a reason to continue. Some personal tie to this world."

That stung her even harder than any logic or blind faith did. Rikku felt her breath was coming too fast and her hands were too cold. "So because Yuna loves Spira more than anyone else, she should be the one to die?"

The silence stretched from seconds into minutes. When he looked at her, his gaze was solemn, direct. "I do not have better answers for you, unfortunately. I wish I did. I truly do."

She squeezed her eyes shut, defeated. "Okay. Thanks. I should go now."

The monk bowed in prayer again. "I wish Yuna luck. And I wish you luck, too."

"Thanks," she whispered, watching him leave. Her heart was heavier and her mind more frantic, and she thought she knew now how it felt to drown.

She trudged back to the where the others were. None of them seemed to have noticed her disappearance. She saw Kimahri standing with his arms crossed, facing towards Mount Gagazet, towards the cold, unfriendly peaks that separated them from Zanarkand. Whatever he was thinking about, it seemed serious. Lulu and Tidus were standing in an open area near the empty chocobo pens, Lulu explaining something and Tidus vigorously nodding, with Yuna sitting on the grass watching them. Wakka was close by, spinning a blitzball using one hand, shaking his head.

"Hey guys. What's up?" she said in greeting, wondering what was the problem this time. Yuna looked up with a smile. Rikku saw she was absently twining together some blue flowers and sprigs that grew on the plain, her fingers deft and sure.

Wakka gave a frustrated growl. "That boy, ya? He wants to learn offensive spells now."

Rikku scratched at one cheek. "Won't it be better if he learned the healing spells instead? Take some pressure off Yunie?"

Yuna started to say something (probably in protest) but Wakka cut in. "Yeah, that's what I said. Besides, you already know some, ya?" Rikku nodded. It was just the basics: Fire and Water and Blizzard, but at least it was something. Thunder wasn't a spell she was looking forward to try. "But he insisted, and Lu said yes, and there you go."

Anything to keep Yuna safe, that was probably what Tidus was thinking. Rikku couldn't fault that.

"Let's start with Water," she heard Lulu say. "That should be your best element."

"Well, don't let me get in the way," she told them, and headed towards where Auron was standing guard. If Tidus was going to splash everyone wet, she'd rather be out of blast range.

Auron didn't turn to face her when she came within speaking distance. "I hope you didn't steal anything from him," Auron said, his eyes scanning the horizon but Rikku just knew he was secretly searching her, looking for stolen things.

"Him who?"

"Zuke," Auron said dryly.

"No, you meanie, what makes you think that?" Auron's reply was a neutral "hmmm", no elaboration whatsoever. Rikku plopped down on the ground, pulling at the grass, picking some of the flowers. She couldn't make flower chains like Yuna. When she had asked before, Yuna said that came from a lot of practice mending nets in Besaid. Yuna loved Besaid, yet she decided to leave and go on the pilgrimage. Rikku blew out a noisy sigh.

"He wasn't any help. He was pretty nice, even though he's a Yevon priest. And at least he's alive. Or at least I think he is? I was beginning to wonder if the whole Yevon clergy is made up of creepy unsent people." Auron gave a curt laugh at that. Rikku frowned at him. He was still looking at the plains around them. "When are you going to tell us more about the Final Summoning, huh?" He didn't answer and Rikku hadn't expected him to. She followed his gaze instead, thinking that they would be able to see the whole of Spira if they looked over the chasm. She wondered if the other summoners that came before them ever stepped towards the edge, just to see what was there. "Did Yuna's father get lost here?" she asked, knowing she sounded awkward, but she was curious about this uncle her own father had never spoken about. Braska had loved Yuna, but he had decided to go on the pilgrimage. It was a great big conundrum.

The silence dragged for such a long time that Rikku thought Auron wasn't going to answer that either. "Yes," he finally said. "I think he missed Yuna deeply then, especially since we passed so close to Bevelle and he decided not to stop there. I think he would not have continued the pilgrimage had he met Yuna again."

"Oh." Rikku threw a handful of grass and flowers into the air. "Would that have been such a bad thing? Not continuing the pilgrimage?"

Auron gave her a long, hard stare that made Rikku want to confess to stealing things she had never even touched. She was about to scramble away when he spoke. "No." His voice was steel, anger tempered with regret. "Not at all." He walked off before Rikku had enough time to register her astonishment, leaving her gaping at his retreating back.

She was about the chase after him when she heard Yuna's laughter drifting towards her, and turning around she saw a wet, irritated Wakka throwing his blitzball at Tidus. Yuna was getting up and dusting her skirt, causing the flowers she had collected to drop to the earth. She walked towards Tidus, who was now sprawled on the ground, then held out a hand for him to take. He took it and let her pull him up, and Yuna's laughter faded and the clearing was quiet. For a moment both of them were just standing there, staring at each other, and Rikku found herself thinking again how unfair everything was.

They had to find a way to save Yuna. They just had to. Zanarkand was waiting.


One thing he hadn't expected of Mount Gagazet was that it was going to be so cold. Tidus stopped his attempt to light a fire to watch Yuna and Rikku for a moment, feeling exhausted and chilled to the bone. He would have been even grumpier if it wasn't for the fact that Yuna kept erupting in fits of giggles each time she caught a glimpse of his singed hair, at one point almost losing focus in her attempt to seal off the cavern entrance from ice. Target practice with Lulu earlier hadn't been very successful. Perhaps a Fire spell was way beyond his limits, even with Yuna's gentle encouragement and Rikku's relentless teasing.

"Yunie, you're the bestest magical person ever!" Rikku declared, capering about as Tidus tried to set fire to some twigs again. He wondered whether it would be faster if he were to do this using flint — not that he had any particular talent lighting fires the normal way either. (It was good practice, Lulu had said with a straight face. You need to learn control before moving on to bigger things, she had said. Auron had smirked and stayed out of the argument.) Rikku, on the other hand, was learning to cast very quickly, already moving towards the more powerful spells. She still sounded chirpy, even in the cold, even with the threat of bandersnatches roaming into their shelter and tearing them apart into tiny little pieces. "I wish there was a spell called Nul-Hard-Ground so we can lie down and be comfy like we were in a bed of chocobo feathers."

Yuna laughed. Her laughter sounded strained now, and there were shadows in her eyes. Perhaps her laughter had always sounded strained and there had always been shadows in her eyes and he had never noticed. But she still laughed, for all their sakes. "It doesn't work like that, Rikku. You can't nullify something into something else. You only can protect yourself from the elements for a short while."

"Well, you should come up with something like that!"

Yuna looked doubtful. "I can't just come up with things. Something like that will need years of study, assuming it's at all possible." A blizzard was blowing in, and Tidus found that he was shivering, despite the relative warmth of their shelter. Rikku was frowning, her thoughts on the years of study Yuna will never have. The gears were working in Rikku's head, but she had to know that something as small as that wouldn't stop Yuna. Yuna didn't seem to notice — she was rubbing her elbows, forehead crinkled with worry as she peered out of the cavern's mouth. There was nothing to see but snow being tossed by the winds. "I hope Kimahri's okay."

"He knows his way around." Auron's confidence in Kimahri was reassuring. Kimahri was the one who found the cave, when Tidus couldn't even see around him from the glint of the sun on the snow. Gagazet had a system of caverns running through the mountain, or so Auron said, but so far, no man or Ronso had managed to find one that connected the Ronso settlement to the caverns that opened right above Zanarkand. He was sharpening his sword and probably checking his pockets to make sure Rikku hadn't stolen anything from him. Rikku had taken to stealing everyone's items, since they were far away from towns and other people and she had no one else to practice her thieving skills on. It was a silly excuse but no one had the heart to reprimand her, especially since Yuna seemed to find the whole thing amusing. "You don't have to worry about him."

The spot Rikku had claimed as hers had the materials she needed to customise Yuna's staff all over the place. ("It'll make the fiends stay away from you," she had said enthusiastically. "See if they don't!") There was a clatter of metals as Rikku dug once again into her pack, and she cheered when she came up with a thin blanket. It looked like something that might had been woven in Besaid, a combination of greens and blues and spots of yellows that looked a bit like chocobos, and it reminded Tidus of faraway places that were actually warm. "Yeah, Yunie. Stop worrying so much." She tossed a fire gem into the kindling and it burst into flames, and Tidus shot her a dark look. The fire crackled happily as he fed it the supply of dry branches Wakka had managed to salvage.

"Show off," he muttered, and Rikku stuck her tongue out at him. She must have had pocketed the gem from Lulu when they were practicing magic. Rikku got away with such ridiculous things. She went over to sit beside Yuna and covered both of them with the blanket. It was too thin to do much, but Yuna smiled gratefully. "What, I don't get to share a blanket?" Tidus grumbled, stretching as he leaned away from the fire.

"You have boy cooties," Rikku said in a perfectly serious voice. "We don't want to catch them from you." Yuna smothered a giggle behind a hand. The howl of the wind outside raised a notch, causing Yuna to glance out again. Outside the cave, almost out of their line of sight lay a mound, a memorial for a fallen summoner. Yuna had carefully straightened the staves that marked the grave, her footsteps barely making a mark in the snow. She only needed to catch sight of that now to sober up.

Tidus followed her gaze. "I don't understand," he announced. Wakka winced and Lulu raised an eyebrow. Announcing he didn't understand something had become something of a daily routine. "I mean, since it's dangerous and all that, why don't a whole group of summoners go together? With a whole army of guardians and . . . and crusaders and all!" He caught Wakka's look. "Even without machina it would be better than going alone, don't you think?"

Yuna frowned, and Tidus could see that she had never really considered the problem in that way at all. "It's mostly tradition, and the teachings," she answered tentatively, feeling her way around. "Besides, you can't have everyone go on a pilgrimage and leave the towns and villages with no fighters and healers and summoners. It's always one summoner," she said, her voice very quiet, "and usually one guardian, and in Zanarkand the summoner's bestowed the Final Aeon. Sometimes it's more than one guardian, like my father, when he went with Sir Auron and Sir Jecht, or like Lord Isaaru and his brothers." She was quiet for a moment, perhaps thinking of Via Purifico, of the winding passages and dead ends. She didn't seem to be afraid then, even though she had been alone. Tidus knew she had liked Isaaru, and probably respected him still. Yuna's mind worked in strange ways. "I don't think anyone has ever had six guardians, though," she said with a slight smile. Auron harrumphed.

Lulu's voice carried over from where she was sitting near the entrance, using the faint light to sew up a rip in one of her moogles. She was supposed to be on watch, but none of them thought having someone stand out there in a snowstorm would do anyone any good. The red pompom swayed to and fro as her needle passed through the doll. "It's odd, the things we've never considered." Her eyes moved to rest on Yuna and Tidus, before setting her speculative gaze on Auron. "Summoners have always gone on their path only with their guardians as companions. At least one guardian, one with a strong bond with the summoner — that's what the teachings say." Auron gave a faint shake of his head at this, looking almost amused. Tidus wanted to pin him down with questions, shake him until his teeth rattled and force him to tell them everything they needed to know. "No one has ever questioned this, no one has ever tried to stop them. It's the summoner's privilege, the right they earned when they embark on the pilgrimage. It's also their privilege to choose to stop their pilgrimage, and some do."

"Like that priest we met in the Calm Lands?" Tidus asked, frowning slightly. He wondered what the priest's reasons were, and whether Yuna could be convinced to abandon her pilgrimage for the same reasons. He caught Rikku shaking her head, and he gave up that line of thought. "Then why don't other summoners have six guardians?" Tidus wondered, eyes flicking to the mouth of the cave again, thinking of the dead summoners and their guardians, to succumb at Mount Gagazet when they had journeyed so far. "Or eight, or ten, or twenty?"

Auron shifted at the question, lifting his blade to examine it in the flickering light from the fire. "Tradition," he said wryly. Tidus gave a frustrated groan at the answer. "And it would be easier for Yevon to keep things quiet if something goes wrong."

"Like what's happening now?" Wakka asked. He sounded surprised. Even after everything, he sounded surprised.

"Easier to silence one guardian than six, certainly," Auron replied, his good eye trained on Yuna. She looked disturbed by this, her fingers were restlessly twining the tassels at the edge of the blanket. Yevon's duplicity wasn't something she would get over easily.

"Yeah," Rikku said, sounding bitter, "that's Yevon for you. And the summoner gets sacrificed anyway, so who's left to tell?"

The silence this time was absolute. No one said anything for a long time. The sky outside grew darker and Tidus built the fire higher, and he was about to wish everyone good night when Kimahri came in, shaking himself to get rid of the snow in his fur.

"You're getting us all wet," Rikku complained. Kimahri ignored her and went straight to Yuna.

"Kimahri found something," he told her, pulling what looked like a sphere from one of his pouches. "Kimahri thinks Yuna should watch." He then turned around and crossed his arms, and Tidus scratched the back of his head.

"Uh, we'll go join Auron over there and leave you with that." Rikku was looking at the sphere with wide-eyed curiosity. "Rikku, come on."

Yuna shook her head. "It's all right. Let's watch it together." Her hands trembling slightly, she flicked the sphere on. Tidus had expected another one of Jecht's recordings, but this time, it was High Summoner Braska who was talking to the sphere.

Yuna's father was talking to the sphere, sounding more dignified than Jecht could have ever had sounded. (Then Tidus saw his old man wandering around in the background — without a shirt on the slopes of Gagazet, was he crazy? — and almost slapped his forehead in consternation. "Jecht never had much sense to stay out of sphere range," he heard Auron grumble, but Auron had a distant expression as he said this which caused Tidus to fail to point out that Auron was in the shot as well.)

"Do what you must do," Braska was saying, "the way you want to do it." He seemed a kind man, calm and gentle, his voice steady and soothing. It was a pity he wasn't able to be there to watch Yuna grow up.

The replay came to an end and the sphere switched off with a soft buzz. Yuna continued to stare at the sphere thoughtfully, her thumb running over the switch.

"That's . . . some find, Kimahri," Tidus commented, at loss at what else to say. Kimahri had taken to sitting by the entrance, his spear in hand, keeping watch.

Auron shook his head. "I forgot about that sphere. Braska had asked Jecht whether he had extras; we never knew what he recorded." Auron looked at Yuna. "I must have lost it on the way back to the Calm Lands." There was something like apology in his words, a genuine surprise he could have forgotten something that important.

"It's all right, Sir Auron," Yuna said, cradling the sphere to her chest almost reverently. "I think I had always known what my father wanted to say." She smiled at Kimahri. "And it's nice to finally be able to hear him say it."

"He had . . . some very good advice," Rikku said, still wide-eyed. "Especially about the future."

"Yeah," Tidus said, watching Yuna closely. "Certainly better than 'Be good'."

Yuna laughed. It was an odd mix of gladness and sorrow, and Tidus thought he could understand, at least a little bit, of what she felt.

"Yuna," he began, hugging his knees and not quite looking at her, "if you had always known that . . . that your father would support you, whatever you chose to do, why did you become a summoner?"

She looked startled. Tidus didn't think anyone had ever asked that question to her before, at least not that directly. Lulu sighed and answered for her instead when all Yuna did was stare at him like he had just announced that he was going to spend the rest of his life chasing butterflies in the Macalania Woods. "Because Yuna wanted to. And because she can." Lulu smiled, and Tidus found himself startled by the warmth of it. "And I know that Yuna will say that it wasn't what affected her decision, but it was what everyone expected of the High Summoner's daughter."

Rikku scowled. "That sucks. No one expects me to fly an airship around just because Pops does."

Tidus rubbed the back of his neck, giving Yuna a sidelong glance. "I sort of understand. Everyone expected me to blitz for the Zanarkand Abes, just because my old man did. After a while, it began to feel like it was what I had wanted all along." He poked the fire and it flared a bit higher than he expected, washing Yuna's face in a warm glow. She seemed to be carefully considering something in her mind. "But what does Lulu mean, 'because you can'?" He addressed the question to Yuna, but she didn't answer this time either.

"Not everyone can become a summoner, ya?" said Wakka. He was lying down with his hands behind his head, staring at the cavern's low ceiling. "It needs some sort of talent — some ability to hear what the fayth are saying."

Rikku snorted. "You're too stubborn to hear what anything is saying." Wakka glared at her but didn't reply.

"That rules you out, too," Tidus pointed out. Rikku looked outraged. Yuna hid a smile behind an edge of the blanket.

"I'm Al Bhed! Al Bhed!" She crossed her arms. "Al Bhed don't summon."

"Why not?"

"What makes you think that I'd want to hear what the fayth are saying? All those crazy summoners are probably just hearing things in their heads." Rikku glanced at Yuna and patted her arm. "No offence, Yunie."

"None taken," Yuna murmured. She was tracing an outline around a yellow patch on the blanket with her finger. "I always found it strange that no one else seemed to hear what the fayth were saying."

"What are you supposed to hear?" Tidus asked, curious. "The singing? I hear that all the time in the temples."

"Oh, no, everyone can hear the hymn. It would be really strange if that suddenly stopped, don't you think?" Tidus just shrugged, lacking a proper response. He found it strange that once-living souls encased in stone sung at all, but he wasn't the one trapped in a thousand of years of tradition. "It's that you can actually hear the fayth talk to you, like . . ." Yuna's voice trailed off, and for a moment she looked lost, "like the way I can hear you now, or the way I can hear Valefor murmuring to me, or Shiva sighing because we're out of the cold."

"You're hearing them right now?" He could hear his amazement echo in the caverns.

"Yes. It's all in my head," Yuna said, with a playful poke at Rikku's stomach, "just like Rikku says. Not all the time," Yuna added, her words tumbling into each other as Rikku gaped at her, quite possibly thinking about how crazy Yevonites were, "just when I focus and really listen."

"Whoa." Everything about Spira was wonderful and absurd at the same time. Everything.

"Strange, ya?" Wakka sounded distant as he reflected on the happier times of their childhood. "I think Yuna was about ten or so when she told me that the girl in the temple was telling her one day they'll fly together." Embarrassment bloomed in Yuna's cheeks, but Wakka was unrepentant. "I thought it was one of the acolytes putting crazy ideas in her head, you know? Lu eventually figured out it was the fayth talking to her and at first we thought if we told no one, we could keep Yuna safe." He was grinning as he said this, his expression a strange combination of guilt and fondness. "Hey, even Chappu thought it was a good idea. If no one knew, they couldn't take her away and make her a summoner, ya?"

"But they found out anyway," Auron said, a not quite question in his voice.

"Well, yes." Yuna bowed, her hair a mourner's veil hiding her eyes. "I spoke to the priest, telling him I could feel someone calling me from the Chamber of the Fayth and he got really excited. He asked me if I wanted to take a test to see whether I could become a summoner. It was very easy, actually, he just asked me a few questions and I knew all the answers — I could hear the fayth prompting me. He asked me whether I wanted to train to become a summoner." Her eyes found Lulu's and there was a soft smile hidden at the corner of her lips. "I told him yes. Lulu was so mad when I told her what I did."

"Braska didn't plan to go on the pilgrimage when he first became a summoner." Everyone turned to look at Auron, surprised. Auron was always too stoic to volunteer information, especially about the past. He spoke more to Tidus about Jecht though it was Yuna who was the one who was tracing her father's pilgrimage along the shores they visited. Yuna sat up straighter, leaning closer towards Auron's voice, the blanket forgotten. He sounded gruffer than usual. "He was always more interested in governance, on how to get people to work together, and helping the sick and the injured. He was content to stay in Bevelle, with a visit to Home every now and then." Rikku inched closer to Yuna and took hold of her hand. "Things changed when your mother died, Yuna."

"He must . . . have been really sad." Sadness crept into her own voice, and it left Tidus feeling helpless.

"Yes." Auron was quiet for a moment. "I think the only thing that made him sadder was when he had to leave you."

Yuna's eyes were bright. "Thank you, Sir Auron. Thank you." She settled back in her space before curling up against Rikku and closing her eyes. The others went quietly back to their spots, and Tidus fell asleep watching the flickering flames and thinking about Yuna.

He woke up the hour before dawn, feeling disoriented. The fire was burning low so he added more branches, and looking around he noticed that Yuna was no longer in the cave and Rikku had the blanket wrapped snugly around her. Both Auron and Kimahri were nowhere in sight either. He stretched and moved towards the entrance as quietly as he could. The wind had died down, leaving only a gentle breeze to canvas the night. There was no moon, and the stars that dotted the firmament seemed too hang very close to the earth. Looking around, he caught sight of Auron drinking from his jug, on sentry duty for the hour. He started moving towards Auron and Auron raised his jug in a salute. Rubbing his hands for warmth, he was about to ask where Yuna was when Auron spoke. "Jecht said the stars reminded him of Zanarkand." He looked at the sky. "Like the lights in the buildings at night. Braska said it was a pity that he would never get a chance to see those lights. I've been to Zanarkand, they're nothing like those lights at all."

"No," Tidus said. "Not at all." Auron gestured towards the edge of the path before he could ask, and squinting, Tidus could just make out Yuna standing alone in front of the fallen summoner's mound, the white of her sleeves dancing like ghosts in the night.

He moved closer towards her, letting his footsteps crunch deliberately into the snow. His footprints were clear and deeply etched, but he knew that fresh snow will cover them within hours and they will disappear with the morning mist, fade with the night's dreams. He knew Kimahri was somewhere nearby, keeping an eye on Yuna, ready to jump to her defence at the slightest threat. Yuna will be fine, he had said to Lulu earlier. She will be, until they reached Zanarkand. They could protect her from fiends and snowstorms and kidnappers, but not from the Final Summoning, and not from herself.

"Hey," he said.

"Hey yourself." She didn't turn around, didn't greet him with a smile like she usually did. Her eyes were fixed on the mound, on the banners flying forlornly in the wind. "So far away from home. So close to Zanarkand. They must have been devastated."

"Yuna . . ."

"It must have been hard for their guardians, too, going back on their own." She turned to face him and bowed very deeply, leaving him too startled to protest. Her sleeves swept the ground, leaving trails in the snow. "I'm sorry. I know what you're trying to do, and what Rikku's trying to do, but I can't give up now." He didn't know what to say. She straightened back up, and she was still solemn and thoughtful and nowhere near laughter as she always pretended to be. "I was just . . . thinking about what Sir Auron said." She turned slightly to face where Auron was standing guard, though only the glint of his sword made it possible for them to pinpoint where the man was. "It's a choice, you know, whether a summoner wants to walk down the summoner's path. That was what I was taught. There's nothing cowardly in choosing to stay at the temples, or choosing to teach others, or to heal the wounded, or to send the dead to the Farplane — someone has to stay and do all that. I chose to go on the pilgrimage. It's something I am convinced I should do, something I could do for Spira."

He closed his eyes. He couldn't think of arguments any more, of any way to stop her from sacrificing herself. There was no way to break her resolve, and he had known that from the start. They had to find another way that didn't involve the Final Summoning, and perhaps Zanarkand was the only place they could find an answer.

He felt her move closer before she slipped her hand into his, her fingers warm despite the wind and the snow.

She continued talking, her voice very soft, barely rising above the whisper of the breeze. "I know I can change Spira, if you're here beside me."

"Always," he said, because that was what he had promised. He heard the rustle of her skirt as she came even closer to rest her head against his chest. Her hair smelled like the sea: warm and salty and full of sunshine and the thought of how she wouldn't be able to see Besaid again caused his heart to stutter against his rib cage, a frantic hammering against the steady cadence of her heart. He opened his eyes. She drew away and smiled, and this time her smile was real.

She placed some of the blue flowers she had twined together on the mound. They were dry now, and some of the petals crumbled in her hands. "For remembrance," she murmured, and stepped back. She picked up her staff, addressing those who had gone before her. "I know I am late," she said quietly, gently, an apologetic note in her voice but there were no tears this time, "but please accept this." She raised her staff and made a complete circle, whirling round and round, spiralling closer and closer towards the grave of the unknown summoner. The stars seemed to blend with the snow, and Yuna with the sky. Tidus watched as she danced towards the coming dawn, her footfalls barely making a sound, barely leaving a mark, and the pyreflies that drifted heavenwards threw shadows of her on the ground.

The sun was beginning to rise. Zanarkand was waiting.

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*hello, i'm a total stranger from ff_press, hope you don't mind me dropping in, lolz :)*

I've clicked on this fic about a million times, in hopes that eventually someone would have commented, and in reading their comment, my brain might be given the stimulation to formulate a proper response, but I had no such luck.
Therefore, here's all I got:

The beauty of this rendered me absolutely speechless! :O

xD That sounds like a really bad pick-up line, I know, but it's true. Or, well-- it was true, but then I was like, I guess I have to say something other than that, even though they say less is more...

So yea... this probably doesn't mean much coming from a random person who simply lurks obsessively through the FFX/X-2 fandom like a total creeper, but this was one of the most amazing fics I have ever read, ever. I particularly loved the imagery, especially of the last few lines.
Absolutely beautiful <3

Thank you! I'm glad someone was brave enough to actually read the whole thing. I mostly write shorter pieces -- I was pretty sure this one would backfire on me, so I'm happy someone enjoyed it.

Comments are always welcomed! I think most people posting here wouldn't mind anyone commenting on their fics/art/etc and sharing the fandom love. :)

Oh my GOD.

This is so incredibly awesome! I missed it since you posted last night while I was at work and it'd scrolled way down once I got home.



I love the voices, and the little bits of history that we get to see! THANK YOU!

I'm glad you liked it. It was such a wonderful prompt and there was so much in it that I wasn't sure which way I wanted to go with it. I still feel like I didn't fulfil the prompt in places!

I enjoyed writing this. :)

I enjoyed this story. Very calm and thoughtful, excellent interactions between all the members of the party, some nice foreshadowing moments with Auron. My favorite part, though, is the conversation between Rikku and Father Zuke -- I don't think I've ever seen anything like that in a fic before, and I like the way you round out Zuke's character a little bit.

Nice job!

Thank you -- that was one of the snippets I wrote first, and then I almost cut off the whole part set in the Calm Lands because I wasn't sure where I was going with it. Now I'm glad I left it in!

I really enjoyed this. The tone is lovely, contemplative and sad, and the character voices are all spot-on. Nicely done!

(only a million years late in finishing the FFEX reading)

This is beautiful. I love the conversations, and the imagery especially at the end. I really like the meta about summoners and their choices, and how Yuna came to be a summoner--how they know who can do it.

Very well done! The only thing I would critique is that a few times in the narrative, you had something like "Yuna will go on" or something, when I was expecting the tense to be "Yuna would go on." (Also one or two stray typos, but compared to the number of words, totally negligible.)

Thank you. That made my day. :)

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