Paine surveyed the group of new recruits standing at attention on the Highroad, on the edge of the cliff overlooking Luca. This, she thought, was one of her favorite parts of this job — meeting the eager young kids who wanted to join the Spira militia and making bets with herself on who would make the cut. "Diverse," she murmured to herself as she looked over the crew of a dozen teenagers: a couple of Al Bhed, a Ronso, a blonde girl she'd seen playing blitzball for the Goers last season. Most were without weapons, although one of the Al Bhed had a gun, and a couple of the other recruits carried swords. In particular, Paine noticed a tall girl with a serious face and a heavy broadsword, slung awkwardly over her shoulder. It looked to Paine like an heirloom passed down by some guardian, the blade inlaid with bright color and wrought with decorative edges. Gorgeous, but inappropriate for a beginner. The blitzer, who was standing next to her, held a wicked-looking ball, studded with spikes and crackling with a thunder enchantment. Also a handsome weapon, even worse for training. She'd have to talk to each of them later.
"Welcome," she said to the assembled group, preparing to launch into her usual first-day-of-training speech, when she heard someone running up behind her. She turned, and saw Tidus jogging up the stairway from the city.
"Sorry I'm late!" he said. "Got tied up with the kid."
Paine smiled. "Everything okay?"
He grinned back at her, taking on the same glow as always when speaking of his young daughter. "Yeah. Just one of those afternoons. Everything's fine now."
"Good." She turned back to the recruits. "Apologies for the interruption. As I was saying, welcome to the Spira Defense Force. Sin is gone, and Spira is at peace, but there are still plenty of fiends and other dangers out there. Spira's people will always need defending, and I commend you all for choosing to serve. I'm Captain Paine, and I'm in charge of training new recruits. I'm also the heavy sword instructor. This is Tidus, another one of your teachers — he'll focus on light swords and thrown weapons. You'll meet your magic and machina instructors later. After learning the basics of everything, most of you will specialize in one or two areas. You'll learn by doing as well as in the classroom — there will be regular field trips to practice on live fiends. But for now, we'll start here, at the Academy." She gestured over to the new building perched on the cliff, finally completed a year ago. "Tidus will pass out training schedules and check in with each of you about your interests and expectations. Please don't go anywhere, but feel free to stand at ease and enjoy this beautiful day."
She saluted her new students, and they responded with polite applause. Then she stepped back and let Tidus take over, letting him pass out the orientation spheres and learn all their names. She'd get to know them later; for now, she preferred to observe. Tidus was the perfect person to put them all at ease. Still as energetic after all these years, he knew how to talk their language, and many of the kids would recognize him from the blitzball stadium as captain of the Aurochs. As Paine watched him circulate, she found her gaze drawn back to the to the tall girl with the ornate sword. "It's because she looks familiar," she murmured to herself. "I wonder who she reminds me of." The girl's straight black hair was swept up into a ponytail that fell halfway down her back. Only a single tiny braid hung free, tied off with a small red ribbon that matched her tunic. Except for the crimson color of her shirt, her clothes were plain — black leggings and boots, simple dark blue accents on the shirt. The bold colors suited her fair skin, strong features, and dark hair. Earrings were her only ornament; she wore a small gold hoop in each lobe, and a crystal stud in her left ear. It was hard to tell from this distance, but Paine thought her eyes were probably blue, or perhaps gray. Who did she resemble? Did she have an older sibling or cousin in the Defense Force? Paine was going to have to ask — it was going to drive her crazy.
"You there!" Tidus said sharply, interrupting her musings. "Where did you get that sword!"
Paine realized that Tidus was talking to the subject of her contemplation. The girl looked straight at him and replied, "It was my father's."
"No way!" he responded, anger plain in his voice. He grabbed the girl by the arm and, over grumbled protests, marched her over to Paine. "Paine, we can't trust this one; her sword is clearly stolen. She says it belonged to her father, but that's impossible! I know this sword — it was Auron's!"
Paine took a step back in shock. She had thought that the sword might have once belonged to a guardian. But to Auron? She looked at the girl. "You're claiming that Sir Auron, the legendary guardian who defeated Sin twice, was your father? And you expect us to believe this?"
The girl nodded, her face calm but defiant. "Yes, because it is the truth. My name is Lissira, and Sir Auron was my father. I can prove it to you, if you'll allow me."
She said this last straight to Paine, who frowned — something in the girl's tone suggested she knew something, something she couldn't possibly know. Unless, maybe, the claim was true. Paine turned to Tidus. "We'd better get to the bottom of this." He nodded. "Take the other recruits to training room B — Maroda can get them started. Then come to my office. I'll call Yuna." He returned to the group of future soldiers and gestured them to follow him. They walked off to the Academy. Paine followed behind, escorting the girl — Lissira — toward the same building. They walked in silence as Paine wondered.
Yuna hurried up the stairs to the Highroad, replaying Paine's CommSphere summons in her mind. A daughter of Sir Auron? She could hardly believe that anyone would even say such a thing. She turned at the top of the stairs and strode into the Academy building. As she walked down the hall, she spotted Tidus's bright hair. He turned, saw her, and waved. Her heart skipped a beat as she smiled and waved back. It had been five years since his return. Would she ever get used to the idea that he was back? She hoped not.
"Hey," he said as she approached, stepping toward her and kissing her forehead. "Did you get Jecha to settle down?" He swiveled around and fell into step beside her as they continued toward Paine's office.
"Yes, she's fine," Yuna replied. "I made her a snack and then she went to sleep. She'll probably be down until I get back. So what can you tell me about this girl — what did she say her name was?"
"Lissira," said Tidus, scowling. "Not much. She just arrived yesterday and hadn't said much to anyone, beyond giving her name and getting her room assignment. Then she shows up at today's intro session, bold as you please, waving Masamune around like she owns it. I didn't notice from a distance, but when I came around to introduce myself one on one, I recognized it right away. What I want to know is, where did she get it?"
Yuna shrugged. "That's what we're trying to find out, I suppose." She paused at the door to the office, considering whether to knock, when she heard Paine call out.
"Come on in," she said.
Tidus and Yuna entered the room together. Paine sat at the table, her office tidy as always — three swords propped up in a corner of the room, papers stacked neatly on a desk beneath her window, a spectacular view of Luca and the ocean beyond. Her CommSphere lay quiet in the wall, recordings placed in cubbies below. Lissira sat silently in a chair across from Paine, the sword lying on the table between them. It was Sir Auron's blade all right, the one he'd found buried on Mushroom Rock Road — Yuna would have recognized it anywhere. She took a place behind Paine's chair and studied the girl's features intently, looking for any trace of her father's guardian. She had the same jet-black hair, but that was common enough. Was there something of him in the nose, the shape of her cheekbones, the set of her jaw? Perhaps, but it was so hard to tell — maybe she was looking too hard, imaging something that wasn't there. She suddenly realized she wanted this incredible claim to be true. Wouldn't Spira be a better place if something of Auron remained besides her memories?
Paine got up from her seat and leaned in to Yuna and Tidus. "You both know why we're here," she murmured. "I'm going to ask Lissira some questions to get at the truth of this. I've asked you both to join us because, of all the people currently living in Luca, you undoubtedly knew Sir Auron best… but I have some ideas I'd like to try first. So if any of this seems odd to you, please just go with it for now — I'll explain everything. I promise."
Yuna looked at Tidus, who shrugged. "Okay, we'll play along," she responded.
"Thanks," said Paine. She returned to her chair, Tidus and Yuna taking places behind her, and looked at Lissira. "Tell me," she asked, "what was your mother's name?"
"Her name is Arelle," Lissira replied.
Yuna furrowed her brow — the name meant nothing to her. She glanced up at Tidus, who caught her eye and shook his head. She looked at Paine, expecting a similar reaction, but to Yuna's surprise, she was nodding thoughtfully, almost as if she'd expected this particular answer.
Then Paine asked a question that puzzled Yuna even more. "What was my mother's name?"
"Kera," came the answer. Yuna's eyebrows shot up. How could this girl possibly know anything about the notoriously private Paine?
"Where was your mother from?"
"Tzeki Village, along the Moonflow," Lissira responded. "I've never been there, though — I grew up on a small farm on the edge of Macalania Woods, near the Calm Lands."
Paine nodded again, then moved on to her next question. "How did you get the sword?"
"A Ronso named Kimahri brought it to us…" the girl began.
Paine turned around and glared at Yuna, who brought a hand up to cover her mouth, her heart racing. "Sorry, I'm sorry! It just slipped out." Finally, a reference that made sense to her. Tidus shot her a quizzical look, but she waved him off. "Later," she mouthed.
Paine returned her gaze to Lissira. "Go on."
"I was nine years old, and it was the day after the final battle with Sin. Not that I really understood that, then — I just knew that we had seen a huge explosion in the sky, and that everyone was so happy, except my mother, who seemed sad. That evening, a blue Ronso with a broken horn showed up on our farm. He said his name was Kimahri, and he told my mother that he was there to — let me see if I remember the exact words — 'honor the last request of a great man' — I think that was it. Anyway, then he handed her something wrapped in a cloth, and it was the sword."
"Did you ever meet Sir Auron?" asked Paine.
"Only once," Lissira said. "I didn't know who he was — not that he was a famous Guardian, or that he was my father. It was before Kimahri came with the sword, a few weeks I think. He came to the yard and asked me if my mother was home. We talked a bit. I thought he was a little scary at first, but he was kind to me. Mother didn't say anything then, but when the sword came she sat me down and told me the truth, that the man in red who had come to visit was my father, that he was named Auron, and that the return of his sword meant that he was dead. She gave me the sword and told me that I should follow in his footsteps and wield it in defense of Spira when I was old enough. Last month was my sixteenth birthday, so here I am."
Paine stood. "Thank you, Lissira. Please wait in the hallway while I speak with the others. I'll call you back in if we have more questions for you. I hope you understand that I need to ask you to leave the sword here, for now."
Lissira stood as well. "Of course. I trust you with it." She brought her hands in front of her and bowed, as if making the old-fashioned Yevon prayer, then left the room. Yuna watched her go, and realized with a start that the girl was wearing red and black. Sir Auron's colors.
Paine turned back to Yuna and Tidus. "Well?"
"Whatever," said Tidus. "This is impossible!"
"'Impossible?' Why?" said Paine. "Legend or no, Auron was still a man. We're assuming he never fathered a child because he was a warrior monk who never married, but why should we?"
Yuna gasped. "He couldn't have! Not Sir Auron!"
Paine shrugged. "Of course he could've. If Lissira's story is true — and I'm inclined to believe that it is — she was born about eight months after he fought Sin with Lord Braska. Arelle was Auron's lover for many years. Who is to say that he didn't stop to see her during the Pilgrimage, with Lissira as the result? He'd left the warrior monks by then, and the timing is right."
"How do you know about this Arelle?" Tidus demanded.
After a moment of silence, Paine sighed and ran a hand through her dark silver hair. "All right. I promised I would tell you, and I will, but please, don't spread this around yet. I know about Auron's family, and she should know about mine, because Auron was my uncle."
"What?" Tidus barked as Yuna dropped heavily into Paine's chair and looked up at her, shocked. All these years, Paine had been one of her closest friends, and she never mentioned this?
Paine folded her arms. "Yes. My mother was his sister. But really, it's not a big deal — I barely knew him. He left to become a warrior monk before I was born, and only came back to visit a couple of times a year. When I was still pretty young, he had a big falling out with my mother. Not long after, my father's cousins invited us to come live with them in Luca. My parents thought it would be safer in the city, so we moved. I never saw him again."
"Does anyone else know?" Yuna asked.
"Only Baralai. I suppose there could be some people around who remember our families from the village, but Sin pretty much wiped the place out about eight years ago." Tidus winced; Yuna patted his arm, while Paine shrugged again. "Anyway, enough about my family tree. Yuna, when she started talking about Kimahri and the sword, you definitely reacted. Do you know something?
"Well, it does fit," Yuna said slowly.
Tidus snapped his head around to look at her. "With what!"
"With things that happened …after." She looked up into Tidus's blue eyes and swallowed hard. It was still so hard to think about the days right after their final battle with Sin, when she had lost him for what she thought would be forever.
Tidus's expression mellowed, and he rested a hand on her shoulder. "It's okay, Yuna. Just say what you need to say."
She nodded, and took a deep breath. "After we defeated Sin, and I had sent the aeons and Sir Auron, and you… were gone. You know that your sword stayed behind — Brotherhood, the sword that Wakka gave you. I picked it up, of course, and kept it. I didn't notice at the time, but Sir Auron's sword had remained as well. Lulu told me later that Kimahri collected it and said that Sir Auron had given him instructions. We assumed that he'd requested some kind of dramatic disposal, that Kimahri buried it on Mt. Gagazet, or threw it into the Zanarkand sea. We never knew for sure. But this story — that Kimahri took the sword to his family — well, it makes sense. It's something Kimahri would do, and I can see why Sir Auron would have asked him; anyone else would've asked too many questions. I don't know anything for certain, but it could be true."
"So," said Paine, "another part of her story checks out. I suppose there's no way to know for sure — she or her mother could be lying, and we can't exactly drag Sir Auron here from the Farplane to ask. But I should mention one other thing in her favor. All day, since the moment I saw her, Lissira has looked familiar to me. While we were talking, I figured out why — she reminds me of my mother."
Yuna stood. "Oh, Paine," she said, and gave her friend a quick hug. "Well. That's good enough for me."
Tidus sighed. "Okay, you've convinced me. I'm still not saying I believe all this, but I concede that it's at least possible. So let's take her at face value, at least for now. But I think we should keep an eye on her."
"Agreed," said Paine. Then she smirked. "But you know me — I keep an eye on everyone anyway."
Yuna laughed. Paine walked over to the door and called Lissira back in. The girl entered, looking wary but hopeful.
"Well, Lissira, we've talked it over, and as far as we can tell, your story checks out. We will accept that you are who you say you are: the daughter of Auron." Paine walked over to Lissira and held out a hand. "Welcome to the Spira Defense Force — cousin."
Lissira's face broke into a broad grin that reminded Yuna of Auron's rare smiles as she clasped the outstretched hand. "Thank you — cousin."