Chapter 1: Dedication
Yuna dawdled outside Meri the weaver's hut, pretending to investigate the cheerful red flowers Meri had planted outside. Lulu was further down the street, talking to Lady Ginnem, who had just summoned her first Aeon in the circle outside the temple. Lulu would be leaving on Lady Ginnem's pilgrimage tomorrow.
Yuna thought it was entirely unfair that Lulu was leaving on a pilgrimage as a guardian when she and Wakka had forbidden Yuna to train as a summoner. She wanted so badly to go on the pilgrimage to the ruined city of Zanarkand, to pray to her namesake Lady Yunalesca and bring the Final Aeon.
Lulu and Lady Ginnem turned toward the temple. Wakka was nowhere to be seen. Yuna checked the street one last time before scurrying to Lord Kieran's house and knocking on his door.
Yuna opened the door just wide enough to admit her slender frame and slipped inside, shutting the door carefully behind her.
Yuna bowed and made the gesture of prayer, which Lord Kieran returned graciously. He was a tall, sparely built man with a short, neatly trimmed grey beard and long grey hair tied back in a queue. His face was weathered and wrinkled, but his brown eyes were kind. He wore summoner's robes, neatly patched and mended, and leaned on a tall wooden staff Kimahri had carved for him last winter when the ache in his joints had made it difficult for him to walk.
"Good day to you, Yuna," he said.
"Good day, Lord Kieran." Yuna smiled.
"Do you seek counsel?" Lord Kieran asked when she did not say anything further.
Yuna nodded. "I want to become a summoner. I was hoping you would teach me."
Lord Kieran hesitated for a moment. "Sit down, child," he said eventually.
Yuna knelt on one of the floor cushions and clasped her hands in her lap. Lord Kieran lowered himself to the other cushion with a little grunt and rested his staff crosswise on his lap. "Why is it that you wish to be a summoner, Yuna?" he asked her.
"I want to bring the Calm, as my father did. I remember how everyone in Bevelle was laughing and celebrating when my father's Aeon defeated Sin. Everyone was so happy. I want people to be happy, to not have to live in fear of Sin's destruction." Yuna laced her fingers together and held her breath.
"Hmm. You are very young to begin the training. Most summoners won't start training until they are older." Lord Kieran looked at her intently. "And not everyone can become a summoner. Just because your father was able to does not mean you will be able to summon the Aeons. It takes great strength, and great determination. The fayth may not accept you, or you may not be able to call forth the Aeons."
"I know," Yuna whispered.
"Learning to summon the Aeons is very difficult, Yuna, and that is the least of your struggles as a summoner. You must learn to give comfort to the grieving, to heal the wounded, to fight against the fiends. You must bring peace to the dead with the Sending. A summoner is a public figure, and summoners do not show their emotions, save for compassion. Your life will no longer be your own."
"My life has not been my own since my father defeated Sin. I am always Yuna, daughter of Braska." Yuna straightened her shoulders. "I want to learn to be a summoner. I want to do as my father did, and defeat Sin, so that the people of Spira will be happy again."
Lord Kieran studied her for a moment, then nodded and set his staff aside. "We will begin with the history of the temples and the names of the Aeons, then. The first High Summoner was Lady Yunalesca…"
Chapter 2: Initiation
The red light of sunset slanted across the beach, shading the sea to deep purple and the sand to a fiery golden-red glow. Soft, puffy clouds edged with gold and shadows framed the horizon where the sun sank into the sea. The sea breezes ruffled the plants, filling the air with the sweet scent of tropical flowers and the rich smell of green, growing things. The wind also carried the mournful sound of a lone flute, playing the hymn of the Fayth.
Yuna crossed the beach with her sandals in her hand, the sand still warm from the day's heat and gritty beneath her feet. Lord Kieran was seated at the end of the dock, his sandaled feet dangling just above the surface of the water. The crimson light turned his careworn, bearded face into a ferocious mask. He did not turn to greet her, but continued to play, the hymn melding into a sorrowful and grave tune Yuna did not recognize.
She sat quietly next to him, dipping her bare toes into the cool wavelets that lapped against the dock. There was no sign of Sin on the horizon, though she knew it had returned to Spira. Her father's Calm had not lasted after all. She folded her hands in her lap and waited.
The last mournful notes died away, and Lord Kieran turned to her. "Good evening, Yuna."
"Good evening, Lord Kieran." She made the gesture of prayer.
"Sin has returned to Spira," he said. "Our atonement has been insufficient."
"I still wish to face it," Yuna said.
"What if you, too, are unable to permanently banish Sin from our lives?" Lord Kieran asked. "Suppose you survive your pilgrimage and obtain the Final Aeon in Zanarkand, and you defeat Sin. What if that is not the end?"
She looked down at the water, tinted red with the sunset light. "Then at least the people of Spira will know a few years of peace before Sin comes again."
"If you are the one to defeat Sin, you will not live to see that."
"I know." She looked up at him. "But it is enough to know that, for a little while, people need not fear Sin."
He studied her for a long time, his eyes searching hers, and then nodded. "Have the priests taught you anything of magic?" he inquired.
"I think Lulu forbade them to. She thinks it will encourage me." Yuna frowned.
"I take it Lulu has not taught you anything of magic, either, then," he said.
"Can summoners learn black magic?" She was surprised. "I have only ever seen them use curative magic."
"A few choose to learn black magic, those who already know who their guardians will be and know that one of their guardians can use healing magic. Some choose to learn both, though it is a very slow path for those that take that route."
"I think..." Yuna took a deep breath. "I think I would like to learn white magic. I want Lulu as my guardian, when I go."
"Very well." Lord Kieran tucked his flute into the folds of his robe. He seemed able to produce an infinite number of wondrous things from his sleeves, his sash, and the folds of his robe, including potions and carved wooden toys for the children of the island. From his sleeve, he withdrew a small crystal sphere and cupped it in his hands.
"This sphere helps focus the magic when you are still learning," Lord Kieran said, proffering the piece of crystal.
Yuna took it gingerly. It was surprisingly heavy in her hands for its size, and she focused carefully lest she drop the precious thing.
"The runes inscribed on the surface contain the magic. I don't expect you to do perfectly on your first try, and unfinished magic is dangerous. The sphere will hold it for you and keep it from harming us."
"Unfinished Cure magic can harm us?" Yuna looked up, startled.
"White magic and black are not so different at their roots. They are both made of Yevon's power, shaped by prayer. It is the intent and the shaping words that differentiate them. Some of the most powerful white magic can destroy fiends in a single strike." Lord Kieran smiled faintly. "Fire is not innately bad, for it warms our homes and cooks our food. However, it is destructive when applied with focused intent to fiends. In the same way, the holy light of Cure heals our wounds and gives us strength to go on, but the power that underlies both is the same force, and left unchecked, it is dangerous."
Yuna gazed down at the sphere in her hands, mesmerized by the way the light reflected off it as sunlight off waves.
"Now," Lord Kieran said. "The words you will speak are thus." He taught her the words, in the fluid language of the Hymn, the language of Yevon's temples. She repeated them slowly. He made her rehearse them five times before he was content that she was pronouncing them exactly right.
"The way to transform the spoken words into power is to feel the grace of Yevon all around you," he said when he was satisfied with her pronunciation. "Close your eyes. It is in the lapping of the waves. It is the peace in the Hymn of the Fayth. It is the fury of a storm, and the feel of new grass beneath your feet."
Yuna closed her eyes and held the sphere tightly in her cupped palms. Lord Kieran's recital blurred into a litany that rose and fell with the same comforting cadence as the Hymn. She rocked slightly side to side in time with it, her lips shaping the words of the Cure prayer silently. She could feel something inside her, like the rushing of waves or the beating of wings, and it grew stronger. She spoke the words of the prayer aloud, and for a moment the rapid flutter of power intensified, and then it fell away halfway through the prayer, and she felt empty.
She opened her eyes and found the sphere glowing with a pure white light in her hands, the runes on its surface a bright, glittering blue, and was bitterly disappointed. Had her father failed, too, the first time he tried?
"You did very well, for the first time," Lord Kieran said. He leaned forward and touched another piece of crystal—a flat, rectangular piece double the length of her hand—to the sphere and the glow was drawn out of the sphere and into his crystal. "I did not expect you to get even that far. What happened?"
Yuna frowned. "It felt like a bird's wings, beating inside me, and it got faster, and then faded away suddenly."
"You drew the power, but did not shape it properly," Lord Kieran said. "You must do three things when you are casting a spell. You must draw the power into you, hold what you already have, and shape it, all at the same time. It is a hard thing to do. Try again."
She closed her eyes again and concentrated. It came easier if she hummed the Hymn to the Fayth, for the rhythm was like the slow, relentless rush of waves against the shore. She hummed it, rocking back and forth, until she could feel again the beating inside her. She concentrated on that, encouraged it as she might the tiny thread of flame when she started a cooking-fire, or the way a slow trickle of water could grow to a rushing flood. It was building slowly inside her, more slowly than before but that was good, it meant she could watch it more carefully. She gathered it, hoarded it, each tiny drop added to the others. More, and more, the wings of the magic beating hard against her mind, and she spoke the words of the prayer slowly and carefully, trying to pay attention both to that and to the power that swelled within her.
She spoke the last word, and the flash of light was dazzling even through her closed eyes. She opened them and saw Lord Kieran watching her carefully.
The globe in her hands was merely clear, lifeless crystal.
"I did it!" she gasped, clutching the little sphere.
"You did indeed," he said, awarding her one of his rare smiles. "You cast the spell, but did not aim it. So that is the last piece: knowing whom you intend to heal. Let us do it again."
Five attempts later, she had managed three successful Cures, two on Lord Kieran and one on herself. Yuna's back ached and she wanted nothing more than to curl up on the dock and sleep, but she felt exhilarated.
"That is enough for tonight," Lord Kieran said, heaving himself to his feet with a grunt. "Do not try to cast anything without me present. We will meet again in one week's time to practice farther. When we are done learning cure magic, I will teach you the Sending."
Yuna scrambled to her feet and bowed, making the gesture of prayer once again. Lord Kieran moved away stiffly, leaning heavily on his staff. Yuna waited a moment, looking out at the sea where the last sliver of the sun was sinking below the horizon, and tried to freeze the moment in her mind. Summoning would not always be joyous, but she loved the feel of the white magic rushing through her.
She turned to go and saw a dark figure at the end of the dock. For one horrifying moment, she thought it might be a fiend—or worse, Lulu—but it was human-shaped, and too tall to be the black mage. She picked up her sandals and hurried toward the beach.
"Yuna should not go out alone," was all Kimahri said when she reached him.
"I'm sorry, Kimahri," she said as she fell in step beside him, heading up the cliff path to the village. "I wasn't alone. I was with Lord Kieran."
"Next time tell Kimahri," he said. "Kimahri not tell Lulu about summoner lessons, unless Yuna go off alone again."
"All right," she said quickly. "I promise."
They returned to the village in silence.
Chapter 3: Trial
The Cloister of Trials was too quiet by far. Yuna was accustomed to the constant echo of the Hymn in the Temple, and the Cloister was devoid of the sound. This was not to say it was silent; the slap-slap of Wakka's sandals, the quiet click of Lulu's shoes, and the too-loud nervous thuds of her own boots rang off the smooth stone walls. Kimahri alone made no sound, his paws silent against the floor. Yuna gripped her staff more tightly and nodded to Lulu, who handed her the golden sphere incised with the name Besaid.
Yuna stepped up to the pedestal before her and carefully placed the sphere in the notch carved into it. The sphere began to glitter like sunlight off the ocean.
"That should do it," Wakka said. He and Lulu both had been careful not to offer advice as they navigated the Cloister, though Lulu had done it twice before and Wakka once. Yuna was grateful; she would not have it said that she benefited from more knowledgeable guardians, and was therefore less of a summoner.
Kimahri laid one of his massive paws on her shoulder. Yuna stepped back, clutching her staff so tightly that her knuckles went white.
The pedestal slid easily forward when Kimahri leaned against it, until it reached the center of the inlaid design on the floor. It seemingly sank into nowhere, and the elevator lit up.
"As the summoner, you go first," Lulu reminded her gently. Yuna nodded and stepped onto the elevator, her guardians following close behind.
The elevator sank into the floor with a faint whirring sound. Yuna watched the pale gold stone walls slide by, taking deep breaths to calm herself. She was Lord Braska's daughter. She would not fail at this.
The elevator came smoothly to a halt and the Hymn of the Fayth swelled around them, sung in a high voice that could be either a woman's or a young boy's. Yuna stepped down from the elevator, her eyes fixed on the vast stone slab that served as a door for the Chamber of the Fayth.
Lulu rested a hand on her shoulder, her skin cool and comforting in the airless heat. "When you're ready," she said.
"Do your best, ya?" Wakka said. He was spinning his blitzball on his fingers; Yuna doubted he even noticed the nervous habit. She heard what he didn't say, as well: that he would be just as glad if she did not succeed, for then they would not have to lose her.
Kimahri said nothing, but took up a stance before the door.
Yuna clutched her staff and stepped forward to make the gesture of prayer, singing along with the fayth as Lord Kieran had told her to do. With a slow, groaning grind of rock on rock, the door lifted to allow her access.
She badly wanted to look back at Lulu, for support, but there were some things a summoner must do alone. She forced her fingers to loosen their death-grip on her staff and stepped into the Chamber of the Fayth.
The sound of the door grinding shut behind her was terrifyingly final.
Trying to calm her racing heart, she took several deep breaths. The statue of the Fayth began to emit a faint radiance, which intensified gradually. Yuna took up her staff in the stance that Lord Kieran had taught her. "I am Yuna, daughter of Braska," she said aloud, and told herself that her voice did not quaver. "I have undergone the training to be a summoner in service to Yevon. I come today to summon you, the fayth of Besaid Temple." The echo of her voice sounded very small, in a room that seemed much larger than it should have been. She took one last calming breath, and began the dance.
The summoning dance was the mirror of the sending dance. Where that dance spiraled outward to send souls to the Farplane, this one turned inward to draw the fayth's power. She had danced this pattern hundreds of times before during her training, and her feet moved almost of their own accord. This was almost easy. She would soon be able to call herself Summoner Yuna; no longer an apprentice, but a full-fledged summoner.
Her steps led her to the center of the spiral, and then out again. Left over right, right over left, turn, bend, sweep the staff in the direction of the spiral, left over right, right over left, spin, and bend. The Hymn of the Fayth continued, the same simple notes held over and over again, much like the steps of the dance.
She came to the entrance of the chamber, and turned back toward the center. She wondered how long it took for the fayth to reveal itself. Lord Kieran had not answered her when she asked, saying only that it took as long as it took. Left over right, right over left. Some summoners, she knew, died in the Chamber of the Fayth, so rejected by the guardians of Yevon that they were not even permitted the opportunity to make a different life outside the temple.
Would the fayth judge her more harshly, or more gently, because she was her father's daughter?
The steps of the dance began to blend into each other, a soothing effect. Yuna tilted her chin up. She would not fail. She would prove herself worthy to the fayth.
She did not know how long she danced; there was no sunlight to mark the time. Her throat grew tight and parched, and her leg muscles began to tremble with weariness. She must not stop. Had she been dancing for hours, or mere minutes? She wasn't sure if it would be better or worse to know how long this was taking.
She was so focused on maintaining the steps of the dance, of keeping herself upright, that she did not realize the fayth had appeared until she nearly stepped on his foot. She skipped backwards, startled, and gasped out an apology.
"You are Braska's daughter," the fayth said. It (he?) looked like a boy, too tall to be a young child, but not yet with the deeper voice that would signal he was nearly a man. Yuna guessed he would be about ten, if he were a child of the island and not an immortal aeon soul.
She made the gesture of prayer, and bowed her head. "I am Yuna, daughter of Braska."
"He named you for Lady Yunalesca," the fayth said calmly. Yuna could not tell if he meant it as a question, so she stayed silent. "Now you wish to follow in his footsteps, and in hers."
"I want to be a summoner," Yuna said.
"Why?" The fayth turned away. "Do you want your name in the history books with your father's? Father and daughter, high summoners together?"
Yuna was taken aback by the bitterness and anger in the fayth's voice. Did the fayth even have such emotions? Was she imagining things? "It's not that," she protested. "That isn't why I want this."
"Then why, daughter of Braska? Why do you come here, and call me forth?" The fayth turned back, and Yuna felt an immense power emanating from his small frame. The sound of beating wings echoed in the chamber, and the howling of the wind. "For what purpose do you seek this mantle?"
Lord Kieran had not warned her of this questioning. Yuna took two deep breaths and tried to think past the building fear. She would not fail here, would not die at the hands of the fayth. "I want the people of Spira to be able to live without fear," she said.
The fayth cocked his head to the side. "Yet Sin returns," he said.
Yuna nodded. "Sin has returned every time," she agreed. "But this time, it might not."
"If it does?" The fayth was watching her intently, and the sense of power surrounding it had intensified. Yuna felt dizzy, her muscles on the verge of cramping, and her throat was so dry she could barely speak. The sound of beating wings thundered in her ears until it drowned out everything else.
She felt as though she couldn't breathe, her chest squeezed and compacted by the power in the chamber. It was hard to think.
"If it does--" She had to stop, had to try to draw in more air, and it got harder each time. She could only draw enough breath for a few words at a time, and her words came out broken and gasping. "Then at least there will have been a few years when the people of Spira could sleep without fear."
Yuna dropped to her knees and bent forward, gasping for air. The sudden silence rang in her ears like the temple gongs. The pressure around her chest faded, as did the sense of overwhelming strength emanating from the fayth.
When she could breathe freely again, she lifted her head, and saw the image of Besaid's aeon superimposed over the figure of the fayth. When the fayth spoke again, it sounded as though he had two voices--one his own, and the other the sharp cry of a hunting bird. "Go with our blessings and aid, Summoner Yuna, daughter of High Summoner Braska," he said. "We judge you fit to serve the Temple of Yevon."
Yuna scrambled to her feet and staggered, dizzy from the sudden change of position. When the chamber stopped tilting at odd angles, she made the gesture of prayer. "Thank you," she said.
The fayth vanished.
She could hear some kind of commotion in the room outside. She walked to the door and laid her hand on it, leaning against it for support more than she should have. The door slid upward, and she tumbled forward.
Kimahri caught her before she could hit the stone floor. She could see the tense concern on their faces--and someone she didn't recognize standing behind Kimahri.
"I have done it," she said, and felt the heady rush of the words. "I have become a summoner."
Chapter 4: Vow
Yuna watched Besaid grow larger through the front windows of the Celsius. It seemed strange, now, to return home after she had already said her goodbyes. The little island seemed impossibly small in the midst of the wide blue ocean. She had not dared to ask that they might come here first, but it seemed Tidus had known anyway, as it had been his first suggestion.
If she had to say goodbye a second time, she preferred to do it at the beginning, not the end.
She stood quietly on the bridge, her hands clasped in front of her. Rikku kept casting her curious looks, but for now the allure of new machina was more powerful than her curiosity about Yuna’s state of mind. Yuna was grateful for that. The other guardians kept their own counsel, and she was grateful for that too.
She watched Besaid grow larger as they approached, and wondered what welcome she would find from the Fayth there. Already she had turned her back on the Temple that had shaped her entire life. Though Shelinda had granted them absolution (at the cost, once again of the Al Bhed—something Yuna intended to do something about when she completed her pilgrimage), Yuna still felt keenly her own betrayal of all that she had been taught. Maester Mika’s reaction had been proof enough of that.
“You won’t get there looking back,” Lulu said, almost absently. Her gaze was locked on the blue sword Tidus still carried, the sword that had once been Wakka’s gift to Chappu.
“I know.” Yuna’s fingers fiddled at the edge of her long sweeping sleeves. Over the course of their journey, the fine embroidered robes she'd been given as the Summoner's Gift had become ragged at the edges, stained by travel and worn thin. Yuna knew it was defeatist, but she felt that her dream of being a summoner had become as tattered and worn as her garments. It had seemed so simple in Besaid—never easy, for to walk into one's own death with open eyes and head held high was not easy—but simple. She would sacrifice herself for Spira, and the people would have another taste of peace. Perhaps, if she had been very faithful to the teachings, that peace would last forever.
The Eternal Calm. Yuna's lips shaped the words soundlessly. It had been her dream since she'd waved farewell to her father from the dock at Besaid ten years ago. Valefor's Fayth had confirmed it when she prayed in Besaid at the beginning of her journey. Oh, he had made no promises, the boy who was a Fayth (or perhaps the Fayth who was a boy), but he had granted her the power to try.
Yuna ran her fingers over the embroidery on her sleeves. Her father had named her for Lady Yunalesca, that most revered and famous of the High Summoners, who had created the Final Aeon. Lady Yunalesca had been the first to stop Sin, however temporarily.
Yuna intended to be the last. Unlike her namesake, she was not content with a short span of peace and a lie spun out over centuries.
Yuna glanced at Sir Auron, who stood sentinel by the front window. She wondered if he felt relief that Lady Yunalesca had been slain, or if he was only tired, or something else entirely.
Rikku finally stopped trying to crawl underneath the pieces of machina that lined the—walls?—of the Celsius and came to join her. "Are you okay, Yunie?" she asked.
Smiling even when she felt sad was habit by now. Yuna curved the corners of her mouth upward. "I'll be fine, Rikku."
"We can do it!" Rikku said firmly.
"I know we can." The smile felt a little less false now. It was hard to be sad around Rikku.
"We're there!" Cid announced, and Yuna felt an odd shuddering in the ship as Cid brought it into—did an airship dock? She didn't know the terminology, though she'd spent half her life around boats; this was another thing altogether.
They disembarked and made their way to the temple. It was very strange to tread the same path she had walked so many times before, but this time as an outsider rather than a girl of the village. Yuna wasn't really welcomed as she had hoped she might be, but she wasn't surprised, either. Besaid was a very traditional town, and she had transgressed against Yevon. Forgiven or not, it was a great deal for them to overcome, even for the girl they had raised as a village.
Perhaps especially for her.
Yuna kept her smile locked firmly in place as she walked. It got easier when she saw something she remembered fondly, and harder when someone looked away rather than meet her eyes. She sensed the tension in her guardians, but none of them spoke—not even Tidus or Wakka. Rikku, after the first person was obviously torn between respecting a guardian and sneering at an Al Bhed, took to slinking in the center of their group, where she would be less visible between Kimahri's furry bulk and Auron's flowing coat.
The temple seemed almost tiny, after the massive pile of stone in Djose and the towering structures of Bevelle. The priest who bowed them in had taught Yuna how to read, and now he called her Lady Yuna, like some strange summoner newly come to their island.
Had they been so distant with her when she had been newly named a summoner? Yuna tried to remember. They had been shocked at Tidus, she remembered that, but the celebration had been a blur of exhaustion after so long in the chamber of the Fayth.
Like the outside of the Temple, the Cloister of Trials seemed oddly small and simple after the other temples she had visited. It still required great concentration on her part, of course, for even without the threat of lightning, ice, or fire the Cloister was nothing to be treated lightly. But a part of her was slightly disappointed that she had found this so difficult at the start of her pilgrimage.
This time when the door to the Chamber of the Fayth opened, Tidus followed her into the room. She feared she might have to dance for hours again to gain the Fayth's attention, but it revealed itself almost immediately.
She made the gesture of prayer.
The boy-Fayth nodded to both of them. He seemed less bitter, somehow, but also more sad. Yet there was a tinge of hope to his expression as he tilted his head back to look up at them.
When he spoke, the cadence of his voice echoed in her ears like the pounding of the surf on the shore. "Sin is cursed. Sin prays. It curses its form, it prays for dissolution. Sin sees dreams of its own destruction. Sin is looking at us. We live in a fading echo of time left us by the destroyer. Free him from Yu Yevon. Free him--the fayth that has become Sin."
"How do I free him?" Yuna asked quickly, even as he began to fade away. She reached out toward him, and suddenly two spheres appeared in her hands. One glowed softly white and felt like Cure magic, while the other was surprisingly slippery and difficult to grip. Beside her, Tidus juggled a handful of potion vials.
"That didn't tell us much," he muttered.
Yuna shook her head. Tidus might not have seen the resignation on the Fayth's face when he turned away, but she had. The Fayth knew what it was asking of her.
She hoped she could rise to the challenge.
Chapter 5: Absolution
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Yuna asked Cid to take them back to Besaid, after Sin. She didn't know what sort of welcome she would get in Bevelle, having just destroyed the foundation of their dominance over Spira, and at least in Besaid she thought they would be too overjoyed to be rid of Sin forever to chastise her for disobeying the temple. She hoped they would be so joyous. If defeating Sin—defeating Yu Yevon—did not bring people happiness, then for what had they all sacrificed?
Cid landed and anchored the airship, and her remaining guardians—her heart caught at the thought, for there were two empty spaces in their group—formed into an honour guard. Lulu and Kimahri set themselves ahead of her, with Wakka and Rikku behind her. For a moment, it was chillingly like the procession from her false wedding—so many falsehoods had made up her life, particularly in these past few months. Rikku whispered, "It's okay, Yunie," and she was reminded that there had been stalwart truths, as well.
The Elder awaited them. She knew he disapproved of the machina in which she had arrived, but his false smile was nearly as good as her own when he stepped forward to greet them. "Welcome, Lady Yuna," he said. "Welcome home." He noted the empty spaces where once more guardians had walked with her, and thankfully did not comment on them.
"Thank you." Fortunately, Yuna thought, she had practice in the art of smiling for the crowd when she wanted nothing more than to curl up in a corner and sob. She had been doing it ever since her father walked away and left her standing on the dock of Bevelle with a nun holding her hand. She made the gesture of prayer more out of habit than faith.
"The celebration is just starting," the Elder said. Yuna nodded, barely trusting herself to speak. "We sang as you asked us, Lady Yuna."
She had to swallow twice before the words could be forced past the lump in her throat. "Your song made it possible for us to truly defeat Sin," she said. "He will never return."
Her guardians knew the double meaning of her words. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Rikku lean forward as though to touch her shoulder, but she drew back. Yuna forced herself not to flinch.
"But how?" the Elder asked.
"You saw Sin fall," Lulu said, almost gently, and gestured to the vast expanse of ocean that shimmered beyond the village. "Lady Yuna stands before you. No other summoner has survived the defeat of Sin. We are certain."
Yuna admired how Lulu made her point without needing to resort either to a lie or to explaining the truth too fully. It was a skill Yuna suspected she would need to master, and soon.
The Elder made a visible effort to regain his composure, and Yuna thought she saw tears glisten in his eyes. She wondered if it was joy at Sin's defeat, or sorrow that a traitor was the one to accomplish it. She knew the latter interpretation was unfair, but her heart felt raw, and she was not much inclined to be fair. "Welcome back to Besaid, Lady Yuna," the Elder said, and bowed to her more deeply than anyone had since she fled her wedding.
Yuna made the gesture of prayer once again, and followed the Elder to the circle outside the temple, where already the party had begun. She could already smell the sting of alcohol as they approached, and one of the island's famous aurochs—the beast, not the blitzball team—was already on a spit over the fire. There was food everywhere, and people laughing and dancing. It reminded her of the night after her father had defeated Sin, though Bevelle's parties had been more refined.
Yuna thought she preferred the simple honesty of Besaid.
Everyone in the village seemed to need to hug her and thank her, and they passed her around like a favoured teddy bear. Some of the older villagers seemed to share the Elder's caution, but many of the others simply believed. She was Lady Yuna, who had been raised and trained here; of course she had defeated Sin. It was a great pity she had broken with the Temple of Yevon, but surely it could be reconciled, now that she had succeeded, or so one of the weavers told her.
Yuna had no such faith.
She smiled until her face hurt, hugged everyone, promised over and over again that Sin would not return. Every time she repeated the words, her heart felt heavier in her chest. She drank water and fruit juice and wine, all of which were pressed into her hands by people eager to celebrate, but none loosened the knot in her chest or eased the soreness of her throat.
At last she found Kimahri, stationed just outside the circle of firelight and watching them all, and she leaned against his warm, furry side. One of his enormous paws rested on her shoulder, and the weight was comforting.
"I'm going to the temple," she told him. "I can't...be here."
"Yuna does what Yuna must," Kimahri rumbled. "Kimahri lets no one disturb Yuna."
"Thank you, Kimahri." She stood on tiptoes and he leaned down so she could kiss his cheek, a gesture not used by Ronso but one he tolerated from her.
She slipped away into the darkness and found her way up to the temple. Even the monks and nuns were celebrating with the island, and the temple was empty. Standing in the center of the temple's great hall, she felt the weight of the stares from the summoners' statues. She went first to the one of her father, and knelt before it. "I did it," she whispered. "I wish you were here to see it, Father. Sin is gone." Her voice caught on a sob, and she made herself stand and make the circuit of the other summoners lest she collapse into a sobbing heap.
Lady Yunalesca, Lord Ohalland, Lord Mi'ihen, Lady Yocun—all of those who had given their lives to the battle against Sin. She paused longest at Lady Yunalesca's statue, searching that proud face for some kind of answer. "I don't know if I can forgive you," she said at last, "but...I suppose you did what you thought best. Did you always think it best? Did you try to find another solution? Or did years alone in Zanarkand of sending summoners to their deaths change you?"
Lady Yunalesca's statue made no answer.
It seemed to be a trend. Maybe there were no answers left.
Yuna walked deeper into the temple, toward the Cloister of Trials. She had been here twice before, and though the mechanics of the temple still worked—the doors and glyphs would not unlock without the proper spheres—the Cloister felt dead. There was no song of the Fayth to guide her to its heart. The power that had encased the Cloister, sunk into the stone and metal over the course of centuries, was gone. When she touched the stone, it felt like any other, dead instead of suffused with magic and the weight of so many summoners' dreams of success. It felt like the fayth statue in Zanarkand, the one that had so horrified her before the battle with Lady Yunalesca.
She stopped in the antechamber, looking at the stone door that blocked her way into the Chamber of the Fayth. There was truly nothing there for her, or for anyone, save a dead and powerless statue. And yet she wanted to go in, to go back to where this had all begun.
She squared her shoulders and laid her hand on the stone, speaking the secret name of Besaid's temple to open it one last time.
Her steps echoed too loudly in the Chamber, something she had never noticed before (but before there had always been the Hymn to cover the small noises that she made.) She made the gesture of prayer to the empty statue, which stared at her with dull and blank eyes. Gone was the voice that had guided her for her entire journey. The winged statue beneath the floor was lifeless stone now, not glowing with the iridescent colours of its feathers.
"You know, of course," Yuna said aloud, "but we did it. We defeated Sin."
Her voice caught on the last word. She made herself keep going. "I didn't want to fight you. You were my first aeon, and I always felt closest to you. It was so hard to summon you that last time—but I knew you'd be disappointed in me if I didn't." She knelt in front of the statue, and laid her hand on its plinth. "I'm so sorry."
She didn't realize she was crying until the statue blurred in her vision, and then she couldn't stop. She curled up in a tiny knot at its feet, arms wrapped around her knees, and let the sobs come. Every breath felt raw, every sob shaking her until she ached all over from the pull of her muscles. There was no one here to comfort her, and somehow that felt right. Her guardians had carried her through her entire pilgrimage, but there were some things she had to do on her own.
She wasn't sure how long she stayed there, weeping and telling broken fragments of her memories to the statue, but at last her sobs eased, and she dried her eyes with her sleeves. Her head ached horribly, and though it felt a little unfair, she eased it with Cure.
None of the dead would have wanted her to suffer for them. At least none of the ones she had danced for on the deck of the Fahrenheit.
"I don't know what to do now," she said to the statue, and her voice was a raw croak after all her tears.
The statue said nothing.
There were no more easy answers. She—all of Spira, even—would have to look past Yevon now, look for new ways to live.
"But we must never forget them," she murmured. "Not the people we've lost, or the dreams that have—" One more sob snuck out, but she made herself keep going. "The dreams that have faded."
She dragged herself to her feet, wincing at the pain in her knees from being pressed into the stone floor, and made her way unevenly to the door.
Lulu was waiting for her, as she should have expected.
She drew herself up defiantly. "Are you going to tell me no tears?" she asked, though her voice cracked.
"No," Lulu said, and reached forward to hug her. Yuna leaned against her, realizing as she did so that Lulu's eyes were reddened as well.
"Does it get easier?" she asked.
"It takes time," Lulu said quietly against her hair, and held her tight. "Eventually, it gets easier."
"Okay." Yuna leaned against her a moment longer. She had lost a great deal, but she hadn't lost everything. She still had many of her friends. It was important to remember that, to keep her faith in the things they had accomplished.
"Come on," Lulu said gently. "I think you could use a rest."
They left the temple, and the empty Chamber of the Fayth, behind. Valefor was no longer in her soul, but as she walked through the streets of the village where she'd grown up, Yuna saw hints of her journey everywhere.
She would make tomorrow a better day, for all of Spira.
Well, it has taken me almost five years to get here (odd, given how short this is), but I'm finally here. Thanks for reading. :)