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Lucid Gods

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The last teacher the boy had once asked the class a riddle: where does the shadow go when you turn on the light?

When the boy thinks back on this experience, it gets confused in his head. Sometimes he finds he's narrating it to himself in second person, sometimes first. Bahamut is telling him the story, or he is Bahamut, or he's still a little dark-skinned child with his feet in the dockside surf.

Zanarkand is the same way - sticky, inverted, an ouroboros that finishes swallowing its own tail only to discover that it didn't really exist at all. The Fayth are dreaming the city. Yu Yevon is dreaming them. Spira's nightmare is Sin. Sin is summoning the Fayth. Bahamut doesn't remember the order by now, where he ends and the Aeon begins, so he only closes his eyes and listens to the make-believe ocean.

It's calmer that way.

Zanarkand has not changed for a millennium. The numbers on the calendars spit out three-hundred sixty-two days before rolling over to repeat themselves, recycling year after year. None of the city's residents notice. Credit rightfully belongs to Valefor, who has always cultivated a knack for slowing the perception of time. Thirty generational cycles ago, the winged Aeon revealed that she had found a way to knit grandparents into grandchildren, so that no new dreams would ever have to be made - only reused - and the bubbled city has remained stable ever since. Clockwork.

This is eternity. The sole interruptions are the fiends. They're rare; summoned only when Sin's influence has begun to weaken, the creatures bridge the gap between Spira and the dream-realm. They launch to defend the city from a distant invader-a monster which would destroy Zanarkand's defense, tear it down and destroy Sin. Free the pyreflies, all of them. Erase Yu Yevon's triumph over death.

Whenever the harbor bells ring out and fishermen scramble to fetch their binoculars, Bahamut knows that somewhere, a summoner calling on their Final Aeon for their last fight.

Bahamut would not want to be a Final Aeon. He is one of the strongest of those who are responsible for the city; he was the youngest Fayth ever chosen, and because of this, his soul was fresh for reshaping. Never has he been an adult who struggled to adapt to a new form, altered on the cold floor of Yunalesca's temple hall. He is a creature that matured with all his powers intact. Only Mindy of the Magus Sisters comes close, but she has her insect-siblings linked together in a set. Bahamut is alone.

If Zanarkand had won the war, Bahamut knows, his example would have served as a precedent for establishing ritual child sacrifice.

But there hadn't been enough time, and now none of it matters. Bahamut is a newer Aeon, created in the final defense of the city. He has only experienced being Summoned after the war, never before; the boy does not know what standards he should follow because there are none left to enforce them.

Yojimbo is one of the older Fayth. It shows in how reluctant he is to accept a summoner's command. He remembers too much of his old life - his human one, when Fayth were chosen through months of laborious selection, merits listed and compared to flaws. Yojimbo thinks that all the newer Aeons are cheap, having never been combed during the winnowing process. Bulk Fayth, he sneered once when Bahamut attempted conversation. Commoners.

Yojimbo's physical form has been stolen away, but this doesn't hinder the Aeon from participating in Zanarkand's eternal sleep. He walks the streets alone, choosing abandoned pathways for his haunts. It has turned him bitter to be considered mediocre, when he once he was revered as a holy guard. Yojimbo sells himself to summoners for pocket-gil because he has no other way to die.

Honor is all that is left to him. Willing disgrace, his suicide.

Bahamut doesn't see why anyone should have problems with being deceased. After their first meeting, he doesn't take offense to Yojimbo's behavior either. They're all stuck in the same boat together; they are trapped in Zanarkand no matter how far their statues may travel. All they can do is pass the time. To keep from going insane, they have to play their own games.

Shiva dances in clubs, assuming mortal form to thrust anonymous hips against poles, her hair bound in a thousand different styles each night. Yojimbo stalks, aloof and companioned only by his dog as he prowls through back alleys. Valefor flies weather kites.

The rest of them play blitzball.

Bahamut's mother was a dedicated fan, and the boy's memories are stacked with newspaper clippings strewn on the floor, betting odds and statistics. Her favorite team was the Zanarkand Abes. By extension, they are Bahamut's as well. Because he has to put up with Bevelle's frequent requests, the other Fayth grant Bahamut exclusive rights over the Abes. He's allowed standing control over the players from A-East, while Ifrit takes the Duggles from C. Ixion is third on their totem pole ranks, and hasn't won a game in three cycles.

The Djose Aeon conducts wild plans to fix this. The current scheme involves swapping in a player from D-North; by plunging his current goalie into bankruptcy, Ixion can force the man to quit from desperation. Once that occurs, Ixion can hire someone new.

Bahamut doesn't need to tinker dramatically with his blitzers. He chooses to turn a blind eye to his team captain's drinking habits, curious if Jecht's familial neglect will encourage the man's son to greater athletic heights. That's the plan. Bahamut was an enthusiastic follower of the original Abes. He'd like to recreate Shuyin if he can. Jecht is not perfect, but Tidus was modeled with the proper physical features, which is a step in the right direction.

Shiva occasionally criticizes Bahamut for lacking scruples. She shakes her head in disapproval, her skin dotted with glitter-dust, runs in her pantyhose from sitting on bars. Bahamut admits that he's not sure what she's talking about. Tidus is no different from any of the other fashioned lives of Zanarkand, which means that the blitz-child is a hobby - much like the stuffed dragon Bahamut carried around for months after becoming a Fayth, until he realized that he was the toy, and also that he was dead.

But Bahamut will not stop playing, no more than Yojimbo will become congenial overnight. In a neverending hallucination of a shadow-city, the boy doesn't know what else he would do to keep himself occupied.

One afternoon while he is observing his pet project, Bahamut watches the horizon flicker. Storms gather in the distance, infecting the sky with a cancerous blot of clouds. Once such events would have plucked his interest, drawing the Fayth to examine the borderline between the two worlds. Now Bahamut has seen it so often that he cannot bring himself to care.

He had glimpsed Shiva earlier that day. Her blue lipstick had been recently freshened, leaving elegant prints on the straw of her iced tea. All she had done with her mouth was drink-no lectures, no commentary. No opinions. When she had finished with her glass, she had faded away with a sigh, leaving Bahamut feeling unexpectedly old and even a little tired.

Tidus looks as if he feels the same way. The boy is squatting near the end of the dock, rolling back and forth between sitting and kneeling. Jecht has swum out for practice and left his son - predictably - behind. Bahamut can feel the blitzer in the distance, a dolphin's reckless mischief as Jecht paddles closer to the edge of the world.

Left to his own devices, Tidus stares at the ocean, making small, restless motions and dangling his fingers in a weak-willed flip of one hand. He has peeled off his shoes and left them in a clumsy pile. Bahamut steps around it before he sits down next to the blonde, folding himself up in an invisible hush of wings.

After a few minutes of silence, the Aeon speaks up. "The ocean is the limit of Zanarkand." This is not the first time that Bahamut has influenced a dream's thoughts, and he assumes the task with patience. "No one leaves because we're protected in here. You know that, so you shouldn't keep looking."

"I don't need to leave Zanarkand." Tidus scuffs his naked toes against the dock, scowling when a splinter latches onto his skin. His voice is sullen, brutally rhetorical. "There's nothing outside of the city. Nothing in here either, but I don't care," he explodes, snatching up a discarded sandal and hurling it into the water. "Not about any of this."

Bahamut is not a stranger to violence - he is called upon to deliver it twenty times a day - but he finds he is disturbed by the sudden outburst. He frowns, mystified. "You can't play blitzball with a mindset like that," the Fayth chides. "When you get older, I'll need a captain for the Abes. That's going to be you. You have to train. Be strong."

Tidus's hand smacks the wood of the dock, causing one of the slats to creak in protest. "I hate that game," the boy fires off, riled at what he thinks is thin air and his own doubts whispering to him. "I'll never play it as long as my old man's around. I can't stand him. And there's no point anyway - there's nowhere to go from here, just Zanarkand, nothing but Zanarkand."

The shoe bobs, floating like so much duckweed on the tides. Bahamut watches it sink lower with each drop of moisture it absorbs, until the buckles are completely submerged and only the heel remains above the surface. Jecht's presence continues to recede, a thinning whisper as the man swims deeper into harbor waters.

By all rights, the Fayth should be recalling the stray dream. He should be redirecting Jecht's thoughts. There is a method to Yu Yevon's plan, and it's important that all the Fayth obey it, but instead Bahamut only listens as Jecht drifts further away.

"It's still worth playing here," he starts to reply, but breaks off and finds his mouth empty.

"No," Tidus chokes back, ignoring the presence he does not even consciously hear. "There's nothing here. The answer is nowhere."

Harbor waters ripple, swelling in a wave that shatters meek against the docks, throwing pinprick sprays into the air. Tidus lifts a hand to wipe his cheek clean. Hard - and then harder, fighting to keep his eyes clear, irises floating in blister-veined whites. There's barely any liquid left in the boy, he's been crying that long, but Tidus's lashes are gummed thick and salty when he rubs at them.

Watching the blitz-child, Bahamut realizes that he doesn't remember what it was like to be so upset. Everything is dry with age and apathy. Everything is indifferent, except that Bahamut can't banish Tidus's voice from his head, that ringing nowhere that batters itself against the ceiling of the illusionary city.

Tidus's face contorts into angry, spitting coughs, mirroring the faraway storm. Eventually, uncomfortable, Bahamut orders it all to stop.

Later on, he finds Shiva sitting on a bridge overlooking the blitzball stadium. Her feet are tucked together primly, braced against an ornately carved strut as she ingests a raspberry milkshake. Before he can even announce himself, the ice-Fayth speaks.

"I saw what you did today."

Bahamut shakes his head, feeling the weight of the prayer wheel creaking upon his back. "Nothing that shouldn't have happened before."