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Via Purifico

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The Via Purifico's stench sapped thought and will quite as effectively as poison. One had to wade through it step by step, breath by breath. Was this truly the scent of Yevon's justice?

Yuna skittered backwards when her toe pressed into something not quite yielding enough to be mud. She glanced down and cringed. There was just enough left from the green trim to guess that he must have been a priest. With a prayer to the unlucky victim, she rubbed her boot on a less grimy patch of the floor and moved on.

Something had caught her eye in the sickly glow of the lanterns.

Yes, it was red. The gleam on the floor was fresh blood. Fiends left few traces behind. Which meant...

"Who's there?" she called.

Her voice echoed along the fetid corridor and faded out. A rumbling scrape off in the distance (perhaps, but it was hard to judge distances here) warned her not to raise her voice a second time.

Clutching her staff tightly, Yuna began to edge her way along the wall, listening for intruders and searching for signs. A small footprint. Rikku or Lulu, probably. More blood. I'll find them. Guilt threatened to overwhelm her, but right now, one of her Guardians might need her as much as she needed them.

Twists and turns later, the print trailed away into a dark tunnel where even the sickly lanterns strung along the walls had burned out. No telling what lay in that blackness.

Yuna had to risk it. "Hello?"

A sound. That was enough to send her hurrying forward into the darkness, feeling her way with an oustretched hand. Almost at once, her fingers touched something cold, hard, and wet. She yanked her hand back.

Ice?

Melting ice.

Hope leapt in her breath. "Lulu!"

There was a brief pause, then, faint but calm, "Left side's thin. Kick through."

A feeble red glow flickered to life behind the icy curtain. The barrier pared away to mere petals on the lefthand side. Yuna wasted no time in bashing through it with her staff.

On the far side she found Lulu reclining on the floor, a nimbus of flame dancing in her upturned palm resting against her hip. The mage looked up with a wan smile. "There you are. Anyone else?"

Yuna shook her head miserably, kneeling next to her. "Not yet. Oh, Lulu, I'm so sorry--"

"It's all right." The mage raised her hand, and another wall of ice sprang up with a crash, sealing most of the opening from floor to ceiling, leaving just a narrow gap for airflow. Yuna saw that they were in a small cul-de-sac, where, mercifully, there was no refuse or remains on the floor and walls. In fact, both looked scorched, and the foul odors back here smelled burnt.

Ignoring the stains underfoot, the Summoner knelt beside her. "Where are you hurt?"

"Right shin. Bad landing when they pushed us down here." Lulu closed her eyes and let her spell flicker out while the white gleam from Yuna's hands bathed the alcove in soft light. "Ah."

Surprising herself, Yuna flung both arms around the older woman as soon as the healing was finished. The sorceress returned the embrace more sedately, folding one arm around her and then the other. "Shhh. Kimahri can track our scent. As soon as we have his spear with us, we can move on."

"Right." Yuna found herself grateful not to have to make all the decisions, at least for a short while. This was another Cloister of Trials, after all, where she generally deferred to her Guardians. They held each other silently, listening for any unwelcome noises in the hallway, leaning cheek to cheek as they used to when sharing secrets behind the temple. Yuna cleared her throat. "Do you still think... what we did was wrong, Lulu?"

The mage sighed. She never patronized Yuna with lies. "Yes. We killed a Maester."

Yuna's head drooped. "Yes."

"Yuna. I believe there was no right answer. You hoped to reason with Lord Seymour, plead with him to turn himself over to Yevon's justice. But Yevon is unjust." There, she had said it. "You had to break with Yevon, and thus, commit sin."

"And I dragged you with me."

"A Summoner has Guardians. You can't save Spira until you fully accept that. We will follow you, wherever you go."

"I know." She disentangled herself and sat back, folding her hands in her lap. "Thank you, Lulu."

"Mm." Turning away, the mage began to take inventory of the small vials and pellets tucked into the small pockets sewn inside her sleeves. "Do you mean to continue with the pilgrimage now, Yuna?"

"Lulu!" Yuna wrung her hands. "Do you think I should stop, now that we're traitors?"

"Well." Lulu's fingertips marched across fabric, selecting potions and shifting them over into empty slots -- too many of those. They would need to restock somewhere, and at this point any shopkeeper other than an Al Bhed would be too risky to approach. "As a friend, my mind has not changed. I wish we could keep you safe in Besaid. But as a Guardian, I fear Sir Auron may be right. The Fayth, not Yevon, decide whether you are fit to be Summoner. If they have not deserted you, then you must search your own heart, not the Teachings, for guidance." The mage paused, then asked gently, "Are they still with you?"

"I think..." Yuna swallowed, nodded, then remembered that Lulu could not see her. "Yes. I think so. Valefor caught me."

"Exactly. Remember that. You asked us to believe. So believe yourself, and them. You know you can still fly."

"I--" Yuna fell silent, warned by the mage's fingers pressing against her wrist. There was a muffled tread in the corridor outside, a snuffling sound, and then a faint clank against the ice.

"Yuna!" The familiar growl had never sounded sweeter.

"We're in here, Kimahri!" she cried.

A spear-butt slammed into the base of the ice. Broken chunks shattered and fell with a noisy patter. Silhouetted against the dim lamplight in the hallway, the Ronso stooped and held out his arms to help them over the remains of the barrier. Yuna hugged him briefly as they stepped out into the rancid hall. "Kimahri, I--"

"Kimahri sorry we left Yuna alone," the giant said gruffly.

"Later," Auron said, lurking in the shadows behind him. "There must be a way out. We search."

"Sir Auron!"

Casually, Lulu slipped her hand over Yuna's mouth.

Taking no notice, Auron turned on his heel and marched off, sword braced and ready across his shoulders. Kimahri fell into step behind them.

"What was that for?" Yuna whispered in the mage's ear as they set off again.

"Don't apologize to him. Unless you miss his lectures." Lulu's eyes twinkled. "No regrets, remember?"

"Oh. Yes." Yuna raised her chin. "Not any more."