"The sea! The sea!"
"Sin!" came an anguished cry among the other shouts of the sailors.
Lulu rooted herself like a summoner's statue as the deck heaved and pitched beneath them. One arm wrapped tightly around a spar; her other arm anchored Vidina firmly against her skirts. A barrage of cold seawater broke across the bulwark, and she twisted around to shield the boy. The fiendish force of the water was terrifying, all the more so because she knew just what it could do- was doing right now. Vidina never made a sound, even when her grip began to slip, even when a hulking shape loomed out of the roaring rush of water and flung dark arms around both of them...
"Kimahri, what's out there?" Lulu snapped as the water subsided. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a sailor hunched behind the stern-mounted cannon. Frothy water obscured whatever was churning the waves beyond. A fleeting glimpse of something dark and solid beneath the surface reminded her alarmingly of their old foe.
It could not be Sin. It could not. Never mind that Wakka had not returned from a tournament two years ago, and it was said that the Aurochs' ship had been taken by the ancient terror of the deep. Lulu had mourned him and scorned sailors' yarns and refused to fear. Since then, despite scattered rumors and against Yuna's advice, she had shown Vidina much of Spira. He should know all he could of their world, all the more so if it was turning dangerous once again. Knowledge was her oldest weapon.
"Machina," the Ronso rumbled beside her, retrieving his spear from the rigging where he had jammed it. "Kimahri hear engines."
She tensed. "Raiders. So that's the answer."
"Al Bhed?" the boy asked softly, arms still wrapped tightly around her legs.
"No, although they may wear masks. Don't be afraid, sweetling; we won't let them hurt you."
The sailor crouched behind the cannon gave a cry, staggering backwards and pressing his hands against his face. Catapulting out of the waves like leaping fish, a gang of steel-gray figures encased in rubber suits overleapt the gunwale and landed on both sides of the dying sailor. All wore masks or goggles. The tube-shaped objects they carried were clearly some kind of weapon.
"Top deck," Kimahri said abruptly, jerking his spear towards the steep staircase, almost a ladder, leading to the small railed observation deck perched over the ship's cabin.
Lulu nodded. She wished that she could take Vidina below, but if anything happened to the hull...
Banishing that thought from her mind, she dashed towards the stairs, scooping the slight child in her arms and concealing him as well as she could with her sleeves. He clung desperately to her braids. More and more suited figures were bursting onto the starboard deck. She drove them back with a curse and a blast of water as forceful as the one that had drenched her a moment ago. Vidina whimpered as a rattle of gunfire broke out behind them, but Kimahri was following, shielding them as they fled. Yells and screams broke out below decks as they flung themselves over the top of the stairs. Lulu raced to the mast, gesturing for Vidina to hide behind it. Then she wheeled, bracing her back against it. Kimahri had reached the deck on their heels and was crouched at the head of the stairs, lying in wait for anyone trying to climb up after them. Blood was dripping onto the deck beneath him, but for the moment the blue-furred warrior seemed as steady as ever.
"Vidina," Lulu said, "Kimahri and I are going to have to kill some bad men. I need you to be brave for a little while. Hide behind me, and do not make a sound. Understood?"
"Yes, Mama." Oh, bless him, he was trying to imitate her icy, flat tones, swallowing his terror. He should not have to see this. The smoldering rage that fueled her most dangerous magic flared up, and she felt a familiar tingling in her hands as she drew herself to her full height, poised to cast.
Kimahri suddenly swung his spear out and down. Below their line of sight, there was a cry and a thudding fall. Gathering her hands together, the sorceress spat a few words. A throbbing green aura began to leap between her fingers. She flung the wobbling green sphere of energy out and away, over the railing. It spread as it fell, diffusing into a sickly fog.
The problem with Bio was that it took time to act. It was one of the few wide-area spells Lulu possessed that would neither damage the ship nor set it ablaze. Also, there was a good chance that they would be able to revive any sailors unfortunate enough to breathe the vapors. The sounds of struggle, fighting, and pandemonium began to subside almost at once. Lulu longed to peer over the railing and come to the aid of the crew and passengers, but her son's safety outweighed all other concerns.
Kimahri lurched backwards as another spatter of darts came flying at his face, some of them hammering the underside of the boards beneath their feet. Lulu raised her hand. An arc of lightning flashed over the Ronso's head, bending downwards like a rainbow, but she could not tell whether the bolt had found a mark.
The metallic sound of a commsphere broadcast rang out over the chaos. "Lulu of Besaid. Surrender at once, or we shall destroy this vessel."
Kimahri growled and started towards the steps.
"Kimahri!" Lulu snapped. The Ronso froze reluctantly, lips peeled back from his teeth in a snarl.
"The S.S. Winno lies on the ocean floor," the harsh voice continued. "Do you wish to join her? Will you condemn all the souls on this ship?"
A small, cold hand crept over Lulu's clenched fist. The sorceress drew a shuddering breath, biting back the bile of mounting fury that might well crack the ship apart without the aid of machina if her control frayed. She turned and sank to her knees, hugging Vidina close so that he would not see her face. The boy had slipped around the mast despite her orders. Although he still made no sound, his trembling cut her more deeply than any fiend had ever gored her in battle. Beneath the saltwater dripping down from his bedraggled bangs, he was weeping silently. She cuddled him, stroking his hair; her hands had always expressed love or anger more eloquently than words.
"Sinspawn!" the loudspeaker crackled. "Return to base." The ferry began to shudder ominously, pounded from below. Another huge wave crashed over the bow, sweeping at least one of the crew overboard, to judge by the cries.
"I've got to go." The words forced themselves between her teeth. The Ronso rumbled warningly behind her. Vidina shook his head, his whole body, squirming in her arms.
"Sweetling." Lulu kissed her son's forehead once, twice. "Kimahri and I will never let them hurt you. I promise. But I must go, or I won't be able to protect you. Kimahri will guard you until I return. I love you, Vidina. Remember it."
"No!" His sobs against her shoulder muffled his words. "No! NO!"
The ship heaved again, and again Kimahri's encircling grip kept them from sliding across the quivering deck.
"E muji oui," she whispered in the boy's ear, slipping her necklace of blue beads around his neck. "Kimahri. Take Vidina. Now."
The Ronso shifted slightly to let her stand, releasing her and gently prying the weeping child loose from her skirts with his paws. Old comrades shared a meaningful glance. Then Lulu staggered across the deck, voice shrill and harsh to her ears as she called out a phrase akin to blasphemy in her personal religion. "I surrender! Release this vessel!"
She halted at the top of the steps, dumbfounded. Jutting out of the churning waves was a huge gray fin, pitted and scarred and covered with - no, no, it was barnacles and bits of dead reef, and what the voice had called Sinspawn were simply the gray-suited divers, swarming back into pockets and portholes in the underwater vessel's metal skin.
"I surrender!" she shouted again, raising her hands and measuring the distance to the fin with narrowed eyes. "I-"
A stinging pain struck her in the shoulder. Suddenly Lulu could not make a sound. She glanced down, spotting the blank facemask of the man who had shot her, kneeling at the foot of the stairs next to Kimahri's most recent victim. Then the ship, the sea, even the sky began to shimmer and recede like the vanished Fayth. Vidina's wail was the last thing she heard as her knees gave way and she toppled headfirst down the steps.