Throughout the slow crawl of man's time upon Spira there has existed an idea of home -- a concept, a figment -- something beyond the reach of hands but tangible by the mind. A place to belong, a place to return. A place to be discovered, vague and indistinct, waiting in the distance. Spirans were torn between looking into the future for better days, a brighter chance, and focusing keenly on the inescapable present. Both could be lost in a moment, whisked away in the tumescent, lumbering mass of Yevon's judgment. But even with this ever-present terror, one of the most common sayings Spira children were taught was the phrase, Love your home. Spira was home – every blade of grass, every grain of sand, every plant and pebble, all of it was kith and kin. All of it deserved to be protected by any means, by any loss.
"Some say that Sin came because our ancestors did not properly appreciate what they had. Their hubris and short-sightedness created a monster of equal proportion, and it's because of Sin that we can now learn the true value of the land we have."
"So Yevon basically says you guys deserve to have Sin because of what some knuckleheads did a thousand years ago? What's the use in believing in someone who only guilt-trips you into having faith?" Jecht was, as expected, gruff and unyielding in his perspective. Auron's reacted was muted, hidden – only Braska could sense his discontent in the rigid expression and tight, narrowed gaze.
Braska shrugged, unconcerned with Jecht's near blasphemy. "The teachings aren't all as bad as you might think. There are some more beautiful passages to be found."
"Oh, yeah? Like what?"
Auron knew immediately which text Braska would quote. He remained silent, waiting to hear it relayed to the interloper. Braska could make the teachings teem with a beauty that, despite all his garnered cynicism since the pilgrimage's start, still warmed Auron's heart. There was something endearing about Braska's unwavering faith, even if it cut like a knife. To believe as he believed, and yet to know what he knew – Auron could not fathom it, but could not envy it, either.
"Yevon tells us that, in ancient Zanarkand, their language knew no different word for 'heart' and 'mind.' They believed there wasn't any physical difference to the organs, either – what you thought was bound to what you felt, and vice versa. 'Heart and mind allied as one.' And so the teachings say when the fayth joins with the summoner, the fayth live on as a presence in both, guiding and aiding the summoner however they so please --"
Jecht could not be stunned into silence. "What, like a voice playing in your head? Nonstop inner commentary?" He pulled a face. "That would piss me off after a while."
Braska's smile was kind, indulgent -- Auron turned away from it to hold his tongue. "Think of it as... the voice of a fan cheering you on. When you hear their screams and best wishes, suddenly the task ahead of you feels a bit easier to manage. Don't you think?"
There was silence between the three men, all of a different breed. Only Auron's, like a wound, seethed.
As Sin ravaged the land, in Spira and the hearts of its people there was an idea of hope -- a concept, a farce -- something beyond the reach of man, obtainable only by the heart and mind. Sacrifice and toil for nothing. No thing was worth this inescapable lie -- a phrase Auron kept to himself, only to have its ire gnaw at him to the bone. And when they were gone – and when the battle was fought and won (but never really won, no, there's no way to ever truly win) – it came gushing out like a lanced wound, all the poison and bitterness spilling over furious lips and clenched teeth. Auron could say these things to her without fear because she was no god, no saint, nothing at all but a corpse clinging to the earth, letting it rot beneath her touch.
"Where is the sense in all this? Braska believed in Yevon's teachings and died for them! Jecht believed in Braska and gave his life for him!"
How simply she answered back to his rage -- no smile, no indulgence. The pure, undiluted truth. "They chose to die... because they had hope."
Jecht's barbed, charming charisma. His laughter, his ignorance – always questioning and wondering like a relentless child. Braska's smile, kind, indulgent – marching onward towards death without hesitation or horror. Auron could no longer turn to avoid either sight. They haunted him. The memories spurned his body to act, to attack -- like a wound, he seethed.
The silence after the damnation was of a different breed than all the silences before – it was the silence of determination, the honed necessity to live, to carry on, born from the ashes of hope and ambition. Like an infant he crawled from Spira's mother. Now he was the corpse clinging to the earth, letting it rot beneath his touch.
But he could not die yet. In the words of Jecht, he placed absolute hope.
"I understand what you're saying, Auron. I'll find a way to break the cycle."
"You have a plan?"
"Trust me, I'll think of something."
The idea of home was the idea of hope -- there existed no separation between the two. For Jecht, they were one and the same. Auron could see this the moment he and Braska vouched for his freedom in Bevelle, and it became all the more painfully apparent as they traveled together side by side. It was the journey that killed this union, splitting them forever into irreconcilable concepts. Such was a summoner and guardians' privilege, to have the thirst for hope and quest for home reduced to a smokeless decay.
It was as they journeyed north again when Jecht's faith released its swan song. They had stepped into an alcove near the entrance to Bevelle when Jecht broke his unusual, pensive silence. Auron had been waiting for him to speak and tried to brace himself as best he could.
"There's no hope, is there?"
Without first looking at each other to confirm the act, Braska and Auron looked off into the glittering forest. From the covered sky to their shuffling feet, the movement of their gazes hid their lack of surprise, their absence of sympathy – they could feel only pity. They had known this was coming. But all that knowing and all that time to prepare had not hardened them to the awkward, painful moment when Jecht realized for himself. Weakness made their heads and eyes heavy, bending low to the ground.
Pilgrimages are meant to make the summoner strong, and prepare the guardian for both sacrifice and loss.This is the ideal Yevon would like us to believe, when really all that happens is a foolish, inevitable attachment to each other, and to life. Such words would never be in the teachings; Auron would never breathe them aloud.
Jecht continued. "Going home, back to Zanarkand... seeing my boy again. That's what got me going on this trip in the first place. You said there might be a way." His stare hinged itself upon Braska's profile but Auron could see no judgment, no bitterness in the gaze.
Braska's silence was a confession of guilt.
Jecht's fingers pulled at the back of his scalp, his expression an attempt at the usual humor – wry smirk, glinting eyes. The life was gone from his gaze. All his mirth had died long before they reached Macalania; Auron had watched it fall in a trail along the road, though it wouldn't be the sort of trail other eyes could see. They would pass unconcerned with what lay dead beneath them. From village to village, more and more of Jecht became lost, scattered. Who he and Braska now stood before was a man pared down to the barest essential, gutted of hope and distraction. So it was with Braska, with Auron. A summoner and guardians' privilege, to be converted into hollow men.
But still Braska pressed on. Auron felt the briefest, faintest hint of bitterness towards the old friend as he spoke, too muted in his soul to be horrified at the vitriol. "No one else has been able to see the Zanarkand you've described – the Zanarkand you know as home," Braska hedged, forcing himself to smile. "But... just because there's no known way, doesn't mean there isn't one."
Jecht's silence was a scream of doubt.
How many times had those words been uttered here, on this path for peace, this preparation for sacrifice? How many more times would they be said, until someone severed such foolish hope at the root? If only I could live to see it for myself. Auron turned to face the road ahead, keeping his eyes low to the ground, counting the lost bits of faith that had fallen along the way. Jecht joined him in this mourning – only Braska carried on with face and gaze to the horizon. Hope, home – they were nowhere, not now, not here.