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for in this sleep of death, what dreams may come?

- - -

The light grew on her slowly, a gentle mist creeping under her eyelids until eventually she flung an arm across them to keep the light out. Her sleep had been peaceful; her dreams, soft. “Braska,” she murmured, “ ec ed sunhehk ymnayto ?” Surely this was some wayward machina, rather than the sun...

There was a stillness, and Ryjna knew this was not the bed she’d known. Fighting the urge to fall back into the long sleep again, she opened her eyes.

The world was mist; soft, grey, formless. There was no bed; no cushion; no signs of any life. She pushed herself into a sitting position. “Braska,” she called, louder, “ frana yna fa? ” Then, remembering her husband’s pidgin Al Bhed, she amended: “Where are you?”

There was no answer, but somehow she did not expect one. Ryjna did not remember the thousands of times she had awoken this way, and yet it felt familiar: familiar enough that she sat, waiting, watching slight soft eddies of strange wind push gusts of grey around her; she felt like a pebble in the middle of an incredibly lazy stream. Occasionally she saw bursts of color from the corner of her eye -- flowers so bright as to be uncanny and unreal, except that when she turned her head, there was nothing save lazy grey currents.

And then she heard a noise and turned, and beyond the flash of endless blossoms and waterfalls, she saw someone - someone she recognized, and with that recognition the memories of the last (thousand) times they’d done this came back, and her shoulders sagged involuntarily as she murmured, “Braska, oui yht ouin tyshat Farplane.”

Annat sat down beside her with an exaggerated exhale and said, almost cheerfully, “ Oui ghuf ra lyh'd rayn oui.

“You’re right,” Ryjna said in the common tongue, with a soft smile. “He was never great at our tongue.”

“Is that why you speak it here?” Annat asked. Her braids were looped round in a knot, beads escaping and tinkling as she gestured. “I never remember where I am until I find you.”

“And I never remember until you come, cecdan .” She smiled, because even though Annat always reminded her that she was dead, and some piece of her was on the Farplane, and Braska was gone to her -- Annat was Annat, lively and cheerful wife of her own beloved brother, and some small piece of life still clung to her, mejamo-uha ; Ryjna’s sorrow always lifted somewhat in these brief moments between their eternal sleep. Eternal Calm, she thought at Braska, and wondered why he had not yet shown up in this Farplane of his - living or dead, he should have come to seek her out by now.

“And yet you still speak to him.” Annat pulled her knees up, wrapping her arms around them. “ Eh draen duhkia, ” she added, with a wink.

His tongue,” Ryjna corrected her. She shrugged. “I know I am tied here because of him, and because of our daughter. This is not an Al Bhed place. If he can hear me, I would speak to him, in the unlikely event that he might respond.”

Annat laughed, a bright burst against the grey. “Well, Braska,” she said, taking particular care with her vowels - Annat’s common tongue had been as rough as Braska’s Al Bhed, she remembered, although this Farplane rendered it somewhat smoother - “We are here, in this cdnyhkan'c place. And I and my family are Al Bhed, and should not be tied here. What say you?”

Ryjna could not stop her laugh, a soft giggle that was half-sob. “Oh, cecdan , do you think we will see today?”

There were times Ryjna woke to the long slow flow of time’s eddies over her, and normally she fell back to sleep without much recall of the moment. There were other times she and Annat found each other, and spoke, and then slowly succumbed back to the long sleep of death. And then, few but as special and bright as jewels, were the times that the grey mists peeled themselves back somewhat and let the dead see, in truth, the living ones whose memories formed their Farplane shapes.

Annat tugged her knees in closer, a wistful sigh escaping. “I would see my Rikku, and... my Cid’s yhege, her darling and ridiculous Brother. I would see them both.”

“I would see my Yuna,” Ryjna said softly. Her Yuna, her gem, their pride and joy and hope -- she had not seen either of them, Braska or Yuna, and yet she was stuck here in their Farplane -- “Well,” she said, breathing slowly through the sudden burst of rage. “We sit here, in the cdnyhkan'c Farplane, speaking their tongue. Maybe we’ll be given something in return.”

Annat laughed, a sharp sound with barbs.

The two women sat crosslegged, next to each other. There was not much to do - not much else, truly, no options remaining when one remembered they were within the sleep of death. Annat had raged, their first few (hundred) times, but she had always been fiercer and brighter, mejamo-uha . Ryjna had been the more solemn one; it was what had drawn her to Braska, the deep peace he wore beneath Yevon’s raiments, the undercurrents of grace and faith she had found beneath the trappings. Annat’s clever mind had captured her restless brother Cid; and Ryjna had folded and backed away, turned out of her Home for whisperings of a deeper truth she’d found between herself and Braska.

They’d dreamt their child - their Yuna, her tiny gem, their beacon of hope - would bring peace to Spira, reuniting the Al Bhed and Yevon’s church into a front so mighty Sin would break against her walls. They’d glorified over her - her first steps, her staggered sentences in hybrid common tongue and Al Bhed, her clever questions. She’d inherited her father’s gentle heart and her mother’s silent steel, and somewhat else besides - she and Braska had often looked at each other over Yuna’s precocious head and wondered.

And then, instead of their laughing bed-tousled dreams… she’d been killed by Sin. And Braska had left on pilgrimage. And now she sat here in the Farplane, waiting for Braska to appear - waiting for anything to come to her, waiting for anything to happen. For the dead, it was enough to wait.

But to her surprise, behind her she heard a familiar gentle sound, and she and Annat turned at the same time.

A new woman, stumbling as if unused to the mists, was approaching them. Her face was afraid, but as she looked up and saw them she smiled as if in relief and called out, “Hello there - can you help me?”

Ouin Farplane cruimt mayja ic ymuha ,” Annat muttered, but then she raised her voice in a friendly call in common: “Not sure we can help, but we’re friendly, at least!”

The new person stumbled through the last of it, brushing a hand frantically over her face as if she’d walked through a spiderweb, and plunged to her knees beside them, breathing hard as if she’d run a race. “I just - I have no idea where I am! What sort of place is this? And do you know where Jecht is?”

Something plucked at Ryjna’s memories like the low string of a kiedyn , and she shifted somewhat, closing her eyes to fight the ebb of the grey clouds around them.

“My name is Annat,” her cecdan said beside her, “and this is Ryjna - don’t mind her oddities. Oui tuh'd cbayg Al Bhed, tu oui ?”

“Huh?” The new woman answered the question with her chirp and shrug. “My name’s Merilee. I’m, you know, Jecht’s wife?”

That sense of familiarity plucked at her memories again, and Ryjna opened her eyes. The woman was unfamiliar to her - accent and face far different than her Spiran memories, and even her form was fainter, as if she was some different kind of manifestation. She reached out her hand and touched the woman’s arm, and the words came to her tongue: “You’re a dream,” she said, surprised. “A dreamer. The dream. Tnays-vyodr.

Annat shot her a sharp angled look and turned back to the poor woman, whose expression had turned downward. “Merilee, what’s the last thing you remember?”

“What?” Merilee was small, her expressions open and fearful; it put Ryjna in mind of a small fieldmouse, starting at the brightness of the sun. “I’m not sure. I’ve been so - something happened to my husband, I haven’t seen him in a year. And he’s Jecht, see, if he was okay there’s no way he could stay away from the limelight that long, so I knew something had happened. And I had just - I knew there was nothing I could do, I’m nothing compared to him, and for a while I was worried about our Tidus but then that Auron came along to take care of him and I knew I could just - I could just let go…”

She trailed off, but Ryjna closed her eyes again, because the name Auron had finally spiraled something out of her memory. “I know a Jecht,” she said slowly, and opened her eyes suddenly at the fierce clutch at her arm. “I do not know if it’s your Jecht.”

“Blitzball star, Zanarkand Abes?” Merilee’s small face was suddenly alight with admiration and worship, and Ryjna felt a small pang for this poor small women so wrapped up in her husband’s sake. “You’d know him if you saw him.”

“Merilee,” Ryjna began, and she didn’t know how to finish. She met Annat’s eyes beyond the woman’s basking gaze. “ Y syh hysat Jecht fymgat dra pilgrimage fedr Braska, yht y syh lymmat Auron,” she said.

Annat’s eyes sharpened, then turned on Merilee and became even more steely. “They will show us,” she said, her voice hard and flat; “if the three of us are here, and mehgat drnuikr these Yevonite pnugah things, we had paddan be able to vilgehk see something ypuid our families! Kutcvuncygah Yevon ryc myet rec heavy hand upon us yht E vun uha ys tired uv this cylg uv cred!

Merilee recoiled, understanding only half the words but all of the emotion; Ryjna choked back a wild laugh, because only her mejamo-uha cecdan would challenge gods that were not hers. “Annat,” she hissed, but then stopped.

“Your rage is worth something to this Yevon-god,” she murmured, to which Annat hissed back, “ Pycdynt, ” and Merilee said intelligently, “Huh?”

The small triangle of space between them was clearing of the grey mist. The three women shifted, eagerly, staring at first into a field of brightly-colored flowers so vivid and sharp it hurt their faded vision.

“What is this?” Merilee asked, wonder and awe in her voice.

“This is what has happened,” Ryjna said gently, “in the time you have died.”

“Died?” Merilee squawked in disbelief, but then she had shoved half of her fist into her mouth around her whimper.

Three men, on a field of crumbling marble, under a night sky. Her Braska - Ryjna’s heart tugged; he looked so weary, but serene with it, as if he were nearing some final destination. A man in red she knew as Auron, a half-faded memory of a disgraced Yevonite priest, and laughing with Braska that they might be friends. And-

“Jecht,” Merilee whispered, her voice reverent around her fist.

Braska said something, and bowed his head. The man in red stormed away, but the other - Jecht - said something, slowly, and then knelt before Braska, his face turned upwards. Merilee let loose a short sharp sob; Jecht’s face was alight, looking at Braska like redemption.

The man in red returned, said something fierce, and knelt before Braska as well - but his face was to Jecht and his expression was condemnation.

Jecht turned, and put his hand on the man’s shoulder. “Take care of my son,” he said, the words rippling out clearly to the three watching women.

“Oh,” Merilee said like an afterthought. “Auron… you mean Tidus?”

Auron did something else, but the scene faded, and Ryjna soon recognized the Calm Lands - recognized it because she had dreamt this scene, dreamt it and dreaded it, in life and in death: Braska’s small figure standing tall and confident at the edge of the cliffs, seas before and rocks behind, staff in his hand and his face already glowing with the incantation.

Beside him, Jecht’s body slumped, a small still pile of flesh and fabric.

“Jecht!” Merilee’s cry was involuntary, as was her forward flinch: Annat grabbed one wrist as Ryjna grabbed another, and they watched as the vision below them flashed.

Ryjna’s heart wrenched through the whole Final Summoning, and yet, it seized and sighed when the grey mist filmed and subsided around an image of Yuna: her Yuna, their Yuna, laughing as she dodged some other child’s giggling advances around the solid legs of an unknown Ronso.

Annat choked, then, when they next saw her Rikku perched atop a half-finished machina, still sparking battery as she smacked it with a wrench, and behind her Brother crowed something in Al Bhed the mist did not translate.

And then Merilee sobbed, again, sagging against the hold they had on her, as the mist finally showed some small blond child, happily running its mouth upwards while the man in red - Auron - listened with a look of patience, his eyes somewhere out towards the horizon.

The opening faded over, to the sharply-vibrant flower-field, and then to nothing.

Ryjna sat back onto her heels; Annat hissed in a breath sharply, while Merilee collapsed to her side, tears audible in the silence. She closed her eyes; pressed the heels of her hands into them with a sob. Her Yuna. Her darling Yuna; an orphan, she suspected now, from glimpses: Braska, triumphant and fierce and yet yielding in it, lenient, bearing the final blow across his neck while bowed as if in prayer. “ Syo dra cyhtc tysh Yevon rescamv! ” she spat, under her breath, and if Annat heard her, she had the grace to ignore it. She felt her Braska was dead, but - he was not here with her, and as such, she could keep a small breath of hope alive that he had lived, although her heart told her otherwise.

“What is happening?” Merilee sobbed, wrapping herself into a tiny curl against the grey mist, and again her form seemed to fade in and out.

Drec Yevon dnyb ryc ahchynat ic! ” Annat spat, and she leapt to her feet violently. She seemed the only one who had kept her spirit -- but then, Ryjna thought, Annat’s family seemed intact and well: no death, no slumber…

Sleep would be wise, Ryjna thought. The three of them, to return to sleep, curled about each other - to fade back out of this sharp cruel reality, to let time smooth it over until the next time they awoke… It seemed sad, but it seemed a gift as well. Even now, she found herself curling around Merilee, resting a gentle hand on the sobbing woman’s hip.

“Not yet,” said a voice, familiar: and Ryjna heard the words both in common and Al Bhed. Annat paused, her face turning; and Merilee rolled over, wiping her face with a clumsy wrist, and said - her voice thick with tears - “Auron?”

The man in red came out of the mist, approaching them. He was not smiling, but his mannerism seemed kind. He knelt before Marilee, taking her hands in his, and then looked up at Annat and Ryjna. His eyes looked distant, as if he had seen eternities in that moment, looking at Braska. Ryjna felt something settle within her; she had not known the man in red had died as well.

“It’s time for dreams,” said the man in red, “but it is not time to go back to sleep.” The words echoed in her head, and Ryjna looked up at him; he looked at her fondly, wryly, and she realized this was another man who had known her Braska as intimately as she had: she smiled, and he bowed his head once, quick, an acknowledgement.

He bent before Merilee, and whatever he said to her was not audible, but the poor woman clutched at his hands, and wept, and in the end when he left her she sat up, wiping roughly at her face as if she wished to bid her tears farewell.

Auron bent before Annat, and whatever he told her made her laugh: bright and fierce, an Al Bhed war cry from the depths of this grey space. “I knew she would,” Annat said as Auron stood. “My unstoppable little Rikku.”

Then Auron bent before her, and Ryjna felt a shyness: she was Braska’s wife, and yet her absence was the force that had sent him to this too-tragic end. She met Auron’s eyes, expecting a battle -- and instead saw acceptance, and an understanding, another being that had known another Braska to a different low. She saw her Yuna, as well, and gave him a half-hearted smile.

“Do not go to sleep,” Auron said. He pressed a hand to her face, his thumb caressing her forehead. “I will need you, and your dreams, before the end.”