It wasn't easy—not at first. And even though there was still a residual sting every time her mind began to wander off the task at hand, she would always force herself back to the present and push another foot forward. This was the sole reason she kept busy constantly; traveling all hours of the night and day by any means necessary, tending to the wounded, standing guard over encampments and even making herself available for strategy meetings held to re-enforce the safety of the civilians.
There was no standing still.
Even now, whilst the clergy were all but maiming one another, she kept a calm exterior so as not to call her ability into question; she could not falter in the face of chaos, despite her own inner turmoil. Fragments of their heated debate had been caught, and while they simply could not come to agreeable terms, the unintentional vexed expression she displayed did not go unnoticed as Baralai, himself, pointed out amongst the raising voices.
“Was there something you would like to add, Priestess?”
To this, Yuna simply looked up at the man she had befriended not too long ago. His face worn and brows furrowed, she could only empathize with him for but just a moment before formulating a response he could cling to. Of course, this brought the entire room to a hush, and all eyes fell to her. She reminded herself to blink away the unbroken stare she had held with Baralai, and instead, let her eyes fall to the table all of them stood around; it was the only thing that separated them from each other, and for that, she was eternally grateful.
“I would like to offer my apologizes to the council beforehand,” A shallow breath was taken as she paused, and when she finally lifted her sights to the men around the table, the faintest smile took her lips when she began to speak again. “While I agree that extraordinary measures have been taken to secure the smaller villages in Spira, I fail to understand why it was called into question in the first place. Should support be withdrawn, I fear Spira could be in much more danger than it is now.”
A few of the men in favor of withdrawing the troops from places like Besaid and Kilika quietly gasped and mumbled their disagreement under their breath, and it was obvious there were a few sideways glances made in her direction. Still, she stood her ground and maintained a neutral expression while furthering her explanation.
“We are meant to protect the people, are we not?” Letting her sights connect with each and every person in room as she spoke. “How can you justify withdrawing the troops and continue seeking support from those that no longer feel safe, simply to protect the walls of Bevelle? It is the core, yes, but the heart of Spira is comprised of ALL the cities and villages—not just one.”
Every word—every sound and breath had finally been suspended into silence, as they could only look on speechlessly at the woman who gently chided them for acting so selfishly. They simply couldn't argue their way of her more than valid points, and as she wrung her hands together...almost nervously, Yuna finally allowed her shoulders to slacken a fraction of an inch before settling a somber gaze in Baralai's direction. He, too, struck her with surprise, but maintained his best form despite the countless jaws that would litter the floor if they could.
“Should you continue as you are, Spira would surely flood the streets of Bevelle, seeking refugee inside the walls as a last resort.” A loosely curled fist coming to settle just above the center of her chest and the other falling limply to her left side, the Priestess simply lowered her head and spoke just above a whisper. “If that is all the council requires of myself, then I humbly request leave to go, as I have other pressing matters in which I need to attend to.”
She slowly raised her head just in time to catch the faintest of nods from all members of the council, yet again meeting the stare of Baralai's golden hues at the head of the conference table. An expression was worth a thousand words, and the apologetic, half-hearted smile was all he could offer in return; though, to be sure, the two would speak about it at a later time, and at great lengths. For now, she simply turned on her heel, made her way to the door and exited just as quietly as she came.
It was clear the second she took a breath that the sun had set not all that long ago. The familiar scent hung in the air—that transition between twilight and dusk, where the stars were lazily awakening in the sun's last faded yawn, and the silvery, outstretched arms of the moon moved to embrace the world in a comforting darkness. For a moment or two, Yuna simply stared up to watch the sky move above her. It was as if she could almost feel the earth turn in tandem with the curious world above her, and as she took another breath, a fun dizziness rippled through her entire being. As it did so, a sweet, innocent...almost child-like chuckle slipped from between curved lips as a had raised to sweep stray pieces of silken hair from her eyes.
“We are so driven these days.” Still smiling lips parted to speak just above a whisper. “Too few of us stop to watch the life around us we are trying to save. If we all just...paused every once in a while...”
Inwardly, at least, the Priestess couldn't help but to sigh at how the unbridled beauty of Spira escaped the people who were able to witness it, and she was not guiltless. All the churning chaos and baseless rumors pushing her to every corner of the world, in hopes of calming the restlessness of the people who, in her eyes, needed some sort of beacon amidst the coming storms. Until now, she couldn't hope to recall the last time she had just stopped to drink in even the slightest bit of happiness despite the charms and smiles plastered about her face for her friends.
“Praise be to—“
The voice had cut itself off abruptly, and thankfully so. Not that she would have stopped them before it could be finished, but purely because of the unsettling shiver that mercilessly ran up her spine each time someone spoke of the cursed deity Spira once worshiped. But, more than that, it was the voice, itself, that pierced through her silent reverie in such a way that she was jostled forward ever so slightly.
“—Actually, who do you praise these days, Lady Yuna?”
That cocky, laid back tone was accompanied by a smirk, no doubt. But even he must have known that saying such a thing, bound with the trappings of such deep seeded sarcasm and disdain, would be so hurtful coming from someone like himself—a friend, and an ally.
“I no longer worship anyone or anything, but I should hope you were made aware of this by now; especially considering how fast word of mouth travels.”
“Course I am. But that doesn't change a thing and you know it.” The man scoffed as he paced from side to side just behind her. “Spira follows your every move. They look up to you. They trust you. Hell...I'd wager they'd even worship you if you'd let them.”
The sheer, and unadulterated contempt that spilled from his lips made her blood run cold. For quite some time now, she was made acutely aware of how these dark times had changed everyone around her, including those friends she held in the highest of regards. Though she had fought against that notion from the very beginning, Yuna was being forced to face the music now as she turned to get him in her sights.
“Did you come all this way just to mock me, Gippal?” Folding her hands into one another in a calm disposition at her front. “I had thought better of you given our history.”
“And you should know better than anyone, my lady, that history likes to repeat itself.” The Al Bhed chuckled for a moment before offering the outdated Yevonite bow, as if to further insult her. “But to answer your question, no, I didn't. I was dragged out here against my will. I would call it happenstance...but we both know, at some point, you'd be here. And here you are.”
“I'm here on Lulu's behalf. She's been busy as of late, and it was—“
“Baralai called you in to babysit the toddlers.” Rudely cutting her off and placing both hands on his hips as if to challenge her explanation further. “Lulu might be the mayor of Besaid, but you? You are the one the council and the factions run to every time something short circuits. And they do it because you always come running.”
His words cut deep, leaving her almost winded as the two stood there facing one another. Even for someone as mild mannered as she, biting back the anger she felt or the want to lash back at him was proving to be extremely difficult. Despite her best efforts, she could feel the flaming heat rise in her cheeks as she gave him quite a cross stare. Even still, his arms crossed against his chest and simply let a tense silence settle between them.
As she took a shallow breath and parted her lips to begin formulating some sort of dignified reply to the ghost of a man she thought she once knew, the door to the councils chamber opened, leaving an exaggerated echo in it's wake as Baralai stepped through to welcome the leader of the Machine Faction. He stopped quite suddenly when he noticed that he had unintentionally intruded on some sort of exchange between both his friends. The warm, welcoming smile he adorned only lasted a fraction of a second, and swiftly moving to a more perplexed expression.
“Gippal,” Sheepishly, and almost clumsily stepping forward, but careful not to get directly between the pair. “We're ready for you now, unless you need a few more minutes with Priestess Yuna?”
“Well that all depends on the lady.” Gippal raised a thumb to swipe at his nose and place one hand on his hip to await her response.
A vague shake of her head was all she could seem to muster. There were just...no words to express what she felt about the entire ordeal, and even if there were, she certainly was not going to make a spectacle of their confrontation; it felt far too much like a personal attack, so she made a decision to keep it as such, and deal with it at a later time. Blinking a few times and forcing a smile into her lips, she gave both men a quick, but gracious bow and turned to leave them to their own devices for the time being without uttering another word.
“But that's great news, right, Yunie?” The bubbling blonde leaped in front of her just as she had turned away and going a step further to bend at her waist so that she couldn't shy her eyes away to mull over the conversation.
Despite how cute this display would have normally been, Yuna was struggling to maintain her usual carefree facade that would be enough to pacify her cousin in times such as these. And as much as she tried to slyly avoid those swirling emerald eyes, it was very clear that Rikku wasn't going to give up so easily this time.
“Absolutely.” Feigning a gleeful smile as she straightened her shoulders and nodded in return. “It's nice to see you in high spirits; of course, I never doubted that you would ever let yourself be disheartened in the first place.”
“Hah!” Spinning around and raising her hands in the air, Rikku seemed to become overly animated at the very mention of becoming bogged down by the woes of the world. “You've been gone for far too long, Yunie! I thrive on this kinda thing, ya know? Not that...I'm thrilled about what's been going on, but—“
“It's ok, I knew what you were referring to. You've always been so optimistic even in the grimmest of circumstances—the people need that now more than ever.” Watching her Al Bhed cousin twirl in circles around her, laughing and giggling without what seemed a care in the world, she tried with all her might to get lost in the moment alongside her.
Hands clasped neatly together and resting on the small of her back, the Priestess let the salty breeze gently sway her back and forth and allowed a few small traces of laughter to hiccup past her lips. It was nice to at least try and let herself genuinely enjoy the company of someone who refused to let the world break her stride, but somewhere in the back of her mind, it felt very dishonest.
“You know what you need?” Rikku skidded to a halt and turned to give Yuna her full attention. “A little Gullwing therapy! We'll put that sure fire spark back in you again—you'll see!”
“Nope! You're not about to turn me down now!” Shaking her head with a mischievous grin tugging at her lips and a sparkle in those emerald eyes of hers while grasping hastily for Yuna's hand. “C'mon. Paine and I will whip you back into shape in no time! I promise it'll be a lot more fun than running around trying to save Spira all by yourself!”
“Rikku...you know I can't do that.” Her voice offering no signs of being stern in refusing her cousins proposal, but making sure it came forth in an apologetic manner. “Of course I miss being with you and Paine and the rest of the Gullwings, but...it's just not possible.”
“Anything is possible, Yuna! Geeze...” The Al Bhed let out an exasperated sigh as she released the hold on her hand. “After all that we've done, after all that you've been through, how do you not get that by now? How is it that everybody gets that but you?”
“But I do, Rikku—I really, and truly believe that anything is possible!” Her tone had not raised an octave by much, but it was enough to get her Rikku's attention. “Yes. We achieved things in our lives that no one else thought were possible. If you had come to me four years ago—when I first made the decision to become a summoner—and you told me that I would be standing here today...I-I don't think, deep down, that I would have believed it. And yet...here I am.”
The two stood tucked away from the prying eyes of passerby’s, staring each other down silently as their conversation started to sink in to one another. Luca was by no means quiet, what with all the blitzball season in full swing, but neither of them heard the cheers from the stadium or the random strangers waltzing up and down vendor square to purchase banners for their favored teams. Right now the two women were in their own little impenetrable bubble struggling to see eye to eye.
“I have obligations—“
“To no one except yourself! You're allowed to be a little selfish after what you've done, Yunie!”
“Stop!” Feeling something inside herself crack under all the pressure, the quiet and demure Priestess could not help the solitary tear that found it's way down her cheek as her breaking voice escaped between her quivering lips. “I cannot be selfish anymore, Rikku; my obligations are to the people, not to myself as I once thought them to be. You, Gippal and every one else that has lectured me into the ground...you want me to wash my hands of it, but I can't. And the reason?”
She paused briefly to take a cleansing breath and straighten herself out. A small hand raised to wipe the salty trail the tear had left behind and then catch another tear threatening to fall before smoothing out the front of her kimono. When finally feeling a bit more composed, her head raised so that her eyes met with Rikku's and fixed her lips into that signature smile of hers.
“I was the last one. The very last summoner to defeat Sin, and I lived. The people look to me, not because they're expecting me to make all their problems disappear, but because we are symbolic of hope in the eyes of despair. I have no right to rob them of that...and I would think that the people who stood by me through it all....would at least understand that if nothing else.”
“Do you ever wish that you could go back? Do things...all over again?”
“What kind of a question is that?”
“A simple one, really.”
“I guess that all depends.”
“How far back you're talking.”
“I suppose I didn't think about that.”
“But, I guess if I had the choice, I'd say no—I wouldn't go back and change a thing.”
“You shouldn't have to ask me why. You should just...already know.”
Untouched. It was as if time, itself, had not laid a finger on a single thing since that day. Splintered pieces of wood littered the beach in such a way that she had to navigate through the wreckage very cautiously. Curiously, it was almost as if she could still smell the sulfur lingering in the air the closer she came to what she determined to be the center. The boat—or more accurately, what was left of it—laid on its side, with a single, tattered piece of cloth that once made up an entire sail waving lazily in the wind. And as she cleared the last obstacle, an almost broken sigh was pushed from her nose while pushing pieces of windblown locks from her face.
“I keep coming back here searching for answers.” Turning herself around slowly in circles as she spoke quietly to herself. “When I think of all that's currently happening, my heart keeps calling me back here to this place. But...why?”
Honest and open to a fault. That had always been her reputation through and through in the public eye. But standing here in this very place and wearing the sand beneath her boots as she continued to spin around and around, nobody could know of the awful things that took place here. Well, almost no one. She had begged and pleaded with such an intense sense of urgency that it was not to be repeated...that the only other person that witnessed it couldn't refuse, and therefore, agreed to a vow of silence.
“This place never leaves me. I see it when I do not wish to—it even haunts my dreams. But the worst part of all...is waking up and not being able to tell myself that it was just a dream....or a nightmare.”
As she fell silent, Yuna instinctively closed her eyes and became unwillingly frozen in place. Right arm moving almost protectively moving to rest against her stomach, she felt a strong wave of nausea that forced her to her knees. The sheer intensity of the illness alone caused her to become stupefied; clutching handfuls of sand in her fists, the Priestess fought off the retching urges by forcing herself to breathe as calmly as her body would allow.
“O-Once...was a gift...” Feeling her body sinking lower and lower to the sand beneath her and, in each second that passed, she began to curl into herself feverishly. “Twice....a....miracle....”
What little of this island that she could make had begun blending together in colorless blurs. As if some otherworldly force held her there against her will, she laid helpless among the shipwrecked vessel, left with only the memories of what transpired on that devastating night and very little hope to overcome it. And so it had been each and every time she returned. Anywhere but here she learned to control and overcome, but not this harrowing purgatory.
“Hey, third times a charm, right?”
“I'm fine. See?”
“I'm being serious!”
“Alright, alright. I...promise I won't say anything.”
The voices were so clear and undistorted, almost as if the ones speaking them were right by her ears. So familiar and distinct that she laid along the shore paralyzed with the chilling realization that she had heard the conversation between them before, like a sphere movie she had memorized all the lines to. But the longer those voices carried on, the more she noticed her impaired vision growing, falling faster into a darkened void. A muffled sob spilled forth against the sand in time with a much clearer one, and as those voices began to raise, the words spoken were like those coming from someone submerged under water.
“I promised you, didn't I?”
“Not a soul.”
“—Ever has to know.”
“Let me go....”
...From this torment.
“Has no one seen or heard from her?”
“I shoulda gone with her! Didn't I tell ya, Lu?”
With a light, but precise, wave of her hand, the raven haired black mage managed to silence her husband before his emotions got the best of him. Though she shared some of his concern, Lulu managed to remain frighteningly calm in the presence of the unknown messenger from Bevelle. The three of them stood just at the entrance of Besaid's village, and in a very discreet manner—save for the smoke threatening to emerge from Wakka's ears—they had been informed of Priestess Yuna's rather sudden and unexplained disappearance. An arm resting gently across her midsection and the other coming to cup her chin, the mayor began to further press for anything useful.
“Where was she last seen?”
“I believe there was mention of the Priestess speaking with Gippal and Lord Baralai just before her departure.”
“You believe there was mention?” A very thin, dark eyebrow raising at the mans chosen response. “If you wish to return to Bevelle in one piece, I suggest you start offering up factual information rather than offending me with silly little rumors.”
A visible streak of sweat ran from under the poor messengers helmet as he gulped from Lulu's piercing glower. Ruby eyes that continued to narrow with each nervous breath he took seemed to be locked on with no signs of letting up, but he bravely acknowledged her ultimatum with as much enthusiasm as he could muster given the circumstances.
“The brief interlude was confirmed by Baralai himself; please forgive my poor phrasing, mayor. The last anyone has seen of the Priestess was when she excused herself, and the men retreated themselves into the councils chambers to continue on with the meeting.”
“In the future it might be wise to lead with concrete and finite evidence.” Letting her arms cross loosely against her chest and shifting elegantly to a more relaxed pose before the men. “If not out of the respect for the persons you are addressing, but for your benefit as well.”
Wakka winced a little as he rubbed the back of his neck nervously, letting his sights drop to his feet that shuffled sheepishly against the ground. There really was no easy way to handle a scolding from his wife, and no one else knew better than he how painful it could feel on the receiving end. While she was right and raised valid points, Wakka couldn't help but to sympathize with the young man that was quick to excuse himself from the pair.
“So, Lu,” Hesitantly following his wife as she turned and quietly made her way toward the temple. “Where do you think Yuna headed off to this time?”
Silence was the answer he had gotten in return, and that was almost never a good sign with Lulu. It meant one of two things: that she was processing information to formulate an accurate response, or, that she was very cross and plotting the ways to make the person who invoked such feelings, pay. And, when it came to Yuna, it was likely that both scenarios were entirely possible. Which meant he had to somehow defuse the situation.
“I'm not sure, but I'm not the least bit alarmed, either.” Letting her retort smoothly pass through her lips as if nothing were amiss. Ascending the steps to the temple, she could clearly hear the sputtering of her husband as he scrambled to place himself boldly before her. “Yuna is more than capable of taking care of herself, Wakka. Have a little faith, hm?”
“I-I do, ya! But...but what if, you know, something happens, ya? We're her guardians—we're supposed to protect her all the way!”
“Yes, we are her guardians. And, although that is something that will never change, we are now a different kind of guardian—if she needs our support, we will give it. But I know her well enough to know that this is something she'd rather we not involve ourselves in; at least until she asks.”
“But what about Sin?! She was being asked to do things she didn't want to do! They'll pester her into doing the dirty work and then walk all over her like they did before!”
“She will do the right thing. It may not make a lot of sense now, but I choose to believe that when the time is right, we will come to know what it is she's withholding from us.”
“Eh?” Scratching his head while giving off the most obvious of confused expressions. “Whaddya mean, 'withholding'? This isn't the time to be keeping secrets, Lu!”
A hand coming to her forehead as she lowered her head with a sigh, Lulu simply walked around her husband and continued on toward the temple. Stopping just before the door, her head turned enough to catch Wakka still trying to figure out what had just happened and hid the soft laugh that resulted from the spectacle.
“In many ways, Yuna has grown into a very bright and intelligent woman. But she's still got a lot to learn in the art of deception, however, I must say she's getting a little better—with some of us, at least.”