Three weeks into Yuna’s Calm, Rikku stood on the deck of the Celsius with her brand new arm. It whirred softly as she pointed it at her father, glaring with her one remaining eye. “You have to let me go to Zanarkand, dad! They could still be there!”
Cid rubbed his bald head and sighed. “I want ‘em to be alive, too, Rikku, but three people went down there, and none of ‘em came back. We know what happened to Yuna, but--”
“But the other two could still be alive! Or we could find something out about the Final Aeon! Or...or...or I don’t know! We have a brand new airship, and I have a brand new arm, we’ve gotta do something with ‘em!”
“No. I lost my niece. I’m not losing my daughter, too, and that’s final.”
Rikku made a frustrated groan and stomped over to the pilot’s chair. She poked her brother, Brother, in the arm. “Lryhka dra luinca du Zanarkand!”
“Hu.” He shook his head.
“Bluh! Why not!?”
“Father says we can’t. It’s too dangerous, Rikku.”
Rikku flicked him in the back of the head. “UGH! I can’t believe you two! You just...just gave up! Yunie wouldn’t have wanted us to give up!”
Cid looked down, a dismal expression twisting onto his usually gruff face. “She gave up, kid.”
Rikku looked at her father, but he refused to meet her gaze. Brother, and the rest of the Al Bhed on the bridge were all trying to seem very busy with whatever they happened to be working on. “Okay! Okay.” Rikku threw her arms in the air, a whir and clink accompanying the motion. “She gave up. But I can’t. I won’t. Not after everything we’ve lost to get this far--all the people who have died--all those Ronso! My friends. No. I’m going, and if you don’t want me to jump, then you’d better land.”
“Rikku....it’s the Calm.” Cid approached his daughter. “Sure, maybe this wasn’t the way we wanted it. But what Yuna wanted...it can’t be done. I think this shows it.”
Her eye went wide, and then narrowed. “Are...are you even my Dad? Are you Al Bhed? What, are you saying we just LET Sin happen again? Don’t try to stop the pilgrimages? Let people like Yunie die, over and over again?”
“The only damn good trying to stop it did was getting our Home destroyed and my niece and a lot of good people dead.” Cid put his hand on her shoulder. “I know when I’m beat, kid, and you should, too. We need to rebuild Home. Rethink things. Nothing’s gained from rushing into the hornet’s nest.”
Rikku pulled away. “No. We have to try. I’m going to try, with or without you.”
She moved to the door, and then turned around. “And another thing!” She pointed at Brother. “No one buys that you’re not losing your hair like Dad! That shaved pattern’s ridiculous!” Rikku walked right through the door, and wished she could slam it. Instead, it closed just as it had opened, with a mechanical whoosh.
There was a moment of stunned silence, before Cid turned to his son. “Ec dryd dnia ypuid ouin ryen?”
Brother’s eyes were on the controls. “E tuh'd fyhd du dymg ypuid ed.”
“Lousy good for nothing...UGH!” Rikku punched the wall, leaving a fairly sizable dent. “Ow! Ow ow ow!” She pulled her hand back, and then kicked the offending wall. “Stupid wall!” She stumbled back, and fell right on her butt in the middle of the hallway.
“You’re blocking the hall.”
Rikku looked up, and saw a pair of disapproving red eyes framed by a messy silver fauxhawk. She lowered her eyes again, now at level with her boots and garters. “Too bad, it’s my sulking hallway, now, go away.”
Paine nudged her with her boot. “Move.”
“Nooooooooooo.” Rikku lowered her head into her knees and pulled them up to her chest. “Go awaaaaaay.”
She tried to edge past Rikku, and then sighed, and instead knelt down next to her. “Don’t make me care about this.”
Rikku peaked up at Paine with her one remaining eye. “Care about what?”
“Whatever this is.”
“You might as well not. No one else seems to!” RIkku made an exasperated noise. “Not even my own family!”
“This is exactly what I meant.” Paine stood and started to walk away.
“Wait!” Rikku half-scrambled, half-stumbled to her feet. “You’re that soldier-person who we picked up, right?”
“Because I could use a bodyguard! And someone to help steer my airship!” Rikku ran up to Paine and grabbed her arm. “Come on! We need to hurry if we’re going to be able to make it to Zanarkand with good time!”
Rikku started to pull Paine down the hall. Paine did not move with her and just let Rikku drag her. “Wait.”
“What? Oh!” Rikku did not stop. “I can pay you. I have tons of money. For some reason, fiends drop it by the boatload.”
“No. What are we doing?” Paine gave her a level look.
“We’re going to Zanarkand and we’re going to see if any of my friends are still alive and also try to figure out how to stop Sin forever!” She had now pulled the other girl halfway down the hall.
“....I told you not to make me care about this.” Paine grumbled and then moved with Rikku for the first time, towards her airship.
“This is a deathtrap, not an airship.”
“You’re so grouchy!” Rikku glanced back at Paine as she approached the Centigrade. “Are you always this grouchy all the time?”
“Look, it’s not that bad!” Rikku patted the front seat. “You can even drive it!”
Paine glanced at the driver seat, and then at the passenger seat behind it. “The driver’s seat’s the most dangerous part of it.”
“What? Nooo no no of course not!” She gave Paine an extremely sheepish look. “What makes you say that?”
Paine stared at Rikku. She sighed. “Okay, okay, fine, it’s the most explosion-prone in theory. But I’m the mechanic! If it explodes then you need me to fix it.”
“If it explodes, we’ll probably die.”
“There it is again! Grouch grouch grouch!”
Paine straddled the pilot seat and started the machine up. It rumbled to life and produced a worryingly large amount of black smoke.
Meanwhile, Rikku ran over to the access hangar’s main doors and briefly fiddled with a console. It beeped a warning tone at her. Rikku punched it, and red lights came on overhead, signaling the doors’ slow opening. Her father’s voice suddenly blared over an intercom, but Rikku only paid cursory attention to it as she rushed over to the passenger seat, just as the Centigrade flared fully to much-less-smoky-life.
The maybe slightly deathtrappy airship shot out of the Celsius and into the early evening beyond, stalling for just a moment before turning and rocketing towards Zanarkand at blinding speeds.
The Behemoth fell in a cloud of Pyreflies. Paine stepped back, and braced her sword against her shoulder. She glanced over at Rikku. “Not bad.”
“Oh, neat!” She dusted off her metal knuckles. “That’s the first kind of positive thing you said! I must have done great.”
“I said not bad.” Paine started down, deeper into the dome, towards the Cloister of Trials. “Don’t let it go to your head.” A reptile leapt from a nearby corridor, and was immediately cut down by a swipe of Paine’s blade. “Honestly, I expected more danger.”
“All the Pyreflies left after Yunie….” Rikku closed her eye and sighed. “After Yunie did the Final Aeon thing, most of the Pyreflies on Gagazet and in Zanarkand got pulled into it--or they got dispersed or something. I’m not really a expert on that sorta thing.”
Rikku opened her eye, and saw that Paine was staring right at her, with that same intensity she was slowly starting to realize came standard-issue on her. “Do you really think you can save Spira? For good?”
“Yes. I have to, because Yunie believed. We all believed, I think. But I have to.” Rikku gave Paine the only smile she could muster. “Yunie needs to be the last one to die for this.”
Rikku blinked when Paine suddenly drew her sword. She started to turn when the warrior grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled her back behind her. She did not notice the problem until she heard a familiar, deep voice.
“You’re too late.” Auron said, behind where Rikku had just been standing. “Yuna has spoken to Yunalesca. She chose her path. And so did he.”
“Where is he? What happened to him? And you?” Rikku did not pull out of Paine’s grip. Paine lowered her sword only slightly.
Auron gave a short, dry chuckle. Pyreflies danced around him, and where they were their thickest, Auron’s body was simply not there. “He followed in his father’s footsteps. Sin is dead, and, like Jecht, he has taken his place.”
Rikku stared at him, expression blank, despairing, before turning frustrated. “Oh, that idiot! That jerk! He probably volunteered!” Tears fell from both her good eye and vacant one, the other tinged red. “He kept talking about coming back and I believed him and I believed Yunie could find a way and...and…”
“There is no way.” Auron said, and as he did so, the Pyreflies gathered and whirled around him. Paine tightened the grip on her sword. “Our nature, it seems, will not allow us to challenge the reign of Yu Yevon.” There was something visible, under the Pyrflies, now--thick armor. He seemed to be growing, looming even more than his already impressive, natural height. “We could never challenge it.”
Rikku’s eye widened. “No no no, not you, too!”
Where Auron had been was now a massive figure of red and black armor, holding a rather familiar sword.
“Fight or run?” Paine asked, looking back to Rikku.
Rikku looked to Paine. “I don’t know.”
“Fight or run?” She repeated, a hint of panic creeping into her voice.
“We can’t leave him like--” Rikku’s voice cut out into a yelp as Paine shoved her aside. The giant’s blade came down in an earth-shattering slam, destroying an ancient wall and leaving a sizable furrow where the girls had once been.
“Fight or run.” Paine’s eyes stayed on the Adamantine Giant.
“...We can’t leave him like this. I owe him more than that.” Rikku dusted herself off and got into a fighting stance. “We fight.
“Even if he is super huge.
“....With an even bigger sword.
“And probably impenetrable armor.”
The giant lifted its sword again, and slammed it towards Rikku once again. This time, she dodged on her own, stumbling a bit from both the shock of the blow and also her own clumsiness, magnified by the unaccustomed weight her heavier arm.
Paine charged forward and leapt on the giant’s arm before sinking her blade into its wrist. The Unsent attempted to smash her with its free hand, but it was distracted when Rikku tossed a sparking ball into its face, which then exploded in a bright flash of fire, engulfing the entirety of its head.
Paine vaulted off of the arm and onto the ground next to Rikku. The smoke cleared to a mostly-unmarked Adamantine Giant who lifted its sword with both arms and then stabbed it down into the ground. Rikku’s eye went wide, and she grabbed Paine and immediately pulled her back, running as glowing circles appeared and immediately erupted upwards in spikes of energy. The final burst of energy sent Rikku sprawling, but not before she knocked Paine forward, out of the explosive radius.
Rikku groaned on the ground and pushed herself to her knees. She had a few broken ribs and a bleeding forehead, to say nothing of the minor burns on her legs.
Paine stood up, and held her blade up in front of her. She looked down at Rikku, and then back at the Adamantine Giant before closing her eyes. “No running. No mercy.”
Her sword glowed black, and she dashed forward, eyes shooting open. She was a blur as she leapt, and slashed into the Unsent from the front, immediately turning and slashing the other way, rending deep, glowing gouges in its armor with every pass. She skidded to a halt in her previous position, her back to the giant, and gave her sword one final swipe against the air.
Each one of the glowing gouges detonated in a small explosion. She turned back to the giant, sword still ready.
The Adamantine Giant was damaged, but if it felt it, it was not showing it. Rikku pulled herself to her feet and downed a hi-potion.
“He’s about as tough as he was when he was alive. Well, alive-ish, is a better term. You know what I mean.” Rikku stepped up next to Paine. “Nice work, by the way!”
“I have a lot of aggression to work out.”
The giant raised its sword once again.
She gave Rikku a glance. Rikku nodded, and reached into a pouch. She crumbled up a chocobo’s feather into a Hypello potion and shook the mixture up. The vial burst, and shrouded both Rikku and Paine in a glowing aura.
The blade came down, and Rikku and Paine scattered in a blur before it could make contact. Rikku ran to its foot and gave several rapid-fire punches, actually going as far as to dent its armor. Paine ran up its leg and slashed into its torso in several key places, causing an armor plate to open slightly and expose the inner hollow of its insides. Rikku jumped over the kick her attacks earned, and launched a grenade into the opening when she reached her apex.
A blast echoed from inside the Adamantine Giant, and it shuddered slightly from the explosion. Paine slashed at the remainder of the supports for the half-blasted armor plating, and it fell to the side, revealing a pulsing red “heart” inside, an organ that had no clear purpose and was held in place by a bizarre, fleshy web.
Paine landed on the ground, behind Rikku. Rikku knelt and readied her hands in a boost position. Paine immediately vaulted onto her and was launched upward, sword outstretched. The blade slammed into the heart, and then Paine ripped her blade free, and dropped.
The giant stumbled back, and fell in a cloud of Pyreflies.
When they dispersed, Auron was once again visible in the cloud. He held his chest in pain, and clenched onto something tightly in his good hand.
“Heh. Impressive.” He limped towards them, and held out his hand. “Maybe I was wrong. She wanted you to have this.”
Rikku pushed past Paine and took the sphere from Auron.
He gave them a small smile, and lifted his jug to his lips. Auron nodded, and turned to walk away. As he did, the Pyreflies making him up slowly began to disperse.
“There’s one more secret for you to uncover, here. Make Yuna proud. This is your story, now, Rikku. End the spiral of death once and for all.”
And with that, Auron faded away, the last of his Pyreflies dispersing.
Rikku looked down at the sphere. She brushed away the tears, and looked deeper into the ruins. “C’mon. We got work to do.”
“You are not Summoners.” Yunalesca said, voice gentle, yet confused. “There is nothing for you, here, especially as Sin has already been destroyed, and is already sleeping once again.”
Rikku pretended not to gape at the very pretty, scantily clad woman before them. “Oh! Sorry! Could you repeat that?”
Paine rolled her eyes.
“This is the chamber where the Fayth of the Final Aeon is created.” Yunalesca’s voice was patient and even.
“Oh, right! Question!” Rikku raised her hand. “Is it supposed to become the next Sin?”
“Could you not do that?”
“Hm. So, Yunie knew that?” Rikku frowned. “And did it anyway?”
“The Summoner Yuna was hesitant to do what was required of her, but she recognized that she had no choice. Her beloved Guardian was willing to be what she needed him to be.” Yunalesca said. She had a beautiful voice that Paine absolutely did not trust.
“She only did that because most of her Guardians died!” Rikku stamped her foot. “That’s not fair, she wasn’t in her right mind. She wanted to end this for good, not keep it going.”
Yunalesca gave a gentle laugh. “That is not possible, though I commend her Guardians for doing their duty and dying in her place.”
“Regretfully.” Came a sudden, discordant, male voice. “Not all of them could commit to their duty.”
Pyreflies swirled, and standing between Rikku and Paine, and Yuna’s namesake, was Seymour Guado. “There’s always time for me to correct that error, however.” He sneered at Rikku. “How shameful it must be, to be one of two of the disgraced Summoner Yuna’s entourage to survive? Tell me, Al Bhed, have you often wished for the death that was denied for you?”
“Seymour!” Rikku growled, and stepped into a fighting stance. Paine stepped alongside her, sword out.
Seymour laughed at her. “Oh, do not pretend as though you aren’t beneath my notice. My hate and resentment have only made me stronger--and I think we both remember what our previous encounter proved.”
Rikku was shaking. Tears once again welled in her swirled eye.
He eyed Paine, next, and a smile of recognition crossed his face. “Ah, yes, one of Jyscal’s disposable soldiers. Or were you the one with the camera? I see that you share the trait of not dying when you’re supposed to. Much like your companion.”
Paine tightened her grip on her sword, enough that her knuckles went white.
“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have business, here.” Seymour turned to Yunalesca. “Grand Summoner Yunalesca, it is truly an honor to meet you once again. I require a favor of you.” He spread his arms as widely as he could. “Transform me into Sin, and allow me to bring the peace of death to this ruined world!”
“No.” Yunalesca replied. “I cannot, without a summoner by which to summon you, and your aeon was never used properly. You have had your chance, Seymour Guado. Now, someone else has claimed the honor of the Calm.”
Seymour narrowed his eyes. “I demand you make me into Sin this instant.”
“I cannot.” Yunalesca shook her head. “And I will not. I can make you into a Fayth, if you wish, but I cannot force any to use it. You must wait.”
“I am Seymour Guado.” Pyreflies pulled into him from all around--including Yunalesca. The First Grand Summoner got a look of panic on her face and tried to recoil. “I have conquered death, and if the honor of destroying this world cannot be mine by this method, then I will take from this world the ability to stop it! I will find a new method with which to bring permanent death to Spira!”
Yunalesca started to turn into some great, terrible form, but Seymour was absorbing her too quickly for it to matter. Pyreflies pulled in from all corners of Zanarkand, so many that it was impossible to see Seymour underneath them.
Paine grabbed Rikku and started to run. Rikku took a moment, but ran along with her. They passed fiends, desperately clawing at the ground to avoid being pulled away, but not being able to escape being torn to shreds. They passed chunks of masonry, ripped apart by violent swirls of death and magic and pulled towards the thing that Rikku could not bear to look at, behind her.
Their legs burned and their bodies were sore by the time they reached the Centigrade. Paine hopped in the driver seat and revved the engine to life. Rikku jumped into the passenger seat, and looked over her shoulder.
There was a face staring back at her, a massive mask, resting in a growing cloud of Pyreflies.
Rikku turned her head forward, and did not look back for the remainder of their flight.
Days later, Rikku sat in the window of the private room of the Lake Macalania Travel Agency, her artificial arm resting on the floor beneath her. The sun poured in behind her, through the frost on the glass, framing both her and the pillows she was sitting on in gold. In her hand was the sphere Auron had given her, into which she was staring with rapt attention.
Paine was in the doorway, arms crossed, and watching her closely. “Find anything interesting?”
“Oh! Hey!” Rikku sniffled and rubbed her face with her forearm. “Uh. Yeah, there’s some things on here. A lot of it is, y’know. Her saying goodbye.”
Paine walked over to her and leaned against the wall near the sill.
“Have you ever…” Rikku trailed off, and looked back at the sphere. “Have you ever needed to believe in something?”
“Yes.” Paine said without hesitation.
“...Yeah. Me, too.” Rikku sighed. “I thought she could do it. I thought she’d never ever give up, even if it got bad.”
“Everyone can be weak.” Paine was staring at the opposite wall.
The room was silent for several minutes, after that. Rikku looked up at Paine. “So! I guess I pay you and you go on your way, right? You did all your bodyguarding bodyguardness.”
“I don’t need money.”
“Oh. Well, I guess--”
Whatever Rikku was going to say was lost. Pain was in the window, now, too, straddling Rikku and kissing her. Rikku, after a moment, kissed back.
Paine sat up in bed, one knee to her chest, and leaning forward. Rikku trailed a hand along her the bare spots of her back, her fingers stopping for a moment on a round scar that she expected was the exit wound to some bullet-throwing machina weapon.
“You asked me if I needed to believe in something.” She said softly, not looking back at Rikku. “Something bad happened to me. I don’t want to talk about it. But I lost what I believed in, then.”
Rikku sat up as well, and pressed her chest to Paine’s back. She wrapped her arm around her chest and rested her head against her shoulder.
“I don’t know if I believed what you were trying to do, at first. But I think I’ve decided. I’m going to try believing in you. In this.”
“Saving the world or the whole sweaty-kissing-thing?”
“I think I have an idea. On the saving the world. I have lots of sweaty-kissing ideas.” She looked back at the window, where the sphere rested. “Yunie had some ideas. I think I can use them. I just need to do one thing.
“I need to become a summoner.”
Rikku pulled away and put her hand on her hip. “I can do it!”
“Doesn’t it require at least some discipline?”
“I am, like, totally disciplined.”
Paine turned in bed and gave her a level look.
“I can do it. Yuna left me tips! And you said you believed in me!” Rikku bit her lip and gave Paine a sly smile. “Isn’t that right, Guardian Paine?”
Paine rolled her eyes. “Okay. But I’m going to make sure you practice, if you want to do this.”
“Trust me, I will have no problems practicing!” Rikku said, knowing that this was probably a complete lie but saying it anyway.
Paine stared at her, and then shrugged. “Alright. Where do we begin?”
“I need to meditate! For a long time. While things are done to distract me, like, um...lightning.” Rikku shivered. “But I can handle it! This is important! For me, and Yunie, and Spira. I will become a Summoner if it kills me!”