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The Summoner Rikku

Chapter Text

Prologue: Calm

For one brief moment, all Rikku knew was the cold, a cold that had long since stopped being solely attributable to the snowy mountaintop around her, and more and more to the fact that she was rapidly losing blood.

Rikku tried to push herself to a sitting position, but her arms would not move. Cold seeped deeper into her, flowing from her face, her body, her arm. She whimpered, letting out a very soft cry of, “y...unie?”

Only the howling winds of Gagazet greeted her ears. She was not sure that, if her cousin had been here, she would have even been able to hear her. It was now that Rikku realized her eyes were not even open.

Her right eye fought for sight, and broke through the hardening crust of partly frozen blood over it. Her left was a lost cause, though Rikku did not realize it. No amount of muscle movement could pull open what was quite clearly already a wide, open wound.

Her right arm found the snow, feeling and strength returning even as she could feel the cold leech them away. Her left still did not, and, with a powerful effort, managed to turn her head to the left. She saw her left arm, mangled and torn and burnt, a good dozen feet away from her, in the process of being buried by the frozen sky. Past that, she saw what looked to be a charred, broken corpse, blitzball still firmly grasped in its charred hands.

Rikku thought that was silly, in her rapidly dying mind. Wakka should just get up and give her arm back.

She fought that thought off, though, gaining back clarity in a fogging mind. Rikku’s right arm found purchase, under the snow, and pushed her to a sitting position. She reached into her pouch, completely conscious of the numbness spreading from her fingertips.

Here. Two of the strongest healing potions they had found, on their trip. Rikku removed them, with shaky hands, her fingers staying closed by will alone. She combined the draughts, and in an instant, light flashed around her, and the rest of her friends.

A surge of warmth fill her inside. She felt her wounds mend, her blood spontaneously refill her mostly emptied body. Light and stability flowed through her veins, and Rikku looked down at herself and found that while her stump and eye socket had stopped bleeding, not even the greatest alchemical magic at her disposal could bring her arm and eye back.

She looked over the battlefield, where her companions had battled the most recent, terrible form of Seymour Guado.

Wakka was beyond even her most powerful restoration. He lay still, quiet. Broken. Rikku did not even know how he had come to be this way. All she remembered was a bright flash, some strange action of whatever bizarre machina or machina-like construct Seymour had integrated himself into.

Then, darkness. Cold.

She cringed when she saw Kimahri. What was left of Kimahri. The ronso had thrown himself at Seymour, enraged by the massacre of his people at the Unsent’s hands. He had wounded the construct terribly.

And Rikku had watched as it ripped him apart faster than magic or alchemy could restore.

Lulu was here, too, though her wounds were much less severe. Her chest rose and fell under her torn corset with heavy, labored breathing. She would survive, even without her legs.

The young Al-bhed pulled herself to her feet with a snowy stumble. She looked out, past Gagazet, and saw, faintly through the snow, Zanarkand.

Auron was not here. Neither was Yuna, or...

Rikku was interrupted by a slowly growing brilliance. All of Zanarkand was suddenly awash with Pyreflies, thousands, if not millions, swarming as something brilliant within the city grew even brighter.

Rikku’s eye widened. She started bolting as fast as she could, through the heavy snow, past her comrades, dead and living, down towards Zanarkand.

“Yunie, no!” She cried, tears freezing to her face while she bolted towards the light in panic.

But it was too late.

The first chapter in Yuna’s Calm had already begun.

Chapter Text

Chapter One: The Storm at Besaid

Massive storm clouds rolled over the horizon, rapidly approaching the small, sleepy island of Besaid. Paine, perched on the roof of Besaid Temple with her skull-hilted sword at her side, frowned even deeper than she normally did and leapt from her vantage point. She hit the ground running, sprinting past the citizens and priests cowering in the Temple’s main chamber, right to the elevator to the Cloister of Trials.

She paced on the elevator, her cloak trailing behind her and the goggles bouncing on her forehead with every step. She swung her sword a few times and checked to make sure that her pistols were properly holstered before pacing again, her boots patting out an increasingly high tempo pattern on the accursed symbol of Yevon beneath them.

Finally, the elevator reached its destination. She bolted off the platform, past a range of simple and already solved puzzles before reaching the door to the chamber of Fayth. “Rikku.” Paine called, pounding on the door. “Rikku, we need to get out of here. Now. He’s found us.”

No response met her pounding. Paine debated just beating the door down.

“Rikku! He’s almost here. We’ll have another chance later, but we can’t waste any more time, now.”

Still, nothing. Paine made a growl of frustration and stomped away from the door.

“She can have that effect, sometimes.” Came a voice from near the entryway. Paine turned, and saw Lulu, and the creaking, hissing machina that now served as Lulu’s legs. She barely knew the young woman, who looked older than the twenty five years of life she actually possessed, aged beyond by stress and trauma.

“I’ve noticed.” Paine replied, glancing back at the door. “If she keeps this up, this’ll be the last temple we visit as well as the first.”

“Not even a little faith?” There was something tired and cruel in Lulu’s tone. “That’s not very becoming of a guardian.”

Paine glared as only Paine could. “I’m not interested in being a model guardian. I’m interested in keeping Rikku alive. Whether or not she completes her pilgrimage isn’t important.”

“Then what’s her point in living?” Lulu said. Paine sometimes wondered if they were cousins, by some blood relationship erased by the ravages of Sin. Moments like this only confirmed it in her mind. “You know what this means to her.”

Paine responded by looking back towards the door and tightening her grip on her sword. Lulu sighed and rolled her eyes.

“She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”

Paine did not dignify that with anything but a snort.

“Hm. Young love.” Lulu looked off, past the wall. “It’s a wonderful drug, isn’t it? All of the harsh realities of the world just melt away.”

“Are you done?” Paine asked, voice not registering anything but vague annoyance.

“I suppose so.” Lulu said, sounding a mixture of bitter and amused.

“Good.” She looked back towards the door.

As if on cue, the door slid open, and out stumbled Rikku. As was the usual, lately, she was half-wearing a bright yellow kimono, her orange tank top on clear display. Her machina left arm whirred very slightly as its metal fingers took a better hold of Rikku’s “staff”, which was actually a rifle with a barrel nearly as tall as she was, with charms tied to the grip. She looked up at Paine with a goofy smile on her face, one that fluctuated slightly when she saw the girl’s expression. Her orange eyepatch even seemed to match the suddenly concerned look in her one remaining eye. “Uh oh, am I in trouble?”

“He’s here.” Paine said, and then strode forward and took Rikku by the fleshy arm. “We need to go. Now.”

“Oh, he is! Great!” Rikku grinned.

“No, not great. He’ll kill us, Rikku. We’re not ready.”

“But Valefor and I can totally take him! Or at least drive him off.”

“No.” Paine started to pull Rikku, but the newly minted summoner stayed resolute.

“I’ve been running for three years! I can fight, n--”

Rikku was interrupted quite suddenly by Lulu. “You will die if you stay and fight.”

Rikku pouted. “But--”

“You will die.” Lulu repeated. “And then Yuna will have died for nothing.”

“She’s right. We need to go. Now.” Paine pulled on Rikku, again.

“But--”

Paine gave Rikku a very quick kiss, right on the lips, to which Lulu very obviously rolled her eyes. Rikku looked up at the warrior and blinked.

“We’re leaving.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Come on.”

“Uh-huh.”

------

The storm had many names, and there were many theories as to what, exactly, it was. Some, particularly those with ties to the Church of Yevon, said it was a manifestation of Yevon’s anger at the High Summoner Yuna having acted in so many heretical ways. That was where it had received its most popular name. Wrath.

Others thought it was a collection of all of the dead, every single soul lost to Sin throughout the hundreds of years since the fall of Zanarkand, finally taking shape. They, too, clung to its popular name. Wrath.

Rikku, standing in the town square of Besaid, looking past the temple and into the approaching, black sky, looking to the massive white mask, styled after an effeminate man’s face, hovering in the front of the rolling storm, knew it by a different name. Its true name.

Seymour Guado.

Paine was further down the street, preparing their two-seater airship. The vehicle, known as the Centigrade, was little more than a rocket engine, a piloting system, and a pair of seats. She glanced back impatiently at her Al-Bhed partner. “Rikku!”

They were not clouds, exactly. They were a massive swarm of pyreflies, one so large it condensed the air around it. One so large it did not create weather so much as it was weather. Rikku’s grip tightened on her rifle-staff as she stared up, into the swarm, and past it, to Seymour’s mask-like face, a face that dwarfed Besaid.

Paine rushed over to her and grabbed her good arm. Wind was starting to pick up around them, rushing past them and kicking up small clouds of dust and sand. Rikku looked back at her, expression pleading. Paine, however, was resolute, and started dragging the new summoner towards the airship.

“But the people!” Rikku called. “Paine, they--”

“We don’t save Spira if you die.” Paine said, voice stern.

“Paine!” Rikku broke away from her hold. “I can’t just...” She trailed off, as she saw something out of the corner of her eye.

A massive hand descended from the clouds, towards Besaid. As it reached the town, the hand burst, and lightning streaked across the massive storm that was Seymour. The pyreflies making up the hand rapidly descended towards Rikku and Paine, grouping together and congealing into fiends, hundreds and hundreds of dog-like monsters, flan, elementals, massive birds, drakes, lizards, and more, dozens more.

Rikku’s eyes widened, and she knelt, lifting her staff-rifle, and turning the barrel towards the approaching onslaught. Paine, meanwhile, drew both of her pistols, and stepped in front of her partner, though not directly.

The fiends closed in, and both of Paine’s pistols erupted in fire. She swept them across the oncoming tide of monsters, and dozens of them fell under the withering fire. Meanwhile, Rikku’s rifle, barrel resting on her flesh arm, fired with several bangs that nearly drowned out Wrath’s thunder. Each crack of the rifle took out not just one fiend, but an entire line of them.

For every fiend that fell, though, bursting into a cloud of pyreflies, ten more took its place. Paine holstered her pistols and drew her sword, slashing wide and taking three canine fiends in a single strike. Rikku’s rifle fired two more times before she got to her feet and started backing towards the airship.

A Zu swooped down towards Paine, claws outstretched wide. The warrior leapt towards it, sword out, and met its charge by plunging her blade right in its chest. Paine kicked off the massive fiend and ripped her sword through its torso, pushing off of it even as it dissolved into a mass of glowing motes. She landed in a crouch near Rikku.

The onslaught of fiends, however, only closed around them. Seymour’s mask was now floating directly over them, a bright beacon among the black clouds now filling the sky. Though its expression had not changed, Rikku thought it was smirking malevolently down at them. Her fists clenched, just watching it.

She had to do something.

Paine grabbed her partner’s arm and pulled her back again. As she did, explosions suddenly filled the mass of fiends, bursts of purple and green, consuming whole swathes of them whole. More blasts of magical energy erupted throughout the horde, destroying a dozen or more at a time, until all that remained were a few stragglers under a rapidly dispersing cloud of pyreflies.

Lulu stepped out of the temple on her shaky machina legs and stared up at Seymour. “Go. I’ve waited a long time for this chance, and I’ll make sure he doesn’t follow. A hand is a good start for paying back everything he’s taken from me.”

Rikku ran to the back seat of the two-seat craft. A bright blue drake leapt over the vehicle, claws and monstrous jaws bearing down on her.

A single punch from her good hand connected with its skull. There was a sickening crack, and the reptilian fiend flew back, breaking down into pyreflies before it hit the ground. She grinned at her fist. “Still got it!” Rikku looked to Paine, who was already getting into the front seat, which was also the main pilot’s seat.

“Gloat later. Come on.”

Rikku got in and looked back. The sky was black, and Seymour was looking directly at the defiant Lulu. A blast of Ultima exploded against the impassive mask, to little effect.

The Centigrade’s engine roared like a wounded animal, and the ship immediately lurched off the ground, shooting off with a flash of flame and a cloud of smoke. Rikku continued to look back, saw the blackened sky amid flashes of magic, and yelled, “Hey! Do a pass!”

“No! We’re--”

“I’m not letting another friend die! Just a pass, we won’t stop.” Rikku removed her safety harness and stood up in her seat. She held her staff in front of her with both hands.

Paine made a frustrated noise, and turned the wheel hard. Rikku nearly toppled out of the airship and made an alarmed squeak, followed by a big grin. The Centigrade had already shot out to sea, and now it almost as quickly rocketed back towards the village. Rikku spun her staff in her hands.

Lulu’s legs were sparking beneath her. Her moogle doll was missing an eye and featured heavy charring. The storm was directly above her, now, and the blackness was slowly, steadily, growing around her, and in it, Lulu could feel fiends start to form, gathering in the dark.

She was fully aware that she was probably going to die, right here, right now.

She lifted both of her arms. Her doll lifted the only arm it had left. As she brought them down, another explosion of green and purple erupted through the darkness, and three giants of metal fell to the ground in a cluster of lights.

“You’re toying with me.” Lulu sneered. “That is unwise.”

A ripple of light erupted from the cloud above, along with a cacophony of whispers and discordant musical sounds. The mask lowered closer to the ground, so close it was filling the black mage’s sight.

“It’s true, I suppose. My magic can’t last forever.” Lulu stared defiantly up at the blank eyes of Seymour Guado.

The whispering intensified, the discordant music containing hints of a musical voice, but distorted almost beyond recognition. Electricity crackled across the mask, and with it, the damage Lulu had inflicted, meager though it was, completely vanished.

“It’s cute that you think that.” Lulu very suddenly fell to her knees. Her machina legs were now completely still. “But you obviously don’t know Rikku very well.”

Rikku lifted her staff up, and through the clouds, a light began to shine. Through them, in a burst of rainbow light came Valefor, swooping down the keep pace with the Centigrade. Rikku grinned, and pointed at Seymour. “Sick ‘em!”

The Aeon’s beak glowed brightly, and a beam of light shot out, slamming right into Seymour’s eye. The blast intensified as Valefor flew closer, and, with a massive burst of rainbow that pierced the black clouds, the beam burned straight through, cutting past it and, for a very brief moment, exposing the blue sky beyond Seymour.

Rikku smiled, and then fell off the airship.

Paine cried out, and started to put the Centigrade into a dive, but before any heroics could be done, Valefor caught the new summoner on her back. Paine let out a sigh of relief, and then gunned the engine as fast as she could. She zoomed off into the horizon, her partner on the back of her Aeon, close behind.

And, in their wake, Wrath lost interest in Besaid, and, like a storm rolling over the land, pursued. The charred hole where once was its eye, as well as the other, were fixed on the new summoner’s wake.

Chapter Text

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?”

Paine stopped.

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“Could you not do that?”

“No.”

“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.

“...I guess.”

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?”

Paine shrugged.

“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.”

“...Really? You?”

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!”

Chapter Text

Paine and Rikku sat by a fire, on a small island in the middle of Spira’s vast ocean.  Mossy ruins jutted from the shoreline, mysterious edifices depicting serpents and crashing waves.  a pair of bedrolls, placed together in order to mimic one giant bedroll, were resting between the fire and the resting form of the Centigrade.

 

“No.  We’re going to Djose.  Not Kilika.”

 

“But!”  Rikku pouted.  “It’s the next one on the pilgrimage!”

 

“I don’t care.  Seymour will be headed that way.  It’s the closest cloister of trials to Besaid.”

 

“But that’s exactly why we have to go there!”  Rikku stood up, her machina arm whirring as she gestured.  “He’s going to destroy Kilika!  Again!  We need to get there before he does or there might not even be a Kilika to take a trial in!”

 

“No.  It’s not safe and we’re taking too many risks as is.”  Paine stood and faced Rikku, looking her right in the eye.  “You actually hurt him, last time.  That means we’re on the right track but it also means he’s going to take it out on you if he sees you.  We can’t risk that.  We’ve spent three years beneath his notice, we don’t have that luxury anymore.”

 

“Well....”  Rikku started to pace around the fire.  “We’ll go through the night!  Get there before he does!”

 

“You need rest.”  Paine crossed her arms over her chest and gave Rikku a level look.  “You’re still exhausted from the last cloister, we aren’t doing two in a row without rest.”

 

“I’ll sleep on the Centigrade!”

 

Paine stared at Rikku.  “Really?”

 

“Sure!  I’m Al Bhed, we’re totally used to sleeping around big loud machina doing big loud machina stuff!”

 

Paine did not stop looking incredulously at her partner.

 

“C’mon!”  Rikku picked up her staff/rifle and started towards the Centigrade.  “We’ve got a cloister of trials run through.”

 

Paine sighed and headed over to the airship, hopping in the driver’s seat.  “Alright, but if you don’t sleep, and the trial kills you, I’m going to kick your ass.”

 

“It’s not gonna kill me!  I, uh, think.  I mean I guess it could.  Oh, uh, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”

 

“No, it’s too late.”  Paine started up the airship.  “We’re doing it.”

 

Rikku gulped, and tried to get comfortable in the passenger’s seat as the whole ship started to rumble and roar.  She really, really hoped that her BS earlier turned out to be true.

 

-----

 

Kilika had been destroyed a second time shortly after the Calm had begun.  There was no dock, anymore--nothing that people lived on, at any rate.  Instead, the people of Kilika lived on the mainland.  Most of the forest had been destroyed to make room for homes and fortifications to keep out the near endless stream of fiends.

 

The approaching storm was still distant when Paine set the Centigrade down on the massive landing of the stairs leading up to the temple.  She turned off the engine and hopped out of it.  As she did, Rikku stretched and started to pull herself out.  She made a very sleepy thud as she half-fell out of the airship.

 

The shanty town that was Kilika extended all the way up here, with tents and shamshakle buildings set up, even here.  As soon as the airship had set down, a few citizens of Kilika rushed off, up the tall steps.

 

“Get up.”  Paine said, even as she reached down to help Rikku up.  “We don’t have much time.”

 

Rikku stood, leaning heavily on her staff, and nodded.  “Right!  Let’s get--”  She gave a big yawn, complete with her whole body stretching.  “Moving!  Right after we oh crap, she’s here.”

 

Paine looked to where Rikku was working, and saw a stately woman with a look of obvious distaste who was also wearing very, very little.  “Oh.”  Dona said.  “The rabble’s come.  I’ll save you the trouble of making yourself at home.  You’re not welcome here.”

 

Paine glanced back to Rikku, and then to Dona and the crowd of people that was starting to gather around her.  “Should I care who this person is, or should we just bust past her?”

 

“Oh, bust past, please!”  Rikku stepped forward, yawning again.  “Dona, I’m here for my pilgrimage!”

 

The people behind Dona started to mutter amongst themselves, more than a few looking at Rikku’s machina arm and staff.  Dona rolled her eyes.  “An Al Bhed?  It’s not even a time when Sin is attacking.  Go home.  Let us rebuild.  Wrath has already done enough damage without you around.”

 

Paine took Rikku’s good hand and started forward.  Dona moved to block them.

 

“Are you as deaf as you are incompetent at being a Guardian, Rikku?”  Dona snapped.  “It’s over.  There’s no need for summoners, anymore.  Sin is gone.”

 

“But it’s still here.  Wrath--I mean Seymour--is still here!”  She pointed at the horizon, which was just starting to grow dark.  “Summoners should be able to stop that, too, y’know?”

 

“Then leave that to a real Summoner.”

 

“I’m gonna be a real Summoner!  C’mon, Dona, what can it hurt?”

 

“...”  Dona looked Rikku in the eye, and then looked away.  “Tch.  Fine.  If you think you can handle Ifrit, go right ahead.  But if you want sympathy after the trials burn you to death, you won’t find it here.”

 

The crowd parted for them, but before Rikku and Paine could advance, Barthello limped forward, through the crowd.  He was favoring his right leg.  “Hey!  You’re one of High Summoner Yuna’s guardians!”

 

The crowd began to murmur even louder.  Dona put her face in her hands and sighed.  “Barthello, you’re supposed to be resting, you big dumb oaf!  You’re still hurt from the ochu attack.”

 

“Uh, sorry, Dona, I just, well...”  Barthello looked to Rikku, who he towered over, and held out his hand.  “You worked with Sir Auron, and the High Summoner!  Can I...shake your hand?”

 

“Uhhhhh.”  Rikku looked to Paine, who shrugged, and then back to him.  “Sure!  I guess!  That’s a little weird but--”

 

Barthello took Rikku’s good hand and shook it emphatically.  Rikku’s whole body shook along with her hand.

 

He let go of her, and Rikku stumbled around, a little dizzy.

 

“There, you shook her hand.  Now sit down.”  Dona said.  Barthello looked a little downcast, but nodded.

 

Paine grabbed Rikku again and started to pull her up, again.  “We don’t have time for this.”

 

“Right.  Sorry, just...it’s kinda neat that someone doesn’t think I’m a failure, y’know?”

 

Dona, who was following them, said, “You weren’t a failure.  That’s the problem, isn’t it?  You performed your duties exactly as a guardian requires them.”

 

Rikku tried to pause, but Pain kept pulling her up the stairs.

 

“Y-yeah, I--oof!  I guess.”

 

Dona nodded.  “You know, when I first met Yuna, I was so convinced all the praise, all the privilege she had was undeserved.  I was determined that I was going to get to become the High Summoner first, that it was an honor she did not deserve.”  She sighed, and stopped following the pair of them.  “And now, I wish I had done it instead for completely different reasons.”

 

Rikku wanted to go back and hug her, and Paine did not stop pulling her up the stairs.

 

“Hey, lemme go a sec!!!”

 

“No.  We don’t have time for you to reconnect with everyone you’ve ever met.”  They stood at the threshold of the temple.  “Go inside and do the trials.  Now.”

 

“But--”

 

“Rikku.”  Paine said and then turned Rikku’s head towards the horizon.  “Now.”

 

Rikku sighed.  She looked back at Dona, and then rushed inside the temple.  Paine pulled her sword from its sheathe and looked towards Dona.

 

“You said you has an ochu problem?”

 

**********

 

The mass of vines and teeth and claws fell into a cloud of pyreflies.  Paine stepped back and sheathed her sword.  She glanced over her shoulder at Dona.  “Is that all?”

 

Dona stared, eyes wide, at Paine, and then shook it off.  “Yes, it is, and my my, Rikku’s certainly got herself a strong guardian.”

 

“I’m good at destroying things.”  Paine looked towards the horizon, and frowned as she saw it was growing darker.  “Wrath will be here soon.”

 

“It’s following you, isn’t it?”  Dona sighed dramatically.  “Even Yuna’s guardians are nothing but trouble, I swear.  Why on Spira would it care about the two of you?”

 

“Because Rikku hurt it.  You probably can, too, but you shouldn’t.  We’ll attack it and lead it off, as soon as Rikku’s done.  Which will hopefully be before we’re swimming in fiends.”

 

Dona’s eyes followed Paine’s.  “Do you know what it is?  Not the rumors, of course, any idiot can repeat those.”

 

“Maester Seymour Guado.  I don’t really understand why so don’t ask me--Rikku says it has something to do with a Guado’s natural ability to manipulate pyreflies, coupled with a summoner’s skill at it, and the length of time he was allowed to be unsent.  I don’t understand it completely.  I just know that Rikku hurt it, and we’re going to destroy both it and Sin.”

 

“That thing is Maester Seymour???”  Dona’s eyes went wide.  “Are you certain?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“...I suppose the rumors about his father’s death are more than rumors as well.”  Dona looked back at Paine.  “But...Sin?  The Calm should last at least a few more years, shouldn’t it?  Why concern yourself with Sin, now?”

 

“The Pilgrimage can no longer be completed.  There won’t be any more Final Aeons.  Seymour saw to that.”  Paine pulled her cloak around her and started towards the temple, again.  “We have to find another way.  Rikku thinks--”

 

“I’m sorry, what???”  Dona grabbed her shoulder and pulled her back.  “The...the Pilgrimage--”

 

“Can’t be completed any more.”

 

Dona was shaking.  She looked stunned for just a moment before she poked Paine in the chest and asked, “Why didn’t you STOP him???  He...he...”

 

“Yelling at me isn’t going to stop anything, especially after the fact.  At the time, there were two of us, and he was pulling in all of the pyreflies in Zanarkand.  If you think you could have done anything to that with a sword, be my guest.  You’ll get a chance.”  Paine kept towards the temple without even looking back.

 

Dona rushed to follow her.  “What do we do, then?  Do you have any idea how to stop Sin without a Final Aeon???”

 

“No.  I don’t.”  Paine said without breaking her stride.  “But Rikku does.  And while she’s lazy and clumsy she’ll do the things she’s set her mind to do, and she’s set her mind to saving Spira.  So I’ll help her do that, or I’ll die.  And either way, it’ll be a long time coming.”

 

**********

 

Rikku fell out of the door of the Chamber of Fayth.  She hit the ground with a heavy thud, and then cried out as her burns stung from the sudden impact.  She rolled over onto her back and removed a potion from her kimono.  She let it open and douse her with the healing magic inside before her arm fell to the side.

 

“Rikku!”  Paine rushed across the chamber and knelt beside her.  “Are you alright?  Do you need a healer?”

 

Rikku raised a thumbs up.

 

“You communed with two fayths in two days and you barely slept in between.”  Paine knelt down and lifted Rikku up into her arms.  “We’re sleeping tonight.  This time we’re not staying around and fighting.”

 

“But...but all the people!  Kilika deserves better than to be flattened again!”

 

“Seymour’s chasing you, yes?”  Dona said from where she was leaning in the doorway.

 

“Yeah, but--”

 

“Do you think he’d listen if I sold you out and pointed in your direction?”

 

Paine looked at her, and then at Rikku.  Rikku shrugged.  “I dunno!  On the one hand, I burned his eye out and he’s a roiling mass of hate!  On the other...I don’t even know how with it he is.  I think he’s just...Angry?  And he kinda wants to kill everything, like, when we found him he was trying to beg to become Sin so he could kill everybody.  So...”

 

“Well, if YOU can hurt him, then an experienced summoner like myself can no doubt put him on the ropes.”  Dona rolled her eyes.  “Honestly, don’t be surprised if we need you at all.  We’ve been destroyed before.  I don’t think some wannabe can destroy us again.  Go get a head start.  We’ll weather any storm that comes our way.”

 

Rikku smiled brightly, and held out her arm.  “Hugs!”

 

Paine and Dona both stared at her.

 

“Hugs?  No?  Oh, don’t be so above it all!  Just hug me you jerks.”

 

“Later.”  Paine moved past Dona.  Rikku tried to hug her but the other summoner expertly dodged away from her arm.  “Thanks.  We could use some rest.”

 

“Go sleep on the job.”  Dona smiled.  “It’s time I finally got a test of my mettle.  I’ve been bored since I don’t have Yuna to compete against, anymore.”

 

**********

 

Ifrit launched a ball of fire down at a large group of fiends, which was just outside the spot where Rikku and Paine had decided to set down and camp.  They were handily incinerated.

 

Rikku looked back at Paine with a big grin.  “Isn’t he neat???”

 

Paine shrugged, as she was too focused on gathering driftwood.  “Put him away and get some rest.  We have to fly to Djose, next.”

 

Rikku patted Ifrit on the shoulder, and then let out a startled sound as her hand started to smolder.  She pulled it away, and dismissed her summon.

 

“...Do you think she’s okay?”  Rikku looked in the direction of Killka.

 

“Don’t think about that.”  Paine put some fish on sticks and put them above her driftwood fire.

 

“How can I not think about that???  She’s putting her life on the line for us!!!  Like Lulu did!  Like...”

 

“Don’t think about it.”  Paine looked up from the fire.  “She’s doing what she has to, just like we are.  And she’s a summoner  It’s behind us, now.”

 

“But...but what if she makes him angry and he...”

 

Paine walked around the fire and sat next to Rikku.  She put an arm around her.  “It’s behind you.  Don’t think about it.  The pain in front of you is what you need to be ready for, and it’s going to be harder to take if you keep looking back.”

 

Rikku snuggled into Paine’s side.  “Right now, I wanna focus on the Paine around me.”

 

Paine groaned.  “You’re fine.  Get some rest.”  She started to stand, but Rikku clung to her.  Paine did not say anything.  She sat back down, and stayed wrapped around Rikku for the rest of the night.

 

 

**********

 

All in all, Kilika had been lucky.

 

Seymour had passed over, stopping long enough only to deposit a horde of fiends and continue on his way.

 

Dona leaned against entrance to the temple as she dismissed her Bahamut.  She was bleeding from several wounds, much like Kilika’s other protectors, but she was otherwise fine.  Barthello ran over to her and extended a hand.  She took his hand, and then rested against his chest.

 

“I need to send these pyreflies.”

 

“Dona, you’re hurt!  At least let me get you a hi-potion.”

 

“No.  I’m fine.  I just need a second, and then I’ll be ready.”  Dona pulled away from Barthello and began to dance, sending the fiends and the dead alike off to the farplane.

 

When she finished her dance, Dona collapsed, with Barthello just barely managing to catch her in time.  As he held her, she looked towards the darkened horizon, and, for the first time in three years, prayed for another summoner’s safety.