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Mi'ihen Sunset

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Yuna's party had made good time on the Mi'hen highroad, considering the excitement of the tournament and its aftermath, but Lulu was very glad they could postpone camping at least one more evening before the more serious portion of the pilgrimage began. After sunset, Auron had herded Yuna and Tidus back to the Al Bhed inn where Wakka was fretting and pacing in the lobby like a caged sand wolf. Auron had not followed them inside. After Wakka's third surreptitious kick of the viewer console standing in the corner and Tidus' fourth, "Are our rooms ready yet?" Lulu slipped out, shaking her head as Kimahri picked up his spear to accompany her.

The last bars of red and purple lingered above the sea and upon its surface, as if some gifted painter had tried to use the horizon as canvas to capture the fire and thunder and leaden horror of Sin's presence beating against Spira's shores. Peaceful. So quiet. Crickets chirruped in the grasses, and chocobos clucked and peeped a short distance away.

Auron stood at the edge of the bluff, leaning on his sword, but he did not gaze towards sunset's last embers. He was staring fixedly north.

Lulu glided towards him over the grass. "You can... sense Sin, sometimes?"

The man's sigh was so faint that she could not be certain whether she heard him or the surf, but the subtle sag of his head told her more. "The Crusaders think he will come," he replied finally.

The mage nodded. "Yes. They've tried this before, I think. At Djose." The tight, clipped words were as distant as his gaze. "Some Crusaders used machina then, too. But that last time, they weren't excommunicated. I wonder why this is different."

He shrugged. "We'll see soon enough. It will make no difference. Sin can't be defeated their way."

"No." Lulu drifted a little closer, coming up beside him to watch the red glinting crests of the distant waves.

She had wept tears into that ocean. On the pilgrimage with Father Zuke, she and Wakka had stopped on a lonely stretch of beach pointed out to them by a patrol of Chocobo knights. Wakka had thrown a blitzball into the waves and mumbled clumsy words. Lulu had said nothing, frozen there with the salt water lapping at her skirts until the two men left her alone at the brink of that vast graveyard, where she could utter imprecations against Chappu's rash stupidity in peace. After that day, she had locked her heart tight and put tears aside for good.

The past was past. She drew herself back to the present. "We should find a way around this Operation Mi'hen. It doesn't concern Yuna's pilgrimage. If by some miracle they succeed, we can take her back to Besaid. If not, there is no need to endanger her, or let her see... what failure looks like."

"You can't shield her that way." Sir Auron's dark glasses angled towards her, masking what little she could see of his face. "Sooner or later on this journey, she will have to face and overcome hard truths. A Summoner is tested in will, as much as strength."

"When you've come to know her better, Sir Auron, you will learn not to doubt Yuna's will." The mage lifted her chin, a dry barb of humor surfacing briefly. "She overcame mine, in beginning her apprenticeship. I did not make it easy for her."

"Hmph." He shook his head. "She has her father's stubbornness. As does one other. He, also, needs to learn."

"Tidus?" Lulu glanced over her shoulder with a sigh. "He's forgotten everything. Yevon. Sin. The goal of the pilgrimage. But Yuna wanted him along. She doesn't seem to want him to know what will happen to her. But sooner or later--"

"Exactly." With a grunt, the warrior hefted his sword onto his back. "Tomorrow, he will begin to see what this pilgrimage is about. As will you."

"I?" She turned and hurried after him. "This is my third pilgrimage, Sir Auron. I am somewhat acquainted with futility."

He snorted. "You don't think Yuna can succeed?"

"No. I believe she will."