A Secret Journey (Rikku's Story)

BY : tuatha
Category: Final Fantasy X > General
Dragon prints: 1094
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy X, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

A Secret Journey (Rikku's Story)

Part Twenty-One


Auron was his ussombsomber self, frowning with concentration as he kept a
tight rein on his chocobo, which was still fractious despite almost half a
day of travel. My own bird by contrast was sluggish, and the constant
jogging motion caused an ache to form in the centre of my back.

I spent the rest of the morning considering the issue of how to save Yuna.
Despite my diligent thought and the beginnings of a tension headache nothing
new came to me. I just didn't know enough. Deeply engrossed I didn't pay
much attention as Auron spurred his chocobo forward to ride in line with
Yuna and briefly conversed with her before letting his chocobo fall back
again.

"Are we stopping for lunch?" Tidus asked, correctly assuming the reason for
his discussion with Yuna, but he groaned when Auron answered with a shake of
his head.

"We ride on. We don't have time to stop, if we are to reach the bridge
before darkness falls."

"Wonderful," Tidus muttered, then let out another wordless groan as his
chocobo took off to the left without warning. Auron had obviously had enough
of the wayward bird's antics, and spurred his own after him, catching him up
and taking the reins.

"Enough! We have no time for this."

The chocobo followed Auron's chocobo meekly enough, perhaps intimidated by
his tone of voice, but Tidus rolled his eyes in disgust, finally tucking his
hands under the front of the saddle since he no longer had anything to
grasp.

"It's not my fault, you know! Stupid, overgrown canary." He gave the bird a
desultory kick that did little more than ruffle it's feathers, then slumped
in the saddle. I caught up and rode alongside him, giving him a sympathetic
smile.

"Tidus, have you been thinking about...you know?"

He gave me a blank look. I looked ahead to where Gagazet loomed before us,
no longer hidden in the glaze of distance, it's lower slopes clearly visible
before they reached into the clouds and were lost to sight.

"The end. It's coming closer, and closer. Haven't you thought of anything
yet?"

He understood me, and frowned, a disturbed look on his face. He shook his
head sharply, once. "Not yet."

"I'm really worried. I mean, we have to think of something soon."

"I know! But...we'll think of something."

Auron's harrmph was clearly audible to both of us.

"What are you laughing at old man?" Tidus demanded.

Auron turned to look at Tidus and then myself, and shook his head. I thought
I heard him mutter something about children and let my anger rise in my
chest.

"What about you? You just keep putting one foot in front of the other
without even thinking about what will happen when we get there."

The look he gave me could have frozen an ice flan. "Putting one foot in
front of the other is the _only_ way to know what will happen when we get
there."

His hand moved and flicked the reins of Tidus' mount toward him. Then he
spurred his chocobo forward and took the lead. I kept my eyes downcast,
wishing that if we'd had to fight that at least he might have told us
something about what we were heading towards. Tidus reached out his hand and
patted mine.

"It will be alright, I'm sure of it. We'll find a way."

I nodded. I wished I could share his confidence, I truly did. I admired him
for it, but Tidus was the sort of person who could believe everything was
going to be alright while the jaws of death were closing around him. It was
admirable, but foolhardy.

I was distracted by my thoughts, so when Tidus's chocobo suddenly veered
away again I thought it was nothing more than the bird's typically erratic
behaviour. Then a shape launched itself towards me from the cover of the
grass, catching me off balance when my own chocobo launched itself sidewards
to avoid it. I caught a glimpse of pale white and blue fur and an extended
paw with long curving talons. A coerl.

I held on grimly while our party scattered away from the threat, finding it
impossible to control the wild behaviour of our mounts. At first I thought I
was safe from attack as the birds were easily capable of outrunning the
pursuit of even a fiend as fast as the catlike creature, but then a second
shape lunged towards my bird from the other side. There was a flurry of
feathers as the chocobo broke its headlong flight, turning again sharply in
the other direction, and I tumbled forward into the air and performed an
awkward somersault landing on my right shoulder.

I was fortunate that I did not fall straight between the coerl's feet, but I
knew it was close. Despite the jarring pain in my shoulder I rolled to the
right and lurched to my feet as the creature's whip-like appendage shot
forward and slashed the grass where I'd been lying seconds before. I rushed
forward and slashed sideways, dancing away to the right and forcing the
creature to pivot to face me, vaguely aware of the danger creeping up behind
me.

"Rikku, look out!"

At Wakka's words I threw myself sideways and rolled away as the first fiend
rushed me from behind, then it joined its companion as they both stalked
towards my prone form. When I lifted my head I saw Auron forcing his chocobo
forward, eventually throwing himself sideways as the bird slowed to almost a
standstill. He rushed towards the creatures from behind as he raised his
sword above his head, bringing it down with a mighty crack on the back of
one.

It emitted a fearful high pitched shriek as its back was cloven in two. The
other coerl leapt gracefully sideways at the unholy wail and shot into the
grass, a whisper of sound as it bounded away from us, making a hurried
escape after the failed ambush.

I stood and clasped my shoulder, wincing at the pain as Auron stared at me,
slowly lowering his sword to rest the tip against the ground. His eyes asked
me if I was alright, and I nodded and looked away. It was strange. It was
more than evident that he did not want to see me hurt. His rage against the
fiend, his determination to protect me said more than words about how he
felt, and yet his words had the power to wound me deeply.

With the fiends gone the others regained control of their chocobos and
gathered around us. Tidus dismounted and led Dotty towards me, putting his
hand on my shoulder.

"I'm sorry. I couldn't do anything because of this dumb bird." He cast a
scathing look at his feathered mount and oddly enough I found it quite funny
as the bird took no notice of his disapprobation. Yuna examined my shoulder
pronouncing it bruised but not seriously damaged by my fall. Then she
chanted a healing spell that eased my discomfort while Kimahri and Wakka
tried to round up our wayward chocobos.

Kimahri was able to sidle his own chocobo up to Auron's and grasp the reins,
bringing the bird back to him but mine had been seriously spooked by the
attempted ambush so I was now without transport. It was probably well on its
way back to the chocobo trainer by now.

"Great. What do we do now?"

"You can have mine. I'd rather walk anyway," Tidus offered.

"I'd suggest we walk together and let the stupid thing go, but it would
probably get itself eaten by fiends."

"You'll have to share," Auron pronounced. "The two of you together weigh
less than either I or Kimahri. The bird can carry you both."

So it was decided, and once Tidus was remounted I swung myself up behind him
and had to hold onto his waist to keep from falling off. Auron wasn't taking
any chances, and he led us along for the rest of the day.

We finally reached the cliffs at the north-east of the plain as dusk was
falling, and found the hut the chocobo trainer had mentioned. A young woman
came out to greet us and took charge of the chocobos, accepting our
explanation and apology for the missing bird.

When I finally dismounted from behind Tidus I felt as though the ground was
swaying beneath me, and I sank to my knees, my back bowing forward until my
head nearly touched the ground. I was trying to relieve the cursed ache that
ran up my spine from the endless leaning backward I'd done while in the
saddle, but Wakka laughed at my apparent hugging of the ground.

"Nice to be back on firm footing eh? I suppose you'd rather ride on one of
those Al Bhed contraptions?"

I rolled my eyes at him, then straightened up. "You bet I would! My back is
killing me after that ride."

I wasn't the only one. Tidus stretched with his hands on his hips, twisting
his spine to get out the kinks, and Lulu was slowly shaking her head from
side to side and rotating her shoulders for the same reason. Yuna seemed
completely immune to the discomfort that plagued the three of us. "We should
make camp soon."

"The bridge is not far." Auron replied, and moved onward. I sighed and
followed the others, and we eventually made our camp at the foothills of the
mountain. We had opted not to set up the tents, instead sleeping again with
our backs to the fire, as we were still very much in the open and we would
be better able to defend our camp from fiends in this manner.

I could see the near side of the bridge in the glow of the campfire from
where I sat but the other side was lost to view. Tomorrow we would begin to
climb Mount Gagazet. It was a depressing thought and I did not want to dwell
on it, but when Auron settled himself for sleep, arranging his coat over
himself I did not want to join him either. His words to me earlier had
settled somewhere in my chest, leaving a hollow ache that would not be
relieved.

I wrapped my arms around my knees, letting my head fall forward and closing
my eyes, aware of his silent form nearby. The fire was warm against the
front of my legs but my back was chilled before he sat up, looking towards
me.

"Rikku. Come here."

I shook my head and looked at the fire, pretending to be too absorbed in my
thoughts to care about his request. Then I heard a rustling as he moved
close enough to reach out, his hand grasping my shoulder. "Come on. You need
to sleep."

I wanted to believe that his gentle tone was an apology, but instead of
relieving my pain it only made it more intense and I felt a tear course
slowly down my cheek. I capitulated, taking care to turn away from him as I
moved so he wouldn't see, and when I lay down I left a gap wide enough for
his sword to rest between us had he cared to place it there.

Soft fabric draped me, his crimson coat a familiar warmth that I would
recognise anywhere. I huddled beneath it, drawing my knees up and pressing
myself into the cold ground below, trying to ignore his hand as it moved
over me. His uncertainty was a black mass behind me, and it was obvious the
coat could not stretch so far, with the distance between our bodies.

He seemed to come to a conclusion of sorts, drawing closer, barely on the
edge of touching me but no more, and then was still. His breath stirred my
hair and his lips brushed lightly against my neck. I couldn't prevent the
tremor that passed through me.

His bare hand took possession of my arm, then he moved fluidly, bringing my
body around to face his, while I pressed my face against his chest. I felt
his hands grip me, his regret obvious despite our silence, then he stroked
my hair and shoulders soothingly, apologising silently. I felt his kiss
against the top of my head, then his lips came to rest against my brow as I
pressed myself closer to him, accepting his comfort.

Kimahri woke us for the last watch that night with a furred paw on each of
our shoulders, and when our eyes were open he stalked away silently. He and
Tidus must have rebuilt the fire before waking us, and Tidus was already a
still form on the ground, his head buried in his arms. We walked the
perimeter of the camp as usual and I shivered and rubbed my arms, very much


aware of the cold at this early hour.

He spoke quietly to avoid waking our sleeping companions. "It will get
colder than this before we reach Zanarkand."

"I know." I moved to sit on his left side and manipulated his empty sleeve.
"You're not using this, right?"

When I was done my left shoulder was pressed against his and I held his coat
sleeve wrapped around my front, covering my bare arms. He chuckled at my
antics then we fell silent as we watched. My melancholy mood returned with
his silence, and in my lethargy I fell asleep again, but he did not wake me
until just before dawn. I was chagrined by my failure to keep watch but he
seemed unconcerned at being left to keep guard alone, ruffling my hair as he
went to wake the others.

Tidus went halfway across the bridge before we broke camp, staring into the
ravine below. When he came back he asked "What's down there?"

Yuna smiled. "It's said that long ago Sin was defeated here, and when its
body crashed to earth it caused an enormous crack to open up between the
mountain and the plain."

"Shouldn't we go down there and look around? Maybe there's something else
down there, something we can learn about Sin."

Lulu looked down at the ground, her face wearing an unfamiliar expression,
then her features smoothed out into her usual calm resolve. "He's right.
There is something down there."

I was surprised that Lulu had been the one to back him up, but even more
surprised when Auron didn't argue about it. He was the last person I
expected to concur with such a side excursion, but instead he nodded
agreement, lending his silent weight to the suggestion. Yuna looked
undecided at first, but once we had packed up our camp she led the way as we
turned aside from the bridge, making our way down the sloping path that
passed beneath its span.

A narrow band of sunlight reached the ground of the steep sided ravine, and
I walked along the center of it to catch the warmth of the sun's rays on my
back. There was nothing but sparse grass beneath our feet and bare rock on
either side. Even the wind was muted down here.

We were all caught in the spell woven by the silence around us, and we
walked quickly saying nothing. I began to feel spooked, as though something
creepy was going to happen, and I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure
nothing was following us. Tidus noticed me and raised his eyebrows
questioningly.

I started to laugh. "This is really creepy, you know. Someone say something
already!"

He grinned at me. "So Sin was defeated here? Do you think the earth knows
what happened? Is that why nothing grows here?"

He kicked at a stone, sending it a few feet in front of him.

Lulu looked around and shivered. "Not enough sun."

Yuna spoke thoughtfully. "I suppose that would stifle growing things. But
the grass is still here. That's something."

I skipped forward, grateful that the mood of our party had lightened
somewhat. I put my arm in Auron's hugging him close to my side and he looked
down at me, putting his arm around me briefly before he let go of me. "This
is my sword arm."

He gestured with his head. "Other side."

I smiled brightly and took his suggestion, grabbing his coat sleeve in one
hand as I walked along beside him, swinging it in time with my movements. I
caught the hint of a smile over the edge of his collar as I did so and was
glad that he wasn't annoyed with my semi-appropriation of his garment.

Eventually the ravine opened out onto a grassy ledge and there was nothing
but a steep cliff before us. The ocean swept out below our feet to the
horizon, nothing but water and sky. On the left was what appeared to be a
natural cave, but someone had decorated the stone around it into an ornately
decorated archway. There were some shallow steps leading down into the
opening.

Tidus gasped when he caught sight of it, and moved forward to examine it
with interest. I followed him, and when he paused to examine the archway I
peered into the gloom within. "What do you think's in here?"

"The fayth is inside. As are the fiends." We all gawped at Lulu, who had
spoken in response to his question. Wakka asked her a brief question and she
nodded. Tidus, as confused as the rest of us asked what they were talking
about.

"The summoner I guarded on my first pilgrimage...died here."

She was silent for a while, that same troubled look appearing on her
normally calm visage once more. Then she pulled herself together.

"Yuna, let's go. The fayth awaits." Despite her words I noticed that she was
the last to follow us into the cave. It looked dim, dark and dangerous
inside. I checked my weapon, a nervous gesture to reassure myself, before
plunging into the gloomy passage ahead.

End of Part Twenty-One


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