Chapter XVII - Post Tenebras Lux

"Pride can stand
a thousand trials
the strong will
never fall
but watching stars
without you
my soul cries"

- "Kissing You" Des'ree

The air had turned bitingly cold and darkness had descended upon the small village. All of the travelers were bundled up nicely in the boarding house, which unfortunately, wasn't that sturdily built. They all huddled around the fire, blankets wrapped thickly about their bodies. There was a untroubled chatter scattered about the group, nothing deep or profound, and every now and then Tidus and Wakka would engage in some light bantering. It was a peaceful time for the weary travelers, a time where they could actually sit and rest, and not worry about an onslaught of fiends at any minute. That was the price one had to pay for sleeping in the wilderness. It may be incredibly beautiful, but it was also extremely dangerous. Kimahri and Auron had spent numerous sleepless nights then, watching over the slumbering party. But, neither of them seemed to mind. Kimahri would never complain, not unless hell had frozen over and the sun had burnt out, and even then there are still doubts; and Auron had a slight aversion to sleeping. Sleep was when one's fears and weaknesses surfaced, and Auron had never favored those traits. Therefore, he'd only sleep when exhaustion won him over, and then the sleep would be thankfully dreamless.

Auron was seated across from her now, gazing pensively into the fire. He had opted to take off that silly collar and had even loosened his jacket a bit. A drab looking blanket hung over his shoulders, threatening to fall off at any sudden movement. The man looked entirely peaceful, as if the dancing flames worked as some sort of panacea, and soothed away his doubts and worries. He looked like a simple man, not some legendary warrior steeped in turmoil. And Rikku felt like she had fallen in love all over again.

This was like a teaser for a life that could never be. Sitting calmly in a nondescript living room, just watching the fire blaze. These were dreams she dared not let emerge, for she knew that a life after all of this would not include Auron. It brought a slight film of tears to her eyes, and she had to lower her head before anyone else could notice. She furiously scrubbed at her eyes, not allowing herself the luxury of crying. Something's were just not meant to last, and some people were not meant to linger. It was a sad fact of life, and Rikku's life seemed to be littered with those.

A single crystalline droplet fell, staining the woolen blanket that was wrapped about her body. She receded into the folds of the blanket, attempting to cloak the tears that were beginning to stream down her face. She hadn't wanted to let herself cry, she didn't want to seem weak. But, unfortunately she just couldn't hold it back any longer. Her world was crashing down slowly around her.

She stood up abruptly, and made for the door, shedding her blanket on the way. She didn't chance a glance back to see if anyone had noticed, for fear that they may discover her reason for leaving. Grabbing her newly purchased coat, she pried open the door and trudged out into the night.

The sky was clear for a change, but the air was still arctic, and she pulled the coat tightly around her in response. The fresh air, however, performed wonders for her appearance. . Her tears seemed to dry up upon stepping outdoors, and the cold had evened out her complexion, ridding it of the blotches, and just giving it an all over reddened guise. It looked nothing more like she was a bit chilled, but, unfortunately, the air could do nothing for the interior. Reality still stung freshly in her mind, and it would take far more than a raw breeze to disperse it.

Her pace picked up a bit and she walked further into the darkened village. It was a bit late, maybe around 11:00, 11:30ish. She didn't really care about that though, it was either sleeping fitfully in there or freezing out here. At the moment, she really couldn't choose the lesser of the two evils. But, since she was already outside, she might as well stay there. It would do to clear her mind. There was a point that once your entire body became numb, your mind did as well. Well, actually that was hypothermia, and she didn't really want to dabble in that area. Though, it really was rather tempting at the moment…

She paused, letting out a huge sigh. Her palpable breath drifted up into the night sky, once more fading into oblivion. She followed that breath with her eyes, and once it had faded found herself, once more, staring at the stars. They twinkled grandly far far above her, just as unreachable and unattainable as her own aspirations. Another teaser to add to her pile. They sure looked pretty, but hell, what could pretty do? You could only drag yourself so far on pretty, you had to have the fates on your side to do any better than that.

Unfortunately, it seemed whatever gods still existed in those boundless heavens had completely forgotten about her, as well as everyone else for that matter. They had forgotten about these wretched souls that had to fight for their right to breathe. For some reason, that just didn't seem fair. Sin wasn't fair, Sin had no right to be here.

She growled, and whirled around readying herself to kick anything that she could find. But stopped before her angry could boil over. What use did anger have anyway? She could kick that useless rock over there, but what could would it do? Sin would still be out there destroying everything, and on top of that her foot would hurt. Pain was a familiar emotion though, something that she was so familiar with it was almost comforting. And that thought alone was frightening.

"It's sad that life has come to this," Said a voice, coming from behind Rikku. She hardly jumped at the noise, her nerves too riled already to be kicked up anymore. It was Lulu, not who she had been expecting, but not a disappointment in the least. She was actually a bit relieved that it wasn't Auron. She just couldn't face the man right now.

"Yeah, it really is," Rikku sighed, turning to face the older woman. Lulu had a fur wrap draped around her usually bared shoulders. Her face was reddened as well, well at least the part that Rikku could see. She was, however, a bit surprised that Lulu had come out to talk to her. They hadn't really talked too much on the journey, and Rikku had just figured that the woman saw her as annoying. Can't say she could blame her, her constant moping was beginning to get on her own nerves, as well.

"I just don't know what to do anymore, Lulu. I mean, you know we can't go through with this. We can't let her die…"

"Is it only Yuna that you worry about?" Lulu interjected, giving Rikku a meaningful look. Rikku stopped altogether, he green eyes widening. She couldn't possibly be suggesting the man that plagued her mind night and day; how did she know?

"I saw him at the Farplane, as Yuna performed the sending for Lord Jyscal," She replied, answering Rikku's unspoken question. The rigidity of the Al Bhed's form seemed to relax a touch at the Black Mage's words, but not by much. So, she was that transparent? Did the others know? Furthermore, did she even care that they did? She didn't think she did, or at least, she didn't think she had enough in her to even bother to try. What did it matter anyway? He'll be gone when Sin was, except Auron didn't have the luxury of coming back after ten years. He'd move on, head towards the Farplane and remain there till the ends of time. Her love would wane with the years, she may even find another to give her heart to. But…but, it would never be complete. He'd always posses a morsel of her being, small but imperative at the same time. Her first love…

"Maybe it's selfish, but I worry for them both. I don't want either of them to die…" She trailed off, turning away from the woman. She stood upon an icy precipice, jutting out of the hillside, overlooking the barren lands of frost and snow below them.

"It's not selfish, Rikku. But, you must suppress these feelings, this is all we have. The Calm is all we have left, and the only way to achieve it is through…"

"That can't be right, though! A sacrifice?! Doesn't that seem slightly wrong to you? Am I the only one that thinks its immoral to send a virtual angel to her death?" Her voice was raised and it echoed off great Gagazet, himself. But she didn't care, she only cared that the two people she loved were traveling to their deaths. She only cared that she was living in a heartless world that damned its most faithful.

Lulu stepped up beside her, placing a manicured hand upon Rikku's trembling shoulder. The urge to wrench herself away welled up inside her; the urge to run away from humanity and hide in hole safe from all the horrible things in the world. But, she suppressed it. She allowed the older woman to hold her shoulder, to offer her strength in her time of weakness. For hiding would solve nothing, just as yelling and cursing the world would do the same.

In her heart, she knew Lulu was right. She had to stay the course, that was the only way. Maybe things would work out for the best, maybe they wouldn't. But, staying here and doing nothing, ignoring all the problems of the world, would do nothing. Sheltering her loved ones from death would do nothing. Only facing the darkness, even if she was only armed with a little match, was better than lingering in the artificial light her mind had simulated. There was no salvation in this little village on the cliffside of Gagazet, only turmoil and doubt. She had to push past that, she had to carry on.

Her hand moved up, clutching Lulu's with all the strength that remained in her chilled form. It may have not been much, but it was enough. The mages arm's encircled her, pulling her towards her warmth and stability. It was then it dawned on Rikku. The reason she yearned so to be like Lulu was because the older woman was unwavering. Because, in all the mage's years she had learned the ability to accept things and move on. Acceptance was something that Rikku had refused to embrace. She had avoided it all through her journey, unable to pass over even the smallest of obstacles; all because she wouldn't even accept that they were there.

She had to accept the facts and move on. Maybe not forget all together, but acknowledging that Sin wasn't going to go away if she closed her eyes and wished for it would be a good start.

"Thank you," She said, pulling away from Lulu. She had helped her far more than she would probably ever know. She had helped organize a bit of the chaos in her mind and for that she would be eternally grateful. Now, with acceptance she could tackle the issue of Sin. She may never accept sending summoners to their deaths, but she had to accept that was the way the world works. She would fight it, but if she failed in the end, she couldn't curse herself for it. It was Yuna's choice, it was his too.

But, she wouldn't stop fighting. She'd struggle for Yuna's life until the end and hopefully her efforts would aid Auron, as well. A small smile stretched across Rikku's face, poignant but genuine. She looked up at Lulu, tears streaming down her cheeks and falling into the grooves of her lips. An errant tear even wrenched itself away from Lulu's stalwart exterior. She was hurting too, they all were. None of them wanted this, but this was the only way they knew. This was the only perceivable answer to Sin's curse, but maybe not the single way all together.

Maybe hope hadn't died after all.