Chapter IX - Festina Lente

He was so irritating. It was mind-boggling how one moment she could be at the mercy of his relentless gaze and the next she could be cursing his very existence. Yuna had merely been explaining her interaction with the Maester, until he rudely interrupted her. Again, that homicidal urge began to creep roguishly into her mind, planting thoughts of strangulation or perhaps decapitation..

"You don't hafta talk like that, you know!" She voiced vehemently, the anger clear as day in her soprano voice. Auron shot the girl a grievous stare, seemingly annoyed by her fierce argument.

"Does listening to her regrets make you happy?" He asked roughly, his voice on edge. Rikku received the childish urge to stick her tongue at him, yet she suppressed it instantly. Her pettiness needed no verification. She turned from him, ruefully kicking a protrusion from one of the ancient structures.

"You still don't hafta talk like that." She trailed off, capitulating before Auron had a chance to speak. A gruff 'Humph' was her simple reply, needing no words to scoff at the frivolity of the Al Bhed.

"If your decision is too complex, here is what you do: You continue your journey," He stated bluntly, not wasting any time to beat around the bush. Yet, he never did. Rikku admired and scorned him for that quality; unrelenting tenacity. It was the embodiment of their callous guardian, whether one liked it or not.

Rikku continued to chip away at the primeval edifice with the intensity of her kicks; she had managed to blow off a bit of steam, as well as break off a chunk of the ancient material. The conversation behind her slowly faded to a mere whisper, as heated thoughts ripped through her cluttered mind.

Auron; Her bane and her blessing. He could be her savior one minute, then her demolisher the next, shoving her further into the murky waters. The intensity of her emotions associated with the man where staggering. They wandered each side of the spectrum, varying from blind adulation to avid odium. Yet, how could she lucidly deny some type of strong liking for the cynical man? She had felt so complete while wrapped within his strong embrace. Did she feasibly love Auron? Was it even worth delving further into?

Looking up, she glimpsed over at her fastidious sentinel. A knot formed in her stomach, alerting her of some unknown emotion surging throughout her. Could this possibly be love? She remembered the absurd way Aniki acted around his 'girlfriend'. Was she going to start doing that? Oh, that would be overly embarrassing. Aniki always attempted dreadfully to show off in front of the object of his affection and acted all macho and such. Perhaps, that only pertained to guys.if so; Auron most definitely did not show any reciprocation of her feelings. But, maybe it was different from person to person. Ack, why was love so complicated?

"...Then I don't care if we oppose the temples," stated a stern voice, pulling Rikku quickly back to reality. She looked up, surprise in plain view in her emerald eyes. Had those words truly come from the stoic's lips? Perhaps, he wasn't as rigid as she had assumed.

"But still, a crime is a crime. We should still face judgment," added Lulu, the remaining voice of reason. Rikku rolled her verdant eyes in dissatisfaction. She adored her companions beyond compare, yet sometimes they acted a bit unreasonable.

"Let us go to Bevelle, then. We can explain our situation to the priest Mika at the Holy Bevelle Shrine," Yuna suggested, as Rikku uttered a noiseless groan. They were basically handing their heads over to the Yevon priests on a silver platter. Yevon always proved to be unreasonable in times of distress; this situation would be no different.

"Don't you think so?" Yuna asked, her question focused mainly upon the somber guardian, now leaning meditatively against an icy protuberance. Auron did not look up at her query, his eyes being shielded behind his silver sunglasses rending his expression was unreadable.

"Do what you wish," Came his curt reply.

"Will you come with us?" Yuna braved the question, as she clutched onto her staff tightly. Auron stepped away from the icy stalagmite and quickly surveyed the collection of individuals before him.

"My presence my only worsen things," A wave of small chuckles washed over the group, lifting the gloomy ambiance hanging heavily upon them. Tidus nodded his head dramatically and punched into the air for added spectacle.

"We can always count on Auron to complicate things," Tidus declared between lighthearted chortles. A mutual agreement of Tidus's statement passed around the circle, even Auron sported a rare grin. Rikku smiled and shook her head blithely. They were the murderous traitors of Yevon and she had never had a better time in her life.

"Pretty optimistic, considering our situation, you know," Wakka added, pointing up toward the ice ceiling above them. The laughter faded, and each in turn gazed up at the ice. They still hadn't come up with a plan of how to get out of this mess. As the group gawked hopelessly at the ice cover, echoing strums of the Hymn soothingly began to resound off the mountainous walls. Its peaceful melody, although faraway, still granted the same calming effect it did when hearing it in person.

"Perhaps, a few moments of contemplation will solve our problem?" Lulu suggested, moving towards a nearby boulder and seating herself upon it. Others followed in suit, finding their own nook to ponder within.

Rikku remained before the edifice, gazing blankly at the deep chink added to its fissured form. She hadn't the slightest idea of how to escape the wintry crater. Climbing was already ruled out and truthfully, there weren't many other ways to escape a hole. Swimming was another possibility, but the icy lake could lead anywhere; it was too risky.

Rikku glanced around desperately, there had to be a way out, there was always some way. Her ideas were only getting worse and worse by the second and nothing even plausible was coming to mind. This was absolutely ridiculous. She unleashed an arduous groan and abandoned her fractured structure to search the area for a spark of inspiration.

She walked slowly down a frost-covered pathway, leading away from the group. Maybe, the simple sound of the Hymn would guide her toward an answer. Perhaps the irksome cold was beginning to chip at her sanity. The sparkle of an object upon the ground caught her attention immediately. It wasn't anything stimulating, yet it stirred a memory from her childhood, nonetheless.

She bent down and collected the ancient coin into her gloved hands. She examined it carefully, its every curvature and crevice noticed by her inquisitive eyes. She smiled lightly, the rhyme from her youth still singing through her head.

"Find a gil and pick it up, and all day you'll have good luck," She chanted quietly, stifling the urge to giggle.

"You don't still believe juvenile nursery rhymes, do you?" Rumbled a tenor, from behind Rikku. Rikku spun quickly, flinging the coin in her movement. The coin hit the floor with a muffled clang and rolled briskly toward the brim of the guardian's silver-plated boots. Rikku grumbled quietly, still aggravated by the man's prior ill-mannered comments. Being barraged by several dissimilar emotions at the same, as well does not put one into a joyous mood.

"Maybe I do," She muttered in frank reply. Auron ostensibly ignored her reply, and bent over instead, retrieving the fallen coin. He palmed it in his ebon-gloved hand, examining in very much the same way Rikku had. He seemed to come to some conclusion about the artifact and opened his hand fully, offering the coin back to Rikku.

Rikku stepped forward hesitantly, slowly retrieving the coin from Auron's hand. An unobtrusive shiver surged through Rikku's body, when their hands touched, but she merely shook it away. He was rude and harsh; she would be better off falling for Wakka than this man.

"Think of anything?" Rikku asked casually, turning from the guardian to return to presumably finish her inspection of the area. There was obviously nothing else interesting to find, it was merely an excuse to escape the close proximity of the man. She was still utterly confused by the whole situation, and being near him only stupefied her further.

"What is there to think of? We're stuck in a icy pit," Auron replied straightforwardly, extracting a light chuckle from Rikku. He certainly did not prevaricate in any circumstance; he could be a bit more optimistic, however. Rikku turned back toward him, and leaned against a nearby frozen protuberance.

"Please, don't be overly positive or anything," Rikku said sardonically, a quirky grin forming across her face. Auron shook his head, and shifted to move from the area.

"By the way.Thank you," She called after him, pausing his abrupt exit. He gave her a sidelong glance, a sable brow crooked. Rikku giggled lightly and shoved off from her reclining posture upon the massive icicle.

"...For helping me before," She finished, hopefully clearing up his evident confusion. Auron remained stationary as Rikku paused a few feet away from the guardian. That wretched emotion was beginning to flood through her veins again, threatening to render her motionless. Her grin had long since subsided, and she simply stared at the still guardian, her emerald eyes tracing the contours of his visible facial features.

An angry rumbling rippled through the ground beneath them, ceasing Rikku's scrutiny of Auron. It had gone unnoticed between the two, but the Hymn had halted moments before, and now an eerie silence prevailed. Rikku and Auron exchanged a glance, before hurrying toward the others. Upon reaching the clearing, they were met with the group glancing about uneasily.

"What was that?" Tidus asked restlessly, voicing everyone inner feelings. Another voluble rumble ripped through the cavity, yet this time it did not cease. Gradually, the noise grew louder, as if some monstrosity was approaching; and unfortunately, there was.

"What the heck!" Wakka cried, attempting to keep his footing amidst the quaking of the earth.

"It's Sin!" Auron announced, looking up toward the materializing atrocity. A great quake shook the ground, sending everyone tumbling toward the ground. Rikku cried out loudly, attempting to save herself from the fall, by gripping onto a nearby outcropping. It merely prolonged her standing posture, until another great tremor ripped through the earth, sending her hurtling toward the ground and rendering