Spoilers: Auron's backstory
Notes: For muggy_mountain. Inspired by this cosplay photography. More of a meandering character piece than a proper story, this is also the first story I've ever written completely, first draft to final posting, using my iPhone. So please pardon any errors.
Zanarkand was a city of concrete, of steel, of multi-colored lights burning through the dead of night. Auron had finally become accustomed to the place, but he was never truly comfortable in its buildings, its streets. Out of tune. There were only three places where he felt like a resident rather than a stranger. One, oddly enough, was the blitzball stadium -- despite his distaste for the sport, and the neon lights, and the crowds, it was the most familiar thing here, the most like his own Spira. The second was the houseboat where Tidus lived; the scent of the ocean put him in mind of Bevelle, and the boy put him in mind of Jecht; both associations could be painful, yet he found them comforting in their own way.
As for the third: there was very little of the natural world in Zanarkand; it was a land built and tamed by humans, earth to sea to sky. But in the northeastern quadrant, there was a city park, filled with trees and grass and a winding brook that emptied into a small lake. The water features were almost certainly artificial, the trees unlikely to be native, but Auron was drawn there regardless. When the hard metal edges of the city grew too sharp to bear, it was to here that Auron would most often make his escape.
One glorious afternoon in early fall, Auron found himself making his way to the park, warm golden sun dappling through the leaves of the trees, grass swishing against his legs. His destination was the center of the park, where the tallest and oldest of the trees made its home. Reaching it, he pulled off his sword and braced it against the trunk, point down. He leaned his head back to look up through the canopy, closing his eye against the warmth of the sun. Then he turned around and sat on the ground, between the roots, the rough bark of the trunk against his back. He unhooked his jug and took a drink, then sat that down as well. Finally settled, he leaned his head backwards, closed his eyes and let his mind clear.
So much, Yevon had stripped from him: his youth, his rank, his honor, his home. The bedrock of his faith and the life of his body. Everything he had ever believed and every man who had ever believed in him (--"save Jecht" a tiny voice whispered; "save Jecht," Auron had to admit, though the truth of that was as hard to bear as any loss). But two things were left to him, things that even death had not been able to tear away: his training, and his memories.
The latter were too painful to contemplate today, so Auron took refuge in the former. Drawing a deep breath (or what approximated breath in this undead body of his), he cleared his mind, let the twinned weights of sorrow and disappointment go, and dropped into a state of meditation. It was one of the first skills taught to a warrior monk -- before battle, before strategy, they learned how to empty themselves of doubt and worry and become at one with the universe, how to listen for the song of a single pyrefly. Not as adept as the summoners, but good enough to drown out the drone of the world and find that clear, still place of peace.
Auron had first discovered the park, this very tree, while in search of that place shortly after his arrival here, ten years past. He had been reeling, still, from the shock of being here, of seeing the other side of death, and of the look in Jecht's wife's eyes, when his soul was yet raw from that loss himself... It had been nearly beyond bearing. He had sought an escape, and here he had found it, in clean air and a clear head. Thusly grounded, he had emerged from the park more ready to face his new challenge.
So far, the base of this tree was the only spot in Zanarkand where he was reliably able to meditate. The connection with nature, he supposed, and the lack of other people -- he rarely saw any of the city's other inhabitants here. And so he had developed a habit of coming whenever he needed that moment of stillness, to think or simply to be.
Today he had intended to think, to go over the conversation he had just finished with Tidus regarding tonight's tournament and the implications of this anniversary -- and of Tidus's seventeenth birthday, just a few weeks past. The age of majority, in Zanarkand; by custom, Tidus was no longer in his care, and in point of fact, the boy -- no, Auron corrected himself, the young man -- had been managing his own affairs for some time. What did that mean for Auron and his purpose here, his continued existence? His duties discharged, would he just fade away, or drift into the mindless eternity of a fiend?
The teachings held no certain answers, nor did logic. So Auron drew on the last refuge of the guardian; he blanked his mind, and he waited, waited for the answer to come. And then, out of stillness and darkness, it did, in the last voice he had ever expected to hear again, gravely tones echoing with ancient and distant waves. One word, and one word alone:
Auron opened his eyes and looked up to the sky, squinting through the light that tricked through the yellowing leaves. "So. It is time."
For a moment more he sat, letting the peaceful air waft over him one last time. And then he stood and left, turning his back on the park as he made his way clear, ready to set a plan in motion at last.
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