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When primitive people talk about the weather, they may personify it, creating monsters who shake the earth or hurl fire in their displeasure. But for all that they live in rickety huts and dress in rags and straps and hand-woven draperies, the people of Besaid are not primitive, and the people in this hut are not from Besaid; they're just visiting. They know that what's going on out there, shaking the woven roof and rattling the unsanded walls, isn't a hurricane.

It's a monster.

He looks at his daughter, her already-tall frame wrapped around a stuffed moogle they bought her in Luca in a full-body cuddle. She's only nine, but she's matured quickly, and the heart-breaking, sulky incomprehension and tight curled-up position looks like regression. "Where's mama?" she asks again, her voice shaky but tearless. She's already cried herself.

"Mama will be back soon," he says, his voice impossibly calm and gentle to the raving maniac inside of him. Rain pelts the walls in a sudden rattle, and then there's a distant crash, as if a giant footprint had come down on the jungle out there. "She just went to the well." At the worst possible moment.

"I want mama!" Lulu screams, and it turns out there are still tears in there.

"I know, I know," he whispers, dropping to his knees and hugging her just as she hugs the moogle, like the dolls they carve in the Western Isles. Those are in their luggage; souvenirs like the moogle; part of the heap of luggage stacked up in one corner. "Try not to cry."

"I- want- mama," Lu hiccups. "I- want- to go- hoooooome."

"Me, too, baby. Me too." It was his idea, he thinks, sick guilt churning in him like an animal. A trip around the world, to celebrate his promotion. Why not? A moving target is harder for Sin to hit, right? That's what the nomads say. And forget, you son of a bitch, that Bevelle is safe, that Bevelle hasn't been attacked in a thousand years. The odds were on their side, after all, so what's the harm? What could possibly go wrong?

Something shakes every board of the hut, and Lulu screams. "Maaaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!

He knows what he has to do. He stands up slowly, bonelessly, moving with an inevitable deliberation. He's not thinking about--won't let him think about--the insanity of this all. He thinks about his wife instead. She never should have married him, he thinks; everyone in Bevelle was after her. She had the pale creamy flawless skin and raven hair of the true Bevelle beauty, not just a personal beauty but a powerful asset for the elite families of the city, buying and selling their daughters and sons to cement alliances and strike deals. She never should have married a captain in the Crusaders--and he wasn't even a captain when they met.

He loves everything about her, he realizes, not letting himself watch his hands strap on the wide shield shoved behind the bed.

("Daddy?" Lulu says slowly, confusion shaking the grief from her voice.)

He loves how she cannot possibly travel light, how he had to rent two rooms on the ferries, one for them and one for the luggage. How she dresses, scandalous even for Bevelle's wildest fashions, before and after marriage, before and as soon as possible after childbirth. He loves her strength, her laughing scorn of men who try to tell her what to do and how to live; even him. How anyone who crosses her is made to pay, sooner or later, and how she's fearless.

He'd disapproved when she initiated Lulu into her cult of beauty, started lining her daughter's eyesand painting her daughter's lip. Piercing her ears. She was too young, he'd said, too innocent. No one's going to look at her and see innocence, she'd said, pragmatic and business-like, letting an unimaginable weariness with the disgusting drives of all the world's men flash briefly through. She's in the wars. Do you want her to go out unarmed?

He picks up his halberd.

"Daddy what are you doing?"

"It's going to be okay, Lu," he says, raising his voice over the growing roar of wind and rain and flying debris and Sin. "I'm going to find mama. Everything will be okay."

"I want to come too!" she shouts, leaping from the cot. "Take me, daddy! I want to find mama too? Don't leave me here!"

A palm tree rips free from the earth outside and smashes through the wall, and for one moment the true madness of what he's doing flickers through his mind. "NO!"

"No," he says, under control again. "You have to stay here, Lulu. You have to, you have to, take care of your moogle. Yeah. Uh. He'll be scared, all alone, right? Somebody has to go find mama, and someone has to stay with him. We're a team, right?" Growing manic.

"You watch the moogle," she says, sulky again.

"He doesn't like me," he says, trying to smile. It's something awful.

"She's a girl," Lulu mutters. "Okay."

She cradles the doll like a baby, and if before she looked regressed, now she looks older. A mother herself, rocking a baby and singing quietly to her. Like her mother. And he sees know, he never should've blamed her for teaching Lulu those things. Because--whether she knew it or not--she was never going to have a chance when Lulu was older. He stands in the doorway, pelted with rain and sticks and leaves, and watches his daughter for the last time.

She's not crying.

He doesn't come back.

The storm--the attack--last only another fifteen minutes; in that time, the hut is swept away utterly. The bed, the walls, all the structure except the center pole, sunk deep into the ground; the luggage, the clothing, all the souvenirs. Except for one. When the boys who lived in the hut next door find her, she's bound to the central pole with all the straps from all the luggage, ripped free and buckled on with a suddenly emerging talent for magic that she had never suspected. That will make her a mage, someday, but never a summoner. And there's a battered, ragtag doll of a moggle gripped tightly in her arms that she won't put down even when they unstrap her; even for the funerals, of her parents and of theirs and of so many other people.

She never lets go. That's not what you do when it's your job to protect someone. Maybe other people don't understand, don't understand how important that is, don't understand that you have a job and you do the job and you try so hard not to cry and you never, ever fail the people it's your job to protect.

"And that's what it means to be a Guardian," she tells Lady Ginnem, ten years later.

The summoner laughs. "You'll do, witch. I think you'll do just fine."
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"So, on a day like today, even Kimahri Ronso celebrates."

The young cat-man with the broken horn lowers the jug and peers into the gloom beneath the archway with his clever slitted eyes; to a human, the broad-shouldered man in the ragged red coat would be no more than a shadow, but to a Ronso's eyes and nose it's as good as daylight.

"Sir Auron," the Ronso rumbles.

"In the flesh," Auron says, his voice dry as dust, and Kimahri makes a sound that might be a growl or just a thoughtful noise. There's a nasty wound healing behind the man's smoked glass lenses, and Kimahri--well, Kimahri knows that arch was empty a moment ago, jug or no jug.

People who are alive make noise. People who are alive have a smell.

"It is true?"

"It's true," Auron says. "Sin is defeated. For now."

"Sir Jecht?" There's no point asking about Braska. Auron shakes his head, a single pre-emptory jerk, and Kimahri nods, and bows low, in the Yevonite prayer.

Auron's laugh is nasty. "Enough of that. I need you to do a little job for me, Kimahri."

"Old times," Kimahri rumbles.

"I'm not asking this as a leader in the warrior-monks this time. I'm asking it as the Legendary Guardian." There's enough self-hatred in that to raise Kimahri's eye whiskers, but Kimahri doesn't ask a lot of questions.

"There's a girl. Yuna. You're to find and take her to Besaid Island, in the south. I'll manage the distraction. Just showing up should be enough."

"Kidnapping?" He hands Auron the bottle, and the Guardian drinks, letting some of it pour over him, the stink of nog hiding the nothing of his death.

"No. I'm her guardian now."

"Braska's daughter," Kimahri realizes. He never knew her name; barely knew the summoner.

"Yes. What's rumor now will be fact in a matter of hours, legend in a matter of days, and scripture in a week. And then Bevelle will react as it always does." Auron paces out of the shadow with growing agitation, managing the enormous sword slung over his shoulder with impossible ease. "She's the last peice of Braska left in this world, which means, to them, she has value. Not as a seven-year-old girl, but as a bargaining chip. Can you imagine the power that would come with raising the daughter of the High Summoner in your household? Of marrying her to your son? Or yourself?"

Kimahri says nothing, perhaps the only being in Bevelle able to out-laconic Auron. "She has her own destiny, and it will never be fulfilled here. It lies on Besaid Island. Beside, it was what Braska wanted."

Kimahri nods. "Trouble?" There's no fear, only a long eye on the future.

"No. They'll be told. Once it's a fait accompli, they'll have no choice but to deal with it."

Kimahiri nods again. "How does Kimahri find her?"

Auron looks up to the clear, unhaunted skies. "She'll be the only person in this city who isn't smiling."

She's standing on one of Bevelle's many graceful arching sky-bridges, and yes, she's sad, in a still self-possessed way that's terrible on her child's face.

Kimahri makes a throat-clearing noise, and she turns wide mismatched eyes on him. She's not startled--he's hardly the only Ronso in Bevelle--but she's wondering. Then she smiles, false and bright, and bows. "May I be of assistance?"

"Tiny human," Kimahri says, awkwardly. How do you begin this? "Yuna?"

She nods. "The high summoner's daughter," she says, brittle and brave. "That's right."

"Kimahri Ronso," he says. "Sir Auron sent Kimahri. Take tiny human to a safe place."

"Really?" Hesitant, but unafraid.

Kimahri rumbles again, and takes out what Sir Auron gave him to show her.

When Yuna wraps her father's rosary around her little fingers, her dreadful composure finally breaks, and she begins to sob. There's a long desolate moment, as Kimahri stands awkwardly, and then he kneels to scoop her up. He's warm, and his fur is soft and sleek, and the beating of the heart in his enormous chest soothes her as he carries her away.

"Again!" she shouts, soaking wet.

"No!" Kimahri snarls, halfway to a roar, and she flinches back. "Tiny human frightened Kimahri!"

She stares at him, eyes huge, and then breaks into giggles. And jumps off the shoopuf again. "Agaaaaaaaain!"

Kimarhi holds his head in his hands while the shoopuf scoops her up with his trunk. Again.

They take her in at the temple in Besaid, and that's where he takes his leave. "Tiny human must stay here," he says firmly. "Kimahri must go. Tiny human will be safe, among other humans. Other children. Kimahri go."

"No!" She's defiant. Not afraid; never of him.

"Kimahri go. Too hot," he says, growing desperate. "Kimahri's fur all falls out."

"We can put it in braids, like the people here have. Oh, we'll have so much fun!" Yuna thinks this is a terrific plan.

"No braids!" Kimahri says, not sure how this is happening to him.

"Okay, Kimahri," she says, making a woeful face. "I guess it's enough if you just stay. We don't haveta put in braids." She hugs one furry leg, barely reaching his shin.

"Tiny human..."

She looks up at him, the face of a child betrayed and abandoned more than once already, but still trusting, still giving her heart away with the slightest provocation, and he knows there's nothing he can do. He sighs. "Kimahri stay. Yes."

"Kimahri! Kimahri!" She's breathless when she runs in, and glowing. "I did it! I passed the first tests! I'm an apprentice summoner now."

Kimahri purrs, his pride nearly echoing off the walls of his chamber, and she laughs, half-hysterical. "I did it. I'm going to be a summoner like my father."

Kimahri's purr trails off.

"Good. Good."

The young woman pounces on him; she comes up to just above his waist now. She's grown. Oh yes.

He brushes one velveted paw through her hair. "Kimahri proud. You big now, very big. Someday be big like Braska. Biggest. Not tiny human anymore. Kimahri proud. Proud of Yuna."

It's the second time she's ever heard him say her name.

She can't quite bring herself to tell him that it makes her sad.


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T. Oso

March 2016

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