Don't Go

Disclaimer: Take heed, dear readers, for I own not these characters.

for Jess
Happy birthday :)

He tore through the hall as swiftly and silently as only a creature of his race could do, ignorant of the sounds of celebration outside. He passed a window, taking no notice of a rising inferno tearing apart the black night sky---a firework, one of many. It exploded into a thousand tiny stars shortly after his passing.

He had no mind for pretty spectacles at this moment, or at any moment really, for he was practical to the core. His catlike eyes scanned the numbers etched on the doorways that lined either side of corridor. Thirty-seven on the right, thirty-eight on the left, thirty-nine on the right as well... He was quite close. The door number he sought was forty-one on this, the third floor of an apartment complex in Bevelle, where all the well to dos made their homes.

When he found door forty-one, he stopped on a dime and knocked. The hall was quiet and the noise he made was magnified to a sound that nearly made him shiver.

Another firework exploded outside, muffled by sheer distance and the building walls. The desperate stranger knocked again, quieter this time, as though he feared to further offend the corridor's pristine silence.

An answer didn't come right away, so he took the opportunity to calm himself down. The temple monks might have taken her already, he reasoned, taken her out to see the fireworks in the hopes that she'd forget about her tragic loss. Poor orphan child.

Anxious, the stranger pressed his furry ear to the door and listened. He could make out a very tiny shuffling sound. The orphan, no doubt. His ears were accurate beyond human understanding. Further analysis revealed the footsteps to be very light---indeed, a child's---and very slow in pace.

He heard the clicking of locks then. There were quite a few of them; five clicks he heard at least. When the clicking finished, there was a grunt, feminine in tone, and a great tug on the heavy door. It swung open wide, revealing the well-furnished and completely dark apartment of the late high summoner Braska...and down below, coming to a height halfway up the stranger's muscular thighs, was a quiet little girl with two-toned eyes, one blue and one green. She was dressed in a long white nightgown that came down to her ankles, with small round buttons going down the front. The lights from the hallway forced her to squint up at her caller.

"She has dark hair...very dark...and her eyes... One is blue like her father's; the other is green. Her mother was Al Bhed... You've heard about that scandal, haven't you?"

Auron's words. Auron, the young man he had found stretched out on a bed in one of the Al Bhed travel agencies, doted on by a man named Rin. Auron, the guardian to summoner Braska, who had a great wound on his left knee. There was one on his face too, over his right eye, something that'd been shallow compared to the other one, which had disabled him from walking. Though it had looked like most of his injuries were healing, the guardian's skin was pale and chilled. He would not last the night; that was certain. In his dying throws he gave a description of Braska's freshly orphaned seven-year-old daughter, named Yuna after the great legendary summoner of Zanarkand, Yunalesca.

"Take her to Besaid, please... Her father had wished it..."

To Besaid, from Bevelle? That would be a long trip, and Kimahri Ronso was not familiar with the way.

But he could cross that bridge later; for now, he must get acquainted with his charge. Little Yuna had been staring up at him with large, frightened eyes since the moment his great figure filled the doorway---albeit slightly hunched over, as he was nearly a foot taller than the doorframe. He ran through the brief checklist in his mind as he stared back at her: two-toned eyes, yes, and the very dark hair, so dark it was almost black, cut neatly to a length that bobbed an inch below her chin. He also couldn't help noticing how unnatural that frown looked on her tiny face. Her expression was more suited to smiling, he thought.

Yuna. A pretty name. He tried it out, not knowing how else to start and not wanting the silence to continue any longer. "Yuna?"

The child nodded, still saucer-eyed, still scared.

"Kimahri is here to take Yuna to Besaid Island. Yuna's father's wishes, Kimahri was told."

Little Yuna shifted in her place. Her eyes looked away. Her hand was still clutching the doorknob. Had she ever seen a Ronso before, Kimahri wondered. She was so young for a human.

When Yuna finally spoke, the clarity of her voice was startling. "Your name's Kimahri?"

Kimahri gave a slight nod. "Yes."

A pause. Then the small, barely audible reply. "Please come in." The girl stepped aside, granting the massive Ronso before her enough berth through which to pass.

That put Kimahri in a bit of an awkward position. He did not expect to have time to relax. The only thing that had been on his mind the entire time was his mission. But Yuna's display of manners in the face of her fear was...charming, he decided, for lack of any other term. ...Charming. Ha, when was the last time he had been charmed? He stepped into the apartment, his sharp Ronso sight adjusting to the all-consuming darkness inside. Not a single light was on; Yuna must have been asleep when he had come to call.

Kimahri glanced down at Yuna as he entered. Her eyes were on her feet. Kimahri frowned. Was she that shy, or did he really look that scary?

When Kimahri was inside Yuna turned and closed the door behind him, meticulously locking all the locks, in order from the topmost to the bottommost. She moved with a diligence that was beyond her years, like a grownup in a child's body.

When she was done she turned around and faced the Ronso. Her eyes were very serious. "We can't leave now. It's nighttime."

Boom, another firework in the far distance. For the first time Kimahri realized how dark it had gotten outside: glancing through one of the apartment windows, he saw a sky as black as pitch, dotted with little stars like dew against its immense expanse. Occasionally there were a few sparks glittering unnaturally against that expanse, in red and yellow and green, those short-lived manmade stars that made pretty patterns in the sky before vanishing without a trace.

"Would you like to sit down?" Yuna extended her little hand in the direction of a couch backed against the apartment wall.

Kimahri grunted. Very well; he might as well make himself comfortable while he still had the opportunity to do so. He wouldn't be leaving until sunup anyway. He made to sit.

Then Yuna spoke again. "Are you comfortable? Do you want anything? A blanket? A pillow? Something to drink?" She held her hands behind her back now and was standing up as tall and straight as she could.

She was very tiny, Kimahri saw. Almost like a faerie. But then again, humans were much smaller than Ronsos. Kimahri assumed all human children must look that small.

Yuna's hospitality was commendable, but she offered too much. Kimahri had no need for any of those things, not yet anyway. He shook his head.

Yuna seemed surprised that he didn't want to be waited on. "Are you sure?" she persisted.

"Kimahri is very sure. Yuna go get her rest now; she will need it for tomorrow."

At that Yuna shook her head. "I can't go to sleep now," she confessed, in a voice so small and quiet it was almost a whisper. She trudged over to one of the two windows then, and grabbing the edge of its broad sill she hoisted herself up and onto it, where she was very close to the glass. The window protruded outward slightly, leaving just enough space for a seven-year-old to have a seat. The view from there could have been described as breathtaking, had Yuna not been raised in this apartment for all seven years of her existence. She was used to the sights.

Her choice of perch made Kimahri a bit nervous. Sure, she was very small, but could that windowsill support her weight? What if she leaned forward too far and fell through the glass? What if she...

Boom. Another distant firework. A shower of golden glitter rained down on the people in the streets below.

"Yuna should not sit there," Kimahri started edgily. "Yuna might fall through the glass. She might be too heavy for windowsill---"

"Oh, it's okay. I sat here before lots of times." Yuna's eyes were fixed on the city outside. The color of every rising firework was reflected on her little face. The customary buzz of crowd chatter was so muted by distance that it was practically inaudible. The fireworks were loud enough to be heard, however. Up went another one then, that one blue. It burst into a glittery pattern of the sacred symbol Kimahri recognized as Ifrit's, the aeon whose fayth rested at Kilika temple.

Kilika... That island was close to Besaid, wasn't it? Kimahri cursed himself then for having not paid much attention to his geography lessons as a cub. There were so many blasted islands in Spira...

He sighed. Not only did he have a long road ahead of him that he didn't know well, but he also had to get used to a human child along for the ride. The last time Kimahri had been among ones so young had been back on Gagazet when he was little.

Though he wasn't much older now, just fifteen. Yuna was seven. Only eight years apart! Yet he had fought Biran one-on-one like all the young Ronsos yearned to do. That would have made him an adult, had he admitted defeat and not ran away in disgrace...

Yuna suddenly looked his way; her voice put a dead end to his meandering thoughts. "You know," she began, turning around on the windowsill so that she was facing the interior of her father's apartment, "I didn't know Father was gone right away. When I saw the fireworks I was happy. Then one of our neighbors came in and said Sin was dead and that my father did it. That was when I knew he wasn't coming back..." She looked over her shoulder, back out the window once more. "I like fireworks."

Boom. The umpteenth shower of pretty sparks, now crimson and orange.

Kimahri took no notice of them. He could have sworn he saw a little smile on Yuna's lips just then. It looked like it belonged there more than any other gesture in the world...until it melted away into a deep frown, and her eyes closed and her face scrunched up, reddening.

Before the first tear fell he was at her side. Yet he was utterly clueless on what to do next from there. Touch her? Say something? He couldn't just stand there. "Yuna don't cry," he began awkwardly.

There was a great sniffle, then, "Yuna wants to cry! Yuna can't sleep! She can't do anything!" Her face fell into her hands and she wept unhindered, quiet as a mouse save for the heaving of her chest. "I want Father back," she whimpered, before her sobbing resumed.

Outside, the next faraway boom.

Kimahri knelt down and gathered the little orphan into his furry arms. Oh, she was so light, like a butterfly perched on his finger. She looked even tinier when she was this close to him.

He stroked her hair as gently as he could. He opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it quickly, for Yuna had wished for something that no mortal creature could ever grant.

That night Kimahri had laid Yuna down on the couch to sleep. She had fallen into slumber not too long after crying, leaving her caretaker with an enormous amount of pity for her, along with a very wet shoulder. The Ronso had cast a glance around the apartment, searching for a blanket or a pillow or something to make her more comfortable. He had come up with the small cushions on the couch; those would have to do. He wasn't too sure where the twin doors ahead of him led to and he wasn't up to risking a peek.

He'd rested her tiny head on the cushion and she hadn't stirred at all. Contented for her well being, he eventually fell asleep himself, sitting upright beside her. The pitter-patter of tiny feet roused him the following morning.

Yuna had awoken before him.

Kimahri opened one sleepy yellow eye. Yuna rushed by his field of vision, then back again, all in a hurry. He opened his other eye and shifted in his place with a grunt.

That caught Yuna's attention. "Oh! Good morning, Kimahri!" She bowed politely. She was fully dressed, he saw, and her eyes were smiling.

Odd that she'd be so spirited, what with last night and all those tears. Kimahri could only guess that human children adapted to tough situations very quickly. What a fortunate trait to possess.

"Aren't we going to leave soon?" Yuna inquired mildly.

Once breakfast was served, Kimahri thought, heeding the growl of his stomach. He went back to watching Yuna again, stretching on the couch. "What Yuna doing?"

By then Yuna had entered one of the two doors Kimahri had spotted the night before, the one on the right. At the sound of his voice her head poked out of the open doorway. "I'm packing for the trip." Then her head disappeared back into the room.

Curious, Kimahri rose and headed for the door. A glance within revealed everything that would normally be found in a little girl's room...

...Strewn all over the place. The closet was wide open as were the dresser drawers, and many things were scattered in disheveled heaps on the bed. Yuna was standing there before it, absorbed in the process of folding clothes and stuffing them into one of two open suitcases. When she sensed Kimahri's presence, she looked up from her work and happily explained everything.

"I can't think of what to take, so I'm just trying to fit everything into these suitcases." She spread her arms out there, encompassing an entire room filled with an uncountable amount of possessions.

Kimahri sighed.

It hadn't been easy at all. Some things just couldn't be taken along.

Yuna was mostly complacent when Kimahri told her that some of her belongings would have to be left behind, but there were a few impracticalities that she was unwilling to part with. For the first time since he'd met her, Kimahri was exposed to a side of Yuna that he never thought he'd see in her: a side so stubborn and unrelenting that it left him baffled.

The final decision of what to take boiled down to this: into one suitcase would go all of Yuna's clothes, as much as could be packed inside. Into the next would go all the sentimental items like her stuffed moomba, a bunch of framed pictures (mostly of her parents, and mostly from her father's room), and a towel from the washroom ("It smells like Father's aftershave," she said), to name just a few from the list. When all that was finished, Kimahri and Yuna left Braska's apartment. They headed for the lobby of the building, where it was explained to the man at the front desk that apartment number forty-one on the third floor would no longer be in use.

As Kimahri did all the talking (and the carrying of both suitcases), Yuna stood wordlessly by his side. When he was finished, he cocked his head in the direction of the lobby's double-doors and grunted, indicating to Yuna that it was time to leave the building.

"I'm gonna miss living here," Yuna said, in a voice so small and quiet that only Ronso ears could hear her.

Breakfast got scratched off the to-do list soon afterward. Kimahri took Yuna to a little eatery not too far from the apartment complex. The place was very quiet and had hardly any people in it, as most of them were outside lining the walkways, waiting to see the first parade to celebrate Sin's demise.

After eating, the next task was to leave the city. It would not be easy. As rumor of Sin's defeat spread throughout Spira, it was conventional for every locale, from big city to tiny village, to hold some sort of festival in honor of the Calm. Bevelle, being the biggest city in Spira, naturally held the biggest celebratory events. Kimahri was forced to lead Yuna down sidewalks that were paved with people, all of them talking and shouting and waving and waiting, not all of them patiently. Many side streets were blocked off from any incoming traffic, pedestrian and otherwise, to prevent disruption to the parade preparations that lay beyond.

Though he was stuck carrying all of the baggage, Kimahri nevertheless had the longer legs and thus walked much faster than Yuna. His mind was bent on leaving the obnoxiously crowded city as soon as was possible, so it was no surprise that Yuna eventually became lost in his wake. "Waaaait!" she called after him. Her light, clear voice carried over the din of the crowds. "I can't walk as fast as you!"

The Ronso's ears pricked at the sound of the little voice. Ah, how could he have forgotten about that? His brow wrinkled in self-disgust. She was so tiny, she hadn't a chance against his fast pace, and she could easily get crushed amongst all those big people. Abruptly he turned around, as best as he could given the sea of citizens that surrounded him, and searched for the young girl he had nearly left behind. In the process of turning around he had knocked into several people, evoking a whole bunch of impolite glares and a few watch-where-you're-goings.

"Yuna?" he called out for her.

"Down here!"

Kimahri lowered his eyes and found Yuna down by his thighs, huffing and puffing. She wrapped her arms around his leg and looked up at him. "I'm sorry... Can you please walk slower? I can't keep up with you, and my feet're getting tired..."

An idea hit Kimahri then. He got down on one knee and rested both suitcases against the ground. "Climb onto Kimahri's shoulders," he instructed Yuna.

"Oh!" She looked at him wide-eyed, apparently delighted about having an opportunity to be carried. But soon her joyous mien dissipated into a thoughtful frown. "But won't you get tired? You're carrying everything already."

"Kimahri will deal with that when the time comes. Yuna climb on now."

So she did, grabbing onto his shoulder and pulling herself up and over his back. She got into a comfortable position right behind his neck, her legs hanging down on either side of it. To brace herself she grabbed onto the long, cloud-white locks of hair that were underneath a jutting ponytail.

"Yuna hold on tight." The young Ronso got to his feet again, grabbed both suitcases, and continued on his way.

At first Yuna hadn't been grasping his hair too tightly, but that changed quickly after she felt how bumpy the ride turned out to be. She balled her little fists firmly around each section of Kimahri's mane to keep her balance, to the point where her mount began to feel an unwanted pull.

He grimaced. "Yuna... Yuna pulling too hard on hair...!"

"Oops! I'm sorry." Kimahri felt her little hands reach for his ponytail. "How 'bout here?"

No, there was still tugging. "No, not good spot..."

"Okay..." A considerable pause. "Here?" Her arms stretched around his head to his face, where her hands rested on his chin.

"Try...a little lower." Around the neck would be nice, so long as she didn't choke him.

"I can't! My arms can't reach down that far!"

The Ronso growled deep within his throat, something that might have scared the little girl riding on his shoulders. No, this wouldn't do. He stopped walking. There was only one thing Yuna could hold on to so she wouldn't tumble off, and that was the broken horn that protruded from his forehead in all its shortened shame.

"Yuna grab on to Kimahri's horn," he bid her reluctantly, hoping against reason that she would not ask how it had gotten that way.

"Oh, okay!" He felt her arms slide around his head close to the top. Her hands came down around the smooth, solid horn-stump, just above Kimahri's eyes. Satisfied at last, the Ronso resumed the journey through Bevelle.

All was well until Yuna innocuously inquired, "Kimahri? How did your horn get broken?"

As completely innocent as the question had been, Kimahri was still unable to repress the bitterness that accompanied mention of that irreversible occurrence. He didn't want to answer that question, ever, no matter who asked it. "Yuna should not ask Kimahri that question."

"Oh, all right. Sorry."

Thereafter, she became a monument to silence.

In time Kimahri reached the end of the street he had been traveling on---an artificial end, formed by Bevelle's famed warrior monks, who barred the rest of the way from sidewalk to sidewalk in one stalwart, unyielding line.

The warrior monk closest to Kimahri turned he and Yuna away. "I'm sorry, but the two of you can't pass here. We've got a parade getting ready right around the corner and we can't have any outside interference."

Across the street, sounds of other warrior monks telling other travelers the same thing could be heard. Not all replies were of the pleasant sort.

Kimahri's brow furrowed. "But Kimahri must get Yuna out of the city! Yuna must go all the way to Besaid! Kimahri not very familiar with Bevelle; he does not know what other way to take." For Kimahri had been residing in Bevelle for only a few short weeks, and only because it was the first city since the Calm Lands and Macalania Woods for one who had journeyed all the way from Mount Gagazet.

The warrior monk was apparently flabbergasted at mention of Yuna's name. "Did you say Yuna? As in Yuna, daughter of Braska?" He raised his eyes to the little girl riding the hulking Ronso's shoulders.

"Kimahri was told that Lord Braska wanted Yuna to be taken to Besaid," the Ronso explained again. "Kimahri will carry out those orders no matter what."

The warrior monk was still focused on Yuna. "Aww, cheer up, little lady. Your father did a really great thing for you...and for all of us. Only the greatest summoners can defeat Sin."

Because she was on his shoulders, Kimahri could not tell what expression Yuna wore on her face, but she remained very still.

Obviously brought back to the situation at hand by Yuna's lack of response, the warrior monk pointed in the direction of Kimahri's left. "If you want to leave, take that side street there. That'll get you to the city gates."

Kimahri nodded and proceeded to follow the man's directions.

When Yuna and Kimahri had finally left the city of Bevelle, Yuna climbed down off Kimahri's shoulders. She turned around to gaze at the far-off cityscape of her birthplace one last time. Behind the two loomed the cold, terrible forest of Macalania. Its twisted trees cast fiendish shadows on the grass beneath their feet.

Yuna mused vaguely, "I wonder when I'll ever come back here?" When, not if, Kimahri noted.

There was no answer for her save the wind whispering through the trees.

The next portion of the journey was a rough one. According to a map Kimahri had purchased in Bevelle, the road led through the unwelcoming Macalania Woods and across the Thunder Plains, where the climate would again become as temperate as that of Bevelle and the Calm Lands.

The Macalania forest was dank and cool due to its location close to the frozen lake in the northwest. There was a temple far up there, one that housed the fayth of the icy aeon Shiva, but Kimahri knew that he could not afford to make any out-of-the-way stops.

He had little to fend off the fiends of the forest save a handmade spear. Yuna stood close to him the whole way through, never once riding on his shoulders but always right by his side. She never allowed herself to get too far behind and there was nothing about the woods that encouraged her to run off ahead. Kimahri slowed down his pacing whenever it became too quick, so the young girl wouldn't tire herself out trying to match it.

The trip through the woods ate up four days of the journey. Three more would be spent crossing the first half of the Thunder Plains. That half, where the gnarled trees of Macalania began to thin out and become scarce, was the longer of the two. The Thunder Plains were broken up not only by the lightning rod towers that dotted its uneven expanse, but also by the Al Bhed travel agency at the top of a rocky crest.

Yuna wasn't intimidated by the lightning...much. When it struck too close, it would send her climbing up Kimahri's muscular legs with a shriek and clinging there with strength that seemed almost inhuman. Most of the fiends lurked in the shadows of the lightning rod towers; it appeared that they, too, feared the tumultuousness of the plains...or perhaps they had discovered that lying in wait by the rest stops made it easier to find and catch living prey. It took a lot of effort to keep them at bay.

Naturally they stopped at the travel agency. Kimahri was never one to upkeep a prejudice against the Al Bhed despite the teachings he so staunchly believed in, and he knew that Yuna, being half-Al Bhed herself, would have no qualms about the race of the establishment's owners and operators. Kimahri paid for one night's stay in one of the little rooms---for that travel agency was very small and outfitted only with what provisions were deemed absolutely necessary.

Inside their room, Kimahri was able to release his grip on Yuna's suitcases without having to keep a close eye on them. He flopped down on one of the beds, sighing deeply. He decided shortly after that the starkness of the little lodging was much to his liking, nice and practical. If Yuna proved to be too tired to continue the journey the next morning (such as mornings were on the Thunder Plains, as bleak and cheerless as the nights), he would certainly be willing to shell out for another day's stay.

Yuna had crawled into the bed against the opposite wall and wasted no time in falling asleep. Kimahri watched her idly, again taking notice how small she was, resting there on that big bed. She'd better resume her tight grasp on him once they were back outside, he thought. The winds of the Thunder Plains might blow her away.

In her sleep Yuna shivered just a little, but Kimahri, being the owner of a highly developed sense of sight, had no trouble seeing this. He got up off his bed and made to tuck her in under the sheets---out of practicality, he assured himself. It wouldn't do if little Yuna caught a cold. He was already amazed that she hadn't managed to do that so far, after being through a bitter woodland and making it halfway across a muggy, rainy wasteland.

Yuna strong, he thought. Very strong.

He pulled the sheets out from beneath her sleeping form, very carefully so as not to disturb her, and covered her with them gently. Not too long after that, he turned in himself.


Kimahri sleeping, Kimahri groaned to himself. Yuna go away.

"Kimahri, I need a drink of water."

The Ronso cracked one eye and found a sleepy Yuna standing on wobbly legs before him, rubbing her eyes.

"Where's the bathroom?" she asked.

Mostly unwilling, yet feeling compelled, Kimahri cast off his sheets and sat upright in bed. "Yuna stay here. Kimahri get the water for her." And so he rose, clumsily given his weariness, and set off, out of the room and down the hall to fetch a cup of water. When he came back with it, Yuna was all graciousness the way she always was.

"Oh, thank you Kimahri...!" she started, sleep thick in her voice. Before she even reached for the cup she executed the traditional gesture of Yevon before him...but she was too tired to complete it. She tipped over headfirst; Kimahri swiftly caught her with his free arm.

Morning came, with a buzz---an alarm went off in all the rooms of the travel agency around six o'clock. Kimahri shot bolt upright in bed, shocked and irritated at once.

"Emergency?" he wondered aloud. Why else would an alarm be buzzing? Immediately, instinctively, he looked to his right to check on Yuna. She too was sitting up in bed, blinking and yawning---and making sure to cover her mouth during the latter, as was proper. She didn't seem half as bothered as her Ronso protector.

"What's that loud noise?"

Kimahri left the room and inquired about it at the front desk.

"Oh, that's just our way of saying 'good morning'!" said the cheery lady stationed there in a thick Al Bhed accent. "Because there's no other way to tell if it's morning here, you see?"

Kimahri threw her a very dangerous glance before plodding back to his room.

Kimahri and Yuna crossed the second and shorter half of the Thunder Plains in two days' time. On the following day, they arrived at the next hub of their travels: Guadosalam, and with it the Farplane as well.

Compared to the menacing Macalania Woods and the treacherous Thunder Plains, the woodland country of Guadosalam was a welcome sight. Kimahri had never been there before, so the scenery was as new to his eyes as it was to his protege's.

The Guado were the tree-people of Spira; all their homes and places of business were inside cavities bored into the hearts of immense oaks, the largest Kimahri had ever seen. Their trunks grew well out of range of even his acute vision and their branches far up above formed an impenetrable canopy over the whole village. Everything would have been completely dark, had the Guado no access to a strange form of lighting: a glowing liquid substance that filled their lampposts and formed decorative moats around some of the tree-trunk homes. It appeared to be some kind of living material, and in many places its soft light was very green, the color of growing things.

Well, it made sense, Kimahri reasoned. Fire must be considered illegal in Guadosalam, and with good reason. A misplaced torch could mean the end of the world.

As for the Guado themselves, Kimahri had little thoughts on them, for better or for worse. They were an odd-looking folk, to be sure, but the moment after that thought had crossed his mind, he was reminded of the way Yuna had stared at him back in Bevelle when they had first met.

Now that he thought about it, humans looked pretty bizarre too.

Of all the sights to see in Guadosalam, Yuna was eager to visit the Farplane first. "I can't wait to see Father there!" she said, smiling from ear to ear, her eyes two bright gemstones.

So Kimahri indulged her and to the Farplane they walked. He held her little hand as he took her up the many levels of the Guado city, across broad branch bridges and down a lighted path through the center of another tree, to the set of stony steps and one very otherworldly portal at the very top. Once they had climbed all the stairs Yuna rushed in, ahead of Kimahri. Though she was indeed unfamiliar with Guadosalam and the Farplane, all denizens of Spira were taught that the city and the spectacle it contained welcomed all people of all races. Every creature knew what awaited him or her in a visit to that tiny sampling of the afterlife. The Ronso chased after her.

Inside, the place was as full as it normally was on any ordinary day, the visitors being a mixed group of humans and Guado and even a Ronso pair far off to the right. Seeing some of his fellows made Kimahri instantly recall that ill-starred day when Biran had broken his horn. It was in a fit of shame and pride that he had left the mountains that had been his home, too stubborn to acknowledge defeat.

He reminded himself of Yuna then. She was quite a stubborn little human girl herself.

Kimahri tore his eyes away from the other Ronsos and skimmed over the visitors in the Farplane, catching a glimpse of dark hair brushing past people's thighs: tiny Yuna, who was making for a spot off to the left. A good choice, Kimahri thought. As far away from the other Ronsos as possible.

By the time Kimahri reached Yuna's side, the pyreflies had already reacted to her thoughts. There, floating before her in a sea of mist punctuated only by those tiny glowing orbs, were the images of Yuna's father Braska and her mother, fair-haired and green-eyed as any Al Bhed would be.

Kimahri studied the woman's image with interest. Her daughter looked a lot like her.

Yuna greeted her parents as though they had just come back from a long vacation. "Hi Father! Hi Mother!" She made the sweeping gesture of Yevon before them. "Are you both well? I miss you. Kimahri is taking good care of me. He's the first Ronso I ever saw! He's taking me all the way to Besaid like you said. He's so big, isn't he? But he's really nice and he can reach all the tall places that I can't..."

As Yuna talked, Kimahri studied the other Ronsos off to the side from the corner of his eye. He wondered if they would see him and recognize him.

"...One time I found a spider all the way up on the wall in the room we were staying in and Kimahri went up and SMACK, he squished it that fast! ..."

He turned back to Yuna then. It was...cute (cute because he couldn't think of a better word, he assured himself), to see her standing there giving her dead parents a full report on everything that had happened. She looked like a school student reciting a poem she memorized before her classmates.

"...I like Guadosalam. It's really pretty! The Guado people look weird, but they're so nice! ..."

The Ronso pair departed the Farplane. Kimahri breathed a tiny, unnoticed sigh of relief.

"Kimahri? Where're we going next?"

The Ronso turned to find Yuna staring up at him expectantly. He paused for a bit, recalling the trail he had planned out on his map. "The Moonflow," he informed her curtly.

Yuna turned back to the images of her parents. "Hear that? We're gonna go to the Moonflow next! I've never seen the Moonflow before. Maybe one day I can come back here and tell you what it's like!"

Moonflow... If Kimahri's estimations were correct, then he and Yuna had already covered half the distance to the city of Luca, the second largest city in all of Spira. From there they could take a ship to Besaid Island and the journey would come to a conclusion at last.

That night, the twosome stayed in an inn at Guadosalam, which left them prone to the renowned Guado hospitality. The Guado were used to accommodating strangers, since the Farplane attracted so many pilgrims from all over the world.

As he lay down in his own bed, Kimahri noticed that off in the corner of the room one of the two suitcases had been opened. He sat up, fuming with suspicion. He didn't settle down until he spotted Yuna fast asleep in her own bed, clutching the towel she'd brought along from her father's apartment in Bevelle---the one that smelled like his aftershave.

The successive leg of the journey was much easier. Kimahri, with the aid of his map, took Yuna down a winding dirt path through a relatively calm wood to the shoopuf wharf at the Moonflow banks.

"Oh, look!"

The little seven-year-old pointed ahead to a large gray shape standing by the wharf, being directed this way and that by a lithe little creature with a funny way of speaking.

"Those are shoopufs," Kimahri told her.

Yuna faced him, eyes bright with eagerness. "Oh, are we gonna ride one? Are we? Are we?"

Kimahri couldn't help smiling at her enthusiasm. "Yes. Kimahri and Yuna will ride shoopuf to the southern wharf. Then Kimahri will take Yuna down Djose highroad, then Mushroom Rock road, then Mi'ihen highroad. Then Kimahri and Yuna will be in city of Luca. Then they take boat from Luca to Besaid." Then Kimahri's work would be finished. The realization had him pause for a beat. What would he do with himself once Yuna arrived safely in Besaid? Where would he go? It was a question that hadn't occurred to him until now, and he was unprepared to give it an answer.

Yuna tugged at his hand. "Kimahri, let's go! Let's go!"

That broke him from his trance. He wrapped his big furry hand around Yuna's. The pair walked down to the wharf together, where a quick-moving Hypello ushered them onto a machina lift, the only means for passengers to get onto the seating arrangement fixed atop the shoopuf's back.

During the lift ride, Yuna turned to Kimahri and asked him, "Isn't this a machina we're riding?"

A simple question that called for a complicated reply. Kimahri didn't know where to start initially. "Yuna raised in Bevelle; Yuna should know this. Some machina are approved by temple. Other machina forbidden, like firearms. Those are sacrilegious machina." Funny, but as Kimahri tried to rationalize the different forms of machina to Yuna, he came to see that the rules didn't really hold much water. Some machina were bad, while others were good, and the only way to tell which was which was by listening to what the temple in Bevelle had to say? Why wasn't all machina considered bad? Perhaps it was best he didn't try to solve that riddle now.

Once the lift came to a jolting stop, Kimahri, Yuna, and the shoopuf-driver walked onto the seating arrangement. From there the Hypello nimbly bounded up to the single seat at the shoopuf's neck and settled himself in. He took a set of reigns into his hands. "All aboardsh?" he called out.

Yuna giggled at his manner of speaking.

"Shoopuf ish leaving!" The driver snapped the reigns, the signal for the mighty shoopuf to descend into the water. It did so with a grace so unusual for a creature its size. It landed into the foggy Moonflow river with nary a ripple.

Yuna had been peering over the edge of her seat as the shoopuf made its way into the pyrefly-infested waters; when it landed, the seating on its back shifted unexpectedly and Yuna toppled over the edge, with barely a little cry escaping her mouth.

Kimahri was up in a heartbeat. "Yuna!" He dashed over to the seat where she'd been, peering over its edge, his eyes scanning the muddy water far below. He found Yuna thrashing desperately in the Moonflow's sluggish current, flailing her arms and trying to keep her head above the water. She tried to cry out, but every time she did she was cut off when the river got too high.

Kimahri made to jump into the Moonflow and save her. No sooner had that plan been formulated than his eyes spotted the shoopuf wrap its long, supple trunk around the helpless little girl, raising her out of the water. Kimahri turned toward the front of the shoopuf, and amidst the driver's incoherent babbling he saw the shoopuf's nose drop Yuna onto its mammoth head, right before the driver's seat.

Kimahri made out some of the driver's words. "Oh, thish shoopuf ish a shmart one! Lucky girl! Verrry lucky girl!"

Soaked to the bone and dripping wet, Yuna managed to climb her way back to Kimahri. She was smiling broadly despite the seriousness of her ordeal. "The water's so warm!" she reported excitedly. "Did you see what happened, Kimahri? Did you see? The shoopuf saved me!"

Kimahri shook his head in disbelief. "Driver right; Yuna very lucky girl. Yuna sit now, and not peek so far over the edge again."

"Oh, but I wanna do it again! Just one more time, Kimahri! Please? Just one more time!" And before the poor Ronso could utter one word of protest (or reach out to stop her), Yuna had intentionally jumped off the shoopuf again and into the warm Moonflow river. And Kimahri got up and watched as the shoopuf saved her from drowning, again.

She would end up doing this two more times.

The trip from the northern Moonflow wharf to the southern one had taken longer than expected---accordingly so, since Yuna's antics had caused the shoopuf to pause in its wading four times. Upon arriving on solid ground once more, Kimahri gave Yuna a scolding motivated entirely by worry. The little girl endured the next portion of the journey without a peep, which took her and her guardian down the Djose highroad, across the rugged Mushroom Rock road, and down the very long Mi'ihen highroad. In his haste and distress over Yuna's actions, Kimahri had forgotten to stop at the Temple of Djose. It was traditional for all Yevon-worshipping travelers to do so.

During a one-night respite at the Mi'ihen highroad travel agency, he went back over his course of action and decided that the missed stop could be forgiven.

Of course, Yuna was on speaking terms with him again at that point. She'd gotten over her guilt at upsetting him so much a few weeks ago.

The stay at this particular travel agency was one Kimahri would have liked to pass up, but Yuna was very tired and couldn't walk another step. So there he was, in another room at another travel agency, with the sleepy little daughter of the late high summoner.

She was cuddling her stuffed moomba as she slept. Kimahri watched her, contemplating all that had happened since their meeting in Bevelle.

He felt like he had known her forever. The two of them had been on the road for months now. Kimahri had to endure the brunt of the trip the entire time: fending off fiends (since he was the only one equipped to do so), lugging around two suitcases (which, while seeming quite light at first, also seemed to gradually gain weight as the journey dragged on), and taking care of his little charge.

The third part was probably the easiest, he thought with a smile. Yuna was so well mannered, and only rarely did she get into any kind of mischief. In fact, the shoopuf incident was the only one that Kimahri could think of that had given him any stress. Yuna's parents should be proud of her; she was probably the most well behaved little girl in all of Spira.

Originally the Ronso youth had assumed that taking care of a child would be too much to handle. After all, he wasn't an adult yet himself. There was still a lot he had to learn, too.

He wondered then, if he had done all the right things for Yuna. Had he taught her anything along the way? Could he have done anything better, handled any situations with more caution?

And what did she think of him, that peaceful little waif lying on her side on that great big bed, with that moomba doll that was nearly as big as she was? He supposed that time would show him the answer, unaware as he was that it had already done so.

There were no words that could accurately describe the blitzball-crazy city of Luca, sitting on the southernmost tip of a peninsula on Spira's largest continent. Below it, after miles and miles of ocean, lay an uncountable scattering of islands, a garden of little landmasses in a turquoise sea, carrying the homes of many devoted Yevonites on their backs.

In Luca, Yuna and Kimahri headed straight for the docks. At dock two they boarded a ship for the humble Besaid Island (not an easy find, for hardly any ships sailed there from such a noisy, bustling metropolis).

Yuna was very excited at the start of the voyage. "It's my first ship ride! I've never been on a ship before! Have you ever been on a ship, Kimahri?"

"Kimahri has not been on a ship before, no. So it will be Kimahri's first ship ride too." He smiled down at Yuna.

Behind the shield that was his grin, however, he was nervous, and in retrospect it was with good reason: he had become seasick a few hours into the voyage. The ship took about a week to reach Besaid Island, a stretch of days that usually found Kimahri lingering by the ship rails with his head hung over them.

On one of those days, Yuna could have been found doing the same thing across from him, on the other side of the vessel---only she had recovered from her slight bout of seasickness days ago. She was idly blowing at the dark fringe of hair that hung before her eyes, watching the strands fly up away from her face with each puff of breath. Six days into the voyage and she was bored out of her mind. She had already seen everything: the chocobos powering the ride deep in the ship's belly, and the upper level of the vessel that allowed for a spectacular view of the ocean for as far as her eyes could see. After a while, even trying to catch the seagulls had begun to bore her. Kimahri could tell this, for he kept a close eye on her whenever his stomach wasn't churning with the roll of the waves.

She was strong, Yuna. Very strong indeed.

Kimahri's seasickness waned when the ship reached land.

He left the ship with a disenchanted Yuna, blinking in the blistering midday sunshine. As soon as his feet touched the shores of Besaid Island, he was taken aback. No wonder Braska had wished for his daughter to live here: Besaid was a far cry from the stifling, synthetic city streets of Yuna's hometown. Save for the sounds of the passengers disembarking, all that could be heard were the squawks of overhead gulls and the shivering of palm fronds as a hot breeze blew through the trees. Instead of skyscrapers stretching on to dizzying heights and a maze of roads in metal and machina, there was golden sand and lush forests all around. It was a world painted with generous strokes of green, yellow, and blue.

A little gasp from Yuna brought Kimahri's eyes down to where she was, her mouth agape at the spread of unsullied nature stretching out lazily before her. Kimahri knew that she must be having as hard a time as he was, trying to reconcile Besaid with all the other places they had seen.

When the spell of awe had been broken, Yuna tugged excitedly at Kimahri's clothing. "Oh, isn't this the prettiest place you ever saw?"

Kimahri chuckled good-naturedly. "Pretty" didn't begin to describe Besaid.

...But the words "end of the line" certainly did. Yes, here was where Kimahri was supposed to take Yuna. His journey had been completed successfully. He was ready to congratulate himself just then, until he remembered that he couldn't just leave Yuna there on the beach. He had to get her to a village and find someone to take care of her.

He looked down at Yuna, wondering if she was aware that they would be parted soon. She must have forgotten, he surmised. The look on her face held no trace of remembrance that the journey ended here.

He abandoned Yuna's side momentarily to ask a native for directions to the nearest village. It wasn't written on his face, but his heart had begun to sink. He doubted then if he could really leave Yuna after all the time they'd spent together. But there wasn't a choice involved, was there?

It turned out that Besaid Island had only one major village, one that guarded the temple of the fayth of Valefor. Both Kimahri and Yuna had to travel through a winding trail to reach it, a thin snake of sand that threaded through flowery foliage and rushing waterfalls. The city of Besaid was at the end, enclosed by a great stone wall with only one gate to let travelers through and to keep the fiends out. But fiends numbered very scarce on the island when compared to some of the other locations Kimahri had seen. The calm weather of the island must pacify them, he assumed.

Within the city walls the sight of rows of huts and open-air markets greeted the Ronso and his petite companion. Despite its isolated location, Besaid had a very welcoming air about it. Maybe the abundant sunshine, or the citizens conversing in boisterous bliss (and a very exotic accent), had something to do with that effect. Or maybe it was the scent of the sea, carried by tropical winds from the shores not too far off beyond the temple, which made it feel as though the ocean were but a few footfalls away. At Kimahri's side Yuna was wowed over and over again, clutching his hand tightly, pointing to this and that and chirping happily about what a lovely village it was.

The islanders regarded the Temple of Besaid as precious beyond all else; this was displayed with a solemnness that set it apart from the rest of the village. The great structure stood serene and kingly at the far end of the city, boasting an impressive array of motifs and images carved into its stone sides. People walked in and out of it freely, but always in a reverent silence.

The temple... Yes, that was where Kimahri could leave Yuna, in the care of the monks within. They certainly wouldn't turn down the orphan daughter of Spira's most recent summoner-hero. If anything, they should consider taking her in to be a privilege.

Kimahri stopped walking and knelt down by Yuna's side. He would break it to her now, if indeed she had forgotten that everything ended here.

Yuna was gazing at him through eyes expectant. For a moment Kimahri became tongue-tied. The words spilled out after considerahle effort. "Kimahri must leave Yuna soon. He has done all that he was supposed to. He will take Yuna as far as the temple; the monks will take care of her there."

The Ronso watched her response closely. First her mouth opened, then closed. Her eyes began to do a lot of talking then. Surprise melted into a brief glimmer of remembrance, then finally into disappointment and sadness. Kimahri waited patiently for her to speak. When she did, her voice was very low in tone. "But I don't want you to leave," she started feebly. Her tiny hands came down over his paw. "Don't go. Please?"

Kimahri scowled. Did she have to give him those big, soft eyes, the ones he found hard to resist? She was making this very difficult. "Yuna should not say that. Kimahri had only promised to take Yuna to Besaid. He did not have to do any more than that." Although he had to make sure she'd be all right in this foreign place; it would be cruel of him not to do so. Once she was taken care of, only then would his responsibilities to her end without dispute.

Except for his feelings. Deep down he didn't want to leave Yuna either, even if her new caretakers (whoever they turned out to be) were to swear an oath of protection to her. Somehow being by Yuna's side now meant more than just completing a task, and Kimahri found it hard to rationalize that change of focus.

So he didn't bother with it. He got to his feet again without another word, took Yuna's hand into his, and led her to the temple. As they walked, he noticed that Yuna's prattling had ceased. He stole a quick glance at her expression.

She was pouting.

Inside the temple, Kimahri presented Yuna to some of the monks, who were rather surprised that a Ronso would be seen in their little village. At once they went off to inform the high priest of their temple. When he was before the two, Kimahri spoke for the seven-year-old at his side. "This is Yuna, daughter of summoner Braska. Kimahri was ordered to bring her to this village. Yuna needs place to stay; she has no one else to turn to and nowhere else to go."

At mention of Lord Braska's name, the high priest became very gracious. His sentences were punctuated with the revered gesture of Yevon. "Oh, of course! It would be our honor to accommodate the daughter of such an esteemed summoner."

The high priest called for some assistance, and soon Yuna was led off by a lady monk and taken to a room in the back, where she was provided with clean clothes. The monk offered her robes normally worn by children aspiring to become temple monks themselves. Kimahri followed Yuna into the room to drop off the two suitcases he had been carrying for so long.

They landed on the floor with a muffled thud. Then came the inevitable ache, the burning in his muscles that he had tolerated for the full duration of his journey with the daughter of Braska. Yet now, they burned with the promise of never having to tote such weighty luggage again, and for that the Ronso was indeed grateful. He rubbed his furry limbs.

Then suddenly he paused in the midst of it, as the weight of his situation descended upon his mind in full. Yuna had been taken care of now. The monks in the Besaid temple would be her caretakers. She had no need of Kimahri anymore and he was no longer in her service. The deed had been done; the last page of the story had been read. Now it was time to close the book and put it up on a shelf, for time to age and memory to ripen into a sweet fondness.

Over. Finished. Done. Kimahri turned and gazed into Yuna's bi-colored eyes.

Don't go, they insisted.

He approached her presently to say his goodbyes. He got straight to his point. "Kimahri leaves now. Yuna will be safe here." And...and something. He should add something else. But what was there to add? There was nothing more to say...was there?

The lady monk escorted Kimahri out of the room with the explanation that Yuna had to change. He frowned, still lost in thought and still confused. Why did he feel like something was going unsaid? His orders had been quite simple.

The door was closed behind him. Kimahri looked at it over his shoulder, as if it would have a more clear-cut solution for him. As if a more clear-cut solution was needed. He turned around again with an irritated growl. Did he have to go over this with himself a thousand times? Very well: it was over, done, finished. He had taken Yuna to Besaid in accordance with her father's wishes. He had acquired for her a place to stay and possibly even grow up in. She was safe. Yuna had no more need of Kimahri, just as he had no further reasons to stay by her side.

Then why does Kimahri still feel that he must stay, he thought to himself. Why doesn't Kimahri just leave now? Why doesn't he go?

So he did. He went and proved to himself that it was over once and for all. He forced himself out of that temple. It didn't seem logical to stay anyway, a part of him goaded. He wouldn't fit in with those villagers, and they seemed to be wary of him, judging by their relentless staring the moment he made his entrance with Yuna. Superficially it seemed as though there was nothing for him here.

Kimahri made a beeline for the exit of the temple's antechamber, taking the great strides he had once done back when he hadn't been slowing down for a seven-year-old. He was nearly at the doors when Yuna's voice stopped him cold.

"Wait! Please! Kimahri! Waaaaaaaaaaait!"

Almost mechanically he turned around. The sound of her little voice had tugged hard on his heartstrings, much in the same way that her little hands had done on his clothing whenever she was excited about something. Coming out from the room the monk had led her into moments ago, fully dressed, was the little orphan girl. Even in spite of the childish size of her clothes, she was drowning in them. The hem of her robes was down past her feet. Still, she ran with reckless abandon toward that great furry blue pillar of familiarity.

"Wait! Wai---!"

In her haste she tripped over her clothes and fell smack down against the unmerciful floor of the temple. But before a cry could be uttered or a move made, she was back up on her feet again---apparently unharmed---and resumed her charge for her protector with all the fervor of before, undiminished by her fall.

When she reached the Ronso, she threw her small arms around his upper thigh and clung there with a tenacity that was admirable...and a bit painful too. Kimahri's face twisted in discomfort.

Yuna buried her face into his leg. "Don't go! Don't go! Don't go!" Then she looked up at him. The rims of her eyes glistened with tears, ready to plummet down her pale cheeks. Her grip hadn't lessened one bit.

Kimahri's heart melted. He was at a loss for words again. His mouth opened; his tongue silently tried a few phrases, but to his astonishment he came to realize that he was attempting nothing more than unintelligible mutterings. He settled with a very reluctant "Yuna" after a time.

Yuna still had plenty to say. "Don't go, don't go! Please don't...!"

"Yuna," he tried again, but she didn't budge at all. Kimahri bent over and forcefully pried the little girl off his thigh---she had one hell of a hold, that was for sure---and lifted her up into his arms. Her eyes were begging him still, with a thousand more don't-gos. He smiled at her and the decision was made automatically. "If Yuna wants Kimahri to stay, then Kimahri will stay."

His words changed Yuna's expression; she smiled and it was like the sun rising against the backdrop of her features. Kimahri expected her to say something, to go on and on the way she always did when she was glad, but she remained quiet. Rather, she reached out and grasped his face with her little hands and leaned in to kiss him on the cheek. "Thank you," she whispered.

Kimahri nodded. When Yuna indicated that she wanted to stand on her own, he obediently lowered her to her feet. "Sometimes," he remarked afterward, "Kimahri think Yuna is stronger than he is." And he probably had bruises on his thigh to prove that.

Yuna merely laughed at his words.