"It's been half an hour. How's he doing?"
"No good. He can't get the patterns right."
"Why? You complaining?"
Auron knew that Jecht was uncouth, unsophisticated, had more bark than bite, and a lot of other unsavoury aspects. But he also knew that he was honest. So when Jecht said "oh," he knew he meant it. "Oh," as in, "it's actually a good thing Braska is having trouble with the block puzzles. If he can't complete them, he won't have to give his life for the Final Summoning."
Or thereabouts. There might have been some variation in the man's head. But it was what Auron was thinking at least.
And hoping for.
The warrior monk smiled sadly as the blocks Braska had activated lost their colour, and the summoner was forced to start over again. The Zanarkand Dome puzzle wasn't that complicated – whatever the difficulty that might have existed in solving it, it could still be solved by trial and error. Given enough time, Braska would open the way to the structure's fayth chamber. And it was time Braska seemed willing to take.
"Let's see now…"
Braska walked back up to the screen, showing the block pattern. And Auron sighed – Braska had spent months journeying from Bevelle, to Luca, to Besaid, to every temple of Yevon before coming here. The chances of him losing patience on this puzzle, after passing every other cloister of trials were practically non-existent.
"Red blocks, green blocks…"
But the chance was there. So standing in the entrance to the room, Auron hoped…prayed…that Braska would give up. That it would be this puzzle that had defeated him. Summoners had quit much earlier in their pilgrimages before, and having to made it to Zanarkand at all would be enough for commendation.
"Aha. I think I've got it."
Auron smiled sadly as Braska began moving from block to block. He'd 'got it.' It, as in, the key to his own death, for a sacrifice that would remove Sin from the world for a few years and be forgotten as soon as the next summoner to reach Zanarkand repeated the process. He looked at Jecht. He looked back at him.
"This would make a good game y'know."
And like always, Jecht managed to say both the wrong thing, and the right thing.
"What the hell are you on about?"
But for Auron right here, right now, it mostly felt wrong.
"These blocks," the blitzball player said, gesturing out across the room as Braska moved along. "The way they all have to line up."
"Yeah, but…" The man smirked. "Think about it Auron. Imagine a game where these blocks fell down a sphere screen. A player could arrange them, like, where they fell. How fast they fell."
"Come on Auron, loosen up," Jecht smirked. "Different blocks – vertical, horizontal, diagonal. The player could rotate them as well, make lines with them. Win points."
"Jecht, did you start drinking again?"
"Nearly there!" Braska called.
"And, like, sooner or later you'd lose the game," Jecht said. "Blocks in the wrong places, speed increases. But you'd want to do better. Like…like blitzball man, but for one person? Some hobby-level game? Heck, your world could do with a thing like that."
No, what our world could do with is the removal of Sin.
Auron looked over at Braska. He had indeed "done it." One of the circular pads in the centre of the room lit up. One more pattern appeared on the screen. The last pattern in all likelihood, Auron reflected. One last trial for Braska to overcome. One last chance for him to turn back.
"Sorry to keep you waiting," Braska said, smiling at his guardians. "But it'll be over soon. I think I'm finally getting the hang of it."
"Yes," Auron said softly. "It's nearly over."
Jecht sniggered. And Auron glared at him.
"See?" the lout asked. "Braska gets it. This trial could easily be a game of its own."
"Jecht, Braska is going to die, and you-"
"Treat it like a game?" Jecht asked. "Yeah, of course I do. It's about the only thing that's kept me sane since I got here."
Auron opened his mouth…then closed it. A game. It sounded ridiculous. Disrespectful. Yet…meaningful, also. Blitzball was still played in Luca. Swimming races were still held in Besaid and Kilika. Chocobo jousting was starting to become a thing as well. Games…maybe games were what kept Spira going, Auron reflected. Gave the people as much hope as summoners.
"So tell me," Auron whispered. "This new game of yours. What's its name?"
"I dunno," Jecht shrugged. "Tetris or something."
Auron looked at him. "Tetris?"
"Yeah, Tetris." Jecht shrugged. "What, you think I'm the type of guy who's good at naming stuff? I throw balls for a living!"
Auron stared. Then chuckled. Then laughed. Laughed in what felt like the first time in ages. In months. His entire life.
"Done," Braska called. "What you laughing about Auron?"
And the guardian stopped laughing. Braska had finished. The game was over. The result already decided.
"Nothing," he said. "I was laughing at nothing."
Auron looked at Jecht, and Auron's fellow guardian nodded. Game over indeed. Slowly, the pair walked to the summoner. Slowly, they made themselves ready to receive their reward for their victory. The death of a close friend.
It was why, Auron reflected, that pilgrimages were not sport.
Because no-one could never win.
Of all the trial cloisters of Final Fantasy X, I found the Zanarkand one to be the most bearable. The block coding was tedious, but it was far more interesting than just running around with spheres (apparently it never occured to Tidus to carry a sphere in each hand). Anyway, gave me the idea for this.