Betrayed by the last person they'd expect, Isaaru's party is revived by an unexpected ally.
"Vilgehk cred fedr y puucdan bylg...":" title= Aaaah. Thanks, Yevon-babe. Hey! Just a dang second! You swiped that from my cargo hold, didn't you?"
""Kad yfyo vnus sa!":" title="
"Er, yeah. Sorry I hit you earlier...whoa! No punching the medic."
"This is bad. Servos fused. I'll have to replace the whole joint."
"Just splint it, kid. Give me a pin to stand on. Save the engineering miracles for later."
Elma saved Auron and Rikku for last, enlisting Maroda and Gippal to help her roll the guardian off the woman he had tried to shield. Elma pressed a phial into his gloved hand as he stirred.
"All clear, sir. Wanna help your friend?"
Auron grunted and sat up, popping the cap and shaking out wispy feathers in an economical gesture that spoke of too many years of practice. Glowing filaments rained down on Rikku's mop of braids, flared brightly and winked out. After a few seconds, she gasped and rolled over, biting his knee through his pants to keep from whimpering. Her arms wrapped around her stomach; the skin there was blistered and bubbled like half-melted plastic.
Auron reached for her gently, slipping his hands under her forearms and coaxing her to uncurl. He held her while Isaaru tended her.
"Rikku. Your father wasn't in control of his actions."
"Gee, ya think?" she said. "Ow ow OW I think there's something I hate more than lightning."
"I hear ya, Rikku," Gippal said, wincing. "Yo, Shinra, wasn't that energy blaster one of your inventions?"
"Don't look at me. I'm just a kid."
A Cura or two later, Rikku scrambled to her feet using Auron's coat as a ladder. "Well, that sucked. Did anyone see which way Pops went?"
"No," Nooj said, "but I heard an airship's engines fire fifteen minutes ago."
Rikku pressed a fist to her forehead in a gesture reminiscent of Lulu. "Oh, great. Well, um... eh... heh. Gippal, you goin' anywhere? We could use a ride. Like, pronto!"
"Oh, sure," Gippal said sarcastically. "So we can get blown out of the sky? Remember, Sunshine, Cid's got the big guns."
"But we can't just let him get away!"
"We can't go after him." Maroda spread his hands as several dubious pairs of green eyes turned towards him. "Rikku, look. I know you're worried about your dad. I'd be worried sick. But there's thousands of other lives at stake. If we don't get to Bevelle before Sin gets there--"
"We follow Cid," Auron said.
Maroda was not the only one who gaped. "You've got to be kidding."
Auron stooped in the doorway, raising Nooj onto his good leg with a scrape of metal on stone. "Family comes first. Let's go."
"Awww," Rikku gave a little hop and tagged after him. "So you can teach an old fogey new tricks."
""E ryja y pyt vaamehk ypuid drec,":" title=" Gippal said, following her out.
"Dammit," Maroda said, picking up the spear he'd dropped earlier. "I swear, sooner or later, I'm going to take this and just--"
"Sir?" Elma said, hovering at Isaaru's elbow. "What's wrong?"
Maroda pivoted. "Isaaru?"
"It's all right." The man wiped his eyes hastily. "A moment." Taking several deep breaths, he waited for the other Al Bhed to clear the room, then broke into a beaming smile. "We have a weapon, my brother. Seymour's Final Aeon. At last, I have the means to finish our pilgrimage."
"/Final/ Aeon?" Maroda frowned. "That doesn't make sense. How can you have a Final Aeon without a High Summoner?"
"Little about Lord Seymour makes sense," Isaaru said. "But my suspicions were correct. He completed his pilgrimage. He gained the Final Aeon. Yet he refused to face Sin. Whether through fear or greed for power, I do not know."
"You don't look well, sir," Elma said.
"Yes." Isaaru grimaced. "The fayth: his own mother. Erinyes, or such is the name she gave me. Half-mad with pain. So long as she thinks I am Seymour, the bond between us may be strong indeed. As strong, perhaps, as a true Final Summoning."
"A lie to fight a lie?" Maroda said.
"Exactly. Fitting, no?" Isaaru straightened. "But I must ask both of you to keep this a secret."
Maroda nodded. "Yeah. We sure don't want Auron telling Sin about this."
"Sounds dangerous," Elma said. "What if Erinyes figures out you're not Seymour?"
"I do not know, Commander. But one thing I do know is that we need to get off this island. Our ship is leaving. Come."
They caught up with the others at the cargo doors of Gippal's freighter, where Auron and Gippal were lugging Nooj into the hold. Rikku stood at the foot of the ramp, giving hurried instructions to a few stunned Al Bhed who had straggled out of the control room at the sounds of commotion or Cid's departure.
""Cu, luhdehia dra nabyenc. Ihdem Shinra un E kad pylg, Pnudran'c eh lrynka. Lymm res yht damm res fryd E zicd dumt oui. Fa'mm caht hafc yc cuuh yc fa ryja yho, ugyo?":" title=" Rikku waved at Isaaru. "So, are you guys coming or not?"
"We are," Isaaru said. "Maroda, help with Nooj. Captain Gippal, we beg leave to fly with you again."
"Yeah, sure, just hurry up," Gippal said, swapping out with Maroda. "Nooj, there's a freight elevator behind those gun-racks. Show these blockheads how to use it. Everybody else, follow me. Let's move, people. Cid's got a big lead; we don't want to lose him." So saying, he jogged to the ladder, disappearing rapidly into the darkness overhead.
Rikku scurried up the loading ramp behind them as the cargo bay doors began to close. "Shinra!" she said. "You almost squashed me!"
"You're always boasting how quick you are. Come on. Gippal needs us on the flight deck."
Elma and Isaaru trooped after them, while Maroda and Auron wrestled Nooj into the elevator. No explanation of the lift controls proved necessary; Auron had not spent ten years in Zanarkand hiding on Jecht's houseboat.
Nooj watched curiously as Auron operated the elevator, turning on the lights in the dim compartment as it began to creep upwards. "One would think you knew something about machina, sir guardian."
Maroda shook his head. "Give up, man. He's already said his three words for the day."
The intercom sizzled to life. "Yo, Nooj team. We've got Cid on the scanner. Brace for liftoff." The painful pop as the speaker cut out had barely faded before the ship lurched forward, throwing them against the rear wall. Light panels dimmed momentarily. The lift hesitated as if it might stick, then resumed its slow ascent.
Maroda cursed, taking the brunt of Nooj's metal arm in the ribs. "That guy drives like a maniac."
"This does not surprise me," Nooj said.
Auron shifted his feet, hitching Nooj's arm around his shoulders more securely.
"Don't strain yourself, old man," Maroda said. "You want me to take over?"
Nooj lowered his voice, as if that could make up for the awkwardness of being almost cheek to cheek with the white-haired guardian, were it not for his collar. "It's Sir Auron, isn't it? I seem to have fallen into the company of legends."
"Legendary /failures/, more like," Maroda said.
"Then I'll fit right in." Nooj flicked his eyes to the dark-skinned man. "I don't think we've been introduced."
"Oh. Sorry." He raised his fist in a salute, truncated by the close quarters. "Captain Maroda, Yocun Lodge, normally stationed in the Calm Lands. Currently on leave for my brother's pilgrimage."
"Maester Isaaru?" Nooj said, putting subtle emphasis on the title.
"Yeah. Speaking of which..." Maroda shifted his attention to Auron. "What the hell gives you the right to override our pilgrimage? You're a guardian! Your duty is to obey your summoner!"
Auron gave him a wooden look. "Isaaru trusts my advice. You would do well to follow his example."
"My brother is naive," Maroda said. "It wouldn't occur to him that you might be buying your lady friend time to blow up the last few aeons."
Nooj arched an eyebrow, listening with feigned detachment.
"I yielded to my previous summoners' wishes, because that's what a guardian does," Auron said, impatience seeping out in a growl. "They died. It changed nothing. This time, we do it my way."
"Which is...?" Maroda thumped the floor with his spear. "Why are we going after Cid and not Sin?"
"A hunch." Inexplicably, Auron's stern manner evaporated into a soft chuckle. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"Like hell it is--"
"Gentleman," Nooj said. "With all due respect, Sin is the least of your problems. If Cid gets his hands on Vegnagun, he'll blast Bevelle off the map."
"Vegnagun?" Maroda said.
"A weapon?" Auron said, suddenly intent.
"I'll explain when we're topside. Everyone needs to hear this. Especially Gippal and Shinra. I owe them an apology. " Nooj exhaled. "Once you understand what I know, you may have second thoughts about your quaint little custom of pilgrimage."