Final showdown with Shuyin.
_________"Wait." Auron checked Maroda's hand reaching for a small glowing panel illuminating the dark end of the tunnel. "Touch that and we may not catch him."
Maroda tapped his spear against the sealed doors next to the control panel. "Huh? He went in here, didn't he?"
"It's a lift. Once you press that button, we won't know where Pacce got off."
"What else can we do, sir, force the doors open and jump?" Elma said. "Could be a long drop."
"Vegnagun's gotta be at the very bottom, right?" Maroda said, trying to reach around him.
"Not necessarily," Isaaru said behind them, pained. "The Via Purifico, where I fought Lady Yuna, is said to be the uttermost dungeon. Yet who knows if that is truly the bottom? In Yevon, something always lies beneath."
"Like Vegnagun, maybe?" his brother said, growling with frustration. "Come on, we're wasting time!"
"The Hymn of the Fayth," Auron said. "Start singing."
Maroda gaped. "You've gotta be joking!"
"Ah. Yes, of course." Isaaru inhaled deeply and eased into the soothing refrain with a priest's gentle drone. "Ieyui nobomenu...."
Elma joined him uncertainly, wavering in and out of key.
"Don't stop," Auron said, hand hovering over the panel until they had cycled around to a new verse. Pressing it, he started counting. Two verses. Three. Five. Seven. Just where was Vegnagun docked, in a garage under the harbor? Nine and a half—
"Keep going," he commanded as the doors slid open. "Get in." Again he waited for the start of a verse before activating the elevator controls.
Maroda's sullen tenor joined theirs as the room began to descend. The Hymn sounded oddly ordinary in close quarters, meant as it was for soaring domes and monumental halls. Nor was Elma much of a singer. Nonetheless, the shared mantra seemed to steady them, and that was all to the good. Will, not just weapons, would be needed in the coming battle.
Auron freed his left arm from his sleeve and adjusted his sword-grip. Another sound was booming up the elevator's shaft, rising to meet them: an alien, jangling music churned out by some kind of machina. It sounded like Zanarkand Stadium's halftime show with a drunk at the keyboard. No, two drunks. The pyreflies in his veins stirred in response, an unsettling itch within his flesh that he had to resist clawing. An otherworld awaits you.
/Not now/, he snapped, focusing on the voices of the living.
Nine and a half. Auron pressed the emergency override. The car squealed to an abrupt halt. The doors opened. A wave of sound broke over them. He leapt, hitting the bridge a few feet below, and launched into a dead run.
What in Spira was that racket? Auron had never entered the Farplane, but he knew with a wrench he was hearing its heartbeat. (you know it you know it you know it) Pyreflies surged, buzzing in time to the acoustic barrage. The behemoth loomed on the bridge's far side, a monster with tusks and teeth and gigantic legs clawing the void and wings/, gods, why did the big ones always have wings? Roving blue spotlights sent out feelers. One of the figures perched in its cockpit was shouting, his words overwhelmed by the musical torrent. Below, Nooj stood under Vegnagun's jaws, tottering, furious, brandishing his false leg like a club. His target was out of reach, but as Auron approached, he took aim for a throw. /(No better plan than to do or to die.)
A frenetic duel raged in the midst of the span, accented by flashes of magic and blood. Juno staggered, warding off Pacce's darting attacks and flying lunges with dogged economy, wielding her sword as a shield. Her left arm hung limp. She was giving up ground, buffeted by the hacking bombardment that had shredded Auron and Maroda a short time before. Blood slicked the deck-plates. Slipping, she caught sight of Auron, raised her weapon and rallied in a burst of weak strikes. Pacce redoubled his blows, baleful laughter cackling over Vegnagun's uncanny chords.
(/Hold now, aim is steady.)/ Auron slammed his weight into the boy's back, blade hitting hard enough for a killing blow were he not armored. Pacce's body flew from the point of impact. For a instant Auron feared that he would hurtle over the edge. Then he executed a complicated aerial flip, a blitzer's move so familiar that Auron nearly skidded off himself, distracted. By the time he had checked his momentum, Pacce had rebounded and was springing towards him, laughing shrilly with sword weaving in a maddened hornet's dance.
"Wondered if you were going to show, old man." The blade sliced into the muscle of Auron's bared upper arm too swiftly for him to block with his bracer. "I hear we've met before...or is it since?"
The nagging pyrefly chorus was growing louder, harder to ignore. The ribbed walls of Vegnagun's vault were transmuting into Zanarkand's skyline. (/Memories of it cloud your sight./) Soaring towers and girders blossomed around Auron like the bones of a dream. He gritted his teeth and pressed forward with an overhand swing. Shuyin bent around the blow and and pierced his side with a jab before whirling away.
"Pacce!" Maroda pelted into the fray with his spear reversed. "Fight him, Pacce! We're here!"
"I'm so glad, dear brother." Shuyin dodged him like a charging Dual-Horn and brought his sword down, chopping the spear in two. (/You bite the hand that feeds you./) The follow-through nearly took Maroda's legs out from under him. Auron seized his harness, yanking him back from the edge.
Elma seemed to have better tactical instincts. She was skirting the melee to reach Juno and press a phial into her hands. "Potion," the Crusader shouted, turning to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. "Fork attack?"
(Don't you give up on it.) The percussion of Vegnagun's engines obscured the clash of steel. The bridge was quaking. Pyreflies were swarming now, sliding over Vegnagun's exoskeleton in a pulsing web. The machina was growing translucent, or else fiend's madness was mazing Auron's sight. The roar of Zanarkand Stadium thundered in his ears. (/Fight fight fight fight)./ Vegnagun's floodlights painted Pacce's spinning body in a sphere-pool glow.
Auron lunged again, drawing Shuyin's attention as the two women split in a pincer movement, attacking with sword and truncheon as he landed between them. Barely registering their blows, he flung his arms wide to shove them aside, leapt high, and raised his sword in a triumphant pose.
Two simple words, but Auron was frozen by them. Stunned, he failed to shield himself from the burning trails of fire and sparks raining down. Looking up, he saw not Pacce's chubby features, but the lean face of the ward he had failed to protect. He glimpsed blond hair, blue eyes, a cheeky smirk that was crueler, older than he remembered.
"Tidus?" he said, choking on the name. (/The otherworld, it hates you./)
Zanarkand. He had forgotten how much he hated it. Pyrefly spectators cheered with bloodthirsty glee as Auron began to cough, drowning— he had never been a swimmer— his blood diffusing into the water as he thrashed. (/Lost your way, a fallen knight./)
"Isaaru, send! Send now! He's taking Sir Auron!"
The referee's bellow made no sense. Auron released his sword and cupped his hands over his heart, fighting to stem the spill of pyreflies. The referee leapt in front of him, reaching for the dropped weapon, but the gesture left him perilously exposed. A scalloped blue blade darted in like a fish. There was a scream, a moment's struggle— the women were grappling with Tidus, yanking him backwards in a double tackle— and the referee went down writhing, clutching his stomach.
An anguished cry rang out. "Maroda!"
Auron grabbed for him, catching the straps of his armor as he rolled off the bridge. In his mind's eye, Auron saw another, younger face, another body dangling below him, another voice shouting his name. But his fingers were melting through the straps, losing hold. (Hopes dies. Dreams, they rip asunder.)
Maroda plummeted through the bottom of the sphere-pool with a cry, disappearing from sight. Auron was falling, too. One of the women's voices cut through the water above him, distorted and desperate: "Please, sir, you've got to send, or we'll lose Pacce too."
The pipe organ's blaring tumult suddenly ceased. All lights went out. Auron felt himself floating down, down, swathed in an unraveling shroud of pyreflies that had no color, no sound, no taste, no sensation. The last embers of his will almost wept with relief. At last, he would allow himself to strike bottom.
(/The otherworld, it takes you./)