Nooj and Isaaru speak of religion and other things.
Nooj did precisely what Isaaru said. He didn't hesitate, not even for a single moment. Since his Machina induced limp made him slower, he lagged behind, but he hardly looked like a puppy following a bigger dog. If anything, he looked like someone who would go to the ends of the world to go after someone.
"Score!" Gippal shouted once Nooj passed by his table. The only thing that kept Nooj from wanting to vanish was his meeting with Isaaru.
The Summoner froze right in front of the door. He looked over his shoulder at the young Al Bhed with widened blue eyes. Baralai held his head in his hands, and Paine just shook her head at Gippal. The rest of the patrons were watching too and some of them were not happy, but did not dare say anything.
"Not quite," Nooj finally answered with a small smile. He looked back at Isaaru, who was also smiling. Before his friends could say anything more, he walked towards Isaaru, who went ahead and opened the door.
Outside, the sun created a variety of oranges and reds as it approached the horizon. Nooj had forgotten that, but such a thing was never a concern of him. Pretty skies were more for people like Baralai, and it seemed like it was for Isaaru too because the Summoner was already at the Mi'ihen cliff. He was motionless, like the sun had somehow hypnotized him, rendering him paralyzed while the wind managed to pick up the outer layer of his robes. Isaaru's topknot also swayed in the wind and Nooj knew that if his hair were down, it would have spread all over his face. Nooj's own ponytail moved towards the wind, but that was no concern of his as he limped towards Isaaru, but then stopped.
Nooj suddenly realized that Isaaru looked almost perfect against the reddened sun as the clouds embraced him and the gilded water below cried out his name. "Fiery Light". One that will soon be snuffed out by the very harsh wind of the Final Aeon.
"You'll never see the Mi'ihen sun again," Nooj stated. He didn't have to ask. He knew.
Isaaru did not turn around, but he spoke, "No, I will not."
Baralai would have found that sad, but that was Baralai. Nooj only considered it something that was just a fact. Isaaru was a Summoners and Summoners died. They looked at things as if they would never see them again. Except, it was true. Nooj knew that.
"So, you don't intend to come back here."
"Do you?" Isaaru quickly countered, his body shadowed by the remaining light.
"We have that much in common," Isaaru said before falling silent.
Nooj slowly, but surely moved forward until he was beside the Summoner, "Why is the sunset so important to people?"
"Because it's beautiful," came Isaaru's reply, which Nooj easily predicted. "Why do you take it for granted?"
Nooj did not predict that, but he answered swiftly. "I don't take it for granted. It just never was a concern of mine. It's there. It happens when the planet rotates. It's pretty, but all it means is that it would soon be night."
"So, it's that easy for you, yes?"
Nooj nodded. "Yes. People put meaning into something that happens everyday. I don't see them doing it for using the bathroom."
Isaaru laughed. "Oh, they do all right, it's just a slightly different meaning." Isaaru's cheeks turned slightly red. Nooj chose to elaborate.
"I just mean that if it's pretty, it's suddenly a big deal, so important, so romantic. People spend hours just staring at it, and then they stare at the stars that have been there long before they have. If the sunset was an ugly thing, no one would make such a big deal out of it."
"Oh, indeed," Isaaru agreed. "Beauty has always been an important aspect of life to many people. Your friend, the white haired one, will be considered very meaningful in the eyes of others."
"I would hope that he's 'meaningful' through his merits rather than his 'beauty'," Nooj answered with a tinge of undisguised bitterness in his voice. "Sure, looks are nice, but they're hardly the end all be all of a person."
"I just mean that people are more apt to forgive him for his faults," Isaaru said. Nooj could swear that the sun reflected in his eyes. "He would probably get gifts and praise."
"And unwanted attention," Nooj snickered. He certainly didn't want that to happen to a good friend, but he knew he was being realistic.
"I'm sure he can ward them off."
"I don't know. He's too polite." Nooj shrugged. He knew Baralai's strength, but he also knew that his friend was shy and not quite as self-assured as Isaaru. Baralai admitted that himself.
"I know the importance of manners," Isaaru replied, still not looking away from the sun. "However, I also know the importance of knowing when to have them and when to push back when someone tries to push you. I have not met him, but I looked at him on my way out and found that not only was he beautiful, he was razor sharp, like a newly made sword."
"His name is Baralai, if you want to know," Nooj stated.
"And the other two?"
"The Al Bhed is Gippal and our recorder is Paine." Nooj said this all like it didn't matter.
"I see that the four of you are close," Isaaru said, looking upward at the clouds that slowly turned into deep orange colors that mixed with a little purple and red. "Surely you must be grateful."
Nooj smiled. "Actually, yes I am."
"Are they what keep you alive?"
"No. I keep me alive." Nooj sighed. "Actually, that's not true." Isaaru still did not turn, but he lowered his head, clearly intent on listening. "Soon after I first met my friends, we were doing battle with fiends, and of them was close to killing me. As always, I was ready to die, but just before the fiend hit me, it fell because Paine saved me."
"Somehow I doubt you were grateful," Isaaru commented.
"I wasn't," Nooj agreed, remembering fondly Paine speaking to him as someone who understood him without making any sort of judgement. "But, I got over it fairly quickly. Would you have gotten over it?"
Finally, Isaaru turned around, "Gotten over what? Someone saving my life? I would not have to be concerned about that because I would be grateful if someone did." He narrowed his eyes. "Do not get any ideas. My Pilgrimage will not end and if it were stopped, I would be far from grateful."
Unfazed, Nooj asked, "So, it would depend, wouldn't it? You'd only be grateful if the person's acts suited you."
"And you're different?"
"No," Nooj looked away at the sunset. "I found people who could relate to me in some way, so it was easy to brush my stay of death aside."
"If you were determined to die, then surely, you would have done so already," Isaaru also looked at the sunset. "Something is holding you back." His voice lowered to a tone barely above a whisper. "What could it be? You could have easily died on the field of battle, yet you haven't."
"Hmph," Nooj shrugged. "Bad luck. What holds you back?"
Isaaru quickly turned. "My Pilgrimage. I will go to Zanarkand, and I will receive the Final Aeon. When Sin is defeated, I will die and become a High Summoner."
"Meaningless..." When Isaaru gasped, his blue eyes wide open, Nooj continued. "You will die and the title would be given to you after your death. What good would that do? I have my titles, and I'm still alive. You? You won't be High anything until your life is taken." He looked right into Isaaru's now glaring eyes. "Tell me, Isaaru, what possible good can come of it?"
"Blasphemer..." Isaaru whispered, his voice almost taken by the wind. "You know what...there would be a Calm, and Spira would begin life anew."
"On the blood of corpses!"
"On the carcass of Sin!"
"While people still grieve for their dead."
Holding the sides of his robes, Isaaru took a single step forward. "As your friends will once you decide to finally take your life."
Baralai would have called that a "touche' ", but Nooj did not. The statement gave him a panging feeling, but he refused to back down or admit any sort hit. Standing his ground, Nooj decided to use the ultimate weapon at his disposal: the little boy.
"At least I won't have to choose which one will die alongside of me."
This time, Isaaru took a step backward, his face his blank, but his gloved hands curled into fists. His chest rose quickly as if wanting to speak, but unable to find his voice among his rapid breaths.
Nooj took a step forward. "Who would you choose?" He asked, almost demanded, but he knew better than to push the Summoner too far.
"Maroda, my younger brother."
Nooj shook his head. "Leaving your son all alone."
This time, Isaaru's hands fell at his sides while his topknot almost fell over his face."Pacce is my youngest brother."
"Whoever he is, he will be all alone, won't he?" Nooj asked.
Closing his eyes, Isaaru answered, "Yes."
"Have you told him this?"
None of that surprised Nooj as he asked, "What have you told the little boy?"
Despite his head being completely lowered, Isaaru answered, "That I must go on a Pilgrimage throughout Spira to attain all five Aeons. Once I do, I must go to Zanarkand and receive the Final Summon to defeat Sin. After that, I would go somewhere else, and live among the Fayths."
"You never told him that you would die?" This time, Nooj demanded. He had never met Pacce, but he knew that the child could not have been older then ten. Yet, he honestly believed that the boy needed to know the truth of what really happened to Summoners and one of Guardians. Nooj felt appalled when he realized how sheltered Pacce was from the truth and he honestly couldn't believe that Isaaru would do something like that.
"No," Isaaru replied before looking back up at Nooj, his blue eyes glazed with a quiet rage. "But, what would you have me do? No matter what he can do, no matter his abilities, he is still a child."
"He will find out eventually," Nooj said.
Isaaru nodded, "Yes, but I will tell him just before I arrive in Zanarkand. Not sooner."
Perfect. Nooj looked upward. "Oh, you mean you'll tell him at Gagazet? Would that be before or after you become a fiend?"
Isaaru moved closer to Nooj, his fists clenched, blue eyes blazing. "How dare you!"
"Yes, I dare. The same way Paine dared when she saved my life."
"You think you can save my life?" Isaaru spat. "I die for Spira because I choose to! It's not for selfish reasons! Not like you! I consider Pacce, but he cannot know now!"
"When? When would Pacce know? You could easily die before even going near Zanarkand."
Looking sideways, Isaaru replied, "It's possible, but still, my choices are not entirely selfish."
Deciding to go another direction for now, Nooj asked, "Why do you choose to die for Spira?"
Gaping, Isaaru answered, "Because there is no other way."
"Typical of the religious to say that," Nooj smirked, feeling tense.
"I don't have to be religious to say that or do you think that I believe in Yevon because everyone else does?"
"Isn't that how someone becomes religious? Because they're told to be that way? Because they don't dare think any other way?"
Isaaru stood straight up, his face blank once more, "Some do. You're right. Many people choose a certain path because any other way is simply unthinkable. It's not because they honestly believe that the way they've chosen is the best, it's because they don't know the other ways."
"And you do?"
"Yes, actually, I do," Isaaru replied, he lowered his eyes as if to remember. "I was trained to be a Warrior Monk before becoming a Summoner and Magic User. I've looked into the Crusaders and to those who do not believe. I've read about them all, I've witnessed many of them, and I see those who throw their lives away in the face of Sin."
"The only difference between you and them is that your death would produce a temporary result."
"At least it is a result," Isaaru shot back. "I have studied each and every battle the Crusaders fought from the time Mi'ihen formed the group to now, and the only thing that they have accomplished is that they could defeat fiends. No great achievement."
"They're trying to find an alternative to Summoners," Nooj said. "An alternative to a religion that chokes people." Isaaru shook his head, which inflamed the Deathseeker.
"The religion you despise so much is a comfort to many people. It is a way for society to survive in an orderly fashion! Why do you begrudge that? Is it because you believe that Yevon failed you when you lost your limbs?"
Nooj shook his head. "No, I've always despised religion. All religion." Isaaru nodded, clearly understanding what he meant.
"Do you despise me?"
The question made Nooj frown. Why would Isaaru asked something like that? Still, he answered.
"Of course not."
"But, I am a devout Yevonite, remember?" Isaaru asked with narrowed eyes.
"I remember, but I also remember your strength. You say I'm intelligent? So are you. You have knowledge. People may not notice it, but I do. You're not just a regular scholar, are you?" When Isaaru smiled, Nooj realized that he was right. "It's obvious. I can hear between the words. Very few people have studied the ancient religions that are long gone and the same few have studied the Crusaders so closely."
"Yet you cannot grasp the idea that I can believe as strong in Yevon as I do," Isaaru stated, a ghost of a smile on his handsome face.
"I can grasp it. In fact, I can almost see why." Nooj sighed. He could feel his left hip throb a little, but he ignored the pain like he usually did.
"Almost..." Isaaru echoed. He shook his head. "Even now, your hate for religion blinds you."
"I see Yevon for what it truly is--" Nooj began, but suddenly fell silent when Isaaru raised a gloved hand.
"You believe it's evil," Isaaru finished. He looked over at the sunset before looking back at Nooj. "You believe that religion is about control and dominion over other people, yes?" Nooj nodded. "You believe that the religion of Yevon is filled with corruption, yes?" Again, Nooj nodded. "Can you tell me one organization that is any better? Do you think the Crusaders are any better?"
"At least they don't judge people or keep them in the dark with secrets!" Nooj answered, almost feeling his blood boil. "They don't frown on people for living different lives."
"Oh," Isaaru raised his chin. He smiled at the sky and that made Nooj angrier, but he allowed Isaaru to continue. "Well before the Machina Wars, there were religions that were far worse. People died before living under the rule of such religions. People who were deviant were forced into living hells before they were killed anyway. Those sorts of religious organizations were willing to do whatever it took to keep people completely ignorant of better lives and keep them locked in a path that led only to a prison. You think Yevon is so terrible?" Isaaru glared. "Those ancient beliefs were little different than your own!"
"There is no way my ways could be like that!" Nooj answered, indignant at the idea that his code could be anything like that of Yevon or worse.
"If you could, would you outlaw religion?" Isaaru asked.
That was a no-brainer to Nooj, who answered, "Yes."
"That's what makes you little different," Isaaru said.
His blood now boiling, Nooj moved forward. "How does that make me little different?"
"You don't give anyone a choice," Isaaru replied, his hands out to his side. "You cannot just judge a religion based on another one. You cannot just judge an entire group based on the actions of a few." He suddenly chuckled. "You complain about Yevon judging and how his followers frown on others and yet you are doing precisely the same thing."
"That's different! My ways are of logic and reasoning! Your ways are based on blind faith and emotion!"
Isaaru brushed that aside the same way the wind brushed his red hair, "I have faith, of course I do, but my faith came from making my own mind up based on the facts of everything around me. I say there is no other way because there simply isn't. All other ways have done nothing to benefit Spira. You may find the deaths of Summoners unnecessary or even stupid, but it is the only tried and true way. I know that there is much ignorance in this world, and that combined with corruption cause problems, but that does not invalidate the teachings."
"What if the religion is a lie?" Nooj inquired just to see how Isaaru would react.
And react the Summoner did, but not much. He raised his eyebrows. "Elaborate, if you please."
"Suppose Sin was a creation of Yevon himself," Isaaru lips became a thin line, but he otherwise maintained his composure as Nooj continued. "Suppose the way to defeat Sin was all a set-up by him and his daughter, Yunalesca, as a means of gaining power over those who sought to conquer them." Nooj shook his head. "I can't prove any of it, but is it possible that this Spiral of death came from Yevon's own unwillingness accept defeat and Sin is but a symbol of vengeance with respite gained on the bodies of Summoners?"
Nooj honestly expected Isaaru to sputter, to hem and haw the same way others have with simpler questions. He did not expect Isaaru's actual response.
Those two words had the impact of a punch right in the chest. Plus, the way Isaaru said it. Just so matter-of-factly that Nooj might as well have asked what time it was. Nooj laughed, not out of malice, but shock. Isaaru stood quietly, his hands in the folds of his robes. He too smiled, but it was a rather wry smile as his topknot fell to the side of his head.
"I can't believe you would say that," Nooj finally managed.
"Neither can I," Isaaru replied. "I believe in the rule of Law. I believe that Temple word is Law, but when you asked me that question, I quickly thought of disbelieving your very existence. Then, I realized that it's very possible. It cannot be proven since it would no doubt be covered up, but I accept the possibility."
"What if it were true? Would you still believe then?"
"I would be angered. Ninety-Nine Summoners have died to bring about the Calm. If it were all one man's way of vengeance, then many people, who had nothing to do with war, would have died. There would be lots of confusion, and I don't think people would believe it since their religion is such a large part of who they are. The Yevon religion is a large part of who I am, but it's because I happened to agree with the teachings, not because others have indoctrinated it within me."
"I'm just tired of being seen as a target because I dare to have a mind of my own," Nooj said through near gritted teeth. "I am tired of being seen as a monster because I don't live my life the way someone else wants me to. I have morals, I have ethics, but I have them because I came to the conclusion that they were necessary not because a religion told me to have them. My own ethics are little different than everyone else's and yet I and those like myself are seen as things to be eliminated if they cannot be controlled or changed."
"You're right," Isaaru breathed. "We have much in common, but our paths are different, and they always will be."
"I wish I could prove my theory," Nooj said, lowering his head as he felt defeat overtake him. "But, you'd still believe, wouldn't you?" He wanted that question answered.
Isaaru gave it with a dignity that Nooj envied. "Yes, I would." Nooj wanted to faint, but he would sooner die if he did that. "Judge me as you wish, but I would. Yevon's teachings came from somewhere. His own actions do not invalidate them nor do they change my own code of ethics." Isaaru sighed, his eyes downcast. "In truth, if what you say about Yevon is true, then I cannot criticize him. I am little different, you see.. I can't imagine accepting defeat, and I could never surrender. I too would want some sort of revenge. I too would want the world to pay for my humiliation..."
The Travel Agency's lights created new shadows as the sun completely set. Nooj felt the cool air bite into him, but he held his ground. Isaaru, however, did not fare so well. He felt his arms close to his chest, his heavy robes not enough to ward off the new chill created by the dusk. Nooj realized that the weather wasn't the only reason Isaaru held himself now.
"I had to do this, Isaaru. I had to--"
"I know," Isaaru whispered, walking towards Nooj. Now very close, he said, "Regardless of what the truth may be, I cannot give up my Pilgrimage. I have chosen my path and I cannot walk from it."
"Neither can I," Nooj replied. Both men looked into each other's eyes. "I respect you. I wish all of Spira could be like you."
"I just hope that what you say about Yevon is wrong," Isaaru gasped. "I-it's evil, but I honestly think that if you're right, then Yevon is just another aspect of myself..."
"I told you," Nooj said as he grasped Isaaru's arm. "It can't be proven. Maybe what is said about Sin's origins are true. All I know is that there needs to be an alternative to sacrificing Summoner's every ten years."
"I told you, there is none."
The wind blew through both young men and this time, neither could take it. Nooj could feel his joints screaming for warmth and Isaaru held himself even closer. He wanted more of the Summoner. He wanted to learn more from him and knew that it wasn't going to be done outside of the Travel Agency.
"Do you have a room of your own, away from you brothers?"
Isaaru nodded. "Yes, I do. My brothers' room is next to mine, but I still have one of my own. You needn't worry."
Nooj smiled. "Good. Summoner, come inside with me."