Nooj thinks about his career in the Crusaders and the Crimson Squad
However the original characters belong to Square-Enix and I have only borrowed them even though I have paid them more attention than S-E ever imagined doing.
The Crusaders had been a perfect fit. There had been plenty of fighting - enough to keep him honed and ready - multiple chances for dying and openings for spectacular heroisms and, of course, all the women one could ever need, as well as oceans of drink, no shortage of recreational drugs and an abundance of solitude.
Sometimes, thinking back, he thought what he missed most was the solitude, the opportunity to be alone in the middle of a throng. He had never liked the company of his fellow Warriors, not even the bragging sessions after every battle. They bored him but he could avoid them. Here, in this far smaller group, it seemed someone was always trying to draw him into some game, some conversation, some shared memory. Because he had early in his life learned unnecessary confrontations were a mistake, he automatically responded courteously to their importunities. They saw him as aloof, isolated, perhaps overly proud, but also reliable and an effective leader. They saw him above all as a Deathseeker, Taydrcaagan, as the feckless blonde Al Bhed would say. He could not bring himself to care.
He wondered if any of the others in the Crusaders had known what he was under the shell of the perfect soldier he had constructed to provide him the freedom to do as he chose. So long as they thought him to be the dedicated Warrior, the professional military man, he was protected from criticism and too close a scrutiny. The career he had chosen suited his private proclivities with a rare precision. Those who elected to be fighters were not expected to be saints, a certain level of brutality was not only excused, it was expected. Nooj was aware of the deep and innate streak of cruelty which ran through his nature. He did not think of himself as a sadist, but he was one who did not stay his hand out of mercy or empathy. He was sparing both with words and with friendship and that quality helped preserve his facade.
He leaned back against the firm pillow and remembered:
There had been the time after one of the strangely inconclusive forays against Sin spawn when he had tried to fit in with the almost hysterically relieved members of his team. They had only lost one man and were so grateful they had liberated a full case of the most powerfully potent intoxicant in the vicinity and were happily getting as drunk as possible.
Nooj drank, sometimes heavily, but only when he was sure he was safe from any repercussions and from making a public fool of himself. His dignity was his most useful tool and he would not throw it away as lightly as he would his life. So he drank sparingly but not obviously so and listened to the exaggerated tales of the others who described their exploits both in battle and in bed with details becoming more incredible the drunker they got. He waited until he he saw an opening and ventured what he thought was a remarkably bawdy joke. The sprawling men just looked at him, temporarily sobered by the idea of their famously humorless captain telling a dirty joke. When they belatedly realized what he was doing, they forced a few insincere laughs and slapped him on the back, something they would never have dared sober, and returned to their own hilarity, kindly ignoring him.
He had not tried that again.
Even this far away in time, he flushed angrily at the memory of that night. His anger was not with those who had been there but with himself. He found it extremely difficult to think back on those few times he had shamed himself with inappropriate or ludicrous actions. They all seemed to arise from his abortive efforts to become one with those he commanded and he quickly learned not to make such mistakes, but to maintain his distance and keep his reputation intact.
He was a man of strong appetites but one who could easily live the life of an ascetic so long as was needed. He liked women very much, finding release and pleasure in their arms. Men were acceptable for emergencies but he generally preferred to sublimate his passions until he could indulge his preferred tastes rather than accept an alternative. Only during very long and intensive campaigns had he made use of the 'battle boys' who followed every army on Spira.
Ah, but women ... He smiled as he remembered the women, all the women whom he had called to his bed or had called him to theirs. He was tall, well over six feet, with a broad smooth chest and well shaped legs, displayed to splendid advantage in his tight scarlet breeches. His keen eyes which seemed to penetrate the soul, not to mention the clothes, of those he wanted to attract, his full, firm lips, his hawkish nose - all these features made him singularly appealing to women, giving him an advantage which he did not scruple to use. What intrigued some women more than anything else was his hair, that oddly barbered extraordinary mane which they hungered to play with, to wrap around their naked bodies and coil through their fingers. In short, Nooj had no difficulty in satisfying his sometimes violent, sometimes dangerous urges whenever he wished.
And he did satisfy them but only during arranged periods of leave when he was far away from any eyes which might recognize him and use their knowledge of his actions to his disadvantage. He was careful never to give away the slightest edge. His austere demeanor was well known throughout the army and he preferred to keep any evidence to the contrary well disguised.
So it was with all the others of his less respectable habits and tastes. When he felt the need to drink himself into a state of unconsciousness, he found a lodging house where he could trust the landlord and had himself locked in his room for as long as it took. The same procedure sufficed for his occasional use of hallucinatory drugs. Rarely, when he felt pressed to escape from the responsibilities of his position and the recollection of certain events in his past, he resorted to those little keys into a more forgiving world which were sold on some of the street-corners of the larger cities. Naturally, he did not buy such illegal substances for himself; there were always agents who could be hired secretly for a few coins to do the purchasing for the wary. This particular indulgence was a last resort, to be used only when the darkness of the past and the crimson of the present became too blinding. He had gone on such an herbal holiday only twice in his life and thought of it as a substitute for the counseling other battle weary soldiers sought.
The most hidden of his special tastes and the one which, if known, could bring his career to a skidding halt was his strange need, at frequent intervals, to hurt some other person. Much of the time, he could slake that need by slowly slaying an enemy or a fiend on the field of battle. Enemies worked better than fiends. He needed to see the dawning knowledge in the eyes of his victim as he realized the torture was deliberate, that he would die only at the whim and fancy of the man killing him - so very slowly. Animals couldn't recognize that. When the war was going erratically, or worse, during intervals between real wars, he had to seek out those dark societies where peculiar people went to hunt pain as a surcease for some deeper pain and take a complaisant human into a small sound-proofed room and do what had to be done.
These commercial encounters were never as satisfying as the publicly sanctioned ones in the name of the state but they sufficed to calm his demons until the need came again and there was no enemy to put to the sword - slowly.
He sighed deeply. Yes, the Crusaders had been a perfect fit. They had even guided him to his most ardently desired destination. When he had felt the sudden incandescent agony of the Sin-strike and felt the life running from the broken places of his body, he had exulted in the pain, the freeing dissolution, the dark portal of Nothingness swinging open to accept him. His triumph absolved him of all the shadowy sins of his existence. Sin was conquered by Sin; Nothingness trumped darkness, blackness; Death was greater than Life and he was complete.
When he woke to discover he was not done with the despised business of living and was far from being complete - not even physically intact any longer - he was enveloped in the deepest despair of his unhappy life. What did he have to do to get off this treadmill, this endlessly unfurling aimless path? Then he was told he was no longer a member of the Crusaders but a candidate in the flamboyantly named Crimson Squad. The purpose for the change was carefully explained to him but he did not listen and blocked out of his mind all the insincere assurances that he was still the Warrior he had been.
For he was not. He was a maimed and disfigured man, crippled and set aside with the insulting consolation prize of the leadership of a trio of misfits. He was now the 'captain' of a one-eyed Al Bhed, a puling failed priest, and a woman. It was the most motley crew among a multitude of scrapings from the very dregs of society. He thought his masters must have chosen to group together the trio most unlikely to succeed and give it to him, the most damaged and bitter.
Sin still menaced the world and he, Nooj, was still driven by the black urges he had thought consumed in the merciless maw of Death. He was still hag-ridden by those needs he could not totally control and which now would require greater care and effort to satisfy. His anonymity was gone; nowhere on the planet was there another like him. Where he had been able to slip, disguised, through the more unsavory parts of any city, he was now recognizable anywhere to the most casual glance.
And he could no longer escape into the ocean of humanity like a fish swimming into a vast sea should his habits become known to his superiors. Not only was he sui generis - unique - but his mobility was severely hampered. He needed to stay with the army in order to keep his clear shot at an honorable death and a demise at the end of a rope or in front of a firing squad was no part of his plan. So more precautions were indicated along with more subtle plotting.
What was so often misunderstood and what he found it difficult to articulate even to himself, was his concept of 'honor'. It was not the facile virtue so often cited as a reason for behaving with less self-interest and more stupidity. It was something so innate in his character as to defy both definition and comprehension. He believed to his depths that he owned a debt to his own ideal of himself, that his eventual reputation was an important thread in the great skein of existence. He had no coherent notion of why he believed this; he only knew he was driven to such acts as would embellish his prestige in the eyes of those who observed him. And the most important of these acts was to die correctly, not by the coward's choice of felo-de-se, but heroically at the hands of a worthy foe.
He shifted his position, easing the pressure on the still thin tissue surrounding the site of his wounds. Numerous skin grafts had not managed to replace all the parboiled flesh or cover the slick scarlet scarring which disfigured his left side. Fortunately, the woman who was currently servicing him did not seem to mind the sight or if she did, she hid it well.
Since he could no longer move his left leg easily he had come to prefer this form of intimate activity and he was somewhat pleased to find a certain sort of woman was equally satisfied by the act. Afterwards , it was possible to indulge in rougher games which put no stress on the less flexible parts of his body. Another advantage was he did not have to disrobe completely unless he chose to - thus he could, at his option, keep the more unsightly areas hidden from view.
Then again, there were always some women who were excited by the half-melted skin which abutted the machina prostheses which had replaced his lost arm and leg. There were women who found both arousal and climax by caressing the scarred areas. These women he permitted to undress him completely. They were also the ones who were most likely to slavishly offer themselves for whatever abuse he was moved to inflict.
He gently stroked the head of the woman with him now. This one he would treat with his customary grave courtesy. He did not need to release his demons just now and the convenience this one offered as well as the safety of their liaisons made it more sensible to treat her with kindness than to indulge his darker passions.
He leaner further back, enjoying the sensations she provided and continued to reflect upon the problems he now found facing him.
The most pressing was his need to die. Were that solved, none of the others would exist - he smiled inwardly at the obvious conclusion. Yes, all he had to do was to grasp that Grail and empty it. He had thought it was accomplished during the first days of his training with the three. He had deliberately dropped his empty weapon and had stood waiting for the creature attacking him to finish its job. The woman had flung her recorder aside and, disobeying the instructions she had been given, saved him. He thought he had controlled his fury well and none of the others had recognized how near he had come to breaking her interfering neck. He stirred uneasily at the memory, forgetting his companion for the moment. With infinite patience, she began her task again.
He savagely twisted his machina fingers in her hair, making her cry out in pain. "Be careful, bitch, or I'll teach you care."
Women! They were an addiction, like Death. What would it be like, he wondered, to find his death at the hands of a woman? Would the two hungers combine to give him the most transcendent orgasm any man could imagine? No, he thought not. He sought an honorable death not simply the cessation of breath. No woman could offer him that; no woman had the strength and courage to confront him even in his lessened state.
Nooj was not unhappy with the composition of his Crimson Squad team; his dilemma would have been far worse had the Maesters chosen to burden him with more intelligent underlings. As it was, he didn't see much difficulty in hoodwinking any of the three. So what if the white haired soft handed boy was not quite a priest? He dressed like one and thought like one. No religious had a reasoning mind and he would be simple to cozen. Why they had even let him try out for an 'elite ' squad was a puzzle. Perhaps he could be lured away into the desert and toyed with ... Nooj shook his head, better find a way to slip into one of the trading towns for that. Such places always had sectors in which danger lurked and he could find what he needed there as he had before. And the one-eyed, would-be ruffian? His name was ... oh yes, Gippal. He claimed to have lost the eye in a major battle with Sin spawn, but Nooj suspected he had actually lost a knife fight in a saloon or whore house. He looked the kind to frequent such amenities. Nooj made a mental note to watch out for that eye-patch when he, himself, was skulking around the less savory parts of this end of Spira. It wouldn't do to meet one of his own command while he was engaged in activities better done in the obscuring dark. For a moment, he considered inviting the Al Bhed along on some of his adventures but quickly dismissed the notion as risky to the point of insanity. He had never permitted himself a companion and would be foolish to start at a time when he could not adequately defend himself.
The woman took his long braid of hair and did some interesting things with it, things no one had ever done before. He moaned softly, "Yes, that's good" and let pleasure occupy his mind entirely for a short time. She was worth keeping; he must be kinder to her.
Death - the center of his being, the single appetite which consumed all others. The pleasure whose dark ecstasies made all other pleasures pain. He let himself fall back into the utter blackness of the Nothingness he knew lay at the end of his search, spasms of understanding creating exploding stars of sensation; he felt himself die, his breath stop, his limbs grow cold - and there was Nothingness, Nothingness, Nothingness.
If only he could hold this, stay here ...
He tilted the woman's head up and kissed her. "Thank you, Paine. You did that very well indeed."