Categories > Games > Final Fantasy X-2 > As Flies to Wanton Boys

Chapter Sixteen - This is the final Chapter

by Ikonopeiston 0 reviews

This follows Nooj into the Crusaders. It will be multi-chapter. The first chapter is, of necessity, expository. It sets the scene for what is to come.

Category: Final Fantasy X-2 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Nooj - Published: 2006-02-09 - Updated: 2006-02-09 - 3445 words

A/N: I have written extensively about the process by which Nooj learned to use his prostheses in other stories. Any persons interested can easily find them. In order not to repeat myself too much, I am condensing the actual method and effort in this novella.

Chapter Sixteen

Leaning heavily on the metal cane gripped in his left hand, Nooj looked unseeingly around the courtyard enclosed and sheltered by the main structure of the hospital. It was a pleasant place with benches and tables scattered among the trees and the beds of brilliant flowers. Here and there fountains cooled the air, generating a soft masking music which afforded privacy for conversation or solitary thought. He noticed none of these amenities, being totally concentrated on the question of whether or not his future would be as he had hoped or left to his own invention. He expected some response from his former superiors in the Crusaders and was impatient at the delay.

He was dressed in a Crusader uniform, one specially modified for his new requirements. The left leg of the breeches had been cut so that it could be pulled over the prosthetic leg and then folded and slipped under the sheath which braced his thigh. The left sleeve had been widened to permit the insertion of the machina arm without difficulty. When he looked in the mirror, he recognized himself for the first time since his maiming. Even the vivid colors of the limbs were less garish when combined with the hues of the dress uniform. He still limped heavily but was practicing taking a few steps at a time without the cane and was falling less each session. There was no real reason he should not be returned to his old unit and serve at least adequately as a soldier again. He was still wary of handling his sword. The heavy blade required two hands to use properly and that was not yet possible. Perhaps he could, as Aquelev had suggested, learn to use another weapon. The main thing was to get back into training and routine. He was bored and continually angry with the slothful life of an invalid, a cripple.

The promised excursions into the city of Luca had never materialized. Each time he had brought up the subject, a new excuse had been offered until he was forced to conclude his controllers did not want him to be seen in public or found it desirable to isolate him from the masses of the populace for some purpose of their own. Finally, he had stopped asking comforting himself with the promise that soon he would be free of their strictures and could do as he pleased. Then they had continued to restrain him by challenging his ability to return to the army as an active Warrior.

It was a painful nuisance to sit down and stand again so Nooj avoided that as much as possible. He was restless and paced the manicured paths of the little garden. Patience had never been one of his virtues. As he walked he observed his own progress. Although he still limped even with the cane, his gait was much smoother and he was sure it would improve as he regained his strength and better learned to control the prosthetic leg. The lurching was worse when he was tired and he knew he would never be graceful again but he was grateful for even small increments in his abilities. The left arm was almost equal in its movements to the one he had lost. He could use the gloved hand with the utmost delicacy - so long as he watched his actions. With no feedback, he was unable to moderate his grasp by touch. He paused and, shifting the cane to his right hand, raised the left and flexed it watching with satisfaction the way in which the phalanges opened and closed with firm precision. It was worth the time-consuming maintenance each night to have a workable hand again.

He remembered his most recent conversation with Kalek.


"I told you they would work out if you gave them time." The surgeon chortled with undisguised glee. "I knew they were installed the right way and had to work if you would try."

Nooj grimaced, "At least they'll get me back to the front. I admit they're less useless than I feared."

"You non-engineers never are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to progress. You always want to do things the way they've always been done. These limbs are remarkable. They're state of the art. You're lucky they came along in time for you."

"Yes, lucky." Nooj snarled bitterly. "Tell me something, Kalek. Why does it matter so much to you that I can use these things? Why am I so important to your schemes? Somebody else would have come along if I had been a failure for you."

"No!" Kalek spoke more loudly than was necessary. "You are the best candidate. You had to succeed." He clasped his hands together to stop their tremors and his companion noticed the gesture.

"Ah, I see. You're losing it, aren't you? You won't be a surgeon much longer with that problem. I was your last chance to do something like this?"

"Not so. I'm just tired right now and need to take a few days off. Working with a patient as stubborn as you isn't easy. I'm tired and ..."

"Becoming unreliable with the scalpel, eh? One of these days you'll kill somebody on the table and that will be the end of your career, eh? No wonder you had to use me."

The surgeon leapt to his feet, his face a twisted mask. He spat venomously, "That's a lie. You're an ungrateful brat with no understanding of how things work. You're an ignorant barbarian who can't use anything except violence to solve problems. I'm surprised you could muster the brain power to even twitch a finger of that perfect hand; if I had known the extent of your infantile lack of development, I would never have used you as my canvas. You're not worthy of my time and talent. You are nothing but a brutal killer who deserves to be put on a shelf and let rot. Self-pitying cretin! You claim you're taydrcaagan, well kill yourself then and stop whining about it." He ran out of breath and stood panting, his hands clenched at his sides.

"And when I kill myself, what becomes of your great experiment? What use to your reputation is a dead body disfigured by these hideous simulacra? How will you show off your surgical skill if your main attraction is rotting in his grave or gone to pyreflies? Your reasoning requires some refinement."

Kalek glared at the man in the bed, then seemed to deflate, "That was unprofessional of me. I am tired and that was careless. I want you to live and be happy. I want you to find your life made more tolerable by these inventions. We have worked together, you and I, to reach this point. ... I am going to leave you now." He turned and walked steadily out the door, leaving Nooj bemused at his reaction.

"I'm sure of my diagnosis," Nooj murmured to himself. "He is on his own slide into irrelevancy and it's driving him mad."


In the courtyard, Nooj remembered and agreed with his earlier assessment. It was after that conversation Kalek had dropped his objections to Nooj petitioning for return to his Crusader unit. The surgeon had not been back since then and it had lately been bruited about the hospital that he had taken a leave of absence after his arduous recent duties. Nooj wished him well, trying to reconcile the contradictory emotions of resentment and gratitude. It would have been better had he not been saved but once his existence was assured, better the machina limbs than a life of slow suffocation, immobile and useless. Still the ideal was Nothingness and it was toward that he turned his thoughts as he continued to pace.

The pressure of the leg against the remnant of his thigh reminded him of the hurdles he had yet to leap before he would be positioned to search for his Quietus on the battlefield. He had never had to consider dying in any other scenario than fighting and now he realized he had no guarantee of continuing as a Warrior and must perforce touch on other plans. Suppose the worst happened and he was permanently barred from any of the armed forces. What would he do then? It was not a question of making a living, rather one of efficient dying and in such a manner as to preserve his honor. He could not accept the concept of taking his own life in an ignoble fashion. No, he must find a place to spend his existential capital so that it bought meaning of some sort. It would be best to die in the defense of a person or ideal. That was what he had always expected to happen. Had he been permitted to stop breathing in the fight against Sin, standing before Aquelev, that would have answered all the requirements. Once again he felt the hot surge of anger at those who had, as they thought, 'saved' him and at those who would refuse him the right to return to his proper place in the elite force for which he had spent his life training.

If he was denied a place in the formal bodies fighting the wars, he would have to join the irregulars, the renegades. He might be able to form his own small raiding party to fight at the edges of the main armies. Nooj shook his head at that. He preferred to work alone in the field and not to be responsible either to or for any others. The mercenary forces which hired themselves out to protect certain isolated settlements might be a possibility. He would have to eat while hunting his Death. In the end, he supposed he would simply follow at the heels of whatever group was most likely to encounter battle first. He was not unskilled in the scavenging arts, after all. There were always plenty of chances to pick up scraps where many marched and camped. Nothing seemed quite right; he could see no enticing path if the army rejected him.

What he did know was that the alluring arms of the Lady Death still beckoned to him and there was no other bosom upon which he would rather lie. Her face rose before him in its stern, implacable beauty and he let desire fill him until he was lost in the longing for her embrace. The courtyard vanished from his consciousness; he let himself be absorbed by the vision of Nothingness.

The sound of a gate opening broke into his musing. Startled, he spun toward the distraction, his right foot slipping on the grass. As he crashed to the ground he heard the alarmed shout of Aquelev as the Al Bhed ran to him.

"Nooj! Are you all right?" the Healer bent and held out a hand to assist the lame man to his feet.

Nooj batted away the offering of help and laborious levered himself upright with the aid of the cane. "I'm all right. I can manage. There won't always be somebody around to pull me up. I thought you were the courier I've been waiting for."

Aquelev, abashed, drew back and waited until the other was standing securely again before drawing an envelope from his pocket. "In a way, I am. I was on my way to see you and met the messenger from the Crusaders. Here's the letter from them." He handed the wax-sealed missive to his friend. "I knew you would want it right away and those official messengers can take forever to find their way anywhere, you know how confusing the hospital... " His voice trailed off as he watched Nooj look at the address on the front of the envelope.

"They're still calling me Major," he said with a feeble attempt at humor. "Maybe that means they still have a use for me." He hobbled over to a near-by bench and dropped down heavily, closing his eyes and letting the letter rest on his lap. "I hope it's not a desk job. Dying from boredom is not my purpose."

"Do you want me to go away?" Aquelev asked quietly, aware of the other man's distaste for having his privacy invaded. "I can come back later."

"No, stay. Your presence or absence won't change what's written in here." He tapped the envelope against his living knee. "They've either accepted me back or thrown me out and I can't make any plans until I know which."

"You can always stay here or go to our engineering headquarters. Our researchers would be grateful to have your input on their devices and you could help them design even better ones."

"Become a sort of semi-ambulatory teaching device and test object? You mean well, Aquelev, but I'm a soldier - a Warrior. My place is at the battle front." He looked at the item he held for a much longer time, then handed it to the other. "Break the seal for me, if you will. My hands are clumsy today."

Aquelev pulled the ribbon to crack the wax holding the flap and slid out the pages inside. Silently, he handed them to Nooj who unfolded the two thick sheets and read.

"It seems I was wrong. It is not an either/or answer. Oh, they're throwing me out of the Crusaders all right. It seems I no longer fit their requirements at this time. But they are advising me to instead apply for a position in a new force they're forming. As I understand their meaning - and it's obscure in parts - the Crusaders have been so decimated by the recent battles they are having to be reconstituted and so ... This is where it gets crazy. They are putting together a new corps which will be trained to head the smaller segments of the Crusaders. They say I'm not good enough to be a Crusader and they want me to be a Commander of a Crusader unit? This is insane. It sounds like an idea of an army dreamed up by people who have never had any experience in or with an army. It make no sense at all." He held out the papers. "Here, read it yourself."

Aquelev slowly read through the formal response for a request to return to active duty. "That does seem odd. It sounds like the Maesters have taken control from the Generals. I know Yevon has Warrior-Priests but this sounds like it's going beyond that. Did the priests have the final say when you were first in the Army?"

"Not that I was ever aware of. You're right; this does reek of Yevon. Strange, they never got involved in our training. Wonder why they're meddling now." Nooj slouched back against the bench and brooded. "They're so devious there's no telling what they're up to."

"What are you going to do about this?" The Al Bhed raised a quizzical brow. "Will you take the offer to join this -" he looked back at the message, "Crimson Squad project?"

"I don't know. I've got to get out of here before I turn into one of the shambling, drooling zombies who infest this institution. I've got to find a way back to my real profession. I just don't know what the best way will be." He stretched out his legs, the left one glittering in the mid-day sun. "Look at me! I'm such a prize any armed force would leap at the chance to have me! Once they know I'm available, they'll be fighting over what's left of my body." The bitter self-mockery ended raggedly as he turned away from the other.

Aquelev reached out a comforting hand, but did not quite dare touch the maimed man. He was suddenly strongly aware of the barriers Nooj had erected to protect himself from pity and its companion, scorn.

"No, I've got to get back to the real world," Nooj continued. "This has been a way-station on the road to my real destination. I've let myself go soft and dependent and that's not the way I have to be if I'm to make it to the end." He was talking more to himself than for the benefit of the attentive Healer. "I keep making the same mistakes. And keep having to make the same corrections."

Aquelev misinterpreted the words and inflections. "Are you still in a great deal of pain? I can help with that and can teach you some ways to more effective control."

With alarming speed, Nooj turned on his friend. "That is exactly what I mean. I have become dependent on others and I can't be. Of course, I'm in pain. What do you think? That this intrusion into my living flesh will be ignored by the part of me that's still me? Yes, I still feel the lost parts and they hurt. And yes, I expect it to be like this for so long as I am forced to continue in this parody of a life. And no, I do not expect to have a personal Healer at my side for however long that is. It's my job to deal with this, not yours. I'll have to figure out how to keep myself from rolling on the ground and howling when it gets really bad. I'm not a child any more. I don't wait for somebody else to wipe my tears when I have a boo-boo. I'm a man. A man who is broken and patched back together. I hurt. I can handle it; I have to." He clenched his teeth so that the muscles in his jaw stood out and made him look as fierce as he did in battle.

Frightened and obscurely insulted, the Al Bhed drew into himself like a threatened tortoise. He could think of nothing to say which might ease the situation so he simply shifted his position slightly away from the baleful man sharing the bench.

More gently, Nooj spoke again, "This time is over, Aquelev. We have come to the conclusion of this act of the play. It is time for us to return to our own worlds. I am a Warrior, or what's left of one. You are an engineer and a Healer. There is no more healing possible for me and I have had my fill of engineering. Where I must go now, you cannot come. I have to set my face toward my own destination and so must you. Your friendship has been invaluable to me and for it, I am grateful. But this interval is over. We must be realists." He faced the other man fully, looking into the swirling pupils with unusual intensity. "I wish you well and am certain you will prosper."

Aquelev found he could not speak past the obstruction which choked his throat and made his eyes brim with moisture. Wordlessly, he held out his hand and grasped the one offered in return. Wordlessly, he stood and walked from the courtyard, not looking back.

Alone again, as so often in the past, Nooj analyzed what he had done. He was free to move again, as well as he could. It had been necessary to cut away the entangling presence of all those who had seen him weak and faltering. If he was to gain his position in the world of the Warrior again, he could not afford to have reminders of his helplessness about him. What he had told Aquelev was true. He was the only controller of his fate. He could manage to surmount the pain he felt and knew he would keep feeling. When it was too much to bear, he could go into a far place and scream until it abated. There would be drugs and alcohol to help - he could manage. What he could not face was the constant reminder of his time in this cosseted menage, this carefully structured environment where he was shielded against all adversity. It was an affront to his manhood and his honor.

Thoughtfully, he gathered the scattered pages of the message from the Army. He thought he might first go and see if Nepetu was still where he had been left and then investigate what the Crimson Squad might offer him. With a resolute step, he proceeded to his rooms to collect his few possessions and resume his interrupted journey toward Death.
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