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

Chapter Three

by Ikonopeiston 0 reviews

This follows Nooj into the Crusaders. It will be multi-chapter. Chapter Three deals with the work of the Blood Avengers.

Category: Final Fantasy X-2 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Nooj - Published: 2005-11-07 - Updated: 2005-11-07 - 3306 words

Chapter Three

The Blood Avengers were unwinding for the night in their rough camp at the end of the Old Highway. It was situated in a cul-de-sac shielded from above by the shelving of rock ledges and sporting an easily defensible narrow opening. Of course, were they to be trapped in this place, there was no back door to escape and they would be slaughtered. Nooj tried to convince himself he had not taken that into consideration when he directed the camp be established.

There were ten of them comprising this squadron, eight men and two women, all experienced and skilled at the sort of guerilla warfare the group waged. They were charged with putting out fires before they could spread or at least containing them until a larger force could be assembled. In this they had been remarkably successful. In the four months they had been operational, they had wiped out numerous roving gangs of criminals and dozens of clusters of fiends.

"Hingis, how's that shoulder? Any infection showing yet?" The Captain was making his evening rounds, checking on the fitness of his team, making sure they were as capable as he could manage. There were only two persons who had the gift of healing and they must husband their magic for major emergencies so most of the minor wounds were treated with potions. Since these were running low and would need to be replenished soon, care was advisable.

They had been fortunate in that none of their missions so far had entailed many or particularly fierce foes. Most of the problems had dealt with bandits and other out-laws who were easily dispatched by trained Crusaders. Even those bands had vanished since Nooj had staked down one of the latest miscreants in the middle of the road and left him as an example of what those who broke the law could expect. It was not an image designed to promote sound sleep in criminal lairs.

The Captain had already decided to move to a spot along the main Highway, a place hidden in the defile which ran alongside the road. He thought making camp about half-way to the travel agency on the road to Luca would be convenient and productive since any commercial enterprise tended to draw thieves like ants to sugar. He had been considering the new location for some time so when he had been told only today by his scouts that they could find no more packs of scoundrels in the vicinity, he thought it would now be appropriate to carry the battle to the enemy.

The party of ten had coalesced better than he had expected. Now, as he listened to their lazy chattering around the fire, he forgave them for the extravagant choice of a name and was glad they were so compatible ... and so obedient. If he had to command a squadron, he would prefer it to be a complaisant one which did not greatly infringe on his own private objectives nor demand much of his attention.

"Don't stand up, I just want to talk to you about what we're going to do next." Nooj squatted on a convenient log and gathered his followers with a look. "You can relax the rest of the evening, but pack your equipment before you go to sleep. Only one sentry tonight. This area is clean. Early in the morning, we break camp and head up the Highway. We're going to set up in a spot I know and then I'll tell you what I have in mind." He raised an eyebrow as a signal he would entertain questions. This was a common ritual.

Epitar was the youngest and most eager. "Sir, are we going to get guns? You know, the machina ones?"

"Where did you hear a rumor like that?" Nooj knew quite well the Crusaders were beginning to adopt the use of machina due to the pernicious influence of the Al Bhed, but he wanted to see how wide-spread the knowledge was.

"I heard 'em talking about it last time I took a message back to the main camp. They said pretty soon all us would get 'em." His words tumbled over themselves in his excitement.

"I don't think guns or any other machina would be of much help to us. We do our fighting by stealth, not by marching up on a crowd and killing them from a distance. You can't cut a throat with a gun."

"B-but, they sure would be handy on fiends." Menude interjected.

Nooj frowned, "Guns are not compatible with the history and purpose of the Crusaders. They may be useful on rare occasions but our swords and daggers are what define us. You all know I am no Yevonite however I think they are on the right of it where machina are concerned. We become less human when we permit them into our lives. I would feel myself less a man if I slaughtered my enemy without looking into his eyes. Where's the courage in that?"

"It would be a hell of a lot safer." Totillion added her husky voice to the discussion.

"If you're hunting safety, the Crusaders is no place for you. Especially not this squad. You want out?"

"No, sir. Certainly not, sir. Just thinking out loud."

"Inappropriate thinking, Lieutenant. Does anyone else have any questions or problems?" He tried to look as approachable as he could. When no one else spoke up, he sprang from his seat and strode off into the brush, announcing he was on his way to bed.

Nooj did not like to sleep near others; he was restless in the night and sometimes rose to prowl like an uneasy cat. Solitary in all his habits, he was adamant about preserving the sole sliver of privacy afforded him in a rough camp. This particular night he was troubled by the subject of machina weapons which the group had raised. He had observed the stealthy infiltration of the Al Bhed into the inner circles of the Crusader commandants and wondered about the reason for such tolerance. Could it really be that this elite force was to be armed with the shameful weapons of cowards? It was a problem which could become central to his decisions. If they were to use firearms then he could no longer count on finding an honorable death in this service. When they returned to the main camp, he would have to investigate more carefully and make sure the integrity of the branch he had joined would remain intact.


Shortly after dawn the ten were on their way. Since they traveled lightly, they made good time up to the twisting Highway past the half-ruined gates and onward.

"Look carefully now. I found a path down to the lower level when I was on a scouting mission." Nooj waved them to a stop shortly after they had made the turn onto the section of the road which ran along a ridge. "There should be a ... Ah! Here it is; follow me."

He pushed his way through waist high brush and pointed down a narrow path, barely discernible through the thick grass. "We will find an old trail at the bottom and a good place to make camp about a day's march from the Travel Agency. It will take us a day or maybe a little longer to get there, depending on what we encounter. On the way, keep alert for any signs of bandits or other outlaws. I intend to clean out this place completely." He set a brisk pace down the steep way.

Clutching the stems of varying weeds to keep from sliding down on their rears, the others followed like a clutch of fresh-hatched ducklings, their eyes scanning the area when they were not fixed on the obstacles at their feet. They wondered why they were being led into such a desolate, deserted terrain. It was not likely gangs of criminals would bother to attack armed Crusaders and it was equally dubious that wealthy travelers would use this rough trail when there was a perfectly good and well maintained road so close by.

The truth was, Nooj was growing bored. Sitting around with a covey of Warriors waiting for something to happen did not suit his temperament. So he had decided to exceed his mandate and actively provoke attacks or, that failing, seek out the hidden camps of thieves and slaughter them in situ. He had not yet informed his followers of that choice although he planned to break it to them when they made camp for the night.

Trekking along the faint path at the bottom of the defile was hard going. Never a real thoroughfare, the trail had been little used of late and had degenerated into a barely visible, heavily over-grown way meandering along the lowland. Fallen tree limbs and scattered rocks made footing unreliable and the dense underbrush could hide a hundred snares or menaces. Shielded from any breeze by the high walls of the canyon they threaded, the group found themselves sweating, dusty and panting before they had gone even half the distance Nooj had indicated. Any unshielded skin was quickly scratched and irritated by the dried foliage of the scrubby plants.

"Why do we have to go down here?" Byllt complained under his breath. "If we're going to Luca, we could have used the road."

"Shut up, we're not going to Luca. We're going to B-Bevelle." Menude snarled.

"What makes you think that? This's the road to Luca."

"Naw, it's to B-Bevelle." Menude insisted.

"Who the hell taught you geography"

Squab had heard the muttered argument and had come up behind them before they realized it. "It makes no difference where we're going. We follow our Captain. Has he ever been wrong?"

Byllt was still combative. "I dunno. I heard some weird stuff about him b-back at camp." He had a cruel streak at times and mockery came easily to him.

"What kinda weird stuff?" Lamistol had joined the clump of soldiers.

"Oh, just stuff about what he likes to do." Byllt was beginning to realize he had made a mistake in his choice of subject matter. Idle chatter about the Captain was not encouraged.

Lamistol was not deterred; she was not the one who had brought it up. She heaved aside a small log in her path and panted, "What does he like to do?"

"Oh, things with women ... and men."

With that comment hovering in the heavy air, the conversation died and the group drifted apart, not meeting one another's eyes.


They had taken a break at the middle of the day to shelter from the sun which bore directly down and made the progress through the waist-high weeds even more of a burden. Once on the move again, they encountered the only foes they were to meet during the day's march. A contingent of fiends had broken from cover right under their feet and rushed them with both magic and physical onslaughts. Nooj, welcoming the opportunity to exercise his upper body, swung the heavy sword he favored with remarkable effect, eviscerating and disassembling with powerful blows. The others took part with equal enthusiasm and made short work of the monsters. When they paused, panting from the exertion in the heat, irrepressible grins transfigured most of the faces. This was the job of Warriors, not marching, not gossiping. They pressed onward with renewed energy.

At length, as the late afternoon shadows began to cast their spindly fingers across the landscape and they could see the shapes of the surrounding rock formations more clearly and realized they were approaching the far end of the first canyon, Nooj pointed to a grove of trees a few hundred yards away. "We'll make camp for the night there. You'll find a stream and a meadow. It's a good place to stop and the path up to the road is near. We've made good time, better than I had hoped and we're not all that far from the Travel Agency. We can replenish our supplies tomorrow. Go on and get settled. When the sun is down, I want to talk to you about what we do next." He led the way with long strides, leaving the other nine to follow as best they could.

When they caught up with him, it was to find him standing by a fire-pit, coolly wiping the blood stains from his sword blade with a wad of dried grass.

"There were some people already camping here but they decided to find other accommodations." He explained carefully.

"Now, they'll know we're here!" Menude exploded.

"I hadn't planned to keep it a secret," Nooj said. "If they want to come to us, so much the better. It'll save us the effort of hunting them down."

"B-but, they'll run away and won't come b-back as long as we're here."

"Not until they've tested us to see if we're serious. Don't worry about it. They would have seen our fire and known about us even if I hadn't surprised them. Anyway, they don't know we're the law yet and we have one fewer whole man to deal with." He pointed with his weapon to the hand still attached to its forearm lying in the grass. None of them had noticed it until now.

"How many were there?" Squab was the practical one.

"Just two. But if you look around, you'll see there must have been a sizable crew staying here. They may be back but I doubt it. Go on, check it out." Nooj stretched and smiled his rare smile. "I'm going down to the creek to take a bath."

The area was as good a place to pitch camp as Nooj had said. The Blood Avengers found the smooth open glade and the clear stream as well as the ample shade a welcome facsimile of paradise after the long day in the heat and dust. They lost no time in enjoying the comforts available. So it was a relaxed, refreshed and unusually contented team Nooj faced when he stood before them in the dancing crimson light.

"You have known from the beginning that our task was to provide a rapid response to any small troubles arising anywhere within our purview. We have been largely successful in ridding the stretch of road between Moonflow and Djose from roaming lordless men and such vermin. We have done much the same for the byways from the Mushroom Rock Road to the beginning of Mi'ihen Highway. In only a few months, it would seem our mission is complete. I now propose that rather than return to the main camp and boast our success, we take the initiative. We are currently encamped below the busiest thoroughfare on the planet; there must be many gangs of criminals plying their trade in this area. I propose we seek them out and destroy them rather than wait for them to make themselves visible. If, in the performance of these duties, we meet other menaces - such as fiends, renegade priests or ... Sin spawn - we can deal with them as we are so inclined." He paused, expecting no disagreement.

Totillion was the first to raise an objection. "Sir, that is not our commission. Shouldn't we go back to Major Ciele, get our rewards and ask for a clarification first?"

"Yes, will this sort of disobedience put our promotions and bounties in jeopardy ... sir?" Byllt hastily tacked on the honorific.

Even Squab was dubious. "Sir, are you sure this is wise? It might be better to check in first. Things are pretty calm, like you said, and we have the time."

Nooj looked around at the nine with a sneer. "You are sworn to serve under my command. I am not asking for your opinions or your votes, only your obedience. I have told you what we shall do for the coming weeks and it is your task to follow my orders. Or would you rather be recognized as sniveling cowardly traitors interested only in what you can get for your personal benefit?" He stopped, knowing at once he had made a grave error.

The group stared miserably into the fire. There seemed nothing more to say. They had not expected to be slapped down so brutally and were humiliated by the reproach from the man they revered as their mentor and guide. Squab's cheeks were flaming more than his relative proximity to the heat could account for.

"I should not have said that. You did not deserve those words." The voice of their leader was low, almost a whisper. "You are fine and brave Warriors, every one of you, and I am fortunate to have such at my command. Now, I ask you to trust me in this matter. ... I have given it long thought and it is not an breaking of our original charter. We were taxed to provide security in a way a larger, less agile group could not. How better to do that than by preemptive attacks on our obvious enemy? In this we shall be fulfilling the true purpose of our commission, that of making the roads safe for honest travelers. At the same time, we shall be honing our skills for our next encounter with Sin." Nooj paused, his eyes lowered in apparent humility.

Gratified at having an honorable opportunity to repair the breach, Squab sprang to his feet, embracing the Captain. "You have my hand and my allegiance, sir. I am your man!"

One by one, with overwhelming relief, the others pledged their faith to the team and its leader. Nooj accepted them with graceful gratitude. When all had made their protestations of loyalty, he spoke again. "I repeat my appreciation for the caliber of officer I have before me. You may all be assured I shall speak on behalf of your promotions in rank when we return to main camp. You may all rest now. I will take the first watch. We have a great deal to do in the morning. If you are all agreeable, this will be our permanent camp until we have finished housecleaning in this vicinity."

The prospect of some weeks in so pleasant a place was greatly cheering to the little band of Crusaders as was the feeling of having escaped something ominous. They went off to their chosen sleeping places reassured and proud, believing they served under the best, most compassionate leader in the Spiran armed forces. Or so they kept telling themselves.

Nooj leaned against a convenient tree where he could see all approaches to the enclave and settled himself to think. He was not satisfied by his handling of the mini-rebellion. It should not have been permitted to occur. His control both of himself and his subordinates was all of a piece. If a single fragment shifted, the entire edifice was likely to fracture. Thus, he was careful to keep a tight rein on his tongue as well as his actions and the recent outburst had shocked him quite as much as his victims. He chided himself for his careless arrogance, refusing to excuse himself on the grounds of his relative inexperience. He was a quick learner and had no doubt of his eventual success in even this unwelcome office. A realist, he knew he would be positioned in a leadership role whether he chose it or not, so he resolved to be more careful and make the unwelcome duty as bearable as possible.

That resolved, he freed his mind to wander. Kaith came to him then in a cloud of fragrance, her presence nearly tangible and he was seized with a longing for her which forced a soft groan from his lips. He turned aside into the bushes and furtively, almost shamefully, sent her spirit in the only way he could.
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