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

Chapter Five

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: 2005-11-25 - Updated: 2005-11-25 - 3671 words

Chapter Five

The name of the Al Bhed was Aquelev, as hard for Spirans to pronounce as his presence in their midst was to understand. He had appeared unannounced amongst them three days ago acting as a sort of ambulatory crutch for their Captain who was recovering from extensive blood loss. Even though Nooj was recovered - at least physically, the Healer had stayed, the beneficiary of some arrangement worked out at the Travel Agency. He was a useful creature who had mastered the white magic of tradition as well as being a more than efficient organizer and mechanic. Not that the Crusaders had a use for mechanics, not at this time, but the oddity of an Al Bhed who could use magic was intriguing to them all. It was also helpful that he had a goodly store of magic reserves saved in his person and was able to supplement the less extensive powers of Ferata and Lamistol. Squab had his suspicions of the entire affair and Nooj simply ignored the man.

The Nooj who had come back to the camp, half-supported on the arm of the Al Bhed was only slowly again becoming the man who had walked down the canyon three days before, anticipating a brisk stroll as an exercise to expend excess energy and revel in the solitude he cherished. He had returned from his medically dictated sojourn at the Travel Agency prickly, brooding and wary of every glance and dubious of every overheard word. He had grown very thin, losing far more flesh than was normal for so few days and was pale, his golden skin gone sallow and his eyes sunken. Some of the team wondered if he was still affected by lingering remnants of poison.

The poison was within his spirit. He was worried that a tale of his failure to save himself had been bruited about the camp and had diminished his authority as well as the respect in which his followers had always held him. Since he had put his extraordinary struggle with four enemies behind him and had not mentioned the feat to anyone, his subordinates were unaware of his heroic victory before he had fallen prey to the poisoned blade which had wounded him. It was not the usual thing for an unaccompanied man to slay four healthy criminals with nothing more than a dagger. But great stories lie still-born until someone tells them while legends of clay feet are swift to be spread and believed.

Rin had listened to some of the feverish ravings when Nooj had first been brought into the Travel Agency and had sent a small delegation out to see what had happened. They had surveyed the scene, reconstructed the battle and buried the dead before reporting to their employer who whistled under his breath and vowed not to irritate the Captain should he ever see him again. But, given the distance between the camp and the Agency, no word of the true adventure which had so gravely wounded their leader had reached the members of the squad, except for Aquelev who had his own ways of receiving news.

The Al Bhed sat a little apart from the others around the camp fire. He was very aware of the uneasiness of the men. When the leader is uncertain, the followers suffer. If this group fell apart, he would have to start over with ingratiating himself into the Crusader forces and that would mean all his careful work here would have been for no purpose. He settled himself to think. The main problem, his quick mind had already deduced, was that Nooj was feeling himself diminished because of his inability to save himself after the battle. So the solution was simple - convince him he was still worthy of the trust his superiors had placed in him. Unfortunately, the answer while blindingly obvious was not easily implemented. Aquelev traced complicated and decorative patterns in the loose soil at his feet, letting his thoughts trace the equally complicated patterns of his scheming.

At length, he had exhausted the possibilities and was left with one option. He saw no way to penetrate deeply enough into the confidence of Nooj to persuade the Captain to reconsider his doubts but he was certainly able to insert heart into the Lieutenants who drooped with confusion around him. He had used his native charm to good effect and had made himself sufficiently useful to the squad that he was well if grudgingly accepted already and his tale of a heroic but modest Warrior would be eagerly swallowed by the men, even more so because it was true. His decision taken, he rose, stretched, wrapped his cloak around him and coiled up not far from the warmth of the fire to sleep.


A hum of barely suppressed excitement animated the camp the next morning. They were to begin the serious patrolling for signs of banditry or other troubles. Groups of three were to go out in various directions with full permission to dispose of suspicious bands and to bring any whose guilt was not immediately established back to Nooj for further questioning. However, it was not the prospect of leaving the claustrophobic confines of the area which had the spirits of the men leaping like so many exuberant golbries. It was the news which had come to the Al Bhed from the Travel Agency just after dawn.

There was a reason their Captain was behaving so oddly. He was hiding a great feat behind his customary wall of modesty. Of course, they all admitted to themselves, he had never been one to brag about his prowess but this was something special. When Aquelev had translated for them the message his companion had sent, they felt as though they saw clearly again. Who else but their own awe inspiring leader could have killed four strong men with only his dagger and while poisoned by their treachery? They looked at him with dazzled eyes and felt honored simply to share a universe he graced. Had he suggested it to them, they would have happily carved out their own hearts to lay at his feet. Thus it was with a renewed sense of purpose and confidence they prepared to set out on their missions.

Nooj watched them with some curiosity. He was beginning to emerge from the enervating fog of his own disillusion and take notice of what was happening. Maybe Ferata had not told about his weakness after all. Healers were rumored to keep the secrets of their patients private - that was the ideal. Now, instead of hunting rejection, he found himself suspicious of the sharpness of the salutes he received, the pride in the faces which confronted him.

"Lieutenant Squab, may I have a moment of your time?" He called softy.

"Yessir!" A beaming Squab clicked heels before him.

"What's going on with the men? They seem excited. Are they this eager to get back into the field?"

"Yessir. And they just heard. Why didn't you tell us, sir?"

"Tell you what?" Nooj was mystified. Had he forgotten some sort of good news in all the confusion?

"About how you killed four men by yourself. With just your dagger. You should have told us. It's a good story; one we can be proud of. I know you're not one to brag on yourself but still ...." Squab made a squinched up face to express his puzzlement.

Nooj was taken aback. The fight? He had quite honestly put the fight so far back in his mind he had forgotten it. There was no reason he should have mentioned it. It was of no significance to him; in no way did it advance his agenda. The men he had battled were simple thieves of no distinction. The true heart of the story was to Nooj that he had nearly been killed by such ignoble brutes. That was the kernel and the shame. He blushed fiercely but not for the reason Squab thought.

"Now, don't be that way, Captain." The Lieutenant spoke reassuringly, patting his leader on the arm. "We know you don't like being made much of but we just need to know about these things. It's encouraging to know we Crusaders can turn out men like you. Gives us all heart. You won't begrudge us that?"

"No, no. I just didn't think. It wasn't so much, you know. They were just bandits." Nooj stopped himself abruptly. He was making it worse, with every word adding to the legend they were building up around him. Better he should shut up. He could hear the whispered word 'Undying' from several directions and when he looked across the camp-ground, he saw the Al Bhed watching him with a sardonically raised eyebrow. Suddenly, he understood and tightened his lips before he could hurl an unaccustomed oath into the swirling pupils of the interloper.


After the three teams had left on their missions, Nooj stood in the shade at the edge of the grove, his arms folded across his chest, his eyes fixed on the ground, thinking about his reactions the past four days.

He had indulged himself in the fallacy that his wounding had made him a failure in the eyes of those who followed him. With bitter chagrin, he recognized that as a flaw in himself not in his fellows. He was the one who could not tolerate the slightest blemish on the cheek of his self-image. His own absorption into his own myth was the cause of his spiritual malaise.

He had punished himself and thus those for whom he was responsible. All for no reason save a severely damaged vanity. Nooj shook himself like a dog emerging from a pool. It was the damned self-consciousness which betrayed him at inauspicious moments. He could never absolve himself of even imagined faults. That must change or he would continue to be unworthy of a noble death.

With an abrupt gesture, he signaled the Al Bhed to join him.

"Why did you tell them?" He asked into the swirling pupils which always distracted him. "What did you want to make happen?"

Aquelev stood a little nervously before the taller man. "What has happened. I couldn't think of any other way to get you out of your funk and thought this might do it."

There was a long silence. Nooj walked a short way into the copse and propped himself against a tree's trunk. "You took a grave chance. I might have killed you for doing such a thing."

"I didn't think you would," the other nodded. "I had this idea your dedication to your men would keep you from doing anything stupid."

"Why are you here, mechanic? It's not just to cast the odd spell and take care of our non-existent machina. What's behind all this?"

"Well, I've done pretty well healing you and the team this morning." The Al Bhed laughed lightly as he tried to think of an answer which would satisfy this Captain and not give away too much of his race's intention. "Let me just say this - one day, fairly soon, I think you and the other Crusaders will be glad to have us around. We're kinda useful, you know."

"What's going to happen, do you think, that we would need such as you? Are you one of those trying to persuade Crusaders to use firearms and other forbidden machina? You'll get no takers here."

"I'm not involved in the weapons end of the business, taydrcaagan ..."

"What did you call me?" Nooj was alert for an insult.

Aquelev cursed himself for carelessness under his breath. "It's just an affectionate term for a leader in my language. Forget it. As I was saying, I'm not in the weapons end, I'm a Healer and a surgeon. I'm here to learn more about repairing men not machina."

"And all you've had to practice on is a hole in my arm and a cracked rib or so. We are elite forces and don't get hurt all that often."

"I can always hope, can't I?" The Al Bhed grinned insolently and Nooj felt constrained to return a forced sour smile as the two men parted.


The day had gone well. The revitalized Blood Avengers had cast their net wide and had swept in nearly half a dozen villains who would no longer prey on the honest merchants who used the Highway. They had brought two prisoners back to their leader. One was a woman who had been discovered crouched in the very back of a cave used as a shelter by one of the bands. The other was a middle-aged man who had successfully sued for his life when the gang of which he was a member had taken to its heels, leaving him behind wounded in the initial contact.

The trio which held the man brought their captive before Nooj who was standing ominously in the twilight, watching the activity with a keener interest than he had shown in some time. The prisoner whose hands were secured behind him was forced to his knees, his head shoved into the gritty dirt at the feet of the leader.

Nooj looked down at the man and felt a sudden lust rise in him. The slow return of his usual mien had also brought about the return of his normal appetites. His hand was on the hilt of his dagger before he was conscious of the move and he had to stop and asmonish himself his public actions must remain apart from those special private acts which might find less ready acceptance among his followers. So he shifted his hand from his weapon and instead nudged the man with his foot.

"Look at me. What were you doing in this area? Speak truth. I don't like liars."

The prisoner struggled to right himself and faced his judge with imploring eyes, oddly pale in his filthy face. "I'm a poor man, sir, ... I lost my family and my home to Sin. I was trying to find a place to hide until I could think of something to do. I'm hurt, sir. Your men hurt me." The snot ran down his chin as he blubbered. With his hands tied at his back, he could only rub his face on the shoulder of his coat.

Nooj surveyed him with indifferent disgust, not only for the dirt but for the inadequate and unimaginative lies. He had already seen the smear of blood on the man's arm and dismissed it as a minor flesh wound. "You're not hurt all that much and you probably deserve it. So, where was your home and how long have you been on the road."

The man mumbled and sniffed, "I've been living rough and I can't remember. It was the shock, you see." He gazed upwards, licking his dry lips, hoping to be believed. "It was the shock, made me lose my mind, my memory. I was a farmer and lost everything and the shock...." His voice trailed off in the recognition of his failure to convince. "The shock ... you know, when you lose everything - it's the shock. Your men, they hurt me. It was the shock, you see."

"Oh, shut up." Nooj was never patient with lying. This pitiful wreck of a coward aroused nothing but contempt in him. Once again the need to punish him unto death flared. This time not for the satisfaction of a hunger but for the pleasure of extinguishing so inadequate a life. "One of you, take him away. I won't soil my blade. Kill him if you want to or just leave him tied up in the bushes. The fiends will get him soon enough." He turned his attention to the other captive, ignoring the whimpering behind him - whimpering which rose to a wail and as soon ceased.

The woman was shivering, her arms wrapped tightly around her chest, flattening her breasts against her ribs. Her fair hair was tangled around her face, the dark roots sadly prominent even in the failing light. Her pale skin looked almost spectral. She wore only a light garment, torn and soiled by her enforced trip through the brambles.

Nooj walked over to her and tipped up her face so that he could see her clearly. "I recognize you. Aren't you one of the girls from the Pink Paradise? Or was it another one of the houses?" He raised an eyebrow, "What are you doing here? Run away?"

She trembled even more. She knew who was standing before her. His reputation was well known amongst those of her profession. "No, sir. I was grabbed by some men when I was on the way to the hairdressers' last month. They took me away to use me and were going to kill me." Her voice broke and she stood there sobbing not even trying to hide her face. "They were going to kill me after they had all done everything they wanted to do to me. I tried to run and they beat me. Are you going to kill me?"

"Why should I do that? I am not in the habit of killing honest working women or men. You're safe enough here. Tomorrow, I'll have one of my men take you to the Travel Agency and you can decide there what you want to do." He examined her carefully, seeing the darkness of bruises which he had not noticed before and carefully turning her around to check her condition. His nose told him she had managed to keep herself relatively clean in spite of the ill usage to which she had been put. That was a mark in her favor and he smiled into her frightened eyes.

"Sit down here beside me. The fire is about to be lit and you need to warm yourself." He drew her gently onto the log which was his usual throne in the nightly circle. "What's your name?"

"I'm called Gellal, sir." She obediently sat and slyly slid over until her hips were pressing his. "Would you?" Under cover of the darkness, she inched her hand onto his thigh and squirmed her touch toward his groin.

Nooj laughed lightly and moved her questing fingers. He had been celibate since the beginning of the campaign and was ravenous for the satisfaction of that particular appetite. It was no secret to him that the two females under his command were sharing their sleeping arrangements with a changing roster of the males but he was not minded to pull rank by indulging in an affair with a subordinate. He had known from the moment he set eyes on the woman, Gellal, he would probably lie with her but he had always preferred to be the aggressor. He looked at her more critically in the light of the fire. With a little washing, she would not be bad at all and she was a professional. He had little time for amateurs.

"Patience. I want to hear what my squad has been up to." He leaned forward giving his full attention to the reports being offered. When that was finished, the others wanted to question him about the fight and its outcome. With unaccustomed amiability, Nooj answered their questions, giving them the details to flesh out their images of his deeds. The Blood Avengers were excited and thrilled by the implied trust and promptly proceeded to do exactly what their leader had feared. They elaborated and embroidered until the participants would have been hard-pressed to recognize themselves in the saga thus formed.

With a sigh, Nooj stood up, pulling Gellal along with him. "Come on; they'll be sitting here half the night."

Only the Al Bhed watched the two stroll away from the fire. Aquelev had kept a steady eye on the pair and had observed with pride - some of it deserved - the results of his plan. Nooj seemed nearer the usual confident and aggressive man his followers had described and the group would continue. Like a successful parasite, the mechanic/surgeon had every reason to preserve his host.


"Here," Nooj tossed a scrap of cloth to the woman following him. "Go down to the stream and wash yourself. The water's cold but I'll warm you after."

When she had obeyed and crept back to where he waited, she found he had spread a sleeping bag and a cloak under the low trees near the wall of the canyon. He held the covers open for her and she slipped off her rag of a dress and crept in beside him, finding his bare skin amazingly warm against her. He held her close and she could feel his thinness. The bones were too prominent under her hands but she quickly forgot that as she drew as close to him as she could. Gradually, her shivering stopped and she breathed in the amber scent of his body and felt his firmness press against her.

"Do you?" she asked tentatively.

"In a little while. Get warm first. You've had a bad time." He wrapped her in the heat of his breath captured within the confines of the sleeping bag. "You feel like an ice spirit."

She slowly let herself uncoil in the luxury of softness and warmth. "You're not like what they say you are." It was only the almost hypnotic sense of safety and the lulling comfort of his arms that let the words escape and she at once hushed, wanting to call them back.

He only laughed a little, far back in his throat. "I am what I need to be. Right now, I'm your heater. Sleep if you like." He made no move to possess her.

"Don't you want me to ... you know?" She put a timid hand on him, finding him ready but controlled. "I want to."

"There's no rush. We have all night." He murmured but her tongue was already drawing lines down his belly and he abandoned himself to her talents with a deep groan of pleasure.
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