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

Chapter Eight

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: 2005-12-17 - Updated: 2005-12-17 - 2925 words

Chapter Eight

Once the move back to base camp had been accomplished, there was no time for philosophical musings about the value of life and the virtue of self-sacrifice. There was a subdued under-current of excitement and a general air of frenzy which was nearly tangible. The rumors of war and an incipient attack swirled around the gathering like morning fog, obscuring reason and order. The Blood Avengers had been disbanded once they had reported to Lieutenant Colonel (formerly Major) Ciele, their promotions granted and the individuals folded into the greater mass of troops. Nooj had been given the title of Major but preferred to still be called Captain since he believed an acknowledgment of the higher rank would confine him to desk work and interfere with his personal need to take part in any upcoming battles.

There was much business at the various recreational venues. An excess of nervousness drove most men and women to the satisfaction of their basic appetites before it might be too late. Nooj found time to visit the House of Pain and returned much calmer; it had been a very long time since he had been in a position to indulge that particular compulsion. Diuane had returned to the House of Pleasure and was delighted to entertain him again, remembering his financial generosity from the last time. So, it was with a feeling of having taken care to prepare himself for whatever was to come that he attended the meeting to which he and some other officers had been summoned.

Colonel Nuave, a tall man who had lost his right arm and eye in the service of his state and who held command of this section of the Crusaders, addressed them. "Gentlemen and ladies, we have reason to believe there is an attack about to occur in this sector of the globe. We have received notices of various phenomena and portents which have often in the past foretold the appearance of Sin. There is an unusual calm among the fiends and even the ordinary animals which, like that still time before a great storm, alerts us to the possible battle which may come sooner rather than later." He paused and looked across the gathered audience to gauge the effect of his words.

Nooj had cringed at the over-used phrases. Why did military men, once they reached a certain rank, all talk the same way, using clichés and meaningless words? So they suspected Sin to attack? They were always expecting Sin to attack. However, as the most junior Major in the room, he held his tongue, avoiding attention lest he be brevetted to headquarters. He did not want more pay or more insignia for his coat but did want to escape confinement inside an office and away from the action.

Hearing neither objections nor questions, the Colonel continued, "Therefore, we have sent advance teams and individuals in every direction as trip-wires to alert us to the approach of our Great Enemy. While only a Summoner can defeat Sin, we of the army must do our best to protect the people and weaken the foe. Our advance men - and women - have been supplied with modern communication devices by Al Bhed engineers who have elected to join us in the struggle. Thus, we can receive warnings quickly and direct our forces to the relevant area. I wish to express our gratitude to these engineers and ask all of you to set an example for your troops and instruct them in the proper courtesy to the Al Bhed who will be embedded with our troops in the coming battle."

He paused again at the muttering of certain officers. Al Bhed were not popular in the military. Too many of those who had risen through the ranks had been carefully trained to consider all those who were different to be inferior, not quite human creatures. The strange eyes were the mark of the beast to some of the older men. Before the subdued complaints could reach a critical stage, the commanding officer harrumphed to gather the attention of the group.

"Yes, you will treat the Al Bhed with courtesy and respect." Colonel Nuave went on. "They are proving to be of great assistance to us and are asking only that we no longer persecute them. They just want the chance to show their loyalty and usefulness. There are no females of their race assigned to our forces so at least that won't be a problem. But if I hear of even one of the Al Bhed being mistreated, the officer in charge of that body of troops will be punished and a notation placed in his - or her - packet." He cleared his throat a second time and glared with his single red-rimmed eye.

"Now, you are to maintain the highest level of readiness, at no time letting down your guard. From this time, all leaves are canceled and sentries will be posted at all approaches to the camp. Intoxicants are forbidden and - well, you know the drill. No excuses, no complaints." With a final glare around the room, he tucked his swagger stick under his remaining arm and marched through the door, leaving a buzz of conversation behind him.

Since Nooj was so newly promoted, he had not yet been assigned a command. He hoped he would not be. The past months of managing the Blood Avengers had quite satisfied any hunger he might have had for authority over a mass of other humans. Taking advantage of the pre-occupation of the older officers, he slipped out of the assembly and went to find Aquelev, with whom he had established a tentative bond of trust.

He was walking across to the mess tent when Squab hailed him from behind.
"Captain, I mean Major, what's going on? Do they know anything?"

"Not really, and call me Captain; I don't want to be a Major. No, Captain Squab, they think Sin is heading this way but they don't really know. And, oh yes, we're supposed to be nice to any Al Bhed we run across."

"So now you are ordered to be sweet to us," snickered Aquelev who had strolled up unnoticed. "What brought that on?"

Nooj smiled his half-smile, "We're meant to be grateful to you geniuses for the communications gear you supplied our out-rangers. You're a clever lot, you are. Why didn't you use that sort of thing when you were camping with us instead of sneaking away to deposit letters in a hidey-hole?"

"We didn't want you primitives to get onto the great gadgets we have at our fingertips." The Al Bhed smirked and patted Nooj on the back. "Don't want to stir up the natives."

Squab watched the by-play with his mouth agape. He had never seen the staid Nooj in a mood like this. With a stuttered excuse, he turned away and left the two alone.

"So, Nuave told you about our offer? I wasn't sure he would. He's not a bad fellow, just a little hide-bound and regimented. I think he got kicked upstairs when he was wounded. Am I right?"

"That's what I've heard. He had devoted his life to the Crusaders and they didn't want to kick him out and he was always good at planning and all the strategic part of war. The things I don't enjoy. He's in his perfect place now. And you're right, he's not a bad old guy. He cares for the army and takes as good a care of it as he can. My worst complaint about him is he's a bore." Nooj caught Aquelev by the shoulder. "Let's get away from this crowd; I want to ask you something."

When they found themselves free of the presence of other people, Nooj confessed with a somewhat embarrassed air, "I really don't have anything I need to talk to you about. I'm just trying to avoid being noticed by any of the command structure. If they think of it, they will probably try to assign me to some sort of platoon or company or, worse, stick me at headquarters. I'm trying to stay a free man for now."

The Al Bhed laughed, "I see. By the way, congratulations on your new rank."

"Forget it. I never wanted it. Captain is good enough." Nooj had not yet developed the aura of ambition, His reconsideration of his future was too young for him to have thought about his career. "You know how short our lives are under the threat of Sin. All you have to do in this army to get promoted is survive."

"So young and so cynical," the other mocked. "So you plan to hide out until the monster shows up? What then?"

"I won't hide when Sin attacks, I can promise you that. I'll fight the way I always have. Are you going to be in the battle? Or will you take advantage of your race's neutrality and just watch?"

"I intend to help out. I'm a Healer and you'll need me when the casualties start coming. Right now, I'm trying to decide if I'll be safer sticking close to you or finding someone less - ahem - adventurous to shadow."

Nooj raised an eyebrow, "Surely you're not suggesting I might take chances with our safety?"

"Not at all. I'm just weighing my chances. On another topic, how well do you know Colonel Nuave?"

"I've never met him. The first time I saw him was this morning at the briefing. Why?"

Aquelev shrugged off the inquiry. He felt a certain reluctance to admit his presence in the midst of the Crusaders was to explore the possibility of persuading them to test the advantages to be found in using machina. Colonel Nuave's missing arm had suggested a chance to demonstrate the new generation of prosthetic limbs being developed by the Al Bhed engineers and the Healer had hoped for a personal introduction to the man. However, with that no longer in the offing, he was wary of disrupting the delicate web of friendship being spun between him and the fiercely proud and easily offended Nooj. So he adroitly changed the subject.

"Do you think it's going to happen? A Sin attack - here?"

"Yes." Nooj responded gravely. "I can't tell you exactly why, but I do. There's a sort of tingling in the air, like on the edge of a thunderstorm. I have a sense of something big coming."

The Al Bhed nodded, "I know what you mean. The hairs on my arms are bristling." He glanced at the smooth wrists of the younger man and grinned slightly. "I've never been near one of Sin's targets and I wondered if he projects a sort of aura ahead of himself; some predators do that to paralyze their prey."

Nooj raised a brow, "I doubt he has to. We paralyze ourselves. This will be the second time I've faced him and I'm glad I know what to expect."

"You've seen him before? You never told me that!"

"There was no reason to. I was just a kid, about six years old. He attacked our village and I survived. It's kind of like being inoculated against a disease; you're never quite as scared if you know what's coming. You develop a resistance to panic."

They had walked across the road from the camp and down a narrow defile between the cliffs, now finding themselves shielded from the mass of others by the terrain and distance . This far away from the turmoil, the sound of voices was diminished to a muted hum and it was possible to hear the ambient sounds of the meadow - the buzz of insects, the little stirrings of the creatures which had returned once the fiends were eliminated. An arpeggio of bird song could be heard from time to time.

The day felt normal, like any other pleasant, uneventful day, but Nooj recognized the tremor of excitement under the shell of the ordinary. He looked toward the south, in the direction where the Moonflow lay. There was a faint brightness in that quarter as the reflection of the sun off the waters cast a luminous glow into the sky. The horizon lay unblemished; there was no sign of danger at any point.

"Had you heard we have been ordered to be nice to you Al Bhed?" He suddenly threw at his companion. He was genuinely curious as to how far the words from the briefing had penetrated.

Aquelev stifled a laugh, "No! So that's what you were talking about to Squab. I thought it was just a joke you were making to stir him up. You mean you really have been told to accept us? Never thought it would happen! What brought that up?"

"I think it's part of a new attempt to unite the world against Sin. We were told you people had joined us in our efforts and we are to be kind and helpful to any we meet. Something about not discouraging the war effort."

"Well, I trust you'll mind your manners and not hurt my feelings. We're a delicate breed." The Al Bhed understood Nooj did not want to talk about his own history any longer. "So, when do you think things will start happening?"

"Not much longer. Look, Aquelev, you don't have to stay with me. I'm going to wander around this area to keep away from the senior staff until it's too late to conscript me. You don't have to keep me company."

"Your company is the best I'm likely to find. I don't have anything calling me back into the camp. I took your advice and sent a message to Gratti as soon as I got the gist of this morning's meeting so that's all right. He'll make sure the others of our kind are prepared for an attack and I don't have any other urgent business. So, if it's all the same to you, I'll stick around."

"I'm glad to have you. You're one of the few people I know who can talk about something other than war and sex. Fascinating as both are, there is a limited amount of discussion available for them and I welcome a different topic from time to time. Here, here's a nice sunny spot. Let's get comfortable. Did you bring anything to eat and drink?"

"No, I have to confess not. Want me to go back and fetch supplies?"

Nooj shook his head, "There's no need to, I haven't been carrying this bag just for my own amusement." He tossed the carrier to the ground. "There's bread and meat and a couple of stone jars of ale in there. We'll survive."


Some time later, the two men lazily stretched themselves awake from the half-dozing state brought about by their picnic on the grass. They had feasted and talked about various things until lassitude had overcome them. The sun was low in the sky and the background sounds had changed subtlety. Nooj sat up and looked toward the south again. The sky was darker there for some reason. The reflected glow seemed to have disappeared. He squinted, staring hard at the horizon. Was that a dark speck? There, far out, near where the curve of the planet began to take shape? He could not tell for sure, but he was suddenly aware that the noise of the insects had stopped and that the song of the birds had fallen still. The world seemed muted and sharpened at the same time. All his senses had heightened and his nerves were on the surface, ready to catch the smallest suggestion of danger.

"Aquelev," his quiet voice seemed to blare like a trumpet in the void. "Aquelev, something is about to happen. We need to get back to the camp. Now!"

The other scrambled to his feet. "What's wrong? Have you had some word?"

"It's gone all quiet and there is a peculiar darkness toward the Moonflow. Come on." Nooj was sprinting back along the path they had come.

When they reached the road, they could see the bustle in the camp as officers shouted orders and troops formed themselves into increasingly organized groups ready to march where directed. The rumor that the Moonflow area was under siege quickly spread through the army.

"Stay near me. You'll be safer there. I'll watch after you." Nooj ordered tersely and the Al Bhed nodded his understanding.

Within moments the two had melded into the serried ranks moving rapidly down the road toward the settlements at the the ford. There was neither time nor breath for conversation as the long serpentine mass made its way toward the recently confirmed site of the attack. They hastened to the war they had been bred and trained to wage.

Being taller than most of his contemporaries, Nooj could see further along the road. Night was falling and the luminous quality of the Moonflow should have long since become a steady glow in the darkening sky ahead. But there was no bluish light, only blackness which the trees intensified. As the body of troops crested the last hill and the edge of the water came into view, the reason became evident - the pyreflies were vanished and the shore they had graced was made dark by the massed hordes of Sin-spawn, lurking like so many loathsome animate traps in wait for their prey. Nooj absorbed that image then looked up towards the sea and saw, for the first time since his childhood, looming like a threatening storm cloud, the vast shape of Sin.
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