Chapter 24: Anima Sola
Final Fantasy X/X-2
Characters: Isaaru, Nooj, Auron, Rikku, Cast
Word Count: 2100
Summary: Picking up the pieces after Cid goes postal.
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Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapter
A/N: Mouseover Al Bhed for translation. Also, this is Anima Sola.
Our Story So Far: Thanks to Sin, Isaaru and his guardians have made an unscheduled detour to Al Bhed territory, where they encounter Rikku, Gippal, and a grievously injured Nooj at Baaj Temple. Cid storms in to greet his unwelcome guests and suddenly goes berserk, shooting everyone.
My dear son.
(Nay, lady, I am but a son of Spira. Yet I would be honored to bear your pain.)
My dear, brave son. This time of the spiral, we shall not be sundered. Do not weep, Seymour, for soon all Spira shall recognize you for what you truly are...
(The memory flashed from Isaaru's mind to hers with the unshrouded immediacy of fayth's communion -- no smile, no politic speech, no polished gesture to soften the blow -- a field of blood-red snow, mangled heaps of Ronso warriors tossed like broken trees in an avalanche's graveyard. The bodies were gutted and limp as if Seymour had spirited away their very bones, not just their souls, to fashion ghastly armor. Surely, Sin was built in this way. There had been precious few to send, and none to heal.)
A banshee scream of pain tore through coherent thought. No, no, no, you must live, you must die, you must be Spira's savior! Redeem us, avenge us, atone for our sins! All shall love and weep for thee, Yevon's true son!
(Isaaru felt arms of gray steel tightening around his neck, bloody chains digging into his throat. Burning feathers flared and fell, prickling his skin...)
"Mother!" Isaaru's eyes snapped open; he found himself weeping.
"Er... not exactly, sir."
The anguished face whose eyes brimmed with blood transmuted into Elma's plain features, grinning down at him in relief.
Isaaru wiped his eyes, dimayed to see red soaking the cuff as he drew his hand back. The world was red, too, but that was only the dull glow of a solitary Kilika sphere, pulsing weakly as if it might give out at any moment. The chamber had darkened considerably. The other spheres must have been damaged by gunfire.
"Phew. It was phoenix down." Elma brandished a broken phial, triumphant. "I always wonder who has to pluck the bird these come from."
"What did you think I used on you?" said a dry voice. "Motor oil?"
"Sorry, sir. I don't trust anything I found on an Al Bhed ship."
"A thief talking trust." Nooj laughed. "Yevon hasn't changed a bit, has it?"
"Somewhat." Isaaru found the strength to smile, despite the howling wraith in the back of his mind. "You have my thanks, Commander."
"Don't thank me, sir. Thank Nooj. He had sense enough to lay low after you revived him." She waved towards the man sitting propped in the doorway, watching them over the rim of his spectacles. "He found my field medicine kit."
"And appropriations," Nooj said.
"Right." She blushed. "I'll see to the others now, sir."
"Please do." Isaaru winced as he surveyed the bodies scattered around the dark chamber, fallen friends and allies lying in the shadows of Guado demons graven in stone. "I pray to Yevon we're in time." He crawled to the nearest victim, Shinra, whose shallow, rasping breaths sounded like sandpaper through his respirator.
"Take good care of him," Nooj said. "Kid's a genius...except in choosing his friends."
"So speaks a friend who saved us all," Isaaru said, removing the young man's mask with care. Apart from pale skin the color of shell, hair white as snow to match, there was no obvious deformity to explain his head-to-toe garb. Thrusting curiosity aside, Isaaru placed his hands over Shinra's forehead and heart, invoking Yevon's blessing for one who lay beyond it.
Elma and Isaaru executed triage in tandem, fighter's and priest's paths converging in the aftermath of slaughter. The Crusader dispensed phoenix down, while the summoner attended to the gruesome burns that the restorative left half-healed. The murmur of summoner's prayers and the faint crackle of sparks were soon masked by expletives and staccato conversation.
"Th' hell? Isaaru, are you all right?"
"Vilgehk cred fedr y puucdan bylg... Aaaah. Thanks, Yevon-babe. Hey! Just a dang second! You swiped that from my cargo hold, didn't you?"
"Kad yfyo vnus sa!"
"Er, yeah. Sorry I hit you earlier...whoa! No punching the medic."
"This is bad, Nooj. Servos fused. I'll have to replace the whole joint."
"Just splint it, kid. Give me a pin to stand on. Save the engineering miracles for later."
Elma saved Auron and Rikku for last, enlisting Maroda and Gippal to help her roll the guardian off the woman he had tried to shield. Elma pressed a phial into his gloved hand as he stirred.
"All clear, sir. Wanna help your friend?"
Auron grunted and sat up, popping the cap and shaking out wispy feathers in an economical gesture that spoke of too many years of practice. Glowing filaments rained down on Rikku's mop of braids, flared brightly and winked out. After a few seconds, she gasped and rolled over, biting his knee through his pants to keep from whimpering. Her arms wrapped around her stomach; red skin there was blistered and bubbled like half-melted plastic.
Auron handled her gently, coaxing her to uncurl. He held her while Isaaru tended her.
"Rikku," Auron said. "Your father wasn't in control of his actions."
"Gee, ya think?" she said. "Ow ow OW I think there's something I hate more than lightning."
"I hear ya, Rikku," Gippal said, wincing. "Yo, Shinra, wasn't that energy blaster one of your inventions?"
"Don't look at me. I'm just a kid."
A curaga or two later, Rikku scrambled to her feet using Auron's coat as a ladder. "Well, that sucked. Did anyone see which way Pops went?"
"No," Nooj said, "but I heard an airship's engines fire fifteen minutes ago. It sounded like the Fahrenheit."
Rikku pressed a fist to her forehead in a gesture reminiscent of Lulu. "Oh, great. Well, um... eh... heh. Gippal, you goin' anywhere? We could use a ride. Like, pronto!"
"Oh, sure," Gippal said sarcastically. "So we can get blown out of the sky? Remember, Rikku, Cid's got the big guns."
"But we can't just let him get away!"
"We can't go after him." Maroda spread his hands as several dubious pairs of green eyes turned towards him. "Rikku, look. I know you're worried about your dad. I'd be worried sick. But there's thousands of other lives at stake. If we don't get to Bevelle before Sin gets there--"
"We follow Cid," Auron said.
Maroda was not the only one who gaped. "You've got to be kidding."
Auron stooped in the doorway, raising Nooj onto his good leg with a scrape of metal on stone. "Family comes first. Let's go."
"Awww," Rikku gave a little hop and tagged after him. "So you can teach an old Yevonite new tricks."
"I've got an ugly feeling about this," Gippal said, following her out.
"Damn him," Maroda said, picking up the spear he had dropped earlier. "I swear, sooner or later, I'm going to take this and just—"
"Sir?" Elma said, hovering at Isaaru's elbow. "What's wrong?"
Maroda pivoted. "Isaaru?"
"It's all right." The man wiped away blood pooling in the corners of his eyes. "A moment." Taking several deep breaths, he waited for the other Al Bhed to clear the room, then broke into a beaming smile. "We have a weapon, my brother. Seymour's Final Aeon. At last, I have the means to finish our pilgrimage."
"Final Aeon?" Maroda frowned. "That doesn't make sense. How can you have a Final Aeon without a High Summoner?"
"Little about Lord Seymour made sense," Isaaru said. "But my suspicions were correct. He had completed his pilgrimage. He gained the Final Aeon, but he refused to face Sin. Whether through fear or greed for power, I do not know."
"You don't look well, sir," Elma said.
"Yes." Isaaru grimaced. "The fayth: his own mother. Erinyes, or such is the name she gave me. Half-mad with pain. So long as she thinks I am Seymour, the bond between us may be strong indeed. As strong, perhaps, as a true Final Summoning."
"A lie to fight a lie?" Maroda said.
"Exactly. Fitting, no?" Isaaru straightened. "But I must ask both of you to keep this a secret."
Maroda nodded. "Yeah. We sure don't want Auron telling Sin about this."
"Sounds dangerous," Elma said. "What if Erinyes figures out you're not Seymour?"
"I do not know, Commander. But one thing I do know is that we need to get off this island. Our ship is leaving. Come."
They caught up with the others at the cargo doors of Gippal's freighter, where Auron and Gippal were lugging Nooj into the hold. Rikku stood at the foot of the ramp, giving hurried instructions to a few stunned Al Bhed who had straggled out of the control room at the sounds of commotion.
"Cu, luhdehia dra nabyenc. Ihdem Shinra un E kad pylg, Pnudran'c eh lrynka. Lymm res yht damm res fryd E zicd dumt oui. Fa'mm caht hafc yc cuuh yc fa ryja yho, ugyo?" Rikku waved at Isaaru. "So, are you guys coming or not?"
"We are," Isaaru said. "Maroda, help with Nooj. Captain Gippal, we beg leave to fly with you again."
"Yeah, sure, just hurry up," Gippal said, swapping out with Maroda. "Nooj, there's a freight elevator behind those gun-racks. Show these blockheads how to use it. Everybody else, follow me. Let's move, people. Cid's got a big lead; we don't want to lose him." So saying, he jogged to the ladder, disappearing rapidly into the darkness overhead.
Rikku scurried up the loading ramp behind them as the cargo bay doors began to close. "Shinra!" she said. "You almost squashed me!"
"You're always boasting how quick you are. Come on. Gippal needs us on the flight deck."
Elma and Isaaru trooped after them, while Maroda and Auron wrestled Nooj into the elevator. No explanation of the lift controls proved necessary; Auron had not spent ten years in Zanarkand hiding on Jecht's houseboat.
Nooj watched curiously as Auron operated the elevator, turning on the lights in the dim compartment as it began to creep upwards. "One would think you knew something about machina, sir guardian."
Maroda shook his head. "Give up, man. He's already said his three words for the day."
The intercom sizzled to life. "Yo. We've got Cid on the scanner. Brace for liftoff." The painful pop as the speaker cut out had barely faded before the ship lurched forward, throwing them against the rear wall. Light panels dimmed momentarily. The lift hesitated as if it might stick, then resumed its slow ascent.
Maroda cursed, taking the brunt of Nooj's metal arm in the ribs. "That guy drives like a maniac."
"This does not surprise me," Nooj said.
Auron shifted his feet, hitching Nooj's arm around his shoulders more securely.
"Don't strain yourself, old man," Maroda said. "You want me to take over?"
Nooj lowered his voice, as if that could make up for the awkwardness of being almost cheek to cheek with the white-haired guardian, were it not for his collar. "It's Sir Auron, isn't it? I seem to have fallen into the company of legends."
"Legendary failures, more like," Maroda said.
"Then I'll fit right in." Nooj flicked his eyes to the dark-skinned man. "I don't think we've been introduced."
"Oh. Sorry." He raised his fist in a salute, truncated by close quarters. "Captain Maroda, Yocun Lodge, normally stationed in the Calm Lands. Currently on leave for my brother's pilgrimage."
"Maester Isaaru?" Nooj said, putting subtle emphasis on the title.
"Yeah. Speaking of which..." Maroda shifted his attention to Auron. "What the hell gives you the right to override our pilgrimage? You're a guardian! Your duty is to obey your summoner!"
Auron gave him a wooden look. "Isaaru trusts my advice. You would do well to follow his example."
"My brother is naive," Maroda said. "It wouldn't occur to him that you might be buying your lady friend time to blow up the last few aeons."
Nooj arched an eyebrow, listening with feigned detachment.
"I yielded to Yuna and Lord Braska," Auron said, impatience seeping out in a growl. "They died. It changed nothing. This time, we do it my way."
"Which is...?" Maroda thumped the floor with his spear. "Why are we going after Cid and not Sin?"
"A hunch." Inexplicably, Auron's stern manner evaporated into a soft chuckle. "Because it's the right thing to do."
"Like hell it is--"
"Gentleman," Nooj said. "With all due respect, Sin is the least of your problems. If Cid gets his hands on Vegnagun, he'll blast Bevelle off the map."
"Vegnagun?" Maroda said.
"A weapon?" Auron said, suddenly intent.
"I'll explain when we're topside. Everyone needs to hear this. Especially Gippal and Shinra. I owe them an apology. " Nooj exhaled. "Once you understand what I know, you may have second thoughts about your quaint little custom of pilgrimage."
Next Chapter: Family Matters