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Love Her And Despair (32)

Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 32: Otherworld
Final Fantasy X/X-2
Characters: Auron, Isaaru, Maroda, Elma, Pacce, Paine
PG-13 (Violence)
Word Count: 1450
Navigation: Previous Chapter | Next Chapter
Map of Pilgrimage - Links to All Chapters

Our Story So Far: Isaaru's pilgrimage derails when the unquiet ghost Shuyin shows up, possessing one host after another in his quest for vengeance. They chase him into the depths of Bevelle, where the Crimson Squad members are trying to keep Vegnagun out of the wrong hands.

"Wait." Auron checked Maroda's hand reaching for a small glowing panel illuminating the dark end of the tunnel. "Touch that and we may not catch him."

Maroda tapped his spear against the elevator doors. "Huh? He went in here, didn't he?"

"It's a lift. Once you press that button, we won't know where Pacce got off."

"What else can we do, sir, force the doors open and jump?" Elma said. "Could be a long drop."

"Vegnagun's gotta be at the very bottom, right?" Maroda said, trying to reach around him.

"Not necessarily," Isaaru said behind them, pained. "The Via Purifico, where I fought Lady Yuna, is said to be the uttermost dungeon. Yet who knows if that is truly the bottom? In Yevon, something always lies beneath."

"Like Vegnagun, maybe?" his brother said, growling with frustration. "Come on, we're wasting time!"

"The Hymn of the Fayth," Auron said. "Start singing."

Maroda gaped. "You've gotta be joking!"

"Ah. Yes, of course." Isaaru inhaled deeply and eased into the soothing refrain with a priest's gentle drone. "Ieyui nobomenu...."

Elma joined him uncertainly, wavering in and out of key.

"Don't stop," Auron said, hand hovering over the panel until they had cycled around to a new verse. Pressing it, he started counting. Two verses. Three. Five. Seven. Just where was Vegnagun docked, under the harbor? Nine and a half—

"Keep going," he commanded as the doors slid open. "Get in." Again he waited for the start of a verse before activating the elevator controls.

Maroda's sullen tenor joined theirs as the room began to descend. The Hymn sounded oddly ordinary in close quarters, meant as it was for soaring domes and monumental halls. Nor was Elma much of a singer. Nonetheless, the shared mantra seemed to steady them, and that was all to the good. Will, not just weapons, would be needed in the coming battle.

Auron freed his left arm from his sleeve and adjusted his sword-grip. Another sound was booming up the elevator's shaft, rising to meet them: an alien, jangling music churned out by some kind of machina. It sounded like Zanarkand Stadium's halftime show with a drunk at the keyboard. No, two drunks. The pyreflies in his veins stirred in response, an unsettling itch within his flesh that he had to resist clawing. Lost your way, a fallen knight... they whispered, latching onto the music's insistent rhythm.

Not now, he snapped.

"Renmiri yojuyogo..."

Nine and a half. Auron pressed the emergency override. The car squealed to an abrupt halt. The doors opened. A wave of sound broke over them. He leapt, hit the bridge a few feet below, and launched into a dead run.

What in Spira was that racket? Auron had never entered the Farplane, but he knew with a wrench he was hearing its heartbeat. Pyreflies surged in his ears, buzzing in time to the acoustic barrage. The behemoth loomed on the bridge's far side, a monster with tusks and teeth and gigantic legs clawing the void and wings, gods, why did the big ones always have wings? Roving blue spotlights sent out feelers. One of the figures perched in its cockpit was shouting, his words overwhelmed by the musical torrent. Below, Nooj stood under Vegnagun's jaws, tottering, furious, brandishing his false leg like a club. His target was out of reach, but as Auron approached, he took aim for a throw. (No better plan than to do or to die.)

A frenetic duel raged in the midst of the span, accented by flashes of magic and blood. Juno staggered, warding off Pacce's darting attacks and flying lunges with dogged economy, wielding her sword as a shield. Her left arm hung limp. She was giving up ground, buffeted by the hacking bombardment that had shredded Auron and Maroda a short time before. Blood slicked the deck-plates. Slipping, she caught sight of Auron, raised her weapon and rallied in a burst of weak strikes. Pacce redoubled his blows, baleful laughter cackling over Vegnagun's uncanny chords.

Auron slammed his weight into the boy's back, blade hitting hard enough for a killing blow were he not armored. Pacce's body flew from the point of impact. For a instant Auron feared that he would hurtle over the edge. Then he executed a complicated aerial flip, a blitzer's move so familiar that Auron nearly skidded off himself, distracted. By the time he had checked his momentum, Pacce had rebounded and was springing towards him, laughing shrilly with sword weaving in a maddened hornet's dance.

"Wondered if you were going to show, old man." The blade sliced into the muscle of Auron's bared upper arm too swiftly for him to block with his bracer. "I hear we've met before...or is it since?"

The nagging pyrefly chorus was growing louder, harder to ignore. The ribbed walls of Vegnagun's vault were transmuting into Zanarkand's skyline. (Memories of it cloud your sight.) Soaring towers and girders blossomed around Auron like the bones of a dream. He gritted his teeth and pressed forward with an overhand swing. Shuyin bent around the blow and and pierced his side with a jab before whirling away.

"Pacce!" Maroda pelted into the fray with his spear reversed. "Fight him, Pacce! We're here!"

"I'm so glad, dear brother." Shuyin sidestepped him like a charging dual-horn and brought his sword down, chopping the spear in two. The follow-through nearly took Maroda's legs out from under him. Auron seized his harness, yanking him back from the edge.

Elma seemed to have better tactical instincts. She was skirting the melee to reach Juno and press a phial into her hands. "Potion," the Crusader shouted, turning to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. "Fork attack?"

The percussion of Vegnagun's engines obscured the clash of steel. The bridge was quaking. Pyreflies were swarming now, sliding over Vegnagun's exoskeleton in a pulsing web. The machina was growing translucent, or else fiend's madness was mazing Auron's sight. The roar of Zanarkand Stadium thundered in his ears. (Fight fight fight fight). Vegnagun's floodlights painted Pacce's spinning body in a sphere-pool glow.

Auron lunged again, drawing Shuyin's attention as the two women split in a pincer movement, attacking with sword and truncheon as he landed between them. Barely registering their blows, he flung his arms wide to shove them aside, leapt high, and raised his sword in a triumphant pose.

"Let's blitz!"

Two simple words, but Auron was frozen by them. Stunned, he failed to shield himself from the burning trails of fire and sparks raining down. Looking up, he saw not Pacce's chubby features, but the lean face of another he had failed to protect. He glimpsed blond hair, blue eyes, a cheeky smirk that was crueler, older than he remembered.

"Tidus?" he said, choking on the name.

Zanarkand. He had forgotten how much he hated it. Pyrefly spectators cheered with bloodthirsty glee as Auron began to cough, drowning— he had never been a swimmer— his blood diffusing into the water as he thrashed.

"Isaaru, send! Send now! He's taking Sir Auron!"

The referee's bellow made no sense. Auron released his sword and pressed his hands over his heart, fighting to stem the spill of pyreflies. The referee leapt in front of him, reaching for the dropped weapon, but the gesture left him perilously exposed. A scalloped blue blade darted in like a fish. There was a scream, a moment's struggle— the women were grappling with Tidus, yanking him backwards in a double tackle— and the referee went down writhing, clutching his stomach.

An anguished cry rang out. "Maroda!"

Auron grabbed for him, catching the straps of his armor as he rolled off the bridge. In his mind's eye, Auron saw another, younger face, another body dangling below him, another voice shouting his name. But his fingers were melting through the straps, losing hold. (Hopes dies. Dreams, they rip asunder...)

Maroda plummeted through the bottom of the sphere-pool with a cry, disappearing from sight. Auron was falling, too. One of the women's voices cut through the water above him, distorted and desperate: "Please, sir, you've got to send, or we'll lose Pacce too."

The pipe organ's blaring tumult suddenly ceased. All lights went out. Auron felt himself floating down, down, swathed in an unraveling shroud of pyreflies that had no color, no sound, no taste, no sensation. The last embers of his will almost wept with relief. At last, he would allow himself to strike bottom.

(The otherworld, it takes you.)

Next Chapter: Via Purifico
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( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 24th, 2009 12:46 am (UTC)

What a powerful, spooky chapter. Brilliant execution of unraveling sanity. Surprising and powerful imagery, an ingenious way to incorporate the Otherworld lyrics.

Not the best time to send, though. Hmm. Do we suppose an unsent return can from the farplane? We see it with Jyscal, a little.

One of the best so far, if not *the* best.

/edge of seat.
Aug. 24th, 2009 01:35 am (UTC)
I am dead. This chapter killed me. I will now have Otherworld stuck in my head for days.

But... YES!

It sounds like my lab experiment worked!

I will explain later, no doubt, but I was pulling some funny business in this chapter that is not (hopefully) evident on the surface.
Aug. 24th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: *THUD*
Is Tidus Auron's Lenne-analog? The one he feels he failed to protect -- among others, of course. It's sort of -- but not perfectly -- echoing the mistaken identity Yuna/Lenne trope from FFX-2, if I'm remembering the story right?

...still has a very tenuous grasp on the various FFX-2 plotlines.
Aug. 24th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
Re: *THUD*
That would be me, natch. :)
Aug. 24th, 2009 02:05 am (UTC)
Re: *THUD*
Ooooh. That "Tidus is Auron's Lenne" angle had not occurred to me, but in a way you are quite right.

It's a running theme through this whole story -- as well as FFX -- that Auron's main angst is his failure to protect those he loves.

I am not as familiar with X-2 either, which is why Shuyin keeps talking like a generic bad guy instead of himself.
Aug. 24th, 2009 02:00 am (UTC)
I was waiting for the other shoe to fall...
When Shuyin said "Let's blitz", and Auron's world just went still. I'd never seen Auron in stunned shock before. Until this instant...

Beautifully done!

I'm just wondering what the butcher's bill will turn out to be this time...

Aug. 24th, 2009 02:06 am (UTC)
Re: I was waiting for the other shoe to fall...
You've been asking what would happen when Auron saw Shuyin's face since I first raised the possibility of Shuyin being in this story. It was an excellent question, and made me take especial care in building up to that moment.

I had to make sure you were not disappointed, when it finally happened!
Aug. 24th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
Oh no oh no oh no oh no
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 24th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)
And an important part of it is your fault.
Poor Maroda. I didn't mean for Elma to become a major character. I've had a harder and harder time giving him something to do besides be bitchy.

And I've had too many "ha, they're not really dead!" moments.

Your comment last chapter inspired me to exploit the opportunity to correct both problems.

Which means more angst, but oh, we can't have THAT now, can we?!
Aug. 25th, 2009 01:07 am (UTC)
Re: And an important part of it is your fault.
Hey! In the hands of a master-which you have clearly proven yourself to be-angst can be a very good thing... ;)

Like I said earlier, I fully expect there to be a butcher's bill, and plenty of grieving over the whole debacle...

Aug. 31st, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)
Hell of a fight scene, hell of a cliffhanger.

I do like the contrast between "Otherworld" and the "Hymn", but for my personal preference, I think you overdid it on the quoting. To me, it gives the chapter too much the feel of a songfic, which may have been what you were going for, but I found it distracting. Especially the first time I read the chapter; it bothers me less, this time.

I see what you mean about Shuyin sounding like generic villain, although his voice to me is more like evil Tidus, which in the context of him talking to Auron works quite well.
Aug. 31st, 2009 05:28 pm (UTC)

It worked really effectively for a few readers, but it's good to know not for all. I've been going back and forth about the use of explicit lyrics, as opposed to just using meter and other poetic sound effects to achieve my goal. This was an experiment to see if I could simulate the over-the-top adrenaline-charged tone of a Final Fantasy endgame boss battle. I was trying to stimulate the reader's association with a known battle soundtrack, so that you heard the music in your mind while reading/imagining the fight.

The poetic devices are a trick I'll use again (although alas, I overuse alliteration), but this is probably a one-time experiment with employing lyrics.

Edited at 2009-08-31 05:30 pm (UTC)
Aug. 31st, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I noticed that in the comments, and I can see that. Different effects will work for different people. Like the whole chapter length question. (FWIW, even though this chapter was short, I think it works at this length. It goes by so quickly, and that suits the mood you're evoking really well.)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 1st, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)
"It makes for interesting thoughts about whether or not Auron is actually more emotional than Yuna (on the inside)."

I hadn't thought about that -- I was more engaged in the idea that Auron's grip on himself and his memories is slowly seeping away like the pyreflies, because he's unsent, and an unsent without will, purpose, and hope is nothing at all. So he was already in a mentally precarious position even before Shuyin appeared, and he was caught off-guard.

However, I think you are onto something important. Jecht's spheres of Braska's pilgrimage show Auron was a hot-headed, passionate young man. That can't be gone completely. He may have mellowed, but perhaps in part he's just learned to bottle it up.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
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