Title: Love Her and Despair
Chapter 38: Venus/Mars
Final Fantasy X/X-2
Characters: Nooj, Baralai, Isaaru, Lulu/Auron
Word Count: 2100
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Our Story So Far: Sin has destroyed the fayth, and now only one thing can oppose it: Vegnagun, doomsday weapon from an ancient war. Auron and friends lure Sin to the Thunder Plains for a final showdown, where Auron hopes to distract Sin long enough to give Vegnagun one clear shot.
No one on the flight deck had spoken since Cid's low whistle. All eyes were fixed on the forward windows, where Shinra's scanners were projecting a grainy image of Auron and the fayth's statue through a film of rain and static. Past the display, they could see rank upon rank of thunderheads massing across the northern half of the sky. Sin was hidden by the clouds, but barbs of lightning were leaping towards it from the spire of every tower, forming a vast sizzling canopy.
Lucil had risen from her seat, one hand braced against the console, the other digging into Elma's arm.
Elma surreptitiously cupped her hands in Yevon's prayer, drawing a thin smile from Lucil.
Rikku was leaning forward, nervously drumming her fingers on the gun controls.
Inexorably, all the strands of lightning contracted together like the spokes of Thundaga magnified a thousandfold. The scanner's display went white. A blinding flash lit the Thunder Plains from end to end. Even at this distance, the gash of lightning splitting the sky from Sin's nose to the ground looked enormous.
Rikku gave a cry. "Auron!"
Isaaru blanched and pressed a fist over his heart. "Spathi."
On the viewscreen, the results of the strike were all too clear, even through the static. There was a new blackened crater where the statue had been. Steam curled up from the smoking ground. Auron was nowhere in sight.
"Damnfool thing to do," said Cid.
"Not Sir Auron," Pacce breathed.
"Shinra," Lucil said. "Signal V-team to begin their attack."
"Wait!" Isaaru said. "Sir Auron knew what he was doing. Give him time."
A loud boom shook the bridge, followed by a fading rumble. It had taken that long for the sound to reach them.
"Are you crazy?" Cid twisted in his seat, scowling at the summoner. "The man's a cinder. I reckon there ain't enough left to fill a shot glass."
"Shut up, Pops." Rikku's voice was muffled. Her face was buried in her hands.
"I shall believe it when I see it." The summoner raised his voice. "Lady Rikku. Sir Auron has survived encounters with Sin before. This is what he expected to happen."
"He's a doofus."
"Vegnagun's main cannon takes a while to fire anyway," Shinra said. "There's a twenty minute lag to build up the power."
"Oh, great. And you were gonna mention this when, exactly?" Elma said.
"I just did."
"Very well. Tell Lord Baralai: begin." Lucil released her vice-grip on Elma's arm, patting it in apology. "And may Yevon have mercy on us all."
Lightning's wrack was already fading when Auron awoke on a bed of wet leaves. The lush scents of humus and jungle plants and sea-tang were almost overpowering. The trees around him were netted by thick flowering vines bearing azure blossoms larger than his head. A few yards away, root and vine and jungle's detritus changed to sloping sand, gray and colorless in the pre-dawn.
Yet this was Spira, the true Spira they had loved and died for, and very little of it was colorless.
The sky was dusky lavender, pink and saffron to the east. Besaid's harbor glittered below, undefiled. Beyond its fringe of foam and waves lipping the sand, the water was an astonishing dark green. Its depths held other jewel-tones: carmine, pale yellow and purple corals still glowing faintly where night's shadows had not yet lifted. Darting flashes between them were fish.
The forest sang with crickets and the chatter of waking birds. Surf breathed and sighed.
Lulu's extravagances tended towards flare more often than flowers. Auron felt for his sword.
Standing, he slung the blade across his back and headed down the beach. Warm water seeped into his boots as he stepped out onto the reef. Coral and mussels crunched underfoot. Seaweed dragged at his legs. The air was clean, salt-kissed, as pure as if Yevon and Sin had never been born. He forced himself to go slowly and mind his footing, although his pulse quickened for the sight he expected to find.
Lulu was not there. Her chains remained, rooted in a bed of anemones, but the manacles were sprung. Seawater was already beginning to reclaim them. Barnacles crusted the links. The metal was corroding fast.
Auron frowned. His palm was itching again. On a hunch, he opened his hand and glanced down to see what the glyphs might show.
Of course. It was the part he had come to play, after all. So where—?
And Venus born of sea-foam renewed her virginity each year, bathing in the waves by the grotto where first she had come ashore.
"Ah." He lifted his eyes, scanning the shoreline.
There. Veils of mist were drifting over the entrance of a small inlet to the right of the main lagoon, separated from it by a heel of land jutting out from the bluffs. He was no swimmer, and saw no way to reach it save by toiling back to shore and making a laborious trek inland to find a way down. But this was not Besaid, only its echo, subject to the Lady's whim.
Auron raised his left hand in a salute, displaying the sigil etched in his palm. "Mars seeks an audience," he said, voice ringing across the water.
There was a quiet splash. Out of the mist glided a low wooden boat like those the fisher-folk used, save that its beams were bleached bone-white. It turned towards him, barely rocking on the gentle waves. Auron stepped aboard as it skimmed past. The vessel wheeled slowly on an invisible eddy and turned back whence it came.
The mist changed to a pale golden-pink as the boat plunged into it. Auron glimpsed rose petals bobbing on the water, flowering vines floating out onto the surface in dark green rafts. Then the mist cleared to reveal a small, secret cove walled in on three sides by limestone cliffs. The keel slid up onto white sand and stuck fast. Auron stepped out. A trail of small, fresh footprints led up the beach. Giant conches, clams, and huge butterfly-winged shells were cast here and there like driftwood. He started walking.
At the back of the cove, the bluffs had been undermined to form a grotto. Creepers of fragrant jasmine came tumbling down across its mouth in a living curtain of white flowers. They matched the gleaming figure within. His breath caught, as expected.
Teasing was also expected. "Should I be honored, or do you wear this face for all Sin's favorites?"
Lulu was reclining on a shell-shaped throne of horn and ivory, seated sideways with one leg draped over the rim. A diaphanous gown fell from her limbs in cascading folds, still dripping from her dip in the sea. Dark hair spilled everywhere, pink coral and bits of sea-glass tangled in its waves. Her fishnet stockings were no longer black, but silver. Her necklaces had become strings of pearls and abalone. Garlands of flowers were strewn about with artful carelessness, the one across her lap providing more modesty than her dress. There were living flowers, too. Blood-red roses, poppies, orchids and bleeding hearts filling the grotto around her, sprouting from bare rock and barren sand.
It occurred to him that whoever had coined the term "bed of roses" must not have tried sleeping on them.
Lulu raised a finger and beckoned him with a haughty come hither smile.
He shook his head and came forward, ducking under the hanging canopy and dropping to one knee. Gathering her hands and raising them to his lips, he glanced down to inspect them more closely. Her wrists were red, rubbed raw, the only blemish on goddess-like perfection, but the shackles had vanished.
Foreboding prickled the back of his neck as she reached for the clasps of his breastplate. Auron pushed her hands away, ignoring the enticing distraction as she leaned forward. "Your chains?"
Smiling, she slid her fingers into the openings of his armor and drew him towards her, lips parted in silent invitation.
Auron stiffened. Thirteen years they had waited, and yet he found himself temporizing. "Lulu. Talk to me."
Her voice stole into his mind, an alluring caress. "...and for one night only war was in abeyance. For then did Mars put off his shield and panoply..."
Smooth fingers stroked his bare shoulder and arm. Auron flinched. Her touch burned. She had sometimes used magic in devious ways to tease bare skin with ice and heat. This was painful even without magic's kiss behind it. Auron felt a wave of heat flood through him as if life's blood had actually poured back into his veins. He had expected a courtly ritual, another of Lulu's coy games to thwart Yu Yevon while they enjoyed a bittersweet reunion, but suddenly fiend's primal urges were gnawing at his self-control.
He wrenched away just as violet lips brushed his own, awakening cravings he had thought dead. "Stop. Enough."
She arched an eyebrow at him. Auron gripped her jaw with his gauntlet. Even that protection could not entirely fend off the siren's call of her flesh through metal and cloth.
"I did not come here for Yevon, Sin, Venus, or any other lie! I came here for Lulu. Where is she?" Even as he snarled the question, despair crept over him. Most likely, this was Lulu, all that was left of her. He had simply come too late.
Her eyes flashed. Auron backed away, leaping to his feet. As he drew his sword, she rose from her chair like Sin bursting from the depths, towering over him, an implacable figure of feminine beauty shorn of the greater beauty within. Black ribbons of hair snaked around his arms and legs. Cursing himself for carelessness, he hacked at groping tendrils. More kept coming faster than he could slice through them. The wind was picking up. A helmet-sized shell whirled past his ear like a blitzball and smashed against the cliff. Yu Yevon had laid a trap. He needed to get away.
There is no escape. Our fates are bound. Her voice in his mind was chilling, remote, hypnotic. Mars and Venus shall join. The Three Sisters shall be as gnats compared to the might of the Lord and Lady. We shall be Sin Eternal, in Yevon's name.
Suddenly he was in two places at once. In the Lady's grotto, he was struggling against dark bands wrapping around his arms, legs and neck like belts of leather. A green wave was building, thundering towards the narrow cove. Out on the Thunder Plains, lightning was leaping to meet him. A shield of energy was building around him— it— Sin— for a cataclysmic shockwave aimed at a knot of menace skulking in the fog-lands to the south. He was Sin, he was a fortress, he was Spira itself, the axis around which the spiral turned—
"Auron, break free! Go. I'll hold back as long as I can."
Dimly he became aware of another will beside his own, struggling like a fish in a net. Relief washed over him. "No. Help me find you. You don't have to fight this battle alone."
With an effort of will, Auron freed his arms for a swing. The sword crashed down on the Lady's throne, cleaving it in two. The ground broke beneath it. Sin's vision of the Thunder Plains vanished. The crushing wall of water rolled over him, picked him up and flung him against the back of the grotto. He was drowning. With his last coherent thought, he wondered whether unsent could die in dreams.
"Hey, Bar, how's it coming?" Gippal called over the link.
"Eight minutes," Nooj said. "Cut the chatter. Baralai's having a hard time getting target lock. Vegnagun's itching to blast everything in sight."
"Well, tell him to hurry up!" Cid said. "Sin's moving this way, and that energy shield it's got is fixin' to blow!"
"Shut...up." Sweat shone on Baralai's brow as his fingers swam across the keys, pounding out a chaotic scale. The volume was building. So too were the vibrations in Vegnagun's frame. Arcs of energy circled the outside of the cockpit like a dynamo, skittering along the barrel of the main cannon extruding from the machina's torso. "Nooj, raise the nose ten degrees."
The air quaked around them. The fog flashed white and sheared away. Laid bare to the sky, they could see Sin's monstrous shadow bearing down on them through the clouds. The globe of energy around it was coalescing into a pulsing fist, gathering into a maelstrom of light.
"Baralai," Nooj said, easing Vegnagun back on its haunches, tracking the enemy's approach.
"I know," he said. "Nooj, fall back to the south side of the crater. Cid, Gippal, get out of the way. Seven minutes."
Next Chapter: Eight of Swords
Boat image adapted from this photo.