Chapter 40: "Titanomachy"
Final Fantasy X/X-2 Characters: Nooj, Baralai, Gippal, Paine, Auron, Isaaru
Word Count: 4000
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Our Story So Far: Auron and his allies lure Sin to the uninhabited ruins of Old Guadosalam, hoping that the firepower of an ancient weapon will be sufficient to disable the foe.
The Thunder Plains were becalmed while Guadosalam rocked with thunder.
No living person in Spira had ever seen Sin like this: sinking, impotent, flailing in sluggish rage, lashing out with lightning and random shockwaves that buffeted but could not shake pursuit. Vegnagun proved surprisingly agile for its size, harrying Sin's back as it fell. Fiends rained down on the deadlands.
Baralai was locked in a lover's embrace with Vegnagun's controls, miming every attack. He drew a rolling scale up the keys, and a white-hot barrage peppered Sin's upper hull. A cluster of base notes sent Vegnagun's tail swiping across its eyes, following the blow with a red beam that pierced shell and bone. Even Thundaga was turned against its former mistress. Lightning leapt from Sin to Vegnagun and back again, chaining them together in a sizzling lattice.
Nooj was piloting. Diving past Sin's flank, he dug into a steep turn that pressed them against their seats. Vegnagun roared back up through the haze in a corkscrew spin, bursting out behind their prey. Baralai whooped and emptied the missile bank into the breach left by the main cannon.
"Don't forget it can kill us," Nooj said, but he was smiling.
"First it has to catch us," said Baralai.
"Good going, guys!" Rikku called over the open channel. "Now break off. We're coming to deliver the package."
"Negative. We've not finished yet," Baralai said, sweeping his hands together. A sphere of energy began forming between Vegnagun's tusks.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa!" Rikku said. "If you blow up Sin, Yu Yevon could jump anywhere! Let Isaaru and Sir Auron tackle the guy inside."
"If you find Sir Auron alive, please let us know," Baralai said. "Otherwise, we're taking Sin out."
"Stupid Yevonite." Rikku kicked her feet against the glass. "Hey, Lucil, talk sense into him. He's sucking fumes."
"Maybe so, but it's working." Elma raised a fist. "Yaah!"
Nearing the ground, Sin plunged into greenish-yellow haze like an anchor. A massive cloud of dust and debris billowed up, obscuring the battered leviathan from view. Shockwaves rippled out through the fog in all directions.
Lucil raised her arm in salute, eyes glittering. "Vengeance."
"Now that's a machina. What did I tell you?" said Cid.
Vegnagun hung over the impact plume like a monstrous dragonfly, pawing the air as if itching to trample its prey. The globe of energy between its horns swelled to bursting and catapulted downward. There was a white flash. The beam punched through the fog to reveal Sin lying on its side in a fresh crater, bleeding pyreflies. Outside an inner ring of slag and bedrock, most of Old Guadosalam was ablaze.
"Isaaru?" Lucil said. "Assessment?"
"Sin may fall, but what of Yu Yevon? Even if Vegnagun can strip away his armor—"
"Augh!" Rikku squeezed her fists against her forehead. "Shinra. Scan for Auron. Should be easy to spot. He's got a sword bigger'n Gippal's ego."
"We're already on it, cupcakes," Gippal said over the link. "And we survived the blast wave, if anyone asks. G-team out."
"Um," Pacce said. "What's Sin doing?"
The fog had started to circulate around the point of impact in a slow-moving vortex. Sin's mottled surface crawled like melting wax. The yellow bowl of fog to the south, shrouding the rupture that had once been Guadosalam's portal to the Farplane, was rising in a churning dome.
"The Farplane!" Isaaru said. "Shinra, what do you see?"
"Scanning." Shinra pulled up a zoom of the impact zone on the forward displays. The magnified view showed ribbons of light spiraling inwards towards Sin. Other pathways snaked between the whirlpool's perimeter and the Farplane Crater to the south, forming a double spiral. "Looks like it's pulling in all the pyreflies in the area."
"Yu Yevon," Isaaru said, and somehow it was still a prayer. "He's rebuilding Sin's armor. Elder Cid, you've got to put me down there before it recovers its strength."
"Put you down where?" Cid said. "From what I'm lookin' at, the whole danged forest is on fire."
"Wherever you can. Shinra, find us a landing spot. Keep scanning for Sir Auron."
Auron had found refuge on a gargantuan treestump that jutted through the sea of smoke. He was harder to spot without his coat, but the orange light glinting off his sword was a handy beacon. Right now, the sword was also a prop. Auron bent as if fighting a gale, his back to Sin. Sinscales were converging on his position. He seemed not to notice their flickering wings creeping up the sides of his refuge. One went up in a gout of pyreflies, struck by a flying chunk of debris blasted off from Sin's carapace. Others were on fire.
"Heeeeey, LJ!" Gippal eased as low as he could over the flames and smoke. "Need a lift? You get one more free ride, then I start charging you triple!"
Auron vaulted across the gap. His gravity-defying leaps were part of his legend, but he stumbled upon landing and went crashing to the deck. The hover tilted dangerously. Twisting in her seat, Juno seized his belt to keep him from tumbling out. Auron ignored her, doubled over with face contorted. "Away," he rasped.
She scowled, mistaking his meaning, but did not loosen her grip.
"You got it, boss," Gippal said. He arrowed towards open sky, fleeing the bombardment raining down behind them. "Wow, Bar's really getting carried away with his toys."
"Are you injured?" Juno said. A few pyreflies drifted past her knuckles.
Auron shook his head.
"Heh. He's kinda like Nooj," Gippal said. "Ask him ten questions, and you're lucky to get one answer. Auron, what the heck happened back there? First Sin's using you for target practice, then it chucks you out like a sand worm with a bellyache. You give Yevon indigestion, or what?"
As the flyer put distance between them and Sin, Auron uncurled like a wary crab, flexing his left hand. He nodded to Juno and stood, gazing south. Vegnagun's shadow floated on the pyrocumulus clouds like a vulture riding thermals. He closed his eye and turned away as the machina unleashed yet another deluge of destruction. "What's our status?"
"See what I mean?" Gippal said to Juno with a wink.
She shrugged. "Sin's down. Vegnagun isn't. Baralai's pulverizing whatever's left. However, there's a problem."
"It's regenerating the exoskeleton at a tremendous rate. Also, it's starting to modulate its shield to match your energy weapons," Shinra was saying.
"How long have we got?" said Nooj.
"You're barely keeping up with it. I estimate half an hour before Yu Yevon's repaired most of the damage. Sin will probably be mobile before that."
"Wonderful." Nooj peered through Vegnagun's eyes at the shipwrecked foe. Every time he settled too deeply into the pyrefly interface, he had to fight the urge to struggle out of it like a panicking swimmer. "Recommendations?"
"Don't ask me. I'm just a tech."
"Half an hour?" Baralai frowned. "I'll need five minutes to power down secondary weapons, twenty to recharge the main cannon."
"Too long." Lucil said. "V-team, fall back. G-team, stand by. Avenger will drop the summoner's party near Sin. We knew machina alone would not win this battle."
"With respect," Nooj said, "That's the sort of cockeyed plan I'd expect from a maester of Yevon. If Sin's rebuilding its outer shell, you can bet it's shoring up internal defenses. If we don't drive it away from Guadosalam, it's going to be impregnable. Your summoner and guardians won't stand a chance."
"As a maester of Yevon, I concur," Baralai said, giving Nooj a wry look.
There was a brief pause. "Very well. Cut its supply lines. Then Lord Isaaru can move in. We will continue to monitor your situation. Avenger out."
"Well." Baralai exhaled. "I guess it couldn't be that easy."
"It never is," Nooj said. "Speaking of which, Shinra's autopilot shorted out."
"What?" Baralai's eyes narrowed. "So. We can't send Vegnagun to the Farplane remotely. Very well. Nooj, start moving us away from Sin. Gippal, are you there?"
"Yo. What's the plan, boss?"
"Meet us at the edge of the Thunder Plains. I'll explain there."
"Got it. We'll be there in a few."
Nooj frowned. "Shouldn't we be going after Sin?"
"Yes. But first..." Baralai hesitated, waiting for Vegnagun to get under way. The muted tones he was playing shifted to a pensive refrain. "Nooj. There's two things I should say, while we still have time. One: I apologize for doubting you. Once upon a time, I considered you the finest friend a man could have. I trusted you. I looked up to you as a role model— when you weren't trying to die. Later, I couldn't understand how I could have been so wrong about you. But I wasn't wrong, was I? After we learned the truth about Shuyin, I should have been able to accept you as the man I once knew."
"Trust doesn't pick up where it left off, after a thirteen-year hiatus. And I'm not the man I was, nor are you. I hope we can renew that friendship."
"You already have." Baralai drew his hands away from the keys and let the music ebb. He sat blinking and blind for a few seconds until ordinary vision reasserted itself. His voice dropped. "Two: Look after Paine."
"Baralai!" Nooj floundered out of Vegnagun's mental interface in alarm, causing the machina to list sharply until its guidance systems kicked in. By the time Nooj had settled into his own body, he found Baralai's pistol pressed against his breast. "This isn't necessary. After the battle—"
"For Vegnagun, there is no after the battle. I'd rather not emulate you this way, Nooj, but for Spira's sake, I must. Forgive me."
There was a loud burst of static over the commlink. Gippal frowned. "Uh...guys? What's going on over there?"
"Get up here immediately," Nooj said. "Baralai's hurt."
"Huh? What the— ow! Dammit, Paine, I'm going!" Gippal rubbed his elbow and set the flyer in motion.
Auron brooded behind them. He was no longer being wracked by the insistent tug of a summons far worse than sending. Yet he knew the lull was an illusion. Behind them, Yu Yevon was weaving an armored cocoon, just as Auron had seen when Jecht's aeon vanished under layers of bone and hide. Their window of opportunity was closing. However, he understood loyalty, and held his peace.
Vegnagun was waiting for them, hunkered down like a fat spider on the edge of the Thunder Plains. Gippal negotiated the obstacle course of wings and horns to park on Vegnagun's neck. Before the flyer came to a stop, Juno jumped out.
"What happened?" She dropped in next to Baralai, shucking her gauntlet and searching for a pulse. He was limp, head lolled back, eyes open.
"Electric shock," Nooj said, bent over the keys. His right hand drummed a monotonous rhythm, holding the machina steady. "Vegnagun decided to protect itself from whatever he was planning."
"Yeah, right," Gippal said. "You just knocked him out to play Deathseeker."
"Not funny," Juno said, hitching her hands under Baralai's armpits and heaving.
"You think I'm joking?" Gippal said.
"We're running out of time." Auron climbed out to help Juno extricate Baralai and lift him into the hover.
"I'll take Baralai's place," Juno said. "I can fly or operate weapons, Nooj. Your choice."
"No. Get Baralai to safety." Nooj had yet to look in her direction. His attention was fixed on the shifting patterns that served as the bridge between mind and machina. "Catch me later."
"Nooj!" Gippal said."C'mon, man, don't be like that."
Juno opened her mouth to protest, then stopped. She gave Nooj a long, searching look. "Understood." She hopped over the windshield into the flyer. "We're leaving."
"You're kidding, right?" Gippal said. "You know damn well what he's trying to do."
"Yes." She glanced at Auron, who was settling Baralai on the floor. "Hold him." Taking Gippal's seat, she threw the flyer into reverse. There was a sickening instant of freefall before the craft stabilized. Vegnagun wheeled up and away from them, heading back towards Sin.
Gippal grabbed onto the nearest seat. "Paine, have you lost your freakin' mind?"
"If Nooj intended suicide, Vegnagun wouldn't obey him." She tried an experimental turn. "How's Baralai?"
"Burns, erratic heartbeat," Auron said. "He needs a healer."
"Okay, great." Gippal hung on as the flyer tipped and straightened. "So now you're suicidal. Look, you've flown this thing exactly twice—"
"Plus two years piloting Vegnagun in simulation, two working unloaders at Moonflow Port," she said. "Now shut up and let me concentrate."
"No offense, but this is a stupid time for a joyride. And it's my flyer."
"Get a phoenix down on Baralai. If there's an Al Bhed treatment for this kind of injury, do it. Help him." The flyer wobbled again. "We're not losing either of them."
"Here we go again," Rikku said, eyes fixed on the ominous whirlpool of fog and pyreflies. "Hey, Isaaru, ya think Lu's still in there?"
"Very likely," he said. "Until Sin is destroyed, a fragment of the Final Aeon remains. But I fear the absorption of Farplane energies may further dilute whatever is left of your friend's spirit."
"Sin's moving," Shinra said.
A dark shadow began to emerge from the fog. Spines rose up like the spires of St. Bevelle. They jutted from a sloping mountain that was and yet was not the Sin they knew. Its upper hide bristled with enormous spikes, as did the bony tail. A fan of gills or fins spread out from where the hindquarters had been, encircling its body. Purple sparks skipped along the vanes' edges. Chunks of exoskeleton sloughed off, crashing down as Sin ascended. Pyreflies dripped from its sides. Its eyes—
"Oh, gross," Rikku said.
Some eyes were as before, goggling inhuman orbs in bulbous sockets. Those damaged by Vegnagun had been replaced by eyes that looked almost human, with irises the color of blood.
"Yuck," Elma said. "I didn't think it could get any uglier."
A spear of red light pierced the fog, drilling into spongy gray flesh. More fragments dropped from Sin's hide. Bellowing, it swiveled towards its assailant. Vegnagun retreated, drifting back into the the Thunder Plains.
"I've found Sir Auron," Shinra said. "He's with G-team, but they're not responding. They've encountered sinscales."
"'Encountered'?" Elma said. "Ya think?"
Shinra's magnified display showed the little craft lying at a precarious angle on the trailing creepers of Guadosalam's borders. The Thunder Plains' cloud cover shrouded the area in twilight, but red outlines on the scanner indicated a mass of fiends swarming the flyer like ants to sugar.
"How does he always manage to find trouble?" Rikku said. "Pops, can we get down there? Maybe Auron's figured out a way t'be a human lightning rod without getting zorched, but that's an awful lotta fiends even for him."
"I can reach 'em, kiddo, but it means going closer to Sin."
"I would prefer not to lose our captain of the guard and Maester Baralai," Lucil said. "How close?"
"Out of range for everything but Sin's new mana beam," Shinra said.
"Mana...beam?" said Isaaru.
Shinra pointed. "That."
In the distance, a crackling cone of energy had coalesced around Sin. The fan it had sprouted was focusing the power like a lens. A thick, corded beam of energy burst from the focal point and rammed into Vegnagun. The machina swerved, staggered. A leg and a half were sheared away.
"Ouch," Elma said.
"Ah, what the heck," Cid said. "That bastard saved my life. Guess I owe 'im one."
"Gippal, too!" said Rikku.
"Perhaps we can assist the legend for a change," Isaaru said.
Pacce's face lit up. "Yeah! Let's go rescue Sir Auron!"
Isaaru and his guardians waited in the cargo bay, clinging to supply racks and fighting nausea during the descent. The empty hold was a drum for the din of battle between clashing giants. The clamor grew louder and nearer. Isaaru began to worry that Cid had gotten the mad idea to fly into Sin's open jaws. At last, the ship slowed to a stop. The loading ramp groaned and began to open. Pacce pointed at a blue nimbus dancing on its corners and bolts.
"The Lady's fire." Isaaru nodded. "But we've no need for sailor's signs to know she's near."
"Okay. Isaaru, wait here," Pacce said, prompting a smile from Elma. He sounded like Maroda.
The pair of guardians pelted down the ramp, swords drawn. They turned to see the flyer lying under the Avenger's forward cabin. With a yell, they charged into the seething pack of sinscales. A bolt of green energy whizzed past them, cutting down one of the fiends.
"Nice of you guys to join us!" Gippal called. He was crouched under the front of the flyer, banging on the forward rotor with a wrench. Auron was planted in front of him, fending off sinscales. Juno was beating back those trying to overrun the rear of the craft. Baralai, propped against one of the center seats, had a gun braced between his knees, and was firing into the swarm.
"Stay close to the flyer!" Elma called, carving a path towards them. "As close as you can!"
Gippal swore as the craft teetered, knocking him in the head. "Yo! Quit hopping on the bed, Bar!"
"Maesters of Yevon...don't hop."
"Or use machina?"
Pacce and Elma positioned themselves in front of the stubby wings. A deafening crackle of gunfire erupted directly overhead. Bullets rained down in a deadly curtain that swept around the flyer like a clock-hand. Most of the fiends in the area were mowed down. Auron glanced up to see Rikku grinning and waving madly in the gunner's bubble. The fighters dispatched the surviving stragglers in no time.
"You guys okay?" Pacce said, saluting Auron. "What happened?"
"Miss I-wanna-be-a-pilot crashed my ship," Gippal said.
"We hit a piece of Sin coming down," Juno said. "Bring Isaaru. Baralai's hurt."
"I'm fine," Baralai protested. Willing hands carried him to the foot of the airship's ramp. Baralai's face was nearly as pale as his hair. Juno embraced him, then headed back to the flyer.
"How is it, my lord?" Isaaru said, placing his fingers lightly on Baralai's hands, where traces of half-healed burns disappeared into his sleeves.
"I'm not sure whether to court martial or kiss her," Baralai muttered. "Nooj?"
Elma glanced up. "Giving Sin a hell of a beating, sir."
The Avenger's hull blocked their view of the sky, but Sin's ghastly wails and the crash of energy discharges were constant reminders of the battle. Flashes of red, green and purple were interspersed with the stark white of natural lightning. The moist air was full of static, raising hairs on skin. Luminous blue coronas flickered on the flyer's railings and windscreen.
Its engines coughed to life. Gippal dropped his tools and jogged towards the group under the cargo bay. "You okay there, Bar?"
"Captain!" Pacce shouted.
There was a rising whine behind Gippal. He spun, waving his arms. "No, waaaaait!"
They had a glimpse of Juno in the pilot's chair, helmless, silver head craned towards the sky. Then the flyer lifted and zoomed away.
"Paine!" Baralai lurched to his feet, pushing Isaaru aside and stumbling out from under the airship to get an unobstructed view.
"So help me, if she puts another dent in my baby..." Gippal said.
They lost sight of her in the rain, but her destination was clear. Over the heart of the Thunder Plains, Sin and Vegnagun were circling each other like titanic coeurls. The machina was trailing smoke. Sin had surrounded itself again with a bubble of light. The dark thunderheads over them were churning, sending down forks of lightning that skittered over the skin of one or the other before leaping to the tops of the nearest towers. Vegnagun fired, bathing Sin in an ominous black and red miasma, but it splashed harmlessly off Sin's shield. The machina banked sharply, barely avoiding a point-blank hit by Sin's mana beam.
There was a patter of feet down the ramp. Rikku darted towards Auron, flinging her arms around him as he swung his sword out of the way. "Hey, you," she said, rapping his breastplate. "So, what's going on? Thought you were gonna use the flyer to get over there once Sin's down."
"We've failed," Baralai said, bitter and dazed. "It's Operation Mi'ihen all over again."
Vegnagun was dropping fast, transforming in midair. The main gun burst from its chest and telescoped outward. The barrel nearly scraped the ground as Vegnagun swooped low, clipping one of the towers before slingshotting back into the sky. Another bolt of lightning jumped from Sin to Vegnagun to the ground, branding their silhouettes against the clouds for a blinding instant. Then Vegnagun drove straight into Sin's belly, bayoneting it with the cannon.
Rikku gave a little scream and shrank against Auron. "Oh, Lulu."
Rigid, Auron laid an arm behind her shoulders.
"In Yevon's name," Isaaru said, cupping his hands in prayer.
"Not any more," Baralai said, squinting into the rain.
Sin's energy shield fizzled out. Machina and monster began to fall.
Juno was flying directly into the storm. Smoke, rain, and lightning limited visibility. Spatial orientation was scrambled by the dark wall of Vegnagun's wings dropping before her eyes like a clipped sail. One thing was clear: Sin was coming down on top of Vegnagun, the latter almost perpendicular to the ground.
A stray sinscale banked off the flyer's windshield, sending it careening. Juno fought for control. The sickening drop proved a blessing in disguise. When she leveled out, Vegnagun's head was right above her.
A quick glance upwards showed a flash of red and brown, Nooj's hair streaming. He was hanging on, barely, spread-eagled in the cockpit with his metal hand and leg braced against the keyboard and seats. Juno killed the flyer's forward momentum, struggling not to collide with Vegnagun or stop too soon. She tried to pretend she was aiming a sphere camera, zeroing in on a fast-moving target.
Nooj pushed off, tumbling head over heels.
There was a panicky moment of flailing limbs.
He hit the deck with a bang. The flyer sagged. Juno gunned the engine in reverse.
A few seconds later, Sin's head roared past, so near that she could see every vein in its eyes. The stench wafting from its maw was appalling. Once it had fallen past them, she kicked the parking brake and turned. "Nooj?"
He was lying flat on his back, gasping for air. She dropped to the floor and crawled towards him, falling across him in relief.
"The...High Summoner," he wheezed, "made...that maneuver look easy."
"Aeons don't have rivets."
Nooj's breathless laughter rolled out across the sky. Below, a thousand tons of machina and fiend plowed into solid rock. The concussion of the impact was loud enough to reach Bevelle. Vegnagun, crushed beneath Sin's mass, exploded in a fireball whose heat they could feel a mile above.
"Let's move," he said. "I'd hate for us to get struck by lightning after surviving that."
"Are you hurt?"
"Does it matter?" He smiled. "I'm alive."
Next Chapter: Sea of Sorrow