Sorry for the long wait! This chapter marks the beginning of what we've called "The Spira Chapters". We hope you enjoy.
The Spira Chapters: Crossroads
Nooj and Paine were considered as the two more serious members of Crimson. But when not unwillingly snared by Gippal into one of the Al Bhed's pranks, Baralai could easily rival the two when it comes to being serious. With Gippal constantly at his side however, those serious moments of Baralai's have become quite rare. So when Baralai burst into Nooj's cabin without knocking, frowning and looking slightly frazzled, Nooj was slightly curious.
The captain had been sitting behind his desk, writing down notes from his findings. Getting things in order, sorting through which sphere rumors could be true and which were nothing but duds thrown by other sphere hunters to throw rivals off. But that chore was forgotten for the moment as he watched Baralai stride towards him and then stopping abruptly, eyes glowing with a mixture of anger and anxiety.
"I thought you said Gippal liked...well...men!" Baralai wasted no time to blurt out what was bothering him, startling Nooj at the same time.
"That I did." Nooj said slowly, quietly assessing the situation. Baralai was usually calm and collected. In fact, it was easier to make Paine snap at someone than it was to make Baralai do so. Baralai was a born diplomat, using veiled insults to target those who target him back. A better politician than Nooj, that was certain, because Nooj would only narrow his eyes at his attackers and ignore them completely.
"What's the problem?" He finally asked.
"Well you see," the platinum blond male began pacing, muttering incoherently. "I wanted to ask Paine something and then I heard them talk and then...engagement! Can you believe that? I was surprised, so they heard me...So I ran here and..." The helpless look that the younger male gave Nooj prevented the Captain from shouting at him.
"From the beginning?" Nooj suggested, patiently.
"Gippal's engaged." Nooj stiffened, unsure as to how to react to that statement. And if Baralai didn't know him better, he probably wouldn't have noticed how Nooj's eyes widened ever so slightly at this revelation. The blond stopped pacing, resting his hands on the desk, waiting for Nooj to react.
"And how do you know this?" His captain said. In that moment, Nooj became the epitome of serenity. In fact, the mask made Baralai falter for a couple of seconds.
"I wanted to talk to Paine, so I went up to the deck. She was there with Gippal and he was telling her that he is to marry some Al Bhed woman soon."
"Very." Muttered Baralai darkly. "He also said that he held this get together because he wanted us all to be together one last time before he's tied down." There was a flash of anger in Baralai's eyes, one that Nooj knew all too well. He was on the receiving end of that glare during the confrontation in Bevelle. "He said that we'd do this till it's all over. He never mentioned anything about an engagement!"
"He probably didn't want to upset any of us."
"Why did he lie to me!" Baralai demanded loudly, slamming his fist on the desk. "He knows I hate being lied to!" His breathing was harsh when he tried to calm himself down. For the moment, the only sound that could be heard in the cabin was Baralai's heavy breathing. Nooj did not make a sound but kept his eyes trained on his Navigator.
"He's my best friend, he knows me better than anyone." Baralai managed, his anger fading as quickly as it came. He sounded weary and it reminded Nooj of a night a couple of years back, the only time he'd ever seen Baralai give up hope.
And while that time he had given the hope to live, this time he had given the hope to love. Nooj made a note to talk to Gippal about this and make the Engineer realize what exactly was at stake.
"I can't make any judgments now." Nooj finally said. "I don't know the whole story. And until I hear Gippal's story, you're welcome to use my cabin. I'll stay with Gippal tonight and talk to him about this." There was a spark in Baralai's eyes and he sighed, nodding his head.
"I really do wish you all would sort out your problems yourselves." Nooj muttered as he slowly made his way out of his cabin, on his way to find Gippal.
"So I heard you've managed to upset our navigator." Nooj said from the doorway. Gippal growled in frustration. He picked up one of his pillows and buried his face in it.
"It's not like I do that for fun, you know." The Al Bhed finally said, voice slightly muffled. The frustration was still there, though and Nooj could see it clearly. From the way the blond was raking his fingers through his hair, to the scowl on his face and the way he just kicked the side table.
"Would you like to talk about it?" The captain asked, making his way to Baralai's bed and sitting down.
"He told you already, didn't he?" Gippal said wryly.
"Yes, he did. Now tell me YOUR side of the story." Nooj said, with just enough conviction in his voice to tell Gippal that he wanted the no-nonsense version. Some of his earlier frustrations began to ebb away, the tension in the corners of his mouth lifted as he smiled at his friend.
"Always straight to the point, eh, Nooj?" He teased the older man gently.
"I don't waste my time when it comes to the three of you." Countered Nooj. He took off his glasses and stared at Gippal with clear, understanding eyes.
Gippal groaned, burying his face in his hands this time.
"It's not even MY decision to begin with!" He exclaimed, anger lacing every word. "But, Cid raised me, ya know?"
"You've mentioned it, yes."
"Hell, he raised most of us orphans, along with Brother and Rikku...but...he liked me 'cause I liked fixing things." Gippal paused, eye softer as he remembered a particularly good memory. "Cid liked new things, so whenever I made some new machina contraption, he'd act like a little kid."
"As do you." Nooj pointed out, raising an eyebrow. He smirked at Gippal's indignant expression.
"Hey, who's telling the story here?"
"Get to the point." Gippal watched him for a long moment, as if gauging his captain's reaction. It seemed as if he finally reached a decision because he let out a resigned sigh and nodded.
"He wants me to settle down and have kids or something. I guess Brother doesn't really want to do that or something, especially with his sphere hunting scheme and all. Besides, those two never get along anyway."
"Did you try telling Cid that you don't want to marry yet?"
"Well, yeah! But then he went on this long and boring lecture about how young people should have someone to take care of them or something like that." Gippal rolled his eye and shrugged his shoulders. "I can't understand Cid sometimes."
"Well then did you try telling him that you're not interested in girls?"
Gippal visibly blanched. "Uh...no."
"Why not?" Asked Nooj, raising an eyebrow. "It might save you a lot of trouble."
"Cid will KILL ME!" Gippal all but shrieked at his captain. "I mean the old man has no problem about any of us just going out and having fun, as long as it doesn't get us killed. He's lenient about a lot of things, but the idea of guys liking other guys?" Gippal shook his head. "Uh-uh. No way. He'd send me to the farplane with his airship's cannons!"
"Is there a reason behind his...lack of support on this matter?" Gippal scratched his head.
"I guess it has something to do with the Al Bhed population. I mean, we were once a big group, but being hated by Yevonites and all really did us in, you know? A lot of us were killed." Gippal's voice grew somber. "That's how my parents were killed, just because of who they were. So because of our declining population, we're pretty much forced to well, breed!"
"Do you really think that he sees you all as some sort of breeding machines?" Nooj asked skeptically, not convinced. Gippal snorted.
"This is the guy who turned Zanarkand into some sort of amusement park, OK? Yeah, he DEFINITELY thinks that way." Gippal said bitterly.
"That doesn't mean that you should just leave things this way." Nooj said sternly. "Talk to Baralai."
"He hates me now, I think." The Al Bhed sighed, smiling sadly. "I don't blame him."
"And here I thought you'd never back down from a challenge." Gippal groaned.
"Save the excuses. Talk to him."
"Is that an order?" Gippal asked, attempting to lighten up the mood.
"I'll make it one if I have to."
"That's Captain Ass to you." There was a bark of surprised laughter from Gippal at the unexpected joke from Nooj and even Nooj had to resist smiling at his own words. At least the Al Bhed was laughing.
"All right, all right. You win." Gippal said, sighing.
"He's in the kitchen." Gippal nodded, heading out the door. Before the door closed, however, he turned around and smiled gratefully at his friend.
"Yo." Baralai looked up, seeing Gippal standing awkwardly at the doorway. He wore an uneasy smile on his face, something Baralai didn't want to ever see on Gippal's face, especially not directed at him.
"Can I talk to you?"
The way he saw it, Baralai knew he had two options. He could dismiss Gippal and ruin one of his most treasured friendships but avoid getting hurt, or he could tell him to sit, keep their friendship and have his heart broken to tiny little pieces.
"Take a seat." He said quietly, offering Gippal a small smile.
Gippal took a seat across the table from his friend. He was silent for a moment, watching Baralai carefully. His friend didn't look too upset, but there was disappointment in those eyes and Gippal felt a sharp pain in his chest.
Since his childhood days he was always trying to prove himself, making others proud of him. And he had seen disappointment in Cid's eyes at stupid things he used to do, in Rikku's eyes when he had to explain that there was no way that they could stay together and even in Nhadala's shielded eyes upon hearing another one of his 'ventures'. But seeing it in Baralai's eyes was something different. It was almost a harsh slap from reality.
Gippal couldn't help the bitter grin on his face, focusing instead on his hands on the table.
"You said you wanted to talk." Nor could he hide the wince at the steel in Baralai's voice. "Talk. Explain this to me, Gippal. Explain to me why you failed to mention such an important news to your own friend."
Of all the things Baralai could have said, perhaps the word 'friend' was the harshest blow of all. It merely reminded Gippal of his fixed role in Baralai's life. Marriage was the easy answer. At least he didn't have to spend the rest of his life alone nor did he have to pretend to find the love of his life, when his real love would never feel the same way.
Hey, no one ever said that Gippal was observant. Not when it came to matters of the heart anyway.
But Baralai sensed the growing helplessness inside of his friend and threw him a lifeline, when his mind reminded him disgustedly that he really shouldn't. But Baralai wanted to listen to his heart for once, after listening to his mind for a long time.
"Talk to me." The bite was gone from his words, reverting back to the gentle comrade who knew Gippal better than even Rikku.
"I didn't know how to tell you." Gippal said with a sigh, looking absolutely miserable. "It's not like it's my choice. I mean, I was making fun of Nooj for being tied down, you know?"
Baralai's lips twitched upwards slightly.
"Nooj seemed desperate enough to leave Leblanc." Baralai commented.
"Desperate? He practically grabbed onto the airship." Gippal snorted.
"Gippal. No delays." The younger man sighed, running his hand through his hair once. He closed his eye, gathering all the courage left in his body and began to speak.
Meanwhile, in Bevelle
Maroda rushed through the long hallways of Bevelle, his mind swimming with the news that he had just heard. Even with the Eternal Calm upon them, it seemed that people weren't truly happy. Rumors of uprisings in various corners of Spira were spreading. There were no actual signs of it, no real protests in front of the temples, but several cases where monks were attacked at various places were surfacing. And people were listening and they were waiting.
The Eternal Calm was in jeopardy and this time, it wasn't a vengeful spirit that was putting it--as well as all of Spira--in danger. There was no Vegnagun or any other civilization-destroying weapon. But there was a group out there who hated Yevon's teachings enough to risk the Calm.
He didn't bother knocking on the Praetor's door, being the head of all of Bevelle's guards.
Isaaru looked up from his work, tired and annoyed. For a moment Maroda felt a flash of sympathy for his brother, having taken on the amount of work that came with the title of Praetor. But that had to wait. Spira was more important than anything else.
"Praetor, sir, I come with important news."
Isaaru raised an eyebrow at the formalities, knowing the importance of whatever news there was by Maroda's formal words and stance.
"Let's hear it."
"There has been a dramatic increase in reports of various violent acts against Yevon's monks in the past two weeks. 150 increase in cases of beatings taking place at night and day. Furthermore, there have been reports of suspicious activities in parts of Luca and Guadosalam as well as-"
"That is old news, Maroda." Isaaru said, voice deceptively calm. Maroda frowned at the interruption, unsure as to whether or not he should continue.
"All you have now is rumors." Isaaru pointed out. "No one should act based on what housewives talk about in the market, least of all Bevelle."
"If we don't act now, it might be too late. You know as well as I do that these aren't just rumors, Isaaru."
"That I do, dear brother. But nevertheless, there is nothing we can do right now. Our reputation as followers of Yevon is bad enough as it is, we are burdened by past actions. We must
"So we wait for them to attack?" Maroda whispered incredulously.
"If that's what it comes down to, yes."
In a bar in Luca
"We've waited long for this." The First said, speaking in a hushed tone that only the other two could hear. The raucous crowd of blitzball supporters provided other patrons with enough distractions so that the three would not arouse suspicion.
"It is finally time." Agreed the Second.
"They have to realize that Yu Yevon's teachings must be eradicated." Whispered the First.
"Those Bevelle dogs will finally face the music. Let's see if their teachings can save them from this." The Third sneered.
"Don't let your emotions take control." The First whispered sharply. "Stick to our plan. We've spent too long for this to fail on us. I will not have us fail just because you decided to hunt down some lowly monk." He paused, looking at the two others. "If we kill the ones at the top, we will win."
All three nodded and fell silent. After a moment, the Second hesitated, eyeing the black stone hanging from the First's neck. It would glow during battle, that much he knew, having seen it once before. It did not mean that he was comfortable with its use, despite their cause.
"Are you sure about this?" He asked the First, anxiety evident.
The First stroked the cool black stone, eyes growing distant. "This is the only way we can win."
Finally. The plot is moving. We really should have introduced these mysterious three early on, but we decided that this should have the feel of an anime series. You know, filler episodes first and then the plot gets going? Something like that.
In the following chapters we will be tackling issues that Final Fantasy X players should be all too familiar with. The teachings of Yevon and Yu Yevon himself will be questioned. What this means is that the chapters after this one won't be as light-hearted and from what we can see, it's very difficult to write. There will still be Gippalai, because these two characters are integral to the story. But do realize while they're beginning to form something that resembles a relationship, the world around them will slowly collapse.
So, it's not going to be pretty, kiddies.
HOWEVER, there IS good news. The next chapter WILL be out in October, we won't be late this time. OK?