These Strange Games
Nooj POV. A comment by Ikonopeiston reminded me that Nooj gets very little benefit of the doubt in Red as Snow, since it's portrayed by Baralai's perception. So, here's a quick, quick Nooj fic from his point of view, instead of a Praetor's bias.

Baralai is so difficult.

I didn't expect it out of him, of all people. Back on the Squad, he was the quiet type. Still is, still is, but with bitterness fueling that mild demeanor now. Newborn despair.

I remember him in the Den. I remember him saying he wanted no part of an organization that killed its own.

So of course he goes to join New Yevon.

I think I smile sometimes when I see him fight back against me, every time we meet. Pleased amusement, on the inside. My mouth moves on its own these days--it makes words I hear from a distance, as if deep underwater, drowning in a multicolor field of pyreflies. The sensation troubles me. It gets worse when try and I fight it; by now, I have realized that I may just die because of it, saying things I don't believe to people I once thought to lead.

Such justice. It would be only right if my former Team rallied against me. I was the one who betrayed them once, when they least expected it. I'm doing it again whenever I let the monster inside me act. It knows how to make me speak. It knows how I walk, how I laugh, how I exhale after drawing in deep draughts of evening air. It knows what I think.

I am a page against the light. It reads me like a book from the inside-out, having little difficulty with the text reversed.

In retrospect, I'm amazed I was able to break free of the creature's cloying influence and struggle my way into control back then, during one evening's sunset and smoke. The Travel Agency was only a few steps away. Dusk was a busy hour; the fiend, still inexperienced in my domination, fled after it fired the last bullet. I was left with a machina in my hands. Spent. Three bodies on the Mi'ihen Highroad, and then realizing I could not support myself without my cane.

Three bodies became four when I fell.

The counter worker at the Travel Agency believed me when I pulled myself inside, claiming that fiends had attacked myself and my companions. Fiends with machina bullets. Disbelief colored her eyes, and then I turned and hobbled away as fast as I could.

It's unfair. Whatever takes me over is able to move with speed on this crippled leg of mine, this body that I was rightfully born with but rejects me so. We are enemies, my flesh and I.

No one I can count on to end it, either. Baralai doesn't know what he's doing. He's too inexperienced at being cold-hearted to really pull the trigger in any of his Yevon games; Gippal would never want to kill me, no matter if I'd be pointing Vegnagun at Spira itself. That leaves only Paine, and I don't believe she could do it either.

That means it's up to me.

Leaders are always alone. None of them realize it yet.

As a Seeker of New Yevon, I have been assigned a team of five men. I don't think Baralai is aware this. If he recognized the power I am gaining amidst the Seekers, he might try to have me constrained. I would have my slow rise in power halted. Otherwise, I will soon be just as admired among the Seekers as I was with the Mi'ihen Crusaders. New recruits will hang on my words as if I knew the secrets to eternal survival, despite my metal leg. Despite my injuries.

Baralai could stop me. All it would take is his order.

Unfortunately, I know he will not give it.

I already know the names and histories of my team, despite only having worked with them for a week. Jordal, aged seventeen, from the Djose region. His cousin likes shellfish from Kilika, but she can rarely have it shipped all the way back to his town. Pipha, from the Mushroom Rock regions. Favors the spear after a fiend wounded her arm, so she prefers a longer reach than a sword.

Kavho. Dorin. Cariander. They follow me unquestioningly. In their faces, I see hope. All five want me to lead them. They want me to tell them that everything will turn out fine in the end, and everyone will have such stories to share.

My lips speak without my heed. Advice happens without my consent. None of them seem to notice the difference between my own words and the creature that rides me. It rarely forces me outright these days, but it has become skilled with coaxing me, and I have become tired from all these years spent hobbling.

These episodes are getting worse as the months progress. Days melt together as I watch, a visitor to my very bones. I could struggle more, I should fight against it, but the numbness of the intruder filling me is a little like what I imagine dying might be like.

Or at least what I have begun to hope it will be. Me and my fantasies.

The futility of living lessens when the fiend takes control. It's like I'm sleeping. Just one long dream, smelling of machina powder and dust, the shouts of old teams blurring together until they fade beneath the ocean of my heartbeat.

It hurts. At times. But everything hurts, everything is one long ache of waiting for your eyes to find permanence closed at last, and I haven't stopped smiling wry when I see my death congealing in the faces of others.

Baralai could stop me. He could kill me. But he won't.

Not yet.

Vegnagun will be my answer if my former Teammates will not take up the challenge. One way or another, this road of mine will terminate.

When I am awake, and moving around on my own, the days are dipped in revulsion. Living. It's wretched, these routines that never end--only vary, involving what flavor of food you'll fuel yourself with today, if you remember to have enough rest. Nothing changes. The fiend inside me hates it, and when I close my eyes and listen to its bitter whisper, I realize that I cannot forcibly evict it because I hate life as well.

The monster doesn't argue with me. Not like Baralai, or Gippal, or Paine. Half the Seekers, or before that, the Crusaders.

All it wants from me is that I let go.

Sometimes I don't know which I want more. My own death? Or the end of everything? These strange games I am led upon give me few answers.

All I can do is hope that the board will be upended, and my freedom found when the pieces come tumbling down.

Then I wake up more fully from these dreams, discover that the edge of my prosthetic leg is digging into the stump of my flesh, and I remind myself to separate the living from the dead before I sleep.