Twilight The Traveler Chapter 2 – Vile Peaks

Twilight the Traveler

// Vile Peaks// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

*** In A Conference Room In The City Of Eden ***

The officers of Psicom watched as the five l’cie took down a warmech easily. Admittedly, they had a clear strategy, but that didn’t make anyone feel much better. Then they headed towards a fighter that had been transporting officers, which was the last thing they saw before the video feed from the heavily-damaged warmech died. The youngest member of the group ripping out some circuitry certainly didn’t help it keep transmitting.

“Send a full squadron of fighters, we need to get rid of them before they get any stronger.” A man with silver hair, General Yaag Rosch, a general of Psicom, ordered.

“Yes sir!” several lower-ranked officers said, saluting before beginning to organize the deployment Rosch had ordered.

‘Funny, we purge the whole town and we end up with half a dozen l’cie anyway. It’s like the universe is mocking us.’ he thought morbidly. “Computer, what do we know about the l’cie?” he asked.

A calm female voice replied, “Subjects are 6 in number, one was left behind, presumably to dig his fiance, who was also a l’cie, out of the newly crystallized Lake Bresha, namely, Snow Villiers, one of the leaders and founders of the youth group, NORA, which stands for ‘no obligations, rules or authority.’ NORA’s membership has increased a great deal in recent years, as has the overall quality of their fighters, though they were not considered a threat to Sanctum forces before the Purge as there are documented cases of mutual aid when encountering Monsters. He uses AMP technology to enhance his physical strength. However, he is only a single person at the moment. Attrition will take him down with relative ease. Threat Level: Medium.” A picture of a man in a black bandanna and whit trench coat was shown briefly.

“Second subject is Hope Estheim, a student from Palumpolom who is proficient with the boomerang he carries, he has also shown talent with magic since becoming a l’cie, however, he is still a teenager physically and mentally and probably the youngest and least experienced member of the group. Threat Level: Medium.” A picture of a boy with white hair in his early teens was shown briefly. That green scarf was pretty distinctive when combined with his white hair.

“Third subject is Sazh Katsrovsky, a train conductor whose son was made a Cocoon l’cie in the Euride Gorge incident. He uses twin pistols and has shown talent with flame-based magic. However, his age is beginning to catch up with him. Threat Level: Medium.” A picture of a man with dark skin a green coat and pants and an afro is shown briefly.

“Fourth subject’s full name and age are unknown.” This immediately set off alarm bells in Rosch’s mind. The Sanctum was very careful to keep at least some kind of file on everyone. “‘Vanille’ has demonstrated considerable talent with magic and uses an unusual weapon that is a combination of a staff, whip, and a mace. High probability of being a Pulse element. Threat Level: High.” A picture of a teenage girl with a bit too much pink on her was shown for a few seconds. It wasn’t that unusual for pink hair to appear among the populace, though, that was not to say it was common. Still, only Estheim’s hair color was distinctive enough to be useful as an identifier so far.

“Fifth subject is Claire Farron, AKA, ‘Lightning.’ Was a member of the Guardian Corps Bodhum Regiment, but quit and voluntarily joined the Purge chronologically after her sister became a Pulse l’cie, presumably due to that event. Has intensive military training and is known for masterful use of her prototype weapon, a gunblade. Since becoming a l’cie, her fighting abilities have eclipsed most unaided humans, magic will tip the balance entirely in her favor in a one-on-one confrontation. Threat Level: Very High.” A picture of a woman with a cold expression on her face was shown for a short period.

“Final subject is Twilight Sparkle. Worked at the library in Bodhum and had shown great potential for use of one-handed swords. She became the instructor for it at NORA, though she is not officially a member, she doesn’t charge a fee for her services either. She also uses a pistol in combination with her sword, to devastating effect.

She has demonstrated magical power on a level with some of the lower fal’cie since her transformation into a l’cie, there are no known upper limits to her reserves. Threat Level: Extreme.” a picture of a teenage girl who had blue hair with a pink stripe and a purple stripe in it was shown as the computer finished.

“On second thought, send two squadrons.” Rosch amended his order, feeling slightly nervous for the first time in quite some time. Six l’cie was bad news, six l’cie with a single one having a High rating on their Threat Level was very bad news, six l’cie with three of the group having a threat level of High or above was ‘start praying’ news. He wasn’t even sure who he would be praying to since his faith in the fal’cie had been rather shaken by the Purge.

*** With The L’cie ***

“Check it out!” Vanille exclaimed, pointing at a fighter that was parked just beyond where the heap of metal that had once been the warmech was. Well, now they knew where those Elites had come from. Hope had grabbed a few chips and circuits from the warmech’s head and had tinkered briefly with his boomerang before holstering it. Twilight was beginning to suspect it was a coping mechanism. Eh, there were worse ones. It was harmless at worst, and helpful at best, provided it didn’t develop into a compulsion.

“Let’s get going, there could be more around.” Sazh said. Twilight noticed a strange, owl-like bird watching them, but since it was clearly not some kind of camera, and wasn’t hindering them in any other way she could discern, she ignored it. They stopped directly in front of the fighter.

“This’ll make things easier!” Vanille said happily.

“Isn’t it a little too convenient this was here?” Twilight asked, she didn’t believe in coincidences anymore. It was really lucky this thing was still here, even with a warmech for a guard. Who left an airship where l’cie could get it?

“Well, knowing our luck, it’s probably missing it’s engine.” Sazh said, a hint of laughter in his voice.

“You two shouldn’t be so negative.” Vanille criticized.

“And you shouldn’t get your hopes up so high.” Sazh rebuked her.

“I’m just naturally paranoid.” Twilight said with a shrug.

Vanille huffed and stamped on the ground in petulant frustration. They all went over and started to climb onboard.

*** 3 Minutes Later ***

They managed to hack into the fighter’s systems with a combination of Twilight’s hacking skills, Sazh’s talent with machinery, Hope’s knowledge of circuitry, and Lightning’s insider knowledge of military technology. The sudden acceleration that occurred when it had lifted from its hangar threw them all back in their seats regardless of how it happened.

Dozens of fighters began to converge on them almost the moment they were in the air. They flew toward a gate, only to face a ring of cruisers that were aiming large energy cannons at them. Twilight quickly made a barrier around the ship as they started to fire. Her stockpile was almost burned out, and her l’cie brand didn’t seem to be charging it, so this was going to be the last thing she used it for.

“How many tricks do you have?” Sazh asked as he struggled to dodge.

“A lot, I’ve made it one-way, so feel free to shoot back!” she wasn’t feeling any real drain from the attacks that only clipped the barrier, but the rare direct hits were starting to chip away at it, and her stockpile was nearing bottoming-out. Lightning grabbed the weapons controls and made a hole in the ring of cruisers, though the nearest ones to the destroyed cruiser were damaged enough to catch fire and crash into the walls of their exit.

“Did we get ‘em?” Vanille asked, peeking over the seats.

“We got some of them.” Lightning responded as fighters began to pursue them, two full squadrons by the look of it. Twilight cast a spell that enhanced the ship’s weapons, making them fire Ruin centered around the bullets, a spell that was non-elemental they had learned from their ‘crystariums’ as they had decided to call what they got their l’cie abilities from. Ruin was so named because it was only meant for destruction, it did nothing but damage anything it was used on. Mainly via the concussive force it generated.

Needless to say, Lightning was quite surprised when the ship began firing Ruin instead of normal bullets, though it could be assumed the other pilots were far more so. Single shots would down a fighter, or destroy a hunk of a floor of one of the buildings of the ruins they were flying over.

The pilots remaining after they had left the space above the ruined city were the cream of the crop of their pursuers and began flying up another chasm after them.

“How are you gonna lose them?!” Hope asked as the shield developed noticeable cracks from continued concentrated fire. Ordinarily, the shield wouldn’t be a challenge to maintain under such weak attacks, but she was making it one way and maintaining a second spell at the same time, stretching herself thin and starting to eat into her normal reserves at this point. The regenerative ability imparted by the brand couldn’t keep up with a continuously cast spell of this magnitude, though the regenerative ability seemed to be very slowly increasing to accommodate. This suggested that their l’cie powers were evolutionary in nature, growing stronger based on the challenges they were presented with. Perhaps they could make use of that.

“Got me kid!” Sazh responded.

“Well, you better figure out something fast, my barrier will only survive another couple minutes of this!” Twilight warned. Another hit visibly thinned the weakening shield.

“Then let me drive!” Lightning responded.

“No thank you!” Sazh yelled. They finally reached the surface, they stared in awe at the beautiful sight of the open sky before them for a few seconds, before the sound of gunfire and an ominous cracking sound brought them back to the reality of things.

“They’re still on us? They make that warmech seem like a quitter!” Sazh said.

A fighter flew slightly ahead of them and finished off the barrier with a missile, which shattered with a sound akin to breaking glass. Twilight slumped over, exhausted.

“We’re starting to take hits!” Sazh said as the fighters continued their assault. Twilight stopped her secondary spell and put everything she had left into another barrier. It was slightly stronger than the original, but completely drained her.

“That’s all I’ve got, you’re on your own for now.” she said weakly. They continued on, flying over a river and a barren wasteland.

“Hey, could you teach us that?” Hope asked.

“Not on the spur of the moment while under heavy fire.” she said wearily. Using that much magic at once had outstripped the regenerative power of their brands completely. She’d need at least 10 minutes to recover, though that was a lot faster than how long she would have needed before.

“Then could you use us as batteries, or something?” Vanille asked, slightly desperate as their fighter continued to take hits.

“Yes, I could, but it would be unpleasant in the extreme for everyone involved.” she answered, after a moment’s thought. Odd that Vanille had thought of that. Wasn’t she new to magic?

“It’s not like we have many options.” Lightning said neutrally.

“Alright, but don’t say I didn’t warn you, also not Sazh because I’m not messing with our pilot.” she said. She cast a spell of her own invention, it drained magical energy from another magic-user and added it to her own stockpile, she didn’t use it for two reasons.

First, the princess had asked her not to, seemingly slightly disturbed that a spell that could drain magic from other beings existed and that her student had created it almost without even trying. Second, it made the participants feel ill and unfocused, including herself, and presumably any caster. She was only using it now because they’d volunteered and they would all likely die if she didn’t.

She cast the spell, which she called Drain, on Lightning, Vanille, and Hope. She fought through the nausea it induced (as you had a ton of foreign magic flooding your system, or were losing a large amount of your own for no reason your body could discern) and reinforced the barrier. This proved fortuitous as the fighters began launching more missiles at them in addition to their gunfire. Sazh skillfully piloted the fighter through a gap in the rocks that the gunfire caused a rock slide in, while the less skilled pilots of the other fighters were killed by said rock slide. She had no idea he was this good, though she’d been reasonably sure he’d never been in a ship like this before. Sazh began fiddling with the television onboard, and the craft’s other systems, as their pursuers were currently nowhere to be found.

Finally, he slammed his hands down on the console and leaned his head in, causing his afro to spark with electricity as it came in contact with the hologram. “For the love of all that’s good!” he said in exasperation. Apparently, somebody up there took pity on him, and the hologram began to show a news broadcast.

“Next an update on the status of the Purge.” a female announcer said. “Just moments ago, the Sanctum announced the successful conclusion of the Purge, along with the safe arrival of the Cocoon migrants to their new homes on Pulse.”

“Propaganda, all lies.” Twilight said bitterly. Sazh shook his head and changed the channel.

“Yes, that is correct. There’s no denying that the enormity of the strain the Purge placed on us all.“ The primarch said. He was an elderly man dressed in priests robes, she always felt like there was something just a little off about him, but he had yet to do anything that could be construed as not in Cocoon’s best interest. Even the Purge had been what most of the populace wanted and technically could’ve solved the problem. The moral implications aside, it was possible that Dysley had merely acted as he thought was best. She didn’t believe that though.

“But given the tens of millions of lives at stake,” he shook his head sadly. “there truly was no alternative.” he finished. The screen changed to a new male announcer as Twilight changed the channel.

“Primarch Dysley stood by the move, and the necessity of the relocation. When asked about the possibility of future Purges, the Primarch remained noncommittal, stating only that he would weigh all of the options and consult with the fal’cie Eden.” the announcer said.

“Yeah, that’s right, if it makes the Sanctum look bad, it never happened.” Sazh said sarcastically. Vanille touched the hologram, causing another view of the Primarch to show up. She was pretty sure this was the previous channel.

“In all the centuries since the War of Transgression, Cocoon has been spared Pulse aggression. It is essential that we maintain this peace. That is the Sanctum’s focus. We will continue deploying every resource available to combat these threats to the harmony our society.” the Primarch said.

“A fancy way of saying that we’ll be running for the rest of our lives.” Sazh said. “However long that is.” he added darkly.

“Hey, uh, who is this guy?” Vanille asked in confusion.

Sazh groaned. “What do they teach kids in school today? That’s Galenth Dysley. The Sanctum Primarch. Did you sleep through history or something?” he asked.

“Sorta.” Vanille answered sheepishly.

“Primarch Dysley, the human head of Sanctum, the bridge between the fal’cie Eden, who commands the other fal’cie, and the human race. He’s also in charge of Psicom and the Guardian Corps. He’s essentially king and high priest at the same time.” Twilight explained in detail.

“Which makes him murderer-in-chief.” Sazh said.

“But he’s also just a cog, an important one, but just another fal’cie pawn.” Lightning said.

“I wouldn’t be very surprised to learn he was a l’cie.” Twilight said. The others looked at her in some surprise, before nodding after they’d thought it over.

“The majority of the population agrees with the Sanctum’s handling of the Purge. 70% would support future Purges were the need to arise.” the announcer continued.

“Oh sure, why don’t we just Purge everybody, that’ll fix it!” Sazh said sarcastically.

“I highly doubt the support would be that strong if they knew what had actually happened… though you should be careful what you wish for.” Twilight said “There would probably be a faction so terrified of Pulse that they’d support it anyway.” She added as an afterthought, not noticing the look that briefly crossed Vanille’s face. A red warning light began to flash.

More fighters appeared from the clouds behind them and began to fire on them. “Bonus points for perseverance.” Sazh said as he piloted the fighter around most of the shots. An incredibly, blindingly, bright light began to shine in front of them. Once they got past the cloud cover, they got a better look at the light, which turned out to be Phoenix, the fal’cie that acted as the sun and served as the head of the fal’cie controlling the weather.

She’d always liked it because it reminded her of Celestia for some odd reason, probably the whole sun-deity thing. It was an orange orb that was permanently sending out tentacles of energy of the same color. Being the sun and all, there wasn’t much risk of it being killed anytime soon, so there was little reason to worry about that.

“Allow me to introduce Phoenix, head of the weather fal’cie and Cocoon’s own light in the sky.” Sazh said. The fighters were continuing their pursuit. “Here we go again.” Sazh muttered.

“Fly in. We’ll lose them in there.” Lightning ordered. Sazh proceeded to do exactly that. Sazh had little difficulty in dodging the tendrils, but the other pilots weren’t as lucky. They ended up vaporized.

“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like this fal’cie!” Sazh said.

“That makes two of us.” Twilight agreed. Reinforcement fighters began to pour into the area around Phoenix. Sazh got the fighter out of the way of one tendril, but didn’t take the slightly transparent shield into account. It flickered and died after being subjected to enough energy to vaporize a city block. A much smaller tendril and a missile from one of the fighters clipped one wing and destroyed the other, clipped being a relative term as four inches were sliced off. Apparently plasma could serve as a makeshift blowtorch. Good to know.

Sazh struggled with the controls as they plunged into a nosedive. The ship was unable to fly properly with it’s wings damaged to this extent on top of the gunfire damage.

He yelled “Everybody brace yourselves!” as he continued his losing battle. Twilight did as she was told, but she’d recovered some magic so she also placed a shield beneath the fighter in such a way as to absorb the force of the fall to a degree.

*** After The Crash ***

The next thing she clearly remembered was waking up to see herself in what appeared to be a garbage dump. The others were in the process of waking up as well, though Lightning was the only one actually standing up.

“Alright, who’s not dead? Sound off.” she asked, the others groaned. Lightning and herself seemed to have taken the crash best, as they could stand and were the first to fully regain consciousness. So when a trio of bioweapons showed up, they fought the creatures off. Though Twilight mostly flung spells at them until the end of the fight. When they had finished the bioweapons off, Vanille shook Sazh awake, then moved to Hope.

More bioweapons and some drones were coming after them, but between the five of them, they were able to win easily, she was becoming a bit concerned in a way. At this rate, it would take a full platoon of soldiers to stop one of them soon. Ordinary people shouldn’t have this kind of power, too much risk of one doing the wrong thing. It was made pretty clear that the fal’cie wasn’t picky about it’s l’cie when it made teenagers into them. What if it picked someone who decided to murder as many people as possible out of spite?

“Glad that’s over.” Vanille said, sitting down.

Sazh joined her. “Man, I’m beat.” he said. Lightning walked past him. “What? Don’t we get a break?” Sazh asked.

“They’re tracking us.” Lightning said harshly, turning her head slightly.

“We may not be so lucky with the next platoon they send.” Twilight said more sympathetically. Assuming it was only a platoon.

“I know, I know, but the the rest of us aren’t soldiers! We don’t have the same kind of stamina you do.” Sazh responded.

“You’ve got enough to complain about it.” Lightning responded.

“Say, how is it that you’re fine?” Sazh asked Twilight after a moment.

“Perhaps my natural affinity for magic is enhancing my l’cie abilities and accelerating the effects of the enhancing power of the brands.” she hypothesized. That was her best guess anyway. She seemed to be gaining power a bit faster than the others.

“That makes sense… I guess.” he said as Lightning began to walk off,

“Sorry Sazh!” Twilight apologized, hurrying after her. Lightning was more at risk than anyone else if she went alone. Besides, the others should catch up momentarily.

“Oh, that’s just- Forget it!” Sazh complained.

Hope came over, “I think, umm…” he started.

“I’d stick with them if I were you.” Sazh told him, knowing what Hope was going to say.

“Later then.” Hope said, hurriedly waving. Twilight helped Hope over a metallic pillar, which proceeded to roll down and take out the already rickety bridge as soon as they were past it.

“Uh… glad that didn’t happen when we were climbing over it.” Hope said in mild awe at how close to death they’d just been without realizing it.

“Yeah… I’m sure they’ll find another way around.” Twilight said, a little concerned that she was wrong. They made their way through the area after Lightning.

“Only you two?” Lightning asked as they caught up. She hadn’t exactly gotten far. She might not admit it, but her stamina was starting to be worn down. Constantly fighting and on the move was enough to wear even her down and it was starting to affect her speed.

“For now anyway.” Hope said, he glanced back, “Should we wait?” he asked.

“They’ll catch up with us, eventually.” Lightning responded. They fought their way through the Psicom forces and Pulsian artifacts on the rampage. These mostly consisted of malfunctioning machines that had hitched a ride with the debris, though a couple war machines were scattered here and there. At several points, the girls had to shield Hope from attacks that either caught him off-guard or he wouldn’t be able to withstand. Eventually they reached a clearing in front of a cliff face. Hope struggled to catch his breath.

“Do you think we can get through this way?” Hope asked. A slightly disturbing thought occurred to him, “You… do know where you’re going, right?” he asked.

“I’ve been on missions here before.” Lightning responded. Twilight couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t actually answer the question.

“Nothing to do with the Purge though, right?” he asked. Twilight couldn’t see how something out here could have much to do with the Purge. Except perhaps researching what might be waiting for the Purge deportees, but she didn’t see why the Sanctum would do that when they were planning to execute them.

“The Purge is Psicom’s baby. The military is split into two arms; the Public Security and Intelligence Command, also known as Psicom, and the Guardian Corps. I was Guardian Corps, the Bodhum Security Regiment to be exact.” she replied.

“Alright, but I still don’t understand something. If you weren’t a member of Psicom, then why did you board the train?” he asked, confused.

“For Serah.” she said simply. That was a sentiment Twilight could respect and agree with.

“You mean, you’re telling me you got on the train so you could save your sister? That sounds crazy. I don’t think I could ever do something like that.” he said in disbelief.

“It isn’t always a question of can or can’t, some things in life you just do.” she told him.

“A good philosophy.” Twilight said. The right thing was usually the hard thing.

“Easy for people like you two to say.” Hope said, disheartened. Lightning waited a moment, then began climbing the cliff using the various debris.

“Lightning!” they called, only for her to ignore them.

“She left us…” Hope said.

“Huh, I wasn’t expecting that.” Twilight said, a tiny bit bitterly. She knew that her friends leaving her after the wedding rehearsal was at least as much her fault as theirs since she’d approached the issue about as badly as possible, but she still felt betrayed. ‘Maybe you should demand an apology before helping them when you get back.’ a traitorous part of her thought. She shook it off. Where did that come from? If it was as much her fault as theirs, then at most, both sides should apologize.

She thought she would be able to follow Lightning with teleportation, but she could take care of herself for a few minutes, she wasn’t so sure about Hope. A short time later, about five minutes, Sazh and Vanille ran up to them.

“We finally caught up!” Vanille said as she and Sazh caught up.

“What happened to Grumpy?” Sazh asked. Twilight pointed up the cliff in response Sazh’s question. “Looks like you two got left behind too.” Sazh said.

“Yeah./Yep.” Hope/Twilight said at the same time.

“I’m starting to think all of this is pointless. Can’t keep up. Can’t get home. Don’t even know what my Focus is, never mind whether I should fulfill it. It’ll be over for me soon.” Hope said despondently, lowering his head.

Vanille moved over to him and pushed his head up again. “It’s not over yet.”

Twilight got up from her sitting position. “I’ve felt like giving up before, but I haven’t yet and don’t feel like starting now.” If there was no point trying, then you might as well try anyway since the outcome could only be different if you tried.

“Why don’t we start by getting you home? We can do it together.” Vanille said cheerily.

“The problem is that I don’t have one anymore. Not now that mom is-” Hope trailed off.

“What about your dad?” Vanille asked.

Hope was silent for a minute then he said. “You see, we were just visiting Bodhum, but they forced us onto the train with everyone else. Mom was frantic, she wanted to get us both out, so she tried to fight, but…” his voice began to rise with anger, “She was tricked! Snow used her!”

Vanille backed off a bit, “Let’s just get you home, okay? You’re dad’s gotta be worried!”

“Let him worry. Why should I care? He doesn’t at all.” Hope said bitterly.

“Any father cares.” Sazh said with an expression that clearly said he was speaking from experience.

“Sazh?” Vanille asked.

“Are you feeling alright?” Twilight asked, not referring to his physical health. He was probably worried about Dajh, but he could tell them in his own time.

“It’s nothing, just forget it.” He walked over and examined an old mechanism, after that he pulled a lever that caused an electromagnet to create a staircase up the cliff from metallic, rusted, rubble.

“We’ve got time, we’ll get you home, and I’m sure you’re dad’ll be happy to see you safe.” Sazh said, nodding to himself. They climbed the impromptu staircase and found themselves in a sort of clearing a short time later with a view of a cruiser class airship that looked much different from Psicom’s.

“Isn’t that-?” Vanille asked.

“A Pulse warship.” Sazh said helpfully.

“You mean, they really made it this far?” she asked.

“Nope. Not during the war and not since.” Sazh said.

“No, assuming the information the public has access to is correct, all they did was crack Cocoon’s shell. Then the Santum’s own fal’cie pushed them back.” Twilight said.

“They might’ve tried,” Sazh held up a finger “but none of their forces made it into Cocoon. Did you sleep through all of History class, or what?” Sazh asked.

“You could say that, yeah.” Vanille said with a laugh. “But, then what’s a ship from Pulse doing here?” she asked.

“Once the war was over, people couldn’t live on the rim anymore. Places like the Hanging Edge.” Hope said.

“The fal’cie took different things from Pulse, from scrap metal to whole buildings, then they used it to rebuild things here. War reparations on a whole new level.

What we’re walking through, the entirety of Vile Peaks, is the leftovers, anything that was extra, unusable, or hitched a ride, in a word: garbage. The automatons we’ve been having so much trouble with probably got here completely by accident.” Twilight explained, she had to admit she was curious as to why Vanille didn’t know any of this. It was improbable she’d managed to sleep through all of history and even more-so that she’d managed to not pick up anything in day-to-day life.

“Who’da thunk? A Pulse fal’cie and who-knows-what, mixed in with the trash?” Sazh asked, bemused by the fact that their current plight was the result of an accidental hitchhiker.

“Who’da thunk?” Vanille said, lacking her usual enthusiasm. Hm, that was a bit suspicious, but she might just be unhappy about their situation.

“Does anyone else think it’s weird that people and things from Pulse have been quiet for centuries if they’re all supposed hate Cocoon? …Unless something happened to them after the war.” Twilight asked. No one answered. The idea that the Purge might have been for nothing was too horrible to contemplate.

Much like at Lake Bresha, they hurried along, as they didn’t really want to think about that. The implications of that included the Purge being almost meaningless as there was nothing from Pulse that could really do much to harm Cocoon if there weren’t any people to make into l’cie. If the Purge had been exile instead of execution, the Sanctum could actually have made things worse for Cocoon, by virtue of giving the Pulse fal’cie a small army of displaced people who would likely be bitter and angry at Cocoon’s government, if not the people of Cocoon in general.

They continued onward, after fending off a large group of automatons and drones, which seemed to regard them as a bigger threat than each other. Twilight suddenly got the feeling they were being watched a moment prior to Lightning jumping off the nearby ledge. She could be stealthy when she wanted to be.

“Hey, welcome to the party, glad you came!” Sazh said. To his credit, he managed to keep almost all the sarcasm out of his voice.

“You miss us?” Vanille asked. Lightning grunted before walking off.

“Would it kill her to smile?” Sazh asked.

“I’m beginning to suspect it would.” Twilight deadpanned. They kept going, plowing through the enemies in there way. As they approached a pile of junk, she got a bad feeling. She drew her weapons and began preparing the debuffing type spells she had learned from the crystarium, debuffing types weakened enemies indirectly, weakening defenses and the like. She was beginning to suspect the crystarium spells were created by other l’cie over the years, as the spellwork was fairly simplistic, focusing on ease-of-use.

“I’ve got that same bad feeling.” she said. She was starting to wonder if it was a l’cie power, or if it was simply intuition.

“That makes two of us.” Lightning said drawing her gunblade.

“Three of us.” Hope said, nervously drawing his boomerang and casting a spell that caused it to spark with electricity, which she copied unintentionally with her own weapons. Enthunder was apparently a spell that infused one’s weapons with electricity without harming the user, increasing one’s resistance to electrical attacks as well. A far larger automaton burst from the pile suddenly.

“What the heck is that?!” Sazh asked.

“A Pulse Armament.” Lightning said, switching her gunblade to blade mode.

“Which is bad for us, isn’t it?” he asked.

“We’ve taken out Psicom warmechs, it can’t be impossible to beat a heavily rusted and aged version from Pulse.” Twilight reassured. The warmech threw a piece of the pile it was recently under hard enough to be embedded into a nearby pile. “Okay, this might hurt a lot afterwards.” she said, nervously eyeing the thing’s arms. Geez, all but the strongest of Cocoon’s warmechs would at least have trouble with this thing. No wonder the war was so bad.

The armament would swipe with it’s arms, which they mostly managed to dodge. Though it would occasionally use a flamethrower. That they couldn’t dodge. It finally opened itself up, charged it’s core, and fired it like a wrecking ball, causing the ground underneath them to collapse, though they managed to avoid a direct hit.

The warmech pulled it’s core back inside with a chain, and followed them down after their fall, which they were largely unscathed from.

“I thought we were goners for a second there. Everybody alright?” Sazh asked.

“Yeah, looks like being a l’cie is a good thing on these occasions.” Twilight said. They were stronger and faster, but they were also a lot tougher. A fall like this wasn’t a serious concern as long as they didn’t land the wrong way.

“Incoming!” Vanille said as the machine landed.

Twilight switched to healing magic while she slashed and shot at the machine. It used a cleansing steam that dispelled any debuffs, rendering them useless so they switched to buffing spells, this type strengthened the user and their allies, and it used the cannonball attack two more times before it’s core took too much damage and it toppled over, deactivating.

“So, Pulse is crawling with that sort of thing?” Sazh asked.

“The public doesn’t get access to that kind of information, I’ve checked thoroughly.” Twilight said. She’d even tried hacking into government systems looking for files about this subject once. They had fairly weak firewalls since they hadn’t had to worry about hackers for a long time, but everything about Pulse had nasty security. The ones around the fal’cie were stronger still, so she left those files alone entirely. That had been very suspicious, but she and her fellows weren’t willing to take the risk involved in tampering with those files.

“Corps doesn’t get intel either, soldiers in the field fight completely blind.” Lightning said. Made sense. Grunt soldiers didn’t have clearance much higher than civilians.

“Yeah, I noticed. But don’t you need to know exactly what you’re up against?” Sazh asked.

“Target’s a target.” she responded. Eh, they both had points. Information on a target’s weaknesses was usually helpful, but stabbing or shooting something enough times tended to work too.

“You like to keep things simple, huh?” he asked.

“I stick to my goal.” she said.

“It must be easier that way.” Twilight said.

“So, as long as you have a goal, you can fight?” Hope asked.

“You can stay alive.” Lightning said, starting to walk off before adding, “In my book, that’s good enough.”

“I suppose so.” Twilight said, before following after her. A few minutes later, they stopped at a clearing dominated by an old galleon-like warship.

“Not much of a future for us, is there?” Sazh asked as the three of them sat down on the deck.

“Hard to picture a happy ending.” Lightning agreed.

“I haven’t had much time to work on the counter-spell I talked about between almost constant fighting and getting knocked out so often.” Twilight said, she sighed, “And what I’ve got so far isn’t promising, any tampering with the brand could result in cie’ethification, so I have to be slow and careful.” she was thankful they hadn’t asked her about how she was studying their brands.

“Ah, don’t worry about it, I didn’t really expect that to work.” he patted her on the shoulder. “Besides, we don’t even know where to go from here.” Sazh said.

“I do.” Lightning said as she stood, and looked up at the far-off white oval that was the underside of the city of Eden. “There.”

“Eden? The Sanctum’s seat of power?” Sazh asked, then he chuckled darkly. “Oh yeah, that’s a great idea. We charge right in there. Give ‘em a taste of l’cie terror!” he became disturbed when Lightning didn’t respond. “You’re actually serious.” he said in realization.

“Keep running- either we die or turn cie’eth. A Pulse l’cie has no place to hide. No… If they want a fight, then why not take it to the Sanctum’s door!” she said, filled with a bloody determination.

“This isn’t a game!” he said.

“No. It sure damn isn’t.” Lightning said.

“It wasn’t a game the minute people’s lives were ended or altered beyond imagination.” Twilight said. She really thought this wasn’t a good idea. Then again, she didn’t exactly have many better ones. Some kind of goal was better than nothing. Ideally, she’d like a secure place to research their brands, but that wasn’t going to happen. The Sanctum would be turning cities upside down if that was what it took to find them.

“It started with Serah, the fal’cie took her. Then the Purge, and now I’m a l’cie too. The Sanctum’s hunting me, an enemy of the state. But who’s pulling their strings? A fal’cie. Eden.” she glared at the city above them. “Cocoon’s Sustainer and Guiding Light. It probably ordered the Purge too. Fal’cie are all the same, it doesn’t matter if they’re from Cocoon or Pulse, we’re just pawns to them: expendable. I’m not dying a fal’cie slave.” she finished.

“So? What are you gonna do?” Sazh asked.

“Destroy it.” she said coldly.

“By yourself? Are you crazy?” Sazh asked.

“Wait a second, Eden’s in charge of and powers the other fal’cie, if something happens to it, won’t Cocoon go…” Twilight made a motion that conveyed an explosion with her hands. Not that she disagreed with Lightning’s assessment, but the cost was too high.

“She’s right, if anything happens to Eden, it’s lights out Cocoon! Even if you pull it off, what’s that even gonna get you? Satisfaction?!” his expression slowly turned to one of horror. “You want that. You’re a Pulse l’cie now, you just want to snuff out Cocoon!” he said.

“No! What about Serah?” Vanille asked. “She told us to save Cocoon! It could even be our Focus to make sure Cocoon doesn’t-”

“Our Focus doesn’t matter.” Lightning interrupted Vanille “I don’t take orders from fal’cie. How I live is up to me.” she said with an air of finality.

“Don’t you mean, how you die?” Sazh asked.

“Either way, if I don’t figure out a counter, it’s until we get killed or turn cie’eth, which seems to be even worse if the ones we’ve met are the norm.” Twilight added.

“Think like that and it’s already over. Better to pick your path and keep moving.” Lightning said, before turning to Sazh.

“Don’t worry. I’m after the Sanctum. I’m not out to destroy the world. Though if it did come to that, wonder if our ‘hero’ would try to stop me?” Lightning asked.

“You want to fight Snow now? Just like that, and you’re enemies?” Sazh asked.

“The next time we meet, we might be too.” she said.

“I’m coming along.” Twilight said, coming to a decision.

“Wha-? Oh, not you too.” Sazh said in a mix of anger and exasperation.

“You don’t understand, I’m going in order to keep an eye on our trigger-happy friend whose face will break if she ever smiles. I’d rather not see the world destroyed.” she explained. If it came to it, she’d turn on Lightning to prevent Cocoon’s destruction. She wouldn’t let one person’s bitterness kill millions.

After a moment of silence Sazh said “Lately, you’ve been acting more and more like her.” He was right. She was acting more like their soldier friend. She blamed all the killing.

“Who’s to say if that’s a bad thing or not?” she asked no one in particular. Lightning began to walk off, Twilight following behind.

“Snow deserves it!” Hope said, before following after them. “Wait for me!” Hope called, prompting them to halt. Hope took a moment to catch his breath when he caught up, then said, “I’m going with you.”

“I can’t babysit you anymore.” Lightning said.

“The battles will only get tougher as time goes on. Are you absolutely sure you want to come along?” Twilight asked him, slightly worried that he’d end up dead if he did come along. They were all stronger, faster, and had greater endurance than a normal human, but that only got you so far if you were out numbered a thousand to one, not to mention the warmechs and bioweapons.

They were facing the entirety of the Sanctum’s army after all. Anyone who could face down all of that and survive, let alone win, would probably be considered a god, or have to actually be one in the first place.

“I’m not afraid, I can fight.” Hope said. A sort of sixth sense alerted them to the approach of a group of seventeen Psicom soldiers. Unlike their counterparts from Lake Bresha and one or two from earlier in the Vile Peaks, these had red armor, as opposed to orange, probably higher-ranked troops. The Purge would officially have only necessitated basic grunts, which made sense as they were only supposed to have been guarding the deportees. Thus, they’d needed to summon the bioweapons and ferry in the warmechs.

“Great, a hit squad.” Lightning said.

“We’ve dealt with elites, it’s not like these guys are going to send missiles at us.” Twilight said. One threw a small object, which they avoided with contemptuous ease. It landed in a pile of junk that was above the path they had previously taken. It exploded, sending the pile down onto the path behind them, and setting it on fire. Huh, she didn’t know they could do that. Those metals certainly didn’t look flammable.

“A grenade? Really? If we’ve beaten warmechs, why would a single grenade kill us?” Twilight asked as they drew/unholstered their weapons and quickly defeated the group. Hope was particularly impressive in that he aimed the boomerang so that it ricocheted off three of them over and over until they lost consciousness. He was really getting good with that thing. Trial by fire would do that. His upgrades likely helped as well. She would later find out that his boomerang actually had AMP technology that allowed him to manipulate the direction of the boomerang even after he’d thrown it. His experience with magic and practice was drastically increasing his influence over it, to the point of pseudo-telekinesis.

“Not bad.” Lightning complimented him.

“Really? Thanks.” Hope said gratefully.

“Still, now we couldn’t go back if we wanted to, and they couldn’t follow us if they wanted to.” Twilight said. She could move the debris telekinetically, but the pile to either side would slide in and she’d have to keep moving the pieces. That was assuming Sazh and Vanille hadn’t just run off when the grenade went off too.

“There’ll be more soldiers, we should keep moving.” Hope said. When Lightning didn’t respond, he continued. “Lightning? Are you worried about the others? I’m sure they got away okay.” he reassured.

“You can too, if you leave now. With us, it’ll be fight after fight, there’s no telling how it’ll end, it’s anybody’s guess.” Lightning said. Twilight could teleport a single person past the wreckage and back into the clearing where Sazh and Vanille might still be. They should be pretty easy to follow if they weren’t, as there was only one other path out of the clearing besides those they’d already taken.

“I know that. But- I need to get stronger.” Lightning didn’t respond for a moment. “Lightning?” Hope asked.

“Call me Light, both of you.” she said.

“What’s the plan from here?” Hope asked. Twilight concentrated for a moment, discovering that this took noticeably less effort now, and conjured up a map.

“As close as I can tell, we’re about here.” she pointed to a spot roughly in the center of the Vile Peaks.

“If we’re going to Eden, the fastest way would be to head through the Gapra Whitewoods, then to Palumpolom, we should be able to find a way to Eden from there.” Twilight said, then looked up at the others. “Does that sound about right?”

“Yes, that was my plan.” Lightning said.

“Rather predictable, but then again, time is of the essence.” Twilight said. That was pretty close to a straight line, but they didn’t have the time for detours.

“Then it’s a good thing I live in Palumpolom, I’ll be able to show you all the shortcuts.” Hope added helpfully.

“Alright, but no side trips.” Lightning agreed.

“No need, I’m pretty sure l’cie aren’t welcome at home.” Hope said. That was really dark. They fought their way past almost exclusively Psicom forces, until they came upon a trio of Psicom trackers, causing them to hide behind some rocks, checking over another Pulse Armament, this one inactive.

“Any trace of the l’cie?” one asked.

“Nothing, no sign it’s been activated.” the one tinkering with the machine said. There was the strangest combination of relief and disappointment in his voice.

“Huh?” the first one noticed them despite their cover. “Who’s there?” he asked warily, the three of them broke cover, faced off against, and easily overwhelmed the Psicom soldiers. These guys were basically engineers, so there wasn’t much chance of their being combat-specialists.

“What was Psicom doing here?” Hope asked.

“Probably thought we’d try and use a Pulse machine to escape.” Lightning said.

“Makes sense looking at it from their perspective.” Twilight noted.

“Maybe we should try it.” Hope suggested. He began checking out the armament. “What does this do?” he asked, reaching for what appeared to be controls.

“Um, Hope I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Twilight said. Lightning was more vocal in her disapproval.

“Hey, you’re gonna hurt yourself! Don’t touch that!” she said.

“Wait. What if it works?” Hope asked, climbing onto the robot.

“Leave it!” she ordered, only for the armament to begin moving. It began to take lumbering steps forward. “I told you to leave it.” Lightning said in annoyance.

“Stop! Stop already!” Hope cried out, causing the armament to stop. “I think I got it.” Hope said as the armament seemed to be obeying him. “Hey, Light! I think I can work this!” Hope called as he experimented with the controls.

Once they were sure Hope wasn’t in any immediate danger, the girls went to examine the area by a large piece of metal next to a nearby trench in hopes of finding a way across. Hope brought the armament over and simply punched the piece of metal with it, causing it to fall over, forming a bridge.

After a bit of ‘platforming’ the armament ended up in a space too small for it to turn in and with a cliff in front of it. It slowly lumbered forward as Hope attempted to turn it around. He screamed as he fell off the cliff with the armament. He was fine, the armament not so much.

“Nice landing.” Lightning said sarcastically, before jumping down a series of ledges to him, while Twilight simply teleported down.

“Give me a minute, still winded.” Hope said, swaying drunkenly.

“You’re too soft.” she said.

“We can’t afford to take a break if just one of us is winded.” Twilight said apologetically, while helping him up. Lightning walked off.

“Wait up!” Hope called as he hurried after her. As they went further, Hope grew increasingly exhausted. He finally tripped over a rung of another bridge and collapsed for a moment.

“This isn’t working.” Lightning said.

“Huh?” Hope asked worriedly.

“I mean, you’re a liability. You’ll just slow us down.” she continued.

“What?” Hope asked, this time edged with panic.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t protect you when-” she cried out in pain. Her brand was glowing pink.

“We can’t just leave him out here!” Twilight said, before crying out in pain herself as her own brand began to glow purple. “I know what it’s like to be abandoned, and I am not doing that to anyone!” she said.

“You’ve got to take me with you!” Hope said.

“Enough!” Lightning said angrily. The pain was intensifying.

“The whole world is against us. I can barely keep myself alive. Let alone a helpless kid!” Lightning managed through the pain.

“If we leave him, then how are we any better than the fal’cie you hate so much? We’d be treating him as if he were expendable!” Twilight argued. They both cried out as the pain intensified.

“I don’t have the time to be your babysitter. You want to get tough?” Lightning asked. Hope shook his head in negative. “Do it on your own!” Lightning yelled at him. The pain became excruciating as incantation circles of the colors their respective brands had been glowing formed around them, roughly 25 feet in diameter each.

They got out of their circles just in time to avoid the appearance of two figures, each seven feet tall. Lightning’s was a knight in brown and white armor with a spear and shield. Twilight’s was an angel in a purple dress with a rod that had an eclipse figurehead and long black hair, one of her wings was black instead of white.

“I didn’t know they could do that.” Twilight said in awe, glancing at her brand’s location.

“This cannot be happening.” Lightning said. ‘Fallen Angel’ and ‘Odin’ popped into their heads. Fallen Angel fired a blast of pure magic at Lightning, which Twilight blocked with a barrier. Odin jumped over to Hope, who skittered backwards about a foot until he remembered about the angel in that direction.

“Look out!” Lightning called as Odin moved his arm back to deliver a strike. Hope shielded his face with his arms. Lightning blocked just in time.

“You two handle Odin, I’ll deal with Fallen Angel.” Twilight said. Said angel snapped her fingers and a barrier appeared between Twilight and the others. It wasn’t a spell, just pure energy manipulation with magic as the energy used. A counter appeared above her.

“Let me guess, Doom counter?” she asked. Fallen Angel nodded, then fired a third-tier fire spell at her. Each tier was exponentially stronger than the last. She copied the spell, then replicated it, the two spells cancelled each other out.

“I can replicate any spell I see, do you know this one?” she asked as she teleported behind her adversary, and used an electrified sword and ice-imbued pistol on her. The angel staggered forward, but was unharmed.

“Huh, are you immune to magic, or can you only be affected by purely magical attacks?” She’d need to stop using hybrid attacks if she wanted to find out. She rained every spell she knew with combat applications on the angel while firing her unbuffed pistol at it. The angel was hurt this time, but the wounds healed almost instantly.

“So you can’t be harmed by anything other than pure magic. Not only that, but you possess an extreme healing factor. This could be difficult.” Twilight said. She was sick and tired of this crap. She was going to beat this thing and they were going to get out of this place.

She engaged in a seesaw contest, the angel and herself would trade magical blows, and the angel would use a spell she didn’t know, only for Twilight to copy it and add it to her own repertoire. This went on up to the point of exhausting all but the fourth tier spells, when her counter was almost up, the angel suddenly stopped and bowed. The counter disappeared at the same time.

“You have earned my respect, my lady.” the angel said. She stood erect, and said, “You may call me for aid in future battles.” before disappearing, leaving behind only a crystalline eight-point star which was quickly absorbed by her brand. The barrier disappeared.

The others had long since finished their fight with Odin, and were staring in awe. Lightning was less affected than Hope, who was gaping open-mouthed, while she was merely wide-eyed. She looked around her, the surrounding area had been reduced to rubble, and was either melted, frozen, sparking faintly, or on fire, for a good forty feet around her. A good chunk of it was not in the position it had been before the battle had begun either. Of course, she’d never have had the energy for this without the recharge abilities her brand granted her.

“I’m really, really, glad you’re on our side.” Hope said finally. Twilight and Lightning dragged themselves over to the other end of the bridge, aided by Hope. Their brands were still glowing faintly when they got there. Apparently summoning a creature through an incantation circle was exhausting on an almost spiritual level.

“Your brands look different. Were those Eidolons? Like l’cie can summon?” Hope asked.

“Apparently they’re real.” Twilight said, completely exhausted. Now that the adrenaline from the fight had worn off, she was sure she was in no condition to keep fighting. She could probably last a couple more battles, but she would rapidly lose combat effectiveness.

“Magic and mumbo-jumbo, I must’ve hit my head on that Purge train.” Lightning said.

They stood up slowly, “Um, am I really in your way?” Hope asked. Lightning started off.

“I’ll do better! I’ll try harder, I’ll-”

“Hope.” Lightning cut him off.

“We’ll toughen you up.” she had the ghost of a smile on her face as she said this. “I’m sorry about before.” she apologized. They encountered more Psicom troops almost immediately, as if purposely ruining the moment. A full platoon with support from drones and canine bioweapons surrounded them.

“I’m going to try out those new spells I learned on these guys.” Twilight said.

“Nice to know beforehand. Got my back, Hope?” Lightning asked.

“Yeah.” Hope said confidently. After a few minutes, the entire platoon was wiped out, including the drones and bioweapons. Hope was breathing heavily. “I still can’t believe just the three of us managed that.” he wheezed. Just yesterday they’d needed 6 people to do that, now they’d managed it with half as many, so she could see why he was surprised.

“We’ll stop here.” Lightning said decisively.

“Sorry.” he apologized.

“We’ve all been slowing down for a while. L’cie or not, we aren’t gods. Don’t sweat it.” Hope used a nearby rock as a pillow and fell asleep in moments. He must really have been exhausted.

“I’ll look around.” Lightning said.

“I’ll keep an eye on him.” Twilight said. Twilight used the time to work on the counter-spell some more. She had neglected to mention that she was experimenting with her own brand for it, so she couldn’t really test anything with all the others nearby and conscious. She still paid enough attention that she noticed someone coming a few minutes later. It turned out to only be Lightning. She saw a touching little scene when Lightning noticed that Hope fast asleep.

“Mom?” Hope asked with a smile, obviously dreaming.

“Not by a long shot.“ Lightning said a ghost of a laugh in her voice.

“You go on and sleep. I’ll keep watch.” Twilight said.

“You sure?” Lightning asked.

“Out of the two of us, who can throw balls of fire that create explosions more powerful than that grenade from earlier?” Twilight asked.

“Point taken.” Lightning conceded, before settling down for rest.

***In The Conference Room in Eden***

“Sir, we’ve lost over a hundred people in the Vile Peaks.” one of Rosch’s lieutenants said, his voice trembling slightly. It wasn’t all that shocking for him to react that way, a group of five people, most of whom were essentially civilians, taking down over a hundred trained soldiers in a day? The sheer ludicrousness of that report would make most people look at you like you were crazy. Rosch was not most people.

“Do we have any footage?” he asked.

“Yes sir, two videos, one taken by the hit squad’s camera meant to record the l’cie’s deaths’, and the other by a full platoon with bioweapon and drone support.” the lieutenant responded.

The officers were called together, and the videos were played. They watched in a mixture of awe and fear as three of the original six l’cie took down the seventeen person hit squad with ease, they’d barely even used magic beyond healing some minor injuries. Then they looted the bodies and left with a callousness rivaling that of an experienced campaigner. Though they’d needed to learn fast.

“Well, if the second video does not show otherwise, we can assume that the l’cie have split into two groups, ignoring the loner.” Rosch said in an attempt to break his officers out of their stupor. One of the l’cie, the Sparkle girl, had taken out eight of the soldiers by herself, appearing to teleport around the battlefield. He was fairly sure that was exactly what she’d done. A teleporting foe was a nightmare. Set a trap? They can ignore most substances if they can concentrate. Ambush? Don’t bother, they can pop up behind you, or to one side, or above you.

The second video proved even more disheartening. The platoon had the group surrounded, but was torn apart by the powerful magic demonstrated by the Sparkle girl, though her companions weren’t pushovers either. It appeared the computer’s assessment of Farron and Sparkle was correct, those two were the most dangerous. Farron actually cut a drone in half with her sword glowing pink from magic, and he could swear she actually looked a little bored doing it. Then again, she tended to school her features, and there wasn’t much that was more disheartening than having your forces torn apart by someone who wasn’t even trying, or at least didn’t appear to be trying.

“I am going to request that our troops in the area between them and Eden be reinforced.” Rosch announced. These l’cie could not be let anywhere near Eden, the city or the fal’cie.

His request was granted when he showed the Primarch the videos. Unbeknownst to him, Dysley had smiled at this news as soon as Rosch left earshot. “It seems that I got lucky with who became a l’cie this time.” he sobered slightly. “Still, nothing is absolutely certain yet. I must take care not to be overconfident. They may be pawns, but they do have minds of their own.”

His plan might need some speeding up, with how quickly the l’cie were gaining strength. Their split had helped. When l’cie were given the same Focus, their fighting caused every single one to gain strength from it rather than just the one individual. This could easily be turned against him though. Should they gain too much power too quickly, then the military would get desperate and might strike without his approval. “I’ll have to be careful in my manipulation of these events. Raines should prove useful however.” He grinned again, the Maker would be brought back to this world and he would have release at last. That was worth any minor headaches this new development caused him.

Twilight The Traveler

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