Twilight The Traveler Chapter 12 – A Pleasant Stroll… Or Not

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// A Pleasant Stroll… Or Not// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

She had happened upon a library while wandering in search of something to eat the next morning. She’d gotten some jewels on Pulse thanks to the jewel-finding spell that she learned from Rarity. Jewels were far less common in every place she’d been besides Equestria, so she was able to trade them for a fairly large quantity of money at a jeweler’s that she discovered using the same spell to find the largest nearby concentration of jewels. It occurred to her that a jeweler that would accept jewels from a six-year-old without any questions was probably crooked and had almost certainly underpaid, but she didn’t have any other real options at the moment. She decided to visit the library to research her current world before getting some food since her stomach could wait. She’d like to know beforehand if she was going to be hunted like an animal for using magic or something.

She learned of the conflict between Lord Death and those serving him, and the Witches, an apparently all-female sub-species of humans who could use magic naturally and who had committed numerous atrocities over the centuries, ranging from human experimentation to soul experimentation. Souls were apparently the source of power in this world. The strength of one’s soul determined your power. There were two ways to gain soul-based strength.

The first was through training, and was how those under Lord Death mainly did so. The second way was utilized by both Kishin Eggs and Demon Weapons. They ate the souls of others, absorbing their power and adding it onto their own.

The difference between them was that Kishin Eggs ate human souls out of some sort of fear or similarly negative emotion and were corrupted by doing so, while Demon Weapons, people who could transform into various magic weapons that were effective against Kishin Eggs and Witches, ate the souls of Kishin Eggs in order to prevent their taking more lives in the pursuit of power. Both ate Witches souls for the exact same reasons as they ate their usual meals. For the Kishin Eggs, they provided a major power boost if you could kill one and eat her soul, and for Lord Death’s subordinates, they were trying to keep any further losses from occurring due to the Witches and their experiments, as well as the Kishin Eggs’ reason.

Meisters partnered with Demon Weapons in order to help them bring out their full potential, the ultimate goal being turning the weapon into a Death Scythe, one of Lord Death’s personal weapons, and an immensely powerful Demon Weapon that could only be created through the devouring of at least 100 hundred souls. 99 souls from Kishin Eggs, and 1 soul from a Witch. She didn’t like the idea of eating other people’s souls, but so far as she could tell, Lord Death seemed like the good guy here, or at least the lesser evil. She’d like to meet him if possible.

After a little more research to familiarize herself with historical events, she learned of what the Kishin Eggs aspired to be. The Kishin, the God of Madness who’s mere presence spread insanity, even sealed as he was. Those prone to fear and paranoia were especially susceptible to his influence, this usually manifested as a magnification of the usual symptoms of paranoia, as well as nightmares and violent tendencies.

Wait a minute, she was paranoia-prone! That meant she’d have to be fighting off the Madness Wavelength all the time. Something that brought out the worst in someone and tried to break their mind sounded like exactly the sort of thing that would prompt the seal restraining Arcana to break down. She did not need this! However, she needed time to research the spell for inter-world travel some more, since clearly something was wrong if she was once again not in Equestria, and perhaps a stronger seal for Arcana. Frankly, she didn’t like the thought of the seal having even the slightest chance of being broken. That thing shouldn’t be allowed to roam free under any circumstances. If she went to another world, then the circumstances might be even worse. Thus, she had to stay in this world until she managed to reinforce the seal some more, or the Madness Wavelength was dealt with.

While she was having these thoughts, she suddenly felt a spike of hostile intent, a gift she’d received thanks to her short possession. Her theory was that since Arcana was, on some level, her, the ability to unleash that much hostile intent had allowed them both to also sense hostility directed at them.

A humanoid creature burst through the window and attacked her, screaming about eating her soul. She could only assume this thing was a Kishin Egg. She had instinctively teleported out of the way of the first strike, and then stabbed the thing in where the heart could be assumed to be while shooting it in the head three times. It, amazingly, didn’t die from that, so she Enthundered the sword, and electrocuted it, that finished it, and it dissolved into a black spiral that resolved itself into a red orb with black, tarry patches. The corrupted soul of a Kishin Egg.

She grabbed it, intending to put it int her backpack for future study, but it was simply absorbed into her through her hand. She shuddered, that had felt wrong. She hurried out, realizing that more Kishin Eggs would probably not be far behind, and that it would place innocents in danger if she fought them in the city. She was proven right when she came across another not five minutes later, this time she used enchanted gloves and put it’s soul in her backpack. She needed to study this phenomenon, but she was certain Arcana had something to do with it. Between Arcana and the l’cie brand, her magic was probably completely out of whack compared to pre-Cocoon Twilight.

She had realized during her reading that the Witches must have developed some method of concealing themselves since they had managed to stay relatively hidden for the past few centuries, the problem was that she had no idea how to do it, or even how to take a look at her own soul, which, it was several times implied, was a very, very, basic thing. She managed to jury-rig the technique after a few days of hit-and-run fighting. She ended up with 35 souls by the time she was able to sense her own. It took the better part of another day to figure out a crude solution to her Kishin Egg problem.

The spell reduced her bleedoff of energy a great deal, which it seemed was how they hunted, but also cut her power to 1% of her original amount, leaving her vulnerable. She did reach 40 souls total in that time, and the number of Kishin Eggs after her dropped to a negligible threat level, about one a day. She was forced to mostly rely on her physical abilities since her magic was effectively crippled. She spent some time in the wilderness, fine-tuning the spell until they were little more attracted to her than a normal human, though for some reason she still encountered Kishin Eggs fairly frequently. She was also closely examining the souls and herself, trying to figure out just what had happened when she absorbed that one soul.

It seemed that Arcana, her ties to the element of Magic, and the l’cie brand had interacted with each other and her soul, resulting in what could best be described as a soul-sponge. If she came into direct contact with a soul in a condensed form such as these orbs, it was absorbed. Presumably there was an upper limit to how many souls could be absorbed in a certain span of time, but she was unwilling to test for it. It was likely that highly condensed soul-based energy would be similarly affected, but she had no way of testing that. She also suspected that it would make her more vulnerable to the Madness Wavelength, but had no baseline to compare her symptoms with.

She had absorbed a total of 39 through various accidents and experiments. They had caused a small but noticeable increase in both her magical power and her body’s physical attributes. Apparently they did that second part. She couldn’t detect any negative effects from having absorbed them, but refrained from absorbing more out of a sense of disgust at the very idea of absorbing a being’s soul. So long as there wasn’t direct physical contact, she could interact with them normally. Well, as normally as one could when there were souls involved.

Twilight had been visiting nearby towns to research at the libraries, but they hadn’t been very helpful in figuring out how to use her soul itself as a weapon like it was said Meisters and weapons could. She’d made little progress beyond being able to check on her soul in terms of practical application either, and she really didn’t want to poke around her own soul in case she damaged something. That would be bad.

The nightmares she had to assume were from the Madness Wavelength weren’t pleasant, but she managed to adjust to the lack of good sleep. The violent tendencies/urges were as repressed as possible.

She had 65 souls in her backpack at this point, having more than gotten that 39 back from more fights with Kishin Eggs. She’d fine-tuned the spell that hid her presence so it was the best she could reasonably expect it to be. She’d created a second version she was planning to use for combat situations, it let her use 5% of her full abilities but still hid her reasonably well, the first version was for civilian life or stealth. She was using the second version for now, and she was back to a fight with a Kishin Egg a day instead of every other day, but they were usually no threat. She was hoping to give the souls to Death as a peace offering, since he’d probably need some form of a sign of goodwill from a magic user. She had fairly little respect for their souls since they had been trying to kill her and eat her soul, had probably killed a large number of people before trying their luck with her, and quite obviously weren’t going to any afterlife.

However, she first came into contact with some agents of the DWMA, Death’s Weapon and Meister Academy one of the rare times that she attracted two Kishin Eggs at once. A girl with blond hair in a black coat over a schoolgirl outfit, and a boy who appeared to be an albino in a black sweater with yellow sleeves and red pants and who was a scythe Demon Weapon were on a mission to investigate why Kishin Eggs were being drawn here and then disappearing.

The day began normally enough and Twilight was actually considering going to Death City to join Death’s school beforehand, or at least go there and talk to him about some things. She had reached the physical age of ten, and she essentially felt like she was wasting her time doing nothing right now. One could only learn so much from another world’s texts on physics, and she was stuck for now on improving the spell to send her home. The problem was that she didn’t know the co-ordinates of home in the multiverse, so she was essentially shooting in the dark each time she used it. If nothing else, she’d like some help with the Madness Wavelength, she’d be happy to reciprocate in any way she could.

Anyway, she was pretty much just minding her own business when she got the usual warning of an approaching Kishin Egg except with two sources, meaning that there were two, which was rare ever since she got the spell for hiding her presence down. She almost didn’t notice the two people hiding behind a rock and watching her when the Kishin Eggs attacked.

She was unfortunate in that she was only able to sense those of hostile intent. Those with good intentions, or at least, who did not intend to cause her harm, could slip right past her. She was also unfortunate in that she’d already used magic by the time she noticed them. The small gasp from the girl being what had alerted her to their presence in the first place.

*** Maka’s Perspective ***

“Hey Maka, shouldn’t we help her out?” Soul asked, looking at the girl with dark blue hair about to square off against two Kishin Eggs.

“According to Lord Death, the one responsible for the strange behavior of the Kishin Eggs is almost certainly a Witch, so she should be able to handle herself. That said, be ready to help out if necessary. She hasn’t made it onto the DWMA’s wanted list, so we should treat her like any other human being unless she starts threatening us.” Maka answered.

The girl was surprisingly proficient with her sword, though it appeared to be glowing with heat as if it were just pulled out of the forge, which Maka could only assume was a spell. She was holding her own against the Kishin Eggs, and then she teleported behind one in a flash of light and stabbed it through the head, killing it and causing it to become a simple orb. Maka couldn’t stifle a gasp. That ability would be deadly in a fight, she could move out of any trap they might rig, and could strike from any direction at any time.

The girl glanced at them momentarily, holding off the remaining Kishin with only one hand on her sword. It was as if she didn’t even feel threatened now that there was only one of them. She soon finished the Kishin Egg by cutting it in half, then turned her attention back to them, calling out, “I know you’re there! Come on out!”

Maka and Soul cautiously stood up, and Maka asked. “I’m Maka Albarn, what’s your name?”

The girl answered. “Twilight Sparkle, and before you ask, yes, that was magic. I’d like to talk to Lord Death about my situation. As I understand it, most Witches don’t share my sentiment that killing should only be self-defense or when those close to you are threatened. As such the DWMA hunts virtually all Witches on principle. I’d like that to not apply to me.”

She pulled off the lavender backpack she was carrying and set it on the ground, then she rummaged inside and accidentally dropped something, causing it to echo cavernously. Maka and Soul stared. How was it even possible for such a small bag to echo? Twilight finally facepalmed and pulled some gloves out of her pockets and put them on, before she said. “I’ve got 64 Kishin Egg souls in here, not counting these two, and I’d at least like to hand them over since I have no authority to deal with them.” She pulled a couple out of the bag to demonstrate, before putting them back.

Maka was momentarily speechless, the girl in front of her had more than half the requirement for becoming a Death Scythe sitting in her backpack! She cleared her throat and said, “Well, our mission was to investigate the Kishin Eggs just disappearing like they’d been, so I think Lord Death won’t mind if we happen to bring the one responsible back to Death City. Though we should get in contact with him first. Follow us.” she said. It was common for small-fry Kishin Eggs to kill each other and absorb each other’s souls, but these Kishin Eggs had been drawn by a tempting soul, and not bothered fighting each other. There was a radius of at least 20 miles around this spot that Kishin Eggs had been drawn from. That rough circle of strange activity had been what clued the DWMA in on what was going on. Most murders were caused by Kishin Eggs, so they usually only lasted a couple days before mundane law enforcement killed them. The Meister-Weapon teams were only sent out to deal with the nasty ones with strange powers or who were too strong for normal soldiers to deal with.

“Are sure about this Maka? She is a Witch.” Soul asked, being the less trusting of the two.

“This from the guy who wanted to jump into the fight a minute ago?” Maka asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I want to talk to your headmaster, what could be less productive towards that than attacking his students?” Twilight deadpanned.

“Point.” Soul said after thinking it over for a second.

*** Several Days Later : Twilight’s Perspective ***

Twilight was handcuffed before she met Lord Death, though she was assured it was entirely protocol. She thought there was a slight possibility that she might be able to break out of them with brute force, but had no reason to try. She’d already had the souls ‘confiscated’, though she wasn’t sure it could really be called confiscation if she willing gave them up and went out of her way to hand them over. Truth be told, she was actually kind of relieved not to have them anymore, there was no risk of accidentally absorbing any of them like that one that had been in her bag when she’d touched it without gloves. They’d provided her with a hooded cloak to cover her features, so whatever happened, no one would recognize her.

She was quite surprised when she entered the Death Room to talk to him. He was seven feet tall with a black cloak, and a cartoonish mask that resembled a ghost more than a skull. “Hiya!” he greeted her with a goofy, high-pitched voice.

“…Huh, I was kind of expecting you to be more intimidating.” was all Twi could say in response, before her mind caught up to her reaction and she blanched. “Sorry, sorry, my life’s been kind of weird, so I kind of have a skewed view of the world.” she apologized.

“Ah, yes, you’re the Witch who was attracting all those Kishin Eggs. Care to tell me why?” Death asked.

“Well, believe it or not, I didn’t know how to conceal my presence very well, so they were attracted to me like flies to honey.” Twilight explained. She suspected Arcana also had something to do with it, as they’d kept coming even after she managed to jury-rig a way to hide her soul.

“Hm, didn’t you have a teacher of some kind?” Death asked, cocking his head to one side.

“Well, yes, but…” she inwardly debated explaining her origins, then decided that she had to tell the truth if she expected him to trust her. She explained about her life and what had happened. Death didn’t interrupt beyond the occasional question, or request of clarification. Once she’d finished, after showing him a few things she took from Pulse and Cocoon to prove she had been there, although she’d been planning on using them to prove that she wasn’t crazy to the others in Equestria, she waited for his verdict. Death had spent a few moments in deep thought, before asking her if she would mind becoming a student here. He also advised that she come up with an alias, since Twilight Sparkle sort of stood out, making her easily identified when combined with her fairly unique appearance. Most people didn’t have purple eyes, or pink and indigo stripes in their hair for that matter.

She answered positively to his first request, that having been one of the reasons she was here in the first place. She grudgingly agreed to the second. She knew it was probably a bad idea to stand out since scrutiny could reveal that she used magic, and that wasn’t going to end well, even if she didn’t actually have a Witch’s soul. Death had been quite surprised when he found that little detail out. She picked the name Tara Strong, partially because it simply wasn’t already on the student roster, and partially because she personally liked the name for a reason she couldn’t discern.

She had the handcuffs removed, and then left to sort out her affairs. After she left, Death took on a thinking pose. “Hm, well, she gave me quite a bit to think about. Other worlds with entities like that… she may have opened the largest can of worms imaginable.” he said, thinking over what he’d been told. Her soul had a hint of something foul on a level he’d never encountered, but that was probably due to that Arcana creature she mentioned. She’d mentioned being affected by the Madness Wavelength, but she seemed to have it under control for the moment. Still, she needed to give it an outlet of some kind, or she’d end up like Stein.

She’d quickly advanced to the EAT class, despite not having a partner. That led to her taking on some missions, as they were always a bit under-staffed in that regard. She was told to hand over any souls from Kishin Eggs, since she didn’t have a weapon partner to feed them to. She was quite glad, absorbing souls simply felt wrong, though it seemed to be entirely psychological since no one else had that problem.

So her current situation was really no surprise. Tara was walking through a town in Japan on the way to take out a Kishin Egg that was of the more sentient variety. Kishin Eggs were unofficially divided into those who retained their minds, and those who became little more than semi-humanoid animals. This one fell into the former category. She was surprised when it started using throwing stars against her from the shadows though. It seemed to be very good at long-range fighting, but it’s attack had revealed it’s rough position, so she teleported up there, and barely avoided having her head taken off by a sword that reeked of bloodlust. She was hardier than a normal human, but being beheaded would kill just about anything complex enough to have a head in the first place.

After dodging that, she engaged it with her own sword, Enthundered to hit the Kishin Egg with electricity using it’s own sword as a conductor. However, the Kishin Egg, a Kishinized traditional samurai who’d managed to eat enough souls to get to about the first quarter of the way to being a full Kishin, dodged, and counter-attacked, before being forced to deflect the bullets from her gun. She suspected that his sword was special, as those bullets had a spell that increased the force behind them precast, and her gun had had that l’cie spell variant on it that made it stronger with combat and over time for over 8 years.

Her gun was more than three times as powerful as it had started out as, making the pistol’s appearance deceptive of it’s true power, especially since she’d been learning to simply teleport bullets into the chamber recently allowing for seemingly endless fire. Her sword was similarly enhanced by the spell on it, the metal was strong enough to carve through concrete like a hot knife through butter. The Kishin Egg was repeatedly dodging her slashes, and blocking her pistol-fire. It wasn’t a problem of technique, she’d had plenty of practice and was something of a prodigy with swords. The problem was that she simply wasn’t fast enough to get around her enemy’s guard. Her speed was always her weak point, and that appeared to be hurting her now. She’d always had plenty of magical power, and she was far stronger than any normal human, but her speed was subpar compared to her other attributes. Even some of her fellow classmates were faster than her. Blackstar came to mind, though since speed was his strong point that wasn’t really a fair comparison.

Death by a thousand cuts didn’t sound fun, so she decided that she was going to have to pull out some of her l’cie spells. Only up to the second tier though, the third or fourth tier would destroy the surrounding houses and quite possibly kill people. She sent a Fira at the Kishin Egg at close-range, only for him to dodge, despite the spell’s targeting ability that let it alter it’s course mid-flight. However, she’d been expecting that, and there were a trio of Ruin spells waiting for him. He took a direct hit, but as these were only the first tier spells, albeit overpowered versions of them, he took little damage, and nothing outright debilitating, but he certainly wasn’t going to move as fast after that.

“Tougher than I thought.” he said, the first words spoken since their fight started. She didn’t respond beyond calling a Thundara down on him.

He was indeed moving more slowly, but he wasn’t that affected. Certainly less than she’d been expecting, though healing abilities weren’t uncommon among Kishin Eggs, especially as they got closer to being a Kishin. She didn’t think she’d be able to break through his defenses at this point however. She managed to block the first strike, but he was fighting much more aggressively now, apparently having been testing her defenses before. She had Enthundered her sword again when the first wore off, locking him into dodging her attacks, and then he used more throwing stars, along with a few metal needles, and a few knives, to force her to block. However, she merely took hold of them with her magic, and redirected them back at their thrower. To his credit, he managed to block almost all 15 thrown weapons.

He pulled the needle that got past his guard out of his shoulder, but his wounded arm wasn’t holding onto his sword quite as tightly as before. She took advantage, pressing him hard. He was having far more trouble blocking with a semi-debilitated arm. She managed to slice an arm off, shocking him with electricity in the process, and took advantage of his momentary pause to cast Fira at his head at point-blank range. He dissolved into the usual red orb with black, tarry patches. She carefully placed the soul in her backpack. She habitually wore her gloves now. It was easier than putting them on and taking them off all the time.

“And that’s another mission completed.” Tara said. She technically had a 100% mission success rate, but since she didn’t have a weapon partner, she simply gave the souls to Death. As such, she hadn’t collected a single soul by the academy tally. She had one of the best and worst track records at the same time.

She started off towards an inn to stay for the night. If she left first thing in the morning, she should be able to make it back to Death City by noon on Saturday. She had gotten a fair amount out of the courses at the Academy. She could even use the Soul Force technique. Soul Force was essentially just forcing your soul wavelength into your opponent, reducing their ability to use soul-based powers. Easy in theory, difficult in practice. Your soul wasn’t supposed to leave your body until you were dead. However, if you weren’t used to the technique, it caused backlash as using it left your own soul exposed to your enemy’s wavelength. An experienced user was able to block this, while making their own attack more damaging. It had once been described to her as headbutting your opponents soul. If their ‘head’ was harder, you were only hurting yourself.

She briefly contacted Lord Death to inform him of a mission success. He secretly worried about all his students when they went out. Missions were always a roll of the dice, because very few factors were absolute. There might be more Kishin Eggs than had been thought, drawn by whatever drew the target of the mission, or the Kishin Egg might have suddenly gained a large amount of power by absorbing a large number of souls or multiple powerful souls such as other Kishin Eggs, and then there was blind luck.

She fogged up some glass, and muttered, “42-42-564, whenever you want to knock on Death’s door.” under her breath as she wrote the numbers down. This was how you contacted Death, who was able to use mirrors for transportation and communication. Though he was only able to move throughout Death CIty. This was due to the seal on the first and only full Kishin that required him to anchor it. She was fairly sure she could figure out a way around it for him eventually, but she wasn’t touching the only thing preventing the Kishin from being unleashed on the world. If the Kishin was freed, then she’d devote some time to releasing Death from his bindings. That was unlikely since he’d been sealed for centuries, but weird stuff happened around her.

“Hiya! How ya doing Tara?” Death asked with his usual high-pitched voice.

“Very well, I managed to defeat the Kishin Egg and collect its soul without a scratch.” she responded.

“Ah good. When can I expect you back?” Death asked.

“Tomorrow at about noon.” Tara answered.

“Alright, you know, maybe you should take a break from missions for a while, you spend all your weekends on them and after classes you barely leave the library beyond a few excursions with Maka and Soul.” Death suggested. He was right, she hadn’t really been making any progress on what she was studying anyway. She spent time with Maka and Soul the most because they were the only ones besides Death who knew she could perform magic.

She’d encountered Black Star and Tsubaki during one of these excursions with the pair’s mutual friends. Black Star was a boy Meister with spiky blue hair, a set of black clothes, and arrogant to the point of a god complex, while Tsubaki was a tall girl with black hair and a yellow dress who was the Demon Weapon of the pair. She reminded Tara a lot of Fluttershy in that she was very kind and was rather acquiescing to others. She was the only one the group knew who was able to put up with Black Star to the degree that would be required to resonate with him.

On the surface Soul and Maka didn’t have personalities that would mesh well, but it seemed to be a case of opposites attracting. Maka reminded Tara a lot of herself. She was bookish and despite having a great deal of talent with her soul resonance, a special move that could only be performed by those whose souls were linked, was modest and actually a little under-confident. Though Maka was certainly more athletic than Tara had been pre-Cocoon. Soul was brash, and a little self-centered. However, he was an extremely loyal friend. Like Rainbow Dash.

She had a feeling that something big was about to go down, but had nothing concrete to back it up, so she had simply prepped a few extra rounds of bullets, and put some work into improving her Soul Force. She was pleasantly surprised to discover Soul, Maka, Black Star and Tsubaki waiting for her.

“Hey you guys, nice to see you all, how have you been?” Tara asked.

“Well, Soul and I tried to get a Witch’s soul, but…” Maka said glumly.

“I beat a swordsman guy who beat ninety-nine Kishin Eggs!” Black Star said loudly. He was actually a good assassin when he put his mind to it, but he was too loud and showy to get the job done a lot of the time. An unfortunate side effect of the kind of arrogance that led one to declare that they would defeat the Creator. You couldn’t expect to beat someone powerful enough to create a universe unless you could do something rivaling that. She didn’t bother trying to tell him this though. The odds of him ever actually meeting the Creator in person were pretty low, so she didn’t see the point. Besides, he was fairly harmless.

“Well, I beat a ninja Kishin Egg. He was good, but I was better.” Tara said. He honestly acted more like a ninja than a samurai, what with the sneak attack and the ranged attacks.

“Who votes we go grab something to eat?” Soul asked.

“I could go for some tea.” Tsubaki said.

“Well, let’s go then. I’m buying!” Tara offered. She didn’t exactly do much with her money from missions and the allowance every student in the DWMA received. She didn’t exactly go shopping for new sets of clothes with any frequency. Nor did she usually go out for dinner. As such, most of her money ended up sitting in her bank account collecting interest. They went to the usual cafe and had a group lunch.

Little did they know, Death had a certain… ‘special’ assignment for them the next day.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 11 – Eden and Orphan

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// Eden and Orphan// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

People had begun gathering in a large stadium to celebrate the end of the l’cie threat. The amount of damage a mere handful of individuals had done was staggering. Hundreds of Sanctum soldiers, Psicom and Guardian Corps alike, had been felled and the lucky survivors had been traumatized by the sheer helplessness they’d experienced, finding years of training suddenly useless in the face of the very thing they were supposed to protect Cocoon from. The fleet and bioweapons were crippled by their losses, as well as the l’cie having gone through the Gapra Whitewoods and killed off most of the potential replacements for the fallen bioweapons.

However, the few weeks that had passed since the Palamecia had crashed and the l’cie disappeared had been enough time for the people to start healing. No one could really fault the former Primarch for resigning after almost being killed, that kind of stress was not good for someone in their eighties. The new Primarch, and former commander of the Cavalry division of Psicom, had become fairly popular. The race scheduled to begin the festivities opened with a speech from said new Primarch.

“People of Cocoon. My fellow citizens. We have survived the twilight, and gather now to welcome the dawn on which we decide our fate.” Raines said over a loudspeaker, and with a screen showing his face to those on the track and in the audience. The crowd was roaring in anticipation. “Many are the lessons we have learned during our long night of hardship and sacrifice.” The cars began to array themselves on the track. “And now we face choices, which must be made as our hearts dictate, and not be left up to uncaring chance. Let us forge ahead with unflinching courage, and honor the fallen with action. With theses hands, we shape the future.” he finished. Snapping his fingers, Raines signaled the beginning of the race.

At first, everything was normal, then one of the racers noticed a strange green symbol in the sky. “What the-?!” A group of seven people, accompanied by various creatures, and a ship (though that last one quickly flew off), burst through, along with flurries of things ranging from rose petals to ice shards.

“Oh damn!” The racer cursed as he swerved to avoid the low-flying ship, then got blown off the racetrack and into the air, only to be caught effortlessly by two of the creatures.

“Close call!” a man with a bandanna and white trenchcoat said from on top of the racecar. “And the hero saves the day!” Snow exclaimed, waving to the once-again cheering crowd, which was shown on an enormous screen for all to see.

“Incredible!” someone in the crowd said. The crowd thought that this display was part of the festivities, having been unannounced to make it more gripping. Then as Snow was lifting his other arm to wave, his brand came into view, and was immediately zoomed in on by the camera. “L-l’cie! That’s a l’cie brand!” the same guy said.

“Probably should’ve covered that.” Snow said with a wince.

“Great job Snow.” Twi said sarcastically as she passed him on another car, which she had commandeered after knocking out the driver. He managed to blow their cover less than 5 minutes in.

A large number of Sanctum troops and bioweapons descended on the track as an officer said, “Intruders on the race circuit! Confirmed Pulse l’cie! All units respond with lethal force!” over the same loudspeakers that Raines had used less than five minutes beforehand. That was a fast response. There were several possibilities that might account for the quick response. First, the people were still paranoid, which was not unlikely. Second, Barthandelus was manipulating things to give them a bit more of a power boost by fighting these soldiers. Third, the garrison of Eden was just that well trained. Of course, it could just be a combination of these factors, and it didn’t really matter in the end.

“Catch me if you can!” Snow taunted them over his shoulder.

Hope jumped down from a ledge overhead. The racecars avoided him, then a large bioweapon stopped in front of him, hovering. “Hi there.” he said nonchalantly. The bioweapon tried to skewer him, only to be stopped by Alexander smashing into it. “Cut ’em off!” Hope ordered hurriedly. Alexander raised his hands and started trying to stop the oncoming cars.

“Woah, I think we have a winner!” Snow said as a car that had been sent flying passed close by over him.

“This is easier than I thought it would be.” Twi said as she destroyed yet another warmech. With her allies spread out like this, she could cut loose with her magic without risking harming them. What’s more, she was keeping the non-humans of the Sanctum’s forces occupied, so she wasn’t restrained in the slightest by trying to avoid killing sentient beings. She usually tried to avoid overkill when fighting sentient opponents, so as to give them at least a chance to survive. With bioweapons however, she went straight for execution.

Meanwhile, Lightning rode Odin in equine form. “Now!” she yelled. She jumped up as Odin began to revert to a humanoid form, and then he threw her towards the oncoming cars. Lightning shot at them with her gun-mode gunblade.

She switched it to blade-mode as she grabbed the first car that came into reach, then jumped onto a passing car, digging her sword into the car. “You’re dead!” the driver yelled hatefully.

“You first!” she shot back, throwing him out of the car, then using her blade as a lever to flip the car so she was standing on top. Fang laughed as she passed by on Bahamut. They took out several drivers of the nearest Psicom vehicles together.

The Sanctum soldiers were concentrating their fire on Vanille, but had yet to get past Hecateoncheir’s guard. “Fire!” a soldier called. “Take her down!” another yelled.

“Hey! Stop that!” Vanille yelled as her Eidolon deflected bullets back at her attackers. “Uh oh.” she said, noticing one of the soldiers pointing a missile launcher at her.

“Block this!” he yelled, firing the missile and sending Vanille and Hecateoncheir flying in a ball of fire. Luckily, Sazh tore through Sanctum forces on Brynhildr’s racecar form, and caught just in time Vanille and Hecateoncheir with his own Eidolin.

“Odin!” Light called as the platform she was on crumbled. Odin reverted to equine form and leapt up to her catching her. Lightning grabbed the two curved blades this form granted her and began to dismantle the Psicom forces she encountered without missing a beat. Odin reverted to humanoid form and aided his master in fighting foes on a level platform, before once again donning his equine form as the platform lost altitude due to it’s damaged systems failing.

Twilight was still drawing most of the warmechs and heavy artillery since she proved to have the most firepower with Fallen Angel by her side. She’d discovered that while Fallen Angel didn’t have an alternate form, she could still ride her Eidolon to take advantage of her flight, and it provided her with a similar degree of healing as Fallen Angel in addition to her companion’s bombardment abilities granted by her powerful magic. This proved useful, as she sure that she would have lost consciousness from her wounds if she hadn’t been healed as quickly as she had. She could practically feel her brand amplifying their strength from all the conflict the seven of them were going through. After what seemed like forever, Phoenix brightened up for the day. They regrouped, as the forces they’d been fighting had all been wiped out.

A sound at the edge of their hearing was unnerving them all. “What’s that sound?” Light asked, trying to strain her senses enough to tell what she was hearing.

Twilight had an epiphany. “Wait, didn’t Dysley say he might ‘feign the howling of Pulse wolves’ before?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah? So?” Snow asked.

“There’s an Ark underneath Eden.” she answered him as calmly as she could. The others all froze momentarily.

“…Dammit.” Sazh said after a moment as a column of smoke rose from in the city.

*** Nearby, A Temporary Sanctum Command ***

An officer was talking to a patrol over the radio, but was having trouble understanding what his subordinate was trying to say between gasps for air and the sound of gunfire. “Say again patrol, and speak clearly.” the officer said.

“The armies of Pulse! They’re using transgates!” the soldier said, hurriedly reloading from the sound of it as his fellow patrolmen continued to fire on the monstrosities emerging from the gates.

“Transgates?! How many are coming through?” the officer asked. If there were Pulse creatures coming through then this was a full-on invasion, the l’cie were just an advance party!

“Numbers unconfirmed. But it’s a full-scale invasion! Eden’s being overrun!” the soldier responded. “Dammit! We’re surrounded!” he yelled as a scream from a soldier who was taken out by one of their enemies was heard. Across the city, strange purple portals opened up, and everything from an Admantoise to cie’eth poured out of them.

*** Seat Of The Sanctum ***

Raines waited in his office, an explosion sounded outside, visible from the office. A soldier ran in. “Sir! An army of creatures is attacking the city. It’s a Pulse invasion force.” Another explosion sounded outside. “Your eminence, we must evacu- Guh!” he shouted the last part as he was shot by Cavalry soldiers.

Another explosion, the largest yet, was visible as it happened. “So Raines, is this the Cocoon that you dreamed of?” Rygdea asked.

“My dream is but a fal’cie’s fantasy now. End it.” Raines said, eyes closed.

Rygdea took his gun out, and was about to comply when another explosion rocked the building. Winged cie’eth flew past, then were hit with massive conflagrations from the direction the l’cie were last known to be in. “Dammit Raines! You’re not getting out of this that easy. Now grab a gun, and help us keep these things from killing everyone!” Rygdea yelled, tossing Raines a gun.

Raines stared at him a moment, shocked, then nodded, knocking the gun. The soldiers didn’t question the change in Raines’ loyalties as he was originally the Cavalry’s commander.

Shooting was audible in the halls as Sanctum forces that were probably here to escort Raines as Primarch began to fall back in the face of a nearly endless assault by Pulsian forces. “Damn idealism! Feed it blood, and it howls for more!” Rygdea said as the Cavalry soldiers ran out to aid their fellow humans. They might have a different opinion on a lot of things, but they could all agree that they wanted to stay alive long enough to have the argument in the first place. That meant taking care of the Pulsian creatures and not getting killed first.

*** With The L’cie ***

“There’s too much chaos for it to just be the stuff in the Ark.” Twi said, observing the rampant fighting below them.

“Maybe the Cavalry made their move.” Hope suggested.

“Yeah, and they’re saying Eden’s crawling with Pulse nasties, so looks like Dysley did let ’em loose.” Sazh said, listening to a radio from a fallen soldier for a moment. Panicked shouts were audible from it. “This is out of control. What’s gonna happen to Cocoon?” Sazh asked.

“It’s all-out war.” Light said, thinking over how the local garrison would handle this. The Guardian Corps in Eden was well-trained, but they didn’t exactly have a lot of combat experience. Combat was very different from training, and if the panic audible over the radio was any indication, it was affecting the defenders’ fighting ability and morale badly. Of course, Eden got first pick of any veterans of the Corps, but they were relatively few in number.

“A three way war in the streets, the civilian casualties are going to be enormous even if we stopped it right now.” Twi said, gritting her teeth in frustration. Even their group couldn’t stop a force this large. If they got the cooperation of the Sanctum armies, things might be different, but they’d shoot first and ask questions later.

“Did we cause this by coming back?” Hope asked as several cie’eth flew overhead, before being shot down by Twilight. “Barthandelus prediction… it’s all coming true.” he said.

“Well his future stops right here. We’re the ones who decide what happens next.” Snow said. That bastard wasn’t going to tear apart anyone else’s life if they had anything to say about it.

“Let’s get moving!” Vanille said.

“We need to end this before these things spread outside Eden.” Twi said. They could at least keep the deaths in the thousands instead of the millions if they managed that. Preferably before the Sanctum forces were overrun as well. From the sound of the radio, the Cavalry and Sanctum loyalists were mostly cooperating against the Ark’s monsters, but they would likely turn on each other if the battle started going their way.

“Right.” Light said, nodding.

“Okay.” Sazh said. They hurried forward, taking care of whatever got in their way, Sanctum and Pulse forces at the moment. They came across a huge gap in the road that they had no hope of getting across. Their Eidolons needed more rest after such a long period of use before they became usable again. Besides which, most of their Eidoloins didn’t have flying forms. Twilight didn’t have the power to teleport 7 people across a gap like this either. “Uh, okay, I don’t know about this.” Sazh said.

“If only we could fly!” Vanille said morosely, looking over the drop-off edge.

“We can jump.” Lightning said, handing each of them a grav-con from a handful probably looted from fallen Sanctum soldiers, specifically, knock-offs of herself, before taking her own advice.

A large portion of the soldiers they’d fought had been knockoffs, and though they’d been a challenge, they weren’t much of a threat in small numbers. Still, it looked like they’d caused a shift in the battle doctrine of the Sanctum’s military. The pseudo-mages were annoyances individually, but in larger groups they brought a lot of firepower to the fight. The Lightning knock-offs, meanwhile, were adept at switching between ranged and CQC (close-quarters-combat) almost instantly, removing what had been a major weakness of Psicom’s human forces. Before, they were almost all bordering on helpless if you got in their faces. Not so much anymore. The only major downside was that the gunblades they used had smaller clips than the standard-issue arms, which made reloading an issue. A human could only reload a gun so fast, no matter how well-trained. They’d taken advantage of the openings this provided more than once.

“Nothing to it!” Sazh said, before also jumping off.

“See you ground-side!” Snow said, following them. Hope was just behind him.

“Wait a minute!” Vanille called.

“Come on, you’ll be fine as long as you use that before you hit the ground.” Twi said, pointing to the grav-con and jumping off.

“You don’t want to get left behind, do you? Just remember not to drop the gizmo.” Fang said, before falling backwards off the track.

They struggled to keep their eyes open through the wind as they fell. Sanctum forces were moving around below them. Lightning switched her gunblade to gun-mode, taking the hint, the others all got their weapons out. They soldiers were scattered as Lightning landed activating the grav-con to neutralize the momentum of the fall, which could apparently be spread around her. It had to go somewhere, she supposed. They took advantage of the soldiers’ disarray to secure their position by wiping out said soldiers in a small area around themselves.

“You could have warned me!” Vanille complained once she’d gotten up from the landing.

“That’s how they get around on Cocoon.” Fang answered.

That’s how Light gets around.” Hope corrected.

“The rest of us aren’t crazy enough to do this if we don’t absolutely have to.” Twilight said slightly sourly. She really didn’t like jumping off of high places. A primal part of her brain kept screaming that she was going to die all the way down.

Fang laughed. “Let’s go.” she said.

They fought their way through the enemies, and found a way to a lower level after watching a confrontation between the Sanctum and the Cavalry. They ended up on a little platform next to a busy road, they only relaxed when they were sure they weren’t about to be attacked. “So the Cavalry’s here to, uh… what exactly?” Sazh asked now that there was a lull in the action.

“They’re here for Orphan.” Light answered. “It’ll probably be close to the fal’cie Eden, which means they’ll be headed to the heart of the Sanctum.” Light reasoned.

“Right, and a lot of bad things will happen if they manage to destroy it.” Fang said.

“Goodbye Cocoon.” Hope said.

“Then we better get there before they do.” Snow said.

Lightning suddenly drew her gunblade an instant before a transgate opened, spewing Behemoths. “Let’s move!” Light said, jumping into the street with superhuman speed and moving in between the cars until she finally used Army of One to take out the lead Behemoth, only for the second to use it’s horn as a sword against her own, and send her flying. Lightning was the fastest among them, slightly exceeding even Fang. However, she was on the bottom of the heavy hitters in terms of strength, outmatched by, in descending order, Snow, Fang and Twilight, the simple difference in mass was also a factor, but their strength was magically enhanced, so it was less important than one might think. The Behemoth ripped it’s horn out and made it into a powersaw-like blade as it switched to bipedal movement. The others joined her, and together they made short work of the Behemoth, and started in on the rest.

Once they’d taken care of the Behemoths, they found themselves facing a group of amphibious monsters. The citizens were hiding behind crude barricades formed out of their cars, and were using any weapons they had to take potshots at the monsters from the relative safety of behind these barricades. Though they weren’t likely to last long if the monsters’ attention wasn’t on the l’cie since it was rare for any of them to have any sort of military training, even the ones with weapons were few and far between.

“We’re never gonna make it.” Sazh said, putting his face in one hand as several more of the monsters came out of a transgate. They were ‘spawning’ almost as fast as the group could get rid of them. If this was going on throughout the city, it was only a matter of how long it would take for the Sanctum forces to be overrun, and the Ark creatures took over Eden, before spreading to the rest of Cocoon.

If the way the cream of the crop military was being outmatched was any indication, then the regular military wasn’t going to be able to stop these things. The Ark was probably at least half empty by now, considering the sheer number of monsters rampaging through the streets, but for all she knew this could be less than a tenth of the Ark’s population.

“Not with that attitude, we won’t!” Vanille responded.

They fought their way through the monsters, Cavalry, and Sanctum forces, until they came across a familiar fighter. A figure they recognized from the stadium and Hope’s house stepped into view from behind it. “Rosch?” Hope asked, surprised.

“I see your power has grown, Mr Villiers, as well as that of your allies. No matter, we will lay down our lives if that is what’s necessary to stop you.” Rosch said.

‘Yeah, if they send the entire army at us, diverting everyone fighting the Pulse creatures, then they might manage to take us out through attrition.’ Arcana said derisively.

‘Stop mocking humanity Arcana.’ she thought back in a scolding manner. That was uncharacteristic of Arcana. She’d been sarcastic and didn’t care about other people’s lives, but she didn’t look down on them.

“Oh, you don’t have to worry about that, we’re on the same side here. We came back to stop all this!” Snow retorted.

“Nevertheless, you are l’cie.” Rosch said, before teleporting into the fighter, it didn’t appear to be magic, so it was probably AMP technology, or a function of the fighter itself, which Libra told her was called Proudclad. “We can trust the pawns no more than the fal’cie moving them!” Rosch said, activating the fighter. “Humanity’s fate rests in it’s own hands!” he said as the mask of a beast came down over the cockpit. The sad thing was, she couldn’t really blame him for that opinion, not after all the misery the fal’cie had caused, and the number of deaths they caused themselves. Granted, the soldiers had attacked them almost every time, but self-defense as a motive didn’t bring people back to life.

“All elements are cut in half, but attacks do normal damage otherwise!” Twi called. The Proudclad’s attacks were relatively unvaried, only missiles, and two different salvos of laserfire. A weaker one, and a medium level one. Of course, their bodies were at this point tough enough to tank attacks from the relatively small missiles the Proudclad possessed.

However, Rosch did something after their attacks began to take their toll on the machine. It suddenly launched a salvo of much larger and more powerful missiles. Hope and Twilight had to switch to healing duty to keep everyone in the fight, but the machine was starting to slow down and it’s attacks were weaker.

Finally, a voice said over a radio presumably on the Proudclad “Commander Rosch! Fall back, that’s all she can take!” The Proudclad flew away, smoking slightly.

“I don’t understand… we want the same thing! Why can’t we work together?” Vanille asked.

“These people are so completely blinded by fear that they can’t even imagine it.” Fang explained, walking a few paces in front of them. “Are we too late?” she asked.

“Not yet, and we can’t give up. We’re the only ones who know the truth. Am I right?” Snow asked.

“Only we know about the plan to destroy Cocoon.” Light said.

“Raines might, but he could be dead, with all this chaos he probably is dead.” Twi said pessimistically. Besides which, his master probably wouldn’t let him talk.

“Let’s act under the assumption we’re the only ones. We’re the only ones who know which fal’cie is behind it either.” Hope said.

“Then what are we waiting for? Time for some payback!” Fang said, hitting a fist into the palm of her other hand.

“That’s what I’m talking about. Once everything is out in the open, people will finally have to wake up from this long nightmare!” Sazh said.

“Let’s show ’em how human we still are!” Light said.

Some time later and distance away, a group of soldiers was under orders to hold off the Pulse creatures. A scout was running away from a living weapon, only to trip. The soldiers opened fire in hopes of keeping their comrade from being trampled. However, at that moment, the l’cie arrived, and Twilight destroyed the living weapon with a Ruinja. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your point of view, an Oretoise walked into view through the raised dust. The soldiers and l’cie momentarily worked together to take down the Oretoise, the soldiers taking advantage of the l’cie’s arrival to fall back.

“Suppressing fire! Fall back!” the commanding officer yelled.

They were having trouble getting through the tough hide of the Oretoise, so their attacks were doing less damage than they should have. One of the soldiers was caught outside as a gate was closed behind the soldiers, he banged on the door. “Hey! Wait! Open up! Let me in!” he yelled. He turned around as the Oretoise started towards him, perceiving him as the easier prey, but was hit with several of the third-tier spells, and a Ruinja, finally downing it.

The soldier raised his gun towards them, and said “L’cie!” his hand was trembling noticeably.

They raised their weapons in preparation, but relaxed slightly when Snow raised his arm and said, “Easy now.”

After a moment, the soldier hesitantly asked, “Are you gonna try and go through this door?”

“No, we’re going in the opposite direction at the moment actually.” Twi responded.

“Then go on, I’ve only been ordered to keep any enemies from going through this door.” he said, lowering his gun, and sitting down.

“You know that you’ll probably be killed by the next thing to come in this direction all by yourself.” Twi said seriously.

“I’m trying to protect Cocoon. I’m perfectly willing to die for that cause.” the soldier responded.

“…Let’s go.” Snow said turning away and starting off. They couldn’t save everyone, and every moment they waited was a few more people dead or hurt. After a fairly large number of encounters with the other factions, they came upon a large white gate that looked sturdy. Snow banged on the door. “So close!” he said.

“We’ll find another way through.” Light tried to calm him down.

“We don’t have time for that!” Snow responded.

“He’s right, the eyes are almost all the way open, we could become cie’eth at any time.” Twi said, glancing worriedly at her brand. The eyes were less than half an inch from being all the way open.

There was a groaning sound that had a similar effect on most of them as nails on a chalkboard. The sound continued when the gate began to rise. They readied themselves for a fight, but Twilight and Snow lowered their weapons/relaxed as soon as they recognized the figures on the other side. “Gate got ya beat? Hero?” Gadot asked.

“Pretty lame.” Lebreau commented from the hover.

“Heya Snow, where ya been? Looks like you took Twilight with you.” Maqui asked.

“Guys!” Snow laughed.

“Nice to see you’re alright.” Twi said, smiling the biggest smile she’d had in days.

They landed the hovers. “So Snow, you’re a Pulse l’cie now huh?” Yuj asked.

“Yeah. Good times.” Snow said, showing them his brand.

“Then why didn’t you tell us?” Yuj asked, walking a few paces towards Snow. “Why the hell didn’t you come and find us?” Yuj asked.

“Yeah, we’ve been waiting.” Lebreau added.

“Us and the rest of the Purge fugitives, we found an empty Vestige to hide in.” Maqui tacked on. They shared relieved looks upon finding out that at least some of the Purge deportees had survived.

“But damn, those Pulse fal’ce sure know how to pick ’em.” Gadot said.

“Yeah. Out of all the idiots in the world, they chose this one.” Light said.

“Yes, but he’s our idiot.” Twi said, eliciting laughs from both groups.

“Hey, wait a minute! I’m your fearless leader. You’re not supposed to laugh at the boss!” Snow complained. At that moment, an explosion sounded, immediately putting an end to the mirth.

“Just like old times, eh boss?” Gadot asked.

“Don’t worry, we’ll take care of the civilians.” Lebreau said.

“And you concentrate on saving Cocoon.” Maqui finished.

“We all will! Together!” Hope said.

Snow ruffled Hope’s hair. “Now, what’s our motto?” he asked.

“Fal’cie are no match for NORA!” the four of them, Gadot, Lebreau, Yuj and Maqui, responded. They turned the hovers back on, and waved, saluted, or gave a thumbs-up as they left.

They continued, reaching a point not far from the heart of Eden, and discovered little blue lights floating around like in Oerba. “What the-?!” Sazh asked, looking around.

Several of them tried to catch one, only for it to slip through their fingers. “What is this stuff?” Vanille asked.

Fang tried to catch one, and actually managed to brush it. “Huh, some sort of crystal?” she wondered aloud.

Sazh eyed the particles suspiciously. “I don’t like this. Is Cocoon falling apart already?” he asked.

“Could be. Maybe Orphan’s having trouble holding everything together with all this fighting going on.” Hope theorized.

“Well, this is probably the most chaos it’s ever had to deal with so close by.” Twi reasoned.

“The clamor of this conflict rouses the Maker.” a giant hologram of Dysley’s head said, then chuckled evilly.

“Oh yeah? Well we’ll be stopping this ruckus soon enough.” Sazh responded.

Dysley’s face shifted to an annoyed expression, then he appeared in the flesh in a flash of blue light. “Do you believe you can halt the Cavalry’s charge?” he
asked, brandishing his staff. “Filled with righteousness, they will slaughter Orphan in the name of freedom. Your only recourse will be to deliver them death, swift and certain.” he said.

“No, unlike you they’ll listen to reason.” Light said.

“We’re not going to just slaughter them if we can avoid it.” Twi said firmly.

Dysley chuckled, “We will see about that. I will savor Cocoon’s demise from atop the highest seat in all of Eden.” he said. The fires across the city were worsening since no one could take the time to deal with them. Even if they won, they’d still have thousands of civilian deaths. “You, too, should hurry along to our great capital. After all, your loved ones miss you so.” he said, grinning. They were most definitely surprised by that. He chuckled at their expressions. “Don’t be so surprised, surely you remember how the Cavalry took Serah and that Dajh was taken in by Psicom. Bringing them to a different location was a simple matter. Now come, l’cie, and fulfill your destiny!” he said, floating upward, before disappearing in a ball of white light.

“Your destiny huh? Well, we’ll decide our own destiny!” Hope retorted.

“Right, over Barthandelus’ dead body.” Light said.

“You know, I have no problem with that.” Twilight noted.

Not long after they left, an Admantoise began to take thundering steps toward them. Considering it’s massive size, they preemptively summoned all eight Eidolons. The sheer mass of the creature made it’s stomps attacks on their own, but it also tried to skewer them with it’s tusks. However, their Eidolons leveled the playing field, and after a ten-minute brawl, they finally killed it. After dismissing their Eidolons and stopping for a short rest. They continued through Edenhall, which was being used as a shelter, and out to a sort of courtyard just outside where Eden, and by extension, Orphan, was.

“So, this is the heart of Cocoon.” Fang said, taking a look at the impressive building. It almost looked like a temple crossed with a cathedral.

“It’s incredible.” Vanille said, awed.

“That’s where Eden sits, controlling all the other Cocoon fal’cie. It’s also where we’ll find the battery keeping it all running, Orphan.” Hope said.

“Good to know. So what’s our plan?” Snow asked.

“Your usual plan. We charge in through the front door, unless someone has a better idea.” Light answered him

“Right the front- Hey, wait a minute! Where are you going?” Sazh asked. Lightning ignored him and kept walking. Sanctum soldiers rushed to block their path, along with a Behemoth of the domesticated variety.

“Right.” Light said, completely unsurprised. It only made sense that they’d keep a large force back to guard Eden itself. As far as most, if not all, of the Sanctum knew, taking down Eden would be checkmate.

“Right.” Sazh said, more because he was resigned to having to fight than anything else. Suddenly a transgate opened, letting a Juggernaut through, and sending the Behemoth flying into a group of soldiers. A living weapon appeared in another transgate behind them. “I hope that’s our backup.” Sazh said.

“Well, if it is, then I don’t think our backup is happy to see us.” Light responded. After fighting their way through the two Pulsian enemies and Sanctum troops, they found themselves facing one last squad between them and the door to Eden’s throne. “Another squad.” Light noted, having reached the spot a few seconds before them.

“Okay… what are they up to?” Hope asked.

Suddenly, a bright light came streaming from the direction of Eden, and the soldiers were transformed into cie’eth. These cie’eth were pure white with the exception of the tips of their upper limbs, unlike earlier cie’eth, who had at least some coloration. Libra called them Forsaken Cie’eth. Her knowledge of the process allowed her to quickly figure out that this was what happened when a l’cie was given a brand without a Focus. She couldn’t help but feel slightly grateful to Dysley for stopping her from experimenting further with her brand if this was going to be the result. On the other hand, she was disgusted and horrified by what had been done to all these people.

“They’re all cie’eth? All of them? Just like that?” Vanille asked, horrified.

“A friendly reminder of what we’re up against.” Sazh said grimly.

“And a reminder that we’re running out of time ourselves.” Twi said, she was sure the brand would finish it’s countdown in less than an hour. They needed to finish this, fast.

After they fought their way through the cie’eth, who were considerably more dangerous than their human counterparts, they found the Proudclad on Eden’s doorstep, in a smoking heap. Cie’eth corpses were scattered about.

Looking around, Sazh said, “Looks like no one was spared.” The Proudclad suddenly turned on them, though the metal groaned.

“He really wants us dead!” Fang said. Noticing it’s form had changed, Twilight used Libra again, and discovered that not only were the elements halved, but magic was halved too. She relayed this to the others.

The Proudclad was different from before, in a strange mode that made it use a moderately powerful blaster instead of it’s normal attacks, but when it had taken significant damage, it suddenly healed itself, changed form and launched a wave of energy at them, which was difficult to withstand, but they managed.

‘Okay, that doesn’t even make sense. How can a fighter heal itself?’ Arcana asked.

‘How should I know?’ she shot back. Though Arcana was right, how did a machine use healing magic to heal itself? Magic used one’s DNA as a template in healing your body, repairing it based on the state that would be considered healthy, but a machine wouldn’t have DNA. The only explanation she could think of was that the Sanctum had managed to jury-rig something similar using AMP tech and the blueprints for the machine.

Since it’s form had changed, it suddenly lost a lot of damage resistance and reverted to it’s original style of attacks. The difference was that the group was stronger now, not to mention they knew it’s attack patterns. They soon wrecked the fighter, and Rosch dragged himself out. Rosch pulled himself up holding his chest with one hand, he coughed harshly, spraying the ground with flecks of blood.

‘Well, he’s done.’ Arcana said, unimpressed.

“Rosch, it’s over.” Light said.

“You’re not in any condition to fight any longer.” Twi said, a hint of pleading in her voice. Killing someone she knew by name was different than killing someone who was wearing a mask, and she didn’t particularly like the latter anyway.

“Never mind that, what of my soldiers?” Rosch asked. Light glanced at one of the cie’eth corpses scattered across the ground, almost involuntarily. That was answer enough. “I see.” Rosch said.

“Why are you doing this Rosch? I mean, haven’t you done enough?” Sazh asked.

“Enough? Under fal’cie orders. I’ve orchestrated mass murder. All to answer the fears of a panicked populace. For a people utterly dependent on the fal’cie, it was the only solution I could offer. Even if that solution was a farce.” Rosch answered, his words laced with bitterness.

“Then you knew the fal’cie were using us?” Hope asked.

“I had believed their rule was best for Cocoon’s present and future prosperity.” Rosch gasped out. “But it seems I grossly misjudged their benevolence. I had doubts ever since the Purge, but was still convinced that it would be best to follow the orders of the fal’cie until now. If this is my punishment, then I accept it.” Rosch finished with his head bowed.

“So you’re just going to let everything go to hell, is that it?” Fang asked.

“You’re right, one thing remains.” Rosch said, standing up and pulling out a radio. “This is… this is Psicom Director Rosch. Attention all Psicom and Guardian Corps units. Suspend l’cie operations. I repeat, suspend l’cie operations. All units should focus their attention on evacuating the civilian population. I do not issue this order as an absolute. You are free to make the choice.” As soon as he finished, he dropped the comset and fell to the ground, supporting himself with the hand that had been holding the radio.

“Rosch!” Snow called.

“Go. You’re here to save Cocoon, aren’t you? Or was that a farce as well?” Rosch asked.

Snow took a deep breath and started forward. “Stay alive. We’ll see you when it’s over.” he said, stopping for a moment.

Twilight restored him to full health with a single Curasa. “Now you don’t have any excuses for dying.” she said sternly. She’d had the distinct impression he was considering suicide by monster, and she wanted to make sure he didn’t. They’d need people like him to rebuild. People who the citizens trusted. People who were willing to believe in humanity rather than some ‘gods.’

“I’ll trust in your humanity, l’cie. Cocoon’s fate is in your hands.” Rosch said as a pair of Behemoths approached. He lobbed a grenade at them, then fired a full round from the pistol on his hip into their heads. He got to a nearby contingent of Psicom soldiers, and joined in the evacuation efforts himself. It should be noted that upon receiving his order, every remaining member of the military prioritized civilian evacuation. The fact that nearly all of the die-hard fanatics were, well, dead certainly helped.

Meanwhile, the l’cie had entered Eden’s throne room. It was predominantly red with hints of golden-yellow, and there were a few statues and the like scattered around the room. It was suspiciously empty of either people or anything resembling a fal’cie.

“Where’s the Cavalry?” Vanille asked nervously.

“If they made it this far, we’ll see ’em soon enough.” Fang said. As if on cue, thundering footsteps could be heard, as cie’eth like the ones outside lumbered into view.

“Not them too… they’re all cie’eth!” Snow said. His comment was followed by a rumbling that shook the room. The walls and ceiling disappeared piece by piece, until they found themselves in a strange space that consisted of nothing more than floating platforms and a rush of red lights on it’s edge. Twilight was interested in the mechanics of this space and it’s creation, but they had more pressing concerns.

“Where are we?” Sazh asked.

“Some sort of space Eden made, if I had to guess. It seems to be some sort of pocket dimension, likely meant to serve as a bridge for us to reach Orphan. It’s the perfect defense otherwise. You can’t kill what you can’t interact with.” Twi answered him. They gave her strange looks in response. “What? I studied various sciences relating to the dimensions and laws of physics trying to get home.” Twi explained.

Several cie’eth attacked them, but were beaten back fairly easily. “This is it. A lot of dreams died to get us here, and we can’t let it be for nothing.” Light said.

“You said it. It’s not just our future we’re fighting for anymore.” Sazh added.

“We’ll do it for everyone. Fal’cie rule ends here.” Hope said.

“It’s time to end this madness.” Twi agreed.

“Dysley! We’re coming for you!” Snow declared.

They fought their way through the cie’eth and Sanctum soldiers who were stationed here, who were probably so brainwashed that they wouldn’t believe or even care if they found out about the plan to destroy Cocoon. They certainly didn’t seem to care about the dimensional shenanigans around them. When they got to certain points, the platforms changed and rearranged themselves. Finally, Fang asked, “Where’s this end?” in frustration.

Sazh shrugged. “If there is one, I can’t see it.” he answered her.

“I can’t do this. All these cie’eth were people once, like us.” Vanille said.

“But that’s what Barthandelus is going for. Don’t you see? Make us feel guilty, lose faith… and the second we give up, it’s Focus time.” Hope said.

“Wait ’til we’re broken, then slip on the leash.” Snow summarized.

“Yeah, well, when you think about it… Having that empathy puts us humans at a big disadvantage.” Sazh responded.

“Maybe, but it’s what makes us dangerous too.” Light said.

“And what makes someone human.” Twi added, before they started off again.

Fang and Vanille stayed behind for a moment. “Fang? What’s wrong?” Vanille asked.

“Oh nothing. Just that time’s running short.” Fang said with her arms crossed and a surprising amount of calm.

“It’s okay. My mind’s made up this time.” Vanille said, prompting Fang to glance at her. “We’ll just make Cocoon our home.” she said decisively.

“Yeah. I guess we will.” Fang agreed with a small smile. The rest of the group was waiting a few feet away, having stopped before making any significant progress without the two.

After a bit more of the often-changing maze, they found themselves in a white corridor with couches on either side. “It looks like Barthandelus left us one last gift. I can sense his magic just ahead. We won’t get another chance to rest.” Twi said.

They prepared themselves as best they could, then stepped into a room with gears and strange machinery on the far wall, as well as an empty throne. “Ready?” Light asked.

“Yep.” Vanille nodded affirmatively as she spoke.

“Yeah. Ready.” Hope said, nodding as well.

They descended the staircase to the edge of the platform it was connected to, still about a story off the ground. Twilight noticed that there was a silver pool under floor around the throne. Suddenly, the whole room began to shake. “This is it.” Snow said.

“Moment of truth, Hero.” Light said, before jumping off. They followed her in ones and twos.

There were little lights like in Oerba, but this time they didn’t seem to be crystals. “Little lights. Like in Oerba… but they’re different too.” Vanille said curiously.

The room shook again, and Dysley began to speak as two larger crystals appeared. “That is because the ones in Oerba have had centuries to fade. Life’s spark shines on once removed from it’s fleshy shroud, and it takes quite some time to fade away.” Dysley began.

A little boy that looked like a miniature Sazh was encased in crystal on the left, and Serah completely crystallized on the right.

“Dajh!” Sazh yelled.

“Serah!” Snow and Light called, a moment behind Sazh as Dajh had appeared that long before Serah had. Twilight could tell that Dysley had done something, but he’d used a spell she was unfamiliar with and it wasn’t cast right in front of her, so she was having difficulty identifying it based on what she was able to glean from it’s surface since she didn’t have the time for detailed analysis, which would require at least two minutes rather than ten seconds.

The rukh flew past them and landed on the throne as Dysley appeared in a strange blueish-black portal. “Dreams, meanwhile, shatter in a flash.” he said, before banging his staff into the ground and causing Dajh to shatter into fragments as small as the motes of light in the air around them.

“Dajh!” Sazh cried, one hand outstretched in a futile attempt to reach his son.

Snow turned to Serah and, realizing what Dysley was about to do, cried out, “No!” Dysley ignored him and repeated the process with Serah.

Snow screamed angrily and charged at Dysley. The result was pretty much exactly what happened in Oerba. Twilight healed Snow and said, “That wasn’t the real Dajh or Serah. I figured out what you did Dysley. You scrambled your signature, then made copies of those two before we got here so that I wouldn’t be able to analyze the spell as you made it. Then you would torment Snow, Light and Sazh with the apparent death of a loved one.” Twi said.

“Wow, you figured all that out that fast?” Hope asked, even Dysley looked more impressed than annoyed.

“I was something of a prodigy back home, but it wasn’t until he destroyed the constructs that I could tell what they were.” Twi responded. Breaking them down gave her a better idea of what they were. It didn’t particularly matter who did the breaking.

“Yeah. They don’t make miracles, they play tricks to make you think they did.” Hope said. They all pointed their respective weapons at Dysley, while a barrier came into being above them, blocking the door to ensure they didn’t try to escape. A wise choice since at this point Twilight could have teleported the whole group up thanks to her immensely improved reserves, though it would still have been exhausting and not something to be done on a whim.

Dysley chuckled. “An impressive deduction, and spot on. You truly are talented. Perhaps if you become a cie’eth before we reach some sort of conclusion, I’ll visit your world and grab a few inhabitants to make into l’cie. You certainly turned out well.” Dysley was obviously baiting her. Logically she knew that, but she was still getting angry over it. “If you are wondering how I know about that, I had Minrva here listened to your conversations since the very beginning, parallel worlds isn’t all that far-fetched a concept to me. However, I should deal with the present before concerning myself with the future.

At last, my errant l’cie, you have arrived. Men fight men, and battle beasts, whilst those who cannot defend themselves are slaughtered by those same beasts. Cocoon wars with Pulse. There can be no end to such conflict. But Cocoon’s end is both imminent and inevitable. Will you not at least slay Orphan as act of mercy? Think of it like putting down a rabid dog if you must.” Dysley said. He was being surprisingly reasonable about this. Then again, not actively trying to force them into this from the outset was pretty reasonable by the standards she’d come to expect from him.

“‘Mercy’? You mean ‘murder’.” Light responded. “And Cocoon’s not going to die, we didn’t come here for that.” Light shifted her gunblade to blade-mode and pointed it at Dysley. “We came for you!” she finished.

For a moment, Dysley looked honestly disappointed, then his visage became cold and slightly superior once more. “Such willful insolence. Disappointing.” he said as he began to float, releasing wisps of dark smoke. “You prolong Cocoon’s suffering. And to what end? Refusing me merely condemns another to face your Focus tomorrow.” He raised his staff, which began to glow as the rukh, now identified as Minerva, and who was presumably a fal’cie with exceptional skill in hiding it’s presence flew towards Dysley. “If you truly seek salvation, you will obey!” in a flash of light, he became his final form from Oerba, but with angel wings. “Fulfill your Focus and gain eternal life!” he ordered in the distorted voice his fal’cie form always had. She suspected this was his final form.

Twilight began with Libra as Hope began buffing and the others peppered Barthandelus with attacks to keep him off-balance long enough to prepare adequately. “The same as before for elemental damage and status effects!” she called.

They attacked in earnest as soon as Hope finished buffing, but Barthandelus had by this time gotten used to the new power behind their attacks and used a new spell that hit all of them: Ultima. She copied it and threw it back at him as Hope healed their semi-serious wounds. It was technically a first-tier spell, but had power on an even higher level than Ruinja. With precision, one could take out a small building with Ultima. Once their wounds were healed, Hope began debuffing Barthandelus. However, just as he’d applied the last debuff, Barthandelus used Thanatosian Laughter, which had gotten a power boost that left them barely standing until they were healed.

After several more rounds of this, he succumbed to the injuries they had dealt him, and turned silver as his adornments disappeared, screaming in agony as he began to sink into the pool of silvery liquid. “Hey, put a lid on it!” Sazh barked, not having any sympathy for the puppet-master.

Just before Dysley’s sank all the way he stopped screaming and said, “Release! At last, release!” the emotion in his voice could only be described as joy as he finally went under.

“It’s done.” Light said, lowering her blade.

“All right!” Snow said, fistpumping.

“Fang!” Vanille said. The two Oerbans touched their forearms together, presumably something from Pulse or perhaps specifically Oerba.

“We did it, huh?” Snow asked Hope.

He nodded cheerfully saying, “Yep.”

Twilight couldn’t join in. She felt like something else was coming, something powerful. Lightning was also staring at the pool, as if she also had misgivings. The sound of flapping drew all of them to look up. “It’s that bird again!” Hope said, as Minerva flew down and dived into the pool in a burst of light.

The room began shaking again, as an immense surge of magic built up directly in front of them. Twilight suddenly felt very small. The highest amount of power she’d ever seen used was when Princess Celestia raised/lowered the sun. What was coming had about 10,000 times that much power. This made sense, since it powered the fal’cie serving as the sun, and hundreds of thousands of others. She was certain that this was Orphan. She trembled, Celestia hadn’t been scary because she was their benevolent ruler whom they’d long trusted, and there was also the fact that she was simply significantly less powerful than this thing. Orphan was about as far from benevolent as you could get. It wanted to die, and it didn’t care that doing so would kill off everyone on Cocoon, and anyone surviving on Pulse.

“A haven, yea. Yet it must fall ere we be saved.” a being with a voice that sounded like two voices overlapping said as it rose from the pool in a continuous version of the burst of light from earlier. “Too frail a shell, and humans should not thrive.” an obsidian fist smashed into the ground, knocking them of their feet. “Too stout a shell, and they would not die.” it continued as they got back on their feet and it continued to rise. “Slaughter and Salvation! Two irreconcilable Focuses we bore.” They finally got a good look at it as it stopped rising. The right half was a dark obsidian with a thick arm and red eyes, it was clearly masculine. The left half was off-white with a thin arm and blue eye, it was obviously feminine. In between them was an incredibly disturbing baby’s face with it’s eyes closed. there was a perpetually moving clock behind the thing’s main body. The bottom was formed entirely by a massive sword. “Yet bound were we, in a cocoon prison impervious to our power. And so we thank you, l’cie, for granting us our longed for birth.” it said, lacking any real sort of gratitude.

“Dysley?” Snow asked in a whisper.

“No. Not anymore, anyway.” Sazh answered him.

“Th-that’s Orphan.” Twi said.

“What’s wrong?” Light asked, noticing the state she was in.

“I can sense that thing’s power, it so completely surpasses anything I’ve ever encountered it’s ridiculous.” Twi laughed nervously as she brought her trembling body back under her control.

“That is correct. We are the Abandoned One. Born but now to die. Our name is Orphan. By our hand, the world shall be remade and know redemption!” Orphan declared, lowering itself to keep the sword that composed it’s lower body below the silver pool.

They began as usual. Twilight cast Libra, while helping Hope buff the party up. “It’s immune to Pain, Fog, Daze, and Death, all attacks are cut to half their normal damage!” she called as they finished buffing the group up. It wasn’t a moment too soon, because Orphan lifted itself up and used the gigantic sword that formed it’s lower body to attack, leaving them inches from unconsciousness or death. While they healed each other, Orphan created a globe of white light, and began to heal what little damage they’d managed to deal at regular intervals. However, it’s offensive capabilities were almost nil compared to that first attack, it just slapped at them with it’s white arm. It’s obsidian half simply did nothing. Twilight felt her hopes rise, perhaps they stood a decent chance of winning after all.

She’d honestly been terrified when she’d felt the power this thing possessed, but now she realized that the majority of Orphan’s power was tied up keeping Cocoon afloat and it’s fal’cie functioning, and then there was the fact that it wanted to lose. Suddenly it used that sword attack again, and the white orb faded, only to be replaced by a black orb on the obsidian half’s side. The obsidian half had a much stronger arm swing, and it’s orb sent lasers at them that also inflicted status ailments, keeping Hope tied up in healing and buffing to the point where he wouldn’t have had a chance to apply the debuffs if he hadn’t while the white orb was there.

This continued with it using the sword attack after the white or black orb faded and switching to the other one, until it suddenly used the sword attack, she really needed to give it a name, without the orb disappearing first, it was lucky that the sword attack only ever badly wounded them instead of killing them, or they’d all be dead by now. She suspected that was on purpose. Their evolutionary abilities their brands granted them were not immune to their own effects and almost-killing them made them a tiny bit tougher each time, and the amount increased. Orphan was going out of it’s way to make them even stronger. Seemingly just to make matters worse, she was having to fight through the most awful headache. Arcana had been strangely quiet ever since it started.

Finally, Orphan began to laugh, raising itself up like it was about to use the sword attack, but instead sent out a wave of incredibly painful magic at them, forcing most of them to their knees, with the exceptions of Fang, who was leaning on her staff, and Twilight, who was somewhat able to shield herself, but wasn’t able to raise a shield for the others with Orphan’s power suffusing the area.

“Have you ever paused to consider the reason fal’cie make l’cie out of humans?” Orphan asked as it lowered itself to it’s usual level. “We fal’cie are crafted for a single purpose, and granted finite power to that end. It is not so for men. Men dream, aspire, and through indomitable force of will achieve the impossible. Your power is beyond measure. We take l’cie in order to wield such power.” Orphan explained, answering it’s own question. “Through you, we obtained freedom from our bondage. Now only your Focus remains.”

A tiny black mote sizzled on one of the obsidian side’s fingers. “Defy it, and all will be for naught. Cocoon’s sacrifice, and that of Gran Pulse as well.” The mote expanded into a blue orb that continually caused Vanille pain, and Orphan restored it no matter how many times Twilight dispelled it, and began to adapt the spell to resist her efforts. “Yet, if we but summon the Maker, we will be given the chance to begin again. All our sins absolved! The world born anew!” Orphan upped the pain it was subjecting Vanille to, saying, “Submit l’cie! Become Ragnarok and lead us into the light!” Orphan ordered.

“Stop it! Let her go!” Fang pleaded.

Orphan regarded her as if she were an insect it was giving serious contemplation to squashing. “We have no need of flawed l’cie.” it said dismissively.

“Orphan! I’ll do it. I’ll destroy you.” Fang said.

“What!?!” Twi yelled. She couldn’t give this thing what it wanted!

Orphan let the spell end, and Vanille dropped to the floor. “Ragnarok. The will to guide a world unto oblivion. Can you bear the sin of our salvation?” Orphan asked seriously, the first hint of an emotion besides anger and arrogance visible and audible. Was that… empathy?

“You heard me. I said I’ll do it!” Fang yelled.

“No, Fang don’t! You’re playing right into it’s hands!” Twi yelled, forcing herself to stand.

“You can’t! You can’t forget our promise! I’ll be fine. We promised to save Cocoon! We promised!” Vanille said, stopping with a gasp when Fang pointed her lance at Vanille.

“I made another promise too. To protect my family.” Fang said. Twilight had cast a few Cures on herself and the others, causing them to regain consciousness just in time to see Fang raise her lance to strike Vanille. “Sometimes you’ve gotta choose!” Fang yelled.

Snow came over and latched himself onto Fang’s lance, preventing her from going any further. “Back off!” Fang yelled.

“What are you do-” Snow began to ask.

“This ain’t the place to be losing it lady!” Sazh said, having grabbed her by the waist.

“You too, huh?” Fang asked as she struggled to break free.

“What do you gain from hurting Vanille? We’re in this together!” Light said, she and Hope had forced themselves to stand, and place an arm each between Vanille and Fang. Twilight stood in the middle just behind them, ready to keep Fang from getting to Vanille if she decided to attack. She was honestly in the best condition of anyone here.

“This is my Focus, no one’s going to stop me!” she yelled. She screamed angrily, sending Snow flying with a kick. Then she launched herself upwards, and threw her staff up at the halfway point of her jump, kicking it higher, she began to glow with an orange light as she caught her lance again. She rocketed down towards them, resulting in an explosion when she landed. There was a blinding flash of light, and suddenly, there were four cie’eth in the room. Twilight, Fang and Vanille were still human, but each of the cie’eth was next to the equipment one of their friends had been using except one, since Snow used his bare hands. Hope, Sazh, Snow, and Light were cie’eth.

“Why? Is this what you meant to happen?” Fang asked.

“I can’t believe it… after everything we’ve been through… they’re gone.” Twi said, falling to her knees.

“After all we went through.” Vanille said, falling to her knees as well.

“All of ’em.” Fang said, dropping her lance. Orphan simply laughed at them.

Twilight felt a surge of rage, how dare Orphan laugh at what had happened, how dare it! This was all it’s fault! It needed to DIE! She cried out in pain as the headache became headsplitting. ‘Finally.’ Arcana said, her voice gleeful. Twilight fell to her stomach, clutching her head. Everything currently in the room felt the dark aura coming fro her all of a sudden. She let go of her head, a pleasant smile on her face, but the instincts of every cell of every living thing within a thousand feet screamed at them that they should get as far away from her as possible if they wanted to live. Orphan was not an exception.

“What is this?” it asked, curious more than afraid. It had wanted death for centuries, so it was not particularly intimidated by the threat of imminent death.

“Ah, well to start off with, I’m not Twilight Sparkle. I’m Arcana. My relationship with Twilight is a condition that schizophrenia dreams about someday becoming. I’m what’s know as an Other. We’re a defense mechanism existing in every sentient. We are usually small and unable to ever take control because a normal person doesn’t experience trauma at a rate great enough for us to achieve that level. Which is to say, exceeding the level where it can be processed in a reasonable span of time such as a decade. We are what happens to all the emotional trauma that ought to break a person but doesn’t. We’re a fragment that did break.

Our personalities are dependent on what sort of trauma we’re used to deal with. In my case, the murder, or inability to save from certain death, of hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Before that, Twilight was thrown from her world into another after getting abandoned by her friends. It therefore makes sense that I would form and achieve a level where I could overwhelm my host before any of yours did.” Arcana explained, still smiling even as she also continued to release a terrifying amount of bloodlust.

“Wait, you’re saying everybody has one of you?” Fang asked, horrified at both the explanation, and it’s implications.

“Oh yes, but don’t worry. Virtually none will ever reach the point where they can take over, or even speak to their host. I had to play the part of being helpful to avoid arousing my extraordinarily paranoid host’s suspicions, though at the very beginning, I did my part to increase the amount of trauma I had to feed on.” Arcana explained.

“When she was talking to herself!” Vanille said in epiphany.

“Bingo! That was actually me, I began acting more friendly towards her after she unintentionally let me go on a small killing spree. That platoon turned out to be closer to ten platoons, so after she got hit by a spray of bullets and lost consciousness, I took over for the first time. Unfortunately, I was forced to take a backseat again when she regained consciousness. I served as little more than an adviser while I waited until I’d gotten strong enough to take over permanently, though I may have jumped the gun just a little.” Arcana admitted, then turned to Orphan and her grin widened slightly. “And thanks to Barthandelus’ jibes and these four becoming cie’eth, I’ve finally reached that point.” She casually caught a laser that Orphan fired at her, having become tired of waiting, as interesting as it found this.

“Come now Orphan, wait just a moment and then I’ll kill you.” Arcana said, just as casually closing her hand and obliterating the laser.

“She’s got no idea what’s going on, but is piecing it together bit by bit. Her guilt and terror will cement my dominance, and I’ll be free to follow my instincts.” Arcana said, her smile widening to the point of being disturbing.

“Which are what?” Vanille asked quietly.

“You mean you haven’t figured it out?” Arcana asked curiously, cocking her head to one side, then smiling in that horrible way again, shadows covering her face except for her teeth, which showed a smile that threatened to widen beyond what was physically possible. “To kill everyone and everything in existence.” she said simply as the bloodlust she emanated spiked, before walking up to Orphan, who was smiling as it found that Arcana was casually batting away it’s attacks with ease. It was finally going to die! “Not only are you the most powerful, but if I kill you, I kill everyone on Pulse and any survivors on Cocoon.” she blinked. “Sorry, haven’t used vocal chords in about a month. Reverse the worlds and you get what I mean. Anyway, since you want to die, I’ll be happy to oblige you.” Arcana said, gleefully, before sending the cie’eth who were approaching her flying with some back-handed blows.

She sighed, “Why can’t anyone wait their turn?” she asked, before shaking her head. “Anyway, you’ll get your salvation and the sacrifice of some few hundred million people at least.” Acana said.

“Salvation is born of sacrifice. Miracles of misery. From shattered shards, a new crystal legend will arise.” Orphan said, voice rising in triumph. Arcana sent a beam of black magic at Orphan, only for it to strike a shield that it dissipated against, leaving only eggshell cracks.

“It seems that I didn’t put enough power behind it.” Arcana noted, before making a spear of black magic twice as thick as that first beam. “Let me remedy that.” she said, before sending the spear flying into the shield, obliterating it, and taking a small hunk off the obsidian side’s arm. Relatively speaking.

“Yes! The Day of Wrath is come!” Orphan cried out in triumph.

Suddenly, just as Arcana was about to send a pair of spears at Orphan’s faces to either side of the baby’s to finish the job, she clutched at her head. “Stop it!” she cried. “How are you resisting?!” Arcana asked, before falling to the ground writhing in pain as the bloodlust rose and fell erratically, before disappearing.

She got up and said, “Sorry… about that… I did not let that… thing out… on purpose.” Twilight gasped out.

“Yet again, you l’cie fail us. How many times must we be denied salvation?” Orphan asked plaintively, the white half healed her, then both halves made a dark purple orb and levitated her up, before subjecting her to immense pain, while doing the same to Fang and Vanille.

“Become Ragnarok again, or release that entity again, we care not so long as we are destroyed. Deliver us what we have too long been denied.” Orphan ordered, repeatedly torturing and healing them only so that it could torture them more. The brands were increasing their toughness in response, and it was only a matter of time before they broke from the torture. Then either Ragnarok would destroy Cocoon, or Arcana would.

“What do you want?” Fang asked, physically and emotionally exhausted.

“Steep yourselves in hatred, let it fuel your souls with the strength they crave.” Orphan said, before raising a clawed hand to continue. “Your awakening demands an offering of pain.” It said simply, before four fireballs smashed into it, causing it to drop them.

Fag was caught by Snow, Vanille by Hope, and Twilight by Lightning. …Wait, what?

“Miracles out of misery, you’ve got to be kidding me.” Sazh said, having retrieved his guns. They were back, and apparently they’re brands were bleached like Fang’s, meaning they were inactive. She once again felt a hint of the divine energy that she’d felt lingering on Fang. Perhaps… the Goddess Etro had done this? Maybe the gods weren’t so bad after all.

Hope healed the three of them. “Yeah Fang, who’d be dumb enough to swallow that crock?” Hope asked.

Lightning walked over, carrying Fang’s lance and pointing her gunblade in gun-mode at Orphan. “Sure, we’ve all had better weeks.” she said. Twilight just smiled, eyes tearing up.

“You’re alive.” Vanille said in wonder.

“But you can’t be!” Fang said in disbelief.

“Could be more fal’cie smoke and mirrors.” Light admitted.

“Guys, I’m sorry.” Snow apologized.

“We made you go it without us.” Light said, handing Fang her lance back.

“Second time now, isn’t it?” Fang said, shaking her head as she took the lance, the two of them nodded to each other.

“But… where were you?” Vanille asked.

“Somewhere cold and dark, just thinking about everything that happened up to now. And then… and then it was like-” Hope cut off and Snow picked up the line.

“It was like I had a glimpse of the future. Everyone was smiling and laughing. Even Serah and Light.” Snow said. Lightning looked at him surprised.

“I don’t know, it was like a new Focus or something.” Sazh said. “You know, I’m thinking, didn’t really make sense of course. I mean, knowing we were worm bait and all, but… As luck would have it, next thing I know I feel somebody pushing me right along.” Sazh said as his chocobo jumped out of his hair momentarily.

“You were there too Fang. Same side. All of us. Together to the end.” Light said.

“We promised, didn’t we?” Vanille asked. Fang smiled, but Orphan chose just now to finally sink under the pool, moaning.

They approached, pointing their weapons at it. Lightning switched her gunblade to blade-mode. One by one, their brands flashed with light. “The heroes never die.” Snow reassured as Orphan sunk all the way under. “Come on! We’ve got a world to save!” Snow declared.

“If we have the power to destroy Cocoon, then we also have the power to save it. You say you want your Day of Wrath, do you? We’ll it’s coming right up!” Hope called.

“Time we gave the people what they really want.” Sazh said.

Twilight regained her full resolve, and readied her sword. “Let’s do this!” she exclaimed.

Vanille prayed for a moment, then said, “We can do it.” with confidence. “I know we can. We made it this far.” she continued.

“Right.” Light agreed.

“Let’s make a real miracle happen!” Vanille said.

Fang chuckled, before stepping forward. “Well Lady Luck sure ain’t on his side!” Fang declared, brandishing her lance.

Childish, but insane-sounding, laughter rang out as the pool began to shine again. An orb surrounded by the clock the larger body was attached to rose from the silver pool. It turned to them, revealing it’s babyish face, and opened it’s solid white eyes which lacked pupils. “You overreach yourselves.” it said chuckling. It’s voice sounded like multiple voices laid over each other.

“No. We overreach you.” Light said.

“Is that so?” Orphan asked skeptically.

“You don’t believe in anything. You gave up on life before you were even born. You sat poisoning Cocoon from the inside, waiting for someone to come and destroy you. Sure, you think the end of the world is salvation. All you care about is death’s release.” Light said.

“If you’re so desperate to die, then go ahead, but leave the rest of us out of it!” Twi said, pointing an accusing finger at the monstrosity that had been responsible for so much death and destruction.

“We don’t think like that.” Light finished. The others brandished their weapons, getting them into more comfortable positions. “When we think there’s no hope left, we keep looking until we find some. Maybe Cocoon is past saving, but it’s our home. We’ll protect it, or die trying!” Light pointed her gunblade’s blade at Orphan’s face. “We live to make the impossible possible! That is our Focus! Humanity’s Focus!” Light declared.

Displaying a surprisingly childish personality, Orphan simply yelled angrily before attacking with a grin. According to Libra, it had the same immunities to status effects as the larger body, and was immune to both physical attacks and magic. “Wait, what the hell?! It’s immune to damage!” Twi called.

“Well then we’ll just smash it until it isn’t!” Snow said, pounding one fist into the other. Right. They’d hit this thing with everything they had, until it didn’t have anything left to resist with.

“Yeah!” They cheered. Orphan cast Doom on them, and they responded with their most powerful attacks followed by the strongest attacks they could spam. Finally, they punched through it’s immunity. It’s clock disappeared, and it sprouted arms. They blasted it with what they’d broken it’s invulnerability with, pounding away at it until it finally glowed brightly and began screaming as it began to explode piece by piece.

“We’re here to stop him We’ve come to save Cocoon, right?” Light asked.

“Right!” the others responded as a chunk of the wall behind Orphan began glowing, and some sort of portal opened. The light grew more and more intense until it became blinding. They received a massive surge in power, what was customary for felling a l’cie plus a huge bonus for slaying what was essentially a fal’cie Demi-God.

Meanwhile outside, Phoenix dimmed and everything that ran off the fal’cie who’s power source was now gone flickered and blinked out, including city lights and the fal’cie themselves. The ceiling above them practically disintegrated, and they were pulled upward as gravity’s effects weakened their hold.

“Stay together!” Light called.

“Hey, grab my hand!” Sazh said to Hope, and reached out to him.

“Okay!” Hope said, grabbing on. They managed to grab onto each other, but Fang and Vanille were separated from the rest of the group and were falling back towards the ground. Twilight would have teleported down, but the energy from Orphan’s death had probably rendered the surrounding space unstable if that portal was any indication, not to mention the crystal and glass fragments floating through the area. She’d be lucky not to end up with glass lodged in something important if she teleported to them, and that obviously meant she couldn’t teleport them back to the rest of the group even if she made it there unharmed. She could avoid glass fragments once if she was lucky, but it would take a miracle to bring the other two back without a glass shard embedded in something vital in at least one of them.

Fang and Vanille held hands as they dropped lower. “Vanille?” Fang asked as her friend became a bit downcast, but recovered.

Their brands began to glow brightly. “Ready.” Vanille nodded. A massive amount of magic built up, before the two of them were obscured in a bright light. There was a flash accompanied by a pulse of magic, and the Pulse creatures turned to dust, which was absorbed by the bright light. The dust was used to form a creature that resembled Hecateoncheir, but had normal arms in place of the spidery limbs, and was feminine in appearance. That was what they’d seen in the vision when they’d been branded. Raganarok. It roared, then raced down the buildings and through Cocoon’s crust, and mantle, before coming out the other side. A strange liquid spread out from where it came out on the other side across the outside of the planet, and a pillar of the stuff rose from the ground on Pulse. However, the small planet’s sheer weight began to crush the pillar, which began to crumble. Ragnarok roared and the liquid crystallized, and expanded, now able to take the weight of the Cocoon. The five of them were on the ground on Pulse somehow, and had crystallized. A few minutes later, they returned to flesh and blood.

Twilight was first, she settled down to wait for the others, or for her magic to recover and let her free them herself. Her magic was almost completely exhausted after the fight with Orphan and Arcana’s hostile takeover. Lightning was second, after waking up and examining herself, Light looked at the crystal pillar and said. “They did it. They saved the world.”

“No, they gave us a new one.” Snow responded.

“Nice to see you guys up and about.” Twi said smiling.

“Well, that’s one gift I’ll forgive them for not wrapping.” Sazh said.

“Yeah.” Snow said.

“Does this mean… did we complete our Focus?” Hope asked.

“Cocoon’s seen better days, that’s for sure.” Snow responded.

“I’d say that qualifies as a demolition. Focus complete.” Sazh said.

“It really is a miracle.” Light said.

“No one ever said we had to kill everyone on Cocoon, just destroy it’s main battery.” Twilight commented happily. Loopholes were great.

Hope examined his wrist, and exclaimed, “My brand! It’s gone!” which prompted the others to check the spots they’d been branded at. They each found that their brands were also gone, but their l’cie powers seemed untouched with the exception of their rapid rate of magic recovery being gone, and presumably their accelerated growth. As Snow was looking at his branded spot, he noticed a pair of figures approaching, but they were obscured by the glare from the sun.

“An’, an’, an’, there was this whole big bunch of chocobos there!” Dajh said, as he became visible enough to be identified, and while walking alongside Serah.

“There was, was there?” Serah asked, smiling. She leaned over and gestured towards the larger group of former l’cie. “Look there!” she said, prompting a sharp intake of breath from Dajh.

“Serah!” Snow called, grinning as he ran over to her, at the same moment that Sazh ran over to Dajh.

“It is.” Light said as if to confirm it was real, and smiling.

“Dajh!” Sazh said as he embraced his son.

“Daddy!” Dajh said as he hugged his father back.

“Snow!” Serah called.

“Serah!” Snow responded, as he hugged his fiance and laughed.

“They’re gone, aren’t they?” Hope asked somberly, the two absent members of their party being what he was referring to. Lightning put a hand on his shoulder. “I guess they meant for this to be goodbye. Then again, we’ve changed our fates before.” Hope said.

“Don’t worry,” Twilight put a hand on his other shoulder. “I’m sure we’ll be able to persuade Rygdea and Rosch to help us, all I really need is a detailed map and I can teleport in and teleport them out.” Twi reassured. Undoing the crystallization would be child’s play after that.

Serah and Snow came over. The sisters hugged and Serah said, “I missed you.”

“Serah… I’m sorry.” Light apologized softly.

“It’s okay.” Serah responded.

“Hey! Come on, the apologies can wait! We’ve got a wedding to plan! You’re gonna allow it, right?” Snow asked.

“Wow, you don’t waste any time do you?” Hope asked in a very slightly deadpan voice.

“Nope.” Snow answered unashamedly.

“That’s right, just charge in, guns blazing.” Sazh said. They laughed at that.

“I swear to you, I will make her happy.” Snow said.

“I believe you.” Light responded. “Congrats.” she congratulated them, smiling. From her, that equated to permission. A Sanctum vehicle approached from the air, interrupting the moment. It landed, releasing a squad of mixed Cavalry, Guardian Corps, and Psicom soldiers, along with Rosch, Rygdea, and Raines.

“Nice to see you’re all alright.” Twi said, as the Sanctum party approached.

“Well, that’s mostly thanks to your efforts, which have gone a long way to improving the public’s image of you.” Raines said, gazing at the pillar holding Cocoon aloft.

“Don’t thank us, Fang and Vanille were the ones who kept Cocoon from falling.” Hope said.

“Oh, right, we could use your help getting them out of there.” Snow said.

“Who are Fang and Vanille?” Serah asked.

“Some friends and former l’cie like us.” Snow said.

Rosch blinked. “Did you say ‘former l’cie’?” he asked.

“Yep, apparently defeating Orphan was our Focus, and it doesn’t matter that Cocoon’s inhabitants weren’t killed off. Best loophole ever.” Twi said happily. “We just got decrystallized on our own and our brands are gone. We still seem to have the powers though.” she explained.

“Well, we can offer our assistance within reason.” Rosch said reasonably.

“All I really need is some mapping of the crystal near where they are, then I’ll be able to retrieve them.” Twi said.

“How?” Rygdea asked. Oh right, she never did tell him about that.

In answer, Twilight teleported several feet to the left. “I can reverse the crystallization once I get them out. I was studying our brands in hopes of keeping us from becoming cie’eth, but it didn’t really work out. I did figure out how to undo the crystallization.” she explained. That had been relatively simple. Since that was supposed to be undone at some point according to the spell structure, then it was merely a matter of figuring out how it happened normally and following that.

“That’s kind of broken.” one of the soldiers commented bitterly. Being able to teleport was just unfair.

“Think how we felt when we found out.” Sazh said.

“Well it’s not my fault that- well, actually, yes, I suppose it is my fault.” Twi said, a hand on her chin in consideration. The soldiers watched bemused.

“Anyway,” Raines said, deciding to intervene before things devolved any further. “that’s perfectly within reason. We’ll map the point where the pillar connects to Cocoon, and you can retrieve your friends.” Raines said, agreeing.

The next couple weeks passed in a blur. Twilight got Fang and Vanille out of the pillar with help from the three officials after a few days, and restored them to normal. The group’s members were also helping with the efforts to relocate the majority of Cocoon’s population.

Twilight adjusted Rarity’s gem-finding spell for precious/heavy metals and pointed the authorities in the direction of the lodes she found, as well as providing the Bestiary she’d compiled on the native wildlife to help them deal with natural problems of Pulse. She’d also kept the grav-con and purchased a book and parts for it’s maintenance, as well as some manadrives. Normally they weren’t available to the public, but the former l’cie had gone from public enemies to heroes. She was hoping to create a version that didn’t require antimatter to use, as antimatter was both dangerous, and very expensive to produce.

Some of her hacker friends were helping the reformed government shore up holes in it’s security. With the fal’cie gone, much of the reason to mistrust the government was also gone, and her little band of dissidents was cut down by more than half. NORA was also providing security to the town of New Bodhum that was springing up, as were a number of new militia groups in other towns as a large number of Cocoon’s citizens began moving off of Cocoon. Without the fal’cie, Cocoon was going to need a lot of work to keep running. Especially since more than a few facilities had been designed specifically for fal’cie to run them. She provided her research into the magic they’d used in hopes of at least making it possible to run some of the facilities without fal’cie help, but they didn’t have much luck. AMP technology simply couldn’t replace a lot of the power sources involved. Not without some major advances to allow for far greater levels of manipulation.

They all attended Snow and Serah’s wedding and reception. She got to showcase her unbelievably horrible dancing, which they had a good laugh about. A couple days after the wedding, Twilight called everyone over to her house in New Bodhum, which was oddly small. They went inside, and discovered it was slightly but noticeably larger on the inside than the outside.

“I- but- what?!” Hope said, stepping in and out, examining the house’s exterior and interior.

“After everything we’ve been through, this doesn’t even faze me.” Sazh said with a shrug.

“I was looking into dimensional travel as well, and a little examination of that pocket dimension that led to Orphan really helped. The inside of the house is in a pocket dimension separate from normal reality. Explaining in detail would require a degree in theoretical physics for you to understand. Although, I guess it’s just physics now.” Twilight said with a shrug as she walked over to the group.

“So, why did you call us here?” Rosch asked.

“To say goodbye, since you, Rygdea, and Raines probably don’t know, I’m actually from a parallel world. I was about to get back when the Purge happened.” Twi said. She brought out several charms in the shape and color of her cutie mark and handed them out. “Keepsakes.” she explained. “If everything goes well, I’ll come back within seconds from your perspective. Travel between other worlds and dimensions is funny that way. If not, well then you should channel some magic into those if you plan to come after me. They’re designed to take you to where I am. Having someone in physical contact will drag them along as well. I’d normally try and dissuade you, but I’m aware that it’s wasted effort.” Twilight explained.

“You got that right.” Fang said, “After, everything we’ve been through together, you couldn’t convince us to stay behind if we found out you were in trouble.” she said smirking.

“Yeah, and between all of you, you could out-stubborn me.” Twilight scratched the back of her head. “Anyway, you guys probably remember the incident with Arcana.” she said. The others nodded, either having been present, or having had it explained to them later in great detail. “Well, I’ve placed a seal to keep her locked up here.” Twi said, tapping her head. “Since her magic is so different from mine, she won’t be able to undo it from inside, and she can’t overpower it since I’ll always be as strong or stronger than myself. If she does get out, these will turn black.” Twilight said, holding up a keepsake. “Keep in mind that she will try to kill you if you still decide to come after me then.” she warned.

It was not an exaggeration. Twilight and, by extension, Arcana, knew the others fighting styles and abilities, and the Other wouldn’t show any mercy. Since the thing was created mostly from the trauma of killing sentients, that’s what it most wanted to do. It was terrifyingly evil, and that still disturbed her. What did it say about her that something like that could come from her?

“Well, see you guys in a minute. Assuming nothing goes too wrong.” she said, chuckling nervously before charging a powerful spell and vanishing. There wasn’t a flash of light or any strange smells, she was simply… gone. There was a small popping sound as the air rushed into the vacuum she left behind. The rest of those present waited for the verdict from their respective keepsakes.

*** Twilight’s Perspective ***

Twilight Sparkle was intelligent, she didn’t flaunt the fact, but she knew she was. It was rare that she found something she was completely unable to comprehend. Traveling to another world was one of them. The experience could be equated to tasting what purple sand felt and looked like while she was being repeatedly disintegrated and reintegrated. In short, she didn’t get it. Her nervous system apparently didn’t either, since this sort of thing ought to be excruciating, but all she was getting was a rather pathetic tingling.

She hadn’t had this experience the first time, because the impostor had knocked her out first, then sent her to Cocoon. Some tiny fraction of her mind not occupied with the trip itself wondered if it was different traveling between each world, and if it was always maroon to either side. As she thought that, the color switched to a bloody red, then black, then flickered between the two.

When she finally arrived, she immediately staggered over to a nearby trash can, and threw up from the sheer sensory overload. Once she’d recovered, she immediately noticed she was still human, so this was obviously not Equestria, or at least not her Equestria. A look up to see a crescent-shaped moon grinning sadistically simply confirmed it. “Well, at least I’m six instead of four this time.” she said, looking herself over. Either the age thing was random, obeyed a law of physics she didn’t know, or her spell to get back had made some modifications to the effects of inter-world travel… or some combination of the three. She seemed to have retained most of the physical attributes she’d gained in her previous adventure, thanks to their source being magical, but anything that had been the result of exercise or her age was gone. She had about 65% of her former physical abilities left.

She could detect a magical signature nearby, without any better ideas, she decided to grab something to refill her stomach, then check it out. She’d just see after that.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 10 – Oerba, Gateway to Eden

//——————————//
// Oerba, Gateway to Eden// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

The first thing she noticed about Oerba was the crystalline sand threatening to engulf it as they descended from the tower. Maybe when you turned to crystal, the crystals started to break down if you didn’t turn back? She didn’t think she wanted to know. The second thing was the occasional little blue spark of light floating about, something about them was melancholy. It was as if they were mourning souls, trapped here. The third thing was that the village was in ruins, that was visible even from this distance.

“Sorry, guess Oerba got hit by whatever it was too.” Twi apologized. Some things were fairly intact by the look of it, so it was likely that the people had simply abandoned the village or died out. Perhaps they’d been hit too hard by the losses incurred in the war and gone into decline? Then again, the fal’cie had taken a fair amount of material from Pulse, so that could be it too. Maybe both?

“What are you sorry for? This isn’t what we were hoping for, but it’s still home.” Fang said solemnly.

They walked a bit farther, fending off the hordes of cie’eth wandering the village, which raised unpleasant thoughts of the villagers’ fates, especially with the looming prospect of it happening to them. She really didn’t want to know if they’d all been made l’cie then failed their Focuses, or been massacred by cie’eth who’d then made this place their home, or maybe some of both. The buildings hadn’t been abandoned long enough to completely cave in, but the paint had all been worn off long since , and the metal underneath rusted. They seemed well constructed, but the layer of dust on everything but the floor showed that no one had been here in living memory. Well, normal human memory anyway.

“So, which one is your house?” Hope asked Fang and Vanille.

“What do you mean, which one is ours? All of them. They’re all ours.” Vanille said, making a sweeping gesture.

“How does that work?” Twi asked, curious. A communal village?

“Everyone in the village lived together.” Fang explained. Ah, it was communal then.

“One big, happy family?” Snow asked.

“One heck of a lot of places to hang your hat.” Sazh commented.

“We’re back.” Vanille whispered as they all started to walk forward.

“So, want to take a look around?” Hope asked.

“We’d better, got to find something to help us lose these brands.” Fang said.

“That’s not the only reason we’re here. You’re finally home. Make the most of it.” Sazh said

“I’m sure you have a lot of great memories of this place, so take a little while to travel down memory lane.” Twi said. ‘While you still can.’ was left unsaid.

They split into two groups, Lightning, Hope and Snow would take a closer look around where they’d already been in the village, while Fang, Sazh, Vanille, and herself would take a look around the rest of Oerba. They took care of a few more cie’eth along the way, and looked inside a couple houses. They were fairly homey for being several centuries in disrepair, and, in the second, they found a little robot.

It was an orange (though that might just be the rust), boxy little thing on treads, like some kind of miniature tank with the gun removed. Vanille seemed to recognize it. “Bhakti!” Vanille called out in recognition.

The little robot rolled forward as Vanille knelt down in front of it. “Friend of yours?” Sazh asked.

“Yeah!” she nodded at Sazh. She laid a hand on top of Bhakti, causing it to chirp in response. “You’re okay, I was worried.” she said, only for Bhakti to shut down within seconds of her saying that.

“Looks like he wanted to say goodbye.” Fang said.

“Poor thing, he’s been alone for so long and he turns off just when some of his old friends come back.” Twi said sadly. That was just cruel.

“He’s not ready for the scrap heap just yet. A bit worse for wear, yeah, but nothing I can’t fix. Just need to track us down some parts.” Sazh said.

“Let’s get tracking then.” Twi said.

They added the parts Sazh said he needed to the list of what they were looking for, and got some help from the still-functioning units wandering the village, Lightning’s group brought back the last part they needed, and Bhakti was soon up and running again. “Thanks Sazh.” Vanille said, while playing around with Bhakti, who seemed very happy. The other units didn’t seem to have to much in the way of emotions by comparison. Perhaps Bhakti had evolved beyond it’s programming over the 500 years since the war, and the others hadn’t? They hadn’t seemed to care when Fang and Vanille returned after 500 years, so she had to assume Bhakti’s bond with them was responsible.

“You’re welcome, but we need to hit the road.” Sazh said.

“He’s right, you can come back for Bhakti when we get this mess cleared up.” Fang said.

“Alright, be good Bhakti. I’ll be back soon!” Vanille told him.

They searched the whole village like their lives depended on it, because they did. By the time they were done, there wasn’t a single cie’eth left in the area, and the only place left unchecked was a broken highway with a chunk missing in the middle. “That’s the only place left to look.” Fang said slightly morosely. It was unlikely they’d find anything there, and if they didn’t, they really were done for.

They started walking down the highway, careful to avoid any holes or broken glass when, as they neared the broken end of it, they started to hear a familiar voice. “Ragnarok. Come Day of Wrath, O Pulse L’cie…” That was a very familiar girl’s voice. “…Embrace thy fate, thine home to burn…”

‘That sounded like- but it couldn’t be.’

‘I’m getting nasty vibes.’ Arcana said warily.

“…That fallen souls might bear our plea…” “…To hasten the Divine’s return. O Piteous Wanderer, Ragnarok…” Serah, who they’d seen turn to crystal, appeared in a burst of light.

Lightning stiffened, as did Snow, there was something off about her, and this couldn’t really be Serah, but she certainly looked like Serah, right down to the pendant around her neck. The couldn’t-be-Serah person almost whispered the last few lines of what sounded a great deal like a prophecy.

“… Make of this day, a brave new epoch. Deliver the Divine, Ragnarok.” the Serah doppleganger finished.

“What?” Lightning asked in shock.

Snow started to walk forward. “Serah! How did you-?” he trailed off.

“I was waiting. For you to open your eyes.” something was off, she was certain, but she couldn’t place it. Not-Serah stepped over to Snow and hugged him.

“All the time I was asleep, I knew what was happening. I kept trying to think of a way to save Cocoon- together.” Not-Serah said.

“Serah?” Snow asked, noticing something wasn’t quite right. He pushed her away.

The owl-like bird that Barthandelus had had as a familiar glided by overhead. “You get it now. There are no gods with miracles to save us, no matter where you look. That’s why we have to call one. Destroy Orphan. We’ll save the world.” Not-Serah paced in front of them as she said this, Twilight was almost completely certain she knew who this really was.

“Stop it!” Light called, reaching for her gunblade. They were all logically aware that this wasn’t Serah, but it looked like Serah, so Lightning and Snow would hesitate to attack, just like Lightning was right now. She hadn’t even actually touched her gunblade. Twilight wasn’t entirely willing to attack someone wearing the face of a family member of one of her friends either. Just in case.

“You can’t do that. You love me too much.” Not-Serah said, more than a little bit of a sneer in her voice. Twilight thought she was getting a handle on what she was missing. “You do, don’t you Claire?” Not-Serah asked.

Snow stepped between them. “Listen up. We’re all shooting for the same goal here.” Snow said.

Twilight’s eyes widened as she finally figured out the scrambled signature coming from Not-Serah. Her eyes narrowed, that confirmed it, this was Dysley. A wave of purple magic flowed from the disguised fal’cie, before revealing the form he’d taken as Primarch. “And this is the result of that.” he said.

“Is there anything you won’t stoop to!?” Twi asked angrily. That was low, even from a guy who’d ordered mass-murder.

“You son of a-” Snow tried to punch Dysley in the face, but he teleported out of the way. Snow tried again, only to be blown backwards by Dysley’s shield. Twilight quickly used Cure on Snow, letting him shake off the blow.

“You betray your fal’cie to chase after dreams and shadows. The world you claim to wish to protect now faces the end of days with no hope of salvation.” Dysley said sternly.

“I thought fal’cie couldn’t destroy Cocoon because they don’t have true free will in regards to it.” Twi said.

Dysley smirked, “Oh, it won’t be fal’cie who destroy her. For centuries now, Cocoon has provided generously for her human inhabitants, their every want and need, in fact. You might even say, coddled them. This has resulted in their deep-seated fear and hatred of change and all that is alien.” His owl-like familiar, a rukh, she realized (that had been bugging her), settled on a metal beam behind him as Dysley talked.

“Fed, nurtured, and ready to detonate at even the slightest of sparks. The seeds of destruction take root, even now.” there was a hint of triumph in Dysley’s voice.

“What did you do to Cocoon?” Light asked, pointing her gunblade at the deranged fal’cie.

“I simply resigned and appointed my l’cie Raines as Primarch in my stead.” Dysley explained.

“Raines? He’s alive?” Snow asked.

“I restrung the puppet to serve my needs, yes.” Dysley answered, prompting scowls and sad looks from the group. “Though it’s eyes had long since turned to glass. Of course, the Cavalry’s eyes will see our friend as nothing more than a traitor to their cause.” He pointed his staff towards Cocoon.

“They’ll say ‘The fal’cie got to him too.’ or some such drivel. And imagine- when I spread word that Orphan is the one tugging at his strings- what happens next.” he finished.

“You’re gonna use the Cavalry to take that thing out?” Sazh asked.

“Perhaps. Or perhaps I’ll feign the howling of Pulsian wolves, and let the fear-addled sheep slaughter each other instead. Either way, the end is at hand.” he laughed evilly.

Twilight decided she really wanted to hit him with Ruinja, repeatedly.

“But what of yourselves? Will you enjoy the festivities beside me? Or perhaps…” he rose into the air and began to shine as his rukh flew towards him. “Greet the end here, in the land where it all began?” he asked.

His fal’cie form had changed somewhat, his coloration was now white and gold, his adornments were gone, and his face was missing. It looked like that first form was not his real one, and that was at least part of the reason he’d survived the first time. They readied themselves in the usual manner, buffs and Libra.

“Why not destroy the world that despises you?” Barthandelus asked, as he fired a relatively weak laser.

“Like we’ll go along with you after everything you put us through! He’s weak to Deprotect, Deshell, and Imperil!” Twi called out.

Once those were applied to him, they rained attacks on him, dodging the occasional laser. Then his face appeared, and he used a strange attack that removed their buffs, and his debuffs. Then he used a laser attack reminiscent of Thanatosian Smile, Thanatosian Laughter. It was much stronger than the first encounter, but so were they. Still, a Gatling gun but with lasers was no laughing matter.

A first set of adornments appeared on either side of his head, and their damage-dealing dropped drastically. They kept up their assault, until a second set of adornments appeared, and their damage dropped further still. Barthandelus’ own damage-dealing was rising however.

Twilight moved up to the fourth tier spells, mainly Ruinja. Barthandelus started to use Poisonga, Cursega, and Dazega, which poisoned, dealt set damage over time, or threw you off like you’d just taken a hard blow to the head, respectively, and his normal laser attack began inflicting Pain and Fog, status effects that put you through and made it difficult to withstand any significant amount of pain, and temporarily blinded you, respectively. They smashed him with magic and En-buffed attacks. Finally, they finished him, and he dissolved into light.

Still, none of them were surprised when he reappeared, unscathed. He’d survived a similar beating before, why should this be different?

“The time has come.” Dysley said. They raised their weapons, and pointed them at him, in case he’d decided to go all-out on them for round three here and now. “Allow me to extend my invitation. To save a people beyond hope of salvation, there is only Ragnarok.” he tapped his staff to the ground, causing the rukh to reappear. It morphed into a fighter again as it flew over to the edge of the break in the bridge.

“Cocoon suffers. Release her from the pain.” Dysley said, before disappearing.

“So, this is the end of the rainbow, huh?” Sazh asked as they stood in front of one last cie’eth stone, a purple one. “Here’s hoping the pots full of tips on dealing with crackpot fal’cie.” he said.

“You know, I don’t remember this being here before we fought Dysley, guess it’s new, huh?” Fang asked.

“Yeah, must be. I suppose it could be a record of what happened. You know, after we turned to crystal.” Vanille said, before walking over to the stone and touching it, she backed off as it started to glow green at the spot she touched, before a green circle was projected from it. Old Pulsian writing began to appear, and Vanille started to read it.

‘Cocoon, where the slaves of Lindzei dwell, is the enemy of all life fostered by Pulse’s sacred hand. So our fal’cie determined Pulse’s will, chose l’cie and gave them a Focus: Become Ragnarok, and bring an end to Cocoon. And so the beast arose, defeated Lindzei’s hateful fal’cie, and prepared to tear apart Cocoon.

But Her Providence betrayed our l’cie, draining Ragnarok of strength. Their Focus only half complete, the l’cie were taken to the enemy’s land… by Barthandelus, curse his name. And the Goddess said: “L’cie who rest upon Cocoon will reawaken, however long they may wait. And Ragnarok will rise again, to tear the land from it’s seat in the sky. Her word… is absolute.'” The projection faded.

“Guess the jig is up.” Sazh said, sitting down.

“Cocoon is done for, isn’t it?” Hope asked.

“Hey, don’t sweat it. If we go ahead and smash Cocoon, you know some Maker’s sure to roll up and save the day!” Sazh said, with some sarcasm evident.

“I suppose that’s not impossible, but somehow I doubt it. Besides, isn’t the Maker the one who made the fal’cie?” Twi asked. If it hadn’t shown up by now, she doubted it would show up for anything short of the destruction of the reality it had supposedly created.

“As long as fal’cie are around, this fight is never gonna end. So let’s finish it. Let’s get Dysley.” Snow said. He had a point.

“So what do we do about Orphan?” Sazh asked.

“We help Orphan. What else can we do? If we can manage to keep it safe-” Fang was interrupted by Lightning.

“Another war breaks out somewhere down the road. We’re l’cie, it’s not like we can make people stop fighting.” Light argued.

“Lightning, you told me on Cocoon, it’s not a question of can or can’t. We just do it! Maybe it won’t do much, maybe only one person will listen to us, but even then, isn’t trying better than doing nothing?” Hope asked.

“Because ripples can make waves!” Vanille said, grabbing his shoulders and giggling happily.

“Well, the kids have gone crazy, but for once, going crazy doesn’t sound too bad.” Sazh said, the ghost of a smile on his face.

“Revolutionaries always get called crazy.” Fang said.

“It’s true, always at least once.” Twilight said. The others all gave her the same look. “What? I’m in. If we convince everyone to stop fighting, then Barthandelus’ and Orphan’s plan falls apart.”

“When I was on Cocoon, I wished on those fireworks. I wished, to not let anything happen to Cocoon this time. But I shouldn’t have wished for that.” Vanille said. There were various exclamations of surprise in response to that. “Wishing isn’t enough on it’s own either. I’m making a promise this time: That I will keep Cocoon safe, I promise, no matter what.”

“Guess it takes losing everything to make you realize how much you have to fight for.” Sazh said

“And we’re the only ones who can do it. Right?” Snow asked.

“Right.” Hope answered.

“Alright then, let’s tie up loose ends.” Light said.

They all responded with various affirmatives, before turning to the ship. They walked up to it, climbed aboard, and let it carry them towards Cocoon. This was it, either they stopped Dysley’s plan, or everyone, including them, was doomed. Twilight taught the others the third-tier spells they didn’t already have (all their non-specialties) as the ship headed for Cocoon. They’d need every advantage they could get.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 9 – Welcome to Pulse

//——————————//
// Welcome to Pulse // Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

The portal was a layer of greenish light shifting back and forth from blue surrounding them as they traveled through it. Sazh struggled with the controls as he fought the turbulence and the blue light became dominant. They went through the other side of the portal to see a beautiful sight, an entire world spread out in front of them. There were forests and mountains, plains and plateaus, it was much more wild than Pulse. In a way that was difficult to describe, that made it more beautiful.

“You did it!” Vanille congratulated Sazh for getting them there in one piece.

“Yeah! Told you didn’t I?” Sazh said, raising his arms in self-congratulation.

Just as it seemed things were finally going to go off without a hitch, a strange, flying, purple, worm-like creature nearly hit the ship. Well, Pulse promised to be interesting, if nothing else. “Playful little critter, isn’t he?” Fang asked them.

“Yeah, well he can play with someone else.” Light complained.

“I’ll be happy to play when we’re not half a mile above the ground.” Twi said dryly.

Vanille giggled, “Happens all the time.” she said.

Twilight raised an eyebrow, this qualified as normal on Pulse? ‘All you people are crazy.’ the voice in her head deadpanned.

‘It’s not that bad… Arcana.’ she responded, having settled on a name.

‘Arcana. It will do for a name, I suppose.’ the voice had a little bit of a smile in it’s inflection.

The worm-thing was coming back around for another pass. “He seems to think we’re lunch.” Fang said, unsurprised.

“Yeah, like a seafood buffet.” Sazh commented as the others tensed for a fight.

“Seafood, cute.” Light said.

“Guys, here it COMES!!” Hope said as the creature did another flyby, this time shattering the windows. The sudden drop in air pressure caused the air inside to rush out and sent Hope and Vanille flying out, Hope grabbed Vanille’s arm, Vanille grabbed the end of a piece of metal sticking out of the ship. They screamed as they clung desperately onto their respective lifelines, before Vanille lost her grip and they began to fall.

Snow reached out for a moment as he clung to a pole, while Sazh, Twilight, and Lightning tied themselves to a rope that Twilight had conjured and tied to the ship’s relatively intact front. There was no point in having everyone fall off, there’d be no one to rescue the others.

Sazh fought with the controls as the ship went down in a manner eerily similar to their other crash. She’d find it suspicious if they landed in a junk yard or something, but she could worry about that later.

“Fang!” Snow called, “Get ’em!” he yelled. He was clearly referencing her Eidolon’s ability to fly.

“I’m on it!” Fang called as she hopped off the side of the ship and angled herself to fall after -and faster than- the other two.

Lightning quickly untied herself, and went after Fang, having also realized Snow’s meaning. Fang threw her Eidolith, the crystal housing one’s Eidolon when they weren’t in ‘use’, and Lightning shifted her gunblade to gun mode and shot it, causing Bahamut to appear in a much quicker version of it’s earlier appearance, a cloud of inky black condensed, and then it’s incantation circle formed before it burst out. Bahamut was mechanical, so it presumably didn’t actually have a biological gender, however, it was masculine in appearance, so it would henceforth be referred to as ‘he’. The system had worked well enough for their Eidolons so far.

The two of them allowed Bahamut to catch up, and grabbed onto him. “Here goes!” Fang yelled over the wind as the ship fell past them, Bahamut began putting on some extra speed, and started to catch up to Hope and Vanille.

“Hey! Over here!” Sazh called as they neared the ship which continued to plummet. Twilight cut Sazh and herself loose, and they jumped off the ship as Bahamut neared, Snow a moment behind.

“You okay?” Vanille asked Hope as they kept on falling towards the ground, even with the reinforcement granted by being l’cie who’d seen as much combat as they had and for so long, they would still probably die if they fell onto rocky, level terrain like this from this height.

“Oh yeah, I’m just great.” Hope replied sarcastically just before they were pulled onto Bahamut’s back.

The ship hit the ground with a dull, metallic thud. They flew over the area on Bahamut. Unlike Cocoon, Pulse was a wild, untamed place. The forests, plains and rivers were all wild and free, and the animals were stronger, tempered cousins of their Cocoonian counterparts. Since they’d had to struggle to survive instead of having their needs provided for, they were much hardier than their cousins on Cocoon. It was a simple matter of natural selection. The prey that survived was selected to pass on it’s genes, and the fastest, strongest, and smartest were selected for this reason. In turn, the predators that had the most success hunting their prey were selected to pass on their genes, in the evolutionary equivalent of an arms race.

“This is amazing, I’ve never seen a place like this, at home, or on Cocoon.” Twi said, gazing around in awe. There was something artificial about all of the fields and forests she’d seen in Equestria except the Everfree. Which made sense since the Everfree was the only place where nature wasn’t under the total control of a sentient being.

‘It’s certainly different.’ Arcana agreed, less impressed than her counterpart.

“Home sweet home, welcome to Gran Pulse.” Fang said.

They finally landed at the spot where the ship had crashed, the Terra Incognita, Fang said, which could be assumed to have been what scared off the majority of the monsters, and made it what would be their home base for the foreseeable future. Twilight would simply raise barriers at night so they could get some proper sleep. Being able to conjure mattresses was much appreciated by all. She hadn’t done it before because they’d have stuck out like a sore thumb to anyone tracking them, but they were looking for people here, so she didn’t see how it could hurt.

They spent the next week exploring the nearby area. She soon learned that this place didn’t just look different from Cocoon, it was far more savage. Mercy was a foreign concept, likely to get you killed if you showed it. Only the strong survived here. The animals were far stronger, faster, smarter, and more cunning. Most of the Monsters on Pulse simply attacked, but these showed the basics of strategy, often cooperating in attacking when the l’cie wandered by. They even showed the basics of intellect, learning mid-fight.

Chocobos were run down and devoured by wolf-like Gorgonospids. King Behemoths devoured the poor unlucky souls who wandered too close, including their own kind, the same with the far larger Oretoise and the larger-still Admantoise, who were themselves at the near-nonexistent mercy of a fal’cie called Titan, the overseer of the nearby vista, himself large enough to swallow the Admantoise, which was the size of a heavy cruiser-class airship, whole.

He was at least as tall as the Palamecia had been long, if not taller, and appeared to be made of stone and whole trees. They found no evidence of any living people, though ruins there were plenty of. Monsters were too numerous to count, and three seemed to spring up for every one they took down, but there wasn’t a single person to be found.

Their spare time was spent on sparring, they got their weak points up to par, then concentrated on their strengths. They shot up leaps and bounds, due to the fighting between opponents of nearly equal strength, and their brands making all of them stronger if one of them was made stronger through combat. The party of four, Snow, Sazh, Lightning, and herself, returned to base camp after searching in and around the area of the Paddrean Archaeopolis and along the way to and from it.

She’d seen strange mounds of stone that bore an eerie resemblance to the cie’eth, but they hadn’t attacked the group and were clearly not man-made, so she had assumed they were features common to Pulse.

“Oh, my feet are killing me!” Sazh complained as they returned to find Fang and Vanille talking.

“Oh, you’re back!” Vanille said excitedly.

“Hey guys, any luck?” Fang asked.

“No sign of anyone else, though we did find plenty of bloodthirsty wildlife and crumbling ruins.” Light said, in a tone that wasn’t quite sarcastic, but it was close.

“Some of which looked like it was through a war.” Twi noted, idly inspecting a piece of stone she’d collected. Some of the damage was quite obviously unnatural, whole buildings didn’t just have half of their lower floors disintegrate in a fashion resembling a blast radius.

She decided that she was going to be shifting her focus of the research into the brands from a reversal to studying the brands and making a version of the spell that provided all of the benefits with none of the downsides to overwrite the originals with. Immunity to being made l’cie by other fal’cie, for one. Though dramatically increasing the amount of power each individual had and therefore cutting down on the deaths resulting from monster attacks and accidents was a very nice bonus.

Also, studying the brands for this did not require any testing on herself or others, so no fiddling with their brands was necessary. Of course, she’d have to teach some people the spell, she wasn’t going to be able to cast it on a size-able number of people in a timely fashion.

Then again, if those she taught wanted to, they could lord themselves over the human race. She’d just teach her friends, and maybe the people they most trusted. Of course, she could just adapt the spell so anyone could learn and use it easily. You couldn’t control the populace with something that just anyone could do.

Sazh sat down on one of the ship’s seats, which they’d been using as couches after tearing them out of the remains of the ship. “Long day?” Vanille asked as she patted him on the back.

“Well guys, we’ve run out of places to search around here.” Snow said, then glanced around. “Huh, where’s Hope?” Snow asked.

“He’s off with the chocobo, getting supplies.” Fang said, pointing with her thumb in the direction they had come from. Twilight had to wonder how they’d missed him coming back, the path didn’t branch out much until you were pretty far from camp.

There was a “Kweh!” as said chocobo chick flew over.

They made various noises of greeting. “You all by yourself?” Sazh asked as it landed on his hands, then it began fluttering around their heads in amusing way. They chuckled, though Twilight was getting the feeling something wasn’t right. It began kwehing earnestly at Vanille.

“Huh? His brand!?” Vanille asked, concerned. Wait a minute, since when did Vanille understand chocobo? Oh, wait, the chick was gesturing at the front of it’s wing, roughly where someone’s hand would be on a human.

“We’ve gotta find him!” Snow said.

They began to run in the direction Fang had pointed earlier, dispatching more flan and slug monsters. She had just labeled the creatures as monsters because they were called that by nearly everyone, and you could almost get killed by something non-sentient only so many times before you stopped having much empathy for them. They fought and ran their way through the narrow, dim, cold passages between the sheer rock walls, including wiping out the larger flan that lurked in the small, better-lit clearings.

“Why’d his brand advance faster than ours? He seemed fine!” Vanille asked worriedly.

“You’d be surprised what people can keep bottled up because they don’t want to worry the others or be a burden.” Twi said, speaking from personal experience.

Vanille’s eyes widened in concern. They soon found Hope passed out by a stream. “Hope!” Snow called.

Snow slung Hope over his shoulder, and they carried him back to camp. Night fell, and the started a campfire. Hope lay on one of the seats, the rest of them were scattered around the camp, their mood rather grim. Vanille got up from her position next to Hope, walking towards the others.

“So this is how it ends?” Snow asked, pacing angrily.

“Just wait, now how long has it been since we left Cocoon?” Sazh asked, throwing a hand in the air to show his annoyance. “Not a single soul for miles around, not a single clue about this whole l’cie mess. What I’m saying is, we did well just getting this far.” Sazh finished.

“I suppose he’s right, you’d expect us to all be dead by now, considering how many things have been trying to kill us.” Twi said.

“But… we could go a little further.” Vanille said.

“Meaning what?” Sazh asked, curious.

“There’s still one place-” Vanille was interrupted by Fang calling out “Vanille, are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Vanille responded, nodding.

“You know, if we don’t find anything this time, we won’t be getting another chance at it.” Light warned.

“Oerba.” Hope said, from his position lying on his back. “The place it all began.” his eyes slowly blinked open. “The place where the Pulse fal’cie lay dreaming. Vanille and Fang’s home.” He angled his arm to look at his brand. “Just maybe, there might be a chance that that’s where we’ll find the answers we’re looking for.” Hope finished.

“You’re right, if we can get there.” Fang said.

Hope chuckled, “Go ahead without me.” he groaned as he sat up.

“We can’t just leave you!” Vanille told him as she gripped his arm.

“I’ll be fine. You’ve all taught me so much, showed me how to fight.” Hope said, before partially collapsing, only stopped from hitting the ground by Snow catching him in time.

‘Wait, he shouldn’t be this weak from the brand advancing, another Eidolon?’ Twi wondered.

‘Yeah, probably, considering everyone gets weakened from their Eidolon appearing.’ Arcana deadpanned.

“What did I tell ya? Leave the fighting to me.” Snow said, hugging Hope.

“I’m scared.” Hope admitted.

“We understand, you’re not gonna go through this ordeal alone you know.” Light said.

“The supporting role can be even more important than the damage-dealers.” Twi reassured.

“That’s what scares me, I don’t want to see you get hurt because of me.” Hope said, before covering his face with his branded arm’s hand. “It’d be better for everyone if I just stayed behind.” Hope’s brand flashed into brightness, an orb of light similar to the Ruin spell surrounding it. The invocation circle was yellow and more of an invocation square under-laid by a circle this time.

Hope gasped and grunted, as a triangular pyramid made of bars of green light rose out of the circle, before four beams shot from the invocation circle, joining in an immense, and very bright, star-like object above them.

A twelve-foot tall giant in what resembled yellow samurai armor dropped from the sky directly in front of Hope, making surprisingly little impact considering the height of it’s fall and probable mass. The group had been pushed back by the invocation circle and further by the giant’s landing. ‘Alexander’ flashed in their minds as the giant pulled an arm back for a punch.

Twilight managed to push Hope out of the way, only to get thrown into a nearby rock wall instead. “Twilight! Are you okay?” Hope yelled in concern.

After a momentary examination, she responded. “Nothing’s broken, I’ll be up in a minute.” it was possible she’d been concussed, but she wasn’t too dizzy.

Even the Eidolon seemed to be surprised at her after she said that. “Are you kidding?! You got smashed into solid rock by this guy!” Fang pointed at the giant. “You stay right there until we deal with him!” Fang said.

“How about we compromise? I’ll heal and buff you guys instead of Hope this time.” Twi offered.

Fang sighed. “You just can’t let somebody else fight without helping can you?” she asked.

“Nope.” Twilight answered shortly. The others got into formation, readying spells and their weapons.

“Mention ordeals, and look what happens!” Fang commented, twirling her lance into a better position.

“This is why you don’t tempt fate.” Twi said from her position on the ground, head lifted just enough that she could see her companions.

“It’s not an ordeal, it’s a gift. Hope,” she nodded at him. “this is the kind of power you’ve got inside, and it’s telling you not to give up. Trust me.” Light said.

“Oh, I get it. It’s here to show you the way.” Fang said, smirking. “Show you that you’ve got what it takes to get back on your feet and do this thing!” she told Hope.

“All of the Eidolons have come when we were at our lowest. The Shiva sisters came when Snow was losing faith in himself, Odin came when Light was afraid she wouldn’t be able to make it, Fallen Angel came when I started to lose hope, Brynhildr when Sazh couldn’t find a reason to keep going at all, and Bahamut when Fang was torn between her new friends and her old one.” Twi agreed. “This one isn’t any different!” she told him.

“You mean… that came from me?” Hope asked. He looked up at Alexander’s face, then down at his brand, before regaining his determination, and moving to the front of the group.

“Ready?” Light asked them. They nodded or grunted confirmation.

Alexander cast Doom on them, as Twilight cast Libra. “You guys hit him hard, I’ll keep you alive!” Twi called. “He doesn’t have an elemental weakness, but he’s not immune to anything either!” she called after using Libra again to discern the full details of their enemy. It usually took a couple casts to find out everything Libra was going to tell her.

They’d agreed, by mutual consensus, that the reason they didn’t use Eidolons against other Eidolons was that it would be like forcing one of them to fight another. So it was therefore perfectly logical that sending all of their Eidolons out at once during this fight was not going to happen.

Alexander used mostly physical attacks, and Twilight was struggling to keep Hope, the main target of said attacks, alive long enough to cast Protect, but managed it. She slowly worked her way along the others, buffing and healing them as well. Impressively, the others’ attacks were doing little, if anything, to slow Alexander down, but he wasn’t as fast as he was at the start of the fight, and he was, while quick for his size, not very fast to begin with.

She was kept busy healing and buffing the others, so she didn’t really have any opportunities to attack the thing between those and how often one of the others was right next to Alexander. She did manage to land a couple Ruins during the fight.

Finally, Alexander yielded, becoming a wall of yellow pillars, which Hope climbed onto, before turning into an Eidolith.

“That’s some beast you tamed there kid.” Sazh said.

“Yeah. I always thought that the Eidolons came to set us free through death, but now, I think maybe they’re here to snap us out of our slumps.” Hope said.

“Oh, you mean like the one you were just in.” Snow snarked.

“I’ll ask for help earlier, next time around.” Hope promised.

Vanille came over and hugged Hope. “I told you, on Gran Pulse, we’re all family. You can moan all you want, but you’re stuck with us.” she said, eliciting chuckles from the group.

“Heh, you’re never alone in hell.” Sazh said with a chuckle.

“Listen funny man, don’t call this place hell, alright?” Fang told him.

“So, we’re all agreed then?” Light asked. They made various gestures of assent.

Twilight had to wonder if they would find anything in Oerba, but put the thought out of her mind. There was no point in worrying about it. If they found something, then she would have worried about it for nothing. It would serve no purpose to make the others second-guess the decision, too. Besides, if they didn’t find anything, well, they wouldn’t have time to look elsewhere. So it didn’t really matter, now did it?

‘Quit trying to fool yourself.’ Arcana commented.

The next morning, they fought their way to the Archylte Steppe. They surveyed the rolling plain before them for a moment, before Hope said “Let’s go.” and they started off.

Less than a hundred feet from the spot they’d stopped at, one of the same kind of mounds that they’d encountered before rose into the air and began to levitate.

“This stone, it’s…” Vanille began.

“Look familiar?” Light asked.

“It’s a cie’eth, it’s in the last stage.” Fang explained.

“Cie’eth, huh.” Light said, somewhat warily.

“Don’t worry, it’s not a threat to anyone anymore. If a l’cie fails their Focus, they become a cie’eth, and start wandering the wilds. Eventually, they lose the will to go on, and turn to stone. But still, even in this state, they can’t forget the task they once had.” Vanille said.

Fang took over the explanation. “So they call out to l’cie, over and over, ‘Complete my Focus.'” Fang told them.

“So they’re doomed to eternal regret, huh? Must be pretty horrible.” Sazh said.

“Hey we should help this one out. I mean, come on, we can’t just ignore it. Listen, if we fail our Focus, it could be us suffering like that.” Snow said.

“I’m in.” Twilight said immediately. He was right. They might not have a lot of time, but there was always time for kindness.

‘I know I’m going to say this again in the future, but you’re far too nice for your own good.’ Arcana said in minor annoyance.

“Wow, what a happy thought.” Sazh said sarcastically. “That’s not like you.” he added.

“But going out of his way to help someone? That’s Snow all over.” Light said.

So they went to every cie’eth stone they could find, and completed their failed Focus. Each stone began to glow upon having it’s Focus completed, and this caused other stones to activate. Some even allowed teleportation between stones whose Focus they’d completed. They also gained the trust of a group of chocobos and were allowed to ride them all across the steppe after fending off some predators.

While walking near the Paddrean Archaeopolis after completing a fallen l’cie’s Focus for them, they saw a fal’cie fly through the air in the direction of a tower. “Well, guess we might see that one on the way to Oerba.” Fang said.

“Why’s that?” Twi asked. How many fal’cie were they going to have to take out before they stopped picking fights?

“The only route there from here goes through Taejin’s Tower. Take a wild guess where it just went.” Fang said.

“Ah, yes, well, we’ve got experience fighting fal’cie by now.” Twi said with a shrug. She might be getting jaded. They made their way through the steppe, and found a crevice that led into a cave that presumably would let them get to the tower.

As they fought their way through the robots that were supposed to be maintaining the cave system, but were now malfunctioning, Twilight kept thinking she heard rumbling. When they were walking over a bridge that was formed out of a metal grate, the rumbling was long and loud enough that it actually forced them all to hunker down or fall over.

“Well guys, we’ve got company!” Snow said as a rolling sphere with orange spikes thundered by.

“Whoa. Look at that thing!” Sazh said.

“Let me guess, that’s a fal’cie?” Snow asked.

“Yep, that’s Atomos, he’s busy carving out new tunnels.” Vanille told him.

“Making roads where roads ain’t meant to go, huh? Kinda sounds like us.” he fist-pumped. “Alright! Roly-poly. Let’s hitch a ride on that thing!” Snow said.

“Now you’re thinking Gran Pulse style!” Vanille said.

As they kept going, they found an area that opened out to the air. Vanille gasped, then giggled as she ran over to a patch of flowers. “These flowers. You remember them right?” Vanille asked Fang.

“Yeah, sure I do. They grew all over Oerba.” Fang said.

“We can’t be far now.” Vanille said.

“It’s my fault Gran Pulse ended up like this, isn’t it?” Fang asked.

“Wha-?” Vanille asked flabbergasted.

The others stopped and stared, their brains needing a moment to process the sudden change of topic but mostly because of what Fang had just said. “I remember everything. I became Ragnarok. I scarred Cocoon. And I left Gran Pulse in this mess. It was me.” Fang said.

“What are you talking about?” Vanille asked quietly.

“It all came back to me. Everything that happened with our Focus. All of it.” Fang said.

“You’re lying.” Vanille said, before her brand began glowing red.

“No, it’s the truth. It’s all my fault.” Fang said quietly.

“Don’t say that!” Vanille said, then her brand erupted into an invocation circle. This one was blue and resembled a clock. Vanille ran out of the circle as a mass of spidery limbs rose out of the circle, closely followed by what resembled a four-armed man.

“The Eidolon knows the truth. Ha. I knew I was right.” Fang said.

“Wait, so you were lying.” Vanille said.

“No more than you were. Admit it, you remember everything.” Fang scolded.

“It wasn’t! It wasn’t you’re fault.” Vanille said.

“Vanille. We should really talk about this later!” Fang said, readying her lance.

“Like after we deal with this Eidolon.” Twilight said as the rest of the group joined Fang and Vanille.

‘Hecatoncheir’ flashed in their minds as the fight started. As it’s predecessors had, it cast Doom first. Twilight responded with Libra, as usual. She was surprised to discover she didn’t feel all that threatened. One side of her said ‘We’ve dealt with worse.’ while mentally shrugging. The other said ‘It’s not that threatening, in terms of power or presence.’ actually slightly bored. She shook her head, yep, definitely jaded.

“He isn’t vulnerable or immune to any elements, and he’s immune to most status ailments, but he is vulnerable to Deshell and Deprotect!” she called out.

Hecatoncheir turned out to be another Eidolon that mostly focused on physical attacks, so Hope and herself buffed the party with that in mind, Deprotected and Deshelled their foe, and smashed him with magic. The others kept him occupied while they did so. When Hecatoncheir yielded, he became an enormous gun, which Vanille climbed into the cockpit of before it became another Eidolith.

Fang paced. “I knew something was off. You’ve been shying away from our Focus ever since we woke up on Cocoon. I couldn’t figure it out, but then it all made sense, after hearing that story from Raines. You already knew. You knew that Ragnarok was the name of destruction.” Fang said.

“It wasn’t fair. You had to do all the horrible stuff, and I didn’t have to do anything-”

“That was no reason to lie to me!” Fang interrupted Vanille. “Did you think that’s what I want? You of all people!” Fang drew her arm back and made a fist with it as her words became laced with anger. Vanille ducked her head, and received a light tap on it. “Poor kid. You’ve had it rough.” Fang said.

“Fang…” Vanille said quietly.

“Listen, you’re not alone anymore.” Fang told her.

Vanille started to cry. “I’m so sorry.” she said.

Fang hugged her, and Vanille buried her head in Fang’s shoulder. “Keep that up and you’ll have me crying too. We have a new family now. We stick together, you here me?” Fang asked.

After a little while, they were ready to move on. They entered the next set of caverns. They looked around a seeming-dead end. “No way through. Man, that fal’cie must have been slacking.” Sazh said. Twilight nodded. How odd, it had seemed quite diligent when they saw it earlier, and it had probably had centuries to tunnel.

Hope screamed, and Twilight had her sword half-drawn before she realized he’d just activated another Armament, this one was apparently a different type known as a Juggernaut, and in much better condition than the Armament they had fought. She put her sword back in it’s sheath. Maybe she should take a vacation when this was over, it was a good thing she didn’t start casting a spell or she could’ve hurt Hope.

“Ah! Stop! Stop already!” Hope yelled. The Juggernaut ignored him.

“Ugh, it’s the Vile Peaks all over again.” Light said.

The Juggernaut walked off the ledge into the pit that Atomos had been rolling through. “Hope! Get out of there!” Light said.

Atomos rumbled towards him. Twilight teleported down, (hoping to teleport back up with Hope in time) just as Atomos was about to crush him, and now she would get caught in it as well. She’d never get a shield strong enough to stop Atomos up in time. ‘Drat, no time!’ she thought as the barrier she placed in Atomos’ path barely slowed Atomos down as it shattered, only for the Juggernaut from before to get in Atomos’ way.

‘You’re also lucky when you gamble with your life.’ Arcana noted, continuing from her earlier line of thought without missing a beat.

“Is he trying to stop it? You can do it!” Hope called.

More Armaments and Juggernauts dropped into the pit, and began to aid the first in stopping the fal’cie. “What are they doing?” Light asked.

Working together, the regular Armaments and Juggernauts made Atomos slow, and finally stop. “Well that was cool. Go robot guys!” Snow said.

“Good lesson for us. Not even a mighty fal’cie is a match for the power of teamwork. That is inspiration right there.” Sazh said.

“Save the sermons old man. Let’s hop on Trailblazer here, while we still have the chance.” Fang said.They got in the cockpit, and rode Atomos to the Sulyya Springs. The resident fal’cie didn’t take the intrusion well, and sent a boatload of monsters at them.

Snow took out Serah’s tear, and held it up during a lull in the action. “Whatcha doing?” Vanille asked.

“I was, uh… just talking to Serah. Just telling her… that we’re all gonna be okay.” Snow said, before letting Vanille hold onto the tear.

“It’s so pretty. It reminds me of when we met at that beach.” Vanille said. Twilight glanced at her, now there was something she hadn’t known about before.

“You met Serah?” Snow asked.

“I tried to hide our Focus, and she ended up a l’cie. I wanted to say I was sorry, but…” Vanille trailed off.

“Well, when we rescue her, maybe you’ll get the chance.” Snow said.

“Yeah. I hope so.” Vanille said.

“Come on.” Snow said, walking towards the other end of the springs.

“I think that Serah saw the same vision of Ragnarok that we did. Which means Dysley had to be lying when he explained her Focus. I think she beat it. She handed Cocoon over to us, and that’s what made her turn to crystal!” Vanille told him.

Twilight followed the line of reasoning, then nodded. “Makes sense to me.” she said. If despair and anger could prematurely turn someone into a cie’eth, then perhaps the opposite could turn them to crystal before they fulfilled their Focus.

Snow stopped for a moment. “Yep! I know.” he yelled back.

Realizing that the monsters it sent were simply serving as cannon fodder and making the intruders in it’s domain that much stronger, the fal’cie, who Vanille called Bismarck, pulled itself onto land to fight them.

She opened with Libra, which was a habit at this point. It was apparently weak to lightning, and absorbed water, but was immune to all debuffs. It took a ridiculous amount of power to damage it at all, even with Enthundered weapons and lightning spells. Anything below Lightning or Fang’s level of strength was little more than a paper-cut to it, annoying, but ultimately inconsequential if not in massive numbers. This left Sazh, Vanille, and Hope out of direct physical attacks, and instead they kept a constant stream of the Thunder chain on the fal’cie as suppressing fire.

It got serious when it took a few semi-serious blows, and began to throw monsters at them while still attacking. While annoyances on their own, the monsters kept them from fighting Bismarck nearly as effectively as they had. Twilight started raining down Thundagas in retaliation, taking care of the majority of the monsters and dealing a substantial amount of damage to Bismarck, then reverted to hitting Bismarck with physical attacks as her constant use of high-grade spells drained her reserves faster than they regenerated.

Finally, the fal’cie tried to escape into the water, but since the water was not 100% pure, it conducted electricity quite well, so all they had to do was stick their Enthundered weapons into the water and let the lightning spells take care of their enemy for them, or at least, they would have if Bismarck hadn’t realized what was happening and moved back onto dry land. Still, it was on it’s last legs, and it’s tidal wave attacks, Waterjas, and small earthquakes had lost much of their earlier punch. Finally, a joint Thundaga from Twilight, Hope, Vanille, and Sazh, along with a new technique Lightning developed that seemed to have her everywhere at once and striking everywhere on her enemy at once finished the thing. They were rewarded with a surge of power, the apparently customary reward for the felling of a fal’cie by a l’cie.

“So what was that technique you used at the end?” Snow asked as they all caught their breath, they’d need to make camp soon. They were too exhausted too keep going much longer. Their magic recharged incredibly fast, but their stamina didn’t.

“Army of One. I take our enhanced l’cie powers and push them to the limit. It takes a lot of concentration and leaves me pretty exhausted afterwards, physically and mentally, luckily, our recovery rates seem to be improving as well as our other attributes.” Light answered him. It was a mark of the progress their relationship had made that his question got an immediate answer from her, rather than a grunt or partial answer.

They finally got out of the cave system, and outside into the open air. They stopped for a moment in a clearing, to catch their breath. Lightning looked up at the at this point looming Cocoon. “Hey, Serah. What dreams are you having up there?” Light asked.

“We should stop here for the night. Tomorrow’s gonna be even tougher than today.” Fang said.

Later, Lightning walked over to where Snow was holding Serah’s tear up to the light of Phoenix. “How’s Serah?” Light asked.

“Same as we left her.” Snow answered.

“Feels so far away now.” he turned to her. “Serah says she wants to talk.” he handed the tear to Lightning. “She’d probably prefer if you skipped the lectures.” he said as he grabbed some sort of wind-born seed.

He was knocked back as Lightning sliced the seed with her blade-mode gunblade. “Once we’re home, what’s your plan? You two are getting married, right?” Light asked.

“What’s that?” Snow asked.

“Serah wants to know.” Light said, dead serious.

“Don’t scare me like that.” Snow said cheerfully.

“You are getting married, aren’t you? Don’t you let her down, you hear me?” Light asked him, before tossing him the tear.

“Don’t worry. This tear will be her last. I’ll make sure of that.” Snow promised.

“That’s all I need to know.” Light said, nodding at him while sheathing her weapon.

“We will see her, right?” Snow asked.

“Don’t go there. No room for doubt.” Light told him.

“You’re right.” Snow agreed.

“We’ll see her again, and soon. You convinced me of that, so stay strong.” Light told him.

“Don’t worry. We’ll finish this, and go see her together. That’s a promise.” Snow said.

They got up the next morning, with a feeling of anticipation. One way or another their journey wouldn’t last much longer, their brands all had eyes by now, and several of them had begun to open, Twilight hadn’t made much progress on a spell for overwriting the old one, so they couldn’t put too much hope in that either. They got a close look at the tower the fal’cie, Dahaka according to Fang, had flown to yesterday. It was actually only half standing, the upper half had toppled over sometime in the distant past, even so, it was an impressive structure.

“We get through there, and we’ll be in Oerba.” Vanille said, excitement in her voice.

“You’re almost home.” Snow said.

“Yep!” Vanille said.

“Doesn’t exactly look like it’s gonna be a leisurely stroll.” Sazh said, watching the draconic enemies flying above.

A few moments later, Dahaka flew right by them, casually taking out said draconic enemies with fireballs. “Not impressed, I could do that too.” Twi said, granted she couldn’t one-shot the monsters quite that easily. Still, if it was trying to intimidate them, it failed.

“Oh, so we just have to head through this fal’cie’s lair to get to Oerba, huh?” Hope asked.

“What’s another fal’cie at this point, huh?” Light asked. She had a point. They weren’t exactly going to avoid a confrontation with Bathandelus if they had a chance to finish things.

They made their way into the tower, and found a circular room with four stone statues. They heard a strange whispering that sounded a lot like ‘leave.’

“I’m not the only one hearing that, am I?” Vanille asked.

“It… couldn’t be them, could it?” Sazh asked. Twilight was analyzing the statues, and found an immensely old and complex spell that seemed to be for the animation and granting of sapience to nonliving things, though the power requirements were far beyond her. She was so surprised and amazed, that she almost didn’t notice the lack of any other spells, which meant that whatever was going on was a latent ability of these statues.

“I don’t know. It’s weird, like voices in my head.” Hope said.

“It’s the statues.” Twilight said simply.

“I hear it. ‘Your presence here draws the tyrant’s gaze. Leave this place at once.'” Fang relayed.

“We can’t leave, this is the only way for us to get through. Please! Help us.” Vanille pleaded.

After some more whispering, Fang relayed “‘As you wish, look for us, and the way will open.'” to them.

The statues placed their swords in slots, and the walls rearranged themselves to allow an elevator to come down with several musical notes. “That was easy enough.” Snow mused.

“You never know, could be a trap.” Hope said.

“Could be, don’t see any stairs though. Do you?” Sazh asked.

“Nope, this is our ride- bumpy or not.” Fang said.

They climbed up the stairs to the elevator, and got off a floor higher up, only to encounter Dahaka the instant they started across the walkway. This fal’cie resembled a mechanical snake, it had a mask on it’s head, a pair of scrawny arms, and it’s tail was interspersed with three orbs. “Looks like it was waiting for us.” Light said, drawing her sword. Dahaka circled overhead, and the orbs glowed as it sent a blast at them. “Get back!” Light called.

The blast made a hole in the wall and set the walkway ahead of them on fire. Dahaka flew upwards, apparently satisfied. They found Water and Blizzard spells ineffective at dousing the flames, so they examined the hole. “Think it’s a trap? Dahaka didn’t bother coming around for a second pass after it opened this up.” Sazh asked.

“Maybe, but we don’t really have any better options.” Light said.

“I don’t recommend blasting our way up, considering that the top half of the tower’s already fallen over, this place can’t be structurally sound.” Twi agreed. Having half of the building collapse did not give her much confidence in the remaining half.

“Onward and upward.” Snow said.

They soon found more statues, and after doing their missions, which retrieved the statues’ power, in a manner similar to the cie’eth stones, the statues put the flames out in way of thanks.

Dahaka came for another pass as they came out of the hole. This time it seemed mad. The statues had mentioned that it had stolen their power, so maybe restoring the statues weakened Dahaka. That, or it was enraged over their intrusion, or both.

They readied themselves for a fight as it neared. “Great, here we go again!” Fang said.

“Can’t take a hint.” Snow said cheerfully.

“You’re one to talk.” Light responded.

“Good thing we have practice fighting fal’cie.” Twilight said.

They all heard a woosh of displaced air, the three statues appeared and began an aerial fight with Dahaka, until one unleashed a wave of energy and cut off an orb and a chunk of tail. “I’ll be damned!” an awed Sazh said as Dahaka retreated up the tower.

The statues turned to them and after some unintelligible whispering, returned to their original positions and disappeared. “Huh? Are they sad?” Vanille asked. They’d gotten that impression from the statues, but it was hard to tell exactly what they were saying.

“Well, I guess the way really is open this time.” Light said.

The walls had shifted when they’d restored the third statue, so they took the elevator up to the next floor. No sooner had they gotten off than Dahaka showed up. “Well, that was a fast recovery.” Twi said dryly.

‘I think it’s just not all that affected by having a hunk of it’s body removed, it’s kind of creepy.’ Arcana noted. Well, it wasn’t like most fal’cie followed the conventional laws of biology anyway.

This time it iced over the walkway in front of them, blowing a hole in the wall again. They restored the three statues on this floor, causing the ice to melt and the ceiling to shift so that the elevator could go up. Then Dahaka came back, madder than ever.

Dahaka rocketed around in front of them as they readied themselves to fight it. “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?!” Sazh yelled at it, only to back off as it passed perilously close to the walkway. “My bad! I’m definitely not your size!” Sazh said, the air rushing past him from the fal’cie passing by.

They weren’t very surprised when the three statues from this floor appeared, they were surprised when Dahaka smashed 2 of them into the wall with it’s tail, only to lose another piece of it to the last of the three statues even as the first two disappeared. Dahaka retreated again, and the remaining statue turned to face them. “They saved us again.” Hope said.

“Oh, you want to help us?” Vanille asked. The statue somehow managed to convey a nod in it’s speech, before disappearing.

“Well, look, the way’s clear.” Snow said after a moment.

They made their way to the top of the tower with no further trouble beyond some cie’eth that weren’t more than nuisances at this point. They rode a metal disk up, and found themselves in an closed area with pillars of metal meeting overhead and making a cage around them. “Hey, look at that.” Snow said, pointing at the other end of the enclosure. Dahaka was floating there, but it seemed off.

“It’s acting strangely.” Light said.

“He must be weak from losing his tail.” Fang said.

“Probably, but there’s that old saying. A wounded beast is twice as dangerous.” Twi said as Dahaka coursed with electricity, it’s true draconic face and form revealed.

“Looks pretty feisty to me.” Snow said.

“He’s bluffing to scare us off. Let’s just go with that, alright?” Hope asked. Dahaka raised it’s arms in preparation for battle. “Come on, we can do this!” he said as the fal’cie roared.

Twilight used Libra on Dahaka as Hope started buffing and Fang started debuffing. The others started to attack Dahaka to distract it. “He’s only vulnerable to Deprotect, Deshell and Imperil, he has no elemental immunities or vulnerabilities, and physical attacks are halved!” she called out.

Fang switched to attacking when she got those three effects on their enemy, while Hope and Twilight began to Enfire everyone but Hope and Lightning, who were Enthundered. Dahaka wasn’t idle while all this happened of course. He rained magic down on them.

Finally, just as the group started to attack in earnest, Dahaka sent a firestorm at them, Hope and Twilight began healing the group, only for Dahaka to follow with a bone-chilling ice-storm. Then he sent out a wave of unusual magic just as they were starting to recover.

Twilight’s eyes widened as she realized that it was dispellation. Dispel magic cancelled out other magic. They each lost three buffs, which Hope worked to restore as Twilight fully took over healing. Twilight tended not to use dispel magic because most magic-users would find their systems all out of whack from using it, herself included. Dahaka waited a bit longer than usual before casting again, so it was apparently paying a price for the dispel magic.

Dahaka had done major damage, but their own attacks had taken their toll. He was covered in scorch marks and small cuts from spells and attacks. They each sent a high tier spell at him. Hope and Lightning used Thundaga, Snow used Blizzaga, Vanille used Ruinga, Sazh used Firaga, Fang used Aeroga, and Twilight used Ruinja, the fourth-tier of the Ruin chain, which caused an explosion equivalent to a powerful depth charge without being overclocked.

Dahaka screeched, before fading into black energy, which then dissipated, leaving behind yet another power boost. There was a quick tone, and another elevator rose up to a platform on one side of the roof. “There’s the way down.” Twi said.

A statue, she thought it was that one from the second set of three that dealt the blow to Dahaka, appeared. “Look who’s back.” Snow said.

Vanille giggled. “He’s saying thanks.” she said.

“‘At last we are free. We go now, to hunt down evil where it hides.'” Fang relayed.

Hope walked towards the statue. “I guess that means there are still more monsters like that one out there.” he said.

“Sounds like it, somewhere out there on Gran Pulse.” Light said.

The statue disappeared in a flash and a sound akin to the clash of metal on metal. Sazh chuckled. “Gone just like that. For a big hunk of rock, that thing sure can move!” he said.

“Guess they’re just doing what they can too. Trying to ‘save the world.'” Fang said.

“Yeah, well, it’s not all on them. Last time I checked, we’re still in this fight.” Light said.

They walked over to the platform where the other elevator waited. “Oerba’s right down there, then, isn’t it?” Hope asked.

“Yep.” Vanille confirmed, nodding.

“So what’s it like?” Snow asked.

“Well, it’s kind of small. But it’s warm and green and very naturey!” Vanille said.

“Around the fal’cie, it’s flowers as far as the eye can see, huh?” Fang said.

“So, what are we standing around for? Let’s have a look.” Twi said, there was something in the back of her mind bugging her ever since Oerba had come up as their destination, but she couldn’t place it. Obviously they might or might not find any answers, but there was something else.

“The view from here ain’t so rosy, I’m sorry to say.” Sazh said mournfully, looking over the edge of the tower at Oerba.

Now she realized what it was that had been bugging her, why would Oerba be unaffected by whatever cataclysm had wiped out all of civilization as far as they could see? The answer was that it probably was affected, if not wiped out, she just didn’t want to countenance the thought because of what it meant, both to Vanille and Fang on a personal level, and for the group’s situation as a whole.

“You want to wait here?” Light asked.

“No, I need to see for myself.” Vanille said.

They all walked over and looked at the same view as Sazh. There wasn’t a patch of green to be seen. “It’s all gone.” Vanille said quietly.

“Every trace of color. We’re chasing shadows, this whole idea of losing our brands is hopeless!” Fang said.

“What? Just because Dysley said so? There’s gotta be a way.” Snow said.

“Let’s keep on looking. That’s what we came here for. We all agreed and now we’re here.” Hope said.

“You think we can do it?” Vanille asked.

“Sure. Look what we’ve done so far How many people can say they’ve beaten three fal’cie?” Hope said.

“There’s no going back.” Light said. They didn’t have the time to try and go back.

“You don’t think I know that?” Fang asked. They got in the elevator and rode it down. Amazing how durable Pulse built these things for it to still be running after all these years.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 8 – A Very Unpleasant Ark

//——————————//
// A Very Unpleasant Ark// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

Once they were all off the strange fighter and had examined their surroundings for any immediate dangers, Lightning asked the question on all of their minds. “Where are we?”

The architecture was reminiscent of the Vestige, but it was a little different too. Sort of like how an oak tree and a pine tree were easily recognizable as both being trees, but there were obvious differences. “This place looks like a piece of Pulse.” Vanille said thoughtfully.

“Pulse? You mean like the Bodhum Vestige?” Sazh asked, looking around. “Something like that, this close to Eden…” he mused.

“Yeah, well there’s just two things I want to know. First, after the Purge and all that l’cie paranoia why keep a chunk of Pulse under the floorboards?” Fang asked.

“Maybe Dysley put it here to study Pulsian artifacts and see what he could get out of them, then he couldn’t get rid of it later because there was an entire city built on top of it.” Twilight hypothesized.

“Is this what the primarch wanted us to see?” Hope asked. Huh, and she hadn’t thought the Sanctum could get any more hypocritical.

“A place for l’cie to accept their fate.” Light said thoughtfully.

“Do you really think our Focus is what Dysley said?” Hope asked.

“You mean… become Ragnarok.” Vanille said hesitantly, as if saying could make it true.

“Destroy the fal’cie Eden, shatter Cocoon. Looks like that’s what the visions are telling us.” Sazh said.

Twilight sighed, “I’ve been looking at the spells on our brands, and it looks like Dysley was telling the truth about those at least, even if I do manage to create a counter-spell, I’m more likely to set these things off than help.” she announced. Say what you will about Dysley’s moral character, his spellwork was good. Even an attempt at removing the spell he had placed on the brands would more likely than not just set them off anyway.

If she had a week or two of free time and access to research materials, then she would probably have been able to break it. An impressive feat, considering that Dysley had had the better part of a millennium to work on such spells. However, there was no guarantee they had that week, and she certainly wasn’t going to have that kind of spare time even if they did. Never mind research materials. Her conjuration wasn’t able to make anything complicated like the tools she’d need to do in-depth research and she had little manufacturing experience, so that wasn’t an option.

“So it’s back to square one, out of luck.” Sazh said.

“That’s the other thing. Why didn’t you tell us you were mucking around with your own brand to try to help us?” Fang asked sternly.

“Because I knew you wouldn’t approve, and I wouldn’t have been able to make any real progress without a test subject. I certainly wasn’t going to use one of you without your permission, and asking it would necessitate telling you what I was doing.” Twi responded.

“You could’ve turned yourself into a cie’eth, it’s happened. One of the l’cie I knew tried to get rid of their brand that way and ended up one of the Undying cie’eth. A normal cie’eth will turn to dust eventually, but an Undying will wander like that until something puts them out of their misery!” Fang told her angrily.

“It wouldn’t have changed anything if I had known that beforehand. A true friend helps a friend in need, it’s not conditional, you can’t just not help if you don’t feel like it.” Twi explained, not budging.

“You’d risk that, for us?” Hope asked.

“Of course.” Twi responded. “You’re my friends.” she said simply.

“People must take making friends really seriously where you’re from.” Sazh said thoughtfully.

“Well, that’s some of it, Equestria is about as friendly and nonviolent as it gets, but it’s also that I didn’t make any friends until I was 14 in my world, so I’m also trying to make up for lost time. Before that I considered making friends kind of a waste of time I could spend studying instead. I barely even spoke regularly to anyone besides my family, excluding my teacher of course. I never once attended one of the parties I was invited to.” Twi admitted, somewhat shame-faced.

“Huh, that’s kinda shocking. I knew you weren’t exactly a social butterfly, but you were always pretty loyal to the friends you did make. To the point of bending over backwards to make them happy sometimes.” Sazh said, mildly surprised.

“Hey Snow? Snow? Cocoon calling Snow!” Vanille asked, the brooding man. It was a little unreal to see him without a cheerful smile or angry frown on his face. Those seemed like the only expressions he could make sometimes. Snow was either ignoring Vanille, or lost in thought, it was hard to tell. If it was the latter, and it probably was, that was also unusual. Snow tended to go on gut instinct most of the time, and it almost never led him wrong.

“You know, it’s almost like Dysley wants it to happen.” Hope said, thinking back to their encounter. Hm, that was strange.

“Sure seems that way. He didn’t exactly seem to mind explaining it.” Sazh said. He swept his arms out. “‘Here’s your Focus on a silver platter.'”

“But, that doesn’t make sense. Why would a Cocoon fal’cie want us to destroy Cocoon?” Vanille asked confused.

“That does seem to go against their nature.” Twi agreed.

“Maybe it’s a fal’cie thing, you know what I mean? Some bigger design we just don’t understand.” Hope proposed.

“From what I’ve seen, the main difference between humans and the fal’cie, besides physical form, is that the fal’cie possess far more power individually. They don’t think on a higher level than us, they aren’t metaphysical beings.” Twi said.

Still, that didn’t answer the question. Why would Barthandelus want to destroy the same thing he and his fellow fal’cie had been protecting all this time? The other fal’cie must have known, or at least had some idea, since he clearly arranged things so they would survive the ordeals placed in their path long enough to gain the strength necessary to do what he wanted them to do. That meant the other fal’cie didn’t object, so they must want something badly enough to destroy all their hard work but were unable to do themselves. Perhaps the fact that Orphan provided them with their power meant they couldn’t fight it directly? That would explain why they needed the seven of them to do it, but not why they wanted it done in the first place. She neglected to voice her thought as this was nothing but conjecture for now.

Fang snorted. “Hey Snow, nothing from you? Fang asked, turning to him.

“…” Snow didn’t respond. She was starting to get concerned. She’d never seen him this morose.

“So, this way then?” Sazh pointed in the direction opposite the one they had come from. No one had any better ideas, so they started off.

“You shouldn’t believe everything a fal’cie says. Barthandelus says our Focus is to destroy Cocoon, but who knows? Maybe he’s just trying to trick us into helping him do something else.” Vanille said in hopes of reassuring them.

“Considering how he views us ‘mere mortals’ as tools, I wouldn’t put it past him.” Twi agreed.

They reached another ‘station’, a part of this tunnel system that resembled an underground train station, area, and Snow said “Hey, uh, I’ve gotta apologize, looks like I was wrong.” to Lightning.

“About Serah’s Focus? Not like you to second guess yourself.” Light said.

“Yeah, well, even heroes make mistakes.” Snow said.

“What about your plan to protect Cocoon? Either way, your faith in Serah was strong, that got you this far.” Light said.

“It was all wrong.” Snow responded sadly.

“Yeah, you tried so hard to convince us, that you ended up fooling yourself too. You’ve been a total idiot, but still, you saved me. You trusted Serah, let that faith drive you. It even made me want to believe it.” Light told him.

“The rest of us are behind you all the way, Snow.” Twi said in encouragement.

They walked a bit further, still not encountering anything unusual. “Does anyone actually have any idea where we are?” Twi asked.

“We could have been dumped just about anywhere by that portal, I want to say we’re close to Eden, but it’s hard to be sure where, because a lot of places are close to Eden.” Light said. Eden was more or less in the center of Cocoon, so that made locating anything by virtue of being near it rather difficult. Of course, there was also the chance that they’d been dumped somewhere intentionally confusing.

After walking up a staircase, they entered an area that didn’t have a snowball’s chance in a sauna, in a volcano, on the sun, of passing as Cocoonian in origin. She was dimly aware that the metaphor she had used was completely impossible, but if she couldn’t be a little illogical in her own head then where could she be?

As if to illustrate this. Hope said. “I can’t believe we’re still in Cocoon.”

“Actually, it’s just a little bit creepy.” Sazh said, glancing at the tall metal objects scattered around.

“It probably doesn’t help that those metal things resemble silver sarcophagi just a little bit.” Twi said. She glanced down at the floor and discovered some sort of spell woven into a Pulse-brand shape. A moment later, the area was bathed in red light from the floor, and the brand-shaped spell became clearly visible as their own brands reacted.

She examined them, and discovered the brands had had some latent power unlocked. After, relaying this to the others, they fought off the pair of automatons that had emerged from the nearest sarcophagi, and then they walked over to a spot that gave them a nearly unobstructed view of the area. Of course Twilight had to blast another pair of the automatons from the same sarcophagi, which led her to believe that a large number of them were down some kind of tube connecting the sarcophagi to a storage facility housing a large number of the automatons.

“This place…” Vanille put a hand to her chin. “it must be an Ark.”

“An ‘Ark’?” Light asked, eyeing the area warily.

“That’s what they called ’em.” Fang added, glancing around with a hint of surprise and awe.

“Long ago, the fal’cie, who made their home on Gran Pulse, became afraid of invasion from the outside. As part of their battle preparations, they created an army of living weapons. They stored those weapons in Arks, buildings like these. They hid the Arks all over the world.” Vanille said in the voice of one who is reciting a legend they’d heard around a campfire.

“Everyone on Gran Pulse knew the legend.” Fang said.

“So, this is basically a Pulse armory.” Light surmised.

“Ahuh, most of us didn’t believe in them, but a few people tried searching anyway. They never found a thing though. Of course, who’d have thought to look on Cocoon?” Fang asked.

“Right under our noses too, some secret they kept. Makes you wonder what else they don’t want coming out.” Sazh turned to them. “What are those Sanctum guys up to?” he asked. Probably all kinds of unsavory programs hidden in the shadows if a fal’cie was secretly in charge. The databases she left alone because they had nasty security probably had all kinds of ‘interesting’ information about such things.

“The story’s not finished. There’s more.” Vanille said.

“They used to say the Arks had another, more practical, purpose.” Fang said.

“Really?” Light asked.

“Anything to do with that spell that reacted to our brands?” Twi asked.

“That’s right, the Arks are supposed to force l’cie to master their shiny new powers.” Fang explained.

“Ah, I suppose unlocking a hunk of sealed power is helpful in making sure less of the l’cie die in the attempt.” Twi said dryly. Though considering that the seven of them were l’cie for some time and had had some trouble with the automatons, the new l’cie sent here would likely die in droves as often as not.

“So, I get it. Dysley’s goal in sending us here was to forge us into stronger weapons. Right.” Light said.

“Not cie’eth, but still monsters, nevertheless.” Sazh said, shaking his head with a slight chuckle in his voice.

“Just think of it as training for the fight ahead.” Hope said. There was a metallic clunk.

“What was that?” Sazh asked. They turned to see more of the automatons, these were in pristine condition compared to the ones in the Vile Peaks as their earlier ambushers had been. Twilight and Lightning fried them with Thundara spells, only for replacements to hop out of the same metal sarcophagus, as well as reinforcements from the others nearby. Apparently they were just going to keep coming now that there were l’cie here.

“We’ve gotta keep moving!” Hope said.

“We’ll cover you guys.” Twi said as she fried another.

Lightning had made her teach the former Guardian Corps member the spells for enhancing gunshots, from simply adding an element to increasing force and penetration, the latter of which was surprisingly more difficult to do very well. These spells would work for virtually any weapon, or even bare-handed, once you mastered their use, and the two of them had. So it was unsurprising to the girls when Lightning downed another one by emptying her clip into it’s head.

They fended off the automatons until the others were some distance away, then ran after them, Twilight sent a Thundaga behind them for good measure, destroying the automatons still active. They began encountering drones of the ‘hedron’ type soon after.

Hedrons were dodecahedrons tied to an element. A cryohedron would be tied to ice for example. They proved little challenge when faced with their opposing element. However, they had a tendency to self-destruct if the battle wasn’t going in their favor.

As they were climbing a staircase, after navigating a fairly simply, but annoying, maze of narrow paths, Fang said. “Huh, all this time I thought these Arks were just stories.” Fang said.

“Well, they’re real enough.” she cleared her throat. “Dusty enough to have clouds of the stuff, but real.” Twi said, then coughed once to clear her throat. “Makes you wonder what else from the realm of mythology is real, doesn’t it?” she asked before conjuring herself a glass of water and swiftly downing it.

They continued, towards whatever was awaiting them further in. They began encountering more flan types, and strange slug-like animals that they had had a brief encounter with the less dangerous and less hardy relatives of in the Gapra Whitewoods, as they re-entered the subway-like tunnels.

They soon reached an area of narrow catwalks over an immense drop. Sazh picked up a rock and dropped it over the side, curious. After a minute of listening for a sound, they heard the echo.

“Well, let’s not fall down there, shall we?” Twi said nervously.

“Couldn’t you just grab us telekinetically?” Snow asked.

“Yes, but if I didn’t catch you in time or fell off myself…” Twi left it hanging.

“What about that teleporting trick?” Sazh asked.

“It requires that you be relatively slow moving or staying still, for two reasons. First, it is difficult to warp from point A to point B if point A is rapidly changing relative to B.” Twi explained. This applied more for the sake of one’s frame of reference than anything else, as few could teleport without some kind of frame of reference and not kill themselves due to miscalculations a lack of one brought on. Thus the rotation of the planet and the direction of up tended not to have any effect.

“That makes sense, what’s the other reason?” Sazh asked.

“Teleportation doesn’t get rid of momentum you had pre-teleport, so if I was going fast enough beforehand, I’d still go splat, just up here instead of down there. Though considering how much more punishment we can take in comparison to a normal person, it would be on the borderline between going too fast to teleport anyway.” Twi said.

She cocked her head slightly. “Maybe I should test just how much more we can, not now of course, but-”

“That’s really creepy.” Hope commented.

“What is?” she asked, shaken out of her musings by Hope’s comment.

“You’re not bothered at all by talking about yourself dying, in fact, you want to see how it would work.” Hope said.

“It’s not like I’m going to throw myself off a skyscraper… unless I have a grav-con. I’d still need a good reason, though. I’ll be careful with my tests… unless I completely forget about trying this in the first place since we’ll be busy for some time.” Twi said.

“Has she always been this completely lacking in a sense of self-preservation?” Fang asked Snow.

“Honestly? Yes. One time a wild Behemoth got lured over by the sounds of fighting from some NORA members taking out some weak monsters that had been getting too close to the city. Twilight was nearby, she jumped in, beat down the Behemoth by herself, and then lectured them on what they’d done wrong. She was ten at the time, well, biologically anyway.” Snow answered, causing the others to give Twilight rather bemused looks.

“Well, I wasn’t going to just let them die, besides, that guy was holding his sword all wrong, calling that a stance would be an insult to the word and everyone who uses a sword, and his swordplay had only it’s unpredictability going for it since it was little more than angry flailing.” she said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice.

They let the conversation drop, all having a little laugh at her expense, she chuckled, she’d been almost asking for that one. She kept overreacting about that one guy’s swordsmanship. It really wasn’t that bad, she just tended to get riled up when people got into life-threatening situations.

They reached a bridge spanning another chasm, but it was infested with Daemons. The similarity of the name to the word demons was a fairly apt description of the creatures that had supposedly been the result of a fal’cie, well, screwing up. Not that most people would know about that, it was so obscure, they probably hadn’t even found it to make it classified. Wouldn’t want people thinking the ‘wise’ and powerful fal’cie weren’t infallible.

They looked like some sort of horrible mutation of a human in yellow and blue robes. The things refused to die unless you cut their heads off, or hit them with the equivalent of a missile in the face with magic. They were seemingly without blood, thankfully. She could live quite well not covered in blood from an exploded monster or nine. Finally, they reached a room with strange orange statues.

“These things, they’re alive.” Sazh said in mild awe when he saw one move.

“What’s the Sanctum up to?” Light asked.

“Perhaps these were here before and they’re being studied, I’d certainly like to know how they work.” Twi theorized.

“Are they planning to start a war?” Light asked. These things were likely the source of a number of features present on today’s warmechs if they had been researched.

Suddenly two of the four statues jumped off their pedestals and attacked with their monstrous swords, before forging and sending out a floating sword each that aided their masters. They found out that the swords were useless without their masters, since when an Enthundered Lightning and Snow smashed one of the statues it’s sword clattered to the ground and rapidly corroded.

The other forged and sent out a second sword, but the girls held off the swords while the boys took out their master.

“Huh, the living weapons thing was true too, from what I can tell, it’s bio-mechanical.” Twi said, grabbing and pocketing a sample for study later. It would be amazing to be able to build machines like this herself, though robotics was not her strong suit. Her knowledge of them was relatively limited.

“So, there’ll be a lot of these things in here then.” Sazh guessed.

“Knowing our luck, almost certainly.” Light agreed. There was an elevator just past the room they were in. After deciphering the ancient, yet surprisingly advanced, controls, they took it further down. “Well, on the bright side, we won’t run into Psicom down here.” Light said as they waited for the thing to reach the bottom, passing several yellow lights.

“Are you kidding? They’d have to send a whole battalion to get past all this stuff.” Fang said.

“I’m beginning to think Sazh was right about the monsters thing, no single person should have this kind of power. I’m not doubting any of you personally, but what would have happened if a l’cie turned against the people of their town or village out of bitterness on Pulse?” Twi asked.

“A bloody slaughter, every time it happened.” Fang said grimly.

“Exactly why making l’cie is a stupid idea.” Snow said. Just because you granted a random human power didn’t mean they were going to do what you wanted, or that they wouldn’t turn on you or the people around them. Especially when being made a l’cie was commonly considered a death sentence.

They entered yet another subway-like tunnel, finding more flan and little creatures similar to Zwerg Droids in appearance, squat with small wings. They proved quite vulnerable to magic. They continued in this manner until they reached an area styled like a bunker.

“We must be getting close by now.” Hope said.

“I’m getting that boss fight feeling, something’s just ahead.” Twi said, cautioning him. They stepped out to a rectangular room, inside was a familiar face.

“Raines?” Snow asked.

“What?” Fang asked.

“How did he get here?” Twi asked, then realized the feeling of danger hadn’t faded in the slightest. In fact, it had intensified. She began to form a Ruinga in either hand behind her back, just in case. The others appeared to pick up on the bad vibe and were wary as well, with the exception of the ever-trusting Snow.

“Hey, easy guys, Raines is a Sanctum officer, but he’s been helping us out.” Snow was kept from approaching Raines by Fang’s upraised arm.

“Why exactly are you here?” Fang asked suspiciously.

“…” Raines said nothing as he approached.

Twilight and Lightning came to the same exact conclusion at the same instant. ‘Dysley got to him!’ ‘Gee that took you a while.’

She ignored the newly-returned voice and rushed at the man with Lightning while Lightning yelled, “You traitor!”

He casually disarmed Lightning, but then she smirked, that being his only warning that she had actually been a decoy. Twilight tried to hit him in the face with both spells at once, but he ducked under it, and they exploded harmlessly behind him. They stepped back a few feet. “I put you on the path you’re on now, that was my Focus.” He twisted his arm, revealing his Cocoon brand.

“You’re a l’cie?!” Fang said in a mixture of surprise and anger.

“Yes, since long before we met.” he pointed Lightning’s gunblade at them, before lowering it slightly. “I did my best to assist you, as I was bid by the Sanctum fal’cie who gave me this brand, Barthandelus. Now do you understand?” he asked, lowering the blade completely. “The fal’cie have watched over you, guiding your each and every step, the ‘luck’ that saved you, time and again, was a deliberate machination, each and every time.” Raines told them.

Twilight had thought that that fighter from Lake Bresha was convenient, and they’d had a large number of lucky breaks, which apparently weren’t lucky breaks. All those times a fal’cie could have discovered them but didn’t were because they had chosen not to report them, or Dysley hadn’t done anything.

“But surely, you must be asking, why? The Primarch, or perhaps I should say, Barthandelus, is crafting you into the instruments of Cocoon’s demise.” Cid explained.

“We’ve been played for fools.” Fang said.

“There’s just one thing about all this that makes no sense. A Cocoon fal’cie? Why?” Sazh asked.

“The why is quite simple: to restore the Maker.” Cid answered.

“The Maker?” Hope asked.

“I once read a very old, and heavily corrupted, file about an entity that created the world of Pulse, the three gods in charge of the world, and the humans and the fal’cie. Are you referring to that entity?” Twi asked. The file was really badly corrupted, what she’d just said had taken nearly a week’s worth of effort to decipher. Even then, she hadn’t learned anything besides what she’d just said. She was convinced it was a deletion attempt gone wrong.

“Yes, and as you said, the Maker is the entity responsible for creating both humans and fal’cie. Long ago, the Maker departed this world, leaving both races behind. In a sense, you could call humans and fal’cie siblings that had been orphaned by the same parent.

The humans quickly forgot the order imposed by their creator, and began to war among themselves for the first time in history. The fal’cie focus on recalling their lost deity, and returning the world to its former glory. This is the purpose that lies at the heart of every action taken by every fal’cie, whether of Cocoon or Pulsian origin. Calling back the Maker requires a fitting sacrifice.” Cid said.

“Yeah, we heard, the destruction of Cocoon.” Light said, having regained her footing during the conversation.

“Yes, the lives of everyone on this world, in bloody tribute.” Cid said, just a hint of bitterness in his voice. He sent the gunblade back to Lightning in shuriken style. She caught it easily, getting into a defensive stance as she did. He wouldn’t have disarmed her as easily as he had if she hadn’t let him.

“No, that’s crazy talk.” Sazh said, shaking his head in denial.

“Actually, a few things have fallen into place. Since the fal’cie don’t really have a higher authority other than the currently missing Maker, they didn’t really ever grow up. Imagine a child being told to stand in one spot and then left to brood on being abandoned for centuries. Their bitterness must be enormous.” Twi said, a hint of pity and sorrow bleeding through. It certainly didn’t excuse their actions, but it helped explain them.

“But there’s still something that doesn’t make sense. What do they need us for? Couldn’t they bring Cocoon to an end with a thought? People are totally dependent on them.” Hope asked.

“Their existence is tied directly to the creation, maintenance, and protection of this metal shell. Their very nature, their Focus, if you will, is what prevents them from taking direct action against Cocoon, holding them firmly in check. Their l’cie are similarly bound.” Cid explained.

“So they need us… because Cocoon fal’cie and their l’cie can’t destroy Cocoon. They needed tools.” Hope said.

“If we can stop this by doing nothing, then we’ll do nothing.” Vanille interjected.

“Noble, I expected as much.” Cid responded, unfazed.

“You lied to us.” Snow said, seething. “What happened to your dream of rebuilding Cocoon for the people?” Snow asked, clenching his fist. “Was it all a lie?!” He asked, angrily.

“No, it was a shadow of my dream. When I was human, I wished for change, and when I built the influence to cause it, change did happen.” he briefly showed them his brand again. “I gained all the power I could hope for, but became nothing more than a puppet with no will to wield it.” His brand began to glow, brighter and brighter. “The fal’cie was not the one who changed, it was me.” he explained.

“I see, so that was when you were made a l’cie.” Twilight said sadly.

“A l’cie, tied to an inescapable Focus.” Cid responded.

“I suppose that depends on if you consider becoming a cie’eth escaping.” Twi sent back, quickly recovering her resolve.

“True enough.” Cid said smiling a bit, then becoming serious again. “But at the time, I believed myself a slave to my destiny, I had all but given up on any dreams of freedom.” Cid said.

“What are you saying?” Sazh asked. Why was Raines telling them all this?

“I came here of my own accord, not on the orders of any fal’cie. Seeing you fight brought all of it back. Brought back that future that I once strove for.” his brand was building up a surge of magic, and beginning to sparkle from it. “I too, will challenge my fate.” his brand began to flicker, before causing Cid’s entire body to shine blue for a moment, then releasing a wave of magical force that pushed them back a couple feet.

His body coursed with blue magic as he began to float. Cid snapped his fingers, and a larger copy of his brand appeared, then more surrounded them in a circle until only one spot remained open. “If I can defeat you here, then the fal’cie plan will fail.” Cid said, real determination in his voice as the last spot was sealed.

“Raines!” Fang called, appearing to recognize this.

“I will use all my remaining power.” he swung his arms, as if forming a spell matrix with them, which appeared to be precisely what he was doing. He shone brightly, and when the light faded, he was a half crystallized figure, some sort of half-cie’eth. “I will set you free!” he cried, his voice distorted.

They dodged his kicks and clawed punches, and defended against his magic while Hope buffed them up. Once he’d done that, he Slowed Cid, and they piled both physical and magical attacks on. However, when the Slow spell wore off, Cid threw them off. “An impressive display, but I’m not finished!” he roared, then transformed into another cie’eth form. Now he had wings, six of them.

With his wings he began flying out of the way of attacks, and striking from the air, while they shifted almost entirely to spells, except when he was attacking them directly, the only time when he couldn’t dodge a physical strike, though bullets only seemed to annoy him.

Finally, a combination of Fira, Thundara, Blizzara, Watera, Aerora, Ruinga, and a direct physical strike from Snow brought him down. He lay on the ground panting heavily. They sheathed their weapons, he was in no condition to fight. “Raines…” Light said, a hint of sorrow coming through.

“It’s funny, isn’t it? All I wanted was a moment of triumph.” he panted for breath, “How it ends isn’t important, just do what you know is right.” Sparks of blue light were beginning to come from him. “Trust yourselves.” he finished softly, before another blinding flash of blue light emanated from him, lasting longer, and revealing that Raines had been frozen in crystal.

“Wait, does that mean he completed his Focus?” Sazh asked after a moment.

“I don’t think so.” Snow said.

“His Focus was to help us, it doesn’t seem that fighting us to stop us fits into that. …Unless he’d already fulfilled it and he was delaying turning into crystal somehow.” Twi said. Could you do that?

“All Raines did was try to save Cocoon in his own way. His own way…” Snow ran off.

“Hey!” Sazh yelled.

“Where are you-?” Light asked.

“Snow!” Vanille called.

They turned as Vanille gasped, to see Raines disintegrating into bits of light. They chased after Snow after Raines disappeared completely. They fended off noticeably fewer than usual monsters, went down with an elevator, and fought their way across another bridge.

“Where’s Snow? We must be close to the bottom now.” Vanille asked.

“There are still fewer enemies than there should be, he’ll just have gone ahead.” Twi said reassuringly.

Once they entered a hexagonal room, the doors locked and they had to defeat all the enemies to open them. They traversed several more before taking yet another elevator down. This time however, monsters attacked, more Daemons. Another wave of them followed the first. “Ugh, not again.” Hope said as a third wave attacked.

‘This is annoying.’ the voice in her head said.

‘So, what do you want?’ she asked.

‘I’m an alter ego, if you die, I die, so I’m rather interested in your continued survival. It would be easier if you’d stop restraining yourself.’ it responded.

‘What do you mean? If I went all-out, I might hurt them on accident.’ she was rather keen on keeping that from happening.

‘What you want to protect is not automatically what I want to protect. In all honesty, I don’t particularly care about the others.’ it said, a hint of annoyance coming through.

‘Let’s just agree to disagree.’ she told it, realizing they’d reached an impasse. This was an issue she would not compromise on.

They walked on, eventually reaching a large, imposing gate. They opened it, and found the ruins of what appeared to be an old industrial complex, and Snow. “Hey guys.” he said, glancing at them.

“So, what’s the story?” Light asked him.

“Thought you guys would be right behind me, turned around to see that you weren’t, decided that this was a good place as any to wait for you. Cleared out the monsters too.” Snow said laconically.

“But we ran into plenty on the way down, fewer than usual, but there were a lot. I suppose that means they’ll regenerate their numbers in our wake.” Twi said. They’d have trouble retracing their steps if it came to that.

“So, how about down there?” Sazh asked, crouching down to look over the side of the ledge.

“If the stories are right, it’s a maze.” Vanille said.

“Well, that’s the last thing we need. It’s pretty much been a straight shot to get here and we’ve done alright because of that. However, we might have trouble if the paths begin to branch much.” Twi said.

“This place is a l’cie boot camp. All kinds of challenges from Gran Pulse are waiting.” Fang said.

“Challenges huh? To get us all ready to go wipe out Cocoon?” Sazh asked.

“We could just wait here if turning cie’eth sounds better.” Fang told him.

“I believe this is the sort of situation ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ is for.” Twilight said dryly.

“I have had enough of this!! WHERE’S THE WAY OUT!?” Sazh yelled.

“Way out? Who said there was a way out?” Snow asked him. He punched his fist into his palm in preparation. “Bring it on. My mind is made up. Maybe I’ll just end up a cie’eth, but until that happens, I’m going to make Serah proud.” Snow said, holding the crystallized tear from Serah in front of himself. Twilight sighed in relief, Snow was back to normal.

“I couldn’t bring myself to admit that this tear meant goodbye. That’s why I kept searching for her.” he threw up the tear and caught it. “But I didn’t need to look, Serah was here the whole time,” He held the tear to his heart. “right here. Watching over me. Now I get what this tear’s been telling me. It’s been saying not to let our Focus win.

It’s not the fal’cie we should listen to, it’s Serah and Raines. Do you know why?” he asked them. “Because our Focus doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that we protect Cocoon, whatever it takes.” Snow cracked a grin as he finished.

“Ditto, but let’s not give up on ourselves just yet, there’s not much point in saving the world if you lose all the people you care about in the process.” Twi said, walking over and placing her hand on the one holding the tear.

“Same here. I’ll help you do it.” Vanille said, also putting a hand on theirs.

“Alright, I’m in.” Hope agreed, joining them with Sazh’s chocobo chick, which postured a brave position, before falling off, they chuckled at that.

“I mean, come on, when a chocobo agrees, you know you’re on the right path.” Snow said, chuckling.

“There you go, that’s right.” Sazh agreed.

“Well, you can count me out.” Fang said, walking over to one side.

“After being through all this, and hearing all that? We can’t just sacrifice all those people, besides, I don’t like Dysley or the fal’cie in general, with only one exception I’ve ever encountered. I certainly don’t want to follow his orders.” Twi said.

“Amen to that.” Light agreed.

“You all want to go it alone…” Fang suddenly turned brandishing her lance, “then so will I!” Fang said.

“Fang? What are you doing?” Light asked, her eyes narrowing.

“I say, let Cocoon get what’s coming to them, they hate us for being l’cie. What’s it to me if they die? Better that than watch a friend go cie’eth!” Fang said, Twilight began to prepare a Waterga, the least lethal of the highest tier spells. If it came to a fight, they’d do their best not to kill her, but she was badly outnumbered by opponents of comparable ability. “If you don’t have the nerve for it, I’ll do it myself.” Fang said somewhat haggardly. “Go on alone, get stronger, and smash Cocoon out of the sky!” Fang yelled at them, before falling to one knee.

“Fang!” Vanille called out worriedly.

‘Wait, something’s off.’ she realized.

‘Her brand’s about to send out an Eidolon, stupid!’ the voice answered. She really ought to give it a name.

“You turn cie’eth, and there’s no coming back!” Fang said as her brand began to glow orange. “I’m not letting it end that way!” she screamed as a purple incantation circle formed around her. A light shot out of her brand, releasing another Eidolon. This one was a purple dragon with red claws and bat wings.

“What’s he doing here?” Fang asked as the rest of the group surrounded her. “Oh, I get it. Come to take pity on me? To take care of a broken l’cie?” Fang asked it, as it’s wings changed to a smaller but more lethal-looking form with red-and black energy blades on the end.

“That thing’s here to help us?” Snow asked incredulously

“They certainly don’t show it until you overpower them.” Twi agreed with his sentiment.

“Yeah, that’s what they’re for. They help us, Eidolons are our salvation. If we can’t decide what to do next, they come put us out of our misery!” Fang yelled, partly at Snow partly at ‘Bahamut’ as it ‘s name apparently was.

“Oh, so that means you haven’t made up your mind yet.” Snow reasoned as Bahamut charged a sphere of magic, then launched it at Fang.

Twilight, Lightning and Snow sent the sphere flying away from Fang. “Of course she hasn’t, otherwise she would’ve attacked instead of just readying her lance like that.” Twi said “Most people wouldn’t be entirely sure of attacking their friends under any circumstances.” she continued as she sent a Ruinga at the draconic Eidolon.

“What are you doing? Why are you protecting me?” Fang asked as they each pulled out/unholstered their weapons and pointed them at Bahamut.

“Protecting one of our own.” Light answered.

“Remember what I said earlier? You don’t just pick and choose when to help your friends. When they need your help, you help.” Twi said.

“We can do without their brand of mercy, and we don’t need a fal’cie’s orders either! I’m fighting this Focus to the end. We all are.” Light turned to Fang and held out a hand to her. “So please, fight with us.” Light pleaded.

Fang though it over for a second, then she grabbed Lightning’s hand. Lightning and Vanille helped her to her feet. “Ready when you are!” Fang said, twirling her staff.

“Libra says it’s not weak to an element, but it is weak to debuffs!” Twi said, as the draconic Eidolon cast Doom on them. Twilight noted there was a slight variance in the Doom it cast, causing a different amount of time on the clock with Bahamut in comparison to Fallen Angel.

Hope healed and buffed them, while she debuffed Bahamut, and Snow drew it’s attacks, Sazh, Vanille, Fang, and Lightning attacked it directly. They dodged it’s devastating attacks as best they could, but even being clipped by the thing resulted in a battering, even through their buffing and Bahamut’s debuffing.

However, they eventually caused it to yield with Fang striking the finishing blow. It transformed into an airship like form, before leaving behind a crystal for Fang to call for it. Fang glanced at her brand, noting the change in it’s appearance.

“Look! A new path!” Vanille pointed ahead of them, a crude path of blue energy had been formed, leading down. “Maybe that thing did save us!” Vanille said in epiphany.

“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to call it a sign of me being right?” Snow asked.

“No way, because if we did, then reality would fall a part at the sheer illogic of Snow Villiers being right.” Light said, causing them all to double-take.

“Did Light just make a joke?” Hope asked, voicing their thoughts.

“Too late to avoid the universe falling apart then.” Snow shot back, smiling. His face got serious, “Listen, keep our eyes on the goal, and we’ll figure something out.” Snow explained.

They started walking down the ramp, now that she got a better look at it, this place resembled a ruined temple more than an industrial complex. As they got lower down, a welcome sight greeted them. “Hey look at that!” Vanille called pointing at a brown, rusted, but completely intact ship of Pulse design.

“Oh, an airship?” Sazh asked.

“Ahuh, and it’s from Gran Pulse!” Vanille told them.

“Well, that would explain why it looks so much different from the Cocoon airships.” Twi agreed, though she was already aware that it was from Pulse because of a couple spells woven into the ship’s structure. Why show off?

“I guess it was one of this Arks’… weapons.” Vanille said, one hand on her chin. “Or something.”

Twilight noticed a green light above them, some sort of spell in a seal like their brands. “Any idea what that is?” she asked pointing at the odd sight.

“That’s a gate to Gran Pulse!” Fang said.

“Right.” Light said.

“So, that’s our exit? A gateway to Pulse, or bust?” Sazh asked.

“Could be one of Dysley’s tricks.” Light put forth.

“True, but we don’t have better options.” Twi said, as she began examining the spell, she noticed it was quite old and felt different from Dysley’s. Hm, probably a good sign.

“Uh oh, that’s no good. You think it’ll take us to Eden?” Vanille asked.

“Nope, no more of these ships flying themselves, I’m doing the flying. That thing’s not going anywhere these boys” He held his hands up. “don’t tell it to.” Sazh said.

“The gate doesn’t seem to be Dysley’s doing, it’s old and the magic has a different feel to it.” Twi mentioned.

Fang scoffed. “That is a Gran Pulse ship, not a Cocoon ship.” she said.

“Really? You just leave it to me.” he thumped his chest and broke out in a coughing fit. They chuckled at him.

“Either way,” Snow said as Sazh recovered. “we’re on borrowed time, so we might as well go. We get lucky, maybe we’ll even find some way to get rid of these goofy tattoos.” Snow said, holding up an arm.

“But there’s no way to do that, Dysley fixed it so we can’t.” Vanille said morosely.

“You never know. Maybe we just didn’t think to look for one.” Fang reassured her.

“If nothing else, we know Cocoon’s safe for the time being. I’d say it’s worth checking out at least.” Hope said

“Maybe, but what about your dad?” Light asked him. The others groaned, the smiles slipping off.

“I made him a promise, a promise that I’d do what I had to. He said only I would know what that was. The world’s full of lies, There’s no way of really knowing what’s right. All we can do, is believe in ourselves. It’s easy to sit back and let people trick you. Like how the Sanctum had us all thinking that a l’cie was some sort of monster, except for Twilight, because she had another perspective to look at things from.” He turned to them. “I’m done with their lies.

Fal’cie, this whole Focus thing, from here on out I use my eyes.” Hope said turning to them one by one. “Think, and act.” Lightning smiled. “I might not make all the right choices, but as long as I’m the one who decided what to do, there’s nothing to regret.” Hope finished.

“Alright, let’s do it. I’m with ya, bad choices and all.” Sazh said, patting Hope roughly on the back.

“Of course, I’m still not sure how it’s gonna turn out. Pulse is hell, ya know?” Hope said.

“Oh is it now? How many times have you been there?” Fang asked him.

He chuckled, “None! But I want to go, and see what it’s like for myself.” Hope said.

“Okay people.” Snow tossed the tear up and caught it again, then pointed at them. “So, everybody in?” Snow asked.

They all made various gestures of assent. “Off to hell we go.” Light said. They climbed on board and Sazh got the ship working with surprising ease. They flew to the gate, and through it to where Pulse was waiting.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 7 – Palamecian Rescue or Things Get Complicated

//——————————//
// Palamecian Rescue or Things Get Complicated// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

The Skytank flew them to the Lindblum, the ever-moving cruiser-class airship which served as headquarters of the Cavalry division of the Guardian Corps. They usually disposed of the monsters roaming the uninhabited areas of the outer rim of Cocoon, and served as a rapid-response force for any disasters that occurred. The regulation of the environment by the fal’cie made that uncommon, but not unheard of. Their roles as rescue workers and in fending off airborne monsters made the force popular among civilians. Their transport set down in one of the hangars, and they got off. They were led to a command post with several television screens.

Their mysterious benefactor turned out to be Cid Raines, commander of the Cavalry. He had black hair and wore a white cape with the collar spiked up over a blue military uniform. He was aiding them because he had a similar view of the fal’cie to her own, an oppressive and restricting rule at best, with only the illusion of true freedom, and the treatment of people as little more than means to an end.

Rygdea was the name of the soldier who had brought them here, he was one of Cid’s closest, both in rank and in terms of friendship, subordinates.

“So, what are we doing here?” Snow asked. He’d been provided with a new coat by Cid’s people.

“There’s something you need to see.” Cid said, gesturing the 5 l’cie and Rygdea to watch, and then turning on the TV to a channel that first appeared to be broadcasting a view of some cloud cover, until the clouds moved to reveal a relatively large airship.

“Isn’t that the one we saw at Lake Bresha?” she asked, upon recognizing it.

“Yes, though in actuality, it is a fal’cie modified into an anti-Pulse weapon. It also carried the Vestige during the Purge. Now listen.” Cid explained.

The camera image changed to a frontline view of the ship. “There she is.” a female announcer began. “The Palamecia pride of the Sanctum Skyfleet!” Fighters, bioweapons, and lesser warships were shown flying past, this was obviously a whole fleet. The camera was clearly either mounted on a moving platform, or a fighter, because it began to follow a pair of fighters along their course around the ship. “This mighty flagship currently serves as a prison for the l’cie apprehended in Nautilus.” the camera panned out to show a full view of the Palamecia and it’s convoy of warships and fighters. She noted a pair of soldiers jog past behind them out of the corner of one eye. “The l’cie will face official sentencing upon the convoy’s arrival in the capital.” the announcer finished.

“So what’s with the freak show?” Snow asked, angry due to seeing how their friends were being held in front of them almost tauntingly. …Wait a minute, that was odd. Shouldn’t they want the l’cie put down as quickly as possible?

“So that the Primarch can stand in judgement of the villainous l’cie, with their execution as the climax. The people will cheer their demise, and the dominion of the fal’cie will once again be completely undisputed.” Cid explained, glancing at them.

“All part of the plan.” Light said, cold stoicism masking her emotions.

“Then why parade them in front of us like this? They could simply bring them to the capital in secret, but they’re being about as noisy as they can about it. Merely publicizing the trial when they reached Eden would prove to the public that the Sanctum was doing it’s job.” Twi asked, then realized that there was a very good reason. “Unless they plan to try to use those two as bait to draw us out of hiding to a heavily armed and armored airship surrounded by warships and fighters and crawling with Sanctum forces even if we manage to get on board.” she finished, one hand pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Yes, but every trap can also be an opportunity for those who are flexible enough to take advantage of such things.” Cid said. Hm, sounded like he was speaking from experience.

“In a display of a totally unwavering dedication to duty, the Primarch himself has boarded the Palamecia and focused his personal attention on the resolution of the l’cie crisis.” the same announcer said happily.

“Okay, there is no way they’re not baiting us, it could have been trying to keep the citizens from panicking before, but no way would that be true with this.” Fang said.

“Now they’re using people as bait.” Snow said, his mood souring a little further.

“Yeah: ‘Here are your friends. Come and get ’em.'” Light said.

“Well, if they’re daring us to mount a rescue… I’ll take that action. All in.” he brought his fists together and regained some of his usual cheer.

“It would be downright rude of us to refuse such an elaborate invitation. Especially when they had to go to all this trouble.” Twi said, smirking. She was slightly worried she’d gotten much crueler since being made a l’cie, but she’d be more than willing to dispatch anything trying to kill her friends. She was dimly aware that she had a bit of an abandonment complex ever since the rehearsal, which led to her somewhat stupid levels of loyalty edging towards suicidal bravery (and apparently homicidal anger if her friends were endangered).

“All righty, bets are on the table. We leave when you’re ready. I’ll be standing by.” Rygdea told them, he waved before running off.

“Hey guys, I’ve got a new spell that will come in handy.” Twi told them.

“What’s that?” Hope asked.

“You know how in some video games you can level up and upgrade items? Well, I’ve figured out how to do the same with our weapons and accessories by putting modified l’cie spells on them. They’ll even be tailored to our strengths and get a small immediate boost.” she explained.

“That does sound useful, our stuff getting stronger as we use it.” Fang said.

“Plus, it’ll cut down on wear and tear.” Light agreed.

After she finished casting the spell on their equipment, they followed Rygdea. “You guys ready already?” Rygdea asked.

“Yeah.” Twi, Snow and Light said at the same time.

Rygdea nodded and flipped a switch. Floodlights came on one by one, showing a red and white airship. “This baby back here is actually a Psicom vessel. It’ll deliver you to the Palamecia.” he said.

“Oh, so we’re cargo now.” Snow said in mock-offense.

“Actually, I’d say we’re the payload.” Twi drawled.

“Either way, a parting gift to our rotting government. Take those Psicom guys apart for us.” Rygdea said.

“I suppose every one we deal with is one less you guys have to.” Twi nodded, seeing the logic.

“Yes, but are we supposed to take on all of them? I’m pretty sure the entire division’s on board.” Light said. “We’re l’cie, but we’re not that powerful, they’d bring us down by attrition eventually.” Crap, that was right. The certainly had more stamina now, but an entire division was beyond them, even if they used their Eidoloins. They’d simply collapse from exhaustion eventually, then they’d get a bullet or five through the head, then they’d likely be incinerated or something just to be safe. No miraculous recoveries for them. They’d need to either do as much sneaking as possible, or rest at some point.

“I don’t care how many lackeys they’ve got. Bring ’em on! Vanille’s in there.” Fang said.

“I’m sure she’s fine.” Hope said.

“You can’t execute someone who’s already dead.” Twi said, somewhat morbidly.

“Besides, Vanille’s tougher than I could ever be.” he finished with his head hung a bit lower.

They turned to him, “Hope, are you scared?” Light asked.

“To be honest, yeah, terrified actually. But I’ll be okay. Because I have you, and this guy,” he pointed at Snow. “and Twilight,” he pointed at Twilight. “and Fang.” he pointed at Fang. “We’re all in this mess. We’ve got to stick together.” he finished.

Rygdea chuckled, “Right, enough with the bonding. It’s go time.” he said. They followed him further along the path towards their ride.

“Say, what did you mean ‘this guy?'” Snow asked, amused. Hope just laughed in response.

*** The Bridge, The Palamecia ***

“Sir, are you sure you don’t want me to stay as well?” Rosch asked the primarch as he was about to leave.

“Yes Rosch, if the l’cie are able to fight their way past our escort, the soldiers inside the ship itself, and Jihl here, then what hope would you have of stopping them?” Dysley asked bluntly, chuckling slightly.

“I suppose you are right. I’ll be waiting on further orders sir.” and with that Rosch left.

‘I’ll have to handle this myself if they do manage it, they’ll be most vulnerable to an aircraft-based fight, since their access to l’cie powers that are of any use is limited.’ Rosch thought, he’d get the most powerful fighter in the fleet, the Proudclad, and wait for them to come out if he got even a hint of their presence on the Palamecia, then wipe them out in the air, where they were at their weakest. He nodded to himself as he walked to his transport.

‘It seems all is going according to plan.’ Dysley thought, a slightly cruel smile on his face.

*** The Airspace Outside The Palamecia, Roughly 20 Minutes Later ***

“Hold on, I’ve got to give them the authorization code, or they’ll shoot us down.” Rygdea said.

“Well, it’s not like we’re going anywhere.” Hope joked.

“I think Snow’s sense of humor’s infected you.” Light said, mock serious.

“Is it very contagious?” Fang asked, going along with the gag.

“Oh yes, it spreads like the common cold during cold and flu season.” Twilight said in a fake serious tone, before they all burst out laughing.

Rygdea entered the code, they waited for about ten minutes before Rygdea activated the comms and asked “What’s the holdup?” in exasperation.

“Stand by. Verifying identification code.” an operator said.

“You let me land this bird, or I’ll crash it into your face!” Rygdea threatened, annoyed. How did it take this long to check a four digit code?

After another minute, the operator said “Code verified. You’re free to dock. Welcome aboard.”

“Well, it’s about damn time.” Rygdea said huffily.

A pair of fighters used tractor beams to guide their ship to the dock, which pulled out of the flagship as they approached. A row of blue ovals served as guides to where they were expected to fly. They passed through, landed, and they started getting ready to get out. “Well, this is where we split up, the commander can’t let the Sanctum know he’s on to them.” Rygdea said.

“Makes sense.” Twilight said. If Psicom realized Raines had figured out there was a great deal wrong with the current rule, then they’d find some means to silence him, this might vary from demotion to killing him. Probably the latter considering how Psicom usually dealt with things.

“This is close enough, we can get the rest of the way there ourselves.” Hope said with a somewhat forced amount of confidence.

The ship left almost as soon as they were all off, they waved goodbye, then turned towards the ship’s interior. The ship was made of greyish metal with lights of various colors serving as highlights.

“Code red! I repeat, code red! This is not a drill!” a voice announced as they neared a door, only moments after the ship had left. Eight soldiers walked into view, pointing their guns at the group of five, except for one with a staff. Apparently, someone had realized something was up. All that time ‘checking’ the code, was probably used scrambling the soldiers.

“Alright, let’s tear ’em up!” Snow said, determinedly.

“We’re here for Vanille and Sazh! Stay focused!” Light told them.

“We’re not leaving without them!” Twi said.

The one with the staff turned out to be a ‘mage’ of sorts, the staff was full of advanced manadrives, letting the soldier cast spells of the basic types with almost impunity. There was also one who wielded a gunblade like Lightning and seemed pretty good with it as well as better-trained than their compatriots, they were somewhat more trouble than their run-of-the-mill compatriots, but not a real threat, nonetheless.

“Cheap knock-offs.” Light said, annoyed.

“They say that mimicry is the highest form of flattery.” Twi said. “Still, they seem to be prescribing to ‘send a thief to catch a thief’ this was some sort of attempt to defeat us based on that principle. Though they failed so miserably I feel kind of insulted.” she added. Was that really the best they could do at copying them?

Another group showed up, the proportions were the same, but the numbers had been doubled. Two Lightning knock-offs, two Twilight knock-offs, and 12 regulars. This fight proved significantly harder, but still not life-threatening. “Looks like they want to play.” Fang said once that group had been dealt with.

“No kidding, where to now?” Snow asked.

Fang smiled as she pointed up to the metal framework above the door, which appeared sealed shut. “Right up there.” she said.

They jumped and climbed, (and teleported in Twilight’s case) their way up the framework, until they reached a platform over the door. They rode an elevator up to the roof of this cavernous room, and fended off a small number of soldiers in the hall leading to a series of platforms suspended on the ship’s outside.

They had to jump down to reach them, and the height made it impossible to jump back up since there were no footholds or ledges.

“Guess we won’t be going back that way.” Snow said.

“We’ll find another route.” Light said.

“Too bad teleportation requires exponentially more energy for each person, or this would be a snap.” Twi said ruefully. Well, technically, it required more energy in a non-linear fashion with greater amounts of mass, but that was the simple explanation.

“I’m way ahead of you.” Fang said pointing to a bridge that led to another opening.

They fought their way through the soldiers, and drones, and made their way to the bridge, using fighters as staircases up to that height. They took cover behind a wall, soldiers were milling about, preparing for the incoming l’cie. They might have been expected, but they apparently weren’t expected to push through their forces so easily.

“Let us through! Block our way, you die!” Snow called, several gunshots answered him. They were pretty on edge, then again, they were dealing with people who had massacred Sanctum forces up to this point.

“You tryin’ to get ’em angry?” Fang asked.

“Eh, I thought maybe they’d run.” he said, flippantly disregarding the fact that people had been trying to shoot him about ten seconds ago. “There’s been more than enough blood spilled.”

“You thought they’d run? Let me refresh your memory, those soldiers think they’re protecting Cocoon from us, the ‘evil’ l’cie. They’d be willing to die if it meant stopping us. The fal’cie have them all brainwashed.” Light told him

Snow thumped his hand into the wall. “Damn fal’cie.” he growled “We cannot let this go on.” he declared.

“Let’s go.” Twi said, preemptively unleashing a Thundaga to scatter the soldiers.

They fought their way through the halls, and sets of the type of platforms outside several times. “Attention all crew, code green! I repeat code green! Security forces stand by! Hostile forces have boarded the ship!” an announcer yelled over the blaring sirens.

“Well, this should be unpleasant.” Twi said. Wait, why was code green a bad thing? What color was all-clear?

They began to fight their way through waves of soldiers again, they were making steady progress, but the place was a labyrinth. They kept having to backtrack and having to fight reinforcements in areas they’d already cleared. They continued in this manner, cutting down entire companies until the siren began blaring again.

“Code purple! I repeat, code purple! Security breach! All units on alert!” the announcer sounded decidedly nervous now.

“All these colors, what do they mean?” Hope asked curiously.

“Means that we’re doing our job, and making a lot of Psicom guys nervous.” Fang said.

An explosion rocked the area. “Who’re they fighting?” Hope asked warily.

“Vanille.” Fang said in a low voice. They continued onward, passing through a chamber with pillars that energy flowed through and some of the stronger varieties of
bioweapons.

*** The Bridge, The Palamecia ***

Reports were coming in from two ever-expanding areas of the ship of entire companies wiped out with little to no effort. The two l’cie who had been imprisoned had escaped, and the five l’cie who came to rescue them were proving nigh unstoppable. A video showed one of them backhanding a soldier into a wall hard enough to leave cracks. Backhanded! She had wanted to send more soldiers for moving the captured l’cie, but the primarch had forbade it, stating that the number she’d wanted to send would have left a gaping hole in the defenses.

Alright, she granted that an entire company for two people had seemed like overkill at the time, but now it appeared it might not have been enough anyway! Jihl was on the verge of a panic attack after the piece of news she received next.

“Colonel! We’ve lost track of the intruders!” one of the female operators called worriedly. They might be too busy dealing with the reports to watch the camera feeds very closely, but they weren’t stupid enough to believe that there was nothing wrong when a tenth of the division was either convinced that the l’cie were around the next corner with a decent chance of being correct, or had already fallen!

“That puts us at code yellow, no wait, code blue? If we were orange, that would mean…” She’d be the first to admit she wasn’t a nice person, her sadistic streak was the tip of the iceberg to be honest, but she didn’t want the l’cie to destroy Cocoon! She was pacing back and forth in an attempt to keep herself from falling apart, that was the last thing they needed right now, the commanding officer coming apart at the seams.

“The escapees made it through, they’re entering the engine room!” a male operator called, distressed. With the group of five l’cie seemingly inexorable, relatively few troops could be spared for the escapees, this fact didn’t make her feel less like cursing when she heard the news that two of the enemy l’cie were in the engine room of an airship.

“Damn l’cie.” she growled, allowing herself that much.

“Intruders located, they’re on the starboard side’s weather deck.” another male operator called.

“Make it rain!” she snapped.

She was too absorbed in her own thoughts to hear the primarch mutter. “Desperate times demand flexibility. Code white.” the monitors flashed said color briefly, the operators too busy to notice as they were dealing with the overwhelmed soldiers asking for orders as their companies were being picked off, one by one.

*** The Weather Deck ***

“Hm? the wind is dying down.” Hope said, they’d been forced to stay at the door when they reached this point, trying to figure out a way across without being blown off by the wind until a moment ago.

“Yeah, it’s stopping and we’re decelerating.” Light said.

“Okay, this can’t be a coincidence, they’re not that convenient.” Twi said. Something was up here, and she was going to find out what sooner or later.

“They must be up to something.” Light agreed.

“Couldn’t we have just gotten lucky for once?” Snow asked.

“Have you been paying attention to the last couple weeks?” Twi asked in deadpan.

Bioweapons began to come out of the woodwork, or metalwork in this case. “That looks a lot more like bad luck.” Fang said.

“You’ve got a point.” Snow admitted.

“Not to me, that we can actually do something about.” Light said, unholstering her gunblade.

“I’m with you on that.” Twi agreed, sending a fireball at a bioweapon.

They fought their way past the bioweapons, soldiers and drones, making their way in what was probably the bridge’s direction. Until they ran into a draconic yellow bioweapon with wings that had metal bands on them, anyways. A Kalavinka Striker, apparently.

“Physical attacks will be ineffective and it absorbs lightning magic.” she warned. Her Libra was getting good from all the practice.

“So Light… How do you figure this makes us lucky?” Fang asked.

“Because when we kill it, we’ll be one step closer to Vanille. How’s that?” Light asked.

“Well, when you put it that way!” Fang brandished her lance.

Hope began using debuffs on the thing while the rest of them attacked it. It soon fell, and then fell off the ship, but another appeared in it’s place. “Another one!” Hope called.

“Geez, are these the usual around here?” Twi asked.

“One big, bad stroke of luck after another. I’m so happy I could cry.” Snow said sarcastically.

The Striker flew overhead and past them as if mocking them. “Tease us will ya?” Fang challenged.

“Come down here!” Snow yelled at it.

There was an explosion a little bit behind them, and Sazh and Vanille emerged from the cloud of smoke. They were waving their arms and coughing in an attempt to remove the smoke from their insides and outsides.

“Vanille!” Fang called, getting the pink-garbed girl’s attention.

“Fang!” Vanille called happily. They rushed over to each other.

“There you are.” Snow said in Sazh’s direction.

“Miss me?” he asked.

“Not you, the monster!” Snow said pointing at their newest adversary.

They didn’t even bother with debuffs this time now that they had backup in the form of their two fellow l’cie, they just blasted it until it died, falling onto the ship. The moment they were sure it was dead, Fang and Vanille rushed to each other and embraced. Then Fang bent down, realizing what she was about to do, Twilight turned to the boys.

“Alright guys, look away.” she said, just as Fang lifted up Vanille’s skirt to check on her brand.

“Thank goodness, you’ve still got time.” Fang said, choked up.

“Fang, there’s… there’s something I need to tell you.” Vanille began, only for Fang to hug her again.

“Making me worry like that, we’ll talk later missy.” Fang said, not altogether very sternly.

Sazh sighed. “What’s wrong?” Snow asked him.

“Huh? Oh, uh, nothing, nothing. So, what’s on the agenda?” Sazh asked.

“Toppling the Sanctum.” Snow said.

“No, I mean really.” Sazh said.

“He’s serious, we’re taking down the Sanctum, and giving Cocoon back to the people. The fal’cie have called the shots for long enough.” Light said, supporting Snow.

“If we actually manage to pull this off, it’ll be a miracle.” Hope said.

“Well, good thing lady luck’s on our side.” Fang said.

“I’ve faced down a corrupted goddess with less support than we have here, this won’t take long.” Twi said encouragingly. “Oh, I almost forgot.” she quickly explained and cast the same spell she’d used earlier on their own equipment on Sazh and Vanille’s. “There, everyone’s accounted for.” More bioweapons of the same shape, but larger, and in purple and white, flew overhead.

“Not more of ’em!” Sazh complained.

“This is getting really old really fast.” Snow said.

“Well, then check this out, a miracle, Gran Pulse style!” Fang rushed towards the edge of the ship, closely followed by Vanille.

“Vanille, go fish!” Fang ordered, leaving the rest of them confused.

Vanille seemed to understand perfectly, saying “Right!” before sending a hook into the thing after it sent a spray of icy breath at them. The rope attached to the hook extended until Vanille called “Fang!” while pulling on it. Fang used her lance to help Vanille bring it down to the ship. The dragon-thing screeched once before quieting down.

“That’s a good girl.” Fang said soothingly, before turning to the rest of the group. “Let’s get on!” she called. Twilight saw that same owlish bird from before watching them again, there was something odd about it, but she couldn’t place it. She decided to worry about it later. They all got on, with magical construct safety ropes tethering them to their… vehicle. Which proved a wise decision, as Sazh almost fell off, only barely hanging on to his seat when they got off the ship and into the air.

“Believe in lady luck now?” Fang asked him as he struggled back into his seat.

“Yeah, lady bad luck!” he called over the rushing wind.

“Well, get ready, because it’s time to Purge a primarch!” Snow said.

“You got it!” Fang called.

Twilight put a shield up as fighters began to fire on them, realizing the bioweapon had been commandeered. It was a measure of her increase in skill and power that the shots plinked harmlessly off, even direct hits from full bursts didn’t noticeably drain it as they began to look for the bridge, this was not true of missiles however. Missiles certainly did less damage, but they still drained a noticeable chunk of the shield’s energy. Luckily she had a lot more of that to work with, and much faster regeneration of what she had used.

They began taking evasive maneuvers to dodge the projectiles, and Twilight made the shield one-way just long enough for their ride to use it’s breath weapon again to make a hole in the ship near where they believed the bridge to be. They jumped off and into the hole, Twilight dissolving the tethers just in time.

They found themselves in an oddly designed room, there were platforms with no obvious way between them. She really hoped they hadn’t specifically redesigned this room so that teleportation was the only sane, feasible, way across. Teleporting the group was inadvisable, doing that gauntlet of teleporting would make her useless for hours even with the enhancements to her reserves and regeneration. Then she noticed the monitor with a diamond on it, that must have been put there to be the controls for the creation of a bridge or something along those lines.

After helping each other up, they took a look at the orange glow in the direction they were about to head. “Dysley’s through there.” Light said.

“We’re almost through with this mess.” Twi said, filled with determination.

“We’re still gonna have our talk, but let’s survive this first. Yeah?” Fang told Vanille.

“Right.” Vanille nodded, agreeing.

The monitor turned out to be little more than a high-tech switch, it turned green as it caused a metal bridge to make a path to the next platform over, they explored thoroughly, wiping out all the Psicom forces to keep them from taking pot shots at the group, and connecting all the platforms, thoroughly checking to make sure this place didn’t have any hidden secrets that were going to bite them later if not taken care of.

They finally made it to the door, which was actually rather underwhelming in it’s design for such an important area. They steeled themselves, and went in. They walked in to see the primarch on a white throne, with a blond-haired woman officer standing next to him. The operators were cowering at the sight of them, but to their credit the were still trying to perform their tasks despite their obvious terror.

“I’ve been looking for you Nabaat!” Sazh called, pointing at the woman. They hurried over, Nabaat, who was the other head of Psicom, wouldn’t have reached her position if she weren’t a very capable commander, especially due to her somewhat unsavory personality. She jumped down and drew a rapier as Sazh drew his gun on her, they were pointed directly at each other.

“Your eminence, please escape while I cover your retreat.” Nabaat said to the primarch.

“Why don’t you leave Jihl?” Dysley asked in a bored voice. “Or rather, take your leave. Humans have no business here.” he finished.

“What?! Your eminence!” Nabaat called, turning, only to take a Ruin directly in the chest, being killed on the spot. Dysley had pointed his staff and fired the destruction-oriented spell.

“What? Magic?” Sazh asked.

Twilight’s eyes widened and her jaw dropped, that magical signature was very similar to Carbuncle, only stronger, which meant… ‘Oh crap!’ she thought.

Dysley began to chuckle evilly. More Ruin spells circled his staff, the operators gasped, and then screamed as they were killed one by one in quick succession. The ceiling above them dissolved.

“Monster!” Snow cried, outraged. “People are not yours to use!”

“What else does one do with tools?” Dysley asked coldly.

Snow charged at Dysley, only to be sent flying back by a shield with a spell matrix design she hadn’t seen before. She copied it, hoping it would come in handy if they survived the fight that was almost certainly coming.

“Cocoon is, in reality, nothing more than a factory, built by fal’cie, for the mass production of human thralls.” Dysley told them as Hope healed Snow.

“Not anymore it’s not!” Snow told him defiantly.

“What can mere humans do? Without our help, death is all of which you’re capable. You saw all the fools, the mindless mobs drunk on fear of a few l’cie. Though I suppose that given your excellent performance thus far, their fears weren’t completely unwarranted.” he smiled with an odd mixture of cruelty and approval.

“If they only knew that a l’cie was the one filling their cups!” Light countered.

“L’cie?” Dysley asked, then chuckled, “Do you mean me?”

“He’s not a l’cie.” Twi said.

“Huh? Then how can he use magic?” Hope asked.

“His magical signature, it resembles Carbuncle’s, and, to a lesser degree, our brander’s. I don’t think I need to explain what that means he is.” Twi responded.

Dysley smiled, “Most impressive, she is correct. Perish the thought of my being a l’cie, child.” he began to float upwards, magic gathering around him and the same suspicious bird flying towards him. “I am more than that!” he cried as a blinding light came from his staff.

When the light faded, the bird was gone, as was Dysley’s human form, and in their place was a towering, bronze being with gold lining, alien markings visible on his skin, and four face-masks grafted onto the sides of his head as adornments. He now had a snake-like throat with gills. His eyes lacked pupils and he had an eerie grin with sharp, dagger-like teeth. His form had shifted to quadrupedal with four clawed feet, and the face-masks were actually pauldrons and ailettes on either side of his head. They instinctively took a step back from the monstrous figure.

“I am fal’cie! My name is Barthandelus, voice of the Sanctum, and Lord-Sovereign of the Cocoon fal’cie.” he said in a very slightly echoy voice. They backed off a bit more. “Your kind feared the darkness, so we gave you light. You begged us for the Purge, and did it not come to pass? Yet now you would spurn our counsel!? You must be taught your place!” he finished.

Shaking off her instinctive fear at the sheer size and power radiating off of what they were facing, Twilight quickly cast Libra, discovering that the pauldrons and ailettes could attack as well. “Take out the pauldrons and ailettes first!” she called out, snapping the others out of it as well.

They got into formation with Hope and Twilight buffing the party. Hope was about to start casting debuffs, but stopped when Twilight told him that Barthandelus was immune to all of them. He switched to switching between spell-casting and healing. Twilight switched between sword and gun-wielding and spell-slinging. The Waterga, Blizzara, Thundara, and Firaga proved annoying, and Barthandelus’ own Ruinga was nothing to laugh at.

His attack-range changed once the pauldrons and ailettes were gone. He called out, “This is the power of a fal’cie!” as he used an immensely powerful attack called Destrudo, followed almost immediately by a massive laser attack called Thanatosian Smile and then the destructive Baptism in Ruin moments after that. If it weren’t for their buffing and Hope starting to heal them almost the moment Destrudo damaged them, they would have died. They had a few more close calls, but eventually defeated him.

The fal’cie let out a horrible growl, then toppled forward, disappearing into little sparks of light and magic. “A fal’cie running the Sanctum.” Snow mused.

“Then I guess that means Eden wasn’t controlling things after all.” Hope said.

“As I said,” Dysley’s voice said from nowhere, causing the room to shake, “I am Lord-Sovereign of the Cocoon fal’cie.” Dysley finished as he reappeared above them, unscathed.

“Well, that’s rather unfair.” Twi said dryly.

“Guess fal’cie don’t go down as easy as the rest of us.” Sazh said, taking their failure in stride.

“Ease is not the issue.” Dysley said as he touched down on the floor once again. “You have not fought to win. You should all know quite well already the sure way of dispatching our kind.” he gestured grandly with his staff. “Ragnarok.” he said, the name of the entity they had seen in their vision.

“What’s Ragnarok?” Fang asked. Fang suddenly gasped in pain, and grabbed at her brand, breathing through clenched teeth.

Dysley chuckled evilly. “Pitiful l’cie, you have forgotten your Focus. Ragnarok is the beast, fueled by rage, one of you must become, in order to fulfill you Focus. Laying waste to Cocoon.” He pointed at them, sweeping his arm from one to another. “You have had the dream, one among you must defeat Orphan and destroy Cocoon.” he said, teleporting next to each of them.

“Orpah? What is Orphan?” Light asked.

“The font of Eden’s power, and through Eden, the font of power for every fal’cie save myself, since my link is also direct. Orphan fuels Eden with strength. Eden, in turn, sustains the remaining Cocoon fal’cie and your kind through them. In destroying Orphan, you’ll release a force such as this world has never seen. Cocoon will be torn asunder.” Dysley clenched a fist.

So, if I did that, destroyed Orphan…?” Fang asked, the pain having faded somewhat apparently.

Dysley chuckled evilly as he appeared next to her. “Your Focus will be fulfilled.” he said, disappearing as a gunblade and a fireball passed through where he used to be.

“So what? Who says it has to be?” Light asked, angrily.

“Why should we sacrifice millions for our own sakes?” Twi asked, more angry than Lightning if anything.

Snow held up the crystal tear from Serah. “Serah asked us to save Cocoon before she turned to crystal. Save it. And that’s what we’re going to do! She was trying to tell us how to complete our Focus-” Snow cut off as Dysley began to laugh menacingly.

“Poor, self-deluded fool. Allow me to help you see the truth of things. The moment you and your friends arrived, your fiancĂ© wept crystal tears, this was because her Focus required bringing you together.” a cruel smile spread across his face. “The only thing that girl accomplished, was assembling the tools for Cocoon’s destruction. That was her Focus, one she most certainly fulfilled.

Two l’cie who had almost succeeded in destroying it the first time, a girl with more raw magical power than most fal’cie and the potential for still more, a trained soldier who lost everything because of the fal’cie, a man who would do anything for his son but lost him to Cocoon’s fal’cie, a boy who lost his mother due to the Purge ordered by the Sanctum, and a man who lost friends and his bride-to-be due to the will of the people of Cocoon. You all have either a reason, the power, or both, to cause Cocoon’s destruction.”

Snow looked at the tear, at a loss. “Did it truly never occur to you? Or did you simply refuse to countenance the thought at all?” the ship began shaking. “If you will not face the truth, then face the true peril of your plight.” The owl-like bird, now identifiable as another Cocoon fal’cie, morphed into airship form as it hovered above them.

“Ah yes, one more thing.” Dysley waved his staff and sent an identical spell at each of them, hitting all of their brands.

“What did you do?” Twi asked. Shit, don’t be what she thought he did.

“Did you believe I was not aware of what you were attempting to accomplish, miss Sparkle? You might even have managed it, had you been given more time. You are the most intelligent of this lot, and greatest in terms of sheer magical power. However, that particular spell is a personal invention of mine. Any further experimentation on your brand or the others will only result in cie’ethification. I will not allow any holes for you to try to wriggle out of this through. Rather foolhardy to tinker with your own brand, I must admit I’m not sure if you’re brave or insane. Now, run l’cie, and see how stark reality is.” Dysley said, disappearing in purple smoke.

“Wait, you’ve been messing with your brand this whole time?” Fang asked.

“I needed a test subject, and I wasn’t going to risk someone else.” Twi defended herself.

The ship began shaking more, clearly not going to stay in the air much longer, cutting off further conversation until they could get somewhere safe. “Come on!” Light called. They hurried on board the transformed fal’cie.

The ship burst out of the slowly crashing Palamecia in an enormous cloud of smoke and debris. “This is bad, the yoke’s jammed!” Sazh said as he tried and failed to control the ship.

“What?!” Light and Hope yelled.

“Knew it was a trap!” Snow said, fists clenched.

“That doesn’t make sense! Why set a trap when he could have just let the ship crush us in the crash?” Twi asked.

“Something’s coming!” Hope called out.

An unusually designed fighter, clearly superior to the usual type, was headed for them, it launched a full eight missiles at once, only for their ship to dodge, or pre-explode the missiles with gunfire on it’s own. “Hang on!” Snow called.

The unknown fighter continued to fire on them, while their own ship continued to dodge and return fire. When it couldn’t dodge, there was an explosion and a lot of smoke and fire, but when it cleared, a green barrier surrounded the ship. “That wasn’t me.” was all Twi could say.

“The hell kind of ship is this? Flying and fighting on it’s own?” Sazh asked.

The ship accelerated towards Eden, focusing on dodging fire rather than returning it now. “Shouldn’t we do something?!” Hope asked, hands on his head like Sazh and Vanille.

“Ya got me kid! I give up!” Sazh yelled.

They passed through a blue magical barrier with no trouble, thanks to a series of circles that allowed them through, likely courtesy of Dysley. Their pursuer was unable to pass, however. They traveled through the city, all looking behind them. Vanille looked in front of them and gasped. “Sazh, look out!” she screamed.

They all turned to see their ship rapidly approaching a building. Sazh frantically tried to move the controls out of their locked position to no avail, and they screamed as they went straight into the wall, only to disappear in a flash of light, and reappear in a subway-like area. They all slumped over or sat down in relief. After taking a minute to recover from that ordeal, they disembarked.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 6 – Gearing Up

//——————————//
// Gearing Up// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

They all walked inside at a quick, but not frantic pace. No need to make anyone watching suspicious if they weren’t already. Twilight began reading one of the books from a nearby bookcase as she sat down heavily. Healing didn’t restore your stamina, and for some reason she was even more tired than she’d expect from fighting that many enemies, maybe her… ‘companion’ using her body was hard on it.

Lightning took Snow into one of the bedrooms and laid him on the bed, patched him up, and began watching the news with a smaller TV in the room. Fang began inspecting her lance. Hope and his father talked quietly in one of the rooms in the back of the house.

Other than a bit of small talk, they spent the next half hour in these positions. Curiosity getting the best of her, she decided to check in on those two. Fang appeared to have the same idea.

Hope’s father, Bartholomew, held his head in his hands and sobbed quietly. Then, Hope got up and said, “We’re gonna rest up, then we’ll leave. If they find out you’re harboring us, they’ll-” Hope was interrupted by Bartholomew banging angrily on the table. “You’re my son! This is your home.” Hope sat back down, and Bartholomew put a hand on his shoulder. “My son.” It was nice to see the two of them getting along.

Smiling, they went back to the area the rest of the group was hanging around in. Fang turned the TV on.

“And now an update on the situation in Palumpolom.” a male announcer said as they television came on. “The l’cie continue their desperate flight, and the military has launched an all-out campaign to eliminate them, though they’ve had no success in locating them so far. In the event you must leave your home, please follow the instructions that will be broadcast on this channel momentarily.”

They noticed a cluster of picture frames on one wall, one in particular had Hope, Bartholomew, and a woman in a light green dress and who’s hair was the same shade of white as Hope. “Must be his family.” Fang said referring to Hope.

“Makes sense to me.” Twi agreed. She turned, “I’m going to check on Snow. Technically, he’s my boss since I’m in NORA honorarily, and Lightning’s healing spells aren’t exactly top-notch.” she said, hoping that would discourage any jibes. Fang waved her on as she channel-surfed, trying to find something not about the paranoia directed at them. There was something equal parts disturbing and sad that she was having difficulty doing so.

She came in as Lightning was inspecting her survival knife. “How’s Snow?” Twi asked.

“He’ll be fine when he wakes up.” Light said, back in ‘soldier-mode’ now that no one was in imminent danger of dying.

“Roughly twenty-five hundred civilians believed to have come into contact with the l’cie are now being held in quarantine by the Sanctum.” an announcer said, as images were shown of people in cages who were clearly unhappy about the situation. It was difficult to tell if it was the same announcer or a different one as the voices sounded very similar but he wasn’t being shown. “Our latest insta-poll has shown a vast majority of the people are in favor of immediate Purging of these individuals.” The girls twitched at that.

Snow began to groan as he got up. Twilight turned the TV off. “Hey.” Light said. He looked over at her. “Lay down.” she said with a little more force.

“Before you hurt yourself even more.” Twi put forth.

“All right.” he said, laying back down.

Light sat down on a chair next to the bed, which allowed Snow full view of the survival knife. “Huh. I see you got the kid’s toy away from him.” Snow said, glancing at it.

“Actually, he gave it back to me. Said that he didn’t need it anymore.” Light responded.

“Go figure.” Snow said, smiling a bit.

“It was too much.” Light said.

“Hm? What was?” Snow asked.

“What happened to Serah. All I could think about was, ‘What could I have done differently?’ I hated myself for not trusting her. It hurt too much. I couldn’t face it.” they were all silent for a moment after that.

“Look Snow. I.. I’m sorry. Forgive me.” Light said morosely.

“For what?” Snow asked, slightly confused.

“Everything. I took out my feelings on you.” Light said.

“If you’d tell me your real name, I suppose I could.” Snow said, a smile creeping across his face.

Light chuckled. “Just have Serah tell you when she comes back.” Light said.

“Deal.” Snow said.

Twilight bolted fully upright as she remembered. “Oh, that’s right. Snow, I could turn her back if I could just get near enough to see her, the crystallization is a part of the brand’s spell that’s actually supposed to be reversed eventually and I actually saw it happening, so it wasn’t that hard to figure out a reversal. I think I’m getting close to removing our cie’eth problem as well.” Twi said, having realized that Snow likely didn’t know about her progress, since Hope had been somewhat fixated on ending his life.

“So, we don’t have to wait for the crystallization to wear off?” Snow asked, happier than she could ever remember seeing him. She hadn’t seen a smile that wide since Pinkie.

“Nope, a good thing too, because otherwise it could take years at best.” Twi said, though considering how happy he was, Snow was likely at least dimly aware that Serah wouldn’t turn back on her own any time soon.

The door opened with a sliding sound. “My dad said he’d like to see you guys. He wants to talk.” Hope said from the doorway.

*** Sanctum Headquarters: Rosch ***

Rosch was not a happy man, he was hoping someone would have found the l’cie’s hiding spot by now. The reports he’d gotten weren’t promising. Seven platoons wiped out, the last two with almost no survivors. The l’cie would soon be nigh unstoppable with anything less than full battalion strength if this series of failed attempts continued.

Primarch Dysley had informed him before this whole mess (in a conversation that had turned in the direction of Pulse threats) that anything that didn’t kill the l’cie made them stronger, literally. That could very well be where the saying ‘What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.’ had come from. So failed attempts to kill them made them that much harder to kill. If he didn’t know any better he would suspect that they were being pushed to their limits intentionally, but that would make no sense, so he put it to the back of his mind.

Still, he’d lost far too many people already, at least 500 hundred of his people had been killed or incapacitated by the l’cie. That settled it, he decided that he was sending Skytanks at them next. If they took two of those at once down, well, they were probably all doomed anyway if that happened. There were some mid-level fal’cie with less power than that.

They’d already proven themselves capable of killing fal’cie. Carbuncle’s death attested to that. The disturbing thing was that there were no signs of a struggle, it certainly wasn’t a combat fal’cie, but it was as if a single attack had sliced it in half. That was a scary thought, check that, it was a terrifying thought.

That would require enough power to slice through a skyscraper made of reinforced steel like butter, even a skytank would be on it’s last legs after that, if it was even still flying.

If they reached that level, they might decide to go after the Primarch or the fal’cie Eden itself, and have a decent chance of succeeding in the attempt. In fact, he mused darkly, considering how they would realize all the attempts to kill them had been directed by those two, it was likely they would go after one or the other, or both. There was a very real possibility that that was their Focus, considering they were Pulse l’cie, and they would want to fulfill it out of a sense of self-preservation if nothing else. Hell, considering how hard Cocoon was trying to kill them, they were less likely to want to protect it by the second.

“Prepare a pair of Skytanks. The moment the l’cie are found, send them to the location. I’ll be going as well.” he told one of his subordinates, too involved in his own thoughts to notice which.

“Yes sir!” the officer said, saluting crisply, before leaving to relay the orders.

Hopefully, this worked, or else, to put in the terms one of his officers from the field had used upon viewing some of the videos taken of the l’cie in combat situations, they were boned. He would have reprimanded the officer if he hadn’t been the only other person present and privately agree with the sentiment.

Particularly since this was the video from a security camera that had only recently been installed, it was shorted out during the fight, but it had lasted long enough to show just one of the l’cie take down four platoons by herself, though she had slowed down noticeably by that point. The Sparkle girl was definitely the most dangerous.

*** Back At The Esthiem Residence ***

The five l’cie and Bartholomew were situated in the living room, they were all silent, waiting for someone else to start talking.

Snow got down on his knees and bowed his head. “The blame is mine. I couldn’t save her.” he said.

Bartholomew held two fingers to his head like he was fighting off a headache.

“If it wasn’t for Snow, I wouldn’t be here now.” Hope said, sticking up for Snow.

“Snow. Did Nora… Did she say anything to you? Anything at all?” Bartholomew asked.

“Hope. She didn’t have enough time to tell me his name, but she said to get him home.” Snow said.

“And that’s exactly what you’ve done.” Bartholomew said. They all breathed a collective sigh of relief.

“Seeing you all face to face like this, it’s hard to believe you’re all dangerous fugitives, but the entire world is scared to death of you l’cie.” they shifted uncomfortably at that. “No, not even just you.” Bartholomew continued. “People who’ve helped you, bumped into you… sometimes it’s even just someone who walked by one of you. The common people and even the Sanctum think they’re ‘tainted’ and that every last one should be Purged.”

“That’s idiotic, it’s not like being a l’cie is some kind of contagion.” Twi said, shaking her head. She sighed, “Then again, most Cocoonians are so terrified of Pulse, I wouldn’t be surprised if they thought that was how it worked after the initial branding.” she said.

“You make it sound as if you’re not from Cocoon.” Bartholomew said, slightly confused.

“Parallel worlds thing, magic is a part of daily life in my world, there aren’t any fal’cie either, before you ask, my coming here was involuntary. I suppose if I’d been born here, I’d behave in much the same manner as everyone else in response to all this, assuming that I didn’t end up a l’cie in such a timeline. ‘The Sanctum can do no wrong. Pulse is evil.’ and all that.” Twi said.

“The Santum’s just a puppet of the fal’cie! To them, our lives don’t mean anything at all.” Snow said.

“Believe me, that’s not true, they really want the five of us dead.” Twi said dryly.

“We’ll stop this, take down the Sanctum, and save Cocoon.” Snow said, unfazed.

“Have you thought that through?” Bartholomew asked. Snow paused, thinking. “If l’cie take down the Sanctum, fear of Pulse will only get worse. It won’t stop at fear either. People will take up arms and stand against you. Can you imagine it? The rampant violence.” Bartholomew said.

“I can, it would be a bloodbath, if soldiers with even rudimentary training couldn’t stand against us, what hope would ordinary civilians have? They might even start executing people who fought and survived because they were ‘tainted.'” Twi answered with shudder.

“When the government’s control is gone, the citizens will revolt.” Lightning said.

“So, what then? Should we just smile and eat a bullet? That means you too, you know.” Fang said

Bartholomew chuckled darkly. “I know I’m part of this, I’m on your side of the fence, harborer of l’cie and just short of public enemy number one, with the seven of you filling that spot, including your wayward friends.”

‘Hope must have told him about Vanille and Sazh.’ Twilight inferred.

“Coming here was a bad idea after all.” Hope said morosely.

Bartholomew put a hand on his shoulder and said “This is your home.” Father and son chuckled. “We’re all here, let’s figure this out together.” Just as he said that, the lights flickered and went out, all of them at once.

“They must have found us.” Light said. The sound of booted feet moving around outside confirmed this. “Heads up!” Light called a moment before a pair of Dragoon-type soldiers burst through the sky light. Three gas canisters were dropped in, even as Lightning and Twilight fired on the flying Sanctum troops. Coughing, they fell back.

Dragoons used jetpacks to hover a few feet off the ground, and had fairly thick and strong armor, but weren’t that different from normal soldiers otherwise.

Soldiers burst through the windows and poured in, several felled by potshots by the girls, who found they could see surprisingly well in the dark, even with the partial obscurity caused by the fog. Apparently another l’cie power, she was beginning to wonder if they could even be considered human anymore. Improved night vision implied enhancements to their eyes and/or genetic changes.

“Hope, in the back!” Snow called, even through his coughing. He slumped over a bit.

“You’re not ready for this. I’ll stay here.” Hope said. The girls held off the soldiers as they tried to attack. “Snow, help my dad!” Hope told him. Snow nodded and went to do as Hope said with a grin.

He grabbed Bartholomew’s arm saying “Come on!” and pulled him further into the back. Two soldiers trained their guns on Hope just as he started to turn around, only for a fireball to slam into one, and Lightning’s leg into the other. Twilight and Lightning’s handiwork obviously.

After taking down yet another platoon, the soldiers stopped coming in, clearly waiting for the l’cie to come to them. They had taken cover behind one of the walls not in direct line of fire to any of the windows. Just as Snow and Bartholomew came back into the room, a searchlight from an aircraft was directed at them.

“Who ordered the battalion?” Fang asked.

“Rosch, probably. I’d assume he’s unhappy about our continued wiping out of any of his forces we encounter.” Twi said dryly.

Peeking out from behind their hiding spot, they could see a large number of soldiers, the lower limit of a company (80) by the look of it, had their guns trained on the windows.

“They’ll take out the whole building next.” Light said.

“Probably deciding if they should do that right now.” Twi agreed.

Light waved Snow and Bartholomew closer, they hurried over. “Dad!” Hope exclaimed.

“Hope!” Bartholomew did the same as he embraced Hope. “Thank goodness, are you hurt?” he asked, concerned.

“No, what about you?” Hope asked in concern.

“Still in one piece.” Bartholomew answered.

“My turn.” Snow said. He took off his coat and moved to the edge of their current ‘safe zone’, after taking a deep breath, he held his coat in plain view of the nearest window. As could be expected, the soldiers began firing immediately, and his coat had more holes than Swiss cheese in seconds.

“Snow…” Light started, only for Snow to stop her with a raised hand.

“Don’t shoot! I’ll show you what a l’cie looks like.” Snow said.

The soldiers who had been firing all this time, stopped at almost the same time, presumably at least partially because their clips had finally been emptied. Snow walked out of their hiding spot, leaving his tattered coat behind. He walked in plain view of the soldiers who trained their laser sights on him. He stepped out of the building entirely through the ruins of the wall in the spot that had been the ruins of the second window at first. He held his hands in the air.

“Me! I’m a l’cie! Surprised? Expecting some kind of monster? I’m flesh and blood like you, an ordinary citizen of Cocoon! Don’t you get it? This has been our home our whole lives! How could we even think about destroying it? We want to protect this place just as much as you do!” Snow told them.

The soldiers began to mutter amongst themselves. “He’s on our side?” “He’s lying, it must be a trick.” “But what if it’s not?”

“You must be Snow Villiers.” a familiar voice said. The man walked to a spot just in front of his troops. “Yaag Rosch. PSICOM Division.” he introduced himself. “I can understand your plight, but the Pulse threat is not so easily dismissed. The very existence of you l’cie puts every last one of us at risk. Tell me, do you really think your life is worth more than the lives of the millions of Cocoon citizens? Personally, I do not.” The soldiers began to recover their ‘Have to kill the l’cie to protect Cocoon.’ mindset. “And so, it falls squarely to me to order your execution. It is that simple. It is my responsibility to see you put down.” he pointed directly at Snow, then turned around. “Your lives are forfeit.”

“Aw, cut the crap! You want l’cie, then kill l’cie! Why does anybody else have to die? The Purge has gotta stop!” Snow yelled at him, waving his less injured arm sharply.

“Do you really think we want to Purge our own people?” Rosch asked angrily. “If even a trace of Pulse remains, the populace will erupt into chaos. Without sacrifice, without the Purge, Cocoon will die no matter what happens to you l’cie.” Suddenly a Fog grenade dropped down in front of him, causing more of the obscuring gas to be dispensed right in the middle of the group of Sanctum troops. “Who fired? I gave no order!” Rosch asked between coughs. An explosion was seen and heard nearby, suddenly, gunfire and melee combat erupted around them, the soldiers were panicking and firing on each other.

One of the soldiers cried out “Fall back!”

“We’re leaving.” Light ordered. She turned to Hope and his father. “Hope, tie up your dad.” she said addressing Hope, then addressed Bartholomew. “We threatened you and forced you to help us. Got it?” she asked.

“That should keep them from killing him outright.” Twi agreed.

“There must be-” Bartholomew started to argue, but cut off when Hope told him “Do as she says!” Bartholomew sighed and gave in. Hope started to tie his hands behind his back. “I can’t let you get dragged into this. I want to stay here, but there’s no place for a l’cie. I’m going with the others. We’ll survive somehow. I promise you that. We’ve managed so far. Dad. I hate to run out on you-”

“You’re not running!” Hope flinched as Bartholomew yelled this. “This is not running away. You’ve made a choice. You’ll survive and do what needs to be done.” he reassured Hope.

“You mean… complete my Focus?” Hope asked.

“Don’t you worry about that! You make the choice.” Bartholomew told him.

Hope hugged his father, after breaking the hug, he said “Thanks, Dad.”

They heard Snow recover from the gas, and the sound of a siren. The aircraft had moved closer, the four of them rushed out to help Snow take it down. “Our turn, Hero!” Light ordered.

“What? I can handle a little gas.” Snow argued.

“Catch your breath, I’ll throw in some hits for you.” Hope said. His face paled as a second aircraft, now identifiable as a Skytank came into view behind the first.

“Okay, we’ll need all the help we can get.” Twi said as she used Esuna and Curaga on Snow, he wasn’t in his prime, but he was definitely able to fight again.

“Guess I’ll be drawing fire, since my ranged attacks aren’t great.” Snow said.

Hope and Twilight worked together to get the whole party buffed. Just in time for the things to launch missiles at them, while the turrets fired on them. Snow had launched an ice crystal, destroying one missile mid-flight. Twilight grabbed the rest and used telekinesis to fling them back at their launchers. Then they began raining magic on the turrets, which fired almost constantly. The main guns fired, hurting them badly until a double-Curaga was used on everyone. Once the turrets were destroyed, the hulls which launched the missiles, were next, Since the Skytanks were taking heavy damage from having all their missiles flung back at them, the hulls didn’t last long at all. The central portions of the Skytanks were also soon destroyed, only having enough time to fire the main guns one last time before they went down blazing. However, two more rose from either side of the building to replace them.

“Again? There’s no end to these guys!” Fang said.

Then Skytank on the left turned on the Skytank on the right, firing it’s main gun on it, and causing it to crash. The survivor hovered low to the ground in front of them, letting out a small number of soldiers, one of which approached and said. “Heya, Fang.” in a friendly manner, before removing his mask, showing them his face and red hair. “Need a ride?” he asked.

“Don’t get cute.” Fang said, releasing her lance from it’s previous threatening position. She waved her arm at them. “Right, let’s move it you lot.” Fang said, clearly familiar with him. They all got on, trusting Fang to have allied herself with someone trustworthy and not really having much choice. Twilight wondered how Fang knew these people, but she decided that she’d wait to hear the answers.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 5 – The Brand

//——————————//
// The Brand// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

They reached the gate with little difficulty as the patrols had moved on… mostly, and Fang sat down and pulled her phone out again. “Okay, let’s get Snow on the line.” Fang said. She attempted to call him, but the phone didn’t even ring. “Damn thing’s still jammed.” she closed the phone with a small snapping sound. “Eh, he can take care of himself.” she said, unworried.

“We’ll just have to believe that he can do that and take care of Hope.” Twi said. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust Snow, but there were a lot of enemies around. All it would take to get killed or badly hurt was one stupid mistake, and brains weren’t Snow’s strong suit. He usually fought what amounted to dangerous animals in NORA, so he could afford to fight with his fists and leave his head more or less out of the equation.

“Hey, Fang.” Fang ‘hm’ed’ at her, “The others are safe right? If any of us got caught, they’d make an announcement.” Light asked with the faintest hints of concern. It seemed her ice queen persona was starting to thaw with recent events.

“Yeah, they would. They’d have to let everybody know that the big bad l’cie can’t hurt ’em no more. These Cocoon people -bunch of cowards and blowhards.” Fang said.

“‘These Cocoon people’ have spent centuries under fal’cie rule, in constant fear of a Pulse invasion.” Light retorted defensively.

“Also, ‘any more’ not ‘no more’ a double negative makes a positive.” Twi said.

The other two looked at her strangely. Okay, she’d admit that it wasn’t really the time, but the stress was exacerbating her OCD. “I work at a library, have minor OCD, and read a lot of books. Grammar errors drive me nuts, okay?” she said defensively.

“Anyway, if it weren’t for Serah, I’d be out there too. Hunting l’cie. Would’ve been nothing but targets to me.” Light said, thankfully letting the matter drop.

“Well, I can’t honestly say Gran Pulse is less twisted. ‘Cocoon’s a floating nest of vipers ready to strike.’ Or so I thought.” Fang said, running one hand through her hair.

“So you became a l’cie in order to fight us ‘vipers’ then. And destroying the nest is your- I mean our Focus now.” Light said, piecing the story together.

“Until we woke up here, we’d been in crystal stasis. Which means we must’ve completed our first Focus.” Fang groaned. “Why can’t I remember that part? I can remember my childhood, it’s clear as ever, but the one thing I really need is just… gone. Blank, like the page at the start of one of those old books with nothing on it. I can reach for the memory, but there’s nothing there.” she sighed.

“Maybe it’s linked to your brand being indistinct while Vanille’s is still going.” Twi theorized.

“Maybe. Then there’s my brand, it’s all messed up and I’m still not sure if that’s really good, or really bad. What could’ve done this to a fal’cie brand, ya know?” Fang asked, looking at the offending shoulder. “Vanille and me, we lost our past and our Focus.” Fang finished. She had a point, if Twilight was right, her counter-spell wouldn’t affect the brand’s appearance, just the spell. In Fang’s case, the disruption of the spell was more like it had been partially removed. She couldn’t quite identify the energies involved. It definitely wasn’t normal magic though. It seemed… higher quality? She’d noticed that Celestia and Luna, and even Cadance’s magic seemed more potent than the magic of a normal pony. They got more out of it than a regular pony would have. Whatever had messed with Fang’s brand was higher quality still.

“And now, you want to find them? Be a Pulse l’cie, an enemy of Cocoon?” Light asked.

“Pulse and Cocoon can rot for all I care. But if I don’t figure out our Focus soon… Vanille’s gonna turn into a cie’eth. I’ll tear down the sky if that’s what it takes to save her.” Fang said with the kind of determination an older sibling felt to protect a younger sibling.

Some time later when they were in a narrow passage, Fang asked. “Hey Lightning, Sparky, either of you see Vanille’s brand?”

“No, call me Light.” Light said.

“Yes, it had a couple arrows when I saw it a couple days ago. Also, ‘Sparky’? Really?” Twi asked in deadpan.

“Well, that’s a relief.” Fang said. In response to their questioning looks she continued. “The brands tell you how long until cie’eth city. You start getting more arrows, then you wind up with an eye. Once it’s all the way open, you’re done.” Fang said, before walking towards them.

“Let’s have a look.” she said. When they hesitated, she added, “Don’t be shy.” and they both let her have a look. “Nowhere near, you’ve got plenty of time. Still, it’s different with different people, and if you get a nasty shock, the process can jump ahead. It’s even been known to happen the minute you’re branded if the Focus was something really easy, difficulty is a factor for how much time you have too. Vanille’s brand must be pretty far along by now. I’ve got to save her and get her home.” Fang said.

“Back to Pulse, you mean?” Light asked.

“To Gran Pulse.” Fang corrected with the barest hint of annoyance. “I’ve heard that the Sanctum stops people from leaving Cocoon. I’d like to see ’em try and stop me.” Fang said, thumping a fist into her other palm.

“So, that’s your plan, wish I had one. Without Serah. Without a future, I didn’t have anything to plan for. There was no way out of this mess, and no way to fight it. For now I’m stuck trading blows with the Sanctum, but that’s not a plan.

Even if we topple the government, where’s that leave us in the end? With nothing to fight for? I really hope you finish that spell in time Twilight, because otherwise, I might as well already be dead.” Light said. She… might have a point. Reuniting her with Serah would still leave her with an effective death sentence hanging over her head. Either the Sanctum would kill them, or their brands would turn them into cie’eth. They had less than a month, best-case scenario.

“What about your sister? You’ve got plenty to fight for, just think about it. Don’t you want to see Serah after she wakes up? That right there is your future. And all you’ve gotta do to get there is survive. It’s simple!” Fang said with a chuckle.

“Right.” Light said, in a somewhat unconvinced tone. Just then, a group of fighters raced by overhead, the unusual number and lack of a proper formation meant it wasn’t a normal patrol, which meant they were heading somewhere. There weren’t many things that could prompt that. One of those was the discovery of l’cie.

“Snow, Hope.” Light realized.

“They found ’em!” Fang said.

An explosion flared over a building. “We’ve got to hurry!” Twi said as they began to run in the direction of said explosion. ‘Most people run away from explosions.’ her increasingly independent inner voice snarked. ‘I’m busy right now!’ she thought/yelled back. She was starting to become very concerned, hearing voices (when no one was actually speaking) was a very clear sign that you were going crazy. Especially voices that talked back.

They arrived to find Hope battling some sort of insectoid warmech while Snow lay prone on the ground behind him. They rushed over to support him, while firing spells and bullets at the warmech to keep it from taking advantage of Hope’s momentary lapse of attention upon their arrival.

“Not bad, kid!” Fang said, referring to the numerous scratches and scorch marks that had been on the thing before it arrived. Considering Snow’s condition, it was likely Hope had done that all on his own.

“I think Snow’s okay.” he told them.

“Good, now let’s trash this thing.” Twi said.

“Sure you’re up for it?” Fang asked.

“Thing’ll never know what hit it!” Light answered.

Twilight opened up by spending her clip and slashing at one of the warmech’s legs, while casting Libra. She had actually been doing this with every foe they encountered since she learned the spell, though it only gave generalities and wouldn’t be very useful as a precise measurement of an entity’s power. She was thinking about creating a bestiary of their foes when this was all over. It would likely be of use to people in the future. This warmech was apparently called the Ushumgal Subjugator. Hope cast a spell that shielded them from fire-based attacks called Barfire, it reduced incoming fire damage and thus fell under the buff spell category.

The reason he did so became obvious as it sprayed them with flaming napalm. It still hurt a fair amount, despite the Barfire, but wasn’t unbearable. Fang and Lightning tag-teamed it with their own weapons, finishing with an Aeorora and Thundara from each of them. Hope had continued to buff them up with Protect, a physical protection spell, Shell, a spell that did the same thing with magic and energy-based attacks in general, Bravery, a spell that augmented physical attacks, and Faith, which strengthened magical attacks while this was going on. After those, he used Haste, a spell that doubled movement speed and the subject’s flow of time and effectively multiplying their movement speed and dividing reaction time by 4, on them.

He had taken on the job of healing their injuries as well. His supporting role allowed the rest of them to be far more effective. They soon turned the thing into a smoking pile of metal when Hope joined in after he finished buffing them all up.

After making sure it wasn’t going to get up again, Hope turned to Light and held out her survival knife. She took it back, and he said, “Um… Operation NORA didn’t really work out.” hesitantly.

Lightning pulled him into a hug, “You’ll be okay, I’ll keep you safe.” she told him.

Hope said nothing for a moment, then he responded with “Lightning, I- Me too.” he paused. “I mean, at least I’ll try. I’ll watch out for you, too.” he continued with less certainty. Lightning broke the hug, and they both chuckled.

“I hate to break this up, but we should really get out of here before reinforcements arrive.” Twi said. There was no way no one had noticed the battle, and she was frankly surprised they hadn’t already had a battalion come down on their heads.

“Don’t forget about this one.” Fang called from next to the still-prone Snow.

“That one will be alright.” Light said walking over. She picked him up and draped him over her shoulder, “He’s too stubborn to die.” she explained with a small smile.

The group began to walk in the direction of Hope’s house. Unlike the relatively light-hearted others, Twilight found herself in dark musings.

‘I wonder if the princess or the girls will be able to look at you the same way after all this.’ the same voice said, phrasing the question as a statement.

‘Of course they will!’ she told it, but there was still that seed of doubt. She’d always been taught that nothing had more value than a life, and yet here she was, taking them by the dozen.

‘You’re not sure, and that’s not surprising. A lot of people died because of you.’ the voice said, a hint of an accusing tone present.

‘Well if I hadn’t done that, then they would have killed us!’ She was only half-convinced by her own argument, and she was pretty darn sure her… ‘companion’ wasn’t buying it in the slightest. This continued back and forth, she was growing increasingly concerned, having a voice in your head that could talk back was definitely a bad sign. A voice with it’s own personality was a terrible sign.

She stopped as she noticed the others staring at her, save Snow who was still unconscious. “What?” Twi asked, cursing the nervousness she failed to keep out of her voice, which made her look guiltier.

“You’ve been muttering to yourself for the past twenty minutes.” Hope said in a mildly worried tone.

“I’m fine.” she said, not looking them in the eyes and cursing the fact that she was the third worst liar she had ever met, preceded by Applejack, who simply couldn’t tell a lie with a straight face, and Rainbow Dash, who simply lacked the tact to know when to lie out of politeness. She didn’t like lying, but she was still just as horrible at it when she actually wanted to do so.

“Wow, that was the least convincing lie I’ve ever heard.” Fang said, vaguely impressed.

“Fine, I was arguing with the voice in my head. It’s very annoying with it’s constant pessimism, but I’m sure it’s just a result of stress.” Twi gave in with a half-lie. She was not sure at all that it was simply the result of stress.

“…” They stared at her, “Okay, we’ve got to get rid of this l’cie thing.” Hope said.

“Guys, I’m fine!” Twi attempted to reassure them.

“Voices in your head and you’re fine?” Fang deadpanned.

“Just one voice, and it’s just stress, I’ll be perfectly fine when this is all over.” Twi said, she was almost certain the voice was smirking, how a voice could smirk was something she’d question later when she was less uncertain of her sanity.

“I guess.” Light said, unconvinced.

They turned as the tell-tale sound of soldiers approaching, a full platoon by the sound of it. The question was how they found the group, although that would have to wait until the soldiers were dealt with.

“I’ll deal with them, you guys go on ahead.” Twi said, they nodded, trusting her to handle it, and rushed ahead.

One Firaga, a Blizzaga, and a Thundaga later (each overpowered), the platoon was wiped out. Only for more footsteps to become audible. She sighed as another platoon approached.

Several minutes later, “How many are there?” she asked in exasperation as a fifth platoon approached. This was getting ridiculous! Why were they all charging head-on except for a couple snipers each platoon? Wait, what if they were trying to exhaust and overwhelm her with numbers? She wouldn’t put it past them to try that, especially since she was alone.

‘I agree.’ the voice said, mildly annoyed as well.

‘So, now that we’re alone, what exactly are you? A voice that serves as an outlet for stress isn’t generally this sophisticated, I should know.’ she asked it as she dismantled the latest platoon. When one had been pushed to the edge of sanity by a letter she had believed to be tardy, you got a pretty good idea what a voice that was stress-related was like.

‘Well, I’m going to keep that to myself for now, you should really concentrate on these guys, they still pose a threat if you’re distracted and they have sufficient numbers.’ it said as a spray of bullets from a nearby soldier almost hit her. She was slowing down from repeated assaults. Her magic was improving by leaps and bounds in terms of reserves and the maximum amount she could use at once in a structured spell, but her body wasn’t improving in the physical aspect of fighting by nearly as much in comparison, significantly better than a normal human, but there were still obvious limits.

L’cie brands enhanced your abilities in every aspect, but concentrated on what you were already gifted in, in this case her magic, her physical strength and endurance to a lesser extent, and her speed had improved the least of all. Attrition was still enough to take her down if she wasn’t let up on long enough to heal herself. Suddenly, two full platoons with support from drones and bioweapons rushed into view in a classic pincer movement and at her. Under sheer weight of numbers, one got through and fired his gun into her abdomen point-blank. She fell to her knees and coughed up blood as they closed in.

The voice sighed, ‘I guess that old saying is true. If you want something done right…’ she blacked out. She came to just as it finished, ‘… you have to do it yourself.’ it said cheerfully. She found the platoons completely wiped out, the manner varied from gunshot wounds to being bisected or incinerated. She was completely healed and the bloodstains on her shirt were gone as well.

She stared wide-eyed for a moment. ‘I’ll ask again. WHAT ARE YOU!?’ she yelled at it.

‘All you need to know is that we have a common interest in you staying alive.’ it responded, then yawned. ‘Taking over temporarily took a lot out of me, I’ll be going to sleep for the next few hours.’ it said, then was silent. She frantically tried to figure out what was going on as she raced towards where the others had been headed.

An alternate personality, perhaps? It would explain how it took over, but not how it had been speaking to her up until now, because she was certain that voice she’d been hearing periodically was that thing’s. Generally those with multiple personalities were unaware of the actions or thoughts of the others. She could reason it out later, she thought to herself.

She arrived just in time to see Hope ring the doorbell of what was presumably his house. “Nice to see you’re alright.” Light said as it made a single toning sound, glowing blue for a moment before fading.

Twilight nodded, not trusting herself to speak after that incident.

A few seconds later, a middle-aged man with brown hair, in blue military clothing, possibly a Sanctum officer, rushed out and said “Hope!” with evident relief.

Hope looked down for a moment, then said. “Dad… Mom’s gone.”

His father blinked, then turned to the rest of them, “Quickly come inside!” he said. They all went in, hopefully they could get some rest here.

*** Secret File: The Voice’s Retaliation ***

“Looks like she’s still awake.” one soldier said as they moved closer in a loose formation. Even after being shot point-blank with a whole round, she was still conscious? What the hell were l’cie?

“You might say that.” the l’cie said, a grin spreading across her face. There was a flash of a light that was darkness as she disappeared, followed by an identical flash in the middle of their group, and she reappeared in their midst. The risk of their being hit by friendly fire made the soldiers falter just long enough for the l’cie to heal herself.

A second later, the three soldiers nearest to her had been beheaded too quickly for any of them to follow, blood trailing down the sword in the l’cie’s hand. The grin on her face had spread into the realm of insanity, and they got a look at her eyes. This l’cie was supposed to have purple eyes, but hers were blood-red. Unless she had a sister who was also a l’cie, something was very wrong here. The malice they could all feel wasn’t exactly encouraging.

She teleported into another group and bisected another soldier, shooting another point-blank in the face, and burning a third alive.

“Shit! Open fire or we’ll all die!” the commanding officer yelled before following his own orders. They took a few casualties from friendly fire, but the l’cie was tearing through troops, drones and bioweapons. Literally in one case. Before, she’d just been trying to take them out as quickly as possible, not actively trying to slaughter them. What the hell did they wake up?

In less than two minutes, the entire force had been wiped out, except for the commanding officer, who the l’cie was holding by the neck, slowly crushing his armor and his neck.

“Damn you!” he yelled in defiance before firing a round point-blank. The shots were caught by black energy, and left to fall harmlessly to the ground.

“A good try under the circumstances.” the l’cie complimented, demented smile still in place. “But you can’t overwhelm my defenses with one round from one soldier.”

“What the hell are you?! You weren’t this strong a minute ago!” the officer cried out as he struggled in her grip as his armor started to give. She’d torn a drone in half a minute ago, so she was obviously toying with him. His armor was better than the stuff on rank-and-file soldiers, but it wasn’t that good.

“Now why would I tell you that? I guess I can give you a hint though.” the l’cie said as she tightened her grip further still. “I’m not the same l’cie you were fighting from before, and yet I am.” With that remark, she casually finished the officer off.

She used Waterga to force the blood out of her clothes, and then patched them up while having a hovering fireball dry her off. Her counterpart was stirring and she couldn’t remain in control while Twilight was awake… yet.

“Nice to get my fix though.” she commented, smile threatening to grow beyond what was physically possible with a body that possessed a skeleton.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 4 – Palumpolom

//——————————//
// Palumpolom// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

They had snuck closer to the city early in the morning and were currently hiding out of sight, ironically enough, behind the road blocks that Psicom had set up. As a veritable arsenal was being deployed in the area and a small army of troops, at least 1000 strong, and that was only those that they could see, began taking up positions, a voice could be heard over the loudspeakers on one of the ship’s radios.

“Attention all units. This is Director Rosch, Psicom division. Cocoon is caught in the grip of a Pulse-born terror. If we allow the l’cie’s activities to continue, panic will rip the world apart. The peace and stability we have fought so hard to maintain will become nothing more than a memory.

The Pulsian variety of l’cie threaten our very way of life. They must be eliminated. There can be no hesitation. That is all.” the voice finished, having been that of one of the two commanders of Psicom, Yaag Rosch. Rosch was one of the highest-ranking members of the Sanctum military. He was well-known for being level-headed by Sanctum standards, though he was wary of Pulse even before the events leading up to the Purge.

More locally, they watched troops being briefed, or reporting in, the forces still being organized.

A Guardian Corps soldier said, “Task Force reporting.” to a Psicom officer, his exact rank was unclear, his uniform suggested he was above captain, but he certainly wasn’t an elite.

“Begin operations immediately. The l’cie are headed in the direction of Eden, I don’t even need to tell you how badly things will go south if they manage to get there.” the officer ordered.

“Sir!” the corps member saluted and walked off with the rest of his squad.

They’d taken advantage of the soldiers attention being on the officer to sneak even closer, specifically behind a truck parked not 20 feet away from the officer. Hope surveyed the scene in front of them. “We can make it. We just have to get to the station and board the train for Eden.” he said.

Lightning looked at all the security measures on the area. “Do you think it’s still running?” she asked.

Twilight considered it, “If only to transport soldiers and officers, yes.” she neglected to mention things too volatile to be flown in on regular transports. They’d deal with those if they came across them.

“Besides, if it isn’t, between my talents with technology and Twilight’s brains, I think we’ll be able to make just about anything intact run.” Hope said.

Lightning glanced at him, “Then punch straight into the heart of the Sanctum? Now you’re thinking like a Pulse l’cie.” she said.

“Well, we are Pulse l’cie.” Twilight said, shrugging. She had a spell to fix their little time-bomb problem half-figured out already, but she’d hit a bit of a roadblock.

“This is Operation NORA. Snow’s not the only one I’m after, the Sanctum’s got to pay too.” Hope said. Lightning grunted. “Hey, you’re the one who said we had to fight. Every minute we waste, we’re tempting fate.” He wasn’t wrong.

“And fate is notorious for being bad at resisting any form of temptation.” Twilight added. She’d noticed it also had a sick sense of humor.

“There’s an underground tunnel not far from here.” Hope pointed at an opening some distance away. “I used to play in them all the time when I was a kid. No one uses the entrance anymore, so even the army doesn’t know about it, and by the time they do figure it out, we’ll be long gone. I know exactly where it is. We can sneak in right under their noses.” He finished.

“Sounds good.” Lightning said.

“It’s certainly preferable to having to fight our way through all these guys.” Twilight said, nodding.

“Great! Here we go.” Hope said, sneaking to a pair of crates a bit further up.

They began to sneak past the soldiers, only fighting when they could guarantee a quick and quiet one, as they made their way over to the opening.

“Huh. No more rivalries now. Psicom’s brought in the Guardian Corps.” Lightning said, seeing the two branches of the Sanctum military working together was almost unheard of outside history books. It seemed Rosch didn’t care about the rivalry between Psicom and the Guardian Corps, or he simply cared less about Psicom’s pride than capturing them.

“We must have made a deep impression getting through the Whitewoods.” Twilight said. Come to think of it, they had killed off an awful lot of the potential replacements for all the bioweapons the Sanctum had been losing. Maybe that was why?

“There are some old drainage pipes we can use to sneak past without being seen just past that thing under the green tarp in front of us. The tunnel entrance is a little bit further past the last one.” Hope said. They carefully made their way past the patrols and through the pipes to an opening in the side of the mountain in front of them.

Lightning was glancing behind them as they entered what was apparently a food-making plant. Another fal’cie, resembling a gold crystal with butterfly wings could be seen floating in the center of this, likely providing the power and directing the place.

“Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Only kids like me will even know about that entrance.” Hope said.

“They’ll find it. They’ll call in a team and canvass the whole tunnel system.” Lightning said.

“You’re getting as paranoid as I am.” Twilight said as she set up a barrier similar to the one their brander had used, only with a purple eight-point star instead of their brand. “Okay, that’s going to be really useful in the future, I can just tell.” she said. A barrier that could stand up to missiles at a minimal cost, learning this spell was the best thing that had happened in that building by a long shot. She thought she detected faint traces of someone else’s magic when she used it though. That was why she used it so infrequently.Well, that and it was draining to the point that she couldn’t cast for 30 seconds afterward, and it only took form as a wall.

Certainly that barrier would confirm they’d gone through this place, but first they’d have to find the tunnel, and then to take advantage of this knowledge they’d have to either find the other end of the tunnel, or force the barrier down, and she’d be able to sense the latter happening, giving them plenty of warning. Besides, that barrier would need the kind of force you’d get from a tank moving at terminal velocity landing on it to bring it down, not to say that it couldn’t be chipped away by weaker attacks.

Hope blinked. “Huh, so you can do that now. Still, we’d better hurry, once they find evidence, by which I mean the soldiers we took out on our way here, they’ll tighten security like a noose.” Hope said.

“So, where’s this thing come out, anyway?” Lightning asked.

“Well, to be honest, all I know for sure is that it comes out in the city.” Hope said sheepishly.

“We’ll be finding out today then.” she said.

They encountered Flan-type monsters, which were any that were formed of a jelly-like substance, and an armored lizard type, which took a surprising amount of punishment to bring down. Their armor was tough to the point that she took a sample for later study.

A few minutes later, when they had gotten much closer to the fal’cie, she asked Hope about it. She was studying it’s magic earnestly in hopes of breaking down some of the problems she’d been having with the brand. Although it was a Cocoon fal’cie and their brander was from Pulse, so she wasn’t sure how much help this thing was going to be.

“Name’s Carbuncle. It’s in charge of this food-making plant, and it’s one of our enemies. Being Sanctum and all.” Hope said.

“So… Kill him, and we cut off the food supply. That’ll make us popular.” Lightning said sarcastically. She really only seemed to switch between anger and sarcasm in terms of inflection half the time.

“People already have plenty of reason to hate us, don’t you think?” Hope asked.

“Yeah. You’re probably right, hungry people make for angry people.” she said.

“On the other hand, maybe it’s about time you guys learned to stand up on your own two feet. Where I’m from, people are expected to go through daily life without being utterly dependent on god-like beings for the basic requirements of survival.

Though I’ll admit that the argument is weakened by the fact that the most powerful magic users in existence are our rulers who also happen to move the sun and moon. Then again, they don’t usually get involved in daily life.” Twilight said.

“So, how do you deal with anything really bad? It’s strategically unsound for the rulers of a nation to be at the front-lines of a major conflict.” Hope asked. Huh, that seemed more like something Lightning would ask. She must have been rubbing off on him.

“We haven’t had a war in centuries, and I was a member of a group that dealt with crises. My friends and I are the bearers of the Elements of Harmony, the most powerful magical artifacts known of. Though our natural talents are enough to deal with more minor problems such as manticores.” Twilight explained.

They walked a bit further “Look at us: Pulse l’cie, using a Sanctum fal’cie to tell where we’re going. Sort of ironic.” Hope said, a slight chuckle in his voice. They were now on another side of the fal’cie, but almost as close as before.

“Not really. We’ve relied on them our whole lives. The food we eat, the light and water, it’s all from the fal’cie. You know, I think Cocoon was really built for them. The rest of us are just leeches. Parasites.” Lightning said.

“You think?” Hope asked.

“Not me, I’ll conjure my own food and water, thank you very much.” Twilight said, glancing at their crystalline observer. She could feel it watching them, lack of eyes or not, and it was creeping her out. Why hadn’t it called down the Sanctum on them? There was definitely something going on here.

“They protect us, nurture us, take care of, well, normal people. They treat us like we’re special almost like…” Hope struggled for a word.

“Pets.” Twilight suggested, realizing the implications of that word a moment later. How had she never thought of it before, it was so obvious that the fal’cie didn’t regard the humans as equals. They didn’t get involved more often because they considered human affairs beneath them.

“Like pets.” Lightning repeated. “To them we are just pets. That’s it, now it all makes sense.” Lightning clenched her hands. “I’ve been so blind all this time. I was born into a fal’cie world, and raised on a fal’cie leash. It was the only life I knew how to live. When it was taken from me, I was completely lost. I was a puppet without a master to follow, my life had no purpose.”

She turned to them, “Hope, Twilight, both of you listen to me. This l’cie curse took everything from me. My future. My dreams. I didn’t want to think. So I fought instead. As long as I was fighting, nothing else was real. I was running away. The two of you got swept along with me.” Lightning finished. Crap, now what were they supposed to do? They didn’t exactly have a safe-house set up in case fighting Eden didn’t pan out.

“But Lightning, I don’t understand.” Hope said.

“Operation NORA is over.” Lightning said.

“What?!” he asked.

“I…” she began.

“No! You told me to fight!” he said frantically.

“I made a mistake!” she yelled.

“But- You can’t do this! You can’t just build all of that up, then abandon me.” he said.

“I won’t abandon you. I won’t.” she said, griping his shoulders.

“No one’s abandoning anyone.” Twilight said, before turning to Carbuncle. “This thing is part of the cause of all this. You were right when you said that the fal’cie needed to die, but I think Cocoon won’t be safe until all of them, from Pulse or Cocoon, are gone.” The others were perturbed by the cold anger in her voice. Twilight was intelligent, but never cold or calculating.

She drew her sword and used it to slice the fal’cie in half with a wave of lavender magic. She preferred to use structured spells as they were both more efficient and more precise, but she was so angry right now that she didn’t care. The moving platforms stopped, then began to fall, the lights overhead began to slowly dim, and they started to hurry towards the exit. Her brand reacted to that fal’cie’s death with a surge of new power, she could assume it was because of it being a fal’cie, and that the others were similarly affected.

“So what do we do now?” Hope asked as they reached stable ground, causing Lightning to stop. “We’re l’cie. Ticking time bombs. Enemies of Cocoon. If we can’t follow the plan, do we just lay down and die?”

“I didn’t mean we should give up.” Lightning answered part of his barrage of questions.

“Then what battles do we fight? And against who? Tell me that!” he said a hint of desperation bleeding through the anger in his voice.

“I don’t know yet.” she said.

“Personally, I think we should target any and all fal’cie, maybe if they blink out one by one, people will be able to adjust.” Twilight said. ‘I’m thinking the massive power boost wouldn’t be unwelcome either.’ the same voice from Vile Peaks commented slyly. She was starting to get worried about that. Voices in your head that talked back were never a good sign.

“At very least, I know we can’t lose hope.” Lightning said.

“Speaking of hope, I think I’m close to figuring out the counter-spell, I’m planning to lengthen our remaining time to far beyond the lifespan of a human, that way we’ll be dead of old age before our brands can advance all the way.” Twilight said. She hadn’t had any luck with her ‘Removing their Focus’ idea, so she’d go the other way, she hadn’t made much progress, but so far it looked promising.

“Still, there’s always the possibility that you’ll hit a dead end, or that they’ll advance all the way before you finish.” Hope said, sitting down on the nearby staircase.

“You know, you remind me a lot of how I was.” Lightning said to Hope.

“Huh?” Hope asked.

“When my parents died, I had to be strong for Serah, I thought I had to forget my past. So I became ‘Lightning,’ I thought if I changed my name, I could change who I was. I was just a kid. Lightning. It flashes bright, then fades away. It can’t protect anything, it only destroys.” Lightning moved over to the stairs and sat down next to him.

“Serah tried to tell me, but I wouldn’t listen.” she stood suddenly at something only she could see. “I threatened her, the only one who believed her was Snow.” Lightning said.

Hope snapped. “Don’t say it! Don’t say his name. It brings everything that happened that night back. I keep playing it in my head, what happened to her over and over. Then I see his stupid face and he’s… smiling. How could he smile when she’s dead?” Lightning reached to put one hand on his shoulder.

He jerked to a stand. “I know! I know there’s nothing I can do about it. No matter what happens, she’s not coming back! I hate knowing that! When I was fighting, there was no time to think about it. It felt good just to give in. But now, you start talking about hope…” he sniffled. Lightning walked over and took one of his hands. “I’m sorry, I’m messed up.” he apologized.

“No… It’s my fault.” Lightning said.

“The world’s what’s messed up.” Twilight said. Seriously, whoever designed this world needed a good punch in the face, Creator or not.

After a minute or so, they reached an elevator that appeared to go to the surface. Just before they got inside, Lightning half-ordered, “Talk to your dad.” to Hope.

“What? Why?” Hope asked in surprise.

“Fighting without hope is no way to live.” she used the nearby control panel to call the elevator down. It was starting to lose power too and she’d probably just fry it if she tried using a Thunder spell to power it, so they’d have to hurry. “It’s just a way to die. I want you to find the Hope you were named for. Staying alive I can help you with, but I can’t- I can’t give you hope. If you go to see your father…”

“You think meeting my dad would make anything any better? He’s never listened to a word I’ve said. It’s just- He’ll never believe all this l’cie stuff.” The elevator began to rise. “Snow believed Serah didn’t he?” Hope asked.

“Yeah.” Lightning answered.

“We’ll help you convince your dad then. Also, Lightning, I found an interesting bit of the spell, I believe I could reverse the spell on your sister keeping her a crystal, provided she be in my sight for a full minute. The cie’eth countdown won’t start up again or anything.” Twilight said.

“You really think you can?” Lightning asked, her voice more hopeful than Twilight had ever heard it.

“Yes.” Twilight answered with full confidence. Even if their brands advanced all the way, she’d give Snow and Lightning one last reunion with Serah.

“Say, what are you hoping for?” Hope asked Twilight. She hadn’t exactly talked much about what she wanted to do.

“Simple, I’ve already got the spell to return home figured out, I just want to make sure all my friends here are safe.” Twilight said.

“Wait, so you’re staying to help us? You don’t have to do that.” Hope said, incredulous.

“Don’t be ridiculous, what kind of friend leaves you to rot in your time of need? Because this definitely counts.” she answered. “After all, a true friend always helps a friend in need.” she said, smiling slightly. She’d avoided really thinking about the wedding rehearsal if she could, but she wanted to have everything straight in her head… just in case. It occurred to her that the others might have simply felt that Cadance needed comforting more and that they believed Twilight to be in the wrong in that situation. If that was true, they hadn’t betrayed her, not really. Maybe if she convinced herself of that, she wouldn’t say anything to make things worse when she got back.

“Sometimes you act like a soldier, others you’re far more innocent than is healthy around here.” Lightning said, the faintest of smiles on her face.

They drew/unholstered their weapons as the elevator neared the top of it’s climb, ready for anything. They arrived in an enormous coliseum-like building to the sound of an announcer broadcasting over a set of speakers like before.

“In a recently convened emergency conference… the Sanctum announced that the fugitive l’cie had been located. The military plans to apprehend the l’cie and carry out a public execution.” They noticed a camera-fed image showing the area they were in on an enormous screen, before showing the three of them specifically.

“These images are coming to you live from the scene in Palumpolum.” the announcer continued as the camera switched to a view of the three of them. An airship came into view, along with the camera which had been feeding the image of them, airborne soldiers and fighters. Normal Psicom troops, numbering in the hundreds by themselves, surrounded them from every angle, including the nearest wall and roof of the building. Airborne troops and fighters circled overhead.

“It’s an ambush.” Twilight said readying an overpowered Firaga. Essentially a normal Firaga with more power put into than was originally intended. Less efficient than a normal Firaga, but stronger. With her brand’s recharge ability boosted by Carbuncle’s death, she could afford to use a lot of power at once.

“These are l’cie. Show them no mercy. They aren’t people, they’re targets.” Rosch said from his command position.

They got into a back-to-back position as reinforcements, including several bioweapons, arrived. Twilight and Lightning shared a look.

“Start running.” Lightning said, readying her gunblade.

“We’ll keep these guys busy.” Twilight said to Hope as she created a second ball of fire in one hand. No point having both hands slinging magic and leaving herself wide open. She could technically keep a large number of orbs of flame orbiting herself, it just took a lot of concentration.

“But-!” Hope began.

“You survive, even together, and with our Eidolons, there’s too many.” Twilight said. So much for that reunion or getting back, but there was no point in all of them dying here.

Before Hope could make a decision, there was an explosion from a wall of the building. Several soldiers in that area got taken out by a figure that appeared to be Snow. One was thrown over the railing, and Snow apparently took a gun from another.

After a moment, he threw a blue orb and shot it, causing it to shatter and expand before sending out large tendrils of ice. The armed forces were thrown into chaos, though their actual numbers weren’t reduced by very much.

It turned out to be the handiwork of two tall blue-skinned Eidolons that resembled human women. Snow jumped off the ledge and grabbed onto the Eidolons as they transformed into a somewhat bizarre motorbike. A woman wearing a skimpy blue outfit who had black hair and was armed with a two-pronged lance landed on it as it formed completely.

They rode the bike down one of the ice tendrils, with Snow’s companion taking pot shots at the Sanctum troops with Snow’s pilfered gun.

“It’s him!” Hope said in a mixture of disbelief and anger.

Lightning grabbed his arm and pulled him along, taking shots at the soldiers and downing several. Realizing Lightning’s plan to take advantage of the mass chaos, she joined in with her pistol on individuals and first and second tier spells on small groups.

Meanwhile overhead, their allies were assaulting Rosch’s command platform, one of his soldiers got shot as the duo fired on the bike and were fired on in turn by the woman. The camera on board had more holes in it than Swiss cheese in about ten seconds.

She distinctly heard the general order “Move, take us out!” before his platform slowly moved away from the battle. They had taken out dozens of soldiers at this point, she was trying to avoid thinking about what she was precisely doing as she slaughtered more than Lightning and Hope combined thanks to her ‘area of effect’ or ‘crowd control’ spells, spells that were for dealing with three or more opponents. The third tier was easy for this due to sheer power and scale, the second tier was more difficult to use in this fashion, but certainly not impossible for closely grouped enemies.

They ducked instinctively as the bike passed over their heads. Snow chuckled as he landed the bike with a spin. “Yeah!” he exclaimed, likely due to an adrenaline rush from the ride. The group approached him, Lightning looked rather annoyed, though Hope was surprisingly calm.

“Lightning!” Snow called out. Suddenly, another dozen soldiers rushed them, only to be cut down with little effort. The five of them got within a few feet of each other, only for Lightning to push Hope into Snow’s arms.

“Take care of him.” Lightning ordered.
]
“Lightning, listen to me.” Snow said.

“Get moving!” she said.

“You don’t understand, Serah’s alright! She’ll turn back!” he said.

After a moment of silence, she said, “Take care of Hope.” before rushing off, followed by Twilight. They could tell him later, or Hope could do it.

“Wait!” he called.

“And then there were three.” the woman said, before running after them.

After essentially carving a path out of the building with their new companion’s help, the three of them began making their way through the city. 15 minutes later, after the woman introduced herself as Fang, they stopped as she pulled out a phone. “Gotta check on blondie, he’s liable to get into trouble if he’s left alone too long.” She had a brand as well but it was hazy and bleached compared to theirs, and the spell it represented was disrupted to a great extent. She dialed the number and her phone rang a few times before it got picked up. After a moment, she roared into it, “You damn well know what’s up!” she listened to the voice on the other end, presumably Snow.

She sighed, “Right, what’s your status?” Fang asked.

After getting a response, she said “I’m great, you’re great, everybody’s great.” she turned to them. “Reunion time, figure out a rendezvous point. That line is hyper-encrypted, so don’t worry about eavesdroppers.” she said.

Lightning took the phone and it could be assumed that Snow called her ‘sis’, because she said, “I’m not your sister.”

*** Meanwhile, At The Location Of Their Ambush ***

A Corps soldier was arguing with Rosch. “This city is under our jurisdiction! Since we’re the ones defending it, we should have a say in what’s done to protect it!” he said somewhat angry.

Rosch ignored the man, saying into his headgear, “Attention all units, ignore any and all fire zone restrictions. Fire at will.”

The soldiers muttered and fidgeted uneasily. “What!?” the same soldier, apparently the ringleader of the dissidents asked, horrified at how many casualties that could cause. Rosch made a mental note to have this one made a low-ranking officer, he at least questioned orders that seemed to go against his duties as a protector openly. Of course, he also openly defied authority, so ‘low-ranking officer’ was probably as far up the ladder as he was going to move up, even assuming he survived.

“Do whatever it takes to kill the l’cie, they are no ordinary enemies. Over.” Rosch continued.

“‘Do whatever it takes’?! You want us to start a war in the streets? The civilians are still evacuating! That kind of collateral damage is unacceptable!” another soldier said.

“You don’t know what it’s like out there!” the first said.

Rosch drew his sword with a ringing sound, and pointed it at the ringleaders. “You don’t seem to understand why we’re here. Who exactly do you think it is that’s terrified of Pulse and begging us to kill the l’cie? Not the Sanctum, and certainly not us. It’s the people of Cocoon.” he sheathed his sword and addressed them.

“This information was delivered to me minutes ago, the fal’cie Carbuncle… is dead.” the soldiers gasped. “Magic was used to kill it and the l’cie are known to have gone through that area. I don’t think I need to draw a picture for you.” Rosch finished. This was bad. According to historical records, killing a fal’cie provided l’cie a large power boost.

*** Back With The Girls ***

“We’ll meet at Hope’s place. Felix Heights, 35-A.” Lightning said, she’d turned the phone to speaker at some point in the conversation.

“Right, see ya there. Tell Fang ‘hey.'” he said.

“Take care of Hope.” Lightning ordered.

“All over it, I’ll tell you more about Serah when we meet up again. I found out that she’ll turn back on her own eventually, there’s still hope.” Snow said

Twilight and Lightning shared a look, telling Snow about Twilight’s progress could wait until they took care of the more immediate problem. “Snow you need to listen to me, it’s about Hope. His mother was-” she cut off as the phone had apparently changed hands in the short space of time and now Hope was on the other end.

“Lightning it’s me. I’ve decided-” static began to override his voice and all they caught was something about Operation NORA.

“Hope? Hope! Answer me!” Lightning raised her voice a bit.

“Yelling isn’t going to fix it.” Fang said, holding a hand out. “I’ll admit it, I”m impressed they got the interference up so fast. You can chat when we get there.” Lightning handed over the phone. “I’ve got point, you lot fall in behind. And try and cool off that head of yours.”

They followed after Fang, fighting their way through soldiers and drones. As they hid next to a wall, Lightning asked her. “Who exactly are you?”

Fang chuckled, “Ugh, I don’t even know where to start. I’ve got some screws loose, but I’m a l’cie, like you both. The difference being… I wasn’t born on Cocoon.” Fang stated.

“Welcome to the club of non-Cocoonians, is Vanille from Pulse as well?” Twilight asked nonchalantly.

“It’s Gran Pulse, and how’d you know?” Fang asked, blatantly surprised.

“I pieced it together from a few things, her unusual knowledge on l’cie and magic, contrasting her lack of knowledge of history, she held her hands in a position of prayer different from the one normal among Cocoonians. All in all, I’ve suspected her of being of Pulsian origin for some time. I simply didn’t bring it up because I felt no need to drive a wedge between the group, and I was lacking in irrefutable proof. It was possible she had in fact slept through history class, unlikely she would have done so often enough to render her ignorant of common knowledge, but not impossible. Similarly, she might simply have been part of an obscure religion, explaining the unusual position of prayer. It was also possible she was simply very talented with magic. What is the world below that everyone on Cocoon seems to hate so much like, anyway?” Twilight asked curiously.

“I might take you there some time if we make it out of this, Vanille and I turned to crystal there and fell asleep for about five centuries as near as I can tell. When we came around, here we were. The reason Cocoon’s in an uproar and the reason you’re here now are one and the same. Vanille and I woke up.” Fang glanced at the sky as she finished her speech.

“So, what you’re telling me is that Serah will wake up on her own someday too?” Lightning asked.

“Yep, we didn’t do our jobs right. That’s why it made her a l’cie, we messed up. Sorry.” Fang apologized.

Twilight was silent for a moment, before she punched the wall next to Fang hard enough to leave a small crater, small meaning the size of a cantaloupe. This startled some birds, which drew the attention of the nearby soldiers for a few moments before they went back to patrolling. “Every person who’s suffered or died because of this whole mess is at least partly your fault, give me one good reason not to slap you into next week.” she said, controlling herself with some difficulty. After all, Fang was probably feeling guilty already.

“I think Lightning should do it because it’s her sister that ended up a l’cie.” Fang commented. Lightning took what amounted to an invitation and slapped Fang hard across the face. “That it? I was kinda half-expecting you to try to skewer me.” Fang said in mild surprise

“I’ll admit I’m still tempted to do exactly that, but I won’t. …For now, anyway. Whether or not we’re square? That’s up to Serah.” Lightning growled.

“Snow said almost the same thing and he didn’t hit me.” Fang said.

“Then he already knows this.” Twilight surmised.

“Wow, I feel a heck of a lot better. Glad I apologized!” Fang said. Twilight felt her right eye twitching.

“You apologized… to make yourself feel better.” Lightning stated, echoing Twilight’s thoughts. Her face seemed stoic as ever, but something about it screamed there being stabbing in the future.

“Guess so.” Fang said cheerily, before turning to Lightning. “How about you, feel better now that you hit me?” Fang asked.

Lightning grunted, “It didn’t change anything.”

“My jaw disagrees.” Fang said, rubbing at said area.

“Wait, how did you and Vanille become separated?” Twilight asked, much calmer now.

“The Euride Gorge incident? That was us. I’d lost my memory of my Focus and what happened after being branded, Vanille too, but her brand didn’t go inactive like mine, so I got this stupid idea to attack a Cocoon fal’cie to jog our memories. The plan didn’t work, the fal’cie turned some poor kid into a l’cie, Vanille and I got separated, and I didn’t even get one memory out of the deal.” Fang explained. Wait a minute, that was about the last time she’d seen Sazh, and he’d mentioned planning to take Dajh to… Oh no. She thrust the horror down. There wasn’t any proof that was what had happened, but if it was why she hadn’t seen Sazh or Dajh since then, then she had one more reason to hate the Sanctum.

“Felix Heights is up there.” Lightning pointed to an opening in the nearby brickwork. “Still a ways to Hope’s place.”

“Then we better pick up the pace.” Fang said.

“I say we go through that gate.” Twilight said, gesturing towards a gate that some soldiers passed by a few moments before. If they were careful, they could slip past the patrol.

“Right.” Fang nodded.

Twilight The Traveler

Twilight The Traveler Chapter 3 – Gapra Whitewoods

//——————————//
// Gapra Whitewoods// Story: Twilight the Traveler// by ilbgar//——————————//

The three of them carefully made their way to the entrance of their next objective, the Gapra Whitewoods. Lightning had her gunblade in gun mode, and Twilight had her pistol and a second-tier fire spell at the ready in order to snipe any guards. She stifled a yawn, she was up half the night keeping watch and trying to work on the counter-spell, but having no success with the latter, she had decided to switch her attention from removing it altogether to either removing the Focus in such a way as to give them infinite time, or removing the timer component so as to prevent cie’ethification from ever happening in the first place.

“You awake enough for this?” Lightning asked. She was a liability if she couldn’t stay alert.

“Yeah, I’ve pulled all-nighters before, I’ll be fine.” Twilight responded, this was technically true because she used to do them all the time in her own world, but she hadn’t done them much at all in this world or body, so she was struggling to stay awake if not in the middle of a fight. They hurried in, dispatching the guards with ease and the necessary speed to keep them from alerting those inside, hacked the terminal controlling passage through the gate, and got in, only for a security protocol to cause the door to close with a metallic grinding noise almost as soon as they were through. Lightning carefully watched for guards, then gave them the universal ‘all clear’ signal.

“I still can’t believe being l’cie makes a person this strong, this fast. We made it in almost scarily easily.” Hope said, perturbed that a place supposedly crawling with Sanctum forces was so easily to get into. If it were this easy for a trio of l’cie to make it past the Sanctum’s defenses, an army would smash right through. Their current surroundings were a cyborganic forest with more feral versions of the bioweapons running around. This was where they were trained and augmented into their domesticated forms, so that made sense.

The trees here were significantly stronger and hardier than their organic counterparts, and were capable of limited growth and self-repair without supervision. This made them perfect for containing the wildlife. In theory the military maintained a pretty strong presence here, but in practice the animals were all but free to roam within the borders of the forest. The military mainly just contained their future bioweapons here unless they were about to enter training or be augmented.

“The door closing will slow down pursuit.” Lightning said. True, but they’d force it open one way or another.

“But aren’t there troops on this side? We can’t relax yet.” Hope asked. Also true, but there weren’t that many in comparison.

“This would also appear to be where the bioweapons are trained/domesticated, so we’ll have to deal with them too.” Twilight said. That particular piece of information was not exactly public knowledge. At least it wasn’t supposed to be but it was leaked intentionally to keep people from snooping around in the area. Still, best to make sure everyone was on the same page.

“Right… We press on. I’ll take point, you two watch our backs.” Lightning said.

“Actually, why don’t you let me take point?” Hope asked.

“Sure you can handle it?” Lightning asked.

“Point is the most dangerous position.” Twilight said carefully. None of them were in a particularly good place emotionally. Last night’s outbursts had merely been the result of restrained stresses breaking through the emotional equivalent of a dam. A major shock could send them right back there.

Hope moved over to a few feet in front of Lightning. “It’s not always a question of can or can’t, there are some things you just do.” he said in a fairly good imitation of Lightning’s tone when she said much the same thing.

Lightning smiled. “Now you’re learning.” Hope smiled in return and turned to start on the path to Palumpolom. “Keep your eyes front, we’ll watch the rear.” she reassured.

“Point’s already dangerous, don’t do anything too reckless.” Twilight advised.

“Got it.” Hope responded.

They encountered only the native and pre-domesticated wildlife and the very occasional drone at first. The Behemoths proved little challenge when the three of them struck together against one. However, that wasn’t to say they escaped all of the battles unscathed, a trio of Behemoths and at least a dozen wolf-like pre-bioweapons surrounded them once. They were very nearly killed that time, second-tier spells were only useful when they could actually be used and third-tier spells took even longer to cast, not to mention that they’d blow themselves up too using spells of that magnitude at close-range.

She thanked any deities that didn’t consider them pawns or hate their guts that she’d learned the second and third tiers of the Cure spell-chain. Spell-chains were simply the basic spell and it’s upper tiers, each with successively more power and efficiency, but a longer casting time. It had already saved their lives a few times. Though a spell to bring fallen allies back would be useful as they were only fine if nobody died. Considering how many things were trying to kill them, well… they’d been lucky so far. Hopefully all the horrible things happening to and around them made the universe feel it owed them some good luck.

When they were about to use an elevator to move to another level, Hope asked Lightning. “Have you ever been here before? On duty, I mean.” The Whitewoods had several levels, the canopy of the trees, the trunks, and the floor of the forest around them. Any wildlife that was scheduled to be turned into a bioweapon was moved into holding areas on the ground, with specialized lasers that prevented the wildlife from moving beyond the area. They would deactivate if there were no more readings of hostile wildlife, so they were forced to seek out the animals and put them down in order to advance, rather than simply out of self-defense. She really wasn’t that bothered by it, as they were not thinking beings. The humans she’d killed, on the other hand, were leaving her wracked with guilt. She kept it to herself though, the others had plenty of problems already.

“No, unfortunately, I haven’t. This area’s under the Woodlands Observation Battalion’s jurisdiction.” she turned to him. “You scared?” she asked.

“Not really. I’m ready to fight if I have to, it’s not like I really have a choice if I want to see tomorrow.” Hope said.

Lightning held a small survival knife out to him hilt-first. “To keep you safe.” she said simply. Hope examined it. “I’ll want it back.” she added.

“Lightning.” he called, causing her to stop in her tracks towards the elevator. “I’m glad I followed you. By myself, I wouldn’t have stood a chance.”

“You know, with the way you two are acting, I’d almost suspect you both have a thing for each other.” Twilight thought aloud, accidentally causing them to choke as they swallowed wrong. “Sorry, forget I said anything.” she said sheepishly. She blamed the lack of sleep for her lack of tact.

Lightning cleared her throat. “Let’s get a move on.” she said, deciding to ignore that. They moved over to the elevator and rode it up.

After a few minutes, Hope glanced upwards suddenly as they were walking down one of the paths. “What is it?” Lightning asked.

“We need to hide!” Hope pulled them behind some foliage. A trio of Sanctum soldiers riding in hovercraft flew by, on patrol.

“Isn’t it kind of weird how they just passed us by?” Twilight asked.

“Yeah, they didn’t even seem to be looking for us. I mean, we’re l’cie and we’re on the loose.” Hope said in mild confusion.

“Psicom must be keeping it all under wraps, they don’t want their failure publicized. Obviously they think it’s better to lose us than their pride.” Lightning explained.

Twilight shook her head. “They’re willing to endanger millions of people all for the sake of pride?” she asked incredulously. “That’s incredibly… it’s not stupid exactly, that’s not quite the right word.” she said, struggling for the best way to phrase what she was trying to say. “Suicidally self-destructive! That’s the word!” she said snapping her fingers. Seriously, pride wasn’t going to prevent Cocoon’s destruction, which, as far as the Sanctum knew, was their goal. Inter-service rivalry was just going to get more people killed.

“Then again, that means the other soldiers don’t know about us. Right?” Hope asked.

“Right, they don’t know anything at all about any fugitives.” Lightning said in a tone that spoke volumes of her contempt towards Psicom.

After several more sets of enemies, they came upon a door blocked by beams of electricity.

Hope sat down to take advantage of the opportunity to rest as the girls tried to figure out how to open the door without getting fried by the intense energy blocking their path as there wasn’t a control panel on this side. She couldn’t hack something without some way to access it, and there wasn’t an access point. “Wonder how the others are doing?” he asked.

“You mean Sazh and Vanille?” Twilight asked as she contemplated on whether it would be a better idea to fry the circuitry with lightning, melt it with fire, simply teleport the group to the other side, or use a more mundane method such as hacking at the door’s inner workings. There seemed to be a minor fal’cie in charge of this door (as it was this door), so she had to be careful how she approached this, though they’d beaten a fal’cie before. They didn’t want to alert any of the fal’cie, because it would quickly reach Eden, then they’d have the army come down on them like a tsunami.

“Who knows? But even if they ran, they’ll get caught eventually. Then they’ll have to choose: Fight or surrender.” Lightning said.

“Surrender… Do you think he’s still alive?” Hope asked.

“You mean Snow?” she sighed. “He’s far too stubborn to die. And that’s his best quality, he’s arrogant and chummy from the get-go. He thinks he’s everybody’s pal. Never liked him much. He leads around a bunch of kids- this gang called ‘NORA.'”

“I happen to be the instructor on swordsmanship there, so I resent that just a little bit.” Twilight deadpanned.

“Where’d they get the name ‘Nora?’ Hope asked.

“It’s an acronym. ‘No obligations, rules or authority.’ Not normally my thing, but someone has to make sure they don’t get themselves killed.” Twilight said. That was the second reason she’d joined the group. The first being that the founders were friends of hers. She hoped they’d all survived the Purge. She’d been a bit out of touch with the group for a couple weeks as she’d been busy setting her affairs in order before leaving this world. That was one of the reasons she hadn’t been with them during the Purge. That and simply not being able to find them.

The barrier suddenly over the door went down. “It’s irresponsible.” Hope said as he walked past.

“Yeah, this isn’t way too convenient or anything.” Twilight said once again in deadpan as she followed him. The door was re-energized behind them. She smelled a rat, but she couldn’t do anything about it right now. It was always possible that they’d happened by just as the door went through some kind of self-check that required rebooting the system, but nobody was that lucky.

Some time later, they stopped for a short rest. Hope was angrily opening and closing the knife Lightning gave him. “What’s eating you?” Lightning asked.

“It doesn’t take an empath to tell you’re upset about something.” Twilight added.

“Is it the l’cie thing?” Lightning asked. Hope gave no response save a metallic shink as the knife opened. “It’s Snow isn’t it?” Hope froze for a second, letting them know Lightning hit the mark that time.

“What happened?” Twilight asked.

“You wouldn’t understand.” Hope said.

Lightning walked over and knelt down next to him. “The three of us are partners Hope.” she said.

“My mother was killed. Because of him.” He outlined the events of his mother’s death during the Purge. “It’s his fault. And he needs to pay for it.” He unsheathed the knife and held it in front of himself. “I’m not ready yet, but I will be. Soon.” he sheathed the knife.

He stood up as he said, “That’s why I followed you two.” He started forwards. “Snow dragged us all into this. You two, Light’s sister, me… He’s gotta pay.” Hope finished.

Twilight felt she should defend her friend, but at the same time, there was some truth to Hope’s claim that Snow seemed to have dragged them all into this to some degree. When he’d decided to challenge the fal’cie, they’d ended up joining him, and now they were l’cie.

He needed to take some responsibility, if he was in fact responsible. She decided to say nothing until she had a better idea of the situation. Preferably when she’d heard Snow’s side of the story. She could defend Snow once she learned the exact details of what happened that night with Hope’s mother. Hope was still influenced by grief and anger, so she couldn’t rely only on what he’d said. Besides, no one forced them to fight the fal’cie with him. They could have run off at any time before actually instigating the fight. Then again, Snow should have known that she at least would have followed him, and if he understood Lightning at all, he’d have known she would want revenge.

They found their way blocked by a pair of tree branches. Lightning took out one with her gunblade, Twilight incinerated the other with Fira. It was a rather large branch, she didn’t just do it to burn something and take out some of her frustration on something that wasn’t a sentient being.

“Could I use one of those?” Hope asked, it was unclear if he was referring to the gunblade or the spell.

“Bit too heavy for you to use properly.” Lighting said as she sheathed her weapon.

“You’ll have to adjust to a far larger drain for the higher tiers.” Twilight explained, Hope was improving though, he could use all of the first-tier spells without a problem, even spells of opposing elements in succession, which was extremely difficult for your average mage to do.

One or two of the better students from her school in Equestria might have been able to fire off the second-tier spells they had some affinity for, but almost none had the versatility to use spells of opposing elements so quickly after each other. The energies simply didn’t hold together. Then again, the brands might have something to do with that. Certainly her control seemed to be keeping pace with her power increasing without much in the way of exercises to prevent the power boost from shooting her control in the foot. That was the downside of an increase in power. If you didn’t work at it, you suffered a loss of precision. Eventually, you’d just be throwing huge amounts of energy around without any structure or finesse. Alternatively, you could have a person with very little power, but great precision. Their stamina would be garbage, but they could do a lot with what they had. Having both power and precision was best.

“Okay.” Hope pulled out the knife, unsheathing it, then walked ahead. It seemed he was taking a third option.

After a moment, Lightning said “Serah, I should have listened to you.”

“Did I miss something?” Twilight asked, sensing a story here.

“Nothing, let’s keep moving.” she responded. Definitely a story here, but Lightning wasn’t the talkative type, if she didn’t want to say anything prying would get her nowhere.

They soon found a trio of Sanctum troops either knocked out or dead, it was hard to tell with their full-body armor, but they weren’t bleeding as far as she could see. “What happened here?” Hope asked.

“Bad luck.” Lightning said after a moment’s examination. “They came looking for us, and found something a lot worse.” Likely a Behemoth.

Hope began to bend over, reaching for the soldiers, “We can’t just leave them like this!” He said, before Lightning shoved him back. Twilight stopped mid-cast of her Curaga.

“Don’t touch anything!” Lightning reprimanded him. “Control your emotions. If you want to survive, forget about sympathy.”

“But, isn’t there a too-far point?” Twilight asked, attempting to think of some way to convince Lightning that they should heal the soldiers. She wasn’t expecting them to miraculously see l’cie in a new light or anything, but didn’t basic decency demand they prevent people who weren’t trying to kill them from dying?

“How can I explain?” Lightning asked, walking forward a few paces, then turning around and kneeling down in front of Hope. “Think of it like a strategy. Focus on your ultimate goal, and shut out everything else. Still your mind. Move on instinct.” She got up and turned towards the far end of the path. “Let doubt take over, and despair will cripple you.” she finished.

“Strategy. Good. I’ll take anything to help me get through this.” he walked a few paces in thought. “I’ll call it ‘Operation NORA.'” he said decisively.

“NORA?” Lightning asked.

“My mother’s name.” Hope answered.

“Your revenge?” Lightning asked.

“Yes.” They started to speak, but cut off when Hope said. “Don’t tell me. I know getting revenge on him won’t … bring her back. I know that!” He looked as if he were about to cry. “But ‘sorry’ won’t cut it either.” After a tense moment, he started up the path.

“Snow didn’t kill your mother. The Sanctum did.” Lightning said.

“Whose side are you on?!” Hope snapped at her.

“The side of the truth.” Lightning answered.

Hope pulled out the knife and unsheathed it. “Fine. I’ll fight the Sanctum with you. I’ll learn to survive.” Hope finished, turning towards and starting to walk up the path

Twilight noticed a camera near one of the soldiers as she turned to follow him. “Ah,” she blinked, then her expression cooled. “well crud.” she hurriedly electrocuted it. “Looks like we’ll be running into soldiers from now on.” she said, holding up the cameras remains.

“Gee, that’s great.” Lightning said sarcastically.

Hope took the camera and began to dismantle it. “At least this way we can be absolutely sure it won’t be able to transmit, these sort of things aren’t useful for what they’re made for when they’re in more than a dozen pieces.” He pulled out a few parts that had survived the frying and dropped the rest of it over the side of the metal walkway into the yawning drop just to be absolutely sure. He integrated the new components into his boomerang. Twilight hung back slightly and used Cure on each of the soldiers. Not enough to wake them up immediately or even guarantee their survival if they didn’t wake up before another predator showed up, but enough to give them a chance.

They began to encounter soldiers within minutes of moving on. Finally, at the end of another elevator ride, they all got the ‘boss fight’ feeling, as they’d decided to call it when they felt a sort of instinctive urge to prepare themselves for a difficult fight, at the same time. They unsheathed their weapons and preemptively applied buffing spells as they cautiously made their way forward.

Another type of bioweapon called Aster Protoflorian jumped out of seemingly nowhere. It had four limbs and a blue bulb on it’s back. It began making odd trilling noises.

“This is it. Operation Nora!” Hope charged at the beast with his boomerang in one hand, the survival knife in the other. He and Lightning hammered it with physical attacks to attract it’s attention while Twilight used the opportunity to cast Libra on it.

“Careful! It can change it’s elemental weakness!” she called. She took advantage of her knowledge of it’s weaknesses and blasted it with whatever it happened to be weak to at the given time with one hand and fired shots from her pistol from the other.

She was content with a cover-fire role as Lightning and Hope seemed to be doing fine, with only occasional need for healing. Though the thing’s vine attack was unpleasant.

After they defeated it by a particularly vicious group attack alongside their Eidolons that severed the vines it was trying to defend itself with at the time, Hope said. “Operation Nora, Stage One complete.”

“You did well.” Lightning said.

“Nice job you two.” Twilight said.

They went through the door the bioweapon had been guarding and found themselves on a cliff overlooking the sea. On the other side of a bay was a city.

“That’s it. Palumpolpom.” Hope said.

“That’s where you live, right?” Lightning asked.

“What say we stop in when we get there?” Twilight asked.

“No. We’re l’cie now, and no one’s there but my dad.” Hope said shaking his head.

“Hope, you’ll have to tell him what happened sooner or later.” Twilight said gently. She wasn’t going to force him, but his father deserved to know.

“Hey, there they are!” a soldier at the head of a group of soldiers similar to the one they encountered in Vile Peaks, but with two platoons this time shouted.

“I’m getting real tired of being interrupted in the middle of a conversation by attacks.” Twilight said in annoyance. They called their Eidolons back out and dispatched this group, though they only just barely won as their Eidolons disappeared mid-battle, drained from their earlier fight. It seemed like this group was better-trained and better-equipped than their counterparts in Vile Peaks. Considering they were getting nearer to the capitol in a way that made their goal obvious, this made sense.

They walked a little closer to the city, found a small, well-hidden cave and settled down for the night. Unless they started carpet-bombing, they shouldn’t have to worry about the Sanctum. She set up a couple alarm wards before she went to sleep though.

Twilight The Traveler