// 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.