Twilight The Traveler Chapter 8 – A Very Unpleasant Ark

Twilight the Traveler

// 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

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