Twilight The Traveler Chapter 9 – Welcome to Pulse

Twilight the Traveler

// 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

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