"Attention all crew: Code Green! Repeat: Code Green!"
I looked up, Vanille gasping in astonishment at the sudden warning.
"Security forces stand by! Hostile forces on board, Code Green!"
Then the cell door slid open, and a single bioweapon flanked by two PSICOM soldiers strode in, their weapons at the ready.
"Get up! You're being moved!" One of the soldiers said, his voice sounding impossibly low through his helmet.
The other approached Vanille, grasping her roughly by the arm.
"On your feet scum!" the soldier said angrily.
"Hey! Leave her alone!" I cried, but the first soldier turned his rifle towards me, and I quieted, glaring at his helmet.
"You too!" the soldier said, taking a step toward Sazh and I.
I sighed despairingly, but Sazh just leaned back.
"Get him," Sazh said, and the chocobo leaped from its hiding place within Sazh's afro and zoomed straight towards the unsuspecting soldier.
It was the moment Sazh needed to jump forward, tackling the soldier with all his strength. On the other side of the cell, the second soldier turned, surprised, just as Sazh used the first jailor as a battering ram, and shoved them both into the cell walls.
I got to my feet, intending to deal with the remaining bioweapon, but Vanille beat me too it. She snatched up one of the soldier's rifles and whirled, bullets spewing from the barrel and colliding with the bioweapon. That too, fell in a haze of fire and smoke.
I turned my wide eyes onto Vanille, who shrugged.
"Very nice," I said approvingly.
Sazh shrugged, and turned to us.
"All right, time to split," he said, the chocobo chick once again nestled safely in his hair. "Not run. There's a difference."
"Gotcha," Vanille said, and I nodded retrieving the other rifle and following them out of the cell.
"Okay, first we need to find our weapons," Sazh said, taking the lead. "Where do they keep the evidence?"
I sighed, feeling a rather meticulous pang as I realized that I would have to make do with the rifle. Soldier's Edge was long gone, probably left in the broken Subjugator.
"I don't know," I said. "I've never been on this ship before." I shuddered at the word, and for the next few seconds, just tried to concentrate on anything but the motion of the ship in flight. The plain steel wall was suddenly very interesting. There was even a little scratch on its polished surface.
"We could ask someone," Vanille suggested, and I looked at her.
"Sure, we'll stop the next officer we see and just ask him for directions," I said sarcastically.
"Or we could use a map," Sazh said, his voice further away that before.
I spun to find Sazh staring at the outside of the next door. It led to another section of the ship, but emblazoned on the side was a map of the Palomeceum.
"I guess a map could work," I said sheepishly, but stepped over to the picture and scanned it.
"Here," I said, jamming my index finger on the tiny word reading 'Evidence'. "That's where we need to go. Follow me."
Then I turned and followed the route indicated on the map, Sazh and Vanille following closely behind me.
We had barely gone ten meters when three guards stepped around the corner, conversing loudly.
I froze. There was no time to hide, nowhere to duck out of sight until they passed us by.
They saw us, and I reacted.
They were still for a single second, but that was all the time in the world for me, and I brought the rifle up, firing two quick shots as I closed the distance between myself, and the three soldiers.
Two dropped, blood splatters on their helmets, and the third, the one in the middle, lifted his own weapon.
He never got the shot off.
I dashed forward, the butt of the rifle slamming into the soldier's stomach, and he doubled over, his gun falling from his hands as he clutched his midsection.
With one swift motion, my knee jerked upward, colliding heavily with his chin. The soldier flew backwards, gasping for breath. He was completely winded.
I motioned for my two companions to follow me, and I started walking down the corridor. The soldier was still on the floor, rolling around in agony, but I barely paid any attention to him. Without looking down, I pointed the gun one-handed at his head, and was about to pull the trigger when I stopped.
I looked down, unsure as to why I hadn't put a bullet through his brain. He was the enemy, and that was how you dealt with your enemies.
Then he began to get up, and I squeezed my finger, a burst of lead speeding into his skull.
That was how you dealt with enemies...
"James, what's the holdup?" Sazh asked. He and Vanille were far ahead of me now.
I looked up.
"Nothing," I said, and hurried forwards, leaving the soldier to lie in his crimson grave.
I stopped next to Sazh and Vanille, where they stood at a door marked 'Evidence'.
"Convenient," I said, stepping over the threshold.
Several crates lined the back of the small room; most were labeled 'dangerous'.
"Check for our weapons," Sazh ordered before tearing open the nearest crate.
I forlornly checked the many boxes that were strewn into the small room. I already knew I wouldn't find what I was looking for. My father's rifle was lost, probably still in Palumpolum, stuck into that bioweapon's head. Instead, I grabbed a large combat knife and a jet black rifle.
"Got everything?" I asked, turning to see Sazh and Vanille happily caressing their weapons. They nodded, and I led the way out and back down the corridor. Then Vanille's face fell.
"Do I deserve to escape?" She asked, staring at the floor.
"What, you'd rather die?" Sazh asked, sighing. "Because that's gotta scare you. Scares me. Scares me so much I think I might die of fright."
The man shrugged then, suddenly looking older, as if his years were catching up to him.
"So, I push myself to live even harder. I can just imagine Dajh, laughing at me talking this nonsense," he said, chuckling. "Right now, I'd do anything to see that smile."
"It's a reason," I said, my mind jumping towards Lightning, and the possibility of seeing her again. "Don't you want to see Fang again?"
"I guess…" Vanille said slowly.
"Then you deserve it," I said forcefully.
"Stay positive, right?" he said, throwing his arms up. Then he walked away without a backward glance.
"Let's go, Vanille," I said, following Sazh and securing the rifle on my back. Vanille nodded, trailing behind me.
Our small band of three traversed the winding corridors of the Palomeceum, taking out everything in our path, which admittedly wasn't much. I grew suspicious of the lack of security. Surely there should be more men monitoring the halls during an escape attempt, especially when the escapees were dangerous l'Cie. But we had no trouble.
"Code Purple! I repeat: Code Purple! Security breach! All units on alert! Code Purple!"
The intercom blared overhead, shattering our senses with its urgent message, and we stopped right before a large door. I shared a glance with Sazh.
"Looks like we ain't the only ones cleaning house. It could be l'Cie," Sazh said.
"Could be Fang," Vanille said.
"Could be Lightning," I almost shouted. Hope flared through me. Here was my reason.
"Come on, let's hurry," Vanille implored.
Sazh smiled. "Let's go get rescued."
Surprisingly, Vanille shook her head.
"No, not this time. For once in my life I am going to save her."
"All right, now you're talking! Let's go!" Sazh said jubilantly.
I took a deep breath, and followed them.
Here was my reason.
"Code Purple! I repeat: Code Purple! Security breach! All units on alert! Code Purple!"
"All these colors. What's it mean?" Hope asked, cocking his head.
Fang looked down at him with a glint in her eye.
"Means we're doing our job. Making a lot of PSICOM guys nervous."
A sudden tremor rocked through the ship, and our group braced ourselves against the shaking ground.
"Who are they fighting?" Hope asked.
"Vanille," Fang breathed dangerously.
"Let's go," I ordered, and we raced down the corridor, spurred on by the sounds of battle.
We kept pace for several minutes, none of us slowing, the doors passing us by in a blur, until Snow skid to a stop in front of me.
"What are you doing?" I hissed at him, but he was staring at one of the doors.
I narrowed my eyes and followed his gaze.
On the door was a name.
A name I recognized.
"That's the PSICOM director," I stated, pushing open the door to see what secrets lay inside.
I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen torture equipment in there, or perhaps a large map the decorated an entire wall detailing our path over Cocoon. Instead, I found myself disappointed as I peered around the office, which looked blatantly normal.
We filed in, checking the mountain of files that littered the desk. Fang was surveying a large painting of a beautiful Cocoonian sunrise. Her expression was one of disgust.
"Light, check this out," Snow said, holding up a stack of papers.
I walked around the desk to see, and he handed me the papers. I glanced at the page, and gasped.
It was a picture of James.
The picture was grainy, and in black and white, but it was unmistakable. I guessed that it had been pulled from security camera footage. James was in a combat stance, and surrounding him were two PSICOM soldiers, obviously dead. Beneath the photo were the words 'CAPTURED'.
I suddenly felt faint.
"He's alive," I whispered, staring at the words. "He's not dead."
"But I thought you said-" Snow began, but I cut him off.
"So did I, but look, see what is says? 'Captured'," Not 'dead'."
Another explosion rocked the office.
"He's here," I said. "He has to be."
"How did he survive that explosion?" Fang asked, shock and relief filling her voice.
"No idea," I said, not really caring how, anyway. He was here, I knew it, somehow, I knew he was here.
"Then we'll find him, just like we'll find Vanille," Fang said, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder.
I nodded, then looked back at the page.
A small paragraph was written at the bottom of the page.
"What does it say, Light?" Fang asked, who hadn't been able to crowd around like the others had.
I read aloud, "James Hudson, former PSICOM Elite, is a dangerous fugitive and l'Cie. Through the efforts of PSICOM forces, he has been captured and imprisoned, and is currently awaiting execution, which is scheduled for this afternoon at twelve o'clock."
"There's heaps of 'em," Snow exclaimed, indicating a large pile of the same page.
"They're posters, to put up in the cities, so that the public can see the execution of the 'dangerous l'Cie'," I said, scrunching up the paper.
"Let's get out of here," I said, throwing the ball of paper to the ground and heading for the door.
As I approached the exit, I saw something I hadn't noticed before. Above the door, propped in place by rods in the wall, was a black and silver rifle.
A rifle that was so familiar to me, it might as well be mine. Countless times had that rifle saved me, wielded with perfection by its owner.
"That's James's rifle," I said, reaching up and taking it. Jihl must have taken it from his when she captured him. Why would she keep it in her office? I wondered briefly.
It was like having a part of him with me, but this part I intended to return, after I rescued him.
I shouldered the rifle and walked out, resuming my sprint down the corridor.
The corridor opened out into a massive chamber. In the center was a pulsing column of steel that radiated light. A catwalk circled around the column, joining the column to an inner ring, and then to an outer ring. Security mechs and bioweapons patrolled the catwalk, but I cut through them with ease, my gunblade slicing through metal as if it were butter. I never stopped moving, merely sidestepped attacks as they came at me, countering with a swift slash of my blade, until the catwalk was a ring of cold, broken defenses. The soldier was near.
The bridge was rampant with urgent activity as the crew crossed the polished deck, their movements so loud that people had to yell to be heard.
"Colonel! We've lost the intruders!" a female voice said, and I gasped, adjusting my glasses at this new information. The woman turned back to the screen in front of her.
"That means… we're Code Yellow," I said, then backed up, suddenly unsure of myself. " No, wait, Code Blue?" I paced up and down the raised platform that held the Primarch's seat. "If we were Orange, that would mean-!" I couldn't remember. The situation was now officially out of control.
"The escapees made it through! They're entering the engine room!" A man shouted from below.
The engine room. Hudson would know exactly what he needed to do to take out the ship. Would he destroy himself in an effort to bring down the Palamecium?
"No!" I shouted, throwing my glasses to the floor in rage. "Damn l'Cie!"
"Intruders located! They're on the weather deck, starboard side!" Yet another man said, not taking his eyes from his own screen.
"Make it rain!" I ordered, then I turned to the Primarch, who occupied his chair with an air of nonchalance.
"Desperate times demand flexibility," he said calmly, his white and purple robes almost shimmering like water with each subtle movement. "Code White."
"Bridge to engine room. We're losing thrust. Engine room, do you copy?" The intercom blared violently.
"What is the status of the main reactor?"
I ignored the voice and ran down the narrow catwalk, where, hovering above us, was a gigantic red sphere, pulsating with technological energy. The reactor core.
"Power's down," Sazh said. "What's going on?"
"No idea, but we should keep moving," I replied, leading the way forward.
I lead the two l'Cie along the catwalk, which formed a ring around the reactor, and was joined in the centre by a single circular platform.
I dashed onto the platform, only to be greeted by a massive bioweapon. It looked like an oversized armadillo, complete with a protective shell.
I fired at the bioweapon, but the bullets just bounced off the shell that covered its body. Sazh and Vanille joined in the attack with their respective weapons, but they had no effect on the bioweapon.
"We need to get rid of that shell!" I yelled, reloading and resuming my assault.
"Easier said than done, kid!" Sazh said.
"It always is," I murmured under my breath.
"I have an idea!" Vanille added chirpily. "Keep firing, make sure its attention is on you!"
I glanced at her, then nodded and circled around the creature, away from Vanille. The bioweapon turned as I did, keeping its eyes on me, immune under its shell.
Then, from nowhere, three long hooks pierced under the armor, just above its head. Behind the bioweapon, Vanille was straining on her weapon, looking as if she had just caught a large fish and was trying to reel it in.
The bioweapon roared, and with a tearing sound, raised onto its hind legs as the shell peeled away, followed by the creature as it was brought crashing onto its bare back.
I ran forwards, stepping onto the bioweapons exposed belly and planting my rifle against its mechanical flesh. With a pull of the trigger, bullets pounded into the bioweapon with deadly force, blood gushing from the wound as I targeted the one spot, until the creature was still beneath me.
I jumped off the bioweapon as we regrouped.
"That was amazing, Vanille!" I said. "Nice job."
"It wasn't hard; we just had to get it on its back. There's no shell underneath."
"Well it was a good plan."
Vanille grinned, then turned on her heel and proceeded cheerily along the platform and back onto the catwalk, this time on the opposite side of the reactor.
A large door lay at the engine rooms' end, and Sazh stepped forward to open it.
He waited for the door to slide open, but when it didn't, his face fell.
Vanille and I looked at each other as Sazh began to pound on the door.
"Damn it!" he exclaimed.
"Locked?" I asked.
"Yep," he replied, hanging his head and turning around.
I sighed and turned away from the door. Now where?
Turning around didn't make me feel any better.
Creeping along the catwalk towards us were a dozen or so bioweapons.
"Well that's just great," Sazh muttered darkly as he drew his pistols.
I gripped the barrel of my rifle tightly, and braced for the fight.
The nearest one, a large, overgrown lizard with claws as long as my forearm, let out a roar, then jumped forward on strong legs, pouncing towards me. If I had Soldier's Edge with me, my movements would have been different, but as it was, I ran forward, towards the airborne bioweapon. As it neared me, I dropped to my back, using my momentum to slide beneath the creature and unleash a torrential hail of bullets at its exposed belly. Blood splattered behind me, and I emerged on the otherside, quickly flipping myself upright as the bioweapon collapsed, but that was only one of many, and my path of destruction continued.
The rifle couldn't hold a candle to my father's invention, and it was with great satisfaction that I discarded it, instead relying solely on the magical talents of a l'Cie. Three bioweapons sped towards me, intent on protecting the Palomecium from the dangerous l'Cie, but I summoned the magic and let it fill my being. My hand waved rapidly, and sparks of elemental magic shot towards the bioweapons, slowing their advance.
Fire burned them, ice froze them, electricity shocked them, and wind crushed them, until only a smoldering pile of bionic machinery lay at my feet. Beside me, Sazh's pistols sounded in rapid succession, felling the bioweapons as he danced around their attacks. Vanille was equally dangerous, her foreign weapon striking down several at a time.
But it was with a sinking heart that we saw two portals open, side by side, and spew a dozen more bioweapons onto the wide catwalk.
"Any ideas, kid?" Sazh asked, gripping his pistols with sweaty hands.
I glared at the mass of machinery that was moving forward. At the front of the horde was a giant behemoth, standing in its hind legs and roaring ferociously.
"One," I shouted, then I jumped back, so that the three of us were side by side.
"Follow my lead!" I said, balling my hands into fists by my side.
"Amra!" I roared, summoning every ounce of l'Cie magic left in my body until it consumed me.
"Are you crazy, son?" Sazh shouted bewilderingly.
"If you have anything better, I'm all ears!" I replied as the magnificent, white figure appeared before me, between us and the bioweapons.
The Eidolon turned its metallic head, surrounded by what could only be a shiny mane, two giant swords gleaming in each hand. I ran forward, hearing Sazh shout out a foreign word. I couldn't make out what it was as I rushed to join the Eidolon in battle.
The Behemoth lumbered forward, moving gracefully despite its weight, swinging a massive axe-like object in its hand. I braced myself as the Eidolon raised a single sword, and blocked the weapon. They held that position as the Behemoth tried to overpower the magical soldier, then, so quickly that it was a blur, the Eidolon moved his raised weapon, and the axe sprang from the Behemoth's claws.
Ululating in rage, the Behemoth began to tear at Amra, but before the creature had lifted a razor-sharp hand, the Eidolon had thrust both swords into its chest, raising the creature off its feet with the momentum. The Behemoth roared again, this time in pain, as Amra leaned backwards and kicked with all him might, sending the creature flailing back along the catwalk, and into the mass of bioweapons that were trapped behind it, unable to creep past the Behemoth's hulking figure to join the battle. They scattered as the Behemoth slipped over the side of the catwalk and fell, all the way down.
Suddenly, as Amra recovered and resumed his fighting stance, all the bioweapons entered the fray, shoving past each other in an effort to reach us and the white Eidolon who had so easily dispatched its largest member.
Magic flew from my hands once more, but I could feel Amra gaining strength as we attacked the bioweapons. Then several of the smaller, yellow machines leaped forward, clutching onto the Eidolon and knocking him backwards. He struggled, but more piled on, desperate to fell the white figure. I fought them, trying to get them away from the Eidolon, but they held fast. All too soon, I could feel the Eidolon weakening, his strength waning, when a giant red machine swung its weapon, and bioweapons hurtled away from it. I gazed wide-eyed at the new Eidolon, propelled by rockets protruding from its back, and a giant yellow blade clutched in its hand.
I looked around wildly, and met Sazh's eyes. He was grinning, directing the Eidolon as it attacked alongside its white partner.
"Now Brynhildr, Gestalt!" Sazh yelled.
And before my eyes the red Eidolon began to shift, its body transforming into a dangerous vehicle, and Sazh jumped into the driver's seat.
"Now let's see what this thing can do!" he shouted to me.
As the crimson car span around the catwalk, I repeated his words.
"Amra, Gestalt!" I cried, and the Eidolon changed, as Sazh's had done, into the roaring lion that had saved my life before. With a smile as mad as Sazh's, I leaped lightly onto the lions back and joined the second Eidolon on the tiny battlefield.
There was barely any room for the Eidolon's to maneuver, but they managed to skirt around each other, fighting in tandem, and with each strike, the enemy's numbers grew fewer and fewer, until finally, we turned the Eidolons against the two portals.
With a roar, Amra ran for the portal, magic echoing from its body and smashing into the portal. The shimmering blue light disappeared, and the round object fizzled, and fell, clattering to the ground.
In unison, the Eidolon's disappeared, and we were left amidst the carnage. Vanille ran to join us, and we stepped around the broken machines and made our way back to the locked door.
"It's still locked," Sazh said, looking at me.
I shrugged. "We always have magic," I said, and blew a powerful blast of wind at the door.
The door crumpled under the force, and a portion of it swung inward. The door itself was still at the closed position, but now there was a large enough gap between the two portions to step through.
The three of us ran forward, entering a long corridor. I quickly checked a map on the wall.
"We're right beside the wing," I noted, turning to peer down the corridor. "Might be easier to see where we're going from outside," I said, but my stomach lurched at the thought of standing on the wing of the ship, surrounded by nothing but sky, where one misstep could send you falling to your horrible death.
"Anything's better than following this maze," Sazh said, and Vanille nodded in agreement.
"But, how do we get out, I don't see any door," Vanille said.
I grinned. "Then we do it the old-fashioned way," I replied, taking a step back.
"You guys might want to get behind me," I warned the duo, who were looking at me questioningly, but complied immediately.
I closed my eyes and let the magic flow through me, as I had so many times before. It seemed so natural now; so easy, and it was hard to remind myself that the magic we now possessed was a part of the l'Cie curse. It wasn't a blessing. PSICOM's own manadrives were created to combat l'Cie magic, but they paled in comparison to the real thing.
With a yell, I opened my eyes, my entire body glowing with a red aura. I thrust my arms out in front of me, towards the wall, and with a sound that deafened my ears, the wall exploded.
Our small group continued through the sprawling halls of the Palomeceum. When we reached the outer edge of the ship and stepped onto the enormous wing, we stopped, just for a moment, to breathe the fresh air.
"The wind, it's dying down," Hope said nervously.
"Yeah, it's stopping," I replied, noticing the lack of wind even though we were outside. "And we're decelerating," I added as the wing flaps raised in front of us.
"They up to something?" I asked myself.
"I don't suppose it could just be – I don't know – good luck?" Snow asked sheepishly, rubbing the back of his black bandanna.
He spoke to soon, for at that moment, hidden pockets in the wing slid open, expelling several bioweapons.
"That looks more like bad luck," Fang replied forlornly.
"You've a point," Snow acknowledge, unperturbed by the appearance of enemies.
"Not to me," I said, drawing my gunblade. "That? That we can do something about."
I led the way forward, noticing that the length of the wing was patrolled by PSICOM forces. It would be impossible to avoid a fight, let alone try to gain the advantage of surprise; the open space would make us easy to see.
We made our way through the wing flaps, dispatching any enemies as they came at us. Knowing that each step brought me closer to our captured friends, and James, spurred me to fight harder and faster than I had before. My actions became reckless as I fought each group of PSICOM troops, each wave of bioweapons.
Finally, Fang stepped in, placing a hand on my shoulder after the battle. The wing flaps were behind us now, and we were crossing a lowered portion of the wing.
"Lightning, that's no way to fight," she said. "You can't lose your head now, not when we're so close." I shrugged away from her, but her wisdom sank in, and I stopped.
"You're right," I admitted. "A soldier who loses their head in combat is called a 'target'," I repeated the lesson I had learnt during my Guardian Corps training.
"Exactly, now let's go."
I found myself smiling at her back, suddenly grateful for her words. It had been a long time since I had needed a reminder on how to fight.
Watching her engage the next enemy, her Pulsian spear twirling rapidly, I saw how well she actually fought. It seemed that centuries in crystal stasis hadn't diminished her ability at all, and in seconds, I had joined her, fighting at her side.
"See," Fang said lightly after the opponent crumpled. "Simple, isn't it?"
I nodded, looking over the expanse of wing. Ahead of us was an area of moving machinery that operated the wing's trajectory during flight. A series of moving pistons joined by small platforms to allow engineers to perform maintenance duties.
"There, we need to go through there," I said, pointing at a path along the pistons. It was largely empty of enemies, who were patrolling the outside border of the wing.
"Hopefully nobody will bother us; it would be dangerous fighting there. That machinery doesn't look very stable," Hope said thoughtfully. "If anything, they'll wait until we cross to the other side."
The rest of us nodded, and made our way towards the respective section of the wing. As I had suspected, we traversed the machinery undisturbed, and took a moment to quickly check over any wounds we had received. I applied a potion on a large cut on Hope's arm, which healed, leaving a thin red mark on the place where the bioweapons claws had struck him.
"Thanks," he said gratefully, looking up at me. I met his eyes and nodded, then helped him to his feet.
As Hope predicted, once we had left the safety of the machinery, several PSICOM troops swooped towards us, flying through the air using jetpacks attached to their backs. They rained bullets down on us, and our small group split to avoid the gunfire. I retaliated with a quick surge of magic, which froze the flames issuing from rockets. The troopers jetpack iced up, and with a scream, he fell, hitting the wing with a thud, where he lay still. Whether he was dead, or merely unconscious, I couldn't tell, nor did I care at that moment, because two large bioweapons sped at us, eager to help their human masters.
I dodged a swipe from one of the bioweapons as a second and third trooper fell from the sky and landed at Fang's feet. She quickly pounced, spearing both of them with her sharp weapon.
As the bioweapon struck again, I lunged forward, my gunblade piercing the mechanical arm. Deftly, I flipped over it, and the arm fell, sliced off at the midway point. The bioweapon had no elbow, it seemed, only two straight arms; or one and a half, now.
I swung my blade again, and this time, the weapon cut through the thin midsection of the bioweapon, and with a grating sound, it split apart, now ready for the scrapheap, like so many of the others that had fallen at our hands.
Behind me, both Hope and Snow were casting magic at the four remaining troopers, aided by Fang, who was quick to take advantage of the distraction and attack relentlessly. Seeing that they had things under control, I turned to face the last remaining bioweapon.
It was like the first. It had no legs, only a moving platform that was carried on wheels similar to a tank. It attacked, and I somersaulted backwards, swiping with my blade in midair. I heard the clang of steel on steel and saw the bioweapon recoil, a jagged gash in torso that was sparking horribly. Grinning, I dashed forward, and raised my blade.
The bioweapon took a different tactic, and flew towards me. I shifted my weight, intending to side-step the machine and catch it as it passed me.
The bioweapon charged, and I dodge to the side, whirling gracefully, my gunblade arcing towards, when suddenly the weapon jumped from my hands, and I was hitting empty air with my empty fist.
One of the troopers had abandoned its comrades and attacked me, the bullets spewing from its rifle colliding with my gunblade and jerking it away. I dashed towards the blade, and the trooper fired again, and this time, the bullets hit their mark.
I had dodged behind the bioweapon, but far from stopping the bullets as I had hoped, it slammed through the machine, ripping holes into it. Realizing my danger, I flipped again, but a few of the tiny projectiles collided with my body, and I fell, groaning.
"Light!" I heard several voices yell out, and then the pain was gone. I looked up just in time to see Hope recover from the curing magic he had cast on me, to see Snow jump up, high, and swing hard at the airborne trooper. Then Fang was at my side, her face snarling in fury and beating the bioweapon back with a series of attacks, until the machine was a pile of beaten and broken parts.
I stood, feeling where the bullets had hit, but finding nothing except smooth skin.
Relieved, we regrouped.
The four of us headed into the open once more, and stopped, panting, as a giant flying bioweapon that resembled a vulture headed our way, rising from the below the wing and stopping to float in front of us, its wings beating heavy gusts of wind at us.
Fang stepped forward.
"So, Light… How you figure this makes us lucky?" She asked.
I readied myself and answered. "Because when we kill it, we one step closer to Vanille, how's that?"
The wild woman twirled her spear in figure eights.
"Well, when you put it that way!" She said, and then she struck, leaping up at the bioweapon. Her spear flashed, and burst into flames as she imbibed it with magic.
I followed suit, and my own weapon glowed a bright blue as I slashed wildly at the things head and wings. Snow joined the fray, as did Hope, casting a quick slow spell on the creature and then enchanting his own weapon.
Together, our relentless assault of magic and physical attacks began to wear on the creature. Its wings beat with less enthusiasm, and its jaws snapped harmlessly at the air where we had been. Sharp talons tore at the ground, but we dodged and parried with ease.
Finally, the bioweapon collapsed onto the end of the wing, and slid down into empty air.
Snow punched the air joyously.
"Now that's what you get for taking on the leader of NORA!" he cried.
I sighed, a deep sound which turned to horror, then to annoyance as a second bird-like bioweapon approached us.
"Another one!" Hope announced.
Snow stepped to the front of our group and peered at the bioweapon.
"One big, fat stroke of luck after another. I'm so happy I could cry," he said sarcastically to Hope.
The bioweapon swooped, and we readied ourselves, but at the last moment, it pulled up and soared over our heads.
"Tease us, will ya?" Fang shouted after it.
"Come down here!" Snow added, beating his fists together in anger.
Then an explosion rocked the side of the ship, and a mass of smoke escaped from a large hole in the wall.
We turned, expecting a fight.
Emerging from the smoke, chirping happily, was a small yellow chocobo chick, which flew towards us. Coughing, but grinning, three figures followed the tiny animal.
The first was Vanille, waving the smoke from in front of her and clutching her odd weapon.
I looked quickly at Fang, who leaned forward, as if unable to believe her eyes.
"Vanille!" she cried, and the orange-haired girl looked up, her face breaking out into a smile.
"Fang!" she shouted, running towards her. Fang copied her, and they met. Fang reached out one hand, and touched Vanille's arm.
Next was Sazh, his eyes twinkling as he saw us, and he waved, his face crinkling against the sudden light, and beside him, clapping the dark-skinned man on the back and saying something I couldn't hear, was the one man I really wanted to see.
I stood rooted to the spot, unable to move, still taking in the fact that he was actually here, alive.
The handsome brunette walked towards me, grinning in turn at the other l'Cie as he passed them. Snow gave him a gentle punch on the shoulder, and he laughed playfully. He passed Fang and Vanille, nodding at Fang as she turned to him.
"Long time, no see, Soldier boy," she said happily, peering at him with respect. "We all thought you were dead."
"So did I," I heard him say brazenly, and then he moved on, allowing the two women to return to their reunion. Explanations could wait.
He knelt in front of Hope while Sazh stopped to talk to Fang and Vanille. The soldier nodded, smiling at the boy with soft eyes.
"You look older," James said, looking him over. Hope smiled, and raised his head higher, and then he looked at me.
James followed his gaze.
"Lightning," he said.
She smiled at me, and I walked towards her. She waited for me to reach her, but as I closed the distance, she took a single step forward and looked up at me. Her hand rose, inches from my face, and I stilled, waiting for her.
Her hand crept closer, and I felt her fingers brush against my cheek.
Then she was resting against my chest in a sudden movement, her arms curled around me. I let out a small sigh and reciprocated.
"You're really here," I whispered.
Again, the moment ended too soon.
"There you are," Snow said as Sazh approached him, and the older man grinned, waving.
"Miss me?" he asked Snow casually.
But Snow wasn't looking at Sazh. "Not you, the monster!" he cried. He was looking up, at a bioweapon that appeared above our heads. From Snow's words, I gathered that they had already met.
I pulled away from Lightning, and let my hands fill with magic, but the woman prodded me and held something out, something familiar.
It was a black and silver rifle, scratched and worn, but in one piece.
I looked at her.
"Missing something?" she asked with a grin.
I nodded and took Soldier's Edge from her, feeling its familiar weight in my arms, my fingers curling around the trigger. I swelled with mounting excitement. Now I could fight.
I pushed the button on the side, and the gun split, remolding itself into two long blades.
I dashed forwards, relishing in the feeling of wielding my weapon once more, and for a moment, I felt invincible. I would have to ask Lightning how she got it after we dealt with the bioweapon.
I slashed at the monster, avoiding its lunging teeth and talons. My blades sliced through mechanical flesh, and the creature roared. Around me, my companions were fighting as well. The monster was no match for seven l'Cie.
We attacked in unison, working together to distract and defeat the monster.
"Snow!" I called, dodging an outstretched talon and landing beside him.
"Give me a boost!" I ordered, and without missing a beat, he knelt down and cupped his hands.
As I stepped onto the small foothold he had made, Snow heaved himself to his feet, lifting the weight with his enhanced strength, and I was launched through the air. The bioweapon screeched as I flew towards its head, and it snapped at me. Before its teeth could touch me, a colossal spell hit the bioweapons head and it jerked backwards, exposing its neck.
I directed my blades, and they sunk into the neck of the bioweapon. Blood poured from the wound and the wires within sparked.
I brought my legs up, using the blades to hold my weight, and rested my feet on the neck. The next second, I had pushed off the skin of the bioweapon, dragging my blades along its neck as I did so, tearing a long, lethal cut into its neck. I righted myself in midair, and landed on the ground as the bioweapon twitched.
In triumph, I waited for it to fall, but the bioweapon still had some life left in him. The wound, it seemed, hadn't been fatal, and it clawed at me, its talons knocking me off my feet.
I was on my feet in seconds, and saw Lightning and Fang hurl two balls of thunder at the bleeding laceration, where it impacted with the eyes.
A current of electricity ran the length of the bioweapon, and it shuddered, and then fell.
"Vanille!" Fang shouted again, and she embraced the girl. Now that the danger was over, they could appreciate each other's company once more. I heard a soft sobbing sound, and noticed that Vanille was crying. Tears of joy, of sorrow, of longing, all rolled into one moment.
I moved to Lightning's side, and grasped her hand tightly.
Then Fang knelt, and turned the orange-haired girl around. For a second, I wondered what she was doing, then she lifted up Vanille's skirt and examined the brand that was hidden on her thigh.
Hope, Snow, Sazh and I all turned at the same moment, coughing loudly.
"You've still got time," Fang said, relief tingeing her voice.
"Fang," Vanille began. "There's – there's something I need to tell you…" but before she could finish, Fang was embracing her again.
I couldn't hear what she said next, but it was obviously a private affair.
"What's wrong?" Snow said suddenly, and I turned. He was looking at Sazh, who wore a sorrowful expression on his face.
"Oh, uh… nothing! It's nothing," he said, recovering quickly. "So, what's on the agenda?"
"Toppling the Sanctum," Snow said, as if it was obvious.
"No, I mean really?" Sazh said, half a smile lighting his face.
"He's serious," Lightning said beside me. "We're gonna take down the Sanctum and give Cocoon back to the people. The fal'Cie have called the shots long enough."
I smiled. This was a plan I liked.
"Easier said than done," I said. "I doubt it'll be easy taking down a fal'Cie."
"If we pull this off, it will be a miracle," Hope added.
"Well, good thing Lady Luck's on our side," Fang said, shifting her weight.
Shadows passed over the wing of the ship, and I looked up to see several more flying bioweapons soaring overhead.
"More of 'em?" Sazh said disbelievingly.
"You know, this is getting really old," Snow said sullenly.
Fang grinned. "Check this out. A miracle – Gran Pulse style!"
She and Vanille ran forward, towards the edge of the wing.
"Be careful!" I called after them. "This doesn't look very safe!"
A wave on nausea hit me as I looked down at the solid wing below me, then the steeper edge, and finally the sky. I took a deep breath, and Lightning's hand tightened around mine.
"Vanille, go fish!" Fang said, pointing at one of the bioweapons that was circling back towards us.
"Got it," Vanille acknowledged, raising her weapon.
The bioweapon flew closer, and a stream of blue energy spat from its mouth, shaking the wing, but Vanille was ready.
As the machine flew away, she swung her weapon, and four ropes shot from it, extending further than I had ever seen them go. At the same moment, Fang sprinted down the wing, following the ropes.
"Fang!" Vanille called, signaling her, and Fang jumped, high.
The ropes latched onto the bioweapon, and lurched backwards, pulled towards us by Vanille.
Fang had reached the height of her jump, and the bioweapon soared beneath her as it lost all forward momentum.
Next moment, Fang had landed on the bioweapon, her spear thrusting into the creature's back and propelling it downwards.
They landed on the edge of the wing, the creature still struggling to escape from Fang and Vanille's trap.
"That's a good girl," Fang said, and then she turned to look at us and raised her arm. "All right!" she yelled.
Vanille hurried past us.
"Let's get on!" she said excitedly, and we followed after her.
I didn't move, and Lightning, still grasping my hand, pulled me after her.
This was going to be the most horrible experience of my life.
I had my eyes shut tight, a death grip on the bioweapon's back fin. I was practically hugging the creature. The rest of them were sitting, quite comfortably, on the creatures back. All except for Sazh, who had been the last to clamber on, and was hanging on for dear life, his feet flailing in the air behind him.
"Believe in Lady Luck now?" Fang shouted over the roaring wind.
"Yeah – Lady Bad Luck!" Sazh yelled back.
"Time to Purge a Primarch!" Snow shouted.
"You got it!" Fang replied. She seemed perfectly at ease on the flying bioweapon. Then she spurred the bioweapon forward, and it circled around the large, white ship.
I forced my eyes open, one at a time, and stared down at the ship.
Turrets on the hull began to fire at us, and bullets whizzed past our heads.
The bioweapon, furious at being fired upon, opened its jaws and spewed a hiss of blue energy at the nearest turret, which exploded in a shower of sparks and smoke.
It seemed to be the safest patch.
"Jump!" Lightning yelled, and I let go of the creatures fin and leaped.
I heard the screams of the others as they followed, and we fell, to be engulfed by the smoke.
The Primarch was the last obstacle.
Our small group fell through the large hole made by the bioweapon's attack. The smoke clogged our nostrils and lungs, until it dissipated, and we landed, badly, on a small platform inside the ship.
I groaned and rolled onto my back. My entire body was aching from the fall. Again, our l'Cie powers had saved us. Any normal human would have fallen to their death.
A hand appeared above me, and I grasped it. Lightning pulled me to my feet. I held onto her for a moment longer, then turned and looked around.
The platform we had landed on was one of many. A series of retracted bridges connected each platform, and each one was set on a lower plane than the last. If you were to connect all the centre platforms, you would be able to form a ramp, and at the bottom was an intricate bulkhead door. If my suspicions were correct, we had landed close to the front end of the ship, near the bridge.
"That door should lead us to the bridge," I said, indicating. "The OIC will be situated there."
Lightning nodded, but the others looked at me in puzzlement.
"Officer-in-charge," I verified, remembering that Light and I were the only soldiers in the group.
"Dysley's through there," Lightning added.
"Probably," I agreed.
It suddenly dawned on me exactly what we were going to do. For a moment, I wondered what my father would say if he knew that his son, the perfect soldier, was going to turn his back on everything he stood for. Shame consumed me as I thought about that, until I looked at my shoulder, and the black mark on it over the scars.
"Let's move," I said, heading to the edge of the platform and pressing the button on the panel that was situated there. The bridge extended, connecting us to the next platform down.
"We're still gonna have our talk," Fang told Vanille as she moved forward. "But let's survive this first," she said, loudly enough so that we could all hear her.
"Right," Vanille said softly.
We descended to the next platform, and extended the next adjoining bridge and headed down. The next platform in our path, however, was guarded. Heavily.
"They haven't seen us yet," Lightning said, stopping. "We should go back, head to one of the side platforms.
"All in favor?" I asked the group. Several nods answered me, and I led the way back the previous platform.
A second panel on the other side connected our platform with another. I noticed that there was a pattern to the arrangement of the platforms. First there was the one in the centre, then, slightly lower, were two more platforms, close to each wall, then, slightly below that, two more side platforms, then a centre platform again. Instead of taking the straight path, and clashing with several PSICOM soldiers, we could easily go around them by taking the side platforms, and then heading to the next centre platform, bypassing them completely. Hopefully, they wouldn't notice us.
I hit another panel, and we followed the bridge to the side platform on our left. From there, we headed down to the next side platform using another bridge, and then heading right to the next centre platform on the path.
In moments, we were standing in front of the door, and the soldiers had remained unaware.
The door slid open upon our approach, and the corridor stretched away from us. It was very dark.
"Ready," I asked, placing a hand on my rifle.
"Sure, this guy is going down!" Snow said encouragingly. His tan coat glowed with power, and the AMP symbols appeared on the back.
"Dysley won't be alone," I said. "He'll probably have a whole squad of Elite's down there protecting him.
"Don't worry, James," Hope said. "We can take 'em."
I looked at him and smiled.
"All right, then," I said. I exhaled, and followed Lightning, who had impatiently began running down the corridor, as if eager to force a fight with the Sanctum's leader.
The bridge was a round room, with computers and flashing lights on all sides. An empty space in the centre led to a raised dais. The Primarch himself was sitting on a large white throne, his white, extravagant garments flowing around him. Next to him, Jihl Nabaat smiled as we approached the dais. The corridor we emerged from ended in a ramp that led to the empty section of floor. High above us, the Primarch sat, looking down at us.
"Been looking for you, Nabaat!" Sazh cried, and we ran down the ramp.
In response, Jihl leaped from the top of the dais and jumped to the ground in front of us, landing gracefully.
Sazh drew his gun and pointed it at her. No doubt he was thinking of Dajh, and all that the Sanctum put him through. My hands curled into fists and I glared at the woman. Memories of the child, trapped in a PSICOM observation room, filled my head.
"Hello, James," Jihl said, looking at me. "The prodigal son returns, how fitting. Like mother like son, after all."
I narrowed my eyes at her.
"What is that supposed to mean."
"What's wrong? Dear old Dad never told you?"
Told me what?" I retorted angrily.
"Perhaps he would have killed you as well, just like your mother."
"What are you talking about?" I roared, suddenly impatient.
"Why, your mother was a Pulse l'Cie, James."
My heart skipped a beat.
"What?" I asked, dumbfounded.
"Your mother was a l'Cie, hidden among us, right under PSICOM's nose."
"My mother died during, childbirth, Nabaat!" I said through clenched teeth.
"A lie," the female soldier said. "Your father was already married to her when we found her. He discovered her secret, and he killed her."
My eyes widened in shock.
"That's not possible," I said, feeling a slender hand on my shoulder.
"He knew better than anyone the threat a Pulse l'Cie posed. He joined PSICOM straight after."
My mind was racing. It rebelled against every word she said, but it made sense. All the lectures on PSICOM, on the Sanctum. All the talks about duty to Cocoon and the Pulse enemy. Everything my father had told me was based on his own experience.
"You obviously weren't a l'Cie, so we let you be. And then you joined PSICOM, just like your father."
"Shut up!" I yelled, but Jihl plowed on.
"He must be rolling over in his grave knowing that his own son was a Pulse l'Cie. The very thing that ruined his life-"
"I said SHUT UP!" I screamed. "I'll kill you; you and your master." I indicated Dysley, who had been surveying the scene before him with interest.
Jihl stopped, and placed a hand on the blade at her waist.
"Your Eminence, please escape," she said, drawing the sword. "I'll cover your retreat."
The Primarch repositioned himself in his high-backed chair.
"Why don't you leave, Jihl," he said in a drawling voice. "Or rather, take your leave. Humans have no business here."
I narrowed my eyes at the Primarch. His words made no sense.
They seemed to make no sense to Jihl either, for she turned, a bewildered expression on her face.
"What?" she gasped. "Your Eminence!"
Before she could finish, a white ball of magical energy collided with her back, and she collapsed with a strangled cry.
Jihl Nabaat was dead, and the Primarch had killed her.
We exchanged looks of shock.
"Magic?" Sazh asked, surprise etched on his face.
The Primarch raised his staff, and stood, rising into the air above the dais. Magic began to surround the staff, and screams echoed around the bridge as the remaining technicians were pierced by the energy. Each one was silenced, and none escaped.
"Dysley!" Snow roared in horror at the sudden death, but the Primarch didn't stop. He rose higher, and the magic hit the ceiling of the bridge, exposing the sky above.
"Monster!" Snow added. "People are not yours to use!"
The Primarch grinned as he floated down to our level. "What else does one do with tools?" he sneered.
I was speechless. How was any of this possible? Dysley was the leader of the Sanctum. The human leader of the Sanctum. Wasn't he?
Snow reacted first. He charged the Primarch, his fist drawing back. With a shout, his fist snapped forward, only to be stopped by a green wall of energy. It seemed the Primarch was protected by a magic shield.
Snow was launched off his feet, and Hope rushed to his side, but he was uninjured, only shaken at his failed attack.
Dysley was speaking again.
"Cocoon is a factory, built by fal'Cie," he said in that same, drawling voice. "A factory for the mass production of human thralls."
I gritted my teeth at his words. Whatever he was, he would die.
"Not anymore it's not," Snow said as he stood up.
"What can mere men do?" Dysley asked arrogantly. "Without our help, death is all of which you're capable."
"You saw the fools," Dysley continued. "A mindless mob drunk on fear of a few l'Cie."
Lightning stepped forward, gunblade in hand.
"If they only knew a l'Cie was the one filling their glasses!" she said.
I clutched her shoulder warningly. Dysley had said 'our help'!
"Not l'Cie," I murmured. Lightning glanced at me.
"L'Cie?" Dysley laughed at the word. "You mean me? Oh child, perish the thought."
He rose into the air again, and a white owl swooped over our heads to be consumed by the shining light emanating from his staff.
"I am more than that!"
The light radiated outward, consuming Dysley with its brightness. I shielded my eyes against glare. Then it dimmed, and Primarch Galenth Dysley was gone.
In his place was an enormous, living machine. A massive head surrounded by four metal plates, each with its own, smaller white head. Two clawed feet jutted from beneath the two outer plates, clinking against the metal ground. Its hind legs were smaller, hunched beneath it, and they were hoofed.
"I am fal'Cie," the machine said. Its voice was deep, metallic; godly. "My name is Barthandelus. Voice of the Sanctum and Lord-Sovereign of the Cocoon fal'Cie."
I glared at the fal'Cie, my teeth bared in an angry scowl. My blades were already at my side, poised to strike. I slowly stepped around Lightning protectively, sinking into a half-crouch.
"Your kind feared the darkness, so we gave you light," Barthandelus was saying. "You begged us for the Purge, and did it not come to pass? Now you spurn my counsel? You must learn your place!"
The fal'Cie roared, and attacked.
Waves of energy poured from it in streams, and I dodge, praying that my friends had done the same. I barely had time to notice that the attack had missed all of them before I was slashing my blades against the metal plates. Dents and small nicks appeared under my assault. Then my blade his something soft. It was the white head sunken in the plate, and its mouth opened in what could only be pain. In retaliation, Barthandelus butted forward, knocking me back.
"James!" I heard someone cry, then Snow was at my side, pulling up and away as a second wave of magic blew passed me.
"Thanks," I said, but he waved me off and attacked the fal'Cie again.
"Try to hit the heads!" he bellowed, his fist smashing into the one of the far right. The force of his punch was amplified by the AMP drive he possessed, and the face cracked, a dark shining light appearing in its smooth, white surface. I watched as Snow drew his fist back once more, the resulting attack smashed through the white face, and it, and the metal pauldron that held it, disappeared in a haze of purple light.
Barthandelus roared, and he sank to one side, momentarily weakened. The magic that had appeared in front of it, gathering energy, dissipated.
Snow gave a shout of triumph, and set to work on the next white face in his path.
With renewed vigor, I dashed forwards, Lightning sprinting alongside, and together we attacked the two on the left. Regular strikes from Airwing, Hope's weapon, and Vanille's Pulsian rod, began to damage the metal. On the other side, Fang and Snow were slashing rapidly at the remaining pauldron.
With each attack, Barthandelus became more frenzied, and his attacks were more powerful. It was clear that he was unleashing the bulk of his fal'Cie power against us, but any time one of us was hit, another was quick to come to their aid, either with a potion or magic.
Suddenly, the last head vanished as Lightning's gunblade slashed through it, and Barthandelus collapsed. Though far from defeated, we took the chance to attack. Our weapons tore through its thick armor, and a black slime began to ooze from the places we sliced open.
Now damaged significantly, Barthandelus picked itself up, and a laugh escaped its throat. Its face raised away from the rest its head, and the shoulder drew back, revealing a mass of cannons and lasers.
"Get away!" I shouted desperately, realizing what was about to happen. "Get away, now!"
My companions heeded my instructions, and set up a magical barrier. There was no way we could avoid that, but if we could weather it, we could resume our attack.
The lasers hit the barrier with all their might. Waves of heat rolled over us, but they didn't break down the barrier. Only at the last, did the magic finally crumble.
"Again!" I shouted. "Hope, Vanille, try to weaken it! Snow, draw its fire! Light, use your magic! Fang, on me!"
Our group split into our assigned roles. Snow on the far side, drawing its fire with magic, Hope and Vanille launched a series of debilitating spells on the fal'Cie, Light, Fang and I put on the pressure in with different tactics, and Barthandelus staggered beneath our attacks.
"Now! Hit it now!" Snow roared. I felt a twinge of annoyance at having the leadership stolen from me, but only for a moment. Snow was just as capable of directing people as I was; him in Nora, and myself in PSICOM.
All that was forgotten, however, as all of us focused on the fal'Cie's head. Lightning dashed forward, launching a series of quick slashes around its face. Snow summoned every ounce of magic he had, both l'Cie and AMP generated, and smashed both fists onto the ground. The bridge rumbled at the impact, and Barthandelus' feet collapsed from under him. Hope, his whole body glowing in a white aura, unleashed an enormous ball of magical energy that struck the top of the fal'Cie with such force that it hit the ground hard. Vanille followed Hope, her own magic slamming into the front of the fal'Cie. The shoulders dented inward from the impact, crunching beneath the blow. Fang's spear shone with magic energy, and she slashed it in front of her. A wave of energy sprang away from her, as if the wind generated by the swinging of her weapon had been imbued with magic. The wave collided with the fal'Cie and cut into the metal, searing it.
With a roar, I raised my hands upward, towards the sky, and the wind that buffeted the ship from outside began to spin into a large tornado, revolving over the open ceiling. The end of it crashed downwards, piercing through the fal'Cie's midsection from above.
Barthandelus fell, and the defeated fal'Cie shimmered, and then disappeared.
There was a pause as we caught our breath, but no one really felt like we had won.
"A fal'Cie running the Sanctum," Snow said scornfully.
"Then… I guess it wasn't Eden controlling things after all." Hope announced, folding his weapon and tucking it into his belt.
"As I said," a disembodied voice echoed around the bridge; a familiar, drawling voice.
The Primarch appeared before us. He was once again in his human form, as Galenth Dysley.
"Guess fal'Cie don't go down as easy as the rest of us," Sazh said, his pistols in his hands. Each of us had drawn our weapons.
"Ease is not the issue," The Primarch said. "You have not fought to win. You should know quite well already the sure way of dispatching our kind. Ragnarok."
There were gasps all around, as we each remembered the vision we had shared when we had first became l'Cie.
"What's Ragnarok?" Fang asked, and I remembered that she had lost her memory when she had turned into a crystal.
As if in answer, the dead brand on her arm glowed, and she clutched at it, groaning in pain.
"Fang!" I cried, glancing at her hunched form, and she nodded reassuringly.
"Pitiful l'Cie, you've forgotten your Focus," Dysley said, amused. "Ragnarok is the beast one of you must become in order to lay waste to Cocoon." He raised his hand and pointed at each of us in turn. "You have had the dream. One among you will become that monstrosity, defeat Orphan, and destroy Cocoon."
Dysley vanished as he spoke, reappearing in sequence beside each of us, before returning to his original position in front of us. I shuddered as he appeared behind me.
"Orphan? Lightning asked, confused, asking aloud everyone's question.
"The font of Eden's power," Dysley answered slowly. "Orphan fuels Eden with strength, and Eden in turn sustains you and the rest of your kind. Destroy Orphan, and you'll release a force such as this world has never seen. Cocoon will be torn asunder."
Fang stood, her hand still wrapped around her arm, and her brand.
"So if I did that… Destroyed Orphan…"
Dysley laughed, and appeared in front of her, his face full of malice.
"Your Focus would be fulfilled."
"So what?" Lightning said, her gunblade arcing vertically towards Dysley, who vanished in a haze of light.
"Who says it has to be?"
Her words penetrated my mind, so intent upon taking in everything Dysley was saying, I had begun to feel the hints of despair, but she was right. Fate could be fought. Weren't we doing just that; ignoring our Focus and destroying the Sanctum.
Snow stepped forward and held up his hand. Clutched in his fingers was a blue crystal: Serah's tear.
"Serah asked us to save Cocoon before she turned to crystal," he said determinedly. "Save it! And that's what we're gonna do!" He looked around at us beseechingly. "Serah was trying to tell us how to complete our Focus, and we have-"
Dysley just laughed, cutting him off.
"Allow me to help you see the truth of things," he said. "The moment you arrived, your friend wept crystal tears. This was because her Focus required that you be brought together. That girl did nothing but assemble the tools for Cocoon's destruction."
I looked at Snow. His mouth had dropped. I knew he would refuse to believe it.
"Did it never occur to you?" Dysley asked. "Or did you simply refuse to countenance the thought?"
The ground began to shake beneath us, and Dysley swung his staff. "If you will not face the truth, then face the peril of your plight."
Above us, the white owl returned, swooping low. I stepped backwards as it grew larger, becoming a sleek, white ship.
"Run l'Cie!" Dysley said, disappearing into the air. "See how stark reality is!"
Then the Palomeceum began to rumble, and I stumbled.
"Come on!" Lightning said, leading us the open boarding ramp of the white ship.
The Palomeceum was crumbling. It was losing altitude. Before long, the bow of the ship began to tilt, and an explosion rocked the ship.
Sazh was at the ship's controls, piloting it away from the explosion, and we flew out of the smoke that was billowing from an enormous hole in the hull.
"This is bad! The yoke's jammed!" Sazh said, trying to steer.
"What!" I said, pulling my seatbelt on.
"I knew it was a trap!" Snow yelled, leaning over Sazh's chair.
"Something's coming!" Hope shouted from the side.
Through the window I could flame bits of metal flying through the sky. Parts of the Palomeceum. And speeding towards us was a second fighter ship.
"Not so fast, l'Cie!"
A voice echoed around the ship.
"Who is that?" Sazh cried, checking the communicator, but I recognized the voice.
"Yaag Rosch, PSICOM director," I said as the approaching ship launched a mass of rockets.
Sazh expertly piloted the ship, avoiding the rockets that were exploding around us, and each explosion jolted the ship.
"Hang on!" Snow bellowed.
"You think!" I shouted, desperately clutching the back of the seat in front of me.
Sazh looped around the rockets, so that we were chasing the smoke issuing from Rosch's engines. Lasers fired away from us, but all missed their target as Rosch maneuvered evasively.
Then his ship disappeared from in front of us as he rode the wind, falling above us and sending a group of large missiles at us.
I screamed as they exploded around us, but we escaped the plume of smoke safely, a shield rapidly disappearing from around the ship.
"It's gonna be fine, Vanille," Fang said, not turning around from her position in the front.
"That was James," Vanille shouted back defensively, and the heat rose to my cheeks.
"What?" I asked as Fang looked at me incredulously. "That was scary."
Sazh was barely listening. Instead, he was looking at the steering yoke, which, I could see, was moving of its own accord.
"They hell kind of ship is this? Fighting on its own?" He yelled.
The two ships began to fly around each other, each trying to gain the upper hand.
"Clever, aren't you?" Rosch's voice filled the ship again.
We could do nothing as the ship evaded, flying this way and that in an attempt to avoid Rosch's missiles.
"Can't we do something?" Hope asked desperately.
"Got me! I give up!" Sazh replied.
We were approaching the sinking Palomeceum. The air around the massive ship seemed to shimmer, and I blinked, but my eyes weren't failing me. We sped through air over the ship as a green barrier was erected behind us. The Palomeceum's shields! They stopped Rosch's ship from getting through, and his ship clashed uselessly against it.
Then we were on the other side of the Palomeceum, and heading towards a city. Tall skyscrapers intersected our path. I couldn't' tell which city it was, but at the moment, it didn't really matter, the ship was still out of our control. I looked back, at the sea of faces below us that must be staring up at the ship.
"Sazh, look out!" Vanille screeched suddenly, and we all looked ahead, screaming as we saw that we were on a collision course with one of the city's towers. Outside the window, the ship began to spark as a flickering screen surrounded it.
I shut my eyes, and, feeling Lightning sink into my arms, I waited for the crash.