A/N: It seems like forever since I've updated anything, much less started something, on this site. xD Needless to say, the urge to write for FFXIII has been bugging me since before I even completed the game. At this stage, I owe Truth-Unspoken for being a wonderful beta, and on a lesser note, the web novelization and the Ultimania for getting to this point. (On aside, while general focus of this story is the idea of 'family', it will also have moments of consideration towards the pairings of Snow/Serah and, on a developing basis, Fang/Lightning.)
The wind whipped past Lightning's shoulders as she observed the valley beneath her, a lush landscape fed by tiered falls branching away from their route to the Sulyya Springs. Seven months ago she would have taken little note of the streams had they trickled by, for all that had mattered when she stood at this cliff was the target in the sky. Breathtaking as the sounds and sights of Gran Pulse were they had nonetheless existed in the periphery of her notice. Some phenomena were briefly successful in captivating her attention, either coming within arm's reach of her without giving the impression of hostility or being pointed out to her by one of the two home comers she had traveled with.
All that remained the same was her constant vigilance. 'Hated l'Cie' had become 'Saviours of Humanity'. The nest of lies and slaughter was a glittering monument fated to be forever reaching for its former seat in the sky; alarmingly whole and benevolent without the stronghold of deceit lurking in plain sight. What had once been cold winds whispering through trees and rustling grasses with the burden of ghastly lament now breezed by with laughter and activity, the calls and crooning of Pulsian wildlife similarly enhanced with the hustle and bustle of a thriving society.
By all means Lightning was happy -for the former citizens of Cocoon, who had survived its fall and were steadily adapting to their organic surroundings. For the good health of these people, whose eyes shone at the uncontrolled beauty of this land, their skin glowing with a life unattainable from artificial sunlight and synthetic meals. For their resourcefulness in cooperating with the organized efforts in excavating what they could from Cocoon, from airships to portions of pavement, to build a settlement in an ideal clearing which lay beyond the sparse forest at her back, near the rivers bound for Sulyya.
When among company she embraced this happiness, sharing it and enjoying all it had to offer. When alone on patrol (seldom as that was, for pragmatism mandated that people travel in groups of four at minimum when near the outskirts of civilization) or in rumination Lightning would hold her optimism at a distance and thought of the void.
There was no point in closing her eyes and pretending they were here, that they still breathed and ran and fought at her side. The absence of Oerba Yun Fang and Oerba Dia Vanille had not lessened with the prosperity of the new found civilization. Lightning and the former l'Cie, her family, knew as well as the next person that wallowing in reveries would hardly be any way to make their sacrifice worthwhile. As much as they lived on, melancholy made its subtle approach from time to time.
She had tried to mask her initial response with concern for Hope -as soon as proper education had resumed, the youth had dived into his studies and scarcely interacted with his fellow students. With Bartholomew Estheim up to his neck in repairing the state of the financial system, father and son did not necessarily have the opportunity to sit down and talk. The man meant well and wanted the best for his remaining family yet Lightning wondered if he could understand the effect Vanille's friendship had on Hope. She had taken the youth aside, his arguing and insistence at being left alone falling flat as Lightning cut to the core of his seclusion.
"I miss them, too," she confided, "It's not right for them to be as they are. We will bring them home, Hope. We will make it possible."
Lightning stifled the bristling sense of impatience at the back of her mind, a force of stifled strength that demanded action in the face of circumstances demanding tedious calm. 'We will' was of mutual consensus among their number, from Snow to Serah, Sazh to Hope, from herself to them and so on. 'When will we' was the pressing variant that followed close behind. Their previous excursion to Gran Pulse gave them the basics of understanding the world; this alone made their involvement in creating the infrastructure for the new society invaluable. The extent of their labors resulted in late nights or early mornings and, depending on their immersion in a particular aspect of transport, commerce, security or residency, limited communication.
The embodiment of remembrance varied. Sazh would sometimes mutter about 'keeping it together' or smile wanly upon seeing the curious flocks of sheep or a particularly unique fossil in the riverbed -things Vanille fancied. Snow lamely teased Lightning about missing the frequency of a few good punches from her and Fang, while once or twice Hope, when leaving their company, uttered 'Cia-' before quickly correcting himself. Having yet to properly meet Fang and Vanille, Dajh would yearn for stories about the strangers he had seen at Euride. Serah expressed similar interest in knowing more about them; though she had spoken to one only once, there was a certain weight of concern to her step whenever she walked along the sandbar, thinking of scraped knees and reassurance.
They were tired of the obligations that held them back from dropping everything to take the crystal structure by storm, of acknowledging what little information they had come up with to reverse their stasis, of doing all in their power to bring a civilization back on its feet and sustain itself, rather than toss their fates to a higher, malevolent force.
Cheers rose from the valley, heralding a triumphant fishing expedition. Flying outside of hostile range an amphisbaena soared lazily through the cloudless sky, and in the distance a pack of gorgonopsids howled.
"Bet you didn't know the females are the ones who call the shots -guess we're not all that different from that lot, wouldn't you thi-"
Silencing the memory Lightning turned and walked away.
Despite the casualties born of the Purge of Bodhum and the prelude to Ragnarok, there still remained millions of displaced survivors. With the Sanctum sufficiently abolished the elites of the Guardian Corps had combined their forces to give the refugees some semblance of order and protection, specifically from the interest of Gran Pulse's feral creatures. The remnants of PSICOM had seen far better days; the obliteration of the Wide-Area Response Brigade and heavy toll on the Capital Guard Division struck a sound blow to its numbers, though it was within the disorder of ranks that the most capable and efficient members, from seniors to soldiers who had enlisted in recent years, took charge in organizing the refugees and leading them away from the inhospitable shell.
Niflheim was initially constructed as a resting place within miles of Sulyya Springs, meant to last until a territory large enough to accommodate the population could be scouted out. The former l'Cie advised the citizens against venturing into the heart of the springs or hunting the creatures therein, warning of the fal'Cie Bismarck and, before any took panic to heart, his task in protecting the fauna and landscape of that area alone.
By the time coordination was addressed the subunits of the Guardian Corps had become a collective, to the extent in which one could find those enlisted in the Palumpolum Security Division working alongside the likes of the Nautilus Security Regiment. To diminish confusion the security sects were condensed into two groups, the Internal Security Division and the External Security Division; the former responsible for quashing criminal activity, disputes and providing response to structural emergencies in the camp proper, while the latter accepted volunteers towards the prevention of hostile creatures of a land-based or aerial nature from attacking the settlement.
Sustaining the people had been a hurdle -the presence of Carbuncle left many ill-prepared for the labors of supplying their own food. However, the dedication of a young woman affiliated with NORA gathered widespread support towards uncovering edible vegetables and fruits inhabiting the near-most surroundings; soon the process of soil cultivation and water culture was underway.
Following the domestication of sheep for clothing and culinary purposes was the taming of Chocobos. The survival of those which had been housed in Nautilus was put to the test, for the avians nearly died of fright upon seeing the greater height of their Pulsian brethren. Coincidentally, the Cocoon born Chocobos became of interest to the feral ones, resulting in smooth integration of the wild breed into the pre-existing flocks. With the Chocobos came numerous expeditions to the Mah'habara Subterra, from where several Dreadnoughts were acquired and polished up until deemed suitable for excavating building materials from Cocoon.
Within a few months it became apparent that Niflheim had promise beyond its original design. Airships that had been in flight during the fall of Cocoon and thusly modified as residences, infirmaries, orphanages and storage units were flanked by all manner of construction projects, from a shopping district to farms and individual homesteads. Plans for a docking bay for airships retrieved for flight commission were well underway while a stable currency system replaced the prior, popular use of Gil cards.
Crossing the patchwork pavement that wound around the fledgling market Lightning passed a parked motorcycle, its intricate design and feline insignia confirming it as one among the new line of vehicles released by NORA Transports. The efficiency with which Snow seized the opportunity of manufacturing standard road vehicles inspired the revival of sleek design that composed half of the biomech forces. Walking past construction sites it would not be unusual to catch sight of a Golem -the improved version of a Dreadnought, mainly constructed out of parts retrieved from inactive Orions.
The layout of Niflheim was simplistic. A dirt road engaged in the slow, sure process of being paved ran through the commerce, security, educational and business districts, running out to the residential buildings flanking the left of the square while agricultural areas were located to the right. Presently located in the square, NORA Transports was under the process of relocating to where the assembly of the airship yard was taking place, intending to lend their efforts to the cause and move their operations to a spacious meadow conveniently located a few feet from the docking bay. The far-off pace of an adamantoise would cause an occasional tremble in the earth, though the foundations of the buildings were made to withstand elements and megafauna alike.
Further into the market the air was heavy with the din of haggling and the tantalizing scent of spices. A beseeching twinge in her stomach reminded her of an offer made earlier in the week; having been occupied by a counterfeiting case she had put the suggestion at hold. With the station little more than three blocks away she ruled in favour of not prolonging the engagement any longer.
The Helicon was a humble in regards to space alone. Sharing a two-story building with a colourful clothing boutique, the café claimed the second floor, gaining a strong reputation from quality food and drink, well-organized staff and a patio boasting a view of sprawling wilderness, as well as an ideal vantage point from which the sunset could be admired. Lightning chose to take the stairs hugging the side of the building as opposed to meandering through the store. Even with insulated walls separating the interior from the street a battalion of shrill commentary from the shoppers therein pierced the walls. Clearing two steps at a time Lightning wondered if comparing the high-pitched squeals to Cie'th wails was worth consideration.
She slipped into the sheltered seating area unnoticed, the patio regulars immersed in entertainment of friends, chatting over mixed drinks or devouring the meal before them. Midday sunlight flooded the cozy establishment, leaving the paper lanterns to depend on their neon prints for attracting praise until their moment to properly shine came during later hours. A mosaic of bold blue and green tones breathed life into the ceiling, painted in fond remembrance of the Sunleth Waterscape.
A coat with a comparatively tame colour to its surroundings brought Lightning to her destination. She stood to the side of the table cluttered with sketches, napkins riddled with scratch notes and a glass or two that dared to brave the waves of work.
In his dedication to ensuring safe air travel routes from Niflheim to Cocoon and Mah'habara, Sazh Katzroy swiftly found himself equalled to the likes of personnel who had spearheaded the construction of vessels such as The Palamecia and The Lindblum. The cooperation of these individuals gave way to the assembly of aerial fiend patrols, public and commercial transport, and scouting fleets for Pulsian resources. It came as little surprise when, upon patching together a democracy to overlook the future of Niflheim, Sazh was indisputedly elected as the representative for airship research, investments and flight routes.
When Snow and Lightning were asked to accept a similar vote that put them as representatives of ground transport and the ESD respectively, the trio turned down the offers until it was agreed that the position of all representatives, whether they had fulfilled a Focus or not, would be shared by a group of candidates elected by the workers involved in their divisions. From this action, the creation of the current democracy was assured.
"See, Mr. Katzroy-"
"Just Sazh, kid. I feel old enough as it is."
Snow's intention to acquaint the elder Farron sister with the members of NORA had ultimately evolved into a merge of families; very early on the former l'Cie realized the tendency of NORA affiliates to jump at the chance to make themselves known. Of the eighteen members, two expressed interest towards apprenticeship under the pilot in respects to remodeling the engine cores of smaller airships and the fortification required to avoid or survive encounters with territorial wyverns.
Using a series of drink coasters to weigh down the corners of a rolled-up sketch, Maqui resumed his explanation, "This was what I was talking about earlier-"
"That's the White Engine?" leaning forward Gadot scrutinized the image, "Looks way too bulky, man."
"Crystal Engine," the teenager corrected, a trifle miffed. "And this is purely conceptual. I'm just trying to get down the basics of fuel distribution."
In the midst of this Sazh scanned the accompanying notes, thoughtfully scratching his chin, "It's a good plan, don't get me wrong. You gotta be careful when it comes to deciding the right and wrong crystals to mine for it."
Maqui caught the subtle warning, "Don't worry about the Cie'th Stones -harming them is out of the question."
"Good to hear." said Lightning. The teenager jumped at the sudden vocalization of her presence, ignoring Gadot's chuckle at his reaction. Though the bite to her tone was relatively tame, her intolerance towards the desecration of Cie'th Stones was clear.
Grinning Sazh shook his head and pulled a chair over from a vacant table, "Been a while, soldier."
"Wasn't sure when you planned to resurface," Lightning replied, peeling apart two sheafs of paper adhered by the condensation of an abandoned glass. Sazh moved the neighbouring documents out of harm's way. "Good to see you're still in one piece," he countered playfully.
At this curiosity glinted in Maqui's eyes, "How's the business with the Orobons?"
Gadot shook his head, "ESD isn't involved with that, right?"
"Amodar and the ISD control that aspect of fiend concerns." she informed them. Maqui swished around what remained of his drink, "Lucky guy." Upon receiving an odd glance from his seniors he shrugged defensively. "What? They're kind of quaint."
"Especially when they rush you," Sazh deadpanned. The youths interpreted it as a joke, unaware of the flat look shared by the pilot and Lightning, unimpressed with how easily people were deceived by the pitiful crowing of the amphibious creatures.
Lightning unhooked the cell at her belt before it could finish its first trill. Gleaning over the number she excused herself from the table to find better reception, holding Gadot to his word of ordering an additional drink as he flagged down a waiter.
Moving out to the railing of the patio Lightning issued a concise greeting. Rushed as it was, the caller was able to get the gist of the message across to her. Briskly she wrapped up the conversation, returning the cell to her clip and waiting until the beat of her heart was firmly under control.
She sprinted down the stairs.
Notes: 'Niflheim' refers to Norse mythology, in which creation began when the fires of Muspelheim met the ice of Niflheim (paralleled with Gran Pulse being joined with Cocoon, resulting in the creation/revival of civilization on Gran Pulse).
The card system of purchase is mentioned in the web novelization.
'Helicon' is derived from Heliconius, a genus of butterfly found in tropical and subtropical climates.
White Engine is an allusion to the original name of the proprietary engine for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 platforms before it was renamed Crystal Tools.