A/N: So, this will be the concluding chapter to Hero's Charge. The continuation of this story will begin May 1st in a new story. I don't have a title for it yet though. Please keep an eye out for it, and thank you for your suggestions, kind words and reviews of Hero's Charge. :) Please enjoy this; the beginning of the end.
Cocoon's pretence as built by the fal'Cie was still in place when they arrived. The people were on edge, but still felt safe; oblivious to the danger that lurked within. Lightning wondered how long the fragile lie would last. They had made a bit of an entrance when they'd returned, but there was no time to dilly dally around. They had to get to Orphan, and fast.
Coming to a dangerous and very high dead end, there was really only one way to go; down. Lightning had had the foresight to take some anti-grav devices off the members of PSICOM they'd defeated as they made their way into the heart of the city. Handing them out to the very confused group of adventurers, she gave the briefest of explanations. "Don't drop them." With that she threw herself off the edge of the platform, leaving everyone gaping.
"See you at the bottom!" Snow winked at the rest of the group as he leapt off the edge following the gutsy woman. He could see her below him, her hair and clothes whipping in the wind as they hurdled towards the ground. Every time he looked at her lately, he felt desperate, almost embarrassingly so. Logical thought slowed, breathing increased; impetuousness threatened. She so enthralled him that he barely recognized himself when he was around her. And to be near to her as he had been in those two amazing encounters left him aching and beaten. She devastated his will and all he wanted was to scoop her up in his arms and ravish her; something he seriously considered doing before Fang had unceremoniously stumbled upon them.
Everyone made a safe landing with the exception of Vanille, who plummeted backside first, shrieking all the way down. Electricity sparked as the anti-grav unit came to life in proximity to the ground, setting the redhead down gently. Fang laughed at her bloodless face and wide, unblinking eyes. She looked completely traumatized.
"That's how they travel on Cocoon!" shrugged Fang nonchalantly. Vanille shook her head incredulously, climbing unsteadily back to her feet.
The streets were littered with overturned vehicles and equipment. Gran Pulse monsters and PSICOM soldiers alike were locked in epic battles for survival.
"All these must be courtesy of the Arks." informed Fang, waving a hand at all the monsters that were on the loose creating mayhem wherever they went.
"They could have just sent a nice fruit basket." sighed Sazh, rubbing his temples. Snow chuckled.
They had split into two groups to take aggressors from both sides; hopefully saving some time as they made their way to Edenhall.
Lightning was in full soldier mode, and Snow watched her from the corner of his eye as she fought, bringing sword down over and over again to the ruin of monster and PSICOM alike. She was lithe and quick, her form perfect. He was all power, and little finesse, but that didn't seem to do him a disservice. He could stand against the toughest of adversaries and survive. Especially with a little help from Hope or Lightning to heal his wounds. They made a very effective team, each understanding what the others needed with merely a word or a glance. They were his companions; the people who he entrusted his life to and would give his life for without hesitation. He wasn't the only Hero; all of them were in their own right.
They progressed quickly through the city ever pursuing their goal.
Battered and exhausted, they fought against Cie'th, animal, abomination, machine, and immortal; never-ending. They knew the struggle for Cocoon would be over eventually, in one way or another; for better or for worse. All they could do was push through and see it to the bitter end. Finally they entered a great hall from which there was no exit. Looking at each other, they guessed this was where the final battle for Cocoon would take place. Lightning and Snow were the first to step forward to face whatever awaited them. She saw his movement and looked over to him, nodding.
In the middle of the room Barthandalus sat before them, again taunting and tugging at their strings, manipulating them to the end.
"Ah. My errant l'Cie. Won't you at least slay Orphan and make it quick? As an act of mercy?" he petitioned.
"Mercy? You mean murder. And Cocoon won't die. We're not here for that." said Lightning, drawing her weapon and brandishing it in his direction. "We came for you."
"Refusing me but condemns another to face your focus tomorrow. If you truly seek salvation, you will obey." stated the robed man. He made perfect sense, but no one wanted to admit that. If they just did what was bid of them, they may yet still live to see another day. Or, they may not. One thing was for sure, disobedience was the one thing they all craved. The will to do what they thought was right, the ability to take their lives in their own hands. They weren't sure what was right and what was wrong in this case, but they had to make a choice either way and the old man wasn't going to make it easy for them.
The three companions prepared themselves for the battle of their, and everyone else's, lives. Lightning looked at Hope, her face calm; eyes fearless. He nodded at her solemnly, his knuckles white from gripping his boomerang. Be brave. She glanced over her other shoulder at Snow. His jaw was locked; resolute. Would the outcome of this battle against these determined foes see their focuses fulfilled or failed? Would she see Snow become the monster in her dream, forever cursed to roam the land as an expendable former human being? Or would she simply see him again, in the flesh, breathing and alive when he awoke from his crystal reward? His confident air put her heart at ease and for a second it didn't matter what happened. They were fighting for a future side by side, and if this was to be her last day alive she could be in no better company. "You ready, Hero?"
Snow grinned disarmingly at her. "Always."
In the end, they had no choice but to do as the old man bid them. Slay Orphan. What happened next surely wasn't up to them. They had a role to fulfill; for every job there was always a perfect tool, Jill Nabaat had said. Now they would demonstrate just how perfect they were for the job at hand.
The ancient fal'Cie had proven to be an easy first match. Same bag of tricks as the last time they'd come up against him; just a warm up for Lightning and Snow. Hope continued to show signs of fatigue but he pressed on bravely. Just as she knew he would.
Wanting to at least inflict some anguish upon the puppet l'Cie, Barthandelus amalgamated himself with Orphan to wield the other fal'Cie's power, and he was all but lost. Thus he was no longer Barthandelus, he was only but a will; a desire to be cut down so that they all may serve as a sacrifice for the Maker. Hope's condition quickly deteriorated. He was visibly exhausted now, bracing himself, his hands on knees and out of breath. Snow and Lightning put their all into the battle, the sound of steel on steel rang out as Lightning's attacks pierced and chipped away at the monstrosity. Snow's swift and powerful punches made the figure groan under the pressure, and the battle raged on. Hope persevered against the ravages of extreme exertion; countering the enemies devastatingly powerful and dangerous physical attacks with the soft warmness of renewal for his comrades. The pace was grueling and the fal'Cie took the opportunity to strike against the boy when he was forced to take a knee as he wheezed, clutching his chest. Lightning had been up in Orphan's vital point striking at it with deadly precision when she saw it's massive hand reach down to strike. "Snow!! Cover Hope!" she shouted.
"On it!" Snow was already sprinting to place himself in the path of the massive clawed hand. Hope's face was slack; his feet frozen to the ground. Jumping in front of Hope, Snow swung his arms around in front to brace himself, but he didn't have time to complete his fleshy shield against the swipe. The claws cut into his flesh as if it were butter and the impact it sent him flying backward, his blood splattered high into the air. Lightning witnessed the events in slow motion. She heard his voice crack; saw his blood, and heard his body meet the cool marble floor with a sickening thud. He`d been clutching Serah`s tear in his hand, and as he hit the ground it came loose from his grip, clinking it's way to a stop just out of his reach.
He had been tossed like a rag doll; his vision was distorted, and there was some ringing in his ears but his body felt warm through an unusual lack of pain. He saw Lightning land stably on the ground, mouth gaping, as she looked at him. He couldn't keep his eyes off her. She struck like her namesake, and he was in awe of how she could be so powerful yet so light on her feet. He recalled the tones of her voice when she had said his name; how it rolled off her tongue the same way no matter if she was going to hit him or kiss him. He marveled at how her lips tasted and how her skin felt against his. He had wanted only to protect her as his fiancee's beloved sister, but now as his lifeblood drained out of him, he longed to be back with her at the waterfall where she'd been so fragile and uninhibited; where she'd needed him. He wanted nothing more than to be able to love her. But now he supposed that to be impossible. Claire... he thought, her form still in his eyes. That doesn't suit you at all. A weight crushed his lungs forcing him to exhale, pressure building in his chest, as lethargy washed over him bidding heavy eyelids to close against the light, enveloping him in perfect darkness.
Lightning's face drained of all colour and she halted her attack, to stand and stare at his body, not wanting to accept the sight before her. In all the years she spent as a soldier she saw death many times. She'd even brought it on occasion, but she had never felt the icy grip of death until it came for the one person that meant the most to her in the world. The only person that she ever wanted to rely on; the one person that she could never have for herself, now the one she would have given her own life for to see his restored.
Rage bubbled in her throat as her voice rung out in the hall, a fierce and pained war cry. Dashing towards the aggressor, she launched herself into the air to deal the deathblow. She screamed vengefully as she drove her blade deep into the merciless fal'Cie. Withdrawing her weapon slowly from the body of the hated foe, she landed on the ground, knee bent to absorb the impact. The blade clattered noisily to the marble and she did not dare look up; tears stinging her eyes. No. Please, no. Orphan groaned in defeat behind her as she took to her feet, running clumsily to Snow's side and kneeling beside him, heaving his hefty torso into her arms. He had blood on his face, and his head lolled lifelessly to the side. She ripped open his tattered layers, and placed a very unsteady hand over his shredded torso. There was so much blood; his skin already cool to the touch. She didn't want to look away from him to close her eyes and concentrate but energy failed to pool at her hands at will alone. She gasped helplessly, looking at Snow's face, devoid the blush of life.
"Hope! Help me!" she pleaded almost frantically, looking over to the boy. Vanille clutched Fang's hand and Sazh openly gawked as all breathing stopped while the unthinkable scene relentlessly progressed.
Hope snapped out of the daze he was in and stumbled to the other side of Snow's body. Sinking to his knees, he closed his eyes and concentrated all his remaining energy into the spell, his small hands replacing Lightning's on the crimson stained skin. Lightning slapped his cheeks attempting to elicit any response. You can't leave now. We need you. Serah needs you. I need you.
Vanille's eyes welled with tears, and Fang put a hand around her shoulder pulling her into a comforting embrace. Another, almost completely defenseless, form of Orphan had rose quietly from the pool behind them. Awaiting it's fate, it remained there, unmoving, unfeeling, weary of life. Fang felt useless being able to only bear witness to the tragic scene, but now it was time to take action of her own. "Let's go take care of this focus of ours, yeah?" She looked at Sazh. His face was twisted in grief. "Sazh?" He blinked, a tear escaping his eye.
"Yeah, I'm ready. Let's do it." he said, pulling out his pistols. "For Snow." His lips were pursed into a determined line.
"For Snow!" The three agreed aloud, drawing weapons and descending upon the final assault.
"Snow, stay with me." Lightning was completely unaware of what was happening behind her, still slapping his face to bring him around. He was completely unresponsive and she saw the whites of his eyes as his heavy head tipped back against her arm. She slapped him again, frustrated. "Damn it! Don't you do that, Villiers!"
"Light... It's not working. His body... I - I don't know why. Maybe he's already..." Hope's voice was strained, as his eyes overflowed with tears. He sat back on his bottom, his face red from repeated attempts at revitalizing the blond.
The escaped azure jewel refracted the light in the room, catching her eye. Reaching a hand out toward it, she picked it up. With the cool stone clutched in her hand she looked down into Snow's handsome face, hot tears spilling onto his ashen cheeks. She touched his brand, white and useless looking now, her fingers smearing his blood across it. They'd done it; they'd fulfilled their cruel, rigid fates, standing on the edge of a new world, and she felt utterly lost knowing she was to face it without him. Taking his gloved hand in hers, she placed his love's tear in his lifeless palm closing fingers around it, cradling his limp body in her arms. Pressing his blood soaked chest to hers she wept openly against his shoulder. How could he leave now when they had done the impossible; they had survived. He stood against incredible odds; protecting the ones that he loved. He lived every day of his life like that, and so it was only appropriate that was how his life ended. But was this the price the two were destined to pay for their clandestine affair? Her tortured sobs echoed throughout the great hall, shattering the eerie stillness.
A strange sensation started in her feet, interrupting the torrents of despair. Numbness traveled up her body and as she looked down at herself, she was horrified to see herself crystallizing as Serah had. She gasped looking at Hope who had already changed from flesh into his crystal prison, the crestfallen expression chiseled forever on his young features. Sazh had taken his place standing behind her after the fall of the almost child-like fal'Cie, now trapped in his shimmering reward. But Vanille and Fang were no where to be found, and when she looked back at Snow, his transition was almost complete; face frozen in the semblance of death.
And then there was nothing.