I have no idea what happened to this chapter, but it was supposed to go between 8 and 9. Not a clue why it didn't.
I stumbled at Shoran's words.
What fal'Cie had made him do that? Why was I alone such a threat? Was it…because I was one of Titan's l'Cie? I had a lot more questions than answers.
I ran back across the ornate floor now illuminated enough to reveal a mosaic of Diablos. The triangular eyes glimmered, a piercing white sparkling on the floor. The lights illuminated Vanille's feet as she and Fang stood near the entrance, on the image's horns.
"I'm sorry" Shoran looked to the ground, l'Cie brand shimmering slightly.
A pillar of light, a searing heat, shot out from the ground around Vanille and Fang. I fell back, away from them, as the energy shot straight up to the top of Devil's Peak. The pillar of white faded as quickly as it had arrived; leaving nothing in its wake. The mosaic was slightly charred, and above it stood no one.
"Vanille" I murmured weakly, before spinning around to Shoran. "What have you done with them?" I shouted, lifting my right hand.
"You think I could do that?" Shoran gave a scornful laugh, "We can't all be super-l'Cie like you"
"What have they done to you Shoran?" I faltered, barely able to see my friend in the twisted being before me
"What have who done to me? The fal'Cie? Can't you accept any responsibility for yourself?"
"What do you mean?"
"I'd still be who I was if you hadn't run after Titan and screamed to be branded. Now he needs me to restore the balance"
"Who needs- to what?" I stuttered, utterly confused.
"Titan is a biogenitor. On life becomes another: energy transference on terms of life force. The l'Cie inherit that, kind of" Shoran laughed, as if he was quoting someone else. "It terrifies the fal'Cie: to know that their slaves aren't solely there domain"
"I can help l'Cie?" I gasped; "Tell me how, please, Shoran, tell me" my eyes were wide, urgent.
"You think he'd let me say?" Shoran chuckled
"Who? Who are you talking about?"
"The fal'Cie you made brand me. Barthendelus"
"Barthendelus? Does he have Vanille?" I shot a glance up the mountain interior.
"What do you think?" Shoran laughed again, using the bizarre humour as an escape from the reality of a l'Cie. A Sanctum l'Cie bound to murder his best friend. He ran a hand through the side of his short, speckled brown hair. He flicked his fingers almost casually, sending a spark, a flare almost, of light whirling up Devil's Peak.
The nightmarish, snarling face of Barthendelus was perched in the cavern's side, eyes glaring, emitting a clear bubble of energy holding Fang and Vanille aloft over the dimly lit mountain.
"Him" I let out the rattling breath through my teeth.
"Yes, him" Shoran opened his jacket further, bearing the brand. "I am a Sanctum l'Cie, enemy of Gran Pulse, because of you, Vercin" he said the words garbling them out as if he hadn't yet been able to believe them.
"I'm…sorry" the words seemed inadequate as Shoran's anger overflowed.
"I hope so" Shoran murmured. His eyes were momentarily downcast, sad, before he looked back up to me. He raised his arm and sung his hand in an arc, waving through the air, across, towards me.
I leapt forwards, narrowly avoiding the line of lightning descending.
"Shoran!" I shouted, disbelieving. He looked at me, sad, annoyed, pitying, all those emotions in one look. He lifted both his arms, bringing a mound of earth shooting up and shattering the mosaic. I somersaulted back, sending a burst of air towards Shoran. He fell back, not at any dangerous velocity, just enough to stop him.
"Stop!" I glanced back up at the three huge faces of Barthendelus looking down.
"Damn it Vercin" shoran got up, angry, dusting himself down. "I'm trying to help here"
"Looks it" I sighed, running back as more lightning curled through the air.
"I am!" Shoran protested, making a cutting motion with his arm and sending a streak of electricity towards me. It singed my arm as I fell back. "Don't you know what your Focus is?" he seemed incredulous
"Not exactly. My vision wasn't what you'd call clear" I hastily formed a l'Cie defence as Shoran attacked. I countered and pushed him over with a pulse of air.
"Barthendelus told me" Shoran seemed to be sad now: his attacks came with less frequency, and there was definitely less force behind them.
"What is it?" I scrambled forwards, not wanting to miss his words.
"The same as those two's" Shoran waved his free arm towards Vanille: "or at least, on principle"
"So I'm not becoming Ragnarok?" the fear suddenly moved through me
"No. But it's Titan's way of achieving the same goal"
"The destruction of Cocoon?"
"No, the deaths after the destruction" Shoran sighed.
"The fal'Cie are trying to kill people?"
"You only just noticed?"
"I mean killing for the sake of killing?"
"Yes. When a l'Cie dies, its essence travels to its fal'Cie before passing on. Titan will hold your essence until it gets enough"
"What?" I staggered, falling to the floor, glad Shoran had stopped attacking.
"The fal'Cie are bringing their creator back: the Maker. And for that they need many to die at once. That's why your Focus, Vercin, your Focus is to die."
A loathing of the fal'Cie spread through me. I was just a pawn to them; a pawn they'd gladly sacrifice. And why? So they could see some Maker again. Was seeing that one person really worth sacrificing so many lives?
I knew the answer instantly. Yes. I'd do anything for Vanille. I'd go to Cocoon and back if need be.
But that didn't mean I had to be happy. I didn't have to be glad the fal'Cie were killing me for no reason other than to kill me. Who knew how many others there had been? How many others had fallen trying to figure out the cryptic focus? Had they died as Cie'th, fulfilling their Focus?
Fang and Vanille had said they'd never heard of any others completing their Focus, but maybe none had survived. They wouldn't find any crystal: that was for sure. All of Titan's l'Cie were either Cie'th or dead.
I didn't know which outcome I preferred.
Shoran ran up to me suddenly. I tensed, scared, but my fears were allayed as he gently lifted me off the floor.
"You ok?" he looked at me, surveying me for any injuries.
"Not exactly thanks to you" I frowned. I caught a glimpse at the brand on his chest: the forehead was wider, and the chin had receded on the skull. It was as if the brand had morphed; changed mood.
I looked at the looming Barthendelus. The face glared down at me.
"Faces" I murmured, scientific interest aroused.
"What?" Shoran looked at me.
"Barthendelus has lots of faces, your brand's changed, and your mood has flipped completely. I think your brand randomly changes, something to do with his faces" the discovery seemed relevant, but I wasn't quite sure how.
"That explains plenty" Shoran nodded. He slowly let me get up.
"In which case" I began, looking at him, "I am so sorry."
"Don't be. I…I can't bear this any longer" he winced, and the brand on his chest rippled.
I threw a sphere of black and green energy at Barthendelus. The fal'Cie shivered. A large welt appeared in the side of its metal mask.
Shoran gasped suddenly, brand on his chest rippling again. He reached a hand out, aggressive, but his posture was soon changed as I struck Barthendelus again. The two combinations of faces seemed to be linked.
I closed my eyes, recalling how I felt once I'd been branded, once Fang was paralyzed by Barthendelus, once Gaia was summoned. I imagined Vanille falling from her precarious perch in Devil's Peak. Sadness, torment.
I couldn't hurt Shoran. But I couldn't let him continue attacking. He could hurt Vanille.
I threw a bolt of energy, a piercing black and a shining green, striking the grimacing Barthendelus.
Shoran's eyes opened, clear at last.
"Forget your Focus" he murmured, quiet, resisting the ever changing moods of his brand, engulfed by the depth of emotion I had flooded his fal'Cie with. "Do what you have to do. As will I" he looked straight into my eyes before leaping with l'Cie strength, hitting Barthendelus with as much force as he could muster.
Vanille and Fang dropped from their artificial, magical ledge. I constructed a burst of wind, slowing their descent and letting them touch the ground softly.
"You're not the only ones who can do that" I grinned.
"He'll turn against you to" Barthendelus shouted, engaging the lightning fast Shoran in flashes and cascades of light.
"I won't" I stared with all honesty at Vanille, who, after a moment, nodded. I grinned, causing her to break out into a smile.
"We need to get up" I tried to get back to business, distracting myself from my revealed Focus.
A quake ripped through the floor of Devil's Peak. I sneaked a peek out the broken cave wall. Gaia. My Eidolon was coming closer. Much, much closer.
"Quickly" I added, squeaking a little.
"Leave it to me" Vanille smiled, dancing back. She swung her binding rod, catching Fang and I with a few of the ropes, and hooking onto the darting Barthendelus with the other. With a shout, we were flung by the hastily moving Barthendelus up several floors, almost to the top of Devil's Peak.
I sprayed a sheet of ice from one wall to the other, landing on a thin platform. It started to crack.
"Let me take over" Fang untangled herself from Vanille's rod, grinning. Fang formed a l'Cie spell, shattering my ice layer and sending us spinning at a great speed towards the top of Devil's Peak.
I smiled at both of them, summoning the earth beneath us and shattering the beautiful Diablos mosaic, until the rising pillar of earth pushed us up, sending us rocketing up to the plateau at the top of Devil's Peak.
Fang threw a blast of l'Cie energy, shattering a hole in the roof of the titanic cavern.
Vanille grabbed onto both of us, holding us close and catching the ropes on her rod through the hole.
And all three of us were pulled through onto the top of Devil's Peak.
Domain of Diablos.
Closest point to Cocoon.
And the place where our fates would be decided.