Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy XIII or anything to do with it.
A Task Undertaken
After hearing the commotion drunk Lightning caused, Vanille giggled and settled herself down to sleep for the night. "Big day tomorrow!" she sang, giddy with excitement. The day had been full of turmoil, destruction, and tension, but the ending had the young Oerban in high spirits. She was confident they would be able to conquer whatever Death would throw at them, and come out relatively unscathed on the other side. Just like with our Focus!
Ready to take on the challenge of the next day, Vanille fell swiftly into a deep sleep, and into the arms of a strange dream.
It started out as any other dream. Colourful, happy, and in a place she absolutely adored, Vanille never expected things to take a different turn. One minute she was hunting special herbs to surprise Fang with in the beautiful wilds, the next he was being sucked into a dazzling white light. "Eeeee!" she squealed, squeezing her eyes shut as the intense light burned her very skin.
When all vertigo ceased, Vanille opened her eyes to find herself in an endless plain of white lilies. She stared in amazement at the neverending expanse, awed by it's beauty. The flowers seemed to shine with an inner light of purity, giving the air a pulsing glow. The wind rode a tinkling chime synonymous with what many people would call peace, but the word didn't seem to do the chime justice. It was light, airy, and soothing - full of the brightness of life. Vanille marveled at the simplicity of the tune, unable to attach any mortal word to the sound. It was almost...divine. Even the sunlight made her hum with happiness.
Upon that thought, she opened her mouth to exclaim in joy the odd, yet welcome, change in scenery...
...but not a peep left her. Suddenly panicked, the young Oerban almost tripped in her haste to get away, to find her way to her meager dream of before where she was free to make as much sound as she wanted.
A flash of bright light stopped her yet again. It started small and grew immensely large until it seemed to consume the air she breathed. Her very eyelids felt like they were on fire, such was the intensity of the light. When she was able to look up again - at what seemed to be several moments later - Vanille's jaw dropped in awe at what she saw.
Standing before her was a tall woman of colossal beauty and an air of...peaceful (there was that word again that didn't quite describe the strange feeling) eminence. Vanille half felt the need to gawk, half the need to drop on her knees and pray. It was the oddest combination she had felt in a long time.
The woman smiled graciously, nearly blinding Vanille with the sheer radiance and kindness in that one gesture. Even though she could not take her eyes off of the stranger, Vanille found she could not discern any of her features. Before Vanille could continue her assessment, however, the woman spoke to her in sounds that were not words in the mortal tongue, but a translation to it. The woman's mouth did not move to speak, and Vanille instinctively knew her own would not either.
"Greetings, young one." Her smile never wavered, nor did the kind light in her eyes fade.
"Um, hello. I'm afraid I don't know who you are."
"I am The Divine, the Shaper of Worlds and Master of Life. You humans have sought to give me name in the many, yet few, years you have wandered both Gran Pulse and Cocoon. Your culture refers to me as 'the Creator,' I believe."
Vanille's heart dropped out from underneath her. "Th-that's...not..."
"Fear not that your eyes and mind deceive you, Oerba Dia Vanille," the woman continued, obviously knowing what Vanille was going to say. "Though I have been absent from your realm for many human years, I have never ceased to exist - for without I, no Life could continue."
"I...I am honoured you grace me with your presence, Eminence...But..." Here Vanille frowned, unsure how to voice her question.
"You are unsure what my reason is, correct?"
The woman's kind smile faded into a sad line. "Certain actions have given me cause to seek help in a matter most grave, one I am sure you are familiar with." She paused, studying Vanille with some scrutiny. When Vanille's eyes widened in recognition some moments later, the avatar of the Creator continued, "Yes, Death has started It's conquest for power in things that It long ago lost right to. I stripped It of such when It made to grab for my own power over Life - a grave offense and impossibility. Life and Death cannot exist in the same being, no matter how powerful. Nor can one exist without the other: there can be no life without death, and no death without life. Our very natures rely upon the other, despite the rivalry and hatred Death seems to have for mine.
"One thing you must understand, young one, is that there must always be a balance of power. When the spectrum tips too much on one side, the other must adjust accordingly by either increasing their own power or taking part of the other's away. Why do you think plagues and violent uprisings occur, as well as long measures of peace? If we do not reach equilibrium with each other, time and existence will unravel."
"Why are you telling me about all of this? I mean, what could I as a mere mortal help in such a...divine issue?"
Here the Creator's expression turned grave and apologetic. "I am afraid I need your assistance in this. There is only so much I can do from my own realm that I have resided for so long. To even speak with you here, in this space I have created between our two realms, is a great effort. My time runs short, so you must listen - and listen carefully."
"Whatever you need!" To be of help to the Creator, of all things, was a monumental honour. However, the soothing breeze began to change it's chime and clouds began to roil in the distance. The Creator paid them no heed.
"With eyes to see what others cannot, you must venture to places where Death and I cannot reach. To do this, understanding is required; faith, demanded; hope...abolished. You alone will be granted a small measure of farsight to battle the devious cunnings of Death and It's minions. Alone, you will not be able to overcome Death. Unite yourself with your friends and guardians. Do not let Death gain the upper hand, or the damage may be too high to repair."
Vanille nodded gravely, committing each word to memory. As the wind began swirl dangerously and a faint roaring started up, she had one last question. "I understand - I will do everything I can to help. But...why me, of all people?"
The bright light from before appeared again, sweeping gently over the Creator and Vanille. The young Oerban had to shield her eyes again, nearly blinded. Over the now deafening roar of the encroaching storm, Vanille almost missed the Creator's reply,
"Because, young one, you have always possessed a trait that few others have ever had. It is one of unconditional giving, of unparalleled caring. But most importantly, it is because your very spirit has always been linked to the power of creation. From birth, your soul has been intertwined with my being." The Creator's voice began to fade out, leaving Vanille feeling strangely empty with it's absence. "Be well, Oerba Dia Vanille, and go forth armed with the knowledge I have given you. Prepare yourself."
And then she was gone, and Vanille was swept up into the storm. Her body was compressed and tossed about in the malevolent clouds, unable to halt her movements. Lightning passed inches from her body, setting her hairs on end. However, just as she felt that she couldn't take anymore, the storm dropped it's hold on her. She fell through the now incorporeal plain of flowers and entered a...vacancy of existence, if she could call it anything.
Suffocating darkness on all sides, Vanille could not tell which was up or down, left or right - if she was falling, or rising. Innately she knew she was protected from the nonspace surrounding her, the feeling of a slight caress on the tips of her senses supplying her with this knowledge...almost as if she was being given passage through a tunnel. The bottom - or was it top? - opened up, and the nonspace vanished. Her sense of direction returned violently, as she felt herself hurtling downward at an alarming speed.
At a glance, Vanille could not tell where she had been dropped, but as she continued to look around, she realized with a gasp that she was now in Gran Pulse...as it was being torn apart.
The very sky she was falling through was tinted a red deep as blood, with a specks of darkness hanging around the horizon every which way she looked. Horrific monsters the size of Taejin's Tower attacked cities and people, swarming with a dark aura that made her sick to her stomach. Even at the height at which she was still falling, Vanille could hear the despair of the living and sense the overwhelming amount of agonized souls screaming in pain. All of her senses then proceeded to explode simulatneously.
The smell of death was everywhere - Can't breathe, can't breathe! -
The air felt dirty and suffocating, almost as if it was trying to squash her into submission - Nonono, don't, nooo! -
The metallic taste of blood flooded her tongue, calling forth unpleasant memories of the War - Dear Creator, no! -
She continued to fall and fall, until the impact was mere seconds away. By that point, Vanille was too far gone to realize death was not that far away for her own self. She paid it no mind.
Without a hiccup, Vanille passed through the ground like it was nothing but a cloud, and fell into the hellish arms of the dead souls condemned by Death.
Vanille's eyes shot open. Her mind took a few seconds to catch up with the waking world, and a few more to wonder what had woken her. A loud pounding on her door made her jump and squeak in fright, the nightmare fresh in mind.
"Vanille! Breakfast is about to be served, so if you don't get your ass outta bed, there ain't gonna be any for ya!"
Fang. Vanille almost sobbed in relief at that voice. As it was, she managed a hum of acknowledgement to Fang before the huntress stalked off downstairs. Vanille let out a shaky breath. "Etro," she whispered, trembling hands covering her face. Sweat made her orange tresses stick uncomfortably to her forehead, and her clothes even more so. "What am I going to do...?"
She felt an overwhelming sense of terror slowly overriding her temporary calm. It was accompanied by an indescribable need to hurry somewhere - to prevent something from happening. Though the dream was crystal sharp, she couldn't make sense of the fear or the urgency. Am I... Is this... Was that really a premonition of some sort?
If it was, Vanille was in serious trouble. That, or she had finally gone stark raving mad.
Tiny hands curled into painful fists. If she had been granted a brief gift of foresight from the Creator herself, she was not about to squander it on useless wonderings. After all, the only way she would be able to tell herself would be if she followed the tug her urgency was giving her. "Nothing to lose, right?" she muttered to herself. She dressed quietly and exited the house even quieter - this was a task given to her, and her alone.
As she left, stone gray eyes silently watched her departure. They narrowed slightly, a gleam suddenly present.
The time was 10:07 a.m. Vanille would be gone for a few hours yet.
The area around the Sulyya Springs was completley surrounded by the Guardian Corps - a fact Vanille's sharp eyes did not miss. None of the soldiers milling about even glanced her, however. They all knew she was a former L'cie and a sort-of-honourary member of the Corps as it was. They all had more important things to concern themselves with - such as the sudden remolding and continued sinister nature of the Springs. Vanille's sense of urgency increased twofold, so she hurried along between the busy men and women completing some task or other. A feeling of wrongness permeated the air, thickening as she grew closer to the command tent just feet away from the entrance to the main part of the Springs. Whatever's going on, it's definitely not good - and this is definitely the place I was being led to. But what help can I be? Insides slowly twisting, Vanille took a deep breath and nervously entered the giant blue tent that served as the command center. Which also meant Amodar would be in there, Lightning's direct Commanding Officer. Vanille just knew he was the man she needed to see.
As it was, the amiable man was focusing on a large screen in the center of the room that was displaying a confusing amalgamation of numbers, colours, swirls and shapes. Just looking at it made Vanille's head hurt. All that military nonsense is such...nonsense. She had to suppress a giggle at the absurdity of her own thoughts.
"Ahem...Amodar?" she queried as she slowly approached the center table. Amodar looked up sharply at her, blinking a few times to let his bloodshot eyes adjust to Vanille's shadowed face.
"Eh? Vanille? What are you doing here?" His surprise was expected, seeing as how he hadn't contacted Lightning yet.
"Weeellll," Vanille began, tapping her two pointer fingers together. Her insides twisted again. "I could feel something was wrong so I came to investigate..."
Amodar's face twisted into a grave scowl, the bags under his eyes becoming more pronounced. "Damned right something's wrong - everything's wrong. This whole damned place is changing into something awful, and the clear water has still not returned. In fact, I'd say the sludge has grown murkier and more...nasty. This is an issue we cannot afford to hope to correct on its own. Most of Oerba's water supply comes from these Springs, as you know, and if this continues as it is..." He left off, knowing the gravity of the situation was not lost on Vanille. "My soldiers have been analyzing and researching the sludge, but all it does is make the machines go haywire. Fal'cie be damned!" He threw a random pen across the way, puncturing a hole in the tent. Vanille stared wide-eyed at him. "Why can nothing go right for longer than a year or two? Huh! We just finished settling into life here-"
Whatever Amodar was about to say next was cutoff by a massive screeching noise associated only with shifting plate rock. The ground beneath them began to shake violently, and everyone was sent sprawling. The quake grew in intensity until a giant Crack! was heard from inside the Springs, along with the inhuman scream of the unliving. Adrenaline kicked in for Vanille, and she found some semblance of balance on the ground. "Call Lightning and everyone else!" she screamed to Amodar, already making her way out the tent flap to assist the now dying soldiers outside. "I'll help damage control!" Readying a fireball in her hand, Vanille charged forth into one of the most gruesome battles she had been witness to since the War without waiting for a reply.
Creator help us!
A/N: Eh heh...long time no see, right? Absolutely unforgiveable I know. I have been astronomically busy for the past two months, and have just now found the time to write. In fact, this chapter was going to be completely different until I took a second look at it. Vanille's role is now more pronounced and evident, yet still obscure. Each character has their own role to play in Death's gamble for the Creator's power over Life. Some of them, such as Sazh and Hope, have not been present in the story so far because they have no role at this point. They will come in later when things start to kick up more than this. I almost feel terrible for leaving you with such a cliffhanger, but it is necessary :D I hope you enjoyed, and the next chapter will hopefully be out much sooner than this one was.