Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy or any of its characters. This story is for entertainment only and I bow to the greatness of Square Enix, et al.
Warnings: None for this chapter beyond spoilers for the opening scene, but I'll say that you should expect that this story will contain graphic violence, possible rating increase, depressing themes, etc. If anything gets too heavy, I will warn you!
Note: I never really expected to write another 'in progress' story while still writing Evolution, but here it is anyway. This story was requested by Rae (Astarael00) and is a gift to her from me for being AWESOME. She told me that she'd love to see a rewrite of FFXIII where the characters spend the majority of their time on Cocoon. There are other twists she requested which I will not reveal. You will just have to read the story if you are interested.
Much dialogue in this chapter was taken directly from the game's opening cinematic sequence. I'm building a new world here. But the foundations are the game world. Which means we're going back to the beginning...
"We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love."
-Madame de Stael
-The Death March-
The train is loud as it fires down the tracks. The sounds of metal grinding metal are almost loud enough to drown out the soft sounds of weeping inside the car. She stares ahead, unwilling and unable to look into the faces of the miserable and downtrodden. It's bad enough that she can smell their fear, hear their sorrow.
She is shaking. Every part of her is tensed and twisted up with rage. She slows down her breathing, knows that if she doesn't calm down and get control of herself, she'll fail. Failure is not an option. Failure means death for her and all these people. She closes her eyes, seeks calm in the raging storm within herself. She sees her sister's tear stained face like it's been tattooed inside her eyelids.
Serah. The name hurts her nearly as much as the vision. No! She can't afford to think of past misdeeds now. She hurt her sister, said horrible things to her in a some sort of childish tantrum. If she doesn't find her now, she'll never be able to apologize. Serah is her driving force, her motivation here. She needs to be calm now. Anger will make her sloppy; rage will get her killed and she can't afford that as long as Serah needs her.
"This is so bad."
The voice breaks into her quiet meditations. Serah's face disappears from her mind's eye and she feels her lip twist up, feels the tension coil in her body again. She exhales, lets her muscles unknot. Closes her eyes again and seeks her calm while she waits for her chance. She counts her breaths, tries to get her body under control...
"This is so, so bad," the voice interrupts her again, frazzles her already frayed nerves.
She turns toward the speaker, ready to choke him into silence if necessary. She lassos her rage and hauls it back in before it runs amok in this train car. She can hear the man's fear, see his nervousness in the way he wrings his hands and bounces his leg up and down, but she cannot see his face. He's wearing a robe to match hers-to match everyone's! She looks down at the ridiculous getup, wonders when the hell PSICOM and the Sanctum had time to gather all these matching, idiotic robes in order to provide them to all the citizens in Bodhum. The whole thing feels contrived. Hinky. Something about it needles her...
Think about whys later, Lightning. 'How' is the only thing that matters right now.
"This isn't right," the man says, dragging her back into the now.
Right. She almost forgot about him. "Quiet."
He turns towards her and she's treated to a sneer and look of absolute disbelief.
"What the hell do you mean, quiet?" She's taken aback by the acid in this stranger's voice. He looks like he wants to rip her apart with his bare hands. It's quite a change from the simpering he was doing just three seconds before. "Why should I just sit here and die quietly?"
It's an excellent question and deserves an answer. "No one's dying."
"You're not too bright are you?"
It's been a while since anyone had the audacity to insult her to her face. Lightning finds the experience intriguing enough to continue the conversation.
"I'm getting us out of here."
"Right." Sarcasm and anger. Neither will help him. She thinks about telling him so, decides it's not worth the effort. He looks down at her restraints pointedly. "Our hero!" She tenses at the word Hero, feels an irrational anger build as a certain blond haired moron's smirking face pops into her head. She needs to hit someone. Preferably Snow.
She hears footsteps, heavy against the metal floor. She slides her eyes towards the door, knows she's about to get her shot to take out some of her aggression on someone right now.
"Focus and follow my lead." She puts her head back down, relaxes back into the bench.
The PSICOM Warden steps into the train car for his 'patrol.' She feels the anticipation of a good hard fight tingle through her as she listens to the barely trained oaf menace his charges. It's easy to threaten frightened, restrained civilians.
She can't wait until he tries it on her.
"You serious?" This guy is as dumb as Snow. Dumber even!
"Be quiet!" She snaps. If he screws this up, she'll kill him too!
"Best of luck," he retorts. She rolls her eyes. Mr. Must-Have-the-Last-Word must be his name. She doesn't even bother hushing him again. It'll only prompt another smarmy retort, blow their chances and get everyone killed.
The train hits something, stutters and shimmies hard enough to rattle everyone, and she's on her feet before her brain can holler 'MOVE' at her. She lets instinct take over as she hurls herself at the already unsteady Warden. She hits him hard, sends him flying onto his ass. He drops his weapon (Amateur!) and the controls for the restraints skitters away.
She stomps the controller, feels the restraints disengage and disappear, hears her newest acquaintance yell "She did it!" Hears the exclamations and panicked and awkward fumbling of the now freed masses. She hopes they won't get themselves killed as the doors slide open and reveal two more armed Wardens.
She can't worry for the civilians now. They're all dead if she doesn't focus.
She leaps as the Wardens fire, feels the fabric of her robe tear apart in the hail of bullets. She lands, spins, kicks, grabs the muzzle of a weapon and uses the hardest part of her forearm against the weakest spot on the PSICOM armor. Two more armored monkeys hit the deck unconscious.
It's better than they deserve.
Now she's armed and they're all screwed.
Focus Lightning. Don't get cocky. She had the element of surprise with the first three. She doubts the rest will be caught off guard. She reaches the next car, takes a breath to steady herself before hitting the switch to open the door and firing into the car.
The empty car?
She runs forward, spots another Warden trying to get the drop on her, kicks him as he gets one wide shot off and kills him before he hits the ground.
She's never felt satisfaction in taking a life before. It's new and should be disturbing.
She feels the relief fill her, exhales.
It isn't. At all.
She rolls her head on her shoulders to limber up and moves on. She needs to keep her adrenaline flowing, knows how bad the crash can be after a dump.
The next car is more of a challenge. She misses her gunblade, but unlike these thugs, she's been trained to use more than one type of weapon.
And she has something they don't have.
She snaps her fingers, feels the anti-gravity field surround her. She leaps backwards to take out the idiot who thought to sneak up on her. She smashes into him, feels his armor give under the force of her impact. Feels the selfsame impact rattle through her unarmored body. She grits her teeth, lets the wounded, disarmed Warden drop and propels towards the other wall. She hits and shoots and twirls her way through the car, unable to keep track of how many she's dropped before she puts the butt of her purloined rifle through the last one's visor, killing him with the blow.
He drops to the floor as she disengages the device, surveys the downed Wardens. Some are dead. All are neutralized. She kicks one aside on her way to the armory. She hopes that the bastard who confiscated her weapon followed regulations like a good little soldier. She shoots off the lock and smiles.
Her Gunblade. She lifts it, strokes it reverently. The best damn weapon ever crafted. "Good thing it's here," she announces to the downed soldiers. Not that there's much else she could do to them in retaliation if it weren't. Practiced fingers dance over all the moving parts to make sure it hasn't been compromised in some manner. She opens the chamber and is pleased to find that it is still loaded.
She grabs boxes of ammo and shoves them into her pouch. She eyes the medkit on the floor, considers leaving it. It's extra weight and she has no pack with her. She needs both hands, can't afford to fight with one hand full. She hears the doors slide open, spots her strange companion running towards her followed closely by the liberated citizens. She blinks once to express her surprise and gets over it.
She grabs the medkit and shoves it at him. "Hold this."
He fumbles it a bit and his weapon almost hits the floor. She's impressed at the hardware he's procured for himself, wonders where the hell he got a rocket launcher. Wonders why she didn't think to grab one. He scowls at her, opens the kit and empties the contents into the pockets of his jacket. "Could have just asked, Soldier."
"That was asking." She turns away from him. "Trust me. You'll know the difference."
"Pushy bitch." She does her best to stifle the shock at his audacity. She recovers quickly, realizes that she isn't even marginally offended.
Can't argue with the truth, right?
Still, he's got balls, she'll give him that for free. He just watched her empty an entire train of PSICOM soldiers, and didn't think anything of insulting her to her face. Or back, more accurately.
"They all want to help," her strange mystery man says. She readies her weapon, doesn't even bother glancing back.
"Good for them."
She slides the exit door open, surveys the surroundings with disbelief. They've reached the Hanging Edge and things here are far worse than her darkest imaginings. This is no 'evacuation.' Not that she really expected it to be. But she knows the Sanctum. She knows the military. They don't bring out this sort of artillery for anything short of battle. There is no opposing army, so this is not any sort of battle by any definition she's ever known.
This is a massacre!
There is no need for this many weapons or soldiers. These are unarmed, frightened civilians. They are more docile than lambs being led to slaughter. She's no great tactician, but she knows enough to know that one battalion would have been enough to handle an evacuation of peaceful unarmed civilians. That they've brought their full might to bear means they expected resistance.
Resistance. She heaves an aggravated sigh as her question answers itself. Resistance can only mean one thing. One person really: Snow.
That. IDIOT! If he brought his merry band of morons here to fight, then he led those half trained, harebrained children to their deaths. He better hope PSICOM kills him before she finds him, because she's going to tear him apart with her bare hands!
Thoughts of Snow remind her of her real purpose here: Serah.
Her sister is somewhere in the middle of this violent mess. The Sanctum is using every weapon it has to attack the Pulse Vestige, and Serah is somewhere inside it. A fighter whizzes by their speeding train, firing missiles into crowds, into people, into the train, into the Vestige.
"Give me that!" She yells and snatches the rocket launcher. She aims and fires at the jet, watches it explode. Feels a brief satisfaction before she sees the Garuda Interceptor fly through the debris, she fires again, misses. Damn it! She has no chance to fire a third time before the monster attacks the railway tracks with some sort of electricity. The train shimmies and lifts, the caboose catching air and smashing into the overhead rail supports. The train cracks like an egg, the heavy rear end whipping over and around and she wonders if the force of the impact will derail the engine, or if the train will just crash into itself and transform the entire mess into a speeding inferno.
She watches, sees the moment gravity grabs hold on the broken rear end and blows out a breath that is equal parts relief and disbelief. They are still on the tracks and moving. They are still alive. She expected neither.
Her relief is short-lived. The train cars plummet downward, sparking and smoking, flipping end over end before crashing into the people below fighting for their lives. She grits her teeth, clenches her fists. What sort of insanity is this? She looks around at the soldiers firing into crowds of civilians and wonders what the hell sort of madness seized them to make them follow these orders.
Who are you kidding, Lightning? When have you ever questioned orders?
She shakes her head to dispel the voice. No! Her military career be damned, she's always known right from wrong. PSICOM has the high ground. They have training and superior numbers. Instead of trying to disarm and contain, they are destroying. More than that, they are unleashing the mecha-monster hybrids from the Gapra Whitewood onto the civilians.
She's always obeyed orders, but she would never participate in this sort of madness.
Should-a, would-a, could-a. Do something already!
"Hang on to something," she yells but doesn't wait to see if anyone has paid attention. She grabs the emergency brake and pulls with all her might. The brakes engage and she hits the forward wall head first under the force of deceleration. Someone hits her from behind, knocks the air out of her with a painful jolt.
She holds onto the brake, listens the screams of the brakes mix with the screams of the people around her. The train slows, slows, and the force exerted on her body lessens with each second. The body pressed to her back disappears and she opens her mouth to drag in a breath.
The train shudders under a heavy impact the moment it stops moving. The whole car shakes and groans under a new assault. She spins, looks out through the gaping maw at the rear end of the car. Through the opening she can see the metal tail of one of the Sanctum's war machines whip by. It smashes each side of the train, rattles everyone inside and the teeth in her head. She feels like she's standing under a bell as the metal around her groans and rings with each hit. The attacker peels back the roof as if it were a sardine can.
People cower and huddle on the floor, terrified that death will find them so soon after escaping its clutches. She looks around, knows that she'll not be able to save them all. She looks up again and narrows her eyes at the enemy on the roof.
She may not be able to save everyone, but no one will save that bastard from her.
"RUN!" Mr. Last Word yells. She finds she agrees with his assessment of the situation.
She charges forward and leaps through their new skylight.
All her aches and pains disappear as she sizes up her enemy. A Manasvin Warmech. No problem, she knows this machine-knows its strengths and weaknesses. It leaps to assume a battle stance, rattles the ground beneath her feet to upset her balance and position. With her knees bent and her feet shoulder width, she's steadier than any machine could ever hope to be.
"Woa-ho!" She doesn't turn towards the voice, but she's impressed that her nameless comrade would chance this battle. Maybe there's more to him than she thought. "Hey, hey! Let's be rational now!"
He needs to stop talking to her. He's going to distract her and get them all killed. She keeps her eyes on her enemy, watches for tells. This thing is too big and awkward to have any real surprises under the hood, but it's sheer size guarantees that all hits are lethal.
The Warmech doesn't disappoint her. It takes a swipe at her that she dodges with no more than a standing back flip and an eye twitch.
She hates the PSICOM machines. She finds them dishonorable and cheap. There all brawn and no style. It doesn't take any sort of warrior or training to bowl people over and mow them down with mindless hunks of metal.
"They're sending the big guns now." She sees him gain his feet in her periphery. "What do we do?"
We? Her eyebrow arches. She's feeling impressed all over again.
"Watch and learn." And that sounded cocky, didn't it?
The machine tries to hit her with the spinning blades on the 'arms'. They're an easy dodge, slow as they are. She ducks the hit, watches for the tell for the next attack. It doesn't disappoint her.
"Watch out for the tail," she yells as the machine spins. Her new acquaintance hits the deck as she leaps. He's back on his feet as she lands. She hears him firing his guns at the armored machine, knows they won't matter at all. He might as well be flinging pebbles. Bullets are less impressive and irritating than mosquitoes to a machine with this type of armoring.
Still, it takes some guts!
She charges forward, ducking under an attacking arm, rolls under the machine and hacks at one leg with her blade. The Edged Carbine cuts through the metal as easily as it would butter and the leg crumples. She moves toward the undamaged leg as the machine topples and collapses onto its side.
"Are you crazy?"
She doesn't answer aloud, far too busy with the business of surviving. She tumbles out from under the collapsing machine towards the back and gains her feet. She seizes her advantage, uses the distraction and unbalancing of the machine against it and leaps onto its back.
"Look out!" She hears the warning, senses the air behind her moving and throws herself over the front of the machine in time to avoid getting stabbed by the sharp tail. She hits the ground with bruising force, feels her left arm go numb with the impact. She has no leverage to roll as an arm swipes out at her with spinning blades.
A hand in her collar saves her life, but doesn't prevent the spinning blade from making contact. She screams as the flesh of her leg splits. She feels the blood spurt and spray as it's atomized and dispersed by the circular motion of the blade.
The man drags her backwards along the metal roof. She wants to tell him to attack, to run, to save himself. Anything but just drag her and turn himself into a target. She can't get any words past the screams clogging her throat.
She feels pressure around her leg, tight- tight-tight enough to stop the blood flow. Tight enough to kill her limb if she doesn't loosen it soon.
"It's alright, Soldier. It's down. You got it." That's preposterous!
"It got me," she replies.
"It sure as hell did. Stay still, I'm going to get a look at this mess." She peels open her eyes and looks at the machine. It is a sparking, smoking pile of ruin. She tilts her head, sees the tail sticking right through it, jammed so far in that it's peeking out the bottom.
Like hell she got it. It got itself!
Whatever works. She forgets the downed machine and looks at her unlikely companion working on the slice on her right calf. His teeth are sunk into his bottom lip hard enough to draw blood. That's not a good sign! "How's it look?"
"Is that a trick question?" He asks, wipes the back of one bloody hand across his sweaty brow. He looks up at her and she raises an eyebrow at him. "It looks like that thing tried to carve you up like a roast."
"Can you fix it?" She tries to get a look, finds that moving takes too much energy. Her entire body is throbbing from the bad fall she took.
"No." He shakes his head, then meets her eyes. "It needs stitches."
"Do we have any?" She asks, desperate. There are no surgeons here! PSICOM is going to catch up and put a bullet in her head if she can't get back on her feet in the next five minutes.
"Then sew it up!" She declares. She'd do it if she could see straight. Or, you know, sit up.
"But...I don't know anything about..."
"Just do it! It's like sewing a patch onto a jacket." It's nothing like sewing on patches. At all. She's done it before and it's a lot harder than sewing up torn clothing. Especially when the patient is conscious. "Use one hand to press the edges together and the other to stitch. I'll be fine."
"Fine?" Astonished disbelief. He takes a breath, blows it out slow and nods. "Fine." Resolved. She feels something inside unclench at the surety she sees in his eyes, hears in his voice. He reaches into his pocket, withdraws a small bottle. "Drink this. It'll help take the edge off." She wants to argue but the pain radiating up her leg tells her that would be foolish.
Foolish is her middle name, but she's no masochist! She grabs the bottle and takes a swallow. The potion is bitter and vile, thick and warm, but she can feel it deadening pain already. She gags, swallows more and sets the bottle aside.
"I'm only going to do the first inch or so. That's where it's deepest. The rest...the rest looks like it'll be okay with just some butterfly bandages." She nods and grits her teeth, watches as he pours alcohol over his hands, rolls on gloves, tears open the suture packages and withdraws the hooked needle.
Her companion pours peroxide into the cut, swabs alcohol over it after. He might as well have lit her on fire for the burn that tears through the injury. She keeps quiet, refuses to give him any excuse to back out of this task. She needs to be stitched. He slides the needle through the folds of skin and she clamps her jaws around the grunt of pain. She blows out a steadying breath through gritted teeth.
"So, soldier," he says casually. "What's your name?"
Seriously? He wants to have a conversation?
The needle slides in again, gathering skin and pulling it together. It pinches and burns, feels like it's pulling and tearing apart at once. She stiffens, fights to hold herself still. "L-Li-Light-ning."
He nods without missing a beat and says, "Interesting name. I'm Sazh." He looks up from where he's suturing. "I'd shake hands but..." he pulls the needle up with blood stained gloves.
She laughs and he takes the opportunity to slide the needle through the skin quick. Her laugh turns into a sob and she slaps her palm hard onto the metal of the roof. Again and again, until she's sweating like some sort of farm animal all over the wrecked roof of their train.
"All done, Soldier." She can't see past the tears in her eyes. She hears him snip the suture, feels him pulling the rest of the skin together with butterfly bandages. The whole thing takes an eternal few minutes, but she finally feels him wrapping the wound in long bands of gauze. She breathes through the pain while Sazh gathers the supplies.
Push it back, Lightning. Control the pain, or it controls you.
By the time he's on his feet, she's regained her equilibrium. She moves onto her knees and he gets her beneath her arms and hauls her onto her feet. "How you doing there, Soldier?"
She puts some weight onto her injured leg, feels the pull and bite through the injury. But it's bearable. "Good." She adds more pressure, feels the fresh stitches pull a bit, but hold. "Better." She looks up at her new companion. "Nice work. Thank you."
"No. Thank you. You saved our asses."
Life is a real ironic bitch sometimes. As soon as he says it, she hears the pounding of feet, the echo suggesting a large number of approaching enemies. She turns, sees the PSICOM unit approaching and surrounding them. "Don't move!"
She can't help the "damn it" that slips out.
Sazh steps away from her, mutters, "Any ideas here, Soldier? I'm open to some more watching and learning."
She looks around, sighs and grunts out a, "Shut up."
This story will be slow to update since I want to finish Evolution soon. Of course 'soon' is a relative term here.