Extended Author's Notes
I would like to start by advising everyone that what follows is not another chapter. The previous chapter, Chapter 17, was the final chapter. Instead, I will be providing some detailed author's notes along with some "outtakes." If you want to skip straight to the outtakes that's perfectly fine. I have a tendency to ramble, and you don't have to subject yourself to that. You can find the outtakes further down in the section labelled "Outtakes" in bold (it's about three quarters of the way down).
For everyone who has decided to stay, I'd like to begin by taking about how Wasteland started. This story began its life in the long twilight cast by the final few chapters of Stetsons and fal'Cie. As that story approached its conclusion, it occurred to me that I didn't have another big, multi-chaptered story going. One could argue – quite reasonably, actually – that both Ordinary Heroes and Tell Me A Story are big, multi-chaptered stories. However, neither of them had the sort of continuous and (mostly) coherent storyline that Stetons and fal'Cie had. Rather than another slice-of-life story, I wanted something more structured, something with a plot and purpose. Wasteland turned out to be that something.
After writing a Western, I wanted to try my hand at something different. As much as I love Westerns, my first two major stories were Westerns (Headed West and Stetsons and fal'Cie), and I felt it was time for a change. You can only write so much about gunslingers and hired guns before your thoughts and speech start adopting a distinctly Western twang.
I also wanted to try something with a different tone from Stetsons and fal'Cie. Although it could be quite violent (I don't know how many people died in the last few chapters of the story, but I'd wager it was at least a hundred), Stetsons and fal'Cie was often quite light hearted and humorous. By the end, there was also quite a noticeable amount of romance there as well. For my next story, I wanted something darker, something gritty. Cue the zombies.
Now, zombies are something an interesting cliché. I would guess that there aren't many people who haven't seen zombies in one form or another, whether it is in books, movies, comics, or video games. Zombies are a cliché and that can make them hard to write without seeming like a copycat. At the same time, the fact that everyone understands the rules when it comes to zombies can be very, very useful. I don't have to spend pages and pages explaining everything because everyone already has at least a vague understanding of how zombies work (e.g., they attack the living, aren't particularly intelligent, and need to be shot in the head).
The trick, then, is to harness the power of the zombie cliché (some would call it a trope) without allowing it to rule the story. But how can that be done? My solution was to adhere to most of the traditional zombie conventions while going with a slightly different focus. Rather than focusing on all the blood and gore, the physical aspects of zombie horror, I wanted to focus on the mental side of things.
Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to be utterly alone in a devastated world. All of your friends and family are dead. Civilisation is in shambles. Everything that you have taken for granted – food, water, electricity, shelter, fuel, clothing – is difficult, if not impossible, to obtain on a regular basis with putting yourself in extreme danger. Imagine also that the only other things in the world exist solely to kill you, to tear the flesh from your bones and eat you alive. Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Setting aside all of the many, many physical dangers that such a situation would likely impose, consider how it would feel. Think about the toll it would take on your mind. That toll will start off with a bang. The initial shock of seeing the situation unfold, of watching the world tumble down around you, will have you reeling. Then the shock will set in as you realise that, yes, this is real. And, no, there isn't anyone who can help you.
But after that initial shock, there comes the long, horrible grind. If you want to live, you need to keep moving, need to keep foraging, need to keep alert. Every single day, every single moment, you will have to be on the look out for things you can use and for things that might kill you. Your life will be an unrelenting struggle to hide, scavenge, and survive. But it will also be punctuated by bouts of extreme savagery and violence. Every time the Infected find you, you will have to run as fast as you can or fight with every single weapon at your disposal. Not all of them will die easily. You won't always be able to get a clean shot through the head. Sometimes you'll have to do things the hard way, like caving someone's skull in one thumping blow at a time. Lovely.
In the end, even if you survive the physical rigours of the situation, how on earth are you going to survive what it does to your mind? And when your mind goes, how much longer will it be before your body goes too? These are the sorts of things I thought about as I planned Wasteland. You can see them most clearly in Lightning and Vanille's chapters although they're there in the other chapters too.
The trick – if it can be called that – behind Wasteland was simple: focus on the people, not the zombies, and focus on the mental, not the physical. Wasteland was all about taking these characters we have come to know and love and seeing how far I could push them. Some of them managed to hold it together, clinging onto the only thing that still mattered in their life. Others broke or came close to breaking. This isn't to say that some characters are stronger than others (e.g., I wouldn't say that Sazh is a stronger person than Lightning). No, the point, really, is that none of them are strong enough on their own to survive what the world has become. Sazh had Dajh. Serah had Snow. Nora had Hope. Fang found Bahamut. But Lightning and Vanille weren't that lucky, and by the time they'd met, they were already in too many pieces to put back together.
The world that Wasteland is set in is a cruel, unforgiving place. It is a place of shadows and nightmares, and it looms over every one of the characters. None of them are strong enough to face it alone. All they can do is weather the storm as best they can until they can find someone or something to cling onto. Perhaps that is depressing. After all, Final Fantasy XIII is all about fighting destiny and fate – about making the impossible possible. Wasteland, however, doesn't buy into platitudes. The Infected will find you, and the Infection will break you even if it can't turn you into one of the Infected.
Moving on from all of that, I'd like to talk about a few of the things that inspired me. I am a long time zombie fan (and a long time fan of the horror genre, in general). More, perhaps, than any other horror cliché, zombies owe a lot of their success to film. Two films that have always stood out in my mind are Dawn of the Dead and 28 Days Later (I enjoyed both the original and the remake of the former and have done my best to block out my memories of the abysmal sequel to the latter). What sets both of those movies apart, especially 28 Days Later, is how the people are the stars of the film, not the zombies. What drives the movies are the people's struggles to cope with how things have changed, to wrap their mind around a single basic truth: the world as they know it is dead.
In contrast to the aforementioned films, we have media like Resident Evil. I have nothing but good words to say about the Resident Evil games (up to and including Resident Evil 4), but I think it's safe to say that the zombies are the stars of those games. You play because it's thrilling and scary and because you want to find out what fresh new abomination you're going to encounter. That's fine, but this sort of approach makes it almost impossible to grasp the kind of mental disintegration that would occur amongst the survivors of a zombie apocalypse. In video games, there is always the possibility of victory against overwhelming odds. As a result, the gamer can feel scared or thrilled, but they will rarely, if ever, feel hopeless. Watch 28 Days Later. There will be moments when you feel hopeless for the characters, when you feel like they haven't got a chance, but you'll still hope that they all come out of it okay. It is that fragile hope that makes the moments of horror all the more effective, and it was that feeling of hope – fragile and often crushed – that I wanted to pursue. After all, a little bit of hope can make despair far more terrible.
I should also mention The Walking Dead. Ironically, I never got around to watching the show (despite many recommendations to do so) until I was well into this story. Imagine my surprise when seeing the father and son duo! The first series was great. Watching them turn on each other, watching them become more dangerous to themselves than the zombies was incredible. I was less a fan of the subsequent series. In any case, the reason I mention The Walking Dead is because the people are again the stars. Their battles to cling onto what little they still love, their struggles to stay sane and decent in a world gone mad, those are what drive the show. Wasteland has a similar engine under the hood.
What I'd like to show you now is my initial plan for this story. Like so many of my ideas, it begins somewhat hilariously with a single paragraph for direction, and it only mentions one set of characters (I've kept it exactly as I wrote it, so any spelling and grammar mistakes are a result of my frenzied typing at the time):
Sazh and Dajh are trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world in which a horrible virus has turned most of the population into zombies. In an attempt to find sanctuary, they flee the ruins of Eden City and head east toward the Bodhum. Their plan is to get to Bodhum, which was once a popular tourist town, and then get a boat there over to one of the islands off the coast. Since the infected can't swim, Sazh thinks it is their best chance. In this universe, it is just him and Dajh in their family – Lahna was infected earlier and Sazh was forced to shoot her, although Dajh doesn't know this. Dajh only knows that the monsters (zombies) got his mother.
As you can see, I didn't start off with much in the way of detail. What I did know, right from the start, was that I wanted Sazh and Dajh to play a major role. They were there in the first chapter, and they continue to play a prominent role throughout the story. What quickly became obvious to me was the fact that this plan wasn't good enough. Sazh and Dajh couldn't carry the story alone (I ran a few scenarios through my head and none of them worked out well). It also wouldn't be much of a story without the rest of our favourites involved. I then threw together another plan, one that worked in more the characters. Note that this plan (which follows in its original form, mistakes and all) and the one posted above were both thrown together before I'd really written much of Wasteland:
The story starts with them on the road. Running low on supplies, Sazh has them pull up at an abandoned supermarket in a small town they are passing through. The electricity is down, but it's only about noon, so there is some light. He takes Dajh with him and before they enter, he makes Dajh recite the rules:
Always stay close to him
Always keep a look out
Always keep calm
He also has Dajh carry some clips of ammunition and a spare pistol. Sazh himself is using a shotgun and has two pistols with him, along with a knife. They enter the supermarket and Sazh takes a quick look around with Dajh. What they want isn't near the light, so they are forced to use the torches they've brought and investigate.
They hear some noises, but they are just some feral cats foraging. They see Sazh and vanish. The two get a trolley and Sazh pushes it with one hand as he keeps his shotgun in the other. In the darkness, they have only their torches (electric) to guide them and they get to the food aisles. Sazh stands watch as Dajh quickly starts throwing food into the trolley. They take only the instant food that can be mixed with water and canned food, along with a few unexpired chocolates. They also get water and the like and lots of batteries. Dajh finds a solar powered lamp and they decide to take it and give it a try. They then go over to the gun counter and Sazh breaks into it to replenish his ammunition and pick up a second shotgun, just in case. They also stop to pickup a storybook for Dajh. It's not much, but it's something to ease the horror.
On their way out, they run into trouble. A zombie attacks them near the checkout, coming in from the staff area, and Sazh is forced to fire. However, that isn't the only zombie, as there is another behind them – Sazh thought it was just a corpse, but he was wrong – and he curses himself for not checking the body better and fires again. The sound of the shots is loud and they quickly hurry out to their vehicle, a four-wheel drive with a roof rack and start loading it up. Sazh has Dajh get the car started as he throws the supplies into the back and then hurries to get into the car. He shoots another two zombies and runs a third over before they make their getaway.
Later on, they stop at a motel, which turns out to still have running water courtesy of its water tank. They check the place out for trouble and stay the night. Sazh reads Dajh a story and then they turn in. The next morning, Dajh asks if they can stay, but Sazh tells him they can't. Sooner or later, the monsters will come and they need to get to an island. They take a look around and find a diary detailing the fact that it was NORA who ran the motel until things went bad. They holed up, but one day a bus of people pulled in and one of them was infected. Macqui got bitten and Snow had to shoot him. After that they decided to head east for the ocean, as well. Lebreau was the one who wrote the diary entry. They find some blankets, which Dajh takes after asking if they can afford the space (yes, Sazh says, because if you fold a blanket up right it's not too bad, plus he's noticed that Dajh has been shivering, even if Dajh denies it). Sazh adds his own entry to the diary and puts it where someone will be sure to see it and signs his and Dajh's names and then they head off again.
In this universe, Lightning is a soldier on leave visiting her sister, Serah, in Eden City when everything goes wrong. They end up fleeing east, as well, but their car breaks down and they take shelter in an old police station while Lightning scouts around for another working car that's big enough to fit their supplies and isn't broken. That's when they run into Sazh and Dajh (Sazh was looking for more ammunition and another weapon after he lost one shotgun in a scuffle with zombies. After a bit of a standoff at the start (Sazh understands why Lightning acted so aggressively to protect her sister), the two sister hitch a ride with Sazh and Dajh. They take turns at the wheel and later on they encounter Yaag. Yaag seems friendly, but he tries to steal the car and they are forced to kill him. When Dajh asks if Yaag was a bad man, Sazh says he probably wasn't – the monsters made him that way, they can get you sometimes, even if they don't bite you, and make you a monster just like them. Dajh asks if they'll end up monsters too, but Sazh assures them they won't. During this time, Serah starts looking after Dajh a lot. The next town they get to, Lightning and Sazh go into the shopping centre – they need new clothes and the like – while Serah and Dajh stay outside. Serah can use a gun and Sazh doesn't want to bring Dajh in there, it's too safe and at least this way, if something goes wrong, he knows Dajh can survive with Serah to look after him. During this Sazh confides to Lightning what happened with Lahna. She doesn't blame him – she had to shoot Amodar, who'd been like a second father to her, after she and Serah ran into him at a roadblock with some other soldiers as it was being overrun. He knew what he was going to become and asked her to shoot him. They run into some trouble, but manage to get out okay with supplies. Serah and Dajh don't run into much trouble, although they smoke on the horizon. They tell Lightning and Sazh about it, but they decide not to go look. After all, large sections of Eden City burnt down too and this could be the same.
They eventually reach Bodhum and the island where there are several holiday homes and they are forced to clear them out. They then start getting settled in, with the boat that got them there being used a lot as they ferry supplies to and from Bodhum and onto the island. They also start planting some crops and getting some water collected and the like. They also find a yacht there and clean it out so they can use it if they run low on fuel.
Meanwhile, Fang and Vanille are together and eventually run into the remnants of NORA who have opted to go somewhere other than Bodhum, because they think it's too big to be safe. Eventually, they do end up in Bodhum. The smoke that Serah and Dajh saw was this group at a petrol station many miles off. They get attacked by another band of survivors who try to take their supplies and are forced to shoot back. During the battle, the other group is killed and the petrol station explodes, causing the smoke.
Interleave the chapters so that each chapter handles a different set of characters? Maybe not. Perhaps try dating the chapter and then have sections on each set of characters? Or perhaps, split each chapter across the characters? Maybe do the first idea.
Eventually they all end up on the island where they set up a radio and begin listening, hoping that they aren't the only ones left alive. The story ends with them doing the best they can and waiting hopefully. Finally, a voice comes over the radio and it is Dajh, the child, who hears it and runs to get the others.
This version of the story does bear some resemblance to Wasteland's final form, but there are also a great many significant differences. The biggest – and most important – difference is how the groups are composed. This version of the story proposes keeping Lightning and Serah together and keeping Fang and Vanille together. This would have had an immense impact on the story because it would have shielded the characters from the worst of the Infection's psychological impact. Lightning wouldn't have teetered on the edge of madness, Vanille wouldn't have become quite unstable, and Fang wouldn't have tromped through a nightmare populated by zombies with nothing more than a wolf and a promise written on a wall for company. As I always do, I tried running a number of different scenarios through my head to see if I liked the way the story would shape up. I didn't, so I decided to try again (as before all spelling and grammar mistakes have been retained, so you can see what the plans really look like):
Change up a few things
Lightning is deployed as part of the military to try and contain the infection. After her unit is destroyed with her as the only survivor (Amodar sacrificed himself so she could live), she decides to try and get to Eden City where Serah was studying at Eden City University, despite the fact that everyone she encounters tellers her that it is suicide.
She fights her way into Eden City, exhausting herself and becoming almost delirious, especially after an encounter with feral dogs. She gets to the university only to find it a smouldering ruin. She gets to the dormitories where Serah was staying and finds that they have been destroyed too. She breaks down and is attacked by the Infected. She throws herself into the battle, firing until her ammunition is empty before collapsing. The last thing she sees is what looks like Serah, only Serah doesn't have red hair.
She wakes up to meet Vanille, who has been hiding in the city. She can't fight, so she's had no choice. She looks after Lightning, explaining that she has a sister too, but she doesn't know if she'll ever see her again. Lightning seems almost crazy, claiming that until she sees the body, it isn't true (i.e., Serah isn't dead until she sees her body). Vanille sympathises and as she nurses Lightning back to health, the two grow closer, Lightning seeing a lot of Serah in Vanille.
Finally, she gets well enough to move and asks Vanille if there's anything she wants. Vanille says that she saw some really great fireworks once, and she'd like to go back to that place, to Bodhum. Lightning, with nothing else to live for, agrees and the two set out. Before they go, they get some spray paint and spray paint their names and their destination all along the outside of the building they were hiding in.
Meanwhile, Fang , who was working at a nature reserve, hears about the outbreak and tries to find Vanille, as well. Along the way, she runs into Hope and his mother. Not long after they are attacked and Nora, unfortunately, is bitten, they get away, but when they realise Nora is infected they have no choice but to shoot her. Fang offers to do it, and Nora wants her to, but Hope says he should. It's the last thing he can do for her, and he couldn't bear for someone else to do it.
With no destination in mind, they head for Eden City. Hope understands that Fang has to try, just like he and his mother tried. Like Lightning, Fang needs to check on Vanille. They find the burnt out ruins, but to their amazement, they find the message that Lightning and Vanille left, as well, and decided to set out after them.
Meanwhile, Serah and Snow are also headed toward Bodhum. They managed to escape the university, but are now on their own. Serah can't think of anywhere else to go, and it should be safer than the cities. There also islands off the coast that they might be able to use. Later, after their car breaks down, and they are about to be overrun, that's when they run into Sazh and Dajh. Serah and Snow know each other because Snow has been working as a handyman around the university to help make more money to expand the motel that NORA owns.
As for the rest of NORA, they abandoned their motel, like described in the other continuity and end up in a settlement run by Jihl and Yaag. When everything there goes horribly wrong, they flee, and run into Lightning and Vanille who are headed for Bodhum. They realise that if they're going to die, well, there are worse ways to go than in a place like Bodhum.
Sazh, Dajh, Serah, and Snow get to Bodhum first, and manage to fight their way onto a yacht called the Barthandelus that was once owned by a wealthy man named Galenth Dylsley, and then head to one of the islands. They are forced to retreat after it turns out to be heavily infested. There just aren't enough of them to clear it out. They return to Bodhum and hole up there, unsure of what to do, or if they should try another island. That's when Lightning and Vanille arrive and with them the other members of NORA. They decided to try and retake the island and after a fair bit of fighting they manage to do so, finding it reasonably well supplied.
After a while, Fang and Hope arrive and find the remains of the building where the others were staying. They head down to the supermarket to raid it and then run into the others. After everyone is reunited, they begin making radio contact with other groups of survivors. One of the groups is led by Cloud, another by Yuna.
Ah ha! Now, we're starting to get something that actually resembles the final story. Many of the final elements are there: Lightning and Vanille meeting up and travelling together, Serah and Snow meeting Sazh and Dajh. However, there are still substantial differences. In particular, Fang and NORA play very different roles in this version of the story. I had originally planned to kill Nora off – this version shows how I was going to do that.
So why didn't I kill Nora? Part of it was sentimentality. After writing the first chapter with Nora, I realised that she wasn't a character that normally got a lot of screen time, so there was a lot of potential there for her to grow. The other reason was that I didn't think the Fang and Hope group would work out well. If Fang kills Nora, I can't imagine Hope getting on with her very well even if it was necessary. Hope would never have been able to get over his mother's death at Fang's hands and that would have made their scenes together extremely one-dimensional and awkward.
The idea of NORA running into a camp run by Jihl and Yaag wasn't scrapped for entirely thematic reasons. Rather, I scrapped it because I thought it would end up taking far too much of the story (it could very easily have been a story in its own right). That left me with a few loose ends that needed tidying up: Nora, Hope, Fang, and NORA.
So, at last, we come to the third version of the story plan, one that was written after I'd already gotten a few chapters into Wasteland (it picks up in Chapter 9 since I'm mostly happy with the second version of the story plan up until that point):
Sazh meets Serah and Snow when he and Dajh are trying to resupply at a department store. They run into Serah who has torn clothes and bruises. A minute later, a group of five men appear and demand that Sazh hand Serah over to them. They even offer to share her. Barring that, they tell Sazh to walk away as it's none of his business. He looks at his son and at Serah and declares that it is his business. There is a standoff as he has a shotgun levelled on the leader.
However, the standoff is broken when gunfire takes out one of the men. Sazh shoves Serah and Dajh behind some cover along with Chirpy. He hurriedly asks Serah what has happened and she explains that the men attacked her and Snow after running into them. They got separated and one of them tried to himself on her, but she fought him and another man off, killing one. However, when more came, she was forced to run and that's when she met them. She begs Sazh to help Snow and after some consideration, he agrees.
He helps Snow and they are forced to kill all but one of the men. They question him, asking him why he was doing what he was doing and if there are more of them. There aren't more of them, they've been on the move too, and as for why, they haven't seen a woman since the Infected started, and who cares about the law anymore? He goes for a knife and Sazh is forced to shoot him.
Resupplying, Sazh talks to Serah and Snow. He tells them he doesn't trust them. Snow says he understand, but he trusts Sazh since he helped them when he didn't have to. Eventually, they settle in for the night and Serah explains what they're doing. They are heading for Bodhum. There is an island off the coast of Bodhum in the middle of Bodhum Harbour. It has the lighthouse on it along with an oceanographic research institute and a meteorological research centre. Serah thinks that if they can get there, they might be safe.
Sazh points out that there are going to be Infected there, but Serah counters that the Infected can't sail and don't seem to be able to swim. There might be Infected there, but if they can just clear them out they will be safe. Sazh thinks about that. He and Dajh have been wandering for a long time, but as crazy as it sounds, this is a glimmer of hope. He decides to go with them
Eventually, they get to the island. They get to the oceanographic institute and find that some have been killed, others have committed suicide. Everyone is dead. Infected come and attack them in hordes and they are forced to hole up and fight for their lives. This goes on for more than a day as they are forced back and back and cut off from their boat. Fires are lit and in Bodhum, Vanille and Lightning, who have just arrived, see it and set out for the island. They arrive and seeing the Infected attacking people and Sazh fighting them off, they charge in and help, driving the Infected back. That's when the people helping Sazh appear – Snow and Serah.
Serah and Lightning are reunited much to their joy. Vanille is saddened because she has come to love Lightning like a sister, but Serah asks Lightning to introduce Vanille, Vanille is overjoyed when Lightning introduces her as 'a dear friend, someone she cares for like a sister' and Lightning says she is happy her two sisters get to meet.
A few weeks pass and on one supply run, Lightning and Vanille run into Fang. Rather, Lightning runs into Fang and the two end up fighting as Fang, driven to despair by arriving to find no sign of Vanille turns on her surroundings. That's when Vanille appears, begging for them to stop. Fang thinks she is dreaming and when she realises she isn't, she is overjoyed. She thanks Lightning for looking after Vanille and goes with them.
Elsewhere Nora and Hope meet the remnants of NORA, and eventually they set up shop at a remote resort hotel along the coast. After being attacked, they try sending out a radio distress call and those on the island hear it. They sail out and retrieve them, getting back to the island where Snow is reunited with them and Fang is glad to see that Nora and Hope are still around.
The island has generators, water, and solar power, and some room to plant crops and the like.
Here, the story approaches something very close to its final form. The ending is also fairly similar to the one I ended up using except rather than being rescued, NORA comes to the island.
As you can see, a lot of things didn't go the way I originally planned them. One of the things I really came to appreciate with Wasteland was the value of letting a story grow organically. I usually do let stories grow organically (i.e., deviate from plan when necessary), but Wasteland was especially demanding in this respect. You'll notice, for example, that I didn't plan for Fang finding Bahamut, just like I didn't plan for a lot of things. But if I didn't plan them, where did they come from?
Whenever I draft a chapter, I leave little notes at the end about the things that should be fixed, removed, or added to. Many of my best ideas – and the things that readers liked most – came from reading chapters and realising they needed a little bit extra. One of the dangers of planning is that you become so invested in the plan that you don't notice when something better comes along. Those notes at the end are reminders of what the plan is doing right and what it is doing wrong.
It was these notes at the end – along with reader feedback – that led to one of the largest shifts in the story. Originally, this was going to be a story focused on Sazh and Dajh. To an extent that is still true. They do play a very important part in the story. But it soon became clear to me that perhaps the strongest part of the story – and the part that resonated most powerfully with readers – was the dynamic between Lightning and Vanille. This wasn't something I'd planned on, but only an idiot would have overlooked a gift like that falling into their lap.
As a result, I made a conscious decision to try and flesh out more of the Lightning and Vanille dynamic. That decision was probably one of the best I ever made. The increasingly fraught nature of Lightning and Vanille's relationship (to say nothing of their rapidly degrading mental stability) made for a marvellous contrast between their chapters and the chapters devoted to the other characters. I might have started with one idea, but I'm not so proud that I will ignore a better one when it comes along.
A point that I've already made, but which I want to make again, is that Wasteland is a story about people. Yes, there are zombies in it, and they are horrible, but ultimately, Wasteland is about the people. So I'd like to take a moment to talk about those people and the way they fit together.
I'll start off with Sazh and Dajh since they are, in many ways, the easiest people to understand. Sazh is a man who has lost everything else in his life except Dajh. As such, he fights mostly to keep his son alive. Everything he does is motivated by the simple need to keep himself – and by extension Dajh because Dajh cannot survive without him – alive. It's the reason he is able to shoot the Infected without regret or hesitation. Balanced against his son's life, the Infected don't matter to him at all.
At the same time, Sazh's purpose is what grounds him and keeps him sane. Dajh may not be able to help him physically, but having his son around provides him with a precious ocean of normality in a sea of chaos. Dajh is the guiding light in Sazh's life. Sazh has to stay sane for his son, and he goes out of his way to provide what small comforts he can: a piece of chocolate, some time on a swing, a chocobo for a pet. By focusing on Dajh, Sazh has narrowed the entire world down to a single, manageable objective: keep his son alive. Instead of dwelling on the horrifying enormity of the situation, Sazh has chosen to narrow his focus down to one thing and that has kept him sane.
Snow and Serah are likewise in the fortunate position of having someone else. They aren't as close as Sazh and Dajh are, but adversity has a way of making swift friends out of people, and there was an attraction there to begin with. The fact that Snow never used the deteriorating social situation to take advantage of Serah is one of the reasons she trust him so much. Snow is big guy and tough too. If he'd wanted to do something, Serah probably couldn't stop him. But instead, he's been nothing but a gentleman. As I mentioned in the last chapter, it's Serah who pushes the physical boundaries of their relationship. In a dire situation like the Infection, it's difficulty to overstate how much that civil behaviour mattered.
One question that I'm sure some of you have is why wasn't Serah as badly damaged as Lightning by their separation. It isn't that Serah doesn't care. She does, very much so. But they are in two different positions. Lightning has lived her whole life for Serah, doing whatever she can to make ends meet. Serah is the reason Lightning is in the Guardian Corps, the reason she put herself through hell. Serah, however, has the opposite problem. She has seen the sacrifices her sister has made and the only thing she can do to honour them is live as best she can, live so that Lightning's sacrifices weren't in vain. If Lightning is dead, Serah's only way of honouring her is to live for as long as she can as well as she can. But to Lightning, if Serah is dead, then she has failed. Everything in her life has been for nothing. It's a cruel, cruel asymmetry, but it is there all the same.
The dynamic between Sazh, Dajh, Serah, and Snow is a pleasant one. Sazh's decision to help Serah, he could easily have given her to the men who'd kidnapped her, was decisive in earning her trust. He chose to do the right thing even though it could have cost him everything. Likewise, watching Sazh treat Dajh so nicely is reassuring for both Serah and Snow. Dajh is useless (i.e., he doesn't add in an obvious way to Sazh's chances of survival, at least as perceived by others), but Sazh hasn't abandoned him.
The Nora and Hope group provided an interesting contrast to Sazh and Dajh. Again, it's a case of parent and child. What makes the situation so different is that Hope is old enough to fully grasp the horror of the Infection. When Sazh tells Dajh that everything will be fine if he follows the rules, Dajh believes him. Dajb is a little boy, and he still believes his father can do anything. But Hope knows, he knows, that the world has gone to pieces, and he knows that he and his mother are far from safe. But at the same time, he is still a boy, not quite a man. He wants to help his mother, but he doesn't know how. He wants to protect his mother, but he isn't strong enough. And both of them have to deal with the loss of his father.
If I had to, I would say that there are three pivotal moments in the Nora and Hope storyline (apart from the initial outbreak of the Infection, of course). The first comes when they meet Fang. Fang was a ray of hope to them, proof that there were still decent people around. Fang didn't have much, but she shared part of it with them when she didn't have to. The second moment comes when they meet Yaag and Jihl. Hope learns the hard way about what people are capable of under pressure, and he also learns how much he relies on his mother. The thought of going on without her – of watching her die – all but breaks him. And then NORA came. What faith he'd lost in people when he ran into Yaag and Jihl, he got back in spades when NORA choose to help him and his mother.
NORA was also important to Nora. After having to shoulder the burden alone for so long (she was afraid of burdening Hope), she was able to share her load with others. This saved her as much as their stitching her wounds up did. That's why Nora and Hope stay with NORA. It's why they become something close to a family.
Fang was an interesting character to write. Out of all the characters, I felt I had the least certainty in terms of what I wanted her to go through. Like Lightning, she is looking for her sister. And in some ways, she's even more deluded than Lightning since she doesn't give up even when there's an absolute pile (an entire ruined city's worth) of evidence suggesting that Vanille is dead. That graffiti on the wall saved her from herself because she could easily have succumbed to her despair like Lightning did – and Vanille wouldn't have been around to save her.
Bahamut was another timely addition for Fang. He wasn't really in my plans, but I felt that Fang needed someone or something to balance her later chapters out. How else would she keep from going insane? I've always imagined Fang being very good with animals, so I thought it would be nice to give her one. A wolf was suitably impressive, and a wolf was also the kind of animal that would actually prove useful during something like the Infection.
And now we get to Lightning and Vanille. I'll discuss them together since by the end of the story, they're pretty much a package deal.
Lightning's portrayal in Wasteland is a logical extension of her behaviour in the game. In the game, she fixates on the idea of saving Serah. Almost everything about her, from her regrets to her hopes, is centred on the other woman. So what happens when you take Serah away? Wasteland attempts to answer that question. Lightning is devastated. She simply cannot conceive of a world without Serah because if she is alive and Serah is not, then she has failed. It would have been better, in Lightning's eyes, to have died with Serah or died defending her.
Vanille is different. She cling tenaciously to whatever life she can lead, no matter how horrible it is. She doesn't want to die even though everyone else she knows is already dead. But by the time Lightning arrives, that resolve is wearing thing. That's why, when she meets Lightning, she goes well out of her way to save her. Then, when they're travelling together, she attaches herself to the other woman. What Vanille fears isn't death. It's loneliness. She fears loneliness and dying alone so much that she talks to a video camera and carries around wallets because they're all she has left of her friends. It's why she fights so hard for Lightning's acceptance. She can't – won't – go back to being on her own. Even if it means throwing herself at Lightning's feet, she is going to make sure the other woman doesn't leave her. It's a fortunate thing too since looking after Vanille becomes Lightning's new purpose, the only thing keeping her going crazy. It's a way to atone for her failure. She'll protect Vanille the way she never protected Serah.
The last thing I want to talk about is the ending. The ending was… interesting. Some stories, like Headed West, I could only ever imagine ending one way. This story could have ended on an altogether more tragic note (e.g., Lightning killing Vanille and then committing suicide before they see the smoke coming from the island). However, I decided to go with a more open-ended finale. This was for a number of reasons. The island, and their all meeting there, is a nod at Dawn of the Dead. The ending is also a way of bringing together all of the characters. They were all separated to begin with, and I wanted to bring them all together at least once.
The main reason I chose the ending that I did was because it left things open. Now that everyone is on the island they have a fighting chance, but whether they win is left up to the reader. Do their plans work out? Do the Infected sneak on? Do they turn on each other? There are some things that are best left to the imagination.
The ending of Wasteland is a moment of peace and silence, a lull in the storm. It is a brief moment of calm and quiet, of hope and joy. Does it last? Maybe. Maybe not. But I wanted the ending to offer that brief respite. I had considered writing a chapter for each of the groups meeting, but I felt it would have dragged on too long. Ultimately, the ending is what it is.
So yeah, it's been a fun ride, and I'm glad you were all there to share it with me.
Now, it's time for the outtakes. Please don't take these seriously. Think of them as parts of a blooper reel. To make things easier, I've given them names and indicated what chapter they are based on.
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Chapter Six – Lightning never did have a good sense of direction
Lightning stared in absolute, utter desolation at the ruined remains of the dormitories. The dormitories were gone. Serah was gone. Everything had burnt to the ground just like the rest of the university.
A sob welled up from deep inside her. Serah was dead. The only thing that mattered was gone. She'd failed. Not caring that the Infected might hear, Lightning dropped to her knees and wailed. Rocking back and forth, she sobbed until she felt like she was crying a river.
"Uh, Serah, do you know her?" Vanille peeked around the corner at the pink haired woman bawling her eyes out in front of the ruins of the maintenance building. "Because she looks an awful lot like you."
Serah winced. "She's my sister. But why is she crying there?" She slapped her forehead. "Of course, she must think those are the dormitories."
Vanille pointed at the dormitories, which were right behind them and still very much intact. "The dormitories are over there. They're perfectly fine. We've been barricaded in them for weeks."
"I know." Serah sighed and headed off to comfort her sister. "But Lightning never did have a good sense of direction. She must think I'm dead or something."
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Chapter One – Dajh always did like video games
Sazh's eyes widened as Dajh twirled the pistol around one finger. A half dozen dead Infected dropped to the ground, a hole in every single forehead. Dajh reached for the chocolate bar on the shelf.
"I wanted some candy, daddy, and they weren't going to let me get it."
"I played lots of video games." Dajh smiled sunnily and tugged open his jacket. "See my shirt? It's my favourite Resident Evil shirt."
"Right…" Sazh made a mental note: get the boy a gun of his own.
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Chapter Eleven – Who said anything about a wolf/Lady Luck
Fang had expected a lot of things to barge into the room looking for a slice of the deer she'd killed. Her money was on a dog or a wolf. What she got was a dragon.
"RARGH!" The purple and black dragon bellowed as it smashed right through the front of the building and eyed the deer hungrily.
Fang did the smart thing. "Uh, sure, I guess you can have some." She cut off a piece of the deer before thinking better of it and handing the whole thing over. "Say, I don't suppose you'd mind hanging out with me for a while, would you?"
The dragon gobbled up the deer and then shrugged before settling down next to the fire.
"I'll take that as a yes."
The next day, Fang had a wonderful time roasting hordes of Infected atop her new best friend before finding some graffiti telling her where to meet Vanille. She made it to Bodhum in record time, stopping just long enough to pick up Vanille and a slightly crazy (but totally hot) pink haired woman along the way.
She might also have made another trip to pick up the pink haired woman's sister and a few other stragglers. She did it purely out of the goodness of her own heart. It had nothing to do with the fact that pink haired woman – Lightning – was probably the hottest person on the planet (and that statement probably would have been true even before the Infection).
Maybe it was all a big coincidence, or maybe it was luck. Fang always had been lucky.
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Chapter Seventeen – So… does anyone know how to drive a yacht?
Nora looked at the others. They looked back at her. They all looked at the yacht's controls.
"So, does anyone know how to drive a yacht?" Lebreau asked.
Finally, Hope put up his hand. "I might have seen someone do it in a movie once."
Everyone looked at each other again. Hope scratched the back of his head.
Lebreau grinned. "Well, that's more than I can say." She tossed Hope the keys. "Good luck, kid."
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Chapter Sixteen – Now is not the time…
Serah and Snow stared deep into each other's eyes. Serah licked her lips. Snow swallowed thickly. Cheeks flushed, they reached for one another.
"Do you mind?" Sazh glanced over the edge of the roof. "I don't know if you've noticed, but there is a horde of Infected down there trying to kill us."
Serah sighed. "I know, but it's been so long since we've… you know."
Sazh stared. "Are you serious?"
Snow grinned. "Well, we've been travelling with you and Dajh for a while now, and we never seem to find a spare room that we can use… so yeah. It's been a while since we've done it."
"What are they talking about, daddy?" Dajh tilted his head to one side and smiled cutely. "What haven't they done in a while?"
Sazh grabbed Serah and Snow. "You'd think you were a pair of horny teenagers. Now, get it together, or so help me, I'm throwing you off the roof."
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Chapter Twelve – Deadly animals
Vanille threw the door open and froze. There was a hamster sitting on the front porch. Actually, there were several dozen hamsters waiting on the front porch. They must have been waiting for her to come outside.
"Aw, aren't you guys cute?" Vanille leaned forward to pat one of the cuddly, little hamsters on the head.
"RARGH!" The hamster reared up on its hind legs and bared teeth that were far, far longer than they should be.
As the killer hamsters swarmed over her, Vanille could only think about how idiotic the whole thing was. She'd managed to survive the Infected, and now a bunch of evil hamsters were going to kill her.
And then Lightning was there. Snarling, the pink haired woman grabbed one hamster by the scruff of its neck and then punted it off into the distance. A second tried to go for her throat, but Lightning knocked it aside with a sharp left hook. The hamster bounced off a nearby tree, and the others scattered, fleeing back into the woods.
Lightning watched them go and then pulled Vanille up onto her feet.
"Hamsters? You were going to get eaten by hamsters?" Lightning sighed and wrapped her arms around Vanille. "You are so lucky you bumped into me."
Vanille smiled and leaned into Lightning's embrace. Then she copped a feel.
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Chapter Seventeen – Some people get all the girls
Snow sighed and looked into the bedroom. He didn't mind Serah occasionally sneaking off into Lightning's bed. They'd lost each other once, and he knew they couldn't bear to lose each other again. If snuggling up to Lightning once a week was something Serah needed to do to stay sane that was fine with him.
But this was too much.
Not only was Serah curled up against Lightning, but Fang and Vanille were in the bed as well. The pair had both fallen asleep with a firm hold on the older Farron: Vanille had her arms wrapped around Lightning's middle while Fang had one hand on Lightning's chest.
"It's not fair."
Sazh grinned and patted Snow on the shoulder before pulling him away. If Lightning woke up to find him looking into the bedroom, she'd kill him, which would be a real shame since Dajh had grown quite attached to him.
"It's all right, kid. Some people just get all the girls."
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Final Author's Notes
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
So there you have it. Thank you for following this story, and I hope to see you again some time. If you made it through all of my author's notes (including this chapter), then thank you some more since I do have a tendency to ramble. I think these extended author's notes set a new record for me. I can only imagine what the extended author's notes will be like for Whispers of the Gods – shudder – I'll have a lot to say about that story when the time finally comes.
Also, my second original short story "The Gunslinger and the Necromancer" is now out on Amazon – you can find a link to it in my profile. It runs to roughly 13,000 words. If you like Westerns with a paranormal twist, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. Here's the blurb (you can find a link to a longer preview in my profile):
When the Church needs someone to send the denizens of Hell back to where they belong, they go looking for Lizzy Stanton.
As gunslingers go, Lizzy's right up there with the best of them. No matter what kind of evil she's up against, she knows exactly how to handle things – put a holy bullet right between the eyes. But when she takes a job to go after a necromancer over in Pine Creek, she might just have bitten off more than she can chew.
With zombies, demons, and one tricky necromancer to worry about, Lizzy's going to have to be real quick on the trigger. In the gunfight between good and evil, she's the gunslinger who always delivers.
Alternatively, you can check out my other short story, "The Last Huntress," if you like fantasy. There's a link to it in my profile.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.