Disclaimer: All characters and settings are property of Square Enix. No copyright infringement is intended in the writing of this fiction.
I think I've spent far too many hours playing this game proportional to how long it's been out.
It is the sensation of flight that comes to her mind most often as she sits upon her crystal throne.
It flits by, bringing with it the sting of cold air and the slap of her hair against her cheek. She can feel the bunch of muscles under her thighs as the wyvern slaps its wings down upon the stream of wind that drives past.
Her sister once said that she dreamed the entire time, in her crystal sleep. That it was warm, and lonely.
In the drowsy silence, she forgets her name.
They are sharp, the claws inside her breast. They seem to rake across the inside of her ribcage, and she struggles for breath until she realizes that her frozen lungs need not heed her.
Lightning. She is Lightning. Ephemeral; a force of destruction that fades away before the eyes.
In the halls of Valhalla she sees everything.
There is someone sobbing. It's that sort of persistent, buzzsaw whine that drives spikes into her teeth.
She sees a figure laid flat upon a pile of animal skins, and though its chest moves, Lightning recognizes death when she sees it. Its fingers are twisted, and she thinks of charred claws and the bright red eye.
"But what is it?" someone is shouting.
The response is slow in coming. "It is a crystal shard," says the girl sitting by the bed. She is looking down at the dying man. "A shard from the Fall. It has lodged itself into his chest and suffocates him with his blood."
"The Fall was centuries ago!"
The sobbing increases in volume as if to compete with the anger in the speaker's voice.
The girl looks up, then. With pale hair in pale eyes, she looks directly at Lightning.
"History is broken."
She recognizes the twisted metal of the Vile Peaks quickly.
She sees a small child of indeterminate sex hopping from the mangled casing of one of the war machines. It swings its arms, humming as it picks it way up another mound of garbage.
The elbows of the child look enormous against the thinness of its arms, and Lightning sees the scrap metal slide under the child's feet before it happens. Dust and noise fills the air, and it quickly settles again.
The humming stops, and Lightning thinks she will remember the child, if only because no one else will.
The pillar picks up the colour of the sky, she thinks.
It traps the light, bouncing it from surface to surface until it glows blue against the brightness of the grass.
There is movement, then, and Lightning wishes for the rough grip of her blade in her hand when monsters swarm the ground. They are small, and excited, and they pass straight by her without noticing.
The plants at her feet bend and jostle as if blasted by a gale, and she swivels to see the dripping bulk of what could be a flan at her back, if flans blotted out the sky. It roars again, and she grits her teeth against the stench she can't smell.
She sees something white.
Then there is movement, and the enormous flan slams what passes for its hands against the ground, crushing the small beasts clamouring at its feet. The ones that survive stampede for the trees, and more than one microchu are left twitching on the ground.
"Was that Mog I saw?" Lightning says, and she stares at the flan. "What just happened?"
"This is a future that did not happen."
Lightning turns to look at the girl with the same pale hair and pale eyes.
Bleached sand stretches under her feet, blinding white under the sun.
Lightning squints her eyes, ignoring the Cie'th that shambles by. One of its legs is longer than the other, so its path curves gently as it moves.
There's something bright yellow in the corner of her eye, and Lightning sees a chocobo standing on the bright sand of the beach. It flings out a wing and sends an airborne leech flying. It does a triumphant hop afterward, and she can nearly hear the self-satisfied warks.
A small toy robot rolls up to her boots and pauses as if it can see her, and Lightning thinks her cheeks creak as she pulls her mouth into a smile.
After the silence, the screams and the drone of sirens are deafening.
There is a roar as a hovering vehicle flies by, trailing smoke as it barrels forward. It smashes through the glass façade of the building over Lightning's head with a shrieking sound, and spinning shards come plummeting down toward her.
She curses as she throws herself into a roll and propels herself to her feet into a run.
The quiet descends like a wall.
She skids for a moment when she stops, shielding her eyes from the brightness of the white pavement under her feet.
There are kids running around, she sees. One of them trips over his own feet and slams his face into the ground. She can see the jaw working, but she doesn't hear the wails.
Lightning looks around, and there is a stomach-twisting flicker. Dark melding into light.
As she watches, the skies blacken and become painted with red, and there's a man in a business suit who clutches at his throat before he sprouts rotten wings and sloughs off his skin.
The Cie'th swoops at her with a scream.
There is another flicker, and the bright silence returns.
She is almost ready for the noise when it hits again, but her stomach heaves and bile burns her throat. She slams her palms over her ears because it hurts too much to run.
Black and bright, back and forth.
She shuts her eyes and screams.
"What the fuck is this? What are you trying to show me?"
When she opens her eyes again, dull sand stretches before her, marked with decay, and rotten branches of dead trees claw up at the grey sky.
She bites back a groan, and she slowly lowers her hands from her ears.
There is a shuffle, and she turns to see the girl. Her long hair is matted with dirt and sweat, and her eyes flutter as she looks up at Lightning.
The desert is quiet, as if it sucks away all sound.
"Goddess Etro, is this the future you wished to see?"
Lightning stares at the girl for a moment. "Are you talking to me?"
"You who carries the Goddess's will, is this the future you wished to see?"
"I'm no goddess of yours," Lightning says.
"What are you, then?"
She looks down at the crease of leather between her fingers. "Damned if I know."
Lightning watches the girl pick at a scab on her arm. It looks bad, like an infection left too long before treatment. The anger swells, molten heat, and she embraces it like an old friend.
"But I know one thing." She bares her teeth at the girl. "This goddess of yours is pretty fucking stupid. From what I can tell, she's never going to wake up. All this endless self-sacrifice, and in the end, what's the point? Is she counting on a hero riding in on a white charger to save her ass at the last minute?"
The girl watches her and does not speak.
"What's all of this for, anyway? A moment of pity? You know, we may be just some idiot humans to her, but we're well capable of living and fucking up our own lives for ourselves. We didn't need her to do it for us!"
The girl smiles, her eyes falling shut. "You rode in on your steed in the Goddess's time of need," she says.
Lightning waits while a barren tree dislodge its branches, throwing up a cloud of sand and insect husks.
"Shut your trap," she says finally. "Just shut up."
There's laughter, she realizes. It's the first thing she hears. It's shrieking and shrill, the kind she remembers her sister making when she is tickled mercilessly.
There's an angry shout, and she spins around.
"Claire! Did you take my gun again?"
She looks up at her father, who uncrosses his arms to bend over and wave a finger in her face.
"How many times have I told you, you do not sneak out with my gun! I said I'd teach you to shoot on the condition that you do it under supervision!"
She bites her lip. "But you're never home." Oh god, she's whining.
Her father throws up his hands. "What am I supposed to do with your daughter?" he growls.
Her mother laughs and slides warm fingers into her hair, and Lightning closes her eyes to fight back the sting. "Go wash your hands for supper, honey."
But Lightning looks at her mother, into the glow of blue eyes darkened by dusky Phoenix-light filtering from the kitchen windows.
"You're not real," she says, quietly. "We were happy, but never like this. You were always tired. So this isn't real."
Her mother's smile didn't change. "I know, honey. It's because this is a dream. You're dreaming."
Lightning nods. "Yeah."
"But it doesn't have to be a dream, you know. You've always believed that your life is what you make it. You could make this real."
"And run away?"
"Run towards, how about?" Her mother presses a kiss to her forehead. "What, did you suddenly become a hero?"
Lightning is still laughing when she walks out the door.
Of course, she knows, it was that or—
Lightning does not breathe in her inorganic form. She does not breathe, sitting upon her crystal throne with the scent of wind in her mouth.