Author's note: Hello there! If you're reading this, you must have some interest in the story. This is an alternate ending of sorts; like a FFXIII-3. I altered some things from the ending, mainly that Lightning was frozen in crystal. Now she's not, and Etro is alive. The rest is pretty self-explanatory. So I'll leave you to read it. If you like it, review. And if you like my writing itself, check out my other stuff!
Chapter One: Evil Goddess
"From Valhalla, I can see everything. Time's expanse is laid before me…All of it."
Since the day that Lightning arrived in Valhalla, she was able to see everything because of Etro. She was the goddess's chosen warrior, the one who received most of her power. But she wasn't the only one to receive such great power.
"Why?" she said hoarsely, thinking of the other who was blessed—or cursed—with Etro's power.
Her sister Serah.
"You knew what happens to those who receive your eyes, goddess," Lightning said to the empty throne that she stood before in Valhalla. Normally, she would kneel and pray to the goddess, but today was different in many ways. Her tone didn't show unwavering support or humility. It showed sorrow instead, along with the rage that was buried deep beneath her grief.
Right after saving the future, Serah was killed by Etro's curse.
"How could you!" the soldier finally shrieked at the throne. Serah was dead. Serah, recruited by Lightning, fought her battle hard so that she could see a bright future. And now she couldn't. Sweet Serah…the sister she loved completely…She was wiped out from the world.
In her fury, Lightning summoned her sword to her empty hand and glared at the throne. "You killed her! You knew all along that she was going to die! What good did these powers even do her? I had everything under control here!"
'Had it all under control, did you? Then why is your sister dead?'
"That's not my fault," she said evenly to the disembodied voice. "You kept it hidden from me that she would die. You showed me a lie where she lived. And now…You've restored the timeline so that Serah dies. There's no way to save her."
Silence was Lightning's response.
"I served you faithfully. I saved you from Caius, and this is my thanks?"
'Yes. Thank you.' Lightning grunted at the sarcastic voice, eyes narrowed on the throne. She understood now what happened: Just as she was played by the Fal-Cie on Cocoon, she was played by Etro in Valhalla. She ignored the lessons that she learned on her first journey: never trust a god or goddess. 'Your service is now complete. You are free.'
"Free to do what?"
'Free to die.'
Lightning suddenly felt herself bound by some kind of magic, though no physical restraints made themselves seen. I can't move… she thought as she glared at the throne. All that she could do was remain where she was and wait for Etro to kill her. Would it be quick, or would she suffer? What was Serah's death like? Painful? Heartbroken? I'll be there to join you soon, Serah.
Etro started taking back the power that she endowed Lightning with, the golden light of power flowing out of Lightning and to a shadowed figure who was starting to appear on the throne. With this power, Etro could restore herself to a physical form once more and be the powerful goddess that she once was. In the process of restoring herself, she was depleting the life of the one that her power had rested in.
The former guardian grunted weakly, eyes shutting as she felt the power being sucked out of her. The life being removed. After a few minutes, it was done.
The curse that bound Lightning to stand still vanished. The soldier crumpled to the ground in a heap as her armor faded to reveal the outfit that she had worn when fighting in the Corps. Not that it really mattered, because she wouldn't be fighting again anytime soon.
She was dead.
I…hear waves. The thought crossed her mind after a long period of time seemed to pass. The fact that she was even thinking, and recognizing the sound of ocean waves, was a comfort. Perhaps she wasn't dead after all. But then again, what did death feel like? Was there a Heaven and Hell? Or was it all just sweet dreams in the place that you loved the most?
Wherever she was, it wasn't the place that she held dearest to her heart. This was not Bodhum, despite the rolling of the waves sounding nearby. She could tell by the cold, hard ground that she was lying face down on. If she was going to see the truth about what was going on, she needed to find the strength to get up.
Slowly, she set her hands on the ground and started to push herself up. Her strength was much less than what she would have liked it to have been. Even getting back onto her knees was hard, both because of weakness and pain. Her eyes flickered over the area, darkening when she realized where she was.
She was no longer in Valhalla, but the Void Beyond.
And she was not alone.
Her head turned sharply to the left, seeing a man sitting on a piece of rubble. "Caius," she said dryly, seeing his gaze on her. A humorless laugh left her lips. "Great. Now I know I'm dead." Caius was killed by Noel and Serah; if he was in this place, then it was because he was dead, and she was here for the same reason.
"In one sense of the word, you are," Caius Ballad agreed without moving. "In another, you are not. Just as I am not."
Caius isn't dead? That caught Lightning's attention. "Explain," she ordered. Much to her surprise, he obeyed.
"You and I are the same in many ways," he replied. "We were both Guardians, entrusted with so much power that we were almost deity ourselves. That power was stripped of us, but only partially. A bit of the goddess's power lingers in you just as I retained some of my powers of Chaos."
"So, we're still alive," Lightning figured, glancing down at her knees. Was that good or bad?
"Alive, and trapped in the Void," Caius said. "The timeline has been mended by the goddess so the gates are gone. Things are as they were meant to be."
What does that even mean? I was meant to be with my family right now. But I'm not. And Serah is supposed to be alive. "No," she disagreed lowly. "Things aren't what they're supposed to be. It wasn't supposed to turn out like this…"
"You're referring to the reason that you are here?"
Lightning nodded faintly without looking up. "Serah had Etro's eyes."
"I'm aware," he intervened.
"As soon as the future was set right, she had one last vision. It killed her."
Caius was silent.
"Serah didn't need to be cursed with Etro's eyes," Lightning said, voice weak as the sorrow and grief started to set in once again. "From Valhalla, I could direct her. There was no reason for her to have that curse…"
"Etro betrayed you by giving that power to your sister."
Again, she nodded. "And then she took back her power from me and began to restore herself. She meant for me to die completely…Her pawns did what they were meant to do—Getting rid of you." Caius had been a threat to Etro, so Etro recruited Lightning to defeat the threat. And Lightning was foolish enough to drag Serah into the conflict. My fault…It's my fault that Serah's dead. But Etro is the one that killed her. "She'll pay. I'll kill her even if it won't bring Serah back."
"You are aware of what happens when Etro dies?"
"Yes. And I don't care anymore." Finally, she looked over at Caius again. "The Fal'Cie on Cocoon wanted the world destroyed so the Maker would be called again. Even if they accomplished their goal in a way when Cocoon fell, life continued on without their rule. Etro must be stopped. Only then can humanity truly be free."
"If they are still alive."
Lightning felt disgusted with Caius's retorts. "Shut up, Caius," she said lowly. "You're the one who wanted Etro to die in the first place. Now it seems like you're trying to talk me out of it."
"I'm not," he said without flinching. "Just making sure that this is not a whimsical decision and you'll actually follow through."
"No need to worry about that." She made her decision. Etro would pay for damning Serah and for betraying her. She would pay for it all.
Cautiously, Lightning started to push herself up off her knees. Again her strength wavered. She stood on her own two feet but set a hand on a pillar beside her to keep her balance. First, she needed to find a way out of this place. Even if she felt the weight of the gunblade hanging from her bag, she knew it wouldn't be of much use to her. One reason was that she was still too weak to use it. Another was that force wouldn't help her escape here.
"I have already searched for an exit," Caius said. "There is no escape."
"So you're just going to stay here and do nothing?" She had thought better of Caius than that.
"Isn't that what your grief is telling you to do?" he questioned in return.
Lightning, instead of answering, walked away to try and find an exit. His question answered hers, yet presented another issue. Her grief was telling her to just lay down here and die. She spent her whole life fighting but now it was over. Her grief told her that she didn't have the strength to fight any longer.
Yet she would continue to fight. That was all that she knew how to do.
But what future was there to fight for? Everything was as it was meant to be with the timeline. No matter what she did, Serah wouldn't return. All of her friends should have been alive, though depressed by Serah's death. They were strong; they could continue on with their lives without her help. What point was there in her trying to get back to the real world?
Only one reason in her mind: Revenge.
That was reason enough for her to search the entire area. Unfortunately, her search came up empty. Her feet dragged along the ground as she returned back to the area where Caius was still sitting on a fallen pillar. He didn't bother asking if her search had turned up any results. If it had, she wouldn't have returned.
The soldier sat down on another fallen pillar, across from Caius, who spoke next. "There was a legend in the End of Time," he said randomly. "That if one's desire is strong enough, a portal will appear to take that person closer to their desire."
"Well apparently my desire isn't good enough," Lightning said dryly. "I'm still here."
"I have faced the same dilemma."
"What's your desire, Caius?" she asked boldly.
"The same as yours, now," he responded. "I want to kill the goddess who prevented me from saving Yeul."
Lightning hummed her response. She should have known that it was something like that. Everything Caius did was for Yeul, after all. And now that she was beyond saving, he would take out his grief on Etro.
The two of them were alike in more ways than they could see.
"Get over your grief and stop letting it bind your heart," Lightning said strictly to him. "Only then can your heart be strong enough to create a portal."
"You're one to talk," he retorted.
"You're the one who has the audacity to order me around."
"I order everyone around. You're no god, so I can order you around all day if I want to."
Caius's eyes narrowed at the mention of the gods. She struck a nerve.
"And you're no goddess," he said coldly. "So forgive me if I refuse to let you order me around."
This petty argument was not something that two hardened warriors should have been having. They should have been able to find it within them to cooperate towards their common goal, which was to escape from this place. But the only thing they hated more than their predicament was each other.
"You know what my greatest desire is, Ballad," Lightning fumed. "It's to get as far away from you as possible."
That did the trick. To her right, a bright orange light surrounded by dark teems appeared. A Spacetime Anomaly. Not exactly a gate that would take her anywhere she pleased, but it was a heck of a lot better than staying here with the man who mercilessly hunted Serah and Noel for his own goal.
"Well, that's convenient," Caius said as he rose to his feet.
"Hold on there," Lightning said quickly, getting to her feet as well. She glared at Caius, seeing him also glare back into her eyes. "I was the one who was able to summon this. I'm going through it."
"So am I. You expect me to wait here for my death, Lightning?"
"I expect you to let your grief swallow you like you expected my grief to do to me," she said lowly.
Still, her words hardly seemed to have an impact on him. "Sorry to disappoint you, then," he said as he started towards the portal.
Seeing that she had no choice but to allow him to continue, she reached her own decision: they would just have to share the portal. She walked forward a few quick steps so that she was right beside her fated rival. Refusing to gaze over at him, she walked through the portal with him and vanished into the Historia Crux.
The Historia Crux remained the same as the last time Lightning floated along in its depths. The circles of time surrounded her as weightlessness carried her down the time stream. Her, and Caius, who was along for the ride. Neither of them spoke to each other as they looked for any remaining gate that would take them to reality.
It seemed to take a while, but there was finally something coming up ahead of them and to their right. Caius saw it first and shifted his course towards it. Lightning tisked in disgust but did the same. Wherever they landed, she would be able to ditch him there. Ditch him? What am I thinking? She thought to herself. Caius needs to die. He's still a threat.
Not saying anything aloud, the two of them floated through the pass and entered the new world. She expected to be floating just a foot off the ground, but she wasn't.
She was hundreds of feet in the air, falling towards the city of Academia in the year 500 AF.
A grunt left her lips as she freefell, her worries about Caius leaving her mind as she was more concerned with herself.
"Odin!" she automatically called, hand reaching for the Eidolon that always appeared at her beckoning.
Today, Odin decided not to come. He was a servant of the goddess, not Lightning. Swearing under her breath, she knew she had to depend on herself from now on. She shifted her body so she could land easier, aiming towards a closer roof. Roughly, she rolled forward off the edge of that building towards a lower courtyard. She rolled forward once on that level as well and then managed to stop herself, glad that she had proper training on how to handle far jumps and their landings.
Unfortunately, Caius must have had similar training, because he managed to land unscathed a few yards away from her. Her attention couldn't be focused on him, however. This was not the 500 AF that she had seen from Valhalla.
They sky was dark as wind swept through the area, shifting her pink hair in and out of her eyes. She had been wrong in what she thought before: all was not right in the world.
"Valhalla's Chaos has been released," she gasped, slowly rising to her feet. When did this happen? How did it happen? This was only meant to occur when Etro perished!
Caius's silence triggered Lightning's next response. "You did this!" she cried. Caius destroyed her home world, somehow. Her blade was out of her bag within seconds to attack. She closed the distance between her and Caius quickly, but he was ready with his own large blade.
"Yes, I did have a hand in this," Caius growled as he shoved Lightning away. Still she returned to swing at him again, and again. The grief of losing her sister along with her world was proving to be too much for her; she was swinging almost aimlessly. Or maybe it wasn't all grief; she also was still weak from the goddess taking her power back.
"Couldn't die without damning the whole world along with you, could you?" she spat in fury, ducking as Caius's blade swung over her head. He backed away before her sword could pierce his belly.
"Who knew you understood my intentions so well?" he mocked sarcastically.
"Caius!" she roared. She bent down lower to the ground and swung her blade at his chest. He caught the tip in his fist, just as he had in Valhalla. Only this time, she couldn't tug it out of his firm grasp. He tugged at the blade and pulled her closer as he swung his mighty blade at her and forced her to lose her grip on the gunblade in the process.
A cry of pain left Lightning's lips when she was whacked to the side, rolling to a stop on her non-wounded side a few feet away. "It seems as if I have retained more power than you have, Lightning," Caius said as he tossed Lightning's blade into the air. It stabbed the ground beside him as he approached her. "You've lost again. This time, your life will be mine!"
He swung to kill her as she lifted her arm weakly in protest. Even in grief and despair, she didn't accept that she had to face death.
For the second time that day, death was avoided. Bullets rained in from behind Lightning, knocking Caius back away from the wounded Lightning. He stumbled a few steps back as his sword was directly in front of him to block the spraying of bullets. But he couldn't block the man who ran past Lightning and punched him square in the face.
That figure was one that Lightning recognized immediately. Snow.
"Can't have you dying on us now, kid," Sazh said as he stepped over to be on Lightning's left side. His guns remained pointed at Caius, though Snow seemed to have the situation under control by himself.
Hope came up on the other side of Lightning, bending down as he gently grasped her arm and wrapped it around his shoulders. "You alright?" he asked as he gently helped her to her feet.
"Alive," she said simply, looking up at Hope as she allowed herself to lean into him. This was her first time meeting the twenty-four year old in person. He grew up well since the time that she vanished. He was taller than she was and more matured. Surely a hit with the girls, not that she had time to focus on that right now.
"And so is he," a new voice said. Noel ran up to the scene, stopping between Lightning and Sazh as he glared at Caius. "What's he doing here?"
Lightning shrugged. "We were both in the Void Beyond. An exit appeared and both of us took it."
In front of the four of them, Snow stood before a kneeling Caius with his fists tight. The fight was clearly over, not that there had been much of a fight in the first place. "Enough," Caius growled lowly. "Or do you want to kill me now without answers?"
"Snow," Noel said to Serah's former fiancé. "Let him live."
Snow, though he obviously didn't want to back away, did as Noel said as the latter approached his fallen friend. "What is it, Caius? What're you still doing here?"
"I was nearly a god. A part of that power dwelled within me and kept me alive after our fight. That is the same reason Lightning is alive."
All eyes turned to the soldier.
"I'm confused," Sazh said sheepishly.
"I remained in Valhalla after everything," Lightning started lowly. "As soon as I found out Serah-" She didn't finish the sentence; that would be admitting that Serah was dead. "As soon as I saw the future wasn't what it was meant to be, I confronted Etro. She restored herself to power and took back the power that was within me. I only survived because a bit of that power lingered."
"Etro's not dead?" Noel asked in shock. "But…her heart was inside Caius. My blade stabbed it. And the world was supposed to turn out like this when she died."
"That is what the legends say."
Everyone turned to look at Caius again, the man slowly rising to his feet as his weapon remained stabbed into the ground before him. "The legends say that once the goddess is killed, the chaos of Valhalla will spread to this world. But those legends were fabricated by Etro to preserve her life—so she would have fools like you protecting her without knowing the truth."
"What truth?" Snow spat in anger.
"The truth is that the goddess is not who she appeared to be. Not even I know the full truth of it. But know this: the moment Etro rose to power again was the moment that this realm started being flooded with Chaos."
"But it's not a complete transformation," Hope observed. "Time still exists."
"Yes," Caius agreed simply. "The way that time will truly be destroyed is when there are so many deaths that the souls pass through Etro's gate. That is when the rest of the Chaos will be flooding into this world. Etro has used one path she knows of to get the Chaos here already, but the mass deaths is the only way that she can truly conquer this realm."
"She'll probably try to sink the new Cocoon," Sazh realized. "We need to protect it somehow!"
"And we need to defeat Etro in Valhalla," Lightning said lowly.
"But, sis, the gates are all gone…"
Snow's nickname made Lightning sad, because it reminded her of Serah. "I don't care. I'll find a way to get to Valhalla and end her."
"How'd you manage to get here?" Hope asked.
"Caius filled me in on a legend. If your heart's desire is strong enough, it can create a portal to help you get closer to your goal."
"That makes sense," said Noel. "That's how I got to Valhalla in the first place."
"Alright," Snow said, sounding optimistic for the first time since Lightning's arrival. "Who's going to fight in Valhalla and who's staying here?"
"You of all people should understand that is a worthless question," Caius inserted calmly, voice low as ever. That remark made him receive multiple glares, including that of Lightning. What hadn't he told them? "Only certain people can use gates and rifts: those who are blessed by the goddess. Or were in the past. There are two of us here who were blessed by Etro." His eyes landed on Lightning. Recognition set in quickly for her, but it was Noel who verbalized it first.
"So only Lightning can fight Etro? No way!"
"Lightning and myself," Caius said. "The rest of you are trapped in this era."
"As if I'd let you tag along," Lightning spat viciously.
"You have little choice in the matter. You'll need a blade by your side."
"Why are you doing this, Caius?" asked Noel. "What is it you really want?"
That was a very valid question, one that Lightning had been wondering about for a long time. Caius was giving up his information willingly. Was he lying about it? Was there something that he still had to gain from all of this? If he did, then he definitely couldn't be travelling along with Lightning. It would be far too dangerous.
Then Caius began to tell his tale of woe.