Episode One: Past
Disclaimer: I do not own FXIII-2 or any of the mythology or characters existing within the Fabula Nova Crystallis universe.
Can it even be considered as such? The time when it became such no longer exists. The magnificent walkways and neon lights no longer mark it. The Academy tower, the bustling shopping district, the forgotten alleys hidden in the dark; all that remains to remember this place is the people who stand here.
New Valhalla 1ASF
After the Second Fall.
Time is a human concept. If we lose track of it, it remains lost forever. There is no longer the promise of day and night to follow. No stars to chase in their everlasting cycles. The nebulae here ripple upon the lake's mirror; fixed and unchanging. At once appearing quite beautiful now widely acknowledged as a curse. New Valhalla's tides move not by the moon nor the atmospheric pressures and storms; there is only infinity.
But the human race is not so easily destroyed. Even in a place where no time, life, nor even death exists there are factions of hope. Survivors scattered from the ages have banded together and continued. While the perpetual darkness chokes the land and the creatures of Chaos materialize without warning there are those that refuse to submit.
There are those that believe in Light.
We are those survivors.
"Here's another one."
Yellow-suited and silver-haired, the man in question turned with an audible sigh. "Please, you don't need to call me that anymore. We're all equals here."
"Excuse me..." the other man bowed shortly, in the same movement relinquishing the shoulder hold of his heavy burden. The helmet over his head hid nearly every feature and distorted his voice, but the communicator strip across his bicep labelled him as Sgt. Xyend.
"Thank you Sergeant."
"Ah, the Director can't even follow his own advice." A new voice interrupted; warm and rich but fatigued around the vowels, it could only belong to one friend.
"This one is just the same." He concluded, nodding desolately towards the Xyend's package.
"Hope," he began, dismissing the formalities, "give this up."
The frayed edges of black material covered the bundle and shadowed the rest; it was far too small. Hope didn't move to uncover it.
"I can't, Sazh."
Bhunivelze hung mysteriously in the sky. While the elevator continued to run, power shortages to the cities were commonplace. Hope's residence was like the others- new, a blank canvas; unfurnished and without warmth. There hadn't been a chance to fill it with his worldly belongings. While he spent most of his waking hours on the surface of Valhalla seeking other survivors and lost technologies this place welcomed him home with an eerie glow.
In the second bedroom the door would no longer close for vast crystalline shafts. They seemed to grow daily, like little bursts of flower petals stretching and reaching for a sun that was no longer there. Radiating an inner light that extinguished the need for lamps Vanille and Fang continued to rest here without purpose.
Hope snapped and clicked as a variety of belts and pouches were released from his waist and clattered upon the countertop. Boots followed with a grimace, calluses and blisters stinging sharply as they were removed. Time might have been destroyed but regular old wear and tear never would; his usually neat appearance was becoming shabby.
He and Sazh had parted ways after those few short words. His home was only a block away with two others. Dahj was kept under constant eye. Whether this was due to Sazh's over protectiveness or just simple experience no longer seemed to matter. Until the new world stabilized there were too many risks for a child.
The black shroud over Xyend's package flashed in his mind.
"Noel," he called to the shadows, if only hoping for a distraction.
The reply extended from the once opulent balcony, "I'm here."
Lamps were lit and the two men sat at the counter near Hope's littered satchel. Supplies were certainly scarce but these days people seemed scarcer and they allowed themselves the comfort of a small bottle of spirits. Today there were two glasses worth left. Neither moved to clink his drink, nor did they express the small disturbance that this was the end of their weekly routine. After this everything would inevitably change.
"Any more luck?" The hunter said. It was a dismal attempt at conversation but Hope couldn't fault him. The fact that he offered his voice at all was a comfort.
"None," Hope confessed. Centuries of work, countless achievements in paradoxal sciences, a lifetime and more wealth of knowledge and cooperation for the betterment of humankind, and Hope couldn't bring himself to lie even for the sake of kindness. Noel deserved the truth, and he was probably one of only few who could fully shoulder its burden.
"Hm," he considered all too lightly, boyish charm creeping between his words. "I guessed as much."
The silence dropped and they swallowed at the burning liquor in turns. Never truly enjoying the taste of straight alcohol Hope tried not to make a face.
"Serendipity," Noel interrupted his thoughts. Hope turned his gaze on him quizzically.
"I really hated the place." He laughed. "Gaudy, garish, and loud. How people continued to spend their days there without any end in sight... Well the reason escaped me."
Hope looked back at his drink; the amber liquid reflecting his slow but honest smile.
"I wasn't any good at the games. Chocobo racing in such a tiny indoor arena made me feel queasy. The attendants in cat-suits made me feel like a piece of meat."
Hope joined his shallow laughter with a small titter of his own. Noel's distant and exclusive experience with society was something that could intrigue him. His natural reaction to curiosity was to study and learn it, but even time-travel hadn't provided enough opportunity to truly understand this boy: the last of humanity.
"We were always dropping by, playing a stint or two on the slots, claiming our winnings, or meeting with the mystic there, that I never really thought that any one time would be the last...
But Serah said it reminded her of Cocoon." He breathed heavily, fingers that were continuously worrying his hair or the bunched muscles in the back of his neck lie still against his glass. "And now I wish I had paid a little more attention."
"Serah..." he whispered her name with reverence. Noel's electric blue eyes were dark behind heavy lashes.
"That seems about right," Hope interjected at length, clenching his teeth as another sip of liquor hit the back of his throat. "Sounds a lot like Nautilus." When Noel said nothing he wondered whether he should continue or not, but when he turned that electric gaze was fixed on him with fervour. Hope sputtered momentarily.
"I'd only been there once but it wasn't the type of place you could easily forget. A lot of lights, a lot of people, a rainbow of colours stretching across pillars and archways; everything was smooth marble and lit up by power currents that could lead you straight to the heart of the Fal'cie."
The memories, like little time bombs that had been waiting for this day, exploded in his mind's eye. He was 14 years old again and surrounded by artificial wonder.
"By day it was lush and green and by night the sky came alive with the hologram parade."
Despite their obvious differences in culture Noel didn't ask any further questions. The vision Hope had painted became a happy little oasis amongst the other landscapes he had known. The hologram parade, whatever that might have meant to the people of that age, became a dance of colour and light without form that swirled and bathed the city in liveliness. At the centre of it all a figure stood with hands clasped behind her back and a delicate smile certain to be playing on her lips.
"Yeah, sounds just the same." He lied, still finding Serendipity exhaustingly obnoxious. A smirk curled beyond permission. The glow from the crystal shrine in the second bedroom beat against their backs.
The silence waged war on his ears; the silence reminded him of all the times he had to carry on alone. And so, eager to carry on with this vein of conversation Hope forged ahead.
"All the times and all the places you've seen... Which was your favourite?"
It seemed an optimistic question, and with it Noel's eyebrows knit and formed a crease. So many worlds and times in some state of disarray- the paradox effect, the predetermined decline of the Pulse's vitality, enemies and forces that shouldn't have been. He searched for something that stood out, something beautiful and good. The answer supplied itself.
"Ah. I've been there." Hope replied excitedly, getting lost in his own recollection of the location. "But when?" he reminded them both.
"300AF" Noel wondered if the irony showed on his face. If there had the young director had not caught it.
Hope nodded serenely, trying to remember if it had ever been featured in the oracle drive prophecies he'd studied. It was difficult to age it beyond those faraway years when he was just a boy and companioned with the other l'cie. Even in the face of their desperate trials and unclear Focus there were gentle moments of togetherness that kept them all sane. Wandering Pulse's vast wilderness had contained many such moments. But here were the memories that both carried and bound him: of Vanille and Fang, of Sazh, of his enemy Snow turned valued friend.
At Sunleth Waterscape she had stood out starkly amongst the wildflower. Well muscled yet slender, her skin was pale in the heavy sunshine. Her strawberry hair and red cloak had whispered in the errant breeze like bright daubs of paint on a landscape that had never known the likes of such shades.
It was probably there that his younger self graduated from admiration to something more.
"Is it strange for me to ask why?"
Noel studied him then, seeming to peak out from the grips of misery that had held him since that day. Perhaps the walls he had built over seasons of isolation had simply crumbled, or perhaps it was due to the fact that Hope had been there at the very end and seen everything he wanted to hide from, but more than that he sensed that there was a shared camaraderie formed through their loss. But at the last minute his courage failed him.
"It was just so alive; a Hunter's paradise."
Hope's lips twisted and straightened again as he watched him.
"It was more than that," Noel conceded to the unspoken question. "At Sunleth… we didn't know about Etro's blessing yet. At Sunleth, Serah was alive and well and we didn't know enough to…to…" He trailed off, fists clenching and unclenching futilely. It was a short-lived happiness to fight alongside Snow but it was happiness nonetheless. It was those plains of vast greenery and blissful ignorance that haunted him in dreams. If they had only stopped there…
"Noel," Hope said simply, his voice even and firm. "You can't keep blaming yourself for what happened."
The hunter emptied his glass, ignoring him. "The only thing that seems to bloom around here is that damn crystal."
"Serah made her choice."
"But I could've stopped her!" Without restraint he stood rigidly. His dual-blades were far from his side and he was itching to carry them again. Through the unnamed streets of Bhunivelze, through the true Valhalla, straight to Lightning herself to demand to know why she'd allowed them to travel this path.
"There's still hope…" The man with the same namesake continued.
"I'd like to believe you," He threw up his arms, gesturing weakly to the unlit residence that had been built for two. "But it looks pretty hopeless don't you think?"
The glow of the sleeping Pulse l'cie danced over Noel's back giving him a hazy blue outline. Hope hesitated. In his spanning twenty five years he'd learned to live whether his purpose was in sight or not. When a task was impossible there was nothing left but faith. Without resolve the man will fall.
"It does." He agreed. "But I refuse to lie down and die without a fight. There are too many people I still want to save."
With that Noel slumped heavily back into his seat. "But how?"
Now it was Hope's turn to smile, completely devoid of irony or falseness.
"We look for Light."
In Timeless Valhalla there is a crystal throne. Atop it sits a warrior who no longer has the strength to fight. She sleeps restlessly, haunted by the rules of logic that have been erased and the faces of people she knows she should remember. Etro's hand had lead her here and here she would stay. In her body the true timeline existed still, but was sleeping all the same. She was the last, the final hope, and there was is no door to her prison that opened without sacrifice.
But in a different place, in a different throne there was another. Resting between the bosom of the two, encased in crystal blossoms that continued to grow. Etro's blessing had lifted the price of her soul but the body remained still; alive in the crystal as she had been on the last day she woke. She was guarded tirelessly, even when all hope seemed lost.
And once a soul is lost
a gate must open.
A/N: As you can probably guess by the formatting, this was originally written as a oneshot. Since there seemed to be a good setting to carry on from, and a fair amount of interest, I decided to continue writing but the formatting remains. Admittedly, it's become a little messy here and there because of that. I hope you can forgive this and enjoy the rest.
A lot of my inspiration to write for this game also came from the delightful fanfiction of wynteralchemyst and drinktea. If you haven't read them yet I sincerely urge you to do so!
Thank you for reading.