So hey readers and (hopefully :D) fans!
Normally, I'm a firm believer in only working on one story at a time, but certain elements of life *eyes laptop meaningfully* often force me to switch ideas. This particular post Final Fantasy XIII-2 fic has been in the works since mid-May, ever since I played the DLC, and since it was half started on my desktop while my laptop went out of commission for the umpteenth time this week, I decided to finish it off.
That being said, it is post XIII-2, which means that everything that's happened, I've taken into account for, including the DLC, and I pick up right after it. Of course, this is my own interpretation of events that I wish could've happened, but you know, I'm waiting for Square to give us that happy ending... eventually. I'm saying this flat out right now - this is a HopexLight fic. I'm sorry, this is gonna be - I have a weakness for those two that never seems to abate no matter how many fics I write about them and no matter how much crap I put them through. *squirms*
That also being said, I don't plan on starting into this fic until my 'current' fic, Revenant Wings, gets finished in its entirety, but since this chapter was done while I was waiting for my laptop to be repaired, I figured I might as well post it, so I do hope you enjoy (and if you like my style, then by all means check out my other stuff? :3)
Read and review please - let me know if this piques your interest enough for me to continue?
Chapter One: Transcendent Wings
The Dying World—XXX AF
A sensation she was unused to—and one she wholly didn't expect. But she was being moved; carried, in fact… somewhere. But that wasn't right; because she wasn't supposed to be aware of anything anymore… she wasn't supposed to be awake; that much, she knew. But there was no escape from the reality pressed so close down against her—she was somehow aware of what was going on and there was no changing that now.
Eyes cracking open to unnatural, harsh light, the rocking motion didn't stop. Squinting in the brightness, trying to clear her head, the relative silence that had surrounded her up until now exploded into pandemonium as soon as she twitched to one side. "She's awake!" The restrictions around her arms and torso slithering away instantly, Lightning found herself on a hard, cold surface, staring up at the white of a surgical lamp glaring down directly into her eyes. The lurching motion had stopped; whoever had been pushing her had either simply paused… or run away. She didn't think much of the latter, but the soldier senses trained into her from so long ago were sent into overdrive the moment she pulled herself into a sitting position; feeling the rough grate of silver armour against her arms and legs, the telltale click of guns trained on her forehead were nothing new to her—memories buried in the past, perhaps, but ones that were never too far away.
There was no time to be thinking about how she had ended up the way she had—why the hell was she—or her crystal—in the grips of what looked to her like a military base? Why the hell are there people… here? She wasn't supposed to be waking up at all… and this didn't look like the future that she'd been foolishly clinging onto in her dreams. Easily summoning her weapon, she knocked aside the two watchdrones that had held her captive on the gurney, ducking under the first two shots that were aimed for her head. Great.
But there were soldiers—though they looked nothing like the soldiers in her memories; clad in a drab grey that fooled no one in its simplicity, the only thing that was deadly about them were their weapons. No helmets protected their heads, and the only secondary weapon any of them possessed was a sharp knife stuck down one of their belts… nothing that would present a real threat to her.
But she wasn't up to par either—limbs that felt phantom and incomplete hampered her, as though the sensation of movement was something foreign that she'd never experienced, Lightning found that her motions weren't as fluid as she expected them to be. But last time… I didn't feel any different, so why should—
The rough slam of the barrel of a weapon into her shoulder pushed those thoughts out of mind; twisting the weapon easily in the man's grasp, her own gunblade caught his dominant arm before he could retaliate. Electricity crackled through the still, dry air; fueled by the anger and confusion she was feeling, the magic at least felt right in her left palm… even if it wasn't nearly as potent as she would've wanted it to be.
The way ahead of her was now clear—steel grey hallways lined with a mundane similarity, she had no choice but to run down it and find some way of knowing where she was and what was going on. As soon as Lightning stepped over the threshold into the next hallway, the blaring sound of the alarm grated into her ears—someone had pulled it. "Subject E57 has escaped—all units on alert. I repeat, Subject E57 has escaped. Recapture of the subject is top priority."
"Subject E57", huh? I'm not some damn lab experiment! The anger of that thought fueled her movements as Lightning pushed herself into a sprint, trying to discern where, exactly she was.
Running down the hallway, a thought crossed her mind—she stood out too much. If she wanted to avoid capture, then getting rid of the armour that she still wore would be top priority; she was painting a bullseye on her back and the only way to get rid of it would be to shed what she still wore.
Blasting aside doors with magic felt good—good in a way that she hadn't been able to release like that in a very long time. The sound of shouts in the distance was growing louder… she needed to find some sort of cover soon; while Lightning had no qualms with getting rid of the people who were after her for no apparent reason, she needed one of them to tell her what was going on.
The last door in her hallway caved under the potency of the thundaga; peering inside, she spotted the grey uniforms that the soldiers who'd been transporting her wore, stacked in neat piles underneath a cracked window that let in little light. Quickly stepping over the threshold of the doorframe, she allowed herself a small breath of relief—at least something was going right for her. But knowing my luck, I'll be running for the rest of my life.
There wasn't any time to be picky, but for some reason she couldn't grasp just yet, getting rid of the armour that she'd been given felt liberating… because the sight of it dredged up the memories she hadn't allowed herself to recall just yet. Serah. And even in this moment, in which there were so many people clearly after her and when she was so clearly in danger, it sent a stab of pain through her chest… but there was nothing she could do about it now; nothing she did now and nothing she did to change her present would bring her sister back; nothing she could hope to do would change the timeline that had been chosen the moment the doors to Valhalla had closed… the timeline that had ultimately resulted in her sister's death. It's my fault. She couldn't forget the words of the Seeress, nor could she forget the utter triumph in Caius's words… But I have to try. I promised that I would try to keep the future both of us wanted safe.
Leaving the silver on the ground, Lightning caught sight of herself in a cracked window—dressed in the military garb that she'd seen the soldiers after her wear… she looked more like herself. Raking her hands through tangled pink locks curled over her shoulder, she cast one last glance at the armour that the goddess had given her as she slipped through the door.
Without it, she looked like the person she had been before everything that she'd done had stacked up on her shoulders like some overbearing weight that might've weighed the world—it wasn't a title she thought she'd done justice and being rid of it all instilled a sense of numbed relief… for the time being. Just Lightning. Not Etro's champion. That fact made her feel slightly more reassured, but it didn't help the sound of the alarm that grew loud again as soon as she left the confines of the supply room.
Picking paths at random, with nothing familiar in sight, her footsteps were less conspicuous now that her feet were clad in military boots, familiar in the sense that they'd allow her to move much more silently than the ones they'd replaced. The weapon in her hands made her feel less disorientated as to what was going on, and more in control of what was happening… it made her feel like she had a grip on her own reality, even though she had none. Sadistically, Lightning wondered if this was part of her dreams—a cruel reality in which she had no control of, but there wasn't something like that. This was very much real… and she had to find out what had happened.
It didn't make sense. Chaos had been unleashed in the world of the living—she'd seen that future. But in that future, the hallway she was sprinting down didn't exist… because there was no time left. So what happened? What changed?
Bullets barely missed her ear as she skidded to a stop in what looked like a central conflux, the sound of her footsteps suddenly agonizingly loud as the tip of her weapon scraped against the rock surface. "So you made it here."
Her first instinct was to bolt—before all of the words that had just been said were processed again in her murky mind. "What?" The question had left her lips before Lightning could slap herself mentally for being caught off guard; something sharp had made its way into her thigh and by the time she'd recovered enough to wrench it out, the dart in her hands already felt ominously light.
Instantly dizzy, she found herself on her knees, cursing at her stupidity for being caught so easily by one single question. Footsteps approached her, but she wasn't willing to give in to the potency of the drug just yet. "Who are you?" She couldn't even get enough of a hold on her mental capabilities to summon the magic at her fingertips.
"People who want to survive." Yanked forwards by a strong hand, Lightning found herself looking down into a vast expanse of black that shimmered with water. "Don't you see? This is all the water that's left in this world to survive on. Acid's ruined the rainfall and the streams—this is your fault!" Thrown backwards, she caught herself before she landed on her elbows, staring up at the face of someone she didn't recognized, flanked by three guards.
He brought his face down to hers. "You were found on the throne of the goddess. You were the one that destroyed her, weren't you? That's why—"
Understanding cleaved through the cotton balls in her brain like a blade. "That's not—" Before the words could fully come from the back of her throat, sudden pain seized her chest. That's… not true. But I… Even now, with her mind still dulled from whatever that had been contained in the dart she'd pulled out, it sent a stab of pain through her, rooting her to the spot. Serah…
Lightning forced herself to snap out of it before that pain could consume her—it didn't matter if she felt like a wasteland inside, what mattered now was that she got things straight. "I didn't kill the goddess," she growled out between gritted teeth; finding, to her surprise, that her head was clearing.
"Don't lie!" the man snapped back at her. "You were found on the goddess's throne—"
Pushing herself into a standing position, ignoring the limbs that felt like jelly and the dizziness that still clung to the edges of her consciousness, Lightning swung her weapon at him before he could say more. "I didn't kill the goddess!" Ducking under the guns trained to her forehead, the thunder spell left her fingers before she could control it, cracking across the surface of the water beneath them.
Still lightheaded from the aftereffects of whatever they'd shot at her, Lightning stumbled into the hallway that she'd come from, more determined than ever to find a way out. Now that she knew why they were after her, she wanted to screech her indignation at their assumptions at the next wall. I spend my entire existence in Valhalla fighting against the one person who did want to destroy the goddess and now—
The sound of the alarm behind her reminded her that she couldn't waste time feeling angry over something that no longer mattered. She had no idea how long they'd had her… or her crystal; nothing she said now would be able to make them change.
But that same anger fueled her actions like they had before, so when several grunts charged at her when she rounded the corner to a new hallway, there was no hesitation. Fun. I spend my entire existence before Valhalla running and I'm doing the same thing now. She almost wanted to laugh at the irony of it all—'saving' the world only to wake up being accused of the very thing she'd sacrificed almost everything she had to protect.
Serah. The only thing she had left now was her own life… and the promise that she'd made. There would be a time to grieve properly later, and there would be a time for her to think back on the things she could've done and said while she'd had the chance, but now wasn't it. I have to get out of here.
Lightning would've preferred to snag a couple of grunts and forced her gunblade at their throats to make them show her the exit, but she had a nasty feeling things didn't work that way for her around here. From the looks I'm getting… I must be some sort of monster. Right. Still, running straight into things without thinking about the consequences wasn't her style—that was Snow's. Snow.
The thought alone was enough to send icy claws clutching at her chest, but she shoved it away angrily, refusing to give into it. Not now, not now. Gritting her teeth as though it would help her think straight, she almost missed the moment that she forced her way through a window, landing with surprising ease on the ashen sands below.
Pinpricks instantly stung at her exposed skin as she dispelled the weapon in her right hand; glancing up, the grey skies seemed no more forlorn than the marbled clouds of Valhalla… except the rain hurt. Staring at her palm for a moment, the words spoken next to the well of water came ringing back to her. "Acid's ruined the rainfall and the streams."
I get it. She could understand—now—the anger that had been behind the tone, as Lightning looked across the landscape; buildings and crumbling ruins melted into the bone-white sands of her surroundings; the stone and metal being worn down by the acidity that the rain contained. Giving her head a shake, her footsteps barely left any mark on the dead sands that held no life underneath her as she ran—she had no direction; the only thing in her mind right now was to get away… as far away from pursuit as possible so that she could think. Lightning wanted to snort at the bitter irony of the events that seemed hell-bent on stringing her along.
Running away. Again.
Shreds of turbulent chaos tugged at his sleeves as Hope struggled to keep his balance and his hold on Mog at the same time. The little moogle was silent now, limp in his arms as though it was a rag doll, fashioned in the likes of stories that had been told to kids that Hope was still sure the little creature was based off of. But what wasn't a fairytale was the explosion of darkness and shadows that came from what looked to him within Bhunivelze—what had gone wrong? Isn't the timeline supposed to be fixed?
He hadn't understood Noel's cry of anguish before the young man had collapsed to his knees… until the words had slipped from his mouth. "I… killed the goddess?" That wasn't possible—was it? But Hope no longer knew what was real and what were lies.
What he did know was that they could no longer stand here and wait for the chaos to consume them. "Let's go." His voice sounded hoarse and indistinct over the sound of the wind; barely audible, he wasn't even sure that Noel had heard.
Noel looked up from Serah's body. "Where?" he croaked; doubt and anguish consumed the voice that had been so confident before they'd leapt from the airship into the void that led to Valhalla—he looked utterly defeated, something that Hope had never seen from the young man from their future.
"I don't know. Somewhere—anywhere. Anything's better than staying here and waiting for the chaos to get us all." The word 'chaos' seemed to strike something in Noel's mind, as he slowly climbed to his feet. He took a breath in before nodding, silently beckoning Hope to take the lead.
Hope had been about to make his way back to the entrance to the interior of the airship when the moogle in his hands began to dissolve, wasting away into the blackness like the shred of chaos were doing everything else. "What the—"
"Serah!" Whipping around, he watched with faint horror as the chaos began eating away like acid at Serah's body too; Noel was clinging to her hand, as though the motion would stop the intent of the power that had been contained in Valhalla for so long, now raging unbridled through the Gran Pulse landscape.
But just like nothing could turn back the time that had already gone by, there was nothing either of them could do; nothing would change the outcome of the timeline that had been decided. Just like I couldn't do anything when Mom died… and just like how I couldn't do anything when Lightning was taken away from us.
The only other hope any of them had had left, he wasn't even sure anymore where she would be. Was she still somewhere out there, or was she… Hope refused to entertain the thought of the second. She had to be alive somewhere—the person who'd taught him how to live, what to fight for… she had to be fighting out there somewhere still. I have to believe it.
As though summoned by those thoughts alone, pressure and gravity opened up beneath the airship they were standing on; a vortex he'd seen only a handful of times. "A gate." Noel's whisper of astonishment came from somewhere to his left. "But how's that possible? I thought we fixed—"
The shriek of the wind drowned out the rest of his words as Hope fought to cling to the edge of the aircraft. Why's it here? Why— That was when the entire hovercraft lurched painfully, tipping them to one side as the drawing power of the gate began to pull back along with the rising tide of chaos. Hope could feel his fingers slipping; struggling to hold on, his hands finally slipped from the railing of the airship just as Noel let out a strangled yell.
They didn't have an artefact… but they didn't need one. The ribbons of time and space that dawned from the centre of the gate flung out on their own, drawing them forwards into the Historia Crux just as Hope caught one glance of a fortress appearing where Bhunivelze had been only heartbeats before.
The Dying World—XXX AF
The ashensands beneath her feet seemed unending. Stretched out before her in a plain stained red by the setting sun, Lightning didn't see an end to it. The crumbling buildings of the settlement she'd left behind seemed worlds apart from the vast emptiness stretched before her—even the mountains were being worn away by the acidity of the precipitation that had been falling in sporadic intervals since she'd left. The rain left angry red marks on her skin where they'd touched, and the skin on her cheeks felt tender—the droplets had been blown against her face as she'd walked.
But there's nothing out here. No sign of anyone else.
Refusing to give in to the tiredness of limbs that weren't quite as agile as she would've liked them to be, Lightning leaned her head against one of the few rocks that still stood in the area, not noticing where she was until the stone arrangement in front of her caught and held her attention. Wait a moment…
Exhaustion forgotten, she touched the stone of the oracle drive with the tips of her fingers. Isn't this… She'd seen the young seeress use this particular device in the visions provided from Valhalla. But where's she now? If it's here, she has to have lived here in this timeline, right?
"What you're seeking is not here." The soft, carefully emotionless voice came from behind her. Whipping around, Lightning stared at the hazy silhouette of the girl approaching her—much, much more than a vision created out of her memories, the steely grey of her hair had faint edges around it… but less than truly flesh. But this wasn't the Yeul she'd met in Valhalla. This is…
The girl stretched her fingers towards her as though beckoning her to take them. "You're the one the other seeress meant. You're meant to create the future we both saw. But chaos has been unleashed in this world—the timelines have become one."
"I don't—What?" Though she understood the words, she couldn't understand the meaning behind it. What's she… talking about?
"The Historia Crux is now a gateway between the combined timelines. You don't need anything to travel between them." Pitching forwards onto her knees, Lightning caught the girl before she hit the ground; fingernails gripping her arms as though she was the only thing she had left to cling to, Lightning tried to hold the girl above the ground. Soft fingers, gentle as feathers from a bird's wings, brushed her cheek—sudden pain slammed into her chest when that simple gesture brought up a memory from the depths of everything that she'd tried to stow away. "Please…" came the soft plea. "Create that future."
Lightning remained in that position, kneeling on the ground, holding the lifeless body, more unsure than ever as to what she was supposed to do now. I… But I—
"You're not supposed to be here." The low, gravelly voice was one she'd have recognized anywhere, as she stood up and turned in one movement, summoning her weapon without thinking about it. Clenching her fingers tight around her weapon, she turned to face the one person that had been her enemy—the one person that had brought about everything that'd happened. You—
But the Caius Ballad standing before her was no more the Caius Ballad she knew than the Yeul that had been here had been human. "You're not supposed to be here," he intoned quietly, raising the weapon from behind his back.
"Do I need your permission to be somewhere now?" she snapped, raising her own weapon to shoulder height.
"This world belongs to me. Yeul and I alone. Not you." Taking a step towards her, Lightning noticed with increasing dread that the heart that had beat in his chest was gone. So he's the Caius from— Wings of black spread from his back, but there was no Bahamut for him to call upon now—these wings were formed by chaos and chaos alone. Launching himself at her, she dodged his first attempt to swipe the weapon at her head; shoulder rolling to the side, Lightning was ready to meet his weapon with her own… only to find that he was stronger than her. Shit!
Being steadily pushed back by the pressure he was placing on his weapon wasn't something that sat well with her. If I'm going to win this, it won't be by brute strength. Thinking fast, she removed the pressure from her weapon, allowing him to stab forward; sword impaling into the rock just behind her, she took the opportunity presented to her to slash for his head, throwing the spell over her shoulder as she backed away.
But the spell seemed to hardly faze him—he brushed it off as though it was nothing more than a small spark that couldn't touch him. With growing dread, Lightning realized it was because he was being fueled by more than just his own strength. There's something else there, but what—
In the second that she'd taken to consider that possibility, she'd stayed still a second too long. The dull edge of Ragnarok slammed into her chest; not deep enough to cut, but strong enough to throw her against the stone of the rocks that lay just behind the oracle drive, eliciting a hoarse cry from her lips that she couldn't control.
Struggling to stand, she found him smirking at her. Waving a hand into the air, for a moment, Lightning thought that he would summon the dragon that would take his form… but that didn't happen. Instead, she could feel the power of something behind her drawing her in; flicking her gaze back to see what it was, blue eyes widened when she realized she was looking at a gate. "What the hell—"
"Get out." The two simple, short words were accented by a blow not meant to kill, but to send her straight into the waiting embrace of darkness that was offered by the gate.