Good afternoon, wherever you are! This is IridiumRing92 speaking.

We're getting cloooose... So a warning to you in advance. I might not get the next chapter out in a week. It might be more. Sorry! DX

Anyway, this is, in fact, Chapter Fifteen. These confusing paradoxes are bringing out everyone's emotions...whether they make sense or not. Hope you enjoy it :3

And lastly, I don't own Square Enix or anything pertaining to Final Fantasy XIII-2. You know, if I did, I'd genetically modify myself to turn into Nobuo Uematsu or something.

Ah, speaking of that, the song "To Zanarkand" is pretty awesome. Add that to the soundtrack for when you're reading. :D

Bye for now...

Chapter Fifteen: Endless Paradox

Things aren't the way they were before

You wouldn't even recognize me anymore

Not that you knew me back then

But it all comes back to me

In the end

~In The End, Linkin Park

They'd long since finished with the temporal rifts on the outer edges of Valhalla, and Lightning and Caius were taking refuge under the roof of a forgotten structure higher up in the air. They sat close, Lightning leaning her head on Caius's chest. She'd finally given up her death-grip on control and allowed herself to be at ease around him.

"Your heartbeat," Lightning said quietly.

"What of it?" Caius answered.

"It sounds… Different." She looked up, and her eyes locked with his. "Is everything really okay?"

"I don't know."

Lightning could hear in his voice the way he hated having to say those words.

"I believe the Heart of Chaos is…fading," he muttered.

"What do you mean?" she asked carefully.

Caius said nothing for a while. Finally, looking away, he told her, "The Heart of Chaos has been faltering ever since I left Oerba."

She sat forward and twisted around to meet his eyes. "Oerba?" she asked cautiously. "Why were you in Oerba?"

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "It doesn't matter," was his answer.

"You wouldn't have gone there without a reason," she spat, glaring at him.

Caius finally looked her in the eye. "Your sister challenged me."


"She wanted a fight." His gaze drifted to the horizon.

"And you gave her one, I'm guessing?" Lightning's tone was hard, threatening anger if he dared to give the wrong answer.

He did. "Yes."

"Why would you do that?" Lightning hissed. "You know she's not strong enough to even be a match for you."

"She needed a reminder," Caius replied. "A reminder that the timeline cannot be changed and things are going to happen as they will."

"Serah knows that," Lightning shot back. "She wouldn't—"

"She saw us together in Oerba." Caius spoke quietly, but it was enough to force Lightning to pause midsentence.

She was completely speechless for a moment.

"I need a break." Lightning stood up and walked to the edge of the platform. She strode across the fractured pieces of rock and past a seared time gate, descending to the shores with quiet steps. Caius watched her slender form disappear resignedly at first, but then decided to follow.

He walked over to where she had stopped and slipped an arm around her waist. She seemed to freeze at his touch, but still he leaned down to whisper close to her ear.

"The only thing we can do is stay and fix the rifts." His voice was soft like the breeze that crept through the timeless realm. But Lightning didn't react. So he continued: "Nothing else. It is just the two of us here, in Valhalla."

Caius opened his mouth to say something else, but she spun around to face him, her eyes alight with anger. "So why would you go to Oerba to fight Serah?" she demanded. "So you could erase her from the timeline?" Her fist was clenched, as though she was ready to summon her gunblade to her hand.

"I did not seek out Serah in Oerba," he replied carefully, "she came to me."

"But—why did you—?" Lightning found herself speechless, and threw her hands into the air.

Caius then caught her by the wrists, drawing her toward him. She inhaled sharply at this but nonetheless found herself staring into his eyes.

A half smile crossed his face. "I didn't kill her, Lightning. I only…subdued her."

She sighed and looked away. But Caius kept his eyes on hers. Lightning knew what was coming, though she didn't intend to stop it. Neither of them moved for a moment—they were focused on each other despite the fact that a flash of light came from behind them. Both, of course, ignored it…

He took another step forward, leaning in toward her. Lightning closed her eyes and—

"Get away from her!" A high-pitched shriek pierced the air, and when the two of them looked up they saw a familiar figure running at Caius with a sword.

Blades clashed, sparks flew. When the sudden movements had ceased, an unlikely scene unveiled itself.

Serah and Lightning stood with swords crossed. Serah's face was full of betrayal and hurt, while in Lightning's eyes seemed to burn only anger and aggression. Caius was behind her, his own face revealing surprise. He was completely stunned. His hand rested on the hilt of his sword, never having drawn it.

Lightning put a slight bit of force into her gunblade and sent Serah sprawling on the ground. Her sister looked up at her with pleading eyes, but Lightning only set her jaw and hissed, "No, you stay away from him."

And then there was complete silence—until Lightning sheathed her gunblade and turned away from Serah.

"Lightning!" another voice called out from somewhere in the shadows. The three of them turned and watched as Noel stepped out into what seemed like an arena of emotions.

"Didn't you tell me to bring her to you?" he challenged. "And now you're shutting her out? What are you thinking?"

"Bring her to me?" Lightning answered coldly. "I never said that."

"It's the timeline," Caius broke in. "It is tearing apart, and taking our memories with it."

"Whose side are you on?" was Lightning's response.

"Look," Noel said. "We've already been through this. All we have to do is fix the rifts and make sure nothing else is destroyed. If we can do that, at least—"

"That has nothing to do with this!" Serah was struggling to her feet. She stalked toward Caius, a determined look replacing the pleading one that had masked her face before. "You should learn some respect. I already told you. Keep away from Lightning!"

And with that she swung the blade straight at him. He stood as though waiting for it, and then caught it with his gloved hand.

Somewhere in the distance, they heard an explosion. Another rift. They all ignored it, though, as they were too focused on the fight. Serah tugged her sword from his grasp. As her eyes narrowed in concentration and she brought the blade toward him once more, Caius gasped and doubled over suddenly, hands flying to his throat as if he could barely breathe. Serah's weapon cut through the air right over his head.

"Serah, this is not your battle," Lightning spat. "You two, get to the rift. I'll stay here."

"Come on," Noel answered, and he pulled Serah by the arm away from Caius and Lightning. "We'll finish this later!" he yelled back at them as he ran.

She could still hear her sister's protests as she knelt next to Caius. "What is it?" she asked. She tried to brush his hair out of his face, but he jerked back.

"It's nothing." He rose to his feet again. "Let's go."

Lightning dared not question him any further as she walked after him in the direction of the rift.

"It's… It's too much," Serah whispered, sliding to the ground in front of the rift that had opened in the sky. It had been growing bigger ever since they'd arrived, and it had expanded to the size of a storm cloud, too large for them to even try to attack it. The thing looked like a tear in Valhalla that opened to some darkness beyond.

"Why isn't this one going away?" Noel growled. "We've fixed so many rifts before…"

Serah gasped beside him, unable to answer. He turned to her and saw her eyes gleaming with an unearthly light—just as they had numerous times before, specifically the first day when they'd witnessed Snow being erased from the Sunleth Waterscape.

"Serah!" he exclaimed, rushing to her side. "What's…what's happening?"

Her eyes fluttered closed, and a tranquil expression graced her face. "Eternity," she murmured.

"What is it?" Noel asked, taking one of her hands in his. "Serah, answer me!"

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "It's over…"

"What does that mean? What are you talking about?!"

She opened her eyes and looked at him, no trace left of the expression of contentment that had been on her face a few seconds ago. "Thank you, Noel." As she spoke, a tear slid down her cheek.

"Serah, no!" he screamed. "Don't leave me…"

Lightning and Caius came running to them at that moment. "What is this?" Lightning demanded. "What have you done?"

Noel barely even heard her voice. The rift beside them exploded in light, engulfing all of them for a second. When they could see again, Serah Farron was gone.

From her throne at the center of the timeless realm, Etro saw this. She shook her head as she realized this might be the last thing she saw.

If only.

She couldn't finish that sentence, for it would go on forever. She'd changed enough. Now they would all pay the price.

I'm sorry…

With those words crossing her mind, she vanished without a trace from the horizon.