Pieces On The Board

Fang arrived in Hell with a plan. It was hastily thrown together, but it did have at least one redeeming feature – it ended with Ultimecia and Seifer torn limb from limb. The only question now was whether she could pull it off.

"Vanille, go to your lab. If anyone questions you, say that you need to analyse the data from our mission."

The red head winced. "Fang, what are you going to do?"

"The High Mother will want to know what happened. It will be safer for both of us if you aren't there."

The ruler of Hell did not think highly of failure, and although their mission wasn't a complete failure, it could hardly be called a glowing success. Then there was Ultimecia. Fang couldn't sense her presence in Hell, but the other demon was very good at hiding herself. She also had quite a few followers. The safest place for Vanille was in her lab with all of her creations and equipment. Even a demon of Fang's power would be hard-pressed to fight Vanille there.

"Are you sure?" Vanille tugged at the tattered remains of Fang's sari. "I can go with you."

"I'm sure. But turn on all of your security and call Bahamut as well." Fang doubted there was any demon in Hell save the High Mother who could get past Bahamut and all the weaponry in Vanille's lab.

"All right, but be careful." Vanille vanished into the distance, headed straight for the safety of her lab.

With Vanille out of harm's way – at least for the time being – Fang flew straight to the massive palace complex that stood at the very centre of Hell. It was one of the most beautiful yet terrible things in Creation, a twisted reflection of Heaven's glory. Heaven was wrought of graceful spires and arches, a delicate latticework of white, silver and gold that embodied the light of the High Father. Hell was all rough edges and harsh lines, a monument to the High Mother's fury, a place of black stone and burning rock. There was no room for softness in Hell, no room for weakness.

Fang landed in one of the larger courtyards, her approach marked by a handful of dragons. Not one of them approach Bahamut's size, but even the smallest of them measured a good two hundred feet long. They watched her with eyes the pale orange of cooling lava, and her senses tingled from all the other eyes upon her.

It wasn't often that one of the High Mother's most favoured demons arrived in such a state. Serah had done well to heal the damage to her soul, but much of the damage to her body still lingered. She was sore all over, and her clothes were in tatters. The coppery scent of blood clung to her like a funeral shroud.

Demons were always looking for weakness, and there were those watching her now who were sure they had found it. She strode into the palace and waited for the boldest of them to emerge from the shadows that clung to every wall and corner. He had the shape of a man, but that was all. His hands were claws, and the teeth he bared were far too long to be human. With a snarl, he lunged, ready to tear out her heart. He never got that far. She caught his claws in one hand and snapped both of his wrists. Before he could scream, she used her other hand to rip his head off his shoulders.

It was savage and brutal, and it left no doubt as to whether or not she could defend herself. She flung the remains into the shadows around her, and her lips curled into a feral smile as she sensed the other demons scurry away. They fancied themselves predators. Fools. Even if she was injured, they were nothing more than prey.

She walked unchallenged to the vast black doors of the High Mother's throne room. An age ago, she'd asked the High Mother what they were made of, and the older demon had laughed as she replied. The doors were a trophy, forged out of the blackened bones of a thousand slaughtered gods and goddesses, all of them slain by the High Mother herself.

Fang could scarcely imagine the kind of power that would take. No wonder the High Father had eventually sought peace. Even if he could defeat the High Mother, there wouldn't be anything left to rule afterwards.

As she reached for the doors, several lean shapes pushed away from the walls on either side of her. Fang's eyes narrowed – the High Mother's personal guard. All of them wore black masks and obsidian armour, and all of them were handpicked by the ruler of Hell. They were raised with the sole purpose of living and dying for the High Mother. Nothing else mattered. Fang wasn't sure if she hated or pitied them more.

Half a dozen swords made of the seething darkness that lay inside the High Mother came to rest at Fang's throat.

"The High Mother awaits you, Fang." They spoke as one with no trace of emotion. Puppets all of them, and the High Mother loved to make them dance. The swords pulled away. "Enter."

The doors opened just far enough for Fang to enter. The High Mother was not alone in her throne room. All of Hell's court was there: scores of high ranking demons and their consorts, followers and allies. The High Mother enjoyed intrigue as much as brute force, and the machinations of the court served to amuse her in between the great wars against Heaven. Fang had little time for such things. Battle was her forte, and whatever plotting she did was out of necessity more than any real enjoyment. Vanille, however, had something of a knack for intrigue, provided she could be pulled away from her experiments.

When the High Mother's gaze fell on Fang, a small smile crossed her lips. The most powerful demon in all of Creation raised one hand. There was silence. She savoured it for a moment, and then she spoke a single word.

"Out."

It was a testament to the High Mother's power that not one of the demons raised a word of complaint or protest. Demons were, by nature, wilful and ill suited to taking orders, but they would bend their knees to power, and the High Mother had more of that than any of them. They filed out swiftly, and the doors swung shut behind them.

Fang stayed where she was and reached out with her senses. They were alone. Not even the High Mother's personal guard remained. For a moment, neither she nor the High Mother spoke. They merely gazed at one another. In the end, it was Fang who looked away first. The High Mother was the most beautiful woman in Creation, but the most terrifying as well. To look at her was to see all of the chaos in existence made flesh. Yet there could be no mistaking her resemblance to Lightning either.

But it was not the High Mother's face that worried her. It was the look in her eyes – that amused, mocking look. The High Mother knew something. The only question was how much.

"Tell me, Fang." The words dripped from the High Mother's lips like poisoned honey. "How was your mission?"

Fang shuddered. The High Mother had loosened her hold on her power, and it filled the whole chamber. It was almost enough to drive Fang to her knees, yet another unsubtle reminder of who was in charge. Whatever plans Fang had, were tossed aside. To trifle with the High Mother now meant death.

"Ultimecia ambushed me and Vanille." Fang had to force the words out. "I was almost killed, and Vanille was lucky to escape without serious injury." She snarled and fought against the High Mother's power. She might as well have tried to conquer Heaven. "But you knew that, didn't you?"

The High Mother's laughter rang out. "Of course, Fang. My eyes may not see into Heaven, but they see everywhere else."

"Why didn't you stop Ultimecia?"

"Stop her?" The High Mother cupped her chin in one hand. "Why would I? I have no need for weak followers. If you had fallen, I would have promoted Ultimecia in your place. She lacks your aptitude for battle, but she makes up for it cunning and subterfuge."

"And Vanille?"

"I would not have allowed her to come to any real harm. She has certain talents that I require." The High Mother strode forward, closing the gap between them. "But I knew you wouldn't die, Fang. My daughter wouldn't let you."

Fang fought to keep calm. The High Mother knew everything. "You knew Lightning would be there. That's why you let Ultimecia attack. You wanted Lightning to lose control."

"And that, Fang, is why you are the commander of my Hell Knights. You catch on quite quickly."

Despite her resolve, Fang took one step back and then another. How could the High Mother know everything? She and Lightning had been so careful. They'd met on different worlds, and other than them only Vanille knew a thing, and Vanille would never betray them. Did the High Mother intend to strike her down? Was that why she'd revealed her knowledge? Fang's mind spun. There was no way she could beat the High Mother in a fight. She needed to offer the other demon something in exchange, something valuable enough –

"Do not look so worried, Fang. I am not angry with you. In fact, I am rather pleased." The High Mother vanished in a blur of movement, and Fang was suddenly pinned against the wall. Almost gently, the older demon cupped Fang's cheek in one hand. "Still, I am rather curious."

"About what?" Fang couldn't move. She could barely even think. The High Mother's power permeated every fibre of her being.

The High Mother's features shifted until it was Lightning looking back at Fang. "Did you enjoy it when my daughter put her hands on you?" It was Lightning's voice coming from the High Mother's throat. But the words carried none of Lightning's usual passion. Instead, there was only a dark amusement. "Did you like it when she kissed you? Did you beg her to take you?" Lightning's lips – no, the High Mother's – traced a line down Fang's jaw. "How about when you took her? Did she cry out your name? Did she praise you to Heaven and Hell?"

Fang jerked away from the High Mother as the other demon's features shifted back to her own. "How long have you known?"

"Since the beginning." The High Mother waggled one finger in the air. "In all of Creation, Fang, there are only a few things that I truly treasure. Power. Control. My daughter. I know her and her soul better than anyone – better than the High Father, that pompous fool." She snarled the words. "Even now, I can feel her soul as though she were right beside me. I felt the change in it when you two found one another again. I sensed the darkening in it."

A shiver ran down Fang's spine. "What?"

"You are a demon. You corrupt everything you touch. It is in your nature. It just so happens that what you have been touching is my daughter. Quite a lot, actually." The High Mother was on her throne again, legs crossed. "And that is what interested me. For so long, my daughter has been in Heaven, and her soul has only grown brighter. But you – you have given life to the darkness inside her. It grows, Fang, and it is all because of you. How wonderful."

Fang backed away. This couldn't be real. She'd never considered the effect she might have on Lightning's soul. The goddess had always seemed fine when they were together, and she'd never sensed anything amiss. But the High Mother wouldn't joke about this – Lightning was precious to her. "What are you going to do to me?"

"Absolutely nothing." The High Mother smiled kindly, but Fang knew better. The High Mother's kindness was seldom given to anyone except her daughter. "Every time you touch my daughter, every time your soul joins hers, you darken her a little more. You stain that damnably pure soul the High Father has worked so hard to give her. She is my daughter, Fang – mine not his – and you will be the one to make her what she used to be. Hell has been missing its princess for far too long."

"And if I don't want to?" The words came before Fang could stop them. Lightning had made her choice. Fang might not like it, but she respected it. She had to.

"Do you think I would have told you if what you wanted made any difference? Do not be so naïve – it does not suit you. The gods do not know grief and sorrow and longing the way we do. Demons feel more keenly that the gods ever could. Those fools in Heaven are content to dream of how things should be. In Hell, we concern ourselves with how things are. If you choose to leave her, Fang, if you choose to deny her, what do you think will happen? The pain she already feels from having to part with you will only grow. It will fester inside her until one day, she will no longer be able to control it."

The High Mother laughed. "Lightning was content once but not anymore. You are perhaps the one thing in Creation that she truly wants that she can never have, not as a goddess. And that is what will make her a demon again. That desire will give me back my daughter."

It was only centuries of control that kept Fang from falling to her knees. The High Mother was going to use her, and not just as a weapon against Heaven. She was going to use her against Lightning.

"You look angry, Fang. You look disgusted. But is it such a terrible thing to want my daughter back?" The High Mother leaned back on her throne. "Would it be so bad to have her here? Think of it, Fang. With her at my side, I could tip the Balance. We could rule Creation as mother and daughter. She would be second only to me in power and prestige. She could go anywhere, be with anyone she wanted. Do you not you like that? You could walk with her in the sun; wake up with her in your arms. There would be no hiding anymore. She would be yours and you would be hers. Tell me that you do not want that. Tell me if you can."

The words wouldn't come. Every single thing the High Mother had said was true. And for a moment, the images were so vivid in Fang's mind that she couldn't bring herself to blink them away. She could be with Lightning again, and no one would be able to keep them apart. They could be happy –

"Serah," Fang murmured. "She would never leave her behind."

"Ah yes, that little goddess. I must admit I underestimated her. She did some good work healing you. I had not thought you would get that badly wounded before Lightning intervened. You were careless, Fang, although it worked out in my favour in the end." The High Mother waved one hand. "I am not stupid, Fang. The gods are necessary. I intend to rule Creation, not burn it to the ground. True, I will have to kill most of them off, but I will spare enough of them to keep things going. I do not mind sparing that particular goddess if my daughter is so attached to her." She chuckled. "I find her silence intriguing. She vowed not to say a thing about Lightning's little… indiscretions with you. How very sneaky, almost like a demon."

Something that was almost admiration rippled through Fang. Many demons thought the High Mother ruled solely because of her power, but that wasn't true at all. Creation was a game to the High Mother, and they were all pieces to be moved as she saw fit. And none of them would even have known unless she said something.

"What of Ultimecia then?" Fang asked.

"I suppose I must accept some responsibility. I may have been the one to put the idea into her head. Still, she served her purpose. If you find her, you are quite welcome to kill her. If she is wise, she will bring you something to make sparing her life worth your while."

"And if she plots against you? You have to know she wants your throne."

"Then she is not nearly as clever as I thought." The High Mother rolled her eyes. "I am not the most powerful demon because I rule Hell. I rule Hell because I am the most powerful demon. Ultimecia may plot all she wants, but I will crush her the moment she dares oppose me." She leaned forward. "So, Fang. What will it be? Will you keep seeing my daughter? Will you tell her about this conversation of ours?"

Fang clenched her fists. She didn't know what to do and the High Mother knew it. Even if she told Lightning, it wouldn't change a thing. The goddess would never stop wanting her, just like she would never stop wanting the goddess. With a growl, Fang shoved the doors open. The High Mother's laughter followed her all the way out of the palace.

Inside the throne room, the High Mother glanced at the empty throne beside hers. Soon, Lightning would be back where she belonged. Foolish little demon, Fang had never realised how keen the High Mother's senses were. Fang could wash and cleanse herself all she wanted, but Lightning had marked Fang as hers, and the High Mother could never miss such a thing.

And Fang's mission hadn't been solely for Lightning's sake. Vanille would undoubtedly work out how the machine operated, and that could prove to be very useful in the next war. But wasn't it amusing how Fang had missed quite an important little detail. How had the High Mother known her daughter would be on that world? She might not be able to see into Heaven, but she had eyes and ears everywhere. Not even Heaven was free of corruption.

Now it was up to the High Father to make the next move.

X X X

Lightning's return did not go nearly as well as she had hoped. The moment she stepped through her portal, she was confronted by a fully armed squad of her Valkyries. Twenty goddesses stared back at her, their weapons trained on her heart and head. To their credit, not a single one of them wavered. Her lips curled. She'd trained them well.

Leading the Valkyries was Yuna. She wore a mournful expression, but her staff was levelled at Lightning's heart, its entire length wreathed in a maelstrom of divine energy.

"Do not move."

"Do you understand what you're doing, Yuna?" A minute shift of her weight was enough to make almost all of them twitch. They knew exactly how dangerous Lightning was. If they fired on her, and they missed, they were all dead.

"The High Father commands your presence, Lightning." Yuna's eyes softened. "Please don't make me fight you."

A faint smile crossed Lightning's lips. Yuna was one of her finest students. The other goddess had once served only as a healer, but years of battle had forced her to seek Lightning out. By the time Lightning was done with her, Yuna had become one of the most powerful Valkyries. But she still wouldn't last ten minutes against Lightning in a real fight.

"Very well," Lightning said at last. "Lead the way."

As the Valkyries escorted her, Lightning glanced back at her wings. At least they had resumed their normal colour. Some of the younger Valkyries would have fired at her on sight if they'd seen her other wings, the ones she'd gotten from her mother. The seal was back in place as well, but it felt different now – weaker. Unbidden, a thought entered her mind: how many of the Valkyries around her would last more than a few seconds if she decided to fight? She fought the sentiment back along with the image it conjured: Heaven in ruins, Yuna's wings torn off, blood everywhere. She grit her teeth. Only a little while longer, then the High Father would restore the seal to its full power.

They flew to the High Father's sanctum, a titanic spire that stood at the very heart of Heaven. The High Father seldom appeared in person. Instead, he was content to appear in the form of a blinding pillar of light that illuminated all of Heaven. Perhaps it was arrogance, or perhaps he found it difficult to collapse all of his incredible power into a simple physical shell.

The Valkyries led her through the winding corridors of the spire to the grand chamber that lay at the very top of the tower. It was the meeting place of the gods, a circular hall so vast that it could seat every god and goddess in Heaven. At its centre shone the pillar of light that was the High Father.

"Lightning." The High Father's voice came from every direction, and his power brushed against her, a rising tide against some distant shore.

"Father." Lightning did not bow. Instead, she looked directly into the light. Inside her, the seal twitched, and another stray thought tumbled through her mind: the hall in ruins, the light extinguished, her black wings unfurling amidst the pristine glory of Heaven. "You sent for me?"

"Leave us." The words were aimed at the Valkyries.

"High Father…" Yuna stepped forward. "Are you sure?"

"If you truly believe that Lightning is strong enough to harm me, then what chance do any of you have of stopping her?" The High Father sounded almost amused. "She is my daughter. Leave her with me."

The Valkyries filed out in silence, and Lightning was left alone with the High Father. Perhaps now he would take on a physical form.

He did not.

Instead, the light at the centre of the hall continued to shine as brightly as ever. But she could not shake the feeling that the High Father was studying her.

"You broke the seal on your demonic power, and Serah arrived back in Heaven with quite a story." A pause. "You were attacked on your mission by two powerful demons and left with no choice but to break the seal. Is that not so?"

"Yes." Lightning was grateful now for her demonic heritage. She could lie to the High Father without a trace of guilt. It was for Fang, always for Fang. "However, I was wounded. I had to call for her assistance."

"I see." The light pulsed in time to the beating of her heart. "I wonder what demons could be strong enough to wound you so badly that you would call for your sister. I know of your pride, Lighting. You would not have asked for Serah's help lightly."

Lightning stiffened. "I would rather Serah's aid than any other's." That much was true. The healers amongst the gods were on strict orders to leave Lightning alone unless her injuries were life threatening. Serah was to see to her whenever possible.

"That is true." The light spread, enveloped her. "I felt your power from here, daughter. You have grown much stronger."

He was talking about the demonic side of her. "Yes."

"Show me."

"Here?" Lightning's eyes widened. "In Heaven?"

"Yes." The High Father's light flared. "The seal upon you is no longer strong enough. A new seal will be required, so I must know what you are now capable of. The only other way would be to… examine your soul."

A shudder ran through her. The High Father could delve into her soul for all the secrets of who and what she was. But even his skill and power could not make the experience a pleasant one. The divine side of her would welcome his touch, but the demonic side would fight it tooth and nail. "Very well."

Lightning reached for her demonic power. Nothing. The seal held.

"Dark thoughts call up your demonic power. Think of what happened to you earlier. Call up those emotions. Then the power will come."

Eyes closed, Lightning's mind drifted. Fang wounded. Fang dying. Fang…

The seal snapped open. Her armour darkened until it was pitch black, and her wings turned into great ribbons of molten shadow. They spanned the hall, and wherever the High Father's light touched them, they sizzled as though burned. The overwhelming urge to destroy something – everything – washed over her, and it took her almost a minute to rein it in.

"They are so much like your mother's wings." The High Father sounded almost wistful. "And they are still so very beautiful." Was that fondness in his voice? His next words, however, were not meant for her. "Enter."

A contingent of gods and goddesses filed into the upper reaches of the hall. These were the nobility of the gods, the greatest of their number. Some were friends of a sort. Tifa was there, her burgundy eyes as calm as ever. Beside her was Aerith, a worried frown on the healer's face. Cloud and Squall were there, each with an almost identical expression of deliberate disinterest. It was a lie, of course. She could see the tension running through both of them. Only Tidus was smiling, and he would have waved were it not for the stern glare that came from the older god beside him. Auron, it seemed, was not the least bit pleased with what he saw.

And then there was Serah.

"Is this proof enough?" the High Father asked. "Some of you expressed doubt. Yet even in this state, my daughter remains in control. Is that not so?"

"It is." Her fury bubbled beneath the surface, but she could not afford to lose control. She wasn't worried about herself – so long as the High Father did not intervene, there was very little in Heaven that could harm her. But Serah was another matter. If she lost control and hurt the other goddess, she would never forgive herself. Nor could she bear it if Serah looked upon her in fear.

"Does it hurt?" Aerith asked. The healer made to fly down to Lightning's side, but Cloud stopped her with a hand around her arm.

Lightning returned Aerith's gaze. The goddess did not look away. Impressive. "No, not really."

"And how do you feel?" Aerith shrugged off Cloud's hand and Lightning had the distinct feeling that she would have done more had they been alone. Tifa frowned and very deliberately stepped between the pair.

"Bloodlust but nothing I cannot handle." Lightning had to bite her tongue before she said anything else. Their little display amused her demonic side. So much tension because they had to choose between one another. In Hell, there were no rules about that. They could be together – or not together – as they saw fit. "But there is also power. I feel… invincible."

Against most gods or demons, transforming would grant her more than enough power to win. But that same power might drive her to fight carelessly and that could prove fatal against a sufficiently skilled opponent.

"Perhaps a test would be in order." Cloud looked toward the pillar light. "High Father?"

"I shall permit it." His voice hardened. "But a test only. Remember, you are allies."

There was a flash of light and when it cleared, Lightning and the others were in one of Heaven's training grounds. Pillars of white stone rose up on all sides. Some vanished into the clouds above while others formed crude platforms upon which to stand.

"You may begin." The High Father's voice echoed through the sky. "Cloud. I leave the test to you."

Cloud's wings unfurled and the god raced through the air toward Lightning. A broadsword appeared in one hand, and he brought the weapon down with enough force to cleave a mountain in two. Lightning watched the blow come. His form was perfect: his whole body twisted into the strike, a burst of divine power behind it as well. Cloud could be even more taciturn than her, but he had earned his place as one of Heaven's generals.

There was no time to summon her sword. But she didn't need to. Lightning caught the blow with one of her wings and the pillars on either side of them shuddered as a wave of force rippled out from the point of impact. These wings weren't like her normal wings. They didn't feel pain. They couldn't be hurt. A shiver ran through the shadows that made up her wing, and she flung Cloud back.

The god tumbled end over end through the air until he braced his feet against a far off pillar. Cracks spread along the stone as he pushed off the pillar and closed the gap again. This time, Lightning was ready. Her sword appeared in one hand, and a feral smile spread across her lips. She'd always wanted to fight Cloud, and now she had her chance.

Their blades met in a hail of sparks, and Lightning almost laughed at the joy that rushed through her veins. Cloud was strong, and he was skilled. Ultimecia had run in the face of Lightning's power, but Cloud wasn't like her. He wouldn't run even if he knew he couldn't win.

Again and again, they lashed out at each other, twisting and turning through the sky. Lightning could have used her wings as well, could have used them to bind or rip and tear, but she didn't. This was a test, a trial to see if she could keep such urges under control. They locked blades again, and there was a flash as another blade appeared in Cloud's left hand. Of course – she'd almost forgotten that he was as good with his left hand as his right.

Lightning upped her speed – Cloud was holding back less and less with each strike – and knocked the other god back with a swing of her sword. Magic flared into existence, and Cloud tore the sky asunder. Fire, ice, wind, even lightning – Cloud could use them all. He wanted to pin Lightning down, keep her in one place long enough to bring his swords to bear.

Something that was halfway between a snarl and a smile twisted Lightning's features. What fun this was. With a growl, she unleashed a roiling wave of shadows that swallowed Cloud's magic whole. The god banked away and settled on top of another pillar. Everything else that Lightning's magic touched disintegrated.

"That is enough," the High Father said. "I trust you are satisfied? Lightning did not lose control at all during your fight."

Cloud's swords vanished and he inclined his head. "For now, High Father. I would recommend a close watch be kept."

"That is for me to decide." Light enveloped them and they were once again in the great hall. "Are there any other recommendations?"

A few of the others made recommendations, but most seemed content with Cloud's call for observation. Aerith suggested Lightning undertake a full evaluation by the healers, but the High Father put a stop to that.

"Her power would kill if you looked too closely at it, Aerith," the High Father said. "I will see to Lightning's well fare, and Serah too if necessary."

"Serah is a skilled healer," Aerith replied. "But –"

"Lightning will not harm her sister. Even in a completely demonic state, I doubt she would lay one finger on her." The light of the High Father brightened till it was almost blinding. "The rest of you may leave now. Serah, you may stay."

With the others gone, Lightning allowed herself to relax a little. There was a part of her that wanted to finish what she'd started with Cloud. That same part wondered what it would be like to fight Cloud, Tifa and Aerith together. Certainly, it would be enjoyable. She shuddered. They needed to fix the seal.

"Are you going to replace the seal now?" Lightning glanced at Serah, who stood, hands clasped, in the upper reaches of the hall. "Is it possible to seal all of this away?"

"All of it? No. You are half goddess and half demon. To remove all of your demonic traits would change who and what you are. At best, it would leave you badly weakened and mentally unstable. At worst, you would be dead."

"I see."

Light washed over her, touching, testing and searching. "I am going to apply the new seal now." A pause. "It will hurt."

Lightning was used to pain. "I'm ready."

The High Father's light enveloped her, and Lightning felt his power flood through her. There was nothing gentle about his touch this time. This was the power that had forged Creation, the same power that had thrown back the High Mother when she had torn down the gates of Heaven and laid siege to the domain of the gods.

She passed out screaming.

X X X

Serah watched in silence as the High Father teleported Lightning back to her quarters. She was about to follow when he stopped her.

"I know you lied to me, Serah."

A shiver crawled up Serah's spine. "What do you mean?"

"Unlike your sister, you are a very poor liar, daughter." The light at the centre of the hall dimmed a fraction.

"I…" Serah didn't know what to say. She'd never lied to the High Father before, never even considered it until now. Little wonder then that she'd done such a poor job of it. "What… what are you going to do?"

"What do you think I should do?"

Serah knew what he should do. Lying to the High Father was a crime that merited grave punishment. But when she thought back to Lightning and Fang, she couldn't bring herself to believe that she'd done anything wrong. Maybe it was forbidden, but Lightning and Fang loved each other, she was sure of it. Didn't they deserve the chance to be happy?

"Nothing," Serah said at last. "Don't do anything."

"Oh?"

"I know I lied, but it was for a very good reason."

"Will you tell me what you lied about?"

"Please don't ask me to." Serah bowed her head. "I promised Lightning I wouldn't tell anyone."

"Tell me, Serah. Is this secret something that will harm Heaven?"

Serah bit her lip. "No, I don't think so."

"Then I will do as you ask." The High Father's voice softened. "But watch your sister closely. She walks a narrow road, and her heart balances on the edge of a knife. Heaven or Hell – one day, she will have to choose again. I leave it to you to ensure that she makes the right choice."

"Yes, father." Serah bowed and left the hall as quickly as she could. She wanted nothing more than to be beside her sister again. Yet she could not shake the dark feeling that had come over her. The High Father had spoken his words gently, but they were grave words. Was another war coming? Would Lightning have to fight against not only her mother, but Fang as well?

Serah knew how much Lightning loved her. But if Lightning had to choose between her and Fang, Heaven and Hell, what would she choose?

Despite the warm light of Heaven, Serah was suddenly very cold.

X X X

Author's Notes

As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.

The plot thickens! Well, sort of. Fang and Lightning were always being a little too naïve in thinking that their activities went unnoticed. Both the High Mother and High Father possess ridiculous amounts of power. There is almost nothing they do not notice, and there is very little they do not consider in terms of the conflict between Heaven and Hell. Love might be a wonderful thing, but here, it is also a very complicated thing. How much of it is real, and how much of it is simply a tool for the High Mother and High Father's ends? I'll leave that for you to decide.

With regards to the characters who appeared in this chapter, Lightning, Serah, Fang and Vanille are from Final Fantasy XIII; Tidus, Yuna and Auron are from Final Fantasy X; Cloud, Tifa and Aerith are from Final Fantasy VII; and Ultimecia, Seifer and Squall are from Final Fantasy VIII.

On another note, in the next month or so, I will be releasing three short stories on Amazon as eBooks (the term short story is deceptive, since they are each between 15,000 and 20,000 words long). One is a high fantasy, another is a darker fantasy, and the third is a paranormal Western. If you want to follow what's going on with those, I'll keep you updated on my blog and deviant art (see my profile for links – I've started a separate blog pertaining to original fiction and writing related stuff).

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.