Chapter Two: Compatibility Issues
Almost all of the early fal'Cie attacks occurred on cities east of the vestige. The first major attack on a city west of the Vestige came at the hands of the fal'Cie codenamed "Transgressor." This attack resulted in the near complete obliteration of Oerba.
Prior to the Transgressor's attack, Oerba was a thriving coastal city of roughly two million people. Situated on the edge of a fertile flood plain and with ample access to rich coastal waters, Oerba had long served as an agricultural and commercial hub. As one of the oldest cities on Gran Pulse, it was also a site of tremendous historical and cultural significance. Two clans, the Yun and the Dia, had particularly close ties to the city, having occupied Oerba and its surrounds for the better part of fifteen hundred years.
However, those centuries of history and prosperity would count for little in the face of the Transgressor's overwhelming might. What had taken the Yun and the Dia more than a millennium to build would be destroyed in less than one day.
Shortly after midnight Oerban time, the dimensional breach located in the Vestige experienced a large-scale dilation. At the time, no system existed for properly classifying the fal'Cie. Based on the recently developed category system, however, the Transgressor would likely be classified as a high end Category II or a low end Category III. Given this classification, it is highly likely that a modern Eidolon would be able to intercept the Transgressor before it could cause significant loss of life.
Critically, however, the Eidolon program was still in its infancy at the time of the attack. The first Mark I Eidolon, Alexander, had only been completed two weeks prior and was awaiting deployment at the Eden City Ark. To further compound the crisis, an error in communication resulted in a delay of approximately two hours before the Oerban Defence Forces were notified of the Transgressor's imminent arrival.
The Transgressor made landfall at Oerba at roughly 4:05 AM. With only two hours to prepare, a full-scale evacuation of the city prior to the fal'Cie's arrival was deemed impossible. Instead, the city was to be evacuated sector-by-sector to avoid a complete collapse of the transport system. In the meantime, civilians were asked to seek shelter within a handful of newly completed anti-fal'Cie shelters while the military engaged in a delaying action.
The initial confrontation took place in the port area of Oerba. The Oerban Defence Forces adopted a series of fortified defensive positions around the port and opened fire with a combination of artillery, tanks, aircraft, and small-scale personal munitions. All proved ineffective.
Within thirty minutes, all but a handful of the soldiers deployed to the port area were dead. The Transgressor then attempted to advance further into the city but was met with furious resistance upon entering the affluent seaside residential district. Well aware of the impossibility of actually killing the creature with the weaponry available to them, the Oerban Defence Forces instead sought to delay it as long as possible, thereby ensuring sufficient time for the city's civilians to evacuate.
Over the course of the next three hours, the entire waterfront area of Oerba was destroyed. A series of attack runs by high-altitude bombers succeeded in slowing the Transgressor's advance at the cost of setting almost a quarter of the city ablaze. Unable to slow the fal'Cie by any other means, the commanding officer of the Oerban Defence Forces, General Oerba Yun Talon, ordered a continuation of the bombing.
Although repeated bombing proved unable to kill the Transgressor, it was sufficient to confine the fal'Cie to the waterfront area for just over an hour. However, despite the injuries it had sustained, the Transgressor continued its assault, pushing the Oerban Defence Forces farther back into the city.
While the Oerban Defence Forces were confronting the Transgressor, steps were already being taken to relocate the first operational combat Eidolon, Alexander, to Oerba. The pilots, Captains Amodar and Estheim, personally supervised the transportation process. Despite their best efforts, it would take another ten long hours for Alexander to reach Oerba.
It is a testament to the skill and bravery of the Oerban Defence Forces that they were able to evacuate approximately half of the city's population. Critics of General Yun's tactics fail to properly comprehend the logistics of trying to evacuate two million people while under attack by a fal'Cie. Of the remaining population, substantial numbers were able to find refuge in the city's anti-fal'Cie shelters while others fled on foot, bypassing the city's evacuation program.
The final hours leading up to the arrival of Alexander rank amongst the most tragic and heroic in Oerba's long, storied history. Pitted against a foe all but impervious to their weaponry, the soldiers of Oerba did not flinch from their duty. Nor did they abandon their posts and seek safety at the cost of the civilian population. Instead they fought – and they died. Almost to a man, they died.
In the ruins of Oerba, the soldiers used whatever weapons they had – guns, grenades, rockets, and even flares – to try and draw the Transgressor's attention away from the civilian shelters. Casualties amongst those frontline soldiers, almost all of them members of the Yun clan, have been estimated at roughly 95%. Similar casualty rates have also been estimated for the medical personnel and evacuation specialists tasked with providing support throughout the confrontation. These personnel were drawn almost exclusively from the Dia clan.
General Yun lost his life in the closing stages of the battle, mere moments before Alexander's arrival. The general personally led an attack on the Transgressor that distracted it long enough for the Eidolon to be safely deployed. The loss of the general is notable, not only because he chose to stay and lead the city's doomed defence but also because he was one of only two individuals able to trace their ancestry back to the ruling chieftains of the Yun clan's past. He was, in effect, the closest thing to royalty that the Yun had. And much like the Yun chieftains of old, he chose to die in service to his people rather than abandon them.
With Oerba little more than rubble, Alexander arrived. Engaging the Transgressor, the Eidolon swiftly demonstrated the effectiveness of large-scale combat robots in killing fal'Cie through hand-to-hand combat. The killing blow was struck by the Eidolon's right fist – Alexander completely crushed the Transgressor's cranial cavity.
Although Alexander emerged victorious against the Transgressor, their battle had flattened what little of Oerba remained standing. The ruins were also heavily contaminated by the substance now colloquially referred to as "fal'Cie Blue." This contamination has rendered Oerba almost uninhabitable.
With the fal'Cie dead, the evacuation continued. The majority of the evacuees would later find shelter in a series of refugee camps built around Paddra.
The loss of Oerba marked a turning point in the war against the fal'Cie. It became clear that no city that shared a coast with the Vestige was safe. Anti-fal'Cie shelters were established in cities all around the Vestige. The decision was also made to vastly upgrade the network of equipment monitoring the Vestige and the surrounding waters.
Perhaps the largest change was the enormous increase in funding given to the fledgling Eidolon program. Prior to Alexander's success, there had been only two confirmed methods of killing a fal'Cie: full-scale nuclear attack and days of sustained conventional bombing. An Eidolon was considered to be a far superior option, and within weeks, construction had begun on other Eidolons and the Arks needed to maintain them.
From one of the greatest tragedies of our time came one of ours greatest victories – the realisation that we now possessed a weapon capable of fighting the fal'Cie on even terms.
In the aftermath of the Oerban tragedy, the fate of the Yun and Dia clans remains uncertain. Both clans have sustained enormous casualties. Some estimates put the number of remaining Yun and Dia as low as several hundred. More optimistic reports suggest that several thousand may remain.
Notably, General Yun is survived by his daughter, Oerba Yun Fang. Ms Yun has already indicated her plans to join the Eidolon program although in what capacity remains unclear. Less unclear is the determination of her clansmen – almost all of the surviving members of the Yun clan old enough to serve have already enlisted to the Eidolon program. Likewise, most adult survivors of the Dia clan have also committed to the Eidolon program.
The Yun and the Dia are unlikely to ever forget the Transgressor's attack. It seems unlikely that they will ever forgive it either.
- Excerpt from "The Fall of Oerba – The Rise of the Eidolon."
X X X
You think we've won? Take a look around you. Does this look like winning? If it does, then we can't afford to win too many more battles like this.
- Excerpt from an interview with Captain Amodar following the Battle of Oerba
X X X
Fang followed Serah into the mess hall. Along the way, she took note of all the stares she got. They probably knew who she was. Back in Paddra, there had always been a lot of gossip about the Eidolon pilots. Most of it was harmless. Fang didn't care if people wanted to know what her favourite colour was or what kind of food she liked. But she drew the line at people asking about her sex life. She'd lost count of the number of times people had asked her if she and Jihl were having an affair. Hell, half the base had been convinced they were having hate sex after every mission.
She could kind of understand it. Jihl might not be the most pleasant person to be around, but the woman was definitely not bad looking. And the Conn-Pod had a way of bringing pilots together. It was kind of hard not be close after getting buried in each other's heads. But none of that meant she liked Jihl. Oh, she trusted the other woman in combat. Jihl was good – damn good – but that woman's head was not a good place to be. Drifting didn't leave room for secrets, and Jihl had a whole closet full of skeletons.
But Serah likely had something to do with it too. Fang hadn't been here long, but she already got the feeling Serah was popular around the Ark. Everywhere they went, the pink haired woman got smiles and nods, and she never failed to return them. It was a strange contrast to Lightning. People hadn't smiled and nodded when the marshal had walked past; they'd snapped to attention.
So if Serah was popular, then it was no surprise that people were wondering about who her new co-pilot would be. Well, they wouldn't have to wonder too hard. There was plenty of footage of Bahamut in action, most of it complimentary. Inside the mess hall, Fang gave all the gawkers a jaunty wave and then followed Serah over to a table near the middle. They were almost there, when Fang caught a blur of movement out of the corner of her eye.
Vanille slammed into her with enough force to knock her right off her feet. But before she could tumble to the ground, Serah was there, one foot braced against the table and both hands flat against Fang's back to hold her up.
Serah grinned. "I thought you could use the assist."
Fang grinned back, but her reply was lost in Vanille's excited chatter.
"It's so good to see you again! Oh, the marshal is such a jerk for not telling me earlier. I had to find out from Serah and that was only this morning!"
Fang laughed and threw her arms around Vanille. The younger woman burrowed into her embrace. "It's good to see you too. But did you have to jump on me like that? You're not a little kid anymore."
Vanille pulled back. "Of course I had to! And I might not be a little kid anymore, but I'm still your little sister and that means I can do what I want." She winked at Serah. "Ignore everything Fang tells you about being tough with me when we were little – she used to spoil me rotten."
"That would explain a lot." Serah pointed at the table. "You two sit down and talk. I'll go grab the food."
"Do you think that –"
Serah rolled her eyes. "Yes, Vanille, I'll make sure that I get you an extra serving of spaghetti."
As Serah went off to get their food, Fang took a few moments to look Vanille over. Her little sister had grown since they'd last met and not just vertically. There were calluses on Vanille's hands that hadn't been there before, and she held herself with all the confidence of someone good at their job and proud of it. But there were things that hadn't changed. Vanille's smile was as warm as ever, and her green eyes were still bright with good cheer and mischief. Vanille looked as hyper as ever too… in fact, she looked more hyper than ever.
"So… I hear you're a big shot scientist now."
"Yep. I'm number two on the base behind old Dr Katzroy." Vanille glared at a dark-skinned man eating lunch with a little boy on the opposite side of the mess hall. The man in question responded by rolling his eyes as the boy waved back at Vanille. "That grouch thinks he can tell me what to do."
"Does he now?" If Fang knew Vanille – and really, she did – then Vanille was probably the one picking a fight here. Certainly, the red head had never liked taking orders. "Well, at least you seem happy here. How is it working for the marshal? I met her before and…"
"Oh…" Vanile giggled. "She made an impression did she?"
"You could say that."
"She's scary, isn't she?"
"A little. But mostly… sad, I guess." Fang shook her head. "She should be in an Eidolon not limping around giving us orders."
Vanille sobered. "Yeah, but she's good, Fang, really good at what she does. And don't worry, she might seem scary, but if you do your job, you won't have any problems with her. You know me, I've worked at a few of the other Arks, and I never got on well with any of the commanders. Apparently, I'm weird. Well, Lightning doesn't care too much if I'm weird as long as I get the job done."
"Why do I get the feeling that you're more than a little weird?"
"Perhaps because she is." Serah put three trays of food on the table. "I wasn't sure what you wanted, Fang, so I got you a bit of everything."
Fang's eyes widened. The fal'Cie had devastated some of the richest farmland on the planet. Good food was not only increasingly rare; it was also increasingly expensive. Even Paddra had gone through the occasional shortage. But the food on the tray in front of her… this was the good stuff: real spaghetti with real sauce and everything. Even the bread was freshly baked, and the vegetables on the side of the tray had to be freshest she'd seen in months.
"Wow." Fang reached for her fork. "And they serve this kind of thing every day?"
Serah smirked. "My sister expects the best out of everyone in this Ark. In return, she makes sure we get the best. Now, eat up."
"I will." Fang turned to Vanille only to find the younger woman in the midst of inhaling her lunch. She tossed a glance at the extra serving of spaghetti on Vanille's tray.
"Mine!" Vanille jabbed her fork at Fang.
Serah sighed and gave Vanille an affectionate whack over the back of the head. The gesture was so smoothly done that Fang had a sneaking suspicion it was a daily routine. "I know she's your sister, Fang, but I feel like I have to apologise for her anyway. She gets like this whenever she hasn't slept a lot, and all the energy drinks she's been having are only making it worse."
"Really? Do tell."
Vanille tried to clamp one hand over Serah's mouth, but with the practiced ease that came to most skilled pilots, Serah ducked under the clumsy attempted and pinned Vanille face down against the table with one hand.
"She spends most of her day in her lab, and because she think sleeping is too much trouble, she guzzles down enough energy drinks to kill a full grown cow. The only reason my sister puts up with it is because Vanille does some of her best work like that. Lately, however, Dr Katzroy has noticed her getting a little too weird."
"I am not." Vanille tried to wriggle free. A half-hearted punch only resulted in Serah taking a slow, deliberate forkful of Vanille's spaghetti.
"He caught you talking to a room full of fal'Cie brain specimens like they were people."
"Vanille." Fang sighed and gave Serah a meaningful look and the other woman finally let Vanille go. "You need to mention things like this when we talk over the phone. Heck, you need to actually sleep. Talking to fal'Cie brain specimens is not normal."
"Don't you want to know what they think about?"
"Not really." Fang's expression darkened for a moment. "I just want them dead."
Vanille's eyes flashed. "That's where you're wrong! True, the Eidolons are our best way of fighting the fal'Cie, but there's more to it than that. Wouldn't Eidolons do better if we could understand how the fal'Cie thought? And imagine if we could use their own weaponry against them. Some of the fal'Cie had remarkable powers that –"
"Vanille, not here. You're going to get yourself into trouble again."
Fang glanced around. Some of the people nearby were giving Vanille openly hostile looks. She was disturbed to realise that some of them were fellow Yun and even other Dia. Well, they should all know who she was. A solid glare was enough to discourage them. Nobody looked at her sister like that.
"What was that all about?" Fang asked. She had her suspicions, but it was always better to be sure.
"There are people who think Vanille is a little too interested in the fal'Cie." Serah frowned. "You probably know about some of the cults that have sprung up – some people actually think the fal'Cie are messengers from the Maker or something come to punish us for our sins."
"That's crap, and anyone who thinks Vanille is like those people is nuts."
Vanille put one hand on Fang's arm. "They can think what they want, Fang. There isn't a person on this base that the fal'Cie haven't hurt. And I agree – the fal'Cie do need to die – but they're fascinating. Take away the part where they try and kill all of us, and you have to admit, there's a lot about them worth studying." Her voice hardened. "I haven't forgotten what happened to Oerba, Fang."
"Good." Fang patted Vanille's hand. Her sister had always liked puzzles, and the fal'Cie were the biggest puzzle of all. But Fang hadn't been the only one to lose everything that day. Vanille had lost everything as well, and behind the sunny exterior, Fang could see that it still hurt. From the troubled look on Serah's face, it was clear the other woman could see too.
"Anyway," Serah said. "Why don't you finish eating and then I'll take you back to the hangar? I'd like to introduce you to everyone."
"And I can explain all the improvements we're making to Bahamut." Vanille grinned.
"What?" Fang screeched. "You are not touching my Bahamut!"
"The work has already started." Vanille squirmed away before Fang could grab her. "He'll be stronger and faster than ever. And don't worry. I've tested pretty much everything we're going to do already. That's what Odin is for."
That was enough to stop Fang in her tracks. "Odin?"
"My sister doesn't believe in wasted resources. Vanille is, amongst many other things, an expert in Eidolon weapons development. My sister has Vanille try everything out on Odin first to see if it will work."
"But who pilots Odin?"
Serah shrugged. "Me."
"On your own?"
"Yes. I can manage if it's only a couple of simple test for a few minutes. It's not like…" Serah grimaced and looked away. "It's not like actual fighting."
There was silence for a few moments after that, and Fang felt like biting her tongue. She hadn't meant to bring up what was clearly still a sore point for Serah. And for a second there, just before Serah's fake smile had come up, there had been something very much like Lightning in her eyes: all steel with no trace of emotion.
"Come on," Serah said. "Eat."
Lunch passed in a haze of good food and happy talk. Fang's attempts to ascertain the status of Vanille's love life – was there anyone she needed to kill? – ran into a brick wall, and Vanille's attempts to pry into Fang's relationships ran into similar difficulties. Once they were done, they headed back to the hangar. This time, Fang wanted to see everything, not simply lose herself in the faded glory of Odin and his pilot.
"Watch your step," Serah warned as she led them through a crowd of engineers and mechanics. Fang had to dodge out of the way of a forklift carrying a box of parts, and she had to clamp down on the urge to lash out when the man driving it rolled his eyes at her. Not far off, Vanille was utterly at home, threading through the crowd with ease. "My sister runs a tight ship. Anyone standing in the way is going to get run over."
"I'll say." Fang looked around. No matter how many times she'd been inside an Ark, the sheer size of the place never failed to impress her. "Where do we start?"
Serah led them to the first of the Eidolons. It was a towering machine, painted in a mix of icy blues and whites. Unlike most Eidolons Fang had seen, this one seemed almost slender, the graceful curves of its arms and legs coming together to meet a torso than was unexpectedly thin compared to the armoured bulk of Bahamut. Splashed across the chest plate was a giant image of two women – almost certainly sisters – tangled in an extremely inappropriate embrace.
Fang tilted her head to one side. It looks fast enough but… "Isn't it a little thin?"
"She might be thin." The voice was warm and deep, and Fang was suddenly face-to-face with one of the largest men she'd ever seen. "But believe me, she's got plenty of strength, and she's faster than almost anything." The man's blue eyes sparkled with mirth, and his blonde hair was only barely restrained by a bandana. He extended one hand to Fang. "I'm Captain Snow Villiers, and I'm guessing you're Serah's new co-pilot."
"That's right. Captain Oerba Yun Fang." Fang gave the man's hand a squeeze, and he squeezed back. He was strong. "So that's your lady, right? Can she take a hit?"
"Don't let looks fool you, she can handle a hit or two. Most Eidolons rely on metal for armour, but Shiva uses an exotic ceramic metal composite. It makes her lighter – and faster – than anything not named Odin." He gave the white Eidolon standing at the far end of the hangar a quick nod. "It's still experimental though – we're the only ones who've got it. By the way… Hope, get down here!"
There was a creak as an elevator carried someone down from the catwalk high above. A young man, almost a boy really, wiped his hands on an oily cloth and then tossed it at Snow's face. The big man caught the rag and chuckled. It was quite a contrast, but the way they stood, stances almost perfect mirror images of each other said it all. This must be Snow's co-pilot.
"I'm Hope Estheim." The young man's lips twitched, and he flicked his gaze over to Snow. "And you've already met this big lug. He's probably told you that Shiva is the best there is. Well, he might be right about that."
"Estheim?" Fang's brows furrowed. "Your father wouldn't be –"
"I see." Fang inclined her head a fraction. "You have my condolences then. He was a good man. I… I'm Oerba Yun Fang."
Hope's eyes widened a fraction, and then he smiled. It made him seem even younger. "Thanks. I… he was a good father when he had the chance." He bit his lip. "We need to get up there, Snow. The mechanics are running a few checks on her hydraulic systems, and you know what'll happen if we're not up there. They'll fiddle around with everything, and we'll only find out when we're getting our heads kicked in."
Snow sighed dramatically. "You worry too much, kid." He waved at Fang. "We'll see you around then. If you've got the time, you might want to drop by the training session this afternoon. You'll see all the cadets, and the marshal always runs this one."
Wasn't that interesting. Fang looked at Serah.
"After we're done here."
Fang followed Serah further down the hangar. She'd heard a few things about Shiva before. It was a Mark IV, one of the newest actually. She'd always wondered how the damn thing could move so fast, and now she knew. Maybe she'd ask Vanille to look into the ceramic armour. If she could make Bahamut faster without compromising his strength, she'd be more than happy to give something new a try.
Still, such a swift, agile Eidolon seemed like a strange fit for a man mountain and young man, but given their success with it – she remembered them having four or five kills – they had to be doing something right.
Serah must have guessed what was on her mind. "Don't worry about them. Hope might look young, but this is something he's wanted to do ever since his father became a pilot. He always thought he'd pilot with his father but…"
Fang nodded. She knew the story. Bartholomew Estheim had been gravely wounded in the attack that devastated Lake Bresha. He had never piloted again, and radiation poisoning had killed him a few years later. Every single Yun and Dia had sent their condolences to his family to honour what he'd done for Oerba. The other pilot of Alexander, Amodar, was still alive although he had retired from active duty. Radiation poisoning was killing him too, albeit more slowly.
"I know. Let's take a look at the next one. I want to know who I'll be working with."
"Oh!" Vanille grabbed Fang's hand and pulled her along. "I'll do the introductions for this one."
Fang let Vanille pull her along and then stopped to stare at the next Eidolon. "Well, it's something, all right."
It definitely was. This Eidolon was almost entirely black. The only scraps of colour were the red, crown-like extensions on the head and the red stripes painted along the protrusions on the Eidolon's back. They were probably boosters of some kind although Fang couldn't remember the last time she'd seen an Eidolon with boosters that large. She doubted the thing could fly – the news would have been all over that – but those boosters probably allowed for quite a bit of acrobatics. More than any other Eidolon she'd seen, however, this one seemed to radiate menace. The lines and angles of its frame gave it an almost demonic appearance, and its left hand was sheathed in a golden gauntlet that ended in wickedly sharp claws.
"That's Chaos," Vanille said. "The first of the Mark Vs."
"Mark V? The last time I checked, Chaos was a Mark III. It didn't look like this either."
"That's because the old Chaos got blown up." Vanille chuckled. "Actually, that's not quite right. You might remember the Fifth Battle of Wutai? Well, it took so much damage winning the fight that they had to scrap it. They let us supervise the construction of the new one, which is what you're looking at."
"He's a beauty, isn't he?" The voice came from the catwalk above them. Fang had to squint to see the petite teenager in scandalously short shorts that leapt off the railing, slid down one of the many chains nearby, and landed in front of them with a flourish. The whole thing seemed to give some of the nearby personnel heart attacks and with good reason. Eidolon pilots were rare. It could take months, maybe years, to find another compatible pilot if she got injured.
"I am Yuffie Kisaragi!" The girl puffed out her somewhat less than impressive chest. "Chief Pilot of Chaos and Princess of Wutai." She paused. "I'm also a ninja."
Fang blinked. What the… Before she could stop herself, she started to laugh. "Seriously? You're a ninja princess?"
"Hey!" Yuffie scowled and then lashed out at Fang with surprising speed.
Fang grinned and let the teenager charge, content to deflect each blow until she finally spotted a hole in Yuffie's offence. A split-second later, Yuffie found herself trying to match Fang's strength – a battle she had no hope of winning. The fight ended with the younger woman's arms pinned firmly to her side.
"Are you going to calm down now?"
Yuffie smirked. "You're Serah's new co-pilot, right? No wonder you're so tough. But…" Suddenly Fang was holding nothing but Yuffie's jacket. "You're no match for a ninja."
"You're being foolish again, aren't you?" A dark haired man with crimson eyes grabbed Yuffie by the back of her shirt collar and lifted her off the ground. "And what were you doing jumping down here like that? We were in the middle of a discussion, Yuffie." He gave a beleaguered sigh and then nodded at Fang. "I am Vincent Valentine. My apologies, Captain Yun, but my co-pilot and I have a discussion to finish."
Fang watched the pair disappear into one of the elevators, Yuffie thrashing about like a fish caught on a line. For his part, Vincent seemed utterly unaffected, moving only when Yuffie aimed a particularly vicious looking kick at his groin.
"Okay… that was weird." Fang was starting to wonder what sort of place she'd walked into. Did Lightning make a habit of collecting the weirdest people she could find? And if she did, what did that say about Fang?
"Not really. Yuffie's just like that, and Vincent, well, he didn't try to shoot your or glare, so I guess he likes you." Serah's lips twitched. "But I should warn you, Yuffie actually is a princess. Her father is the ruler of Wutai, and it gave him fits when she snuck into the Eidolon Program. Appearances aside, she and Vincent are pretty close."
Vanille nodded. "There's a betting pool going on about those two. Personally, I think they're sleeping with each other."
"Being co-pilots does not mean they are sleeping with each other." Serah gave Vanille a pointed look. "Or did you think my sister and I did that?" What she didn't add was that based on some of the things she'd seen, Yuffie and Vincent probably would end up sleeping together – once Yuffie was old enough that Vincent didn't feel like a cradle snatcher.
"Well…" Vanille trailed off and Fang had to fight off the mental image Serah's words invoked. Both Serah and Lightning were very attractive women. "You two were sisters. But maybe…" Vanille looked meaningfully at Fang. "What do you think?"
"Oh no. Jihl and I did not sleep together." Well, technically they had a few times, but not in a sexual way. But there were certain times – especially after a close call – when co-pilots just needed to be close to each other, even if one of them was a jerk.
"Oh, you're holding out on me, I can tell." Vanille chuckled. "But we've got one more to go, and these two are definitely sleeping together."
The Eidolon they led Fang to this time was mostly dark blue with strips of white and yellow on the upper body. Rather than the threatening appearance of Chaos or the slender look of Shiva, this Eidolon was built solidly without seeming too bulky. It was a balanced configuration, Fang thought, one that was likely to combine reasonable amounts of speed with reasonable amounts of strength.
"This is Spira." Serah nodded at the two people, a man and woman eating lunch together against the feet of the massive Eidolon. Not far away, a dark haired woman and a blonde Al Bhed were in the midst of an argument although their words were tinged with amusement more than genuine anger.
"Yuna, Tidus," Serah shouted. "Come meet my new co-pilot."
Fang greeted the pair. "Nice to meet you. I'm Oerba Yun Fang."
Tidus gave her a sunny smile, and she couldn't help but smile back. He seemed like an open book, but there was confidence in his eyes that could only have come from success in battle. "Nice to meet you two. It'll be nice to have Serah in the field again, and I'll never say no to some more help."
Yuna nodded. "We have been a little shorthanded lately. If you want, the pilots usually meet up on Fridays for drinks and dinner. I'm sure you'd be welcome."
"Thanks." Fang grinned. "I'll keep my schedule clear." Not that she had anything on her schedule at the moment anyway.
"Still, you must have some pretty awesome moves, right?" Tidus asked. "Because the marshal would never pick anything but the best for her little sister."
Serah flushed, but Yuna simply chuckled. "We all know it's true." Her gaze sharpened a fraction. "And I have heard of you, Fang. Most of it has been good too."
Fang's lips curled. Yuna might look nice on the outside, but there was some steel inside her, all right. "Look, I've already talked with the marshal. I know where I stand. If I'm not good enough yet, you can bet I'll work my ass off until I am. That's a promise."
The smile returned to Yuna's face. "Good. Oh, and you might want to talk to those two before you leave. You'll probably be seeing more of them."
The Al Bhed didn't wait to be greeted. Instead, she turned her back on the dark haired woman, earning an angry scowl, and grabbed Fang's hand in a firm handshake. "Rikku – chief mechanic." She slipped something out of her pocket and tossed it to Vanille, only for Serah to catch it out of mid-air. "What?"
Serah tightened her hold around the can of energy drink. "She's had enough for today."
Vanille gave Serah the most pathetic look imaginable – the same one that Fang had learned to avoid meeting at all costs – and the pink haired woman folded like a paper bag.
"Fine, but this is your last one."
The dark haired woman gave Rikku another faint glare then nodded at Fang. "Forgive Rikku, I believe that, as with Vanille, excessive energy drink consumption may have damaged her brain."
"No harm done. And you are?"
"Lulu. I'm a scientist here. I work with both Sazh and Vanille although my speciality is Eidolon weaponry. Advanced weaponry."
"Basically," Rikku said. "If you need anything that shoots electricity, plasma, fire, or anything else crazy, Lulu is your woman." Lulu frowned. "What? It's true."
"You make me sound like some kind of wizard." Lulu folded her arms over her chest – quite a nice chest, Fang noted – and pinned Rikku with another harsh look. "You need to get back to work. I've already drawn up the plans for Spira's new energy cannon, and you haven't even started the modifications yet."
Leaving the squabbling pair behind, Fang bit back a grin. Now that they'd seen all of the other Eidolons, it was time to meet her baby.
Ah, there he was.
Bahamut wasn't the newest Eidolon. In fact he was a Mark III, the same generation as Odin, but what he lacked in modernity, he made up for in raw power. Few Eidolons could match Bahamut's strength due to the recent changes toward more mobile, agile Eidolon designs. Bahamut, however, was built strong and solid, a tower of strength. But that didn't mean he was slow. Oh no, her baby wasn't slow at all.
Two years ago, Bahamut had gone through an almost complete overhaul after years of simple repairs to the damage he'd sustained during combat. Fang had never learned who was responsible, but someone had studied the weaknesses of the Mark IIIs and devised a drastic set of redesigns to address them. Bahamut had received stronger but lighter armour, tweaking to the knees, hips, and ankles to improve speed and stability, and a new balance system that had since become standard in the newer models. A bit of digging had revealed that almost all of these changes had been based on lessons learned from Odin's demise.
But what a sight he was. Bahamut was black all over with purple highlights along the back, ribs, and shoulders. Unlike the smaller back mounted stabilisers built into the Mark IV and Mark V Eidolons, Bahamut's more closely resembled wings. During combat, they would move and flex to provide the Eidolon with added power and stability. He hadn't started off with those, but they had come part and parcel with the overhaul. Bahamut could throw every punch in the book at full speed and power without ever worrying about falling over.
Bahamut had started off really damn dangerous. He was deadly now.
Well, maybe not right now. It was hard for the Eidolon to look that deadly with his chest wide open.
"What are they doing?" Fang screeched. She rounded on Serah and Vanille. "Get those people off my Eidolon!"
"That old core of yours was a health hazard," Vanille said. In the span of a heartbeat, she'd gone from glowering back at Fang to using Serah as a human shield. "Do you have any idea how badly you damaged it during your last few fights? It's a miracle you don't have radiation poisoning." Vanille jabbed one finger at Fang. "Don't even try and make excuses. I've had a newer core put in. It's going to give you more power and reliability, and it won't fry your ovaries in case you ever decided to pop out any mini-Fangs."
"Oh." When Vanille put it like that it did sound like a good idea. "Thanks."
Serah gave both of them a fond look and glanced over at one of the nearby elevators. "Do you want to go up there and take a closer look?"
As they walked along the catwalk around Bahamut, the mechanics and engineers gave Fang a polite berth. They understood how much an Eidolon meant to its pilot, and they were smart enough not to intrude. The glare Fang was giving all of them probably had something to do with it too. Logical or not, she didn't like the thought of anyone opening Bahamut up.
"Tell me about him." Serah's eyes remained fixed on Bahamut. "I've read all the files, and I've watched your fights, but those can only tell me so much."
Fang felt a surge of pride. She remembered the fall of Oerba well. How could she forget her father shoving her into one of the transports and telling her to get out while he went off to fight a battle they both knew he couldn't win? Every battle she fought was for him and the people of Oerba. They had never forgotten, and they would never forgive. Bahamut might have been built somewhere else, but he was Oerba's Eidolon, their vengeance and fury given form. He was perfect.
"I don't even know where to start. The Conn-Pod shouldn't be too different. Even after the overhaul, they kept it pretty much the same, and I've heard almost all the Mark IIIs are similar inside."
"Odin was a Mark III."
"You'll be on the left side, I guess. That's what you used to pilot, and I've always been on the right side. You might need to fix a few of the settings there. You're about an inch shorter, I think, and Jihl was probably a bit stronger than you too." Fang chuckled. "At least, she always used to go on about how strong she was. She used to complain about some of the switches on her side sticking too, but the techs could never find anything, and they always seemed fine to me. She did like to grumble."
Serah's eyes twinkled. "I'll try to keep all of that in mind."
"You'll want to give the claws a try to. The one on the left comes out a little bit slower than the one on the right unless they've fixed it. I'd blame Jihl for it, but it's probably my fault."
"No biggie," Vanille chimed in. "We can have that fixed in a jiffy."
"And he handles differently too. I can't say anything for sure about Odin, but a lot of these newer Eidolons… those stabilisers they've got have people saying its almost like dancing. Maybe it is for them, but not for Bahamut. When you're in Bahamut, you know you're in a fight. It's like riding a dragon – you can't hold anything back. You've got to show him who is boss."
"You really do love him, don't you?"
Fang shook her head slowly. "I suppose I do. It's hard not to after everything we've been through together." She gazed over at Odin. "How can you do it, I mean, how did you deal with not piloting for so long?"
"I spent my time learning other things, and I had a feeling I'd be back in the Conn-Pod someday." Serah glanced at her watch. "I still need to show you to your room, and we'll need to hurry if you want to make that training session."
"We'd better hurry then." Fang gave Bahamut one last smile. "See you later, buddy."
X X X
Fang had seen her fair share of training centres before – every Ark had them – but she'd never seen one quite this nice before. The training centre had room for a dozen sparring areas along with exercise equipment and everything else members of the Ark needed to stay fit. There were also side rooms attached to the training centre, each of them suited for a different purpose. It was to one of these side rooms – a conference room – that Serah led her. Vanille tagged along too, but Fang had the feeling that was more out of a desire to avoid Dr Katzroy and his totally unreasonable demands that she get regular sleep than any feeling of sisterly duty.
Inside, two dozen cadets stared at a large data display. The contents of the display were quite familiar to her – it showed the start of her battle with a fal'Cie codenamed "Gorgonopsid." But the display didn't hold her attention for long. Instead, her eyes went to the person leading the discussion, to Marshal Claire "Lightning" Farron.
The marshal stood beside the display at a lectern, the wooden stand bearing most of her weight as she analysed the battle on the display. The cadets seemed to hang on her every word, and Fang couldn't blame them. Lightning spoke with a quiet intensity, her slightly husky voice lending a certain weight to each word as she gave a precise, ruthless analysis of each combatant's actions. Most of the cadets took notes at a feverish pace while others seemed content to savour the marshal's explanations.
If Fang's instructors during training had been more like Lightning, she might have paid more attention. As it was, she'd developed a better grasp of combat than most of them within a year, and she'd ended up topping the program. It was yet another thing that Jihl hated about her since she'd come in a close second.
And then Lightning stopped the presentation. The lights came back on, and those cool, regal eyes turned on Fang once again. However, her first words weren't to Fang but the cadets.
"I would like to think that after an hour of analysis, my point would have become quite clear." Lightning's gaze raked over the cadets. A few noticeably squirmed. "Would anyone care to hazard a guess as to what my point was?"
"Uh… don't get hit?"
There was a rush of laughter before Lightning cut it off with a single sharp rap of her cane against the lectern.
"Very funny, Vaan. I'm sure it will remain funny when your Eidolon is being torn to pieces." Lightning's glare had the cadet doing his best to hide behind his notepad. "That wasn't my point at all. Anyone else?"
"Begging your pardon, ma'am," one of the other cadets said. "But all of those fights had people getting hit. Some of them died. Vaan might have been joking, but not getting hit sounds like a good idea. Ma'am."
Lightning limped from the lectern, and the cadets on either side of the middle aisle leaned away as she paced back and forth. "There is a single, fundamental truth in combat with a fal'Cie." The words hung on the air, Lightning's voice electric as she continued. "Everybody gets hit. No matter how fast you are, or how agile, you are going to get hit. No Eidolon has every managed to defeat a fal'Cie without engaging in at least some hand-to-hand combat. The key to survival is not avoiding being hit – that is impossible – it is choosing the circumstances under which you are hit."
Complete silence had fallen over the conference room, and Fang found herself leaning forward just a little. Lightning's presence filled the room, the marshal standing ten feet tall in the eyes of the cadets despite her infirmity.
"You cannot be afraid to trade an arm for a killing blow. Trade your leg if you must so long as it guarantees a strike that will finish the fight in your favour. If you are afraid of getting hit, you have no place at all in an Eidolon."
Lightning waited for the words to sink in. No wonder all the cadets showed up to these training sessions, Fang thought. Most instructors liked to pretty things up, talk about all the things an Eidolon could do, and all the victories they'd had. Lightning refused to sugar coat anything for them.
"But ma'am, couldn't we just increase the armour on the Eidolons or maybe up their speed?" The question came from a pretty blonde. "I've been studying the recent design changes, and there have been substantial increases in both areas. Surely we've got to the point where we can dodge everything."
"A fine question, Penelo. It's nice to see that some of you have been studying." Lightning's lips twitched. "I've marked your assignments. Almost to a cadet, they are appalling. But to answer your question, no, I do not think we will ever reach a point where an Eidolon will be fast enough to completely evade a determined fal'Cie. Odin was perhaps the fastest Eidolon ever built, and you should all know what happened to him." Lightning smiled coldly. "And despite the advances we have made in Eidolon armour, the fal'Cie have made corresponding advances in the deadliness of their weaponry."
"So, it's an arms race?"
"Precisely. And that is why every battle involves a precise combination of strength, speed, and a willingness to engage. A broken arm can be fixed. A ruptured knee joint can be repaired. If it means killing the fal'Cie, you must be prepared to accept almost any level of damage. But do not think I am saying you should wade carelessly into battle. There are going to be attacks you can dodge, harmful situations you can avoid. Deal with those accordingly, but never forget that you at some point, you are going to get hit. Plan for that moment and turn it to your advantage."
Lightning fell silent and Fang released a breath she hadn't even realised she'd been holding. If the marshal gave speeches like that on a regular basis, she wasn't the least bit surprised that people requested to train here.
"Ah, Captain Yun." Lightning's eyes found hers and held them. The intensity was back in them now, cold fire burning right through to Fang's gut. "I was in the middle of showing one of your fights. Perhaps you would care to offer your own analysis."
"Uh…" Fang nodded. "Sure. I'd be happy to, ma'am."
But as the display started again, Fang found herself drifting back to her own, more personal, memories of the battle. That had been her and Jihl's first real kill as a team, the first time they'd truly clicked instead of trying to fight each other and the fal'Cie at the same time.
X X X
"Initiating neural handshake." Rygdea made a disgusted sound. "Try to play nicely this time, ladies."
Fang's chuckle turned into a wince as Jihl's mind slammed into hers. Neither of them was about to compromise, and neither of them saw the point in holding back. They were both big girls. They could take all the horror and ugliness that lurked in each other's minds, and even if this was their third deployment together and the link still felt like it was made of broken glass and barbed wire that was okay – they could still fight. In fact, that was probably the only thing they could do together.
All the same, she found herself lost in Jihl's memories for a split-second. She saw a house on a hill, the city before it aflame, the titan form of a fal'Cie rising over it all. No control. No control over anything. And then there was control. Grades. School. Training. She had control again. It didn't matter if she had to lie and manipulate and hate till her insides felt like they were on fire – she had control again and that was all that mattered until –
"Stay out of my head, Yun." Jihl snarled and leaned toward Fang in the Conn-Pod. "Or do you want me poking through your memories?"
Fang grit her teeth. She hadn't meant to do that. "Sure thing, Nabaat." She shook her head and lifted her right arm. "Calibrating right side."
Rygdea's reply came over the com. "Right side calibrated. Neural handshake is strong and holding steady somehow. I swear you two are a disaster waiting to happen."
"Rygdea." That was Cid Raines, commander of the Paddra Ark. "Stay focused. Jihl, calibrate the left side."
Jihl moved her left arm. "Left side calibrated. Can't we skip this? We all know we're the best you've got."
"Left side calibrated." Rygdea's voice hardened. "Watch how you speak to your commanding officer, Nabaat."
"Enough." Cid's voice cut through the dispute like a knife. He might not be the friendliest guy, but he was a good leader. He also knew when to give people slack and when to tighten the noose. "We have a Category IV fal'Cie headed toward Taejin's Tower, codename 'Gorgonopsid.' Your objective is to intercept it on the shore before it can head any further inland. Any questions?"
"How many pieces do you want it in?" Fang bared her teeth. "Don't worry, sir. We've got this."
"Indeed." Jihl gave Fang a haughty look. "It hasn't got a chance. Make sure you don't hold me back, Yun."
"All jokes aside, it is a Category IV. Be careful. I'm counting on you."
Fang nodded. "Like I said, sir. We've got this." She looked at Jihl for confirmation and the other woman nodded. "Requesting a release on all restraints and full clearance for deployment."
"Restraints have been released," Rygdea said as the surrounding catwalks and supports around Bahamut moved away. "You are clear for deployment. Good luck and happy hunting."
The worst part of piloting with Jihl wasn't the fighting. No, that was the easy part. The other woman was a hell of a fighter, and Fang knew her style like the back of her hand. The hard part was all the walking. Sure, they could have tried to make conversation, but that seemed kind of pointless when they wired into each other's heads. The Drift also made sure they knew how little affection there was between them. Most co-pilots were family, lovers, or close friends. She and Jihl were barely able to tolerate one another. Probably the only things they shared were a love of battle and a driving need to wipe out the fal'Cie.
So, it was silence all the way. And it was a long way to Taejin's Tower even considering how quickly an Eidolon could cover ground.
Fang breathed a sigh of relief when they finally reached Taejin's Tower, a massive pinnacle of rock on the coast. There were half a dozen large towns nearby along with a reasonably large city. The shallow bay in front of them was also home to a handful of oilrigs as well.
"We're here, sir." Fang peered out at the bay. "But I don't see anything. It should be here by now, shouldn't it?"
"Is that worry I hear in your voice, Yun?" Jihl's voice was saccharine. "Don't worry, I'll protect you."
Rygdea frowned. "Look sharp. We're getting a reading. It's close. You should see – look out!"
The water in front of them churned, and Fang barely had time to blink before something huge surged out of the water toward them.
"Damn it, Yun! Move!" Jihl bellowed.
Fang jerked to the side and Bahamut lurched out of the way as the fal'Cie shot out of the water. It struck the base of Taejin's Tower with enough force to rock the mountain down to its foundations. Bits of rock tumbled down onto the beach, and Fang eased Bahamut away to get a better look at what they were up against.
The fal'Cie was aptly named. Apart from a vaguely aquatic look, it bore a more than passing resemblance to a gorgonopsid. As the fal'Cie rounded on them again, Fang's mind slipped into analysis mode. Gorgonopsid moved about on four legs, and there were jagged claws on each foot. Its body was whipcord lean, almost certainly built more for speed than raw strength. Blue veins ran up and down its body, and half a dozen eyes blinked back at her from on top of its head. But the biggest danger was its mouth. The teeth were enormous – at least three times the length of a car. The teeth were also serrated and backward facing. Whatever Gorgonopsid grabbed in its mouth, it would rip off.
As it lunged again, Fang realised how right her analysis had been. It was fast. Damn fast.
"Let's kill this thing!" Fang growled.
Jihl's lips curled. "We will need to slow it down first."
Bahamut strode forward, the Eidolon shaking the beach as it closed the gap. The fal'Cie raced to meet it, and the two met with a world-shaking thump. Gorgonopsid's claws carved gashes into Bahamut's outstretched right arm before the left arm came down like the biggest hammer in the world. A great shudder ripped through the monster's frame and it smashed into the ground. Sand flew everywhere, kicked up by the force of the impact.
"What are you waiting for?" Jihl grit her teeth as she used Bahamut's left arm to pin the fal'Cie down. "Hit it!"
Fang reared back, and Bahamut's titanic frame rose to its full height before it drove its right fist into the middle of the fal'Cie's back. Bone crunched and the creature's ribs trembled. Mouth drawn into a snarl, Jihl fought to hold Gorgonopsid down as Fang landed another blow and then another.
"You hit like a girl, Yun!"
And then the fal'Cie was squirming free, its claws scrabbling off Bahamut's left arm as it darted behind them with unbelievable speed.
"The son of a bitch is fast," Jihl spat. "It's behind us!"
Sparks flew as the fal'Cie leapt onto Bahamut's back. Its jaws snapped for the Conn-Pod and Fang just barely managed to wedge Bahamut's right forearm between the Conn-Pod and certain death. Stumbling, the Eidolon staggered into the shallows until Jihl finally managed to bring the left arm around to rip the fal'Cie off. It didn't go without a fight – it took several tonnes of the armour on Bahamut's right arm with it.
"That damn thing is tough." Fang glanced at the readouts. "It severed some of the servos and hydraulics on my side. We're looking at maybe 75% effectiveness in the right arm. We're getting warnings on some of the back and upper leg stabilisers too. Those claws are a damn nuisance."
"Stop talking and fight." Jihl glared at the oncoming fal'Cie. "Here it comes again." She clenched her fist. "Engaging dragon claws on the left arm."
On Bahamut's left wrist, the armour opened up, unleashing a massive blade that protruded a good ten metres past the end of Bahamut's fist.
"Grab it!" Jihl said.
As Gorgonopsid leapt again, Fang brought Bahamut's right arm up to catch it. The black Eidolon stumbled back, almost driven off its feet by the force of the fal'Cie's charge. A roar from the monster shook the bay, and Bahamut toppled back. It didn't matter. Jihl was already striking, her shouts filling the Conn-Pod as she drove the wrist blade up and into the fal'Cie's gut again and again. The fal'Cie shrieked and locked its jaws around Bahamut's right arm.
"Don't you dare let go!" Jihl strained against the controls. "Hold him still, damn it!"
Ignoring the momentary flash of pain in her right arm – stupid neural bridge – Fang grabbed hold of as much of Gorgonpsid as she could. Bahamut's arm trembled under the strain, a hideous klaxon blaring from her display as system after system wailed its distress from the battered limb. Finally, with a horrible screech, Gorgonopsid wrenched its head back tearing a good-sized chunk of Bahamut's right arm off. By some miracle, the limb remained attached, and the fal'Cie circled them warily, blue blood oozing from its wounds. Dimly, Fang was aware of the oilrigs nearby – somehow they'd ended up several hundred feet from shore.
"I must have stabbed that thing a dozen times. I could have sworn I hit its heart."
"Well, you didn't." Fang flexed her right arm. "The right arm is down to 35% functionality. I can barely make a fist."
"Stop whining. It's headed our way again."
Gorgonopsid attacked again and again. It sent a spray of water up with each pass, but rather than commit to a single deadly attack, it seemed content to pick them apart a little bit at a time. It was too fast for them to land a solid hit, and each pass left them with another injury. A few more, and they wouldn't even be able to stand.
"Damn it." Jihl cursed as Bahamut tried to turn fast enough to connect, but the Eidolon's feet remained bogged in the ocean sand. "We need to slow it down some more."
"We can't." Fang's smirked. "But I've got an idea. A really stupid idea."
"Of course you do since you're always coming up with stupid ideas." Jihl glared. "So, spit it out. What are you thinking?"
"It's been going for our left arm a lot too, hasn't it?" The idea was only half-formed in Fang's mind, but already, she could see Jihl's eyes widen as the impression of it began to sink in.
"Yes, because we've been doing almost all of our fighting with it. Your arm isn't much good."
"Give it the left arm." Fang's eyes gleamed. "I can take it with my right."
The other woman stared. "That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. But fine, I suppose we can try. It's not like we've got a better option. But if we die, I'll be sure to send you a letter from heaven when you end up in hell."
As the fal'Cie moved in for its next charge, Jihl dangled Bahamut's left arm in front of it. The monster took the bait and seized the limb in its jaws. For a heartbeat, Fang watched it dangle off Bahamut's left arm. Then she drew her right arm back – Bahamut followed, the motion punctuated by the clatter of broken machinery, mangled hydraulics, and shorted circuits.
Fang activated the blade on Bahamut's right arm. It didn't extended all the way – the arm was too badly damaged – but it extended far enough. With a roar matched only by the metallic groan from Bahamut's battered frame, Fang jammed the blade through the fal'Cie's eye socket and into its brain. The Eidolon's left arm came off in a shower of sparks as Gorgonopsid flailed about in its death throes, but Fang wasn't done yet, and neither was JIhl.
"Hurry up and die!" Jihl stomped down on the fal'Cie with Bahamut's left foot. The fal'Cie bucked in a desperate bid to break free, and the Eidolon nearly lost its balance again. Fang snarled and grabbed hold of a nearby oilrig. Gorgonopsid's last charge had already damaged it beyond repair, so they shouldn't mind too much if she borrowed it. Wielding the metal frame like a spear, she drove it down into the fal'Cies throat. A quick jerk up and across, and she'd all but beheaded the beast.
Finally, it lay still.
Jihl began to laugh. "Are you crazy Yun? You used an oilrig as a spear. I guess it makes sense. The old stories always said your clan liked spears."
Right at that moment, Fang could almost have kissed Jihl. But then it passed, so she did the next thing that came to mind. She threw an insult.
"Funny how that works, huh? I did better with a mangled arm than you did with a working one."
X X X
Fang had a feeling that her analysis wasn't anywhere near as inspiring as Lightning's. It was, however, concise, to the point, and given with the benefit of extensive firsthand experience. It could also be summarised in a few words: work with what you've got, and hit the fal'Cie until it's dead.
"That was quite an analysis." Fang couldn't be sure if Lightning was being sincere or sarcastic. "But an accurate one nonetheless." She paused. "What would you have done if your right hand had failed to kill the fal'Cie?"
"Stomp it to death. Either that or die." Fang shrugged. The question didn't offend her, but she curious to see how Lightning interpreted her response. "That's sounds about right, doesn't it?"
"Yes." Something that could almost have been a smile tugged at the corner of Lightning's lips. Fang bit back a grin. Lightning understood what it was like in the Conn-Pod. You either learned to improvise or you ended up dead. "Still, you made the right decision. Can anyone tell me why Captain Yun's decision was correct?"
"It wasn't," one of the cadets argued. "Couldn't they have avoided taking damage to the right arm in the first place by being more careful?"
"Perhaps. But it is almost impossible to ascertain a fal'Cie's abilities prior to combat. Almost 50% of all pilot fatalities occur during the opening exchange. It is much better to lose an arm than to lose a life. And once a decision has been made, all subsequent decision must be made with the first decision in mind. Factoring in the initial damage to the right arm, Captain Yun's decisions were correct."
Fang felt a small swell of pride hearing that Lightning agreed with her. "Look, kid, in combat, you don't always know what you're up against. Picking a fight is the only way to be sure. The trick is to never risk too much. Bahamut took a lot of damage to one arm. Big deal. We found out everything we needed to know, and we won."
The class continued in this fashion for another hour, and Fang was surprised by how much she enjoyed it. She'd never been big on reviewing footage – her memory was usually good enough for that – but Lightning had a way of explaining things that made the whole discussion interesting. And it was a discussion, not simply Lightning giving her opinion as fact. The marshal invited comments, and although she often tore strips out of them, it was never without a great deal of sound reasoning, reasoning that she explained at length to the class. Lightning could be harsh, but she was never malicious. Students were corrected without being humiliated, and well-reasoned responses, even ones that turned out to be wrong, received grudging praise.
Finally, the training session was over. Fang turned to leave, but Lightning stopped her with a look.
"Captain Yun, Lieutenant Farron, we're going to be moving onto sparring. Perhaps you could give us a demonstration?"
A demonstration? Fang grinned. This wasn't a demonstration. This was an old-fashioned compatibility test, one she'd been dying to get out of the way since she'd met Serah. The cadets accompanied them over to one of the sparring areas, and Fang shrugged off her coat and shoes. Rather than accept the sword-like stave Serah held, Fang opted for something longer, something closer to a spear.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that the other Eidolon pilots had arrived. Good. She wanted to make an impression.
"Try not to kill each other," Vanille said.
"Don't worry, we'll be fine." Fang turned to Serah with a smirk. Fang was in her element now, all fun and games. She wanted to see what her new co-pilot was made of. "Are you ready for this?"
Serah matched her smirk. "Are you?"
Lightning stood at the edge of the sparring area. "First to four points. Begin!"
Fang lashed out with a strike straight at Serah's nose. The other woman didn't move so much as a muscle, and Fang's staff screeched to a halt a hair's breadth from her face.
"One." Fang chuckled. "Too slow to dodge?"
"No. I knew you wouldn't hit." Serah darted forward and her sword planted a mockingly gentle kiss on Fang's collarbone. "And who said I was slow?"
Fang's eyes widened. Oh, this would be fun. "Are you sure you shouldn't be the one they call Lightning?" Her remark was met by a few chuckles as she and Serah circled each other. Serah was fast, much faster than anyone she'd fought before.
"Less talk, more fight."
Serah breezed forward again, pink hair flying, as her sword whistled through the air. Fang parried each blow and then struck out with her spear, intent on driving Serah back out of range. The other woman might be fast, but Fang was no slowpoke, and she was far, far stronger. But rather than block, Serah ghosted through each of Fang's attacks, parrying now and then, until Fang finally locked their weapons together and shoved her back.
The shove lifted Serah clean off the ground, and she twisted, landing easily on her feet, only to find Fang's spear against her side.
"That makes it two to one."
"Nice." Serah tilted her head to one side. "But you're still holding back. You'd better start taking me seriously, or you will get hurt."
This time, Serah was even faster. Fang dodged back and forth. Etro! Serah had almost caught her with that last one. And the scariest thing was that for all their speed, Serah's strikes weren't wild. Each attack led flawlessly into another and another until the pink haired woman was a wave driving Fang back to the edge of the sparring area. But the Yun knew how to endure, and Fang was Yun right down to the soles of her feet. She held her ground only to find Serah crouched and spinning, one leg sweeping out to knock Fang off her feet.
"No one said it was weapons only." Serah extended a hand and helped Fang up. "Two all."
Fang was hard-pressed not to laugh. Serah had a sense of humour, all right. "So, that's how you want to play it? Let's go, Farron."
When they met again, Fang mixed her spear strikes with kicks, punches, and a whole bag of tricks. Serah met her in the middle of the sparring area, using the open space around them to dart in and out of range. The shorter woman was a blur of motion. The next time their weapons crossed, Fang abandoned her spear and tackled Serah to the ground.
"Three to two."
Serah didn't even bother to pick up her sword. Instead, she launched herself at Fang barehanded. Most pilots developed a preference for the side they piloted. Fang had carefully trained that weakness out of herself, and whoever had trained Serah had clearly done the same. She couldn't be sure, but she had a feeling it was the marshal's doing.
It was a joy to fight Serah. The pink haired woman might have lacked Fang's strength, but she was damn fast, and she knew how to use that speed. Serah would dart in with all the speed of a striking cobra, throwing a few strikes and then ghosting back, inviting Fang to come forward, only to suddenly plant her feet and meet Fang with a solid punch or kick that used Fang's forward momentum to amplify the force of the blow.
But more than simply enjoying the exchange, Fang was getting to know Serah. She was finally getting a solid grasp of how the younger Farron thought, a feel for the ebb and flow of her attack and defence. It was like fighting a whirlwind – or a bolt of lighting – and all it took was one moment's inattention as she admired a particularly acrobatic move, and Serah was there, a hand at her throat.
"Three to three."
"Next point wins then." Fang picked up her spear and tossed Serah her sword. "Let's see what you've got."
They met for the last time, and this time, rather than try a score a point, Fang fought to convey her intentions. She wanted to set a pace, a rhythm, and she wanted to know if Serah could follow it. For a heartbeat, Serah wavered, and then she was there, their weapons beating out a harmony only they could hear. Or perhaps not, for out of the corner of her eye, in one of those fleeting moments that were so often burned into her mind during battle, Fang thought she saw Lightning, the fingers of the marshal's right hand tapping out their rhythm on the top of her cane.
The rhythm was something Fang had always known, one she'd always felt inside herself, and already Serah was matching it almost perfectly. With a smirk, Serah upped the tempo, and Fang allowed herself a laugh before she followed. They picked up the pace, spinning and striking around each other in a blur of motion. Serah's eyes locked onto hers as their feet almost tangled, their backs almost touching on the next exchange before they went faster still. A missed step now would mean a broken bone or worse.
Serah grinned, nodded, and relinquished the lead.
Fang's spear came to rest on Serah's shoulder.
"You let me win." Fang couldn't stop herself from smiling. "Cheeky."
A shrug was Serah's response. "We'd be here all day if I didn't."
Then they were silent, sharing their camaraderie.
It was Lightning who broke the silence. "That is what compatibility looks like. It is not a competition, not a battle to decide who is best. It is acknowledgement. It is respect. Above all things, it is trust." She glanced at the cadets. "Get into pairs and start practicing. You could all use some more work on your form."
Afterwards, Fang stayed behind to help Serah instruct the cadets while Vanille headed back to her lab. At the end of the training session, Fang watched Serah head off to her room for a shower. There was someone she needed to talk to.
"Ma'am, how did you know that Serah and I would be so compatible?" Fang still couldn't get their little sparring session out of her mind. Serah fit with her in a way that Jihl never had.
Lightning's eyes betrayed nothing. Instead, she seemed more concerned with some of the equipment that had been left out. "I read your reports and files, captain. I watched footage."
"With all due respect, ma'am, that's a load of crap." Fang braced herself for a rebuke, but none came. Lightning merely narrowed her eyes, full lips firmed into a thin line. Suddenly, Fang felt very much like one of the cadets. Softening her voice, she continued. "Look, I don't mean to be rude, but I know how they pick co-pilots. Even after reviewing all the files, the reports, the personality tests, the footage, and all the rest, it still normally takes at least a week of in-person tryouts to be sure. I've never seen anyone pick a match this well without a tryout. So, how did you do it? I think I deserve to know."
"I suppose you do." The marshal looked around. They were alone. "Tell me, Fang, did Serah's fighting style remind you of anyone else?"
Fang's brows furrowed. She hadn't thought about it too much at the time, but now… "You," she said at last. "Everything I've heard, all the footage I've seen – she fights like you do."
"She fights that way because she was my partner and because I helped train her. It isn't exactly the same, but it is very close."
"What's your point?"
"I know myself very well, captain. When you're in hospital, there really isn't much else to do but think. I might have hoped for a while that I would pilot again, but deep down inside, I knew the truth. My injuries mean that I will never set foot in an Eidolon again. But Serah is different. She can still pilot. When I realised that, I realised I had to find her another co-pilot, someone who could fit her almost as well as I did."
"And you chose me? Why?"
"I told you, I know myself better than anyone. And I know Serah better than anyone. I asked myself a very simple question: if I was still piloting but Serah wasn't, who would be my partner? The answer was: you. I knew then that you'd be the best match for Serah, and she saw it too when she watched footage of you. She said that you reminded her of me. That was when I was sure."
Fang wasn't sure what to say. It made sense. Serah and Lightning had such a similar fighting style that any pilot who suited Lightning would almost certainly suit Serah as well. And Serah herself had agreed. But despite the esteem she'd already developed for the younger Farron, Fang couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like to pilot with Lightning. By all accounts, Lightning had been even faster than her sister, and more skilled to boot. Fang's fists clenched.
In one smooth motion, Fang knelt, swept a wooden sword off the training mat and flung it at Lightning. The marshal caught the weapon in her left hand. Never breaking Fang's gaze, she slowly transferred her cane into her left hand as she took the sword up in her right hand. The marshal's weight shifted almost completely onto her left leg. Then the wooden sword came up, and those blue eyes flashed a challenge, one that Fang could not ignore.
Fang's wooden spear lanced out in five swift strikes. Lightning barely moved, and she wasn't graceful the way Serah was – she couldn't be with her crippled leg – but she caught every single blow with her sword, and then Fang was gaping in disbelief, her spear tumbling end over end through the air until it clattered to the ground some fifteen feet away.
A small smile tugged at the corner of Lightning's lips as she dropped the sword and took hold of her cane with her right hand. "I told you, I know you, Fang. And I thought Serah told you to stop holding back. I might be crippled but I'm not dead. If you ever treat me like an invalid again, I'll break your wrist and demote you to private. Are we clear?"
Fang stared. Then she began to smile. "Yes, ma'am. Crystal clear."
Lightning was about to turn and walk away when she stopped. "And in case, I haven't made my point yet, who do you think designed Bahamut's overhaul?"
"That was you?"
"I had a lot of spare time at the hospital." Lightning's lips curled. "And I learned a lot from what happened to Odin. I wouldn't wish my fate on anyone else."
Fang watched Lightning go, her heart hammering in her chest. Five strikes. They'd only exchanged five strikes, but she knew, she knew that Lightning understood her. Serah would make an excellent co-pilot, but Lightning was something else. For a split-second there, just before Lightning had twisted the spear out of her hands, their eyes had met. Blue on green. Fang swallowed thickly. Lightning was in her head now, and they hadn't even Drifted together.
With a sigh, Fang turned. She needed to ask Serah what her sister had been like as a pilot.
X X X
"You said you were going back to your room for a shower."
Serah studied her sister's face closely. Lightning had never been one to show much emotion, but she'd learned to read the signs. "I'm sorry."
"That you're not the one in the Conn-Pod with Fang." Serah smiled sadly. "We match, but we both know, you'd match her better than me."
"That might have been true once." Lightning stepped around Serah. "But there's no point in wondering about what could have been. The only thing we can afford to worry about is what is. And right now, we have a war to win." Her voice softened. "And don't you dare apologise for what I chose to do. I was the one who chose to eject you, and if I had the choice again, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I said I'd take care of you, and I meant it. If I can't be there with you in the Conn-Pod, Captain Yun is the next best thing."
"You called her Fang back there."
"A slip of the tongue."
Serah watched her sister go and pretended not to notice the way Lightning stopped, right arm trembling as she reached down to clutch at her right leg. No matter what Lightning said, Serah knew what she still dreamed of.
They'd built Odin to run like the wind, and Lightning had been born to fly. Now Odin was nothing more than a museum piece, and Lightning would never run again. Serah closed her eyes against the pain, and when they opened again, they were as hard as her sister's.
If Odin couldn't run, then Bahamut would run instead. And if Lightning couldn't fly, Serah would do that for her.
"Because you always looked after me," Serah whispered as she finally turned to go to her room. "Just once, I'd like to look after you."
X X X
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
So, I had this funny idea that this chapter would be shorter than the first. Oops. Oh well, sometimes things just don't go to plan. This was something of an awkward chapter to write since Fang has to be introduced to the rest of the "team" and that isn't exactly the most exciting thing in the world. I tried to spice it up, so hopefully it wasn't too bad.
In case you missed them, here are the Eidolon pilots:
Bahamut = Serah and Fang
Shiva = Snow and Hope
Chaos = Yuffie and Vincent
Spira = Yuna and Tidus
The previous chapter was split fairly evenly between Fang and Serah's points of view, but this chapter is written almost entirely from Fang's point of view. This was a deliberate decision – Fang is new to Eden City's Ark. She is the one meeting everyone for the first time, and she is the one trying to adjust to everything. Serah's snippet at the end was added because Serah is the only one, at this point, who actually understands Lightning properly.
The two parts at the beginning (the two excerpts) are attempts to try and build a richer world for the story. Fang and the other characters can only see so much, but these little excerpts provide a way of expanding the readers' knowledge of the world this story is set in. It's like how flicking through a newspaper can give us some understanding of what's going on in the world, whereas our own experiences are often limited to our immediate vicinity.
The fight scenes toward the end were perhaps my favourite part of the chapter to write. There's nothing quite like a giant robot picking a fight with what is essentially a giant gorgonopsid (I was unbelievably tempted to name the fal'Cie Gary and make him fluoro orange in homage to Gary the Gorgonopsid, but that would have been ridiculous). Jihl and Fang work as a team, but it's in the most dysfunctional of ways.
Fang's fight with Serah was… interesting to write. I wanted to try and convey the same sense of learning about someone through fighting that I felt occurred during the fight between Mako and Raleigh in Pacific Rim. I think it's true that once you know someone well enough, sparring can be quite an enjoyable experience, closer to a dance than a fight.
For those of you who aren't aware, Lightning, Serah, Fang, Vanille, Sazh, Dajh, Hope, Snow, Amodar, Bartholomew, Jihl, Cid, and Rygdea all come from Final Fantasy XIII. Yuffie and Vincent are from Final Fantasy VII. Tidus, Yuna, Rikku, and Lulu are from Final Fantasy X. Penelo and Vaan are from Final Fantasy XII.
I would also like to mention that I now have two short stories up on Amazon. If you're interested in a paranormal Western, "The Gunslinger and the Necromancer" may be what you're looking for. However, if you enjoy fantasy, you might like "The Last Huntress." There are links to both stories in my profile. Give them a try – you won't be disappointed!
Oh, and I finally achieved one of my sillier long-term goals – I managed to get Vanille, Rikku, Yuffie, and Penelo all in the same chapter.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.