The Twilight Zone: Lightning
Something inside Lightning's velocycle jolted loose. The vehicle pitched sharply to one side, and she had to fight to keep it upright. Somehow, she managed to get it over to the side of the road before it ground to a halt. Thin trails of smoke wafted up from the inside of the machine.
This was perfect, absolutely perfect.
It was bad enough that she'd been assigned another late patrol, but now she was stuck on the side of the road at least an hour from Bodhum. Her fists clenched. Serah would have to eat dinner alone again. And knowing her sister, Serah would fall asleep at the table – again – hoping that Lightning would be back in time to join her.
Some sister Lightning had turned out to be.
She took a deep breath. There was no point in getting angry. All she could do now was radio in for help. If she was lucky, there might even be another Guardian Corps officer nearby. Otherwise, she'd have to wait until another car passed and she could hitch a ride. At worst, she'd be stuck here until the end of her shift. When she didn't report in, they'd have to send someone out to look for her.
Another cold breeze rustled past, and Lightning tugged on her jacket. It wasn't normally this cold on Halloween, but maybe winter had come early this year. If only she could wear pants, but whoever had designed the female Guardian Corps uniform seemed to think that pants were evil.
A few minutes later, a pair of lights appeared in the darkness. It was a car. She moved to the side of the road and waved. The car blinked its lights in acknowledgement and then eased to a stop in front of her. She breathed a sighed of relief. It was a Guardian Corps car although she wasn't familiar with this particular model of car.
The passenger door popped open.
"Need a lift?" The inside of the car was dark, the driver's features hidden within the hood of a thick Guardian Corps jacket. But based on the voice, the driver was a woman. Lightning examined the jacket more closely and then snapped to attention as she recognised the insignia of rank on the shoulder. This woman was a general.
"Thank you, ma'am." Lightning gave the general a salute. "I would appreciate it."
Lightning slipped into the passenger seat and did her best not to fidget as the general pulled back onto the road. There wasn't anywhere to put her velocycle, so someone would have to come back for it in the morning.
For a few minutes, neither of them said a word. Instead, Lightning looked out the window. They were an hour from Bodhum, but she should still have been able to see something. But outside the window was a solid mass of inky darkness. Had there been some kind of power failure? That would explain why she couldn't see any lights and why no one had replied on the radio.
"You look anxious, soldier." The general didn't look away from the road ahead, but her voice was filled with faint amusement. There was something familiar about her voice too, as though Lightning had heard it many times before. But that couldn't be right. She'd never met a general before. "You keep looking out the window."
Lightning straightened in her seat and did her best to look anywhere but the window. "I have a few things on my mind, that's all, ma'am."
"Is that so?" Lightning couldn't see the general's face, but she could have sworn she was smiling. If there was a power failure, she hoped that Serah was all right. She should be – they had candles and flashlights. "Do you mind if I ask what you're thinking about?"
Her private life was not something that she liked to discuss, but Lightning wasn't sure she could actually say no to a general. Well, she could, but she didn't know if she would still have a job afterward. And she and Serah really needed the money.
"You know," the general said. "You remind me a lot of myself when I was younger. You see, I lost both my parents when I was younger, and I had to look after my little sister. Those were some tough years. The Guardian Corps were the only ones who would take me."
That got Lightning's attention. "Ma'am?"
"Everyone has their own burdens to carry." The general gave a quiet chuckle. "But my sister was never a burden. I didn't mind working long hours because it was all for her. All I wanted was for her to be happy and safe. That didn't stop me from feeling lonely sometimes, though." The general glanced quickly at Lightning, and Lightning caught the gleam of icy blue eyes. "The look on your face just now was exactly the same look I used to have back then."
Lightning let out a breath she hadn't even known she was holding. Despite the fact that they'd only just met, the general's story did a lot to set her at ease. If she was telling the truth, then the general did understand. Maybe… maybe it wouldn't be such a bad idea to tell her a few things. "Can we keep this off the record, ma'am?"
"Sure. I'm not on duty anyway."
Lightning looked out the window. It was easier to talk when she didn't have to look at the other woman. "You're right. I was thinking about something. I'm a lot like you. My parents are both dead, and I have a younger sister to look after. She's still in school, so it's hard."
"I bet it is. And you're new to the Guardian Corps as well." Lightning's eyes widened, but the general gave another quiet chuckle. "I've been in the Guardian Corps a long time. You can always tell when someone's new. Besides, only the rookies get stuck working the late shifts this far from town."
"I don't mind doing the work, ma'am. It's being away from Serah that I don't like."
"My younger sister."
"Right." The general tapped her fingers on the steering wheel. "It's hard isn't it? You want everything to stay the same with your sister, but how can it? She's still in school, and you're out doing patrols and making arrests. You live such different lives now. It's tough."
That was exactly it. Lightning sank back into her seat. She'd struggled to support herself and Serah for so long that it was a relief to meet someone who understood. "Yes, ma'am. I… I try my best for her, I do, but there are times when she needs me to be her sister and times when she needs me to be her mother. I feel like I'm making a mess of things. I'm not her mother, and sometimes I don't even feel like I'm her sister anymore."
"Why is that?"
Lightning bit her lip. She didn't want to say anything, but it was hard to keep the words in. She'd kept these thoughts to herself for so long that they were burning her up inside. "I worry that she'll fall in with the wrong crowd. I worry that she'll get into trouble since I'm never around anymore. I try to set rules. I try to look after her. But we end up arguing most of the time. It's… I hate arguing with her, but she's so young, and I don't want her to get into trouble –"
"You're doing your best." The general reached out with one hand and patted Lightning's shoulder. Lightning had to blink back tears. It had been so, so long since someone had given her that kind of support. She was strong – she had to be for Serah – but she was tired of always having to be the bad guy. Their parents should have been the ones setting rules and grounding Serah when she got into trouble, not Lightning. But they were dead, so Lightning had to do the best she could, even if she and Serah got into arguments because of it. "That's all anyone can ask."
"She deserves better." Lightning sighed. No one had ever taken the time to talk to her like this – she hadn't let anyone. She'd been forced to grow up fast, and she refused to burden Serah with her problems and fears.
"You can talk if you want." The general's voice was soft and almost gentle. "I'll listen."
Lightning bit her lip. And before she knew it, she was blurting out the details. There was no structure to what she said. All of her fears and worries tumbled out in one big mess. But the general didn't seem to mind. She listened, and right now that was what Lightning needed most – someone who would listen.
"I… I don't know what I'm doing," Lightning confessed. "I feel like I'm losing her."
"You'll never lose her."
"How can you be so sure, ma'am?" Lightning swallowed thickly. "If you don't mind my asking, what happened to you and your sister? It… it sounds like you've gone through what I'm going through now."
"We went through some difficult times," the general said. "But it worked out in the end. Even when we were arguing, I don't think we ever forgot how much we loved each other." She paused, and her eyes caught and held Lightning's. They were an intense blue, sharp and hardened by years of experience yet gentle somehow despite that. "If I could give you one piece of advice it would be this: don't close yourself off to love. Your sister loves you and wants to support you. And she's stronger than you think. Don't be afraid to lean on her from time to time. She can handle it. Don't forget to look after yourself too. Who knows, you might even find someone to love you."
"I'm not interested in love." Lightning scowled. She had no time for romance, no time at all. Serah had to come first.
The general laughed. "I said the same thing too, but you'd be surprised by how quickly things can change. Don't be afraid to grab love when you see it. Remember: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Besides, I get the feeling that it would take someone pretty special to catch your eye."
Lightning did not like the way this conversation was going. "Ma'am?"
"You're very straight-laced aren't you?"
Lightning didn't dignify that with a reply. Finally, she sighed. "I guess so, ma'am."
"Of course you are. But the person who catches your eye won't be. Think tall, brunette, green eyes. Think a little too mischievous for her own good."
Lightning froze. She'd never discussed her sexual orientation with anyone. Not even Serah knew if she preferred men or women. It was private, and she didn't see how it was anyone else's business. "Ma'am?"
The general didn't say a word, and Lightning was about to press the issue when the car suddenly entered a town. But it wasn't Bodhum. Sure, the buildings looked similar, but the layout of the streets was completely different. There was also a lot of unfamiliar vegetation. Above them, unfamiliar stars and an unfamiliar moon filled the sky. She caught a glimpse of a sign out the window: Welcome to New Bodhum.
Halloween was supposed to be a time when strange things happened. Lightning wasn't one to put too much stock in fairy tales, but this couldn't be normal.
"Ma'am, stop the car."
"I don't think I will."
Lightning tried to draw her gun blade, but the general was even faster than her. The weapon was tugged out of Lightning's grasp and tossed into the back seat. Lightning was about to lunge after it when the general pushed back her hood. All the breath rushed out of Lightning's lungs. She was looking at an older version of herself.
"What… is… this?"
"A lot of what they say about Halloween happens to be true." The general rolled her eyes. "Trust Vanille to be right about something like that."
"Never mind." The general smiled. "I have to admit, I was a little surprised when I heard you over the radio. But I knew I had to pick you up."
"Who are you?" Lightning stared. This woman looked exactly like her, albeit older.
"I think you know." The general's lips twitched. "After all, I did mention having gone through what you're going through now."
"I'm General Lightning Farron."
"So everything you've said…"
"Take my advice: give love a chance. Trust me, it'll be worth it."
"About what you said…" Lightning was still trying to wrap her mind around what was happening. Had she crashed her velocycle? Was this a hallucination? "You said I'd meet someone…"
The general pointed out the window. "Look."
Lightning looked out the window. They were driving past a towering tree of a species she didn't recognise. Sheltering beneath its branches was a woman she'd never seen before. She was tall with tanned skin, dark hair, and emerald eyes. A strange blue garment was draped over a body toned almost to perfection. A spear was slung over one shoulder, and her lips were curled up into a smirk. She barely seemed to see them or the rest of the town, but for a split-second, her and Lightning's eyes met. Something flared in Lightning's gut, a heat that was equal parts longing and recognition. She knew this woman somehow – or she would one day.
"Who was that?"
"I don't want to spoil the surprise." The general seemed amused by Lightning's reaction – and by the flush on Lighting's cheeks. "But trust me, you'll find out."
And then the town around them was fading. They were out on the open road again. Lights came on in the distance, familiar lights. They stopped.
"Here's where you get out." The general nodded at Lightning. "Go on, this is your stop."
"Wait!" Lightning's eyes went from the unlocked door to the older version of herself beside her. "About Serah –"
"You'll work things out with her. It won't always be easy, but you will always, always have each other. Believe in her, she definitely believes in you. And don't forget what I said about love. It'll find you one day when you're least expecting it."
"I have more questions –"
The general shook her head. "I've already told you more than I should have." She pushed Lightning out the door. "Take care, and look after Serah."
Then the general was gone. Lightning stared after the car until it vanished, swallowed up by the night. She was startled out of her reverie by the honk of a car horn. It was Lieutenant Amodar.
He leaned out the window and eyed her velocycle with a wry look. The general had dropped her off right where they'd started. "That thing is toast. Hop in, I'll give you a lift back." He noticed the strange look on her face. "It's Halloween, Farron. See something creepy? It's only been five minutes since you called over the radio."
"Five minutes?" That couldn't be right. She had been with the general for at least an hour. "Did you see that other car, sir?"
"What other car?" Amodar laughed. "Maybe you are spooked. Come on."
Lightning got into the passenger's seat. "It's nothing, sir. I must be tired."
"Well, you have been taking a lot of extra shifts." Amodar gave her a thoughtful look. "Too many, I think. We've got another batch of rookies coming in next week, Farron. I can move you onto a daytime patrol if you want."
"I'd like that, sir."
Lightning leaned back into her seat and closed her eyes as Amodar headed toward Bodhum. Daytime patrols would mean more time with Serah. But her sister's image didn't linger long. Instead, it was the other woman who appeared in her mind's eyes, the one with dark hair and green eyes.
Who was she?
Her lips twitched. She would find out one day. She was sure of it.
X X X
As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.
Halloween is coming up, so I thought I'd try my hand at writing something with a bit of a supernatural bent. Of course, this isn't a scary story so much as it is a story about something a little unusual happening. There have long been superstitions about the kinds of people or things that you can run into on a lonely road late at night. In Lightning's case she happened to run into herself from the future.
There really isn't too much to say about this chapter other than I hope to get a companion piece up (this time involving Fang). I just thought it would be nice to see future Lightning talking to a younger Lightning. Personally, I think one of the biggest changes Lightning could undergo as she gets older is learning to love and trust others. She's so big on self-reliance, but it's okay, sometimes, to lean on others. And the Lightning from the game (and presumably earlier) is so closed off toward love that learning how to love and be loved would be a big change for an older Lightning. Naturally, older Lightning has a bit of advice about those things for her younger counterpart. It might seem a little odd that younger Lightning got talking so easily, but if there's anyone who knows how to get her talking, it's older Lightning.
Finally, I hope that everyone who participated in the free promotions for The Last Huntress and The Gunslinger and the Necromancer enjoys the story/stories that they picked up. If you do enjoy them, please take a few moments to leave a review on Amazon or pick up one of my other stories, The Lord of Dark Waters (the sequel to The Last Huntress) and The Burning Mountains.
My apologies also to anyone who wanted to pick up a copy but could not. Unfortunately, Amazon has some rather strange policies regarding many of the countries in South-East Asia. For instance, there are countries where you cannot purchase an eBook from Amazon without obtaining a US-based credit card or something similar.
If you did enjoy The Last Huntress and The Lord of Dark Waters, I am currently working on the next story in the series. I won't give too much away but there are drakes, hydras… and one badass dragon. Yep, things are never boring for Scarlett and Rose.
As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.