As much as I love other Final Fantasy games, I think we’re long overdue for some new FF13 content.
I mean, COME OOON SQUARE!
Give my babies more screentime; New asses to kick, more silly and flirtatious remarks…a kiss…a hug…an adult Hope flicking Lightning’s forehead… ANYTHING.
JUST GIVE MEEEEE!
It’s been too long 😭 (I miss them)…
A continuation of the continuation. Enjoy!
“Here we are, Light,” Hope said as he pulled into the driveway of a small thatched cottage in the middle of nowhere. Ivy covered the front of the house; birds flew around several bird feeders that had been set up; bees zipped in between scores of flowers that surrounded the base of house.
“It’s absolutely breathtaking Hope,” she said as she got out of the car. He smiled.
“Wait until you see the best bit,” he said wiggling his eyebrows. “Here, let me get that for you.” Hope took Lightning’s case from the passenger footwell. She gave him a smile, those reserved solely for him, and have been since the Whitewood. Hope unlocked his front door and held it open for Lightning to enter. Oooh, he’s such a gentleman. Lightning could practically hear Lumina swooning.
Lightning entered Hope’s home. The first thing she noticed was the enormous window directly opposite the front door; the window went from the floor to the ceiling and was several paces in length. It had a stunning view of vast fields covered in flowers, with mountains in the distance and a fast flowing river curving around the base of them. Lightning moved up to the window, placing her hand on it palm flat.
“I take it that this window is the best bit then Hope?” she said, barely above a whisper .
“Yeah it is. Wait until sunset though, then it is truly spectacular. Although I must say that my view right now rivals it.” Lightning turned round and saw a pink cheeked Hope with his soft green eyes looking straight at her. Kiss him! Kiss him! Kiss him! Lightning was struggling to restrain Lumina now. Hope shook his head.
“Sorry Light, I’m being a terrible host. Allow me to show you to your room.” Hope turned on his heel and walked to the left of the front door, Lightning’s bag in hand. Lightning followed, noting that the room she was in had nothing on the walls.
“Here you are Light.” Hope opened the wooden door to reveal a small room, with a bed and a chest of draws in. Again, Lightning noticed, there was nothing on the walls. She walked in and placed the box containing Odin’s crystal on top of the draws, next to a vase of freshly cut roses.
“There is a bathroom through the door there. It has a shower in, but if you would like a bath then feel free to use the bath in the main bathroom. My home is your home Light. Please help yourself to anything you would like. I’ll let you get some rest and freshen up.” Hope placed Lightning’s bag on her bed and turned to walk out of the room.
“Oh! That’s right. Wait Hope. I have something for you.” Lightning went over to her bag and opened it. Inside, buried underneath clothes was a rectangular package wrapped in blue wrapping paper.
“Oh just what I always wanted! A blue rectangle!” He said, smirking. Lightning shot him a glare.
“Don’t get cute. It’s a gift from Serah.”
“From Serah?” Hope moved over to the bed and sat down, taking the item offered by Lightning. Lightning sat down next to him. Hope peeled the wrapping paper off the corner and carefully unwrapped it. He was shocked to see a hand drawn Alexander in his Gesault form staring back at him, beautifully framed in a wooden frame. Hope traced Alexander’s left shoulder with his finger.
“Did Serah draw this Light?”
“Yes she did. She’s always had quite a passion for drawing.”
“But how? She never saw Alexander. How could she know what he looked like?”
“She doesn’t. She says that she can ‘see’ him. But what is really strange is that she couldn’t continue the drawing unless I was in the room with her. She loses her glimpse of him if I’m not in the room” Hope looked up from the picture and turned to look at Lightning. Calming green met calming blue; she had been staring at him.
“Please pass my thanks onto Serah for me, and my regret that she couldn’t make it. And thank you Light, for bringing it all this way.”
“Its no problem Hope. I was coming to see you anyway, with or without Serah.” She smiled at him. He smiled back. They stayed there for some time, or no time at all, staring into each others eyes. Slowly, they both began to lean in, eyes fluttering shut. They were millimetres from each other, moving closer, Lightning could feel Hope’s breath on her lips. The moment was shattered when a loud buzzing noise came from Lightning’s pocket. Nooooooooooo! Lumina really did have a piercing scream, Lightning thought. She took her phone out, still buzzing in her hand, and read the name Serah on the screen.
“Sorry Hope. I need to take this.”
“Of course. Let me know if you need anything.” Hope stood up, walked out of the room and gently closed the door, taking the picture of Alexander with him.
Lightning slid her finger along the front screen of her phone, answering the call.
“Hi Sis! Did you get to Hope’s safely? Is he okay? What’s his house like? Did he like my drawing?” Lightning chucked at the rapid fire questions from her younger sister.
“I’m here safely, yes. Hope is fine, if looking a little tired. His house is beautiful, a picturesque countryside cottage. He was made up with your gift, yes. Although I’m sure he would have appreciated it more if you were the one to deliver it to him. Remind me again why you and Snow and Vanille and Fang and everyone else couldn’t make it?” Serah just giggled.
“Because of work and other reasons that you couldn’t argue with. You were always close to Hope sis, and I know that he held you very close to his heart. You two should have some time to catch up without all of us there distracting him. Although do pass on all of our phone numbers and emails to him so he can get in contact when he wants to.”
“Yeah I will do.”
“Anything else to tell me sis?”
“No I don’t think so…” Lightning’s eyes glanced over to the draws and to the purple box that sat on top of them. “Oh, Hope bought me a gift. He gave it to me when he picked me up from the station.”
“Oooooh. What is it?”
“It’s a copy of the crystal I used to summon Odin in the old world.”
“Oh wow sis. Can I see it?”
“Unless you fancy making the trip down here, no you can’t.”
“Honestly Claire, you are so bad when it comes to technology. If you look at your phone screen it should have a symbol that looks like a video camera. Tap it.” Lightning did as she was instructed and Serah appeared on her phone screen, giving her sister a small wave. “See, you can show it to me and I don’t even have to be there.” Lightning smiled.
“You always were good with technology Serah. Hold on.” Lightning went and carefully removed the crystal from the box. She held her phone in her right hand and held the crystal in her left by her face. She wanted to see Serah’s reaction after all. Once Serah’s eyes fell onto the crystal Lightning could have sworn that they flashed white, if only for a moment.
“Oh wow Claire. That is absolutely stunning. I…” Serah paused, looking down, brow furrowed in concentration.
“You okay Serah?”
“Yeah. I- I- I think I may know what Odin looked like. Could you send me a picture of the crystal sis? I feel like drawing all of a sudden.”
“Of course. I’ll do that as soon as were done.”
“Thanks sis.” Lightning heard a knock on the door.
“One sec Serah. Come in.” The door opened and Hope popped his head in.
“Sorry to disturb you Light. Would you like anything to eat or drink at all?” As if on cue, Lightning’s stomach made a noise that could have passed for a whale’s mating call. Hope struggled to hide his laughter.
“I’ll take that as a yes then. Come on out when you’re ready.”
“Thanks Hope,” she said giving him a smile and trying desperately to ignore the burning she felt in her cheeks. He turned and gently shut the door. “You could have said hello you know Serah.”
“No I couldn’t. This is meant to be your time with him Light. I’ve kept you talking long enough. Speak soon!” Serah abruptly ended the video call. Ruuuuude! Lightning couldn’t help but agree with Lumina.
Lightning stood and carefully placed Odin’s crystal back into its box, taking a picture and sending it to Serah, and putting on the lid.
Lightning found Hope facing a counter in a kitchen, in a little offset next to the large window that she hadn’t noticed before. Hope turned around and held a tray full of cheeses, biscuits, crackers, and what looked like chocolate cake in his hands.
“Would you mind getting the door just there for me please Light?” Lighting turned to her left and saw sliding patio doors. She opened them and saw a small patio with a table and two chairs facing the mountains that had been revealed so well by the huge window. On the table were two champagne glasses and a bottle. Hope gracefully moved past Lightning and placed the tray onto the table, grabbed the bottle and after a loud pop!, was pouring fizzy liquid into the glasses. He pulled a chair out from underneath the table and motioned for Lightning to sit, then taking the seat opposite.
Lightning sat down, enjoying the heat the chair gave out after spending all day in the sunlight. Hope picked up both glasses and handed one to Lightning. He held his up to Lightning in a toast, “To the new world, and to the savior who brought us here.”
Lightning mimicked Hope’s actions, blushing ever so slightly, lifting her glass to him.
“To the new world, and to the man who saved the savior.”
A continuation from the previous fic. I’m still learning how to work Tumblr, so please forgive any formatting errors. Please comment if you have any constructive criticism, or just want to say hello!
During the drive to Hope’s home, Lightning could not take her eyes off the rose blossom. It was an exact duplicate of Odin’s crystal in every way. The folds of the petals, the height, and even the weight were all perfect. She heard a chuckle to the side of her.
“Don’t go smashing it with a sword now. It won’t summon anything in a world without magic.” She turned her head to see Hope staring at the road ahead, smirking. Lightning rolled her eyes.
“Obviously. It’s far to beautiful to smash. Although anymore smart comments like that and I can’t say the same about your face.” She reached over and flicked his cheek. Hope just chuckled.
“You think my face is beautiful?” Hope replied, quick as a whip. Lightning’s face went beet red.
“N-no! I-I didn’t mean…” Lightning was interrupted by Hope hearty laughter.
“I’m only teasing Light. I’m glad to see you haven’t changed.” Lightning smiled, her face returning to a respectable colour, and hummed in agreement.
“I’m glad to see you have changed Hope. Back in your rightful body.”
“Yeah. It’s good to be an adult again.” Lightning wasn’t quite sure, but Hope’s cheeks looked as if they turned very slightly red.
Lightning’s attention was again brought back to the rose blossom in her lap when the light hit it just right and it shined in her eyes. Very slightly smiling, she very carefully picked it up out of its cushioned box and turned it over to admire it fully. What she did not expect was a very small engraving on the base of the glass blossom. We’ll carve out a new fate! Cocking her head to one side, Lightning stared at the engraving as her finger ghosted over it.
“Mmmm?” Hope replied as he indicated left, turning down a well worn country road.
“What does this engraving mean? ‘We’ll carve out a new fate’?”
“I’m surprised you don’t remember. Think back to one of the first battles we had, right after Odin became your ally.” Lightning closed her eyes and cast her mind back all those centuries.
Night had fallen over the Vile Peaks. She and Hope were tired, cold, and hungry. The battle against Odin had been exhausting. Instead of stopping as normal humans would to satisfy their cravings, they pressed on as Pulse l'cie had to. Lightning had told Hope that ignoring his human needs for the time being until they were safe was his first lesson on being ‘toughened up.’
The next few moments are a haze. A flash bang, lots of shouting and noise, and the unmistakable sound of boots crunching in the dirt. When Lightning regained her senses, she and Hope were surrounded by PSICOM soldiers, muttering to themselves about defying orders and kill the l'cie instead of capturing them as the Primarch had ordered. In Lightning’s right peripheral vision she could make out a silver bird perched on a mountain of trash. A drone perhaps? Whispering to Hope that he should run when she gave the signal, and making it clear that she wouldn’t take no for an answer, she began gathering her energy towards her brand.
Hope ran and Lightning shot thunder to her left while unsheathing her gunblade and darting to the right. She brought down two soldiers with a well aimed sparkstrike. She turned, just in time to see a solider use the butt of his gun to smash Hope in the side of his head. Hope fell and Lightning screamed. A rose blossom appeared at her chest, she threw it and smashed it with a single swipe of her gunblade. Odin descended with a crash of thunder.
“We’ll carve out a new fate! Odin! Cut us a path!”
A small pothole in the road caused Hope’s car to jerk bringing Lightning back to the present.
“It was the first time I ever summoned Odin,” she whispered opening her eyes. “But you were unconscious, how could you possibly have heard?”
“I was only out for a minute at most, I think. The first thing I saw when I came round was you and Odin, and you saying ‘we’ll carve out a new fate’. Truth be told Light, that is the most vivid image I have of the old world. It’s a pleasant image, even regarding the situation we were in.” Hope’s cheeks were very slightly pink.
I bet you could give him way more pleasant images to think about! He was a huge fan of that purple lightning garb right?! Lightning attempted to shut Lumina out, given her mad laughter, but a huge blush appeared on her cheeks. Carefully, she placed the glass blossom back into the box and closed it. She held tightly onto it.
This is an idea I’ve had in my head for a while now. I do plan on continuing this story. Please leave a comment if you want or have any constructive criticism. To paraphrase Bhunivelze, ‘Hoperai love eternal!’
Social media is a powerful thing in this new world, Lightning Farron thought to herself as the countryside flew by; the sound of the trains engine her only companion, other than her own thoughts. I’ve spent months searching for him using the methods I would have used in the old world with no success, yet just 13 hours after I get a social media account I find him. Lightning smiled. She couldn’t wait to see him again, and if his social media profile picture was anything to go by he had returned to his true adult body, a body she had only ever seen from the timeless city of Valhalla. A veeeery attractive body at that, a childish voice that sounded suspiciously like Lumina piped up. Lightning shook her head trying to dispel those thoughts.
The train door slid open and Lightning stepped out. She paused a few steps onto the platform, enjoying the warm wind on her face and the smell of flowers and freshly mown grass. Looking to the sky she saw the moon, so much smaller than the man made moon in the previous world, and a plane in the air. Maybe Sazh is piloting that plane, she wondered. Walking down the steps and taking a right she came to the car park. And there, halfway down, was Hope Estheim leaning on the bonnet of his car. As Lightning approached she saw he had his eyes closed, arms folded, and was facing the sun, a small smile on his face. She stopped a few feet away and loudly cleared her throat. His eyes flew open and his head turned towards the noise. Lightning saw his pupils dilate as soon as his eyes landed on hers. He pushed himself up, his soft green eyes never leaving her for a second. He took very slow, tentative step towards her. When he reached her he quickly and quite forcefully poked her in the forehead.
‘Hey! What was that for?!’ she said, rubbing the injured spot.
‘Sorry. I had to make sure you weren’t a phantom…’ Hope pulled her into a crushing hug. Dropping her bag, she reciprocated the hug, pulling him in tighter, sandalwood cologne filling her nostrils.
‘Thank you Hope,’ she whispered in his ear. Hope released her from the hug, placing his arms on her shoulders and staring into her blue orbs.
‘Why are you thanking me?’ he said, confusion evident on his face. Lightning stared into his eyes, feeling heat rising in her face.
‘You came back for me. You saved me from the chaos. You heard me cry for help, when no one else did. You saved my soul.’ Lightning could feel tears forming in her eyes. ‘Thank you.’ She was aware that Hope’s eyes were growing wet too.
‘You don’t need to thank me for anything. If you think even for a second I would leave you alone in the chaos, especially after hearing you shouting for help, you clearly don’t know me. I was going to turn back you know. I would have stayed in the chaos with you, if you wanted to stay. We are partners, both in the last world, this one and any to come.’ He smiled, a single tear escaping from his eyes and sliding down his cheek. Lightning gently wiped his tear off his cheek leaving her hand on the side of his face. He leaned into her touch, eyes gently closing.
Kiss him! Lightning mentally clamped down on Lumina’s voice, who she could almost hear laughing away. Hope opened his eyes, smiling at her.
‘So, what should I call you in this new world? Your profile says Claire. Is that okay?’
‘I’ll always be Light to you Hope. But call me whatever you wish.’ Hope nodded.
‘You look quite tired Light. Let’s get you back to my house. We can talk all we want there.’ Lightning nodded. Hope clicked a button on his keys and the silver car beeped. Hope went and opened the passenger door. Lightning smiled at him as she went to get into the car. She stopped when she noticed a purple velvet box on the passenger seat with a pink bow on top. Hope noticed her staring.
‘It’s a gift for you. I was out shopping when you contacted me. As I was messaging back, it caught my eye in a shop window. Be careful with it though, it is quite fragile.’ Lightning nodded, picked up the box and sat down in the car. By the time Hope sat in the drivers seat, Lightning had the box open and was staring at the contents with wide eyes and her mouth open. Inside the box was a rose blossom made of pink glass. It caught the light just right and cast a pink glare onto her chest.
‘Hope… is this…?’
‘Your crystal that you used to summon Odin? It looks like it to me,’ he said with a grin reaching from ear to ear. Lightning looked away from the crystal and met his gaze.
‘Thank you Hope’ she said her voice close to breaking.
‘Now that I will accept thanks for,’ he said with a wink.
Kiss him! Kiss him! Lightning’s fight against Lumina was a fight she was rapidly losing.
Snow is Hope’s cousin and convinced him they should go donate blood together; this is how Hope gets tracked down and consequently all the mess that follows is entirely snow’s fault >:[
Side note, Nora survives this entire AU.
@ hoperai peeps
jupiter ascending au
A firework shot into the air, bursting and painting the night sky in a plethora of wonderful and jaw-dropping colours.
“They’re really beautiful, aren’t they honey?”
“Yeah! They’re really pwetty!"
He chuckled at her childish mispronunciation as he ruffled her hair.
"I knew you’d love it…”
This time, another firework went off into the dark of the night, bursting into an even larger and spectacular display of a rainbow of colours. It was bright enough to illuminate most of the surrounding area.
“Wow..” she awed, and he couldn’t help but stare in wonder at it as well.
“That was an even bigger one, daddy!” she squealed in childlike joy.
“Hehe.. it sure was, honey.”
She continued to sit in his lap, her emerald eyes glistening as she admired the bombastic display of fireworks lighting up the sky above her.
She turned around, a wide smile forming on her lips.
Her lips curved into a smile. “I see someone’s missed me.”
He patted the patch of grass beside him, inviting her to sit with them. But what’d caught his eye were the bottles of drinks in her hands. She handed one over to him, earning her a thankful smile from his lips.
Before he even had the mouth of the bottle anywhere near his mouth, he stopped.
“Wait, this isn’t.. alcohol, right?”
“Pfft.. course not. It’s soda,” she replied with a little laugh to her voice.
“Daddy, what’s alkahawl?”
“Umm.. I’ll tell you some other day, okay sweetie?”
“It’s just a drink for grownups honey.. that’s all,” she said, hoping that it would be enough to sate the little one’s curiosity.
The three of them sat there huddled up on the small hill overlooking the park, providing them a breathtaking view of the fireworks display in the sky.
“Where does Snow even get these fireworks?,” he asked as he took another sip of the soda.
She shrugged, “Beats me..”
They looked downwards towards the source of that snore, greeted by the sight of their little daughter snoozing off into dreamland in her father’s lap.
He brushed his fingers through her pink locks before placing a sweet kiss on her cheek, earning him a small smile from her lips.
“Let’s just hope the fireworks don’t wake you up..,” he chuckled to himself.
Another one flew into the air, emanating a loud boom before releasing its colours. Yet, the little girl was still fast asleep.
“I don’t think that’s gonna happen,” she joked.
She rested her head against his shoulder. His arm slinged around her shoulders in return, bringing her closer to him.
His eyes sparkled with the reflections of the pyrotechnics lighting up the sky. “This really brings back memories..,” he sighed as he rested his head on hers.
He sighed once more, this time an even deeper one: one of remembrance and reminiscence. “Yeah…”
“Me too..,” she sighed as a reminiscing smile curved on her lips. “Who would’ve known things would end up like this?”
He let out a little chuckle. “I certainly didn't…”
“Me neither..,” she chuckled along with her husband. “But.. this is good. Life.. is good.”
Perhaps good was understating it. Life.. life was amazing. No more gods, no more fal’Cie…
“Yeah..,” he sighed in content, “..life is good.”
A yawn escaped her lips. Her eyes became heavier as her head drooped further onto her husband’s shoulder.
“Feeling sleepy, Light?”
“Wanna go home?”
She let out another yawn. “No.. I think I’d rather stay here - if you don’t mind.”
“I don’t mind at all, Light,” he said with a smile. “Sweet dreams…” he whispered as he ran his fingers through his wife’s pink hair.
“You too.. honey..” she said between her yawns. Before long, she was already asleep.
He sat there with his wife resting against his shoulder and his daughter sleeping in his lap, a content sigh escaping his lips. He’d regret this when he’d wake up later - backaches and all. But for now, he’d enjoy the moment while it lasted.
He looked up at the bursts of colour in the sky, remembering the wishes he’d made during his childhood vacations in Bodhum. But now, in this new world, he had nothing else to wish for - because what he wanted was all with him, sleeping soundly in his arms.
Finally these two can be together in the new world <3 Faceups, wigs and all clothes except Hope’s shirt custom made by me <3
Well… better late than never, right? Again?
“I know I said you could stay over whenever you want, but…” Lightning scratched the back of her head, hesitating for a moment. “Hope, my couch is pretty damn uncomfortable. Why do you keep coming here?”
Hope shrugged. “Your place is closer to work. Saves time.”
He grabbed a blanket and a pillow from her closet and placed them on the couch before lying down. He’d already changed into a tank top and his sleeping sweatpants, taken from the drawer in her bureau that had somehow become his. His button-down shirt and slacks lay neatly folded on the small ironing board squeezed in between the closet and the bureau. If it weren’t for him and his damn shirts, she wouldn’t even have owned an ironing board. Things were getting out of hand.
“Hope. Come on. Cut the crap.” She crossed her arms. “Is there something wrong with your apartment?”
“You’re not there.”
Lightning blinked. She wasn’t sure what she’d expected him to answer, but that definitely wasn’t it. “What?”
“That’s what’s wrong with my apartment. You’re not there.” He gave her a smile, kind but with a hint of sharpness in it—a smile she usually interpreted as I’m exhausted, you’re silly, and I’m way too done with everything to sugarcoat things for your convenience.
“So you’re staying here, because…”
“Because you’re here.” He draped the blanket over himself and closed his eyes. “Less nightmares. More sleep. Good for work.”
“Good for work. Of course.” She paused, unsure what to say. “Well… goodnight, then.”
His lips twitched. “Goodnight.”
A part of her wanted to tell him about the way his presence improved her sleep, too. Another part of her wanted to tell him just how terrifying she found that fact. A third part wanted to tell him to stay away before things got seriously complicated. A fourth part wanted to tell him to just get up from the uncomfortable couch and share the bed with her.
Lightning turned off the light and went to bed without telling him anything at all.
Hope: Light-san… does that mean… you missed me…?
Hope: I… I was scared of seeing you.
Repost for Hoperai Week 2017 Day 1: An Unexpected Meeting
Story Summary: Set post LR in the New World, Hope is a scientific
researcher trying to put the past behind him, until the day he
encounters a certain rose-haired Vuitton model… who promptly runs away
from him?! Also features appearances by Rydgea and Cid Raines, who show
make fun of Hope give Hope and Lightning their greetings.
View the pages in full view here at pixiv (can still be viewed without a pixiv account, just hit the x button on the log in box), the full translation is below.
Trying to ignore Snow’s loud chewing and the episodic giggles that kept coming from their corner of the admittedly-small table, Lightning picked at the remains of her food while trying to periodically shoot disdainful looks in the direction of the burly blond and her sister. The two of them were laughing over some piece of paper Snow must’ve brought home with him from his work, although she had absolutely no interest in whatever it was that was so amusing. So much for peace and quiet.
Resting her hand on her chin, she half-turned around to watch the rapidly darkening sky outside the window. The plumes of smoke from the earlier fire she’d seen still were still visible, and she briefly wondered where that particular fire had come from. Tuning out the quiet conversation behind her, Lightning found that the sight outside—the dark grey against indigo—struck at something vulnerable deep inside; a certain amount of what she supposed was both regret and apprehension.
Was this meant to happen?
The thought made her feel lonely, although it wasn’t the first time it had done so. She’d believed in the future that she’s fought for, then. She wasn’t at all sure if she still believed in that same future because it seemed like every time they tried to create that future once more, it seemed to slip from their grasp: intangible, like trying to hold water in shaking hands. Was I right in trying to fight? There was one question that prowled at the back of her consciousness, one that she didn’t want to admit to anybody.
Should I have let Bhunivelze create our future instead?
The distant crack of thunder echoed against the stone mountains and the early autumn rain was unrelenting. Her hair and clothes already soaked, Lightning found that the crude tent above her head did little to stop the water from seeping through. For once, she was glad Serah was back in town. The stone structures that had been rapidly constructed had to have been better than anything they had out here at the moment.
Another flash lit up the night sky, illuminating the thousands of raindrops that showed no sign of stopping. Sloshing through the wet grass and the mud underneath, she found Snow kneeling at the edge of the small cliff, mechanically wiping water from his eyes every few seconds, a few feet from the lookout point. He glanced at the sky every so often.
“They should be back by now,” she heard him mutter under his breath. “It shouldn’t take that long to get back from the mountains.” He wasn’t looking for a reply, and she didn’t give him one, but Lightning stood silently against the cold rain, waiting for the same thing as him.
Visibility would have been poor even if there hadn’t been the storm that had decided to hit sometime that afternoon. There were precious few resources to work with, and the few cumbersome and inefficient electric lights that they’d managed to procure during that time didn’t work all that well in the rain. Intelligence had managed to get their hands on a couple, but the storm had all but negated any effectiveness they’d had on the growing darkness.
The steady rhythm of the rain was so loud that she almost missed the sound of heavy hooves against earth. Squinting in the darkness, she could barely make out the silhouettes against the black mountains.
Snow stood up abruptly. “Is that them?” Like her, he was straining to see in the poor lighting, but there could be no mistaking the sound of the horses, even in the squall. The creak of crudely made metal seemed sharp and unnatural, and she had to remind herself, yet again, that technology was a long way off. But as the large light was turned towards the flat grasslands that lead towards the base of the mountains, something else caught her eye, beyond the dark shape of the horses.
She reached out to stop Snow when he turned to leave, presumably to jump down the short cliff. “What…is that?”
“Huh?” The blond man had been watching the lookout station, but he glanced back when she tightened her grip on his arm. He opened his mouth once before closing it, because clearly, he was looking at the same thing she was.
There were darker shapes against the deep grey of the surrounding landscapes, but that wasn’t the eerie part. The moment the bigger light—despite its low potency—had been turned towards them, there were eyes reflecting back at them. Even in the storm, even though they had to still be about a kilometer away, she could see them, bright crimson against black.
Instinctively, Lightning took a step backwards. There was not a single moment in her experience where she could attribute this to something positive, and anxiety twisted in her stomach. The riders on the horses seemed to be aware that they were being followed—she could hear the hooves much more clearly now, and even from here where she was still far away, she could tell it was no leisurely pace.
There was something else above the sound of the rain: flapping wings, and as Lightning watched the black forms grow closer on the horizon she felt her muscles tense. Even if her mind did not want to accept it—that there could be any form of danger around here—her body was prepared to fight. The distressed murmurs around her increased in volume, but she was hardly paying attention anymore.
“Snow!” she hissed into the darkness, but she couldn’t make out the burly fighter anywhere near her. The stupid man must’ve moved closer to what she was almost sure was imminent danger in her moment of hesitation and she cursed silently, knowing exactly how much trouble she would get into if the blond man didn’t come back with her in one piece.
She was about to turn around to go look for him when a shrill bird’s cry interrupted the sounds around her. Almost crow-like, it was joined immediately by many more. The sounds of the rain seemed mute in comparison as the light on the lookout point spluttered into darkness and exploded in a shower of sparks. In the near darkness, the space around her felt compressed. She wasn’t claustrophobic, but the heaviness of the air pressed against her chest uncomfortably as Lightning looked around for the nearest light source.
About fifty feet away was another one of the lights that the search group had been given, but before she could do so much as turn her body towards it did yells interrupt the blackness. She could hear the sounds of scuffles, but without light, there wasn’t much to see. Stumbling in the darkness now, she tried to make her way to the only source of light she could reach. There was little chance of her finding Snow now—she would be lucky to even bump into him at this rate.
There seemed to be many more things lying on the wet grass than she remembered, but the chaos that had descended so quickly around her seemed almost surreal. She tripped once—over a flimsy metal pole that must’ve been part of one of the hastily constructed tents—but she rolled it into her palm. She felt better with a weapon to her name, even if it wouldn’t hold up a tenth of its weight in an actual fight.
The loud squawks and yells hadn’t ceased, but Lightning felt strangely unattached to the environment around her, as though she was moving through water. Another crow call sounded close to her ear, and she turned around, close enough to the dim light that she was able to see about a meter or two in front of her. A bright flash lit up the sky the moment she turned, illuminating the dark shadow of an eagle-sized bird not three feet away from her, crimson eyes blinking suddenly in the harsh light, its black beak wide open.
She reacted a heartbeat too late; sharp talons dug into the skin of her left forearm as she raised it to protect her head. Letting out a small hiss of pain, she raised the pole in her right arm to meet the bird as it dived for her again.
The tip of the metal pole met resistance as she slashed it downwards like a sword. It wasn’t anything close to a real weapon, but it did what she hoped it would do. The creature in front of her flapped its now uneven wings unsteadily as it tried to escape, but there was no way she was letting that happen. Stabbing the pole forwards, she caught its broad chest as it tried to flap away, ripping open the joint where the wing feathers met the body. It dropped like a sodden rag, the crimson light rapidly fading from its gaze as thunder echoed off the distant mountains.
“Hey!” A sharp prod accompanied the one syllable word as Lightning was distracted from the sharp memories that the plume of smoke had reminded her of, and she looked up to see the slightly disdainful look that both her sister and Snow were giving her.
Snow gave his head a shake. “I’m sorry Sis, but this is what I’ve been trying to tell you. You don’t pay attention when other people talk to you,” he said through a mouthful of black bread. She scowled at him, before he went on after swallowing. “Like I was saying, a Class Four attacked Southtown yesterday.”
Usually, she didn’t pay much attention when Snow started in on his reports on what had happened at work, partially because she usually they weren’t of any interest to her, and partially because half of them were pointed reasons for why she should’ve been there with him. If it had been up to her, Lightning would’ve banned the topic from the table, but she let it slide, only for the sake of Serah. Her sister saw so little of Snow in the recent weeks that she clung to almost every word he spoke, and she couldn’t deny Serah the precious few moments she spent with her fiancé, even if it thoroughly annoyed her that she had to listen to a complete rundown of everything that’d happened to the man every time he came home.
But the mention of the Drasil had piqued her interest. “A Class Four?”
Snow looked at her skeptically, pretending that he couldn’t believe that she would be interested in anything he said. “Yeah, a Class Four. We got the report this morning—it trampled half of Southtown before they managed to scare it away.” He scratched the top of his head, looking ominously serious for once. “They couldn’t even take it down; it took out half the settlement and scaring it off was the best they could do with the bombs they had.”
“The one we saw around here a week ago was a Class Three, right?” Her sister’s pale blue gaze was serious as she watched her fiancé, one hand draped delicately around his huge wrist.
“Yep.” Snow reached for another piece of bread.
Serah’s gaze followed his hand before it returned to the tabletop. “But, they’re classified in terms of sizes, aren’t they? If the Class Ones and Twos are the smaller ones, and that was a Class Three we saw last week, then the Class Four must’ve been huge.”
“‘Bout the size of a block,” Snow replied in between mouthfuls of bread. “It was a miracle they even saved half the settlement. Which reminds me,” he continued darkly, glancing in her direction. “If you’re still insisting on digging through the mud like some common worker, you might get sent to Southtown tomorrow. The higher ups were talking about it; normally, we wouldn’t send anyone so far because it’s dangerous out there, but Southtown is in bad shape.”
Lightning scowled at him again—the word “dangerous” wasn’t a bright one to use, and they both knew it. But whether his intent was frightening her into not going—after all, the work was voluntary: she didn’t have to go if she didn’t want to—or just trying to intimidate and pressure her into coming to work with him instead, she wasn’t sure. What she was sure of was that she wasn’t going to buy into either.
“Thanks for the information,” she replied dryly, before getting up from the table and walking over to the small window at the back of the kitchen.
Serah had watched their exchange with a serious blue gaze, but she kept quiet. Lightning remembered their conversation before Snow had gotten home; her sister wasn’t oblivious, but the tension between them was evident and she knew Serah didn’t like that.
But Serah was wrong if she thought she was going to back down to Snow so easily, and with frustration, she remembered that Serah had told her she’d told him to lay off on the pointed remarks. Well, that was about as obvious as he could get. What’s next? Handing me an official document for me to sign? She snorted; the blond man was inching closer and closer to the breaking point where she’d informed her sister of earlier. Being “nice” to him can only go so far. The fingers of her right hand absentmindedly traced across the faint scars on her left forearm left by the crow Drasil months before; it was a bad habit that she’d developed, but Lightning couldn’t see reason to break it. The slightly raised skin there was a subtle but ever-present reminder that the world they’d come to was far from perfect, and if there had been any fruition in today, it would’ve been that it was a reminder of just how far they still had to go.
Snow’s prediction came true within hours, when the blond man had ventured outside following dinner to go look at the wooden billboard at the end of the block. He’d come back with an unreadable expression before announcing it in a carefully controlled voice. Serah’s gaze had flicked back and forth between them, but Lightning hadn’t planned on giving anything away, keeping her face impassive as she avoided looking at the man.
Now, still sitting downstairs in the dark room, she heard the creak of wooden steps as someone came down the stairs. It wasn’t Serah—she could hear the sound of water upstairs as her sister went to take a bath in the water that they’d heated during the day—which meant it had to be Snow. Annoyance sparked inside her: when would the man learn to leave her alone? What does he want now?
She’d been expecting anger in his voice, but there was none when he spoke. “I was hoping to talk to you without Serah around,” he started. His expression was neutral, and she crossed her arms as she waited.
He inhaled and exhaled loudly before he spoke again. “Look, Sis, I know I’m not exactly your favourite person on the planet right now. I never was,” he chuckled, “but this isn’t about me. This is about Serah.”
She arched an eyebrow at him as he continued. “I don’t mean to bug you on purpose—well, okay, maybe I do,” he corrected himself, “but I really wish you’d reconsider about not working for Command.”
“We’ve had this conversation before,” she told him flatly, trying to keep the irritation out of her voice. “I’m not changing my mind.”
“Why not?” He took a step closer to where she was sitting. “Wouldn’t it make more sense? You wouldn’t have to work anywhere dangerous, we’d get just about the same amount of benefits, and Serah wouldn’t worry so much. What could possibly be bad about all that?”
Lightning stood up, aware of the fact that her annoyance was probably showing on her face now. “You don’t get it,” she countered, uncrossing her arms but not letting the tension drain out of them as she curled her fingers together tightly at her sides.
Snow didn’t back down. “What don’t we get? Lightning, you could’ve pulled that excuse way back before, when you were stuck in limbo, and even afterwards, when you were supposed to save all our souls. That would’ve been a valid argument then. But it isn’t now—what part of anything now do we not get?”
She found that she couldn’t answer that question truthfully. Not that she wanted to tell Snow the truth in any case, but Lightning found that as far as a 'reasonable’ excuse that Snow wanted, she couldn’t give him one. I don’t think I’m lying when I say that they wouldn’t understand… but do they see things that way?
Snow had never regretted anything. Possibly, when he looked over the end of the world in Yusnaan, but after that, and even before that, he’d always said that there was nothing but to go forwards—and that was exactly what he was doing now. His positive determination had led him to where he stood now.
Even Serah. Even when she had believed that sending her sister on that particular journey had been a mistake, Serah had never thought of it that way. She’d genuinely wanted to change the future—even when she knew she’d been growing closer and closer to death the more futures she saw.
But I’m not them. I never will be. I keep wondering what things might’ve been like if I hadn’t meddled with time without knowing its consequences, or tried to change what our future was without knowing what was in store for us, waiting at the end of the world.
I don’t want to make another mistake, and I don’t want to be the reason why something goes wrong again. Is that something Snow and Serah would understand?
Somehow, she didn’t think so.
By focussing on something else, it drowned out the thoughts that constantly plagued her when she was alone; the what-ifs and the I-should'ves. Lightning found that the only relief from those thoughts came from physical exertion. The more time that she spent on mindless physical work, the less she tended to dwell on uncomfortable thoughts, which in turn put her in a slightly better mood when she had to interact with other people.
But whether or not Snow and Serah would’ve understood even if she’d said it out loud, there was another bad habit of hers that lingered beneath the surface. I hate looking vulnerable. It was a notion she now knew wasn’t healthy for anyone around her, but Lightning had found herself withdrawing from opportunities to communicate with people more and more as the pressure for her to do something increased. The more her sister and Snow tried to get her to join Command and to open up, the more unwilling she was to do it. Perhaps the two were connected in more ways than one, but regardless, she didn’t intend on going back on what she’d decided no matter what anyone said to her. This is my choice.
She met his fervent gaze for a few more heartbeats before Snow sighed. “Okay,” he acquiesced, “I won’t pretend I understand what’s going on inside your head, Sis. But please, please don’t upset Serah.”
Lightning winced; despite her irritation with him, she had to admit that at least on that level, he was right. “You know I don’t do that on purpose.”
He crossed his arms back at her. “And you know you’ve upset her with your decision to go to Southtown tomorrow morning. She worries about you when you’re out.”
She found that she didn’t have an answer for that statement either. What can I say?
He looked at her for a long while before continuing, heaviness creeping into his tone. When Snow said his next words, he sounded like he’d been carrying them with him for a thousand years—which, she acknowledged, he very well might have. “We both owe her.”
She met his eyes, knowing the weight of his words as though they were her own. “I know.”
The morning light seeped through milky clouds, though whether the smoke would ever clear away completely was something that remained to be seen.
Lightning had tried to be discreet when she’d been getting ready, though the quality of the wood in the stairs didn’t make her task any easier, but she’d found Serah already sitting at the table, silently watching the sun rise through the gaps in the mountains. She wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to say to her sister—the conversation with Snow from the previous evening still lingered at the back of her mind, and somehow, everything she might’ve said sounded oddly inappropriate in her head, and so she kept her mouth shut, afraid that she would say the wrong thing.
Serah had watched her with a quiet gaze, unobtrusive, but for someone who usually wore her heart on her sleeve, Lightning couldn’t figure out what her sister was thinking. It was only when she was halfway down the front steps did Serah finally stop her.
“Be careful, okay?” Her next heartbeat was one of pained guilt: she hated that this was Serah’s usual way of saying goodbye. But…
After the previous night’s conversation, her usual response to the question seemed inadequate, but Lightning found that she didn’t have the words to say what she wanted, not because she didn’t think she couldn’t justify the decision she’d made, but because there would be no way she could do it without some part of it coming out wrong, and because the last thing she wanted right now was pity, should she try. “I will.” She paused, wondering how to continue—she felt certain that Serah had at least heard part of what had happened downstairs the night before, but how much her sister had heard, she didn’t know. “I’m sorry…”
These too, felt inadequate, but she didn’t have a coherent articulation for how she really felt.
Serah looked surprised, genuinely so. “For what?”
“For worrying you,” she offered, hoping that it meant what she hoped it would mean.
She was unprepared for the hug that Serah offered her, and for a few moments, Lightning wasn’t sure whether she’d only succeeded in making her sister cry—something she was keen to avoid at all costs—or if she’d said something she shouldn’t have. But nonetheless, she returned it automatically: she’d learned the hard way about taking things that she shouldn’t have for granted.
Serah looked up at her, a serious light in her normally playful blue eyes. “I know you are. But… I just want us to be happy,” she continued quietly. “Really happy, I mean. And… I know neither Snow nor I can really understand how you feel right now, so if going away makes you feel better, then I can’t ever be against that.”
Her voice was soft as she continued. “I can’t really pretend I understand everything either, but I just wanted to let you know that we are here for you too if you want to talk.”
Lightning exhaled quietly, not realizing that she’d been holding her breath. For what, she wasn’t one hundred percent sure for, but… But this conversation could’ve gone worse. And for that, she was grateful. Taking a small step back, she tried to gather her thoughts together. “Thanks,” she murmured quietly, unable still to put the remainder of her emotions into words. “I’ll try to, okay?”
The corners of Serah’s mouth twitched. “Trying is good.” She repeated her words from the previous night. “I can accept that.” Her sister paused again. “That’s all we’ve ever expected from you, you know?”
Yeah, I knew. But I didn’t take you up on it. Whether it’s because I don’t have the courage to, or because I’m too selfish to, I don’t know.
Regardless of how she felt inside, the morning air cleared her head and allowed her to process the tumultuous emotions that showed no sign of slowing down anytime soon. There was a certain amount of relief, but it didn’t run very deep, as Lightning followed the dirt path south from the settlement, huddled towards the back of the group of people as she always was. There was a certain part of her that reassured that on some level, Serah did understand, but she was also painfully aware that that was only the tip of the iceberg. The whole thing would have to be uncovered sooner or later, if they were ever going to make it past the silent stand-off that had seemed to exist between her and Snow ever since she turned down Command’s initial offer to her, instead choosing to find work with the civil workers, but she wasn’t particularly looking forward to that conversation.
Wariness prickled her skin; in any other situation, the landscape around here might’ve been serene, but she found that her muscles were as tense as they might’ve been if she’d preparing for a fight. Who knows what’s out there? It was impossible to tell; the ravine was quiet now with the occasional burst of birdsong from a grove of trees, but whether something much more sinister was waiting for her just around the next turn was beyond anyone’s capacity to predict.
I hate this.
She hated tiptoeing along as though she was prey and waiting for something to happen. She had never been one to wait until trouble had already opened the door—if it had been up to her, she would’ve met that particular danger before it even had the chance to target her, but Lightning had to accept that things were not up to her to decide. It was her own fault, of course, but cold claws gripped her stomach when she remembered just how much could go wrong. But still…
She spared a glance at the grey morning sky. It was still early, and according to Snow, Southtown was almost a full day’s walk through the ravine in between the mountains. She’d never been there herself, namely because civilians weren’t generally allowed to travel between the various settlements unless they were assigned to. Not that anyone would leave the safety of the settlement voluntarily: there were too many Drasil outside the sparse areas of population for it to be considered safe.
That begged the question of what exactly she was doing here, and for a moment, Lightning felt as though she understood her sister’s misgivings. But it was too late to go back now, and despite the risks she would be taking—who knew if they’d run into Drasil on the way there—it was almost worth avoiding the visits from Command. She found herself looking upwards, finding a branch overhead swollen with delicate green buds. For some unknown reason, the sight was reassuring.
I will keep that promise.
Lightning wasn’t completely sure what she was expecting Southtown to look like. From Snow’s description, he’d made it sound like Southtown was much like where they lived, only it was halfway across the range of mountains that seemed to stretch for endless miles. She remembered that he’d said the Class Four Drasil had destroyed half the settlement, but she hadn’t expected it to be this bad.
Dying fires still burned slowly, sending dark plumes of smoke into the sky, only to whipped away by the strong gusts of wind. Snow had been right; she could clearly make out the flattened wooden structures closer to the river, but somehow, hearing it and seeing it weren’t the same.
The familiar apprehension hit her in the chest like a physical blow. Was this my fault, too? She stopped at the edge of the trees, torn between the desire to run away from this too, and the instilled knowledge that she couldn’t run now.
Suddenly, coming to Southtown didn’t seem like a good idea anymore. She felt sick; there was a nauseous feeling in her stomach that was entirely unrelated to what she’d eaten that morning, and she numbly moved her feet as she followed the straggly single file towards the remnants of the settlements.
For the thousandth time, Lightning was glad she’d managed to keep her identity hidden; she’d seen enough desolation for a lifetime, but she was like something of a magnet for trouble—she didn’t intentionally try to go looking for it, but somehow, it always ended up finding her anyways.
Collecting her shovel, she found herself assigned to a near corner of the town. Carefully avoiding the faces of the local settlers, she returned to her old routine: by pushing herself physically, it squeezed out all other thoughts that might’ve crossed her mind otherwise. It tended to work fairly well, even in the worst of times, but today, she felt almost self-conscious, moving between the crowds of people who lived Southtown. Although she was usually keen to avoid eye contact with most people, she felt more paranoid than usual, as though invisible gazes were trained on her back, though she hadn’t attracted anyone’s attention… so far.
For the first time in months—or perhaps Southtown was just unnaturally balmy—the sun shone strongly through grey wisps of cloud as it set. Without realizing it, she’d loosened the scarf that she used to conceal the lower half of her face: both the lingering smoke and the unseasonal heat were making her warmer than she would’ve liked.
Lightning was about to go dump her last load of ash and burnt wood in the cart when someone tapped her shoulder. Annoyed, the thought crossed her mind that who, exactly, would have the audacity to want her attention. By all accounts, she wasn’t a friendly person, and most people tended to stay away from her, which suited her personal agenda just fine. Still unsettled by the unfortunate turn of events that had happened to her in the last forty-eight hours, she whipped around, fully intending to snap an irritated reply.
The words died at the back of her throat when she found herself looking into a pair of very familiar emerald eyes.
“What are you doing here?”
March, CE 2
Despite the cool wind, it was almost as though winter had never come. The brown grasses were beginning to turn green again, and rain was starting to fill the crater like scars that giant talons had left in the earth. But the wind also blew the smell of ash and dust, and Lightning coughed into the dull scarf before tightening her hands around her shovel.
The ash mixed with the remaining piles of snow was disorientating, as though she lived in a world of grey. But that wasn’t necessarily true, as she reflected; the world that she’d first seen was green, the colour of summer grass and what she’d come to associate with the promise of a future—and hope.
But that greenness didn’t last very long. It wasn’t long before their settlement of the new planet had brought unwelcome change. Or rather, they’d been the unwelcome change. She supposed it probably hadn’t been completely unexpected. Trust the damned god to throw a wrench in our plans when he figured he was going to lose. They weren’t alone. And just like the first time civilization had populated Pulse, this was much the same.
But the differences were deadly.
The summer that they’d landed had been peaceful, largely because most people had been too afraid to wander far from the small pockets of civilization. But when autumn came, and resources around the tiny towns had been exhausted, a few adventurous immigrants had gone hunting in search of new ways to sustain themselves. What they’d found—or rather, what found them—hadn’t been pleasant at all.
Out of the northern mountain ranges swarmed dark parasites that had attacked like a nest of angry wasps when disturbed. Feeding exclusively off human life, they’d quickly caused panic and terror to arise in the small seeds of civilization that they’d managed to plant.
Intelligence had quickly dubbed them Drasil, after the tree of light that had sustained the dying world’s last days. Numerous religious sects believed that the Drasil had come as punishment for the misdeeds that humanity had committed in the final days.
That’s a load of garbage. Lightning didn’t believe in their beliefs for one heartbeat—not that she had patience for the crazy nutters that roamed up and down the streets every morning, shouting the most idiotic things she’d ever heard. If they wanted to help, they wouldn’t be sitting around doing nothing.
No one said this was going to be easy.
At the time, it had sounded wonderful—a new world without gods, without magic, without the timelessness that had held humanity still for five hundred years. But she had never expected it to be simple, and Lightning was tired of the complaints she heard every day, as though the dissenters had expected it to be that simple. Did they think we were going to wake up in a world already built for us?
That thought made her angry. If we’re going to survive, we’ll still have to fight for it.
Fighting itself had been a different issue. She’d kept away from the hastily put-together militia, and kept her head down. She didn’t go out without a hood and a scarf to cover most of her head and face, afraid that people would recognize her from somewhere. When Serah had asked about it, she hadn’t had an answer. She’d told her sister it was because she didn’t want the attention, but deep down it was more than that.
She hated to admit it, but Lightning was afraid—in a way she’d never been afraid before—of the responsibility that might come to fall on her shoulders. She was afraid to have to be the one to make things right. What if it’s my fault all those people have died? It was a gnawing fear that she usually managed to push away, but a vulnerability nonetheless. She didn’t want to have to lead anyone again. That’s done. I just… want to be a regular person. Is that selfish?
But whether or not her sister agreed with her, and whether or not Serah had her own misgivings, Lightning avoided the small chain of command that had been set up like the plague. Instead, I get to be here, digging out the ashes left by the last few firebombs. She knew Serah didn’t exactly approve, but her sister had kept quiet—most of the time. She also knew that Serah had spent the last few months silently pondering the changes that had come over her, and wanted an explanation, but Lightning wasn’t sure she wanted to share that part of herself just yet. Even to Serah.
I just don’t think she understands.
She returned most of her attention back to digging. She had to admit whoever had come up with the idea had been smart: the Drasil were vulnerable to flame, so it made sense to throw crude explosives at it. A group of smaller Drasil could probably be handled with conventional weapons alone; even the shovel she had in her hands was probably enough to take one out. The problem was that not all drasil were the same size, and when one the size of several houses put together decided to attack a settlement it was harder to stop. The last one had come a little too close for Command’s liking, and the higher ups there had ordered the bombing. It would have been a nice idea if we didn’t take out one of the smaller settlements in the process. Intelligence had argued that everyone in the settlement was dead anyways—it wasn’t like the Drasil were merciful—but Lightning wasn’t sure if she agreed. However, since she wasn’t part of the chain of command, and as far as they were aware, just a civil worker, she had to follow her instructions when the fires finally burnt out and come digging through the ashes left behind.
She briefly wondered how long Command thought they could keep this up. Every time there was a drasil attack, more people were injured, and more people died. She wasn’t in any position to question them, but anyone could see that there needed to be a solution—and soon. The tension around town was akin to the subdued quiet of cattle headed for the chopping block.
A brief ray of sunshine poked it way around the overcast sky, sending small refractions of bright light from the remaining piles of snow. Something needs to change. Soon. Shifting through the grey dirt, she coughed again when a gust of wind blew a puff of ash into her face. It wasn’t a smell, or a taste, that could be gotten rid of easily and Lightning could’ve sworn it took ages for her to wash off. Even after spending half an hour at the small sink she had back home, she could swear that still more of it clung to her skin. Fire and death. That’s all that’s left here.
It was late in the afternoon when most of the horse drawn carts were full. She was careful to avoid eye contact with the one that held the corpses that someone would have to bury back in the main part of town, and she didn’t envy the people that would have to do it. Hoisting the shovel onto her shoulder, she lined up with the rest of the workers by the south of the settlement ruins. The line moved slowly as the workers dropped off their tools and collected their earnings. Out of habit, she kept her head down; even out here, there was a chance that someone would recognize her and Lightning found herself staring at her ash-stained hands.
For some reason, the sight made her nostalgic, but only slightly. She couldn’t say that she would miss the days that they looked otherwise, but for the umpteenth time since that first fight with the Drasil, she wished things could’ve been different. If only we had come to a world that isn’t as dangerous and hostile as this one.
Then she snorted, disgusted that the thought had ever crossed her mind. Now I’m starting to sound like those ridiculous people in robes. She shook her head to clear those thoughts out of it.
Taking the small sack of coal and the modest amount of money that was the standard payment for all civil workers, she headed south, taking the flattened path of long grass. Once there’d been plans to build roads between the settlements, but that plan had long been abandoned. For now, the crude road would have to do.
Glad that the acrid smell of ash was no longer blowing into her nose Lightning loosened her scarf a little. She hoped no one would have the audacity to look at her; after all, she wasn’t a friendly person. Nonetheless, she avoided speaking as much as possible in case someone recognized her voice. She was probably being paranoid, but after months of trying to avoid the Church and Command alike she was tired of being chased, tired of their insistence that she help them , and tired of being treated as though she could make everyone’s problems go away.
Her fingers clenched tightly around the mouth of the rough burlap sack. Go find someone else to solve your problems!
Her less than happy mood persisted until Lightning reached the main portion of town. Truth be told, it wasn’t much of a town. Houses had been thrown together hastily out of either wood or stone, and from all the fires that they’d had to create lately, most of them were soot stained as well until they were as grey as the dirt they’d been built on. Technology as she remembered seemed a long way off. Not until we defeat the Drasil.
The crimson sunset had driven most inhabitants back to their homes—although it was unlikely for the Drasil to come soon, the smell of smoke that repelled them wouldn’t last long, and it wasn’t as though they had enough resources to keep fires burning day and night. She cast a sullen gaze over at the concrete building towards the south of the settlement, surrounded by a slightly crumbling stone wall. Any sympathy she might’ve felt for Command had long been erased by their ceaseless hounding of her.
Unceremoniously, she kicked a stray lump of coal under her boot. Some people just don’t grasp the concept of “unwelcome”. Speaking of unwelcome…
She spotted Serah’s drawn face peeking around the rough curtains that framed the crude glass of the windows. Her sister wore a look of relief as she opened the door. “You’re back!” Accepting the hug that her sister offered her, Lightning dropped the sack of coal near the entranceway.
“You’re going to get ash on your clothes,” she rebuked her sister as she headed towards the small sink in the corner of the kitchen, intent on getting the dirt out from under her fingernails. Serah followed her with the coal, dumping it in the wooden bucket near the small heater.
“I’ll just wash them later,” came the reply. Lightning half turned her head to see a small smile playing on Serah’s lips. “I’m just glad you’re safe.”
“I did promise to be careful,” she replied dryly, still scrubbing at her palms.
Her sister’s face failed a little as she went on. “Command was here again today, looking for you.” There was a little pause before Serah went on. “I told them you were out.”
Sensing that she was waiting for her to say something, Lightning turned off the water. “Thanks.” Her sister hesitated, but she wasn’t prepared to say more on the subject.
Handing her a towel, Serah sat down at the small table. “They’re not going to give up on hoping to catch you sometime, you know. They know you live here.”
Lightning felt like rolling her eyes. “They’re just wasting their time,” she said between gritted teeth. “The only reason they’re not here now waiting for me is because they want to stay on my good side. Come on, Serah, d'you really think Heklar is that stupid?”
Serah pursed her lips, and she could tell that her sister didn’t want to continue discussing this particular topic. Her sister brightened a little a moment later. “Snow’s coming home today,” she blurted out, clearly wanting to talk about something else.
“He’s excited to come home,” Serah continued determinedly, ignoring the distasteful expression Lightning was sure she was wearing on her face at the moment. “And he’s excited to see you too.”
“I’ll bet he is,” Lightning muttered under her breath. “He’s excited to see everyone. He’s like a big dog who’s seen his favourite chew toy.” And that chew toy, of course, would be me.
Serah gave her a long look. “Be nice to him, okay?” she asked pleadingly. “I know he isn’t exactly your favourite person right now, but he’s been really busy lately… I did tell him to stop being… annoying about it.”
And as irritated as Lightning was at her de-facto brother at the moment, that was enough to draw a small smile from her, and she sighed. “Yeah… okay. I can’t guarantee anything if he starts again, though,” she warned her sister.
Serah returned her smile. “Trying is good.” Getting up, her sister made her way over to the wooden box that was outside in the tiny backyard. Drifts of snow were still piled up in the corners, their ash-grey tops touched to a crimson gold in the sunset. For the time being it was still cold enough at night to keep food inside it, but they would have to find another way to keep the food fresh once summer came.
Leaving her sister to the cooking, Lightning found herself wandering up the half-flight of stairs. There wasn’t that much more space upstairs, but with Snow coming home soon, she preferred to be upstairs rather than down. His perpetual good mood tended to ruin hers, and she snorted, remembering the broken man that she’d once found in Yusnaan. The memory seemed almost exotic, as though it’d been taken from someone else’s life. It seems so far away now.
Could I really have imagined that this is the new future we fought so hard to save?
Lightning found herself on the tiny balcony that overlooked the small settlement into the dying red sun. Resting her chin on her palm, she found that she had no answer for that question, because so many other questions lay unanswered.
She supposed that she owed Snow a certain degree of thanks. The burly man had volunteered instantly to “help the people”, something she inherently shied away from. It was thanks to him they even had a place to live—unlike the other settlers who had scrambled to put wooden shacks together in the outskirts of town before winter had hit. And because Snow had volunteered to work at Command, she was spared a certain amount of responsibility, although he hadn’t stopped asking her to join them every time he came home.
That was what she hated most about him. Sure, he was a more likeable person now—or maybe she’d learned to just put up with him, instead of him being the bane of her existence—but she hated his pointed comments that he made an effort to make every time he was around, which, thankfully, wasn’t often. He acted like he didn’t know about the string of officers that were continuously dispatched to his own home. Serah, of course, agreed with him on principle. It wasn’t that her sister was particularly fond of her working at Command, it was that she agreed with him that she should get out of the house more often.
Serah had noticed the change in her demeanor much more quickly than Snow had, although if the blond man still had no inkling of it, then he had to be on a whole new level of unobservant. But Serah doesn’t understand. Lightning found her free hand clenching into a fist. I don’t want to be responsible for everyone anymore. And if I go to command, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
She wasn’t exactly open to sharing that particular thought with her sister—she didn’t want to be the topic of another soul searching conversation that wouldn’t go anywhere.
Because Serah and Snow are different people. They’re happy. They don’t carry the weight of everything that they’ve done around with them on their shoulders.
But that little fact wasn’t something she planned on burdening Serah with at all. After all, her sister was back, she was happy—considering the circumstances—and she wasn’t about to break into that. If it meant putting up with the pair of them whenever Snow was around, then she supposed that was the price she would have to pay.
She half-smiled at that to herself. After everything they’d been through, she still wasn’t comfortable emptying all her thoughts out like Snow did to her sister. Old habits die hard, I guess. She stayed put where she was, although she heard the door open and close downstairs, wrapped in a moment of uncharacteristic nostalgia, as the thought brought up memories that seemed like they’d happened lifetimes ago. And maybe they had, all things considered. Where she stood now seemed like the furthest thing she had in mind when she remembered her thoughts about the future she’d wanted to create. The old sense of unease crept through her limbs when Lightning caught sight of a distant plume of fire, bright already against the darkening sky.
I’m not the only person who fought for a future.
Fang, Vanille… and Hope. We all wanted the same thing. Where are they now, I wonder?
New Hoperai animation!
I squealed at this interpretation of LR post credit scene.
The strong survives the jungle.
Solitude sprouts strength.
There’s no room for weaknesses.
That’s what she had been convincing herself. She had no need for anyone else in her life aside Serah. She needed to be strong for the sake of hers. She needed to be strong for her family. That’s how she had been living her life, away from attachment, away from pain, convincing herself with logic, and it bore a fruitful result: she was never hurt again.
Killing a part of self which makes you weak? No. It was always there, never ceased to exist. Lightning never realized she never truly killed a weakness, until she faced her greatest fear.
“Welcome home, Light.”
The welcoming smile escaping his lips, the warmth and compassion in his light blue-green eyes, the soft loving voice she never thought to brush inside her ears so soothing. The moment Hope Estheim welcomed her back ‘home’, she knew one thing. She was stripped of her emotions, as was the man in that child’s body. With no proper ability to feel comes with the inability to see emotions. Perhaps that’s why it wasn’t absolute, she thought. Because even if she hadn’t realized it yet at that time, she could realize it and feel it now. She knew one thing.
New Hoperai animation, squeeee!