Original Concept: Motomu Toriyama/Daisuke Watanabe Author: Jun Eishima
Part I: Encounter
She knew she was surrounded, but she felt no nervousness or panic. She only thought about how it would save her the time it would take to look for them. “Just like we heard”, Lightning murmured as she readied her sword. There were several Bloodbaths, a monster that looks like a fish with amphibious arms and legs that lives by the water’s edge. On the outskirts of the Coastal City Bowdam, these sorts of aquatic monsters appear quite often. It’s not only humans that want to live here, with it’s warm temperature, water, and resort-like atmosphere, it seems even monsters find it easy living.
She could detect four of the reddish grey lumps in the area. She sensed two behind her. One began to creep about. It was preparing to attack. She sliced her sword down the right side of her vision. Resistance. Now to the left. Her sword flashed, becoming her name, through the Bloodbath’s vitals. Now two are down. She felt something jump at her back. But at that speed there should be no problem. She breathed a small sigh. She whipped around and cut him down, now only one left behind her….
It was then. She jumped back. She heard gunshot, and the Bloodbath burst open. Now one more was covered in it’s own green body fluids.
She heard a woman’s voice along with the racket of the airbike. You aren’t helping, you’re just in the way, she thought, irritated, and lowered her weapon. The Bloodbath’s attention had already turned away from Lightning. She didn’t need to look up to know that the owner of that voice was a lower class woman By the sound of the airbike it was obviously remodeled. It wasn’t one that was designed with safety first in mind for the regular market, nor was it a military model that was made for silence. It was a different sound. The woman riding that wouldn’t be a citizen or a soldier.
It was not, in fact, the woman who had a gun in one hand while controlling the airbike with the other. It was a blue haired man. He was very young. He had feather and jewel decorations all over, and even from afar you could see he was very flashy in appearance. Behind him was a black haired woman holding a huge gun at the ready. The airbike descended quickly, and the woman stood up and fired off her gun. The two remaining Bloodbath’s flew back, one after the other, and grew still. She wasn’t a bad shot. Of course, that was after she’d already wasted half her round.
The airbike flew down around Lightning slowly, and put on the breaks. It was driven by someone who knows what he’s doing.
“Hey there soldier, you were in a tough spot weren’t you?”
The black haired woman put up her gun and smiled. The neckline of her shirt was low and open. Lightning could see a butterfly tattoo on the upper part of her shoulder blades. If the blue haired man could be said to have a lot of decorations, this woman could be said to be showing a lot of skin. Either one was not wearing clothes that someone who uses a gun would normally wear. All of those decorations hanging down would just get in the way of a gun fight. And a large gun like that heats up easily. With that much skin showing she wouldn’t be protected from burns. Amateurs, she decided, and then asked:
“Who are you?”
Even though Lightning meant to sound hard and cold, the other woman hardly seemed to notice. Her amber colored eyes whirled, as if she were amused.
“If you’re a soldier from Bowdam you’ve at least heard a little bit about us right?”
Confident. Lightning was interested in how she managed to get so confident, but she didn’t have the time to ask.
“Sorry, never.” She said, her voice curt, and she spun on her heel. She could hear their voices behind her.
“Weird, I could have sworn we were more famous than that.”
She walked faster so she wouldn’t have to hear their voices anymore. How annoying. They interfered with her mission, and they actually thought they were helping her. She couldn’t stand how they looked so proud of themselves, so she lied to them, and she hated herself for that too. Yes, she had lied. Lied that she had never heard of Nora. She knew of them. She had heard of a group using a small shop on the beach as a headquarters. That shop was actually a cafe, meant for tourists but mostly used by local regulars. Though it’s not the kind of place that would be popular among high school girls.
“We’re like a nora-cat, a stray, that’s how we got our name.” Even more annoying, to remember that now. Lightning took our her wireless. Don’t think of unnecessary things, she said to herself. Call up the sergeant major and inform him the job is finished. That’s the most important thing to do right now.
There were already many soldiers at the reconvening point. The Bloodbaths weren’t far from the place they were reported to be. When it’s against fast moving monsters it isn’t this easy. Monsters hate humans, so you won’t see them in business or residential districts, but the outskirts are a different story. To people living in the quiet neighborhoods built outside of the city, monsters are a huge problem. Though even an amateur can take care of one small one, they usually move in large groups. The only ones living alone are the largest and strongest of monsters. In other words, ones that if you see them then the smartest course of action would be to contact the army immediately. That’s the job usually put to the security force, Lightning’s unit.
Other soldiers came up to her, congratulating her on a job well done. Lightning looked for her superior officer. No, she didn’t really need to look for him. Sergeant Major Amoda could be heard from anywhere. She went in the direction of his hearty laugh.
Lightning frowned. Amoda was talking with a group she’s never seen before. And next to them was a remodeled airbike. It looked a lot like the one that blue haired man had been flying. Who was that man who was talking with the sergeant major all friendly-like? He stood confidently, but seemed to be sweltering. She couldn’t tell whether it was from his clothes or the way he moved. But she could tell just from looking at him that he was their leader.
Their eyes met. Lightning stared back. She admits it was rude of her, but the man got a slightly suspicious look on his face. Realizing something was happening, Sergeant Major Amoda looked back.
“Hey, Commander, welcome back.”
He’s at it again, Lightning thought, shrugging her shoulders. He likes these kind of jokes.
“Commander? What sort of joke is this now, Sergeant Major?” Putting emphasis on “Sergeant Major”. Unlike when she first joined, she’d gotten good at ignoring his jokes. Of course, sometimes it’s necessary to strike back.
“Well you are our raid leader, right?” If he’s going to be like this there nothing really that she could say, so she sighed, and decided to ignore him.
“So who is this?” She looked over to the man next to her. It didn’t matter whether you saw him from far away or up close, he looked no different. He looked like bad news.
“They’re Nora, Sergeant.” A young solider cut in to the conversation.
“Haven’t you heard of them?”
Not Nora again, nearly showing her irritation. I’d just got them out of my head and here they are back for more.
“A vigilante group made up of young people from the city.” He had obviously taken Lightning’s silence as a lack of knowledge on her part. Amoda added,
“Their leader is Snow here.” She felt a mixture of elation and disappointment at being proved right.
“Hey.” His off-hand greeting made her even more irritated. Can’t he be a little bit more polite? she thought.
“This is our raid commander. She might be young, but she’s good.” For proof, Amoda touched the handle of Lightning’s sword with his fingertips.
“This is a sword she got recently. A Blaze Edge… though you guys wouldn’t really understand, if any soldier saw this they would know what it meant.”
“Sergeant Major, let’s not talk about…” Lightning knew what he was going to say next and meant to stop him, but Amoda ignored her and continued.
“This is a sword given to only the best soldiers. What I’m saying is, the ones who have this sword have amazing abilities. Isn’t that something?” Now that’s going a bit overboard with praise, Lightning thought. She wanted to stop him before he started going on like that, but she can never get a word in edgewise.
“And her Blaze Edge is special. It has an inscription on it that says, now what was it? ‘White flash….. take on my name.’ wasn’t it?” In her mind she corrected him, ‘Call upon my name’, but she couldn’t say it aloud, it was too embarrassing.
“Please, let’s just leave it at that okay?” Even though he was half joking, she was happy hearing such words from her superior officer. But there is a limit to how far you should go. Especially that Snow guy was in front of her saying “Is that right?” and “Wow that’s amazing.” while looking straight at her. It was just unbearable.
“Alright, alright.” Amoda looked disappointed at first, but then laughed uproariously.
“Ah, well. So that’s why our sergeant here was able to finish up so quickly. You guys were disappointed that there wasn’t much of a catch this time either, yeah?”
“Nah, it’s not only the monsters that were reported that are around you know.”
“Yeah, if we smoke ‘em out, they come one after the other.”
“Hey now, I’m okay with smoking them out, but don’t make too much of a disturbance.” And then he said, of course of course, and agreed wholehearted. Vigilante force? Lightning thought. Don’t make me laugh. Just a group of amateurs who’ve gotten guns and are acting all justice league… She wanted to tell them what she thought of them, but it wouldn’t change anything. You can only criticize when you expect improvement. If you don’t, then it’s just a waste of breath.
“You guys have a lot of energy don’t you. Why don’t you join the army?”
“Rules and uniforms just don’t fit our personality you know?” Why does this guy keep saying things that are sure to get on peoples nerves? Lightning thought. He makes me beyond angry. But Sargeant Major Amoda just laughed and said, “Watch what you say”, while slapping Snow on the back, like a good friend.
“Well now that the monsters are cleaned up, we’ll be going.” At Snow’s words, they all climbed onto the airbike.
“You guys better not get away with yourselves and get caught.” The young soldier from before yelled at them. He was close to them in age, and they seemed friendly.
“PSICOM’s nothing like us, and they won’t over look you.”
PSICOM. Public Safety and Information. The secret service within the army, they only take elite soldiers. The security force works closely with the people, so you could say they have “warmth”. But PSICOM doesn’t have that. No, PSICOM would not allow Nora to exist. But a group made up of nothing but regular citizens don’t know that. And all the members of Nora scoffed at the young soldiers kind words.
“We’ll be okay. We’re stronger than any army.” The leader will be the leader, and members of the group are members. But the young soldier didn’t seem to mind, and just said “A little overconfident aren’t ya?” while laughing.
Lightning thought that, not only are they lacking good sense, but they aren’t even realizing things that any normal person would realize. So, she thought that ignoring them and forgetting about them would be best. But…
“Wait.” When she realized what she was doing, she had already followed after them, and stopped him. She had to say one thing, just one thing.
“Your name is Snow, isn’t it.”
“Yeah?” Snow had been preparing to take off, he turn around.
“You’re the one whose been following my little sister around.”
“Serah Farron.” She hadn’t even finished saying Serah’s name before Snow said “Ah!” and leapt out of the airbike, running towards her.
“So you’re Serah’s sister eh? You’re face looks similar, but you both seem so different.” He looked so happy, Lightning felt bewildered. He was like a child who’s found some candy.
“Serah said that her sister was a soldier. When we met I thought maybe it might be you, but you really are her sister.” He said her name so familiarly that the irritation she had felt earlier returned to her. She was just getting ready to shout at him, when he stuck out his right hand.
“Nice to meet you! I’m Snow Villiers.” His hand was huge. She thought that maybe because he was wearing leather gloves that it made his hand look even bigger. No, asking for a handshake while wearing gloves. This man really knows nothing about propriety.
“Don’t get involved with my sister.” She ignored his outstretched hand. She didn’t feel like being friendly with him.
“Why?” Snow’s eyes went from his out stretched fingers to Lightning’s face and back. He must not have understood what she said.
“I said, don’t get involved with my sister.” Snow pulled his hand back. He finally understood it was being rejected. Even so, he didn’t give up, and he said hesitantly:
“And if I did?” I don’t need to answer him, I’ve said what I planned to say, she thought. She tried to turn her back on him, but something hit her toes.
A coconut. It was a kind of coconut that comes from the Bowdam palm tree, and if you say “palm tree” around here people will think of this tree. It grows quickly, and the leaves are big and wide and are enjoyed by people walking on the beach. But they are different from the regular palm tree in that the coconuts are not for eating. They are huge, and it doesn’t matter whether you steam them or cook them they can’t be eaten. Like this man, Lightning thought.
“So, if did? Then what?” She put her foot down on the coconut.
“Don’t.” She slowly put her fingers together and cracked the joints. This wasn’t how she had planned on getting rid of the man chasing after her sister, but it just couldn’t be helped. But then, the foot she had on the coconut fell. Snow had kicked the coconut into the air, and it made an arc, landing in his hand. He was like a kid who was good at ball kicking.
“Sorry, but even if you punch me, it won’t work.” Does he want to say that some woman’s punch wouldn’t be strong enough, or is he saying that he just won’t listen to her words. Probably both.
“Because I’m hard headed.” He smiled as he said it, making her more angry. She turned her back on him, and walked away. I don’t like him, she thought. Taking children and acting as their general, cheering on the weak… horrible man. Why does Serah find him interesting? Of course, she just finds him interesting. She doesn’t actually like him. Of course.
“Sergeant Farron, do you know him?”
They couldn’t have heard what they were talking about, but they were probably able to see them fighting. The young solider looked anxious when he asked.
“No, not really.” She didn’t know him. And she never planned to have anything to do with him again. Not just herself, but her Serah as well.
“I’m going back.” Lightning brushed her hair back, and walked away.
The sea breeze felt good on her cheek. Serah walked aimless along the promenade, and stretched her arms out wide. The weather was beautiful. The area around the promenade was quiet. In this season all the tourists go to the beach to swim in the ocean. Team Nora’s cafe has probably been busy since morning. Even if it weren’t the season, today is Lebreau’s day to work. Her cooking always manages to bring in the locals.
That’s probably why Snow was late. He probably said “I’ll leave the rest to you guys.” and then tried to leave, but then one of the regulars dragged him into a conversation. Seeing that image in her mind made Serah smile.
“Hey!” she heard a voice say, and she turned around. It wasn’t Snow. It was the member of Nora named Gadot. Since he was riding the airbike by himself, he was probably just returning to work. Or maybe Lebreau had asked him to get some ingredients.
“So, he’s going to be late… right?” She looked up at him and said as the airbike stopped beside her. Though he’s shorter than Snow, his large muscles often make people think of him as a giant. When Serah first met him she thought he looked big and scary, of course now she felt different.
“Got caught by one of the regulars?”
“Bingo. And it will probably take awhile too.” I wonder if it’s one of those long-winded customers, Serah thought. She couldn’t be sure whether Snow or Lebreau had asked Gadot to come as a messenger.
“Okay, I understand. Thank you.”
“Nah, I was coming this way anyway.” And with that Gadot said “see ya”, and took off again on the airbike. Serah waved goodbye and watched him leave.
The quiet returned, and Serah began walking again. There is a place down near the end of the promenade where sea birds gather. She decided she’d wait for Snow down there. She never got tired of watching the sea birds playing in the waves. Serah wished she had brought something that she could have given them as food.
“I love this city,” Serah murmured. The birds playing in the ocean, the color of the sky, the leaves rustling gently in the trees, even the beautifully maintained promenade. But this was Serah’s last year of high school. It has already been decided that should would go to the university in the Capital City of Eden. It’s the road she herself chose, but just thinking of leaving the city made her sad. Snow always says,
“Eden is just over there. We can see each other whenever we want.” and he’d smile. Serah would always tell herself, it’s not like we’ll never see each other again. Never seeing someone again, that is something Serah understood well.
The first one was her father. Even though she wasn’t an age that could understand death, Serah understood that she would never see her father again. When her mother died of a sickness, she felt it even stronger, the pain of losing someone forever. Losing someone right in front of you. Snow too, he was raised by the same insitution that Gadot, Lebreau and Yuge were. They knew the same pain. That’s why they look at people with such kindness. Even if they don’t realize it.
I’m happy, Serah realized. I’m happy, so even having a little distance between us hurts. Being able to meet everyday, and talk about silly things, being surrounded by kind people. It’s been so fun, that to lose even a little bit of it hurts.
“Spoiled brat. You’re being greedy.” She hit herself lightly on the head with her fist. Eden is not really as close as Snow says, but still it’s true that if we want to see each other we can. So I’m going to stop feeling so sorry for myself. I don’t want to lose the time I have left here feeling this way.
She had just decided, when she saw someone running down the promenade. It was Snow. He had come sooner than she’d thought. He probably had tried his best to finish the conversation as quickly as possible.
“Over here!” She jumped up and waved her hands.
“Did you see my sister!?” She couldn’t help yelling. Snow was slightly out of breath from running full force down the promenade, but as soon as he caught his breath, he said “Yeah I saw Lightning.”
“Yesterday, we ran into each other.”
Aha, so that’s why, Serah said to herself.
“Why, did she say something about me?”
“Nothing. But she was in a really bad mood, so I thought it was odd.” Although she was in a bad mood, she acted the same as always. Lightning never pouts like a child when she is upset. She has always been too proud to show how she is feeling. But Serah could somehow tell her sister’s moods. Like some invisible field around her slightly changes. If she were to compare it to anything she would say it’s like static electricity. You can’t see it but if you were to touch it you could feel the shock.
Snow seems to be trying to get himself hurt, Serah thought with a bitter laugh. Lightning and Snow are exact opposites. Snow is faithful to his feelings, what he is thinking shows up in his face and actions, and in his words. His feelings and speech are tied tightly together. He would never lie or cheat. That’s why Serah felt she could trust him, but her sister felt differently. They don’t have anything in common, they’re like oil and water.
“Dammit…” Snow scratched his head. “What should we do?”
At first Serah didn’t get his meaning, but then she understood.
“It’s okay, you can still come.” Next week was Lightning’s birthday. Serah got her to take some time off, just so the three of them to celebrate together.
“Let’s tell her we’re dating.”
“Yeah, it’s horrible having to hide it.”
Serah had planned on introducing Snow to her at the birthday party. She didn’t want to have Lightning take time off just to introduce him, since that would just irritate her and with her being so busy… But Serah didn’t want to wait too long before going through with it.
“If we just talk to her she’ll understand. She really is nice.” Lightning is someone who is not only tough on herself, but tough on others. And once she’s decided something, she’ll almost never go back on it, so others think her stubborn. But that is how she has been able to protect and care for me, Serah thought. Even though she was still the age where you want to be taken care of, she threw her childhood away to become strong for Serah. At their father’s funeral, and their mother’s funeral, she was their holding Serah’s hand. It was like she was saying, no matter what happens, I’ll be there for you. Serah had never forgotten the warmth of her sister’s hand….
Ah, she finally found something that Lightning and Snow have in common. Even if their personalities are completely different, there is just one thing. I love them both, Serah whispered, deep in her heart. They have that in common.
“No, it’ll be okay. We have to tell her. We have to get her to accept us.”
“But if she gets mad, she’ll probably kill me.” Snow said it as a joke. Serah, trying not to burst out laughing, made her face look serious.
“If only that is all that would happen. If she gets pissed, she’ll destroy all of Cocoon.”
“She would wouldn’t she?” Snow furrowed his brows. But that was too much. Serah unintentionally let out a laugh, and Snow threw his head back and roared with laughter. I hope one day the three of us can laugh together like this, Serah thought. No we will be able to. On her birthday.
“Snow!” They heard behind them, after they had been laughing for awhile.
“What’s up Maqui?” Snow yelled as the airbike came closer.
“They’re going out. We picked up on the army’s wireless communication. Seems there’s monsters in the woods. It’s time for Team Nora!”
“Got it” Snow said, as the airbike came in to land.
“Sorry Serah, I’ve got to borrow the General.”
“Okay!” Serah jokingly bowed to him. Maqui was only one year younger than her, so she felt he was like a classmate.
“Sorry to intrude.” Maqui said, laughing. Snow said “bastard” and pretended to punch him. They were like brothers.
“Alright, well, I’m going to go home then.”
“Wait! Ah, can you wait for me? I want to go shopping with you.”
“For what?” Snow closed one of his eyes as he jumped in the airbike
“For your sister’s present.”
“Oh, a birthday present!”
“I want us both to choose one. You can go on ahead to the shopping mall if you want, and look around….”
“No, I’ll wait here. I’ll just go walk around the Strange Ruins.”
“Okay,” Snow said, as the airbike took off.
“We’ll clean things up quickly!”
“Be careful!” Serah said, waving her hand, though Snow and Maqui were already in the sky. She laughed, “You really are fast.”
She had tried not to look like she was in a bad mood, though she was worried that it didn’t work. When she had returned home late last night, she didn’t really talk much with Serah. I’m tired, she said, and shut herself in her room. She didn’t want to say anything she might regret. Lightning thought if she opened her mouth she would start yelling at Serah to break up with that guy. She didn’t want to tell Serah she was against it. She knew her sister’s temperament better than anyone. Though she seems to be gentle and weak, on the inside she is tough. If Lightning told her that she was against it just because she didn’t like him, Serah would try to change Lightning’s mind and keep arguing about it until she did. She didn’t want to have to go through that.
Lightning sighed, and cleaned the tray she used for breakfast. On days she has to leave early they would eat breakfast together, but on days like today when she had to leave later she ate alone. When Lightning got up Serah had already left. Even so, she had already prepared breakfast. Lightning’s work schedule was always changing, and she’d always had to leave quickly.
Their father died early, and when their mother was alive she had to work. So Lightning’s experience with housework was far longer than Serah’s. Serah, however, was a far better cook than Lightning.
“Serah’s just better at choosing delicious food.”
“Mm-hmm, and I’m a better cook too.” She remembered the conversations she would have with her mother and Serah. She was always happy and smiling. But then their mother fell ill.
It was just before she died. After school Lightning went with Serah to their mother’s hospital. Serah kept trying to run, but Lightning held onto her hand, saying “Don’t run, it’s dangerous.” over and over. If it was like always, she would have just been saying that, while trying to run herself. But today was different.
Yesterday, when she had arrived home from school, the doctor had contacted her, telling her that her mother had worsened. The next time she goes into a fit could be dangerous, he said.
There were no other family to tell. So the doctor had no choice but to tell the fifteen year old Lightning the details of her mother’s illness. If anything happens, he said, there is a social services person I can introduce you to. He told her many places she could go to get help. There are programs so that children without guardians can live freely. You don’t have to worry. You only have to think about yourself and your sister. That’s what the doctor said.
But, with his words Lightning realized that she’d have to take all responsibility now. Did it show in her face? she wondered. Looking back she felt her mother knew what she was thinking.
“I’m feeling good today. Yes, I think I want to eat some fruit. Serah, would you go and buy some for me?”
“I’ll go.” Lightning said, standing. But her mother smiled.
“Serah’s better at choosing delicious food.”
“Mm-hmm, and I’m a better cook too.” Serah said, proud of herself. She left the sick room.
“There will be a lot of things you’ll have to do now, not just cooking.” Her mother said. Serah’s footsteps faded into the distance. Lightning’s mother smiled at her. Yes, she understands, Lightning thought. That’s why she asked Serah for the fruit. Now she’ll talk more about what I’ll have to do. But, she didn’t.
“But you know, you don’t have to do it all by yourself. There are a lot of things Serah can help you with too.”
“But, mom…” She couldn’t say anything else. Her mother stretched out her hand, and held Lightning close. She stroked her hair like a small child. Lightning felt like she would cry.
“Cute little spoiled girl. We used to call you that, before Serah was born.”
“I don’t remember that…”
“Once Serah was born, you became an older sister. You were only three. Both me and your father no longer could call you our spoiled girl.” Her mother’s voice was laughing, but Lightning could hear the pain in it. The hand stroking her hair was so thin.
“After your father died, you always helped me, didn’t you. You always watched over Serah. You’re such a good big sister. That’s why I’m not worried about Serah. Because you’ll be there for her.” Her mother continued, “But Serah will be there for you too. She will help you when it hurts, she will give you strength. Don’t forget that.” And then her mother said, once more, in a small voice, “My little spoiled girl”…..
The condition of her illness changed quickly after that. She had already prepared herself for it, so she accepted it without a word. That day, the moment she was held by her mother like a small child, her childhood was over. She no longer had anyone she could call mother. So she was no longer a child. Could no longer be a child.
“You don’t have to do it all yourself.” Her mother had said that. But the only one who could protect Serah was her. Of course, she realized, I have to do it all myself.
I want to be an adult. She felt it keenly. To protect Serah, to make my only little sister happy, I have to become an adult as fast as I can. If I can’t be an adult by law, I will have to get rid of the name my parent’s gave me and make myself an adult. It’s okay right, if I’m no longer my mother’s daughter. In exchange I will be Serah’s guardian. I will protect her. She made a vow in front of her mother’s grave. She took herself a new name, Lightning.
At the sound of her holster failing she came back to herself. She hadn’t even realized, but she had already gotten dressed. She smiled humorlessly. It wasn’t even time to leave yet.
But she had woken up earlier than she’d planned. Probably because of what happened yesterday, she wasn’t able to sleep very well. Understandable, she said to herself for the millionth time, and sighed. It just had to be that guy. She wasn’t the type of over protective sister that would want to chase away all the guys who talked to her little sister. She wanted someone who would make Serah happy. She wanted someone who would protect her. She wouldn’t let anyone who couldn’t do that near her. He didn’t have to be a smooth talker or have anything good about him you could see. He just had treat her well, and be willing to protect her.
But that man could never protect her, Lightning thought. He’s just some guy playing king of the mountain. At the first sign of trouble he’d abandon Serah and run. If she let Serah cool her head a bit she’d come to understand. A straight A high school student and some worthless unemployed man could never work out.
If mother was alive, could we stop Serah together?
No, probably not. Lightning’s shoulders drooped. Father was sort of a dangerous type himself. He was easy-going and good-natured, but he wasn’t very reliable. Now that I’m an adult I understand that, Lightning thought. Of course, when I was a child I loved my father. In my memory he was always bright and laughing. But, if he had lived longer would I have been critical of his easy-going nature? I probably would have rebelled against him.
Mother chose father anyway. She probably would have been soft for someone like Snow. She probably would have said, “If it’s the person Serah loves…” and just accepted it.
So it’s up to me to protect Serah from him. I’m not mother, or father. They might have accepted it. But I won’t. Never.
She put on her leather gloves, and opened the door of her room. She decided to leave early today.
According to old records, the Strange Ruins of Bowdam have been here for hundreds of years. The old buildings and residences of Cocoon are usually called “historic”, but things from Pulse are called “strange ruins”.
It was probably brought here during the War of Revelations, as materials to repair the places that had been destroyed. It is well know that the fal’Cie would bring in materials from Pulse to maintain the structures of Cocoon. But the strange thing is, in all those hundreds of years it was never used as materials to repair the buildings, it was never used for construction, it was never returned to Pulse. It had just remained in Bowdam, waiting.
Whether there are plans for it, or whether it is being saved for something, no one knows. For the immortal fal’Cie several hundred years mean nothing. No human could understand the thoughts of the fal’Cie.
In any case, it was all a mystery. Perhaps those close to the government knew something more, but a regular citizen like Serah knew nothing.
“No matter how many times I see it, I still think it’s strange….” Serah looked up at the towering ruins. Who could have built this?
Normal humans cannot live on Pulse. Frequent natural disasters and violent monsters running rampant make it impossible. She had heard that the only ones living there were practically barbarians. There is no way they could have built such a large complicated structure. She had heard, also, that on Pulse there is a fal’Cie just like there is on Cocoon. But unlike Cocoon’s fal’Cie, who only visits blessings on the people there, the fal’Cie of Pulse brings destruction.
If that that’s the case, then it couldn’t have been the fal’Cie of Pulse. If it had been built by something as terrible as that, then it would have been dangerous to Cocoon, and Cocoon’s fal’Cie would have destroyed it and used its materials.
But if it wasn’t the fal’Cie of Pulse, and it wasn’t the barbarians, then who had built it?
Many books and papers had been written on the subject. Everyone wanted to know. But no answers were found. It’s an old story, that no one would find the answer is understandable.
Serah became interested in history because of mysteries like these. And because of that her grades in history became much higher. She sometimes thought that if she hadn’t grown up around the Strange Ruins of Bowdam that she wouldn’t have become as interested in history, but she didn’t know for sure.
There was nothing like an unsolved mystery to exhilarate Serah. Even if there was no right answer, it was fun just imagining what it could be. Of course, if the mystery was solved that would make it even better.
“If only I could go inside.”
But there were no entrances to the ruins. There was no information reported about what was inside. Whether there was open space just like any building or not was unknown. Serah touched the outside. It wasn’t made of stone or metal. It was cool to the touch. No, it was probably some sort of metal, just not a kind that she saw everyday. Or at least not one used for buildings.
When it was made in Pulse, it probably felt very different. It has been worn down by the wind and rain of Cocoon for hundreds of years. Probably not only the texture had been changed, but the color and shape may have changed as well.
Serah looked up at the top of the ruins, and slowly walked around it, keeping her gaze at the top. When she did that, it looked as if the ruins were moving. When she was little this was something her sister had showed her. She heard that her father had shown her sister. Serah had been there when he had shown it to her, but she couldn’t remember.
It never changes here, Serah thought. Five years before, ten years before, now. So probably five and ten years from now it will be the same too. Even after I die, she thought, it probably still be here, unchanged…
Then, she felt something strange. On the outside wall of the ruins she felt a change under her fingertips. Surprised, Serah looked at the wall. The outside wall had shifted, and that shift opened up into the inside.
Serah gazed in wonderment at the inside.
Since when? When she had been here a couple of days earlier there had been no change. She had looked at the ruins since she was little. She would never miss even the slightest change, especially not one as big as an entrance.
Perhaps a government research team had finally managed to open it. Serah walked a ways inside.
“Is anyone… here?”
There was no answer. There were no guards, so it probably wasn’t a research mission.
“It will be okay if I look around for a little bit …right?”
If it were found out that she entered without permission, she would get in a lot of trouble, but in the end her curiosity won out.
She stepped softly inside the ruins. She hoped that she would at least be able to get to the very center. The center of the ruins from Pulse. This was something that came from outside of Cocoon. She was excited, thinking how close she was to finding out the secrets of the ruins. But the farther she went, the more she started to feel she was being disrespectful. The air inside the ruins was so cool and quiet.
The ruins seemed to be far bigger on the inside than the seemed on the outside. There were paths and stairs winding everywhere inside. It was obvious that there were no people here. Not only did she see no one, but heard no voices, not even any small sound. Despite that, the inside of the ruins was bright. There were lights along the pathways. As Serah went in deeper, she wondered what sort of device was used. The lights seemed to get brighter, as if they were showing her the way.
She had only meant it as a whisper, but it echoed loud in her ears. She put her hand to her mouth. She let out a small sigh, and looked again. The architecture was strange. The floor seemed to be made of stone, but it was completely different from any of the ancient buildings in Cocoon. The floor, and walls, and paths were all made perfectly straight. So it probably made by someone skilled. The lines met together elaborately, and created a beautiful harmony.
“I wonder what is in here?”
She looked upwards. The ceiling far above was bright enough that she could see it clearly even from below. There was a flight of stairs that went up. There must be something there.
In that moment the landing on the stairs brightened. It was like it was saying, “If you want to know more, come.” Serah didn’t hesitate for a moment, and put her foot on the stairs. Her footsteps echoed. The stair steps felt like they were a different height than the were in Cocoon, but not so much that it caused her trouble to walk up them.
She went up a bit more, and came upon another straight path, but that path became another stairway shortly after. The stairway was long, but she didn’t feel tired. Everything was so much more interesting than any museum that she had ever seen. The geometric walls, the square patterns of the floor. Serah was in a trance as she made her way upward.
The paths and stairs were fairly complex, but she never got lost. Like before, the way before her became brighter when she reached it. Showing her the way perhaps, but it helped her go higher.
What was this place made for, she wondered. Questions she had thought about many times over the years came to mind. It didn’t seem that this place was made for anything evil. She couldn’t feel anything malevolent in the air.
“But… I am a bit tired. I don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the top…”
She had already passed through many stairs, paths and small rooms. She rested herself against the stairs for a moment, and looked down. She wasn’t even half way up. Of course this was the same ruins that she always thought nearly touched the heavens. It wouldn’t be easy to get to the top of this place.
“Just a little bit more…”
She thought if she’s going to go back down anyway, she might as well go to the midway point. Her feet were tired, but she carried on. She was breathing heavily, going slowly up the stairs, when something caught her eye.
On the edge of the next landing there was a pillar of light. Different from the lights on the pathway, it was a soft, green light.
“I’ll rest over there. That light probably means it’s a rest area.”
When she got closer, she saw that there were more pillars of light further up. The light washed down over her, erasing her weariness. Yes, this must be a rest area, she thought, as she leaned against the pedestal.
Suddenly there came a rumbling from inside the ruins. Surprised, Serah jumped up. The floor and walls in front of her began to move. She realized she must have been to optimistic about those pillars of light. They didn’t mark a rest area, but some kind of transporter.
Worried, Serah looked around. Stairways were made flat, pathways turned into walls, the whole inside of the ruins was changing. On the floor below, a huge cylinder fell down with a groan. I wonder if that’s a power source, she thought.
Suddenly, the stairway in front of her disappeared. She thought it would become a straight path like the others, but no. There was nothing there. It turned into a dead end.
“Now what’ll I do…”
The rumbling stopped, and everything became quiet again. She only had a brief moment of relief before a strange red pattern floated in the space before her. It was the same strange pattern that she had seen on the lower floors. Except, she thought she had seen it before, before she ever came here. Where have I seen it? she thought.
The red pattern suddenly let out a burst of bright light. Serah covered her face. A strange board appeared in the air. Not really a board, more like a floor that floats in the air.
“This is… like an elevator, right? An ancient one.”
She had seen ancient elevators, when she had visited one of the historical sites of Cocoon. But this “elevator” was far different from the ones she had seen before.
“I guess I’ll just have to ride it and see.”
Serah jumped on the platform. She didn’t even think that it might be dangerous. Like the lights on the pathways and stairs before, the elevator grew brighter too, leading her on. She was right, the elevator slowly started moving upward. Serah felt satisfied just that it would take her to the top.
The ceiling grew closer. The light became so bright it hurt. Finally the elevator stopped. Have I reached the top floor? Serah wondered. The air here felt cooler than it did on the bottom floor.
“Are these… crystal particles?”
Floating in the cool air were millions of tiny twinkling lights. Rather than think it beautiful, she felt, somewhere deep inside her, that it was holy. She straightened her back, and walked through the sparkling particles floating through the air. It’s times like this that make you want to pray, she thought.
The doors opened, like they were telling her that they will soon answer her every question. She went in. It was dark. She started to worry that this might not be a place she should be entering. But the path brightened. It wasn’t as bright as the path she was on before, but neither was it dark. This must be the right path, she thought.
Serah continued on, and the light grew slowly brighter. Yes this is right, she said to herself, I’m on the right path.
“Is something… there?”
She couldn’t quite see in the faint light. There was something ahead of her, something huge. Something alive. And it’s moving. Inside of it, a cold light gleamed.
“A crystal!? But, but why?”
In the next moment a bright burning light burst forth. It was a pure white light, so bright that she had to close her eyes. But a picture formed in her mind. It was big, and horrible.
What… What is it!?
She screamed but nothing escaped her throat. The large, horrible something raised itself up and writhed. There was a cry, but she couldn’t hear it. No, no I can hear it. It’s a song. Someone is singing. What song is this? What does it mean?
Then, she could no longer think. Everything grew dark.
Lightning thought she would just walk around aimlessly for awhile before heading to work, but found herself at the shopping mall.
Every year tourists come from all around for the fireworks festival in Bowdam. The festival had been around since ancient times, and there were quite a few legends surrounding it. The most popular being, “If you pray to the fireworks, your wish will come true.” Just that. Nothing else required. All you have to do is pray. Probably because it was so simple it had been believed in for decades, possibly longer.
Everyone has wishes. No matter how happy you are, there will be something that could make you happier. That’s why on the night of the festival Bowdam’s gates swell with many times the usual number of people. With that many people gathering together all at once, accidents are bound to happen. So on festival night Bowdam’s security force are out on patrol. That night Lightning would be responsible for the area between the shopping mall and the beach.
It’s probably a good idea to check out my area beforehand, she thought. I can figure out where each store is, decide where I will assign my soldiers, and what I should move to prevent accidents. For example, I should put a lot of people around this accessory shop. Or at least tell them that they should be on guard. Any shop with jewels in it would be in danger of robbery.
She looked in one of the windows and something caught her eye. A large pendent hung from a delicate chain was on display. The pendent was of Cocoon and some sort of strange shaped object. Lightning didn’t know much about jewelry, but it looked like something Serah would like.
Walking around and looking at all the things in the mall made Lightning realize how long it’s been since she’d window shopped like this. Probably since the last time she went shopping with Serah. It’s been a long time since the last time we went shopping together, she thought. Ever since I joined the army.
She suddenly felt guilty. After joining, she thought that once she got used to her job she would make it up to Serah. But then a year passed, and she got more responsibility. She got even busier. Before she knew it, not only were they not going out together but they were hardly speaking with each other.
When she joined, Serah was still in middle school. She was probably worried about what she would do after school or her relationships with others. Everyone has problems when they are that age. She probably wanted to ask Lightning’s advice on a lot of things. But no, Lightning had been too busy at work to listen.
Serah had probably been lonely. She probably just wanted someone to talk to… that’s probably how she got drawn to a show-off like Snow. If that’s the case, she thought, then this is all my fault. If only I had been there for Serah. Even if I was busy, I could have made time for her. Why didn’t I? I swore before our mother’s grave that I would protect her, but I only made her feel lonely, so much so that she got in with that horrible man. And it’s all my fault….
“Oh, how cute!”
Lightning turned at the merry voice. A mother and son had stopped in front of a transportation container at the pet shop.
“You like this kind of thing mom?”
“What? But you used to like these too. You’d always stand in front of the store crying, saying ‘I want one, I want one!’”
“And how many years ago was that?”
“Not too long ago… only ten years.”
Mother and son were both looking into the container. Even from behind you could tell they got along well. The son’s hair was cool silver, while the color of the mother’s hair was much warmer. Even though their hair color was different, their faces looked alike. They say boys usually look like their mothers. His height made him look about fourteen or fifteen years old. The bright orange jacket he wore made him look even more that age. I was that age when my mother died, she thought a little sadly.
“These are really good with kids. They’re clever, and become easily attached to their owners.”
The pet shop owner told them as he took a small bird from the container and put it into a cage. It was a chocobo chick.
“These are sold out everywhere right now. Our shop in Ewleede just got some the day before yesterday and already they’re sold out. We’re going to have to send them replacements soon.”
When we were children they weren’t as popular as they are now, Lightning thought, but a few people in her class had baby chocobos. Serah had a friend that she would often play with that had one, and her eyes would always sparkle when she would talk about it.
“So would you like to buy one?”
“Oh no, unfortunately we’re on vacation. It would be too far to take it all the way to Palumpolum.”
When she heard the word “vacation”, that gave Lightning an idea. A vacation. That might be a good idea.
It would be a good way to make it up to Serah for making her so lonely. She could take Serah away somewhere. Though she wouldn’t be able to take a long vacation, if she put a bunch of her days off together, they could go on a short trip. Once the festival was over with their schedule would probably be more flexible and she could put in for some time off.
On my birthday, she thought, we could talk about it. On Lightning’s birthday they always spent it by making dinner together. Then Serah would give her a present that she had put a lot of thought into. This time she would be able to say thank you for the gift by telling her they would go on vacation. Just the two of them.
While they were on vacation she would listen to anything Serah wanted to talk about. To make up for all the time they hadn’t talked. They would have a fun time and eat delicious foods. Of course when they got back from vacation she would make enough time to talk with Serah. She wouldn’t let her be lonely anymore. If she wasn’t lonely anymore, surely she’d open her eyes and realize that she’d almost been duped by that horrible man. And then, she’d go to the university in Eden. If she made a lot of new friends, and saw new places, surely she’d completely forget about Snow.
Lightning decided it was an excellent idea. It was all thanks to that mother and son who gave her the idea. She turned around wanting to say thank you, but they were no longer in front of the pet shop. She saw them walking away together in the crowd. They had looked so happy, it made her feel warm inside thinking about them.
Thank you, Lightning thought, I hope you enjoy the rest of your vacation.
In the darkness she heard a voice. It said “l’Cie”. It was a voice that sounded as if it would disappear in an instant.
This was a different voice, a clearer voice.
“Why did you choose someone from Cocoon?”
Who was talking? What were they talking about? She wanted to ask “Who are you?”, but she found she couldn’t speak. Nor could she open her eyes or move her fingertips. She couldn’t move at all. She felt like she was floating. What is happening? she wondered. Just as she thought that, the darkness became deeper. Without even thinking to fight it, she sank back down into unconsciousness.
She felt warmth on her eyelids. Opening her eyes, she saw blue sky above her. Not only the sky, but the outside of the ruins. How she came to be outside, laying on the ground, was a mystery. Timidly, she tried raising her right hand. She could move it. So she tried her left hand. Oh good, she thought, I can move both hands.
She slowly lifted herself up, but got a bit dizzy. With both hands against the ground propping herself up, she sat for a moment.
What just happened? she thought. I was walking around the ruins. And then? Then I saw that an entrance was open, so I went inside. And then? Then there were many stairs that I climbed, up and up, deep into the ruins…. I saw a large crystal. And then a pure white light. After that I can’t remember anything. As if that light burned it all away. What happened? What was that light?
“Why did you choose someone from Cocoon?”
She remembered that voice. Was that a dream? Probably. She had been flickering in and out of consciousness, and there hadn’t been any sign of humans in the ruins. But before she lost consciousness, that strange thing she saw. No, not strange. Horrible, repulsive. It’s name… no. No, it was a dream. It was a horrible nightmare.
But, Serah thought. If I am here, then that means that someone has to have been inside the ruins. I was unconscious, someone had to be there to carry me out. She searched her memory.
There was one other thing she had heard. Yes, “l’Cie”. L’Cie? That l’Cie? No, Serah shook her head. The l’Cies are nothing but an old story. More like a fairytale or a legend.
There was a dull throb from deep inside her head. When she fell she probably had hit something. She wondered whether she had gotten hurt anywhere else. She moved her legs, but they didn’t hurt. She raised her head, but did not get dizzy again. Holding on to the outside of the ruins she pulled herself up. Her legs shook a bit, but she could stand.
She wasn’t injured. She breathed a sigh of relief. Then her eyes fell on the black dirt covering her left arm.
Ugh, she thought, turning to look.
“What, what is this?”
She had a black pattern covering her upper arm. It was too elaborate to have been drawn on as a prank, but it was different from the tattoo that Lebreau had on her shoulder.
“I hope I’ll be able to wash it off. If I can’t… what’ll I do if I can’t?”
She touched it with her fingertips, and started. She had seen this pattern before. It was a complex pattern made up of many arrows. The pattern on her arm wasn’t exactly the same, but it was similar. Yes, yes she had seen it several times before in the ruins, the same one she had seen in that red light….
Serah said softly. She had just remembered. When she had first seen the pattern in the ruins, she thought she had seen it somewhere before. Yes, she had definitely seen it before. A long time ago, from something she had borrowed from the library.
A long time ago, when enemies were sent from Pulse to attack Cocoon, the fal’Cie of Cocoon changed humans into l’Cie, making them it’s servants and giving them special powers. The l’Cie fought to protect Cocoon. It was written in the records of the War of Revelations.
The fal’Cie of Pulse also created l’Cie from the barbarians, and sent them to Cocoon. It was on that page she saw the pattern, the same pattern that was now on her arm. Below it, it had said “The Mark of l’Cie – Pulse – Reproduction”.
“I’m a l’Cie?”
A l’Cie of Pulse.
“No. No that can’t be.”
This was just some cruel joke. Some joke from that voice she had heard in the ruins.
“Why did you choose someone from Cocoon?”
Her heart skipped a beat. Those words. It was like they were saying, “You wouldn’t normally choose someone from Cocoon.” And that means, there must be people outside of Cocoon.
Of course. The ruins came from Pulse. That voice had been saying, “Why did you choose someone from Cocoon when you would normally choose someone from Pulse?” The voice saw nothing strange about the “choosing”. Which meant, they knew that place is where l’Cie are chosen. And the one who chooses the l’Cie is the fal’Cie.
“Pulse’s fal’Cie is inside the ruins?”
Now everything make sense. The crystal particles in the air, the huge crystal she saw before losing consciousness… If the fal’Cie was there it all makes sense. Serah saw the fal’Cie, which made her into a l’Cie. From the fal’Cie of Pulse, the one who brings disaster on the people of Cocoon.
The l’Cie chosen by Cocoon’s fal’Cie were “Holy Servants”, but the ones from Pulse’s fal’Cie were “Pawns of the Devil”, and enemies of Cocoon.
“Am I? No. No it has to be a lie. It can’t be…”
Serah rubbed at the black mark on her arm til it hurt. It didn’t come off.
“This is just some horrible joke!”
She rubbed at her arm harder. She started. The black mark was changing. It wasn’t coming off, but the shape and color changed.
It wasn’t just something scribbled on her arm. It was engraved.
“No, no, no, I don’t want this.”
She held her knees up to her chin. No, this can’t be. It’s just some stupid mistake. She tried to convince herself, but every time she would see the mark on her arm she’d lose hope. She couldn’t deny what she knew. It would have been easier if she had known nothing.
“Snow… Lightning… I’m scared.”
It wasn’t cold, but her shoulders shook. The tears rolled down her face.
“Help me. Snow…”
She only cried for a moment. Snow will come back soon, she thought. I don’t want him to see me like this. This horrible mark. Now that I’m a danger to Cocoon.
She calmed her shaking legs, and stood. I have to leave here, she thought, now. Before Snow comes back. It was only that thought that kept her moving.
Where would Serah like to go? Lightning wondered.
Just thinking about it made her smile. Walking around the shopping mall Lightning’s footsteps felt lighter than usual. It had been her first time in a travel agency, but the staff there were kind to her. There were plenty of places they could go even on a short vacation, they had told her. They even had sent the information data to her home address. Now on her birthday they could look through them, and make plans. It would be their first vacation together. She was sure it would make Serah happy.
Thinking about Serah’s smile made her heart feel bright and warm. My treasure, Lightning thought. For that I would do anything, Lighting vowed deep in her heart. I’m sorry Serah, she thought, for not having been there for you. But I won’t make you feel lonely anymore. I won’t use my job as an excuse. I promise.
She felt like she had been running forward ever since their mother’s death. I shouldn’t have to hurry anymore, I should take time to stop and relax. For Serah, and for myself.
In the crowd she saw two oddly dressed people. One was a black haired woman whose clothes combined the flamboyant man and the bare-skinned woman that she had seen yesterday. I seem to be fated to meet black haired women lately, Lightning said to herself. But unlike the woman yesterday, this woman seemed to have a wild fearlessness about her. Maybe it was just the design of her blue clothes that made it seem that way. It was probably “the cutting edge of fashion” or something like that. The woman with her was wearing the same kind of clothing. They were probably wearing the same clothing brand. Perhaps they were visiting from Eden.
“I don’t understand anything about fashion.”
She said, sighing.
“You don’t understand what?”
A familiar voice said behind her. It was Sergeant Major Amoda. Lightning made a slight bow, and pointed to the two women she was watching earlier.
“The clothes those two are wearing…”
They weren’t there anymore. Perhaps they went into some store.
“No, nevermind. I was just saying how I don’t know much about the latest fashion.”
Included those two I saw yesterday, she added silently. I don’t get it at all.
“Well maybe not you. But what about your little sister? Isn’t she interested in the… ah, latest fashion?”
“If she said that she wanted to wear those kinds of clothes…”
I wouldn’t allow it, she was about to say. But stopped. Amoda was just leading her on again. Lightning laughed humorlessly, that’s the Sergeant Major for you.
“It’s unusual to find you at the shopping mall before work, Sergeant, doing some shopping perhaps? For the latest thing?”
“Let’s stop talking about that, please.”
She said it so curtly, that Amoda gestured with his hands that he was giving in.
“I’m looking the area over, since this will be my patrol area during the festival. There will be quite a lot of changes to make around the shopping mall.”
“I’m happy that you work so hard, but don’t you think you should wait until the day of the festival to do that?”
“Well why are you here, Sergeant Major?”
She decided to tease him right back. She already knew the reason. They had known each other for a long time.
“Well, the same as you.”
“There will be nothing for you to do then, will there.”
“An old guy like me can get pretty forgetful. I’ll forget by the day of the festival.”
They looked at each other and laughed.
“I hope everything goes smoothly at the festival this year.”
In eight days the sky above Bowdam will burst with fireworks. It will be the night people who want their dreams to come true will gather. The next day would be Lightning’s twenty-first birthday. It would be the first time in a long while she would really be able to talk with Serah. Thinking about it made her heart thrum with excitement.
“Uh-oh, we can’t just stand around here all day. It’s time. Let’s go.”
Lightning straightened her clothes and looked ahead. It’s time for work. It was time for her to become a soldier.
“Understood, Sergeant Major.”
The afternoon sunlight was bright. Weaving between the happy shoppers, the two of them walked quickly. She heard people talking of silly things, and laughing brightly. The Coastal City of Bowdam was full of sights like these. Lightning watched them, still believing that Serah was watching them too.
Part II: Friends
Calls in the evening always unpleasant things. Always, without exception.
Having only lived for fourteen years, it was probably a little early to be deciding that something had no exceptions at all. But it’s true today, Hope thought, looking at his mother’s back.
“No, no it’s alright. Don’t worry about it. We’re having fun just the two of us. Bowdam is a nice place. We’ve had no problems with the hotel, and the ocean is beautiful.”
It was his father on the phone. Hope knew it the moment the phone rang. And he could guess why his father was calling. After all, it was evening. He could see from the window beyond his mother’s shoulder that the day was fading.
“I… I see. I understand. That’s too bad…”
Bingo, Hope thought. He could tell from the way his mother’s voice sank that he was right. They called him in to work, he was too busy, he wouldn’t be able to leave tomorrow. That’s probably what he was saying.
This was supposed to be a vacation for the three of them. Ten days at a beach resort, staying in a condo. His mother had planned it half a year in advance. Just to have fun and relax, not to see anything in particular. Or that’s what she said. Let’s have fun, just the three of us. It’s been such a long time.
But he knew the real meaning behind his mother’s words. With her husband being so busy, and her son being at that difficult age, a “teenager”, they were growing farther and farther apart. She didn’t know what to do. So she probably thought that if they were somewhere different, somewhere that wasn’t at home, that they would finally have time to talk. Or at least, that’s what most people would think.
Hope hadn’t been looking forward to the vacation. He didn’t know what he’d have to say to his father, seeing each other for ten whole days. He had gotten irritated just thinking about it. So he had felt relieved when he heard his father had go on a business trip. He said he would meet up with them later, but Hope didn’t believe him. Probably at the last minute there would be a meeting he had to go to, he’d say someone important from Sanctum would be there, making excuses. It was always like that. No matter how small the promise, his father would always throw it away for his work.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it. We don’t even have time to get bored there is so much to do.”
His mother forced her voice into a happier tone. Like always. He wanted to tell her that she didn’t have to try so hard to be happy. Whenever his father would break his promises, she never blamed him for it. She always made up reasons and excuses. Your father’s work is hard, she would say. He has a lot of responsibility. Important people in the Sanctum trust him. He’s working hard for everyone. It was so sad how she would never say a word against him. But no matter how much effort she would put into defending him, his father never had a word of thanks for her.
My father doesn’t care, Hope thought. About how nice she is to him… or about me.
He couldn’t be sure whether his mother really didn’t realize this, or if she was just pretending that she didn’t. It didn’t matter either way. My father is the one who’s wrong, Hope said to himself.
“Tomorrow? We’re going to Ewleede like we planned. Yes, they’ve already finished cleaning up after that accident.”
There had been a huge accident at the energy plant in Ewleede Canyon three days ago. Everything had been shut down in the uproar, and tours of the plant had been put on hold until today. They had just finished rebuilding, and they had let us know just a moment ago that they would be letting in visitors tomorrow.
“Everything will be fine. I mean the fal’Cie decided that it was safe, that should be good enough for taking a field trip right? You’re such a worrier.”
Like he would worry, Hope thought. Of course, he didn’t say so aloud. He knew that it would just make his mother sad. His head knew it, but his heart…
“He’s not coming is he? Of course.” The harsh words slipped out of his mouth just as she hung up the phone.
“There’s nothing he can do about it. There was that accident in Ewleede you know, everyone inside Sanctum was in a panic about it, and that affected your father’s job too. Oh! But he said he’d be here in time for the fireworks festival.”
Again with the promises he’ll never keep. He should just not make them to begin with.
“Whatever, let’s not talk about him. I mean, whether he’s here or at home he’d just say the same things anyway. How’s school? Are you studying? Nothing else. He’s like a…..”
Like a voice recorder, Hope was going to say. But he saw the sadness in his mother’s eyes.
“Oh yeah, you were saying you wanted me to help you with something?” He said, trying to steer the conversation in a different direction. It’s stupid to get all worked up about someone who isn’t even here.
“Oh yes, right. Would you wash these vegetables for me?”
“Well, since we’re staying in a condo that actually comes with a kitchen, it seems such a waste to keep eating out every day.”
She took out a large paper package. It smelled of dirt. Not the kind of smell you’d find in a grocery store.
“When did you have the chance to buy this stuff?”
“This morning, a local person gave them to me.”
Oh yeah, this morning mom woke up early, Hope thought. He had fallen asleep again, and she’d gone out for a walk. That must have been when she bought them.
“They told me this is ingredients they use in their cafe. There are some things they get from the market, but they told me they grow their own vegetables. Here, wash these.”
His mother separated the vegetables, giving Hope lumpy potato-looking things. His mother held some bug eaten leaves. You would never find these in any grocery store in Palumpolum. Or anywhere else.
“You’re always getting into the strangest things.” Hope said, sighing, and turned on the water. It wasn’t like this was the first time his mother did something like this.
“But it was just so interesting! The fieldworker was a very fashionable, good-looking young man you know. It’s only when I learned he worked at a cafe that it didn’t seem odd. And then there was a shorter boy, I think he might have been a bit older than you.”
“It’s still strange, choosing to work in a field.”
“Really? They looked like they were having fun.”
Someone who supports themselves… Hope couldn’t really understand it. There were food production plants that were under the careful management of the fal’Cie which produced large amounts of high quality food that was sold cheaply. He didn’t know how much vegetable seeds cost, but if they were anything like the flower seeds he had seen in garden supply stores then it was possible that growing your own food wasn’t any cheaper.
“And then this girl came, and they started talking, and then he ended up just giving me the vegetables.”
“I’m a mother, I’m strong.”
She laughed, and started washing the bug eaten leaves. It was as if she had completely forgotten the phone call just a few minutes ago. If only we had gone on vacation without him from the start, Hope thought. Then she wouldn’t worry so much, and would just be able to laugh like this. That’s why I hate him. I hate calls in the evening…
He scrubbed hard at the dirt on the vegetables. If only I could wash away everything else so easily, he thought.
The l’Cie chosen by Cocoon’s fal’Cie were “Holy Servants”, but the ones from Pulse’s fal’Cie were “Pawns of the Devil”, and enemies of Cocoon.
“Am I? No. No it has to be a lie. It can’t be…”
Serah rubbed at the black mark on her arm til it hurt. It didn’t come off.
“This is just some horrible joke!”
She rubbed at her arm harder. She started. The black mark was changing. It wasn’t coming off, but the shape and color changed.
It wasn’t just something scribbled on her arm. It was engraved.
“No, no, no, I don’t want this.”
She held her knees up to her chin. No, this can’t be. It’s just some stupid mistake. She tried to convince herself, but every time she would see the mark on her arm she’d lose hope. She couldn’t deny what she knew. It would have been easier if she had known nothing.
“Snow… Lightning… I’m scared.”
It wasn’t cold, but her shoulders shook. The tears rolled down her face.
“Help me. Snow…”
She only cried for a moment. Snow will come back soon, she thought. I don’t want him to see me like this. This horrible mark. Now that I’m a danger to Cocoon.
She calmed her shaking legs, and stood. I have to leave here, she thought, now. Before Snow comes back. It was only that thought that kept her moving..
Ewleede Canyon was a very popular tourist spot. The energy plant there had a route set up for field trips and visitors, and it was said that the surrounding scenery was some of the most beautiful in all Cocoon.
The fact that you could see fal’Cie Kujata, the fal’Cie in charge of the plant, didn’t hurt either. The fal’Cie are important, supporting the people of Cocoon’s way of life, but it was not often that regular people got to see them so close.
That is why many of the people who visit the Coastal City of Bowdam also take a trip out to Ewleede Canyon. You could see the latest equipment inside the plant, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and then see a fal’Cie. It was those three things together that made this place such a draw for visitors.
Beside the plant there was a plaza with gift shops lined up, waiting for the tourists. Children on school field trips would meet there in groups, and you could always hear their excited voices. That’s the Ewleede Canyon everyone knew. But today was different.
“It’s completely different from those videos….” Hope murmured. They had finally arrived in Ewleede. The plaza was closed off, with tape stretched across the entrance. Armored soldiers were on guard. There were no places selling food and drink, no places selling balloons.
“It was a pretty big accident. I can’t believe there are more soldiers here than tourists.”
His mother seemed to be having fun, not bothered by any of it, but she couldn’t hide her surprise at how heavily guarded the place was.
“It must be hard for those soldiers from Bowdam. And they’ll be busy with the fireworks festival soon too.”
“No, that’s not their uniform, it’s PSICOMs… I think. But those people over there are regular soldiers.”
“I think so. I saw it in a picture that Kai showed me once.”
Kai’s dream was to become an airship pilot for the army when he grew up, so he knew a lot about it. If Kai were here he would know each type of gun that the soldiers were carrying. Hope hadn’t seen Kai for nearly three years. He had moved because of his parent’s job. Even though it was just to the next town over, their school was different, so they hadn’t really spoken much. At first they had called and mailed each other, but that grew gradually less and less…
“Hey, isn’t that the same pet shop we saw in Bowdam?”
Hope stopped his train of thought to look at where his mother was pointing. The familiar logo was spread across the closed shutter in front of the store.
“Isn’t that the place that was selling those baby chocobos?”
“Yes that one, they had said that their store in Ewleede was all sold out… I can’t believe all that happened here.”
That was on the day they had arrived in Bowdam. After checking into their condo, his mother had said she wanted to look around the shopping mall. Who would have thought then that an accident would happen in Ewleede.
Some children ran passed Hope. They must be on a field trip today today, he thought. No, wait, all schools are on vacation right now, so there’s probably just some sort of special event for children.
“Hurry up! Look, we’re already late.”
There’s a girl like that in every class, one who always tries to get everyone to obey the rules. There had been one in Hope’s class. There was one now. It was probably impossible for one not to be in a class. Just like a Cocoon without a fal’Cie was impossible.
“…. then I went on that nature field trip.”
“Oh, that one in Sanles?”
“Yes, that one.”
He turned at the voice. The girl spoke with pride. She must be talking about the Sanctum’s nature observational field trip, Hope thought. The Sanles Riverside is one of Cocoon’s few nature preserves. Since it is maintained for ecological research, citizens are not usually allowed inside. The only time they are is when the Sanctum has observational trips. They have the trips several times a year, and mostly only let school or other groups participate. The ones who get to go are chosen by lottery, and even if you apply for a trip you most likely won’t be chosen.
Only lucky kids get to go to Sanles. It was no wonder that girl was boasting about it. Kai probably boasted about it at his new school, saying that he went on the nature field trip at his old school.
“What’s wrong Hope?”
His mother had walked a bit ahead of him. She stopped, and looked back.
“No, just these kids that passed by were talking about Sanles. I was thinking about it.”
“Oh right, your school won the lottery on that didn’t they? Was that five years ago?”
When Kai was still there, and Elida. The three of them had always been together. At Sanles they had been together. He remembered running on the path behind them. He wondered if they still remembered the adventure they had there.
Inside the airship everyone raised their voices in excitement. Below them shards of light scattered across the surface of the lake, glittering. Everything was colored in various shades of green. They had just passed over the residential area of Sanles, which was next to the largest natural forest in all of Cocoon.
“Is that Lake Shela?”
“Hey, what’s that big tree over there?”
“Is that a mountain?”
The voices of the children were so loud it almost seemed they would break the windows of the airship.
“Alright, would everyone please be quiet!”
Their teachers voice echoed across theirs. After ten years of doing this the teacher didn’t blink an eye, but the airship staff were looking askance at the children. This airship usually only took on passengers that could pay their high price. Which means usually they would only see members of Sanctum on important business. Watching over children was out of their area of expertise.
The nature preserve was in an area that could only be reached by a special access point, for which they hired the latest civilian vessels. The result of which was that the the staff of the airship only had to deal with it a couple times a year, and were unused to it.
The airship gradually dropped altitude, and Lake Shela grew closer. The surface of the lake filled the view from the windows, and the children started talking excitedly again. Their teacher clapped her hands and raised her voice “Pay attention!” and everyone quieted.
“The airship will be landing soon. We will not be landing beside the lake, and there is only a temporary landing facility set up. Please take care not to run about. If you understand please raise your hand.”
Okay! Everyone said, raising their hands as one. Hope heard a voice beside him say “Oh wow…” It was Kai. Hope kept his hand raised and asked him quietly:
“What is it?”
“It’s really hard to land somewhere that doesn’t have a landing strip.”
“And this airship is huge, only a specialist pilot could land this here.”
Hope didn’t really know what he was talking about. Kai wanted to be an army pilot when he grew up, so he knew all about that sort of thing, but Hope knew nothing. But if Kai said the pilot was amazing, it must be true.
“What are you two talking about?” Elida said. She was standing beside Kai, leaning over him.
“You’re being loud.” Kai frowned at her. Elida was the best singer in the class, but she also had the loudest voice.
They had met during the opening ceremonies when they had first entered elementary school. The teachers had sat them together. They sat together in class as well, and the three of them became close. They were always doing stuff together.
Their interests, likes and personalities were completely different, but sometimes a external closeness matters more than an internal one. They lived close by each other, and often went home from school together. Both Hope and Elida were the only children in their family, but Kai had a little brother who was three years younger. His name was Hal, and the four of them often played together. Year after year, they always ended up in the same class. Though they weren’t always seated together, during trips and events like this one they always got together.
“He says the airship’s pilot is really amazing.” Hope leaned on Elida to whisper in her ear.
“Amazing? What is?” Elida tilted her head. Kai was about to give a detailed explanation, when the teacher ran over.
“Hey, you over there! Stop talking and lower your hands.”
Only the three of them still had their hands raised in the air. They quickly dropped their hands in embarrassment and everyone laughed.
“It’s all your fault you know!” Elida said, pouting. That’s when the scenery outside suddenly stopped. He hadn’t even felt the slightest tremor as the ship landed. Hope didn’t know anything about airships, but even he could tell that the pilot was good.
“See, pretty good huh?” Kai said, as if he were the one who landed the ship.
The first place the children looked at as they got off the airship was what was beneath their feet. They had never felt anything like it before. In Palumpolum there were streets everywhere. Even in parks there were few places where the earth was exposed. They were surprised at the strange feeling underneath their feet, but when they got a good look around they became more surprised at what they saw. Grass and trees weren’t usual, but they were always in planters or surrounded by rocks. They had never really seen so many green things like they could here.
“Alright, pay attention everyone! Does anyone remember the field trip rules we learned yesterday?”
Everyone raised their hands.
“Okay, then what are the three “don’ts”, let’s everyone say it together!”
“Don’t run, don’t play around, don’t push.”
“Very good! It’s different here than it is in the city. It’s easy to slip so you shouldn’t run. The monsters here are usually quiet, but if you yell or make loud noises it will surprise them and they might attack you. So let’s be very quiet, okay?”
They had gone over this several times since they found out they had been chosen to go. They all knew just telling people to be quiet probably wouldn’t do anything, so they drummed it into their heads. Soldiers had already driven the most dangerous monsters away from the path they would be taking. The only ones left were the quietest and gentlest monsters, and even they were gently dissuaded from coming near the visitors.
Doing this took a lot more time than simply killing all the monsters. But in Sanles they were studying the monsters, so they couldn’t kill them. Hope had heard about it from his father.
“And there is one more important thing you must remember. There are a lot of ravines and cliffs here, and it is very dangerous. Today they have platforms and ropes set up for us, but only in certain areas. Never go outside of the observation area! These researchers will be guiding us, so please listen to everything they say. Everyone understand?”
Everyone raised their hand, and Hope looked over to the path they would be taking. Through the dense trees he could see steep craggy cliffs and sharp rocks. He felt a bit nervous about walking in a place that was “very dangerous.”
According to the plan, they would go from Lake Shela on through Rainbow Pass, and walk along the forest trail before turning back. Once they returned to the lakeside they would eat lunch and have some free time. Hope thought that only people that wanted to walk on the path should have to. If they didn’t want to they should be able to stay there.
The edge of Lake Shela was beautiful. Flowers of various colors grew all around. Close by there were huge trees, the shade beneath them looked cool and quiet.
Hope preferred playing indoors than being outside. He liked playing games at home, or going over to Kai’s house to look at pictures of army weapons and machinery. But since both Kai and Elida liked playing outdoors, they only played inside on rainy days, or when Hal was feeling too sick to go outside.
“Alright, now we’ll be dividing you up by class. The path is narrow, so please form a single file line!”
Every class had a researcher to guide them. Unlike the teachers, the researchers were not used to raising their voices. They each carried a small megaphone with them.
The line of children moved slowly along. At just a bit less than a hundred people, the line was fairly long.
“These flowers are so beautiful.” Elida reached her hand out to a pale red flower, but Hope stopped her.
“You can’t. It says we aren’t supposed to touch or pick any of the plants. They said there are even some that can give you a rash.”
“I know that. I was just going to take a picture.” Elida said as she took out a toy camera from her pocket.
“I wonder if mom would like a picture of a flower….”
Hope took out his own toy camera. The cameras would send data automatically, and were an absolute must for events like these. Compared to normal cameras, the toy camera only had a little bit of space for data. Once you’ve filled up all of the memory on the camera, the data would be sent automatically to the nearest computer terminal. Then, within the same day the paper photos are sent to your house. The camera itself is cheap and meant to be used and thrown away, so it’s perfect for children who might drop it or break it. And being able to use up all the space on the camera in a day makes it even better.
Hope aimed his camera at the pale red flower. He also took a picture of the white flower next to it. It’s thin petals scattered in the breeze. He took a picture of that too. I hope the pictures come out, he thought. There were flowers here that you’d never see in the city. And not just flowers. The monster he could see in the distance just added to Sanles’ charm.
Hope was in a trance, clicking picture after picture. He hardly even noticed climbing up the hill.
“Hey, don’t you think the wind here has a sort of… strange smell?” Elida said to him. Hope had been noticing it too. Once they left the lakeside and started walking through the pass. He had smelled it then.
“It smells like, ick, medicine.” Kai sniffed the air and grimaced.
“No, not like medicine. More like herbs?”
“Yeah, it’s kind of like the stuff gramps drinks.”
Probably hearing their conversation, the female researcher in front of them turned and and smiled.
“That’s the smell of green stuff. Of dirt and grass.”
All the children in the area exchanged glances. They had dirt in the city. They had flower pots, and other plants that grew out of the ground. But they had never smelled anything like this.
“Untreated and unpurified dirt smells like this. And the plants that grow in it.”
Come to think of it, Hope thought, the flowers smelled different too. Not really different, just stronger. He had gotten just close enough to take a picture of them, but the sweet smell of the flowers had reached him. It had surprised him. He wondered if that was because of the dirt here.
“Look! A monster!” Someone yelled. When he looked, he saw something crawling along the edge of a ravine. It was translucent, and squishy looking. What a strange monster.
“That’s a Vegetapudding. The improved breed is edible you know.”
Everyone raised their voices in shock and disbelief.
“I don’t think I’ll tell you what it gets processed into. It would be so much trouble if some kids got disgusted and wouldn’t eat it anymore.” She winked jokingly.
Their field trip was about to degrade into a discussion on what kind of food a Vegetapudding could possibly be, when they reached Rainbow Pass. The researcher probably had that planned from the beginning when she started talking about edible Vegetapuddings.
When they reached the top of the pass, the view there erased all thoughts of monsters. A rainbow arched in the sky, and light shone down through cracks in the clouds. He heard the click of someone’s camera. They must have just remembered they had one. That was the signal. Everyone grabbed their cameras and hurried to take a picture of the scene before them.
“There are lots of beautiful places, so remember to save so space on your cameras.”
On those words the sound of clicking stopped. Hope just barely managed to stop himself. He had almost used all of his space up.
“If only I could have brought another camera.” Elida said sadly. Probably everyone was thinking the same thing. But the rule was that they could have only one camera per person.
“Alright everyone, look over here please.” The researcher was speaking through her megaphone. She must have waited until everyone was finished taking pictures to start her speech.
“As everyone already knows, the weather in Cocoon is controlled by the fal’Cie. As a general rule, the fal’Cie do not tell humans what the weather schedule is going to be.”
But there are exceptions. For storms, lightning, strong wind and other bad weather the fal’Cie send notices to the Sanctum, and the Sanctum warns the citizens so they can prepare. The announcements from the fal’Cie are always correct, they never miss.
Compare this to the so-called “weather forecast”, where humans gather data on weather climate changes. They are usually quite accurate, but are still nothing but predictions and can occasionally be wrong.
“Unlike the rest of Cocoon, the weather in Sanles is controlled by it’s own fal’Cie. This is because we are studying the effect rain, wind and other weather have on the plants and monsters.”
Elida raised her hand, wanting to ask a question.
“Are there any monsters that dislike rain?”
Elida hates rain. That’s probably why she thought of that question.
“Of course there are. But also, there are monsters that love the rain too.”
Elida made a face. She looked as though she wished she hadn’t asked. Hope and Kai both had to stifle a laugh.
“It’s not on our tour today, but beyond that cliff there is a valley where we are keeping monsters that love rain and monsters that hate it. We are controlling the rain in that area and checking to see how the monsters react. That is also why you will often see a rainbow from this pass.”
Didn’t dad say that it was light refracting off of water particles in the air that made rainbows? Hope thought to himself. I should ask him about the edible Vegetapuddings. He’d know.
“Alright, let’s head off to the next area. Up ahead is a place called “The Tree Shaded Path”. There are a lot of unusual sunlight hating plants growing there. But it’s very slippery, so be careful when you take pictures.” That is all, the researcher said, flipping the switch on her microphone.
They formed a line again and continued on down the path. The road from the lakeside to the top of Rainbow Pass had been a hill, but now it was a gentle slope downward. Despite that, it was more difficult to walk on. Hope had never known how slippery wet grass and dirt could be. The path was flat, with no rocks, but he nearly fell many times. When he did fall he became all covered in dirt. The information he had received about the field trip had said, “Bring shoes that are easy to walk in, and clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty.” Now he knew what that meant.
Looking around, he was glad that he still had some space left on his toy camera. He forgot his fatigue as he snapped pictures of the soft light hitting the rocks, of the grass transparent as crystal.
When they came to the end of the path, Hope took one last picture. The light indicating that the data was being sent blinked and then switched off. Now it was nothing but an empty box. As he stuffed it in his pocket, he felt insecure. Now he had nothing to do.
Though it was the same path back, it seemed to become more difficult to walk on. His footsteps felt heavy.
“Ugh, can’t we go home now?” Hope said, complaining a little.
“Seriously.” Elida said, out of breath.
“But once we get back to Lake Shela we’ll have free time!”
Kai was the only one who seemed full of energy. Apparently falling down didn’t bother him. His hands and clothes were covered in dirt.
“Kai you need to be more careful. What if you hurt yourself?”
He said he was fine, but quickly fell on his backside. Unfazed, he jumped up and continued walking.
“If he says he’s fine, then he’s fine.” Elida said, sighing.
After eating lunch and resting a bit, Hope felt his fatigue completely disappear. When he had returned to the lake shore he had thought he would never want to move again.
“What should we do? We still have lots of time.”
Here they could run and yell all they wanted, they wouldn’t get in trouble for it.
“Let’s climb that big tree over there. I want to take a picture from the top.”
“You haven’t finished taking all of your pictures yet Kai? You usually take them all at once.” Elida said, surprised. Hope could sense something bad happening, he tried to come between them before something happened.
“We can’t climb the trees or rocks. If you climbed that tree and fell, you’d die.”
Neither Kai nor Elida would be able to think about other things when they were excited about something. It was always up to Hope to try and stop them.
“So how would you climb it? I don’t think you can.”
“But I promise Hal. I told him I would take a really cool picture for him.”
Oh yeah, that’s right, Hope thought, Hal had wanted to come on this trip. But Hal wasn’t even in school yet. Kai had spent a long time trying to calm him down, trying to think of something to make up for him not being able to go. That’s probably why he had promised he’d take a cool picture.
“Then why didn’t you take one on top of Rainbow Pass….”
“I did. But it didn’t seem enough. I took pictures of monsters too, but it didn’t seem quite cool enough you know? So for my last picture I want to take it from the top of that tree.”
“But you can’t. Not that tree.”
“You never know until you try.” Kai said, putting his hand in his pocket. He frowned.
Kai said nothing, checking his pocket on the other side. Hope felt relieved.
“What? You didn’t drop your camera did you?”
He looked in his coat pocket, and in his bag. After looking everywhere he could, he finally gave up. Hope and Elida could tell what had happened just by looking at his face.
“Well I’m sure it fell around here somewhere.” Hope said.
It has to be, everyone agreed. So they looked around they area, but came up with nothing.
“Did you drop it on the path? You did keep falling over.” Elida pointed to his dirty knees.
“No, I had it with me when we came back. I was trying to decide whether or not to take a picture on the pass. I know I had it with me then.”
So it had to be somewhere between Rainbow Pass and the lakeside. But they couldn’t get there anymore. When they came back the path was closed off again. The researchers wanted to keep outside interference to a minimum.
“Hey Hope, does your camera have any space left on it?”
Usually Hope would end up lending him his camera. Kai and Elida would always take pictures twice as fast as Hope would, and use up all their space. Hope thought that they should think a little bit more about the pictures they take, but when he told them that they just said that he thought too much. In the end his camera would end up having pictures from all three of them.
But today was different.
“Sorry, the data already sent.”
It was impossible to think too much about taking pictures here. The scenery in Sanles was so beautiful. That made it even more strange that Kai wouldn’t have finished taking pictures.
“Me too. I used it all on Rainbow Pass.” Elida said.
“Guess that’s that then.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll show Hal my pictures too.” Elida tried to make him feel better. “Hope will show him his pictures too. That should be okay, right? He’ll see double the pictures. I’m sure he’ll be happy with that.”
But the pictures would be arriving at their houses tonight. Hal would only get to see them tomorrow, after school. Hope thought of Hal. The four of them usually played together after school. It upset him that he would be the only one not going. He kept saying, “Why can’t I go?”
Hal would be so disappointed…
No, they had to do it. They had to do it for Hal.
“Let’s go look for it.”
Kai and Elida both looked surprised.
“It’s not that far to Rainbow Pass. We’ll just look around until free time is over.”
“But we’re not supposed to go on the path.”
“It’s okay, we’ll just have to sneak in.”
They glanced at each other. They never thought Hope would say anything like this.
“My dad said you should never break a promise, no matter how small.”
He had also said that even if you’ve forgotten a promise, the other person will remember it. Kai could just say that it couldn’t be helped and be done with it. But Hal would have been waiting excitedly all day for those pictures.
“Let’s go look for it.” He said again. Even though Hal wasn’t his age, he was a friend. Elida seemed to feel the same.
“Yeah, we don’t want Hal to be disappointed.”
It was decided.
They couldn’t go through the entrance to the main path. Researchers had begun their clean up of the area. They decided to take a side path. Whether it really was a side path or not they couldn’t tell, but it looked like one.
“We’ll get there if we go this way, right?” Elida turned back, sounding worried.
“Well the direction is right. If we keep going this way, we should find the main path…”
They were only a short distance away from the shore, but the sounds of their classmates seemed terribly far away. Hope thought that maybe this wasn’t the right way after all.
“When we go back we should take the main path.”
“But if they catch us at the entrance they’ll get angry at us.”
“Don’t worry, by then they’ll be finished cleaning up.”
“But the teachers might be watching.”
The forest around them was too quiet, so they felt they had to talk loudly about stupid things. When they were in a large group of people it didn’t seem so bad, but now that it was just the three of them the quiet was frightening.
“Hey look at that! It looks like some sort of fruit.” Elida said brightly. She pointed up to a branch that was bent under the weight of several yellowish red fruits. It was larger than any fruit they had ever seen in the store.
“I wonder if it’s okay to eat?”
“You can’t pick them. Really, Elida, you’ll grab just about anything.”
“I do not!”
“Well it is a very pretty color…”
“I said it’s not like that!” Elida was getting angry.
“Hey… guys?” Kai cut into their argument. “Don’t you think that color looks familiar? You know, the thing she said was… edible?”
Then Hope noticed it too. That monster they had seen near Rainbow Pass, it had a very similar color. Hope remembered that it hadn’t been too far away from the main path…
Then the earth rose up in front of them, like a red wall. It was that monster. It’s red translucent body swelled. A Vegetapudding, Hope thought, scared. His feet took off running before he realized it.
“Aaah! It’s following us!” Elida screamed, nearly in tears. Hope was the slowest of the three, and there was no time to look back. He just ran, moving his legs as hard as he could. If they left him behind it would all be over for him. He ran as long as his breath held out. He couldn’t tell where they were running. The found a rock they could hide behind, and dove into it’s protective shadow. His heart was beating so hard he felt as though it would jump up through his mouth.
“It… it’s not behind us…” Kai looked out from behind the boulder, then sat down in relief. Hope felt his legs go weak. He couldn’t run another step.
The three of them sat, breathing heavily. Hope felt a chill run down his body. If the ground had been slippery like it had been on the main path, or if one of them had tripped over something, who knows what might have happened. They were lucky the three of them managed to get away.
“Hey, where… are we?”
They had thought they were walking towards the main path. If it was the wrong direction, they could have just turned back and gone a different way. But they couldn’t now.
“This place seems a little… different.”
The gloomy trees that had surrounded them before were gone, and bare cliffs rose up on either side. The grass at their feet was sparse. It was a dry and desolate place.
“Which way did we come from?”
They had been so intent on getting behind the boulder that they hadn’t even noticed which way they had ran. All they could see now were rocks and cliffs going in all directions.
“Well the pass should be in whatever direction the rainbows are…”
But the cliffs blocked their view. They could barely see the sky let alone rainbows.
“I think it’s this way.”
“No, no. It’s this way.”
Kai and Elida pointed in completely opposite directions. Hope couldn’t tell which of them might be right. They really had no idea which direction was which anymore.
“Well… let’s just keep walking then.”
“But you aren’t supposed to go anywhere if you get lost.”
“Maybe in other places, but what if another monster attacks? We wouldn’t be able to run away.”
The path here was craggy and uneven, there would be nothing they could do if they were attacked by a fast monster.
“If we find a place where we can see everything, we should be able to see the lake. Then we’ll know how to get back.”
“Right. We’ve just gotten a little bit off the path, if we could see the lake it would all work out.” Kai agreed. Elida slowly nodded, still unconvinced.
“Oh yeah, wait just a minute.” Hope grabbed a sharp rock and carved an ‘X’ into the boulder. “Let’s go right. If we’re wrong we can always come back here. Then we can try going left.”
“Wow Hope. You’re so smart!”
“My dad taught me. He said if you’re lost in a place you don’t know, make sure you know how to get back to where you were.”
“Well, then your dad is smart.” Elida laughed. Complimenting his dad made Hope feel happier than if she had complimented himself.
“Let’s hurry. They’ll probably be leaving soon.”
The three of them nodded, and started off together. Even though it was noon the light in the narrow passage between the cliffs was dim. They walked without a sound. They were worried that their voices might carry to any monsters within earshot. Without anyone saying so, the three of them held hands. It made them feel stronger, somehow, walking along a path they didn’t know.
Parts of the cliff face glittered with blue. If they hadn’t be lost, they would have thought the pale light beautiful. But now even that light seemed ominous. The air was warm, and a tepid wind blew through the crevice.
Hope didn’t know how far they had walked. The cliff face continued unfalteringly on either side. Then, in the distance, they saw something that looked like a machine. They looked at each other, nodding, and broke into a run. They thought they might be able to use it to send data or to call out. If it was anything like the ones they had at home, they would be able to contact their teachers. But as they closed in on it they could see it was nothing like a household machine. It didn’t look like something children could use.
“Let’s just try pushing buttons.”
“We shouldn’t. What if we broke it…” But before Hope could stop her, Elida touched the panel. It lit up.
“See, we can figure this out.” Elida said proudly. As soon as she said that the light on the panel went out again and the machine grew quiet.
“Huh? That doesn’t work? Oh well, I guess I’ll just try doing it the way mom taught me…” Elida made a fist. Hope and Kai grabbed her arms on either side. Both of them knew what “doing it mom’s way” entails.
“No way! If you do that it will break!”
“Only your mom could make things work by hitting them!”
Elida looked unhappy but relaxed her hands.
“Well then what should we do?”
“Let’s walk a bit farther. If there’s a machine here then that means people should be close by.”
The path was still difficult, uneven and rocky, but the hope that there was someone nearby gave them the energy to go on.
“Hey, what do you think this is?”
They had just come out on the other side of a tunnel, when Hope saw a strange thing floating just in front of his face. It was a glowing ball, just about the size of a human head. It look as though it were made of water, and it wobbled in the air in front of them.
“Well, it’s not a monster, it isn’t attacking us.”
“We’ve told you not to touch things!” Hope and Kai screamed together. But they were too late. Elida touched the glowing ball with her palm. The wind grew cold, and the sky grew dark. Droplets of water fell down on them, and then in a rush it changed to a whole downpour of rain. Now they knew what that ball was. It was a rain control device.
They ran underneath the tunnel. It was the only place they could escape from the rain.
“Well, at least now we know which direction we’re going. They said there was some rain thing nearby Rainbow Pass right? So we know that the pass is just on the other side of these cliffs.”
“That’s nice and all, but what’ll we do about this rain?”
Hope was going to stop the two of them from arguing, but then he remembered. When they were on Rainbow Pass, the thing the researcher had been talking about… ‘There are monsters that love the rain too.’ And this place is meant for studying those monsters…
I have to stop the rain, Hope thought, and he ran out from underneath the rocks. But that was as far as he got. He stopped, then stepped back a pace. Right in front of him was a yellow frog-looking monster. Behind it were more of the same in various colors. They had sharp claws at the ends their webbed forelegs. His whole body grew cold looking at them.
He tried to run but tripped over his own feet, landing on his back. He knew he had to run but he couldn’t make himself stand. Behind him he heard a scream. There were monsters near Elida too. She was the loudest person in their class, and her scream was earsplitting. Hope thought somewhere in the back of his mind that maybe it would surprise the monsters and they’d run.
For a moment the monsters stopped moving. But no monster would ever run at the scream of a child. They started creeping closer. He could see sharp teeth in their open mouths. They’re going to eat me, he thought.
Hope squeezed his eyes shut, and curled into a ball. But an attack from the sharp teeth and nails never came. Shaking, he slowly opened his eyes. The rain had stopped. The monsters were slowly moving away. Someone had used the rain control device and stopped the rain.
“The fal’Cie here controls the rain….”
Perhaps it was the fal’Cie who had saved them. He then heard Elida’s scream.
“Look! It’s the airship!”
Kai yelled. They could see the airship through the crack in the cliffs. Maybe it was searching for them. It was stopped in midair, hovering. The fal’Cie must have called the airship too, Hope thought. Kai dashed out from underneath the rock, waving his hands in the air and yelling.
“Can you stand?” Elida grabbed his hand and helped him stand. He looked around, but didn’t see any researchers or anything that might be a fal’Cie.
He nodded and ran after Kai and Elida, waving his hands and yelling at the airship.
Once they were on the ship, they were taken to a separate room and questioned about what happened. They got a lecture from their teacher about how the monsters they ran into in Sunleth could have hurt them. They hadn’t expected anything less.
Now that they were back on the ship, Kai miraculously had his toy camera returned to him. A researcher had found it when they were doing their clean up of the path, and brought it back to the airship. They hadn’t needed to go looking for it after all. They should have just waited until free time was over.
I never should have said we should go looking for it, Hope thought, feeling regret. He didn’t know what Kai and Elida were thinking, but they didn’t seem angry with him.
“Did the fal’Cie stop the rain?” Elida asked their teacher. She must have had the same thought that Hope had. The fal’Cie is the only one who could have stopped the rain like that.
“It was probably a researcher who controlled it from somewhere far away, but most likely it was a fal’Cie who made the decision to stop the rain generator.”
It wasn’t the fal’Cie who called the airship either. It was the panel that Elida had touched. A researcher had noticed some strange activity coming from a machine in this area, and realized that someone had intruded into “Rain Valley”.
“They said that it’s really difficult to land there. If the pilot wasn’t so good, you probably would have still been wandering around lost in that canyon. We should go and thank the pilot later.”
Finally they were allowed to go back to their seats.
“Kai, uh…” Sorry I got us in trouble, Hope wanted to say.
“That was really cool.” Kai laughed, slapping Hope on the back. Hope nodded back and smiled.
“Kai! Take out your camera!” Elida pointed out the window. It was already evening. Many points of light were scattered below them in the fading sunlight. It was the lights of the Sunleth Waterscape’s airship runway. Kai hurried to take the picture. Finally all the space on the camera was used up, and the light indicating that the data was sending came on. The picture that Kai had promised to take for Hal, that final picture, was a night view of Sunleth.
No matter how small the promise you shouldn’t break it… huh…
Hope reflected on the words the memory brought. I believed in those words, he thought. I always believed in them. Then even my father, the very man who taught them to me, forgot them.
No, his father probably still follows them to the letter. Just not when it concerns Hope or his mother. If it’s his work he’ll go running, anytime day or night. He’ll even forget to eat, locked away in his study. The way his father is now, nothing is more important, nothing takes more precedence, than work.
His father no longer remember promises made with his family. He didn’t even listen to them anymore. When was the last time Hope bothered to start a conversation with him? A long time ago. What did I want to talk about, he wondered, I’ve even forgotten what it was. His father had said “Sorry, I can’t now, we can talk about it later.” Now the only thing Hope could remember was how his father had just brushed him aside. He remembered it as if it were yesterday. When his father had left, he finally realized something. It didn’t matter what he expected, what he’d hope for, there was nothing he could do.
“It’s too bad everything has been closed off, but at least we were able to see fal’Cie Kujata.”
His mother’s words brought him back to himself. They had just seen the fal’Cie of the energy plant, and were heading back to the entrance. He couldn’t make peace with his thoughts, but looked away and feigned disinterest.
“This trip seemed too short.”
“Half of the plant was closed off. It really couldn’t be helped you know.”
The accident that happened at Ewleede was far more serious than the reports had let on. You could tell just by coming here.
“I wonder if the fal’Cie in Sunleth was like that one.”
“Oh right, you went there during that nature field trip. You didn’t meet the fal’Cie?”
“Nope. They told us about how it controls the weather, but the only thing we saw were monsters.”
“Oh yes, I remember. You were attack by those monsters and got a fever. I was so worried.”
Maybe it was because he had encountered monsters twice during his time at Sunleth, but on their trip home Hope had suddenly fallen ill with a fever. Once they reached Palumpolum he was immediately taken to the emergency room. Because that happened he never got to thank the pilot of the airship. He had heard about it from Kai and Elida three days later.
“He was super cool. He was this old guy who had hair like a bird’s nest.”
“He said his son was just born a little while ago.”
“When I told him I wanted to become a pilot, he said ‘Good luck!’”
Kai couldn’t stop talking about the pilot of that airship. After that, Kai never wavered in his dream to become a pilot. It made Hope a little jealous. Even Elida had a dream for what she wanted to do in the future. She said she wanted to become a singer, so she entered into an all girls school that had a special music program. That was a year ago.
When I was younger I wanted to become like my father…
Of course now his father is an example of the kind of person he doesn’t want to become. No matter what kind of job he worked at, he didn’t want to become the kind of person who will ignore those who are close to him. He would be happy so long as he never became the kind of person who would forget even the tiniest promise.
“Uh, what? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.”
He resolved to stop thinking so much and actually listen. Not listening to people when they talk would be exactly what his father would do…
“The people just passing by were just saying that during the accident a little boy was hurt very badly. They said it was so sad, they couldn’t even look at his father who was with him.”
“I hope he doesn’t die. There is nothing sadder than when a child dies before their parent…”
It doesn’t matter whether the parent or the child goes first, Hope thought, when a family member dies it’s still sad. For those who are left behind.
But Hope didn’t say so. Somehow he couldn’t say it.
“Um, Hope… are you… mad at your father?”
“He’s just not really all that good at those sort of things you know, but there is a lot of trust in him, he doesn’t want to do a bad job.”
When he looked at his mother’s face, he felt the tight feeling in his chest relax.
“I’m not mad. He’ll be here for the fireworks festival right? Well then that’s okay. I mean the fireworks are the main event after all.”
His mother’s smile looked so happy. Maybe I should try talking with my father on the night of the festival, Hope thought. Of course he’ll just say “How have you been?” or something like that, but if he could just see his mother smile like this, he didn’t care…
A masked soldier walked in front of them. The repairs after the accident should have already been complete, and the usual soldiers at the plant were the security force. Why were there so many PSICOM soldiers around? He felt like some strange, awful thing was crawling up his legs. His mother had a worried look on her face as they got closer to the plaza. Hope tried to make his voice bright an airy.
“Come on, let’s go back to Bowdam. We already saw that fal’Cie.”
Maybe his mother also wanted to shake off that strange feeling that he had felt, she replied in the same bright tone.
“Okay, then let’s go to the shopping mall.”
He didn’t want to think anymore about soldiers and the fal’Cie. He just wanted to think about having fun. Hmm, maybe when I return to Palumpolum I’ll talk to Kai and Elida, Hope thought. If I tell him I saw a ton of soldiers in Ewleede Kai is sure to come running. Elida will probably want to hear more about the fireworks festival than the plant.
It’ll be three years since we’ve been together, Hope thought, thinking of his friends.
His school vacation had only just begun.
Part III: Treasure (Family)
Who would have thought it’d turn out to be such a big deal?
Soldiers everywhere, everything’s messed up. When I first met you, it was so peaceful. Let’s see now… that was eight days ago wasn’t it? Yeah, just eight days. In that time, all this has happened. I don’t even know what’s going on anymore.
Just can’t believe it. Dad has completely given up. Well, you have too…
“Daddy, I want that one!”
Dajh was tugging at his hand, and Sazh stopped without even thinking about it. When children demand things from their parents they’ll pull and tug and run around until they get what they want. His son Dajh was only six, but he could pull an adult like Sazh over without trying.
“Hey, why don’t we buy it on the way back?”
Sazh had brought Dahj to Ewleede Canyon. He couldn’t remember when it was, but Dajh had said he wanted to see a fal’Cie.
If you wanted to see a fal’Cie on Cocoon, the only place to go was to Ewleede, to see fal’Cie Kujata. Sazh had searched around, and he had found a free spot on what looked like the perfect tour package. “A Family Vacation: Visit Ewleede and Bowdam”, had been the tour name. The airship and hotel room would be reserved for you, and they’d give you some free time to explore the places yourself. The price for children had a nice discount, and it looked like fun.
That’s why they were now headed from Ewleede Station to the energy plant. The place was filled with tourists, and every corner had a souvenir shop. Sazh had known that Dajh would want to stop somewhere. He’d want some animal shaped balloon, or perhaps brightly colored candy would catch his eye…
“No! Now! Now!”
Dajh pulled on his hand even harder. All children are like this, saying what they want when they want it. Sazh remembered doing it too, and how happy he’d be he’d get what he wanted.
But there was something he hadn’t realized as a child. The adults who gave them what they wanted were even happier to do it.
“Alright, alright. Just this once.” Just saying that made him start to smile.
“So, what is it you want?”
They were in front of a pet shop. This wasn’t just some local shop, but a chain that had shops everywhere.
“I want the yellow one!”
“Let’s see, which one is it?”
There were lots of different cages lined up in front of the shop. Just to show how big the shop was, they didn’t have only your normal dogs and cats, but they also had monsters that had their genes rearranged to be non-threatening.
“The yellow one, which yellow one?” His eyes stopped.
“Not… you don’t mean… that one?”
In one of the huge cages there was a big yellow Pudding, just sitting there. The Pudding was stretching out it’s body, trying to look menacing.
“Hey kid, you mean this yellow one don’t ya?” The shopkeeper smiled at Dajh and flapped his hands.
“Yeah, that one!” Dajh nodded, and made the same motion. It looked like they were imitating a bird.
“All kids mean this when they say ‘the yellow one’.” The shopkeeper said, pointing at a sign that said, “Baby Chocobos in Stock!”
“Oh, just a chocobo.” He had panicked when he’d thought Dajh had meant the Pudding, but he had no problems with a baby chocobo.
“Alright then, we’ll take one of the yellow ones.”
Dajh’s face lit up when he heard the words. Dajh loved chocobos. His favorite picture book was about a chocobo, he even had a chocobo print towel he’d used to shreds.
“Great! Then please come inside the shop.” The shopkeeper tried to take Dajh by the hand.
“No, I’ll wait here!” Dajh said. He was proud that he now could wait on his own when his father had to do something. Now he wanted to wait by himself all the time.
“Alright, but you can’t move from this spot. Got it?”
Dajh nodded, getting a mischievous look on his face. Of course Sazh knew what he was planning, which is why he always told him to not move. Recently Dajh wasn’t satisifed with just waiting by himself, so he’d play a game. He’d wait until Sazh had entered a store, then hide himself in the shadows. When Sazh came looking for him he’d wait, all excited, until he was found.
When he entered the shop, the shopkeeper was just opening up the cage. That’s when one of the chocobos dashed from the cage and flew straight at Sazh.
“Hey, looks like he likes you.” He smiled and closed the cage when he saw the baby chocobo flying around Sazh.
“Does it? Can’t really tell.” His eyes met the baby chocobo’s when he looked up. The chocobo cocked his head. Just when he started thinking it was cute, it’s eyes flashed. The next moment, the chocobo dived at Sazh.
“Ow!” The chocobo had landed right on the top of Sazh’s head.
“Hey, don’t use your claws like that!” The chocobo chirped in answer. Sazh couldn’t tell whether it was saying ‘Okay!’ or ‘Do you think I care?’, but either way it seemed happy.
Once he’d finished paying, he left the shop in a hurry with the chocobo riding on top of his head. He wanted to show Dajh the chocobo as soon as he could.
Or so he’d thought. But Dajh was nowhere to be found. Well, this was how it always was.
“Hey, Dajh? Are you playing hide and seek?” He made as if he were looking around. Of course he was just hiding somewhere in the shadows. Soon he’d hear Dajh laughing from somewhere nearby. Small children don’t hide so they won’t be found, they hide so they’ll get picked up in a big hug.
“Hey, looks like I lost. I can’t find you!” He said, pretending to give up. But still he didn’t hear Dajh laugh.
He looked around. On the other side of the bench, in the cart’s shadow, behind the flower box. But Dajh was no where to be seen. But maybe… the energy plant was just over there.
“You didn’t go in there did you?”
Sazh ran to the entrance of the plant. Children will do the same things over and over and never get tired of them, but then suddenly one day they’ll do something new. Children are good at this. That’s how they grow up. I won’t be letting him wait on his own for awhile, Sazh thought. Dajh probably thought it would be fun to try going somewhere else on his own while he was waiting.
When he was in front of the entrance, he looked back at the plaza once more just in case. There were lots of children his age, but he couldn’t see Dajh. He really must have gone into the plant alone. Sazh started getting worried.
That’s when it happened. The ground trembled as though something huge had fallen. From far away he could hear the sound of air blowing. The children playing in the plaza all started crying and screaming.
“Dajh!” Sazh ran towards the entrance. Something bad just happened. He was certain.
“Dajh where are you?”
An emergancy siren sounded. A loud noise that cut through the screams. Tourists were rushing towards the entrance as fast as they could. Sazh wanted to get on with searching for Dajh, but the wave of people pushed and shoved him. He was unable to move an inch. He pushed through, trying to make way through the people. They yelled at him and complained, but he had no time for that now.
It took awhile, but he finally heard the energy plant staff telling the tourists to calm down and exit in an orderly manner. It had probably took them so long because they had been surprised as well.
He could still hear and feel the ground trembling. White smoke was billowing out, and he couldn’t tell what was happening inside. Was there a fire or an explosion?
“Dajh! Where are you Dajh?” Sazh accidentally breathed in the smoke, but it didn’t make him cough. It wasn’t smoke, but some sort of mist. Just what was happening in there…?
There weren’t many people along the walkway. Probably everyone else had already run. Maybe Dajh had been taken with them? No, that didn’t seem right. He felt as though Dajh was somewhere close by.
“Dajh! It’s dad! Please answer me!” He was right in front of fal’Cie Kujata. He yelled louder. The white mist had become even thicker than it was before, and he could hear a loud sound like air escaping. He continued on, being careful to check everywhere around him.
Then he saw the familiar color of Dajh’s clothes.
Dajh was laid out along one of the resting benches. He ran over and gathered him up in his arms.
“It’s alright, everything is alright. Are you hurt?” He spoke in a calm voice to reassure him, checking his arms and legs.
“Huh? What’s this?”
There was a strange mark he’d never seen on the back of Dajh’s hand. At first he thought it was a sticker, but it was something else. It looked like the body paint some of those kids liked to put on. Even so, how could he have…?
No, there would be time to think about it later. Right now they had to leave, get somewhere safe. He picked up Dajh, to carry him, when he heard the sound of footsteps closing in behind him.
“Hey! Are you alright?”
It was a soldier on the security force. He’d be able to lead them to a safer place.
“My child, he…”
“Is he hurt? Did he hit his head?”
“I don’t know. We got separated, and then…”
It probably said in the emergency procedure manual not to listen to the whole story. They unfolded a stretcher and placed Dajh on it. A female soldier stood close, looking into Dajh’s face.
“You don’t have to be scared, everything will be alright.”
She was probably checking too see whether he was conscious or not while she talked. She walked over to soldiers and nodded.
“Take him to the first-aid room. Please come this way sir.”
We’re saved, Sazh thought, everything will be alright. He nodded, and walked after them.
The first-aid room was crowded with tourists who had hurt themselves while running away, or were otherwise not feeling well. When Dajh was on the stretcher, he had remained quiet, but now that he laid in bed he couldn’t take it anymore. Dajh began moving about, unable to keep still. He looked up at Sazh.
“Shhh.” He said, laying a hand on Dajh’s shoulder. “You’ll have to stay quiet until the doctor can have a look at you.”
“Okay…” Dahj nodded sadly. There was some commotion out in the hallway. Did they just bring in an emergency patient? The door to the first-aid room burst open, and several soldiers marched in. You could tell they weren’t from the security force here, not just by their clothes, but by their cold demeanor.
“We are now in a state of emergency. As of now the plant and the surrounding area of Ewleede are under PSICOM supervision. You will obey any orders given.”
A young woman was standing at the front of the soldiers. She wore her beauty and intelligent like a cloak. But, perhaps it was the glasses, her gaze seemed cold and severe.
“Currently all airship landings at Ewleede Station will be suspended. We will be setting up a tent in the plaza in front of the energy plant for you to use as a waiting area, so we would like everyone who has been seen by a doctor to go there. Anyone who has not been seen and medical staff will go to the first-aid tent. As of now this place is off-limits.”
The first-aid room grew noisy, but only for a moment. Then on the woman’s orders the soldiers separated the people into groups and made them form a line, leading them outside. That was neatly done, Sazh thought, PSICOM has always been good at this sort of thing.
Sazh and Dajh went to the end of the line going to the first-aid tent. But then he felt a hand laying on his shoulder.
“Is this the child who collapsed in front of the fal’Cie?”
It was the woman in the glasses who led the soldiers. She lowered her voice as she spoke to Sazh.
“My name is Jihl Nabaat of PSICOM. I wish to speak with you about your son. Please come with me.”
“About my son?”
She lifted a finger to her lips, indicating him to quiet.
“I know you’d like to speak of it now, but please follow my orders. I will explain in more detail, but here… there are too many people.”
Her words held hidden meaning. Just what was happening? What had happened to Dajh? There were so many questions he wanted to ask, but this was PSICOM. This was someone who held a high position. The only thing Sazh could do was nod.
They pretended we were emergency patients, carrying us away and loading us on a PSICOM airship. Sometimes one of the higher ups in PSICOM would come by, saying they had to ‘observe’ us. That Nabaat woman kept saying it was a ‘lucky accident’ or something like that. PSICOM’s specialty is… well, they call them the “Menace of Pulse”. I wondered what was so luck about PSICOM being at the plant.
No, I didn’t care about that, so long Dajh was alright. So long as he was safe. But they didn’t explain anything to me, they just dragged us to Eden and put us in the military’s medical facility. She said she’d tell us the details later, but with the medical staff watching over us on the airship there was no time for that.
Because they said, “The safety of your son is of the utmost importance.” I didn’t say anything.
Dad was all shook up, so I complete forgot to let you and Dajh meet. But you weren’t exactly able to at the time, were you? You were hiding in dad’s hair, so shocked you couldn’t even move, right? When you finally flew out it was night, and I was getting into bed. They’d put me in a different room from Dajh. I was all alone, so it gave me quite a start.
Of course I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t stop thinking about the word that Lieutenant Nabaat said: “The Mark of the l’Cie”.
By the next day, nothing had changed. Sazh still didn’t know what was going on. He cornered one of the medical staff, but they’d only tell him that they were still investigating. Or they’d tell him that Lieutenant Nabaat would explain everytime to him at a later time. If he asked where she was, they’d only tell him they didn’t know. He thought that they were probably hiding something, but it seemed the staff here really had no idea. They weren’t in charge of the investigation on Dajh, but one of the higher ups, a specialist.
Maybe they felt sorry for Sazh, who was out of his mind with worry. The medical staff attempted to find out about Lieutenant Nabaat, but couldn’t get much farther than he could. The Lieutenant was out on duty, she couldn’t even be contacted.
“Lieutenant Nabaat is a very important person. She is one who the Sanctum relies on. There is nothing we can do.”
The young woman who’d done everything she could to help him looked regretful. According to her, Nabaat had graduated at the top of her class. After that, she had moved quickly to the position of Lieutenant, and it wouldn’t be too long before she attained even higher positions.
If someone like that was involved, then what had happened at Ewleede was no simple accident. It looked like he and Dajh got wrapped up in some serious business. That he was sure of.
“We will get in contact with her, so you can get an explanation as soon as possible. I know you’re worried, but please wait a little longer.”
“I understand, just… as soon as you can, please.” Sazh thanked her, and returned to his room. It wasn’t a sickroom, but a place set aside for the family of patients. It was set up like a hotel. It even had a machine where you could access the shops, among other things.
When he stopped in front of the machine, the baby chocobo flew out from his hair. It had probably been watching to see if it was safe, so it hadn’t come out before.
“Play around as much as you want. I’m going to try and get some information.” He turned on the machine, and accessed the library. He wanted to find out more about this “Mark of the l’Cie” that Nabaat had been talking about earlier.
Of course he’d heard of l’Cie. It was something he had known about since he was a child. Everyone born on Cocoon heard about them in old stories and fairy tales. But how does that fairy tale relate to reality? He couldn’t think of any way they could have anything to do with Dajh and the accident at Ewleede. He had probably heard wrong, and it was actually a different word. Not really l’Cie. If that was the case, then what could it be? He wanted to know what Nabaat had been trying to say.
He figured that his search would only come up with the titles of children’s books. But he was wrong. There were more history books listed than he would have imagined. There were copies of old texts, and videos of reference libraries there as well.
Sazh was trying to think of which one he should try first, when the baby chocobo came flying down on the control panel. The screen changed.
“Hey now, don’t touch the machine! If you’re going to play around, go over there.” He reached for the cancel button, but he looked closer at what had come up on the screen. It was a picture of an old text, strange symbols and writing carved into rock.
“What in the world is this?”
He recognized that symbol. In fact, he had just seen it half a day before. It was the mark he had seen on the back of Dajh’s hand. Sazh read the accompanying text that went with the picture, and he paled.
The “Mark of the l’Cie” that Nabaat had been talking about… wasn’t just something he had misheard.
I’ve never really understood the phrase “everything went black” until now. But it’s true. Not really black, but just not being able to see anything at all. No matter what you were looking at, it just won’t register.
I remember accessing the information from some University research group, or some think tank or something like that. But I don’t remember what it said. I remember reading it, that I’m sure of. I think it said something about the “l’Cie of the Sanctum” or something like that.
But none of it was information I wanted to know, what I wanted to hear. You know what dad wants to hear right? Just one thing. One simple thing. That his son is going to be alright.
I don’t know why I thought Lieutenant Nabaat would be able to tell me that. I was panicked. Every new thing I read was just so unbelievable. I didn’t want to believe it. I thought some soldier who had graduated at the top of her class would be able to tell me otherwise. Like a life preserver I held on to that thought.
It was only several days later that I finally got to see her. Three days after the accident…
“I am sorry to have kept you waiting for three days.” Nabaat bowed her head deeply. “I am sure you’ve been quite worried.” Her expression was sorrowful.
They were in a medical observation room, watching a monitor on the wall. The monitor showed Dajh playing with something that looked like a puzzle. They said that this was one of the things they were using in their investigation. Sazh wasn’t allowed to visit him yet, but Nabaat had prepared this monitor room for him, so that he could at least see that his son was alright.
“Whatever, I don’t care. But Dajh, my son…” Let me take him home, Sazh wanted to say, but didn’t. He looked at Dajh on the monitor, happily clapping his hands. There was the symbol, right there on the back of his hand. I can’t ask yet, he thought, we have to do something about that first. Before we go home.
“You probably have already realized, but…”
Nabaat looked as though she were going to say something that was difficult. She breathed, and said what she wanted to say.
“Your son has been chosen to be a l’Cie. By fal’Cie Kujata.”
For the past three days, Sazh had searched and studied about the l’Cie, as much as time would allow. But it had only made him lose hope. Nabaat was the last glimmer he had left. He was sure she would say, “You’ve got it all wrong. There is no way your son could be a l’Cie.” and laugh his fears away.
But at her words he fell into despair. He didn’t even realize he was yelling.
“How could you joke about this? The l’Cie are nothing but some old story….”
“I understand how you’re feeling.” Nabaat closed her eyes sadly. Sazh was at a loss for words. Should he tell her, “You understand nothing!” Or could he tell her, “Don’t sympathize with me!” No, it wouldn’t change anything. No matter what he said, nothing would change. Instead, he shoved those feelings deep within his heart.
I don’t understand this. Any of it. Sazh clenched his fists in frustration.
“We were surprised also.” She continued quietly.
“According to record, a l’Cie has not been chosen for hundreds of years. Not since the War of Revelations.”
“Then why? Why did this happen to Dajh?”
Why was it Dajh? There had been other children in the same place, tons of them. Children the same age as Dajh. No, did it even have to be child? There were adults there. It wouldn’t have matter if they had chosen one of them instead. So why, why did it choose Dajh?
“To be honest, we don’t know. We can only think that he was judged as the best choice by the fal’Cie.”
“A six year old child? That’s ridiculous!”
“Mr. Katzroy…” She opened her mouth as if to say something, but turned her eyes away without saying anything at all. She knows something, Sazh thought. She’s still hiding something from me.
“What is PSICOM… the Sanctum, going to do with Dajh?” Nabaat had said in the airship that Dajh’s safety was important. But Sazh knew the army wouldn’t put out so much effort for one civilian child.
“If you’ll keep what I’m about to tell what a secret…”
Bingo, Sazh thought. Nabaat stared straight into his eyes.
“A great danger is approaching Cocoon. We have watched Pulse, and we know that an invasion is on the way.”
What could she mean an invasion? From Pulse? This was too big, he couldn’t understand what she meant.
“The Sanctum is holding back on making a public announcement of this, but what happened at the plant was no accident. It was the work of enemies from Pulse.”
That white mist, the ground trembling, the Sanctum had announced it as nothing but an accident. But it had been something planned, something from Pulse.
“The reason there was so little destruction was because of Dajh. He was chosen by the fal’Cie to be a l’Cie.”
“Impossible. How could a six year old child do anything?”
It was unbelievable. How could a six year old do anything against enemies from Pulse?
“It’s the truth.” Nabaat said, cutting him off.
“But the enemies escaped, they are still at large. We don’t know when or where there will be another attack. That is why we are asking that you cooperate.”
He still couldn’t think of it as anything but a horrible joke. Cooperate? With what?
“Dajh has been chosen. He is the key to saving Cocoon. He may not have knowledge of his power, but the Sanctum will be providing back up for him. He will stand in the face of the invasion from Pulse. So please, Mr. Katzroy, please help us.”
“I don’t know what to say to that. It’s just too… much.”
He wanted to hear a more concrete explanation. He didn’t understand any of this. He didn’t care about this invasion from Pulse. He just wanted to know when he’d be able to take Dajh home.
… was there any chance they’d be able to return to a normal life?
“Yes, yes I do understand.” Nabaat nodded several times. She didn’t seem like a soldier then, but a teacher talking to a small child.
“We aren’t asking you to do anything special. We’d just like you to watch over him.”
I probably look like a sulky child right at this moment, Sazh thought.
“We don’t know what Focus or powers Dajh has been given. We are trying to find out as soon as possible, that is what we are investigating now. Unfortunately we cannot allow you to visit him yet, but I understand that you are worried. So please…”
Focus? Oh, of course. If a l’Cie does not complete their Focus they’ll turn into a Cie Corpse. That’s what she was saying. Right now the most important thing was to discover what his “Focus” was. He understood. In his head he understood, but in his heart…
“I’ll try to see if you’ll be allowed to see him tomorrow. But we’ll have to do as many tests as we can today. So please, just wait one more day.”
There was nothing else Sazh could say.
She wasn’t lying when she said tomorrow. It was evening, but I was finally allowed to see Dajh. I left you back in the room because I was worried if you went Dajh wouldn’t be able to figure out what his Focus was.
Don’t be mad! Dad really wants the two of you to meet. But the Lieutenant was right about kids. When something else takes their attention, they’ll forget about anything else. At the time, I didn’t really understand what they meant by Focus. Not really. But I was panicked. Not just then, but the whole time. I was just so… worried.
What does a six year old boy understand? Could he understand?
It’s all I could think about…
When they called Sazh in, it was a different room than he had been to yesterday. Instead of a monitor, there was a huge window. You could see the next room perfectly. But you couldn’t see into this room from the other side. If you could, Dajh would have seen him and come running. They probably used this room to monitor their subjects.
“Do you want to see him first? Or would you like me to tell you what we’ve found?”
“What you’ve found… please.”
He wanted to see Dajh very much, but he was worried about the results of tests. If he was thinking about it when he saw Dajh, he’d make his son worry. He thought it would be best to hear about it first.
In the next room there was an officer who was playing with Dajh. The man was probably in his early thirties. His cool silver hair and scar on his forehead looked as though it would scare children, but Dajh seemed to like him. The man probably liked children. His face looked grim, but you could tell by looking at him play with Dajh. Or perhaps he just took his duties seriously.
“Dajh is a good boy. He isn’t shy at all, and he listens to others.” Looking through the window, Nabaat smiled.
“Well his mother died when he was very young. He’s had to go to babysitters and through child care, so he’s gotten used to playing with other adults. That’s why I changed from a long distance route to a local one, so I could be more of a father.”
Before his wife had died three years ago, he had been all about his job. It had been his dream to become a pilot, and he had finally gotten signed on as a pilot for a long distance route. Everyday seemed perfect.
When he changed to a local route pilot all for his son, everyone was surprised. Even Sazh thought it was strange. He had worked so hard for it, to suddenly give it up like that. But he didn’t feel he was wrong. He realized for the first time what it was like to spend time with your child. It was fun, and it warmed his heart.
He didn’t want Dajh to be lonely, now that he didn’t have his mother. For the past three years he had worked and taken care of him as best he could. But, in reality, it was Dajh who had saved Sazh. His smiles and his laughter became things to live for.
“What did you find? Can you heal him of this… l’Cie thing?” I don’t want to lose Dajh’s smile, Sazh thought. But Nabaat’s eyes grew sad.
“With human technology… I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible.”
“No…” Sazh said, his voice seemed faint and far away. If Dajh doesn’t complete his Focus he’ll become a Cie Corpse. A monster. If he completes it he’ll become a crystal. The old texts had said, “The l’Cie who has completed their Focus will be turned to crystal and be granted eternity.” But to humans such a thing is the same as death.
Sazh looked to the other side of the window. The officer was giving Dajh a piggyback ride. Dajh was laughing and clapping his hands in delight. His smile was the same as ever, though now he was a ‘l’Cie’. Just because of some scribble on his hand, he’d never again to able to lead a normal life…
“And if you could take the mark off? If there was some sort of skin-grafting procedure, and you could just remove it?”
Even in the worst case, if they had to cut off his hand entirely, it would still be better than becoming a monster or a crystal. Even if he couldn’t use his hand anymore, he would still have a chance to live a happy life.
“We can’t. We don’t know what would happen to Dajh. There is so much we don’t know about the l’Cie… no, really we don’t know anything at all.”
“I regret that there is nothing we can do about this. But right now we have to think about finding Dajh’s powers and Focus. We have to think of cutting off the mark as a last resort. We can’t rush this.”
That was easy to say, but they didn’t know how much time there was left. Whether the time limit for completing his Focus was tomorrow, or the day after, they couldn’t tell. It could even be a year or two from now…
“There has been some progress, however.”
“Progress? What are you talking about?”
“Well, this is still all hypothetical,” Nabaat started explaining, “It seems Dajh has the power to sense those from Pulse. He probably will be able to tell where the l’Cie that attacked Ewleede are, as well as the fal’Cie who controls them.”
The bit of hope he had fell back into despair. He can tell where those Pulse people were. But what would that do? He didn’t understand anything about that. He realized that this was the difference between himself and PSICOM. For those who are protecting Cocoon from Pulse, such an ability would definitely be seen as ‘progress’. They were the same as the fal’Cie. They only wanted to use Dajh.
He didn’t know what exactly it was he expected from PSICOM, from the Sanctum. He couldn’t depend on Nabaat or anyone in PSICOM. The only one who would do anything for Dajh would be himself.
“Please… let me see Dajh. Let me see my son.”
“Of course. Right this way please.” Nabaat stood up, smiling. He didn’t if it was because his feelings had changed, but he felt there was something cold behind her smile.
“Dajh has been very excited to hear that you’d be coming.”
What was she trying to make him do? He couldn’t trust her.
Dajh burst through the door as it opened.
Dajh leapt at him, and Sazh picked him up and held him. He felt the same as always. When he felt him in his arms, he realized what pain it would cause him if Dajh no longer existed. He didn’t want to lose this feeling, this warmth. He would protect him however he could.
Quickly wiping his tears away from the corners of his eyes, he let Dajh down.
“What is it?” He knelt down and looked into Dajh’s face.
“I wanna see fireworks! Big ones!”
“Yeah, big ones. Lots in the sky! Like this,” Dajh said, making a big circle in the air with his hands.
“Well, they still have all this testing to do, so maybe not now…”
“No! Fireworks! Big fireworks!”
He wanted to give Dajh anything he wanted. But he didn’t think PSICOM would let them. Now that they knew he had the power to feel those from Pulse, they would keep testing him until they knew his Focus.
“Well, how about after the tests?”
“No! The fireworks will be gone!”
Dajh was more insistent than usual. Normally, even if he’d demand what he wanted at first, eventually he’d give in and do as he was told. It made Sazh wish even more that he could give him what he wanted.
“But right now there are tests…” He looked at Nabaat. Dajh was a good kid, if it was explained to him that the tests were important, then he’d understand. He might be sad, but he’d still obey. But Nabaat said something completely unexpected.
“When you say they’ll be gone, do you mean the fireworks festival?”
That’s right, there was that fireworks festival in Bowdam a couple of days from now. He wondered if Dajh had noticed the posters that were up in Bowdam when they passed through on their way to see the fal’Cie.
“Why do you want to go? Do you like fireworks?”
Dajh looked up, as if searching for the answer. He pressed his lips together.
“What’s wrong Dajh?”
“….. it’s there.” He whispered, clinging to Sazh.
He pressed his nose against Sazh’s shoulder and shook his head.
“Okay, Dajh. We’ll all go see the fireworks together.” Nabaat said, while rubbing Dajh’s back. Was she serious?
“Lieutenant, are you sure we should…”
“I believe it would be worth checking out.” She pushed up her glasses with the tip of her finger, and nodded at the officer.
“We haven’t heard Dajh say anything like this before. It’s possible that if his power to sense those from Pulse is working, there will be something at the fireworks festival in Bowdam.”
Of course, how you treat others and how you treat your family is going to be different. Sazh kept quiet. They may want him to complete his Focus as soon as possible, but Sazh just wanted to take him to the fireworks festival. He didn’t want them testing Dajh anymore.
We were going to see the fireworks. Dajh was so happy, he ran and jumped around the room, yelling and screaming. Probably because he was so sick of all the tests they were doing on him. Even though that PSICOM officer, or those children’s psychology specialists would play with him, he was still like a bird trapped in a cage.
They had tested him over and over, but still they couldn’t figure out his Focus. The only thing they knew was that he could feel the existence of things from Pulse. No, even that I thought wasn’t the truth. I thought they were probably just telling me lies, because PSICOM wasn’t getting the results they were hoping for.
I didn’t believe any of it until we were riding on the airship to Bowdam. Oh yeah, you were on the airship too. Do you remember how Dajh looked when he first saw you? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him smile like that…
Sazh watched Dajh run up and down the passageways in the airship, his thoughts in turmoil. The baby chocobo was chasing after him. When the two boys… no, when the boy and the bird first met, they became friends right away. The cabin was in an uproar with the two of them bouncing about.
Well, since there weren’t any other passengers Sazh let them do what they liked. When he thought about how Dajh had been closed up in that room for so long, he felt he had a right to be running around and having fun like this. He couldn’t tell him no. Nabaat didn’t seem to be troubled by it either. In fact, she had one of her underlings made a record of Dajh playing with the chocobo. Maybe they were using it as another test.
“Daddy I’m thirsty.” Dajh said, running up to where Sazh was sitting. He was probably tired of all that running about. Of course, the baby chocobo was right behind him, and used Sazh’s head as a landing pad. Sazh opened up a can of juice for him, and Dajh drank it in one big gulp. With all the running and yelling, it’s no wonder he was so thirsty.
“Oh yeah, we’ve got to name this little guy don’t we?”
When they first met, the little bird had started chasing him right away. There had been no time to start thinking of names.
“Ummm… a cool name! Like someone on TV!”
He was talking about the children’s shows that Dajh couldn’t go a day without watching. The main character was a baby chocobo, who was a hero of justice. Baby chocobos were so popular these days because of this show.
“But hey, what if it’s a girl? What would you do then?”
They say that even experts can’t tell what sex a chocobo is. Chocobos are quite mysterious creatures. They can understand human speech, and they have a strong homing instinct. That’s about all anyone knew.
“Okay, then a cool, cute name!”
“Well that’s a tall order. But you have enough time to think about it. He’s not going to be running away any time soon.”
Though how much time Dajh actually had left was the problem. Sazh sank into depression. What sort of Focus could a child of six have? One who can do nothing but jump and play and scream?
“Daddy, Daddy, what’s that!?” Dajh said, pointing out the window.
“Hm? Let me see. Oh that. That’s the ruins in Bowdam. We’ll be arriving there soon.”
Dajh pressed his forehead against the window, and stared down at the ruins. Sazh thought he had already seen the ruins from the train heading to Ewleede, but maybe the view from above gave a different impression than the view from below.
“I want to go inside.”
“Inside the ruins? Too bad, you can’t. There’s no door. No one even knows if there is an inside. It’s just some strange thing from Pulse…” Then Sazh remembered. A strange thing from Pulse? What was it that Nabaat was saying? Didn’t she say something about Dajh being able to sense things from Pulse?
He was too afraid to say more.
“Dajh, is there something inside there?”
Suddenly Nabaat was standing beside them. She must have been listening.
“I… don’t know. But, it’s there.”
“I see. You don’t know what it is, but you know something is there?”
Looking out the window, Dajh nodded his head.
“Thank you. You’re such a good boy.” She said, and patted him on the head. She looked at Sazh as if to say, this is your child’s power.
But he still couldn’t believe it. Those ruins looked strange. Dajh was just interested in it because of that, he just wanted to try going inside.
“We will get an investigation team on it, and search the inside of those ruins. There is a chance that in there is a Pulse…”
“Are you kidding me? There is no way that could be possible!” Sazh yelled without realizing it. Dajh jumped and looked at him. Sazh calmed himself down.
“Don’t worry, daddy was just a little surprised. Sorry I yelled, I didn’t mean to surprised you like that.”
He took hold of Dajh, and held him on his lap. He didn’t want him to look out the window anymore.
I didn’t want to believe that he could really feel things from Pulse. I think, somewhere deep inside I still thought that they had it all wrong. There’s no way Dajh could be a l’Cie. So when I saw Dajh looking at those ruins like that, I just couldn’t stand it.
I wanted to keep believing that Dajh just wanted to see the fireworks festival, that it had nothing to do with Pulse. I was sure he had just heard people talking about it on the train from Bowdam to Ewleede. Even though I never told him about it, Dajh knew that the fireworks in Bowdam were said to grant wishes.
Hey, do you remember what Dajh wished for? “I hope daddy gets happy again.” he said. I knew I couldn’t continue to look so sad after that, when I was worrying even him. So I decided that I wouldn’t ever look sad or worried in front of Dajh again. Well, I gave it my best shot didn’t I? Even after what the Lieutenant said…
It was as bright as noon. It was nearing the end of the fireworks festival, and already so many fireworks had been shot into the sky.
Everyone had probably already finished with their wishes. They had all looked up into the sky, and said their oohs and aahs. Dajh was holding Sazh’s hand. He was jumping up and down, laughing and smiling.
“So Lieutenant Nabaat. How did it go?”
Both Sazh and Nabaat were the only ones looking somewhere completely different from those around them. Nabaat had been waiting on the airship for the report from the investigation team to come in. If she was here now, that meant…
“I’ve received a communication from the investigation team.” Nabaat said, her voice low. Sazh held is breath and waited for he to continue.
“There is a Pulse fal’Cie inside the ruins.”
The sound faded from the world. The blast of the fireworks, the cheers of the people, everything was gone. The only thing left was Nabaat’s voice.
“It’s quite embarrassing. Those ruins have been here for hundreds of years, but the Sanctum was unable to do anything about them. We have a lot to thank Dajh for.”
Dajh wasn’t even aware that Nabaat was talking about him. His hands were raised to the sky, jumping, as if he thought he could touch the fireworks.
“I mean, he did suddenly say he wanted to go to Bowdam, that there was “something there”. But who would have thought…”
Who would have thought that there would be a Pulse fal’Cie in Bowdam. Inside a ruin with no entrance or exit.
“Now we know for sure. Dajh can sense things from Pulse.”
“Nevermind that, what is his Focus? Is it just for him to sense them and find them?”
Nabaat’s expression grew clouded. “We are not sure just yet if that is the case.”
“But why not? I mean he found it for you didn’t he? Why wouldn’t it be?”
“I am sorry. There is too much we do not know. But I feel that it wouldn’t be something as simple as finding the Pulse fal’Cie…” She cut off her words. It seemed she didn’t want to say more than that. If his Focus was to find the Pulse fal’Cie, now that it’s been found in the ruins Dajh would have already turned into a crystal. Which meant that finding the fal’Cie has not completed his Focus.
Did he also have to find all of the l’Cie that were in hiding? Or maybe he had to not only find them, but defeat them as well. Either way, it too much to expect of a six year old boy.
“Daddy. Hey, Daddy!” Dajh was pulling on his arm.
“Oh, sorry. What’s up?”
“Let’s go to Nautilus Park next!”
Sazh and Nabaat looked at each other. Nautilus Park was a theme park run by the Sanctum. The park was the center of Nautilus City. Did Dajh sense more things from Pulse? It was probably the Pulse l’Cie.
“Is there… something there?”
He barely managed to keep his voice from shaking. If there were Pulse l’Cie in Nautilus Park, then this time might turn Dajh into a crystal.
“Yeah! There are lots chocobos! And the fluffy things!”
Sazh felt relieved. Dajh just wanted to see chocobos and sheep. Oh yeah, they had talked about Nautilus on the train to Ewleede. He was probably just remember that.
“It seems it doesn’t have anything to do with Pulse.”
Sazh nodded slightly.
“Take me, take me!”
He was about to tell him they’d go later, but Nabaat stepped in. He thought she must be disappointed that her expectations weren’t being met, but her expression was kind.
“Please tell me if there is anywhere else you want to go, okay?”
Oh, of course. Even if this time it isn’t right, there is always the next time. That is probably what she is thinking. Or maybe she was just thinking that a child who carries the heavy burden of a l’Cie deserves to have some fun, and wants to give that to him. No, not her. Definitely not her.
“I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”
“Okay, okay. Then next time we’ll all go together. I promise.”
Anyone looking on would probably think this was a sweet scene. Anyone who didn’t know the truth. Sazh looked away, and saw a familiar face. That silver haired soldier. What was his name? Lieutenant Rosch, he thought.
“Lieutenant Nabaat.” His voice was hard. Sazh got a bad feeling. Nabaat stood. Thinking Rosch was there to play with him again, Dajh’s face brightened. Sazh grabbed him and held him. What they were going to talk about was probably not something a child should hear.
“The decision has been made.”
Sazh listened to them speak, his back turned, as he took Dajh away from there.
The “decision” Lieutenant Rosch had been talking about was a lock down on all of Bowdam and it’s residents. They came the day after the fireworks festival. PSICOM works fast. But what was really fast was how quick they set up the blockades around the Bowdam Ruins. Though I only heard about it later.
It seems that the investigation team that was sent in to the ruins never came back. Not a single one of them. After the team had sent a wireless transmission that told them of the fal’Cie, they lost their position. Instead of sending in a rescue team, PSICOM blocked off the ruins. Even though they could still be alive in there, somewhere.
Well, the soldiers might be able to except it all. But civilians are couldn’t. Do you think they’d just accept it? No, of course not. I was the same. No explanations, just being told we couldn’t leave the city. Who would just sit down and take it?
Especially on that day, when it wasn’t only the residents of Bowdam. Tourists from all over Cocoon were there. On that day, after the fireworks festival, it was madness…
After the festival was over, we stayed the night in the security force garrison. Originally they were going to return to the medical center in Eden during the night, but when Dajh said “Are we going already?”, they changed plans. They thought that perhaps he was feeling something from Pulse and wanted to stay.
The investigation staff that was testing Dajh had come with them to the festival, but they wouldn’t be able to continue their tests at the garrison. Separating them into different rooms would have looked strange as well, so they were finally given permission to spend time together.
Nabaat had already asked that they continue monitoring Dajh. She said that any small thing that he might said could be an important clue. Sazh couldn’t refuse. Well, even if he had refused, they would have still set up a hidden camera or put up voice recorders. They were going to be watched no matter what. Sazh knew that quite well enough. In any case, Dajh was happy. He jumped on the bed with the baby chocobo beside him, and ran around the room until night fell.
Sazh thought Dajh would oversleep the next day, but he woke up at the same time he always did, looking sleepy. He ate his breakfast quickly, and when he saw the baby chocobo playing around, all he wanted to do was play too, his weariness forgotten.
Dajh probably wanted to come to Bowdam to get away from all those tests. Right now had didn’t seem to have any connection with Pulse, or things from Pulse. He wasn’t at all like he was when he had first said he wanted to come here to see the fireworks.
“Daddy, I wanna watch TV!”
“What? Oh right, it’s that time.”
It was only a fifteen minute children’s program, but Dajh always watched it before going to daycare. Dajh would watch it while Sazh was getting dressed, and once it was finished Dajh would turn off the TV and they’d head out the door together.
Sazh had thought that until Dajh grew too old to be watching children’s shows they would continue this everyday ritual. Once he finished work he’d go to the daycare center to pick up Dajh, and on the way home they’d talk about what to have for dinner, stopping to pick up things at the store… What had been an everyday thing now seemed like a miracle. But that miracle was gone, it’s light grown cold.
“Daddy, the TV is weird!” Dajh said unhappily. Sazh looked up, remembering where he was.
“All the channels are the same.”
“That’s… Bowdam Station.”
It showed soldiers at Bowdam Station, and the station blocked off. The voice of a female newscaster came on over the video.
“Last night a fal’Cie from Pulse was found in the ruins around Bowdam Bay. The Sanctum has made the decision to close off the city of Bowdam and it’s surrounding areas.”
The picture changed to a video of the airship force above the station. Sazh ran over to the window. He could see the military’s high speed ships take off, and soldiers running around on the grounds. The sky in the direction of the station was filled with military ships. The video narration continued.
“The Sanctum has revealed that the accident that occurred at the Ewleede Canyon energy plant was in fact destruction caused by Pulse l’Cie.”
He turned back at the word “Pulse”. There were people who were rushing the station, and the soldiers were pushing them back. They were probably tourists. We don’t even live here, they were probably saying, we just happened to be here. Why is this happening to us?
Sazh could understand their confusion. He felt it himself seven days ago.
“With the recent chain of events, the anxiety of the people in this city is rising. Some voices are saying that measures stronger than quarantine must be taken.”
He didn’t want to hear anymore. He didn’t want to see people who wore his own expression of despair. Sazh turned off the TV.
“No TV today. You’ll have to watch it tomorrow. Look, he wants to play with you.”
The baby chocobo flew out from his hair. Dajh laughed and the ran around the room together. Now he had probably forgotten all about that children’s program he had wanted to watch.
There was a knock at the door, as if someone was waiting just for that moment. They probably had been waiting. After all, this room was being monitored. When he opened the door, Nabaat was on the other side.
“Mr. Katzroy, we will be leaving here as soon as possible. Please get ready.”
“Are you sure? What about sensing things from Pulse or whatever it was…”
She glanced over Sazh’s shoulder into the room beyond. When she saw that Dajh was absorbed in playing with the baby chocobo, she said in a low voice:
“The Sanctum has decided to force all the citizens of Bowdam to leave the city.”
Which meant that they had decided to force all those who had the possibility of being from Pulse to leave the city, to be sent to Pulse. She spoke of it as though it were just the next thing to do after putting a city into quarantine.
“After it is announced we expect there to be quite an uproar.”
That was an understatement. Given how the people already felt about being blocked from leaving the city. If they were forced to go down to Pulse, to hell, it would end with civilians attacking the soldiers. It would be just a matter of time.
“Of course we must hurry to find the Pulse l’Cie, but keeping Dajh safe is important above all. Once the airship is ready to set out we’ll leave.”
Nabaat turned and walked out of the room, leaving only her words behind her.
It was only a short time later that they left the garrison. They didn’t tell them whether or not they would be returning to the medical center, they were only told to get on the airship. Dajh left their room without resisting or making a fuss.
Sazh though that he’d play around with the baby chocobo like he did before, on their trip to Bowdam, but instead he kept quiet. He sat, staring at Bowdam through the window.
“Daddy, something is flying.” Dajh whispered.
“The skies in Bowdam have been locked down by PSICOM’s air fleet, so that’s no surprising. I’m sure there’s lots of… huh?”
Looking out from the side, he saw the “something” that Dajh was pointing at. It looked like your average military high-speed ship, but it’s movements were strange.
“What are they doing?”
Then he knew why it was so strange. They were being chased by others military ships. Even being attacked by them. The other ship was trying to avoid the attacks, weaving in and out, making their flight path look strange. The ship was headed for the ruins, going straight for them.
“They’re falling!” Dajh screamed. The ship had been hit, with black smoke billowing out behind it, but still they were growing closer to the top of the ruins. Then someone jumped from the ship.
From here it looked like a young girl. She held out her hand to the ship, and yelled something. Of course, that’s why they were being chased. Some civilians had stolen the ship. Then the girl was sucked into the ruins. The ship she had been riding on disappeared from sight. What just happened?
“Dajh, did you see someone jump from that ship onto the ruins?”
Nabaat was standing behind them. Dajh nodded.
“And did you see them disappear?”
“They didn’t disappear. They’re inside.”
It seems that it wasn’t just his eyes tricking him, she really did get sucked into the ruins. But that would mean that there were people who were in the ruins, trapped by the Pulse fal’Cie.
“Good job, Dajh.” Nabaat said, and patted him on the head. What was she talking about? Sazh thought. Shouldn’t they be trying to rescue that girl?
“You… you have to rescue her!”
“No, we do not. Those ruins will be taken to Pulse, closed off as they are now. It’s going the same place as the rest of the citizens of Bowdam, so there is no problem.”
Sazh couldn’t believe what he was hearing. They were just going to send it to Pulse? Is that really what she said?
“Besides, it is highly probable that she was a Pulse l’Cie. Don’t you think so?”
Your son’s enemy, was what she was really saying. She looked a Dajh. He had already lost interest in what was outside the window and was running around with the baby chocobo. Dajh had sensed something else from Pulse, but his Focus was still not complete. Even though he had seen a girl who might be a Pulse l’Cie, he was still hadn’t turned into a crystal. Which meant that Dajh’s Focus was to find Pulse fal’Cie, or l’Cie, and defeat them.
“Dajh showed interest in the ship that was carrying the girl. So it is probably best that we send the ruins to Pulse without tampering with them.”
Sazh felt something inside him snap.
“Oh, you think it’s for the best? What the hell is wrong with you? If we send that to Pulse…”
If it was sent to Pulse then no one on Cocoon would be able to reach it. Then Dajh would never be able to complete his Focus.
“If we send it to Pulse? Then the citizens of Cocoon will be freed from the menace of Pulse.”
“You may be okay with that, but what about Dajh? You’ll just let him turn into a Cie Corpse? Then what have you been doing all these stupid tests on him for?”
Nabaat didn’t even bat an eyelash.
“Of course, we are doing this for the people of Cocoon. Are you saying anything is more important than that?”
He had never been so angry, the words caught in his throat. He clenched his fists, but they shook uncontrollably.
“Do not misunderstand, Mr. Katzroy. It is my job to protect the citizens of Cocoon from the threat that Pulse represents.”
Her words were cold, like ice. A terrible smile hovered at her lips.
“It wouldn’t be good to yell too much, would it? Do think of how your son is feeling right now.”
Sazh looked around for Dajh. This wasn’t a conversation a child should be listening to. Fortunately he was absorbed in climbing over the seats, and hadn’t even noticed them. Relieved, he felt all the energy seep out of his legs. He fell into the seat behind him, and held his head in his hands. He heard her retreating footsteps, but couldn’t muster the energy to do anything about it.
There is nothing I can do, he thought. He knew it from the start. To PSICOM and the Sanctum Dajh was nothing but a tool to be used as they wished. So long as Cocoon was safe, one single child was nothing to them. Not just Nabaat, but all of PSICOM–no, all of Cocoon felt the same way.
Of course Sazh felt that so long as Dajh was safe, the rest of Cocoon could go to hell. Which meant that he was the only one who could do anything for his son. He would just have to complete Dajh’s Focus for him, with his own hands. It wouldn’t matter if it was completed or not, they still wouldn’t be able to return to the life they knew. The only thing that was waiting for him was death or something equal to it. Still, a crystal was far better than a monster.
He would have to destroy the Pulse fal’Cie. But could he do it? He was a normal man. Could a normal man destroy something as powerful as a fal’Cie? No, that wasn’t the problem. He remembered the girl screaming something, standing on the top of the ruins. It was impossible that she should have been there, she shouldn’t have been able to avoid all of those soldiers, and get to the ruins. But she did. Just as Nabaat had said, they were probably Dajh’s enemies. But they had given him hope. Even if it was something that should be impossible, he had every reason to try.
“Dajh…” He had only meant to say it in his heart, but the name escaped his lips.
“What is it Daddy?”
Dajh was on the seats behind him. He jumped on his back and looked at Sazh’s face.
“No… no it’s nothing.” His vision became blurred. He looked out the window. “Dad’s going to take a little nap, okay?”
“Okay.” Dajh said, running off. Sazh laid there, with his eyes closed, listening to the chirping of the baby chocobo, and Dajh’s happy screams.
When they returned to the medical center they were put in separate rooms. Sazh had at least wanted the baby chocobo to go with Dajh, but was denied.
“No! I want to stay with Daddy!”
Dajh held on to the hem of Sazh’s coat and wouldn’t let go. Maybe Dajh knew what he was planning. That he was going to destroy the fal’Cie in the ruins before they got a chance to send it to Pulse.
“I’m sorry Dajh, but we have tests we need to do. You’ll just have to wait a little longer. Tomorrow we’ll even let you play with your father a little while. Would that be alright?” Nabaat smiled.
Dajh looked lost. He held on tight to Sazh.
“Once you’re finished with the tests, I’ll buy you whatever you want. What would you like? A picture book? A huge chocobo toy?”
“Yeah, really. Whatever you want, just ask.”
“I want to go to Nautilus Park! I want to see all the chocobos!”
Again with Nautilus Park. He said that during the fireworks festival too. He must really want to go there and see all those chocobos. He had planned to have Dajh ask him for something, so he could have an excuse to leave and head towards the ruins. But Dajh wasn’t asking for things. He wanted a place, he wanted to spend time with his father. So he made a promise. What else could he do?
“Okay, after you’re finished with your tests, we’ll go to Nautilus Park together.”
The baby chocobo chirped as if telling them not to forget him.
“Of course we’ll bring the little one too.”
“Okay! You promise, right Daddy?”
A promise he would never be able to keep. If Sazh defeated the fal’Cie, Dajh would become a crystal before the testing was even over. If he couldn’t defeat it… he would be a Cie Corpse.
“Just do a good job on your tests, okay?”
Dajh nodded as Sazh set him on the floor and let go of him. He looked so happy that he would get to go to Nautilus Park. He was smiling. That smile had always lifted Sazh, held him up. It was his treasure. I won’t let you become a monster, he vowed. Even if you become a crystal, I want you to keep smiling to the end…
He burned Dajh’s face into his memory, and tried to smile himself. He wondered if he was able to. He couldn’t let Dajh or Jihl know that right now he was saying goodbye.
“Alright then Dajh, will you go back to your room now? I’ll be there soon.”
“Okay. Daddy, you promise, right?” He said, and ran through the door. Just as he had been there, suddenly he was gone. Sazh clenched his teeth. This was for the best…
“Thank you for cooperating, Mr. Katzroy.”
“Uh, no that’s…”
It was as if she had already forgotten what had been said on the airship. She bowed to him slightly. She was good, he didn’t know if he would be able to go against her. But he had to find a way to outwit her. He tried his best to calm himself before he spoke.
“There is just one thing I’d like to ask of you.”
He knew he was being watched, just as Dajh was. If was going to get to Bowdam, first he would have to make an excuse to leave.
“I’d like to go to Palumpolum and buy a picture book or a toy or something, you know, for Dajh.”
There was a huge shop in Palumpolum that had nothing but books and toys for children. When he was a long distance route pilot he would often stop at that store and buy all sorts of presents for Dajh. At the time he didn’t really know what Dajh would like, so he’d just buy the first thing he’d see. It would make his wife laugh.
“Well, you know… it must be hard for a child that young to go through all those tests. I’d like to buy him something to entertain him, to make him stop thinking about it. You know, just that.”
“Yes, I’m sure that would make Dajh very happy.”
“If I left now and hurried, I could be back by late tomorrow afternoon. But if Dajh asks anything about me, you’ll not tell him where I went? I don’t want him to worry.”
“Of course, I understand.” she said, smiling. Then she said:
“Well then, why don’t we take you in one of our military airships? If you’re going to Palumpolum it would be far quicker than going by any civilian flights.”
Just as I figured, Sazh thought. They were going to keep watching him no matter what. He was glad he chose Palumpolum. If it had been a small town he wouldn’t be able to shake them, but in a big crowded city like Palumpolum it would be easy to disappear.
“That would be a big help, thanks.”
This had to work. It had to. He forced himself to smiled.
I actually had no problems getting away from my watchdogs. I had always gone to that store to buy presents for Dajh. I knew every corner. That’ll teach them to underestimate a civilian. Once I left Palumpolum, I jumped from trains to rental airbikes, never stopping. I couldn’t stop.
The most difficult part should have been trying to get into Bowdam, but it was far easier than I would have thought. PSICOM had orders to let nothing out, not even a rat. But they wouldn’t suspect anyone trying to get in.
I told them my wife and child were in the city, so I wanted to be with them. If they were going to be sent to Pulse, then they could at least be sent as a family. It was so easy, they didn’t even bother checking me. I did pretty well, don’t you think?
Well now it’s time we part ways, me and you. After all, Pulse is said to be hell. Before I get there though, I’ll have to defeat that fal’Cie. That won’t be easy. So, I’m sorry to say, I just can’t take you with me. I don’t think any soldiers will stop me from letting you out of the city. Once you’re outside of Bowdam, you can go wherever you want. We were only together a short while, but you’ve helped me out a lot. You helped out Dajh too, I think. Gave him something to be cheerful about. So, thanks.
Gwaaaah, what the hell!? What are you doing? Owowowow. Quite attacking me with your beak! What’s wrong with you!
Do you… want to come with me? So you don’t think I can handle it on my own? Alright, alright. Fine. Will complete his Focus for him, and we’ll return to him together. Okay?
Oh yeah, we never did find a name for you. Dajh was so into playing with you, he couldn’t even remember to do that. When we get back it will be the first thing we do. What was it, a cool, cute name? Yeah, we’ll give you one of those. A promise, just between us guys. Well… no one can tell what sex chocobos are, but whatever..
All the trains at Bowdam Station were blocked off, except one. The one that was left goes to Hanged Edge, at the farthest end of Cocoon. It was the train that went to Pulse, the only train that went there. The rail was old and rusted.
Everything had changed from what it was like on the news yesterday. No one was going against the soldiers. They had all given up, were in despair. Now they were all heading towards their last train ride.
He couldn’t let them know that he was there for a different reason. That he wasn’t heading towards Pulse, he was heading towards the Pulse fal’Cie. Sazh walked like the rest of them, looking down at his feet. Even so, he felt he had more hope than these others. He had a plan, he was going towards something. Even if he never saw his beloved son again…
“When we get on there, we’ll never get to come back again. You still okay with that?” He said in a quiet voice to the baby chocobo riding on his head. He felt a peck through his hair.
“Ow. Okay, I get you. We’re in this together.”
Let’s go then, he whispered, heading towards the entrance of the station. To the start of a new journey, one with no return ticket.