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Soul Searching

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She felt his presence before she saw him and he was right where they had last met, she recalled.

Leisurely on the throne of Etro, as if he belonged there, sat Caius Ballad.

Shrouded in wisps of darkness, he looked different for reasons she couldn't explain. Perhaps it was the heart of chaos missing, perhaps it was the fact his merging with chaos itself had changed him or perhaps it was an entirely different reason.

Despite 500 years of not seeing him, she gripped her blade tighter, eyes alert and body tense in preparation, after all, if she knew one thing in this strange new world she was destined to save, it was him. Countless of endless fights at the shores of Valhalla created a deeper understanding of one another than she would have gotten had she met him under normal circumstances, not that she wanted to dwell on that possibility too long.

His gaze seemed tranquil, dark eyes taking in her form, particularly her apparel and her new sword, no longer blessed with the divine powers as Etro’s champion.

His voice was the same as all those years ago, but Lightning swore there was something different about it, “I suppose I should call you Bhunivelze’s champion now or was it Liberator?” his smirk, that familiar smirk, offered a strange source of something akin to comfort in the strange world she had been thrust into after her 500 year sleep in crystal statis.

She huffed, falling back into their age-old familiar banter before battle, “Whatever you call me, it won’t change my focus.”

500 years ago, amusement would have lighted the warrior’s eyes, but now they were dark, guarded, “Ah, yes, your focus.” His gaze met hers again, “That’s why you are here.”

She was right to assume his senses hadn’t dulled the slightest during her crystal sleep, nor his combat abilities, for in one second he was still sitting sprawled on the throne and in the next, she felt his presence directly behind her.

This was usually how they started one of their stalemates and her body reacted out of pure instinct and the familiarity of it all, feet bracing firmly on the floor and arms and body pivoting to swing her blade back.

She was surprised when her blade met thin air, when the familiar metallic ring didn’t sound in her ears when her sword clashed with his in a stalemate.

She staggered slightly, quickly composing herself to turn around, watching the small smirk play on the man’s lips, now in front of her.

“That again? I suppose it’s been a long time.” she thought his sword would manifest at any given moment, but it did not and his intentions confused her more than anything. “These aren’t the timeless shores of Valhalla, Warrior Goddess, I will not fight you here.”

Yet.

She could hear it in his voice, he would fight her, just not now.

Lowering her blade for the moment, Lightning assessed him, “Save your breath if all you’re spewing are lies.” her gaze narrowed, “I wouldn’t be here if you do not wish to fight me.”

Again, those purple eyes darkened with contempt and it oddly infuriated her, “Time is different.” he began, voice calm, all previous amusement gone, “This world is different.” His gaze locked onto her and she stood her ground fiercely by glaring at him. “But the outcome is the same.” she pointed her blade at his throat then.

“Are you still insisting on destroying the timeline again?” her voice was hard, jagged shards of ice, “You’ve destroyed it once before and set chaos free to roam the world.” her gaze narrowed, “You should have achieved your goal so why are you still here?”

Slowly, he lifted his hand and it effortlessly glided through her blade in a brief twirl of smoky shadows, tendrils of darkness morphing back into its original form. Her gaze followed the movement, eyes meeting his steady gaze as he side-stepped her blade and walked slowly around her.

“As you can see, I’m no longer of this world,” Lightning lowered her blade but in no way her guard, listening carefully for his footsteps and breathing pattern to determine an incoming attack. “I no longer possess the heart and with my sacrifice and the world’s end, my body has become one with chaos.” Lightning’s brows furrowed, “It was Yeul’s desire…” his voice softened briefly at the mention of the seeress and Lightning swore she detected the same fond tone she usually heard in Sazh’s voice whenever he talked about or to his son.

He suffers, because of us. Savior, can you save him?

Shaking her head, she looked at him, “Now that we’ve worked that out, who is the girl that’s been following me?”

Caius paused in his slow pacing, behind her and she sensed his confusion, “A girl?”

When she turned around, his gaze was questioning, “The moment I’ve awoken from my crystallization a girl named Lumina has been tailing my every move. She claims she is neither friend nor foe and on occasion, she helps me on my journey.” she looked away, brows furrowed in confusion and her next words were whispered, “She reminds me of my sister.”

The warrior behind her remained quiet and she couldn’t help but grow impatient, “Well?”

Finally, Caius shook his head, even if she couldn’t see, “I have no knowledge of her.”

The answer was too short for her liking, “I think she is a part of chaos, how can you not know of her existence?” her voice grew hard, exasperated with him already.

Caius snorted softly, “What reason would I have to deceive you, savior? This is no longer Valhalla and neither of us serve as obstacles in the other’s goals.”

Her gaze narrowed at his tall form, “You keep saying that, but you still want to drive your sword through me, is that not it?” her own grip tightened around her weapon, “I stopped questioning your motives long ago and I’m not about to begin now.” she raised her sword to point the tip at his face.

His face could have been made of stone, expression unreadable and that small fact unnerved her.

Caius was expressive, open with his emotions, he usually used those in his fights with her and back then she was able to read him like an open book.

Now, he seemed like a stone surface, gaze carefully blank and his eyes like the depths of cosmos – endless and hiding an infinite number of mysterious.

She straightened her stance, “Tell me savior, what reason would you have to come here?” his eyes narrowed slightly, a familiar expression of ire, “There is nobody here for you to save.”

Lightning found it strange uttering the next words, but she did anyway, “On the contrary, there is.” her gaze remained firmly fixed upon him and he released a low, hollow chuckle, something that unnerved her further.

“Does my victory still sting? Do you seek vindication? There is no other reason for you to waste your precious time on me.” he slowly walked within her field of vision, careful to not appear threatening, “Your wish to save me is misguided at best.”

She snorted, “It’s for Yeul’s sake, she asked me to.”

Caius shook his head slowly, “I refuse.” his eyes met hers again, “I’m well aware of your limitations, Savior. Those who do not seek salvation cannot be saved.”

This time Lightning shook her head, advancing forward with her sword raised, “I’m not asking for your permission, whether you want to or not, I’ll do what Yeul asked of me.”

Caius rose an eyebrow, having not expected her fierce words.

He fought the strong urge to attack her and instead, he smirked, “Even if one Yeul wishes for my salvation, another demands the opposite. There are many Yeuls here in the chaos and all of them harbor different wishes and demands, it would be impossible to please them all.”

Lightning stepped forward, “Then let’s start by pleasing the one that asked me to save you!” she raised her sword to strike him down and was met with a solid resistance in the form of his massive sword, having materialized from the chaos surrounding them to bend to its masters’ whim.

“I see your determination to fulfill your duties has stayed the same, Warrior Goddess,” he pushed her back with brute force and she backflipped into the air to land on her feet away from him.

It looked like he was ready to fight.

“I see your stubbornness hasn’t changed over the last centuries.” she frowned when he brought his sword in front of him, the Eye of Bahamut glowing cruelly at her.

She braced herself for an attack when he suddenly threw the massive weapon into the air, thinking he must have acquired new abilities since the last time they fought.

She watched its descent toward the ground, but nothing happened and her eyes widened when Caius didn’t move an inch from his spot.

The sword bore down cruelly on its wielder, impaling the complete length of his body as the harsh impact was met with a pained, strangled yell.

She took a step back out of reflex, watching the copious chaos leaking from the fatal wound on his body.

The chaos swallowed him, until only his sword remained, but a moment later, Caius himself materialized out of thin air, the cruel fatal wound on his body having never existed.

With fluidity, he grabbed the hilt of his sword again and rested the tip against the ground, “How…?” her words betrayed her emotions, or what was left of them.

The warrior smirked and it was anything but smug, “One Yeul may wish for my salvation, but another demands for my rebirth.” he spread his arms out, “I told you, you cannot take my soul.”

Caius elaborated further, watching the chaos fully manifest his hand in front of him, “With every rebirth, her soul divides into fragments, melting into the ocean of chaos.” She watched the distantly familiar anguished expression on his face, an expression he got whenever he talked about Yeul.

She felt an odd sense of normalcy seeing the open emotion on his face, “She is one and many. A walking contradiction. Yuel may wish for my freedom, but demands my company as well. I am but a willing captive, here to guard, to care for her. She is but a child, a child needs to be looked after, especially in a place such as this, filled with chaos, with emptiness. The thought of companionship a mere illusion, I’m the one intending to turn that illusion into a reality for all eternity.”

Lightning swallowed, unease settling into the pit of her stomach, “So, this is it? You plan to stay here with Yuel and get destroyed? Is this your atonement for everything you’ve done?” she felt surges of energy coursing through her, it reminded her of anger, but she wasn’t sure she was capable of feeling much at all.

Like an empty shell.

Just like him.

She watched the way he smiled and chuckled with disdain, “Atonement? You call my sin destroying the world, wherein my real sin lies in not being able to grant Yuel the freedom and life she deserved.” Caius dipped his head down, staring at the dark marble floor, “For that sin, I’ve already surrendered my soul, all that remains is to cast this body away as well, to linger in the chaos with her for all eternity.”

The savior couldn’t deny feeling a sense of pity, especially when he mentioned Yuel being a child to be looked after, it reminded her of-

Serah.

Caius looked at her then, catching the familiar look of longing and heartache in her eyes, a lingering trace of the human emotions she lost.

“If you truly wish to have my soul,” Caius was walking towards her abruptly and Lightning took each step back for every step forward he took.

Just before he would’ve collided with her, his body vanished in tendrils of chaos, the only reminder of his previous presence.

Only his voice echoed from somewhere in the vicinity, like an echo, “-You must find it at the time before the end began first.”

Lightning tried to steady her breathing, gaze returning to the familiar throne Caius had sat on, the throne she had prayed to before and after each battle in Valhalla.

The throne of a dead goddess.

When Lightning turned around to leave, there was a familiar cackling behind her, “Well, well, well, look who’s here helping the enemy? I thought you guys hated each-other’s guts, but now you’re saving him?”

Lumina.

“What do you want?”

“Oh, don’t glare at me like that, Light. I’m just here to enjoy the show, this part’s the most interesting so far.” She giggled in amusement, swinging her legs that hang off the side of the throne.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? You’re gonna go and save his soul, I don’t know why, which makes it all the more exciting, since you’re running on borrowed time, but it should keep the game alive!” she cupped her face in her hands, watching the savior with interest.

Lightning glared at her with annoyance, “Don’t confuse my service as anything but my duty. I swore to try and save as many souls as I can, in this time, I can barely tell anymore who’s friend or foe.” She remembered her confrontation with Noel, the young hunter having turned into a dark recluse, the likes she’d never seen before.

Lumina frowned suddenly, displeased, before she vanished into thin air and the throne was once again empty.

Still, Lightning gave a respectful nod to a dying memory, before she left the ruins with a set mind and a promise to fulfill.