He doesn’t stay for long, not when the residents in the palace start becoming curious about the strange boy that the Patron is harboring deep within the twisted maze near the heart of the structure. He knows that Snow is hiding something, something big from the amount of protection that the place is getting, and that it’s nothing to do with him. Very few people come far enough into the palace, but the few times he’s listened to those on the outside, he hears rumors of a child who looks just like the missing Director Estheim.
Fitting, he thought, and then asked Lumina to take him away.
“Pity,” she told him with a sigh after hearing his request. They sat together at the edge of that windowsill, not on the side he normally sat upon, but upon a broken and jagged structure Lumina created with her magic outside of the building where they could see the fireworks more clearly high above everyone else with the windows upon wide behind them. She had a hand on the edge of his sleeve even as the rest of her was deceptively calm. He thought that she didn’t trust him not to fall off once more. “I thought we’d have some more time here. But I guess we could always come back.”
He didn’t want to mention to her that she could always come back without him, because he was sure that was what she did anyway. Lumina didn’t follow the whims of anyone but herself, after all, not even for him.
She kicked her feet high above the sky and made a humming noise in consideration as they watched the bright lights of fireworks explode across the city.
“Luxerion’s no fun right now.” She lamented. “And the Dead Dunes are boring. How about the Wildlands, then? I’m sure there’s still some fun to be had there before everything falls apart.”
He wasn’t sure he agreed with her idea of fun, but didn’t protest as she grabbed his hand, giggled, and called up a surge of Chaos to swallow the both of them in its darkness.
The forests were hot and humid, damp and freezing in the same breath depending on where he stepped. He thought it would be a chore wandering through the underbrush, but with the monsters that appeared so frequently around the area, there were very little people out to bug them when they wanted to explore.
‘They’ being whenever Lumina decided she was bored enough to hang out with him, anyway.
“Don’t go after the Moogle village,” she told him once, looking irritated. “Those floating marshmallows don’t like us one bit, and they’re irritating when they think you’re too close to their home.”
He didn’t ask.
Instead, he familiarized himself with the villages and traveled where he wanted to go by foot. It was easy when none of the monsters bothered with him. He went where he wanted, rested where he wanted, and found himself enjoying the forests more than he thought he would.
Was this how Lumina felt — this absolute freedom? There was no one to report to, no deadlines to meet, and no dread hanging over his head.
He climbed cliffs whenever he could (whenever Lumina was not around) and gathered an array of sunburns and scrapes all over his skin, which more often than not had bruises around his elbows and knees. He didn’t mind. It was an activity— a freedom— he had never before experienced, not even when he was someone else; someone everyone admired.
The people who lived in the Wildlands were more astute than those who lived in the cities. They must have noticed him immediately, yet they allowed him to slowly make his own way to them instead. There were no well-meaninged questions, only gentle smiles whenever he peeked out at them from whatever surface he hid behind during that encounter.
“Here,” a girl told him once, her hair a burning red and her tanned skin covered in furs. She almost reminded him of Vanille, except she was far too tall and her physique spoke of someone used to long hours doing hard labor under the sun. She had been carrying a basket of apples, but offered one by placing it down on a clean rock in the direction he was hiding that time, and then straightened and smiled before adjusting her basket and leaving.
He found himself following her after the first few times when she left him food, curious as to why she would do such a thing. In the Wildlands, survival could be harsh. He never really needed the food, although the gesture was appreciated. He never let the apples go to waste, instead savoring the sweet juices during nights when he stared up into the night sky, fingers tracing the image of Bhunivelze hanging low before turning away from it entirely and closing his eyes.
Unlike everyone else, he understood the horrors that went on in the beautiful ark.
Once, he went nearly three months before seeing Lumina again, the girl pouting over just how much he seemed to enjoy the greenery over the cities that she preferred. It never took her long to find him, and he wondered if it was because they were similar. Like how she always seemed to appear whenever he thought of her — maybe she just always knew where he was. He wouldn’t be surprised if she had some kind of sixth sense when it came to him, because they were somehow similar, that he didn’t have.
Somehow, that thought was strangely comforting. He might be invisible to the Chaos, but not to Lumina. At the very least, there was someone out there who knew him, who could find him, who could see him.
Was this how Lumina felt toward him? Was she just as grateful to know what she wasn’t invisible to him, because he knew her, understood that she was just a part of a whole, and acknowledged that? He wondered how it would have felt if he were the only one in the world like this— this incomplete. At least he had been borne to this world in a manner which allowed Lumina to find him immediately, and therefore he had never been truly alone.
She tended to laugh at him every time she came around, bringing changes of clothes and fussing over his hair in a manner he wasn’t used to (was he?), content to tell him all about her adventures even he if tended to stay silent himself. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to talk to her, but he never quite knew what to say. Lumina had a temper on her that brought out a sly and dangerous undertone to her normal pranks, and Hope didn’t trust himself not to irritate her enough to turn on him.
“Just how did you get this messy so quickly?” She asked him once, honestly befuddled as she next to him to watch the dying light of the sun over the cliffs. She was as impeccable as ever, her chosen outfit perfectly clean despite having wandered around with him for the past hour. “I saw you not two days ago!”
He just shrugged, not daring to look in her direction and see her disappointment about how he wasn’t that much like her after all— wasn’t as untouchable and sacred to the world.
She was gone again the next day and he found himself wandering too close to an old Academy outpost in the north, his curiosity overriding the knowledge that he would bring trouble if he were caught. There hadn’t been that many new Academy scientists in the past two centuries, and therefore many of the personnel were the same ones who had sent reports to Hope once upon a time.
If they saw him, well…
He should have been more cautious, but figured that Lumina’s response to his troubles would be more amusement than anything else. And he wanted to know. He always wanted to know, like some prickling in the back of his mind that people were counting on him to know— just about everything, and he had to answer to that feeling. He’d be a disappointment otherwise.
Luckily, none of the scientists saw him wandering the plains, hiding behind wildebeests when possible (they mostly ignored him just as the Chaos ignored him, usually only giving him curious stares when he wandered too close, and even a cautious snarl from the more aggressive creatures before they turned a blind eye and allowed him to do as he pleased) and giving the settlement a wide berth while venturing as close as he dared. Most of the equipment in the site looked old and worn, as if they hadn’t been properly maintained for a long amount of time. A century, perhaps, or longer. Everything looked to be in working order, but… it wasn’t the same as the last time he had seen it, when machines were cared for with pride and kept to a near tip-top condition.
He spied someone who had once been a friend near the settlement as well, wandering as if in a daze and staying close to a crashed plane site.
Once a friend. Not anymore, just like Snow. Just like Noel. The only one he could depend on was Lumina now.
Still, there was a wistful feeling in his heart when he watched the man wander aimlessly. Noel had wanted to help him, and Snow had made sure that he was well. Should he…?
“Help?” Lumina asked skeptically, scoffing at him. “And how are we supposed to help him? Why should we help?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted, eyes downcast even as his fingers lingered on the edge of her glove. “I just— want. To help. Somehow.”
Maybe that wasn’t another weakness that had been pushed on to him. Bhunivelze certainly wouldn’t want to keep the human tendency of lingering and expending effort for creatures beneath his notice.
Hope, however… Hope would help.
He tensed his jaw, uncertain of how to feel with that knowledge.
There were a few tense moments as he struggled with his own thought process and Lumina gave him a calculating look, before the girl shrugged.
“Fine.” She said agreeably, as if she hadn’t just scoffed at his suggestion. “We’re not supposed to interfere, but I guess I could make an exception just this once.”
You always interfere, he didn’t say, but made sure to give her his most incredulous expression.
She twirled her fingers in the air, and darkness came to her bidding as it always did, wisps of Chaos swirling and condensing into something solid. Something small, floating and slowly spinning above her open palm. It looked like a box, simplistic with a clasp to ensure contents wouldn’t easily tumble out.
“A clue.” She stated, smiling at his curious expression. “Just because you asked it of me.”
Then she leaned forward to rub her temple against his cheek, and he knew better than to back away despite not being able to help his flinch. “You should speak more often! It won’t be long before we’re the only two left, you know?”
He… he knew that. He just wished he didn’t.
Eventually Lumina decided that she had enough of the Wildlands, but didn’t want to bother herself with the Dead Dunes, and the two of them ended up in Luxerion once more, and she dropped him into Vanille’s arms before she left again without so much as a goodbye.
Vanille didn’t ask where he had been more the past several months, instead clinging to him with a strength he hadn’t expected. She looked exhausted somehow, but didn’t press him to speak to her, instead telling him all about what happened in his absence instead.
“I spoke to Noel,” she said quietly in the middle of the night in the rare moments when the Order left her alone to do as she pleased. They sat together in an extravagant room worthy of belonging to the Saint, except only a small part of the room looked occupied. The rest looked like something out a museum, and it was obvious that Vanille ignored those parts as she brushed through his short hair, brush strokes repetitive and calming and so frequent that he felt like his hair would lay flat soon with the amount of attention she paid to each strand. “He seems— he seems like a nice person. Don’t think he likes me much, but I don’t think he likes anything much right now. I like him, though!”
There was a cheer in her last words, but they felt forced.
“I asked him to stop attacking people. He asked me to leave Luxerion.” Her fingers tensed around the brush, and he let her think about her words. “I think… I think he hates us. The Order, that is. Because we— they— came in after you disappeared. He said the Order was evil, but he— he doesn’t understand. They need to take more care about how they treat people, yes, but they know what’ll happen in the end. We’re all preparing for it.” Her voice faded a bit at the end. “...I have to stay here. I have to be here.”
She didn’t elaborate, and he didn’t feel like he had a right to ask. When she went to sleep once the sun came up, he once again left the sanctuary of the Order, unwilling to face the stares that were bound to come with his presence there.
It was Lumina’s words that echoed through his head: it won’t be long before we’re the only two left.
He wondered what it would be like without Vanille. When Lumina had no one else to throw him at. When the world was gone, whether forever or to a new place. She was right. They would be the only ones to stay, as invisible as they were to God.
And then they would be only relics left behind, nothing more than the memories of a world that once existed.
He couldn’t, wouldn’t, seek out the handful of people who might make a difference. Lumina was right— they weren’t allowed to.
Besides, he couldn’t even if he wanted to.
Nova Chrysalia didn’t age. He didn’t, either, and neither did anyone else who inhabited the world. As such, he had no idea how much time had passed before Lumina came from him again. It could have been weeks, or it could have been years that she left him with Vanille in the undying world. Time was hard to gauge when nothing changed, when he would never be different than the moment which he had been created.
It was one unassuming day in the middle of the marketplace in South Luxerion when she came back again, all her previous softness toward him gone and expression bitter.
“You need to go.” She told him bluntly, grabbing him by the wrist and yanking. “She’s here.”
He didn’t need to question that.
It was the beginning of the end.
He watched, at first. From the corner of the Unseen Realm that Lumina had secured for herself— that little bit that wouldn’t be gone when the world was destroyed by Bhunivelze. No matter how hard she made her heart out to be, Lumina had been trying to save little bits and pieces of the world within the Chaos, and he found himself as one of the broken pieces. He was to stay safe and away from the eyes of God while the Savior made her way through the world, ‘saving’ whatever lost souls she could.
There were two souls, however, she wouldn’t be able to save. Two souls she didn’t even know needed saving.
He wondered if she knew, somehow, that the ones she saved would be purified before they were allowed on the New World. Probably not. Those lost souls wouldn’t have anything left over like him and Lumina, though. They would all be perfect as God deemed them to be, without their former weaknesses. Without the things that made him up.
Would they even be considered humanity, then? He knew the answer. It was his secret.
He wondered if the Savior knew this. Probably not. He wondered if Lumina knew his secret. Probably not.
He wasn’t allowed to interfere. Shouldn’t. Couldn’t.
Except there was Vanille with her sad and tired eyes. There was Sazh, who just kept trying even if there was nothing to be done. Snow— who was going to spend the last of his strength protecting everyone. Noel and his endless efforts to stop the Order despite hundreds of years. Fang, who evaded Lumina’s sights and therefore Hope’s as well. Last he heard, she had been searching of something that would free Vanille from the Order.
There was the woman who sat with him in Luxerion, and the people of the Wildlands who accepted his presence. The scientists who kept finding new reasons to work despite nothing in the world changing for the better.
Maybe it was human weakness to try and help others, and maybe he was made up of human weaknesses. There was a large part of him that didn’t want to do anything, because he didn’t feel that anything he did could possibly matter. More than that, why should he? Hadn’t he given enough? Why couldn’t the world just leave him alone? Wasn’t he owed some peace?
He was— he was just a kid. Except he wasn’t. He was just one person. He didn’t have any kind of power. He was weak. Amounted to nothing.
He had a secret, one that he was sure he could never tell Lumina because she would hate him forever.
Lumina was the weakness who had been cast out and ignored.
He was the weakness that had been coveted. Sent away.
Sent away with a purpose.
He couldn’t just stay in this safe place while the Savior continued, ignorant of what would come next.
The Savior couldn’t know of his existence. Both he and Lumina understood that implicitly, even if the girl didn’t understand why he felt he needed to intervene.
He waited for her to lay out her pranks, watched Lumina at work to buy him the time and distraction needed. There wasn’t a specific order; he wasn’t the person who planned, not like— like the rest of him. He didn’t really have a plan, nor any reason to believe that he could make a difference of any kind.
He ended up at Yuusnan first merely because that was where Lumina wanted to confront the Savior.
“I just need ten minutes.” He pleaded quietly, eyes downcast and palms sweating.
“Then you’ll tell me what’s going on.” She told him, hands on her hips and huffing.
He hesitated, and then nodded. What was another lie in the midst of everything he’s ever told?
The palace was still a maze to him, but Snow’s guarded expression was nothing new when the man caught sight of him, dressed in the clothes that Lumina had chosen for him. He could hear the chaos outside, coupled with Lumina’s pitched giggling and the sounds of screaming as civilians ran for safety, accompanied by shouting guards and gunfire.
“You.” Snow address him, and for a moment he wondered if his attempt would be in vain after all. “Finally joined Lumina in causing trouble, have you?”
“Is that what you think of me?” He retorted, unable to help himself despite the anxiety bubbling in his chest. Just the sight of Snow was enough to make him grit his teeth, especially when the man looked so arrogant in his righteousness. “That I’m just trouble? Is that what you think of her?”
“She’s yet to prove me wrong.” The words sounded callous, especially considering Lumina’s physical similarities to Serah. Snow breathed hard through his nose, still watching him warily. “What do you want?”
It didn’t matter if he was wrong. That’s all he had to tell himself. The world was ending, and there was no way he could make the situation any worse. He had nothing to lose in trying.
Even so, it grated on his nerves to have to square his shoulders like that and crane his neck up to stare seriously up at Snow (and just why was the man so tall, anyway? It was wholly inconvenient).
“I— I need your help.”
He couldn’t— didn’t feel right in involving Sazh, not when the man’s son was still lying so still after all these centuries. Maybe that was the downside of his meager planning, because in the end, he couldn’t really change anything. It had to be up to the Savior… up to Lightning.
His throat closed up at the reminder.
Maybe he and Lumina would never be saved, but at the very least he could help the Savior a little bit. Pay her back for the effort she made in saving him before. He knew that it would be what— what the former him would have wanted. Despite the powers that she had been gifted with, Snow and Noel had centuries to perfect their ways of thinking and their fighting. There was always the chance that they disagreed with her and would be able to stop her from saving everyone she could.
Maybe humanity as it existed now couldn’t be saved— would have to be purified and changed before it was allowed inside its new home.
But at least this way, humanity might survive in some manner.
Nearly a millenia ago, Hope Estheim had used his weaknesses to create a strength in people that surprised him.
He was nothing but the weaknesses of a once great man. That was the difference between him and Lumina— she could dance between the strands of power and Chaos, shifting reality with every step. She might have been unwanted, but she was powerful. He would never be that, and it was because he was never meant to hold power.
Instead, he made one more request of the ethereal girl who walked through Chaos, because Fang would follow where Vanille went, and he wasn’t sure how long he could last before the eyes of God found him. Maybe it was in his nature to be too trusting, but it was the manner in which Lumina always came to find him, no matter how long she left him alone… and the way she looked at him before agreeing to his requests. She didn’t have to agree to anything; in fact, she rarely complied with anyone at all, choosing instead to do whatever it was she wanted and whatever might annoy her recipient the most.
Lumina was so powerful— heck, Snow and Noel and Lightning… they were all strong people who could take on the world by themselves. They were all used to fighting independently. Vanille, as well, if because she felt she had to prove herself.
He wasn’t like that. While it would have been nice to be given a chance to prove himself, he knew that he wouldn’t make it on his own. He had never been able to make it on his own. Not as he was now.
“You said you’d tell me what’s going on.” Lumina demanded, standing over him menacingly, her feet in the air and not quite touching the ground to allow her to loom. She had her hands upon her hips, the fabric of her skirt lifting with unfelt winds as she tilted her head and pouted at him. “You can’t just keep quiet now, or I’ll make you talk.”
He didn’t doubt that she could, but was uncertain as to whether she would if he refused to say anything.
“I need to ask them for help.” He admitted, backing up slightly as she leaned closer him him and narrowed her eyes. His hands came up in a defensive surrender before he could help himself.
“You don’t need to ask them for help.” She insisted. “I’ll take care of you. They can’t do anything, anyway. None of them can. The best they can do is kill the Savior, but they won’t be able to do that.”
Once upon a time, six people who could hardly do anything by themselves teamed up together and managed to change the fate of an entire world.
“I have to try.” The admission was hardly the breath of a whisper.
“You don’t have to do anything!” Lumina looked mutinous. “They didn’t do anything for us! They won’t do anything for us, especially if they find out the truth!”
“Snow helped.” And it was painful to admit that, even as quietly as he did.”Vanille helped. Noel wanted to help. They didn’t—” What was he saying? He wasn’t supposed to be defending them. “They weren’t the ones who gave us up.”
He understood Lumina’s bitterness. In a way, he felt the very same sting at the back of his throat, even if he hadn’t been given up voluntarily. He might never fully understood the depth of betrayal she felt, but he did have some semblance of understanding. They were both made of the same things, after all.
“They won’t understand.” Lumina insisted, although it sounded as though her anger was draining out of her.
He shrugged, the determination draining from him the same way that the anger was draining out of her.
“They won’t.” He agreed, now just feeling tired. “But at least…”
How could he make the idea sound appealing? Lumina wanted nothing to do with Lightning, but at the same time couldn’t help but be drawn toward her. That must be frustrating.
“At least… we’ll go out with one big bang?”
The words, meek as they were, seemed to settle on the girl for a long moment as she considered it. One more prank; one more adventure. One more memory to be made before the end of the world. What harm could it do her?
“Ooooh,” she cooed at him, clearly enamoring herself to the idea. Lumina reached out to cup her hands on his cheeks, her skin cold to the touch despite the warm weather. She gave a considering hum before deciding in her normal sing-song manner, “Why not?
“Let’s go out with one big bang!”