*** ~ Chapter 8: Only Warning ~ ***
“I'm fine, Lightning. Really.”
Lightning paced the length of the room. The Primarch's throne room was an enormous room in retrospect, some remarking that it was built to accommodate the towering mass of the mythical fal'Cie, if there ever came a time. Of course, the fal'Cie were nothing more than creatures of myth and legend, just like the Goddess Etro and her Eidolons for that matter.
The call of his charge went unbidden, Lightning too busy mentally berating himself for his folly.
A white clad fist tightened.
He knew it. He knew it! He just knew something was going to happen the moment he left the Primarch's side! But instead of protesting it, Lightning did what he was told. Lightning was the good soldier and good soldiers always did what they were told. Damnable gods and fal'Cies! Why did he even let Serah out of his sight?! Lightning growled under his breath, disgusted with himself.
The soldier paused in his step, this time hearing the Primarch's muted plea. He turned to the leader of all Cocoon.
Serah Farron sat atop an elevated white marble throne. Three floating crystal stairs, all thanks to Cocoon's advanced technology, led up to the prestigious chair, the one only the Primarch was privileged enough to sit on. An intricately carved backrest spanned twelve feet up into the air, marked with Cocoon's royal symbol, other images associated with the mountain kingdom also making up the frame. Towering over the throne from behind and finishing the amazing piece of workmanship was a jagged chunk of pure diamond, the triangular piece almost doubling the height of the Primarch's chair. Such rarities were found in the heart of Cocoon's mountain, the precious gems growing as commonly as stalagmites.
Pillars of white marble paved the wide hallway leading up to the Primarch's seat, a vibrant silk red carpet connecting the dormant transgate opposite the throne to the throne itself. Also carrying the white marble motif, the walls of the rectangular room were decorated with circular and rectangular lights, both of which ran perpendicular to the white marble floor.
Interspersed between the lights were windows, large floor to ceiling windows which revealed the Primarch's own personal garden, something much smaller but just as beautiful as the Imperial Gardens. The windows themselves were actually large screens, holographically projecting the gardens in place of real windows. An actual window would be a structural weak point and a grave risk for this particular room. So the occupants had to make due with pretend windows. Two banners hung on either side of the Primarch's throne, colourful in their display of the Primarch's sigil.
“Ya should let him pace,” Fang said, a bitterness to her voice. “That's all any of us can do right now.”
Aside from the regular adornments to the throne room, four white leather couches had also been dragged in, the four of them positioned in a square pattern in front of the Primarch's throne. Advisor Katzroy and his only child Dajh, sat on the couch nearest the Primarch to her left. Advisor Estheim and his son Hope took up the couch just opposite the other Cocoon Advisor, to the Primarch's right.
On the left most couch opposite Cocoon's leader was Oerba Yun Fang, Oerba Dia Vanille next to her, leaning against her sister. Fang wrapped a protective arm around the redhead's shoulders. The last leather couch was empty, Oerba Kamau Gadot and Oerba Kamau Lebreau choosing to stand behind Fang and Vanille's couch, defensively instead. All Pulsians had their weapons with them, as did Lightning and the Primarch. Advisor Katzroy was the only of the two Cocoon Advisors who was armed, a pair of Cocoon energy pistols strapped to his legs.
Three hours ago, the Cocoon Imperial Palace experienced its most devastating attack yet. The Imperial Army, led by Captain Snow Villiers and his two lieutenants, were still trying to figure out who was responsible for the attack. While there was much left unknown, there was no question about the casualties.
Advisor Nabaat was dead. As was a dozen Imperial attendants and soldiers. They were just in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Of those who survived, twenty nine people sustained critically injuries, forty-one of them, including the Primarch, Vanille, and their bodyguards, receiving serious but non life threatening wounds. Dozens more were still accounted for.
How their attackers managed to sneak past six lines of security, that which included technological defences and patrolling soldiers, was still the question of the hour. The improvised bomb used in the attack literally imploded a quarter of the Imperial Palace, something that should have never happened considering what was needed for such a blast. Alarms should have raised long before that device was assembled, its height being almost as tall as a regular adult's.
Captain Villiers and Gadot shielded the Primarch and Vanille from the blast, the Imperial Gardens on the outer edge of the explosion. As Lady Luck would have it, both men only suffered scraps and scratches. Vanille was injured by a piece of flying shrapnel which caught her the hip, the Primarch having a similar injury but on her left arm. The pinkette currently wore a sling, her left upper arm layered in white bandages, the only evidence they were in any danger at all.
A pair of crutches rested against the side of the couch Fang and Vanille occupied, closest to Vanille, the redhead's left leg from the hip down encased in a brace, white bandages also peeking out from underneath. Because of the shock of the attack, Vanille couldn't muster the strength to conjure healing magics, leaving Fang in the uncomfortable situation of reluctantly permitting Cocoon medics to attend to her sister. While technologically more advanced, the mountain kingdom had nothing in their arsenal which could offer instantaneous tissue regeneration like magic did. And hence, bandages were in order.
The Primarch sighed, hearing truth in the lancer's words.
Very little could be done right now, Serah entrusting Snow with sorting out this mess. Normally this kind of thing would have been left to Lightning, but the soldier was too close to the Primarch to be thinking rationally right now. Besides, the Primarch felt better having her bodyguard nearby. This was the safest place in all of Cocoon (aside from the Primarch's personal chambers) right now. And not just because of Lightning's presence, nor the presence of the thirty Imperial Guards standing watch inside of the Primarch's Throne room.
“Lightning, come here please.”
Lightning made his way to the Primarch's throne without question. Serah immediately looped her good arm around his and rested her head against her bodyguard's shoulder when he was close enough. She closed her eyes.
The Primarch's Throne room was the inner most room in all of the Imperial Palace, Serah Farron's place of residence half built out of the mountain the Cocoon people thrived on. For normal folk, getting an audience with the Primarch meant meeting her via holograms. Unless you were an Imperial Attendant or Imperial Soldier, both of which went through a vigorous screening process of almost a hundred levels, you didn't get to see the Primarch in person. It was one of many security measures instilled over the years. The Primarch's predecessors’ legacy of sorts. The only exception to this was the Pulsian envoy, this being an extreme case when it came to the Kingdom of Cocoon's overall security.
Putting that aside, to get this far into the Imperial Palace, an intruder would have to go through twenty lines of Imperial Guards patrolling the palace itself, and twenty technological lines of defence including automated security drones, heat and movement seeking energy turrets, energy barriers, and the ten foot thick titanium walls encapsulating the Primarch's Throne room. The only way into here without bashing through the walls, something which needed the might of ten fal'Cies to do and almost all of time itself, was through transgates. Transgates needed a teleportation address however, and even if a transgate was accessible and the address in hand, it still took a few seconds for the transgate to power up.
Then of course, there was Lightning himself to deal after all of that. And the Primarch herself too. Starseeker rested against the right side of her throne, in sword form, ready to be used.
“Are you feeling ill, Primarch?”
Serah shook her head slightly, her eyes still closed. She could feel Lightning's anxiety and worry through the tenseness of his muscles and the way his shoulders felt stiff like rock.
“Allow me this selfish indulgence,” the Primarch said softly. “Just for a little while.”
A quiet inhale.
Locks of rose coloured hair were gently pushed away from the Primarch's eyes by a white gloved hand. Serah relished such open affection from her bodyguard, Lightning having never done this before aside from when they were alone. At the sound of the transgate powering up on the opposite end of the room, those movements stopped, the Primarch quickly snapping awake, her heart beating rapidly in her chest. Lightning untangled himself from Serah to stand in front of the Primarch and her throne.
Fang was just quick on her feet, jumping over the back of the white couch she shared with Vanille, her spear drawn. The Kamau twins flanked her on either side, a quick glance behind revealing Lightning also armed with that fancy blade of his. Fang smirked upon hearing the crackling of a Thundaga in the soldier's hand. Vanille remained half hidden behind the Pulsian trio on the couch, her binding rod in hand should she need it. She was hoping it wouldn't come to that, especially with the armed contingent of Cocoon soldiers already flanking the transgate, taking up defensive positions around it, some of them placing themselves between them and the teleportation device itself.
In a flash of purple, one sole form materialized, the transgate falling dormant again. They were greeted by thirty energy rifles, one spear, one greatsword, two short swords, one binding rod, two energy pistols, one gunblade, and one sword bow, every single weapon pointed at them.
“It's only me,” Captain Villiers said, his hands raised in front of him to show his surrender. “At ease.”
Breaths of relief sounded all over the throne room, weapons lowered a moment later. A white gloved hand closed into a fist, snuffing out the Thundaga. Lightning was the last to lower his weapon, as was Fang and the rest of the Pulsian envoy, but even then they didn't lower their guard. With a nod from the blonde, the Imperial Guards went back to their standby positions.
“Please tell me you have something,” the Primarch said as the Cocoon Captain approached the throne.
“I do,” Snow said, his lips pressed together into a grim line. He held up a datalogue in his hand. “Here's who's claiming responsibility for the attack.”
The Pulsian representatives gave each other a look, settling back into their previous positions as Lightning momentarily left the Primarch's side to intercept Captain Villiers. Snow immediately relinquished the datalogue over to Lightning, following up with a respectful bow. As the soldier started to read it, the good captain backed up three steps.
The datalogue exploded into pieces to the sound of breaking glass and Thunder.
“I want every last one of them hunted down and shot on sight!” Lightning roared, furious blue eyes glaring at the Cocoon Captain.
Snow bowed without question. “It shall be done. I shall oversee this matter myself.”
No one missed the vehemence in the blonde's voice. While known for his caring, most of the time good natured side, not many people knew about the captain's unforgiving side, one which was currently rearing its ugly head. Lightning wasn't the only one who knew how to make people disappear for good.
Booming footsteps marked Captain Villier's exit through the transgate, the behemoth of a man's posture rigid, his booted feet marching now with purpose. When the transgate closed again, all was quiet in the Primarch's throne room, except for the soft squeak of Lightning's hand further tightening around his gunblade. If one looked hard enough, they could see Blazefire Saber shaking in the soldier's grasp.
At the sound of his name, Lightning turned towards the Primarch again, the full extent of his fury clearly seen in his gaze.
Fang knew that look. She had seen it before in aggravated, cornered, feral beasts. Such beasts were always the most dangerous of the lot. The Pulsian lancer unconsciously raised her spear in front of her defensively. Lightning immediately caught that movement out of the corner of his eye, raising his gunblade as well.
“Calm yerself, Sunshine,” Fang said, daring to take a step closer to the irate man. She raised her free hand up, palm facing the white garbed soldier, hoping to placate him. “Yer not gonna do anyone good if ya start pickin' fights wit' us.”
To hear such rational words from the Pulsian huntress shocked the Primarch. Fang didn't even seem the type. That was more Vanille's domain. Vanille however, was not surprised by this turn of events in the least bit. Whether she wanted to admit it or not, Fang was a natural born leader. As such, this was not the first fight she'd have broken up before. Good leaders took care of their people. Which raised the question, did Fang think of Lightning on equal grounds with her?
“What did the datalogue say?” Advisor Estheim piped up, hoping a change of subject would diffuse the already tense situation.
Lightning glared in Advisor Estheim's direction for a good few seconds before speaking. “PSICOM,” the soldier ground out. “PSICOM claimed responsibility for the attack.”
Lightning's gaze shifted to Advisor Katzroy. “They threatened further retribution should these peace talks continue.”
“Maker,” Sazh said, rubbing his forehead. “As if we don't have enough things troubling us already. First one of our own attacks us, and now this?”
“That makes no sense.” It would be Kamau Lebreau who spoke up there. “How does attacking the Primarch help them? You're all on the same side.”
“No,” Serah said, a sad smile on her face. “I wish that were the case, but it's not.”
Lebreau looked at the Primarch in confusion.
“Not everyone believes peace between kingdoms is the right thing for Cocoon,” Advisor Estheim said. He shifted in his seat, wrapping an arm around his son's shoulders.
“These same narrow minded individuals are a small part of our population, mind you, but no less dangerous. As this most recent attack has proved, they are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure this peace treaty does not happen.”
“How does hurting the Primarch accomplish what they want?” Kamau Gadot frowned. “What? They think this will scare you away? Or us for that matter?”
“Not hurting,” Advisor Katzroy told the man. “Killing.”
Eyes widened in realization.
“Kill the Primarch and force an early election for the Cocoon leadership,” Advisor Katzroy continued. “With the Farron bloodline ending with our current Primarch, there would be no one to refute the vote.”
Lightning and Serah shared a look.
“Pull some strings here and there, and then you have a more Cocoon friendly candidate in power.”
“Etro's norks!” Fang threw up her hands in exasperation. “Are all of ya highlanders, the lot of ya in this room not included, nutters in the head?”
“I sometimes wonder that myself, Oerba Yun Fang,” Advisor Estheim said, sighing. He took off his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.
Silence reigned in the Primarch's throne room again.
“Maybe...” Vanille said after a while. She looked at everyone hesitantly. “Maybe this peace treaty shouldn't happen after all...”
The Primarch's good hand slapped down on her arm rest. “I will not cower in fear to the likes of these terrorists,” Serah said through clenched teeth. She rose from her throne, angry. “This attack should be even more reason why the peace treaty should go through.”
“But more people will get hurt!” Vanille protested.
“There will be never ending causalities in both kingdoms if this war continues,” the Primarch retorted. Slowly she made her way down from her throne.
“This war has brought us all pain, and suffering, and loss. It has hung over our heads for centuries, like a devastating cloud of Chaos, poisoning us all. How much longer will this go on? How long will it be before we say enough is enough?”
All eyes were fixated on the pinkette, no one breathing, no one speaking.
“Must I be the one to say it?” Serah asked. She gritted her teeth when no one answered her. “Fine,” she said. “I'll say it.”
“I have had enough!”
Lightning reached out to hold the Primarch's elbow, concerned his leader's legs might give out from under her by the way she was shaking. Tears pooled in the corner of the Primarch's eyes, her cheeks flushed and not because of something embarrassing.
“I don't know about you, but I'm sick and tired of watching people, my people, die for something that was started centuries ago. Aren't you?”
The Primarch leaned against her bodyguard again, the adrenaline of the original moment now fading. “We don't even know why it was started in the first place.”
Fang's mouth opened to retort, but then she closed it when she realized she had no rebuke. When the Primarch put it that way, nothing she'd been told before felt right enough to say. Gadot looked to this twin, Lebreau only shrugging her shoulders, shaking her head.
Advisor Estheim and Advisor Katzroy glanced at each other.
“I've been told-” Fang tried again. But she would not finish.
“You've been told,” the Primarch interrupted, fury in her tone again. “But do you actually have proof? Do you actually know the real reason why we've been at war for centuries?”
When no one responded, Serah took that as her cue to continue. “Ever since I took the throne, I've been trying to find that reason. And after all of this time, I have found nothing.”
Vanille frowned. The Primarch found nothing? That didn't make any sense. Something wasn't adding up here.
“Cocoon is one of the most technologically advanced societies on this continent,” the Primarch continued. That was not boast nor an arrogant proclamation. That was fact.
“One whose archives go back to the time our ancestors stopped worshipping the old gods. Yet when investigating the records about this war, there's nothing there. No records. Nothing.”
The Primarch's gaze raked across the room. “Doesn't that seem a little strange to you?”
Advisor Katzroy felt eyes on him.
“Sazh,” Vanille began. The Cocoon Advisor's words from the other night hadn't stopped bothering the redhead, even after all the time that had passed. “What did you see all those years ago? What made you seek asylum here?”
Sazh sighed heavily. “If I knew Vanille that, I'd tell you,” the old man said. “But right now, I'm still not sure what I saw.”
Things were starting to sound worse and worse by the minute.
“As it stands,” the Primarch continued, drawing attention back to herself again. She straightened up a bit, Lightning still supporting her. “This peace treaty is going to through. No matter what happens.”
A small smile curved on Kamau Lebreau's lips.
“It will be a fair treaty, one that reflects both sides equally,” the Primarch said. “I will personally make sure of that.” A pause. “And if someone doesn't like that, then they'll have to take it up with me.”
Fang smirked. Not only was Lightning growing on her, this tough little Primarch was too.
Gadot leaned over to whisper to his sister. “I'm glad she's the one in charge.”
Lebreau rolled her eyes.
“For now, our current focus should be on recovering,” the Primarch stated. “Peace talks will resume in three more days.”
A glance around the room.
Serah was only met with silence.
“Worthless, all of you.”
Another body thumped to the ground.
“P-Please! We did everything you told us to do!” a PSICOM commando squeaked. He was the only was left alive in this room. “But the walls were thicker than we- No! NOOOOO!”
A headless form crumpled to the ground.
“I'm done wasting my time on you.”
A single figure rose from their chair, deftly flitting around the bodies and blood staining the floor as they walked out. With his point made, the man nonchalantly strode out of the hidden PSICOM base on the outskirts of the capital city.
“Time to do what I should have done from the very start,” he muttered to himself.
A ghost of a smile.
“Isn’t that right, Yeul?”