It was a while before he realized he wasn’t falling. It was clear that his body was traveling through space, and as if his sense of direction had become skewed, he had difficulty telling up from down and left from right. When he noticed the cactuar by his side was drifting as if he were swimming, he finally understood that he wasn’t falling ‘down’, but rather he was headed in ‘some direction’.
When he calmed down and took a look at his surroundings, he discovered it was a peculiar space. At first he thought it was as if he had been thrown inside a gigantic machine. This was because he was surrounded by things that reminded him of ancient machinery within Pulsian ruins. However, the objects that surrounded Snow and his companion were moving irregularly. Pulsian machinery operated in a more regular and coherent fashion. Even the older ones wouldn’t make grating noises like that.
He imagined a tunnel from the fact that what appeared to be the parts of the machine spiralled around them, continuing far into the distance. But, from between the gaps of the parts, he could see that the space was spreading outwards. Rather than a so-called excavated underground tunnel, it might have been more akin to playground equipment in a park. Snow and his companion were drifting through its center
“Maybe its some sort of… pathway? But if that were the case, where are we coming from and where are we headed?”
As they drifted, he scanned his surroundings once more. At first glance, the vast space visible from between the “parts” appeared similar to the sky. Like a night sky strewn with stars. However, its color wasn’t that of a night sky. Though, on the other hand, it wasn’t a daytime sky either. It likewise differed from an evening sky. He had never seen a sky the color of a bonfire.
Just as he was about to ask the cactuar what he thought, Snow’s eyes widened. The decoration atop the cactuar’s head was blinking irregularly. It appeared as if to match the rhythm of the mechanism or wheels around them.
“Hey! You ok!?”
The light grew immensely brighter. The red crystal was vibrating intensely.
It happened the instant he stretched out his hand. His hand had been consumed by something black. No, it wasn’t just his hand. Something black he couldn’t identify as fog nor smoke surrounded him. He batted at it, but it simply coiled around him, as if having a mind of its own.
“What the heck is this!?”
Snow shook his arms and legs in the directionless space. But, the hazy blackness persisted. Unlike fog or smoke, it had a distinct texture. It didn’t have any mass, and looked like a liquid, but felt similar to a liquid. It felt rather unpleasantly, as if the very shadows were crawling. It was slowly creeping about his body.
No, rather than creeping, it was probably more accurate to describe it as clinging. Some unknown substance was desperately trying to cling to him. That’s what it had felt like.
“Could this be some sort of living organism?”
It didn’t appear to be a monster, but it could just be that he wasn’t aware of the existence of such a monster. He could feel a powerful presence, but at least it wasn’t a fal’Cie. Perhaps the cactuar would know what this was.
He had an epiphany as his thoughts drifted there. What had happened to the cactuar’s crystal?
He hurriedly looked around and saw that the irregular blinking had stopped. The cactuar was back to his usual self. Snow breathed a sigh of relief. No, now wasn’t the time to be relieved.
“Stop! Don’t attack!”
The cactuar was preparing to attack the ‘hazy blackness’. Perhaps he thought it was an enemy, having seen Snow struggling with it.
“It’s not an enemy.”
I think, added Snow, quietly, as he wasn’t sure of that himself, either.
“How should I put this… It kind of feels like when I met you. It’s like I don’t feel like fighting it.”
Well, it was just the slightest bit different. As he looked at the ‘hazy blackness,’ for some reason it felt like his heart was being gripped with melancholy. He didn’t know why. Perhaps it was because he mistakenly thought he was being ‘clung’ onto.
In fact, this ‘hazy blackness’ was simply around him, and not causing any harm. If it really had any malicious intent then it would have at least strangled Snow by now. That much would have been easy for the ‘hazy blackness.’
“I wonder what this is.”
It neither spoke nor made any expressions. Why had he he thought it was filled with ‘melancholy,’ regardless?
“Hey. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
Unsurprisingly, there was no reply. It was as he started muttering about what its deal was. Unexpectedly, everything before him turned white. He didn’t know if it was light or simply the color white. Snow was unnerved by his whited-out field of vision. An attack came from his front. He thought he heard a dull crashing noise.
He sat himself up as he scrunched his face in pain. At some point he had ended up face down on the floor. Yes, there was a floor beneath him. It appeared the attack and the dull noise just now was due to him falling onto the floor.
His sense of direction has returned. It appeared there was also gravity. But, visibility was poor. The area was dim, and wide. It seemed like it could be the inside of some sort of massive building.
He saw that the cactuar was beside him and felt relieved. If they had gotten separated in this unfamiliar place, then they might never have found each other again.
On the other hand, the ‘hazy blackness’ had disappeared. Had it been an entity that could only exist in that mysterious place?
“I guess we should start with looking for a way out.”
It happened as he spoke to the cactuar while looking around. His vision turned monochrome. It was one of the cactuar’s visions.
“Hey, what’s this…!?”
It was a vision that he had seen before, but not in its entirety. It was the same as the one he had seen when he asked the cactuar about his Focus.
It seemed that just like how fal’Cie would give humans Foci, they too were given Foci by higher-ranking fal’Cie. He thought that if that was the case, then the cactuar too must have had a Focus. When he asked about that, the cactuar showed him a vision.
However, parts of it were faded out, as if having been torn away. The vision began with the cactuar standing still before something, but that ‘something’ appeared indistinct, like it was shrouded in fog. The outline of something round with a platform could just barely be identified, but there was no telling what lay beyond that. Did it have a flat surface like a mirror, or was it a sphere? Would it have been something thicker and entirely different if viewed from the side?
Moreover, one could tell that the Cactuar had been sucked into that ‘something’, but where had he gone? Beyond that, the vision was almost dyed almost entirely white, so it was uncertain if he had even moved at all.
Even while the other visions had become clear, visions concerning his Focus had remained the same. Snow gathered that perhaps the Cactuar had his memories erased.
The vision that Snow had seen just now contained no blank parts. The familiar beginning remained the same, but it became clear what the Cactuar was standing in front of. The round object was not flat, but a sphere. The object was surrounded by something flame-like and rotating. As usual, the vision had no colors, so one couldn’t say for sure they were flames.
He could only tell that it was giving off an intense light. The intense light encompassed the Cactuar and absorbed him into the rotating sphere. When the Cactuar was no longer visible, the light shot into the skies like a pillar of flames, and eventually disappeared.
His instinct told him it was some sort of ‘entrance’. Maybe it was the ‘gate’. The ‘gate’ connected to the alternate world that the Pulsian fal’Cie were all searching for. It had to be that.
P86-87Beyond that, the vision continued with clarity. The cactuar was fighting. His opponent wasn’t shown but he could tell that it was something gigantic. Perhaps he was fighting with all his strength; the red crystal was glittering brightly, and the Pulsian crest was visible in the sky.
There the vision ended.
“You remembered your vision, huh? Inside that strange space from earlier,”
It must have been when his red crystal was flashing irregularly. It was unclear if it was due to the effects of some sort of force within the space, or if it was sealed in such a way that entering that space would bring back his memories, but the cactuar must have had remembered his Focus at that point.
“Wait. If you’ve remembered your Focus… does that mean your powers have come back?”
Just as Snow muttered this, another vision began to play. Snow and the cactuar were standing next to each other before the gigantic ‘gate’. Just as he thought, no way, the glittering tendrils of light extended towards him. They were tendrils used to bind people.
“Wait! I can’t become a l’Cie.”
The moment he shouted at the top of his lungs, the vision ceased. The cactuar stared intently at Snow.
“Sorry. If I was turned into a l’Cie I wouldn’t be able to make Serah happy anymore, right? I’m travelling in order to bring her happiness. Gotta find Sis and bring her back…”
He would do everything over again from the beginning. So that he would never again make Serah feel sad or insecure.
“Of course I know there’s something strange going on with the world. Something’s gotta be done about it. I know. I wanna protect everyone.”
His companions from NORA, and the people of New Bodhum. Those who migrated to Gran Pulse, and those who remained in Cocoon. He wanted to protect everyone. It had hit him too, that maybe if he had those powers then…
“But, if I do that and cause the one person who is truly important to me to suffer, then there is no point. I’ll make Serah happy, as well as protect everyone. I’ll search for a way to do that.”
There had to be a way. If he kept searching, then surely...
“I know what your Focus is. It’s to kill the beast behind that huge gate, isn’t it? In that case, I’d fight alongside you even if I wasn’t a l’Cie. I’m sure Sis would do the same.”
Even as a human, he could fight if they worked together. It was a fact that he and the cactuar had defeated many a foe by working together. They had come out alive by sticking up for each other. If not for that, then they wouldn’t have been able to continue travelling the monster-filled frontier lands of Gran Pulse.
“I promised didn’t I? We’re partners.”
The cactuar looked up at Snow as if to say okay.
“First we gotta figure out how to get outta here.”
They had suddenly been thrown into the middle of this sprawling space. It wasn’t as if they had come in through a proper entrance. But, was there some part that served as an entryway?
He looked upwards and strained his eyes. It was too dark for him to see if there was a ceiling. From the echo of his voice, it didn’t seem like they were outside. There must have been a ceiling a ways up.
Thinking about it, he realized that other than his own voice, there had been no other sounds at all. There was no presence of anything living, either.
“What the heck is this place…”
Something wrapped around Snow’s leg, stopping him mid-sentence. He looked down as his feet, startled. It was a familiar feeling.
That ‘hazy blackness’ was tangled around his legs. Suddenly, it started creeping up Snow’s body and began winding around his arms. It was as if it was trying to say, “don’t leave me.”
“Don’t tell me you followed us here.”
He was sure that this thing, which couldn’t even be identified as living or not, could only exist in that strange space, but it appeared that wasn’t the case. Even so, who knew it would follow them to a place like this.
“This strange thing has gotten attached to me.”
Snow couldn’t help but sigh.
“Are you in trouble or something? Is there something you need from us?”
However, the ‘hazy blackness’ simply continued to squirm, giving no notable reaction.
“You don’t happen to know how to get outta here… do you?”
It was possible that it knew. The fact it followed Snow here meant it had to know how to go the opposite way. Maybe even how to get back to the skies above Bodhum, where they were before.
The problem was that there seemed to be no way to communicate with this ‘black haziness’. It happened as he crossed his arms, feeling at a loss.
“Who’s out there? Why have you come?”
A thunderous voice boomed from above. Those were clearly the words of a person. Snow turned his head in their direction.
It was hard to tell because of the darkness, but there was something big there. It seemed to have the figure of a person, but its outline shimmered like a heat haze, and appeared indistinct. The fact that it could speak human words meant it was no ordinary monster. Moreover, just like before, he felt no ‘living presence’ around him. Of course, he felt nothing from the gigantic ‘humanoid’ before him, either. Even if he asked himself if it was a fal’Cie, since it wasn’t a living creature, he would have difficulty answering in the affirmative. He could see nothing resembling crystals around him, and it had a presence differing from the fal’Cie he had encountered so far.
His booming voice rippled the air around him. His answer was brief. I am the Arbiter of Time, it said.
“The Arbiter… of Time?”
“I am the one who arbitrates over this plane. A domain connected not to time. A place of gathering for the strong, a place for contesting death.”
The words ‘contesting death’, sounded grave indeed. However, now that he thought about it, the place seemed somehow to resemble the Ark. Of course, there was no serenity in the monster-infested Ark and there seemed to be no such sprawling space within his memory, either.
“Further, it is a place holding no bonds to the living. Begone in haste.”
“We too would like to do nothing more than that, but this thing won’t let go of me. If you could do something about it, then we’d be on our way immediately.”
He jokingly raised both his arms. Though obviously, he didn’t think the Arbiter would do anything for them. He just wanted to indicate that he harbored no animosity. He wanted to avoid being thrust into battle in his weakened state.
Leave now, echoed a voice. Before he could protest, his body started being dragged away. When he realized that he had been separated from that ‘hazy blackness’, his body was already floating through the air. He had been thrown into the air by force. At the same time, he began his descent. It felt the same as when he fell into that mysterious space through the Ark’s rift.
“You shall come back when the day is come, and fulfil your covenant with them.”
What was that supposed to mean? Snow and the Cactuar simply continued falling, without being able to inquire.