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She had told her sister to save Cocoon, but she had never wanted this. Those words were supposed to be an inspiration. She wanted there to be something more to what she thought were the last words she would ever speak.

(and she supposed in some fashion they were her last; after all, without Etro’s influence she never would have awakened.)

But she still would have seen everything, and so she did - helpless and frozen watching as Snow and Lightning charge into Anima’s lair with no way to warn them. When Snow found her again in Lake Bresha and refused to leave she wanted to scream, no, I wanted you to save Cocoon because I wanted you to live!

Maybe that was how Etro truly came to pity her for the goddess knew what it was like to lie dormant while the others around you burst with the most, colorful and foolish of souls. When Snow tamed the sisters Serah did not even have the strength to feel relief for while he was alive now she knew the path she had unknowingly opened for him would have no true end.

She wished for a way to undo her tears and rescind that pain. Crying had been the start of all this but it achieved nothing and all she felt now was hollow, emptied. The crystalline tear was a part of her she no longer could stand.  For Snow it might represent hope, but for her it was a failure.

-

Standing beside Alyssa Zaidelle as she weeps in relief at the sight of her friend's epitaph Serah for the first time wonders what new path her decision to find Lightning has created.

She wonders how many others beside her dream of being dead and of loved ones misplaced.

When the time comes she will take the blame for it all. It was her impulsiveness that had led to the Purge, and her tears to Lightning's disappearance.

She supposes it's fitting that Alyssa despises her all the same despite not knowing all this. Separated from Noel within the Historia Crux she hears her voice and thinks ah .

But is a future where you don’t exist as frightening as a future where your friends, your family, run themselves ragged trying to escape the pull of the tide you created?

-

“So if you’re from a different future,” Serah says to the second Yeul she encounters in the void. “Then that means we’ve never met before.”

The Yeul nods and Serah sees the same ghosts that dance around them in layers of  stilted time move within her eyes.

“But you know who I am. You know Noel despite never having lived with him. The Yeul we met in Oerba said as much.”

Yeul nods again. “I know of you, yes. It is not the same as what you mean.”

“You share memories with all the other Yuels, don’t you?”

Yeul walks past her. The chaos moves between them in waves, but the layers seem to part for the seeress as she walks through the darkness. Serah follows after and Yeulspeaks to her without turning around.

“Every creature who has been gifted a heart and soul by Etro has the power to preserve their memories, so long as they impart that wish to the living. I can commune with them through the chaos and I hear their wishes.”

The Yeul disappears into the swimming darkness like the one before, leaving another fragment behind. Serah does not touch it for a long time for fear of what she might hear.

-

Caius swings his blade and Serah rises to meet it. She has seen the visions of the Caius in Valhalla and this man has none of his bloodlust. When his blade pierces her side Serah does not  pause in her pursuit of him.

Caius frowns as she encroaches upon him and backs up against the throne. He moves to draw back his sword but Serah grips the point of his blade tight and with her other hand reaches into the man’s chest.

“You,” he chokes as Serah wraps her fingers around the slumbering deity’s heart that rests there. “Do you have any idea of what you’re doing?”

“I’ve thought it over,” she answers and pulls the Heart of Chaos free. Caius’s visage seems to flicker before her, his body seemingly the smoke emanating from the cinder and not the other way around as she once assumed.

“I have seen the future your hand ushers in, as well as that of Noel’s. I refuse to watch my loved ones fight a meaningless battle while I wait to be saved. I promised myself never again!”

Caius attempts another lunge for his weapon but Serah pulls his sword out of her, heedless of the open wound, and kicks it away. Both her hands wrap around the Heart.

Caius’s gaze flickers from her hold on his power source to her face. “Who are you to decide the meaning of someone else’s actions?”

“I’ve seen you. You’ve served Yeul for over a millenia now, but who do you really fight for? Do you want to free her or yourself?”

She ducks just in time as the blade on his wrists extends and he attacks again. The blow meant for her neck cuts a jagged path across her left brow. She stumbles, but does not let go of the Heart. Instead she presses it to the side he had slashed open and feels it beat in time to the pulse of her blood.

Caius’s visage flickers again and this time the smoke-like image starts to dissipate. His mouth is pressed into a thin line and as Serah feels her side heal over she watches part of his face fade as if blown away by some unseen wind.

“I’ll watch over Yeul and this world, but I will not let you destroy it for anyone’s sake.”

As Caius’s eyes close she feels Etro’s heart merge with her own. Soon, Caius has disappeared entirely and Serah stands alone before the mirror world’s version of the goddess’s throne.

-

“Serah?”

Lightning opens her eyes to see not the battlefield of Valhalla nor Caius Ballad’s eidolon but her sister materializing before her. She realizes she has been kneeling before Etro’s throne and stands to meet Serah as she steps out of the dormant chaos forming there and into her arms.

“Lightning,” she sighs, “I’m glad I was able to meet with you one last time.”

Lightning steps back, suddenly afraid. Serah regards her from her position an arm length’s away sadly.

“Serah, what are you saying? You’re meant to fight Caius alongside Noel. You can’t be here right now.”

“But I am,” Serah says, taking Lightning’s hand. “In another time there could be a me who followed your advice Lightning. I saw her travel to the future with Noel and I saw them strike down Caius there. But, I’m sorry, I won’t let that come to be.”

The chaos Serah stepped out of has not dispersed but remains pooled around the younger woman’s feet and seeing this Lightning feels she has realized something far too late.

“Serah… what did you do?”

“I made a deal with Etro. She is safe inside me now, Lightning, so that means it’s time for you to go home.”

Lightning feels the heavenly armor fade from her person as easily as it had first come to her. Serah’s hand is still warm in hers but she feels as distant as when she was frozen in crystal. Lightning grips her head in pain. As Etro’s champion she had never experienced the sensation of shifting timelines but now the cacophonous sound of thousands of gears turning at once rings throughout the great hall.

“I don’t… understand…”

Lightning reaches for Serah again but her palm meets only air. Something solid but invisible blocks her way back to her sister, but Serah still raises her own palm in farewell from the other side of the barrier. 

“That’s alright. I just need you to accept it. This is my gift to you, sis.”

-

At first, the story went like this: the gods smiled upon the child of miracles for she had completed her Focus. They granted her an eternity in crystal for this deed; however, the beguiling goddess of death took it upon herself to shatter that crystal and in so doing turned time upon itself. Each new twist of fate further distorted time and so the goddess turned the child’s boon into a curse.

Now, it goes like this:

Serah sees everything from her slumber. When Lightning and the others go to confront Orphan Serah prays to Etro, knowing the goddess will hear her.

“Do not release me from the crystal, but instead…”

She reaches out to Fang and Vanille during their battle. She knows what her short conversation with Vanille has birthed in the two of them. They long to not to become Ragnarok but to repent; still, Serah tells them there is a different way

“This world and your friends need you more than you can possibly know.”

When Snow reaches for Fang’s hand she takes it but there are tears in her eyes as she and Vanille rejoin the party. In this new timeline it is up to the daughters of Pulse to give Serah’s last farewell.

“Tell them that they do not need their stilted brands to fade to know they did it. You all helped me save Cocoon, and I am so, so proud of you.”

Serah has become the new pillar. As Snow falls to his knees beside Lightning and calls out her name, she hears him. She sees Lightning’s hand rest upon his shoulder, and notes despite her military posture how likely she would be to fall if not for her clenched fist resting there. Sazh kneels beside Dajh, her final gift, and buries his tears in the small boy’s hair.

She sees it all because despite what she had told Fang and Vanille she is not asleep within the pillar. She is awake and finally, finally content.

       -

There is one more story that changes. A man from seven hundred years in the future prays to Etro for entrance into Valhalla, but when a gate opens on the Black Sands it leads not to the Unseen Realm but to a field of grain that grows on a Grand Pulse quite different from the one that he knows.

“Noel!”

He turns and Yeul stands before him with a smile brighter than any he has seen before on her face. When he runs to her he hesitates to wrap her in an embrace for fear she might disappear.

“It’s you,” he says, placing a tentative hand on her arm. “Yeul. I watched you- but then I prayed to Etro and… is this, is this a dream?”

Yeul shakes her head and leans into his chest. Noel responds by encircling her in his arms despite himself.

“This is not a dream,” Yeul says, looking up into his eyes. “They heard you. Because of that Etro granted us her last miracle.”

Despite her words Noel still finds it hard to believe, but it feels true. He buries his face in her hair and takes in the familiar flaxen texture as the grain stalks shift against him when the wind picks up.

There are voices on the wind, he realizes a moment later. It takes him another few seconds to even conceptualize what multiple other voices might mean but when he glances up Yeul is still smiling.

“There are others here on the Steppe I met while I was waiting for you. They’ve been wanting to meet you, Noel.”

There are tears in his eyes now but Noel finds he’s laughing rather than crying.  Yeul takes his hand and he basks in the sensation of wonderful, unfamiliar sounds.

“Others! There are others! So that means-”

“Yes,” Yeul says, still guiding him. “We can rebuild. See, Noel. I told you it was not the end for us.”

She has started running with usual  stilted gait and Noel, reveling in this spot of normalcy, takes her side with his hand still in hers. He runs beside her and as rooftops come into view in the distance he thinks they look how hope feels.

-

All stories end, even those of Gran Pulse and Cocoon. They may be two worlds that weave in and out of one another but they do not make a closed circle like Valhalla. Theirs is a chain with each finite link made of gold.

All stories end, but Serah thinks that makes them all the more beautiful.

Countless souls visit her through the gate. She knows there will be a time when Lightning, Snow, and all the others will too. Not until they’ve lived their lives to the fullest of course; but by then, they will no longer recognize her.

After all, while all souls return to the chaos it is not always with their hearts.

There is a special hall in Valhalla for lost things. Serah has placed her engagement necklace there, for she does not want Snow’s heart to awaken only to break again.

“They’ll die,” a voice tells her. “Eventually they will perish. As will Cocoon, and Pulse.”

“I know.” Serah does not stand from her perch on the tower. She looks out upon the city of Valhalla, empty but luminous and whole under her care.

When she does not get an answer Serah turns around to smile at the Yeul who has come to visit her. She has had ages in human time to memorize each version of the girl but it is still difficult for her to tell many of them apart. Perhaps almost as difficult as they seem to find her.

“I can see everything from here, just like you. Even better now that the timeline has righted itself!”

Yeul does not take a seat beside her but stands straight and keeps her hands clasped against her chest as if in prayer. The ghosts in her eyes have still not left her.

“If you had not taken the Heart of Chaos, Bhunivelze would have awakened. He would have smashed the gate to here and you could have returned to the living.”

“Yeah,” Serah answers because her last attempt at resolution had not seemed to have gotten across. “You’re right. Lightning would never have let me go if she knew she could bring me back. I would have felt those five hundred years like a weight around my neck.”

“But you could have seen them again!”

Yeul’s clasped hands look less like a prayer and more like a plea now. Serah feels Etro’s heart within her respond to her grief, but there is nothing either of them can do any longer. The price for this universe was Caius and although she wishes she could reunite this Yeul with her guardian as she had Noel’s Yeul she refuses to risk what they have created.

She had worked too hard to regret, but as she stands to wipe Yeul’s tears she does sorrow.

“You and I just love people differently, I guess.”