“Sir! Director! I think we have something.”
Hope turned from a desk covered by scans and blueprints of several artifacts he was researching.
“What have you discovered, Hawkins?” he demanded immediately. His heart leapt and determined to live his namesake, he kept hoping for the best.
“A new artifact has been located just off the coast of New Bodhum and we’ve sent men to retrieve it.”
“Good man. What have you learnt?”
“Well,” his colleague said, flipping through his papers, “Unlike the previous artifacts we have uncovered for our study, this one appears to be have inactive for a very long time.”
“Interesting.” Hope frowned, thinking hard.
“So there are no signs of any human contact? What about animal contact? It’s been known for animals to accidently stumble across an artifact an activate it by mistake.”
Hawkins shook his head. “Completely untouched, sir. But that isn’t what interests us, sir. We’ve dated the artifact and has the ability to portal up to three thousand AF.”
Hope’s eyes widened with shock.
“Three thousand?” he asked in disbelief.
“We were pretty shocked ourselves.” His companion replied.
“How long until this artifact can be transported here?”
“Should already be less than an hour.”
“Alright, then. Have it sent to the laboratory upon arrival so my team can study it’s future in the Oracle Drive.”
“Yes, sir. At once.” And Hawkins quickly left.
A million thoughts and possibilities rushed through his head and the flickering feeling of hope warmed him. After ten long years of tireless searching, learning and searching again, perhaps maybe he had found his answer.
The crystal pillar that held up Cocoon was still intact, yet their makers were long gone. Overtime, they had slowly dissolved away, leaving nothing but their creation as evidence of the sacrifice they had made. Hope couldn’t understand. He refused to understand that they had simply just vanished. He had waited patiently for them to come back, to wake from their crystal sleep, regardless if they were still l’Cie. Since then, Hope devoted himself completely to the impossible … bringing them back.
Now, just recently turned twenty-four, Hope knew that he didn’t have much time left. Not if it meant finding what searched for. Perhaps maybe, this was it. Three thousand years meant three thousand different possibilities into the future and three thousand different pasts. Maybe, just maybe, there was one with a different ending or maybe, a different start. Maybe he could find her; maybe he could finally find Vanille.
Hope walked into the laboratory, already filled with many of his staff. Right next to the Oracle Drive, suspended in mid air within its clear vacuum container, the artifact floated.
Noticing his presence, his colleagues separated so a clear path was made directly towards the artifact.
Hope closely inspected this new finding, scrutinizing it with bright green eyes that shone with nothing but intrigue.
“Well, my soldiers were right when they said this artifact was untouched. But I’m surprised at how … ancient it appears.” Hope remarked.
It indeed was a very old artifact. And unlike the others Noel and Serah had discovered all peculiarly shaped and of quite a large size, this artifact was quite small. It resembled a small bright blue crystal teardrop, completely scratched and battered with age, and glowed with an unusual ethereal light.
“What makes it glow like this?” Hope asked one of the scientists.
“We aren’t entirely sure but from our analysis so far, it seems to be releasing some sort of phosphorescent radioactive dust, hence the container we’ve kept it in.”
“Has a set future been discovered, yet?”
“That’s the thing sir. There is no set future.”
Hope looked at his assistant, his gaze hardening.
“Like all futures, they revolve around a choice or an event. All these futures are thoroughly mapped out over the three thousand year course but no indication of what set these futures down in the first place can be discovered.”
“Okay. Can you put the frames up on the Oracle Drive?”
Hope watched the Oracle Drive slowly come to life, flickering discoloured images before finally giving a picture.
Hope studied the image, a wilderness, with a clear blue sky. It was beautiful and very green, filled with untamed wildlife and the most extraordinary plants, some as tall as the trees themselves. And it looked vaguely familiar.
“Wait a moment,” Hope said in realisation, “That’s Pulse before Cocoon fell. What past is this? Can you move it forward?”
The image buzzed forward, crackling and distorting like a tape recording in fast forward. Then a scene all too familiar to him began to play.
“Cocoon is saved in this future. I survive, as does everyone else. They sacrifice themselves and they disappear. Nothing has changed.” Hope murmured softly, as two particular figures were nowhere to be seen, frozen in crystal sleep.
“Can you change it to a different future?”
Hours of analyzing each different future, Hope’s optimism began to wane. He sighed. It was just another dead end. It would mean another long search and another halt to their discovery. And to Hope, it was another disappointment and a promise broken.
“Okay, guys. Let’s wrap it up for the day. We’ve done enough analysis.” Hope concluded, about to switch the Oracle Drive off.
“Director, wait. This future; take a look at it.” A scientist stopped him, urging him to look at the new time to come ahead.
Hope glanced at the image and his mouth fell open in astonishment.
Pulse was shown once again, although very different. Pulse lay barren and shadowed by a clouded sky of pollution. There were no people; they had long gone. Buildings had collapsed and slowly crumbled away, and dirt blew across the landscape in dust storms. There were no signs of life. There was only death. Although the sun shone, it baked the earth with a fierce glare, sending Pulse into a scorching lifeless desert.
“What could have caused this? What sparked today, to cause our future to end like this in three thousand years?” Hope said allowed, his voice wavering in fearful confusion.
All life looked lost. Until something, a flicker of a tiny moving object wavered and seemed to collapse on the dry sun baked ground.
“Hey, zoom in on that thing. I think it’s a person.”
Closer and closer the image began to clear. Indeed it was a figure of a lone human being, dying in the heat from dehydration.
The picture finally cleared.
And Hope felt the air leave his lungs in complete horror as he stared at the figure breathing her last breaths. Dirty, exhausted, bruised and cut from an experience so terrible, Hope couldn’t imagine what she had gone through. A body that had once been slender, healthy and even beautiful now lay in the dust completely battered, dehydrated and malnourished from days of endless walking in the heat of the merciless sun.
And she was bleeding, down her leg. A large burn began festering and streaming crimson blood from an infection on the outside of her left thigh. It was as if someone had done it purposely to hide something, to remove something like a mark.
Only one person had tried to hide and escape the brand that marked her fate, which she bore on her leg like a curse.
Hope’s certainty only grew when his eyes caught a flash of dirty, unkempt strawberry blonde hair.
“Sir! What are you doing?! We have no idea what caused this future to happen and what affects it could cause to the past, if you helped her and brought her back. Entering the portal without knowing what could happen is incredibly dangerous.” Hawkins desperately tried to reason with him but all his pleas fell on deaf ears.
“You don’t think I know that! It doesn’t matter if I bring her back or not. Do you think I’m just going to sit here and do nothing whilst I watch the one person I’ve been desperately trying to find for ten years die before my eyes!” Hope seethed, his green eyes flashing in fury as he scowled at his companion making him flinch.
Hope was a kind and gentle man and admirable leader who controlled his emotions well in a situation. However, although he was never violent, it was known throughout the Academy that their Director had a fierce and ruthless temper when it came to protecting the people he truly cared for or when fighting to do the right thing no matter how difficult the path was or what consequences needed to be faced afterwards.
“But it could change the other futures in the artifact! What would happen to both Cocoon and Pulse? It could – ” Hawkins began but Hope cut him off, silencing him with a threatening glare.
“Either way, all the five futures end the same; Cocoon falling and saved by Vanille and Fang’s sacrifice to save the population and give us a new home. I want to know why this future even exists, and what caused it. But first I need to get to Vanille.”
“But, sir – ” his companion implored.
“No but’s, Hawkins. I’m going regardless of the consequences. I lost her without ever realizing how I truly felt. I’m not prepared to lose her again.” Hope grit through clenched teeth, his eyes determined.
“Hope,” Hawkins said firmly, but his voice had gentled somewhat causing his superior and friend to flinch from the informality but relax.
He put a caring supportive hand on Hope’s shoulder.
“As your colleague I’d advise you to think this through. But as a friend, I can see you are determined to do this. I am not going to stop you. I can’t. But at the very least let me come with you. It will be safer for all of us. You, me, the Academy and especially Vanille.” Hawkins said, trying to compromise Hope’s situation.
“Avery,” Hope sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose for a moment before turning to face him.
“I can’t let any more people I care about get dragged into this.”
“Well, you obviously care deeply for this girl and standing here arguing whether or not I should accompany you just wastes more time.” Hawkins said lightly.
Hope rolled his eyes.
“So I guess you’re really coming?” Hope smiled reluctantly.
“Of course! I’m not missing out on another adventure. Besides … you said she was cute.” His friend added lightly.
“Well keep your hands to yourself. I’ve waited ten years to finally find her again.”
“Are you ready, sir?”
Hope nodded with conviction, his eyes hard. He looked to his companion he also nodded his head to signal that he too was ready.
“Just remember, director. There are always reasons why the future is they way that it is. The majority of them in the Oracle Drive end the same way and only one happens to be different. If you were to even change just one future drastically – ” his colleague warned but Hope cut him off.
“ – Then I could change everything else.” Hope sighed in frustration. “I know.”
“Heal your friend in the future, but just remember the consequences. It might not be safe to bring her back just yet.”
“I’m prepared to stay as long as I need to if it means keeping her safe.”
“Plus, he has me.” Hawkins added lightly.
“And a joy that will be.” Hope said under his breath.
The portal had been activated and almost immediately they tried to cower from the scorching heat of the world beyond that radiated through.
“Ready?” Hope asked.
“Whenever when you are.” Hawkins smiled.
Hope returned the smile with a grin before giving the thumbs up to his colleagues.
And they both ran through, leaving the world they knew behind them, closing the portal with a flash of light.
The world they now stood in was not the Pulse they knew and the sense of foreboding discomfort began to seep into the pit of Hope’s stomach. The air was dry from the heat of the bright sun, making Hope’s throat feel parched and his eyes sting. Even in his protective skin, he could feel the warmth prickle his skin like tiny needles.
“The Goddes Etro truly has forsaken this place.” Hawkins murmured, shielding his face from the sun. “Where is she?”
“There!” Hope pointed, finally finding a lone figure on the verge of collapsing.
Regardless of the burning heat and the merciless sun, which made their throats scream desperately for cool water, Hope ignored these trivial things, sprinting as he made his way closer and closer to Vanille.
Despite the dirt, the bruises, the cuts and torn bloody clothes, it was her just like the Oracle Drive had shown.
Hope was filled with mixed emotions as he carefully cradled her unconscious body within his arms, resting her head against his chest. Her breathing was shallow, but she was still alive. His heart seemed to burst from the overwhelming emotions of relief, anger, concern, comfort and joy by simply staring into her beautiful delicate face. He couldn’t help but tenderly stroke her cheek, rubbing away the dust with his fingertips.
“Vanille,” he whispered, tears beginning to form in his eyes. “You said I made you a promise that we’d come see Gran Pulse together, in another lifetime. Well you were right. I did and I’ve kept that promise.”
“Hope,” Hawkins said quietly, passing him an ice-cold bottle of water and a cool cloth.
“Thank you, Avery.” Hope nodded to his friend, placing the cloth on Vanille’s forehead, cooling her down.
And taking some water, he carefully opened her mouth, allowing the cold liquid to sooth her burning throat.
At first she did nothing, but upon tasting the sweet refreshing liquid, without opening her eyes Vanille began to greedily drink down the water in large gulps. Hope never took his eyes of her as he supported her head, encouraging her to drink the entire thing.
Finally she finished with a content sigh, her head falling back and unconsciously began to nuzzle deeper into his chest. Hope’s heart clenched from the contact, still not quite believing that she was here, in his arms, safe and alive.
Hawkins patted his friend’s shoulder, happy and relieved for him. They had known each other for ten years, becoming best friends the moment they had met. Like Hope, he had no mother but a farther who he had reconciled with after he evacuated Cocoon, and never understood Hope’s determination to bring back the girl that lay in his arms at this very moment. But upon seeing the deep loving connection Hope had for Vanille by simply holding her, Hawkins knew there was something so much more to the both of them he had yet to find out.
Vanille’s eyes began to flicker.
“Open your eyes, Vanille.” Hope urged gently in hushed tones.
Finally she did, forest green eyes staring intently into eyes of a similar shade that were brimmed with tears.
“I – I know your face.” She said, her voice soft and parched.
Hope sighed with relief. “I’m so glad that you do.”
“It’s the face that appears in my dreams and memories all the time. But I don’t know why.” She mused in awe.
Hesitantly, with weak sluggish movements, she stretched up hesitantly to touch this man’s face. He almost recoiled in surprise from the contact, but she was adamant, tracing the planes and contours of his face, remembering. Her fingers brushed his forehead, down across both eyes then his long nose and finally ending at his lips. She cold feel his breath, brush against her fingertips and she wondered why did this feel so comforting to her.
A single tear slipped from the corner of his eyes and she frowned in confusion, lightly brushing it away before cupping his cheek.
Hope sighed softly before taking his free hand and pressing Vanille’s warm hand even closer.
“You look like someone I knew.” She murmured.
“Do I?” he asked, quietly.
“I knew him a very long time ago. He was younger than you but you have the same face as him. The eyes, the hair, the mouth, even the way you speak to me, it’s the same.”
Hope couldn’t help but laugh and cry softly at the same time, his body trembling with emotion as he hugged Vanille in his arms.
“I’ve looked every where for you.” He breathed.
“And you found me. I knew you would.” She whispered, weakly hugging him back.
They finally pulled apart and Hope gently brushed her dirty strawberry hair and Vanille lightly cupped Hope’s cheek. It could have been minutes or hours that they sat like this, Hope holding Vanille in his arms for she was indeed the most precious and most beautiful person he had ever known. Then, with unspoken agreement, Hope bent downwards slightly, their lips lightly brushing with hesitant touches before finally sealing into a gentle kiss.
It was just the two of them now. Hawkins had been long forgotten. So had the sun, the heat and the desert landscape that was once Pulse. Nothing else mattered for he had found her, after so long. Although bewildered by the sudden change of events, Vanille knew she was finally safe from harm for this loving man would protect her. She had finally found home.
And Hope, he could finally breathe freely again. He no longer felt like he was searching aimlessly without purpose. Now he was living. He had searched and he had found and now he would live. He had lived to search for Vanille, and now he would live on to protect and love her with his entire being. That had always been his Focus as a l’Cie. It had been his destiny as a human being. Hope had always known that from they very beginning.