Shattered Feathers Chapter 1
I sat utterly alone in the room of the inn, staring blankly in the direction of the door. I could see the Black Mage moving quietly about its business but I couldn't help but let my lip curl up in a snarl. More a defiant snarl than anything else. Maybe I was simply trying to deny how similar I was to it, or perhaps I was frustrated to know it was one of my own creations in thereone that had gone against me the same way I had gone against Garland. And it was an example of a mistake I had made; I had never wanted to give souls to my creations, but this one had one. All of them in this village had souls.
I shoved the thoughts out of my mind. Dangerous thoughts that would be best forgotten. But then, that would be the same as forgetting my own self, so it was best not to forget, but to keep it out of direct thought.
Zidane had told me that I was finally well enough to get out of bed and so some exploring. Like there was really any exploring to be done. I didn't want to wander around the village, though, and so I dallied in the room that had been my home for the past three weeks. The cursed little room that I was quite tired of.
I stood up and wandered about it. I refused to go around anywhere, even the insignificant village, in the over-sized shirt and spare pair of pants Zidane had provided for me. Bad taste was not my style. It gave me some satisfaction when I happened upon a mirror.
The satisfaction drained away as I looked into the mirror. Yes, I recognized myself, but I had a hard time admitting that thing staring back was me. My face was gaunt from the two weeks I had remained unconscious and my once lovely silver hair was, simply put, a bird's nest. What really threw me off was the lack of feathers. It had always been my favorite touch: four silver feathers I had added to the part of hair at my forehead, provided by a silver dragon. They were missing, much to my dismay. Sure, the touches of color I had added around my eyes were missing as well, but the feathers had been a favorite of mine. Before setting aside the mirror I noticed that the deep blue of my eyes seemed darker than I remembered, but I knew that couldnt be true.
I placed the mirror, face down, where I had found it, deciding to save that for later. I resumed my search of the little room and finally found what I had been looking for: my armor lay in a heap on the far side of a small crate, in the shadows.
I tossed aside the large white shirt and got to work on changing into my old armor. Once I finished, it struck me just how close to death I actually had been. I had lost much weight during my healing. So much that my armor no longer fit correctly. I had to tighten my shoulder piece just so it wouldn't slide to the side the moment I moved. I also had to tighten the bottom piece to prevent it from falling off my body. I was glad to have an easier way to hide the tail, the hideous reminder of what I was. The boots sagged a little away from my skin; before, they had fit like another skin, now they were loose. I knew that, not only had I lost what little body fat I had possessed, but also a good deal of muscle. It must have taken almost everything I had just to keep me alive.
Which brought up another point: Why was I still alive? My wounds may not have been fatal, but Garland had informed me that my life would be over anyway, hadn't he?
I let the thoughts of death leave my mind once I found a small and rather crude hairbrush sitting on the small table. I began the task of turning the silver mess atop my head into something manageable. The results pleased me, despite the flinching it inflicted due to tangled hair.
Once I was finished, I picked up a rag and dipped it into the wash basin that sat on the table. I scrubbed at my face and felt as if I had cleaned ten years worth of grime off of it. It helped me to feel incredibly refreshed and probably helped my appearance, although I decided to avoid the mirror at all costs.
"Ready as I'll ever be," I muttered to myself, my voice clear but still holding traces of dryness in it. I walked through the door, startling the Black Mage that stood behind the counter. It looked as if it wanted to speak, the yellow lights that served as eyes watching me suspiciously. I met its gaze and suppressed a growl; I disliked the way it looked at me. I took my eyes off of it and noticed it seemed to relax immediately. I sniffed disdainfully at this and walked through the room and out the door.
The bright sunlight hit my eyes harshly and I shielded them with a grimace. I stood outside the doorway and waited for my eyes to adjust to the brightness. Once they did so, I couldn't help but be somewhat impressed by the little village my creations had formed. The early morning sunlight flooded over little huts that stood among the trees. I would have expected there to be only one or two sturdy buildings accompanied by crude tents, but this almost counted as a village of intelligent beings. Almost.
I realized I was being stared at intently but I was unable to locate my watcher at first. It was a cat sitting on the grass roof of one of the huts ahead of me, golden eyes never wavering. I let a smile play across my face and took a few steps in its direction. I crouched down, outstretching my right hand and clicking my tongue. "Come here, kitty," I called softly.
The cat jumped off the roof with much grace and sauntered, in the way all cats do, towards me. Once it was close enough, it cautiously sniffed my fingers. I remained motionless until it began rubbing its head against my hand and purring furiously. I rubbed its head and it flopped down gratefully at my feet, rolling belly-up as I continued to scratch. I chuckled at its antics, the soft black fur warm against my skin.
"I see you've met Black Cat Number One." I jumped a little at the intrusion of the voice and looked up to see Zidane watching me closely. His look almost seemed like he expected me to suddenly start munching on the cat. "He'll love you as long as you give him attention."
I felt self-conscious but at the same time thought it'd be amusing to see his reaction if I did start chewing on the kitty I refrained from such action. "Much like anyone, I imagine," I said simply. I still wasn't sure how to react to Zidane. I had spent such a long time despising him and now he seemed to be so nice. Or maybe the kindness was just there to cover up distrust or dislike. He couldn't possibly care about me could he?
Zidane laughed. "You're probably right," he mused. "But there's something I think you should see, Kuja. I think it's important," he continued, humor leaving his expression completely.
Black Cat Number One (I decided that the Black Mages had been given the task of naming the feline) lost interest in me and swaggered off behind the inn. I stood up and frowned slightly. "That's fine," I replied cautiously.
He flashed a grin and turned around. "I see you found your armor. I meant to tell you where it was. Guess it slipped my mind. Sorry." He began walking away from me, motioning with his head for me to follow him.
Like I believe you that you that "it slipped your mind". It irked me, as well, that he just expected me to do what he wanted me to, but I know that he was testy over me having changed back into my armor. We're on even ground for now, I ruefully thought as I followed him. "I thought I'd return your clothes to you now instead of later," I said to be on the safe side of things.
"Oh, really? The shirt never fit so I didn't mind, and I have another pair of pants "
I had always hated being polite when I'd rather give someone a good insult. Delicate dealings and word traps were a game to me, but I had never met anyone who was any good at it so it was never that enjoyable. It brought back memories of Queen Brahne's clumsiness at such things. Pushed that thought aside: best not to set a bomb off because, once that one exploded, the others were sure to follow suit. "I've always been more comfortable in my own clothes," I replied simply.
I guessed he didn't feel that it was necessary to pursue the conversation and we continued walking through the village in silence. I saw quite a few Black Mages and Genomes watching us closely as we walked. It was more than just a little unsettling to have all of those eyes watching us as we went on our way, or at least to me it was. Zidane flashed smiles at everyone we past, receiving smiles and nods in return.
"Here we are," he said, halting abruptly.
We stood on the final bit of planked walkway on the verge of walking down a little path and up some steps. I shrugged and started walking about but Zidane grabbed my arm to prevent me from continuing.
"What? If you want me to see something, I have to actually get there," I snapped, once again feeling put upon.
"I should tell you something before you go," he replying, ignoring my indignation. "I guess you could say it's a sacred place for the Black Mages. It's like a cemetery for them, although they don't quite understand what life and death means. They do understand that their friends are no longer here, though. They call it 'stopping."
I waited for him to go on before realizing he was finished with whatever he felt was absolutely necessary. Haha, cute pun. I brushed past him and walked slowly up the wooden stairs. I stared at what stood before me.
On a small hill, the Black Mages had constructed a little cemetery for themselves. Wooden poles stood with decorations such as hats or seashells, most likely mementos of the "person" who had met its end. Flowers waved gracefully in the small wind that had kicked up, making the scene seem almost cheerful.
Stopped They had all "stopped". Just like I was supposed to have done. That was what Garland had told me, wasn't it? That I would "stop", although he didn't phrase it exactly like that. I staggered a little and sat down in the dust, uncaring about whether or not I would get dirty. It hit me hard, all the thoughts I tried to stop came I a ferocious deluge.
just a Genome
Zidane my replacement
not perfect, just a worthless mistake
Dying, dying, dying
why should anyone else survive?
I am supposed to be dead! Garland would never had made such a foolish mistake, like let me live. He specifically shortened my life. The sands were almost gone. I should be "Dead," I snarled. I could feel a single tear fall down my cheek and from my chin, hitting my thigh. Not a tear of sorry, but one of utter frustration at the world and its workings.
Is all this to simply confuse me? Did Garland just deceive me into believing a falsehood? I found myself laughing and raised my arms above my head, staring at the sun. "You lied!" I declared. "Wrong! You were wrong, Garland!" I dropped my arms and found myself staring at the fluttering flowers.
A hand touched me lightly on the shoulder. The only reason I noticed its presence was the sound of soft footsteps that had preceded it. "Wasn't what you were doing exactly the same thing as what he was doing, Kuja? You were both play God," Zidane said.
The thoughts shattered like a mirror dropped from a great height. I found my feet but refused to look towards Zidane as his hand fell from my shoulder. "I was nothing like that man."
"Nothing? I distinctly remember you creating a race of people, just like Garland did," Zidane reminded.
"Nothing like him," I spat.
"I think you're very much like him. Probably why he was so afraid of you."
I laughed. "Him afraid of me? His creation? Oh, no, he was never afraid of me. Maybe cautious of what I would do, but he always had powers over me," I snarled.
"You really don't understand anything that went on, do you? Too busy caught up in little things to see what was really going on," Zidane replied irritably.
"Are you saying I've been unobservant?"
"Yes! Either that or you're lying to yourself!"
I turned to face him. "And what do you mean by that?"
"You've been too caught up in yourself to notice anything else, is what I mean! Do you realize that if you hadn't been so narcissistic you could have stopped Garland before he got as far as he did?" Zidane demanded furiously.
"And why would I have stopped him?" I snorted, getting fed up with the entire situation.
"You've never had an urge to just end all the chaos and actually live? You always wanted to be Garland's Angel of Death? You always wanted to be his servant, sent on tasks he didn't wish to dirty his own hands with? You enjoyed being a mindless creature?" he snarled back at me.
It hit me hard. How could he have known? I shook my head furiously, not wanting to admit how right he was. "No. You're the one who's mistaken, Zidane."
He smirked a little. "I honestly don't think so. You wouldn't have defied him if you really wished to remain his puppet."
puppet? Was that what I was? Only a child's toy manipulated by someone to do things I'd never do on my own? I made no reply to his accusation and he saw his chance to claim victory.
"He was just using you, and you let him use you. That's what really happened. But he saw something in you that frightened him. Something that could have amounted to something if you had let it. He didn't create me so much as to replace you, but to keep you obedient to him," Zidane continued harshly. "You could easily have crushed him with your power. He created you powerful enough to do that, which was his mistake. But you were too busy thinking about how beautiful and intelligent you were to realize your true potential!"
"You're the one that's confused, Zidane. You'd better stop before you say anything else you'll regret."
"It's sad, really, that your only defense is threats," he said softly, pity touching his voice. He turned away from me and walked off. I couldn't help but wonder if those claims were true.
I sat in the room of the inn once again, glowering at nothing in particular. After our argument I had stayed in the cemetery for a while before leaving. I hadn't seen any signs of Zidane, and I didn't ask any of the creatures that lived in the village as to his whereabouts. I had wandered back to the room to be alone.
My sulking was interrupted when Zidane strode into the room. He held a tray of food and thrust it into my hands. "Eat up," he said succinctly.
"And how do I know this isn't poisoned?" I asked dryly.
"I guess you really don't know, do you?" he snapped in return. He turned around, tail twitching irritably. If my own tail was visible, I'd see it doing the same thing.
"I'm not hungry," I said, knowing very well that my stomach was currently in the process of eating itself. I sounded like a petulant child refusing to eat vegetables, but I didn't care.
"Do I have to force you to eat it?" Zidane demanded, glaring intently at me over his shoulder.
"I'm not going to eat it," I said.
"One way or the other it'll get eaten by you," Zidane said threateningly, baring his teeth at me and turning all the way around to face me. "On your own or the unpleasant way with me shoving it down your throat."
"Why should I eat it?" I snapped.
"Because I said so."
"There's a good reason," I snorted. "How about if I say I'm not going to eat it, and that's because I said so?"
"Stop playing games with me. You'll need your strength tomorrow."
"Why?" I asked suspiciously.
"We're leaving," Zidane replied.
This threw me off completely. So much I didn't even think to reply with an insult. " Leaving?"
"Yes, leaving. I have a friend that I want you to meet. She'll do wonders for your attitude," Zidane replied. He left the room without another word.
My stomach grumbled at me angrily and I looked down at the food. I started eating, deciding he may have won the battle, but I would get him in the next. I continued glowering at everything, though.
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