Shattered Feathers Chapter 8
The Chanterelle Tavern picked up popularity in a matter of days and, weeks later, it was one of the most popular places to be. Word had spread quickly about the good food, good drinks, and good atmosphere. Whisperings had spread news about the barmaid as a fiery temptress. The place was full, the lunch crowd gossiping loudly amongst themselves. I stood behind the counter, in charge of the place while Rasha was out with some business (I hadnt bothered asking her just what it wasshe wouldnt have answered me if I had) to take care of.
Yaruu, a young woman Rasha hired on to serve as a waitress, bustled between the tables, occasionally glancing my way to wink. She seemed to me the opposite of Rashashort blonde hair and blue eyes, a pale face that still held some of the extra flesh of youth, although most of the male patrons of the tavern noticed her anatomy more than anything else. I constantly found myself reminded of Zidane and the other Genomes when I looked at herprobably merely the hair and eyes. It was unsettling, and I think she had picked up, soon after her arrival, that her flirtatious behavior towards me pricked. For some strange reason, she found it amusing that I didnt appreciate her attentions.
I tangled my fingers together, stretching my arms out behind me with a groan. Most of the stiffness in my body had withdrawn. My ribs were nearly healed, and the cuts were fading into pale scars. Rasha had kept me busy by training me to help her out. I still feel like slave labor.
Empty tray held in one hand, Yaruu flounced over to the counter. A grin was spread across her features and she winked broadly at me. The couple over there She motioned to them with a tilt of her head. would like two of the lunches.
Anything special, or just the normal? I asked, ignoring the way she leaned slightly forward.
Nope, Yaruu giggled. I began to wonder if she were suffering from some sort of dementia She seemed capable of only giggles and short sentences.
I shrugged, habitually running a hand through my hair. I turned away from Yaruu before she could say anything else particularly brilliant, working on putting together the demanded meals.
Halfway through chopping up some greens, Rasha entered the tavern. More blasted through the front door of the tavern than merely entered. Entered implies a sort of graceful, quiet, un-intrusive entrance. Or, perhaps, one that subtly called attention to oneself. Rashas entrance, however, was to slap the door wide open, causing it to smack loudly against the wall. Her expression implied death to the first person who said anything to her.
As I met Rashas eyes with my own, I felt a variety of emotions hit mehatred seemed the most prevalent in her gaze, followed closely by shock. I didnt understand what I was seeing and cocked my head to one side.
Rasha glanced around the tavern, letting out a nervous laugh. Oh, dear. Sorry about that. The wind snatched the door from my grasp. Why dont you all carry on? she laughed, but I could tell how strained her words were. She closed the door again, refusing to meet my gaze as she made her way through the tavern and into the kitchen.
I made my face as blank as possible as I finished the two lunches, turning around. Yaruu stood, waiting for me, on the other side of the counter, her eyes wide. I slid the plates over towards her. Take them their meals, I reminded her.
What was that all about? she whispered. She really had no talent in being subtle about things.
I dont think its any of your our business. Do your job, I replied. Even if I knew the answer, I wouldnt have told her. I had a sinking feeling that it had everything to do with me but I had no idea how.
In a flare of immaturity, Yaruu stuck her tongue out at me. She plopped the plates onto her tray and sauntered towards the table without another word.
Thank Gaia for that. I wanted to mutter the words aloud, but knew it wouldnt be exactly prudent of me. Instead, I kept myself content by letting my mind wander to what Rasha was angry about this time For once, I had no idea. I hadnt done anything to irritate hershe had left in a fine mood, to me and to Yaruu.
Maybe shes not angry with me. Its not like Im the center of everything, I scoffed to myself. Although, truth be told, I still felt as if I should be the center of everything
The rest of the day passed quite slowly. Rasha came out to help with the serving, delegating the task of waiter to meI decided it was safe to assume she didnt want to talk to me. Yaruu spent the whole time smirking in my direction, obviously thinking she knew I was the cause of Rashas sulky mood.
Anticipation for the closing of the tavern built up in me. I would have no chance of asking her what was wrong until the tavern was closed and Yaruu was off for home. By the time that generation came, I was tiredboth from running tasks for customers and wracking my mind for any answers.
Well, Im off! Yaruu called to Rasha, waving her arm cheerfully. Too cheerfully. I could have stuffed her head into a pile of filth And you. Try not to make her any angrier than she is, dear, she said as she turned to me, a patronizing smile on her face.
Say something nice Dont be rude. Shes Rashas only help. She saves you work. Be nice. Oh, good. Shes leaving. You dont have to say anything. Good thing, too I took a deep breath as the door closed behind her, releasing it slowly. It felt good to let the tension out At least I hadnt broken down and given her the satisfaction of seeing me angry.
I realized that now was the time to deal with what was gnawing at Rasha. I turned around slowly to look at her: standing still behind the counter, staring at me. A hand was knotted, held tightly to her breast. Her mouth was a fine, straight line.
I have to say, Rasha, Im completely confused, I said softly as I walked over to her. I cant think of a single thing that Ive done to anger you
Surprising me, Rasha lashed out and slapped me hard on the face when I had reached the other side of the counter. I reeled backwards, dumbfounded by the sudden violence. I couldnt find the words to ask what the matter was and merely stared at her, mouth working like a half-drowned fish.
Bastard, she spat. Disgusting excuse for a person. I should report you to the guard right now! I should have done that before I even came here, rather! Her chest heaved and I stared at her raised hand, her finger pointing accusingly at me.
What? The word burst from my mouth, sounding strangled and stupid. Sounds like something Yaruu would say
You know what you are! she replied shrilly. A vile bastard that will destroy everything in your path. I want you from my sight! I never wish to see you again. Leave, leavebefore I call the city guards down on you!
But Rasha? What have I done? I asked weakly, spinning from the impact of the slap and her words. I couldnt think what I had done, during the time she knew me, that would make her say such things.
Perhaps ? The voice came softly, surprising meI had begun to think I had imagined the entire thing.
I know the truth, Rasha said, voice becoming cold. Im surprised you havent murdered me by now. You murdered my brother! The last person in my family, and you killed him. And where did it get you? She stopped with a strangled hiss, slamming her fist down on the counter hard enough to make some of the glasses rattle.
Ive killed no one, I lied. no one in a long time. No one in this life!
You dont lie well under pressure, she snarled in return. I refrained from pointing out I could lie quite wellbetter than most people. But she was correct in that even my lie sounded weak in my won ears.
I havent killed your brother, I amended. That was much safer. I didnt think I had killed her brother. I didnt even know she had one. Ive been here all day and
It didnt happen today, she replied sharply. Its been some months. Quite a while, in the eyes of some. But its fresh in my mind, I just dont like to talk about it. Her eyes narrowed. But I guess youve killed too many people to remember just one person.
I took another step backwards, bumping into a table and almost losing my balance. To cover my mistake, I sat heavily on it. I dont understand? Oh, smart. Ask whether or not you understand. Rather convincing
Fool Youre a fool, Kuja. A fool and a failure, the voice whispered.
Torment me no longer! I cried, holding my arm up as if to protect me from any attack to come. I dont understand! What is going on? I didnt know who I directed my words toRasha or the haunting voice. Rasha was the one to reply, though.
I told you. I know who you are. You arent Kuja, a man. Youre Kuja, a destroyer. Youre Kuja, the power-hungry. What is there not to understand? Rasha replied. You are the one who torments me. You destroy everything I hold precious, then come here, under the wing of my dear friend! with your guise of innocence, and have me shelter the life of a person I should despise! Do you get some sick enjoyment out of making someone, who should hate with everything in her, fall in love with you? She stopped, panting out some of her anger.
I lowered my arm, eyes feeling as wide as twin moons. And who am I? I asked softly. So softly that, at first, I didnt think she heard me.
The person who almost completely destroyed Lindblum. The person who make wreckage of Cleyra and Burmeciawho incited the old queen to cause so much war in the name of power, she replied. Her voice had left some of the fury behind, seeming more exhausted than angry.
I had known itwhat else would have put her in such a mood? I had been trying to deny it, ever since the first indication that she knew my secret, but I could no longer run from the truth. How? I asked. I didnt try to defend myselfshe would only see that as weakness or insulting her own intelligence. No matter how hard I tried to defend myself, she would have seen through me. It would have made me even worse, if that were possible, in her eyes.
Word spreads, Kuja. People have learned the name and the appearance of the man who did all of thatyou. It had been kept as secret as possible, but sooner or later things filter into common knowledge. They described your armor perfectly. Youre a bit different, physically, from the descriptions but the name and the garb fit perfectly. Even the supercilious attitude you tote around with you. She paused, taking a long draught of a glass at her handI hadnt noticed it before then. No one else has realized it was you. They shrug the name Kuja aside, thinking you dead and not possibly the same person. Ive heard the name used on others, so I didnt jump to the conclusion just because of the name. How dare you come here, as if you were another person of the streets! How dare you play me for a fool! She stopped short, staring hard into my eyes.
Its not like that I replied brokenly. I could hear the weakness in my voice, shying away from it. To me, I sounded like a lost puppy begging for someone to take pity on it. Disgusting.
Oh? Really? Rasha shot back.
I didnt consciously do anything to hurt you. You have to realize that. I Trailing off, I ran a hand through my hair. I couldnt find any words suitable for what I wanted to tell her.
Who are you? What are you, more like it! And how could Zidane bring you to me like that? He
Dont bring Zidane into this, I cut in coldly. He must not have known about your brother, otherwise he wouldnt have brought me to you. He doesnt have a sadistic streak in him to do something like this. I failed to keep the distaste out of my voice.
Why did he keep the truth from me, then? she demanded.
It wasnt any of your business! It wasnt harming anyone! Did it hurt you to not know my past? My past? I snarled, standing up.
Your past should have ended long ago, with your death, she snapped in return.
I stared at her. Yes Yes. It should have. I should be dead. Do you not think that thought torments me? I should be long dead, nothing more than a rotting corpse somewhere.
Why arent you? Rasha hissed.
I couldnt reply.
Yes. Why arent you, Failure? I bet youd just love to know, wouldnt you. The voice went away as it camewithout any mark whatsoever.
Now. Why dont you leave. Ill let you go quietly, give you a day, before I tell the city guards about you, Rasha replied.
If my heart could stop cold, it probably did just then. And not let me explain myself? I knew I was pleading with her, clutching at the small hope that she would take pity on me. I dont want pity, though! Ive never wanted pity. Not from her, not from anyone! Pity had always been a distasteful thing to me
What could you possibly say that would change my mind? What could you possibly do, for that matter. Give me back Taka, and maybe Ill change my mind!
You know I cant do that I said softly. Now I know the name of one I killed They always say that names have power. I dont want this power.
Then youre useless to me, she snarled.
You asked me who am I and what I am. And yet you judge me by what Ive done. Nothing I did in that life answers either of those questions. They show how I was manipulated, yes, but not me. I could judge you by what Ive seen of you, yet that would be wrongyou would be outraged. How is this any different? I asked, voice surprisingly controlled for the emotions I felt.
Im not a murderer! Rasha shot back.
Neither was I.
Rasha stared at me. You? Innocent? Your kindmurderersare never anything but!
Really? You think so? You would assume such a thing? You are more foolish than I thought you were. Why not let me tell you And Ill stop, and leave, whenever you ask. The calmness in my voice and attitude seemed out of place. I felt like giving in to hysterics, although I had never held that those were very useful.
Speak your piece, then. Ill stop you when Ive had enough, she replied. She sat down on a stool, watching me closely. And I opened my mouth to do as told.
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