Shattered Feathers Chapter 8

By Tsarmina

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 hadn’t bothered asking her just what it was—she wouldn’t 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 Rasha—short 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 her—probably 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 didn’t 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 Most of the stiffness in my body had withdrawn.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. Rasha’s 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 Rasha’s eyes with my own, I felt a variety of emotions hit me—hatred seemed the most prevalent in her gaze, followed closely by shock. I didn’t 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 don’t 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 don’t think it’s any of your…our business. Do your job,” I replied. Even if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 hadn’t done anything to irritate her—she had left in a fine mood, to me and to Yaruu.

Maybe she’s not angry with me. It’s not like I’m 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 me—I decided it was safe to assume she didn’t want to talk to me. Yaruu spent the whole time smirking in my direction, obviously thinking she knew I was the cause of Rasha’s 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 tired—both from running tasks for customers and wracking my mind for any answers.

“Well, I’m 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… Don’t be rude. She’s Rasha’s only help. She saves you work. Be nice. Oh, good. She’s leaving. You don’t 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 hadn’t 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, I’m completely confused,” I said softly as I walked over to her. “I can’t think of a single thing that I’ve 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 couldn’t 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, leave—before 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 couldn’t think what I had done, during the time she knew me, that would make her say such things.

Perhaps…? The voice came softly, surprising me—I had begun to think I had imagined the entire thing.

“I know the truth,” Rasha said, voice becoming cold. “I’m surprised you haven’t 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.

“I’ve killed…no one,” I lied. …no one in a long time. No one in this life!

“You don’t lie well under pressure,” she snarled in return. I refrained from pointing out I could lie quite well—better than most people. But she was correct in that even my lie sounded weak in my won ears.

“I haven’t killed your brother,” I amended. That was much safer. I didn’t think I had killed her brother. I didn’t even know she had one. “I’ve been here all day and—”

“It didn’t happen today,” she replied sharply. “It’s been some months. Quite a while, in the eyes of some. But it’s fresh in my mind, I just don’t like to talk about it.” Her eyes narrowed. “But I guess you’ve 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…don’t understand?” Oh, smart. Ask whether or not you understand. Rather convincing…

Fool… You’re 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 don’t understand! What is going on?” I didn’t know who I directed my words to—Rasha or the haunting voice. Rasha was the one to reply, though.

“I told you. I know who you are. You aren’t ‘Kuja, a man.’ You’re ‘Kuja, a destroyer.’ You’re ‘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 didn’t think she heard me.

“The person who almost completely destroyed Lindblum. The person who make wreckage of Cleyra and Burmecia—who 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 it—what 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 didn’t try to defend myself—she 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 that—you. It had been kept as secret as possible, but sooner or later things filter into common knowledge. They described your armor perfectly. You’re 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 hand—I hadn’t 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. I’ve heard the name used on others, so I didn’t 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.

“It’s 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 didn’t consciously do anything to hurt you. You have to realize that. I…” Trailing off, I ran a hand through my hair. I couldn’t 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—”

“Don’t bring Zidane into this,” I cut in coldly. “He must not have known about your brother, otherwise he wouldn’t have brought me to you. He doesn’t 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 wasn’t any of your business! It wasn’t 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 aren’t you?” Rasha hissed.

I couldn’t reply.

Yes. Why aren’t you, Failure? I bet you’d just love to know, wouldn’t you. The voice went away as it came—without any mark whatsoever.

“Now. Why don’t you leave. I’ll 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 don’t want pity, though! I’ve 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 I’ll change my mind!”

“You know I can’t do that…” I said softly. Now I know the name of one I killed… They always say that names have power. I don’t want this power.

“Then you’re useless to me,” she snarled.

“You asked me who am I…and what I am. And yet you judge me by what I’ve 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 I’ve seen of you, yet that would be wrong—you would be outraged. How is this any different?” I asked, voice surprisingly controlled for the emotions I felt.

“I’m not a murderer!” Rasha shot back.

“Neither was I.”

Rasha stared at me. “You? Innocent? Your kind—murderers—are 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 I’ll 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. I’ll stop you when I’ve had enough,” she replied. She sat down on a stool, watching me closely. And I opened my mouth to do as told.


Chapter 9

Final Fantasy 9 Fanfic