Okay, the beginning of the story, including a new, short opening chapter, can be found right here, if anyone’s interested. Updates for this have been a long while coming, but here we go ^^ Fairly soon, pre-game portion of the story will be over . . .
The First - a continuation
It was a grim, grey morning when we returned four days later. The Mist was thicker than ever, swirling sickeningly through the valley below. At its present density, a person would not be able to last more than a day in it without losing their minds or gaining permanent respiratory problems, at the very least.
Fortunately, I was above it. Well, I stood where it dissipated into the air, at any rate. The prototype was seated on the grassy floor, propped up by its own awkward weight.
For a long while, I did nothing but stare at it, contemplating what I was about to do, and ‘feeling’ the dead souls whirling around me. If I concentrated hard enough, I could still hear the quiet, varying patterns of thoughts that had been the last ever transmitted by the owners of the souls. Was it just a case of snagging a random one, and inebriating the prototype with it? That seemed almost too simple, but that was all that the brain of Evil Forest did.
How did Garland choose? Granted, he had live, viable souls to work with but even these dead ones still retained a vestige of their former consciousnesses. Whose soul did I possess? It had certainly belonged to someone else before my Maker had infused it with my body. My own personality seemed to have eroded away whatever essences of its previous owner might have remained. Still, it isn’t pleasant to know that your existence is a mere hand-me-down.
Hah! Like Garland would give a damn what soul went where. Otherwise, I might not have been so rebellious, and the Second not so pathetically sympathetic. So, I could follow on from the mistakes he had made – I would choose weak souls, the kind that wouldn’t question a superior’s authority. The kind that wouldn’t talk back to you – the kind that had no free will, no emotions to personalise their pseudo-lives.
Scowling at the silver dragon’s intrusion of my concentration, I glared at it. “What?”
“There are human beings not far from here.”
“Yes. In Treno. I know.”
“No. I mean that there is a group of wandering humans. I believe they are out hunting.”
I sighed. “How do you know?”
“I smell them. I hear their footfalls.”
“Gods, something always has to get in the way, doesn’t it? Can you give me any more details? The Mist is thickest here along the cliffs, but I don’t want interference from the residents of Gaia, if at all possible.”
“From the footsteps, I’d estimate three or four of them. Their scent is earthy, damp.”
“Earthy?” I took a long look in the direction the silver dragon was pointing to with its head. Through the thinning Mist, I could see the outline of the border gateway. “Probably from Dali, then. It’s a farming town, not doing so well lately. I’ve heard that the menfolk are having to go out and hunt for food to make up for the poor harvests this year.”
The dragon snorted. “Little more than arachnid prey around Treno. I should know. It tastes very rancid.”
“Oh? What do you prefer?”
“The Yans from the lands to the west are most enjoyable, if difficult to kill.”
“Hmm. I shan’t ask. How far away are these hunters?”
It cocked its head to one side, and fixed me with its blue gaze. “Not far. They shall cross this area soon, if they keep going. Should we move?”
“No. If worse comes to worst, I’ll just kill them.”
“ . . . that would be a little cruel.”
“This is a fine time to display your conscience!” I berated the dragon amusedly. “The quicker I get this done, the less chance of me having to actually do that!”
To demonstrate my focus, I shook out my arms and returned my attention to the prototype.
It’s difficult to explain in words how I did it. Looking back, I can only remember the blur of emotions and thoughts that passed through my mind as I bestowed false life upon the black mage. There was the maelstrom of restless souls streaming endlessly around me, and I diverted that flow towards the prototype. This, I intertwined with pure black magic, drawn from shadows of the elements of Gaia. I couldn’t contain a cry of delight when the stack of clothes and material began to shudder. The half-sentient soul of the black mage began to grow aware, so I quickly started to seal its innate abilities away. Once this was done, the creature would lose its capacity to choose, and thus its appreciation of morality . . .
Startled out of the steady trance I must have been engaged in for several minutes, I accidentally shattered the metaphorical seal.
I whirled to face the suspicious, approaching hunters, my favourite Flare spell already glowing in my right hand . . .
. . . and the silver dragon lurched towards me with a blasting roar that shook the entire cliff top. To avoid hitting the infernal beast, I swung the gathering magic out to the right, where the accumulated energy struck the ground bare metres away and flung me backwards. My left side hit solid ground, and I immediately attempted to prop myself up with both arms.
The right one plunged into empty air. Momentary panic seized me when I realised that I was balanced right on the cliff’s edge, but a surge of anger was enough to propel me back to my feet.
The hunters were gone. Apparently, the proximity of a hulking silver dragon and the sight of spontaneous combustion had sent them running. But they didn’t even account for half the source of my fury.
My prototype black mage was gone. Where, I didn’t know, but the bundle of clothes that had filled with pure black magic and an unsealed soul was not sitting where I had left it.
Maintaining a firm tone, the silver dragon said: “There was no need to attack those hunters on account of your impatience, Kuja.”
I continued to stare at the spot the little black mage had previously occupied. If it had fallen off the cliff . . . or maybe it had escaped across the clifftop, towards the forest!
“You have been gifted with phenomenal powers, Kuja, but you do not yet appreciate –”
“Godsdammit, will you shut up?” I screamed. “This is your fault! They were just hunters, for crying out loud! Lowly, peasant hunters from a lowly, tiny, insignificant little village! No one would have cared what happened to them. No one would probably even notice they were gone. And now I’ve lost the product of four years of work, silver dragon!”
“You did manage it before it went wrong. You can easily make another now.”
“It was a prototype! An experiment! I don’t have it perfected; I don’t even know how the bloody thing turned out! Don’t you understand how much time and effort and energy has just been swallowed up in the Mist? Why now, of all times, do you decide to grow morals, eh? I wish that damn spell had bloody well hit you!”
The silver dragon regarded me very coolly throughout my heartfelt rant. “You can’t just kill anything that crosses your path, Kuja. It was not my fault that you could not wait until the hunters were gone to continue the experiment.”
“Just shut up and start flapping! We have to search for the prototype now –”
“I think not. I think you need time to cool down, Kuja. And that time would be best spent alone.”
The dragon did start flapping its wings; unfortunately, I was not riding it at the time.
“Wait!” You treacherous, foul-minded, interfering, deserting little –
“Calm down, Kuja. When your mind is clearer, I will return to you.”
And then, for the first time ever, it blocked my thoughts from its own, and launched itself into the sky, gone from view before I even had time to blink.
There must have been about fifteen seconds of silence, before I vehemently toasted the nearest stand of trees with a Firaga spell. Apparently, this was just not going to be my day.
More to come tomorrow! ^^