Why, hello, there. I haven't dabbled in this fandom for a while! I found this half-finished on my old PC and decided to give it the time of day. Just for funsies. The concept could be a drawn out monster of a fanfic BUT. I've whittled it down to 2 (3?) parts. (NB: Has it really been nearly 20 years since the game's release? I'm dyin' over here!)



It had seemed so simple at first.

The plan, if it could even be called that, had been a somewhat rash decision fuelled by petty emotion and now, on reflection, where once it has seemed such a simple thing in design and execution, was proving itself contradictory to the Greater Plan.

Kuja's focus rarely lapped far beyond his own personal investments. There was him, and there was the rest, and the rest were worthless footstalls upon which he would step to rise to a level where he would define himself to the stupid masses. Respectively, he did not waste much thought on anything that wasn't, well, him.

Then another was created. A second. A being on whom the spotlight shone so brightly Kuja's own spotlight seemed dim by comparison.


At first he lacked the word for that sickly twisted emotion in his chest, and when it came to him he was disgusted for feeling it at all, for by doing so he had acknowledged another, he had wasted his precious thought – his very energy! – on another.


And as with all the things that displeased Kuja in life, all the things that diminished his self-worth, he set out to destroy them. Usually horribly, with flames and torture and such. Well, that was only fair. None were as deserving of the spot light as he. Especially a mere genome. Worse yet, a foetal genome; incomplete, small, defenceless, weak. Garland's new pet project.

Kuja glared grimly at the limp body in his arms. The expression did not become him. The situation did not become him. How unseemly it was to question himself, to suggest he might be at fault.

Yet here he stood in the rain of the despicable planet Gaia, the unconscious body of a genome no more than five years in his arms, in the light of the twin moons and a single clocktower of some stinking city, and questioned his plan.

Kuja felt no regret. He couldn't. Garland hadn't programmed him to feel such. But he could scheme a grander scheme, oh yes. Perhaps breaking Garland's toy wasn't as ingenious as it was childish, he acknowledged. Kuja was smarter than that. There were ways far crueller than this to humiliate and defeat his master, and his new toy, too. They were merely steps for him to walk upon to reach the top, where he belonged. Among the gods.

The grimness evaporated. Kuja smiled. He returned to the Silver Dragon with his little brother in tow. Back to Terra.


10 Years Later

"You need to get a hobby."

If Kuja had startled Garland out of his reverie, Garland did not give him the satisfaction of showing it. His only acknowledgment of Kuja's appearance was the slightest adjustment to the telepathic link, allowing Kuja entry into his mind. Though Kuja had no doubt this was not for the purpose of welcoming his first son, but to glean a clearer pathway into Kuja's mind, worming out any rebellious thoughts that might surface.

"You're beginning to sound like them," Garland said. He did not turn to appraise Kuja, who had not bothered to change out of his Gaian attire (just to spite him), but continued to survey the landscape from atop the flat pinnacle of some giant mushroom-like structure. All around them Terra glowed a changeless blue. In the distance, there was an explosion. Garland continued, "Perhaps I should restrict your time on Gaia."

"I thought you wanted me to learn their dialect to better disguise my true purpose?" Kuja retorted huffily. "Or have you forgotten why you're here, old man?"

Garland glanced askance at him, white skin taut over black veins as his expression twitched with displeasure. "You are the one who forgets, First Born."

There was another explosion amid a cluster of tapering trees. A plume of smoke snaked between their boughs. Kuja pointedly ignored it.

"Still, I repeat my earlier sentiment: you do need to get a hobby. I need only to follow the sounds of destruction to find you."

"Isn't it wonderful?"


"The sound of destruction. Isn't it music to your ears? It should be. I programmed you to think as such."

Kuja made a delicate noise at the back of his throat, his version of a grunt, though his clever retort was swallowed by an explosion. He turned in time to watch one of Terra's crystalline trees shatter in a ball of blue fire. Shards of the trunk exploded outwards, sinking great fangs into the blue turf. They bounced harmlessly off the shield both Garland and Kuja summoned simultaneously, though the shockwave hit them with some force. Kuja sighed and smoothed down his hair.

"How crass," he muttered, then turned to Garland. "Anyway, don't you want to hear about the fruits of my endeavours on Gaia? I have quite the story to tell you."

"Kindly spare me another update on the recent alterations of Treno fashion."

"The king of Alexandria has sadly departed from the realm of the living."

Garland glanced at him. "So?"

"So, dearest Garland, now would be the perfect time to introduce myself to the grieving and undoubtedly vulnerable queen of Alexandria. A perfect time to plant the seeds of war into the splintering, dispirited court of Alexandria."

Garland snorted and crossed his arms. "Alexandria is tiny."

"So is the Second, but his power is undisputed by you. Alexandria is no different. It is influential. My mages are almost ready to go into production and with the queen's military force and backing –"

Another explosion rudely severed Kuja's sentence. He cast a dangerous look in the direction of another disintegrating tree while diverting debris with a forceful blast of magic. He fired a wave of irritation across the telepathic link that tied the genomes together, and was answered by a flicker of amusement on the other end. This time Kuja did snort, and shot an annoyed look at Garland. "And while I'm away exacting your aeons old desire that you seem to have forgotten about entirely, how do you intend to fill the time? Oh wait, you need not answer; you'll be here, eyeing up your precious Second and his 'unparalleled progress', as always."

Garland's skeletal features twisted into a rare and ugly smirk. He fixed his creation with a stare that reminded Kuja, for the briefest of moments, of why he had once feared the man. "On the contrary, that will be your task."


"I'm sending Zidane to Gaia with you."


This time Kuja's exclamation was joined by another's. He startled slightly at the proximity of the voice, treacherous alarm fleeing across the link before he could help it – he's fast! – although the owner of the voice paid him no heed. Instead his eyes were fixed on Garland, alight with both excitement and trepidation.

"I'm going to Gaia?"

The one called Zidane was dressed in the traditional sparring garb of the old Terrans, which had been removed from cryostasis just for him. They were tight fitting but flexible and extremely durable, cut in shades of blue. His long hair was pulled into a tail and dusted with the remains of Terra's flora.

Garland swept his dark cloak over one shoulder to expose the artificial heart pulsating at his core and contemplated the Second with something akin to satisfaction. "Yes, Zidane. It is time for you to observe Gaia's inhabitants first hand."

Kuja gauged Zidane's reaction with interest. The boy had never mastered the art of keeping one's tail still, despite Garland's best effort to beat the habit out of him, and even though Zidane was rather efficient at preventing his emotion and thoughts from filtering across the telepathic link (though Kuja credited this more to his inferior intellect than manipulation of will) it was useless if he could not control his tail. As of now, it was skittering restlessly back and forth, bristling slightly at the base.

Kuja sighed. "We're doomed."

"Then we're doomed either way," Garland snapped. "Zidane is going with you to meet the queen and you're going to watch him."

Zidane snorted, flicking the tip of his dagger in Kuja's direction but not bothering to grace him with a look. "I don't need to be minded like a child. Why not let me go alone? We don't need Kuja."

Despite his earlier criticism, Kuja felt his tail bristle and thrash, and he stepped forward, teeth bared and magic flaring to his fingertips. "You little brat! I'll show you the meaning of power –"

Zidane finally turned to him, eyes a mirror of his blades. "Whenever you're ready, you -"

"Enough!" Garland's blast of magic knocked both genomes off their feet. "I tire of your bickering. Zidane, you are powerful, but you do not have Kuja's knowledge and standing in Gaian society. Your presence alone would be useless. You will do as he instructs while on Gaia." Garland's eyes locked with Zidane's for a moment, and the telepathic link shuddered, then crumbled on Zidane's end. The genome nodded sullenly.

Kuja gritted his teeth. How dare they exclude him from an exchange? And to knock him into the dirt like a – like a peasant.

Still… the cogs of his design were fitting into place and the wheels were finally turning. Garland was unwittingly walking a path Kuja had constructed, and for that Kuja could forgive his discrepancy. Just this once.


When Kuja took Zidane to Alexandria, he made sure it was the busiest time of day. True, it was a pettiness on his part, but oh how he relished watching the brat flounder in the turmoil of Gaian life. And no time or place was more disgustingly tumultuous than Alexandria's midday market, when the cobbled square was choked with stinking, shouting, sweating crowds and the stalls hemmed them like sheep in a pen, creating a dizzying labyrinth of chaos.

Kuja breezed easily through it all. Zidane, on the other hand, was overwhelmed. He was pushed and grabbed and shouted at; his end of the link was a tangle of incoherent panic. He even had the audacity to grab Kuja's jacket in an attempt to steer himself out of the crowd, but of course Kuja slapped him away and promptly smoothed down any creases.

"Why can't we kill them?" Zidane snarled above the ruckus, earning himself no few strange looks.

Kuja raised a delicate eyebrow. We can, he said across the link, but not now, and not so many at once.

Stupid, Zidane retorted, eyes flicking to a stall where a mother and her two children were pedalling hand woven baskets. What's the point in waiting? Garland's plans are stupid.

Kuja turned to hide his smile, suddenly in a much brighter mood.


Zidane stared at himself in the mirror, face twisted in revulsion. He tugged at the ruffles of silk tied around his neck and spat, "I look like you."

Kuja almost dropped the broach he was trying to pin to his jacket. He shot a venomous look Zidane's way. "I do not look anything like you. You look like a common genome. And why haven't you hidden your tail like I instructed? You'll draw unwanted attention to yourself and – more importantly – to me."

"You like the attention," Zidane retorted as he shrugged off the tight, embroidered jacket Kuja had lent him. He flexed his arms and legs to test the elasticity of the fabric and nodded approvingly. He couldn't afford to be restricted in a fight.

"Stop that train of thought," Kuja said. "We're not fighting anyone, we're being diplomatic."

Zidane snorted. "I'll leave the sweet talking to you. It's the only thing you're useful for."

The link became poker hot for a moment, then simmered. Zidane turned around to look at his tail in the mirror. "And I'm not hiding it. Unlike you, I'm proud to be a genome."

Kuja grunted and something fickle played across the link that Zidane couldn't understand, so he ignored it and finished tying his daggers to his belt with strings of ribbon, as was apparently custom to do in court. Stupid. I can tear them off just as quick anyway.

"Don't say anything stupid," Kuja was saying. "In fact, don't say anything at all. If someone addresses you be short but polite. Keep in mind this is a customary service following the public funeral so keep your tone respectful – do you know what respect means? Don't even think about approaching the queen or anyone that looks particularly important. If you need to contact me do it telepathically. Remember not to talk in Terran. And keep your tail still for the gods' sake, you look like a dog. And –"

Zidane whirled around, teeth bared. "If you don't shut your mouth I swear to the sleeping gods I'll –"

"Most importantly," Kuja interrupted, "stay away from me."


Zidane had no problem following that particular order. The way Kuja slithered around the Gaian nobility left a bad taste in his mouth. The purpose for his creation - and Kuja's – was to speed up assimilation, so how did all this preening and sweet talking aid their Great Purpose? It would be far easier just to kill them all. How many were in one place right now? Under the roof of this gaudy castle? One hundred, two hundred – more?

Zidane restlessly cracked his knuckles. The tip of his blade's sheath tapped against his knee as he walked; a dare ignored.

Why don't I just kill them all now?

Zidane was privy to all of Garland's plans. Garland said they couldn't send too many Gaian souls to the Crystal at once, otherwise it might strain Terra's too much. He understood that, respected that even – so why not allow him to kill them city by city? A month or so at a time?

But he knew the answer.


A source of fear and paranoia for Garland; the only source of power for Gaia. And the only source of interest for Zidane, even more so now he had finally met Gaia's populace. The soft, fat, prissy populace. No wonder Kuja fit in here. They would not be a challenge, but the eidolons? Now they might be a fight worthwhile.

If I knew where to find them…

Zidane slipped out a side door and walked through a manicured garden. He squinted at the sky in distaste; it was the wrong shade of blue. There was a burning ball amidst its expanse; it was too hot. A strange force traced invisible fingers through his hair – was this wind? There was alien flora, garishly bright; they belched out an amalgamation of sickly smells and were host to countless buzzing insects. Winged creatures flitted through stumpy trees and whistled strange tunes. And everywhere there was movement, everywhere there was sound. Nothing was still. It was so unlike Terra it made him sick.

And the worst part? Gaia was boring. For all the chaos, there was nothing to do, nobody to fight. How did these stupid Gaians pass the time?

"You are not allowed out here."

The voice startled Zidane from his thoughts and provoked him into a rage. How could he call himself an Angel of Death if he was overwhelmed by this planet's terrain and so easily caught off guard? Well, Gaia's first sacrifice had presented itself, and Kuja be damned he wouldn't be deprived of this, nor allow Terra to be deprived a soul.

His hand eagerly shot to the hilt of a dagger, tail lashing, but when he turned there was only a girl. He wilted in disappointment, though kept his hand on his weapon in hope to deter conversation.

The girl was sitting on the lip of a small pond, contemplating the bright scaly creatures beneath the water's surface. Apparently his hostile body language wasn't going to frighten her off so easily because she continued to stare at him, awaiting response.

Somewhere inside the castle was the tinkling of wine glasses and softly offered condolences. He thought of Kuja, and took joy in a small, petty rebellion.

"I didn't realise it was off limits," he said to her, and because she did not speak in return, he added, "It's not like there are any signs."

The girl continued to stare at him, this time with some measure of expectancy and mild reprove. Was he meant to do something? Crap, maybe he should have listened to that idiot's lecture on how to address individuals of Gaian court. Zidane unabashedly returned her stare, wondering about her appearance for the first time. She had the kind of long, dark hair that was completely non-existent on Terra. Her eyes were alien to him; dark and rimmed with thick lashes, full of smouldering emotion that was so strange to see. They were wet looking too. He wondered if she had been crying. Weird. Zidane had only cried once when he'd been a stupid, scared child, and Garland had beaten that out of him. He shook away the memory, eyes drawn elsewhere. She was much curvier than the genome females, her body accentuated by the fabric of her dress, and as soon as the thought crossed his mind he was struck dumb by why he'd thought it at all.

The girl must have noticed his roaming eyes, for she self-consciously smoothed the white satin of her skirt and frowned. "What is your name, sir?"

"Uh… It – I'm… Zidane," he said.

"Zidane who and of where?" she asked, a note of exasperation in her voice. She gave him a once over and added, "Are you new here? A kitchen boy? A servant?"

"Wha – y-you…I am not a servant," he gritted, far more aggressively than intended.

The girl looked frightened, granting him a moment's satisfaction, then she rose to her feet, suddenly exuding authority with the natural ease of someone born with it. "Servant or no, I must respectfully ask you to leave. These gardens are off limits and I wish to be alone."

Zidane opened his mouth to argue, but found he didn't have anything to say. He harrumphed, then turned and stalked from the garden. Flowers wilted in his wake, and from the branches of an apple tree two doves dropped lifeless to the lawn.

He wondered how Kuja could stand the place.


Books recorded in detail the many creatures that had once thrived within the still waters of Terra's lakes – the giant blind Oorzi catfish of Sol Val, the many toothed brazarks that hunted the sharp finned visk of Bright Frae – but now they were all dead. Zidane wondered if they would return to Gaia's oceans when the planets assimilated. He thought of the great array of wildlife he had seen on his now numerous visits with Kuja. Would that life have to die for Terra's to exist? Countless species forever eradicated from time? For a second a shadow of doubt settled upon him, but he hurriedly shook it off.

The strong exist to eliminate the weak; it is Terra's destiny to consume Gaia. And it is my destiny to pave the way for Terra's new reign.

His tail thumped a nervous beat against the ground. He leaned over the edge of the lake and stared at his reflection. All the genomes looked the same, yet Gaia was an extraordinary canvas of diversity. Zidane used to think he was special because he had a soul, but everyone on Gaia had a soul, so he wasn't really that special, was he?

He'd assumed visiting Gaia would confirm his place in the world, certainly Kuja seemed unwaveringly certain of his, but it only worked to confuse him. The people of Gaia were greedy and fickle, but perhaps no more greedy than the Terrans who absorbed other lifeforms to sustain themselves. Sure, the Terrans were more advanced than the Gaians but did that give them the right to – to just…

He sat upright, blinking. What am I thinking?

He was losing his sense of purpose. Kuja never lost his sense of purpose. Contrarily, he seemed more driven than ever nowadays, deftly steering the queen down the path of war, while Zidane watched from the wings. Doing nothing.

Zidane looked at his hands, calloused from years of training. And what for? Gaia's angel of death, yet we play a game of politics. He clenched his fists. The quicker we assimilate the planets, the sooner I can feel… feel…

He didn't know. But it must be something more than this feeling of emptiness.

He sought Garland and found him in Pandemonium.

"Tell me where the eidolons are," he demanded without preamble.

Garland looked up from a chart of complex lines and equations, brow furrowed over bleached eyes. The silence he extended was a heavy thing, and Zidane shifted uncomfortably.

"It's – they're holding you back, right? From assimilation. So why don't we just kill them?"

Garland lowered the chart to his desk. His thoughts tunnelled into Zidane's mind, questing through his most private thoughts, ruthlessly invasive, because Zidane was his object to manipulate as he saw fit.

Zidane had long ago accepted that Garland saw him not as person in his own right, with dreams and opinions separate from the Great Purpose (and he was ashamed of those dreams and opinions for distracting him from his training, and Garland enforced that shame ardently), but as a machine. No different from the countless strange contraptions dotted throughout Terra; objects he could break, fix, improve and program at his whim. Zidane knew this, yet there was some strange sting of emotion inside of him that rebelled against this treatment. Something inside him that told him that he wasn't just a machine. Something that Kuja must feel too….

Kuja returned from Gaia once, when Zidane had been very young, and called him brother. Zidane hadn't known what brother was, had thought it some insult by the way Kuja laced the word with acidic satire. So he found the definition in a Terran book on social infrastructure, and was thoroughly confused. He tried to apply the term 'father' to Garland, but it seemed wrong, somehow. Yet when Kuja called him brother there was a prickle of pride underneath all that contempt and distaste that came hot on the heels of the First. Kuja didn't mean it with anything close to affection, yet it gave Zidane a sense of some greater purpose, a place in the world that went beyond the blueprints Garland laid out for him.

It made him feel like… a person.

Not that he could ever admit this. He kept it clamped deep, deep down his mind, away from Garland's wresting eyes, because he didn't doubt he would erase it as ruthlessly as he did with any other stray emotion that contended the Great Purpose.

Zidane puffed out his chest. He was afraid of Garland, afraid he might scour his mind and tear away his soul, his identity. But maybe he shouldn't be so afraid… "Tell me where they are. I'm strong enough to –"

"No." Garland's voice took on an otherworldly edge, rumbling through the twisted hives of Pandemonium. "You are not strong enough. Not yet. You must learn to be patient."

"But – but I am. I have been. For years I've – "

"Years?" Garland scoffed. "You have waited sixteen. I have waited thousands." He leaned forward ominously. "Thousands. And I have no time to spare on your tantrums."

"I'm not! I'm trying to – to understand. My purpose is to destroy the eidolons, right? Kuja accelerates the cycle of souls through means of war, and I annihilate any offensive attack when the time comes. When they begin to summon. But why are we waiting for them to find that power? Why not crush them first?"

Garland turned his gaze to the chart. "I know not where they are. They may never come to be again. But I fear they will mount a retaliation when backed into a corner. And when they do come, you will be ready to destroy them."

Zidane crossed his arms. "Why don't you let Kuja do it? He… he's strong."

Garland's mouth twitched. "Hmph. Only as strong as I made him to be."

"What do you mean?"

"He serves his purpose well, but he cannot reach the levels of power you can reach. He doesn't have the emotional capacity to attain that power."

"And I do?"


Zidane looked down at the floor. Emotional... capacity? But I don't… I don't feel anything…

"Go to Gaia, Zidane," Garland said. Zidane could feel him prodding through his mind again, looking for something maybe. Zidane had learnt a long time ago to let him; to bar Garland access was an act of futility.

"…Fine. But if I find the eidolons first, I will fulfil my purpose, with or without your blessing."

Garland grunted, and returned to his chart.


He returned to Alexandria Castle, looking for something, though he wasn't exactly sure what, and that's where he saw her again. The dark haired female in the white dress. Except this time she was wearing a white coat, and her face was thwart with dread and fear.

He watched her from a distance, curious. She was doing a piss poor job of sneaking, by the looks of it. Kuja and Garland alike had warned him off speaking to the natives, but there was something about her that piqued his curiosity. So he hopped over the balcony of the stairs and cut her off at the bottom. She feel backwards onto the steps with a shriek of alarm.

"Where are you going?" Zidane demanded.

She blinked up at him, face stiff with fear. Something triggered behind her eyes and her lips formed an 'o' of bemusement. "You…? The boy from the garden. What… what are you doing here?"

Zidane frowned. What was he doing here?

Her face changed again (so many emotions in such a short space of time; Zidane was so unused to seeing it) and she recoiled against the stairs. "You… I've seen you with Lord Kuja. Did he hire you to apprehend me? Is… is Mother behind this?"

"What? No, Kuja doesn't know I'm here. Why would he care about you anyways?"

"Then… then why are you here? What do you want?"

Zidane crossed his arms, leaning over her. "Are you trying to sneak out of the castle?"

Her expression crumpled. Her eyes went wet again. Zidane felt a tingle of both annoyance and trepidation to see it.

"I… Yes, I am. Please, sir, I know not who you are but you must let me pass. For Alexandria's sake! I beg you."

Zidane blinked at her, then shrugged. "I don't care where you go." I'll find you wherever you run to; you can't escape. None of you can.

She held out her hand. He stared at it for a moment, confused. Then he reluctantly reached down and grasped it, hoisted her to her feet. They stared at each other for a moment, palms clasped together, and he was struck by the strangeness of her features in contrast to the genomes.

At length, he asked, "What's your name?"

She told him. He snatched his hand out of hers. His stomach sank like lead in a lake. Shit.

She saw the look on his face. She whispered, "Please, Sir Zidane, let me pass. Please. Please."

For a moment he was snared by the glistening embers of her eyes, rich and warm, nothing like Terra. Nothing like the pallid emptiness of the genomes. Nothing like Kuja's cruel lavender or Garland's piercing white. They revealed the depth of her soul, her emotion. He was tempted to step aside, if only to see what emotion might play through her eyes next –

He struck her once around the head and she fell limply into his arms. He took her to the Queen.


The factory was underneath a small settlement that Kuja called a farm. There were no farms on Terra, because vegetation growth was suspended, and most of the native flora was dead anyway. Zidane lived off a diet of artificial substances manufactured by Garland that supplied all his nutritional requirements, but Zidane took little joy in eating. Yet another bizarre trait of the Gaians he could not understand. Seeing their food produce sprout from the rough dirt made him a bit queasy anyway.

But the factory itself showed little evidence of the farming community above. It was amusingly inferior compared to Terra's technology, but Zidane begrudgingly admitted Kuja had down well with the limited resources here. Clanking machines belched out Mist and curious eggs, which shifted along a conveyor belt to another room where they were 'hatched' into lifeless dolls, and then crammed into barrels for shipping convenience.

Like the genomes, Zidane thought, and for some reason a wave of melancholy settled over him. The strong manipulate the weak to fulfil their own purpose. He thought of Garland, then. Am I weak…? Is Garland weak for serving the Terrans?

Kuja was rambling about his own genius; the labour, the craftsmanship, the vision, the design… all his alone – and look what he had created! Life anew. He was a god. Better than Garland – better than –

"You stole the blueprints for these dolls from Master Garland," Zidane interrupted dismissively. He wasn't in the mood for Kuja's narcissism today. "Why didn't you just transport the life pods from Terra to here? It would have been more efficient. You could have adjusted the blueprint for the genome and turned them into warriors. Like me."

Kuja glared at him. "I refuse to grovel to that man. I did all this independently; I didn't steal anything. I created the mages from scratch; there's not a trace of genome DNA in them."

"It's still cloning," Zidane argued impetuously. "Are these to… to fight the eidolons?"

Kuja scoffed the word back at him. "Garland is a superstitious old fool. Don't you get it? Hmph. Of course you don't. The eidolons are tools of power; whoever wields them has the upper hand."

Zidane tore his gaze from the disconcerting faces of the mage dolls to stare at him. "But Master Garland wants us – me – to destroy them –"

"Yes, yes." Kuja airily waved away his concern. "He wants to destroy what he can't understand. The eidolons are products of Gaia's Crystal and are testament to its strength, hence why Terra's waning Crystal can't produce any. But if we could control them we could gain the upper hand. We could further speed up the assimilation."

"And that's what you want to do? Use the eidolons rather than destroy them?"

"They could end this war in one fell swoop in the right hands." He tittered sweetly. "Or should I say, the wrongs hands?"

Zidane's heart lurched with hunger and excitement. He took a step closer to his brother. "You have them? You know where they are?"

Kuja looked down his nose, face flat with scorn. At length, he said, "I suppose I've told you too much. The finale is far too delicious to spoil just yet. Shoo fly, go spy on someone else."

"I'm no spying on you!" Zidane said indignantly. "You wanted me to see your army, anyway."

Kuja grandiosely extended his arms. "And now you've seen it. Seen what a great mind can achieve when unbound from the chains of duty. Now I must return to Alexandria."

Zidane's mind burned with the image of the princess. He felt something strange then, a hollow sort of ache in his chest – what was it?


"I'm coming with you."

Kuja sent him a cross look, then shrugged. "Do what you will, little brother. Just don't get in my way or cause a scene."

The fat queen had lent Kuja her Red Rose to travel on. The natives of this backwater settlement gawked openly at its imposing design, but Zidane quietly thought it quite primitive, especially compared to the Invincible.

As Zidane was about to board, a batch of discarded dolls caught his eye. To his surprise most were activate, and were either bumbling around in a disorientated fashion, or twitching unresponsively on the ground. Some were grotesquely malformed, bulbous black growths tearing through their jackets. Some were missing limbs. Others were deflated like popped balloons.

Failures, Zidane realised.

He spotted one smaller than the others. It was crouched beside this pile of refuse, playing with a butterfly. It looked up briefly, perhaps sensing it was being watched, and blinked lamplight eyes in Zidane's direction. They stared at each other for a moment long enough that Zidane almost spoke to it, but then it went back to chasing the butterfly, and began to wander towards the nearby treeline.

"Failures," Kuja scoffed from behind him. "Not my error, of course. Some mechanical fault, I imagine. These farmers are buffoons; can barely count to ten much less handle a machine. The technology here is bad enough to move me to tears."

"Can they… Are they sentient? Like us? With souls?"

"Who cares," Kuja said. "Get on the ship, I have an appointment to keep."

"But they aren't… Aren't they supposed to fight? To destroy? Isn't that their inbuilt purpose?"

Kuja cast him a dark look. "They're manufactured soldiers, of course they fight. That's all they can do –"

Zidane pointed after the little one skipping into the forest, its hands now full of the wild flowers dotted throughout the meadow. "But that one –"

"These ones are failures, they are exempt from the norm. The villagers will toss them in a pile and set them on fire later on. Now get on the ship, Zidane, you test my patience."

The mage disappeared amidst the trees. Zidane watched for it for a while, blinked, then began to climb the ladder of the Red Rose.


He found her in prison. Not a typical prison, of course. Not for a princess. It had a canopy bed, large barred windows and a fur rug atop a polished marble floor, but it was still four walls and a locked door, he supposed, so what difference did the finery make?

She sat on a chair by the window, staring out at a flock of doves circulating an adjacent tower. There were guards by the door, but Zidane disposed of them with ease, then spent some time peering through the peep hole at her.

He didn't know what had driven him to seek her out. Maybe it was guilt. Maybe he wanted to look at her face again. Maybe he thought her interesting. All the reasons were bad reasons; they all contradicted his Great Purpose. His job was to kill the eidolons if and when they appeared; conversing with the natives was Kuja's job. But as far as he understood the brewing of war, the princess had to stay here. She was some kind of influential figure in Gaian politics, he knew that much.

He took the key from the guard's body and let himself in.

She shot up from the chair when she saw him, her face dissolving from fright to anger and back again. But she stood her ground and he felt a small spark of admiration for that.

"Hello," he said.

She gripped the back of the chair with both hands and offered him a hard stare. "What do you want? Are you going to hit me again?"

He gave a small smile and crossed his arms. "Only if you give me reason to, I suppose."

Her eyes betrayed a tinkling of fear, but still she did not back away or call for help. "You've dealt with the guards, I presume? Or can you walk so freely through the castle, like your brother?"

"Ah… Would you be happier if I said the former or the latter?"


"Uh. It's – well. The former."

She squeezed her eyes shut for a second, and when she opened them they were burning coals in a pit of fire. He liked that. He liked that her emotion sat poker-hot beneath her skin. No games or blank formality. It excited him.

"You ruined everything," she whispered. "You and your pompous brother." Her eyes grew wet. "Why… why didn't you let me pass?"

Zidane took a step towards her. It was heady talking to someone who radiated such intense emotion. He thought he could taste her passion. He realised how little the genomes had to offer in way company. Or Garland for that matter, stoic and stern; even Kuja, living in a stunted cloud of his own narcissism.

That's it, Zidane realised with a buzz of clarity. I'm lonely.

He began to laugh.

He laughed until his sides hurt. He laughed doubled over with his hands on his knees. He laughed until his eyes stung a bit. He laughed because it was so stupid, and he felt stupid; he was an Angel of Death; he would bring fire and destruction to a planet of life and revive a planet of death, and he was perhaps the most powerful being on the two planets, yet here he was admitting he was… he was – lonely. A lonely, bored, stunted genome craving clarification of his own stupid existence.

When he stopped laughing the princess was staring at him like he was mad. Maybe he was.

He sat heavily on the edge of her bed, abruptly fatigued (when was the last time he'd actually laughed?), and looked at her pensively. She backed away, more perturbed than scared. She glanced at the open door.

"Don't," he said. "Why do you want to leave anyway?"

"You stopped me," she replied frankly, "so you should know."

Zidane rubbed his chin. "You were running away from your problems. From the impending war."

Her eyes grew hot again. "I was not running away. I was seeking help from Regent Cid of Lindblum, my uncle. I thought maybe he could talk some sense into Mother… " She looked away, sadness a glaze over her eyes.

Sadness. Had he seen sadness before? He thought maybe he had somewhere…

"I'm afraid she's going to attack Lindblum. I'm afraid she's going to hurt people…"

"If she doesn't then someone else will," Zidane replied wryly. "You're just one person. What did you think you were gonna do?"

She threw him that hard look again. "Now I'll never know. Mother has imprisoned me here now. For power. Because of you."

The disdain in her voice summoned that strange prickle of shame again. This was bad. If Garland suspected his Angel might suffer remorse in light of his actions, he might deem him a failure and erase his mind or worse…

He thought of the malfunctioned bodies of the mages, burning on a pyre.

Zidane stood up and made to leave.

He was stopped by her hand on his sleeve. Her fingers were warm through his shirt. It seemed to him that she was made of fire. He looked over his shoulder and faced her burning gaze.

"You're not like him," she whispered. "I can see it in your eyes."

My eyes…?

"His eyes are full of hate." Her grip on his sleeve tightened. "I don't know what's going to happen, but I can't stop it alone. Help me. Please. Take me with you, Zidane."

His heart pounded a single hard beat against his chest at the sound of his name and for a brief, traitorous moment he genuinely considered –

Take me with you

He shook her off, slammed the door of her cell and locked it.

She did not call after him.