Final Fantasy - All Series Fan Fiction ❯ Sympathy for the Damned ❯ Part 4 ( Chapter 4 )
"Sympathy for the Damned"
At first, he thought the sound was coming from a nearby, withered tree whose branches were bumping against the wall in the wind. Kuja emptied the last of the contents of his stomach and straightened back up with a disgusted grimace. His eyes slid of their own accord to the putrid stack of corpses lying against the outer wall. "I'm certainly not free of sin," he thought morbidly, "and I'm sure these fellows deserved this, but I don't intend to stay here and risk joining them!"
He took a deep breath and ordered his stomach to settle down. It was then that he heard the sound again-closer, this time. It wasn't the tree that was making the shuffling noise. He purposefully slowed his breathing and gathered energy for an attack spell, and he slowly turned to face the direction where the noise was coming from.
Kuja thought that the horror of finding Sephiroth's rotting victims was bad enough, but the sight that greeted him made him light-headed with fear. Garland was shuffling towards him. The old man's arms were outstretched, and he had a hungry, anticipating look on his weathered face. Kuja frowned and blinked, too disciplined to let his fear get the better of him. He quickly looked back at the pile of bodies. Yes, Garland's corpse was still crowning it. He backed away from the creature that was advancing on him as if it meant to hug him to its breast. "I don't know what you are, but it would be wise of you to stay your distance," he said softly.
The creature that looked like Garland paused and smiled intelligently at him. "Kuja," it said in a caressing tone. It raised its arms again, and its grin split abnormally wide on its face. "You've been baaaaad!"
As Kuja gaped, "Garland's" face split open at the mouth, and writhing tentacles pushed their way out of the opening. Each tentacle had a staring eye at the tip of it, and they all stared at the dumbfounded sorcerer. A sickening gurgle emitted from the depths of the cavity that was once a mouth. The long, bony hands reached out and made grasping motions as the figure advanced. A sickening, viscous red ooze began to spill out of the red gem that decorated the creature's breastplate, coating the reaching form.
"You must be joking," Kuja rasped with a combination of horror and disgust. He didn't wait to see what the being intended to do to him. He closed his eyes and unleashed the fury of his spell, confident that Ultima would take care of the doppelganger quickly and efficiently. There was a fizzle and a crackle of light around his hands, and nothing more. Kuja's eyes snapped open and he stared at his own hands with disbelief. "What went wrong?!" he cried, now feeling true panic. A grave-cold hand grasped his wrist, and he shouted and fought against it. The writhing tentacles made slurping sounds as they moved closer and closer to his face. "Let go of me!" he yelled fearfully, and he kicked out in desperation.
His booted foot connected solidly with the creature's torso, making a disgusting, wet smacking sound. The hand that held his wrist slackened its grasp just enough for him to yank free of it, and he fell back and moved towards the wall. Now he could see other figures shambling towards him, and even from the distance, they were all familiar to him. All were his victims. He was directly responsible for each of their deaths, and now they were coming for him. Their bodies broke apart as they stumbled towards him, and they grew fiendish appendages like "Garland" had.
"Kuuujaaa," they moaned.
"Stay away from me!" He shouted, breaking off a branch from the dead tree to use it as a weapon. He swung wildly as they closed in, barely keeping them at bay. They continued to advance on him until he was forced to climb onto the pile of corpses. Kuja glanced up and licked his dry lips. He might be able to hoist himself over the wall, if he could reach the edge. Casting a frightened look at the creatures that were nearly within touching distance of him, he tossed the branch aside and jumped, reaching up wildly with his hands. He missed, and a sob broke past his lips. "I am going to die horribly," he thought in terrified despair.
He stared longingly up at the wall, wishing that he could reach the edge. A figure emerged on the edge of the wall, and his heart stopped momentarily with hope. Sephiroth's glowing eyes looked down at him, and Kuja stared right back, refusing to beg for help. He flinched and fought as the nearest creature laid a clammy hand on his shoulder. He managed to shove it off, but another was reaching out to take its place.
Slowly, so slowly, Sephiroth extended a gloved hand down to the imperiled genome. He said nothing. He merely stared into his eyes with maddening indifference. Kuja knew that there was a chance the swordsman was merely taunting him. He expected Sephiroth to yank his hand out of reach and laugh at him when he reached up, but the lifeline remained. The sorcerer grasped Sephiroth's arm with both hands, and with his help, he hoisted himself back onto the wall. He fell into his dubious rescuer's arms with a shaken sob, and the movement caused them both to overbalance and fall backwards. Kuja squeezed his eyes shut and prepared for the jarring impact, but it never came. Reluctantly, he opened his eyes.
Sephiroth was cradling him in his arms as easily as if he was a child, and they hung suspended and level with the top of the wall. Kuja turned his head and stared down at the monstrosities-which were no longer there! "Where did they go?" he questioned wildly, twisting fearfully in his tall companion's arms.
Sephiroth tightened his hold on the slight young man in his arms so that he wouldn't fall to the ground. "Be still. They vanished when you re-entered the safe dome. They can't exist without your sins and fears to give them substance."
Kuja was on the verge of hyperventilation, and the whites of his eyes showed all the way around as he looked this way and that, then looked dubiously at Sephiroth. "They can't get in here?"
Sephiroth's lips quirked. "No, they can't. They only manifest when you're outside of the dome, where the environment renders your spells useless and your fears can give them shape. I warned you not to go over the wall, didn't I?"
Sephiroth's tone was chastising, but Kuja was beyond caring. He clung to the tall swordsman and shivered uncontrollably, feeling dizzy and sick and bewildered by what had just happened. It all kept running together in his mind, and he began to feel detached. Sephiroth frowned at him and smoothed some wild, pale strands of hair away from the genome's sweating forehead. He felt the smooth skin with his palm and sighed. "You're going into shock. Snap out of it." He shook him, but not roughly.
Kuja vaguely felt a stinging pain in his wrist, where the Garland apparition had grabbed him. He went from being cold to being hot almost instantly, and he moaned. Sephiroth glanced down and swore. "It scratched you. You've been poisoned."
Kuja looked up at him and blinked, trying to comprehend what he had said. Poisoned? Then, perhaps he was going to die, after all. He closed his eyes and rested his cheek against the other's hard chest. He just wanted to sleep. He felt himself soaring, felt the cool air rush over his fevered skin, and he smiled groggily. "Good girl, Silver," he whispered, reaching out to pet his dragon's neck.
Sephiroth flew through the corridors of the building and smirked as the sorcerer in his arms patted his leather jacket weakly. "Call me a girl again, and I'll drop you." It was a hollow threat. Kuja's silver-furred tail had come uncoiled, and it curled weakly around Sephiroth's thigh, as if trying to help the sickened genome to hold onto him. The action was strangely endearing to Sephiroth, and he glanced down at Kuja's upturned face, noting with disconcertment that the sorcerer's parted, shapely lips were practically riveting. That they were pale at the moment didn't distract from their appeal. He carried his burden into the bedroom that Kuja had chosen and lay him down on the large bed. Kuja had passed out, but his stubborn, soft-furred tail stubbornly remained twined about Sephiroth's upper thigh, and the swordsman had to wrestle with it for a moment to get it to release him.
Kuja moaned and struggled to open his eyes. His vision was blurred, but he could make out Sephiroth's features gazing down at him. Even distorted, his face was handsome. "Thank you…for being…polite enough…to let me die in a…comfortable bed," he whispered deliriously.
Sephiroth suddenly laughed. "You aren't going to die. This place will purge the poison from you and heal you, as it did when you first arrived. You're just lucky you got back over the wall before the poison got a chance to kill you out there. It's impossible to die in here, so long as you have a pulse. Even without a pulse, this purgatory would bring your body back to life."
Even as Sephiroth spoke, the terrible numbness was slowly going away, and Kuja's thoughts were clearing. He shuddered in pain and remembered horror. "The bodies outside…is that why you dumped them there? So that they couldn't come back?"
Sephiroth's smile faded, and his eyes became grim. "Yes. It was either get them out of here or let them come back to life and start it all over again. Someone was having a good laugh, watching us all kill one another over and over again. If my head hadn't been fucked up already when I came here, the constant killing, dying and resurrections would have insured that it got that way."
Kuja blinked to clear the fog from his eyes. "Why didn't you just leave me to die out there?"
Sephiroth regarded him thoughtfully for a few seconds, and then he shrugged and looked away. "It seemed like a good idea to pull you up, at the time. Besides, those bodies that you found…they weren't completely dead."
Kuja felt his stomach lurch again. "Pardon me?"
Sephiroth's intense eyes slid back to him. "They're all trapped in their husks, but unable to do anything. Think of it as a coma, of sorts. They aren't really sentient, but their souls haven't departed. If we were to drag them back over the wall, they would come to life by morning, and the perpetual slaughter would start all over again. Oh, we tried to be civil with one another and work out compromises, but the slightest insult would start a chain reaction. Eleven maniacs locked together in one place, even such an elegant one, doesn't make for a fluffy bedtime story."
"But you aren't worried that I might try to kill you?" Kuja was feeling better, at least, the world wasn't spinning anymore, his guts weren't on fire, and his vision was clearing.
Sephiroth shook his head. "You were driven to do what you did out of desperation and fear. The rest of us committed our crimes out of a desire for power. Of any of us, you probably have the most sanity and least motivation to kill on a whim." He tilted his head and reached out slowly, capturing one of the feathers that crowned Kuja's luxurious hair gently between his thumb and forefinger and stroking it.
Kuja sighed and closed his eyes. Shivers still wracked him, but they were the result of lingering terror. He couldn't remember the last time he had been so horrified as when he was attacked by those…things-and that was saying a lot. Sephiroth's weight left the bed, and Kuja's eyes snapped open. "Wait," he called hoarsely, "don't go."
Sephiroth stopped and turned to look at him. "You're safe, now."
Kuja moistened his lips nervously and darted suspicious looks at the shadows in the room. "I…I…that is, you can stay, if you like. No need to go off hiding in the shadows, you know."
Sephiroth lifted an eyebrow, and his mouth curved into a crooked smile as if he knew the excuse for what it was. "You're inviting me to stay in your bedroom?"
Kuja shrugged weakly. "If you like." He knew he was playing with fire, here, but his heart was beating like it was ready to explode from his chest, and every shadow in the room seemed like an enemy waiting until he was alone to devour him.
Sephiroth slowly walked back to the bed and sat on the edge. His eyes were troubled, as if he was trying to decide what to do and didn't understand why he was even debating. The wind picked up outside, and there was a distant rumble of thunder.
Kuja shivered again. "The storm I saw in the distance is coming closer, it seems." He normally liked the rain and everything to do with it…including thunder and lightning. Now the booming seemed ominous. A louder thunderclap broke nearby, and the sorcerer gave a little cry and hugged Sephiroth instinctively around the waist, feeling like a scared child.
Sephiroth gazed down at him for a moment, and then he began to stroke the genome's soft hair in long, slow motions. "They can't come in here," he reminded his companion, "they ceased to exist when you left their domain."
Kuja nodded, but he didn't let go. Better to embrace madness than to lay scared and huddling beneath the covers. Perhaps Sephiroth was a lunatic, but for the time being, he was an ally. If he meant to harm him, he wouldn't have bothered saving him in the first place. Feeling safer with the swordsman present, Kuja started to ask questions. "I couldn't…er…smell the bodies when I was on this side of the wall. Is that because of this `dome' you mentioned?"
"Yes. This place is surrounded by a protective bubble that filters chemicals out of the air and holds the malignancy of the surrounding land at bay. You can't see the dome, but the walls are its boundaries. I tried to cross the wasteland after disposing of the others, and I didn't make it further than a mile before I was forced to turn back. My demons wounded me badly by the time I struggled back over the wall, and I fell into a coma upon getting safely back in. I don't know how long I was out. You arrived a few weeks after that. That was my last attempt to escape this place."
Amazed that Sephiroth had told him this much, Kuja looked up at him. "Have you tried other means? I've gathered that the scenic route isn't going to be the way for us to get out of here."
Another slight smile flitted over Sephiroth's lips in amusement at the sorcerer's words. "I've searched the arrival room and every other room in this place. There was no energy pattern to use as an anchor. If there's a way out of here, I haven't found it." The tone of his voice said that if HE hadn't found it, it probably didn't exist. No ego, there.
Kuja winced as another peal of thunder rolled in the skies. "I gather that those…things…that attacked me were some sort of doppelgangers that take the form of what we're afraid of and who we've wronged?"
"Demons," corrected Sephiroth, "and yes, that's exactly what they do. In here, it's purgatory. Out there-" he nodded towards the window-"out there, it's Hell."
Kuja frowned and rested his head in Sephiroth's lap. He stared at the wall and tried to think of some way to get around all this. His respect for the brilliance and cruelty of this place grew. Yes, the prisoners were provided with comfortable living quarters, good food, games, books and crafts to occupy their time, and immortality. However, the being or beings responsible for building this place must have known that the criminals they hand-picked to keep here would never be able to resist the desire to rise above one another, even if it meant climbing over each other's corpses. They must have gotten a jolly laugh out of seeing Sephiroth and the others slay one another over and over again. Kuja could imagine it. One was slain, and when he awoke, he sought out his killer for revenge. And so on, and so fourth.
Kuja curled into a fetal position and closed his eyes. The process could start all over again, if those corpses were inside instead of outside of the wall. Sephiroth wasn't so bad, after all. What were his choices, really? He would have lived in struggle for eternity, fighting, dying, and regenerating until the end of time. Who has time to look for a way out, when you've got a compound full of bloodthirsty lunatics waiting for the opportunity to kill you? Yes, the swordsman was unbalanced and dangerous. Yes, he seemed to lack simple compassion (though for some reason, he hadn't told Kuja to get off of his lap, and he was still stroking his hair), but the genome decided that of all people assigned to this place, he was best off with Sephiroth as a companion. He didn't even want to think of what his life would have been like if Sephiroth hadn't been the last man standing and wasn't intelligent enough to toss the bodies over the wall, where they couldn't revive. The thought that it might have been Garland gave the genome chills.
Sephiroth's stroking grew bolder, sliding down Kuja's back. The sorcerer sighed in pleasure at the touch and snuggled even closer. He didn't see the expression of mingled longing, admiration and confusion on Sephiroth's face. He was soon asleep. Sephiroth stayed and continued to stroke him for a while, as he would a sleek cat. In many ways, Kuja reminded him of a cat. And a woman. And a teenaged male. Sephiroth frowned and shook his head. Angels were said to be androgynous beings, the very picture of beauty. The swordsman thought he understood. Garland had wanted an Angel of Death to collect souls on Gaia. He had created a genome that fit the image. That must be why Kuja seemed to have both male and female characteristics.
The sorcerer's tail seemed to have a mind of it's own. Though its owner was sound asleep, it decided to pay another visit to Sephiroth. The prehensile appendage curled gently around the wrist of the swordsman's stroking hand, just as Sephiroth was about to carefully lift Kuja off of him, tuck him in, and leave. Sephiroth snorted and stared at the tail, then at Kuja's pretty, seemingly innocent features. "You are a beligerent creature, aren't you?" he whispered.
The tail tightened its grip, and Sephiroth sighed and rested his back against the headboard of the bed. This apparently satisfied the tail, for it loosened its hold on his wrist. Sephiroth closed his eyes and rested.
-To be continued