It's been five years since I started this fan fiction. In those five years I've been through some life changing ordeals, yet this fic has stuck around like a good friend, and it's both sad and satisfying to finally say goodbye. It's amazing how a game can leave such a strong imprint on a person's life; the characters, the plot, the settings… Even though it's nearly fifteen years old, Final Fantasy IX remains my favourite and continues to resonate with me to this day. And that's the sign of good story telling. I hope in both 'Brick by Brick' and 'Foundations' I've managed to capture a mere shard of that memorability, and I hope it's been as much of a journey for you as it has been for me. For further news and info about this final chapter please visit by Bio page, but until then, this is a book we can finally close together.
Chapter Thirty Two
It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.
- William Shakespeare
"This has to be more than coincidence."
Three times Garnet had said this, yet silence remained its only companion. She expected an answer, but was it even a question? Did she hope someone would supply a rational explanation? Or was she simply voicing a fancy out loud in hopes it would become tangible? Perhaps if she said it enough times she would begin to convince herself it was so, maybe even sway those around her.
Regardless, nobody replied straight away, lost as they were in reflective silence. Zidane was slumped so low into the armchair that he was almost horizontal. His eyes were distant, expression unsettled. Mikoto sat at the dining table, chin perched elegantly on one hand while the fingers of her other drummed against its surface. Only Blank, who was unaware of certain peculiarities behind the recent event, seemed to be willing to ask the questions that remained unasked. He leaned forward from his spot on Mikoto's couch, eyes flicking from Garnet beside him, to Mikoto and to Zidane, and lastly to the problem in question.
"Sooo, I don't get it. What's the big deal here, exactly? Aren't you supposed to be happy? Isn't it like a Black Mage?"
"It's an abnormality," Mikoto said briskly. "A failure."
Her words roused Zidane from his state of broody contemplation and he rounded on her, prickling. "Hey, don't go hatin' on the failures! Just because your project is a failure doesn't automatically qualify it for the scrap heap. Afterall, in the eyes of Terra I'm a failure, but to Gaia I'm a walking success!"
Mikoto sighed, her fingers still drumming. "Failure or no, it doesn't make sense. It should be dead – no, not even dead. It should be empty."
"Is it empty?" Garnet asked.
Mikoto cast her a cross look. "Of course not, silly. Normal genomes just stand there not doing anything, whereas this thing..." Her cross look didn't waver as she turned it on Zidane. "And you. I can hear your thoughts whirring inside your head like cogs in a machine. Tell me what you know. Now. I have to agree with Garnet when she says this can't just be a coincidence."
Zidane lowered his face until his dirty blonde bangs obscured his eyes. A small smile tugged on his lips. "Heh, he had such a love for theatrics. I guess we were kinda alike, afterall."
"Zidane," Garnet said sharply. "Tell us. Tell us what you know. Please."
Zidane opened his mouth to speak, but at that moment, the baby started crying.
It wasn't a baby, really, but for some reason Garnet's mind had labelled it such. In truth, it was around two years old, though that was technically inaccurate too. In the words of Mikoto, it had the gross musculature of a two year old; its actual age was irrelevant. Perhaps Garnet had seen the pod exploding as its birth into the world, no less traumatic than natural childbirth, and dubbed it a baby accordingly. Or maybe it was its angelic face, untainted as newborn babe's.
He, she corrected. It's a he.
The little genome was swathed in an amalgamation of their clothing. He had emerged from the pod naked to the world, but there'd been no outfits small enough to fit him, so wrapping him in Mikoto's and Garnet's ponchos was all that could suffice when they found him at the bottom of the tank, wires jutting from his delicate pale skin, shivering against the sudden intrusion of noise, light, sound and cold as he was abruptly thrust into the world. He remained asleep but he wailed loudly, the cries of a toddler lost and alone. Mikoto had rapidly unhooked the wires, muttering in Terran and shaking her head, then once she was certain his lifeline was stable, they all retreated to Mikoto's home, shaken and confused.
He remained asleep, quietened by the blankets and being carried, but now, lying on the rug in front of Mikoto's fireplace, he began to stir again, bleating quietly and wriggling in his cocoon of ponchos.
"He's wakin' up," Blank stated redundantly.
"He might never wake up," Mikoto disagreed. "I don't understand what activated him in the first place. He wasn't meant to wake up ever."
The boy's uncomfortable bleats slowly loudened into wails. Everyone stared at him.
"So, uh, what should we do, Mik?" Blank asked.
Garnet glanced around the room. Blank teetered uncertainly on the edge of the sofa, Mikoto scowled from her place across the table, and Zidane retained his mien of uncharacteristic moodiness. Garnet sighed and rose from the couch.
"Well, we can't just leave him on the floor."
She crouched beside the little boy then hesitated, stalled perhaps by Zidane tentatively calling her name, but then she reached down and picked him up. He didn't fight her as she shifted him in her arms, heavier than she was expecting and all squalling arms and limbs in the confines of the ponchos, but when she finally had him cradled on her lap on the couch, his bawling stopped.
"There," Garnet said. "He just wanted to be held."
She looked up and caught Zidane staring. Their eyes locked for a moment, then he looked away, expression troubled.
"So, he's a genome, right?" Blank asked.
"This was your project, wasn't it?" Garnet said. "The one Vivi convinced you to pursue. This is the first step you took to creating new genomes."
Mikoto nodded sagely. "Correct. That boy is the result of my first experiment. I tried to create a vessel with a soul like Vivi did, but I failed. He was simply another empty vessel, just like the ones created on Terra. Even with the inferior technology of this planet I realised I could create genomes with relative ease… but what would be the point? Why create a race of empty drones that could never feel or evolve? And what happens when I die or if the machines get destroyed or some such thing? Without the drive to reproduce the genomes would just die out anyway." She shook her head. "I couldn't do that. I won't do that. I won't produce a race of mindless shells. I'd be no better than Garland. But then I saw what Vivi did for the mages…" She trailed off, her failure written in desolate strokes across her face. "I thought I could do that too using the methods that Vivi devised. But… I couldn't get the loose souls to take hold in the genome vessel. I battled with the formulae, poured endlessly over Vivi's, Kuja's and Garland's notes, adjusted and readjusted, thought inside and outside the box. But it was useless. Gaian souls won't fix to Terran vessels. It's like trying to force a circular peg into a square hole; it just won't work." She gestured at the baby genome, nose wrinkled. "I tried everything to affix a soul to that boy genome, even growing him from a fetal state, but it wouldn't work – it shouldn't work. The old models are defective and redundant on Gaia. I resolved to take the boy apart and create a new breed of genome using the genetic structure of the Black Mages but…"
Mikoto quietened, her eyes fixed on the sleeping bundle in Garnet's arms. The room was silent other than for the crackle of the fire beneath the hearth and the first hoots of the owls outside.
Garnet looked down at the boy. He wore the same genetic stamp as every other genome: pale skin and cherub face framed with buttery blonde hair. His little tail was covered in baby fur, curled loosely around his ankle. He wriggled in the ponchos, bleated once, then settled. Absently she brushed a lock of hair away from his brow and wondered if Zidane had looked that cute when he was a baby.
Garnet looked up. Mikoto was staring intently at Zidane, her fingers returned to drumming impatiently on the table's surface. There was an unhidden accusation in her tone.
Zidane averted his eyes from hers, a burdened expression drawing his features downward as he sank further into the chair. "Ehhh, it's… kind of a weird story."
"Try me," Mikoto said.
Zidane twiddled his thumbs, eyes staring at the ceiling as he searched for the words. "I don't remember that much from when I was, y'know… dead. After I expelled my soul from my body, it was like I was drifting in and out of consciousness except… I felt… incorporeal. I can't explain it very well but it was like… being a cloud or something. I was drifting, but with direction, like I was bein' pulled, or called. I had no choice but to follow the stream, and I didn't fight it. I couldn't fight it."
"The Crystal," Garnet said.
"And yet the closer I got to the Crystal the more of me returned. I sort of started to… wake up, I guess. I realised that I couldn't leave or search for my body, but I couldn't return to the Crystal either. I tried to head towards it but… it rejected me."
"Rejected you?" Mikoto repeated.
"I was trapped between this world and the next, alternatively losing and gaining sentience. I was just… waiting, I think."
"Waiting for what?" Blank asked.
"It's our souls," Mikoto said suddenly. She'd straightened in her chair, eyes wide with realisation. "I never thought… I just assumed. Gods, I'm stupid."
"What?" Garnet said. "What is it?"
"Think of the Crystal as the centre of an infinite spiderweb," Mikoto explained. "Each strand of the web is a different pathway on which souls walk, and each strand is attached to a different nexus of life, or in other words, a different planet. These strands don't touch or intertwine and are made exclusively for the souls that begin and end at the planet it connects to."
Zidane kept his eyes on the floor. "Terra's gone and so has that path to the Crystal. There's only the Gaian pathway left, but I'm not part of Gaia's cycle, so Terran souls – my soul – is exhumed over and over, forced back into this world and unable to pass on to the afterlife."
"Kuja," Garnet whispered. "That's why he was…" She frowned. "But what does this mean? What does that mean for… for you?"
"I was waiting," Zidane said, "to be reborn."
All eyes turned to the boy in Garnet's arms.
Suddenly he felt like a leaden weight to her. She stared down at his little face, both repulsed and intrigued, but he slept soundly, cheek pressed into the crook of her arm, warm breath feathering over her skin. He looked completely innocuous.
"Kuja," Mikoto breathed. "That boy has become the vessel for Kuja's soul."
"You're fuckin' kidding me!" Blank exclaimed. "So after all that he's just been reborn? Like, reincarnated?"
"Don't jump to conclusions," Garnet flared, feeling an unexpected surge of protectiveness towards the little boy. "Mikoto, can you shed any light on this?"
Mikoto's eyes were troubled. "Terran souls need Terran vessels. Kuja is the only remaining loose Terran soul on this planet. As a result, it seems he's taken root in this boy's body."
"Does it mean that this boy will grow up to be… Kuja?" Garnet asked.
Mikoto hesitated, then shook her head. "Not in the way that you're thinking. When the mages awakened they bore no memory of the previous lives of their occupant soul. Sure, they expressed talents that they could not have nurtured previous to their awakening, such as artistry and baking, but that is all. No memories, no personality traits. Although the soul had once belonged to Kuja, he is Kuja no more. Kuja is Kuja, and this is boy is this boy."
"His spirit lives on though," Zidane said. "The way that mine will live on, destined to be reborn over and over, reincarnated into someone new after each lifetime, until the Crystal creates a way for us to move on." He chuckled. "And Kuja was so scared to die… When he realised his soul was trapped on Gaia I bet he was proper ticked off that he'd have to give himself to an empty vessel."
Garnet's face softened. "Zidane…"
"So why did Kuja choose the baby genome as a host?" Blank asked. "Couldn't he just have, like, waited to be reborn as a monster? Or something new entirely?"
Mikoto shrugged. "I'm sure he had alternative motives that Zidane is more privy to."
Zidane shrugged. "Geez, I didn't know him that well."
Garnet looked down at the little boy's face. "Seems like fate, doesn't it? Or maybe it was an act of kindness on his part. His final thank you to you, Zidane. It feels like all the pieces have fallen into place."
Zidane rested his chin on his palm and locked eyes with Garnet. His serious countenance was cracked by a sudden grin. "Do I get a say in this?"
Blank's gaze darted between the queen and the thief. "What am I missing here?"
"It's the right thing to do," Garnet said.
"Vivi would approve," Zidane added.
"What's the right thing?" Blank barked. "Approve of what? Fuckdamn, you two are irritating as all hells!"
Mikoto sighed, slumping against the table. "Would you all just go home, already? I prefer the company of the owls."
Zidane brightened. "What about the tests?"
"My tests proved you're still an idiot."
"Gee, thanks. Don't you wanna have a look at the kid?"
She waved a hand dismissively. "You examine him."
At that moment, the bundle in Garnet's arms stirred and mewled simultaneously. She looked down in time to see the genome's eyes flutter open, and he fixed her with a gaze not blue, but one of honeyed lavender, the colour of the sky when the sun first inches over the horizon and heralds a new day.
Your Royal Highness,
Please excuse the blunt manner in which this letter is composed, but I simply can't waste words on pleasantries in light of your unexpected news. Without permission, I must cut straight to the point.
We received your letter yesterday morning via Armetician, and I have to confess it left us reeling with shock and… confusion. You can imagine Captain Steiner's reaction. In fact, I think he's still unconscious in the barracks, but that's inconsequential.
I'm gladdened by the announcement of Zidane's recovery and your return to your kingdom. It is long overdue and there is much to be discussed, though rest assured Alexandria thrives, which is a blessing considering that your unexpected arrival will arrest our attention for some time to come. I have yet to deduce how you plan to explain this to the populace, though of course you may do as you wish and not explain it at all. However, as I'm sure you can imagine, it must be thoroughly discussed before it is officially announced to the court.
(Although both presumptuous and superfluous of me, I would like to add here that I am exceedingly pleased for the both of you, regardless of these curious circumstances. The written word cannot express my feelings, so I shall wait until you've returned.)
We have carried out your instructions with haste as we anticipate your arrival shortly. The chamber adjacent to yours has been refurnished to your specifications, though I loathe to report that your confounded moogle has claimed the crib as his own, and a recent report confirmed that Zidane's chocobo has nested in the throw atop the bed. I shall await your instructions in regards of what to do about this before I act with force.
Regardless, please rest assured that all appropriate arrangements are being made and your requested invitations have been sent out. Doctor Tot has of course agreed to assume temporary residence in the castle to oversee your wellbeing, and Princess Eiko is apparently already on her way though it is barely four bells past midnight as I write this.
I hope this letter finds you well and in good spirits. Please send my regards to the prince consort, and the latest addition to the Alexandrian monarchy.
Garnet folded the letter and slotted it back into its envelope, fingers brushing the broken seal of a red rose. She sighed, briefly lamenting the freedom she had left back at the Black Mage Village and the responsibilities she must yet again take on once she returned to Alexandria. She folded the envelope into a small square then tucked it into her corset.
She resumed her walk, gaze roaming the lush folds of countryside unfurled beneath the hull of the Red Rose. The deck hummed beneath the heels of her boots as she strolled beside the railguards, her thoughts in disarray yet strangely aglow with excitement and joy. As she breached the open deck of the ship, her attention was inevitably drawn to the two figures at its centre, who were making quite a spectacle of themselves amidst the bustle of passing ship attendants.
"Orun, will you please get down from there, for the millionth fuc – err – flippin' time! How did you even get up there – no, no wait, why am I even asking? You're gonna be the frickin' death of me, I swear. I've done my fair share of babysittin' in my time and I – oi! Oi! Don't climb any higher! Shi- sugar!"
Garnet stifled a giggle behind her hand, then leaned over the inner railing that overlooked the decking below. Her subject in question sensed her presence and cocked her a furious glare.
"I hope you're not laughing," Blank said, "because I'm tellin' you now, an' I'm speaking from experience, that if he's anything like Zidane was he's gonna be a complete and utter shit."
"Laughin," said the tailed parrot from half way up the Red Rose's rigging.
"You won't be laughing in a minute!" Blank shouted a warning with an accusatory finger jabbed his way. "Get down!"
Garnet giggled again, then cupped her hand around her mouth and called, "Orun, get down, please! You might fall."
They named him Orunitia (or Prince Orunitia Tribal Alexandros the First, if one wanted to be political about it) without any fuss or disagreement, though Zidane had quickly shortened it to Orun, claiming Orunitia to still be too fancy for his liking.
The cause of the commotion paused in his upwards excursion, seemingly unperturbed by the seven foot drop to the planks below while demonstrating shocking dexterity despite being 'born' but yesterday. His little legs and arms were encircled around the roping, tail outstretched for balance, as he fixed Garnet with a measured look.
"Down, please," Garnet reinforced.
His bottom lip jutted out in a little pout, but he grudgingly did what he was told, slipping down the rope and landing indelicately on his rump. He looked to Garnet for guidance, who nodded and smiled. "Good boy. Now do what Blank says and I'll be with you in a moment."
Orun just stared at her, head slightly cocked, listening but still unable to understand Gaian. Mikoto warned them he would pick things up at an unholy rate, but his basis of language would still be Terran so it would take him a little while to adjust. Regardless, he got the gist of what everyone was saying, though seemed to be prone to suspicious bouts of selective hearing, as was the wont of most toddlers.
Blank sighed, hanging his head and scratching the back of neck. "Sweet Ramuh, I never thought I'd have to go through this again… Ah- ah! Wait! Don't just – ah goddamn it." He barely had time to catch his breath before Orun shot off again, intent on exploring the giant climbing frame that served as the Red Rose. Blank followed him at a jog, leaving a string of muted curses in his wake.
"Thanks, Uncle Blank!" Garnet called after him playfully. She received a none too child-friendly gesture from the redhead in return, but she couldn't say she blamed him. The poor thief had been through quite enough on this journey already.
She found Zidane at the bow of the ship, leaning against the railing to watch the panorama of dappled greens below. She tugged his tail playfully and he threw her a lazy smile.
"Hey." She paused, fumbling for words as she raked her fingers through her hair. "So… So, um. Are you sure…?"
"Dag, we've been over this –"
"I know, I know… I just don't want to pressure you –"
"But you'd tell me if I was?"
"I just… know it's kind of… sudden."
He shrugged. "Eh, it fits us, doesn't it?"
She leaned forward over the rails to catch his wandering eye, her hair whipped by the breeze. "What do you mean?"
He met her gaze, grinning. "We're a weird couple, ain't we? I don't think anything we do is normal or easy. It just seems kinda fitting that our first kid would be a reincarnation of our old enemy who exploded out of a machine that my bio-engineered sister created in an attempt to kick start an endangered race of aliens."
Garnet giggled despite herself. "Well if you put it like that…"
"I'm just sayin'."
Garnet smiled and delicately bobbed her shoulder. "I don't mind. It's so strange and sudden but… I love him. It's so weird, but I just do. I feel like he was meant for us, like he's a piece of our puzzle. Do you know what I mean?"
Zidane smiled back, his tail tracing wide, lazy arcs behind him. "Mmm."
"Do you think you're ready? To be a dad, I mean. I know you've got a lot happening what with your… powers. This is just going to add to the stress…"
Zidane looked at the landscape below, wind teasing his bangs. "Well, I wouldn't say 'ready', exactly. I still feel like a big kid. But as you said, this is the right thing to do. So I guess I gotta get on with it, y'know? Blank is, like, the best babysitter anyways. And I'm speakin' from experience. If he could keep me in line, he can keep anyone in line."
Garnet ran a finger along the polished wood of the railing. The wind swept fingers over her face, smelling faintly of pine needles and something like home. "Do you think he'll be like him?"
Zidane loosely clasped his hands over the rail and stared at them. "I dunno. It'll be interesting watching him grow up though. I mean, he won't ever be him, if that's what you're worried about, although I reckon there'll be little similarities, here and there. But ultimately, he'll be however we raise him to be, I guess."
"Kuja… He… wasn't bad, was he?"
Zidane's voice softened to almost a whisper. "I've learnt that things aren't ever as black and white as 'bad' and 'good'. I thought I hated him once… but I just didn't understand." He fiddled with a button on his cuff, suddenly melancholy. "I'm kinda glad he got this second chance."
"It's funny, isn't it?" Garnet said. "You were made to be Gaia's angel of death, yet you defied your purpose and have become Gaia's guardian. I feel that together, united in peace, we can build a better world on the foundations of our memories, with you and Kuja as its angels."
Zidane stared at her for a second, then scratched the back of his head bashfully. "Hehehe, you make me sound so important…"
Footsteps on the boardwalk interrupted their discussion and they both turned to see Blank striding towards them with Orun in his arms. He plopped the toddler on the planks at their feet, a hassled expression tousling his features. "I call for a beer break. He's your problem now."
Orun stared up at Garnet then held out his little arms, beseeching to her with a simple, "Mama!"
Garnet jolted with surprise despite herself, shocked by the simple label that shunted her fancy into reality. She fired Blank a look, asking, "Where did he even learn that?"
"Well, you are, aren't you?" Blank replied crossly. "That's what I called you, anyways."
Orun wriggled his fingers, straining on his tiptoes, upturned face wearing a needy pout.
"Huh," Zidane said, a big grin spreading helplessly across his face. "Well, fuck."
Blank punched him on the shoulder as he breezed by. "That goes for you too, daddy."
"Fuck!" Orun repeated as he fixed Zidane with a quizzical look.
Zidane winced. "Ehh, guess I gotta work on that daddy stuff, huh?"
Garnet lifted Orun into her arms, shushing him. "Goes hand in hand with the 'angel' business, I suppose."
Zidane turned around and leaned his back against the railing, tail curling around Garnet's calf as he snorted halfheartedly. "Sheesh, give a man a break."
Garnet elbowed him in the stomach, shifted Orun in her arms and then looked out over the rail just in time to see Alexandria rear into view from atop the jagged mountainscape, the sword of the castle a bright shard of silver light against the star speckled dawn.
"'Sat?" Orun asked.
Garnet smiled. "Home."