Awakening to Dreams:
Chapter 6: Awakening
Waking was simpler than dying. More painful, but less terrifying. It came to him quickly, a sudden rush of sensation and then movement. He heard things – strange things – that might have come from a nightmare. The click of metal. A hum of machinery. And darkness. That was where the similarities ended. He felt pain. His body would not cooperate. He could feel the cold, something wet against his skin. He knew he could sleep no longer.
"Ugh…" He curled slowly to his side, touching at the heaviness of his head. His arms were cold, shivering. The dim lights of a monitor scorched through his eyelids.
"Yes, welcome back, Kuja."
There was the beeping of a heartbeat, the cold, disassociated rasp of his lungs. He felt up his arms and touched at a needle in his most prominent vein. "Ku…ja…" The word felt right on his tongue. He tried to sit up, but the needles tugged under his skin, and he fell back immediately.
"You will likely experience some disorientation in the following days."
The room swam with the effort of his thoughts. He forced his eyes open against the light and found the world in searing whites and yellows. Buttons were pressed, keys typed, and his creator clicked towards his field of vision. There was his beard, his ghastly face, those colorless eyes, and red. Kuja closed his eyes and forced the world into focus.
"I had extracted everything I could glean from your soul, so I removed it and placed you in stasis."
"Wh-what?" He tried to sit up again, ignoring the painful tug of the needles, but his arms wouldn't hold. His elbow gave, his palm slipped, and his shoulder slid against the metal table he'd been set against. "Ah…"
"There was no need for you to remain in consciousness. However, I use that in the past tense. I have found you a purpose."
No need. No need for him to…
He remembered then, as he struggled against the weight of his body. He remembered how he'd been led so callously to his end. He remembered how Garland had tried to explain that he was no longer needed. He remembered how he'd tried to sputter some protest. How that pain had claimed him. How his vision had swam with empty darkness.
How Garland had watched him die.
And now his master was watching him again, checking his vessel for signs of degradation, as though nothing had changed.
Garland asked if he could stand. Kuja said he didn't know, but he tried, pushing himself up with as much strength as he could manage, but his hands still slipped, and his arms still shook with the effort. His body wouldn't listen to him. His soul was not his own.
"Master Garland…?" he tried, but when his creator turned on him with an impassive "Yes?" he found that no words could come. He slowly lowered his eyes and pushed himself from the table's edge. His legs barely caught. A rush of blood sank from his head. His grip on the table turned almost painful, but he would not show weakness.
And he didn't for the rest of his instruction. For all of his practice in the control of his expression, he had never before managed emptiness when he felt as though he were dying...
Garland had allowed him a day or two to recover. "That should be enough," he'd said, "For your soul to properly sync with your vessel." So Kuja found himself once again wandering the paths of Bran Bal. He was alone but for the glassy stares of the Genomes. There was nothing here; his thoughts were enough to keep him occupied. More than enough.
"Gaian souls are not flowing quickly enough. I require someone to correct this anomaly. You will be my angel of death, so to speak."
"Unimportant. I spoke in foolish sentiment for a moment."
Strange. His master was never sentimental. Always logic, always reason. Never anything he could ever understand. But something had changed. Kuja had a purpose now, a true purpose beyond just the interest of his soul or body. There was something that he had to do, but he hadn't understood what that was.
"Master Garland, what is my purpose?"
"You will someday travel to Gaia and dispose of its people, but that is many years away. For now, I require only that become proficient in magic and study Gaian culture."
"And then you will need me?"
"If you are proficient at it."
And there was the catch. He had to work the hardest, become the strongest, act the smartest, if he was to be needed by Garland. And if he was not needed…
Kuja stopped and choked back the thought before it could send him back to the darker places of his mind, back to the curled pains of his body, and the memories of his betrayal. He didn't want to imagine death and the nothingness that had taken him. He didn't want to know that Garland had continued without him, that his entire life, up until this point, had been completely meaningless…
That would do nothing for him. Not now, when he had to be better than Garland needed. Remembering would only hold him back. And he couldn't afford that now.
Kuja stopped at the edge of Bran Bal, and stared off towards the planet's rising islands of fungi and stone, all at the sheer drop of a cliff. He could fall just as easily as any of his mindless brothers. He could shatter upon the unyielding stone, be swooped away by some dragon, or just stay here forever until he died, or maybe Garland found him.
Kuja sat upon the steps of Bran Bal and placed his chin upon his hands. If something didn't kill him, Garland would finish him. There was no doubt in his mind about that now. No matter how he worked, no matter what he did, there would always come that moment when he would no longer be needed. When Garland had gleamed enough. When Kuja had finished his work, and what then? There was nothing. There was no life to be had for a living tool.
No, Garland was the problem. Garland: his creator and destroyer. His life was held in the palm of his hand, and there was nothing Kuja could do…nothing…
He'd tried to force the thought away. It was stupid, suicidal even, but it kept coming back, as tantalizing as his own reflection. If Garland wasn't around, then maybe Kuja wouldn't fulfill his use. If Garland were dead, then maybe Kuja could live.
A dragon called, far far in the distance. It circled, a tiny speck high above the dangers of the ground, and then dove in a perfect streamline, too proud for subtlety, too powerful for caution. It dipped below the rocky foliage and disappeared in a flash of glistening silver feathers.
Maybe it wasn't crazy to think like he did. Maybe it wasn't a defect to want to live. He'd do everything he had to, anything at all, to keep his soul because he couldn't go back. He couldn't let himself die ever again.
In that moment, he had woken from his world of delusion and obedience. There was only work and pain, lies and plans, knowledge and what he knew he had to be. His sleep had ended, and he'd stepped into another life, like another reality.
Or, maybe, a dream.