Kuja awoke to birdsong and the scent of wet grass.
A curious thing, really, that he should awake at all—for every fragmented memory that flitted past his tightly closed eyes, on the edge of his already dim consciousness, led to the same unavoidable conclusion. The events that preceded it had bled into one, be it of warring gods or a familiar, frantic voice as the colors slowly melted from the world—and he was—
His racing thoughts halted as blue eyes opened on a vast sky of the same shade, the soft forms of clouds drifting through it like ships against the waves. Moving his stiff neck painfully to one side, he could see that the sky gave way to a lush green field that carried far off into the distance.
Gulls careened by overhead, shrieking to each other as they sailed off toward a faraway sea. A gentle wind blew, teasing his silver hair into his face as it parted the stalks of grass that curled around him.
A rather trite afterlife, if the fate that lingered in his mind had proven true.
Testing this theory, he attempted to twitch the fingers of his left arm. His body obeyed the command. The very concrete feeling of joints and nerves acting together seemed to lend some credence to the idea that he was, indeed, still alive.
He would have to work on the where and how, but this was a start.
With a renewed effort, the mage now took a chance at getting up. Leaning weight onto his right arm, however, proved to be a disastrous miscalculation as an unbearable pain spiked up through his wrist. He cringed, biting back a groan.
Yes, he was very much alive. And perhaps not so fortunately, given that he appeared to be in the middle of nowhere and grievously injured.
He pulled himself into a sitting position on his good arm; his legs seemed willing to comply with this request. A cursory examination of the rest of his body revealed no other outstanding damage aside from bruising and positively ruined attire. His robes were tattered and bloody, though with whose blood he was unsure. And a hint of silver draped delicately over his ankle…
Revulsion rose in his throat at the sight. That was not supposed to be there.
What had become of his enchantment? It was a trifling thing to worry about in his present state, but the magics he employed to conceal it had no cause to fail. That opened up the possibility of some kind of silencing force, and this would unequivocally mean that he was lost and vulnerable.
He tried to channel energy into a basic healing spell, mind attempting to reach out to the flow of life around him with the effortlessness of habit. And found—
Nothing. Like a grasping hand cutting through empty air, he felt nothing at all.
Panic rose anew in his chest—lost and vulnerable. A great deal of the confidence he demonstrated was owed in no small part to his mastery of all things magic, something he could freely admit in the sanctity of his own mind. It would be very difficult to make sense of his situation if he was picked off in the wilderness by some marauding beast.
Carefully, Kuja rose to his feet. He could see the swell of a grassy hill a scarce distance away, rising over the surrounding land. A vantage point, perhaps.
If he could spot civilization, there would be people. People meant commerce, and commerce meant curatives for purchase. Surely he had been afflicted with some form of silencing, or otherwise simply expended his mana.
Though, his mind challenged him, that still did not explain his dispelled glamour.
He put this concern briefly out of his thoughts as he trudged up the hill, focusing on the dilemma at hand. Some voice in his foggy memories seemed to deride his survival efforts, a faceless heckling that caused a ripple of terror to flow through him.
He could almost picture its owner. Close, but not quite close enough.
The mage cradled his broken forearm to his middle as he surveyed the land beyond his position. The field dived down the hill to stretch out toward the horizon, a winding river running from east to west a short distance from where he stood. Beyond that, no more than a kilometer away, was what appeared to be a small village.
A sigh of relief escaped him. Respite, if not answers, would be in his near future.
The sound of children’s voices carrying on the wind greeted him when he arrived.
With the advantage of closer inspection, the town was even smaller than it had appeared from the nearby hill. Three tiny cottages were visible, evidence of repairs in progress where wood and stone were neatly stacked.
Wherever he was, Kuja thought, it had seen war very recently. War, too, seemed to resonate with some significance in his memories, but this was as tenuous in his mind as the rest. He could recall names, places, yet they lacked the context that would properly illuminate his connection to them.
His musing was interrupted with an excited shout.
“Hey! Who’s that?”
A child, rushing toward him. Three others were following, each face flushed from the exertion of running and play.
The leader who had spoken, a blonde boy of no more than seven, came to a stop. His eyes were wide as he stared up at the stranger—was it fear?
No, it was mere curiosity; the boy was smiling broadly now. It was only in the wisps of a half-remembered time—somewhere else—that fear and awe were all that he could command in others.
The children were quick to surround him, a tangle of intrigued voices.
“—never seen ‘em before!”
“Another one of Mama’s friends! Maybe?”
“Sarah—go get one of the grownups!”
The source of their interest scowled, raising his uninjured arm to quiet them. The throng of chatter rapidly dimmed to a few hushed whispers.
“Who is in charge of this place?” Kuja spoke harshly, glancing over the group with a cold gaze that immediately silenced the remaining voices. “I haven’t the time nor patience for the questions of children.”
“In charge?” a girl repeated. “You mean Mama?”
Another frown. These children spoke of a mother, but he saw no signs of any adult presence whatsoever. The small plot of farmland was unmanned, the building materials idle. Was one woman and her children the village’s only occupants? It seemed an absurd notion.
His question was abruptly answered as a female voice drew the attention of the group.
A young woman had joined them now, one of her hands being led along by a girl from the band of children while the other cradled a bundled infant to her chest. She parted the small crowd, greeted by a chorus of voices once again.
“All of you! This is no way to treat a visitor!” the woman reprimanded, her voice sterner than her youthful appearance suggested. She looked to be no older than twenty, if even that, and Kuja found himself wondering if it had indeed been war that left this place full of only women and children.
The woman’s attention turned to the visitor in question as the children fell quiet at her command.
“I’m so sorry for the children’s behavior! We rarely see any unfamiliar faces around here.” The smile she had worn was soon to vanish, however, as she took note of his state. Her expression became one of concern. “Oh—no! What happened? You look—”
“Terrible. Yes,” the mage finished dryly. “I’m a—traveling merchant. I was ambushed by highwaymen and—if you’ve any supplies to spare, I’m certain I could make it worth your while.”
Fortunate that lying still came relatively easy to him. Realistically, he had nothing to bargain with, but if he could manage to restore his magic, payment would be hardly necessary where force would suffice.
“O-of course!” The woman nodded, her eyes now trailing over the damage that he had sustained. When her gaze lingered a bit too long on the twitch of silver behind him, he cleared his throat irritably. “We don’t have a shop here in Mobliz, but someone knows how to treat injuries. We wouldn’t—we don’t want payment.”
Kuja smirked. That would save him some effort, at least.
“There—” She motioned to one of the shabby cottages behind them. “The children will take you over to meet her. They call her ‘Mama’, but—her name is Terra.”
The word knocked the wind from his lungs, the fingers of his uninjured hand flexing into a tight fist.
That was it. The nexus of his tattered memories. At the very center, holding them together.
A harsh blue light that he had been born of—
—and a woman’s soft smile.
A perfect coincidence.
He winced. The dull ache that had accompanied his attempts to remember—it had swelled into a searing pain. Too much, too fast.
His lost memories had perhaps been better left forgotten.
“Are you all right?”
The woman’s voice again, recalling him to the present. Her face was painted with worry, holding her baby closer.
“Y-yes. It’s—” The mage shook his head. “It’s nothing. Please, bring me to your healer.”
A girl’s small hand took the one that hung limp at his side, her bright blue eyes and warm smile beaming up at him. The familiar underpinnings of disgust that would accompany unnecessary contact—he felt it briefly, as the child pulled him insistently toward the nearby cottage, but could summon no will to shun the gesture. His mind was still reeling with the thought, the question—
Was it her?
The hazy memory of a smile and gentle giggle, foggy images that rapidly began to fill in and take shape.
It couldn’t be anyone else.
One of the children tapped on the door once, twice.
“I won’t forget…”
And it opened to reveal a young woman, a face framed with blonde curls and eyes of a striking shade of amethyst. Smiling, always smiling, at the children that eagerly crowded around her.
“…the kindness you’ve shown me.”
Blue met violet, and the smile fell from her face.