On the edge of South Figaro's port lay a thick iron beam, its sides bent out and twisted into sharp metal serrations and its edges charred sooty black. Blood dripped from its mangled face into the water beneath it. Such sights could be seen all over the smoke-stained village-- for the Battle of South Figaro, now ended, had been one of meteoric havoc. The Imperial forces had crashed against the town's shore and torn it asunder within the space of a night. By the time the sun had risen the next morning, every entrance, exit, and doorway were guarded by the soldiers of the Empire. It was a victory for Vector; it was a victory for Gestahl.
It was in celebration of this new gain that the banquet was held. The conquering of Figaro would be celebrated, it was said; soldiers and bureaucrats alike would be arm-in-arm in toasting the Empire's newest success. Gestahl, a man whose stern demeanour and wrinkled flesh spoke accurately of the soul beneath, sat glaring out onto the hall beneath him, celebrating nothing. Celebrations, after all, were a waste of both energy and time-- the emperor had noted the triumph of General Celes and the taking of South Figaro and there was simply nothing more to say on the matter. Yet despite his personal distaste for such affairs, he knew that others revelled in them. Morale could be boosted, pressure relieved, and valuable information gathered from wagging, liquored tongues. Celebrations had their purpose, yes indeed; so long as others did not realise their waste, they had their purpose.
Below his balcony, gathered around the long white dinner table on the floor of the hall, were those that had joined to cheer and applaud the Empire's newest victory, at the Emperor's behest. Veterans and wounded commandos roared out great horselaughs from their seats; the bureaucrats, unaccustomed to the presence of the others, stood stiffly upright and spoke with austere countenance and smooth, pointless words. Yet even pointless words could be of some use, the Emperor believed, and so he watched. He watched what words were spoken by whom and to whom they were spoken; he watched the body language of every man around the table and slouched against the walls. A veil of red curtain, emblazoned with the black rose of Vector, assured his privacy and so, from behind the drapes, he watched his drink-fuelled guests betray themselves-- at least until his generals arrived. Both Kefka and Leo would be in attendance and when they arrived the loose tongues of Gestahl's underlings would tighten. An unfortunate side effect, but a necessary one. Gestahl wanted information and a few choice windows into minds of his people, but the main objective of the evening was glory-- glory for the Empire. A reassurance to his people which required his Generals' attendance. Thus until they arrived, the aged eyes of the Emperor peered on, and the great mind behind those eyes opened and snapped with opportunity and trap.
Peterson spoke to Kwalka-- his face was alight with pride and his lips speaking of "...such glory as the Empire!"
Kwalka nodded vigorously, the same glint of civic spirit in his eyes.
That was good; Kwalka and Peterson were good men. Good soldiers. He owned their hearts to the core. Perhaps even their wives were a ventricle behind the Glorious Empire of Gestahl.
Nodding one single, curt nod to himself, the Emperor etched their talk into the canals of his memory. Later, upon reviewing troops listed for promotion, the names Peterson and Kwalka would float back to him. Yes, good soldiers. The Empire needed good soldiers.
His eyes wandered across the hall.
Commander Nicholai, tanned scalp bald but for the few remaining clumps of snow-white hair that remained, could not be missed. He stood ranting at a table edge, the focal point of the room's activity. His head snapping to and fro, he shouted at men sitting around him. Sweat flew from his forehead at each turn. "...children! Here and abroad... your... Sedi? Your son! If..." His lips roared, though Gestahl heard only the great amalgam voice of the room rather than Nicholai's own, aged one.
The listeners cast sheepish glances at each other in the face of his ravings. Were Nicholai any other man he might have been shouted down and thrown out of the dining hall by his peers; pity, however, gave men the longest of patience. The balding commander had lost his son four months prior, during the Doma Campaign. It seemed he had taken it to heart, and that heart had turned against the Empire. It was a shame. Gestahl had known Nicholai most of his life-- since even before the Glorious Empire had been forged. He was never as close as a brother, but as young men they and half a dozen others had shared a trench during the war of Vector's halves. A shame.
I'm afraid dear Nicholai has betrayed us.
Yes. It is a tragedy none of us expected. Yet we found him conspiring with the rebellion to kill me, and the proof of his treason was there before us. Of course, we tried to apprehend him peaceably, but he and the rebel drew their blades and charged. Such a shame.
"By the Empire..."
"And he had just lost his son."
"Emperor, if I may ask: what of his wife?"
As soon as she finishes detailing her account of her husband's activities of the past four months, she will be granted his lands and possessions, with all taxes being waved until the end of her natural life. The Empire takes care of its citizens.
--With reverence, they nod. With awed voices, they speak such cowed words as--"Of course, Emperor Gestahl."--and--"What generosity!"
Such a shame... Now, gentlemen, I must speak with my general. This ends the briefing. Dismissed.
"Thank you, Emperor Gestahl."
--The lackeys and believers shuffle out over the carpet and the door shuts with a soft, sliding click--
You're not REALLY giving that cow our land?!
Not at all, General. That said, I believe the widow Nicholai is deserving of lands somewhere in the east. What was that island-- Thamasa? She was always speaking of Thamasa, I'm sure. Perhaps she can bury her husband there, and find a little peace. Of course, she'll need a guide, Kefka.
Ueee hee hee hee!
"Nollick," he said.
A giant of a man in red and white approached, silent as a ghost despite his hulking frame. "Sire?"
"I want Nicholai called away from the banquet. Inform him that his Lieutenant has been in an accident."
"And will he have been, Sire?"
Nicholai's first Lieutenant was one Rickards Tamine. No family left, no wife or children. He came into the Imperial Army from off-continent.
"Yes. Watch Nicholai afterwards; perhaps another death might further sink his disposition and raise his voice."
"By your command, Emperor."
His eyes drifted past Nicholai's rantings and towards the corner of the hall. Two men huddled against it, their faces half-lit by torches on the wall. Their lips were too dim to make out, but it was obvious that neither were particularly happy-- they seemed bitter, as a point of fact. Every now and again the taller of the two would nod his head towards one of the officers sitting by the table and make a motion of annoyance; the other would agree in much the same manner. When either of them stepped forward just-so slightly, the light would swing down and light up their faces enough for the Emperor to see a sneer.
The question left for the Emperor, as he sat upon his balcony and behind his great red curtain, was a nigh-unknowable one-- were these two in the corner merely bitter lower-rankmen, matching chips on their shoulders, or were the like Nicholai, tasting the sweet fruits of the Empire as sour? "Nollick."
"The two men in the corner. I want the watched and I want their names-- quietly."
"By your command, Emperor."
The giant crept away, and the old man kept his gaze locked on the pair in the shadows. Soon enough there came a well dressed soldier, so conspicuous in the crowd that one might not even realise he had just arrived, who sat at the bottom corner of the dinner table. Coincidentally enough, this new soldier's seat was but a stone's throw away from the sneering men slouching against the wall.
With a half-empty glass of wine in his hand and a far-off look in his eye, no one would ever know just how sharp that well-dressed man's ears were.
Oh, yes-- and Leo?
There are two men I want you to take back to Doma with you. Simple soldiers-- Ren Haust and Kurna Tinfoot are their names. They need to see what war is. Show them combat, Leo-- the front lines. Show them the vigour of our enemies and the resolve of our people. Show them how the Empire truly battles an enemy. Let them see the sad price of peace, that they may bring this lesson to their fighting brothers.
Sir! Isn't Doma a little dangerous for those lessons, sir?
It is. But I would not send them to see ponies when I wish them to know horses. They have faced war in other theatres, Leo, and have not learned the true tragedy of it all-- they know only the sound of Magitek stomping and have forgotten the screams. They can smell the scent of oil as well as any dog, but they do not know the blood and sweat of a battlefield. We cannot have soldiers who lack this knowledge. We cannot have soldiers who do not know the price of war is paid in corpses.
I understand, Emperor. We cannot have killers in our army, only warriors.
That is it precisely, General. Dismissed.
The Imperial hawk watched on. It was an easy room to read, the hall, thanks in no small part to the veterans and war heroes he had invited. They, unlike the bureaucrats, did not know that banquets held by the Empire were stiff affairs meant for speaking of the Figaro king and the resistance in Narshe-- serious matters approached with no humour or insight other than the official Imperial view of the matter. Yet, to the men of war in attendance, this was but another chance for loose-lipped pre-meal chatter no different than could be found in a pub or Imperial cafeteria. And hard as the bureaucrats might have tried to resist, the atmosphere was infectious. Disorder seethed from wall to wall, and, as always, disorder betrayed men. Words were spoken with the heart instead of a politcally-concious tongue; eyes saw fellow human beings instead of high or higher-ranking rivals. Gestahl sat and took in the unwitting damnations for another hour. As the clock struck eight, all conversation died with the arrival of the first general. That was always the way of it-- men were never so cautious as when Kefka was afoot.
He swept into the hall with the same purposeful, stamping stalk that Kefka went everywhere with. As he barrelled through the doors, the guards stiffened, and Gestahl smiled from behind his curtain. The soldiers always stood a little straighter when Kefka was before them-- always held their weapons higher and stuck their chins out. Soldiers could afford to stand like that more often.
When the doors bursted open two men turned to see who had arrived. The first, a young bureaucrat from Tzen, went white at first glance and twisted back around in an instant. The second, an embassador to Figaro, was not so lucky as the first-- Kefka spotted him the moment his eyes went wide. "Welkon!" the clown cried out, strolling forward.
The grin of Kefka, a wide and bright monstrosity of crimson and shining alabaster, was in full bloom upon his face. His stomp had been modified to a strut, but it was equally as earnest-- Kefka shot at Welkon like an arrow and latched a silk-clothed arm around the embassador's shoulder. Young Welkon jumped at the touch and, in the dead silence which had so suddenly befallen the hall, Gestahl heard his shoes clap against the floor.
"G-G-General Kefka!" the jittery fellow stuttered out. "A pleasure."
"To be sure!" the General shouted, tipping his head forward. "How are the kids, Embassador?"
Welkon swallowed and nodded once. "Good, thank you. How are your affairs, General?" he blurted out.
The General laughed, the crowd flinched.
There was another thing about Kefka: the man's laugh could dissuade a bull from charging. It could steal attention better than the trumpet of an elephant, yet was eerier than the buzz of a floating wasp. It was a metal on metal screech that erupted from his throat and slithered in the ear.
"Haven't you heard, Welkon, my pal!" He slapped the Embassador on the back. "We've taken South Figaro!"
"Of course, General, I'd heard. Tha- that's why I'm--we're--we all--are here."
Kefka's smile faded into a frown; the only two expressions his mouth seemed capable of. "Then why did you ask me?"
The other guests shuffled slowly backwards, drawing away from the Embassador. Welkon's head whirled on its shoulders, searching for help. "I-I-I-I-- that is, General Kefka, I didn't mean to, ah, to--"
"Admit it, Welkon!" Kefka roared.
Far up on the curtained balcony, a sigh broke away from the Emperor's mustachioed lips. It seemed Kefka had not brought his more regal disposition. This would need to be ended very quickly and quietly-- it was a night of well-oiled celebratory conversation, not a night for scaring the citizens into line. Gestahl raised himself from his solid marble chair and frowned before heading towards the stairs.
"What?!" Welkon exclaimed.
He tried, weakly, to draw away, but the General's hand remained clamped to his back.
"You came here without any knowledge of our victory at Figaro!" the clown replied, eyes narrowing. "You came here... solely for the food!"
He shrieked out his laugh and, after a brief moment of realization, his audience nervously joined in. Forced chuckles and half-hearted giggling tumbled flatly from the mouths of bureaucrat and soldier alike. Even Welkon, a great deal of time after the rest of the guests, forced a smile onto his lips. The General treated him to a slap on the back. "Enjoy the dinner, mister Embassador," he said. "I must have a word with our gracious Emperor, but we simply must catch up later."
Kefka had already stomped past him. He cut his way through a crowd more than happy to accommodate his passage and step--leap, in some cases--out of the General's path. It was a short journey from one end of the hall to the other.
Two men in white and red guarded the doorway to Gestahl's balcony. They, too, stiffened at the clown's approach. "Men," he said, smiling. "Outta my way."
In a dim-lit, narrow hallway of grey and beige--a place whose only splash of colour came from the red-black Imperial banners hanging from the roof and the walls--Kefka found the Emperor waiting, a calm expression fixed on his face. He stood upon a stairway cutting into the wall, so rigid upon the last step that anyone who saw him might think him a statue-- if any part of the world still did not know the face of the Glorious Emperor Gestahl.
Kefka approached the stairs smiling. Even with so little light, Gestahl could see the General's bone-white teeth shining madly from between his lips.
"Emperor!" Kefka shouted. "How are you this--"
"Silence. Follow me."
The Emperor turned, catching a glimpse of a snarl from the clown, and trudged back up the stairs. The General followed.
When they entered a small, square room that lied between the Emperor's balcony and the main floor of the hall, Gestahl ordered the guards out and the doors shut. Upon the solid metal thump of the locks snapping shut, he turned to face the clown. "You will not be applying your particular talents tonight, Kefka."
"This is a night invented solely to reassure our people of my Empire's glory, you understand? Keep ahold of yourself."
A low growl grew in Kefka's throat. He had never been quite able to hide his emotions, Kefka. They were too brutal, too extreme, to be caged with any sufficiency-- it made the man terribly easy to read, when one knew him. When one didn't, his words were taken at value for the sheer audacity with which they were spoken. That was Kefka: audacious and blunt. The man knew nothing of subtlety and subterfuge. It was a weakness easily taken advantage of, in the Emperor's keen estimation.
"I've got it," Kefka snapped.
"See that you don't forget."
The clown's scowl flipped back into a smile. "Of course! Now let's change the subject, hm? To something a little more..." he searched for the proper word and tone before deciding on an adequate facsimile of Gestahl's voice and finishing: "...pressing."
"Subjects such as?"
"Let's sink our teeth into Doma, why don't we."
"General Leo is commanding, Kefka; this is final. We shall not speak of it again."
"Leo is a flower-picking pansy! He's a suckup and a weakling who only learned to haul around a sword 'cause he likes the shape. You ever see him invite a soldier to his dinner table? Let's just say the fella gets real acquainted with it-- from more than one angle! And slow! The idiot's got mounds and mounds of Magitek steely death waiting just behind Doma's wall, and what does he do? He sends in the armoured mice, his wimpy little soldiers! They can't use Magitek, can't use magic, can't even spell their own names! Crotchless cretins! Tiny little off-Vector maggots! Thick-headed, spineless, yellow little Leo couldn't knock down Doma if it were made of mud! He's got--"
"Kefka! Doma remains the greatest enemy still having strength enough to stand and face us. You are not the General you think you are, and I would not assign you to a place wherein we require victory. Doma is the only bump I have yet to flatten out on the Empire's road to glory and--"
"What about the Returners, oh glorious Gestahl?"
Kefka's face sharpened as he smiled; the Emperor's tightened as the stern calm broke into frowning annoyance. "That has, so far, been your concern, Kefka, and you haven't done a very good job of it."
The smiled flipped back into a scowl. "It's your soldiers! They're blind, all of them! Couldn't shoot the ass-side of Figaro castle, let alone its scrawny little king!"
"Yet another of your failures. Your recklessness in dealing with the King, his castle, and the Esper forced us to attack South Figaro--"
"Pfff," Kefka sighed, waving his hand. "South Figaro was next, anyway."
"Regardless, we had to take action far sooner than--"
"What does it matter? We beat their wretched little 'army' anyway!"
"General Celes defeated their army, Kefka. It seems she is far less incompetent than you are. Perhaps I should put her in charge of the Returners situation."
"What!" the clown shrieked, bouncing off a leg. "That mannish skirt?! She'd get distracted by a pretty new doll within the week!"
Gestahl turned and took slow, marching steps forward. Stroking his chin, he mused: "...and with Celes in charge of hunting down the Returners, and General Leo commanding the troops at Doma, that would leave... hmm... very little place for our third general, I suppose."
Another growl-- a louder growl. "I'm the one tracking down your precious Espers, Gestahl. Get rid of me, and all you've got is soldier-boy and his sword brigade! No more magic for you."
He flashed his wolfish smile and raised a gloved hand. Worming out from his palm, slow and cautious, was the yellow light of magic. It squirmed, winding through his long fingers, until it was a solid mass of red and orange. On the brink of another fit of laughter, Kefka hissed: "And we both know your glorious Empire needs magic."
He flung the burning mass against the wall where it shattered into wisps of smoke on impact, leaving only a thick black stain against the stone.
Gestahl turned. "You over-value your position, Kefka, but fear not. I'll not demote you so long as you continue your laborious attempts to serve me. But you will start getting better results, General; like your colleagues."
The smile flipped again into a scowl-- he hated to be belittled in such a manner. As with all things that writhed in Kefka's twisted mind, it was obvious on his face. How simple such a dangerous tool could be.
Kefka shook his head. "Leo can't get the job done at Doma," he said, deciding, it seemed, to veer back on course. "He's lacking in balls. Those pesky rascal Domans are just gonna keep pushing and pushing, and he'll push back just as softly. You need someone who'll stab them in the throat! Someone who'll burn down every brick in their stupid little wall and drag 'em through the fire!"
Laughter ripped through the air and Gestahl shook his head. "My will is spoken. Leo will continue affairs in Doma, while you shall continue your affairs in opening the gate. We will say no more on it."
Furious, Kefka hissed and stomped his way from wall to wall-- fists shaking and swinging with each step. The hot bile of magic flame rose from his skin, Gestahl could feel, but never broke the surface.
For all his insolence, the General knew his place and his power. Each was and would always be beneath the Glorious Emperor Gestahl, oh yes. Gestahl let an even smile spread across his wrinkled lips.
With one last hissing, growling sigh, Kefka stopped his pacing.
"Whatever you say, sire," he growled through clenched teeth.
How simple such a dangerous tool could be.
It was then, as both men stood contemplating the conversation, that the dinner hall erupted in cheer. The sound of applause and roars rumbled through the walls like dulled thunder. Kefka snorted. "There's the velvet lion, now."
"Take heed of your words, General. I'll remind you that you're here in a celebratory capacity."
"Oh, sure!" Kefka said, loosing another horselaugh. "I'm a regular barrel of celebration. Maybe I'll even share a joke or two with Leo, Emperor. You know, bring down the hatchet."
"Best behaviour, Kefka. Inform Leo that I wish his presence."
"Do I look like a maid?"
Gestahl stopped and cast a calm, sure glance back at the clown. His wrinkled smile had faded into an unmoving straight line but his eyes held the glint of threat-- a glint with just a hint smugness at its core. "You are whatever I decide you are, General," he said softly. "Should you prove yourself useless in any such capacity I choose, you will be removed. Do not forget this."
Liver-spotted hands met behind his back as the Emperor returned to his balcony. Kefka sneered at Gestahl as he left, fists tightly bound into themselves. "Just wait, you weak old crank," he hissed. "Your glorious little empire..."
His smile returned and another loud, shrieking slash of laughter bounced off the stone, following the old man up the stairway. Every guard between the two men of the Empire shuddered.
The dinner began formally with the entrance of Emperor Gestahl. He walked through the doorway to the raucous applause and bravo of the soldiers as well as the back-handed claps of the more dignified attendees. With a solemn, slow-paced stroll, the Emperor took his place at the head of the table--the seats on either side of him filled by his two Generals.
Upon the receiving of champagne, Leo rose and raised his glass. Save for the Emperor, all men seated at the table rose to meet him. "To General Celes," Leo said, nodding. "Whose well-fought victory in South Figaro has gained yet another stronghold for the Empire. And to the Emperor himself, whose vision and will have granted us this glorious Empire, itself. We salute you, sir!"
Cheers and the clinking of glass edges followed. Gestahl stood and, with a gentle smile and accepting nod, drank with them. After another few moments of applause, the dinner guests, Emperor, and Leo began to sit. When they were halfway to their seats, Kefka raised his glass again. "And if I might propose my own toast..."
The guests faltered, caught between sitting and standing. Some fell to their seats and scrambled back up, others were frozen for a heartbeat, unable to resolve the dilemma of mandatory respect for the General and a natural inclination to have absolutely nothing to do with him. Leo, face a monument to stone neutrality, stood without the slightest hesitation. The Emperor paused for a mere moment when a flash of panic ran through his eyes. Afterwards, carrying on much the same way as Leo, Gestahl stood. He granted Kefka one furious, threatening glance before returning to his calmer demeanour.
The old man damned his general in his mind for this-- for now he looked slightly the fool. The politics of a man's position were delicate things and the moment's hesitation he shared with his guests had cost him.
When all in attendance had risen again to their feet, Kefka went on. "The people of South Figaro have always been a rebellious lot," he said. "Even now, after so bloody and crushing a defeat, there are those that resist our Imperial forces. Oh, how they shall be struck down by our might! My dear companion, General Celes, will cut her way through every bit of opposition that rises from gutters-- man, woman, or child! Every foolish Figaron that picks themself up off the killing floor will be forced right back down. And so my friends, to the people of South Figaro: no matter how many times you kick them in the teeth they just smile and beg for more!"
He laughed, letting the sound ring on until all but Leo and Gestahl had taken their sips. The Emperor raised his glass higher. "To our hard-fought victory South Figaro."
He drank, as did the other General and the guests. With a wide, toothy grin on his face, Kefka joined the room in sitting. Neither the neutral glare of Leo nor the hidden, spiteful stare of Gestahl dampened his grin.
You are on thin ice, Kefka. Very thin ice.
Ah, now what's the matter? Didn't like my toast earlier?
How dare you attempt to discredit the Emperor in such a fashion! Your petty--
Oh, now the muscled pansy wants to enter the fray, eh?
Too long have you disgraced the Empire, Kefka! Every word you speak rots a little part of it; every man you pass becomes shadowed in doubt.
It figures you WOULD know the particulars of every man in Vector.
SILENCE! Your actions tonight have put you in a precarious position, General. As Leo says, you have tarnished my name and by extension the face of the Empire.
--He walks with slow and heavy steps; the steps of a man in thought.--
Very thin ice...
When table chatter began to re-clutter the air about the hall, Leo, boring into Kefka with wintry regard, spoke. "That was a reckless toast, General Kefka."
The clown smirked, tilting his head until the shadows swept down across his eyes. "Really, General Leo? And here I tried to model it after your strategy for Doma-- slow and useless."
"Generals, come," Gestahl said, smiling. "Calm down. Enjoy the evening; this is a celebration after all. No need to speak of any military matters save for the victory at Figaro."
Leo bowed from his seat. "Of course, Emperor."
Kefka smirked. "Anything you say, my liege of lieges."
The other man frowned.
About Kefka, my lord.
Yes, I've just seen him. Did he deliver my message to you?
He told me you beckoned. Was that the message?
Indeed. Kefka, though he may occasionally wish to stretch his wings, would never deliberately disobey my orders.
--The General starts to speak, then breaks off. It is hard for him to say it; he knows not why, but it is hard. He wishes not to, yet he must. None should die as Kefka has made them die; he will not betray them simply for some unknown fear lurking within his mind.--
Emperor, I believe he has been doing just that. In our battles--especially recently--Kefka has used... abhorrent tactics to achieve victory.
Oh? Of what sort, Leo?
Terrible sorts, sire. He has used cowardly, treacherous means in each encounter he has had the chance; he revels in his dishonour.
Is this about the Magitek again, General? I have told you of this already.
No, sire. Although his use of those machines is brutal, I understand their purpose, sir. I speak of means such as the use of poison, extortion and assassination. His conquering of the town of Carnade, three months ago, was gotten through use of the Violet Marjiniol on the civilian populace. It is an awful poison, sir. A man infected will bloat and pus for hours before death. Kefka dosed all of Carnade within a day-- his spies are to thank for it. Soldiers started falling by noon, and the civilians... the women and children, I'm afraid...
--He grunts, a sound halfway between a growl and lamenting sigh--
My heavens. I had no idea, Leo. What a dreadful venom.
--The General does not question the Emperor's lack of knowledge. He does not think about the man's access to field reports, the vase of Violet Marjiniols on the table in the Diplomacy room. The Emperor has been busy building the Empire, he has little time to go over such reports; as for the flowers, it is more than possible he doesn't know of their darker qualities. It is not rare knowledge but it is not common, either. More than possible, yes.--
Yes, Emperor. Kefka is without mercy or kindness; without humanity. Many times has he held ransom the children and families of leaders to defeat them. When he fought the last remnants of the former Vector Aggression Army, he won only but for his capture of Lord Chartar's daughter. He traded her life for the army's surrender-- and perhaps such a thing could be forgiven if it had ended there. A peaceful resolution might be cause for such a dishonour. Yet a battle ended with no body count is never Kefka's wish. As Chartar's men threw down their arms, they were slaughtered on the spot. Only the Lord and his daughter survived to see Kefka's real cruelty. The Lady Chartar was...
--He shakes his head, angry and regretful. How he wishes he could have been there to stop it; to stop all of Kefka's acts of malice.--
Kefka tortured them both, my lord; they were made to see the pain in each other's faces until the very last flame went out. After the Lady perished, Chartar lingered for hours before Kefka ordered him executed. When my troops returned to properly bury the bodies, we could not tell which belonged to whom.
What horror. No true battle, that. And though I had wished long ago that Chartar would die and in the doing free his soldiers from their oaths, never did I wish such a thing upon his head.
And you remember his business with the former King of Figaro, sir.
Ah, now, Leo. I granted him the assassination for but one purpose: to save the lives of the warriors on both sides. I still believe it was the proper course, though it pains me to say it.
Of course, sir. To save lives.
Indeed. I wore my teeth to stubs pondering the decision, but it had to be made.
Of course. But Kefka's brutality, his savagery, cannot be allowed any longer, sire. He is no true warrior, no true man. He treats lives as if they were worthless-- both his own men and the soldiers of our enemies are thrown away by the thousands, win or lose. He turns his eyes even to General Celes's and my own campaigns, trying to interfere and murder more Imperial troops! He's a traitor, sir!
General! Be mindful of what you say and how you say it. Despite your feelings he is a General of the Empire, as are you.
Of course, Emperor. It shall not happen again. But if you see the way he looks at Doma, in particular, you would see the glare of a jealous snake.
--The Emperor rests a hand on his General's shoulder--
I have seen it, Leo. Fear not, for Kefka will not be taking your place at Doma.
Thank you, Emperor. I never doubted it.
As to these other things you have told me, I shall be discussing them with the General. I must keep him in his place for only a little while more before his purpose is fulfilled, Leo. I wish it were not so, but I need him for certain duties. The unravelling of the Returners, for one.
Emperor, allow me to take that duty. I can find the rebel leaders and negotiate with them; if necessary, I can eliminate them with far less trouble than Kefka.
We have spoken of this before, General. To hunt those cowards in the hills I need a man that can think like them-- I need a man who can... slither into their dens and through their webs. You are a valiant and cunning warrior and a far greater leader than Kefka will ever be, but you are unsuited to this task. You think too honourably and with too great a compassion for life. These are not the ideals of the Returners. Kefka's control over the situation is my final will.
As you say, sire. But if I may: a great many reasons that the Returners fight is because of Kefka's brutality. Were he removed the Returners might be more willing to lay down their arms.
--The Emperor shakes his head with the slow, sad deliberateness of a man who has thought such thoughts before--
I am afraid that is not so, General. The rebels use such things as you have told me about as a rallying point, but it is only that. They will fight until I am dead and burned, despite their claims that they desire 'peace.'
--The General does not question his Emperor. He believes in his Emperor; his Emperor has earned his faith. This was an honourable man, one who could be trusted to keep the ideals of Empire alive. The greater good of his will could forgive the sad transgressions.--
Only a little while longer, Leo. Then we can allow the rose of the Empire to truly blossom.
When the quail was delivered to the table on fine white and red plates, the hall was flooded with the rich and swirling scent of food. After the table was set, every pair of eyes--be they soldier's, bureaucrat's, or general's--turned to the Emperor. He stood. "The Empire is fighting," he articulated, every word spoken with the same even, powerful tone. "It has fought within the boundaries of our home Vector and it has fought from its coast to the shore of Figaro. It has assailed the walls of Doman, and it has fought beyond. Every land it has charged so valiantly across has been granted peace in its wake. Those that resist this peace, those that would struggle on in the chaos of disunity and the futility of lives wasted on thievery and murder and capital-- those rebels and outlaws and resistors, they have been shunted out of the way of peace. The Empire shields those innocent, non-warring souls from those that would do them harm. The Empire is fighting for peace."
A symphony of applause, faithful, hopeful, unified applause, met the speech. The soldiers roared, the bureaucrats nodded; Leo did both, Kefka did neither. The clown, for the duration of the speech, spent most of his time glaring at the other General, smiling only when their eyes met and Leo's anger flashed onto his face for an instant. Then he would look away, and Kefka's smile would die off, back into a scowl.
The Emperor raised his hand for silence and went on.
"Many of you who sit at my table have fought for the Empire. I see your faces, changed so long ago from those of boys to those of men, and I lament. You have fought bravely, courageously, and with all of the will, honour, and discipline that I could ever have asked you for; yet you have paid a price for this. You have gained the wisdom brought by war, and you know of its horrors. The Empire thanks you, soldiers. You have sacrificed yourselves for its glorious cause; each and every one of you is a hero in his own right. As we enjoy the Imperial Bounty before us, know that the Empire recognizes this heroism, as the Empire recognizes all things. To the glory of order!"
And the table replied: "And the glory of the Empire!"
Gestahl favoured the soldiers with a deep nod, and the table erupted again in cheer as he sat. When at last the applause began to quiet, the Generals at Gestahl's sides had fallen into a locked stare of mutual hatred. The clown's lips curved up into a smile, while Leo's were pressed together in an unmoving straight line.. Kefka wrapped his fingers around his knife and raised it above the steaming bird on his plate. "So, Leo," he barked, stabbing the knife through the bird's chest and ripping it out with a wet shlick. "Having a good time?"
"I am honoured to be sitting by both my Emperor and his soldiers. And you, General? Can you say the same?"
The clown laugh, and the room quieted ever-so briefly. The metal clangs of silverware that cluttered the air around the table, the boisterous chuckles and soft titters, the heated conversations and the cooler ones, they all dropped off into silence for half an instant. When the laugh died, the noise sprang back to life-- it was louder than ever, the guests seeming to believe that noise would cover up the memory of their fear.
"I had more fun last time," Kefka replied. "You remember, right? When that Returner outpost was destroyed a few months ago?"
"As I'm sure you're aware I was fighting in Doma at the time and could not attend."
"Oh, yes!" Kefka exclaimed, nodding. "I remember how great a pity that was. I even toasted your efforts in Doma, that night! What was it I said? Emperor, you remember, don't you?"
The Emperor set his ancient eyes on the clown and, brow above them beginning to furrow, said: "General, I believe we spoke of this earlier."
"I don't believe so, Sire. But-- yes! That's it! I said: 'Here's to Leo-- perhaps in ten or twenty years we can have a dinner when he brings down Doma.' "
It was half-way through this memory of a toast, and unseen by generals and dinner guests alike, that the Emperor's hand dropped to the side of his chair and waved at the red-white guard at the door. The giant named Nollick, towering form as silent as ever, hurried to the table. When he arrived, he bent over the arm of Kefka's chair and whispered to the clown: "General, a guest, quite desperate to see you, has arrived. He says he is one of your spies, sir. If you'll follow me, I'll take you to him, sir."
Leo cast a glance at the giant, then returned his gaze to the general. "Something wrong, Kefka?"
"Fool! Is this the face of man with something wrong?"
He flashed his jagged smile across the table. "Many times over," Leo replied.
Thin ice?! Me?! I'm not the one lazing around Doma's gate with two thousand bored soldiers! I'm not the one that's scratching his ass while the nitwit king of Doma sits on his throne and laughs at the Empire!
You're the man who endangers their and every other Imperial soldier's life every moment you hold command, Kefka! You're the man who spits at our glorious nation at every opportunity!
Admit it: I get the job done, you don't! I'm the hero of this outfit, fanhead! I'm the one building your 'glorious nation!'
You? You're a joke, clown! You, who are unable to capture even one major figurehead of the Returners alive. You, who have sustained the highest casualty rate of all Imperial Generals despite fighting no major battles and gaining no new ground for the Empire! You, who has time and again proven himself a coward, a liar, and a man unbecoming of this--
I'm the joke?! Idiot! You idiot!
--He laughs; he laughs for a long, long time. He laughs until his eyes roll into his skull and his head lolls back. Then that head snaps forward and gives the other General a look of such conniving malice, of such sheer hatred and pure smugness that even the solid Leo is taken briefly aback. So sure of himself is this clown general; his eyes scream "I know something you don't," and his smile underlines the point. The Emperor moves forward to stand between his generals, looking at both of them in turn. Yet when the old man glances at Kefka, Leo spies something in his Sire's eyes-- a look. A look that is knowing and commands the clown's silence about something. It is the look of a conspirator when his partner in crime is about to spill the prize. But Leo does not catch a clear sight of it, and so fleeting is the moment that he doubts his own eyes. His Emperor is a great man; the only force able to bring peace to this war-weary world. His Emperor has his trust, and whatever secret Kefka thinks he has is of no concern. Whatever deranged fantasy he has created and taken as reality is no business of Leo's; he would, in fact, rather not have any further insight into the clown's bloody mind. So Leo quiets at the Emperor's insistence and thinks nothing more of the incident, save for those brief moments of minuscule doubt that will occur in the time to come-- those sparks that will flare up as the General looks into the face of each dead man under his command and hears the Magitek rumble into gear and stomp forward. The Empire is for peace, after all, and the great good of his ends can forgive the transgressions of his means. Himself and Gestahl? Perhaps the judges of the next world will tell them that they were wrong to sell their ideals for a world without war; but it will not matter then. No children will die from starvation or be caught in the crossfire of desperate soldiers, not after the Empire has grasped the reigns of the world. No women will die in the streets, no men will live in the gutters. No family need perish hungry and sobbing and leave their only son to survive in the plague-heavy sewers because of war and the division of human beings. His soul be damned, perhaps, for not adhering to his code of honour no matter the cost: at least no one else would have to live through such horrors.--
Kefka, your attendance at this celebration is no longer necessary. We will speak of your actions here tonight at a later date. Dismissed.
Whatever you say, 'my liege.'
--He stares at Leo on those last words, mocking with a face made for ridicule. Without so much as a nod, the clown general spins around and stomps out. Leo turns to his Emperor--
I apologise, sire. I lost hold of myself.
Understandable, Leo. Kefka is quite the nettlesome man.
That he would dare attempt such disrespect tonight...
Yes. Rest assured, this and more I will discuss with him shortly. He is but a pawn-- do not forget this.
Now let us return to the hall. We shall say Kefka is pursuing some business with the rebels, you understand?
--The Emperor nods, and they return to the dinner. It is a far lighter affair with the absence of Kefka, and the Glorious Gestahl catches many useful pieces of information on the lips of his citizens. Of his remaining General it can be said that he spoke wonderfully of the Empire at every opportunity and, when asked of Kefka, said only that he was a fellow Imperial General and not a single other ill word. This was the will of his Glorious Emperor, and if he had to stay quiet about the clown's brutality then so be it. He would not have to do so for much longer--
There are no Imperial soldiers left in South Figaro; they have been withdrawn. Vector stands in smoking ruins and Returners walk its charred battlements-- what few soldiers of the Empire remain stationed here walk with them. The dinner hall is collapsed rubble, as charred and utterly wrecked as the rest of the building above it. And yet below it, deep within the hold of the industrial city, there sits the stern, withered Emperor at a small table. Upon his cracked red and white plate lay a slab of fish meat and greenery. It is the last meal he will eat in Vector. For company there stands a General, seeming very much like a clown, at his side. They speak while Gestahl sups.
"Show no mercy, Kefka. The magicite must be brought to us by any means necessary, you understand?"
Kefka shrieks out a laugh-- it is less malevolent and more giddy than ever. "But of course!"
"Very good to hear it."
"But of course, Emperor," he says with a smile, "there is one tiny, minuscule, idiot thing that may interfere in our plans."
General Leo. He knew that this moment would come. The General would more than likely resist the slaughter-- and what a pity it was. Although his uses would be limited upon the finding of the Statues, Leo might still be utilized in keeping the remaining soldiers in line, or training them, perhaps. He was not a complete waste. "Inform him that you are simply bringing the magicite back to me. Give him the message, Kefka, that my orders are for him to stand down and return to the Sealed Cave. Tell him that I can explain it all, and need to speak with him post-haste. Be as vague as you can while still installing a sense of trust. I will speak with him when he joins us."
"As you wish, Excellency. But soldier-boy--well, you know what he's like. He'll go on and on about honour and goodness and rainbows and probably try to use his little tool on me-- 'cause you know he's just been dying to. What then, oh great sire?"
Yes, it was rather probable. Leo would almost certainly resist. Almost certainly. "If he disobeys my orders, then he is a traitor to the Empire with no further use to me. Execute him."
Now Kefka's screaming laugh is one of darkness and malice; now the giddiness serves only to fuel the hate, and every vicious moment of laughter echoes through the remains of Vector's main building. For the first time in the existence of his General, Gestahl flinches at the sound of it. "Kefka," he barks. "You need to be getting to Thamasa."
"Uee hee hee! I certainly do! Maybe I'll drop by the widow Nicholai's place, eh? See how the ol' bat is doing?"
More and more laughter. The Emperor tenses, and tries to appear perfectly all right; calm and in control as ever. He does not stop move his eyes from the place had been before the laughter, and he manages to keep from flinching; he doesn't stop eating, either. In fact, though he doesn't realise it, the Emperor begins to eat faster. So intent is he on making so many parts of himself appear normal, Gestahl absent-mindedly swallows a bit of juice from his mouthful of fish down the wrong pipe. He coughs and heaves over the table, eyes wide and straining while his lungs scream for air, until, with one final, retching hack, he is able to breathe properly again. His General, who moved not an inch through the whole affair, smiles at the gasping old man's red face. "Well it's been a positively delightful chat, Emperor. Enjoy your dinner."
The clown laughs his way up the stairs and echoes off into the distance. The Glorious Gestahl, swallowing a gulp of wine to soothe his angry throat, sits before his meal and frowns. Consulting his stomach, he decides that he has lost his appetite. The silken white napkin on his lap is thrown over the half-eaten meal on his plate.
He never should have invited Kefka to his dinners-- it never ended well.
All That Glitters Is Cold 3 Fanfic Competition
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