Walkabout Chapter 10
The sandy-haired boy named Cap that was what his mum had called him anyway, but her face and voice were fading from his memory more and more as time passed was used to seeing strange sights in his favoured haunts around the Figaro Trainyards. It was the only working railway line in the world now, the tracks and cars salvaged from the abandoned state of Doma two years before for the express purpose of building a safe shipping route through the desert to Figaro Castle, and as such the place got an awful lot of visitors coming from distant lands to see this new and exciting mechanical wonder with their own eyes. They were easy to spot, with their over-awed expressions and strange clothes, and even easier to target if you were careful and quick and slippery enough. Cap was, and he did very well for himself lifting money-pouches from the easily distracted and (to his mind) stupid people who thronged the streets of South Figaro, paying no attention to their surroundings or the little boy with his hand halfway down their pockets. If they were going to be that dumb they didnt deserve the money anyway, thats what he thought. Hed had a lot of time to think about it, sleeping in damp alleyways and the doorways of pubs and packing crates when it rained, and quite frankly he didnt care if they thought it was wrong. They had never fought the rats for a crust of bread or knocked another kid over the head to steal a mouldy apple, so they didnt have any say in the matter. Whenever the guards managed to grab him he always caught hell and a beating, but the temporary discomfort wasnt enough to deter the boy for long. Hunger was a greater master than boot or cane.
But even with four years of long experience behind him, four years of pinching pennies from anyone and everyone who crossed his path, this new mark was a strange and baffling source of interest. Other children living on the streets were no new thing; there were throngs of boys and girls competing for space and food, most of them orphans from when the world went awry. This girl was different though, so far out of the leagues of the matchstick-girls and flower-sellers and petty purse-grabbers she might as well have been on another planet entirely. That wasnt gonna stop Cap from taking what he could get from her as soon as he got close enough to do so, but it did interest him a great deal. Cap liked interesting people, even when he was running away from them with a handful of gold pieces clutched tightly in his palm.
He had been following her since she wandered into one of the alleyways near the train station, leaning on a vicious-looking black dog for support. It looked more like a wolf than any dog Cap had ever seen, but why would a teenage girl be carting around a wolf? Cap had decided it must be an exceptionally mean-looking dog and turned his attention to the worn leather pack the girl wore over her shoulders. She was a dirty, tattered thing, her clothes covered with trail-dust and sweat and unidentifiable stains, but with a satchel that nice she must have had money at some point. Hopefully some of it was still inside the parcel, within easy reach of Caps grasping, lightning-quick fingers. He edged closer as they moved towards the switching yards, the crowds thinning out just enough to give him space to run if he needed it. Perfect.
The girl paused to look about her, obviously confused as to where she should go next, and in that moment of indecision Cap struck and struck fast. A knot of people closed in around the mark and Cap followed, bumping almost imperceptibly into the girls back while she was trying to get her bearings straight. In a matter of seconds he had thrust a grimy hand deep into the satchel, grabbed what felt like some kind of jewellery, and was well away before she even had time turn around. From a safe distance he watched the girl continue to wander aimlessly about with that confused expression on her face were those red boots she was wearing? How weird before slipping back off to the dank little close he called home to examine the loot hed just pilfered.
Caps route back to the nest was a headlong zig-zag through the crowds and markets of Figaro, with plenty of backtracks and false starts just in case he was being followed. The street urchin knew South Figaro better than even its architects; when you lived on the byways and streets of a city you tended to map it out in your head, marking every warm grate and hidey-hole with a mental red checkmark. No-one noticed the undersized boy in the scruffy drivers cap darting past them and no-one ever did, but Cap had known others who let their guard down and woke up to bigger, meaner boys sitting on their chests with switchblades, demanding money and worse. It cost nothing to be cautious, so cautious he was.
Soon he was back at the hideout, a tiny corridor barely wider than a hallway situated behind one of the local pubs. It stank of beer and piss and was littered with piles of dirty hay and packing crates, but it was the only home Cap had known for a very long time, and it sheltered him somewhat from the rain when it decided to fall. He settled back in a sort of cubby-hole between two or three pallets and one of the brick walls, a snug place where he kept his most precious treasures hidden, and studied the necklace lifted from the girl.
It wasnt much, nothing more than a tarnished silver ring looped through a chain. The gold necklace was poor quality and wouldnt go for much, but the ring could fetch enough to buy a loaf of bread and a bag of bruised apples if he played his cards right. Cap was no mean judge of what would and wouldnt put food in his belly; he lifted the silver ring into the air and examined it carefully as it caught the dim light of the one lantern that hung over the pubs back door. Looked real, felt authentic, and wait, was there something written on the inside of it? He lifted the piece higher, squinting to make out the engraved words in their flowing script. Mummy had taught him how to read a little before the ground opened up and swallowed her whole, but that had been a long time ago and his skills were rusty from disuse. It took a lot of puzzling and mouthing the letters over several times to figure out what it meant, but eventually Cap managed to piece together the short sentence and its meaning.
T o My B e l o v e d D a ... u g t e r R e l m F r o m Y o u r L o v i n g M o t h e r
A gift from mother to daughter. Relm. That mustve been the girls name. Relm.
Cap had never felt guilt for his actions before. Guilt had no place on the streets of South Figaro when your stomach was cramping so badly from lack of food you couldnt stand upright, or when the guards would throw you in the oubliettes for so much as looking at a rich adults retinue. Right and wrong had long ago been lost, engulfed by the earth along with his mother and sisters. But despite all this, despite the hardships and the years that had passed, the rings words brought to mind the face of his mummy, and he guiltily wondered what she would think if she could see him now. He was barely eight years old and he wanted a mum again terribly, although he would never say it aloud or willingly consent to being imprisoned in an orphanage. Would a mum even want him, for that matter? They only liked clean children with well-scrubbed faces, thats what the other kids said. The streets were the only place for him, a bad boy who stole jewellery from girls with bright eyes and shiny red boots.
She was probably gone anyway, and it wasnt like he could return it even if he wanted to. Might as well make some use of it. Cap rose to his feet, trying to shake off the heavy feeling that was suddenly weighing him down. Once it was pawned and out of sight and his belly was full it wouldnt be so bad. To this end the boy decided to start out for the relic shop right then and there, and he was halfway down the alleyway and almost back onto the main thoroughfare when a low growl from the shadows froze him dead in his tracks.
Like the big bad wolf of the stories it was, black and impossibly huge. It blocked the alley with its bulk and seemed to tower over him, a mass of glowing eyes and white teeth and inky fur. Cap instantly recognized it was the girls dog although how it had followed his winding course without being spotted he had no idea but the shadows and the childs imagination and his already nagging guilt all came together to make the dog much more than a simple canine that could be shooed away with rocks like any other stray. In Caps mind the creature was vengeance incarnate, a supernatural force here to make him pay for the wrong he had wrought on its mistress. The black dog took another step forward, claws clicking on the wet cobblestones of the path, and as it did it growled, lips pulling back to show rows and rows of sharp white teeth. Cap was several seconds away from hysteria, frantically racking his brain for a way out. It was almost like the dog knew A sudden unreasoning impulse to give the beast the necklace struck him, and he fished in his pockets until the cool weight of the chain slipped through his fingers.
Slowly, so as not to enrage the monster further, Cap withdrew the necklace and hesitantly held it out towards the dog. It stopped growling abruptly and peered at the dangling ring, but it did not move any closer to him and Cap wondered what he should do. It had quit growling at the sight of the thing, so maybe
He took a careful step towards the animal, expecting it to leap forward and tear out his throat at any second. It did not; it merely cocked its huge head and stared at him more intently, making no further noise or move in Caps immediate direction. Encouraged, the pickpocket moved even closer, until he could see the individual whiskers on the dogs snout and the lamplight glinting in its yellow eyes. It continued to study him carefully but remained stock-still, an ebony statue like the ones that stood at the gates to the city. With trembling hands Cap lowered the chain around the wolf-creatures massive ruff, until it encircled its neck and was almost buried from view in the fur that grew there.
Almost as soon as the act was done the dog wheeled and raced away with the speed of a deer, disappearing as quickly and silently as it had come. The boy fell to his knees in the close and cried for the first time since his mothers death, great wracking child-sobs that shook his entire body. It was all too much, the guilt and the loneliness and the great black dog, and he wished more than anything that he could wake up and be in his little bed in the house that had been swallowed up when the world came apart. This did not happen, and failing to awaken in those happier days, he crawled into one of the hay-strewn packing crates and sucked his thumb until blessed sleep overtook him.
He dreamed of his mummy and his sisters, and of a time that would not return.
Relm had been travelling for nearly five months, and in that time Interceptor had never left her side even once, the most overprotective nanny-goat of a creature she had ever come in contact with save maybe Strago. And now, in the middle of a city while she was sitting in a boxcar, no less the silly beast had suddenly and without warning disappeared without a trace, racing off into the crowds before she could stop him. She had run after him yelling fit to burst for several yards, but when Interceptor wanted to go he went, and nothing except possibly a racing chocobo could catch up. What in heavens name had possessed him to do such a stupid thing?
The boxcar was warm and sun-dappled and not a bad place to rest, so Relm had chosen to sit back and wait, sure that Interceptor would return eventually. Then they would ride the train through the desert to Figaro Castle; surely Edgar would know something about her fathers whereabouts if she could haul him away from his kingly duties with the whores for a moments conversation. She loved the guy like an uncle (a slightly creepy uncle who made lecherous jokes at her expense), but he had an addiction to the ladies that rivalled and even topped Setzers constant battle with Gamblor, Demon-God of the Dice. What an incorrigible and slightly weird family she had.
A gentle breeze wafted through the open doors of the boxcar, the smells of hay and hot tar and lumber mixing together in Relms nostrils until she couldnt tell one apart from the other. The warm rays of the sun and the fact that she had been up for nearly twenty-four hours straight wore down the girls worry for her companion, and very soon her lids had dropped and she was fast asleep and snoring. It was a dreamless sleep, the first real nap Relm had had for some time, and so exhausted was she and so deep was her unconsciousness she never even noticed when the train began to gently move and pick up speed.
The car clattered merrily along on its tracks through the evening and into the night, soon far into the Figaro Desert.
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