The run-down little bar in Kohlingen wasn't the kind of place that Setzer usually frequented, at least not in better days. The paint was peeling off of the walls, the fake flowers that made a pathetic attempt at brightening the place were tattered and faded, and the stools were rough and hard to sit on for any period of time, unless you were so drunk that it just didn't matter anymore. The bartender was shabbily dressed and squinting suspiciously at the customers, mostly a bunch of dirty farmers who had the same look in their eyes as their livestock. It was well past midnight, and they should've been long since closed by then. But they weren't; the place was full of people who really didn't have anywhere else to go anyway. Besides, why would any of them want to stop drinking? The bartenders of the world were probably the only people who had any reason to be happy that it was all turning to shit.
Setzer, for one, hadn't seen much reason to stop. The gambler was drunk as hell, brooding over the alcohol the way that only a man with far too much pain in his soul could brood. He hadn't been drunk like that since the night he'd found the Falcon lying in ruins. It wasn't the same as the numerous other times, the ones when he'd been too caught up in a bizarre emotional high to stop the mad debauchery that he'd often found himself engaging in. This time, the alcohol had awakened darker feelings, unfamiliar ones like pain and anger.
It had been a year. No, he corrected himself blearily, a year and three days, and the world was still falling apart. He could feel his old scars throbbing in the thick, damp air - scars that covered his entire body, the remnants of the horrendous injuries he'd suffered when he'd been dashed against sharp stones. It was a miracle that he'd survived, and he couldn't shake the feeling that the magic he'd been carrying in his veins had something to do with it.
But what the hell did I survive for? He dropped his head onto the bar, feeling a soft moan escape his lips. That mad bastard had made a real mess out of the world, and this time, he didn't have any wings to escape it with. He had to live in that reality, or else die in it; at that moment he wasn't sure which one looked better to him. Odds're pretty much fucked either way, he thought with an uncharacteristic bitterness.
Where'd my luck go? I can't be a gambler without my luck... what am I s'posed to do now?
He lifted the glass tankard he'd been drinking out of and inspected it with a scowl, rubbing his fingers over spots of grime that refused to come off. When he'd drank before, it had always been expensive wine and champagne - the kind that made everyone take a second look at the man who'd had the money to even think about getting drunk on something so extravagant. Wonderful stuff, but it was no longer within his means to acquire, even if he could find a vendor that sold it in that forsaken town. It didn't matter, since he could get just as drunk on seedy, scummy homemade brown ale that someone had probably brewed in a dirty metal tub from whatever they could get to fermen, because they'd run out of anything good to serve the drunkards. Wasn't like it was going to change a damn thing anyway.
The glass slipped from his fingers, almost like an accident; he made no move to catch it, and watched with narrowed eyes as it smashed, sending glittering shards across the hardwood floor and drawing a few curious looks from the others.
So this is what I've turned into, he thought bitterly. Just another shitfaced drunk. I'll bet none of these stupid rubes even know who I am! He forced himself off of the stool, his eyes burning with a dim reflection of righteous anger.
"Who the hell am I?" he screamed, turning around and nearly losing his balance as he stepped on his own coat. The stupid bastards didn't answer him right away, and he was just messed up enough to take it as an insult. "Well?"
The others mumbled to themselves, not really saying anything. "Siddown," one of them offered, seeming too tired to scream. He gestured with his bottle of hard Figaro cider, his hands trembling. "Shut up and let us drink in peace, ok?"
Setzer's eyes narrowed. "Why should I?" It was hard to think clearly with that much alcohol running through his veins. In three steps he'd crossed the room and snatched the bottle out of the man's hands.
"Hey, man, that was my cider!" The other man, a skinny little bastard who looked like he'd never been in a fight in his life, jumped off of his own stool. He looked like he was about to cry.
So that was the company he'd been reduced to keeping. Livestock, the lot of them. "Pathetic," he snarled. "Bunch of fucking morons. Come on, tell me my name! It ain't that hard to 'member!" He spun around again, caught sight of himself in the mirror. Something about the reflection - the wild silver hair, the flush in the cheeks, or the slitted brown eyes that burned with a dull drunken rage - seemed to calm him somehow.
He smiled grimly, encouraged as the reflection smiled back. At least that hadn't changed. "I remember you," he whispered. "Ain't you that famous gambler? The guy who flew on top of the world in tha' great ship of yours, BlackJack, wasn't it? Only airship ever with a gold-and-silver roulette wheel and cards with real jewels on 'em and room for a hundred gorgeous girls?" He took a swig from the bottle of cider, noting with some asperity that it was bitter; they couldn't even get cider right in that hole. Disgusting. "Now there's one hell of a guy right there. I'd buy you a round if I could afford one, but 'm a bit down on my luck right now."
Everyone was staring at him. Even the skinny guy that he'd stolen the bottle from seemed too fascinated to do anything about getting it back. Setzer didn't care; he was busy with his conversation, busy watching his own lips move in the mirror.
"And what the hell happened to ya, hmm? Who broke your wings? Why are you stuck on the ground, piss drunk without a damn cent to your name and no way to get away from it all? What the hell happened? You're too damn smart to let yourself get tricked into that altruistic bullshit that the Returners wanted you for, aren't you?"
He took another drink, and out of the corner of his eye he saw the reflection drinking as well. Suddenly enraged again, he pulled the bottle out of his mouth. "I asked you a fucking question!" he screamed, his arm moving in a wide arc before letting go of the bottle. It flew through the air, smashing into the mirror with a deadly accuracy and shattering his reflection into a million copies. What was left of the bitter cider splashed across the room, splattering the other drunks who were too shocked to react.
His rage was hardly sated by that one action, but he didn't get the chance to vent it further. A pair of rough hands - laborer's hands, he thought with a sudden burst of uncharacteristic disdain - fastened around his shoulders, pulling him away. Fighting against them was futile; the world suddenly pitched around him, making him too dizzy to even try to break free. It was the natural result of too much alcohol for too long, no doubt.
They didn't carry him far, at least. He found himself in a room at the local inn that he'd been staying in for the past few weeks, The hands let go, letting him fall roughly to the dirty hardwood floor. It was a relief to just lie there for a while, to let the world grind to a stop.
Damn, but I'm drunk. Don' think I've ever been this... this....
After some time he forced himself back up, grabbing the legs of the bed that he'd narrowly missed and wincing at splinters. Some dim awareness told him that there was another man standing in the room, no doubt the one who'd brought him in. The gambler grimaced and fumbled around in his coat, finally managing to grab his last money pouch and throw it to the floor. "'ere," he mumbled. "Is that what you're waiting for? Just take it and get out."
There was a long moment of silence, broken by a sigh from someone who'd apparently made too many in the past few days. "What the hell did you do that for, son?"
Setzer didn't even look at the man. His eyes were fixed on his own shadow, the silhouette of his shaggy head outlined by an oddly-shaped smear of light from a streetlight outside of the room's one window. "I... don't know." It was the truth, anyway. He'd done it because he was angry at everything, because he'd wanted someone, anyone, to tell him that he hadn't been forgotten. But why he'd felt that way he couldn't know; it wasn't like him. He'd never cared before, would've happily dropped off the face of the earth if he'd been able to; he'd never even attended any kind of social events if he hadn't practically been dragged there by one thing or another. But that had changed along with everything else, it seemed.
"Damn it, come on and look at me. What're you so ashamed of? You think you're the only drunk I've seen this past year?" The old man sighed yet again. "Hell, half the damned world's been through that bar drinkin' their pain away. I've heard 'em cry about everything. Most of 'em had their homes and families burned up by that crazy light. And that one guy you were pickin' the fight with, he's in there because of his little girls. He told me that he watches his poor kids cry every night 'cuz the flowers they're trying to plant won't grow anymore, and it just breaks his poor heart. You ain't the first man who lost out, and you sure as hell won't be last if that bastard has anything to say about it."
"Yeah," he managed, twisting convulsively so that he could rest his throbbing head against the foot of the bed. "I know. Whole world's gone to hell..."
"And you're just gettin' drunk to forget about it, eh? I was expectin' more outta someone like you, ya know. Those farmers in there're helpless, and they all know it. But if you're really one of those guys, then you oughta be able to - "
"How the hell did you.... oh yeah. That." He hadn't meant to reveal that much about himself. Frankly, he had been half-afraid that they'd expect him to fix the world that he'd helped to destroy. "There's nothin' to do. There's nothin' anyone can do," he moaned, painfully aware of how pathetic he sounded.
The man continued, like he'd never been interrupted. Cow-brained bastard, just like everyone else in this damn town... "I was expectin' more from one of you guys. But you're just like everyone else in this old town. Not a single one of ya is gonna try to do anything but drink your lives away -"
"There's nothin' we can do, can't you hear me?" The gambler's voice was a dead monotone. He'd never asked to be a Returner, damn it all; he'd been had. They'd tricked him with a pretty white dress and a fixed coin, practically hijacked his ship and dragged him to the ugliest, most horrible corners of the world. He wasn't one of them, had never even wanted to be one of them. He'd just wanted to be free. Maybe he'd grown to care about them, but it hadn't been worth the cost, the fall he'd taken...
If he hadn't been on that damned island, the BlackJack might have survived. The world might've died, but he would've been ok, if he could've only kept his wings. But without it... the cold dying ground was too oppressive, too much for him. He needed the clean, sweet air of the skies, not the stale, heavy air that everyone else was breathing with him. It was enough to drive a man insane.
"You don't know that," the man stated flatly. "You've been spendin' all your time at that bar. How the hell would you know?"
The gambler finally turned his head to face the man, glaring up at him from the hardwood floor. He still couldn't see his face, though; all he could see was the way the light shone from the doorway around his massive frame. "I saw it happen," he managed through gritted teeth. "I saw that crazy bastard kill the Emperor, you got that? I saw 'im kill with those statues, those damned Goddesses. He isn't even human anymore! If you wanna throw your life away, you go right ahead and piss him off!" He was on the verge of tears, remembering the horrors of it all. Falling from his broken airship, trying to save one of his friends but having her torn out of his grasp as they plummeted from the ground, feeling his body crack like a twig as he fell to the earth.... He almost wished that the fall had killed him, instead of letting him see just what the world had become.
The man was bigger than he was, and very likely stronger. He could've hurt the gambler if he'd wanted to. Instead, he just shook his head and sighed. "Hell, maybe one of us should. You really wanna go on living this way? You really wanna spend the rest of your life gettin' smashed because you can't deal with this world?"
"No," he admitted. No, damn it, he didn't. He wasn't one to sit around doing nothing. But still... "I don't wanna die for nothin," he slurred. The energy had all left him, along with the rest of his alcohol-fueled malice; he just felt very tired, and very hopeless. "I don't wanna die for nothin'."
Through the haze of confusion and self-pity he could hear the man sigh yet again. "I feel sorry for you, son. I really do."
Inwardly he bridled at the words, but what could he do? Even he knew that he was only a pale shadow of what he'd been before. It was like he was fading away with it, now that he'd lost everything: first Daryl, then his airship, and now his luck. All that was left was the gilded shell, and even that had been tattered by the passing of time and the cruelty of the elements.
There was an alternative, he told himself. He was not far from where he'd laid the Falcon to rest...
No. His entire soul rebelled against it. The Falcon was all he had left of his beloved; it would be like exhuming the corpse that he'd never found. She deserved at least that much respect from him. Besides, what was the point? The others were all dead. He had no further purpose in that cold, dying world.
He could feel the man's heavy footfalls shake the floor as he walked away. The door was closed behind him, leaving him in near-total darkness; the only light remaining came from that one window that had fascinated him so much before.
So cold. The entire world was cold, and he was living for nothing. What the hell difference did it make? He might've thought about dying, if he'd been brave enough... but no matter how bad things seemed out there, the thought of just not existing anymore was even worse.
He crawled onto the bed, weak and numb. There's nothing left, damn it. Nothing. If only there was something I could do... I don't want to live or die this way....
Shuddering, he closed his eyes, hoping that he'd be sober enough in the morning to start drinking again. Alcohol was the only solace that poor stupid bastards like him had left, after all.