Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 10
We decided that it was probably best to seat ourselves on the outer fringe of the convention. There was no sense in getting caught in the crossfire of some outlandish wizards duel. All the other wizard and warlock underlings seemed to follow in our example. And why wouldnt they? Deafening blasts of lightning and acrid clouds of contagion seriously discouraged anyone from getting any closer than five rows from the front podium.
Despite the entropy I felt, my demeanor as a journalist held up. I remember giving a handful of my dog-eared papers a shuffle, recognizing them as of the Returner Files. It was like shuffling bootlegged gold. In times like these, you know that the choices you make will have to be carefully plotted. Play your cards right and you win big; get careless and you lose it all. Of course, a carefully thought out plan required time, which was the one luxury we were rapidly running out of.
So, whats the plan? I whispered. Relm trailed close behind us as we took our seats, hands tightly clamped around her paintings and still oblivious to her surroundings. A definite plus. We con the head mage into casting Sleep or something, right?
Or Vanish, he replied, whatever works.
It seemed like a reasonable strategy, but I had my doubts. I was not a spellcaster; far from it in fact. For all either of us knew, these people were probably reading our minds even as we sat there contemplating our next move. What did they call those spells again? Scan, was it? It all force-fed a terrible mental image to me, one with everybody shooting up from their seats and turning to ostracize us for everything we had been held accountable for over the past few days.
Thankfully, I wasnt the only one who was on edge that evening. I could take comfort knowing that my assistant was fidgeting in his seat over the presence of all these well-practiced sorcerers. I felt certain the itch was strong for those who had some new or improved elemental blast conjured up after all the time they had spent hiding in Thamasa. Hell, everyone felt that way who wasnt a mage or a mages apprentice. This was nothing like the Returner gathering we had several days back; these were pissed off sorcerers! There were few willing to tell these people that magic was gone from the world.
Should any be so bold as to tell them, there would be one fewer. . .
Look at this, my assistant told me, I read about these bastards in War of the Magi, but I didnt believe they were real. Not like this. Not hundreds of them!
I tried to console him. Theyre actually pretty nice people once you get to know them.
He smiled. Know them? Hell, I know these people in my goddamn blood. Theyre responsible for the Ruination, after all.
Dont say that word around here. Youll get them excited.
Yeah, right. He turned to the seat at his immediate left. Relm was still there, though she appeared ready to fall asleep. Everything alright, sweetie? You look a bit tired.
No response, which I was glad for. The longer she was out of sync with our world, the better.
By eight, the tally of mages had grown in leaps and bounds. Every last one of them wore a steepled hat; from our vantage point, it looked as though jagged mountain peaks were being rearranged by unseen hands. As we all made ourselves comfortable, a lovely looking woman stepped up to the front podium without warning. I could tell she was a white mage from her ivory garment and hood. It relieved me somewhat; at least not everybody in this room were hellbent on destroying something.
On behalf of the citizens of South Figaro and in the good name of all esperkind, I welcome you. . .welcome you. . .welcome you. . .
Her voice traveled across the room in confused waves, the direct result of low-fidelity speakers thrown together at the last minute to compensate for the turnout. Assuming that her introduction had the desired effect, the white mage continued.
We have called this symposium because there is a shared belief, among the public, that magic no longer exists. Her words stirred a commotion among the crowd. Thus, to combat the situation, we have enlisted the aid of our most trusted advisor in the field of blue magic. Please give a warm welcome to our Thamasian comrade and slayer of the beast of Ebot Rock, Mr. Strago Magus . . . Magus . . . Magus . . .
The roof went up.
Strago Magus?!! My cry carried faintly over the din of everyone elses hollering. But there was no mistaking what my ears heard and my eyes saw. There he was, saundering across the podium, a smile splitting his wrinkled face, and no where NEAR Figaro Castle!!
Whats the problem? my assistant asked, still in his seat.
You jest!! Didnt you just hear what she said?! Its Strago! Hes here!
But he couldnt find the connection. Good man, he said, that Hidon got what he deserved.
You moronic fuck! Have you forgotten everything that happened back in Figaro Castle!? Theyre here!!
Even as he and I sat there arguing, Strago went on with his lecture. Ladies and gentlemen, a sufficient way for us to approach this is to try and attempt to imagine what it is like in a world without magic. The lore of Thamasa has always taught us that a specific sequence of events are responsible for keeping all of our worlds most vital cycles in sync with the passing of time. Life, technology, war, and even love, they are all considered to be fastened to the coils of existence through a force that weve come to call. . .magic. . .magic. . .magic. . .
I began to get the jitters. Was my throat locking up? This place was a death trap. Just cast Doom on me right now, Lord, and get it over with!
. . .but I ask you, what is it that truly maintains this bond between magic and time? Does it have anything to do with our belief in self-styled Goddesses? Or probably it stems from our conflict with the esper race a year or so ago, hmmm? No, my friends, for you see, magic IS time, and conversely, time is magic. If magic truly had left us with the exodus of esperkind, time would stand still, for there would be no force in which to propell the various cycles of our continuum . . . continuum . . . continuum . . .
And this was the quack that was supposed to be beguiling us? If these people knew just what it was hed been doing last night in Figaro, hed probably be crucified. He had been the sole conspirator of the magic/time theory simply because time was the single branch of necromancy that eluded his understanding. If I recall correctly, he even wrote a book on the subject less than four years ago, one which proved to be the single largest compendium of ideologic bullshit ever published. A bard would have him pistol-whipped; hell, ID pistol-whip him if I were close enough to the naysayer. . .
But not these people. They actually idolized him, were clinging to his every word in fact. Yet another reason why I had to get out of that place as soon as humanly possible.
What a fuckin nightmare, my assistant grumbled, these people dont know if theyre coming or going!
I wrung my mind for some way to slip this strangling noose from around our necks. The white mage opened the floor for questions, but that wouldnt cut it. Asking him to let loose with a Vanish spell on his own granddaughter was just plain retarded. The old coot might have been crazy but he wasnt stupid; he knew our faces. Was it a conspiracy of his? Did he somehow know we were here?
We were sitting ducks.
Mr. Magus, came an inquiring voice from the row before us, is there any doubt in your mind that non-elemental magic can still be successful? What of a spell like X-Zone? Would something like that be independent of an espers domain?
The cloud lifted.
Theres only one way to truly answer that, my friend.
The blue mage began sketching time-elemental glyphs in the air before the microphone. It all sounded too good to be true when my assistant nudged me. What is it?
Did he just say X-Zone?
Good God. . .
I had never experienced the full brunt of an X-Zone spell first-hand, so you can imagine my surprise when our amphitheater was suddenly transformed into a vicious maelstrom of wind and temporal flux. My first impulse was to flee, but gravity had already abandoned every conceivable direction. Chairs uplifted, flinging helpless mages through the air. The very podium down front shot up erect, hurling Strago and the screaming white mage across the room. Three ultrasonic blasts later, a vortex, dark and bottomless, quavered into existence on the far side of the auditorium.
I remembered feeling a trifle stupid for wondering if all those pointed hats would embed themselves like darts into all that stucco and marble. My aide, by this time, was clinging precariously to the frame of an open windowsill, his profanity lost to the arcane winds. As your assistant . . . he finally said.
Shut up! I yelled, practically wrestling for my own handhold over the ornate edge of a balcony. I tried my absolute best not to look out for fear of tensing up at the vertigo. But, in the end, my concern for Relm superceded my own personal safety.
What happened to the girl?! Where is she?!
But my voice was traveling on volatile winds. In the midst of an X-Zone tempest, you could hear nothing or say nothing, not when the very fabric of reality depended on your keeping absolutely quiet. Not that it mattered any; it was clear from the semi-ominous waltz of Zoneater paintings that the girl was long gone.
Wed be fucked for sure now, I thought.
Screams could be heard as the magic zephyrs elapsed, only to die out all over again as their possessors were sucked out of existence through the burnt-out end of the space-time rift. I never bothered waiting around for my assistant. For all I knew at the time, he was probably sucked in with Relm. It seemed fitting. Let the girl be his problem. It was high time for the journalist to get his ass back to Maranda, where things made sense.
* * *
I couldnt cope with it. There was nothing but violent mages and fragile reality in this doomstruck town. It was essential, I felt, to leave immediately. If not for Maranda, than for anywhere. Hell, even Zozo sounded pretty good at this juncture!
I remembered staggering along the streets of Figaro, trying desperately to look normal again. My exposure to the anomaly had more adverse an effect on me than I realized was possible. The continuum is a very funny thing, since its domain is commonly the world that exists between worlds. Being deprived of reality for so long tends to make it quite the voracious creature when it comes to assimilating it.
I felt as though it had sucked me dry. Depravation of reality was almost like getting high on ether, but without that heightened sense of awareness or self-esteem. I could only hope that it blew over by the time I was back on Marandian soil.
It wasnt until after I was back on our floor that I was faced with a somewhat inconvenient reality: no key. My assistant must have had it on him. But then, I thought No problem, and plowed my through our room door. It was late, so there would be no one around to convict me. Besides, I was practically a felon in my own right anyways. What difference would a little break-and-enter do?
My duffle was right where I left it, slumped upright in the corner like a drunkard after midnight. With it, I proceded to stock up on whatever appeared important for the journey at hand. A complementary bathrobe. Our freshly pressed linen sheets, perhaps. A bottle of brandy from the pantry and even one of our bedside lamps, a little something I could probably have appraised by the time I reached Barstow.
I was still a bit out of it, mind you.
The absolute last thing I was expecting that night was my assistant making a less than graceful return. I gave him as little of my attention as possible. At this juncture, I had developed quite the biased frame of mind towards the goon, believing that anything so much as acknowledging his existence would prove detrimental to my progress, possibly even my life.
You left early, he said, What gives? I thought you had a story to cover?
I jammed another handful of clothing into the duffle and pulled tight on the drawstring. My assistant may as well have been a fart in the wind.
Where are you going? You cant leave! This rooms in my name!
I shrugged and continued packing.
Its gone too fuckin far, man! Im head back!
For a moment, he looked ready to snap, as though he had suddenly caught on that he had been the scapegoat the entire time. Then, he relaxed again.
As your assistant, I advise you not to worry. Go and take a hit from the bottle in my shaving kit. Itll perk you right up.
He had finally gotten my attention.
Which bottle? I asked defeatedly, probing about in the bathroom for a little salvation.
Youll know it when you see it, he assured me. He sat down next to the window, suddenly fostering some arcane love for moonbeams refracting in the open sea.
I finally produced a small translucent vial, one filled with a potion that kept changing colors and emitting a strange glow.
What is this stuff?
He replied without turning. A little something that makes pure Reagen seem like cherry soda. Its called Megaelixir.
I sat myself down on a bed across the room, still choosing to examine the concoction before trying any. I had heard of it before but I couldnt be sure where.
What kind of monster client have you hooked up with this time?
Kefka worshipper. I saw him take a hit from his hashpipe. Just be careful with it. Youll go completely crazy if you take too much.
I wetted a matchtip and let a few drops roll over my tongue. I think I heard of this stuff before. One source for it, if I remember correctly: the adrenaline gland of an esper.
I know. I didnt like the sudden tone of his voice. It sounded evil. Impure. Kid had no money to pay me for shoeing his chocobos. So, he forked over an ounce or so of pure Megaelixir, telling me that itd get me higher than Id ever been in my life. I thought he was just joking.
Is that a fact?
But I could barely hear myself speak by this time. I could already feel the stuff working on me. My body felt as though it had just been plugged into a 220-volt socket. A few more drops, a voice kept saying. Just a few more drops . . .
Makes perfect sense, I uttered. Now, I know why that guy was talking about the dead esper in Zozo. Hell, those Fanatics are goddamn cannibals! They probably wont be satisfied until they have every last esper crucified.
After some time (Ill never be sure how long), my assistant lost interest in the moon and went to sit beside me. He was there, but I barely noticed him. The room was getting hot. Something was smoldering. All around me, I saw fire and brimstone. I wanted to leave. Oh, how I wanted to leave! But the stuff had already gotten to my leg muscles, utterly contracting them. Nothing had ever done this to me before. Nothing . . .
Real cold fish, this guy was. Ifrit stood just by my bedside, moving in concert with the quickly flickering flames. Told me to watch myself and how I treated the stuff. But I just laughed and took a hearty swig of the shit. Man, it was like a fuckin blast furnace went off in my head!
BLAST FURNACE!! I growled. FANTASTIC! WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?!
Luckily, I threw most of the stuff back up again. Man, my head must have swelled up like a watermelon. I grew these claws, bleeding warts. . .
And theres more, he said.
MORE?! I yelled.
Absolutely no control now. My fingers clawed at the bed, ready to yank the mattress right out from under me. I leaned towards him, following his words intently. The slightest hesitation made me want to grab him by the throat and force him to talk faster.
Well, like the goddamn werewolf he is, he never told me about the other side effects . . .
THAT GODDAMN WEREWOLF!! I agreed.
. . . and the next thing I know, I feel these hairy bumps swelling up on my back! And when I tried to scream for help, I sounded like a raccoon!
FINISH THE FUCKING STORY! I snarled. WHAT HAPPENED?! WHAT ABOUT THE GLANDS?!
He stopped without warning, as if something else had him sidetracked. Every single muscle in my body had contracted by this time. I couldnt even move the eyes in my skull let alone turn my head and talk.
The Ifrit demon backed away, looked perplexed at my condition. Maybe you need another drink, he said, Jesus. That stuff got right on top of you, didnt it?
My mouth fumbled for an answer. Nothing . . . worse . . . no, this IS worse . . . My tongue was burning like a brazier. It hurt to even move it. Ill be fine, I wheezed, Maybe you could just shove me into the pool . . .
Hell man, if I put you the pool right now, youd sink like a goddamn stone. He sat back in his chair by the window. You took way too much, man. Even a magic user will tell you that youre never supposed to take more than quarter of the bottle at a single time. Its mainly used for strengthening warlocks during a wizards duel. Hell, even a quarter of the stuff can kill you.
I had emptied the bottle. That much I was sure of. Such a terrible feeling to just sit there unmoving, realizing that my demise was afoot. Not even my lungs seemed to be working. Id need artificial respiration but I couldnt open my mouth to say so.
What . . . have you . . . done . . .
Just try and stay calm. Dont fight it, or youll give yourself an aneurism. Youll just wither up and die . . .
Death. I was so absolutely sure of it. I should have just left while I was in control. Then, some alien drug comes along and paralyzes the very core of my being.
Well, at least there was no pain. Id probably black out after a few hours. After that, it wouldnt matter.
I could hear but a single voice. It was our old transistor radio crooning out a recording of the late Emperor Gestahl, but his voice was hopelessly garbled. The only thing I could make out was A secret place. Over and over again.
A secret place. . .
A secret place. . .
A secret place. . .
He was still in my head when I blacked out . . .
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