Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 12
Somehow, my assistant and I found ourselves in Zozo. What it was that compelled us to come here of all places I have no idea, nor if I did would I venture to say. Zozo was, after all, the kind of township in which any wayfarer on the street could, in an instant, rape you, pillage you, and then send you a bill for the labor. It's the kind of place you find yourself in when you fucked up one time too many in South Figaro, and no other township on the continent was willing to acknowledge your existence.
It was all very foreboding. Here we were, in the dead center of the most ruthless town on earth, where rainclouds hang like curses over your head and any sound you hear around a street corner meant that something bad was about to happen. I slowly went paranoid in that place. I remembered feeling as though I had been drawn by the Megaelixir to find what unfortunate esper it had been extracted from and give it a decent burial so that its spirit could find rest. Note to self: never have children. No offspring of mine deserves to inherit this outlandish legacy which I had been responsible for bringing to life.
"Let's get something to eat," my assistant suggested. "The stuff they serve ya on those boats may as well have been eaten by someone else."
I hastily agreed. His boat wouldn't be leaving until dawn, which was still some three hours away. It'd be good to finally be rid of him, but until I was he'd still need a hand to get him to the pier. He had been vomiting fairly regularly by that time, and he could probably use a Remedy or two to get the hard edge of his hangover off.
"So, which way will you be heading?" I asked him. Plans such as these he often kept to himself, but given his current condition, he'd probably make an exception.
"I think I'll stick to the original plan," he said, stumbling over his shoes as we made our way to the inn. "Head to Nikeah, then put out the vibe until something else comes my way."
I nodded. "You must have realized by now that a Falcon may very well open up a brand new door of opportunity for all those entrepreneurs looking to capitalize on a more practical mode of transportation. Chocobos will probably become obsolete in the years to come."
But my cohort appeared unerred. "I know," he said, "maybe it's about time for a career change. Seems to be a popular move these days. Maybe I'll become an airship pilot, just like Setzer What's-his-face."
"Remind me never to do business with you."
He grinned and shifted his head to take in the details of a large neon sign that stood in the windows of the tavern. Half of its letters were blacked out, but there was enough for us to make out the specials of the day:
-To ay's Spe ials-
6 H t Dogs For Th ee Gol P eces
Sh imp S lad nd S eak « Pri e
First D ink on the Hou e!!!
"Man, that sounds heavy," my assistant remarked, "fifty-cent hot dogs and a free drink! What more could a man ask for?"
'A new assistant', I felt like saying, but I was too hungry to argue with him. The establishment appeared as safe a harbor as any. Zozo would be the last place any Returner or Surf Chaser would bother to look for us. If Soa himself came down and offered to give me his philosophy on the one hundred and eight species of our planet, I'd put even him on hold. There was a time and place for everything, and now was a time to rest, to regroup.
I suppose I should have expected the local pub to be devoid of life, but it still caught me off guard. It was more like wandering into a musty old library than a tavern. Every manner of condiment and bodily fluid seemed to stain the walls. The air trembled as if from a brawl that had ensued the night before. That, at least, would have accounted for the broken glass, not to mention a tankard that was out cold on the floor when we first stepped in.
Off in some secluded corner of the establishment, there sat a gray man in frayed clothing who, every now and then, would mutter something about the Serpent Trench. My heart immediately went out to him. I felt like buying him a drink. On the other end of some very blurry looking glass, I could actually see myself winding up like that.
"Used to be a Doman sentry," said the waitress, idly rinsing a mug with her apron. "Says a thing or two about his comrades every now and then. No one believes him of course, but he don't care. Doesn't pay much attention to anyone else half the time anyway."
"A Doman sentry?!" My mind wrestled vehemently with the idea. "Hornswaggler! Sure, they were all killed off by Kefka before the Ruination."
"So they had you believe." He turned in my direction, and I found that his eyes were clouded with cataracts. "The bastard got his fill, though. Took my sight, he did."
My eyes never left the haggard Doman.
"The poison did that?"
"Indeed it did, good sir. There are days when I wish it took the rest of me, too."
My assistant, oblivious as ever, made his order while the waitress labored to get it all down on a leaf of foolscap. It wasn't long after that I followed suit, being sure to include at least one drink for our sight-challenged friend. The derelict could have just as easily have been the kook which everyone made him out to be, but like everyone else he needed someone to talk to, if only for a little while.
"I'd be willing to do you a favor," I told him, my hand wandering for my stylus. "You see, I am but a humble journalist, Lothar Goldfist by reputation. But I'm also quite adept in writing correspondences, in your case for Doma. If there's a liaison that strikes a chord with you, I'd be more than willing to send him word of your situation. Maybe you'll be venerated."
The eyeless man threw back his drink and gestured for a second. I nodded to the waitress. "T'would be for naught, kind sir. You of all people should know that Doma has fallen."
To that, my assistant scoffed and said, "You're pretty funny for a guy with no eyes."
I nudged him, and he was silent.
"Well, surely your hearing hasn't betrayed you," I replied. "Word travels fast about Doma, especially since it regrouped under Cyan."
"Retainer Cyan?!" The old man seemed choked with tears. "He lives, then!"
"We last spoke only a few days ago."
"Well, then . . ." I could tell he was emotional. News of Doma, even good news, came to him as a critical blow. "I suppose I'm . . . all turned around on your offer then! I believe there was a . . . yes, a sentry! We knew each other quite well. His name is Ziegfried."
"Ziegfried, you say?!" My assistant practically choked on a mouthful of hot dog. "This is your day, friend. We, too, know that very same man! And who shall I say your message is from?"
"Tell him it's from Artemis." He drank his second drink more slowly, as if he wanted the experience to last. "Soldier 3A, first battalion. He'll know what that means."
I nodded and smiled. Our excursion to South Figaro had not been a lame fuckaround after all.
* * *
An hour or so before dawn, our morning in Zozo ended. My assistant had begun to feel wildly attracted to our waitress after a pint or so of Red Chocobo clouded his mind, making him feel as though everything were suddenly so beautiful. I took him by the shoulders and hastily fled the place, assuring our Doman warhorse that his ascribed message was as good as sent. The old man smiled and tipped an empty glass in our direction.
Two hours later, my assistant woke up screaming alongside me, in a coach I had managed to salvage from a Zozo livery. At first, he complained that he didn't know who I was, then that he didn't know who 'he' was! It ended when he said he felt like flapjacks and, with none to be found, remained quiet for the rest of the trip to the pier. With renewed impatience, I gave another crack on the reins. Our chocobos warked and quickened their pace.
The pier - and what a beautiful pier it was! - cropped up over the horizon a short time later, with nothing beyond it but ocean. There was but a single sailing frigate tied up to port. Its sails were badly damaged and its passengers were restless from my assistant's delay. Ironic. The others had been waiting for him to ship out and I had been waiting for him to ship off.
"Hey yo!" he called out, waving to the skipper. The portly man on deck waved back in acknowledgment as my assistant threw his duffle over a shoulder.
"Hey, listen," I said to him, "Ziegfried will probably be on the other end. I got a message from him saying that he might be in Nikeah. If you see him-"
"Yeah, I know." He readied himself to cross the gangplank. "Pass word of Artemis on to him, right? Christ, man! You can damn near set your watch to all this journalism crap!"
I smiled. "Don't take any guff from the swine. If you have any trouble, remember - you can always send a carrier pigeon to the right people."
He smiled back at me. "Sure, that makes sense. Spread the word from east to west, aye? Some asshole wrote a play about that once. Might have been good advice if he had shit for brains."
With that, he tossed me his kitbag, which was empty except for a single flask of ether. Without waiting for a response on my part, he turned tail and shambled up the gangplank, laughing as though he had just played some cruel trick on me.
And off he went, probably never to be seen again. His legacy, on the other hand, had more than left its mark. So puissant and unavoidable, it could very well derail the very Phantom Train itself. The man was a monster, a chocobo that no rancher, however prized, could hope to breed in his lifetime. Too weird to live and too rare to die.
Just like me.
* * *
We're all wired into a survival trip now, no more of the sword-and-shield dreams that fueled the Imperial Era. That was probably the fatal flaw that Banon had faced with his many Returner factions. They would crash from one corner of the world to the next, selling the illusion of peace, and classlessness, without ever giving a thought to the long-term repercussions his movement would have on those who actually paid him any attention. All of those pathetically eager Surf Chasers who sought understanding at the bottoms of ether flasks and the burnt-out ends of Reagen tokes.
And what of the future one might ask, the history of things to come? Are we truly doomed to an endless cycle of senseless and deadly mistakes? Or can that cycle be broken, so that each of us may find our own personal 'Marandian Dream'? The true battle of good and evil is over now, it seems, or at least until yesterday begins anew . . . tomorrow.
* * *
The road home lay just ahead of me, a flatout, fifteen-mile burn southeast, down past the Opera House and back to Maranda. I could already hear all those Marandian-born bookies placing bets on the next dog fight, and Lola searching the commons for a potential mate to start over with. Oblivion was calling, and I knew what that meant. No more virulent tirades with imps, moogles, or the Returner folk ever again. No more musing over hallucinations with your favorite Surf Chaser. And, most notably, no more narcotics.
It was then that I took the flask of ether into my hand, knowing fully well what my assistant had intended it for. He knew. He knew only too well. He wouldn't be coming back, either. 'That son of a bitch', I thought, and began throwing the stuff back for all-time sake. And for one last time, my heart was filled with joy and purpose. One mad crack of the reins set those wonderful beasts in motion. I felt like a monster reincarnation of Lord Kefka himself: crazed; emphatic; and with a mission to accomplish . . .
~ THE END ~
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