Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 2
Green Cherry Tonic
Had the world not ended at the hands of Kefka more than a year ago, our excursion would have involved dressing up like Sherpas and scaling a hopelessly insurmountable mountain range. Thankfully, the only thing that separated us and the township of South Figaro was a two-day journey southwards, as well as the odd bat that crossed our path. There wasn't near as many in these regions. Must have gone into hibernation I thought. It was the only possible explanation.
We almost missed the town completely. It was but a lone stopgap amalgamation of townhouses on the very edge of the continent, unlucky for its residents (the shoreline would eat the place up in no time). Only previous experience told us that we'd find the place. It had once been a classic refuge for The Big Soldier, an outpost of export with the underlying traces of coziness and rapport. Flippancy was the key to blending into this place, much like any other town due to the fall of Kefka.
But our arrival was badly timed. Figaro's squares and byways were heavily congested with people from all over the world by the time we got there, with more pouring in by the second. We were scarcely able to get our steeds secured within the local chocobo stable without getting trampled upon. I tried scoring some special privilege off of the stable's proprietor, saying that we were here to cover the press conference. It was absolutely imperative that you throw your voice at this particular closure. Otherwise, the panorama of crowded bodies and their discordant profanity would make you fade into the background.
"I said we're from the Marandian Office of Journalism!" A No-go. The bodies of the wayfarers weighed so heavily upon us now that I could almost feel my ribs cracking against the manager's kiosk. "You scurvy bastards! Me and my associate represent bodies that you cannot possibly comprehend!"
"Stop yelling in my ear!" someone screamed beside me, and received a punch in the face from Zen for his efforts.
"Listen!" the stableman finally yelled, "Y'all get the same privileges as everyone else! We only got so much room and there's no special stalls set aside for journalists'! You either share with someone else or you can try your luck out in the wilderness somewhere!"
I took the way he italicized journalists' as provocation, but I couldn't outright slug the son of a bitch and have my stable privileges revoked. You could say what you want about the townsfolk of South Figaro, just don't say it to their faces! News travels at the speed of light in this burned-out burg of a city, and if you weren't careful, you could make South Figaro your enemy for life.
We had trouble again at the inn. It was similarly obstructed with denizens around the world, though these were requesting to have a sweet nearest the saviors of our world. Crazy people! There was a couple who hailed from Tzen, apparently newlyweds, believing it would be a boon on their future family to have the blessing of these elusive Falcon' heros. How nostalgic.
I wanted to get past this impediment as soon as possible. My blood-alcohol levels were beginning to stabilize and a drink was an order. Perhaps I could have my assistant pull his famous Attorney skit, asking everyone if they were prepared to go to court as the line gradually dissipated around us. But the vibrations of this place were getting extremely nasty, the people getting more disgruntled by the minute. Could one of even Zen's mettle hope to hold his own in this human menagerie?
Enough, I thought. The line hadn't moved for the past half hour. So, I soldiered through the thicket of bodies and up to the innkeeper, a bearded gentleman with a portly physique, more so than Zen's. "Look," I said, sliding in front of the Tzen couple. I admit it was rude but I'd only be a moment. Besides, the couple were having their own problem with the innkeeper's incompetence. "Maybe me and my assistant could just slip in here right fast and get out of your way. We're journalists from Maranda. The names are Lothar Goldfist and Zen Ravenwood."
Part of me knew that our names were practically inconsequential. It was almost certain that Maranda would have no reservation for us, although they ought to. This was, after all, a very ominous assignment. I had no idea that overtones of extreme personal danger would be a factor until I felt my torso buckle at the hands of all the commoners. Miraculously, me and my assistant lucked out.
"Goldfist and Ravenwood!" The innkeeper rang his bell. "Raoul, help these gentlemen with their bags. Is there anything I can have room service send up to you?"
The couple from Tzen merely stood there behind us with jaws agape. I suddenly feared the worst, that I was going to inspire the others to storm this pour duo of their chance to get to their room some time tonight.
"Send up a bottle of pre-Imperial Thamasian vintage," Zen rebutted, tossing his duffle to the bellhop.
"And make sure it's on ice," I added, "The bellhop's gonna need it to keep it cold by the time he's able to make it to our room."
The innkeeper gave a dismissive look to the growing tide of others. "Absolutely. Don't you too worry about a thing. If you need anything else, don't hesitate to ring for room service. The name's Rufus."
He promptly handed me our key which I gave to Zen, all the while saying that I'd be back from the bar at around midnight. "By the way," I said to the innkeeper before leaving, "Thanks for helping us out! You're a real chere, you know that?"
Rufus only grinned. "Lookin' forward to reading your article on the chimeras, Mr. Goldfist."
I winked and left for the bar. I felt guilty, both for the innkeeper and the Tzen couple, for each party would have a gigantic goddamn pack of cranky humans to deal with. Lucklily, a little alcohol would suppress the contrition, as well as any other uncertainties I may have been feeling at the time. Along the way to the tavern, I heard the odd vagrant muttering about when our deliverers would arrive. It wasn't to happen until some time tomorrow afternoon. I could wait until then. Just put out the vibe at the bar, I thought. Maybe the night would help precipitate the wait for tomorrow.
The bar of South Figaro was an in-vogue type of place, though not quite as trendy as a tavern you'd find somewhere like Kohilegen or Albrook. It held a certain robust ambience, with formica and sailcloth paintings of the late Emperor Gestahl. Second-hand smoke rose to facilitate a noticeable canopy of fog just above the craps table from the cigars of hopeless gamblers. I must have looked like a vagabond the way I strolled in, but I was never able to explain myself in these climates. My blood was far too thick for this town.
The bartender was a young and voluptuous siren with locks that seemed almost ruby in the glow of the dim amber lighting. She looked like a caricature of Czarina Sasha, Emperor Gestahl's extremely late Empress, though her beauty remained unfazed. Even in the presence of this stale Figaro saloon, she looked my way and smiled endearingly. "What can I getcha, stud?"
I smiled back. "A tonic if you please! Make it a double!"
At least I had begun to make more friends here than I did back in the stables. Before long, I blurted out the fact that I was a doctor of journalism, at which point another barstool pigeon chirped into the conversation. I recognized him as the editor of Hard Times, a magazine that was inspired by the coming of the World of Ruin. Its bimonthly installments were well-written, admittedly, but far too morbid for my taste. Its mandate, it seemed, was the distribution of despair.
I had a right mind to punch him.
"Mr. Goldfish, isn't it?"
"Goldfist," I corrected, snorting. "And you must be Ripley."
"That I am!" he said, sounding genuinely proud of himself. "And I must say that it's always an honor to meet such a passionate journalist as yourself."
I turned my back to him. "Wish I could say the same."
This, I am happy to say, dampened what was originally his lighthearted demeanor. The guy must have thought that he could get off Veldt-free when he realized that all of his presuppositions of woe and isolation were proven incorrect with the defeat of Kefka. I, on the other hand, would not grant him the luxury of enjoying the fallacies he cast upon this sad and destitute world.
Hell, I had just spent the past ten minutes trying to prompt him against asking whatever questions he had arranged to ask our paladins tomorrow afternoon! He seemed not to care, though he ought to for all the misery he had been spreading around the world. He had been giving us all the impression that our lives we're over when, in truth, they we're only just beginning. So, I merely sat there quietly, nodding and smiling to his fool allegations of once being a rogue explorer. Wasn't anything I hadn't heard before (I HAVE read his articles), although it was all extremely interesting when I was already half-drunk on tonic with Green Cherries on the side.
Ah, Green Cherries! Always a popular dare amongst the common-day pub crawlers. Too many and you begin to exhibit the characteristics of a turtleback imp, but just enough, and the alcoholic bliss hits you like Ragnarok. You couldn't get out of it even if you wanted to. Things begin to happen that you wouldn't ordinarily experience. I have friends who said that the wall around them melted and nearly drowned them. Your judgment clouds, your organized thought wanes, and you become a prisoner to your own dilatory world of pure alcoholism.
I turned back to my fellow/fool Hard Times editor. He was still talking about his traveling adventures(?), but they seemed to sound more garbled than before. Maybe it was just my Green Cherry Tonic taking its effect on me, or maybe it was his taking an effect on him. Whatever the reason, things began to get more and more incoherent. I ultimately abandoned all attention and commentary from Ripley for the vision of true loveliness serving drinks at the far end of the tavern. Maybe she'd make more sense.
Sweet Jesus! She was an imp!
I staggered back, trying to find a grip on the moment, or at least a grip on something that would stop me from falling off my barstool. But it was to no avail and I stumbled to the floor, my arms pinwheeling. Had she inadvertently eaten too many of those Green Cherries also? She was muttering something to me, but it was gibberish. I grabbed the shoulders of the nearest spectator, trying to make him understand the gravity of the situation, that we needed to get a herbalist down here on the double.
Beady eyes! The fucker had beady eyes, and sporting a coat of green, scaly skin. These characteristics, I realized, were synonymous with the initial stages of imp transformation. There was no point in denying it any further. I was in the middle of a fucking Green Cherry epidemic, and someone was actually giving cigars to these goddamn animals. It wouldn't be long now before they tore us to shreds.
"Someone get some remedies down here!!" I yelled. "Otherwise, we'll never make it out of here alive!"
But by now, everyone all around me was an imp, though they never attacked me at first, only looked at me with inquiring eyes. They were probably wondering if I was worthy to attack or only maim. As a last desperate act of the weak, I swung a fist. It struck home, knocking the Ripley imp off of his barstool. The others seem to recoil from my sudden effusion of strength. That'll show em! That'll teach em that they can't fiddle with Goldfist and get away with it.
"Who's your boss!!!" I roared, putting up my dukes. "Take me to your leader!! Now!!"
I couldn't help but wonder who owned that voice. It carried a familiar chime...wait, I knew that voice! Yes, it was Zen! Zen had come to rescue me!
I pivoted one-eighty and gasped. What I expected would be a pudgy-jowled, blue-eyed chocobo rancher turned out to be a raving and jabbering Zen imp. I leaped into his arms, looking around wide-eyed at the others. They seemed to be moving in.
"We can't stay here!" I lamented. "It's too late for them! We have to save ourselves!"
But as it turned out, we were not entirely exempt from the imps' rain of terror. Out of the blue, one of them grabbed a wine bottle in their chubby little digit and smacked me over the head with it. Was it the end for me and my adventures of journalism. If it was, well, I had no regrets. But if it wasn't, then I'd have to make a mental note for future reference. It may as well be tattooed across my forehead.
Don't feed me Green Cherry Tonic after midnight. . .
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