Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 4
What mind wouldn't be ablaze at such a vital juncture in one's career? Our reputation as journalists on a mission were sure to degrade now. Murderers, they'd scream! Slanderers of Odin! Prepare for the Great Beyond! No. Get a grip, man! There was still time! The first place which I believed Zen had found sanctuary was back at the inn. It was the only place the man had credentials besides the livery (though the livery was now more of a murder scene than anything else). If I was lucky, I would be able to get to him before he painted anymore of the town red.
It had been hours since the festivities had first kicked off but Figaro was still celebrating. I sensed as much. It was not a hamlet that was known for going quietly into the night, especially the day after the world had been saved. I could see rowdy Returner acolytes dancing mindlessly in the dim glow of ornamental lanterns, wavering like foxfire in the moonlight. Laughter cavorted around the various twists and turns I took to get back to the inn. And these faces, ever so frivolous in their newfound freedom, were taking on hideous mutations in the streetlight.
"Happened in Zozo." The words of a reporter to some naysayer, several paces shy of the door to the Figaro Inn, "Yeah, they chopped its goddamn head off right there in the square for everyone to see. Sucked its blood out, they did! They took something from the corpse, too. I think it was the adrenaline gland."
What the fuck was he talking about? I picked the word 'esper' out of the conversation as well. Had one of their kind fallen prey to some twisted victimization in The Forbidden City? What a scoop, but the adrenaline gland? Evidently, the fall of Kefka was generating more problems than what existed before the ruination. A new generation of demons was on the rise now, and they didn't need swords or magic to claim their victims. All they needed was a curious mind.
* * *
The halls within were barren. Very tense. Zen must have scarred everyone away. Part of me was hoping that someone would be there to impede me from the inevitable nightmare I'd find behind the narrow door of room 32. Obstructions, of course, were never around when you needed them the most. I ambled up the stairs precariously, pouring sweat all the while. Not too fast, I told myself. I didn't want to risk stirring a panic amongst the other patriots of the inn.
I must have fumbled with the latch for at least ten minutes. It wasn't locked but there was something wedged up behind it. I soon found that it was one of those trolleys our bellhop used to deliver his entrees. What was HIS fate? Somehow, I shouldered my way through this hindrance, only to go sprawling head over feet into a humid humor of hell. The brisk night air, emanating from several shattered window panes, hit me like an Ultima blast.
The room, much like the stables, was a complete mess. Tables were overturned. Lamps were smothered with articles of clothing, giving the room a dark Fanatic nuance. Food was plastered all up along the walls with shards of their dishes embedded in the drywall. Cigarette burns mottled the bed sheets and rugs while coconut husks and crushed honeydew rinds littered the bureaus and shelves and mattresses.
I paid no mind to it at all. I was hearing music.
"Raven!" His nickname. No answer. "Raven, as in RAVing, drunkEN fool! Raven!"
I found him in the bathroom. He was slouched in the tub, clothes still on as he waded through a cauldron of water that was redolent of ginseng bath salts he probably picked up down in the giftshop. He was fumbling with that same transistor radio off to the side, propped onto an upturned wastebasket. He was mumbling incoherently to himself, though I never would have imagined that high-grade psychedelics were the cause of all this. He had never touched the stuff before in his life. What had prompted him to do this to himself?
"Jesus," I uttered, only too aware of how close the fucker was to electrocuting himself. "What the fuck did you. . .no, don't touch that! Christ, man! You'll fuck yourself up even worse!"
With enough subtlety, I was able to liberate the radio from his grasp. It was then that I took admonition of the unhealthy heap of empty ether bottles stacked up against the far wall of the bathroom. My heart sank. "Oh God," I heard myself say, "Did you drink all that ether?"
"That's right." The first tangible thing he said all night.
I genuflected. "You'd better pray to God there's some Antidote in that haversack of yours. Otherwise, you're in bad fucking trouble!"
"Mu-sik, man! Turn that radio on!"
I ignored him. "We're here to work, goddamn it! I didn't expect to come back up here to see you beat the mortal shit out of yourself right there in that fucking tub. I oughta. . ."
He began thrashing wildly about in the cistern, the olive-tinted water splashing onto the floor with every oscillation. The radio, still in my hands, was also still plugged into the wall socket. If that wasn't bad enough, I suddenly found that he was wielding a razor-sharp Blossom dagger in his left hand. Not good. Fuck bad vibrations. This was a goddamn earthquake!
"Alright! Alright! I'll do it!" I cried, and fiddled with the knobs. "Just tell me what happened back at the stables. You didn't kill that poor bastard, did you?"
"Oh, man," he groaned, struggling through Hell's Creation to straighten his head, "Was he scared. . .didn't kill 'em, though. . .wouldn't let me. . .shoulda castrated that fucker. . .and that other fucker. . .King whatsisname, King. . .wait!" He slumped down in the tub, his chin just above the waterline. "I just heard this rad tune, man. Go back." My brow furrowed in confusion. He began roaring. "BACK, MAN!! BACK, BACK, BACK!!"
"For fuck's sake, man!" My fingers fondled the tuning mechanism and it seemed to calm him down. The pacifying melody of some arcane moogle sonata materialized through the static, nipping an almost fated skirmish in the bud. "There. Is that better?" No answer, but at the very least he was done raving about neutering any patriachs. "Look, do me a favor, would you? Can you just give me an hour? One hour, man. That's all I ask. When I'm done conducting my interview, you're free to wallow around in self pity until your heart's content."
"Mr. Goldfist?" I grimaced. It was the petite young voice of a curious Celes Chere. The knocks on the door seemed to parallel the beat of my heart, particularly the long pauses between. "Mr. Goldfist, are you there? I'm ready for that interview, now. Is it a bad time? Mr. Goldfist. . ."
I panicked. What was she to say if she came in and saw the disorder of the room and a hopelessly narcoticized chocobo rancher in the bathtub? No alibi would hold up in court, nor would any (real) attorney defend us. Maybe if I had five or ten minutes to tidy the place up a bit, I could be off the hook and back in Maranda by Tuesday. Now, it might have been more productive to just abandon the story and work on my last will and testament.
"Just a minute!" I shouted, tear-assing around the room to clean up the fruit residue and setting tables right-side-up. "I'm undressed!"
Straightening up the room in the short span of five seconds had been no problem. But it would prove to be very difficult for one to try and keep an ether-binged maniac quiet while simultaneously conducting a very important Returner interview. When the room appeared clean enough to pass a sweep inspection, I uncoupled the latch on the door and let the general in. I suppose I should have squinted through the peephole beforehand to make sure she was alone. The last thing I needed was a score of Returners discovering that drug fiends were the ones who were recording their excursions.
My knuckles were white from clutching the stylus. The interviewee sat herself down at the table I had set out for the questioning. A good sign to say the least. It meant she was comfortable enough with the environs to conclude this whole thing. After a minute's hesitation, I found my common sense and followed suit. "Alright then," I began, inking the pen tip, "Yes, I believe the last thing we clued up on was General Leo. . ."
Celes seemed to shrink in her chair from the sudden clamor. "What was that?" she said.
"What was what?" I asked as innocently as I could.
"You had to have heard that," she pressed. "I think it came from the bathroom."
"Oh him," I finally said, fumbling for an excuse. "Ignore him. He's just a plumber. Go on. You were saying."
"Well, I became a general when I was seventeen," she started, pausing for me to take down everything she said. "At that time, General Leo offered to take me under his wing and give me some field experience because up until then, I had done very little training outside Vector." Another pause. "Then one day, when one of the general's battalions was camped just outside of Thamasa, he and I were going over battle formations in his tent. We were debating over the efficiency of the pincer formation. . .when he kissed me."
But of course he did. I 'knew' she did. I knew she knew I knew she did. All of it hinged on her finally telling me, so I wasn't the least bit surprised when she finally broke the ice. I was in the middle of asking her something else, another question which further raised the bar on the whole love triangle, when Zen let out an agonizing screech from back in the bathroom. "Well, it seems to me that Locke Cole. . .SHIT, HE'S KILLING HIMSELF!"
At first, I thought he had probably cut an ear off by mistake. His mind was hopelessly twisted from the ether, so there was more than an inside chance of him cutting himself with that goddamn knife. Without giving a second thought to Celes, I bolted up from the table and burst in through the bathroom door. To my horror, Zen was splayed over the rim of the tub swinging the metal shower rod at the radio. He looked as though he were on the verge of some terrible, psychotic orgasm.
"Don't, man!" I yelled, wrestling for control over the shower rod. Only in ripping the shaft of steel from his grip did he do a three-sixty in the tub and give the shower curtain a pitch. Profanities tumbled out over his tongue, one after the other. "You're one toke over the goddamn line there, man! You need to just snack on some Blues or something and calm the fuck down!"
"No! I can't! If I do, I'll lose the tune!" I glanced over at the radio. It was now playing 'Aria de Mezzo Caraterre' in a full philharmonic variance. "Do something for me, man! When Maria hits her next E-flat, I want you to take that radio and throw it into the fucking tub! Hurry it up, man!"
"Fuck, Zen! You've gone completely sideways, man! Sure, I'd do it if it was a 110 or 220 volt radio, but shit, a transistor will blow you right through the goddamn wall! You'd be stone dead in ten seconds! Hell, they'd make me explain everything!"
There was the sound of a door being flung open and slammed shut out in the hallway. I knew it was Celes but I couldn't afford to go after her and leave Zen free to kill himself right there in that bathroom. It was the best thing for her to do in the interest of her own welfare. When I thought about it, we had no further business to take care of anyway.
"Don't make me use this," he warned, hoisting the knife out in front of me. His eyes were like orbs of jellied fire, set in the sockets of some crude and savage golem, one that was reprogrammed to kill. He'd do it. I knew he would. He was a slave to the ether now, completely incapable of rational thought. "Don't make me..."
"Fine." There. I surrendered to the drugs like I always have. Was he happy now? "There's probably no better solution, anyway. Let me see if I got this whole thing down. You want me to throw this in the tub when the next E-flat peaks?"
He sighed and sank further into the tub, apparently content that his fate was neigh. "You'd better do it. . ."
"Oh, I'll do it," I replied, scooping the nearest whole grapefruit into my left hand. "Sure! What are friends for?"
I patiently waited for Maria to hit the last E-flat of the song, at which point I hauled back and launched the grapefruit at Zen's head with all I could muster. The effect was instantaneous, but I never hung around to find out how far it would go, only long enough to realize I made an impact. The ether had changed gears on him. It'd probably be followed by one of those hellishly intense introspective nightmares, some four hours of catatonic despair. Ignore the nightmare in the bathroom, I thought, at least until the ether wears off. . .
* * *
I once lived in a quiet place, safe and distant from all the townships and empires of the world. There were no hassles to enlist in any movement or fire up any revolution. Everything was comfortably routine and low-profile. It was my escape, my exodus. Nowadays, finding such a place is like unearthing some amazingly rare jewel. It's a lesson we've chosen to always learn the hard way, that every place which bears the footfall of a man is practically destined to go to hell.
I want to think that none of it is because of our nature, that it's just the world which has made us out to be these power-hungry, drug-addled vessels who measure happiness in quarts of ether. When I finally left that wonderfully tranquil place, known to the locals as the Veldt, I took parts of it with me. The night surf on the eastern seaboard. The South Cape at dawn. The grassy knoll in the springtime that overlooked Thamasa. . .
History is a very funny thing. We never appreciate the moment until after its gone. At the very least, it's fair to say that the Empire was always looking ahead rather than looking back. I can't honestly say what force it was that taught the Imperials to forget about their yesterdays, but it would be a wonderful thing to have in this day and age, where our yesterdays are paved with so much suffering.
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