Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 7
The Figaro 400!
Memories of this day are extremely hazy. Even now. Goddamn those Reagen Greens, and Xantcha, and everything else! What was I even out here for anyway? What was the meaning of this whole excursion? Everything seemed to lose focus after that whole Green Cherry Tonic stint, and it was getting increasingly difficult to separate the real from the unreal, the friends from the foes.
And the drugs from the bats.
I knew for a fact that this was Figaro desert, which offered absolutely no relief. This dusty oblivion was giving me no quarter and I must have been staggering around blindly in the dunes for at least an hour. This was not a good place to be lost in, especially when arcane drugs were systematically ungluing your brain tissue. Dehydration was all bad enough, but when it was coupled with the hallucinatory effects of ether and Reagen, the resulting illusions of roving bands of scorpionmen and rabid chocobos with long killing bills were no longer projections of the mind.
They were projections of the senses.
"Hey mister! Look out!"
THWACK! My cranium pealed with pain as I struck up against a mirrored shaft of metal. Probably one of the scorpionmen with his war pike at the ready for what intruders threatened his territory. Play on his sympathy, I thought. Hit the ground. Make the bastard think you've been mortally wounded. Sure. The sandy pillows'll cushion the fall. Hell, maybe if you just laid very still, he'd leave you be.
"Didn't that hurt?"
The face of a young girl loomed down from the maelstrom of sand. One with golden ringlets that were scarcely being sheltered beneath a cornflower-blue painter's beret. She had large curious eyes that didn't quite seem to fit her porcelain facade. Judging from her attire, she looked to be some kind of blossoming apprentice of Owzer's out to capture the first place winner's moment of glory.
"Don't move!" I warned her.
"If you don't move, it won't hurt you!"
I gestured upward to the shaft of metal sticking up in the sand. She shook her head in confusion. "What are you talking about? That's a tent pole!"
So it was. Apparently I had been banging into so many of the goddamn things that I hadn't even noticed this one. Beyond it, the fixed sides of wildly flapping tent tarpaulin spiraled off into blind eternity. I tried my best to stand under my own power but my head was still doing somersaults.
"Need some help?" Before I could answer, she took hold of me and propped me back onto my feet. "Maybe you should get out of the sand for a while!"
The only rational thing I could do at this point was nod and smile as an angry hand shoved me through a tent flap.
Something like that happened anyway. It's like I said before: memories of this day are extremely hazy.
But things became more coherent as the day wore on. I had been eating nothing but grapefruit since stumbling into the game tent of the Figaro 400. It was a very odd establishment to have in the midst of a racetrack, full of all kinds of Country Fair/Polish Carnival madness. It was probably intended to be some kind of vain counterpoint to keep idle all the thrillseekers who would otherwise be making a killing on number nine - a black chocobo named Carlos who had won his past seven races without quarter.
Trillions of angry sand particles scourged the tent on all flanks. Every five minutes, there would be war whoops from outside, followed by the labored galloping and wheezing of at least a dozen fleeting chocobos. As that was going on, men in corpulent clown suits were promoting the existence of their booths to all the game-tent patrons. I can still hear their hopeful pitches:
PLACE YOUR BETS ON THE BOUNCING IMP TOKEN!! SEE HOW CLOSE YOU CAN GUESS TO HOW HIGH IT'LL JUMP!!
STEP RIGHT UP AND SHOOT THE PASTIES OFF THE NIPPLES OF THE BULL MOG!! WIN A COTTON CANDY CHIMERA!!
These kind of things go on incessantly, but no one seems to notice, save for myself of course. I was trained to notice these kind of things, and right now, it was clear that I had stumbled into some kind of carnival twilight limbo. So, it wasn't just South Figaro which had been transformed as a result of Kefka's downfall. It was like this everywhere. The whole world was suddenly in the throes of a terrible orgy of gambling and drinking. I was probably the only one who still maintained any kind of positive work ethic, and now, even THAT looked to be in jeopardy!
And who, I wondered aloud, was the quintessential mastermind behind 'this' particular festival?!
"It's the chancellor," explained the bartender. This he was saying as I finally elected to buy a drink to help get the edge off. "It's one of those 'You're the richest king in the universe' parties for King Edgar."
"Is that so?" I hacked into another grapefruit and mixed it with a tonic (makes a very fine punch; you should try it sometime!). "That's different. You'd think a man of Edgar's stature would go for something more along the lines of an invention fair."
"I was thinkin' the same thing," he said while simultaneously serving drinks to all his other customers. "I suppose a theme doesn't matter much when it comes to celebrating a safe world."
I agreed. This new world of ours wasn't perfect, but at least it was free of hierarchy. This, I think, was the handle, that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of old and evil. People went about expressing their independence in all sorts of unique ways after that day. There was this one gentleman who climbed up on the countertop as I was in the process of leaving the place. A young blond woman was yelling his name, begging for him not to make a scene.
"Don't tell me my business, woman!" he snapped, and dusted off a tunic that looked to be palmed from the simulacrum itself. "I got reason for bein' up here! We all got our reasons for bein' in these parts, and I reckon y'all down there agrees with me!"
Although most of us weren't paying much attention, there was the odd nod of approval. "That's what I'm sayin'!" he replied. "I must've been up until three in the morning last night, lookin' for a way out of Nikeah. 'No boats leaving for Figaro til seven' the guy at the dock sez, so I was like 'Fuck you, man!' and tried findin' someone on the wharf who'd make an exception. Well sir's, by four, I lucked out. Found this one guy down at pier forty, I did. Said he had to deliver a ship by six-thirty and offered to give me a lift to Figaro. Don't really remember much else. Don't even know how I got from South Figaro to here. But I'm glad to be out here with you folks! I really am!"
No one said anything, and no one needed to. We all understood where he was coming from. Races like these attract very special breeds, whether they be chocobos, riders, or even spectators.
And our man in the prismatic tunic was clearly one of them.
By four in the afternoon, things began to wind down. No longer were there any chocobos on the endless march for glory. All of this ended less than half an hour ago, and the dust had begun to settle once again on the desert floor. At this point, I thought it best to recommence my search for the Returners. The story was far from finished and I was running out of time.
The first thing I did was disguise myself with some novelty trinkets and clothing from some sideways kiosk at the game tent. Those whom I had already interviewed would probably still recognize me after the show Zen and I put on back in South Figaro. As well, I needed an alias to bury Lothar Goldfist until the exploit was behind me. The alias?
It would be easier now, I thought. I had the guise of my editor and chief of staff back in Maranda and the sandstorms had finally dissipated, restoring visibility of the pit area. It was somewhat disheartening when I realized just how many tents there were in the Figaro 400. Terra, on the other hand, had said something with regards to bets. MY best bet, I thought, was finding whatever tent it was that dealt with the gambling aspect of the race.
Easier said than done.
"Excuse me! I'm looking for. . .what? Oh, you don't! Well, how about you sir? Do you know where I can find the. . .huh? But you work here, don't you? You don't? But you're dressed up like a clown! Oh! Sorry about that! No, really! I'm sorry! I thought that was a costume! Ma'am? Excuse me, ma'am! Can you help me find the. . .well, fuck ya! Goddamn it! What's wrong with you people?!"
It really makes you wonder why anyone would want to waste their time in this regal sandtrap. Prolonged exposure to these kind of surroundings would undoubtably run a sane man ragged. Either these fools had nothing better to do with their time or they were too broke or blind to care.
And then it happened: the Returners gave themselves away!
"How do you do it, Setzer?" a voice lamented in utter frustration. "No one can possibly be THAT lucky!"
Feminine, and quite young. Almost like Terra, and just across the way through a tent flap that was bleeding kerosene light. So it was, with Setzer, Celes, and half a dozen other Returners, apparently fed up with the winning streak of their 'wandering gambler'. The search for my story was over, but I felt my cleverly devised identity fall apart as I stepped into the tent and approached the party.
When what do my wondering eyes do appear. . .but a cohort of mine: my assistant, the queer!
He approached them, ever so casually, but I could tell that the peace was about to be shattered. He was either drunk or stoned, for he was showing absolutely no signs of disguising his visage or voice. He had a hard time keeping his balance and muttered such obscenities as 'Hey, regal butt! Cloak my leopards!" Terra recognized him immediately and leaned over to the ever-intimidating presence of Sabin Rene Figaro.
A bad omen to say the least.
"That's the man who harassed us back in South Figaro," she whispered. How I managed to get close enough to hear this I have no idea. "Get rid of him, would you Sabin?"
Hmmmm. In the left corner, we have Sabin Rene Figaro, apprentice of the great martial artist, Duncan and Master of the Bum Rush. And in the right corner, we have Zen Ravenwood, an overpaid, underworked, utterly frustrating and entirely thankless ache of an assistant. I had half a mind to slip ten gold pieces to the gambler of the group and tell him to put it on Sabin.
But no. I couldn't do that. As much as I hated the creep at this stage of the game, I needed him.
So instead, I grabbed a man's whiskey bottle straight from the source, danced across the wigwam, and smashed it hard over Zen's head. The chocobo rancher crumpled to the ground. The Returners seemed positively jarred from my sudden intervention.
"This man needs Jesus!" I yelled, loud enough for everyone to hear me. "As do you all! You've turned the ever-chivalric grounds of Figaro into a desert of wayfarers and hustlers! If I wasn't such a forgiving man, I'd condemn all you swines to Nibelung where you rightfully belong!"
Where the fuck did that come from?!
"My friend." The voice of King Edgar himself. "I had no idea you felt so strongly for my kingdom." And suddenly, HE was the voice of proclamation. "This man speaks the truth! Have the chancellor send his men to take down these tarpaulins. This race is over!"
Thus, a tragedy had been averted. Zen's life had been spared from that blitzkrieg of a brother, and at the same time, I was made the unexpected hero of the whole fiasco. Now, the Returners were gathered around ME, giving ME hugs and handshakes and slaps on the back.
The Returners might have saved the world from Kefka, but it was I who had saved the world from the Returners. . .
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