Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 8
A caravan took us back to the castle, one of Edgar's own. A novel idea if there ever had been one; his caravan wasn't like the many makeshift contraptions you'd see Surf Chasers towing along all the world's shorelines with second-rate chocobos. No. This was a superior machine. Hollow recesses of wood had been abandoned for elaborate feathered cushioning. Figaro insignias were enameled all over the padding in Aztec gold.
Its mobility was all the more magnificent. There were no rusted-out axles on this puppy, no ignoring how well-grooved and exceptionally oiled she was in her travels. Almost slipstream were her escapades, as though we were careening along a blanket of air. So this was what it was like to get higher without drugs than with them. It certainly said a lot for the king's vehicle of choice when it came to, say, the negotiation of a truce with a political rival. Ire is a difficult thing to feel when you're trapped in a preternatural realm of comfort.
Any Surf Chaser will quote you on that one.
But of course, what else was there to expect from such a master machinist as Edgar? Typically, you don't expect these kind of things from monarchs. More times than not, kings fit a more stereotypical model. An image that had always played in our minds is that of some fatback grossero, head shaped like an artillery shell with which to facilitate a crown that was anyone's but his. Such men, with girths so foul, would sit upon pewter thrones and watch with idle eyes as their subservients get banged to shit in pointless wars.
You couldn't quite say that much about Edgar. He watched his weight, his valued his people, and, perhaps most notably, he had saved his world. Quite the showman. . .
Jesus. Here I am going on about monarchs and the artifice they spawn when I should be concentrating more on the fiasco of keeping my deranged assistant at bay in the presence of our earthly saviors. Of course, I have every right in the world to avoid this topic, because at this particular juncture of my account, nothing happened that I'm profoundly boastful of. But I suppose it's in the interest of all those Returner devotees out there that I continue.
* * *
Very well, then. Back to the story. . .
* * *
No sympathy for the devil!
Cogs of concern clicked in concert around this aspersion the whole way back from the racing grounds. Zen had been quite conscious, not to mention quite pissed off at having awoken to find himself bound and gagged in the back of some alien stagecoach. If that wasn't bad enough, no one likes being looked at in the fashion that they had three heads, especially a disgruntled dope fiend.
Of course, I had no right to be cynical. For all I knew, the poor bastard probably thought he DID have three heads and was doing his best to resolve a problem he never had.
"Do you think you'll be able to help him, Mr. Alger?" The chagrin of the esper girl who, less than an hour ago, was trying to sick their Blitz Master on the poor fool.
"With God," I said, "all things are possible."
Id like to thank the academy. . .
She appeared reassured, as did all the others who had once been questioning my priesthood. I was glad, for it was getting increasingly difficult to shake this extremely awkward situation I had been thrust into. When I had first received word of Figaro's press conference, Zen and I had been roughing it in Barstow with our minds clean and our priorities straight. Now, only one of us was of sound mind, joyriding with Returners under phony aliases across the most arid desert on Earth, risking imprisonment for committing fraud and even heresy for impersonating a clergyman.
The Magitek Knight must have been eyeing me nervously for the past five minutes. But I couldn't help it. There would be little, if any, way to cope with getting caught. We had gone too far by this time. I was pouring sweat. I couldn't feel my fingers. Blood thrummed in my temples. Shutdown would be inevitable. They'd resuscitate me, then realize it had been that lunatic journalist from South Figaro the whole time.
Oh well. Many fine books have been written in prison. Maybe I could strike up some sort of common-law agreement with the bailiff and put a bestseller towards shaving some time off the wait for parol. They'd be lenient, considering it was just a first offense.
"Oh! Ms. Chere! What ails you, my dear?"
"No, what ails 'you'? For a moment, you looked ready to black out or something."
"Uh. . ."
"Leave him alone, Celes." Locke Cole, an unusual hero for an unusual situation. "He's trying to get ready to help our friend, here."
He gestured to my assistant, who was thrashing about on the floor of the coach like a drugged serpent. Growling and frothing against the gag in his mouth, he glared daggers at me from across the caravan, as if to say 'What a stupid disguise! You can't fool anyone!' How wrong he was if I could fool the Returners of all people.
"Have you ever seen anything like this before?" Sabin asked across the way.
"I see it all the time, my friend! These things are commonplace in my profession. You get people from every walk of life coming to the clergy and asking atonement for things you couldn't even imagine. It's drunkards struggling with their inner demons, harlots looking for God, or even some widow trying to move on with his or her own life."
"That's so sad." Terra said.
"Muverfuver!" Zen muttered with a mouthful of loincloth.
Hearing this, Sabin shoved a foot in the rancher's midsection. "Sorry," he said, turning to look at me. "The devil made me do it."
I said nothing. The devil was on the verge of making me kick him myself.
By midday, we reached Figaro Castle. They had been silent hours, marked by muffled whispers from the Returner folk on such matters as what the future would have in store for them. It would be gambling on their foresight to discuss such things with a journalist, not to mention a journalist with the demeanor of a priest. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but to be at least a little curious as to how this world would be suited to meet their needs.
Silently, I began to speculate.
Would Sabin follow in Duncan's footsteps and teach the art of the Blitz? Would Terra run off to Mobliz and become a surrogate mother to all those parentless children? Would Locke move on to be the father of modern archaeology, with Celes becoming an eager colleague of his? And what of the gambler? Would he make well on his aspirations to open some big-name casino in the middle of such socio-economical giants as Jidoor or Nikeah or Tzen?
Too soon to tell, I suppose.
The grand alcazar of Figaro stood in silent repute before us all. Its wings branched out as though it were struggling to unite east and west like Aria de Mezzo Caraterre. The main vestibule, a rugged gray bastion of flagstones and war pennants, loomed up from the desert floor as though it were put there for some very grim purpose. Far off in the vista, the Falcon touched down, casting an ominous shadow over the west wing. Minutes later, the gambler was leading the over-the-hill Returners, Strago and Cyan, in a weary flank back to the castle.
Terra was the first to call out to them. "I still don't see why you guys never took the stagecoach with the rest of us!"
"And leave my ship back there in that snake pit? You've got to be out of your mind!"
Resisting the urge to comment, I disembarked from the caravan with the others. Despite the ordeal, I was becoming more tranquil. The last of the drugs must have been working their way out of my system. I let them. Time had always been the real cure for such things as drug-induced psychosis. Perhaps by dusk, Zen would also come out of the funk he'd been in.
"Your Highness!" The chancellor came surging out from the palace with his regal robes in a knot. "I heard you wished to cancel the race! Was something done that was not to your satisfaction?"
"Not at all," he replied, walking with the chancellor back into the castle. "Merely a change of heart. Nothing more."
The whole time they were talking, my eyes scanned the horizon with delightful reckoning, suddenly free of the aggravations of imprisonment. At the very least, we'd be inconspicuous for another day. Figaro Castle, given its reputation as a technological marvel, was the perfect place to crash. No authorities, no breach of security. Just a quiet place to rest and regroup. What more could a fellow felon ask for?
"Chancellor, I'd like you to meet Father Alger."
With a quick smile, I shook the Chancellor's hand while the others assisted my assistant from the coach to the castle. By the Goddesses, what a sorry sight he was! His beard, I could tell, was three days old, bordering on standard wino trim. His ten-gil prism tunic was coming apart at the shoulders from all the road-wind. His pantaloons looked as though they had just been digested by a Zoneater. If that wasn't bad enough, the Honky was actually smiling!!
"A friend?" the Chancellor inquired.
"Friend of the Lord, perhaps." If our maker was anything like him, we were in more trouble than I thought. "Just another side-saddle atheist I found scouring the racing grounds a few hours earlier."
"Can he be helped?"
This he was asking while my assistant lumbered unsteadily in the general direction of the esper girl. "Hey, babe! What's say we blow this here sand castle and get our own shindig on elsewhere?"
To that, Terra slapped him. "Get away from me!"
"I'd like to think so, Chancellor."
* * *
Here's to you and here's to me!
The best of friends we'll ever be!
But if we should ever disagree,
Fuck you, and here's to me!
This charming little dirge pops up every now and then in my mind, though I fail to remember exactly how it was that I came to acquire it. It may have had something to do with a skirmish that I had gotten into following a supposedly friendly poker game in Zozo some three years ago, back when the town's social structure was more intact than it is today. I have this distorted image of Dagsson, editor of the 'Balance Quarterly', throwing his bald head back and amply gloating over a five-card spread of Aces and Eights, a Dead Man's Hand.
A play threatening to live up to its name.
"No hard feelings, aye Goldfist?"
"Of course not," I answered while he raked all of my hard earned cash into a very expensive jacket pocket. "Another article on Magitek Armor and that money'll be mine all over again."
Dagsson guffawed. "That's the spirit! Come! I'll buy ya a drink!"
It was just his way of saying that he'd get me drunk so that I'd lose my mettle for the next of our fated poker encounters. It almost makes you glad that friends come and go, because with friends like these, who needs Kefka?
Or my assistant, for that matter?
It had been almost three hours since we found him back at the Figaro 400, yet he showed no signs of leveling out whatsoever. I made a friendly request to the chancellor, asking if we could have him isolated so that I might have some time alone to work my 'white magic', so to speak. He was all the more eager to oblige and several of the others even seconded the idea. Clearly, he was not going to make any friends in the realm of Figaro this day.
With the chocobo rancher in tow, I ambled on over to the east wing. I was quick to realize that, while both wings were interconnected to the rest of the castle, they were not accessible by causeways. One actually had to exit just to enter either flank of the goddamn castle. A machinist perhaps, but Edgar would hardly make a worthwhile architect.
So, there I was, stumbling through the grounds of Figaro, looking like a cleric out of some upper-Albrook hobo jungle, while my attendant appeared to have been struck with a class-3 Bio spell. How had things digressed like this? Granted, we were safe, but we weren't fooling anyone other than ourselves. Those Returner folk had to have been more brainless than everyone was giving them credit for.
"Do you have any idea what we got ourselves into, now?" This I uttered while I lugged the fucker up the east wing stairwell. No response, so I pressed him even further. "When the authorities catch up to me, they'll spare me the indignity of castration just so I can rot in a jailcell and be some bad man's boyfriend!!"
He seemed unfazed.
"Can you fucking hear me?! You're going to give me a record!!"
He scoffed. "Hah! A record! You can't sing! You got no record!"
With a grimace, I tossed him onto the mattress in a less than graceful manner and cracked the seal on our kit bag. A small emerald flask caught my eye. An antidote - just what I needed.
"Open up," I said.
"More drugs?" he asked, sounding hopeful.
He opened an eager snout, one reeking of trench mouth from days of going without proper hygiene. The antidote went down without dissension. When it was gone, he sagged on the bed as though his life had been extinguished. I made no effort to wake him. It was the first moment of comfort I had gotten since the excursion started back outside Barstow. It seemed like a lifetime ago. It didn't matter. I had finally regained control of the situation.
He stirred some three hours later. The castle had grown quiet and I prayed the withdrawal would keep his bantering down to a minimum. I was trying my darndest to finish documenting the past three days.
He sat upright on his bed. "Is it Monday yet?"
I was having the strangest feeling of deja'vu.
"Yes," I said, scribbling feverishly on the vellum before my creativity bled dry. "Now, go back to sleep."
"I'm not a fuckin' child!" He rose to his feet, but the first vibes of a hangover drummed in his head. He sat back down. "Damn. . ."
"My feelings exactly," I said, putting the paper away. "What happened to you after South Figaro, anyway?"
I had long since shucked the cleric attire. The door was locked and there was little chance of a Returner walking in on us this late in the night.
"Well, I remembered hearing about that race from the esper girl. So, I thought I'd go out there and give those riders some council beforehand. Where's the harm in that?"
"Well, for starters, there's the off chance of getting your claws on some of those Pahsana Greens! I mean, shit man! Don't you remember anything about the last few hours?! You were blasted out of your skull!"
He stared at me.
"You've completely lost sight of the whole mission! What about the Marandian Dream?!"
"The Marandian Dream?"
Yes. The Marandian Dream. So, that had been the reason we were out here. It suddenly made perfect sense. After all, Maranda is a township which had endured more than its share of Imperial persecution. If you were to go there now, you'd find that it stands as a distorted mirror image of Zozo on a much smaller scale. Pit battles and dog fights clog the commons. Harlotry runs amok. Even the ever virginal Lola begins to weaken to the seductive glare of sin.
Thus, The Dream (as it came to be known as), was inherited by our township through the deviant legacy of the late Emperor Gestahl. For the simplest of terms, were anarchists, rising against convention and, to a certain degree, the rest of the world, who dared not to become involved in our fight to fend off the Empire.
So, here we were: two Marandians, born and bred, giving the world hell on our poor towns behalf!!
Oh yeah, my assistant finally said, after a long, contemplative pause. Well, I havent lost sight of any of that. If anything, Im more Marandian now than I ever was before!
I glared daggers at the fool. You scurvy shyster bastard!! Getting the rest of the world in on our contempt doesnt count! Dont you know that musclehead brother of the kings could have torn you limb from limb?! Hell, that wouldve been subjugating Figaro into our Dream!! What would Siegfried say if he knew you were gallivanting off with the chocobo folk?! Fuck, hed have you drawn, quartered, and fed to the carrier pigeons!!
I suddenly realized Id been yelling, so I toned my pistol-whipping down to a dull roar. Just promise me youll keep your wits about you. Were in the vortex, now! Theres no going back! Hell, weve found the man nerve, here!
Ideas began crashing around in my head. What percentage of the Surf Chasers out there were Marandian in origin? Probably we could round up a whole horde by tomorrow afternoon and take South Figaro unconditionally. Then, we could carve another notch in the Marandian belt by ransoming the town to Edgar, whod fork over two more townships to the Marandian syndicate for the safety of his people. Hmmmm....
As your assistant, he said, I advise you not to get carried away. Hell, its only been three days and I am already getting the Fear!
Youll be straight in a few hours. Ive never gotten into a hangover or withdrawal symptom that I couldnt get out of.
He sat, rose, sat again, then thought it best to stay on his feet. Dont fuck around, man! This is serious. One more hour in this castle and Ill kill somebody.
Nonsense. Voices could suddenly be heard from the window, feminine voices. I went to the sill and saw Terra and Celes stroking a chocobo down in the kings liveries. Listen.
What? he said.
Two women fucking a chocobo.
He gave me a long, hard stare.
Dont tell me those things. Not now, man. Not in this place. Fuck, Im claustrophobic! You didnt know that, did you?
I didnt. I would probably have to find some way to keep him idle, because he was not a pleasant person to be around when drugs were part of the equation. One of the things you learn after years of coping with drug people is that you can turn your back on a person, but NEVER turn your back on a drug, especially when its packing a crossbow thats been banned in every commonwealth that has a name.
At last, I conceded. Alright, I replied, You wanna leave? Fine. Ill even lend you some money. You might get as far as Nikeah if youre luck holds out.
I wanna leave fast!
He clutched his abdomen with both hands, groaning and sweating all the while. I had seen theses symptoms before. He had reached the fearful intensity that only comes at the peak of a drug-related seizure. He would need rest if he wanted to rid himself of the intestinal pains.
Of course. He had his back turned to me, giving me opening to pull an ornamental sword from the guestroom wall. Will ya take a check?
Why not? he growled between throes of anguish. I can cash it . . . down at the Imptooth. You dont even . . . need any ID . . . down there. They . . . know me.
Having said this, I secured a firm grip on the blade and made ready on my intentions to incapacitate him for the second time this trip. I was not looking to decapitate, only to deliver a concussion. So I swung back and struck him hilt first. The desired effect came, and my assistant dropped in an obese heap on the bed.
Gods mercy to you, you monkey swine!
* * *
Two days Id been awake, now. Jesus, Im tired. But even after all this, I simply cannot afford to go to sleep. Too many important things are happening that require my attention. Besides, the ill-fated words of my assistant jarred me. One more hour in this castle and Ill kill somebody. It had been his exact words. I couldnt let it happen. Not here of all places, goddamn it!
So, I stayed up, trying to forget what tomorrow threatened to bring by wandering around my regal confines. With candelabra in hand, I made my way through the many dark corridors of the cavernous castle. Pictures trimmed with golden pewter lined the way, each one displaying the previous Figaro lineage drawn by some unsung artisan or friend of the family.
I had only just begun scrutinizing over Edgars fourth generation, a king and queen by the names of Cecil and Rosa, when I saw a shadow take root on the chamber wall ahead. It danced like a marionette with several strings cut. I tried my best to dismiss it, assuming it was probably just some concubine of the kings.
On closer inspection, however, I found that it was not some high-priced harlot from a distant land, but the Magitek Knight herself. Her hair was a disheveled and clammy blond mess atop her head. By fireside, she seemed only to be wearing one of Figaros many tapestries, draped around her lithe frame like a cloak. She startled me at first. I didnt want to believe it was her.
Celes, my dear... Words wrestled for space over my tongue. I knew I was minus one cleric uniform, but she didnt appear to take any notice. What ails you?
She threw her head back and let out a cackle. Ail? Do I look ail to you?!
A rhetorical question?
Come! Come! She gestured wildly with her hands, still gripping the crimson garment lest it leave her naked. She seemed totally incapable of rational thought. The others are waiting for you in the parlor!
With that, she curtsied and spiraled with the grace of a ballet dancer. I was so beside myself at that moment that I consciously had to tell myself to move forward, one step after the other. This was just another terrible dream, I told myself. Im asleep. Of course I am! Im probably crooked in a fetal position back in the east wing, with a blanket thrown over me trying without mercy to block out the sights and sounds of everything strange. Knowing this to be fact would have made me feel a whole better.
[It is the insistence of the editor that urges you to divorce the logic of your strangled mind before reading any further. It should lighten the blow considerably...]
Oh my hearing aid...must I forsake you...
I cant even hear his smile...
The broken lyrics of an allegid opera diva while she and her treasure-hunting suitor romped across the parlor, wearing nothing but tapestries tied like togas around their frames. Hearing this, Locke would then genuflect and spin like a top, saying:
Love goes aflight...like day into night...
And...it makes me...wanna scream...
Hang on. It gets worse.
To Strago, the Retainer of Doma shouted, Hey, you! Lets fight!
The blue mage sneered. Thems be fightin words!
And the two went down on the floor in wrinkly heaps, threatening to pull out their Kodachis and Pearl Rods if the other didnt watch their step. I moved to intervene.
For...fuck...sakes, men!!!! I grabbed a hold on the most proximate one, trying to find a handle on the situation. Youre Returners! What the fuck manner of solving your differences is this!!
As it turned out, it was Magus, the more elderly one, I pried from the duel. The wrong one.
I never heard such an old timer speak so fast. Merely watching the mage lecture me made me feel like I was going to trip up over his tongue!
Lets do it, bro! yelled Sabin to his brother from the table. You and me!
Edgar squinted. What are ya talkin about?!
He didnt know. Neither of them did. Not that it mattered. The two had apprently found oblivion at the bottom of a bourbon bottle! Great. Now, I had a couple of regal crazies to explain as well. The two Figaros started laughing. Jeering. Making catcalls at the opera defamers. Placing bets on the two geriatric brawlers. Just when it looked as though their episode would never find control, the two passed out in concert on the table, both their heads hitting the hardwood with dull thuds.
Your Majesty. . . I began, and ducked as a human projectile swung like a pendulum from the chandelier above. What the-
It was the Veldt child, hanging like a monkey on acid from a very expensive Figaro fixture and crying out like a banshee in the dark.
Nothing unusual there, at least.
BLAM!! BANG!! CRASH!!
Inharmonious and swift, the Wandering Gambler, seeming to be in a world of his own, went about pitching a deck of extremely volatile Red Cards into the fireplace, setting off a string of vicious explosions that threatened to consume us all whole!!
Fuck the role of a cleric. This was serious! Setzer! For the love of Odin, man! Put the cards away! Youre gonna kill us all!
But my warning was for naught, and flames and tinder continued to lash out vehemently from the hearth with every flick of the gamblers wrist.
Was there some contagion going around that I wasnt aware of? Was this the Returners way of celebrating the fall of Kefka? What could possibly explain such deterioration among them?
Images, such as those I have just disclosed, I hold only as guide-pegs. Explaining it all, of course, was Terra Branford, who found solace in a distant corner of the room. Her emerald-blond hair was being thrown back over her right shoulder with every fiery explosion that Setzer was responsible for. She noticed nothing, not the lampshade over her head nor the yeti that was bringing down a wintery tempest with its Blizzard Orb just beyond the parlor. She was far too busy being oblivious as her chubby white digits clutched a smoldering joint of some intrinsic drug. I sniffed the air and found, to my horror, that it reeked of Reagen. My jaw hit the floor.
It cant be!!!
But it was.
Our saviors had fallen prey to the Marandian Dream.
* - Thanks and praise goes out to Fred Russell, one wonderful bastard who inspired this entire chapter, not to mention this endearing and oh-so-true limerick. So Fred, if you ever stumble across this, I trust you had a wonderful time in Dominica. Remember your sunblock next time. Itll ward off the flies, not to mention those pesky pirates of the Caribbean! ^_^
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