Fear and Loathing in South Figaro Chapter 9
Monday, 9:00am. The sun was hot and I felt like killing something. Anything. Even a gecko. Drill the fucker. I pulled out my assistants crossbow from the duffle I hoarded in the mountains.
Sleek and snub-nosed, it was a genuinely unpleasant thing to look at. Ugly-looking bolts rested in the chamber, seven-inch-long slugs tipped with diamond heads for maximum penetration. I let out a war whoop on the eastern hillock, hoping to rustle up one of the scaly bastards or even a scorpion. Why not? Give its stinger a run for its money. . .
Then, movement. Subtle at first, as though it were making absolutely sure it heard me right, whatever it was. Soon enough, it was on the move, scrambling out across the valley floor. No time to act, no time to think. The hunt was on: a gazelle, probably forty yards away from my immediate position. It wouldnt have a chance. I was all the way up here, a shadow in the mountains. I may as well have been God, about to bring Judgement down on the oblivious and furry little fucker.
But no. I had fouled things up yet again! Somewhere between the first and second shot, a terrible recoil knocked me off balance and threw me from my boulder, scaring breakfast back to its cubbyhole. Since when did that shit disturber of an assistant tell me the crossbow on his person was an auto?! Things were bad enough as they were with a crossbow that was banned in every last inhabited corner of the earth. But an auto?! Who the hell was dangerous enough to build one? Fanatics probably?
I tossed the thing to one side, and tried relaxing. Sitting. Thinking. Brooding. One of the things I knew I couldnt do was forget. Our saviors were no more. The Marandian Dream had gotten them. All of them. There probably wouldnt be a pristine bone left in their bodies by midday. It was just as well, I suppose. Better to have the weak self-destruct now so that they couldnt spawn an entire legacy of loons who dance around in their drapery and swing from the rafters of extremely high ceilings.
I had tried to run from it, but even up here, in the high and mighty reaches of the Figaro Knolls, Id be the most conspicuous thing in this goddamn desert for the next five or six hours. The mental image I had of myself made me shutter: I was a hillbilly mental case in frayed clothing, with crossbow in one hand and kitbag in the other, one so full of felonies I was afraid to even hold it.
As for my assistant. . .well, who cared?
So, I ran. Big deal! Any sane person on the verge of a psychotic episode would have done the same. There was no point in both of us taking the full brunt of the consequences if the guilt could just as easily be born on the shoulders of a willing enemy.
Given a more different perspective of the whole situation, however, I quickly realized that I shouldnt stay fastened to the thrill of disappearing. At least in prison, his troubles would be over. Hell, hed even be fed for Christ sake. But I was still out here, drugged and set loose in the wild like some kind of an Imperial crossbreed experiment. And I, just like all my fast and furry counterparts, couldnt help but wonder the exact same thing.
Just what the fuck was I doing out here?
Was there a priest somewhere out in this god-forsaken desert? A real priest, I mean? I want to confess. Im a sinner, Lord! In every sense of the word - venal, carnal, major, minor - you name it Lord, Im guilty!
But sweet Palidor, esper of all that befriends time, I know YOU will do me this one last favor. So please, just give me the time I need to finish this goddamn story. One Returner. It was all that remained. Someone called Relm, apparently the third of three female Returner members. Thats not a whole lot to ask for, Palidor, because the final incredible truth is that, well, Im not guilty! All I did was take your legacy seriously. All I did was tear-ass my way through the desert of life under the automatic assumption that I had more time than I knew what to do with.
And now look at me: Im half-crazy with fear, in the middle of this desert, trying to finish a story I never asked for, with an assistant I never wanted. And wheres that time I asked you for?!
My primitive esper worship has turned me into the very criminal the whole world has come to despise, that same Imperial jester with sand on his shoes and bats in his belfry! You evil bastard! This was your work all along!! Youd better take care of me Palidor, because if you dont . . . youre gonna have me on your hands!
* * *
Despite my juxtaposition, I knew for a fact that Relm was the last of the Returners and that somehow I had to find her. Only two points on the compass yielded promise without risk: east and west. Castle Figaro was due north and Id be fucked for sure if I went back there. Barstow lay to the south, which was where this entire mess had started in the first place. No point in going back and run the risk of having the Wheel of Time crush me all over again.
What would it be? East or west? South Figaro or Kohilegen? It pained me to decide between the two. Either way, Id be met with no pleasantries and an awful sea of questioning eyes. I was an outlaw after all, having alienated our deliverers and reeking of substances that more appropriately belonged in a mobile police narcotics lab. But the day was dwindling and the girl wouldnt stay in the same town forever. . .
These were my thoughts as a pigeon set itself down alongside me. I half-expected it to be a message from the boss, telling me that I was fired for using his name as an alias. Then, I found that it hadnt the crimson wings nor the curved bill of those bred in Maranda. This one was blue with a leveled bill, much like those cultivated for delivery purposes in Kohilegen.
c/o HORATIO ALGER
OFFICE OF JOURNALISM
There was only one person who was native to Kohilegen that knew my name and it was the exact same person whom I had abandoned back at Figaro Castle some seven hours earlier. I reached into the kitbag and produced several amyls. I inhaled one after the other. Bad news would well up on that horrible horizon at any minute and I wanted to be ready for it. I plucked the parchment out from beneath the birds wing. It cooed and flew off. In large letters that were barely legible, the message read:
URGENT NOTICE: REPLY TO MESSAGE IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!
NEW ASSIGNMENT TOMORROW IN SOUTH FIGARO STOP WE ARE CORDIALLY
INVITED TO THE FIRST ANNUAL WIZARDS SYMPOSIUM ON ALCHEMY AND
DANGEROUS SPELLS STOP HARD TIMES EDITOR TO PAY BIG CASH FOR FIFTY
THOUSAND WORDS MINIMUM INCLUDING INCANTATIONS STOP WE HAVE
RESERVATIONS AT THE FIGARO INN COMPLETE WITH ALL UTILITIES STOP
URGENT REPEAT URGENT STOP
Jesus Creeping Shit. How did he get back to Kohilegen so fast? More to the point, how was he able to sink back in that little cubicle of his as though nothing had happened and manage to stumble onto yet another assignment for us? It was right then and there in which my embryonic Christian beliefs kicked in for the first time in life. My first impulse was to go out there to Kohilegen to find him, throttle him until he told me what he knew of the Figaro Castle incident, then unconditionally forbid him to go anywhere near South Figaro.
But one drug-induced tirade inevitably leads to another. There was no escaping any of this. The fucker was probably already on his way to South Figaro if he wasnt there already. So, that was it then. I was going back to South Figaro; I had no choice.
* * *
Three hours later, I was slumped forward over an oracles reflection table, listening to a woman who claimed to be the estranged wife of martial arts master, Duncan. I had upturned every last stone on Figaro soil. The mayor was thoroughly interrogated. Even the seafaring folk had been subject to my investigation. But there was no sign of my assistant. The only place I never bothered looking was the inn, and I was anxious of even approaching the innkeeper for fear that he would recognize me after scamming out the first time.
That Sabin was such a nice young fellow, the woman went on to say, hed always be more than willing to help that darling brother of his when he was in trouble. If it wasnt for him, I dont know how those Returners would have saved the world from that awful Mr. Kefka.
Though bored, I humored her as best I could. It was the only real way to tie up what loose ends followed the more fragmented of my Returner interviews, and thus I found myself resorting to questions concerning the odd Returner like Gau or Mog or even Umaro. Anything to keep this naysayer at bay so that she might talk herself into some kind of dreamless slumber.
So, you recognize Sabin as a more pertinent factor to the fall of Kefka, then.
What? Oh, goodness no! What I meant to say was, Sabin placed family on a pedestal. It was his love for his brother that kept him party to the quest of saving the world. I suppose all of them
Returners had their own reason for dispatching Kefka. But for the Figaro brothers, it was family.
I see. I pretended to scribble down most of what she was saying, intent on looking for an opening to leave. Id like to get off the topic of Sabin for a moment, if I may. Relm Arrowny. Quite the young individual for taking an active interest in such a dangerous campaign, wouldnt you say? The youngest of the group in fact, save for the yeti of course. What are your views on her involvement with the Returners?
For one fleeting moment, it appeared as though she lost interest in the interview. It was just the opening I had been looking for. . .
That child was incorrigible! she blurted.
She was a painter, if Im not mistaken. Oh, and that Owzer! He was just plain sinister! He could have sooner encouraged that young woman to stay with him in Jidoor to pursue her dream as an artisan. But no! He was the first one to tell her to go off and join the anti-Kefka rally, saying that hed be there when she got back, which he was I suppose. Still, it was no excuse. That darling young girl! How could anyone be so cold as to bring her along for the ride?! I oughta. . .
I had brought this on myself.
My good woman, I said at last, though her lips showed no signs of slowing, the true reason I had brought her up was that I was hoping you could help me find her. She is the last of the fourteen Returners I was hoping to interview before the end of today. Do you have any idea where she is at the moment?
Oh, those dastardly Returner folk! Not that I advocate imperialism, mind you! But how half-cocked are they to drag denizens from every corner of the world into their fight? Really makes you question who the true enemies are in this world, yes.
No wonder she was estranged.
Alright, then, I said, slamming my ledger shut, I believe I have everything Im looking for. If you have any other statements youd like to make, please feel free to send a carrier pigeon to the Office of Journalism in Maranda, and do highlight any points you wish to have emphasized.
Oh, but hang on a moment, dearie! You havent heard the best part of this story! Have you heard about Duncans other disciple. Vargas I think his name was! Oh, what a promising lad he was. He was always. . .
I closed her porch door loud enough for her to hear, but she just kept ranting on. What a windbag! I swear if I started pouring warm water over her, she would almost definitely start melting from all that pent-up hot air. It was clear to me at that point that my search for the girl would see no fruition talking to the Figaro folk. All I could do now was take my chances with the inn and authorities be damned.
It would take another hour and a half to actually set foot in the place. Though it was only on the other side of a very small town, task mages and alchemists alike were wresting over space in line at the inn for accomodations. You know itll be a bad day in South Figaro when the magic user behind you starts sketching lightning-elemental glyphs in midair. Just what the hell kind of mutant wizards were these? They couldnt have been here for the symposium if they were fixing to blast one another into oblivion.
Or then again, maybe thats what the symposium was all about. Standing there in line, still some forty-odd yards away from the inn, I pulled the telegram from a very withered jacket pocket. Right then and there, my own worst fears were justified. Dangerous spells shot up at me from the third line of the message. Great. An evening full of old farts debating as to which was the more efficient black magic spell. Meteo or Ultima? Merton or Quake? Sweet Jesus! Theyd probably burn down the mayors mansion while they were at it. The town would soon follow, and that would be the end of it.
Quite the busy week for South Figaro.
Again, I cracked open the kitbag, which was a ritual in itself for me. Small azure pills jostled around the bottom of the case. Blues. Depressants, I noted, and hastily threw several of the shiny things back. I began to mentally prepare myself for my inevitable encounter with the innkeeper at the head of the line.
Okay. Be quiet. Be calm. Speak only when spoken to. State your name, rank, and press affiliation. Nothing else. They didnt need anything else. You were only a journalist. Theyd understand. Wed both be in our element. We were, after all, professionals.
But when I got there, everything went wrong. I miscalculated the distance to the front desk and smacked up against it. So long had I spent waiting in the line that I never even took into account the Blues that were inhibiting my nervous system. All of my well-rehearsed lines fell apart under that womans stony glare.
HI THERE!! I roared. My name . . . its, uh . . . Lothar . . . Goldfist. A last name, that is . . . on the list . . . thats for sure. Free lunch . . . total wisdom . . . total coverage . . . my attorney . . . assistant . . . hes here. Waiting . . . hes actually my chauffeur. Hes with me . . . not on the list, but of it! Right. So, whats the score, here? Whats next?
The woman never blinked. Youre name is not on the list, she said, handing me an envelope, but someone was looking for you.
No! I screamed, sagging forward over the desk. I havent done anything yet! This is my first time in South Figaro! I swear it!
My legs felt rubbery. The exhaustion of being awake for three consecutive days had finally begun to take its toll on me. When my mind caught up with this message, it would instruct my body to unconditionally shut down. Then, Id be dead weight for twenty straight hours.
Things began to lose clarity. Those in the back of the line began shouting for me to pick up the pace. Terrible confusion. Fireballs and lightning bolts danced in the background but no one seemed to notice. Even the woman before me, who almost looked beautiful at one time, was starting to mutate: growing dervish horns; sprouting frog jowls; fuming an acrid yellow smoke that was throttling her co-workers to death.
I couldnt take it.
Ill handle this.
Not you again. . .
But it was. Pudgy digits reached out across the toad woman to take the envelope I had refused in the first place. My client suffers from a bad heart, he explained, but I have plenty of medicine. Keep us informed. Well be in our room.
* * *
I desperately needed peace. Rest. Sanctuary. With a large smelly arm wrapped around me, my assistant helped me up over the staircase and to our room. He looked different. His once unkempt head of soggy dark hair was now slicked back over his proportionate skull. He had long since shucked the frayed tunic and pantaloons for an emerald set of faith healer robes. Gone completely was the stench of alcohol and the slurred tone of voice. He was proper again.
I thought Id never live to see the day.
What the hell kind of fool are you? I barked halfway up the stairwell. Do you have any idea what the authoritiesll do to us when they find us here? Well be made for sure!
Thats what you get for leaving me back in that snake pit. You could be a little bit more appreciative than that, you know. I just got you out of a very ugly situation.
Which was true. Nevertheless, it didnt change the fact that neither of us were supposed to be here. We had more enemies in this one town than anywhere else in the world. The stableman. The innkeeper. Hell, even the mayor was against us! Coming back here of all places was the worst career move either of us had ever made.
Just dont do anything stupid. Thats all Im asking for. Youre only a rancher. The worst that can happen to you is theyll take your license to shoe chocobos. Do you know what happens to a journalist if he gets convicted of these felonies? They take his license to write. His license to write, I tell you!! If you separate a journalist from his writing, what have you got left?!
A Surf Chaser, he noted with a wry grin.
You son of a bitch, I said. Just take me to the room so I can get a few hours sleep.
It wont help you. All the same, he pulled out a ring of keys from his pocket and jammed them into the knob of room 129. Youve been awake for too long. Besides, the symposium starts in less than an hour.
Fuck the symposium! I yelled, and kicked the unlocked door ajar. I need rest!
A dull thump sounded on the other side. Curious, I peered in and found a unsteady young woman in a cornflower blue painters beret behind the door. She walked on by the two of us, as if her head-on collision with the door never happened.
Dont I know you? I asked her.
She didnt seem to acknowledge our presence, only skulked on by and collapsed on one of the mattresses. She was so familiar. I knew I had seen her face somewhere before. Had it been...yes! The racing grounds! Sure, this was the very woman who had been roaming about the Figaro 400 the day before last! The one who had helped me out of the sandstorm and into the comfort of the gaming tent. But why was she acting like this?
What did you do to her? I ordered.
What did I do to who? he asked, sitting beside her on the bed.
Who?! My uncle!! You know who Im talking about!! Her!!
Hey, relax. He picked up a bowl of green cherries and fed her in moderation. This is the end of your story, man! You were looking for her, right?
Well, yeah but. . .
So, I found her for you.
Yes, I thought. He found her. But to what lengths he took to get a hold of her I could only speculate. When she walked, she had a hard time keeping her balance. She couldnt even keep her head level on her shoulders let alone walk straight. Her eyes looked distant and unresponsive.
Scattered all around her bed were a sea of canvas drawings, no doubt sketched by the young girl. They were depictions of trail-worn explorers on relic hunts; prismatically dressed men emerging from the cavernous mouths of trench worms; Magitek Knights fending off Tunnel Armors; espers ripping the world asunder; and various other things youll only hear from barstool visionaries.
Its okay, Relm, he assured her, hes only my client. Thats Mr. Goldfist, famous journalist. Hes loves artists.
She nodded, seeming to understand. Could this young woman possibly have been drugged?
Relm paints portraits of the Returners, he said, sucking back on a few of the cherries himself. Right?
She tried speaking. Um, I drew these from experience. Yeah. Um, I spend a lot of time with them, helped them save the world and stuff. Um, yeah. . .
To find my assistant high on ether and locked into some kind of preternatural courtship was, needless to say, very distressing. But it painted a very clear picture of where we were heading. We were all but outlaws now. Fugitives. For us, nothing would ever be the same again.
Thats wonderful, I replied, grabbing a can of ale and heading for the door. Can I talk to you for one second. Yeah, you!
My assistant pointed to himself, confused, then gave the girl a small pat on the back. Well be right back, Relm. My client and I just have a few things to discuss. Okay?
She said nothing, only sat gawking at her latest masterpiece: a coal drawing of Maria with teeth like baseballs and eyes like jellied fire. We headed back out into the hallway, where I hastily popped the cap on some much needed alcohol.
Well, what are your plans?
Plans? he asked.
Yeah. You know, the child in the bedroom!
Oh, Relm. I met her at the racing grounds. Shes really quite harmless, though. Shes a religious freak.
Is that so? I said.
I knew exactly what was going on here. The state of the room said it all. It was one of those second-story soundproof suites, so no one would have stumbled on to their savage consumption of drugs. The caustic atmosphere of the room was enough to digest a drill battery, sprinkled liberally with the fumes of almost every type of vaporous drug known to civilized man. Well, things wont be so bad after all. We peddle her ass at the symposium, have a few task wizards use her for a spell dummy, and get ourselves some gil to work out an early retirement plan.
He stared at me. What?
Yeah, its straight economics. Dont worry about her. She can hold her own against those pigs. She helped save the world, after all. Hell, we could probably rake together a good three or four thousand gil in our first night.
Jesus, he said, his eyes suddenly angry, I knew you were sick, but I didnt actually expect to hear you say that kinda shit.
Itd work, though. Setting her up in one of these soundproof suites, hang pictures of the Returners all over the room, and turn the wizard folk loose on her.
You filthy bastard! I oughta cave your fuckin skull in! Shes just a child!
You have a better idea?
He began to understand where I was coming from. The girl was a potentially fatal milestone around both our necks. The youngest of the Returners, and therefore the most innocent, she would testify against us the second her head cleared and then theyd garrote us. Death on swift wings.
Realizing this, my assistant broke down in the middle of the hallway, crying. I want to help her, man! She needs someone to get her through this difficult time.
That, she does, I assured him, but even if you beat the guillotine, theyll still send you back to Maranda and hit you with rape, maybe even consensual sodomy. Forget it, man. We have to get rid of her.
Shit, he muttered, it doesnt pay to try and help somebody these days, man.
Final Fantasy 6 Fanfic