Some Enchanted Evening Chapter 1
[Do I start writing all this down . . . Name this for me, heat the cold air . . . Take the chill off of my life . . . Cross my heart, hope not to die . . . Swallow evil, ride the sky . . . Then the unnamed feeling . . . Takes me away. -'The Unnamed Feeling', Metallica]
I've never kept a journal before.
I suppose, I've never really known a reason why, although being some mindless drone to a now-defunct Empire may have had something to do with it. Opinion was often believed to have bred opposition in Vector, and all Imperials were as silent to Gestahl as they were subservient. Magitek Knights like myself were, generally, no acception . . .
Hierarchy. My apologies. This isn't what I'm trying to get down on paper.
I stepped down from the deck of the Falcon five years ago, and I haven't set foot upon those adventurous timbers since. Five years. Gosh, when you come right out and say it like that, you wonder to yourself where all that time went. Probably swallowed by the same hole that had claimed my friends. Had they forgotten? Were they dead? I'll probably never know for sure. Maybe I'm just not meant to know . . .
Nostalgia. Sorry. I'm getting off track again. Rest assured, that won't happen anymore.
So, what does all this amount to, you're probably wondering? I guess it all provides a common frame of reference, a little something to prepare you for the story that's coming. You'll dismiss it at first. I have trouble believing it myself sometimes. Of course, flying continents and a companion that came from the gullet of a trench worm didn't exactly go over well with all those Maranda-born historians, either.
So, I ask you, my Journal, or whomever it is that happens to come across this account some day, to bear with me. I'm no storyweaver. Far from it, in fact. I'm a Magitek Knight.
My name is Celes Chere - and this is my tall tale . . .
* * *
I suppose the whole fiasco really started with a routine of transferring some of the remnants of Old Vector to Figaro Castle. Quite a popular profession these days. I guess, I was still looking for some kind of place in the world, and I wasn't about to sell my soul as a mercenary for hire. The world wasn't big enough to handle 'two' Shadow's!
But it wasn't thankless work, not in the least. I had Edgar and Sabin backing me, two of the best friends a reformed Imperial could ask for. There had been some serious misgivings between Figaro and the Empire during the Esper Years. Fortunately, the good brothers of Figaro not only had the common sense to let bygones be bygones, but also offered me accomodations in their castle.
I'm glad some things never change.
It wasn't an easy expedition that one afternoon, however. The ruins of the late Empire lay deep within the bowls of the Phoenix Mountains. Without an airship to get there, the pilgrimage proved exceedingly difficult. Mountain climbing seemed to be our only option, although transport of the Imperial equipment would, at that juncture, be next to impossible. Thankfully, we came across a Returner faction at the base of a western hillock.
We were not, at first, met with arms wide open. My party came by way of chocobos and the Returners were on foot. So, right from the start, there was a clear division of power. Never a good sign when you were faced with the Returners, who fought for equality. Many had already secured cams to the foot of the slope and were preparing to scale the mountain. The better part of them were simply standing at the ready, making absolute certain that their endeavor would go unnoticed.
Being the head of this particular expedition, I was the one addressed first. "Halt!" came the gruff voice of a burly Returner, undoubtably the leader. I allowed for my group to stop. "These mountains are off-limits to non-Returner factions! State your business, here!"
I reigned my beast back a pace before answering. "We come under the orders of King Edgar Roni Figaro! Our business is that of the king's and no one else's."
The Returner paused for a moment, as if to digest what it was I had said. "These caverns are not in the dominions of Figaro! Surely you know, Old Vector lies within!"
"Indeed," I said, "but we come under extenuating circumstances."
He snorted with contempt. "And what might they be?"
"I was once a Magitek Knight."
The others of his party stopped what they were doing and eyed me with both awe and dismay. It was as if they had all just awoken from a bad dream. Since the Ruination, rivalry had increased tremendously between Figaro and the Returners, for it was believed that many innocent people died as a result of the king's so-called idleness. Now, with all their eyes like swords upon me, I was almost certain that a skirmish was going to ensue.
Instead, the leader jutted his chin in my direction. "You lie!" he said.
"You want proof?"
Without waiting for a reply, I dismounted from my chocobo and approached him. Lifting the bangle around my wrist, I gave them all a view of the insignia which had been branded into my skin as a child. It had been the mark of Vector once, one that most often appears in the history books as a fragmented seven etched in blood.
"Are you satisfied?"
I can't be sure, but his eyes almost suggested sympathy for me.
He quilled his pacificism by again questioning our presence there. I asked why. "As a sign of good faith," he replied, "Figaro and the Returners had been allies once. It would be nice to be able to trust King Edgar again, even after all this time."
It seemed like a fair request.
"It is His Majesty's request that we excavate the site of Old Vector, so that we might provide a basis for which magitechnology disappeared and if it can be resuscitated for practical purposes."
He nodded. "I see. So, you wish to repeat a very senseless and deadly mistake, do you not? And what illness has befallen the king that he would send you out on such a pilgrimage?"
"I have never questioned the king's requests before, sir. I owe him a great deal for all he has given me. Besides, he would never do anything to jeopardize the peace we have since found."
"How can we be sure of that?"
"All we're asking is that you trust us," I said, "as you did before the Ruination."
A sigh escaped him, one that seemed to last a small eternity. When it elapsed, he instructed his men to accommodate my own for the excavation at hand. A small victory, if ever there was one. Imperials, after all, had been sworn enemies of Banon and his Returner factions for as long as I can remember. Perhaps this is a day worth noting in my entries, a day in which old enemies had finally laid their arms to rest.
But how long it would stay that way was anybody's guess.
* * *
The minutes became hours. Days fostered into a week. Some days lagged on for what seemed like months; others passed us by without warning. At the very least, the weather held out. Every so often, an evening would be marked with heavy rains, making the already treacherous footing next to impossible to scale with any degree of certainty. But for the most part, conditions were dry enough for me and my cohorts to complete our work.
Pinpointing the various pieces of equipment was the easy part. Vector was, more or less, only a few hundred feet below ground level. What I gathered from the Returners, the city had been hammered through the mantel like a railroad spike when the Flying Continent rained down on top of it. Needless to say, the outer fringes of the town were decimated. Surprisingly, however, the main infrastructure of Vector remained intact.
The hard part arose when we had to transport the machines out of the caverns and over the walls of rock. The Ruination had thoroughly crippled the refinery's network of hallways. Many were pushed into contradictions so severe that they actually twisted in upon themselves so that the ceiling became the floor and vice versa. If this wasn't bad enough, as you well know, the Phoenix mountain range is a ring of pure granite, two hundred feet high in every direction.
Hence, what had originally been assumed to be a six-day mission turned into a three-week crusade as we went scouring the caves for enough dross to construct a crude pulley system. It was an idea that had occurred to one of my envoys one night while we all sat around a campfire. A crane with lifting straps that we could assemble at the zenith of the Phoenix range would help give us the edge we needed to pick up and lower our equipment safely to the ground outside.
Things went slower than I expected. Most of the Old Vector ruins were beyond salvageable and those that were wouldn't be likely to stand up to weights that were well over a ton and a half each. I knew these machines well. They were not designed to be ferried from one place to the next. They each were large, cast-iron structures of varying shapes and sizes. Some had the appearance of boilers, others were view screens with a near-infinite web of cables snaking out of rusted conduits.
Luckily, our Returner brethren were beyond impressed from the sheer complexity and grandeur of Old Vector to weasel out. "I'll say this much, general . . ." said my Returner frontman, who, by that time, had introduced himself as Livy. "You Imperials certainly were a smart bunch to craft such remarkable machines! How many hands will you be needing?"
"First of all, call me Celes," I replied. "Secondly, I'll be requiring all of your men. Half will need to set up a load-bearing structure on that knoll-" I gestured to the south, "-and the rest will have to help me do some reconfiguring on one of Kefka's little mementos."
"Mementos?" he asked.
"Come with me." I led him, for a moment, away from his tent and over to a large hydraulic arm which we had exhumed earlier that day. "It's one of two," I said, "a little something Kefka once used to try and pluck the gambler's airship out of the skies."
"You think it's going to be up to the task?"
I shrugged. "There's only one way to find out."
And find out we did, after enough time passed that is. As I mentioned before, excavation time was slow time, and it didn't go any faster when the task called for a little elbow grease. The arm must have weighed well over a ton. It took an entire day just to condition it for the job.
The only real thing to look forward to were the nights. Livy and his factions were always the first to pitch their tents of course, just before dusk. That way, they could get the best plots of land before anyone else. A few even resorted to staking the mountainside with their claims. My men would remind me that, it was just more convenient for those constructing the crane if they stationed themselves closer to the summit. I thought they were doing it just to ignore us.
All things considered, however, the nights were quiet. That's what I desire the most, you see: solitude. It's always given me a chance to evaluate the events of a day so that tomorrow could be as equally productive, if not more so. I also took those opportunities to brush up on the messages I sent Edgar periodically to inform him of my progress. Nothing too fancy, maybe three or four line on tattered vellum. Brevity had been a shortcoming of mine back then.
Day 1. Dropped anchor in Tzen at first light. Provisions made available in town marketplace. Gil consumption: 1,100. Started out for Phoenix Mountain at 1300 hours.
Day 4. Arrived at Phoenix Mountain. Encounter with Returner contingent was imminent but settled without prejudice. Excavation of Old Vector began at dusk.
Week 2, Day 2. Excavation was successful. However, construction of adequate crane and pulley system will take an additional few weeks. New developments to come...
Edgar had never been a fusy man, at least not with me. All of his men adhered to a very strict code of conduct, particularly when it came to giving reports. Old friends, like myself, must have been exempt from such policies. I was glad, not for being free of his rules, but for his understanding that I already had my share of rigid protocol from the Empire.
By the end of week four, I was beginning to tire from a most insufferable routine. Raking the caves for resources, sending off carrier pigeons, supervising crane construction, even ordering others around became redundant after awhile. It got to the point in which I consciously had to instruct myself what to do. Left foot. Right foot. Go to sleep. Wake up. The skies burn your face one day, then try to drown you with rain the next. Would it ever end?
"Still a paragon even after all these years, aye general?" I took Livy's tone as provocation. His vendetta against the Empire had, on many occasions, tempted me to slug the bastard. "Let's just hope that this outfit of yours works."
"You mean, this outfit of 'ours'." I constantly had to remind him that we were all in this together. "And rest assured, it will. Remember, I want to get out of this hole just as much as you do, if not more so."
"I'm glad we understand each other, Livy. Now, come with me for a moment. There's something I'd like you to have." I led him back to my tent, which I had cleared out the night before in anticipation of our departure. Digging through one of my dufflebags, it took me only a minute to find it: a dog-eared tome bearing the emblem of the Empire. "Here. I dug this up from the archives yesterday. Perhaps Banon will appreciate its contents."
"Is this what I think it is?" he asked.
"I should think so. This book contains all 112 of the theses which Gestahl himself wrote regarding his power over Vector. There may be use for it among the Returners, who battle for equally as opposed to 'absolute authority'."
There was a brief moment of silence between us. I could tell he was thankful; thankful for our alliance, and thankful for a sign of good fellowship with which to conclude our expedition.
"Rest assured, Celes, that your assistance and cooperation will not soon be forgotten by the Returners." He held a hand out before me. "May your trek back be free of incident."
"And yours as well," I said, accepting his gesture.
Less than an hour later, our big moment came. No contrivance of the Empire had ever succeeded in its first test run. Needless to say, ours was no acception. But both Returners and Figaro showed remarkable resilience and prowess on that fated day. Thankfully, none of our setbacks were the result of structural defects, only miscalculations regarding speed and wind resistance, all of which were resolved with an equal distribution of men both inside and outside the mountain range.
We weren't exactly breaking any airspeed records, but by sunset the package had been set safely down at the foot of the mountain, where our task had begun some four weeks earlier. With the artifacts then safely consigned and canopied upon our caravans, Returner and Figaro soldier alike could at last breathe easy.
Our mission had been accomplished.
"Not a bad four weeks too long, if you ask me!" Livy remarked. I remembered feeling somewhat uneasy about parting ways from this man and his fellow faction, as if the alliance we had achieved would not be a lengthy one. "Well then, general, if there is nothing else, then we shall take our leave."
"A minute, if you please." I was suddenly reminded of the letter burning a hole in my back pocket and pulled it out to give to him. "If you'd be so kind as to pass this on to the one among you named Locke Cole, I'd be most grateful."
With a quick smile, he took my letter and stowed it safely within his breast pocket. "How could I not, after all you've done for us?"
"Stay well," I told him.
With that said and done, I was quick to rein the beasts of our head caravan. The evening was young, and there was still the task of making Tzen before dark.
* * *
The trip back to Figaro Castle took almost three days, two days longer than it took to reach the Phoenix Cave. The equipment we had unearthed back in Old Vector slowed our progress considerably and Tzen's transition from a town to a port never made the going any easier. Several freighter trips were required to get everything across the ocean. Needless to say, my men and I were broke by the time we had returned to the Figaro continent.
Now, it had long occurred to me and my group that the chances of us being rained on were few and far between in the Figaro desert of all places. So, you can imagine our surprise when a downpour caught us off guard half a mile short of the castle. There was talk of a storm in the desert being an omen of some type, though I would hear no such drivel with our trek so close to being finished.
"That's very impressive!" I said to the chancellor, a mere stone's throw short of the entryway. Through some brand of technology that eludes me even now, Edgar had somehow managed to erect a heat shield around his kingdom, turning the torrents of rain into fleeting wisps of water vapor. It was, undoubtably, his way of sparing the steam-driven devices that adorned the exterior of his palace. "I never thought such an exploit possible, even for Edgar!"
"The same could be said about you," he replied, motioning to the long and weary flank of men that trailed behind me. "Should I take their languid manner as any indication of success?"
"I guess you could say that."
Having heard this, the chancellor clapped his hands together with delight, splashing water in my face in the process. "Splendid! You've done an excellent job, general! Have your men come inside! Beds and warm meals await you all!"
His regal robes now unknotted, the chancellor skirted back up the foyer and into the castle, almost stumbling in his haste to deliver the good news to Edgar. I sighed and informed them all that their journey had ended, who showed their gratitude by almost knocking me over in a mad dash to get their hands on a homecooked meal. Bunch of ingrates . . .
"Celes!" came a voice from within.
I knew who it was before even venturing to set foot inside the castle, though it wasn't Edgar or Sabin, whom I had originally expected upon returning. Nevertheless, to find him there waiting for me was perhaps the most wonderful surprise I had been given in a long time . . .
He had been sporting a different color of bandana around his head (faded blue to jaded green). But other than this, he appeared more or less the same: that same coat of trailworn leather; those same pantaloons; all those dirks and lock-picking devices lining his belt. Five years had been nice to him and I was more than happy to find him embracing me rather than settling for a handshake.
"It's been awhile!" he said. "I got your letter!"
"You did?" I felt like a chocobo caught in the headlights. How many times had I wanted to revise all those things I said to him? I didn't want him to take it the wrong way. "Well, I suppose there were times when I felt our expedition would never end. It's been a grueling four weeks for me."
He nodded with genuine sympathy. "I know. Livy told me all about it. A lot can be said about his clarity, though. I had actually been hoping to get the whole story from you, perhaps this evening at dinner?"
I shrugged. "Can't see why not."
I began to say something else but by around that time, Edgar and his brother finally got around to joining us. Watching as they both descended the extravagant staircase of Figaro, it occurred to me that they hadn't changed a whole lot, either. Edgar was a little less womanizing, though only by a very small margin, and while Sabin had long since shucked the bodybuilder attire for the maroon threads and gold trim of royalty, they still appeared more alike than they ever had before.
"Why, Locke! You old son of a bitch, you! How long has it been?" The king reached out and gave him an almost vicious handshake with Sabin following close behind. "Well, it would appear that we have ourselves a little bit of a reunion, here! How's about we have Mr. Gabianni pick up Terra and the rest of 'em and have a little gathering for ourselves?"
I gave him a weak smile. I must have been the only one in the room at that moment who wasn't looking forward to a get-together.
"It isn't that big a deal, Edgar," I told him.
"Like fish, it isn't!" Clapping his arms around Locke and I, we proceeded back up the staircase. "Figaro and the Returners haven't seen eye-to-eye with one another since the reign of Gestahl almost six years ago. But now, with no Empire to obstruct us this time around, this may very well be our chance at peace."
Again, the fake smile. "If you say so," I said.
* * *
If there was anything that Edgar was good at, other than machines, it was celebrations. Somehow, in the short span of a single day, he was able to reach them all, and I'd be lying if I said it wasn't good to see all those old but friendly faces. Handshake, after hug, after success story, after marriage proposal, it all became commonplace as we ruminated on the old days over warm food and smiling faces.
But it wasn't the same. My routine, my identity, my very life had died with the Empire. My being in this world felt out of place; it was nothing like the way things had been when I was still a Magitek Knight. I tried rationalizing by thinking that, I was still tired from the expedition, that tomorrow I'd probably find myself going to Edgar, insisting that he host another of these pointless get-togethers.
How I wished they would all just go away.
"You know, you've been musing over that drink since the festivities first started."
I tried my absolute best to ignore him, then I remembered just how bloody persistant the Wandering Gambler was!
"No, I haven't," I replied, curious as to why the bubbles in my glass had stopped effervescing. "I was just . . . thinking, that's all."
"Anything you'd care to share with an old friend? Don't let the gray hair fool you, Cel! I've often been told that I'm a good listener."
I allowed for my eyes to wander a bit before answering. From somewhere in the background, an upbeat rhythm of woodwinds and handmade tomtoms swept everyone away in a tide of frivolity. I can still picture Relm and Mog dancing up a storm while all the others clapped along with the music.
"Setzer, ever since that flight school of yours opened up, you never once used your airship. Doesn't it ever make you feel that . . . you've probably used up your usefulness?"
His reply was almost instant.
"Not for a second."
"Could I be so bold as to ask why not?"
"Because learning the ways of the skies is one thing, but getting the opportunity to share my experiences and to teach all those promising young pupils what I know is quite another. When Kefka's reign ended, it was a new beginning for me, just like it was for everyone else, and I must say, my school has given me a real sense of purpose when I'm reminded of the impact I've made on all those who look up to me."
Having heard this much, I was finally able to throw back my now-sour drink. "It must be a nice feeling," I said to him.
"You know, I bet you'd make a good teacher."
I couldn't help but scoff.
"At what? Airships?"
"Diplomacy. Gee, that's great."
"I mean it, Celes. After all, you did do a good job in making those Returners listen to reason back at the Phoenix Cave. You should think about it."
I assured him I would, suddenly remembering how tired I was. "I think I'll go and turn in early. It's been real nice to talk with you again, Setzer."
"Sure you wouldn't want another spin on the Falcon for old time's sake? There's nothing quite like a night above the clouds when the moon's full."
I couldn't help but give him points for effort. "No, thanks. It's been four weeks since I slept on a nice, soft bed. I'm not about to prolong the experience."
With that, we kissed and said our goodbyes so that I could turn in early. The din of old friends and loud music chased after me all the way back to my room. As fate would have it, my room was nestled directly across from the basement laboratory where Edgar had chosen to store the Old Vector machinery. Being the artificer he was, he typically had the habit of burning the midnight oil in that room of his, keeping me awake with his meddling even when he promised to stay quiet. That wouldn't be happening tonight, though.
With enough luck, he'd be too busy with old friends to fret over new inventions.
* * *
An inexpressible comfort found me when I had finally returned to my quarters, comfort which assumed many subtle but practical forms. For one thing, there were no toothy-grinned colleagues or a Figaro knight waiting for me. There was also the realization that, with the expedition completed, there would be plenty of time for me to work on my memoirs. [Spare me your sympathy, now. I know how sad it is to peak at twenty-three, but I'm no one's charity case!]
Which brings me to the third of my then-newfound comforts: a good old-fashioned bubble bath. Granted, I already had one prior to Edgar's little function, but they always seem to have a more rejuvenating effect at the 'end' of one's busy day. If you were to ask me now, I'd never be able to tell you how soothing it was to slip into that tub of water and let it take away the strain of a very turbulent four weeks.
A warm place with no memory.
I felt like never putting my clothes on again . . .
But of course, a knock at the door stirred me from this revel, ruining everything. Thank-you very much, Terra.
"I'm coming, Terra." What? Are you kidding? Tell her to go away! Is that really so hard? "Just give me a minute! I'm undressed!"
Grudgingly, I pulled myself from the tub and threw on a robe, somehow thinking that Terra's reason for visiting was a trivial one. Pulling the door ajar, I picked up on something about her in the glow of my lamp that I hadn't earlier that evening.
It must have been her smile.
It struck me as funny at first. Our esper girl, one who had been subject to almost every hardship and injustice imaginable, had somehow managed to succeed where I had failed: she had found a place for herself in the Here and Now. Gone was her gaunt frame and tragic expression; she was healthy now, and robust, and (dare I say it) beautiful.
Then again, she was hardly an esper girl anymore.
I tried my absolute best to sound surprised. "Hi, Terra!"
"Long time, no see, Cel!"
Nope, no esper girl here.
"I'm sorry," she added, "I didn't mean to disturb you. It's just that, we never got a chance to talk earlier."
"I guess 'I' should be the one apologizing." Though I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into my bathtub, I guess the power of friendship, at least right then and there, proved too strong to ignore. "Please come in!"
There was an urge to ask who it was that had tailored her attire for the celebration. Instead of an Imperial garb, she had elected to put on a snug bodice, one with a very sober hue of lavender. Shoulder-length sleeves with extended lace ruffles almost made her appear overdressed for the occasion, as if she were chancing some kind of Maria motif.
"That's quite the outfit you're wearing."
There was a chuckle as she adjusted her elbow-length gloves. "I know what you're thinking, and you're right. It 'is' a bit extravagant, but Navarin insisted that I make a good impression on Edgar and Sabin."
"Yeah, my fiancé."
I couldn't believe it! The esper girl was going to get married before me, and knowing that would depress me even more so than before.
It was a forced compliment, but it would have to do.
"You know, Cel, the whole relationship thing really isn't so bad once you give it a try. How are things going between you and Locke?"
"To be honest, today was the first time I've seen him in over two years."
"Oh." I wished for the subject to change, but it was obvious that Terra would do nothing of the sort. "Well, a little birdie whispered in my ear that, Locke will be going on an expedition of his own soon. Why don't you go with him?"
"Terra, did Setzer put you up to this?"
"Put me up to what?"
"Don't lie to me, Terra. We've been friends long before any of the others came along."
"I know that!" And suddenly, there was a more sharp determination in her voice. "And I've also been your friend long enough to know when you have separation anxiety."
"I don't have separation anxiety!" I slumped down on my bed. "I have 'Celes-can't-find-a-foothold-in-the-present' anxiety."
"Cel . . ." She place a comforting arm on my shoulder. "You have to let this Empire thing go. They've been dead for over six years."
"But I'm not, Terra. That's what makes it so difficult. No matter where I go or what I do, I just won't find a place around here."
"But the rest of us did," she said, standing to leave, "why can't you?"
Nothing more was said between us that night, nor was anything else necessary. She was right, after all. The others had managed to leave the past behind them, regardless of whatever demon it was that had once pained them. Terra's closing remarks left me torn between going back to the festivities and sinking back into a bathtub of water that was quickly growing cold.
But after much thought, I once more chose the latter.
Who needed 'them' anyway?
* * *
Things remained uneventful for a long time thereafter, which was just what I had hoped for. In the course of that one fleeting instant which followed Terra's abrupt departure, I remember feeling hesitant, even guilty. Maybe I was distancing myself from the others more than I actually needed to. Nevertheless, it was my own demon to deal with, not Terra's or anyone else's. It made me angry thinking about what lengths the others would go to just to help me with these problems of mine.
My friends, however, would soon become the least of my worries . . .
For the second time that night my bath was interrupted, only this time it wasn't some old friend entreating entrance at my chamber door. Rather, it was a visitor who chose to remain anonymous. Beyond, I could hear the sounds of feet plodding across the stone floor of my room. Despite myself, I bolted upright in the tub, not entirely certain who or what to expect.
"Hey! Who's out there?!"
There was no way I could have been mistaken. I could see the shadow of my intruder whisking across the far wall of my chamber. Not long after, the sound of a door being opened and closed followed. Whomever it was, they must have been in my room the entire time.
That did it. Enough was enough! Leaping out of the tub, I threw on a tunic, hopped into an old pair of breeches, and went out into the room, hunting for my Runic Blade. If there was anything I hated more than being kept from my bath, it was dealing with a peeping tom. Did they really have any idea who I was?
"Fine!" I said. "Be ignorant! It'll make it all the more easier for me to hack you into a million-"
To say that I froze in my tracks would be an overstatement, because the first thing that caught my eye beyond my quarters was what a Figaro sentry was doing, or rather, what he wasn't doing . . .
He never spoke, he didn't move, and on closer inspection I discovered that he didn't even have a pulse. Yet his eyes were open and he was still on his feet, apparently full of life. It was as if he had withdrawn from reality completely. Stealing a glance up along a tenement stairwell, I found another sentry in much the same condition. I even chanced to take a look over the balcony and down at the castle furnace. Not a single gyro was moving, even its vaporous emissions seemed to be frozen in the air above it.
It was as if all of time was standing still.
I didn't quite know why, but I kept expecting to wake up, as if it were all just a bad dream. Then a ruckus pulled me back to the Land of the Living, one that was emanating from that same insufferable storeroom of Edgar's. I had a hunch that whatever was going on, this spy was responsible for, and for the sake of Figaro I had to figure out what it was.
Silently, so as to not attract any attention from my intruder, I nudged the door open, one inch at a time. Her back was turned to me - yes, definitely a woman, although where she came from I could only speculate. Her garments were odd, almost boyish. She wore what looked like a white tunic beneath a pair of blue overalls that trailed off to a skirt of dark scarlet. A bright red cape hung down around her shoulders and white stockings went up to her knees. Neither the ritzy style of Jidoor nor the classic hopelessness of Mobliz. There was no putting my finger on it.
And what was this? Blue hair? Pointed ears? The buzzing and whirring of all kinds of devices that were anyone's but Edgar's? Something was definitely amiss now, and I began to reevaluate my original suspicions of this sleuth being from another world entirely. Her search was frantic, as though she were looking for a bomb that could go off at any minute.
"Come on! Come on!" she cursed in an adolescent tone. "Where are you?!"
"Let me guess," I replied, leveling my Runic Blade, "spring cleaning?"
The young girl reacted almost immediately, pivoting on one of her heels and making a motion to draw a weapon of her own.
"Don't! Anything you pull on me, you're gonna lose!"
She seemed to grasp this, and defeatedly she withdrew.
"How is it," she said, "that you can move in my time frame?"
"I'm the one asking the questions," I told her.
"I don't mean you any harm," she assured me, "nor anyone else in this castle."
Needless to say, I wasn't convinced.
"You're gonna sit down," I growled, "you're going to tell me everything I want to know, and then you're going to break whatever spell it is that you put on Figaro. Is that clear?"
With a nod, she seated herself and proceeded to tell me the story that would change my life forever . . .