Oh how beautiful...
The tower was magnificent, almost beyond his wildest dreams, but only almost, since that was where it had sprung from in the first place. Immense, untouchable, rising from the bleakness of the continent below. How the little people in their cities quivered to see it forever on the horizon, his tower of ruin, made from ruin, built of ruin, atop the ruin that was Vector, the ruination of Vector, made of the ruin that was Vector. Oh, he appreciated the irony— the times when he remembered just what irony was. The rest of the time, he just admired the iron bars jutting out at all angles. Sometimes lightning hit them, and made pretty sparklies. Oh, he loved the sparklies...
There were still people down below, in that beautiful, glorious wreck of a world he had ushered into being. He could see them, little itsy-bitsy ants, scurrying by. When he was in a good mood, he would fry them with the heat of his judgment. Never too sure what happened when he was in a bad mood, though. Try as he might, he could never recall what happened when he had one of his little “incidents”, as he loved to call them. What was left afterwards was always interesting, though.
The sun shone a single ray of light through the hazy clouds, striking a boulder of slag-glass embedded in the wall, and he was lost in contemplation for several minutes, with the beautiful, swirly colors.
He awoke to a noise, a wonderful noise, inspiring, energetic, frenetic, stupendous. Full-throated laughter, from the diaphragm, which reached a place deep in his soul, brought him back to the real, and he realized that he was the one laughing. A brief pause, and then he laughed some more. Must have thought of something funny, he supposed.
Oh, oh! what was that he saw in the distance? A dragon? A dragon! His palms itched, and his fingers twitched, and little balls of electricity began to dance around the tips. He hadn't properly electrocuted a dragon in mid-air since... since... he'd ruined the world and made them all his minions. Oh yes... no blasting of the dragons, that was right. And this one was carrying something, a cage? A present, for him? Who could it be...
As the beast neared and his eyes could see the prize close-up, he noticed the wisps of blond hair blowing between the bars of the cage, and the low, pitiful moan of a woman in terror. Oh, how sublime! They had caught her and brought her here, just as he'd commanded!
The General... His collection was growing larger.
“Ow.... where am I?” A woman's voice, a soprano, wavered in the darkness.
“Welcome to the gallery, kiddo.” A man's voice answered.
“Huh?” Not the most polished reply she could have given, or should have, even. How many times has she played the damsel in distress, been the victim of imagined kidnappings and tragic plots? She could have written a book on the proper way to behave when being taken away forcefully by a deranged monster, in the operas. When it happened in real life, she found herself wishing that she hadn't botched her lines so badly.
“Our Lord the Most Excellent Benevolent Omnipotent Potentate Superpotentiary, Master Kefka's Gallery of Rogues,” replied the voice in a sing-song sarcastic tone. “What did you do to get sent here?”
“Nothing, I'd dare say! I was just singing and doing my job!”
“Same here, same here, 'cept not the singing part.” Now that her eyes were getting used to the darkness, she could see him a little, an normal enough looking guy with a shock of pale hair, who was lying in the cage next to hers.
“The name's Keyes, by the way. Merchant out of South Figaro, and yourself?”
“My name is...”
“General Celes!” The crazed scream ripped through the air, to echo and rebound across the room. Lights flared into existence.
The room, or rather the cavern, was huge, and filled with cages hanging precariously from the ceiling. Big, small, old, new, but mostly empty. Besides the man Keyes and herself, only two or three looked to be occupied by anything living.
And then there was the strange man on the outside...
“General Celes! How nice to see you again!” the man cackled, rubbing his hands together nervously. “We, or I –yes, I— have been looking forward so much to this moment!”
A clown? That was her first thought, and she almost laughed at the man with the strange paint on his face, and the gaudy rags covering his body. Then she saw the flames in his eyes, and bit back a giggle. Opinions could change quite fast, she'd found in the past, and none so fast as hers at this moment, as the man changed from goofy to terrifying. That she had just noticed he was floating unsuspended over a twenty-foot pit helped to put things into perspective as well.
She tried to stand up, to face him, but the suspended cage was too wobbly for her to do it well, so that she had to cling to the bars lest she lose her balance completely.
“Oh yes, General. I've got a few things to say to you!” thundered the strange little man. “I've been making a list, and checking it every day. Then I decided I should do it in a more cultured fashion, and so wrote a poem. Every time you've made me angry, I've added another word to it. Shall I read my composition to you now?”
She tried to nod, but couldn't muster the will to call more attention to herself. For all that the man – Kefka, had Keyes called him? — had been addressing her this whole time, he hadn't really been looking at her. Those eyes of his had been focused a foot above her head, and she didn't want them staring into her own anytime soon.
Lord Kefka cleared his throat, pulled a notebook from a pocket, and leafed through it for a moment. Satisfied that he remembered it well enough to recite, he placed it in a completely different pocket, took a deep breath, and began:
“I hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-hate-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE-HATE YOU!” Satisfied, the man turned around and floated out of the room as suddenly as he'd appeared.
“Is it always this weird around here?” she asked in the silence.
“You have no idea.”
Oh, that had been fantastic! He preened at the memory of the look on the General's face as he had recited to her. Oh the fun they would be having in the years to come.
If only the collection was more complete... but he had the thief, the old man, the guy in black, the moogle... and the General. Yes, she made it all worthwhile, she did. Five out of a dozen, but oh, he would have the rest soon, he was sure of it. And aside from the green-haired girl, the General was the one he'd really wanted.
He really needed to find the proper way to celebrate, he decided. Simply reciting his poetry had made him feel good in its own way, but part of him still wished for something bigger... He would have to think about this for a while.
“...and what gets me the most,” she shouted. “Is that this isn't even the first time someone's tried to kidnap me!”
“Do tell,” Keyes said obligingly. The opera girl had been going off on the subject of their captivity for a few minutes now, and he was finding it all quite amusing.
“Yes! Last year there was an attempt by this great rogue, a gambler and a gentleman who wished to press advantage upon me! He had the audacity to send a letter announcing his intentions beforehand!” She slumped against the cage bars and sighed. “It was so romantic... and then the impresario had to go and find a body-double to protect me. And she got kidnapped instead! I was so jealous, I didn't leave my dressing room for days.”
“Hey, I think I was there for that performance,” said Keyes. “Was that the time the octopus fell out of the ceiling, and those folks had to fight it on stage?”
“Yes.” She sniffed derisively. “Talk about over-playing their parts. I have no idea how such amateurs even got onto the stage in the first place. And then that Amazon body double got herself kidnapped instead! Really!”
“You're really hung up on that, aren't you?”
“I don't suppose you would understand, but Signor Gabbiani was such a charming fellow, a true swashbuckler. To be kidnapped by him would have been an experience worthy of tales and songs for years to come! Instead, some tart with a sword gets the honor, and I have to wait around for another year to be kidnapped, by a dragon of all things!” she shook her head. “And all the knights in shining armor are dead, if you believe the Followers' propaganda.”
“Yeah, well we all have to do what we can, Ms. Celes.”
“Don't call me that! My name is M—“
“SHH! What did I tell you before? It doesn't matter what your name is. The Big Guy has gotten it into his head that you're Celes, and Celes you shall stay. If we get him confused, there'll be hell to pay later on.”
“But I'm not Celes!”
“Wozzat?” A voice drifted up suddenly, from a cage to their right, and hung slightly lower.
“Hey old man, you awake now?”
“Yer, whozat? Zat you, Keyes?” Now that she knew there was someone inside the cage, she could just barely make out the beggar's robes and old man's face pressed against the bars.
“Better be, I'm not going anywhere. I've just been talking with our new neighbor, Miss Celes.”
“CELES!” Keyes shouted.
“Hm, sounds familiar...” the old man muttered. “Can't remember now... tired... good night.” The dim figure leaned back into the shadows, and soon a faint snoring could be heard.
“Poor guy,” explained Keyes. “His Craziness has been using him for status spell experiments, got him slowed down and half asleep at all times by now. I'm surprised he was talking as much as he was. Used to be a gardener in Maranda, before he was picked out by the Followers for looking too much like some other old man His Supreme Insanity has a grudge against. Just like the rest of us.”
“How come he can use your real name?” she asked, pouting.
“'Cuz Lord Nutter doesn't know the real name for the Thief, whom he believes I am. I can get away with it. You can't. Sorry.”
Now, why had he done that? he wondered as he looked down upon the smoldering mass that had been one of his Followers. Something had made him mad, that was for sure. Maybe the piece of paper he now found himself grasping in his left hand? Perhaps, he told himself. He looked at it.
A list of damages, it looked like. Monsters killed, and not just the little ones. Those weren't important—he often roasted them for fun, himself. No, these were big monsters that had been killed. He shredded the paper without reading any more. He wasn't very angry now, since he'd already had the pleasure of flambeing the messenger, but he still felt like doing something violent.
So... what should he do to whom? he asked himself.
Work on the slow spell on the Old Man? Make it a super aging spell? He'd decided against that several times. The Old Man was old. If he got much more so, there'd be only dust and bones to play with. No, hold that thought for when the little Artist was in his clutches, or the Wild Boy. Those two had years to spare.
See how much electricity the Thief could take? A fun possibility, but he'd done it before, and there'd been so much clean-up to do afterwards... no, not this time.
Who did that leave.... Oh, yes...
He grinned widely, and started running, laughed all the way.
Soon he was standing in front of the large door that lead to his Gallery. He wanted to go in and cause some mayhem, oh he did... but there was a time for everything, and he had to wait for the proper moment.
Thunder rumbled in the distance, and actinic flashes could be seen hurtling between the clouds he had just summoned. Get ready... wait for it...
Just as the doors swung open, a magnificent blast of electricity struck the iron pillars outside the tower, giving off a most wonderful display of sparklies to illuminate his entrance. He thought the effect looked perfectly ominous.
With a quick motion of the fingers, he cast his modified floating spell, and levitated towards the cage he wanted. The prisoner inside could only stare wide-eyed as he conjured a spike of ice in his right hand. He put on his best grin, the one that seemed to split his face in half with all his teeth showing, and stabbed with all his might.
“Ahahahaha! How do you like that! Kupo! Kupo! Take that!” Another stab, another squeak from the thing in the cage.
“My God, what is he doing to that...” “Shh, be thankful the teddy bear's taking it instead of us,” he heard the voices say behind him, but he ignored them, like he usually did with the other voices he heard from time to time. They didn't sound like they had any good suggestions anyway.
“Kupo!” Stab. Squeak. “Kupo!” Stab. Squeak. “Kupo!” Stab. Squeak...
“That was... disturbing,” she said, craning her head to look at the remains of the poor teddy bear after the crazy man had left. It continued to rain stuffing down from its cage, and she could see a little red ball hanging forlornly on a wire connected to its head.
“Yeah. Happens about once a week. A Follower will come around and replace it soon enough. At least it wasn't one of us this time.”
“He does that to real people?!”
“Not the stabbing, no. For the rest of us, he gets creative. He once used me to see how much he could amplify a basic lightning spell on a living target, but he got bored around the time he had to cast a revive spell on me. At least he used the spell, though. Have you met Hans?”
“Ah, okay. That's him over there,” Keyes said, pointing up and left to another of the occupied cells. She'd noticed the man up there before, all dressed in black, but since he didn't seem to speak she hadn't paid him much attention.
“The Grand Whacko thought Hans looked like Prince Sabin from Figaro at one point,” Keyes explained. “Or, as Lord Loon called him, the Muscle-Head. That was before we learned not to contradict him on names, you see. We always called him Hans instead of Sabin, and one day we slipped up in the presence of His Goofiness. And so poor Hans was treated to a special demonstration of a new type of fireball spell.”
“And to make matters worse, there is nothing Our Lord and Torturer finds more boring than healing spells. He barely finished my revive spell that one time, but with Hans, he actually got fed up halfway through and walked out. Left the poor guy half-healed and well-done. Now Hans' official name is the Guy in Black, another of King Kook's nemeses, apparently. He's sure got enough of them. How's it hanging, big guy?”
The figure in black waved an arm for a moment, then fell limp against the bars of his cage.
“Yeah, I feel ya. Situation normal : all fouled up.”
It's that time again! announced one of his voices, the words ringing in the back of his head. Unlike the other voices, this one he payed attention to most of the time. It knew how to have fun.
But what time was it? The voice would pop in from time to time to make vague remarks like that, and leave without telling him anything. It was his head, so he was supposed to know, after all. He padded through the many pockets of his coat until he found his trusty notebook, bound in leather, lovingly stabbed with an ice-pick to make it look worn and well-used. He loved it so much, he had the pages replaced every three months, except for the parts with his poetry.
Schedule, schedule... Ah, there was today's date. Things to Do.... insult the heroes, check. Torture something, check. Practice attack spells, check. Blast a city to rubble... Oh! He hadn't done that for ages, or a few weeks. It was a good thing he had a little voice in his head to remind him of what he was missing.
Time to start the show.
When the lights first came on, she barely noticed. Night and day didn't seem to have much of a hold in the Gallery, and the meals provided by the Followers came at such irregular intervals that it was anyone's guess what the date actually was. The bright lights would turn on and off at random, and all she knew was that it was screwing up her sleep schedule.
Then came the sounds of heavy machinery, and the walls began to glide apart. That got her attention.
“Ah hell no, not again!” yelled Keyes from the neighboring cage.
“What's going on?”
“The Tower's going into audience mode.” Just as he said it, all the cages in the room were jerked upwards, making it impossible to do anything but sit and ride along.
She tried to ask what he meant, but it was lost in the sounds of the gears turning, and her own screams as her new home was swung every which way. Her eyes clamped tightly shut to fight back the rising nausea of motion sickness.
When she dared to open them again, it was to the sight of a huge amphitheater, with the cages from the Gallery swinging idly in their own section. Every other seat was filled with Followers in their uniform grey hooded robes. A strange conglomeration of crystal pillars dominated the view outside.
“Judgment time,” Keyes said, his tone dripping a lack of enthusiasm. “Some poor town's going to get lightly crisped, and not a thing we can do but watch.”
“Hail Lord Kefka!” began the chant—just a few Followers in the beginning, but swelling quickly to a full roar.
Floating down from the rafters, and wrapped in his finest green cloak, the Great and Powerful Supreme Magus Kefka grinned broadly in appreciation of his Followers' zeal. They seemed to enjoy the Light of Judgment almost as much as he, though in their case there was undoubtedly some relief that they weren't the ones about to be graced with the Light of the Lord.
With a raised hand, he silenced the crowd. They, his loyal servants, filled the amphitheater almost completely, save for the special section reserved for his guests. The five heroes in their cages were a gloomy lot, and clearly didn't understand what kind of fun they were about to witness. There was no accounting for taste, really.
It was up to him to make them appreciate the finer terrors in life.
“Dearest Believers!” he shouted into the microphone. “It has been a long time, I know, since the glorious Light shone down upon our inferiors in the world below! But today, today I really have the urge to blow things up on a massive scale, and you have the privilege of watching!” He waited for the cheers to die down. “Today's target, as chosen by my incredible method of throwing darts at the map of the world, will be that snooty abode of supposed cultural superiority, Jidoor!” He could hear shouting from the heroes' cages, but he took it for granted that they would be upset about little things like genocide. “For starters, we have selected the biggest building in the area for Judgment! Say goodbye to the opera, my Followers!”
Obediently, the assembled crowd did just that, in a mumbled drone of farewells.
“But first!” he continued. “It's not over until the fat lady has sung, in accordance with the prophecies of the common man! Do we have a fat lady in the audience tonight?”
Of course they didn't—no one ate enough these days to stay fat—but it was always good to try and keep up with tradition, before blowing it all to hell.
“I can sing,” came the voice, projected loudly through the murmur of the crowd. He knew it instantly.
“The General! What a surprise, my dear Celes; I thought the arts were something far above your ken. Let's hear it for General Celes, everybody! She's going to sing for us!”
The crowd murmured a little more loudly.
The mechanism holding the General's cage whirred to life at his command, and in moments he was face to grinning face with his enemy with the canary-yellow hair.
“Sing then, my little canary bird!”
She took the microphone from his hand, a bit hesitant or, he cherished the thought, perhaps even afraid. Leaning against the bars, Celes—his General, his captive—began to sing.
“Amor mio, caro bene, perche vai lontan da me ? Giurasti un amor, che mai non dovea aver fine per noi...”
It was beautiful. It was amazing. He couldn't understand a damn word of it, but he was... what was the word? Moved, yes. Idly, he wondered where the General had learned to sing so well. Her voice was quite soothing.
Too soothing, in fact. Even from this distance he could see the relaxed faces under the hoods of his Followers. He should do something about it, he knew that, but none of the voices in the back of his head could come up with a suggestion. Not a one, not even the annoying ones that always suggested nice things.
There was just one thing for him to do, then. With a mental command, he activated the devices set into the theater floor, and the crystals which generated his Light of Judgment began to descend, returned to storage for now.
What was massive destruction, after all, without an appreciative audience?
“Good going, kid.”
“Thanks, Keyes. I didn't know he'd do that, though.” Lord Kefka had waited until her aria had ended, then abruptly canceled the entire event. The walls and floor of the theater had shifted and their cages returned to the Gallery.
“Hell, who knows what he's thinking most of the time? You hit the right buttons on the guy, that's for sure. Again, nice work, Mari..”
“Sh!” she hissed, with a grin. “Please, call me Celes for now.” It didn't bother her that he'd known her name the entire time—he'd admitted to enjoying the opera, after all, and was bound to have recognized her at some point. However, she'd been given a role to play in this gallery, and she was going to play it to the hilt.
Her life, and those of her fellow captives, might depend on it, after all.