Authors' note: The contents of this chapter have been classified P for Pointless. They will have next to no impact on the rest of the plot, and are written for amusement only. Please do not take this chapter seriously in any way whatsoever.
Writing of Wrongs
The Author smiled contentedly as he leaned back in his comfortable armchair and put his feet up on his bed. Ah... he had to admit, he really was enjoying this story so far. Nice characters, not too serious, and the storyline had decent drive to it. And, of course, there was Aeris.
He still wasn't really sure how he felt about Aeris... actually, that was an outright lie. He knew perfectly well how he felt about her, but at the moment he didn't want to admit it to himself. He was here to protect her, and the last thing he needed was personal matters getting in the way and clouding his judgement. Because he sure as hell wasn't going to let anything happen to her.
He sighed. It was quite late now only about eleven o'clock, but that can seem quite late when you know you're going to be woken up at the crack of dawn but he really didn't feel like sleeping. There were still too many thoughts flying round his head.
There was a small desk up against one wall, and a few sheets of paper scattered across it bore testament to the thinking he had done in the hour or so since he'd come in to get settled down. Spread across the leftmost few sheets each headed, 'Mission' was a series of words or questions, each one circled and linked to others. In the very centre was simply, 'FG?' and around this were, 'Aeris,' 'Sephiroth,' 'Jenova,' and, 'Cloud.' 'Perigee,' was written below these, but had been crossed out.
The question that had obviously been foremost on his mind was scribbled at the bottom of one sheet: 'How does FG know about LTF?' A few suggestions were written underneath: 'Ex-agent?' 'Helped by Writer? stop God playing games?' and 'Creature that can see through reality? Jenova?' were the only three that had not been rejected.
It seemed the Author had given up on this, because no conclusion was written down, and the next sheet after these bore a simple table, headed, 'Plushy list.' It had ten columns, labelled, 'Level 1,' through, 'Level 10.' At the top of the third column was, 'Crono,' while, 'Gilgamesh,' was halfway down the Level 8 column and, 'Schala,' was right at the bottom of column nine. The Author wasn't entirely sure why he'd put them where he had. It had just seemed the right thing to do at the time.
He was very proud of having spotted the Crono plushy. He doubted anyone else had even noticed the cowled figure drop it while Roch was busy duelling with Jenova, or that they had seen him dart over and pick it up. But he had, and if he hadn't been trying to complete the whole set he would have been rather disappointed that it was only a level 3 one.
The Author sat up wearily. He really should try and get to sleep it was difficult enough for him to get up in the mornings, and...
He stopped and stayed perfectly motionless. From his wardrobe had come a very faint sound. For some reason, he instantly identified it as the fizzling noise a stick of dynamite makes when lit.
Moving with the stealth of a ninja and the speed of a snail, he crept over to the wardrobe and waited by it, his hand on the door. Then, in one swift motion, he hauled it open and reached in.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, pulling out a Gopher, who gave him a sheepish look and hurriedly blew out the fuse on his dynamite.
"Er... hey there!" he said, trying to sound innocent.
"What exactly are you doing now?" the Author enquired coldly.
Gopher sighed, sounding like a gale whistling through the leaves of an extensive plantation. "Shtill don't know," he admitted. "I'm shtuck."
"Shtuck? I mean, stuck? Hmm..." The Author pondered this. "How did you get here?"
"Can't remember. I think I've alwaysh been here."
"Ah." The Author nodded. "I see."
"What d'you shee?"
"This means one of two things," the Author explained. "Either something is seriously going wrong with the plotline, causing references and characters from outside to find their way into the story, or whoever's writing this is just messing around. Quite possibly both."
"Makesh shenshe," mused Gopher. "After all, I'm not in "
"Yes, you have said before."
"Oh. Sho how do I get back t'Hundred Acresh?"
The Author shrugged. "Not really sure if you can. You've basically got to hang around until the book's finished, and then when everyone's stopped reading you can do pretty much what you want." He brightened up. "Hey, if you can't get back, at least that means people are still reading this."
"You've losht me," said Gopher matter-of-factly.
"Sorry, just thinking aloud." The Author looked thoughtful for a moment. "You know, seeing as you're stuck here, how'd you like to help out? Your skills could be quite usheful... damnit... useful."
"How would I do that, shonny?"
"Well, to put it simply, you sit around until I need you, when you do what I say."
Gopher nodded sagely. "I can do that."
"But can you promise to stop turning up all over the place?"
"Good." The Author pointed towards the small window, through which rather pleasant moonlight could be seen filtering in. "You can use that window for your exit, if you want."
"Oh, thanksh, shonny!" Gopher waddled over, leaped up onto the windowsill, and shoved the window open. He turned and waved happily at the Author. "I'll be sheeing you waaaaaaaahhh..."
An expression of resignation tinged with amusement on his face, the Author shut the window once more and turned to the bed.
He was just about to collapse face first, still dressed, onto the inviting mattress, when someone knocked nervously on his door.
Cloud couldn't believe his luck. Half an hour ago he'd been sitting moping in his room, with no prospects for the night other than to sample the Gold Saucer's extensive minibar selection, and now here he was out and about with a very attractive girl. At least it looked now like Tifa had forgiven him about the whole Nibelheim/Ess affair, although it seemed Ess hadn't yet. But, Cloud decided, worrying about that could wait 'til the morning. For now, he was content to just enjoy the moment.
Tifa, too, was having a pleasant time. The two of them had explored the Speed Square and had just finished sampling the delights of the Wonder Square, where Cloud had done the traditional thing and won her a soft toy from one of those mechanical arm games. The ones with a claw with the grip of a bunch of bananas, which always drops the toy halfway to the chute. She smiled at the thought. He must have set that one up earlier, because the toy bore more than just a passing resemblance to her. In fact, the likeness was simply uncanny.
She had been hoping that Cloud might open up to her a bit tonight, and he had, to some extent. Not quite the, 'There was never anything between Ess and me. You're the only one I've ever wanted, Tifa,' she'd been hoping for, but this was better than before.
"So, what now?" asked Cloud as the two of them walked, arm in arm, towards the ridiculous transport tubes that connected the Gold Saucer's various Squares.
"Sir," said a youngish staff member, standing around and trying to look cheerful, "there's a play on at the Event Square every night." He glanced briefly at his watch. "I think it'll be starting pretty soon."
Cloud and Tifa exchanged glances.
"Yeah," said Tifa eventually. "Why not?"
There was a large group of ten or so people hanging around in the Event Square's reception area. They were clustered around the receptionist's desk, where one of them obviously had a problem with something.
"So how did you get up here in the first place?" he was saying. "I mean, you'd look ridiculous even if that was one of their entertainer suits, but as it isn't..."
"Look, give me a break, will you?" came the reply. "I'm just the receptionist, okay? Not exactly my idea of a good time either. Now why don't you just go in and sit down like a good boy, and I'll see if I can drop something heavy on you during the performance, how about that?"
"Hah. I wouldn't put that past you."
"Oh, leave me alone."
The discussion seemingly over, the group began to disperse slightly and move away from the desk.
"Hi, Barret," said Cloud as he pushed his way through it to the receptionist. "Now, we'd like... Barret?"
"Yo!" Barret replied cheerfully. "Joinin' us for da show?"
Actually, now he came to think about it, the whole group did look familiar. In fact, it appeared that everyone else... well, now Cloud and Tifa had arrived, everyone had convened in the reception area at the same time. Someone with more sense than any of those present might have wondered about that.
"Oh, hi, guys," Cloud said. "What's up?"
Perigee pointed to the receptionist. "Nothing, really. I was just surprised that he got a job here."
Cloud inspected the individual in question. He didn't look all that well - he was a rather sickly purple colour all over. And his arms lacked definite joints. And there were eight of them.
"He's an octopus," he observed.
"'Fraid so," said the octopus. "Name's Ultros. Temp'ry staff member only. Thought I'd hang around here and see what the place's like."
"He built up a debt in the Wonder Square," interrupted Perigee, "and now he's got to pay it off by working here."
"What was an octopus doing in the Wonder Square?" wondered Cloud out loud.
"Everyone's gotta relax sometimes, haven't they?" said Ultros testily. "Look, you guys're together, right? Then why don't you go in, find yourselves some seats and get outta my face. Partic'ly you," he pointed at Perigee with three tentacles. That guy unnerved him. From his expression when he'd first come in to the room, you'd have thought he recognised Ultros from somewhere.
"Yeah, let's go sit down," Cloud decided. "It'll be nice to watch a play all together."
"Yeah..." said Tifa quietly.
As Cloud and Tifa led the way into the huge theatre, they were intercepted by an attendant dressed in an outrageous yellow uniform. It matched the d้cor of the Square, though.
"Congratulations! You're our 50th... um..." The door attendant's eyes widened as the rest of AVALANCHE entered the large hall. "Hey now, hey now! We can't allow such a large group in here! You'd be too disruptive."
Cloud scratched the back of his head. "Hmm... couldn't we just compensate you for any trouble?"
"Well... that could work. Okay!" The attendant smiled broadly. "That'll be 300,000 Gil, please!"
"Three hundred thousand?!"
"That's being generous, mind you. There's no telling what sort of mess you'd make."
"Excuse me," interrupted the Author. "This sign says that couples get in free."
"Yes..." conceded the attendant cautiously.
"Well then. We're a group of seven couples."
There was a crowded moment as AVALANCHE split into units of two. Aeris slipped her hand into the Author's, which distracted Mr. Big long enough for Kasuto to grab him. Tifa managed to get her arms around Cloud before he could make his way over to Ess, who frowned slightly and took Perigee's outstretched hand.
"Don't get any ideas," she muttered in his ear.
The Major barrelled over to Roch and took up a defensive stance, ready to protect such a small helpless old chap from any danger. Croft and Cid took a look at the remaining choices and wisely picked each other, leaving only...
"Ah, dang," complained Barret. "I got the dog."
"Nanaki," said Nanaki.
"Uh... I don't..." stammered the attendant.
"Is there something wrong?" asked the Author smoothly.
"Not... no, there doesn't seem to be anything..." The attendant continued to look puzzled for a while, then his eyebrows unfurrowed and he regained his original sunny disposition.
"Congratulations! You're our 50th couple!" He smiled at Croft and Cid. "Please come this way, there's a special prize for you."
"Oh, no, you don't," said Perigee. "We're all together. Any prizes are shared between the lot of us."
"But... but the boss..."
"Don't worry," reassured Tifa. "We'll take responsibility."
Those were the magic words.
"Right this way!" beamed the attendant.
The individual in charge of directing the plays put on in Event Square was an oldish man, in his early fifties, and was beginning to feel it. His hair was starting to show signs of greyness, and he was finding his daily walk to work was becoming... almost arduous.
There was a hesitant knock at the door. The director sighed. There was only one man he knew who was that reverent of him.
"Come on in, Bucket."
The attendant pushed the door open cautiously. "S-sir, I've got the people to act in the play. Uh... they..."
"Well, show them in!" The director couldn't help but have a momentary pang of fear. One day they'd get a couple who couldn't act at all, and that would be the day they were ruined.
The first person through the door was Perigee. His eyes bulged, and he suddenly looked unwell.
"Hans? What the bleem are you doing here?"
"Roberts! What a pleasant surprise! I got separated from my team, and wound up here. It's not a bad life. But..." he continued as AVALANCHE began to fill the room, "...I never knew that couples came in groups of more than two."
"It's a long story," said Perigee.
"We got your door attendant all confused," explained the Author.
"Okay, maybe it's not such a long story."
"Wait, wait," said Tifa. "You know this guy, Perigee?"
"Um..." Oh, no... what can I say?
"We used to work together," explained director Hans Niesentose, of Iota team. "That was a while ago, though. Please put that back." The last remark was directed at Barret, who had picked up an antique jade figurine from the corner of Hans' desk.
"What? You didn't talk to Meshif?" asked Perigee incredulously.
Everybody looked at him.
Drat! Now I'm doing it! "Sorry," he said. "I'm not quite sure why I said that."
There was a short pause.
"Aaaaaanyway," said Cloud finally. "We're the winning couple. What prize do we get?"
"Well, originally the prize was the chance to play the leads in this evening's play. But since we've only got one Evil Dragon King outfit, and we can't have EDK kidnapping four princesses..."
"And since I'm not being a princess," interjected Kasuto firmly, "we'll like have to think up something else."
"We could..." began Mr. Big.
"No," warned the Author.
"But just one..."
"Well," said Hans thoughtfully, "I suppose there's always this."
As he reached for a desk drawer, there was what could be described as a bunching of literature. This, of course, is not the only possible description. Perigee could have given a half-hour dissertation about literary potentialities, collapsing waveforms and plot tunnelling. The Author would simply call it a clich้. Cloud might well talk about destiny, fate, or the will of the gods.
"This is what I've been working on during my time as director here," continued Hans regardless. "It's... a musical, of sorts. It's still not right - I'm sure there's something missing, but I just can't place what it is. That's why I haven't had it shown. But," he glanced at Perigee, who was desperately trying to avoid guessing what this was, "maybe you fellows can sort it out."
Ess was the first to break the stunned silence. "Excuse me, a musical? You really expect a random group of fourteen people to all have musical talent?"
"Well, I'm sure you can all sing, can't you?" asked the director.
There was a chorus of good-natured assent from everyone, even Barret.
"...right," said Ess eventually.
"Well then. We'll delay the performance for a few hours, and I'll have copies of the script made, so you can all start learning your lines. Now we just need to sort out who's playing who. Bucket!"
The attendant appeared in the doorway. It was becoming apparent that he fulfilled the roles of most of the Event Square staff.
"Here, make fourteen copies of this," ordered Hans, handing the man the script.
"Yessir." Bucket left.
"Okay. I'll do a description of each of the characters, and anyone who wants the part can say so after the description. Ready?"
There was a pause.
"You have to say either Yes or No," said Hans after a while. "Although if you say No, I'll pester you until you give in."
"Yes," said Cloud.
"Right! In order of appearance: Terra Branford: A mysterious young woman, controlled by the Empire, and born with the gift of magic."
"Um..." said Perigee, wide-eyed.
"I'll do it," said Aeris. "This is starting to sound interesting."
Niesentose made a mark on a pad of paper he'd produced from somewhere.
"Next is Locke Cole: Treasure hunter and trail-worn traveller, searching the world over for relics of the past."
"I like the sound of that one," Cloud decided. "I'll be the rugged yet handsome adventurer."
"Okay." Hans scribbled a second note below the first one. "Edgar Roni Figaro: The young king of Figaro Castle, ally of the Empire, and master designer of machinery."
There was a brief pause.
"No one wants to be the king?" asked Hans, surprised.
"Oh, I'll do it," the Author said after a while. "Doesn't bother me too much."
"Thank you. Sabin Rene Figaro: Edgar's twin brother, who traded the throne for his own freedom."
"Me!" Perigee exclaimed, then went bright red under the combined force of everyone else's surprised stares. "Um... I've just always liked him as a character, that's all..."
"Moving on," Hans cut him off hurriedly, keen to go on to the next part before any of the others started to wonder about Perigee always liking a character who he'd only just heard of. "Celes Chere: Product of genetic engineering, battle-hardened Magitek warrior, with a spirit as pure as snow."
"I'll do that one," volunteered Croft. "I'm pure. Sort of. And I want to be a Magic warrior."
"Celes is a female character," Hans pointed out.
"I'll play her," said Tifa softly.
"Good, good. This is working well, isn't it?" Hans gave them a pleasant smile, then returned his attention to the cast list. "Cyan Garamonde: Faithful retainer of his family's liege, with the courage and strength of 100 men. I assume you'd like to do this one, sir?"
"Oh, yes, absolutely!" Croft agreed. "I look brave and strong enough, don't I?"
"Next..." said Hans tactfully.
This went on for a few minutes more, until everyone was sorted out. Everyone, that is, except Ess.
"But it's the only part left!" said Cloud reasonably.
"Absolutely not." Ess shook her head. "I am not playing the evil Emperor. There must be some other part I can have."
Hans scanned down the sheet. "I'm afraid that's everyone," he told her sadly. "I'm sure we could find a position for you on the backstage crew or something, though."
"That's hardly the same!"
"Do you have a better suggestion?" said Hans pointedly. Ess looked down.
"No," she said in a rather small voice.
"Right. Open the door, please."
Ess did so, without really knowing why.
"Thank you." Hans raised his voice. "Bucket!"
The sound of hurried footsteps approached down the corridor, and after a few seconds Bucket appeared and stuck his head round the door.
"Sir?" he asked breathlessly.
"We're missing a Gestahl," Hans informed him. "Go bring me the first guy you come across, okay?"
The footsteps receded once more. Hans was about to say something when they started coming back towards them again.
"My word," he remarked mildly. "That was quick."
Bucket entered shortly, propelling a tall suited man in front of him. The new recruit seemed none too pleased about being drafted into this, although there was also a fair amount of confusion in his expression.
"What is I, doing here?" he snapped. Behind him, the Author looked embarrassed and tried to hide his Summon Cameo Character materia. He hadn't even meant to use it that time.
Hans put on his best 'the customer's always right' smile and made to shake the man's hand. "You, dear sir, have been selected from hundreds of possible candidates to play one of the leads in tonight's play! This is a great honour!"
"I, feels he must inform you," the man began, then happened to look round and spot the Author. "Oh. Suddenly everything becomes very clear indeed."
The Author shrugged and mouthed, "Sorry."
"Is that an acceptance?" Hans asked hopefully.
I, Caroussis sighed wearily. "Very well," he muttered resignedly. "But I, is not happy."
"I still can't believe I didn't get a part," grumbled Ess.
"Look at it this way," said Perigee. "There aren't any female main parts left, so you'd have to play either a random NPC or... Shadow or somebody."
"But still. Anyway, most of the parts aren't very fitting. You're a bodybuilder, Cloud's a thief..."
"That's TREASURE HUNTER!" shouted Cloud, who was getting into his part.
"...the Author's a womanising king. It's not like a female mysterious ninja with a dark past would be entirely out of place."
"Look, I sympathise, I really do," reassured Perigee. "But there's nothing I can do about it. I've got to learn my lines, as well as keeping an eye out for that octopus. I know he's going to try something."
Kasuto, meanwhile, was bored. She'd learned her lines easily, and was now sitting on a bean bag watching the others with disinterest.
An idea struck her, and a wide grin spread slowly across her face. Now she just needed to find a pen...
ORCHESTRA: 'Final Fantasy'
PROLOGUE: Long ago, the War of the Magi reduced the world to a scorched wasteland, and magic simply ceased to exist. 1000 years have passed... Iron, gunpowder, and steam engines have been rediscovered, and high technology reigns... But there are some who would enslave the world by reviving the dread destructive force known as "magic." Can it be that those in power are on the verge of repeating a senseless and deadly mistake?
Exit Prologue. Curtains open to a cliff scene. Enter TERRA, VICKS and WEDGE in Magitek Armour.
VICKS: There's the town.
WEDGE: Hard to believe an Esper's been found intact there, 1000 years after the War of the Magi...
VICKS: Think it's still alive?
WEDGE: Probably... judging from the urgency of our orders.
VICKS: And this woman, this... sorcerer. Why's she here? I heard she fried 50 of our Magitek Armoured soldiers in under 3 minutes.
WEDGE: Not to worry. The Slave Crown on her head robs her of all conscious thought. She'll follow orders.
Terra sat in her armour, trying to keep a vacant expression on her face. It wasn't easy - the wind machine kept blowing her short green hair into her face, and it made her want to sneeze.
The green hair was a wig, of course, but since her own hair was significantly longer, and hung down at the back, the overall effect was rather odd.
WEDGE: We'll approach from the east. Move out!
COMMANDER: There she is! Get her!
Locke watched the soldiers progress slowly, momentarily at a loss. He'd left his sword offstage, and without its familiar presence he was having a hard time concentrating.
Something nudged him in the back of the leg, and said, "Kupo, innit?"
"Moogles? I didn't know there were moogles in these caves," said Locke thankfully, the next few lines being easy to remember.
MOOGLES: Kupo! Kupoppo!
"...you know what I'm sayin'?" added a rarely-seen black moogle, waggling its ears at him knowledgeably.
"What's that? You want to help?"
"No, young Timmy's fallen in the well, what do you think? Er... I mean, 'kupo.'"
"Well then! Let's kick those sons of submariners!"
They fight. The guards get the worst of it, and eventually...
The moogles dance with joy at the victory.
"Well, thanks guys. We stopped that senseless and deadly mistake," said Locke, quoting his script accurately. He remembered that line seeming rather unusual, but it was written in the script - scribbled in like a last minute correction, in fact - so he had to say it. After all, what else was a treasure hunter to do?
"...nobody asked you to save me. I was doing fine on my own!"
Terra and Locke were trekking across the Figaro Desert. Locke had said there was a friend of his living in the castle at its heart, so that's where they were headed.
"Look, you were lying unconscious on the ground with twenty-something angry guards closing in on you."
Offstage, Hans looked wide-eyed at his master copy of the script.
"They're not sticking to the script?" he muttered disbelievingly.
"You're surprised?" asked the Author, who'd been watching from nearby while he waited for his entrance. "I doubt any of them know all their lines, and they're hardly professional actors. Besides, those two don't really get on all that well, more's the pity. You should just be thankful you didn't cast Aeris as Celes."
Hans paused while a hideous mental image flashed across his inner vision. He shuddered involuntarily.
The Author shrugged and inclined his head slightly towards the stage. Hans looked.
Onstage, Locke had now stolen Terra's pendant, and she'd set his eyebrows on fire.
"Locke! Good to see you again!"
King Edgar Roni Figaro stood, leaving the book he'd been reading on his throne.
As the two shook hands, the orchestra began playing an upbeat tune. At least, most of the orchestra was upbeat, but the strings weren't quite prepared and as a result ended up playing on the downbeat instead. And the elderly tuba player had fallen asleep.
ORCHESTRA: "Casino Night"
"Hey there, old friend!" sang Locke, staying roughly in time and only marginally out of tune.
"How long has it been?" agreed Edgar tunefully.
"I really don't know," they both sang in harmony. "But what does it matter now?"
"We're friends forever!"
"Back together again!"
"They can hold a note pretty well," Mr. Big remarked to himself from the wings. "Shame they can't hold the same one, though."
Ess sat in the back row of the audience, glowering as the waves of cheerfulness from the stage washed diffidently over her.
"Psst!" hissed a voice. It's rather difficult to do anything with a "Psst!" other than to hiss it.
"Go away. I'm trying to be angry," whispered Ess.
"Well, good for you," continued the voice, undaunted. "Wanna help me jam up their musical?"
CHANCELLOR: Your majesty! General Kefka has been sighted approaching the castle!
Edgar rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "How long until he gets here?"
CHANCELLOR: He will most likely arrive within the next ten minutes.
"Then that doesn't give us much time. Miss Terra, I'm part of a resistance movement dedicated to overthrowing the Empire. I'd... like to spend more time getting to know you before telling you all this, actually, but Kefka isn't going to wait for us."
Terra blinked. "You... want to get to know me? Why?"
"Well, firstly, I'm dazzled by your beauty, and secondly, you've got a wonderfully cheerful personality, so far as I can tell. I guess the fact that you're an ex-Imperial agent and so highly suspicious would be a slight concern, but I don't think much of its importance." To his credit, he blushed slightly.
Terra opened and shut her mouth a couple of times, but couldn't find anything to say.
"So the point is," Edgar pressed on hurriedly, "Locke seems to think you'd make a good addition to the cause. I'm not asking you to join up yet - I'm just asking that you think about it, and accompany me to the headquarters on the off chance that you do decide to help us."
General Kefka shielded his eyes against the glaring sun with one dark hand. Was the castle on the horizon getting any closer?
"*$@!# Edgar! Why the hell d'you gotta live way out in the desert?"
He turned to the two guards flanking him, and said, "Hey, ya foo's! There's SAND on my boots!"
The guards look at each other.
GUARD 1 (to GUARD 2): This amateur doesn't have a clue.
GUARD 2 (to GUARD 1): Shall we?
They both nod.
GUARD 1: So what? Your boots are covered with mud, dirt, and who knows what else?
GUARD 2: Honestly, sir, I doubt a bit of sand will make much difference.
"......" muttered Kefka, temporarily beaten.
"General Kefka! How good of you to drop in," said Edgar coolly.
ORCHESTRA: "Street Fighting Man"
"Well there's jus' one thing that I gotta say,
I'm Kefka, an' I'm here to stay!
So watch yo'self, an' stay outta my way!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, huh!
Now we had this girl, but she got away,
An' people are sayin' that she came this way.
So hand her over, or you gonna pay!
A senseless an' deadly mistake, huh!"
"A girl, eh?" mused Edgar, rubbing his chin thoughtfully, and desperately trying to look like nothing was amiss. "Well... there's so many girls living in this castle that even I wouldn't notice one more or less. You'd have to give me time to interview them all, and that could take... well, weeks."
"So what's yo' point?" asked Kefka suspiciously.
"My point is that you'd be better off concentrating your search efforts elsewhere, and leave me to look around here. I will personally inform the Empire if this girl is found."
"I dunno..." The imperial general looked for the flaw in the argument, and nearly spotted it. "Aw, wha'ever. But I ain't goin' across that..."
"...scorching hot..." interjected Edgar quickly. It wouldn't do to have the show stopped because of profanity. Not when there was the chance of a prize for doing well.
"...desert again today. Get some rooms for me an' my men, an' then tomorrow we gonna get goin'."
CHANCELLOR: Right this way, sirs.
CHANCELLOR, KEFKA and GUARDS 1 & 2 exeunt, brushing past LOCKE as he enters.
"Hey, who's the clown?" asked Locke.
Edgar chuckled. "A fair description. That was General Kefka, the..."
"The General Kefka? The crazy loser who plays right-hand flunky to the Emperor?"
"Heh. Don't let him hear you say that. He'd slit his own mama's throat for saying that."
"Good thing I'm not his mama," quipped Locke.
They both burst out laughing.
Not for the first time, Ess examined her motives. She'd always found that doing so was important it was too easy to keep doing things out of habit, things that she no longer needed nor wanted to do anymore.
"Why are you in this job?"
Because it meant that she was working for God, which had all sorts of bonuses like sort-of-immortality (agents were allowed to 'bend' the rules of the world to return to life if possible), eternal youth (age was more or less optional in her particular case anyway), as well as excellent job security. So long as you didn't totally mess things up, there was no chance of being fired.
"Are you happy?"
As happy as could be expected, given the circumstances. In other words, not really.
"Where are you happy?"
Much as she hated to admit it with Cloud. There was an irrepressible charm in his loveable slow thinking. Oh, she knew that it was all just part of the mechanics of the plot, and that it would all wear off the instant she left the story, but... did that really matter? Even if her happiness was artificial, it was still happiness, right?
"We'll come back to that one later."
Oh great. What had started as a clever literary device had degenerated into her simply talking to herself.
"Thinking, not talking. You don't have speech marks."
"If you were actually talking, you'd have got some funny looks from that octopus by now. Well... funnier looks."
This story's complicated enough already, what with the Author's bunch breaking in on us and all. Can you just go back to questioning my motives?
"Sure. Why are you helping the octopus out?"
She thought about it. It was, indeed, a distinctly mediocre idea. But... the anger was still there, the anger at people's continued mindless stupidity. She knew she was being petty, but she didn't care.
Ess opened her eyes, and saw Ultros still manhandl... octopustentacling the primary tool for their mission towards the service elevator that led up into the rafters high above the stage.
"You still haven't got that up there yet?" she asked.
"It's heaver than I thought," said Ultros sheepishly. "At the rate I'm going, it'll be another... four or five scenes before I get this over there."
"You're hopeless. Look, I'll help." Ess got to her feet, brushing off the dust that pervaded all backstages, everywhere.
Later that night...
CHANCELLOR: Your majesty, wake up!
Edgar sat up in his bed, looking surprisingly perky for one whose slumber had just been interrupted.
"What is it, Chancellor?" asked the King, without rubbing his eyes blearily.
CHANCELLOR: Fire, sire! I fear it is the Empire's work.
Edgar looked around him, first at the stone walls, then at the stone floor, then the stone roof. "But... that doesn't make any sense," he said. "The entire castle's made out of these same bricks."
CHANCELLOR: The Empire has developed many arcane technologies recently, sire. Setting stones alight would now appear to be one of them.
Edgar knew when not to push things. "Apparently so."
Edgar gets out of bed, and quickly pulls on his kingly robe before hurrying outside. KEFKA and the two GUARDS are there waiting for him, and assorted FIGARO GUARDS are running around failing to put out the fires.
"Kefka? What is the meaning of this? The Empire is at peace with the Kingdom of Figaro!" shouted the young king.
"Now listen up, Edgar, I ain't messin' wid' you.
Dat girl be here, what ya' told me ain't true!
So I'll burn down yo' castle, ya' crazy foo'!
A senseless and deadly mistake, HUH!"
"Your grasp of logic never fails to amuse me, General," commented Edgar. "You do realise that this is an act of war?"
"Yeah? You wanna' fight? Yo' soldiers ain't got nothin' on my... our Magitek Knights," boasted Kefka confidently.
"To assume that, sir, would be a senseless and deadly mistake," said Edgar, suddenly remembering one of his lines. He'd assumed that he'd be able to ad-lib most of it, so he'd only scanned the general plot.
Raising his voice suddenly, he called out. "Chancellor! NOW!"
EDGAR jumps over the castle wall, landing squarely on the saddle of a chocobo. LOCKE and TERRA enter on chocobos of their own, and the three of them ride off into the desert. Meanwhile, CHANCELLOR activates a mechanism that submerges the castle into the sand, leaving KEFKA and his GUARDS stranded in the middle of the desert.
Kefka said a monosyllabic word, but a sudden bellow from the wind machine drowned him out. All for the best, really.
VARGAS: Puny fools! How did you even think you could stand up to the might of my Wind Blade?
Edgar brought his head up enough to stare at the man standing over them. He was tough... all right, that was a completely pointless thing to say. Of course he was tough, he'd just beaten up the three of them Terra, Locke and Edgar with minimal effort and, while the fight had consisted primarily of everyone throwing themselves around and shouting, "Ouch!" at appropriate moments, that was quite an impressive feat. So... was it their fate to die here? At the hands of this madman?
"Stand back, Vargas! Get away from them!"
Silhouetted in the light from a spotlight stood a dark and mysterious figure. His back was turned to the audience, and on his simple karate gi was emblazoned a single kanji incidentally, that for 'ostrich.' His bandana flapped in the gentle breeze created by the wind machine as he turned his head imperceptibly towards the audience. The light glinted off his eye.
VARGAS: Curses! Ryu! Foiled again!
The stranger laughed curtly. "Think again, Vargas. It is I, Sabin!"
From the wings came a muffled noise almost like suppressed laughter, followed shortly by clearly unsuppressed laughter.
Sabin glared at the source of the mirth. "And what exactly is so funny?"
"Oh, nothing," said a small black voice from offstage. "Nothing at all, it's not that you look like a real twit or anything, I think you make a great bodybuilder, and, er... kupo?"
Satisfied, Sabin returned his attention to the events in hand.
"You killed our master, didn't you, Vargas?" he said darkly. "Why? What did he do to deserve it?"
VARGAS: He wasn't suited to lead. Didn't have the right mindset. He couldn't see potential when it was right in front of his eyes.
"That's why you killed him?"
VARGAS: That's why I had to.
"Had to?" Sabin flexed his papier mach้ muscles. "My master? Your father?"
VARGAS: That's right.
"That," said Sabin darkly, "was a senseless and deadly mistake."
There it was again, mused Edgar absently as he crouched on the floor, ducking his head occasionally to avoid a particularly wild kick. There had been quite a lot of senseless and deadly mistakes in the script so far. Almost as if it was deliberate.
"You okay?" he asked concernedly, crawling over to Terra. She sat up weakly, and rotated her hair through a hundred and eighty degrees to get it out of her eyes.
"Owww..." she complained. "I think one of those punches actually connected."
"I'm fine, thank you," said Locke pointedly.
"Hmm." Edgar nodded. "I think that guy's getting a bit carried away."
"Don't worry, nothing broken, I'll be okay, glad to see you're so worried about me."
SABIN and VARGAS both leap at each other. VARGAS launches into a flying kick, SABIN knocks his feet out of the way and delivers a fatal blow to VARGAS' head. VARGAS falls to the ground, lifeless.
...supposedly, anyway. What actually happened was that the two of them collided heavily in mid-air and fell to the ground together, breathless if not lifeless.
"Oh!" exclaimed Vargas suddenly, clutching his chest. "You... you got me, Sabin... but you see... I... I am your..."
He toppled backwards into the orchestra pit, where he landed on the first violinist, causing him to skip a bar or so. This made very little difference, seeing as the rather eager musician was already at least five bars ahead of anyone else.
Back on stage, Edgar got to his feet.
"You're my... brother?" he stated, disbelief apparent in his tone. "A heavily muscled martial artist? You?"
"Missed me?" Sabin replied happily, apparently trying to communicate something by means of eye signals. The message as far as Edgar could work out, however, was something along the lines of, 'Help! There's a rabid hornet eating my eyebrow!'
Edgar scratched the back of his head thoughtfully. It was a habit he'd picked up recently. "I think I've missed something, definitely," he remarked, then shrugged. "Well, I guess we're together now. Good to see you again, er... brother."
There was an uncomfortable pause.
"Shall we go on to the next scene?" Sabin suggested after a few seconds.
"I think that might be wise."
"I gotta thank you, I guess," said Ultros. "You know, much as I hate you humans and all, I suppose there are definite advantages to having elbows. They definitely do make it easier to lift things, right?"
"Hngh," agreed Ess, staggering along one of the rafters above the stage with Ultros' pride and joy in both arms. Man, this thing was heavy. It felt like several tonnes. "Gnghh?"
"Nah, don't think so," Ultros replied calmly, ignoring the thinly veiled insult. "Okay, just haul it along there and stick it on the end of that beam over there. That's... pretty much over centre stage, isn't it?"
"Hey, what're you doing with that?" Reno enquired, wandering up. "Gonna drop it on someone?"
"Yup." Ultros beamed proudly. "We're gonna jam up their musical!"
"Ooh. Can I join in?"
"No," said Ess firmly, dumping the thing gratefully near the end of a rafter. "This is our fun. Go away, Reno."
"Okay," said Reno, and wandered off.
Ess dusted her palms off and inspected her handiwork. "So I guess we just wait for the right moment now, do we?"
"Yeah," Ultros agreed. "There's a big scene with all the characters in pretty soon, I think. Let's do it then!"
"Right." Ess nodded. "I'm going to go and find out how much longer we've got to wait. I'll be back short... waitasecond. Was that Reno?"
Gestahl surveyed the three statues with a critical eye. Yes, there truly was power in those things. They may not have been the most attractive things he had ever seen, and they were hardly well-made, but the energy contained within them... Well, it was holding this continent however many thousand feet above the ground, for a start. That was saying something.
"Yo, you can see for..." Kefka began, staring over the edge at the world below.
"...nautical..." put in Gestahl, masking whatever adjective his general used to describe the miles in question.
"...miles from up here!"
"Indeed." Gestahl gazed out over his domain. "Dear Kefka, it does appear that "
He hesitated, and shifted his attention to the group of heroes trying to make their way surreptitiously from offstage onto the floating island. They appeared to be having difficulty persuading one of their members to come on.
"Good lord," the Emperor remarked casually. "An infestation. A so-called sorceress, a thief, a few fighters, a girl, and... what's the dog?"
"Interceptor," said Interceptor.
"These're the guys what beat me last time!
Now that just ain't on, they crossed da line!
Leave them to me, these guys is mine!
A senseless and deadly mistake, HUH!"
Gestahl shrugged. "Your decision." He cast another pointed glance over at the heroes. "Are you going to come here or not?"
"Multitudinous apologies," Cyan Garamonde called over. "Methinks perhaps dear Gau be a tad self-conscious of his attire. Er... was that medieval enough?"
"I'm not coming out in this rubbish!" came Gau's voice from offstage.
"Oh, come on!" Locke exclaimed. "You've got to come on for the scene!"
"Why should I listen to you?"
Locke stamped his foot on the stage, causing a few of the plaster-of-paris rocks to fall apart. "Because I'm your father!"
There was a general surprised mumbling from the audience, and Locke turned to them. "No, not like that! Not in the play! Locke's got nothing to do with Gau! It's... er..."
"I'd stop digging if I were you," said Mog sagely from Edgar's shoulder. "That hole you're in's getting pretty deep."
"Oh, fine, I'll come on," Gau said sulkily. "But I'm only doing it so we can get this over with."
He stomped onto the stage, draped in animal hides. "Shiny," he said, deadpan. "Shiny shiny. Shiny shiny shiny." He sighed. "Mr Thou. Shiny."
"Kid doesn't really identify with his character, does he?" observed Setzer to Strago, who looked puzzled and said, "Eh, what what what? Didn't catch that, old boy."
Kefka stormed over to the group, realising he might have to wait some time for them to come over to him.
"Yo' think yo' can beat me, then why don't yo' try?
It's near da end, an' about time yo' die!
Break out da barbecue, 'cause yo' gonna fry!
A senseless and deadly mistake, HUH!"
"Hah!" said Locke heroically. "You've destroyed enough, you two! We're here to vanquish you, no matter how good you think you are!"
"Not impressed? Then let me demonstrate!
Watch now, 'cause this'll be yo' fate!
If yo' wanted to run, well now it's too late!
A senseless and deadly mistake, HUH!"
He glanced over his shoulder. "Yo, Gestahl!"
"What?" snapped the Emperor irritably.
"Now Gestahl, ya, you had yo' fun,
But yo' time is up, 'cause I'M da one!
Now you better run, or yo' be well done!
A senseless and deadly mistake, HUH!"
Gestahl raised an eyebrow and folded his arms. "Indeed? And, pray, what do you intend to "
A surprisingly realistic lightning bolt speared down from the heavens and hit the ground at his feet. There was a loud BANG, a puff of smoke, and when it cleared, he had gone.
"Now yo' see jes' how phat this is!
It's my Light of Judgment, an' it never misses!
I pity da foo' what touch my goddesses!
A senseless and deadly mistake, huh!"
Edgar stuck his hand in the air. "Just one thing?"
"Could you please stop speaking like that?"
"Stop this talk? That jes' ain't right!
"Yes, thank you, point taken," said Sabin hurriedly.
"Aw, fine," said Kefka resignedly. "Now... uh, where were we?"
"We were just about to vanquish you," Locke informed him.
"Aw, okay." Kefka cleared his throat. "So, yo'..."
"...nice..." interrupted Edgar hurriedly.
"...people..." added Cyan.
"...think you can just beat the..."
"...firmament..." suggested Terra.
"...outta me? Well, yo'..."
"...yellow..." put in Relm.
"...varmints..." said Gopher, and promptly fell down his hole once more.
"...trundle..." tried Sabin.
"...off to your..." filled in Locke.
"...or I'll show you just what a..."
"...banana..." volunteered Kefka.
"...feels like!" concluded Locke happily.
A brief pause ensued, while everyone made sure the sentence had, in fact, come to a full stop. Or at least an exclamation mark.
"Yeah?" replied Kefka. "Well, I don't wanna find out... uh... yo, Locke, ain't this your line? Why'm I sayin' it?"
Offstage, Hans was watching with his head in his hands, something only possible in books. Despite the travesties being commited onstage, however, there was one ray of light that penetrated his gloom: the audience didn't seem to have noticed anything wrong. Of course, after the play was over that fact would almost certainly return to destroy his faith in the intellect of the human race, but for now at least they seemed to be enjoying the show. And no one had thrown anything yet.
"Good evening," said I, Caroussis, popping up next to him. Hans turned and gave him a weak smile.
"Hi," he said glumly. "Nice exit, by the way."
"I, knows," Caroussis replied smugly. "When is his next entrance?"
"Next entrance?" repeated Hans. "Er, you haven't got one. You're dead now."
"That's Gestahl's death scene you just did. You don't come back on again."
I, laughed humourlessly. "It seems you do not understand. I, will return. It is simply a matter of when. Now, answer that question for him. When?"
"No, you're the one who doesn't understand," retorted Hans, a little colder than was his custom. The play had been taking its toll on his nerves. "You're dead. Gone. Buried. You don't come back."
Caroussis stared at him. When he desired, he could look very evil indeed. And right now, he looked frankly terrifying.
"You will regret this," he snapped, and disappeared.
Meanwhile, back on the Floating Continent, Kefka and the heroes had worked out who should be saying what.
"Yeah?" replied Locke, picking up roughly where Kefka had left off. He stomped forward and leaned so he was practically standing nose-to-nose with the Imperial General. "Well, I'd rather not find out exactly what a... er... banana... feels like, so we'd better "
"Stop right there!"
"Yeah, that," agreed Locke. "No, wait a second, that's not what we're gonna do..."
"Those men," shouted Reno of the Turks, striding from stage left to confront the heroes and pointing his electromag rod at Kefka, "are evil terrorists! They blew up a Mako reactor and are getting in the way of official Shinra business!"
This did not have the reaction he'd hoped for. He'd been hoping for perhaps a shocked gasp from the audience, one that he could have followed with, "Yea, fellows, 'tis true!" or something similar. He had not been expecting a vague cheer of the, "Wow, cool!" variety.
Celes glared at Cyan, who shrugged and mouthed, "'Twas not I, fair maiden."
"Now, we're here to..." Reno's voice trailed off. "Good lord, get out of the way!"
Reno's gaze, having strayed momentarily upwards, had passed across the ominous black shape descending from the rafters. The world seemed to move in slow motion as he broke into a run, his steps pitifully slow compared to the imminent doom falling towards Locke and Kefka. The gazes of all present followed him as he sprinted towards them, then, when it was clear he was not going to make it in time, hurled himself bodily at them. He collided heavily with Kefka, sending both general and treasure hunter sprawling, while he himself stopped dead and hit the stage face first.
The four-ton weight (it had to be four-ton, after all, it had '4T' painted on it) smashed down onto him, sending fragments of wood from the stage flying in all directions.
In the near-silence that followed, the only sound that could be heard was the rhythmic 'dink... dink... dink...' of the Shinra Electro-Mag Rod, Mk. VIII as it bounced, deceptively slowly, down the stairs leading to the central aisle. It hit the carpeted walkway, and lay silent.
There was the brief sound of rushing air, and a large purple octopus landed on the stage. It bore the most inane grin ever seen on seafood.
"Good day!" it announced cheerfully. "It appears that both the hero and the villain are unable to play their parts. So that the show may go on, I, Ultros, the world's premiere octopus, will play the lead!" It paused. "Er... both of them!"
And, finally, the proverbial all hell broke less. The audience began to realise that, just perhaps, the play wasn't meant to go like this, and several members rose from their seats, demanding explanations or, failing that, just one explanation would suffice. The Turks and cast members clustered around their fallen comrades. Ultros, ignoring everything around him, proudly strode... er, slithered across the stage, proclaiming aloud that he would, without a doubt, save the world from this evil empire and bring in an age of peace and happiness. And, just to cap it all, I, Caroussis stormed on from stage right with, to the astonishment of all concerned, a banjo in one hand, a bass drum strapped to his back, a cymbal atop his head, and a harmonica round his neck. He stopped in the centre of the stage, tapped his foot a few times, and broke into an intriguing rendition of, 'A Wizard's Staff Has A Knob On The End.'
Staring wide-eyed at the chaos, Hans had no choice other than to do the only humane thing.
"Drop the safety curtain!" he yelled.
And now, it was about twenty minutes later. The Event Square had been emptied, and the stagehands were working hard on cleaning up the mess.
"Well, I thought we did quite well," said Cloud.
"I'm sure you did as well as you could," Hans admitted wearily. "It's just that I was hoping for something... different."
"Actually, sir," Bucket piped up, "I overheard several people on their way out saying that the play was one of the most exciting things they'd ever seen."
"Really." Hans did not sound impressed.
"Yes, sir. I think they quite enjoyed it."
Hans shrugged. "Well, each to their own, I guess. All right, I take it all back. You performed admirably. It's just a shame that you put a hole in my stage."
"Now, that wasn't our fault," objected Tifa, while behind her Ess tried to look innocent. "That was all that octopus thing's work. Where'd it go, by the way?"
There was a brief period of mumbling, at the end of which it transpired that no one was really sure what had happened to Ultros. Presumably he'd just faded away, as all good cameos do when they're no longer needed.
"An' what about da Turks?" Barret enquired. "Where's Reno?"
"Oh, your friend in the suit took him back to Midgar," Hans explained. "The other two said they had, er... 'an evil world-destroying maniac' to follow, and left on their own."
"Did they mention where they were going?" asked Croft hopefully.
"They said something about a 'Temple of the Ancients,'" Hans related. "Oh, yes, they gave me a message to give to you. Here."
He handed a folded piece of paper to Cloud, who duly unfolded it and read it.
"Ha ha ha," he read out loud. "We've got the Keystone, you silly twits. You really shouldn't have left it in your room, especially when the hotel doorman's susceptible to Elena's feminine wiles. Now we're going to go kill Sephiroth and save the world, not you! So there." He looked up. "It's signed, Reno."
"Well, I guess we know where we're headed tomorrow, then," said Perigee.
Hans nodded. "Oh, if it's any help, there's an old six-wheeled buggy you could borrow. No one ever uses it around here, but it goes at quite a decent speed."
"We've got an airship," said Cid flatly.
"Oh, right. Sorry."
"Shouldn't we be off to bed now, then?" suggested the Author. "We'll want to be up early, I assume."
"Hey, wait a second!" Hans exclaimed. "Er..." He waved a hand at a small heap of colourfully wrapped boxes. "We had these done up before the play, in anticipation of you doing well so we could reward you afterwards. You might as well have them now." He shrugged. "I don't know how appropriate they are, but you might find some use for them."
"Oh?" said Aeris, opening a particularly long parcel. "An umbrella, isn't it?" She brushed the tip with one hand and recoiled sharply. "Ow, that's sharp."
"Whoopee," Nanaki muttered gloomily, holding up his reward. "An 'Ifurita' T-shirt."
The Author stared happily at his present, which was, by some happy coincidence, a small cloth bag labelled 'Items.' Now at last he had somewhere to store all those plushies.
He glanced over to Mr. Big, who was doing a little victory dance in the corner. "What's up with you?"
"I got another skill point!" the rabbit replied cheerfully.
"Another soft toy?" Kasuto observed. Her reward was a twelve-inch fluffy model of a handsome enough young man, wearing a leather jacket and carrying over his shoulder some weird crossbreed between a pistol and a short sword. She squeezed it gently. "Whatever."
"If you're not bothered, I'll take that off your hands," the Author told her benevolently.
"Yay!" exclaimed Croft. "Timpani!"
Silence descended like the calm before a storm.
"...what?" said Perigee.
Warbling Croft indicated the set of three, which had apparently all come out of the same parcel. "I think I can equip these," he said. "I've always wanted to learn how to play them."
"If it makes you feel any better," said Hans apologetically, "I had nothing to do with that one."
"That's not much consolation," the Author replied.
Hans shrugged, and risked a glance over at the corner, where the Major was already exhorting Croft to, "sound the retreat on your timpani, old boy."
"Could I ask a favour of you?" he enquired of the Author.
"Of course. What?"
"If you see the guy in the suit again, can you give him this from me?"
The Author took the gift and nodded. "Sure. What is it?"
"Are you sure you're okay?" Ess asked.
Cloud leaned back in his seat. The gondolas in the Round Square did have remarkably comfortable seats, and with only the two of them in the car, he could practically lie down. Add to that the beautiful and really rather romantic view out of the window, and this was certainly the way he wanted to relax after the exertions of the stage.
"Yeah, I'm fine, really," he replied. "I mean, I wasn't actually hit by the weight or anything. Why is everyone so worried about me?"
"Because..." Ess paused. "'Everyone?'"
Cloud nodded. "Tifa was going on about it as well earlier, just before you came along and suggested we have a ride on this. Saying I should go have a lie down and all that." He looked down at himself. "I don't look that weak, do I? I thought I was quite strong."
"Oh, you are," said Ess automatically. "It's just that everyone's fond of you. We wouldn't want you to get hurt."
So... Tifa as well? Could she be... No. Ess shook her head. But... she did seem rather quiet whenever Cloud was around. Possibly...
"Cloud?" Ess said softly. "I just want to say... I'm sorry. About -"
But if Cloud had been listening at the beginning, he wasn't any more. His attention had been caught by something outside the window, and he obviously found whatever it was more riveting than Ess' speech.
"Wow!" he exclaimed. "Just look at this! Those fireworks must have cost tens of thousands at least!"
"Oh, come on." Cloud beckoned to her. "Slide over here and watch. It's so much friendlier with two."
Meanwhile, back at the Round Square station...
"Oh, come on." Cid waved an arm at Perigee from within their carriage. "Look, everyone else is going, and it's not as if you've got a girl to wait for, is it? Now hurry up and hop on before we miss all the fireworks."
"There's still room for one more if we all squish up," Mr. Big called from Croft's shoulder.
"That's easy for you to say," muttered Nanaki. "You don't have to squish."
"You could sit on the floor, you know."
Nanaki gave him an Evil Stare. "I am no dog."
"Not really my sort of thing," Perigee admitted. "I'm just going to wander back to my room. It is late."
"Don't be such a spoilsport!" Kasuto shouted. "Hey, I'll be your date if you want!"
Perigee sighed and hung his head in defeat. "Oh, okay, okay. I'm coming."
He glanced to one side as he walked, absently watching one of the other cars coming to a halt by the station and mentally estimating the retarding force required to cause it to stop like that. Having thus satisfied himself, he returned his attention to where he was actually going, but not before spotting the couple stepping out of the now stationary gondola.
"Um..." he remarked casually. "Actually, I think I will just go and lie down now. I'll see you."
He turned and wandered off, albeit with rather more purpose than usual. Perigee's standard wander tended to deviate considerably from a straight line, but this time it seemed he wanted to get from where he was to the exit via the shortest possible route.
"I wonder what that's about?" Cid mused. "Oh, what the hell." He turned to the attendant waiting patiently a few metres away. "Okay, man, cast us off."
As their car moved away, Ess watched the scientist's departing back.
"Perigee..." she murmured.
The room was empty, save for a man asleep at a table. From the way he had subconsciously arranged his arms so as to rest his head on them in the most comfortable manner, it could be presumed that he had been there for some time.
A rather curt knocking resounded around the room. This had precisely no discernible effect whatsoever on the slumbering man.
There was a pause, while the knocker waited for a response. When none came, he or she beat an interesting and strangely catchy rhythm on the door. It sounded like it would be impossible to create a beat like that without at least eight fists.
The man stirred, and glanced up. "Hm?"
"Yo, it's me!" shouted Ultros' voice from outside. "Let me in, will you?"
The man got to his feet wearily and trudged over to the door. He knew he had to make an appearance at this stage in the book, in case the readers had forgotten about him already. But it would be nicer if he could do it at a more reasonable hour.
Upon opening the door, he stepped aside to allow Ultros to slither in.
"Well?" he enquired.
"Oh, I got in the way, all right," Ultros told him proudly. "Dropped a weight on them. One casualty, though."
"Who?" Fishook Grysley, for it was he, sounded distinctly unamused.
"Reno. The Turk."
"Ah." Fishook shrugged. "An acceptable loss."
"Yeah, that's what I thought."
"And what about the surveillance part of your mission? What news have you?"
"Weeell... lessee now..." Ultros reached behind his back and produced a small notepad. "Plotwise: Tomorrow they're all gonna head to this 'Temple of the Ancients' place. Apparently Sephiroth's gone there already."
"The Temple?" Fishook repeated. "They're progressing faster than I would have expected. They'll get to that scene pretty soon."
"Care to stop being so cryptic and tell me what on earth you're on about?"
"No, not particularly. What about the Author?"
"Aha!" Ultros beamed. "He's really getting to know this Aeris girl, just like you said. The two of 'em wandered around together 'til some unearthly hour. You know, playing those games together, seeing the sights... They even went on that cable car thingy. The one with all the fireworks."
"The Round Square?"
"Yeah, that's it. You should've heard the two of 'em on it. Practically all over each other."
"Well, that's..." Fishook's voice trailed off. He had to know. "How did you hear them on it?"
"I was in the car behind them. They left the windows open."
"Seriously, though," Ultros enquired, "how d'you intend to separate them? I don't think it's just a matter any more of impressing Aeris by beating the Author up."
"Of course not." Fishook smiled knowingly. "Soon, in a couple of chapters or so, I will wait 'til they're asleep and then kidnap her. Then, while the Author drives himself mad searching for her, she will come to appreciate that I am, in fact, everything he is but more so, and thus fall in love with me. When he finally finds me, he will be so shocked to discover that she has forsaken him that it will be no problem whatsoever to kill him. Then I let Sephiroth kill off the rest of the heroes, while I take Aeris somewhere else and use her, aha, in my books, so to speak."
"Sounds rather clich้d to me," remarked Ultros, "except for the 'using the girl in a book' bit. Can't you think of something more interesting?"
"I wish I was allowed to," sighed FG. "But there are conventions I have to abide by. Rules of conduct."
"Riiight." Ultros shrugged. "Anyway, what is it with you and this Author guy?"
"It's a revenge thing."
"Oh. Steal your girl, did he?"
Fishook laughed harshly. "Him? I think not. It's more... business related. Now," he went on, making it clear that the topic was, for this scene at least, firmly closed, "why don't you go back to wherever it is you hang around like a good octopus. I'll call you again if I seriously cannot avoid it."
"You really know how to make a minion feel appreciated, don't you?"
Prologue: Writing of Wrongs
Part 1: For What We Are About to Receive
Chapter I: Editorial Changes
Chapter II: Insert Chapter Title Here
Chapter III: Biohazard
Part 2: Present Imperfect
Chapter IV: Ahead on our Way
Chapter V: On That Day, Five Years Ago...
Chapter VI: Feather in the Wind (reprise)
Part 3: World Travel
Chapter VII: Twelve Good Men on a Dead Man's Chest
Chapter VIII: Music of the Night
Chapter IX: Drawing Inexorably
Part 4: Crossroads
Chapter X: The Trousers of Time
Part 5: Calculus
Chapter XI: Differentiation & Integration
Chapter XII: The Sunrise and I
Chapter XIII: The Best Is Yet To Come
Part 6: Introduction to Destruction
Chapter XIV: Makes No Difference
Chapter XV: Second Impact
Chapter XVI: Judgment Day
Epilogue: Loose Ends
Return to index