Thespians, Spies, and an Empress
The sun beat down
on Sabin’s shoulders. He rested against the wheel, one hand lazily
holding the ship on course. He tried to think and plan, but all the
pieces on the board moved beyond his influence while heat and lack of
sleep dulled his wits. He gave up strategizing for the moment and
thought of Figaro; of home and life that was. He remembered playing
together with Edgar in the castle when they were boys.
Edgar would spend hours meticulously constructing feats of engineering with wooden cogs, axles, and stacking blocks. Sabin delighted in knocking them down. Screams would echo through the castle. They would fight, but their anger never lasted. Once, Edgar had built a functional miniature clock tower. Sabin had stomped into the room, pretending he was a Hades Gigas, and crushed the tower walls between his hands. Edgar, his face pinched and red, had screamed and chased Sabin through the castle. What had started with anger ended in an exhilarating game of chase, after which the whole impetus for fighting had been forgotten.
Sabin felt ashamed for his indulgent daydreaming, but when he returned his thoughts to strategizing, he found his mind already made up: set course to Figaro. He longed to return home and, with luck, the Empress’s invasion would just have begun. With a bit more luck, she might be used as a counter-weight to Terra’s power.
The shortest route from the Magic Isle to Figaro is a north east diagonal that cuts straight across the Western Continent. The two oceanic routes around the Western Continent are nearly equidistant, but north followed by east passes near Mobliz, Relm’s territory, and east followed by north passes near Maranda, Celes’s territory.
If only they had an airship, Sabin thought.
Relm was certainly keeping a close eye on the steamship. Birdlike creatures ceaselessly circled over head and Sabin had spotted some rather unnatural-looking fish in the water. This made the decision easy; avoid Mobliz. The steamship traveled east.
Sabin and Cyan worked themselves ragged running the steamship. They manned the helm in shifts. Every other hour of waking they spent maintaining the boiler; keeping a healthy supply of coal in the fires and adjusting the pressure as needed. The two had hardly spoken since being caged in Thamasa, but as the ship neared Maranda, Cyan’s heavy steps could be heard clomping up from below deck.
Cyan emerged with a mug of ale from the ship’s larder in one hand and a telescope in the other. He handed the drink to Sabin.
Sabin had expected smoke in the sky, but as they rounded the eastern tip of the western continent the sky was a clear blue and Maranda looked peaceful with only the wisps of cooking fires drifting above the buildings.
Cyan peered through the telescope. “Maranda hath surrendered.”
“Maybe not,” Sabin insisted, “perhaps Celes has not even taken it yet.”
“No.” Cyan passed the telescope. “Look to the flag. Celes has been and gone again. We continue north?”
“Yes, north to Figaro.”
“Our plan is to bring together our foes, Relm and Celes, so that they enter battle with each other?”
Sabin spat. “Relm is nothing. Terra is the world’s only concern. World domination is Celes’s concern.”
“Ah, thus Celes is the immovable wall and Terra the irresistible force?”
Sabin nodded. “I only pray we are not too late to save Figaro. Bitch!” Emotion overtook him. “Why does she strike at Figaro!”
Cyan gave a measured response, “In Zozo she gathered men. In Jidoor she claimed gold. In Figaro she will seize machines and advanced weapons. From there perhaps she will head further north to Narshe, reopen the coal mines to power the machines. She will be unstoppable.”
“Terra can stop her.”
“Then why not seek Terra?” Cyan asked. “I have a notion of where her heart would take her.”
Sabin turned away from Maranda and looked north once more. “Yes. Her heart would take her to Mobliz and if those orphans break her heart once more, it will be the end of the world all over again. My heart wishes to be in Figaro when the world ends.”
Cyan cocked an eyebrow, “Sir Sabin, I am confused. Who was it who had had enough of the other’s talk of honorable death.”
An old smile cracked Sabin’s face. He clapped Cyan on the shoulder. “You think a minor thing like the end of the world was gonna do us in!”
Having rounded the continent at Maranda, the steam ship continued north. Sabin and Cyan grew ever more fatigued. With the coal running low, Sabin felt great relief when he spotted sails on the horizon. He called Cyan up on deck and they watched as two ships from what must have been Celes’s rearguard intercepted them. One came alongside their port bow and threw grapples. The other circled warily.
Sabin and Cyan stood on deck, unarmed and filthy; no worse or better than when they had begun their journey.
The grapples scraped along the deck then clenched the gun rail. The ships thumped together. Wood protested but held firm.
Soldiers in tan uniforms leapt aboard brandishing swords. On the opposite deck a dozen short-statured bowmen nocked arrows. Sabin noted that wrenches hung from their belts.
Sabin and Cyan stood side by side, still and calm as the eye of a storm. The soldiers surrounded them, ordered them not to move, and pointed their swords. Others charged below deck to explore the ship. After a short time, the captain stepped aboard and was briefed on the status of the steamship. Finally, the captain addressed Sabin and Cyan.
“Ho there, sailors. What business have you in these waters?”
Sabin replied, “We flee the Magic Isle and head north for Figaro.”
The captain tucked both arms in the small of his back and began an overly-formal, military pace; regular stride with a sharp turn at the end. He appeared to be delighting himself with the movement.
“Which of your lies shall I unravel first? I’m in the mood for a good yarn. Let’s hear more of your fiction: Why did you not seek a nearer harbor for repairs, resupply, and a proper crew?”
Cyan took his turn responding, “We were eager to put as much distance between ourselves and the Isle as possible. Perhaps fear hath muddled our thinking.”
“A likely response,” muttered the captain, “and what, pray tell, is so fearful about the Magic Isle? When you answer, do try to come up with a more entertaining excuse than muddled minds.”
“Magic has returned to the world. We are pursued, even now, by myriad magical beasts and horrors,” said Sabin.
The captain interrupted his pacing, turned to the pair and began a very slow, exaggerated clap, “Bravo, bravo, the storyteller finds his stride.”
Cyan and Sabin exchanged a glance. Cyan asked, “Didst thou formerly have employment at the opera house?”
The captain blushed furiously. “Of course not. I’m no opera floozy. I’m a ruthless cut-purse, cut-throat, from Zozo!”
Cyan and Sabin exchanged another glance. Sabin whispered under his breath, “follow my lead.”
“In that case,” Sabin said to the captain, “we are actually little birds with a special message for Maria’s ears only.”
The captain’s eyes ballooned. He stepped closer to Cyan and Sabin and whispered excitedly, “you’re spies for Maria?” He winked when he said Maria.
“That is correct,” said Cyan. “We have an important message for Maria.”
The captain stepped back, his spine becoming ramrod straight. “Soldiers,” he commanded, “Escort these men to the brig.”
The soldiers moved in. Sabin and Cyan did not resist. They were taken aboard, marched below deck, and ushered into the brig. It was a tiny room, little more than a closet that appeared to have been added as an afterthought to the ship. The door was closed and locked with a dramatic clunk of metal. Instantly it was unlocked and opened.
The theatrical captain stood before them with a lantern.
“Infinite apologies, but once I realized the situation, I did not wish to expose your identities. I had no idea you were trusted spies of Maria, I mean, the Empress. She’s beautiful, don’t you think? I remember seeing her throw her bouquet off the balcony at the end of Act two. You were there, right? Wasn’t it a marvelous performance?”
“We don’t like operas,” muttered Sabin gruffly. “We’re just following orders for the Empress. We were told to say those secret words to recognize her agents. We’ve got vital information for her, so you better take us to her quick.”
Even in the guttering light from the sole lantern it was apparent that the captain had blanched.
“Uh, of course, I mean, tough spies such as yourselves don’t like operas. Only sissies like operas. I was just… I was told to say those things, as part of the code. They must not have instructed you on that part.”
“Just get us some food and take us to the Empress!”
“Aye, sir,” the captain squealed before backing out of the brig and hustling away.
“Sir Sabin,” stated Cyan, “that was horrible.”
“Oh come on, I was just playing with him.”
“Not thine cruelty, Sir Sabin, thine acting.”
The ship made haste to shore. Sabin and Cyan had barely finished their meal when the captain personally came to retrieve them. He bound their hands in order to keep their identities as spies secret. He apologized throughout the process and when he was finished, the knots were so loose the Sabin had to take up the slack in his palm lest the rope fall off his wrists entirely.
They were rowed to shore and Sabin looked on his homeland, Figaro, for the first time in far too long. The beach to which they headed abutted the vast desert and was situated well west of South Figaro. Much of the shore consisted of rocky crags, but Celes’s forces had landed where the rock broke and the beach flowed smoothly up to merge with desert sands.
The beach was a hive of activity as soldiers, engineers, and servants ferried supplies through the narrow breach in the rocks. Sabin wondered if his brother even knew Celes had landed. The ideal place to stop her would have been on the shore. Now that opportunity was lost. Sabin gritted his teeth. How could Edgar be such a mechanical genius and yet an imbecile when it came to protecting his people?
The boat landed. Sabin and Cyan were lead up the beach to the crest. At the top Sabin was assaulted by mixed emotions. The scent of salty ocean air mixing with dry desert dust conjured pleasant memories, but the sight of his homeland defiled by white tents flying the loathsome imperial standard brought bile to his throat.
They were led to an inconspicuous tent and the captain entered ahead of them. He emerged after a few moments beaming with pride. Sabin and Cyan were lead inside.
Celes was alone inside save for the two guards who had entered with the “prisoners”. She smiled, moving only her mouth, showing just a hint of ice-white teeth. “So these are my trusted spies.”
Sabin returned her gaze, determined to show no weakness. Celes merely looked from him to Cyan and back.
“Guards, leave us.” Though they were unarmed and her hand rested on the hilt of her sword, Celes did not remove their bonds.
Her tent was a simple affair. The wood desk at its center was spread with maps of Figaro and sketches of Edgar’s castle. Celes wore pale yellow tights and no armor but a hardened leather jerkin.
“I neither expect good fortune, nor trust it when it appears,” she began, “and yet two valuable captives have fallen into my hands from the clear blue ocean. Explain yourselves.”
Sabin stepped forward, keeping his eyes fixed on Celes and his tone non-combative but serious. He spoke as he had spoken to Celes under different circumstances, in the Falcon’s war room, discussing the assault on Kefka’s Tower. “I have traveled half the world since leaving Figaro. There is no time to recount my whole tale. What you must know is that we have all been deceived. Magic remains in our world. The statue…”
Celes held up a hand. She relaxed into the chair behind her desk, opened her mouth to speak, thought better of it, and waved at Sabin to continue.
“The statue, Goddess. Its head remains. Relm secreted it away so that she would not lose the ability to bring life to her art. This is the reason that Terra lived after we destroyed the other statues. Now Terra has stolen Goddess from Relm. She will use it and her purposes are dark.”
Celes yawned, rolled her eyes. “What do you expect me to do about it?”
Sabin responded without hesitation, “You must ready your army for magical combat. Let us help you. It is the only way we can stand against Terra.”
“That’s what I thought you would say. Do you expect me to believe this ploy? Do you expect me to halt my campaign on the word of Sabin Figaro whose brother’s kingdom I have invaded? I’m offended! What do you take me for? And you, taciturn knight, what’s your role in all this?”
“General,” Cyan began with her old title. Celes bristled, but resisted correcting him. “There is no love lost between us, but I call thou general without mockery. Neither thine skill nor thine cunning can be disputed, but every word Sir Sabin speaks is true. Let us speak to King Edgar. Rather than do battle, we will convince him to join thou.” Cyan hesitated then, but Sabin looked over at him and nodded pleadingly knowing that the knight hated to betray his faith in Terra, but they had to assume the worst. “Terra is unwell. We fear she will try to outdo her original master.”
Celes gave no clue that these words affected her in any way. She suddenly signed mystical runes with her hands and spoke the syllables of magic. Both Cyan and Sabin recognized the spell. It should have frozen the air in their lungs, killed them both painfully as they choked and froze from the inside out. Nothing happened.
“There you go,” she said, “no magic. Now back to the business of Edgar. His chocobo riders have had ample time to survey my encampment, yet my spies in South Figaro report that there has been no call to arms, which means that either Edgar counts his palace guards as sufficient to repulse me or, and this is my bet, he will characteristically flee with his tunneling fortress and leave the people of South Figaro at my mercy. This outcome is no good to me. I’m here for his machines. If the threat of slaughtering the people of South Figaro is not enough to make Edgar surrender, and don’t think I wouldn’t do it, perhaps the threat of killing his brother will be. What have you to say to my plan?”
“The statue is weak. Its power requires proximity and even when it was near we could not use magic, only Terra,” Sabin explained with fragilely intact patience. “There are forces that move beyond your sight. Even Edgar cannot flee forever. Distrust me if you must. I will do whatever is necessary to convince my brother to surrender, but you ignore our warning at your own peril.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind, but don’t think it will disturb my sleep.”