Monsters in Mobliz
Dawn found Sabin still leaning against
the ship’s railing. The cargo vessel soon sailed into Nikeah’s
harbor under a clay-red sky and rising sun. Unexpectedly, the
shipyards bustled with activity. From giant warehouses the sounds of
hammers and saws spilled out across the water, an arrhythmic clamor.
They sailed past docks cluttered with steamships rusted from disuse,
but even these were crawling with shipwrights, investigating their
Sabin could not imagine how Nikeah could sponsor such activity. With a sting of guilt he wondered why Figaro had not reaped the windfall as well.
Beyond these outlying stations, the main docks evidenced some activity, but it was much more in keeping with expectations. Fishermen mechanically unloaded their diminished hauls. They recalled a better time that would never return and repeated their familiar motions heavy with the weight of memory. Sabin could not help feeling relief that the majority of Nikeans suffered as they did in his homeland, but he scolded himself for such a cruel thought.
The captain walked up next to Sabin as the ship approached its berth. Without so much as a greeting he said, “I don’t know what you came here for and I don’t care, but I’ll share an observation with you. You see the scratch-grass on that shore?”
Sabin grunted an acknowledgement, not feeling at all receptive to the captain’s intrusion.
“You recall the color of the weeds on the shore we left behind? … I reckon they are about the same color. By steam, sail, or saddle you will find no greener pastures.”
Then the captain walked away and resumed barking orders at his crew.
Sabin made no response except to mutter darkly about philosopher captains. He fetched his belongings from below deck and leapt to the dock as soon as it was close enough. He entered the town of Nikeah proper and found it lifeless though crowded as ever. Everyone followed their pattern like the inner workings of the clockwork mechanisms. This suited Sabin just fine. The sooner he completed his business, the sooner he could leave.
Business was not doing poorly in Nikeah. Besides the business in the shipyards, someone had hired a curiously large number of guards in tan uniforms with black and red crests. Sabin also glimpsed the flash of gold exchanging hands and more than one bulging purse, but these sights only heightened his anxiety so he shut his mind to them.
Sabin wished he could have spent his remaining gold pieces in Figaro, but he was forced to turn them over in Nikeah for a chocobo, saddle, and supplies to cross the Serpent Ridge. Before he left the port town, just inside the palisade gate, he secured the leather cylinder at his belt within easy reach. Then he lifted the chocobo’s reins. The flightless, canary-yellow bird gave a wark! in response and they were off.
Oceans on his left and oceans on his right. Sabin felt lighter as the chocobo trotted purposefully across rock and sand. The bird steered them wide of rock chimneys that spouted and dribbled sulfuric liquids in to foul pools. They crossed under the bleached spine of an enormous sea snake, the surprise seemingly visible on its gaping skull.
This land, the Serpent Ridge, had been the Serpent Trench back when a thousand fathoms of water covered it, but that was before Kefka had commanded the Three Statues to unleash a cataclysm. When Kefka’s magic cut the world open he turned the trench inside out, raising deep sea vents to the air and beaching creatures that had never so much as seen the light of day. Kefka had envisioned the devastation as renovation; a new home for the new god of all creation.
In the face of such insurmountable odds, he himself had been a beacon of optimism, Sabin reflected wryly. Then even the wry humor drained out of him. The enemy had been clear back then, the goal; unambiguous. Now he traveled alone, his reminiscing interrupted only when his chocobo drifted towards the corpse of a foul-smelling fish forcing him to rein the bird away and give it millet from a pouch.
Not so many years ago in objective time, Sabin had traveled through the trench with a pair of odd companions in a small submersible. Cyan, the quaint, chivalrous knight and sole survivor of the Doma Massacre had traveled with him as well as the wild boy who referred to himself with a bark of Gau! Gau! Gau!
They had wrestled the controls of the submersible to keep the currents from battering them against the rocks as they hurtled towards Nikeah. From Nikeah they took a ferry to Figaro’s shores and traveled onward to Narshe, arriving just in time to join the battle. There Sabin and his companions repelled the forces of the young imperial general Kefka, protected the Esper, and kept Narshe free.
Now Sabin traversed the ridge in the opposite direction from which the water had once flowed. Many things were reversed: then Mobliz had been their point of departure, now Mobliz was his destination. Then Mobliz had been a secluded border town, hearing only of war from afar. Now Mobliz was a broken, rotting city of orphans where Terra kept her orphanage.
Time can destroy, but time can also heal, Sabin reminded himself. Terra had overcome years of abuse and mental slavery, not to mention a terrifying identity crisis after the revelation of her magical parentage. If she could overcome such darkness within her own mind and find peace and purpose in Mobliz then surely Sabin could fulfill his dream of teaching martial arts to a pupil or two worthy of training.
Didn’t he deserve that much? A single man had formed this land and sunk all the land around it and yet Sabin and his friends had dispatched Kefka and banished magic forever.
Sabin leaned forward in the saddle as the chocobo ascended a steep incline. The chocobo flapped its vestigial wings in frustration as part of the slope collapsed beneath it. The former sea floor was a slick mixture of mud, sand, and clay dotted with diatoms. Sabin dismounted and walked the bird carefully to the top of the ridge. The vast oceans on both sides of the land created the illusion that the Serpent Ridge grew narrower into the distance. The brown land splotched with white patches of calcium seemed to become a narrow thread as it curved east.
Sabin tried to shake the feeling that his own life had narrowed to an aimless thread, disconnected from its garment. All his friends had still had goals and direction after defeating Kefka.
There had never been any question that Terra would return to the children after the final battle, that Gau would return to the Veldt to look after the wild creature, and that Cyan would go to Maranda to start a new life with the soldier’s widow with whom he had corresponded by carrier pigeon.
Edgar had his kingdom to look after. Locke and Celes had each other. Relm and Strago had Thamasa. Then there was Sabin, who thought he had a calling as a Sensei. Perhaps he should have stayed in South Figaro to wield a shovel.
Distance and time, anathema to most things, only seemed to increase Sabin’s guilt and regret. His people suffered. But people suffered the world over. Weren’t they too deserving of assistance? Could Sabin not better serve by doing something bigger? Was he not meant for something more?
“Ah, I wish I could have discussed this with my brother without descending into argument. Too late now. Eh, friend?”
“Wark!” The chocobo chirped at the sudden sound of his voice. It cocked its head and flicked a curious eye over him.
Terra would give him good advice. Sabin looked forward to seeing his friend.
The sure-footed chocobo carried Sabin past the sand pits and jagged outcroppings of the trench, now ridge. They passed the Isthmus of Ruin, a treacherous land bridge jutting south-west to delicately connect the ridge with the large southern continent. The Isthmus was above water, but the tides would make it impassable in a few weeks.
Terra might not wish to part with any of her beloved children and she might be equally reluctant to spare any food for Sabin. He cursed himself for not thinking ahead, for not sending word by carrier pigeon that he would be visiting and gauging her response. If his efforts in mobliz went in vain, then he might consider crossing the Isthmus to the southern continent.
The southern portion of the Serpent Ridge smoothed into a dusty plateau, spotted with patches of grass as they made their way east. They quickened their pace to take advantage of the terrain. The land gradually flattened as it curved north, eventually dropping into the ocean, and at the tip of the land clustered the remains of the town of Mobliz.
They arrived outside of Mobliz under a sunny, clear sky, alternately hot and cold as the sun’s rays competed with a chilly gusting wind. Sabin dismounted with a wobble, unused to so much time in the saddle. A whispered command sent the bird off to graze. It would not venture far. Then he marched into Mobliz.
Long thin ruts criss-crossed the ground in and around Mobliz. These scars had been cut into the land, not by a plow-animal run astray, but by Kefka’s light. Sabin stepped over one such rut, filled with briny sludge and walked down a muddy street between the rubble piles that had been homes. Nothing stirred in between the broken buildings. Most consisted of nothing but scrap piles; a few jagged beams protruding, and the whole mass greening with lichen like a carcass too old even for scavengers to bother with. A few structures remained standing though even these wore gaping holes or bashed-in roofs.
Something was wrong, something besides all the decay. The wind blew roughly across Sabin’s ears, carrying no sounds with it. He called out, “hello” as much to hear a human sound as to get anyone’s attention. There was no response, not even the howling of dogs. Where were the guard dogs? Of course, that had been a few years ago. Perhaps they had died. Perhaps no one lived here anymore.
The sight of footprints in the mud heartened Sabin. He followed the widest path to half-a-two-story building. One corner had been thoroughly annihilated; surely Kefka’s Light of Judgment was to blame. The remainder of the roof formed a triangle, sagging against the ground. Sabin ducked under a gap in the remaining wall and searched the interior.
“Hello, is anyone home?”
No one responded. He descended stairs into blackness calling out as he went. No one answered, but by feeling around in the dark he found blankets, candles, and arrows. Someone had resided here recently. He ascended the stairs back to the surface, sensing a presence as he stepped outside.
“Ho there!” he called as his eyes adjusted to the light. The other did not respond. Sabin shielded his eyes. It was a little girl dragging a one-armed moogle doll in the dirt and looking up into the sky above Sabin’s head.
He turned to follow her gaze and froze, disbelief pinning his limbs.
The monster loomed over the building from which he had emerged. Three white horns curved out of its head. A bandana large enough to blanket a herd of chocobos blindfolded it, but the monster opened its mouth revealing a single giant eye tucked behind lips and teeth. The bandana sagged in the places where eye sockets might have been. Murky dark drool (or were they tears?) streaked the monster’s gray cheeks beneath the bandana.
Something about it looked familiar, but Sabin didn’t wait to puzzle over the specifics. He shook off his surprise, grabbed the little girl, and sprinted from the monster. It roared its displeasure. The girl shrieked.
“Hush, I’ll protect you,” he murmured, holding her against his shoulder.
The girl sank her teeth into his ear. He yelled in surprise and pulled her away. She glared at him, but her mouth formed a smirk.
The monster pursued, gliding through the town with legs and torso hidden within a cloud of black mist. It reached out towards Sabin and the girl with arms wrapped in black fabric. Sharp points and curved blades stuck out from the arms as if the creature had been peppered with caltrops and shurikens. It gained on them.
Sabin set the girl down behind the remains of a stone fireplace.
“Stay here,” he told her.
Then he tore open the leather cylinder belted at his waist, punched his right hand in, and pulled out his tiger claws.
“You keep your eye on me, beast.”
“You don’t belong,” rumbled the monster from behind its bandana.
“I had the same thought about you. I’ve known a lot of monsters in my time, but didn’t typically leave them alive.”
Sabin rushed forward and leapt straight towards monster’s eye. It turned aside and swatted with a massive hand. Sabin twisted around the blow and raked his claw across the hand as it swept by. The monster groaned in pain.
Sabin landed on a roof that shuddered alarmingly, expecting the monster to turn and face him. Instead it moved towards the fireplace where he had left the girl.
He called out to get its attention. “What hole did you crawl out of? I thought we slew all your kind.” The monster glided swiftly towards the girl. Sabin cursed and made to leap after it when the roof suddenly collapsed.
Sabin landed in a cloud of choking dust. He pushed aside a beam and plowed through a flimsy wall to get outside. The monster had gone around to the far side of the fireplace and looked down at where Sabin had left the girl. The beast was too far away for him to intercept. Damn his foolishness for leaving her unprotected, he thought.
He searched frantically for something to throw. Then he rushed back through the hole in the wall and emerged with the beam. He took three strides and hurled the wood like a javelin aimed straight at its eye. The monster clamped its eye-hole shut at the last instant. The beam struck its lips.
While it held its hands over its eye, bellowing in pain, Sabin closed the distance. He stopped in the shadow of the monster, controlled his breathing, and brought his awareness to his center of gravity. He was ready to execute a Blitz technique and finish off the monster when an arrow struck his arm. Screaming in pain, his focus completely disrupted, he put a hand on the wound and instinctively dove to avoid the second volley. Peeking from behind the remains of a brick wall, he saw the archers: children firing through window frames and from behind piles of broken wood.
He couldn’t begrudge children for having poor aim, but their judgment was another matter. The fools! They would only enrage the monster and put themselves in more danger. Where was Terra when he needed her?
“Stop. It’s Sabin,” he called out. “I’m a friend of Terra, Mama Terra.”
“Kill Mama’s friend!” a young voice shouted.
Thinking he must have misheard, Sabin hesitated and was nearly struck by another volley.
“Stop,” he tried again, “I know Duane and Katrina. I’m friends of mama.”
The young archers paused, but not from Sabin’s pleas. Their eyes lifted up to the monster. Sabin looked. From behind swollen lips its eye beamed at the palm of its hand where the little girl with the moogle doll sat hugging one of its fingers.
“Papa,” she squealed with delight.
The monster bent to carefully lower the girl into the waiting arms of a young man standing behind the children’s fortifications. Sabin recognized him as Duane, the oldest male survivor in Mobliz. The last time Sabin had seen him Duane had been a frightened boy: barely a man and already a father, besides being responsible for dozens of orphans in a world gone mad. The past two years had hardened him. Duane looked at Sabin with disgust in his eyes.
“Mama’s gone. She left before we could drive her away. We have a new protector now.”
Sabin felt as if the arrow had pierced straight through his chest. Had the world once more turned inside out, this time without uttering a single sound?
The arrow had gone through his arm, missing bone and tendon. He had broken it, pulled the shaft through, cleaned the wound, and bandaged it. He could hardly remember doing any of these things, but his head throbbed in time with the pain.
The chocobo trotted steadily along, but Sabin wavered in the saddle. He felt as if some great force was uprooting the ocean floors in silence. Again the forgotten cages and dungeons of long-banished monsters broke and surfaced like old shipwrecks in a vortex, but this time was not like the last. Before, there had been a madman. The chaotic orchestra had had a conductor. Now nothing made sense. Sabin slowed the chocobo to a walk and cried without understanding anything.
Only later, when he closed his eyes and beckoned to sleep did he recall the rushing ground as he had fled. Painted on the backs of his eyes he saw the hulking monster chase him out of Mobliz. He heard himself whistle for his mount. The yellow arrow of a bird flew on blurred legs towards him. Once upon the chocobo’s back, he outpaced the monster.
It stopped its pursuit, but it watched like a sentry to make sure that the threat to its charges vanished over the horizon. It was this image that froze on Sabin’s consciousness: its rigid stance, its taut muscles. It had stood like a guard dog with ears turned forwards, every ounce of its being eager to be thrown headlong into any threat to its loved ones.
It looked familiar and Sabin did not know why; it haunted him.