Fiction Fragment Fridays: Returning Hope (Chapter 12 – Part 1)

Continuing on with Final Fantasy: Returning Hope!

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Edgar - ShockedLocke - ShockedSabin - WoundedCeles - Glance
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After very thoroughly losing his cool, Locke explained exactly why he had strong reservations about going to the town of ZoZo.

“It’s a town comprised entirely of thieves, brigands, and the scum of the earth,” he told Celes. “Everyone there is a crook of some kind or another.”

“You should fit right in then,” Sabin teased.

Locke ground his teeth together and shook his head with some vehemence. “No, you don’t understand,” he pressed. “This town is really bad news.”

“None-the-less,” Edgar sighed, “that is our destination.” He ruffed the feathers of the chocobo he’d been saddling and handed the reins to Celes before moving on to the next. “All the information says that Terra flew into the mountains South-East of here, and the only thing in those mountains is ZoZo.”

Sabin helped Celes climb up onto her chocobo while Locke fretted and struggled with his own. When they were all mounted Edgar began to lead them on a brisk trot South, across the Western plains.

“I’ve heard of the Thieves’ Town,” Celes said as they rode. “But I’ve never been there and I’ve always wondered how such a town would even come to be.”

“It was primarily the fault of the aristocracy of Jidoor,” Edgar explained. “The popularity of the Auction House and the Operas made Jidoor very rich over the years, but only for some. The rich got richer and the poor got poorer.”

“Eventually the rich decided that they were tired of looking at the poor,” Locke added with a scowl. “So anyone who wasn’t considered to be part of the upper crust was driven out of town.”

Sabin and Celes frowned. “How could they drive people from their homes?” Sabin exclaimed.

Locke squeezed his chocobo’s feathers a little too hard, causing it to squawk and glare back at him. “They had all the money,” he growled. “They did whatever they damn-well pleased.”

Edgar continued the story with a grim look on her face. “Those who survived the winter did so by becoming very crafty, stealing what they needed along with anything else they could get their hands on. Eventually they built a shanty town for themselves in the relative shelter of the mountains. It was a meager thing at first, but then others began to show up; runaways, wanted criminals, cast-offs from every corner of the planet. They built the town up and made it a place where others fear to tread.”

Celes’ eyebrows were knit together as she listened to the story. “I’m surprised that so many unsavory types are able to coexist together like that,” she thought aloud.

“That’s the thing,” Locke told her. “They don’t. They managed to come together for the sake of building the town, but after that, well… These days they spend most of their time raping, murdering, and stealing from one another. It’s really quite amazing that they haven’t back-stabbed themselves into extinction yet.”

They rode for a while in silence after that, but not before Celes closed her eyes for a moment and muttered something about how Terra had better damn-well be alive.

Across the fields, down past the town of Jidoor by the sea, and up into the valley by the mountains they went. After a full day of travel, during which they were forced to stop and make camp for the night, they finally spotted the Thieves’ Town nestled in between the mountains. They stopped a few miles away to dismount and urge the chocobos to return home.

“I wouldn’t put it past anyone in ZoZo to catch ‘em and eat ‘em,” Locke had told the others.

Dark clouds had rolled in, giving the illusion of nighttime. Just as the group were nearing the town those clouds broke loose. The group was soaked within moments. Locke took that to be a bad omen.

From far away the town had appeared to be a tight grouping of about a dozen tall towers, and first appearances proved true. The shortest tower was built right up against the side of the mountains and was five stories high. The tallest, at the center of town, appeared to be at least forty stories. All the towers had one thing in common: they were in a frightening state of disrepair. From shattered windows to dark, peeling paint, to giant splotches of what could have been mud or blood, the buildings hardly looked structurally sound, never mind habitable. And the surrounding bits of the town didn’t look much better. There were piles of garbage everywhere, some of them as much as fifteen feet high, and the dirt-packed streets ran with every manner of filth and bodily fluids.

Celes almost gagged at a pile of small, dead creatures in varying stages of decomposition, but she managed to restrain herself. “This is grotesque,” she muttered.

“Keep your eyes open,” Edgar advised. “And your noses closed.”

The streets were so empty that the town almost appeared abandoned, but every so often they would hear a raucous laugh, a scream, or the shattering of glass over the din of the pounding rain. The effect gave Locke chills.

“Let’s get this over with,” Sabin suggested, and set off for the smallest tower. The door had the word “Inn” scrawled across it, which made Sabin snort. “Who the hell would visit this place?” he spat.

Unbelievably, the inside of the building was worse than the outside. The team nearly doubled over with the effort of keeping themselves from retching. Peeling wallpaper revealed scads of mold and bacteria. The carpet was stained every imaginable shade of blood and vomit, and the ceiling was somehow leaking, despite the several additional floors above it. The smell was positively incredible.

There were two men in the room, and since the one curled up in a pile of rags in the corner looked like he might not even be alive, Edgar approached the one behind the counter. He took no notice of the group at first – he seemed very involved in his task of carving a profane image into the counter with a pocket knife – so Edgar cleared his throat. The man’s eyes flicked up for a moment, then back down again to his knife. Edgar decided to cut to the chase. “Have you seen any strange women come into town lately?”

The man stabbed his knife into the counter, glared at Edgar, and opened his mouth wide to show where his tongue had once been. Celes made a sound of disgust before she could stop herself. The tongueless man offered her a rude gesture in response.

Locke took a deep breath to steady his nerves, then said, “Look, we’re searching for someone. Mind if we look around?”

The tongueless man raised an eyebrow, stared for a while, and eventually shrugged. He hauled a large, clear jug of something that was black as night and took a swig of it. Edgar backed away, pale and disgusted.

They searched the building as thoroughly as they could while trying desperately not to touch anything. They didn’t find Terra. What they did find was that the building seemed to be less an Inn and more a drug den. Every person they came across was dirty, bloody, and appeared to be seeing things that weren’t there. They kept to themselves, but that didn’t make their state any less worrisome. One woman with her hair hacked off in chunks was cooing at an armless doll as though it was a baby, and a dark-skinned man with empty eyes was beating his head against the wall over and over, leaving a bloody stain behind.

Locke was exceptionally glad to leave that particular building.

“I’ll never doubt you again,” Sabin told him. He shuddered violently.

“Seconded,” said Celes. “I would rather stand in this rain until I died of a chill than go back in there.” She meant it too – Locke could see the conviction on her face.

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