by Annie Felis (anniefelis@pseudoangel.com)

It was too early to start drinking.

Still, he was on his second drink, not entirely concerned with the fact that it was early afternoon. Or in his case, still morning. He hadn't been waking up during the morning hours lately, and only today woke up not long after noon, mostly from the pounding headache resounding in his skull. This had become the norm lately; "lately" actually applying to the past several months, months that were accumulating and definately adding up to become one year, although the gambler wasn't concerned with time. He had no concept of time anymore, just a blunt realization of self-pity and bitter disappointment.

One of the barmaids made her way over with his breakfast; one egg, lightly buttered toast, jam, and a creme liquour that was one of the things that made the small town of Kohlingen famous, a concoction named "Kohlcreme". The somewhat rawboned brunette raised an eyebrow slightly as she placed the meal in front of the pale, thin gambler, and took away the empty brandy glass that was filled with Kohlcreme only twenty minutes ago. It was obvious that she didn't approve of somebody drinking their breakfast, but most knew that either arguing with Setzer Gabianni or serving him ale was futile and overly pointless.

It was still too early to start drinking, but he didn't care.

He thanked her and set to work on his meager meal. He never was one to eat much, ever since being one of ill health when he was a child. It was part of the reason he was so thin. It was also part of the reason he was so pale. While he was practically an albino, Setzer did have a slight bit of coloring to his sallow skin, a small amount of coloring that would be more evident if he actually ate what he should for a man of his height. At the height of 6'3'', Setzer only ate about as much as a young woman at the height of 5'5''. It didn't concern him, nor did the makeup he needed to wear on his fineboned face along with the head-to-toe clothing that prevented his alabaster skin from being singed by even the smallest amount of sun exposure.

Although lately, he was getting lax. He would forget to shave. Sometimes, he would forget to apply his makeup and wind up with sunburn. He left his long, silvery hair uncombed. Uncaringly, he would wear the same clothing a few days in a row, disgusted with the smell of his own sweat and old cologne on them, and yet too dispirited to change. In his opinion, even though he had money tucked away in a major bank in nearly every town, he had nothing. The one thing that had kept him seperated from all the rest of the rich snobs from Jidoor was entirely gone, and only pieces of it remained, scattered across the ocean, lying below the waves with no hopes of being recovered.

He had lost the Blackjack, his only remaining joy in the world.

Setzer picked at his one egg, poking at it with a triangle of toast. How could such a thing happen? How could some unworldly power, something that he had never believed in, suddenly step in and destroy an airship? Technology had fallen to mythology, an impossibility in the gambler's mind. How the Blackjack could have fell to the earth and sent he and the ones he could possibly call friends tumbling into the ocean was beyond him. The Blackjack was a sturdy ship...perhaps it was a bit heavy because of the seperate area with the casino in it...but it was made to last. He even had painstakingly modified the engine and the frame to withstand the shock if a emergancy landing. How could three statues, three idols dedicated to some forgotten goddesses, destroy the world and everything he once knew?

The others, how did they fare right now? Were they in better shape than he was? Setzer inwardly chuckled at this. Unless they were dead, they definately were in better shape than he was currently. Then again, death might be better than this.

He remembered how he attempted to kill himself. "Attempt" is as far as he got. He just had no willpower; he was weak, frail, pathetic. It was something he didn't like to let on...Setzer Gabianni was a man who loved to take risks, and yet when he was twenty-two years old, he had nearly taken his own life. Standing there, in front of a mirror, on the blackjack...small ivory-hilted knife held in his shaking hands...the gray eyes of his reflection mocking him, showing human emotion. He loathed himself that moment, almost as much as he loathed himself now. The wreck of the Falcon had been found, along with some remains that could possibly have been Daryl's, although they were too burned to be identifiable. He ordered a salvage crew to retrieve as many pieces as they could; gil pieces were to be given freely to the team...anything for Daryl. And then, he closed himself in his quarters on board the Blackjack, and pulled a knife out of his desk drawer.

The pale-skinned man that had been staring back at him was nothing but a shell, a mockery, utterly empty and worthless. The finely-boned face with its alabaster skin and long-lashed gray eyes had seemed disgusting and repulsive to him all of a sudden; the beauty that had brought him so much now had done him absolotely nothing. Worthless. The knife he held in his trembling hands, the knife that had an eagle-shaped ivory hilt, seemed to be more beautiful than the face twisted with grief could ever be, the face that did not seem to be his own. He wanted more than that, he wanted to destroy it all, to have his thin frame crumple to the floor and quietly ooze out his life's blood. He wanted to join her.

And yet, when he did raise the knife to his throat, he had hesitated. That was too easy, too fast. This man that allowed more than an inkling of negative motion show through a normally cool exterior diserved more than a slit aorta. Even after he died, his soul would not rest, always seeing that beautiful face with its gray eyes and silvery hair. No, something had to be be done about that.

The knife slashed first down over his eye, from his forhead down to his cheek, at a slightly askew angle. His eyelid closed instinctually and automatically, the eye below was not damaged, but blood ran from the new wound, down his cheek like the tears he simply could not shed.

The knife next went for his chin. Then is forhead, his cheekbones, his jawline. It was almost as if he could not feel the pain, it was nothing in comparison to emotional pain. The blood flowed and dripped down onto his white silk shirt, spotting it a rusty-hued red color. Ripping it off, ruining the seams and popping off buttons, he then set to his arms and chest. Across his collarbone, the backs of his hands, the thin chest. More blood came, dripping onto the rich carpet imported from Doma, adding its own red pattern to the curling mandlebrot designs of blue and white.

Edge smeared with blood, the knife dropped from his thin fingers, the ivory handle a past reminder of the color of his once-perfect skin. It was perfect no longer; the visage that stared back at him from the mirror's surface was now what he knew it should be: ugly, pathetic, weak. The beauty was gone, and was replaced with mutilation. Feeling lightheaded from the loss of blood, he had sank down into a chair and held his head in his hands for countless hours. He did not come out from that room for days, and he did not show his face at anyplace until a full week later, where he explained the knife wounds as an attack from one of the rough-and-tumble card sharks from Zozo.

Setzer touched at the scar that ran over his left eye, the first one he inflicted on himself. The scars didn't make much of a difference...he was still considered one of the best-looking bachelors in the world, even better than the playboy king Edgar Figaro. Edgar...he was probably dead. The gambler swirled the small amount of Kohlcreme that was left around in its bowl-shaped glass, sighing. Edgar wasn't too bad of a person, even if he was a bit too overbearing when it came to women. Poor guy. He must not get any often.

Edgar was one of the last to fall from the ship while they were over that ocean, not long before Setzer and Terra, the last two, fell. While many of them cried out, attempting to reach each other, Edgar held one hand out towards his brother Sabin. When he realized he couldn't reach his brother as the burly man was hurled from the shattered deck, the king of Figaro muttered an "Oh, bugger..." and then tumbled over the edge himself. At least that had class, Setzer admitted. Even if Edgar was too caught up in things like morals. He could picture him right now, walking into the bar, disapproving frown on his face. And he would say something along the lines of--

"Setzer, what the hell are you doing here?" The voice was familiar, a baritone overlaid with the refined accent that identified the speaker as a resident of Figaro Castle.. It was the voice of the subject of Setzer's thoughts. Even though he didn't look up from his glass of Kolhcreme, he could see the blue-clad king make his way over through the crowd with his periferal vision. Two other people were with him...a tall, thick-muscled man that could only be Sabin, and a honey-blonde woman dressed in yellow and brown. So...Edgar, Sabin and Celes were here.

Big deal. "Whaddya want?" Was he drunk? Probably. He felt lightheaded, but he figured that was from not eating too much lately. Not even looking up from his crumb and yolk-covered plate, he snorted. "Probably a hero..."

Edgar opened his mouth to speak, but Celes stepped in. "We'd prefer to find friends." she said pointedly. "Making sure that they're all right." Her blue eyes flickered down to the mostly-empty glass of Kohlcreme. "Although I'm sure some are doing better than others."

Setzer laughed humorlessly. "I don't think I could get any worse. Go away, kids...Mr. Gambler is busy with his breakfast." He waved them away with a gloved hand, raising the large brandy glass to his lips. When Celes intercepted this act and pulled the glass away from his face, he fixed her with a frosty stare. "I thought I made myself clear. Leave me alone. I don't want to be bothered with whatever asanine search you three are undertaking."

Celes let go of the glass, allowing him to drain the rest if its contents. "You've changed, Setzer..."

"I haven't changed a damn bit." It was a lie, an openly defiant one, but he could have cared less. "It's the world that's changed, and everybody's doing their own thing in order to live in it. The land is dead, the sky is covered in ash, the clouds nothing more than smoke....what's in it for me? What could I possibly want from a place like this?" That last question didn't seem to be inquired of anybody in general. Setzer raised his empty glass and rattled it around between his thin fingers until the barmaid came over to refill it with a third dose of Kohlcreme.

"Forget him, Celes." Sabin snorted in disgust. "He's not gonna be any help to us anymore." He turned, his broad back facing the drunken gambler. "Let's go, brother."

Edgar nodded, and started to leave the bar with his twin. Celes, however, refused to move. She stood there for a moment, ignoring the calls of the Figaro brothers from the pub's entrance. Setzer sighed, and looked up at her. "What the hell do you want? I told you, I have nothing to do with you anymore."

"I think you do." She said sternly. She glanced over her shoulder at the Figaro twins, who were heading back over. "We all do."

"That buddy-buddy power-of-friendship-and-humanity crap isn't going to work on me." the gambler sneered, swirling the tan-colored Kohlcreme around in its glass. "You're just wasting your time."

"I remember a man who was much different, a man who lived for the fight, for the challange, for the risk. Somebody who liked to face all odds and then double back and do it all over again." She rested her hands on the table, leaning forward slightly. "I'm not sure where this Setzer Gabianni is, but I'm sure I can find him somewhere around here."

Infuriated, Setzer slammed the glass down on the table, sloshing some of its contents about. "You just shut the hell up..."

"I will do no such thing, Setzer." Celes said, also slightly irritated. "You're sitting here in a small nothing town, no airship, no friends, just your liquor and what appears to be your horrible self-pity. I don't know wh--"

The gambler stood up suddenly to tower over the honey-haired young woman, anger cutting through the alcohol haze. "No, you don't know! You have no comprehension, no idea, no clue as to what I'm going through right now. You haven't lost much, little girl...your whole life was given to you, and even then nobody gives a rat's ass about an ex-general from a dead empire. I spent almost as many years as you have been alive just trying to do something with my life. You think I liked Jidoor? No. You think I wanted to live in Zozo? NO. I wanted to be...no, I was something beyond what all those other men in my field are...I had wings, Celes. I could fly, and with my freedom I could glide on those wings to anywhere in the world. Where's the freedom, little girl? Where are my damn wings that let me live my life?" At this point, his pale face was mottled pink and red from anger, his teeth clenched.

Before she could answer him, he sighed and lowered his eyes, sliding back down into his chair. "Gone. That's where. I've lost my freedom, and I've lost my wings. I'm not good for anything anymore. That's why I don't have any fight left in me, any ambition or any consideration." He sneered, panning a hand to indicate the bar. "That's why I'm in Kohlingen, away from where most people know me, drinking my breakfast, picking up some barmaid or random farmgirl to spend a night in my bed. It's because I don't have it in me to care anymore." He wrapped his slender fingers around the glass of liquor, thin shoulders slumped forward. "That's why you're better off just leaving me alone. With any luck, I'll drink myself to death."

Celes stood there, hand held to her chest, as if his words had attacked and wounded her heart. She lowered her eyes. "Oh, Setzer..." Sighing, she looked at him sympathetically. "I never thought I'd see you like this."

The gambler didn't move, didn't blink, just sat there with the glass held in his thin hands. "It's not pretty, so you'd best move along. Goodbye, Celes."

The young woman made no move to leave, nor did either of the Figaro brothers. Sabin gave his brother a worried glance, and Edgar nodded in response, understanding the situation. There was no way that they would leave the gambler here to waste his life away.

Setzer glanced up at them, staring at them from beneath thin, smooth eyebrows. "Don't you have someplace to be? Go on. I said go."

"No." Celes said firmly.

Sighing a bit drunkenly, Setzer shook his lowered head and caused the silvery locks to bounce to and fro. "Jeez, you're a persistant bitch..."

"That's because I don't want you to do this to yourself. None of us do. We need you Setzer."

"I told you, I'm a loser, not a fighter...I'd just be in your way." This last statement sounded morose, almost close to grief.

Celes slapped her palm down on the table, causing the dishes on it to clatter loudly. The bar's few patrons and barmaids that hadn't turned to watch Setzer's previous outburst all turned to see what was now going on. "Damn you Setzer, I'm not going to stand idly by and let you do this to yourself. I only wish I was here sooner, so I could have prevented it in the first place. We DO need you, Setzer...even if you don't have an airship. You always seemed to think we were using you, just so we could go anywhere on the Blackjack. At first...that was kind of true..." She sighed a bit guiltily.

"It was my idea," Edgar admitted. "But I did not truly want to use you and discard you, Setzer. I had planned on rewarding you and sending you on your way, even if you did lose our bet. But then..." He shrugged. "None of us wanted to do so. Your insight and abilities helped us, airship or not."

Setzer grunted, the only response he gave. He stared at his Kohlcreme. The Kohlcreme seemed to stare back.

"Setzer, we need you back." Celes said. "The three of us found a friend, somebody we recognize and can count on in this horrible time the world is going through. We can't just leave you behind...not after we finally found you. Even if you don't fight, even if you just come along, it's better than sitting here, indulging in Kohlcreme and cleavage until the day it kills you."

He glanced up at her, his makeup-lined eyes still sharp despite his drunken state. She was offering to take him from this place where he had so firmly set his heels, to take him away from a slow death that could last years. They all were; Edgar's icy blue eyes were sincere, and Sabin's tanned face seemed so injured by seeing the gambler's status that he looked as if he could burst into tears. Celes' smooth, porcelain face was not far from his own, and her beautiful features were intent, determined, and yet sympathy welled up behind the baby blue eyes.

But what could he do for them? How could he possibly provide them anything, when he had nothing? He had money, but that would do little for a group that had a king in it. There was one possibility, but would he do such a thing, even for them? Could he bring himself to resurface pain that haunted him long ago, to help these people he only somewhat knew, that called him "friend"?

"What the hell." he said, standing up. "I've got nothing to lose at this point." He watched as a wave of relief washed over his companion's faces, and then laughed, the first time he actually had laughed in quite a while. "You're right, I can't be rotting away in this little town, I've gotta move on. I've gotta do my own share of rebuilding things. I mean, if we don't try, who will? Everybody's afraid."

"At least you're up to date on what's going on." Sabin murmured. "I thought you were so bloody full of drinks that you didn't know up from down."

"It takes quite a bit for me to lose my wits." He frowned, putting a hand to his chin. "Now, about searching for our comrades..." He paused, thinking the situation over. Something was at rest below an ancient crypt, a place where for hundreds of years, only the rich or heroic were buried. It was were Daryl's bones rested, the last thing he could do for her...if he could do anything at all after her death.

That, and the Falcon.

The Falcon was the famous ship, designed and built by Daryl Highwind, the most famous female mechanic and pilot of the world. In an age where technology was developing along the ground, Daryl had turned her eyes to the sky and built a masterpiece. But then, that masterpeice had fallen, taking its creator down with it. Even the Falcon couldn't withstand such high speeds at such high altitudes. Setzer salvaged what he could and reconstructed the rest, and put the renowned airship into a massive vaulted masuleum next to the crypt where Daryl was buried. That part of the crypt was below the sea now...there were chances that it was flooded, and the Falcon was lost. And yet...

Setzer fixed his dark gray eyes on them, giving a hint of a smile. "I think I have a solution to our problem. A few miles to the west of Kohlingen are catacombs, a sort of burial ground for the rich. In an area near there, I hid something away..." He took a deep breath, and sighed. "Almost managed to forget about it too."

"What's that?" Edgar asked, curious.

"You'll see when we get there. No tricks. I just would rather show you than explain. I don't think I'm overly ready to explain either." He pushed his chair into the table he had been seated at, and held a hand out towards the door. "Shall we?"

"Don't you have anything to take with you? Belongings and such?"

"Edgar, I haven't owned anything worthwhile aside of money ever since I crashed with the Blackjack. I'll just pay my tab here and we'll get going." The slender gambler reached into his inner pocket to pull out a wad of money. "It's fine, I'll be outside in a minute to join you."

The Figaro brothers seemed convinced, and both made their way out of the bar. Celes reached out to give Setzer's hand a squeeze, smiled thankfully at him, and then followed the twins out into the sun-drenched Kohlingen afternoon. Setzer dropped the proper amount of money and a decent tip onto the table, and sighed, reaching for the last swig of Kohlcreme in his glass. Perhaps he was moving on, after all. Perhaps he had a purpose again, more than to just live life for living it, more than to just take risks. Maybe his life was changing, if ever slightly, and some part of him was allowing him to be more human, more like the three people that awaited him just outside this tiny pub's door. Just maybe...maybe he didn't want to drink this liquor. Maybe he didn't want to sleep with a different woman each night, or wager a billion gil pieces on one poker game, or indulge himself in other such things. He lowered the glass from his lips, not drinking the last sip. Yes, maybe...

Setzer set down the glass of Kohlcreme, and exited the dim tavern to join his companions in the sunlight.

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