“Baldur, you’ll always be my baby boy. No matter what happens to us,” a woman said through tears while hugging her 14-year-old son. Fria Maximilian’s long curly blonde hair fell over the boy’s face. A ten-year-old girl held the boy’s hand, her hair and emerald green eyes a perfect reflection of her mother’s. In fact, both children mirrored their mother in appearance, though Kefka wore his hair short and his eyes were darker. “Never let her out of your sight. You’re the only one that can care for her now. You and Lizithia are the only chance this family has.”
The boy stood and watched as two gruff men walked his mother to a car. Lizithia saw them push her mother in and slam the door shut. The tinted windows were far too dark to see through. The two children could only imagine the fate that awaited their mother. Fria left Kefka and Lizithia to survive the hateful streets of Sorrento with no family left to care for them.
“Kef, why is mom leaving us?” Lizithia said, her eyes red from crying.
“I… I don’t know…,” Kefka tried to resist the tears beginning to swell, but he failed.
“When will she come back?” Lizithia clutched a green necklace in her hands, the only heirloom left by her mother. The car drove off with their mom, leaving no trace. The children were alone in a darkened alleyway. There was nothing to comfort them. Nothing to hint at a brighter future.
“I don’t know…” Kefka sank to the asphalt and cried. Lizithia cried with him, confused about her mother leaving, confused at her brother’s breakdown, and longing for her mother’s embrace.
Kefka heard his sister through his own despair and looked up at her. She stood in her bright white jacket, sniffling and tears streaming down her face.
“It’s not fair, Lizzy. It’s not fair!” Kefka screamed into the darkness. “I don’t know why everyone leaves us. Mother said she’d never go, but there she goes. Leaving us. Just like Father. Just like Perry, Winston, and Jacob. Everyone leaves us. They all said they’d come back. None of them did. I don’t know if mom will. Maybe there was something I could’ve done. Or something I could’ve said to make them stay, but here we are. Alone, cold, and left with nothing. It’s not fair at all!”
Lizithia stopped sobbing and sniffled as Kefka yelled. She stared at him, her eyes wet and bright red. “Are you leaving too, Kef?” Lizithia said.
Kefka looked at his sister, his gaze ablaze, “Why would you ask that? Of course I’m not leaving. I’m right here, aren’t I?” Kefka glanced at Lizithia’s hand, eyeing the necklace his mother had left her. An emerald charm sculpted into the shape of three mistletoe leaves graced the chain. It rocked back and forth on the chain, hypnotizing Kefka.
“And how old are you?” the butcher woman asked, she was short, round, and red faced. She tied her short hair underneath a hair net and a small white cap.
“I’m 16,” Kefka answered, standing a few inches taller than the woman. He stood on the customer side of a large butcher counter. The corner butcher smelt of fresh meat and fish. Lizithia sat just outside on a nearby bench.
The butcher looked Kefka up and down, “Sure you are.” She paused a moment and sighed, “all right, follow me.” The woman opened the counter up and Kefka followed her to the cold storage through a door behind the counter.
“Here’s what I need you to do, a truck comes in the morning to drop off fresh kills from the slaughterhouse. It’ll park right out that back door over there. You will help the man unload the truck and then move everything into the cold storage room, the door just to the left of the back door.” The woman walked through the back room, past a cold metal table with hoses hanging just above, Kefka followed close behind. She led him into the cold storage room where cow carcasses hung in a line on the back wall and stacks of ice bins sat near the door.
“From there you will be responsible to organize the meat,” the butcher continued. “Put the pork over there, the beef back there, and everything else toward the front. Keep the fish separate from the poultry. The fish guys come in earlier and handle it all themselves so don’t worry about that, just don’t put the poultry with the fish. Got it? It’s very simple. Can you handle that?”
“Yes ma’am. It seems simple enough.”
“Good, now you’ll get $30 for each day. Doesn’t matter how long it takes you, just as long as it gets done. If it’s not getting done then I’ll find someone else to do the work, got it?”
“Yes ma’am, so I’ll be here tomorrow morning at 6 A.M. right?” Kefka smiled at the woman.
“Yea, be here at 6 A.M., no later.”
“I’ll get the work done. Thank you, ma’am. I won’t let you down!” Kefka shook the butcher lady’s hand and ran out of the butcher shop, past the metal table, and through the front door. A bell rang out as he jumped through the doorway. Kefka skipped down the street and stopped in front of his sister, Lizithia, and smirked.
“I did it, Lizzy. I got a job,” Kefka’s joy seeped into the indifferent girl. Lizithia eyes, red from crying, grew bright and she stifled a quick giggle. She cradled her mother’s necklace and looked back down. “Lizzy, can I see that?” Kefka said reaching out his hand.
“Why? She gave it to me; I don’t want to lose it. If I let it go, I could lose it.” Lizithia pulled her clamped hands close to her chest and away from Kefka’s hands.
“Well, Lizzy, at least wear it around your neck. You might drop it when you hold on to it like that.”
“I can’t wear it. It hurts to wear it, but it doesn’t hurt as much to hold it.”
“It hurts to hold it too? Lizzy, please give me the necklace,” Kefka’s voice lowered, his excitement hidden.
“I can’t. Mom gave it to me. I don’t want it to go.”
“It’s okay, Lizzy. I’ll hold on to it for you. It won’t go anywhere because I’ll have it and I won’t go anywhere.” Kefka lifted Lizithia’s head, his face alight with joy.
“Okay, but you can’t go anywhere. You can’t ever go anywhere.”
“I won’t. I promise.” Kefka reached out to Lizithia’s hands and took the necklace from her. The necklace weighed far more than Kefka expected. He lifted the chain and looked deep into the mistletoe leaves on the end. The leaves captured Kefka’s gaze and refused to let him go. It burned his eyes to stare into the charm, more so than staring into the sun. Though the pain wasn’t physical. He thought of his mother’s final words and the pain of his orphaned life. Kefka felt the urge to throw the necklace into the sewer, but it clung to his hands, as if fused with his skin. He felt his mother within the necklace. He could see her hugging him, her hair falling over his eyes. He could hear her voice professing her care. The final command his mother gave shot into Kefka’s thoughts: Never let anything happen to her. Kefka broke free from his trance and put the necklace over his head, letting the charm rest on his chest. He took a deep breath when the pain of the necklace smoldered to an ember underneath the mistletoe. Lizithia’s love and desires to stay with Kefka overwhelmed the pain of his mother’s loss. He turned to Lizithia, and understood her.
“I’m never going to leave you, Lizzy. Never.”
“Thanks, Kef. I’m glad you won’t. I’ll never leave you either. You’re all I have,” Lizithia said, hugging her brother. Kefka felt her sorrow fade.
What is this necklace? Has she truly been carrying this weight? It must be my imagination. Kefka thought, though he didn’t believe it.
“Ms. Sochala, I’ve finished up for the day,” Kefka walked up to the small butcher and leaned against the counter.
“Did you now? You’re getting faster at it each day. What has it been? 9 months now? Excellent work, Kefka,” the butcher smiled at Kefka and moving toward the cash register.
“Actually,” Kefka moved his arm out to stop Ms. Sochala, “I was thinking today I’d trade payment for some meat. It’s just, I’ve been working back there with all the fresh meat and not once have I bought any to eat. I think it’d be a suitable payment. If I could get a few cuts of the T-Bone and some filet mignon. I think that’s worth about $30.”
Ms. Sochala laughed as she reached into the register and pulled out cash. “You’ve earned yourself a bonus, Kefka, take your pay and then go ahead and take your pick of cuts. The restaurant down the road will cook them up for you at a discount. Just tell them I sent you down.”
“Thank you, Ms. Sochala, thank you!” Kefka ran to the back and grabbed his choice of steaks and waved at Ms. Sochala as he rushed out of the building. He ran down the road and hopped onto a bus just as it pulled to the stop. The bus drove through the bustling city during midday, making several stops along the main street. Most of the passengers got off at the Sorrento City park. The clear sky and cool weather made it a perfect day to lie in the grass or walk the paths. The bus kept on its route as a menagerie of people stepped onto or off the bus. Kefka kept a keen interest in the people that rode the bus during the day. The bus made a stop at the northernmost end of town, where Kefka got off.
Four-story buildings crammed tightly together lined the red-brick streets of the North End. From above, the buildings looked like a large open staircase. As Kefka maneuvered his way through the crowds of people and bags of trash, he admired the North End architecture on Leavitt Ave. The symmetrical design of the street made Kefka feel as if he walked on a cityscaped treadmill.
Kefka stopped at a door, just like any other door on Leavitt Ave, and opened it. A tall pudgy man stood on the other side, his balding head dropped small beads of sweat onto his shirt collar. Kefka held up the bag of meat in his hands.
“Kefka! You’re home early today. What you got in the bag?” the man said, out of breath.
“I’ve got some T-bones and filet mignon,” Kefka said as he walked through the door. Haphazard pictures hung on the walls of the thin, short hallway that led to a tiny living room connected to an even tinier kitchen. A loveseat stretched from the wall to the kitchen table. Lizithia sat on the couch and ran to Kefka when she saw him.
“Kef! You’re early today! What’s in the bag?” Lizithia asked.
“Just some meat from the butcher. Here, I have something for you.”
“Oh, what is it? Is it that scarf I saw this morning?!” Lizithia climbed onto the couch and stood up on it.
“What scarf? I haven’t seen you yet today?”
“Oh ya…” Lizithia jumped up and landed in a sitting position on the couch.
“But you can have my pay from today and use that to get whatever scarf you want. I don’t need it.”
“Really? Yay! Thank you, Kef! But what about Glen? Doesn’t he usually get some of your pay?” Lizithia dashed to the cash in Kefka’s hand.
“It’s okay, Lizzy. Kefka and I worked something else out. Speaking of which, let’s be off, Kef. I have a feeling today is gonna be a great day,” Glen said. His breath had caught up to him and beads of sweat dried up under the slight wrinkles in his skin.
“Oh yes, Glen. It’ll be a beautiful day.” Kefka hugged Lizithia’s head and pushed her back to the couch. He gave Glen a meditative stare while playing with his mother’s necklace, rubbing the back side of the emerald charm with his thumb. Kefka mused over Glen’s desire to parent both him and Lizithia, the pain in Kefka’s chest almost breaking his focus. The man had found the children in an alleyway just beyond Westerly Hill a few weeks after their mother had been taken. Kefka thought the man strange and the means by which he offered his home to them so freely, suspicious. Glen never insisted on making them pay for anything, yet Kefka insisted back that he wanted to owe no debts.
For a while, Kefka held to the belief that Glen wanted his sister. He made Lizithia hide a knife on her and told her to use it if Glen ever tried to attack her. However, once Kefka obtained the necklace, that assumption subsided. Glen’s parental aptitude became obvious. Though slow, simple, and goonish, the man adored children and wanted his own, but he was incapable of bearing any. When he found the two siblings suffering, he took them in to satiate his desires for offspring. Glen loved Kefka and Lizithia dearly, more so Lizithia, for Kefka had become more of a nephew than a son.
Glen and Kefka strolled down the Leavitt Ave hill to the Slope’s End Grill, a North End favorite of high-class foods. The outside of the restaurant displayed the day’s lunch specials on a chalkboard sign. Just behind the sign, guests sat on a patio walled in with glass panels and a thin roof. Glen walked inside and greeted the hostess and handed her a small slip of paper. She led them back to the kitchen, winding through the tables filled with fanciful guests conversing amongst themselves.
“Glen, Kefka! It’s good to see you. What do you have for me today?” a short burly man with a large gray mustache and short white hair greeted Glen and Kefka as they walked into a quaint office. The short man’s polo and khakis bunched up as he jumped into the tall chair behind the desk. The chair allowed him to tower over his sitting guests.
“Hello Bat. I’ve got some good cuts that came from Mitchell’s Slaughterhouse. The truck they came from had the plate 8897CHJ. Issued by the Sorrento Transportation Division. It takes a route starting from Mitchell’s and then moving South along the edge of the city. It makes four individual stops, the last being Ms. Sochala’s Butcher Shop. Ms. Sochala gets the largest delivery. She’s got a very loyal customer base, they like the way she handles the meat.” Glen grabbed the bag from Kefka and dropped it onto the table in front of Bat. Bat reached into the bag and unwrapped the steaks and inspected them. When he finished, he took a key from his left pocket and opened a drawer on his small metal desk.
“Take a look here, boys. I just got the final product from the supplier. The last few years it’s swept over Down Too. Now we’ll be the official center of distribution for the North End.” Bat pulled a large vial and needle from the drawer. “It goes right into the meat. It makes the meat taste sweet, but it packs the biggest kick you could imagine. I’ll have my chef cook some up for us.” Bat pulled the needle out of the vial and injected whatever liquid stewed inside into the two steaks. He took the steaks with him as he stood up and opened the door behind Kefka and Glen. “Hey, Donny, get over here. Ya cook these up for the boys here. Just like usual. Thanks.” When Bat finished, he wandered back to his seat and sat down.
“All right, Bat, what else do you need?” Kefka said. Kefka’s leg bounced in an anxious rhythm. He knew what Bat planned on doing, however he also knew that Bat was not capable of doing it. Bat wanted to become the sole provider of illicit stimulants for the North End and circumvent his supplier. Bat thought if he could grow his business horizontal that he’d make a few more dollars. However, his plan was ignorant, even Kefka could see that and he’d only been in the business for a little less than a year. Kefka had to keep working for Bat, for Glen and Lizithia’s sake, but Bat’s plan was more than likely going to get all of them killed.
“Well, from you Kefka, I just need you to keep taking in those meat shipments. We’ll get you setup here soon with taking the product to market. As soon as the supplier gets me the product for the month, we’ll have it out the door here at Slope’s End. That’s about 40k worth of product. When it’s gone, we’ll get a new supply and be able to track down where the supplier makes his stuff. Allowing us to go around his head and take over the entire chain. From supply to distribution. And then Glen Kefka, you’ll be at the top. Just below your old pal Bat.” Bat folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair.
Kefka gave Bat an approving, yet sarcastic nod. He was not blinded by greed or the promise of money and stature. Instead, Kefka found passion in watching and learning from these people. As far as he could tell, if he had his mother’s necklace, he would always know what they would do and why they thought they were doing it. Bat was no exception to this rule. The man drove himself mad thinking of all the ways he could obtain power over the North End. He spent all his time scheming and conniving his next master plan to get as much money from other people as possible. Though, oddly enough, he never thought much beyond the blurry lines of the North End; to Bat, the rest of the city didn’t exist. To Bat, the North End was the city, but to Kefka, the North End represented only a piece of the potential the city offered to him. Bat just happen to be the best way to get there, despite the danger he posed to his sister.
A man came into the room carrying a plate of cooked meat. He set the plate down in front of Bat, who cut the meat into bite-sized pieces.
“Here you go, boys, eat your fill. You’re in for quite a ride,” Bat said as he shoved a few bites into his mouth. Glen hesitantly grabbed a fork and ate a few bites.
“I’d rather not,” Kefka said.
“Don’t mock me, kid. I’m offering this on the house. This’ll go for $300 a plate, easy,” Bat held out a fork with some meat on it.
“I like to keep a clear mind. I don’t need to try the product to get it out there. Seeing the effects is well enough for me.” Kefka looked over to Glen—who in an inconspicuous motion spit his bites into a handkerchief. Glen felt the same as Kefka but did not want to upset Bat.
“Suit yourself. I’ll just… save… some for later…” Bat’s voice trailed off and his eyes dilated. He slumped down into his chair and entered a trance like state. As the drug took over Bat’s body as a euphoric smile came to his face. Kefka tugged Glen’s sleeve and motioned to the door. The two of them got up and left Bat to his high.
Bat gave Kefka explicit orders to discover the location of distribution for the new drug. The driver didn’t come to the butcher shop to drop off the first delivery for another two weeks. Kefka half expected the delivery was canceled and Bat hung out to dry. Though, that seemed unlikely, as Glen would have known if Bat got into any trouble. When the driver showed up, he arrived in the same white delivery truck as any other driver, the difference being the license plate number: ‘8897CHJ’. It took one conversation with the delivery driver before he told Kefka everything he knew of the operation.
“Is this one it?” Kefka asked the delivery driver, pointing to a large cow carcass. They stood behind Ms. Sochala’s butcher shop in a damp alleyway, next to a line of animal carcasses. The large white truck purred and breathed a stream of water vapor into the chilly morning air.
“Yep, that’s it. The tag’s marked with a four at the end. All the ones I’ll bring ya end in a four on the tag,” the man said, putting a white cap on his head. He walked back to his truck and opened the door. “Just make sure that one doesn’t get lost in the mix, the boss wouldn’t be too happy ‘bout that.”
“I know what Bat expects. I’m not going to lose these.”
“Bat? Who the hell’s Bat? No, I’m talking about my boss. Whatever, just don’t lose it, okay?”
“Wait a second, if you don’t know who Bat is, then what are you dropping off then?” Kefka gave the man a confused glance and then turned his gaze to the meat.
“What the fuck do you mean? I’m dropping off the delivery I was told to drop off,” the driver took his foot off the metal step that led the way into the truck’s cab.
“I don’t want it then. I don’t know who you are if you don’t know Bat. Bat told me he oversaw all this and if he isn’t then I’m not taking whatever it is, you gave me.”
“The fuck you are! I don’t care who told you what, or where you got your orders. You’re taking that cow.”
“Just give it to someone else. I won’t be involved with anyone we don’t know here.”
“Are you serious? Look, kid, I’ve got a job to do, so you take the fucking meat and if you have a problem, go talk to the guy that runs the thing.” The man stepped into the truck cab and was about to close the door when Kefka ran up to the truck.
“Where the hell do you think you’re going? Take this cow back. Either you take it, or I just throw it away.”
“Go to the fucking dock and take it back yourself. I don’t care what you do with the meat anymore, I delivered the stuff and that’s my job. If you can’t get it where it needs to go after then that’s your problem and that’s on your head.” The man slammed the door and drove off.
After his conversation it was easy for Kefka to find where the man went to get the meat prepped. The docks were not all that crowded in the middle of the day and he spotted the white delivery trucks pouring in and out of a single warehouse. Kefka made his way to the entrance and convinced the man guarding the door to let him in. From there, Kefka found little difficulty in finding the man in charge of the entire operation. In fact, it seemed almost too easy.
Kefka sat in a small chair positioned off center in an enormous room. In front of Kefka a moderate pine desk was in the same strange off-center location as the chair he sat in. The remainder of the room housed bunches of filing cabinets stacked to the ceiling; large white letters labeled each individual cabinet. A bowl of dark red fruit seeds sat on the desk, from which a man wearing dark clothes snacked from.
The man eating the fruit leaned against the side of the desk and spoke, “Kid, what the hell do you want? And how the hell did you get in here? You two, why would you bring him to me? I’ve told you time and time again, don’t think for yourselves.” Two other men stood at the doorway far behind Kefka, avoiding Axel. “Look, kid, I usually would not give a fuck what you want here with me or my men. However, seeing as I can’t understand how you convinced them to get you here. That’s one thing I can’t fathom. So, for my amusement and curiosity, please tell me what you told them.”
Kefka smirked and took a quick breath, fingering the emerald charm strung around his neck. “I didn’t mean to intrude on y--”
“Cut the bullshit. You’re a terrible liar,” said the man at the desk.
Kefka kept eye contact with his adversary. “All right,” Kefka began, alarmed at the man’s intuition, “Well, Mr. Bastion, I told them what I thought they needed to hear to get here. That’s it, I can’t exactly remember what it was I said. I just tell people what they want to hear to get me closer to what I want.”
“Get to the point, kid,” Axel Bastion said.
“Once I discovered this innate ability of mine, it became a sort of obsession using it to explore the city and figure out its inner workings. I’m here because I thought the mastermind behind the meat injections must know how this city operates and that I could learn from him. So, how can I do that? How can I gain your favor and learn from the master?” Kefka straightened his back and brushed his hands through his hair.
“You’re fairly naïve, aren’t you? Well, I guess that comes with your inexperience. How long have you been trying to get here?” Axel asked.
“I’ve been working on this for about 9 months. I heard of the injections from a man that I’ve been staying with. From there it was a simple matter of gaining information and making the right moves. Now here we are talking.”
“You’re very proud for your age. I wouldn’t say you’re particularly clever, but you are proud. You made the mistake of coming here, which tells me you don’t fully understand what we do and that you also don’t truly understand how to get what you want from me.” Axel gave Kefka a menacing glance. Kefka broke eye contact for a moment.
“I wouldn’t put it that way, per se. I don’t know how I’d put it, but I know I’ve done more than you’re giving me credit. I’m here, aren’t I?” Kefka had a hard time gathering his thoughts. Something shrouded the man from Kefka’s necklace. He could not see into Axel’s desires. Kefka toyed with the necklace in his hands. The pain in his chest all but subsided. He tried to draw on the supposed power, to force it to his service. However, he became skeptical it had any power at all. Kefka felt powerful on his own. Did he need a charm to improve himself? That was a question Kefka could not answer, for he could not bear to part with the necklace.
This man though, for whatever reason, seemed immune to Kefka’s instincts. There was a devilish cloud stirring around Axel. A cloud that brought bare Kefka’s regrets. Kefka slumped in his chair, swallowed by his mother’s death. The man was right, going to him was a mistake. He glanced around the room for a moment, looking for an opportunity to escape, but nothing grasped him. He could hardly think with his mind so clogged.
Kefka took a deep breath and focused on Axel. He felt like crying, screaming, and trying to run. He did none of those. Instead, he shook his head and looked Axel in the eyes. The man loomed over Kefka and seemed to move in slow motion.
“You realize, boy, that you can make an appointment with me? I make myself accessible for the people of this city. Yet, knowing who I am, you chose to go deliberately through these convoluted back channels, and lie to me and my men to get them to bring you here? Do you think you are cute and amusing? Perhaps you were as a child, but you’re no longer so and you will not be treated as one. Jerry, Sean, get this kid out of here and give him a gift or two before you show him out the door.” Axel walked back behind his desk as he grabbed a handful of fruit and rolled up his sleeves.
Jerry and Sean forced Kefka to his feet. “Hey now,” Kefka said. “Be careful, I just had this suit pressed.” The men paid no mind to Kefka’s joke while they pushed him toward the door. When they were just outside Jerry punched Kefka to the ground. Kefka’s eye swelled and blood dripped down his nose. Jerry lifted Kefka by his collar and Sean thrust his fist into Kefka’s jaw. Knocking the boy to the cold concrete, Kefka’s mouth filled with blood. He laid still for a moment and then pulled himself up. The bright hallway led to a metal door. He looked at both Jerry and Sean, then nodded.
“Fanks gentlemen,” Kefka said with a lisp. He staggered along the hallway, stopping now and then to hold his head. “I won’t forget you and the help you gave me today,” Kefka thought he yelled, but in fact only whispered. He stepped outside, delirious, and winced at the bright sun. That man is quite the mystery,Kefka thought to himself. I wonder how I can make an appointment with him?
Kefka wandered down the street,, traversing a few blocks. The city moved around him, paying no mind to the drunkard teenager. Strange people were in abundance in Sorrento and the people ignored such an ordinary thing. The citizens had business to attend to, work to get done, and matters to obsess over. They had no time at all to worry about every bum, drunk, and stranger passing by in the streets. The skyscrapers careened over Kefka, making him dizzy as he gazed toward the sun. Now, where am I again? Kefka decided he should lie down and get some rest. Though, he could not sober up enough to find where he needed to go.
The sun rose right behind Capital Hall. This time of year, the dome covered the sun at about 6:23 A.M. It shone brilliantly through the intricately designed stain glass windows. It depicted an image of the sea meeting the earth and bringing with it renewed life and hope. The blue glass carried green and red flecks into a spiral of deep yellows and oranges. At any time of day the dome was a spectacle, but the magnificence of the artwork bloomed at the sunrise. Even better, the dome sparkled in the winter and fall, when the night frosted over the glass mural.
Capital Hall had been rebuilt and renovated several times over throughout Sorrento’s history. The most recent of the renovations came at the peak of the Great War—the same renovations that installed the glass dome. Governor Parker commissioned the renovations of the entire first floor, landscaping, and buildings surrounding Capital Hall. His idea was to present a fearsome and robust image of power and authority to any potential invaders. The resulting changes turned the area surrounding Capital Hall into something of a fortress. Rumored among the denizens of the residential halls was the construction of a mysterious defense mechanism beneath the renovations. Though no one could prove that to be true.
At exactly 6:23 A.M. Kefka awoke to the sun shining directly into his eyes from behind the Capital Hall’s dome. He looked up and rubbed his eyes, taking in the image. “Now, that is quite the sight to behold,” Kefka said to himself. A yearning to view the dome from the inside welled within him, as to him glass windows were meant to be seen from the inside.
You must see inside. Discover the secret mechanisms of the past.The voice of Kefka’s mother rang clear in his head. No matter the cost. It is how you must protect your dear sister. It is how you can keep her and I with you forever.
“No, mother, that’s not the only way,” Kefka whispered while standing up. After his good night’s sleep, Kefka’s head felt much better. The cold grounds of the city were more comfortable than Kefka had remembered. Taking a bus allowed Kefka to arrive back to his sister in only a half an hour. Kefka brushed off his sister’s worries and prepared himself for the day ahead. He needed to find out how to get an appointment with Axel. It turned out getting a regular appointment with Axel was much easier than Kefka thought.
“Yes, I’d like an appointment with the owner,” Kefka spoke into the phone, rubbing his temples.
“He’s not free until Friday at 2 P.M., is that okay?” the attendant on the line asked.
“Sure, that’s fine.”
“All right, may I have a name?”
“Thank you, Mr. Maximilian, Mr. Bastion will see you Friday at 2 P.M. Have a good day now.”
The phone clicked and Kefka hung it up. “Wow, he is accessible,” Kefka said, amused.
“What are you doing here?” Mr. Bastion moved a dark red fruit seed in between his fingers before popping it into his mouth.
“Well, Mr. Bastion, I’m here for the same reason I was a few days ago. Although, I took your advice and made an appointment. As you can see,” Kefka said, sitting in his off-center chair studying the off-center desk.
“Yes, I can see,” Mr. Bastion said.
“I didn’t come over here to play games. I came to give you some information, but I don’t want to just give it to you for free,” Kefka said.
“So, you have information that is of enough value to me that I will be so grateful and pay you for it in return?”
“I’d be glad to get such news. Go ahead tell me what you will. I’ll give to you whatever you may desire, within reason of course, if I find what you say to be of great enough value. If not, then the lesson you learn today will be much greater than what you learned yesterday. You only amuse me so much,” Axel said. Kefka squirmed in his chair. Mr. Bastion saw Kefka fidget and smirked.
“I assure you; it won’t be as disappointing as you expect,” Kefka said.
“We’ll see about that one, kid.” Mr. Bastion leaned back in his chair and placed his hands behind his head. His smirk faded into a frown and his stony eyes rested onto Kefka.
“Bautista Guadagnoli, the man you hired to distribute to the North End is looking to overthrow your North End operation. He’s been playing this pretty close to his chest, only me and another guy know about it. If you want to know more, or be included in all the dirty details, please acquiesce my one request. Well, it’s more like several small requests that make up a single big request. The details of which don’t matter much-”
“Get to the point, you have my interest, what do you want?”
“Ah, so you did hire Bat. First, I want a promise that my sister and I won’t be harmed in the inevitable crossfire. Beyond just that, I’d like to work for you in whatever capacity you determine is fit. I can provide a various amount of skills, most among them—which I’m sure you’ve gathered—is my keen persuasive talents. If you find me lacking, then the first request will suffice, but I still expect her to be protected from any retaliation for the coming years.”
“You aren’t as skilled as you think you are. You’re naïve, young, and foolish. Not entirely, though. You have given me much to think about. You may leave. Our meeting is done.” Mr. Bastion stood up and motioned Kefka toward the door.
“Done? You don’t want to know what else I have to say?” Kefka scooted his chair away from Mr. Bastion.
“Yes, we are done. I have other meetings and work to attend to. If I accept your proposal, I’ll notify you momentarily. You can be assured for now that what you’ve told me is enough to forgive the intrusion for the other day and your continued intrusion today.”
“How will you notify me?
“How do you think? Someone will call you. Oh, and before you go, I like Ms. Sochala. She’s a staple of the North End community. If you bring her any undue trouble, there will be consequences.”
“Yes, Mr. Bastion.” Kefka shook the man’s hand and left the room. He was glad to be free of Axel’s presence. Perhaps it was the dark red fruits he always snacked on, as if he were constantly popping pustules of blood into his mouth. His manner of business seemed demonic to Kefka. The offering of deals and the strange way he put off deciding on Kefka’s desires. Either way, Kefka felt an affinity to the man. As if the man held Kefka’s fate in his grip.
The night sky glimmered over Kefka’s head. The stars broke through a small veil of wispy clouds and the sounds of the city faded into the lull of the tired night. Cars drove by now and then, some hummed in the wind, others coughed deep and struggled to wind up and down the hills of the city streets. Downtown Sorrento, or Down Too as the locals called it, was nestled into the valley of three large hills. The financial district of Down Too towered over most of the city, even above the tops of the hills. Anyone leaving Down Too would find themselves going up in any direction except for East. To the East, the Great Sea continued deep beyond the horizon. Several small islands dotted the coastline of the city, but most of them were too small to be inhabited or were protected lands under strict state environmental regulations. To the West and North, beyond the tips of Westerly Hill and the North End, a dark forest extended seemingly further than the waters to the East. South of the Harlov Mound, great tracts of farmland covered the earth and faded into an endless expanse of golden grass. From the highest point in the financial district, the top of the Aino Tower—owned by the Aino Corporation, who controlled over 70% of the world’s trading ships—one could see all these incredible sights by the turn of a head.
Kefka glanced up at the Aino Tower and sighed.
You must see it. His mother’s voice whispered in Kefka’s ear. He turned around, but saw nothing. You will get there, my sweet Baldur. You must not worry.
“I know. For Lizzy’s sake, I will.” Kefka said. As he walked, he couldn’t help but notice the people that surrounded him. Everyone felt the same. They all yearned to find something, to complete some task, to become something they weren’t. He could feel everyone and they all wanted more. Yet, hopelessness drowned out that same desire.
You could give them hope.
“I could fix them. All of them.”
My dear, Baldur, you are the light of this city.
“They will be saved by my light,” Kefka said. The fiery pain that burned under his necklace dissipated, replaced by hope, love, and fear. Kefka knew he could bring to this city an uplifting no one before him ever could. He just needed to ensure that Mr. Bastion would accept him.
Kefka came through the hallway and smiled at Lizithia sleeping on the couch. He looked around the room and saw someone had unplugged the phone and plugged it back in. Almost immediately the phone began ringing. Lizithia shot up from the couch and yelled, “I swear I’ll kill whoever keeps call- Oh, Kefka, someone’s been calling for you.”
“Apparently so, what’s so important that they got you riled up?” Kefka chuckled and answered the phone. “Hello?”
“Kefka, you took your merry time to get home. Mr. Bastion wants to know more. Meet him at the Slope’s End Grill tonight at nine P.M.,” a gruff voice spoke.
“I can do that,” Kefka said.
“Also, bring your friend, Glen.” The voice hung up the phone before Kefka could answer.
“Interesting,” Kefka whispered to himself.
“What did they want Kef?” Lizithia said, sitting cross-legged on the couch.
“Just to set up a meeting. I’m moving up in the world, Lizzy. We’ll be just fine here soon.” Kefka sat on the couch next to Lizithia and pushed her over to make room for himself.
“Hey! I was sitting here, go sit on a chair,” Lizithia said pointing to the chairs at the kitchen table.
“I’d rather not. It’s much more comfortable here. Besides, I’ve got to keep an eye on you, make sure you don’t get into any trouble.”
“Whatever, I’m going to the bedroom. I don’t feel like being cramped up here all night.” Lizithia got up and slipped through the small door across from the couch. The door opened into a bedroom not much bigger than the living room. She began to close the door but left it open.
“Did you do your homework, Lizzy?” Kefka said.
“Homework? No, I didn’t. There’s no point in it.” Lizithia said from the bedroom.
“Yes, there is, at least one of us needs to have some brains in this family.”
“Why can’t it just be you?”
“I have other things to worry about and you’ve got the time for it.”
Glen came out of a door behind the kitchen counter and said “I thought you I heard you come in.”
“Just did, we need to go down to Bat’s at nine tonight.”
“So soon? That’s strange, darn I was hoping we could all go to a movie or something.” Glen said.
“We can go tomorrow. Wake me up when it’s time. I’ve got to get some rest. I haven’t slept well in days.” Kefka laid his head onto the couch and hung his legs over the other head and fell asleep.
“Kefka, get up!” Glen yelled throwing a bag at the teenager sleeping on the couch.
“What?” Kefka rolled off the couch and laid on the floor.
“We need to go. It’s almost nine,” Glen said.
“Oh right, hold on a minute, I need to get dressed.” Kefka went into the bathroom and realized he was already dressed in his only suit. He decided it was good enough, despite the wrinkles. He wet his hair and slicked it back, then met Glen at the door. They made the short walk down the Leavitt Ave hill to Slope’s End Grill. The clock just above the restaurant read 8:59 P.M. The two of them walked in to find the restaurant quiet and unpopulated. Only a few people spoke in their booths and many of the tables were empty.
“Strange for a Friday night,” Glen said.
“I wonder what Bat could be up to,” Kefka glanced over his shoulder trying to glimpse Mr. Bastion, but failed to find the semi-elusive man.
“Glen, Kefka, thank you for showing up on time. Please come with me.” The host appeared in front of them. She led them through the kitchen and into Bat’s office. Mr. Bastion sat in Bat’s chair behind his desk. The office furniture shrunk next to Axel.
“Kefka, you’re punctual. Have a seat in front of me. Mr. Bautista will join us in a moment,” Axel said.
“Thank you for talking with me,” Kefka said through a sheepish grin. Glen eyed Kefka, confused. Then, the door burst open and a large bald man, a scepter within a circle pinned to his lapel, came through dragging Bat behind him.
“Now the party’s ready to start!” Mr. Bastion said, clapping his hands together and standing. “You three are in quite the predicament.”
“What are you doing here, Axel?” Bat said, his face squished by Jin’s shoe.
“Well, I’ve got it on good authority that you three are plotting to overthrow me. Now you must know that I don’t allow disloyalty among my crew. If I so much as sniff a mutiny, I pluck it at the roots and sow new seeds in its place. Do you understand me, Bautista?” Axel frowned at the beaten Bat.
“He knows his place better now,” the bald man said.
“Yes, Jin, he surely does, now, but he should have already known his place. You see, I gave to him so much. I bestowed onto him opportunity and wealth. Yet, this is how he repays me? With schemes, plots, and greed? Did I not give you enough, Bat? Is that it? I pay generously. I give you opportunity for advancement and I’m very understanding about time off. Yet here you are, disappointing me and planning to take what isn’t yours. Tell me, Bautista, how do you think I found out?” Axel stood over Bat and stared down at him. Bat looked up at Axel and then over to Glen.
“You spineless bastard! I knew you’d betray me the first chance you got. I don’t know how you found out Axel was my supplier, but I know it was you!” Bat said through the blood oozing from his mouth.
Glen shot up and said, “Me? I didn’t tell no one. I’m not a snitch, Bat. You know that. You’ve known me for years. How can you just-”
“Enough!” Axel said, slamming his fist toward the desk, but stopping just before it hit. “It wasn’t Glen you shithead. You honestly think he would have the brains to snuff this coup d'état? No, it wasn’t him. It was your golden boy, Kefka. The kid has better detective skills than most of Sorrento PD. You’ve got quite the asset here, and all you have him doing is pushing meat for Ms. Sochala? I wholly overestimated you, Bautista.”
“Kefka?” Bat looked toward Kefka. “You’re just a kid. Who the hell do you think you are?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am or what I am. I know how moronic, shortsighted, and greedy you are,” Kefka said. “You think Mr. Bastion will just hand over the North End? He’s not going to let some imbecile restaurant owner he hired to push a few syringes to take his operation. I knew that before I even met him. And after meeting him? I don’t know how stupid you would have to be to think you could pull this off. Even I could tell your plan was bound to fail. You were going to get me and my sister killed. I will not stand by while you threaten my family.”
“You naïve bastard!” Bat yelled, trying to lung toward Kefka, but Jin held the short man in place.
“No, Jin. Let him go. He has an issue with Kefka. Let them settle this between them,” Axel said. Jin shrugged and took his foot off Bat’s back. Bat struggled to his feet and glared at Kefka. He looked behind, seeing if Jin and Axel would intervene. Then turned his attention to the boy.
Kefka took a step back as Bat’s nostrils flared. His necklace dug into his chest and burned. Kefka could see Bat’s intentions. He could see Bat’s plan to charge at him with a flurry of quick jabs. The short burly man had been a boxer in the past and the air of confidence surrounding his puffed-out chest betrayed no fear, but Kefka saw otherwise. Beneath the boxer’s spirit was a wild animal, desperate and scared for his life. Kefka counted on Bat’s wild fear. He knew Bat had been a boxer, and he also knew that Bat could beat him in a fight. However, Kefka could see Bat’s ferocity and desperation. The necklace burned hotter and it pinched at his chest, causing Kefka to stagger back.
Bat saw Kefka step back and leapt forward, unleashing several quick jabs with ferocious, desperate speed. Despite his pain, Kefka was prepared and dodged most of the punches, but he did not expect Bat to be so quick. Bat landed a punch into Kefka’s gut. The blow was powerful, forcing the air out of Kefka and knocking him back. Bat stepped forward with a hook heading for Kefka’s jaw, but Kefka ducked down and swept Bat’s legs out from under him. CRACK! Bat’s head smacked the floor. The sound echoed in the room. Bat lay still, struggling to breathe.
“Don’t get up again.” Kefka’s heavy breath calmed as he gripped his side. Bat rolled over and stared into the ceiling.
“You’re a traitor, Kefka.” Bat wheezed as he spoke. “After all, Glen and I did for you. You say I’m ignorant, but you don’t understand this world at all. You’re endangering yourself, you stupid kid. I was trying to protect you from Axel!” He tried to stand, but Kefka kicked Bat to the floor.
“Perhaps, but I see so much farther than you,” Kefka put his foot onto Bat’s chest and pressed down. Bat coughed.
“Axel will eat you alive, kid. It’ll happen and you’ll see that I was always right,” Bat said, choking on his own breath.
“That’s enough,” Axel said. “End this now, Kefka. Kill him and we can all move on.”
Kefka looked at Axel with wide eyes. “Kill him?! Why the hell would I kill him?”
“Would you listen for once? Damn kid. Look, I’m not explaining this again. Kill him and our deal is sealed. Consider this your first job.” Axel sat back down at Bat’s desk and called Jin over to him. He whispered into Jin’s ear and Jin left the room, leaving Glen, Bat, and Kefka alone with Axel.
“This is our chance, Kefka. We outnumber him. We can take him out and everything can go back to how we planned it. Just us three,” Bat said to Kefka, sweating desperation from his greasy pores. Kefka released some pressure on the man’s chest.
“What do you propose we do?” Kefka leaned down, bringing his ear close to Bat’s pleas.
“Tell Glen to leave, he wouldn’t be much help and it will take Axel off guard. Then tell Axel you need a knife. When he hands you one, attack him with it.”
Kefka gave Bat a nodded. He knew what Bat was planning. Kefka stood no chance at overpowering Axel. Axel would not hesitate to kill him, and Lizithia, if he tried. This was just another of Bat’s ill-conceived and half concocted plans. Though in this case, Bat’s goal wasn’t so much to survive, but to exact revenge. The necklace made Bat’s intentions clear. Seeing into Bat’s heart allowed Kefka to understand the man. He pitied the pudgy man. The young man kneeling over him now overtook Bat’s hatred, despair, and worship.
“Glen,” Kefka began, “Come over here a second.” Glen walked over to Kefka and hovered close behind him. His eyes were glazed over. “Glen, I need you to leave and check in on Lizzy, can you do that?” Kefka whispered. Glen nodded and walked toward the door.
“And where are you going, Glen?” Axel said.
“Uh, j-just heading home. Kefka didn’t think you needed me here a-anymore,” Glen stumbled on his words.
“Very well, we don’t need you here so long as you understand one thing. Can you tell me what that is? It’s quite simple,” Axel said, leaning forward. He pulled out a bag of fruit seeds and popped one into his mouth.
“We work for you, not Bat. I gathered as much, sir,” Glen said.
“Very good, you’re quick to learn. That’s useful. Leave now. Go check on little Lizzy for Kefka. I assure you, though. She is fine.” Axel chuckled to himself and turned his gaze back to Kefka and Bat. Glen awed at Axel for a moment and rushed out of the office, grateful he could escape without being harmed.
“Well, boy. What’s it going to be?” Axel asked. Bat nodded at Kefka, indicating that he was ready to start his absurd plan. Kefka knelt and pressed his knee hard into Bat’s chest. He looked at Bat and then up to Axel.
“I need a knife, or something,” Kefka said.
“You need a knife? Can’t do this the old-fashioned way, can you? No, you don’t need a knife. It’s too messy. Here, have this.” Axel got up and grabbed a rope from behind the door. He threw it over to Kefka and it landed on top of Bat. Kefka looked down at Bat. The plump man had realized Kefka’s intentions. Bat struggled, but Kefka was strong enough to hold him down and tie him up.
“You son of a bitch! You won’t do it; you can’t do it!” Bat screamed. Kefka wrapped the rope around Bat’s head and tightened it over his mouth. Bat’s voice muffled behind the rope. He gnashed and tried to chew his mouth free, but the rope proved too thick.
Kefka grabbed the other end of the rope and wrapped it around Bat’s neck. He felt the man’s anguish as Bat realized he would die. Kefka winced as his necklace burned. The pain was too much for him to handle and he could not bear to feel Bat’s fear any longer.
“Kid, I’m leaving now. I don’t have time to sit here and babysit you while you try to carry out a simple job. Either you can handle the work, or you can’t. Jin will watch to make sure you carry out your task. I wouldn’t take too long though. Jin can be more impatient than I am.” Axel left the room. Jin came in after with a cup of water, leaned against the desk, and watched.
Kefka strained his hands and gripped the ropes around Bat’s neck. Tears welled up in Bat’s eyes. Kefka closed his own until he felt a soft touch glide across his fingers. The pain in his chest subsided as well as Bat’s terror. Kefka opened his eyes to see his mother kneeling before him.
“Hello, Baldur, my darling,” she said. She seemed older and her hair was not as bright as Kefka remembered.
“Mom?” Kefka said aloud.
“Mom? What the hell are you talking about, kid?” Jin said looking around. Kefka glanced at Jin and then back to his mother. He understood at once.
“It’s nothing,” Kefka said.
“Fine, just hurry it up, I’m hungry,” Jin said.
“Kef, why are you hesitating? He would hurt your sister.” The apparition’s voice weighed on Kefka, causing the pain in his chest to reappear for a brief moment. She seemed as real to Kefka as the man that lay before him. “I told you to watch over Lizithia. Now here you are, pitying the man that aimed to take that all away from you. You never listened before and you don’t listen now. You must take this path without hesitation, else our family will be destroyed.”
“That’s not what I meant,” Kefka whispered.
“That’s not what you meant? Then what did you mean?” His mother’s face lost substance and darkened, but only for a moment.
“I meant that it’s difficult. This man, he hasn’t done so much harm that he deserves to die,” Kefka said.
“Death isn’t the end, Kefka. You’re only hurting your sister by letting him live. You’ve grown much and learned much. I’ve done all I can to give you what you need. You only need to use it now.” His mother lifted Kefka’s chin and looked at him. Her eyes were a deathly gray, though her body was not entirely solid. He felt her touch, but not the touch of her fingers. He only felt a chill in his jaw as her finger passed through his cheek.
“You died years ago. Don’t you remember?”
“Of course, dear. Of course, I remember. I remember the night I died. Two men took me away from what I love most. But does it look to you that I’m dead?”
“It’s not real.”
“What’s not real? Where you are now? You failing to protect your family? Or do you mean me? It’s all real, Baldur. All of it. You spent long gazing into the heights of the city’s skyline. Always looking up. If you want to move up, you need to kill this man. Axel is your only way up, Kefka. The only way we can all be together forever. You can survive the danger. You can protect your sister. You will bring to this city an uplifting no one before you ever could. It all starts here.”
“An uplifting?” Kefka pondered the word for a moment. He took in his mother’s emerald eyes, her shining skin, and glowing hair. All of it real “Yes, mother. You’re right. You’re always right.” Kefka tightened the rope around Bat’s neck. The rope dug and sliced through Bat’s skin. Bat struggled to breathe and tried to free the rope, gnashing his teeth, whipping his head and his body back and forth. He wiggled like a fish dropped onto a dock. Then he was still. Kefka turned to his mother, Fria, but she was gone. He looked back down to Bat’s body in horror, What have I done?He thought, but then the pain in his chest returned and he remembered his mother. Right. He stood up and brushed the dust from his pants.
“Finally!” Jin said, “It’s about damn time you took care of that asshole. Come, let’s go get something to eat. We can introduce ourselves to each other properly. I’m Jin.”
Kefka walked over to Jin, leaving Bat’s purple faced body lying on the floor, “Call me Baldur, it’s good to meet you.”