Hi there. Well, this little dearie is one of my first fanfics - actually, the first one, if you take into account the fact that the real first one was rewritten. And it was the first to be completed. Done in 1997, man! Still, I stand by it as being Not Too Bad. Not too much to say, hope you enjoy. I'd love feedback! If you don't like Setzer, you'll not like this story, by the way. It's all him.
This fic is dedicated to the memory of my cat Cleobelle, whom the character of Nautilus was based off of. She died September 7th, 2000. I love you, Bella.
By Amanda Swiftgold
Chapter One - And the Stage is Set
In which they all get drunk
The sun rose red that morning, staining the sky the color of blood, turning the broken ground of the ruined world into a strange landscape of lava. It was, perhaps, the most beautiful sunrise there had ever been. But only the cat was awake to see it.
The humans slept while they could, tortured by dreams, still crying, still calling out for their lost loved ones. They couldn't escape from the horror of what had happened, months before, when the earth was torn asunder, when the world changed. No, there was no escape. Not even in sleep.
They would rebuild, live, move on in time. But for now, the memory of before still burned. The cat felt it from every person in the town as she walked toward her destination. The inn, a building that had somehow managed to survive the earthquakes. In her mind she heard the sobs of one woman far away, mourning the loss of her child. But, unlike the dwellers of the town, her child could be returned to her. And that was the cat's mission: to find the one who could accomplish that.
It was easy to gain access to the building, and the cat walked unnoticed into the kitchen. A man there, preparing a morning meal for the dwellers in the inn. But the cat's target was up the crumbling stairs, sleeping in a room. His dreams were quieter than the others'. He had nothing left to lose, nothing left but his life. He would do.
She padded up the stairs, his thoughts and memories becoming clearer as she neared. Her lady didn't like her to pry, but the cat enjoyed stealing thoughts when she could. She searched deeper into his sleeping mind, creeping down the hall. He had knowledge of magic, Espers, skill with fighting, was willing to take risks. He could fly...!
The cat frowned. There was loss there too, hidden deep but remembered, loss relating to the flying. And even deeper there was more, pain and loss and guilt, hidden so far down that it would not affect him at all, unless he was forced to remember, hold it in front of him. He was not unstable. And that was good.
She stared at the door, a temporary barrier. A crooked, warped thing, she was easily past it and into the room. On the best bed in the inn, a cot, slept a man. His face was young, but his hair was white, long, strands falling across his face. He had a shallow scar across his left eye, but the eye itself seemed unharmed. She wondered what had caused it.
He lay fully clothed, a long black coat draped across him. The cat felt her mistress take notice, look through her eyes at him. It was always a strange feeling, having someone else's awareness inside you. Shall he do, Lady Katara? she asked.
She could feel the interest radiating from her. Her lady was rather young, wise in the ways of magic but a girl in another sense. She hoped that she wasn't going to start getting silly. The cat personally thought he would be much improved with whiskers and a tail, but who knew what humans liked? Still, she hid her thoughts away, ready to warn her mistress later if things got too embarrassing.
I think so, Nautilus, Katara replied. You know his thoughts?
Yes. He would not harm your daughter. I will persuade him to help. And yet... he was one of the ones present when the statues were misaligned. He is a Returner, one foreseen.
Go on. He will suit. I trust in your choice, and I need my daughter back. They will harm her greatly in time. Please, begin now. I will not interfere.
As you will, Lady. Nautilus felt her mistress's mind withdraw from hers, and licked her white-furred paws quickly before leaping gracefully up onto his chest. She waited, but he did not stir. The cat leaned forward and batted his cheek with a paw, claws retracted. His head turned slightly, and he mumbled something, still asleep. Nautilus sighed. Humans always slept like the dead. She was going to have to take drastic measures.
Sharp pain in his hand. The words, Wake up! in his head. A heavy weight on his chest. Setzer Gabbiani opened his eyes wide. "What the hell is going on?"
He sat bolt upright, the weight falling from his chest to his lap. He looked blankly at it, recognized it as a cat. There was a cat in his lap. And there were claw marks in his hand. He stared at it, letting the fact sink in. It was too early, and his head still hurt. He remembered vaguely the beer from last night, salvaged from some wreck of a store, a little dusty-tasting but still good, and his head pounded with the memory. I've got a hangover, he decided fleetingly. That's nice. Why is this cat here?
"Hello," said the cat. "You have to come with me." He blinked at it. And reality hit him like a thunderbolt.
"Hey," Setzer shouted, jumping up and sending the cat flying, "you talk!" I think I need to go dunk my head!
"Brilliant," she replied, leaping back onto the cot. "I do talk, and I'll explain why in a moment. First, sit down." He did so slowly, staring at her. "All right. I am called Nautilus Cleo. I am a familiar, and I was sent here by my mistress to find you. And you are?" she asked, business-like, knowing quite well what his name was. Perhaps some trivial conversation would sober him up a little. She had the distinct feeling he was not usually quite so nervous.
"Setzer Gabbiani. And tell me one thing, cat, familiar, whatever you are all right, two things. One, why do I have to come with you, and two, how can you be someone's familiar? Someone taught you how to talk with magic, right? Your mistress." His head was beginning to clear, but he still wasn't sure he knew what was going on.
"That is correct. She knows magic because she is descended from the Mage Warriors of old. She comes from Thamasa, is much like the ones known as Strago and Relm."
"You know them?"
"No, but you do," she responded. "And I have no time to explain everything right now. My mistress, Katara Godive, needs your help. Her daughter was kidnapped by the Empire's slavers before the statues were moved, and she needs your help to rescue her. She was taken to a base, that now unfortunately has become an island, and even stronger. And now that you know what the problem is, we need to leave." Nautilus pushed at him with her head.
"Hold on a minute," Setzer said, picking the cat up and depositing her on the floor. "Just why should I do this? I don't know this Katara or her daughter. I've never seen you before in my life. I need to go find my companions, build another airship."
"Well, you'll be rewarded, of course. How do you expect to build another ship without money, gambler? The materials will be hard to come by, with the world the way it is now!"
Resolutely she jumped up into his lap, standing on her hind legs, a paw on his shoulder. He looked into intelligent gold animal eyes. A cat that talked and somehow knew who he was and what he had done. "You are the only one who can infiltrate the base and get her out. You can understand."
He was torn with indecision, but Nautilus had made a point. He'd need a new airship to help the others fight Kefka, and for that he'd need funds. How hard could it be to get the child and get out?
"All right," he said reluctantly. "I'll do it." It's just for the money! he thought to justify it. I might find one of the others. And, frankly, I'm bored just sitting here.
"Excellent! You won't be bored for long, Gabbiani!" she chirped, hopping up onto his shoulder. "You're dressed and ready, so shall we?" Setzer gave her a suspicious look, which she ignored, and left the room, going downstairs.
There were a few people up in the main room. He shelled out a coin for breakfast and sat at a rickety table to eat the chunky meat-broth stuff they served. He received only a few strange glances from people who had noticed Nautilus on his shoulder, but luckily no one contested her presence.
The cat tried to steal bites from his fork as he raised them to his mouth, and he batted the paw away, although it was doing little to discourage her. "So, how am I supposed to get to this base?" he asked in a low tone.
And he heard her voice in his head. It's easy. You have to become a slave yourself.
So you can talk in my mind too? Very nice. Setzer smiled briefly. This could be very convenient.
Yep, it is, isn't it? So, to get to the base, go annoy some slavers, pick a fight, and you're there.
How will becoming a slave help save what's her name? The girl.
Elya, Nautilus replied, successfully getting her claws into a chunk of meat, eating it with a few snaps of her jaw.
He finished the breakfast and settled back. Right. How will that help?
Well, you'll be there, won't you? Getting out is the easy part. It's getting in that's hard.
Isn't that supposed to be the other way around?
Not this time, Frosty. She thought-laughed, batting at a strand of his hair with a paw.
Hey now, none of that. You might as well be speaking for yourself, Snowball.
The name is Nautilus! And shouldn't we be going? A nip to his ear his time. He stood up, frowning, and paid the innkeeper for his room. She preened, having won the argument, and curled her tail around his neck.
Fine. You know where I can find some of the slavers, I presume? Setzer left the inn, moving down the road. He wished he had his airship. Or a chocobo, or anything walking was just so slow!
Of course I do. Leave it to me. Just do what I say and everything will work out absolutely super.
"Just keep your fur out of my face, all right?" he mumbled, wondering just how he had gotten into this. It was too blurry, had gone by too fast.
Nautilus made no reply.