EPILOGUE: LORELAI'S SONG
Of what befell Setzer afterwards there is little to tell, and going into great detail wouldn't make much for a good story. Needless to say, he flew the Falcon around the world for a few days after taking each Returner to his or her respective destination, a rest which he felt he deserved. Sufficiently recovered, he returned a hero to Jidoor. He went on to purchase a spacious, comfortable house, sharing it with his parents and Benedick, those delightful people, who lived in contentment and peace until their peaceful, calm deaths years later. Setzer's childhood friends were great frequenters of the house as well, Setzer now reconciled with J.J., and the infamous quintet minus one gave the city much to talk about. Benny caught an venereal disease, not fatal but awkwardly placed; Mandy raised an army of black haired, dark skinned hellions; and Setzer carried on a lifelong affair with the beauteous Maria, treating her, it should be noted, with great love and honor, which is more than can be said for her husband and cronies who deserted her when her hair went gray and voice cracked.
But blood did out. Setzer, a true Gabbiani, did not settle down, merely resting on his laurels. He embarked on a number of successful business ventures. Using his share of the great wealth the Returners had amassed, he purchased the Opera House and the Coliseum. The Opera he ran as it always had, but he altered the latter considerably, changing it from a place of death to a grand casino, the largest and most luxurious in the world (it had gold faucet handles in the bathrooms). Most of the steady fighters became waiters, Chupon was placed in the children's playroom as a beanbag chair, and Ultros became a blackjack dealer. Unfortunately the octopus caused trouble, insulting the customers, dealing from the bottom of the deck and so on, and ultimately Setzer cut his losses and ordered a calamari gala. The patrons were rid of a nuisance and had seafood for dinner, though not a very good one--the octopus was too rubbery, they said. And in the meantime, when he was not attending to these things, Setzer volunteered time in shipping essential supplies to various towns around the globe as part of reconstruction programs headed by the kingdom of Figaro, and had many adventures all the while, but none of them were as exciting as the battles with the Empire and Kefka had been.
The Returners had scattered, each going his, her, or their own way, living their own lives, yet they stayed in touch. A tradition formed that every year the twelve would go to Figaro to celebrate the day of Kefka's defeat, and Setzer made sure to visit everyone more often than that. In due course, Returner children popped out of the woodwork as the result of various marriages, some among themselves; the rather dubious of honor of godfather fell primarily to Setzer or Sabin's lot. "Always a godfather, never a god," Setzer was fond of sighing.
So Setzer became Godpapa Gabbiani, a good one, too. He never married or had children; he was content to be a simple godfather and spoil the children mercilessly. Many parents suspected he lavished his attentions on their new families so he could turn the children against them and give holy hell, but the children loved him. He dandled the babies on his knees, dangling a string of jewels for them to grab, showered toys on the small children, taught the older ones to cheat at cards and gave them sage dating advice, and he took them all on wild rides on the Falcon. He especially watched over Celes's children--they were his darlings.
Life was not dull for him, but as a man grows older the fire in his heart cools, his bones creak, danger doesn't hold the old excitement, quieter pleasures take over. The most fiery of men goes through the change and Setzer fell victim to it over time. His bright eyes became the color of flint, lines ran alongside his scars, his hair grew thin. But it seemed natural, so very natural, that he did not wail his condition. Why, growing old wasn't that bad! He never had thought of it.
One youthful pleasure remained: the Falcon. Whether on a delivery, adventure, or a pleasure-ride, the tingling surge of energy never failed to exalt him. He was most comfortable here, unbound, soaring, twirling, just as it had been in the old days How lovely it was, how sublime!
Then, one day, as the middle-aged gambler (for he still saw himself as such) flew his Falcon on a routine trip for fun, in the thin air he thought he heard a humming noise that was not his engines. He glanced around, and his heart stopped.
Another airship was coming up fast a bit off to the side. A flock of golden birds winked at him on the black prow, and a young man, fresh-faced and blonde, stood at the helm. Setzer knew the lad from the Auction House. He had gone away from Jidoor to study abroad as an engineer, but it seemed that studying hadn't been the only thing done.
The young man opened his mouth to speak a greeting, but decided better of it at the sight of Setzer's hard glare. His own impetuous blue eyes narrowed at the challenge. They drew up perfectly side-by-side. Setzer, his chest bursting in anger and indignation, nodded curtly, and they went at full speed.
They whipped through clouds, performed insane turns, swooped in air like a pair of chasing eagles. The Falcon came ahead at time, the rival at the other, sometimes they were so close none were winning, but eventually Daryl's engines came out. The Falcon drew away towards a mountain range, and Setzer indicated it as the finishing point.
On closer inspection, Setzer realized, heart sick, that perhaps he had not chosen very wisely: the mountains were especially craggy and close together, some precipices jutting out so that they nearly touched. In his reluctance, the other airship had come up even. Setzer tossed his head wildly, his eyes focused on the prize, an arched space between two crags. He judged the width--could she fit through? It came ever closer and closer, and he did not know.
He tilted the Falcon up, swooping over the arch to higher ground.
The other airship eased through the crags, and Setzer could see the young man saluting him. His legs quivered, sweat ran down his temples, but his shattered ego took the ordeal philosophically. He was a gambler, and every true gambler runs into someone who bests him eventually--this had been inevitable. There was nothing to do now but go back home. The captain turned around and went back to Jidoor, where Maria awaited him.
Maria was reclining on a sofa in the solar room, brushing her lips with a rose selected out of a dozen her lover had give her. The door opened and she lifted her head to comment on his tardiness when she saw the slumped shoulders and the look in his eyes.
"Darling, darling, what's the matter?" she cried, about to rise from her seat. Setzer came forward and collapsed next to her, nestling his head on her breast, telling her what had happened.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Setzer," Maria soothed, stroking the top of his head. "How terrible it must have been for you! But it doesn't make any difference to me, no, because I love you very much!" Her lover kissed her throat, snuggling closer--indeed, as long as his Maria loved him, what did the accomplishments of some whelp matter to him?
"It was bound to happen someday," he said. "There's not much reason to keep on risking my head over and over."
"You've done so much already."
"Yes, I have. Not much left. A man has got to know when to quit. I don't have it in me anymore."
"It would be wonderful to have you at home more often. I love being with you," she said.
"And a man has got to set his priorities straight. I've had my fill of excitement to last a hundred lifetimes, but there is no limit to my enjoyment in your most delicious company."
"So you'll stay now?"
No more flights came: Setzer took the Falcon back to Daryl's tomb and sealed it up again, vowing never to fly her again. He had made many promises in his life--this one he kept.
Months passed, adding up to nearly twenty years, airships began to fill the sky as the young genius mass-produced them; if he had ever regretted sealing up the Falcon, this state of events brought all doubt to rest. Yet for Setzer time brought great happiness and satisfaction in them. He lost the whole lot of hair on the top of his head, just one ring of baldness at his crown's summit, but his eyes and teeth were good, and he aged well and gracefully. He continued to dote on his godchildren, played a hand of poker with his friends regularly, and oversaw his enterprises as he had always done. Sunny days in Maria's presence, reading books, strolling through the public gardens of Jidoor more than satisfied his heart in bliss. The mere thought of settling down had disgusted him in youth, but he saw now that the world did go on. He did not waste his time yearning for ages long dead; he regarded the world with a wiser, less rash eye that remained as shrewd as it ever was. Life was different, but no less pleasant, as sweet, and Setzer did not object to the change. But Time, the years he had denied his gambler's heart and neglected himself, caught up with Setzer Gabbiani in the end.
There was a special bench, one among a row in front around a gazebo, in the public gardens that Setzer particularly enjoyed, as it sat under a large willow tree's hanging boughs, a cool refuge in summer and a bastion against the winds, yet the leaves had large enough spaces between them to let great patches of sky and sun shine through on his face. He loved to rest her after his constitutionals on fine days, closing his eyes in the appearance of napping while actually listening in to the conversations that passed by. The talk amused him and, since he was sixty-three and had little else to occupy his thoughts, was a good source of gossip to report to Maria.
On one of these beautiful afternoons Setzer walked to the rows of benches in front of the gazebo. A band was playing a merry tune, humming in his ears as he took his usual place, leaned back, and crossed his fingers on his chest.
Soon he heard the sound of rapid footsteps and young voices intermingled; the sounds came closer and stopped at the row behind his. Setzer quickly deduced that the voices' owners were both males, young, mid 'teens. He poised himself to listen--if these kids were anything like he was at their age, it was bound to be interesting.
"--and then we'll take the bucket, place it on the rafter above the stage, and just as he comes on stage, ready to give the speech, I'll give you the signal--" whispered the first boy.
"I don't know," the second said.
"No, I'm not, but why do we have to talk about it here? Let's go somewhere else."
"Whatever for? Just because that old fag in front of us might tell? D'ah! He's conked out. Hell, he could be dead. Who wants him, anyway? I hear he comes here lots of times, and nobody cares."
"It's his face that's so funny," giggled the second, "all scarred up--he looks like a wrinkled zebra. And his coat! Look at that old thing."
"See? He's asleep. I'll bet he's deaf, too. Watch this."
Setzer forced his body not to move a single inch at the touch on his ear of the first boy's warm breath.
"HEY, YOU! Yeah, I'm talking to you! Old geezer! Why don't you hop back into your pajamas and go to the retirement home where you belong!" the voice shouted. Setzer's face did not betray his ringing ears. What else was said shall not be repeated, it was too vile.
"See?" came the triumphant query.
"Well, I don't want to get caught by somebody else. Let's move on."
"Okay, okay. Here, let me get rid of this real quick."
Something wet and sticky was lodged on Setzer's bald spot; it smelled of peppermint. The boys moved away out of hearing range. Setzer opened his eyes and reached up, gingerly plucking the thing on top of his head, which turned out to be a wad of gum. He threw it into a nearby trash can. He stood up and stretched, wiping the west spot away with his handkerchief. Then he walked.
Passing his house, the city limits, the grasslands, Setzer walked and walked. It was not a chore for him to reach a line of steep, sharp cliffs, for Jidoor had moved closer to the ocean when the world's surface altered. He ascended the highest cliff.
As he stared down at the waves crashing against the rocks below, the aged Gabbiani thought and thought. He had done some rather callous things in his life, he knew, but he could not remember deliberately disrespecting harmless old men. He should have punished them, snatched the hand as it came from behind and smiled slowly in their faces--
Airships flew above, casting their reflections in the sea's mirror. Setzer watched them pass, and his heart ached. No-one remembered.
He looked to the water again and started, hands flying open.
In the water, a creature seemingly native and indued unto that element peered up at him, her black coat spread wide underneath the foam, rising and swooshing in the currents; her strawberry blonde curls fell down and wreathed around her shoulders alongside brown and red seaweed. She smiled lovingly. For his part, Setzer blinked, rubbed his eyes, slapped his head, but the figure did not vanish.
"I'm going mad," he murmured.
"Setzer, my love, come talk to me," called the maiden cheerfully and warmly. The addressed leaned over, crouched down over the cliff's edge as far as he dared.
"I've finally broke down," he said to her, "you're dead. But I'm so glad to see you, I don't care." He regarded her, smiling. "Now I know when they talk about the mermaids wreathed in seaweed red and brown." He then told her all that had happened over the years to the last few hours. "The sky's full of airships, Daryl, and they don't remember all the things I've done. It wouldn't bother me so much, but--"
She shushed him very gently, her voice melding into the ocean's murmurs and carried up on the wind. "Dearest, dearest, don't despair. Someday all of the airships will all be gone, and you and I will be the rulers of the sky again."
"Ah, I've missed you."
"Come to me," she urged, raising her dripping hands from the water and gesturing. "You big chicken! If you don't come down soon, I'll go up there myself and drag you in! That'd be no fun. Come on."
"Woman, you know I hate swimming!" Setzer cried, grinning broadly. He rose and pulled a gold coin from his pocket. "But I'll give you a chance. If it's tails, I stay dry. If it's heads, then I'll do what you tell me, missy." He flipped the coin, sending it into a perfect vertical spin. Edgar's portrait looked back at the gambler, who laughed.
"You win! I'm coming down."
Setzer quickly sat down so he could tug off his boots, he didn't need them. Struggling, he looked off into the distance in the direction of Jidoor, and he thought of all the pranks, the lies, crimes, charities, jokes, and sacrifices he had done; he thought of his peacefully dead parents and friends, those not so peacefully deceased, and the people living. It had been good, was good, but Time had clasped him in its jaws. There was only one way of escape.
"Farewell!" he cried to the air. He broke into a run and leapt off the cliff, spiraling in a corkscrew. The sky was sea and the sea was sky, all turning about. His hands hit the water, cutting through it, and he dove deep, deep under, the sun shimmering above in the ripples. He reached out for Daryl, wrapped his arms around her waist--she was warm. She ran her fingers through his hair and across his face, making him feel truly young in spite of himself. His chest began to burn, but she pressed her lips to his, breathing life into him. They treaded in the water for a long time until, smiling into his face, Daryl took Setzer by the hand, and after that his mind ceased to function at all.
Setzer Gabbiani is dead, long dead. Did he ascend to Paradise in a newly young body? Did he get reincarnated into a bug? Or did his spirit pass into a state beyond mind, soul, and matter? That is a matter of personal theology. However, if this author's opinion is worth anything, then Setzer, wherever or whatever he is, is happy. But to think in this way is foolish. Setzer Gabbini's concern was with Life, in the drinking of his wine, his delight in women, and the thrill of song, not death.
So, casting a bleached coat on the shore, the crashing waves and the sea's spurting foam laughed, laughed in an elegy for a man who had been one of the very few who had dared spit in the face of Time and truly lived, struggling to find that perfect balance between gambler and gentlemen.