Going into Ivalice
Chapter 25: These Veggies Ain't No Bob and Larry!
The Sochen Cave Palace, as expected, was not an entirely pleasant walk. Yuko's hand continued to grip onto mine, and we had nothing but a single torch that Jude was holding and my cell phone to give off light to lead the way.
Basically, this is how it goes down in dark, creepy places with our group, if you haven't actually caught on already: Monsters jump out and scare the bejeezus out of me, the others beat them down, rinse and repeat. It's almost become a daily routine with how frequently it's been happening, as embarrassing as it is to admit it. After a good half hour of walking, we reached a brand-new area with a door, and what appeared to be a keyhole.
"We need a key." Vaan said.
"No fear, lads and lasses!" I stepped up, holding the key that the Bangaa wayfarer gave to me, "For this brief moment, I shall be Sora from Kingdom Hearts. Watch and learn."
Of course, none of them knew my reference, and I was even met with some eye rolling, but I went on and unlocked the door anyhow. With one loud 'click', the door was unlocked.
"Do you think the Mandragoras will be behind this door?" Yuko hesitantly asked, as she clung onto Basch's leg, since I stopped holding her hand to unlock the door.
"Most likely." Ashe said.
"Well then, we best be prepared." Jude stated, "Ready everyone?" The group nodded their heads as we all looked at the door in front of us.
"Fuu, these enemies are extremely agile, so stay on your guard and don't let them wear you down." Fini said to me.
"Yup. We got this."
Fran opened the door and we each stepped inside into a very large room. All of a sudden, each Mandragora popped out of their hiding places, ready to be fought. The Mandragora Prince, Alraune King, Pumpkin Star, Onion Queen, and Topstalk were all there, ready for a battle. With my ninja sword at a ready, we all charged towards the five creatures.
But Fini wasn't kidding around when she said that these fiends were agile, because as soon as we were within a good distance with them, they all scattered around the room faster than road runners. I was already out of focus by seeing just how quick they ran off.
"Oh man," I gulped, "I really thought they weren't going to be this speedy!"
"Fuu, behind you!" Fini hollered out. I turned around and the Onion Queen was charging right towards me. As I was running away from it, it bumped right into the back of my legs and I stumbled over, crying out in pain. You wouldn't believe how something that tiny could pack a punch! I even did a few somersaults because of how forceful the attack was. I landed against the wall and tried my best to get up, but I was already losing balance.
"Come on, Fuu, you can do this…" I muttered to myself, "Don't let these things beat you up."
I tried to remember my usual strategies for beating these guys in the game. I remembered that they were immune to stop, so that wouldn't be of much help. But would slow work?
The Alraune King spotted me on the opposite side of the room and beginning sprinting its way towards me, where I dodged in the nick of time, letting it run into the wall. It staggered around a bit from the massive blow to the wall and I even spun it around a few more times to keep its balance off for the time being. Fini, Misa and Rozaline headed my way, with Jude following behind. The Pumpkin Star was chasing after them, until Fran distracted it with one of her arrows. It turned around, leaving Jude alone, and turned its attention towards where the arrow came from.
"Any bright ideas for this battle, Butch?" Jude asked me.
"I think slowing them down could help a little. Other than that, we just need to be patient and strike at the right moment." I responded.
"But we don't have all day to 'strike at the right moment'!" Rozaline hissed, imitating my voice. I gave her a glare and she only seemed to glare back at me.
"Just let me think for a bit. A Legend can't have her shit together 24/7!" I said.
I looked around the room and noticed everyone's horribly failed attempts at trying to hit these things…when they were in the center of the room. When they're all together, things get difficult. It's just a trap to let out our attacks and swings, and before they even hit them, the Mandragoras run off!
"We have to split up and attack specific ones…" I whispered to myself.
"What was that?" Misa asked me.
"That's it!" I grinned. I ran over to the door and wondered how I could get everyone's attention through the hectic scene that was happening in front of my eyes. Balthier, Yuko and Penelo were on the opposite side of where I was, trying to attack whichever ran by them. Ashe and Vaan were on the left, healing each other for a brief moment. And Basch and Fran were on the right side, loading up some great attacks, only to fail miserably. I dodged a Topstalk during my thinking.
"Everyone! Listen up!" I shouted. Unfortunately, no one heard me. Not even Yuko-chan. "Hey, lil doggies! It's strategy time!" No matter how loud my shouts were, they were never heard over the screeches and shouts of the Mandragoras. I sighed and rubbed my temples.
"HEY, LISTEN TO FUU FOR A DAMN SECOND!"
I jumped so violently at the audible shout that it took me a good few seconds to process that Jude was the one who had shouted. The whole room had gone completely silent, even the Mandragoras stopped what they were doing! Everyone began to run over to where we were. I bet they were just as freaked out as I was at Jude's sudden outburst, but I was grinning from ear to ear.
"We each have to take one. If we focus on one, they'll be much easier to take down." I said.
"Ok, there's five of them," Jude looked over at the Mandragoras, who were in their own little huddle (which I found slightly amusing), "And there's nine of us…How's this going to work?" It was smart that he left out the game guardians in his grand total, although I'm sure they wanted to be included as well.
"Penelo and I will take the Onion Queen." Vaan said. Penelo nodded her head in agreement.
"I will take Yuko and we will take down the Topstalk." Basch said as Yuko grabbed a hold of his hand.
"Fran and I will aim at the Alraune King." Ashe stepped forward. Fran said nothing, but by the look in her eyes, she was down with the plan.
"And how about me, Jude and Balthier handle the Pumpkin Star? And then we can all take down the Mandragora Prince together." I suggested.
"Sounds like a strategy worth attempting." Balthier smiled. "Are we ready to attack?"
"Ready when you are." Jude replied.
Once the Mandragoras got out of their personal huddle, they ran about in different directions, just like the very beginning of battle.
"Let's go, everyone!" I shouted. We all ran to our targets. We managed to find the Pumpkin Star on the left side of the room. It took a while to chase it down, but it managed to slow down with the help of Fini, Misa and Rozaline grabbing a hold of it to block its vision, and I managed to cast a little bit of a slow spell to decrease its movements. While it attempted to shake off the pixies, I tackled it to the ground, where it tried to squirm out from underneath me. "You're not going anywhere!"
Balthier and Jude caught up to me and they immediately started attacking it. After many punches and gunshots later, the Pumpkin Star faded away. One down. All the pixies gave each other high-fives, even Rozaline, as I looked to see how everyone else was doing.
Penelo used her evanescence quickening attack to finish off the Onion Queen, who began to fade away much like the Pumpkin Star did. Basch let out one last sword attack (after it was Soaped by Yuko) as it had begun to fade away as well. And with an arrow through its head, the Alraune King began to disappear as well. The plan had worked!
"Four down, one to go." Jude smirked.
The Mandragora Prince, being surrounded by everyone, had nowhere to run or hide.
"Who would like to do the honors?" Balthier asked. "Any volunteers?"
"Me! Pick me!" I shot my hand up.
"Ah, yes, how about the young lady in the back!"
"But, I'm right here, Balthier—,"
I noticed that Balthier had picked Yuko. I was a bit bummed, but seeing the look on her face as she charged up Soapy was enough to cheer me up almost instantly. With the evil soap going into its eyes, it began to fade away as well, before it vanished completely, like its other fallen comrades. We all managed to stop the Mandragoras.
"I can't believe that actually worked." I said to myself, smiling a little.
"You know, Butch," Jude placed his hand on my shoulder, which was forceful and almost like a smack, "You're not a bad strategist for a bit of an idiot."
Despite him calling me an idiot directly to my face, I just took it as a compliment. I looked around and everyone seemed to be equally as proud with their teamwork.
"Come on, chickadees!" I said, running to the door on the left side of the room, "We gotta get to Archades!"
It actually didn't seem to take much longer before we finally got out of the Sochen Cave Palace. We reached a save crystal, which made our clothes and appearances nice and fresh once more, before leaving the area. We then reached a small town.
"Ugh. Smells less like a capital, and more like a sewer." Vaan snorted.
"Even Empires have needs for sewers," Balthier replied, "The runoff from Archades proper pools here. Those who lack papers to live in the city itself. The mighty who have fallen, and the fallen who would be mighty. Their eyes never leave Archades."
I looked around at the surroundings and noticed all the buildings that looked as if they were decaying ever-so-slowly, the vines of ivy that plagued every block of cement…and the people who were sitting in street corners or next to chipped pottery, just looking absolutely miserable.
"I guess it must be a lot nicer than this place." Vaan said, as if he read my mind completely.
"Oh, to be sure. Archades reeks of a different filth…" Balthier walked forward, turning around to look at our group of colorful characters, that were surely catching the eyes of citizens in the area, "Let's be off! We can follow our noses to Draklor."
We all walked forward, trying to watch our steps from stray stones or jagged rocks sticking up from the ground, which unfortunately I tripped over countless of times. As I was looking down to watch my step, something flitted by my nose.
The bat-like wings…another game guardian?
"Blanca!" Fini squealed.
"Blanca?" I repeated. Yuko and Jude looked over and noticed that there was a game guardian flittering beside Fini, Misa and Rozaline.
"Everyone, this is Blanca! She's an old friend of mine!" Fini said excitedly, introducing her friend. She had pure white hair tied in a long French braid, a black ribbon securing it. She wore a long gray dress with multiple purple jewelry, including a dazzling sash embedded with purple gems. She bowed her head in welcoming.
"Wait, does that mean there's another human here?" I questioned.
"None that we can sense." Misa replied.
"There is not." Blanca responded with her very soft, meek voice.
"Then how come we are able to see you?" Yuko asked.
"Game guardians are usually found in both Archades and Old Archades, it's rather common," Fini replied, "I used to work here a lot before I was purchased."
"Purchased?" I asked.
"Whenever you bought the game, Fuu." Fini sighed.
"Game guardians usually have specific duties to do when they are not purchased, just going around Ivalice and making sure there aren't any freaky glitches or mishaps," Rozaline stated, "Or they rebuild some scenery. I'm sure Blanca isn't the only one here who is making Old Archades look the part."
"So, in other words, these little fairies are just 'freshening' up the place?" Jude asked.
"Precisely." Blanca said.
"So you don't have a human yet?" I asked Blanca.
"Not yet, but I will someday. But I do not mind this job I possess. I have many other friends who have not been purchased yet," Blanca smiled, almost in a sad way, "But I never thought I would see you three again. Playing pranks on Fini again, Misa?"
"Not yet. I've been cooking up some ideas, but with the journey, I've never really had time to test them out." Misa chuckled to herself. I could almost feel Fini cringing in fear when she heard this.
"And have you finished your anger management sessions, Rozaline? So far, you seem calm and collected—,"
"That's not supposed to be spoken about!" Rozaline roared angrily.
"Oops, forgive me," Blanca bowed, "But up ahead you'll see many of the game guardians doing their duties. You should say hi to a few of them."
"We will…after we catch up with the group." Misa said. I looked ahead and noticed that everyone was already way far ahead of us from where we stopped.
"OH SHIZ." I took Yuko's hand and motioned for Jude to come along, "We have to go, Blanca! It was nice meeting you!"
"Take care!" Fini called out to her friend.
"I will." Blanca floated in mid-air, smiling and waving with her pale little hand.
"I had no idea that game guardians could be around without a human alongside them." Yuko said.
"Yeah, they just have different jobs than us, because the game they run hasn't been purchased by a human yet," Misa said, "They usually hang around Archades the most, because of how large and populated it is."
"Why didn't we see any in Rabanastre?" I asked.
"That place doesn't need too much supervision," Rozaline stated, "People are usually very cooperative in that location."
"But not so much in Archades, where there's always some trouble brewing." Jude said.
"Exactly." Fini and I said at the exact same time as we finally caught up with everyone. Funny how they didn't even seem to notice that we were gone for a good five minutes or so. We continued to walk through the sorry-looking town until and Imperial Guard stopped our group. Thank goodness it wasn't Garbuden.
"Where are ye credentials? You should know that you cannot enter the Imperial City of Archades without the proper credentials." The guard strictly stated.
"I'm afraid we do not possess them at this time—," Ashe began.
"Then you can't get inside! Go back whence you came!"
"How dare you –!" I had my fists in a bunch and was ready to strut up to him, but Basch and Vaan held me back.
"We will return with the credentials you seek." Basch said, covering my mouth before I could say any more outbursts. The guard let out a "hmph!" and we all turned around, at a loss. Basch and Vaan finally let go as I gasped for air.
"I could've summoned an Esper to rid of his inconsiderate ass." I growled.
"And get ourselves arrested?" Vaan questioned.
"It could've gotten us SOMEWHERE in the city." I pouted.
"Well, well, well," An unfamiliar voice intruded in our little spat. We all turned to see a young man, no older than Balthier, approaching our group. I began to remember this guy from my game playing experience, "There's a sight for sore eyes! Didn't think I'd be seeing you again. Not here."
I remembered this young man's named was Jules.
"Oh wonderful. Enter the streetear." Balthier folded his arms over his chest.
"You know this guy?" Vaan asked him.
"Jules, right?" I asked, peering at the slightly tanned young man.
"Y-yes. I beg your pardon, have we met before?" Jules glanced at me, then at Balthier, then back at me.
"Nope, we haven't." I winked. I held out my hand, where he just stared at it, puzzled. "My name is Fuu. Pleased to meet you!" He only proceeded to stare at my hand, a stupid grin still plastered on my face, as he seemed more confused than ever. The smile on my face slowly diminished into an annoyed grimace as I slowly and awkwardly put my hand back down.
"Do you know a way into the city?" Vaan asked Jules.
"In Archades, knowledge is power. And power has a way of opening doors, friends," He looked at me and Vaan, and then again at Balthier, "A fool will buy a sack of pillow, but a wise man…he'll buy the whole stinking cockatrice and get his fill of meat into the bargain. So, wise men," He placed his hands on Vaan and my shoulders, "How does 1500 gil sound?"
I looked over at our group, and they all just seemed to shrug.
"If it's a way in, we have no other choice, I suppose." Basch stated. I heard Balthier let out a snort of some kind.
"Who carries the currency?" Ashe asked.
"That would be me…" I sighed, taking off my backpack and unzipping it the bottom half of it, where it stored all of the gil we collected. I was still unsure of what coin equaled what, so I had Vaan help me calculate the right amount. After a minute or two, we were holding 1500 gil in the palms of our hands. I looked over at the group one more time, just in case they wanted to save 1500 gil and spend it on something else…but they all seemed sure with themselves, so I placed the money in Jules' hands.
"Well done. You learn fast," Jules put the money in his pocket as he gave us a toothy grin, "I call this meeting to order. Have you heard any rumors lately?"
"Oh, I got one!" I said, "Apparently some kid at my school was caught spray painting in the boy's locker room! He wrote about how one girl in my grade was such a—!" I didn't realize I let my mouth run and everyone was staring at me. I giggled nervously and blushed as I began to hide behind Fran.
"Um, actually, I did hear about a man who picked a bag of coins out of a barrel." Vaan said. Jules seemed much more pleased with this rumor than my own.
"I thought mine was good. Or I could've used the one about the homeschooled kid." I muttered.
"Homeschooled kid?" Jude asked.
"Apparently some kids in my school were spreading around a rumor about how some boy in my class was homeschooled…" I said. "But the thing is…the kid went to school…so how could he be homeschooled?"
"That's even more lame." Jude snorted, as Rozaline began giggling like mad. I flushed from even more sheer embarrassment.
After a minute, Vaan walked up to everyone.
"We have to find a man named Beasley." He said.
"What for?" Penelo asked.
"We have to tell him that rumor. About the coins in the barrel." Vaan replied.
"You sure we can trust this kook?" Jude questioned. "I'm not sure how this will get us into the imperial city."
"Just you wait, Jude," I said, "This may seem pretty stupid at first—,"
"Like your rumors." Rozaline said. I rolled my eyes.
"—but we'll get in with this. Trust me."
"Penelo, Fuu, Jude, Yuko and I will find Beasley," Vaan said, "The rest of you stay put. We shouldn't be too long."
"Why me?" I asked.
"Because you're the Legend, you should know what Beasley looks like." Vaan replied.
"Good point." I sighed. "All right, all right. I'll show you to this Beasley dude."
And with that, the five of us, along with the three game guardians trailing behind, began exploring Old Archades.
To be Continued