Setzer Gabbiani had never particularly needed a reason to do anything he did. He was a creature of intuition, though he would have named it whimsy - 'intuition' implied a seriousness that he largely lacked. He had enough honor to pay up if his whims put him on the losing end of a deal, but if he wanted to do something, more often than not, he simply did it.
Which must have been how he found himself at the opera house after a few months of weaving thoughtlessly through the shattered, barren world he now inhabited. Not to pay a debt - oh, no. He had been there, but it had hardly been his fault, what had happened aboard that island in the sky. He'd just been along to offer them a ride, lend a hand. It wasn't even his own gamble that had been lost in that winner-take-all match, so he certainly didn't owe anyone anything. He was only there, taking a little detour south of Jidoor, watching the premiere of this dreadful new production, because it had sounded like a good idea at the time.
This also, he suspected, had been a losing wager.
The show itself was good enough, he supposed. Kefka had commissioned - or more likely threatened - the best living composer ('living' being the operative word; the man generally considered to be the virtuoso of their era had perished in the destruction, and rumor had it that his similarly gifted pupil had died at Kefka's hand, perhaps for this very reason) to write the opera based on his life story, as he told it. Not having known more of the man than the glimpses of his madness and a taste of his magic, the insane laugh that had risen above the shouts and sounds of destruction, Setzer couldn't have guessed at how much of it might have been the truth... but the sets were exquisitely crafted, and the music certainly was grand.
And the performers no less. Setzer found himself catching his breath as a pale, gleaming figure stepped out onto the stage, her familiar voice rising not in the innocence of so many of her roles, but as a challenge. He had seen her name on the playbill, so it was no surprise to see her alive and well...
Unlike Kefka, Setzer had spent a great deal of time around Celes. Looking now at Maria under the stage lighting, even from his vantage point on the balcony - for the life of him, he couldn't understand how he had ever mistaken the one for the other.
There was a physical resemblance, yes. The costumers had even dressed Maria in an approximate representation of the garb Celes wore beneath her armor, though embellished in absurd fashion, as the designers tended to do. Gauzy translucent capes that might have tripped her or hindered her sword if they hadn't first provided the enemy an easy hand-hold, pale yellow silk that would show any drop of blood or sweat, sparkling beadwork draped everywhere, high heels which looked difficult to walk in, let alone fight in... Such luxury seemed out of place in a world where children more often than not wore rags, and families huddled in empty husks of their former houses, if they had anywhere to go at all.
Not that it was Setzer's problem. He still had his luck, and his charm, and the resourcefulness that allowed him to go anywhere in the world that he wanted to go, even without his Blackjack. But then, the world all looked alike nowadays, no city much different from any other, all broken timbers and desperation. Perhaps that was why he had come to the opera - for a change. For a reminder of who he'd once been. Seeing Maria again was an excellent reminder.
On the other hand, he had never seen Maria like this. Her voice was pure and sweet, and she had been given roles accordingly. Of course any commission of Kefka's would have cast Celes as an antagonist, and Maria appeared to be throwing herself into the role with relish. Her voice was stronger than her usual, and she sang her defiance to Kefka with firm pride. It was a role unlike any she had played before, but she had taken it on flawlessly.
A flawless performance, yes - but she was not Celes. Not even close. Part of it was no doubt the warped perspective from which the opera had been written, turning moral objection into jealousy and informed opposition into spite. But also, though he could have chalked some of it up to the excess of the costume, Maria simply didn't move like Celes. She was a performer, not a warrior, and hers was a different sort of grace. Perhaps, Setzer thought, if Celes hadn't had her legs and her hips ensconced within that large gown during her own turn on the stage, he would have recognized at once that she was an imposter.
The whole experience was more than a little jarring, and although Maria was lovely to look at, her voice as beautiful as ever, Setzer was still somewhat relieved when the third act ended, and Celes's imprisonment for treason meant that Maria was absent from the stage for a time.
Without the distraction, however, he found the opera all the more offensive. The tale of a misunderstood genius, noble and brave and deserving of authority, burdened with selfish allies who yearned for their own glory, and a short-sighted, feeble commander in Gestahl. Setzer had largely kept himself out of the way of both the Empire and those who opposed it, but he knew enough about the conflict to know that this version of the story was entirely unreasonable. He did take some amusement, however, in the subtle resistance the composer had managed to sneak into the work, the all-too-true criticisms of Kefka's character voiced by his rivals, met with little argument. At least, Setzer hoped it was subtle resistance, rather than an attempt to dismiss those criticisms as unimportant. And then there was the death of General Leo, which was handled with unexpected solemnity. Perhaps the composer had known him...
And then, the final scene. Celes reappeared at the floating continent to have one last vengeful stab at Kefka, to prevent him from claiming his well-deserved destiny. The thought of Celes lamenting her selfish pride on her deathbed, wishing that she had only supported Kefka from the start, would have made Setzer laugh, if it hadn't made him feel slightly ill. Maria handled the aria beautifully, however, and Setzer closed his eyes and let the words fade away, listening only to the sound of her voice. He couldn't believe he had allowed himself to go so long without hearing it.
In fact, he realized - he had hardly thought about Maria since he'd mistakenly abducted Celes in her place.
Before he could muse too far down that train of thought, he was shocked back to the present scene by an orchestral crescendo, and a fine, familiar tenor singing out in victory. The impresario may have been doing a bit of that subtle rebellion as well, Setzer realized, in casting Banchio as Kefka - he knew enough of the behind-the-scenes workings of the opera house to be aware that Banchio frequently was typecast as the antagonist, for he had a flair for the sinister. He clearly had the talent for a starring role, based upon his skillful performance of Kefka's anthem, and the final note seemed to fill the theater to the rafters, just as the replica of Kefka's tower rose majestically behind him. The applause and cheering began at once. After a second, Setzer decided to join in; regardless of the content of the show, the cast had given a wonderful performance.
But then, echoing perhaps more loudly than the final note, a whooping laugh filled the theater, causing Setzer's blood to chill. ...Of course. Kefka wouldn't have commissioned an opera only to be absent when it premiered.
As those around began to rise from their seats for a standing ovation, Setzer stood only to move forward, to the front of the balcony, where he could look at the crowd below. Kefka was easy to spot in all his brightly-colored apparel, contrasting with the darker, more neutral tones of typical formal apparel. Quite literally the joker amidst a stack of suits, Setzer thought to himself.
And speaking of cards, Setzer still had his lucky deck hidden away inside the inner pocket of his coat.
From all appearances, it would be an easy shot. Kefka was front and center, right behind the orchestra pit. While he did turn briefly, to the left and to the right, each time making an exaggerated bow to those applauding his story, but he never looked above. As the full cast reappeared for the curtain call, Kefka was facing forward, paying no mind to the rest of the audience.
It wouldn't turn back time - Setzer knew that. It wouldn't bring back the dead, or restore ruined buildings, or bring the rain that nowadays came so seldom. Not even Kefka himself, with the powers of the statues, could likely have fixed all he'd broken. Though there were few who would have been unhappy about it, it would accomplish nothing at all to assassinate Kefka right there, at that moment, while the opportunity was available.
And then, it couldn't be so simple. He'd witnessed the battles that came just before the world was torn apart - numerous warriors, most with far more battle training and resources than he, had been unable to prevent Kefka from doing whatever he wished, despite repeated attacks. Setzer would be able to get off only one strike, at best - and even if his aim were true, what chance did he have of doing enough damage to prevent Kefka from striking back?
Setzer was very good at judging the odds, and weighing a long shot against its potential payoff. Everything in him told him that this was one gamble that was not worth it. He would fail, and then he would be killed.
...Why was he was still tempted?
Tempted or not, he had waited too long. Kefka had stopped applauding, and was snapping at those around him to get out of his way so that he could proceed to the aisle. Dressed in that impractical likeness of Celes's clothing, Maria was sparkling under the bright lights as she and the other performers made their way to the wings. She was smiling, Setzer realized. Somehow, smiling. Of course - there was no reason, as a singer and actress, that she should not have been proud. She had a place in the world, and she was filling it as perfectly in its current state as she had in its former. She had been given an unusual role, and she had performed it well, and for her, that was a victory.
The real Celes, Setzer thought abruptly, would have thrown the dart regardless of the risk. That had been her place in the world - to gamble it all for the sake of justice, even when she knew no victory awaited.
But Celes was not there, and whatever other lies the opera had sung, it was likely true that she was dead. All those who had opposed Kefka with her were probably dead as well - if not in the airship accident or the world's upheaval, then the Light of Judgment had almost certainly cut them down. After all, aside from the children, they were rebels by choice. Setzer was sure that any of them would have taken that shot he'd just passed up. Even the assassin-for-hire had jumped into the battle at the statues, and nearly sacrificed himself trying to contain Kefka.
But Setzer? After all he'd seen, he couldn't say that he was just a gambler anymore, a businessman out to turn a profit and turn those profits into whatever idle pleasure he wished. The fact that he'd even been tempted to take that shot proved it. And the fact that he'd declined had proven that he was not the hero he had masqueraded as, back in a world that he'd thought he understood.
So then... what was he? What was his place in this new world that Kefka ruled? Without his airship, without the casinos, with too much newfound awareness to seek comfort in a pretty young woman who was obviously doing quite well for herself... without anyone crafty enough to trick him into doing the right, moral things that he wouldn't have done without coersion.
He remained there, leaning thoughtfully on the balcony's railing, as those around him filed out. By the time an usher (thankfully not the impresario, who would have recognized the man he once had been) came to escort him to the exit, as the opera house was closing for the night, Setzer still had found no answer.