Setting 03: 1458 DAY 1, Winhill Outskirts

"Down stage he strode some paces,

grave, tall in affliction, his long arms outheld.

Hoarsely the apple of his throat hoarsed softly.

Softly he sang to a dusty seascape there: A Last Farewell.

A headland, a ship, a sail upon the billows.

Farewell. A lovely girl, her veil awave

upon the wind upon the headland, wind around her."

-Joyce, James

Ulysses II

 

"This place must have a plethora of sentimental value, Ellone," Kiros said, "otherwise I donít think he would be so determined to stay here."

"Iíve never seen Uncle Laguna so fired up and decisive before, Mr. Kiros," Ellone commented.

Kiros considered it and gave Ward a knowing look.

"Neither have we," was the consensus.

Ellone looked at Ward and giggled.

"No one knew on the White SeeD ship, Mr. Ward," Ellone asked, "but how did you lose your ability to speak?"

Ward was anything but offended by the question. He pointed back in the direction of Winhill, almost out of view.

Kiros did not mince words in his explanation, "Your uncle pushed us off a cliff."

Ellone gasped in amusement, "That simple, huh? No offense, Mr. Ward."

Ward shrugged good-naturedly. He considered himself lucky. Befriending Laguna meant taking risks. It could have been worse, say for instance had Laguna actually tried to save him with one of his hair-brained ideas, he surely would have lost more than his tongue.

They had stopped and were waiting for the Estharian ship. It was actually carrying a full load, but the pilots could not turn down the request of three presidential aides. What Ellone didnít understand was how Esthar was okay with doing without their president for a week or two. Then she considered the possibility that all he did was put his signature on a few papers every day for traditionís sake and for the bureaucracy. As long Kiros and Ward were there, Esthar would be fine.

Ellone frowned, recalling something her uncle told her.

"Was this during your escape from Lunatic Pandora?" she asked.

Both Kiros and Ward nodded.

"Uncle Laguna told me that he held off forty guards to give you two a chance to make it down a side path while he had to eventually make the suicide dive himself," Ellone said earnestly.

Kiros and Ward exchanged looks. They were used to Lagunaís lunacies, but they had never heard this version of their escape before. Ward broke into uncontrollable laughter while Kiros made a disgusted "psssh" sound.

Kiros took Ellone aside and said gently, "Now Ellone, your Uncle Laguna has a tendency to exaggerate when he tells his storiesÖeither that or he hit his head on the way down."

"Oh," Ellone murmured, "which part?"

Kiros thought about it and replied, "Not much, just that part about holding off forty guards by himself, then covering our escape, and that last bit about making the jump himself."

""Uncle Laguna wouldnít do that!" Ellone exclaimed.

"Weíre talking about the same uncle of yours, Laguna Loire, right?" he asked, just to make sure.

Ellone saw Kirosí point.

"What weapon did he say he used?" Kiros pressed on, interested by Lagunaís embellishment of the truth.

Ellone blinked.

"I thought you knew," she answered, "he was using his bare hands."

She turned to look at Ward who seemed to her like he was choking on something.

"No, seriously," she cried, "he gave his gun to you guys in case you ran into any monsters on the way down. How thoughtful of him."

Kiros said exactly what was on Wardís mind, "Yeah, all three seconds of the way down."

Ellone finally saw the truth, but was adamant on preserving Lagunaís integrity.

"There has to be something good about himÖwhy else would Raine marry him?"

"More likely he probably had something on her and coerced her to marry him through blackmail," Ward thought to himself.

"Heís probably getting old," Ellone tried in desperation.

Kiros snickered.

"Laguna acts your age," he pointed out, "but at least he made this holographic message for us to give to Squall. Iíll transfer it to Balamb Garden with the Esthar transportís antenna as soon as it picks us up."

"I hope he found something nice to say," Ellone said.

The unadded "and that itís coherent" was understood by all three.

"I bet it runs something cheesy, like, ĎSo, howís the weather, son? Iím your father now, so if you want to change your last name, son, you can,í" Kiros added in afterthought.

Ellone scowled, saying her uncle wasnít that corny.

Kiros suggested that the trip into space might have stressed Ellone out more than they thought, so she punched him.

Ward pointed at the holovid, suggesting that they take a quick peek. This Ellone was against, but even she was a little curious.

"How about just the first few seconds, before they can get into any of the private talk?" Kiros suggested.

Ellone could live with that, so Kiros typed in the password that Laguna knew Squall would eventually guess right, LOIRE. A miniature version of Laguna appeared, scratching his head and shifting his balance from leg to leg, unsure of what to say.

"So, howís the weather, son? Iím your father now, so if you want to change your last name, son, you can," Laguna mumbled.

Kiros was laughing so hard that he dropped the holovid, which shut off automatically.

Suddenly their attention was turned to someone coughing in the bushes behind them. Kiros moved aside some shrubbery and saw a lady collapsed in the tall grass. He checked her pulse rate and breathing.

"Sheís dying. Definitely needs medical treatment immediately. Even a Blood Soul couldnít inflict this many status defects. Perhaps an advanced stage Malboro-BTR poisoning. Nothing like Iíve ever seen before. She must have been addicted to it for a long time," Kiros concluded, knowing that it was impossible for any doctor in Winhill to furnish the technology needed to save this lady.

"What is a Blood Soul, Mr. Kiros?" Ellone asked, paling.

"An undead monster. Just some skeletal fish that floats around in the air. There are a lot of them around Winhill, but Iím sure even this kind of poisoning is beyond its ability."

"And you make this assessment based on what kind of experience?" Ellone inquired slowly.

"Five years in the Pan-Galbadia Medical School Gold Class and a surgeonís degree summa cum laude," Kiros replied, still checking her vital signs.

Ellone whistled, raising her eyebrows.

Ward nodded, remembering how Kiros had once told him that familiarity with the anatomy of various creatures made him so much more efficient a killer, knowing all the vital parts at which to strike first.

And heís good with those daggers too. Sort of like super-sized scalpels, Ward reflected.

"Hey, look!" Ellone exclaimed, pointing at the Esthar ship appearing over the horizon and speeding towards them.

Kiros looked at Ellone and said, "Donít even think about it, there is no room for a fourth passenger with that full load."

Ellone considered the situation. It was essential that Kiros and Ward return to the control room, and this lady definitely needed help. Ellone herself was the only one who didnít really have to make it back on the first flight.

"She can have my spot," she told Kiros. "Just call ahead for another ship to come and get me in five minutes."

Kiros nodded, and then added, "We should notify her family."

He turned to the sick women and tried to find out where she lived. Ellone doubted that she could hear him, so she checked the womanís pockets.

There were no identification cards like those they had in Esthar; Winhill was too small a place for any need of that. However, besides a pack of green Malboro baby tentacle cigarettes, Ellone did manage to dig out a pair of keys. Seeing them, she put her hand on Kirosí shoulder and told him he didnít have to ask the woman anymore. Kiros gave her a questioning look.

"I recognize these keys," she said softly. "This one locks up the bar, and the other one our rooms."

Kiros lifted his eyebrows, thinking, "What luck! Now Laguna doesnít need to convince her to let him live in his old house. Sheíll probably end up selling him the house to pay off Estharís medical bill."

Their transport had landed and the crew urging them to hurry up. They were already behind schedule because of the detour to Winhill.

"Just wait here, okay?" Kiros told Ellone, hoisting the sick woman on his shoulder and running up the ramp. Ward waved to Ellone and followed Kiros.

"Okay, Mr. Kiros. See you soon, Ward," Ellone called after them.

The Esthar ship lifted off slowly, drawing up the ramp and sealing the hangar. After it was five meters above the ground, it stopped, slightly rocking, like a suspended puppet wiggles, then made a smooth, in-place 50-degree turn before blasting forwards and disappearing over the horizon in seconds.

When Elloneís could no longer follow the vessel, she sat down delicately on a little grass patch beside the road. She decided to spend the next five minutes twirling her green scarf and dusting off her white skirt. She really did need a new outfit; the blue shirt she always wore was getting grubby. Suddenly she noticed a fluffy, yellow bird race from one bush across the dirt path into another bush.

Absolutely delighted by the chocoboís little feet, Ellone squealed, clapping at the same time. She held out her hands and waited for the next chocobo to cross. When it did, she just barely missed nabbing it. And so it went. The adorable babies even dropped items at times. Ellone wheedled from them candy, stray Gil, some medicine, and even a piece of a vase. Totally random, she thought to herself.

She had been entertaining herself in this fashion for a short time before another light flashed over the horizon.

"Right on time," she thought, giddily getting up and dusting her rump off.

Ellone stood up, tugging playfully with a strand of her hair, and waited to be picked up.

.

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