Phase XVII: Lights in the Sky
Laguna Loire yawned for the millionth time that morning- even after his third cup of coffee. He had a late night watching fishing shows on some nature channel. It brought him back to a time as a child catching bass with his father at Obel Lake. Nostalgia for the outdoors and the smell of fresh water reinforced the feeling of captivity behind the walls of the hex-shield.
Laguna missed his freedom and the simple joys of life, the luxuries and technological innovation of Esthar had lost its glamour and inspiration a long time ago. Green emeralds were fixated on the blue glass city, the hex-shield just outlined with dashes of light in a honeycomb pattern against the sun that shown through it. The skyscrapers and condos stretched out as far as he could see, and in a weird way, it all belonged to him.
Raine used to fear that he was a big city guy thriving for excitement. Maybe at twenty-seven that assumption would have been correct. He'd joined the military several years before seeking adventure and heroism, but who could blame him? He was young and incredibly stupid then. Now the big city drained him with all its lights and bustle, and he would give anything to just spend some time in the quiet pastoral town of Winhill where they first had met.
"There you are!" Kiros shouted, exasperated by Laguna's lateness. "The meetin's gonna start without you man!"
"It can't." He grumbled, walking right past him and into the boardroom, "I'm the president."
"…" Ward tried to say, but Kiros said it for him, "Ward says 'He's wonderin' how you managed to stay in office this long."
Been askin' myself that every damn day since I got here. Laguna waved a dismissive hand, seating himself at the head of the black glass table. "Nobodies here yet. Why you so antsy?"
"Look," Kiros stated firmly, "We got all the financial councilors comin' in. They wanna talk about-"
"Those stupid condos?"
He sighed, "No, trades with other countries. Apparently, Galbadia hasn't been keepin' up with their part of the deal."
Laguna rolled his eyes, "Saw that comin'. Honestly, is there anythin' in these meetin's that have to do with stuff that matter?"
Kiros blinked, "Laguna, you runnin' a country matters."
"So what if…" he trailed off not knowing how to continue.
"'What if' what?"
Laguna sighed, "Never mind."
Ward gave him a knowing look, and Kiros almost didn't catch on quick enough. "You think it's about that?" The large man nodded, and Kiros crossed his arms.
For a 47-year-old man, Laguna normally maintained rather youthful features, but over the past year, age began to catch up with him, eyes and mouth defined by crow's-feet and lines. Laguna's usual passion was replaced with agitation and melancholy from burning himself out due to the constant work that found its way to his desk.
Normally, his worked at a more productive pace, being done everything in just a few hours. Lately, he had a hard time concentrating on any given report. Getting through the day was a challenge in itself.
Ellone had been visiting him more frequently; well aware of how his work was taking its toll on his body and mental health. Despite Laguna's adamant reassurances, she knew better than anyone else that it wasn't just about his work.
He was worried about his son.
Ever since Commander Trepe had sent her men out to find Squall, Laguna had been on the edge of his seat. His anxiety had grown worse, affecting his sleep patterns, which were strangely remedied by watching all those goddamn fishing shows and a large glass of Trabian whisky for him to get at least a couple of hours in.
"Laguna," Kiros attempted to get him out of his daze, "You there?"
"What did you say?"
"Quistis has this under control. She'll find him." Kiros assured.
Running a hand through his dark graying hair, Laguna sighed. "Doesn't make a difference if he doesn't show. The kid still hates me."
"He doesn't hate you." He spoke for Ward.
"You don't even know the half of it."
Just as Laguna felt the need to elaborate, the financial councilors strolled in wearing formal Estharian robs and took their seats. Laguna's mood switched instantly as he stood up to regard everyone in the room. With a large grin and a desperate attempt to leave his personal issues at the door, he spoke, "Good mornin'! Let's get this meetin' goin', shall we?"
Baton Restaurant/Downtown Esthar
"Then I told the guy, if you really think I'm gonna go ahead and let you rummage through my medical kit after a Grat burst all over you, then you better step away from my shit."
Ellone laughed before taking a sip of some red wine from a large glass. Her brown eyes gave her date another once over, taking in his wavy dark brown hair and warm hazel eyes. Rayan's frame resembled that of a soldier rather than a civilian, and he had quite the sense of humor.
Exchanging stories over an early lunch at a lavish restaurant in the heart of the city, they sat next to large windows that allow natural light to shine through, which also happen to overlook the shopping district. Even for a weekday, the streets below were crowded with people going about their lunch break or searching for the latest trends in Estharian fashion. The hex-shield provided a regulated temperature, making for a wonderful day rather than a chilly November afternoon.
"So, you're a doctor?" Ellone asked, toying with the chicken pasta on her plate with the prongs of her fork.
Rayen nodded, thoughtfully. "Yeah, I was a SeeD. Chose to advance my career in medical studies after the organization disbanded."
Ellone raised her brows, "Wow, really? I've been to Garden!"
"Oh yeah? Which one?"
"Balamb. My brother lived there. His friends did, too. I grew up with some of them as a child." She elaborated, but chose not to divulge into all the details.
Ellone could almost hear Squall scolding her about revealing too much about herself. Despite being four years her junior, her little brother proved to be more protective than Uncle Laguna. Ellone's ability to send people into the past had cost her most of her adolescence, stowing away on ships tucked into the coast of Centra. Since she had moved to Esthar after the war, her life had never felt so normal as she proactively avoided using her powers.
"I was there for a few years." Rayen said, "But I grew up in Trabia."
"Were you there when…"
Rayen tried to chuckle his way through the obvious pain that hide itself in his lighthearted expression, "No, I had moved to Balamb a few years before that, but I did have friends in Trabia that didn't make it though."
"I'm sorry to hear that." She frowned.
He waved it off, "It's cool. I ended up here with a bunch of friends I made in SeeD, so it isn't all bad."
"Elle," Rayen looked as if he was about to spin the conversation in a new direction, his smile warming her heart, "I have fun with you, and I'd like to see you again."
Wait until Squall hears about this!
Excitement bubbled in her stomach upon imagining Squall's reaction when he found out about her new love interest. Unlike his protective nature, Uncle Laguna was the complete opposite and fully supported her dating. So much so that he insisted she take his credit card with her.
As she imagined the possibility of introducing Rayen to Squall, Ellone completely missed the sudden confusion in Rayen's eyes when he shifted his gaze just outside the window next to her. The glass shattered and cool air rushed into the room, her skin stinging from the shards digging into her arms. Ellone wasn't sure if her ears were ringing because of the high pitched screams coming from other patrons or from the sound of something exploding nearby that shook the ground under her.
Something was terribly wrong.
She felt Rayan's chest hit her in the shoulder, a strong arm pushing her down under the table. Her brown eyes searched around, trying to piece together what was happening.
Rayen was saying something, so she concentrated on his lips to translate his words. He was asking her if she was okay. She nodded, mustering the courage to look out from under the wooden table. Outside was a mess. She could see smoke and people running through it. It started to come in through the broken window smelling of chemicals and dust. When she found a break in the grey clouds, her world froze over.
From anywhere in the city, you could see the glass and steel structure of the Presidential Palace, which stood prominently right in the middle of Esthar. The grey sky above was a stark contrast to what it was moments before, indicating that the hex-shield had gone down somehow.
And then she saw them.
Projectiles aimed right for what remained of the palace. Another explosion went off, completely distorting it from view with more grey-black smoke. Ellone's rapid heartbeat didn't relent, her temples pounding as she came to a frightening realization.
Uncle Laguna had a meeting on the 18th floor that morning.
"No…" She whispered, tears threatened her eyes.
Rayan's hands found her underarms, dragging her to her feet, and yelling in her face now. "Ellone! We need to go!"
Trying to gather her senses, she gulped down hard and just nodded her reply. As much as she wanted to see Laguna, Rayen had other plans, and she no choice but to abide. Wherever he was going, she would likely follow suit.
Clasping his hand as hard as she could and fighting through the frantic crowds, they ran in the opposite direction of the burning palace. Ellone's mind instantly went out to the one man she needed the most at a time like this.
Squall, where are you!?
The darkness began to subside, but was welcomed with immense pain in her legs and torso. When her eyes dared to open, Quistis found herself in more darkness and under a slab of concrete. Stabilizing her breathing, the air was thick with dust, and through gritted teeth she pulled herself out from under the slab. Upon further examination, the bones in her legs were still in tact, give or take a couple of cuts and bruises.
Quistis' senses were still shaken by the time she forced herself to sit. Her eyes scanned what used to be her office on the 3rd floor of the Arms Building just a few blocks down from the Presidential Palace. Her paperwork and belongings were either crushed or scattered all over the room, and the back wall had blown through and crumbled.
What the hell happened here? …Were we attacked?
Whatever caused this destruction had to be something incredibly lethal.
Her head perked up. Was she hearing things now? Quistis stopped breathing for a moment, not a muscle moved an inch.
"I'm in here!" She yelled, surprised that her voice still worked after all that.
"Can you hear me!?" A woman replied.
Slowly, Quistis stumbled to her feet, dragging the soles of her boots against the floor. Her balled fists pounded against the steel in hopes to grab her savior's attention. Without power, the automatic door was sealed firmly shut.
"I'm in here!"
"We have a survivor!" A man's voice shouted to someone else, clearer this time indicating that he was close by. "Listen, stay away from the door. We're gonna pry it open."
Quistis fell back several steps on wobbly legs while the scraping and screeching of the door being pulled away threatened her ears. When it twisted off its hinges, cool air rushed into the stuffy office, and she was face to face with several former SeeDs.
Among them was Xu, who instantly took her into a tight embrace. "What happened?" Quistis asked through a shaky breath.
"We think it was an attack." The male SeeD said, "Just like Dollet and Timber."
Quistis frowned, staring right at Xu. "Where else did they get?"
"The palace. President Loire was in a meeting…we don't know what happened to him."
Despite all the questions, fleeting thoughts, and a killer headache, Quistis just nodded. Blue orbs flashed towards the male, getting right down to business. "Arrange the troops into three teams. One will search the city for survivors and evacuate them to the underground bomb shelters. The second team will find those responsible for this attack and bring them to me."
"And the others?" he asked.
Quistis stumbled past them and into the hallway, "Find Ellone Loire and protect her at all costs."
Just before she went out of sight, Quistis stopped her gait to address one last order. "Xu. Send word to our men in Galbadia. Tell them I want Squall Leonhart now."