The doors screeched open. Irvine could practically hear angels singing hallelujah. Finally, after who knows how long, beds to sleep in! He would do a little victory dance, yet naturally lacked the energy. Kenan thanked Kiros and closed the doors behind him, making sure he'd locked them up good. Squall immediately felt uncomfortable amongst the guys. Out of his place…the odd man out…something like that. "Uhm…Kenan?" Irvine called, counting the beds again. The rest of the room was of no importance, so he paid little attention to it. In an instance he did notice it was a lot shabbier than any room he'd seen in Esthar. It looked like a tiny barrack, with just the bunks, a small wooden table beside to put some stuff on and a sink with mirror in the corner. But all of that didn't really matter. Kenan turned to his buddy Irvine showing little interest. "Yeah, what is it?" "We have a problem." He said, laughing inwardly. The bunks were fine, he could tell. So how come there were only three beds, while there were four of them? He shuddered at the thought of sharing a bed. Not a chance in hell he'd agree to that. Kenan, however, still hadn't a clue what Irvine was talking about. "A problem? What problem?" "Only three beds." Squall sighed as he threw down his backpack and gunblade. "And four of us." Very much zombie-like, Zell shuffled his way to the middle bunk and fell into the pillow face down. He was already asleep before he even made contact with it. Irvine moaned. "…And so there were only two left…" Kenan crossed his arms and leaned against the closed doors. "It doesn't really matter. One of us should stand watch anyway. I'll take the first shift." "Roger that." Irvine mumbled and climbed in the left bed. He didn't bother taking his hat -or anything else for that matter- off and soon slept like a baby too. -"Remember, I'm watching." Kenan gladly reminded Squall. "Don't do anything stupid." Squall shook his head and sat down on the edge of his bed. "Whether you believe it or not, I'm a SeeD." Kenan sat himself down on the floor. "Actually I don't. I'm not as gullible as the rest." He grabbed his handgun and rested it against his shoulder, glaring at Squall in a threatening way. "…Why did Headmaster Cid promote you to Commander?" Squall wondered. It was one of the things he thought about during the long journey to Esthar. He couldn't sleep immediately anyway, why not ask that guy now? -"Dunno." Kenan replied. "I don't understand why he would make you Commander either, IF what you told us is all true." Squall thought about it. "I know why. He knew I'd be the one that would defeat Ultimecia." Kenan was about to laugh but noticed the guy had a serious look on his face. "Heh, the chosen one? That's utter crap." "No. It's not. It might even be why you are Commander here," Squall countered. "Cid's wife, Edea, saw a young man from the future that had defeated an evil Sorceress. What if Headmaster Cid knew what this young man looked like?" Rubbing his chin, Kenan thought about what the guy said. "Hmpf. I dunno. The Headmaster did tell me about that succession but he didn't say anything about a man from the future…." -"Think about it," Squall told him. "If the past has somehow been altered so that I was never around…someone else could have defeated the Sorceress the same way I did." Squall shrugged. "Maybe it was you?" He didn't much like this thought, that Kenan had taken his place, but Sorceress Ultimecia being back alive was of bigger concern. If he couldn't find a way to change the past back to normal, Ultimecia had to be defeated again. Kenan smirked. "The past being altered my butt. You expect us all to believe that?" -"I don't care what you think." Squall stated. "Everything indicates that. I don't think I was even born in your past." "Never born?" Kenan asked. "How do you know that?" Because Laguna doesn't know me. Squall thought to himself. "Because I was never at the Orphanage, my earliest recollection is of that place. I was never there according to Selphie and the rest. I never joined Balamb Garden according to everyone there. Never became a SeeD, a Commander. And I never defeated Ultimecia." Irvine lifted his head up from the pillow. "Hey, could you guys pipe down? You woke me up…" He let out a yawn and rested his head on the pillow again. It didn't take very long for him to fall asleep once more. "You seem hardly upset by this Squall," Kenan whispered. "You find out that all of the people you used to know don't know you anymore, and what do you do? Free a Sorceress from prison and make a run for it? Not bloody likely…" Even though Squall was as tired as the rest, he couldn't rest before he sorted things out with that guy. Not that he cared what Kenan thought about the whole matter…who cares what he thinks?…but perhaps talking to him could give Squall some insight in the situation. Just like he'd played along momentarily in the Cafeteria of Balamb Garden. Only now he could tell the truth, regardless of what Kenan might think of it. Squall stared at the skeptic Commander. He was busy examining his handgun, as if the last thing he said ended the entire conversation. As if there could not be another explanation other than the one in his mind. What a jackass. "Are you familiar with the workings of time-compression?" Squall asked to fire up the debate. Kenan looked up, surprised that Leonhart didn't just shut up and go to sleep already. "Uh, yeah. I am. What about it?" "So you know it's possible to travel through time," Squall replied. "Once this time-compression has begun?" He shrugged. "Doc. Odine told m about it. But the thing is, I don't trust theories, I want proof something will work." Squall looked amazed. "So all this time you knew of a way to defeat Ultimecia, but you didn't do anything?!" "It's not like that," He said as he got up and pointed at the window. "Look outside. This is just another inconsistency with the story you told us." Another inconsistency? Squall wondered and got up to gaze through the window. He could see a part of Esthar that he hadn't seen when driving towards the Palace. It was a part that had been almost completely wiped out. Only part of a building still stood where once were many homes. There were the purple colored roads…that lead nowhere…an entire intersection must have been destroyed. Smoke covered up most of the skies above this site of utter destruction. From where Squall stood, he couldn't see the ground. But he didn't doubt a large crater to be there. Kenan sighed and closed his eyes. "You have no idea what it was like here. Hundreds of people lost their lives fighting off the Lunatic Pandora. Seems the Galbadian mounted some kind of weapon on it…its destructive power is immense, as you can clearly see by what's left. Or…what's not left I should say. It obliterated entire sections of Esthar in one blast. "N-no! That can't be, that never happened!" Squall uttered, slamming his fist against the wall in fury. -"But it did." Kenan remarked, slowing opening his eyes again. "Another reason why it's hard to believe your story…" "No, dammit." Squall cursed. "The Lunatic Pandora only hovered over Esthar once, causing minimal losses and damage! How could this have happened?!" He gestured him to step away from the window. "Calm down. It didn't show you this just to anger you." -"Damn! How can you be so cool about it?!" Squall yelled in astonishment. This guy was just unbelievable. Kenan shook his head. "I wasn't when I first saw this. That was three weeks ago. Before you had defeated Ultimecia according to your, what? …Your version of the past?" Still enraged by the things he had just seen, Squall sat down on the edge of his behind and buried his face in his hands. "So you see," Kenan started. "Your theory is flushed down the drain. You thought everything was different because somehow the past had been altered in a way so you, the supposed killer of Sorceress Ultimecia, were never born. Well now, how do you explain this change of strategy?" … Kenan nodded solemnly. "You can't. There is no way that the Sorceress would suddenly decide to attack Esthar with full power all because one person was never born…wouldn't you say?" Squall looked up. "You're right. So there must have been more than just one change of the past…" -"Crap." Kenan sighed, getting tired of the guy's persistency. "You need to have your head examined. Ever wondered how what you claim makes people feel? They've seen so much death and destruction caused by Sorceress Ultimecia, then some guy nobody knows comes along and starts telling how he had defeated her long ago, with hardly any of the losses compared to the ones suffered already. Tch…" What could Squall possibly say to counter this? The guy had an indisputable point. He was more realistic than the rest. Of course there where those willing to almost blindly accept Squall's story. Who wouldn't want to believe things should be better? Who wouldn't want to believe there might be some way things could be changed back to the way they were? Kenan was too much of a realist to just accept it. He had seen too much of all the carnage to have fate in everything that Squall represented. Silently he moved back to his 'post' in front of the closed doors, leaving Squall to think about what he said. Maybe now the guy would think twice before he opened his mouth and starts blabbing about the past with all that happy crap. Squall lay down on his bed. He had no idea that much was changed. Ultimecia attacked Esthar? But why did she do that? Obviously she didn't succeed or else Laguna would have been killed for sure. …Wait a minute… There was one question that guy hadn't answered. "So why didn't you use Odine's plan yet?" Squall asked. He looked in the direction of the doors, only to see the part of the guy's head and bandanna. Kenan softly grinned in disbelief. "You really that stupid? I thought I pointed it out." -"Because the Lunatic Pandora attacked Esthar?" Squall asked, ignoring the little comment. "Yes, that was the most important reason to delay any assassination plan." Kenan explained. "Although the truth is, we were attacked before we could decide on any plan. We needed a way to get inside the darn thing, and were just about to discuss it with President Loire, when the Lunatic Pandora attacked." A dazzled Irvine mumbled something and stuck his head under his pillow. Squall frowned. "What happened? I mean, what was the outcome of the battle?" "You really don't know jackshit, huh?" Kenan smirked. He didn't really mean it as an insult, it was just his way of joking. -"You did win, right?" Squall asked. He really needed to know. Sighing, Kenan rested his head against the wooden doors and looked up at the ceiling. "Yeah…we won. Just barely I might add. Esthar suffered heavy casualties, the Galbadians only minor I think. They retreated after a group of soldiers managed to infiltrate the Lunatic Pandora by jumping on it from a high way. Maybe we would have done that too, if we had the time to carefully plan everything." Things were starting to make more sense. The looks on Balamb Garden students' faces, now Squall understood them. Yet it wasn't enough. He had to ask more to fully comprehend it all. "But why? Why would they attack full-out, then retreat when a few Esthar soldiers managed to get inside the Lunatic Pandora??" Kenan yawned. "I dunno. Listen, why don't you just can it and get some shut-eye? I will hold myself to the pact and try to help you, but could you slow down for a minute? We'll talk about anything you want tonight at dinner…okay?" Squall agreed and turned on his side. He wondered if he'd even be able to sleep after so much being revealed to him. How does one prove his existence? Kenan started thinking as tried to sit as comfortably as he could, ready for keeping watch on Leonhart for at least a few hours. Someone else knows you, and therefor you exist? But how do you know that someone exists in the first place? He laughed inwardly. Maybe I think too much? But still…it was a strange issue. Leonhart can never prove himself to me, because I'm not willing to buy anything without clear evidence. Yet one cannot prove his existence… It boggles the mind. He thought and let out a big yawn.     <<------------------------------------------>>   Meanwhile, the girls were sitting in their own room. Still wide-awake… Unlike Kenan, Quistis didn't see the need to lock the doors or even keep an eye on the Sorceress. Skye wouldn't do anything harmful. She could never do that. Whatever she was, she wasn't evil. "It's like having a slumber party!" Selphie giggled. "Girls only." Skye and Quistis laughed and looked at Selphie, as she was bouncing on her bunk in the midst. Selphie stopped. "Aww…too bad I didn't bring my pj's. We could have had a pajama party!" Quistis chuckled. She sat on the edge of her bunk, facing Selphie and Skye. It's not like they weren't tired, but this little get-together was a rare occasion, why not make the most of it and gossip 'bout the guys? As if reading her friend's thought, Selphie let out a positive sigh. "Irvine sure is a hunk…huh?" -"Something tells me we'd better not be too eager to agree to that." Skye laughed. "You could get the wrong idea." Selphie smiled. "At least you don't disagree then." Skye nodded. "From what I've seen, he looks okay. I wish you two all the best." -"Thanks!" She exclaimed in gratitude. "Hey…since we're talking about guys anyway," Selphie said, turning to Quistis. "Who do you fancy Quis?" She raised an eyebrow. "Don't you think that's a private matter?" -"Come on!" Selphie edged. "I told you I liked Irvine long ago, you tell us something now." Quistis crossed her arms and frowned. "There…isn't really anyone I like in particular at the moment." -"Oh really?" Selphie called. "I thought you and Kenan looked like a great couple, tee-hee." Her cheeks blushed red. "Kenan and me? No…I don't think so." Skye smiled sadly and tilted her head down. "What's wrong?" Selphie and Quistis asked. She fumbled a bit with her hands in a clumsy matter. "Kenan. He…he doesn't like me very much huh? I saw the way he looked at me in the guest room. He must really hate me." Selphie leaped towards Skye's bed and sat down next to her. "Aw, don't worry about him. He can be a real jerk sometimes. But it's just his way of looking out for us. Right Quistis?" "Kenan isn't really that bad a guy," She explained. "He had some nasty experiences with a Sorceress involved. In fact, we all have, but he was most upset by it. He didn't tell us of course…guys are like that, they prefer being a closed book…yet we could all tell he was deeply affected." Skye looked up at Quistis. "I think I understand. Thank you." Selphie giggled. "No need to thank anyone. What are friends for?" "Friends?" Skye asked. "You hardly know me, how can we be friends?" Quistis smiled. "Of course we're friends. It doesn't matter if we just met." "Say, you and Squall? You are friends too, right?" Skye shrugged. "Actually, I don't know. Squall is very much to himself." "Squall seems like an okay guy," Selphie pointed out. "I'm sure he considers you a friend too." -"Yes," Quistis affirmed. "I think so too. He is a complete stranger to me, yet I trusted him the moment he first explained what was going on, back in Balamb Garden. Unfortunately for him, Kenan was there." "I feel sorry for him," Skye sighed. "He has really no clue what happened to him." Selphie gave her new friend a soft nudge. "H-ey! Let's stop worrying and have some fun! Just the three of us." She smiled. "Uh, okay, what do you have in mind?" Quistis looked her over. "First we'll have to get you some decent clothes." Skye grinned sheepishly and examined her old student uniform. "Yeah, it is rather ugly, isn't it?" -"We should go out and buy you something new at the mall." Quistis suggested. "Whoo-hoo!" Selphie exclaimed. "Yeah! That's a great plan. Wow, I can't remember the last time I went shopping…" They stood up, all ready to head downtown when something hit Quistis. -"You know, Kenan wouldn't like this idea." She said. "And he is the Commander." "No problem!" Selphie replied, still cheery. "We sneak out, and don't tell him anything." Skye frowned. "So isn't he going to notice something when I walk in with new clothes? Quistis opened the sleeping quarter doors and looked down the hall. Nobody in sight, perfect. She stuck her head back in. "Don't worry Skye. We'll just tell him we found it in the closet." Her face lit up. "Heh heh, you're cunning." Quistis bowed politely. "Why thank you." "Seriously though, let's get a move on. We shouldn't be gone too long because we really do need to get some sleep."   <<------------------------------------------>>   Skye couldn't really settle on one dress out of so many. She just couldn't pick which one she liked better. Shopping was something completely new to her…or had she done this before? She couldn't remember, but what else was new? Selphie's eyes widened as she saw the P-E-R-F-E-C-T dress. It was a yellow short-skirt outfit not unlike the one she frequently wore herself, it would fit Skye perfectly. Whoo-hoo! Meanwhile Quistis had also found a nice outfit, on the other side of the shop. A red long dress with beautiful black sleeves. Really a stunning outfit for Skye, so she figured. "This one!" Selphie exclaimed and ran back to Skye in the middle of the shop. "Try this one!" She practically pushed the dress of her choice in Skye's arms. "You'll look fabulous!" Quistis giggled as she slowly walked back to Skye with the dress of her choice. "Uhm, Skye, do you really want to look like Selphie? I think having one of her around is enough." "Heeeeeey!" Selphie pouted loudly. "Wouldn't want Skye to look like you either!" -"Let her decide." Quistis calmly replied. Selphie smiled knowingly. She's gonna go for mine…for sure. Taking her time, Skye examined the two dresses brought to her by Selphie and Quistis. They both looked great, but she didn't want to hurt either of her friends by having to choose for one of them. She hesitated. "Uh…they do look okay…but…uh…" There was a light blue dress hanging just in front of Skye that suddenly caught her attention. Apart from the color, it was a perfect mix of the two dresses offered by Selphie and Quistis. The skirt wasn't as short as the one Selphie offered, but not as long as the one Quistis offered either. And the fabric…wow. Soft yet warm, she could tell just by looking at it. "Sorry," Skye grinned and handed the dress Selphie picked back to her. "But I'm gonna go for that blue one!" Quistis laughed. "Guess you didn't need our help after all." -"Humph…I don't see what's wrong with the one I chose…" Selphie mumbled. "Oh well!" She scurried to the back of the shop and hung the outfit she chose back on the rack. Quistis accompanied Skye to the counter and paid for the dress. It was quite reasonably priced for such nice outfit. "Are you sure you don't want to try it on first?" The lady behind the counter asked. -"No thank you," Skye replied. "I'm sure it'll fit. It's very stretchy…hee-hee…" With a brand new outfit in her possession, Skye exited the shop. Mission accomplished, so to speak. They walked towards one of the many benches in the shopping mall and sat down for a minute or so. Skye sighed. "Phew, I dunno about you two, but I think I'd best get some sleep soon." "Yeah," Selphie muttered, suddenly reminded of her fatigue again. "Let's head back to the Palace." Quistis just casually looked over her shoulder to see what other shops were located at the mall as she noticed a man staring back at her. He sat too far away to be able to clearly identify him, but Quistis did notice his weird collar. The man ran off the moment he found out he was discovered. He had a silly way of running, yet he was quite fast. Quistis shrugged. "Who was that man?" Selphie and Skye turned around. "What man?" -"A man was staring at us just now," Quistis told them, still scanning around. "He ran away when I noticed him." Selphie peered around. A few people were walking around in the mall, but because it was still early, there weren't that many. Plus with the war and all going on, shopping wasn't the first thing on people's minds. Quistis shrugged. "That man…I think I've seen him before." "What did he look like?" Skye asked. She crossed her arms. "Well, he had a strange collar around his neck. And he wasn't exactly tall…ran real fast…" Selphie's face lit up. "I know! That's Doctor Odine! Definitely!" "Yeah," Skye agreed with her. "I went to see him about an hour ago, and that is what he looked like." The question then was; why was he observing them? Quistis realized it could have something to do with Skye, but if so, what exactly? Had he followed her all the way from the Presidential Palace for some reason? Skye looked down. It's me…he's after me. But why? -"Are you okay?" Selphie asked with a voice of concern. She looked up at her. "Oh…yes. I'm fine. Just thinking." Quistis didn't see what else they could do about it right now, and headed for the President Palace. Too bad most hovering thingamajigs were out of order; they had to walk. Selphie and Skye followed Quistis closely behind.   <<------------------------------------------>>   Headmaster Cid sifted through the various reports scattered on his desk. Most were full of bad news. Casualty lists…damaged systems reports; it was enough to depress even the most cheery of people. And still no word from Commander Gantt. He was starting to get worried about the Commander. His mission shouldn't have taken that long, what could be keeping them? Could the Galbadians have attacked them? But then, he knew Kenan was a capable young man. A bit troubled at times, but certainly a strong person. For now Cid just had to wait a bit longer to hear from him. There was nothing else he could do. "Sir." Xu called and saluted. "We have arrived at the coordinates and are preparing to set the Garden down." The headmaster smiled. Finally, some good news. "That's good to hear. But what about the system failure?" Xu's face immediately grew worried. "The drain has stabilized Sir, but we've been unable to find the cause of it."  Cid climbed out of his chair. "Make sure we do. Such a malfunction could be fatal in combat." "Aye Sir!" She replied and saluted. The headmaster stepped on the small elevator and went up to the Garden controls. Nida was very busy trying to keep the Garden steady in the harsh weather conditions they seemed to be in. "Is everything under control Nida?" The Headmaster asked as he stepped up next to him. He let out a sigh. "No Sir…I've lost radar and have to do everything manually now." Cid smiled reassuringly. "I expected this. And I'm sure you can handle it." Nida pushed the rudder forward. "I hope so Sir…" The Garden shook heavily, yet only for a few seconds. So Nida carefully started the descent. It wasn't like they were high up in the sky in the first place, but one still had to descent slowly or else the Garden could suffer heavy damage. "Steady as she goes." He mumbled to himself, hoping he wouldn't crash on top of the two airplanes that had landed on the ground, waiting for Balamb Garden to arrive no doubt. As the Headmaster peered down, a large number of Esthar soldiers came into view. They were standing in the inspection formation, with their squad leaders in front.  "I see our friends made it." Headmaster Cid said as he waved at them with one arm. Nida stopped the descent as the ground came too close for his liking. He couldn't set Balamb Garden all the way down, since that would mean the lower part of the Garden would have to penetrate solid rock first. That probably wouldn't be a pretty sight to see. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. "Phew, we made it Sir." The headmaster laughed. "I never doubted we would. Excellent flying Nida." -"Thank you Sir."   <<------------------------------------------>>   Irvine rolled down the green hill and landed on his back right next to Selphie. "Whoa, that was new." He laughed, but made no attempt to get up. Selphie smiled, as she lay perfectly still in the grassy field, staring up at the passing clouds. "Didn't you ever roll down hills as a kid Irvy? Boy…can't believe you missed out on that." He supported his head with his hands. "Well, I was never one to goof around all the time." -"And you're saying I am?" Selphie asked, feigning hurt. Irvine tossed his hat on her face, as if offering it to make amends. "Nope that's not what I meant, beautiful." She held the hat up in front of her. "For me?" "Sure, it's all yours." Irvine assured her, running his hand through his hair. He suddenly felt bald without his lucky hat. Her eyes went all puppy-dog like. "Oh thank you, thank you, thank you!" -"C'mon, it's no biggie." Irvine replied in his usual laid-back tone of voice. "Though, you should take good care of it." Selphie crawled up to a sitting position. "You know? I think you deserve something very special now." Grinning, Irvine crawled up too. "And what did you have in mind, dear?" -"Get up!" He raised an eyebrow. "Uh…what?" -"Irvine! Get up! It's my turn for some shut-eye." His eyelids slowly opened. "K-Kenan?" Everything was still a big blur, but he could make out a shadow hanging over him. -"Heh heh, yeah it's me. Where you expecting anyone else?" That was a dream? Aww and such a nice one. Irvine thought as he slowly figured out what the hell was going on. Kenan yanked the pillow out from under his head. "C'mon, get up! Your turn to stand watch." He was pulled up without further yelling, and before he knew it Kenan had taken over his bed. "Wake me up in about four hours, kay?" Irvine rubbed his eyes. "Uh…y-eah. Sure thing." He stood dazzled at one side of his…former…bed. For a few moments he was too sleepy to even move a muscle, but this feeling soon faded and he moved towards the center of the room. Zell and Squall were sleeping, Kenan would soon be. And Irvine had to stand watch…yippee… Sighing, he leaned against the wall opposite to Squall's bed and looked at the guy. "Funny, he doesn't look like a bad person." He said to himself.   <<------------------------------------------>>   Finally after four boring long hours of doing totally nothing, Irvine woke them all up. "Rise and shine folks." He laughed. "It's almost time to get some grub." Kenan lifted his head up from the pillow. "Wha? Already?" -"Yup." Squall threw his feet over the edge of the bed and peered through the window. He could tell by the sun's position it was indeed some time in the evening. Or at least in the late afternoon. Moaning, Zell too had to face reality and climb out of his warm crib. "Hey, hey," Irvine exclaimed. "At least you didn't have to stand watch Zell." He looked over his shoulder to see if Squall was still there, then back at Irvine. "Yeah…but still…I could have slept for weeks…" Kenan was the first to get up and ready to go. His stomach growled like some dangerous monster as he approached Irvine, whom stood waiting for everyone at the doors. "Hehe, you're starvin' huh?" Irvine asked. He gave him an annoyed look. "Well…apparently so." Squall stood up and joined with the two guys. He didn't say a word. He didn't have anything to say. As Kenan unlocked the doors, the sweet smell of actual food entered the room. The kitchen was right down the hall. "Hey, do I have great timing or what?" Irvine rhetorically asked. Zell stretched, then punched the air a few times. "Yeah! Food!" The four guys walked into the hallway and almost bumped into Kiros. "Ah," He called happily. "I was just going to wake you for supper. No need, I see." Irvine patted himself on his stomach. "Hehe, we couldn't wait I guess." "Yeah," Zell agreed. "We haven't had a decent meal in a while." Kiros nodded. "Well then, I'll lead you to the dining room." Zell assumed his famous victory pose. Kenan just shook his head and sighed, following Mr. Kiros down the hall. "Hey guys, wait for me!" He felt a sudden pat on his back and practically jumped up through the ceiling. The girls giggled. "Calm down Zell, it's only us." Quistis told him. -"Y-yeah…of course…" He muttered, scratching the back of his head. "J-just don't sneak up on me like that again." Selphie jumped up. "Hey, they're gonna start without us!" Before anyone could assure her that wasn't the case, she bolted off. Quistis sighed and walked after her…at her own pace. Zell tapped against the floor with his shoes. Hmmm…someone's missing?… "Hi ya Zell." Skye chirped as she stepped into his view. "You coming too?" He looked shocked. "Y-y-y-eah. Of c-course ma'am!" That blue dress she was wearing…wow. A big change from the student uniform she was wearing earlier, for sure! Skye tilted her head in surprise. "Ma'am? No no, my name's Skye. S-k-y-e." Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! Zell panicked inwardly. She's………hot! Whoa! She waved her hands in fronts of his face. "Hellooo? Anyone home?" He frantically shook his head. "Oh. S-s-sorry, I wa-was just l-lookin' at your c-c-clothes." "My c-c-clothes?" Skye grinned, but then her face displayed pity. "…Oh, sorry. It's not nice to mock people." -"Yo Dincht!" Kenan called from across the hall. "Get a move on will ya?" Zell let his body sag. "Dang Kenan…always bossing me around…" A smile threatened to show on Skye's face, but she just barely managed to hold it back. That Zell was even funnier when moody, she noticed. Aww…kinda cute… She looked straight at him momentarily. That weird mark on the side of his face looked pretty cool, she wondered where he got it. "Well, you heard the man." Skye said and headed for the dinning room. "Let's eat!"

 

They both gasped as they entered the dinning room. The place was absolutely gorgeous. The walls were made of marble; one could see their own reflection in it perfectly. A huge chandler hung above the long dinning table and provided most light in the room, as there was only one circular window. Laguna rubbed his hands together. "Ah, everyone is here now? Please, grab a seat and enjoy the meal!" He sat on the head of the table together with Commander Gantt. On the left long side sat Selphie, Irvine and Quistis; at the other end of the table Ellone, Kiros and Ward; and finally Squall on the right side who was now joined by Skye and Zell. Naturally, every guy in the room was eyeing Skye's new blue dress. Stunning. Kenan thought to himself. Where'd she get that? She sat down, smiling widely, and examined what was on the table. Everyone had their own set of knifes, forks, and even different plates for the various kind of meals. A large plate of roasted meat lay in the middle of several smaller plates with vegetables, just waiting to be consumed in full. Zell eyed it, making sure he would get a piece and that neither Kenan nor Irvine would steal it all. They politely waited for Laguna to start with the meal. He noticed everyone looking at him and raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah, that's right!" He said, remembering the formalities he'd been taught. "A toast!" He grabbed his glass of wine and stood up. The others did the same. Laguna shrugged. Uh-oh…I forgot my line… "A toast," Kiros started, coming to his friend's aid. "To a better cooperation between Esthar and Balamb Garden. That we may work together as one, and soon end this terrible war." Kenan smirked. "I'll drink to that." They laughed and carefully tapped with their glasses, as people always do when toasting, then all sat down and began filling their plates with whatever lay in their reach. The plate of fried potatoes was the first to be emptied, but luckily one of the kitchen crew stood close by and fetched another plate full of the stuff. Kiros' eyes widened as he saw Zell reaching for the roasted beef like someone who hadn't eaten in years. "There is enough for everyone." He assured, but Zell didn't seem to hear it. Kenan poured himself another glass of wine. His first one of the evening already having disappeared 'down the hatch'. "Easy on the wine Kenan." Quistis giggled. He threw her a surprised look. "Hey, do I look like a guy who would drink too much?" Irvine raised his index finger, indicating he was about to make a good point. "Actually, I think--uhmpf!" Kenan stuffed a piece of bread in his mouth. "Heh, eat my friend, don't talk. Eat." Laguna laughed as he poured some soup on his plate before beginning with the real meal. "That's one way to shut someone up. Gotta remember that when Kiros starts yapping next time." Kiros grinned. "Actually, Laguna, you do most of that…" "And swallow!" Selphie exclaimed looking at big-cheeked Zell across the table. "Swallow the food Zell!" Zell slammed with his fist on the table as he managed to get a huge piece of that roasted meat down his throat, hardly having to chew it at all. Afterwards he considered himself luckily it didn't get stuck halfway to his stomach. Squall had taken a smaller portion of the same meat. "What exactly is this?" He wondered. After slurping down another spoon-full of mighty hot soup, Laguna looked up. "That?…Oh…that's chocobo meat." "Wha?!" Zell coughed heavily. "Chocobo meat?! I ate Chocobo meat!?!" Skye could tell by Laguna's face that he was only kidding so she happily continued consuming everything on her plate. -"No," Kiros laughed. "Laguna's joking. Actually I think it's…uh…quite delicious for meat of unknown origin." Zell drank his glass of wine empty. "Ah…never mind. As long as it's not Chocobo meat, I guess it's okay." They laughed and all starting conversing in little groups, as happened in the guest room that morning. Squall frowned. "Laguna, can I ask you a question?" "Sure," He replied cheery. "Shoot." -"Yo, can someone pass me the peas?" Zell called. "Well," Squall started, and thought about where Kenan had left off when they talked earlier. "It's about the battle with the Lunatic Pandora that took place here." Laguna put his spoon down and his face turned serious. "Go ahead, what do you want to ask?" -"Hellooo? Peas please." Zell grumbled impatiently. He knew Irvine wasn't listening to him… he was too busy feeding his girlfriend. Bah, who needs a girlfriend? Only costs you money, and food even! Squall briefly glared at the other people around the table. Nobody other than Kenan and Laguna paid attention to him. "Can you tell my why it attacked Esthar in the first place?" Squall asked. Laguna nodded slightly. "Probably to get Ellone. But maybe Sorceress Adel wanted revenge too." Zell waved with his arms in the air. "Is anyone listening?!" Skye chuckled and gave him a gentle nudge in his side. "The peas are right under your nose Zell." She whispered. "You really are goofy…just like Selphie said…" Suddenly strange quiet, Zell continued with his meal. Squall took a sip from his wine. "I see. And I was wondering, do you know why they retreated so suddenly?" -"Kiros?" He called across the table. "Do we know why the Lunatic Pandora retreated?" Kiros apologized to Ellone and Quistis for having to interrupt their conversation and thought deeply. "Lunatic Pandora's retreat…hmm? Isn't it because our squad managed to infiltrate it?" "But from what I heard, they were winning." Squall stated. "So why would they retreat when only a small squad gets inside? It doesn't make any sense. Their whole strategy puzzles me." Kiros smiled. "If only things were as you said Mr. Leonhart. That was indeed a better world you talked about." Is he saying I'm from another world? Squall wondered, yet didn't ask. "Yeah? Well your whole story puzzles me Leonhart." Kenan told him as he filled up his plate once more. He was eating like a savage, as were Ward and Zell, so it was okay. Quistis turned to Kenan. "Are you sure it's the right time for this Commander?" He quickly devoured a small chunk of bread then laughed. "Oh, I believe everyone already knows how I feel about it." -"Yes." Squall confirmed. "And I can understand that, but I'm not your enemy. I've been asking all those questions so I knew what went on here, and maybe to come up with a plan to defeat Ultimecia." The mood at the table suddenly changed, and they all quieted down, except for Zell who was making disgusting sounds trying to eat as many as he could in one minute. Or so it appeared. Now seemed the time for discussing the important stuff, rather than engage in small talk. "A plan…" Irvine mumbled, and stopped feeding Selphie tiny grapes. "Yeah, we definitely gotta figure something out." -"Agreed." Kiros said from his end of the table. "Unfortunately we haven't been able to contact Balamb Garden, and we would need to discuss this with the Headmaster." The SeeDs looked worried. Selphie lay down her knife and fork and stared down at her nearly empty plate."…You still haven't contacted Balamb Garden? This can't be a good sign…" "We did contact Balamb Garden," Laguna said. "But not through direct communication, which is what Kiros meant." -"Then how?" Squall and Kenan asked simultaneously. Ward and Kiros exchanged looks. Both Kenan and Squall were definitely leader-types. Kiros and Ward had enough experience with those types of people to be able to tell. Always questioning stuff, one of the trademarks of good leaders. "Two Squads were sent to Balamb Garden and delivered a message." Laguna explained. "By now Balamb Garden should long be in Zone Two on the Centra Continent. It's even harder to get a message through from that position, as I'm sure Commander Gantt is well aware." Zone Two? Squall thought to himself, wondering where he had heard about that before. Quistis shrugged. "Is that a safe place? I've never heard of it." "It should be." Kiros told her. "But just in case it isn't, the two squads that we sent have joined forces with Balamb Garden, strengthening its defenses." Zell leaned against the table with his elbows. "So now the plan is to hide from the enemy or somethin'?" -"Dincht." Kenan called. "Don't be rude." "Only for now." Kiros assured Zell. "Although we've yet to come up with a plan of attack." -"First we need to actually locate the Lunatic Pandora." Laguna sighed. Ellone closed her eyes, and tried her very best to sense the evil Sorceress, but she couldn't. "I'm sorry," She apologized to everyone. "I can't sense Ultimecia or Adel." Squall looked aside at Skye. "Can you sense anything?" He whispered. She was surprised he asked her this, when a while ago she didn't know she could have any power in the first place. "No, I don't think so." She replied. "I can only sense concern…I think…" Selphie smiled sadly. "I hope Balamb Garden won't suffer the same fate as Trabia Garden." Kenan dug into his mind. "If I recall correctly, Headmaster Cid told me that Zone Two is an excellent place to go to if you don't want to be seen. Apart from the fact that it's remote, there's also a lot of strange interference in that area, which blocks most scans. This makes Balamb Garden nearly invisible to the enemy's radar." Laguna grinned. "I think that was supposed to be classified." Making an odd hand gesture, Ward assured it didn't matter. Selphie smiled. "Okay, as long as everyone is safe." "Uh…speaking of safe…" Laguna muttered, scratching the back of his head. He eyed Kiros. "I want you and Ellone to travel back to Balamb Garden together with these guys." "But Uncle," Ellone said, smiling sadly. "Why can't you come too? It's not safe to be here." -"I know. But I can't leave my post now." Laguna pointed out. "I'm the President remember? Besides, the war will be over in no time. You can come back to Esthar as soon as the fighting stops, what do ya say?" She reluctantly nodded. "If you think it's best." Quistis shrugged. "Exactly how will we travel back to Balamb Garden? We'll need to cross an ocean…" Laguna laughed and casually sunk bunk in his chair. "Let's just say, I hope you all went easy on the fish." Zell gulped. "Oh no! By boat?!" Irvine leaned back in his chair too. "Aww, I was kinda hoping we could fly." "People can't fly dummy." Selphie chirped. He raised an eyebrow. "That's not exactly what I meant." Selphie was about to speak up again as a loud alarm sounded. It echoed throughout the entire Palace. Laguna, Kiros and Ward immediately jumped up. "No time for desserts!" Laguna yelled. "The Galbadians are here!"


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