"One day, to pass the time away, we read Lancelot.
When we had read how the desired smile
was kissed by one so true a lover...
that day we read no more."
There was no one sitting behind the piano that night.
He had left Kiros and Ward behind at camp and slipped back to Deling City under the cover of the moon. Earlier that afternoon they had been reassigned south to a reconnaissance unit in Centra, meaning that come morning time they would probably be dropped off there with little reinforcements to spy on the Estharian excavation of the legendary 'Crystal Pillar'.
Whatever that is, Laguna reiterated dismissively.
He didn't actually care. Normally the aspiring journalist side of him would not have let material as sensitive as this slip past him down into the drain of oblivion so lightly, but anything he did during his mandatory term of service in the Galbadian infantry was restricted information that, while newsworthy, was not publishable. It was just more convenient to forget everything he did during the day by focusing completely on his occasional guilty indulgence in the nightlife in Deling. In this way Laguna Loire found his lifestyle the frightening antithesis of a would-be writer's; each morning he would wake up to a fresh, blank page on which he would write his autobiography and each evening as he pulled the covers over his head he would crumple it up and toss it in the wastebasket. Over time the pile had built up so that there was more trash than actual bound pages in his life's story. There wasn't much about him that he could tell anyone, and what remained was too scant to strike up a conversation with - the manifestation of a free-lance writer reduced to a free-floating soldier without a past. If he wasn't at a loss for words, he was at a loss of life to narrate.
The floor of the bar seemed glossier than it was when he had last left it. The sound of his boots against the surface seemed to echo with a deeper resonance, probably heightened by the hot blood rushing to his head as he gathered the courage to make the big move.
He was certainly tired of Kiros and Ward constantly ragging on him.
They can call her 'Piano Lady' all they want, he adamantly held, but to me she's a vision.
Except for the fact that at that moment he couldn't find her anywhere. At this hour, there weren't but a few booths and tables occupied either. The doldrums that seemed to seize the place indicated that it was either in its off-peak hours or between worker shifts.
She's probably up in her room, Laguna guessed.
The first attempt up the stairs had failed. He had come back down after mounting three steps with a mind to recuperate for at least a half hour.
Come on, leg, he coaxed, show your mettle. Earn your keep.
Rallying his nerves together for a second advance was proving more difficult than he had thought. He ended up quite subconsciously sitting at the loneliest-looking table in the far end of the room to rest his bad knee before trying a repeat climb. It wasn't an Everest, but he felt that he needed an oxygen canister if he wanted to successfully tackle the staircase. The closer he got to her, the thinner the air seemed.
A sleepy-eyed waiter ambled over to his table and asked if he could take his order.
Laguna asked if the bartender wouldn't be able to whip him up a Mogberry Arctic Latte with an extra flavor shot of Mad Rush at this hour.
The waiter scratched his head and revealed that in his eight years of service throughout all the large pubs and posh nightclubs in Galbadia that he'd never heard of such a silly drink, nor had he ever come across the name in any of his text books or manuals before his prestigious graduation from the Le Garcon Chic School of Waiting.
Incensed by a zeal to cure the server of his ignorance, Laguna was compelled to list all the ingredients and their proportions to the beverage, assuring him that it would be all the rage in the next twenty years. As the waiter hurried off to pass the instructions to the bartender, Laguna settled back in his chair and resumed his attempt to lower his pulse with deep breaths.
Meanwhile, his attention strayed, only to refocus on two men in military uniform sitting at the center table in the lounge. With a start he ducked under the table out of fear for being spotted off of the base without authorization. Luckily they seemed to be in the closing stages of their conversation, during which he had not been noticed.
The insignia on their uniforms indicated that one was a lieutenant and the other general. They were engaged in a convivial exchange of toasts rather than some clandestine meeting to discuss any sensitive military information. It didn't take Laguna long to figure out by the direction in which the drinks were being bought and offered that they were celebrating the promotion of the lower-ranked officer. For such an occasion, it was Galbadian custom for the junior to buy his senior three shots, followed by the senior buying the junior two shots, and the junior paying for all the orders thereafter. Apparently the lieutenant was slated to become a captain by the end of the week.
Laguna strained his ears trying to listen in on their conversation and catch a name or two.
"Caraway, my boy, you've really done it this time," the older, more decorated man congratulated with a half-empty glass in hand.
The younger officer bowed his head graciously and returned the compliment.
"All I've done is apply what I learned under your tutelage, General Shojora," he deferred modestly.
This incited a second hearty laugh from the addressee and another toasting. They brought their glasses together.
Shojora? Laguna recognized that name. General Shojora? No way!
He cocked his head in frenetic disbelief. The general of the whole army is here!
Laguna's immediate reaction was to begin fumbling around for a business card with which to introduce himself and his talents in journalism. Perhaps he would be able to network a post in the Galbadian Ministry of Education after his term of service, or even obtain preferential access to military interviews for future news coverage that the Deling media could broadcast from the communications tower they were planning to build in Dollet.
His imagination was cut short by both the realization that he could not afford the demerits and pay reduction that he would surely be penalized with for sneaking out of the camp if he did venture out and introduce himself, and by the two officer's rising from their seats in an effort to pay a visit to the restroom. They had each had about eight rounds of vodka.
"They have a promising performer here," the general told the lieutenant as they walked past Laguna. "Don't know if you've had a chance to see her."
"Can't say that I have," the younger of the two replied as the door to the men's room closed behind him.
Laguna stuffed the grubby name card back into the cluttered depths of his pocket. Suddenly feeling the pain in his leg dissipate, he rose to his feet. To test out his new peripatetic capacity, he meandered all over the room and eventually ended up standing over the table that his two senior officers had just quitted. Though their jackets hung limply over the back of their chairs, it did not appear as though they would be back anytime soon.
A decorative piece of Ribbon lace that lied derelict on the table caught his notice. His eyes widened and his sights zeroed in on the newfound treasure. Ooh, pretty!
Laguna's Ascent to Heaven: Take Two.
The second-floor didn't usually induce this type of vertigo. If he could only get to his feet, he was sure that his steps would be as spry as a newborn sprig on the first day of spring. To whom should he attribute his dizziness?
Laguna literally crawled along the hall until he came to the right room. Knees severely racked and useless, it was with great effort that he finally pulled himself up into sitting position against the stucco wall. Not ready for the challenge at hand, he slid back down and flopped against the carpeted hallway floor with his back against the doorframe. The spot where he sat had a plushy feeling to it, comfortable like a pile of fresh-picked flower petals.
It probably wouldn't be a good idea to sleep here tonight. If she doesn't freak out in the morning, it will be because she'll have probably tripped over me on the way out before noticing.
He thought about knocking on her door. He could feel its woody surface and imagined her palm on the other side just within the contour that his own palm was making on his side of it. Just as he was about to lean into it, it swung open on its own accord. His mouth gaped in surprise.
Light. Lightness. The light!
Descend the black curtains. A blank screen.
Let there be...
Shuffle-shuffle. Sporadic. Spastic. Seismic. Splenetic.
Moans and giggles.
Exit hero, stage right.
Dreamt the same thing...again, didn't I?
Damn, he thought.
Laguna woke up in a cold sweat, wondering what had just happened and how many more times it was going to repeat itself.
The run-down room that he found himself in looked vaguely familiar, but did not seem the least bit hostile. That much he could gather from the pink polka dot sheets that partially covered him, which wasn't a favorite among the enemy camps or interrogation rooms of the time period.
Untrendy! he was about to exclaim before he became aware that he wasn't alone in the room.
A weathered old maid stirred from her stool beside the bed he was lying in. She had had the unfortunate task of tending to him with all of his comatose excitement to keep her company.
"Where am I?" he asked her.
"Relax, Mr. President," the matron-figure answered. "You're still in Winhill."
"What about Kiros and Ward?" he posed after he had rewound his memory far back enough to realize what activity he had been engaged in before blacking out.
"They thought it was best to let you recover here while they continue the search for Ellone back in Esthar," the woman informed him.
"How long ago was that?" Laguna asked as a wave of fatigue-induced drowsiness washed over him.
"It's been eight days since they brought you in," she answered after taking a moment to count them off with her fingers.
"Have I gone to the restroom in all that time?" he murmured just before he drifted off.
The last thing he remembered was the stern look she gave him in place of an actual reply.
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