When Zell woke the next morning, he was greeted with the vacuum of silence. Slowly, his listless eyes opened to the light that permitted the room from the round window above his bed. It was a small window, a tiny window, but the light it gave seemed almost blinding, like a whiteout.
Such a tiny window, above such a tiny bed, in such a tiny room, in such a tiny house.
Zell stretched out his limbs as best he could in the confined space. The bed was barely big enough for one full-grown person, let alone two.
Zell released a yawn and relaxed back into the mattress. That was when it hit him.
He was alone.
Where was Bella?
He didn’t think she’d have gotten up without him. Couldn’t she sleep? Perhaps she woke up early, but why hadn’t she gotten him up too? Had she decided to let him sleep in? That was considerate of her, but Zell wouldn’t have minded. In fact, he would have preferred to be awoken early, instead of being left to sleep alone.
The blond got up and reached over to the clock beside his bed to check the time and his eyes widened in disbelief.
It was after eleven. Zell may not have been an early riser, not like Squall anyway, but he never slept this late. It was no wonder he had been left to sleep on his own.
In his usual speedy fashion, the blond youth dressed and made his way downstairs to find his missing companion.
“Ma!” He called out.
“Bella, Ma! Is anyone home?” What the hell was going on? It was eleven. Ma was always home in the mornings, and she was always up early. This made no sense.
She wasn’t in the living room, the kitchen, or her bedroom. Nor was Bella.
Had they gone out? There was no note, and the door was wide open. This was getting weird as hell. The door hadn’t even been closed, never mind locked.
At that moment, Zell heard footsteps and snapped his attention to the door, fists clenched, poised, ready to strike at the intruder.
He quickly breathed a sigh of relief and lowered his guard as he recognised Squall.
“Do you know what the hell is going on?” the blond demanded.”
“I dunno. I just woke up a few moments ago.”
“You too, huh? Is Bella over there? Or Ma?”
“What’s wrong with you, man? Over at your place. Nobody’s here. It’s like they’ve vanished without a trace.”
Squall turned away, a frown creasing his otherwise unscathed face. “Strange,” he finally commented.
“You’re telling me it’s strange. They wouldn’t go out without telling me. Plus, you never sleep this late.’
“No, I’m talking about the coincidence. Both of us slept in much later than usual. That’s strange enough on its own, but there’s more.”
Zell cocked an eyebrow.
“Ellone. She’s gone.”
“Ellone too. This has to be related. It can’t just be a coincidence.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
Squall shook his head. “I don’t know any more than you do. I slept late, and when I woke up, Ellone was gone. All that remained were her nightclothes, ripped.”
Squall nodded once more.
“Where was this, her room?”
“The kitchen. There were definite signs of a struggle. Blood… on the table.”
Zell raised an eyebrow.
“I don’t claim to know my sister’s social life, but she tended to stay home most of the time. I don’t think she was seeing anyone, and if I had to guess, I’d say she was probably a virgin.”
“Zell’s eyes widened as he came to Squall’s conclusion. “You don’t mean she was…”
“The facts all point to one thing… and the implications aren’t good.”
“Do you have any idea who could’ve done this?”
Squall turned away, face creasing as he thought over the events of the past few days. “I have a few ideas,” he stated.
“I don’t believe it. I mean what the hell is this? We came all this way. All this way, and for what? For nothing.”
“I know, Laguna replied, trying to calm his friend, “but Kiros, c’mon. I mean seriously, who’d have thought we’d sleep through the entire attack.”
“Somehow, I don’t think that’ll go down too well with the colonel at debriefing. Although, I suppose the mission wasn’t a total failure.”
“I never wanted this to happen. Not to a quiet village like this. Still,” Laguna supposed,” Technically, the mission wasn’t a total failure. We did prove that something’s going on. We just don’t know what it is.”
“We didn’t prove anything,” Kiros snapped. “We have no evidence. We don’t even know what happened.”
“We didn’t see what happened,” Laguna corrected, “but we already had a fair idea what was going on. We just needed to see it for ourselves. Maybe this time we can pick up the trail and…”
“What is it?”
“That kid. Why’s he staring at us like that?”
“Who knows, or cares? Maybe he thinks we did this.” The soldier squinted for a better look. “Wait a minute, who is that? He looks kinda like…”
“Yeah, he does,” Laguna agreed.