Evelyn looked out the balcony door of her hotel at the white sand below. The day was just getting started and there were very few people on the beach. It was made even better when she remembered the beach was just for the people staying at the resort. She was looking forward to spending the day in the water.
Her attention was drawn back into the room when one of her best friends came out of the bathroom. She looked at him with a smile. “Good morning sleepy head. I wasn’t expecting you up until after Mara. Did she kick you out of the bed?”
He scowled at her teasing but didn’t say anything. Instead he went straight for the tray sitting on the tiny dining table. After he poured a cup of coffee and downed half of it he finally spoke. “I’m not entirely sure how you were the first one up. I am almost certain you drank more than either of us last night.”
She laughed at him as Mara finally joined them. She looked freshly showered. She snuggled up to David’s side and poured herself a cup of coffee as well. “You shouldn’t be surprised. You know she still gets plenty of practice. You and I on the other hand are becoming old fogies.”
Evelyn smiled at her two friends as she poured herself another cup as well. They looked adorable together, even with them both looking wore out from the previous night’s activities. David and Mara had been her best friends since their high school days and that hadn’t changed even after they got married. They didn’t go out with her as often, but they never made her feel like she was a third wheel. It helped that they had been friends for years now.
This trip had been Evelyn’s idea. She had found a killer deal on a two week stay at a resort in Maui. She didn’t have quite enough to book the trip herself, so she convinced her two friends to take the leap with her. So far, none of them regretted it. They had already explored some of the inland attractions, but today was a day for relaxing on the beach.
She smiled at her friends again as she set her cup down. “You two are far from old fogies. I’ll consider it when you have a full head of grey hair each, and even then, I’ll only agree if you can no longer walk.”
Mara nearly spit out her coffee as she snorted at her friend’s quip. When she caught her breath, she noticed that her friend already had her swimsuit and cover on. She raised a brow before she spoke. “I see you’re all ready to hit the beach.”
Evelyn nodded as she moved to grab the bag with her sunscreen and music. “I was just waiting for the two of you to get up.”
“Have fun then.” Mara waved her towards the door. She spoke up again before Evelyn could walk out. “Oh, Evie! Make sure you’re careful if you get in the water. The guide said there aren’t many people down there since it’s off season. The water is likely to be rough too.”
Evelyn shook her head at her friend’s tendency to worry. “You know I might reconsider my evaluation of your age status.”
Mara gave her friend a mock frown before speaking. “I’m serious you know.”
Evelyn laughed. “I know, I know. I’ll watch for strangers and pay attention to the waves.” She waved once more before she closed the door behind her. She could hear her friend calling out another warning even though the door was closed. She laughed under her breath as she walked out of the hotel. It was nice that they cared, even if she didn’t always listen.
There were only a handful of people on the beach when she made it down. She appreciated that fact as she was able to find a covered chair easily. The sun was bright even if the temperature was low for Maui, a chilling 80 degrees. She put one headphone in and leaned back to soak up the sun.
She laid there until she felt herself start to sweat a little. With a sigh she put her iPod back in the bag and headed toward the water. It did look a little rough, but a lot of the large waves were tamed by a natural break some distance from the beach. It didn’t extend all the way across the little inlet, but it was enough that a good portion of the beach was peaceful enough to swim.
When she first stepped into the water she had to pause while she got used to the temperature. The water was much colder than the air, but not so much that it was uncomfortable, just shocking at first. She finally decided that it would be all or nothing. She dove in head first and swam for a short distance before surfacing with a gasp. The chilling water had electrified her. She no longer felt the lethargy that had gripped her when she was lounging on the beach. With a grin she dove again and headed toward the break.
She didn’t really have a destination in mind. She just wanted to swim. It was one of her favorite pastimes. She finally slowed a short distance from the natural barrier. She sighed as she remembered Mara’s warnings as well as the ones from their guide the day before. She turned back to the beach and was surprised to see how far out she had come. With another sigh she started back toward the beach. She decided to take a different route this time and swam at an angle.
When she got closer to the beach she started to encounter waves that were lifting her, so she tried to get closer to where the water was not heaving as much. She remembered a moment to late that that didn’t necessarily mean safer. She had already reached the point of no return though and panic filled her mind as the strong current instantly pulled her under.
Her eyes widened with fear, even with the salt water stinging she refused to shut them as she tried to fight her way back to the surface. Her lungs ached, and she was having a hard time identifying which way was up. She wanted to cry at how careless she had been, at the fact that there was probably no one out there that would notice her missing. There was no telling how long it would be until she was noted as missing. Her vision started to darken, and her last thoughts were of the friends she knew would be so worried at her absence.
Her vision darkened completely for a moment, but she was still conscious when a gloved hand came out of nowhere. Despite the fact that she had little strength left in her limbs, she reached out for it and grabbed on. She was quickly lifted out of the water and onto solid ground. She instantly started coughing up the liquid she had swallowed while she had been immersed.
She barely noted the large hand that was patting her back as she forced everything up. She was having a hard time catching her breath still and she noticed her vision started to dim again. She finally sat back and noticed it was cold. It was cold enough that her bikini was already starting to stick to her skin painfully. She tried to look around, but her vision was blurry. She noticed a large black blur right in front of her but couldn’t make out what it was. As hard as she was fighting to remain conscious her brain couldn’t keep up. She never even felt herself hit the ground as she passed out.
Sephiroth had been dispatched on a simple monster patrol near Modeoheim. There had been several of them around the world in the last six months, but most of the time it would have been one of the Thirds. It had been Angeal that had suggested he go this time. Lazard had agreed that the General had been cooped up at headquarters for too long and insisted that he take this mission.
Although he appreciated their concern, and it was nice getting out, this type of mission bored him out of his skull. It wasn’t until he managed to locate one of the beasts fast enough to evade him that his interest was peaked at all. He chased it down a trail he never would have noticed if he hadn’t been after it.
His attention was snagged when he ran into a small clearing. There was a small natural mako spring that was bubbling up from the ground. Some of it had crystalized and it made the place nearly blinding. Between the snow and crystals, the sun had plenty of surfaces to reflect from.
It took him a moment to realize the surface of the small pool was being violently disturbed. He walked to it warily. His first thought was that the monster had fallen in accidentally. His eyes widened when he could make out the top of a human head. He didn’t think twice before reaching into the liquid to try to pull the person out.
He felt somewhat relieved when the person grabbed onto his hand. He barely noted it was a woman as he helped her find solid ground. When she started regurgitating the liquid she must have swallowed in the pool, he patted her back to help her expel it.
After several moments she finally sat back, but her eyes were wide. She was looking around wildly, but he doubted she was able to see much. Her eyes passed over him several times before she faced him and squinted. He was not surprised when her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she fell over. He was able to catch her before she fell but that brought his attention to what she was wearing, or rather what she wasn’t.
Her hair and clothes were still soaking wet and starting to freeze, what little of them there were. She had started to shiver violently, and her lips were already losing color. He laid her down gently before he removed his own coat and wrapped her up in it. The cold didn’t bother him nearly as bad, even without a shirt.
He had completely forgotten about the beast he had been chasing until he was back on the main trail. Once he was on the way back to town he realized he would have to come back and track it later. Saving this woman was his first priority.
There wasn’t really a doctor in the town, so he took her to the inn where he had a room. When he walked in shirtless and carrying an unconscious woman, everyone stilled. It took the innkeeper several moments to approach him. The woman looked nervously between him and the girl before speaking. “General, what happened?”
He was used to this type of treatment. He didn’t have Genesis’ charm or Angeal’s ability to instantly put people at ease. Most were terrified of him. Pulling from his years of practice he was able to keep his face straight as he responded. “I rescued her from drowning in a natural mako pool in the woods. I’m not sure what she was doing out there, but it looks like she swallowed some. It wouldn’t surprise me if she were suffering from mako poisoning. I need a room for her for now until we can find a doctor.”
He had to repress a sigh when his calm tone didn’t work to ease the innkeeper. He wished the man he normally dealt with was in. At least he didn’t quiver. His thoughts were interrupted by a man approaching from his left. He looked nervous as well, but he managed to speak up. “I’m a doctor. I came up here for a little R&R, but if you can get her laid down I can at least do a basic exam.”
They both turned back to the innkeeper again. The woman was wringing her hands as she looked back and forth between them. She had to try twice before she could make her voice work. “I’m sorry. We don’t have many rooms to begin with and it’s the tourist season here. Even with the monster attacks we’re full.”
If his hands would have been free, Sephiroth would have pinched the bridge of his nose as he tried to keep calm. As it was he counted to ten quickly before responding. “Fine. I will use my room for now. Let me know if one comes open.”
She gave him a nod as he swept up the stairs and into the tiny room. With him in there the room seemed even smaller than it really was. The doctor had followed him up but was standing nervously in the doorway. Sephiroth motioned him over and closed the door.
The man took over as soon as Sephiroth laid her on the bed. His gasp when he saw the state she was in was audible. He turned to Sephiroth with a frown. “What happened to her clothes?”
Sephiroth only shook his head. “That is how I found her. There is no telling what she was doing that far out into the woods in the first place, especially with the monsters around.”
The doctor turned back to her with a frown. He checked her pulse and lifted her lids to look into her eyes. Once he finished that he turned back to Sephiroth. “I carry a few basics with me in case of emergencies. Let me go get them from my room and I’ll be right back.”
Sephiroth nodded and let him out. While the doctor was gone he moved to get a better look at the woman he had saved. He hadn’t had much of a chance when he was trying to get her to warmth. She had long auburn hair that was currently drying into stiff strands. Her complexion was darker than most people that he had ever met, except those that spent most of their time outdoors. She had a sprinkling of freckles across the bridge of her nose and cheeks, but they were barely visible against the darkness of her skin. He found he was surprisingly curious to know what color her eyes would be.
His exam was interrupted by a knock on the door. He turned quickly to let the doctor back in. The man had a small case that he opened to pull out several instruments. The first was a thermometer that he placed under her arm while he put on his stethoscope. He listened to her heartbeat and lungs for a moment before he stood and pulled the thermometer up to look at it. He turned to Sephiroth with another frown. “Her temperature is too low. We need to get her warmed up quickly. Her heartbeat is fine, but I can still hear a slight rattle in her lungs. Hopefully her body will expel the last of the liquid soon. Don’t be surprised if she goes into coughing fits, even if she’s asleep. It would be best if someone could stay with her until it is all cleared out. She could choke if she’s asleep. Also, I can’t determine if she has mako poisoning without blood work, but your assumption doesn’t seem to be far off. I can arrange for things to be sent over from one of the neighboring towns, but for now the only thing you can do is keep her warm.”
Sephiroth nodded to him. “Thank you. I will compensate you for your efforts if you can get everything you need quickly.”
The doctor gave him a nod as he started to walk out. He paused before he closed the door. “I’m Doctor Branscum. If you have any questions and I’m not around, you can ask for me.”
“Thank you.” Sephiroth gave him another nod as the man walked out. Once the man was gone he looked back down at the woman in his bed. He made sure she was tucked in and grabbed the other blanket to cover her with as well before he turned to place another log in the fireplace.
Once that was done he sat with a frown. Now that she was mostly taken care of he had time to speculate on the circumstances. He wondered how anyone could have made it that far into the woods only wearing what she had on. Had she been wearing more than her underwear and took them off somewhere? Why was she out that far in the first place? He knew that there were those that harvested natural springs like the one he found, to sell the materia they could find. If she had stumbled upon someone like that accidentally then her circumstances wouldn’t have been too surprising, but he hadn’t noticed signs of another person. He hadn’t noticed her missing clothes for that matter.
He knew that it really shouldn’t matter to him, but she had made a boring mission interesting. He found that he was hoping she would wake soon, even if he was afraid she might not at all. Mako poisoning could be fatal by itself if it were bad. As he sat and considered all the options, he found that he didn’t even mind the fact that he would have to stay up with her for the night. His only hope was that she would wake soon, at least before his questions turned from interesting to annoying. Something that could very well happen if he couldn’t find answers.