Just to warn you, the beginning of the story starts at the end of Final Fantasy VIII. There might be a few spoilers from the final cut scene, but I didn't go into too much detail. I hope you enjoy!


Chapter 1

Even though it was a wasted effort, he lifted his head to have a look around. Just as he expected. The dirt and rocks that littered the ground beneath him were scattered out forever in every direction. Even the sky, a dreary blue, gave him no comfort in ever getting out of this place, wherever it was.

"Why are you here? You don't belong in this place."

The voice startled him and he turned around frantically to find its source, but having no such luck. "I don't know," he admitted at length.

"You just have to use your head. Think about where you want to be; who you want to be with."

The voice was that of a female, he concluded, but he still couldn't see her. "Where I want to be? Who I want to be with? I don't know…"

"Don't be such an idiot. Of course you do. Just try and think, Squall."

There, off in the distance stood the source of the voice. It was a girl, as he suspected, around his age. Her hair was a red-brown but her eyes were too far away to see. She wore simple garments, jeans and a blue-grey halter top, but the thing that puzzled him the most was why she was here, in this place.

"Stop your gawking and think. You're running out of time. You have to get out of here. Think and remember. That's all I ask."

"Remember? Remember who?!" Squall's tone held a hint of panic. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"The friends that are so desperately trying to find you."

"Friends?"

"Yes, ones like Zell, Quistis, Selphie, Irvine, and Rinoa."

"Rinoa?"

"Do you remember her?"

Faintly he remembered the name, but nothing more. Images came flooding back in that moment. The picture of a girl with long black hair twinged his heart with familiarity, but it left the instant it arrived. The face was blurred, like it was never there in the first place. More of that memory came to him. He was at a dance in Balamb Garden. The hall was decorated so nicely and everyone was dressed formally. His attention shifted back to the girl but her face was even more distorted then before. "Why can't I remember?!" He thought in frustration, but that only made his head spin. More and more memories mixed together. The spacesuit he now so vividly remembered glided towards him. He had rescued this girl because he knew he had to, because he loved her. But the name never came. It floated closer, the person inside becoming more recognizable. "Rinoa?" He said it stronger, "Rinoa!" He remembered. He knew where he had to be. He reached out for the suit.

The mask shattered.

The stranger watched silently as the SeeD fell unconscious to the ground. The tears that stained his cheeks made her heart wrench, but she knew there was nothing that could be done.

"Squall?"

"She's here," uttered the girl silently to herself. "Just in the nick of time like always." She turned back to the fallen hero, "You're safe again." She turned and disappeared.

æ § æ

"Squall! Squall! Thank goodness you're alright." Squall got up slowly and carefully, but Rinoa threw her arms around him.

"Give him some air for goodness sake!"

"Zell?" He turned towards the talker and suppressed and small smile when he was given a thumbs up.

Zell was about the same age as Squall, around 17, but stood shorter. He had blonde, spiky, hair and a black tattoo across the right side of his face. (It looked something like a lightning bolt.) He wore jean shorts that fell to just below his knees, and a black pullover with a red shirt.

"Everyone was so worried." Now the speaker was Quistis, an ex-instructor at Balamb. She was the oldest of the group, 18 years. She had blonde hair that was pulled back into a barrette, all but two strands that fell idly on the sides of her face. She wore a long pink skirt and a pink pullover zipped halfway up from the bottom. To match her outfit, she had long, dark pink gloves.

Squall then saw the other members of his team. Irvine, with his cowboy hat and tan-colored trench coat, smiled humorously under his long red hair.

On Irvine's right stood Selphie. She was probably the peppiest member of the group. Her brown hair was flipped up in its normal fashion and her yellow jumper/dress was yet another trait.

The last one he saw was Rinoa. It was hard for him to imagine that he had forgotten her. Her trademark long blue sweater, black pants, and shiny black hair was unnoticed when he saw her smile.

"It's great to see everyone again." Squall's smile was genuine, as were the smiles on the others.

"Ah, good. You're back on your feet it seems." Squall looked up to see an older gentlemen smiling down at him. His glasses were hanging halfway down his nose, but his eyes were full of delight. His white shirt and tie, covered with a red vest, beamed brightly at him.

"Yes, Headmaster, I feel a lot better now."

"Good. The party will begin as soon as you come to the Quad," Headmaster Cid explained. He then left with a small wink.

Dr. Kadowaki, in her white doctor's coat and skirt, took his place and looked at Squall. "I'll let you go. No doubt the party will make you feel better anyway. Just make sure you don't overdue it, okay? I've seen you too much in here as it is." She waved them off and they all left the infirmary.

æ § æ

The party commenced as soon as Squall walked into the Hall, just as planned. The whole Garden was there; SeeD, trainers, and instructors alike. Selphie brought her video camera with her and was taping all of her friends, even though Quistis stubbornly kept away from the spotlight.

Zell was stuffing his face with hotdogs while Irvine helped Selphie with the video camera. Squall and Rinoa were dancing, Rinoa having forced him out onto the floor. Squall had gotten better, amazingly, at dancing since the first time he was dragged out onto the same floor and by the same girl. It didn't seem so long ago, Squall realized, but then again, in some aspects, it had. "Yet another confusing matter," he thought and made his smile match that of Rinoa's.

Headmaster Cid and his wife Edea had come as well. They moved idly through the members, tossing smiles and waves at anyone who crossed their path. Edea, who had recently been free of Ultimecia's control, stood beautifully in her silver gown. Her long black hair lay along her back and swayed back and forth as she walked.

"Headmaster, if I might have a word."

Headmaster Cid turned towards the speaker. He didn't recognize her and in all seriousness he had never seen her before. "How may I help you?" He asked, flashing a friendly smile despite the fact that she was unfamiliar to him.

"I'm the one who sent you the letter the other day. The name's Ryn." The female, having shoulder length red-brown hair and hazel eyes, held out her hand and the headmaster shook it.

"Ah, yes. Now I remember. Forgive my lack of memory. So many things have gone by and-" Edea cleared her throat and the headmaster turned to her. "And again I have forgotten. Ryn, this is my lovely wife, Edea." The two clasped hands, smiles adorning both faces.

"It's very nice to meet you," Edea replied warmly.

"The pleasure's all mine," Ryn replied politely.

"Oh, Quistis!" Headmaster Cid called and the SeeD walked over. "Ryn, this is Quistis Trepe. She's on the team that I suggesting to you before. Quistis, I'd like you to meet Ryn. Ryn…"

"Taylon," Ryn finished for him, clasping hands with Quistis.

"Yes, well, Miss Taylon has a proposition that she wishes to speak to you and the others about. Now if we can round them all up. I see Selphie, Zell and Irvine, but where's Squall and Rinoa? Perhaps if we could find them-"

"No, Headmaster." Headmaster Cid stopped himself and looked at Ryn suspiciously. "Let's leave the discussion 'til tomorrow. This is a joyous night, not one to be clouded by such unpleasant tidings."

"Oh, of course," Headmaster Cid said with a nod and Quistis excused herself to go help Selphie with a choking Zell.

Edea smiled, seeing Zell's angered face from the help. She turned back to Ryn. "Would you like some punch or something, dear?"

Ryn shook her head. "Thank you for the offer, but no. I think I'll just retire to my room. This party is for you guys and everyone who helped against Ultimecia's scheme. Since I had no part in that I'd only bring down the mood."

"You know that's not true," Headmaster Cid assured. "We'd love to have your company. A new face brings excitement to a party. New stories, new backgrounds…"

"Depends on what face enters," Ryn replied calmly. She bowed respectfully, causing the pair to look uncomfortably at each other, before arguing her point further. "I thank you for your kindness, but I really must be on my way. A new face isn't exciting if she doesn't have any stories or a background to tell about." Before Edea or Cid could say another word, Ryn turned and walked away.

Squall and Rinoa walked back inside, having been out on the balcony for a while. Squall noticed Ryn and recognized her right away. "She's the girl from… time compression," he spoke aloud and Rinoa followed his gaze.

"What do you mean?" She asked. Rinoa never bothered asking Squall about what happened in time compression, and he never brought it up until now. As she watched the redhead she didn't think there was anything special about her. Her long blue dress, trimmed with long silver designs, seemed ordinary enough.

"When I was in that wasteland I saw her, or at least a girl that looked just like her. She helped me remember," He glanced at Rinoa, trying to find the right word. "things." He mentally slapped himself for choosing such a vague word.

Rinoa didn't press the matter. "Well, I think she was talking to Headmaster Cid and Edea. Maybe we'll find out more tomorrow." She reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "C'mon, let's go join our friends."

æ § æ

Ryn followed the passageways to the dormitory. She stopped for a moment to gaze at the dolphin statues in the fountain. She sighed, resting her head on her upraised hands. I feel so… foolish,"she thought, turning herself so that her back was now leaning against the riling. "I can't ask them for help. They're so… superior."

"If you think that way then they are. And besides, you know they'll help. They always have before."

Ryn sighed again. She was grateful for Bahamut's soothing words, though it didn't do much for her nerves. "It's just…'" She sighed, not knowing how to finish the thought.

"I realize that this is going to be hard for you, in many aspects. Just remember who you are and where you come from."

Ryn made no response. Another sigh escaped her and she looked to the ceiling. "Reiven, what happened to you? Why are you doing this?"

"You should get some rest, Ryn. You have a lot to do tomorrow."

"Why are you always right?" Ryn asked with a small chuckle. "I can't sleep, not now.'" Her eyes glassed over as if lost in some dream. Her fingers filtered to her left ring finger, but felt nothing. "You don't think he's forgotten about me do you?"

Bahamut snorted, "You can't seriously be thinking that, Ryn."

"But what if he thinks I'm dead. What if he's thinking that I won't come back?"

"He knows you will though. I don't know how, but I'm positive that he trusts you. Don't second guess that trust. You just have to do what you were sent here to do. He knows he'll see you again just as I know you'll see him again. Please have hope."

"But it's been-"

"It doesn't matter." Bahamut sighed. "I don't want to hear any more doubts from you. Get some sleep."

Ryn reluctantly obliged. She looked at the fountains one last time. "There really is no difference. Everything's the same." She paused. "Let's hope that it's more then just looks."

æ § æ

"Is everyone here?" Headmaster Cid asked.

"I'm not!" Selphie joked and threw up her arm. The only sound that came was from an amused Irvine standing next to her.

"Yes, everyone's here. Everyone we know to be here anyway," Squall answered routinely.

"Where's that girl that you introduced me to yesterday? I believe her name was Ryn," Quistis chimed in.

"Ah yes! Of course! How my mind leaves me sometimes. I told her to be here…"

"I'm right here, Headmaster. Forgive me for my tardiness." Out of breath, Ryn nodded a kind hello to each of them.

"Headmaster, we just got back from defeating the sorceress a few days ago. I don't mean to be a bother, but maybe we could be given a well-earned break?" Zell whined.

"I realize that this is probably the worst time to call upon you, but be assured that this was the only option. What I have to ask of you is of the utmost importance." Ryn turned to Headmaster Cid and bowed a farewell. He waved and walked off in the other direction.

"You mean the Headmaster isn't going to stay?" Irvine asked.

"No, he's already heard the briefing and I didn't think he needed to hear it again," Quistis voiced. "So what proposition do you have for us?" Her voice held a hint of annoyance, one that Ryn didn't miss.

"Don't worry, Ryn. They're just grumpy from the late night yesterday. Give them a few moments to wake up."

"Bahamut, it's three in the afternoon…"

"Like I said, give them some time."

"What if Zell's right. They do deserve a break. Perhaps-"

"Now you're just acting scared. Don't doubt yourself now."

Ryn sighed and mustered up what courage she could. "To go right to the point, I need your help." Hearing no further remarks, Ryn continued. "I'm searching for a friend of mine and I have reason to believe that she's here, in this time."

"'In this time'?" Rinoa echoed.

"Yes, in this time. This may come as a surprise to you. Well, either that or just a poor plot line out of a science fiction novel. I'm from the future and so is this friend of mine. We were both cast into Time Compression a while ago. I lost track of the days myself…" She issued a gloomy sigh, but the others made no response.

"My friend Reiven and I have known each other for as long as I can remember. We were the rebels among the other kids and being such I guess our dream came to no surprise. Both of us wanted to become SeeDs. That may sound like no big deal to you because in this time, the idea of a woman becoming a SeeD was of no big concern. But back in my time the thought is almost barbaric. There are less fiends running amuck, but there's danger nevertheless. Since there's less fiends that means that there's less a need for SeeDs such as yourselves. Only a chosen few are allowed into the program.

"Even though the chances were slim, we signed up for the program and surprisingly got placed into Gardens. Reiven was assigned to Galbadia and I was assigned here at Balamb. We sent each other letters constantly, determined not to lose the close friendship that we gained over the years. As you can guess, the letters soon came weeks apart, months even until they finally stopped all together. A year or so passed before I finally gathered up enough nerve to go out there myself. We were both in our third year of training, heading into our fourth and final year. Spring break was coming up and I decided to make an unannounced visit to Galbadia. All the plans were made and I hopped onto a train to Timber and then out to the Garden.

"I didn't know what to expect when I got there, but rubble and ashes was not one of them. At first I just stood on the charred ground and stared, stared at where the beautiful Garden used to stand. A younger man shouted at me and told me that I wasn't suppose to be there and after fifteen minutes or so of arguing, I finally managed to get him to tell me what had happened. A student had done it. She had somehow gained a large amount of power and reduced Galbadia to what it was then, nothing but ruins. My heart wrenched. Somehow I knew that it was Reiven, and to my greatest fear, I was right. I thanked the man and returned to Balamb. I met Reiven on the way back, and somehow we got thrown into Time Compression and that's when I lost track of her. She hinted before that she wanted to go back in time, to see what things were like in the past and I just have a strong feeling that she's here roaming around somewhere. I have to find her… I just have to."

The others stood and listened silently to the story, careful not to chip in comments where they were least appreciated, but a short silence passed after it was finished, making Ryn feel nervous.

Squall broke the uneasiness with a single command. "We'll check Galbadia then."

The others turned to him, aghast. "S-so you mean we're going help her? Just like that? No questions asked?" Zell inquired.

"We have to." It was Rinoa this time. "And besides, I know for a fact that none of you want to just sit around and do nothing."

"I do…" Irvine mumbled, but Selphie elbowed him hard in the ribs.

"Of course we'll help." Selphie tossed a wink her way. "We just won't throw you out in the cold."

Ryn gave a sigh of relief. "So you will help me then?"

"Of course. You didn't actually think that we'd say no did you?" Quistis let out a laugh when her question was answered by a sheepish smile.

"Just give us a little time to prepare and we'll meet you at the front gate," Squall affirmed and turned to go.

"No." That simple word caused the SeeD to stop. "Zell was right, you all deserve some rest. We'll head out in a few days. The end of the week perhaps? Saturday? Will that do?" Ryn glanced at Zell after her remark, but her face was emotionless. Zell looked away.

"Very well then, you're the boss. We'll leave early Saturday morning," Squall nodded a farewell and walked off. Rinoa glanced at Ryn once before following quickly after him, linking her arm with his once she caught up.

"Until Saturday," Quistis smiled and walked in the other direction, the others following accordingly.

"That went well."

"Don't be stupid, Bahamut. That was a disaster. The only one that trusts me is Squall."

"That's not true. Both Quistis and Selphie trusted you."

"They've always trusted me. For some reason they always seem to see the better part of me. Rinoa on the other hand..."

"You can't worry about her. She'll come around don't you worry. And besides, she's only one."

"Not to mention Irvine and Zell."

"Boys will be boys I guess… You'll just have to wait until they grow up in order to get their trust."

"Or earn it."

"You'll be fine. I've known you for a while now Ryn. You'll be fine."

æ § æ

"Y'know? That girl's right. It does sound like some stupid science fiction novel," Zell snickered and Quistis hit him hard on the head with the book she was reading.

"Why are you guys so mean to her?!" Selphie yelled, turning a glare at Irvine.

"H-hey why are you mad at me?" Irvine backed up, waving his hands out in front of him in some sorry excuse for a defense.

"Because you're following Zell's lead!" Selphie bellowed.

"My lead?!" Zell asked innocently.

"Oh don't play dumb," Quistis remarked. The four of them sat at a table in the cafeteria. It was around dinner time and they were all waiting "patiently" for their meal.

"I just don't trust her as easily as you two. Something just doesn't seem right with her," Zell stated in defense and Irvine gave an approving nod.

"You just aren't giving her a chance," Selphie said with a sigh.

"It'll just take time with us, okay? She just needs to prove herself." Neither Selphie nor Quistis liked what Irvine said, but they had no other choice then to nod.

æ § æ

"Do you think that girl was telling the truth?" Rinoa inquired. "I mean it all seems a little far-fetched."

"Far-fetched?!" Squall mimicked, aghast. "Through all that we've been through, all we've seen, you think that this is 'far-fetched?'"

Rinoa sighed. "I guess I just can't believe that we're going to be running around, chasing a shadow again." She sighed once more. "It's not that I don't want to help her, I just don't want us to be putting our lives in danger again. We finally have peace, Squall."

"A fragile peace. Fiends run amuck. Just look around," Squall cast his arm out to his left to prove a point. "See? A bite bug's just hovering there to poison some unsuspecting traveler."

"Fiends can be eliminated one by one. It'll just take time. The major threat has been taken care of. A fragile peace it may be, but one that I want to enjoy for a while."

"If you don't want to go then don't," Squall's voice held a hint of spite. "No one's--"

"Please don't make it sound like that. I just think we're rushing into it is all. We need to--"

"No we don't."

"How are you so sure? We barely survived the last battle. Who said we will this time?"

"I will die to protect everyone I love."

"But you don't need to foolishly," Rinoa countered. "Why are you so bent on helping her? Who is she to us?"

"Who were you to us besides an employer?" Rinoa stopped walking, her chin to the ground. Squall stopped too. "I'm sorry. It's just that something's telling me to help her, just like it told me to help you." He walked over to her and lifted her chin. "I just have to do this."

Rinoa took his hand in hers, "Okay, I trust you."

Squall smiled warmly. "Thank you."

She laughed and pulled his arm to make him go faster. "C'mon! Balamb City's just up ahead. I hope we won't have to wait long for a table. I'm starving!"

æ § æ

Ryn stared at the ceiling. She hoped that by lying on her bed she might grow drowsy, but her mind was too restless. "I know that it was a good idea to give them a few days and all, but… what if Reiven…?"

"Don't think such things."

"Bahamut, you're not suppose to be in my thoughts."

"My apologies, Ryn. I just wanted to help," Bahamut pouted playfully.

"Yeah I know. Sometimes I just want a thought to myself."

"Understood."

Ryn sighed again as the connection between the two of them severed. Truthfully she was glad to have Bahamut's company and even more happy that he was always there to lend a helping hand. "Sometimes you can get a little too nosy, Bahamut." She laughed slightly to herself and turned over onto her side.

"I just don't get it. Isn't Reiven powerful enough to fight off Griever? I mean for as long as I've known her, she's never given up. What makes this time so different?"

"Perhaps we'll know more when we get to Galbadia." Ryn was too lost in her thoughts to even notice that Bahamut had butted in again, but this time she didn't mind.

"Yeah. Most likely." She yawned, her eyes finally getting heavy. "Bahamut?"

"Hm?"

"Try not to be so meddlesome."

He laughed, "G'night, Ryn."


Hey, it's Strata. This is a new story of mine. I tried two other and they didn't go other so well, so hopefully this one will. I realize that's it's slow at the begging and I'm afraid there's nothing I can do about that. It'll get interesting, don't worry. I'll thank in advace all who read this and review. It gives me confidence as well as inspiration so thanks.

Strata