Disclaimer: I do not own any of the following characters; Squall Leonhart, Rinoa Heartily, Zell Dincht, Irvine Kinneas, Selphie Tilmitt, Quistis Trepe, Edea Kramer, Cid Kramer, Hyne, Seifer Almasy, Laguna Loire, Kiros Seagill, Ward Zabac, Ellone, Raine, Raijin, Fujin, Watts, and Zone (or any others which I may have missed).br
Author's Notes: Sorry this took so long to get up! Chapters will be quicker from now on - hopefully, anyway. Any comments, suggestions or queries are welcome. Please read and review! p
centerbDark Prophecybr
Chapter I: The Beginning/bp/center
There is no greater grief than to recall a time of happiness when in misery.br
-- Dante Alighieri (iDivine Comedy/i)p
It woke at the usual time, when the sun was just peeking over the horizon, so the fading light was a pinkish grey, barely lighting the shallow cave. Shaking off the snow that had lightly coated its fur while it slept, it rose to its feet and padded outside to draw some of the crisp mountain air through its nostrils and into its vast lungs. But today, instead of performing the same routine that it had done for the last 5000 years, it merely closed its aqua eyes and sat there on its haunches, its giant bat-like wings shielding it from the harsh sting of the wind. Its ears twitched as it listened to the song of the dying sunset, but aside from that, it did not move until night had fully set in. It was only when it turned its wide, glaring eyes to the glowing circle of the moon that it knew for certain; the Age of Dreaming was almost finished. The time had come for the Dark Prophecy to be fulfilled.p
She woke, sitting up and pushing the damp sheets away from her in disgust. The dream had come again; this time it was more pronounced than ever. Rinoa tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes, bathed in the weak ray of sunlight from the grey dawn streaming in from her window. Even in the warm atmosphere of the dormitory she felt cold, chilled by the dark figure in her dream - Ultimecia. Why did these dreams come now?br
Trying to cast her thoughts from her mind, Rinoa stood up and walked to her closet. As she dug around for something suitable to wear, a low whine startled her; Angelo bounded from his basket in the corner and fawned ecstatically at her feet. Rinoa laughed and patted the fur on the top of his sleek head affectionately with her right hand.br
She changed into her usual clothes and made her bed, singing softly to herself under her breath. As she straightened up to head to the cafeteria, she frowned. The song that had drifted from her lips was not one she could recall, and she could not even begin to guess where she had heard it before. Rinoa shrugged and gave Angelo's fur a brief comb before she opened the door, waiting for him to pad out before closing it securely.br
The walk to the cafeteria was a short, uneventful one. There were two students up, a girl and a boy walking together, heading to the library in the hope of completing unfinished homework due later. They gave Rinoa the briefest of smiles, before passing her in a whiff of perfume and expensive cologne.br
The cafeteria was almost empty, save for a familiar face seated at a table in the corner. Rinoa poured some watery-looking coffee into two Styrofoam cups and made her way carefully to the table. Setting the coffee down on the table gently, she sat down and smiled.br
Quistis looked up from correcting homework. If she was startled by the sudden question, she had hidden it well. She eyed both cups and blinked before giving Rinoa an amused glance and taking the cup closer to her.br
"Having poured two, you're not really giving me much choice."br
Rinoa grinned and took a cautious sip at her own coffee, nearly choking, but swallowing it forcibly anyway; the liquid was lukewarm and none too pleasant. Deciding to leave her coffee for later, she set the cup back down on the table and stared into the swirling liquid, eyes lost in thought.br
They sat in silence, the minutes ticking by on the clock above the counter. Quistis pushed her glasses slightly higher up on the bridge of her nose and sighed inwardly, marking the essay in front of her neatly with a red biro. Since she had been reinstated as an instructor, it seemed that the quality of the work handed in had gone downhill. The essays had grown longer, but the content lead absolutely nowhere, and the hastily crossed out love-hearts in the margins featuring 'M.T' or 'B.H' (the first set of initials varied) and 'Q.T' told her instantly that she was looking at the work of one of the Trepies, even without looking at the name scrawled in the upper right hand corner. Compared to the work handed in before the whole Ultimecia incident, it seemed ten times worse. Deciding to worry about it later, she took off her glasses, folding them carefully and placing them on the table. She lifted the Styrofoam cup to her lips and frowned down into the coffee. It seemed the quality of the coffee had gone downhill as well. Oh well. She gave a mental shrug and drained the cup.br
"A penny for your thoughts?" Quistis asked, noticing the troubled expression on her friend's face. The sudden question jerked Rinoa out of her reverie.br
"Oh… it's nothing. Just a bad night, I suppose." Rinoa thought for a moment, biting her lip. Her dark eyes focused back on Quistis' face. "After what happened three months ago, have you -"br
"Had any dreams?" Quistis finished perhaps more sharply than she intended to. She gave Rinoa an apologetic look, who smiled and waved away her apology. "There was one that occurred on an off for about a week. Each time, I'd be in Ultimecia's castle, fighting her alongside you and…" she frowned, as though trying to remember. "…I can't remember who the third person was. As we fight, suddenly both of you disappear into the darkness, and I would be alone. And every time, Ultimecia laughs and - and pulls out my heart."br
In the awkward silence that followed, Rinoa blinked at Quistis and shuffled her feet, toying with the half-filled cup in her hands.br
"iAnyway/i," Quistis continued calmly, as though they had just been discussing the weather in Galbadia, "Why do you ask?"br
Rinoa frowned into her cup. "For the past three weeks, I've been having this dream. I keep on seeing a dark shadow. Even though I never saw her face, I just know that it's Ultimecia. It's like she's angry and she's willing to do anything to have revenge."br
"For what?" Quistis frowned. "Ending her reign of terror?"br
"I... I'm not sure. I don't think so; she didn't seem to be angry at me… it was someone else." Rinoa gave the older woman a serious look. "You won't tell anyone else about this, will you?" br
The blonde SeeD thought for a moment, cocking her head to one side. "You have my word," she said finally.p
At the moment, Irvine Kinneas felt like crawling under a rock and dying; Selphie Tilmitt, the love of his life, and the girl who he had spent an hour convincing to go out with him for dinner - had broken up with him the night before. In all his life, he had never felt so wretched. Holding his head in his hands, Irvine gave an audible groan, causing the girl with the pigtails to look up from the desk.br
"Is everything alright?"br
Instead of flirting with her like he would have normally done, Irvine just waved her away. How was he supposed to tell Selphie that she was the only one he ever really cared about? That since she left the orphanage he had never felt the same way about another girl? How could he tell her that the flirting didn't have any real meaning? That it was just out of habit? How was he supposed to -?br
"I thought I'd find you here." Zell's voice interrupted Irvine's thoughts. He strode briskly and sat down next to him, an odd look on his face. It was a mixture of emotions, ranging from anger to bitterness. "Heard you and Selphie broke up." There was a certain quality to his voice that said quite plainly that he was disappointed in Irvine. "Selphie deserves better, man. She's been through enough - Trabia Garden almost being destroyed, and all that."br
Irvine frowned - this was a side of Zell that he hadn't seen before. The last time he had seen Zell being even remotely serious was when he was asking the cafeteria lady to give him the extra hot-dog.br
"So what are you saying?" he asked in a monotone.br
"Damn it, man!" Zell stood up and rammed his fist into the wall, sending a shower of plaster onto the floor. "Don't you get it? If Selphie really means that much to you, then you'll try to get her back, no matter what it takes!" He stalked to the doors and turned his head to look at Irvine. "Don't take my advice if you don't want to, but if you don't, then someone really dear to you may be lost forever. Now, if you'll excuse me," Zell added huffily, "I'm going to get some hotdogs." And he ran through the automatic doors, leaving a sullen Irvine to his thoughts, the girl with pigtails watching him leave, a startled expression on her face.p
Rinoa was right, Squall thought. This coffee is bad. He moved the cup around in a circular direction, causing the watery liquid to swirl like a vortex.br
iI should have taken the orange juice./ibr
Rinoa suddenly waved a hand in front of his face, causing him raise his eyes to hers.br
"Care to join in on our conversation?" she smiled encouragingly. Selphie watched him with a grin, and even Quistis allowed herself to look slightly amused.br
"…What are you discussing?"br
"We're not sure. We were hoping that you would suggest a topic." Rinoa's smiled sweetly and battered her eyelashes at him in mock innocence. She laughed at the clueless expression on his face and turned back to Selphie. "So - the 'Big Date' is tonight, then?"br
Selphie's face seemed to sour slightly. "Nah. Irvy and I broke up."br
"Really? Why? And why didn't you mention it earlier?" Rinoa demanded.br
"I… I wasn't… It didn't…" she sighed and tried again. "He didn't really seem interested, you know? When you're with Irvine, one minute he's all over you, and the next, he's fawning over that auburn-haired SeeD in the skirt that would be too small for a ten-year old. You've seen him flirting with all the upperclassmen. I don't think he's ready for a long-term relationship, which is what I'm after."br
There was a crackle as the intercom came on. "Would Squall Leonhart, Rinoa Heartily, Zell Dincht -" (Zell's voice could be heard from the queue. "Tch! Third in line and I still have to miss out on the hot-dogs!") "- Quistis Trepe, Irvine Kinneas and Selphie Tilmitt please go to the Headmaster's office on Level 3 as soon as possible. Thank you. That is all." There was a click, signalling the end of the message.br
iWhat's that about?/i Squall frowned.br
They stood up and walked from the cafeteria, a scowling Zell joining them along the way. Squall could hear him cursing under his breath.br
"Don't take his flirting seriously, Selphie. I doubt he really means anything by it; it's probably just a cry for attention." Quistis said calmly.br
"Wow." Selphie blinked. "You're the last person that I would have expected to say that, Quistis." At the puzzled look on Quistis' face, she explained. "You react even more to Irvine's flirting than I do; I'm surprised that you can just wave it off so quickly." Then, she grinned, seeming almost unconsciously changing the subject, but to Squall the corners of her eyes were still tense. "I wonder why Headmaster Cid needs to talk to us? Tee hee - I hope it's because they're thinking of having the Garden Festival early this year!"br
They ascended the elevator, Selphie seeming to have forgotten about her dilemma with Irvine. Stepping into the Headmaster's office, they found Cid, Edea and a sullen Irvine waiting for them. When he saw Selphie, however, he gave her a hopeful smile and a wave, which she pointedly ignored.p

iEnd Chapter I/ip

Next Chapter: The mission briefing - and no, it won't take up the whole chapter. ^_^ Please read and review!