The magic gave her nightmares.
It was the first manifestation of her sorceress powers that managed to seep through into her everyday life– and she would wake from her night terrors drenched in a sheen of cold sweat, the blankets wrapped around her legs as if she had been rolling in them, and her heart would be pounding wildly in her chest. The worst thing about the dreams wasn't the lingering effects, which lasted sometimes for hours after she awoke, but the fact that the dreams themselves were too abstract to draw anything from. They were merely shapes and emotions, and a cold, hard fear, and she could never remember anything from them afterward.
She would sit at her window and try to remember the snippets, but they vanished from her mind too quickly, and then she was left with nothing but a lingering feeling of fear and horror, and the blankets held tightly in her hands, and she would watch the moonlight twinkle on the softly swaying waves until her eyelids grew too heavy to keep open any longer.
Sometimes the nightmares would happen when she was awake, but it started slowly and crept up on her, and it caught her off-guard when she finally realized, mostly due to Quistis' knowing glances, that it was happening with an alarming frequency. She suspected the blonde woman noticed so often because the day terrors happened in crowded places, like the cafeteria or the hallways, and the instructor was always just there, in the right place at the right time.
It usually happened when Squall was absent, which puzzled Rinoa. Squall was not a talkative person, nor a particularly cheery one to be around, but he often kept his fingers firmly encased around hers and it seemed to drive away the dark images. Sometimes, when she started worrying about them or the mornings after a particularly bad nightmare, he would notice the lines on her face and give her a soft smile.
But when he was gone, she was subject to the episodes, and she could not tell why. She noticed Quistis loitering around more, perhaps to keep an eye out, perhaps directed to do so by someone else– Cid, her mind wanted to believe– but she couldn't help, not the way Squall could.
After awhile, when she was losing so much sleep at night that there were perpetual dark circles under eyes every morning in the mirror, she decided to do something about it. The hallways in Balamb Garden were always well lit with harsh flourescents, but the living quarters were darker and contained only a small, warm lamp providing flickering a flickering orange glow, and her feet padded almost silently along the tile as she made her way down the corridor, fingers trailing along the wall, to Squall's room.
He always used to keep his door locked, after one too many early morning visits from a perpetually cheerful Selphie, but he didn't anymore, and Rinoa suspected it had something to do with her, or, at least, the situation. The door opened silently and easily, and she moved inside, shutting it behind her.
Squall woke immediately– she would expect nothing less from such a light sleeper, despite how quiet she was trying to be– but didn't move, and he didn't seem particularly surprised to see her. He just pushed himself further across the bed so that his back was against the wall, and she slid between the sheets next to him. He gave her a chaste kiss on the forehead and pulled her closer against him, which was by far warmer than the blankets piled at the bottom of the bed.
And that was the end of her nightmares.
Quistis cornered her a few weeks after she started sleeping in Squall's room.
"Are you sleeping better?" the blonde asked, and Rinoa didn't ask her how she even knew the inquire about it. She just nodded, and kept her eyes down on the words lining the book in her lap.
"You should talk to Matron," Quistis suggested gently, and her statement surprised Rinoa enough to bring her gaze up. "She might know how to stop it."
"I don't–" Rinoa began, but shook her head. Quistis wouldn't know any more about the sorceress powers than Rinoa herself did, and voicing her thoughts might only prove to add worry to the others. She bit her lip instead, and smiled up at the other woman.
"Okay," she said.
Later, Ellone joined them in Garden, and it was strange having the other woman on the ship, because Rinoa could feel her powers like tiny ribbons snaking off around her shoulders. It startled her, but she wanted to know more, like what else she could do with another magically-infused person, so she hung back behind the brunette girl as she talked to Squall outside the infirmary and pushed.
It felt like a jolt and a tingle down her back, and she could taste it in the back of her mouth. It tasted like strawberries and sweet soda and a little like copper, like the taste of blood, and Ellone must have felt it too, because her eyes got very wide and she stiffened. It took her only a moment before she found Rinoa sitting on one of the benches, her hands clasped in front of her, and she met her gaze and smiled.
Rinoa gave her a weak smile back and stood, moving quickly down the hallway to the elevator, taking the ride up to Cid's office. Her heart was beating wildly and the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up, but she was exhilerated and excited. She could still taste Ellone's magic.
She wondered if she could do it again.
Edea was in Cid's office when Rinoa arrived, dress in black with her hair hanging loose around her shoulders. The scars she had born when her sorceress powers were strong were slowly fading, and Rinoa wondered if she would receive the same marks on her own face. Edea was polite and kind, but sometimes she would give off little jolts of power that made Rinoa nervous.
"Did you ever have nightmares?" Rinoa blurted out, wringing her hands. "From the magic?"
"What kind of nightmares?" Edea asked.
"Things. People. Feelings," Rinoa tried to explain, using her hands to gesture wildly. "I don't know what they are, but they're strong, and I can't control them."
The old matron looked thoughtful, and her gaze settled on one of Cid's globes sitting in the corner, marked with tiny dots and trail lines.
"Perhaps they are trying to tell you something," she answered finally. "We could try and cultivate your control over the magic and see if you can't get more detail."
"Am I–?" Rinoa started, then swallowed hard, forcing down the lump in her throat. "Can I see the future?"
Edea smiled at her then, the expression tired and sad and knowing.
"You can see everything," she said.
Ellone left a few days later, and Rinoa had no other targets to try her abilities on, but she sat in the cafeteria and watched the others as they came and went, eating food and talking amongst themselves, SeeD insignia jangling like an echo throughout the room. Rinoa sat, with her uneaten tray of food perched precariously on the table before her, and stretched out over their heads, as Edea had taught her.
Her hold was weak and shaky, but she could feel them, like tiny glimmers of light under her webbing, and a few images made their way through. Fire, water– the elemental aspects were far easier to see, because they were tied to mystical energy. Even the GF's would shimmer sometimes, linked in the webbing of a particular SeeD's mind, but the control was hard and it tired her quickly, and she had to let go, letting the world fall back into place around her with a startling clarity.
She returned to reality gasping, with a tightness in her chest, but none of the other students noticed, and she didn't know if her power was that feather-light still, or if it was because they merely didn't possess enough magic to sense the touch of another's.
It didn't really matter.
She slept hard that night.
She tried again the next day, and the next, and each day she could feel her hold on the power increasing, and she began to be able to focus on individuals rather than the collective group surrounding her.
Some people were like glass– her power went straight through them without bouncing back at all, because there wasn't enough magic there to catch a hold of, and others were like mirrors– they bounced everything back at her with a myriad of colors and tastes and sounds. She liked to find different variations and try to gain a sense of what it felt like, and, more importantly, what it meant.
She was doing fine until Quistis walked into the cafeteria during her exercises.
The Blue Magic erupted around her like a flash of hot light.
The thing about Blue Magic that Rinoa hadn't thought of, but should have known, was that it was connected inherently to the monsters of the world, not the elementals at all, and it drew its power from the creatures rather than the energy portals in the ground. And when it invaded her senses and flew around her, she could feel not only Quistis and the woman's unique hold on the power, which was both awe-inspiring and slightly frightening, but also the pull of the monsters.
She could feel the monsters.
They were restless.
Something was coming.
She fell out of it with a gasp and a shocked cry, and there was a hand on her arm, and she looked up to find both Selphie and Quistis standing over her looked concerned and alarmed.
"Are you okay?" Selphie asked, looking a bit misty-eyed, her lips trembling.
"I... yes," Rinoa said, catching her breath. "I'm okay."
"What were you doing?" Quistis asked, and Rinoa noticed that the blonde woman was looking a bit pale. "It felt like you were linked to me."
"I was," Rinoa said sheepishly, ducking her head to avoid their gazes. "I was just reaching out and tapped into your magic. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to."
Quistis frowned, but didn't appear upset, and once Selphie was convinced that Rinoa wouldn't be collapsing in the cafeteria anytime soon, she managed to sneak away from them, and she went straight to the balcony on the second floor to stare up at the moon shining brightly above the Garden's roof.
If she could feel something in the monsters, it had to be from the moon... right?
She was still shaken for a few days after the incident, and she didn't try anything further with her power for awhile, vowing to take it slower next time.
But three days later, safe in Squall's warm embrace, with his breath tickling her ear, she had another nightmare.
Selphie was in the training center when Rinoa found her, battling a deceptively difficult leaf-covered monster, and once it was finished, the smaller girl seemed confused by Rinoa's presence there.
"I need you to help me," Rinoa said, her words coming out in a rush. "I need to see if I can feel anything through your magic."
"What?" Selphie asked, eyes wide.
"Just stand there," Rinoa instructed her, and then took a few steps back. She didn't need to move or shift positions at all, but she was nervous and jittery, and it helped to hold her arms out in front of her, fingers spread, as if she were pushing her palms against Selphie's form.
Selphie's magic felt a lot different than Quistis' Blue Magic. Her energy wasn't linked to the monsters, but it wasn't linked to the ground portals either. It was a strange mix of the two, like she could tap into something far beyond both factions, something riding in the very core of the earth in streams. It felt like currents in a river, like the tide against the sand, and it fell over her like water, in waves.
For a long time, or at least, what felt like a long time, Rinoa couldn't feel anything amiss in the magic, until she felt a hum beneath her feet. It felt like a vibration in the earth.
It scared her.
She pulled away immediately, falling to her knees, and Selphie was by her side in an instant, her worried face visible again.
"Rinoa?" she was asking, shaking her shoulder. "Rinoa, what was that?"
"I don't know," Rinoa answered honestly.
Either Selphie or Quistis had tipped Squall off that something was up, because he began to hover around her wherever she went throughout Garden. She would find him popping up in the strangest spots, like behind the library bookcases when he thought he was cleverly disguised behind an upside-down volume about fishing, or when he was sitting at one of the tables in the far back of the cafeteria playing cards with one of the Trepies. It was a little annoying, but mostly endearing, and she didn't really mind it because her dreams had gotten bad again, and his presence was still a comfort.
One night, when she had silently padded into his room again, he wasn't lying in bed as usual, but standing against the wall near the window, his arms crossed over his chest. He looked up when she entered.
"We need to talk," he said, and her stomach clenched uncomfortably.
"Okay," she replied, slowly, moving over to the bed to sit on top of the mess of blankets. "About what?"
"About what's going on," he said, "with you."
"Oh," was all she could say, grimacing. "Right."
He moved then, shuffling against the tile, and sat down next to her on the bed. In the dim moonlight, his hair looked dark against the splash of white that was his cheek, and the thin t-shirt he wore to sleep in clung to his wiry frame. The bed dipped low when his weight was applied to it, and she shifted involuntarily closer to him.
"Were you going to tell me?" he asked.
"It's just– magic stuff," she started, turning towards him. "I just keep having these nightmares and I thought that maybe I could figure out what was going on if I explored it a little more, and Edea was helping me gain control over it."
"What are the nightmares about?" he asked, frowning.
"Just... colors, really," she told him. "Feelings. I can tell that something bad is happening, or coming, I don't know which."
"I'll protect you," he said, looking suddenly both very young and very old, and when he leaned in to kiss her forehead, one hand caressing her neck, she smiled, but thought that he was probably wrong.
She would be the one protecting him.
That night, she had a nightmare so bad that she awoke to Squall clutching her arms, looking scared and pale, and the blankets were scattered around the floor as if she had kicked them violently from the bed. Her throat was raw and it hurt to swallow, and she blinked back startled tears.
"What-?" she croaked out, unable to continue.
"You were screaming," he told her. His voice was low and flat, and sounded far more frightening than anything else she had encountered so far. His fingers around her forearms were tight and almost painful. "What is going on, Rinoa?"
She was shaking too badly to answer, and he made her promise to go straight to Edea the next morning and find a way to stop it, and she didn't mind when he spent the rest of the night holding her close to his chest in an almost desperate embrace, smoothing down the top of her hair in soft, gentle strokes.
She never got a chance to see Edea the next day, however.
Seifer showed up with Fujin and Raijin, standing in the middle of the entryway, rambling about some "shadow creatures".
"Swords pass right through them," Seifer snarled, glaring angrily across the chamber at Zell and Irvine, who were scoffing. "I'm not making this up."
"You mean, we can't hit them with weapons?" Quistis asked, all business.
"What about magic?" Selphie piped in. Seifer shook his head.
"Nothing," he said, and then the taste was in the back of her throat again, the coppery taste that was like blood. She had automatically associated it with Ellone– and she thought it still was– but it stretched out further than that. It wasn't just Ellone's magic. It was time.
They were quickly running out of it.
"We have to see for ourselves," Quistis was saying, and there were nods around the room, like an unspoken chorus. "We'll go meet them."
"There's no need," came a voice from the doorway, which belonged to Cid, bent over and out of breath. "They're here."
"Zell, Quistis, Irvine, take the left side!" Squall was shouting, running with his gunblade held straight in the air. He was pointing, gesturing wildly, at the swarm of creatures that had come out from nowhere in front of Garden. "Selphie, Seifer, the right!"
For once, Seifer didn't argue, and neither did Fujin and Raijin. Seifer looked more scared than determined, and Rinoa didn't like it. She also didn't like the tendrils of darkness the monsters gave off like smoke, hovering around their heads. She could feel the inky blackness in them, and, with a jolt, she realized that she could only feel the shadows because it was all they were.
They were nothing else.
Squall's commands had left her standing with him in the middle, weapon ready, and she knew he had done it to keep her close. He wanted to keep her safe.
She didn't think it was possible.
They fought, but there were too many, and just as Seifer had said, their weapons passed right through. Rinoa could feel the air shimmer as Quistis let loose with a Blue Magic spell, and then Selphie countered with slotted magic, but neither phased the shadow creatures.
It just made more.
It took awhile, but they were driven back, back until they had nowhere else to run, for behind them was Balamb Garden, and they could not give it up. Quistis fell forward to all fours, gasping, and Irvine had rapidly run out of ammunition, and they were lost, hopelessly lost, and Rinoa could feel tears stinging in the corners of her eyes.
She could feel the world crumbling.
They were sucking the life from it.
There was the copper taste again, rising stronger over her tongue, and then she knew, she knew, that they were going to die. The world was going to die, and they were going to die, and nothing could stop the onslaught of darkness washing over all of them.
But time was there, and it lingered just out of reach.
As she fell down, dropping to her knees, she could feel the ground pulsating beneath her palms, stinging in the bits of dirt that had embedded themselves in her flesh.
It wasn't out of reach.
Not for her.
She reached as far into her abilities as she could, and pushed.
Her world was suddenly full of shapes and colors that she could not describe, moving past her vision and her ears, screaming against her thoughts, and she knew quite suddenly that her nightmares hadn't been about the shadow creatures, but about this. Time Compression. She felt into it with her mind-hands, grasping at whatever she could to keep her grounded, next to her comrades. Decades spun out around her like tendrils of light, and she could touch all of them, brush past them with her fingertips. She could see worlds and stars and lights and darkness, more darkness, covering the sky like a thick, woolen blanket.
The ground beneath her hands was shaking more.
Seifer, Raijin, and Fujin were to her right, near to her shoulder, having been pushed back into a semi-circle around the Garden entrance. She reached out for them and gathered them in her abilities, wrapping her magic around them like giant hands.
Trains. Waves. Mottled reds and golds and oranges, struggles, sewers, skateboards, twilight– GO!
And she threw them, straight into the colors swirling around her, and felt their presence disappear from beside her.
Selphie was behind her, crying, her shoulders shaking. The ground bucked up suddenly, tearing fence posts and trees from the dirt, shooting several of the shadow creatures into the air.
Palm trees. Sweet fruit. Jump ropes, bridges, smiles, laughter– GO!
And Selphie was gone too.
Squall was yelling something, something she couldn't discern, and she felt a piece of metal– where had it come from?– fall behind her, scratching at her leg and hitting her foot. Pain sprung up through her calf and she cried out, but she couldn't lose her hold on the spell. Her friends were in danger, and the shadow was creeping over them all, and she could not lose.
She would not lose.
Squall touched her shoulder, roughly, desperately, and he was next.
Weapons. Brackets. Golden pillars, sand dunes, shimmers, mortals, pride, a flash of glowing blue eyes– yes! GO!
She threw, but quite abruptly, the colors faded away, melted, and there was nothing, no feeling, no movement at all, and she thought wildly that she hadn't gotten him far enough.
She saw only a splash of intersecting pathways, roads converging into one shining star, and then she no longer thought at all.
There was only darkness.