A Game of Cards

The cafeteria of Balamb Garden was bustling tonight. A jukebox was blaring some new dance tune in the corner, where tables had been cleared for enthusiastic cadets to have space to dance. In the opposite corner were pool tables, where older students played for whatever stakes they felt up to handling. And right in the middle was the weekly SeeD Triple Triad game.

Squall's Posse, as others called them, (they never used the name themselves; it reminded them too much of Seifer) were right in the thick of it, playing matches so carefully planned they qualified as a spectator sport. Quistis was reigning queen of the evening, as she laid down a card that flipped over nearly every card on the board.

"I win again, Irvine," she smiled. "When will you learn?"

Irvine leaned back and pulled his hat over his eyes, feigning disgust. "Can't blame a guy for trying," he said, and reached over to give Selphie a hug.

"You ought to be kinder to your friends, Quistis," said Selphie in false admonishment. "Who else is gonna play you but us?"

"Certainly not me," commented Rinoa. "I don't play with the plus or same rules."

Zell raised his head from where it had been resting on his arms, while he'd watched the game. "How's the people-watching going, Rin?" he asked as he stretched.

Rinoa was sitting on an adjacent table, hugging her knees and smiling as she watched all the people in the room. "Pretty good," she said. "I like seeing so many happy people. But I don't see Squall anywhere."

"He's not what you'd call a big socializer," commented Quistis as she gathered her cards up. "Usually he spends Saturdays in the Training Center until it's late enough that the cafeteria's mostly empty. If he's still awake enough, he'll play pool."

Rinoa looked over at Quistis curiously. "How would you know, if you're here and he's there?"

"I'm an expert Squall-watcher," Quistis grinned. "And he's had the routine a long time. We used to try waiting for him to come here, but he won't even stay if too many of us are around."

Rinoa thought about that, idly playing with the rings on her necklace. Her fingers traced the pattern on Griever, the ring Squall had given her, and it sent her thoughts down a new path. "You guys know about GFs, right?" she asked.

At the unusual question, the whole group turned to face her. "Why do you ask?" inquired Irvine.

"I was just wondering if you knew anything about Griever - the GF that Ultimecia had. SeeD has information on every GF out there, right?"

"I thought we did," answered Quistis, looking puzzled. "I know more in that department than the rest of you, because I was an Instructor - but now that you mention it, I don't remember there being any information on Griever. Do you?" she asked, turning to the others. One by one they considered the question and shook their heads. "Why do you ask, Rinoa?" asked Selphie. "We beat him, anyway."

Rinoa took off her necklace and showed them Squall's ring. "Did any of you get a good look at this?" she asked. Irvine laughed.

"Squall wore the ring under his gloves, Rinoa," he said. "And none of us would be interested in a close-up of his hands in any case." But they all took a look at the ring in turn, passing it around. As each examined the ring, their smiles faded. Now, they looked worried. The carving on the ring was a good likeness of Griever. How had Squall gotten a ring depicting a GF the Garden hadn't known existed? As Zell handed the ring back to Rinoa, she asked, "Does anyone know how long he had the ring?"

Irvine had the best memory, but shook his head along with the others. "I...think he had it when he came to the orphanage," he said, face screwed up in thought. "But I can't be sure. He could have bought it anytime, I suppose. Picked it up at a shop somewhere."

Now it was Rinoa's turn to shake her head. "No," she said. "I looked. Every place we went, I tried to find a ring like that and there aren't any. That was why I was so happy when Zell offered to make me a copy."

"It's a good ring," said Zell. "Whoever made it knew what they were doing. It's a tough metal - there's no telling how old it could be. Why don't you ask Squall about it?"

"Do you think he'd tell me?" asked Rinoa, looking apprehensive.

"You've got a better chance of prying an answer out of him than we do," said Irvine. "Let us know what you find out, will you? I'm curious."

"And I'm hungry," said Zell, changing the subject. "Who else wants hot dogs?"

Chapter 2