Dark Messenger by Larathia

(Note to readers: This takes place in the FF8 universe, but long before Our Heroes are ever born. So don't go looking for Squall, Seifer, or any of their friends or enemies, 'cause they won't be there. Square owns the world, but I own the characters. Well, with the exception of the Guardian Forces.)

Chapter 1 Coming to Timber

Market day in Timber.

The new city was positively bursting at the seams with people, most coming from the lonely territories that surrounded it on all sides. It was a colony of the Empire of Centra, founded for the timber that gave it its name; Centra was a cool, dry place for the most part, which was not conducive to tree growth. The people who had come to Timber did so for a variety of reasons; some loved the sheer exuberance of plant growth, some for the economic opportunities a frontier life offered.

And some came to Timber to get away from the ghosts of their lives in Centra. There was a great deal of unrest in Centra right now, as the Sorceress-Empress had recently died. This meant that every one of her Knights could no longer claim the title, and a great deal of government activity had been halted. The Empress' daughter was young, and had as yet chosen only two Knights. They would, of course, serve in the largest cities first. The other cities would keep the Knights of the previous Empress until they could elect temporary Mayors to govern their provinces.

The turmoil in Centra meant very little to the people of Timber, though. It was far too new to have any chance of a Knight running it, and far too distant from the capital. They listened sagely as travelers told of riots in the Old World, and got quietly on with their business. Neither Sorceresses nor Knights were of any interest to them.

That was why Carolin liked it. Especially on Market Day, when the trading ships came in. The city was filled with strangers, and she was just one more stranger in the mob. She could be wearing glow-in-the-dark bikinis, and attract not the slightest bit of notice.

Not that she did, of course. She dressed more or less conservatively; she wore pants instead of a dress or skirt, but out here that was practicality. She wore dark, dark green for preference, but since green was by far the easiest plant dye to come across other than brown, she was hardly remarkable there either. Admittedly she did wear rather more clothing than the average Timber native - long sleeves and gloves whenever she could - but there were jungle hunters that also took that route; it was easier to fend off the biting insects.

But she wasn't a jungle hunter. Jungle hunters didn't wear their hair long, even in a french braid as she did. Too many things for hair to catch on, and bright red hair like hers stood out like a beacon under the trees. She wore long sleeves and gloves in an effort to dampen her aura, so that it was less likely for a sensitive person to identify her as a Sorceress. So far, it seemed to be working. That, and using her power as absolutely little as possible. The power grew with each use...and with each use became harder to control. She was just sixteen; she did not want to go mad with her power, but neither did she want to be tied to a Knight.

She sat on an offloaded crate, high-booted feet kicking idly in the air as she watched the passengers leave the ship. She liked watching people, when she knew they wouldn't be watching her in return. Refugees, mostly, it seemed. People who'd gotten caught in a riot and decided to take their chances with the monsters. Centra had been monster-free for centuries; that was what made it the center of learning and culture that it was, and freed its people to engage in stupidities like riots. Then she noticed something that was Bad News.

A group of thirteen men were leaving the ship, in precise order. The oldest looked to be about forty, with fine, thick brown hair he wore in a loose mane around his shoulders. Later, she would remember his features, finely chiseled with pale eyes. Right now all of her surprised attention was on the red cross he wore on the shoulder of his short jacket. The lower half of the cross was drawn out to imitate a sword blade. The dozen men he had with him were younger, and their crosses were black and square.

A Knight and his squires. Great Hyne. By his age, he had to be one of the old Sorceress' Knights. And sensitive; he had barely set foot on solid ground before he started turning his head, as if seeking someone.

Carolin took great care to move casually, but she got off her crate and lost herself in the press of the mob in the market as quickly as she could. Timber had just gotten a lot more dangerous.

A Knight had come to Timber.

Chapter 2