Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom Series



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TelaryCri

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  • Writer of Writers
Chapter I: The First Day of the Rest of Your Life
I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately…

Like is any of this for real…?


Or not?


The sound of waves slowly lapping against the shore pierces the silence of Sora’s dreamscape. His eyes are closed, but the bright, relentless cheerfulness of the sun shining above him pierces through, bathing all of his perceptions in orange light. It should bother him, interrupting the comforting darkness that rests just behind his eyelids, but somehow the light warms him, and the thought of darkness is…

You are the one who will open the Door.

As soon as the words appear, images flood Sora’s imagination: A stained glass platform, an ornate door that somehow carries a hint of menace about it, a sword worthy of a champion of the Light…


And a monstrous shadow springing forth from his own silhouette.


This memory is unpleasant, but Sora finds himself unableto escape it, unable to open his eyes, and the orange light that once filtered through his eyelids begins to fade as darkness encroaches, a darkness dotted with yellow points of light that could be inhuman eyes…


“Sora, wake up!”


The voice startles the boy, but it also seems to have an effect on the darkness that is threatening him, sending it scurrying back,replacing it with light.


Sora opens his eyes, finally fully returned to the world of the living. The sky is the same bright blue overhead, and a glare in the cornerof his eye suggests the sun has not yet moved into the center of the sky. Morning is not over yet.


The time for rest clearly is, though.


“C’mon, Sora, just wake up already!” the soft voice that drove away the darkness demands, a giggle breaking up the seriousness of the command. It is a voice he recognizes, and cherishes with all his heart.

“Lazy bum!”


“Man, Kairi,” Sora protests, sitting up. From his new point of view he can see the clear blue waves of the ocean lapping at the pristine white sands of the shoreline. “Can’t a guy get some rest around here?”


He turns around to continue the conversation. Kairi is standing before him now, hands clasped behind her back. She is dressed for play, in a white tank top and purple shorts. A mischievous grin adorns her face, eyes sparkling. Her red hair, just a little above shoulder length, frames her face.


“It’s still morning, sleepy head,” she counters, one hand coming from behind her back to wave a lecturing finger. “If you were tired, you should have just slept in! Riku would have understood.”


“Yeah, I guess I just wanted to be here,” he replies, rising to his knees. “With how serious Riku has been about this project lately…”


“I understand,” Kairi agrees, walking past him to stand on the edge of the shore, though far enough away from the surf that her shoes, once white but now stained by sand and mud, do not get wet. “But I guess your body wasn’t as ready to start working as you thought it was.”


“Right,” Sora agrees, plopping his butt back into the sand and staring out at the waves, occasionally sneaking glances at his friend from the corner of his eye. She is quiet now, a contemplative look on her face as she gazes out. It’s the same look he sees on her face in school when she’sworking on something. Something is on her mind. “I kinda wish I had just stayed awake though. I had this really freaky dream. I think something was, like, chasing me. Something, I dunno… Dark.”


“You probably just ate too many eggs for breakfast,” Kairi suggests, not taking her eyes off of the horizon, her voice sounding distant, almost like she is barely there. This level of contemplation is something rare, Sora knows, but for some reason, it frightens him. In a moment of pure clarity, he just knows that he has to get Kairi’s mind back from where it has drifted to.


So, he decides to go with an old favorite.


“Hey, Kairi,” Sora asks, resting his arms on his knees, “what do you remember about your home? Where you came from, I mean, before…”


“Before the meteor shower twelve years ago?” she finishesfor him, familiar with this line of questioning, a conversation that has been had many a time. “The day I came here, the night you found me on this very beach?”


“Uh, yeah,” Sora answers, suddenly feeling that he has overstepped some boundary he was unaware existed. Kairi’s answer to the question of her place of origin is usually quite curt, almost like she doesn’t ever want to speak of it. The quiet thoughtfulness of her response now is enough to indicate to Sora that something is different, something has changed.


“No, I have no memory at all of where I was born,” she admits, some of the dreaminess peeling away from her voice, returning it to its normal tone. “As far as I know, I popped into existence at four years old, right here on this beach. I realize that’s ridiculous, but… I have no other explanation.”

“But, uh, if you could go back,” Sora continues, suddenly more desperate for her response than ever before. “Just visit your home… Would you?”

For a moment Kairi just continues to stare out at the surf, then she turns to face Sora once more, half-smiling. “Well, Sora, first of all, these islands are my home. As far as I’m concerned, everything important in my life is going to happen here, with my family, and my friends.”


“But…”


“If it were just to visit though, just to see it…” Kairi continues, the distant expression returning to her face. “Yes, of course I would go. It would be interesting, maybe even wonderful. But, honestly, no matter what that place is like, I’d only be happy if I could come back here. Back to my real home.” She turns to face him and graces his eyes with a fond grin. “And you’d have to come with me, of course.”


“You know I would Kairi,” he promises, smiling up at her.The grin has returned, and something inside his chest grows warm and content, a feeling that has been appearing more and more lately, and always when Kairi is looking at him. He suspects it is significant. “I’d love to see where you came from.” He stands now, moving past her to the waves, water gently licking at his yellow shoes, half a size too big, but worn out of courtesy to his grandmother who had gifted them to the boy for Christmas. He throws his arms out wide, encompassing the whole of the horizon. “In fact, I want to see every world outthere! And when we’re finished with the raft…”


“You mean if!” a voice from behind, deep and mellow, interrupts. “The raft is never going to get finished if you two are just standing around being lazy.”


Sora turns away from the shore, facing Riku, his best friend ever since he can remember.


The boy, older by one year, is holding a large log under his arm, pressed into the yellow fabric of his sleeveless shirt. He’s wearing blue pants that fall just above the ankle, shoes that combine the colors of black, yellow, and blue, and his black gloves, which seem somewhat unreasonable in the weather of the islands, but cool nonetheless. His blue eyes gaze accusingly at Sora and Kairi from under the bangs of his silver hair, worn longer than Kairi’s, just past his shoulders, and his mouth is twisted in an amused smirk that, on him, somehow seems nearly cruel.


“Hey, don’t put this one me,” Kairi protests, giggling. “I was just trying to get Sora here in gear.”


“Traitor!” Sora cries out, trying to sound as wounded as possible by this “betrayal”. The laugh that accompanies the word gives him away though, and soon all three of the teens are laughing it up on the shore.


“Nice try, but I know you’re secretly just as lazy as he is!” Riku accuses, shaking his head at the girl. “In fact, the combined laziness of the pair of you is probably just gonna slow us down on our trip. I’m tempted to take off without you, save myself the grief.”


“Oh yeah?” Sora says in mock challenge, stepping up to the older boy. “You wouldn’t last two days without us to boss around! Without anyone to give orders to, you’d just…”


Sora is interrupted, rather violently, when Riku tosses the log at him, lobbed underhand, but still heavy and possessing plenty of momentum. Startled, Sora catches the log, but in the process loses his balance, sending him crashing butt-first into the sand. A grunt escapes his lips as he lands.


The others laugh at him, and after a moment of embarrassment, Sora joins in. After all, what’s a little light-hearted joke between friends?


“What can I do, oh wise and diligent leader, to prove myself to you?” Kairi asks, mock-bowing slightly.


“I think at this point, you’re beyond convincing me,”Riku replies teasingly, turning away dramatically. “No, I’m fairly certain that I should just go it alone!”


“How about I do prove myself worthy?” Kairi continues, her voice hardening, as if she is becoming tired of this back-and-forth game. “I’ll race you. Both of you!”


Riku snorts. “Yeah, right.”


“Sure Kairi,” Sora adds with an accompanying eye roll. “C’mon.”


“Are you refusing my challenge?” the red-head asks defiantly, hands on hips. She smirks. “Scared that you’re gonna get beaten by a girl?”


“Yeah, yeah, Kairi,” Sora answers dismissively, flipping the log into the soft sand.


“Well, I’m going whether you two are brave enough to face me or not! On your mark…”

The boys look at each other, each with an incredulous look in their eyes, as if they cannot believe this is actually happening. But behind that look is another, brighter spark of mischief, just waiting to spring forth.

“Get set…”


As Kairi prepares her stance, both boys subtly shift, muscles coiling like jungle predators ready to pounce. Kairi notices this in her peripheral vision, but remains unworried. She may not be as good at fighting as the boys, but she is confident in her speed, especially as she is starting from a superior position.


“Go!”


Even as Kairi begins, the two boys leap into action, arms and legs pumping, carrying them down the beach at top speed. Kairi shrieks a bit in surprise, but recovers quickly and is after them. Riku takes an early lead, a fierce look in his eye despite the whimsical nature of the event.


Sora is right behind him, and Kairi is neck and neck with the boy. The pair look at each other and begin to laugh, cementing the goodwill nature of the match. Ahead, Riku hears this outburst and begins one of his own, his steps faltering slightly as he does. Soon, the other two are right behind him, a golden trio running side by side down the beach, carefree as birds taking wing.


It is a moment that they all should take care to enjoy, for soon the days of laughter and joy and light will end for them.


Darkness approaches them, but they remain unaware. Ignorance may be bliss, but neither can last forever.


You are the one who will open the Door…

Kingdom Hearts

Keys to the Kingdom

Eventually the trio tires out, all three of them collapsing in the sand at the other end of the beach, taking heaving breaths to replenish themselves after spending so much energy on their race.


“I guess we’ll have to call that a tie, huh?” Kairi asks, still puffing heavily. “After all, nobody really won.”


“There wasn’t even a finish line,” Sora points out, clearing some sweat coated strands of brown hair out of his eyes.


“At least it got the two of you moving,” Riku says, his breathing already almost regulated again. “If we want to take maximum advantage of our vacation time, we’ll have to set out in a few days. That’ll give us about five weeks, I figure, before we turn back for home.”


“Five weeks?” Sora asks incredulously. “Do we have enough supplies for that long?”


“We do if the two of you have all been storing things up like I told you,” Riku answers, his tone indicating that failure to have been stocking will result in maximum disappointment.


“I have,” Sora says defensively, and Kairi chimes in that she is ready too.


“Good,” Riku congratulates the pair, clamping one hand on Sora’s shoulder. “Now all that’s left is to build the raft. I’ve gathered most of the wood.”


“I’ve got the sail taken care of,” Kairi adds. “My dad has a bunch of old sailor stuff from when my grandpa was young. It’s in my boat now.”


“Good thinking Kairi,” Riku says to the girl, winking at her. Sora notices this, and a strange spark of something unpleasant strikes momentarily in his stomach and chest. “I guess now we just need a rope to tie on the sail.”


“I can get it!” Sora volunteers immediately, eager to move on from the strange feeling that just gripped him.


“Good hustle Sora,” Riku teases, giving the younger boy a wink not unsimilar to the one Kairi just received from him. “You may earn your place on this voyage yet.”


“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sora mutters back sarcastically, but the grin on his face belies his true emotions. “I’ll be back with that rope in less than an hour.” He rises and, with a final nod to his best friends, sets off down the beach.


“See you then!” Kairi cheerfully calls after him.


Sora gets about halfway down the beach when he realizes that, in point of fact, he has no idea where he can secure a rope. In all his eagerness, he had forgotten that crucial fact, and now he may very well be facing humiliation.


It’s become more and more evident of late that Riku is having trouble taking him seriously. Sora would put this down to the fact that Riku is older, seventeen and only a year out from graduating, except that the boy seems to take Kairi more seriously than anything. Except this raft voyage, anyway. Well, Sora decides, he's just going to have to prove to his companion that he is to be taken very seriously.


Sora continues his walk, eventually finding himself on the path from the beach to a nearby pier where the kids of the islands often congregate. Walking along the path, lined with tall grass and the colorful flowers that grow on the small island, Sora has always felt at peace, and now is no different. Something about this island, and the larger one that his house, and all residents of the islands, occupy, has always calmed him, even with its smallness. Sora may want to visit as many other worlds as he can, but like Kairi, he's only truly happy calling one place his home.


He hears the sound of something large and thin moving through the air with speed as he walks up the steps to the pier. Though all ofthe children of the islands have their weapons of choice, only one could be making that sound.


Tidus, a boy nearly two years Sora’s junior, stands on the pier, barefoot and wearing blue shorts, one leg longer than the other, and a yellow vest. He has foregone a shirt today, and his chest, still scrawny from youth, seems to be developing a musculature. In his hand rests the long pole he calls his sword. This is a rather generous description, as the “weapon” is really nothing more than the handle of a broom.


“Hey, Sora!” Tidus calls cheerfully as he sees Sora reach the top step of the pier, still swinging his sword through the air, satisfied with the noise it makes as he does so. “Nice day today, yeah?”


“Uh, yeah, it is,” Sora agrees, somewhat cautiously. Tidus, while probably an okay guy at heart, is known around the island as something of a brat, and it is a reputation that Sora has seen him earn time and again. “A nice summer day.”


“Yep,” Tidus says somewhat distractedly, focusing once again on his “swordplay”. After a moment though, he looks back up at Sora, a mischievous look in his eyes that somehow comes across a lot worse than similar looks Sora has received from his friends today. “So, are you still planning on that raft trip? You, and Riku, and Kairi?”


“Yeah, Tidus, we are,” Sora answers casually, trying to head off what he knows is coming. “It’s coming together real well actually. In fact, I’m here looking for…”


“It’ll never work!” Tidus teases, dropping his sword hand to his side and placing the other hand on his hip. “Trust me, I go sailing with my dad all the time, and there’s just no way a dinky little raft is gonna get you anywhere, especially not to some ‘other world’ that probably doesn’t even exist! I give it a day before you three are back here, crying about how your dreams are ruined.”


“You’re wrong Tidus,” Sora protests, stepping up to the smaller boy and jabbing a finger in his skinny chest. “Our raft is going to take us to a whole other world, you’ll see! Actually, you won’t, because you’re too scared to ever try something that brave!”


“Who are you calling scared?” Tidus charges back with, batting Sora’s finger away with his hand. “I’m not scared of anything. Especially not you. In fact, I bet I could beat you right now, in a swordfight!”


“Really?” Sora shoots back, refusing to be intimidated by a fourteen year old. “If that’s what you want, fine. My sword is back in my canoe, but I’ll meet you on the beach in twenty minutes, and then we’ll see who’s brave and who isn’t.”


“Okay, sure,” Tidus agrees, his voice shaking a bit. “We’ll see.”


“Sure will!” Sora says as a finisher, turning to head back down the steps, before realizing that he can possibly kill two birds with one stone here. “And bring some rope. From one of your father’s boats, I know he keeps one on this island.”


“Why would I need…?”

“Just do it, okay?” With that, Sora walks down the stairs briskly, taking them two at a time.

About nineteen minutes later, both Sora and Tidus are on the beach, not too far from where Sora had taken his nap earlier, both ready to duke it out. Tidus has his pole with him, gripped one-handed, while Sora carries his own wooden sword, created by himself with help from Riku’s uncle. It looks more like an actual sword than Tidus’s weapon, with a pointed blade and cross guard, and Sora has plenty of training with it, from sparring with both Riku and a few other kids around the island. The fight before him is looking to be an easy one.


“So before we start, I gotta ask,” Tidus says, already in his battle stance, “why the rope?”


“Because when I win, I get that rope,” Sora explains, crouching into his own battle stance, both hands holding his sword's hilt. “Deal?”


“Yeah, whatever,” Tidus agrees, smirk still on his face. “After all, it’s not like you’re gonna beat me anyhow!”


We’ll see
, Sora thinks as he takes a step towards his opponent, already getting ready for the first strike.


Tidus makes the first move actually, running at Sora with his sword swinging. Sora blocks one blow, takes a step back, blocks a second blow, then charges in.


Tidus, still recovering after putting most of his strength into the last two swings, is surprised by the move, and he frantically tries to backpedal, only to end up getting hit twice in the chest by Sora’s sword. The boy cries out in surprise and sidesteps.


Sora’s momentum, thoroughly committed to the third blow he thought he’d land, takes him a few steps away from his opponent, leaving his back exposed. Tidus takes advantage of the distraction, catching Sora’s flank with a solid blow. The older boy cries out in pain, but recovers in time to turn back and block a second blow.


Tidus grunts and pushes forward, gripping his sword in his left hand as well as his right in an attempt to get leverage over Sora, who has both hands grasping the hilt of his weapon. But Sora has two years and quite a bit of muscle on him, and forces the boy back a few steps.


Tidus knows he could dig his heels in and try to keep this contest of strength going, but he realizes that in the long run, he’s going to lose. So, he disengages, hoping Sora will be caught off balance.


But Sora is actually already prepared, maintaining his footing. Realizing that the advantage is now his, he pushes forward, swinging hard for Tidus. The younger boy cannot block the blow, or the one that follows.
Finally, the third swing in the combination connects with his torso, forcing him back a few steps.


“Oh, man!” he cries out, clutching the red skin of his stomach. “That hurts!”


“Enough to convince you to give up?” Sora asks, dropping back into his ready stance. “Because I could go longer.”


No, no,” Tidus concedes, dropping his sword so both of his hands can clutch at his hurting torso, red marks still stinging where he’d been hit. “You win, I lose. You’re the brave one.”


Despite being satisfied with victory, Sora cannot help but feel for the younger boy clutching his stomach in front of him. “Hey,” he says, dropping his own sword and moving to rest a hand on Tidus’s shoulder, “you’re plenty brave just for stepping up to fight. You might have lost, but at least you decided to show up.”


“Thanks Sora,” Tidus says, looking up at him with a grin. “And I’m sorry for making fun of your raft. I’m sure you’re gonna get out of here and go see other worlds, no problem.”


“With that rope we will!” Sora agrees.


About twenty minutes later he finds Riku and Kairi in the cove, surrounded by raft supplies and munching on sandwiches. Sora grins at the sight, hungry and a bit weary from his earlier fight. He drops the rope by the rest of the supplies and takes a seat by his friends.


“Nice to see you’ve got some use,” Riku teases as Kairi hands him a sandwich, which the boy bites into eagerly.


“Be nice!” Kairi orders, though the small smile on her face gives away the amusement she takes from the comment. “Now we can start building.”


“Indeed we can,” Riku agrees, standing up and grabbing a log.

“Can I at least finish lunch first?” Sora asks, causing his friends to burst out laughing.

For the rest of the afternoon the trio assembles their vessel, pulling together all of its disparate elements into an actual ship worthy of the high seas. Maybe.


Riku organizes the process and lifts the heaviest pieces, while Sora mostly does grunt work along with Kairi. After about three hours, they are ready for a test drive.


Riku and Sora strip off their shirts and guide the raft into the water while Kairi sits atop it, still wearing all of her playclothes and threatening to do nasty things to the boys if they get her sent into the drink.


“Anything happens Kairi, I’ve got you,” Sora assures her, grinning. The look he gets in return almost causes him to stumble over the next wave, but he manages to retain his balance. Riku laughs, but Kairi doesn’t, seemingly caught up in something else that Sora can’t decipher.


The vessel is declared seaworthy about an hour later, after all three manage to get aboard without tipping it over, and gets dragged back to the shore to await launch.


“Sun’s setting,” Riku observes as he slips his shirt back on, wet spots forming where he hasn’t adequately toweled. “Wanna go watch on the islet?”


“Okay.”


“Sure.”


The islet is a small mass that rests just off the main beach, connected to it by a wooden bridge. The land is dotted by palm trees, with one even curving over horizontally to provide a perfect sitting spot. Sora and Kairi clamber up onto it, while Riku just leans against it coolly.


For a few moments the trio just watch the setting sun paint the sky in hues of purple and orange, content to silently observe.


But something is bothering Sora, a comment heard earlier in the day that he just can’t shake.


“Are we really sure a raft can take us to another world?” he asks, breaking the silence and causing two heads to swivel towards him. “I mean, I know we tested it to hold up in the ocean, but…”


“It’ll do the job, Sora,” Riku cuts him off, waving a gloved hand dismissively. “I promise you, that raft can take us to another world.”


“But, okay, so once we leave the islands, how do we know when we’ve found Kairi’s world?” Sora continues, all of the doubts he’s had about the vessel popping into his mind like a factory of uncertain jack-in-the-boxes. “And are you sure a dinky wooden raft can take us away from here, or are you just saying that because you think it’s…”


Enough, Sora,” Riku says, nearly hisses in fact, with finality. He is no longer leaning casually against the palm trunk, but stands facing Sora and Kairi, his eyes hard with either determination or rage. “We’re getting off this world, we’ll find Kairi’s home, and if the raft can’t do it, we’ll find another way! I promise you that.”


All is silent for a few moments as the two boys stare at each other intensely, Riku’s eyes seeming to dare Sora to express another doubt. Sora says nothing, and eventually Riku breaks his stare and returns to his previous, relaxed stance.


“So, what will we do, then?” Kairi asks after a moment, breaking the silence with an innocent sounding question. “On another world I mean. Do we just explore it, or…”


“Not sure,” Riku answers, his voice indicating that it’s a very good question, an almost complete tonal flip from his snapping at Sora earlier. “In fact, I actually think that it isn’t important what we find out about other worlds. Just as long as we get off this one.”


“What’s so wrong with this world, though?” Kairi asks, leaning forward and folding her hands together. “I like it here. It’s our home.”


“It’s so small though,” Riku replies in a near-whisper. “So small and isolated, surrounded on all sides by the ocean… Too small for me, I think.”


Silence reigns another minute, and Riku is the one to break it this time.


“I’ve been thinking a lot about why we’re here,” the older boy continues, sounding spacey as he gazes out into the sunset. “Why this island, why us? Why me? I could have just as easily ended up anywhere else in the universe, all of us could have. So, really, I just have to know.”


“You’ve thought a lot about this, huh?” Kairi says in a low voice, as if she’s afraid that speaking too loudly will pop whatever bubble Riku is currently residing in.


“For quite some time now, actually,” Riku answers, a grin popping up on his face. “Maybe ever since you came to the islands, Kairi, from wherever you used to be. The night of the meteor shower.” He turns to her, his smile becoming even more pronounced, his eyes sparkling somehow. “In a way, you’re the inspiration for all of this. You’re my inspiration.”


The quietness that results from those words weighs somehow heavy on the other two. The dark feeling from earlier and the light feeling that Kairi brings are colliding in Sora now, as he watches Riku look at her. He can only dart his gaze back and forth from Riku, who looks more content now than Sora can remember seeing him in a long while, and Kairi, who seems almost unsure, the small smile on her face a bit unsteady.


Kairi, meanwhile, just can’t help but want that look off of Riku’s face. “Thanks, I guess. Or, you’re welcome. Whatever, I guess.”


A yawn bursts from Sora’s mouth, and he almost isn’t sure whether it’s real or fake. He rolls with it though, hoping to break up the awkwardness. “Man, I’m beat. I think it’s time to head in, before I fall asleep right on this palm tree!”


“Yeah, I’m pretty tired too,” Kairi agrees, her voice shaking a bit. “Long day, lots of activity.”


“Okay then, if you guys are going, so am I,” Riku says, pushing off from the trunk of the palm tree. He offers his hand up to Kairi, who takes it and lets the older boy help her down. Sora just jumps, no assistance required or wanted.


Kairi takes off briskly down the bridge, her shoes clacking softly as she crosses it. Sora moves to follow her, but Riku holds out his arm and stops him from moving any further.


“You go on ahead,” Riku explains when Kairi turns back to see why her friends aren’t following. “Sora and I have, uh, guy stuff to talk about. We’ll catch up in a minute. Promise.”


Kairi nods and turns to walk away, rolling her eyes to herself as she does so. Boys, huh?


“What is it?” Sora asks, taking a step back, suddenly uncomfortable.


“I’ve got something to show you,” Riku kind of explains, shouldering past his friend and heading for a nearby coconut tree. He crouches down, and while Sora cannot see, appears to grab something hidden behind its trunk.


He returns to Sora, holding a yellow fruit shaped like a star in his hand. It’s about the size of his palm, and while Sora vaguely recognizes it as a fruit he’s seen before, he’s unsure just what it is.


“I take it you have no clue why I have this, huh?” Riku asks, bemused. Sora shakes his head in the negative. “It’s a paopu fruit. You know the legend, right?”


Suddenly, the knowledge floods into Sora’s mind. The legend of the paopu fruit states that…


“If two people share a paopu, then their destiny’s become intertwined forever,” Riku explains. “No matter where they go, or what they do, they’re connected.”


“I remember now,” Sora says quietly. “We learned about this legend in school, on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. It’s just a legend though, right?”


Riku shrugs, a bit of a grin on his face. “Maybe.”


Sora is super unsure of what to say now, with Riku looking at him the way he is and offering a destiny-intertwining fruit. Riku is a good friend, and always has been, but Sora definitely doesn’t…


“I figured you’d want to test it out with Kairi,” Riku says, mercifully breaking up his best friend’s thought progression.


Unfortunately, he’s also managed to throw him into an entirely new, almost as terrifying one.


“What makes you think…? Me and Kairi…? Kairi and I are just, we…”


“Relax, Sora,” Riku chuckles lowly, smirking. “You don’t have to freak out so much, I was only kidding. Gee, man, you seriously need to calm down!”

Riku’s chuckle becomes a full-bodied laugh, and he walks away still laughing, placing the paopu fruit in Sora’s hands as he does so.

Sora stares after him for a full minute, eyes narrowed and cheeks red.


“What is that guy’s problem?” he says aloud, switching his indignant glare to the fruit resting in his hands. “How could he even…?”


Sora suddenly stops, his mind confused but nevertheless full of memories that he and Kairi have shared, the feeling in his stomach when she laughs with him or looks at him. Perhaps Riku has a point, and all this time, all of his life he’s just been…


“Nah!” he says, tossing the fruit away, not giving one single hoot where it lands. What was he thinking? He must be extremely tired,he realizes as he nearly stalks across the wooden bridge back to the beach, to have entertained such a thought.


Kairi is his friend, nothing more, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.


In fact, if Sora has his way, nothing will ever really change. Not him, not Kairi, not Riku, not anything in his life will change one bit.


KH-KH-KH


Nothing ever really changes in Disney Castle, Telary muses to himself as he walks through the gardens briskly, the hem of his blue wizard robe with white star-patterns trailing along behind him. The sun is not even fully up yet, just peeking over the horizon and tinting the sky a pleasant orange. Telary has read, however, that early morning walks help one maintain one’s magical balance, connecting the mage with the energies of the sun. Whether or not it is actually a true fact, or just something someone made up to sell magic books, it sounds mystical enough, and no way is Telary going to pass up an opportunity to work on his magical balance.


Telary is eighteen, and an apprentice wizard with the Disney Castle Mage Corps. This is a very fancy title for a group that really only exists to give Master Donald a seat at council meetings. There’s really only one official member after all, with Telary technically a part of the group as a trainee.


For two years now, ever since his early graduation from the school down in Mouseburg just beyond the castle walls, he has been learning the practice of the mystical arts from Donald Duck, Head Magician of Disney Castle and close personal friend to King Mickey. The first year was full of fairly intense magical study and practice, and Telary is certainly proficient now in quite a few spells. The second year, however, has so far involved less studying of the mystical arts, and more doing whatever it is Donald orders him to do.


The wizard has repeatedly attempted to explain away the menial tasks as beneficial to one’s connection with magic, but Telary has figured out for himself that Donald just likes to have an errand boy. You don’t graduate a year early while doing several other student’s homework in addition to your own without being intelligent.


The boy is content to serve however, until the day that Master Donald sees fit to elevate him to full Court Magician status. He still fulfills several daily duties, such as recharging the magic of the mop servants, and the occasional special request from Master Donald, such as waking him up this morning so he could sneak off into town to get a birthday present for his girlfriend Daisy, which he had forgotten about until Telary reminded him before bed last night. He’d taken Goofy, Captain of the Disney Castle Guard Corps, which is actually a real organization with about half-a-dozen members, with him, and had assured Telary he’d be back before Daisy awoke.


Feeling a bit peckish after his stroll, Telary heads down into the castle’s main kitchen, where several cooks are already hard at work on the day’s breakfast.


He snags an apple from a fruitbowl, but before he can bite into it, a tap on his shoulder sends him spinning around.


“I’m sorry I thought it was okay to take I’ll pay you back I swear!” he blurts at breakneck speed to the small rabbit cook before him.


“Relax,” the cook says in a surprisingly deep voice for such a little guy. Then again he might not actually be as small as Telary thinks, considering the boy is even a few feet taller than Captain Goofy, not even counting the few spikes in his otherwise close-cropped red hair. Anyway, the cook is carrying a tray covered by a silverbowl, under which is presumably some kind of breakfast dish. “You can eat whatever you want. But first, you gotta bring King Mickey his breakfast.”


Telary sighs in relief at not being considered a dirty lowlife thief. Then he realizes that he has basically just been give an order by a kitchen hand. “Um, I’m sorry, but that’s not really my job, actually,” he points out sheepishly, trying hard to keep his voice from shaking. “I mean, that’s probably something you’ll want a mop to do.”


“Look, pal,” the kitchen staffer says indignantly, pointing a furry white finger up at Telary’s face, “there aren’t any mops around, and you’re just standing there, swiping fruit from the kitchen. So are you gonna take this tray up to the king, or am I gonna bash you over the head with it?”


Telary thinks for a moment that the tiny cook couldn’t possibly even reach his head to bash it with the tray, but decides not to argue the point. He just takes the tray in his own arms and heads for the stairs to the colonnade.


It’s beginning to become apparent to Telary that he might have a problem with letting others push him around, and he’s not entirely sure what to do about it.


The walk down the colonnade is pleasant though, even burdened as the boy is with the tray of food. Red rugs run continuously down a hall coated in plush blue carpeting, and large windows along the wall to Telary’s left let in the light of the morning sun.


He passes a mop servant that he could hand off the delivery task to, but decides to press on, as he enjoys the king’s company. King Mickey is, in fact, maybe the only person besides his wife the queen to really appreciate Telary’s efforts around the castle.


Telary finally reaches the door to the throne room, a massive blue construction not really suitable for any of the folk of Disney Castle. He doubts that anyone, save Willy the giant, who is apparently related to the original carver of the thing, could even attempt to open it.


Luckily, there is another way in, and Telary raps on the door in the right spot, causing the inset normal sized door to swing open. Normal sized for a regular inhabitant of the castle, anyway. Telary still has to duck a bit so as to not bump his head.


He keeps his head bowed in deference as he walks down the long red carpet, contrasted nicely against the white marble of the main floor. He knows that at the end of the carpet is a raised platform also done in red, on which rest two thrones: One for King Mickey, and the other for Queen Minnie.


“Good morning, Your Majesty,” Telary says as he enters, loudly so that his voice will carry all the way to the other end of the chamber. Like the door that leads into it, the Royal Audience Chamber is almost comically too large for a world that boasts such generally short inhabitants. “I was in the kitchen and decided to bring up your breakfast. Well actually this really grumpy rabbit ordered me to, so…”


The fact that the king has not yet said anything in greeting, or indeed made any noise at all, is putting Telary off a bit, but then who is he to question the noise level of royalty? The silence does make him nervous, however, so he decides to fill it with a bit of babbling.


“Now, when I said grumpy, don’t think I meant he was, like, unreasonably angry or anything,” he continues, unwisely breaking the filter between his brain and his mouth completely. “So there’s no need to like, call human resources on him. Though really it is none of my business at all who a king can or cannot call upon HR to investigate. Just don’t feel the need to do it on my behalf or anything, Your Majesty.”


By now he realizes that he has reached the end of the carpet, and one step up will take him up onto the raised throne platform. He knows, according to the Official Book of Court Etiquette in Disney Castle, which he makes sure to reread once a year just to freshen up on, despite the fact that no one else really seems to follow the rules set forth in it, that he cannot step onto the platform without express royal permission.

But in light of the King’s almost unnatural silence, he’s almost willing to try. Almost.


Instead, to err on the side of caution, he merely raises his head. When his eyes arrive at two empty thrones, he gasps in surprise.


Telary knows for a fact that King Mickey has taken his breakfast in the Royal Audience Chamber nearly every morning since he can remember, and so he had just assumed that his orders were to bring the tray here. But what if he made a mistake, and King Mickey is in fact still in his bedroom, or in the library, and what if by the time he figures out where to actually go the food is cold and…?


BARK!


The noise that pierces the veil of silence in the air is fearsome to Telary’s ears, and he cries out in alarm, even as the silver breakfast tray falls from his fingers. Miraculously it lands very graciously, with nary a thud and nothing spilled. The lid isn’t even disturbed. It’s really the only spot of good luck Telary is going to have all day.


Telary frantically searches the room for the source of the noise, and finds it in moments. Pluto, a large yellow dog that King Mickey has called his companion for far longer than Telary can remember, emerges from behind the king’s throne, black ears drooping besidehis head. Clutched in his mouth is something flat and cream colored. It is most definitely not this morning’s Mouseburg Gazette.


Cautiously, making sure not to trip on the still lidded tray, Telary steps onto the throne platform without express permission for the first time in his life. Slowly he reaches out a hand towards Pluto, and the dog drops what it has in its mouth. An envelope, to be sure, sealed with the king’s personal seal.


Telary crouches to the floor and, arm still extended as far as it can go, tentatively picks up the letter. Rising back up to his full height, he contemplates the envelope in his hand. Should he open it? His first impulse is to give the envelope to Master Donald, but with both him and Captain Goofy gone, the only true authority figure left is Queen Minnie, and she’s still in her bedchamber! Telary knows that, no matter how urgent the situation may turn out to be, he could never go into the queen’s private rooms.


After a few seconds, an idea sparks in Telary’s mind. Certainly he can’t go into the queen’s chambers, but he definitely knows someone just surly enough to try.


The castle gym is definitely not a place that Telary finds himself at very much. Physical fitness is all well and good, of course, but Telary’s methods of staying in shape tend more towards eating strictly and making sure to take walks. In fact, even a lot of the knights of the Disney Castle Guard Corps tend to not spend much time down there. Often when asked, they would reply “Too many stairs,” which is probably not going to give anyone a glowing opinion of the DCGC. Their position and duties are mostly ceremonial, however, so really physical fitness is not a major requirement.


Tell that to the single sixteen year-old apprentice currently in the DCGC Knights of Tomorrow program, who spends so much time down here that it is perhaps a bit unhealthy, an unusual fitness center irony. Mornings before school, afternoons just out of school, even occasionally in the middle of the night, Azlyn seems determined to spend every free minute down in the gym.


Telary can hear her now as he steps through the door into the large room, divided into three sections. The whole floor is unlit with the exception of the back left corner, where Azlyn is going at it with a punching bag.


She looks to be in the zone as Telary approaches her, her blue tank top’s back soaked in sweat, likewise the back of her close-cropped, pixie-cut blonde hair. She goes at the bag with a series of three jabs, takes a step back, and then repeats. Every third repetition, she adds in a kick, just to mix things up.


Unwisely, Telary steps up on the mat. Azlyn instantly detects the shift in weight, turns, and without thinking lets loose a jab.

Straight to the young apprentice mage’s nose.


“Yowza!” he cries, clutching his face even as blood begins to stream down it. The envelope is luckily spared a bloody bath by him dropping it to the ground. Soon enough he finds himself joining it, tripping over his robe and falling back-first onto the thankfully cushioned mat.


“Whoa, Telary!” Azlyn cries out, taking a step back and panting heavily, the exertion of her exercises catching up with her. “Watch what you’re doing. Next time I might hit you someplace worse!”


“Worse dan my node?” Telary asks through the hands cupping his mouth, voice distorted by the pinch he’s giving his nose to keep the blood in.


“Oh, here ya go,” she says, grabbing a white towel from a rack nearby and throwing it to the mage-in-training. He catches it and immediately puts it to use. Azlyn crosses her arms and glares down at him. “Big baby.”


“Whadda I doo?” Telary asks. “How can I maeg id stop?”


“I don’t know, Tel,” Azlyn replies with major sarcasm-voice, “whatever could a magician do to heal one of his injuries?”


“Oh, ride,” Telary says sheepishly. “Cure!” A green light appears over him, and in seconds the bleeding is stopped and his nose rests completely straight.


While this is going on, Azlyn notices the letter Telary dropped, and notices the seal it’s emblazoned with even more.


“What’s this?” she asks, turning it over in her hand. “Where’d you get it? Why is it so wet?”


Telary answers his friend’s questions in order as he gets back to his feet. “A letter from the king that I don’t know the contents of, I found it in the throne room, it’s damp because it was in Pluto’s mouth.”


“Yuck!” Azlyn says. She and the king’s pooch have a bit of an unpleasant history. “What was that mutt doing with a letter from the king in his mouth?”


“I don’t know, actually,” Telary admits, sniffing deeply just to make sure his nostrils are in good working order, unfortunately picking up the sweaty scent of the exercise complex as well. He grimaces. “I’m not about to open something so official looking without royal permission. Who knows what kind of…? AZLYN, STOP!”


The mage-in-training lunges forward, but the apprentice knight easily sidesteps, tearing open the envelope with the nails of one hand. She extricates the letter within, written out in King Mickey’s neat script, and begins reading. About halfway through, Telary lunges for her again, but she already has one hand up to block him. He pushes against her, but her stance is strong, and her arm has reaped the benefits of so many hours training, proving all of his efforts useless.


“Oh man, Telary!” she exclaims when she’s done reading the letter, letting up the pressure on his chest. “This is serious. Like, really serious. Oh, wow!” Telary honestly isn’t sure whether she is alarmed or just excited.


“Well if it’s serious as all that,” Telary says, snatching the letter from his younger friend’s now relaxed grip, “then you see why we have to bring it to… Queen Minnie!”


“Are you kidding?” Azlyn asks condescendingly, a hungry look already invading her eyes. “This could be our big chance to prove that we’re worthy of graduating from apprenticing! We can’t tell anyone about this!”


“But… Master Donald!”


“Oh, let that old quackbag stay in the dark for once,” Azlyn replies dismissively.


“Captain Goofy!”


“Oh, please, he’s about as qualified to do real knight duties as I am to be a beautician.”


“Lady Daisy!”


“What’s she gonna do? C’mon, Telary, I think you’re losing it here!”


“Trust me, you’ll be losing something,” comes a squeaky voice from behind, as unmelodious as… As a quacking duck.


Azlyn whirls around to see that Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Daisy are standing just on the edge of the mat. The queen looks concerned, Goofy just sort of seems sad, and Donald Duck has his arms crossed, foot tapping impatiently, and a look in his eyes that suggests trouble is coming.


“Oh,” Azlyn breathes, her cheeks reddening quickly. “Uh, hello everyone! I think I have something that uh, that you all should see!”


It’s all Telary can do to keep from fainting from the tension.

[HR][/HR]Just in case it was unclear, this is my personal version of Kingdom Hearts, a sort of combination novelization/OC story, wherein my original characters Azlyn and Telary replace Donald and Goofy's traditional roles, adding a few more twists and deviations from the original story. Also, the main characters have aged up a bit, Sora and Kairi now sixteen while Riku is seventeen.

I realize that this may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's an idea I've had for a long time and have really enjoyed working on. The story has already been written in its entirety, and it's my intention to post updates at least twice a week. I hope people will read this and respond well to it.

Until next time, everybody!
 
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KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

I laughed at the antics between Telary and Azlyn. I really like these two new characters and extremely excited to see them off on adventures with Sora, presumably. I like how using cure fixes a broken nose. Further more, you really nailed Sora, Riku, and Kairi down in personality. I also like how you used Tidus more in this just to get the rope, since those on Destiny Island besides the main trio are often overlooked. This is a fantastic start and I really hope for more! And thanks for editing this, so it wouldn't be a huge wall of text to read too. :D
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Thanks for the comment KitKat, I am really excited to have someone willing to read my stuff and give feedback! I'm glad you like Azlyn and Telary, and I am also grateful for what you said about my handling of Sora, Riku, and Kairi! Here's hoping you'll still think the same when the story is finished!
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter II: The Inevitability of Change
Sora is late when he finally reaches the shores of the play island in the rowboat he borrowed from his mother. Like, really late. He hastily leaps up onto the wooden dock that juts out into the ocean, nearly losing his balance and crashing back into the drink in the process. Luckily, he is able to maintain his footing, and ties the boat to the dock with a long piece of rope, attached to the small vessel on the other end.

When he’s finished, he straightens up from his crouching position and turns to observe his island. Riku and Kairi are nowhere to be found, which is unsurprising. He’s running really behind this morning.


“Hello there, Sora,” says a young female voice off to Sora’s left. The boy turns to see Selphie, a girl Tidus’s age who can be just as much of an annoying brat, only made worse by the fact that she’s a girl and thus exempt from the same harsh retaliation he can give the young boy.


“Uh, hi Selphie,” Sora replies, giving her a little half-wave. “How are things?”


“Just fine, thanks for asking,” the girl replies, standing up from where she had been sitting with her legs dangling off the dock over the water. She is wearing an orange sundress, her hair long with several braided strands. “Still working on that raft today?”


“Sure are,” Sora answers, nodding in confirmation. “Just running a little behind is all. Hey, have you seen Riku or Kairi?”


“Oh, yes,” she replies with a giggle, setting off something suspicious in Sora. “They arrived here together, on the same boat. Then they went… Somewhere.”


“Where?” Sora asks, already preparing himself to play whatever game he knows the girl has in mind.


“Okay, I’ll tell you,” Selphie teases with another high-pitched, obnoxious giggle. “But first, I need you to tell me a little something.”


“What?”


“Are you really in love with Kairi?” The girl springs up now, crowding into Sora’s personal space and causing him to stumble back a step. “Have you always loved her? Are you jealous that she’s with Riku so much nowadays? Are you jealous that they came here together? Conversely, could it be possible you’re in love with Riku? Gay guys are so…”


“Stop right there, Selphie!” Sora demands, definitely not in the mood to hear a million questions about his love life with Riku, which is non-existent, just to be clear! “Kairi and I are good friends, and that’s it. I am not in love with her, and I honestly don’t care at all if she spends time with my other best friend. And the same goes for Riku, but double!”


“Sure thing, Sora,” Selphie says with an air of brushing him off, backing up a step and crossing her arms over her chest. She seems a lot less like an annoying child now. “You can deny your feelings for Kairi, or Riku, or hey, even both of them, if you want, but sooner or later you won’t be able to. That’s just a fact.”


“You wanna know what else is a fact?” Sora blurts angrily. “I’m walking away right now! I’ll find my friends on my own!”


“You can’t deny it forever,Sora!” Selphie continues calling, even after Sora is off the dock and into the beach sand. She yells a few more things after him, but at this point Sora has stopped listening.


He realizes that he needs a drink, and so heads up the beach and into a little patch of jungle foliage, just beyond which is a waterfall that runs out of the island’s main cliff and into a pool of clean drinking water.


He stands in front of the pool for a moment, examining his reflection. Today he’s decided to wear his red shorts jump suit, which Kairi has mischievously called a romper before despite his protests, with his black hoodie with short white sleeves over it. His brown hair is done up in his traditional spiky style, and his crown pendant, a gift from his mother from several years ago, hangs from the chain around his neck. He fiddles with the blue belt hanging loosely around his torso for a moment, making sure it is hanging just right, then bends down, cups his hands, and takes a drink from the pool.


The water is crisp and clear, refreshing him. After a moment he returns to his feet, taking a look around the small clearing.


He finds his gaze resting on the largest tree on the island, a behemoth that seems to be growing straight out from the cliff. At the bottom, its massive roots are poking out, just far enough apart to allow access to the cave under the cliffs, a place known well by the local kids to be haunted.


For a moment he just stares at the cave entrance, feeling a little creeped out, which is actually not a bad replacement for the off feeling that Selphie’s interrogation had given him. Was Selphie just being dumb, or did the people of the islands really think he had more-than-friends feelings for Kairi? And more pressing than that, could they perhaps be right?


A noise from behind, the brush rustling at the clearing’s entrance, cuts off Sora’s train of thought. He turns to see Wakka, a boy his age, emerge into the clearing, dressed in a faded sleeveless yellow shirt and yellow sweatpants. A large headband circles his head just under his towering spikes of red hair.


“Hey, Sora,” Wakka greets him nonchalantly. The boy has always been very chill, never making fun of the raft plan even once. “Can’t find Riku and Kairi?”


“Uh, no, not really,” Sora answers. “I was running late this morning, so…”


“Well, I think they were headed for the cove,” Wakka says, scratching his chin. “They arrived together in Riku’s boat, y’know.”


“Yeah, Selphie told me,” Sora says, a little annoyance creeping into his voice at the mention of that infuriating little girl.


“Whoa, man, chill,” Wakka encourages him, holding up his hands in an almost defensive gesture. “It looked completely platonic from where I was standing.”


“Huh?”


“Riku and Kairi,” Wakka explains. “They looked the same as ever, just friends. No need to get jealous.”


Jealous!


“I’m not jealous, Wakka!” Sora protests, annoyed that he has to have this same conversation over again, especially with someone like Wakka, whom the boy had considered so wise. “I’m not interested in Kairi like that, and I don’t know why everyone seems to think I am!”


“Hey, man, chill out!” Wakka defends himself. “I was just saying. I’m, uh, I’m sorry I assumed so quickly. It’s just, y’know… Actually, y’know what, never mind. Not my business.”


“It sure isn’t,” Sora agrees, stalking out of the clearing. After a moment he stops though, feeling bad about how dismissive he had been. “Sorry about that Wakka. Thanks for telling me where Riku and Kairi are.”


“No problem, bra,” Wakka assures him, turning to the pool and bending down for a drink.


It seems to Sora now that things are worse than he had previously thought. If even Wakka, one of the most sensible and mature kids on the islands, thought he had feelings for Kairi, then how could he ever hope to escape it?


Then again, he may have a point, and if enough people believed it to be true, then they must have some sort of evidence to base their assumptions off of…


With a shake of his head, Sora clears those thoughts out. Even if there is something between him and Kairi, now is most definitely not the time to pursue it, what with the raft trip coming up and everything. He’ll take the time to sort out his feelings for Kairi once the trio have returned from their voyage.


There will be plenty of time then, after all.


He finds Riku and Kairi just where Wakka had said they would be, in the Destiny Island’s cove. There’s a small sandy area by the ocean proper, and that’s where the pair are, along with the raft, talking something over.


“Hey guys!” Sora greets, waving at the pair. They both turn to him and wave back, but from the weary looks on their faces, it’s obvious that they’ve just come out of a very intense discussion, a notion that has Sora worried. “What’s going on?”


“We’re talking about names for the raft,” Riku explains, quelling some of the tension in Sora’s chest. “We can’t seem to agree on a good one.”


“Any thoughts of your own, Sora?” Kairi asks, leaning against the raft’s mast with her arms folded.


Sora stops for a moment, giving the matter some thought. “Uh, well, what did you come up with?”


“I want to name it The Highwind,” Riku says, a confidence in his tone that implies he thinks The Highwind is the greatest, coolest name ever to grace the high seas. “But Kairi doesn’t like it! Not that she’s come up with any better suggestions.”


Kairi just shrugs.


“Well, uh,” Sora says slowly, taking a moment to think carefully about his choice of name, “aren’t ships usually named after, like, ladies? So, we could do something with that, call it something like, uh, call it The Shera!”


This prompts a round of laughter from his friends. Riku actually looks like he’s about to fall over from the force of it.


“What?”


“People do often name ships after women, Sora,” Kairi concedes through her chuckling.


“But I’m pretty sure those women aren’t their grandmothers!” Riku finishes, laughing hysterically.


Sora’s cheeks are red with embarrassment now, but he decides to stand his ground. “Yeah, well at least my name means something! It’s not just something I pulled out of nowhere!”


“You know, you’re right, Sora,” Riku concedes, wiping away a tear from his eye. “And you deserve a chance to prove it.”


“Oh, brother!” Kairi exclaims as she realizes what is going on. “Every time you boys disagree, you have to do this.”


“It's tradition, Kairi,” Sora says simply, as he’s now caught on too. “Can’t deny tradition.”


“I guess not,” she sighs, a small grin creeping onto her face. “So, then. Usual terms?”


“Yep,” Riku agrees.


“Fine by me,” Sora confirms.


“I’ll go get the swords for you then,” Kairi sighs, pushing off the mast. “Which is really kinda sexist, actually, but whatever. Be back in a minute.”


As soon as Kairi is out of earshot, Riku steps closer to Sora. “Hey, how about we make our own deal?” he says in low tones.


“What did you have in mind?” Sora asks, a bit concerned with something odd he’s registering in Riku’s voice.


“Winner gets to share a paopu with Kairi,” Riku says simply, stepping back and crossing his arms across his chest.


This takes Sora aback. He thought they had put the matter of fruit-based destiny entwining to rest last night! What is Riku doing bringing it up again now?


Before Sora has a chance to answer, Kairi returns, one sword in each hand.


“Now I want a good, clean fight, ya hear?” she says in her best announcer voice as she hands each boy their weapon of choice. “No funny business, yeah?”


“No funny business,” Riku promises. Sora just nods and grunts.


“Well then, on the count of three, go at it!” Kairi says, taking several steps back. “But remember to be careful! I don’t want to have to make a raft trip with two boys who have bruised spleens!”


“Last chance on that offer, Sora,” Riku says with a smirk. “What’s it gonna be?”


Madness or not, Sora knows that he can’t just let Riku get away with all of this mean-spirited taunting, and so he decides that it’s time to take the plunge.


“You’re on!”


“One!” Kairi calls from the sidelines.


Both boys get into their battle-ready stances, Sora dropping his knees and gripping his sword’s hilt with both hands, Riku raising his weapon to his face in a one-handed grip, hand resting just by his cheek and blade pointed straight out. The free hand is clenched in a fist at his side.


“Two!”


Sora’s determination to win has skyrocketed since accepting Riku’s side wager, and now he knows that, regardless of his real feelings towards Kairi, he has to win now if he ever even wants a chance to explore them. Riku looks as calm and composed as he normally is, but Sora knows he wants it just as badly.


“Three!”


There is no immediate action from either of the boys, each instead choosing to wait and see what the other has in mind. Riku takes a half-step forward, but it’s an obvious fake, and Sora hardly reacts.


They begin to circle each other after a moment, every step slow and cautious. Cautious seems to be the middle name of this fight.


“Uh, you guys realize that I said three, right?” Kairi asks, obviously impatient to see the actual combat begin.


Her voice distracts Sora for a second, and Riku takes full advantage of it, taking two steps forward and swinging once.


Sora barely manages to block the blow, and when Riku disengages he dances back too quickly for a retaliation. Sora’s eyes narrow at the other boy, angry that he took advantage like he did. Still, he thinks, this is a battle. And a battle with high stakes at that. There’s really no shame in using whatever methods one wishes.


Which is why Sora feels perfectly within his rights to strike out with his foot, kicking up a storm of sand to distract Riku. Stepping to the side of the flurry, Sora charges in with two steps, swinging each time his foot moves. Riku is not fazed, however, and blocks the second blow, which was the only one close enough to possibly hit.


It is at this moment that both boys realize that the time for dancing around each other and making clever strikes is over.


Riku’s blade slips off Sora’s, and he strikes at the younger boy’s chest. Sora manages to block the blow, then swings his own in retaliation.


Riku quickly gets his sword to blocking position, then strikes with his other fist, nailing Sora on the forehead. He steps back, crying out and trying to get his sword up.


Riku takes advantage of this too, swinging a blow right at Sora’s chest, which connects with all the force intended.


Sora stumbles back from the force of the blow, and gets himself recovered, finding his footing once again.


He thinks he might hear Kairi calling something out behind him, but he’s doing his best to keep that distraction out of his mind. Instead he just focus on Riku, who is back to circling and acting cautious.


Sora knows that the time for him to be cautious is over. He charges his friend, swinging his sword in a quick three-hit combination.


Riku steps back to dodge one blow, sidesteps to avoid the other, and then ducks as the third swing goes right over his head.


He retaliates with a punch to Sora’s stomach, knocking the air out of the boy's lungs. That he follows with a two-swing combo, both hits taking Sora in the chest, causing him to stumble back.


Riku knows he has the advantage now, however, and presses it, swinging at Sora with another pair of hits. Sora takes one to the chest and blocks the other, leading the boys into a grapple.


Sora, now thoroughly disabused of the notion this has to be a fair fight, takes a kick at Riku’s shin. The older boy seems to go with it, however, taking a knee and delivering another punch to Sora’s gut. This he follows up with a sword swing to the knee, causing Sora to kneel down in agony.


Riku rises quickly and places his wooden blade’s edge against Sora’s bowed neck. After taking a moment to regain composure, Sora looks up.


“It’s over, Sora,” Riku says calmly, an odd bit of pity in his eyes. “I win, you lose. Time to give up.”


Sora realizes that if he concedes now, Kairi is really lost to him forever as anything more than a friend. But, he also knows that there is nothing he can do. Riku is the victor, and so he deserves his prize.


“Okay, you win,” Sora sighs, trying to keep the true hurt he feels from infecting his voice. “You get to name the raft.”


“Good job, guys!” Kairi congratulates the pair, approaching them cheerily. Hearing her voice just causes hurt in Sora’s heart now. “I mean, I still think you went way too far over something as dumb as the name of our raft, but…”


“Riku made a side bet, actually,” Sora says as he rises to his feet, deciding he might as well rip off the bandage now, get it over with.


“Oh? And what was that?”


“Tell her, Riku,” Sora sighs, bracing himself for what’s to come next.


“Oh, yeah, that,” Riku says, grinning a bit. “Sora and I also wagered that the winner gets to be captain.”


Sora shoots an incredulous look at his friend, not really believing his ears. After all of that posturing, the intensity of their fight, this is what Riku considers important? Was everything he said about sharing the paopu a ruse?


“Too bad, Sora,” Kairi consoles him. “I’m sure you would have made just as great a captain as Riku. Hey, do either of you want anything for those hits you took? I think I have something somewhere…”


“Sure thing, Kairi!” Riku agrees cheerfully. Their female friend walks away in search of medical supplies.


“Are you kidding me, Riku?” Sora bursts out as soon as the girl is out of earshot. “After everything you said about Kairi and the paopu, you just…”


“Hey, forget it, Sora,” Riku chides him, looking him dead in the eye. “Just forget I ever said anything. I promise to as well.” A grin spreads across his face. “As long as you agree to call me Captain Riku.”


At this point, Sora is pretty much stunned out of his ability to protest. “Whatever you want,” he sighs. “Captain.”


“And don’t you forget it!” Riku says, punching him playfully on the shoulder. “Now, c’mon, we’ve got a few last minute things to pick up before we set sail tomorrow. Now get to work!”


Sora watches Riku walk away, still utterly confused by the strange, tangled mess his life has turned into.


KH-KH-KH


Dear Donald,


If you’re reading this, then I assume two things have happened: I have become no longer able to sit contented and watch the universe be thrown into chaos and ultimately destroyed, and thus have left, and that Telary brought it to you because you were out buying Daisy’s birthday present because you forgot. In regards to the first part, I’ve been noticing lately that strange things are happening in the night sky: Stars are blinking out, one by one, with seemingly no rhyme or reason. But there is a reason, a terrible reason, and I’ve got no choice but to head out and investigate. There’s no real reason to worry about me, though, as you very well know I can handle myself just fine. But I do need you and Goofy to head out and do something for me. Somewhere out in the universe, there is a key. The key to our survival. To find it, you’ll need to go to Traverse Town and find a man named Leon, who should be able to point you in the right direction. I hope for everyone’s sake that you can get it done quickly, because I tell you the universe is really running out of time. I have faith in you two, though, and I know you are equal to this task.


Sincerely,

Mickey Mouse, King of Disney Castle

P.S: You really can’t go wrong with flowers and chocolates, pal! ;)


Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy, members of the Royal Council all, have gathered in the castle library to look over the king’s letter a few times and determine how best to proceed.


Azlyn and Telary have gathered behind the door of the library to eavesdrop. This does not sit well with the mage-to-be.


“Azlyn, we’re gonna get…” He begins, before getting cut off by a violent shushing from his partner.


“I can’t hear if you’re gonna whine!” Azlyn complains, putting her ear back to the door.


Of all those gathered in the official meeting, Daisy seems most concerned, pacing back and forth across the room. Donald and Goofy each look solemn, and Minnie hasn’t let the king’s letter leave her queenly paw since she first read it.


“What does this all mean?” Daisy asks a bit frantically, stopping her pacing and addressing the queen, who has been her best friend since time immemorial. “What should we do about this?”


“Obviously,” Minnie says evenly, though her eyes are watering a little, “we’re just going to have to trust the king, and carry out his instructions.”


“But, uh, wait a minute Your Majesty,” Goofy says, a bit confused, which really is nothing new. “The king said we’ve gotta go to Traverse Town to get this here key thingy. I know we’ve got that there Gummi Ship down in the garage, but nobody’s ever really flow nit.”


“I’ve flown that thing in simulations a hundred times, you big palooka,” Donald answers, a little brusquely. “I know how to handle her just right.”


Outside the door, Telary recalls with a bit of uncharacteristic pride that it is in fact he who has the highest Gummi simulation scores in the castle, besting Master Donald in nearly every area. His reasons for not mentioning this are twofold: One, he doesn’t like to brag, and two, it would probably give away the fact that he and Azlyn are eavesdropping on a private Council meeting.


“So that’s settled then,” Minnie says with a bit of forced cheer. “You two must go to Traverse Town and find this key.”


“Then what, your majesty?” Donald asks. “The king doesn’t say what we’re supposed to do with the key once we’ve got it.”


“I can only assume then that he wants you to find him afterwards,” Minnie replies with authority. “And so you must. You two are the only ones…”


“Hold up a minute!” Azlyn interrupts, throwing the library door open and stepping inside. Telary follows behind her sheepishly, demurely waving to the assembled Council. “Me and Telary are the ones who found the letter! Shouldn’t we at least get a chance to…?”


“If I remember correctly,” Donald interrupts her, stepping forward aggressively, “it was just Telary who found the letter. And even if that had anything to do with this at all, that letter is addressed specifically to me, and names me and Goofy as the ones the king wants taking on this mission!”


“I know that, I heard it allthrough the door,” Azlyn explains, not really helping her case with the eavesdropping mention. “And I’m not saying that we go it alone, but at least consider taking us along. We are your apprentices after all…”


“Exactly!” Donald chimes in, raising a feathered finger to the air triumphantly. “You are apprentices. Therefore, it is your job to do what we say, and we say stay here!”


“That’s incredibly unfair!” Azlyn protests, also stepping closer to the mage.


“Well, tough. After all, neither of you have any real field experience…”


“How are we supposed to get any if you keep us locked up in here?”


“Now, uh, Donald,” Goofy tries to interrupt, approaching his counterpart, hoping beyond hope to stop things from escalating.


“Please, Azlyn, let’s not make this any worse than it has to be,” Telary says at nearly the same time, also approaching his friend in an attempt to defuse tension.


“Shut up!” Donald and Azlyn yell back at their partners derisively, neither one ready to back down.


Enough!” Queen Minnie shouts, finally losing the composure that she has fought so very hard to maintain throughout this entire situation, ever since she read the letter.


Everyone in the room freezes, with the exception of the motion of every head in the room swiveling to face the mouse queen. Silence reigns.


Telary is trying very hard not to throw up. Thankfully for everyone in the room, he is succeeding.


“This is not what Mickey would want!” Minnie declares through the tears that have now begun to fall from her eyes. “All of this fighting and shouting, when there’s an entire universe out there that’s in crisis. Azlyn, Donald, the two of you should be ashamed of yourselves and the way you’ve acted!”


“Sorry your majesty,” Donald apologizes, head bowed low.


“Yes, I let my anger get the best of me,” Azlyn says, following suit with the head bowing. Unfortunately, she’s a rather single-minded girl, and in seconds her head is up once again. “It’s just that I…”


“That’s enough,” Minnie says simply, leaving no room for discussion. “Despite your arguments, Captain Goofy is ultimately in charge of what activities you do or do not pursue, and I believe that he wishes for you to stay with us at the castle.”


“Uh, well...” the captain begins, but a harsh look from Donald sends whatever he was about to say straight back up his throat. “Yes, your majesty. Azlyn should stay here and keep up with her studies, ahyuck.”


“Then that’s that,” Minnie says with finality. “I appreciate your passion in this matter, Azlyn, as I am sure the king would too, but regrettably it will have to be channeled elsewhere. Please leave this library.”


Azlyn knows that her chances in an argument are next to nothing, and so she finally wisely decides that it is over. Bowing her head once more, she slinks out of the library.


“I should, uh…” Telary begins, before just giving up, shooting everyone one last sheepish smile, and following after his friend, closing the door to the library behind him.


“Y’know, being honest, I was gonna ask Telary to come along with us,” Donald sighs. “But if he wants to stay here with his friend…”


“Now, on to the matter at hand,” Minnie says, steering the conversation back to its original course. “On your travels, you will see and experience many new things, and for the sake of posterity, I think we should keep a record.”


“I dunno if I can find the key and write it all down at the same time, your majesty,” Goofy points out.


“You can’t chew gum and walk at the same time, ya big palooka!” Donald teases, crossing his arms derisively.


“I realize that you will be busy, and so I have decided to appoint a Royal Chronicler, who will have the task of recording what you find in other worlds,” Minnie explains, pointing to a seemingly empty desk in the corner of the library.


Both Donald and Goofy are momentarily confused, until a closer look reveals a tiny green cricket, dressed in a vest, top hat, and tails.


“Jiminy Cricket’s the name!” the tiny chronicler says by way of introduction. “And chronicling is my game!”


Out in the colonnade, Telary finally finds Azlyn, sitting cross-legged with her back against a pillar in the shadows. She looks more hurt and dejected than he has ever seen her.


“Hey,” he says in a low voice, hoping to project a calm air. “I’m really sorry about what happened back there. I know things didn’t work out like you wanted them to, but…”


“But it’s over,” the knight-in-training sighs, placing her chin on her fist, eyes cloudy. “My one chance to be a hero is finished, and it didn’t even get started.”


“C’mon now,” Telary says, crouching beside the girl. “You know that’s not true! In just a few more years you’re going to graduate to full Knight, and then…”


“Then nothing, Telary!” Azlyn interjects, voice full of hurt and anger. “Nothing has happened in this whole stupid world since before we've been in the castle. The guards are basically for show, everybody knows it.”


Telary is hard-pressed to argue with that point. Nothing has truly threatened the castle in years, and any problems that occurre down in Mouseburg are dealt with by their own security forces, or the vigilante Darkwing Duck. Mostly the Disney Castle Guard Corps just stand around and look watchful.


“I’m gonna be stuck standing in corners at attention for the rest of my life, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”


“Don’t say that!” Telary encourages. “You don’t ever have to just resign yourself to things. Your life, your destiny, in the end you control it, no matter what! You get to say what happens to you.”


Azlyn thinks that’s a pretty rich pep talk coming from literally the biggest pushover she knows, but she’s thankful for it all the same. Ever since she can remember, Telary has been there for her, encouraging her. It’s a good feeling, knowing someone has your back.


“You’re right, Tel!” Azlyn says, rising to her feet. “I don’t have to sit back and accept things as they are! I can take control of the situation!”


“That’s right!” Telary agrees, giving her a congratulatory tap on the arm. “You just go out there and decide your own destiny!”


“I will, Telary,” Azlyn says with a grin that Telary fails to notice is considerably less than innocent.“Believe me.”


Telary is a smart boy, but in this moment, he has no idea just how dumb his actions have been. He’s just happy to have helped out a friend.


That happiness definitely won’t last for long, however.


KH-KH-KH


This hunt has lasted too long.


It’s been nearly an hour since Sora had stumbled upon two of the three mushrooms Kairi had tasked him to collect for tomorrow’s journey, little trifles that would probably be enjoyed with caught fish for breakfast and then done with.


Still it’s a mission that Kairi has given him, and he is determined to fulfill it to the very best of his ability.


Unfortunately, it currently seems that that ability is not quite enough for the task at hand.


He has returned to the waterfall and freshwater pool now, taking a rest and a few drinks before setting out on the next leg of his search.


It’s then, however, that inspiration strikes, when a wind whistling through the clearing finds its way towards the low air pressure system of the cave beneath the cliff.


The cave that the local islanders called “The Secret Spot”, despite the fact that literally everyone knows about it.


The name “The Secret Spot” is more derived from the mystery surrounding the cave than actual availability of knowledge of its location. Legends abound about its true nature, and what lies within: The Door With No Handle.


Sora thinks about this as he enters the cave, head ducked low so as to avoid giving himself a nasty bruise. The prevailing legend is that behind the door is the lair of a mysterious mage from ages past, who magically removed the doorknob just before he died, in order to keep its secrets hidden from the prying eyes of the public.


Despite it being made of simple wood, no one on the islands has ever even tried to knock it down by conventional means. Whether it's due to the spooky nature of its legends, or just out of sheer respect for old ghost stories, to this day the mysterious door remains unperturbed.


The walls around the door, however, have over the years become covered with the drawings of children who were not afraid of any old legends, and were really just yearning to make their own chalky mark on the history of the islands.


Sora and Kairi had been in here a few times as young children, and several drawings had been done by their hands. He had drawn a dragon and a group of knights, his style scribbly and messy in the way of a great number of five year old boys. She had contributed a castle, huge and well-detailed. When asked where she got the idea, Kairi had confessed that she had seen the castle in dreams several times, so much so that it simply felt familiar.


Just underneath those drawings are Sora’s two favorite works of art in the entire world: Two portraits of him and Kairi, each done by the other.


They’re just their faces in profile, facing each other and smiling brightly. Her likeness is messy, drawn by his hand, but his is fairly recognizable. Kairi has always had a bit of the spark of an artist inside her.

Seeing it now, though, brings a smile to his face. Come to think of it though, it might just be missing something, a minute detail Sora is sure will tie it all together.

Picking up a stray piece of chalk, he hastily adds in the detail. After it is finished, he sits back, admiring his work.


Behind him, wind howls into the cave, stronger than ever.


Startled, he rises from his spot on the floor of the cave. Turning around, his eyes darting from one end of the cave to the other, he looks for something that...


“This world has been connected,” a deep voice, like something out of a nightmare, proclaims, and Sora swears he feels the temperature in the cave drop several degrees. “It is tied to the darkness. Nothing will escape it. Its end will be final.”


“Who’s there?” Sora demands with a bravado he isn’t quite sure he feels.


“One who has come to see the door,” the mysterious voice replies. Sora’s eyes immediately dart to the mysterious wooden door, seemingly one with the backmost wall of the cave.


“Do you know what’s behind there?” Sora asks.


“Of course, young fool,” the voice spits back, offended by the question that Sora has put forth. “I know all about what lies beyond. I have seen it. I have seen many more things as well. Things you never will.”


“You must be from another world,” Sora declares with incredulity, still searching for the source of the deep voice. Out of the corner of his eye, he thinks he sees a figure clad in a dull brown robe, but when he whirls to face it, it is gone.


“Indeed,” the voice answers, sounding pleased, almost gloating over the fact. “I know all, and you know so very little. A pity.”


Sora’s anger sparks again at the voice’s words. “I may not know now, but I’m going to find out! I’m going to see other worlds, just you wait!”


“One who knows nothing can understand nothing,” the voice gloats one last time, drifting away into an echo.


For whatever reason, something heavy in Sora’s heart lifts, and he knows the voice is gone. Still, some part of him wants to search, find the source of that mysterious, condescending voice and…


Sora nearly steps on a mushroom.


Looking down, he can see the tiny bud of the thing, grown large in the darkness of the cave. Grinning, he kneels down and picks it up.


Finally!
He thinks as he strolls out of the cave. Before he leaves though, he feels oddly compelled to take one last look at the mysterious door.


After examining it for a second, he merely shrugs and continues on his way out, wondering if anyone on the islands will ever learn the true origins of the mysterious door.


Back in the cave, the figure in the cloak returns, mulling events over for a few moments. So the boy Sora is not the one he sensed, the one who seems to be calling the darkness to these otherwise innocuous islands. He is too weak, as evidenced by the way his memories have been so easily obfuscated. He could never command that much Darkness.


Still, there was something odd about the boy. Something to do with his heart…


No matter. Clearly the boy is insignificant. The cloaked man doesn’t figure he will last the night to come.


With a mere thought of his dark purpose, the man vanishes to seek out the true source of Darkness in Destiny Islands.


Somewhere in the cove, diligently working to string shells on a thin cord, Kairi feels a chill in her heart. It is so overwhelming that she nearly drops her project. It is a force unlike anything she has ever felt before.


It passes after a moment, but Kairi still thinks upon its echoes. What could possibly have been the cause of…?


“Hey Kairi!” comes Sora’s cheerful voice, cutting through her contemplations. The girl looks up to see her friend marching toward her with pride in his step. Clutched in his hand is a bag, presumably full of the mushrooms she requested.


“Your hero has returned with his bounty!” Sora declares, holding up the bag before opening it to show her the trio of black mushrooms inside. “Good enough to eat, huh?”


“They certainly are,” she agrees with a giggle. The task took him a bit longer than she had initially expected, but she is just glad to see him so happy. Especially after how moody he had been about losing the spar over the raft name. That had struck Kairi as odd, but perhaps the boy had just really wanted to be captain.


“So that’s everything, right?” Sora asks her. “Are we good to go for tomorrow?”


“Sure are,” Riku chimes in as he enters the cove, three fish each individually wrapped in newspaper in his arms. “Can you believe it? We’re actually ready to do this thing!”


Kairi returns his smile. Seeing a look so free of worry on Riku's face is even stranger than seeing Sora upset nowadays. “I know. Want to celebrate tonight?”


“I’d love to,” Riku answers, dropping his fish on the supply pile. “But I think I really just need to go home and pack things up. After all, don’t want to miss anything!”


“That’s right,” agrees Kairi, who had packed yesterday. “It sure would stink to be out at sea without clean underwear. And I mean that literally.”


The boys laugh, and it’s good to hear it, as something heavy has been hanging over the pair for a few days now. Or maybe even longer than that, with Kairi just noticing recently. Who could fathom the emotional states of teenage boys, really?


“True, true,” Riku agrees, still chuckling. “Anyway, I’d better go. See you two tomorrow. Bright and early!”


“Bright and early,” Kairi repeats, grinning back at her older friend. “It’ll be just like we all planned.”


“Like we all dreamed,” Riku corrects, his voice getting appropriately dreamier as he says it. He begins to walk away, before calling back to the pair he’s left behind. “Don’t stay out too late, you two. You’ll need plenty of rest for tomorrow.”


“Promise!” Kairi and Sora say at the same time. After a beat, they look at each other and giggle.


“Are you going to go home soon?” Kairi asks, sitting back down and returning to her work stringing shells.


“Uh, I’m not sure,” Sora replies, sitting next to her on the deck of the still landlocked raft. “Why? Are you…?”


“Well, apparently in all of the excitement, Riku forgot that he’s the one who gave me a ride this morning,” Kairi answers, rolling her eyes. “So I’m pretty much stranded here without you.”


“Oh,” Sora says, thinking back to his feelings about Riku and Kairi’s arrival in the same rowboat this morning. “Then I guess we’ll go whenever you’re ready. My parents didn’t give me a curfew or anything tonight.”


“But I assume you do need to pack?” she asks teasingly, one eyebrow playfully raised at him.


“That’s true,” Sora answers sheepishly, blushing a bit. “I, well, kinda haven’t even really thought about it yet.”


“I’ll be ready to go as soon as I finish this,” Kairi tells him, returning her eyes to her work.


Curious, Sora scoots closer to her, craning his neck to see exactly what it is she’s working on.


She looks up at him with a smile, sighs, and says, “Want to know what I’m working on?”


Sora nods vigorously.


“It’s a necklace made of thalassa shells,” she tells him, holding up the as yet unfinished work. “It’s something sailors make. According to old ship legends, it’s supposed to bring good luck to a sea voyage.”


“Cool,” Sora says, nodding. Kairi thinks for a second that he might just be saying that, but the look in his eyes tells her differently. It isn’t one she gets from him often, but it’s one she certainly appreciates when she does.


“I’ve been reading a lot of old sailor books, actually,” she continues explaining, threading on another thalassa shell. “My dad keeps a bunch of that old stuff around, because my grandpa sailed.” She knows that she should probably be adding the moniker “adoptive” to all her relatives, but that sort of thing only depresses her. Besides, adopted or not, they’re really the only family she remembers having, so why should she have to put a caveat on her relationship with them? “This isn’t the only thalassa charm I’ve made, you know.”


“Oh, really?” Sora asks. “What else have you done?”


“Selphie said I could keep it in her boat,” she explains. “After finishing it earlier today. As soon as this is done, I’ll show you, okay?”


“Sure thing Kairi,” Sora agrees with a grin and a dreamy air. “Anything you say.”


So they sit on the deck of the raft for a good hour while Kairi maintains laser focus on her project. It’s mostly silent, but Sora doesn’t mind getting a chance to just enjoy his friend’s company and watch the sun move through the sky.


“There, finished!” Kairi declares, holding up the completed strand. Maybe a dozen white shells are strung up on it, and it looks really beautiful, at least in Sora’s estimation.


“Wow, Kairi,” he says, inspecting it from a few more angles. “That’s really beautiful. I bet it’ll bring us a lot of luck on our trip.”


“Yeah, I think so too,” Kairi agrees, grinning back at him. After a moment, she rises. “C’mon, let’s go get my other charm,” she urges him. “Then I guess we can watch the sunset. That sound okay?”


The thought of watching the sunset with Kairi actually makes Sora’s stomach give a little flip, but he just nods. Kairi offers down her hand to help him up, and he gladly takes it.


They walk in a companionable silence to the dock where Selphie, Tidus, and Wakka are all standing around. Selphie grins when she sees the pair walking towards them, and Sora braces for another onslaught of questions like this morning. Luckily, though, the girl actually keeps her mouth shut about it.


“I still have your charm,” Selphie says, holding up something that Sora can see is kind of star-shaped in one hand. “Kept it safe, just like I said I would!”


“Thank you Selphie,” Kairi says as she takes her charm from the young girl’s hand. “I knew this would be safe with you.”


“What is it?” Tidus asks, taking a step towards her and looking at the charm with interest.


“It’s a special charm that keeps sailing parties together, no matter what,” Kairi explains. “It’s really a very important thing to have on a raft trip.”


“I bet it is,” Wakka says, putting one hand each on Selphie and Tidus’s shoulders. “Well, I’ll be there tomorrow to see you three off. For now, I have to get these two home like I promised their parents.”


“Sure,” Kairi says easily. “Are you two gonna be there when we set sail too?”


“You bet we will!” Selphie exclaims by way of promise.


“See you then, guys,” Kairi says.


The three say goodbye and then ship off. Sora steps up beside Kairi and takes her charm into his hand, examining it with a critical eye. It really is just a bunch of materials molded together into the shape of a star. It looks okay, but it’s definitely not the thing of beauty that Kairi has created with the rest of her thalassa shells.


“Do you like it?” she asks, nudging him with her shoulder.


“It’s pretty good,” he replies. After a moment, he looks up at her and grins. “But I don’t think we’ll need it. After all, what could separate you and me? And, well, Riku too, of course.”


Kairi is quiet for a long couple of moments, then she sits down on the edge of the dock, feet dangling over the edge. Sora is a bit surprised that such a lighthearted comment has prompted such melancholy from his friend. After a moment of indecision, he decides that the best thing to do is to just sit down and try to talk to her.


“What’s wrong?” he asks, nudging her shoulder with his. “Was it what I just said? Because if it was, I…”


“It wasn’t you, Sora,” she answers, still not looking anywhere but at the water and the setting sun. “Well, I guess it kind of was what you just said but… I think Riku is separating from us anyway.”


“What?” Sora exclaims, absolutely shocked that Kairi would suggest such a thing. “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. Riku’s the one who wants this raft trip, and not just because he wants to see other worlds, but also because he wants to be with us as much as possible, before…”


“Before he finishes school,” Kairi completes, sighing. “Don’t you see? That’s what this all is. Riku thinks that if we go to another world, somehow he can convince us all to stay there. Just so he doesn’t have to leave us. Doesn’t have to grow up.”


“But…” Sora tries to protest, but honestly he is hard pressed to deny it. “You may be right. But maybe not. I mean, Riku’s a responsible guy, right? He always seems to do the right thing, even if…”


“Fear changes people, Sora,” Kairi says. “Especially fear of the future. Riku isn’t a bad guy, just…”


Silence reigns for a few moments as both teens contemplate what they are actually discussing. Just the thought of their good pal Riku being so scared and alone, without telling anyone, wanting so badly to escape his fate…


“Sometimes I wish we could just set sail now,” Kairi says abruptly. “Just the two of us, without having to worry about…”


“What are you talking about?” Sora asks, turning to face her with a look of sheer incredulity on his face. “If we did that, we’d…”


“Riku would never recover, I know," Kairi sighs. “We’d lose him even worse than is already inevitable. Still, I just… To see him complicate everything with his stupid…” Kairi is silent for a minute, trying to retain composure. Eventually, she lets out a sigh and appears to calm down. “Sorry about all that. I don’t know what just came over me.”


“Me either,” Sora agrees. Kairi looks at him for a second with pure shock on her face, and after a moment, he just smiles. “Kidding! Y’know, I think you’re changing too, Kairi.”


“Most people do, Sora,” Kairi says, a small smile lightening up her face for a moment, before sinking back into a rigid line. “That’s part of growing up, even when you accept it. It can be a good thing, though. Like, before, I was just going along with the raft idea because you and Riku seemed so excited about it. But now… Now I think I’m ready. To get out of here for a while, see a few new places, new worlds. Maybe I will even end up finding out where I came from. Who really knows? All I know is that now, I’m ready for the adventure.”


“I’m glad, Kairi,” Sora says, placing a hand on her shoulder. “I couldn’t imagine this journey ahead without you in it. I always want to be where you are.”


Kairi turns to look at Sora fully in the face, with a kind expression that seems to flow out from her eyes into her whole being.


“Don’t you, ever change, Sora,” she says after looking at him that way for nearly a full minute. “I think you’re perfect just the way that you are.”


Slowly, tentatively, Kairi leans forward and places a kiss on Sora’s cheek. Her lips linger for perhaps ten seconds, and Sora thinks his heart might explode. She eventually pulls back, tantalizingly slow, then looks at him again, smiling once more.


“I just can’t wait,” she says slowly, turning back to face the horizon. “Until we set sail. It’s going to be perfect.”


If this moment is anything to go by, Sora thinks that the journey they are about to embark on together will be nothing short of magical.
[HR][/HR]Ta da! I thought I might as well post two chapters for the day, since I already have them ready to go. Yes, I am being a bit more explicit about the Sora/Kairi pairing in this fic, so sorry to anybody who doesn't necessarily like that. Next chapter is the real kick-off to the whole adventure, and I'll reveal how Azlyn and Telary tie into this new version of the KH1 plot!
 
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KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Wow, Selphie really got up and personal in Sora's love life. It was a hoot and I can't stop laughing at that. I wonder if that's some foreshadowing on her part? And holy crap, what a fight that was over Kairi and naming the dang raft! Poor Azlyn getting chewed out a bit by Queen Minnie. Telary is becoming my favorite character, because his words of encouragement struck a cord in me. <3 And Wakka being in charge of Selphie and Tidus took me by surprise. Furthermore, the reasoning behind Riku being so eager to go out to new worlds... you are my new favorite kingdom hearts writer. <3 This has been the best and most enjoyable to read tonight! I look forward to chapter three! And oh my gosh, the kiss on the cheek! <3
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Thank you so much once again for your kind words and encouragement. I am glad you are still enjoying Telary and Azlyn. I really wanted to add a bit more complexity to character motivations and traits with this fic, and I knew Riku's aging concerns would be a good trait people could connect with, as well as informing his actions later on. Once again, thanks for reading and commenting!
 

KingdomKey

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  • Whirlwind Lancer
Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Thank you so much once again for your kind words and encouragement. I am glad you are still enjoying Telary and Azlyn. I really wanted to add a bit more complexity to character motivations and traits with this fic, and I knew Riku's aging concerns would be a good trait people could connect with, as well as informing his actions later on. Once again, thanks for reading and commenting!
Your welcome! It's a pleasure to read it. :D I'm also pleased with the way you used Ansem Seeker of Darkness, because it's a first to see him drawn to Riku's darkness after realizing it wasn't Sora he was looking for. Of course, seeing everyone have really good traits and more dialog makes them so much more likable compared to the actual series of KH. So I'll definitely be a loyal reader and read up on any chapters you post on here.
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter III: Fated Night
The magic is flowing in Telary’s bedchamber tonight.

After all of the stress, anger, and sheer terror that today has seemed to bring on Disney Castle, the only way Telary can really cope with it all is by cleaning.

So, while he works on dusting the shelf containing his magic books, a magically driven broom, propelled by a similar spell that controls the movements of the castle’s magic mop servants, works to dust up every scrap of dirt or lint on the floor.

Not that there even is much dirt or lint anywhere in Telary’s bedchamber, considering that he cleans it at least once every two days, if not more, but it’s the principal of the thing really.

As he works, he thinks about how sad it is about Azlyn’s dreams were crushed like they were this afternoon. She really is a good, kind person underneath all of the bluster and bravado, and really deserves her happiness. He was very glad to see his pep talk helped somewhat.

Now if only he could just take his own advice, and maybe work up the courage to ask Master Donald when he might be ready to graduate to full Wizard status.

A knock on his door interrupts his train of thought, and the cleaning process. Putting down the rag he was dusting with, but leaving the broom to run its course, he moves to answer the door, humming to himself and wondering who could be calling at this late hour, especially since most of the castle’s staff is busying themselves getting ready for Donald and Goofy’s trip to Traverse Town and beyond.

It really shouldn’t surprise him as much as it does to see Azlyn standing at the door.

She looks to be dressed for traveling. She’s wearing a light blue, short-sleeved hoodie with a white zipper, a black camisole under that. Beneath the dark blue belt she’s wearing is a light blue skirt that falls to just above her knees, with black tights running down the rest of her legs to her ankles. Her feet are clad in shoes that match her hoodie and skirt, black gloves with steel armored plating on the back cover her hands, and her short haircut is arranged so that her bags are swept to the right side of her face.

Most concerning of all, however, is the Disney Castle Guard Corps standard issue shield that is slung across her back.
Telary knows this can’t be good.

“Let me in, quick, before somebody sees!” Azlyn demands, a threatening look in her eyes.

Bereft of other options, Telary steps back to let her enter. The broom keeps going in the background.

“Please, Azlyn,” Telary begins, sitting down on his bed and rubbing at his temples, where he feels a major headache coming on. “Please, just tell me you aren’t doing what I think you’re doing.”

“I’m determining my own destiny!” the knight-to-be exclaims, punching her friend playfully on the shoulder. “Just like you told me to do earlier today.”

“And how, may I ask, are you going to go about this?” Telary asks, despite already knowing the answer, bracing himself for what’s to come.

“I’m going to stow away on Donald and Goofy’s Gummi Ship,” she tells him, a grin that seems more like a smirk forming on her face. “And then I’m going to prove to them that I can handle myself!”

“Or show them that you can’t follow orders and aren’t to be trusted, let alone made a member of the Disney Castle Royal…”

“This is what I’m supposed to be doing, Telary,” Azlyn interrupts. The apprentice mage looks up and sees that her eyes are practically on fire with her determination. “I just know in my heart that I can help out on this mission. So, despite destiny’s attempts to sideline me, I’m going to take matters into my own hands. And…”

Here comes the part that Telary has been dreading most of all.

“…I want you to go with me,” Azlyn says, looking at him with a smile set on her face. “I know you want to prove yourself as more than just an apprentice. Come with me, and help them see that…”

“I’m a rule breaker?” Telary protests, standing up and looking down at his younger, much-shorter friend. “That I throw tantrums when I don’t get what I want, and disobey orders? Azlyn, I’m saying this because you are my best friend and I genuinely care about you. Please, just follow orders this one time. Please?”

For a few moments, Azlyn just stares at him, looks directly in his eyes, completely undaunted by the height advantage he has, his age, or the magical power he wields.

When she finally speaks, her voice is like cold steel. “I’m doing this, whether you follow me or not, whether you approve or not. This is what I have to do, Telary. I’ve never been surer about anything in my life. I was hoping you could come with me, but it doesn’t actually matter, because I’m still going to do it.”

She turns and begins to stalk towards the door. There is a bit of hesitation evident in her motions as she reaches for the doorknob, but after barely a fraction of a second, she sets her shoulders and walks into the hallway.
She begins to walk down the hall with slow, subdued steps, not only to keep quiet and thus avoid detection, but also because, if her theory is correct…

“Azlyn, wait!” Telary hisses in a loud whisper. Azlyn allows herself a second to smirk satisfactorily before turning back to face Telary, expression carefully neutral.

His wizard robe is gone now, revealing his usual traveling attire of a white shirt with green sleeves that extend three-quarters down his arms. Over that is a yellow sleeveless hoodie with green zippers. His trousers are the same color as his shirt’s sleeves, with a bit of yellow trim on the cuffs, and his shoes are yellow and green. Tucked into a makeshift holster on the side is his green and yellow mage’s staff, a little brown wizard’s hat carved at the top of it. He’s also wearing fingerless white gloves.

“Okay, you’ve got me,” he says as he approaches, looking nervous and avoiding eye contact. After a moment of courage gathering, though, he seems able to look her straight in the face. “I just want to be clear,” he begins, trying to sound as steely as she did before, but unable to hide the light tremor in his voice, “That I definitely do not approve of this behavior, and the only reason I am going along with you plan is to make sure you don’t have to face whatever punishment that you will deserve when you get caught, or reveal yourself. I am doing that because I care about you, and do not want to see you locked in a high tower, or cast into a dungeon dimension, for the rest of your life. Okay?”

She just looks at him for a moment, glad that her plan worked. Emotional blackmail and appeal to sense of friendship may not be the most honest tricks in the book, but she’s glad they at least seem to have worked in this case.

Because, being honest, if Telary hadn’t come out of his room, ready and raring to go as quickly as he did, Azlyn probably just would have returned to her own room, her entire crazy stowaway plan forgotten.

Telary doesn’t need to know that, though.

“Glad to have you aboard,” she says with a grin and a wink, before turning and slinking back down the corridor as stealthily as possible, glad to hear the quiet yet unmistakable footsteps of her best friend behind her.

KH-KH-KH


“Take my hand, Sora,” Riku orders, standing calmly even as a massive tidal wave bears down on the shore, threatening to sweep both he and Sora away.


Sora wants to warn him, wants to protest, but finds himself unable to speak, his mouth moving and his throat straining. In his head he screams and cries, but it is proven a useless effort. There is nothing he can do.
What is happening is inevitable.

As the wave finally begins to crash down, Sora looks into and sees a terrifying sight:


The wave has eyes. Bright yellow eyes that are fixed on him. Eyes that look hungry.


Then the wave hits, and all is blackness.


Sora jolts up in surprise, letting out a pained yell as he crashes back into the waking world. He looks around his room, glad to see that the familiar is still familiar.

He remembers he was packing, which explains the open suitcase at his feet, a few shirts laying in it next to a pair of boxers. He must have dozed off, had maybe gotten thinking…

Thinking about what Kairi said.

Actually, more thinking of what Kairi had done.

He feels his cheek, pressing his hand right to the spot where her lips had touched his face. The ghostly feeling of them still remains when he concentrates on the spot. He is almost certain that he will be able to remember that feeling forever.

His first kiss, really, being technical. Other than those of his immediate family members, no lips have touched his face in the entirety of his sixteen years of life.


The pair hadn’t talked about it afterward, and Sora had simply rowed back to the main island, where the pair had parted cordially on the dock, the kiss remaining undiscussed.

But it had to mean something, didn’t it? It had to mean that somehow, on some level, Kairi had the same feelings for him he was sure now he had for her.

His insides should be on fire, his heart feeling light and free with joy, and in some small way all of those things were happening. But something else nags at him, casts a shadow on his happy feelings:

Riku.

What Kairi said about him makes sense, but there’s something else she either fails to see or doesn’t want to acknowledge.

Riku is in love with her.

In fact, part of Sora suspects that if it was Riku that she’d made her offer to sail away immediately, just the two of them, they’d be halfway to another world right now.

A bolt of lightning momentarily illuminates his room, overpowering the small lamp of his desk in the corner. It’s only a few seconds later that a crash of thunder rumbles with the force of a hammer beating a drum. Sora doesn’t count the seconds between the flash of the lightning and the roar of the thunder, his grandmother’s trick for determining how close a storm is, but he knows that it cannot be far away.

Rising, he runs to his window, a spectacular view that affords him a direct look at the smaller island for play. The sky is dark, almost impossibly so, and Sora swears that if he squinted, he could see spots of deep purple in the dark skies above.

His first thought is of the raft, looking out at the ocean, which is beginning to get choppy. He fears that a wave could easily sweep in and destroy all of his friends’ hard work.

There’s no way that is happening.

Grabbing his white fingerless gloves and jamming them on his hands, pulling his jacket’s hood up over his spiked hair, Sora lifts his window and moves out into the dark, stormy night.

Not far away, Kairi rises from her position laying on her bed, head turning to gaze out the window.

Part of her, a small voice in the back of her head, tells her that the raft may be in danger, but is overwhelmed by a much more powerful urge:

She must go to the island. Go to the door.

She rises, almost numbly going through the motions, knowing that her destiny is about to begin in earnest.

Riku is already on the island, boat tied to the dock. He has been for almost an hour, waiting for the inevitable to reveal itself, waiting for the true journey of his life to begin.

As he walks the beach, knowing that the place he has to go has been prepared, he pays no mind to the shadows that rise, give him curious glances with glowing but somehow empty yellow eyes, then realize that he is not to be touched.

After all, why would the shadows strike at the one who has called them to the islands in the first place?

And in the clearing that leads to the cave, the dark man arrives, content in the knowledge that all is as he has predicted.

KH-KH-KH


The secret trek to the Gummi hangar is going much smoother than Azlyn had predicted it would. She had been prepared to duck out of sight, avoid the light thrown off by the lanterns of patrolling guards. Hell, she’d at least wanted to dive behind a statue!

Instead, the journey just sort of lamely consists of her and Telary walking down hallways very slowly.

“I honestly had higher hopes from the castle’s guards than this,” Telary whispers, maybe to himself and maybe to Azlyn, she doesn’t know. He’s been doing that for the entire trip, every minute or so muttering something like, “Oh, God, we are so going to get caught! They’re gonna put us away forever, just like they did Captain Pete!”

Even though it had been reassuring that her friend was still behind her one-hundred percent despite the terror he felt, it was also pretty annoying.

“I told you that if I stuck around here forever, following orders, my life would go nowhere,” she replies, hoping that maybe if they get an actual conversation going he’ll stop with the terrified non sequiturs. “I wouldn’t even patrol, just sit around in the guardhouse all day and play cards.”

“Y’know, if by some freak chance this doesn’t end up with you barred from ever becoming an actual knight,” Telary says, “I’d hope you’d be the one to finally kick this force into real fighting shape. Or at least watching-the-hallways shape! I mean, honestly we should already be sentenced to life in prison by now! Not that I don’t appreciate the lucky break, mind you.”

Azlyn just keeps moving forward, still alert despite the continued non-presence of anyone that could threaten the pair’s journey.

Until she hears Donald Duck’s voice echoing down the hall towards them, that is.

“Goofy, where are you ya big palooka!” the duck quacks at the top of his lungs. “If I find you napping somewhere, you better believe you’ll be sorry!”

Telary panics, of course, opening his mouth to scream before realizing that would not be the best possible course of action if he wishes to remain undiscovered.

Azlyn is ready for this eventuality, or at least her reflexes are, immediately sending her diving out of sight behind a pillar.
“Telary!” she hisses, waving at him. “Get over here or you’re gonna get caught!”

Still afraid, but glad to now have a plan, Telary quickly streaks behind a pillar of his own, just seconds before Donald, now mumbling angrily to himself about all the horrible things he would use magic to do to Goofy once he found him, comes around the corner.

After a moment, the duck stops dead in the middle of the hall, eyes darting back and forth.

Telary almost faints, but Azlyn just sucks in a nervous breath, as quietly as she can manage.

Things are tense for a few seconds while Donald continues to look around, but after a few moments spent examining the hallway, he sighs and moves on.

“I am being serious, Goofy!” he calls out as he continues down the hall, Azlyn watching all the while. After a moment he rounds a bend and is gone from sight.

Azlyn waits a few more moments, just to be safe, then slips out from behind the pillar. Moments later, Telary follows, though he catches his foot on the edge of it and sort of stumbles out into the hallway.

“That was close,” he says almost without any emotion behind it, so great is his terror even after the minute or so since they first heard the mage’s voice coming down the hall.

“Yeah, good thing your master is such a loudmouth,” Azlyn says chuckling a bit at her good fortune, and to hide the fact that she’s still coming down from the fear-fueled adrenaline rush of nearly being discovered. “And it’s also working out pretty well for us that Captain Goofy likes naps so much. This gives us a lot more time than I thought we’d have. But only if we hurry, so c’mon!”

Their journey down the hall is much faster now, with Azlyn emboldened after their narrow escape from detection. Finally, they reach the castle garden.

Surrounded on all sides by immaculately sculpted hedges designed inexplicably to look like a group of animal’s playing band instruments, in the middle rests a small model of the castle done all in shrubbery.

What most people aren’t aware of is that this is not just a showy piece of hedging put together by the gardeners to impress the king.

It is also a secret back entrance to the hangar where the Gummi ship is stored.

“How do you know about this?” Telary asks as the pair move into the garden. “The secret entrance I mean? I mean, the only reason I know about it is that Master Donald and I use it to access the hangar because it’s closer to his room than the main entrance.”

“C’mon, Tel,” Azlyn replies with a mischievous grin, moving not towards the castle hedge but instead to one that looks like a tuba-wearing pig. “Guard training involves more than just knowing how to punch stuff. Or, at least my own specialized brand of it does. Sometimes I sneak around to test my spying skills. Well, one day I just happened to be sneaking in the garden when Chip and Dale came out of that hedge.”

“So, because you occasionally act like a sneaky spy with no regards to others’ privacy, is what you basically mean?” Telary says in a tone of voice that practically screams lecture.

“Pretty much,” Azlyn answers with a devilish grin as she pulls a cloth bag tied up with string out of the tuba shrub. She gives it a shake, and is rewarded with the sound of clinking coins.

“When did you hide that here?” Telary asks with a bewildered frown.

“Oh, a while ago, probably,” Azlyn answers, smiling fondly at the bag.

“Why?”

Azlyn shrugs. “I guess I like to be prepared. You never know when you’re going to need some emergency funds. I actually have bags like this hidden in places all over the castle.”

“I’m actually not sure how I should respond to that,” Telary says in bewilderment, rubbing his forehead in a display of incredulity. “But, whatever you feel you have to do, I guess.”

“Life may be boring around here now, but that could change in a second,” Azlyn says in her own, oilier sounding lecture tone. “So, I’m always prepared with some cash. You can never go wrong with munny.” She places the bag in her hoodie’s pocket and moves to the secret hangar entrance, reaching for the doorknob.

“Well, that’s no attitude to have, now is it?”

“Well, gee Telary,” the knight-in-training shoots back sardonically, “I’m sorry that I’m not the perfect person you expected me to be.”

“Uh, Azlyn,” Telary mutters. “I didn’t say that.”

Azlyn whirls on her partner, a shocked look on her face. “What do you mean you didn’t…?”

“Down here!” the voice from before, definitely not Telary’s, calls out from the grass directly in the middle of where Azlyn and Telary are standing.

Both of them look down slowly, squinting until their eyes fix upon a small, sharp-dressed figure, who is smiling up at them and looking back and forth from one to the other.

“Hey there, young’uns!” he greets, doffing his top hat and tipping it towards each of them. “Name’s Jiminy Cricket, new royal chronicler. And who might you two be?”

Azlyn and Telary look at each other in near-panic for a few seconds, neither one sure what to do now that they’ve been discovered.

Or have they? So far, Jiminy hasn’t seemed inclined to raise any kind of alarm at their presence, so maybe…

“I’m Telary, uh, Mr. Cricket,” Telary says first, bowing his head slightly at the little bug, hoping it comes off respectful. “Donald Duck’s apprentice.”

“I see,” Jiminy says, scratching his chin in a way that appears thoughtful. “And your friend?”

“I’m Azlyn,” the knight in training says. “I’m, uh, I’m with the royal guard. Or, at least I will be.”

“That’s very interesting, you know,” the cricket says with a bit of a laugh, as though their introductions have amused him somehow. “To see you two out here in these gardens, near this secret entrance to the Gummi hangar. Especially since I recall that the young lady here was explicitly banned from participating in this mission offworld. It would be a real shame if I had to report to the queen or either one of your teachers that you’ve been sneaking around in direct disobedience of their orders.”

Silence reigns for a few seconds as both Azlyn and Telary’s minds work overtime to come up with some way to get out of this predicament.

Finally, Azlyn manages to come up with something, though it is definitely not an airtight excuse.

“Actually,” she begins, sidling a little closer to the tiny bug and placing one hand on her munny bag just in case, “They decided that they were too harsh with us earlier. In fact, they felt so bad that they told us we could do the Gummi ship’s pre-flight check. Telary here is very proficient with the ship, you should know.”

For a second Jiminy just stares up at the apprentice knight, before sparing a split second glance to Telary behind him, who is nodding in a manner he hope is reassuring of the truthfulness of Azlyn’s statement. It’s a lot to expect from a nod, but the mage-in-training has to try something.

“I see,” Jiminy mumbles quietly, before placing his hands on his hips, anger in his eyes now. “Do you kids think I was born yesterday? Your noses might not be growing, but I could’ve spotted that lie from a full mile away! You kids are obviously mixed up in things you aren’t supposed to be, and frankly I…”

Any of the rest of his rant is considerably muffled, or most likely replaced by a much harsher new rant, when Azlyn deftly scoops the little guy up off of the ground and, in one fluid motion, stuffs him into her munny sack before closing the string tightly.

The garden is deathly quiet for a moment, and then Telary predictably, and probably in this case appropriately, begins to freak out.

“What did you just do?” he screams in a very unstealthy manner, which doesn’t really bother him at this point, because any punishment he receives now he probably really deserves, for being an accomplice to something like this.

“I resolved the situation,” Azlyn says calmly, trying to mask the immense guilt and regret this action has caused her. “Upon reflection, I realize that it may not have been the best way to resolve it, but I certainly can’t go back and undo it now, can I?”

Telary almost protests, but then realizes that this train is inevitably leaving the station now, whatever has happened has happened, and it really is best to just go with the flow, no matter how terrifying and immoral the flow happens to be at the moment

“No, you can’t,” he sighs, following his cohort over to the Gummi Hangar entrance. Azlyn opens the door, stuffs her munny bag away so that Jiminy’s protestations can’t make any undue noise that could interrupt the delicate proceedings, gives her friend a pat on the shoulder that she hopes is reassuring, and heads down into the depths below.

KH-KH-KH


Despite the storm raging all around, the waters of Destiny Islands remain almost exceptionally calm as Sora frantically rows his boat from the mainland to the local kids’ hangout.

Sora definitely isn’t as calm as the sea around him, however, not with lightning still lancing through the sky in angry white streaks of electricity, and thunder rumbling loudly mere seconds afterwards.

And certainly not with a giant orb of inky black darkness with a fiery red center like the heart of a star hanging in the stormy sky.

Sora may not have paid a lot of attention back in science class when they learned about atmospheric phenomena and weather patterns, but he knows enough to realize that whatever is suspended in the sky right now is in no way natural.

He reaches the dock and throws his line ashore, leaping after it moments later and tying it to the appropriate post. This is when he notices that the two posts next to his also have lines wrapped around them, which can only mean that…

Just as he suspects, both Riku and Kairi’s boats are moored to the dock, bobbing up and down gently in the water.

Despite everything, Sora smiles, glad that his friends share his concern for the raft.

The smile doesn’t last long.

Something stirs in the bed of Riku’s boat. Sora can’t make out exactly what it is, with the sky being so dark above, but it is definitely moving, and it sets Sora’s teeth on edge just looking at it.

Yellow eyes gaze up at him from the darkness of the boat. And not just one pair either.

Yellow points of light, almost like tiny little eyes, glowing with malevolence, surround the outermost points of his vision. He knows they are there, knows that they represent terrible, hungry things that will devour him whole if they have a chance, but every time he turns to get a good look, the eyes move too, keeping their owners to the shadows.


Or perhaps their owners
are the shadows.

Something jumps up at him from the boat, its eerie yellow eyes sharply focused on him. It lands on the dock, and Sora gets a good look at the creature, a squat, almost ant-like, jet-black thing with two antennae wiggling out from its forehead. Its mass appears to shift even as it stays still, as if it’s made up of living black ink.

The top of its head only comes to about Sora’s shin, but the pointy black claws on the tips of its tiny hands suggest that in this case, size does not matter.

Sora screams and stumbles back, the wood of the dock clunking underfoot as he does. The creature looks at him blankly, then begins to move forward, even as more of its kind emerge directly from the ground, like the shadows themselves.

Panicking, Sora jumps into his own boat and grabs the oar, hoping that it will prove an effective enough weapon to save him.

A pair of Shadows leap off the dock towards him, and by reflex Sora swings out the oar, catching both creatures and sending them flying. He doesn’t see where they land, nor does he have time to ponder, as another pair leaps down towards the boat.

Sora swings his oar again, sending the creatures flying after their brethren. Granted a moment’s respite, the boy leans down and snatches his wooden sword from the boat’s floor, holding it in his right hand while his left clings to the oar.

There is nothing he’d rather do more now than put the oar to the water and get away as fast as he can, but in his heart he knows that if Riku and Kairi are out here in the midst of all this madness, he can’t just abandon them.

And so he leaps out of the boat onto the dock, both of his weapons flashing, sending the Shadows that have gathered scattering, some flying away from the force of his blows, and others retreating before they can find themselves batted down.

They keep coming, however, though whether these creatures are new arrivals to the battle or the same Shadows come crawling back for me, Sora isn’t sure.

As he defends himself, he desperately tries to think of places where Riku and Kairi could be, hoping against all odds that they haven’t found themselves under attack like he has.

Leaping off the dock into the sand of the beach, where more of the dark creatures spring seemingly from nowhere to press their attack, Sora notices something out of the corner of his eye.

Over at the small islet where he, Riku, and Kairi had watched the sunset and dreamed of their departure into the unknown just yesterday, something is stirring. Someone. And although Sora cannot tell for certain, he knows in his heart that he has found Riku. While he doesn’t see Kairi with the older boy, certainly he must have found her and sought to protect her?

Either way, Sora realizes in that moment that he must reach the islet, and Riku.

Now there is only the matter of the Shadows that have continued to rise to challenge him. Steeling himself, Sora charges, screaming at the top of his lungs as he does so, hoping to gain some small advantage by shocking his opponents.

The tiny creatures offer no such satisfaction, and race towards the young boy with murder on what could generously be described as their minds.

Sora’s swings end up being more or less random, not caring what exactly it is he strikes at, as long as it keeps the dark creatures at bay.

They continue to charge however, seemingly not impacted by Sora’s mad rush. No matter how many times they are knocked back, the damage they receive from the blows has such a small impact as to be completely negligible.

This game continues for nearly a full minute, as Sora rushes along the beach, and the monsters charge at Sora, but eventually the boy reaches the wooden bridge connecting the sunset-watching islet to the main area of the play island. Though it seems that this island will certainly not be used again for play in quite some time.

As soon as Sora steps on the bridge, all of the Shadows seem to melt away, slinking back into the darkness that surrounds them. Exhausted from his long combat, Sora drops the oar to the ground, where it lands on the bridge’s wooden slats with a weak clunk.

After a moment of rest, doubled over and gasping for breath, Sora looks up, straight across the bridge to the islet.

Riku is there, gazing up at the impossible maelstrom of dark energy hanging over everything, his back to Sora.

As the boy make his way across the bridge, the sound of his footfalls catch the ear of Riku, who smiles and turns to greet his oldest friend, who now can finally journey into an unknown land of great adventure alongside him. Forever.

The smile on Riku’s face sends shivers down Sora’s spine. How can the older boy be smiling at a time like this, while chaos reigns and shadows spring forth to press their attack? And what has become of Kairi? A cursory sweep of the islet reveals that the girl is nowhere to be seen. Has Riku abandoned her?

“Riku!” Sora calls as he reaches the islet, pure relief on his face and in his voice. “I was so worried that maybe those things had gotten you! Where’s Kairi? I saw her boat and…”

“Our world has been connected, Sora!” Riku cries, raising his arms to the darkened heavens in abject joy. “The door, it’s been opened! We’re free now, free to go to other worlds. Free to determine our own destinies!”

“But what about Kairi?” Sora asks, growing more terrified with every word Riku speaks. “You need to stop talking like a crazy person and help me…”

“Kairi will come with us,” Riku assuages him, his manic grin still stuck on his face like it has been permanently carved. “Everything will be just like I always wanted. We can be together forever, have adventures forever! We’ll never have to stop, or leave each other’s’ sides, or even grow up! We can all stay together, and the same. Isn’t it great?”

Sora realizes in that moment that his friend has seriously lost it. Does he not notice that the cost of the life of adventure he’s promising is the destruction of everything else they’ve ever loved?

“But, what about the island, huh?” Sora asks pleadingly, hoping to get Riku to see reason, help him find Kairi. “If we leave now, we…”

“We might never see our parents again,” Riku finishes, though without any hints of anguish in his voice, merely a calm acceptance of fact. “Or ever get to come back here. But we’ll have each other.” Looking down from the sky, Riku stares straight at Sora, seemingly into his soul, and reaches out a black gloved hand for Sora to grasp onto and accept the course that lies destined ahead of them. Just like in the dream. “Fear can’t stop us, we have to be stronger than it. I’m stronger than fear, maybe for the first time in my life. And you have to be too. It’s now or never.” The smile slips from Riku’s face, leaving only a deadly seriousness across his visage, “Don’t fear the Darkness, Sora! I don’t.”

“Riku, I…” Sora begins, but the terror and surprise that has gripped him stays anything further from passing his lips, leaving him almost as mute as he was in his dream. “I’m not…”

“Come on, Sora,” Riku says, his voice still and calm, almost devoid of any emotion. “You can do it. You can embrace the Darkness too, just like me.”

It is then that Sora notices that Riku’s talk of embracing darkness is completely literal, as an inky black pool of pure Darkness, shot through with streaks of purple, appears around his feet, and grows up his legs like a weed.

“Riku!” Sora cries out, rushing forward. As soon as he steps foot on the sand of the islet, the shadowy pool reaches out to entangle his feet as well, devouring his shoes and beginning its ascent up his legs. It feels wrong, like an army of ants crawling up his body, through his skin. “Riku, please, you’ve got to…”

“Yes, Sora, that’s it,” Riku continues, even as the darkness makes its way up his torso, reaching towards the black straps that cross the chest of his sleeveless shirt. “Let it in. let the darkness take you!”

His hand is still out, and Sora desperately tries to take it, but it is just out of reach. The darkness is nearly to his neck now, the completely horrid feeling of its slow and inevitable march washing over him. Riku could move but an inch and lock onto Sora’s hand, but he remains as still as a statue as the darkness covers his eyes.

“R-Riku…” Sora manages to say through the blackness that has covered his mouth. Then it reaches his eyes, the sensation so unbearable he almost passes out. He knows that he cannot falter, though, knows that he must do whatever he can to resist the darkness.

Moments later, his vision completely eclipsed by the darkness, Sora thinks he does just that.

KH-KH-KH


Stealth is of paramount importance now, as even though Donald and Goofy have not yet arrived in the hangar, Chip and Dale, master machinists and keepers of the Gummi hangar, may already be in the control booth, making sure that things are running smoothly for the imminent launch.

“How are we gonna get in the ship without using the hands?” Azlyn asks her more knowledgeable companion, gesturing upwards to the giant, gloved manipulators that are the primary means of entering the Gummi ship’s cockpit, its crew dropped in like a reverse of the popular claw arcade machine.

“There’s a back entrance,” Telary informs her, doing his best to calm the nerves that are threatening to overwhelm him if he lets himself be distracted from the matter at hand for even a moment. “It’s supposed to be used for emergencies only, but Master Donald always uses it so he doesn’t have to deal with the hands. C’mon, it’s over here.”

Azlyn spares a moment to look up at the Gummi ship as she and her partner make their way to the secret door. The giant vessel, made from hundreds of tiny individual blocks called Gummis, whose origins are a complete mystery to everyone but King Mickey and the chipmunks, is about the size of the Royal Audience Chamber, in total. Behind its orange body are three massive thrusters that, in the event of an actual launch, pump out massive jets of flame that push the vessel through the coldness of space. Two white wings stabilize the flight, and atop it all sits a large domed area, the cockpit, where all of the controls are handled. The rest of the ship contains four sleeping cabins for off-duty personnel and passengers, a small but functional, not to mention fully stocked, kitchen, and even its own personal gym.

Azlyn knows all of these facts through the firsthand experience of Telary, who has always made sure to regale her with his latest exploits in the Gummi simulator, the only real way to get a handle for flying the ship, since it hasn’t ever actually been out into space.

Though that certainly won’t be the case after today.

The emergency exit leads into the cargo bay, a currently empty room made for storing non-essentials during flight. At the end of the room, opposite the ramp used to enter the chamber, is a ladder leading into the main area of the ship.

The pair ascend the ladder, finding themselves in the nexus of ship activity. Two doors rest in the left wall of the square room, one which leads into the hallway where the cabins are located, the other into the kitchen, and a third is across the room in the recesses of the right wall, where the gym is located. Two separate round tables, each surrounded by for chairs, rest on the huge square rung in the center of the room, and at the exact opposite end of the room from the cargo bay ladder is another ladder, this one leading directly into the cockpit.

“We should probably hide out in the cabins,” Azlyn tells Telary, looking around the space with a wide grin. “That way, we can escape detection until it’s already too late to…”

A furious clinking noise arises from Azlyn’s pocket then, no doubt the erstwhile chronicler Jiminy Cricket attempting to make headway out of his tiny, coin filled prison.

“Oh, yeah,” Azlyn says sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head slowly with the palm of her hand. “I guess we’ll have to do something about this whole ‘kidnapping’ thing. That sure won’t look good.”

“No, I don’t suppose it will,” Telary shoots back sarcastically, which is really an odd emotion for the mage-in-training. It even impresses Azlyn a little.

“So, I guess I’ll just find somewhere to keep him while we think of a way to…”

“Donald?” a high pitched voice suddenly interrupts, blaring through the common room’s speaker system. Telary yelps in pure terror upon hearing it. “Goofy? Do you read us? We noticed that somebody opened the emergency hatch, and just wanted to check that you were preparing for lift off.”

“What do we do now?” Telary practically shrieks at Azlyn, eyes bugging out of his head and pulse racing beyond what should be healthy. “How do we…?”

“Well, you’re just going to have to answer them, won’t you?” Azlyn interrupts, glaring daggers at her panicking partner and trying to use her anger to mask her own feelings of fear.

“But, how do I…?”

“Just get it done!” Azlyn barks before running down the cabins’ hallway.

Taking a big gulp and a deep breath, Telary sprints as quickly as he can to the cockpit ladder, scurrying up it and running to the comm controls. He is definitely glad in this moment that the glass of the cockpit’s viewing bubble is completely opaque from the outside.

Clearing his throat and trying to remember how to pull off his best Captain Goofy impression (Basically everyone at the castle has one) Telary presses the “answer” button on the controls, praying to anything that will listen that things work out.

“Uh, everything’s just fine… Uh, ahyuck!” he answers, sweating bullets now. Just then, there is a muffled scream from Azlyn that echoes up from the deck below. Deciding to ignore it for now, he soldiers on with his communiqué. “We just wanted to get an early check goin’, see how things were shaping up around here. Ahyuck. You know how Mast… er, how Donald can be about being prepared.”

“You sure, Goofy?” Chip asks from over the link.

“Yeah,” chimes in the deeper voice of Dale. “You sound kinda funny there, Goofy. Are things…?”

“I say again,” Telary says desperately, dully taking note of Azlyn’s arrival in the cockpit, and how pissed she looks. “Everything’s fine, gwarsh! Er, I mean, ahyuck! In fact, I was just getting ready to start her up!”

Behind him, Azlyn’s eyes widen. Taking off in the ship on their own wasn’t the plan. What is her partner doing?

“Okay, you go ahead, then,” Chip replies, though his voice remains skeptical. “We’ll launch when you give us the go-ahead!”

“What are you doing, you moron?” Azlyn yells as soon as the link is cut, stalking angrily over to the copilot’s chair and sitting down heavily. Telary notices that there is a smudge on her cheek, and her clothes are a bit askew. “The plan wasn’t to steal the ship, just hide out until…”

“Well, I panicked, okay?” Telary shoots back, finally finding it in him to truly call Azlyn out on her poor planning, and the way she’s treated him since he first reluctantly joined this crazy endeavor. “Just like you did when you stuffed Mr. Cricket into that money bag, and let me tell you, I’m pretty sure kidnapping a member of the royal staff is a lot more illegal than stealing a Gummi ship!”

“So you’re gonna do it?” Azlyn asks incredulously. “You’re gonna take the Gummi ship and go to Traverse Town, without Donald or Goofy?”

“No, of course not! I’m just going to… Well I’ll just… I simply...” And in that single, terrible moment, Telary realizes that, like it or not, that’s pretty much his only option anymore. All of his courage deflates in that instant, leaving him just short of a quivering mess in the pilot’s seat.

After a few moments, the comm squawks back on.

“Is everything alright?” Chip asks. “It’s been a whole minute since you declared intentions to start up and…”

“It just took Donald here a second to find the manual,” Telary says in his Goofy impression, back stiff and straight, prepared. “Starting up now.”

Even without a manual to assist him, Telary knows the launch sequence by heart. Inputting a few commands into the console, he braces himself for the ship’s power to fully flare on.

It does, and after a few moments of self-examination, the Gummi ship’s antigravity repulsors kick in, and the vessel rises into the air. He presses a few more buttons, and the engines begin to rumble.

Just seconds after he begins, the Gummi ship is, for the first time since its construction, ready to launch.

“Telary,” Azlyn says in a small voice, concentrating her gaze on the dashboard in front of her. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this. I know it wasn’t supposed to go this far, but… Either way, it was wrong, and I apologize.”

“That’s good to hear, Azlyn,” Telary says, trying to consider how much it took out of the girl beside him to do even just that little bit of groveling. “I wish I could have convinced you to not go through with this madness, but in the end I couldn’t, so that’s kind of my fault. And you know something else? If there’s anyone I…”

“Ready to launch when you are!” Dale says enthusiastically over the intercom. “Just say the word and we’ll open up those…”

“Hold it right there!” squawks the all-too familiar voice of Donald Duck, arriving in the control room mad as hell, with Goofy lumbering along on his heels, still a bit sleepy from the nap he’d just taken. “You’ve been duped! Somebody’s stealing the Gummi ship, and I bet I know…”

In a flash of motion, Telary reaches out and swats the off button on the console, cutting of all communication with flight control. He immediately moves to input a few new commands.

“What are you doing?” Azlyn asks, almost unable to comprehend her usually so civically-minded friend engaging in such rash action. “Without the chipmunks to open the hangar doors for us…”

“Just hang on tight, Azlyn,” Telary commands in a short, clipped voice. His fingers fly so smoothly over the console that an outside observer wouldn’t have the slightest clue that he’s about to pass out from sheer nerves. “And I mean that literally, because we’re about to get…”

After inputting one last command, Telary steels himself, takes a deep breath, and presses down on the biggest button on the dashboard: A big, red button that reads “EMERGENCY LAUNCH”.

Before anyone in the hangar can say another word, the floor beneath the Gummi ship retracts, and the vessel goes tumbling into the darkness below.

KH-KH-KH


Power sleeps within you.


Keep your light burning strong.


The closer you get to the light, the stronger your shadow becomes.


You are the one who will open the Door.


A bright light pierces the darkness, a pure, beautiful thing that begins at a single point, burning like a star in the night sky, and slowly expands outward, filling the darkness with a soft white light…

Suddenly, Sora finds himself back on the islet, the darkness having retreated from his vision.

He looks up to Riku, but finds his friend is nowhere to be seen. He is alone once again, and above him the storm rages, the orange and black hole in the sky still looming above like a predatory bird circling its prey.

Something else is different too, Sora notices. Something is weighing down his arm, gripped in his hand.

It is a sword. A strange sword. Its hilt, which Sora can feel gripped in his right hand, is made out of some almost rubbery material, the better to maintain his grip on it, even singlehanded. A square of yellow metal surrounds the hilt, and a small blue ring juts up from that, extending upwards in a silver sword about as tall as Sora’s waist, ending in a series of teeth, like those of a key. The sword’s shaft is rounded, more of a bludgeoning weapon than one meant to cut. A silver keychain dangles from the bottom of the hilt, holding a silver pendant in the shape of a heart.

“What?” Sora breathes incredulously, almost unable to believe how such a strange thing could just appear out of the blue, unsure of what even…

Keyblade… Keyblade…


“Keyblade,” Sora repeats, echoing the mysterious words that seem to have just appeared in his head, unbidden. Instinctively, he knows that the words refer to the weapon, if it is that, in his hand.

He has no time to further contemplate the mysteries surrounding his new weapon, or the disappearance of Riku, as behind him he hears the slight but grating noise of the Shadows rising from the ground.

He turns and drops into his ready stance, gripping the blade’s hilt in both hands, slowly preparing his muscles and calling to mind years of sparring matches, fights he has won and lost in play with the other children of the islands.

The Shadow approaches, and with a grunt of exertion, Sora raises the Keyblade, and brings it swiftly down.

On a glowing blue platform suspended in the blackness, two Shadows charge, but the mighty swing of his sword cleaves one in two.


Stepping forward, Sora swings again, bisecting the other shadow as well.


“The Power to fight the Darkness is yours…”


The Shadow dissipates in a burst of inky black energy, fading into nothingness, even as a small light rises into the air momentarily, only to vanish once more into darkness.

Startled, Sora takes a step back, sparing a moment to concentrate his gaze on the mysterious Keyblade.

Finally armed with an effective weapon, Sora charges forth swinging wildly, taking out two Shadows with each swing, forcing them back towards the bridge.

The Shadows finally seem to take the hint, slinking back into wherever they have come from, or perhaps seeking easier prey.

For a moment Sora merely waits in his battle ready stance, breathing hard and flicking his eyes across all he can see, both watching for another attack and searching for any sign of Kairi.

No Shadows spring forth to attack, and Kairi is nowhere to be seen. But, delving deep into his brain, Sora realizes that there is only one logical place for Kairi to have fled. One place on the island that could shelter her from the terrible storm, and hopefully help her avoid the awful creatures that have arrived with it:

The Secret Spot.

Sora rushes through the rain to the waterfall clearing, doing his best to ignore the near simultaneous attacks on his senses by the thunder and lightning being produced by the strange dark nebula.

He’s not sure exactly why, but it feels as if his time is running out.

He reaches the clearing in record time, nothing on his mind but to find Kairi and ensure her safety. The uncertainty of what happened to Riku back on the islet still plagues his mind, but he knows that if he allows it to overtake him, he may fail yet another friend.

The clearing is almost silent, a stark contrast to the storm that rages in the skies above, now only making itself known through silent flashes of white light.

Sora moves to the trunk of the tree, brushing past a few exposed roots to get to…

There is a door in front of the entrance to the secret cave, a double door that looks like it belongs in a church somewhere, its pristine white face shining even in the dimmest light, stained glass patterns on the frame.

In an odd way, Sora can almost swear he has seen…

The same door rests on the edge of the pink platform with the three silhouettes, different from the two that have come before it.


“Don’t be afraid”
, the voice assures Sora, a beam of light like a spotlight in a theater shining down from somewhere Sora cannot see, onto the door, illuminating the stained glass patterns that surround it.

“You are the one who will open the door,”
it continues, and in this moment, Sora believes the words of the mysterious voice with all of his heart.

Reaching out, he grabs both handles of the door and pulls, light spilling out of the opening portal and enveloping his
vision…


The door is open, though Sora cannot remember if it was like this when he found it, or if he himself was the one who opened it.

You are the one who will open the Door
.

“Kairi!” Sora calls as he rushes into the cave, gripping the mysterious Keyblade tighter in his hand, ready to vanquish any foes that may threaten his friend.

“Sora…” is the only reply, unmistakably from Kairi’s lips, a weak moan that immediately sets off Sora’s concern.

He reaches the main area of the cave and sees Kairi, standing in the same outfit she had worn today, only a few hours ago, before the storm, and the fear, and the Keyblade. She is facing the door with no handle, through the cracks of which dark mist flows into the cave. The mist ghosts over Sora’s legs, and a chill runs up his spine.

“The door,” Kairi says, slowly turning and revealing a sallow face, eyes sunken and dull. The mere sight of Kairi like this, his Kairi, his best friend, and perhaps even more than that… “The door has opened Sora. It’s here. It’s here for me.”

“What are you…?” Sora begins, stepping forward, but before he can move further than that, the door with no handle explodes, the dark mist now coming out as if propelled by a gale force wind, pushing directly into Kairi.

In her obviously weakened state, she can do nothing but let loose a muffled cry, even as the wind picks her up off the ground and sends her hurtling towards Sora.

The boy manages to stand his ground and stretch out his arms, ready to catch Kairi and hold her against the wind for as long as is necessary, even permanently if that’s what it takes to keep them together.

As soon as she hits his arms, she is gone, vanishing into thin air as if she never existed at all.

A dull pain strikes directly into Sora’s heart at the sight, and his balance can no longer be maintained. The wind takes him, blowing him back towards the cave’s entrance.

Darkness swims at the edge of his vision, closing in on him even as he lets out one last, desperate cry.
“Kairi!”

KH-KH-KH


After what feels like an eternity of screaming in an endless freefall, the Gummi ship lurches to a stop in the blue emptiness of space, the artificial gravity reasserting itself and sending both Azlyn and Telary crashing back into their seats.

“How did you know that would work?” is the first thing out of Azlyn’s mouth, gazing at her cohort just one seat over in wonderment.

“I read a lot,” is the boy’s simple answer, his deceptively calm voice concealing the absolute terror that has gripped his entire being at the act he just committed. “I must have gone through the manual for this thing a hundred times.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet Donald would have made you read it at least that many times before he even let you touch the controls,” Azlyn quips, riding high on the giddiness of really escaping the castle.

“No, I only had to do it once for Master Donald,” Telary replies, intently inputting a code into the main computer. “The rest was just for fun.”

“Okay, now let’s get out of here before they can reel us back in,” Azlyn urges, suddenly remembering that the actions they have taken this day are highly likely to result in a lifetime of imprisonment if they don’t manage to get away now.

“Right,” Telary agrees, gripping the control yoke steadily. With one last deep breath, he tilts it forward, activating the Fire-Gummis in the engines. With a lurch, the Gummi ship shoots off into space, leaving Disney Castle far behind.

Azlyn can only stare out the cockpit’s observation bubble, marveling at the vastness of space. It’s mostly blue, but beyond she can see green and yellow nebulas pulsing in its depths. It’s the most breathtaking thing she has ever seen.

Leaning back in her chair and resting her hands behind her head, she lets her overwhelming accomplishment sink in. She has done what she has always wanted, always dreamed of, leaving Disney Castle and its future of dull drudgery behind.

She has charted her own destiny.

Back in the control booth in Disney Castle’s Gummi hangar, Donald Duck is furious, nearly bouncing off the walls and quacking loudly. Stopping for a moment, he aims a kick at a nearby computer console. Unfortunately, the console is made of solid steel, and his webbed foot gains quite a bruising.

“Yeeeeowch!” the mage yelps in surprise, holding his injured foot in both hands and hopping around wildly on the other. In his mind, he adds this to the pile of grievances against Azlyn and Telary.

Azlyn he should have expected trouble from, should have had watched like a hawk. Her part in the insurrection he is almost understanding of, like when a rabid dog bites you. What really gets his goat is Telary’s role in today’s proceedings.

Sure, Donald is hard on the kid, saddling him with menial tasks that are truly beneath his actual magical proficiency, but he had truly considered his student a gifted magician, a worthy addition to the Disney Castle Mage Corps.

Well, that's certainly out of the cards now. Even if, as Donald suspects, Azlyn somehow pressured the boy into participating in the insubordination, punishment is certainly in order.

Now if only Chip and Dale can hurry up and get the Gummi ship recalled.

“We can’t recall the Gummi Ship!” Dale shouts in surprise, shaking Chip hard in panicked terror.

“What do you mean, you can’t recall the Gummi ship?” Donald asks, stalking over to the control booth’s main console. “Just put in the recall code and…”

“We tried that, Donald,” Chip explains, calm and collected in direct contrast with his red-nosed brother, who is still leaping around the top of the console hysterically. “But the code is being blocked. Somehow, they must have set up a program to counter our attempts at retrieval.”

Donald takes a moment to internally translate what Chip has just told him, and when he finally works it out, he nearly lashes out at another computer terminal.

“So what you’re saying is we have absolutely no way of recalling that Gummi ship?” Donald tries to confirm, his speech now coming out in almost unintelligible quacking. “And since we don’t even have another ship, there’s no way of going after them either?”

“That’s right,” Chip sighs, slumping dejectedly down onto the console’s surface.

With no words really left to say, Donald just lets out his loudest scream.

After a moment, things calm down in the booth. That’s truly for the best, as at that moment Queen Minnie, followed by Daisy and Goofy, steps into the room.

“Goofy told me what happened,” Minnie sighs, putting a comforting hand on Donald’s shoulder. “I understand that you did all you could.”

Chip explains about the anti-retrieval program the escapees must be running, keeping the tower from recalling the Gummi ship.

“We’ll keep the program running, of course, just in case,” the chipmunk finishes with a hopeless sigh. “But unless they have to completely reboot their systems, we won’t be getting through their program. Say what you want about Telary, especially after today, but the guy’s one smart cookie.”

Minnie is silent for a moment, and the rest of the Royal Council decide that she should have the first word. Staring out at the empty hangar, the queen blinks a few times, tears coming to her eyes but not spilling over onto her sullen face.

“This situation is not ideal, obviously,” she says, voice level despite her moist eyes. “But, whatever else Azlyn and Telary are, they are very skilled at what they do. I think it is safe to say that they are the best students this castle has ever seen. Perhaps, with the skills that we have taught them, as well as the wisdom I hope has been imparted to them throughout their lives here at the castle, they just might be able to fulfill the king’s request.”

“But Your Majesty, they’re just… Just kids!” Donald protests. “We have to do something, maybe try to pull together another Gummi ship from the blocks we’ve got in reserve, and…”

“No, Donald, I don’t think so,” Minnie says, shooting the idea down with a wave of her hand. “I think that now, whatever happens, we must leave in the hands of Fate.”

Silence settles in the control room, every member of the Royal Council lost in their thoughts of Azlyn, Telary, and the king.

Okay, not every member, exactly. Goofy is mostly thinking of…

“Hey, uh, has anybody seen Pluto?” he asks, scratching his head under his helmet.

Happy to have a distraction, Donald begins to go off at Goofy, for thinking of something as trivial as the royal pooch on this disaster of a day.

KH-KH-KH


Sora’s head feels like it just lived through a disaster, a headache pounding away at his skull. His eyes are closed, and he can feel that he is laying on the Destiny Island’s beach, obviously having drifted off to sleep.

He knows that he’d better get up soon or Riku is going to be mad, but it’s hard to want to do anything with the wind so loud in his ears…

Suddenly, Sora’s eyes snap open, and the memories of the last hour or so flood back into his awareness. The storm, the creatures, Riku…

Kairi…

All around Sora, the sky is purple, a dark maelstrom kicking up sand in all directions. Looking up, he can see that the dark orb is much closer, its center now glowing a fiery red instead of orange.

He looks down, and faces only an endless abyss of darkness.

Sora screams in surprise, backing away from the ledge. Looking around, he can see that he is standing on what little remains of his world, a patch of sand not larger than a mile across, floating in darkness. Around him, other, smaller chunks float in the abyss.

His home as he knew it is gone.

Sora hears a noise behind him and pivots on one foot quickly, hoping to see another survivor of the destruction, maybe even Riku or Kairi. But all that greets him as he stops his turn is his own shadow.

His shadow…

He is on a yellow platform, depicting an auburn-haired young woman in a beautiful golden ball gown, surrounded by objects with faces. A large, dark-furred beast looms behind her, almost trying to hide itself in the folds of a tattered purple cloak.


Light shines from some unknown place directly into the center of the platform.


“Step into the light,” the voice from nowhere and everywhere at once encourages.


Sora does so cautiously, keeping his grip on the sword in his hand tight, prepared for the return of the Shadows from the last platform. But the only shadow he can see as he steps forward is his own.


“The closer you get to the light, the greater your shadow becomes,” the voice tells him, like a wise old master might impart wisdom to a student.


“Can you face your shadow? It is the only way to open the door.”


Sora shakes off the odd flashback to his dream, created in his head only two days ago. Oh, if only he could return to that day!

Sora’s shadow moves.


It grows and stretches, transforming within the span of a second into a living, three-dimensional mirror of Sora done in all black. Its eyes glow yellow, and it keeps growing.


Hands become claws, feet shrink and turn upwards towards powerful legs that are taller than two Soras would be standing on each other’s shoulders. Its chest grows proportionally, black as the night, with a hollow heart-shaped impression in the middle.


Its face loses all traces of humanity, dark tendrils wrapping around it, like hair gone wildly out of control. All that can be seen in the dark folds are two yellow, glowing eyes.


Sora instinctively takes a step back, both awed and frightened by this terrible creature…


The flashback ends, but the creature remains, standing opposite Sora, looming over him on the small surviving patch of Destiny Islands land.

Oddly enough, Sora can still feel the sword from his dream in his hand. Looking down, he realizes that what he is holding is not that sword at all, but the Keyblade.

The sight of the sword that seems so effective against Shadows renews Sora somewhat, and he crouches into his battle stance, both hands gripping the Keyblade tight.

The creature opposite him must take that as a sign of a challenge, for the great monstrosity rears back, raising its hand and sending it slamming down into the…

…Platform, casing the whole of it to shake. The hand seems embedded, though no glass breaks. A pool of pure darkness forms around it, and Sora knows that the Shadows from before are waiting within it. Still, this may be his only chance to strike, so he rushes forward into the darkness, bringing down his sword in a mighty two handed blow…


…That strikes directly into the wrist. Encouraged by the landed hit, Sora doesn’t let up, slamming the Keyblade into the monster’s hand again and again.

After a moment, the hand shifts, and Sora leaps back, afraid of retaliation.

Suddenly, the hollow heart in the monster’s chest glows with blue light. Cautiously, Sora approaches, hoping that maybe…

…A burst of blue light shoots forth from the monster’s chest, flying directly at Sora. The boy only barely manages to roll to the side, avoiding the blast. Another pair of blasts shoot out, and Sora runs, twisting his body around one blast, and ducking under the other.


The monster shifts once more, raising its hand again to slam down…


…Sora realizes, as he tries to stabilize himself after the shock from the hand’s collision with the floating island, that there is no way that he can just keep hammering at the monster’s wrist and hope it is enough to defeat the beast. No, there must be a way to…

…Sora’s gaze wanders up the monstrous arm of the dark creature, eventually settling on its face. The piercing yellow eyes gaze at him with an odd sort of emptiness, almost as if it doesn’t want to keep playing this game of attack-and-retaliate.


In fact, in this moment, those eyes seem almost vulnerable…


…The eyes! Of course! He remembers reading, in one of his school books not long ago, that no can train their eyes to protect themselves!

He just hopes that rule applies to giant monsters of pure shadow as well as people.

Sora charges forward, Keyblade held high. Pausing, he takes a single swing at the monster’s submerged wrist, hopefully enough to distract it, then leaps straight up onto the arm of the monster. Steadying himself, he begins to run upward…

…Laser-focused on the creature’s face. Passing the elbow join, he feels a tremor as the beast senses his move and tries to free its arm, knock Sora off before he can…


..It’s too late, and Sora stands on the shoulder of the great monstrosity, batting aside one dark tentacle with a one-handed strike, then gripping the Keyblade in both hands and…

…Swinging down into the face of the creature, striking right at the most vulnerable point…


…As the Keyblade lands a hit on the eyes, the creature lurches backwards. Sora instinctively leap off the monster’s shoulder and back into the sand landing hard…

…In a pool of inky black Darkness that sucks at his ankles, pulling him immediately into the darkness as if it is a wet bog…


When Sora lands, it is with a solid clink of glass. Looking down, he sees that he has somehow found himself truly on the platform he dreamed of, although above, the monstrous ball of darkness and fire still rages, sucking the monster he just defeated up against the flow of gravity.

Sora is glad to be rid of the beast, but his joy is quashed immediately when he hears a yelp of surprise. Looking towards the source, Sora sees himself, just as he was in the prophetic dream, sinking into a pool of pure Darkness.

The other Sora struggles to escape, but the dark tendrils reach his arms, holding him back like on the islet with Riku. Instinctively, Sora moves to help, perhaps use the Keyblade to free the other him, but it is useless, as whatever had gotten a hold of the giant shadow now has him.

In moments, he is flying through the air towards the dark orb, staring down as, he is simultaneously dragged into the dark pool on the platform below.

Don’t be afraid,
the voice assures Sora, even as he sees himself being swallowed by what he has finally realized is a black hole.

Remember, you are the one who will open the door.


The Darkness finally reaches his face, but before it can truly cover him, Sora simply closes his eyes, accepting wholly whatever fate is in store for him…[HR][/HR]Um, not much to say here than now it is time for the real journey to begin in Traverse Town! I also hope that Darkside fight with the dream platform/island ruins split wasn't too confusing for anybody, and that this was an enjoyable chapter to read!
 

KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Oh my god, that was hilarious. Azlyn scooping Jiminy cricket like that made my day. Telary freaking out over it really sold it for me. And oh my gosh, Telary! You stealing the Gummi Ship! These two sure are going to be in a load of trouble, when they return from their adventures! I feel a little bad for Donald, but I think Goofy is far more sympathetic to them both. And the brief mention of Pete was awesome! And of course, Sora thinking about the kiss, Riku's feelings, and the raft were really spot on. Riku still astonishes me about wanting nothing to change and be off on other worlds forever, leaving everyone behind. No wonder in KH2 he feels guilty. Seriously though, I'm excited for future chapters of this and keep it up! :D
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

I definitely wanted a contrast between the lighthearted escape and the destruction of Deatiny Islands. Plus, A&T are lighthearted characters to begin with. Thanks for the comment!
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter IV: A Town For Lost Souls
“I think I left the broom on,” Telary blurts out randomly after he and Azlyn have been flying for about an hour.

Azlyn pauses her stargazing, or nebula-gazing, or whatever the hell exactly she is looking at out in the midst of space, and turns to face her friend.


“What?” she asks, one eyebrow raised. She had thought they’d moved past the nervous outbursts, but apparently not.


“The broom that I was using to clean up my room,” Telary replies, his eyes focused on one specific point in the distance ahead. “I cast a spell on it, and it did the sweeping while I dusted. I forgot to discontinue the spell I was using to animate it before I came after you.”


“Oh,” Azlyn says simply, feeling a true emotional breakdown of some kind coming on soon from her partner. “Well I’m sure it’s okay. You’re pretty good with, uh, that stuff, so…”


“It’ll just keep going and going,” Telary drones, nearly without any tone at all, still gazing at the expanse outside intently. “My room is going to be really clean.”


“Isn’t, um, isn't that a good thing?”


“I suppose so,” is all Telary manages before he starts to cry. Taking his hands off of the steering yoke, he just puts his face in them and cries, the full weight of what he has done finally sinking in, pushing past the urgency required to escape.


“Oh, Telary…” Azlyn stands and moves towards him, but stops when he starts to speak again, the words muffled by his hands and his sobs.


“I’m gonna have the cleanest room in the whole castle, and it won’t even matter because I’m going to rot in prison for the rest of my life!!!


Unsure of what exactly she should do, Azlyn rests her hand on Telary’s back and begins to rub small circles over it.


“Hey, don’t say that,” she says in what she hopes is a soothing tone. She’s never really tried anything like this before. This whole “emotions” thing is pretty much sailing right over her head, but she realizes it is her fault they’re in this mess, and so it’s her duty to do what she can to abate it. “Don’t you even think that.”


“But that’s what’s going to happen,” he says, finally raising his head. A few more tears fall, and he looks pretty awful. “There’s no way they’ll let us get away with this!”


“They will if we complete the mission,” Azlyn says confidently. “I mean, they’ll have to!”


“How do you figure?” Telary asks, wiping both eyes on his sleeve.


“This key that the king wants us to find is important, right?” Azlyn continues, removing her hand from the mage-in-training’s back. “He said it was the key to our survival. So, it stands to reason, that if we find this key, and we can get it to King Mickey, they’ll have to waive our punishment! Heck, they’ll probably reward us, Telary. Can you imagine it? You’ll be promoted instantly to, like, Royal Super Magician, or something!”


“Do you really think so?” Telary asks, intellect and hope fighting it out in his head and heart. “That they could just let us back, all forgiven?”


“They’ll throw us a stinkin’ parade, my friend!” Azlyn declares boldly. “So we can’t let ourselves worry about what’ll happen if we go back. We’re on a course to save the universe here, and we can’t stray from it!”


“I suppose you’re right,” Telary says with a smile, choosing to hope for the best instead of fearing the worst. “All we have to do is find the key, and find King Mickey, and everything will be fine! We’ll be heroes, if we just keep on course and never give up!”


A loud clatter arises from below decks, like someone has knocked over one of the tables down there.


“We surrender!” Telary yelps, raising his hands and leaping up from the pilot’s chair. “I’m sorry about what happened, I’ll never do it again, just please don’t hurt us!”


“Telary!” Azlyn yells, shocking Telary into silence and stillness. He pauses his hysteria for a moment and spares a glance at his partner. “Relax, it’s not anyone from the castle. Well, it’s not a person I mean…”


Before Telary can even be confused by Azlyn’s explanation, a large yellow dog leaps up into the cockpit, ears drooping and tail wagging. In its mouth is Azlyn’s coin sack, Jiminy Cricket’s current residence.


“Pluto?” Telary asks incredulously as the pooch pads over to him and begins rubbing up against his leg. “What are you doing in here, boy?”


“I found it in one of the cabins,” Azlyn explains, and the sound of her voice sets the dog to growling. “It nearly mauled me to death. It was all I could do to lock this mutt up in the room. He must have stowed away, like we were planning to.”


“I guess the tables have turned on us, haven’t they?” Telary says, dropping to one knee and petting Pluto with both hands. “Haven’t you turned the tables on us, Pluto? Yes, yes you have!”


“Ahem!” comes the muffled voice of Jiminy Cricket from within the confines of the sack. “Still trapped in here, just so you know. I ain’t getting any freer!”


“Oh, sorry, Mr.Cricket,” Telary apologizes, taking the sack out of Pluto’s mouth and untying its seal. Reaching in, he picks up the little cricket and places him gingerly on Pluto’s head.


“Well, I should imagine!” Jiminy yells, waving his arms madly around him. “Of all the stunts to pull, you had to disrupt a critical mission with your childish schemes? What were you thinking?”


The only sounds in the cockpit for a moment are those Pluto is making by panting.


“I just didn’t want to…” Azlyn begins, struggling for the proper words to explain herself. “I wanted to be a part of something that really mattered. I thought I could help Master Donald, and Captain Goofy, and the king and queen.”


“And how, pray tell, does stealing this Gummi ship do that?” Jiminy demands, placing his gloved hands on his hips. Comically, this causes his hat to slip down to cover his eyes, but no one dares to laugh about it.


“That wasn’t meant to happen!” Azlyn says defensively. “We were just going to hide out in a cabin until the mission was too far gone to take us back, then, I don’t know, reveal ourselves, I guess. I really hadn’t thought that far.”


Both Jiminy and Telary raise an eyebrow at that statement. Pluto growls at Azlyn a little, but that’s more or less normal.


“Well, now you see what happens when you don’t think things through,” is all Jiminy says, sighing. For a moment he just takes a good long look at Azlyn, then he turns to Telary and does the same. After a good minute of silent observation, the cricket sighs again.


“Are you going to make us turn around?” Azlyn asks finally, biting her lip in nervous anticipation of the answer.


Jiminy gives her another good long look. “Do you two want to know something? Something about me?”


Azlyn and Telary exchange a glance, then decide that it will be better to just play along, both nodding at the cricket.


“I wasn’t always a Royal Chronicler,” he says, taking a seat on Pluto’s head. “Didn’t even used to live in your castle. No, back before I came to be in the service of your king and queen, I was a little thing called a conscience. Now, you both know what consciences are, dontcha? They’re a little voice in your head, telling you if you’re doing the right thing, or the wrong.


“I used to be the conscience of a… peculiar little boy. Now, it was only my first posting, mind you, but I learned the rules of being a good conscience pretty quick, the skills you need. And one of those skills is the ability to tell a rotten apple from one that just needs to get a little riper, grow some. Y’know?”


Nodding seems to be the expected thing for Azlyn and Telary to do now, so they both do.


“And I tell you folks, when I look at the pair of you,” Jiminy says, almost sounding disappointed, “I don’t think you’re rotten. Just not ripe. And the way I see it, it’s my job to see that the both of you grow up to be the good apples you were always meant to be!”


Both Azlyn and Telary are cautiously optimistic. “So, uh, what does that mean?” Telary asks finally, voice shaking.


“I think this journey is one you two are meant to take,” the cricket replies. “I’m not going to make you turn back for Disney Castle, not just yet.”


Azlyn breathes out a relieved sigh, and Telary nearly falls over. Sure, the cricket most likely couldn’t have done anything one way or another to make them turn back for the castle, but still, it’s nice to know he is committed to their cause.


“Still, you two are going to need help making good choices in the future” Jiminy continues. “And to that end, I am assigning myself to your case as your new conscience. I think with a bit of my influence, you two will be model citizens in no time.”


“Well, we’ll work on it on the way to Traverse Town,” Azlyn says, nodding at the console. Telary gets the hint and settles into the chair, pushing the control yolk forward and sending the ship rocketing into space.


“Now for your first lesson, before you even set foot on another world, there’s something you’ve got to know,” Jiminy says, leaping over onto the main console in a surprising display of leg power.


“No littering?” Azlyn asks sarcastically, leaning back in her chair. “Don’t walk on the grass?”


“You watch that mouth of yours, missy, this is serious,” the cricket conscience scolds her, wagging his gloved finger.


“Uh, sorry,” Azlyn says sheepishly, impressing Telary, who is amazed someone so tiny can make Azlyn feel remorse. “I won’t do it again, sir Jiminy. Sir.”


“See that you don’t. Now, where was I…? Oh, yes, other worlds. Now, every world is separate, unaware of the others. They think their world is all there is. And, for the safety of those worlds, we’ve got to let them keep on thinking that.”


“So, we can’t tell anybody we meet on another world that we’re from another world?” Telary asks for confirmation.


“No sir,” Jiminy confirms, nodding firmly. “We’ve got to do our best to not disrupt the world order any. It’s maybe the most vital part of our quest.”


“So we keep our mouths shut about being from another world,” Azlyn says. “No problem. Anything else?”


“Well,” Jiminy says, sounding a bit sheepish now himself, “I mean, if you could also try your darndest to not litter, that’d probably be a good idea.”


KH-KH-KH


An hour or so later, Telary and Azlyn, with Pluto in tow and Jiminy keeping watch over the Gummi ship, enter the main square of Traverse Town.


It’s nighttime, and the square is illuminated by artificial light sources that shine from lamp posts and neon shop signs. In the corner sits a café, a few people milling about, some even eating and drinking with each other.


All of the other buildings in the district are packed very tightly together, cobblestone paths leading between them, neon signs displayed prominently, hoping to entice some customers inside to sample their wares. Stone steps lead up to a higher level, and it appears to be that from there, it just keeps getting higher, rising into the star-filled night sky.


“Wow, this town is bigger than I thought,” Telary says nervously, trying to get a good look at everything the place has to offer. “I mean, it’s probably smaller than Mouseburg, but I don’t know, I guess it just seems bigger,more intimidating, because I’m not familiar with any of it, y’know?”


“Don’t let your nerves get the best of you, Tel,” Azlyn advises him as she begins to stroll into the main square. “We’ve got a job to do, and freaking out about being in a new place isn’t going to help us get it done. So, let’s go.”


Telary follows after his companion, still looking up in awe at the buildings above him, so unlike anything he has ever seen before.

It’s that awe that allows him to witness what happens next in the night sky.

In a sudden flash, like a lightbulb just before it burns out, a star disappears.


“Azlyn!” Telary cries, stopping dead in his tracks and pointing up at the cosmos. “Look up, it’s…”


“What?” Azlyn asks frantically, spinning around quickly to face her companion, one hand pulling her shield off from where it’s magnetized to her back. Her head bobs back and forth across the plaza for a few seconds before resting on Telary. Following his arm pointed upwards, she gazes into the night sky. Nothing seems to have happened, but if Telary says so… “What happened?”


“A star went out!” the mage-in-training cries out in a panic, startling a few of the people at the café, who all whip their heads around to sneak a glance at the apparently crazy person standing in the middle of the street. “It’s just like the king said!”


“Huh,” Azlyn says as she places her shield back on its resting plate. She had known before that King Mickey had said that there was an emergency, but suddenly, the reality of it is beginning to truly set in.


“This is bad, Azlyn,” Telary says quietly after a moment, looking down from the sky and focusing on his friend, a bit of pain and even more worry in his eyes. “I mean, this is real stuff. Are you sure we’re up to…?”


“I already told you to knock off getting upset,” Azlyn counters, almost hissing the words. “Now I know that things are getting scarier, and more confusing, but we can’t give up. The only way we get through this is by moving forward, got it?”


“Yeah, Azlyn,” Telary agrees after a few moments of quiet contemplation. “Things are pretty scary right now, but I’m pretty sure imprisonment in the dungeon or some pocket dimension is scarier so… Let’s get a move on.”


Azlyn turns, sets her shoulders, and continues to march to the higher levels, Telary following along after sparing a few seconds to glance at the sky. He wonders briefly just what it is exactly that stars going out means. He’d read one theory during his studies of magic related to other worlds that stars are representative of worlds not one’s own, but how could an entire world disappear? What could possibly have the power to do such a thing?


If there’s one thing Telary resolves in that moment, trailing behind Azlyn, it’s that he never again wants to see another star go out for as long as he lives.


“Don’t you think we should stop for directions?” Telary asks as he catches up with Azlyn. “Maybe someone at that café knows where this Leon person is, or something about King Mickey even. I think it’s worth checking out, at least.”


“Good idea,” Azlyn says, turning abruptly and making Telary once again scramble after her. “Bringing you along really worked out alright, didn’t it?”


“Yeah, sure,” Telary says under his breath, hoping that Azlyn is too caught up in her mission to hear. “Everything’s great. Stars are going out, we have no idea where to find this key, and we can’t return home or we’ll most likely be imprisoned. I can’t remember a time when I’ve been happier!”


“What was that?” Azlyn asks over her shoulder.


“Nothing…” Scared into silence, he falls back into step behind Azlyn, glad to bring up the rear. Except, he’s pretty sure that he wasn’t in the rear beforehand… “Where’s Pluto?”


Azlyn stops and turns to face him. “What? I don’t know. Isn’t it with you?”


“No,” Telary says with worry in his voice, looking around for any sign of the royal pooch. “I was pretty sure he was right behind us when we came in, but after I saw that star go out I…”


Azlyn shrugs, clearly not concerned for an animal that has mauled her maliciously several times in the past, including just hours ago. “We’ll find it later. We kinda have more important things to look for, remember?”


Telary is hesitant to just leave without King Mickey’s beloved animal companion, but tells himself that there will be plenty of time to look for the dog later, once they have completed their main task.


Still, the thought of what the king might to do them if they return without Pluto…


The dog in question has no qualms about being abandoned, however, and in all truth is actually very excited to explore the exciting new sights and smells to be found in this new world.


One smell in particular has his attention, a scent that he knows he’s never smelt before, and yet carries something vaguely familiar about it.


This aroma leads him into a dark alley, just off to the side from the main square, near the accessory shop. As he enters, Pluto can just make out a shoe poking out from behind a dumpster. Eager to see if this shoe has any treats it might be willing to give out, Pluto charges into the alley after it, glad to discover that it is in fact the source of the enticing scent that has him so perplexed.


The shoe appears to belong to a sleeping boy, eyes closed and breathing heavily through his mouth. Pluto knows that he should probably just leave the boy to sleep, but honestly a dog’s instincts are just hard to resist, so approaching cautiously, Pluto just reaches in and gives that slumbering face a good lick…


The first thing Sora feels is something wet and rough against his cheek. Considering he’s pretty sure that he just dozed off while packing and is still in his room, perhaps leaning up against his bed or desk, this is odd, as Sora is certain that he doesn’t own a dog.


But despite this, when his eyes flutter open briefly, he does in fact see a dog’s face hovering in front of him. The dog is yellow, and its pink tongue quivers as it pants happily.


Sora thinks that it’s an odd dream to be having, but after that weird business with the storm in his last dream, he’s glad that at least this one is…


Slam!


The massive pressure of a fully coiled dog being unsprung upon Sora’s chest forces his eyes to open to full wideness, though they wince as the back of his head hits what feels like a brick wall.


After a moment of recovery, he begins to actually take in what he’s seeing. It’s dark, probably nighttime, but something seems to be providing illumination, especially just off to his right. Looking around, he sees that he’s in an alley, one side blocked off by some wooden boards and the other open onto a larger area, maybe a street or plaza.


Wherever he is though, it certainly isn’t his home on Destiny Islands, which can only mean one thing…


“I wasn’t dreaming!” He cries in despair, directing the words at no one, but obviously scaring the yellow pooch that awoke him.


Everything that has happened suddenly comes flooding back, hitting him harder than the dog that just woke him up.


What happened to the island, what was that odd sword about, are Riku and Kairi okay? Maybe they’re nearby, maybe they escaped the storm too…


Deciding that he’s not going to learn anything of import in an empty alleyway, Sora makes his way to the mouth of the alley, hoping that maybe he might spy something familiar, something that could explain this strange new world he’s…


Just as he reaches the alley’s exit and spies the large town square in front of him, the thought hits him like a ton of bricks.


“I’m in another world…” he mutters to himself, incredulous and scared out of his mind simultaneously. It’s all he can do to remain upright.

Traverse Town

Azlyn and Telary exit the café briskly, Azlyn storming ahead and Telary struggling to keep pace. A handful of people had in fact heard of this Leon, but were all unsure where to find him. Apparently he’s some kind of local hero, showing up when trouble arose and then fading away into the background.


“I guess we’re just going to have to search on our own, then,” Azlyn says frustratedly, barely avoiding some kid who is just standing around looking bewildered.


“But this town is huge Azlyn,” Telary whines, brushing past the same young man, who looks rather lost. “We could be here for days!”


“Or, we could be imprisoned in Disney Castle for the rest of our lives,” the knight-in-training counters, heading up the steps towards a large door across which SECOND DISTRICT is carved. “Perspective, Telary, perspective.”


“But a few people said that Second District was a dangerous place. What if we…?”


“Scary for a few ordinary citizens in some Podunk town,” Azlyn scoffs, pushing through the door. “Not two people with extensive training from Disney Castle!”


Telary almost points out that neither of them have technically completed said training, but decides that it will be better in the long run if he just follows Azlyn.


Another world
, Sora thinks as he looks around. A few people pass him by, but he hardly notices. After all of the time spent dreaming and preparing and hoping, finally he has left his island. Finally he can see what the rest of the universe has to offer!


Except, any joy he feels is quickly replaced with numbness, a hollow feeling that sends an actual chill all throughout his body. While it’s true that he has accomplished something he has always wanted, without his friends by his side the whole thing just seems empty, like a delicious meal that doesn’t fill your stomach.


But perhaps, by some miracle, Riku and Kairi have reached this new world as well. It’s certainly possible, seeing as how Riku vanished when the Keyblade appeared, and Kairi disappeared before even making physical contact with Sora in the secret cave.


Speaking of the Keyblade, Sora finally notices that it wasn’t in the alley with him, or if it was, he didn’t notice it, and might have left it behind…


Suddenly, a bright flash registers in the corner of his eye, and seconds later Sora can feel a weight in his hand. Looking down, he sees the Keyblade!


“That’s weird,” he mutters to himself, wondering how the sword could just appear at his will like that.


Even so, he figures that it will be best if he can just keep the sword on his person. After some minor finagling with his blue belt, Sora manages to secure the Keyblade in a loop on his waist. He’ll have to remember to adjust the weapon before sitting down, but it’s better than having it constantly disappear and reappear.


Now that everything is sorted, and his hope has been restored, Sora decides that it’s time to start looking for his friends. But where to begin?


“Excuse me, young man,” says a female voice, sounding concerned. Sora turns to see a woman probably ten years his senior, dressed in a white shirt and green skirt that goes all the way down to the cobblestone street. “Are you lost?”


It takes a moment for Sora’s brain to shift into a mode that allows for talking, but he recovers quick enough to not seem rude.


“Yes, ma’am,” he says, trying to keep from sounding nervous, but failing. “I don’t know where I am, or what happened to my friends, and…”


“Oh, you poor thing!” the woman coos, placing a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. “I just hate this whole business, the whole reason this town even exists, I really do.” The second part is directed more at herself than Sora.


“What town?” Sora asks, sounding a little desperate. “Where am I, what world is this?”


“Why, you’re in Traverse Town, sweetie,” the woman says.


Traverse Town…


“Y’know, I’m really not qualified to explain all this,” the woman says, flustered. “What you need to do is go see Cid, up in the Accessory Shop. He’s sort of our resident ‘wise old man’ about the town, you see. I’m sure he can help you.”


Sora looks behind him to where he can see an orange neon sign that does indeed say ACCESSORIES/JEWELRY/GIFTS, lit up above a wide wooden door.


“Okay, sure,” he says, at this point really just letting himself be tugged along by the course of events. “I’ll try that out, thank you.”


“It’s no problem sweetheart,” the woman says before wrapping Sora up in a hug that is freaks him out more than it makes him feel comfortable. “I just hate seeing children getting involved in this whole mess. I really do.” She pulls back after a moment, thankfully, but still looks Sora dead in the eye. “Everything is going to be fine, darling, you’ll see!”


Sora thanks the woman once again and turns for the Accessory Shop. It certainly is nice to know that there are people out there sympathetic to his plight, but almost everything she said just left Sora with more questions.


What’s going on with this town, what is the reason it exists? Are lost people like him a common occurrence in this place? If the answer to that last question is yes, then that could actually be a very good thing, as it might mean that Kairi and Riku have made it to this town as well, and there is a chance the three will be reunited again soon.


The Accessory Shop is small, but somehow homey, with a fireplace nestled in the front corner to the right of the door, a small fire burning inside. The back is lined with a big black case that’s full of jewelry, from simple necklaces with obviously fake pendants to large rings that definitely seem real. Two couches sit in the middle of the shop, one facing towards the door and the other away. A table sits between those.


To the left of the door is a long wooden counter, with another glass display section a few feet down the line. Standing directly behind that is a grizzled looking blonde man, dressed in a simple white shirt with blue trousers. There’s a long toothpick in his mouth that he seems intent on chewing to a pulp. As the doors close behind Sora with a gentle slam, the old man looks at him intently, adjusting the pair of goggles he is wearing pushed up in his hair.


“Evenin’, junior!” he greets simply, nodding. Sora wonders if the look in his eyes is a suspicious one, or if that’s just the way he looks. “You lookin’ to get somethin’ fer ya mother?”


“Uh, no,” Sora replies, stepping further into the store. His Keyblade bumps into the counter when he moves, causing him to wince, and something to change in the old man’s expression. “My name is Sora. I’m new in town, and I…”


“Lookin’ for information, eh?” the blonde man chuckles, flicking his toothpick. “I tell ya, I dunno when I put up a sign that says ‘guest information’, or where the hell it is, but everybody seems to get sent my way.”


“Yeah, um, a lady told me…”


“Yeah, I know the drill, kid,” the man cuts him off, sighing. “The name’s Cid, by the way. This is my accessory shop! Normally I’d tell you to buy somethin’ or scram the hell outta here, but I can see you’re desperate.”


“Yeah, I really am,” Sora admits, leaning on the counter. “So many things have happened in just a few hours. It’s all pretty overwhelming.”


Cid just nods knowingly, like Sora’s story is one he’s heard time and again. “I feel for ya kid, I really do. Everybody in this town knows that feeling, trust me.”


“So, where exactly am I?” Sora asks, hoping that maybe answers to at least a few of his questions will help him cope with all the new developments. “What town is this? What world?”


“Traverse Town,” Cid answers. “A kinda lost and found for people who end up without anywhere to go. And there’s a lot of people without anywhere to go these days. Without homes.”


“So, is this another world? I’m not on the islands anymore?” Although he’d had his suspicions, it still throws Sora for a loop that he has actually managed to cross over into another world. It’s only too bad that he’s alone, without the friends he had dreamed of travelling beyond his own home with.


“Islands?” Cid scoffs, flicking his toothpick again. “This sure as hell ain’t no islands. You ain’t gonna see many tans in this town, I tell ya.”


“So, this is another world,” Sora says slowly, thoughtfully. “And if everybody here is from another world, then that could mean that Riku and Kairi are here somewhere too!”


Cid shrugs. “It’s possible, I guess,” he accedes, though he definitely doesn’t sound convinced. “But I warn ya kid, it’s no guarantee, and even if they made it here from your islands, if they didn’t end up in the First District, well…”


“What?”


“Well, the other districts ain’t exactly safe, kid,” Cid explains grimly, grimacing and running a hand through his hair. “Lotta creepy crawlies out there, looking for trouble.”


This piece of news doesn’t serve to dissuade Sora. In fact, if anything it spurs him on! “If they’re in danger, then I have to find my friends!”


“Alright kid,” Cid says, something like a sigh in his voice. “I bet you can handle yourself with that there sword there, so I reckon you’ll be safe. And if you run into any trouble, you can just come back and see me. My shop’s always open. ‘Til ten-thirty anyway, on weeknights. Eight-thirty on Saturdays, and I don’t come in on Sunday.”


“Uh, whatever you say gramps,” Sora says dismissively, visions of reuniting with his friends dancing in his head as he heads for the door. “I’ll come back if I need anything, and thanks for the help!”


“Don’t call me gramps!” Cid yells out after Sora, scowling fiercely. After the doors settle and close, he sighs and takes the toothpick out of his mouth. The base of it is indeed chewed to a pulp. It keeps him occupied a bit, chewing on toothpicks, but it sure can’t beat a good cigar. Still, people tended to be put off when he smoked in the store, and so the old man often goes without for the sake of the business.


Speaking of business, if that sword resting in the back of Sora’s belt is what he thinks it is, he’s certainly got some business of his own attend to. Putting a small cardboard placard that says CLOSED on the counter, Cid slips out from behind the counter, grabs a scarf for his neck, and sets out.


To find Leon.


It takes about twenty minutes for Sora to explore the rest of First District, asking anyone he can find if they’ve seen anyone matching Riku or Kairi’s descriptions. Nobody seems to have seen them, if their reports are to be believed, and why would they lie to a total stranger? Especially considering how they’ve all lost loved ones as well.


So Sora decides to venture into Second District, despite the fact that Cid, and several of the other townspeople he conversed with, warned him of its dangers. Still, he knows that whatever else the mysterious Keyblade is good for, it certainly has proven useful for defense. And besides, if Riku or Kairi are lost in such a dangerous part of town, then he’d better get to them before they run into trouble.


Second District is much bigger, Sora can tell that much, with various buildings packed on either side of a large courtyard a level below where Sora is standing, a balcony like section of stone-paved walkways. Directly across from him, Sora can see a large white building, almost church-like. Thinking that it might be as good a place as any to begin his search, Sora decides to make that the first destination on his search.


The quietness of the district definitely unnerves Sora, compared to the bustle of people he encountered in the main plaza of First District. In fact, in many ways it almost seems to be a little too quiet…


He suddenly hears a noise like footsteps pounding pavement, and worried breathing gasping for air. Turning, he sees a young man running towards him.


“Please, help!” the man cries, arms flailing about. “It was right behind me, I just…”


Whatever the man has to say, he does not get a chance to say it. Before he can, the shadows behind him take solid shape. In one smooth move, the creature, which Sora recognizes all too well from his island, springs forth from the ground and up onto the man’s back.


The force of impact, not to mention the weight added by the diminutive monster, completely throws off the fleeing man’s balance, and he falls to the hard ground, screaming and flailing about as the creature’s claws begin scratching at his back.


Alarmed, Sora grabs for the Keyblade, expecting to struggle to release it from where it is sheathed on his belt, but finds that it almost leaps into his expectant hand.


He rushes forward, but it’s already too late. For a moment, a large crystalline shape, almost like a 3D representation of a Valentine heart, floats from the body of the downed young man, but the Shadow latches onto it before it can float free, and it, along with the victim, fades away.


The young man may be at peace now, but Sora can sense that he is about to face another conflict, as almost half a dozen Shadows rise from the ground, surrounding him quickly, standing in place, but all twitching, as if in anticipation of another kill.


Sora drops into his two handed combat stance, ready to once again face the creatures responsible for his expulsion from his beloved home.


Two creatures make the first move, charging at Sora in a full frontal assault, but a single hard swipe from the Keyblade is all it takes to send the monsters dissipating into shadowy bursts.


The battle is far from over, though, as a trio of the monsters charge Sora from behind. He hears them coming, and manages to pivot on his right foot and swing simultaneously, catching two of the beasts.


The other manages to avoid the blow however, and swipes a claw at Sora’s belly. The hit lands and Sora stumbles back a step, only to take another blow from a second Shadow waiting behind him.


The boy turns around once again and brings his weapon straight down on the creature’s head, ending its threat.


When he turns back to face the Shadow that managed to hit him first, Sora is horrified to find that several other creatures have joined the battle, and even now charge forth to attack. Sora knows he can’t keep this battle up indefinitely, he already feels tired enough just from the events of the day and the fighting he has already endured, and so makes the tactical decision to retreat.


That’s just a less cowardly way of saying he runs away.


He can hear the creatures coming after him, their every move making strange skittering noises that raise the hairs on the back of his neck. Focusing once more on the large white building he remarked upon entering the district, he goes all out, diving through its doors and hoping for the best.


The Shadows follow him inside however, not to be deterred in their objective. After a few moments, the district settles into a calm.


Into that calm emerge Azlyn and Telary from the motel, a place set up specifically for newly displaced inhabitants of the town to stay and recuperate from their losses. They’d thought it would possibly yield some new information on Leon, but…


“I still think we would have gotten more out of that experience if you’d been less aggressive with that nice lady at the reception desk,” Telary notes to his companion, who is scowling and nursing a wound to her arm. “Or at least hadn’t hissed at her cat.”


“That thing was eyeing me,” the errant knight-in-training protests. “I was sensing a lot of hostility from it. You know how I feel about animals.”


Telary could point out her that they are at this very moment acting on orders from a mouse, but decides to let it go, seeing as things are already rough enough on their search.


“That’s the whole of Second District, though,” he adds, sighing. “We’ve asked everybody we’ve seen, and mind you that hasn’t been a lot of people, and still nobody seems know more about Leon than his tendency to do good and disappear.”


“And no word on this key so far,” Azlyn adds irately. “But, hey, there’s another district to check out, and if we don’t find anything there, we just circle back. We’ve got to find what we’re looking for eventually, right?”


Telary nods resolutely, even though he’s still a bit weary of their so far fruitless quest. “I actually thing there was a way to third district through the other side of the motel though, so let’s go back.”


They turn, but Telary stops his companion before she can continue on in. “As long as you can remember your manners, and to not provoke that cat again.”


“Yeah sure,” his partner responds with an eye roll, pushing in the doors to the motel with probably more force than is necessary.


Just as the doors down the street, the same ones that Sora had retreated into only a minute earlier, swing open with great force.


He’d managed to cut down a number of the creatures chasing him inside the church-like building with odd bits of brightly colored machinery inside, but still a few more follow him back out into the district.


Sora is thoroughly exhausted now, but he stands once more defiant, ready to defend himself to the bitter end if necessary. The sword fights of his youth have given him a good grasp of swordplay, but he has never had to fight for his very life until this moment.


And at this moment, he is losing.


Realizing this, he runs, headed at his fastest pace for the door back into First District, a place he can be safe. He hears the creatures pursuing him, and this only motivates him to go harder, be faster. Escape!


After what feels like an endless eternity of running, he manages to break through the doors to the haven that First District will provide.


His hopes of safety flee, however, as he notices that the creatures still pursue.


Realizing that there may be no true haven from these monsters, Sora knows he has to do something, make a stand.


Planting his foot solidly, he pivots and swings the Keyblade, hoping against hope that this one swing, with perhaps the only ounce of strength he has left in him behind it, can save him.


It does.


The single swipe of the key-shaped sword severs all four of the creatures all at once, sending them as a group into nothingness. Four tiny crystalline hearts, like the one devoured earlier, float through the air before fading away.


Sora braces for another attack, although it will surely be the end of him, but thankfully finds no more of the creatures waiting for him.


He falls butt first to the ground, unable to even stand.


As he attempts to catch his breath, he gazes once more upon the strange weapon he somehow knows is called the Keyblade, realizing that without its timely appearance back on his islands, he would be dead right now, several times over.


Sora knows it’s ridiculous to think of a sword as something worthy of thanks, but in this moment he offers his sincere gratitude to the weapon.


“They won’t stop there, you know,” a deep voice says from somewhere behind Sora. Startled, he cranes his neck to see who has spoken.


His gaze lands on a man, dark brown hair flowing down to his shoulder blades, the tips spiked so sharply they look capable of cutting anyone who dare touches them. A red scar slants to the left from just under his left eye, all the way up to his forehead. He wears a short-sleeved black leather jacket with an odd insignia on the sleeves, a red lion’s head that extends down into a cross. A silver pedant of the same shape rests on his white t-shirt clad breast. His pants are the same shade as his jacket, and two brown belts crisscross each other like bandoliers over his waist. Black boots trudge up the steps from the lower area of the district. He wears black gloves on both hands, and three more brown belts rise up his impressively muscled forearm.


But what truly gives Sora pause is the blade in his hand.


As he reaches the top step the man stops and casually rests the blade’s duller edge against his shoulder, and Sora can see that the hilt of the blade oddly resembles the chamber of a revolver.


“What?” is all Sora can say, exhausted and scared and dumbstruck all at once. He hears the man’s words, but they all seem hazy, everything seems to be losing focus. His vision even blurs a bit.


“They’ll never stop coming after you like that, never stop attacking you,” The man continues, voice solemn and with a warning edge. “Not so long as you continue to wield the Keyblade.”


“How…?” Sora begins, wondering how this man could know about Sora’s strange new gift, or perhaps if he knows even more about it than Sora himself. He has a myriad of questions, but no energy with which to ask them. “Keyblade...” With that last word, darkness overwhelms his vision, and the boy faints dead away.


Leon pauses for a moment and examines the unconscious boy before him, drained completely after just a few measly fights with basic Shadows.


This does not bode well.


“Looks like we got to him just in time Squall!” chimes the cheery voice of Leon’s partner in the protection of Traverse Town.


It’s Leon,” the man corrects her, annoyed at the girl’s insistence on calling him by his old name, the one he forsook when he was no longer worthy of it. “And yeah, I guess we did.”


“So this is him, huh?”


“Apparently.” Leon sighs again, rubs his forehead, his scar suddenly itchy and irritated. “And I think that things may be worse than we’d thought. A lot worse.”


All the way across town, Azlyn and Telary wander through a long back alley they’ve somehow managed to stumble into while looking for the way to Third District.


If they seem lost, well, that’s because they are. Hopelessly.


“You’d think we’d be able to buy a map somewhere,” Azlyn huffs, her nostrils flaring in anger and annoyance. “Seriously, this town is like some kind of maze. How are we supposed to find anyone in this place?”


Telary doesn’t reply. This dark alley is making him even more on edge than he was previously, and considering his state even before, that’s pretty damn edgy.


Azlyn notices and smirks. “Are you really scared right now, Tel? Really?”


“Well, hey, even you’ve got to admit,” he replies defensively, “it’s pretty spooky out here. Everywhere in this town but First District is. It’s so empty, so quiet. I feel like any second something’s gonna jump out at us and poof, we’re done!”


“Oh, please,” Azlyn scoffs, waving her hand dismissively. “You’re getting all worked up over nothing! Nothing’s gonna come charging out at us in this ghost town, and even if anybody tried it, my well-developed detection skills would surely…”


Suddenly, Azlyn feels a hand rest on her shoulder. She screams.


This gets Telary yelling as well, and soon both of the pair’s cries are echoing all throughout the alley.


“Excuse me!” a voice that belongs to neither of the pair cuts through the noise.


Both Azlyn and Telary stop and turn almost simultaneously, finding themselves facing a tall, brown-haired woman in a pink dress that extends to her ankles, brown boots on her feet. She looks startled by all the yelling, but there is kindness in her blue eyes as well.


“I’m sorry that I startled you,” the woman says apologetically.


“Oh, that?” Azlyn says, trying to catch her breath. “No big deal. Wasn’t even worried.” Telary gives her a bit of a side eye before turning back to their new acquaintance.


“I see,” she says, disbelieving but trying not to sound like it. “Anyway, what I wanted to know is, did the king send you?”


Even more startled now than before, Azlyn and Telary look at each other for a brief second before turning back to their new acquaintance.


“Yes,” they answer in perfect synchronization.
[HR][/HR]Originally Traverse Town was all one big chapter, but I decided to divide it in two so that it wouldn't be so overwhelming. I'll have the other half ready to go soon as I can.
 

KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

I love Jimniy in this chapter, because it's nice to see he's willing to see Telary and Azlyn become good apples. The joke about Azlyn working for a mouse was pretty hilarious, because of her dislike of animals. Telary and Azlyn are my favorite characters in this story right now, because it's fun seeing what else they'll do. Telary freaks out way too much about being imprisoned. lol. Either way, I'm sure they'll be reunited with Pluto later down the line. And Sora getting advice from Cid and running into Leon and Yuffie was spot on too. I really can't wait to see how Telary and Azlyn will react when they find out a kid has a keyblade. :D I look forward to the other half of Traverse Town's chapter btw!
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter IV, pt. II
The first thing Riku hears is the sound of rushing water, which leads him to immediately conclude that he must have passed out by the island’s waterfall. It probably serves him right, as hard as he’s been working on the raft. He deserves a little break, unlike that lazy bum Sora. Riku loves his best friend, but he swears sometimes…

He opens his eyes, and realizes that his first assumption was wrong. Massively wrong.


He’s lying on a flat slab of some kind of weird blue stone, almost impossibly smooth. Looking up, he can see the sky above, tinted pink like the sun has either just come up or is just going down.


He is in fact surrounded by a waterfall, but the water is not falling, it’s rising. The blue stone he’s resting on is suspended in the air, with several more slabs of similar stone leading down and up, to a larger stone area that looks like the suspended courtyard of some fantasy castle.


And even further up is said castle.


“Where am I?” Riku wonders aloud, sitting up and rubbing his forehead.


And up above, a mysterious lady cloaked in black and purple watches, a wicked grin across her face.


KH-KH-KH


“Wake up, sleepyhead!”


That voice is the first thing Sora hears, although his vision remains blacked out. He nearly freaks out, fearing permanent blindness, before realizing that he merely has his eyes closed.


“C’mon, you can’t stay like that forever!”


And suddenly, Sora’s eyes shoot open. He recognizes that voice. He’d know it from anywhere.


Kairi is standing above him, a sly half-grin on her face. The wall behind her is green, and a gold filigree clock hangs up on it.


Sora realizes then that he’s lying in a bed. Not a very comfortable one, but still a bed.


That realization, however, pales in comparison to the fact that Kairi is standing right in front of him.


“Those creatures that attacked you were actually after the Keyblade,” the girl explains in her angelic voice. “They’re afraid of it, so they try to destroy its wielder, and take their heart. That’s what they’re really after. Your heart.”


Sora hears the words only distantly, like background noise to the astonishing, beautiful symphony that is Kairi.


Sora sits up now, his smile uncontainable. “I was so worried that I’d lost you. But you’re here now. I’m so glad you’re okay, Kairi.”


“Kairi?” the girl says, and this time it’s not her voice that comes out of Kairi's mouth, it’s someone else’s. Sora’s eyes widen to the size of dinner plates in confusion. What happened to Kairi’s voice? It was completely normal a second ago, but now…


Sora blinks, and when he opens his eyes again, Kairi is gone, replaced by a smirking girl with short dark hair kept off her forehead by a white bandana. She’s wearing a yellow scarf, a green top that covers her breasts and not much else, and pale yellow shorts secured by a blue belt. White socks come up from yellow boots to her mid-thigh.


Sora can’t help but blush a little.


“Who the hell is this ‘Kairi’?” the girl asks, one hand on her hip. “The name’s Yuffie. The Great Ninja Yuffie!”


“What?” Sora asks incredulously, gripping his forehead in both hands. “Where did Kairi go? How did I get here? What’s a ninja?”


“Wow,” Yuffie huffs, smirking and turning to face the man Sora saw earlier, the hell-bent for leather one. He’s leaning against the green wall and looking generally disinterested. “They really did a number on him, eh Squall?”


“For the last time,” the man grumbles, “it’s Leon. And c’mon Yuffie, it’s the name I’ve been going by for eleven years, when are you going to stop getting it wrong?”


“When you stop getting pissy about it!” Yuffie shoots back, sticking out her tongue playfully. “Which honestly I assume will be never.”


“What’s going on, huh?” Sora demands, heaving his legs over the side of the bed. As he does so, he notices the Keyblade leaning up against the wall near Squall, er, Leon. “The Keyblade!”


“Yeah, we had to get it away from you, for your own good,” Yuffie explains. “It served you pretty well, but that’s actually how those creatures kept finding you. Ironic, huh?”


“We can only conceal your heart from them if you’re separated from the Keyblade,” Leon further explains. “It’s not going to work for long, though.” After a moment of silently staring at the propped up Keyblade, Leon turns back to look at Sora, something like disappointment flashing in his eyes. “Hard to believe that someone like you could be, heh, the Chosen One. That’s pretty ironic too.”


At this point Sora has had enough of being in the dark. He’s ready to finally get some answers. “Why don’t you start saying things that make sense, okay? Tell me what’s going on?”


Nearby, just across a single wall, in fact, Azlyn and Telary sit across from the young woman from the alley, who has introduced herself as Aerith, in a room done completely in red. They’re both in the canopy bed, and Aerith has taken a chair.


“Let’s start with the basics,” she says cheerfully. “You two know that there are worlds other than your castle and this town, correct?”


“Of course!” Azlyn says with a bit of bluster. “We are a knight and wizard of Disney Castle after all. Sent on this important mission by the King himself. Who has totally approved us leaving the castle, by the way.”


“I know, you’ve said,” Aerith says, a bit annoyed. “In fact, you’ve said that exact same thing like ten times.”


“Because it’s true!”


Telary feels bad about lying to Aerith, to anyone really, but at this point they pretty much have no choice. Actual official employees of Disney Castle or not, it seems like they’ll need this information for later.


“Anyway,” Aerith continues, “there are many worlds out in the universe, each one its own unique domain.”


“But, they’re all unaware of it, right?” Telary asks. “I mean, the existence of other worlds is a secret.”


“Which is something the king also told us,” Azlyn adds unnecessarily. “Before we left on our explicitly approved, officially sanctioned…”


“Yes, the worlds are all secret from one another,” Aerith continues, amazingly not sounding the least bit annoyed. “They’ve had no other choice, because they haven’t been connected. Not until now. Not since the Heartless.”


“Heartless?” Sora says incredulously. While it’s good to put a name to the shadowy faces he’s been bashing in with the Keyblade all this time, it’s also a pretty terrifying name for a group of creatures whose sole purpose seems to be to screw with you, and ultimately eat your heart.


“Those without hearts,” Leon confirms with a nod. He’s left his cool leaning perch against the wall and now stands next to Yuffie with his arms crossed, looking stern. Sora idly wonders if he’s ever smiled.


“They’re attracted to the Darkness inside people’s hearts,” Yuffie explains further. “All the bad, nasty emotions that come as a side effect of living. They feed on that Darkness.”


“Sounds, uh, bad,” Sora says, at a loss for other words. He knows it’s an understatement, but what else is there to say?


“Oh, you’ve got no idea,” says Yuffie with a knowing nod. After a moment though, a curious look springs to her face. “Say, have you ever heard of someone named Ansem?”


“Ansem?” Azlyn repeats the word Aerith just said. “Sounds kind of like a rock band to me. I’d go see them, too.”


“Actually, Ansem is a man,” corrects Aerith gently. “A great and wise man from a far off world. He was studying the Heartless, trying to figure out what made them tick, what made them a threat to the worlds. How to stop them.”


“Wow,” Telary says, taking a heavy breath. “That must have been an intense study.”


“It was,” Aerith confirms. “And everything he found out, he wrote down in a very detailed report. It’s pretty much the sum knowledge of everything he discovered about the Heartless.”


“I prefer a good comic book, but still, this sounds important,” Azlyn says. “Can we see it?”


“I’ll bet it’s fascinating,” Telary agrees, eager to do something not life-threatening, like reading, for a change.


“I don’t have it,” Aerith sighs, shaking her head. “No one has a complete copy. Its pages were scattered all across the universe, to many different worlds.”


“Huh,” Telary says, pausing for a second to scratch at his chin. Suddenly he has a thought. “Maybe that’s why King Mickey took off! He wanted to find that report!”


“Those were my exact thoughts,” Aerith agrees. “That’s why I was so interested in meeting with the king’s men.”


“If we could find that report, we could…” Telary almost says that they could escape their punishment, but thankfully realizes that now is a bad time to get Aerith suspicious of them. “We could find the king!”


“Yeah,” Azlyn agrees, sounding oddly wary of the idea. “But we also need to find that key the king talked about. Whatever it is.”


“Oh,” Aerith says brightly, a smile opening up across her face. “Yes, the Keyblade. I was just going to talk to you about that.”


“So the Keyblade defeats the Heartless,” Sora says, gazing intensely at the sword propped against the wall. It’s odd that such an innocuous thing could be so deadly a weapon against the forces of evil.


“Exactly!” Yuffie confirms joyously. Apparently bored of standing still, she's taken to walking on her hands across the tiny room. “You’re getting the hang of things now!”


“The Heartless have great fear of the Keyblade,” Leon says lowly. “They know it’s the only thing that can truly destroy them, and so they seek the destruction of its wielder. That’s you. And anyone who gets between you and them.”


“Man,” Sora says with a dejected sigh, running his hands through his hair, “This is heavy. And I never even asked for any of it!”


“Well that’s just too bad,” Leon says without any hint of actual sympathy in his voice. “Legend has it that the Keyblade chooses its own master, and it chose you. So, sorry, but you’re stuck with it.” Leon picks up the Keyblade with a black gloved hand, and within a second light gathers around it and it disappears, only to reappear in Sora’s lap. “Tough luck. For everybody.”


Both Leon and Yuffie pause, obviously giving the younger boy a moment to collect his thoughts. That seems almost impossible. How could everything have changed so quickly, gotten so bad so fast? It was only yesterday Sora was peacefully at play on his island. His home.


“Wait a minute!” Sora blurts out, startling Leon and Yuffie to attention. “If you guys know so much, then maybe you can tell me what happened to my home. My island!”


For a moment the pair are silent, exchanging a look. Finally, Leon shrugs and turns back toSora. “You know something? I honestly don’t know.”


That about shatters Sora.


“Hey now, don’t worry,” Yuffie says, kneeling down by Sora in an attempt to offer assurance. Leon just sniffs at the display from across the room. “I’m sure everything will work out, you’ve just got to keep up hope!”


Sora doesn’t reply, only looks sadly at the floor.


“C’mon, kid, you’ve got to get it together!” Leon commands, earning a dark look from Yuffie, but managing to get Sora’s attention. He snaps his head up to look at the older man. “The Heartless are going to find you soon enough, and when that happens you'll need to be ready to fight for your very life. So I’m sorry if you need a minute, I get that, but eventually you’ve got to realize just what exactly is at stake here.”


Sora knows that Leon is right. And Yuffie is too. He’s got to get his act together to prepare for the Heartless, and if he loses hope now, there’s no way he’ll ever get the answers he’s looking for, or find Riku and Kairi and get them home safely. He’s just got to keep moving, and never lose sight of his true goal.


“So what’s next then?” he asks, standing in front of Leon like he’s some sort of drill sergeant commanding officer. “How do we stop the Heartless?”


“That’s more like it,” Leon says with almost a hint of a grin about his lips. He turns to Yuffie. “We’d better go meet up with Aerith, then. I’m sure she’ll have found the others by now.”


Sora is about to ask what others Leon is talking about, but before he can a sphere of pure Darkness, trailing red sparks, appears in the middle of the room. In a moment it fades, and Sora can see a small creature, about half his height, squatting in the middle of the room.


It rises, and the first thing Sora notices is the yellow eyes that peer out from its shadowed face. Sora would know those eyes anywhere.


“Heartless!” Leon cries, grabbing his blade from where it rests on the round table in one corner of the room and wielding it in a two handed grip. Sora responds to this by dropping into his own battle stance, Keyblade clutched tightly. ”Get out of here, Yuffie! Find Aerith!”


With a single swing, Leon sends the Heartless crashing out the doors to the room’s balcony, and all the way to the street below. He rushes after it immediately, and Sora follows, leaping over the balcony’s railing with haste.


In the red room, Telary cautiously approaches the door to the adjoining room, Azlyn right behind him. He gets quite the surprise indeed when the door slams open right into his face and Yuffie rushes in, looking frantic.


“My node!” he cries in anguish, clutching at his once again bleeding face. Wide-eyed, Azlyn rushes to catch him as he falls back in shock. She’s too slow though, and instead of keeping the mage upright, both of them fall to the floor.


“What’s going on?” Aerith asks her companion worriedly. “Where are Squall and…?”


“No time!” Yuffie says hurriedly, out of breath. “Heartless!” She says all of this without stopping for one moment, and Aerith has no other recourse but to follow her, completely forgetting her guests in all of the excitement.


“Cure!” Telary cries, and for the second time in as many days, the flow of blood from his nose is magically quenched. “Maybe I ought to invest in some kind of helmet…”


“Ow,” is all Azlyn can say, sitting up and rubbing her head. “You are a lot heavier than you look, Telary, I can say that much!”


“Sorry,” the mage apologizes. After a moment, he looks around the empty room. “Hey, where did everyone go?”


KH-KH-KH

Down in the alley, Sora and Leon find themselves up against not only the creature from before, but a trio of its buddies, all decked out in blue and purple bodysuits with the same symbol on their chests, a black heart with a red stitched X in its center, all outlined in red. Their hands end in wicked red claws that are sure to sting if struck with.


They all charge, and both Sora and Leon rush out to fight them right back, each taking two of the Soldiers on themselves.


Sora’s first strike lands easily, a clanking sound rising from the Heartless’s body. He’s surprised that this doesn’t result in the creature’s immediate defeat, like those before it, but instead of analyzing he merely swings again, then a third time. On the third swing, the creature disappears, a crystalline heart rising from where it once was.


A sharp pain suddenly strikes Sora, and he realizes that in his fervor for fighting the first Heartless, he has left the other an opening.


Turning, he sees the Soldier backing away, and rushes forward with his Keyblade swinging. In three swift hits, the creature is gone.


Turning, Sora sees Leon finishing off his own opponent with a final swing of his odd revolver sword.

“These guys are just small fries,” the man says, turning to Sora and resting the blade on his leather-clad shoulder. “But they have a leader somewhere. Find it, and you’ll stop them all.”

“Where should I look?” Sora asks.


“Could be anywhere,” Leon answers with a grunt. “Best if we just split up. I’ll take First District, you head to Third, okay?”


“Sure thing!” Sora agrees. He begins to rush off, but before he can go very far he turns back to Leon. “By the way, thanks for…”


But Leon is already gone, off to do his part of the search. Grinning, Sora decides that he’d better fulfill his end as well.


KH-KH-KH


Many hard fought battles against both Soldier and Shadow Heartless later, Sora finally arrives in Third District, which is basically just a giant plaza illuminated by neon signs and a large glowing fountain that depicts two dogs gazing at each other lovingly. Sora thinks it’s an odd thing to put up in such a public place, but who is he to judge?


Up above the district, on the balcony of another building, Azlyn and Telary have found themselves just a bit lost.


“How did we even get up here?’ Azlyn asks no one in particular, though of course Telary doesn’t realize she’s being rhetorical and answers anyway.


“Well, we kinda just ran across rooftops for a while,” the mage explains, though he’s not sure why he needs to go over this again.


“Telary, I was being…” Azlyn turns to berate her companion, but instead sees a group of Soldiers gathering behind him. Off his partner’s bewildered expression, Telary turns too, and lets out a yelp of surprise, whipping his mage’s staff out of its holster at his waist. Azlyn follows suit with her shield. “Oh, boy.”


“So do you think these are the Heartless?” Telary asks the knight, gulping loudly at the question’s completion.


“I’d say that’s not a bad bet,” she replies, trying to sound defiant in the face of danger. Internally, she’s an odd mixture of scared and pleased. Pleased in that she finally has a chance to test her skills against an actual opponent, and scared for pretty much the same reason, compounded by the fact that she’s facing off with evil monsters of pure Darkness.


“Well, Telary!” Azlyn roars, preparing her shield for a strike. “Let’s go get ‘em!”


Sora, now standing in the very middle of the Third District plaza, swears he can hear something from up above, almost like the noises from a battle. Curious, he looks to the night sky to see what could possibly be going on up there…


A loud yelp pierces the night, followed by a pained yell, and all of the sudden two people, a boy and a girl, are hurtling through the air, right towards Sora.

Panicking, the boy tries to run, but before he can get his feet moving, he’s pinned beneath the weight of a battered knight-to-be and mage of Disney Castle.

Not that he knows this, however. All he can feel is a giant weight crushing him into the ground.


Telary is certainly grateful for whatever relatively soft thing he and Azlyn have landed on instead of the hard stone ground, but he’s also in a pretty incredible amount of pain, and so elects to just continue staring helplessly at the sky.


Azlyn, however, has a pretty good view of the boy they’ve managed to land on, but more importantly, she sees what is in his hand. A giant key!


“Telary!” she blurts out, pushing her companion off of her back and rolling onto the plaza’s ground. “Look!”


Telary regains focus and sees what it is Azlyn is so excited about.


“The key!” both of them cry in joyous unison.


“What?” Sora asks, sitting up and groaning. Blinking owlishly, he looks over the two people who just so oddly flew out of the sky to crush him. “Who are you? How do you know about my Keyblade?”


Azlyn and Telary stare at each other for a beat, then turn back to Sora.


“Uh, hello there!” Telary says, cheerful but awkward, waving with one hand. “The king sent us to find you.”


Sora is perplexed by that answer, but before he can press further, the ground beneath him begins rumbling.


Spurred to action by mutual terror, all three members of the newly formed trio rise simultaneously, weapons all at the ready. As they do, something else rises as well: Giant stone walls that cut off every possible exit point from the plaza, leaving the three new acquaintances all trapped together.


After the walls have reached a height too high to leap over, and impossible to scale, a calm settles over the district.


It doesn’t last for long.


Telary is the first to notice the giant purple metal constructs falling from the sky above. Crying out in fear, he quickly herds both Azlyn and the Keyblade boy out of the way, ducking his head for cover.


The metal pieces land on the ground in a heap, shaking it so severely that everyone in the square loses their footing, then bounce immediately back up.


Two hands, two feet, and one giant purple torso with the Heartless symbol displayed prominently on the chest all form up to an approximation of an extremely stocky but intensely well-armored being, legs planted firmly on the ground, but torso and clawed hands floating independently.


In the next second, a large helmet, steely visor closed down, floats gently above the top hole of the torso armor.


The Guard Armor is ready for battle.


“I think the introductions can wait a minute,” Azlyn says as the trio all take up battle positions, forming a rough triangle, Sora in front, Azlyn behind and to the right, and Telary behind and to the left.


The Heartless marches towards the trio, both arms swinging. The group scatters, and each member attacks a different body part.


Azlyn goes in against the right arm immediately, jumping up and knocking it so hard with the flat bulk of her shield that it flies away from the rest of the body. Keeping up pursuit, the knight jumps after it again, knocking it twice with the edge of her shield, causing further damage.


Nearby, Telary blasts fire spell after fire spell at the left leg, causing significant damage. A moment later though, the appendage leaps up and slams down towards the mage, rumbling the ground and causing him to lose balance. It then leaps again, hoping to crush its opponent, but Telary is ready for it.


“Reflect!” he cries, creating a solid shield of white light around his person. The angry foot impacts against it and finds its own momentum directed back at it, sending it bursting in a shower of dark energy.


Sora manages to knock away his own armored foot opponent, then attacks it with three strikes as it lies on the ground, helpless. Within a few three hit combos, it disappears too.


Sensing danger, the Guard Armor recalls its remaining limbs, the two hands floating back to close positions on either side of the torso. After a moment they begin to spin, creating a dangerous whirling tornado of death.


The Armor heads after Sora immediately, hoping to neutralize the greatest threat to it, the Keyblade and its wielder.


The Heartless makes quite the mistake by underestimating its other two opponents though.


“That thing is gonna chop that boy into a million tiny pieces!” Telary cries in fear as he watches in horror.


“Not if I have anything to say about it!” Azlyn roars, readying her shield-bearing arm for a throw. “Get a load of this!”


With a loud grunt of triumph and challenge, she hurls her shield forward, sending it flying through the air and directly into the monstrosity’s metal head, which it bounces off with a resounding clang.


Startled, Guard Armor turns to face whoever has just knocked it on the noggin. Seeing Azlyn, who is now sticking her tongue out defiantly at the creature, it suddenly forgets its attack on Sora, instead hurtling through the air at the girl who dares to mock it!


At this point, Azlyn realizes that the consequences of her plan are a bit direr than she expected, as the big angry Heartless monster has now decided to target her. And after that throw she’s without her shield, so…


“Uh oh!” she says as the Armor approaches, rearing back one arm to strike her down.


It doesn’t get the chance, however, because at that moment Sora leaps in and with a mighty swing of the Keyblade, and the arm the Heartless had intended to use disappears into the dark ether.


The other arm tries to compensate, but a lightning bolt comes lancing out of the sky and hits it dead on, destroying it as well.


Now left as just a torso, the Guard Armor begins to spin, gathering speed and ferocity and charging at the trio.


All three run, Azlyn heading directly for her shield, while Telary tosses off a fire spell that merely bounces off the spinning torso. Gulping down his terror, Telary picks up his pace, falling into stride beside Sora.


Azlyn, however, reaches her shield and charges the spinning Heartless, at the last second falling to her back and turning her run into a skid along the ground. Stopping underneath the spinning torso, Azlyn braces her shield in both hands and pushes up, flipping the Heartless over and stopping its spin.


Seeing an opportunity, Sora jumps several feet to the Heartless, and in one final swing of the Keyblade, brings it down.


What’s left of the Guard Armor begins to shake, rising into the air as its form begins to unravel. Finally, with a burst of light, a crystalline heart lazily floats from where the Heartless used to be into the night sky before fading away.


All that’s left is a quiet square as the stone walls sealing the area crumble, leaving Sora, Azlyn, and Telary, all exhausted from their fight, standing around by each other.


Telary is the first to break the silence, turning to Sora, who is standing just to his right.


“Pleased to meet you!” he says brightly, holding out a hand for the boy to shake. “My name is Telary!”


Sora just stares at the older boy, eyes moving back and forth from his hand to his face in rapid succession.


“Uh, hi,” he finally says, extending his own hand and grasping Telary’s. “I’m Sora.”


Further introductions and explanations follow, and in about ten minutes, Sora is apprised of the situation. Well, minus the parts about being fugitives from justice and on this quest basically as a means to avoid possible permanent imprisonment. Neither Azlyn nor Telary suspect that would go over very well.


“So, you two were looking for me?” Sora asks, a bit incredulous at being sought after by two obviously very powerful and highly respected individuals.


“Yep,” Telary answers cheerfully, almost over the top excited by the fact that he and Azlyn’s first hurdle in possibly returning to Disney Castle has been cleared. “And I really cannot stress enough how glad we are to find you!”


“Now you can come with us to other worlds while we look for the king!” Azlyn adds, a bit more subdued but obviously pleased at this development. “We’ve got a ship for it and everything!”


“Other worlds, huh?” Sora says, scratching at his chin. “I wonder if I could find Riku and Kairi out there. I mean, I’m pretty sure they aren’t here at this point, so…”


“Exactly!” Azlyn chimes in brightly, hoping to end the boy’s indecision and get this show on the road properly. “I’m sure you’ll find your friends somewhere out there in the big wide universe, if you come along with us!”


Telary, a bit miffed by his counterpart’s sudden brightness and willingness to help out a stranger, shoots her a questioning look, but she just returns a bit of a scowl, probably indicating that this isn’t a great time to ask questions. Trusting her, for now, he says nothing, instead opting to just nod along. The idea is making the rather sad boy in front of them brighten up a little, and the mage is glad to see that, at any rate.


“I guess so,” he says, staring a bit dejectedly at the ground.


“Hey now!” Telary says by way of intervention. “You can’t come with us looking all sad like that! In fact, a frown like that will bring the Gummi ship crashing straight down! It runs on happiness, you see!”


Now it’s Azlyn’s turn to look at her counterpart like he’s lost his mind, but he ignores her and keeps going, gesturing even bigger.


“So get that frown off your face, and give us a great big smile huh? Like this!” At this point the mage stretches his face into a comically wide grin, nudging Azlyn with an elbow and encouraging her to do the same. At first she looks ready to punch him, but after a moment she joins in, though her grin is considerably smaller.


Looking at the try-hard goofy faces of his new friends, Sora can’t help but want to please them. So, taking a deep breath, Sora gathers all of his stray positivity, channels it into the widest grin he can muster, and looks up…


Azlyn and Telary both nearly go into fits at his cheesy grin and widened eyes. Only seconds later, Sora joins in with the laughter. They laugh for almost a full minute before any of them can manage to recover.


“Okay, I’ll go with you guys!” Sora says amicably, a more subdued grin coming to his face. His oldest and best friends may be missing, but he’s willing to bet that he’ll become plenty close with these two as well.


“The name’s Azlyn.”


“Telary!”


“And I’m Sora!”


Telary and Azlyn both stick out their right hands in a gesture that they’ve seen Donald, Goofy, and the king perform many times. Sora’s not exactly sure what’s happening, but he puts his hand out too, forming a pile in the middle of the trio.


“All for One…” Azlyn begins.


“And One for All!” Telary concludes.


It feels like the start of something truly amazing.
[HR][/HR]And just like that, the gang's all together! But Azlyn and Telary seem determined to keep their true status as apprentices and escapees hidden from Sora, which may (actually, which definitely will) lead to some consequences down the line.
 

KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Woot! Sora together with Azlyn and Telary will be extremely exciting to see. It was super awesome seeing these three work so well together in a fight. Seriously, I'm impressed with the description of the battle against the Guard Armor! Furthermore, it still amuses me seeing Telary getting hurt in the nose. He's so cute, but he really does hold his own, and he was really kind to Sora. I'm curious how things will go with them inside of the Gummi Ship. Great chapter! I look forward to more. :D And curious what consequences will arise.
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter V: Blast Off
The image of Sora, Azlyn, and Telary with their hands together freezes above the scrying pool, tinted a sickly green color by the dark magics being focused on it.

“Well whaddya know?” chuckles a fast-talking voice belonging to a man with hair of blue fire. “That little pipsqueak did it! He beat that Heartless but good. Almost makes ya wanna bet on his horse, eh fellas?”

“Hardly,” comments the nasally voice of a well-dressed man clutching a golden staff with the head of a snake carved at its tip. “It was the power of the Keyblade that allowed the boy to win the day, not his own strength.”

“And he had help from those two Disney Castle folk, besides!” a man wearing an enormous red hat adds on. “They look a bit young for the king’s lackeys, though. Mayhaps the good king of Disney Castle has himself a bit of a staffing problem, if he’s sending bilge rats like these children to do his dirty work!”

“We should just make Heartless out of the lot of them,” a boisterous female voice suggests, the sound of dripping water coming off her many appendages. “That’ll end things quickly.”

“Quicker than you ended your last diet, honey bunches!” a teasing voice erupts from a truly disgusting mouth.

“Why you flatulent sack of bugs…!”

“Enough, you two,” scolds the leader of this less than merry band, finally rising from the throne where she had sat above the rest as they observed events unfolding in Traverse Town, reminding all in attendance of her authority on this dark council. “It does us no good to fight amongst ourselves. Not when the real enemy is out there.”

“As I have said before,” the man with the staff, the nominal second in command of the group, sneers, “the child will be no threat to us. None shall defeat us. Not with the Heartless under our command.”

“I would temper your arrogance were I you, my friend,” the woman cautions, waving the thin staff she clutches in her green-skinned hand for emphasis. “After all, the Keyblade has chosen this boy as its wielder. Would it not have done so if he was anything less than worthy? I should think not.”

“Yeah, trust me,” the flame-haired man chimes in. “I know something about these ‘chosen one, unlikely hero’ things, been on the bad end of plenty of them myself. If that brat has a Keyblade, then there’s a reason.”

“Exactly,” the leader agrees. She stops her contemplative stride in front of the scrying pool, gazing deeply into the still image of the heroic trio. Her lips purse in thought. “The power of the Keyblade is his to command. Can he use it to conquer the Darkness, or will Darkness conquer him? Only time will tell. Now, please, be away.”

With a dismissive wave of her massive black and purple cloak, the witch turns to depart.

“I have a guest to entertain, after all.”

And deep in the dark dungeons of the twisted castle, a scared, lonely, and confused silver haired boy lies shivering in the cold darkness.

KH-KH-KH


The newly formed trio all meet up with Leon, Yuffie, and Aerith in the main square of First District. Leon reports that, thanks to the group’s efforts in defeating the Guard Armor, there were no casualties in the large scale Heartless attack. Sora’s happy to hear it, glad that he’s taken his first steps towards using the Keyblade for heroism.

“Make sure to be careful out there, Sora,” Leon says, addressing the entire trio but looking specifically at Sora. “We don’t know far exactly the Heartless have spread, but I’m sure the Heartless out there are even worse than the ones crawling around here.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be on the lookout,” Sora assures the older man.

Aerith steps forward then, something behind her back. Azlyn hears clinking, faint but definitely there. She perks up a little at the sound, a grin starting to spread. Telary notices it out of the corner of his eye, but beyond giving her a strange look that she doesn’t even register, he says nothing to his counterpart.

“We’re not sure if you’ll need this, on your travels,” the young woman says, withdrawing the hand behind her back and revealing a small coin purse that jangles when it moves. “We pooled together all that we could manage…”

“I stole some of it!” Yuffie announces happily, earning her a dark look of admonishment from Leon, to which she just shrugs.

“Yes, well, here you go,” Aerith finishes lamely, holding the purse out to Sora. It’s Azlyn who steps in to grab it, however.

“It’s best if I keep this,” she says, secreting the purse away into the pocket of her hoodie. “I’m pretty good with munny, so…”

Everyone else looks at Telary, who just nods, grinning a bit sheepishly. Azlyn is pretty good at handling munny. In fact, she takes great pleasure in handling as much as she can get her hands on.

“Well that’s everything!” Aerith says cheerfully. “I hope we will be seeing the three of you soon.”

“Don’t get killed!” Yuffie chimes in brightly, a big goofy grin on her face. “I hear that sucks.”

“Do be careful out there, you three,” Leon says in all seriousness, nodding at the trio solemnly. “Look out for each other. Please.”

“Don’t worry Leon,” Sora assures the leather-clad man, holding his fist out. “We’ll watch each other’s backs. And I’ll see you again in no time, I’m sure.”

Leon bumps his knuckles against Sora’s, giving him the first genuine smile he’s seen on the man’s face since they met.

“Thank you for everything, really,” Telary says sincerely, before turning and falling in step with the other two, on their way to the Gummi ship.

KH-KH-KH


The Gummi ship basically blows Sora’s mind. Just looking at the massive orange vessel nearly does the boy in. By the time he’s shown inside, he’s pretty much vibrating with excitement and an enthusiasm that borders on childish.

“This is the kinda common room, I guess,” Telary explains as Sora emerges from the ladder to the cargo bay/entrance, gesturing all around at the main area of the ship’s mid-deck that leads pretty much anywhere else on the ship one might want to go.

“Where am I supposed to sleep?” Sora asks, though judging by the way he’s looking about with glee, it won’t be any time soon that he’ll be feeling like laying down.

“The cabins are back this way,” Azlyn says, leading him toward the hall with four rooms branching off of it. Sora gets the second on the left, which is small but homey, with a bed, desk, wooden chair, and chest of drawers all provided. The door to a small bathroom is open on the far wall.

“Wow, you shouldn’t have,” Sora says under his breath, not wanting to be rude, but not particularly impressed either.

Azlyn hears him, but decides not to comment. No need to get antagonistic with the only person capable of saving their bacon. And apparently the collective bacon of the universe, to boot.

“It isn’t much, but trust me, things aren’t any better for the rest of us,” is all she decides to say before heading back out to the door. “You can sleep if you want, but we’re gonna take off in a few minutes, and I doubt you’ll want to miss that.”

“Definitely not!” Sora replies with an eager grin, flopping down onto his bed and taking a moment to survey the small room once more from this position. “Just give me a minute to… Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have a spare toothbrush laying around, would you?”

“Uh, it’s in the bathroom, I think,” she says. “Along with some toothpaste. Hurry up though. I won’t stall liftoff just because you’re being pokey.”

“Um, okay.”

Azlyn closes the door as gently as she can after stepping into the hall, makes a quick detour to hang her shield on the wall of her own cabin, and then heads up to the cockpit to check on Telary’s progress.

“Please tell me that No-Go-Back program thingy is still running,” she pleads, moving to stand by Telary’s shoulder and watch his fingers manipulate the nav computer. With a final pull of a big lever next to his command chair, the ship begins to rumble to life.

“Sure is,” Telary assures her, now beginning the actual preparations for lift-off. “It’s set up to run passively, so it’ll work whether or not the computer is actually on, barring some sort of catastrophic damage to the actual hardware.”

“Good,” Azlyn sighs, sinking into her own chair. “I’d hate to have all our work go to waste like that.”

“So you’re gonna lie to this boy too, huh?” Jiminy’s scolding voice says accusatorily, leaping up onto the computer board and causing Telary to let out a yelp of terror. “Just let him keep on thinking you’re something you’re not?”

Azlyn rubs her forehead for a moment in frustration. “That’s the plan, for the foreseeable future.”

Jiminy huffs in displeasure, then looks to Telary, who he hopes will be easier to appeal to reasonably. “C’mon, Telary. You know this ain’t the right thing to do. Just telling the boy the truth won’t hurt, y’know. Besides, won’t it be easier to explain things now, instead of when things inevitably go wrong?”

Telary sees the logic in Jiminy’s perspective, but at the same time, he worries that confessing their lies to Sora could lead to something going horribly wrong on the mission.

“Honestly, I’m not sure what I want to do,” the mage confesses, sighing deeply and sinking back in his chair. “But for now, I think Azlyn has a point. Sora clearly needs to think that someone with authority is in charge of this mission. It’ll keep him calm, let him know that he doesn’t have to worry about things.”

“Worry about what?” Sora’s voice asks, rising from the ladder to the lower deck, looking curious, but also sneaking a lot of glances at the amazing technology all around him.

“Don’t worry about it,” Azlyn says with a smirk. “Just take a seat and enjoy liftoff!”

Sora looks a bit confused, but instead of saying anything further he just takes a seat in the third chair of the cockpit.

“Before we get underway, Sora, I’d like you to meet someone,” Telary says, gesturing to the cricket on the dashboard.

Sora nearly goes cross-eyed looking at the tiny insect dressed in a top hat and tails. For a moment he can’t believe his eyes.

“Hello there, Sora!” the tiny chronicler says by way of greeting, jumping up with a wide grin. “The name’s Jiminy Cricket, Royal Chronicler for Queen Minnie of Disney Castle! Nice to meet you!”

He holds out his tiny gloved hand for a shake. After a moment of shocked staring, Sora holds out his pinky finger to the cricket, who grips it in both hands and gives it a vigorous pump.

“Uh, hi, Mr. Cricket,” the boy says nervously. Even given the bizarre events of the last day, he certainly hasn’t prepared for conversing with a bug! “How, uh, how do you do?”

Jiminy chuckles at the boy’s obvious bereavement. “Don’t you worry about bein’ nervous there, Sora. I’m sure that in time we’ll be the best of friends.” He pauses for a pointed look at Azlyn and Telary. “Able to tell each other anything.”

Both Disney Castle escapees turn sheepishly back to their control boards. Azlyn actually starts whistling, a cheery tune she’s heard King Mickey toot from time to time.

“Are, uh, are we gonna lift off soon?” Sora asks, turning back to his new companions with an eager look.

“As a matter of fact, I think all systems are go for launch!” Telary announces, pressing a few final buttons and gripping the control yoke with both hands. “Why don’t you do the ignition honors though, eh Sora?”

“Is that okay for me to do?” Sora asks, nervous that he might do something wrong. “I don’t really have much experience with… Well, rocket science!”

“Do you see that blue button, just above the big red one?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Press it down, and we’ll be good to go!”

Nervous but excited, emotions swirling around inside of him, Sora closes his eyes and jams his finger down on the button.

Unfortunately, it isn’t the correct one.

The warning lights indicating emergency launch begin to cycle on overhead, casting a red pall over the entire cockpit.

“You moron!” Azlyn screams, standing up to prepare to lunge at the boy. Sadly for her, but luckily for the Keybearer, it’s at that moment the Gummi ship drops out into the vastness of space.

Telary is strapped in properly, and therefore just gets the feeling he’s on a particularly violent roller coaster. The others aren’t so lucky, flying up and hitting the Gummiglass canopy above. Hard.

After a few moments of falling that nevertheless feel eternal, the ship settles, and everyone crashes back to the floor. The only sounds in the cockpit for about half a minute are the pained groans of those not strapped in during the botched launch.

“Memo to everyone,” Telary says nervously when the noises finally wind down to silence, “always wear a seatbelt.”
 

KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

This just keeps on getting better and better. I like Yuffie, because she's at least honest about stealing munny. I think Azlyn is something similar to a mercenary, except I forgot the proper term for it, when it comes to her and munny; which is pretty funny in my mind. I really do hope Jiminy is right about the three of them sharing everything with each other. And last but not least, I bust a gut laughing at Sora hitting the wrong button, and Telary's warning about wearing a seatbelt.
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter VI: Go Ask Alice, pt. 1
Even an hour after liftoff, Sora still cannot stop staring up at the flashing colors of Gummi space that pass by the ship’s cockpit, fascinated by the many swirls and whorls of colors that penetrate the predominantly blue expanse.

His elation is tempered, of course, by how much he is missing his friends, wondering where in this vast universe they could possibly be, whether they are together or apart, and if there’s even a remote possibility that Sora can find them. He hopes so, and that it happens soon.

Added to an already messy jumble of emotions is the burden that has come with the arrival of the Keyblade into his hands. It’s clear that the weapon, or tool, or whatever it truly is, has suddenly made him a very important player on a massive stage. So while part of him is of course concerned for his friends’ wellbeing, he also hopes that perhaps their presence along this journey to find the king will help bring him to peace with his new role, whatever it ultimately ends up being.

A loud noise rips through the ship’s cockpit suddenly, and Sora turns away from the vastness of space outside the window for a moment to turn and look for its source.

It’s Azlyn, who has fallen asleep in her chair, behind and to the left of where Telary is piloting, though it seems all he’s doing right now is holding the steering yoke steady. That loud snore is followed by several softer ones, indicating a deep sleep that Sora is far too excited and scared to even contemplate attempting to enter himself.

These two are certainly rather odd ducks, if what he’s seen of them so far is any indication of their full personalities.

Azlyn had given the boy quite an earful after his mishap with the launch, and honestly there were several times he was sure the girl was going to strike him. It almost makes him worry for the future. Despite her initial enthusiasm and her offer to help him in his search, it also seems that she is a bit wary of him, like there’s something she isn’t telling him the whole truth of.

She looks young too, almost of an age with Sora himself, but he dismisses that idea as ridiculous. Who has ever heard of a sixteen year old knight?

Telary is an entirely different matter. Though unfailingly polite, he had done nothing but look like he wanted to sink back into his chair and disappear entirely during his partner’s tirade, too timid to say anything. Still, he hadn’t seemed angry at all about the incident, just wanting to make certain that everyone involved was okay.

They’re an odd pair, and it will take some time to work out how to best blend their three personalities, but Sora remains optimistic that in no time they will not only be comfortable around each other, but great friends as well.

To that end, and to break the odd silence that is leaving him with nothing to do but sit and contemplate, Sora decides to satisfy some of his curiosity about the Gummi ship via Telary.

“So, uh, Mr. Telary,” he says, “how do you know where it is we’re going? Do you have a place in mind, or…?”

“Oh, uh, well Sora,” the mage replies, looking flustered but also happy to have someone to talk to, especially on a subject he himself is so passionate about, “I’ve just set the navigational computer, that’s this thing right in front of me, to seek out the nearest mass in space that gives off the energy signature that a world does.”

“So you don’t know where we’re going?”

“Well, not as such, no.” He looks a bit sheepish now, his hands rubbing up and down the control yoke’s two handlebars.

“Oh, I just thought that maybe you like, knew what was in this part of space or something,” Sora says quietly, leaning back into his chair a little bit. “Sorry to bother you, sir.”

“You don’t need to call me that,” Telary tells Sora, more to combat his own residual discomfort at lying to the boy than anything else. “Just call me Telary. Same goes for Azlyn. Don’t think of us as, like, your commanding officers or anything. We’re more like friends, really, or, we will be, if we get to know each other better. Which I hope we will. After all, I’m not your commanding officer or anything…”

“You just said that,” Sora points out, sending Telary’s mouth snapping shut, the babbling thankfully at an end.

“So I did,” the pilot chuckles nervously. Silence returns to the cockpit, Azlyn’s gentle sleep sounds notwithstanding.

Things remain that way for a long time, and eventually, despite his nerves and excitement, Sora finds himself asleep.

He’s back in the secret cave as it once was, lit by the tiny rays of sun penetrating the small holes and breaks in the rock overhead. He stands by the drawing of him and Kairi that he had improved the day of the Heartless attack. The last day he’d seen her.


She’s in front of him now though, giggling at his sudden appearance. She’s standing right by a drawing she had done when she was about six, of a smiling boy with lightly spiked hair. Sora and Riku had argued for nearly an hour about which of them the drawing was supposed to be of, but Kairi had finally settled the matter by telling them that it was neither. Just some boy, even she wasn’t entirely sure who.


“So you think you can find me, huh?” Kairi asks, brushing her fingertips against the chalk-covered walls. “Find me, and Riku, and get us all back together again. Just like things were.”


“I don’t know,” Sora sighs, leaning up against the rock wall behind him. “I hope so. I miss you so much. Riku too.”


“I know,” the girl replies, nodding. A moment later her grin fades, settling into a more worried expression. “But remember what I said, okay? Remember the thalassa charm. Even though we’re apart, I’m with you. I’m always right where you are.”


“I remember Kairi. I just wish that were really true.”


She takes a few steps towards him, but stops just short of where he could reach out a hand and touch her. He tries to move forward too, meet her in the middle of the cave, but his legs feel like cinder blocks. He can’t move them, can’t get to where Kairi is. She’s right in front of him, but impossible to reach.


“Oh, Sora. You can just be so dense sometimes.”


“…Like a big ol’ rock!” comes a jarring voice that is definitely not Kairi’s, jolting Sora awake and back to reality.

He opens his eyes to see Azlyn standing over him, hands on hips and looking impatient. He must have actually managed to fall asleep.

“Seriously, I could have run around banging pots together and you wouldn’t have woken up,” the knight continues, still scowling.

“C’mon Azlyn,” Telary basically whines, upset by his friend’s once again unnecessary temperament. “Give the guy a break, he’s had a rough day.”

Azlyn sighs and looks back down at Sora. “Sorry, that may have been overkill. But, anyway, we’re at the next world.”

“We are!” Sora cries out in excitement, looking out the cockpit’s window for a glimpse of this new world.

All he sees are some kind of oddly patterned walls, extending out for what looks like miles, so far that he can’t see where exactly they end.

“I landed us in a tunnel,” Telary explains as the boy rises, eager to get moving outside and really experience another new world, search for Riku and Kairi there. Maybe even find them. “It looks pretty long, but if we just keep a good pace and stay together I…”

The mage stops mid-explanation, realizing too late that both of his companions have already left, no doubt eager to get out and explore.

“Keep an eye on the ship, Jiminy!” Telary calls to the cricket as he races across the ship’s middle deck to the ladder to the cargo bay. The tiny chronicler is scribbling something in his journal, but manages to look up long enough to give Telary a thumbs up.

Azlyn and Sora are waiting by the open ramp, staring down the long tunnel ahead, both with awed looks on their faces at the challenge of this new, unknown place staring them down.

“This thing looks endless!” Sora murmurs, his voice a mixture of awe, uncertainty, and sheer weariness at the thought of walking for maybe miles and miles.

“Don’t worry,” Telary says by way of assurance. “It can’t go on forever. I can guarantee you that never in our lifetimes will we have to face an endless road.”

“Well, no use waiting!” Azlyn says with bravado, marching down to the end of the ramp, every stride completely confident, like this is a path she’s traveled many times, an old friend.

Which is why it’s kind of ironically humorous when her first step off the ramp’s edge sends her plummeting into a freefall.

Shocked, Sora and Telary rush after her, Telary stopping short just on the edge of the ramp and reaching out an arm to stop Sora from going any further as well.

“She just… She…” Sora stutters, incredulous. He’d imagined that he’d encounter a great deal of odd things on this journey through the universe, but places that made someone disappear the moment they set foot on them were certainly not something he’d counted on.

“Yeah,” Telary agrees numbly, his breathing becoming more erratic every moment he stares down at the ground just beyond the ramp.

“What do we do?”

“Um,” Telary gulps, pursing his lips while he thinks of what to say to assure his young new companion. Finally, he realizes that there’s only one thing they can do. Telary takes a deep breath in preparation before turning to Sora. “We go after her.”

After a moment of hesitation, Sora nods. Steeling himself, he prepares to walk off the ramp.

He’s stopped once again by Telary before he can. The mage is holding out a hand to the Keyblade wielder. “Here, take my hand. We’ll go together.”

With a nod and a grin, Sora does so. A moment later, both take a single step forward…

And find themselves falling.

Looking around they can see that they’re clearly in the same tunnel, but that it has transformed from horizontal to vertical in the moment it took for them to step off the Gummi ship’s ramp. In fact, if they squint, they can even make out the Gummi ship clinging to the tunnel’s wall further up, facing downward.

They’re also falling remarkably gently, almost floating down on a cushion of air.

Turning, they can see the ground coming up towards them, Azlyn standing around looking up at the pair of them. Shifting position, they land together on their feet.

“Why are you two holding hands?” Azlyn giggles, a pleasantly amused look in her eye, perhaps the most positive emotion Sora has seen the girl display since she grabbed Aerith’s munny in Traverse Town. And even that is at his own expense.

“Nothing!” the boy yells defensively, dropping Telary’s hand like it’s suddenly become scalding hot. Telary frowns.
“Whatever,” she says dismissively, waving her hand in front of her as if to clear the subject from the air. “That was one wild ride though, right?”

“Yeah, definitely,” Telary agrees, in his head still trying to figure out the logic of what had just happened. Some kind of teleportation, or maybe a magical gravity shift? Whatever the answer might be, he decides to let the subject drop. No matter how he looks at it, it just doesn’t make sense.

The trio are standing in a dimly lit circular room, the huge shaft above them creating the odd effect of being at the bottom of the well. There is no furniture visible, but painted on the red and orange tiled floor is a remarkably detailed likeness of a long pink couch, and two boxes full of flowers. The walls are done in red brick, and a few paintings hang on them. The only exit leads down a similarly decorated hallway, the portal framed by red velvet drapes.

“Well, this is it,” Azlyn says, crossing her arms and giving everything another once-over. “A brand new world, and it’s weird as hell.”

Suddenly, the sound of pattering feet comes rushing towards the group, until a large white rabbit in a red waistcoat rushes past, checking his absurdly large gold pocket watch as he runs down the hall. His tiny spectacles look to be in danger of falling right off his nose.

“Oh, I’m late, I’m late, I’m LATE!” the rabbit cries as he flees, a truly terrified look plastered on his face. Whatever he’s late for, it looks like there will be consequences when he gets there. “If I’m late, the queen will have my head for sure, oh dear!”

This tirade continues as the furry little guy continues down the hall and out of sight.

“So…” Telary says just to break up the silence that ensues after the rabbit’s passing.

“I wonder what that rabbit’s late for,” Sora says curiously, already moving to follow. “Or why the queen’s gonna chop his head off when he gets there!”

“How could a queen do something so despicable?” Telary wonders aloud as the group sets off down the hall. “I can’t even imagine Queen Minnie ever chopping anyone’s head off for any reason, espescially not being late.”

“Well, it is important to keep high standards under one’s rule,” Azlyn argues jokingly, a bit miffed herself by the thought of a beheading.

“Maybe the queen knows if Riku and Kairi are here!” Sora mutters to himself hopefully. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I found them at the first world I came to?”

“I guess the king could be here too,” Azlyn says to Telary with a quick shrug.

“Yeah, maybe. But I can’t exactly see him palling around with a queen who likes to chop peoples’ heads off!” Telary points out.

Finally the party reach a door at the end of the hall. Sora grips the handle and pulls it open, only to find a slightly shorter door underneath. Miffed, Sora opens it, only to discover a third, even smaller door beneath it! This door is locked when he tries the knob.

“Huh, it’s locked,” he points out kind of obviously, frowning at the door.

“Yeah, gee,” Azlyn pipes up snarkily from behind him, “if only we had a great big key that could open any lock!”

“Oh, uh, right!” The Keyblade appears in Sora’s hand in a burst of light. He stands there for a moment afterwards.

“Well…?” Azlyn says.

“Uh, okay,” Sora says, psyching himself up. Taking a step back, he holds the Keyblade up to the door, tip extended to the knob. “Uh, GO KEYBLADE GO!!!”

Nothing happens.

“Very impressive,” Azlyn deadpans behind him.

“Okay, so I don’t…” Just as Sora’s lowering the Keyblade, the tip hits the door. Suddenly a bright flash sparks from the point of impact, and a loud click noise can be heard ringing out from the door. After a moment of bewilderment, Sora reaches over to the door and twists the knob open easily, finally exposing another room beyond. He turns back to his companions. “See? Just like I planned!”

“Good job Sora!” Telary says encouragingly as the trio ducks to enter the next room, which is large and covered in haphazard objects, the right side mostly dominated by a large stone fireplace in which no fire blazes. Like in the room before, a blue table and chair are painted onto the purple and white tiled floor.

The rabbit is still in the room, still running and crying out fearfully that he’s late, and the queen will have his head.

Only now he appears to be about ten inches tall.

The rabbit runs into a door about his size, and closes it shut after him, ending his panicked noise and leaving the trio alone in a small room there seems to be no way out of other than the little door or from whence they’d just come.

“You guys saw that tiny rabbit too, right?” Sora asks, hoping that it isn’t just the trauma of the past few days catching up to him.

“Yep,” Telary replies.

“Good.” Bending down to his knees, Sora examines the tiny door the rabbit exited through, trying to look at it from all angles. “How did he get so small?”

“Perhaps you’re simply too large,” a drowsy voice replies.

The entire trio freezes, looking around for the source of that mysterious comment.

“Down here!”

Turning towards the source of the sound, all six of the trio’s eyes rest on the tiny door, more specifically the doorknob, which now that they look at it, has its own face, though the mouth is slacking open and its eyelids are drooping.

“It talks!” Azlyn exclaims, dumbfounded. “The doorknob is talking to us!” The others cry out in surprise as well.

The doorknob winces. “Would you three mind keeping it down, hm? You’ve woken me up!”

“Um, good morning?” Telary says cautiously, giving a little nervous wave.

“Good night!” the knob replies, yawning and letting its eyes drift closed once more.

“Wait!” Sora cries, sending the eyelids floating back up until they’re only half-closed. “You didn’t tell us how the rabbit got so small.”

“He used the bottle.”

Behind the group there is a sudden puff of smoke. Telary cries out as he feels something hit him on the butt. He leaps forward in shock, knocking into Azlyn, who falls smack on top of Sora, sending the trio to the floor in a pile.

“Oh, dear me you three make a lot of noise!” the knob complains, even as it yawns once more and closes its eyes again. In moments, it begins to snore quietly.

“What are you doing, Tel?” Azlyn admonishes the mage, her words muffled by Sora’s hair, which her face currently rests in.

“Sorry,” he apologizes, regaining his footing. “I think something smacked me on, um, well, on my butt.”

“Whaddya mean…?” Turning, the knight sees that the blue table and chair have now sprung into the third dimension. “Now how did that happen?”

“This place is weird,” Sora mutters as he stands and approaches the table. Two bottles sit on it: one blue and filled with orange liquid, the other orange and filled with blue liquid. “What’s this stuff?”

The doorknob is snoring in blissful sleep once again, so Azlyn kicks it, yelling, “Wake up!”

“Oh, bother!” the knob whines, opening its eyes and looking up at the scowling girl. “Now that was entirely uncalled for.”

“I apologize for my friend’s behavior,” Telary says sincerely, hunkering down and looking the doorknob straight in the still-droopy eyes. “But we really would like to know how to get small like that rabbit.”

“Oh, well if that’s all,” the doorknob replies, sounding haughty now. “You just have to drink what’s in the bottle there. The blue.”

None of the trio, but espescially Telary, think that drinking strange things from bottles because doorknobs recommend it is a good idea, but it’s still the only lead they’ve got.

“What’s it gonna cost us?” Azlyn asks, ever wary of getting swindled, by furniture of all things.

“Nothing,” the doorknob replies with a big yawn. “As long as you three kindly just LET ME SLEEP!”

“Okay, sir, uh, Doorknob,” Telary promises the little brass face. “Once again, we’re terribly…”

The apology is cut off by a loud snore.

Rising again, Telary joins the other two at the table, and all three proceed to stare cautiously at the pair of bottles, as if waiting for some sign that they will in fact perform as advertised.

“So I guess we’d better just try it!” Sora says, grabbing the blue bottle and raising it too his mouth.

“Wait!” Telary cries at the last second, stopping Sora with an enthusiastic wave of his hand. “The doorknob said we had to drink the blue liquid, and that’s in the orange bottle.”

“No, he definitely said the blue bottle!” Sora argues, though he’s not really even sure if he’s right or not at the moment.

“He didn’t say the blue bottle, though, Sora! He might have meant the blue liquid, which is in that orange bottle,” Telary counters. After a few seconds of facing off, Sora reluctantly lowers the blue bottle.

“Maybe we should ask him again…” Sora suggests.

“And have to pay munny for this crap?” Azlyn rages. “No thank you! I say, screw it!”

Snatching up the blue bottle even as Telary yells out to stop her, Azlyn takes a big gulp of the liquid, then slams it back on the table.

All three wait with baited breath.

“Well that was a complete…” is all Azlyn manages to get out before the knight begins to shrink, clothes and all, only s
stopping when she reaches ten inches.

“I guess it’s the blue bottle then!” Sora says with a grin, taking a big swig of his own. In moments he begins to shrink too, until he’s the same relative height to Azlyn again.

Telary takes up the bottle for himself, but hesitates before taking a drink of his own. He takes a few moment too long, apparently, because after that he feels a tiny but hard pain on his shin. Looking down, he sees that Azlyn must have kicked him! Now she looks up at him impatiently.

Plugging his nose against the taste, the mage takes a dainty sip of the orange liquid and places it back on the table. Moments later, he’s shrunk too.

“Finally, we can move on!” Azlyn says, marching over to the tiny door.

Snores and various grunting sounds indicate that the doorknob has indeed returned to the land of dreams, his eyes closed peacefully.

“Maybe we shouldn’t disturb him again,” Telary suggests, looking around for another exit. Finally he spots a nearby hole in the wall. “Hey guys, this way!”

Azlyn joins him in his walk to the hole, but Sora remains rooted in place, staring contemplatively at the doorknob.

In his mind’s eye, he can see the door without a handle back in the secret cave, remembering it bursting open as darkness flooded out. The last time he saw Kairi.

Sora can’t imagine Kairi would have liked this world much, as twisted and insane as it had proven so far. Despite her knowledge of sailing legends, and belief in charms, she really was a girl who like things to be laid out logically. To make sense.

“C’mon, Sora!” Azlyn yells as she and Telary enter the hole in the wall.

Shaking off his contemplations, Sora jogs after his companions, leaving thoughts of Kairi behind for the moment.

The hole in the wall eventually leads the trio to a leafy wall, with light shining through the gaps in the leaves. All three of them stop and stare for a moment, until Azlyn sighs deeply and forges on ahead, the other two following a moment later.

They now find themselves in a grassy lane, surrounded by green shrubs on two sides. Hearing a loud but controlled murmur, the group follows the noise to a large, heart shaped arch of greenery, covered in red roses that seem to be dripping paint.

Beyond the arch they see what appears to be an outdoor courtroom: witness stand, raised judge’s pavilion and all. To the side is a large box, like stands in an arena, the seats occupied by eleven tiny clams with almost cuddly faces, and a very large mustachioed walrus, who’s checking the time on a small pocket watch much like the one the rabbit had been obsessing over.

In the witness box stands a blonde girl in a blue dress and white apron, looking frightened as she faces the judge, a large and imperious woman dressed in a gown of red and black. A crown rests in the black hair on her head, and in one strangely tiny hand she clutches a short scepter with a red heart on the end.

Flanking the whole procedure is a phalanx of men with red and black playing card torsos, all holding axes or lances at strict attention.

“What was in that bottle?” Azlyn mutters to herself.
Wonderland

Suddenly, the white rabbit bursts forth from a hedge, runs up a set of stairs to a wooden platform, and takes a mighty blow on a large golden horn. All the murmuring from the clams comes to a halt at the sound.

“Hear ye, hear ye!” the rabbit bellows. “The court of Wonderland is now in session. Her majesty, the noble Queen of Hearts, presiding!”

“A trial!” the blonde girl on the stand says incredulously, sounding so shocked and worried that it almost physically hurts Sora to hear. “But, why would I be on trial!?!”


“You want to know why!” the Queen of Hearts bellows, waving her scepter through the air angrily. “You’re on trial for being a sneaky little thief, that’s why. And if you must know, I think you’re guilty as sin! Yes, you are the culprit, I have no doubt about that.”

“Why?”

“Because… Well, because I say so. That’s why, you little minx!”

“This is incredibly unfair!” the girl argues, slamming her hand down on the lip of the witness podium. “Just because you’re the queen, doesn’t mean you have a right to act so mean!”

The queen yells something back, but Sora hardly hears it, already in his mind forming a plan to help the girl out. He knows he could take a few of the playing card soldiers, and Azlyn could probably easily mop up the rest.

“Whoa there, kiddo!” Azlyn says, interrupting his strategizing. “I see that look on your face, and I’m telling you, this is no time to be a hero.”

“C’mon!” Sora shoots back, turning to the knight and throwing his arms up in the air angrily. “It’s obvious that girl isn’t getting a fair trial. We have to help her out.”

“Absolutely not!” Azlyn argues right back, poking the boy in the chest with an authoritative finger. “I know it doesn’t seem right, but we can’t just go around poking our noses into affairs on other worlds.”

“She’s right, Sora,” Telary agrees reluctantly, wringing his hands nervously. “Part of visiting other worlds is understanding that we can’t interfere with their natural order. If we do that…”

“We’re screwed, is what we are!” Azlyn finishes. For a moment Sora glares at the knight with intense anger, but he soon moves his gaze back to the trial.

The queen is blathering on with gusto, and every member of the jury, plus the white rabbit, is nodding along with her every word. The sight fills Sora with unspeakable rage, but he has decided to abide by the rules his companions have set forth. After all, they are high-ranking members of the Disney Castle staff.

“…Not to mention your hideous taste in dresses!” her royal majesty finishes, banging the butt of her scepter on her podium like a gavel. “And now, for the verdict. Would the jury like a moment?”

Things are silent for a moment as all the clams look nervously at one another, then finally all of their eyes move to the walrus, apparently the foreman in this case.

Sweating bullets, the aquatic mammal rises from his seat. “No, ma’am, I think we’ve heard quite enough. In the case of, er, Little Blonde-Haired Girl v. The State of Wonderland as governed by her majesty the Queen of Hearts, we declare the defendant to be… Well, whatever the queen says!”

The blonde girl scoffs indignantly at this development, and Sora feels Azlyn grab his arm to keep him in place, which is the only thing that keeps him from bursting from concealment and breaking up this kangaroo court by force.

“Well, in that case,” the queen says haughtily, smiling cruelly, “I declare, in all my wisdom and sense of fair play, that this unfortunately dressed little girl IS GUILTY!”

The rest of the court cheers loudly at this decree, except the defendant, whose mouth simply falls open in shock.

Sora struggles against Azlyn, but her grip is too firm. Telary watches it all nervously from behind, biting his nails in abject fear.

“For the heinous crime, of attempted theft of my heart, I hereby sentence you to…”

With one last desperate tug upon hearing the crime the girl is charged with, Sora breaks away from Azlyn, leaving a nasty red imprint of the knight’s hand on his wrist.

“Now wait just a…!” Rushing forward, Sora forgets to compensate for the loss of Azlyn’s weight struggling against him and stumbles forward into the courtroom, landing in the middle of two full aisles of weapon-wielding cards. He rises to his feet a second later, all eyes fixed on him. “Stop the court! I, uh, I object!”

Behind the foliage of the arch, Azlyn clenches her teeth in anger, hands twisting into furious fists. She looks so angry that Telary actually takes a fearful step back.

“Who are you, boy?” the Queen of Hearts bellows amidst all the gasps from the jury box. “And what makes you think you have the right to come into my court and start making objections?”

Surrounded as he is, Sora takes a second to nervously look around. As he suspected, everyone is staring at him, like a dream where he’s forgotten to wear clothes. But when he sees the curious but hopeful eyes of the girl on trial looking at him, he swallows his fear and stands straight.

“That girl is innocent!” he proclaims, much to the shock of everyone assembled, who have never heard anyone ever even dare to question the queen before. “She didn’t try to take your heart, and we can prove it!”

“Oh, really?” the queen almost spits, crossing her arms imperiously and leaning back in her chair. “And just who is this we you speak of?”

Sora turns back to where Azlyn and Telary are concealed, a hopeful look on his face. Sighing deeply, Azlyn emerges in plain view of the court. Two seconds later her hand disappears behind the archway and comes back with Telary’s sleeve in her grip. The pair step forward to stand behind Sora.

“Well, I still haven’t the foggiest idea how you mean to save this little girl from her entirely appropriate punishment,” the queen says smugly, resting her fleshy chin in one cupped hand.

“Oh yeah?” Sora counters. “Well, we know who the real culprit is. It’s the Heart…” A sharp slap on the arm from Azlyn shuts the boy up. He glares back at her and sees her make a slashing motion across her throat. Rolling his eyes, he turns back to the queen. “Well, anyway, that girl is innocent!”

“My, my, what a claim!” the queen exclaims. “And what exactly do you have to offer in the way of proof?”

“Uh…” Sora stammers, at a loss for words. He can hear Azlyn slap her forehead angrily behind him.

“I see,” the queen counters smugly. With a wave of her hand, she prompts two card guards to grab the girl on the witness stand and throw her into a cage that sits beside the judge’s platform.

Two more guards usher Sora, Azlyn, and Telary forward as well, until all three are standing in the witness box, an uncomfortably tight fit.

“I am feeling generous today, my dears, so I have decided that I will allow you to present whatever farce you have prepared as a defense, if only to entertain my subjects for the afternoon,” the queen says, fully convinced that she’s being completely fair here. “I’ll allow you whatever time you would like to gather whatever evidence you think is suitable to defend this girl. But be quick about it, for my patience in this matter grows short.”

Telary is miffed for a moment at the discrepancy between the queen’s last two statements, but one look at the girl in the cage convinces him not to comment upon it.

“We’ll get that evidence!” Sora states with complete confidence, exiting the box. Scowling, Azlyn follows after him, Telary trailing behind her.

“Well, that was some move you pulled there, Sora!” the knight rages. “Getting us dragged into something we have no right to be involved with, interfering with the world order!”

“I’m sorry, okay?” Sora replies defensively. “But I just couldn’t see that girl get punished for something she didn’t do. And besides, if the Heartless are behind this, isn’t it my duty as Keyblade wielder to do something about it?”

With a great huff, Azlyn backs down. Sora has a point, and she had been pretty pissed at the miscarriage of justice that was going on before he rushed in. Still, upsetting the world order seems like a pretty serious thing to do, and she really doesn’t want any more screw-ups on her head. But, what’s done is done.

“I think we should talk to that girl,” Telary suggests, hoping to ease the tension between companions. “Maybe she can shed a little light on what exactly is going on here, huh?”

Both Azlyn and Sora agree, and the group moves over to the girl’s cage, only to be blocked by two card guards, who cross their red lances to bar the way.

“Hey!” Sora cries indignantly. “Let us through!”

“Yeah, we’re this girl’s defense team!” Azlyn chimes in, clenching one gloved hand in a fist. After a moment, the cards look at each other, shrug, and step aside, allowing the trio to approach the girl in the cage.

She still looks upset, leaning against the bars of her cage, but smiles and straightens up as the group approaches her.

“Oh, I am so very grateful for what you did back there!” she says, almost cheerful despite the circumstances. Clearly this is a girl who has been taught proper manners. “I’d offer a handshake, but I’m afraid that with these bars and all…”

“No worries,” Sora assures the girl with a light chuckle. “My name’s Sora, and these are my, uh, friends, Azlyn and Telary.”

“Hello,” Telary greets the girl with his usual small wave.

“I’m perfectly capable of introducing myself, you know,” Azlyn grumbles, arms crossed and brow stormy.

“What’s your name, little girl?” Telary asks, ignoring his counterpart’s mood for the moment.

“My name is Alice,” she answers, managing to somehow curtsy flawlessly even in her confined space. “And once again I must say that I cannot thank you enough for what you’ve done! Why, if it weren’t for you, I imagine I’d have had my head chopped off by now!”

“Yeah, we’ve heard that the queen likes to do that,” Sora says sympathetically. “Anyway, why are you the one on trial in the first place?”

“I assure you I haven’t the foggiest idea either, Sora,” Alice answers, simply exasperated by the whole affair. “All I can really remember is finding a rabbit hole, while I was playing in the countryside with my cat. I tried to get a look inside, but I must have fell, and next thing I know, I ended up in his strange world!”

“Wait a minute, you aren’t from this world?” Azlyn asks, suddenly very interested.

“I should say not!” the blonde girl in the cage protests vehemently. “Everyone in this place appears to be mad, in one way or another. Or at least everyone I’ve met anyway. I assure you, all of my higher brain functions are quite intact!”

“So you went to another world…” Sora mutters to himself, scratching his chin thoughtfully. “But what exactly was…?”

“Oh, get on with it already!” the queen bellows from her box above. “My patience is wearing very thin, and unless you can present me with compelling evidence before it evaporates completely…”

“Alright, alright!” Sora relents, the mystery of Alice’s journey from one world to another taking a backseat to the trial’s proceedings.

“We’ll get the evidence you need in no time!” Telary assures the girl, thoughts of interfering in other-world affairs taking a backseat to the obviously frightened child in need of help. “Just hang tight!”

“Well, wherever else would I go?” Alice shoots back with a giggle. Sora’s glad that the girl has been able to keep her good humor in this ordeal.

“We’ll get you free, I promise!” Sora says with a nod that he hopes is reassuring. Alice returns the nod, and the trio leave the vicinity of her cage.

“The evidence you seek is likely somewhere in the Lotus Forest, if indeed it exists at all,” the white rabbit explains to the trio, leading them away from the courtroom and back into the hedge maze. After a journey of ten minutes or so, the group stops at a seemingly random spot in the maze, except for the wooden sign that declares LOTUS FOREST in bold red paint.

The group moves through the hedge and, when they emerge of the other side, find themselves in a dark forest, what look to be large, multi-colored blades of grass surrounding the area and blotting out the sun.

“Now, where can we find some evidence that will prove that Alice isn’t guilty?” Sora wonders, looking around the strange area, hands on hips.

“Well, if it’s in the same place as your common sense and ability to follow simple commands, then we’ll never find it!” Azlyn scoffs.

“Would you cut it out?” Sora says, pivoting angrily and marching right up to the girl, looking her directly in the eye. “We’re doing a good thing here, and really making a difference. I’m sorry if that messes up the ‘world border’ or whatever, but it’s what’s right.”

“Yeah, whatever,” the knight scoffs once again, moving the boy out of her way with a shove of her shoulder. “But this also isn’t getting us any closer to finding the king!”

“Or my friends,” Sora mutters sadly, looking down at the ground. Telary moves forward and places a reassuring hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Still, even if it doesn’t help reunite me with Riku and Kairi, it’s the right thing to do. And besides, they could still be on this world somewhere. Anything is possible.”

“In Wonderland, you’ve no idea how true that statement is.”

All three adventurers stop dead in their tracks at the sound of an unfamiliar, disembodied voice, casting frantic gazes around the forest.

Suddenly, two large white eyes appear in the thin air, followed seconds later by a bright white smile.

“And yet, so false.”

Slowly, the rest of the creature’s face fades in, a pink and purple striped cat’s head floating in midair. A round body follows a second later, then finally a puffed out tail.

“Who the hell are you?” Azlyn exclaims, her shield out and ready to fight in seconds. Following her lead, Sora summons the Keyblade, just in case.

“Who indeed, my dear friend,” the cat purrs delightedly. “That is quite the question, here in Wonderland. And its answer is not an easy one!”

The cat disappears.

“Where’d it go?” Telary wonders aloud, frantically searching the surrounding area. The others, too, both wildly throw their gazes around the forest.

“Poor Alice,” the cat’s voice says, the body this time appearing on a nearby tree stump. “The girl’s going to lose her head soon, and through absolutely no fault of her own. It’s dreadful, really.”

“Do you know who the real culprit is?” Sora asks after taking a moment to recover from the cat’s rapid reemergence.

“If you do, then just tell the queen, so we can get out of this crazy world!” Azlyn pleads, stepping forward and still brandishing her shield threateningly.

“It would really help us out,” Sora agrees, dismissing the Keyblade. He has faith that the cat will agree to help them out of the goodness of its heart.

“I’m afraid that would be too simple, friends,” the cat replies coolly, causing the trio’s faces all to fall. “The Cheshire Cat always has the right answers, of course, but he seldom ever simply tells them. Far too boring. I’m afraid that the culprit, the answer, and the cat all lie in darkness.”

“I just wish that one stupid thing on this stupid world would just make stupid sense for once,” Azlyn rages through clenched teeth.

“I will tell you that they’ve already left the forest, but I can’t say through which exit,” the cat says, helpful but still unhelpful, somehow. “But I will tell you that you can make your case, and make it well. You only need the right tool.”

Reaching behind its back, the Cheshire Cat draws forth a square pink box. Grinning, it throws the box at Telary’s feet. The mage bends down to pick it up, and examines it curiously as he rises.

“A box?” Sora asks the cat, bewildered.

“You will know what it’s for, when the time is right,” the cat assures the Keyblade wielder. As the final word leaves the creatures mouth, its body begins to fade, until all that remains is its pearly white grin. After a moment, that dissipates as well.

“I hate this world,” Azlyn mutters, turning back into the forest. “I hate this world and all of the stupid people that inhabit it!”

“Do you think it’s safe to trust that cat?” Sora asks Telary, who still seems bewildered by the small pink box in his hands.

“Well…” the mage says thoughtfully, finally stopping his examination of the box and tucking it under one arm. “Honestly I don’t see how we have much of a choice. It’s not exactly like anyone else seems to want to help us.”

Sora nods in agreement, though both boys can hear Azlyn scoff loudly at the whole discussion a few feet away.

“I guess now we just have to search the forest,” the Keyblade wielder sighs, resigning himself to a long trek.

“Hang on a minute!” Azlyn calls from up ahead. After sharing a look between them, Sora and Telary rush to the sound of Azlyn’s voice, and find her bent over, examining something at the base of a green stalked tree. “I think I found something.”

Bending down next to the girl, Sora sees what she’s been examining: A trio of gashes in the tree, like something with clawed hands had scratched at the trunk.

“What do you think?” she asks the rest of the party, running her hand over the gashes. “These look kind of like they were made by Heartless claws.”

“Over here!” Telary cries, rushing to the next tree, where another claw mark can be seen. The other two rush to him, confirm that the same claw marks have been made in that tree as well.

“And look what else!” Sora points out, gesturing to two small footprints without toes in the dirt of the forest floor.

While examining the odd footprints, suddenly Azlyn begins sniffing. Something smells odd, not entirely unpleasant, but extremely dark… Standing, she begins to follow the scent through the forest, not bothering to wait and confirm that her companions are behind her.

After a few seconds, Sora and Telary get the hint, and begin to follow along after the knight, who for the first time seems really engaged in their quest to help Alice.

“Telary, can I ask you something?” Sora says quietly as the two walk along after their companion, who stops periodically to check trees for any visible claw marks or footprints before moving on to the next.

“Sure thing, Sora,” Telary answers agreeably, trying to mask his nervousness at being questioned when he has such a big secret on his mind.

“Is Azlyn always so…? I mean does she always… Why does she seem so angry all the time?” the Keyblade wielder finally spits out, quietly so the knight up ahead will not hear him. “I mean, she’s so single-minded when it comes to your king, and whenever we try to move away from the search for him, or when I mention I’m focused on finding Riku and Kairi…”

Telary sighs, trying to figure a way to satisfy Sora’s questions, but not give away the whole truth. Finally, he decides it’s best to give as much truth as possible.

“Well, Sora,” Telary finally says after a few moments of gathering his thoughts, “Azlyn has always been very driven, ever since the day King Mickey introduced her to the royal guard. She’s always trying to be the best at what she does, but unfortunately for her, our castle is a very pacifistic society, so she feels that she’s never gotten a chance to really prove herself.

“So when this mission came up, well, she thought she finally had it made, that she was finally going to prove herself. So I think that’s why she’s being so intense, why she’s so focused. And besides, neither she nor I have ever actually been away from our world, so I’m sure part of that bravado is just her compensating for the fear of the unknown.”

Sora thinks that over for a second, and realizes that it makes sense. He can certainly remember some of the crazy stunts he’s pulled over the years to prove himself in Riku’s eyes, and in some cases he’s got the scars to prove it. He can only imagine how much greater a burden it is to strive to impress a royal monarch than just an older childhood friend.

“I guess I understand, kinda,” the boy admits, sighing and letting a kind of fond grin play across his lips. “She could still work on her ‘not being a jerk’ skills, though.”

“I hear that,” Telary whispers back conspiratorially, causing a giggle fit in both boys.

“You two had better stop braiding each other’s hair back there and get over here,” Azlyn says from ahead, staring the giggling pair down from where she’s stopped in front of a pair of bushes. Something small and black rests at her feet.

Telary bends down to examine it, thinking it may be a twig, but realizes upon further inspection that it is in fact a small black antenna, exactly like the ones Shadow Heartless have attached to their foreheads.

Sounds filter through the shrubbery the trio have stopped in front of, whistling like a boiling tea kettle. Curious, Sora pokes his head out.

Down a small hill lies a green clearing, with a large cottage set off to one side. In front of the cottage is a long table with a white table cloth. Despite the table being immaculately set, all the trappings of a tea party laid out in pink porcelain, the only occupant is a man wearing a rather large hat upon his head, facing away from the Keyblade wielder’s vantage point.

“It looks like some kind of…” Sora reports to the others, who likewise stick their own heads through the leaves of the bush.

“…A tea party!” Azlyn finishes, practically growling the words. Even as a small child, she’d loathed the imaginary tea parties the other children would set up amongst themselves, preferring physical activity to a bunch of chit-chat and cookies.

“A tea party!” Telary repeats, elation evident in his voice. The mage had always loved a good tea party growing up! He’d even been okay getting stuck with the cleanup, which through some manner of wordplay or “Not I” game, he always had been.

“Maybe the guy in the hat knows something about the Heartless, or maybe he’s seen Riku and Kairi!” Sora suggests, pushing through the bush and heading down the small hill towards the table.

Azlyn and Telary look at one another, Telary shrugs, and they too head down to see what information they may be able to glean from this party’s sole participant.

“Um, excuse me sir,” Sora calls out tentatively to the man in the large hat. “We hate to bother you like this, but since it looks like you’re the only who’s arrived at your party yet…”

The man in the hat does not respond, beyond a bit of a twitching motion. Obviously surprise at being interrupted.

“Hey!” Azlyn bellows, forging ahead with an angry look in her eye. “We’re talking to you here!”

Azlyn grabs the hat and yanks it off, revealing the host of the party…

A Soldier Heartless!

Startled, the knight backpedals, managing to avoid tripping through sheer balancing ability. The Soldier leaps over the back of its chair, slashing its claw at the knight, but missing, claws slicing only through empty air.

Summoning the Keyblade, Sora charges forward and knocks the creature back, sending it sprawling on its back on the tea party table, shattering the pot it lands on with a loud noise.

Azlyn, recovered now from her shock, leaps up on the table after it, her shield out and ready to cut the creature down while it’s dazed.

“Wait!” Telary yells just as his counterpart prepares her swing. She turns to the mage with an annoyed look on her face, upset about her kill being delayed.

Telary jogs over to the knight and waves the pink box the Cheshire Cat had left them before disappearing.

“Put it in this!” the mage explains, tossing the small box underhand up to Azlyn, who catches it in one hand.

Seeing the box, the Heartless tries to scramble away, but before it can, Azlyn slams to container down on its torso. There’s a flash of light, and suddenly the Heartless is gone. Azlyn secures the lid on the box, grinning all the while.

“Now we have a way to prove Alice is innocent!” Sora rejoices, doing a tiny happy jig where he stands. “That old queen will have to believe us when she sees this!”

“And we can finally get off of this stupid, tripped out world!” Azlyn exclaims with equal glee, hopping off the now ruined table.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be so certain of that!” the Cheshire Cat’s voice rings out, fading into sight all at once on the table, arms crossed and teeth showing.

“What do you mean?” Sora asks, enraged. “This Heartless will totally prove to the queen that Alice is innocent!”

“Perhaps…” the cat says cryptically, body beginning to fade out of sight. “But tell me something, Keyblade wielder… Can the same be said about you?”[HR][/HR]And there's Wonderland part one. I hope I managed to capture the spirit of the world, following its broad strokes while putting my own twist on things. One thing I try to do, of course, is expand the population of worlds and add a few background chars., like the walrus and his clams from the original Alice in Wonderland animated movie. Hope this is enjoyable, and part II will come soon!
 
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KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

The end was certainly ominous. ouo" Anyways, I really like Telary and Sora holding hands as they fell straight into Wonderland, because it felt right, and it was amusing to see how Sora reacted when Azlyn commented on it. And the moment they had together, once Sora had the courage to speak his mind a little on Azlyn and learn a little bit of the truth why Azlyn is hard on him some. On the other hand, they sure are in a pickle with the Queen of Hearts. I hope they get through it alright, when they make it back to show their evidence to prove Alice is innocent. Great chapter and I look forward to more! :D
 

TelaryCri

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

Chapter VI: Go Ask Alice pt. 2
Their reception back at the Queen of Hearts’ court is slightly chilly, the queen just gazing haughtily at their single box of evidence. Even Alice looks a bit melancholy from her cage at the sight.

“Don’t worry, Alice,” Sora reassures her in the minute-long conference the queen has so graciously allowed them. “When the queen gets a load of what we’ve got in this box, you’ll be out of that cage so fast you’ll leave skid marks.”

“Very well, Sora,” Alice says reluctantly. “I think I trust you. After all, what other choice do I have, really?”

“Sidebar is over!” the queen bellows, swatting the air impatiently with her scepter. “Defense must now present their evidence in this case.” The queen leans conspiratorially over to the white rabbit by her side. “Not that it will matter much, I think.”

Telary moves to the space between the witness podium and the queen’s pavilion, gingerly setting the pink box down in the grass. Unsure of what to do next, he just bows to the queen and slowly backs away.

“Hmm, is that it, then?” the queen asks skeptically, rubbing her chin with one meaty hand. “Doesn’t seem like much. Espescially when you have my evidence to compare it to!”

With a wave of her scepter, the queen summons forth two card guards, each one carrying a pink box, identical to the one the trio’s Heartless is trapped inside. The guards drop one box on either side.

“My, that looks like quite a bit of evidence,” the Queen of Hearts mutters. “We can’t possibly have time to look through it all, so you’ll have to pick just one!”

“Well…” Sora says, already reaching for the middle box. He’s stopped in his tracks, however, by the red lance of one of the guards.

“Not so fast, bub!” the card threatens, waving his lance to drive the boy back. Behind him, Azlyn readies for a fight, but Telary’s hand on her shoulder manages to convince her to keep calm until they’re sure of what’s going on.

The queen snaps her fingers, and in a flash, all three boxes of evidence are gone. Before the spectators can even finish crying out though, they have all returned to the field.

“There, I’ve mixed them up!” the queen explains with a wily laugh. “Got to make things fair for everyone, you know!”

“Fair!” Azlyn cries out in rage, only stopped from rushing forward and dispensing a good wallop to the queen by virtue of the fact that Telary has wrapped both his arms around her torso and planted his feet to prevent her from charging. “You two-timing, cheating, lousy bi…” Her also incredibly unhelpful tirade is prevented by Telary moving one hand over her mouth.

“Fine, I’ll pick a piece of evidence!” Sora declares, strutting up to the boxes confidently. He stops in front of them, takes a moment to look everything over and consider his choices, then puts one hand over his eye and thrusts the other one out.
When he peeks through a gap in his fingers, he sees that he has landed on the rightmost pink box. Taking a big, nervous gulp, he lowers both his hands and nods. All according to plan!

“Very well, you have chosen the evidence you wish to present,” the queen says haughtily. “Open it, and face the consequences.”

All eyes in the court are riveted on Sora as the boy approaches the box, but when he looks up he only sees Alice, still locked up in a cage and most likely scared out of her mind. Hoping that he has truly made the right choice, Sora summons the Keyblade and gives the box a single tap.

Not a moment after, the lid flops off, and the enraged Soldier Heartless springs forth, flying through the air directly for the Queen of Hearts, who shrieks like a banshee and raises her arms to cover her face.

The Heartless doesn’t get to her in time, thanks to a fire spell from Telary sent soaring through the air. The fiery orb hits the Soldier dead on, disintegrating it in an instant!

And that would be that, if it weren’t for Azlyn’s shield following after it. With no more Heartless to hit, it clangs directly into the Queen of Hearts midsection, sending her toppling over, exposing her white bloomers with tiny red hearts all over.

For a moment, everyone present freezes. Then, with a loud, deep, terrified yell of fear, the walrus foreman goes charging out of the jury stand, past all assembled card guards and defendants, and continues into to maze. Moments later the clams follow suit, their cries much higher pitched.

“GUARDS!!!” the queen cries out from her most undignified position. “OFF WITH THEIR HEADS, OFF WITH THEIR HEADS! KILL THEM, YOU FOOLS!!!”

In the blink of an eye, the entire area changes, everything except the archway leading in and the Queen of Heart’s podium disappearing. A heavy velvet curtain extends over Alice’s cage, the card guard posted there manipulating the lever of a mechanism beside the cage, which lifts it into the air. Alice’s cries can be heard terribly clear for a moment, and then they are silenced.

Two cards move to help the queen return to a more advantageous, and less embarrassing, position, but the other dozen or so charge directly for Sora, Azlyn, and Telary.

The three drop into battle positions, Azlyn bereft of her shield for the moment, but plenty able to handle the cards with her fists.

“Get to that hand crank!” Sora commands. “If we can knock it out, we’ll free Alice! I think!”

A black spade swings down his axe, but Sora is able to block it with his raised Keyblade. He pushes the axe off his blade, then goes for a lower blow, nailing the guard three times in the torso. This unfortunately leaves him open for the lance of a red guard, which nails him in the side and pushes him back, vision going red in a haze of pain.

Telary sends out a blizzard spell upon the ground, causing the three cards charging him to slip, slide, and fall to the ground, floating down gently due to their flimsy-bodied nature.

Azlyn manages to catch her opponent’s red lance and twist it out of the guard’s hands, beating the man with his own weapon. Moving on to the next one, she slams the lance’s heart-shaped tip into midsection of the next guard she encounters, felling him as well. Moving on, she locks lances briefly with another guard, finally cheating outright and stamping down heavily on the card’s foot. While he’s distracted, she knocks into him shoulder first, continuing towards the crank.

Sora and Telary are back-to-back now, Sora fending off blows with the Keyblade, and Telary using his staff to block axe swings. Finally, Sora sees an opening and swings the Keyblade into the head of the card he’s facing, ending the threat, and a fireball from Telary takes care of his own opponent.

Meanwhile, the only thing stopping Azlyn from rescuing Alice is a single spade guard with an axe. Spying her shield lying on the ground, the knight leaps up and lands on it, her momentum sending her skidding directly toward the guard, lance out for the kill. Panicking, the guard leaps to the side to avoid being skewered.

Jumping off the shield and simultaneously using her foot to flip it into her hand, Azlyn smashes the edge of it into the crank mechanism’s lever, sending the cage above crashing down.

The resulting crash shakes the cage so hard that the velvet curtain falls to the ground. Everyone’s eyes lock onto the cage.

It is empty.

“What!” Sora cries out in anguish.

“WHAT!” the Queen of Hearts echoes, though there’s nothing but pure rage in her voice. “That little minx escaped! She’s roaming all about my kingdom now, free to commit any crime she chooses! Unacceptable! GUARDS, FIND THAT GIRL AND BRING HER TO ME!”

“I… I don’t understand,” Sora mumbles, moving numbly towards the empty cage as card soldiers shuffle past him, no doubt heading into the forest. “What happened?”

“Don’t play ignorant with me, boy!” the queen spits at the Keyblade wielder. “I see now how your devious little plan came together!”

“No, Your Majesty, I can assure you that…” Telary tries to explain, but by now it’s been made abundantly clear to everyone that the Queen of Hearts is not one for logic once she’s formed a decision.

“Silence!” she bellows. “You three distracted my soldiers and I while that thieving tart absconded away into the forest. I should have you arrested on treason! Guards, Guards!”

Fortunately for the trio, all the cards are currently off searching the forest for Alice, leaving them a great chance to slip away while the queen works herself into a frenzy, with only the white rabbit left to console her, offering her his handkerchief, which she rejects with a hard smack to the rabbit’s nose.

Once they feel they’ve gotten a safe distance away, Sora, Azlyn, and Telary all stop to catch their breath, and hopefully process the events that just took place.

“What happened to Alice?” Sora asks, though he knows his friends haven’t got an answer any more than he does. “She was there when the curtain closed, but when it opened…”

“She was gone,” Azlyn finishes gravely.

“But there’s got to be some explanation!” Telary says frantically, running nervous fingers through his hair. “Someone must have slipped in while we were fighting! Or maybe the Queen of Hearts is partly right, and Alice did manage to escape!”

“Two things,” Azlyn says with a heavy sigh. “First, I cannot believe that you just said the words ‘maybe the Queen of Hearts is right’…”

“I said partly…”

“And second of all, that girl is like, twelve,” the knight finishes. “I don’t care how much is going on around, no twelve year old child is going to be able to sneak out from under the noses of, like, twenty people.”

“She’s right,” Sora agrees, nodding thoughtfully.

“Well what you’re saying all has merit, Azlyn,” Telary grants. “But all I’m saying is, people don’t just suddenly disappear!”

“Oh, I think you may want to reassess that statement, my dear boy,” the voice of the Cheshire Cat purrs lazily, suddenly appearing seconds later, standing on its head. Literally, as in its feet are balancing on its disembodied skull, manic grin on its face all the while.

“Oh, great, this guy again,” Azlyn sighs, looking down her nose at the cat, who only directs his grin to her.

“Actually, I’d like to hear what it has to say,” Sora argues. “I mean, it hasn’t led us astray once so far.”

“I guess,” Azlyn mutters darkly.

“Do you know what happened to Alice?” Telary inquires of the cat. “Have you seen her?”

“I’ve not seen our friend fair Alice, no,” the cat answers, kicking its head back onto its shoulders, automatically reattaching it. “But shadows, ah, I’ve seen plenty of those about, oh yes!”

“Shadows?” Sora asks, “Do you mean the Heartless? Where are they, where did they go?”

“Oh this way, that way,” the cat almost snickers, pointing its paw all over the place. “Left, right, sideways, down… Shadows go all ways, even those that make no sense! Deep into the forest, the tea party garden, that may be the place!”

“You mean, where we found that evidence Heartless?” Sora asks, earning a nod from the cat.

“All good things to those who wait…” the cat purrs cryptically, fading away into thin air, saving its grin for last.

“C’mon guys, let’s go check out that tea party,” Azlyn urges the others, already turning for the entrance to the forest.

Once they’re in the Lotus Forest proper, Sora finally catches up to Azlyn, Telary trailing behind in hopes of avoiding any arguments that may spring up.

“You seem pretty dedicated to this all of the sudden,” the boy says in a teasing tone, nudging the knight on the elbow a bit with his own forearm. “I would’ve thought you’d want to head straight for the Gummi ship as soon as you saw Alice was gone.”

Azlyn takes a deep breath before finally replying. “Look, Sora,” she says, her tone a bit defeated, “I was wrong, earlier, when I kept complaining about helping Alice. I mean, I know my mission is important, and it’s hard for me to put something so enormous-seeming on the backburner for even a moment.”

She sighs again, this one even deeper, like the breath is physically hard to take. “But then, once I saw that she was gone, it was like, I don’t know. This light switched on in my brain. I realized then that, as much as the king wants us to find him, he also would never ever let an innocent girl get hurt if he could prevent it.”

“Y’know something, Azlyn?” Sora says with a smile, slinging what he hopes is a comforting, friendly arm around her shoulders. “When it all comes down to it, I don’t think you would ever let anyone get hurt if you could prevent it.”
Azlyn almost says something else, but right at that moment the pair hear a sound from behind that seems almost like a sob. Stopping, they turn around to see Telary, one knuckle up to his cheek to wipe away a tear.

“Are you crying?” Azlyn asks teasingly, grinning at the mage.

“No,” he lies, lowering his hand from his face. A moment passes. “Okay, yes I was crying. But c’mon, guys that was a really beautiful friendship moment!”

After sparing another amused look for Telary, Azlyn and Sora turn to each other and start laughing, until they have to wipe tears from their eyes.

The hike to the tea party continues a minute later, and finally the group reaches the clearing that holds the table, which is once again immaculately decorated for a party.

“Didn’t we mess this up when we fought that Heartless?” Sora asks, confused.

“Yeah, we did,” Azlyn agrees. “But it looks like someone was here, and they put it all back together.”

“What does this sign say?” Telary wonders, wandering over to a large wooden board with words scrawled in black ink.

“Have a very merry… unbirthday?" reads Sora. "What’s an unbirthday?”

“This place is so screwed up,” Azlyn mutters defeatedly into her hand.

“So, what now?” Telary asks, looking around. “The cat said that the shadows would be here in the tea party garden, but I don’t see anything?”

“Maybe it meant the cabin,” Sora posits, gesturing to the small but homey looking wooden construct to the side of the garden.

“Well, we should at least check it out,” Azlyn says.

The inside of the cabin is odd, with a main floor that seems devoid of anything but two large stalks in the middle, each holding up a platform with what looks to be a small lamp on it. To one side sits a steep incline made of dull grey brick.

“What kind of weird place is this?” Sora wonders aloud incredulously, gazing all around. But when his eyes turn to the ceiling, he stops. “Um, guys, look up.”

Azlyn and Telary do so, and when they do, they stand just as riveted as the Keyblade wielder.

The ceiling of the cottage is, to all appearances, the floor of the room they entered into Wonderland through. Even the blue table and chair are there, hanging upside down and seemingly unconcerned with the laws of gravity.

“Darkness changes perceptions, yes?” the Cheshire Cat’s voice floats in. Its body quickly follows, up on one of the stalks. “In my experience, it certainly does. Yes, when darkness is introduced, your whole outlook on life can just…” Instantly, the cat’s head and body swap position so, as before, it’s standing on its head, “…Flip upside down!”

“You make even less sense than the rest of this place,” Sora complains, sighing in defeat at the sheer madness of Wonderland.

“So, where are these shadows you were talking about, huh?” Azlyn demands impatiently, moving towards the annoying cat. “I don’t see anything!”

“Oh, they can’t show themselves now!” the cat scoffs, rolling its eyes dismissively at the silly girl. “If you want to see the shadows, then you’ll have to turn on the lights.”

“Could you do that with a spell, Telary?” Sora asks the mage, who nods agreeably.

“Sure thing, Sora,” the mage replies humbly. “But I don’t know how I’m supposed to get up there. I’ll need to be close, for accuracy.”

“I may have an idea on that…” Azlyn says, grinning.

After a few unsuccessful tries that end up with bruises all around, but especially on Telary, Sora and Azlyn manage to form an adequate lifting base to get Telary to the platform with the lamp.

“Wow, uh, this is higher than I thought,” he gulps, arms out wide for balance. After acquiring equilibrium, the mage pulls out his staff and places the tip on the lamp. With a simple muttering of the incantation, the lamp alights in flame. “Ta da!” he says half-heartedly.

The Cheshire Cat appears on the other platform. “Hmm, it still seems a little dim in here, don’t you think? I’d shed a bit more light on the situation, were I you.”

“Sure thing,” Telary mutters to himself, steeling for a jump across the platforms. With a fearful squeak, he manages to clear the gap. Once he lands, he holds his staff up again and mutters another incantation.

“Well well, the lights all seem to be on now, don’t they?” it wheezes with amusement, “Good, now I think that the shadows can finally comfortably arrive. I hope you’re prepared, my friends. After all, new light brings new perception!

The cat snaps its fingers, and suddenly the room flips, the trio all falling towards the new/old floor of the bizarre room.

They manage to land fairly gently, considering, on the blue table, next to the now empty blue bottle and the still full orange one.

Groaning, all three rise to their feet, searching for the Cheshire Cat. It appears on the lip of the orange bottle, still grinning as manically as ever.

“Pretty good view of the room from this high up,” it says, chuckling. “I think you just might be able to see the shadows coming.” The cat’s eyebrows raise, a mocking expression settling across its smug face. “But then again, perhaps not…”

Suddenly, from the ceiling drops an absolutely enormous Heartless, towering over the tabletop and gazing down at the trio with five heads all stacked on one another, leading to a squat red and black torso. Its arms are long and black, but like paper folded accordion-style. Four long spindly legs stretch out to the floor, each pair of legs ending in a single red foot. In its hands are two bright purple, striped clubs.

“Well, good luck!” the cat says, fading out as rapidly as the group has ever seen it.

“Lotta help that stupid thing is!” Azlyn cries out, just in time for a sweep of the Heartless’s baton to hit her and the two boys, sending them careening to the floor of the room.

“Anybody have a suggestion?” Sora asks frantically as the trio all get to their feet, looking up in abject fear at the Heartless that is slowly advancing on them.

“Well, at the moment, I’d have to say… Run!” Telary cries, turning and running under the table for some meager protection.

Neither Sora nor Azlyn particularly wants to back down from a challenge, but considering the sheer size of their opponent, they seem to have no other choice. The pair join the mage underneath the table.

“So this is a great start,” Sora says, trying desperately to regulate his panicked breathing. “But I really don’t think this plan has much of a chance of, uh…”

“Long term success?” Telary finishes, yelping as the Heartless beats the table above them. Luckily, it seems that it is otherwise unable to reach them. In fact, after a moment, it moves away from the table entirely, heading instead for the fireplace.

“Wait a minute!” Azlyn cries out, a plan finally forming in her mind. “That Heartless is only huge right now, to us, because we’re actually small. But if we were somehow able to get to what I assume is the growing potion on the table…”

“Azlyn, that’s a great idea!” Sora exclaims.

“But how do we get up there if…?” Telary is unable to finish his thought, as at that moment a huge fireball impacts the floor near the trio, sending all three flying through the air.

They all land roughly, their backs slamming to the ground. But Telary gets it worst of all, his skull solidly thunking against the floor. The others rise, but he doesn’t.

“Telary!” Azlyn cries out in anguish, rushing to the mage’s side and kneeling there.

Sora is concerned about Telary too, but he’s also pretty troubled by the fact that the giant Heartless is approaching him with giant flaming batons!

Azlyn is frantically tugging a healing potion out of her belt, uncapping the bottle and pouring the green liquid inside into Telary’s mouth.

It won’t have time to do much, however, as at that very moment, the Heartless raises its flaming batons, ready to send another fireball, this one much more accurately fired.

Then, inexplicably, it stops.

Confused, Sora looks at the creature frozen in place, then turns back to Azlyn and Telary, the green liquid halfway out of its vial and to the mage’s mouth.

“What is going on?” the confounded Keyblade wielder cries out loud, realizing a moment later than he cannot stand from his kneeling position on the floor.

“Well, it looked like you could use a break, honestly,” the Cheshire Cat explains, its body popping into existence on the floor in front of Sora. “Not very impressive for a Keyblade wielder, I must say.”

“You… You know about the Keyblade?” Sora asks incredulously.

“Oh, my dear sweet boy, I know quite a lot,” the cat answers with a cheekier than usual grin, which Sora honestly hadn’t thought possible. “Including this...!”

With a wave of its paw, a group of glowing white glowing snowflakes appear and flutter into the Keyblade. It glows with a blue-white light for a moment, then fades back to normal. As it does, Sora feels an inexplicable wave of cold.

“W-what did you just do?” the confused boy asks the cat, staring dumbfounded at his blade.

“Oh, I just thought you might need a bit of a boost, is all,” the cat clarifies. “After all, as hopeless as you may seem, all you hero types need to get your start somewhere. I figure a little magic couldn’t hurt, eh?”

“Magic! Like Telary uses?”

“The very same!” Cheshire confirms cheerfully. “All you’ve got to do is take a deep breath, focus, and let the power flow from the Keyblade! Shouldn’t be too difficult, I wouldn’t think.”

The cat fades out, and time resumes its course.

The potion makes its way into Telary’s mouth, and after a moment of his body glowing with a healthy green aura, he manages to regain consciousness.

Just in time to see Sora stand, raise the Keyblade so its tip points directly at the batons of the Heartless, and let loose a shower of ice crystals and cold energy.

Telary gasps espescially loud as he watches the freezing projectile eject from the Keyblade’s tip and fly through the air to encompass the flaming instruments of the Trickmaster, putting the flames out in an instant.

“Sora, you just used magic!” the mage cries, a mixture of incredulity and exuberance in his voice.

“I did?” Sora breathes out. “Whoa!”

“We can celebrate later!” Azlyn yells out authoritatively. “For the moment, we’ve got to concentrate on getting to that bottle!”

“Sora should be the one to drink it,” Telary suggests, which earns a bit of a consternated look from Azlyn.

“But he already got to…” her childish protests are cut off with a glare from her counterpart. “Okay, you’re right, he should drink it. We’ll distract that Heartless so you can get your chance!”

“Thanks, guys!” the Keyblade wielder says gratefully, already taking off towards the table. “Be careful, that thing is really dangerous!”

With a quick look and nod to each other, Telary and Azlyn rush off to distract the Heartless.

Telary fires off a blizzard spell of his own, aiming it at the monster’s feet, which become solidly frozen to the floor, preventing it from moving. Azlyn takes advantage and hurls her shield at the creature’s head, the edge of it actually slicing off the two topmost faces.

Growling in pain and anger, the Heartless pulls at its icy bonds with all the strength of its legs, breaking free and stalking towards the duo from Disney Castle.

Sora, meanwhile, leaps up onto the chair by the table, the jumps for the edge of the table itself, just barely managing to grasp it with his fingers.

He’s shaken around a bit as Azlyn and Telary manage to drive the beast back a step, sending it slamming into the table. Sora manages to hang on, though, and pulls himself up, the orange bottle only a quick dash across the table.

The Trickmaster notices this and, guessing its opponent’s plan, rears back on of its batons to strike. It doesn’t get the chance, however, as a hit from Azlyn’s thrown shield knocks its arm back from ready position, followed by a fire spell from Telary that actually catches the whole of its arm aflame.

With the Heartless distracted by its pain, Sora manages to grab a hold of the orange bottle and, figuring it’s better to be safe than sorry, chugs it all down in several gulps.

Within moments he feels himself growing, and with a giant and ever-growing grin playing across his lips he leaps from the table to the floor, already at half the height of the Trickmaster and still growing.

He must have taken too much of the liquid, however, as he continues growing even past normal size, until he’s bumping his head on the room’s ceiling.

It doesn’t seem to be a disadvantage though, as the Heartless, now coming to just about Sora’s waist, looks up with something almost like fear in its six remaining eyes.

“Looks like the tables have turned, huh?” Sora chuckles, which sounds as loud as a bomb going off to a still miniaturized Azlyn and Telary below. Still grinning, Sora brings his Keyblade down in a single swipe, cleaving the Trickmaster in two. Both halves fall to the ground, already dissipating, its crystal heart floating into the air for a brief moment before disappearing as well.

“You did it!”

“Good job, Sora!”

The congratulations don’t even reach Sora, however, as tiny as his companions are in comparison.

“Oh, dear!” the Cheshire Cat exclaims as it floats into the scene. “Well, this simply won’t do, now will it?” With a wave of its paw, the cat sets Sora back down shrinking, until he’s once again as small as his tiny partners.

“Deary me!” a drowsy voice intrudes on the scene, coming from a now awake, and certainly not happy about that, doorknob. “Must you cause such a racket? I was in the middle of a nap, you know. Just how a doorknob is supposed to get any… Sleep…”

The knob’s tired tirade is interrupted by another yawn, this one the biggest of all. So big, in fact, that if Sora squints, he can just make out something tiny, glowing inside the doorknob’s mouth.

Curious, the boy leans forward, only for the Keyblade to suddenly tug his hand forward, pointing directly at the mouth of the doorknob. Suddenly, light begins to gather and swirl about the Keyblade’s tip, until it coalesces into a glowing orb on the tip, which shoots a thing beam of light straight into the mouth of the doorknob.

The glow plays around his open mouth for a moment, before dissipating with a tiny but obvious sound of a click, like someone closing a pocket watch, or locking a door. Seconds later, a tiny blue and green object falls out of the doorknob’s mouth.

“Now, if you would please keep it down!” the knob chides, closing his eyes and settling back into a blissful sleep.

“What the hell was that about?” Azlyn asks, looking from the Keyblade to the strange object to the doorknob twice in rapid succession.

“This looks, uh, kind of like a Gummi piece!” Telary exclaims, picking the dropped object up and poking it with his fingers. Indeed, it does give a little at his touch, just like any other Gummi block would. “But, and I hope I don’t sound conceited by being surprised, I’ve never seen a block like this before. Which is odd, because I know my Gummi blocks!”

“We should hold onto it, just in case,” Azlyn decides. The mage nods in agreement.

“But, where’s Alice?” Sora asks sadly, looking all around. “I thought Cheshire said that the shadows took her, but we just defeated their leader, and I don’t see her anywhere!”

“If you’re looking for Alice here, I’m afraid you’re destined to be disappointed,” the Cheshire Cat sighs as it slowly fades into existence by the sleeping doorknob. “The shadows have already spirited her away, you see. She’s far too important to leave out to chance, you see.”

“Okay, cat!” Azlyn roars, stepping forward and balling her hands into fists. “I’ve let you just pop in and out all you like without saying anything, but I think by now it’s clear that you’re up to something, and I want answers! How do you know so much about Alice, and the shadows, huh? Were you in on this somehow?”

“All mimsy were the borogroves,” the cat chuckles as it fades out one last time, its grin bigger than ever.

“Oh wow, it’s lost its mind!” the knight exclaims in outrage.

All that’s left now of the Cheshire Cat is its floating grin. “And the mome raths outgrabe…”

With a yell of pure rage, Azlyn charges at the fading grin, arms outstretched and ready for a fight. Both Sora and Telary run after her, hoping to catch her before she does something impulsive.

All three, however, end up tripping, stumbling towards the closed door. With a great yell, the trio fall to the ground, all in a heap.

They are greeted by a terrified scream.

Looking up, all three see Jiminy Cricket, shivering in fright and clutching his journal like a security blanket.

“Gosh, you three sure know how to scare a fellow!” the chronicler exclaims, trying to calm himself down. “You three just popped out of nowhere, screaming like banshees!”

Extricating themselves from their big pile, the trio look around to see that, to their surprise, they’ve somehow ended up back in to Gummi ship’s cargo hold. Telary looks back and once again sees the great horizontal tunnel they’d landed in hours ago.

“I guess you didn’t find the king, huh?” Jiminy asks sympathetically, heaving a great sigh. “Though I can’t see how you could’ve looked very hard, considering you weren’t gone all of five minutes!

More confused at that statement than by anything else they’ve encountered in Wonderland, the trio all look back and forth between one another, silence reigning in the Gummi ship.

Azlyn, naturally, breaks it. “We are never coming back here again.”[HR][/HR]And that's Wonderland finished. Next up is a bit of the transit time between this world and the next, as well as another peek at Maleficent's band.
 

KingdomKey

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Re: Kingdom Hearts: Keys to the Kingdom

I couldn't keep myself from laughing at Telary shedding a tear at the 'moment' Sora and Azlyn were having. Too bad the Cheshire cat got away. On the other hand, I was quite shocked to see him help Sora out like that! I never would've guessed that to happen. In any case, I felt bad for the trio being assaulted by the Queen of Hearts and having to deal with Jiminy saying they were only gone for five minutes. I look forward to the next world they go off to, and seeing how Maleficent's band is going. :)
 
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