Fanfiction ► Kingdom Hearts: Re-sketch | a KH OC fic | Chapter 1



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ornamentelle

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Hello all! I just wanted to share a project that I've been working on for several years now: an attempt at making a good quality OC-centric fic of the KH storyline. Here's just a snippet of what I have so far! Be warned, it's a tad lengthy. If you're interested in reading the rest, the link is just below!

Summary: Hikaru is just a girl from a distant world, but when the Heartless attack, her world falls apart—literally. Torn from her family, she joins Sora and the others on his quest to find his missing friends in hopes of finding her own… But fate has a funny way of working. After all, there are many things to learn about the light and darkness in people's hearts—and the secrets in her own.

Kingdom Hearts: Re-sketch | Fanfiction.net



... ... ...​

The sky lit up and began to fall as hundreds upon hundreds of shooting stars crossed the night. It was a meteor shower unlike anything that tiny town nestled in the snowy valleys had ever seen.

Two friends standing at the top of the ridge watched one star hurtle through the aurora. A concussive boom echoed through the thin air as the earth shuddered and knocked them off their feet. The star had fallen just beyond the ridge.

"Let's have a look," one of the boys said.

They rushed out into the wilds beyond the valley towards the crater with reckless abandon, unconcerned for their safety, powered by adrenaline and excitement and adventure and maybe one too many drinks. The dangers of the wilderness—stories of wolves and fairies and ancient gods—fell away forgotten. They were thinking of the story they would tell the town, that they had found a shooting star.

They came upon the edge of the crater, climbing over jagged earth, shielding their mouths and noses, waving away the smoke with their gloved hands. The taller one shined a light into the darkness, expecting rubble and maybe a hunk of space rock.

But it wasn't a star.

It was a person.

22 years later…

Re-sketch
Chapter 1: Hart's Haven​

The airdocks were quiet that night. Only the low ticking of the station clock and the plink-chick-scrrrrtch of the custodian scraping ice from the cobblestone walkway rang out above the silence. Few people milled around in the cold, but the ones who did huddled under heavy coats and thick winter sweaters just outside the arrival gate with rosy cheeks and cracked lips.

No one was waiting for Hikaru and her family when they stepped from the Lindblum. The other passengers descended down the ramp while the porters followed close with their luggage. Hikaru hesitated in the airship doorway, staring at the quaint little station and the golden glow of its windows. The sharp chill stinging at her cheeks, the echo of shoes against the metal and stone—the familiarity of it all began to sink in.

Back here again, she thought, her grasp tightening on the handle of her suitcase.

Her brothers were already waiting at the bottom of the ramp. Akihiko stared out towards the towering evergreen trees beyond the dock, swinging his watch like a pendulum by its silver chain. Tatsuya sat on a suitcase next to him, his face buried in his tablet screen as he kicked his boots through the powdery snow.

"Hikaru."

"Yes, Mam?" She turned around. Her mother stood with her arms crossed, coat zipped, and red hair tangled up in the sort of disarray that only happened after a long flight of restless sleep in a cramped chair that had no recline.

"Grab this too." Her mother nodded towards the two duffle bags on the bench behind her. Akihiko's fencing gear. Hikaru took them without a word.

How many bags did everyone else bring along, she wondered. Hikaru looked towards the other passengers, but the few people who had been standing in the cold had disappeared into the station. Only a single porter remained near the doors with a lamp in his hands, leaving the airdocks even emptier than they had been before.

"Where's Uncle James?" she asked at the bottom of the ramp.

"Mam said he's working," Akihiko said. He tucked his hands into his jacket, a certain lazy slouch to his shoulders he maintained only when their mother wasn't looking. "Apparently he left his car in the lot, though."

Tatsuya aimed his tablet at the station to snap a picture. "Do you think we can stop at the sweets shop?"

"Sweets?" Hikaru raised an eyebrow. "Didn't you have enough sugar on the flight, Tats?"

"Yeah," Akihiko said, rubbing his chin. "I'm pretty sure I remember someone eating the rest of my apple pie."

"It wasn't that good," Tatsuya said.

"Then why'd you eat it? Huh? You little shit." Akihiko gave him cuff up the back of the head, knocking his cap off. Tatsuya smacked his hand away, but Akihiko hooked one arm around Tatsuya's neck and ruffle up his dark hair with a vigorous shake. Tatsuya crossed his arms and scowled.

"Hikaru," he said loudly, trying in vain to kick their brother in the knee, "Aki's being an ass."

Hikaru held back a snort as she tried to hide the smile working its way across her face. "Aki, go easy on him before Mam—"

"Akihiko, Tatsuya," Mam snapped.

Akihiko promptly released Tatsuya from his chokehold. "Yes?" the two boys said, turning towards the airship.

Mam made her way down the metal ramp, the limp in her step hardly slowing her down despite her careful grip on the railing. "Behave yourselves," she said. "Not even ten minutes on the ground… I expect you all to be on your best behavior."

"Yes, Mam," Hikaru and her brothers chorused.

"Good." Mam paused, her bright green eyes scanning the airdocks. "Where's your sister?"

"Um…" Hikaru looked towards Akihiko and earned a shrug in response.

They found Yui in the station coffee shop. She sat at the service bar, the lone patron of the empty café, half-slouched across the countertop with her heavy boots tapping restlessly against the floor and her headphones clamped tight over her ears. A moogle fluttered to her side with a mug of coffee.

"Yui," Mam said.

"Welcome, kupo," the moogle said, turning to greet them. Mam ignored him.

"Yui," she said again, louder this time. She and Akihiko stood in the doorway, while Tatsuya tiptoed as hard as he could to peer over their shoulders. Hikaru lingered a few steps back, shuffling her feet.

Yui hardly bothered to turn her head. A ring-ting-ting filled the air as she stirred cream into her mug with a tiny metal spoon. If Hikaru hadn't known any better, she almost would've thought Yui hadn't heard them.

"What are you doing?" A scarcely concealed heat bubbled up under their mother's words. "We're taking the luggage to the car."

"It's cold," Yui said. She set her spoon on the counter and took a sip of coffee.

"Yui…!"

Akihiko spoke before Mam could say anything else. "Coffee sounds pretty good right now," he said, unraveling his scarf and stretching his arms. "You getting anything, Hikaru?"

"Uh… sure." Hikaru released the breath she had been holding. "Maybe."

Mam didn't like the idea. The way she narrowed her eyes when she looked to Hikaru and Akihiko made Hikaru's stomach churn. But she just pressed her lips into a tight line. "Fine," she finally said. "Hurry up."

"I'm getting a hot chocolate," Tatsuya said, going straight for the register. Mam followed, but stopped behind Yui for just a moment, yanking her headphones off of her head and letting them drop to the floor.

"Don't wander off again," she growled.

Yui said nothing, but Hikaru caught a glimpse of her sour expression when she turned her head to the side.

It was a breath of air when they departed from the coffee shop, even if it meant returning outside. Beyond the station's entrance stretched the snow-dusted lot, marked by the impressions of crisscrossing tire treads and illuminated by the artificial light. Transcendantale Airship Station was the only station on Polaris, and it stood at the southern end of the valley where Hart's Haven was nothing but a distant glow above the trees.

Hikaru hesitated by the doors, looking out to the lot as the rest of her family proceeded down the steps. She only counted three cars—and one of them was Uncle James's familiar white truck.

"Load in," Mam said once she'd found the keys hidden away under the bottom of the car.

Akihiko jumped into the front passenger's seat, leaving Hikaru to plop herself in the back row between Tatsuya and Yui. The smell of the interior hit her first—the almost comforting scent of the upholstery and old citrus air freshener that covered up the lingering trace of stale cigarette smoke. Second came the odd sense of spaciousness—Uncle James's truck was a hefty vehicle, and it had once been capable of holding Hikaru's whole family. But that was back when they would visit the town with their father.

Mam started up the truck, bringing the engine to life with a sputter before the roar. Warm air filled the cabin. Hikaru sunk into her seat, cupping her hands around her hot chocolate. Static crackled over the radio, and Akihiko reached over to the console, adjusting the station until the static gave way to a mostly audible rock song.

The truck rolled out of the lot with a few bumps and the loud scraping of the tires. Hikaru stifled a teary-eyed yawn, her head bobbing with every jitter of the car. Yui shifted in her seat, moving closer to the window, her headphones clamped back over her ears. Tatsuya tapped away at his tablet as he asked about their plans for the next day, with a response coming from Akihiko, who mentioned driving up to Shiva's Saddle if the weather was clear.

"If you want to go exploring, fine," Mam said, her eyes not once leaving the road as she spoke. "But you'll save it for later. First thing tomorrow, we visit your father."

... ... ...​

Hikaru didn't remember arriving at the house that night. She hadn't realized she'd fallen asleep, but a hazy memory floated to the surface, one of being unceremoniously hauled from the truck by one of her brothers—Akihiko, probably, since she doubted Tatsuya would have even been able to move her deadweight. When she finally came to, she was greeted by a soft white light gleaming against frosted glass.

She lay there for a few moments, curled up under an old patchwork quilt with the familiar smell of fabric softener filling her nose. Her mouth felt dry, and her eyes sore and swollen. Someone had placed her jacket and scarf by her pillow, but she was still wearing the same turtleneck sweater and faded jeans. She sat up, letting loose a loud yawn before looking around.

It was her room. Well, no, that wasn't quite right. It was the room in Uncle James's house that she and Yui always shared, where the air was dusty and forgotten belongings left behind in their last visit still sat in moth-eaten paper bags by the closet door. The futon Hikaru had been sleeping on was the same as last time too. She wondered if it had even been put away since.

She sighed, reaching into her pocket and flipping open her watch. It was already almost noon. They had just a few short hours left of daylight, and she was surprised that Mam hadn't woken them up yet. Her sister was still asleep, too. Yui occupied the bed on the opposite side of the room, lying under a faded star chart of the worlds that made up Ursa Minor. Already, she'd made the place her own, leaving clothes and bags and even her violin case on the floor.

Hikaru didn't bother trying to wake her. She moved with light steps, pushing open the door with the slowest, softest creak before peering out into the hallway to the bathroom and the room her brothers usually shared. Both doors were ajar, and the rooms quiet. Instead, she caught the faint murmur of voices in the kitchen downstairs.

Uncle James! Hikaru's footsteps thumped against the carpeted wood as she bolted down the stairs. In the living room, the television played black and white pictures for the empty chairs, and the fireplace had yet to be lit, leaving that corner of the house cold. The warmth came from the other direction beyond the kitchen door, accompanied by a delicious smell.

She pushed open the door just in time to catch the explosive laughter from her brothers sitting at the counter. Akihiko and Tatsuya, both wearing their wrinkled flannel pajamas from last Christmas, had their hands full with steaming bread rolls and sizzling breakfast meat skewered on forks, though Akihiko dropped his utensils as he buckled over in a coughing fit. Standing opposite of them was their Uncle James. He dropped a couple of sunny-side up eggs onto a massive platter and as Hikaru peeked into the room. "Look who finally decided to join us," he said casually as Akihiko continued hacking away.

Tatsuya whapped Akihiko on the back a few times with a closed fist before turning around. "Morning Hikaru."

"G-good… Good timing," Akihiko managed to choke out between gasps and a few gulps of orange juice. "We were… just about to get you."

"Yeah, right." Hikaru stuck her tongue out at him. "I see you… hogging all the food to yourselves." She took up a seat next to Akihiko, earning herself a light shove in the head by her older brother. Hikaru shoved him back.

"Well, since you're here, help yourself," Uncle James said, waving his spatula at the spread set before them. "There's plenty more coming. Yui still asleep?"

"Yeah. Didn't want to wake her."

"She'll get up eventually. Who can miss a meal like this?" Uncle James reached over to the carton next to the stove and grabbed a few more eggs. "How do you want your eggs, Hikaru? Scrambled?"

"Of course," she said, taking a scoop of hash browns from the platter. "Extra pepper and butter, please."

"Feeling fancy today, are you?" Uncle James laughed. He dropped a generous piece of butter over the heat and cracked the eggs right into the pan to scramble. "Just don't tell your mam—she'd kill me if she saw all this cholesterol."

"Just eat everything before she gets back," Tatsuya said, shoving an entire slice of bacon into his mouth.

Hikaru giggled. It had been months since they'd seen Uncle James—not since their visit during the summer, when it had been wet and somber and just… all-around a time in life that Hikaru didn't want to remember. Even though Uncle James looked a little thinner than before, and the bags under his eyes were darker, his light-hearted mood was a welcomed relief from everything Hikaru had worried about in coming back to Hart's Haven.

"Where is Mam anyway?"

"She went out early this morning," Uncle James said. He turned back to the stove. "Getting everything for today, I suppose."

For a few seconds, the only sound came from the oil popping in the pan. "It's gonna be cold today, huh?" Akihiko said, looking out the window. The sheer curtains did little to block the incoming light. Outside, the snow covered the streets and clung to the leafless branches of the old ash tree growing out in the lawn. Uncle James had quite a view of the town, even if his house was just halfway up the ridge.

Hikaru grimaced, turning back to her food. She'd never been fond of the cold.

"News said it looks like a storm is coming. At least it'll be as good an excuse as any to visit Windhill Pub on the way back," Uncle James said. He took the pan from the stove and nudged the soft pepper-flecked scrambled eggs onto Hikaru's plate. "It's going to be a long day, though… Best to get your energy up before we leave."

And a hearty homemade breakfast was the perfect way to do it. After finishing off a second helping of bread and bacon, Hikaru was thoroughly satisfied and only a little bloated. She headed upstairs to take a shower, and by the time she returned to the living room, Akihiko and Tatsuya had gathered by the unlit fireplace where the old photographs of Mam, Dad, and Uncle James watched over them from the mantelpiece.

"Just focus, okay?" Akihiko said. "You gotta… sort of just… bring up the fire…"

Tatsuya lowered his outstretched hands. "You suck at explaining things, Aki."

"Oi! Say that again, you!"

"Unscheduled magic lessons?" Hikaru raised an eyebrow, still toweling off her red hair as she plopped down on the piano bench next to the fireplace. "Mam would be so mad."

"Shh…" Akihiko glanced towards the front door. Lucky for him, Mam still wasn't back yet. "A little Fire magic won't hurt anyone. And what Mam doesn't know won't hurt us."

"I'm just going to get the matches," Tatsuya said, walking back toward the kitchen. Akihiko's jaw dropped, and Hikaru snickered.

"Talk about a lack of faith," she said. Akihiko shot her a dirty look.

"Well, looks like I need a new student then." He clapped a hand against her back. "Hikaru, you're up!"

She blinked. "Wha—? You… No, I'm good."

"Aw, you sure? Too scared of a little fire?" With a snap of his fingers, Akihiko ignited a tiny flame in the palm of his hand.

"No," Hikaru said, eyeing the fire with only a small amount of trepidation. It wasn't the fire itself she was concerned about, though it did remind her of the state of Uncle James's study and how that lesson years back had gone. "If Mam saw us—"

"Mam isn't here," Akihiko said firmly. Still, he snuffed out the flame. "Don't be such a baby, Hikaru."

Her eyes narrowed. "A baby?" she repeated.

The kitchen door swung open. "I got it," Tatsuya said, giving the box of matches a good shake just as a rattling came from the front door.

All three of them froze for a single moment before they turned towards the door. The knob jiggled a little bit with the jingling of keys. Then there was a click, and Mam shouldered the door open, carrying a pair of paper bags in her arms as snowflakes scattered through the room.

"Someone take this," she said, adjusting her grip on the bags as she shut the door with her foot. Tatsuya took both of the bags and hobbled over to the coffee table while Mam rolled back her shoulders. "That took longer than I'd anticipated," she said. "Well, I hope you all are ready. We're leaving soon. Finish up whatever you're doing, and then…" She looked over at the three of them, her eyes narrowing. "Where's Yui?"

"Upstairs still," Hikaru said, though the moment she said it, she felt her stomach drop.

Mam started for the stairs. There was a limp in her step again, more pronounced than usual, with her right leg dragging behind her left. Still, she marched up the stairs like it didn't hurt, and Hikaru looked to her brothers for some sort of guidance.

Akihiko glanced away, scratching his neck. Tatsuya turned his attention to Mam's bags. "Snow roses," he said, pulling out the bouquet of white flowers. Hikaru pursed her lips.

A muffled shout made them turn towards the stairs and the second floor hallway. Hikaru couldn't hear what Mam was saying exactly, but she had a distinct guess.

It was a few minutes later when Mam came back down, her footsteps falling heavy and loud. Her face was livid, eyes acidic and her cheeks flushed from tawny to a dark red. Hikaru couldn't hold her stare for more than a second. "If your sister wants to stay in her room all day, let her," Mam snarled. "We're leaving. Now."

... ... ...​

Everything about Hart's Haven seemed different in the daylight, when Hikaru could see the ice coat every streetlight and telephone pole, and the sky stretched out as a thick blanket of clouds. Food stalls sold coffees and hotcakes at street corners for wandering pedestrians, and children weaved through the crowds on their way to the deer park. During the summer, they would have traveled with the windows rolled down, letting in the warm air and fresh smells and all the sounds of town. Everything would have been green then, and maybe the sky would have been clear, though to Hikaru's memory, the last time they had driven down this road it had been every bit as gloomy as the mood within the car.

Hikaru kept her hands firmly on the wheel. Uncle James sat in the passenger's seat with his usual sunny cheer, almost oblivious to the mood hanging over the truck. Mam, Akihiko, and Tatsuya sat in the back, and none of them had said anything since they'd left the house, not even Akihiko with a witty comment, or a line of biting sarcasm from Tatsuya.

Hikaru only managed to fully breathe once she pulled over outside the cemetery gates. A wrought iron fence encircled the large plot of land specked with gravestones and solemn statues, dividing it from the streets and the faded brick buildings that surrounded it. While her family climbed out of the truck, shaking the cabin with each slam of the doors, Hikaru remained in the driver's seat with her heart pounding in her chest and her hands still clutched around the wheel.

I hate this place.

"Good job, Hikaru," Uncle James said as he opened her door. "You brought us here in one piece."

"Thanks," she said quietly. But she wasn't so sure of that.

The air outside was still, and even the crunching of their footsteps faded into the top layer of fresh snow. Uncle James started down the main road past the pair of carbuncle statues that stood guard at the cemetery's entrance. Mam kept his pace with her back tall and gaze focused forward while Hikaru and her brothers trailed behind. Hikaru stared at the passing headstones, sinking deeper into the nest of white wool wrapped around her neck, until only her eyes and a bone-deep aching coldness remained.

"So, Luna, when are you heading over to the tree?" Uncle James asked.

"Later. It's not urgent," Mam replied. "This is more important."

The world was blinding, devoid of color other than the brown of bare tree trunks and gray of eroded stones, but every so often Hikaru caught sight of something else—a hint of yellow, or red, or blue from the dying flowers left in the snow. Most of the headstones were weather-worn, their names lost under a tangle of decaying vines and the passing of time. The newer ones were smooth and polished in comparison, and they made her heart beat faster to read them even if their names meant nothing to her.

A tightness squeezed her chest, making it harder to breathe.

They walked until they came to the place where two wide roads intersected, and at the center of the dirt crossroads stood the tall statue of a barefooted woman with braided hair and stony, lifeless eyes. Mam and Uncle James took a turn to the left, and then so did her brothers, but Hikaru lagged further and further behind until she came to a stop before the statue, her knees shaking as she clutched her stomach.

Akihiko was the first to notice. Maybe it was the missing sound of footsteps, or maybe it was just Aki being Aki, getting ready to lighten the mood. He glanced over his shoulder and stopped in his tracks the moment he saw her. "Hikaru?"

It made Mam and Uncle James turn too, and even Tatsuya lifted his gaze from his tablet screen.

"I can't," Hikaru said, shaking her head. She took a step back and stumbled. Suddenly she was feeling dizzy. She couldn't breathe. "I… I'm going to wait in the car."
"Hikaru," Mam started to say, but Hikaru didn't wait to listen. She ran as fast as her unsteady legs could bear, until the statue of the barefooted woman that watched her retreating back was nothing more than a hazy figure rising up above the graves.

... ... ...​

Hikaru didn't know how much time had passed when her head finally stopped spinning. Huddled in the car, slumped over in the driver's seat with her head in her arms over the wheel—to Hikaru the day seemed to stand perfectly still. Though outside was nothing but a heat-sucking whiteness that slowly seeped through the truck's cabin, she didn't bother to turn the heater on. Her fingers had begun to turn numb under her gloves, but she wasn't sure it was from the cold, or the pinch of hard metal digging into the palms of her clutched hands.

It had been less than a year since her father passed away. Hikaru had been preparing for this moment for months, ever since the summer, a time that she remembered as lifeless and wet and achingly, numbingly gray. It had been cold then, too—a different type of cold, one that soaked through her clothes and washed over her clammy skin as her words fell away into nothing but a choked sob.

She hadn't been prepared. That much was obvious now.

Tap-tap-tap!

Hikaru jumped. The ticking metal object slipped from her grasp and clattered to the floor as she snapped her head to the window, her eyes wide and bleary, her heart hammering hard in her chest. She opened her mouth, ready to shout at the person who had decided to scare the absolute shit out of her.

Akihiko opened the driver's door. "Move over," he said before she could even speak, waving her away. Hikaru stared at him for several seconds, her mouth slowly closing into a tight frown. She climbed over into the passenger's seat, giving her brother space to take her spot at the wheel.

The back door opened. "Why's it so cold in here?" Tatsuya said, crawling onto the seat behind Hikaru. "Aki, turn on the heat."

"Yeah, yeah, you don't need to tell me that." Akihiko rolled his eyes. But rather than reach for the dial, he leaned forward with one hand sweeping across the dusty floor until he grabbed Hikaru's watch. He said nothing when he saw it—just gave it a short stare before passing it over.

"Let's go for a drive," he said instead. He stared the engine, letting the warm air blast through the vents as an upbeat guitar riff blared from the radio. "Got any ideas?"

Hikaru swallowed the lump in her throat. "Anywhere," she said, her voice thick and shaky in the way she always hated. She looked away and wiped her eyes on her jacket sleeve, her silver pocket watch tucked firmly under her crossed arms. "Anywhere but here."

... ... ...​

Night fell much too quickly. By the time they pulled into the lot outside of the deer park, all the lights around town had flickered to life, filling the streets with a golden warmth. Hikaru followed her brothers without a word, burying her face into her scarf and keeping her eyes on the ground until they reached the pavilion that stood between the park and the road. A crowd had gathered close to the food stalls and the sweet and buttery smells that would have had Hikaru's stomach growling if she hadn't felt so queasy. Everything was bathed in the glow of the pavilion lanterns and the countless fairy lights blinking in the trees. It almost hurt to look at.

"They're selling hotcakes here," Tatsuya said, stopping to look at the stalls. He tucked his tablet under his arm. "Aki, can I borrow some munny? Please?"

"Oh, so now you ask nicely?" Akihiko said. But he tossed him a handful of loose change. "Just don't tell Mam, okay? And get something for me too."

"Yes!"

"Meet us at the big tree when you're done," Akihiko added, but Tatsuya was already gone. "You think he heard me?" he asked, placing his hands on his hips.

"Dunno," Hikaru said. She started forward again, past the park gates that had been decorated with a dozen wishes in the form of padlocks left by young couples and hopeful dreamers.

"Huh? Hey, wait up!" Akihiko caught up with her in a few short strides. "You're in a rush. You okay, Hikaru? You've been really quiet."

"I'm fine," Hikaru said, though she didn't really feel it.

They walked in silence below the lamps that lined the main walkway. Few people wandered this deep at this time of the year, and the threat of bad weather seemed to have kept everyone closer to the commotion of the streets. Usually it would have been peaceful, but right now, it just left an unsettling stillness between the trees.

"Are you sure it's okay to take the truck?" Hikaru said. "What about Mam and Uncle James?"

"I'm sure they can make it a few blocks to get here when they're done," Akihiko said. "Relax, Hikaru. You worry too much."

"I know, I just…" She sighed, kicking at the snow. "I'm exhausted…"

Akihiko knew what she meant. "Same," he said. "It feels weird, right? Like something's missing."

"Something is missing," Hikaru replied. "Everything is just… wrong." Her hands clenched into fists at her side. "You don't seem very bothered by it."

"I am bothered," Akihiko said, his voice light and steady. "We're all bothered by it. Me, Tats, Yui…"

"Yui?" Hikaru repeated. Maybe, she thought. But part of her didn't believe it.

"Hey, don't be like that," Akihiko said. "Tats might not like her still, but I thought you knew better."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Hikaru started to say, a spark of indignation flaring up inside of her. But something made her stop. They came upon the edge of the path, right in front of the giant ash tree. The glow of the lamps barely reached the roots, and it took a moment for Hikaru to realize the shadow at the base of the tree wasn't a trick of the light.

Someone was already there.

"Speak of the devil," Akihiko said, though he didn't sound surprised at all. "Yui. Nice seeing you outside."

Yui was sitting in the snow with her arms propped up against her knees. Her headphones hung from her neck, silent for once, while she flipped the lid of her pocket watch open and shut over and over again. How long she had been there, watching them, Hikaru didn't know.

"Hmp…" Yui pressed her lips into a tight line. "How was the cemetery?"

"Was alright," Akihiko said. "Hikaru bailed on us, though."

"Figures."

"Hey…" Hikaru's eyes narrowed. Luckily the indignation outweighed the shame. "Aki, I swear to the gods I will…"

"What are you doing here, anyway?" Akihiko asked, making a point to ignore her. "If Mam knew you skipped the graveyard to come here—"

"I don't care what she'll do," Yui said, her voice suddenly sharp, her eyes that same acidic green like Mam's, enough to make the hair on the back of Hikaru's neck prickle. "There was just something I needed to do…" She leaned back against the tree, tilting her head to stare at its icy branches.

The tree had lost its leaves in the sharp chill and long nights. The Tree of Life was what the town called it, and it was probably the oldest tree in the whole valley, sturdy and grown long before Hart's Haven had been built. Dad had once told Hikaru that it was home to fairies that had lived during the Age of the Gods and hid away when the worlds of Ursa Minor were torn from each other. Hikaru had never seen any fairies, but she remembered how much she'd loved that story.

"It got dark fast," Yui said as the wind began to blow, a quiet whistling between the trees. Winter days on Polaris were utterly short. Already the sun had set, turning the northern mountains into sleeping giants, though the stars and auroras of the Ursid Sea remained mostly hidden behind the clouds. Mostly.

Hikaru looked up—up at the sky between the branches, and at the clouds that had begun to part. A hint of red light from the aurora peeked through the gaps. Red? she thought, frowning. The auroras weren't supposed to be red.

"So… You too have come to see the heart of this world?"

Hikaru spun around at the same time her siblings turned to look towards the voice.

A woman stood behind them—fair-skinned with dark hair, and her bare hands folded neatly in front of her body. Most of her face was hidden under a traveler's hood, but the rest of her body was wrapped in a set of elegant black and white robes that barely brushed the ground.

"Uh, heart?" Akihiko said, brows furrowed. He glanced to Hikaru and Yui, the confusion plain on his face. Hikaru just shook her head while Yui rose to her feet and brushed the snow from her pants.

The woman smiled—an expression that seemed utterly serene, and somehow a little familiar, though Hikaru couldn't quite place it. She looked like something Hikaru would have expected to see in the old paintings of noblemen left behind in the ruins of Glacian Castle, out at the furthest reaches of the valley.

"I suppose it matters not." The woman moved forward with silent steps and came to a stop beside Yui. "I had forgotten how beautiful this world was."

"Not from around here?" Akihiko asked, tucking his hands into his pockets. But he didn't slouch.

"Not from the town, no," the woman said, running her bare hand over the tree. "This world has been my home for a long time. Longer than it has for you three, that is for certain." She paused, her fingertips hovering over a hollow in the smooth bark. "I merely came to see this place one last time, while I still had the chance."

It was such an innocuous statement, but Hikaru felt a chill spread over her unexposed skin. "Are you… going somewhere?"

The woman didn't speak at first. The wind blew harder, an eerie howl that shook the branches overhead. A light flashed in the distance towards the north, and a moment later a low rumble rang out over the town. Hikaru thought it was a truck at first making its way down the main street. But it was when she heard it again that she realized it was thunder.

"We are all going somewhere. It is inevitable," the woman said, turning slowly. Under her hood, her eyes were dark and peaceful, and snowflakes clung to her eyelashes. "I'm afraid there's not much time left. You should leave. Find your family. See the stars. Enjoy the night while it still lasts."

"Er… Right," Akihiko said. "We will definitely be doing that. Nice meeting you… Yui. Hikaru. Let's go."

"Huh?" Hikaru said. "What? But Tats…"

"We'll meet him back at the front instead," Akihiko said, pushing Hikaru forward. "Come on."

Hikaru stumbled through the snow, her cheeks puffing up as she debated on giving her brother a good smack in the arm.

"Man, that was weird," Akihiko said once they were out of earshot, oblivious to Hikaru's mood. "Who was that lady? Never seen her around here before."

"Did you notice anything strange?" Yui asked. She walked ahead of the two of them, her pace fast but stiff.

"I mean, that was pretty strange in general," Akihiko replied. "Can you maybe be a little more specific?"

Yui shot him a withering look. "That woman wasn't wearing shoes."

"Really?" Hikaru said. That deflated her irritation. "Are you sure?"

Yui didn't get to respond, though. She shook her head, nodding forward to the tiny figure coming towards them down the path.

"Aki! Hikaru!"

"Tats," Akihiko said as their brother ran over with the steaming hotcakes clutched to his chest.

"Guys, look, they gave me an extra one," Tatsuya said, holding out the packages to Hikaru and Akihiko. One look at Yui, though, and his excitement faltered. "Oh. Hi Yui." He hesitated a moment before offering the extra package. "Do you want one too?"

"I'll pass," Yui said.

"Thanks, man," Akihiko said with a grin that seemed somehow a little strained. "Let's head back to the truck. Mam and Uncle James are probably almost done."

"Aw, what?" Tatsuya's expression fell. "But I want to take pictures of the tree."

"Someone else is there now," Akihiko replied, patting him on the back. "Plus, bad weather is coming by the sound of it, so we should get home soon."

"Fine…" Tatsuya huffed, but he didn't argue.

They continued their walk to the park gates in silence, letting Tatsuya sulk to himself with his nose back to his tablet screen. Akihiko led the way at first, calm and collected, though his usual jovial mood was gone. Yui marched onward, sullen like usual, Hikaru thought at first, until she realized her sister's expression wasn't one of cold annoyance. Yui glanced over her shoulder towards the Tree of Life and the woman who was no longer visible in the distance.

Like she was worried.

Hikaru looked back to Akihiko, a sinking feeling in her stomach. Was it what the woman said?

No. She huddled further under her coat as another rumble of thunder rolled over the valley, closer this time. It's something else. Something even she felt. Something she couldn't place.

Their pace quickened. Nothing stood out at first. They were still the only ones wandering along the path, and there were no signs of life off of the main trail. But the park seemed to have changed—all the shadows seemed longer, all the lights dimmer. Or… was it just her imagination?

It was then she noticed her sister falling further behind. "Yui?" she said. "Is something wrong?"

Yui was watching the sky. The wind blew through her dark hair, forming ice crystals at the corners of her unblinking eyes. Akihiko stopped, and Hikaru did too, just at the edge of the open gates that divided them from the light and life of town.

A strange noise rang out from the trees behind them, making Hikaru's hair stand on end. The buzzing crowd outside the park fell silent as the streetlights began to flicker and the wailing of animals carried over the wind out of the park.

"What the…?"

A low rumbling traveled above their heads, louder than any rolling thunder before. Hikaru looked up, her eyes widening when she saw the clouds. She watched the red sparks jump across the oncoming storm, watched as it charged the air with something more chilling than electricity.

In the gaps of the sky, the red aurora began to bleed, dripping between the clouds like liquid light.

Yui opened her mouth, her words coming out in a cloud of fog as they stared at the heavens.

Hikaru blinked. "Huh?"

A wave of pressure and static washed over Hikaru's skin, pressing down on her shoulders and chest. Then a giant flash of light split the darkness, ripping through the sky with a mighty crash that shook the ground and set off every shrieking car alarm in the valley. Hikaru clapped her hands over her ringing ears, gritting her teeth hard enough to hurt her jaw. She blinked away the flashing colors imprinted in her eyes, squinting through the beginning of tears to make sense of the shadows in her vision.

The park had fallen dark. The whole town had fallen dark. Every light in the streets, in the windows, in the town at the heart of the valley. The clouds had shattered, revealing glimpses of a whirling, raging sky. There were no stars, as if every shining speck of light had been blotted out by a layer of shadows. The only thing left was the color red, red like blood, like a festering scar tearing the sky to pieces.

Someone screamed. That was the cue, as if a spell had been broken. The silence exploded into chaos. People began to run.

"Hikaru! Akihiko! Tatsuya!"

"Mam?" Hikaru said, but her voice was lost to the uproar. Under the red glow of the sky, she spotted her mother and Uncle James shoving their way through the panicked crowd.

The wind changed direction. All around them, the trees shifted and swayed, an ominous creaking that filled the air. Strange wisps seemed to billow out towards the sky from the upturned branches and rippling rooftops. At first, Hikaru thought it was smoke; she realized a moment later it was snow.

"You kids alright?" Uncle James asked. He was almost shouting.

"What was that?" Tatsuya still covered his ears with his hands. "What's happening?"

"We need to leave!" Mam said, her voice grating against her throat. "We have to get out of here!"

"What?" Akihiko said. "Mam? What's going on?"

With the groan of splintering wood, the nearest pine tree ripped free from the ground. Hikaru yelped, ducking as dirt showered down from its twisted roots. The wind was pulling at her, pulling at everything, pulling the shingles free from the roofs and the trees free from the earth. She watched in horror as a woman was picked off of the ground, screaming and flailing, by the invisible force sucking everything into the sky.

"Holy…" Akihiko broke off, stepping back as the cars in the lot skidded across the asphalt, knocking a man off of his feet and slamming into the wall. Across the street, the windows in the buildings cracked and shattered in a rain of glass. With an enormous crash, an entire rooftop ripped off in a flurry of papers and broken pieces of wood.

"RUN!" Mam shouted.

... ... ...
They ran. Akihiko ran. Uncle James ran. Mam and Tatsuya ran. Even Yui ran.

But Hikaru froze. She wouldn't move. Couldn't move. Her feet were like stones, and her knees wouldn't stop shaking. Run. Run! She heard her own voice shouting in her head over the pounding of her heart. Why aren't you running?!

But how could she run? The buildings in front of her crumbled. The earth cracked and trembled. The trees ripped from their roots. The entire world was falling apart, with all of its broken pieces flying up into the sky.

Where could she run to?

"Hikaru!" It was Mam's voice. She had stopped. They all had stopped. Stopped to look at her with panic clear on their faces. Hikaru could only stare back.

Yui moved first. "Hikaru!" She sprinted back down the path, nearly knocking her over as she seized Hikaru by the arm and pulled. "Move it!"

Her legs began to work. She stumbled as Yui dragged her through the snow. Everything seemed to spin: the sky, the trees, even Hikaru herself. She shut her eyes, shook her head, trying to keep her focus forward. But she caught a flash of movement behind her family—something rising out of the shadows, like a mass of pure darkness dotted with hundreds of glowing yellow pustules. "Mam—!"

But she saw her mother's eyes lock onto something else. "Hikaru!" Mam shouted, her voice swallowed up by the sound of crunching wood.

Something smashed into the back of Hikaru's head, ripping the air from her lungs. She and Yui slammed into the ground, and everything went black.

... ... ...​

"Nn…"

Hikaru couldn't move. Only her fingers grasped at the hard-packed snow, frantically clawing while everything else lay horribly still. She gritted her teeth, pushing down, trying to lift her head—and gasping out as agonizing pain shot down her neck. She collapsed, staring out past the lights blinking in her half-lidded eyes. Her pocket watch lay before her face, just within arm's reach. Beyond that, she saw her family and the teeming swarm of darkness.

And eyes. Countless hungry yellow eyes.

Beside her, Yui stirred.

"Hikaru!" Mam's scream sounded so distant. The crashing of the world was a whisper in Hikaru's ears. "Akihiko, James, get them!"

"What… What are those things?" Uncle James stepped back. Those things, those shadows, those glowing, beady eyes were closing in.

"Mom!" Tatsuya held tight onto her arm, trying to pull her away. "Mom, run!"

Akihiko threw himself forward. He shoved past the shadows, kicking and punching and fighting for a way. His eyes were wide, his arm outstretched, his hand reaching towards Hikaru.

Hikaru's arm inched forward. Her numb fingers scraped, stretched, struggled, draining all the remaining energy from her body. Her vision begin to blur. She watched Akihiko fall into the snow, his legs held down by razor-sharp claws that rose out of the pooling shadows on the ground.

"Hikaru! Yui!" Akihiko shouted as the claws dragged him away.

Hikaru's fingers closed around the metal cord of her pocket watch at the same moment Yui's hand closed down on her fist. She saw it out of the corner of her eye—Yui staring at her, her eyes blazing, brighter than they had ever been before.

"Don't let go," she said, her voice so clear amidst all of the muffled chaos as her nails dug into Hikaru's skin.

The last thing Hikaru saw was a flash of light.

... ... ...​

It was a quiet night.

Sora folded his hands behind his head, looking out his window and watching the stars over the ocean as a fleeting thought crossed through his mind. How many stars were there out there? How many worlds existed just beyond the wide horizon? If Riku was right, and there really were other worlds besides these islands they called home, then Sora didn't know the answer.

Maybe I could count them, he thought, lifting a hand and pointing to the shimmering lights. One. Two. Three…

He paused, tracing his finger through a blank space in the sky. The bright star that had been there moments before at the end of the Little Dipper had twinkled out of sight. Well… Counting was going to be harder than he'd thought. He lowered his hand, holding back a yawn and turning away on his side.

If there were other worlds out there, then what did it mean? Riku had been talking a lot about seeking answers and being part of something bigger. Sora didn't really get it. As far as he knew, leaving Destiny Islands and exploring other worlds—it was all just a big adventure. A chance to see rare sights. Broaden their horizons. Become strong.

Maybe they would find Kairi's home. He remembered first seeing her with the mayor years ago—a fleeting glance of a girl who had no parents, who couldn't remember where she had come from. A girl who had arrived on the night of the meteor shower.

Sora yawned again and closed his eyes. Man, maybe that weird dream was getting to him. Giant shadow monsters and stained-glass platforms and "You are the one who will open the door"… He had to admit, it had been a pretty strange day.

... ... ...

Donald,

Sorry to rush off without saying goodbye, but there's trouble brewing. I'm not sure why, but the stars have been blinking out one by one. That means disaster can't be far behind! I hate to leave you all but I have to check into it.

There's someone with a special Key—the key to our survival. I need you and Goofy to find him and stick with him! Without that Key, we're doomed. Go to Traverse Town and find a man named Leon. He'll point you in the right direction.
Mickey

P.S. Would you apologize to Minnie for me? Thanks, pal.

 
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