Kingdom Hearts: The Antipode



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This will be where I post my ongoing AU fanfiction, Antipode. It's been a pet project of mine for a few years now, and it's only now that I'm making it public.

For the curious, it's my own personal take on Riku getting the Keyblade, keeping in mind his KH1 personality. In short, he's not gonna start out being a sappy, optimistic hero but the same arrogant teen we see in KH1. Likewise, don't expect Sora to turn dark. There will also be massive amounts of Disney, including a new world taking the place of Monstro.

You can find the fic here! It's currently got 20 chapters and is halfway through the KH1 arc. The first two chapters start out in canon, but from Riku's perspective and with added scenes. After that, it starts taking off in its own direction due to Sora and Riku's actions throughout the story.

Also note that I like Kairi. :p Don't expect her to be treated poorly in this fic.
 

Horizon's Knight

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I don't mind you giving us a link if we don't like the KHI format, but in the fanfiction section, it's mandatory to post all the chapters of your fanfiction on this thread. The mods don't like it when you link a fanfiction thread to another site.

I'm not trying to bring you down. It's just a friendly warning. :)
 

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Oh, really? I had no idea, so thank you very much for the heads up! This is super duper late, but I'll go ahead and post it here, then. I guess I'll start posting the chapters here, then. Hopefully the mods won't mind multi posting as I get started! Like I said in the first post, chapters 1 and 2 will be close to canon, but it will diverge.

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Chapter 1: One Final Sunset

The open sea spread far beyond the horizon, endless and vast. No landmarks floated from afar, and not a single ship passed by. Sky, land, and sea blended together with nothing to break up the monotony. Yet, despite this plainness, a boy of about fifteen leaned over the edge of the paopu tree and gazed off into the distance. He sighed, running a gloved hand through his long, silver hair. The view was nice all right. Every day he’d come out here and just stare into the distance, even though nothing changed. Hadn’t changed, in fact.

Day by day, the simple life on Destiny Islands never brought danger or thrills… just endless fun and relaxation. The warm, summer weather and fantastic views definitely weren’t bad, and as a vacation spot, it might be a cool place to hang out. Some people might even call it a blessing; Riku just wasn’t one of them.

He didn’t budge from the tree’s curved trunk as he listlessly gazed towards the surrounding waters. Always there, never changing. Not since nine years ago had anything new appeared. Those days of meteor showers and strange visitors were now but a faint memory, yet he still remembered that sappy speech word for word. So long as he had the makings, then through the simple act of taking…

“Hey, Riku!”

That sudden shouting brought him right back to reality. Leave it to Sora to shake things up a bit. Shaking his head, Riku turned to face the boy, whose goofy, red shorts and enormous shoes gave him a dorky appearance. The massive grin on his face only added to it, and his spiky hair sure didn’t help. As he approached, Riku rolled his eyes. Judging by the wooden sword in his hand, Sora probably wanted to go a few rounds. What a slacker.

“Shouldn’t you be gathering supplies?” said Riku, crossing his arms. “C’mon, Sora. I gave my things to Kairi hours ago. Even had time for a few rounds while you were busy goofing off.”

Sora rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Well, uh, I got most of the stuff, but then Tidus challenged me to a sparring match. And then Wakka wanted to play ball, and it took forever.”

“So, basically, you’re a huge slacker. What else is new?”

“Hey!”

Riku smirked, sliding down from the tree. Meanwhile, Sora flailed his arms around like an idiot. He just couldn’t take a joke, and the word ‘sarcasm’? Totally not in his vocabulary. Still, he had his sword out. Might as well humor him for a bit.

Riku reached for his belt and pulled out his own wooden sword. “So, you up for a round? Might as well do something before it gets too late.” He pointed his sword at a piece of driftwood a few feet away. “But after this, you’d better take care of this log. Got it?”

Sora sighed, looking over to the log with a frown. He made a face like somebody who’d just tasted old milk. Then, he looked back to Riku and nodded. “’Course I’m game!” Lifting his sword, Sora crouched into a fighter’s stance. “Just don’t go easy on me, okay?”

Riku laughed, and he pointed his sword straight at Sora’s chest. “Sure, but don’t blame me if you end up soaked.”

And with that, the two boys began. Sora rushed towards Riku with little hesitation, grasping onto his sword tightly with both hands. As he neared, Riku hopped to the side whirling his weapon at Sora with a smirk.

WHAM! In a last ditch attempt at defense, Sora held up his sword, just barely blocking the force of Riku’s blow. Upon impact, Riku drew back his weapon and slid to the side, smacking Sora firmly on the back. The resulting blow forced Sora in a downward plummet towards the ground, but he wasn’t down for the count just yet. Groaning, he pushed himself back to his feet, quickly scooping his sword up off the ground and lunging at Riku without a second thought.

Not bad.Unlike before, Sora’s attack successfully hit Riku right in the gut, forcing him back against the trunk of the paopu tree. Beaming, he darted over to Riku and raised his sword a second time. But right as Sora prepared to strike, Riku thrust his feet forward, nailing Sora with the soles of his shoes. This blow knocked him onto his back and gave Riku the chance to regain his footing and strike again. Raising his sword, Riku leaped up and away from the tree, landing close to the edge of the platform. Leaning forward, he gave Sora a wide smirk and laughed.

“What are you afraid of?” he said, waving his sword about. “C’mon, don’t tell me you’re giving up already.

Sora narrowed his eyes. Scooping up his sword, he charged yet again.

Perfect. He always fell for this trick. Even as Sora drew closer, Riku remained perfectly still… Then, when Sora thrust his blade towards him, Riku rolled to the side and completely dodged the blow. Sora still didn’t give up. He crouched down and then took off like a rocket.

Once again, he completely fell for it. Riku leaned back against the paopu tree and watched for a few brief moments. Then, he shrugged and hurried forward. They drew closer, and closer, until Riku stopped, smirked, and held out his leg. Sora continued to run, and then…

“Whoa!” Sora quickly lost his footing, fumbling and flailing. He stumbled a few feet forward, leaning over the platform’s edge. Then, seconds later, Riku swung his sword around one last time, striking Sora right in the back.

One last hit was all it took; the force of the blow forced Sora right over the edge of the platform! Seconds later he landed with an enormous SPLASH! Bits of water flew upward, striking Riku in the face, and it wasn’t long until Sora resurfaced, spitting even more water up at his friend. The look on his face was priceless. Leaning forward, Riku placed his hands firmly against his hips and grinned.

“You still don’t got it.”

Sora groaned, and his lip quivered. He looked like a little kid more than anything, huffing as he slowly paddled over to the ladder. Soaked from head to toe, he approached the paopu tree and let out a sigh. He looked over at Riku, then back to the ground, and he stomped his foot.

“Aw man. Now it’s zero to one!”

Typical. Heaving a sigh, Riku headed over to Sora, who continued to pout. Then, he lifted his hand and placed it on his shoulder, giving him a light shove.

“Don’t blame me,” he said. “You’re the one who wanted to go all out.”

Immediately, Sora jerked out from under Riku’s grip and scurried over to the log, scooping it right up. Instead of just walking off towards the bridge, he stepped over to Riku and shook himself off, unleashing a small flurry of droplets in his face. Rolling his eyes, Riku reached up and flicked Sora in the forehead. This time, he didn’t retaliate; he just stomped over to the bridge without a word.

What a sore loser. Riku shrugged and followed along, watching his friend with a deadpan expression.

“Relax, will you? In case you forgot, we’re going to be leaving soon.” He stopped briefly, gazing back toward the platform before continuing. “For all we know, those other worlds could have something even worse than me.”

Frowning, Sora placed a hand against the back of his neck. “Worse than you? Is that even possible? I mean, you could take on the others three to one and win.” His shoulders sagged. “There’s no way I could ever do that. So if we do find some kinda monsters or somebody really tough, I bet you’ll be the one to take ‘em out.”

Monsters, huh? Maybe that wasn’t such a stretch. Images of shadowy figures flashed before his eyes. Stained glass platforms and a voice that spoke of doors and finding his inner strength. What did it mean?

The boys reached the end of the bridge. Riku leaned back against one of the palm trees, and Sora quickly did the same.

“You know, it’s funny that you mentioned monsters…”

Sora raised a brow. “Really? Why’s that?”

“Well, last night I had a pretty crazy dream. So crazy, it almost felt real.” He paused. “And there was a monster in it.”

Sora’s eyes widened. “A monster? What’d it look like? I mean, it had to be big for you to think it was scary, but did it have huge claws? Sharp teeth?” To demonstrate this, he held his hands next to his mouth, making little ‘teeth’ with his fingers.

Riku shrugged. It was an enormous shadow with massive arms that unleashed balls of energy and pulled him into the darkness… Like he’d say that out loud.

“Sure, it was big,” he said. “And, yeah, it had claws, but I think the best way to describe it is, well…” Pausing, Riku turned towards Sora and pointed a finger directly at him. “The best way to describe that monster would be… your face.”

Sora’s jaw dropped, and his arms fell to his sides. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“Oh, nothing.” He laughed, flicking his hand dismissively. “Come on, Sora, can’t you take a joke? Besides, it was just a dream.”

But it was just so vivid… Maybe it was just a coincidence. He took a few more steps before jumping down.

“Anyway, enough stalling. Kairi’s waiting for both of us, and you’re the one with the log.”

With a nod, Sora followed Riku, hopping down from the platform and heading east. A girl with short, red hair sat at the foot of a wooden door just a few yards away. When she caught sight of the two boys, she quickly stood up and waved. Then, she headed their way.

“I was wondering where you two ran off to,” said Kairi, giggling. She paused for a moment, eying the now drenched Sora. “Were you two fighting again?

“Uh, well… yeah.” Sora’s face turned beet red, and he crossed his arms. “And I would’ve won if Riku hadn’t tripped me.” He looked over at Riku and pouted. Then he passed the log on to Kairi. “Anyway, I got the log. Think we’re good to go?”

Kairi took it, and she tilted her head. “Well, you did take a while.” Briefly, she said nothing, and then she laughed. "I think we’ll be okay.”

With the log in hand, she slipped behind the door, leaving the boys alone for a few short moments. Just long enough to drop off the supplies and keep everything in check. There's no way she'd let them goof off for too long. Yes, Kairi definitely knew how to keep both Riku and Sora on their toes. What would they do without her?

She slipped through the doorway and let it fall shut. Then, she looked out towards the shoreline. “You know, it’s getting pretty late. You want to call it a day?”

“Sure thing,” said Riku, who gazed towards the sky. The sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, changing the sky into a warm blend or oranges and violets. “But before we go, let’s head over to the paopu tree. I mean, once we set sail, there’s no turning back. This could be our last sunset here.”

And for all its monotony, Destiny Islands did provide an excellent view of the setting sun. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the beginnings of a new journey. So, together, Riku, Kairi, and Sora passed through the seaside shack and returned to the small island and the paopu tree. While Sora and Kairi climbed on top of its trunk, Riku leaned back and folded his arms. A warm breeze blew through the air, causing the tree to rustle a bit, and a few seagulls cried out in the distance. Together, the trio listened to the sounds all around them and gazed into the endless ocean.

And then Riku spoke up, breaking the silence. “Some things never change.” He shook his head, watching the rolling waves. “It’s always just the three of us, trapped on this island. But just wait… soon, we’ll be out there. Nothing will hold us back.”

“So, Kairi’s home is out there somewhere, right?” Sora leaned forward, peering over Riku’s shoulder.

“Could be. We’ll never know by staying here.”

Nobody really knew where she came from, just that she arrived one night as meteors rocketed down from the sky. With no memories of her previous home, Kairi’s past remained a mystery. A mystery that had captivated Riku ever since he was a kid. Though some people believed that the outside world was just a legend, Kairi was living proof that there was more to the world than a small cluster of islands in an infinite sea.

“But how far could a raft take us?”

Riku tilted his head and lifted one of his arms. “Who knows? If we have to, we’ll think of something else.”

A raft wasn’t the sturdiest vessel, even he knew that. If all else failed, he’d look for another way. Anything to get away.

This time, Kairi responded. “So, suppose you get to another world.” She giggled. “What would you do there?”

“Hmm…”

What would he do? Riku hesitated. Countless worlds lay beyond the horizon, just waiting to be explored. At the same time, those worlds remained a complete mystery. He didn’t know what to expect.

“Well, I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just…”

He shut his eyes and let out a faint sigh.

“I’ve always wondered why we’re here, on this island. If there are any other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one?” He smirked. “And suppose there are other worlds… Then ours is just a little piece of something much greater. So, we could have easily ended up somewhere else, right?”

They could have wound up somewhere with room to roam. Somewhere with adventure and danger around every turn. A world like that would be perfect.

Sora flopped down onto his back, pulling Riku right back to reality with a quick, “I dunno.”

Exactly.” Rolling his eyes, Riku stepped away from the tree. He lowered both of his arms to his sides and glared intensely at the sky. “That’s why we need to go out there and find out… Just sitting here won’t change a thing. It’s the same old stuff, so let’s go.”

“You’ve been thinking a lot lately, haven’t you?”

Kairi hit the nail on the head. She always did. It was like she could see straight through both him and Sora. It wasn’t like Selphie, whose head was off in the clouds; Kairi knew how to hang with the boys, and she managed to fit into the island lifestyle with ease. And because she came from another world, she inspired Riku to dream big.

He couldn’t deny it. Maybe it’d be a little sappy to admit, but he owed her this much.

“Thanks to you. If you hadn’t come here, I probably would’ve never thought of any of this…” He looked at her with a smile. “Kairi, thanks.”

Eventually, they left the sunset sky behind them. Riku and the others headed back towards the bridge, with Kairi at the lead. Sora followed closely behind, taking it at a snail’s pace, and Riku trailed along at the very end. In his hand, he carried a star-shaped fruit, which he idly tossed up and down. Oh, he had something special in mind. A little something to keep Sora on his toes.

“Sora!” He hurled the fruit at his friend the moment he turned around.

Sora caught the fruit, but just barely. If he hadn’t been quicker, the paopu would’ve landed right in his face. Smirking, Riku pointed a finger straight at him.

“You wanted one, didn’t you?”

“A paopu fruit…?”

Riku walked straight past Sora, watching him out of the corner of his eye. “If two people share one, their destinies become intertwined; they’ll remain a part of each other’s lives no matter what.” He held up his hand, waving it dismissively. “C’mon, I know you want to try it.”

“What’re you talking—”

Instead of explaining, Riku just laughed. He quickened his pace and didn’t look back; there really was no need. Sora took the bait hook, line, and sinker. And the look on his face for that split second as he walked by? Priceless.

They’d accomplished a lot that day. The raft was all ready to go, and soon they’d be off on a new adventure. Just one more day, and they’d finally taste the freedom they’d always yearned for. For now, they’d just have to wait. Their parents were probably worried sick, and the sky was getting darker by the minute. It was time to leave; tomorrow they’d finish the preparations and leave the islands behind.

Yet as the trio made their way home, Riku’s mind drifted elsewhere, to the vivid dream that still replayed in his subconscious. The shadows, the stained glass, and the ominous voice…
There had to be more to it.

x.x.x

The darkness of the Secret Place surrounded Riku. With only a flashlight to light the way, he moved slowly and carefully, placing one hand against the cave’s wall. He passed countless chalk drawings from years past, images of daring deeds and grand adventures. But he wasn’t here to reminisce; dwelling on the past wouldn’t solve anything. Instead, he kept going straight until he stumbled upon a larger, open chamber.

Don’t be afraid…

Once he reached the middle of the chamber, he stopped, shining the light along the surface of an unusual door. This door lacked a doorknob or handle of any sort. No slip for mail or a lock to keep it shut. Just a hinge and nothing more. Nobody even knew why it was here or what purpose it served. Most dismissed it, if they even bothered to enter the cave. Riku, on the other hand, continued to visit the door as the years went by.

You are the one who will open the door…

For years it remained untouched and unopened. What lay beyond its boundaries remained to be seen… if it hid anything at all. Lowering his light, Riku approached the door, reaching out to touch it. Silently, he tapped his fingers across the surface. Just what was it here for, anyway? It had to be hiding something. If he could just find a way to open it, maybe he’d discover something incredible.

“It’s quite fascinating, isn’t it?”

Someone was watching him.

Riku’s back arched and he pressed his hand firmly against the door’s frame. Slowly, he looked around the cave, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. It took a moment, but soon he found a strange man leaning against one of the cave walls.

A tattered, brown cloak covered his entire body, giving him an almost ghost-like appearance. A hood obscured his face, and he kept his hands tucked beneath baggy sleeves. This man stood motionless and silent.

Slowly, Riku stepped away from the door, narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?” he said. “Didn’t think I’d have company.”

The stranger laughed. “Like you, I’ve come to see the door.”

Something was off about this. Visitors practically never came to the islands, much less this cave. It was always his, Sora’s, and Kairi’s secret hideout. Even Tidus and Wakka kept their distance, and they’d considered exploring several times in the past. So why was this man here? And who was he? Riku took two steps closer and raised a brow.

“What, you think it’s hiding something?”

The man slowly nodded, chuckling under his breath. “It’s not a matter of assumption.”

Riku’s eyes widened for a split second. Just what was he getting at? Did this guy actually know about the door? If he did have the answers, then Riku couldn’t let them slip between his fingers.

“Tell me. What do you know? If there’s something back there, I have to find out.”

“You shall find out soon enough. Already, this world has ties to something far greater than you could ever understand.” The man slowly moved away from the wall. “And if freedom is what you seek, then fear not… You’ll find what you’re searching for.”

Freedom… it was something he’d longed for ever since he was a kid. His inner-most desire and the driving force behind the raft and everything he’d accomplished so far.

The fact that some stranger knew this didn’t add up. He’d never visited the islands before, nor did they ever speak until now. Riku’s muscles tightened, and his free hand curled into a fist. He glared at the man, who stood motionless and silent.

“How do you even—”

In the blink of an eye, the man disappeared. It was as if he never showed up to begin with. Riku took a step back, and a chill ran down his spine. Now only he remained in the cave, alone in the dark and still without answers. He came to the Secret Place to uncover the door’s secret. Instead, he learned nothing. All he got was a heaping load of confusion and even more questions than before.

Ties to something greater… What did that man mean? And how would it lead him to freedom? If something really did lie beyond the door, he’d have to open it soon. Otherwise, he’d miss his chance.

TO BE CONTINUED
 
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Okay, here comes chapter 2. Also close-ish to canon, but after this it'll start moving in its own direction. If there are spacing goofs here, I blame the rich text editor here. I'm having to go in manually and fix the spacing between paragraphs. 8|

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Chapter 2: Misunderstandings

Morning came, and Riku returned to the island without hesitation. Though the raft was complete, they still had some work to do. Provisions to gather, plans to make. With their luck, it'd take the whole day to get the job done, and they'd have to wait until morning to take off.

He leaned against the wooden door that lead to the other side. Past the nearby bridge, the bushes, and the pulley sat the raft in all its glory. Held tightly together by numerous ropes and topped off with an enormous sail, this raft was built to carry a heavy load across the sea. After all, it'd have to carry three teenagers and all their supplies. Several bottles and plastic bags already sat at the base of the mast. Given Sora's sluggish pace, Riku couldn't afford to loaf around; he'd made sure to gather everything at dawn. Only now could he relax.

The door creaked, and Riku slid to the side. Carrying an armful of goods, Kairi emerged with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. She placed her two water bottles and bags of fish off to the side before turning her attention to Riku.

"You're up early."

"Hey, somebody has to pick up the slack." Riku smirked and leaned back against the wall. "Besides, I had nothing better to do."

"What would we ever do without you?" Grinning, she gave Riku a light shove.

"I'd be more concerned if you weren't around." He placed a hand on her shoulder and shrugged. "We'd probably get nothing done if you didn't keep us in line… at least, Sora wouldn't."

"Maybe I deserve a gold medal." She laughed. "Not everyone can keep up with you two."

"Oh yeah?" Riku leaned forward. "I better step up my game. Don't wanna make things too easy on you."

Scooping up her supplies, Kairi rolled her eyes and turned towards the bridge. "I think I can handle it."

She headed over the bridge and towards the raft without another word, and Riku turned his gaze towards the horizon.

Was Sora sleeping in again? It was bad enough that he passed out on the beach the day before. If he didn't get here soon, then Riku'd either have to gather his supplies for him or drag him over himself. Neither option was particularly ideal, but Sora never made things easy.

"Hey, Riku!"

Right on schedule. The door creaked, as Sora burst on through with a goofy grin plastered on his face. He came empty handed, as expected, and Riku began to clap. Slowly. The surprise applause prompted Sora to scratch his head. Man, was he clueless.

Rolling his eyes, Riku said, "Been wondering when you'd show up. What took you?"

Sora rubbed at the back of his neck, digging the toe of his shoe in the ground. "Well, my alarm clock kinda broke last night, and on the way here, Tidus wanted a rematch. I couldn't back down!"

Riku shook his head with a chuckle. "Why am I not surprised?" He turned towards the bridge and pointed in the raft's general direction. "While you've been moping around, Kairi's been waiting for you. You do remember what we're supposed to be doing, right?"

"Uh…" Both of Sora's arms dropped to his side, and his mouth hung open. "We're getting provisions, right?"

"Exactly." Lowering his hand, Riku readjusted himself at the edge of the platform. "Also, I've been thinking... our raft needs a name. I kind of like Highwind… What would you call it?"

Sora brought a hand to his chin. "What about Excalibur?"

Grinning, Riku replied, "How about—"

"The usual?"

"You're on."

Right on time, Kairi stepped up to the edge of the bridge and pressed her hands against her hips. As she looked from one boy to the other, sighed and shook her head. "Are you two at it again?"

"Basically." Riku shrugged. She sure caught on fast. "Think you can be the ref?"

"All right, but don't think I endorse any of this." Kairi turned, pointing towards the end of the bridge and began, "Let's keep things simple, okay? The first one to reach—" – she pointed at a star-shaped tree in the distance— "that tree over there and back is the winner. You can take any route to get there."

Turning towards Riku, Sora pointed to himself and said, "If I win….uh," both of his arms dropped for a moment, "I'm captain! And, if you win…"

A faint grin lined Riku's face; he already had the 'perfect' response, something that would really throw Sora through a loop.

"I get to share the paopu with Kairi."

"Huh?"

Riku's smirk widened. "Deal? Winner gets to share a paopu with Kairi."

Frantically, Sora glanced from side to side. "Wha…wait a minute!"

But there wasn't time to talk. Kairi held her arm up high and smiled as she said, "Okay, on my count…"

They had no other choice, really. Within seconds, the race would begin. Sora leaned forward, while Riku crouched into a runner's stance. 3… Riku's eyes scanned the area, quickly planning out an effective route. 2… He glanced at Sora, who stood perfectly still. 1… Almost there…

"Go!"

Riku rushed forward, darting across the bridge and leaving Sora in the dust. The planks rattled and creaked, and he leaped right over one of the loose boards. When he reached the end of the bridge, he heard a loud SPLASH! Sora must've fallen down below. Too bad Riku didn't care to slow down. Continuing on, he climbed up the ladder of a wooden tower latched onto the pulley at the top. He had to be leagues ahead by now; Sora'd have to step up his game if he even hoped to reach the goal in time.

He slid down the rope, watching Sora turn the corner and scramble towards a small hill below. He was catching up fast. When the pulley came to a stop, Riku hopped onto the top of a palm tree, and then another. He hurried across the treetops until he finally finally reached his destination. Tapping the tree, he hurried back, following the exact same route. Sora reached the goal just moments later and followed him along the path of palms.

It didn't last very long. On the way, Sora tripped over his own two feet and plummeted down from the treetop. Unfortunately, Riku refused to back down. He hopped up and grabbed the pulley, returning to the tower within seconds. Then he hopped down to the bridge and dashed all the way back towards the doorway. On his way, he caught a quick glimpse of Sora scurrying through the water below, but it was practically a lost cause. In no time, Riku returned to the entrance and leaned back against the door once again.

"Guess we're going with Highwind," he said as Sora came to a full stop.

Sora looked downward, kicking his foot into the ground. "Man, now the score's zero to two…" He turned his head to Riku and then added, "And the paopu…"

Riku rolled his eyes. "About that—it was a joke. You should've seen the look on your—"

Joke or not, Sora turned away, shoulders sagging. He stomped across the bridge and only stopped when he reached the gaping hole he'd created. "I'll go ahead and get those supplies now. See you around?"

"Not like I'm going anywhere soon." Riku sighed. "So relax. And maybe get a sense of humor while you're at it."

He knew Sora had a crush on her. Why else would he give him such a hard time? It was way too obvious to ignore and way too easy to get a rise outta him. Then again, Sora wasn't the only one. Get to know a girl long enough, and it was hard not to develop a soft spot. As Sora walked away, Riku's eyes drifted shut. Just a few more hours, and they'd be all set. Their journey would begin at dawn; no time to worry about feelings.

What could possibly go wrong?

x.x.x

Several Hours Later

The drifted below the horizon once more. After wasting several hours goofing off with his friends, Riku had made his way up to the tree-house near the Secret Place. At this height, he could see everything from the small island with the paopu tree to Sora and Kairi lounging by the docks. By the looks of it, they were having the time of their lives, just sitting and chatting. With their supplies gathered and the raft all set, it wouldn't be long until they set sail for real. A part of him wondered if they were as eager as he was.

Only one way to find out. After climbing down from his perch, Riku wandered towards the shore. He moved slowly and silently, trying not to draw attention to himself. As soon as he could hear the meat of their conversation, he sat down and crossed his legs. Time to see what they were up to…

"You know… Riku's changed."

Immediately, Riku' eyes narrowed, and he jerked forward. Where did that come from? He almost wanted to step in, but no. Jumping to conclusions would get him nowhere fast. Instead, he waited in silence. There had to be more to it. There was no need to panic, not yet, and he didn't even know what Kairi had meant.

"What do you mean?"

Kairi looked downward, idly kicking her feet. "Well…"

"You okay?"

For the next few moments, nobody spoke. Riku crossed both of his arms, continuing to watch for a sign of anything. Kairi had to have a reason to say that.

"Sora," she said, rocking in place, "let's take the raft and go— just the two of us."

Riku jerked forward and sprung to his feet. Just the two of them? When the raft was his idea? And after saying he'd changed… oh, he knew where this was going. He didn't even need to hear the rest; those few words painted an ugly picture in his mind. What if she didn't want anything to do with him? What if Sora felt the same way? Clenching his fists, he stormed towards the Secret Place.

When he reached the cave's entrance, his pace slowed. Passing drawing after drawing, Riku pressed on, paying little attention to his surroundings. At the end of the chamber, he came to a halt. Just like the night before, the door remained unopened, but something had changed. Now a Keyhole appeared at its center.

Squinting, Riku crept towards the door, continuing to neglect the drawings around him until—

He stopped, dead in his tracks. Was that… did they…?

One drawing stood out from the rest, both literally and figuratively. Down by the base of the door appeared a doodle of Sora and Kairi's faces from several years back. During his many visits to the Secret Place, Riku had seen the image and thought nothing of it. Those two added it when Kairi first arrived, and that was ages ago. However, something had changed since last night. In addition to their smiling faces, the Sora doodle now featured a crudely drawn arm with a paopu fruit. At the sight of it, Riku's heart sank and his blood boiled.

First Kairi suggested to leave without him. Then the old drawing had this lovely new addition? There had to be a connection. While he was busy planning for the raft, Sora and Kairi probably had their own ideas all along.

His fists tightened, and he took a few steps back from the image, slamming one of his hands against the door. "Fine! If you want to leave, that's great. I'll find my own way off of this—"

An eerily familiar chuckle echoed throughout the cave. Riku stopped in his tracks and his whole body tensed. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of brown cloth. When he turned around, his suspicions were confirmed. That man from before… he came back.

Riku said nothing; he simply glared as the man started to speak.

"Did you truly believe they would wish for you to come? It's been clear for quite some time that they no longer have room for you in their hearts."

Leaning forward, Riku raised one of his fists. It didn't matter who this man was; he wasn't in the mood for small talk. "What do you know? Unless you've been watching us, I seriously doubt you know anything about them or me."

The man shook his head very slowly.

"Perhaps I have not met them personally, but look at the drawing, the way they spoke so lowly of you. Is it not clear that you were only a means to an end? They needed the raft... for their own escape. By now, you have very few options…" – he lifted one of his arms and motioned to the door— "You could always open the door and find your own freedom, or…" He laughed. "You can risk being abandoned on this island shore… Either that, or take the raft yourself and drift aimlessly at sea, without knowing whether or not you will truly reach the outside world."

… The man had a point. If he waited until morning, he could lose the raft and his chance to escape. He'd have to start all over. Taking the raft by himself was far too risky. If he ran out of supplies in the middle of the ocean or stumbled across something dangerous, he'd have no one left to turn to. If the door could lead him to freedom here and now, maybe he wouldn't need a raft. And if he did manage to open it, what harm could it do?

With a sigh, Riku turned back to the stranger. "Fine… how do I open this?"

"It's really quite simple." The stranger took a few steps back before he motioned to the door and then to Riku. "A Keyhole requires a Key. You need only look deep into your heart and the answers will become clear."

A Key… Could it be? He shut his eyes, placing a hand to his chest.

In your hand, take this Key. And so long as you have the making, then through this simple act of taking, its wielder you shall one day be…

After all these years, he'd held onto the memory. Only now did it add up. The man in his memories wielded a Key-shaped weapon, and he came from the outside world. Maybe Riku didn't need a raft. Perhaps the real path to freedom was under his nose this whole time. A Key to unlock the way…

He slowly turned his attention towards the door. "So, how exactly do I 'look into my heart'?'

"Concentrate," said the man. "Focus on the Keyhole, nothing more… nothing less."

So all he had to do was focus… It sounded almost too easy, but he still had to try. Taking a deep breath, Riku closed his eyes. In his mind, he visualized the Keyhole…

A pale glow surrounded his hand, spreading further and further. It hardened into something dense and metallic. Even with his eyes closed, he could tell it was a hilt. The glow expanded even further, taking on the shape of a large Key. From behind, Riku heard the man's instructions.

"Now," he said, "raise your weapon toward the Keyhole."

Slowly, Riku lifted the Key and pointed it towards the door. He felt it tremble in his grip before bright beam of light shot forth from the tip, striking the Keyhole's center. A low, creaking sound followed, and the door began to open. The minute Riku opened his eyes, he let out a sharp gasp. Dark tendrils crept out from between the cracks. Thunder roared and lightning flashed up above. A breeze swept through the cave and shoved Riku back. The Key soon vanished.

Several pairs of glowing eyes appeared within the shadows. These shadows twisted, contorted, and took on a life of their own. Razor sharp claws, antennae, and pitch black bodies… They looked just like the creatures in his dream, and they crept closer and closer with each passing second. Thunder and lightning sounded off once more, and the fierce winds grew stronger. Riku winced, and he soon found himself flat against the wall.

This wasn't what he had in mind! Not even close. Monsters creeping from the shadows, darkness all around… Was this really the only path to freedom? The door was open. Now he could go to the outside world. It was everything he'd dreamed of over the years crossed with the stuff of nightmares. A horrible mixture of excitement and dread overwhelmed him at once. Was he supposed to embrace this new opportunity or fear it? Pass through the door or flee?

Caught in the throes of uncertainty, Riku listened as the man spoke once more…

"Well done, Keybearer.You have opened the door, and now this world shall return to darkness!"

TO BE CONTINUED
 
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.:Mega:.

Member
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In your nightmares!
Okay, third chapter is here. Mods, if I'm overdoing it on the posting, I can hold off a bit. I just have... 23 chapters to post total. Yeah, it's a lot.

Anyway, this chapter is where it starts to change, although its changes are subtle. No more abusing canon lines, at any rate!

-----

Chapter 3: Disaster Strikes

His wooden sword did nothing. The monsters evaded each blow, and they grew more numerous by the second. Staying in the cave meant risking death, and the man was nowhere in sight. He couldn't stay here; the door would have to wait. Dodging two of the monsters as they leapt up from behind, Riku sprinted towards the cave entrance, and his jaw dropped.

Storm clouds hovered in the blackened sky. Palm trees shook as the powerful winds pushed them from side to side. More of the monsters emerged all around him, dozens at a time. With each passing second it became clearer and clearer; something had indeed gone wrong.

"Riku!"

Amidst all the monsters, Sora appeared with his wooden sword in hand and his eyes wide. More of the black creatures trailed behind. In spite of his anger, and despite his feelings of betrayal, Riku couldn't help but worry. His friends… they were still here, and with those monsters appearing at every turn, they were all in grave danger. He stood silent and still, and Sora soon came to a stop, swinging his sword at the creatures with no avail.

"Riku, what's going on?" Sora jumped to the side, as a monster lunged at his legs. "Me and Kairi were about to head home, but then all these monsters showed up!"

Riku rolled away from two leaping monsters. He didn't even bother with his sword. "Oh, so you actually care, huh?" Three more monsters leaped into the air; Riku stepped aside. "I thought you were leaving without me."

"She was just kidding, Riku!" SLASH. The creatures evaded him, and Sora once again jumped to the side.

"Kidding…" Riku continued to dodge the creatures. "I should've known."

Sora frowned, hopping over one of the monsters. "We can talk about it later! Right now, we've gotta find Kairi!"

Sora was right. If Kairi was still there, she could already be in trouble. Now wasn't the time to bicker and fight.

Riku turned towards the Seaside Shack and the door to the island's other side. The raft was out there somewhere. Kairi could've easily gone to check on it.

He glanced to Sora with his eyes narrowed and jaw tight. "Let's split up. I'll take the other side, while you look here. Got it?"

Sora nodded and hurried towards the shore. "Be careful, Riku!"

"I'll be fine!"

More and more of the black beasts attacked as Riku rushed towards his destination. In front of the seaside shack, creeping up from the shoreline… Everywhere he turned, he found more shadowy bodies and beady, yellow eyes. Even as he reached the path to the other side, they appeared in droves, ready to strike. He barely made it through, as the creatures scraped at the doorway with their dagger-like claws.

The other side looked even worse. Pieces of wood filled the water below, replacing the rickety bridge. The pulley tower in the distance shook with the wind, as bits and it, too, started to break before his eyes. The entire area was damp and dead fish floated about in the sea. At the edges of the platform, and below it as well, the black creatures approached, some attempting to climb upwards, others jumping. He had nowhere else to turn; in order to avoid the monsters, he dove into the water and swam as fast as his legs could carry him.

"Kairi!" he shouted, as he shot through the water, dodging bits and pieces of driftwood and rotting fish. "If you're out here, say something!"

But there was no response, only the sound of the raging winds. The pulley tower collapsed completely once Riku reached the shore, and several trees cracked, split, and toppled over. Narrowly dodging a falling tree, he rushed for the raft.

It was too late.

The sacks of provisions had been torn apart, as pieces of dead fish and mushrooms scattered the place. Shattered glass and dampened sand replaced the six bottles they'd gathered. Bits and pieces of an egg shell covered the logs along with smeared yoke. Coconuts rolled into the sea, driven by the force of the wind. Worst of all, the mast had been split, and the sail torn into a piece of tattered cloth.

All around the fallen trees, the monsters appeared and trudged towards the raft. Kairi was nowhere to be seen; all he'd done was waste valuable time. Making a run for the hill, Riku passed the star-shaped tree and threw himself through a hole in the stone wall behind it. He had to find Sora.

He landed near the docks, now reduced to broken planks. Circling around the base of the massive tree, Riku glanced from side to side, keeping his eyes peeled for Sora. Eventually, he made his way back to the Secret Place. Sora was there, dodging countless monsters and falling debris.

"We're too late," said Riku as he came to a stop. "The raft's history, and I couldn't find Kairi."

Sora slid away from two of the creatures, stopping to catch his breath. He hurried to Riku's side and frowned. "This isn't, good, Riku… What'll we do?"

She had to be somewhere; there was no way she'd disappear. Riku took several steps towards the shoreline, and his flew wide open. Kairi emerged from above the Seaside Shack, and she wasn't alone. Three of the monsters pursued her, and with no means of fighting, she could only run. Grabbing Sora by the arm, he pointed towards the bridge. Kairi had no weapon, and fighting wasn't her forte. They'd have to do something!

He took off, dragging his friend along with him. "C'mon, Sora!"

They hurried towards the Seaside Shack without looking back. So far the coast was clear; the shack remained untouched, as did the bridge. With only monsters standing in their way, Riku and Sora hurried inside and up the stairs. For a few short moments, they were safe.

But by the minute they emerged, they saw countless monsters climbing onto the roof of the shack. Others grabbed onto the edge of the bridge. As they scurried across, Sora and Riku knocked the creatures aside. In the distance they eyed Kairi latching tightly to the paopu tree while the monsters swiped their claws at her. It didn't matter if they couldn't fight back; once they reached the small island, Riku and Sora tackled the creatures into the ground.

"Sora, Riku!" Kairi leaned over the edge of the tree, watching her two friends as they struggled to keep the monsters in place.

They squirmed and flailed around, eventually sinking into the ground. With no other option, Riku and Sora rolled to their feet and approached their friend.

"Look out!"

A sudden blow from behind sent both boys flying into the tree's trunk. Their upper bodies dangled over the platform's edge; one more hit, and they'd go flying into the sea. The bridge behind them fell apart, breaking bit by bit. Now they were all stuck. To make matters worse, the monsters reappeared with three others by their sides, and they slowly enclosed the paopu tree.

They had no weapons, no armor to protect them. They were all a bunch of sitting ducks. Their peaceful, island home changed before their very eyes into a treacherous wasteland. There was no escaping from this twisted nightmare; they'd have to face reality. For the first time in his life, Riku felt a sudden weakness overwhelm him. What could he do now?

"Riku! Hey, snap out of it!"

Sora grabbed his shoulder and shook him like crazy. It was just the wake-up call he needed. What good would worrying do at a time like this? Even with the impending disaster, he couldn't let fear stop him. His friends were in danger and the door was still wide open, waiting for them to step through. Just standing there, waiting for the monsters to strike, would accomplish nothing. If they were going to make it out of there in one piece, they had to act fast.

Turning to his friends, Riku reached for their hands. "We have to jump! It's the only way."

Both Sora and Kairi nodded. They had no other choice. Though the winds raged on and the wild waves crashed against the shore, perhaps they'd stand a chance in the sea. They had to try. Together, the trio dove into the ocean, leaving the monsters stranded and unable to pursue. The force of the waves knocked them around, pushing them beneath the water's surface, thrusting them forward, and giving them little chance to stop and think. Despite all this, Riku and the others pressed on, getting closer and closer to shore.

An immense wave sent them flying into the dampened sand. Drenched from head to toe, Riku and his friends slowly stood and soaked in their surroundings.

Wreckage everywhere. A heap of boards replaced the Seaside Shack, nearly all the trees appeared mangled and bent. The remains of the dock had been completely washed away, and up above, an immense orb pulsated and sparked, surrounded by a purple haze.

The monsters reappeared, and the winds intensified. Riku looked towards the approaching mob and squeezed his eyes shut. There had to be a way to stop them. Some way to protect the things that mattered… his friends. If anything happened to them, it'd be his burden to carry. He opened the door; he listened to that man's words. Somehow, some way, he had to set things right.

Keyblade…

A blinding light flashed, and Riku suddenly felt a metallic hilt in his grasp. When he opened his eyes, he stared at the Key in his hand. Then, without warning, he hurled himself towards the monstrous horde, hacking and slashing away.

It worked. The Keyblade sliced through the monsters, which twitched and quivered as their bodies faded into black smog. At last, he'd found the strength he needed. Even as the monsters clawed and pounced, Riku fought his way through the masses, clearing a path for his friends. When the creatures charged with their claws at the ready, he rolled to the side and knocked them back. When they sank into the ground, he kept his eyes on his surroundings. Once they resurfaced, he swung his weapon around in a circular movement, annihilating their shadowy forms in an instant.

Sora and Kairi cheered, and warmth replaced the fear and dread that briefly wrenched his heart. Now they had no reason to fret. Even if it meant the end of Destiny Islands, they'd get find a way out, and they'd begin their real journey together at last. The door awaited them; surely it'd bring them into the arms of freedom. The time had come to step forth and leave this nightmare behind.

SLASH! Three more monsters met their untimely end, fading into nothingness. At last, they returned to the Secret Place. No more monsters appeared, even as the storm ravaged their surroundings. The coast was clear. No need to fear. Riku laughed, and he approached the cave, lowering the Key to his side.

"Let's go," he said, glancing back at his friends. "We don't have much time."

Sora frowned, inching close behind. "Go where, though? This whole place is covered in monsters!"

"So?" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. The door's open, Sora. Now we can go to the outside world!"

"Riku, I don't understand." Kairi stood perfectly still, bringing a hand to her lips. "What's happening?"

"Just follow me," he said. "You'll see what I mean…"

"I don't know. Something doesn't feel right…" She shook her head. "What if something happens?"

"It'll be okay, Kairi!" Grinning, Sora placed a hand on her shoulder. "We can trust Riku. He always knows what to do."

Placing a hand on his hip, Riku pointed the Keyblade inside the cave. "C'mon. What choice do we have? Just look at this place. It's falling apart!"

The door was their only hope now. Why couldn't she see that? Even if it'd brought darkness to their home, there had to be a silver lining.

Wincing, Kairi managed a nod. Her eyebrows knit together, and he lips bent into a frown as approached the cave. What could she possibly be thinking right now? Riku narrowed his eyes and stepped inside, leading his friends along the darkened path. There was nothing to worry about. He knew what he was doing… at least, he had a vague idea. Just a little further and they'd finally be free…

Or so he thought.

When he and his friends stumbled into the open chamber, Riku couldn't believe his eyes. The door was shut once more and no Keyhole appeared at its surface. No dark tendrils crept out between the crevices; it was as if he'd never opened it to begin with.

No, no, no. This wasn't right! There had to be a reason for it. Maybe he just had to use the Keyblade again… That's all. There was no way they'd be stuck on this island any longer. Not on his life.

"It still doesn't feel right…"

Kairi slowly stepped past Riku, clasping her hands behind her back. She stepped right up to the door and brushed her fingers across its surface. Less than a second later, her hands fell to her sides.

Blinking, Riku took a step towards her. "Kairi, what are you talking about?"

She shivered, slowly turning to face her friends. Her expression grew blank, like a lifeless doll, and she took two wobbly steps forward.

Reaching out her hand, she said, "So..ra… Riku—"

The door flew open, and shadows burst forward. A rush of wind flung Kairi towards her friends without another word. Riku jerked forward, ready to catch her, but Sora hurried ahead of him and held out his arms. She fell right into him; then, in the blink of an eye, she vanished completely.

Both boys flew through the air, tossed out of the cave by the sheer force of the wind. They flew higher and higher, until they crashed into a heap of sand. Gritting his teeth, Riku pushed himself up and glanced around.

Dust and debris blew through the air. Darkness surrounded them. They stood suspended in the sky on a small chunk of sandy earth in a vast, purple void. The massive orb he'd seen below loomed up above; countless planks and stones whirled around it. Scattered planks and a toppled tree were the only remainders of their island home and the only obstacle between the boys and the beast that towered before them.

Sora gasped. "What is that thing?"

It stood at least ten feet tall, maybe even twenty. Its massive, muscular body towered over the wreckage, held up by two spindly, little legs. A gaping-heart shaped hole lay smack dab in the center of its chest, and two tiny wings lined its back. Several twisted tendrils covered its face. With its glowing eyes locked on Riku, the beast raised one of its massive arms high into the sky, slamming its fist into the ground.

With the Keyblade clutched tightly in hand, Riku hurried towards the monster. He knew this thing. It was the same creature that appeared in his dream, only now he'd have to face it for real.

It still didn't add up; the storm, the shadows, and Kairi's disappearance… it all happened so fast. Now he and Sora stood alone, face to face with a beast far more powerful than anything they'd faced back home. Play time was over, and all bets were off. It was time to put the Keyblade to the test.

"Stand back, Sora. I'll handle this!"

For a few seconds, the monster stood perfectly still. Then, in an instant, it lifted one of its massive arms and struck the ground. Upon impact, a pool of darkness surrounded it, and Riku flung himself forward.

He hacked and slashed at the monster's wrist. It left itself completely open and didn't bother to fight back. From the surrounding darkness the Shadows emerged, lashing out at Riku's leg. He whirled around, knocking them aside and then he continued to nail the monster's hand. Piece of cake. Was it even trying? All he'd have to do is keep hitting his target, and—

WHAM! He hit the ground; one of the Shadows must've caught him off guard. Groaning, Riku lunged forward, feet-first, and performed a broad swipe with his Keyblade. Erupting into a blackened haze, the Shadows vanished completely. With that out of the way, he turned around to face the monster once more.

Its arms hung at its sides, and the monster leaned back. The hole in its chest began to glow, sending small, purple shadows trailing towards Riku. His nearly flew out of his head, and he took off like wildfire. The circular shadows followed closely behind; he couldn't stop to smell the roses. Instead, he circled around the monster, keeping his eyes on its fists.

Even though its hands dangled in the air, remained in attack range. He'd just have to strike without being nailed by the homing shadows. When Riku neared the creature's left arm stopped, leaped into the air, and performed a vertical slash. Upon landing, he rolled forward, narrowly missing one of the homing shots. He continued to circle around, performing the same attack once he reached the monster's right arm. It was a bit tedious, but it got the job done.

As Riku circled around again, the monster turned towards the mangled tree near the platform's edge. It took two steps forward and raised its arm in the air. Riku stopped dead in its tracks; he caught a limpse of Sora poking his head out from behind the tree. That monster was about to hit him, and he didn't have any way to defend himself!

As the monster's fist came down, Riku took the plunge. He leaped in front of the tree's trunk, and the attack hit him at full force.

"Riku!"

Pressed firmly against the ground, Riku squirmed beneath the weight of the monster's palm. Shadows raked their claws against his cheeks, and swatting them away did nothing. Breathing heavily, Riku reached for the Keyblade. He wrapped his fingers tightly around the hilt, shoving the tip beneath the monster's fingertips. Using all his upper body strength, he lifted the hand high enough to squirm free. Then, he rolled off to the side.

That was a close one, but it wasn't over yet!

Riku took two seconds to catch his breath before rushing for the hand again. The smaller creatures hurled themselves at his sides, but it was no use. A few quick jabs with the Keyblade put them in their place. His main focus remained on the hands of the beast, and he hacked, slashed, and hammered away in a series of rapid combos.

It didn't last long. Riku got in two more hits before the monster bent back, letting its arms fall to its side. Darkness oozed from its entire being. The winds grew stronger, forcing its massive body into the air. As it floated towards the enormous orb up above, its body folded inward, and it started to fade.

Riku stumbled, barely keeping his footing. At this rate, he'd get blown away!

Fighting back the powerful breeze, he hurried over to Sora, who leaned against the tree. The gusts pushed Riku forward, and he latched onto the trunk tightly with his free hand.

"What's going on?" Sora wrapped both his arms around the trunk,digging the toes of his shoes in the ground. The wind grew stronger yet, forcing his legs into the air.

"How would I know?" Dropping the Keyblade, Riku tried to pull himself back to solid ground. He grit his teeth and held on tight. Even while the wind pushed him further back, he reached out for Sora's hand.. "Now's not the time to ask questions. Just hang on!"

It was no use. The whirling gusts grew stronger and faster, and their sheer force sent Riku and Sora flying away from the tree. While they tried to grab onto a piece of driftwood, it was futile; no amount of strength would keep them anchored to the ground.

Though they tried to hold onto one another for as long as they could, the snap of the wind tore the two boys apart, hurling them in opposite directions. They flew through the sky, further and further away from the islands. Riku watched as his ruined home became a small speck in the distance. Then, like a dying star, the islands simply… vanished.


TO BE CONTINUED
 
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.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
Messages
857
Location
In your nightmares!
[FONT=&quot]Okay, here comes Traverse Town! Few quick notes: I had the Third District's door unlocked from the start for the sake of convenience. Plus, it's a fic, not a game. I also derped around with NPCs.

Pardon me if Leon's voice isn't 100% perfect. I don't know FF as well as I know Disney.
[FONT=&quot]--

Chapter 4: The Journey Begins
[/FONT]
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Darkness flooded Riku’s consciousness. The last thing he remembered was being thrust into the air after thrashing the monster from his dream. But was that even real, or just another dream? Taking a deep breath, he leaned back against a wall and groaned. He didn’t even bother to open his eyes. Where he was didn’t quite register; soreness overwhelmed his whole body, and he could barely think at all. Slowly, he pressed both of his hands against the ground—solid ground. At least there was that…
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]But suddenly, something changed. Moisture trickled down his cheeks; something wet, slobbery, and warm rubbed up against his face. Raising an arm, he swatted at whatever it was that pinned him down and licked him—at least, that’s what it felt like. The response?
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Bark, bark!
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]In response to the noise, Riku’s eyes snapped open, and he swatted at the culprit. An orange dog looked up at him with a huge, dopey smile. Maybe some people would find it cute, but to Riku it was an annoyance at best. He swatted at it again and slowly got up. It just couldn’t take a hint. The way it looked at him with its pitiful eyes and lowered its head to the ground did nothing to help its case. Riku just rolled his eyes and sneered.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Beat it,” he said, placing one hand against his hip.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The dog whimpered, prodding Riku’s leg with its paw. Once again, Riku pushed it aside with the palm of his hand, and he shook his head. For a second or two, the dog just sat there; then, with a bark, it turned around and scampered away. With that out of the way, Riku took a look around the alleyway.

He was in another world.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]As he glanced around, Riku found no palm trees, nor soft sand. In their place stood barrels and crates stacked upon one another. Rather than the warm breeze of the island, the air that surrounded him was cold and stagnant. And though the starry sky above glistened with familiarity, everything else was foreign… new. Yet, as he looked around, his lips slowly curled into a grin. This was it… he was finally free! Everything around him was new from the brick walls of buildings to the cobblestone path before him.

He had no time to lose; it was time to explore his new surroundings.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Turning the corner, Riku stopped dead in his tracks. Brightly lit signs and towering lampposts illuminated the town’s center. Countless buildings sat close to one another. An Item shop stood at the very bottom of the nearby staircase, and when Riku looked to the side, he found a much taller building. He looked up and read the sign… Jewelry and Accessories? Not exactly his thing, but with every passing moment it became clearer and clearer that this place had a lot to offer.

As he descended the steps, Riku caught sight of various people wandering about. Some were young, others old, and… was that a cat? Or maybe some kind of bat. Whatever it was, it was different. Everything was, really. This place was like a dream come true, and he could probably spend hours just looking around and seeing the sights.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]With so many people here, he could easily ask around. Not for directions; that wasn’t an issue, but maybe they’d know what happened to him. How he got here, where his friends went… it still didn’t add up. With a quiet ‘hm’, Riku examined the signs. The shopkeepers probably knew their way around this town. Asking them about Sora and Kairi could point him in the right direction… or slow him down. Shaking his head, he turned away from the shops. How far could they be? He’d probably bump into them somewhere out here.

He made his way over to some strange looking mailboxes. They were tall, narrow, and it almost looked like weird tongues hung out of them, like something in a cartoon. Definitely attention grabbing, even if they were kind of tacky. Then again, most of the town had a strange… quirkiness to it.

Turning around, Riku came face to face with a kid just a few years younger than him. Clad in sandals, green shorts, and a bright orange vest, this kid frowned and tilted his head.

“Hey mister,” he said. “Are you new around here?” The kid tucked his hands behind his back and shifted in place.

Riku shrugged and flicked his wrist. “Could be.” He continued along, towards the weird cat… bat creature.

It floated up and down with a pair of tiny wings, making the bright red pompom on its head bob up and down. Its eyes were beady, and the creature squinted as Riku approached. It tilted its head and let out a soft, “kupo”.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku raised an eyebrow. “And what are you supposed to be?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The creature held up its stubby arms and bobbed up and down. “I’m a Moogle, kupo. Shadows destroyed my home… I’ve got nowhere else to go, kupo.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Shadows… Riku turned his gaze downward. Did this guy know about those creatures? The islands fell apart the moment they appeared. Could there be some kind of connection? A part of him wanted to ask, but… shaking his head, Riku pressed on, heading towards a set of double doors. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]A man stood in front of it; he was a bit short and kind of stout, but he smiled as soon as he caught sight of Riku.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“What’s with the door?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“This?” The man placed his hand against one of the doors. “Oh, you must be new. In that case, don’t worry about this door; it’s the world exit, but only those with a vessel may leave.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Vessel, huh? And just what kind of vessel are you talking about?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The man chuckled, tucking his hand in his pocket. “Most people use Gummi Ships to get about, but few of us really need one. You see, Traverse Town exists as a sort of hub. People whose worlds have fallen often wind up here.” He held out his hand, gesturing towards the surrounding buildings. “It’s grown over time, and in such a big, sprawling place it’s easy to get lost. Do be careful, for the shadows lurk even here.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Again with the shadows. Rolling his eyes, Riku turned away from the man. All this talk of darkness and shadows did sound kind of serious, but why let it spoil the mood? He wanted to enjoy his new-found freedom, not worry about what-ifs.

He passed a nearby restaurant with candle lit tables and Moogle waiters. Right next door, he found the Item Shop. It probably had some handy supplies, but he was short on cash and had potions to spare. No point in dropping by just yet. Instead, he turned around and approached another large door in the distance.

A large man sat right in front of it, fast asleep. Was this some kind of a joke? How were people supposed to get around if this guy acted like a human roadblock? Groaning, Riku tried to get around him, but it was no use. The man murmured in his sleep and swiped his arm in the air. An empty bottle rested at his feet. He must’ve gotten drunk and passed out by the doorway. Shaking his head, Riku turned back towards the steps. He’d try again later.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He was running out of places to go down here, but there had to be some other areas in town. As he ascended the steps, he glanced around. Turning the corner, past the accessory shop, he stumbled across another doorway. Nobody stood in the way this time; he could probably pass on through without any trouble. Grinning, he placed his hands on the door and shoved it wide open. Finally, he’d get some new turf to explore.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Compared to the First District, this place was huge. Many different shops surrounded him. A suit and dress boutique stood out due to its eccentric sign with a man tipping a green hat. Next door stood a shoe shop, and to his left, Riku caught sight of a hotel with a bright, neon sign. If he needed a place to crash, he’d definitely drop by. For now, he continued along, spotting a clock tower in the distance. It stood several stories tall, with several stained glass windows and a white coat of paint. Maybe he’d check it out in a bit; it looked like a pretty sweet place to explore.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He passed the dress boutique and glanced to the side; there he found another small staircase. Down below, he discovered several wooden benches lining the walls of the walkway. Just below the entrance, a small fountain flowed, decorated with elaborate images of trees and flowers. By the looks of it, there wasn’t as much to do down there, but it seemed like a pretty decent place to hang out.

Well, he had a pretty good idea of where to go now. Leaving the staircase behind, Riku passed the shops and made his way to the hotel. He made it a few feet away from the entrance when the doors flung open, and a strange woman stepped out.

She had a sleazy grin on her face and wore pitch black clothing. At the sight of Riku, she stopped dead in her tracks, brushing her bangs out of her face. Riku rolled his eyes and tried to pass by, but the woman clasped her hand on his shoulder and leaned in real close.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“First time in town, kiddo?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku groaned, pushing the woman aside. “So what if it is?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]The woman laughed. She reached out for Riku’s cheek, trailing her fingernails against his skin. “Care for a nice lady to show you around?”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku pushed the hand away and gave her a nasty glare. “Thanks, but no thanks. I think I can figure this out on my—”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Everything came to sudden a halt as a strange sound of clattering echoed from behind. The woman fell flat on the pavement, and a swirling vortex appeared right above her. From within it, a strange, armored creature appeared. It landed right on her chest and raised a clawed hand into the air. Then, without warning, it tore through her chest, ripping out what appeared to be a heart.

The creature wrapped its claws around its prize and leaped back into the air; dark tendrils weaved their way around it, and soon it vanished completely.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku was speechless. His mouth hung open, and his whole body shook. The woman was gone now; only a small piece of fabric remained. He tried to enter the hotel to speak to a manager, but the shadows surrounding him twisted and contorted, as several pairs of yellow eyes and clawed hands emerged from below. The black creatures that attacked the islands… they were here too?!

The creatures lunged at Riku, forcing him to roll out of their way. When he came to a stop, he held out his hand; a white glow enveloped it, and in the blink of an eye, the Keyblade returned. Now he’d show them a thing or two.

He dove down at the creatures, thrashing and slashing. His swift blows sent the creatures sky high. When they hit the ground, he leaped into the air, driving his weapon down and straight through them—save for the ones that sank below him. They managed to knock Riku around a bit, but he still plowed through them in no time flat. A few jabs, and they faded out of existence.

With the crowd of black creatures out of the way, Riku took a deep breath and peeked inside the hotel. Simple wallpaper and a few small vases provided basic décor. A few chairs lined the walls, but as he passed through the hall, Riku quickly discovered that the whole place was empty. In fact, nobody even sat at the front desk. A small note on the counter read: ‘No vacancy. We’re sorry for the inconvenience.’
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]What a joke. This place was a ghost town. Still, with no one to turn to, he stepped outside. Maybe he could check out the clock tower for a bit. It’d burn up some time. Heaving a sigh, Riku approached the building.

More of those black creatures appeared. Just his luck. He let out a groan and took off at full speed. Not even bothering to block their blows, he slashed straight through the mob of monsters. A few latched onto his back, but a quick spin sent them flying into the entrance. Shaking his head, Riku slammed the Keyblade right in their faces. When they finally vanished, he ascended the steps and slipped inside.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Unlike the hotel, the contents of this building instantly caught Riku’s eye. Everything was brightly colored, from pinks, to yellows to blues. Several cogs and gears spun along the walls. Countless lights flickered and flashed. Every now and then, a bright, pink spring lifted up and down. As Riku passed through this building, no monsters attacked. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much to do there. He spent a few minutes looking around, and then he frowned. So much for that.

When he left the clock tower, the coast was clear. Clear and… pretty dull. With nobody to share his experiences with, exploring this new world felt almost empty. Maybe it was the time of night, or perhaps his lingering anxiety. All those people mentioned shadows devouring worlds. Even in this world, the shadows attacked.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He made his way back towards the First District without a word. Unfortunately, he hadn’t anticipated what waited on the other side.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Several more of the creatures piled on top of him the moment he set foot through the door. The sudden impact sent him flying into a nearby building, as claws ripped through his shirt. In order to free himself, Riku slammed his fist against their faces. It knocked them down, and he bashed them around. More appeared in their place.

Holding the Keyblade high, Riku rushed through the crowd, passing the Accessory Shop and descending down the steps. Several of the creatures lashed out at him as he passed by. To avoid their dagger-like claws, he swerved around them and struck back if they came too close. At the very bottom, he watched as more of the creatures crept out from beneath the lampposts, mail boxes, and the restaurant’s tables. All the people he’d encountered earlier were gone. It was like they’d never been there.

A sudden light flashed before his eyes. Each of the creatures vanished a moment later. Riku tensed up as he heard the sound of footsteps from behind.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“They’ll come at you out of nowhere,” said a voice, “and they’ll keep on coming at you, as long as you continue to wield the Keyblade.”

Riku spun around. A young man approached him with a scowl on his scarred face. He wore several belts on his right arm, a lion-shaped medallion around his neck, and pitch black clothing, save for his white T-shirt. In his hand, he carried an unusual sword with a gun’s trigger. With a fair bit of muscle and a cold exterior, this man looked almost imposing. Tidus and Sora had nothing on this guy, but his attitude left something to be desired.

Well, might as well humor him.

“You don’t say.” Riku rolled his eyes and propped the Keyblade against his shoulder. “And just why do you care?”

The man raised an arm, pointing directly at Riku. “A kid like you doesn’t deserve that kind of power. You don’t know what you’re getting into.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Oh yeah? Don’t be too sure. I can handle anything this place throws at me.”

“Anything?” The man shook his head. “Don’t get cocky. Those shadows are nothing compared to what’s out there.” He pointed towards the world entrance. “This isn’t a game.”

“Doesn’t matter.” Riku leaned forward. “This Keyblade’s mine. If you’re jealous, that’s your problem.”

Placing a hand against his forehead, the man groaned. “I don’t have time for this.” Slowly, and without warning, the man raised his weapon, swiping it through the air. He clutched onto it with both hands and looked Riku straight in the eye. “Guess we’ll do this the hard way.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Grinning, Riku waved the Keyblade back and forth. If this guy wanted a fight, he’d give him one. “Go ahead. I could always use a real challenge!”

The man slowly approached him. Was he going easy on him or something? Narrowing his eyes, Riku ran for the man, ready to strike. Unfortunately, this was a grave mistake. The man slid to the side and nailed Riku with his weapon not once, but twice. The swings sent him straight into the ground, and Riku had very little time to react before the man struck him in the back.

He just barely evaded another blow by rolling to the side. Then, he slowly got up and leaped out of the way. That man stood perfectly still. He didn’t bother to approach this time. Instead, he raised his palm, and a pale light formed around his hand. Seconds later, he unleashed a flurry of flames that flew straight at Riku!
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Gasping, he rushed to the side, just narrowly dodging the flames. Once more, the man approached him. Readying his weapon, Riku rushed towards his attacker and leaped into the air; he drove the Keyblade down, aiming for the man’s chest.

WHAM! The man slid back a few feet, but he quickly retaliated with a flaming blast. Riku didn’t have time to dodge. With a THUD, he hit the ground, clothes ablaze, as the man swung his blade. In the midst of the attack, Riku flung himself forward, nailing the man with the soles of his shoes. That same old trick always got Sora. The fact that a guy much older than him took the hit just proved he was full of it. Beating him would be cinch.

Rolling to the side, Riku doused the flames, while the man jumped into the air and landed right next to him. SWISH! He swung his blade to the side, but Riku stepped evaded it, swinging the Keyblade right into his back.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Come on! I thought you said I couldn’t handle it.” Riku waved his Keyblade back and forth, smirking. “Or is this ‘power’ just too much for y—”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]CLANG! [FONT=&quot]The man whirled around, nailing Riku in the gut. The force of the blow sent him flying into one of the lampposts with a resounding THUD. Wincing, Riku pushed away from the pole and placed a hand against his chest. The man slowly crept towards him again. Why did he move so slowly? Riku took this opportunity to scurry toward him. As Riku neared his target, the man held his weapon out in defense. Then, he retaliated with a swift swing to the gut.
[/FONT][/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]More flames singed Riku’s chest. Despite his slow movements and bad attitude, this guy… he was strong. Too strong, and he was running out of steam. Groaning, Riku slowly stood up with his knees bent and his back hunched. A river of sweat trickled down his cheek, and he rubbed his free hand against his forehead. He’d have to think of something, or that guy would beat him.

He was slowly closing in. Stumbling backwards, Riku looked around for somewhere, anywhere to run. While fleeing wasn’t his style, he couldn’t afford to lose this Key. If he could just get away from this guy, maybe he’d be all right.

Frantically, he glanced around until he eyed the Third District doorway. Nobody stood in the way. Now was the perfect time to make a run for it!

He hurried as fast as his aching legs could carry him, throwing himself against the door. It made an obnoxious creak as he passed through, and he shot one final glance at the man as he vanished behind the door. Then he entered the Third District without a second thought.
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Despite his exhaustion, he did manage to catch a quick glimpse of his surroundings. Compared to the others, the Third District appeared much smaller, completely devoid of any shops. Several lanterns lit the way as well as more lampposts and several smaller lights up above a large balcony. A strange, star-shaped door stood off to the side, and straight ahead he spotted a golden fountain decorated with the image of two dogs sharing dinner together.

He took a few steps away from the entrance, when he heard the sudden sound of metal crashing against the pavement. Countless pieces of purple armor shot down from the sky, clattering as they hit the ground. They lie motionless for a few seconds and then, out of the blue, the pieces shot into the air and rapidly assembled. Clawed gauntlets whirled around a metallic torso. Massive boots stomped towards Riku, while a helmet bobbed up and down.

Wincing, he grabbed onto his chest with his free hand and shakily lifted up the Keyblade. The armor launched its gauntlets straight at him; he deflected them with his weapon, but the recoil sent him back against the door. Twitching, the armored creature readied another shot. Riku’d have to act quickly if he was gonna avoid getting crushed.

He barely managed to push himself back on his feet when the gauntlets went flying. Though he tried to roll out of the way, he ended up collapsing on his chest. He felt the intense pressure of metal slamming into his spine. Then, his surroundings began to blur. He tried to lift himself up with his arms, but it was futile. His eyes slowly closed, as darkness clouded his vision.

The last thing he saw was the man from the First District diving right in front of him.

TO BE CONTINUED
[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
Messages
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Location
In your nightmares!
[FONT=&quot]Chapter 5: The Heartless[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku, Kairi! Where are you guys?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As Sora wandered, he continued to call out for his friends. Far from the islands, he had awakened in a strange, new land full of floating stones and flowing water. The stones reached high into the sky, and the water surrounded him from above and below. Some stones moved, others remained stationary, and the whole area was a deep blue. With little room to roam, Sora leaped from one stone to the next, aiming for the top.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku and Kairi were nowhere to be seen. This place was completely empty… at least, that’s what it looked like. However, once Sora got high enough, he spotted a floating platform with a shadowy figure looming near the edge. Eying the figure, Sora quickened his pace, leaping higher and higher. He continued to climb until he finally reached his destination. Then, he gasped.

An enormous archway towered above him. A small waterway rested in the center, and four stone columns stood in the back. It looked like something out of a fairy tale, and that’s not all! What really caught his attention was the strange woman who stood before him. She wore a long and delicate cloak, and her skin was pale green. Her long and narrow fingers wrapped around a wooden staff, and it looked like she had horns on top of her head!

She looked directly at him with her bright, yellow eyes. With a faint smile on her greenish face, she held out a hand and motioned for him to come closer. Sora hesitated for a moment, and then he took a step forward. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He tilted his head and rubbed the back of his neck. This lady sure looked strange and… kind of creepy, but on the other hand, maybe she could help! And right now, any company was better than nothing.

After a moment’s pause, he finally spoke up.

“Who’re you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Gawrsh, d’you think he’s okay?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He better be![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Aw, relax, guys. That may have been close call, but at least we found him before it was too late.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]You mean—[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]At first Riku remained still, just listening to the sound of constant chatter all around him. His muscles throbbed, his back ached, and his breathing was extremely heavy. Despite all that, he was still alive. That’s what really mattered.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A cushy softness replaced the rough feeling of cement against his back. Warmth replaced the chilly night air. Moaning softly, Riku’s fingers twitched. It took some serious effort to lift his heavy eyelids, but he soon found himself face-to-face with a young, teenage girl who leaned over him with a frown.

If it weren’t for her black hair and silver headband, she’d look almost like Kairi. This girl wore a yellow scarf around her neck, a green tank top with buckled straps, and a pair of brown shorts. The sleeves of her fingerless gloves and some kind of netting covered most of her forearms, and she wore a pair of long, white stockings.

Whoever she was, maybe she was the one who saved him. Right now it was hard to tell, but once Riku set up, she said, “You okay?” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Groaning, Riku forced a nod. “I’m… I’m just fine.” He took a deep breath. “But just who are you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Me?” She smiled, placing her hands on her hips. “I’m the Great Ninja Yuffie!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Right.” Riku shook his head, running a hand through his bangs. If she was really a ninja, she sure didn’t act like one… or dress like one either.

But for as quirky and strange as Yuffie seemed, she wasn’t the only one who caught Riku’s eye. Standing right next to her were two goofy looking animals. One looked like a giant duck, who wore dark blue clothing with way too many zippers. He looked at Riku with a furrowed brow and a frown on his bright, yellow beak. The duck tapped a webbed foot and looked up at the other oddball in the group… a skinny dog that stood on two legs. Heck, his body looked almost human.

This dopey looking dog had two buck teeth, huge eyes, and a stupid looking grin along his long, peach snout. He wore a green sweater, baggy pants, and two white gloves. He and the duck both slid closer to the bed as Yuffie stepped aside. Then, the dog chuckled and waved.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hiya!” he said. “My name’s Goofy! And this fella here— ”—he pointed at the duck— “is Donald!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku groaned, inching towards the edge of the bed. “That’s nice, but here’s a real question. Just where am I and how did I get here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I can answer that.”

The man from before leaned up against the door with his arms crossed and his eyes locked on Riku. The Keyblade sat right next to him, propped against the door frame. Seeing this, Riku sneered.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’m listening,” he said, looking towards his weapon.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that, the man stepped away from the door and scooped up the Keyblade. As he held it up, a flash of light surrounded it, and reappeared in Riku’s hand.

“You’re lucky I wasn’t too far behind, kid. After you were attacked by that Heartless, Yuffie and I had to hold it off. We barely managed to get you out of there alive.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Heartless, huh?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Is that what it was called? And whatever it was, could it have been the same as the shadows and the large beast that attacked the islands? Only one way to find out. “Is that thing anything like the shadows I keep hearing about?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy nodded. “A-yup! The Heartless are nasty fellers who feed on the darkness in peoples’ hearts!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And that’s not all,” said the man. “The Heartless don’t just feed on peoples’ hearts… they feed on worlds. That’s why you came here—this town exists for those who have lost their homes. And even here it’s not safe.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yeah, I’ve kind of noticed.” Rolling his eyes, Riku pushed himself off the bed, lowering the Keyblade to his side. “But that still doesn’t explain much… like why I have this weapon in the first place, or why you attacked me.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, that?” Yuffie laughed. “It was the only way to protect you, but I think Leon went a little bit overboard.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Leon shook his head. “It’s not like there was much of a choice. Besides, he’s the one who refused to cooperate.” He placed a hand to his forehead, heaving a sigh. “Look, kid, the Keyblade chooses its master. As for why, your guess is as good as mine; the point is, it chose you. The Heartless fear the Keyblade. As long as you carry it, you’ll be at their mercy...”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ahem!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald stepped forward with his arms crossed. He gave Leon a quick sneer and then turned his attention to Riku. “There’s something else! We’ve been given orders by our king to search for the ‘Key’. And since you’re here…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What Donald’s tryin’ to say…” Goofy placed a hand on Donald’s shoulder, “is that we need yer help! See, the King told us to stick with ya, so maybe you can help us look for ‘im!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’ll have to wait,” said Leon, drawing his weapon. “We may have held back that Heartless, but it’s still out there. The longer we sit here, the greater the risk.” He raised a hand, motioning towards Riku. “Come on, we’ve wasted enough time as it is.” Turning to Yuffie, Donald, and Goofy, he then added, “You too.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A lot still didn’t add up. Why the heck did those nimrods need his Keyblade, and just who was this king? He still had a ton of questions to ask, but if the Heartless were coming, stalling wouldn’t help.

He lifted his Keyblade and stepped away from the bed. “Fine by me. Think I owe the Heartless for that stunt it pulled, anyway.”

With that, Leon turned towards the door, resting his weapon against his shoulder. Both Donald and Goofy drew their own weapons, some kind of staff and a shield. Yuffie pulled out an enormous shuriken, fitting for a ninja. Once everyone had their weapons at the ready, they headed outside and onto the veranda.

There was no time to take in the surroundings, for the Heartless soon arrived.

Two armored Heartless dropped onto the veranda and started twitching and stomping in place. Leon made the first move, knocking them down into the waterway below. He and Yuffie hopped down and continued to fight, even as more Heartless emerged from portals suspended up above.

As Leon tore through the countless Heartless, he shot a quick glance at Riku and the others. “We’ll take care of the small fry; you go look for their leader!”

Nodding, Riku threw himself over the edge of the veranda, landing just a few feet from the Heartless. Donald and Goofy followed closely behind, though they nearly fell over as they hit the ground. Some of the Heartless trailed behind them as they passed through the alleyway. Armored Soldiers kicked and twirled, while Shadows pounced and lashed out with their claws.

Riku didn’t bother; he weaved his way around barrels and crates, striking only when the Heartless came too close. Occasionally he’d catch glimpses of flames and ice crystals shooting through the air and hear the scraping of metal against metal from behind. Did those two nimrods actually know how to fight? He didn’t bother to stop and check. Instead, he kept his eyes peeled for this so-called leader, eventually reaching a door at the alley’s end.

“Slow down, will ya?”

Looking over his shoulder, Riku spotted Donald and Goofy approaching from behind. He rolled his eyes and placed his hand against the door. “Not my fault if you can’t keep up.”

“Why, I oughta…!”

He stepped outside the alley, returning to the Second District, and he took a quick look around. The whole place was deserted and practically lifeless. No Shadows or Soldiers snuck up from behind as he, Donald, and Goofy circled the area. Something didn’t feel right; where were all the Heartless? It seemed almost too convenient, and apparently those idiots felt the same way.

Goofy frowned, scratching his head as he looked around. “Gawrsh, do ya think it’s some kinda trap?”

Riku shrugged, and he made his way towards the stairs. “Who knows? If it is, I think I can handle it.”

But before he reached the steps, the ground began to shake, knocking the trio right off their feet! Pillars of stone shot up from the ground, blocking the steps and the entrance into the alleyway.

Once the shaking ceased and Riku regained his footing, he stopped and stared. A metallic torso plummeted to the ground, followed by gauntlets, boots, and finally a helmet. The pieces bounced up off the pavement and they quickly snapped together, reassembling the enormous Heartless that attacked him before. Riku took a step back and raised his weapon, watching as Donald and Goofy slowly stood up and positioned themselves at his sides. The leader had finally arrived, and it was time to settle the score.

Each piece of armor spun about in the air, and the Heartless slowly trudged towards Riku and the others. He didn’t hesitate to attack, rushing straight for the armor with his Keyblade held tightly in hand. As a gauntlet shot down, he leaped into the air and nailed it with his weapon. This knocked the gauntlet back a few feet, but the Heartless was hardly down for the count; launching its metallic fists, it sent Riku flying into one of the benches. All the while, Donald and Goofy watched the ongoing struggle.

“Is this feller supposed to be their leader?” said Goofy, ducking behind his shield. “Sure looks like a tough one, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald rolled his eyes, waving his staff about. “It doesn’t matter! Let’s go get ‘im!”

About time they stepped in. Riku quickly rolled to the side as one of the boots flew at him from the side. He slipped behind the Heartless and nailed the torso from below, while a fireball clashed with a gauntlet, and one of the boots got knocked around by Goofy’s shield. Not bad, for a duo of clumsy morons, but he wasn’t about to let them steal the show.

Though he tried to get a clear shot at the torso, the Heartless quickly whirled its gauntlets and stomped its feet. This spinning attack sent Riku, Donald, and Goofy on a collision course with each other. They bumped into one another and landed face-down on the pavement. They didn’t even have time to flee before it leaped into the air and hurled all of its parts right on top of them. They all cried out in pain, and the Heartless stepped back. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why you…!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald rushed to his feet and went on a wild rampage towards the Heartless. He squawked and flailed as he neared his attacker, and the tip of his staff gleamed with an orange glow. Leaping into the air, he launched a barrage of fire right at one of its boots. He then slammed his staff against the boot in a rapid string of combos. Goofy followed suit, flinging his shield at the other leg. It struck with a series of clanging sounds and ricocheted right back to him. Goofy repeated this attack again and again before he hurried on over and finishing the job with a spinning technique. With their combined effort, they completely trashed the two boots.

Once again, they weren’t half bad, but Riku soon rushed ahead of them and took a dive for the gauntlets. He dragged the Keyblade right across the middle and rolled to the side once it hit the ground. The Heartless whirled its gauntlets once more, but he slid out of its path and avoided the hit. Then, he hurried beneath it and drove the Keyblade’s tip right into its palm. One gauntlet vanished, but the remaining hand struck Riku from behind and sent him flying into the wall.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He cringed, as his back ached with an agonizing pain. Slowly, he stepped away, but a sudden green glow enveloped his body and caught him completely off guard. A few feet away, Donald waved his staff and smirked. Was that his doing? The spell alleviated his pain; it worked even better than a potion! For as silly as he looked, Donald’s magic grew more impressive by the second. Smirking faintly, Riku hurried back to the Heartless. Only a few pieces remained.

Nearing the Heartless, he spotted the remaining gauntlet as it flew towards Goofy’s back. Before it could strike, Riku leaped up from behind and slashed straight through it. The two halves fell to the ground and vanished completely.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gee, thanks!” Goofy flung his shield at the torso and grinned. “I owe ya one, a-hyuck!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You can thank me later,” Riku said, as he began his assault on the torso. “We’re not done yet!

He got in a few good hits before the body started to whirl around like a tornado. In order to avoid this spinning strike, Riku took off, dashing and darting out of its path. If it came too close, he’d block it with his Keyblade. For the most part, it got the job done. The Heartless did knock him around a little bit, but a sudden surge of electricity nailed it from above, and Goofy’s shield slammed into its back. Their surprise attacks gave Riku the opportunity to strike from below.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And that was all it took. A final strike from the Keyblade caused the body to quiver and shake. The head rolled down and crashed into the pavement, melting into a hideous, black ooze. A purple glow surrounded the torso, and a strange sound resonated within. A bright light shot forth from where the head once stood, and an enormous heart emerged from within. Riku gasped as the massive heart floated up into the sky and vanished without a trace. Soon, the torso hit the ground and vanished completely.

Finally, the Heartless ‘leader’ was no more.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x
[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]
“So, that’s when this huge, black thing attacked! I dunno what it was, but after Riku beat it, we got separated.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora now stood within a dimly lit chapel. Stone columns circled the entire room, and various swirls and symbols decorated the walls. The farthest wall bore a heart-shaped insignia with little thorns in its center. The woman Sora’d encountered earlier stood on the platform right below it. She remained silent for a moment, and then she nodded.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I see,” she said, stepping closer to Sora. “It’s quite unfortunate that you and your friends were separated in such an untimely manner. You have my sympathy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora nodded, glancing towards one of the walls. “Yeah… And just when we were gonna set sail, too! I sure hope they’re okay, wherever they are…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The woman smiled, gently placing a hand upon Sora’s shoulder. She leaned towards him ever so slightly, and said, “Worry not, child. While your world may have perished, it is likely that your friends have not. In fact, I may be able to aid you in your search.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora’s eyes lit up, and he immediately smiled. “You really mean it, Maleficent? That’d be great!” He paused for a moment. “But how come you’d do something like that? We just met, and…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent shook her head, giving his shoulder a light pat. “Now, now. It would be my pleasure to assist you.” She turned towards the insignia again, taking a few steps forward. “However, in return, I do have a small favor to ask of you. A request, if you will.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What kinda favor?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’s quite simple,” she said. “Far from here, you will find a most unusual world. A place where things are seldom what they seem and everyone is mad. In this world, there is a young girl, a prisoner of a fierce tyrant known as the Queen of Hearts. The poor girl is destined to lose her head for a crime she did not commit… that is, unless she is rescued before her sentence is carried out. That is where you come in.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Me?” Sora paused for a moment, and his jaw dropped. “You mean… you want me to rescue her?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent nodded, looking Sora straight in the eye. “Precisely. The Queen would never expect a boy such as you to interfere. Why, you would be a hero…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A hero… Sora paused, glancing up at the ceiling as he thought over Maleficent’s words. He’d never seen himself as a hero before. If anything, he always figured Riku’d be the one to perform daring deeds and save the day. On the other the hand, this would finally be his chance for a real adventure. If he could save this girl, he’d not only help somebody else out, but Maleficent might lead him to his friends! There was no way he could back down.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Okay, Maleficent. You can count on me!” He placed his hands behind his head and grinned. “I’ve never really saved anyone before, but it could be fun. Besides, it’d be a great way to surprise Riku and Kairi!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent chuckled. “Come along, then. I shall lead you to this world.” She paused, tapping her staff against the floor. “However, you must remain perfectly silent when approaching the queen. Unwanted attention may lead to that poor girl’s demise. Should anything unfortunate occur…” A green glow surrounded her hand, forming a wing-shaped sword. “You will need a means to protect yourself. Consider it a gift.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Whoa…” Sora took the blade and carefully turned it over a few times. The dark colors and eyeball on the hilt gave it a sinister appearance, but there was no denying how cool it looked! He gave it a few test swings and then pointed it up towards the torchlight for a better look. This so beat his wooden sword from back home.

He lowered the sword and turned to Maleficent with a smile. “Thank you. I don’t’ know what to say!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Think nothing of it.” She placed her hand on Sora’s shoulder once more. “Now then, let us leave for Wonderland. There is so much to do and such little time to waste.”

With that, she struck the ground with her staff, summoning several green flames that rapidly wrapped themselves around Sora and herself. Oddly, the flames didn’t even burn; they weren’t even warm. These flames acted more like a portal than anything, pulling Sora and Maleficent far from the castle in Hollow Bastion. Soon, the fire consumed them completely, and it started to fade away.

Soon he’d be off on a real journey. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You know, you never told me why this Key’s so important.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku stood in the First District of Traverse Town, leaning against the exit door. His arms were crossed, and his expression stern, as he looked towards Leon, Donald, Goofy, and Yuffie. After the defeat of the Heartless leader, the group immediately returned to this safer district in order to discuss things further. At the moment, Leon remained quiet, while Donald and Goofy looked towards one another with puzzled expressions. Finally, Leon stepped forward, lowering arms to his side.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“They say the Keyblade possesses a great power,” he said, “one that could bring peace…or destruction.”

“And it only chooses somebody with a strong heart.” Yuffie smiled. “It’s not something that can be used by just anybody.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shrugging, Riku stepped away from the door. Power, huh? That was right up his alley. Already it’d proved a million times more useful than his dinky, wooden sword. Not only that, but he’d waited years just to get his hands on it. Still, it sounded like there was more to it. Would being ‘chosen’ give him added responsibility? Those two nimrods got put on a mission to find him, so it seemed pretty likely. Still, it never hurt to ask.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ve got no problem with power, but just what am I getting into?” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Donald “the King says you’re the ‘Key to our survival’! That’s why we need your help.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yup. And maybe you’re just what those other worlds need, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shook his head. “If you’re looking for a hero, you’ve got the wrong guy. I may have this Key, but I’ve got more important things to deal with.” Like finding Sora and Kairi, exploring the outside world… that’s all that really mattered. “Still, there’s something I need to know: Just what happens to the worlds once the Heartless get to them?” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Leon placed a hand to his forehead. He remained silent for several seconds, and then he lowered his hand. “The worlds disappear, and if you’re lucky, you end up in another world. If not… you, too, become a victim of the darkness.”

A victim of the darkness…? Riku looked away, letting Leon’s words sink in. What if Sora and Kairi were gone? It’d be his fault. Kairi vanished right before the islands went down, so for all he knew, something terrible could’ve happened to her. On the other hand, he saw Sora right before the wind whisked him away, and he and Kairi wouldn’t go down that easily. If anything, they were probably out there waiting for him. All he’d have to do is find a way to reach them.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku turned around and shrugged. “Well, that could be a problem, but I don’t know… Just why should I go with you guys? It sounds like you two need me a lot more than I need you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy frowned, bringing a hand to his chin. “Well, ya see…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald grabbed Goofy by the arm and pulled him close. He leaned into his ear and whispered something. Riku couldn’t make out the whole thing, just the word ‘stubborn’ jumbled up with some incomprehensible squawking.

When Donald finally let go of Goofy, he looked up at Riku with a smile. “You know, we’ve got a Gummi Ship! We’ll be traveling to a lot of worlds, so if you come with us, you won’t be stuck.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s right!” Goofy spread his arms, probably to get the point across. “Why, it’d be a real adventure for ya! There’s all kinds of other worlds out there, and we won’t be stopping ‘til we find the King!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“An adventure, huh…” Riku paused, placing a hand against his neck. The whole reason why he opened the door was to see other worlds. Maybe this’d put him on the right track. Sure, he’d have to deal with these morons, but their ship would make things convenient. If he tagged along, he’d be getting a free ticket across the universe. And, heck, maybe he’d run into his friends on the way. If nothing else, Donald and Goofy would be a convenient means to an end. He could put up with them for a little longer.

He clenched one hand into a fist, smirking. “Fine, I’ll tag along, but don’t think this has anything to do with you two. I’ve got my own agenda.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald rolled his eyes, but he still managed to smile. “Then that settles it! We’ll blast off in a bit, but first we oughta get ready.”Pulling out his staff, he winked. “I might even teach you some magic. It’ll be real dangerous out there, and that Key’s only gonna take you so far.”

“Hey, I’m game.” Donald’s magic was pretty impressive, after all. “I’ll take whatever you can throw at me.”

“Then there’s just one more thing…” Donald’s expression twisted into a scowl, and he crossed his arms. “No meddling!”

“Donald’s right!” Goofy frowned “We can’t be lettin’ on that we’re from other worlds or there could be serious trouble. That means no sharin’ anything about the Heartless, the Key, or even the mission.”

With so many rules being thrown at him, Riku almost considered staying in town. He barely knew these guys, and already they were grating. If they were going to be this strict, he’d have a rough journey ahead of him. Still, just because they gave him orders didn’t mean he’d actually follow them. They could keep their rules and their mission. If they needed him so badly, they’d just have to deal.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He held up his hand and rolled his eyes. “Whatever you say, Donald. I guess I’ll play along.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The next phase of his journey was about to begin. Though he didn’t know what to expect in the worlds beyond, one thing was clear: he’d have to face new and exciting challenges. The Heartless were numerous, and they attacked countless worlds. His friends were still missing, and they could be just about anywhere. It was a lot to take in after his simple island life, but he was ready for whatever the worlds had in store.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]If only he had better company.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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In your nightmares!
Okay, there's no way I'm gonna realistically get all 23 chapters up tonight, so... I'm gonna throw up the Wonderland chapters and call it a night. If you want to read the rest, my FF.net version is up to date, and I'll just keep adding them here whenever I can. :B So... Wonderland? It takes off in a pretty different direction after the introductory bits. Croquet scene, heck yeah.

--

[FONT=&quot]Chapter 6: Through the Rabbit Hole[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]After a bit of shopping and a short briefing on fire magic, Riku, Donald, and Goofy departed from Traverse Town. Needless to say, travel via Gummi Ship was nothing like rowing boats or floating on rafts. If anything, Riku felt like he was in the middle of a sci-fi flick. All sorts of dials, levers, and buttons lined the control panel at the front of the cockpit. A radar screen just below a large window pinpointed various targets, such as asteroids, enemy ships, and distant worlds. Through the windows, Riku caught a glimpse of the blackened void between the worlds. Other than a few twinkling stars and large hunks of space rock, it was pretty empty.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald currently sat at the controls, eyes locked on the main window, while Goofy surveyed the display screen. He occasionally pointed out objects of interest and warned Donald when obstacles and enemies came too close. Sometimes, they’d fire the ship’s lasers to blast through huge chunks of space rocks. Riku occasionally turned to watch them, but for the most part he kept his focus on the side window, silently gazing out into space.

A thud from behind broke the silence, followed by the pitter patter of little feet. Riku blinked, as a small cricket hopped up onto his shoulder and tipped his hat. He looked pretty well dressed for a bug, wearing a neat little coat, white gloves, and fancy shoes.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Pleased to meet you!” said the cricket. “Cricket’s the name, Jiminy Cricket. And you must be the Keybearer.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]After a moment, Riku nodded. “That’s me all right. These morons,” he pointed at Donald and Goofy, “decided to drag me along for their ‘mission’.” He paused, and then he added, “So what’s your story?”

Goofy chuckled, and he looked at Riku with a ridiculous grin. “Gawrsh, I can’t believe we didn’t introduce ya sooner! Jiminy’s the royal chronicler, which means he’ll be writin’ down everything about our journey.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shooting a glance back at Goofy, Donald said, “Come on, Goofy! You’re supposed to be the navigator!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With another soft chuckle, Goofy turned back to the display screen, muttering “oops” under his breath.

Groaning softly, Riku focused on Jiminy once more. He reached into his little coat, revealing a small journal.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]For a moment he placed it down on Riku’s shoulder, as he tucked the umbrella away. Afterwards, he pulled out a small ink pen and reached for the journal, cracking it wide open. He flipped through the pages, which were full various notes and illustrations. While Jiminy skimmed through the journal, Riku caught eye of a few points of interest, namely entries on “Shadow Heartless”, Traverse Town, and the “Guard Armor”. Once Jiminy reached a blank page, though, he looked back up at Riku with a puzzled expression.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Say, son, what’s your name?” he asked, stroking his chin. “It’d be silly to title your entry as ‘Keybearer’, after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]An entry? Well, that was new. Still, it’s not like there was any harm in saying it. “It’s Riku.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Jiminy nodded, jotting down “Riku” at the top of the page before speaking again. “So, Riku, where are you from?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Nowhere important,” he said, leaning back in his chair. “I lived on an island all my life, and it grew old real fast. Let’s just say I’m glad to be out of there.” Riku shook his head and continued to look out the window, while Jiminy jotted down a few more notes. This guy was awfully nosy, especially when Riku’s past was none of his business. Still, if he was the royal chronicler, then it kind of made sense. Occasionally Riku glanced over to Jiminy, who quietly wrote in his journal, but otherwise he was quiet once more.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
A few minutes later, Jiminy held up his journey for Riku to see. “How’s this sound?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku looked down at the journal, skimming the entry over. It read, “A self-confident youth. Cast away from his island home, he now travels with Donald and Goofy in search of their King. Despite the circumstances, he doesn’t seem to miss his world. He now faces a great responsibility as the Keyblade’s chosen wielder.”

Well, well. This guy pretty much nailed him. The entry only needed some info on his friends and a few jabs at Donald and Goofy, and it’d be perfect. Or close to perfect, anyway; that bit about responsibility didn’t sit well with him. Still, he nodded. Might as well give credit where it was due.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Splendid!” Jiminy smiled and tipped his hat. Then, he hopped off of Riku’s shoulder and scurried towards the back of the ship without another word. What an oddball.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A moment later, Donald and Goofy frantically started pressing buttons and pulling levers. The ship began to slow, while an image popped up on the radar. It looked like a giant sphere with a red and white heart pattern all over its surface. Heart shaped hedges and a towering castle stood on top, while a cluster of trees and a small house sat near the bottom. The word “Wonderland” appeared below the image. Riku fixed his eyes on the screen, and Donald and Goofy turned to face him. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“This is it!” said Donald, pointing to the image. He then pointed to the front window, where a large, round object appeared in the distance. “We’ll be arriving shortly, so you better get ready. And remember, no meddling! We’re here to look for the King.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Both Donald and Goofy turned back to the controls. They narrowed their eyes, and the two began to rapidly press buttons. Once they finished, Donald reached for a lever in front of him and gave it a hard pull. All at once, the ship jerked back a bit and then shot forward, rocketing forward at an even quicker speed than before. The intensity of the ship’s movement forced Riku, Donald, and Goofy against the back of their seats. Everything outside the window began to blur until even the stars appeared to be nothing more than streaks in the air.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Then, a few moments later, the ship came to a stop. Riku jerked forward, gazing out the window. Not too far from the ship floated a large world completely identical to the image on the screen. Everything from the checkered patterns to the distant castle matched up. This was it, a new world to explore. Grinning, Riku paid close attention to the world’s features. He’d so have to check out the castle and the surrounding hedge maze. The whole place looked drastically different from Traverse Town, and just looking at it filled him to the brim with excitement.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Once the ship came close enough to the world, it stopped. Donald looked at the radar, then down at the world before looking to Riku once more.

“This world doesn’t have an entrance,” he said, “which means we can’t just land.” He pressed a few more buttons, and then looked past Riku and towards the back. “Chip, Dale! Get out here!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Two small chipmunks scurried over to Donald without a moment’s hesitation. They looked almost identical to one another, other than the shape and color of their noses. One had a huge, red nose and a pair of buck teeth, while the other’s was small and black, like you’d expect from a rodent. Leaping onto the control panel, the two chipmunks gave a salute. Riku watched them intently. Just what could two rodents do?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Listen up!” Donald looked down at the chipmunks with a serious scowl. “This world has no entrance, so you two’ll have to watch the ship, understand?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The two chipmunks nodded, and the one with a red nose hopped up and down “Aye, aye, sir!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The black-nosed chipmunk followed suit, landing with a bit of a stumble. Both of the chipmunks looked to Donald and Goofy, who proceeded to undo their seatbelts. Riku watched their movements carefully and then proceeded to do the same. Free from his seatbelt, Goofy stood up and smiled at the two rodents. Donald slid out of his seat, and Riku followed suit. With the trio up and raring to go, the two chipmunks darted over to a button that read, “Transport”. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Eying the button, Riku looked over to Donald. “So, how exactly are we going to leave? Jumping’s obviously out, otherwise we’d probably get ourselves killed.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald shook his head, snickering under his breath. “That’s an easy one! You see that button? All they’ve gotta do is press it, and we’ll be sent right into the world! It’s quick and easy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But it sure takes gettin’ used to!” Goofy added, rubbing the tip of his nose. “Ya gotta be careful ‘bout eatin’ when ya use the transport, or ya might get dizzy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shook his head, placing a hand on his hip. “I’ll deal.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“In that case,” Donald said, “let’s get a move on! The King won’t wait forever, you know!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, the two chipmunks jumped up and onto the button and landed with a soft clicked. The ship’s engines whirred, and a dim light wrapped around Riku and the others. It spread from the ground up, covering their entire bodies, and soon everything began to shake. Donald and Goofy held onto one another, while Riku looked around the shaking ship.

In the blink of an eye, he shot down through an empty, black space. Everything seemed to spin and blur, and it got to the point where Riku snapped his eyes shut. Goofy wasn’t kidding about the dizziness; this was insane!

This continued for a few seconds, but an abrupt flash of light brought the trio to a standstill. Everything slowed down in an instant, and Riku opened his eyes. They’d made it into Wonderland in one piece, but there was just one problem…

They weren’t on solid ground![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio slowly fell through a narrow chamber, lined with purple walls. Stumbling through the air, they passed floating tables, chairs, and even the occasional lamp! Goofy chuckled and flopped on his back, while Donald flailed about. He reached for a nearby table, but it quickly passed him by. Riku, on the other hand, remained still, peering down past the assorted desks, chairs, and scattered books. Down below, the floor looked like a tiny speck and nothing more.

They continued to fall for a little bit longer. Riku managed to land in a rocking chair for a moment, but it quickly spun upside-down and sent him plummeting once more. He crossed his arms and glared at the ground below. The corridor around him grew narrower by the second, and the purple wallpaper transitioned into bricks. A few potted plants floated on by, and Donald slid off of a mirror with an upside-down reflection. Scratching his head, he let out a sigh, and soon he flipped upside-down

“What kind of world is this supposed to be?” He grumbled and groaned. “It looks like nonsense to me.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Goofy rolled onto his side with a smile. “Beats me, but it sure is funny!” He chuckled, eying a crackling fireplace along one of the walls. “Gawrsh, I wonder how they lit that fire…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Does it matter?” Riku crossed his arms. “This world’s called Wonderland. Do you really expect it to make sense?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]They drew closer to the floor, and its oddly shaped tiles came into view. Shaking his head, Donald squirmed towards Goofy. Once again, he flipped upside down. They’d be hitting the ground any second now, and Goofy continued to recline. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Goofy! You might want to get up, before we…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]THUD. [/FONT][FONT=&quot]By the time Donald spoke up, it was already too late; Goofy crashed face-first into the tiled floor. He winced at first, and it took a moment for him to move, but soon he was back on his feet with that stupid grin of his. Seeing this, Riku shook his head and leaned back against one of the walls. He’d landed with ease, and he watched as Donald fell flat on his rump. Now that they’d landed, it was time to get moving. Together, they quickly scanned their surroundings.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Looks pretty empty,” Riku said as he eyed the countless flower paintings on the walls.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And indeed it was. The only real decorations were the paintings, and they were all pretty plain. On the opposite side of the room, however, he spotted a doorway lined with a red curtain that lead into a winding hallway.

Smirking, Riku stepped through the curtain and into the hall. From behind, he heard Donald’s frantic squawking.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Just what d’you think you’re doing, Riku?!” Donald scurried behind him, wildly waving his staff. “You’re supposed to stick with us!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Although he gave Donald a passing glance, Riku kept moving… at least until he reached the end of the hall. Once he reached the door, he turned around. Those morons were right behind him now, and Donald’s whole face looked scrunched up like a prune.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He rolled his eyes. “Hey, if you can’t keep up, that’s your loss.” Turning back to the door, Riku flung it open, only to find another door… and then another. What a pain. Once he finally found an opening, he slipped into the next room.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Tacky wallpaper caught his eye. It was bright pink with flat images of furniture here and there. He spotted a fireplace and some paintings of carrots, and a rabbit-shaped clock hung above the doorway. But no matter where he looked, Riku couldn’t find a way out. There were no other doors, just rabbit themed decorations and a small, round table as the room’s centerpiece.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]…Or maybe not. As Riku passed the table, he did find a doorway, but it was way too small for someone like him. Maybe a mouse could squeeze through, but a human? No way. Heaving a sigh, Riku knelt down next to the door. There had to be a way to get through…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh.”

He heard footsteps from behind. Donald and Goofy must’ve caught up. Riku turned around and, sure enough, they were headed right for him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Looks like a dead end!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“No kidding.” Donald glanced around the room, tapping a webbed foot. “How’re we supposed to find the King when there’s no way out?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shook his head. He wasn’t about to give up. After all, there was a door; it was just too small, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t get through it. Rather than call it quits, he reached for the doorknob and turned it to the right. It didn’t open, but it did respond in an unexpected way.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Its eyes opened widely, and it let out a loud “OUCH!” Riku immediately froze, snapping his hand away from the knob, while Donald and Goofy gasped in shock. The Doorknob blinked a few times, and then it yawned. Somehow it didn’t seem so surprised to see the trio, although it did look them over a few times before moving its knob around a few times.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ll say, you’re the second boy to wake me up today. I don’t suppose you’re chasing a rabbit too, are you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“A rabbit?” Riku paused, and then he shook his head. “No, but these guys”—he pointed at Donald and Goofy—“are after their Ki—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before Riku could finish, Donald whacked him with his staff. “Remember, no meddling!” He tucked the staff away and added, “We’re just looking for a way through. Everything’s too small.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Oddly, the Doorknob laughed, pointing the tip of its knob at the nearby table. “Oh, that’s simple! Try the bottle, and you’ll go out like a candle.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy looked over to the table and tilted his head. “Gawrsh, d’you mean that bottle over there’ll shrink us?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Exactly!” said the Doorknob. It smiled and let out another yawn. “It’s the perfect solution to any impassable problem.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Oh great, a pun. Groaning, Riku stood up and approached the table. If the bottle was the only way to go, he’d have to take his chances. Sure, shrinking didn’t make much sense, but neither did talking doors or Donald’s magic. Scooping up this bottle, he glanced at the label, which read “drink me”. A small box sat right next to it, full of star-shaped cookies that said, “eat me” in colored frosting.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Donald, walking up to the table, “what’s it say?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Riku shrugged. “Just ‘drink me’.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy took one last look at the door, which spoke no more. Instead, it closed its eyes and began to snore. Chuckling, Goofy raised a finger to his mouth and gave a soft ‘shh’ before he moseyed over to the others.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“D’ya really think it’s safe?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shrugging, Riku lifted the bottle to his mouth. “Only one way to find out.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He didn’t hesitate to chug the whole thing down. As he drank, his body grew smaller and smaller. With one sip his head reached no higher than the table top, and it didn’t stop there. Again and again his body grew smaller, while his surroundings appeared to grow. Eventually, the bottle became far too large to hold onto, and it fell flat on the floor. Now he was roughly the size of the bottle and definitely small enough to pass through the door.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Donald and Goofy gasped, staring at the now shrunken Riku. He groaned and crossed his arms, staring right back at them. At his current size, Riku could easily fit into the palm of their hands or get crushed by their feet. Despite all this, he smirked at the two, who leaned close to the ground.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So,” he said, pointing to the bottle, “you two going to drink this or what?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Goofy reached for the bottle and looked it over. He gulped, glancing over to Donald with a worried frown. When Donald started tapping his foot, Goofy took a deep breath and brought the bottle to his mouth. Just like Riku, he started to shrink with each sip. All the while, he laughed. Leave it to Goofy to find the whole thing funny.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, it kinda tastes like cherry tart!” His body continued to shrink. “…No, maybe more like custard.” He scratched his head, becoming even smaller. “…Maybe with a bit of pineapple and roast turkey, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He fumbled the bottle, letting it roll onto the floor. Now Goofy stood just a tad taller than Riku, and when he looked up at Donald, he instantly jumped back and covered his mouth with his hands. Was he really that scary? No matter what the size, Donald still looked ridiculous in Riku’s opinion.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Unlike Goofy, Donald didn’t take the time to look over the bottle. Instead, he scooped it up and immediately gulped down the remaining fluids. When he finished, he stumbled around until the bottle’s wait made him fall face down on the floor. Now they were all set.

When Riku approached the snoozing door, he found that he still couldn’t open it. It was fast asleep, and waking it up would probably set it off. Luckily, he caught sight of another opening in the corner and headed its way. He and the others made it about halfway, but the sudden appearance of dark corridors stopped them in their tracks.

A group of Heartless fell flat on the floor. One had a large, round body and massive arms that it swung from side to side. The two other Heartless were much smaller, and their red and blue bodies bobbed up and down. They both wore a tall, yellow hat with a curled tip and had skinny little legs. The trio immediately drew their weapons and charged.

Both of the mage Heartless launched bursts of flames and shards of ice at the trio. They had to move quickly to avoid being frozen or burned. The larger Heartless rushed forward, knocking Riku over with its bulbous belly. When he tried to fight back, his Keyblade did nothing. Then, it knocked him away with the swing of its fist. He bumped right into the table.

The blue Heartless hovered overhead, and it fired an icy barrage. Riku slid out of its path and scooped up his weapon. If this thing fought with ice, then maybe a little heat would get the job done. Plus, it’d give him a chance to try out his new magic. Grinning, Riku held out his Keyblade, as the tip began to smoke. A flick of his wrist sent a blazing blast straight at the Heartless, and its body ignited. The flames tore right through it, and only a heart remained.

Donald’s blizzard magic knocked the red Heartless into a wall, trapping it in a cluster of ice. He leaped up and slammed his staff into the crystals, and the Heartless quickly vanished. Now, only the Large Body remained.

Riku lunged for its chest and slammed his Keyblade into its gut, but it still did nothing. The Heartless knocked him forward and leaped into the air. When it landed, a shockwave spread across the ground, and Riku cried out in pain. Just then, he caught a glimpse of Goofy’s shield, which flew into its back and knocked it flat on its belly. Was that its weak spot?

When Riku lashed out from behind, the Heartless trembled and kicked its stubby legs. He and Goofy nailed it several times with their weapons until it got back on its feet and knocked them away with its powerful arms. Flames seared its back, as Donald pitched in. Together, the trio evaded its shockwaves, charging attack, and those obnoxious arm swings. Whenever they got the chance, they’d hurry behind it and unleash their attacks.

Their combined efforts trashed the Heartless, and the path became clear once more. Dismissing his weapon, Riku headed for the opening.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Until Donald stepped right in front of him and narrowed his eyes. “Riku…” He shook his staff, and then, suddenly, he smiled. “Good job using your magic. Aren’t you glad I—”

Riku stepped around him and passed through the opening, ignoring Donald’s angry ranting as he passed through to the other side. When he and the others emerged, they found themselves surrounded by green, and lots of it. Heart-shaped hedges towered over heard, and a winding path of greenery wrapped around them. Riku spotted a few heart-shaped bushes with roses that were dripping with red paint, for some reason.

He approached the large archway and peered around the corner. There, he spotted a very busy courtyard full of giant card soldiers, a white rabbit with a waistcoat, a little girl, and a fat, ugly queen. By the looks of it, there was some sort of ceremony going on. The cards stood in single file lines on each side of the courtyard, and the Queen sat high above them at a podium.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I wonder what’s going on,” he said, watching the proceedings.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald shrugged and walked up behind him. “Who knows? It’s none of our business.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well”, said Goofy, scratching his head, “what if they know where the King is, Donald? Maybe they could help us out!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sighing, Donald glanced at the crowd beyond the hedge and back to Goofy. He tapped his foot placed a hand against his beak. “But it looks like they’re in the middle of something, and you know the rules!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku groaned. “I don’t see how asking them counts as ‘meddling’. If your mission’s that important, then we might as well give it a shot.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Wait a second, fellas!” Goofy pointed to the podium. “It looks like they’re startin’ somethin’.”

The little girl gazed up at the podium with a frown on her face. She wore a simple, blue dress and had long, golden hair. Up above, a large, glaring woman leaned over the podium’s edge, while a tiny little man tapped her on the arm. Both the woman and man wore heart-patterned clothes, not to mention crowns. The strange, card soldiers held tightly onto spears and axes. They came in hearts and spades. Off to the side, the white rabbit looked down at his pocket watch and sighed.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen addressed the crowd in a booming voice. “Now that that little nuisance has been taken care of, let the trial begin!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Gasping, the little girl looked from the Queen to the rabbit, the cards, and back again. “I’m on trial? But why?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Scowling, the Queen slammed her fist against the podium . “The girl is the culprit. There’s no doubt about it. And the reason is...because I say so, that’s why!”

As the conversation went on, Riku clenched his fists and shook his head. Did that old hag really think a kid could cause so much trouble? She looked completely innocent, and the Queen didn’t even explain what went wrong. Either the Queen was insane, or she was missing the point. Both the Queen and the girl argued with one another, even when the King tried to fan the flames. With a scowl, Riku took a step forward, ready to go in there and deal with things himself. This was getting ridiculous.

He didn’t get very far before Donald grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. “Riku, stop! This is none of our business!”

Sneering, Riku yanked his arm out of Donald’s grip and continued forward. “So what? That queen has serious issues, and I thought you guys wanted to find your King.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well yeah,” Goofy said, “but that queen sure doesn’t look like the friendly sort. Maybe we better wait ‘til they finish.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So much for being in a hurry…” Riku shook his head, and he continued through the courtyard. At first he said nothing and listened to the raging argument between the girl and the Queen. Behind him, both Donald and Goofy waved their arms at him and gestured towards the archway. He stayed put. Meanwhile, the Queen cleared her throat and addressed the crowd.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“The court finds the defendant...guilty as charged! For the crimes of assault and attempted theft of my heart...”

“You can’t be serious.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately the Queen, the girl, and the cards turned their attention to Riku. Furious, the Queen SLAMMED her fist against the podium, while the King beside her frantically waved his hands. The girl gasped, while the cards raised their weapons and stood tall and alert. All the while, both Donald and Goofy exchanged worried glances. The two hesitated, eying the card soldiers and the angry queen, but soon they followed Riku, stopping right behind him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What is the meaning of this?!” said the Queen, while the little king fanned her with one of his hands.

Riku crossed his arms. “You know, I could ask you the same thing…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You dare question me?!” The Queen pointed her staff at Riku, while the King continued to fan her.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Now, dear,” he said, “it wouldn’t hurt to explain to the boy. It’s an honest question.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Very well. “ Heaving a deep sigh, the Queen nodded, leaning back in her seat. “This vile girl tried to steal my heart!” As she spoke, her tone grew increasingly harsh and increasingly loud. “Anyone who dares to defy me shall lose their head, this girl is no exception!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, ya think she’s telling the truth? That girl sure doesn’t look like a heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who knows?” Donald said, shaking his head.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Meanwhile, Riku rolled his eyes. “Really? That’s funny, because the way I see it…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Silence!” The Queen bared her teeth and looked him straight in the eye. “All ways are my way!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald looked up at Riku and shook his head. “Riku, let’s go! You’ll only get us in trouble if you keep this up.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But he continued regardless of Donald’s warning, stepping past the girl and right up to the podium. “The way I see it, you’re just a fat, bad-tempered old tyrant, and—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]SLAM! [/FONT][FONT=&quot]Before Riku could finish, the Queen pounded the podium and glared intensely at him. The pink tone of her skin now burned a fierce red, and her whole body shook with rage.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You imbecile!” She raised her staff and pointed at the trio. “I’ve had enough. For your defiance, you all shall lose your heads!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Without another word, the Queen raised her staff and pointed it directly at the trio, while the girl gasped in shock. Almost instantly, the cards turned towards Riku, Donald and Goofy. They gripped tightly onto their razor-sharp spears and battle axes and surrounded the trio. Grinning wildly, the Queen rubbed her hands together and watched as the cards leaped into the air, and the battle began.


TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 
Last edited:

.:Mega:.

Member
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This is a Sora chapter! There will be a few of these. Also, I'm stopping here tonight because I have school and the server issues are slowing me down. :'|

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[FONT=&quot]Chapter 7: Beware the Shadows[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]When Sora arrived in Wonderland, Maleficent gave him very basic instructions. Find Alice in the Queen’s Courtyard and keep an eye out for a ‘Cheshire Cat’. Since his arrival, he’d made zero progress on his mission. First, he got distracted by the white rabbit and had a friendly conversation with the talking door. Then, when he tried to sneak into the courtyard, the Queen of Hearts caught him! He barely got by with the excuse that he was just passing through. One wrong move, and he could’ve been seriously hurt by those cards. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He made his way through an unusual forest, passing giant mushrooms and colorful flowers. All around him stood enormous trees, reaching so high that he couldn’t even see the treetops when he looked into the air. The dirt path before him split into many different directions, making it difficult to navigate the forest. How was he gonna get back to the courtyard if he kept getting lost? Maybe he should’ve just waited outside. Then again, he could always look for that Cheshire Cat on the way back.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A giant, red flower caught his eye. Maybe he could ask for help? Though there were signs on some of the trees, they contradicted each other. Some said ‘up’, some said ‘down’, others ‘in’ and the rest of them ‘out’. Some of these signs were all on one tree!

Frowning, he scratched his head. The flower stood completely motionless with its petals closed. Maybe it couldn’t even talk in the first place, but if doorknobs and cards could, there was always a chance. Slowly, he crept up to the flower and opened his mouth. He was just about to speak when he caught a glimpse of someone in the corner of his eye. Freezing in place, he looked over his shoulder…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Kairi stood just a few feet away with a smile on her face and her hands behind her back. She didn’t move an inch, and she stayed perfectly silent. Sora’s eyes widened, and his arms fell to his side. Was Kairi here all along? Rather than think things through, he rushed right at her. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Kairi! When’d you get here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As he drew closer, Sora reached out for her. Kairi, on the other hand, shook her head, and her smile faded. Once Sora came within a few inches of her, she vanished in the blink of an eye. Seconds later, he plummeted down to the ground and got a face full of dirt. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He dusted himself off and slowly stood, but no matter where he looked, he couldn’t find Kairi. It didn’t even make sense… Was he just seeing things? Sora looked down to the ground and kicked a small stone to the side. Maybe he was just lonely… Whatever the case, he couldn’t forget about his mission. Not when Maleficent and Alice were both counting on him!

He trudged back over to the flower and poked at its petals. At first it didn’t budge, but soon its drooping stem straightened, and its petals opened to reveal a face! Blinking, the flower leaned closer to Sora and tapped its chin with a leaf.

“What a strange little flower you are.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora tilted his head. “Uh, actually, I’m not a—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And look at those petals!” The flower ruffled Sora’s hair, shaking its head with a tiny little frown. “Or are you perhaps a thistle? What an absolutely dreadful thought!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Squinting, Sora pushed the leaves away. “But I’m not a flower!” He shook his head, smoothing out his hair with his other hand. “Look, I was gonna ask… d’you know where I can find a cat? Or maybe the way outta here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You mean a dandelion?” The flower paused. “Weeds aren’t welcome here…” Its eyes widened, and it leaned even closer to him. “Are you a weed?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This wasn’t working. Sora rapidly shook his head and took a step back. “No, no! I’m not even a plant! And I’m looking for, uh…” What was it that Maleficent said? Raising a hand to his chin, Sora took a moment to consider this. He was supposed to give his regards to… “A Cheshire Cat, that’s it!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’m afraid the only cats I know are dandelions, and if you’re not a flower, then you must be a weed!” Puffing out its stem, the flower raised its leaves and began to shout, “Get out, you vile fiend!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Wait!” Sora stepped back, clutching onto his face tightly with both his hands. “I’m not gonna hurt you! Look, isn’t there anything I can do to prove it? I was just asking for help…”

The flower stopped moving and looked Sora in the eye. “Well…” it said, “Do you have an ether?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“An ether?” Reaching into his pockets, Sora began to shuffle through the contents. He pulled out a few odd things—well, he had some munny, at least, and—oh, hey! A potion. More munny, a Hi-Potion, but no ether. Frowning, he looked up to the flower and raised his hands in defeat. “Sorry, but all I’ve got are some potions…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“In that case,” the plant said, leaning closer to him. “It’s best if you…” Suddenly, it pushed Sora back. “Scoot! Go on, now, before the other flowers find out about this!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“—Whoa!” Sora stumbled forward and narrowly kept his footing. He glanced back at the flower, which began to straighten itself and close its petals once more. With a frown, Sora turned away and continued forwards, heading down one of the other paths.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This time he went to the right, passing more greenery, from bushes to more of those strange flowers—flowers he wouldn’t mess with now. Occasionally he passed a tree stump or two and some more flowers and mushrooms, but no cat or exit appeared in sight. Instead, he found more trees, each with even stranger signs, such as “yonder” and “around”.

He caught glimpses of eyes beneath the shadows of the leaves. Each time they appeared, Sora would stop and stare, only for the eyes to blink and disappear. His shoulders sagged, and he kicked at the dirt. For a little while longer, he continued down the path, but soon he came across the same red flower from before. …Was he going in circles? [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]His train of thought was interrupted, when a strange voice began to sing.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]‘T’was brillig, and the slithy toves, did gyre and gimble in the wabe…’[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey!” Sora whirled around. “Who’s there?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]‘All the mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe…’ [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Brillig? Mome raths? What was that supposed to mean? He scratched his head and tried to figure it out. No luck.

“What’re you talking about?”

A pair of bright eyes and an enormous grin appeared between the tree branches. Sora jumped back and pulled out his sword. In response, the creature started laughing. It didn’t make any sudden moves; all it did was stare and smile. Lowering his sword, Sora stepped up to the tree.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who’re you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who indeed.” Strange, purple rings appeared all around it. Pointed ears formed just above its eyes, while a light muzzle and nose appeared around the toothy grin. When paws and a tail appeared, the creature’s form became all too clear. This thing was a talking, purple cat! “Now, you were looking for something?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora gasped, pointing up at the tree. “You… you’re the Cat!” Had he been watching the whole time, maybe? Or maybe he was hiding…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The cat lifted a paw and waved his finger. “A Cheshire Cat.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So it is you!”

“Is it?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, you just said—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Mm, one moment.” The Cat stood up, reaching for his head, and then he pulled it right off of his body! After that, he stood right on top of it and continued to speak. “Poor Alice… About to lose her head, and her hero isn’t in sight.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora’s pointed at the cat’s head and then at his body. “How did you”— he stopped at the mention of Alice and immediately frowned, narrowing his eyes. “Hey, I’m here! I just didn’t want to cause any trouble, so I thought I’d…”

“Wait?” The Cat’s feet grasped onto his head, and he flipped over. Now he stood on his hands, while his head and tail switched places. “Oh, but if you wait, it may already be too late… But then, you aren’t really here to save her, are you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Course I am!” Sora jerked forward, and he puffed out his chest. “Maleficent told me all about the Queen, so I’m gonna go rescue her!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Maleficent?” Yet again the Cat laughed, returning to his resting position. “Mm, so you’re staying close to the shadows… I’d be careful, then. You wouldn’t want to get lost.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“[/FONT][FONT=&quot]What’re you talking about?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh,” said the Cat, “I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. You see…” The cat’s body slowly began to fade. “The Cheshire Cat has all the answers, but doesn’t always tell. Search the shadows to your heart’s content …” – now even the rings began to fade—“Or perhaps let the shadows search for your heart.” Only the grin remained, as the Cheshire Cat sang, “And the mome raths outgrabe…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that, the cat vanished completely, leaving Sora alone in the middle of the woods. At first he remained still, gazing up at the tree where the cat once stood. What did he mean by ‘shadows’? Sure, Maleficent was a bit on the eerie side, but she’d been nothing but kind to him so far. It didn’t make sense!

Sora brought a hand to his chin, and he tried to sort through the Cat’s diddle. Before long, he lowered his hand and shook his head, heaving a soft sigh. Maybe the cat was just messing with him. Trying to set him off! Those riddles probably didn’t mean a thing, and besides, he still needed to rescue Alice. Worrying about creepy wordplay wouldn’t get him anywhere.

With that in mind, Sora took another look around. That red flower, the tree… all signs pointed to where he started. He’d have to work his way back through this topsy turvy forest, but maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. If he kept going straight and ignored the signs, he’d probably make it back to the courtyard in no time. Why, he’d get there in a jiffy, and then he’d rescue Alice and save the day![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With his head held high and a smile on his face, Sora marched through the woods with newfound hope and determination. Soon, he’d be back with Riku and Kairi. Then nothing would tear them apart! [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
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Messages
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Aaand we're back! Time to finish Wonderland and start posting Olympus... the world that was the hardest to change up. 8| This chapter has lots of Disney references! c:

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[FONT=&quot]Chapter 8: Croquet and Confusion[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Flames singed the bodies of the card soldiers as Riku, Donald, and Goofy fought their way through the masses. Spades swung their battle axes, while hearts charged forward with their razor-sharp spears. Riku found himself ducking and dodging almost constantly, and he barely had time to retaliate with Keyblade combos and fire magic.

Goofy’s shield whirled through the air, knocking down several cards like bowling pins. He leaped on top of them and spun around, sending them flying into the air. Then, bolts of lightning struck down from the sky, making the cards twitch and jerk as they fell to the ground.

As Riku ran towards the Queen, he ducked below a spade’s axe and leaped over a charging heart. When too many cards drew close, he blasted them with his magic and knocked them away. Then, when he reached the podium, he leaped into the air and slammed his weapon against the Queen’s back. She let out a blood curdling scream and fell forward, kicking her legs in the air. The heart cards panicked.
[/FONT][FONT=&quot]Meanwhile, Alice frowned, turning her attention to the King. “How positively dreadful!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Goodness, yes! Oh, there must be a proper way to resolve this…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The battle waged on for a few more minutes, as lightning flashed and the sound of metal clashing echoed through the courtyard. Then, redder than before, the Queen of Hearts finally regained her footing, grinding her teeth and clenching both her fists tight. She took a deep breath, lifting her staff when the King placed a hand on her shoulder.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Now, dear,” he said, “perhaps we could resolve this in a nonviolent way, hm? Those boys don’t seem to be giving up, and the cards can only take so much…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hmm.” The Queen moaned, and she slowly lowered her staff. “Very well.” She took a deep breath and turned towards the rabbit, pointing her staff at his instrument. The rabbit quickly nodded and lifted his horn.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trumpet signal immediately stopped the cards in their tracks. Riku, Donald, and Goofy lowered their weapons and turned toward the podium. With a faint smile, the rabbit lowered his horn before taking another deep breath.

“Attention!” he said. “The Queen of Hearts”— he paused, looking back at the King—“and the King have a decree.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Groaning, Riku lowered his hand, as the Keyblade vanished in a flash of light. He took a few steps forward and looked up at the Queen. “A decree, huh?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Looking down at Riku and the rest, the Queen propped up her head with her free hand. “Yes… We have a change of plans!” She paused briefly, glancing over to the King before adding, “Now, do you play croquet?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Croquet?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku stared at the Queen. After all that fighting, she wanted to play a game? If that’s how it was going to end, then why not do it from the start? Croquet wasn’t even an exciting game, either.Straightening, Riku lowered his hands and turned to Donald and Goofy, who both stared at one another. All the while, the Queen tapped her fingers on the podium, letting out a sigh.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“She can’t be serious,” Riku said. “Come on…” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’s no use.” Donald shook his head. “The longer we stay here, the longer it’ll take to find the King! We can’t afford to stay any longer.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With a smile on his face, Goofy stepped up to the podium. He tucked away his shield and then pointed at the Queen, chuckling a bit. “I love croquet! Why, I remember tryin’ to play it with my boy Maxie!” He paused, scratching his head. “Course, he sure didn’t seem happy about it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You have a son?” Riku stared at Goofy in disbelief.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Sure do!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald groaned, tapping his foot. “Ahem…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen didn’t give them a chance to back down. She raised her staff into the air and said, “Then let the game begin!” Looking down to Alice, she added, “And as for you… Cards! Return this girl to her cage.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Without a word, the cards straightened, rushing into a single file line. Putting their weapons aside, they marched towards Alice, who stepped back on the platform, holding her arms out in front of her. It was no use; the cards surrounded the platform and pulled her down to the ground. Then, they dragged her over to a golden cage, shoving her inside. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With Alice locked away, the cards returned to their single-file line, while the Queen grinned. She slid down from the podium, just barely landing on her own two feet. The King followed suit, leaping down next to his wife after a moment’s hesitation.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen of Hearts turned to the others and raised a hand into the air. “Now, proceed this way, and then we’ll get started. That’s not a request!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, the King began to wave his arms about. “Yes, to your places.” He rushed on over to the cards, then to the rabbit, “By order of the King, hurry now!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The cards moved first, marching towards the archway on the opposite end of the courtyard. They turned the corner without another world, while the rabbit held out his horn and blew with all his might. Several brightly colored birds trotted out from behind the podium, chuckling and squawking as they stumbled around. A case appeared in a puff of smoke, and the rabbit scuttled around, shoving each of the birds into the case. Once he collected them all, he followed the cards out of the courtyard and around the corner, pushing the case along.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Looking towards the trio, the Queen pointed at the archway. “That includes you three!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku rolled his eyes, and he looked over to Donald and Goofy with a small frown. “Well,” he said, “looks like we’ve got no choice. C’mon.” Already he began to head for the archway, and he only stopped long enough to give Goofy a deadpan stare. “Thanks a lot.”

“You’re welcome!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking his head, Donald stomped right behind Riku and Goofy, muttering and groaning under his breath. Most of what he said was inaudible, but a few words, such as “palooka” and “croquet” caused Goofy to chuckle a bit. As they left the courtyard, the Queen bounded right along, passing each of them with the King at her side. Unlike earlier, the redness in her face vanished completely, and instead she smiled as he skipped.

The King and queen led the trio through the winding hedge maze. It seemed to go on forever; no matter where they turned, they encountered more and more hedges and dripping rose bushes. Riku sighed as he followed along. Croquet was not his idea of fun, and the fact that Goofy dragged them into this didn’t help. He’d be glad when this was over, so they could either move onto the next world or try and find other places to explore.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Eventually, they reached a wide, open field. There, the rabbit let go of the case and blew his horn like crazy. Each of the cards spread far apart, hopping into the air and landing on both their hands and feet. They bent their bodies to form little arches, and the birds started to chirp and trill, bobbing their heads all around.

Riku, Donald, and Goofy each watched this display, while the King once again scurried about, shouting instructions to any stragglers. Once the cards were in their places, the Queen made her way towards the birds. Pulling up her sleeves, she scooped up a bright red bird. After swinging it a few times, she reached for its neck and gave it a tug; the bird giggled, and its neck straightened.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Watching the Queen, Goofy stepped up to the container, eying the many colored birds. They game in pinks, yellows, blues, and even greens. Rather than taking just one, Goofy reached for two, the green and the blue.

Both birds fluttered their wings as he lifted them out. The blue one leaned towards the case and kicked its feet. Tilting his head, Goofy released it and held up the green one right above his head. He squinted, placing a hand on its neck. With a soft ‘gawrsh’ he yanked it straight. Then he stepped over to the Queen and waited. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Looks like we’re up,” said Riku, scooping up the yellow bird. Its first response was to stick out its tongue and flapped its wings in his face, but Riku just groaned and clamped its beak shut. He pulled its neck straight, and then he joined the others.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This left Donald, who stood still for a moment, arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Regardless of this oddity, though, he eventually sighed, yanking the pink bird out of the case, only to find it kicking and laughing nonstop. Though he tried to pull its neck, the bird only continued to laugh, squirming and running in place.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen of Hearts glared at the stubborn bird. “Silence!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Even then, it kept on spouting noise until Donald, much like Riku, slammed its beak shut. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With the mallets all set up, the rabbit wandered over to the group, carrying a purple pillow. Four small balls sat on the pillow, each one matching the color of the mallets. Oddly, these balls were covered with fur and quills. Once the rabbit placed them in the ground, it became clear that these weren’t just any balls. They were a bunch of sleepy hedgehogs. Didn’t this count as animal abuse? [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With her mallet in hand, the queen skipped up to her ball, a little, red hedgehog. Its eyes widened, and it ducked as the Queen slowly lowered the bird’s head close to its rear. She shut her eyes and swung the bird by its legs, but she completely missed the mark. She did this once again, but it was still no use. Her aim was awful; there was no way she’d win this.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Unfortunately, the King scurried over to the ball and pushed it along. Gasping, the hedgehog curled up and shot forward, rolling rapidly towards the cards. As it flew on by, the cards hopped right on top of it, ensuring that she didn’t miss a single goal. Several spades in the background cheered. Then, when the ball passed through its final target, it uncurled and plopped down on its chest.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Needless to say, the Queen of hearts beamed at the praise from the cards—and the King. She lifted one hand into the air, waving at her spectators before blowing them a kiss. Even Goofy joined in the praise, at least until Donald yanked him down to eye level and shook his head. In response, Goofy muttered a soft ‘oops’ and lowered his hands. Riku, too, shook his head at this sight, pointing at the nearby cards.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get sick of this queen,” he said. “I bet she couldn’t hit that ball even with her eyes open.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy frowned, taking his bird and stepping forward. “Careful, Riku. Ya wouldn’t want to make her mad again! She’s almost as bad as Donald on a bad day, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Groaning, Donald rolled his eyes. “Come on, Goofy. You’re up!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I know!” Goofy continued walking until he reached his ball. He looked back to Donald and Riku and over to the Queen with a smile. “Here, lemme show ya how it’s done!” Pulling his shoulders back, Goofy held up the bird, adding, “Ya gotta be loose, relax!” Taking a deep breath, he moved both his feet apart. “With your feet apart, and… Ten o’ clock”—he began to move his bird into all sorts of directions as he spoke—“Two o’ clock, quarter to three! Tour Jete—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen let out a groan, and her face reddened. “Will you get on with it?!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oops!” For a moment, Goofy paused, holding his bird above his head. “Sorry, ma’am!”

With a sheepish smile, Goofy held tightly onto the bird’s legs and swung it straight for the ball. His aim was nearly spot on, but there was just one problem; right as the bird neared its target, it bent its neck up and out of the way. Briefly, Goofy stopped and scratched his head, but he didn’t give up just yet. Instead, he gave the bird another swung.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But the bird still didn’t cooperate. Tilting his head, Goofy brought his mallet to eye level.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh,” he said, “can’t ya work? Pretty please with a cherry on top?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But the bird’s only response was more laughter. At this point the Queen stormed towards Goofy, placing both of her hands on her hips. She glared down at him, watching as Goofy frowned and pointed at the laughing bird. The Queen yanked the bird out of his hands and sneered.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You, sir,” she said, “forfeit your turn!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The King trotted over to Goofy, giving him a gentle nudge. “Go on now, go on. By order of the King!”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]With a soft moan, Goofy slowly made his way back to the others. He looked down at the ground, frowning as he stepped up to Riku and Donald. Both of them shot nasty glares at the Queen. Even if Goofy was kind of an idiot, how could a cheater like the Queen boss him around? Riku groaned and took a step forward, but Donald slid up in front of him, holding out an arm to the side.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ll go,” he said. “She can cheat all she wants, but there’s no way I’ll let her treat Goofy like this!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shrugging, Riku stepped back, allowing Donald his turn.

Donald stomped on up to his ball, dragging the bird at his side. Before even lifting it, he gave the bird’s neck a second tug to make it extra straight. From there, he wrapped his fingers around the two legs and pulled the bird up and over his head. Brow furrowed, he hopped up into the air, bringing the bird straight down at the ball—except, like Goofy’s, it bent its neck away from its target. Its wings fluttered about, and instead of just missing the ball, it began to float in mid air, dragging Donald along with it. It dragged Donald’s rear right along the grass until he held out both his feet to land and yanked the bird down.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Oh, but it didn’t end there. Donald clutched tightly onto the bird’s neck and shook it violently, muttering and squawking furiously. In return, the bird kicked about, and its tiny wings still fluttered as Donald shook and shook the creature left and right. After a few more shakes, he yanked its neck again and thrust it forward, but the ball hopped to the side when the beak neared its back. This prompted Donald to go off on an insane rant, until the Queen interrupted him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Enough! You forfeit your turn, just like that blithering imbecile before you!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Without another word, Donald pulled his bird up close, looked it in the eye, and then threw it at the case. After that, he stomped back over to Riku and Goofy with his hands clenched tightly into fists.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That little…” His face turned beet read, and he pointed at the remaining ball. “Your turn, Riku. Let’s get this over with.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Smirking, Riku tossed his bird aside. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got an idea.”

With the bird out of the way, Riku held out his hand and summoned the Keyblade. Donald and Goofy both gasped, but soon the two of them grinned right at him; they must’ve caught on. After all, if the Queen could cheat, why couldn’t he? Lowering the Keyblade to his side, Riku stepped up to his ball. He smirked at the Queen, who gnashed her teeth. Then, he slammed his weapon against the ball, sending it flying toward the goals. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But things didn’t go as planned. As the ball neared its first goal, the card immediately flattened itself on the ground, making the ball roll right over it. Other cards hopped out of its path or slid to the side. Soon the ball missed one goal, then two, and then three! The fourth card flattened itself much like the first, but when the ball neared the fifth it didn’t roll past it or over it; no, this ball actually made it through the goal! The ball bumped into a rosebush, and then the little hedgehog held up its paws and giggled. Dismissing the Keyblade again, Riku approached the Queen and crossed his arms.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But the Queen showed no sign of amusement. No, she glared and pointed at Riku before turning to the last card, the very card that allowed the ball to pass through. Rather than yelling just yet, she stomped right on up to that card, grabbed it by the arm, and pulled it up real close. The card winced, slowly bringing both of its hands together and twiddling its thumbs as the Queen locked eyes with it. Then, she threw the card back to the ground and pointed at the spades.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Off with his head!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The King darted around, shouting orders at the card soldiers. “Off with his head, off with his head!” He reached out with his fan and began waving it around. “By order of the King, you heard what she said!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Two spades emerged from the group, marching side-by-side. One spade grabbed the guilty card’s left arm, while the other grabbed the right. The two spades silently dragged it along; as they left the field, the card gazed back at its comrades with tears running down its cheeks. The other cards, however, didn’t display a single sign of sympathy.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that out of the way, the Queen stomped on up to Riku, puffing out her chest and leering down at him. Even then, he continued to smirk, leaning right in her face. He kind of expected this.

She took a deep breath and said, “What did you think you were doing?! That is not how you play croquet!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So?” Riku shook his head, taking a step to the side. “I figured I’d beat you at your own game… cheating. Might as well level the playing field somehow.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy stepped forward, frowning. “Riku’s right! Those mallets weren’t even cooperatin’! How’re we supposed to play when we can’t even hit the balls?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And who ever heard of playing croquet with birds?” Donald leaned forward with a scowl, tapping a webbed foot. “This whole thing’s cheap!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Queen opened and closed her fists, glancing from Riku, to Goofy, and then to Donald with a grimace. “You…all of you! How dare you question me?!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku laughed, leaning forward with both hands held out. “Hey, you said it yourself. All ways are your way… I’d say that includes cheating.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why…!” The Queen tensed up again, raising a finger to her neck and dragging it across. “I’ve had enough! Off with their heads, all of—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Suddenly, a voice began to sing, “He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought…” [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Two bright, yellow eyes appeared on top of the Queen’s crown, followed by an enormous grin. “So rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood awhile in thought.” Several purple rings appeared, followed by the plump, furry body of a cat.

The Cheshire cat gazed down at the Queen and laughed, watching as she shrieked, flailing her arms about in an attempt to remove him from her head. Still, he stayed put, shifting his gaze to Riku, Donald and Goofy. Then, he said…

“She’s gone, you know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy placed a hand to his chin, staring at the cat. “Who’s gone?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Cat shook his head, moving to lie down atop the Queen’s crown. “Why, Alice,” he said, raising a paw in the air. “In other words… the ‘culprit’!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]All at once, the Queen stopped in her tracks and let out a scream. “What?!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who? Where? Why?” He lowered his paw and shook his head. “Or perhaps how? Whatever answers you seek, look to the shadows. That’s certainly what he did.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku gasped, and his eyes widened. “He?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With a flick of his tail, the cat said, “You might know him. Short, careless, and far too nice for his own good! He could stand to be a bit more… mad.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Short, careless, too nice for his own good… That description fit Sora to a T. Did that mean he was here, too? But if that was the case, why would he even—[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku took off running without as much as a warning. He couldn’t afford to stay here if his best friend was around. From behind, he heard Donald’s obnoxious squawking and overheard the Queen shouting orders, but he didn’t look back. There just wasn’t time. He had to catch up somehow.

He rushed through the maze at a brisk pace, not even bothering to check his surroundings. While he occasionally ran into a few dead ends, it didn’t take him very long to return to the courtyard. That’s when he stopped and fell to his knees.

An empty cage lay on its side. The lock sat a few feet away. There was no sign of Alice anywhere… or Sora.

All of the sudden, it felt like he had a ton of bricks on his shoulders. What if the cat was right?

What if Sora did kidnap her?[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
Messages
857
Location
In your nightmares!
[FONT=&quot]Chapter 9: Teamwork and Trickery

[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, goodness! Could you please slow down?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora ducked beneath the doors of the bizarre room, chewing on a cookie as he rushed into the hall. This time, however, he wasn’t alone. As he hurried towards the entrance, he held tightly onto Alice’s hand. He’d managed to rescue her while the Queen and her soldiers were off somewhere else, but he couldn’t afford to sit still at a time like this! For all he knew, she could be following right behind them. There was no way he’d risk Alice’s safety for convenience.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Looking back at Alice, though, he said between chews, “Uh, s’rry! But we’ve godda— ” he paused briefly, swallowing, “We’ve gotta get outta here! It’ll be okay, though! You’ll see.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But what are we running from?” Alice frowned. “Why, that old queen is busy playing croquet with that other boy!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora stopped in his tracks, looking back at Alice with a puzzled expression. “Other boy? What d’you mean?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Alice, placing her pinky to her chin, “a strange boy and his companions tried to stop the trial, but that Queen… oh, it was dreadful! She sent her cards to behead them, but they were far too strong. It was almost like magic!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Sora picked up the pace again, while Alice followed beside him. “But what did he look like?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Alice raised a brow, tilting her head up in thought. “Well, he had the most peculiar hair… silver, and very long for a boy! Why, he—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]They reached the end of the hall when several green flames emerged from the floor, burning higher and higher with a fierce crackle. Maleficent emerged from the flames with a faint smile on her face. In one hand she held her staff, and she beckoned for Sora and Alice to come closer.

Sora remained perfectly still at first. Silver hair… long silver hair! It had to be Riku, there was no doubt about it. But, wait, did that mean he just missed him? First Kairi, and now this! What was he gonna do? It took a soft tap on the shoulder from Alice to bring him back to reality.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Here she is.” Stepping forward, Sora let go of Alice’s hand and smiled. “I rescued her, see? And get this, Maleficent… she says she saw someone with silver hair!” Grinning a little, he closed one hand into a fist and raised it up into the air. “That means that Riku might be here!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku?” Alice looked to Sora, tilting her head again. “Is he a friend of yours?” Pausing, she looked back to Maleficent and slowly curtsied. “Hello, miss… Maleficent?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stepping forward, Maleficent placed a hand on Alice’s shoulder and said, “Hello, child.” She turned to Sora, adding, “So she encountered one of your dear friends. Oh, what a shame, then, that we have to leave so soon.[/FONT][FONT=&quot]”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Leave?” Sora frowned, looking down at the floor. “But if it is Riku, then maybe I can find him, and he can come with us! Then we can find—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking her head, Maleficent raised her staff into the air. “There’s simply no time. If we stay much longer, then the Queen will doubtlessly send reinforcements of the darkest variety. I’m sure you’re familiar with the creatures that attacked your home.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora gasped, peering up at Maleficent. “You mean those monsters? I… I guess,” – he drooped a little—“we can go. But how will I know when he’ll turn up next? If that’s really him, I mean.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Worry not,” she said. “As a reward for your heroism, I will ensure that you are reunited with your friends in due time.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Alice folded her hands together and frowned. “But where are we going?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“To a wondrous place,” Maleficent said, tapping her staff against the floor. “You shall see very soon, my dear.”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Flames burst up from the floor once again, crackling and smoking as they encircled Sora, Alice, and Maleficent. Alice gasped as the fire wrapped itself around her ankles. Sora closed his eyes and frowned while the flames crawled up his legs. Maleficent, on the other hand, continued to smile when the flames swallowed her entire form from the bottom of her cloak to the tip of her horns. Before long the flames covered their entire bodies, slowly beginning to fade as they left the strange and unusual Wonderland to return to Maleficent’s stronghold.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
x.x.x

[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Alice was nowhere in sight. The only evidence of her escape was the busted cage and the lock beside it. With no witnesses besides the Cat, Riku, Donald, and Goofy quickly returned to the Bizarre Room. It didn’t take long to get there, but when they did, they still didn’t find any leads. The whole place was completely deserted; no Heartless attacked, and that Doorknob was still fast asleep.

With a groan, Riku climbed onto a chair and crossed his arms. Donald and Goofy followed close behind. Together, they skimmed the room for any unusual signs. Unfortunately, they still didn’t find anything. Sure, Alice and the boy could be hiding somewhere, but was it really worth the effort to skim every nook and cranny? They probably left already, and it’d be hard to catch up at this rate.

Riku looked up at the table when a familiar voice started singing again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And, as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame…” [/FONT][FONT=&quot]In the midst of his song, the Cheshire Cat appeared, resting his face in his paws. “Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald sneered at the Cat’s singing. “Whaddaya talking about this time?[/FONT][FONT=&quot]”
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Oh, nothing,” said the cat, “and everything. That’s for you to decide. Either way, I suggest you climb up here, that is, if you wish to enjoy the view.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What’s there to view?” Riku rolled his eyes. “So far, there’s been no sign of Alice or anyone else, not even the ‘shadows’.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Cat laughed. “Didn’t you know? Shadows just love the light. The brighter the light, the stronger the shadow… Allow me to demonstrate.” With a snap of his fingers, the Cheshire Cat summoned a small flame in the palm of his hand, holding it still for a moment. “Now is the time to jump, you know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku rolled his eyes. “So you can make fire, so what? I still don’t see any shadows.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Mmm, not yet, anyway.” Lifting his hand, the Cheshire Cat tossed the small flame up at one of the lights on the ceiling. The light flashed, and an enormous shadow appeared on the ground.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The shadow peeled away from the floor, stretching into a tall, lanky shape. It juggled two purple batons with its papery arms, and its hook-like feet scraped the ground as it trudged towards the table. Its head was made up of several faces stacked on top of each other, and its whole body had a black and red motif. It moved slowly and steadily, bobbing up and down with each step. Whatever this thing was, it sure didn’t look stable.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]At the sight of the Heartless, Riku instantly jumped back, followed by Donald and Goofy. They drew their weapons and turned their attention to the Cheshire cat, who continued to laze about.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I hope you’ve prepared for the worst,” he said. “If not? Too bad!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why, you…!” Donald pointed his staff at the Cat. “You tricked us, didn’t you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Tricked?” The Cat shook his head, repositioning himself so that he stood on his hind legs. “Perhaps, perhaps not, but you know…” he pointed down to Riku, “you might be needing this.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The Heartless continued to approach. It lumbered slowly but persistently, forcing Riku, Donald, and Goofy to move further back. Oddly, it turned away from the trio and stomped over to the stove, juggling with each step. All the while, the Cheshire Cat slid over to the table’s edge and leaned down, pointing his paw at Riku. A faint blue light spread from the cat’s claw and to Riku’s Keyblade, while a cold chill swept around him. Small snowflakes fell from the tip and onto the floor, melting instantly. Both Donald and Goofy leaned over the Keyblade, and Goofy chuckled.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh,” he said, “new magic! Guess that feller ain’t so bad after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Donald turned to the Heartless and raised his staff. “Looks like it’ll come in handy, too. See for yourselves!”

Flames from the stove ignited the batons, and the Heartless headed back towards the table. Raising its arms, it hurled several fireballs at the trio, forcing them to scurry out of its path. The constant barrage of flames kept them on their toes, forcing them to hide beneath the chairs and within the fireplace to avoid being torched. Ducking below the table, Donald hurled frozen crystals at the baton. As the ice clusters collided with their target, the flames died down.

One of them burned brightly. Though Riku tried to douse its flames with blizzard magic, only fire emerged from the Keyblade’s tip. He tried again and again, but each time he flung flames at the Heartless. Then, when it came close enough, it swung its burning baton right at him; he just barely managed to deflect the blow, leaping back to gain some distance.

Why wouldn’t the magic work? It’d been a cinch to unleash his fire magic from the get-go. How could blizzard spells be any different? There had to be a trick to it. Some way to toggle spells the way that Donald did so effortlessly. Off to the side, he caught Donald firing more frozen blasts up at the Heartless’ chest. Goofy followed it up by hurling his shield at its legs; it bounced off. Groaning, Riku rushed back into the fray.

As he dashed towards the Heartless, he dragged the Keyblade’s tip against the floor. Then, when he came close enough, he leaped into the air, driving his weapon against the bottom of its torso. It just barely collided, making the Heartless bob back and forth, flailing its paper thin arms. Then, it bent down and struck Riku’s back, sending him flying towards a wall. He managed to land on his feet, crouching before he slipped out of the path of its dangerous flame attacks.

He tried to strike its body again, but the Heartless stomped out of the way; it stood way too tall to get a clear shot. While he tried to nail its loop-shaped legs, striking the knees did absolutely nothing. The Heartless swiped its batons once more, and Riku hopped out of the way. If he was going to nail this thing, he’d need to get up higher or drag it down to his level.

CLANG! The force of Goofy’s shield sent the Heartless down on its knees, and it sat motionless for a few short moments. In that time, he and Donald lashed out at its torso with magic and fierce combos. It was wide open, ready for attacks… No way he’d miss his chance. When Riku neared the helpless Heartless he spun around, driving the Keyblade right into its chest. Then, he shoved it forward. The Heartless fell backwards, but then it sprung back to its feet and slammed both its weapons into the ground.

A blazing shockwave knocked Riku flat against one of the chairs. Flames danced around his shirt, and he had no choice but to stop, drop, and roll. He took a deep breath and got back on his feet, watching the Heartless trudge closer and closer. Up above, he heard someone whistle.

“Hey, Riku!”

Riku looked up, eying Donald, who motioned him over with the wave of his hand. He stood on top of the table and fired away with his icy spells.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Up here, hurry!”

Nodding, Riku made a made a mad dash for the table. When he reached the top, he stood by Donald’s side and watched the Heartless carefully. Taking a quick glance at his Keyblade, he tried to fire a blizzard spell again; just like before, he shot flames. It still didn’t make sense! If he could just get the spell down…

Donald tapped him on the shoulder. “Riku, focus!” He pointed his staff at the Heartless and blasted it with another spell. The ice crystals wrapped around the Heartless’ torso, freezing it for a split second. “Blizzard magic’s a lot tougher to use. You’ve gotta really picture the ice freezing your enemies.”

“You make it sound so easy.” Focus… Riku closed his eyes and took a deep breath. So he’d have to picture the spell overtaking the Heartless. It wasn’t a matter of flinging his weapon around. In the back of his mind, he pictured ice crystals overwhelming his enemy, stopping it dead in his tracks.

“Now’s your chance!”

The Heartless raised both its batons, ready to pound them into the table. That’s when Riku rushed over to the edge and slammed the Keyblade against its chest. A white glow at the tip spread all around its body, coiling around its shoulders and reaching for its arms. Large chunks of ice formed in place of the glow, freezing the Heartless in place. Then, he sent it toppling backwards with a powerful swing.

Goofy hurried over, as the Heartless fell to its knees once more. Riku and Donald soon joined him on the floor. Together, they furiously struck, hammered, slashed, and bashed the Heartless with all their might. Donald clobbered its face with his staff, while Goofy slid behind it and delivered a spinning blow. Eventually, the ice broke, and the Heartless got back on its feet. Luckily, its movements slowed tremendously; it was probably running out of steam.

Slowly and steadily, the Heartless approached the stove, lighting its batons ablaze. Donald reached over to Riku’s arm, dragging him down to eye level. He pointed his staff at the Heartless.

“Let’s get ‘em! If we both use our magic, that oughta finish it off.”

Riku nodded. It was worth a shot. Even if he couldn’t stand Donald, he was a powerful magician. If the two combined their power, they’d probably turn it into a giant icicle. Smirking, Riku readied his weapon, focusing hard on his magic once more. The Heartless turned away from the stove and headed their way. That’s when they both unleashed a whirlwind of ice and snow that flew forward and engulfed the Heartless from head to toe.

Its body froze completely. Icicles crept down its limbs, while frost coated its many faces. The Heartless stiffly wobbled back and forth, and then it fell forward, shattering into a million pieces as it hit the ground. Each of its remaining pieces melted away into a black, bubbling ooze. A glowing heart flew through the air and vanished. Finally, they’d trashed the Trickmaster.

“We did it!” Goofy hopped up and down with an enormous smile on his face. “Y’know, we really make a great team once we start workin’ together like this!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald nodded, stepping closer to the table. “I hate to admit it,” he said, “but you’re right.” Stopping for a moment, he looked back at Riku with a small smile on his beak. “Not bad for a first time! If you keep at it, you’ll be usin’ Blizzaga in no time! But…” His smile waned, and his expression shifted into a sneer. “You better get your act together, Riku. We could’ve gotten in big trouble, you know!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku groaned, joining Donald by the table. “But we didn’t.” He climbed up onto the chair, then to the tabletop. “Anyway, looks like Alice is gone, Cat. Now what do you—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He looked around, but the Cat was nowhere to be found. Not even his toothy grin appeared, and he sure wasn’t singing Jabberwocky any more. Frowning, Riku stepped over to the ‘Drink Me’ bottle and surveyed the area. Donald and Goofy joined him. No matter where they looked, they found no sign of the Cheshire Cat. Once again, they were on their own.

“Gawrsh, looks like that Cat feller left. He didn’t even say goodbye!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Somehow, I’m not surprised.” Groaning, Riku turned to face the golden box next to the bottle. The cookies inside it said “Eat Me”. So if drinking the bottle made them small, maybe a cookie would bring them back to their regular sizes. If that was the case… Riku leaned over the edge of the box and scooped up a cookie.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Anyway, we might as well get going, and I think…” He stumbled a bit, dropping the cookie on the table’s surface, “This cookie might just get us back to the right size.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Kneeling down, Goofy reached for the cookie and ripped off a small chunk. “I guess it’s worth a try!” He slipped the chunk into his mouth, making a pleased noise as he chewed. “Gawrf, it tafstes greaff!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As soon as he swallowed, Goofy rapidly started growing. He let out a loud yelp as he grew, stumbling down from the table and collapsing on the floor. There he kept growing until he finally reached his regular size. With a soft moan, he stood up, and his eyes whirled around in dizziness. Both Riku and Donald tore off their own cookie chunks and gobbled them down. Like Goofy, they returned to their original sizes in a heartbeat. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]And it was then that the Doorknob spoke again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ll say,” he said, “can’t you keep it down? I’m having a difficult time sleeping with all that racket out there.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio turned their attention to the Doorknob, which let out another yawn. His mouth opened wide, revealing a keyhole inside. Before he knew it, Riku felt himself being jerked towards the Keyhole as a bright, white light formed around the Keyblade’s tip. Stars floated all around it, and a beam of flew right into the Doorknob’s mouth. Following the sound of a soft click, the light began to fade, and the Keyhole vanished completely. Then, the Doorknob shut its mouth and drifted back into sleep.

Holding out the Keyblade, Riku said, “What was that about?” It didn’t make sense. Sure, his weapon was a key and all, but what was that light, and why did that Keyhole just… disappear? Frowning, he looked over to Donald and Goofy, who both shrugged.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Beats me,” said Donald, stepping away from the door, “but I’m guessin’ it’s got something to do with what the King said. The Key to our Survival… maybe we can ask Leon the next time we see him. He’d know!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yeah…” Riku began to walk towards the room’s entrance, dismissing the Keyblade. He continued to frown as he neared the exit, but not because of the Doorknob. Not even close. Cracking the door open just a smidge, he said, “You know, I wonder who that boy was. The one they kept talking about. It wasn’t just the cat… the Doorknob said something about him, too.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Probably one of the bad guys.” Goofy followed Riku to the door, and Donald trailed close behind him.

“Sounds to me like he captured that poor Alice girl! And that Cat did say somethin’ about them shadows…”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Anyway, let’s get goin’. We’ve still got a lot of worlds to see, and the King’s counting on us!”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
x.x.x

[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]When Maleficent led Sora back into the chapel, he quickly discovered that they weren’t alone. A big, round table sat at the center of the room, covered by a purple cloth. And that’s not all! Several different people sat around it. They weren’t like anything he’d ever seen before! As Sora crept closer to the table, he looked all around, gasping at the strange and especially cool people all around him.First he spotted what looked like a pirate captain. He wore a huge, feathered hat on his head and a bright red coat. In fact, his whole outfit was a mix of reds and whites. The pirate wore one of those funny scarf things around his neck, and his black hair reached down to his shoulders. What really stood out about him, though, was the razor-sharp hook replacing his left hand.

A really skinny man stood right next to him. He wore a big, black turban on his head, a cape that reached down to his feet, and a black and red robe. Oh, and his shoes were curled at the toes. Compared to the pirate, he looked almost scary with his beady little eyes and twisted looking beard. He sneered as Sora approached, clutching his golden, cobra staff tightly in hand.

As he came closer, Sora spotted two very strange people. One of them looked like he was made out of a potato sack! His huge, round body was held up by two stubby little legs, and his arms looked pretty stubby, too. His eyes were empty holes, and his lips looked like they had stitching all over them. Next to him sat a plump woman with purple skin and short, white hair. She wore a shell around her neck and red lipstick, but what really stood out about her were the tentacles. It looked like she was part squid! Or maybe octopus.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Finally, next to the… sack stood one final addition to the group. He was a tall and pale man with flames for hair! His skin was kind of blue, and his eyes a bright yellow. For clothes, he wore a black toga with a single skull emblem by his right shoulder. He stood with his arms crossed as Sora and Maleficent finally reached the table.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Whoa!” Sora gasped and grinned at the people all around him. “So these are your friends, Maleficent?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Friends?” The strange sack laughed, dropping a pair dice on the table as he watched Sora with a grin. “You think I’d be friends with these—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The man in the turban quickly turned to the sack, stepping up to him with a sneer. “Silence,” he said in a quiet whisper. “Surely you recall what Maleficent told us earlier.” The bag groaned, while the man in the turban turned to face Sora, a twisted smile lining his face. “Yes, we are… friends of Maleficent, and you must be the boy. She spoke so fondly of you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Really?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Of course,” said the purple woman, lacing her fingers together. “Why, it sounds like you’re quite the hero, short stuff.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his head. “Well, I dunno about that…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Smiling, Maleficent stepped past Sora, stopping behind the others at the table. She raised a hand into the air, gesturing towards all the people around her.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“The beings you see are not unlike yourself. At one point or another, they were dignified heroes of their worlds, each with their own goals and ambitions…” She quickly looked back at the group, watching as some, like the fire-headed man gave her irritated looks. In return, the pressed a finger to her lips and returned her attention to Sora. “Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending, nor does every hero triumph over evil. Take this man—” – she motioned towards the pirate—“for example. Once a proud, pirate captain, he lost his hand thanks to the antics of a cruel child by the name of Peter Pan.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Gasping, Sora immediately turned to the pirate. “Is that really true?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Instantly the pirate slammed his hand on the table. “Every last word! That blasted Pan didn’t just take me hand, he feed it to a crocodile that’s hunted me ever since!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora frowned, looking down at the floor. “I’m sorry…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Meanwhile, Maleficent continued. “As for this woman…” She pointed to the purple woman, who smiled in return. “At one point in time, she was the proud ruler of a land called Atlantica. However, she was banished by the cruel tyrant known as King Triton, who stole the crown.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You’ve got that right!” Frowning, the woman pushed herself away from the table. “And why, you ask? Old Triton was afraid, when all I did was help those poor, unfortunate souls in the kingdom!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s so not fair!” Looking up, Sora continued glared at no one in particular, and he crossed his arms with a huff. “You guys don’t seem that bad! Maybe a little different, but you’re so cool!” He stepped closer to the table, pointing to the pirate. “I never thought I’d actually see a pirate for real, and you…” Turning away from the pirate, he faced the man with the flaming hair. “Your hair’s awesome! Is that real fire?”

Chuckling, the man said, “Well, what can I say? When you’re hot, you’re hot.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stepping away from the table, Maleficent approached Sora with a smile. “Each of us share a common goal; we wish to create a miracle, one that will affect all worlds. To do this…” Pausing, she turned back to the table, as a dim, green light appeared on the center. The light revealed an image of Alice, and Sora quietly frowned. “We desperately need your help.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora peered up at Maleficent, bringing a hand to his chest. “But what about Riku and Kairi? You said that if I saved Alice—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Fear not, my dear child. We will gladly reunite you with your friends once we uncover their location.” Maleficent shook her head, pointing at image on the table. “Consider this a mere request, a favor, if you will… And besides, in doing so, you will become an even greater hero than you are now.”

For a moment, Sora remained silent, gazing down at the floor. This was all so weird. All these strangers wanted him to save the world? Real heroes that got the short end of the stick… were they really counting on him? What could he do that they couldn’t?

On the other hand, he really enjoyed his adventures in Wonderland, even if it was kind of a bumpy ride. He got to see a new world, meet all kinds of new people, and he saved the life of a girl who could’ve lost her head thanks to that mean Queen. If helping these guys meant seeing even more worlds, it’d probably be a lot of fun. And if Alice saw Riku in Wonderland, maybe he’d bump into him, too! This really seemed like a win-win situation. He’d help out some heroes, explore new places, and be a hero. A real hero![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It took a moment, but he soon turned back to Maleficent with a huge grin.

“I’ll do it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
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In your nightmares!
[FONT=&quot]Chapter 10: Let the Games Begin!

[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Business as usual returned to the Gummi Ship once the trio left Wonderland. Just like before, Donald sat down at the driver’s seat and fiddled with the controls as they drifted through space. Occasionally he’d pull a few levers and press a few buttons, firing a blast from the ship’s artillery on the off chance that floating space debris or Heartless Ships whizzed by. Whenever the ship blasted these targets, Riku would shift forward and focus on the window. It was pretty cool to watch, after all. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Unfortunately, the coast seemed clear at the moment, and the only interesting sights outside were the large, floating rings. Groaning, he watched as Donald drove straight through the center of the rings. It didn’t make much sense… How did those rings even get out there? Whatever the case, he quickly turned away from the window and leaned back in his seat.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy, on the other hand, pulled out a small object from his pocket and fiddled around. He held it right up to his eyes, tilting it in various directions, occasionally making a soft ‘hmm’ as he looked it over. He’d pause briefly, looking up to the radar to assist Donald, but for the past several minutes he’d been focusing on the little block. Heaving a sigh, Riku turned to Goofy. Not like he had anything better to do, and right now that block looked ten times more interesting than a bunch of floating rings.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What are you doing?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Huh?” Goofy looked back at Riku and lowered his hand. He then raised it again, smiling. “Oh, this? It’s somethin’ I picked up on the way outta Wonderland! Looks like a Gummi Block.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“A Gummi Block?” Quickly, Donald fiddled with the controls, setting the ship to autopilot. He then spun around to face the others. “Lemme see it, Goofy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With a nod, Goofy reached over to Donald and dropped the small block in his hand. “Here ya go!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Like Goofy, Donald held block close to his face, moving it around between his fingers. He gave it a light squeeze, and then a shake before placing it in his other hand and holding it up above his head. After turning it around in his hand a bit more, he lowered the block and handed it back to Goofy, shaking his head.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I dunno about this one, Goofy. I’ve never seen this kind of block before.” Placing a hand against his beak, Donald leaned towards Goofy with a frown. “It must be from another ship! But who else could’ve—wait!”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Goofy gasped. “Do ya think?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What are you guys talking about this time?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald turned to Riku and waved his finger, giving a smug little grin. “Goofy might’ve found us a clue! There’s no way that Gummi Block is ours, but it might be the King’s. That means he might’ve been in Wonderland after all!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And we missed him.” Riku shook his head. “So, what now?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” Goofy pointed to the radar, “we’re headin’ to the next world now… What’s it called? Alley… uh.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You mean Olympus!” Donald rolled his eyes. “According to this, the next world’s called ‘Olympus Coliseum’. Sounds like there’s some kinda tournament there.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“A tournament, huh?” Grinning, Riku looked over to the screen, thinking this over. Back home, he only ever competed with kids his age. Even then, he’d trained so hard that Tidus, Wakka, and Selphie couldn’t hold a candle to him. Three-on-one matches were nothing to him, and Sora? Hah, he never stood a chance. The only time he’d ever lost a fight was when he went up against Leon, but he’d learned some new tricks since then. A real tournament would put those skills to the test. How could they pass it up?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald turned back to the controls. “Don’t go getting your hopes up, Riku. We probably won’t have time to compete.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Heh, right.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And, just like that, the ship quieted down. Donald pressed a few more buttons, returning the ship to manual controls, while Goofy tucked the block away and scooted up to the edge of his seat. With nothing else to do, Riku watched the window as the ship cruised through space. More of those annoying rings appeared. As Donald drove, he slid up through one hoop and down through the next. Several chunks of space rocks appeared, and Donald blasted them to smithereens.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Further along, several small, purple ships appeared and launched an array of lasers. Glaring at his attackers, Donald swerved the ship out of the lasers’ path, firing right back at them. Some of the enemy lasers did hit, making the ship rattle and shake, but Donald continued to fly forward at full speed. His constant use of the ship’s weaponry decimated the enemy ships, leaving nothing but Gummi Blocks in their place.

Eying the blocks, Donald pulled back another lever. The engines roared, and the ship quickly revved forward. It picked up each of the blocks, and when another loop came into view, Donald dove straight through it. More enemy ships and meteors showed up, but a few blasts trashed them in the blink of an eye. After two more ships went down in a fiery explosion, the radar began to blink. They were nearing the next world.

Unlike wonderland, this world looked pretty plain. No colored patterns or crazy hedge mazes appeared. Instead, an enormous building appeared atop a floating chunk of sand. The building’s architecture looked like something out of an ancient culture, with its countless columns and golden statues of warriors with massive swords. Riku grinned as they approached this new world. Two smaller statues appeared next to the coliseum, carrying spears instead of sword. As a whole, the place practically screamed battles and war.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stroking his chin, Goofy turned to Donald. “Gee, looks like this world’s actually got an entrance!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Good! That means we won’t have to use the transport this time.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku sat up in his seat, continuing to look out the window. “So if we’re not supposed to meddle, how exactly would you explain this ship? Place looks kind of ancient.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s an easy one!” Donald winked, as he continued to steer the ship closer to the world. “We’ll just keep our ship right outside the entrance. Looks like there’s plenty of room down there!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Just like Traverse Town, huh?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The ship slowly approached the Coliseum, bringing its features into full view. Four enormous stone walls surrounded the coliseum, each wall with several little holes on the lower level and pillars towards the top of the walls. An enormous door stood at the front wall, which was probably the entrance. Much like the rest of the architecture, stone pillars sat at the base of the door, which bore lightning-bold decorations. Oddly, while the rest of the Coliseum’s structures seemed to be made of stone and metal, the door was made of wood.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald landed the Gummi Ship just a few yards away from the door.. Upon hitting the ground, he undid his seatbelt and pushed himself up and out of his seat. Rather than press any more buttons, he raised a hand, motioning over to the door. Nodding, Goofy left his seat and headed right over to Donald. It wasn’t long before Riku got up and stood right behind them. In a new world with a fighting tournament, there was no way he’d stall. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Grasping at the handle, Donald looked back at the others. “Here we go. Let’s try to keep this quick, okay?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I don’t know,” said Riku, shaking his head. “The last two worlds weren’t exactly quick. If there were Heartless there, they’re probably here, too.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“If the Heartless show up, then we’ll take care of ‘em.” Turning back to the door, Donald pulled on the handle and slipped through the door. “But let’s try not to start anything.”

They stepped out into the sand, gazing up at the enormous stone walls all around the Coliseum. The front wall reached high into the sky, towering above the trio. Sand colored bricks made up its outer structure, save for the columns, which were smoother and paler by comparison. Grinning, Riku marched right up to the entrance, shoving the door wide open. Once he reached the bottom of the steps, he stopped and stared.

There it was, the Coliseum.

It looked even cooler up close. Just like the surrounding walls, the Coliseum reached high above him. The two, golden statues stood facing one another, and their swords formed an “X” shape above a set of large, double doors. Just like the door behind him, they bore lightning-shaped emblems. Six stone columns surrounded this entrance, and as he stepped closer, Riku caught sight of a few burning braziers at the statues’ feet.

Without anywhere else to go, it only made sense to head straight for the Coliseum itself. After all, the world looked pretty small. Even smaller than the islands and Traverse Town. If the main draw was competition and fierce battles, they’d just have to step up to the plate and jump right into the fray.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald groaned, following Riku to the Coliseum’s doors. “I guess we’ve got no choice but to head in. If the King was out here, we would’ve known by now.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stopping right next to Donald, Goofy said, “Gawrsh, does that mean we’re gonna be enterin’ the tournament here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shrugging, Donald looked up at the doors, placing a hand to his beak. “Well,” he said, “it’s either that or we leave, and we can’t risk missing him again! For all we know, he could’ve entered, anyway.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So we’ll kill two birds with one stone.” Moving up the steps, Riku leaned up against one of the doors, motioning for Donald and Goofy to follow. “C’mon.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald and Goofy nodded, following Riku up the steps. With that, he pushed both doors right open, and together they stepped inside.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Much like the outside, countless bricks lined the Coliseum’s walls, which were each held up by a single pillar. A small shelf sat along the right and left walls, which housed a few trophies of different sizes and shapes. Another brazier burned between these trophies, and a stone pedestal sat just a few feet away. Over at the far end of the room, Riku caught sight of a rule board dangling by what appeared to be another entrance. A second pedestal rested just below the board, but what really caught his eye was the guy standing on top of it.

A strange, little man fiddled with the rule board. He was fat, hairy, and balding, by the looks of it. While that might not sound strange on its own, the guy had the fuzzy, rear end of a goat complete with hooves and a scruffy tail. Two stubby little horns poked out of his head, and the tips of his ears looked pointed. In other words, he was a satyr, and even as Riku and the others crept closer, he kept fiddling away at the rule board without a word.

At first, Riku just stared at the satyr. He sure looked strange, after all… even if he’d already seen talking Doorknobs, cards, and animals. Still, if he was messing with the rule board, maybe he could get them squared away for the tournament. It was worth a shot.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey,” he said. “You the guy in charge?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What?” The satyr whirled around to face Riku and the others. He looked Riku over before placing a hand on his hip. “That’s right, but what are you doing here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Goofy, “we’re here to enter the tournament, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s right.” Donald grinned. “So how do we get in?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Get in?” The satyr burst into laughter, shaking his head. “What makes you think you’ve got what it takes?” Hopping down from the pedestal, he walked right up to Riku before circling around Donald and Goofy. “These here games are for heroes only.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald rolled his eyes, crossing both his arms. “Yeah, and we’re standing right in front of you. Right, Goofy?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yup!” Goofy smiled, draping an arm over Riku’s shoulder. “’specially Riku! He’s the Keybearer, ya know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Groaning, Riku squirmed out of Goofy’s grip. He looked down at the satyr, and then he summoned the Keyblade with a smirk. “Goofy’s right. I’d say this Keyblade pretty much proves it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Briefly, the satyr looked over the Keyblade. “A Keyblade, huh?” He began to walk around Riku, stopping back in front of him… and then he shook his head. “Hah! Two words, kid: You ain’t the first.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy counted the words on his fingers, looking at the satyr with a puzzled look. “But that’s four—”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Meanwhile, Riku’s eyes widened. More Keybearers… then maybe—

“You mean there are others?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, sure.” The satyr motioned towards the blocked entrance. “I saw a couple of ‘em a few years back. Good kids, they had real heart, that’s for sure. Especially that one kid… what was his name?” Pausing, he shook his head. “Anyway, my point is, it’s gonna take a lot more than that Key to be a true hero.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku dismissed the Keyblade, rolling his eyes. “What else could there be? It’s not like I’m weak.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What else?” Again, the satyr shook his head. “Kid, if you’re asking, then that just proves my point.” He sighed, looking the trio over again, watching as Donald groaned and Goofy scratched at his head. Then he stepped over to the entrance. “Tell ya what. I’ll let you guys do some training in the Coliseum. Just something to get you on the right track.”

“Training? Seriously?” Riku sneered, placing a hand on his hip. “Look, you can keep your stupid training. I don’t need it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald closed his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah! We’d just be wasting our time.” Crossing his arms, he stomped over to the exit. “Come on, let’s get goin’. We don’t need to prove anything to this guy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Goofy followed Donald to the door before looking back at the satyr. “Gawrsh,” he said. “Sorry for buggin’ you!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku sighed, but he, too, headed for the door. “There goes that plan.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Without another word, they shoved the doors open and stormed down the steps. If all they could do was train, what point was there in sticking around? Donald would probably complain about the King, and it’s not like Riku wanted to waste time with child’s play. He’d spent years training back home, even if it was with a wooden sword. Why take a step forward, only to take two steps back? It’d only slow him down.

They got about halfway to the world’s entrance before a voice from behind stopped them in their tracks.

“Whoa there, shortie. Where you headed?”

When they turned around, the trio came face-to-face with a strange looking man. His toothy smile and pale, blue skin gave him an eerie appearance. Combined with his pitch black toga and flaming hair, the guy looked like something out of a kid’s worst nightmare. It didn’t help that he looked right at them with a pair of yellow eyes, and his face was awfully skinny, too. But despite his creepy appearance, he grinned at the group and idly waved a hand in the air. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku groaned, and he pointed at the door. “Out of here, where else? If we can’t compete, there’s no point in sticking around.”

The flaming man smirked, stepping right up to Riku. “What, so you’re gonna let that old goat show you the door? Well, hey, if you’re a quitter, then who am I to stop you? But, you know, real heroes tend to be… y’know, gutsy. They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and they take risks.”

“That’s funny,” said Riku, “because I take plenty of risks. And with my Keyblade, I can take on anything those games throw at me.”

Keyblade, eh? So you’re one of those hotshot, world saving types, I got ya.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ha!” Donald shook his head. “He’s anything but—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, Donald. Do ya have to be so hard on—”

“Donald, Goofy… shut up.

“A hero with a three-man comedy act, too?” The man laughed. “Hey, I can respect that. I’d say you chumps are already leagues ahead of Jerkules.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Jerkules?” Goofy tilted his head. “Gawrsh, that sure doesn’t sound like a hero.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Laughing, the man looked over to Goofy. “Now here’s a guy I can agree with!” Turning back to Riku, he held out a hand and added, “But let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You want into the games, and…” With a snap of his fingers, a puff of blue smoke appeared right in the man’s hand, revealing a large ticket. “I happen to have an extra pass.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku’s eyes locked on the pass, and he slowly reached for it, yanking it out of the man’s hand. “So, what’s the catch?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey, hey!” Taking a step back, the man shook his head. “I’m a perfectly reasonable guy. This pass is all yours, kid. Free of charge, no catch.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy grinned. “Thanks, pal! We really owe ya one!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yeah, yeah.” The man stepped away from Riku and headed for the door, chuckling under his breath. “Good luck in there, kid… You might just need it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that, the man slipped on through to the other side, disappearing without a trace. He stared at the door for a split second, and then he turned his gaze toward the ticket. Whoever that guy was, he sure caught on fast, and with this pass, there was no way that goat could turn them down. They’d get into the games after all, which was just what they wanted. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku, Donald, and Goofy all grinned, and they all turned back towards the Coliseum. Donald snickered a bit, rubbing both his hands together, while Riku tossed the pass up and down. Together, the trio marched back up the stairs and shoved the double doors wide open. Inside, the satyr rom before continued to tidy up the place, jotting down some notes on the rule board up ahead. Of the notes, the largest writing read: “HEROES ONLY”, not too surprising considering their previous encounter. Nevertheless, Riku stepped right up to the creature, pass in hand, and gave him another tap on the shoulder.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey,” he said. “We’re back… and this time we’ve got this.” He continued to hold the pass up as the satyr turned around…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And instantly his eyes went wide. “A pass? Where’d you even get—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Both Riku and Donald crossed their arms, the latter tapping his foot, while Goofy quietly rubbed a finger against his nose. The satyr frowned at the group, his expression stern, but then he heaved a sigh.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, it looks like I ain’t got a choice,” he said. “Fine, you’re in, but don’t go feeling all high and mighty just yet. You want to get into the big leagues? Two words: Preliminaries.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I think we can take it.” Riku already moved towards the blocked off entrance and leaned against the wall. “So when do we start?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gimme a sec to set things up,” said the satyr as he walked over to the door. “You guys’ll have some interesting competition. A whole group of shady fellas entered, never seen anyone like ‘em.” He reached out for the rope that blocked the way, pulling it out of place. “Better watch yourselves.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He wasn’t gone for long. Maybe a minute or two; it gave the trio enough time to split up their potions evenly, but soon the satyr reappeared, shaking his head as he walked.

“I tell ya,” he said. “Heroes are like a needle in a haystack these days! All anybody wants to do is watch.” He pointed over to the doorway. “Anyway, you’re up.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Turning towards the door, the satyr stepped through again, quickly motioning for the trio to follow. Grinning, Riku summoned the Keyblade. Donald snickered a bit before he pulled out his staff, while Goofy just smiled, carrying his shield at his side. With their weapons at the ready, they followed the satyr through the entrance and straight into the arena, and what a sight it was.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Unlike the lobby, the arena itself was huge. Like practically every other structure in this world, the walls were made up of bricks, but images of gladiators decorated these walls. Tall, stone bleachers lined the left and right walls of the arena, reaching up several levels, and in the center of the arena sat a stone platform lined with four tall pillars. A dark cage with golden bars sat at the very back, while a score board stood not too far from the center platform.

But as the trio entered the arena, it wasn’t the roaring audience or the enormous setting that caught their eye. Those were great and all, but what really stood out was the small ground of Heartless twitching and squirming on the center platform. So these were their opponents.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Thankfully, they were small Heartless. The group consisted of a few Soldiers kicking, stomping, and swiping their claws through the air. Two of the mage Heartless, Blue Rhapsodies, bobbed up and down, occasionally circling the Soldiers. Rather than take the time to talk, the trio rushed up to the platform with their weapons at the ready. Once they took their places, the satyr raised his hand into the air, waving it to signal the start of the match.

Needless to say, it was an easy match. Having faced Soldiers and Blue Rhapsodies before, Riku knew exactly what to expect. He and Donald both nailed the mages with bursts of red hot fire, while Goofy hurried for the Soldiers to deliver a spinning blow. Blocking their whirling kicks and ducking out of the way of their claw swipes, he nailed two of the Soldiers with ease. Only two remained, and Riku quickly nailed them with an array of Keyblade combos. Before long, the Heartless were gone. They’d finished the first match with flying colors.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]All around them, the crowd went wild. Confetti flew through the air, and countless spectators screamed and shouted. Not bad for a warm-up round, but they were just getting started.

Stepping up to the platform, the satyr smiled up at the trio.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey, not bad!” he said with a grin. “For a bunch of rookies, anyway.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald sneered, looking down at the satyr. “Who’re you callin’ a rookie?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But before the satyr could answer, a strange man emerged from around the corner, silently walking behind him. He was tall and well built, with blonde hair even spikier than Sora’s, if that was even possible. He wore wrinkled blue pants and a matching top, while several belts lined his waist. Around his neck he wore a long, tattered scarf, while a single metal plate covered his shoulder. Perhaps his strangest feature, though, was the large, black wing on his back.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The man continued to walk, passing Riku and the others without a word. Meanwhile, the satyr stroked his chin with his hand, shaking his head.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Looks like you’ve got tough competition. Better brace yourselves.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku continued to watch the man as he slipped between the bars of the cage. One thing was certain about this guy… he looked strong. Much stronger than those half-pint Heartless, anyway. His attire and age suggested experience; he didn’t seem all that different from Leon, in fact. If that was the case, then he’d have to be extra cautious. Then again, he had the two morons on his side… It’d work out. With the man out of sight, Riku turned back to the satyr.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, who’s our next match?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well…” The satyr motioned to the back of the platform, where several more Heartless appeared from a cluster of portals.

Eight Shadows and a Large Body appeared right on cue. As Riku and the others positioned themselves, the Shadows rushed forward, half leaping into the air while the other four sunk below the ground. The Large Body at the very center sat perfectly still, as if it was sleeping. Grinning, Goofy scurried behind it, nailing it with the force of his shield. All the while, Riku and Donald sliced, diced, and blasted the Shadows with a combination of magic and brute force. They went down quickly.

This left the Large Body, which woke up almost immediately following a spinning maneuver from Goofy. It beat its tremendous fists against its chest and charged forward. Riku rushed in its path, blocking it with his Keyblade. Then, he slipped behind it and hurled his weapon straight at its back side, causing it to fall forward. The surge from Donald’s thunder magic combined with Goofy’s shield finished it in no time flat.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once again, the crowd went wild, while the satyr moseyed on over to the trio with an even bigger grin than before.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You guys are better than I thought,” he said, placing his hands to his hips. “Bet Hercules would get a kick outta you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy tilted his head. “Hercules? That sounds kinda like ‘Jerkules’…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Jerkules?” The satyr’s eyes narrowed and he shook his head. “Where’d you get that from? Hades?
[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Well…” Scratching his head, Goofy frowned. “There was this blue feller, and…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Say no more! That’s Hades alright.” Heaving a sigh, the satyr shook his head again. “Don’t believe a word he says. Herc’s a true hero if there ever was one. Heck, with any luck…” he pointed up to the sky, “one of these days people all ‘round will gaze up at the stars and say ‘that’s Phil’s boy’.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku looked down at the satyr with a puzzled expression. “The stars?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You heard right!” Lowering his hand, Phil crossed his arms. “It’s like this… My dream’s always been to train the greatest hero there ever was. So great the gods would hang a picture of him in the stars.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh,” said Goofy, looking up at the sky. “So that hero’s gonna be Hercules?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You bet!” Phil turned away from the platform and started back towards the score board. “Anyway, enough small talk. You’ve still got a few more rounds to go.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]x.x.x[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora now sat in his designated room, a place very different from the chapel. It wasn’t dark, dim, or remotely creepy. In fact, the whole place was bright and colorful, from the green carpet to the golden, stained glass windows all around the massive room. Many bookshelves lined the walls, full of books of all kinds of different subjects and lengths. A staircase led to the upper level of the library, which contained more books, a desk, and a chair. A small table sat below the staircase. It was there that Sora sat, tapping his fingers against the tabletop.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Hey, Maleficent,” he said, gazing at the windows, “did you find Riku yet?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent stood just a few feet away, and she shook her head. “Unfortunately, we’ve yet to find your friend, but worry not. There are only so many worlds he can reach without the proper equipment… or the use of darkness.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Darkness?” Sora turned away from the window, looking up at Maleficent with a frown. “Isn’t Darkness where the Heartless come from? And the islands…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Smiling, Maleficent slowly approached Sora. “While it’s true that the darkness often leads to disaster in the wrong hands, it has its uses. Though it poses a great risk, one who uses darkness may travel freely between worlds. However…” She placed a hand on Sora’s shoulder. “The more one uses the darkness, the more they start to rely on it. Let us hope that your friend is using the safer alternatives, lest he become a Heartless himself.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But wait,” said Sora, propping his head up with a free hand, “isn’t that what you use? And you seem fine to me…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“The difference is that I am well versed in darkness… I know how to control it, rather than allowing it to control me.” Her smile widened, and she leaned down next to Sora’s ear. “I know quite a bit of magic as well, and some of it may prove useful to you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Instantly he sat up straight, dropping his hands to his sides. His eyes widened, and he looked up at Maleficent with a touch of disbelief.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Magic? You mean… you’d teach me?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stepping away, Maleficent nodded. “Why, of course… you’re almost like a son to me. What’s more, if you’re to continue saving poor maidens such as Alice, then you may need magic to defend yourself. A sword can only take you so far, after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey, that reminds me!” Sora slid to the edge of his chair. “Where is Alice, anyway?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]For a moment Maleficent looked away, her expression shifting to a frown… but then she looked back to Sora, and her smile returned.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Alice, like you, has her own designated place in the castle. She’s even been given a companion … you needn’t worry about her.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, if you’re sure.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora paused for a moment, looking back to the window. Magic… was he really gonna to learn it? It was so weird to think about. Just a few days ago, he’d been on the islands, where magic was nothing but fairy tales and fantasy. If he told Riku and Kairi that he’d be learning it, then the two of ‘em would probably just tease him, especially Riku. And he’d still only known Maleficent for a few days. The fact that she already gave him a cool sword had already surprised him, but now he’d get to use magic spells? That was like the icing on the cake![/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Of course he’d do it! Maleficent was right; a sword was useful, but magic… now he’d be really strong! And who knew what he’d learn? Maybe she’d teach him how to shoot fire balls from his hands or breathe under water! Anything she knew had to be better than pulling a rabbit out of a hat, at least. Sora grinned a grin about as wide as the Cheshire Cat’s as he looked back to her.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, about that magic,” he said, “when do we start? I can’t wait to tell Riku and Kairi about this!”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Maleficent laughed faintly. “Patience, child. Your teaching will begin in due time… perhaps once we locate your friend.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Still grinning, Sora slid out of his seat. “Hey, maybe Riku can come with us! I bet he’d love to meet you guys.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Maleficent nodded, a smile still gracing her face. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.” She started to walk towards the stairs, looking back at Sora. “For now, feel free to explore the castle to your heart’s content.”

As soon as they located Riku, all they’d have to do is bring him back to the castle, and they’d all go search for Kairi together. And Riku would totally get a kick out of all his new friends, like Captain Hook, Hades, and especially Oogie Boogie. Sure waiting was hard, but it’d be worth it in the end.

They’d all be together again soon, wouldn’t they?[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
Messages
857
Location
In your nightmares!
Subtle differences here. Like I said, Olympus was a pain to change up. 8|
---

[FONT=&quot]Chapter 11: A Hero's Strength[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]CLANG! [/FONT][FONT=&quot]Another Large Body toppled over, landing on its back as the long, twisted tendrils of darkness pulled it deep into the ground. Screams of enthusiasm and the loud sound of clapping filled the arena, but even though they’d completed several rounds of Heartless battles with great success, the trio stood panting. Though the Heartless didn’t get any stronger than Large Bodies, the fact remained that their fighting continued with little time to rest. By now they’d completed three more rounds of battles; the Semifinals of the Preliminaries were rapidly approaching.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Phil motioned for the trio from over by the Score Board. Each of them looked over at him, though they remained still just long enough to catch their breath. After a few seconds, Riku straightened and walked his way, and Donald and Goofy weren’t too far behind. They surrounded Phil, who stood tall with his hands on his hips. Meanwhile, the winged man from before emerged from the cage and slowly made his way to the platform. This time he carried an enormous sword; the blade looked even larger than his body, and bandages covered it all the way down to the hilt.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He stopped at the far end of the platform and waited, his eyes locked on the trio. Phil shot him a quick glance and then pointed at the board.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“This guy’s your next opponent,” he said. “Go ahead and take a quick breather before the match, though; you look beat.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s… one way of putting it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku stepped away from Phil and over to the other side of the score board, reaching into his pocket. Inside, he carried a few potions and a hi-potion from when they’d grabbed supplies in Traverse Town. Heaving a sigh, he pulled out one of the potions, twisting open the cap. He then proceeded to drink the fluids, as a dim, green glow surrounded him. Any small wounds he’d received from the Heartless matches vanished. With a soft ‘heh’, he leaned up against the board, watching Donald and Goofy.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Rather than relying on potions, Donald flicked his staff, surrounding himself and Goofy with a faint, greenish glow. His cure spell got the job done in a flash; their wounds faded, leaving them reenergized and ready to go. With their injuries treated, the trio then turned to the platform, where the man continued to wait.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“This is it,” said Donald, brow furrowed. “Something tells me this guy won’t be a pushover.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku responded with a quiet laugh. “We’ve taken on Heartless bigger than this guy, and they’ve got the darkness on their side. I’m up for the challenge.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Goofy with a smile, “long as we work together, I’m sure we’ll do just fine! All for one and one for all, y’know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shrugging, Riku led the way to the platform, carrying his Keyblade at his side. Once he, Donald, and Goofy made it, the man immediately crouched down, gripping onto his sword with both hands. He lowered it right in front of him so that the blade pointed up and out. In return, the trio got into their battle stances, Riku in the middle and Donald and Goofy at his sides. Phil stepped up to the edge and raised his hand into the air, while the crowd began to roar with excitement. He waved his hand, and the match began![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku ran straight ahead of the others, while the man slowly trudged towards him. When he neared, he slammed the Keyblade into the man’s side twice before he lifted up his enormous sword and blocked any further attacks. As his sword collided with Riku’s blade, the man took a quick step back, and a purple aura surrounded him. Donald and Goofy neared the man and prepared the strike, when all of the sudden he shot forward with his sword held up front.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The fierce blow of the blade sent the trio flying, while the man landed flat on his feet. Riku winced as he landed on the platform, clutching at his chest. This guy was strong, and then there was that sword. One thing was already clear; this guy would be a tough act to beat.

Donald instantly hopped to his feet, squawking and stomping. He rushed right ahead of the others and right towards the man, only to get knocked back as he neared from a single sweep of the man’s sword. As for Goofy, he moaned as he regained his footing, ducking behind his shield with a frown.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Rushing ahead, Riku circled around the man and attempted to jab at his back. He lashed out with a broad sweep, sending the man up against one of the pillars. Though he tried to strike again, the man suddenly leaped forward and dashed straight at him. Quickly, Riku rolled out of his path, only for the man to dash again. The man’s swift movement made it impossible to dodge a second time, and Riku soon found himself flat against the pavement once more.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Gasping, he quickly rolled out of the way, evading the man right as he slammed into the platform. For a few short moments, his blade remained stuck in the ground, providing an opening for a full-on attack. Seeing this, Riku grinned and charged straight at him, striking at the man’s side. Ice crystals soared through the air, as Donald joined Riku in this offensive strike, and Goofy bolted up close as well, twirling up against the man. With no chance but to defend himself, the man slid back, grabbing his sword at the last minute. He landed in one of the arena’s corners. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio pursued the man, quickly running across the platform. As they neared, he gave a quick sweep of his sword, which caught all three of them and pushed them back a few feet. That same purple aura surrounded him, signaling the trio to retreat, and so they did, Donald and Goofy scampering away, while Riku rolled. The man shot forward, not just once, but twice, following right after Riku as he rolled. He did this one last time before landing and hopping back.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Bolts of electricity zapped the man’s spine. This caught him completely off guard and stunned him momentarily. During this pause, Goofy flung his shield at the man’s side, causing him to wince and groan. His eyes narrowed, and he lifted up his sword, leaping up towards Goofy this time. He struck the ground with a small, purple shockwave. Luckily, Goofy managed to skedaddle, and once again the man’s weapon stuck into the ground.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio used this golden opportunity, surrounding the man and striking hard with their weapons. They each managed to get in two hits, but the man recovered much quicker than before, lunging forward at a rapid pace. He blew straight through them, turning as he skidded to a stop and shot back again; the blow through them up against one of the pillars. At the end of this attack, he turned and began to walk towards the group slowly and steadily, while they slowly groaned and got back to their feet.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku reached into his pocket, pulling out the Hi-Potion, and he chugged it down. Then, he threw them each a single potion. Even after they healed, the man continued to approach the trio. Narrowing his eyes, Riku rolled over to the side and charged, rushing towards the man with his Keyblade held high. He turned to face Riku, but before he could defend, Riku hammered down at his shoulders, sending him to his knees. When he landed, Riku lashed at the man two more times, knocking him flat against the ground.

Though the man groaned, he didn’t make any sudden moves. Smirking, Riku loomed over him and pointed the Keyblade at his chest. Off to the side, Phil hopped up and down, pumping his fist in the air. The crowds screamed and shouted even louder than before, and some even chanted ‘rookies’ again and again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As the man tried to push himself up, Riku stepped away, giving him some room. After all, the fight was over. He’d totaled the guy without breaking a sweat… even if Donald and Goofy kind of helped. The man slowly pushed himself up to his feet and picked up his sword, but right as he prepared to leave, a fierce roar echoed throughout the arena, causing the crowd to scream—and not with applause, either. Out of nowhere, an enormous black dog with razor sharp fangs and three heads appeared, slamming its paw against the man.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately, the crowd panicked, fleeing from the stands through the entrances at the very top. Riku slid back as the dog growled and lowered its heads to his level. Black smoke leaked from the mouths of each head, and it leaned back, opening its jaws as if it was ready to tear him in two. Phil hopped right up to the stands waving his arms for the trio to follow; already, Donald and Goofy fled from the platform. However, Riku remained still, glaring up at the dog as it prepared to strike.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But before it could make any sudden moves, another man appeared, lifting the dog’s torso up several feet. This man was tall and incredibly muscular, dressed in bronze armor and a blue cape. He had short, red hair, and around each of his wrists he wore metal cuffs. He held up his arms, wincing as the dog tried to press him down, and Phil immediately gasped at the sight of him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Herc!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Hercules looked over to Phil with a stern expression. “Phil!” he said, “Get them out of here!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Phil hopped down from the bleachers and rushed to the door. Donald and Goofy followed him, but Riku stayed put. Instead of running, he lifted up his Keyblade again, spreading his feet apart. This dog, powerful or not, was just another challenge, and who was he to run away in the face of danger? He’d taken on giant heartless and two skilled swordsmen now. Facing an oversized canine would just be an added bonus to this tournament.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Watching Riku, Hercules groaned, shoving the dog up with both hands, which sent it flying to the other end of the Coliseum. “Kid, you too! Come on!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald nodded, shouting from the door, “Riku! This is too dangerous. We’ve gotta leave, and fast!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking his head, Riku stepped up to the far edge of the platform, watching as Hercules struggled with the dog. “No way,” he said. “This dog may look tough, but I’m not afraid.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Hercules slammed his fists into the beast again and again, while Riku and the others watched it writhe and roar in agony. The dog thrust itself forward, knocking Hercules back several feet before leaping up into the air, landing with an enormous shockwave. As soon as the shockwaves neared him, Riku leaped out of the way; Phil and the others did the same, but the man remained vulnerable, tossed back by the pressure of the wave with a loud scream. Hercules then rushed up to the dog as it stomped closer to the platform. Even so, Riku remained in place, eyes locked on the enormous beast.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald groaned, glancing from the door over to Riku several times before he held up his staff and charged. Goofy glanced down at Phil for a split second, but soon he followed in Donald’s stead. This left Phil by the doorway, and he waved his arms with an enormous frown.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Just what are you rookies doing?” he said, slowly inching back towards the entrance. “Cerberus is way outta your league, Keyblade or not!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Looking back, Donald said, “We know, but we can’t just let Riku fight on his own!” He stepped further and further away from the door, a stern expression on his face. “He may be a handful, but Riku’s still the Key to our survival! If he fights, we all do.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Goofy pulled his shield back, ready to send it flying. “It’s all for one and one for all! Even if we don’t all get along, we’re a team!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Two more punches sent Cerberus right into the wall, and it snarled upon impact. The man remained in place, completely motionless, save for the rise and fall of his chest. Rather than deliver any more blows, Hercules turned away from Cerberus and over to the man, rushing straight on past Riku to scoop him up. Riku, all the while, crouched down and pulled back his weapon, narrowing his eyes. Cerberus slowly lifted itself upright, teeth bared, as smoke spewed out of the mouths of its left and right heads. Rather than stall any longer, both Donald and Goofy rushed up and onto the platform, joining Riku at the center.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Draping the man over his shoulder, Hercules rushed over to the entrance, where Phil continued to watch with a horrified look on his face. Even so, it was already clear that no amount of protests would stop Riku and the others, even though their opponent towered above them, standing even taller than the enormous Heartless on Destiny Islands. As such, he turned to the trio, brow furrowed.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Kid!” he shouted, as Hercules slipped through the door. “You’re either brave or just plain crazy!” Shaking his head, he began to grin. “Maybe you have what it takes to be a hero after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku smirked, shooting Phil a quick glance before focusing back on Cerberus. “So, think you guys can handle this?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald sighed, watching with wide eyes as Cerberus stomped right towards them. “We’ll find out soon enough!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Cerberus stomped closer and closer, and each of its heads let out a fearsome roar. The trio rushed up to the beast, Riku leaping up at the left head, while Goofy held his shield above him and rammed into the middle from below. Donald then slammed his staff into the right head’s cheek. Cerberus roared with each hit, but quickly retaliated by striking at full force with each of its heads; its sharp fangs and powerful bite sent the trio tumbling backwards.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Each of them slid along the ground, just barely maintaining their footing as Cerberus trudged forward. The two side heads opened their mouths wide, as enormous balls of flames shot straight down towards the ground. Quickly, Riku and Goofy rolled to the side, while Donald hopped up and onto the stands.

He continued to climb, hopping around to avoid the flames, and once he reached the top, he raised his staff into the air. Several bolts of electricity rocketed down from the sky. The bolts struck Cerberus right as it prepared to unleash another flurry of flames. This stunned it long enough for Goofy to hurl his shield at the left head’s cheek. Then he and Riku hurried up to the stands.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ve got an idea,” Riku said, flinging a fire spell at the approaching beast. “That thing’s got three heads, so maybe we can take them down one at a time.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Grinning, Donald blasted a blizzard spell at the middle head. “Good thinking!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy gulped, pointing over to Cerberus, who now faced them directly. “Um, guys… maybe we should skedaddle!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Two more fireballs flew through the air, rapidly approaching the stands. Without another word, the trio leaped to the sides and rushed down the bleachers, while Cerberus continued to blast flames from the two side heads. They hurried behind the beast, which immediately stopped its flaming assault and slowly turned their way.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku looked over the heads for a moment before pointing his Keyblade at the one to his left. Both Donald and Goofy nodded, and together they scurried towards their target. They blocked its knife-like fangs and knocked the head all around… at least until Cerberus stood up on its hind legs and slammed its paws into the ground. This created another large shockwave, which the trio avoided by leaping right over the top.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once they drew close enough, Riku struck at the bottom of the head’s jaw from below, banging and hammering the Keyblade several times. Bounding into the air, Goofy whirled around with his shield, as the hard metal clanked against Cerberus’ fangs. Growling, it took a step back and lunged each of its heads forward, but this time they were prepared.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Right as Cerberus’ fearsome maw drew close, Riku and the others quickly rolled under its chest. It let out a loud roar and slowly turned in place. All the while, Donald unleashed another thunder spell, shocking each of the beast’s heads mid-step. Immediately after, it lifted its upper body into the air again, signaling the trio to flee. They rushed out from under Cerberus, leaping up onto the stands as the shockwaves spread across the arena again. Upon landing, Cerberus turned to face them, but this time no flames emerged from its mouth; instead, it spewed a thick, black smoke all over the place.

An array of black circles rapidly ascended the stands, heading straight for Riku. Groaning, he rolled all the way down to the bottom and sprinted all over the arena. The dark circles trailed closely behind him, and he didn’t have time to slow down and nail the heads. Instead, he rushed behind Cerberus and hopped onto the back of its leg. When the darkness didn’t reach him, he climbed right onto the beast’s back and drove his Keyblade into its head from behind.

It only took a few hits for the right head to go down with a pitiful moan. The remaining heads didn’t let up, though; whenever Donald and Goofy attacked from below, they’d snap their jaws and spew red-hot flames and obnoxious, dark circles. Luckily, Riku had the upper hand; whenever they tried to attack, he quickly retaliated with the force of his weapon and some blizzard magic for good measure. He delivered massive damage to the left head before Cerberus slammed into the ground one more time, sending him flying right into the stands.

It might’ve hurt a bit, but he wasn’t about to call it quits. When he regained his footing, Riku hurried down to the ground, watching as Cerberus unleashed another barrage of exploding flames. Down below, Donald and Goofy dodged the fiery blasts by fleeing in opposite directions. They met up at Cerberus’ rear and hopped onto its back. Good thing they caught on, because its middle head started to spew smoke once more. The dark circles were sure to follow.

But Riku wasn’t about to let that happen. As soon as he drew close enough, he jammed his Keyblade against its throat. Then, he sidestepped and started nailing its left head’s cheeks, nose, and chin. It launched its heads forward, but he blocked with his Keyblade. The chills of a blizzard spell made it snarl and groan, and Goofy hammered his shield against its forehead. Riku finished the job by dragging his weapon right across the front of its face. With one last moan, the right head sagged and stopped moving completely.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Now only one head remained. As Cerberus lifted itself off the ground, Donald and Goofy quickly hopped off and into the stands. All the while, Riku avoided the devastating shockwave and rammed into its head from the side. When Donald and Goofy hopped back on its back, Cerberus began to breathe smoke for a third time. At this point, Riku joined the others on its back, and together they beat the remaining head to a pulp. Electrifying bolts struck from above, Goofy spun around on top of its snout, and Riku clobbered it from behind. Soon, Cerberus began to stumble and moan. Its movements slowed, and before long, it started to collapse.

Together, the trio hurried down to the ground, and just in time. Right before their eyes, Cerberus fell face-forward on the ground, creating a massive cloud of dust. When the air finally cleared, it lay completely motionless, save for the occasional twitching of its tail. Despite all odds, they’d taken out Cerberus with potions to spare. They had to be heroes now.

With an enormous smirk flat on his face, Riku marched right up to the fallen Cerberus and delivered a swift kick to its jaw. Donald dusted off his clothes, and then he smacked one of the heads with his staff. Chuckling, Goofy held up his hands in the air and hopped up and down.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We did it! That old Cerberus was one tough pup, but we really did it, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sighing, Donald shook his head, although he managed to smile. “Sure, but it wasn’t easy. I’ve gotta hand it to you, though…” Turning away from Goofy, Donald looked up at Riku. “That idea of yours worked great! Nice job climbing onto his back, too.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shrugged. “Had to get away from those shadows somehow. Anyway…” He turned towards the entrance, dismissing the Keyblade. “Let’s get out of here.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Together the trio left behind the fallen Cerberus and the now damaged arena, not even sparing a passing glance at the rubble behind them. Bits of debris now lined the sandy floor, and the platform in the center sported an enormous crack, plus the stands now had scorch marks from the flames. Thankfully, as they entered the lobby, everything looked just fine. Both Phil and Hercules stood by one of the walls, and at the sight of the trio they immediately perked up. Phil even hopped down from his little pedestal with a faint grin on his face.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, what do you know?” he said, crossing his arms. “The three rookies made it out in one piece.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, sure,” said Donald, passing the others. “It was easy!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You sure about that?” Goofy tilted his head, stepping into the center of the room. “That feller kept tossin’ us around, not to mention you sure scurried ‘round when it was breathin’ that fire.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Pausing, Donald gave a sheepish laugh. “I was just being careful!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Rolling his eyes, Riku leaned against one of the walls. “So, where’s that other guy?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“He’s right outside,” Hercules said, motioning to the door. “Me and Phil gave him a few potions, and he seems fine now. But what about you guys? Cerberus isn’t just a monster, he’s Hades’ guard dog.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Riku, brushing back some of his hair. “He was tough, but I’d say we wiped the floor with that mutt.” Turning to Phil, he added, “So… you change your mind about us yet?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]For a moment, Phil remained quiet, stroking his chin. “Well… you did take on Cerberus all by yourselves, and you’re definitely tough for a bunch of rookies. I don’t know about heroes, but I’d say you three count as… Junior Heroes.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald narrowed his eyes, and he placed both hands to his hips. “Whaddaya mean ‘Junior Heroes’?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Face it,” Phil said, shaking his head. “You kids are strong, but being a hero’s about more than brawn. A true hero’s judged by the strength of his heart. That’s what sets you…” – he pointed up at Riku—“and the Keybearers before ya apart.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“My heart?” Riku looked down at Phil with a puzzled frown. “What good will that do for me?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Hercules looked at Phil, and then to Riku, smiling. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Still,” Phil added, “once we get this place fixed up, you kids are welcome to compete any time, no pass required. In fact, here’s a little something to help you out.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Holding out his hand, Phil released a faint, yellow light, which surrounded Riku. Small sparks flew from the aura around him, and he closed his eyes as the power soaked into his very being. Once the aura died, Riku smirked; he knew this feeling alright. It was another spell, just like Donald’s fire and the Cheshire Cat’s blizzard. While not exactly a fancy reward, at least he’d have another advantage out on the battlefield, so to speak.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We’ll be back alright.” Pushing himself away from the wall, Riku made his way to the door, where Donald and Goofy stood. “And who knows? Maybe I’ll be even better than those ‘past heroes’ by then.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Good luck out there, kid.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that, the trio left the Coliseum and descended the steps. They would’ve headed out then and there, but on the way they caught sight of the man from the tournament.

He sat on the steps to the world’s entrance with an eerily calm expression on his face. Both his hands rested in his lap, and as they drew closer, he watched them without a word. At least, until Riku marched right up to him and looked him over. It still didn’t add up. Why did Cerberus attack after the match? Did it have something to do with this guy?

He leaned forward and groaned. “So, what was that about?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The man slowly moved to his feet, his expression unchanged. “I signed a contract with Hades. He promised to help me find someone.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Donald stepped closer to the man. “He did?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, the man said, “Yeah. All I had to do was take out Hercules,”—he looked over to Riku—“and that kid, but it looks like he took matters into his own hands.” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh,” said Goofy, scratching his head, “this Hades feller sure sounds shifty. Why’d ya stick with him?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
In response, the man shook his head. “I thought that the darkness would lead the way.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Darkness… Riku closed his eyes, thinking over the man’s words. It seemed like, no matter where they went, darkness and shadows appeared. From what Leon and the Cheshire cat said, and even that man in the cave, everything led back to the darkness. A power so great that it could destroy worlds, swallow hearts, and open up a door to other worlds… It really was no wonder the man gave in. If given the chance, Riku might’ve done the same thing.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]When he opened his eyes again, Riku stepped closer to the man, lowering his arms. “So what now? You still searching?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yeah. I won’t stop until I find my way back into the light, and to him.

Riku nodded. After all, he could relate. Even though he wanted to see the rest of the worlds, he wasn’t about to let his friends slip under the radar. Especially after his experiences in Wonderland. The others probably had similar feelings when it came to their King, and while this guy did look pretty shady, how could they fault him for his mistake? It was like Hades said… sometimes you have to take risks.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As such, Riku smirked, shaking his head as he climbed up the steps. “With that attitude, you’re bound to find him.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As the man silently passed Riku by, he dropped a small sphere in his hand. This sphere emitted a pale glow, which quickly surrounded Riku. It was almost like he’d earned a new magical ability, but what could it possibly be? Riku watched the man as he slipped outside. He passed the Gummi ship, and a series of dark tendrils wrapped tightly around him; he vanished just seconds later without another word. Whoever he was, that guy wasn’t all bad. Maybe they’d meet again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku rested his palm against one of the doors, chuckling under his breath. With the man gone from sight, they had no reason to stick around. It was time to take off into space once again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I guess that’s that,” he said with a shrug. “Looks like your King wasn’t around after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s okay.” Donald smiled, as he hopped up the steps. “That tournament was a nice break, and we’re still not about to give up on the mission!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yup! Besides, we’ve still got the Gummi Block! Maybe we can take it to Cid and see what he says.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku laughed. “Traverse Town, huh? Didn’t think you’d be up to backtracking.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s different,” said Donald, crossing his arms. “Besides, Goofy’s right… I have been pretty hard on you, Riku.” He sighed and held out his hand. “We’re not gonna get anywhere if we keep fighting.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Slowly, Riku reached for Donald’s hand. However, rather than shake it, he took a step back and slipped out the door, laughing all the way.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’ve gone soft!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald yanked back his hand and scowled, stomping in place. “Why you…!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Slipping into the driver’s seat, Riku watched as Donald scurried behind him. Goofy laughed as he followed along, and together they squeezed into the ship… with some wrestling between Riku and Donald, of course. What could have been a heartfelt apology quickly reverted back to the same old routine as the trio squabbled noisily. While they’d already explored two whole worlds and fought some terrifying foes, it’d take a miracle for Riku to truly respect those morons. Maybe over time they’d get to know each other better, but for now it’d have to wait.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Despite all the fussing and fighting, it wasn’t long before the Gummi Ship blasted off, leaving the proud Coliseum far behind. Soon they’d be back in Traverse Town, ready to uncover the mysteries of the Gummi Block.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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In your nightmares!
EDIT:

I like it so far, I'm curious see Sora's reaction if he finds Kairi. And I feel your pain about the text editor
Thank you for the response! As for how Sora will respond, that's coming up... after Atlantica and Pleasure Island. C: I'll try and get those posted soon.

Anyway, time for Traverse Town 2. At this point, things are going to get pretty different!
---

[FONT=&quot]Chapter 12: Reunited[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]When Riku returned to Traverse Town, the last thing he expected was to bump into an old friend. As he stepped through the entrance with Donald and Goofy at his side, he slowly and reluctantly headed towards the Accessory Shop. All they really had to do was talk to Cid, get their ship patched up, and they’d take off again. It’d be a quick, easy, and probably boring trip overall, but maybe they’d find some answers while they were at it.

That’s what he thought, anyway, until he heard a sudden and, more importantly, familiar voice from behind.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku came to a grinding halt, as did Donald and Goofy. That sounded just like Sora. But could it really be him? It took a moment for Riku to turn around, but when he did, his suspicions were confirmed. There he was, hurrying straight for him with the most ridiculous grin on his face. Talk about pleasant surprises.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora reached Riku pretty fast, and he stopped just a few feet away to catch his breath. It figured that he would get overly excited. Even if it’d been a while since they last saw each other, nothing changed. Forget about shock and surprise, Riku waltzed right up to Sora with a great big smirk.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What’s the big rush about?” he said, leaning forward with his eyes locked on Sora.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald looked at both of the boys and raised a brow. He circled around Sora and groaned. “Hey, who’s this kid?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora perked up right away, looking at Donald with a wide, open smile. Knowing him, he was probably stoked to see a duo of dumb, talking animals.

“My name’s Sora!”

He looked Donald and Goofy over for a few seconds, and then he darted right up to Riku. Once he came close enough, he grabbed onto Riku’s cheeks and gave them a nice, firm, tug.

“Sora, what are you—” Riku squirmed, pushing Sora’s hands away. “Cut it out!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]At first Sora gave a sheepish laugh, stepping away from Riku. “Sorry about that! I guess I kinda got carried away…” It took a few more seconds for him to continue, “But it’s really you, right?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“No, I’m really Tidus.” Rolling his eyes, Riku nudged Sora with his elbow. “Of course it’s me.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This time, Goofy stepped forward. “Gawrsh, Riku, is this one of yer pals?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before Riku could answer, Sora said, “You bet! Me and Riku are best friends!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Best friends?” Donald crossed his arms and circled Sora briefly, coming to a stop right back where he started. “In that case, maybe you could try and talk some sense into him. Riku’s been causing a load of trouble lately.” He paused, taking another step towards the Accessory Shop. “But that’ll have to wait. There’s something we’ve gotta take care of first.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You guys go ahead,” Riku said, shaking his head. “I’ll be right behind you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald sighed. “Well, alright, but don’t go wandering off. Once we get this Gummi checked out, we oughta get moving.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Despite his reluctant tone, Donald headed for the shop without another word and Goofy followed, although he stopped briefly to wave at Sora with a soft chuckle.

“Nice meetin’ ya, Sora!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]When both Donald and Goofy disappeared from sight, Sora turned back to Riku, tilting his head. “Hey, who were those guys? New friends?” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Friends?” Riku laughed. “Sora… they’re not my friends. Not even close.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Really?” Frowning, Sora leaned to the side to get a quick glimpse at the shop in the distance. “But if they’re not your friends, how come you’re traveling with them?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Why? Riku groaned. He could go on and on about the reasons. Their mission, fighting the Heartless, and his own choice to go and see other worlds… But that could all wait for now. Sora was here, and there was no way he’d miss a chance to catch up with him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s ditch this place; I’ll tell you more on the way.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Are you sure, Riku? I thought that duck said not to take off…”

Riku shook his head. “Doesn’t matter.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald and Goofy were both inside, so it wasn’t like they’d see if he and Sora wandered off. Besides, this was the first time he’d seen Sora since the islands disappeared. Why waste that chance by talking to a geezer in a shop when he could hang out with his best friend? If they got upset, it’s not like they’d do anything drastic. After all, they were the ones who dragged him along…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku pointed towards the steps leading to the shop. “C’mon, Sora. Let’s go to the Second District. It’s not as busy out there.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“All right. Lead the way, Riku!”

He took off without a moment’s hesitation, watching as Sora slowly trailed behind him. On the way, he kept getting distracted by all the buildings, barrels, and mail boxes. He couldn’t have been in town long if those things were like eye candy to him. Still, Sora had a tendency to get wrapped up in the littlest things, as long as they were cool to him. Shrugging, Riku showed him the way to the Second District’s entrance, and then he pushed the doors wide open. After boggling at the doors for a few seconds, Sora followed him inside.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]No Heartless appeared this time, and the whole place looked deserted. Overall, the District remained cool and quiet, and once he and Sora made it past the door, Riku leaned up against one of the shops with a shrug. Meanwhile, Sora stepped over to the nearby railing, peering down towards the fountain and the benches below. He took a good look at the lower area before turning to look at the shops across the way, specifically the hat shop. The more Sora soaked in his surroundings, the more he grinned.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku,” he said, “This place is so cool! I bet there’s all kinds of stuff in those shops, and—look—” – He turned to the gizmo shop, pointing to the very top—“A real clock tower!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’s not bad.” Riku shrugged. “But compared to the other worlds I’ve seen, this town’s pretty plain.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Really?” Sora tilted his head. “So where’ve you been all this time?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Where haven’t I been?” Gazing out into the center of the district, Riku continued, “After we got separated, I showed up here. It’s where I bumped into those idiots… Been stuck with them ever since.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“How come?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Because,” Riku said, “it turns out I’m some kind of ‘chosen one’. Remember that Key?”

Sora nodded. “Yeah, definitely! You used that to fight the Heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Exactly[/FONT][FONT=&quot].” Riku smirked. “Apparently they got some kind of mission from their King, and it’s got everything to do with me. They said my Keyblade’s ‘the key to their survival’.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora gasped, looking Riku over in awe. “Whoa… So you’re a hero now!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once again, Riku shrugged. “More like a ‘Junior Hero’, according to someone I met.”

“Junior hero?” Oddly, Sora didn’t laugh, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get back at him for all the teasing he’d done over the years. But instead, he pulled out a wing-shaped sword and held it high. [/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“I guess that makes me a ‘Junior Hero’, too!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The sword was definitely new. Black and menacing, it completely clashed with Sora’s personality. The weapon was definitely cool, and it was good to know that Sora had a way to defend himself, but a Junior Hero…?

“You sure you’ve got what it takes?” Riku’s smirk widened, and he pointed up at Sora’s sword. “Sure, you’ve got a fancy weapon, but what makes you think you can pull off being a hero?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey!” Sora puffed out his chest, narrowing his eyes with a pout. “I’ve done all kinds of stuff, Riku! I rescued Alice, and I’m learning how to use magic—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Alice. So Sora was in Wonderland, too? Before he could continue, Riku interrupted.

“Hold it, Sora. You’re the one who took Alice?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Sora lowered his sword with a nod. “Yeah, but I didn’t just take her, Riku! I rescued her from the—hey, wait a sec! How’d you know about Alice?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]So the Cheshire Cat was right all along. Another boy— talk about ironic.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I know about her because I was there.” Stepping away from the shop, Riku moved towards the railing. From there he turned to look back at Sora, his expression stern. “Wonderland was the first world we visited. If I’dve known you were there, I would’ve ditched those guys ages ago.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But how come? Don’t they need you?”

Need him? Probably, but that was hardly a reason to go on and on about the world order, meddling, and keeping him on such a tight leash. Those two had done barely anything to win his favor.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He let out a quiet groan. “Maybe they do need me, but I sure don’t need them. The only reason I agreed to tag along was so I could get to other worlds.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well…” Sora hesitated. “Maybe you can come with me, Riku! There’s this lady named Maleficent, and she’s the one who helped me get here. I bet she’d let you stay with us instead.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Maleficent, huh?” Riku’s eyes narrowed. So Sora had his own ‘traveling buddy’… “And who is she?”

“Well, uh.” Sora paused, scratching his cheek. “She’s this lady who lives in a place called Hollow Bastion! When I met her, she wanted to help me right away, and all I had to do was save Alice.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Hollow Bastion… It had to be another world. And from the sound of it, this ‘Maleficent’ wanted Alice for some reason. Could she really be trusted? Given Sora’s vague description, it was hard to say, and it took Riku a few moments to think things through before he responded. On one hand, he’d be traveling with Sora, leaving only Kairi to be found, and, provided Maleficent was less uptight than Donald, he wouldn’t have to worry about meddling or some mysterious king. But on the other hand, could she be trusted? Something seemed vaguely fishy about all this…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nevertheless, Riku nodded. “Well, we’ll see. I’d have to meet her myself.” He placed his hand against the edge of the railing, giving it a light tap. “By the way, you seen Kairi?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before Riku could even blink, Sora let out a sigh. “Not yet.” Scratching his head, he added, “But Maleficent promised to find her, so I’m sure we’ll be together in no time!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You never know, Sora.” Stepping away from the edge, Riku gave Sora a light push. “Maybe she’ll beat us to the punch. This is Kairi we’re talking about.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You really think so?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Not just think, Sora.” He shook his head and tucked both of his hands into his pockets. “I know. Besides, someone has to pick up your slack.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Letting out a soft groan, Sora straightened his shoulders and flung his arms to the side. “Hey, I’m not a slacker! I’ve been really busy since we left home.”

Riku held up his hand and prepared to speak when a sudden CREAK from behind caught him by surprise. The sound of footsteps followed, accompanied by mutters and an all too familiar squawking. Donald and Goofy must’ve caught on. This wouldn’t end well.

He sighed, turning to face them as they stomped right up to him. Donald grimaced and groaned as he approached, while Goofy looked over what appeared to be some kind of tattered, old book.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Once Donald got close enough, he came to a stop, tapping his foot with his scowl still in place. “What’s the big idea, Riku? You said you’d be—”

“Gawrsh,” said Goofy, scratching at the side of his head, “I don’t think Riku did anything wrong. Why, I’ll bet he just wanted to catch up with his friend!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora nodded, hesitantly moving towards Donald. “Yeah, we didn’t mean to upset you guys. Riku just wanted to catch up with me, and I guess we got a little distracted…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]After a moment’s pause, Donald’s expression softened, and he let out an exasperated sigh. “Well, alright. I guess that’s okay—but just this once. If we make too many stops, then we’ll never get to the King in time!” He pointed to the book that Goofy held in his hands. “Anyway, Cid’s gonna install the Gummi Block, but he asked us to bring this book to the Third District. You coming or what?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora gasped. “Hey, wait—the Third District? I haven’t seen that part of town yet!”

“Hey, I've got an idea!” Clapping both his hands together, Goofy smiled warmly at Donald and Sora. “Since you ‘n Riku are pals and all, why don’t ya come with us? The Third District ain’t too far, and I’m sure Riku’d love to have ya along.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald’s head snapped back in Goofy’s direction, and he let out a startled squawk. “Hey! Who said you get to decide?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, uh.” Frowning, Goofy rubbed at the tip of his nose. “Maybe if we let Sora tag along for a little while, then Riku won’t hafta run off. Could it hurt ya guys to get along for a little while?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Goofy’s right.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stepping forward, Riku peered down at Donald with both hands on his hips. The fact that he actually agreed with Goofy for a change was crazy in its own right, but, for once, he had a point.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“If you want me to cooperate, you’ll have to do more than push me around. So far you haven’t given me a reason to care about you or your so-called ‘mission’.” He looked over to Sora, who quietly observed their debate, occasionally shifting in place. “Besides, I haven’t seen Sora since the Islands.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well…” Donald paused, bringing a hand to his beak. He looked off to the side for a few seconds and let out a quiet sigh. A few moments later, he nodded. “Alright. But only until we leave, okay?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Somehow, that went smoother than expected. Nevertheless, Riku smirked, giving a nod in return. What they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Fair enough.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that out of the way, Sora finally stepped forward, taking his place right next to Riku. Despite a few scuffles here and there, everything seemed to be working out perfectly.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Thanks a lot, guys!” he said, lacing both hands behind his head. “I’ll try not to cause any trouble on the way.”

[/FONT] [FONT=&quot]“Forget about trouble. Just try not to fall behind!” Huffing, Donald turned towards the direction of the hat and shoe shops, pointing a finger at the path before them. “The quickest way to the Third District’s this way, so we’d better get going. Merlin’s waiting for us to bring him the book!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Then what are we waiting for?” Riku groaned and slowly took a few steps in front of Donald. “You’re the one who’s in a hurry.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Scowling, Donald trudged past Riku and slowly headed down the path. “I’m getting there!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Together, Sora and Riku followed Donald and Goofy into the lower part of the District. On the way, they passed several buildings, and Sora kept slowing down in order to take in his surroundings. Riku had to keep pushing him along in order to keep up with Donald. They could save the sightseeing for later.

Eventually, they came across a dark alleyway. While numerous bright lights and signs decorated the rest of the district, the only notable features in the alley were the lights shining through the windows of the neighboring buildings. A single set of double doors sat at the very end, and the sign above it marked the entrance to the Third District. Before they knew it, they’d slipped on through. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Just like with the Second District, it didn’t take long for Sora to frantically look around the immediate area. However, while he took in the sights and sounds, Riku skimmed the area with a scowl. Something seemed… odd. The last time he entered the Third District was when the Guard Armor attacked, and while he and the others defeated it, the fact that no Heartless appeared made no sense. It wasn’t just the Third District, either. Back in the Second District, it was the same exact thing…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking his head, Riku said, “Something’s been bugging me for a while.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Huh?” Sora quickly turned toward his friend, scratching his head. “What d’you mean, Riku?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, just think about it.” He took a few steps forward, glancing over to the other entrance. “Ever since we got here, I haven’t seen one Heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald’s brow furrowed, and he nodded. “Hey, you’re right!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before he could say anything else, Goofy interrupted. “Maybe Leon and the others already took care of ‘em!”

Maybe that was it. Leon and the gang were pretty strong; it wouldn’t be hard to wipe out any remaining Heartless, but at the same time, Riku was the Keybearer. Weren’t the Heartless supposed to fear his weapon and come out of nowhere? It was almost like the Heartless were avoiding them on purpose. But why…?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, no need to get worked up over it.” Riku took a quick look around. If the Heartless weren’t going to show up, it wasn’t a huge loss. They had other things to worry about, anyway. “So, where exactly do we bring that book? Place looks deserted.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy leaned forward and squinted. “Well, Cid said there’s this old house around here somewhere. All we’ve gotta do is look for a fire sign!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey, look!” Facing the far left corner of the district, Sora pointed towards the opening to another alley. “Maybe we should look in there! It’s gotta be worth a shot, right?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald nodded. “Good thinking!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The group made their way for the dark alley within a matter of seconds. This particular alley was almost entirely empty, save for a red door at the end. On the door appeared a cloth with the image of a flame on it; if this wasn’t the ‘fire sign’, then nothing was. Unfortunately, the door lacked any knob or handle. If anything, it was just an obnoxious barrier. Though Donald tried tapping and knocking, the door wouldn’t budge, and before long he stepped back with an aggravated sigh.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Looks like we’ll have to use magic to get through,” he said, pulling out his staff.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But before Donald could act, a small fire spell flew from the tip of Riku’s Keyblade, and the door immediately slid up and out of sight. With that out of the way, he dismissed his weapon and looked down at Donald with a smirk. Meanwhile, Sora stared with his mouth wide open, and Goofy chuckled. Donald, however, rolled his eyes as he entered through the doorway. Naturally, the others followed suit.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Inside, they found a large, dark chamber filled with water. A small island floated in the distance, with an odd, hat-shaped house on top of it. In the dark, it was hard to make out all the details, but Riku caught a glimpse of some purples and other colors. Fortunately, a path of floating rocks led the way to this house, making it a cinch to reach their destination. All they had to do was hop from stone to stone, and before long they made it to the old house with ease.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But there was just one little problem: there was no door! At least, none on that side. It took another minute or so for them to circle the house, until they came across a cracked opening in the wall large enough for them to slip through.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Just like the chamber outside, the inside of the house was pitch black. Not only that, but the whole place looked completely empty, other than some dust and cobwebs in the corners. As the four of them entered, Goofy let out a soft moan, slowly twiddling his thumbs, and it took a soft push from Donald to get him all the way in. The two of them moved towards the center of the room, while Sora and Riku stayed close to the entrance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You sure this is the right place?” Folding his arms, Riku looked at his surroundings with little interest. Between all the damage done to the place and its emptiness, it sure didn’t seem like the kind of place anyone would live in. Was Cid playing them the whole time?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald shook his head, continuing to look for any signs of life. “It’s gotta be! Remember the sign?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
He remembered, alright, but that didn’t change the fact that the place was a total wreck.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, what? We just wait until someone shows up? I thought you were in a hurry.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Our mission’s important, but Cid’s going out of his way to fix our Gummi ship.” Scowling, Donald hopped up onto the platform in the center of the room to get a better look. “It’s the least we can do to thank him.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, go ahead and wait. Just don’t expect me to stick around.” Riku turned to Sora and added, “C’mon, let’s go wait outs—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But Sora didn’t respond. Instead, he stared at one of the walls with a look of horror on his face.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Kairi?”

He walked towards one of the walls with his eyes wide open, and he reached out his hand. And did he just say… Kairi? But why? The whole place was empty, and it’s not like she could turn invisible. Something wasn’t right about this, and Riku quickly clasped a hand on Sora’s shoulder, giving him a firm shake. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hello? Earth to Sora.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shook his shoulder one more time before Sora finally calmed down. Rubbing at one of his eyes, he sighed.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Sorry about that. I could’ve sworn I saw—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Kairi?” Riku laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous. If Kairi was here, I think we’d all know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“If anyone was here,” Donald said, “we’d know by now. I just hope whoever lives here shows up soon.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Grumbling with each step he took, Donald circled the center platform with both hands behind his back. Occasionally he’d stop, tap his foot, and take another look around the room, but so far nothing changed. Similarly, Goofy looked left and right, shuffling back and forth on the platform, but like Donald, he found nothing. Even the sound of footsteps didn’t throw them off.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]No, it took the sound of a strange, new voice to catch the entire group off guard, Riku included.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, this is interesting! I knew that I’d be encountering three of you, but a fourth as well? How peculiar.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Immediately, they all turned towards the source of the voice. A tall, old man stepped into the room with a large bag in one hand and a magic wand in another. This man, clad in a light blue cloak and a matching hat, approached the center platform with a smile, placing his bag right next to it.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But everyone else looked at the man with varied expressions. Donald and Goofy gawked at this man, and as he drew closer, they shuffled for the book. Meanwhile, Riku pushed himself away from the wall, stepping further into the room with a deadpan look on his face. If this was the guy they were waiting for, the least he could do was apologize for taking so long. But nope, here he was, acting like they were early.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hold it, old man,” he said, stopping just a few feet from the platform. “You said that like you knew we’d show up.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Of course!” The man chuckled, giving his wand an idle flick. “You see, I knew from the very beginning that there would be visitors. You two especially.” He pointed his wand at Donald and Goofy, who both looked at the man with puzzled expressions.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy scratched the side of his head. “But how’d ya know?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Snickering under his breath, Riku turned to Goofy with a smirk. “Who knows? Maybe he’s a Heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“A Heartless?” For a brief moment, the man’s eyes went wide, before he shook his head and smiled once more. “Oh, no. Far from it, my boy!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Then who are you?” Sora moved closer to the others, holding one hand to his chin. “You’re dressed kinda funny, and you’ve got a wand… Does that mean you’re a wizard?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With a soft chuckle, the man gave his wand another flick, and the room instantly lit up.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You’re very close! I’d prefer the term sorcerer, but indeed, whether you call me a wizard, a magician, or something as dreadful as a ‘warlock’, I possess many skills in the art of magic.” He paused briefly, turning his attention back to Donald and Goofy. “I’m often traveling to far off worlds, which is why I wasn’t here sooner. But here I am, ready to serve you, as your King requested.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hey, wait a sec!” Donald leaned forward with his staff still in hand. “You know King Mickey?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Right you are, Donald. And you...” Looking over to Goofy, the man stroked his beard. “You must be Goofy.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yup, that’s me!” With a bright smile, Goofy slid down from the platform’s edge, tucking the book under his arm. “By the way, mister sorcerer, sir, Cid told us to bring this book to ya!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Now, now. No need for such formalities.” Again, the man chuckled. “Just call me Merlin. As for that book, I had a feeling I’d be seeing it again. Do hold onto it for a moment, please. There’s still so much to do and much to explain. Now then,” he whirled around, looking back at Riku, “who might you be, young man?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Name’s Riku.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku… I see!” Merlin nodded, leaning to the side with his eyes on Sora. “And you there, who are you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who, me?” Sora pointed at himself, tilting his head. “Well, uh. My name’s Sora, and I’m Riku’s best friend!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Splendid! In times like these, it’s important to stay close to your friends; it’s far too easy to get separated, thanks to those infernal Heartless.” Stroking his beard, the man remained quiet for a few seconds. “Now then, one which of you is the Keybearer?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Rolling his eyes, Riku held out his hand, as the Keyblade appeared. “That’d be me.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ah, good! With that out of the way, I believe we can get started.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald hopped off of the platform, moving right next to Goofy. “So what’d the King ask you to do?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“One moment, please.” Scooping up his suitcase, Merlin stepped up onto the middle of the platform. Once there, he opened the suitcase and placed it in front of him, readying his wand in his other hand. With a brisk wave of the wand, he began to chant, “Higitus Figitus migitus mum… Pres-ti-dig-i-ton-i-um!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Following the chant, several objects flew straight out of the bag, one after another. A table and its cloth, several tea cups and a sugar jar, and a multitude of books all bounced through the air in a single file line, organizing themselves throughout the empty room. And as the objects danced through the air, Sora, Donald, and Goofy quietly gasped in awe of this unusual spectacle. Even Riku had to blink twice to ensure that this was all real, as more books, a grandfather clock, and even a bed emerged from the suitcase.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A minute passed before Merlin gave one last wave of his wand, and the suitcase snapped shut. The entire room remained quiet for a few brief seconds before Sora started clapping. Donald and Goofy looked at each other briefly before they, too, gave Merlin a round of applause. With a groan, Riku joined in, though his applause lacked the enthusiasm of the others’. Nevertheless, Merlin gave another chuckle, followed by a bow.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Anyway,” he said, “your King asked me to train you in the art of magic. We can begin at any time, of course, though I imagine you all have business to attend to. The worlds are quite busy, and your journey is just as important as your skills.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shrugged. “Never hurts to pick up new tricks.”

“Yeah, exactly!” Sora grinned, propping his sword against his shoulder. “I mean, I’m gonna be learning magic soon, too. I bet it’ll be a blast!”

“Are you now?” Merlin squinted, eying the sword, and then he stroked his beard. “Well, if you’re ever in need of my expertise, I would gladly extend a hand to the Keybearer’s friend.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Meanwhile, Goofy stepped over to the platform’s edge, holding out the book again. “So, Merlin, what do ya want us to do about this book?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ah, yes!” Taking the book, Merlin quickly brushed one hand against the cover. He opened it briefly, flipping through the pages, and then he placed it down on the table. “This book has been in my possession for quite some time now. Years ago, I found it buried beneath my belongings, and it’s been with me ever since. It was such a curious book, but over the years it’s suffered quite a bit of wear and tear, which is why I asked Cid to repair it.” Glancing down at the table, Merlin frowned. “Unfortunately, many of the pages are missing, and unless they’re found, this book’s secret shall remain a mystery. Until then, feel free to take a look at it whenever you like.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gotcha, Merlin!” Donald nodded. “So what do we do now?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” said Merlin, looking over to the exit, “I suggest you and your friends speak with Cid at once. After all, you wouldn’t want to keep him waiting now, would you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy frowned. “But what about that trainin’ you talked about?” [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Never fear. I’ll gladly assist you on your journey, but there’s a time and a place for everything. For now, I suggest you head to the small house on the other side of the District, where you’ll doubtlessly find Cid and the others.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, you heard what he said.” Stepping away from the room’s center, Donald pointed towards the hole in the wall “We’d better go see what Cid’s up to. For all we know, he could’ve finished fixing the Gummi Ship.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Works for me.” Without any hesitation, Riku slipped through the hole. “C’mon, Sora. Let’s get going.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Uh, right.” On his way out, Sora gave Merlin a little wave. “Bye, it was nice meeting you!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once Donald and Goofy left the old house, the group immediately headed back outside, hopping across the many stones. They continued onward until they reached the center of the Third District, where Donald and Goofy began to look around for the house Merlin mentioned. Across the way, they spotted a balcony with some buildings just above it. Surely one of them had to be the place. The closest building even had a small door in plain sight, and getting there would take a minute or two tops.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With a huge, silly smile, Goofy pointed towards the top of the balcony. “Well, I guess we oughta head that-a-way!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shrugged. “Lead the way, I guess.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]With that, Donald and Goofy headed towards the small balcony, where they spotted a flight of stairs. While Riku stayed fairly close to the duo, he stopped a few times to look back at Sora, who moved a bit hesitantly. It was pretty strange, considering his enthusiasm just minutes ago. Was something wrong? While Donald and Goofy reached the top of the stairs, Riku stopped halfway, heading back to where his friend stood.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But Sora paid no attention to Riku. Instead, he kept his eyes fixed on the larger balcony close by. It looked like he was staring at something or someone, but who could it possibly be? Raising a brow, Riku marched right up to Sora and tapped him on the shoulder. Then, he pointed at the small house. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What’s the hold up, Sora? Aren’t you coming?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora hesitated. “I really wanna go with you, Riku, but there’s something I’ve gotta do!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What are you talking about?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’s about Maleficent. Look, she’s right up—” Sora pointed up at the other balcony, but there was nobody there. Was he going crazy or something? Drooping, Sora shook his head and continued, “Well, she was there. Anyway, I should probably check up on her, but I swear I’ll make it quick! You go see Cid, and I’ll be back in a bit.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]That was… odd. Sora did mention Maleficent earlier, but for her to show up out of the blue… Whoever she was, chances are she had some pretty strange priorities. Just letting Sora walk off wouldn’t do. He had to get to the bottom of this.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Here’s a better idea,” he said. “Why don’t I tag along? Might as well meet this friend of yours.”

“Well, I—” Sora turned to the balcony again, scratching his head. “I don’t know, Riku. I mean, Merlin said it’s really important to go talk to Cid, and we could always catch up later!”

He crossed his arms and gave Sora a deadpan look. Something really was off about this. Why the heck was Sora acting so nervous? What could possibly be the problem? Riku sighed.

“I still don’t see the big deal. Besides, if we don’t go now, Donald might catch on, and I don’t want to be stuck with them.”

“Just give me a little time okay?” Sora frowned. “I just wanna double check a few things, and then I’ll be right back. I promise!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Leaning forward, Riku looked Sora straight in the eye. He stared at him for a few seconds, and then he sighed. “Just make it quick. Donald’s probably gonna want to take off after this, and I don’t want to miss my chance.”

He looked away, bringing a hand to his chest. “Don’t worry, Riku! I’ll be really quick about it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Got it. I’ll see you later, Sora.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The two boys parted ways, each of them heading for their appropriate destinations. While Riku headed up the stairs, where Donald and Goofy waited for him, Sora left through the door leading into the Second District. With his best friend off in another part of town, Riku saw no reason to linger, instead slipping through the door of the small house without so much as a word. Inside, he spotted Leon, Cid, and Aerith amidst many cardboard boxes and crates lining the walls.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Right as they entered, Cid greeted them with a smirk. Unlike Leon and Aerith, who were both in their twenties, Cid was an older man, dressed in a plain, white shirt, blue, baggy pants, and a pair of goggles resting on his head. A small toothpick rested in his mouth, which, combined with his muscular stature and the few hairs on his chin, gave him a rugged appearance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I’ve been wonderin’ when you’d show up,” he said, placing his hands against his hips.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Donald huffed. “Hey, it’s not our fault that Merlin was late.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Simmer down, will ya?” Shaking his head, Cid glanced out the window. “I figured you’d take care of that old book, but right now there’s somethin’ else we ought to talk about.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh.” Goofy tilted his head and rubbed at the tip of his nose. “What do ya mean, Cid?”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]This time, Leon spoke, eying the trio sternly. “It’s about Maleficent.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent? Riku’s eyes went wide at the familiar name. So these guys knew about her, too? From the sound of it, they weren’t too happy about her, either. Still, maybe they’d be able to explain who she was, something that even Sora seemed vague about.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Maleficent, huh?” Opting to act clueless, Riku stepped forward, folding his arms over his chest. “And who’s that?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Cid scowled, and he looked directly at Riku and said, “She’s a witch, man, and a nasty one at that.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Nasty’s an understatement.” Leon shook his head. “She’s the reason this town is full of Heartless. And not just this town…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, wait a minute.” Frowning, Goofy stroked his chin, paying close attention to what Cid and Leon both said. “Are ya sayin’ that she’s controllin’ all the Heartless?”

So she was the one in control of the Heartless… But, if that was true, then what about everything Sora said? When they talked about her before, he made it seem like she had good intentions. Saving someone like Alice hardly sounded like the work of a witch, unless there was more to it. Then again, Leon and Cid wouldn’t lie about this. Thus, as they continued to explain their situation, Riku grew more and more anxious until…

“But Sora’s been with Maleficent this whole time!” he said, wincing. “He told me that she’s been helping him.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately, the room became quiet. Leon and Aerith looked to each other silently, while Donald and Goofy turned to Riku with a look of surprise planted on their faces. The idea that someone as friendly as Sora had been staying with a witch was a lot to grasp. Even Cid, who probably didn't know Sora, looked shocked, and overall, not a single person in the room looked calm or collected about Riku’s revelation. Maybe he shouldn’t have opened his big mouth, but at the same time, he had to know what was going on. If this was the only way, then so be it.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Eventually, Leon stepped away from the wall and walked right up to Riku. “So, Sora’s been with Maleficent. If that’s true, then she probably tricked him.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Cid nodded. “Wouldn’t surprise me. That old witch ain’t above usin’ others for her dirty work.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Donald looked up at Riku, but this time he didn’t scowl or sneer. “Riku, what’s goin’ on here?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Look, I don’t know.” Riku sighed. “All he said was that Maleficent helped him get here, and I guess he’s the one who took Alice from Wonderland.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, I wonder why that is…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Leon placed a hand to his face. “Why don’t you tell us what happened in ‘Wonderland’? It might help us get to the bottom of this.”

TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

Member
Joined
Jun 9, 2006
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Location
In your nightmares!
[FONT=&quot]Chapter 13: Keyholes and the Unfortunate Truth[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The bell tower of the Gizmo Shop stood high above the Second District. There, a single bell hung from up above, attached to a rope that controlled its sound. Many boards once blocked access to this area, but Maleficent’s magic cleared the way for Sora and herself. Together, they stood inside the tower, just a few inches from the rope. After hearing a legend about the bell, Sora just had to check it out, and Maleficent fully encouraged it. Now, he stood watching the rope, as he scratched the back of his head.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, all I’ve gotta do is ring it, right?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent nodded, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Correct. Simply ring it three times, and a miracle shall occur.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But what kinda miracle?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Simple.” A twisted smile spread across her lips, and Maleficent stepped back. “Though the miracle itself is shrouded in mystery, it doubtlessly holds a key to saving this world from the Heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]If he saved Traverse Town, then Leon and his friends wouldn’t have to fight the Heartless… And if he saved the world, then he’d be even more of a ‘Junior Hero’ than before! So what was he waiting for? Grinning, Sora reached for the rope and gave it a nice, hard pull, signaling the bell to ring. Its sound spread throughout the entire District, loud and clear. Meanwhile, Maleficent turned to look down upon the area below, her eyes fixed on the fountain. Oddly, the stone panel in its center shifted by the time the bell stopped ringing.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Just one ring wasn’t enough to create any sort of miracle, though. Reaching for the rope, Sora gave it another pull, and the bell chimed once more. Like before, the stone panel in the fountain turned, revealing an image of two trees. When Sora rang the bell for the third time, the panel turned yet again, this time with the image of several butterflies. Unlike before, though, it didn’t stop there. The water from the fountain rose high above the panel, while the image itself began to glow.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent’s smile widened, as she gazed down at the fountain below. Raising a brow, Sora turned to see what happened, but, for some reason, Maleficent got in his way and shook her head. It seemed kind of odd that she’d hide this miracle from him. Was it supposed to be some kinda surprise? He was just about to ask when several green flames sprung up around his feet.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We’d best be leaving,” said Maleficent, stepping towards the flames. “With this world in safe hands, we have no reason to stay, as there are other matters that need our attention.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora’s eyes widened, and he looked up at Maleficent with a frown. “But I promised Riku I’d go see him! That way he could come with us… Can’t I stay just a little longer?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]She shook her head. “Unfortunately, there is little time to waste.” Placing her hand against his cheek, Maleficent loomed over Sora with a softer smile. “However, once we locate your other friend, I’m sure we will be able to find Riku once more.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Wait. You mean Kairi?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Of course. I did promise to find them both, after all.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well…” Looking down, Sora took a moment to think this over. Riku was probably waiting for him, but if he found Kairi, then maybe he’d understand. Donald and Goofy weren’t so bad, and once he found his way back to Kairi, they could all take off together. Besides, he owed Maleficent for everything she’d done so far.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Well, he didn’t have much of a choice. After a moment’s hesitation, Sora nodded.

“Okay, Maleficent. Let’s go find her!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Maleficent nodded, summoning her staff with the flick of her wrist. She stepped right into the flames, which crackled and hissed, rising higher and higher as she drew closer to Sora. With a single tap of her staff, the flames rapidly engulfed the two, and then they faded away. In mere moments, they vanished from sight, leaving the bell tower completely deserted. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So that’s it.” Leon sighed, taking a quick look out the window. “Riku, I know Sora’s your friend, but Maleficent can’t be trusted. If she made him kidnap Alice, there must be a reason for it.”

“And not just any old reason.” Cid shook his head. “I wager she’s been cookin’ up some kind of plot for a while now. Wouldn’t surprise me if that Alice girl had somethin’ to do with it.”

For the past few minutes, Leon and the gang listened to Riku and the others explain what happened over the past few days. From their crazy experiences in Wonderland to the battle with Cerberus, everything got covered in detail. Naturally, the main focus was on Maleficent and Sora’s ties to her. After all, how could Riku just ignore what he’d just learned? If Sora was helping her out this whole time…

“What should I do?” Riku frowned, rubbing the back of his neck. “Sora took off to go see her. Shouldn’t I try and catch up before it’s too late?”

“You could,” said Leon, “but she’d probably expect it. Maleficent isn’t someone you should take lightly; she always plans ahead, and she knows how to manipulate people’s hearts.”

“Then, what?” Narrowing his eyes, Riku jerked forward and clenched his fists. “Do we just sit here while she has her way with him?”

“You should stop and think about it first.” Leon groaned. “If Maleficent’s in town, she’s probably planning something. If I had to guess…”

Aerith chimed in. “She could be after the Keyhole, Leon. It should be somewhere in town.”

“A Keyhole? Gawrsh, what’s that?”

It had to be something important… wait! Riku shut his eyes, thinking back to the islands and to Wonderland. When he opened the door, the Keyhole was there. He’d used the Keyblade to unlock it completely and plunge his world into darkness. Then, that sleepy Doorknob opened its mouth to reveal another Keyhole, and his Keyblade shut it tight. There had to be some kind of connection. Why else would two completely different worlds react so similarly?

Good thing Leon was there to explain.

“Every world has a Keyhole,” he said. “And each Keyhole leads directly to a world’s heart.”

Aerith nodded. “And if the Heartless find their way to the Keyholes, they’re able to swallow the world’s core and destroy it completely.”

The Keyholes allowed Heartless to destroy entire worlds. When Riku opened the door, he really did cause the destruction of the islands. That cloaked man, whoever he was, probably knew it all along. Did he have ties to Maleficent as well? And what happened to a world with a sealed Keyhole? He opened his mouth and prepared to ask, but Donald beat him to the punch.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So what happens if you close it?” He frowned. “That’s what happened in Wonderland!”

“Ha, that’s an easy one!” Cid grinned, adjusting the toothpick in his mouth. “You close the Keyhole, and there’s no way those pesky Heartless can get inside. All you’ve gotta do is lock it tight.”

“It sounds like you’re already on the right track!” Aerith smiled, lacing her hands behind her back. “But if you want more information, you could always search for Ansem’s Report.”

“But where do ya get them Reports?” Frowning, Goofy twiddled his thumbs in thought. “We’ve been goin’ all over the place and haven’t seen anything like ‘em.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Hmm…” Cid stroked his chin, looking out the window. “I reckon that if anyone’s got ‘em, it’s Maleficent.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Then what are we standing around here for?” Riku took a deep breath and glanced towards the door. “If Maleficent’s in town, now’s the perfect time to find out what’s going on. Maybe we can snag the Reports and seal the Keyhole while we’re at it.” He summoned the Keyblade in a flash of light. “Every minute we waste talking buys her more time.”

It wasn’t just about the Keyholes, the reports, or the darkness. Even if they were all important, what really mattered was Sora. Riku had to check outside and see if he’d made it back. If not, they’d have to hurry and catch up before Maleficent found the Keyhole and dragged Traverse Town into the dark. Finer details and small talk would only get in the way. Maybe Leon was right about her being manipulative and cunning, but he was willing to risk it all for his friend.

“Didn’t I tell you to think this through?” Leon scowled. “Don’t get in over your—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku flung the door wide open and stood beneath the frame. “Just sitting here won’t change a thing.” He looked back at Donald and Goofy with a sneer. “Let’s go find the Keyhole; chances are it’ll lead us straight to Maleficent and Sora.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Heaving a sigh, Donald pulled out his staff and rushed to Riku’s side with Goofy close behind. “Then we’d better hurry! We can’t let her find it first.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Riku rushed outside and down the stairs. In a town so large, finding the Keyhole wouldn’t be easy. It could take time and effort, and Maleficent was already hot on its trail. Thus, while he waited for Donald and Goofy to catch up, he took a quick look around the District, waiting to see if his Keyblade would respond. However, nothing seemed to react to his weapon, a surefire sign that the Keyhole wasn’t in there. By that time, both Donald and Goofy caught up with him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, where are we gonna look for that there Keyhole?” said Goofy, scratching his head.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku sighed. “Well, one thing’s for sure; the Keyhole’s not in this District. That narrows it down to the First and Second.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald took a look around, glancing from the First District entrance to the door to the alleyway. Eventually, he settled in the Second District’s doors, pointing at them with his staff.

“We’d better start there,” he said, already heading towards the door. “It’s the most suspicious place.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]There was no point in arguing; he was right. The Second District was where they’d fought the Guard Armor, and it was easily the biggest part of town. There was no time to lose, so they hurried through the doors and into the alleyway, shoving the doors wide open.

Together, they shoved both doors wide open, charging through the alleyway and towards the District’s center. However, right as they drew close to the Gizmo Shop, several Shadows and Soldiers appeared in a cloud of darkness. They charged at the trio with little hesitation, and at the sight of the approaching Heartless, Riku let out a groan; it figured that they’d show up sooner or later. More importantly, the appearance of Heartless had to be a sign; the Keyhole couldn’t be too far behind.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Together, Riku, Donald, and Goofy picked up the pace and charged straight at their Heartless attackers, retaliating against their kicks and slashes with their own attacks. While Riku dashed forward and unleashed Sonic Blade on a few of the Soldiers, Donald blasted three Shadows with his fire magic. All the while, Goofy waited for two more Soldiers to draw close before he spun around with his shield, obliterating every Heartless in his path. Once all the Heartless vanished, they continued past the Gizmo Shop and towards the fountain, where they caught sight of something quite alarming.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]There was no mistaking it. A Keyhole shape appeared in the fountain’s center, surrounded by a blue aura. But something seemed off about it; the Keyhole’s presence was almost too obvious, and without any more Heartless or Maleficent in sight, it was almost too good to be true. Narrowing his eyes, Riku took the first step towards the Keyhole, tightening his grip on the Keyblade. Even with their target in plain sight, there was no way he’d let his guard down just yet.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]In retrospect, that was probably a good decision on his part, as, right before Riku could reach the Keyhole, he found himself face-to-face with a familiar Heartless.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Several pieces of armor descended from the sky, assembling themselves swiftly. Before he knew it, Riku stood face-to-face with the Guard Armor, just as he did during his last visit to the Town. Right as the Heartless raised its gauntlets, Riku jumped back, shooting a Blizzard spell at its torso, while Donald and Goofy moved to his sides. Seconds later, the spell clashed against the Guard Armor’s chest, causing it to pause briefly before it shot one of its gauntlets straight down at Riku.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But the gauntlet didn’t hit him; before it even had the chance, Goofy blocked its path with his shield, immediately countering by spinning around. Meanwhile, Donald cast a thunder spell on the Heartless’ head and torso, causing its parts to flail in the air. With the Guard Armor successfully distracted, Riku rushed at its feet, striking them with a quick combo, followed by Sonic Blade. With each hit from the trio, the Heartless shook furiously. In a desperate attempt at retaliation, it kicked its hammer legs at Riku, who rolled out of its path, while both gauntlets aimed for Donald and Goofy.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Unfortunately for the Guard Armor, the trio avoided each attack and countered mere moments later. Goofy’s shield soared through the air, colliding with the gauntlets and its chest, as Donald blasted multiple fire balls at its legs. To top it all off, Riku charged again, attacking from below with a fierce array of strikes and slashes. After his vicious barrage, the Heartless shuddered, its parts whirling through the air… and then they all fell to the ground and lay still.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Was that it? Somehow, the Guard Armor seemed much easier than before. For a few seconds, Riku watched its motionless parts before he smirked and stepped up to the fallen Heartless, giving one of the gauntlets a hard kick. Nothing moved. Donald and Goofy looked at one another and then the Guard Armor’s fallen pieces. They both let out a sigh of relief.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But before they could celebrate, the Guard Armor’s pieces rose back into the air, rapidly reassembling; the battle was far from over.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Though at first the Guard Armor remained still, its pieces quickly shifted right before their eyes. Its torso spun upside-down, while its gauntlets and hammer legs switched places. Feet became hands, hands became feet, and its helmet rotated several times before the visor opened, revealing an empty void with two yellow eyes. In its new form, the Guard Armor hovered above the ground, with each of its parts slowly spinning in place.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]There wasn’t even time for the trio to attack before the Heartless launched the gauntlets forward. With newfound strength, the gauntlets’ hurled them back against one of the walls. As they collided with the hard bricks, they winced and groaned, slowly getting back to their feet as the floating Heartless loomed up above, drawing closer and closer as seconds passed. In a move of desperation, Goofy flung his shield at the Armor’s torso, stunning it long enough for Donald to cast a quick cure spell on each of them. Unfortunately, the Heartless made its move immediately after, whirling its legs around in a spiral.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku rolled out to the side, unleashing a burst of ice from the Keyblade’s tip. All the while, Donald and Goofy jumped and darted out of the way of the Armor, retaliating with magic and another barrage of the shield. Each attack struck the various parts of the Heartless with a loud CLANG, and it stopped in its tracks, spreading its parts out across the area. The two gauntlets rushed towards Goofy, while the hammer legs trailed after Donald.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
As the gauntlets continued to strike at Goofy, he clumsily stepped, ducked, and hopped out of their way. Once or twice he took the blows, but before long he began blocking and countering the armored fists. They rushed downwards with great force, only for Goofy to slide to the side and leap into the air, slamming the front of his shield against one gauntlet and tossing it up at the next. For a while longer, he continued to combat the gauntlets, while Donald faced the hammer legs.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once, twice, three times the legs attempted to pound Donald into the ground. His quick movements and arsenal of magic, however, made quick work of his attackers. With each strike, he’d shoot bursts of flame or pound his staff against them if they drew too close. Though occasionally he’d misstep and find himself up against the wall, Donald persisted, charging at the hammer legs and unleashing a powerful Thunder spell in retaliation.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And in the middle of it all, Riku continued to face off with the whirling torso of the Armor. Each time it flew towards him, he jumped out of the way, striking hard and fast on the torso on his way back to the ground. Again, it dove down, and Riku quickly blocked with his Keyblade, countering with a strike from below. This exchange of blows continued a few more times before the pieces of the Armor reassembled. During this time, Riku, Donald, and Goofy met up in the center of the area, awaiting the next move from the Heartless.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This time, the Heartless didn’t hover towards them. Instead, its gauntlets grabbed onto the torso, which rotated so that the bottom faced the trio directly. All the while, its head hovered above and the hammer legs below. Immediately, the torso began to shake, as a bright, blue sphere formed in its center. Seconds later, the Heartless unleashed an enormous blast straight at them, and the trio had no choice but to scramble up the nearby steps to avoid being shot. However, the Heartless drew closer, another blast already forming in its torso.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Brow furrowed, Donald shot a blast of fire at the torso of the Heartless, but the magic did nothing to stop it, as the blast continued to charge. He groaned and hurled another spell its way, but once again it failed to stop the rapidly increasing energy sphere. Heaving a sigh, Riku hopped down and over the ledge, striking the torso from below. Following Riku’s assault, Goofy flung his shield at its center, knocking the Heartless back a few feet. By that time, the Heartless unleashed its blast, and Donald had to drag Goofy out of the way; they both narrowly missed the impact.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]From there, the Heartless resumed its previous formation and hovered closer to the ledge. Charging forward, it launched its gauntlets at Donald and Goofy, who hopped in opposite directions to dodge the blow. From above, the sound of thunder roared, and three bolts struck the head of the Heartless. Smirking, Riku climbed the steps, casting another thunder spell for good measure. Once he reached the top, he dashed towards the gauntlets, obliterating one with Sonic Blade. The second gauntlet met its end moments later, when Donald slammed his staff against its top.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Though the gauntlets vanished, the Heartless continued to attack by spinning its hammer legs around and around. Given the limited space of the upper ledge, dodging this whirling assault proved quite difficult. When the Heartless drew near, the trio took off in different directions, Goofy going to the left, Donald to the right, while Riku jumped down and back to the lower level. Briefly, the Heartless hesitated before its parts separated once more, one leg going for Donald, the other for Goofy, while the torso descended and trailed after Riku himself.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio met up in the center, where they assaulted the two hammer legs with an onslaught of spells and hard hitting attacks. Between the many strikes of Riku’s Keyblade, Goofy’s shield, and a blast of thunder from Donald, it wasn’t long before the hammer legs vanished, leaving only the head and torso. However, right as the legs vanished, the Heartless resumed its bazooka-like form, readying another blast in no time flat.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku exchanged quick glances with Donald and Goofy, readying himself for the impending onslaught. Crouching down, he pointed the Keyblade at the bottom of the torso and leaped into the air, striking it three times. Upon landing, he watched as the torso stopped its attack and floated several yards away. Rolling his eyes, Riku followed suit, with Donald and Goofy by his side. They chased the Heartless until it came to a stop in front of the Gizmo Shop and began to charge its blast again.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This time, Donald and Goofy made the first move. Crouching down, Goofy allowed Donald to hop onto his back, and he pushed him up into the air. With the swing of his staff, he pounded and hammered at the torso. Then, once he landed, Goofy held his shield above his head and jumped up, colliding with the torso’s underside two times. By the time he finished, the Heartless started to retreat again, heading towards the Keyhole.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Naturally, they followed suit, not even giving the Heartless a chance to unleash its blast before all three of them attacked at once. Goofy jumped up and twirled around, his shield scraping against his foe. Two fireballs pounded against the bottom of the torso, as Donald snickered at the sight. To top it all off, Riku cast another thunder spell, following it up with a speedy combo. With the combined power of their attacks, the Heartless began to shudder and shake until both its helmet and torso fell to the ground and vanished in a bubbling ooze.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Briefly, the area fell silent. After the struggle with the Heartless, Riku, Donald, and Goofy took a moment to catch their breath. Holding up his staff, Donald cast a quick cure spell to handle their wounds. Once that was settled, he tucked away his staff and turned his attention to the Keyhole. Upon putting his shield away, Goofy trudged toward the fountain. Despite the unexpected battle, Traverse Town’s Keyhole was safe and sound. Though they didn’t get to Maleficent and Sora, one might argue that it wasn’t a loss so much as an inconvenience.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But in Riku’s eyes it was more than that. If what Leon and Cid said was true, then Sora was in trouble… deep trouble. Whatever Maleficent was after, it seemed incredibly likely that Sora would get involved somehow. After all, he did kidnap Alice already, and they still had no idea where Kairi was, or if she was even okay. There were so many worlds left unseen, and maybe he’d find them during his travels. As it stood, he’d still be with Donald and Goofy for some time, meaning more endless searching for some King that, in all likelihood, wouldn’t even be in those worlds.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But whatever the future held, the only way to truly know was to wait and see. He’d lasted this long, even after Donald’s nagging and short temper. And, though he hated to admit it, maybe sticking with them wasn’t so bad… for now, anyway. Shaking his head, Riku raised his Keyblade to the Keyhole, sealing it once and for all. Even if heroism wasn’t what he had in mind when he left Destiny Islands, it was too late to turn back now.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]For the sake of the worlds and, more importantly, his friends, he’d continue his journey as the Keybearer.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x

[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Back in Hollow Bastion, Maleficent and her allies gathered in the darkness of the cathedral. At the center of the table, a single glowing circle displayed Riku, Donald, Goofy, and the newly sealed Keyhole. Each of the villains looked to the image with disgust, from the Hook’s scowl to the Ursula’s grimace. Only Hades looked amused at this situation, as he shook his head at the little display. Maleficent remained silent and watchful, while Hades turned towards her, grinning wildly.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” he said, with a flick of the wrist, “would ya look at that? Turns out you weren’t lying to the little brat after all!” He gave the image another look. “Save the town? You know, that ain’t far from the truth, if you really think about it.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Oogie followed suit, letting out an eerie chuckle. “That’s the second Keyhole already! Maybe she’s slipping.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Yes,” said Jafar, “this is a different outcome than we’d expected. Perhaps it was unwise to put our trust in a child.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Stepping forward, Maleficent placed her hand on the table, her expression stern. “Patience. Though it is true that the Keybearer has sealed two of the Keyholes, it is nothing to fret over.” She tapped her staff on the floor, and the image shifted from Riku to a small group of young women, Alice included. “So long as we gather the Princesses, everything shall go as planned.” She paused briefly, and the image changed again, this time to Riku and Sora standing side by side.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“As for Sora, he is the key to our success, for as long as he truly believes in our cause, then even the Keyblade cannot stand in our way.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The others fell silent, even Hades, who rolled his eyes and tapped his fingers against the table. Though none of them appeared particularly pleased, their eyes remained locked on Maleficent, as she stood silently before them. How could they deny Maleficent’s words? After all, Sora was the best friend of the Keybearer and thus a valuable asset, in spite of his naivety. At the same time, his naïve personality made for easy manipulation; so long as he believed they were heroes with a noble goal, surely he’d follow unquestioningly. They’d just have to be patient and ‘kind’ in order to maintain his trust.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Eventually, Maleficent spoke again, eyes locked on Ursula. “Now then, I’ll be placing Sora under your watchful eye for the time being. I imagine that he’ll be quite useful in locating the Keyhole to your world, as well as the trident.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ursula laughed, her lips curling into a sinister smile. “Oh, that is too easy. Why, with the little runt under my wing, tricking Triton’s airhead of a daughter will be a cinch.” She shook her head. “Of course, we wouldn’t want him to drown, now would we?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking her head, Maleficent said, “I should hope not, but with magic as potent as yours, I’m certain that you’ll find a way to accommodate for his present state.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Ursula slowly rubbed her hands together. “You know me too well.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]That settled it. With the final decision made, Maleficent, Ursula, and the other villains prepared for their next plan of action. Through Sora, they would attempt to find and locate yet another Keyhole, leading the unsuspecting boy further and further down the wrong path. Believing villains to be heroes, there was no doubt that Sora would continue to follow them with unwavering loyalty. Whether or not he’d see through their lies remained to be seen, but so long as they continued their friendly facade, the chances were slim.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]TO BE CONTINUED [/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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In your nightmares!
Next up's Atlantica. I know Agrabah came next in canon, but I pushed it later on in the story for a few reasons. When it does come up, it'll be pretty different from the KH1 Agrabah. Those chapters are currently in progress. Now then...

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[FONT=&quot]Chapter 14: Under the Sea[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora now found himself deep beneath the sea, within the rotting corpse of a leviathan. The eerie garden of wayward souls combined with the rotting flesh and exposed ribs gave the lair a dark and dreary appearance. Other than the bubbling cauldron in the center, a small cavity in the wall, and a large shelf hanging up high, this strange lair was almost completely empty. Only Sora, Ursula, and her two eels lurked inside. [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The two eels swam circles around him, smiling eerily while Ursula rested in the wall cavity. As the eels whirled around, Sora shifted and bobbed in the water, winding up on his side and then upside down. It wasn’t because of the water; having grown up on an island, he was well accustomed to swimming under normal circumstances. However, survival in Atlantica’s sea required a little magic, since he could only hold his breath for so long. Not only that, but an island boy within a world of sea creatures would stand out and draw unwanted attention, so the magic served a second purpose. In short, ever since he arrived in this undersea world, he underwent a change, sacrificing his legs for a dolphin’s tail.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As he continued to struggle, Sora turned his attention to Ursula. “So, uh, Ursula… What d’you want me to do? If what you said’s true, then the guy who took your trident’s really strong!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sliding down from the ledge, Ursula floated over to Sora with a smirk. Flotsam and Jestam turned away from him and floated over towards their master, snickering under their breath, as Ursula gave him a quick push to get him upright.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s right,” she said, placing a hand against his shoulder. “It would be suicide to send you after King Triton.” She paused, peering towards the collection of small, worm-like creatures and shook her head. “But there is a way, sweet cheeks. I forgot to mention this earlier, but Triton’s got the sweetest little daughter, and it’s through her that you’ll be able to get my trident and find the Keyhole.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A daughter? But would that mean he’d have to trick her? While Sora was all for helping Ursula get back what was rightfully hers, using others as a means to an end just didn’t seem right. What if she wasn’t as bad as her dad? It was definitely possible, especially from Ursula’s description. Frowning, Sora looked down at the grotto’s floor.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But wouldn’t that be tricking her?” Looking back at Ursula, Sora continued to frown. “I really wanna help you, Ursula, but isn’t there some other way?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“My dear, sweet child…” Ursula circled around Sora and gave him a pat on the head. “You worry far too much. Why, Ariel is completely miserable under her daddy’s ‘care’. Instead of letting her roam the seas or visit other worlds, he keeps her locked up in his palace like some kind of prisoner.” She floated over towards the mirror on the wall, tapping the counter. “Why, if I acquired the trident, I could make all her dreams come true…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora nodded, smiling faintly. If what Ursula said was true, then it wasn’t that he’d trick Ariel. Instead, they’d help her, and maybe he’d get a chance to make a new friend! But one question still remained. While he knew why Ursula wished to obtain the trident, the mystery of the Keyhole still lingered in his mind. Just what was the Keyhole, and what would happen if he found it?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Well, there was only one way to find out. “Hey, Ursula, I’ve got a question… Why do we need to find the Keyhole, anyway?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ursula tensed up. It was like something was bothering her, but why? If she was working with Maleficent and the others, then she had to know why the Keyholes were so important. And she’d been nothing but kind to him so far, so it had to be for a good reason![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]She turned away from the mirror, floating back to the boy. “Oh, yes. I almost forgot. If you find the Keyhole, you can protect this world from the Heartless.” She paused for a moment, and then she added, “Not only that, but it will free the kingdom from Triton’s control…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Saving the world and freeing the wills of its people? From the sound of it, the Keyhole was just as important as the trident itself. No wonder Ursula wanted it so bad! If what she said was true, then he was wasting his time asking all these questions. Quickly, Sora turned towards the winding entryway of the grotto, clenching his fists.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Then I’d better get going!” He started to swim out when Flotsam and Jetsam tapped him on the shoulder. They looked at him with a creepy sneer, and for just a moment, Sora stopped in his tracks. He grinned sheepishly and looked back at Ursula. “That’s okay, isn’t it?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, it’s fine.” She shook her head. “But you’re going to have to be crafty. Whatever you do, you mustn’t let anyone know that you’re from another world or it’ll ruin everything. Say goodbye to the pretty little princess!” Ursula gave Sora a stern look, placing her hands behind her back. “If anyone asks, you’re from another ocean. And as for me… zip it. This is our little secret.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It made sense. If Triton was in control of the kingdom, then mentioning the rightful ruler would be a bad move. Nodding, Sora turned back towards the entrance. “Don’t worry, Ursula! I’ll be careful.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before Sora left, though, Ursula added, “If you’re going to the palace, keep an eye out for the trident-shaped markings. They’ll lead you there.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Trident shaped markings, he could remember that! Sora swiftly made his way through the winding leviathan, swimming past the eerie garden and out into the darkest depths of Atlantica’s sea. With luck, he’d make it to the palace quick enough to meet up with this Ariel without being caught. All he’d have to do was keep his trap shut, and Atlantica would be saved![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It was the same old routine, back on the Gummi Ship. With the new renovations added installed, the search for the Keyholes and King Mickey would be a breeze. The entire atmosphere of the ship changed as a result. Instead of fretting over Riku or angrily blasting enemy ships, Donald proudly steered the ship towards its next destination: a world called Atlantica. All the while, Goofy hummed a little tune, keeping his eyes on the obstacles ahead. Occasionally Chip and Dale would appear along with Jiminy Cricket. Indeed, spirits were high on the Highwind…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Except for Riku’s. As usual, he leaned back in his seat without a word. Unlike before, though, it wasn’t out of boredom or frustration. At a time like this, none of that really mattered. Sure they saved Traverse Town from all its Heartless troubles, but the fact remained that Sora was with the enemy now. Not only that, but he believed that Maleficent was genuinely a good person, which could only lead to trouble somewhere down the line. It was distressing, really, and if they were to find Kairi first, things could only get worse.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It didn’t take long for Goofy to catch onto Riku’s distress, though. Briefly, he turned away from the controls and looked to him with a smile.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, Riku,” he said, scratching his chin. “Why don’t ya smile? We just found one of them Keyholes, and besides, I’m sure we’ll find yer buddy! Right, Donald?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald shrugged, continuing to drive. “Who knows? Right now, we’ve gotta keep moving. If we bump into Maleficent, then we can sort things out. But she could be just about anywhere.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yeah, just like the King.” Riku rolled his eyes and turned to look out the window. “Look, it’s nothing. Just kind of… stuffy in here, I guess.”

It was just an excuse. Even they probably knew that. Keeping up a cool and collected front was hard when worries wrenched his heart like never before. And to think that he’d almost gone with Maleficent back there…

Before he could dwell on it for too long, Goofy spoke up.

“Hey, I’ve got an idea!” Turning back to the controls, he reached for one of the knobs and gave it a twist. “How ‘bout some music to lighten yer spirits?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]From a set of speakers up above, a bouncy little tune began to play:[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes, he’s got high apple pie in the sky hopes![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku sat up with a groan, looking down at the controls. “You call that music? C’mon, there has to be something better than this.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Without thinking twice, Riku reached for the knob, twisting it several times until he found something suitable. Rather than more bouncy folk songs, the speakers blasted rock and roll, and Riku sat back in his seat with a smirk. Now this was more like it. Decent music would make the long ride to Atlantica at least somewhat bearable. Unfortunately, at the change of music, Goofy gave a puzzled look to Riku and immediately changed it back.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
“Come on, Riku, this is a great song!” He smiled and started to sing along, “Oops there goes another rubber tree, oops there goes another rubber tree…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald groaned, trying to focus on the controls. “Make up your minds, will ya?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This song was too much for Riku, and he changed it back to the rock music. Goofy, on the other hand, couldn’t bear listening to something akin to monkeys in a zoo and quickly changed it back. The two messed with the radio toggle again and again, and the music kept switching from High Hopes to the loud guitar riffs. This continued for about thirty seconds before the speakers suddenly blew up. By that time, Donald’s face turned beet red and his body shook in frustration.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh…” Goofy pulled his hand away from the knob and looked down at the floor. “Sorry, fellas. I was just tryin’ to cheer ya guys up.” He paused. “But I’ve got a better idea! Why don’t we sing a traveling song? Here, I’ll start with an old favorite…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald whipped around, staring Goofy straight in the eyes. “Hey!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy continued regardless, “Do ya need a break from modern livin’—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Goofy!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Shaking his head, Riku leaned back in his seat. “I think I’ve had enough music. Besides, the last thing we need’s for Donald to crash.

Heaving a sigh, Goofy turned back to the controls with a frown, and Riku rolled his eyes. Really, a surprise musical number wouldn’t do anything but distract them. It definitely wouldn’t lighten the mood, either. Nevermind the fact that Riku didn’t sing in the first place, and they weren’t out on the open road. Why sing a road trip song in space?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]A few minutes of silence passed, and the ship continued on its way until they finally reached their destination. Floating in the Gummi Space, this newfound world looked nothing like the others they’d seen so far. Large pieces of coral surrounded a body of water full of fish and strange structures. An immense city rested in the center, and once he spotted it, Riku slid closer to the window. Though it was hard to make out all the details from afar, one thing was clear: this place looked almost entirely submerged. If that was the case, then visiting Atlantica wouldn’t be easy. Unless they had scuba suits of some kind, it'd be ridiculous to even try.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As such, Riku turned to Donald with a raised brow. “So that’s Atlantica… How exactly are we going to make it there? It’s not like we can breathe under water.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald snickered, pulling out his staff. “Not yet, anyway, but don’t you worry! I’ve got a plan.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He silently drove the Gummi Ship deep into the depths of the sea. Once the ship entered the world, their surroundings became even clearer. Brightly colored plants and shells filled the area, along with a number of tropical fish swimming to and fro. As the ship continued, Riku kept his eyes locked on the windows; while he’d seen the ocean from above, being this deep below the surface was a brand new experience. Seeing all these fish so close rather than on TV or in books gave him a whole new perspective, and it was awesome.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Man,” he said, watching as a school of fish zoomed by, “I never thought I’d wind up under the sea.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, here we are!” Donald laughed, steering the ship behind a large group of rocks. “This world’s not like the others we’ve been to, so we’re gonna need my magic to blend in.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Wait, magic? Riku turned away from the window, keeping a close eye on Donald.

“Magic, huh? What are you gonna do? Turn us into fish?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once again, he laughed. “You’ll see!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald raised his staff high, as a bright, blue glow enveloped the tip. He waved it once, then twice, and the glow spread throughout the ship. Instantly, the magic took effect. In place of legs, Donald gained six blue tentacles, while his hat and shirt vanished from sight. Goofy’s body decreased considerably in size, as his limbs became flippers, and a sturdy shell took the place of his clothing. While Riku didn’t undergo any drastic changes, his clothes also vanished, and his legs joined together to form a long, fish-like tail and a dorsal fin. As the changes occurred, Donald reached for one of the levers on the control panel, opening the door to the cockpit and sending them out into the ocean before the ship could flood.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]While Riku expected some kind of spell to make their trip a breeze, he hadn’t anticipated anything like this. As he floated through water, he struggled to stay upright. Though he tried to move, his body spun about, until he wound up upside-down. With his legs gone, he couldn’t just kick and stroke back into a comfortable position. In short, swimming like a fish was awkward, to say the least. But while it was an awkward change, it did make sense. After all, Donald always insisted that they blend in and avoid meddling.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Still, it was pretty cool, even if the fins were little inconvenient. So, while he continued to fumble about, Riku turned to Donald with a smirk. “I have to admit, Donald. I’m impressed.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald blinked, and he tilted his head. Then, a split-second later, he smirked and said, “I thought you’d like it.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Of course, Donald’s prideful moment wouldn’t last, since he soon found himself upside down, just like Riku. This prompted a few chuckles from Goofy, who had considerably less trouble staying afloat in his new form.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well,” he said, floating in circles, “I think we oughta get lookin’ for the Keyhole, don’t you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Just give me a second.” Riku wobbled around a few more times before he finally got upright. Maybe if he took it slow, then he’d get the ropes of this tail. “Anyway, where do we start? This place is huge.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Before anyone could answer, several whirling corridors of darkness appeared. From within them, a group of unusual Heartless appeared. Unlike Shadows, Large Bodies, and the others they’d encountered, these Heartless looked perfectly suitable for an aquatic environment. Two of them wore bright green wet suits with fish-shaped helmets, and they clutched tightly onto a trident. Two smaller Heartless floated just beside them, resembling jellyfish with two large tentacles that almost looked like arms.

There was no time to lose. Even if they weren’t used to their new bodies, the trio couldn’t let the Heartless get away. So, grasping his Keyblade tightly, Riku awkwardly swam towards one of the scuba Heartless, launching a thunder spell to stop it in its tracks. Unfortunately, the Heartless swerved out of its path and retaliated by charging right into him. The others quickly made their escape, rushing out into an Undersea Valley.

Goofy managed to knock the scuba Heartless away from Riku before it could do too much damage, and Donald struck it with fire magic… which, for some reason, still worked underwater. When Riku regained his balance, he rushed forward and slammed into it using Sonic Blade. The Heartless crashed into a wall of coral and quickly disappeared. Now they’d just have to catch up with the others.

But that was easier said than done. While Riku and the others tried to pursue the Heartless, they kept bumping into schools of fish and passing dolphins. To make matters worse, everyone except Goofy still had trouble moving around. When Riku tried to kick, he ended up flopping about, all because of his new tail. This gave the Heartless an advantage, and whenever they caught up, they’d frequently get nailed by surprise attacks.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]They did manage to corner their enemies near the bottom of the valley, but it took a few minutes of struggling to finally take them out. Once they finally disappeared, Riku let out a quiet sigh. If they were going to find the Keyhole, they’d have to learn the ropes of this new world, and fast. After all, the Heartless were already hanging around, and that was probably just a warm up. They couldn’t afford to get knocked around just because they were out of their comfort zones. Goofy might’ve been swimming smoothly, but he wasn’t the one with the Keyblade.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Still, what point was there in complaining? If he could handle shrinking, then swimming like a fish would be no problem for Riku. Eventually he smirked and made his way over to Donald.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We should probably get moving,” he said, pointing his Keyblade towards a nearby grotto.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald raised an eyebrow and stared at him for a few moments. “You’re right. We don’t even know how big this place is, so we’d better start lookin’.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy stopped circling around and floated over to the others. Once he neared the grotto’s entrance, he peeked inside and squinted.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]His eyes widened, and he pointed a flipper at the tunnel. “Somethin’s comin’ this way!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Both Riku and Donald turned their attention to these figures. From far away, it was hard to tell if they were more Heartless. They spotted bits of red and green on one of the figures, with a small, yellow figure trailing behind and something red. These strangers drew closer and closer, and soon the trio heard voices. Maybe they weren’t Heartless after all. Even so, they stood their ground, keeping their weapons close until finally the three figures entered the valley—[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And looked positively thrilled. At least, one of them did.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The first person in the group was a young girl who, much like Riku, had a fish-like tail. Her bright, red hair reached the middle of her back, and apart from the seashell top on her chest, she wore absolutely nothing. Next to her floated a small, red crab who looked at the trio with a frown, while behind the girl a little yellow fish watched them silently. The girl, however, beamed and hurried up to Riku and the others.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But as she approached, the crab stopped right in front of her, holding out his pincers in protest.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ariel! What do you think you’re doing?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The girl shook her head and swam around the crab. “Oh, Sebastian. Don’t worry! They don’t look dangerous.” She continued towards the trio with Sebastian and the fish close behind.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sebastian huffed, pointing his claw at Riku’s Keyblade. “Not dangerous? Ariel, look at those weapons!” He looked at Donald and Goofy, and his eyes went wide. “Look at those creatures! Why, if your father knew about this—!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel sighed. “It’s not the first time we’ve had visitors today. Maybe they’re from another ocean, too.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Another ocean… While Riku was tempted to reveal the truth, maybe it was best not to say too much. At least for now. This wasn’t about meddling; if they made a convincing enough story, it’d just be easier to find out about the world and the Keyhole. Not only that, but when Donald and Goofy turned back to Riku, they nodded, giving him the silent approval to go along with this story. With that in mind, Riku turned back to Ariel.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He shrugged, folding his arms across his chest. “Yeah, I guess you could say that.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel smiled, placing her hands together. “That’s great! It’s not every day we get visitors in Atlantica.” She paused for a moment and then added, “Do you know anyone named Sora?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]…Sora? Did that mean he was here, too? Or maybe he’d already come and gone. Whatever the case, something seemed a bit odd about this. If Sora was in Maleficent’s care, then she probably wasn’t too far behind. If that was true, then she’d already have a head-start at finding the Keyhole. While he’d normally be relieved to hear that Sora was around, all this meant that they’d have to pick up the pace if they wanted to get to him and the Keyhole.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But all the same, Riku nodded. If nothing else, maybe he could get some information this way.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“That’s right,” he said. “But how do you know Sora?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We just met today!” Ariel laughed, adding, “He told me so many wonderful stories about his home”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You don’t say.” Riku smirked. “So, do you know where he is?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Ariel shook her head. “Sorry, but he just left to take care of something.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]No good. If she didn’t know where Sora was, then all they could do was guess, and that wouldn’t work. Instead, Riku sighed and chose a different approach.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Alright. But here’s another question: You know anything about the Keyhole?”

[/FONT] [FONT=&quot]“The Keyhole?” Ariel paused for a moment. “You know, I think Sora mentioned it before.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald frowned.“But you don’t know what it is?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]She shook her head. “Until today, I never even heard of it.” She paused, looking out into the valley. “But if you’d like, we could help you look for it!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Slowly, the small fish swam behind Ariel, tapping her with a fin. “Are you sure about this, Ariel? Your dad was already pretty mad before, and…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Don’t worry!” Goofy chuckled and extended a flipper. “We’re here to help, a-hyuck!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“See?” Ariel took Goofy’s fin, giving it a quick shake. “Everything will be fine, Flounder. Maybe they’ll even help us with those strange creatures.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Strange creatures?” Riku frowned, propping his Keyblade against his shoulder. “If you mean the Heartless, then we’re way ahead of you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, what do you think?” Turning back to Sebastian, Ariel waited for a response.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It took a moment for him to say anything, as he quickly swam around the trio once, twice, and then tapped his chin with a claw.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sighing, he said, “Well, all right, but do be careful. If we’re gone too long, then King Triton will be furious.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“So where do we start?” Riku glanced over to the winding entrance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why don’t we visit my grotto?” Ariel floated closer to the entrance. “Sora said he’d meet me there, and we can look for the Keyhole on the way.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]So far, it seemed like the best option. Not only would she help them get around this watery world, but if there was a chance of seeing Sora again, then maybe he’d be able to warn him about Maleficent. Following Ariel, Riku quietly glanced at Donald and Goofy, who slowly trailed behind.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“C’mon.” Riku placed a hand against his hip. “Unless you have any better ideas.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sighing, Donald picked up the pace, as did Goofy. Once they finally caught up with Riku and Ariel, they waited for her cue. With a smile, she turned towards a tunnel in the distance. Unlike Riku and the others, she propelled herself through the water with ease, as did Sebastian and Flounder. In fact, the way Ariel swam looked extremely similar to the dolphin kick— something so obvious that Riku placed his palm against his face for a moment. Why didn’t he think of it before?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Carefully, he followed Ariel’s group alongside Donald and Goofy, attempting to ‘kick’ with his tail in a similar fashion. Though it started out a bit sloppy, his movements improved in no time flat, getting smoother by the second. Before long, he and the others caught up with Ariel, who led them past schools of fish, colorful seaweed, and all around the valley. More and more sea creatures moved to and fro, from dolphins to sea snails. In the very center, a large vent constantly released a steady stream of water, and down below sat a number of small caves.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]In a place so large, the Keyhole could be just about anywhere; if nothing else, they’d have to backtrack later and see what they could find. For now, though, they’d continue to Ariel’s grotto; maybe they’d find something on the way there.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel continued to lead until they reached one of the caves. There, she stopped for a moment, turning to face the trio.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“The current might be a little strong,” she said, “but don’t worry. Once we get inside, it’s not too far.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nodding, they followed Ariel inside. As they swam, the current threw them back towards the cave's entrance, and they struggled to push through the raging water. It took a bit of effort on their part, but in spite of the current's force, Riku, Donald, and Goofy managed to catch up with her after a few moments of awkward flailing. Together, they swam through the tunnel until they reached a vast gorge at the end. There they spotted many passages and a trident-shaped mark on the wall, just like in the Undersea Valley. However, Ariel paid little attention to these other areas and continued towards the far end of the gorge, where a large boulder stood against one of the stone walls.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once they reached this boulder, Ariel shoved it aside, revealing the entrance to another cavern. Smiling, she gestured towards this new found entrance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why don’t you come inside? There’s something I’d like to show you.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]In a gorge so vast, they might've been able to uncover the Keyhole if they looked hard. A part of Riku wanted to stay outside and do some snooping, but on the other hand, even the grotto was a candidate for the Keyhole’s location. It’d be a good starting point, anyway, and if Traverse Town’s Keyhole was on a fountain, then how was this any stranger? With a shrug, Riku followed Ariel inside the grotto, leaving Donald and Goofy with no choice but to follow suit.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But, much to their surprise, even the grotto was a sight to behold. Shelves upon shelves of various knick-knacks filled caught their eyes, reaching up to the very top where a large hole illuminated the entire area. Music boxes, old paintings, and even silverware and plates filled these shelves. As Riku ventured further inside, he examined everything closely. If all of this belonged to Ariel, then one thing was clear: she had an impressive collection. Without even realizing it, he started to smile. So many of these items looked like antiques, something he’d never really come across outside a museum.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Even Donald and Goofy looked over the many shelves of thingamabobs and whatsits that came their way. While Donald remained rather quiet as he looked around, Goofy chuckled and occasionally tapped a flipper against some of the old objects.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, is this all yours?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]After a quick flip in the water, Ariel swam towards Goofy, nodding. “Isn’t it wonderful?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, it’s definitely interesting.” Riku looked over one of the old paintings of a couple dancing before turning away from the shelf. “Where’d you get all this, anyway?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Me and Flounder collected this all ourselves,” she said, gesturing towards the many shelves. “Whenever we’d explore, we’d try and find something new to bring back here. I think it’s all from the outside world!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy smiled, swimming up to look at another shelf. “Ya know, I bet you're right!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Someday, I want to see it for myself. I’d do anything to visit other worlds.” Frowning, Ariel turned to Riku. “Does that sound strange to you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Nah.” Riku shook his head. “I feel the same. There’s so much to see out there—I can see why you’d want to go there yourself.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh, that would never do!” Sebastian frowned, looking over the objects in distaste. Scowling, he swam over to Ariel and pointed a claw at her. “The outside world is a dangerous place, Ariel. Imagine what your father would say!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Frowning, Flounder followed Sebastian. “You’re not gonna tell him, are you?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What difference would it make if he knew?” Rolling his eyes, Riku approached Sebastian and crossed his arms. “C’mon. Let her have her dream. Even if those worlds are dangerous, that’s what makes them exciting.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]At least, that’s what he liked to believe. Not all of the danger that came with his adventure had been fun and games, but it did give him something to do besides racing and sparring every day. It was something new, something challenging. If it weren’t for complications like Maleficent and Sora, then he wouldn’t even mind all the Heartless. Sadly, Sebastian didn’t seem quite as moved, as he continued to scowl.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It would be best if Ariel got her head out of the clouds,” he said, shaking his head. “Down here, under the sea- that is where she belongs.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Look, that’s not your choice to make.” Groaning, Riku glared right back at the crab. “If she really wants to see the outside world, I say go for it. You can’t just expect her to stay cooped up forever.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“I can if it ensures her safety!”

The bickering went on for a while. Riku kept sticking up for Ariel, while Sebastian continued to insist that staying under the sea was better than anything else. It was a tiring discussion, to say the least. The kind of discussion that hit Riku close to home, since he’d longed to venture beyond his home for years. Ariel was just like him, in a way, and there was no way he’d let anyone push her around because of safety concerns. In fact, the discussion probably would’ve gone on for a while, if they hadn’t been distracted by the sound of objects hitting the grotto’s floor.

When they turned around, they caught sight of a trio of shadowy figures lurking behind the shelves. Riku reflexively summoned his weapon and squinted, watching as more objects fell to the floor. An eerie light shone between the scattered objects on the shelves. Then, when a few paintings hit the ground, the Heartless revealed themselves and immediately attacked.

These three Heartless moved sluggishly compared to the others they’d encountered. A spotlight shone from one of their eye sockets, and they reached out with their long, wisp-like claws in an attempt to slash and pummel anything in their paths. With a tattered overcoat, white gloves, and a ghastly appearance, these Heartless looked like something out of a spooky graveyard rather than aquatic enemies.

Needless to say, fighting Heartless in such a cramped space wasn’t exactly easy. Though Riku got a few hits in with his Keyblade, and Donald’s magic sent them flying into the shelves, Ariel, Flounder, and Goofy had to keep grabbing falling objects in order to prevent anything from breaking. To make matters worse, those pesky ghosts kept warping all over the place, trying to perform a sneak attack on Ariel. Luckily, she caught on and smacked them with her tail. Then, she performed a thunder spell to send the other down to the ground.

So Ariel could fight. Riku smirked, watching her magical display, and he hurled two fire spells at the approaching Heartless. Their bodies exploded in a burst of flame, leaving only one floating around. With the combined power of all their magic and physical skills, however, they made quick work of it. Before long, the grotto was safe and sound once more. Messy, but at least most of the objects were still in one piece. Could’ve been a lot worse.

For a few seconds, everyone remained silent. How did the Heartless get in here? Was their lust for the Keybearer’s heart really that powerful? Briefly, Riku glanced at his weapon. If they didn’t find the Keyhole soon, then just being around Ariel and her friends could bring unwanted danger.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Riku wasn’t the only one who noticed this, either. With the Heartless gone, Sebastian crawled out from beneath a shelf, pointing his claw straight at him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You see! I told you these people would bring danger here.” He swam up to Ariel and frowned. “What if those creatures come back? Or what if they find the palace?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“The palace?” Ariel’s eyes widened, and she headed to the entrance. “Oh, no. They could be heading there right now!” She shoved the boulder aside and poked her head out into the valley, searching for any sign of the Heartless. Nothing appeared, as far as Riku could tell. He leaned over her shoulder to take a peek, but the coast was completely clear. Still, this wasn’t the time to goof off. Sebastian had a point, after all.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel frowned, slipping through the grotto’s entrance. “Do you think you could help us? If the Heartless make it to the palace, I don’t know what will happen...”

“Like you had to ask.” Riku shook his head and propped the Keyblade against his shoulder. “Just lead the way, and we’ll handle the rest.”

“Thank you!” With a smile, Ariel left the grotto with Sebastian and Flounder close behind her. Once Riku and the others made it outside, she pushed the boulder back in place. With the grotto secure, she led everyone around the corner and up towards one of the many tunnels in the gorge. Unlike the rest, this one was very short. So short, in fact, that it only took Ariel a few seconds to reach the other side.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku hurried close behind her, keeping his eyes out for any attackers. Once he and the others reached the other side, they took a brief look around at the colorful buildings that filled the area. Tall, metal structures towered above the shells and coral below, while a raised walkway led the way to the distant palace. Together, they swam down the path until they reached a large, purple shell. There, two scuba divers and an enormous jelly fish Heartless appeared, diving at the group without a moment's hesitation.

Sending surges of electricity through the water, Riku rushed for the scuba Heartless. He thrust his Keyblade against their chests, striking them with all his might. His fierce blows sent them crashing into the shell, but they quickly got back to their feet and circled behind him and struck him in the back. Groaning, he whirled around and slammed his weapon into their helmets. The impact flipped the Heartless onto their backs for a split second and allowed Riku to strike two more times from below. Unleashing Sonic Blade, he quickly finished the job.

The jellyfish then flailed its tentacles and rushed towards Donald and Goofy, head first. Despite its size, it moved swiftly through the water, forcing the two to scurry out of its path before it came too close. They made it behind the Heartless right as it collided with a nearby wall. This gave Donald and Ariel a chance to blast it with a barrage of spells. While they kept it busy with their magic, Goofy rammed into the Heartless from the side, causing it to split into several smaller Heartless that darted away from the wall and towards the palace gates.

There was no point in waiting around. Narrowing his eyes, Riku rushed after the fleeing Heartless, hurling fire and blizzard spells along the way. The others joined Riku in the chase, launching their own attacks at the Heartless. Unfortunately, none of them hit, and it wasn’t until they made it inside the palace that the battle concluded. Right as the group reached the throne room, a surge of electricity eradicated the Heartless quickly and efficiently. Dumbfounded, Riku swam further into the room, where he caught sight of an older merman seated at the throne.

Despite his age, the man looked very fit, as evidenced by his large muscles. A long, white beard covered his face, and he wore a golden crown atop his head. Much like the scuba Heartless, he carried a trident, though his was much larger and as gold as his crown. As Riku and the others reached the throne, this man looked down at them with a stern expression.

“Ariel,” he said, waving his trident, “I thought I told you to stay in the palace. What’s the meaning of this?”

“Oh, daddy.” Shaking her head, Ariel swam ahead of the others. “It’s alright! I made some new friends who— ”

The man scowled. “Again? Don’t you realize how dangerous it is? I’m not about to let my youngest daughter wander the seas with those creatures afoot.”

“Hold it!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Swimming right up to the throne, Riku looked the man in the eyes and placed a hand on his hip. “Just who are you supposed to be?”

“Who am I?” The man leaned forward and prepared to explain, only to be cut off by Sebastian, who hopped up onto the throne.

“Show some respect!” He pointed one of his claws right at Riku’s nose. “You are in the presence of King Triton, the one and only ruler of the seas!”

A king of the sea, huh? Despite Triton’s status, Riku continued to stare at him with a deadpan look. “So you’re the king… In that case, maybe you can tell us a thing or two.”

“Not until you tell me who you are.” He tapped his fingers against the arm of his throne.

With a lopsided smile, Ariel placed one of her hands on top of her father’s. “Daddy, these are my friends. They helped us fight the creatures outside.”

“Yup!” Goofy grinned and waved one of his flippers. “Pleased t’meetcha, yer majesty!”

Despite Goofy’s friendliness, Triton continued to watch the trio warily. “And where are you from? Certainly not here.”

“That’s an easy one!” Donald cleared his throat and placed a hand against his chest. “We’re visitors from another ocean!”

Triton sighed, placing his hand against his cheek. Chances were he didn’t buy Donald’s excuse in the slightest. “You said you had a few questions for me?”

Nodding, Riku placed one hand on his hip. “Just one. You ever heard of the Keyhole?”

Triton’s entire body became tense, and for a moment he said nothing. He narrowed his eyes, and watched Riku very carefully. What was his deal, anyway? Did this guy know something after all? Riku sneered, watching as Triton slid down from his throne, clutching his trident tightly.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“As I told the other visitor, there’s no such thing. Not in my ocean.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Oh yeah?” Rolling his eyes, Riku flicked his hand through the air. “I seriously doubt that, old man. Every world has— ”

Before he could finish, Donald covered Riku’s mouth, laughing sheepishly. “Don’t be silly, Riku! There’s no such thing as other worlds.” A moment later, he jabbed Riku with his elbow and muttered, “We’re supposed to keep them a secret, remember?”

Donald’s attempted cover-up did little to lighten the situation, however; Triton continued to stare at Riku’s weapon, then at Riku himself.

“You are to leave this palace at once. Is that clear?” He raised his trident, pointing towards the palace entrance. “I’ll have nothing to do with you and that Key.”

Ariel gasped, grabbing onto her father’s arm. “But daddy—”

He jerked his arm back, staring Ariel straight in the eyes. “Not another word, Ariel. I refuse to let these strangers anywhere near our kingdom, much less my daughter. At least that other boy had the sense to leave when instructed.”

Without another word, Ariel turned away from her father with tears in her eyes. She took a deep breath and rushed outside, leaving several bubbles in her wake. Flounder gasped and flailed his fins, and he scurried after Ariel right as she vanished from sight.

Triton heaved a heavy sigh as he returned to his throne. He leaned to the side, propping his face up with one hand, while he pointed the trident at Riku’s group once more. “Must I repeat myself?”

There was no need. Silently, the trio turned away from Triton and fled from the palace. Clearly they’d find no leads on the Keyhole if they stuck around. Ariel knew nothing, and Triton refused to say a word. If they were going to find it, they’d have to scour the entire sea at this rate. Doing so could take hours, since the Undersea Valley and gorge contained numerous nooks and crannies, strong currents, and a number of paths leading who-knows-where. Plus, Ariel mentioned Sora earlier. Even if they did find the Keyhole, what if they missed him in the process?

By the time they made it back to the palace courtyard, Ariel was out of sight. Shaking his head, Riku turned to Donald and Goofy with a shrug.

“So, what now?”

“Well,” said Goofy, “that king feller sure doesn’t want us lookin’ around here.”

Donald groaned, glaring at the distant palace. “Yeah, well, if the Keyhole was here, we probably would’ve known by now.”

He had a point. Whenever they came across a Keyhole, the Keyblade reacted right away. If it didn’t do anything in or around the palace, it had to be somewhere else. At least that narrowed things down a bit…

“Let’s go check on Ariel.” Riku swam towards the tunnel. “She did say Sora’d drop by.”

Goofy frowned. “Do ya think she’ll be okay?”

Shrugging, Riku leaned against the tunnel’s edge. “She probably puts up with this all the time.”

As he followed Riku and Goofy to the tunnel, Donald sighed. He probably had some reservations due to the world order, meddling, and their mission. Riku’s suspicions were confirmed when he spoke up.

“We’ve already said too much. If you ask me, we oughta keep searching.”

“Look, I’m not saying we should ditch the Keyhole.” Riku shook his head. “But if Sora’s here, maybe we can talk some sense to him.” He brushed back some of his hair, gazing towards the nearby gorge. “Besides, he’s looking for the Keyhole, too.”

They shared a common goal. If Sora joined them in the search, they’d have a clear advantage over Maleficent and the Heartless. On the other hand, he did see Maleficent as a friend. Telling him too much could ruin everything… Or they could turn things around before they got out of hand. Even if Donald refused, Riku wasn’t about to let it slide.

Heaving another sigh, Donald said, “Fine. We could use all the help we can get, anyway.”

With that settled, the trio traveled through the tunnel and returned to the gorge. Fortunately, no Heartless appeared as they dove down towards Ariel’s grotto. Only a few fish whizzed past them, while a dolphin descended into a distant tunnel. Silence filled the area as they reached the boulder and shoved it out of the way. In a way, it was almost jarring. With tensions high and the world in danger, sudden tranquility felt out of place. Almost foreign.

Foreign, and a little suspicious. With the boulder out of the way, Riku peered inside the grotto, he kept his eyes open for any sign of Sora, Ariel, or even Flounder. Everything appeared safe. All the scattered objects from the Heartless attack rested safely on their shelves again. No shadowy figured lurked behind paintings and statues. Yes, the grotto itself looked perfectly fine. But there was one problem.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel was gone.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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In your nightmares!
Chapter 15: Tricky Treasure Hunting[FONT=&quot]
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Deep beneath the Undersea Gorge rested a dark and eerie chamber full of debris and murky water. Planks of wood littered the sand, scattered across the area. Damaged hulls appeared partially exposed, while eerie skeletons withered away into dust. Anchors poked out of the sand, coated in rust and barnacles. And as far as the eye could see, sunken ships covered the ground. A few seaweed stalks grew along the broken remains, but no fish dared approach this sunken wasteland…

Until today.

Though Sora briefly left Ariel to her own agenda, he returned to her grotto just as he’d promised. True, he took some time to explore the many corners of Atlantica and befriend some of the local fauna, but he made it back to her just in time. As soon as he spotted her sobbing inside her grotto, Sora immediately dragged her and Flounder out to this deserted wasteland. True, it contained the remains of several disasters, but the collection of ships provided many opportunities to search and explore. And given Ariel’s love of the outside world, there had to be something that’d bring a smile to her face.

So, with Ariel and Flounder close behind, he led the way, passing various bits of sunken debris. With so many ships, they could easily get lost for hours, just trying to uncover everything. However, one ship in particular caught his attention.

Right in the center of the wreckage, a single ship rested atop a pile of jagged rocks. Though its mast was split and the hull contained several holes, the rest of the boat remained largely intact. It was large, foreboding, and the perfect spot to uncover hidden treasure. So, as soon as Sora spotted the ship, he took Ariel by the hand, grinning from ear to ear.

“So, what d’you think?”

Ariel rushed to the mast of one of the ships, resting one hand against the tattered sail. “It’s fantastic!” She turned to Flounder, who ducked behind Sora, teeth chattering. “Right, Flounder?”

“Yeah, it’s… uh. Great!” He looked up at Sora, then back to Ariel. “Can we go back now? I don’t like the looks of this place.”

“Aw, but we just got here!” Sora pouted, following Ariel over to the mast. “C’mon, there’s gotta be all kinds of cool stuff in these ships.” He swam over to one of the windows and brushed some dust out of the way. “When I came here earlier, I saw this huge treasure chest!”

“A treasure chest?” Ariel tilted her head to the side for a split second before she hurried over to the window. She leaned in close, squinting as she examined the ship’s interior.

Grinning, Sora placed his hands behind his head. “Yep! And I bet there’s all kinds of stuff inside. Maybe you could add it to your collection, Ariel!”

She turned to face him, smiling eagerly. “Then what are we waiting for?”

“I, uh. Well…” Flounder looked to the left, then to the right. As he turned from one ship to the next, he shivered and twitched. “It looks kind of damp in there. And I think I might be coming down with something, so—”

“Oh, Flounder.” Ariel shook her head, giving her friend a lopsided smile. “Don’t be such a guppy.”

“But I’m not a—”

Too late. Before Flounder could finish, Sora and Ariel swam up to the deck and down the stairway.

Little light made it inside, leaving the ship’s interior almost pitch black. Briefly, Sora squinted and glanced around the area. Without light, it’d be difficult to find the treasure. Barrels and crates cluttered the corners, making a chest hard to come by. Fortunately, Sora knew better than to search in the dark. After a quick look around, he summoned his sword and took a deep breath. Within moments, the red glow of a fire spell formed at the tip.

As the sword ignited, Ariel gasped, staring at the glow with her eyes open wide. “Sora, how did you…?”

“Oh, you mean this?” He laughed, waving the sword back and forth. “Just a little magic!”

“Magic…” Slowly, Ariel reached for the tip of the blade, only to withdraw her hand once she felt the heat of the flames.

“Careful!” Sora frowned, lowering his weapon. “Fire’s dangerous stuff.”

Dangerous, despite being beneath the water. Even he didn’t understand how that worked, but at least it came in handy.

Using the flames, Sora revealed the hidden contents of the ship. Coils of rope lay scattered across the ground. A mangled old skeleton rested in one of the corners with a sword jammed into its rib cage. Wincing, he quickly turned from the eerie remains to the lopsided barrels and battered up crates. He squinted and gradually approached the pile, using his free hand to push one of the crates aside. Unfortunately, it barely budged from its place, prompting Sora to slam his upper body against the side. This moved the crate enough to for him to squeeze through, though he rubbed at his side as he approached the chest.

“Okay, Ariel! I found the—” He heard a scream from behind and paused abruptly. When he tuned around, he saw Flounder, stuck between a gap in the wood, breathing heavily. Meanwhile, Ariel grabbed onto his face and attempted to pull him inside. Rubbing the back of his neck, Sora watched this display for a few moments, until Flounder finally made it in.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Great!” Flounder gave a forced smile, looking around the ship. “But I saw something moving out there! What if it’s a shark? Or some kind of monster!” He squirmed in place.

Frowning, Ariel floated over to Flounder’s side and scooped him up with both hands. “Oh, Flounder. Nothing’s going to hurt you.”

“Yeah, and if anything tries…” Sora pointed his sword at the skeleton, “I’ll teach ‘em a thing or two!”

Ariel giggled, shaking her head as she approached the chest. Meanwhile, Flounder sighed, following closely with his eyes open wide.

At least they looked happier now. That’s what the adventure was all about. True, the ship’s contents were a little creepy, but that’s what made it exciting in Sora’s mind. And now that they found the chest, they’d get to see its hidden treasures. All he’d have to do is find a way to crack the lid open. Maybe give it a tug— but the lid was locked tight, so that wouldn’t work. Maybe the key was hidden somewhere? But finding a small key in a dark ship could take forever. At this rate, he’d have to do something practical. Something quick!

He glanced down at his sword, brow furrowed. Back in Wonderland, his weapon busted the lock on Alice’s cage. Maybe he could do the same with the chest. It’d sacrifice the light for a moment, but with the lock just inches away, it couldn’t take too long.

He took a deep breath and blew out the flames with a soft huff. With the flames doused, Sora slowly lowered his weapon to the chest, tapping the tip on the surface until he found an opening. He jiggled it around a few times, until he heard a sharp crack. Next, he slapped the slapped the side of the lock, which slowly slid from its place, landing with a soft thump.

That should do it. With the lock removed, Sora pulled back his weapon and swished it through the water. Seconds later, the room filled with light, exposing the chest in plain sight.

Ariel and Flounder approached the chest with little hesitation, peering over Sora’s shoulders as he crouched down and reached for the lid. He put his sword in his mouth for the time being and grabbed the sides with both hands. However, when he tried to pull it open, the lid didn’t budge. Gritting his teeth, Sora looked over the top, eying the rust gathered along the hinge. Still, he couldn’t back down, not now.

Grasping tightly to the sides of the lid, Sora heaved and tugged, closing his eyes and biting his lip as he struggled with the chest. He swam upward, pulling with all his might until, at last, he heard a sharp creeeeeak. But while he managed to open the chest, the sheer force threw him against the wall, and he winced upon impact.

When he opened his eyes, Sora spotted Ariel and Flounder peeking inside. Quickly, he removed the sword from his mouth and hurried behind them, peering over their heads in order to see the hidden treasure.

But no shimmering rubies or gold doubloons filled the chest from bottom to top. In fact, for such a large chest, it contained very little. When at last Ariel reached inside, she removed a single object, rotating it in her hands. It wasn’t a crown or a necklace of pearls. Rather, the object resembled a small trident made of smooth, blue crystal. Even so, she carefully felt it with her fingers, leaning in with her eyes half-closed. Once she’d gotten a close enough look, she whirled around, facing Sora with her eyes aglow.

“I can’t believe this!” she said, rushing to the window. “This is perfect for my collection!”

Tilting his head, Flounder approached Ariel with a small frown. “But what is it?”

“Well, it looks kinda like…” Sora paused, scratching his cheek, “kinda like a trident!”

A trident… Wait a minute! Wasn’t that why Ursula sent him there to begin with? Sora’s muscles tightened, and he shifted in place. How could he forget? Every minute he spent goofing off gave that evil King Triton more time to ruin the place. At the same time, how was he supposed to do this? Evil or not, Triton was Ariel’s father, and he couldn’t just waltz over and ask for the trident back. Even if he did hurt her feelings, he’d have to approach this differently. Maybe if he waited for the right moment…

Suddenly, he felt someone tap his shoulder. “Sora, are you okay?”

Instantly, Sora jumped back, rubbing the back of his neck and laughing shakily. “’course! Sorry, I just got... a little distracted, that’s all.”

Besides, this was for Ariel’s sake, not his own mission. As long as he got to the trident and found the Keyhole, everything would work out, even if it took some time. Shaking his head, Sora turned to the window. He’d figure things out on the way back…

But as he looked outside, he saw a flash of grey. Blinking, Sora looked over his shoulder with a frown. “Did you guys see that?”

“See what?” Flounder slid closer to the window.

He looked back at the window, but nothing happened. “Nevermind! I must’ve been seeing things.”

His shoulders sagged, and he made his way over to the stairs. “Anyway, d’you wanna go back?”

“Oh, but there’s so much to see!” Holding the crystal close to her chest, Ariel swam over to the rope, rubbing it with her fingers.

Sora opened his mouth, when he heard a thud from behind. Yet again, he turned to the window and saw nothing.

“Well, we can always come back later! There’s just something I wanna ask you.”

“You do?” She dropped the rope and placed a hand to her lips.

Another thud, but this time it came from below. What was going on, anyway? Were there fish down here after all? Something seemed a little off about this… Still, maybe it was just the current.

Shrugging, he said, “Yeah, but it can wait ‘til we get there. All we’ve gotta do is go through the current, right?”

“It’ll be easier to get back, but…” Ariel paused. “Flounder, what’s wrong?”

“I, ee, er…” Teeth chattering, Flounder stared out the window. “It’s…” He turned around and rushed for Ariel, ducking behind her shoulder.

Now there had to be something wrong. For better or worse, Sora looked back at the window, gasping aloud at the sight before him.

Shards of glass flew left and right, as gaping mouth full of dagger-like teeth chomped vigorously. The thuds finally made sense, as did the glimpse of grey. A giant shark had broken through the window and was now poking its head through the opening. It glared at the group, and its nostrils flared. Roaring loudly, it pulled its head from the window and bashed itself through the hole. Broken planks and glass shards flew everywhere, and Sora had to duck to avoid getting cut or splintered.

All the while, Ariel and Flounder rushed for the stairs, and Sora heard a thud as they fled; chances were, they dropped the crystal, but none of that mattered right now. With the shark inside the ship, he’d have to act fast.

Swallowing hard, Sora clutched his sword tightly in hand and rushed for the shark, sending a blast of flames into its mouth. For a split second, it stopped in its tracks, moaning as the flames singed the back of its throat. However, that didn’t stop it for long; within seconds, the shark growled, backed up, and charged once more. In order to dodge the attack, Sora swam up and over the shark as it broke through the other side of the ship, creating a huge hole in the process.

For better or worse, Sora followed through the hole, launching himself at the shark to deliver a series of rapid slashes. With each hit, it winced and growled in agony, snapping its teeth at Sora’s tail. Though he tried to escape, he moaned as the beast sunk its teeth into his tail fin. But in spite of the pain, Sora retaliated with a punch to the nose, swimming free as the shark bellowed and groaned.

He made it over to another ship, taking a split second to catch his breath. He could still feel the sting from the bite, but he’d have to ignore it for now. Already the shark headed his way again, eyes narrowed and teeth bared.

Sighing, Sora shot a cluster of ice straight at the shark’s face. Unfortunately, it ducked right as the spell drew close and continued on its way. In order to beat this thing, he’d have to think fast. Looking left and right, Sora scanned the area for something, anything to slow it down. But broken masts and crow’s nests just weren’t enough. Without a choice, he hurried to the side, missing the shark as it flew straight into the sail.

Zzzzt! Just then, a barrage of lightning bolts struck down from above, causing the shark to shudder and hiss. When Sora turned around, he saw Ariel smiling at him with the crystal in hand.

“Wait a sec,” he said with a gasp. “You can do magic too?”

“Just a little.” She shook her head. “Here, let me help you!”

Right as the shark turned around, Sora felt a sudden breeze; a gust of wind formed around him, whirling at a rapid pace. This was one spell he didn’t recognize, but whatever it was, it looked useful.

Flashing Ariel a quick grin, he rushed for the shark again, diving downward. He lashed out from below, while Ariel whacked it with her tail and called forth more lightning. Together, they unleashed a combination of brute strength and magic, overcoming the shark’s powerful strikes with agile movements. It was speed against strength, magic against might. With double the targets, the shark had to think twice before striking and watch out for surprise attacks. Sora knew this, and he exploited its weaknesses as he fought alongside his friend.


After a few more minutes of ducking, darting, and retaliation, the shark eventually came to a stop. Bruises, burns, and cuts covered its entire body, and its chest heaved heavily as it bore into Sora’s eyes with a fearsome glare. Afterwards, the shark swam upward and out of sight, leaving Sora and Ariel on their own.

…Or not.

Moments later, Flounder emerged from behind the ship. His jaw dropped, and he pointed a fin at Sora, then to Ariel, and he shook his head.

“You guys… with the bzzzt, and the ROAAAR!” He opened and closed his mouth, mimicking the motions of the shark. “And then, splat! Right in the nose! You guys were…” He wiped his face. “You guys were amazing!”

“Well, I dunno about that…” Sora smirked, looking back at Ariel. “But we make a good team! Thanks for helping me, Ariel.”

“Well, I had to do something.” She smiled. “Anyway, we should probably go back. There’s something I need to see…”

“Don’t worry. If we take the shortcut, we’ll get there in no time!” He glanced around for a moment, until a tunnel caught his eye. It was close to the ground, behind one of the ships. As he swam closer to the tunnel, Sora stopped and waved his hand, beckoning his friends to follow.

As they passed through the tunnel, no currents held them back; indeed, the path was very straightforward. After a few brief seconds, they reached an upward slope that ascended several yards. A few glimmers of light shone down from above, while a bubbling geyser rested before the slope. While they could easily swim to the top, Sora had a better idea. Swimming to the side, he waited for Ariel and Flounder to reach the geyser. Then, once they were in position, he slammed his sword against the side.

The impact sent a torrent of water flying upwards, propelling the two up and through the opening above. Unfortunately, the water pressure made it impossible to see them from below, much less hear them. Still, he’d be up there in no time! Tucking the sword away, Sora laughed and made his way towards the geyser.

At least, until he heard hissing from behind and stopped dead in his tracks.

Two pairs of glowing eyes appeared deep within the tunnel. As they drew closer, the long, crooked snouts of Flotsam and Jetsam emerged from the darkness, and soon the two eels began circling Sora with scowls on their faces.

Their eyes bore into his heart, and their snake-like movements made him shift in place. With a shaky tone, he said, “Uh, hi guys…”

The two eels hissed, shaking their heads.

“Ursula is disappointed…”

“Yes, very disappointed.”

… So things were worse than he thought. Did he screw up that badly? Her orders were to befriend Ariel, after all, and he couldn’t rush through things.

Nevertheless, the eels continued.

“She fears for the worst,” said Flotsam with a frown. “Poor, poor Ursula.”

“All she wants is to save her poor kingdom before it’s too late.”

“Too late?” Something wasn’t right about this. Sora knew King Triton was a tyrant, but what else could he do? He had power, he had control… Even his daughter suffered because of it.

But Flotsam and Jestam continued, drawing closer and closer until they were inches away from Sora’s chest.

“Didn’t you know?”

“Oh, dear.” Jetsam sighed. “It’s worse than we thought...”

The two eels looked at one another, then at the opening above. The geyser’s flow began to slow, but together they struck it with their tails, strengthening the stream.

“The Heartless are here, you know.”

“They’ve been here all along.”

Sora gasped. How could that be? The whole time he’d been in Atlantica, no Heartless appeared. Other than the shark, his visit had been very peaceful.

“But I don’t understand… If the Heartless were here, how come we didn’t see ‘em?”

“Because,” said Flotsam, “Triton controls them.”

“They do as he says.” Jetsam grinned.

“And he would never hurt his daughter…”

Together, the eels coiled around Sora’s shoulders.

“But if you don’t hurry, he’ll use the Heartless to ruin his world.”

“Destroy it…”

“He doesn’t understand…”

Together, they said, “The danger of the darkness.”

Could he really do that? Would Triton go that far? Destroying the world meant putting Ariel in the crosshairs of danger. If he truly loved his daughter, how could he take those risks? Something seemed a little… odd about this, and Sora looked away, biting his lip as he considered the eels’ words. A muffled cry from above caught his attention for a split second, until Jetsam nudged his face with his tail, peering straight into his eyes.

Maybe they were right. Maleficent had warned him about the darkness, how it could twist the noblest of heroes towards a path of destruction. And with the power of the trident, it would be all too easy to lose control and turn the world on its side.

He took a deep breath. Again, the eels struck the geyser, keeping the water flowing. He rubbed his neck and raised a brow; why were they doing that, anyway? It seemed a little odd, but they probably had their reasons. Rather than dwell on the subject, Sora turned his attention back to Flotsam and Jetsam and sighed.

“So, what d’you want me to do?”

“You must wait,” said Jetsam.

Flotsam nodded. “Yes. Wait until the girl is all alone…”

“Bring her to the palace…”

“And finish what you started.”

They were right. He had to do this, not just for Ursula, but for Ariel and the rest of Atlantica. If he was gonna be a hero, he needed to do the right thing, no matter what the cost. Already he’d wasted enough time goofing off and hunting for treasure. If he waited any longer, who knew what would happen? Squirming out from between the eels, Sora turned towards the tunnel. He’d stay close by, listening for any signs of her presence. With the opening above, it’d be easy to move to and fro.

And so, upon squirming free of the eels’ grip, Sora turned towards the tunnel. The soft nudge of their tails against his back moved him forward. He stopped once or twice for a moment or two, but with a soft sigh, he continued on through. As he moved along, he overheard soft whispers from behind, followed by a thump up above. Whatever it was, he didn’t bother to look, waiting until he reached the halfway point before coming to a complete stop.

Slumped against the wall, Sora listened and waited. If only heroics weren’t so tough.

TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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[FONT=&quot]Chapter 16: The Keyhole Revealed[/FONT][FONT=&quot]

SLAM![/FONT]
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Riku winced, as he landed flat against the stone walls of the gorge. Breathing heavily, he watched as a large, bulbous Heartless floated his way, smacking its jagged lips together, while the light on its head sparked and surged. A couple of yards away, two of the scuba Heartless chased after Donald and Goofy, who used a combination of magic and brute strength to keep them at bay. Suffice it to say, the area was a mess, as hordes of Heartless continued to appear through tunnels and out of corridors. It was bad enough that Ariel went missing, but now a swarm of pests stood in the way of the Keyhole, too.

With a huff, Riku propelled himself away from the wall and straight towards the angler Heartless. Those sparks on its antenna could only mean one thing: thunder magic, and he wasn’t about to let that slide. Instead, he swung his weapon straight into its side, knocking it back a few feet. With the Heartless momentarily stunned, he hurled a blast of ice at its eyes. The magic hit with a loud CRASH, and the Heartless snapped its jaws furiously before it turned face down and charged.

For a brief moment, Donald turned away from the scuba Heartless and launched three blizzard spells into the angler’s rear. This prompted the Heartless to turn away from Riku, who took the opportunity to slam right into its torso using Sonic Blade. The sheer force behind the strike spun the Heartless around and around, and Riku floated in place, smacking it in the face as it turned. It disappeared just moments later, when Goofy crashed into its side. He followed this up by ramming into one of the scubas, destroying it in an instant.

This left one of the scubas, which quickly hurled itself at Donald from behind. He flew forward, squawking and flailing, but he managed to slow down before he hit one of the stone walls. His face turned beet red, and he dove straight at the Heartless, swinging his staff in broad circles. As he watched this display, Riku bit his lip, trying to hold back his laughter. Unfortunately, this was easier said than done. What once was a competent threat quickly changed to Donald’s personal punching bag, taking several hits to the face before it could retaliate. After a few seconds, Riku couldn’t take it anymore; he started laughing, which caused Donald to turn away from the Heartless and send him a nasty glare.

“Hey, what’s the big ide—wak?!

One opening was all the Heartless needed to bash Donald’s head with its trident and then grab onto one of his tentacles. Though he struggled and squirmed, the Heartless quickly whirled him around like a lasso, tossing him straight at Riku’s chest.

There wasn’t any time to move; Riku barely had a chance to block with his Keyblade before Donald crashed into him, sending the duo on a collision course. With a loud WHAM, the two slammed into solid rock, groaning loudly as they slid away from one another. Yet in spite of the pain and Donald’s ranting, Riku kept his eyes locked on the Heartless, which moved towards Goofy and reached for one of his flippers.

But Goofy had the situation under control. He ducked out of the Heartless’ way and dashed behind it, slamming his shell into its side. The Heartless flew back, losing its grip on its weapon, and a sudden surge of electricity incinerated it in an instant.

Something wasn’t right. Riku turned to Donald, half expecting to see his staff smoking from a thunder spell. However, he kept his eyes on the location of the bolt; there was no way he could’ve finished the job. But did that mean Triton caught onto them? He did tell them to leave his Kingdom, which they completely ignored. If he found out they were still after the Keyhole, it wouldn’t end well. And to make matters worse, Ariel and Sora were still missing! Shaking his head, Riku swam away from the wall and took a look around.

But then a voice from below caught him off guard.

“What happened here?”

Could it be? Riku gasped and whirled around, only to find Ariel and Flounder approaching. Even stranger was the fact that Ariel was carried some strange trident in her hands—one made of crystal. Just where did Ariel go while they were fighting Heartless and searching for the Keyhole? And where was Sora, anyway? Something seemed off about this, and he wasn’t about to ignore it.

So, when Ariel came close enough, he placed a hand on his hip and swam right up to her. “So, where were you?”

Ariel frowned, looking over her shoulder for a moment. “We were with Sora, but I don’t know where he’s run off to.”

“Yeah…” said Flounder, baring his teeth. “And this shark chased us around, but Sora used his sword to beat it up! Well, me and Ariel helped too!”

Flounder.

He laughed sheepishly. “Okay, I mostly just watched…”

A shark attack? There had to be more to it than what Flounder said. The two of them didn’t even explain where they went in the first place. If he was going to get some answers, Riku would have to be more specific. After all, if Sora was close by, he couldn’t let him get away!

“Hold it,” said Riku, turning towards the grotto. “Where’d you last see him?”

“Over by my grotto,” Ariel said, swimming downward. “Here, I’ll show you.”

Riku turned to Donald and Goofy, pointing at Ariel as she descended. The two watched her for a moment and then looked at one another. Seconds later, they nodded, and together, the trio followed Ariel back down to the sea floor. They passed below a stone bridge and a few tunnels until they finally reached their destination; however, Ariel didn’t stop there. A few yards from the entrance sat a large treasure chest sticking halfway through a hole in the ground. When she neared the chest, Ariel tried to push it away, but it didn’t budge. Was that where they lost Sora?

“I just don’t understand,” she said, hovering above the hole. “This chest wasn’t stuck here earlier…”

“Really?” Goofy tilted his head to the side, swimming closer to the old box. “Then how’d it get stuck here? Seems kinda fishy…”

“It might’ve been a Heartless,” said Donald, crossing his arms. “One of those big ones could’ve knocked it over.” He shook his head. “But if it’s stuck, I don’t think we’re gonna find him.”

“Oh, come on.”

Riku clenched his fists. What if Sora was trapped down there? There’s no way he’d be able to move that thing on his own! And if that chest was keeping him from his best friend, then Riku couldn’t just ignore it. Thus, he took a deep breath and rammed into the chest, pushing and shoving until he ran out of breath. Yet, despite all his effort, the chest didn’t budge an inch; it really was stuck.

Ariel placed a hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry, Riku,” she said, “but I’m sure he’ll be okay. Sora’s really brave, and I know he wouldn’t leave without saying goodbye.”

“Then what should I do?” He shook his head. “Just wait around?”

“Well, we could always look for the Keyhole s’more,” said Goofy.

“And where would we start?” Rolling his eyes, Riku looked from one tunnel to the next. “We already checked around here, and that valley’s huge.”

Donald huffed. “Hah. I thought you said it’d be easy!”

“Look, nothing’s going to happen to this world.” He groaned. “I’m just being realistic. The last two Keyholes weren’t hiding under a rock. It has to be more important than that.”

Ariel glanced down at the crystal trident for a moment, and then she tapped Riku on the shoulder. “I’ve got an idea,” she said, swimming towards the boulder. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but there’s something I’d like to see.”

There was something a little strange about that trident… Wasn’t there a similar shape inside the grotto itself? And with the ruler of the sea carrying a trident of his own, some form of symbolism was possible. It was like tridents were a major part of Atlantica. For the Keyhole to be linked to it… Riku pressed his palm against his forehead and sighed. Why didn’t he think of that?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Well, it was worth looking into, anyway, so he and the others followed Ariel as she made her way into the grotto, past all her little trinkets and knick-knacks, and over to the trident-shaped incision in the wall. She squinted, holding the crystal trident just inches away from the hole. Sure enough, it was the perfect size and shape. There had to be a connection.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]As Ariel placed the trident into the wall, Riku quickly summoned the Keyblade. If this didn’t lead to the Keyhole, then nothing else would. It was just too obvious to be a false lead. And, sure enough, the Keyblade started to vibrate almost instantly, a surefire sign that they’d finally found it. Now all he’d have to do is close it up, and the Heartless threat would be history—[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Or so he thought, but a familiar Jamaican accent caught him completely off guard, and his body grew tense.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“There they are! Just as I told you!”

Riku cringed, looking over his shoulder to find not only Sebastian, but a very angry King Triton. Now what were they going to do? The fact that he and his friends remained in Atlantica against Triton’s orders was sure to come up somehow. Even worse was the fact that the Keyhole appeared in plain sight, and Ariel had led them straight to it. Groaning, Riku lowered the Keyblade to his side, as Ariel swam in front of the Keyhole. Donald and Goofy scurried over to Riku’s side, while Triton moved closer and closer to the group.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Young man,” he said, “I thought I told you to leave at once! Not only have you disobeyed me, but now you’ve gotten my daughter involved.” He looked around at the many shelves of human trinkets, brow furrowed. Then, he turned to Ariel. “And what is this?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Daddy, please!” Ariel placed her hands to her chest, looking up at her father with a pained expression. “You don’t understand—”

“Oh, I understand.” He pointed his trident at one of the shelves. “You’ve been spending time with these miscreants, throwing yourself right into danger. How many times must I tell you that—” He squinted, looking over Ariel’s shoulder. Immediately, his tone shifted to something harsh. “Move aside, Ariel.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And why should she?” Riku rolled his eyes, placing his free hand against his hip. “You might be the king around here, but that doesn’t mean she has to bow down to your every whim.” Even as Ariel silently encouraged him to stop, he kept going. “I’d say your kingdom’s safety takes priority over tightening the leash, but what do I know?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Triton tightened his grip on the trident, pointing the weapon’s tip at the corner of the crystal visible from behind Ariel. “That is exactly why I’m here.” The tip of the trident began to glow, sparks flying off of the tip.

Ariel’s eyes widened, and she quickly swam towards her father, even as a surge of electricity flew towards the crystal. “Daddy, no!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It was too late. The crystal trident shattered into a million pieces, leaving nothing but an empty hole in the wall. Their chance of saving this world from the clutches of darkness shattered with it, and for once Riku felt a deep dread take hold of his heart. He clenched his free hand tightly into a fist and narrowed his eyes, and his posture completely stiffened as he glared at Triton. Donald and Goofy floated quietly, giving the king and each other a dumbfounded stare, while tears welled in Ariel’s eyes. Within a split second, she pushed her father aside and made a mad dash for the grotto’s entrance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Nobody spoke for the next few moments. King Triton lowered his weapon and watched Riku and his friends forlornly, and Sebastian hopped down from his shoulder and scurried out the door. Briefly, Flounder looked up at Riku with a frown, but soon he, too, fled from the dismal scene, leaving the king alone with Riku, Donald, and Goofy.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Thanks for nothing,” said Riku under his breath. Just what was wrong with King Triton? Did he really think destroying access to the Keyhole would protect the world? Sure, it might make things tougher for the Heartless, but there was still a chance they could find their way to it.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Triton, however, didn’t seem remotely phased, even after his daughter left in tears. He looked down at Riku with a scowl. “There’s no sense in hiding it. I know well that you and your friends are from another world.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Donald groaned, crossing his arms and glancing at Riku. Goofy, on the other hand, frowned and gazed down at the floor.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh, was it really that obvious?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You made no effort to conceal it,” said Triton. “Even if you hadn’t asked me about the Keyhole, I could tell by your behavior and that boy’s Key.” He gazed down at the Keyblade. “The Keyblade is certainly not a weapon of this world.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Who cares?” Riku rolled his eyes, leaning up against the wall. “Maybe we are from another world, but we came here for a reason. Ever thought that maybe we were trying to save this place from the Heartless?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That is not your concern.” Triton leaned forward, and his brow furrowed. “As the king of this world, it is my duty and mine alone to ensure the safety of the seas. All you have done is meddled and brought danger to my daughter.” He paused, heaving a sigh. “Though I do thank you for protecting her from those ‘Heartless,’ you’ve meddled long enough.” Slowly, he turned towards the grotto’s entrance.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku opened his mouth, ready to speak up yet again, but he soon found a feathered hand covering it instead. Donald sighed, shaking his head, and the trio watched as Triton left them alone in silence. Even with Triton gone, Riku continued to glare at the grotto’s entrance. It didn’t matter how many times that king told him to get out; there was no way he’d leave until he at least found Sora. Even the Keyhole took second priority to his best friend. If they couldn’t seal this world now, that didn’t mean he’d just follow Triton blindly. No, he was far from through with this place.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Pushing Donald’s hand aside, he started to make his way towards the entrance. About halfway, he stopped, looking over his shoulder at Donald and Goofy. “I don’t care what he says. I’m not done yet.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Gawrsh,” said Goofy, scratching his head with a flipper. “Are ya sure that’s a good idea? That King feller was lookin’ awfully mad.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald crossed his arms and groaned. “He was right about meddling. Good going, Riku.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Don’t even go there.” Riku shook his head, pointing his Keyblade at the entrance. “Look, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not about to give up. So if you want to leave, go ahead, but I’m going after Sora.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“We’ve wasted enough time.” Donald stared at Riku, and his beak twisted into a frown. “We’re better off workin’ on a plan B to seal the Keyhole.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Good luck with that.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He didn’t even give them a chance to respond. With his mind made up, Riku made his way out of the grotto and into the gorge. He’d have a lot of ground to cover if he wanted to find Sora, and that’s if he was still in Atlantica to begin with. There was no way of knowing which way to go or who to turn to, and with Heartless lurking in the sea, he’d have to brace himself for the worst. There was no time to lose. Taking one last look at the grotto,

Riku charged forward into the open sea, keeping his eyes peeled for the appearance of any Heartless and maybe, just maybe, his best friend.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]x.x.x [/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]King Triton commanded the Heartless, and he was going to drag this whole world into darkness. That’s what Flotsam and Jetsam had told him. Something had to be done to set things right, or the people of Atlantica and even Triton’s daughter would be lost just like the islands! Ariel didn’t deserve that… nobody did! It was all the more reason to pick up the pace and find his new friend before it got out of hand. If this world was going to make it, Ursula needed that trident back, and Ariel was his key to bringing it to her.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But he’d been searching for what seemed like an eternity, and all he’d found were fish, fish, and the occasional dolphin with a side of more fish. And not Flounder, either. Heaving a sigh, he moved downward, passing clusters of clam shells and caverns. She had to be somewhere; it was all just a matter of finding one mermaid in the middle of a vast ocean. Why did it have to be so difficult?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Or was it really that difficult? As he continued on his way, Sora could hear the faintest sound of sobbing. Somebody was close by, and maybe it was her! His eyes widened, and he picked up the pace, moving both his arms quickly for extra speed. In the distance, he spotted a boulder and a mess of red hair. There was no doubting it now; Ariel was there, and by the sound of it, she needed somebody to cheer her up![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He came closer and closer, and by the time he reached her, his heart pounded and his chest sagged. He let his arms fall to his side, taking a moment to catch his breath before he cleared his throat and spoke up.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Ariel, what’s wrong?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately, Ariel turned around. Her face was red, and her cheeks moist with tears. She sniffled and wiped one of her eyes, and then she forced a smile. “Sora? Oh, thank goodness you’re here.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Yep, it’s me!” He managed a lopsided grin, but it was equally forced. How could he really be happy with a friend in distress? “But what happened? You look really upset.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It’s my father,” she said. “He just doesn’t understand…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Of course he wouldn’t. The guy was a tyrant, after all. One who couldn’t even give his daughter the freedom she desired. Sora nodded, placing a hand against his neck. He’d have to choose his words carefully, since she probably still loved her dad, even if he was evil.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, I sure do. I mean, you just wanna see the outside world! Me and my friends were like that, too.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“But now you’re here, and…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“And I can help you, too!” Sora nodded, placing a hand over his heart. “I know somebody who can get you to see other worlds, Ariel. All she needs is a little help.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Really? Ariel brought a hand to her chin, her eyes wide and hopeful.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You bet! We both wanna help you more than anything. We just can’t do it alone.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Then what do you need?” Ariel turned away from the boulder, swimming right in front of Sora. “Please, if there’s anything I can do to help you, just let me know.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora scratched the back of his head. It was now or never.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, there is one thing…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Really?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He nodded. Now all he had to do was phrase it just right. No need to come across as suspicious; this’d definitely help Ariel, so what was he afraid of?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, d’you think you can take me to the palace without getting caught? There’s something my friend needs, but if your dad catches us, he’ll probably get really mad.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It took a moment for Ariel to respond, and in that split-second of silence Sora winced, half-expecting her refusal. Instead, she smiled.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Of course I can. We’ll just have to be careful!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He let out a sigh. That was close, but at least she was on board! It’d make helping both her and Ursula a whole lot easier. They’d just have to sneak in, grab the trident, and everything would work out! It was the perfect plan, and it’d work out for everyone.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, I’m ready when you are!” he said with a grin. “Just lead the way.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It didn’t take long for Ariel to point out the trident-shaped markings on the wall and begin the journey towards the palace. She was very quick to lead Sora through the Undersea Valley and through the tunnels in order to reach their destination. And best of all, no Heartless or sharks appeared to slow them down. Soon they’d arrive at their destination, and Sora’d get to play the hero and save the day. What could possibly go wrong?[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Sure enough, when they made it into the throne room, there was nobody in sight. For a brief moment, Sora glanced up at the high ceiling and the massive throne with bubbling pillars at each side. This place looked so different without her old man towering up above. Taking a deep breath, he approached the throne, glancing around for anything suspicious. Ariel followed closely behind with a faint frown on her face.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So, what are we looking for?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sora gulped. He couldn’t just outright say he was gonna take the trident. What if she got angry about it? She was his friend, and he didn’t want her to take it the wrong way! He’d have to be vague, at least until they got back to Ursula.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, uh,” he said, “you’ll see really soon! But it’s kinda a surprise, so…” He paused, looking at her with a sheepish smile. “D’you think you could… close your eyes? Please?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel raised a brow and tilted her head. “Well, all right. I do love surprises.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Once again, Sora sighed. That was a close one, but once she closed her eyes, he began to inspect the room further. The trident definitely wasn’t below the throne or a above it. With the chamber so empty, it’d stick out far too easily… Rather than waste time, Sora came closer to the throne, peeking behind it. Sure enough, the trident was right there, shimmering like precious gold.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Carefully, he reached for it, trying not to make a sound. With the trident secure, he made his way back to Ariel and looked around. The coast was clear, save for the two eels that slowly approached from the shadows. They cackled, and their eyes locked on Sora. Suddenly, he felt a lump forming in his chest. What if Triton showed up? This’d look way too suspicious![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]But there was no turning back. Taking a deep breath, Sora turned his attention towards the eels. “Okay, we’re ready.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Flotsam and Jetsam said nothing. They simply nodded and began swimming in circles, as a glob of darkness began to form, growing larger and larger as the seconds passed. It looked kind of like a portal… Like the ones Maleficent sometimes made. Was this Ursula’s way of reaching them? Tentatively, he took Ariel by the hand, slowly leading her towards the portal. Both Flotsam and Jetsam snickered and vanished within the darkness.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Sora, what’s going on?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ariel glanced at him, and though her eyes were still closed, he couldn’t take any chances. Sora quickly picked up the pace and said, “It’s okay, Ariel! We’re almost there.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Just a little bit further, and they’d be back in Ursula’s grotto. They’d just have to return her trident, and everything would be okay. Ariel’s dream would come true, they’d find the Keyhole. He had to do this. There was no other way. Even as the dark tendrils wrapped around them, pulling them through the cold, black darkness, Sora continued to swim as fast as his tail could take him.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]TO BE CONTINUED [/FONT]
 

.:Mega:.

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In your nightmares!
One more chapter tonight! I'll post the Pleasure Island mini-arc tomorrow as well as Halloween Town. Like I said on FF.net, Monstro won't be appearing in KH1 because I have plans for it in the story that takes place right after it. I have symbolic reasons for pushing it forward. :]

--

[FONT=&quot]Chapter 17: Tensions Rising[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku caught a glimpse of a dolphin’s tail vanishing through the darkness before the portal closed. A portal of darkness in the middle of Triton’s palace… Something didn’t add up. Dark corridors were hardly ever a good sign, and with Triton completely out of sight, something serious had to be going on. Slowly, he made his way into the throne room, looking around for any suspicious signs. The place was empty. No sign of the Heartless, Triton, or Sora, unless…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Riku, wait up!”

“Hold it right there!”

Heh. Right on schedule. Riku didn’t even have to look to know Donald and Goofy were trailing after him. He could never get rid of those two for long, even when they were stuck with goofy aquatic forms.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He let them catch up a bit before he turned around and laughed. “Finally decided to show up? And here I thought you’d left.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Why you!” Donald squawked, shaking one of his fists. “Our King told us to stick with ya, so don’t think you can get rid of us that easily.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Goofy laughed, covering his mouth with a flipper. “Yup! You’re stuck with us, Riku.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Just what I need.” He shook his head and crossed his arms. Leave it to Donald and Goofy to act like total nimrods. “Anyway, something doesn’t add up.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“What’re you talking about?” Donald frowned, taking a quick look around the room. “This place looks fine.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Maybe it does now,” said Riku, “but it didn’t a few seconds ago.” He made his way over to where the portal once stood. “I saw some kind of portal here, and that’s not all. Somebody was here, and it wasn’t Triton.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Both Donald and Goofy looked at one another, and their eyes widened. Goofy started to scratch his head with a flipper, while Donald’s brow furrowed.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So what do ya this means?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“It means that my trident has been stolen!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately, Riku, Donald, and Goofy turned their attention to the throne. There, King Triton appeared, bent over with a look of frustration. For the very first time since they’d arrived, his trident was nowhere to be seen, and he looked almost… weak compared to before. Did this have something to do with the intruder? If somebody did take the trident, then there was no way it could be Sora… right?[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Now wasn’t the time to argue with this guy, but Riku had to know. There was something fishy about this situation. Something that king might actually understand.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“But who could steal your trident in the first place?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Pressing a hand to his cheek, Triton slumped. For once, he didn’t scowl, nor did he shout about Riku’s meddling. He looked almost… tired, really. And maybe a little sad.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“There is only one way,” he said with a sigh. “It would take my daughter Ariel to make it here undetected. Perhaps I was too strict after all…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Riku shook his head. “You can worry about that later. Right now, we need to worry about that trident… that is, unless you think that’s meddling.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“No, you’re right.” Slowly, Triton pushed himself down from the throne. He moved sluggishly, as if something had drained all the life out of him. “If my trident has been stolen, then there’s no doubt that Ursula is behind it. If we don’t act now, then my kingdom and my daughter could be in grave danger.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“So where do we find this here Ursula feller?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You must hurry,” he said, “to the sunken ship. There, you will find a way to Ursula’s grotto.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Donald frowned. “But how do we get there?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It took a moment to for Triton to respond, as he stroked his beard in thought. “I’m far too weak to lead you myself, but I do know someone who can help.” He turned around and raised his voice. “Sebastian!”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Right on cue, the crab scurried into the room, gasping once he laid eyes on the weakened Triton. “Your majesty!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Triton shook his head, pointing at Riku and the others. “There’s no time to explain. Right now, I need you to take this boy and his friends to Ursula’s grotto. Do you understand?”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]At first, Sebastian covered his mouth with his pincers, shuddering as he looked up at Triton with a puzzled expression. “But the grotto is full of those creatures!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Like that’s a problem for us.” Riku smirked, summoning his Keyblade with the flick of a wrist. “You lead the way, and we’ll handle the Heartless.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sighing, Sebastian glanced at King Triton, who nodded. There was no way out of this one.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Well, all right. If that’s what King Triton wishes, then I’ll see to it that you make it there in one piece.” He scurried up to Riku and held out a claw. “But don’t go trying any funny business.”

Rolling his eyes, Riku swatted Sebastian away. “Yeah, sure. Now let’s get going.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]There was no point in stalling. Sebastian swiftly led the way out of the palace, and the trio followed behind. Together, they left the busy city, dodging various Heartless that appeared in their path. There just wasn’t time to stop and fight with the trident missing and Ariel in potential danger. Luckily, Sebastian managed to steer clear of the enormous angler fish and fearsome scuba divers that charged right behind them. It took a bit of luck and extra speed, but they were able to ditch their pursuers in the tunnels before long.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The trio kept their eyes on Sebastian, as he pointed the way through various tunnels and caves. For as fussy as he was, he sure knew his way through these waters, and without him they’d probably be wandering for hours just trying to find their way around. Instead, they followed his lead through the Undersea Valley and into the Calm Depths. The current was certainly strong, forcing Riku and his friends to push themselves in order to keep moving, but soon they made it to a dark tunnel off to the side. On the other end, they found a massive collection of sunken ships littering the sea floor.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]This had to be the place. Though the water was cold, dark, and murky, there was no mistaking the disarray and debris that filled the area. Carefully, Sebastian led the trio past the countless ships and over to a large boulder. There, he came to a complete stop, tapping the rock with one of his claws.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Now, listen carefully,” he said. “Beyond this boulder you’ll find Ursula’s grotto, but don’t expect it to be an easy trip. That sea witch probably knows we’re coming. You’ll want to be on your guard.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It’s like he was preaching to the choir. Riku shrugged, propping his Keyblade against his shoulder. Danger kinda came with the territory, especially if Ursula had her mitts on the trident. Sure they’d probably be up against a tough contender, but the same thing could be said about Cerberus and the giant Heartless they faced in Wonderland and Traverse Town. As long as he had the Keyblade, they’d be just fine.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He turned his attention to Donald and Goofy, who quickly pulled out their weapons and nodded. For a duo of goofy, talking animals they looked pretty serious for a change. The stakes were high, and there was no time to bicker or fight. With their weapons at the ready, Sebastian made his way over to the wall, pressing his claws against a small, stone switch. Seconds later, the boulder sank into the ground, revealing a brand new tunnel. A dark and spooky one, at that.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The inside walls were made of purple stone and eerie geysers lined the ground, putting out smoke and glowing blood red. Red stalactites and stalagmites made the tunnel appear as if it had sharp teeth, and images of monsters along the walls did little to improve the already dismal mood of this Den of Tides. Carefully, they continued down the tunnel, keeping their eyes peeled for Heartless. None appeared. At the very end of the tunnel, they spotted what appeared to be the rotting corpse of a sea monster.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Some view,” Riku said, holding his Keyblade tightly in hand. “Could be dozens of Heartless just waiting to come out and grab us.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Sebastian shivered, hopping onto Goofy’s shell. “I trust you know what you’re doing.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]“Relax. I said we could handle it, and we will.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]There was no turning back. Once they got in there, they’d have to settle the score with Ursula, trident or not. As he and the others followed Sebastian’s lead, Riku kept a watchful eye out for Sora. If it was him who stole the trident, then why? Theft just wasn’t his style, especially for a witch, unless… He shook his head, entering the dark and gruesome innards of the lair.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]The smell of decaying flesh filled the area, while haunting moans echoed throughout the pathway. Looking down, Riku spotted several worm-like creatures with pained expressions, stretching their scrawny necks upward. Goofy yelped, as the strange worms tickled his flippers, and Donald proceeded to clobber them with his staff. Riku, on the other hand, kept moving forward… at least until two of the ghost-like Heartless appeared.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
Riku charged straight for them, nailing them with a spinning blow that sent them flying into the wall. Donald took this opportunity to blast the two Heartless with thunder magic, and Goofy whirled into them as a finishing blow. All the while, poor Sebastian held tightly onto his head. It didn’t take long for the Heartless to vanish, clearing the way into the next area…[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Inside, Ursula loomed over both Sora and Ariel with the trident in hand and a crooked smile on her face. Flotsam and Jetsam cackled and began swimming circles around their master’s shoulders. All the while, Ariel watched the sea witch with a look of horror, and Sora looked up at her with a small frown.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“You’re still going to help her, right? Now that you’ve got your trident back, you can get Ariel to the outside world!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Ursula laughed, twirling the trident around. “Oh, yes. That is what I said, isn’t it? A one-way trip to another world, free from daddy’s tight little leash…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]It was Sora all along. There was no doubting it now. As Riku peered into the room, he felt his heart wrench. This had to be a set-up. Or maybe Sora was just tricked. He said something about helping Ariel, so that had to be it. There was no other way! Biting his lip, he charged into the room, leaving the others in the dust. Maybe it was reckless, but right now he just didn’t care. Not when Sora got dragged into this mess![/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“That’s it, party’s over!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Immediately, Sora whirled around, gasping at the sight of his friend. “Riku? What’re you—”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Flotsam and Jetsam wrapped themselves around Sora’s arms, pulling him back towards the wall before he could finish. Though he struggled to break free, they refused to relinquish their grip. If anything, the eels held tighter and tighter. Even with Ariel’s assistance, they continued to squeeze Sora’s arms firmly between their snake-like bodies.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]There was no way they’d get away with it. Gritting his teeth, Riku launched a fire spell at the eels. Unfortunately, Ursula deflected the spell with the trident, and that sickening grin of hers grew wider and wider. Donald and Goofy rushed to Riku’s side, while Ariel continued to fight with Flotsam and Jetsam.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Slowly, Ursula turned to face Sora, tugging on one of his cheeks. “Don’t you worry, sweet cheeks. I’ll keep my promise…”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He continued to squirm, even as his arms fell asleep. “But, Ursula, I don’t understand. Why’re they doing this? What’s going on?!”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Isn’t it obvious?” Riku shook his head, pointing his Keyblade straight at Ursula. “C’mon, Sora. You really think she’s gonna help?

“’Course I do.” said Sora, breathing heavily. “She just wants to save her kingdom from the Heartless!”

“Her Kingdom?” Ariel gasped. “But this is my father’s kingdom!”

“Was, sweetheart.” Chuckling under her breath, Ursula began stroking the trident. “Now, Sora, you’ve been a wonderful help, but I think I’ll take it from here.” She pointed the trident at the wall, as a black, swirling portal began to form. Flotsam and Jetsam slowly released Sora from their grip, but he soon found his arms heavy from the lack of circulation.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]He tried to swim away, but the two eels pushed him back. “Wait a sec! Riku—”

One last push from the eels sent Sora through the portal. Though Riku rushed towards the wall, Flotsam and Jetsam blocked his path. He knocked them aside and continued forward, but the portal quickly closed. Stopping dead in his tracks, Riku gazed at the wall and winced. He’d found Sora, but they barely got a chance to speak. Now he couldn’t figure out what the heck was going on. Not unless… Slowly, he turned his attention to Ursula. That witch knew something, and there was no way he’d sit still when he could force the answers out of her.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He slipped into a battle stance without a word, prompting a laugh from the sea witch.

“What’s this?” she said. “Do you truly think you can beat me, boy? You might have the Key, but that’s not going to save you this time.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“He’s got more than just a Key!” A sudden surge of lightning shot down from above. When Ursula quickly dodged it, Donald fired a second thunder spell, and then a third.

Goofy readied his shield, scowling at Ursula. “Donald’s right! Riku’s got more than just a weapon. He’s got pals like me ‘n Donald, and we’re stickin’ with him through thick and thin.”

They were sticking up for him. Even after his reckless behavior, did they seriously care? Or was it just because of their mission? Whatever the case, he had backup. And with Ariel swimming over to him, it looked like their group was just about to gain another member.

She smiled at him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “Please, let me help. This is all my fault.”

Riku sighed and shook his head. “No, Ariel. It’s not your fault. If anyone’s to blame, it’s her.” He pointed the Keyblade at Ursula, who covered her mouth with her free hand.

“Oh, how cute,” she said, snickering under her breath. “The Keybearer has a little posse.” She floated over towards a hole in the wall, while her two eels swam over her shoulders and hissed at Riku’s group. “Well, I think we’ve stalled long enough. Go ahead, handsome…”

She clutched the trident firmly in hand and turned towards the opening, disappearing into the darkness of the tunnel. Something fishy was going on here. Why would Ursula just… leave? Surely she could put up a fight using just the trident. Not unless she was setting something up, like a trap…

When the eels inched slowly towards him, Riku winced and nailed them with a whirling blow, followed by a powerful burst of thunder magic. They didn’t have time to fight back, as their bodies exploded in a puff of black smoke. With that out of the way, Riku faced the others with a stern look on his face.

“I don’t like this,” he said, idly glancing towards the wall. “But we can’t just sit here.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Nodding, Ariel quickly swam to the opening. “As long as she has the trident, who knows what’ll happen? Even if it’s dangerous out there, we have to do something.”

“Then let’s go get her!” Donald swiftly waved his staff and scurried over to the exit. He held onto the ledge of the opening and poked his head inside. Seconds later, he started squawking frantically, turning away from the strange tunnel. “Bah! It’s all clogged up!”

Sighing, Riku turned back towards the entrance. “Then we’ll find another way. No point in staying here.”

Not like they had any other options. Fighting with a clogged tunnel would only slow them down. Thus, they rushed through the rotting leviathan’s corpse with haste. When they reached the Cavern Nook, they searched the entire area for another path, but they only found a dead end with a few clam shells inside. With no place left to turn, they continued on, passing the sunken ships and nearby Heartless without so much as a passing glance. The tunnel leading to the Calm Depths awaited; maybe if they swam fast enough, they could beat the current and find another way.

When they entered the tunnel, they immediately spotted an opening straight ahead of them. Only the current stood in the way of a quick an easy escape. For someone like Ariel, who’d lived her whole life with a tail, this was an easy enough task. She managed to make it to the other side with ease. Riku glanced down at his tail, then back at the rushing water. If he could handle getting to the sunken ship, how hard could it be?

He took a deep breath and pushed himself forward with his arms and the vertical movements of his tail. At first the current pushed him back, but after a few seconds of struggling, he made it to the other side. This left Donald and Goofy, who gulped as they carefully approached the current. The two of them flailed a bit as the water pushed them around; luckily, they didn’t get too far before they managed to fight back, reaching the tunnel after a few moments of awkward swimming.

Now all they had to do was press on and hope for the best. They probably were swimming right into an ambush, but at least they came prepared. Riku had the Keyblade and several potions on hand, and both Donald and Ariel knew healing magic and defensive magic. If Ursula dished out some powerful blows, they’d be ready for the worst. So, together, they passed through the dark tunnel, entering a wide, open sea.

No Heartless, sharks, or other creatures stood in their way. Only Ursula appeared, floating several yards away with the trident held high. Her lips curled into a twisted grin, and she started cackling like crazy. Taking a deep breath, Riku and Donald were the first ones to charge. But Ursula’s laughter simply grew louder and louder.

“You poor, unfortunate souls!”

A strange, yellow glow surrounded her body, and within seconds she began to grow larger and larger. Riku and Donald stopped in their tracks, while Ariel and Goofy rushed behind them. Right before their eyes, the sea witch continued to grow and grow. It didn’t take long before she towered above them, and her growth continued still.

“It’s too late now.” When the growing finally ceased, Ursula stood well over fifty feet wall, a gargantuan titan of the sea. A golden crown to match the trident completed her gruesome appearance. As she raised her weapon into the air, she shouted for all to hear. “This sea is about to become your grave!”

BANG! Several pillars of light appeared, and the surrounding water began to whirl around, clouded with a sudden darkness. The pillars crackled and flashed, moving closer and closer to Riku and the others. With no other choice, they darted out of the way, as Ursula cackled and took a deep breath. Moments later, a barrage of bubbles spewed from her mouth; the pillars continued to pursue them.

There wasn’t time to sit still and chat. With light spells constantly trailing after them, the group split off in different directions. Even then, they still had to deal with explosive bubbles hitting them from behind. Ursula made sure to perform these attacks in quick succession, making it almost impossible to fight back. As Riku frantically dived down, swerved to the side, and rushed forward, he found few opportunities to strike. All he could do was watch and run. This was no Heartless fight.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]Soon, he found himself facing an approaching pillar. Bracing himself, he held out his Keyblade like a shield. It blocked most of the light, but a few sparks landed on his face, singing his cheeks with their intense heat.

Luckily, the cool gusts of an aero spell deflected some incoming bubbles. He looked over his shoulder and found Ariel performing flips and turns to avoid Ursula’s vicious assault. Between each attack, Donald fired several thunder spells right at her face, and Goofy hid in his shell for protection.

When Ursula launched another attack, Riku slid to the side, watching her closely. If he could get a clear shot at her head, maybe he’d stand a chance. All he’d have to do is get close enough without getting singed by the light or blown away by those bubbles. It’d be dangerous, but he had to do something, or they’d never finish her off.

Another pillar drew close, and Riku rushed straight towards his attacker. He raised his weapon, ready to strike, when Ursula slowly turned to face him, shaking her head.[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]“Not so fast, kiddo…”

She leaned back and inhaled with her powerful lungs. Suddenly, Riku found himself being pulled closer to Ursula’s face… and right into her mouth. Fighting the sudden pull, he turned around and pushed forward with all his strength. Still, the sea witch continued to pull him back, and he only narrowly avoided her gaping maw when she finally stopped to catch her breath.

In that moment, he darted off to the side and slammed the Keyblade against the back of her neck. Once, twice, three times he struck her before she began to turn around. Those light pillars drew closer, forcing Riku to make an abrupt escape, but not before launching a thunder spell straight for her cheek.

He made it back to the others, breathing heavily. From a distance, he saw Ursula preparing another burst of bubbles. Hitting her meant avoiding being swallowed, burned, and bruised by her magical attacks. And with a head so big, it’d be easy for her to spot them. Fighting from a distance just wouldn’t work. She’d just keep firing relentlessly until they ran out of steam. Sure, Donald and Ariel managed a few thunder spells, but those barely did a thing from afar.

As Ursula opened her mouth, a massive blast of electricity rushed their way. Riku quickly pulled Donald and Goofy off to the side, narrowly dodging the blast. Ursula slowly spun, and the blast trailed straight after them for several more seconds. This wasn’t working.

When the blast finally ceased, Riku came to an abrupt halt. Ursula started panting again, but there was no time to attack, not without some kind of plan.

“C’mon,” he said, pointing the Keyblade at Ursula’s face. “If we’re gonna beat her, we’ll have to do more than dodge a few spells.” He ducked, as a few more bubbles fired in his direction. “We need to distract her somehow, that way I can get a clear shot at her head.”

Donald raised a brow, swatting one of the bubbles with his staff. “Then what’re we gonna do?”

“We could split up,” said Ariel, casting another aero spell. “Why don’t keep her busy, Donald? That way Riku and Goofy can keep attacking.”

In the distance, Ursula narrowed her eyes and took another deep breath. Riku quickly pushed his friends to the side, right as Ursula unleashed another beam of light. They had to keep moving to avoid getting shocked. Even then, there were still risks. When a light pillar struck him in the back, Riku screamed and faltered. It was the perfect opening for Ursula, as the beam enveloped his body with intense electricity. His screams grew louder, and his body trembled. When the beam finally subsided, he remained completely motionless, breathing heavily.

A sudden warmth replaced the pain seconds later, as a green glow surrounded him. Riku gazed upward, spotting Ariel from a short distance. Oddly, the pillars ceased for the next few moments. Now what?[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]He turned towards Ursula, who leaned forward, panting frantically. That blast must have taken a lot out of her. It also provided the perfect opportunity to strike.

Shaking his head, Riku scurried towards the sea witch. “Just stick with Ariel’s plan and hurry.

He swerved around to the back of her head, and Goofy followed close behind. Together, they nailed Ursula. Even as she hissed and groaned in agony, she tried to swat at them, but they were too quick and kept clobbering her cheek. Then, when she started to turn around, they rushed to the other side.

Only, this time, a cluster of ice nailed her in the eye. Donald hurried straight for her face and stuck out his tongue. A thunder spell soon followed, and Ariel began swimming circles around her head. The two swam about, Donald going to the left and Ariel to the right. Ursula’s muscles tightened and her face scrunched up into a nasty sneer. Once again, Riku and Goofy lashed out from behind. Performing a Sonic Blade, Riku slammed into her neck, while Goofy hurled his shield at her jaw line.

She growled with each hit, until she finally retaliated by swinging her trident straight at Donald and Ariel. The sudden blow sent them flying straight into one of the light pillars and gave Ursula the opportunity to whirl around and face her attackers.

Baring her teeth, she unleashed a powerful gust of wind that knocked Riku and Goofy back several yards. Ursula’s body shook, and her voice grew loud and booming. “You dare distract me?!”

Riku didn’t get the chance to move his aching body, nor did he have time to pull out a potion. Within seconds, Ursula raised the trident, and a blinding flash of light appeared. A sharp, burning sensation covered him from head to tail. In the distance, he heard a scream and a series of pained squawks. Several light pillars appeared at once, forming a massive circle around Ursula and the watery arena.

When the pillars faded, Ursula began pulling Riku back towards her mouth once more. Winded from the previous attack, he barely managed to paddle before he ended up a mere inches from her massive teeth. He winced and held the Keyblade out in front of him. When Ursula bit down, her teeth collided with solid metal, and Riku made his escape.

He made it a few yards away, chugging down a potion to heal his wounds. The Keyblade returned to him in the nick of time, for Ursula spewed another bubbling blast just seconds later.

Riku blocked the attack and hurried over to the others. In spite of Ursula’s attacks, they looked alright, save for a few scorch marks here and there. Ariel and Donald must’ve managed a few cure spells between all of Ursula’s vicious spells. Still, a distraction wouldn’t work twice. Already, she was lifting her trident for another circle of light.

There was no point in stalling. Riku charged forward as Ursula unleashed her powerful attack. Behind him and all around, the pillars filled the darkened water with a blinding light. He didn’t stop. Ursula started to suck him in, and he kept swimming. The others followed close behind. When he came close enough, Riku started striking Ursula right in the face. Donald and Ariel soon joined in.

It was tough getting her from behind this time, and Ursula continued to fight back with magic and swings of her trident. It seemed like every few seconds Ariel would cast aero and cure to make up for burns, bruises, and electrocution. It didn’t matter how much damage they took, as long as they kept fighting back.

Several minutes passed, and Ursula’s movements began to slow. Her attacks became less erratic, and she had to catch her breath between even the simplest of moves. Fatigue overwhelmed Riku and the others, just as it took hold of the sea witch. Now all they had to do was finish this before they could run out of steam and resources.

Riku backed away and clutched his Keyblade with both hands. Thrusting his upper body forward, he performed Sonic Blade one last time, slamming right into Ursula’s chest.

She let out a final scream, and then she began to fall back, down to the sea floor. Releasing the trident, she clutched tightly onto her neck. Bolts of electricity crackled and hissed all around her. She hit the ground with a THUD, and a black mist surrounded her entire body, wrapping around her tentacles and reaching around her shoulders. A bright flash of light finished her completely, leaving nothing but the trident and the open ocean surrounding it.

The fight was over at long last. They’d made it out in one piece. And in spite of his exhaustion, Riku started to laugh.

“Hey, what’s so funny?” Donald crossed his arms and scowled. Eying him, Riku shook his head and shrugged.

“It’s just…” He paused. “For a moment there, I almost thought she had me.”[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]Ariel joined in the laughter. “It was pretty close.”

“Close, but still no contest.” After all, Riku was the Keybearer. Even against the toughest foes, he could handle anything. Sure, he might’ve had some help, but that didn’t change a thing. …Not completely, anyway.

Together, they approached the trident. With Ursula gone, they could finally return it to its rightful owner. With Ariel in the lead, they began their journey back to the palace. The waters seemed almost peaceful now, with no Heartless sneaking up from behind. Within a few minutes, the bright lights of the city greeted them. Merfolk all around smiled and cheered at the sight of the trident. And soon enough, they made it back to the palace, where King Triton slowly approached the group with a weak smile on his face.

He wrapped his arms around his daughter. For once, he did not scold her, despite the dangers she and her new friends faced. It was almost as if Triton had changed completely, and when he finally let go, he turned to Riku and held out the trident.

“Young man,” he said. “It’s thanks to you that my daughter is safe. This whole time I believed that the Keyblade could only bring ruin and terror to the worlds, but I see that I’ve been mistaken.” Shaking his head, he placed his trident in Riku’s hand. “That crystal is not the only way to reveal the Keyhole. If you take my trident to Ariel’s grotto, I’m sure you’ll find a way.”

“Seriously?” After everything, Triton was actually… okay with revealing the Keyhole? For a moment, Riku hesitated, gazing down at the trident. Maybe he’d been mistaken, too. Triton might’ve acted like a jerk, but if he was so willing to forgive, maybe Riku could do the same.

He looked Triton straight in the eye and nodded. Then, after a moment’s hesitation, he said, “Thanks. I… just did what I had to.”[/FONT]

[FONT=&quot]And just as he had to defeat Ursula, he made sure to seal the Keyhole. The trident did indeed lead the way, revealing the Keyhole clear as day. Then the Keyblade finished the job with a brilliant beam of light that closed off Atlantica from the forces of darkness.

They’d completed their mission in Atlantica, and soon Riku, Donald, and Goofy would have to depart for another world. Sora was out there somewhere, and so was the King, not to mention countless other Keyholes. And yet, Riku couldn’t leave just yet. Not with the lingering confusion that remained from seeing Sora alongside Ursula back in the grotto. And Ariel, who longed to see other worlds… She never knew the truth, either.

Slowly, Riku approached her with a faint smile. He handed over the trident and placed a hand against the back of his neck.

“You know,” he said, “I wasn’t completely honest with you. And… I don’t think that’s fair.”

Ariel tilted her head, placing a hand to her chin. “What do you mean?”

“Well… for one, I’m not from another ocean.” He sighed. “In fact, this is my first time under the sea.”

Surprisingly, Ariel laughed. “I… kind of had a feeling, Riku.” She shook her head. “It’s the same with Sora, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. We’re both from the same world.”

It was strange. Ariel didn’t seem that put out over this whole thing, even after Sora swiped her father’s trident. Didn’t it bother her?

She looked up at the countless shelves, swimming up towards the top. “If you and Sora came from other worlds, then maybe someday I’ll find a way. There are so many places I’d love to see and people I’d love to meet.”

“And you will.” Riku smirked. “You just have to keep at it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

Nodding, Ariel grabbed something from one of the top shelves and returned to Riku’s side. “Before you go, I’d like you to have this. That way, you can remember me wherever you go.” She held out the slip of paper for Riku to take and added, “And, Riku? If you see Sora, please tell him it’s alright.”

“You mean you’re not mad?”

“Why would I be?” She shook her head. “He was so kind to me, and I’m sure he only did what he thought was right.”

That had to be it. Sora did say that Ursula was going to save the world. Maybe this whole time, he thought Ursula was his friend, the same way he did with Maleficent. Sora was definitely clueless enough to fall for some villain’s sob story… The very idea just made Riku laugh, and that heavy weight of uncertainty finally lifted. He glanced down at the slip of paper and carefully tucked it away. By now, Donald and Goofy were probably getting sick of waiting. It was time to go.

As he made his way out, Riku stopped for a moment and put a hand on his hip. “See you around, Ariel.” He grinned. “And keep an eye on your old man for me.”

At the end of the day, traveling with Donald and Goofy wasn’t all bad. Their adventures led to exciting encounters in worlds he could only dream of before. And to meet someone so much like himself was a welcome change of pace compared to being dragged around looking for some mysterious King. While Sora’s fate remained uncertain and the new burden of sealing Keyholes loomed over his head, Riku left Atlantica in higher spirits than before. He’d figure something out, even if it meant putting up with two wise guys for a little longer.

The Keyblade was a great and powerful weapon. With it, he could do anything.

x.x.x

[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]It didn’t add up. Why was Riku against Ursula? Didn’t he know that she was the real ruler of the seas? The one who wanted to save Atlantica from the Heartless and free Ariel from her cruel father’s clutches? Why would Riku hurt her? …Defeat her, even.

When Maleficent delivered the news of Ursula’s demise, Sora’s heart sank. To lose a new friend so soon was bad enough, but at the hands of his best friend? Unbearable.

He rested his head against the table in the castle library, slumped over and distraught. After all that effort he put into saving that world, everything had been ruined. What kind of hero was he, if he couldn’t make everything better? Sure Atlantica was still in one piece, but Triton had power again. And poor, poor Ariel… Would she be okay?

“You mustn’t fret, child…”

Maleficent’s gentle touch prompted Sora to perk up, and he forced a lopsided smile. “I know. There are still lots of worlds out there and people who need me.”

“Precisely.” Maleficent took a seat at the table, and her smile eased some of the pain. “Your dear friend is not at fault. He’s simply… misguided. His new companions are twisting the truth bit by bit, making him believe that we are his enemies.”

“What?” Sora’s eyes widened. Would Donald and Goofy really do something like that? They seemed so nice, and yet… “They were kinda pushy. Riku didn’t wanna spend time with ‘em, either.”

Maleficent’s smile grew wider, and she nodded. “It’s quite unfortunate. He longs for freedom, and yet they keep him on a short leash. He’s not able to aid the worlds, nor is he free to join you in search of Kairi. If anything, he’s the one in danger now.”

Riku, in danger? The very thought sent shivers of dread down Sora’s spine. It was bad enough that Kairi was missing, but if Riku kept getting pushed around by Donald and Goofy, then what if something real bad happened? He placed a hand to his chest and looked down. Why couldn’t they all be together? If Riku could get away from those two, they could find Kairi together and save the worlds. It’d be a great adventure! The one they’d always dreamed of…

“What’re we gonna do, Maleficent? I’m really worried about him. Kairi, too.”

Maleficent slowly stood up, taking a few steps towards the library entrance. Then, she stopped, looked over at Sora and motioned for him to follow. “If it is Kairi you wish to see, then come. There is something I wish to show you.”

Sora hopped out of his chair, nearly tripping as he rushed to Maleficent’s side. He looked up at her with his eyes wide and a hopeful smile on his face.

“You mean you found her?!”

Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad! If Kairi was here, then maybe she could convince Riku to ditch Donald and Goofy and come with them. If Maleficent allowed it, they could all work together as a team. With three of them on the job, those Heartless would never stand a chance!

Sora watched Maleficent carefully, eagerly awaiting her response. Though she did nod, confirming Kairi’s presence, her gentle smile gave way to a more serious expression. Almost as if something was wrong, but what? Was Kairi hurt? Or sick? What if the Heartless got her? All these thoughts flooded Sora’s mind as Maleficent led him down the hall. Thoughts of dread, of sorrow. What should’ve been good news quickly twisted into something foreboding…

It was like that ray of hope suddenly faded, replaced with a darker uncertainty.[/FONT]
[FONT=&quot]
TO BE CONTINUED[/FONT]
 
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