Radiant Garden had a nice castle. It was warmer and cheerier than The Castle That Never Was, and there were never any fears of going outside and having to fight, because the Heartless were mostly gone (and the stragglers picked off by the ever dependable Claymores). As gratitude for all of his help with the whole replica business, Ansem the Wise had gifted Demyx with his own room in the castle, where the Nobody was free to stay and play his sitar for as long as he pleased. It was a nice arrangement, Demyx felt. The old timer would never have made it back home without him, after all.
The free stay at the castle came with meals, naturally, and all the freedom to explore he could want. There was the minor downside of having to interact with Even, Aeleus, and Dilan semi-regularly, but they were nicer guys now that they weren’t trying to get him focused on missions. Demyx found that as long as he kept out of the lab, and didn’t try to corrupt Ienzo too much, they could all coexist peacefully.
Still, there was one thing missing…
“Absolutely not,” Even said incredulously, cutting off old man Ansem, before he could even open his mouth. “I’m appalled you’d even ask.”
“Why not?” Demyx asked. “It’s only 500 munny.”
“Only, he says,” Even gestured dramatically. “500 munny today, another 500 tomorrow, 1,000 the next day. What do you think this is, a charity—don’t you dare agree, Master Ansem! You’ve already done more than enough for him.”
Ansem rolled his eyes, but decided not to speak, and instead opened his mouth to take a bit of his ice cream.
“500 really isn’t much though,” Ienzo pointed out, seated next to his mentor with a sea-salt ice cream bar in hand as well (Demyx had quickly learned that those two were even worse than Axel when it came to the stuff). “I can lend it to you, Demyx.”
“Aw, thanks Zexy.”
“You say “lend”, but how will he pay it back?” Aeleus asked him critically. Ienzo considered it and frowned.
“Oh, I see the problem now.”
“What—no! Of course I’ll pay you back!”
“How?” Aeleus now turned to him.
“Some…how?” Demyx tried confidently, but his voice quickly trailed off and he broke out into a sheepish grin. Ienzo’s frown turned pitying, and Demyx got the feeling that even if he agreed to just give him the money, the others wouldn’t let him.
“Aw, come on Master Ansem please? How am I supposed to survive without money?” Demyx decided to just ask the source directly. If the king agreed, the others wouldn’t oppose him, right?
“You can survive the same way the rest of us do,” Dilan cut in mercilessly. “With a job.”
The j-word sent a shiver down his spine, but Demyx nodded.
“Okay, cool, then let me be an apprentice. That’s a job, right?”
“NO!” Even, Aeleus, and Dilan shouted at once, varying levels of shock and horror on their faces. Ienzo stayed silent, but even his visible eye had widened, the traitor.
“Really now, isn’t that reaction a touch excessive?” Ansem, who seemed more amused by the argument happening on his behalf than anything, finally got a word in.
“With all due respect, sir, you haven’t worked with him before,” Aeleus said gently. “He’s not very… dedicated.”
“He’s lazy, he’s cowardly, and he doesn’t know the first thing about what we actually do here.” Dilan was less gentle.
“You dissect hearts right? That’s cool, I can be a test subject!”
“We don’t do that anymore.”
“This is a position of prestige,” Even said haughtily to Demyx, before turning to his mentor. “Master Ansem, you cannot simply hire some kid off the streets to help with groundbreaking research just because he asks!”
“Come to think of it, wasn’t that how Isa and Lea became apprentices?” Ienzo mused.
“Isa and Le—wait Axel?”Demyx asked incredulously. He tried to picture the redheaded ex-Nobody in a white labcoat and one of those purple ascots Even and Ienzo wore, and burst out laughing. “Axel was an apprentice?”
“It was for a short while, but yes,” Aeleus admitted with a sigh. From the sound of it, it was something even he would have liked to forget. Axel as an apprentice though. Maybe it hadn’t been such a stretch for Xehanort to convince the others that Ansem had gone mad after all. “But there were special circumstances, back then.”
“Well, I’m a special circumstance now, aren’t I?” Demyx pointed out. “I’m still a Nobody, yaknow.”
“By choice, and that’s not an obstacle for putting on some normal clothes and getting a job,” Dilan said condescendingly.
“Alright, alright,” Ansem had finished his ice cream, and switched back into responsible king mode. “Let’s settle down. Demyx.”
“If your request to become an apprentice is sincere, I can grant it,” Ansem said. Before any of his current apprentices could object though, he continued. “However, this is a demanding role, and I would expect you to excel in it. There will be late nights. There will be reports to write. Not all of the things you will do will be exciting, but you will do them. There is much you will learn should you dedicate yourself.”
In other words, it was going to suck, Demyx thought but nodded.
“Your previous job references are less than stellar, shall we say,” Ansem continued, glancing at each of his incensed apprentices. “Should you begin slipping into your previous work habits, you might find that my generosity has limitations. Are we in agreement?”
He stared long and hard into Demyx’s eyes, and Demyx knew then and there that if he agreed, his cushy life would be over.
“Weeeeeeell,” he grinned awkwardly. “Maybe I could try something else first. Something a little more suited to my skill set. Something with water, or music, or dark corridors, I guess.” Something without late nights and reports at the very least.
“As you wish,” Ansem said with a chuckle, having expected that answer. “While you will remain welcome at this castle as long as you wish to stay, it is important for you to start thinking about what you will do next. Having some sort of income is, of course, important.”
“Yes, sir,” Demyx agreed, inwardly cringing. Would it really have been so hard for the big wise king of Radiant Garden to just throw a little monthly allowance his way? He wasn’t even asking for that much! 500 munny was a pittance in today's economy!
“Good,” Ansem said, and the tension in the room dissipated. “Having said that, I will of course do everything in my power to help you get settled. And as for your more immediate need for disposable income, perhaps we can arrange something if you would be willing to run a little errand for me?”
“Oh?” Finally some agreeable words. Demyx immediately ignored the other parts and said, “Yeah, sure what’s up?”
“It’s almost lunchtime. When you mentioned the dark corridors, I remembered. During my brief visit to Twilight Town previously, I happened to stop by this wonderful Bistro…”
There was a moment of silence as the others realized what Ansem was suggesting. Then Ienzo jumped out of his seat excitedly.
“I’ll get a menu!”
A long-distance phone call, a discussion, a second long-distance phone call, thirty minutes, and one corridor of darkness later, Demyx found himself in good old Twilight Town with Ansem’s credit card and a list.
“Okay so for Ansem’s order,” Demyx said to the waiter who had several bags next to the register. He held up his list. “To confirm. For starters, we have two Mushroom Terrines, three Ratatouilles, and Lobster Mousse. Then a Carrot Potage and a Pumpkin Velo…Veloutee?”
“Velouté,” the waiter corrected.
“Yeah that. Oh darn, actually that sounds good, wish I ordered it too. Hope Lex will share. But anyway, in this next bag, we have the Sea Bass, and the Eel. Beef Sauté and Beef Bour…the other one. And two Stuffed Quails.”
“Correct,” the waiter said, peeking into the bag for a quick confirmation. “And this final bag contains the desserts.”
“Two Chocolate Mousses, a Crepe Suzette, and the Berries.” Demyx read through the list again, and nodded satisfied. “Okay, great. That’s everything then!”
The waiter nodded once more, and rang up the total. The number stung Demyx’s eyes when he saw it (the whole thing started over a measly 500 munny!), but he supposed there wasn’t much for him to complain about. He was getting paid for this, and Ansem had included him in the lunch order. He just really wished he could have come out and said all this from the beginning instead of giving him that lecture. That would put a damper on anyone’s mood, even if Demyx had chosen to forget most of it.
As he handed Ansem’s card over to pay, he suddenly realized he was being watched. He turned to find a white duck in a blue robe eyeing him very critically. Realizing he was caught, the duck approached.
“Good day there laddie,” he said. “I couldnae help but overhear just now. Ye said ye were pickin’ up an order for Ansem. That wouldnae happen to be the Ansem the Wise of Radiant Garden, would it?”
“Uuuuuh,” Demyx froze. On the one hand, even he knew not to just blab about other words so casually. On the other, the duck had already namedropped Radiant Garden, hadn’t he? “Er, yeah, that’s the one.”
“Forgive the inquiry, but that’s quite the trip from this here Twilight Town,” the duck said. “Wouldnae the food get cold before ye arrived?”
“Oh, that’s not a problem,” Demyx assured him. “Five minutes in a dark corridor, and there you go.”
“Five minutes!” The duck’s bill dropped, and Demyx could see a variety of expressions play out on his face. “Dark Corridor, was it? Show me!”
“Uh,” Demyx looked around. This wasn’t exactly a place to open one. The duck understood.
“Follow me,” he said.
Demyx took back the card and bags, and followed the duck to an empty alleyway. Yes, he agreed internally, this was definitely a better place to open a dark corridor. He moved all of the bags to one hand, and flicked his free wrist to allow the black portal to appear.
“So yeah, you just go in there for a bit, and come out in whatever—woah, woah, woah, you can’t go in there!” Before the mysterious duck could step inside, Demyx jumped in front of the portal arms raised. “There’s darkness...and stuff in there. You need special clothes to protect you!”
“Clothes like yers?”
“Yeah, something like that.” It was the only reason he’d kept the coat, after all.
“I see,” the duck nodded earnestly. “And then, how do ye go about opening one of those portals? Can anyone do it?”
“Uh, no, probably not,” Demyx frowned. How did that work again? “But I don’t think I know anyone else who still can.” Ienzo and the others lost the ability when they became human again. Ansem apparently lost it when he'd let go of his revenge. And everyone else in the new true Organization XIII was gone.
Huh, maybe Demyx really was the only one left.
Somehow, this pleased him.
“I see,” the duck said thoughtfully. “And is it always five minutes to yer destination?”
“Nah, it depends. Radiant Garden isn’t too far from here, so it’s fine. I think…oh yeah I remember Olympus Colosseum portals. Those took forever! Maybe, like, 20 minutes?”
“20 minutes…” the duck repeated, and started chuckling. “I see. I see it now. Laddie, I understand ye must be in a hurry, but could ye spare a couple of moments for old Scrooge McDuck?”
The duck named Scrooge reached into his pocket and handed Demyx a business card.
Demyx read it, but wasn’t sure how to answer.
“I willnae take too much of yer time of course. But perhaps we can talk a bit of business…”
“Master Ansem,” Aeleus said later, as he helped set the dining table. “Did you know this would happen?”
The food had arrived, smelling fresh and warm, and Dilan, Aeleus, and Even couldn’t wait to try it.
“Nonsense,” Ansem replied, with a smile. “I did know the owner of the Bistro, but it was a coincidence that he happened to realize Demyx came from another world. Or that Demyx so readily explained how the corridors work.”
“When it comes from you, sir, I don’t believe in coincidence,” Dilan said incredulously. Only Demyx could somehow get sent out to pick up a lunch order, and come back with a new business venture not even an hour after they’d hounded him to get a job. Down in the computer lab, he and Ienzo were on a call with Scrooge McDuck working out the details.
“It’s so simple, yet stunningly effective,” Even muttered. “Cross-world takeout using dark corridors.”
“Scrooge McDuck always knows a business opportunity when he sees it,” Ansem chuckled.
“Wasn’t there a world order we were supposed to be maintaining though?” Aeleus frowned.
“That’s why they’re considering piloting with Radiant Garden first. Other worlds are not exactly a secret here,” Ansem explained. “This is all still just an idea though. Knowing Scrooge, it won’t stay that way for too long, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
“I agree,” Dilan said. “For one, this bistro may not even be any good. For another, who knows what the corridor may have done to the food. Aeleus, go get Ienzo already so we can get started.”
Aeleus nodded, and left the room as the others sat down at the table. The smell really was heavenly.
“Oh dear,” Ansem suddenly frowned. “This is a celebratory occasion, but we forgot to order wine.”
“It wasn’t celebratory when we started,” Even reminded him. “But yes, some wine would be good here. What do we have in the cellar? I’ll get it.”
“There was a bottle at the Bistro I would have liked to try,” Ansem said. “I didn’t get a chance to last time.”
“Well that’s hardly a problem now, is it?” Dilan stood up with a smirk and went to the door. “Hey, Demyx! I’ve got another job for you.”