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I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately…

Is any of this for real…

… or not?

 


 

He could feel the cold rush of water flowing past his skin. He was falling through an ocean, and yet, he didn’t feel like he was wet. His clothes weren’t sticking to him, weighing him down. His hair wasn’t flowing around his face. The boy was just falling with bubbles trailing after him. The only sound he was able to hear was his own heartbeat. He couldn’t see anything not even an inch in front of his face. It was dark as a moonless midnight. All the boy knew was that he was falling.

It felt like forever that he was drifting through the water. Until finally, finally , the boy broke through. He drifted into the open air, as if he were almost floating. The boy flipped himself around, getting his body upright. He stared at what lied beneath him. Even through the dark, he could make out the faint outline of something below.

The boy landed on top of it. The second his foot hit something solid, a bright flash of light erupted from the ground. His arms flew up to shield his eyes from the harshness of it all. The light peeled away, wind whipping at the boy’s clothing. It curled like the shavings of a pencil, disintegrating into nothing as what the boy was standing on was slowly revealed.

He was on top of a glowing platform. It looked like it was made out of stained glass, but didn’t quite feel like it. It was firm, and the boy didn’t slide on it like he thought he would. He carefully lowered his arms. A voice echoed from seemingly out of nowhere.

There is so much to do, but so little time to do it. However, there’s no need to rush, my boy. The door is still shut for the time being.

The boy whirled around. There was no one else on that stained glass platform with him. He was alone. His body grew tense. Where exactly was he? He stumbled forth when the platform he was standing on gave a great lurch. Out in front of him rose three, great stone pedestals.

There is a great power that sleep within your heart. If you give it form, it will give you strength.

There was a triad of light upon each of them. The light morphed, taking on different shapes before melting away all too quickly. On each pedestal was a separate item: a shield, a sword and a staff. The boy stood still.

Choose wisely.

The voice went quiet. The boy sighed, staring at the sight before him. Choose? What exactly was he supposed to choose, and why? What happened if he didn’t?

He didn’t have to wonder. His body seemed to move on its own. He approached the center pedestal, the one holding up the sword. If he was wise enough to listen to the voice, he had to choose something that would give him power… strength. The shield seemed like an adequate option. But something inside of him… something inside of him told the boy that the sword was the more practical choice.

He reached out, wrapping a hand around the hilt of the blade. Whatever power was holding it in place released. The sword wasn’t as heavy as he expected it to be.

The power of the warrior. The voice had returned, making the boy flinch at its sudden appearance. Invincible courage. A sword of terrible destruction. Is this the power you choose?

Courage in exchange for destruction? The former was something he wanted. The latter he could do without. It seemed like it was a heavy burden overall. But still… The boy sighed, staring up into the nothingness.

“...yes,” he breathed out. As soon as he uttered the word, the sword in his hand disappeared in a flash of light.

Now… The boy turned to the remaining two items. What is it that you will give up in exchange?

Taking on a weapon that could cause great destruction was enough. Wasn’t that the burden he was supposed to be saddled with? He sighed. He had to give something up. Maybe it was supposed to be a handicap of sorts?

Once again, before he could think further on the subject, the boy found himself moving on his own. Something told him that he had to make a choice. And it wasn’t an option. His body spoke for him as he made his way over to the pedestal bearing the staff. He wrapped his hands around its length. Just like before, the magic holding it up faded, allowing the tool to drop into his hands.

The power of the mystic, the voice echoed as the boy’s fingers curled tightly around it. A staff of wonder and ruin. You give up this power?

“Yes,” he replied. Like with the sword, the staff vanished from his hands in a flash of light. From behind, the shield did the same.

You have chosen the power of the warrior, and yet you’ve given up the power of the mystic. Is this the form you choose?

“I…” he bit his lip. Was this what he wanted? He spoke before he could make up his mind. “Yes.”

As soon as the word left his mouth, the platform beneath him began to quake. The boy stumbled, trying to catch himself on the nearby pedestal to regain his balance. The moment his hand made contact with the stone, it gave away. All of the pedestals were sinking into the platform. The boy fell harshly onto the stained glass.

The platform shattered. A scream erupted from the boy’s mouth as he was sent plunging down into darkness once again. Unlike before, he didn’t fall for very long. His downward descent began to slow until the boy could see another platform come into view, constructed similar to the first.

He landed in the center of it, the only noise to be heard was the soft thud as his feet made contact with the floor. A brief moment passed before he felt something heavy start to form in his palm. There was another flash of light.

The sword that the boy had chosen before appeared in his hand. He held it up. Nothing about it seemed different. He swung at the empty air in front of him. He didn’t know much about weaponry, but the sword seemed fairly balanced. The perfect weapon for… something. Whatever it was, the boy had yet to figure it out.

You have gained the power to fight. The boy lowered the sword. He looked around. Just as before, the voice was coming out of nowhere. Some part of him wondered who it was… it was vaguely familiar to him… where he heard it, he couldn’t remember. Use this power to protect yourself and others. If you keep your light burning strong, then the darkness will never reach you.

Dark pools started to bubble up from the floor’s surface. They pulled away from the ground with a resounding pop. The now blobs of shadow twisted and thrashed about. The boy took a step back as they took on a definable shape.

They looked like bugs to the boy. Fairly large bugs. Their heads were a perfect sphere, a pair of long, twisting antenne sprouting out of the top. Their large feet tapped at the ground, and their three-digit hands were elongated by sharp claws. They were as dark as the shadows they came from with one exception: their eyes. The eyes of these creatures were large and yellow. They were glowing amidst the black of their bodies. And that single feature along sent shivers up the boy’s spine.

The creatures were twitching something fierce. The boy took a step back, trying to get away from them. Fear was pumping itself throughout his body. He couldn’t get away. The creatures had him surrounded. And they were getting closer. One of the creatures, braver than the others, took a chance. It leapt forth, latching itself onto the back of the boy’s jacket. His instincts kicked in.

“Get off of me!” the boy shouted, his voice resonating loud and clear through the area. He clawed at the creature with his free hand until he got a firm grip on it. He tore the creature off his back, slamming it down onto the floor. And that was the trigger.

The creatures launched themselves at him. The boy cried out, swinging his arms in hopes of knocking them away. It didn’t do much of anything. However, it did give the boy insight on what to do. When he swung, the blade of the sword he held came in contact with one of the creatures. It cut through the darkness the creature was made up of as if it were water. The creature gave a weak cry before dropping to the floor, wriggling as its body faded away into the shadows.

The boy stared at his weapon. It could do that? Is that why he had it? Swallowing down something in his throat, the grip he had on the hilt tightened. He didn’t have any experience using a sword, aside from the toys of his childhood. But he had seen enough movies to know how it basically worked. Or at least… that’s what he hoped. Shutting his eyes, he blindly took a swing as the horde of creatures came back at him.

Their cries, weak and pathetic fell on his ears. He opened his eyes. Like their fallen comrade, the creatures had been cut clean by the sword. He stood up straight, watching as they faded away, turning back into what he suspected they originally were: mere shadows. The boy sighed. Although something inside of him said that this would not be the last time he saw those things, he was just relieved that they were gone. For now at least, he was alone.

There was a shimmer. Smaller platforms appeared on the edge of the one the boy was currently on. He walked forward, moving towards them. He was almost there when he ran smack into an unseen wall. With a groan, the boy stumbled back as the voice decided to speak to him once again.

Just hold on a moment. I need to know… I need to know just who you are, my boy. What kind of person you have grown up to be. The boy opened his mouth, trying to reply to the disembodied voice for once. He wanted to get out at least a single question; that was what he needed to get all of his answers. His jaw clamped shut when there was another shimmer of light behind him.

Three familiar faces stood before him, all belonging to girls — women that he knew very well in his life. The boy looked up into the space around him. The voice had gone quiet. It wanted to know who he was that badly, huh? The only question was why. The boy shook his head. If he wanted answers, then he would have to play along with whatever game this was.

He approached the three. Their faces seemed to hold blank expressions, as if they were caught in a dreamless sleep while awake. They didn’t even respond when the boy waved his hand in front of their faces. Whatever was going on, he started to grow more and more uncomfortable with each passing second. As soon as he got close to the first — the oldest of the trio — was when something happened.

“What is the most important to you?” she said. Her voice sounded as he remembered it, but something about it felt very… off… The boy shook his head. He had to answer this question if he wanted to continue. Or at least find out what was going on.

“I uh…” the boy stammered, trying to figure out how exactly to answer what he was asked. “My… friends? I guess?” The woman didn’t say anything else. Her voice passed on to the middle of the three. It was strange for him to see this next girl like this. She was usually so full of emotion.

“What do you want out of life?” asked the girl. The boy blinked, swallowing down something. What was with these questions?

“I… I want to be strong.” There had been far too many moments in his life that weakness had took him over. And yet, he still managed to somehow get through them. However, he had to pay for his more pathetic moments. He wanted to change that. The girl gave him a nod. That left only one more person. The boy turned to the youngest: a mere child.

“What are you so afraid of?” she asked. Okay, now the boy was starting to question that nature of what he was being asked. He sighed again before answering.

“I hate being indecisive.” Most of the trouble he experienced had been caused by moments of hesitation. It held the constant threat of hurting the people he loved and cared about. If that kept happening… then someone would get hurt. And staring at the little girl’s face only reminded him of that.

Within a flash, all three of the people before him vanished into thin air. It was as if they had never even been on the platform to begin with. Why did they have to be there? Why couldn’t the voice just ask the boy these questions itself?

Just as I thought. And just as the boy thought: the voice had come back when he finished. And it sounded very pleased with his answers. Your heart is still full of light, just as I had hoped it would be when this time came. You’ll be strong enough to face the adventure that awaits you in the dead of night. The road you will travel won’t be an easy one, but a rising sun awaits you at the end.

The boy turned. He made his way towards the makeshift stairs again. This time, there was no wall to bar his way. With sigh, he began to climb his way up.

A great destiny has been passed down to you, said the voice as the boy went on with his trek. It was as if he had a cricket chirping in his ear. The day that you open the door is far off, and yet it is also very near.

He wanted to ask ‘what door?’ But something kept the boy’s mouth shut. Something told him not to ask questions now, that everything would be revealed later. All he had to do was believe that it would be. Then again, belief barely and rarely got him anywhere in life. He had been taught by his own experiences that he had to do things himself. Nothing was gonna change that.

The winding staircase lead him up to another platform. This was getting somewhat ridiculous. Was he going to go anywhere else? The boy felt a pang of fear when he heard the shatter of glass. Whirling around, he discovered that the stairs were no longer there. The boy hesitantly and slowly started to take a few steps back. Some part of him wondered what would happen if he had been on those stairs when they broke.

The closer you get to the light, the greater your shadow will become, the voice started when the boy reached the center of the platform. His eyes fell to the ground. Despite there being no more light than there already was, his shadow was growing larger without him having to move. But don’t be afraid.

The boy’s shadow started twisting. It pulled off of the ground, growing and thrashing about. It was acting just like those creatures from before. Backing up, the boy’s eyes widened. His shadow kept growing bigger, eventually towering over him. It became a monster with tentacle-like appendages curling around its face. A large, gaping chasm in the shape of a hollow heart stood out to him. Glowing yellow eyes focused in on the boy as it rose to its full height.

The boy tightened his grip on the sword he had in hand. Fight took over his usual flight. He grit his teeth. Something in his heart… something was spurring him on. Swallowing down the lump forming in his throat, the boy rushed towards the creature in front of him.

The creature took a swing with one of its massive hands. The boy jumped to the side, barely dodging the monster’s attack. Its hand was stuck to the ground as a result of this miss. A dark pool of shadows leaked out from its fingers. The boy saw a chance. He swung his sword, cutting through the creature’s wrist as he did so. The monster gave a shout, and the boy could feel the sense of rage radiating off of it.

He went to attack the creature again. He couldn’t. No matter how badly he wanted to, the boy couldn’t move. He was caught in the pool of shadows like a fly caught in glue. He tried to pull away. It was no use. Maybe he could use the sword to cut himself free—

The moment that thought had entered his mind, the sword vanished from the boy’s hand. The bravery he once had was gone. The massive creature stared down at him. Sweat beaded on the back of the boy’s neck. He was starting to shake, his heart beating loudly on his ears.

He began to sink. The dark pit was starting to swallow him up. No matter how badly he pulled, not matter how much he clawed at it, the darkness would not let him go. He wanted to scream, he wanted to shout, he wanted to cry. He wanted out. But he was alone in this pool of quicksand.

You mustn’t be afraid. You hold the mightiest weapon of them all. And do not forget.

Fear had already taken root in his heart. The darkness had taken him up to his shoulders now. He held out his arm, trying to reach for something… for anyone . Someone… Someone had to have seen him. He couldn’t have been alone… He wasn’t alone… There was no way…

The darkness pulled him in deeper, wrapping its threads around his face. It clamped down tightly over his mouth and nose. The boy thrashed wildly, trying to tear it off. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see. He couldn’t even scream as the darkness overtook him entirely.

 

 

You are the one who will open the door.

Chapter Text

“Apollo.”

I can’t breathe…

“Apollo.”

Let me go!

“Apollo!”

Someone help me—!

“Polly, you lazy bum! Get up!” The cold rush of water came cascading down on him. Brown eyes shot open. He rocketed up, sputtering and gasping as the faint taste of salt invaded his mouth and stung his eyes. He blinked once… several times before finally he could see without much pain again.

He wasn’t on any sort of platform. He wasn’t caught up in pools of darkness. Instead, he was sitting on the bright, sunny shores of the beach. The only shadow over him had come from the palm tree he had fallen asleep under. It was just a dream. That’s all it was. It was just a dream.

He felt a tiny towel pressed to his face. The young man glanced over at who exactly had woken him up. Standing above him was a short girl who was choking back a giggle. In one hand she held the towel. In the other, was a small, empty bottle. He could see the remnants of water droplets on its innards.

“Really, Trucy?!” said the boy, snatching the towel from the girl. “Really?!” He sighed when she nodded, pressing the towel to his face to get rid of the remaining salt water. He understood using water to wake someone up, but using the ocean’s was going a bit far. The girl sat down next to him, crossing her legs.

“You okay, Apollo?” asked Trucy. Apollo glanced over at her, pausing in his work.

“What?” He sighed again. “Yeah. I’m fine.” His face and his hair were dry for the most part. Lucky Trucy only got the hood of his jacket a little bit soaked. It wasn’t that much of a problem. It would dry in the early summer’s sun. He passed the towel back off to Trucy. She tucked it and the bottle away in the small bag around her waist.

“Liar,” she said fairly firmly. Apollo muttered something under his breath, hoping that it wasn’t anything that Trucy could hear. He cursed that little fact about her. Well… it was a thing that they shared: the uncanny ability to locate even the smallest nervous ticks in people. Of course, Trucy had to purposefully look for them. Apollo, on the other hand, had the help of a thick bracelet he always wore around his wrist; it would get tighter in the presence of a nervous tick. He didn’t understand how it worked fully, no matter how many times he was told. Apparently there was something about muscles tensing up, and the bracelet being made out of a special metal… He didn’t question the specifics. He only cursed the fact that Trucy knew how to spot his own ticks almost immediately.

Apollo leaned back against the tree he had been resting upon prior to Trucy finding him. He stared up at the sky above, watching the clouds seep in through the cracks in the palm branches. Everything seemed so peaceful… so calm. And yet here he was  his heart still trying to calm down after that pseudo-nightmare he had.

“Look, it was just a dream I had,” Apollo said with a small groan, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Nothing else. Don’t worry about it.” He lowered his hand, staring up at the sky once more.

At least… I think it was a dream. His heart rate was beginning to return to normal. But that feeling… the feeling of all that darkness on him… suffocating him… it had yet to go away. That felt far too real for my liking.

“Polly!” There was a resounding smack that brought Apollo out of his thoughts. He glared over at Trucy, who was laughing innocently after having just smacked him. He was about to tell her off when another voice overtook his own.

“Hey, did you find him?!” Both Apollo and Trucy sat up, looking over at the source of the third voice. Unlike her, Apollo was politely greeted with a log being thrown onto his chest. It wasn’t that heavy, but the weight was enough to knock him over. He fell flat on his back into the sand, the wind forced out of his lungs by the blow.

“And you both say that I’m loud,” Apollo groaned as he pushed the log off of himself. There was going to be a bruise there. He sat back up, allowing the third member of their little trio to hold out her hand to him. Apollo took it without hesitation.

“Yeah, and we’re the only ones working on the raft!” she said, sounding just as mad as Trucy did earlier. She easily pulled Apollo back onto his feet. With their height and age difference, Apollo would never understand how she was strong enough to do that. “Am I the only one who wants to leave this place?” The girl huffed, turning her back on the brunette duo. Trucy popped up off of the sand.

“Hey, Athena,” she said, walking over to stand next to their friend. “What was your hometown like?”

“I told you Trucy, I don’t remember.”

“Really?” The little girl sounded disappointed. “You don’t remember anything?”

“Yup.” Trucy pouted, turning back to Apollo for a second opinion. She was probably hoping he caught a tick of Athena’s that she hadn’t. Apollo gave her only a short nod in addition to Athena's reply. No matter how many times she asked this question, the answer was always the same. With a sigh, Trucy turned back to Athena.

“Do you ever want to go back?” Okay, that was new. Apollo walked over to the pair. This was something that he wanted to know more about.

“Well,” Athena started with a hum, perhaps feeling her friends’ fierce gazes upon her, “I’m happy here. But you know…” Her gaze drifted off to the skies above. “I wouldn’t mind going back to see it. Maybe just once.”

“I wanna see it too!” Trucy was bouncing on her toes, a sparkle in her eyes. “I wanna see all the worlds that are out there!”

“Uh-huh…” Apollo rolled his eyes as he muttered that. Trucy always had an overactive imagination. He was never one to put a damper on her spirits, but sometimes the things she came up with were just plain ridiculous. The idea of other worlds existing? It was near laughable. But still. Apollo didn’t want to ruin that innocence she still had remained. “If you two want to get that raft done, how about you actually do some work?” Athena and Trucy exchanged looks with each other.

“Race you back!” said Trucy. A smug smirk tugged at Athena’s lips.

“You’re on,” she replied before turning back to Apollo. “Apollo! Count us off!”

“Really?” Apollo groaned.

“Yes, really!” He sighed as the two got into their starting positions.

“Okay, fine.” Apollo raised his arm. “Ready? Three, two…” He dropped his arm, as if it were a flag. “Go!” Athena and Trucy leapt up like a pair of lit fireworks, streaking down across the length of the beach with sand being thrown up in the air by their speed. Apollo sighed. How were these two always so… energetic? He bent down, picking up the log Athena had chucked at him earlier before following after the girls.

And that’s how it was. Everyone who lived on the partial paradise that was known as the Angelus Islands knew about the unbreakable trio of Apollo Justice, his younger sister Trucy Gramarye and their neighbor Athena Cykes. Despite the age gaps between them, nothing had been able to break them apart for the past three years they had known each other.

So when Trucy presented the idea that the trio try to find where Athena’s home was, they were more than ecstatic about it. Well, Athena was. Apollo, the oldest at the age of nineteen, had a firmer grasp on reality than the other two. However, the girls had looked so happy with it… he didn’t object to whatever plans they were making. In the end, he knew that things would come to a halt before they got hurt.

At least he hoped. That’s mostly why he was where he was now. He wanted to keep the two safe. Unfortunately, that’s not what Trucy got out of Apollo being a part of her little ‘use-a-raft-to-get-off-the-islands’ scheme. Instead, she was using her big brother’s size and strength (which on its own was somewhat laughable) to her advantage. It only added on to the short list of why Apollo hated this plan.

“Polly!” Apollo huffed at his sister’s pace and insistence that he hurry up. She was holding a simple piece of cloth. It wasn’t that hard to move with compared to the two logs Apollo was carrying.

“I got it,” said Apollo as he shifted the load, “don’t worry.” Trucy flashed him a smile. She slowed down, allowing him to catch up to her.

“Thanks.” And that’s why he was doing it. To see her smile was enough for him. Then again, keeping his little sister safe from harm was also enough for him. It was at this moment that the two desires were constantly clashing with one another. Maybe if he could just convince her that this was a bad idea...

“Do you really think that you guys can sail to another place on a raft?” Apollo asked as they began their trek back to where the raft was hidden: a simple alcove on the water that the trio used to swim in on hot summer days.

“Yup!” Trucy replied with a proud nod, as if her plan was something that the best geniuses could be jealous of. Apollo bit back a heavy sigh.

She’s so innocent. Should I tell her— Something wrapped around Apollo’s foot before he could make up his mind.

“Yipes!” The cry escaped his mouth as the something tightened its grip on his ankle. It dragged Apollo down, sending wood flying and allowing him to fall face-first in the sand. He heard Trucy gasp as he pushed himself up.

“You okay, Polly?”

“Yeah…” Apollo sputtered, trying to get the grains that had gotten in his mouth out of there. First it was the salt water, and now this? Apollo groaned. There is sand in places sand should never be.

“Hold still. You tripped on something.” Yeah, he got that already. He could feel Trucy untangling whatever it was that had trapped him. “Ah-ha!” Apollo sighed as he stood.

“What’s the ‘ah-ha’ for?” he asked, brushing off the sand that had gotten stuck to his clothes. His mother would not be happy about this if any of it clung onto him, only to fall off when he stepped into the house. Trucy triumphantly held up what had downed her brother. It was what had been left of a net  most likely coming from a fisherman who had the misfortune of dropping it in the water.

“Athena! I found the rope we need!” He watched as she went dashing off towards the alcove. Yup, really innocent. With sigh, Apollo picked up what he had dropped before following after her at his own, leisurely pace.

 


 

 

Soon, after hours of work (mostly done by Athena and Trucy, with Apollo providing helpful supervision), the sun was starting to dip into the horizon. The girls had the most of the raft built, and the sail nicely erected on the mast. All the was left was to secure the base so that it could float properly. Apollo stared at the two, watching as they gave it their all.

“Just pull it a little tighter…” said Athena through gritted teeth, doing her best to keep the logs pressed firmly together. Unfortunately, they kept slipping out of her grip as Trucy tried to tie them up.

“I’m pulling as tight as I can,” Trucy groaned. She picked her head up, waving her arm to catch the attention she already had. “Polly, come and help!” With a sigh, Apollo pushed off of the tree he was leaning against.

“Fine,” was all he said. He took the side opposite to Athena. With the two of them keeping the logs in place, Trucy was easily able to secure a fine, tight knot to keep the entire raft together.

“There!” said Trucy with a proud smile, placing her hand in her lap as she examined her work. “All done!” Apollo sighed, pulling back away from the raft as Athena did the same. The young girl stretched out her arms as Trucy stood. “Just a few more preparations and we’re good to go!”

“Uh-huh…” Apollo bit his tongue. No matter how much he wanted to keep that smile on her face, he had to tell her. He had to tell both of them. They would find out eventually anyway, so it was better to do it early. Apollo sighed as he made up his mind. “Trucy, about this whole thing—”

“Hey, Athena,” Trucy said, cutting off her brother, “when we get to another world… what are you gonna do there?” Athena responded with a simple hum.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” she said, rocking back and forth on the balls of her heels.

“You haven’t?” Athena gave Trucy a short nod, folding her hands behind her back.

“Well, it’s just…” She landed flat on the sand, softly sifting the sand. Her vividly blue eyes drifted out the ocean. “I’ve always wondered why I ended up here. On this island of all places. And just thinking about the other worlds… it means that our home is just a piece of something a whole lot greater. And I could have easily ended up somewhere else, right?” The brother and sister duo exchanged a look with each other.

“I don’t know,” replied Apollo, crossing his arms over his chest, “but Athena—”

“Exactly,” Athena said, effectively cutting off Apollo once more. What he had to tell them was important, why did they have to keep doing that? “We won’t know if we don’t go and look for ourselves! Just sitting here won’t do anything to change that. It’s always the same old stuff.” Athena blinked once before her expression shifted. She spun around to face the trio’s youngest member with an eyebrow now raised. “Wait, Trucy. What made you think of that?”

“Hmm…” Trucy began, tapping a finger to her chin, “I guess it was you, Athena.”

“Me?!” Trucy nodded. Athena exchanged a look with Apollo. She was looked just as confused as he was.

“Trucy,” Apollo said with a sigh, “what are you talking about?” Normally he could understand his sister’s meanderings. But this time… it was impossible to translate into something that was comprehensible.

“Well, Athena came from another world, right?” Trucy started. “During that meteor shower three years ago.”

“So you keep saying.” It wasn’t an easy memory to erase. It had been the talk of the island for a least a month, maybe more. Apollo wasn’t entirely sure. But the fact that Athena Cykes just showed up one day still remained. How she had gotten to the islands… that was a mystery that had yet to be solved.

“But Trucy, you know I don’t remember anything before that night,” Athena said, breaking Apollo’s train of thought by repeating her earlier answer to fit this new situation. “My home, where I came from…”

“I know, I know. But I thought of this because of that.” Okay, Apollo wasn’t going to question it. “So… I guess this is all because of you! Thanks, ‘Thena!” Athena sighed with a placid smile, watching Trucy as the little girl stood.

“No problem, Trucy.” It was Apollo’s turn to sigh. Looking at the two of them… everything just seemed so peaceful. He groaned, dragging a hand down his face. He couldn’t ruined that. Not here. Not right now.

It can wait until tomorrow… He sighed again, stepping out from behind the raft.

“Girls, come on,” he said, slightly disappointed in his own act of cowardice just now. He gestured towards the docks at the other end of the beach. “It’s getting late. My mom’s gonna start wondering where we are.”

“Okay.” The girls didn’t argue. Not with how low the sun was getting in the sky. It had gone from a bright blue to a deep shade of red that could rival Apollo’s jacket. With a nod, the three headed back towards the dock, Apollo leading the way.

 

 


  

The sun was gone from the sky, replaced by the stars and the bright moon above. The Angelus Islands were casacaded by its glow, with most of its residents now turning in for the night. Apollo Justice was not one of those people. Instead, he was bent over his desk, focused far too much on the book in front of him. The only light in his room was coming from the small lamp next to him.

“Polly~?” called out Trucy. Her voice was getting louder as she drew out the nickname, and it wasn’t coming from the echo in the hallway. Apollo felt his sister slump against his back, arms resting lazily on his shoulders. He blinked once, concentration broken when he realized what was on top of him. “I’m heading to bed.”

“Alright.” Apollo simply reached up, messing up her head of hair. “Night, Trucy.”

“G’night Apollo.” She slipped off of him. Out of the corner of his eye, Apollo watched as Trucy walked over to the door. She stopped in the doorway for a brief moment. In the next, his sister whirled around with the same look on her face that she had when talking about her little otherworldly theories. “And don’t stay up late studying. I know you want to get into that fancy school—”

“It’s not fancy,” Apollo said, pushing himself away from his desk to finally lay eyes on her, “it’s one of the top-ranked schools there is. You know that I want to be a lawyer, Truce. This my one shot at it.”

“It’s fancy if it’s full of big words that I don’t understand.” That got Apollo to roll his eyes. “Anyway, don’t stay up late! We have a lot of work to do on the raft tomorrow if we wanna leave.” Apollo huffed a sigh, turning back to his textbook.

“I won’t.”

“You promise?”

“Yes,” Apollo practically groaned at her. “I won’t stay up late.” He could tell Trucy was satisfied with that answer. He heard her scurry off to her own room just down the hall. He heard Trucy’s door shut, there was no way she was coming out until the sun had risen in the morning.

“Apollo?” Apollo glanced up at the doorway at the sound of his name being called a second time. Instead of his sister coming to wish him a good night’s rest, it was his mother. Apollo simply hummed at her, making sure to let her know that she had his partially divided attention.

“Did you tell them?” his mother asked, leaning against the doorframe. And that gave her his full attention. Apollo did groan then, leaning back his chair and dragging a hand down his face.

“No, not yet.”

“Apollo…” Why did she have to use that tone? He hated it when she used her mom voice on him. It always meant that he was on the brink of being in trouble. Or worse, had fallen over that edge completely.

“Yeah, yeah. I know, I know.” She didn’t have to remind him. The reality of it all stung as bad as he was elated by it. “I’ll tell them as soon as I can.”

“Don’t leave it as a surprise, alright? Please.”

“I won’t.” His mom walked into the room, all just to deliver a brief kiss to her son’s forehead.

“I’m still very proud of you.” Apollo felt the tension of the day start to leave him. That little bit of good news from her alone did just the trick. And was probably the only good thing Apollo had heard nearly all day. He flashed her a tired smile.

“Thanks, Mom.” His mother gave him a short nod before taking her leave. As soon as she was gone, Apollo sighed again. He stared down at the book in front him. He couldn’t look at it any longer. Not now. It just brought near overwhelming and swirling emotions. He shut it, biting back a groan. The paper underneath the book’s cover didn’t do much to calm him. If anything, it only made it worse. His eyes fell on the opening lines of the letter.

 

Dear Apollo Justice,

Congratulations. We are pleased to inform you that after thoroughly reviewing your application and test scores, you have been accepted to Ivy University's Law program.

 

Apollo finally let out his frustration with a loud groan, flopping back in his chair with enough force to nearly knock it over. While the acceptance letter was a good thing, it left Apollo with a fairly particular problem. It was one that he wasn’t too keen on solving as soon as possible, just as his mother advised him to.

How am I gonna tell Trucy and Athena that I have to basically leave them behind?

Chapter Text

This day was no better than the one before. The second the Gramarye siblings landed on the beach, Trucy went bounding off towards her raft without listening to a word Apollo was trying to get out. To make matters worse, Trucy ran off as soon as they touched the small island, leaving Apollo in the dust.

Oh well. It gave him more time to figure out exactly what he was going to tell both her and Athena. He leaned up against the opening of the cove, his mind swimming with possible scenarios. None of them ended well. Call it Apollo’s intuition or his pessimism, but he couldn’t think of an outcome where Trucy and/or Athena didn’t end up hurt. And it made him want to scream.

He walked around the island, trying to clear his head. He had to think. He had to come up with some solution. And he knew the perfect place to do it, one where he couldn’t be bothered.

Apollo followed a well-worn path into the rocky ledges that lined the beach. It was familiar, and one that he hadn’t walked in a fairly long time. The path lead him to an opening in the rock, covered by thick vines of ivy. Had it been that long since it was touched?

Pushing aside the ivy, Apollo crept inside. It was smaller than he remembered. He let his hand drag the wall as he walked through the darkening tunnel. if he just went a little farther… Soon, the walls began to show chalk-like drawings that Apollo would have thought to have faded away by time. Light returned to his vision.

The cavern was a secret location on the island, only known to two people: Trucy and Apollo. It was where they spent long summer days before Apollo hit high school. It was a safe place to hide from the blazing heat of the sun. He couldn’t remember why they stopped coming here, even if it wasn’t that long ago. Which meant that he would have peace and quiet.

The entire place brought back a small hint of nostalgia as Apollo stared at the drawings. Some of them had been done by his own hand, the rest were Trucy’s. He knelt down, the memories of when they were scribbled out A small smirk crossed his face, only to disappear as quickly as it came. The guilt was back again.

Dammit… He mentally smacked himself on the back of the head. Focus, Apollo. You have to come up with something! After a brief moment, Apollo groaned, resting his head on the rocky wall. Why was today being so difficult?!

“I’ve come to see the door to this world…” That low voice broke through Apollo’s thoughts, making his mind go blank. He shot up faster than lightning, whirling around quick enough to give himself whiplash. Standing behind him was a hooded figure, an ‘X’ adorning his chest. the dim light of the cave, Apollo couldn’t make out his face.

“This world has been connected…” the strange man continued. It was if he were staring straight into Apollo’s soul. “Tied to the dark… soon to be completely eclipsed.” A shiver ran up the boy’s spine.

“Knock it off, will you?” Apollo was starting to think that this guy might need some serious help.

“Fool!” Apollo jumped, taking a small step away. His back was pressed against the wall. “You do not yet know what lies beyond this door.” Apollo glanced over at the corner of the cavern. Embedded into the wall was a wooden slab, engraved with intricate designs. The one that stood out the most was the keyhole-like shape in the center. It had always been there. Where it came from, Apollo didn’t quite know.

“I know what’s behind it—” Apollo said, turning his attention back towards the man, “more rock.” The man seemed to sigh, shaking his head as he did so.

“You have so much to learn. So intelligent, and yet you know so little.” Apollo glared at the figure before him.

“What are you talking about? I graduated at the top of my class last year. I know just about everything that I need to. And even then, I’m going to learn more. I’m smart enough to get into one of the highest ranked schools in the country.” Apollo clamped a hand down over his mouth. The words were coming out without him wanting them to.

“A meaningless effort,” said the man with a wave of what Apollo hoped was his hand. “One who knows nothing can understand nothing.” Apollo slowly lowered his hand. He stared at the figure.

“What are you—?”

“Polly~!” A spike of fear hit Apollo in the chest as his head snapped towards the cavern entrance. That was Trucy’s voice. Oh hell, no. There was no way he was letting this strange guy get anywhere near--

Apollo turned back to the man in front of him. He froze. The stranger was gone, was if he had never been there at all. A chill washed over his skin, something that was still there when Trucy called for him again. Giving the cave one last sweep, Apollo took his leave.

Trucy was standing on the beach, her hands full of something. What it was, Apollo couldn’t tell. He jumped down from the ledge, calling out to Trucy to get her attention. That cheerful smile she had on her face faded when he approached.

“Apollo? You okay?” she asked, her fingers curling around what she held.

“Uh… yeah…” Apollo shook his head, trying to clear it of its swimming thoughts. He was still trying to comprehend what happened in that cave. What just was that? There had to be some reasonable explanation… “I think the mushrooms on the island have hallucinogenic spores or something.”

“Halluci… wha?” Apollo sighed, patting his sister on the head.

“Don’t go near them.”

“Gotcha,” Trucy said with a firm nod. The Gramarye siblings began the walk back to the raft. Apollo peered down at his sister, sliding his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“So, what is it?” She had called him for something. Apollo gave her a brief once-over. “Is everything okay?” She didn’t look hurt.

“I need your opinion on something.” Apollo let out a little sigh. She was fine. Trucy unfurled her hands. In her palms were six seashells. The shells she held looked fairly similar to flower petals, fading from a deep blue at the center to a pale yellow at its tip. “Do you think I can use these shells to decorate the raft? They’re really pretty.”

“I think you could?” He didn’t know how that would help, but there was no harm in doing so. He plucked one of them from her hand, getting a better look at it in the light. If he remembered right... “They’re special shells.”

“Really? What do you mean?”

“Those are called thalassa shells, Trucy.”

“You mean they have the same name as Mommy does?” Apollo nodded.

“Yeah.” He pocketed to the one he had before turning to the ones Trucy still held. He began to arrange them in a star formation as he went on. “Mom told me that sailors would make charms out of these and wear them. Apparently, it’s supposed to ensure they have a safe trip.” Trucy nodded, closing her hands around the shells and breaking their arrangement.

“Then I’m gonna make a charm out of them! That way, we can be safe once we finish the raft!”

“You do that,” Apollo said with a sigh. Damn it, he had forgotten about the raft. He still needed to do something about it.

“Hey, Apollo?” Apollo hummed when Trucy piped up again. “We’ll always be together, right?” He nearly tripped over the sudden question. He stopped short of the cave's entrance. He stared at Trucy. That look in her eye… she wasn’t kidding.

“Trucy, what made you come up with that?”

“I was just thinking… If we ever get seperated, I bet this good luck charm will bring us back together.” She flashed Apollo a gentle smile.

“I see…” Apollo heaved a sigh, running his hand through his hair. On the topic of the raft… He guessed that now would be a better time than any to break the news to her..” Hey, Truce. About the raft—”

“Apollo!” Athena’s voice was echoing from the cove, cutting off Apollo before he could even get to the hard part of his confession. “Can you come over here for a second?!”

“Athena…” He jogged into the cove, leaving Trucy on the beach. She would be fine on her own. Athena had a bag that she was struggling to carry over to the raft. And just when he thought that his heavy-lifting duties were done with… Apollo rushed over and took the bag from her. It was full with various things that Apollo suspected Athena nabbed from her kitchen cabinets before leaving that morning.

“Where did you even find all of this?” Apollo asked, setting the bag down on the rock.

“I brought it from home,” Athena replied. “Trucy asked me to bring it. She wanted provisions for when we set out.”

“Figures…” Athena stood on her toes, peering at the entrance. Apollo followed her gaze. Trucy was sitting on the sand, fiddling with the shells in her hand. When she said she was going to make a good luck charm, Apollo didn’t expect her to get started on it immediately.

“You know, I think Trucy’s changed.” Apollo hummed in response to that statement, turning to face Athena once again.

“What do you mean?” he asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Well…” Athena’s sentence trailed off. She stared at the water lapping against the side of the raft.

“Athena?” Apollo put his hand on her shoulder. She sighed, shaking her head.

“That’s not true. Maybe I’m the one whose changed.” Athena glanced back up at him. “You know, Apollo, I was a little scared at first. But now I think I’m ready. No matter where we go or what we see, we’ll always come right back here. Right?”

“Yeah, of course.” They could always come back… He could always come back. No matter where he went, or how far away he was… Apollo could always come back home… why didn’t he think of that before?”

“Good. Apollo?” Apollo hummed a response. “Do me a favor, and don’t ever change.” He gave her a look, mouth opening to ask her what she was talking about. She cut him off before he even had the chance to ask. “I can’t wait. Tomorrow, we’re finally going to set sail. And tomorrow… tomorrow we finally get some answers.”

Well… Apollo sighed. Now was a better time than any. He let his hand slide off of Athena’s shoulder and fall to his side.

“Athena. I’m not gonna go with you.” She stared at him, blinking once before his decision settled in.

“What?!”

“Polly?” Apollo went rigid. He spun on his heel. Trucy was standing at the cove entrance. How long had she been there? How much had she heard. Apollo sighed. It didn’t matter how much she heard, it only matter that she caught the tail end of the conversation.

“Sorry, Truce,” he said, turning so he was now able to face both her and Athena. He really wish he hadn’t. That look on her face… one of utter shock. He sighed. “But I’m not going.”

“But… but why?”

“Because I got accepted into that school I told you guys about. I have to stay here if I want to keep my place.”

“Really?” Athena said, sounding much happier about the situation than Trucy did. “That’s awesome, Apollo! Congra—!”

“But you—” Trucy interrupted, her hands curling around the hem of her skirt. She stared down at the rock beneath her feet, biting her lip. “You promised!”

“I didn’t promise anything,” said Apollo, pinching the bridge of his nose. He had gone along with what Turyc asked him to do, yes, but there were never any promises made. “This is my dream. I’ve been waiting for this chance for years. I thought you of all people would be happy for me.”

“But, you’re supposed to stay here! With me. And Mommy. And Athena. You can’t just…” Trucy’s lower lip started to tremble. She was going to tear her skirt at this rate. “You can’t just leave us behind like that! You have to stay with us!”

“Trucy, I can’t stay here and keep playing these little kid games with you!” She had to understand, or at least come to terms that this was the reality she had to live with. Apollo just had to make her see... “I mean, going to another world on a raft? That’s crazy!”

“But it’s gonna work!”

“No, it’s not—”

“Guys…” Athena muttered, trying to step in between the two. It was no use.

“Apollo! Stop it!” Trucy shouted, her voice reverberating off of the walls.

“Trucy, you’re twelve,” said Apollo. “How far do you think a raft is actually going to take you?”

“I… I don’t know. Just…” Trucy shut her eyes, tears starting to cling to her lashes. She shook her head. “Leave me alone!”

“Trucy, listen to me!” Apollo put a hand on her shoulder. She needed to listen to him. Trucy pushed him off the second that he touched her.

“No! This is going to work! We’re going to leave together! All three of us. No one’s getting left behind!” There was a heavy beat of silence lingering in the air. It was all broken by a single sniff from Trucy. “This has to work… It just has to.”

“No, it’s not.” Apollo sighed, trying to fight the frustration building in his veins. “Trucy, you need to stop believing in stuff like this before someone gets hurt. There aren’t other worlds. You can’t go to them on a raft. This is insane!”

“No, it’s not! Athena came from another world!” Oh no, not this again.

“Oh yeah, and how exactly did that happen?! She fell from the sky?!” He knew that was the theory of many on the islands, but it was just a theory. It was an absurd one, if anyone asked for Apollo’s opinion on it. But still, Trucy gave her brother a firm nod.

“Yes! She was brought here by magic!” Apollo blinked. Did she really just say that? Did she really think that was the answer?

“Magic?” he repeated, only to get another nod from Trucy.

“Yes! It kept her safe. And it’s gonna let us go to other worlds!” Apollo couldn’t fight it back anymore. He groaned, letting everything bubble up to the surface. This was getting out of hand. He placed his hands firmly on her shoulders. This time, Trucy didn’t try to push him away.

“Again, Trucy. Magic? Are you serious?!” Trucy only hesitated before giving him another nod. Apollo groaned again. He tightened his hold. “You need to grow up! You need to open your eyes! It’s time that you realized that magic isn’t real!”

There was a silence that fell. Trucy stared at Apollo with wide-eyes. It took Apollo a moment to let go of her. The weight of his words sunk in. More so, what he had just said set in. His own eyes widened. He didn’t know what to say. Trucy’s eyes narrowed and a frown set in. Her hands balled up.

“I hate you,” was all she said. Each word stung and stabbed Apollo’s chest. He hadn’t meant to...

“Trucy…” He extended out a hand. Trucy stepped back and out of his reach. The way she was looking at him… he wanted it to stop.

“I hate you!” Trucy shouted. The tears that had built up started to fall, rolling down her cheeks in thick drops as her voice began to crack. “I hate you, Apollo, I hate you!”

“Trucy—” She turned and ran out of the cove. Apollo went after her. “Trucy!” She was too fast. Apollo could hear a sob escape her before she left the cove. He stopped at the entrance with a heavy sigh.

“Apollo…?”

“Why did I say that?” Apollo heard a whimper that wasn’t coming in Trucy direction. He turned. Athena was doubled over, her hands on her ears. Crap, he forgot all about her. He went back towards Athena, putting a hand on her back. “You okay, Athena?” Athena gave Apollo a slow nod as she stood up straight again.

Just like the two siblings, Athena had a special ability of her own. Only this one didn’t rely on sight; it came from Athena’s sense of hearing. Her hearing was as sharp and as acute as a wolf’s. With this strength, she was able to hear things that normal human beings couldn’t. To be specific, Athena had the ability to hear the emotions echoing in a person’s heart when they spoke. Too many emotions, or intensely strong emotions could cause her to go into a sensory overload. Strong emotions like the ones that Apollo and Trucy were just exhibiting.

“You really upset her,” said Athena after a moment, giving her the chance to calm down. She looked up at Apollo with a sharp glare in her eye. “You know that?”

“Yeah,” Apollo said with a sigh. He had good intentions, it was just... “I just… don’t want her to get hurt. Or worse.” It was the worse part that got to him. The whole danger of the situation… he didn’t want her anywhere near it.

“I won’t let that happen.” Athena’s words were genuine and gentle. She sighed. “Just leave the raft to me, and you go apologize to Trucy.” Before Apollo could get a word out, Athena took him by the wrist. She nearly dragged him out of the cove and towards the docks on the beach. The sun was getting fairly low in the sky.

“Athena—” Apollo stumbled behind her. Her grip loosened, and Apollo got his wrist back.

“Apollo.” Apollo huffed. Despite being younger, there were moments when Athena could supringinly hold a level head. A more level head than Apollo did anyway.

“Fine. Whatever.” He wasn’t in the mood to argue anymore than he already had that day. He sighed. “Just… promise me you won’t let her get hurt?” Athena turned, walking backwards to make sure Apollo saw how sincere her promise was. She drew an ‘X’ over her chest.

“Cross my heart.” Apollo only gave her a short nod. They stopped at the dock. Apollo stared at what was ebbing in the water. More specifically, what was not . There was only one boat tied to the docks.

“Hey, Athena?”

“Yeah?” Athena replied, starting to untie the boat.

“Think you can let me take your boat back?” Athena blinked, glancing over at the empty space beside her own vessel. She sighed, but did not hide the minor smirk on her lips.

“Trucy took yours already, didn’t she?”

“Yup.” His reply was a tiny push from Athena that sent him tumbling into the small rowboat.

 


 

The entire trip back to the main island was made in an uncomfortable silence. All Apollo could think about was what was waiting for him at home. Athena didn’t say anything to reassure him that everything would be alright. Even if she did, it wouldn’t help. Apollo had to do this on his own. Even if it made him walk a little slower than normal. The sun was barely casting any light by the time he made it to the door.

“Mom?” Apollo called out as he stepped into the house. He softly shut the front door behind him. “I’m home!” There was no exact reply. His mother was sitting in the living room, as silent as a ghost.

“Did you tell them?” she asked. Apollo sighed, leaning against the door. Well, it seems like she already knew the answer to that.

“What do you think?” She relaxed, giving her son a small sigh.

“They didn’t take it well.” Apollo only gave her a small shrug as he made his way over to the sofa. He plopped down next to her, pressing his face into his hands.

“Athena did. She congratulated me.” That frest memory echoed in his head. What Trucy said began to stab at him anew. “But Trucy…” He didn’t need to finish.

“I felt there was a reason Trucy didn’t talk to me when she came home. Or that she slammed the doors.” Apollo groaned. He had done that. He had hurt her like that...

“I knew that she would take it hard, but I didn’t realize…” He groaned again. He just wanted it to be done. He didn’t want her to be made at him anymore. He didn’t want to Trucy to...

“What exactly happened?” his mother asked.

“She overheard me telling Athena. We got into a fight. I said… some things… things that might’ve upset her. I told her that she had to grow up. Stop believing in magic and things like that.”

“Apollo.” He winced. Just as he expected. That sharp tone his mother always gave him when he thoroughly messed up. This time, he hadn’t just messed up. He had ruined everything.

“I’m sorry!” said Apollo, straightening up. How exactly was he supposed to explain what happened without it ending up with him getting yelled at? “I was just… I just got so mad I—”

“I get that, but you shouldn’t have said it.”

“She shouldn’t have reacted the way she did!” It sounded worse coming out of his mouth than it did in his head. But still. Apollo had supported her in every single one of her endeavours. He had always been there when she needed him. Why couldn’t she do the same for him?

“She’s scared, Apollo,” said Apollo’s mother, her voice firm. “Her brother — the only person who has been there her entire life — is leaving.” She did have a point. But then again, so did Apollo.

“Yeah, but it’s not forever. I’m not that far away. It’s just a few hours instead of down the hall.  And not to mention, she could just call me if she wants to talk to me so badly.”

“Does she realize that?” Apollo opened his mouth to reply, only to snap it shut. She was right. Both she and Athena were right. His mother put a hand on top of his. “When I was in the hospital, how did you feel?”

“I was scared. I thought you weren’t going to come back.” Those memories hadn’t exactly been the best. He wanted to forget about them if he could. He glanced up at her. “But, Mom, there’s a difference between going away to college, and getting surgery because you were shot.” That look, why did she have to give him that look? Apollo sighed, staring down at the floor. “I don’t know what I should—”

“Mommy?” The soft voice cut through Apollo’s like a knife. He looked up. Standing at the bottom of the stairs was Trucy. Her arms were curled around her. Her face was a dangerous shade of red, and her eyes had gone bloodshot. She had been crying, Apollo could tell. But that’s not what caused tension to take him over. It was the fact that Trucy was shaking and looked like she was having a hard time breathing.

“Are you alright, Trucy?” their mother asked, getting up. Trucy shuffled over, shaking her head. She buried her face into her mother’s shirt the second she reached her.

“I don’t feel so good…” At that, Thalassa Gramarye pressed the back of her hand to her daughter's forehead.

“You’re burning up,” Apollo heard her mutter. Trucy moaned, gripping and grabbing at her mother’s clothing like her life depended on it.

“It hurts…” Apollo stood. She seemed fine not that long ago. What had happened between then and now? He reached out a hand to her..

“Trucy…” he said, his voice loud enough for her to hear and tender enough to carry meaning. Even in her current state, Trucy was able to give her brother a stone-cold glare. Apollo didn’t make any sort of move to get closer. Their mother placed her hands on Trucy’s shoulders, turning he away from her brother and leading her upstairs.

“Come on, let’s get you back to bed.” The two siblings did not break their stare until Trucy disappeared back to the upper floor.

Apollo’s guilt over what he had done only got worse after that. He sat down on the sofa for what felt like hours before finally working up the nerve to do something that he should have done the second he got home. He made his way up the stairs, a bowl of ice cream in his hands as he did so. It would make a nice peace offering… and if he said he had it, there was a good chance Trucy might actually let him into her room.

The soft sound of thunder rumbling in the distance caught Apollo’s attention as he was inches away. He turned, staring out the window behind him. The night sky was filled with thick, dark clouds that obscured the stars above. The calm was broken by the sharp crack of lightning as it struck the ocean out in the distance. It was dangerously close to the island where the raft was being kept.

A storm? Apollo shook his head. He would have to find the flashlights and candles later, just in case the power went out. Shaking his head and returning to his task at hand, Apollo knocked on the door.

“Hey, Trucy? Can we talk?” he called from his place in the hallway. There was no reply. It wasn’t all that surprising. “...I got ice cream. And it’s your favorite.” There was more silence. Apollo raised a brow. He thought that surely would get him entry. He knocked again. “Trucy?” There was still quiet.

Curiosity and concern took over. Apollo opened the door. The bowl he had clattered to the floor, echoing in the room. His eyes widened. Wind blew in through the window in Trucy’s bedroom, forced open. The bed was empty. There was a beat.

Apollo turned on his heel. He bolted down the staircase, not caring where he was going.

“MOM!” he shouted. He stumbled down the remaining stairs, nearly falling flat on his face as he did so. Apollo scrambled back on his feet. He dashed to the kitchen, where his mother was finishing making dinner. “Mom!”

“Apollo, is something—” Apollo skidded into the kitchen, catching himself on the small table in there before he could collide with the stove.

“Trucy’s not in her room.” It was his mother’s turn to go wide-eyed.

“What?!”

“I don’t know! I went to talk to her. She’s not in her room, and her window was open. I don’t…”

“Apollo, take a deep breath and calm down.” He did as he was told, but the fact still remained. Trucy wasn’t in her room, she wasn’t in the best of conditions, and… Thunder played on his ears. He bit his lip, tightening his grip on the table.

“But the storm—” Apollo felt his mother’s hand on his shoulder.

“We’ll find her. I promise.” Apollo only mustered a short nod. HIs mother moved quickly out o the kitchen, with Apollo following after a brief moment. “You call Athena, see if she went there. I’ll go and look for her.”

“Mom—” Thalassa took her jacket off of the hook near the door.

“Stay here in case she comes back.” She opened the front door.

“But Mom—”

“Apollo, please,” said his mother. “If she’s not back by the time the storm hits, call the police, okay?” Apollo opened his mouth to argue. All that came out was a sigh.

“Alright. Be careful.” His mother hesitated in stepping outside. She turned back to her son. For a split second, Apollo could catch the worry on her face.

“I love you, Apollo.”

“Mom?” He simply stared at her.

“Stay here.” And that was all she said before shutting the door behind her. Apollo was left alone in silence. He sighed, collapsing on the sofa. He was just supposed to wait? How could she expect him to wait like that? He sighed again, raking a hand through his hair. There was only one thing he could do.

Apollo dug into his pocket, pulling out his phone and dialing a familiar number. The dial tone seemed to drown on forever, like some sort of taunting harmony.

“Athena? Come on, pick up…” he muttered. He stood up, beginning to pace across the room. He couldn’t sit still, even if he wanted to. He came to a halt when there was a click on the other end of the line. Finally. Maybe he could get Athena to go out and help—

“Hey, this is Athena! I can’t make it to the phone right now, so leave a message at the beep! ” A deep frown set in on Apollo’s features.

“Dammit, Athena!” Of all times not to answer her phone. Apollo groaned, dragging a hand down his face. “Listen, Trucy’s run off. She’s not in the best shape, she got this fever all of a sudden…” He sighed. “Call me the moment you can.”

He hung up there. Sliding his phone back into his pocket, Apollo glanced out the window. He flinched as lightning struck the island in the distance. The thunder was getting louder. And Trucy was still out there. Apollo groaned once more. Why did he feel like this was all his fault? He stared at the island, still being illuminated by the lightning. Jeez, was it all just centered there? If it kept striking like that, there could be problems. The damage might be enough that Trucy and Athena…

That single thought derailed the entire train.

“The raft…” Apollo muttered.

Shit! Apollo didn’t waste a second. He nearly pulled the door off of its hinges as he ran out into the impending storm. He slammed it shut behind him, his mind an absolute swirl as he did so. If he was right… No, he had to be right. He knew Trucy far too well to be wrong. He couldn’t be wrong, not now. He was right. Trucy was on the island, worried about her project to the point where she snuck out to keep it safe. She was stupidly ridiculous. She was going to get herself killed!

Despite the wind trying to keep him from getting there, Apollo made it to the dock. He knew full well not to go near the sea when the waves were kicking up this badly. But he could handle them. He just had to. Trying to calm his shaking hands, he hurried to untie one of the boats. Or rather, the only boat that was remaining.

There’s only one boat, Apollo thought to himself, the waves nearly knocking him and the boat over as he boarded it. Which means Trucy has to be with Athena. She has to be. She’s fine, and she’s with Athena. Trucy’s fine. She’s fine, she’s fine, she’s fine! That’s what he kept telling himself. She had to be fine. If she was with Athena, she would be fine. It was only a small hope in his heart. There were far more rational reasons that only one of the boats would be missing. It was a desperate thought that Trucy was with Athena.

If she was with Athena, everything would be okay. Things would be fine. The three would wait out the storm and return home as soon as possible. At least, that’s what Apollo was hoping for. The waves crashed against the boat, pushing it forward into the sand before Apollo could even reach the dock. Grabbing the vessel, he dragged it up on the shore as far as he could get it.

There was the distinct roll of thunder. A split second later, the sky opened up with the crack of lightning that stuck far too close for Apollo’s liking. Thick drops of rain started to fall. It was those simple drops that made Apollo go rigid.

They were black. Rain did not fall like this. Apollo’s breath hitched in his throat and his heart began to pump adrenaline into his blood. Fear slowly began to overtake him. Then, all at once, his mind was sent into overdrive.

What the hell?! He wanted to scream. The words only echoed in his head. He had to find Trucy and Athena. It was no longer a want. It was necessary. He took off down the expanse of the beach. The world around him started to grow dark, as if someone was trying to turn of the light coming from the moon above. The shadows were growing thicker and darker as the darkness cascaded.

Apollo didn’t notice the shadows forming into dark pools in his wake. They twisted, thrashing about in the sand. They rose with a pop, the nose covered by the drumming of thunder. The blobs of shadow began to take shape. A clawed hand wrapped around Apollo’s ankle. It jerked him back, forcing Apollo to fall.

The boy pushed himself up, trying to pull his foot away from whatever had caught him. He thought it was just another rope, like the one from the day before. It made his heart nearly stop. The creature that had caught him… they were all the same ones from the dream he had the day before. There was no way Apollo could forget those eyes. Those large, eerily glowing eyes… dream or not, they had haunted him when he slept under the tree that day, and when he went to bed that night.

Panic began to set in as the creature multiplied. Apollo tried to scramble back. The shadow creatures twitched, creeping and making their way over to aid their comrade. The one that held onto Apollo had a vice-like grip on his ankle. The boy wanted to scream, he wanted to shout. He didn’t want to be alone. The constant end of his dreams played in his head. That suffocating darkness…

Something in the distance caught Apollo’s eye. There was someone else on the island. Even through the dark, he could make out something… something important. There was a familiar flash of red hair, the bright shades of yellow that could stand out even in the darkest of nights… The figure brought him both relief and made his panic intensify.

Athena…! Apollo reared back and kicked the shadow in what he assumed was its face as hard as he possibly could. The creature gave out an angered cry as the boy scrambled back onto his feet. Wind started to cut through Apollo, as if trying to push him back and keep him away from Athena. It could not stop him. He wouldn’t let anything stop him, not the wind or the shadows trying to claw at him… He had to find the girls. He had to get to Athena.

“ATHENA!” Her name tore through his throat. He was desperate at this point. He needed one of them to be safe… no, he needed both of them to be safe. He had to get to her. A burst of speed allowed him to get through the wind. Apollo ran as fast as he possibly could, dashing up to the ledge were Athena was.

Athena stood still on the stone, her usually vivid blue eyes gone blank. She was shaking, Apollo could tell as he got closer. Her necklace -- usually shifting in various shades of bright colors dependant on her mood -- and turned black. Her arms were curled around herself as if trying to form some sort of failing barrier.

“Athena!” Apollo called out as soon as she was in view. He rushed up to her, taking her by the shoulders as soon as he was close enough. She didn’t show any sign of hearing or recognizing him. “Are you alright? Have you seen Trucy at all?”

“The door…” Athena said, her voice nothing more than a harsh whisper. She swallowed down something heavy in her throat before going on. “It opened…”

“What?!” What was she talking about? What door? Athena started to shake even worse, hiccuping as her breathing became heavier and forced.

“I… I-I didn’t mean to!” Tears were building in the corner of Athena’s eyes.

“Athena, what’s wrong?” Athena didn’t answer. Apollo bit down on his tongue. Something was wrong. Something was terribly wrong. But right now, he couldn’t take care of it. He had to focus on the current task at hand. “Just breathe. Look at me, it’s going to be alright. We’re going to find Trucy, and--” Athena cut him off with a violent shake of her head.

“It’s happening again…” It was… huh?

“What?”

“It’s…” Athena choked on a sob, “It’s happening again and it’s all my fault!”

“Athena, what are you talking about? What happened?!” What was she going on about? What had she done that she was panicking this badly over?

“M-My head...my… my heart…” Athena pressed her hands over her ears. With a sharp cry, the girl dropped to her knees. Something began to form in the shadow underneath her. On reflex, Apollo jumped back as her shadow began to shift into a dark pool, much like the ones the creatures had come from. Thick tendrils of darkness rose from its edges. Athena did nothing to stop them as they wrapped tightly around her body, keeping her rooted in place. The darkness began to bubble up, threatening to overtake the girl entirely. Apollo felt something tighten around his heart.

“Athena…!” He only managed to take a single step forward before being unable to move. A pool of his own had formed at his feet. And he was starting to sink into it. No matter how badly he pulled, no matter how much he claws at it, the darkness would not let him go. The shadows were closing in around Athena. Apollo could hear his heart starting to beat wildly as he was pulled in deeper and deeper.

I mustn’t be afraid . I can’t be afraid! Apollo reached out, trying to grab Athena’s arm. He had to pull her out of there. He couldn’t let her… something burning inside of him couldn’t let her sink in… Dark shadows rose up and wrapped themselves around him, restraining the boy and pulling him away. They burned his skin, but Apollo didn’t give into the pain. He refused to go down, fighting against their heavy weight. He had to get Athena to safety. He had to find Trucy and get her to safety. They were going to survive this, Apollo would make sure of it.

The darkness pulled him in deeper, wrappin its threads around his face. It clamped down tightly over his mouth and nose. Apollo couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t breathe, he couldn’t see. He couldn’t even scream as the darkness proved to be too much. He was swallowed by the shadows, a furious scream stuck in his throat.

This wasn’t a dream. Apollo’s worse nightmare had come true. He couldn’t breathe. His body felt like it had been set on fire with shards of ice. Apollo wanted nothing more than to scream. No sound came from his mouth. And even if he could, there was no one who would be able to hear him. He was alone, lost in the shadows.

It was dim. In the distance, Apollo could see a faint light shining. He struggled against the hold the darkness had on him. The shadows were holding on so tightly to him that he could barely move. It began to creep in around his heart. No… No, no, no. He couldn’t… that light...

Something he once heard… something long ago that he learned… those words he were told would be able to conjure some sort of magic to him… It all seemed ridiculous now, but there was nothing else he could do. Apollo began to recite those words, hearing them echo in his mind.

So long as you have the makings, then through this simple act of taking… Swallowing down his fear, Apollo pulled against his bonds. The light began to glow brighter, shining with the strength of a thousand stars.

The heart lying in dormant shall become the key, and its wielder you shall be. The threads holding Apollo’s arm down began to grow weak in the light. They snapped with a sharp crack. Apollo fought against the dark as it tried in desperate to pin down his limb. He stretched out his hand. reaching out towards the light.

And you will find a friend; no ocean shall contain you then. The images of Trucy and Athena flashed into his mind. The bonds keeping Apollo’s legs in place broke. The shadows were starting to retreat from his heart. They were angry, Apollo could hear them faintly shriek, tugging at his remaining arm to keep their prisoner.

No more borders around, below or above, so long as you champion the ones you love. Apollo yanked his remaining arm free. He practically launched himself forward. The light came shooting closer towards him until it was close enough for Apollo to seize. He wrapped his hands around the warmth of the light. It took away all the ice the darkness had washed over him. The light grew brighter. It filled his vision, nearly blinding him in the process. Apollo shut his eyes, feeling something twist and mold itself in his palm. Something heavy and metallic.

Apollo opened his eyes. He was sent stumbling forward, his balance thrown off by whatever was in his hand. It was only once he regained his footing that Apollo realized where he was. He had been sent back to the beach smack in the middle of the storm. He was alone. Where Athena had once stood was nothing but air. She was gone.

The weight of what Apollo had be given finally hit him. He stood up straight, staring down at his hand. HIs eyes widened. That… was not a normal thing.

What was in Apollo’s hand carried the weight of the sword. However, it didn’t look like one. The handle was a complete square of a pale blue shade, a deep red taking up the corners. The blade was a pure gold, engraved with various swirls all the way down to the tip. Attached to the tip was the vague cut out of what Apollo could have sword was an eye in the same color as the rest of the blade. A gold keychain hung from the weapon’s pommel, ending in a simple circle with a green gem in the center.

The Keyblade… A voice whispered in Apollo’s ear. His hand tightened on the handle. Clarion’s Key… Apollo stared at the… weapon? He still wasn’t sure. The Keyblade? Clarion’s Key? Was that what this thing was?

Apollo didn’t have anymore time to dwell on this. There were the familiar sounds of angry dark creatures made of shadow behind him. Unfortunately, turning around only confirmed this fact. The creatures hadn’t left. If anything, they were pretty pissed off that Apollo managed to escape. They leapt at him. Apollo’s instinct took over.

He shut his eyes and swung the blade. There was a cry of pain. There was a moment of silence before Apollo opened his eyes. The creatures had been bisected by his defense. They thrashed about as their bodies returned to the shadows from whence they came. Apollo blinked, his gaze drifting over to the weapon in his hand. Did it just…? Did it just kill those things?

Another wave of those creatures darted at Apollo. Taking the opportunity to test out his theory, Apollo swung the weapon again. It cut through those creatures as if they were made of water. As they faded away, Apollo felt a smirk tighten around his lips. He wasn’t defenseless. He could use this… thing… to protect himself and--

Trucy . While Athena was gone, there was still one person remaining on the island. He had to find Trucy before he lost her just as he did Athena. The wind started to pick up around him as Apollo bolted into the chaos the island had descending into. It wasn’t until Apollo had been nearly everywhere on the island that Trucy could get to (and that he could barely get to, as for every shadow creature he defeated, two more popped up in its place) that he realized there was only one place left that his sister could be.

Apollo raced over to the secret cavern hidden in the cliffs. He stumbled, nearly falling flat onto the stone pathway. The curtain of ivy that served as a door to the cavern was gone. It had been replaced by… well, a set of actual doors. What had happened to change that, Apollo didn't want to question. He just wanted to get out of this storm and get to Trucy. He threw open the doors and dashed inside. They slammed shut.

Apollo leaned up against the door, taking a small moment to catch his breath. He could no longer hear the howl of the wind or feel the sting of the rain. It was a moment of calm in the chaos. But he couldn't stay there forever. Apollo pushed up and walked on. He tightened his grip on the blade in hand. There was someone waiting for him at the end of the tunnel. He picked up his pace.

A sigh of relief escaped from his lips when he saw that his theory had been right. Standing there with her back facing him was Trucy. She was staring at the door-like wall that lined the back of the cave.

“Trucy!” he called out. His sister slowly turned to face him. She looked worse than before. She was trembling fiercely, her face burning red. She looked about ready to collapse at any second. Trucy steadily raised her head. Her gaze was empty as she stared at Apollo. She had become weak to the point of near exhaustion.

“Apollo…” Trucy said, her voice so quiet that Apollo could barely hear it. She only was able to take a single step forward. She stumbled as the wall behind her burst open. A strong wind billowed forth from the dark chasm left behind. Apollo dug his heel into the stone before bolting over to catch his sister before she fell over. Trucy collapsed, dropping down to her knees just as Apollo reached her. His arms outstretched, he went to catch his sister. There was a flash of light.

Trucy vanished, disappearing into simple specks of light the moment Apollo caught her. Apollo’s eyes widened, unable to move. She was just here. She was just in arm’s reach and now… she was gone. Just like that, she was gone.

Apollo didn’t have a second more to linger on what had just occurred. The shock of it had made him lower his guard, along with the firm grip he had on the ground. The wind pushed him off of his feet, blowing him without warning out of the cavern. He was unceremoniously dropped onto the beach.

Apollo pushed himself up onto his knees. The beach he knew -- the one he had grown up on -- was utterly destroyed. The docks were nothing more than scraps of wood strewn about on the sand. Trees had been torn from their roots and even stones were starting to crumble. However, it wasn’t the ruined beach that made Apollo’s heart skip a beat.

Hovering in the air was a large orb, strewn together with what Apollo suspected was pure darkness. He could see a violent red core in the center. It crackled with sharp bolts of lightning, illuminating the dark purple sky.

This isn’t real … There was no way this couldn’t be anything more than some bad dream. Or a horrible hallucination. Maybe those mushrooms from earlier were starting to affect him again…

A dark shadow loomed over Apollo. Swallowing a lump in his throat, the boy slowly turned around. A scream got caught in his throat. Standing behind him was the same creature from his dream. The large, tentacle-like monster was staring down at him now, yellow eyes piercing his very soul.

Apollo’s grip on the weapon he had in his hand grew tighter. How he managed to keep a hold on it all this time was a mystery. He didn’t care. His jaw clenched as the monster dropped to its knees. Apollo stood. Energy pulstated in the heart-shaped chasm in the creature’s chest. It burst. The energy streamed out and darted towards Apollo.

His body moved on its own. Apollo dropped to his knees, rolling out of the way of the monster’s attack. He just needed a moment to think. How did he defeat this thing in his dream? … he didn’t. He didn’t beat this thing. The darkness swallowed him up before he could. All he managed to do was slash at its wrist. Apollo sighed. Well, it was worth a shot.

Apollo dashed forward, holding the weapon tightly in his hand. He rolled out of the way of another attack before coming to the creature’s unguarded arm. He raised the blade and brought it down on the creature’s wrist. It cut through, making the monster cry out in pain. Blackish-purple misted oozed out from the wound.

The creature backhanded Apollo, throwing him into a nearby rock. He could hear something crack as he made contact with the stone. That was going to leave a bruise… but still. Apollo got back on his feet. He had nothing left to lose. And there was no way that creature was going to take him down that easily.

Apollo rushed forward again. The monster raised its fists, slamming them into the ground. Darkness spewed out from its fingertips. Shadows started to emerge from the pools. Apollo paid them no mind. A plan was forming in his mind, and he wasn’t about to let little shadow bugs stop him now. With the monster’s hands occupied, it left its face wide open.

Making sure to dodge the pool of shadows, Apollo pushed off of the ground. He landed on the creature’s arm. All it had to do was stay still long enough… Gritting his teeth and holding onto the blade for dear life, Apollo ran up the length of the monster’s arm. Once he reached its shoulder, Apollo summoned the rest of his strength. He leapt up into the air. With a cry, Apollo brought down the blade directly on top of the monster’s head.

There was a howl of pain that was cut short as the head split in half. It faded away before it even hit the ground. The body soon followed, landing with a heavy thud on the sand. Apollo hit the ground beside it. He dropped to his knees, panting heavily. There was only one thought in his mind as the moment of victory settled in.

How the hell did I just do that?! There was a little voice inside his head saying that it might have just been instinct. But still… that was far from being ‘instinct’ alone. It was something else…

His train of thought was cut off when the wind grew stronger. It was pushing Apollo, and no matter how much he tried to fight it, something was pulling him towards that orb hanging in the sky. The wind was whipping at him, lashing at every inch of uncovered skin Apollo was showing. It was too much… His body… Everything hurt… He couldn’t hold on anymore.

Apollo’s life flashed before his eyes. The orb pulled him into its burning depths. He let out a scream. Something struck the back of his head. Apollo felt the weapon in his hand fall. Everything went black.

Chapter Text

The morning was quite beautiful, if she had to say so herself. The sun was shining with only a few clouds lingering in the sky above. And for once, the court mage found herself in a state of calm. The peace was refreshing, she had to admit. She even had a tune humming in her throat as she made her way towards the throne room. Not once did the servants ever seen her in such a happy state before.

Her coat trailed the floor as she switched to muttering her song under her breath. With a small skip in her step, the mage made her way to the door barring her from the throne room. She knocked upon it. All she got was an echo as a reply. With a small huff, she knocked again only to get the same results. Perhaps the queen didn’t hear her… The mage opened the door and stepped inside.

“Good morning, Your Mercifulness!” said the mage as she entered. “You said you want to see m—” She cut herself off upon seeing the room. The throne room was empty. There was not a living soul in it besides herself. That was… strange. The queen requested that she come and see her first thing in the morning. The mage was certain that she would be here.

“Your Mercifulness?” the mage called out, her voice reverberating off of the walls as she approached the throne. Perhaps she was just running a little late…. yes, that had to be it. Yet, the sound of her own echo did nothing but unsettle her further. “...Queen Amara?”

There was no reply. Her pacing slowed as she found herself standing in front of the throne. All that was there waiting for her was a sealed envelope. The mage stared at the wax sealing it shut. It had been embossed with the queen’s personal seal. She hesitated before picking it up. On the front was her name, scrawled carefully and hastily on the thick paper. The mage didn’t like the unsettling feeling it brought her.

With a swipe of a finger, the seal broke. The mage carefully pulled out the letter, shaking it open with a flick of her wrist. Teal colored eyes scanned the paper, hoping to spot some sort of abnormality to let her know that this had been forged. There were none. The letter was real. And after reading its contents, the mage knew what the queen couldn’t wait to tell her was true too.

She stared at the letter, her grip tightening on the edges of the paper in an attempt to stop her hands from shaking. She blinked once… twice before the heavy weight of the queen’s message settled in on her shoulders.

Oh no.

The mage bolted from the throne room, moving as fast as her feet could possibly carry her. This was bad. No, this was beyond bad. This was catastrophic. The queen had put down that weapon and her title in favor of ruling her kingdom after the princess had been born. And since then, everything had been calm across the universe. Why was it now, nine years after the fact, that things started up again?!

That didn’t matter now. What mattered was that the queen was missing, leaving behind a semi-cryptic note for her court mage to follow. Which is why she ran out towards the courtyard, where the one other person (that she knew the location of anyway) mentioned in the note was bound to be. Maybe he could help. No, he had to be able to help. He had been here longer than her. He knew the queen better.

The good mood she had when the morning began was completely gone now. It had been replaced by panic, fear and anger once she saw that the person she was looking for was fast asleep in the castle’s gardens under the tallest tree.

“Gumshoe!” called out the mage upon spotting the captain of the royal guard. She ran up towards him. Not even her shout had woken him. The mage dropped to her knee, shaking the captain’s shoulder.

“Wake up, Captain!” All Gumshoe did was continue to snore. The mage could feel her frustration starting to mount. She stood up. Any onlooker would guess that she had a passive manner. However, if they looked closer, they would be able to see an icy fire burning in her eyes. The mage held out her hand. In a flash, she summoned forth her handheld-staff.

“This is serious!” the mage shouted., temper finally getting the better of her. Holding out her staff, electricity crackled in the air. With a wave, lightning struck down fairly close to the captain’s side. The jolt seemed to be enough to pull him out of dreamland. Gumshoe shot up with a yelp. The mage sighed. At least that plan worked.

“What was that for?!” Gumshoe exclaimed, staring up at the mage with a fierceness that was rather unusual for her to see. That wasn’t the point. He was awake and that’s what was important to her.

“Because this is a serious matter,” said the mage as Gumshoe stood, “and YOU’RE HERE SNOOZING LIKE NOTHING IS WRONG!” He blinked, the anger starting to dwell.

“What are you talking about, Ema?” he asked her. “ Is something wrong?” Did he seriously not know?!

“Of course something’s wrong!” Ema dismissed the staff she held in her hand in favor of putting both of them on her hips. “We have a serious problem, and you can’t tell anyone about it.”

“Not even the princess?”

“Not even her.” No matter how much that girl asked. This was something that was not meant for someone her age. She was barely even ten. “It’s top secret. What part of ‘you can’t tell anyone’ do you not under—” There was a very sharp clearing of the throat from behind Ema.

“Good morning, Your Highness.” Ema laughed nervously. Oh no. Her worst fear was confirmed when she turned on her heel. Behind her was the princess alright, arms crossed over her chest and little pout.

“Skye,” said the child with the tone that the queen usually took when handling the state and whatnot. “Where is my mother?” Ema bit down on her lip. How exactly was she going to explain this one?

“Your Benevolence…” Ema began. What was she supposed to say? Magic? There was no way that magic could explain away this one… even if it was part of the anwer.

“Where is she?” the princess demanded. Ema exchanged a look with the large man behind her. All he did was give her a shrug. Ema sighed. So much for looking for a little bit of help. What exactly was she going to do? Ema glanced down at the letter she still had clenched tightly in her hand. The queen trusted her enough with this… maybe… maybe she trusted her enough to make this choice. She sighed again.

“Come with me.” Ema put a hand on the princess’s shoulder, earning her a sharp glare from the little girl. “We can’t talk about it out in the open.”

“Just tell me!”

“Rayfa.” Mimicking her mother’s tone didn’t get the girl to back down, but it got the princess to at least listen. Or at least that’s what Ema hoped it was doing. “This is important. Come on, we can talk in the library.”

The walk to the castle library was made in complete silence. It was that type of silence that made the unease in the pit of Ema’s stomach get worse. How exactly was she supposed to tell these two why the queen went missing? She never had been in this position. All of her decisions were made for her… almost all of them. The more important ones were never hers to make.

Her mind had been spinning so much that Ema didn’t realize that the three of them had made it to the library until she heard the door shut behind her. She stared down at hte letter. Queen Amara had explained this better than she ever could. Wait…

Ignoring the questions Rayfa was asking, Ema made her way over to the table in the center. She smoothed out the letter she had been holding this entire time. She could feel both Gumshoe’s and Rayfa’s eyes on her. as she began to read the letter out loud, hoping that it would answer all of their questions.

Ema,

I apologize for running off like this, but there is a storm brewing on the horizon. I’m not yet sure why, but the stars are becoming extinguishing — one by one, their light is disappearing. That means disaster cannot be far behind. I hate to leave you all behind, but I am the only one who can investigate this phenomenon. However, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a task of your own to complete. There is someone out there with a ‘key’. That key is the key to our survival. I need you and the Captain to find them and protect them. Am I clear? We need that key, or we’re all doomed to darkness. Go to Traverse Town and find my son. He’ll point you in the right direction.

Queen Amara

P.S. Please apologize to Rayfa for me. Thank you.”

There was a hush that fell once Ema was finished. It was unsettling, and even Ema breaking it by folding the paper in half did nothing to put her at ease. Their eyes were on her again. The letter served as an answer, but all it did was bring up more questions. What was the key? Why was it the only thing that could save them? What exactly was going on?

“Are you sure that’s from the queen?” Rayfa asked, being the first one to break the quiet. “It doesn’t sound like my mother. She wouldn’t just run off like this!”

“It has her seal and everything, Your Benevolence. I checked it myself. It’s her handwriting, too,” that was all Ema could provided as an answer. She held the letter out to the princess, envelope and all. “You can take a look if you wish.” Rayfa snatched the letter from her hand the moment it was within her reach.

“Well, what does it mean?” asked Gumshoe while the princess read over her mother’s letter. Ema leaned back against the table.

“It means…” Ema sighed. “It means that we just have to trust the Queen.” Ema felt the letter forced back into her hands. Rayfa had gone surprisingly quiet. She most likely realized what the other two had. And that look on her face only proved what Ema suspected her reaction would be.

“...I hope she’s alright,” said Rayfa, Ema having to strain her ears just to hear the princess’s whisper. She hesitated for a moment before placing a hand on Rayfa’s shoulder.

“Your Benevolence, don’t worry,” Ema said, trying to put the young girl at ease. “We’ll find your mother and this so-called ‘key’ she talked about.” She flashed a forced smile. She didn’t even know what this key was supposed to look like, much less what it was exactly. But Rayfa didn’t need to know that.

“...thank you. Both of you.” Rayfa glanced up at the two. She hid her hands behind her back before going on. “I’ll have the servants set up a ship for you. Bring my mother home.” Ema could only offer her a nod.

“We will. C’mon, Gumshoe!” The captain of the guard gave the princess a salute. He and Ema took their leave of the library, with a mission weighing heavily on their shoulders.

 

Ema rolled one of the buttons on her coat between her thumb and finger as she made her way down towards the loading docks. Why the hell did she say that?! She hadn’t left the palace since she arrived there. And that was ten years ago. Ten years . How the heck was she supposed to accomplish this if she didn’t know anything about the outside worlds?! All of the knowledge Ema had about them was from the stories Amara told! Was the staircase always this long?!

“Hey, Ema?” Ema nearly tripped over her own boots when Gumshoe piped up. She cleared her throat, brushing off the absent dirt on her clothes.

“Yeah?”

“Didn’t your world disappear, too?” Gumshoe asked. Ema paused in her steps for the briefest of moments. She sighed, shoving her hands deep into her pockets. Of all the questions he had to ask, why did Gumshoe have to as that one?

“Yes… it did,” Ema answered. Those memories were something that she would rather not bring back to the surface. “It was terrible. As far as I can tell, I’m the only one who made it to Khura’in. Though… I might not be the only one who survived if the queen’s telling the truth. I didn’t even know that there were other worlds besides my own until that—” She blinked, glancing at Gumshoe from over her shoulder. “Wait. Why do you ask?”

“Because you had no clue.” ...oh. “And it means that while we’re in other worlds, we have to protect the world’s borders.”

Order .”

“Same thing.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Sort of the same thing.” Ema sighed. She wasn’t willing to argue this point anymore.“Either way, it means we’ll need new duds when we get there.” She glanced down at what she was wearing. ...okay, maybe he had a point there. But she was not getting rid of the coat. The coat was going to stay.

“Yeah…” Ema muttered as they finally reached the bottom of the stairs. The duo was met with a large, intricately designed door. Ema simply put her hand on it. The design lit up. There was a click, and the door swung open.

“Would you go back?” Gumshoe continued on with his inquiry as he and Ema entered the room. Machinery was at work, whizzing by Ema’s head as it prepared their vessel. Damn, Rayfa had gotten that done quick.

“Go back?”

“To your homeworld.” Ema sighed, running a hand through her hair.

“How could I? It was forever lost to the darkness. And everyone…” Her nails dug into her palm as she bit down on her lip.

“Ema?” She felt Gumshoe’s hand on her shoulder. She took a few steps away.

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it. Besides, aside from the darkness thing, I can't even remember its name anymore.” It was ten years ago. Most of the happy memories she had before were corrupted by what they all lead to. That enviable destruction at the hand of… Ema shook her head. “How can I go back when I don't know where I'm going? Come on. We have to go.”

Gumshoe didn’t ask anymore. They made their way swiftly to the vessel docked and waiting for them in the launch bay. She ushered the knight quickly onto the ship. The door shut behind them. Ema swiftly made her way to the cockpit. Flying this thing couldn’t be too difficult, right?

Either way, Ema spent a few minutes looking for the manuel while Gumshoe caught up with her. He took a seat in the co-pilot’s chair when she finally found the darn thing.

“Ema Skye to launch crew!” Ema called out, pressing the button for the P.A. “Anytime you’re ready!”

Apparently ‘ready’ was now. The ship gave a lurch, nearly sending Ema face-first into the control panel if it weren’t for Gumshoe catching her at the last second. Through the windshield, Ema could see steam bellowing out from pipes, gears whirring on the walls. The lift the ship was on moved, raising up the vessel. Ema, taking a quick glance at the book in her lap, flicked a few of the switches on the panel in front of her. The engines roared to life.

And then the lift suddenly dropped. The ship fell through a hole in the floor, gaining speed as it did. A scream tore itself from Ema’s throat as she was thrown out of her chair. Shit, shit, shit … She had to do something before disaster delayed their mission.

Ema slammed a hand on the control panel. Whatever she hit, it got the ship to stabilize. She let out a heavy sigh, pushing herself back into her seat. She groaned. They had made it out of orbit somehow. The vastness of space was open to her now. The stars…

“Gumshoe? Think you can drive?”

“Don’t worry about it, I got it.” Ema sighed, leaning back in her seat. She stared out the window. The stars… She hadn’t seen them this clearly in years. While most of her memories were marred by darkness, there were some that came through clearly. Sitting in the gardens on summer nights… watching the stars and making up their own constellations…

Ema fidgeted with one of the buttons pinned to the lapel of her coat.

“Ema.” Ema picked her head up when Gumshoe broke her out of her thoughts.

“What is it?” Had they made it already? The queen told them to head somewhere called… Traverse Town, right? … right. Traverse Town. That’s what it was.

“A star’s going out.” Ema followed his gaze. A star in the sky, as bright as an angel’s halo, was flickering. It’s light grew dimmer and dimmer until finally, it fizzled. The star melded into the dark. Ema swallowed down something in her throat, her face turning to stone. “Ema?”

“We have to hurry.” She glanced down at the manuel still somehow sitting in her lap. “We need to find the key.”

“And the queen’s son. We should start by looking for this guy first. He can probably tell us what that key is.” Ema merely nodded, despite the fact that she was not really listening to him. She had to focus on the mission, not on the past. She pulled out the letter, glancing over the message again. Everything else seemed straightforward… well, everything except one part.

“What key? How can a simple key be the answer to our problem? It’s not like she’s talking about…” Ema paused. That couldn’t be it… Could it? She shook her head. There was no other key Queen Amara could be referring to.

“Uh, Ema. I betcha that—”

“Oh shit, that’s what she’s talking about.” She glanced down at the manuel in her lap, shoving the letter back into her pocket.

“Ema?” Ema flipped a switch. The ship gave a lurch as it started to pick up speed. “Ema!”

“No, we’re on a tight schedule!” They had to find that key. And fast.

Chapter Text

The first thing he managed to register was the fact that his body felt like it was made of lead. It was as if something had just gotten off of him.. His hand twitched, fingers curling to dig into the cement underneath him. Apollo let loose a groan as he came back to consciousness.

He forced his eyes to open. It was dim where he was, the only light Apollo could locate being some sort of soft glow in the corner of his eye. He was somewhere strange, somewhere he didn’t quite know. Not to mention, he was lying on the floor of what he was starting to think was an alleyway the more his sense came back to him. His memories began to slowly flood his head. Apollo groaned once more.

What was that? I should not eat rocky road before bed…   That was some weird nightmare he just had. He didn’t remember eating ice cream before going to sleep. Whatever he ate, he shouldn’t eat it again. Or at least not so late in the night. He pushed himself up off of the ground, forcing himself to sit up. Was he still dreaming?

Apollo bit back a scream. Everything hurt. There wasn’t something that didn’t cause him pain. It felt like something had just punched him in the gut, thrown him into a wall and kicked him in the ribs before finally having mercy on him.

This isn’t a dream. There was no way he could be hurt that badly in a dream without waking up. Gritting his teeth, Apollo pushed himself to his feet. He took a single step, stumbling. He caught himself on the wall as the world started to right itself. What happened?! Did he get jumped or something?!

He sighed. That couldn’t have been a dream. That whole fight… Ugh, he couldn’t think straight. That fight felt too realistic in his mind to be a product of his imagination, even if every rational part of his mind told him otherwise.

It didn’t matter what happened then. Apollo would have to sort all that out later. Right now, he needed to figure out where the heck he was. Using the wall as his guide, he stumbled through the alley until the glow of the light bathed his face.

The area he saw before him was illuminated by the warm light of several streetlamps set up around what Apollo believed to be a plaza of some kind. There were shops lining the area around the little cobblestone courtyard, so that had it be it, right? Unfortunately for Apollo, it wasn’t the one he knew.

This was far from weird. It was as if Apollo had been transported to a different world. This was nothing like his home. There was no smell of the ocean’s breeze, no warmth of the sun as it hung high… the streets were unfamiliar, the buildings were unfamiliar… Panic began to settle in. He dug his nails into the brick of the wall as his breathing hitched in his throat.

Just… calm down, Apollo. You’re going to be fine. He took a deep breath, releasing it in a drawn out sigh. You just… need to calm down enough to figure out where you are because there is no way this is the Angelus Islands.

Apollo huffed a sigh. He needed somewhere to think, or even perhaps get some answers. The closest place had the same exterior as the rest of the square. Peering inside the large display window was like looking into another reality, the scenery changing from a rural village to something out of a science fiction novel. The window was full oer various gadgets tha Apollo couldn’t pin down uses for. All he cared about was the woman in her early thirties he spotted inside, busy with her work.

Finally … A stroke of good luck. Pushing himself off of the wall, Apollo shambled his way towards the door. Maybe whoever ran this place could give him some clear cut answers. THe door swung open with ease, ringing the small bell that as hanging above the doorway.

“We’re closed—” said the woman at the counter. She turned, her stern expression faltering for a second when Apollo slammed the door, leaning up against it for a bit more support. The woman clicked her tongue. “Oh. It’s just a kid.”

“Hey, I’m not a kid!” Apollo was shorter than most people his age, but he wasn’t that short. He pushed himself up, trying to stand up even though his legs were yelling at him to sit down for even a simple minute. He sighed. “Listen, my name is Apollo Justice. And I think I’m lost? Can you tell me where I am?”

“Huh? What are you talking about?” the woman asked, an eyebrow raised. “Did you hit your head?”

“Uh… I don’t think so? I mean…” Apollo winced as he forced the memory back to the surface, “that big glowing orb thing did kind of swallow me up… I don’t think it hurt me, though… a lot.” The woman straightened up, her gray eyes piercing Apollo like a knife. She sighed before kicking something out from behind the counter. It was a simple stool.

“Sit down, kid. Before you hurt yourself,” the woman ordered, turning back to the project she had been fiddling with when Apollo arrived.

“I told you, my name is Apollo Justice. And…” He sighed. Still clinging to the wall, Apollo slid over to the seat she had offered. He dropped down like a stone in water, relieved to finally have a moment to rest. “Thanks. Can you please answer my question now? Where am I?”

“You’re in Traverse Town, Justice.”

“Traverse Town…?” Yeah, that wasn’t somewhere Apollo had ever heard of before. He glanced up at the shopkeeper, swallowing down the sour feeling he had in his throat. “Um… how far is that from the Angelus Islands?” The woman stopped.

“The Angelus…” There was a second before she burst out in laughter.

“Wait, what’s so funny?!” The woman sighed, a smirk plastered on her face, as she turned to Apollo.

“I hate to disappoint you, but you’re very far from home.” The woman dropped to her knees. She pulled out a box underneath the countertop, rummaging through it as she went on. “If you’re in Traverse Town, it means that your world has fallen into the darkness and by mere luck, you survived.”

Apollo froze. The tension in his muscles grew tighter as a lump formed in his throat. That… That didn’t seem possible. It sounded like a nightmare, and a very accurate description of what Apollo seemed to have went through. Despite all of that question forming now in his mind, only one made it out of his mouth.

“What?” Apollo asked, raking a hand through his hair.

“Darkness.” Her grin grew wider. The woman pulled out a small bottle filled with something that was glowing and green. “Here, this should help.” She tossed the bottle to Apollo. He fumbled a bit before catching it. He popped it open, giving the woman a strange look.

“What is this?” The woman narrowed her eyes.

“It’s meant to heal you. Fix all that damage the ride over did.” With that gaze she was giving him, he wasn’t willing to argue the point. “Do you want to be able to move without hurting yourself or not?”

“Yeah…” Apollo sighed. It was like taking medicine when he was a kid. He just had to take this as quickly as possible to avoid the taste. Swallowing down his hesitation, Apollo began to drink what he had been given. It burned on the way down. Butt still, he kept going. ONly way to make it stop was to keep pushing through it.

“That ‘big glowing’ orb you saw was pure darkness,” the woman continued, watching Apollo chug down the mysterious contents of the bottle. “And it destroyed your world, just as it destroyed the worlds of all who live here. That’s why they call Traverse Town the home of the lost.” Apollo nearly choked on the last of the liquid. He coughed, doubling over as the final drop settled into his stomach like a brick.  Maybe it was the pain of drinking that clogging his mind, but had he heard her right?!

“Wait… did you just say worlds ?” said Apollo, setting the bottle on the floor. He could feel a bit of his strength starting to return to his limbs. “Like… plural? As in more than one?!” The woman’s smug smirk returned.

“Yes. It seems like you’re finally catching on.” She leaned up against the counter. “There are many worlds in our universe. And yours was just one of them. After all, this place isn’t where you came from, now is it?” He opened his mouth to reply, only for all his words to come out as a sigh. With everything that had just happened… this wasn’t beyond the realm of belief.

There were other worlds out there. And now, Apollo was in one of them. The one he had grown up in… his tiny, island paradise where he was happy… it had all been torn away. He wanted to deny it. It was crazy, it was… It was exactly what Trucy had been trying to tell him.

So… Trucy was right… and I yelled at her over it. Apollo stared at the floor, the guilt over what he had said to his younger sister tripled. I yelled at her… Wait… The feeling of her slipping through his fingertips ghosted over his palms. The image of her vanishing right before his eyes replayed in his mind. The color drained from his face. No…

If the other worlds were real… did that mean everything that happened that night on the island was real, too? Did that mean…. Did that mean Trucy really did fade away in the blink of an eye? That Athena was pulled down into a pool of darkness? That his entire home was gone, absorbed by a destructive abyss?

“You alright?” Apollo lifted his head to make eye contact with the woman before him. His mouth had gone suddenly dry.

“Y-Yeah… um…” Apollo dragged his hands down his face with a small groan. He couldn’t have been the only one there. If he survived maybe… maybe that meant they survived too. “H-Has anyone else come by asking about the Angelus Islands, miss?”

“Don’t call me ‘miss’. My name is Aura. Aura Blackquill.” With the way she glared at him, Apollo felt like she was going to bite his head off. Aura sighed. “And no. You’re the first. If you want to find someone from your world, I would start looking around immediately.”

“And if I can’t find anyone?”

“Then it means you’re the only one who made it out of there.” Apollo sighed. He was praying that wasn’t the case. He felt Aura’s hand on his shoulder. How had she made it over here so fast? “Try the hotel. That’s where most newcomers wind up.”

Apollo simply gave her a nod. He stood, finally feeling enough strength to stand on his own. Even though he still needed a chance to rest, he refused to sit still any longer. He exited the shop, the weight of everything he had been told settling in his stomach like a stone. He sighed, shoving his hands into his pockets and beginning his search.

He wandered around the streets, his mind spinning. Maybe he should have sat down a little longer… Apollo shook his head. No. He had to do this now. There was no more time to waste. If what happened on the islands was real… Then...

Trucy and Athena… I hope they’re okay… God, Trucy… she probably didn’t even make it, she was about to collapse— Apollo stopped cold in the street. He shook his head, trying to clear the thought away before it even had a chance to finish entering his mind.

No. Don’t think like that Apollo. Trucy’s fine. Athena’s fine. Mom’s probably here, too. They’re all just fine. And you’re fine, too. You’re going to find them. And then… Apollo sighed. Then you’ll figure something out.

A small jostle brought Apollo out of his thoughts. It was a mere bump, really. Nothing too big. He had been so wrapped up in his own mind that he failed to realize he was walking directly into the path of a woman. He murmured an apology, trying to get past. An arm shot out, halting the boy.

“I’ve never seen you around before,” said the woman, shooting a glance in Apollo’s direction. “I can show you around if you’d like.”

“I… I-I-I… uh…” Apollo chuckled nervously, taking a step back away from the barrier the woman created. “N-No, I’m fine.” She smirked.
“No need to hold back.” He wasn’t.

“No, really! I-It’s fine!” He really didn’t like that look she was giving him. He had a mission to accomplish, and this wasn’t the time to get distracted… or possibly mugged. “I’ll just be on my way!” The woman opened her mouth to reply, to try and persuade Apollo to come with her perhaps. All that came out was a raspy gasp as her eyes went wide.

In the midst of their conversation, neither the woman or Apollo noticed something form out of the alleyways where the light could not reach. A creature of pure shadow sensed the dark intentions in the woman’s heart. And it had leapt at it like a primal being, plunging its clawed hand into her chest. It ripped out something in the shape of a heart, glowing a dark red. The woman’s body dropped to the ground. Apollo slowly backed away as a pool of darkness formed under the woman’s body. It sunk in, and the woman vanished.

The heart, however, did not follow. The darkness wrapped around it, bubbling and oozing like blood. There was a hiss as the darkness took the distinct shape of the creature who had taken it. Now, Apollo was staring at two of the shadow beings. Those large yellow eyes… he could never forget them.

It’s those creatures from the islands! Apollo breath hitched in his throat. The phantom feeling of those caws wrapping around his body… the chill from the darkness… the stabbing pain… He shook his head. No, he couldn’t let those kinds of feelings take over. Something deep inside told him not to let them win. But… he couldn’t fight these things. He was unarmed, and there was no way he could fight them with his fists. Apollo felt himself hold out his arm.

There was a flash of light from the palm of his hand. A heavy weight fell into it, and Apollo instinctively wrapped his fingers around a handle. Apollo stared at the weapon that had materialized. It was the same one that answered his call during the fall of the Angelus Islands. So, that’s how it worked? He just had to hold out his arm and think about it to summon it? That… was a lot simpler than he thought.

His feet moved on their own. Apollo swung the weapon, cutting through the creatures with ease. It felt like it was natural. Holding that thing, using it… even fighting the shadows. Apollo sighed, standing up straight. He stared down at the mserty blade. It… was probably a good idea to keep it out and hope that the thing didn’t vanish like it had done before. He could figure out how to do that later.

 


 

 

Traverse Town was smaller than Apollo was used to. The main island was sprawling with homes and hills that all lead towards the coastline. It wasn’t big, per say. Just more… spread out. Traverse Town, on the other hand, was like a city. It was compacted together with buildings cramped side-by-side. It wasn’t like Apollo was complaining about it. It made his search easier.

And it would have been easy, but nothing for Apollo was ever made simple. Those shadow creatures came out from every single nook and cranny, jumping the young man whenever they could. They ambushed him countless times, lunging and trying to get pull the boy to the ground. He did what he only thought of doing. HE ought back, slicing through the shadows until there was nothing left.

It was strange, really. Apollo didn’t have the skill to fight with… whatever he had in his hand. To him, it like someone was guiding him and his movements, not pulling him and jerking him around like a puppet. Apollo still had a semblance of control. He felt like this mysterious force was something like a… like a teacher pushing his body into the correct positions. Or some thousand year old deity that he had been forced to share a body with.

Whatever the case, shadows or no shadows, Apollo’s efforts to find someone from his beloved home were proven to be fruitless. He had walked around in circles for what felt like hours before finally making it back toto the town square. He groaned, leaning up against one of the walls an raking  a hand through his hair.

Keep your head up, Apollo. Everyone made it off the islands just fine. They’re all fine. They’re fine they’re fine, they’re fine. They have to be here somewhere. Maybe you just… Apollo sighed, pushing himself up. You just need to take another look around town. Yeah, that’s it.

Perhaps he just missed them. Perhaps they were looking for him too, and they just passed by each other without realizing it. Yeah, that had to be it. Apollo just had to remain positive. He was going to find them, no matter what. He took a step forward, prepared to start his search anew.

“They’ll come at you from out of nowhere.” Apollo froze. The voice’s owner rounded the corner, walking calmly towards Apollo. He wore a jacket similar to that of a soldier's fit, albeit far longer and stopping just above his knees. He looked like he didn’t belong there, just as Apollo did.

The young man stared at Apollo with sharp green eyes, his long, lavender colored braid shifting from its place on his shoulder as he came to a stop.

“They’ll keep coming after you so long as you continue to wield that Keyblade,” said the man, raising a gloved hand to point at the weapon Apollo was holding.

“The… Keyblade?” He stared at the blade. Was that what this thing was called? ...well, at least the name made sense. The man sighed, clicking his tongue.

“But why?” he said, lowering his arm. “Why would it choose someone like you?”

“Hey!” He wasn’t sure about their age gap, but the man before him didn’t look to be that much older than Apollo himself. “What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“Nevermind. Let me see that Keyblade.” The young man walked towards Apollo, holding out his hand. Wait… Apollo shifted, digging his heel into the stone and tightening his grip on the blade in hand.

“There’s no way I’m letting you get your hands on this!” The words had come tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop them, his eyes narrowing as they did so. The man stopped, as if surprised for a split second by Apollo’s act of defiance.

“Fine.” His voice had taken a firm tone, shards of icy jutting out from each letter. He unhooked something from his waist. “Have it your way.”

Without hesitation, something shot out from the man’s hand. Apollo jumped back, allowing it to strike the ground where he once stood. If he hadn’t moved… Apollo’s grit his teeth. He didn’t want to fight. The man pulled back whatever he had thrown at Apollo before rushing him.

He may not have wanted a fight, but it seemed like Apollo had no choice but to defend himself. He swallowed down something, sliding out of the way of the stranger as he came at him, a blow narrowly missing.

The stranger was too close for Apollo’s liking. It gave him the advantage, allowing his to draw back his elbow into Apollo’s ribcage. Another hit made contact with his stomach. Apollo slid back, trying to regain lost breath. He had to get away from this nutcase. Who randomly attack a stranger they just met?!

Apollo took a few steps back. Once more, the young man drew out what Apollo was starting to suspect was his weapon. He shot it out again. Apollo threw up his Keyblade to block. Something scratched the surface of his face. He got a good look at what the man was using. It was a whip, the tail strung up with thick beads.

An idea formed in his head.

Apollo grabbed the whip, giving it a sharp pull. The stranger dug his heels into the ground, but Apollo could catch his heels skidding. He would pull this guy towards him. All he needed was one blow. One blow to incapacitate him. Then, he would shuck off this… whip-thing whatever and run.

He was getting closer. Closer and closer… Apollo raised his knee, ready to land the single hit he was willing to give—

Something heavy struck him across the back of the head. His grip on both weapons slacked. The solid hit was enough. He dropped to his knees, falling onto the cobblestone. He could barely keep his eyes open.

“You’re slipping, ‘Yuta!” Even in his muddled mind, Apollo could tell that wasn’t the voice of the stranger he fought. It was higher-pitched, feminine and carried a bit more of an upbeat attitude. There was a sigh from the stranger. Apollo heard the sound of the beads scraping against his blade.

“Your help was not needed,” said the stranger.

“Didn’t look that way to me,” fired back the feminine voice. “But hey, look on the bright side. You found the key! Nice.”

“No, it’s not.” The stranger sighed. “If it’s in the hands of an ametuar like this… then things are far worse than we expected.” Apollo felt the weapon vanish from his hand. It wasn’t even pried away or taken from him. It was just gone. Apollo’s vision blurred into one disconcernable mass of color. He slipped into darkness once again.

 


 

 

Their fortune couldn’t be getting anymore wrose, could it? Ema sincerely hope that wasn’t the case. And yet, here they were. She and Gumshoe were having no luck in finding the queen’s son. How hard could it have been to fid one person? Ema sighed. It seemed like the only good thing to have happened was finding their otherworldly disguises. Her new clothes were comfortable, and she could move easily in them. As long as she could aim properly and didn’t end up with blisters on her feet, she didn’t care. And as long as no one questioned the coat.

“Aren’t you scared, Ema?” Gumshoe asked, breaking the silence that had built up between them as they walked down the alley. “This entire place spooks me.”

“No. I’m not scared,” Ema replied, despite the fact that the darkness of the alleyway was far beyond unsettling for her, “Who says that I’m scared? Not me. I’ve faced worse.” She was a grown woman. She couldn’t be afraid of a little darkness. Not now, and not anymore.

Something tapped Ema’s shoulder. She jumped with a yelp, grabbing onto her companion’s arm as a chill ran up her spine. That better not have been one of those damned creatures, because she swore if it was—

“Excuse me.” Ema slacked her grip. Both she and Gumshoe turned. Standing behind them was a young girl, her long brown hair done into two twin-tail braids. The pair exchanged a look with each other.

“Can we help you?” Gumshoe asked. The little girl nodded.

“Did Queen Amara send you?” Ema felt a smirk pull on the nervous features that the little girl’s sudden appearance painted on it. Maybe now things would start to go right.

 


 

 

She was sore. Her body felt like an entire bruise that had just come in from the cold. The first thing she registered was the cool feeling underneath her. Cool stone… smooth, like a polished gem. With a groan, the redhead girl pushed herself up onto her knees. The sound of a roaring waterfall hit her ears.

“Where…?” she murmured, rubbing a hand at her eyes. She looked around. This… wasn't where she was before. She was sitting on stone platform in some kind of ravine. Waterfalls surrounded the cavern entrance. They were near entrancing with the way they fell. In the light, she could have sworn that the waterfalls were flowing upwards.

The girl shook her head. Where she was… something about it held a faint sense of familiarity. She dug her fingers into the palm of her hand. With a huff, she forced herself to stand. Immediately, the skin along her body tightened, causing her to wince.

There were marks forming on her arms and legs, red and tight like some weird sort of sunburn. They didn’t radiated that painful heat that her sunburns usually gave off. Instead, it was near freezing. Nothing about these marks seemed normal. What the heck happened to her? …

Her eyes widened as the memories returned. That night… those creatures… the door… Her breakdown, letting those dark tendrils wrap around her… Apollo’s shouting her name before his everything around her was reduced to white noise. Athena whirled around.

Apollo and Trucy… They had been with her one the island that night. She had lost sight of Trucy when that door opened… and Apollo… she didn’t know what happened to him. But if they got the same treatment she did… they had to be hear, right? Right?

“APOLLO!” Athena shouted, her voice scratching at her throat. “TRUCY!” The only response she got was her own echo. There wasn’t even the reply of a stranger’s voice. That echo laid heavy in her heart. She was alone. She was truly alone. Athena dropped to her knees, doubling over. Tears built in the corners of her eyes until finally the dam broke. They ran like a river, rolling down her cheeks in thick drops.

This is just like before… except this time… no one will come and find me…

Athena, lost in the sea of her own despair, failed to realize that someone had indeed found her, watching the young girl sob from her place on the ridge.