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Reverse Kingdom

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With a start, Riku's eyes snapped open, turquoise meeting the darker, true blue of a cloudless sky. A soft gasp slipped past his lips, though he didn't know why. The familiar feel of the sand below his body registered to him, as well as the soft ocean breeze, the smells of the beachside. It would have been easy to lose himself in the familiar comfort, if not for the last image that made its way to the forefront of his mind.

All at once, he popped upright, head turning to his right to meet the scene from his memory. Sora was lying upon the sand as he had been, but was unconscious. This alarmed him, not just because his best friend was attacked by that black figure, but because another if not the same black figure sat not too far away upon the ledge, looking at them.

"There is no waking Sora," the figure said to him, the masculine voice carrying well despite its slight monotone.

"...What...did you do to him?" he demanded, moving onto his feet, though he was unsteady. There was a throbbing in his head, and he had to take his time to stand.

The figure's head slightly turned away, a soft, irritated sound strangely akin to a snarl emitting from them. "I did nothing. I got here not too long ago. You were both out when I arrived," the person continued. There was...something about their voice that rubbed Riku the wrong way...

He softly exhaled, closing his eyes from the pain budding in his head. Placing a hand on his forehead, he lowered back to the sand.

Watching him, the figure moved off the ledge and began to approach. "...Yeah. It hit me pretty hard...getting those memories back..."

"What...memor..." Trailing off, Riku went quiet as his mind brought said memories to the front of his mind. He went still, eyes wide in shock, as all of what happened during a time so foreign and yet so familiar replayed in his mind's eye.

Keyblades...

...Kingdom Hearts...

The Organization...

Kairi.

Darkness...

...Maleficent...

He closed his eyes again.

The unknown person was closer, now, and looking over Sora. The brunet was supine, arms at his sides, in a most unnatural way. "...Got everything back, then, Riku?" they asked.

"Who...who are you...?" There would be a time to try to figure out what it all meant, but Riku felt that it was not that time. Yet. He looked up, an eye open to stare at the person.

Their hood, though not the same as the figure that had attacked Sora, allowed him to see just a bit of the lower part of their face. Pale, veiny skin was visible, as well as almost silvery-purple lips. "...Someone from the Darkness," they murmured, moving away from Sora, and away from Riku as well. "...Someone who...does not know if they should be...or should not."

"Show yourself," Riku said, finally managing to stand onto his feet. The initial hostility he felt towards the unknown figure had strangely subsided, as if he knew who the person was. It was as if they were a magnet and he was trying to connect to them. "...I...know you...don't I?"

"So you sense it, as well. Though...I doubt you remember that far back..." The figure shook their head, and then motioned to Sora with a wave. "He is unconscious, from what I can tell, but I would not take my word for it. Whomever hit him did it with something I have never come into contact with, which is...hard to believe, considering all the places I have visited...all the things I have seen..." they conversed.

The distraction worked, and Riku looked back at his friend. The last memory he had was of Sora being attacked by a...taller, and somehow more menacing figure, now that he recalled it. The details of how, however, were blurry. He just remembered being enraged, and...attacking that figure. Then everything went black.

"...You were watching us?" he asked softly.

Another hand wave, this one dismissive. "No. Unless you mean watching over you. Then yes. After I failed to awaken you two, I merely stayed."

"Thank you..." The words left Riku's mouth before he was aware. This brought him back to the figure's identity, but wisely let it go for the moment. He came to Sora's side, lowering beside him, and sighed. "...You were right, Sora. I remember everything, now...even Kairi," he murmured, his tone somber with regret. Why didn't he...remember...sooner...?

He then took the time to think about this for a moment. Why was it that he "remembered" anything at all? The past...year...happened...didn't it? But it conflicted harshly with his memories of his..."current" life, the one he lived blissfully unaware with until just moments ago. As Sora had said, it was as if he remembered two lives, but both were his. Both were as real as the other. The only difference was he was currently living one of them.

...Both figures, however...He looked up at the one observing him as he observed back. They were new to both memories.

"...You said 'getting those memories back'..." he said to them. "Do you mean to say you have memories of two lives, too?"

With crossed arms, the figure looked away again. Perhaps that was something they didn't intend to have said aloud. Taking this moment of silence to his advantage, Riku studied them.

The coat they wore was drastically different from the Black Coats Organization XIII was so known for wearing. Those were uniform, pristine and yet served their purpose to make their wearers enigmatic. This one worn by the figure was...ragged, with a frayed hem and ripped in several places. It was...more like a cloak than a coat, now that he studied it, and seemed comprised of a single large black cloth with a hood that was also frayed at the edges. Their loose, baggy pants were also rather tattered, and they walked barefoot on the sand.

Their most defining feature was that their pale skin was visible. Not just some of their face...but their arms. They were sickly pale, with near-purple veins visible under the surface of their heavily scarred, burned flesh. A pale, black figure...

"Two lives...no," they finally answered, a sort of growl in their voice. "More like...recollections of lies and a pathetic sham of an existence in one set of memories...and the other set...a series of unfortunate events that make the pathetic sham of an existence greatly desired in exchange."

Something about the way the person was speaking was irritatingly familiar to Riku...and not in a good way. Yet still, he sensed no need to be hostile or even concerned for his and Sora's well-being in their presence. It was more reactionary thought than instinct telling him to do so.

He frowned. "Which one is the present...existence?" he carefully asked.

For another moment, the figure was still. Letting out a soft, resigned scoff, they then turned back to him. "You tell me," they challenged, reaching up to lower their hood, "...if you can even tell who I was."

The face that stared out between long silver bangs was shockingly familiar...yet...hauntingly unfamiliar. Piercing turquoise eyes with slanted, cat-like pupils stared between the locks, into his very soul, and there was no mistaking it, despite the horrible changes.

"...You're..." he breathed, equal turquoise eyes wide with shock and horror, "that...replica."

Hands out, the sickly twin gave a dark, twisted smirk. "That replica. Indeed, Riku, I am that replica from Castle Oblivion. The one created by Vexen of Organization XIII, the Chilly Academic." Hands dropping dramatically, he leaned forward and asked, "So then. Any thoughts about my changes in this dark, new existence?"

There was little to say, and Riku stared upon the prominent veins that bulged around the unnaturally glowing eyes with morbid fascination. Despite the pale, veiny skin, the cat-like pupils, discolored lips, and shoulder-length, unkempt hair, it was his replica. The last thing he recalled of his replica was him fading away...with the hopes to join with his own being, one day. And he had hoped that for him, too. But...this..."...What...happened to you...?" he asked, shockingly earnest in his inquiry. And it showed, he was sure, in his voice and upon his face.

Eyes narrowing, his twin replied, "You would never guess it. You would not understand. But considering I just recalled it as well..." He looked away yet again, raising his hood to cover his hair, but not his face. "...It is unimportant, Riku. Never you mind. It will...all be revealed in due time—"

These words seemed to be the last tip Riku needed. "It was her...wasn't it?" he interrupted without thinking. "...You even speak like her."

Both twins were deathly silent the moment the words left his mouth. The difference was Riku stood with clenched hands and a locked jaw, whereas his former replica stood with wide eyes, a horrified expression and a mouth still open in the motion of forming words. 

Slowly, his mouth closed, causing teeth to clench as the pale twin stared off at nothing. Upon his face, his expression worsened, looking more haunted and terrified as the seconds passed. He then slowly turned his head to look at Riku with that very expression, but this time with unsaid acknowledgement to the spoken words.

Upon seeing that face, cold, shivering dread passed through Riku's body. "...How long?" he almost whispered.

"...Fourteen years," came the monotone response. "...Fourteen...long...years."

Immediately, though for reasons he couldn't put into words, Riku began to approach, but the long swaying hair stopped him.

"I...When I...recalled those other memories...it gave me just enough willpower to leave. I came here...to look for you. So easily, I found you..." His haunted expression worsened, his gaze staring past Riku as his thoughts overcame him. "When she realizes I am no longer there...I do not know...if I have the strength to resist her when she calls me back."

"You can. You will," Riku encouraged, taking a few steps forward. He only stopped because his twin was moving away.

The pale twin's head lowered, and he briefly closed his eyes. "...Ease your worries for me, right now, Riku. All of that is...inevitable. If I ever get the chance...I shall tell you of my story, now that I remember it." He slowly approached, but hesitantly. "...Instead, we should worry about Sora..." he said, evasive.

Riku understood. Without a doubt, his former replica was traumatized. He so dearly wanted to know the details of exactly why he was in such a condition, but it wasn't his place. "...You can at least tell me your name," he said, moving back towards Sora with hesitance in his own steps. "...Do you remember it?" he added softly, not meaning to offend.

The twin glanced up at him, and then watched him lower to lift Sora into his arms. A small, contented smile spread upon his lips. Looking from the unconscious brunet to Riku, he murmured, "...Sekai. My name is Sekai."

Chapter Text

The book dropped to the floor, her eyes wide with jarred shock. The other patrons of the library looked up at her, confusion evident in their myriad of expressions. None of the expressions, however, were nearing concern the way her older companion's did, and he swiftly crossed the small gap between them to come to her side.

"Kairi?" he asked softly. "Are you alright?"

She didn't hear him, nor did she feel the hand placed gently on her backside as she began to lean forward. Her gaze glazed over, her breathing deepened, nearing a panic, and forming tears blurred her vision. Years and years of recollections flowed into her mind, dreams and hopes and wants ringing in her ears of a time distant and yet so harrowingly familiar.

...What...How...Why...?

Abruptly, she found her strength and bolted away, not caring as she nearly bumped into people and caused them to scramble out of her path. She all but barreled down the stairs to the ground floor, and then left the first passage of the familiar—horribly familiar—castle to the large foyer before nearing the doors to the outside.

"Kairi! Where are you going?" her friend called to her from the balcony.

...Was he really her friend...? Her conflicting memories both assured and betrayed her. Briefly, she shut her eyes before pushing the castle doors open.

Radiant Garden was magnificent, both memories assured that. The sky was a unique, lovely shade of salmon-pink, with wisps off-white clouds floating about, and further out in the world, there were glimpses of the blue of the ground. Two familiar guards turned around to see her, though their figures clashed harshly with her sets of memories and she tensed upon seeing them.

The two older, burly men nodded respectfully at her, if not suspiciously upon see her distraught expression, and then resumed their posts. However, she didn't give them much of a chance to do so before running away from the approaching footsteps behind her.

"Kairi!" the same young man called out.

As she ran, he heard the older men ask her..."friend" what was wrong, but nothing more before she was too far away. She didn't know where she was going. She didn't know if she could go anywhere. But she ran.

Riku.

The name that just moments ago meant nothing to her rang in her mind.

Sora.

The pools in her eyes broke as she closed them, causing tears to stream down her face.

Rounding a corner, she nearly ran into a tall figure that exclaimed as she ran past. Seeing them sent another chill of clashing familiarity and hostility within her, and she continued to run. They, too, called after her, though questioningly, and from the sound of it, did not pursue.

Inside of a market square, she received several more looks of confusion and growing concern from other faces, new to one set of memories and familiar to another, but ignored them all. Her name was being called, people were wondering. A logical voice inside her mind told her she was only going to make things even more confusing later, but she couldn't listen to that logic. Not when nothing else was making sense. Panic and confusion were rampant within her, adrenaline pumping through her system, and she was sure she could run to the Crystal Fissure if no one stopped her.

Perhaps it was moments, perhaps it was minutes, perhaps it was longer, but what seemed like seconds after that errant train of thought, she did collide into someone, and would have fallen to the ground, if not for deft hands that kept her upright. The force from her movement, however, had them nearly dancing for a moment as the seemingly adult man prevented her from falling. This all happened in seconds, and when they finally went still, she immediately looked up, only to go still with worsening horror.

"Whoa, there, Miss Kairi," the man slightly chuckled, "there's nowhere to go that requires all that."

She said nothing, her body tense with apprehension, heavy breaths from exertion emitting from her nose. The brown eyes were unusually friendly, smiling down at her with familiarity that, for the umpteenth time, was familiar to only one set of her confused memories. He let her go, but she didn't move, knowing there was no longer anywhere to go, not with him around.

A black brow rose at her expression and the tears upon her face, his visage turning defensive with concern. "...What's wrong, anyway?" he asked, glancing about them. This was nothing unusual, even to her. He was, after all, also a guard.

...And her personal guardian.

Pursing her lips, she inched away, head lowering though she kept her eyes locked on him.

His expression changed. "Oh...You're looking at me like that..." he droned, a strange smile spreading on his pointedly scar-less face. None too comforting. "Not many reasons for that sort of look thrown my way."

Warily, she watched as his arrowgun appeared in a gloved hand, and he looked over it with idle interest. She suddenly found herself hoping she had been followed by that friend of hers...

Her memories of the one called Braig—at least, in the current continuity of memories—were surprisingly friendly, in comparison to the view at them from the second continuity of memories. He was a guard of the castle, like Aeleus and Dilan from earlier, and all three men were present in her earliest memories of peaceful life in Radiant Garden. It was strange. On the one hand, if her rapidly intervening logic was sound, there was actually no reason to be wary of him.

On the other hand, as her warring memories impressed upon her, there was every reason to be wary of the Number II of Organization XIII.

The sudden movement of his gun rising caused her eyes to shut and body to tense in preparation of an attack, and she cried out upon hearing the laser shot. But nothing happened. In fact, after a moment of silence, he softly chuckled. Slowly, she opened her eyes, meeting his wry grin just as he rested his gun on his shoulder.

"Just a Heartless, Miss Kairi," he teased, motioning to something that was behind her with a nod of his head. His gaze was shrewd, expression all too aware. "You're not forgetting where you ran off to, now, did you?"

Only then did she glance around. Indeed, she was far from the inhabited area of the town, nearing the Ravine Trail, and hadn't even noticed in her panic and confusion.

Upon seeing the realization cross her face, he nodded in some semblance of understanding. "Oh, yeah. Preeetty far from where the Claymores can reach. At least for now," he said, his casual words at odds with his expression. He once again eyed his gun. "Ienzo got real worried upon seeing you bolt off like that. Figured you must have finally awoken from that dreamlike existence."

This caught her attention, despite herself. She looked back up at him, managing to softly murmur, "Dream...?"

"Dreamlike," he repeated, nodding idly. "So Kingdom Hearts...the Organization...Xehanort...All of that. I get why you're afraid of me. We all went through memories of that. Only ones not awake yet are those two kids—well, they're not kids so much, anymore..."

Her head shook, a trembling hand reaching up to rest on her forehead as a throbbing pain swelled. "I don't...I..." she began, more tears pouring from her closing eyes.

His sly expression finally dropped and he lowered his gun, which disappeared with a haze of purple and black. A soft exhale escaped him, and he focused his attention onto her fully. "...Hell, I'm still just as confused as you are, and I was one of the first to awaken. Let's just get back to the castle; Even and Ienzo can explain more, alright?" he said, his tone different from before. Strangely kind, yet it was also...a familiar kindness. Familiar from those memories.

Wordlessly, she nodded, but slowly sunk to the ground. At first, only a soft whimpering sob escaped her, and she immediately went quiet, but it didn't last longer than a few seconds. In yet seconds more she was sobbing, eyes tightly shut. "S-Sora..." she managed between her cries, holding her head. "Ri-Riku..."

Gone was his playful demeanor, replaced with one of understanding and perhaps undertones of slight guilt. He glanced away from her, placing his hands behind his back, but said nothing.

He didn't so much as twitch when a sudden gust of wind swept through. He merely glanced over. Aeleus and Dilan had arrived, the former of which was lifting Kairi's distraught form gently into his arms. The latter, of course, stood nearer to him, holding one of six gleaming, floating lances at his neck.

"What did you do?" Dilan's deep baritone was almost a growl.

He slightly scoffed, amused, despite everything. "How come Ienzo trusts me more than you do?" he countered. He nodded towards her. "She's obviously taking this all in as wonderfully as you'd expect."

The lance was removed, but it slightly dragged, leaving a superficial scar upon his neck. He scowled, but otherwise didn't react. He and the former Number III of Organization XIII exchanged hostile glances before focusing their attention onto Kairi and Aeleus.

Her adrenaline rush had spent, rendering her lethargic, and the distance she ran didn't aid her situation. She could only cry, tensely huddled in on herself in the man's arms, her body language screaming distrust, wretched confusion and obvious fright. Aeleus' grave expression was turned on them, and they nodded at him.

Upon a magnificent dragon made of lances, the three guards and the Princess returned to the castle in solemn silence, intermittent only with the sounds of soft cries.

Sora...Riku...

Kairi's heart ached in her chest with an overwhelming longing that threatened to swallow her.

Where are you...?

Chapter Text

The silence in the room was stifling and awkward. And painfully obvious. No amount of gratuitous, gracious cups of tea and coffee would change that. Biting her lower lip, she tentatively glanced about the room. Though they had obviously spoken to each other at least once before then, roughly four of the eight men seemed just as uncomfortable as she was in each other's presence. At least slightly. 

Ansem, returning to his chair after passing about drinks for his guests for the third time, seemed to acknowledge her thoughts with an inaudible, patient sigh. She sat closest to him in the only other chair in the room. He wasn't clashing with her memories the way the others did.

Standing near the doorway, Braig kept his eyes on his coffee, blowing gently over the hot liquid before taking a tentative sip. At least half of the room's occupants had glared at him once, but he seemed not to care about it.

Sitting beside Aeleus, Dilan rested his chin upon his folded hands, gaze lowered and evidently contemplative. His tea sat cooling upon the coffee table, undisturbed since it was poured.

Even, on the other hand, openly gazed upon his companions while sitting beside Ienzo. His stark green eyes pierced into each of them, lingering hardest on a certain redhead every now and them. He didn't seem angered over whatever it was causing him to do so, however.

As he sat beside Dilan, Aeleus rested against the couch with his arms crossed, but mirrored his companion's expression with a lowered, contemplative gaze. A deep frown set upon his face, his brows gradually furrowing at some thought.

The barely audible sound of a sip emitted from Ienzo as he drank his tea, his eyes closed and seemingly ignoring most of everyone in the room.

Also rather close to the door, sitting beside his childhood friend, Isa had an arm crossed over his lap and resting on his other. He was expressionless save for the occasional, heavy sigh that caused him to briefly close his eyes.

Lastly, Lea's lithe fingers reached for his cup of coffee, and he emitted a loud, intentional sigh, truly breaking the silence in the room. "So, then, Kairi," he said between a sip, "as you can see, at least half of us hate each other for some reason..."

Even scoffed, "It would be 'some reason' if we didn't exactly know why. But what bothers me is that these emotions do not have true bearing in this...timeline."

"Is that what we're calling it, now...?" Braig muttered between another drink of his coffee.

"Do you have a better term, Braig?"

"How 'bout 'Existence', maybe?"

"In any case," the scientist continued, pointedly ignoring him, "I'm irked that we're bothered by events that never actually happened. Perhaps that is why, in fact."

Ienzo hummed. "But do we have proof that it never happened outside of our vivid recollections?" he mused aloud. "Or are our shared memories the only proof we have?"

"I would imagine so, hypothetically."

Braig tried not to roll his eyes. "How the hell would you call that proof?" he demanded, looking up at them. "Nothing in our 'now' even hints 'that existence' really happened. Who's to say these memories weren't implanted or something?"

"Conspiracies, now?" Even tut, looking away with a dismissively shake of his head.

The raven-haired man dangerously narrowed his eyes. "You really want to make me a villain, don't you?"

"I agree with him, Even," Aeleus murmured, his gaze rising, though not looking at anyone directly. "We cannot forget that he was affected by this, as well. He isn't bound to his memories of what happened any more or less than we are."

"And up until our awakening, we were all living in harmony," Isa added. Beside him, Lea nodded in agreement.

A green eye slanted dangerously. "While I do agree, I'm not so naïve to believe this suddenly means not one of us are unaffected by these recollections. What else of our previous existences, if you will, have each of us told the other in its entirety?" Even coolly asked them at length, glancing at each in the room, save for Kairi. "Secrets? Lies? Can we really continue to trust one another as we did in this existence with the possibility of our compromised identities?"

Once more, the room went silent as the weight and implications of his words settled in. Looking at them, Kairi grew worried. She was still coming to uneasy grips that the Organization XIII members from her other memories no longer existed, only for this to make all too much sense.

Were any of them truly trustworthy?

In her mind, the ones they needed to worry about most were Braig, the former confidant of the Organization mastermind; Isa, the former second-in-command of the Organization (and someone who kidnapped her); and Lea, the former assassin with too many ulterior motives...and the first person who kidnapped her. Somehow, she felt her sentiment was also shared amongst some of the others.

The redhead in question, however, was having none of that. "Well, good-fucking-job, Even," he sighed, glaring at the academic. He looked about the faces that focused on him, nodding in sarcastic agreement, before returning his glare upon the older man. "Way to spread the seeds of doubt and mistrust in an already testy situation. What do you want us to do now, huh? Have us locked up for crimes we didn't commit? That'd include you, too...y'know, for fucking banishing your king and all."

Even grimaced, but said nothing in his defense.

"Language, Lea," came Dilan's harsh monotone as he motioned towards Kairi.

She made a face of confusion. "I'm not a child..."

Beginning to open his mouth to say something, he paused in thought. He then smiled a bit, as did Aeleus, Even, and even Braig—though he tried to hide it—and he bowed his head towards her. "My apologies, Miss..."

Huffing, Lea waved his hand. "And what does the royalty say about this?" he asked, addressing her and Ansem, though mainly his king. More than one eye glared disapprovingly upon him at his tone of voice, but he pointedly ignored it.

Having remained silent through this, Ansem spent his time thinking about, contemplating on and digesting both their words and their situation. Several important, poignant points were made, and his eyes briefly closed before he spoke.

"In all the many years we have studied together, both in this existence and the other, there are no words to be found to describe the phenomena we are facing," he carefully mused, slowly shaking his head. His gaze was idle, lowered, and staring past his fingers intertwined before him. "At this point in time, we cannot be sure what action to take, as we don't know the conditions of the other worlds, or if the same worlds are in this existence."

There was another momentary silence as the faces before him reacted accordingly to this realization, and then a spark of an idea shone upon Lea's face.

He leaned forward. "We can always use the Corri—"

"No," Isa growled, causing his friend to startle at the vehemence in his voice. His arms were crossed, upper lip curled in a snarl, though he stared forward at no one. "We are not dealing with the Darkness as we once did, this time. Not again."

Blinking at him, Lea focused fully on his friend. "...Isa..." he began, brows furrowing in concern.

"I agree," Ansem conceded, nodding towards the younger man. "It is too dangerous to open Corridors, as it has always been, and to pass through them as we are now is merely inviting danger."

"But why?" Braig asked, obviously curious. His question was met with a nod from Lea.

Ienzo shrugged, having figured it out. "We simply don't know what's out there, anymore," he simplified.

"The Emblem Heartless do not converge here," Even elaborated, "and goodness knows what that could mean if this is originally where they were discovered—at least, in that other existence. Do they no longer exist? What are the properties of Darkness, now? Who is to say we will even end up where we want if the location no longer exists to begin with? It's simply too risky to simply traverse the Corridors unprotected."

Lea grunted, shaking his head. "You are all way too negative," he muttered, looking away from them.

Raising his gaze, Ansem swept the room with his eyes. Nearest to him, Kairi seemed beside herself at the recently spoken words, no doubt distressed over the theory of her friends no longer existing. Evidently, Isa was emotionally distressed over what had happened to him in the other existence, whereas both his friend and Braig were likely thinking of something reckless. Ienzo and Even were quietly theorizing in their minds, as were Aeleus and Dilan, in their unique ways.

There wasn't much to motivate him against explaining the few hopes they had, despite all of this. "There is, however, this good news," he said to them.

All at once, their myriad of eyes focused on him.

He pressed his fingertips together. "If nothing else, we do know this," he began, looking directly at the young woman near him, "that you, Kairi, remain a Princess of Heart."

Her eyes widened. "I...am?" she questioned. "How?"

Suddenly, the other men in the room made various sounds of realization.

Braig reacted first, chuckling to himself and rolling his neck to glance at the ceiling. "It aaall makes sense, now," he drawled with a sigh before returning to his coffee.

"Jeez, is that what was going on?" Lea sighed long-sufferingly, glancing at Isa, who merely shook his head with a small smile.

"Why didn't we recall it sooner?" Even muttered to himself, eyes wide and looking at Ienzo, who mirrored the same expression. "This is wonderful!"

His godson stifled a laugh. "Well, I wouldn't call it 'wonderful', considering all she went through, but it gives so much hope..."

"Incredible. Simply incredible," Dilan murmured, his eyes closed. Beside him, Aeleus hummed in appreciation.

Blinking at them, Kairi's brows furrowed. "I...don't understand?" Just a moment ago, she thought she did, but their all-too-knowing reactions destroyed any hope she had of that. "What does that mean?" she asked Ansem.

The king gave her a slightly apologetic smile on behalf of his apprentices and the two boys. "You likely do not remember, but ever since you were very young, Pureblood Heartless have clamored over you, fighting for your heart, to no avail," he explained. "While this is drastically different from what happened in the previous existence, I believe the reason is because you are a Princess of Heart—a Princess of Heart of this existence."

She shook her head, slowly digesting this. "But that doesn't prove it..."

"No...but there was someone you met several years ago who also sensed the power within you," he continued, "and they sensed it in a way only someone of their kind could. They told me to protect you at all costs, though I had never seen them before. Furthermore, they gave you the very charm you wear to this day." He pointed to the pearl necklace around her neck.

Gasping, she raised it in her palm and stared at it. "...Someone...?" she whispered, distracted by the sudden sheen of magic over it she had never noticed until then.

He leaned back in his chair, lacing his fingers together as he vividly recalled that day. "They parted from Hollow Bastion when you were four, leaving behind your necklace and their name," he said, closing his eyes.

"Their name?" she repeated, peeling her gaze from the pearl. "What was it?"

His eyes opened, and he glanced to the ceiling. "Even after all these years, I've never forgotten. Her name was Aqua."

The moment the name left him, the sudden image of a young woman with blue hair, although blurry, appeared in Kairi's mind. "...Aqua," she breathed, the name filling her with great, renewed hope...and a sudden, overwhelming sadness.

Chapter Text

From the sound of the noises coming from outside the castle, Radiant Garden seemed to be a battleground. Kairi couldn't believe the invaders were only Heartless and Nobodies, though she was well aware just how army-like and overwhelming the incomplete beings could be; her memories from the other existence in The Castle that Never Was were just the tip of the iceberg, she was sure. From the glimpses she could see of the castle grounds from the windows she passed, the numbers of these beings were absurdly massive. It was a full-scale invasion. They weren't ready for it.

The panic around her was managing to erode whatever calm state of mind she had initially summoned. The inhabitants of the castle, citizens and guards alike, were rushing here and there, being ushered into directions and orders were being relayed. The hand at the small of her back was the only anchor she had to keep her focused on her destination, though she was so overwhelmed, and growing worse, that she scarcely even knew where she was going.

They turned a corner, down a hall, and then towards a room where she immediately noticed the elder woman inside. "Grandma!" she called, immediately running into the room without any encouragement. The woman smiled upon seeing her and held her in her arms when she was hugged.

"Thank you," she heard a familiar voice say to someone, and she broke from the hug to look behind her. Ansem was also in the room, and he was thanking Braig, who had escorted her.

The raven-haired man merely shrugged, but closed the door behind them without facing it. He wore a most unusual and unreadable expression upon his face, but it wasn't a good sign.

"Kairi."

She turned back to her grandmother, who looked upon her with a kind but stern expression.

"It is time to leave. You aren't safe here, dear," the woman said, reaching up to place her hand on her granddaughter's cheek.

At these words, a sudden sadness overcame Kairi, causing her to shake her head in denial at what it must have meant. "...No. I don't want to leave you. Isn't there a way we can all leave, together?" she asked, almost pleading.

The fireplace in the room, at her far right, suddenly went out, catching her attention. She then watched as it then moved backwards, revealing a hidden passageway that two familiar young men entered from.

"Isa, Lea," Ansem addressed them, "is it ready?"

Lea's expression was also unfamiliar to Kairi, and he raised one of his chakram to rest on his shoulder before nodding. "Yeah. Asul has the chocobos ready."

"We await your orders, my lord," Isa added, lowering his claymore to rest on the floor.

The older woman focused her granddaughter's attention back onto her. "Yes, Kairi, there is a way. But there is no time for that. You are the one they are after, and you must leave now," she insisted, taking Kairi's shoulders and turning her towards Braig.

Kairi felt her eyes watering, looking back at her only blood relative. "But...what if something happens to you?"

"That's not what matters. Braig—"

"Roger."

"Wha—?" Suddenly, she was lifted up and slung over Braig's shoulder, and only while they moved towards the passageway did she notice Aeleus and Dilan near the doors, and that Ienzo was also in the room as he followed behind them. She reached out for her grandmother. "Grandma!" she called, but she was only met with a smile.

Beside her grandmother, Ansem also smiled, watching as they left. The last Kairi saw of them was with Dilan and Aeleus coming to their sides, their expressions solemn yet hopeful, and watching after them. When Darkness then began to envelope her vision, it took a moment for her to realize the entranceway was closing, and she looked back to see her guards traveling swiftly down a dimly lit, downwards-slanted corridor to the unknown. Somehow, Ienzo was now ahead of her and Braig.

This reminded her of her situation. "Put. ME. DOWN!" she shouted at Braig, kicking his chest and back with her feet and fists.

He slightly winced at her blows, but easily obliged, stopping before gently placing her back onto the ground. He did not, however, move, as she didn't, either. Instead, she stood there for a moment, head lowered and hands balled into tight fists.

"...We have to go, miss," he calmly reminded.

The lack of his footsteps behind them prompted the other three to halt, though Lea was impatient. "Kairi, there's no time for this!" he called to her.

A booming sound was heard from outside, causing the passageway to shake and dust to fall from the ceiling, backing up his words. Yet of the four of them, only Lea's expression showed impatience. Isa and Ienzo watched with impeccable patience, as did Braig, watching her.

Finally, she gave a shaky exhale, looking back up to meet his gaze. She said nothing, but unspoken words made it across in the depths of her sad, angry eyes.

He briefly glanced back at the beginning of the passage. "...Think about how we feel, too," he said to her.

Her tense posture slowly eased at his words, and after a moment, she nodded. She then looked down the blackness of the rest of the corridor. "Let's go."

She suddenly ran ahead with determination in her steps, and they let her go, exchanging glances at one another. Ienzo was the first to follow after her, and then Isa, Lea, and Braig followed. The youngest of the men ran in-step with his friend, leading the way.

The further in they went, the deeper into the ground they descended, and after some short minutes they found a staircase that let them to an intersection of tunnels, all somehow dimly lit with old lanterns. Without falter, Ienzo led them down the passage to the upper left, and they did not question him.

After what may have been ten minutes of running down several more passageways, Ienzo came to a sudden halt, holding his hand out for them all to stop. "...Damn..." he softly swore, and he glanced back at his fellow knights. "...We have company down here."

"How many?" Isa asked, his voice lowered.

Ienzo softly inhaled the air, only to scowl. "...Roughly two from the Organization, maybe more. The stench of Darkness is permeating ahead; Heartless, and Nobodies, too. They're still far off, so there's a passage that will run alongside where they might be, if we're fortunate, but we will encounter them sooner than later," he explained in the same tone.

Braig softly scoffed, tapping his arrowguns to his shoulders, and then took the lead. Their movement was swift, but quiet, and as they neared the split passageway, yellow, googly orbs were just becoming apparent in the distance. They swiftly passed to the right, and they found themselves moving up a staircase that was rather tight, causing them to move single-file.

As they ran up, they noticed the small black openings leading to unknown places running alongside the staircases in the walls. Slowly, same thought crept into their minds, but it was already too late to do anything about it.

All at once, they braced themselves just as a portion of the left wall exploded, causing the lights to dim further and knocking some off their feet. A large orb of fire was launched overhead, giving immense light to the now dusty area, but revealed the Heartless as they seeped in from the created hole in the wall.

"Found you~" someone called from the other side.

Ienzo raced to Kairi's side, grabbing her hand, and helped her to her feet. "Move, Kairi, move!" he shouted, just as a great clamor began around them when magic was cast and guns blazed.

The two ran up the stairs, the wall collapsing behind them as they did, but they ran for their lives, knowing they had no choice. Ienzo kept a Barrier up as he ran closest to the wall, shielding Kairi with one hand and his lexicon in his other. Roaring was heard below them, inhuman and fearsome, but Kairi barely had the chance to glance about them as she kept her eyes to the dimming stairs as light became scarce.

They finally came to the top of the staircase, and had only seconds to look around. They were in a large, open area resembling the interior foyer of a great, ancient castle, complete with what may have once been a balcony to their far, upper left and two grand passageways to their left. Perhaps there was more above, but what dim light that somehow existed did not reach the upper walls or the walls further away.

Behind them, the sound of the fighting commotion echoed through the antechamber, causing her to glance back at the staircase nervously. When her companion didn't immediately start leading, she looked at him.

"Ienzo—" she began, but suddenly cried out in surprise when he leapt in front of her with a Barrier erected, just in time to block a ball of Dark Firaga that came towards her out of the blue.

A scoff signaled the presence of a person within the Darkness, but from where was beyond them. A figure donned in a Black Coat then descended from the air, hovering over the ground further ahead of them. "Not bad, Schemer," they drawled.

Lowering his hand to hold out in front of Kairi, Ienzo's eyes narrowed. "I'll take it from here, Kairi," he said to her. He beckoned to the passageways to their right with a nod of his head. "Down the left passageway is a left wall with some markings on it. The ones between the lantern can be pressed, which will reveal another corridor. Go to the surface from there," he instructed in a low, calm voice.

She tensed. "What about—"

"Kairi," he softly hissed between his teeth. "Please...Go."

The loud boom from behind her gave her all the encouragement she needed, her legs taking her towards the menacing darkness in reaction to the sound. Without much more lagging, she turned and left, sparing not a glance behind.

The figure, somehow unsurprisingly, let her go. "...She's not going to get very far," they drawled again, their deep, masculine voice sounding vaguely amused.

Standing upright, Ienzo opened his lexicon, tilting his head up. "Not if I can help it," he countered with a scoff.

These were the last words Kairi heard as she disappeared down the passageway. It was very wide, but perhaps not so deep, though there were parts of it further inwards that were broken and missing. Instead of stone, she saw rock, reminding her she was still underground. As the sounds of fighting and spellcasting reached her ears, she stayed nearest to the left wall, where there were indeed markings upon it, though their exact designs were angrily scratched out.

She didn't take her time admiring or examining them, immediately moving to where the dimly lit lantern was and looking upon the two scratched markings at its sides. Reaching up, she pressed against them with her fingers, and the light went out in response. From where the lantern and the three markings were, the wall rose upwards, folding the lantern inwards, revealing another staircase going towards the surface, just as Ienzo said.

Thinking about her friend, and her companions likely still fighting the enemy further down, she pursed her lips before running up without falter.

Unlike the other passageways, this one lacked light of any magical sort entirely. Feeling her way up, she did find herself moving a little slower than she wanted. Despite everything, the last thing she wanted was to handicap herself by running blindly into or down something, though for all intents and purposes, she really was blind. The darkness was a true blackness; she couldn't even see her hand in her face. Fortunately, the stairs seemed entirely intact and, unlike the previous staircases, free of debris.

As she ran, she kept her thoughts from straying down negative paths. This was no one's fault. There was nothing anyone could have done about this invasion, nothing anyone could have done to prepare so soon—if at all. The more she said these things to herself within her mind, the angrier her expression grew, until she pounded up the steps in her mix of determination, frustration and sadness.

The sudden top stair took her by surprise, and she stumbled, almost falling onto her face. Blindly, she held out her hands, feeling around, and the sound of her hammering heart suddenly became so audible in her ears. At its sound, she decided to allow herself a moment to take a breather, but only a moment, and moved back to where the staircase was to feel for a wall it connected to now that she was at the top.

With her foot, she reached out and found the stairs again, then moved her foot along its rim and found a wall at its technical left, her right. She moved to it gingerly, only pressing herself closer when she was sure it didn't have any sort of opening upon it. Then, finally, she leaned on it, bending over to grasp her thighs and catch her breath.

One, inhale.

Two, inhale.

Three, inhale.

Four, inhale.

She moved off, using her hands to feel along her left side and continued down what she hoped was a hall. Ienzo hadn't exactly specified whether there were any other corridors after the staircase, just that she could get to the surface from where she was. How the young genius knew this was beyond her, though all her companions seemed to know at least a bit about the forgotten underground, now that she thought about it...

The muffled boom, resounding sounds of rocks falling somewhere and the dust that rose did little to shake her, this time. Softly, she sneezed, blinking the dust out of her eyes, and picked up her pace. 

She sensed the danger before she saw it, the movement in her vision that seemed impossible when all that was before her was darkness. Not needing a prompt, she dodged away from the Heartless that suddenly spawned within the corridor, and forsook her initial idea of pacing herself to run forward. The multiple glowing eyes suddenly become too obvious, peeking through what must have been cracks in the right wall, and even ahead of her.

Unafraid, she raised her hands and cast Aerora around her just before using a similar variant to create a whirlwind that blew down the hall, destroying and knocking back the Heartless in her path. Fortunately, she caught the familiar sight of what was likely a lantern, perhaps around a corner.

Another blast of Aero eradicated the Heartless in the hall as she came to the corner, and indeed, there was a lantern on the left wall. Just as her foot stepped into the new corridor, a figure appeared further down it.

"There you are."

Alarmed, she recoiled back. "Stopga!" she shouted, and hesitated for only a moment when the spell took effect, halting the figure in place. Between the hall they were in and the long hall before her, she decided to chance it, and ran past the figure halted in time.

This corridor was short, and it led to another to her right, which led to one to her left, and so on. More and more Heartless were converging, and she began to worry she may have chosen the wrong path. Darkballs and Neoshadows were taking the places of simple Shadows in waves, which she was able to destroy, but only to convince her of her error.

She chose the wrong path.

Regardless, she pressed on, steadying herself when a rumble shook the corridor. Briefly, she rested against a wall, panting softly. The stings from her cuts caused by Neoshadow claws were irritated, and she could sense her magic reserves were low from all the spells she had used.

The sudden explosion behind her startled her, and she moved to her feet upon seeing the same hooded figure from before emerging from the downed wall. Somehow, she had a feeling they were not very happy with her spell from earlier.

They rushed at her, and she had only time to summon a Reflega, which did its job when they recoiled from the counterattack. It was hard to see with such little light, but she thought she saw some sort of large weapon they held with one hand. Or maybe not. Taking the chance, she moved backwards, using one hand to keep her near a wall, and had her other raised before her to use for spells.

Again, they rushed forward, only this time when she used Reflega, they did as well in response. She cried out as she took the hit and was flung against the far back wall from the recoil. But she wasn't done, yet. "Aeroga!"

Momentarily, the figure disappeared as the whirlwind went through, giving her a chance to get back onto her feet and run away. She was beginning to lose composure, her breathing hard and panicked. How was she going to get out of this maze...??

She suddenly stopped at an intersection of passageways leading right, left, forward, and...even directly above her. The sound of a spell met her ear, and she turned around to brace herself for the attack when the familiar sound of laserfire erupted above her, just as a Barrier was erected to block the Dark Firaga that nearly hit her head-on.

She watched in awe as the red lasers hailed upon the figure, engulfing the hall with reddish light and bringing up dust as likely a good portion of the hall collapsed. Someone took her arm and pulled her away, and she let them, turning to see Ienzo as they ran down the forward hall. Glancing back, she spotted Braig lowering to the ground from the ceiling before steadily following them, though he continued firing.

Wordlessly, Ienzo led them to a staircase on the side of a wall, and it was so strangely obvious and in the open that Kairi stifled a choked, disappointed sob. His hand moved to grasp hers as he led the way up the dark hall. There were many landings as they went up, and somehow this felt to be the way out of the underground maze. One last rumble shook through, just as Ienzo let go of her hand to press against a wall in front of them. Slowly, it moved to reveal the dark, cool air of the outside castle wall.

The second it moved, Lea came into view, and he urgently pulled them off the slanted staircase. "Where's Braig?" he asked them after helping her out, looking down the stairs to see nothing but blackness.

Ienzo glanced around, brows furrowing. "He was right behind us..."

A warping sound alerted them to the appearance of the older knight behind them as he reloaded his guns. "Right here."

Without waiting for a prompt, Lea closed the "door" to the underground passage, which looked no different from natural rock, and then joined them as they moved over to and then ran across the castle bridge.

Being out in the open revealed that the battle against the Dark forces was still raging outside of the castle as well. Here was where the armored soldiers fought against more powerful Heartless, such as Darksides, and several Twilight Thorn Nobodies. Unfortunately, their encounter with at least two of the Organization's members only meant their "secret" escape wasn't going to stay that way very long.

Once off the bridge, they took up their weapons and cast magic to create a path through the battlefield. "Where is Isa?" Kairi asked as they ran, her eyes focused on the distant mountains past the castle, which was their destination.

Lea jumped back to her side, recovering from an executed attack further ahead. "Don't worry about him! He knows what he's doing!" he said above the roar of battle.

Their small party went largely undetected as they cut through, and they were careful not to use more powerful attacks that would catch the attention of the more intelligent Nobodies. Braig's sharp eyes, even in the darkness, kept a lookout for any that seemed too keen for their own good, abruptly disappearing to snipe them before reappearing at the rear. Lea was the front fighter, jumping ahead to take out larger enemies with harder hits before recovering at the left flank. Ienzo, while he stayed at the right flank, had 360° defense around the four of them, using every spell at his disposal with nearly limitless magic reserves.

Soon they made it behind the battlefront, where they briefly caught their breath at a clearing at the beginning of the Ravine Trail similar to a smaller Great Maw. Much further away, Lea caught a glance of a crevasse, and he pointed to it.

"There. Asul should be there," he said to the party.

"Good." Braig huffed, reloading his arrowguns for the umpteenth time. He began to move ahead. "C'mon, kids. The sooner we get g—"

He cut his sentence short upon the appearance of several figures in Black Coats that appeared around the group atop the walls, looking down at them. He immediately counted a total of seven, causing him to frown. That frown only deepened when Heartless and Nobodies of all varieties manifested around them.

Nothing was said between the two parties as Kairi and her companions went on guard. She had her hands raised, Ienzo held his lexicon open in his hand and Braig held his guns out in his hands. Lea on the other hand, simply let his chakram disappear.

"I got this," he said softly, just loud enough for them to hear.

At first, no one thought much of this...until their pyrokinetic companion began to emit heat.

Ienzo was the first to piece things together. His eyes widened with worry and he moved away from Lea, pulling Kairi with him. "Wait, Lea...what do yo—?"

Sparks formed in the air, and flames flicked around Lea's hands. "I said I got this," he repeated, closing his eyes.

Braig noticed a tad too late, and he immediately came beside Ienzo and Kairi. They watched as Lea raised into the air, his arms crossed with his hands in fists while the flames moved to his clothes and skin.

At least one of the hooded figures suddenly disappeared.

Finally, Lea cried out, just as both Kairi and Ienzo raised Barriers, and the area was enveloped with a fiery explosion that emitted from Lea's form.

One after another, Heartless disappeared, hearts rising to the sky, and the Nobodies tried to escape the wave of fire by flying away, but most were engulfed in the flames. The blast even crawled up the walls, though by the time the blast neared the walls, the hooded figures had all disappeared.

Further away, a young male Guado watched in a mix of awe and concern, and he eased the startled chocobos with soft sounds. They were too far away for the fire to reach, but the heat was another thing entirely.

Suddenly, Braig appeared a few feet from him and collapsed to his knees, holding both Kairi and Ienzo. He let them go after he collapsed, and Kairi was the first to recover, holding him up by his arm.

"Asul," he said, shaking off his exhaustion, "we gotta go." He gave Kairi a nod of assurance, and only then did she let him go as he moved to his feet.

The young Guado's brows furrowed, though he didn't hesitate to bring the chocobos over to them or mount his own. "Where are Isa and Lea?" he asked.

Kairi climbed upon her chocobo, and Braig climbed up behind her. Asul met her gaze, and she pursed her lips, shaking her head before looking away.

He understood, and waited only for Ienzo to mount his ride before they left, taking the path down the Ravine Trail. The riderless chocobo came along with them, as Asul had its reins tied to his.

As they moved, Kairi looked back at the easing explosion. She couldn't see anyone, though Heartless were respawning. Perhaps Lea was still alive, after that...? She wanted to ask them—order them—to turn back, but she knew it would be against even the pyrokinetic's wishes.

As if answering her prayers, a figure suddenly jumped down from the rock walls, immediately fending off the Heartless and the Nobodies that were returning to finish off what Kairi presumed was Lea's body on the ground. The long blue hair and the giant claymore gave it away, even from such a distance.

"Isa!" she gasped, and looked up at Braig.

His expression slightly changed, but he shook his head. To her surprise, he instead called, "Asul!"

Without any other prompt, Asul turned his and the spare chocobo around. Smiling, Kairi watched after him.

Isa held Lea's limp body over his shoulder, fending off the creatures of darkness single-handedly. He even began to fend off at least one hooded figure, but they retreated when Asul entered the fray. When the riderless chocobo passed him by, Isa only grabbed onto the reins before lifting both him and Lea up onto the saddle.

As they turned around, they didn't go down the path leading to the Trail, but down and off the beaten path instead. Further ahead, also off the path, the two chocobos upon which Ienzo, Braig and Kairi rode were visible.

Repositioning his unconscious friend in front of him, Isa held his claymore at his side as more enemies spawned before him, blocking his and Asul's path. There was no time to back down, but they were going to make it.

All of them.

Chapter Text

There was a lab within the Academic's Division that stayed almost constantly within a state of perpetual coldness. While it normally wasn't the case, in this instance, it wasn't the safe, freezer chill that would merely keep important substances within safe zones, but the dangerous, blizzard cold that would cause frostbite in mere minutes if skin was left exposed. For some unfortunate, necessary reason, this was where Braig found himself, traveling down the heated staircase at a steady pace.

Since their Awakening, as it was dubbed, the "former apprentices" of Ansem the Wise had to take some reasonable time to digest the information they told one another from their previous existences. Was there any right terminology for such...memories...feelings...thoughts...lives? Regardless, none of it ever happened, not in the current existence. But in the case of some of their revelations, it didn't seem to matter.

Take, for instance, their betrayal of Ansem. Even then, he was their king, and they banished him to the Realm of Darkness. That weighed heavily on them, but each was also certain, as was Ansem himself, that they would never do such a thing in the current existence. At least...mostly certain.

Eyes hadn't rested upon him, words weren't directed at him, but it was obvious to him. They didn't trust him, the only one who had known of those events that occurred before they happened and the dark motives behind them.

...He didn't blame them, not too much. Not at the time of his initial recollection. Now...

It was getting irritating.

A sigh escaped him, and the cloud breath took him by surprise, yet he remained visually impassive. That was the only reaction to this nonsense he allowed himself: simple resigned sighs. Their mistrust of him was misplaced, and imagined if they were thinking clearly they would be aware of that. He could only hope their current memories would overshadow their..."previous" ones, if they still harbored even slight suspicion.

He stood before the wide double doors iced over with frost, his breath coming out in steady puffs, and found himself strangely hesitant. His body was hesitant, and it had nothing to do with the cold environment despite the lack of protection outside of his uniform. His element's unique ability to shield him from the cold was handy for such things...

Before he could make his body do what he wanted, the doors creaked opened, causing him to blink before settling into resigned acceptance. No point in hesitating if his host knew he was there. As always.

He took a step inside of the freezing room, barely picking out Even's figure from amongst the frost that covered nearly everything. The second he stepped in, he cut to the chase, asking, "Even, I need you to look at my eye."

Soft clinking ceased, and then the scientist glanced back, revealing his unnatural bluish, veiny pale skin and icy green gaze that never ceased to unnerve Braig despite everything. The likely at first peeved expression the older Knight leveled at him, however, was easing. He seemed to consider him, and then beckoned him further in with a motion of his head, lowering his hands from his work.

Suddenly, the room's temperature rose. Steadily, of course, so nothing would break from the sudden warmth, but it was obvious to an elemental user such as Braig. He walked in and towards an area further to the left of the lab where tests were taken on willing patients. It was an area fixed akin to a hospital room, yet somehow, despite residing in the lab of a scientist, appeared more appealing than those.

Even's lab was a location that operated bizarrely, with technology working despite how ridiculously cold it could get. Braig did not and could not understand it, and spent a good chunk of his younger days as a guard trying to figure it all out. So now, as a Knight, he didn't bother...or at least tried to. He was just starting to wonder if Even himself caused the technology to move, somehow...

He neared a rising seat that positioned itself similarly to a dentist’s chair in an upright position and sat upon it. Even neared a cart on wheels, slipping a new pair of gloves onto his hands.

"You surprise me, Braig, coming into my lab so soon," the scientist admitted, wheeling the cart over to the right side of the seat.

Braig rose a slender brow, reserved and untroubled. "...Oh...?"

A small, humored smile began to spread on Even's face. He didn't answer immediately, and moved to use his foot to activate a lever that caused the head of the chair to hold the younger man's head in place with what almost appeared to be a headband. It seemed expected, as Braig didn't react. With another maneuver of the lever, an overhead light moved almost directly over his face. Again, it was expected.

"...Perhaps it's just me, then..." Even hummed, coming to Braig's right side and turning his attention to the right eye as he lifted a strange utensil from the cart.

Braig kept his gaze forward, looking just past the older man. The utensil's end was thin and bent, and it only tapped a small surface near the tear duct of his right eye's sclera. His vision in that eye suddenly went dark, and from then on, he could only figure what was going on. Even moved to another utensil. There was a gentle, tickling pull, then a soft squelching, followed by something being removed and then disconnected. He caught a glimpse of the faux eyeball being moved to the cart, and then decided not to focus on it too much.

"Let me guess," he said, idly tapping the armrests with his fingers, "it's about my...standing here in the castle?"

Even wasn't paying attention to him, so it took a moment for a response. He was working with the artificial eye. "...Yes."

A slight shrug. "I try not to care. Annoying as hell, though," Braig muttered.

"You can try not to care, but it's understandable that it would," Even responded. He suddenly asked, "How in the name of Kingdom Hearts did you manage to—"

"Don't ask."

Surprisingly, there was slight hesitance before a response. "...Do not let it happen again."

"Roger."

Even softly sighed before continuing, "We've all changed from our...memories of Before. For years we've trusted each other with our very lives..."

Though he was listening, Braig caught another glimpse of the artificial eye as Even moved to his left side with it upon a dish with liquid in it. A part of the faux eyeball's optic nerve seemed damaged even from his view.

"It's only natural, as human beings, to feel...betrayed. Even for you."

Braig frowned. He never thought of it that way. "Betrayed" was a strong word. Was that how he felt, being treated with mistrust for something he didn't actually do...?

There was a momentary silence as Even worked shortly on the eyeball at another nearby table. Before long, he returned to Braig's right side to place the eye back in.

There was a feeling of connection, somehow, then more soft squelching, and then a soft, pushing sensation. After a moment, suddenly, he could see Even's face clearly again as his 20-20 vision returned. That same thin, bent utensil was returned to the cart.

"Operation a success," Even announced, removing his gloves. His expression was somehow...knowing.

At once, the seat moved Braig entirely upright and the headrest released his head. He sat away from the cushions and moved his feet onto the floor, but his gaze lowered. "...Spill it, Even," he finally said.

Placing the gloves on the cart, Even kept his own gaze upon it as well. "What I am trying to say is, don't feel as if you have to prove something. There's nothing for you to prove." He wheeled the cart away.

Braig glanced over into his direction, still unmoved in thought. "As if. You had one of the worst reactions to our recollections—and that's not including my info."

"And once I could collect myself, I realized it was a reaction entirely unwarranted." After washing his hands at a nearby sink, the head scientist turned to him, his expression truly sincere. "...I apologize for that."

Brown eyes lowered again, their owner softly huffing with a small smile. "...Don't worry about it," he drawled.

Even slightly raised his head, as did a blond eyebrow in unison, before approaching his companion. "In any case, know I've moved past your...previous vices..."

Braig looked up when the scientist stood near him.

"You are a valued comrade and friend," Even acknowledged with a smile. "The others should remember that soon."

A sincere smile of his own spread on Braig's face. He stood, head tilting to the side. "You'd think, huh? It's been damn near a week, now..."

Even managed a small shrug. "Perhaps they don't know how to face their misgivings. They'll cave, eventually..."

Braig walked towards the lab tables, patting him on the shoulder. "Thanks," he said.

"My pleasure." Even turned to watch him, slowly following from behind. His eyes drifted to the younger man's arm wrapped with bandages. Once Braig stepped a single foot onto the lowest stair past the doors, however, he finally said, "Feel free to come by, again, if you need my help with your...condition."

The words were said so knowingly, so unnervingly deliberate, that Braig slowed his steps before coming to a dead halt. He didn't mean to, and knew immediately when he did that he shouldn't have. But it was too late, so he slowly looked back at Even, who had his hands clasped behind his back as he turned from the doorway. Casual. Deliberate. Even the doors remained open, inviting him back inside.

Braig warred within himself. Already, he said so much despite doing so little, and it wasn't right at all. Dare he think it wasn't fair, even. Now he wanted answers.

He lowered a foot on a higher stair, leaning upon the rail. "If by my condition you mean—"

"Your arm. Of course." Having stopped in his tracks, Even glanced back at him.

Fingers too accustomed to pulling triggers twitched. "Even...I've told you...there's nothing wrong with—"

"Yes, there's nothing wrong with your arm. There's nothing wrong with you."

"Then what are you on about?"

Even heaved a patient sigh. "Do I need to enunciate it to you?"

Another twitch. It itched. "That'd be nice, sure."

A painfully languid expression was turned onto the sharpshooter. "If I say it plainly, will you drop the act?" the scientist asked.

Braig rested his arm on the rail. "Gee. I dunno."

"Very well..." He was beckoned down.

His eyes narrowed further, and he grudgingly walked the six steps down to the ground level, back into the lab, closed the door, and then approached his friend. When he did, Even moved to his side and leaned to whisper something into his ear.

His eyes widened to saucers in a mix of horror and shock by two simple words. He slightly moved away, staring up at the academic. "...How do you know?"

"Experiments. Social experiments," Even admitted, moving back a respectful distance. He beckoned to the artificial eye. "Ever since that day, I've been conducting experiments on you and your ward."

"On HER?" Braig snapped, his expression darkening dangerously.

But Even only forced himself not to roll his eyes. "I said social experiments, for goodness' sake. Ones you practically handed to me, in fact."

The younger Knight's expression changed dramatically after those words. He glanced away, his hands clenching and unclenching, and then he grimaced in resignation. Someone like Even would have noticed, eventually, after that day. "...Experiments..." he softly repeated.

A sly, complacent smile spread on Even's face. He softly chuckled, moving away, and unclasped his hands from behind his back. "I am a scientist. Experiments are what I do...yes."

Braig closed his eyes, though his expression was easing. Soon, he even chuckled to himself with an awry smile. "...That really isn't right, you know that?" he sighed. He then crossed his arms. "...So, then. What, now?"

"Nothing." Even shook his head. "Absolutely nothing. Both you and Miss Kairi were born as you are, and that is that."

Tilting his head, Braig opened his left eye. He'd be lying to himself if he said he wasn't impressed. "...You aren't afraid..not even worried." It wasn't a question. "...I've a feeling it's not from you being a scientist."

"Indeed..." The older man sat upon a chair at a table, crossing his legs. "Darkness and Light are both requirements to our existences as beings. Furthermore, as I said earlier, there is nothing you need to prove, on your behalf. Your actions up to this point have already determined my thoughts on your character, regardless of what you are."

Braig couldn't help but smile. He briefly glanced away. "...Well, that's...good to know. Good to know..." He finally reached with his right hand to gently rub his upper left arm, where it throbbed underneath his touch. "...Sure. If anything comes up, I'll let you know. Sure as hell would've been nice to have known this years ago, to be honest. You have no idea what I've dealt with, having this thing inside me."

Green eyes focused on that spot. "I can only imagine," Even readily acknowledged, nodding in sincere understanding.

As a scientist, he was internally ecstatic to know not one but two of the Pieces, and be in the current presence of one of the lesser known ones—the lesser known and lesser liked Pieces. Yet that was just it.

Braig, his friend of many years, had a Dark piece of the χ-blade as his heart.

Kairi, Braig's ward and Radiant Garden's Child, had a Light piece of the χ-blade as her heart.

They were literal antithesis of one another, and yet friends for sixteen years. Even's brows furrowed in a awe and wonder.

...What were the odds of that?

Chapter Text

Deep blue eyes opened, blinking up at a cloudless sky. Their owner slowly sat up, blearily gazing out at the ocean before letting out a yawn. Lying down again, the teen closed his eyes to resume his sleeping. Over the sound of waves steadily crashing the sand and islet rock, a faint sound reached his ears. It was dreamlike, nearly lulling him back to unconsciousness...

...Except...

This wasn't right. Despite this thought, he was pulled back into a dream, where a stormy island shattered beneath his feet, dragging him down into a watery abyss.

Behind his eyelids, a blurry image of his hand reaching out to...

With a gasp, his eyes snapped open and he shot upright, panicked with realization. "Kairi..." he whispered, his head turning into the direction of the islet where he last saw his friends. "...Riku!"

He was on his feet and running towards the ramp leading to the elevated land before he even realized what he was doing. From his distance, he couldn't see anyone, but that didn't mean someone wasn't lying down, he decided. However, he suddenly stopped in his tracks when a familiar teen emerged from the entrance to the secret cave.

Breaking into a wide, relieved smile, he breathed, "Riku!" He all but jumped on his friend with an enthusiastic glom that almost sent them stumbling to the ground. "Riku, you're okay!!"

The older teen, though startled, was also accustomed to his friend's...optimism. He steadied himself, patting the brunet on the back with a patient sigh. "Yes, Sora, I'm perfectly fine. What's up?" he asked nonchalantly, a small smile quirking at the corner of his lips.

Moving back by a bit, Sora looked up into his eyes. "...What do you mean, what's up? Are you sure you're okay? Do you have any idea what happened or how we got back here or...where's Kairi?" The questions flew from his mouth in a single breath, but he was distracted by a budding worry to even seem to notice.

A silver brow rose, though Riku seemed slightly amused. "Hmm..." Head tilted slightly to the side, he replied, "Well, you seem panicked. I feel just fine. I have no idea what you're talking about and I don't know someone named 'Kairi'."

Against his will, the budding sensation within Sora spiked to his throat. He felt a chill of dread run through him, causing him to physically shiver, though he tried to shrug it off. "...C-c'mon, Riku, you...you know Kairi. She's our closest friend," he said softly, trying and failing to hide his shocked horror.

Noticing this, Riku frowned while crossing his arms and looked away in thought. "...Sorry, Sora. This is the first time you've ever mentioned her...ever." Out of the corner of his eye, he glanced at his downcast friend. "...I was going to ask if she was some dream girl of yours, but..."

Sora pursed his lips, taking a small step back.

"...Never mind. Tell me more about her." Riku walked past his friend and towards the small shack to Sora's far right.

Despite the overwhelming emotions rising within him, in that moment, Sora was strangely reminded at how thankful he was to have Riku as a friend. The older teen knew when to play around and when not to. He briefly rubbed his arm, glancing at the ground in an attempt to hold himself together before slowly following behind Riku. His gaze wondered up, lingering momentarily on the older teen entering the shack, before rising to the sky.

...Something happened. He could almost...feel it. That simple fact alone was unnerving. It wasn't right.

Where are you, Kairi...?

Riku walked through the shack, up the stairs and out of the second door to the small land where a bridge stretched before him to the islet. He heard the softer, slower footsteps of his friend behind him and let him take his time. On the other hand, he was conflicted and confused as hell.

This really was the first time in Riku's life he could ever recall Sora mention this "Kairi" person. If he didn't know Sora the way he did, he would have easily dismissed it as a too-real dream experience, but the brunet wasn't the sort to play around in such a way resembling emotional tricks on others. Or himself, for that matter; Riku clenched his teeth at the thought of Sora's look of...betrayal, almost, that clouded his face. This person was obviously dear to Sora for him to have reacted in such a way.

...Kairi...

Kairi.

...He couldn't recall anyone...

Instinctually, even while ruminating, Riku jumped over the sideways-lying tree trunk to rest against it, crossing his arms once more. The sound of footsteps over the bridge closed in behind him, and he stared off at the ocean before him with irritation rising within. Not at Sora, but at himself for...whatever, which only irritated him further. Furthermore, the question was, how to bring up a conversation about this girl without hurting Sora more...?

Soon the familiar tanned legs swung over the side of the trunk as Sora sat upon it, slightly leaning against the curved side. Dejection was clear on his face, as if he had given up hiding it, but confusion was also clear upon his features. Curious...

The two friends sat in silence for a moment or so, Riku watching the ocean while lost in his mind and Sora staring at the ground while spinning within his own. Sora then deeply exhaled, head slightly rising, before speaking.

"...She's my age...has strawberry red hair...and blue eyes." He sighed, looking up to the endless blue of the sky. "...She's...spunky...likes to work with her hands and create stuff. She made a charm made from thalassa shells for me, but...I gave it back to her..." This seemed to remind him of something and he paused, head lowering again at the odds against him.

Riku slightly turned his head to look at him during the pause, only to frown at the further dejection upon his friend's face. The emotion was foreign to see in conjunction with Sora's being, and that bothered him. This Kairi sounded like someone...Sora really admired...and had for a long time, impossible as that sounded.

"...Hey..."

"...Yeah?" He looked at the brunet completely.

"...Do...Keyblades...or Kingdom Hearts...and Darkness and Light sound familiar to you?" Sora softly asked.

Once more, Riku clenched his teeth together. "...No," he responded, his voice just as soft. At the soft sigh that followed from his companion, he looked forward. "...I don't know how to word this, Sora...but this is really..."

"...Weird," Sora finished, slightly nodding. "I know. But I know what I remember..."

Riku shook his head. "Do you remember everything else, though? What we did today? Well..." he softly chuckled, "what we were supposed to do?"

To Sora's own surprise, the memory was fresh in his mind. "...Actually, I do..." His brows furrowed. "In fact, I remember everything, really. The night I met you, you scared me. I kept saying your eyes were glowing or something, not that I believe that, anymore. You're...around eighteen...and I'm...gonna be seventeen. Wow..."

"That's new to you?" Riku uncrossed his arms, looking up at his friend in surprised worry.

Sora shrugged. "I dunno, I have...conflicting...memories...?" He scratched the back of his head. "That seems about right...I have memories of two different...pasts? I mean complete pasts, with facts and everything. But so much of it is different from one another."

"Like?"

"Well, in the other past, you were sixteen and I was fifteen, like Kairi. Ah, and she was the one to wash up on shore...while in the past I guess you remember, you appeared on the beach, sick and...The biggest difference right now is that...a year ago, you, me and Kairi were separated from the Islands one night. These creatures called the Heartless appeared and everything had changed..."

Listening closely, Riku leaned on his side while watching Sora explain.

"We appeared on different worlds..." The blue eyes went alit with realization and smiled down at him. "Like that guy we heard about, who disappeared to another world all those years ago. We went to other worlds, too! Amazing worlds...and...we learned about Darkness and Light...and Kingdom Hearts and the Keyblades. You and I fought a few times...because you wanted to help Kairi, since she lost her heart, but I was trying to find you two while also helping all of the worlds. It worked out, eventually..."

"You're leaving a lot out, aren't you?"

"...It's a bit overwhelming, figuring out how to explain it all in order...We went through so much...I thought...I lost you, too..."

Riku startled upright when Sora's eyes began to water. Like a fish out of water, he opened his mouth to say something, but nothing came out.

Leaning forward, Sora covered his face with his hands. "...Did I...lose Kairi, now...?" he asked no one, voice breaking as he cried.

Seeing his best friend crying and hearing those words seemed to trigger something within Riku, causing his expression to rapidly darken. Head slowly turning to glare out at the water, he softly growled, "I don't like this..."

Sora was quick to rub his face of his tears, too conflicted to be sure if his crying was justified or not. Through his sniffles, he managed a confused, "...Huh?"

"I don't like this!" Riku repeated, turning to face Sora again. On the tree, his hand was clenched in a tight fist. "There's something up. It doesn't make sense that you remember two pasts; it wouldn't make sense for anyone. There's got to be an explanation."

Watching as the silver-haired teen stalked off seething towards the island at first worried Sora, but a grateful smile was soon to form on his face. He rubbed at his eyes. "...Thanks, Riku..." he whispered to himself. After closing his eyes for a brief moment, regaining his composure, he jumped down from the tree and ran after his best friend with renewed hope despite having lost it so abruptly.

Chapter Text

Kairi sat in the castle library, resting her head upon her left palm while reading her homework over. Or trying to. Her mind was much too distracted, and her eyes had long ago stopped scanning the pages to stare off idly at the table. While not the norm, there weren't many patrons within the library to bother or distract her, which was just the way she wanted it on this particular day.

Six days had passed since she recalled her memories of the "previous existence", as those who remembered called it. Six days to yearn for things she wasn't sure she should yearn for, and six days to wonder if the world she once called home even existed, anymore. It was truly disheartening, being unable to venture off-world, just as it had been in her memories of staying on the islands day after day, wondering when the two boys she called her best friends would come back home.

For the umpteenth time that day, she sighed audibly, which only sounded that much louder within the empty room.

Seconds after, she felt just the barest change in the room's atmosphere. A dark shadow of sorts passed through the room in her vision, yet it wasn't menacing to her, instead coming across as familiar. After so many years, that's all it was, which was an amazing accomplishment, considering how unnerving it was when she was younger...

She only sighed yet again before murmuring, "I'm not in the mood, Braig."

Behind her, the Knight stopped in his motion to speak with a hand raised in unison. He slightly frowned, but it was playful. "Aw. C'mon...you don't even know what I'm gonna say," he said, coming around to the right side of the table and resting his hands upon it. He briefly took in her somber demeanor before a sly smile spread upon his face. "I've got a surprise for you."

Her expression did change at this, but only by a bit, to her credit. She tried not to give away any true interest in what he said, but the truth was whenever her guardian had something to "surprise" her with, it was indeed something worth looking forward to.

With this in mind, she sighed again before looking up at him, taking in his casual attire and braided ponytail draped over his shoulder. So lost she had been in her thoughts of late, she forgot he was given the day off; a rare occurrence for him. That would explain why she only sensed him near and hadn't quite seen him for most of the afternoon...

...Her thoughts were consuming her if she hadn't even realized that...

His expression slightly dropped when their gazes met, causing her to glance away. He stood upright, flashing a reassuring smile. "...You're gonna looove iiit~" he sang, tapping the table with his fingers. "I promise."

She didn't immediately respond. As the minutes went on, she gradually smiled before looking back at him. She finally closed her book with her free hand. "Okay," she easily relented. The last thing she then saw was him brandishing a mischievous grin before her vision went black, the feel of a large hand over her eyes. She opted to sigh. "...Braig..."

He helped her stand with his free hand. "It's a surprise. Can't show it to you, yet," he said as if it answered everything.

...And, well...it did.

She let him lead her out of the library, down the staircase to the main floor and...after that, she lost their position on her mental map. He managed to lead her somewhere further than she thought, but by the waning sounds, she guessed they were likely heading towards the guest wing, which was always quiet.

"...Hello, Kairi," an amused voice greeted, entirely unbothered by her being led by her guardian in such a strange manner.

She recognized it as Ienzo's voice. "Hello, Ienzo," she said, a smile fighting onto her face despite herself. The soft chuckle behind her didn't help.

"...Enjoy your surprise," he continued, his voice further away.

At this, she couldn't help but feel a ping of excitement. So even he knew what it was. "When can I see?" she asked aloud.

"Soon."

Another familiar voice chuckling alerted her to another person they must have passed by. "Well, I guess it can't be that bad, then," the voice said.

"As if. It's not 'bad' at all," Braig responded, sounding humorously affronted.

"Hello, Nora," Kairi giggled, greeting her second guardian.

"Kairi. Whatever is going on, this time?"

She laughed. "I have no idea." She pointed to the hand over her eyes. "He's being mean."

"Oh, really? Come on..."

Nora hummed. "Should I spoil it?"

Braig made a sound. "Don't, c'mon. I'm trying to cheer her up."

"Braig!"

Another hum. "...Well, I don't know the significance, but I imagine it will."

"Oh, shoo, medic."

The woman laughed, retorting with, "Sniper." Her laughter then drifted as they continued on.

After another short while, a door opened, and all distant noises disappeared as she was ushered into a room. "Now?" Kairi asked pleadingly.

Something shifted. "Hold on...Okay." The hand was removed.

She blinked, and took in the first thing that focused in her vision, only for a gasp to escape her.

Behind her, Braig smiled a bit as she slowly approached the bed within the room, upon which the sleeping body of a familiar silver-haired teen boy rested. He watched as she tentatively reached out to touch the boy's arm, only to pull her hand back.

"...He's...really here," she breathed, her eyes becoming glassy with tears. "...Riku." She sat on the edge of the bed beside her friend, and then looked back at her guardian. Her expression asked all the questions she didn't know how to word.

He shrugged. "No idea how he got here. The patrol found him, actually, and he was unconscious even then. This was a while ago. They were gonna hold him in the dungeon until Lord Ansem saw him, and then he alerted everyone who knows," he explained, leaning back on the door frame. He crossed his arms. "...Wasn't easy to convince the others to bring him here."

Kairi understood why. Darkness still clung to her friend, even in this new existence. But she wasn't worried, more than sure Riku could overcome it, just as he did then. What concerned her was that he had been sleeping all this time. Was he hurt, inside? Pursing her lips, she tentatively reached and placed her hand on his chest, over his heart, and closed her eyes.

...Something wasn't right. Her brows furrowed as she tried to decipher the anomaly within her friend's heart. It was...it was...

"...Sora..." she murmured. Her tears fell from her eyes. "...I sense...Sora."

Blinking, Braig rose an eyebrow. Sora? Inside of Riku...? Why did that sound...somehow familiar, yet...not?

Opening her eyes, Kairi moved her hand away and stared at the peaceful expression on her friend's face as he slept. What happened, Riku...?

Moments after she thought this, Riku stirred and slightly grimaced. He then groaned softly, muttering, "Kairi...?"

"Riku?" Kairi leaned forward, her expression hopeful. "Can you hear me?"

He groaned again, but managed a nod. "...Ye...yeah..." He smiled. "...You're really here..."

He took the words right out of her mouth. Smiling back, she wiped her tears from her eyes, laughing softly. "I should be saying that..." she whispered. "You're in Radiant Garden."

His brow slightly creased, his eyes fluttering, but remained closed. "...So far..." he murmured.

"...Can you open your eyes?" she asked.

He softly exhaled, but his eyes fluttered again. "...They feel...so heavy."

She frowned, and then placed a hand over his eyes. "...Try now."

He was silent for a moment, and then he smiled again. "...It's incredible...I can sense you so clearly, Kairi. You're so bright...so warm," he said softly.

She smiled at his words, briefly wondering if anyone else could sense her that way.

"...It's dark," he said suddenly, cracking a humored smile.

She moved her hand away, and only slightly startled when the eyes that looked up at her were turquoise, but with vertical, slanted pupils. It was Riku. There was nothing to fret over...

Instead, she smiled at him, and the returned smile was definitely his. He slowly sat up, placing a hand over his chest with a grimace. "...I feel heavy," he groaned.

Worry overcame her features, but she didn't say anything, yet. She waited until he was sitting up completely before rushing in for a firm but gentle hug that would have sent him back onto the bed if not for a hand he had holding him up. While at first startled, he then chuckled with a smile, returning the embrace with his free hand.

"I was so worried," she whispered. "Everything's so...so different, now. We were worried you might not...even be, anymore."

His smile faltered, but instead of responding, his grasp on her tightened by a bit. He was worried about that, at first, as well. He then recalled what she said. "...Wait, 'we'?" he asked, glancing at her.

"Um..." She pulled back and glanced at the doorway. Braig was no longer in the room, but she still sensed him. The barest bit of him was visible from the left side of the doorway within the hall. She looked back at Riku. "...I don't know if you know this, but...five of the original six members of Organization XIII are from Radiant Garden," she began.

His expression darkened, only for his eyes to widen as he remembered... "...Sora..." he muttered, looking away. He placed his hand on his chest, over his heart, and then focused back on her. "...The Organization? Are they...?"

She shook her head. "No, these members are okay. They're not enemies, anymore. I reacted pretty badly, too, when I remembered them..." she admitted. She barely heard the deriding scoff her guardian made behind her. She made a face. Yes, that was an understatement, goodness gracious.

Riku seemed to have heard it, too. His expression changed. "...Where are we, anyway?" he asked, looking around the room.

"Hollow Bastion, the castle." She gave a reassuring nod. "You're safe, here."

His eyes slightly widened, no doubt from previous negative memories of the location. He nodded, glancing away. "...How did I get here..." It wasn't a question.

That's what she wanted—no, needed to know, too. That, and exactly what Sora's heart was doing within him. And...maybe why his eyes looked the way they did. So many questions, she didn't know where to start.

He sensed her curiosity and glanced back at her. "...The last thing I remember...I was on the Islands, and..." He grasped his head, grimacing. "...I don't...remember or know why, but...Sora. Something happened to Sora...and...my twin forced his heart inside of me."

She gasped, leaning forward. "Twin? You have a twin?"

He nodded, lowering his hand, and muttered, "Well...you wouldn't know him...He wasn't originally my twin. Well, in this...world?...he has always been, but not...before." He looked confused and shook his head.

"The previous existence, you mean?" she asked.

"...I guess...that sums it up. Maybe. The world before? No..." He sighed and placed his hand over his heart again. "...Yeah. Sora's heart is inside of me. I don't know how it happened or how it worked or how it's even possible. I don't even...notice, really. But if I reach in, Dive within my heart...I do."

Her eyes focused on his chest as the implications of what this all meant weighed on her. "...Is Sora...out there...as a Nobody, then...?" she asked softly, rhetorically. She wasn't expecting an answer.

Riku had none, himself. There was a brief silence before he smiled at her. "...I'm glad you're okay, Kairi."

Her responding smile held a touch of concern. "...Are you okay, Riku?" she asked, reaching up to touch her own eye. "...Your eyes are...different."

His pupils pulsed, becoming round before returning to slants, as if trying and failing to prove otherwise. He touched the rim of an eye. "...Different...?" At her nod, he looked away, lowering his hand. "All of these things are pointing to something I don't want to acknowledge..." he muttered to himself, his expression darkening.

"Riku...?"

He shook his head. "Don't worry. I'm not...possessed or anything. I think...this is natural, for me, my eyes being like this," he said. "...We have a lot to catch up on."

"Yeah..." She glanced back at the door.

He followed her gaze. "...Which brings me to...Why is there a very Dark presence nearby? I know you can sense it," he said, his words curious, if not with a touch of alarm.

She looked back at him, managing a dry smile. "You can sense that, of course," she sighed in resignation, and then moved to stand up. "Riku, promise me you won't freak out, okay?" she said, placing her hands on her hips.

A bit of a person was visible from within the hall. Riku eyed them, growing suspicious.

"Riku!"

He focused on her. "...I promise not to freak out," he affirmed.

She sighed.

"...too much," he added.

She hummed, eyes slanting. "Good enough."

"Don't worry," Braig said, coming into view, "by now, I'm used to anything."

Already slanted pupils contracted further. "YOU!" Riku exclaimed, on his feet in a moment. He came beside Kairi, who held out an arm to stop him.

Hands on his sides, Braig said, "Yes, me. Not a bad reaction, kiddo."

Narrowing his eyes, Riku immediately uttered, "I don't care if you're not an enemy, I don't trust you."

Kairi frowned, whereas Braig merely grinned. "Gee, what a surprise," he retorted, giving his head a shake. "Fortunately for me...I don't care."

"Guys!" Kairi looked between them. "Stop it! Riku, I told you five members of Organization XIII are here!"

"But him? He was second in command, Kairi!"

"Nah, that was Saïx, actually," Braig said between his teeth.

Riku glared at him. "Whatever. You held the second rank. That's a good enough reason not to trust you, even now."

"I said, stop it!" Kairi glared openly at them. "I trust both of you. With my life," she emphasized, causing Riku to look at her in surprise and shock.

He pointed at the man. "Wha—?"

"In this world, he's one of my guardians. My guardian Knight, and I've trusted him my whole life," she explained. "There's nothing to worry about. None of us, in fact, are exactly who we were in the previous existence, anymore."

"Exactly my point," Riku pressed, waving a hand, "he reeks of Darkness. It's so potent, I've never felt anything like it within a whole being."

The sudden dark, peeved expression she turned on him caused him to break into a sweat. "There is...NOTHING to worry about," she repeated warningly. To both of them, she said, "Get along. That's an order." With a sound of displeasure, she walked past Braig and left the room, her angry footsteps echoing down the quiet hall.

Left alone, surprised brown eyes looked into turquoise. "...Well, you heard the Princess..." he said with a shrug, cracking a small smile. He then muttered, "First time she's ever done that...I think you pissed her off."

Riku glared at him. "Don't flatter yourself," he hissed, following after her.

The former Number II shook his head with a patient, wry smile. "Fun times," he chuckled aloud before turning to leave, closing the door behind him.

Chapter Text

There was a pep in Kairi's step as she walked through the castle grounds. A small but bright smile adorned her face, and her change in demeanor was noticeable to all and anyone who knew her...which meant everyone in Radiant Garden noticed, of course. Everyone from the merchant selling wares in the marketplace to the general of the Nth Regiment gave her a smile or greeting when they saw her, and she was in such a pleasant mood, she didn't even notice their knowing looks.

Her friend Riku's appearance in Radiant Garden had everything to do with it, of course. Since only a handful of people would know and understand this, however, it made way for gossip to spread through the castle city. They were misinterpreting her happiness for...something else.

Not that she was aware of this, either.

She was searching for another friend, at the moment, a friend who was one of her closest in the new existence. For the past several months, they had been away, and she only recently received word that they had returned. Her friend's parents, however, told her she was with her boyfriend, somewhere. That was fine for Kairi, and she went on her merry way in search for her.

Approaching the training grounds, she saw Braig and Riku sparring, which wasn't a bad idea. Riku wielded a sword, whereas Braig effortlessly brandished a rapier, dodging and weaving through Riku's attacks with a grace and skill that was unusual for him. She shook her head. Boys will be boys, she thought, seeing the determination and attempt to hide his own enjoyment on Riku's face.

Her gaze went up a bit, and she spotted soft pink hair near a balcony overlooking the training grounds. She smiled to herself. That could only be her friend. She turned around to leave, only to realize she wasn't alone.

"Oh, hi, Nora," she greeted, smiling at her guardian.

"Good afternoon, Kairi," the woman greeted with a cordial nod. She looked out at the training grounds. "Your friend is skilled with a sword, hm?"

She beamed, looking back at him. He held his own rather well against the Knight, but it was just a spar. "Yeah, he's really good. But I guess that's obvious, since he's holding his own against a Knight and all," she laughed, watching him fondly. It brought back faint memories of peaceful, carefree days on the Destiny Islands...

Nora noticed her change in demeanor. She took a moment to think about what she was going to say, and then took a chance. "...May I ask how...you know him?" she asked, her voice merely inquisitive.

Glancing to the grass, Kairi considered explaining the truth to her second guardian. It was too convoluted, too difficult to explain, even in Kairi's mind and understanding. She truly wanted to, however. She trusted her guardians without question. Shaking her head, she sighed, "I...don't know how to explain. It's a long story, but it doesn't make sense, even to me." She fiddled with her fingers.

Humming, Nora shifted in place. "...You'd be surprised to know what has been going on, in the past several months or so," she said, looking up upon noticing the two individuals over the balcony. The girl with pink hair beckoned to her, and then motioned to Kairi to bring her up. "...Let's take a walk," she said suddenly, patting Kairi's shoulder before walking away from the training grounds.

Kairi watched after her for a moment before following, only taking a brief glance back at her guardian Knight and best friend from another existence.

-:ReVeKi:-

Kairi approached her friend as they neared her, calling, "Serah!"

The older girl turned from an embrace with a young blond man who positively towered over her, managing a small smile. "Hey, Kairi," she said, barely audible even as Kairi approached.

Kairi did take notice, and her demeanor changed to one of concern. She slowed in her steps, head tilting slightly to the side. "...What's wrong, Serah?" she asked, and then looked up at the young man. "Is...everything alright, Snow?"

He nodded, but it was half-hearted. "...Sort of," he admitted, looking down at Serah.

Serah waited until Kairi was near enough to give her a hug. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I was going, before," she apologized, and the embrace was easily returned. She closed her eyes. "...I want to tell you something important," she said, slightly pulling away to look her friend in the eye.

Brows furrowed, understanding something serious was happening, Kairi nodded. "Of course." She held on to her friend's sides.

Hands on Kairi's shoulders, Serah briefly glanced away. "...Kairi...what if I told you...that many of us here, including myself, remember events and worlds from another timeline?" she asked, not meeting her friend's gaze.

Gasping, Kairi took Serah's hands into her own. "You, too?" she exclaimed in surprise, causing her friend to look up at her.

She blinked. "You...as well?"

"Well..." Kairi's brow furrowed and she glanced away. "I guess it's not the same...timeline...or existence as yours, since there are many from here who also remember the one I'm talking about. The one I remember," she explained.

Behind Serah, Snow ran his fingers through his hair as he shook his head in disbelief. "That's crazy," he muttered, waving his other hand. "How is that even...even a thing?"

"It's definitely more outlandish than what we dealt with on Cocoon," Nora added, approaching to stand nearer to the three. "I...personally don't believe the fal'Cie have anything to do with this..."

At Kairi's confusion, Serah explained, "In the existence we lived in, there were godly beings called the fal'Cie. They controlled every aspect of our lives, and their words were absolute." She grasped Kairi's hands a bit more, her gaze lowering. "...It all began...when I became a l'Cie, someone branded by a mark given by fal'Cie, only I was a Pulse l'Cie, which was against the Cocoon fal'Cie that we were ruled by..."

Listening intently, Kairi followed to the best of her ability.

Slowly, Serah's gaze rose, though her gaze was distant as she looked away. "...I had...an older sister...named Claire. She tried to save me, but along with several others, including Snow, she became branded by the Pulse fal'Cie, as well. They became wanted outlaws in the blink of an eye, all because of me..."

Snow made a face, but it wasn't harsh, one of sympathy, and he placed a hand on Serah's shoulder.

This seemed to snap her out of her daze. Lowering their hands, she said to Kairi, "That's why we left. We were looking for my sister. Everyone else, Kairi, everyone else is here. Sazh, Dajh, Gadot, Hope—even Sirs Raines and Nabaat, despite being enemies, then. Two good friends named Fang and Vanille live far from here, but they're still here." She closed her eyes. "...Everyone but my sister."

With all her heart, Kairi understood. A feeling flushed within her, a mix of fear, worry and even anger. Why was this happening to them? Why was it happening at all...? To anyone? She gave her friend a hug. "...I understand. Really, I do," she said, slightly moving away to look Serah in the eye. The same emotions she felt flickered within the dark blue orbs, and she pursed her lips. She then looked down at the training grounds. "...That boy who arrived here, Riku? He's not from this world."

This caught Snow, Nora and Serah's attention, and they all looked down to watch the silveret as he sparred almost evenly with one of the best soldiers on their star.

"...You mean...he's from off-world, not just another existence?" Snow asked, placing his hands atop the balcony railing.

Kairi nodded, turning to watch as well. "Yeah...He came here, out of nowhere. He doesn't even remember how," she said, and then to Serah, encouraged, "but that could mean...maybe your sister is on another world, somehow."

Serah's eyes widened with encouragement for the first time in several weeks. She smiled, nodding in agreement. "Yeah. Maybe so. Hopefully..." she murmured, glancing down at her hands.

Nora came to her side, placing a comforting hand on her back of her shoulder. "There is always hope," she reminded, causing both Serah and Snow to smile.

Snow turned, just in time to return the embrace given to him by his girlfriend. He met her blue gaze with an amorous smile, and then looked to the stars. "...Hope, eh...?" he said softly.

His gaze was followed by his companion's. Though the stars weren't visible, something twinkled at them from far away, despite the light in the heavens.

A young teen with silver hair and green eyes looked over towards them from his place atop a fence near the training grounds. As if he heard them, a smile came to his face. "...There is always hope," he whispered. He then looked to the sky as well. "Isn't that right...Lightning?"

Chapter Text

The expansive darkness of the void couldn't reach the light emanating from below him. He smiled at its familiarity, knowing exactly where he was, and looked down to meet the stained-glass portrait of his Station of Awakening. Unfortunately, that was when his expression slowly dropped at the jarring unfamiliarity of its new design.

Most noticeably, he wasn't on the stained glass at all, though the image of the Destiny Islands was still below the six circles. At the edge of the platform, the 20 circles still held crowns within them. This was the norm.

...However.

Gone were the profiles of his friends, replaced with the images of three other people, all with closed eyes, and a single image. There was a girl resembling Kairi with black hair, exactly where Kairi's profile used to be, and a familiar boy with blond, spiky locks where Riku's profile once was. Above the girl's image was another boy...who looked exactly like the other blond one, yet looking upon him invoked the impression something was...different, somehow. Their faces also wore different expressions, the first with furrowed brows and the other appearing far more somber.

The last image, above the first boy's profile, was of a paopu fruit.

...Who were these people...?

Furthermore,

SO MUCH TO DO...SO LITTLE TIME...

He tensed, flinching from sudden pain at the voice that spoke. A foreign presence gripped at his being, causing darkness to creep onto the platform.

"Who...who are you?" he asked, looking around. This wasn't like before.

YOU DESERVE NO EXPLANATION. YOU WILL BE TESTED, FOR THE LAST TIME.

He grasped his chest as a sudden flare erupted within, and he gasped while lowering to his knees. Around him, the darkness crept closer. What was happening within his heart...?

"You will not fade."

...This new voice was familiar.

"...you will not fade..."

...Another voice? Or was it the same one...? Like the other—if it was another—it was somehow familiar.

"YOU WILL NOT FADE AWAY."

Yet another voice! This was the strongest one, and it gave him a surge of power that allowed him to push onto his feet. When he looked up, standing before him were two hooded figures roughly matching his own size and shape, with minor differences. Their uniforms were Black Coats...

Yet he felt no hostility from them. To his surprise, he sensed a sort of camaraderie from them, instead. They glanced back at him, their faces obscured with the darkness within their hoods, and the three nodded at one another.

DISSENTER.

Pulling from the void onto the platform came even more darkness, and it slowly took form. It was vaguely humanoid, with what resembled a wispy head at its top, and definite long, clawed arms. Its lower half, however, was phantom-like, wisps of darkness streaming from the void around them. Its size was massive, easily just passing a Darkside's, and that was without a technical lower half.

He took a step back in fear as he watched the monstrous form take shape before his eyes, but then caught the other two still looking at him. Maybe he only thought so, but for a second, he saw the faces within the hood. They were kind...yet sad; one familiar, the other a mirror of a face sought after.

Brows furrowing, he nodded at them once again.

Wordlessly, they each summoned at least one Keyblade as they faced their adversary. The booming, mocking laughter that echoed about the Station did little to shake their spirits, unnatural as it was.

THIS TIME, YOUR KIND WILL BE ENJOYED BEFORE FADING TO NOTHINGNESS.


The waves gently crashed upon the wet sand of the beachside, and the sea glass shone daintily in the sun. The cool breeze brushed through his hair, whisking it about his face, and for the first time since he was very young, he looked upon the great expanse of ocean with a sense of true belonging. Not since that day so many years ago had he recalled such a feeling, the day he arrived on the beachside with the blue gaze of a young brunet boy looking worriedly upon his sickly body...

Sitting upon the sand and against the ledge, the same brunet's limp body rested beside him. Upon his lowered face, the younger teen wore a serene expression, and his friend could only hope, only pray, that he was indeed in a peaceful, calm slumber. If not for the severity of the problems made by their situation, perhaps...this wouldn't be so bad. Not as bad...

Riku softly, derisively scoffed at himself. What was he thinking...There could be nothing "good" about their situation.

"What will you do, Riku?"

His gaze lowered to the sand. At his far-right side behind him, the dark figure of his former replica stood in the shade of the entrance to the cave.

He didn't immediately respond, his expression falling as his thoughts returned to darker paths. "...I...don't know. I've been thinking about it...and I don't know," he hesitantly responded, glancing to Sora's body.

Sekai's eyes glowed in the darkness, focusing on him. "...What do you mean?" he asked, unable to keep the slight irritation out of his voice. "What must you do next? It is simple, no?"

Riku shook his head, heaving a deep, patient sigh, before answering, "...No. It isn't simple. What should I do next? Where do I take Sora? How do I explain this to our folks back home? Should I take him home?" His gaze returned to the ocean. It calmed him. "...Those are my immediate thoughts. No answers, and nothing is simple about the questions."

The pale twin frowned. "...I wouldn't keep Sora out of your sight. Unfamiliar scents have lingered in the air since I arrived here...scents tainted heavily with Darkness. You noticed?" he asked, slowly leaving the safety of the shade to come to Riku's side.

"Yeah. I noticed. That's another reason why I'm uncertain what to do next..."

Sekai stepped onto the sand, letting his bare feet dig back into the warmth. He then sat upon the ledge a respectful distance from his twin, covering the rest of his body entirely with his cloak. "...Venture off-world, then," he said, as if it solved everything.

Another patient sigh. "I don't know where to go, Sekai."

"Yet I do."

At this, Riku glanced back to look at him, and blinked with a small, slightly amused smile upon seeing the huddled bundle of black, save for bare, pale feet in the sand. While he didn't doubt that his former replica knew places to go... "...Would it be safe for you to tell me?" he asked, not bothering to bat around the bush.

"No." A glowing, alien eye peeked from under the hood. "So, I won't tell you. I shall inform you of a familiar, radiant world called the Brightest Star, a place where none of the forces of Darkness have ever fully breached."

Again, Riku blinked, this time with surprise. A radiant world...Radiant Garden...? He opened his mouth to speak when several Corridors of Darkness appeared before him, as well as several figures that teleported with the powers of Darkness

From out of the Corridors came more figures, all wearing Black Coats, creating a total of nine. Somehow, Riku knew none of them was the one that attacked him and Sora, either. He jumped to his feet, holding a hand out protectively as he stood in front of his unconscious friend. Likewise, Sekai stood and inched closer to Riku.

The tallest and broadest of the figures looked towards the former replica. "...Ah...you, again. How long has it been, now...? Ten years?" they asked, their voice heavily masculine and sagely.

A low, inhuman growl was Sekai's response, and he lowered a clawed hand from out of his cloak.

"Who are you?" Riku demanded, though he had more than an idea as to who they were.

"What do you think?" another figure drawled with a shrug. "There are only nine of us...for now."

Riku scowled. "Organization XIII."

"Hand over the boy," said another in a low, monotone voice, this one much different from the others. They were very short, maybe no taller than three feet, and at first glance, Riku was reminded of an old friend that same size. But instead of large, round ears that gave his friend's identity away, their hood was normal, like the others.

Furthermore, instead of standing, they hovered over the ground by at least four feet.

He was wary of this one. "What do you want with him?" he asked, inching closer to Sora.

"That's our business," the second figure said. "And we're more than willing to fight you for him."

"Think now, boy. You're defenseless," the first figure continued, "and we wouldn't want to damage you. You have a role in the future, one we wouldn't dare to interfere with."

"Forget it," Riku spat, waving a hand. He wished he could summon a Keyblade, though he knew he could... "You all reek of Darkness."

Another figure, this one slighter than the others, heavily sighed, "Here we go again with the Darkness thing..."

"We're wasting time," the smallest figure hissed. "Do you all want my brother to find us again?"

Several of the figures muttered to themselves before the first one lowered a hand. In that hand, a large, majestic shield with a keyhole in its center appeared out of wisps of Darkness.

"Hey!"

Riku focused on several of the figures as they stepped forward in what seemed to be shock. The one in front of him even recoiled, lowering the shield. They were looking...behind him.

He turned back, only to see Sekai hovering over Sora's body, his hand within the younger teen's chest. He gasped in horror and reached out. "Sora!"

It happened so fast, he wouldn't remember it. Sekai pulled a heart from out of Sora's chest, and what focused on Riku were not glowing green eyes, but yellow. His free hand then grabbed Riku's, pulling him forward while thrusting the heart into his twin's chest.

Darkness crept at the edges of his vision. Riku fell back, the sounds of shock and cries of anger ringing in his ears. Slowly, his eyes gazed towards the body of his friend, whose body faded away into specks of light.

A voice, so clear and near, rang in his mind.

"You'll thank me later, brother."

Chapter Text

Three children sat in a circle, two boys and a girl. The older boy had periwinkle hair that covered the right of his sapphire eyes and was about twelve years old, whereas the other had silver-grey hair and deep green eyes, approximately five years old. The girl was maybe six or five with strawberry red hair and large blue eyes that were slanted as she looked at the boys.

"My dad is obviously cooler than yours," she said in conversation. "He's one of the bestest, best Knights of the Nth Division!"

The younger boy frowned, crossing his arms childishly. "No, my dad's cooler than yours, 'cause he's…he's a scientist and the Co-Director of the Academy Division!"

"Academics Division," the older boy corrected, and then he made a triumphant grin. "MY dad is literally cooler than both of yours…'cause his element is ice!" he cheered.

The other two children frowned. "That's not fair!" the girl cried, pointing at him. "It doesn't count if it's his element!"

"Does too!"

"Does not!"

"Seconded!" chimed the younger boy, a fist in the air. "Doesn't count!"

"Does too!"

"Does not!"

Watching them, further away and sitting on couches around a coffee table, Even and Bartholomew glanced at one another with amused smiles. On the table before them were steaming cups of coffee. Bartholomew took his up and sipped softly from it before glancing over at the dark figure partially hidden in the doorway at his left.

Also taking notice of him, Even leaned back, highly amused. "Might as well get used to it, Braig. She's been calling you her father in secret for four years, now," he hummed.

Brown eyes rolled with a groan. "I mean, fine, call Nora 'mother'—cause we all know that's flattering to her—but seriously?" he grumbled, unfolding an arm to wave it. "I'm not cut out for that sort of thing."

"I'd say quite the opposite, you've been doing a great job," Bartholomew said between a sip with more than a hint of amusement that caused his counterpart across from him to chuckle.

Braig glared at them both. "As if. I'm just doing my job."

"Exactly why you're doing so well."

"Hey, Bart? Shut up."

Both scientists softly laughed to themselves, causing the dark-haired man to silently grumble even more.

Even sighed, looking up at his fellow Knight. "Honestly, Braig, is it really so bad? She's a child, an orphan, and she's simply imprinting associations onto the two closest people she has to a mother and father," he explained, his voice no longer amused, but the studious trill so common to him when explaining facts. "Quite frankly, you should be flattered, if nothing else…but irritated? Huh. I didn't know you could be so cruel."

A dark glare was thrown the older man's way, but Braig didn't say anything in his own defense. Instead, he glanced over to the children, who remained oblivious to his presence for the moment. No doubt Kairi noticed he was near, but perhaps unaware just how close. He sighed to himself, his expression easing. He watched them as they finally came to a decision that, fine, Even was "literally" the coolest dad. So then who was the hottest?

He barely held in a laugh when both Even and Bartholomew practically spit out their drinks upon overhearing that, and then coughed to prevent himself from actually laughing. Kids said the darnedest things.

Was it flattering that Kairi, his ward, saw him as her father…? No. Not in the slightest. Honestly, it made him feel strange, and not in a good, bubbly-fluttery sort of way. It made him think of his own father, and he would rather not think of his parents.

His gaze darkened again and he looked away, back down the hall that led to the main areas of the Academics Division. He stared at the glass he could see from his view that overlooked the labs in thought.

Yes. He did understand why Kairi thought the way she did...but that didn't mean he had to like it.

Chapter Text

"Kairi? Kairi!"

She slightly stirred, but otherwise didn't move.

"Crap, is she gonna be okay?"

She recognized these voices.

"Ah, she's fine. Just give her a sec."

Grimacing, she slightly groaned while coming to.

"See? She's fine."

...Isa?

"She's not conscious, yet! How is she 'fine'?!"

...Surprisingly, that was Ienzo.

"Aw, she's a strong one; she's okay, man."

And that was definitely Braig.

Again, she groaned, her eyes fluttering open. "...Stop...fussing over me!" she said, her voice rising in pitch as she came to full consciousness. "I'm awake!"

Her gaze greeted five sets of different colored eyes that were looking down at her from the faces of five different men. Bright cobalt blue orbs were the first to widen with relief.

"Kairi!" Ienzo breathed, taking her hand to help her sit up. "Are you alright?"

She smiled at his concern, recalling he was normally one of those who didn't fret over her too much. She briefly placed a hand on her forehead, nodding at her companions. "Yeah, I'm fine. Just a little disoriented," she said, looking up at them.

Seeing she was okay, the others were backing off, though of all of them, Isa and Braig were the only two who were already standing. Asul, Ienzo and Lea had been kneeling or crouched near her and relief was plain upon their features. Ienzo pulled her up to stand, and she then took a good look around them.

They landed from the Starflake upon...well, what was clearly a giant, pinkish cloud. All around them was sky, several more pink-hued clouds, rainbows, and some nearby mountains, whereas below, an ocean was visible. She gasped and crouched a bit, uneasy from being up so high.

"Are we going to be okay??" she asked warily, glancing back at Braig as he came towards her.

He hummed, giving a nonchalant shrug. "I think we're gonna be fine. This place looks distantly familiar..." he said, eyeing the lower clouds.

After they landed, he noticed several flying bodies that hid underneath the clouds or disappeared into the sky. He also noticed the clouds were all linked by rainbows, and he approached a large one connected to the cloud they stood on to tentatively place a foot atop it. It was surprisingly solid, impossibly solid, even after he put his entire weight on it.

He looked back at his group. "We can take the rainbow bridges down or jump and hope we land on the ground."

Kairi and Ienzo grimaced. "I'll take the bridge," Kairi said grumpily, marching forward to do just that. Ienzo shortly followed after her.

As the younger two of the group moved forward, Braig looked to the others. "This is a rather safe world, or at least, it should be," he said to them before following Kairi and Ienzo.

Isa looked skeptic. "You know it?" he asked as they walked.

"Yeah. Means nothin' though, it's been a hella long time. Ten years or so..." he muttered, trailing off. A brown eye glanced back at them. "Keep your guard up," he ordered.

"Roger," Isa and Lea said in unison, whereas Asul merely nodded.

-:ReVeKi:-

The rainbow bridges connecting the clouds had several pathways leading in many directions. Eventually, Braig led the way to lead them down towards the base of a mountain with a noticeable split at its foundation. There was a giant forest as well, with visible mushroom caps, other fungi and the colors of flowers scattered here and there. It seemed entirely fairytale-like, and with the oncoming nightfall, it was even more so as dim lights began to glow from below.

Before too long, the clouds ended, and they were left with no other choice but to jump. Braig stood at the edge of their current cloud, hands on his waist as he looked down. Below, the forest and a field of white flowers were distantly visible; they had left the oceanic area. The mountain was enormous, now that they were closer, and the split at its base was, in fact, large enough for them to see a path of forest ground and more fungi leading deeper inside. That was in front of them.

He moved to his right side upon the cloud to look down. There, a field of white flowers led to what could only be described as a forest of grass instead of trees. As it was now the evening, the fairy lights in the air gave it a magical feel and appearance. It was almost beckoning at them to enter.

Or at least, beckoning at him.

He glanced back. "Looks like we jump," he stated.

At Kairi's groan, Asul came to her side and pointed a clawed finger towards the forest below. "We can land on the mushroom caps," he said to her. "If their size from this distance means anything, they will be more than strong enough to carry our weight."

Braig briefly glanced back at him before looking towards the tall grass again. "...Good thinking." He seemed slightly distracted.

"Just don't land hard," Lea reminded, taking some steps back in preparation to jump.

Nodding, Kairi moved back as well, along with Asul, Ienzo and Isa.

"Don't forget to activate your Grav-Con Unit," Braig reminded as Lea took the first jump forward.

"Yeah, yeah!" the redhead shouted back, and then broke out into whooping shouts of glee as he fell.

Not one to be outdone by the firebrand, Isa smirked before running and jumping, taking a nosedive to catch up with his friend.

Ienzo smiled after them before following, his fall more graceful and controlled than the others'.

Asul was about to run when he noticed Kairi was hesitant. He waited, looking back at her, and then looked at Braig.

Though he didn't look at her, the older man smiled. "You've got this, Kairi," her guardian said to her.

She nodded, looking forward, and then looked up at her partner. "You know how to activate it, right?" she asked him. At his nod, she looked forward along with him.

Together, they took several steps back, then ran forward and jumped. She snapped her fingers, causing an energy field to cascade over her body, as it did for Asul after he followed suit.

"Rendezvous at the grass forest!" Braig shouted after them, a hand held at his mouth.

"Okay~!" Kairi shouted back, smiling from the rush of air and excitement from falling.

He smiled as he watched after them, lowering his hand. A sudden animalistic snort brought his attention to a black, male Pegasus with a white mane and tail that suddenly landed behind him. He smiled at it, turning around to pet its muzzle as it lowered its head. "Hey...you remember me," he said to it. It neighed softly, nuzzling his hand. His smile widened. "Let me guess, your family went and hid, again, just like last time, the jackasses..." He eyed the forms of more Pegasi further back and above in the clouds.

While it didn't nod, there was a look of understanding in its eyes that expressed an apology, but he waved it off.

"...Man, you've grown. You were knee-high last time I saw you..." He recalled the small, scared little Pegasus that he saved a decade ago and shook his head. He then glanced at the tall grass again, adding, "Hey...can you do me a favor? I'm lookin' for someone..."


Kairi and Asul were the last to land upon the mushroom cap, their fall absorbed with the help of their AMP technology. They then stood in awe at the size of the fungi, which its cap alone was easily the size of a small room. Lea and the other two were already on the ground, observing their surroundings.

Ienzo glanced up and noticed their missing member. "Where's Braig?" he called up at them.

Pointing back to the sky, Kairi replied, "He's still up there. Told us to meet him at that tall grass!"

Isa exhaled heavily, following her finger to look to the clouds. They were too far away—and entirely normal-looking—to see the Knight. He slightly shook his head before looking away. When Braig was absent, he was to oversee the group.

Ienzo tentatively placed a hand on the mushroom stem. "I wonder if this is edible?" he pondered aloud.

"What, you hungry?" Lea asked with a grin.

"I'm merely curious, Lea."

"Hm..."

Kairi watched Asul crouch to sniff at the mushroom cap and place a hand upon it. He then gently peeled back the top layer by a bit and looked at it.

"It's safe," he said with a sure nod.

She looked down at the others. "Let's get some and add it to our inventory, then!" she said to Ienzo.

The scientist shrugged, adjusting the bag on his back. "Wouldn't hurt to have some variety," he agreed.

She cheered, and then Asul motioned her away. He raised his claws. "Step down," he said, readying himself.

After she jumped down, he jumped into the air and sliced at the cap. Before anything could happen, he sliced at it several more times faster than Kairi could follow before landing at the center of the cap again. Nothing happened for a second, and then a large perimeter of the cap broke away, cut into small pieces. Kairi, Lea and Ienzo gathered the pieces into their arms and hands as they fell. The cap upon the mushroom was smaller, but still round in shape.

"Great job, man," Lea praised, holding a thumb up.

"Guess what we're having for dinner," Ienzo chuckled with an armful of pieces.

Isa sighed, but he was smiling. "Way too many—"

"Mushrooms!" Kairi cheered.

Asul placed a hand over his chest. "My pleasure," he said with a bow.

They gathered the fungi and put a reasonable amount into Ienzo's bag of provisions. The rest they scattered in the area, knowing it would be put to use by nature. They then left the mountain's base, onwards through the white flowers towards the impossibly tall grass.

-:ReVeKi:-

"What took you guys?" Braig yawned, moving from his cross-armed position against a blade of grass at the forest's entrance.

"Mushrooms," Kairi grinned, popping her last piece into her mouth.

He eyed each of them. They were all snacking on mushroom pieces.

"It's pretty tasty raw," she continued.

"Will taste even better cooked," Ienzo said, nodding in appreciation. He held up a piece of the red cap. "They have a...slight saltiness to them..."

Braig only blinked, vaguely humored. "...Right." He uncrossed his arms and waved them forward. "The Starflake brought us surprisingly close to some allies. Almost like it was attracted to their location," he explained as he led them inside the grass.

"Allies?" Isa asked. "What makes them so?"

"Without a doubt, they'll help us search for both the other Princesses and our wayward Nobody friend," the sniper elaborated.

The forest was, obviously, unusual. It was just as it seemed, consisting of grass as tall as small trees, and strong like them, as well. They were difficult to bend, but they did move, only to steadily reposition themselves upright after a few minutes. It gave a slightly eerie quality to the forest, overall, and the small, dancing gold lights added an air of magic and mystery. The sounds of distant calls from animals were made intermittently, indicating it was, indeed, much like a tree forest.

Smaller, colorful fungi were spotted here and there, along with flowers and other natural forest vegetation. And though they didn't see any animals...

"...Anyone else get the feeling we're being watched?" Lea asked aloud after a few minutes of travel.

"Oh, we are," Braig easily responded, "in fact, the whole forest's alive."

Everyone else except Asul tensed.

"Incredible," he said, awed by it all. He raised a hand to let the lights dance about it. "These lights distantly remind me of Pyreflies back on Spira..."

Kairi came to his side, placing her hands behind her back. "Pyreflies?" she asked, most curious about his world.

"Yes. They are indicative of the deceased that have not passed on," he said.

As she made a sound of interest and sadness, Lea scoffed. "Because that totally helps make this place seem less eerie," he said, swatting at the lights.

Braig chuckled in amusement, glancing back at them. "C'mon kids—they're just fairy lights. Harmless little buggers; you never seen 'em before?"

No one answered, though Kairi murmured, "I wonder if real fairies exist here..."

His eyes focused forward again, Braig's face broke into a knowing smile.

They came upon an open area free of grass tress; a clearing with only flowers and small shrubbery. It was once they neared the center that the atmosphere of the forest suddenly changed, causing them all to stop.

"What is this sensation?" Isa mused, looking around cautiously and drawing his hand to his claymore upon his back.

Ienzo observed, "Feels like...moisture is gathering..." He watched as small droplets rose into the air.

Lea looked concerned. "...This...seems familiar..." he muttered, eyes narrowing.

"Crap." Braig shared a look of realization with Isa. "You don't think—"

From above, a sudden torrent of water poured upon them. It was lukewarm in temperature and heavy, strong enough that Isa, Lea and Braig collapsed to the ground from the pressure. Ienzo had erected a Barrier that he and Kairi stood under while Asul braced himself under his shield, but it meant little when the water rushed from the ground and drenched them, only to turn over and crash upon them all. Just as they hit the ground, barely getting a moment to inhale for air, geyser-like pillars of water rose from below them, throwing them all into the air before hurling them to the ground again.

With a snarl, Isa went to his feet and used his element to force the water away from him, bellowing, "MYDE!!"

In a second, the literal wave of attacks ceased, causing rain to fall over their washed-out bodies before all went still and silent, save for the sounds of sputtering and coughing.

Not too far away, a young man with dirty-blond hair styled in a mullet poked his head from around a particularly large blade of grass. "...I know that voice," he said in an almost horrified whisper. Panicking, he cautiously left his position of safety and neared the clearing. "...I KNOW that voice...It's haunted me in my dreams...in my mind...and I've been dreading for months to— OH, MOTHERLAND!"

Standing before him, teeth bared in a snarl and hands in fists, was a drenched and irate former Number VII of the Organization. Worse yet, beside him stood Lea, arms crossed and none too happy with sopping red hair in his face.

"Myde," Isa growled at the hydrokinetic.

The former Number IX whimpered, but managed an uneasy wave. "Oh...hi...guys...?" Nervously, he laughed, glancing briefly over the other bodies steadily rising to their feet. "And...company. Heheh...Sorry...I think?" he questioned, unsure whether they were enemies or not.

He then saw and watched as Asul helped Kairi stand. "You okay?" her partner asked her.

She was breathing heavily, but nodded. "Yeah," she breathed, moving her hair out of her face.

"...Is...is that the Princess Kairi?" Myde asked, taking a few steps forward, only to retract them at the low growl from Isa.

She looked up at him. "Yes...Do I know you...?"

His expression fell as he shook his head. "No...No, you don't...B-but I know you!" He warily glanced at the others. And then his expression changed into a surprisingly dangerous glower. "These guys aren't...bothering you, are they?" he asked, his tone darkening and his fingers twitching at his sides.

She blinked at the sudden 360-degree change in his demeanor. "...They're not enemies, if that's what you're asking."

He immediately let out a large sigh of relief, shoulders slumping as he leaned over. "Oh, thank heavens, 'cause there's no way I could take all of you out..." He finally took them all in, looking past Isa and Lea to see Ienzo and Braig just beginning to stand. "...Oh. Hey, Xiggy," he said, waving at Braig with a small smile.

Braig sighed, half-heartedly waving back. "Hey, Myde. And it's Braig, by the way."

Surprisingly, Myde moved forward and past the two glaring young men without care to approach the older Knight. "Oh. I never knew your real name, so..." The two bumped fists, perfectly friendly. "Hey, Braig. And...somebody I don't know. And you guys, too," he said, smiling at the group, only to slightly wither at the deepening glares from Isa and Lea.

"You MIND?" Lea snapped, motioning to his wet clothes.

The hydrokinetic shook a finger at him, tutting. "Say please."

"Please," Kairi softly laughed as Lea sputtered with indignation.

A large smile was flashed at her. "No problem, miss," Myde said, and then he held out his hands, palms-up.

The moisture that had gathered in the air and inside their clothes pulled away to form a large, floating ball of water in front of him, drying them. He then lifted a finger while lowering his other hand to let the ball rise high above before it burst into raindrops. The drops fell away from the group, watering the surrounding verdant instead. He smiled, only to bust out into coughing laughter alongside Braig and Lea's whooping calls.

Kairi covered her mouth but forced herself from laughing, whereas Asul smiled and Ienzo bit his cheek.

Eyes closed, Isa deeply exhaled with a long-suffering sigh. His hair was sticking out wildly from his head.

"Oh, man..." Myde said between his laughs, which he tried very hard to stop. "I...I'm sorry about that. I had...no idea..."

"Comb. Now."

The item was immediately procured from Myde's pocket and he handed it to the berserker without any further prompt. Grumbling, Isa picked out a few wayward blond strands before proceeding to comb down his hair, moving away from the center of attention.

"Been a while since I've seen that," Lea laughed, a wave of heat running through his hair that brought it back to its spiky brilliance.

Clearing his throat, having calmed down first, Braig turned his focus towards Myde. "Anyway...Myde, what was that all about?" he asked while Isa punched Lea behind him.

Also sobering up, the young blond sheepishly laughed, rubbing at his neck. "Well, that was a...sort of security measure. You see, I sensed something weird and reacted. Now I see it was likely just—" he glanced sharply at Isa before looking back at Braig— "and I'm really, really sorry about that."

Braig highly doubted that was the real reason..."Jittery as always," he chuckled, patting Myde on the back. "It's fine. I guess we're closer than I thought."

Myde's expression brightened. "You're here to see the King?" he asked. At the shocked expressions turned his way from all except Asul, he grinned. "Yeah, he's here. We set up a small camp further ahead. I was acting as security...which I hate, by the way," he whined, slumping forward again. Shaking his head at himself, he turned to lead the way.

As they began to move again, Ienzo asked him, "Why do you need security?"

Turning around to walk backwards, he animatedly explained, "Well, since Kairi's here, I guess I can tell you. For the past several months we've been trying to counter the new Organization XIII, which I'm sure you guys know about, right?" At their nods, he continued, "Good, so, for some reason, they've been going after the other Princesses. We've stopped them twice since I've been traveling with the King."

Kairi gasped, "So there are other Princesses here?"

He smiled at her. "On this good ol' star, Fantasia, itself? Nope, but we currently have Gisella with us," he said, turning around just in time to smoothly evade a blade of grass.

"Gisella?" Kairi asked. But she figured it out before he answered. "Oh! Cinderella!"

He laughed. "Yeah, that's her famous nickname. Her real name's Gisella, or Ella for short."

"How come we can't sense her?" Asul asked, walking beside Kairi.

Myde glanced back at him. "Oh...I don't know you; what's your name?" he asked.

"Asul Guado. I am Kairi's partner," said the Guado, raising his hand to show the glistening outline of a large shield.

Blond brows rose in amazement. "Wow, Kairi! You're a Keywielder??" After she nodded sheepishly, Myde said to Asul, "Well met! Name's Myde."

"Pleasure to meet you," Asul said with a cordial nod.

"Likewise," Myde said with a cheerful smile before looking forward once more. "To answer your question...Well, you'll find out~"

As they came upon another clearing, Kairi whispered to Ienzo, "He's a real quirky guy, isn't he?"

Smiling with humor, the scientist nodded. "Even as a Nobody, he was like this, to a reasonable degree," he said with a soft chuckle.

Within this clearing were three pitched tents, not so unlike the ones Kairi's party had, only larger. The only people around were two unfamiliar Mobians who turned to face them as they neared.

"Who's—! Oh! Hey, Myde," said the taller one wielding a sword...who looked a lot like—

"Goofy??" Kairi asked, blinking as she took in the apparent swordsman.

Indeed, the Mobian looked all too much like the Royal Knight of the Disney Kingdom, except younger with longer hair instead of a few strands. His eyes rolled, but a resigned smile quirked at his lips. "Nah, that's my dad," he said with a sigh, sheathing his sword. "My name's Max."

Both Lea and Braig froze in place, their eyes as wide as saucers to stare with horrified awe strewn upon their faces. "GOOFY had a KID!" they cried in unison.

They suddenly doubled over in pain from equal, fierce punches to the stomach; Braig from Kairi and Lea from Isa.

"Manners!" Kairi hissed at them. She then turned around and swiftly apologized, "Please don't mind them!"

Though he smiled, one of Max's eyes twitched. "I'm...rather used to it, but thanks," he said, sighing yet again.

Beside him, his shorter, stouter companion placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm proud of you, man," he said.

All the attention then focused on this young Mobian. Several eyes narrowed with suspicion before widening in shock.

"PETE HAD—" Braig suddenly lowered to his knees, clutching his stomach and his eyes tightly shut in pain. "...Oh...damn...Kairi...I give..." he whispered, coughing as a fist retracted.

Brushing off her hands, Kairi huffed before turning to face Max and his friend with her hands on her hips. "Sorry about that," she sighed, pointedly ignoring how Lea, Isa, Asul, and Ienzo stared at her with bulging eyes. "I'm Kairi. What's your name?" she asked he who was apparently Pete's son.

He and Max were smiling with appreciation and awe. "Peter Pete Jr., but you can call me PJ. We know you," he said, and then he and Max bowed to one knee, "Princess Kairi."

Self-conscious, she gently flushed and waved her hands at them. "H-hey! Please, stand! Please just call me Kairi," she said, looking away and scuffing at the ground with her shoe. She glanced at Braig, who had long recovered, and was smiling knowingly at her. She made a face at him.

Max softly laughed, rising along with PJ. "If you say so."

"I do," she sighed, smiling appreciatively at them, "I really do..."

"I see you're all enjoying yourselves."

The attention went to the tents, where, approaching them from the largest one, was King Mickey, along with Gisella in a casual dress and blue cape, a young man with brown hair dressed similarly to a spellcaster and an older Guado, the latter two neither Kairi nor her party members recognized. Myde was also with them, smiling broadly.

Upon seeing them, Braig lowered to one knee in a bow, and Asul, Isa, Lea, and Ienzo followed suit. "Your Majesty, and Princess Gisella," he said with respect.

Mickey's brows furrowed upon seeing them. "...Braig," he said, humming deeply while crossing his arms.

As this happened, Kairi ran to and hugged Gisella. "Ella! I'm so glad to see you!"

"You, too, Kairi, and in person, at last!" said the older Princess, her face radiant with a relieved smile.

This brought Myde's attention from his ex-comrades and Asul to them, tilting his head to the side. "You've...never met?" he asked, rightfully confused. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Max and PJ disappear into the forest.

Parting from the embrace, Kairi shook her head. "Our hearts did, but not physically," she explained.

"And...not in this existence at all, truthfully," Gisella added sadly. "...It's quite confusing."

Nodding, Myde sighed heavily, shaking his head at the reminder. "...Right. That whole bit..." His eyes wondered back over to where the king was addressing Braig and the others, though Asul was no longer amongst them as he approached the older Guado to converse.

Mickey stood before the former Numbers II, VI, VII, and VII of Organization XIII. "Rise," he said to them. After they did, he shook his head with a deep sigh of his own. Things were simply too unknown and confusing to properly explain, or even begin to voice, so he decided to keep it simple. His expression eased to one of relief. "It's been a long while, Braig. I hope Ansem's okay," he said to the older Knight.

All at once, Kairi, Ienzo, Isa, Myde, and Lea snapped their heads towards the former Number II. "WHAT?!"

Eyes slanting with a small smile, Braig ignored their reactions and responded with, "Yeah, he's still kickin'." His expression then turned serious as he frowned, informing, "Though we had to leave during a Daylight Siege, so we have no idea what Radiant Garden's like, now."

Mickey gasped, then lowered his head and placed a hand over his heart. "Old friend...I hope you fare well..." he murmured. He took a moment to briefly close his eyes, as if saying a silent prayer, before managing a small smile and looked up at everyone else. "...Well, I suppose ya have some questions..." he began.

Pointing between Braig and the King, Myde exclaimed the one thing everyone was thinking: "You two know each other?!"

Ienzo, who had been thinking, raised a finger to his chin. "...I seem to recall something like this..." he declared, and beside him, Isa nodded. "An off-world meeting that happens every decade..."

"The Decennial Congress," Braig chuckled, nodding at them. He then raised a brow in approval. "You two—and Lea and Kairi—were still pretty young when it happened ten years ago, and don't even get me started on the decade before. Impressive, guys."

The young genius furnished a slightly smug smile, folding his arms and looking quite like his godfather in that moment. "Well, Even thoroughly explained it to me at least twice. That sort of thing shouldn't be forgotten," he admitted while Isa simply smiled at his younger companion.

"The De...What?" asked Kairi, entirely confused.

Lea snapped his fingers, his face brightening with recollection. "Oh! Now I remember...!" He turned to her, laughing softly with slanted, mischievous eyes. "You don't remember that, do you~? Man, you were a mess when Braig had to leave with the other Knights that were chosen to go!"

For the second time, she slightly flushed with self-consciousness, frowning as the attention went to her. "W-well, of course I was...!" she said, defending her younger self even though she didn't remember. "...I just want to know what it is."

Saving his ward further embarrassment, Braig explained, "Like Ienzo said, there's an off-world event that happens every ten years. Y'see, the ship made from Star Flakes that brought us here—they're absurdly rare, so when they're found, they're saved to use for repairing the ships used for a meeting between the World Rulers within the system. That event's called the Decennial Congress." He beckoned to Mickey. "I went ten years ago with Dilan and Yaag, amongst others, and that's how we met...Oh, and Volken, back there, too." He nodded at the older Guado, who had been standing patiently along with Asul and the other unknown young man that was near Gisella.

"Oh!" Gisella exclaimed, holding her hand to her mouth. "We never introduced you two!"

The older Guado had reddish hair unlike Asul's blue, amongst other differences. His claws were also significantly longer and he wore robe-like clothing as opposed to more fitted, armored ones. "That is perfectly alight, my lady, we understand," he said with a smile. He then bowed, a hand over his chest. "I am Volken Guado, King Mickey's partner."

The unknown man smiled widely, showing his two greatly protruding front teeth. "I'm Jaq, Giselly's guardian!" he said. "You can also call me Hugh, if you like."

"And now that we're all acquainted," Mickey quickly stepped in, his expression and tone turning grave, "we have much to discuss."

Everyone understood, and all at once, the atmosphere changed. It was then some of them realized Myde, Max and PJ had disappeared. Ienzo began, "Where did—"

"They're patrolling," Braig interrupted, arms crossed as he glanced at his younger companion. "...Doing a damn good job, too."

"I must urge that you and Kairi go inside," Jaq said to Gisella, motioning towards the largest tent. "We may have put you both in danger."

"Yes, I agree," she said, and then took Kairi's hand as she began to walk towards it. "Kairi, we'll explain everything, but for now, we must go in."

Kairi glanced back at Braig, who wasn't looking at her as Mickey began to speak with him. Despite this, he made a small but noticeable nod when she did. "...Okay," she accepted, moving along with her fellow Princess.

As the two went to and entered the tent, Asul and Jaq stayed nearby. Isa would have as well, except Braig stopped him.

"Trust Asul," he said.

Sea-green eyes narrowed, but Isa let it go, standing near and looking at them. "...I'll trust you," he said softly.

Braig slightly smiled, then focused back on the king. "We're moving, tonight?" he asked in conversation.

"Or as soon as possible," Mickey said. "The magic Donald cast on the tents can only protect the Princesses from Darkness so long as they remain inside it. I admit we slipped up, so we should leave soon."

Nodding, Braig glanced away in thought. "Like you, we left Radiance Star to protect Kairi, and then to also search for the other Princesses, though we need some help."

Mickey shut his eyes. "If only we had another Keywielder..."

"There's Kairi."

"But she doesn't know how to wield it, does she?"

"...No," Braig admitted. There was no one who could have taught her until now. "However, we did come upon Riku—"

The king's eyes widened with hope that hadn't shined within them for ten years. He immediately became animated, asking, "Riku? Where is he? There's so much he's gotta help with! What about Sora? He's gotta help, too!"

Holding his hands up, Braig explained, "That's just it, he's busy looking for Roxas again, 'cause Sora's heart is inside of Riku."

Large black eyes blinked in speechless shock. Mickey's excitement diminished and died as the words were digested, and he looked to the ground.

That was a very realistic reaction, and Braig almost felt bad for having to deliver the grim news. "...We're kinda on our own, as far as Keywielders go..." He took a moment to let the silence roll through, and then sighed. "...So, we're heading to Ghibli Star next?" he asked, crossing his arms.

To the Mobian's credit, he bounced back from the news rather quickly. "...Well, I'd say we should all go, but it's too dangerous to travel with two Princesses, despite our numbers," he advised, brows furrowed in thought as he looked back up. "If we were confronted by the nine Organization members that exist, now, we could surely lose a fight. Some of them have tremendous power, and our allies have only encountered them at least two at a time."

"Allies?" Isa asked, finally involving himself in the conversation.

Mickey nodded. "We have a few, but we need more. I know of at least one—a powerful one—upon Ghibli, but he's gonna need help protectin' the Princess that's there. And she is most important, if you can believe that, 'cause she's the oldest in existence." His already grave expression deepened, and he briefly closed his eyes. His silence brought all attention to him and he looked upon them with a severe look in his eyes. "She's of the first generation of Princesses of Heart, born directly after the Keyblade War. And she knows this."

Aware this was a different person he was talking about, Lea and Ienzo stepped closer, as they had been listening. Nearby, looking around, Volken was also aware of the conversation, but already knew of the information.

"...She...?" Braig asked, his mind racing with the possible contenders. It quickly dawned on him, because there could only be one. "...You...gotta be kidding me," he breathed, his eyes widening in realization.

"I sincerely wish I was," Mickey lamented, shaking his head deeply. He looked down, his hands tightening into fits. "She's already corrupted her world, and furthermore, has the heart of one Princess, the Princess of Enchante Star."

Horror dawned upon Isa, Lea and Ienzo's faces. Because while, yes, there could only be one "she", both in their existence and in the other, as there was always just one; and the possibility that there was still only one and that one was her would not surprise them, despite the wretched changes to their Now....

Those very wretched changes could have unspeakable impacts to what it meant about her.

She, the Mistress of All Evil.

Solemnly, Mickey declared, "Maleficent has Briar Rose's heart."

Chapter Text

Two unknown men walked through the halls of the Hollow Bastion guest wing. The one leading sported stark white, long hair in braids that were held in a high ponytail, clashing interestingly with his brown skin, and was dressed in a hooded navy-black cloak that partially hid his clothes underneath. He walked with firm yet somehow leisurely strides, his face obscured from his nose upwards by a mask with unusual designs upon it. His muscular, wiry arms were visibly bare with silver braces on his biceps, his hands in loose fists as he walked.

A tall, elven man walked somewhat behind him at an equally leisurely gait, his blue, vine-like hair curled under his pointed ears and from the top of his head like antennae. Prominent bluish veins ran under his eyes and down his cheeks, and his most outstanding features were his large claw-like hands that were also veiny. His clothes were plainly visible, or so they seemed, consisting of a long tunic with designs at the bottom and ends of the arms that were also slightly swirl-like and a simple off-white color, with the tunic itself a violet-blue hue. While he seemed to be dressed rather simply, the soft clinking of armor underneath his tunic hinted otherwise.

They didn't seem to be heading into any particular location, though the first man stopped briefly at a closed door in the hall. "...They were here not too long ago," he said, though there was an edge of caution to his baritone. "...As well as someone...no...something else," he murmured to himself.

Sharp ears, however, caught this, though his companion did not comment on it. Instead, he looked around and down the hall. "We'll come upon others, soon. We should come up with an explanation as to why we're here. Inside the heavily guarded castle," he said to the other.

The masked man scoffed, turning from the door to continue walking through. "Their defenses are paltry if they can't even prevent Dark users from entering this place via Corridors," he said derisively.

"I doubt someone is unaware we're here," his companion continued, as if he didn't hear him, "and I've a feeling they're watching us, now."

"They likely are," he sighed, slowly raising his hand from underneath his cloak.

"Good, 'cause that'll make this even more enjoyable."

Both men immediately positioned themselves back-to-back, summoning magnificent shields with Keyholes in their centers into their hands after the disembodied voice echoed around them. The one wielded by the white-haired man looked corrupted, with cracks in it and bound in black bindings that the Keyhole sat at the center of where they intersected. Furthermore, it had a familiar blue eye at the end of its almost tail-like protrusion at its bottom, below the Keyhole and bindings.

The one wielded by his companion was beautiful yet simple in comparison, curved inwards at it sides and top with smaller curves below and in the opposite direction of the larger side ones. Bound around the ends of the large side curves were vine-like designs that seemed embossed into them. Lastly, below the Keyhole at its center was a small, star-like shape.

The voice chuckled with appreciation after they summoned their weapons. "Nice toys you have, there...Let's see how you dance."

Out of literal nowhere, a hail of blue lasers bending towards the two men opened upon them, followed by a larger one with a black trail that aimed at them directly. The white-haired man erected a Reflect spell, but to his shock it only caused the small ones to reflect away, scattering seemingly though the hall, but they disappeared instead. The larger laser cut right through the Reflect, forcing him to lift his shield.

But once again, the laser only bounded off the surface instead of disappearing.

"Watch out, Nor!" his companion shouted, mindful of him despite his own predicament against the lasers as he blocked them with his shield.

From out of small wormholes, the fast, small blue lasers returned and struck the first man down. Before he could recover, not only did the large laser finish bounding from off the small boundary of the hall, but it hit him point-blank, shattering his mask.

After it shattered, he covered his eyes, gasping in pain. In that split moment, a man dressed in a black guard's uniform warped from the ceiling and tackled him to the floor, binding him in a chokehold there and holding down his legs with his own. Furthermore, several of the large blue lasers appeared, but held in place, shuddering in the air halfway out of the wormholes as if waiting to be set free, pointing at the other man.

"Now...you boys are gonna answer a few questions," the guard said evenly, his painfully languid voice sounding somehow darkly menacing. "And I assure you, I've nothing against snapping your neck right now, and dare you to think I won't do it."

Clenching his teeth, the elven man lowered his shield before letting it disperse.

Struggling to breathe, the other man kept his eyes closed, but managed to say, "...F-fine."

"Swell. That was easy. So, then...what are you doing here?"

"We're looking for our partners," the elven man said. "We've come from an entirely different system from this one, and it's important that we find them. Our search has led us here."

The guard nodded with mocking appreciation. "Straight to the points. I'm liking you a bit. Your friend, here, not so much." Emphasizing this, he squeezed his arm a little more, causing the man to gasp for air. "What makes you think your partners are here?"

"Our Lockshields led us to them," said the elven man quickly, eyeing his struggling friend. "They respond to Keyblade wielders, specifically the ones we are partnered with, so they must be here."

Ignoring the man jerking in his hold, the guard's sharp brown eyes narrowed, but he casually continued, "Lockshields, huh. That the name of your weapons?"

"Yes."

"I'm gonna take an educated guess they work like Keyblades." Finally, the guard let the man go, but in that same second, he disappeared entirely from view without so much as a warning. The lasers, however, did not.

The downed man's companion came to his side, placing a hand on his back and looking around warily before whispering, "I told you this was a bad idea."

Coughing and taking large gulps of air, the white-haired man breathed, "Sh-shut...shut up...Asul...th-that guy...isn't...normal."

"Yes, I noticed..." his companion murmured.

Several short minutes passed, during which time the blue lasers did not disperse.

Then suddenly, a tall teenager with neck-length silver hair whose face was twisted in a scowl as he glared at them appeared near the beginning of the hall. "Be very, very glad he decided to get me," he said as he began to approach, "'cause there's a certain six-lance-wielding aerokinetic who would have destroyed you if given a quarter of a chance."

Though his eyes were still closed, Nor went still upon hearing the boy's voice. He whispered, "That's him..."

"Your partner?" Asul asked rhetorically in a similarly low voice. "...Impressive..."

"What are you two whispering about?" the boy snapped. "At this point in time, I barely trust anyone, let alone two weirdos who show up from the Dark into this castle."

"...I'm gonna have such a fun time with him..." Nor muttered to himself with a wry, long-suffering sigh.

The silveret came quite close, unafraid and peeved, allowing them to see his bright, almost glowing turquoise eyes had vertically slanted pupils. He looked down at the man still recovering on the floor. "What's with you?" he demanded.

"...Your...warping friend—"

"He's not my friend."

"—acquaintance nearly choked me to death and I can't see when it's light out."

The boy huffed, and then muttered something under his breath about someone not being half a bad guard before beckoning to Asul. "And you? Never seen someone like you before."

"I'm a Guado from another star far from here; actually, my companion and I are from the same system. Did the...guard inform you of what we said?"

"Yeah, and he was freaking pissed about something." The boy beckoned behind him. "You're lucky Kairi's too curious for her own good and told him not to make a commotion of what is technically an invasion, or you'd be dead, I heartily assure you that."

"...Kairi?"

Silver hair swayed. "Never mind. Let's see these shields of yours, and don't try anything funny; that 'warping acquaintance' of mine is still near."

Asul would have tried to assure that they meant no harm, but didn't bother. They were already in their situation, there was no point in trying to reverse it with words. Instead, he would let actions speak for him. "Understood," he said, and then, staying crouched on the floor beside Nor, held his hand out before him.

The sleek, curved shield, roughly twice the size of a targe, appeared from a flourish of what seemed almost like brown leaves into his hand; quite Keyblade-like. Instead of holding it, he lowered it to the floor and pushed it forward for the boy to observe.

Alien eyes quickly scanned it. "...It does seem quite like a Keyblade. It even has a Keyhole..." the boy murmured. "...And the only other who can wield a Keyblade is..." He looked back up at the Guado.

Without prompt, Asul explained, "We had dreams, similar, yet different in their ways. In these dreams, we fell into watery abysses to land upon stained-glass platforms with our images etched into them, as well as those of places, people or objects special to us. A strange and dismembered voice then spoke to us, speaking in riddles. Shortly after, in these dreams, we wielded our shields for the first time. Soon after that, in the waking world, they materialized fully during our times of need."

As he spoke, the boy's expression, thankfully, eased. His pupils gently pulsed, dilating before contracting again, and he scanned the two of them. "...This is...new. But not unwanted," he conceded. Crossing is arms, he then asked, "How did you learn you needed to find your partners?"

"We were told to look for them in our dreams, our...Dives into our hearts."

At this term, the boy raised his head with a look of understanding in his eyes. He stayed still for a moment, visibly contemplating, and then nodded, glancing back. "Let them go, Braig," he said. "I'm willing to believe them."

"Maybe you are," the guard said, appearing beside the boy from nothing, "but I'm not willing to trust them."

"Never said anything about trusting them." The boy turned away and began to walk down the hall. "...I'm getting Kairi, then. You can keep your eagle eyes on them," he called.

Once he was far away enough, Nor, who was sitting upright and back on one hand, scoffed, "Is he always like that? 'Cause he's my partner and I'd like to know what I'm getting into."

Brown eyes darkly narrowed. "Yeah, that's Riku...And it's a bit too late, wanting to know that," he said evenly. He then casually stepped close and lowered to whisper to him, "I know what you have, Marked One."

This was immediately countered with, "And I know what you are."

A yellow glow crept into Braig's left eye while his right steadily turned black. "I won't tell—"

"—if you don't," Nor finished, turning his head to stare with natural white eyes into that yellow eye that he could easily see. "...I...hate your kind," he said in an even lower pitch, his voice dripping with spite.

A dark, eerie grin crept onto the sniper's face. "And I'm just gonna sit back and watch you suffer," he retorted in the same tone, if not with a darker edge that his laid-back accent only made even more menacing.

Nor's jaw locked, his body trembling and twitching as if holding himself back, but otherwise did nothing. In the end, he turned his face away, his teeth grinding audibly.

A shiver of dread and fear crawled down Asul's back. Though he seemed to be ignoring them for the sake of privacy, he was unfortunate—or perhaps fortunate—enough to have overheard everything. He watched Braig move away to casually saunter back to where he had stood before; his eyes were normal, again.

Footsteps then began to approach them, bringing an illusion or perhaps the truth of Light from a teenage girl walking forward alongside Riku, casting a dark shadow where the sniper stood down the long hall.

Chapter Text

Twenty years ago—and exactly so—something horrible happened to Radiance Star. In the capital castle city of Radiant Garden, it happened in the early morning, a time when people, civilians and soldiers alike, would normally find respite from a long night of terror and strife after an attempted invasion from the Forces of Darkness. The fact that such a thing hadn't happened before this tragedy was counted as a blessing, but only whispered such by those who hadn't lost anything. For all else, little mattered, for lives were lost and destruction was severe.

This was just like then, twenty years ago. Or it was going to be; as he sat up in bed sheet white and eyes wide in horror and from siphoning the sweet tendrils of Darkness he sensed from so far away yet so close, he could feel it.

But not if he could stop it.

Snapping out of his stupor, he roused himself from bed and summoned creatures from the Dark to act as an alarm that something was wrong, that it was happening, again.

Just like he did twenty years ago.


Kairi was roused from her slumber from sensations of fear and threat. She gasped awake, her sheets bunched in her hands and eyes open wide. Immediately, she knew what it was, and without prompt, she slipped out of bed to don more appropriate clothes. As she dressed, panic settled in, and she glanced to the windows near her bed.

This was not normal.

This was not the norm.

It was too early—far, far too early—for this to be happening.

She knew why it was happening, but didn't know why it was happening.

Several times during innumerable occasions over the course of her life, she experienced this. But never, ever did it happen this early. Blue was just seeping into the heavens, such a light touch of blue to the dark sky that she had to part her blinds and stare to see it at all. Normally, a similar blue meant the settling of true nightfall, and then the terror could begin, if it had to. If it had to. But as she moved from her window to stare at her bedside clock, it did not lie to her, the seconds hand ticking audibly and accurately in the quiet room.

The soft glow of the clock's backlight presented the time to her.

Five-thirty in the morning.

Alongside the ticking, the only other sound in her ears was of her own heartbeat as it began to loudly thump.

It was too early for terror.

As if on cue, there was urgent knocking at her door before her grandmother swiftly entered the room.

"Kai—Kairi! Oh, goodness, you're awake...!" Talulah came to her granddaughter's side, hugging her close.

Mechanically, Kairi held her arms around her only biological family, suddenly all too aware something was different. Something was going to happen. She sensed Braig nearby, and she could tell even he was frightened. She hugged her grandmother tighter.

Something was going to happen.

"...Now...Kairi, we must go." Talulah gently broke the embrace and took Kairi's hand to lead her out of her room. Neither she nor Braig bothered to close the door behind them.

As they walked urgently through the castle, the sounds of life roused by the Night Guard could be heard from outside. The airships of the Cavalry were flying, readying for and about to enter battle. The Nth Regiment soldiers were gathering, ready to fight and protect. The Auxiliary Forces were just awakening, but working dutifully alongside the soldiers to protect and serve. The sounds of large Barriers erecting all around by the White Mages to give time for civilians to hide within the Caverns built so long ago.

The sounds of heavy, booming gunfire as the canons fired towards the sky, casting white, yellow and blue flashes in what should not have been the darkness of early morning.

They were familiar sounds, in a jarring, traumatic sort of way. Yet familiar, and somewhat ordinary, regardless.

They were nearly at the foyer when the familiar, horrible sensations began to tingle in the back of her mind, seep into her heart, overwhelm her being. It was gradual, but swept through her body, and she slowed in her walking, her eyelids fluttering.

Darkness.

So much Darkness.

It was already so close, and unlike anything she ever felt before.

She began to keel over, but only tilted by a few inches before she was gently scooped into her guardian's arms and carried. They were used to this happening to her.

But not so soon.

It wasn't yet so debilitating that she went unconscious, however, and so as she stared off between her eyelids, hearing the beating of her guardian's own erratic heartbeat, she listened. There was little else she could do.

"It's happening again," said Talulah, her voice low, but wrought with concern and fear. "...Never did even my darkest nightmares ever dare to impress it could happen again, and in my granddaughter's time..."

The exhale of breath was from Braig sighing. "...Twenty years...was a long time ago," he softly murmured.

"Not long enough," Talulah almost—almost—hissed at him from fear and sadness.

"We're ready, this time, Lulah. We'll survive this," he reassured.

She said nothing, and Kairi slowly moved her head to look at her grandmother. "...Grandma..." she said softly, her voice low and weak, reaching out with her left hand towards the older woman.

Upon seeing this, Talulah's expression deteriorated to one of pure sorrow, breathing, "Oh, my dear Kairi..." She took the girl's hand into hers as they walked.

"Kairi!"

Kairi didn't move, her eyes closed, but she recognized Ienzo's voice. All she could do was listen.

"The lifts are ready for you," he said, walking in stride with them. "About 30% of the civilians have already made it into the Caverns."

Braig softly swore at the low percentage, and Kairi heard it. "And Lord Ansem?" he asked.

They swiftly descended the foyer steps from the right side. The giant chandelier was lowered, its flame extinguished and its sides extended as a platform. At the center of the foyer was a large hole that had both a staircase leading down into the ground and enough space for the lift to descend, if necessary.

What answered his question was seeing the Wise himself standing past the open doors to the castle and looking out at the flashing sky with Dilan and Aeleus at his sides.

Talulah left Braig's side to come to the side of her old friend and former mentee, placing a hand on his back to get his attention. He broke away as if from a trance to look at her and did not smile, but was relieved. He then looked back to see Braig, Kairi and Ienzo, and he frowned with concern upon seeing the girl in her Knight's arms.

"...I sense it, too," he said suddenly, solemnly, turning to look towards the sky again. His amber eyes reflected the abnormal lights before lowering as he contemplated. "...The Darkness is more powerful this time than it has ever been in all my lifetime of living in Radiant Garden. Perhaps...it is the new Organization XIII."

Braig's eyes narrowed and Ienzo's hands tightened into fists.

"Unfortunately, this is merely speculation..." The king shook his head, trailing off, and then swiftly turned to face them. "Do what must be done, Braig," he ordered, and beside him, Talulah's expression slowly dropped to one of understanding.

She nodded, also turning to Braig and Ienzo. Her blue-green eyes were turning glassy from forming tears. "...Yes. I...always knew a day like this could come," she said softly. She then steeled herself, taking strong strides forward to once more take her granddaughter's limp hands into hers. Kairi's eyes were closed, and her breathing was slightly laborious. Brushing her fingers through the girl's strawberry red hair, Talulah stared at the sleeping face. "...Take care of her, Braig," she whispered, forcing her voice not to break.

His expression was an unreadable mask, though his eyes shone with something unusual. He could not bow, but he stood at attention. "Sir. Ma'am," he verbally saluted. "Final order, Lord Ansem, sir?"

Ansem the Wise entered the foyer, his hands held behind his back. He kept a locked, almost dangerous gaze with the Knight, and he held his head upright. He stood directly before him, but behind Talulah, and took a moment to gaze towards Kairi.

The Princesses of Heart...

A sudden boom shook the castle, and he looked back into the sharp brown eyes.

His voice unshakable and absolute, he commanded, "Deploy the Knightreign."


The Scintilla Corps was the name of the main militia of Radiance Star, scattered throughout the star and around Radiant Garden, the base of its operations. It consisted of five divisions, not including the subsidiaries which were, in a way, their own "Scintilla Corps" in their area. Each division had a general, a lieutenant general and several more ranks below.

In the sky, the aerial division of the Cavalry was headed by the general—properly known as Air Chief Marshal—Cid Raines. His lieutenant general—or Air Marshal—was Jihl Nabaat, who was rumored to soon to be promoted to general somewhere else on the star in a Corps subsidiary. An important member of the Cavalry was Squadron Leader Sazh Katzroy, known to be possibly the best pilot within the entire fleet. The Cavalry's main airship, that acted as the division's base, was the Lindblum, which steadily made its way through the sky above Hollow Bastion. From its immense size, it cast daylight shadows over the castle city from the amount of lights in use, and the numerous smaller lights about it were from its massive support fleet as they readied for aerial warfare.

On land, the main infantry came from the Nth Regiment, led by General Yaag Rosch, Isa's father. His lieutenant general was Amodar, who was located at the main entrance to the Caverns. The Nth Regiment consisted of the gunners, support air strikers, warriors, and offensive and support spellcasters from the White Mages division. Several units were leaving the city to surround Radiant Garden's perimeter, and the second Radiance militia, the Chasma League, provided naval support above and below the water.

Within the city, the civilians were being escorted to the protected entrances of the Caverns below the city by the Auxiliary Forces of the Corps. Sergeants operated from small encampments and positions throughout every inch of Radiant Garden, making sure not a single civilian nor officer was left behind before all hell broke loose. Alongside the sergeants and officers, both medics and support spellcasters of the White Mages assisted however they could.

Within the Corps, however, existed two special groups. The one known to the public was the Knights, a highly skilled and powerful group of elites who answered directly to Ansem, the World Ruler, in place of any other commander. They had their own special "rules" they were to abide by, but were otherwise unrestricted by the laws of all other soldiers with a plethora of specialized tasks ranging from escort to plain suicidal that they were often expected to juggle at a time. Members of the Knights included Yaag, Braig, Aeleus, Even, Cid, Jihl, Sazh, Dilan, and the newly-Knighted Snow, Isa and Gadot. The best example of one with full unrestricted responsibilities, be they to a division or otherwise, however, was Braig.

The last specialized group was entirely unknown to the public and was only known by those who needed to know. They were a group of elites who were not all required to carry the title of Knight, but were, for a considerable amount of years, in wait for a great need one day in the future.

This group was none other than the Knightreign.

Their time for deployment had come, by the order of the king himself.


Over their aural intercoms, four young men came to attention upon hearing the beeping of a transmission over a private and unused frequency. They immediately listened in as a simple order was relayed:

"We rendezvous at the Caverns. This isn't a drill, kids—last I checked, we don't get those, so haul ass."

A young man with flaming red hair lowered his hand from his ear, chuckling darkly as he looked to the unnatural lights in the sky. "...Roger," he said, just loud enough to be heard. "About that time, eh?" he murmured to himself.

-:ReVeKi:-

"Roger," Ienzo softly responded, already nearing where he needed to be and with the people who needed him.

-:ReVeKi:-

A hand lowered from a pierced ear, and sea-green eyes looked towards a man farther away from him who was overlooking a digital map showing his ground forces around and still within the city's perimeter. The man had silver-blue hair and a scar over his face, and then the eyes lowered from watching him, resolute, yet vaguely resigned. "Roger."

-:ReVeKi:-

"Understood," said a young Guado, meeting up with and running alongside Ienzo.

-:ReVeKi:-

Twenty years ago, something horrible happened on Radiance Star. In his mind's eye, Braig recalled it clearly.

He remembered seeing the horde of black in the bluish sky of early morning, staring up with wide, frightened eyes and feeling helpless. If only for a moment.

He remembered his fear and wavering, novice resolve when he summoned Dark creatures for the second time in his life, but this time, on his own free will. They were not Heartless, but something other. Perhaps, even, darker.

He remembered forcing his wildly beating heart to force the creatures to submit to his order, his order for them to not kill, as they had done once, only to run rampant, sound the alarm.

And they obeyed.

Thanks to that decision to do what he never would have otherwise considered, Radiant Garden stood as an unwavering pillar of strength and hope for the rest of the star for twenty more years.

And now...

He glanced behind him at the two younger men, and then down at Kairi as she struggled to breathe in his arms. He clenched his teeth together, but outwardly showed no emotion. His eyes focused back ahead as they ran through an industrial area within the Caverns towards a secret location only known to the members of the King's Guard—another division—and the Knights. It was a place where they could find both a way off the star and where Kairi could recover.

As they ran deeper inside, he sensed the Darkness become fainter and the Light become stronger.

Just a little farther, and then she would be alright.

What happened then would not happen again.

Chapter Text

Turquoise eyes with slanted pupils stared off, contemplative and a touch solemn, as their owner stood atop the castle spire. The sunrise reflected in the shining orbs, but the boy barely noticed the light, too deep within the darkness of his own mind. So much had happened over the span of a handful of days, from when he awoke that morning to celebrate his best friend's birthday to where he stood now, within a world that was not his own...

He placed a hand idly over his heart, massaging it. He hoped his body was a comfortable, safe vessel for his friend's heart to reside inside, which alone was a strange and unnerving thought to have. But there was nothing he could do about it, and so he wondered. He would do everything in his power to get him back, just as he did, back then. Even if he had to face the Darkness alone, again.

"You won't face it alone, this time."

He sighed at the voice within his heart. Sometimes he wondered if he really heard Sora speaking inside of him, or was it just the sound of his optimism given a voice. Truthfully, the former sounded more realistic, so he stuck with that. It was...comforting. It meant he really wasn't alone...

"...Told you so..."

He smiled to himself, and it was a pleasant smile. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all, as strange as that sounded with all that was going on.

"...iku...!"

He blinked, glancing down at the small forms below at the front of the castle; he almost forgot how high up he was. He noticed one in particular waving down at him, and he waved back. The girl then waved him down, and he nodded.

He looked to the sunrise once more before closing his eyes.

Down below, a girl with strawberry red hair placed a hand to her forehead as she tried to see what he was doing. Beside her, her guardian made a face.

"...He's going to fall..."

She looked at him. "What? From that height?! He'll die!" she shouted, looking back up just as the boy, indeed, fell from the spire.

A soft scoff was her initial response. "...Kairi, he got up there on his own, I'm sure the tricks up his sleeve are vast."

She made a face, but watched with worry.

The boy's form fell straight down, and then he turned in the air, jumping from parts of the castle until he neared the ground. He came down swiftly, but to his own surprise, he came to a dead halt in the air, just a few feet off the ground, before gently lowering. It felt as if he had wings...

Blinking, he looked up into the faces of not two but four people, three of which looked supremely impressed. His friend, however, did not.

"Riku!" she said, and from her stance, he imagined she would have stomped her foot if she was any younger. "Don't scare me like that!"

He made a sheepish smile, rubbing his neck. He glanced up at the castle, and then back at her. "Sorry. Won't do it again," he said, unsure himself if he was entirely sincere. It felt nice, being up so high...on top of the world...

She made a face, but then it eased as she smiled. It was a small smile, however, and slightly somber. She placed her hands behind her back and glanced away.

He was about to ask her why she looked that way when one of the others addressed him.

"So. You ready to get looking for this Roxas character?" asked a young man with white hair in long braids. He wore a blue blindfold over his eyes, his arms crossed. His clothes, which had accents of silver, white, black and blue, were very intimidating, as was his muscular frame as he stood with a wide stance.

He made a face of distrust, but responded, "I was born ready to look for this kid. Are you, Nor?"

"Was born to follow you," the man quipped with a sly smile.

"Huh." Riku looked back at Kairi, realizing why she was sad. He came to her side. "It's gonna be okay, Kairi. Sora will be back together before you know it," he assured, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

She smiled up at him, worry in her eyes. "I know. It's not him I'm worried about...it's you," she admitted. At his surprise, she sighed, glancing to the ground. "...Well...you know. All the changes we've noticed...all of this. I just don't like the idea of us being separated." She hugged him, her eyes shut tightly.

Her Light washed over him, and his body relaxed. He hadn't even noticed he was tense. Perhaps the oncoming adventure was weighing on his nerves, after all. He returned the hug, closing his eyes. "...I understand. We're...kind of together, now, the three of us," he said with a small smile.

Slightly moving back, she placed a hand over his heart. "...But we're not. And I know that's why you have to go, but why can't I go with you? I can hold my own, this time!" She motioned to Braig and Asul, urging, "If I have to go with them, that's fine! Right?"

He shook his head, brow scrunching with empathy as he looked down at her. "Kairi, we talked about this already...If Roxas is out and about, the Organization is no doubt looking for him, too," he emphasized. "I can't imagine what would happen if they learned you were after Roxas. They'd hound you."

She made a face, huffing as she looked away. There was a look in her eye that he caught, but understood. She probably went her whole life hearing things like that, of things she couldn't do just because of who she was. He imagined that must be infuriating.

She then relented, lowering her hands to take something out of her pocket. She motioned him to give her his hand, and he did. She placed her closed hand into his. "...I'm really mad I can't use real shells, but..." she trailed off, revealing the item. It was a pale yellow and navy, star-shaped charm made from what felt like hard pottery stitched together with white, x-shaped cords. The token in the center was of a...

He softly laughed, looking back up at her and grasping the charm to his chest. "Thank you, Kairi," he said with a nod.

She smiled, holding her hands behind her back. "...Bring it back to me, after your adventure, okay?"

"Absolutely. That's a promise." He placed the item into a deep pocket for safekeeping. He then looked towards his new partner, who nodded at him.

"Hold on!"

The group looked down the steps, where three people were running up towards them.

"Nora! Serah, Snow!" Kairi called, blinking with surprise.

Her friend smiled when she neared, and then turned her smiled upon Riku. "I'm sorry we never really had the chance to get to know each other, but good luck!" she said, raising a fist.

"By the sound of things, you're gonna need all the help you can get, so..." Nora procured a one-strap rucksack handing it to him. "I put some tinctures inside; plenty of potions and ethers...and some tents, too," she explained.

With a thankful smile, he took it. "...I...don't know what to say. Thank you," he said. It wasn't very heavy, he noticed. He didn't hear anything tinkering when he put it onto his back, either.

"That's a helping of the best the White Mages have to offer," Snow said with a grin, "so don't you go wasting it!" He waved a finger at them threateningly.

"Thanks to a little magic, you can carry a lot more than usual before it gets heavy, so fill 'er up!" Nora laughed, moving to stand beside Kairi, placing an arm around the girl.

Kairi smiled at her friends and guardian, glad they were helping to see her friend off.

"Riku."

Turning, Riku saw Ansem the Wise exit from the castle, along with Aeleus and Dilan behind him. He and Nor lowered to the ground. "Your Majesty," he said, his head bowed.

"Please, Riku," the king huffed, "after all we went through Before; please address me as Ansem. And you, young man, feel free to, as well."

Both Riku and his partner went to their feet, similar expressions of acknowledgement upon their faces.

The king made a small, sad smile. "...To think that boy is out there, again. After all the trouble he caused us, Before," he said, sounding almost weary, but more disappointed than the former. His smile widened at the weary look in the silveret's eyes. "...Fare well, young men. You are always welcomed to Radiant Garden."

Riku nodded, slightly bowing his head. "Thank you, Ansem. Thank you, everyone," he said, his gaze sweeping through them all. His gazes then lingered on the king's guards.

The observation did not go unnoticed. "We will talk next time, Riku," said Aeleus, nodding at the boy.

"Yes, in truth, there is much to discuss," Dilan echoed.

Nodding at them, Riku came to Nor's side. "...How are we doing this?" he asked his partner. "I can open Corridors—"

"So can I. That doesn't mean it's the wisest form of travel." Nor sighed, "But...I can protect us from the Darkness. It's my role as a Locksmith, to protect my Keywielder. So if you want to use Corridors, I will do what I can to protect you, regardless of the dangers. It is a quick, effective method of travel, after all..."

This sudden change in his partner's demeanor took Riku by surprise. What was all of this, now, about protecting him...?

Nor glanced at him. "But it's stupid as hell."

Riku's eye twitched. He couldn't believe he was stuck with this guy.

Kairi nudged Braig as he snickered at their interaction. Asul merely exhaled a long-suffering sigh.

"We use Corridors, then, o Locksmith of mine," said Riku, leveling a slant-eyed gaze at the blindfolded man.

Braig made a face. "...Don't use those too often, now, kids," he warned.

"We won't," Riku assured. Behind him, Nor approached and placed a hand on his back, taking him by surprise.

To the awe of all present, Riku was suddenly adorned with a long, navy-black, hooded gilet styled in several long, unzipped splits that reached his ankles, complete with arm wraps that protected his arms. They had chains at his biceps connecting to the breast of his gilet on both his back and the front. He blinked in surprise, and then looked back at Nor, who removed his hands to observe.

"...You have style, Riku," he said with a sound of appreciation. He was wearing nothing more, it seemed, than a simple black cloak. "Not bad."

"Wooow!" Serah and Kairi said in unison, their eyes wide.

Braig and Snow whistled, and Asul and Nora nodded in awed appreciation. The king and his guards simply looked on in awe.

"Okay, you have a lot of explaining to do—" Riku began.

"Indeed, I do. Let's go," said Nor, brushing past him to walk down the stairs.

"—and you can work on your attitude while you're at it," the teen finished, scowling after him. He turned to give everyone a wave of appreciation and thanks before following after the older man.

"Race you," Nor said suddenly, taking an impossibly large bound into the air, practically flying.

Riku blinked after him, and then his competitive side kicked in. He scoffed, cracking a dark smirk, and his pupils quickly dilated before contracting again. He ran before jumping into the air. He, too, seemed to fly, quickly catching up to his Locksmith.

Watching after them, Kairi's expression dropped to one of great concern. "...Think they'll be okay, together...?" she asked aloud.

Both Asul and Braig shook their heads, for entirely similar reasons. "No," they said in unison.

"But I believe they can learn to get along," Asul added.

Braig shrugged, making sound of doubt. "Yeah, if they don't kill each other first," he scoffed.

Kairi sighed, causing Serah to frown. "...Riku seems like a strong boy, Kairi," she said. "I'm sure he'll be fine." She glared openly at both the Knight and the Guado, the latter of which only shrugged again.

The younger girl nodded, taking something out of her other pocket. She stared at it, managing a small smile. "...Be careful, you two..." she said softly.

The item was another star-shaped charm, only with a familiar brown crown as its token instead of the silver wing charm in the center of Riku's. She then looked back up, watching as her friend flew away before entering a Corridor of Darkness in the sky.

Chapter Text

The star called Gaea was an old, time-worn world; beautiful, but it had visible scars. Having survived many wars—most of which were internal and hard-fought—it kept a beautiful, healthy glow from the Ocean of Stars, though it carried multiple terrains consisting of grey, barren land that were just beginning to show signs of life. Alongside the grey and desertion, Gaea also had rolling green hills of verdant and flowers between narrow, modest roads for travel.

Within an industrial city, the hustle and bustle of life echoed through busy streets. It was an equally greyscale city, with only a few colors, and seldom were they bright or welcoming. Green highway signs named the city Edge, bordering the wasted remains of what was once an even larger city. "Recovery" was a prominent theme throughout the city of Edge, as it was in many other locations, and was a term literal in its meaning to each of its inhabitants. There were some, however, the term seemed an impossible dream for.

Here and there, scattered to and fro, people were shunned and left for dead. A little girl, a young boy, a man lying in the streets suffering, a woman asking for help only to be ignored; they and so many had one thing in common: the dark stigmas upon their skin and the condition crawling through their bodies. Geostigma, it was called. "Jenova's Memetic Legacy". It was yet a remnant from the star's largest internal war that was not entirely won...

Suddenly, cutting through the relative calm and peace of the city was a booming sound in the great distance. From out of the sky came a mass of something that crashed to the ground with echoes of destruction to the nearby land, yet nearby was so many miles away. All at once, the city went quiet, eyes staring towards the distant sky in fear and with bated breath for the chaos to erupt.

...But none came.

Slowly, tentatively, sound returned to the city, and from out of a bar with an angel statue across from it, a young woman with long brown hair looked to the sky. The trail of where the something appeared could be seen in the sky, even from the distance. Also from out of the bar came a seemingly young girl with reddish-brown hair and shining turquoise eyes with slanted pupils that came to the woman's side. They shared a glance.

"...Call Cloud," the woman said to her in an authoritative yet worried voice, looking back to the foreboding sky.

Nodding, the girl briefly closed her eyes. Her pupils contracted further, becoming so slender, they almost blended into her irises.


Alongside grasslands and hills, a large, silver-black motorcycle stood idle by the road. Its rider, a young man with spiky blond hair, removed his goggles, revealing eyes that were also alien, turquoise with cat-eye pupils and a noticeable shine. His pupils contracted deeply before returning to their normal slants, and he looked towards a location in the distance that was smoking.

"Just got here," he murmured, as if to himself. "...I don't sense any threats. At least, none that are wanting to cause immediate trouble. There's definitely something there, though. I've never felt anything like it before..."

A girl's voice, slightly monotone, echoed in his mind. "Will you need assistance?" the girl asked.

He began to shake his head, but thought about it. "...Maybe. Wouldn't mind Vincent nearby," he admitted, this time speaking in his mind.

Indeed, the faint but undeniable power he felt from the direction of the smoke caused the hairs on his neck to stand up, if he thought about it too deeply. The foreign nature of it, and the several possibilities of what it meant, did not settle well with his alien DNA, which said something in itself.

"Alright. We'll contact Yuffie," the girl continued. "He should be there shortly after, if he is not on his way already. Will you engage?"

His lips slightly quirked at her jargon. There was no getting the military mindset out of her. Before answering, he focused his gaze on the smoke. His sight zoomed into the distance, covering what must have been a mile away, where he could just make out something through the smoke that looked...oddly like a...car...and there were four human figures.

There was a sound of interest as the visuals were transmitted to the girl.

"...I will. And I will...disengage and withdraw if need be," he responded, his sight snapping back to normal.

There was brief silence before a soft, humored scoff was made. "Very well. Be careful, Cloud," she said.

"Will do." He repositioned on his bike and revved it to life. "...Oh, and Shelke?"

"Yes, brother?"

"...A phone call would have been fine." In moments, he was driving towards the steadily dying smoke, smiling to himself at the soft, feminine laughter in his mind.

-:ReVeKi:-

As he came closer, a few things became fairly apparent, even without his enhanced eyesight, though it did help.

What was easily identifiable without its aid was that the large object he saw was, indeed, a car. It was unlike anything he had ever seen before; black, sleek and high-end, with embellishments along its windows that gave it a regal appearance, amongst other incredible details. It was slightly damaged, though looked as if it could still move. 

The four figures were visibly human beings, and his superior sight picked out the minute details of four young men. The most intimidating and presumably eldest of the four eyed him as he approached: tall, muscular, with visible tattoos, open-jacket, and with dark brown hair in a mohawk-like cut.

He parked Fenrir a safe distance away (though "safe" was fairly relative), and before getting off his bike, took in the scene.

A scholarly-looking, bespectacled man, lean and dirty-blond, tutted over the smoking car alongside a younger man with freckles and blond, spiky hair in a slightly upwards spiral. Upon seeing him, the young blond tentatively began to approach, exchanging soft words with the dark-haired man. Leaning against the car, arms crossed with displeasure, was another younger man with black hair that almost obscured his face in a unique hairstyle. He glanced over out of the corner of his eye.

...All the men emitted a faint, strange power...but the brunt of it, stirring and very much alive, came from this one.

Furthermore, all of them, in various ways, seemed a mix of disgruntled, slightly worse for wear and very, honestly confused.

"...Uh...hi, there," the freckled blond began, one hand lowering inconspicuously to his side, where a gun was visible, and the other slightly waving. "...We're...sort of lost and were wondering if you could...give some directions?"

Cloud moved off his bike to stand beside it, nodding. "'Lost' is an understatement," he softly commented. They were undoubtedly off-worlders; he didn't even need the clarification.

The blond gave an awkward little laugh, scratching the back of his head. "...Yeah...about that..." He glanced back at the others, who gave looks of agreement, and then focused back on Cloud. "What star are we on?" he asked, his tone, and expression, with an edge of bated hope that was just waiting to be dashed.

Shaking his head, Cloud sighed to himself while eyeing the similar expressions of the others. "Gaea. Gaea Star," he responded.

The blond smacked a hand to his forehead with a grimace of anguish. "Augh, I knew it!!"

"Great. Just great," said the one against the car, sighing heavily.

"Gaea," stated the man with glasses, his expression a deadpan as he rose from the car. "...That's several million miles from Eos! How the bloody hell did we end up here...?"

The eldest man was still focused on Cloud, though he did grimace a bit at the news. He briefly glanced at the younger man against the car, and then met the alien gaze again.

At their reactions, Cloud couldn't help but feel a bit for them. He couldn't imagine what it was like to suddenly arrive in another world far from home. It left a very open question: how did they arrive from another star onto Gaea? Evidently, even they hadn't a clue—

"—that portal-thing came out of nowhere—!"

This much his hearing caught, and he focused on the younger blond. "Portal?" he repeated, causing four pairs of eyes to focus on him. "...There are said to be ancient portals between several stars in the system..." he murmured, more to himself than to them as he glanced back to the sky.

Their gazes followed his. Within the sky, remnants of colorful, translucent symbols could just be made out in the blue, leading a trail to where the car stood on the ruined ground.

"...Seems like you happened upon one." He looked back at them.

"Well, then. Mr...?" The scholarly blond moved from the car, a gloved hand held in the air as he waited.

"Strife. Call me Cloud."

"Cloud. I don't suppose introductions are exactly a danger, now?" he said to his group, lowering his hand.

"Guess not," the younger dark-haired man conceded. He finally moved from the car, standing nearer to his other blond companion. He eyed Cloud before giving a slight nod. "Noctis."

At his informal greeting, the others followed. The freckled blond sighed, shaking his head and looking towards the car. "...Prompto."

"Gladiolus," said the eldest, shifting a bit as he also sighed.

"Ignis. Pleased to make your acquaintance," said the scholarly one with a nod. "You wouldn't happen to know someone well-versed in vehicular maintenance, would you?"

Immediately, a certain chain-smoking pilot came into Cloud's mind, and he made a soft sound that wasn't quite a scoff. "Yeah. We have cars here," he informed. He then thought about something, looking towards the one named Noctis. "...We don't get off-worlders here, much. Though, when we do, rarely are they the friendly type."

Noticing his gaze, Gladiolus tilted his head to the side with narrowed eyes, whereas Noctis raised a brow. "...We're not supposed to be here. We're not ones to cause trouble unless it comes to us," said the younger man.

"Fair enough." Cloud moved back to mount his bike, but didn't turn it on. He glanced at each of them, noticing the underlying thrum of power he sensed before hid away. He knew it was still there, however.

What he sensed instead came from further behind him; the familiar presence of a certain vampiric man approaching. Their sudden jarred expressions, shifting positions and the sudden return of the foreign power gave away that they noticed, too.

...Vincent tended to have that effect on people. Especially people who were other, like they evidently were...

He shook his head at them, managing a small, vaguely humored smile. "...Welcome to Gaea," he said.

Chapter Text

The party just made it through the winding paths of the Ravine Trail and out to the land beyond. By the time they finally evaded their pursuers, it was nearing dawn, the blue of morning just showing upon the horizon. They were far from Radiant Garden, now, the castle of Hollow Bastion a speck in the distance. The six companions were thoroughly exhausted, having each fended off hordes of Nobodies and Heartless all throughout the night. They needed to recover.

Asul and Ienzo were soon to pitch some tents, which would heal their wounds and allow them to regain stamina with the magic cast upon them by the White Mages. Kairi, weary and bleary-eyed, tried to help by tending to the chocobos, but a tent was done sooner than expected and Braig ushered her inside to rest. She didn't argue or fuss, collapsing upon her roll-out bedspread and asleep in moments.

The next to enter a tent were Asul and Ienzo, who were too alert to fall asleep just yet. They spoke softly amongst each other, going over the provisions Asul had gathered for them the day before. Braig remained near the entrance to Kairi's tent, watching Isa and Lea as the stubborn blue-haired man refused to go inside a tent to rest.

"Why the hell not?" Lea asked, eyeing his friend suspiciously.

Isa was rigid, his teeth clenched as if in pain. He didn't meet Lea's eyes. "I have my reasons," he said evasively. He then closed his eyes before grasping at his lower backside, sinking to the ground with a pained grimace.

Immediately, Lea came to his side, but he was brushed off.

"It's fine," Isa said between his teeth, leaning away.

Narrowing his eyes, his friend scoffed, "No, it's not...Is this because you went berserk?"

Sea-green orbs glanced away.

Isa was a peculiar individual, afflicted by a strange condition that only one other in Radiant Garden had that caused them to go "berserk", or lose themselves to a great, mindless rage. While in this state, his appearance slightly changed, as did his power, which was already connected to the same thing that triggered his stasis: the moon. And a visible moon shone upon them shortly after they entered the Ravine.

Instead of answering, Isa repositioned himself so he was sitting upon the grass and didn't object when his friend did the same. He then removed his hand from his back, but continued to look away. "I'm fine, Lea. You should rest," he said, a hint of concern in his voice. "You shouldn't have used that attack, back there."

Recalling his blackout after using his Explosion, Lea cracked a small, weary smile. He scratched the back of his head. "...Yeah. I probably shouldn't have done that. It was the best idea I could come up with on the spot, and it seemed like a good idea, at the time," he sheepishly admitted. "...But don't change the subject."

Sighing heavily, Isa glanced at the redhead. "Lea. Go to bed."

"You should, too."

"I'm too hyper to sleep, right now." That much was not a lie.

"Still feeling the buzz?"

He shifted, never failing to feel awkward when talking about his condition. "...In a way."

Lea grinned. "Then I'll just stay up until you calm down," he simplified.

"Lea—"

"I know you're hiding something from me," he said suddenly. His gaze was poised forward, looking at the rising sun, and he felt his friend's surprise. "...You've been hiding it for years..."

"Lea, now's not the time to—"

"If not now, when?" Lea looked back at him, his expression surprisingly calm and neutral. He motioned to Isa's lower back, asking, "Are you really okay?"

Knowing he wouldn't get his firebrand of a friend to drop the subject, Isa shut his eyes, exhaling deeply though his nose.

...Now was really not the time to even consider explaining this.

"...I have...reasons...for not talking about my...issues," he began.

Lea shifted, crossing his legs. "Even now, after all we talked about of that other existence?"

At this, Isa's lips twitched in the beginnings of a scowl. Slowly, he opened his eyes, hissing, "Don't talk to me about that existence. I want to remember nothing of it."

Running a hand through his hair, Lea sighed, "For crying out loud, Isa, if this has anything to do with our venturing into the Darkness—"

"You mean the same foolish act we committed even in this existence?" Isa interrupted, glaring at the younger man. "No, actually. Not at all. That's not what angers me most. But the fact of what happened between you and those kids does."

This time, Lea's expression darkened. He narrowed his eyes. "Leave Roxas and Xion out of this," he said evenly, a spark igniting in green orbs.

Unbothered, Isa scoffed, "Gladly."

"You're still fed up about that?"

His head snapping back to glare darkly at him, Isa spat, "Wouldn't you? Think about it, Lea, you left me, your lifetime friend, for two children, one of which was sub-Nobody, without any good reason, whatsoever." He grimaced, briefly closing his eyes to grasp at his back again.

Lea warred between concern and anger, but didn't defend himself. He took a moment to think about it, clenching his teeth, and then leaned back with a downcast expression. "...That's putting it lightly," he chuckled without humor. "...I...betrayed you, really..."

Isa looked up at him, scoffing. "Indeed. And for what, exactly?" he asked. "How can you not expect me to be appalled by that, now? To be outraged, to be hurt?"

"I'm...not," the redhead muttered, shoulders slumping. "Isa...I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but I can't explain to you why that happened, and I imagine the old me—or whatever—wouldn't have apologized for it. But...it didn't happen. You shouldn't be mad at me for something I didn't do."

Shaking his head, Isa looked away. "...I've tried," he admitted, his voice softer. "...It's harder than I thought."

Lea managed a small, sad smile before looking up. "...It won't happen again."

"It didn't happen...so it won't happen..." Isa shook his head, unsure if he was making any sense, anymore. Lethargy was quickly catching up to him. "...I'm tired..." he murmured, closing his eyes.

Grinning, Lea went to his feet. If that was just Isa rambling from sleep-deprivation... "C'mon," he said, helping his friend stand up. Once they were both standing, he slung his arm around Isa's shoulders, punching his arm while leading him to their tent. "I think Braig's got night watch."

"...Whatever..." Isa yawned, but didn't resist, and soon found himself within the orange tent. He didn't know how he found himself on the ground, but didn't mind too much before he lost consciousness.

Lea watched his friend, who had keeled over and collapsed to the ground, right on top of his bedspread. He shook his head, cracking a small, fond smile. "Sleep well, man," he said, then sat upon his bedspread and laid down to sleep.

Outside, Braig rested against the pole of Kairi's tent, his eyes closed, but fully conscious. He cracked open his left eye, a smile spreading on his face as he looked after the two younger men. Asul and Ienzo were just lying down to sleep, as well, judging by their softer breathing. Kairi was fast asleep...

His gaze drifted towards the sunrise.

The day was just beginning.