“I still don’t see it,” Braig remarks one day as he reloads his guns. “I mean, seriously. What?”
A bomb explodes nearby, sending a wave of dust and dirt across the field, into their hiding spot. Voices fill the atmosphere as the training continues, captains shouting orders across the battlefield at the top of their lungs in order to be heard above all the noise.
Dilan coughs, squinting in an attempt to see through the haze, lance poised in one hand. “What are you nattering about now?”
“He said to study the Keyblade War. I did. I still don’t see his point.”
Next to them, Aeleus shifts, resting his weapon on the ground as he rests, breathing heavily. “Who?” he asks, eyes focused on the battle taking place before them.
Braig waves one of his guns around offhandedly. “That bald guy. With the creepy voice.” When this is met by blank stares, Braig feels the need to elaborate. “You know, the guy that stopped by with that Keyblade of his!”
Suddenly, a soldier from the opposing team appears behind them. Braig curses, turning, already knowing he won’t make it, but Aeleus is faster; in one swift movement, he swings his tomahawk around and the soldier collapses to the ground, unconscious.
“Concentrate,” Aeleus warns as Braig breathes a sigh of relief. “We’re almost done here.”
“Yeah, yeah,” is his only reply as Braig finishes up, snapping the last of the bullets into place.
What they learned in class isn’t enough; there is too little detail, too little information that it leaves him wondering just how much they don’t know about the war. Even the Great Library has very little on the subject. Braig spends weeks there digging through the directories and old journals until he finally throws his arms up in frustration. “Isn’t there anything in here that we didn’t already learn in the academy?”
The senior librarian wrinkles her nose behind her glasses, her disapproval evident. “No, I don’t think so. And shouldn’t you be out in the training yard?”
He glances at the window, registering that it’s way past noon and starts gathering his things with haste, all the while muttering a string of profanities. He runs all the way there and does his best to sneak quietly into the group but nothing escapes Instructor Seagill’s attention. Ever. Inspector Seagill narrows his eyes at Braig’s impromptu excuse, unimpressed and volunteers him for the demonstration of advanced gravity alterations.
Not much later, he is in the infirmary, nursing a broken leg.
“What with the evaluation tests next week,” the doctor remarks cheerfully, “you’re lucky it wasn’t your arm you landed on.” She wraps his leg in a cast, gives him specific instructions on medication and insists that he does not strain it if he wants it healed in time. “But what’s the point?” she says, winking at him. “You soldiers never listen to me anyway.”
When they’re alone in the room, Instructor Seagill approaches the bed. “That obsession of yours isn’t healthy.”
“It’s not an obsession,” Braig protests as he tests his leg to see how much of it he can use and is promptly rewarded by a wave of pain that leaves spots dancing in his vision. “I just want to know. Why is there so little information on the war anyway?”
“I don’t know,” he admits quietly, crossing his arms. “Maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe there isn’t.” He shakes his head. “What brought this on anyway? If I recall correctly, Ward always grumbled about how you weren’t particularly interested in history, which was a shame since you have excellent memory. If you had been more keen back then, it would have done your grade wonders.”
Braig shrugs the comment off with a casual roll of his shoulders. “I’m just curious.”
The instructor eyes him, disbelieving. Then, he breathes a sigh. “Perhaps the reason there is so little to be found is because people want to forget. Perhaps no one wants to remember.”
“Forget history?" Braig laughs a little at that. "Mr. Zabac always said history happens so we can learn from it. How would forgetting help anyone?”
Instructor Seagill turns away from him then, and Braig watches as he gazes out the window, eyes glazed as he remembers ghosts from the past. “I don’t know.”
It takes him weeks to get used to having only one eye and he spends most of it either walking into walls, missing the door when they change classes or alternating between tripping over his own foot or banging his head on various objects during afternoon practices. Dilan laughs in his face, shamelessly presenting his amusement for Braig’s grumpy inspection. The rest of the class follows suit, grabbing the opportunity to laugh at the notorious prankster’s expense with eager hands. Only Aeleus is silent, politely looking the other way when Braig misjudges the location of the door – again – and instead walks into the wall – again.
Aeleus reaches out one hand to steady him, resting it on his shoulder until the world stops spinning and Braig is no longer seeing five clones of Aeleus, waiting patiently for him to reorient himself. “Thanks, man,” Braig mutters, rubbing his forehead.
“Don’t mention it,” he says, and opens the door.
Of course, the change in depth perception affects his aim as well, much to the annoyance of Inspector Seagill and himself. Braig spends extra time in the shooting range every day, firing round after round at unmoving targets. Inspector Seagill never joins him. There is no need to talk about it.
It comes to the point that one day, Braig misses his mark over and over again, shot after shot. Finally, he rips his gloves off and tosses them on the bench, gritting his teeth as he puts his head between his hands, willing himself to calm down.
When he looks up again, Dilan is standing before him, eyeing the targets with a critical eye. “Not bad for a guy who’s half-blind,” he offers along with a soda.
Gratefully, Braig accepts the drink. “Meh. I’ll get there.”
Dilan nods, without question, as he takes the soda back. “You know, you still haven’t told me what happened that day.”
Picking up his gun, Braig methodically slides a new round of bullets into place, fingers shaking. Once, his movements had been smooth from all those years of cultivated practice, of those years of taking careful aim and firing, confident in the comfort of knowing his abilities and his limits, and never missing a shot.
Now, he is as uncertain of his abilities as he is of his limits. In the blink of an eye, both have shifted into complete strangers, replacing what had once been his most intimate friends with a sense of foreboding that comes with the unknown.
The thought burns like a cold flame in his mind.
Instead, he recalls that day. He remembers the anger, the metallic Keyblade pointed straight at him. He remembers not having the energy to move, to evade the finishing move that was sure to come. He remembers the way his whole body had burned, how the world had glowed so brightly for the briefest of instants before half of it was swallowed by darkness as his opponent robbed him of his 20-20 sight.
What Braig remembers most, what he can recall with perfect clarity is the change in the air, the crackle of energy as darkness surged to life -- the power.
“It was nothing. The story would just bore you,” Braig says.
Dilan eyes him for a long time. Braig can feel his gaze, hot on his skin and heavy with silent implications, but he refuses to meet it, uncertain of what he might find, of what his friend might find.
Finally, he turns away. “Is that so?”
He doesn’t have to but Braig answers anyway. “Yep.”
After that, Dilan never asks again.
The person standing in front of him holds her Keyblade loosely but dangerously. It looks mysteriously light, weightless despite its appearance. Braig wonders what it would feel like to hold one with his own two hands.
Her eyes are narrowed, accusing. “What did you do to Terra?”
“Nothing,” he replies, letting a lazy smirk slip into his expression, enjoying the effect it had on her. “What happened to him was all his doing.”
The hand gripping the Keyblade twitches. “Terra would never have turned to the Darkness. Not willingly.”
Braig shrugs. “You know,” he says instead, “the old man had a point.”
The suspicion glinting in her eyes shivers, now riddled with wary confusion. “What?”
“I mean, it’s not like just about anyone can obtain its power. The Light chooses its heroes.”
Aqua does not reply but Braig’s memory is already filling the empty space.
“Why do people waste so much of their time and energy chasing the Light? Why does your King allow it when he knows the chance of success is so very slim?”
At that time, Braig had resisted rolling his eyes, already silently slapping the old man with labels depicting insanity.
But the old man had held his gaze, yellow eyes boring into Braig’s own with such ferocious intensity that Braig found he could not make himself look away, could not resist repeating the question in his mind. Despite himself, he couldn’t help asking, “Then what would you suggest?”
“To obtain power?” he asked.
Braig nodded, mesmerized by the eyes that seemed to whisper secrets to him, the eyes that shone with the promise of revelation.
“Study your history, boy. It wasn’t only the Light that had power.”
Back then, Braig had not understood. Now, the answer is clear.
“But, the Darkness, now, the Darkness will come to anyone. It will share its power with anyone who dares to ask for it. And you know why?” he asks, raising his hand. His gun glows, energy seeping out of the bullets he had customized himself. In response, Aqua takes a step back, her Keyblade raised, ready to strike, ready to counter.
Power sizzles in his hands, blossoming open like flowers in spring. He feels it charge the air around him, feels it run through his body, down his spine as it fills every part of him with so much power that for an instant, his vision blurs and the whole worlds slows.
Braig savours the taste, inhaling deeply. Without a doubt, this is the answer.
As everything snaps back into motion and colour returns to normal, Braig grins, confident once more, his abilities new and waiting to be explored, his limits non-existent. “Because Darkness is fair. Unlike the Light, the Darkness will take anyone.”