Chapter 1: One Final Sunset
The open sea spread far beyond the horizon, endless and vast. No landmarks floated from afar, and not a single ship passed by. Sky, land, and sea blended together with nothing to break up the monotony. Yet, despite this plainness, a boy of about fifteen leaned over the edge of the paopu tree and gazed off into the distance. He sighed, running a gloved hand through his long, silver hair. The view was nice all right. Every day he’d come out here and just stare into the distance, even though nothing changed. Hadn’t changed, in fact.
Day by day, the simple life on Destiny Islands never brought danger or thrills… just endless fun and relaxation. The warm, summer weather and fantastic views definitely weren’t bad, and as a vacation spot, it might be a cool place to hang out. Some people might even call it a blessing; Riku just wasn’t one of them.
He didn’t budge from the tree’s curved trunk as he listlessly gazed towards the surrounding waters. Always there, never changing. Not since nine years ago had anything new appeared. Those days of meteor showers and strange visitors were now but a faint memory, yet he still remembered that sappy speech word for word. So long as he had the makings, then through the simple act of taking…
That sudden shouting brought him right back to reality. Leave it to Sora to shake things up a bit. Shaking his head, Riku turned to face the boy, whose goofy, red shorts and enormous shoes gave him a dorky appearance. The massive grin on his face only added to it, and his spiky hair sure didn’t help. As he approached, Riku rolled his eyes. Judging by the wooden sword in his hand, Sora probably wanted to go a few rounds. What a slacker.
“Shouldn’t you be gathering supplies?” said Riku, crossing his arms. “C’mon, Sora. I gave my things to Kairi hours ago. Even had time for a few rounds while you were busy goofing off.”
Sora rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Well, uh, I got most of the stuff, but then Tidus challenged me to a sparring match. And then Wakka wanted to play ball, and it took forever.”
“So, basically, you’re a huge slacker. What else is new?”
Riku smirked, sliding down from the tree. Meanwhile, Sora flailed his arms around like an idiot. He just couldn’t take a joke, and the word ‘sarcasm’? Totally not in his vocabulary. Still, he had his sword out. Might as well humor him for a bit.
Riku reached for his belt and pulled out his own wooden sword. “So, you up for a round? Might as well do something before it gets too late.” He pointed his sword at a piece of driftwood a few feet away. “But after this, you’d better take care of this log. Got it?”
Sora sighed, looking over to the log with a frown. He made a face like somebody who’d just tasted old milk. Then, he looked back to Riku and nodded. “’Course I’m game!” Lifting his sword, Sora crouched into a fighter’s stance. “Just don’t go easy on me, okay?”
Riku laughed, and he pointed his sword straight at Sora’s chest. “Sure, but don’t blame me if you end up soaked.”
And with that, the two boys began. Sora rushed towards Riku with little hesitation, grasping onto his sword tightly with both hands. As he neared, Riku hopped to the side whirling his weapon at Sora with a smirk.
WHAM! In a last ditch attempt at defense, Sora held up his sword, just barely blocking the force of Riku’s blow. Upon impact, Riku drew back his weapon and slid to the side, smacking Sora firmly on the back. The resulting blow forced Sora in a downward plummet towards the ground, but he wasn’t down for the count just yet. Groaning, he pushed himself back to his feet, quickly scooping his sword up off the ground and lunging at Riku without a second thought.
Not bad. Unlike before, Sora’s attack successfully hit Riku right in the gut, forcing him back against the trunk of the paopu tree. Beaming, he darted over to Riku and raised his sword a second time. But right as Sora prepared to strike, Riku thrust his feet forward, nailing Sora with the soles of his shoes. This blow knocked him onto his back and gave Riku the chance to regain his footing and strike again. Raising his sword, Riku leaped up and away from the tree, landing close to the edge of the platform. Leaning forward, he gave Sora a wide smirk and laughed.
“What are you afraid of?” he said, waving his sword about. “C’mon, don’t tell me you’re giving up already.”
Sora narrowed his eyes. Scooping up his sword, he charged yet again.
Perfect. He always fell for this trick. Even as Sora drew closer, Riku remained perfectly still… Then, when Sora thrust his blade towards him, Riku rolled to the side and completely dodged the blow. Sora still didn’t give up. He crouched down and then took off like a rocket.
Once again, he completely fell for it. Riku leaned back against the paopu tree and watched for a few brief moments. Then, he shrugged and hurried forward. They drew closer, and closer, until Riku stopped, smirked, and held out his leg. Sora continued to run, and then…
“Whoa!” Sora quickly lost his footing, fumbling and flailing. He stumbled a few feet forward, leaning over the platform’s edge. Then, seconds later, Riku swung his sword around one last time, striking Sora right in the back.
One last hit was all it took; the force of the blow forced Sora right over the edge of the platform! Seconds later he landed with an enormous SPLASH! Bits of water flew upward, striking Riku in the face, and it wasn’t long until Sora resurfaced, spitting even more water up at his friend. The look on his face was priceless. Leaning forward, Riku placed his hands firmly against his hips and grinned.
“You still don’t got it.”
Sora groaned, and his lip quivered. He looked like a little kid more than anything, huffing as he slowly paddled over to the ladder. Soaked from head to toe, he approached the paopu tree and let out a sigh. He looked over at Riku, then back to the ground, and he stomped his foot.
“Aw man. Now it’s zero to one!”
Typical. Heaving a sigh, Riku headed over to Sora, who continued to pout. Then, he lifted his hand and placed it on his shoulder, giving him a light shove.
“Don’t blame me,” he said. “You’re the one who wanted to go all out.”
Immediately, Sora jerked out from under Riku’s grip and scurried over to the log, scooping it right up. Instead of just walking off towards the bridge, he stepped over to Riku and shook himself off, unleashing a small flurry of droplets in his face. Rolling his eyes, Riku reached up and flicked Sora in the forehead. This time, he didn’t retaliate; he just stomped over to the bridge without a word.
What a sore loser. Riku shrugged and followed along, watching his friend with a deadpan expression.
“Relax, will you? In case you forgot, we’re going to be leaving soon.” He stopped briefly, gazing back toward the platform before continuing. “For all we know, those other worlds could have something even worse than me.”
Frowning, Sora placed a hand against the back of his neck. “Worse than you? Is that even possible? I mean, you could take on the others three to one and win.” His shoulders sagged. “There’s no way I could ever do that. So if we do find some kinda monsters or somebody really tough, I bet you’ll be the one to take ‘em out.”
Monsters, huh? Maybe that wasn’t such a stretch. Images of shadowy figures flashed before his eyes. Stained glass platforms and a voice that spoke of doors and finding his inner strength. What did it mean?
The boys reached the end of the bridge. Riku leaned back against one of the palm trees, and Sora quickly did the same.
“You know, it’s funny that you mentioned monsters…”
Sora raised a brow. “Really? Why’s that?”
“Well, last night I had a pretty crazy dream. So crazy, it almost felt real.” He paused. “And there was a monster in it.”
Sora’s eyes widened. “A monster? What’d it look like? I mean, it had to be big for you to think it was scary, but did it have huge claws? Sharp teeth?” To demonstrate this, he held his hands next to his mouth, making little ‘teeth’ with his fingers.
Riku shrugged. It was an enormous shadow with massive arms that unleashed balls of energy and pulled him into the darkness… Like he’d say that out loud.
“Sure, it was big,” he said. “And, yeah, it had claws, but I think the best way to describe it is, well…” Pausing, Riku turned towards Sora and pointed a finger directly at him. “The best way to describe that monster would be… your face.”
Sora’s jaw dropped, and his arms fell to his sides. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”
“Oh, nothing.” He laughed, flicking his hand dismissively. “Come on, Sora, can’t you take a joke? Besides, it was just a dream.”
But it was just so vivid… Maybe it was just a coincidence. He took a few more steps before jumping down.
“Anyway, enough stalling. Kairi’s waiting for both of us, and you’re the one with the log.”
With a nod, Sora followed Riku, hopping down from the platform and heading east. A girl with short, red hair sat at the foot of a wooden door just a few yards away. When she caught sight of the two boys, she quickly stood up and waved. Then, she headed their way.
“I was wondering where you two ran off to,” said Kairi, giggling. She paused for a moment, eying the now drenched Sora. “Were you two fighting again?”
“Uh, well… yeah.” Sora’s face turned beet red, and he crossed his arms. “And I would’ve won if Riku hadn’t tripped me.” He looked over at Riku and pouted. Then he passed the log on to Kairi. “Anyway, I got the log. Think we’re good to go?”
Kairi took it, and she tilted her head. “Well, you did take a while.” Briefly, she said nothing, and then she laughed. "I think we’ll be okay.”
With the log in hand, she slipped behind the door, leaving the boys alone for a few short moments. Just long enough to drop off the supplies and keep everything in check. There's no way she'd let them goof off for too long. Yes, Kairi definitely knew how to keep both Riku and Sora on their toes. What would they do without her?
She slipped through the doorway and let it fall shut. Then, she looked out towards the shoreline. “You know, it’s getting pretty late. You want to call it a day?”
“Sure thing,” said Riku, who gazed towards the sky. The sun was beginning to sink below the horizon, changing the sky into a warm blend or oranges and violets. “But before we go, let’s head over to the paopu tree. I mean, once we set sail, there’s no turning back. This could be our last sunset here.”
And for all its monotony, Destiny Islands did provide an excellent view of the setting sun. It seemed like the perfect way to celebrate the beginnings of a new journey. So, together, Riku, Kairi, and Sora passed through the seaside shack and returned to the small island and the paopu tree. While Sora and Kairi climbed on top of its trunk, Riku leaned back and folded his arms. A warm breeze blew through the air, causing the tree to rustle a bit, and a few seagulls cried out in the distance. Together, the trio listened to the sounds all around them and gazed into the endless ocean.
And then Riku spoke up, breaking the silence. “Some things never change.” He shook his head, watching the rolling waves. “It’s always just the three of us, trapped on this island. But just wait… soon, we’ll be out there. Nothing will hold us back.”
“So, Kairi’s home is out there somewhere, right?” Sora leaned forward, peering over Riku’s shoulder.
“Could be. We’ll never know by staying here.”
Nobody really knew where she came from, just that she arrived one night as meteors rocketed down from the sky. With no memories of her previous home, Kairi’s past remained a mystery. A mystery that had captivated Riku ever since he was a kid. Though some people believed that the outside world was just a legend, Kairi was living proof that there was more to the world than a small cluster of islands in an infinite sea.
“But how far could a raft take us?”
Riku tilted his head and lifted one of his arms. “Who knows? If we have to, we’ll think of something else.”
A raft wasn’t the sturdiest vessel, even he knew that. If all else failed, he’d look for another way. Anything to get away.
This time, Kairi responded. “So, suppose you get to another world.” She giggled. “What would you do there?”
What would he do? Riku hesitated. Countless worlds lay beyond the horizon, just waiting to be explored. At the same time, those worlds remained a complete mystery. He didn’t know what to expect.
“Well, I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just…”
He shut his eyes and let out a faint sigh.
“I’ve always wondered why we’re here, on this island. If there are any other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one?” He smirked. “And suppose there are other worlds… Then ours is just a little piece of something much greater. So, we could have easily ended up somewhere else, right?”
They could have wound up somewhere with room to roam. Somewhere with adventure and danger around every turn. A world like that would be perfect.
Sora flopped down onto his back, pulling Riku right back to reality with a quick, “I dunno.”
“Exactly.” Rolling his eyes, Riku stepped away from the tree. He lowered both of his arms to his sides and glared intensely at the sky. “That’s why we need to go out there and find out… Just sitting here won’t change a thing. It’s the same old stuff, so let’s go.”
“You’ve been thinking a lot lately, haven’t you?”
Kairi hit the nail on the head. She always did. It was like she could see straight through both him and Sora. It wasn’t like Selphie, whose head was off in the clouds; Kairi knew how to hang with the boys, and she managed to fit into the island lifestyle with ease. And because she came from another world, she inspired Riku to dream big.
He couldn’t deny it. Maybe it’d be a little sappy to admit, but he owed her this much.
“Thanks to you. If you hadn’t come here, I probably would’ve never thought of any of this…” He looked at her with a smile. “Kairi, thanks.”
Eventually, they left the sunset sky behind them. Riku and the others headed back towards the bridge, with Kairi at the lead. Sora followed closely behind, taking it at a snail’s pace, and Riku trailed along at the very end. In his hand, he carried a star-shaped fruit, which he idly tossed up and down. Oh, he had something special in mind. A little something to keep Sora on his toes.
“Sora!” He hurled the fruit at his friend the moment he turned around.
Sora caught the fruit, but just barely. If he hadn’t been quicker, the paopu would’ve landed right in his face. Smirking, Riku pointed a finger straight at him.
“You wanted one, didn’t you?”
“A paopu fruit…?”
Riku walked straight past Sora, watching him out of the corner of his eye. “If two people share one, their destinies become intertwined; they’ll remain a part of each other’s lives no matter what.” He held up his hand, waving it dismissively. “C’mon, I know you want to try it.”
“What’re you talking—”
Instead of explaining, Riku just laughed. He quickened his pace and didn’t look back; there really was no need. Sora took the bait hook, line, and sinker. And the look on his face for that split second as he walked by? Priceless.
They’d accomplished a lot that day. The raft was all ready to go, and soon they’d be off on a new adventure. Just one more day, and they’d finally taste the freedom they’d always yearned for. For now, they’d just have to wait. Their parents were probably worried sick, and the sky was getting darker by the minute. It was time to leave; tomorrow they’d finish the preparations and leave the islands behind.
Yet as the trio made their way home, Riku’s mind drifted elsewhere, to the vivid dream that still replayed in his subconscious. The shadows, the stained glass, and the ominous voice…
There had to be more to it.
The darkness of the Secret Place surrounded Riku. With only a flashlight to light the way, he moved slowly and carefully, placing one hand against the cave’s wall. He passed countless chalk drawings from years past, images of daring deeds and grand adventures. But he wasn’t here to reminisce; dwelling on the past wouldn’t solve anything. Instead, he kept going straight until he stumbled upon a larger, open chamber.
Don’t be afraid…
Once he reached the middle of the chamber, he stopped, shining the light along the surface of an unusual door. This door lacked a doorknob or handle of any sort. No slip for mail or a lock to keep it shut. Just a hinge and nothing more. Nobody even knew why it was here or what purpose it served. Most dismissed it, if they even bothered to enter the cave. Riku, on the other hand, continued to visit the door as the years went by.
You are the one who will open the door…
For years it remained untouched and unopened. What lay beyond its boundaries remained to be seen… if it hid anything at all. Lowering his light, Riku approached the door, reaching out to touch it. Silently, he tapped his fingers across the surface. Just what was it here for, anyway? It had to be hiding something. If he could just find a way to open it, maybe he’d discover something incredible.
“It’s quite fascinating, isn’t it?”
Someone was watching him.
Riku’s back arched and he pressed his hand firmly against the door’s frame. Slowly, he looked around the cave, trying to pinpoint the source of the voice. It took a moment, but soon he found a strange man leaning against one of the cave walls.
A tattered, brown cloak covered his entire body, giving him an almost ghost-like appearance. A hood obscured his face, and he kept his hands tucked beneath baggy sleeves. This man stood motionless and silent.
Slowly, Riku stepped away from the door, narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?” he said. “Didn’t think I’d have company.”
The stranger laughed. “Like you, I’ve come to see the door.”
Something was off about this. Visitors practically never came to the islands, much less this cave. It was always his, Sora’s, and Kairi’s secret hideout. Even Tidus and Wakka kept their distance, and they’d considered exploring several times in the past. So why was this man here? And who was he? Riku took two steps closer and raised a brow.
“What, you think it’s hiding something?”
The man slowly nodded, chuckling under his breath. “It’s not a matter of assumption.”
Riku’s eyes widened for a split second. Just what was he getting at? Did this guy actually know about the door? If he did have the answers, then Riku couldn’t let them slip between his fingers.
“Tell me. What do you know? If there’s something back there, I have to find out.”
“You shall find out soon enough. Already, this world has ties to something far greater than you could ever understand.” The man slowly moved away from the wall. “And if freedom is what you seek, then fear not… You’ll find what you’re searching for.”
Freedom… it was something he’d longed for ever since he was a kid. His inner-most desire and the driving force behind the raft and everything he’d accomplished so far.
The fact that some stranger knew this didn’t add up. He’d never visited the islands before, nor did they ever speak until now. Riku’s muscles tightened, and his free hand curled into a fist. He glared at the man, who stood motionless and silent.
“How do you even—”
In the blink of an eye, the man disappeared. It was as if he never showed up to begin with. Riku took a step back, and a chill ran down his spine. Now only he remained in the cave, alone in the dark and still without answers. He came to the Secret Place to uncover the door’s secret. Instead, he learned nothing. All he got was a heaping load of confusion and even more questions than before.
Ties to something greater… What did that man mean? And how would it lead him to freedom? If something really did lie beyond the door, he’d have to open it soon. Otherwise, he’d miss his chance.
TO BE CONTINUED