Auron fell back onto the grass and blew out a long sigh. "How much farther to Luca, I wonder."
The three of them had been walking all day, starting on the Mushroom Rock Road and making steady progress to the Mi'ihen Highroad. It was late afternoon, the sun was blazing overhead, and Auron, for all his discipline, was bone-tired and unwilling to go further. As was his nature, Jecht had pretended not to notice, but Braska had a tad more empathy and was arranging lodgings for them at a travel agency while Auron and Jecht waited outside.
"How the hell should I know?" Jecht asked. "Never been."
"It was a rhetorical question," Auron replied tersely, feeling his irritation spike. "I know you've never been to Luca."
"Then why'd you ask it?"
"Why does anyone ask a question? There, that's another."
"You bein' smart with me, Auron?"
"Peace," a new voice interrupted them. Braska had emerged from the travel agency and was standing over the two of them with an amused look on his face. The wind murmured as it swept over the vast, flat, green expanse of the Highroad and ruffled the summoner's robes. "I've obtained lodgings for the night. We'll continue on to Luca in the morning."
"Good," Jecht said, standing up. "'Bout time we got there, I say. Feels like we been traveling for ages."
Auron also stood up, gazing down the Highroad at where the city of Luca lay. He couldn't see it – its elevation was too low in comparison to the Highroad's – but he could almost feel it, as though he were within it already. Perhaps it was anticipation; perhaps it was fate. He couldn't say.
A family passed by, talking. Auron could spot a mother, father, two sons. They were apparently hoping to make it to Luca by nightfall, which he doubted was possible. The wind carried the mother's voice to him.
"Now listen well all you who'd hear…"
Something stirred inside of Auron's memories. A childhood rhyme, that was it. The rest didn't make it to him, but he remembered it clearly. Braska also looked at the passing group and blinked several times, searching his memory. Then he said:
"Now listen well all you who'd hear
"And hearken to this psalm…"
Auron finished it:
"Forever will we live in fear
"'Till comes Eternal Calm."
Braska smiled. "You were taught the rhyme as well?"
"I had forgotten it up until this point," Auron admitted. "I didn't think it had remained popular."
"Apparently some things never go out of fashion."
Jecht stretched and dusted himself off. "Hear, fear, psalm, calm. Kinda catchy. Can we go eat something now?"
Auron and Braska exchanged an amused glance, then headed after Jecht towards the travel agency. For a moment, Auron hesitated outside, gazing off in the direction of Luca again.
"Now listen well all you who'd hear
"And hearken to this psalm,
"Forever will we live in fear
"'Till comes Eternal Calm."
He would have to remember it more often. With a small shrug, he stepped inside the travel agency and closed the door behind him.
A Kingdom Hearts Fan Fiction
Authored by Mengde
Auron shuddered in the darkness, wondering vaguely how long he had been here. It didn't particularly matter, since he had no way of measuring time, nor did he have any way out of the endless darkness he seemed to hang in, but it was still a question he'd like to ask, even if he didn't get an answer.
The last thing he remembered… it was difficult. All he knew was that he had been somewhere, looking after someone…
Zanarkand. Tidus. Jecht's son. He had made a promise, and suddenly darkness had engulfed him. The world seemed to spiral down an endless drain, and he felt as though he was stuck in a clog. Was it because he had been dead, an unsent? Auron had no theories beyond that. What he did know was that he had been here in an endless, enveloping darkness, and he felt as though his time here was coming to an end.
It was a heartening sign. Auron looked around for it, but he couldn't see what moved. He had detected movement, though, definitely. There it was again – it was as though the darkness itself was shifting, being replaced… A green light blossomed above him, and he realized that it wasn't anything but himself that was moving. He was being pulled up, up into some unknown light, but it was a far better prospect than staying wherever he was.
Auron rose through green flame, rocketed up in a giant pillar of reddish smoke, lightning crawling over and through him. He abruptly came to a halt and tasted air for the first time in what felt like forever. Granted, the air tasted like something had died nearby, but compared to the nothingness of the abyss from whence he'd came, it was a vast improvement.
As his eye adjusted to the light and the smoke cleared, Auron surveyed his surroundings. They were decidedly gloomy – dark, bluish-black stone, little light. An opening in what looked like a cave wall showed a vast, glowing green river of what Auron thought looked disturbingly like souls. Not pyreflies, but actual souls, souls with shape and substance.
If he had needed more of a hint that he was no longer in Spira, the occupants of the room he was in were themselves more than enough. Cowering in a corner were two small demons, one skeletally thin and blue, the other morbidly obese and purplish. Standing behind them was a giant, armored, ugly, anthropomorphic cat.
And in front of Auron stood a black-robed, blue-skinned, seven-foot-tall humanoid with baleful yellow eyes and hair of blue flame.
Auron stared at the apparition, wondering what it was. Even as he did, a name flowed into his mind: Hades. With it came a flood of other information: Olympian gods, the Underworld… and a name that came with such hatred that Auron had to stop himself from flinching: Hercules.
Hades winked slyly at Auron, as though to say you're welcome for all the input. The Lord of the Underworld opened his mouth, revealing a set of sharp and unpleasant-looking fangs, and spoke in a surprisingly melodious voice. "Let's cut to the chase. Here's the deal I'm gonna offer you. I let you out of the slammer – no strings – you'll be free as a bird."
As he listened, Auron cast an absent glance over at the cat, whose name he now knew to be Pete, and the two demons, who were called Pain and Panic. Pete gave a rather sickly grin and waved.
"And all for one little job," Hades continued. "Fight Hercules, in the Coliseum… to the death!"
Auron looked Hades full in the face and sneered. It was all coming back to him, now – how to be alive. He'd been offered deals like this before, in distant memory. Everything seemed overly abrupt, with no chance for him to acclimate himself to what was going on, but he was sure that this was part of the god's strategy.
"This is my story," Auron said. He reached over his shoulder and felt the reassuring presence of his giant cleaving sword, the Kotetsu. Pulling it from his back, Auron relaxed into a partial crouch, balancing the blade on his shoulder. "And you're not part of it."
Hades's smile evaporated and his face twisted itself into a snarl. "Did you forget who you're talking to? I am the LORD OF THE DEAD!"
Auron snorted. "No wonder no one wants to die."
The god reared back. "You are FIRED!" Without warning his skin turned a bright red and his hair blazed up. Auron reacted instinctively, sweeping the Kotetsu around in a grand arc, connecting with and stopping cold the blazing-fast strike Hades threw in an attempt to take his head off. Auron fearlessly stared into the yellow eyes, daring the Lord of the Underworld to try to do more.
Hades's gaze abruptly slid off of Auron and over his shoulder. Taking a chance, Auron followed the gaze to the entrance of the room.
Standing there were three people: in the lead, a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boy with unruly brown hair, blue eyes, and black clothing, wielding what looked like a strange cross between an oversized key and a sword. To his left stood an anthropomorphic dog in simple clothing with clear, honest eyes. He wielded a shield. To the boy's right stood a duck, the most overtly animalistic of the group, though he had definite humanoid qualities. He wore blue clothing and an unusual-looking cap and wielded a wand.
"Hades!" the duck squawked. Auron blinked; to see him was one thing, but to have him talk intelligibly was another thing entirely.
"You again?" Hades growled, letting his guard down.
Auron seized on the opportunity for all it was worth, broadsiding the god across the chest with the Kotetsu and slamming him back against the wall. "Fight!" He tried a follow-up blow, but Hades caught the sword almost effortlessly and threw Auron to the ground. The god's hands flared up with twin fireballs the size of his head and Auron braced himself, but the boy stepped in front of him, gripping his weapon determinedly.
"Get up!" the boy urged, then lunged at Hades, unleashing a flurry of quick blows. From behind him Auron heard what must have passed for the duck's battle cry a moment before the air around Hades crackled with lightning. The dog charged in shield-first, which was a tactic unorthodox enough that Auron supposed it might work. He gained his feet, ready to help the interlopers, but before he could they pulled away.
Confusion was etched into the boy's face as he drew back from Hades, who was untouched. A moment later the duck ceased his magical assault and said, "Something's wrong!"
"I feel kinda funny," the boy agreed, his tone dismayed.
Hades chuckled. "That's right! See, that's the thing. In the Underworld, heroes are zeroes – comes with the territory." His hands flared up again and he charged, almost taking Auron by surprise. The guardian slashed down at the incoming wall of flame, but Hades disappeared in a puff of smoke and reappeared to Auron's left.
"Go now!" Auron urged the boy, swinging around to face Hades.
"But I've gotta talk to Hades!" the boy protested.
"What was that?" Hades asked. He had his fingers in his ears – something that would have been amusing if he was not trying to kill them.
"We can't fight him here!" Auron snapped at the boy. "We have to go – now!" The guardian grabbed at the boy's arm and pulled, but he didn't budge – he was surprisingly strong for someone so young. Swallowing an oath, Auron let go and made for the door, leaping over a fireball Hades hurled at him as he ran. The sound of frenzied footfalls came from behind and Auron surmised that the boy had finally gotten the futility of the situation into his head.
The four of them raced down a stone corridor and emerged out of a gate into a vast cavern with narrowly connected platforms of rock suspended over a lake of souls. The boy and the dog immediately closed the massive stone doors behind the party and then leaned against them, panting.
"Is he gone?" the duck asked.
"Don't count on it," Auron replied. He cast his gaze around the chamber, waiting for it – there. Hades appeared in a puff of smoke next to the boy and grinned.
"Leaving so soon?"
No more words were necessary. Auron turned and ran, hoping that the three outsiders would follow him as well. Something appeared in front of him in a blast of dark energy – a shadow made real, with form and hollow white eyes that pierced him –
The boy swept his weapon through the shadow's head and it was ripped to dark shreds. More appeared and Auron didn't hesitate this time, hacking and slashing with abandon at them. They fought their way down the narrow stone bridge between the two platforms. Auron found he began to pick up a rhythm: kill one of the shadows, twist out of the way of the boy to let him follow up, repeat. Whoever he was, he was surprisingly agile.
Hades was waiting for them when they got to the exit. The Lord of the Underworld did not look happy at all. More of the shadows sprang up around him and Auron did some quick calculations in his head. They would assuredly have to fight their way through the mass of darkness that was looming ahead of them, but perhaps there was a better way of going about it…
If there was, he certainly didn't have time to tell his companions. The boy charged in, swinging his weapon wildly, sending shreds of darkness flying left and right. Auron suppressed a grimace and waded in after him, almost absentmindedly batting a fireball out of the way. Yes. His instincts were returning to him, long-unused combat muscles flexing. This was good.
Hades let out an inhuman shriek and redoubled his efforts to blow them into char. The boy shouted something incoherent, which his companions apparently took as a signal, because they all broke away and dodged past Hades through the exit. Auron was right on their heels, narrowly avoiding a parting fireball that the angry god bequeathed them.
They emerged in yet another cavern, this one much smaller and more enclosed than the previous. Auron stopped to catch his breath, feeling the adrenaline rushing through him. Quite the way to come back to life.
"You're really good."
Auron started and looked down at the boy, who was staring up at him admiringly. The blue eyes were wide with what Auron was forced to conclude was awe. "Are you some kind of hero?"
He shook his head. "No, I'm no hero. I'm just an…"
For a moment Auron lowered his head, withdrawing into himself. Old fool, that was what he had been about to say. He wasn't old, though – barely into his late twenties. It was years of strife that had aged him prematurely, the pain of seeing his two best friends go off to fight and die hopelessly in a cycle that would not be broken. Could he possibly expect someone as young as this boy to understand?
The boy exchanged a bemused glance with the dog, and Auron resisted the urge to roll his eye. "My name."
"I'm Sora," the boy volunteered with a grin.
Immediately following that, the duck jumped onto Sora's shoulders. "Donald," he offered in that irritating voice.
The dog followed suit, jumping onto the duck's shoulders rather comedically. "Goofy!" The extra weight was too much and they collapsed onto the cavern floor in a heap.
Auron stared at them and worked his jaw, wondering at how their combat prowess could have translated into the sorry sight he was currently faced with. "It seems we were fated to meet. Maybe you need a guardian."
"Guardian?" Sora asked, getting up and dusting himself off. A flash of déjà vu hit Auron, who dismissed it on the grounds of absurdity. "Thanks, but no thanks." The boy motioned to his companions and they took off into the twisting tunnels of the cavern. Auron chuckled to himself at their enthusiasm and followed.
His sense of time was still off. It seemed to be only a very short while before they emerged into another large cavern, one which ended in a large, very obviously locked door.
"What?" Donald exclaimed, staring at the door. "It's closed!"
The three of them ran forward and tried to push it open, straining and not getting anywhere. Auron eyed the lock and then looked at Sora's weapon. He wondered whether he should wait for the trio to get it through their heads or if he should speak up.
"Come on, open!" Sora exclaimed. He withdrew from the door, panting, and looked at the lock as though seeing it for the first time. His weapon appeared in his hand in a flash of light and Auron tried not to sigh. The boy was strong – headstrong, too – but he wasn't particularly bright.
"Will that open it?"
"Yeah. I think so." He started to point his weapon at the lock when there was a sudden roar from behind them.
"Hurry," Auron said, taking up his sword again. Amongst the foggy memories and information floating through his head, he recalled very clearly an image he'd divined from Hades's mind during the brief initial information dump: a huge, three-headed dog, black as midnight and every bit as unpleasant as its master.
He looked over his shoulder and saw blue points of light percolating about the tip of Sora's weapon. They flared and fused into a solid, pulsing mass of white energy before shooting out in a beam that penetrated the lock on the door and evaporated it.
That was when Cerberus attacked.
Donald and Goofy heaved at the doors and began to open them just as the dog seemingly dropped out of nowhere and lunged, teeth gnashing. Auron grimaced and slammed his sword into the nearest set of killer canines, straining against the immense bulk of the beast, then freed his weapon and slammed the creature across the face with it. He heard the trio making for the door; that was good. He wasn't sure if he could take the beast alone, but it was better that they got out alive.
Then he heard the footfalls pounding towards him and he knew that Sora, the fool, was going to help.
Auron considered his options. Three heads that could attack from eight directions all told, which meant twenty-four lethal points from the creature's front alone. Factor in its massive size and they had a real problem on their hands.
Sora cut right to the chase, diving in headfirst. Auron followed, analyzing possible vectors of attack, labeled some of them suicidal. Sora, naturally, took the most decisively suicidal one – a straight-on jump at the center head, weapon already swinging in for an attack.
He stopped dead when the center head reared back and the two other heads snapped in, catching him flat-footed between them and trapping him in midair. Auron made ready to leap in and pull Sora free, but he saw the boy's eyes – focused, clear. He obviously had a plan, and it abruptly became clear when the middle head snapped back down in an attempt to bite Sora's torso off.
Sora jammed his weapon into the center head's jaw. He got a foothold on the head, steadied himself, then freed his weapon in time to batter aside an attack from the right head. Auron saw him visibly gather his power, then leap and rocket back down to land a stunningly powerful bash across the crown of the center head's skull.
Cerberus staggered, wavering back and forth on its feet, and Auron took the opportunity to deliver the coup de grace, turning on his heel to gather his momentum and then transitioning into a flying leap that brought the broad side of the Kotetsu into bone-jarring contact with the left head of the demon dog. It slammed into the center head, which slammed into the right head, and the whole amalgamation of fur and claws and teeth slammed unconscious to the ground.
The dog stirred a moment later, but neither Auron nor Sora gave it a chance to attack again. They made for the door, moving as though all the legions of hell were behind them, a possibility that Auron wasn't ruling out just yet.
Then they burst out into relatively open air. Auron staggered past Sora, Donald, and Goofy, who were making faces at the downed Cerberus, and took several deep, cleansing breaths, feeling the adrenaline begin to drain out of him. Insofar as he knew, they'd made it.
That was when Auron looked up and saw a figure in a black cloak standing at the other edge of the cavern they were in. He frowned and started to ask Sora if he knew who it was, but the figure disappeared into a flowing hole of darkness. A moment later, it reappeared and engulfed the guardian before disappearing.
When it faded and Sora belatedly turned around, Auron was gone.