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Kingdom Hearts IV: Connected Worlds

Chapter Text

Unknown World – Unknown Location

August 7, 2015 – One Week After Kingdom Hearts III

It's time, the woman thought to herself as she looked out over the assembled crowd. From the catwalk in the upper levels of the large warehouse, she could see an army of thousands spread out before her. Brothers and sisters in arms who had fought side by side through countless battles. And would fight in many more battles to come. Which was why she had called this gathering here today. The landscape of the oncoming war had changed, and those who would follow her into battle needed to be informed of what had transpired in the past month.

Time to get this over with, she reminded herself as she stepped up to the edge of the catwalk so her soldiers could see her. A hush overtook the soldiers standing below as they looked up at her. The woman took a deep breath to steady herself before she spoke.

"Greetings, my brothers and sisters," she called out to her audience below. "Today is a day of celebration. Xehanort, that evil, deranged, Seeker of Darkness, is dead!" The roar of applause from the crowd was almost deafening, even from where she stood. As the cheering and shouting finally died down, she continued.

"But," she went on. "It is with great sadness that that I must report that The General was killed in the crossfire between Xehanort and the so-called "Guardians of Light". His loss is a great blow for all of us. But while we mourn, we cannot turn away from our true purpose now. With Xehanort's demise we can now begin the first stage of The Plan unhindered. We will not give up. Like the terrorist group HYDRA says, cut off one head, two more shall take its place. Kill off a Keyblade Wielder and three more pick up the ancient blade to avenge them! And when you cut down one of the true defenders of the Light, LEGIONS MORE WILL RISE UP AND STRIKE DOWN THE INFADELS WHO DARE TO THINK THAT THE PURITY OF LIGHT CAN COEXIST WITH THE FILTH AND DECAY OF DARKNESS!"

The crowd was cheering and shouting once more in what could only be described as rapturous euphoria. The woman smiled with satisfaction as she briefly closed her eyes, basking in the energy of her army. Her Legion.

"YES!" She shouted back, her voice booming across the cavernous room to be heard above the din of the crowd. "We will show them just how wrong they are! We will remind them that the impurity of Darkness cannot be contained! AND WE WILL REMIND THEM THAT THE ONLY WAY TO PROPERLY DEAL WITH DARKNESS IS TO DESTROY IT! AND DESTROY IT WE WILL! WE WILL CLEANSE THIS IMPURITY FROM THE UNIVERSE! WE WILL DESTROY THE DARKNESS AT! ALL! COSTS!"

"AT! ALL! COSTS!" The Legion roared in answer as twelve thousand fists rose up in ecstatic jubilation. With a triumphant grin, she whirled around on her heels and marched into the council chamber in the deeper levels of the bunker. She had been designated as The General's successor in the event that he perished, and she needed to smooth out the transition of power with the other members of the High Council. An hour later she and the other high ranking agents of the Legion were seated around the table in the nearby conference room, drinking champagne as they toasted Xehanorts death and her promotion.

"Congratulations are in order, Madame N.I.," remarked one of her lieutenants, a man with salmon colored hair remarked as he took a sip from his glass. "With Xehanort out of the picture, you will be the one to finally lead us to victory in this endless war against the Darkness." N.I. smiled and thanked the man as an automatic response, but deep down her promotion was bittersweet. She may be in charge of The Legion now, but it had come at the cost of the life of the man she loved. The Warden, the High Council's enforcer, picked up on her distress and placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"We all miss him," the Warden replied. "But he would have wanted it this way. Don't worry. We will find the one who struck him down, and we will make them pay." N.I. smiled at the gesture of support and turned to address the rest of the High Council. As much as she wanted to mourn her predecessor, they had work to do. It was time to begin preparations for The Plan.

"It's time to get down to business," she said firmly as she looked around the table at each of her advisors. "With Xehanort out of the picture and Maleficent's cabal crippled, it's time for us to move forward with Project: Sileo. We've gathered everything we need for the first phase. While we're implementing Phase One, it's time to start collecting the materials required for Phase Two."

"The Stones," one of the two High Praetors, a grizzled looking middle-aged man with a recently damaged leg, remarked. "We have a confirmed location for two of them, and a general location of three more. Only one remains unaccounted for."

"Either way," the pink haired man, who was the other High Praetor, interjected. "With Thanos and Xehanort both dead, we have time to take the slow approach for now. We don't have the resources for an attack on Asgard, and retrieving the Power Stone from Turo is going to require extensive effort and misdirection to pull off without exposing the existence of The Legion. In the meantime, if Madame N.I. will permit it, I say we take some time to properly celebrate Xehanort's death." The announcement was meant with unanimous agreement, and N.I. raised her glass to propose a toast.

"May the future be bright enough to burn away the darkness," she said. "To Kingdom Hearts."

Chapter Text

Earth – New York City

September 17th, 2021

Jake Long groggily opened his eyes to the sound of his wife making herself a light breakfast in the kitchen of their small apartment. He looked over at the clock and, noticing that it was 3:30 in the morning, sighed as he realized that this meant that Rose would be home late from work tonight. Whenever there was an emergency at her job, she always ate an early breakfast and typically didn't come home until late at night. But he'd nevertheless learned to accept it. It was the price of being married to a secret agent.

The former American Dragon groaned as he sat up on the bed and shifted back into human form. His little sister Haley, the current American Dragon, had been overwhelmed by a troll attack at the Magus Bazaar, the hub of New York City's supernatural community. Naturally, she'd called in her older brother and his wife for backup, and Jake had ended up going to sleep with more than a few bruises that night. He'd slept in dragon form since it was used less energy that would be better put towards healing his bruises than sleeping in human form would.

As he finished getting dressed and walked out of the bedroom, he thought of how much his life had changed since he'd found out about his heritage on his thirteenth birthday. Falling in love with Rose. Finding out she was a member of the Huntsclan, an organization seeking genocide against all things supernatural. Rose deciding that her love for him meant more than the prejudiced views the Huntsclan had raised her to believe. Rose attempting to sacrifice herself to destroy the Huntsclan forever at the cost of her own life, immediately followed by Jake saving her life at the cost of her memories of him and the supernatural. Rose recovering her memories in time to help stop the Dark Dragon (the number one supernatural threat in the entire world) from enslaving the entire dragon race.

After the battle against the Dark Dragon, their lives had been relatively peaceful. They'd finished high school without any problems, and their relationship remained steady. By the time they graduated high school, Jake decided to become a mythology teacher (the irony being that as a mythological "creature" himself he knew for a fact that half the stuff he'd be teaching was completely bogus or wildly inaccurate), while Rose had been planning to enlist in the military, until a different, more covert government agency came along and offered her a job. Then after three years her agency got downsized in a wild public spectacle that nearly destroyed the organization.

But thankfully the agency had recovered and Rose remained employed in a job that allowed her to put the skills she learned in the Huntsclan to a more positive use. She and Jake had gotten married five years ago, and after Jake retired as the American Dragon (a position requiring him to serve as a mediator, representative, and guardian to every supernatural being in the country) when he started college, they'd finally been able to settle down. Sure, Rose's job was often dangerous, but that was something she did for a living of her own volition. Jake had to hold the position of the American Dragon by virtue of being the only Dragon in the U.S. old enough to fill the position.

Jakes thoughts snapped back to the present as he walked in to the kitchen to find Rose finishing off an egg and cheese sandwich with sausages and bacon. Something big was clearly going on at work, since she was already dressed in full combat gear with a loaded pistol in a holster on her right hip and her old Hunts-Staff leaning against the chair behind her. Though her right hand was her dominant one, she had trained her hands to get used to wielding each weapon in either hand for the purposes of duel wielding in case a situation required her to use both her gun and her staff.

"Hey," Jake said as he gave her a quick kiss on the cheek pefore sitting down across the table from her. It had become a recurring thing for them because of her irregular work schedule that whoever got up first would make breakfast for the both of them, so Jake took a bite out of his own sandwich after pulling in his chair.

"Hey yourself," Rose replied with a smirk. "Sorry I've got to run. My boss called me in early today. She told me it was urgent but she didn't say why."

"Don't worry about it," Jake answered with a smile. "They probably figured that it would either take too long over the phone."

"Yeah," she commented as she finished the last bite of her early breakfast. "That's what I figured too. But that reminds me. You've got that meeting at Draco tonight, so what are we going to do about dinner?" Even though Jake had retired as the American Dragon, the Dragon Council still requested his presence at important meetings when they felt his expertise would be needed for a given situation and his sister was unable to attend. At least it was the summer and he didn't have any classes to teach, so his schedule for the next month was pretty clear. And because it was a Sunday he didn't have to attend any school-related functions at work. The downside was that the meetings could take anywhere from half an hour to the entire day.

"I don't know," Jake responded after swallowing another bite of his own sandwich. "I guess we'll just text each other when we're on our way home and if I'm still at the meeting you can just grab me some take out, and I'll do the same for you if you're still at work when my meeting's over. If we both get done around the same time we can meet up and actually go out somewhere without having to worry about our schedules." Rose nodded her head in agreement before looking at the clock.

"I've got to get going, Jake," she said as she grabbed her staff and threw it into the duffel bag hanging across the back of her husband's chair before giving him a deep kiss on the lips. "I'll be back as soon as whatever's going on at headquarters blows over. I love you, dragon boy. Good luck at your meeting"

"I love you to, Rose," he called out before she walked out the door and down to the garage. After throwing her gear bag into the backseat and fired off a quick text to her boss. "On my way," she said before starting her car and riving over to the nearest S.H.I.E.L.D. Facility. The Playground, S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Headquarters following the HYDRA Uprising in 2014, was all the way down in Virginia. But it was quicker to drive over to The Cocoon, the Manhattan base that served as a training facility for Agents both new and old, and fly a Quinjet over than to drive all the way down through several states to reach the facility. Whatever was going on was certainly important, otherwise Director Hill wouldn't have asked her to come in so early.

The Realm Eternal – Palace Dungeons:

September 17th, 2021

"Loki," the imprisoned former prince of Asgard looked up from the book he was reading at the sound of his name to find Odin, the king of the Realm Eternal standing outside Loki's prison cell. The black-haired prince smiled. Between his status as a prisoner and Odin's duties as king, his father did not visit often, but the disgraced Frost Giant appreciated the few times Odin would visit. When Thor brought him back to Asgard after his failed invasion of Earth, Odin had wanted to have him executed, but his mother had pleaded for his life and managed to get his sentence commuted to a life sentence in prison.

For the next year and half, he'd sat in his cell, fuming at all the slights against him both real and imagined. He'd even denounced Frigga as his mother in a fit of angst-driven anger. But then, at the suggestion of his Midgardian friends, Thor had arranged what the humans called a "group therapy session" to deal with their collective emotional baggage, believing that while Loki may not be redeemed from his ways, that the family could at least try to reconcile with him, rather than simply keeping him locked in the dungeons never to be seen again.

Loki had scoffed at the notion and openly expressed his doubt that such a concept that it would even work. But to the surprise of everyone except Frigga, three hours of angry venting, guilty-driven soul-searching, tearful confessions of concealed emotions, and exhausted hugging later, Odin, Loki, and Thor had managed to make peace with all of their issues and reconciled. Though he was still as sarcastic and as much of a trickster as ever, deep down he was glad to have his father and brother back. Odin couldn't go against his own decrees and have Loki released from prison, but he at least came by his cell whenever he could to visit and discuss the latest news, occasionally asking Loki for advice on political decisions both major and minor.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure today, father?" he asked dryly. Despite the seemingly acidic comment, Odin recognized the lack of malice in the remark. He knew that dry, sarcastic comments were part of who Loki was, and had learned to accept that.

"I wanted to let you know," the Allfather replied. "That we will be having a diplomatic emissary meeting on Asgard this afternoon. Given your penchant for statesmanship, I thought that you would want to weigh in your thoughts on the discussion before the dignitaries arrive." Loki smiled. He'd come to accept that he would never be king, but he reveled in the cloak and dagger mud pit of politics. After asking Odin for news updates on the politics on the nine realms, his father commented that while Thor was born to be king, Loki, it seemed, "was born to be a statesman."

"Well," he began. "Who's coming, and when do they arrive?" This is going to be interesting, he thought to himself as Odin began to explain the purpose of the meeting and what would be discussed at the gathering. If only I could actually attend without having spears pointed at my throat, but oh well. I made my choices and now I have to live with them.

Chapter Text

Earth – The Playground:

September 17th, 2021

"Good morning, Agent Long," the portly man in charge of the security of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s facilities greeted as Rose walked into S.H.I.E.L.D.'s headquarters. "Director Hill is waiting for you in her office." Rose nodded to Eric Koenig as she walked through the corridors of the multi-level bunker that served as the nerve center of the international security agency. Because of her time in the Hunstclan, she'd never really had an idea of what she wanted to do with her life, or what she'd want to study in college. But in high school, she'd joined the Judo team to give herself an outlet for her combat skills, and had quickly won first place in many subsequent tournaments. That had been enough to catch S.H.I.E.L.D.'s interests, and Agent Daisy Johnson had come around during her senior year with a job offer that she couldn't resist.

In her first three years as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent, she had a few friends, but because of the size of the organization, she didn't get to see them all that much. But after HYDRA's corruption had been exposed by Captain America, the agency had downsized as part of their deal with the international governments to maintain their legitimacy. They'd traded a few bases to various governments and lost a few to HYDRA. Half the agents who weren't HYDRA either retired for jobs in the private sector or simply began selling their skills and knowledge to the highest bidder. But the comparatively few agents who remained loyal to S.H.I.E.L.D. and what it stood for became a lot closer as a result.

Now, she knew the names of almost every agent stationed at the Playground, and almost all of them knew her name. She passed by Agents Fitz-Simmons working in the lab on her way to Maria Hill's office and chuckled a little. It had been a running joke about how similar the two were that everyone referred to them as a single person. Then when they got married a year or two after Simmons' sudden trip to space, they decided to hyphenate their last names so that everyone would continue to refer to them both as such. Some people would think that weird or stupid, but Rose was used to the eccentricities of her fellow S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents and thought it was a cute little in-joke.

She shook her head to focus herself back on the present as she walked into the common room to find Hunter reclining on the couch with a beer in one hand and his wife Bobbi's shoulder in the other.

"Uh oh," Rose commented with a smirk on her face. "Whatever's going on must be serious if Hunter's drinking this early in the morning." Hunter loudly protested despite Bobbi's uproarious laughter. Though Lance Hunter and Bobbi Morse had gotten married again five years ago, Bobbi was still referred to by her first name or as Agent Morse to avoid confusion on paperwork or in mission briefings. "I take it Hill's got all hands on deck for whatever this is?" Rose asked the couple as she stopped at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the director's office. Bobbi and Hunter nodded before Rose sighed and headed up to find out what exactly was going on.

She reached the director's office to find Maria Hill waiting there along with her second in command, Phil Coulson, looking at different documents, photographs, and what appeared to be drawings displayed on the wall-mounted monitor of the office. She greeted her superiors respectfully before taking a seat in the chair across from Director Hill's desk and asking what all this was about.

"The Elders of Lai Shi gave us a call," Coulson began. That narrows it down pretty easily, Rose thought to herself. There were only two reasons that the isolationist Inhuman community of Lai Shi would make contact with S.H.I.E.L.D. Either there had been an Inhuman who went rogue, or Raina, a former ally of HYDRA incarcerated in Lai Shi after undergoing Terrigenesis and gaining the ability to dream the future, had a vision. Given the urgency of the call, Rose was willing to bet money on the latter, and voiced her thoughts out loud.

"For the last six years," Maria Hill explained. "Raina's visions have been mostly quiet and benign. She hasn't experienced anything earth-shaking since the raid on Von Strucker's lab in Sokovia. But last night, she woke up screaming so loudly she woke up the entire compound. It took half an hour before her assigned therapist was able to calm her down enough for her to coherently explain what she'd seen in her vision." Rose nodded in understanding, though privately, she thought that if this turned out to be as serious as the director was making it out to be, then it was likely to start making waves in the magical community soon enough, and Jake would probably be able to get better details than Raina's out-of-context predictions had been in the past.

"Once she was coherent," Coulson went on, picking up immediately where Hill left off. "She described seeing a vision of a calamity far greater than anything previously seen in recorded history. She explicitly described multiple large planetoids hurtling towards Earth, the destruction of Asgard and the other realms of Norse Mythology, some group she referred to as "The Timeless Ones" and something about "darkness fighting darkness while light fights light." Rose had to blink a few times to process what she'd just heard.

"So from the sound of things," she voiced aloud. "We have multiple cataclysmic events coming up on the calendar, but we don't know where or when. And other than the large meteors and mythological Armageddon, we have no idea what exactly is supposed to happen." She never mentioned the instinctive fear in the pit of her stomach at the mention of the term "Timeless Ones." There was only one thing those words could refer to, and the thought that they were active was setting off alarm bells in her head. She had to warn Jake as soon as she left the Playground.

"The whole Darkness and light thing is pretty easy to interpret though," Coulson replied. "From the sound of things, it seems like that part refers to villains fighting villains and heroes fighting heroes. Of course, it's a prophecy. Those things are never understood until after the events have already happened. Just once, I wish that anything prophetic was actually specific on the details." Rose chuckled at her superior's joke before asking what they were going to do about it. The director pointed out that they couldn't formulate a plan until they knew more, so until then, they'd borrow an old adage from former director Nick Fury. "Until such time as the world ends, we shall act as though it intends to spin on."

But unbeknownst to Rose, both Coulson and Hill knew far more than most of the other agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. As members of the Society of Advanced Cultural Knowledge, a secret society for the relatively small number of people in the world who knew about the ancient Keyblade War and the impact it had had on Earth's history. Daisy, Bobbi, Hunter, the Fitz-Simmons, and the absent agent Alphonso Mackenzie were members of this little club, started by eccentric millionaire Preston Whitmore after his company's covert expedition to the presumably (but in fact alive and thriving) lost city of Atlantis.

Both leaders of S.H.I.E.L.D. kept this information from most of the lower-ranked agents. Aliens and Norse gods had been hard enough for the general public and the agency to accept. Add in the reveal of the Keyblade and all the insanity that came with it, and everyone in the S.A.C.K. agreed that the world wouldn't be ready for that knowledge to be made public for a while yet. Agent Mackenzie (referred to as Mack by his friends for short) was currently at a S.A.C.K. meeting being held to discuss the meaning and ramifications of Raina's vision and what it would mean for the future of their society and the worlds.

Thanks to Ludor, Zack, Isa, and Xiruk, they were able to speculate that the planetoids Raina talked about after her vision referred to the scattered fragments of the original world returning home after eight thousand years. The potential destruction of Asgard didn't warrant much discussion, both because it was a common subject of Norse Mythology, and because worlds being destroyed had been done before by the Heartless and was therefore nowhere near as impactful as the restoration of the original world. Raina's comments about Darkness and Light were more ominous.

While the idea of the forces of evil fighting each other for power would ordinarily be cause for rejoicing, the part about Light vs. Light implied the ranks of the Guardians of Light (as Xehanort had informally dubbed the group of Keyblade Wielders who ultimately slew him) would fracture and fight each other more than they fought evil. The "Timeless Ones" on the other hand, were a complete and total enigma. Nowhere in their century of existence had the Society ever encountered the term in the course of their research. They had a theory, but without any hard evidence, they had nothing more than speculation to go on. Raina's little prophecy had thrown a box full of metaphorical jigsaw puzzle pieces into the air, and now everyone was scrambling to figure out how they all fit together.

Earth – The Isle of Draco

September 17th, 2021

It was, Jake Long reflected, the first time he'd managed to ride the enchanted elevator to the hidden island of Draco without losing his breakfast all over the grass. With the increasing technology level of the mundane world, dragons were no longer allowed to travel to Draco by air for fear of accidentally exposing both the existence of the magical world and the location of the headquarters of the Dragon Order. So everyone had been forced to take the Enchanted Elevators (which had been moved to more secure locations to avoid detection), an unpleasant method of transportation that left the rider's stomach queasy and often resulted in copious amounts of vomit being deposited on the grass outside the castle on Draco that served as a meeting chamber and place of ceremony for Dragons all over the world.

Jake hadn't come to Draco in over six months, and he rarely cared to. His relationship with the Dragon Council had always been strained. Many of them, particularly Councilor Kukulkhan, disapproved of his relationship with Rose, mainly because they were constantly suspicious of her past as a former slayer. Most of the magical world was skeptical of the idea of a former member of the Huntsclan could ever stop being a slayer, but those living in New York had been won over by all the times she'd helped him in his duties as the American Dragon.

But he'd never cared what anyone else thought about his relationship with Rose. He loved her no matter what, and the fact that she chose her love for him over her loyalty to the Hunstclan was proof enough for him. He'd never reveal the fact that in a past incarnation she'd actually founded the Huntsclan, though. That would only worsen public opinion of her and was her secret to share anyway. And she had no intention of telling anyone outside their families the truth about her past as an Unchained.

He shook his head to clear his thoughts as he marched into the Council chamber for the meeting he'd been summoned for. The rest of the Dragon Council was already there, as were a number of magical creatures of varying species from Centaurs to pixies. He was about to ask someone what was going on when Councilor Andam spoke.

"Good morning everyone," the Norwegian Dragon greeted. "Thank you all for coming. You have each been selected to represent the major representatives of the magical world in a diplomatic missions to Asgard in a few hours." This got a buzz of excitement from everyone in the room, and Jake's interest piqued. They're actually sending me to Asgard? He questioned with amusement. Even though he'd matured since middle school and his early days as the magical protector of the United States, he still had a tendency to accidentally disrespect authority figures without meaning to. So he was surprised that the council had actually picked him to represent the entire dragon race.

Despite his internal confusion, he listened as Councilor Andam continued by explaining the purpose of the mission. With Asgar becoming more active in the universe again, it was time for them to renew their treaty with the "Realm Eternal" and so the diplomats were being sent to Asgard to negotiate the finer details of the treaty. It wasn't anything major, just an agreement that Thor, Sif, and any Asgardians who traveled to Earth would refrain from revealing the existence of the supernatural community to the rest of the world. If the magical world was to ever be exposed (and given the continued prominence of S.H.I.E.L.D., Jake was certain that it was only a matter of time), they wanted it to be on their terms.

After Andam finished giving everyone chosen a refresher course in how to interact with Asgardians, Jake discreetly walked up to the Councilors' table to ask why he had been chose instead of his sister. Andam's answer surprised him.

"Mr. Long," the older dragon answered. "You may be as brash and impulsive and unintentionally disrespectful towards authority as you were when you were younger, but your heart is ultimately in the right place. And your Sister already has enough on her plate with her own duties as the American Dragon without having to take a day off for this meeting. But the reason I really recommended you is because you know how to see both sides of a situation. You can look passed deeply held prejudices and recognize when something is wrong."

The councilor's sterling recommendation made Jake grin. Andam was one of the few dragons besides his grandfather to be accepting of his relationship with and subsequent marriage to Rose. He thanked the Norwegian Dragon for his approval and recommendation, then ran to catch up with the rest of the delegation, who had already started walking out of the palace towards the section of the lawn that had been set aside for the Bifrost to transport them all to Asgard. Showtime, he thought to himself.

Chapter Text

Earth – Whitmore Mansion

September 17th, 2021

S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Alphonzo Mackenzie grumbled about the early morning meeting as he stepped into the old-fashioned elevator inside the mansion of the deceased billionaire Preston Whitmore. As much as he loved being part of the Society for Advanced Cultural Knowledge, he hated the unpredictability of meeting times. Nevertheless, the Society's dedication to its purpose ensured that nobody on Earth need fear the Heartless or Organization XIII. The S.A.C.K. had been protecting the people of Earth since 1912 and would only stop when the scattered fragments of the world were finally brought back together. Which, if Raina's prophetic dreams were any indication, would be happening within the next few years.

Although the Atlantean Crystal necklaces could extend one's life by centuries, Preston Whitmore decided not to extend his life too long, feeling that he'd lived a full enough life that he didn't need to worry about extending it. Cookie Farnsworth and Wilhelmina Packard, the cook and communications officer on Whitemore's original expedition to Atlantis, respectively, had felt the same way, and both had passed away during World War II. When he died, Mr. Whitmore left control of the company, and by extension, leadership of the Society, to Joshua Sweet, the expedition's medical officer.

Their research into the lore and legends of the Keyblade War had turned up several surprising results, like the discovery of the Reaper's Game, a form of the afterlife where the spirits of the dead competed for a second chance at life. They'd recruited a few members that way, such as Ludor, Isa, and Xiruk, former members of Xehanort's Organization seeking to atone for their actions, or Zack Fair, the warrior from ancient Greece who'd been murdered by the mercenary Sephiroth.

The Society had members all over the world. Jiaying, the leader of the Inhuman village of Lai Shi, had been a crucial member and enabled the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents who were part of the society to prepare for the day when HYDRA's existence was finally exposed. The Pelekai family in Hawaii gave them a network of contacts in the intergalactic community. Lady Sif's membership enabled them to keep up to date on news related to Asgard and the other mythological realms. They had contacts in the magical world as well, but since the supernatural community was just as secretive as the Inhumans were, the S.A.C.K. couldn't overtly act on the intelligence their contacts gave them.

Atlantis had undergone exponential population growth in the last six years, when the island semi-mysteriously expanded. One minute, the city was the same plateau of patched up ruins it was before. Next, there was a flash of light, and then, Atlantis had been instantaneously restored to its pre-cataclism state. Everyone in S.A.C.K. figured that it probably had something to with the Keyblade Wielders setting the restoration of the world in motion, but they needed to actually talk to one for confirmation. Mack's thoughts returned to the present as the elevator reached the bottom level of the Society's headquarters and he stepped out.

"Morning Mack," greeted a black-haired man in his mid-thirties with a sword strapped to his back as the S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent walked down the corridor towards the briefing room.

"Morning Zack," Mack called back as he gave the resurrected hero a high five. Zack Fair had lived in ancient Greece alongside the mythical hero Hercules (and was able to clarify that most of the myths about him were either made up or completely exaggerated), and had been a surrogate brother figure to one Cloud Strife, a survivor of The Fall (the cataclysmic destruction of Radiant Garden at the combined hands of Xehanort and Maleficent). But then two years after that, he'd been murdered by Sephiroth, the result of an experiment to remove the darkness in a person's heart that Cloud had been the guinea pig for.

Zack had spent a few centuries in Elysium (the portion of the afterlife that most people referred to as Heaven), but eventually got bored and was offered a place in the Reaper's Game for a second chance to be a hero. Now he and the three ex-Organization Members were sharing an apartment in Hawaii. Mack had been assigned to help the other man adjust to the modern world, and had quickly ended up bonding with the overenthusiastic "puppy" as Zack's adopted father back in Ancient Greece liked to call him. Forcing his reminiscing out of his head, Mack took a deep breath before stepping into the briefing room.

He walked into the room to find the Society's original founders, Lady Sif, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Cobra Bubbles, Ludor, Xiruk, and Isa. Since Lady Sif was here, Mack was able to guess pretty quickly what this was about. The magical community was sending a delegation to Asgard to renew a treaty between the supernatural community and the Nordic realm regarding the former's desire for secrecy. Sif quickly confirmed his hunch and explained that she had received permission from Odin (who knew about the lore of the Keyblade but was not a formal member of the Society) to bring a team of S.A.C.K. members to Asgard as extra security in the event that someone such as Maleficent attempted to use the meeting as the opportunity to break into the palace and steal any of the powerful artifacts stored in Odin's vault.

The self-proclaimed "Mistress of All Evil" had been presumed dead by the Organization shortly before Ludor, Isa, and Xiruk had died, but given the track record of people who were presumed K.I.A. only to come back later (Akela Amador, Mike Peterson, Captain America, and even Coulson himself immediately sprang to mind), the S.A.C.K. wanted to be prepared for anything. They knew from Loki (who contributed information from his cell on Asgard) that Maleficent wanted the Infinity Stones in addition to galactic conquest. And since the Tesseract was on Asgard, the Society refused to take any chances. So an hour later, Sif, Zack, Stich, Mack, Ludor, Isa, and Xiruk were transported to an open field in the middle of nowhere and far away from any civilization where they took the Bifrost up to Asgard.

The Kiln – Conference Room:

September 17th, 2021

"There are three objectives to this mission," Maleficent explained to the three men seated across the conference table from her. "The first two are simple. By attacking in the open again, we'll be telegraphing my survival to the rest of the universe, announcing to all the known worlds that I have returned. The second objective is to make the city's defenders focus on your group while the second strike team completes the third objective. Do I make myself clear?" The three men in front of her nodded in agreement. Good, she thought to herself. Now I just need to find a way of giving them what they want so I can keep them working for me. Empty promises will not hold their loyalty for long. We need their help and we need to deliver on our promises in order to keep it.

"And in return," the youngest of the three men replied, a warning tone in voice. "You'll help us find what we're looking for so that we can put our family back together." It was a demand, not a question or a request, and Maleficent knew it. On the one hand, she was unconcerned with them attempting to fight her. She was powerful enough that these children were nothing compared to her. But if they achieve their goal, Maleficent thought with a rare frightened shudder. Not even I can hope to last long in the face of their true goal. She needed to figure out a way to pacify them in a way that didn't involve her being killed for real this time.

After the three new recruits had been dismissed to prepare for their mission, Maleficent called in her council of advisers to discuss the loyalty of the new recruits. A few minutes later, Malekith the Accursed, Cruella De Vil, the Red Skull, and Captain Hook were seated around the table. Her husband, Hades, was busy putting their five year old daughter Lilith to bed. Meanwhile, the remaining members of her inner circle were busy preparing for their own assignments.

"They will betray us as soon as they have what they want," Malekith spat in disgust. The dark elf leader had spent the years between the rise of Organization XIII and Xehanort's demise scouting the universe for potential new allies for Maleficent. His contributions to the re-forged Hellfire Club were able to compensate for the loses suffered at the tail end of what the so-called "Daybreak Coalition" was now calling "The Xehanort War". Now, after six years of preparations and rebuilding, they were ready to step out of the shadows and begin their campaign of conquest anew.

"Obviously," Johan Schmidt, the infamous (on Earth at least) Red Skull, commented. "But we can prolong what they want by waiting to give it to them until after we have all six Infinity Stones. Then we can just kill all three of them easily in one strike." Everyone nodded their heads in agreement as Hades walked into the room and took his seat next to his wife. With the discussion on what to do with their new recruits once they'd outlived their usefulness ended, the conversation turned towards the upcoming offensive they had planned for later that day. Within a matter of hours, the Hellfire Club would make its presence known, and those who knew what was good for them would be trembling in fear.

Chapter Text

The Realm Eternal – Bifrost Gate

September 17th, 2021

"Welcome to Asgard," greeted Heimdall, gatekeeper of the Bifrost, as the magical delegation emerged from the swirling portal of Asgard's famous rainbow bridge into the Bifrost Gate that served as the midpoint between the flat portion of the bridge leading back to Asgard and the cylindrical half used to transport people and objects across the Nine Realms. Jake Long and the rest of the delegation from Earth dizzily walked forward as they tried to regain their balance after the disorienting experience of traveling by Bifrost. Heimdall informed them that Odin was waiting for them in the throne room, and a squad of guards arrived to escort them all to the palace.

The journey across the bridge into the city was remarkably pleasant. While the guards rode on horseback, Jake and the other fliers in the group took the opportunity to stretch their wings and fly above the bridge while some of the smaller members of the delegation rode on the back of the Centaur. It took almost half an hour to reach the palace, but thankfully they were provided with a banquet full of food upon their arrival so they could refresh themselves before the meeting. Looks like Rose'll be getting home first, Jake thought to himself with a chuckle. Regrettably, his cell phone didn't get coverage all the way in Asgard. He'd have to figure out how to send his wife a message that he'd be out really late.

Once everyone finished eating, they were lead from the banquet hall to the throne room. There, they all came face to face with the imposing and intimidating figure of Odin Borson, the Allfather, Forst Slayer, One-Eyed Warrior, and King of Asgard. The aging king held a variety of impressive titles and sobriquets in the magical community, and most of the delegation approached the throne with what would almost be called reverence. Jake however, thought everyone else in the group was going overboard. Despite Thor's repeated insistence to the media that the people of Asgard were not gods, the magical community had a tendency to ignore that in favor of ancient traditions going back thousands of years.

Sure the young dragon was respectful and followed protocol, Odin was a king for crying out loud! But he wasn't going to trip over himself trying to kiss up to the guy like some people in the party were. Odin smiled in a way that reminded Jake of his grandfather when Jake simply greeted him with polite words and a small bow. Although the ancient king's face was impassive, Jake could tell from the look in his eyes that Odin was clearly thinking Finally, a mortal who doesn't fall over themselves genuflecting at the mere sight of me. Odin may be a little out of touch with the times according to what Jake had heard, but he seemed like a pretty cool guy beneath his grisly exterior.

The meeting went by pretty smoothly. Odin was perfectly understanding of the magical community's desire to remain secret. After all, even after nine years of The Avengers operating in public, there were still a few prominent anti-superhuman hate groups. The magical community didn't want a new Huntsclan or government persecution, and the people of Asgard could accept that. The end result of the treaty was that Odin would pass a law forbidding any visitors to Midgard from mentioning Earth's supernatural population. In return, the magical community would try to deal with any mythological monsters that came to Earth as long as it was away from the public eye. The meeting adjourned, and Thor led the group back to the banquet hall two hours later for some light refreshments before the trip back to the Bifrost. Jake was just about to sit down when the castle walls shook.

"Attention, people of Asgard" boomed a voice that every one of the magical diplomats recognized. Oh great, Jake thought to himself. This guy again. Just when I thought this meeting might actually go by without anything crazy going on. "I am Eli Panderas," boomed the voice of the megalomaniacal sorcerer who had been a constant member of Jake's old rogues' gallery back before the now former American Dragon's retirement. "And I intend to claim your realm as my own!" Here we go again, Jake groaned inwardly as he raced outside with Thor and the royal guards to stop the megalomaniacal wizard.

Unknown World – Unknown Location

September 17th, 2021

"Forgive me for asking, Madame N.I.," the young man began, slightly nervous out of fear for disrespecting his superior. "But why do we stand by and do nothing while those fiends lay siege to Asgard? Our duty is to protect the Realm of Light and destroy the Darkness." N.I. sighed. Every member of the legion had known each other for years now, but many of them often forgot the subtleties of battle strategy and war tactics. Tearing herself away from the window of her office, she turned around to face the young Legionnaire.

"Because, Legionnaire Martin," she replied. "The three most important rules of The Legion when engaging an enemy are to act smoothly, swiftly, and secretly. The three S's. If our existence is exposed, the common people would label us villains for daring to disrupt their precious status quo, and the false heroes would view us as threats to their own power. Therefore, every move we make must be carefully chosen and calculated to be pulled off quickly, without incident, and with the least chance of revealing ourselves to the public."

"An attack on the false gods of Ygdrasil, though cathartic and just, would be premature at this point. We do not have the necessary resources to launch an assault on Asgard. Therefore, we must wait and listen for the ideal time to strike. The heathens laying siege to the blasphemously named "Realm Eternal" will eventually retrieve the object we seek, and once they are out of reach of the other false defenders of light, we will destroy them and take the Tesseract ourselves. A Win-Win scenario that will result in the fewest lives lost and the lowest risk of exposure. Wouldn't you agree?"

The Legionnaire nodded his head and agreement and asked forgiveness for being foolish. N.I. told him that his innocent question was nothing to be ashamed of, and that he was hardly the first to ask such questions. Once he'd been dismissed from delivering the news report of the attack on Asgard, she returned to gazing out the window of the facility's second floor (as opposed to the five subterranean levels in the facility) at the deep blue of the Pacific Ocean. She'd been staying at the Legion's Hawaiian base for the past week overseeing preparations for the next stage of The Plan.

Sighing in frustration, she walked over to her desk and pressed a button on her communicator signaling for the other members of the High Council to report to her office immediately. They hadn't planned on putting Phase Two into action for another year, but the attack on Asgard was a clear sign that they needed to accelerate their plans. The forces of Darkness were going after the Infinity Stones. And the Legion needed to take the lead now while they still had the opportunity to do so. May Kingdom Hearts preserve us all if we fail, N.I. thought to herself as she sat down in her chair and waited for the High Praetors to arrive. Otherwise, the worlds are doomed.


The Realm Eternal – Castle Courtyard

September 17th, 2021

Who are these guys? Jake wondered to himself as he dodged a gunshot fired by one of the three strange men working for Pandarus. Normally, the billionaire wizard usually worked alone, and if he had back up, it was usually in the form of hired goons who worked for his company. These guys were clearly something else. They looked completely human, but fought like nothing Jake had ever seen before. Even Thor's friend Fandral was having trouble dealing with just one of them. And aside from those three, Pandarus' only backup was a legion of small monsters with black skin and beady yellow eyes.

Fortunately, the monsters were extremely weak, and a few fireballs and some sword swings were all it took to dispatch them. Unfortunately, that was easier said than done, since there were a lot of them. Fortunately, because of how quickly Asgard's warriors raced into battle, the tide was quickly beginning to turn. As the Einherjar arrived and began focusing on the shadowy monsters, Thor and his friends were able to take over dealing with the three super powered men. Since Jake had fought Pandarus before, the task of dispatching the rogue wizard fell to him.

"I don't get it, Pandarus," Jake taunted as he and the egomaniacal billionaire flew above the rainbow bridge of the Bifrost. He was trying to appeal to the sorcerer's ego to trick him into accidentally revealing his plans. "Conquering worlds isn't really your style. I bet you're just using this as a distraction for your real motives. So what's your real plan? No, wait. Let me guess. You're trying to steal the Bifrost tech and get a patent on it so you can boost your fortune." Pandarus only laughed maniacally. Jake smirked inwardly. He knew he had the guy now. Hook, line, and sinker.

"Your pathetic inability to keep up with my brilliant mind is amusing," Pandarus chuckled. "I made a deal with a like-minded business associate. I keep the armies of Asgard away from the dungeons, and in return, I get the opportunity to plunder the greatest vault of magical treasures in the universe." Everyone's eyes widened in horror as the implications of what the wizard had just said hit them all at once like the shockwave of a bomb going off. Before he could detain Pandarus, the sorcerer clutched his chest as he fell a hundred feet down to the surface of the bridge with a sickening splat.

"Useless idiot," one of the men commented as he blew away the smoke from one of his guns. Blood began to pool beneath Pandarus' disgusting-looking corpse. "I don't know why She even bothered recruiting him if he was just going to blab all of our plans to the enemy."

"It was precisely because he was an expendable weakling, brother," the man with the Tazer gauntlet remarked. "After all, we cannot afford to lose any of our more valuable allies at such a critical stage." While the three men conversed with each other, the Warriors Three engaged the trio while the Einherjar finished off the monsters. Realizing that whoever Pandarus' benefactor was intended to free Loki from prison for some unknown person, Sif, Thor, and Jake made a beeline for the palace dungeons as quickly as they could to protect the disgraced prince and figure out what it was that they wanted with Loki.

Chapter Text

The Realm Eternal – Palace Dungeons

September 17th, 2021

As the alarm bells began to ring, Loki immediately sensed something was wrong. Not because the bells were ringing, (although many Asgardians arrogantly questioned who would date be stupid enough to launch an attack against their realm), but because of the familiar scent he detected in the hallways leading towards the dungeon. As soon as he detected the alien smell of a Corridor of Darkness opening in the halls of Asgard, he knew that the attack outside was merely a diversion for a smaller team to infiltrate the castle. Loki had his suspicions though. Not wanting anything to happen without leaving his family an explanation, he quickly scribbled out a message to Odin and tucked it under the cushion of his chair just as one of the palace guards walked into the room.

Loki's eyes narrowed in both concern and curiosity. He could tell the guard was an imposter, but the illusion or transformation used to disguise his true form was so thorough that not even he could detect who was really under the mask. Since most of the guards had been called out of the dungeon to help repel the attack, the dungeon was guarded only by a skeleton crew to prevent any scout teams from staging a jailbreak. Loki knew from the moment the false guard stepped into the room that the attack was a diversion to draw the army away from the dungeons so that the infiltrator could rescue him.

To be fair, the impostor could have been attempting to rescue anyone in the dungeons, but given that every other prisoner in the dungeon was part of a band of marauders who had harassed the Nine Realms after his failed attack on Jotunheim all those years ago. Nobody in the Nine Realms really cared about them, and from Odin's reports, the friends and allies of the pillaging brutes didn't have enough resources even collectively to pull off something of this magnitude. That meant that the odds were extremely high that he was their objective.

Loki cycled through a mental lists of everyone he knew who would want him dead. Nobody on Midgard had the technology to kill him, never mind the means to reach Asgard. Thanos had been dead for seven years, mysteriously assassinated, his head cut off and his body delivered to the galactic capital of Turo on a silver platter. The Frost Giants still resented his murder of Laufey, but give what Odin and Thor had told them of the state of their civilization, he doubted any of them had developed the skill necessary or even the need to disguise themselves as a guard, even if they could muster up the anger and hatred necessary to open a Dark Corridor. So if it wasn't one of his many enemies, it was someone he had long since believed abandoned him.

All of this passed through his head in an instant as he watched the false guard slit the real one's throat. He frowned. He'd always liked that guard. One of the few people he'd always felt he could say was his friend and his alone. Despite the fact that the Warriors Three had managed to forgive him, he still saw them as Thor's friends first and his second. The exception to that was Sif, who he'd fallen into a bit of a rapport with over the last nine years. Had he not been confined to a prison cell for the rest of his life, Loki probably would have worked up the courage to confess the romantic feelings he'd developed towards her.

Pushing those thoughts aside, he kept his expression neutral and dull as he watched the impostor move through the dungeon towards his cell. It was time to see if his suspicions were correct. As the guard approached, his form shifted, and the disguise fell away. The straight backed Asgardian warrior was smoothly replaced by a familiar looking man with dark eyes, black hair, and black clothing. As the man approached Loki's cell, another Corridor opened and out stepped a blue-skinned Luphomoid female with a cybernetic arm whom the Asgardian prince had never met before.

The alien woman was accompanied by troops in black combat gear with an insignia on it that Loki had heard described by Thor (his brother had also attempted to draw it, but Thor was not the artistic type, and every attempt at asking one of his friends or the guards to draw it ended in failure), but had yet to see in person. The skull and tentacles logo of HYDRA. That threw a wrinkle into his suspicions of who wanted to break him out, and he raised an eyebrow in response as the unarmored man stopped in front of his cell. There was something vaguely bird-like about the man's physical features, but it wasn't until the man opened his mouth and spoke the words that confirmed Loki's theory that the answer clicked in the prince's mind.

"Maleficent sends her regards," Diablo greeted with an insidious grin.


The Realm Eternal – Odin's Vault

September 17th, 2021

Loki looked down at the corpses of the Einherjar the former daughter of Thanos had just killed and fought the urge to retch. It wasn't that the sight of blood disgusted him, but he knew that as soon as the people of Asgard found out that he'd been broken out of prison, they immediately jump to the conclusion that he'd betrayed them once more. He hoped that his family would have more faith in him, but he'd discreetly left them a note in his cell explaining what he planned to do. Hopefully they believed him.

He'd given up his dreams of ruling years ago, but clearly Maleficent needed his help for something, or she wouldn't have gone to the trouble of breaking him out in the first place. So when Diablo had come to free him from his cell, he saw an opportunity. Although he'd reconciled with his family, the one thing he still wanted was the freedom to travel again. Since Maleficent needed him for a purpose that he had a sneaking suspicion of, he would play along with the rescue attempt. Then, once they were far enough away from Asgard, he would double cross the entire Hellfire Club and take them down in one strike.

From there, he'd drag them all back to Asgard and present them to his father as an offering in the hopes of bartering his release from his prison sentence. He'd explained his plan in the letter, but deep down he was afraid. Under ordinary circumstances, he'd never pull off a gamble this risky unless he could predict the pieces in play. Here though, he had no way of prediction how his letter would be received. One of the Einherjar could find it and destroy it before Odin and Thor could read it. Or his family could read the note and not believe it. Or nobody might find his message at all. If nobody read the note, he was throwing his relationship with his family away for a gamble that may not even work. His only option was to go with it and hope for the best.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he followed Diablo and Nebula into the vault. The HYDRA agents had retreated back through the Corridor of Darkness so that the trio could move through the halls of Asgard without attracting attention. Loki inwardly grimmanced as his theories of what Maleficent was after were confirmed while he followed his "rescuers" up the stairs towards the pedestal on which the Tesseract now sat. Nebula and Diablo stood to either side of the cube, and Loki immediately understood that due to his knowledge of the workings of Asgardian technology, he was expected to get them out of there.

Clever, Loki thought to himself after a brief moment of hesitation. If I betray your infiltration team and summon my father, they'll know and will drag me back to you for punishment. You expect me to prove my loyalty by bringing the rescue team home. Maleficent, my dear, you haven't lost your touch. He quickly crouched down and used his magic to remove the covering off the mechanism that kept the Tesseract's glass container affixed to the mechanical pedestal. A quick glance at the device's inner workings and he instantly understood how it worked. A few pulled wires and cancelled spells and the Tesseract's cynlindrical container was free of its metallic prison.

Diablo and Nebula quickly grabbed one handle while Loki's free hand grabbed the other. The transfigured bird-man turned the handle, and the three figured departed Asgard. An instant later, they reappeared lightyears away from the Realm Eternal, in a facility that Loki had heard rumors of but never actually gotten to see for himself. His "rescuers" led him out of the small antechamber they'd arrived in and through the long winding hallways of the space station. A confusing series of turns later, and they left him in a conference room sitting across the table from someone he thought he'd never see again. He wanted to get the conversation over with, but right now he had only one thing to say to Maleficent.

"Where in Hel have you been for the last nine years?"

The Realm Eternal – Palace Dungeons

September 17th, 2021

Thor was frantic as he raced into the dungeons to find the Einherjar guarding the prison dead and his brother's cell open. No, he pleaded mentally as he raced into the now open jail cell. Don't do this, Loki, he pleaded mentally, even though he knew his brother would never be able to hear. Don't throw away your family for another chance at conquest. The prince of Asgard tore through the cell, leaving no stone unturned. Despite his fears, Thor knew Loki too well to think that after all the time and effort the family had put into reconciling, that his brother wouldn't at least offer his family an explanation for his sudden disappearance. He was proven right when he found a folded piece of paper tucked under the cushion of Loki's chair. Thor quickly pulled it out and began to read

" Brother,

If you're reading this then whoever is attacking Asgard has used the outward assault to distract the guards long enough for some old friends of mine to sneak in and free me from my cell. I know that given how hard you fought to reconcile our family that you'll be the first one to come running to the dungeons when you figure out why they're here. I also know what you're thinking, that I could have killed my would-be rescuers or led them towards the guard. But the Hellfire Club is not so easily deceived. They are a cabal of conquerors who I ran into after I fell from the Bifrost but before I ended up in the clutches of Thanos, and their one goal is the conquest of reality itself.

To that end, they seek the Infinity Stones. I never mentioned them before because I'd bitterly felt that they'd abandoned me to prison and did not wish to think about them. Anyway, getting back on topic. They came for me and will likely bring me along as they go after the Tesseract. My only option is to play along for now because while Asgardians are difficult to kill by means other than our own weapons, Maleficent is one of the few beings in the universe with the time, resources, and patience to give it her best shot. If I openly betray her she will find ways to make me suffer that will make me beg for the sweet embrace of death.

I know that Father cannot commute my prison sentence, but I intend to deliver him the entire Club on a silver platter in the hopes he may be able to find a loophole that will enable him to make an exception. I miss the sky, Thor. I'll find a way to pass on another message as soon as I can. Tell our parents of what I intend to do. If you never hear from me again, and Maleficent figures out my change of allegiances, know that I love you all.


Thor's brow furrowed in worry as he examined the letter once more. It was Loki's handwriting, and his mother was able to verify that it was not a forgery. This was unlike Loki. Even after reconciling with his family, Loki never told the whole truth about anything. To do so went against his nature as a trickster and god of mischief. The fact that he was doing it now (confirmed by Odin's foresight and the fact that Loki was not masking himself from Heimdall's all-seeing gaze) meant that this "Hellfire Club" truly terrified him. And the thought of a malicious army that even Loki was afraid of made Thor think of a phase he'd never said before but had heard Tony Stark use multiple times We're screwed.

He'd spoken to his parents about going after Loki to bring him home. Odin refused to allow Thor to leave and told him to have faith that his brother would succeed in his gamble and come home safely. When Thor asked the Allfather how he could be so calm, Odin admitted that he was as far from calm as Midgard was from the sun.

"But as king I must at least pretend to be calm and fearless in the face of this threat for the sake of our people's morale," the ruler of Asgard explained. "Inside, I fear for your brother's safety as much as you do. But while Loki is not masking his presence, this "Hellfire Club" has found a way to shield their operations from Heimdalls gaze, and so once your brother left Asgard the gatekeeper could no longer see him. We have no way of tracking these villains' movements, and so we must trust your brother's judgement and wait until we receive new information that we can act upon."

Thor calmly accepted the explanation then, and bid his parents farewell as he made his way out of the castle. He needed to bring the Avengers up to speed on what had happened. The mortal sorcerer's use of an army of Shadows troubled the Asgardian prince. Heartless hadn't been seen in the Nine Realms in almost a century, and the fact that the demons of Darkness were active again was an alarming revelation. He reached a balcony and was just about to take off towards the Bifrost when Sif came running up behind him. Having assumed that she'd returned to S.H.I.E.L.D. to inform them of the break-out, Thor greeted her with a confused "hello."

"When you return to Midgard," she began. "Do not speak of the Heartless to the rest of the Avengers or the S.H.I.E.L.D. There are some things that the mortals are not ready to know about the Keyblade War just yet. You may discuss them with the Son of Coul, but no one else. He is part of a secret society of humans who research the secrets of the Keyblade to prepare for the day when the Heartless come again." Thor disliked keeping secrets from his friends, but nevertheless agreed to omit the presence of the Heartless from his retelling of events.

When Thor flew off to the Bifrost, Sif retreated towards her chambers, where the members of the S.A.C.K. she'd brought with her had gathered. Before their return to the Society headquarters, they needed to go over the results of today's test. When the Society of Advanced Cultural Knowledge was first formed, the founders knew that Keyblade Wielders would not always be there to protect them. So with the aid of Atlantean technology, they had begun designing energy weapons capabale of destroying Heartless. Thankfully, the weapons had never had to be used before, but when they heard Raina's prophecy and suspected the potential imminent return of Keyblade Wielders, they'd broken the weapons out of storage in preparation for when they would be needed.

The Society members stayed away from the public areas but helped to pick off the Shadows that got too close to civilians. The weapons were a complete success, and they contacted Headquarters to notify the council of the results. Once the call ended, Sif discreetly lead the group out of the castle and back to the Bifrost. The magical community's delegation had left shortly after the attack had been repelled, so they had no fear of causing an incident with them, but Sif still wished to avoid her colleagues being spotted by the guards or by random citizens. Once they reached the bridge, Heimdall deposited them a few miles from The Playground. Agent Sif sent the rest of the S.A.C.K. members back to their headquarters in New York before returning to The Playground to notify the rest of S.H.I.E.L.D. what was going on. There was no mistaking it now. War was on the horizon.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Marketplace

September 18th, 2021

The Daybreak Coalition had come a long way in only six years. Worlds that were once isolated and disconnected from each other had banded together to defend each other against the forces of evil like Maleficent. It had taken the combined threat of her and Xehanort to band the Coalition together, and the possibility of her survival held them together, enabling them to share technology, resources, and troops. The Coalition Council had created standardized systems of education, health care, and transportation across the known worlds, and times had been peaceful.

The Order of The Keyblade continued to protect the worlds from the Heartless like they always had. The United Coalition Army patrolled Coalition space, keeping watch for the return of the Hellfire Club. Coalition Intelligence scoured for the known worlds for signs of Maleficent army while scouting for new worlds that weren't yet part of the Coalition. Travel and trade between all the different worlds was more common now. A businessman from Arendelle had even set up an ice rink in the deserts of Agrabah for instance.

The lives of the "Guardians of Light" had changed dramatically as well. Terra and Aqua had gotten married a few months after Xehanort's demise. Roxas and Xion had started dating the following spring. Lea and Elsa had just gotten engaged a few months ago. Namine had gotten together with Pence a few years back, and Riku had been in a relationship with Selphie since he and Sora had finished their remedial Senior Year of High School. Donald and Daisy got married within months of Xehanort's downfall, and even Goofy had managed to find himself a girlfriend in the librarian of Disney Tower Library.

One thing that hadn't changed, though, was how nervous Sora could be where his relationship with Kairi was concerned. They'd been dating for over six years now, but the twenty-three year old Keyblade Master would still feel nervous talking about their relationship. He wasn't like that all the time, but Kairi had noticed that he'd been acting more and more nervous around her lately. Almost like he was hiding something. When she asked Riku, Donald, Goofy, Ventus, his parents, or even Vanitas about what was going on with him, they kept denying any knowledge of what she was talking about.

She had her suspicions about why he was acting this way, but unless he actually told her, she could only guess. Tonight, they were having dinner at a small restaurant in Radiant Garden's marketplace. It had been a crazy week for both of them. After she and the boys had finished high school, they'd travelled around the worlds for a while before settling down to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. As Ansem The Wise's niece and heir to the throne of Radiant Garden, Kairi had moved back to her original home world so that she could get used to being royalty in preparation for her eventual ascension to the throne.

Sora hadn't had any real plans and so had enlisted in the royal guard so that they'd always be on the same world together. He usually schedules his patrols and shifts so that he'd be able to visit her on his days off, but this week had been particularly busy for the both of them. Her uncle Ansem was away visiting Mickey at Disney Town, so Kairi to spend the week meeting commuting to the current seat of the Coalition Council in San Fransokyo to oversee and sign off on some new trade legislation.

As they ate their dinner, Kairi grew more concerned when Sora barely said anything as the meal went on. She could see the sweat on his forehead and the blush in his cheeks and she could tell that he was nervous, and she had a pretty good idea why.

"Sora," she began. "Is something going on at work? You've barely said a word to me since we got here." She didn't share her suspicions of what she thought he was really thinking about, figuring that doing so would only make him more nervous.

"No, no," he reassured her. "It's not that, Kairi. I'm just nervous."

"About what?" she asked innocently. "Sora, we've been dating for six years now and you weren't even this nervous when we had our first kiss."

"I know, I know," Sora replied. "It's just. There's something I want to do, and I think we're ready for it. I'm just worried you might think that we're not." And the likelihood that I'm right just went up exponentially, Kairi thought to herself. She leaned across the table and gave him a brief but passionate kiss on the lips, and this managed to finally get him to calm down.

"Well," Kairi responded. "The only way to find out would be to just tell me what it is you're worried about." Though she didn't voice her thoughts out loud, when she saw him take a deep breath, she could tel exactly what he was thinking. After a quick mental self-pep talk, Sora reached into the pocket of his dress pants and slid off his chair.

"Kairi," he began as he got down on one knee. There was a nervous quiver in the Keyblade Master's voice as he pulled a small velvet box out of his pocket. "Will you marry me?"

"Yes," she gasped before he even opened the box. She stood up, pulling him to his feet as she did so, and gave him another longer, more passionate, and more romantic kiss. The restaurant patrons who were watching the scene unfold (the couple had been famous ever since Xehanort's fall, and the local news outlets had been speculating since they turned eighteen how long it would take Sora to finally propose) broke out into applause as Sora lid the engagement ring onto her finger. "What took you so long you lazy bum?" she teased as their lips parted and they sat back down.

"You know me," Sora replied. "Fear always ends up making me second guess myself." Kairi chuckled and gave him another kiss just as the waiter arrived with a bouquet of flowers Sora had brought with him but been too nervous to bring into the restaurant area with him. The wait staff, having been told the purpose of the reservation by Riku, had been kind enough to store them in the fridge until Sora had managed to finally ask the question he'd been waiting years to ask. As they continued to eat their dinner, the every diner in the building came up to the table to congratulate the two of them.

In between saying thank you to everyone who came to the table (except for Riku, Ven, and Vanitas, who had come to watch. Sora jokingly told them to get lost and stay out of his love life), the two of them discussed wedding plans ranging from the date and location to who to send invitations to. Since they both had friends on several different worlds, they needed to keep the guest list to a reasonable length. Obviously Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and the rest of the Order of the Keyblade were invited. Sora's parents, Kairi's adopted father, her Uncle Ansem, and her Cousin Ienzo all went without saying.

As they finished eating and paid for their meal, they walked back to the castle together. The guards' barracks was just outside the castle (although Sora had risen high enough in the ranks to earn his own private room), while as a Princess, Kairi's bedroom was all the way in the Hollow Bastion's upper floors. The castle's sleeping quarters were normally off limits to civilians, and guards were only allow when they were on duty for the sake of residents' privacy, but since Dilan and Aeleus were part of the castle's security detail, they let Sora be the exception so that he could walk Kairi back to her room after one of their dates.

On worlds like San Fransokyo or Zootopia, they would have been mobbed by reporters as they made their way home. As it was, even with the tourism boom and immigrant influx in recent years, Radiant Garden remained a small tight-nit community after the horrors of The Fall, and so they were able to have some privacy as they made their way back to the castle. Somone at the castle would issue a statement to the press tomorrow morning so that Sora and Kairi wouldn't have to deal with the sudden influx of reporters begging at their doorsteps for interviews.

The paparazzi as the people of Earth referred to it, wasn't really an issue in Coalition space. Even as the number of news outlets grew in the past six years, people's privacy was respected. It helped that very few member worlds had technology and social structures remotely close to modern-day Earth. Nevertheless, between the fame they had both individually and as a couple, reporters would travel from all over the Coalition to get the best scoop on what would probably be blow out of proportion as "the wedding of the century" or something like that. Right now though, neither of them cared about any of that. They could deal with it tomorrow. All that mattered at the moment was each other.

The Kiln – Conference Room

September 17th, 2021

"Where in Hel have you been for the last nine years?" Loki demanded as a small red monster appeared from a side room and poured him a glass of wine. He accepted the glass and took a sip, making himself look like he was trying not to slam the glass on the table in anger. It wasn't that hard, he'd been friends with the original members of the Hellfire Club and they'd never made any effort to break him out of prison in the last decade. He may have given up his ambitions of conquest, but the abandonment still stung. The least they owed him was an explanation for why they never bothered to at least send a message.

"Technically speaking I was dead for one of them," she replied calmly. Loki blinked. He hadn't expected that answer, and Maleficent went on to explain how after his capture by Thanos, they'd been unable to track his movements, and by the time they learned of his location, a lone Keyblade wielder had managed to decimate their ranks. Ursula, Jafar, and Oogie Boogie had all been killed and Maleficent trapped in the Realm of Darkness, dead to the world for all intents and purposes.

A year later, Maleficent managed to return to the land of the living and begin rebuilding the Hellfire Club, but her efforts had been hindered by the incompetence of that bumbling oaf, Pete. It had taken a further two years to rebuild the Hellfire Club, and six more to accumulate the resources necessary to stage an open attack against Asgard. Taking all that into consideration, Loki couldn't say he blamed her for having to move a prison break down on the list of priorities when having to deal with Xehanort and his Organization. That didn't mean he wasn't still frustrated about it though.

With the elephant in the room taken care of, they moved on to discussing recent events and Maleficent's current goals. He was far from surprised when Maleficent confirmed that she was searching for the Infinity Stones to accelerate her path to conquest.

"Lovely fellow," Loki remarked sarcastically. "Reminds me of a few humans who were a gigantic pain in my arse when I was forced to conquer Earth on Thanos' behalf." The Mad Titan had used the same scepter that the prince had been given for the invasion to compel the Asgardian to do his bidding. Maleficent only chuckled in response.

"Kadaj and his brothers are a bit of an odd bunch among the Club," she replied. "Where most of us want to conquer the universe, they simply want to find a way to bring back their father and take revenge on those who killed him. They call themselves the Advent Children, but Captain Hook gave them the more popular nickname of "The Angel's Bastards"." Loki had been in the middle of taking a sip from his drink and so Maleficent couldn't help but chuckle as he spat his drink across the conference table in shock. Surely she hadn't meant…?

"Are you serious?" he gasped as he recovered from nearly choking on his wine. "Him!? Having children?" He couldn't fathom the idea of Sephiroth having a sex life period! Never mind the fact that he somehow managed to procreate no less than three times. But Maleficent's nod was all that he needed to confirm that his train of thought was correct. Still surprised from that little bombshell, Loki couldn't help but burst out laughing at the situation. As one of the little crimson beasts came in and cleaned up the spilled wine, the newest members of the Hellfire Club leadership filed into the room. It was time to meet the new recruits.

Hades and Captain Hook he recognized. The woman with black and white hair and an extravagant fur coat was unfamiliar to him. He recognized Maleficent's shape-shifting raven familiar among the crowd. The other two members of the inner circle he had never seen before, but was able to recognize on sight based on reputation and descriptions. Well this just got more complicated, Loki mused to himself as Malekith and the Red Skull took their seats at the table. As the meeting got underway, Loki prepared himself to mentally notes on the Hellfire Club's plans and began preparing his next message to his family. This was going to be more dangerous than he'd thought it would be.

"Now that we're all here," Maleficent began as she gestured around the table at the members of her inner circle. "It's time to get down to business. Our last two campaigns to conquer all of reality failed. Xehanort was manipulating us into acquiring the Princesses of Heart for his own ends, and our ranks were crippled by the time the truth was revealed. Going after the Book of Prophecies was a failure as well. We could always attempt to acquire the Princesses and the Books again, but a certain Nordic deity once advised me to "never repeat the same trick for the same audience twice."" She, Hades, Diablo, and Hook glanced at Loki with sardonic smiles on their faces. To keep up appearances, Loki answered with a satisfied smirk.

"Therefore," she went on. "If we are to achieve our collective dream of conquest, we need a new approach. We have spent the last six years quietly rebuilding our resources away from the prying eyes of those who would oppose our plans. No more. It's time we went with Plan B. We will assemble the Infinity Gauntlet, and with it, all of reality will bow to our will." Loki noticed that no one commented on the fact that Maleficent would still be the one in charge wearing the gauntlet. The command structure of the Hellfire Club had evidently been restructured in his absence, with Maleficent now clearly at the top of the pyramid, and her inner circle directly beneath her.

"Thanks to Malekith's reconnaissance reports," Maleficent continued. "We have confirmed the locations for two of the remaining five Infinity Stones, and solid leads on the hiding places of two more. We know exactly where to find the Mind and Power stones, and we know at least where to look for the Time and Reality Stones. Only the location of the Soul Stone continues to elude us. With Thanos and Xehanort out of the way, we will have no competition in our quest for power." The group continued to discuss their battle strategy for locating the missing stone for the next hour.

The Red Skull advocated for retrieving the ones they knew of now, but Loki had played chess against the Mistress of All Evil enough times to know how she thought. She never committed to a move until all the unknown variables were known. She wouldn't make a move until she'd at the very least narrowed down their options for the location of the Soul Stone. Although he had already figured out where the stone was, he declined to share it in order to delay the Hellfire Club's plans for as long as possible. When the meeting concluded, Maleficent announced that she needed to pick up her daughter. Loki was still trying to process the fact that Sephiroth had kids when Maleficent dropped her own parental bombshell on him, and sat dazed in the room for another five minutes as everyone else left. Everyone that is, except the one he'd quickly deduced to be the father of Maleficent's child, if the matching wedding rings to go by.

"She's clearly been busy for the last six years," Loki said to Hades once the rest of the council had filed out of the conference room. "Congratulations on your marriage by the way. I assume Maleficent left to collect your child from whoever was hired to babysit during the meeting?"

"Correct-o-mundo," the now-former lord of the underworld answered with a smirk. "Maleficent's a little overprotective about Lily, but after what happened to her first kid, who can blame her?" Loki nodded in understanding and sympathy. He was one of the few people to know that much about Maleficent's past, having deduced it after his arrive in Hollow Bastion all those years ago based on his own brief experience with parenthood. He shoved those tragic memories to the back of his mind as Hades asked if there was anything he needed to be caught up on.

"Well there is one thing I'm still confused by," the Norse god of magic admitted with a chuckle. "When did Sephiroth ever find the time to, as the mortals say, get laid?"

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Kairi's Bedroom

September 19th, 2021

Kairi opened her eyes to the sunlight filtering into her suite in the upper levels of the castle. She smiled as she felt the comforting grip of her fiancé's arms draped over her. Although he normally went back to the barracks after he dropped her off at the castle, she'd managed to persuade him to come upstairs for some celebratory sea-salt ice cream. It took four hours before they both came down from the resulting sugar high and passed out from exhaustion. She just needed to get him out of the castle before security figured out he'd spent the night. She didn't want anyone jumping to conclusions about what they'd gotten up to. They were saving that for after the wedding.

Brushing the last strands of hair out of her face, she looked over to the clock on her nightstand and her eyes nearly popped out of her head when she saw that it was 11:00 in the morning. She didn't have any functions today, but she needed to get Sora out of here before the guards came to break down her door and make sure she was alright. Frantically, she lifted his arms off of her and rolled off the bed. Once that was done, she gave Sora a kiss on the lips. This proved to be enough to rouse him from his slumber. He groggily rubbed his eyes as he woke up and she frantically reminded him of the need to avoid getting him in trouble for sleeping in her bedroom. She was about to go into the bathroom of her suite and change when there was a knock on the door.

"Kairi," called the voice of her uncle from the other side of the door. "Are you alright?" Frantically, she whispered for Sora to hide behind the bed before she opened the door.

"I'm alright, Uncle," she replied as she gave Ansem the Wise a good morning hug. "I was up late last night so I ended up sleeping in." In response, Ansem only raised an eyebrow as he noticed some of the recognizable spikes of Sora's hair peeking out from behind the large queen-size bed. She was planning to smuggle him out of the castle before anyone figured out he'd ever spent the night, he realized with a mental chuckle. Too bad she forgot that there are security cameras in every hallway in case of intruders attempting to access the upper levels of the castle via Dark Corridor.

"Oh?" he asked, deciding to play along and pretend he couldn't see him. He wasn't worried. He had talked to both of them when they first started dating and made sure he made it clear that they weren't allowed to sleep together until they got married. But seeing as news of their engagement had been spreading like wildfire all morning, he could understand her convincing Sora to at least spend the night as to celebrate. "And might the reason you were up so late be the same reason the security cameras saw Sora enter your room last night and not come out?" he added with an impish grin. For all his regrets and the weight of his duties as the reappointed king of Radiant Garden, Ansem the Wise still had a very wicked sense of humor.

Kairi's face flushed red with embarrassment as she tried to stammer out an excuse while Sora sheepishly stood up from behind the bed.

"Your majesty," Sora said frantically as he gave a respectful salute to his boss. (Dilan and Aeleus may have been his commanding officers, but they both reported to Ansem, making him the de facto superior of every member of the royal guards) "I'm so sorry. We didn't do anything last night. I swear." Ansem chuckled.

"No need to apologize, my boy," the middle aged king replied. "Your engagement has been the talk of the city all morning. I knew you were spending the night to celebrate, I just thought I'd have a little fun this morning. Congratulations by the way. I'm happy for you both."

"Thank you, sir," Sora answered as Kairi gave her uncle another hug. The happy couple breathed a sigh of relief at not having to frantically rush Sora out the door before anyone discovered he was there. Everyone already knew, and simply chose to let the infraction of security slide for one night so the two lovers could celebrate.

"So," Ansem went on. "When's the wedding?"

Maveth – Angelic Sanctuary

September 19th, 2021

Coming home always brought back bad memories for Kadaj. His and Yazoo's mother had died when he was only ten, and his father had brought him here. Although the planet had no official name, the humans who had worshiped his grandmother called it Maveth. Apparently it meant "death" in some language Kadaj had never learned, but he thought the name quite fitting. Even with the great Sephiroth raising three children in the halls of this very citadel, the world had always felt cold and lifeless. Between the eighteen years between sunrises and the dust storms every time they sat foot outside the castle walls, Maveth had always been a hellish place to live.

Despite the nightmarish environment, this castle had been home to Kadaj for so long that even when he wanted nothing to do with the place, he and his brothers still found themselves drawn back to their father's home. The trio were under no illusions about who and what their father was. Sephiroth trained them relentlessly, making them practice for hours to sharpen their reflexes and hone their skills in battle. But despite his cold and aloof attitude, he was still their father, and he still cared for their needs. He comforted them when they missed their mothers (Yazoo and Kadaj had the same mother, but Loz, who was the oldest of the trio, had a different mother), took care of them when they were sick or injured, and cooked dinner for all of them when he was home from a job.

A tear fell from Kadaj's cheek at the memory of dad's first disastrous attempt at cooking dinner for four. Sephiroth may not have been a perfect father, but he still cared for his sons. And six years ago, he left for job, promising to be back in a few weeks, but he never came home. Eventually, the three brothers left Maveth to find him, only to discover that he had been murdered by the man he'd tried to kill. Never mind that Sephiroth killing the man would have amounted to murder either way. That man, Cloud Strife, had killed their father. And for that he would die horribly. Vengeance would be theirs.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he stood up and returned to join Yazoo and Loz in the dining room. They wound find the man who took their father from them and kill him. None of the three cared about Maleficent's plans to remake the universe in her image. It made no difference to them whether she succeeded or failed as long as they got what they wanted. All that mattered to them was avenging their father's death and reuniting with their lost brother. The rest of the universe could burn for all they cared, as long as they could put their family back together.



Radiant Garden – Library

September 19th, 2021

Something's definitely going on, Kairi thought to herself as she and Sora walked into the Hollow Bastion's library. After their late brunch, they'd been informed that an operative from the Coalition Intelligence Network had arrived with urgent news and needed to speak with her right away. Sora had changed back into his guard uniform and accompanied her up to the meeting. On the way down to the castle library, the two of them blushed in near-perfect sync as everyone they passed in the hallways congratulated them and asked when the wedding was.

They walked into the library to find a small gathering waiting for them on the upper level. Once they walked through the doors, Dilan and Aeleus tapped a "Closed" sign to the door before closing and locking it. This is serious, Sora realized as they made their way through the maze of bookshelves towards where the rest of the group was gathered. When they reached the second floor, they took stock of who was present. The group consisted of King Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Aqua, Queen Elsa, General Shang, and a brown-haired woman who Sora knew he had met before but couldn't remember exactly where.

"Agent Yuna," the woman introduced herself. It clicked in Sora's mind where he recognized her from. She and her fellow treasure hunters Rikku and Paine had fought in the Battle of Hollow Bastion eight years ago. Of course, back then, the trio had inadvertently been shrunken down to the size of small fairies as a result of some cursed treasure they'd taken from the cave of wonders. While they'd claimed back before the battle that Maleficent had promised them treasure, it had just been to cover the fact that the witch was supposed to return the trio to full size. Eventually, they'd figured out how to reverse their condition and all three eventually became members of the C.I.N.

"My partners and I picked up some suspicious activity in Zootopia and San Fransokyo a few days ago," Yuna explained. "We investigated our leads and discovered Hellfire Club agents operating in hidden bases on both worlds. We managed to overhear enough of their communications to pick up the fact that this isn't some hold-out that's managed to survive for six years. They've reorganized, and they're planning something big." A hushed silence fell over the group as they considered the ramifications of what she'd said. There were very few criminals in Coalition space with the kind of influence to take over the remains of the Hellfire Club, and none of the original members had the charisma to hold all the different splinter groups together. That left only two possibilities: either someone new had managed to bring order to the chaotic factions, or Maleficent had indeed survived all these years.

"We need to handle this quietly," Elsa said bluntly once the briefing finished. "They'll likely be monitoring all Coalition news feeds, and if we announce this information publicly, we lose the element of surprise and give them time to escape."

"I agree," Sora commented. "But at the same time we can't just let civilians on either world get caught in the crossfire because they're oblivious to the danger. We have to give people just enough information that they'll steer clear of the Hellfire Club's bases until we've given the all clear." Everyone voiced their agreement, and Kairi suggested putting out a public safety announcement warning residents about a gas leak or something of that nature to force a temporary evacuation of the surrounding buildings and reduce collateral damage.

Next came the decision of who to send for the raids on the two bases. Sora, Donald, and Goofy quickly volunteered to lead the attack on the Club's Zootopian base. Aqua recommended Terra and Ven for San Fransokyo. With the teams decided, the meeting adjourned, and everyone went their separate ways to prepare for the operation. Sora, Donald, and Goofy headed down to the barracks so Sora could change out of his uniform and into the outfit he usually wore while out travelling the worlds (with Kairi tagging along to see them off). Aqua headed for an outdoor balcony from which to fly her Glider back to the Land of Departure and notify Terra and Ven of their assignment, while Mickey went to go visit with his friend Ansem. Meanwhile, Yuna accompanied Elsa back to Arendelle to relay her findings to Director Cassim from the C.I.N. base in the kingdom's northern mountains.

With the possibility of Maleficent's return, the Coalition government was now on high alert. Nobody was foolish enough to believe that these two bases were the extent of the Hellfire Club's resurgence. But everyone hoped that by going after these cells, even if some of the villains managed to escape, would give them enough clues to start making their way up the ladder towards Maleficent herself – if she was alive, that is. They still had no confirmation that this was really her in charge or someone new who'd managed to win the loyalty of those who remained. As everyone prepared for battle, a sense of grim determination came over those who'd be involved in the battles to come. They would not stop until the Hellfire Club had been either captured or killed, down to the last member.

Chapter Text

Earth – Avengers Headquarters

September 18th, 2021

Thor looked around at the faces of the Avengers and saw varying levels of concern on each of their faces. It was a sign of how serious the situation was that even the infamously comedic Tony Stark didn't crack a joke. After all, it's not any old department store supervillain with the funding, manpower, resources, and audacity to pull off something of this magnitude. Loki's escape didn't faze anyone. They had all come to terms with his quasi-redemption years ago. What left them all in such a stunned silence was how effortlessly this unknown faction pulled the break-out off.

Looking at each of the faces of his teammates, the prince of Asgard found that despite conveying the same emotions, they were all clearly thinking different things. Steve Rogers, Sam Wilson, Wanda Maximov, and Ron Stoppable were already attempting to determine the motive behind the prison break. The former thief Scott Lang, his girlfriend Hope Pym, Pietro, and the little blue alien called Stitch were attempting to calculate just how the break out had been accomplished. Tony Stark, James Rhodes, Kim Possible, Bucky and Dr. Banner were analyzing the implications of a military force capable of successfully achieving a stunt like this. Natasha, however, was an enigma. She looked as if she knew exactly who had done it and what the attack entailed.

Deciding to inquire as to what she knew later, Thor continued the discussion towards what they would do next. Every member of the team unanimously voted in favor of pursuing the culprits. Anyone with the resources and audacity to pull off a successful attack on Asgard was also a potential threat to Earth. If they could infiltrate Asgard's dungeon, then there was no telling what they would be capable of if they decided to set their sights on Earth. Unfortunately, other than what little information Loki could offer in his letter, they had no leads to go on. Nevertheless, Tony began making plans to upgrade everyone's gear to prepare for when Loki's next info drop gave them enough intelligence to act upon.

With the meeting adjourned, the team was about to head downstairs for lunch when the Biritsh-accented voice of J.A.R.V.I.S. emerged from the ceiling.

"I've just received word from S.H.I.E.L.D.," the artificial intelligence announced gravely. "A group of terrorists have launched a series of attacks across Europe. They are wearing HYDRA uniforms but it's unclear yet if they are a small cell that managed to escape the last purge, or if it's just a bunch of would-be anarchists attempting to use HYDRA's imagery and reputation to bolster their own." Their rest time cut short, the team raced down to the armory and prepared for battle. Within the next fifteen minutes, the Avengers' Quinjet was flying away from their headquarters towards Europe to stop this new would-be HYDRA cell. They were superheroes. Saving the world and fighting groups like HYDRA was part of the job.

Unknown World – Unknown Location

September 19th, 2021

"Our spies have confirmed that the breakout was successful," the pink-haired man reported solemnly. "Maleficent and her allies now have control of the Space Stone. Our sources indicate that she intends to lie low and confirm the locations of the Time, Soul, and Reality games before moving forward with seizing the other Infinity Stones. We cannot allow those miscreants to get their filthy hands on the Gauntlet of the First Master."

"Thank you, High Praetor," Madame N.I. replied grimly. The leadership of The Legion had gathered on one of their outlying bases to discuss recent events and begin preparations for the first phase of their grand plan. So far, the meeting hadn't been going well. Word of Maleficent's success would harm troop morale, and that was the last thing the High Council wanted. "What we need to decide now," N.I. went on. "Is how to proceed from here. We ourselves know the locations of several of the stones, but many of them are in places we cannot enter without attracting attention. So how do we go about acquiring them?"

"Well," suggested the blonde-haired Warden. "We can always manipulate events in our favor. We can mislead the Hellfire Club's research, have them chase down false leads to buy ourselves time. Plant breadcrumbs to have those heathen Keyblade Wielders take the one already in Maleficent's possession. The Club will lay siege to whichever world it's taken to in order to retrieve it, and in the chaos of the battle, we will slip in and grab it for ourselves." The rest of the council nodded their hands in agreement with the plan, and began making preparations to put the idea into action. An hour later, N.I. was sitting at her desk filling out paperwork when the Warden knocked on her door.

"Forgive me for intruding, Imperator," she began. "But I think now that we've begun seriously preparing for the endgame, it's time that we seriously began preparing disciplinary action against the traitors" Ah yes, N.I. reminded herself. The Lost Ones. The loyalty the soldiers and officers of the Legion displayed towards their cause was ironclad, but every once in a while they would get an aberration in the norm. A high ranking soldier who had grown dissatisfied with the lack of progress and forsaken The Legion's ideals. Most had realized the error of their ways after a cycle of exposure to the destruction the Darkness caused. But these two, they had not only openly deserted the Legion but remained steadfast in their defiance of The Cause.

"Very well," the supreme leader of the Legion replied. "You have authorization to take a Cohort and bring them back to the ISMCC to stand trial for their crimes. But please remember to be discreet." The Warden nodded in understanding and swept out of the room to select her team members for this mission. She was looking forward to the court martial and summary execution of the two traitors, but she was not blind to the fact that this would have to be planned very carefully. Both traitors had several powerful friends who would raise hell if they were ever overtly abducted. But a "mysterious" disappearance en route to a destination with no surveillance along the way could quickly be covered up and all clues manipulated to lead to dead ends. The ensuing missing person's cases would remain forever unsolved.

The Warden smiled to herself as she reviewed the profiles of the Legionnaires she intended to select for the mission. They would have to do this one at a time to avoid arousing any further suspicion, but they could pull this off. They just had to be stealthy. To that end, she had changed into civilian attire, complete with a black wig to conceal her natural blonde hair, and contact lenses designed to make her eyes appear brown instead of their true greenish-blue. Once she'd changed, she used the dandelion-imprinted seal to stamp the papers she'd needed to file for the mission before ordering the Legionnaires she'd requested to report to the briefing room. They had work to do.


Earth – Whitmore Mansion

September 18th, 2021:

"If we weren't sure about what Raina's prophecy was about, the attack on Asgard pretty much confirmed it," Joshua Sweet remarked as he looked around at the faces of the other members of the S.A.C.K.'s leadership. Vinnie, Mole, Audrey, Jiaying, Lady Sif, and the chairwoman had assembled at the Society headquarters as soon as Sif's team returned from Asgard and brought news of the attack. An attack on one of the most heavily defended of the mythological realms within hours of a foreboding prophetic dream did not bode well, and they needed to figure out what they should do.

"Our security cameras were able to identify most of the people involved in the attack and the breakout," Lady Sif explained. In recent years, Odin had been convinced to allow the installation of CCTV cameras to provide security in the royal palace. Attacks against Asgard were considered impossible, but given how many enemies he had, Loki (who kept in contact with the Society from his prison cell through Sif) had persuaded his father to have them in stalled, stating that it was better to prepare for the unexpected than to be caught off guard and have allow the damages and casualties to mount higher than they would be otherwise.

"The three silver haired men were identified by Loki as the illegitimate children of the mercenary Sephiroth," the Asgardian warrior went on. The disgraced prince of Asgard had become a valuable source of information about Maleficent once he'd figured out Sif's membership in it. "According to Isa and Xiruk, he was killed a few days before their deaths. The team sent to free Loki consisted of a squad of HYDRA agents, the intergalactic assassin Nebula, and the shapeshifting raven familiar of Maleficent. From this, we can gather that the children of the "One-Winged Angel" are working with the Hellfire Club as a means to an end to avenge their father's death. And the fact that the remnants of HYDRA have allied with Maleficent suggest that the Hellfire Club is on the move once more."

Although this was a surprise to everyone on the council, they were far from alarmed. They had been preparing for this since the Society's inception. Between the S.A.C.K., the Avengers, the Defenders (a group of crime-fighting heroes operating in New York City), Team Go, S.H.I.E.L.D., the Inhumans, and the supernatural community, Earth was more than well defended. And since the Hellfire Club was active again, that meant that they were likely to be seeing some Keyblade Wielders sooner or later. From there, they could finally stabilize a timeline of events for that side of the universe in regards to Xehanort and Maleficent.

From there, the council went on to discuss the rest of Raina's vision once more. The "planetoids hurtling towards Earth to bury themselves in the planet's surface" seemed like an apt metaphor for the fragments of the original World returning to their proper places, so they resolved to begin preparations for gradually revealing the existence of other worlds to the public. They'd already released a popular series of video games to acclimate people to the idea, but now that they knew that the Restoration (as they had begun to call it) was finally on its way, it was time for the full-court press.

The "Timeless Ones" were a mystery to be solved another day, but Raina's words about "darkness fighting darkness while light fights light" were mildly disconcerting. There'd been a few near misses when the Avengers had nearly come to blows over political issues, but this seemed like it would be something on a whole other level. But without context, there wasn't much they could do but keep their eyes open for events with the potential to become catalysts for a hero civil war. The darkness half of the equation was easier to explain. It seemed that sooner or later the Hellfire Club or some other villainous organization would be facing an internal power struggle. That would be a huge benefit if the Society and the other heroes of Earth could take advantage of the ensuing chaos.

With HYDRA active again, the Society had begun its own plans to contain and eliminate the terrorist organization. With the aid of Atlantean technology, several of the bases that S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers didn't know about had already been taken off the map. They'd been able to download some of the files from the terrorist organization's computers, but the information on them was heavily encrypted. But while the Society's best computer programmers were decrypting the data as the council spoke, their assault teams had heard Maleficent's name uttered enough times during their raids to know that the Hellfire Club was responsible for HYDRA's resurgence. Having a Keyblade Wielder or two to lend a hand would be a welcome sight for all of them, but for the time being, they seemed to be able to hold their own. Hopefully the situation might be able to stay that way.

Chapter Text

Earth – Schoonebeek Oil Field

September 18th, 2021

"Great," Captain America growled with a sigh as he slammed his shield into a HYDRA trooper as he drove past on his motorcycle. And here I was hoping the reports of HYDRA were just a bunch of would-be terrorists using HYDRA's logo to make people afraid of them, he thought as he drove across the oil field on the Dutch-German border that served as a cover for an underground HYDRA facility. According to the intelligence they received from S.H.I.E.L.D., former World Security Council member Gideon Malick was leading the newest incarnation of the terrorist organization, using this subterranean bunker as his base of operations.

While Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and The Hulk fought off the base's perimeter defenses, the rest of the team fought their way through the bunker disabling henchmen and halting attempts to evacuate HYDRA's research as they made their way towards the base's command center, hoping to capture Malick before he could get away. Kim, Ron, Hawkeye, and Black Widow were handling most of the combat while Stitch downloaded the base's mainframe. Meanwhile, the tag team of Ant-Man and the Wasp used Hank Pym's shrinking technology to make their way through the base discreetly to handle the capture of Malick. War Machine, Falcon, Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch, and the Winter Soldier were off dealing with HYDRA forces attempting to reuse Von Strucker's old castle in Sokovia.

Once the team had confirmed that this was indeed the resurgent HYDRA carrying out these terrorist attacks across Europe, the team unanimously decided that the best course of action would be a two pronged attack. The Avengers would go straight for the heart of the beast, while S.H.I.E.L.D. and the militaries of the various European nations would work their way in from the outside, cutting off a limb as they worked their way up HYDRA's chain of command one base at a time. The battle went by surprisingly quickly, and the team was nevertheless on their guard because fighting HYDRA was never this easy. On their guard in case of an ambush (and suspecting that Malick had sacrificed this particular base as part of a long-term stratagem), the Avengers continued to mop up as the battle wound down.

They were about to clean out the base and ship the captured HYDRA agents off to prison when they heard the distinctive sound of a video call. Unsure whether it was Malick (who hadn't even been on the base, it'd turned out) calling to gloat, or someone else trying to call HYDRA, Steve ordered Stitch to answer the call and patch it through to Romanov's comm unit so she could speak to whoever was on the other end of the line. Unfortunately, it seemed that every method Stitch tried to transfer the call to avoid tipping the caller off as to the status of the base was being remotely stymied, and the call went through. The monitor crackled, and as the image came into focus on screen, a voice boomed from the speakers that chilled the great Captain America to the bone.

"You never give up, do you, Captain?" Came the sarcastic greeting of the Red Skull as his frightening visage materialized on the computer screen.

For a moment, Captain America, the First Avenger, the world's first superhero, the "Star-Spangled Man With A Plan" was rendered speechless in shock and horror at the face of the Red Skull, his original nemesis, back from the dead. He was too shocked and confused to even stutter in fear and surprise, mentally trying to figure out how Johan Schmidt could possibly have survived for all these years. And it wasn't just him, all of the Avengers, even Stitch were staring dumbstruck at the mangled face of one of the most feared men in World War II. Like Steve, the Red Skull hadn't even aged a day. Unfortunately, he also had to break the silence before any of them could.

"Surprised to see me, I take it," Schmidt remarked with a triumphant smirk. "I expected as much. After all, it's not every day that your arch foe returns from the dead. Although if your Asgardian friend told you about the true nature of the Tesseract, you should have suspected that I hadn't died, Captain. But in any case, I figure that you deserve at least a partial explanation of how I survived. The Tesseract, or should I call it by it's true name as the Space Stone, transported me to another planet. I was found by a band of rogues who placed me in cryogenic preservation to keep me out of their way until they could find a potential use for my influence and abilities. Eventually, I was rescued by a rival faction that recognized my true genius, and in return for HYDRA's remaining resources, they have returned me to the Earth to reclaim what is rightfully mine." It was then, when Schmidt went into his predictable routine about how the world was his to rule, that the Captain finally found his voice again.

"And what makes you think we'll just roll over and let you take whatever you want?" he retorted, surprisingly calmly. Schmidt's actions as the leader of HYDRA had caused so much pain in Steve's life. The murder of Howard Stark, the brainwashing of Bucky, and other things. But Steve was just that much of a good person that he kept his head clear and his emotions in check until the Red Skull had finally been finished off for good.

"I don't expect you to simply give me what is mine by right," the Red Skull answered mockingly. "But with the aid of the Hellfire Club, you and your pathetic "Avengers" will easily fall." Face the facts, Captain. You failed to stop me all those decades ago, and with the powers of Darkness behind me, you will fail once again, as you always – " Whatever the madman was about to say next was cut off when Steve hurled his shield at the wall-mounted screen. He didn't say anything, but the Avengers could tell from his heavy breathing and the pained expression on his face what he was thinking right now.

Deciding to discuss Captain America's little outburst later, the team finished cleaning out the command center before loading everything onto S.H.I.E.L.D.'s Quinjets to be taken back to The Playground for study. Once that was done, the Avengers all boarded their own quinjet and flew back to their headquarters. Upon their return, everyone went off to do their own thing. Scott, Hope, Kim, and Ron left for a double-date night. Clint dashed off to catch a bus home to his family. Tony flew off to visit Pepper back at Stark Industries headquarters in California. Thor went to go see Jane and bring her up to speed on recent events. Bucky and Sam talked to Steve about his frustration at the Skull's survival.

Rhodes went to report on the World War II-era supervillain's sudden reappearance to the U.S. government. Pietro and Wanda were staying in Sokovia for a few days to visit their friends and family. Stitch had joined the Avengers to keep himself busy while Lilo was in college, and once she'd graduated and became Earth's representative in the Galactic Federation, he divided his time between Avengers HQ and visiting his cousins back in Hawaii. The experiments were exposed to the rest of the world following the Chitauri invasion in 2012, and although most of the world was reticent about the idea of powerful extraterrestrials living among humanity, the governments of the world were satisfied with the experiments' desire to remain in the Hawaiian islands, and were therefore left alone. Anyway, Bruce was heading home to his wife, Betty, while the one member of the Avengers who was off on their own tonight was the one with the most red in her ledger.

Earth – Avengers Headquarters; Black Widow's bedroom

September 18th, 2021

"I checked with my contacts," Natasha said to the person on the other end of the phone call. As soon as the team had arrived back at their compound in upstate New York, she'd gone back to her private quarters and put them in lock-down mode. She didn't want anyone overhearing her. "They're getting ready for Endgame." She spoke in a hushed whisper, even though the cameras She had given the other Avengers bits and pieces of her blood-soaked past over the years, but this was one secret even they didn't know, and she preferred to keep it that way.

"Don't joke about that, Natalia," came the voice from the other line.

"I'm dead serious," the Avenger replied. "They've spent the last six years gearing up for Phase One. Now they're going after the Gauntlet. You know what that means."

"They've left us alone for decades," the other woman protested. "Why come after us now?"

"Don't fool yourself, V," Natasha answered. "You know how it works with them. The only reason we've been left alone is because we're too high profile to target openly, but now that they're gathering up the Stones, they don't want any loose ends. We know too much." The former assassin allowed her lips to twitch into a small, satisfied smirk as the voice on the other end of the call sighed in defeated.

"You're right," the woman, "V" admitted. "I just need to figure out how to explain to my co-workers why I'll be going off the grid until we can figure out a way to get them off our backs."

"That makes two of us," the secret agent replied. "But with things the way they are, we need distance in order to fight them. The lower the chances of us exposing their secrets to the world, the less effort they'll put into dragging us back. I've got to go. We're debriefing on our latest HYDRA battle. Stay safe, V. Call if anything changes."

"You too," V responded. "Good luck, R." With that, the call ended and Natasha hung up the phone before walking back to the conference room in Avengers HQ. She suspected that They would go after V first, but as soon as this post-battle team meeting was over, she was going to head to her room and pack a travel bag and get ready to take off at a moment's notice. Not that she didn't trust her teammates, but this was one aspect of her past that she had no desire to share with anyone, ever, under any circumstances. Not even Clint, her closest friend and long-time combat partner, or Bucky, her husband, knew. Once They came after her, Natasha knew that she would need to disappear. As much as she had come to care for her teammates, she couldn't drag them into this conflict.

Chapter Text

Zootopia – ZPD Headquarters

September 20th, 2021

Sora looked around in wonder at all the anthropomorphic animals around him. Even though Zootopia had been a member of the Daybreak Coalition for two years now, the size and scale of the magnificent metropolis at the world's center continued to amaze him. But despite how much he enjoyed the place, he couldn't help but notice some of the wary glances directed at him and Donald when they were out exploring the city's street. Humans were completely alien to the different species of Zootopia and the surrounding towns, and nobody was used to the idea of an anthropomorphic duck on this world either. The suspicion had died down a bit, and the ZPD officers were an open-minded and accepting bunch, but distrust of humans was still present on the Zootopian streets.

The Keyblade Master turned his attention back to the podium as Chief Bogo walked into the room. Since the Hellfire Club base they were going after today was in Zootopia's terriroty, the large Cape Buffalo was given command of the joint strike team for the upcoming battle.

"Alright, listen up!" the Chief shouted, quieting the room as he got everyone's attention. "Hellfire Club forces have been sighted by Coalition Intelligence at the old hospital where Lionheart was operating during the Night Howler crisis. These criminals are a threat to the people of Zootopia, and to the Daybreak Coalition. We go in and hit them fast, hit them hard." All the animals in the room roared, howled, or trumpeted in excitement before Chief Bogo was able quiet everyone down again.

"This is going to be a three pronged assault," Bogo went on. "Francine, McCorn, Higgins, and myself will be on strike team Alpha. We'll be attacking through the main entrance. Grizzoli, Fangmire, Delgatto, Snarloff, and Wolfard will be team Beta. You'll be parachuting in from the helicopter to attack from below. While the Club forces will be busy repelling the pincer attack, Hopps and Wild will be partnered with Sir Donald, Captain Goofy, and Master Sora. They'll enter through the sewers and catch our targets by surprise. We don't know the extent of the Hellfire Club's resurgence, so our orders are to take as many of them alive as possible. Only use lethal force if absolutely necessary. Alright people, LET'S GO HUNTING!"

Everyone in the room let out an excited cheer as the three strike teams headed down to the precinct garage to gear up and roll out. Judy Hopps and Nick Wilde had infiltrated this building before, so Sora, Donald, and Goofy let them take point on their leg of the mission so that things would go as smoothly as possible. The three off-worlders had been good friends with the fox and bunny duo ever since the Coalition made first contact with Zootopia, and it was a blast to be working together again. As they drove through the boroughs of Zootopia towards the tunnels between the Rainforest District and Tundra Town, Sora could only hope that none of the Hellfire Club goons could escape this time. With any luck, they'd be able to wrap this up quickly.

Twilight Town – The Old Mansion

September 20th, 2021

"Director," Agent Yuffie Kisaragi called out as she raced down the hallways of C.I.N. Headquarters after Cassim, the leader of Coalition Intelligence. "I just made contact with Agent Hooter. Leroys have been spotted in Saint Canard." The former King of Thieves stiffened in surprise at confirmation of further activity from those fiends.

"Is it a full base, or only a scouting party?" Cassim inquired as he looked at the so-called "Great Ninja". Yuffie shook her head in answer.

"It's unclear at this point," she replied. "Vanitas has dispatched additional agents to investigate. Once we receive confirmation, I'll pass the information on to the Defense Force." Cassim nodded before gesturing for young woman to follow him to the command center in one of the new rooms they'd dug underneath the mansion. Originally only a two-story ruined landmark, Twilight Town's legendary haunted mansion now sat atop a mutli-story underground bunker housing several offices, armories, and barracks.

"Any word from Vanitas?" the director asked as he and his subordinate stepped into the elevator.

"Negative, sir," Yuffie answered. "Last I heard, he was spending the night in San Fransokyo." Cassim shook his head in exasperation. The former apprentice of Xehanort always had a tendancy to be off doing his own thing right when they were in the middle of a crisis. Not that he could blame the raven-haired Keyblade Wielder. Being in charge of a network of spies was a rather stressful occupation, and everyone dealt with the pressures of the job in their own way. For Cassim, it was the occasional trip to the nearest bar. His second-in-command, however, had come to preferred more physical forms of recreation. \

Shaking his head to focus on the task at hand, he told Agent Kisaragi to report to him as soon as they received an update on the situation in Saint Canard. If it was just a handful of scouts, then the Coalition military could handle it. But if there was already a Hellfire Club base in the city, then they had two options depending on the size of the facility and how recently it had been established. A relatively new base could be dealt with by a small strike team of C.I.N. agents relatively quickly, while a larger and entrenched one would require the aid of at least one Keyblade Wielder to eliminate.

Zootopia – Cliffside Asylum

September 20th, 2021

I'm just glad these tunnels are big enough for a human to crawl through, Sora thought to himself as he, Donald, Goofy, Judy, and Nick crawled through the storm drains leading out of the abandoned hospital that was now serving as a base of operations for the Hellfire Club. Judy and Nick had come through this way a few years ago on the trail of a missing mammal case, so they took the lead. The sewers weren't designed with larger species like humans in mind, but there was just enough room for Sora to crawl his way through the pipes. Since Donald was shorter and Goofy skinnier, they had an easier time fitting through the plumbing. As the quintet climbed higher and higher through the large metal tubes, the building shook around them as the ZPD strike teams stormed the asylum.

"We need to hurry," Judy whispered from the front of the procession, gesturing for everyone behind her to pick up the pace. "We can't let too many of them get away." As the group double-timed it through the pipes, Nick couldn't help but reflect on how much things had changed for the better in Zootopia during the last five years alone. As a cop, he'd gotten a lot more respect than he'd ever gotten before, and inter-species prejudice had finally begun to die down. He'd become a fantastic cop, and after Zootopia joined the Daybreak Coalition, he'd been recruited into the Intelligence Network because of his role in the Night Howler crisis. And just a few months ago, he'd gotten proposed to Judy after being her partner on the police force for nearly five years and her boyfriend for four.

He brought himself back to the present as they emerged from the pipes into an empty room in the hospital. Since the had experience fighting the Hellfire Club, Sora, Donald, and Goofy took the lead from there as they walked through the hallway that had once housed the victims of Assistant Mayor Bellwether's hate plague. A flash of light from Sora's Keyblade and the door was unlocked as they raced out of the empty lab and into the corridor. Sirens blared and the building continued to rock under the force of the ZPD assault. With the addition of the third strike team, the base quickly fell, and within the hour, Zootopian police officers were escorting handcuffed Leroys and bizarre creatures that looked like elves wearing porcelain masks.

The hospital's laboratories were being used to create more of Yzma's animal transformation potions. Considering the fact that the "scary beyond all reason" potion maker had spent the past six years in Radiant Garden's dungeons, the fact that her work was still in use by the Hellfire Club was a little alarming. Either that gerbil-like scientist Hamsterviel had managed to reverse engineer her techniques based on samples, or the Hellfire Club was preparing a jailbreak. With the villainous henchmen in custody, most of the ZPD officers were heading back to the precinct to lock up the little a Defense Force gummi ship could arrive to help with the interrogation. Only a few officers remained behind to finish mopping up the evidence and gear left behind.

The quintet was about to head out the door and climb back into the police van when Judy's ears perked up. As the bunny cop began sniffing the air and Nick began looking around in the dark, the hairs on the back of Sora's neck stood on end. The group whirled around to find three figures in plain brown robes. And the heroes' alarm only grew when they saw what the robed intruders were carrying: a box full of animal potions, and an open back full of Night Howler bulbs.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – High Tower

September 19th, 2021

"This is troubling," the large winged figure commented as he walked beside the ruler of Radiant Garden along the upper levels of the castle as more and more similar looking statues came to life and shed their stone skin. The news the man he was speaking to had delivered was truly disconcerting, and he wished to discuss how best to protect the city.

"I agree, Goliath," Ansem replied as the duo walked past the remaining gargoyles awakening from their stone slumber with the setting of the sun. A thousand years ago, the gargoyle clan had once served as guardians of human settlement, before prejudice, a brutal massacre, and a bitter military defeat caused a human sorcerer to curse the surviving clan members to remain in stone (their biology caused them to turn to stone at sunrise as their way of sleeping) permanently, until and unless "their resting place rose above the clouds." Scrooge McDuck had discovered the statues on his travels before the fall of Xehanort, and had them brought to Radiant Garden when he set up shop. Partly because everyone had other priorities at the time (and partly to avoid them being destroyed should Maleficent and Xehanort attack again), Scrooge kept them in storage until after the official end of the Xehanort War.

After the war ended, Ansem and Scrooge decided to have the statues moved to the upper levels of Hollow Bastion for decoration, recalling ancient lore of how such sculptures were used to ward off evil. That evening, the duo bore witness as the gargoyles within awoke for the first time in a millennium. At first, the clan was disoriented by the changes to their surroundings and slightly bitter towards humanity for the betrayal that had led to their predicament, but after a few conversations with the king of Radiant Garden, Goliath and his clan began to warm up to humans once more. Goliath and Ansem quickly became close friends, and the Gargoyle leader had become one of the scientist-king's most trusted advisors. Which was why Goliath remained at the castle while the rest of his clan flew out to enjoy Radiant Garden's night life.

"The resurgence of known operatives of the Hellfire Club can only mean that Maleficent has decided she's done waiting around to conquer," Goliath went on. "She's ready to begin her campaign. None of the other members of her cabal have the charisma and leadership necessary to keep all of her allies in line, and they would not trust a newcomer so easily." Ansem nodded his head in agreement.

"The real question though," the king answered. "Is just how far her empire has spread without us realizing it." The two leaders didn't have a good answer for that question, so they set it aside as they continued their evening walk down to the library while helping to coordinate the defense of the city. After getting over their bitterness over the previous massacre of their clan, the Gargoyles had pledged to defend the city by night on the condition that the Royal Guard protect them while they slept by day. Time differences between worlds would make things challenging, but they'd been discussing Gargolyes enlisting in the Coalition Defense Force and the Intelligence Network for a while now, and in the face of this new crisis, having Gargoyles on the front lines of the conflict could make a huge difference.

Zootopia – Cliffside Asylum

September 20th, 2021

"This is Officer Hopps," Judy called out into her radio as she, Nick, Sora, Donald, and Goofy raced through the corridors of the abandoned hospital after the robed trio who were attempting to steal the Night Howlers and animal potions. "Strike Team Gamma and I are in pursuit of three suspects who have stolen Hellfire Club bioweapons and a cache of Night Howlers. Requesting reinforcements on the ground floor of the building." The rabbit breathed out a sigh of relief when Chief Bogo announced that every officer on the scene was forming a perimeter around the building to prevent escape. They didn't know the capabilities of these mysterious figures, but they weren't taking any chances.

"Who are these guys?" Sora wondered aloud as he cast a Dark Firaga spell down the hallway past the interlopers. The fireball hit the wall and set scattered papers ablaze, forming a wall of fire that boxed the intruders in. With nowhere else to go, the three robed figures turned around to face their pursuers. Sora glared at them as he angrily demanded to know who they were and what they wanted with Yzma's potions. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the thieves' response was confusing and enigmatic.

"We are Legion, infidel," the woman (her voice gave her gender away) in the lead spat. "And these are the keys to your salvation. When the Cycle is broken, even the lost shall be saved." Knowing that they weren't going to get any straight answers out of her and her compatriots, Sora called on the dark powers he'd acquired when Vanitas had reawakened at the end of the Xehanort War and warped behind the group of intruders and swung his Keyblade, intending to use the blast of darkness that he usually used for this technique to daze these "Legion" members long enough for Nick and Judy to handcuff them. But to Sora's surprise, the warrior to his far left caught the blade with his bare hands and extinguished the wisps of Darkness emenating from the tip of the blade.

"Such techniques are useless against a Legionnaire, heathen," the man snapped. "Your kind shall soon be cast into the depths of the dark realm where you belong." With that, the man fired a "Holy" spell that forced Sora to jump back in order to dodge. This gave the self-proclaimed Legionnaires the opening to flee through what could only be described as a corridor of Light while Donald and Goofy were too stunned to do anything. Nick and Judy attempted to tackle the retreating warriors, only to be flung back by Reflega spells. As the rest of the Zootopian Police Force raced into the area, Sora could only stand there and think of the ramifications of what the man had said. They were dealing with a new player in Coalition space.

Twilight Town – Market Street

September 20th, 2021

"Do you have any proof that this is accurate?" Vanitas asked the man sitting across from him in the crowded Twilight Town café. "I don't entirely trust you and I can't give my boss this kind of information based on your word alone. For all I know Maleficent sent you to feed us false information and throw us off her trail. How do I know you're being honest about your betrayal of her?"

"Unfortunately for both of us, you don't," Loki replied. "But I can offer you a more solid case for what she's after. See if any of the libraries in the known worlds have any information on "The Gauntlet of the First Master." That should point you in the right direction." As far as Maleficent knew, he was back at the Kiln discussing the loss of their San Fransokyo and Zootopia bases. While that was technically true, as the Norse god of magic, he was more than capable of being in two places at once. Which was why he had sought out the high ranking agents of the Dayreak Coalition's intelligence division to discreetly leak details of the Hellfire Club's schemes. He needed to start letting information slip out in order to lay the groundwork for the masterstroke of his plan.

Vanitas groaned in frustration. Monsters Inc. monitored the world from which they drew their energy and had heard of Loki's exploits, along with Thor's reconciliation with his brother. But while he appreciated the prospect of extra help, he had no way of verifying whether the Asgardian was really on their side. For the time being, he needed to keep the man at arm's length.

"I can send in a few agents to verify the locations of those bases," he finally said with a heavy sigh. "I'll check on the Gauntlet information myself. But if you're not being honest with me, I will make you wish you were dead. Do I make myself clear?" Loki nodded in understanding before his astral projection melted away. Vanitas groaned now that he was finally alone. It was challenging being at the near-top of the food chain in C.I.N., and because of his predilection for violence (which he blamed Xehanort for cultivating), he was often the one stuck doing the morally questionable but occasionally necessary work that his profession required. Forcing himself to focus on the now, he pulled out his phone and called Cassim. They had some new leads to investigate.

Chapter Text

San Fransokyo – Akuma Island

September 20th, 2021

"Weclome to San Fransokyo, Masters Terra and Ventus," greeted the Coalition Intelligence agent who greeted them when they landed on the island that had once been a Hellfire Club research lab, only to be repurposed as a C.I.N. base after the fall of Xehanort. "It's an honor to have you here," Fa Zhou went on as he led the two Keyblade Masters through the corridors of the base until they came to the facility's command center. Projected above the command table was a three-dimensional, real time holographic map of the world. There were a handful of yellow X's peppered randomly across the city, clearly indicative of Hellfire Club attacks. Then where's their main base? Terra wondered as their guide led them up to the table.

"As you can see," the older man explained. "We've encountered several points of activity from Hellfire, but we have yet to locate their central command base on this world. The attacks have been coming in at random, with no patterns that might indicate where they are coming from. While we continue to sweep for any sign of the base, we were hoping that you might be able to help speed that process along a little." Both men nodded in understanding. Not to say that C.I.N.'s agents were incompetent or not good at their jobs, but as Keyblade Wielders, they had a track record of coming up with creative solutions to problems.

"If the attacks were only along the shoreline, I'd say their base was probably underwater," Ven commented. "But since it's not, the only possibility I can think of would be an airship or some kind of floating fortress that can cloak itself from our scanners." Everyone in the room nodded in agreement, and Fa Zhou, who was in charge of the facility, ordered the radar technicians to send out surveillance drones into the upper atmosphere of San Fransokyo, scanning for everything from air currents to shadows. They didn't need to go very far, though. Fifteen minutes later, there was a ripple in the air as a large T-shaped space craft appeared out of thin air and began firing on the city below.

"BATTLE STATIONS!" Fa Zhou roared as he radioed the Coalition Defense Force. Terra and Ventus raced through the hallways towards the outdoor helipad, where they transformed their Keyblades into their old Glider modes and took off towards the city. As they flew across San Fransokyo Bay, they saw the distinctive red blur of Baymax and the other members of Big Hero 6 flying through the air towards the metal monstrosity to protect their city. The more the merrier, Ventus mused to himself as he and Terra flew towards the spaceship. The sooner we end this, the sooner we can go back home.

The Land of Departure – Dining Hall

September 20th, 2021

Despite the uneasiness the re-emergence of the Hellfire Club had caused, Aqua couldn't help but be in a good mood as she watched her and Terra's four year old son rapidly chow down on a bowl of cereal in the morning. Littus's childhood innocence was a glimmer of light and hope in these troubling times. After six years of peace, the return of villains previously thought dead or defeated was an alarming occurrence. Pushing her thoughts back to the present, she turned to her guest.

"Trust me, you and Sora will make great parents someday," she told Kairi as the Princess of Radiant Garden finished her pancakes. Originally, she and Terra had been nervous about the prospect of parenthood, but things had turned out alright. The Order of the Keyblade had been operating out of the Land of Departure for the last six years. And even if she and Terra were to ever retire permanently (they rotated staying home to be with their son and patrolling Coalition Space for the odd Heartless attack), their friends were still there to help and offer support whenever they could.

"Oh, that I don't doubt," Kairi replied with a laugh. It had been a running joke between the eleven Keyblade Wielders who were part of the Order for them to act as if she and Sora were already married, much to the couple's embarrassment. When they protested everyone else teasingly retorted that it was only a matter of time until Sora worked up the courage to propose, and that they should all start preparing for that day now. And now that they were finally engaged, the good-natured teasing had been upgraded to discussing whether the happy couple were going to have kids one day.

"We talked about it and we just decided that we were going to wait a little while before that though," she went on while the blue-haired Keyblade Master helped her child clean up the mess he'd made at the breakfast table. "As much as we do want kids someday, we don't want to just rush into it right after the wedding." Aqua conceded her point, and conversation moved on to gossiping about the other Keyblade Wielders' love lives. Ventus had started dating that ninja from Radiant Garden a few weeks back, so now Vanitas was the only one of the eleven members of the Order of the Keyblade who was still single.

Earth – Avengers Tower

September 19th, 2021

There, Natasha thought to herself as she turned off the video camera she'd used to explain her imminent absence to the rest of the Avengers. She wished she could stay with the people the former Russian assassin had come to consider family for much, much longer. It was nice to be around people who knew some of her secrets and accepted her anyway. But alas, it was not meant to be. Even if she didn't already know that she would outlive them all, this was one secret of her past that she knew they would never be able to accept. And once They came after her, there was no way her teammates would be able to stop themselves from digging into her past.

She needed to be packed up and ready to run as soon as she caught a whiff of her former colleagues' presences. The sooner she disappeared into the night, the better. Better for them not to find out that she was more than just Natasha Barnes, Avenger and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. The biographical information Arnim Zola had provided when she and Steve had discovered HYDRA's plans for Project: Insight hadn't been a complete lie, but it wasn't the complete truth either. She had been born in 1984, but despite what the calendar said, she was much older than her date of birth suggested. And that was why the Avengers could never know. Because once they knew what she was, what she'd done, there was no going back to the way things were for her.

Steeling herself against the impending emotional pain of separating form her surrogate family, she headed off to take a cold shower to help her focus. Unfortunately, her plans for a solo shower were interrupted when she ran into Bucky in the hallway.

"Nat," he greeted, a touch of concern in his voice. "Where've you been? I've been worried sick. You haven't checked in at The Playground, J.A.R.V.I.S. tells me he's been sworn to secrecy. What the hell is going on, Natalia? I get it. Secrets have been part of our lives for so long that it's hard to break the habit, but when we got married we promised we wouldn't hide things from each other unless it was a mission for S.H.I.E.L.D., and I know that this isn't mission-related. Talk to me, Tasha. Please."

Despite attempting to keep a straight face, the infamous Black Widow couldn't help but let a trace of fear leak through the cracks in her mask. She and Bucky had agreed on their wedding day that they had enough skeletons in their closets that they hid from their teammates without hiding them from each other. But for all of his actions as the metaphorical fist of HYDRA, Natasha was sure that not even he would be able to accept who she was and what she'd done.

"I want to, James," she admitted shakily. Even around her husband she was still hesitant to show vulnerability. Old habits die hard and all that. "I really do. But there are things in my past that not even S.H.I.E.L.D. know about. And if anyone else knew… what I am… What I've done… Not even you'd be able to look at me anymore once you knew my real story." James was rocked. He knew that few things were enough to rattle his wife, who was a master of rolling with the punches of life. But for her to show pure, unfiltered terror, something serious had to be going on. And it sounded like it had something to do with this aspect of her past that was apparently so dark and horrific that she was convinced he'd divorce her if he knew the truth. As a way of reassuring her, he leaned in and gave his wife a kiss.

"The whole reason we clicked so well is because we both understand how it feels to have so much red in your ledger that it feels like you'll never wipe it all out," he said reassuringly. "Whatever you think is so horrifying that it will ruin our relationship, it's not gonna happen. We may have bumps in the road every now and then, but we'll get through it like we always have. I love you." Feeling slightly reassured, Natasha finally resolved that Bucky was right. As her husband, he had a right to know the truth about her past. It was time to tell him the truth.

Chapter Text

San Fransokyo – Up In The Sky

September 20th, 2021

"ON YOUR LEFT!" Ventus shouted as he dove his Keyblade Glider to the side to avoid the razor sharp wings of the enemy aircraft streaking through the skies. Baymax (with Hiro Hamada riding on the robot's back) and Terra swiftly veered out of the way as the smaller craft streaked past. Off in the distance, Coalition Navy Gummi Ships bombarded the larger command ship with laser fire. But despite the fact that a large chunk of the Coalition fleet was firing at that thing on all cylinders, the ominous looking spaceship didn't appear to even have so much as a dent in it from the Coalition assault. Where did the Hellfire Club get this thing? Ventus wondered to himself.

Everyone knew that there were still worlds out there that weren't part of Coalition territory, but most of them were near enough to Coalition space that the Intelligence Network knew which ones were capable of space travel and which ones weren't. So where this vessel came from was another mystery added to a rapidly growing pile of mysteries. Hopefully someone, nobody cared whether it was a Keyblade Wielders, C.I.N. Agent, or some random civilian from Destiny Islands, got to the bottom of the pile and figured out what was going on.

Personally, Ven's Munny was on Vanitas ultimately being the one to put all the pieces together. Cassim had adjusted to leading the Intelligence divison quite well, as his status as a former thief meant he had a keen knowledge of how criminal underworlds were run and what made the people in them tick. But much of the success of Coalition Intelligence over the last six years could primarily be attributed to Vanitas and the fact that, as Xehanort's apprentice and surrogate son for the first four years of his life, he'd picked up his former master's skills as a consummate chess master. Ven's brother (even if Sora and Ven weren't related, the fact that Van, as he came to be called, had been created form Ventus' inner darkness meant that everyone considered him the blonde Key bearer's dark twin) was practically born to be the master spy he'd become.

Ven shifted his thoughts back to the present in time to dodge another attack run from the smaller blade-winged ships. Unfortunately, the force of a stray explosion from the cannons of a passing Gummi Ship knocked him off his glider and sent him plummeting hundreds of feet into the ocean. Thankfully, his armor protected him, enabling him to stay conscious and recognize the swarms of Heartless surging around beneath the ocean. Thanks to the upgrades done to his armor by Edna Mode, moving around in the water was relatively easy. Noticing that the Heartless were searching for something, Ven summoned his Keyblade back to his hand (and reverting it from glider form in the process) and got to work eliminating the dark monsters lurking beneath the waves.

The Heartless were easily dispatched by a few Keyblade swings and a smattering of Blizzaga and Thundaga spells. With the monsters defeated, Ven turned his weapon back into glider form and burst out from beneath the surface of the water just in time to dodge the flaming wreckage of a Coalition Gummi Ship as it crashed into the ocean below. As he flew back up to join the battle once more, an enemy space craft raced by heading downwards. But to Ventus' horror, this ship was making a beeline for the Intelligence base. With a sense of dawning horror, Ven gunned the engine of his glider as he raced after the rapidly descending aircraft, desperately hoping to destroy the ship before it could crash into the compound.

The battle was winding down in the Daybreak Coalition's favor, but none of that registered to the blonde-haired Keyblade Wielder as he speed through the air with Terra and Baymax (and Hiro) pulling up behind him to join in this desperate race against the clock. With each passing second they gained more ground against the kamikaze spacecraft, but it wasn't going to be enough. The Keyblade Wielders, teen tech guru, and Personal Healthcare Companion could only watch in shock and horror as the obsidian ship slammed into the small island, demolishing the Coalition Intelligence base as it skidded from one end of the small strip of land to the other.

Ventus and Terra dismissed their Gliders and reverted them back into Keyblades as they leaped down to the ruins of the Intelligence base on Akuma Island. All around them, injured C.I.N. Agents were dragging themselves to their feet and either helping out the other wounded or passing out Hi-Potions so that at least some of the island's staff would be prepared to face whatever enemy was still inside the ebon spacecraft. As the two Keyblade Masters stood in the burning wreckage of the compound, a creaking sound echoed across the islands as a ramp lowered from what was clearly the front of the ship. Everyone braced themselves, preparing for a fight.

But they weren't prepared for what came next, as several strange looking figures who looked like elves wearing porcelain masks came charging out of the ship, firing off plasma rifles left and right. While Ven, Terra, and a handful of C.I.N. Agents were able to get Reflega spells up in time, several more fell from the relentless assault. Ven boiled with anger as he and the others began moving to cover the wounded agents and shield them from enemy fire. Especially when some of the dark elves broke away from the rest of their formation and headed towards the staircase to pick off the wounded in the lower levels of the facility.

While Ven charged after the splinter group, Terra stayed to cover the retreat as Gummi Ships providing air support arrived to evacuate the wounded to San Fransokyo General Hospital. He was shocked when one of them tossed a grenade that caused one of the Gummi Ships providing cover fire to collapse in on itself in what looked like a miniature black hole. Hurry up, Ven, he urged his surrogate brother as he waded his way through the elven troops, hoping to eliminate or incapacitate them before they could start using those grenades on the evacuees. He had no intention of dying and leaving his son to grow up without a father.

As the last of the elves collapsed to the ground, Terra looked up and saw through the visor of his armor three more of the attacks walking calmly down the ramp of the ship. But the thing about this group is that while the third elf trailing in the back was no different than the rest, the two in the front were not wearing any masks whatsoever. The one on Terra's right had pale skin and carried himself with an authority that clearly marked him as the leader. Which meant that the one on Terra's left was the leader's second-in-command.

"I am Malekith, ruler of Svartalfheim," the pale one spoke first. "I have come on behalf of Maleficent and her Hellfire Club. But my first and only loyalty is to my people, so this once I shall offer you mercy. Provide me with information on where to find the Reality Stone and I will spare your lives."

"As if we'd ever accept a deal from someone who's already slaughtered hundreds of people in this attack alone," Terra retorted angrily, the beginnings of a Dark Firaga spell swirling silently around his clenched fist. "We'll pass." Malekith only smirked in response.

"Very well," the Dark Elf leader replied. "As you humans enjoy saying, 'have it your way'." With that, he gestured to the foot soldier standing behind him. As Malekith and his lieutenant turned on their heels and marched back to their ship, the unarmed Dark Elf stepped forward and pulled a small, glowing stone from his belt. As the elf crushed the stone in his fist, Terra's stomach twisted in knots as the elven warrior writhed and shrieked in pain while the glow of the stone spread all over his body. Seconds later, the glow faded, and where once an unarmed and defenseless foot soldier was now stood a large, bulked up behemoth. Realizing what the stone did, Terra took charge and raced forward, swinging his Keyblade at the enemy.

The battle to contain the bestial warrior raged on for the next hour as Ventus, Baymax, and the rest of Big Hero Six joined in. The enhanced elf proved to be a formidable opponent, but between the combined skill of five superheroes, a crime-fighting robot, and two full-fledged Keyblade Masters, the monstrous soldier finally fell. The fact that they had been able to pilfer the berseker's black hole grenade certainly helped. But during the chaos, Malekith had flown the crashed vessel back to his command ship and departed, vanishing into thin air as if the entire ship had flown through a Corridor of Darkness.

While both Key bearers were relieved that whatever Maleficent was searching for was not in San Fransokyo, the high casualties of the battle laid heavy on their hearts. They spend the rest of the night gathering up the bodies of the fallen and preparing to transport them back to their home worlds for burial. Not even the elderly Fa Zhou had been spared from the Dark Elves' massacre. As Terra and Ven boarded the Gummi Ship escorting the bodies of the fallen back home for their respective funerals, Terra couldn't help but think of what would happen to his family if he had been caught up in one of those miniature black holes. He just prayed that he'd never have to find out.

Unknown World – Unknown Location

September 20th, 2021

"YOU IDIOTS!" N.I. roared in fury as she slammed her fist down on her desk. In front of her, the three Legionnaires sent to Zootopia flinched at the anger in her words. "One of the core philosophies of the Legion is that we operate IN SECRET! And what do you do when cornered by the enemy? Announce your identity and start blabbing about the Endgame like it's your first day. Could you be any more incompetent?" Ordinarily, disciplinary hearings would be held at another base with the entire council presiding over the hearing as judges. But considering the scope of what these three imbeciles had done, N.I. felt that it wasn't worth the effort for a trial and she needed to skip straight to the sentencing."

"Please forgive us, Madame N.I.," the woman in command of the strike team begged, shaking in fear. "We meant no disrespect. We only wished to strike fear into the heart of our foes through the use of psychological warfare." Unfortunately for the ashamed Legionnaires, this did nothing to temper their commander in chief's foul mood. N.I.'s light brown eyes burned with a fiery passion as she glared at the legionnaires standing before her.

"Your intentions may have been in the right place," she countered. "But that doesn't excuse the stupidity of your execution. I'm hear by suspending you all from active field missions for the next six months. Until then, you'll be scrubbing all the toilets on each of our bases. Perhaps that will teach you all to keep your mouths shut when facing those false guardians." Glumly, the three soldiers bowed submissively before shuffling out of the room. Once the door had been shut behind then, the leader of the Legion groaned in frustration as she laid her head in her hands. Honestly. Most of the Legion's operatives had been alive for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. They should all know better than to let critical information slip like that.

And the worst part was that they had told it directly to Sora. Madame N.I.'s eyes burned with anger as she thought of the man whose crimes were well known. After Xehanort's attempt to corrupt him, he had inadvertently become immersed in Darkness, and yet he dared to wield the sacred power of the X – Blade. Such blasphemy could not be allowed to go unpunished. And now those three imbeciles had telegraphed their future moves. Her one consolation was that what little the idiots had revealed to the Coalition forces had been vague enough that nothing too damaging had gotten out. The Endgame could still proceed on schedule. Soon, the world would be whole, darkness and all who wielded it would be cleansed from the universe, and The Legion would guide mankind towards a bright, glorious future.

Chapter Text

The Lanes Between – G.S. Highwind

September 21st, 2021

Just who are those guys? Sora wondered to himself as he looked down at the wisps of Darkness curling around his hand. He'd known that some people were uneasy about the dark powers he'd unintentionally acquired during the final battle against Xehanort, but that was more to do with the powers than with him as a person. These people, this "Legion" were convinced that anyone who used darkness was evil. Kind of reminds me of some people's attitudes before the Xehanort War, he thought with a soft chuckle. For thousands of years, people had always seen darkness as a force of evil and destruction. Now though, people were beginning to realize that it was just a natural part of the universe, and it was those who used it for their own insidious ends that were evil, not the darkness itself.

But evidently, the Legion hadn't gotten the memo. Were circumstances a little different, he'd have assumed that they were from a world that hadn't been discovered by the Coalition yet. But the fact that they had the resources to sneak into a heavily guarded crime scene undetected and steal weapons previously used by the Hellfire Club told a different story. These people were organized, they clearly had some kind of goal beyond blindly lashing out at those they considered impure, and those two factors marked them as a serious threat. He, Donald, and Goofy had already mentioned as much in their report to Coalition Intelligence after the battle. Now all that needed to be done was to wait and see what they came up with.

Not to say that Sora didn't enjoy flying around the worlds fighting bad guys, but with the advent of the Coalition and the rescue of Terra, Aqua, and Ven, he was relieved to not have the burden of being one of the only Keyblade Wielders on his shoulder. He didn't have to do everything himself anymore. Which meant plenty of time for sightseeing trips with Kairi when they both had time for a vacation. And now he'd been spending his nights texting his fiancé and discussing wedding plans. They'd unanimously decided to have their wedding back home on the Destiny Islands. They weren't sure about the date yet, but they both already picked out bridesmaids and groomsmen. Unfortunately, they hadn't been able to talk about picking a date yet because of the threat of the Hellfire Club, and now the Legion.

But while they were a serious threat, Sora couldn't figure out for the life of him what their objective was. They kept talking about "salvation" and "saving the lost" but none of the now famous trio could figure out what any of it meant. The "cast into the dark realm where you belong" part was easy to decipher, if predictable. But what cycle they were talking about he could only guess. The only cycle any of them knew of was the cycle of the Keyblade War they knew from a report written by Braig that they'd discovered hidden in the Land of Departure's library. How every ten thousand years, the scattered fragments of the original world would put themselves back together again before breaking apart in another Keyblade War.

The pattern had been repeating itself for so long that nobody knew how long ago it had started. Perhaps the Legion wanted to find a way to stop. He shook his head to tear himself away from fruitless speculation and returned his focus to the task at hand. They had to figure out how far the Hellfire Club's infiltration had spread without the Intelligence Network noticing. And as Donald just announced that they'd arrived at Saint Canard, where they'd been directed to investigate for signs of a base, he hoped that this visit would put them one step closer.

"Alright," Donald called out as he set the ship on autopilot for landing at the local spaceport before joining Goofy in climbing down from the cockpit to stuff their pockets with Potions and Ethers for the battles they were sure to encounter. "Let's get going."

"Maybe we can get that fella Darkwing to help out," Goofy commented as they finished packing.

"Oh yeah," Sora added as he recalled the local superhero they'd encountered when they'd made first contact with this world. "I liked that guy. He's hilarious!"

"NO HE'S NOT!" Donald snapped indignantly as Sora and Goofy burst out laughing. Oh right, Sora remembered. Donald always gets worked up whenever he and DW are in the same room together. This'll probably be fun.

St. Canard – The Docks

September 21st, 2021

An hour later, the three heroes were gathered around a small warehouse on the docks at the edge of the city of St. Canard. They were accompanied by a combination of local police officers, UCA troops, and Intelligence operatives as they prepared to raid another Hellfire base. Warriors of varying species and gender armed themselves in the shadows of the seemingly abandoned structure. The clatter of rain on the metal rooftop of the target building was just loud enough to mask the sound of swords being sharpened and projectile weapons of miscellaneous make and model were being loaded up.

"Is everyone ready?" called out C.I.N. Agent Derek Blunt as the St. Canard chapter of the Intelligence Network (locally known by the pseudonym S.H.U.S.H.) finished readying their weapons.

"All set," Sora replied once he, Donald, and Goofy had finished double-checking their items and equipment to make sure they were prepared for battle. "We're good to go." But before Blunt could give everyone the order to move out, the strike teams were interrupted by the sound of a motorcycle engine roaring towards their base camp. Oh no, Donald groaned mentally. Not this guy. But to Donald's frustration (but Sora and Goofy's entertainment), the drone of the motorcycle was soon followed by loud shouting from a familiar duck.

"I am the terror that flaps in the night! I am the neurosis that requires a 500 an hour shrink! I AM DARKWING DUCK!" Sora's laughter and Donald's angry ranting were drowned out by the revving engine as Darkwing himself appeared out of thin air in a puff of smoke, motorcycle and all.

Twilight Town – Roxas, Namine, Xion, and Lea's house

September 21st, 2021

"Do you think we'll have to come out of retirement?" Xion asked as she gazed out the window at the morning sky of Twilight Town. While she wanted the conflict with the Hellfire Club to be over as quickly as possible, she (and the rest of her house mates) were uneasy at the thought of having to pick up their Keyblades again. They would do whatever they needed to help their friends of course, but after how crazy their lives had been because of the Keyblades they wielded, they'd wanted to live out the rest of their lives without being on the front lines of whatever conflicts were going on.

"I don't know," Roxas replied from beside her as he put his arm around her shoulder. "I guess it really depends on how serious it is. If it's just a couple of holdouts who've managed to stay hidden for the last half a decade, then we shouldn't have anything to worry about. But if it's something bigger, something on the same scale as Xehanort, then they're probably going to need all hands on deck." Xion nodded her reluctant agreement as they laid there in Roxas's bed before she reached up and wrapped her fingers around a thin strap as she pulled her bra down from the windowsill.

"Last night was great though," she remarked as she pulled up the covers and turned to admire her boyfriend from behind as he got dressed. While Sora and Kairi were the type to wait until after getting married to sleep together, Roxas and Xion had taken to sharing a bed since a few weeks after Xehanort's demise. Recurring nightmares woke them in the middle of the night and drove them to seek comfort from each other. They'd falls asleep in one of their beds and comfort each other when they woke up in the middle of the night after reliving their deaths in their dreams. When they admitted their romantic feelings for each other and upgraded to being a couple, their nights together became more… intimate.

"Definitely," he added as he finished pulling up his pants and turned around to pass Xion her shirt. "I just hope we can do this one more time before we get called up to the front lines. If we do get dragged out of retirement, that is." He leaned in and gave his girlfriend a kiss before heading out to the bathroom to wash up for the morning. After their graduation from high school, they'd both decided that they wanted to stay in Twilight Town, having felt that they'd done enough world hopping back in their days as members of Organization XIII. So Xion go a job working at the local Weapon Shop on Station Heights while Roxas was working at the Moogles' Synthesis Shop in the Tram Common.

It wasn't glamorous, but with Lea spending most of his time in Arendelle with Queen Elsa while Namine had moved in with Pence, they only had to pay for utilities and groceries for the two of them. Between the two of them, their paychecks were enough for them to live comfortably together. While they could have downgraded to a smaller apartment if they chose to, they had too many memories attached to this place for them to just sell it. This was the first place they'd really been able to call home, and they were rather attached to the house. While Roxas got himself cleaned up for work, Xion made pancakes for the two of them. They ate breakfast together, and Roxas cleaned up the dishes and took out the trash so Xion could get cleaned up herself.

Once they were both ready, they headed off to work, hopeful for the future but ready to help their friends if they were needed. And speaking of friends, Roxas was getting ready to take a leaf from Sora's book and finally propose to Xion. Wielding a Keyblade wasn't the only thing he'd inherited form his "Somebody" after all.

Chapter Text

St. Canard – The Docks

September 21st, 2021

After a good fifteen minutes of Donald ranting at Darkwing Duck's attempt to barge in to help with the raid, Sora and Blunt managed to calm Donald down and arrange for Darkwing to lend a hand as long as he and Donald were kept on opposite ends of the warehouse as much as possible. Donald continued to grumble about the local superhero's antics even as Goofy and Sora finished off the popcorn they'd prepared and eaten over the course of the two ducks' racaus disagreement. Of course, this disagreement was largely one-sided, and consisted of Donald insulting Darking even as the caped crime-fighter remained entirely oblivious to the Disney Town magician's complains about his modus operandi. With a signal from Agent Blunt, the strike teams swarmed into the building.

The warehouse was mostly abandoned as Sora, Donald, and Goofy marched through the front door to find the most bizarre sight before them. Hidden behind a curtain in the empty metal building were rows of strange looking contraptions consisting of a large full body harness with thick metal restraints on the sides connected to television screens that were displaying a random assortment of bizarre, kaleidoscopic patterns that were at once unnerving and hypnotic at the same time. The most disturbing element was the fact that prominent local criminals were each strapped into one of these devices, which clearly numbered at least fifty, and a manipulator arm attached to their restrains was holding each of their eyes open. All appeared to be in a fugue state of some kind.

"What is this place?" Sora wondered aloud with a touch of fear in his voice. He was beginning to suspect that this was no longer (or even had never been) a Hellfire Club base. Sure Maleficent was known for torturing information out of people, but never to the extent of something like this. This was clearly something new. The Legion maybe? He wondered as he radioed Agent Blunt and notified him of their findings and his theory. Darkwing Duck blanched with horror at the sight of so many of his usual rogues gallery shackled to these things. Sure, they were bad people, but he'd never wish something like this.

Blunt quickly regained his composure and dispatched half the strike teams to sweep the rest of the building and gathered the rest of the group on the ground floor to free the prisoners and recover as much data on what this whole set up was for while they still had the chance. Most of the villains remained in that far away state where they didn't respond to anything, even after being released form their restraints. Some of them were more coherent, but at the same time were acting so out of character that Darkwing (who was being dangerously serious in light of the situation) was beginning to suspect that these devices were related to mind control somehow.

While C.I.N. analysts began combing over the computers in the hopes of gleaning new information from them, Sora walked over to a central pedestal that appeared to be wired into every single one of those harnesses. Connected to the top of the small pillar of pipes and wires was a metal helmet, almost like football headgear with the words "Hench Co. Attitudinator" engraved on the back of it," and two glass bulbs, one red, one blue, on either side above what would almost be mistaken for ear coverings. Deducing that it was the power source for the screens somehow, the brunette Keyblade Master was about to being disconnecting the cords when a familiar voice called out.

"How unfortunate," the man said. All eyes turned towards the upper level catwalk where a lone figure stood in brown robes, flanked by two others in identical clothing. Sora couldn't remember where he'd heard that voice before, but something about it just put him on edge. His expression hardened in anticipation of a fight as the man continued speaking. "And here I was hoping that when the Endgame was completed, as many people could be saved as possible without having to resort to Praetor Gao's methods. But alas, it seems that only a few of the unworthy can be spared without undergoing The Change."

"You just love to make cryptic comments, don't you?" Sora remarked sarcastically as he, Donald, and Goofy used parkour and Flowmotion skills to reach the upper walkway to block the mysterious man's escape. The brown robes were a dead giveaway that they were once again dealing with this "Legion."

"Hardly, Sora," the man replied. "Although it would seem that you managed to claim what you needed without losing what is dear to you." Sora's face scrunched up in confusion as he tried to figure out what the man was talking about. Deciding that it was just more "cryptic bullshit" as Vanitas so eloquently put it, he returned the man's vague remarks with a glare. "It would seem we have overstayed our welcome here in this darkness-infested city of Saint Canard. It's time we took our leave. Taurus!" He turned as he addressed one of St. Canard's leading crime bosses, who Darkwing Duck had just finished releasing from his restraints. "Stall them for me and your compliance will be rewarded. You know what to do."

"Happy to comply," the anthropomorphic bull answered before slamming his would-be rescuer into the dirt. Sora charged towards the man in charge of the facility in an attempt to stop the Legionnaire from getting away, only to be thrown off the edge of the catwalk by a blast of salmon-colored energy. Donald, and Goofy dove off the walkway to catch their friend as the robed figures vanished through portals of light. As Taurus Bulba singlehandedly faced down the strike team members on the ground floor, a computerized voice called out from the speakers wired around the ceiling.

"Self-Destruct sequence initiated," the voice began. "T – Minus five minutes until thermal detonation."

The instant the self-destruct sequence began counting down, everyone sprang into action. Taurus Bulba and the newly freed villains who weren't restrained charged forwards and began attacking the raiding teams. This forced Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Darkwing to jump into the thick of the fray to keep the bad guys at bay while Agent Blunt began evacuating everyone else out of the building. C.I.N. Agents, UCA troopers, and Saint Canard police officers poured out of the room in a mad rush to escape the imminent explosion while the heroes went up against the bad guys. Darkwing was able to pick off the smaller ones fairly quickly while Sora and his friends used every spell and technique in their repertoires to dodge Bulba's punches and retaliate with their own strikes.

As the countdown wound down, Sora and Donald resorted to attempting to freeze Taurus with Blizzaza spells to keep him contained. Meanwhile, Darkwing was assisting in transporting the detained villains for questioning. If they could figure out just what the Legion was doing to them, then maybe they could figure out just who this group was and what they were planning. Unfortunately, the anthropomorphic bull turned out to be resistant to ice magic and Zero Gravity spells, forcing the group to flee the building mere seconds before the metal structure was blown sky high in a blazing inferno.

The local fire department immediately set to containing the blaze as the SCPD began loading the captive rogues into the back of police cars and armored transport vans. C.I.N. Agents performed a thorough sweep of the area for any signs of further activity from the Legion while Coalition Army troopers accompanied the firefighters into the fire in case there were any survivors hiding in the scorching flames, waiting to plan an ambush against anyone who came in to contain the blaze. As Sora, Donald, and Goofy stared at the grim scene before them, they found that they couldn't shake the gnawing feeling that they knew who the Legionnaire who'd taunted them inside really was beneath his hood.

The Lanes Between – G.S. Existentialist

September 21st, 2021

"This is not good," Cassim said over the phone as Vanitas contacted him from aboard the C.I.N. courier Gummi Ship the Existentialist. Cassim didn't need to specify what he was talking about. Even if he hadn't already been contacted by Terra and Ventus, the attack on San Fransokyo and subsequent destruction of the local Intelligence base was already all over Coalition-wide news feeds. The base had been a small one, with only a dozen agents based there, while another thirty-eight had arrived to help with the search for the Hellfire Club base. But for the comparatively small Intelligence Network, which deployed only about a hundred and fifty operatives across thirty-two member worlds, it was a devastating blow. With a third of their operatives annihilated in a single attack, the remaining C.I.N. agents would be spread thin until they could hired enough new recruits to fill in the ranks.

Which meant that Vanitas was in for an even bigger headache managing all of this, as he mentally compiled to-do lists and how to rearrange duty rosters for all active agents while the Existentialist sped towards their base in Arendelle. At the top of his list was the installation of anti-aircraft cannons at the remaining C.I.N. facilities, mentally cursing himself for not anticipating ever having to deal with enemies who were perfectly willing to perform kamikaze attacks against their foes. There were Heartless with similar methods, but none of them were large enough to destroy an entire island compound just by crash landing. The dark Key bearer sighed as he hung up and leaned back in his bed and listened the steady vibrations of the ship's bulkhead as they traveled through space.

For all his dark powers, Vanitas preferred the slower methods of travel. While Dark Corridors were convenient and near-instantaneous, he found the low hum of a Gummi Ship's engines as it soared through the lanes between to be a relaxing sensation. Life as a spymaster was a stressful job, and people tended to relieve their stress however it could. For some, it was drinking and exercise. For Vanitas, it was space travel and the occasional one-night stand. Prositution had been non-existent on most Coalition member worlds and outright illegal on others when the alliance had first been formed, but few objected to people having active sex lives as long as it was consensual and women didn't get pregnant from it. Not that the latter really made a difference to Vanitas, since he had no desire to become a father until he was ready to settle down and get married. Therefore, he took precautions with his dates religiously, regardless of the gender of that night's partner. 

Turning his thoughts back to the present, Vanitas snapped out of his reflection and leaned towards the night stand and turned off the lights. The flight from San Fransokyo back to Twilight Town (he'd personally come to oversee Search and Rescue operations along with the recovery of the base's computer files) was ten hours. With the headache ahead of him, he wasn't going to get a chance to pick up any dates any time soon. Best to get as much sleep now while he still had the chance to do so.

Chapter Text

Castle of Dreams – Fa Family Farm

September 21st, 2021

Mulan and Shang laughed at one of Grandmother Fa's anecdotes as they sat in the living room of the house Mulan's parents had been living in for the last six years. It wasn't their family farm back in China, but because they'd all been on Radiant Garden when the Xehanort War ended and their world had been Tethered, they'd been stranded out in Coalition space. Nevertheless, they made the most of their situation. They'd moved out of the inn in Radiant Garden and bought a patch of land in the kingdom surrounding Castle of Dreams, and began building their family farm from scratch. Over time, they'd adapted to their situation and moved on from the tragic separation from their homeland.

Fa Zhou was due to return home from his deployment to the C.I.N. base in San Fransokyo later this evening, and since Mulan and her husband Shang hadn't been needed for any major conflicts with the Coalition army, they would be bringing Mulan's mother and grandmother to the spaceport to pick up her father. In the meantime, the couple passed the time on their day off by listening to Mulan's family tell hilarious stories from her childhood. As she looked back on her life, Mulan couldn't help but be amazed at how radically different her life was compared to only eight years ago. A little over half a decade previously, her largest priority was finding a good match and upholding her family's honor. Now, she and her husband were respected, high ranking soldiers in an army formed in service to an alliance of several vastly different kingdoms and nations. Her father was a highly ranked member of the Coalition's spy network, and her friends Yao, Ling, and Chen Po had all married the Emperor's daughters.

She was snapped out of her reminiscence by the ringing of the doorbell (an invention her parents had been fascinated by upon first seeing the more advanced technology of other worlds in the Daybreak Coalition). She immediately sprang up to get the door, smirking when Shang got up a second slower than her, recognized that she was going to reach the front door ahead of him, and chuckled as he sat back down in defeat. Behind her, she heard her mother asking Shang to turn on the television so that she and Grandmother could watch the evening news. Her heart sank in her chest as she opened the door to find Keyblade Masters Terra and Ventus standing at the door in full armor, accompanied by Commander Vanitas, her father's boss. None of them needed to say anything. Their facial expressions and the news report behind her told her everything she needed to know.

"…The Hellfire Club launched a series of aerial bombardments along the San Fransokyo coast earlier this evening," she heard the newscaster report from the living room TV screen. "While local law enforcement, C.I.N. operatives, and the Coalition air force repelled the aerial attacks, one Hellfire transport launched a kamikaze strike against the local C.I.N. base on Akuma Island. The facility was demolished in the attack, and every C.I.N. agent stationed on San Fransokyo was killed." She heard her family gasp in shock while she wordlessly gestured for their visitors to come in, tears welling up in her eyes as it hit her like a speeding train that her father was dead. She didn't react as she lead the three Keyblade Wielders into the living room and buried herself in her husband's arms while she heard the trio offer their condolences.

Terra and Ventus did what they could to comfort the older Fa women as her mother burst into tears upon receiving confirmation that her husband was not coming home. Grandmother Fa on the other hand, had wordlessly collapsed into her recliner chair as tears began streaming down her face. Vanitas hung back near the door awkwardly, unsure of what to do. While he had adjusted to living in society as best as he could, his upbringing had never been anywhere close to normal (hard to be by any standard when Xehanort was the closest thing he had to a father figure, and everyone knew what he was like), and so he often found himself wondering what to do in situations like this. There was one thing he did identify with, however.

As Mulan (because of the personal friendships many in the Coalition had with each other, it was generally considered a social custom to refer to people by their name instead of by their titles when they were off duty) sat down on the couch, Vanitas recognized the look she had in her eyes. It was a look that promised terrible retribution against whoever was responsible for her father's death. Revenge. Now that was something Vanitas could understand. Still, one could lose themselves by focusing too much on revenge. He was about to say something to the young woman when his phone rang. Great, he thought sarcastically as he checked the caller ID. It's the boss.

"I'm with Fa Zhou's family right now offering my condolences and helping with the usual funeral arrangements," he snapped as he answered the call. "This had better be important, director."

"I apologize for the interruption, Commander," Cassim answered over the phone. "But the Hellfire Club has launched an attack on Agarabah. They're only targeting the Cave of Wonders for now but I want to get at least one Key Bearer over there as quickly as possible to handle the situation before they start targeting the civilian population." Vanitas nodded in understanding. The Genie could keep the city safe under a high-powered Reflezza spell, but he couldn't hold the shield up forever, and sooner or later the Hellfire Club would find their way around the barrier. Not to mention the fact that even with the technology levels of the Coalition, Agrabah didn't have the resources to sustain a full-scale siege.

"Understood," the raven-haired man replied. "Terra and Ventus are with me right now. I'll pass on the message and make sure they get there as quickly as possible." With that, he hung up and turned to his companions. Once they were informed of the situation, they quickly raced out of the house and summoned their Keyblade Gliders to fly over to Agrabah. While the Order of the Keyblade was not part of the Coalition military, they still partnered with the different branches of the Coalition's military and intelligence agency simply because their role as guardians of the worlds required it and they wouldn't turn down any assistance.

Over time, that relationship had become more symbiotic. Keyblade wielders would help out the Coalition army or the Intelligence Network when it came to taking care of threats both large and small like Maleficent, and the various forces of the Coalition provided the Keyblade Order with a support network when facing down threats on the scale of Xehanort. As Terra and Ven's gliders vanished from sight, Vanitas when back to helping the Fa family with funeral preparations for Fa Zhou. Once that was done, he was heading back to Twilight Town aboard the Existentialist. He could take a Dark Corridor, but travelling by Gummi Ship would give him the opportunity to take a long overdue nape to refresh his mind and body for the battles ahead.

The Kiln – Conference Room

September 21st, 2021

"Now that we're all here," Maleficent began as she surveyed the small but trusted gathering of her inner circle. "Let's begin. While we dispatched Malekith and his Dark Elves to search for the missing Infinity Stones in San Fransokyo, the tactics he employed clearly indicate that he has his own agenda that is separate from ours. While we all have slightly different goals we at least agree on the fact that we want to leave people alive so that when we do conquer the worlds we'll actually have living subjects to rule over. Only Thanos would desire an empire of corpses, yet Malekith seems to be causing as much slaughter as possible. Loki, you're more familiar with figures of "Norse Mythology." What do you think of his loyalties?"

"We know from Malekith himself that the Dark Elves began their war with Asgard in retaliation for an attempt at genocide against his people made out of ignorance and prejudice," the Asgardian prince answered with a concerned frown. "However, what little historical records the scholars of Asgard have on his kind suggests that Malekith's goal is transform our universe into one of eternal night. While I question the veracity of this given that history is always written by the victors, it does make sense in light of his actions in San Fransokyo."

"I say we make him walk the plank," Hook interjected. "Metaphorically speaking, of course. Obviously it'd be bloody next to impossible to kill someone who's been alive for over ten thousand years just by throwing him into a pit of sharks."

"Now hold on a minute, James," Cruella de Vil added as she patted her stomach, where she was carrying her and Hook's child. "We can't just kill the Dark Elves now. If we attack them openly we run the risk of them destroying all of their technology. We need to plan this quietly so we can either reverse engineer their warships and weapons or else seize them for ourselves. Besides, from our research, the Aethir was apparently hidden beyond the reach of even the greatest of Asgard's sorcerers. While they're probably exaggerating in all likelihood, I have a theory. The Dark Elves were supposedly born from the Darkness at the end of the first Keyblade War. But for all their dark powers, according to Malekith, none have ever actually set foot in the Realm of Darkness itself."

"And King Bor would have known this," Diablo finished as he picked up the fashionista's train of thought. "And found a way to hide the Aethir in the Dark Realm itself. The one place where he knew that the surviving Dark Elves would never be able to reach by themselves. This is only speculation, but nevertheless, we need to make sure that this discussion never leaves this room. Malekith has developed a bit of a fixation on that stone in particular out of all the six. If we can withhold its location from him for as long as possible, we can delay the Dark Elves' extermination long enough to reverse engineer their technology." This solution received several nods of approval before all heads at the table differed to the Mistress of All Evil herself to hear her thoughts on the matter.

"I concur with my pet," the dark fairy stated. "We will withhold the location of the Reality Stone from Malekith while we maneuver him into a position from which we can eliminate him from our ranks. It will need to be swift and subtle. The last thing we need is any of his subordinates escaping and starting a civil war with the rest of the Club. In the meantime, we must carefully dismantle his power base. He's already attracted a few of our more… bloodthirsty members into his own circle of conspirators. We will need to diminish the amount of contact they have with each other or send them on suicide missions to reduce the chances of tearing our empire apart from within over differing opinions of leadership."

Her decision made, Maleficent dismissed her advisors and strode from the room towards the sleeping quarters in the prison's upper levels. Now that the meetings were over, it was time for her to spend time with her family. Hades had taken up the job of watching Lily during meetings that ran into dinner or their daughter's bedtime. Despite the fact that they were both fugitives living in an abandoned prison jury rigged into a makeshift evil lair/military base, Hades and Maleficent were determined to give their child as normal a childhood as they possibly good. For all the fact that their goals in life were to rule the universe with an iron fist, the two megalomaniacs genuinely cared for their daughter.

Chapter Text

Agrabah – The Desert

September 21st, 2021

"There it is," Ven called out over the communications link as the two Keyblade Masters flew across the Agrabah desert towards the Cave of Wonders. The it he was referring to in this case was the large Hellfire Club spaceship from San Fransokyo hovering right before the tiger head-shaped entrance to the cave. Given the size of the gargantuan craft, it was very hard to miss. Ven looked over to where Terra was flying beside him atop his own Keyblade Glider and nodded. Nothing more needed to be said as they raced ahead to battle these Dark Elves. A Gummi Ship full of Coalition soldiers was following close behind to provide reinforcements in the coming battle. A few minutes later, the duo landed on the sands at the mouth of the giant sand tiger that served as the entrance of the Cave.

Not wanting to blindly rush in and walk into a trap, they waited the extra two minutes for the Coalition Gummi Ship to land and disgorge the complement of troops. Captain Tidus of Destiny Islands was in command of the unit, and after a quick check to make sure everyone had enough healing items, the group descended into the cave's labyrinthine depths. Between the two dozen Coalition troops and the two Key bearers, fighting their way through the Heartless that seemed to always pop up inside the Cave of Wonders (Even theorized that the collective greed of those who had perished in the cave over the course of the last several thousand years was strong enough to ensure a steady population of the little demons, but nobody was really inclined to care about such ideas at the moment) was as easy as pie.

Twenty minutes later, they emerged into the cave's large treasure room at the bottom of the Chasm of Challenges and found themselves confronted by a strange sight. Dark Elves were searching through the heaps and piles of treasure scattered all over the massive room. In the center of the room stood the familiar pale face of Malekith, directing the whole operation. What he was looking for though was a mystery, one which nobody present expected the elf to ever reveal willingly except as a means of psychological warfare to achieve a completely different objective. But Malekith wasn't alone. By his side stood a figure who was clearly female, but definitely not human.

Her skin was a light blue. Not the deep ocean blue of Master Aqua's hair, but the lighter blue like the hair of Seymour, a disgraced priest from Destiny Islands who was exiled after he was discovered selling Coalition secrets (specifically military intelligence used in planning the defense of member worlds ranging from weapons specs to patrol routes) to remnants of the Hellfire Club. Point being, the woman's skin was the same color as Seymour's hair. Her hair, on the other hand, was as blood red as Lea's, and that of his father, Reno. She wore what looked to be a loin cloth around her pelvic area with a similar cloth wrapped around her chest. A long, reptilian looking tail flicked back and forth behind her, and her purple-membraned wings were wrapped around her shoulders like a cape.

Deciding to break up the search before the villains found what they were looking for, Terra, Ventus, and Tidus led the charge into the room and began fighting Dark Elves left and right. The element of surprise enabled the group to get in close quick enough that their foes couldn't bring their black hole grenades to bear in the confined space. Not without risking the death of their leader and the potential destruction of whatever it was they were looking for. While the troops kept each other busy, Tidus, Terra, and Ven went straight for the leaders.

"Your interference was amusing the first time, boy," Malekith remarked with a calm smirk as the three swordsmen advanced on his position. When they got close enough, he leaped out of the way and opened a Corridor of Darkness with a wave of his hand. "But it is quickly becoming annoying. Demona, dispose of them."

"With pleasure," the blue woman, who Terra and the others now recognized as a Gargoyle, answered with a grin that most would be inclined to call sadistic while her apparent superior vanished through the dark portal, presumably back to his ship. Terra and Ventus quickly raced forward to face Demona while Tidus radioed the Coalition naval forces stationed in orbit to commence orbital and aerial bombardment of the Dark Elves' warship before Malekith could get away. With that pressing issue taken care of, he jumped back into the fray.

The battle itself was fierce but brief. Demona fought like a demon (which was how she'd earned her name in the first place), but none of her moves were threatening enough to two Keyblade Masters in full battle armor who could block and counter her razor sharp claws easily. While gargoyle claws could normally slice through even solid stone, Terra, Aqua, and Ventus had upgraded their armor after making contact with Goliath's clan, anticipating just this situation where they had to fight a gargoyle allied with Maleficent. Now, Keyblade Armor was strong enough to withstand everything from gargoyle claws to a chainsaw.

The battle finally ended when Demona conceded that she didn't stand a chance on her own and fled through another Dark Corridor. As she escaped, Tidus radioed in to the fleet to check on the status on the bombing of the spaceship, only to discover that the ship had a built in force field protecting it from all the Coalition fleet's airstrikes. Then, it had vanished into thin air like a Stealth Sneak Heartless to disguise itself while it took off for parts unknown. With nothing else left to do since the Dark Elves had all escaped through Dark Corridors on their own, Tidus lead the group back up to the mouth of the cave and told the troops to take a few hours to unwind after the battle. While he was off calling his girlfriend Yuna to see if her job with the Intelligence Network would permit her to come visit Agrabah for an hour or two, Terra and Ventus flew off in their Keyblade Gliders to talk to Mickey and Oswald. They needed to figure out what the Hellfire Club was after, and they needed to do it quickly.

The Lanes Between – D.E.S. Nathalis: An hour later

September 21st, 2021

"This could be a problem," Seymour remarked as he looked at the report Malekith had received from his spies on the world of Saint Canard. The informants the Elven king had placed throughout the worlds of the Daybreak Coalition gave the Dark Elf king an advance warning system for when the Coalition tried to bring the hammer down on the Hellfire Club, but they also kept him appraised of what was happening. And it would seem that now they had some further competition in the form of this "Legion." What this group's goals were and what they hoped to achieve, but either way, they were most certainly an obstacle in his quest to plunge the universe back into eternal night.

"One more human or a thousand makes no difference," Demona remarked. "They'll all die regardless." After the rest of her clan was slaughtered and the survivors cursed to sleep in stone, she'd lashed out, blaming humanity for the slaughter of her kind. While humans did deserve some blame for their crimes against the Gargoyle race, Demona's actions ended up being what provoked the humans in the first place. The Wyvern Massacre, as it later came to be known, was only possible because Demona had tried to lure her clan out of the castle so that they would be unable to return by day and the humans who had belittled and insulted them would be long gone and lead away in chains by the time the clan returned.

Unfortunately, her mate, Goliath, had insisted on the rest of the clan stay behind at the castle and went out himself with Hudson to harry the Vikings who were planning to attack the castle while they were still farther away. Demona tried to get the rest of the clan out, but unfortunately only she had survived. From there, she had set her own rogue clan, and they eventually formed a tenuous alliance with Macbeth, the rightful king of Scotland in his fight to claim his rightful place on the throne. From there, things had been peaceful, until Macbeth's rule was challenged by Canmore, the son of his cousin Duncan, who he'd taken the throne from. Macbeth's advisors attempted to convince him that Canmore's English allies would leave them alone if they severed all ties with the gargoyles.

Demona had overheard the conversation and realized that even if Macbeth dismissed the possibility now, it was only a matter of time before he decided that his alliance with her kind was not worth the effort to maintain. So she and her clan broke away first. In the battle against Canmore's forces that followed, Macbeth (and Demona who attempted to kill Macbeth herself for his perceived betrayal) discovered that he and the Gargoyle woman were immortal unless one of them killed the other. From there, Demona spent the next millennium covertly accumulating power and influence for herself as knowledge of her race faded away into human myth and legend. Then, eight years ago, she had been contacted by Malekith with an offer she couldn't resist.

"True, Lady Demona," Algrim interjected. "But this particular group, and based on what our spies have reported they are entirely comprised of humans, could be a serious threat to the achievement of our objectives. Until we know what exactly we are dealing with, we must treat cautiously." That was what Malekith valued about his second-in-command. He stated the facts and kept a realistic view of what was achievable under the circumstances. Some villains would have preferred sycophants who sucked up to their superior's every order and idea. But one thing that Maleficent and Malekith had in common despite their ideological differences was that they preferred having advisors who were willful enough to keep them grounded and remind them when an idea was idiotic or simply couldn't be achieved.

"And when combatting a poison such as humanity, it is best to understand what makes your enemy tick before striking in order to eliminate the plague entirely," the Gargoyle added as she conceded the Dark Elf's point. Having been alive for over a thousand years, Demona was an expert in the art of stealth and war. Despite her burning hatred for humankind, she had survived long enough to know not to underestimate your foes, and made her plans accordingly. Through the company Nightstone Unlimited that she'd set up decades ago, Malekith and his conspirators had eyes and ears from New York City on Earth to Radiant Garden itself. Malekith turned from where he stood gazing out the window into space and turned to face his inner circle of rebels.

"And I have discovered an artifact that will aid us in our investigation of The Legion," the Dark Elf king remarked. "On a nearby world which is fairly new to Coalition rule is an artifact that can produce an army of undead warriors. Since we do not know what this Legion is capable of, I propose that we acquire this Black Cauldron and use the warriors it conjures as cannon fodder to probe the defenses of the next Legion base we can find. They must have a hidden compound somewhere, and sending waves of expendable meat shields at their forces will allow us to monitor how they fight and learn how to protect ourselves should we ever come into open conflict with them."

Demona, Algrim, and Seymour nodded their agreement at the elf's plan as Algrim relayed orders to the Nathalis' Helmsman to set their course for the world of Pyrdain. Their circle of conspirators was small, and most of them weren't even present aboard the ship at the moment. While most of them had been recruited by Maleficent or Hades, ultimately their loyalty lay with Malekith. Each and every member of his inner circle had thrown their lot in with his planned coup attempt because they all had the same thing in mind. They didn't want to simply rule the universe, they wanted to extinguish it.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Spaceport

September 22nd, 2021

Kairi greeted the trio at the spaceport with a hug for all of them and a kiss on the lips for Sora. After Donald teasingly remarked for them to "get a room" the couple broke apart and blushed profusely. Some things never changed. Once Donald and Goofy's laughter died down, she grilled them all on what had they'd found and brought them up to speed on what they'd missed. She was greatly disturbed by what the Legion had done in Saint Canard, and they were mortified by the tragedy in San Fransokyo. To change the subject to less depressing matters, Sora suggested that they all take a short vacation for the day.

"We don't have any urgent sightings from the Hellfire Club or the Legion right now, and we've got enough Keyblade Wielders to cover for us so we can all take some time off," he explained. "And besides, when's the last time we all had a day to ourselves without having stuff to deal with?" Everyone agreed and together they boarded the train that would take them from Radiant Garden's spaceport, carved into the mountains outside the city, all the way back to the town gates. Sora and Kairi sat next to each other on the train, arms wrapped around each other and her head on his shoulder.

Thirty minutes later, they exited the train and climbed the stairs from the underground station up into the city's Lower Market. From there, they discussed what to do with their time off over a light lunch at one of the cafes. Since there weren't any festivals or other community events on any of the nearby worlds at the moment, Kairi suggested going to the library to visit Pooh and the others in the 100 Acre Wood. The idea was met with unanimous approval, and once they'd finished their meal, the foursome made their way up to the castle library. When they arrived, they found that the book had been moved. Upon asking the librarian on duty, they found that Ienzo (who had gone into the book as a child following the deaths of his parents) had borrowed it.

Since they couldn't visit Pooh and the gang, inspiration struck, and Sora suggested the possibility that there were other worlds within books hidden among the shelves of the Hollow Bastion library. Kairi liked the idea, and the group split up as they searched the book cases to see what they could find. And hour later, they were all gathered around the L shelf, having already searched all of the other shelves and finding nothing. They were about to call of the search and go find something else to do when Sora pulled a book titled "Toy Story" off the shelf. Intrigued, the young man pulled the book open, only for a blinding white light to envelope the room. When it faded, Sora and Donald, who had been standing right next to him when he'd opened the book, had vanished, evidently inside the book itself. Figuring that the two of them were bound to get in trouble together if left unsupervised, Kairi and Goofy checked their gear just in case and leaped in after them.

World of Toys – Neighborhood Sidewalk

September 22nd, 2021

Kairi shook her head as her vision cleared from the flash of being transported inside the book's world. Next to her, Goofy was climbing unsteadily to his feet. Once they had both regained their senses, she took a moment to examine their surroundings. The first thing she noticed was that Sora and Donald were nowhere to be seen. The second thing she noticed was that she and Goofy had shrunk to a small fraction of their normal size. From where they were standing, the house they'd landed in front of looked like it was the size of a mountain, and the mailbox across the lawn appeared from their perspective to be the size of a two-story building. Any further observations about their environment were cut off when they heard a rustling sound coming from the bushes to their right.

The two of them were about to pull out their weapons and prepare for battle when they saw what looked like some kind of astronaut action figure dart out of the bushes and crouch behind a mailbox. After looking to see if the coast was clear, the space man stuck his arm out and waved, indicating for someone to come forward. That someone turned out to be a plastic dinosaur attempting to camouflage itself in leaves, followed by a piggy bank, a plastic dog with a spring in the middle, and what appeared to be a potato with arms, legs, and a face. As the princess and the captain of the guard crept through the yard of the house they'd landed, the pig tripped and spilled coins all over the sidewalk.

"Alright," they heard him exclaim. "Nobody look 'til I get my cork back in."

"Good work men," the astronaut called back. "We're two blocks down, only nineteen more to go!" Startled exclamations and groans immediately followed this outburst, and Kairi deduced from the complaints that it had taken them a while just to travel two blocks. "Come on fellas," the space man urged his companions. "Did Woody give up when Sid had me strapped to a rocket? No. And did he give up when you threw him out of the back of that moving van? No he didn't. We have a friend in need. And we will not rest until he's safe in Andy's room. Now let's move out!" Kairi decided that now would be a good time for her and Goofy to make their presence known so they could ask for directions or see if any of them had seen Sora and Donald.

The toys were surprised to see them and were both confused and amazed a "how lifelike they looked," clearly mistaking the duo for other toys wandering the neighborhood. Since the whole "keeping the worlds separate" rule wasn't in effect anymore, and because people apparently didn't know that toys were alive in this world, she and Goofy decided on the truth. The astronaut, Buzz Lightyear, was skeptical, as apparently some toys who were fresh out of the box like Buzz didn't realize that they were toys. A few Blizzaga and Magnega spells quickly shot down that misunderstanding before it could get entrenched in the toys' plastic heads. Once everyone was convinced that she and Goofy were telling the group, they shared stories as they walked to get to know each other more. Kairi and Goofy were amazed by a world where toys came to life, and the toys were amazed by the fact that there were other worlds out there with genuine magic.

Apparently Woody, a cowboy doll belonging to their owner, Andy, had been stolen after attempting to rescue a friend from a yard sale. He'd been a family heirloom for years, and normally got taken along to summer camp with Andy, but a torn arm meant that he'd had to stay home for the summer. Anyway, Buzz and the other toys had identified the thief as the owner of a local toy store, and the gang was making their way to the store in the hopes of rescuing Woody before Andy returned home from summer camp. The toys were all amazed that Kairi was an actual princess, and she easily got along with Rex, the dinosaur. Goofy instantly befriended Slinky, the dog. Sora would probably make friends with Woody and Buzz easily, Kairi thought to herself as the group made their way through the darkened streets. Not to mention, Donald, Hamm, and Mr. Potato Head would definitely get along like a house on fire.

The group trekked all through the night, taking only a couple hours so that Kairi and Goofy could nap along the way. Their shield and Keyblade were put to good use throughout the night facing down pests from cockroaches to rats that the group came across. As they walked through the dark, their way lit by the moon above and street lamps nearby, Kairi couldn't help but worry about where Sora and Donald had ended up. Given the fact that they had likely been shrunk like she and Goofy had, they could be anywhere in this world, and even if Sora and Donald used the gate often found in storybook worlds and left the book, he'd have no way of knowing where she was. She pushed those thoughts out of her mind as the sun rose the next morning and they walked along the side of the street next to a white concrete wall.

"Hey Buzz," Hamm called out as they exited the bushes and trudged exhaustedly towards an opening in the shrubbery that led further down the road. "Can we slow down? May I remind you that some of us are carrying over six dollars in change?"

"Losing health units," Rex gasped drearily. "Must rest."

"Is everyone present and accounted for?" Buzz inquired as he did a headcount to make sure nobody had fallen behind.

"Not quite everyone," Potato Head answered.

"Whose behind?" Buzz asked.

"Mine," Slinky replied as his back half slowly toddled up behind him. Despite their fatigue, Kairi and Goofy couldn't help but laugh at the unintentional humor in the springy dog's comment.

"Hey guys," Hamm shouted. "Why do the toys cross the road?"

"Not now, Hamm," Buzz remarked tiredly as the group walked towards the opening in the bushes where the piggy bank was waiting.

"Oh!" Rex exclaimed obliviously. "I love riddles. Why?"

"To get to the chicken on the other side!" the pig responded with a laugh as they all stood facing the large building across the street with the words "Al's Toy Barn" on the roof with a giant chicken statue in front of the store. This must be it, Kairi realized as she and Goofy leaned against the brick wall at the back of the group and caught their breath. Their friend is in there. Now if only we can just figure out what happened to Sora and Donald. Although knowing how easily those two can get into trouble, we'll probably just have to follow the trail of confusion and chaos.

"Yay!" Rex hollered as everyone else broke out in cheers. "The chicken!" Their celebration was cut short as they witnessed a rapidly moving stream of cars and busses bang and crush a can of soda lying in the road before knocking it to the curb in front of the group of toys.

"Oh well," the plastic T-Rex continued with a deadpan tone as he turned around and prepared to leave. "We tried." As much as she wanted to help, Kairi couldn't help but agree that crossing this road was extremely dangerous. We need to find another way, she thought to herself. Maybe we can find a crosswalk somewhere, or I could use a Zero Graviza spell to float us across. Unfortunately, Buzz, as the unofficial team leader, appeared to believe that the simple yet dangerous approach was the most effective.

"We'll have to cross," the space ranger stated matter-of-factly while grabbing Rex's tail with one hand. As she looked further up and down the road, Kairi noted that despite the presence of a traffic light, there were no crosswalks to be found within a reasonable distance.

"You're not turning me into a mashed potato!" Mr. Potato Head protested as everyone around him gasped in surprise.

"I may not be a smart dog, but I know what roadkill is," Slinky added.

"There has to be a safe way to cross," Buzz explained. Kairi and Goofy voiced their agreement, but questioned how they were going to cross the street when there were no crosswalks. Goofy spotted some traffic cones further up the road. Since the humans in this world didn't know that toys were alive, Buzz decided that they could use the cones for cover. Realizing that they couldn't cross the road fast enough on foot to avoid causing traffic accidents, Kairi offered to use the Collission Magnet spell that Aqua had taught her in order to throw everyone across to the other side, leaving only Goofy and herself to cross over with the cones.

The plan went along smoothly, and while Kairi was busy flinging the toys across the street to the Al's Toy Barn parking lot, Goofy discovered a pair of disused roller skates left abandoned in the bushes. Once the light turned red, she and Goofy, under the cover of two traffic cones, rolled across the pavement towards the other side using the roller skates like miniature skateboards. They made it across just as the light turned green and the morning traffic came rushing through. With the group all together again, they headed inside the store. With any luck, they could find Woody and figure out where Sora and Donald had ended up.

Chapter Text

World of Toys – Al's Apartment

September 23rd, 2021

"I thought he'd never leave," Sora commented with a sigh of relief once Al McWiggin, avid toy collector, full-time Toy Store owner, and occasional thief, left his top floor apartment to drive across the street to fax the photo's he'd taken of his Woody's Roundup merchandise set to the Konishi Toy Museum in preparation for the impending sale. Sora and Donald had landed on the window of the apartment during the early hours of the night, when Al was still eating out for dinner. Woody and Jessie had left them inside out of curiosity, and were surprised to learn that they weren't toys but had been shrunk down to that size.

From there, they'd exchanged information and had gotten caught up on the current situation. Al had been collecting merchandise from an old cartoon called Woody's Roundup for years, and had recently stolen Woody from a yard sale from which the cowboy doll had attempted to rescue a broken toy. Jessie, Bullseye, and Stinky Pete the prospector were all thrilled that Al was selling them to a toy museum in a place called Tokyo. But because he'd been stolen and his owner, Andy wouldn't even realize it until he was home from summer camp, Woody had no desire to go. Al had taken a massive amount of photos shortly after a cleaner had come to reattach Woody's arm, which had been accidentally ripped during playtime with Andy, then fell off completely as a result of Al's careless handling of the cowboy in preparation for the photo shoot.

"Oh wow!" Woody exclaimed as he examined his newly repaired arm. "Would you look at me? It's like I'm fresh out of the box! LOOK AT THIS STITCHING! Andy's gonna have a hard time rippin' this." He waved his reattached limb in front of Jessie excitedly, even as she glared at the cowboy with a look of frustration on her face. It was obvious to Sora that she was claustrophobic, and since she'd spent years trapped inside a dark box on her own while Al kept the Woody's Roundup toys and memorabilia in storage, he couldn't say that he blamed her. He could also tell that there was a more personal reason that she was upset about Woody leaving, but she didn't talk to him enough for him to be able to figure out what it was.

"Great!" she snapped. "Now you can go." With the mood thus killed, Jessie stormed off towards the window. Equally frustrated, Woody decided that now it was finally time to go home, and walked over to the air vent. Bullseye nudged the cowboy doll mournfully, sad that his friend was leaving. Ugh, Sora thought to himself. This is really complicated. On the one hand, he liked Woody and understood his desire to get back to his family. But on the other, if Al's sale fell through (despite Sora's wish for the thief/toynapper to face some form of retribution for his crime), then it was back to storage for Jessie and the others. Maybe they could just go back with Woody, he'd suggested to Donald.

His feathered friend agreed, but felt that the trio needed to reach that conclusion on their own instead of being prodded into it. They had suggested as much, but while Bullseye liked the idea, the prospector still wanted to go to the museum, and Jessie was suspiciously cynical on the matter, stating that in a few years "his precious Andy" would give up on them and they'd be drifting in the wind until they ended up in either storage or a landfill.

"Woody," Stinky Pete began. "Don't be mad at Jessie. She's been through more than you know. Why not make amends before you leave, huh? It's the least you can do." Woody was skeptical that it would do any good, but he nevertheless agreed to go talk to Jessie. Sora, always having a thing for connecting with people and helping them work out their problems, followed along. Woody tried to explain how important his bond with Andy was, only for the cowgirl to guess what he was trying to say without even saying.

"How did you know that?" Woody asked.

"Because Emily was just the same," Jessie answered. She then proceeded to sing a song about the times she'd shared with her former owner that nearly drove Sora to tears. Even Donald, who'd waddled over during the song, couldn't help but get a little teary eyed at the sorrow conveyed in the cowgirl's singing. As harsh as it was, it was true. Kids outgrew toys all the time. It was a fact of life. But it seemed so much more heartbreaking looking at it from a toy's point of view.

"You don't forget kids like Emily or Andy," she said sadly. "But they forget you."

"Jessie," Woody began, trying to be reassuring and comfort her. "I didn't…"

"Just go," she cut him off angrily. Seeing that she didn't want to talk to him anymore, Woody climbed down from the chair and made his way back towards the air vent. Sora and Donald wished the cowboy luck and promised to stay and keep Jessie company, and perhaps even find a way to avoid her having to go back into storage.

"Maybe if she's so cynical about kids, she could come back to Radiant Garden with us," Sora whispered to Donald as an idea popped into his head. "She could probably fit right in with Cinderella's mouse friends, or with Pinnochio even." Donald was skeptical of the idea, pointing out that they had no idea if it would even work, not to mention the fact that there was no way of knowing if whatever magic in this world allowed toys to come to life would even work outside the book. If they were wrong, Jessie would either still be trapped here or dead, rendered an inert, lifeless doll for eternity. Ultimately, it wasn't worth the risk.

"How long will it last, Woody?" Stinky Pete asked as he shuffled his box up behind the cowboy. "Do you really think Andy is going to take you to college? Or on his honeymoon?" This gave Woody pause. "Andy's growing up," the prospector went on. "And there's nothing you can do about it. It's your choice, Woody. You can go back, or you can stay with us, and last forever. You'll be adored by children for generations!"

"Sure, they'll adore him," Sora rebutted. "But he'd be spending an eternity looking at the rest of the world through a glass case. And if they've got the room under 24-hour surveillance or something, none of you'd ever be able to move again without being seen." Woody thought long and hard about his options. On the one hand, yes, he could be adored by children for generations. But on the other, play time, the thing he enjoyed the most about being Andy's toy, the thing that he had always felt made all the chaos he'd gone through with Buzz a year before worth it? That would never happen to him again. Not unless some idiot decided to steal him from the museum, and even then, they'd just sell him on eBay to another collector for more money.

"Sora's right," Woody finally decided. "We're toys. We were made to be played with. And I'd rather get torn apart by a rough but invigorating play time than spend the rest of my existence trapped in a glass box unable to move for fear of being discovered by the humans. I'm going home. You can all come with me if you want to. Jessie, I know you're upset about Emily, and I know that sooner or later, Andy will grow up, but that's the great thing about us being long lasting: we get passed on to other kids, and the cycle repeats. I can't stop him from growing up, but I wouldn't miss it for the world." This managed to crack the cowgirl's cynical shell for a moment as she briefly considered the possibility.

"Besides," he added. "He's got a little sister."

"He does!?" Jessie exclaimed. "Why didn't you say so? Come on, let's go!" Her spirits lifted, the cowgirl climbed down from the windowsill. Bullsey practically threw himself under Woody so that the cowboy was riding in his saddle. They all turned around to ask the Prospector to join them only to find to their shock that his unopened box was empty. A violent slamming noise made them whirl around in surprise to find Stinky Pete screwing the air vent shut with his pickaxe. What's he doing? Sora wondered in bewilderment as he reflexively drew his Keyblade and slipped into a battle stance. He didn't want to believe that Stinky Pete was trying to stop them out of malice, but he was prepared to fight either way.

"Prospector!?" Jessie gasped incredulously.

"You're out of your box!" Woody interjected. Way to point out the obvious, Donald mentally commented dryly.

"I tried reasoning with you, Woody," Stinky Pete replied calmly as he marched back towards the box. "But you keep forcing me to take extreme measures."

"Wait a minute," Sora interrupted as things about the incident with the TV after his and Donald's arrival the previous night finally added up together in his mind. "Jessie never turned on the TV last night. You did."

"Look," the rotund prospector answered, his voice never rising above his usual calm yet sad tone. "These three and I have an eternity to spend in a museum so there's no need to go pointing fingers."

"You really are a stinky Pete, aren't you," Woody retorted angrily.

"Prospector, this isn't fair," Jessie snapped.

"FAIR!?" the miner roared angrily, dark smoke swirling around him as his anger rose. Uh oh, Sora thought with a sense of dread. I can see where this is going. I've got to nudge him away from that path before it's too late. "I'LL TELL YOU WHAT'S NOT FAIR," Stinky Pete went on with seemingly uncharacteristic anger. "SPENDING A LIFETIME ON A DIME STORE SHELF WATCHING EVERY OTHER TOY BE SOLD! WELL NOW FINALLY MY WAITING HAS PAID OFF, AND NO HAND-ME DOWN COWBOY DOLL OR SOME MAGIC SHRUNKEN HUMAN FROM THE STARS IS GOING TO RUIN IT FOR ME NOW!" As if on cue, familiar dark shapes emerged from the shadows cast around the room.

"Heartless!" Sora cried out as his fears were confirmed. The Prospector was sliding into Darkness, and his anger and newly expressed feelings of inferiority were going to cost him his Heart. He didn't look like he'd have enough positive emotions in his heart to keep him from losing himself like Sora had managed to do. "Stay out of their way," he called out to Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye. "We'll cover you!" With that, he and Donald charged into battle as they started casting spells. The Heartless were swarming out of the shadows in large numbers, and because of their reduced size, it took several hours before they were able to clean out the last of them. With Stinky Pete knocked unconscious in his box after a brief duel, the group ran towards the air vent grille only to find it frozen shut, with a powerful barrier spell blocking them from getting within five feet of the vent.

And before they could figure anything out from there, Al returned, forcing Sora and Donald to hide under the table while the greedy store owner packed the quartet of toys into custom foam insulated packaging for the trip to Japan. Once he left to take the boxes of other Woody's Roundup merch down to his car, Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye leaped back out of the foam blocks and raced over to the vent grille, where Donald was attempting to cast Firaga spells to melt the ice holding the barricade shut. Unfortuantely, the barrier was still in place. Since Stinky Pete was still out cold inside his box, Sora quickly deduced that there was a larger Heartless hiding somewhere in the room.

True enough, a minute later, a breed of Heartless known as the Demon Tide, a hive-mind driven mass of Shadows that fought like a single gestalt entity. The larger the swarm, the harder it was to kill, and this one was the size of the whole couch. Calling on his darker powers, Sora launched a blast of Dark Firaga at the head of the swarm before launching himself off the couch to start swinging at the heart of the hive with his Keyblade. It took another half hour to kill the Wave, and by the time he and Donald had managed to finish it off for good, Al had returned. It was too late to get Woody and the others out of there. But maybe we can sneak them out in the elevator if we take the air vent now, Sora realized.

He signaled his plan to Woody before discreetly slicing open the vent cover while Al marched out of his apartment, carrying the green suitcase with the toys inside it behind him. As the duo broke the ice, they were surprised to find Kairi and Goofy accompanied by a group of toys that matched Woody's description of his friends. After a frantic explanation of what was happening with Woody, the group set off at a run back to the elevator. If they hurried, they could still save the day without much trouble and get everyone back to Andy's house. Sora just hoped that they got there in time.

Chapter Text

World of Toys – Elevator Shaft

September 23rd, 2021

"Guys, hurry!" Sora called out as he dodged another blow from the massive (from a toy's perspective anyway) Heartless that had materialized on the roof of the elevator car in response to Al's greed. He, Kairi, Donald, and Goofy were keeping the demon busy while Buzz and the others attempted to rescue Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye from the suitcase. After entering Al's Toy Barn, Kairi and the others had managed to find their way to the rotund owner's office at the back of the store with only minimal trouble. Buzz had almost woken up another Buzz Lightyear toy by accident when he tried to look at the new model which had a light-up utility belt. Thankfully, Goofy kept him on task and averted a potential case of mistaken identity. From there, they'd stowed away in Al's bag when he returned to his apartment to begin packing the Woody's Roundup Collection for his flight to Japan.

Now, as the warriors from another world fought to keep the Heartless off their backs, the toys raced to free their friend from his suitcase prison before Al reached the ground floor. Between the two Keyblade wielders and Donald's magic, the Heartless was soon defeated. Unfortunately, they were too late. By the time Slinky managed to get the suitcase open, they had already reached the first level of the building. Stinky Pete yanked Woody back inside as Al exited the elevator and walked briskly towards his car. Thinking quickly, Mr. Potato Head threw his plastic bowler hat like a discus, jamming the front doors before they could swing closed again. With the doors held open for them, the heroes sprinted out the door towards the curb, arriving just in time to watch Al drive away towards the airport.

"How are we gonna get him now?" Rex asked defeatedly. Mr. Potato Head looked around the parking lot.

"Pizza anyone?" the plastic vegetable suggested as the gang looked over to find a vacant pizza delivery truck parked a few spots over.

"Go! Go! Go!" Buzz shouted as he urged everyone into the van. While nobody liked the idea that they were basically committing grand theft auto, in the group's defense, the toys were only borrowing it and asking the pizza delivery guy for a ride would simply make him panic at the sight of toys coming to life. They were running out of time and it was the only way to make it there in time. So with no other option, they piled into the truck. As soon as he jumped inside, Buzz began barking out orders. "Slinky, Donald, and Goofy, take the pedals. Rex, Kairi, and Sora, you navigate. Hamm and Potato, operate the levers and knobs." As the group scrambled into their assigned positions, Rex noticed three little green squeeze toy aliens hanging from the roof of the truck by a string, evidently as a toy order with the meal.

"Strangers," one of them said. "From the outside." Sora noticed Buzz's mumbled "Oh no," and assumed that Buzz had encountered these kinds of toys before and this behavior was probably typical of them. Well every toy's got their own personality, he thought to himself. Who am I to judge one way or another? Stinky Pete being the obvious and unsaid exception to that idea, given that he was actively opposing Woody's attempts to go home to Andy. Rex frantically announced that Al was at a red light.

"Maximum power, Slink!" Buzz called out. The springy dog slammed his front paw on the gas pedal as hard as he physically could. When the car refused to move, Kairi jumped down and kicked the gear shift into Drive. And with that, the Pizza Planet Delivery Truck sped out of the parking lot just as the traffic light turned green. The race was on! It was a frantic ride with Rex, Sora, and Kairi frantically calling out directions while the rest of the group bar Slinky and Buzz stumbled and tumbled around as the commandeered truck swerved in between lanes as they hurried to catch up with Al. In all the chaos, the squeeze toy aliens came loose from the roof of the vehicle, and Mr. Potato Head barely managed to haul them back inside through the open window. They were too busy focusing to outright laugh, but Sora and Kairi both giggled when the aliens declared that they were eternally greatful to the plastic potato for saving their lives. Clearly that would be amusing for a while.

They reached the airport right behind Al and swiftly devised a plan to smuggle themselves inside to rescue Woody without attracting attention to themselves. Using a disposable pet carrier left near the curb, they made their way inside as quickly as they could. Despite a near miss at being discovered when a little girl approached their cover, only for Slinky to spontaneously start "barking" to scare her off, they made it inside the baggage check in area. Despite Buzz's instructions that they just needed to find Als's suitcase, the amount of bags was staggering to everyone. Sora, Kairi, Donald, and Goofy were all blown away by the amount of baggage inside the labyrinth of conveyor belts going in every direction. Even by the standards of Coalition spaceports, this was unbelievably complex.

Everyone was thrown violently from the pet carrier as they slid down the metal slide and into the maze. But when they got their bearings, they were able to spot two identical green suitcases on conveyor belts going in the opposite directions.

"You take that one," Buzz instructed the rest of the group as he and Slinky began sprinting off in one direction. "Sora, Slinky, Donald, and I'll take the other one." After a quick good luck kiss from Kairi, Sora dashed off to catch up with Buzz while everyone else jumped down to the next level and scrambled over bags in pursuit of the second green case. This is like the world's biggest obstacle course, Sora thought to himself as he used his darker moves to warp past suitcases while Buzz, Slinky, and Donald scrambled over and around the bags in the hopes of finding Woody. Then disaster struck as Slinky's slower moving hindquarters got snagged on a handle that was diverted in another direction.

"I've got him!" Sora called out before warping across to where the canine was being dragged. "You guys go get Woody!" Meanwhile, Kairi and the others reached their case only to find that it contained nothing but expensive camera equipment. While all of this was happening, Buzz and Donald were leaping from suitcase to suitcase like they were running parkour along the rooftops of Agrabah. They reached the case, only for Stinky Pete to send Buzz flying off the edge of their conveyor belt with a single punch.

"Take that, space toy!" the prospector snapped. He'd possessed a bitter hatred of all things pertaining to astronauts and space ever since the rising popularity of astronaut toys led to Woody's Roundup getting cancelled.

"Hey!" Woody shouted as he forced his way out of the suitcase. "Nobody does that to my friend!" With that, Woody was quickly locked into a rough and tumble brawl with the rotund miner. Deciding that the most expedient method of ending the fight would be to get everyone else out of the case as quickly as possible, Donald hopped into the case as the two brawlers fell out of it, using a Blizzara spell to hold the lid open. With a quick Zero Graviga spell, the foam insulation blocks on the top layer were lifted out, allowing Jessie and Bullseye to climb free of their spongey prison. As Woody and Stinky Pete continued to brawl, Heartless began dropping down onto the conveyor belt from above.

Since none of the toys had any experience with fighting the dark monsters, the feathered court magician of Disney Castle prepared to jump back out of the travel case to deal with the monsters. But before either he, Jessie or Bullseye could climb out, a barrier spell went up, sending them both bouncing back against the inside of the plastic case. The trio banged their fists (or hooves in Bullseye's case) helplessly against the enchanted barricade, despite the futility. As the demonic horde closed in around them, Stinky Pete tore Woody's arm open again with his pickaxe, causing the cowboy to scream.

"It's your choice, Woody," the prospector threatened coldly. "You can go to Japan together, or in pieces. If he fixed you once, he can fix you again! Now get in the box!"

"Never!" the cowboy spat. As the human Pete raised his axe in preparation to slide Woody to pieces like a PG-rated axe murderer, he shrieked from the sudden flashing lights as Buzz, Sora, Slinky, and the rest of the group arrived using the flash on the cameras Hamm, Kairi, and Potato Head had uncovered to blind Stinky Pete and drive him backwards. The flash had the added benefit of forcing the Heartless swarms to shrink back in terror, distracting the little terrors long enough for Sora, Kairi, and Goofy to race in and exterminate them all. As Buzz held the prospector in the air, the elderly toy's angry ranting about how children destroyed toys caused another massive Heartless to appear. This time, it was almost the size of a normal human, with a large belly, a massive pickaxe, and a long, flowing beard. In short, it looked like a life-size Heartless duplicate of Stinky Pete.

While the other toys strapped Stinky Pete to a loose backpack heading out to the baggage claim (Woody deciding that learning the true meaning of "play time" would be a fitting punishment for the toy who had been motivated by never being bought, let alone played with), Sora, Kairi and Goofy set about destroying the Heartless Miner, as Kairi quickly dubbed it. It proved to be relatively easy, and once it was defeated, the barrier went down. But it was too late to get everyone out of the suitcase. Bullseye managed to jump clear just as the green travel box went careening down the trucks that were preparing to deliver the passengers' luggage to the plane.

"Donald! Jessie! " Sora and Woody each cried out as the man loading the bags onto the truck tossed Jessie and Donald (who'd been caught dangling out of the box as they reached the bottom) back into the suitcase and threw it onto the truck. Thinking fast, Woody whistled and hopped into Bullseye's saddle. Buzz was right behind him, while Sora gave a quick kiss to his fiancé before both toys and Keyblade wielder slid down the ramp to rescue their friends. The truck was pulling away as they reached the bottom, and while Buzz and Woody raced after it on horseback, Sora combined the forward momentum of the rollers at the bottom of the ramp with the Glide ability he'd learned from Peter Pan and his Flowmotion techniques he'd learned in the Realm of Sleep to practically fly over to the truck and narrowly land on the back of the rear trailer.

"Hey! High! Hey! Giddyup!" Woody shouted as his trusty steed gained ground against the speeding baggage truck. When they reached the back, the cowboy stood up, and, with a boost from Buzz, grabbed onto the handle of one of the bags and was quickly whisked along as the truck raced across the tarmac towards the plane to Japan that Al was boarding even now. Sora gave him a helping hand as he reached the roof of the rear trailer, and, spotting the green case at the front of the train of bag trailers, the two sprinted forwards to rescue their friends. Unfortunately, the truck slowed to a stop just as they landed in the front trailer. The cowboy and the Key Bearer quickly hid themselves inside someone's golf bag to avoid detection, and a few minutes later, they were loaded onto the plane. Unzipping the bag, they climbed through the airplane's cargo hold towards the case with their friends trapped inside.

"Excuse me, sir and ma'am," Woody greeted playfully as he opened the case to find Donald soothing Jessie's clausterphobia. "But I think you're on the wrong flight. Come on, guys, it's time to go home." Jessie and Donald quickly climbed out of the suitcase, but right as they were about to sneak out the loading door of the cargo hold, the baggage loaders slammed it shut. Jessie began to panic before Woody and Sora noticed a bright light coming from what could only be an opening in the bottom of the plane where the wheels were. They climbed over the boxes and towards the opening to find that the plane was already in motion. If they didn't get off now, they'd be trapped on board until the flight landed in Japan.

"You sure about this!?" Jessie asked, shouting to be heard over the roar of the engines.

"No!" Woody answered bluntly. "Let's go!" Despite the fear and uncertainty of the situation, Woody began climbing down the landing gear while Sora and Donald slid down with parkour and Flowmotion skills honed by years of practice. As the two toys slowly climbed down to where the magaician and the Keyblade Master were waiting, Woody slipped and fell from the metal beam he'd been standing on. Donald quickly caught him and brought him over to them with a Magnega spell, and Sora repeated the same for Jessie. As Woody fell, his hat was blown off by the gust of the plane's turbine engines.

"What's a cowboy without his hat!?" Buzz called out as he rode into view on Bullseye, Woody's hat in his hand. Wow, that horse is fast! Sora thought to himself with an amazed stare at the fact that a plastic and fabric horse was able to keep pace with a speeding jet liner. As the plane turned onto the runway and began to accelerate, Buzz pulled Bullzeye in between the tires so that he was right between the flat, narrow ledge at the bottom of the thick pole that lead up to the rest of the landing gear. One by one, the group hopped onto the horse's back, and Bullseye quickly dashed out of the way as the plane flew down the runway and took off into the sky. They all cheered in celebration until they were nearly run over by another plane as it landed.

"Lets… Go home," Woody remarked once they'd all calmed down. They all agreed to that, and despite the extra load, Bullseye carried them all back to the baggage ramp, where they found the others waiting for them. Kairi tackled Sora in a hug and planted a long, romantic kiss on his lips when they returned. Goofy hugged Donald tightly, much to the duck's embarrassment (but he secretly enjoyed the attention deep down), while the rest of the toys swarmed around Woody in celebration. Hamm and Potato Head quickly commandeered an empty baggage truck to bring the toys back to Andy's House, and the off-worlders decided that it was time for them to go home too.

Chapter Text

The Land of Departure – Library

September 22nd, 2021

Vanitas shuddered as he closed the book he'd been pouring over and added it to the pile. He'd lived with Xehanort for four years, so he wasn't one to be frightened or repulsed easily. But the information he'd just uncovered had rocked him to his core. The Gauntlet of The First Master was an ancient legend dating back several thousands and thousands of years to the very first Keyblade War. Records of what this was were scarce, but with the advent of the Coalition, enough knowledge had been pooled together that Vanitas was able to collect enough research to paint a complete picture of what it was they were dealing with: an ancient weapon with enough raw power to make its user omnipotent.

According to legend, the Gauntlet had been made from six singularities from a dying galaxy, shaped and refined by the very first Keyblade Master in existence and attached to armor strong enough to channel the ingots' energies to form something that granted its wielder god-like powers. Teleportation to any location in the universe at any time, long range mind reading, long-distance mind control, energy beams powerful enough to destroy the universe, and time travel. What truly frightened – no, terrified Vanitas, was the fact that just one of these so-called "Infinity Stones" had enough power to make whoever used its power an invincible force of destruction. And Maleficent's got one of them already…

The raven-haired Keyblade wielder shivered in fear as he realized the extent of Maleficent's ambitions. She wasn't just going to conquer all worlds, she was trying to achieve godlike power sufficient to ensure that she will have always been the supreme ruler of the universe. The implications were staggering, and Vanitas shuddered to think about what such a universe would be like. I need to pass this on to the Director, he thought to himself as he pulled out his cell phone and speed dialed Director Cassim. After a few tense minutes, the former King of Thieves answered the phone, and the former apprentice of Xehanort frantically explained what he'd discovered.

If the implications of the Infinity Gauntlet as it was otherwise known were enough to terrify Vanitas, then Cassim nearly went catatonic in a horrified stupor as the weight of what Maleficent was after hit him like a freight train. But as the director of C.I.N., he recovered quickly and ordered Vanitas to make contact with his informant find out every scrap of information possible on the progress of Maleficent's hunt for the Stones. How many did she already have? Which ones did she have? Did they know the locations of any of the others? Vanitas nodded before hanging up and firing off a quick text to Loki to set up a time and location for their rendezvous. He needed to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.

Kingdom of Prydain – Witches' Cottage

September 22nd, 2021

"Are you sure this is the place?" Riku wondered as he and Mickey found themselves facing a small wooden cottage in the middle of the wilderness. A tip from Coalition Intelligence had revealed that there was an artifact in this kingdom called the Black Cauldron that Maleficent wanted for her own plans. From the intel they'd been given before their arrival, the Cauldron had the power to create an army of undead warriors. A local tyrant known only as The Horned King had attempted to use the Cauldron's power to rule this world, only for its power to be undone by the willing sacrifice of a heroic creature named Gurgi. Although the cauldron was now inert, Riku didn't doubt for a moment that Vanitas' sources would indicate the "Mistress of All Evil" wanted it unless she had a reliable method of restoring its powers.

For that reason, he and Mickey had been dispatched to handle the situation to give Terra and Ventus a break and allow Terra some time off to spend with his family. Last Riku heard, Ven and Yuffie were spending the rest weekend at his parents' house on the Destiny Islands while Terra had gone back to the Land of Departure so that he could get ready for his and Aqua's wedding anniversary in next week. As they walked up to the house, Riku mentally reviewed the information Coalition Intelligence had gathered on the three witches who lived here. The Witches of Morva were apparently always looking to make bargains with anyone who sought them out, preferably for something roughly equal to what they were offering.

To that end, he and Mickey had brought a worthless enchanted statue from the Cave of Wonders that could be trained to act as a bodyguard. One magical artifact for another, Riku thought to himself as he knocked on the front door. Should be easy to convince them to trade. To the silver haired young man's surprise, however, the witches didn't even bother trying to make them trade anything for the Cauldron. Prydain had been part of the Coalition for going on three years now, and the three witches were informed enough on Coalition news to know about the resurgence of the Hellfire Club. Evidently, they had reached the same conclusion that Riku and Mickey had, and while all three women could take on Maleficent in a fight, these "Dark Elves" sighted in San Fransokyo and Agrabah outright terrified them.

"That was easier than I thought it would be," Riku commented as he and Mickey walked out of the cottage carrying the Black Cauldron between them. A thundering roar directed their attention skyward as they looked up to see several ships of varying size descending from the sky. The unfamiliar dagger-like shapes matched the descriptions of the Dark Elf spaceships sighted in San Fransokyo, while the two Keyblade Masters instantly recognized the red painted wood of Captain Hook's pirate ship sailing through the skies. I spoke too soon, Riku thought to himself as he sent a quick text to Coalition Intelligence requesting reinforcements. I just hope we can hold them off long enough for back up to get here so we can get the cauldron off world.

Agrabah – Market District

September 23rd, 2021

"I did the research," Vanitas told his contact as they sat huddled in the corner of a crowded bar in the heart of Agrabah. "You were right about the Infinity Stones." Loki nodded.

"Now that we've established my credibility," the prince of Asgard replied. "I have some critical information on that subject. Maleficent has decided to make a move for the Mind Stone. It's in the possession of a wealthy collector by the name of Taneleer Tivan on the decaying planetoid known as Knowhere. It's a mining colony beyond the borders of Coalition space, out in the greater galaxy. Here are the coordinates." He paused as he conjured a pen and scribbled the world's location on Vanitas' notepad. "Maleficent hopes to either recruit Tivan into her cabal or trade him for the Stone. If that won't work, she has no problem with killing him and razing the place as an example."

"Will the Club be arriving by Corridor or by ship?" the deputy director of Coalition Intelligence inquired. If Maleficent was travelling by Dark Corridor, then she could be in and out with the Infinity Stone in less than an hour, requiring a swift and deliberate strike consisting entirely of Coalition Intelligence agents. If she wanted to take the slow path and show up with the Jolly Roger and the Nathalis (Loki was able to properly identify Malekith' species as Dark Elves and provide the name of their flagship during his last information dorp) as a show of force, then they had time to organize the usual inter-agency strike team and hopefully seize the Stone so that it could be kept out of the wrong hands.

"Both," Loki answered. "Sort of. She and select members of her inner circle will arrive using the Space Stone to test its range, while her growing fleet will blockade the colony in advance of their arrival." To keep anyone on the outside from interfering and anyone on the inside from calling for help, Vanitas followed the train out thought to himself. Clever.

"So ideally," he began, sounding out the strategy that was beginning to take shape inside his head. "Sora and I could use our dark powers to summon up Dark Corridors to get us onto the surface of Knowhere, while a small flotilla of Gummi Ships kept the blockade distracted enough that our arrival will go unnoticed." Loki nodded his head in agreement.

"I'll do what I can to add to the chaos to provide you with some cover," the Jotun wizard added. "But I need to war you that should the protective container we're using to house the Tesseract be broken, the results will be unpredictable. It won't teleport anyone who touches it into the heart of a star or anything, as long as the person in question doesn't secretly harbor suicidal thoughts, but should someone pick it up in the midst of the fighting they could be transported to any planet in the galaxy."

"And it will potentially take a long time to pick up the trail of where they landed," Vanitas finished as he put the puzzle pieces together in his mind. "I'll be sure to include that in the briefing. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a strike team to assemble." Loki nodded in understanding before placing enough Munny on the table to cover the cost of his beer before his astral form melted away and his consciousness returned to his body. Vanitas paid for his own drink and returned to Twilight Town to prepare for the battle to come. If they were lucky, they could slip in, steal the Mind Stone, and get out with minimal actual combat against the Hellfire Club. While Vanitas wanted the villainous group gone as much as anyone, he was also practical about the need to dismantle the Club systematically in order for their actions to have any lasting impact. Minions like the Leroys or the Heartless were easily replaced, and it would take a miracle to pull off a successful ambush of even just one of the inner circle. He would have to plan this carefully.

Kingdom of Prydain – Forest Clearing

September 23rd, 2021

Figures that they'd leave the Heartless to do the dirty work, Riku thought bitterly as he dodged a blow from an Armored Knight before grabbing a Poison Apple by the head and flinging it at a nearby cluster of the dark monsters. Though the Heartless were much fewer in number now that Xehanort was gone, they were still plentiful enough to be considered a serious threat, which was why local law enforcement officers or their equivalents were given the weapons and equipment to keep them away from innocent bystanders until a Keyblade Wielder could swing by and release the captive Hearts.

Unfortunately, it seemed that with Xehanort out of the way, Maleficent was taking advantage of the power vacuum to reassert control over the Heartless. Thankfully, she'd learned from past experiences and supplemented the demonic minions with flesh and blood troops, so that in the event that some other rival equal to Xehanort in power ever came along and took control of the dark creatures from here, she would still have an army to fight for her. This made stopping the Hellfire Club rather difficult, as at present they had no idea just how many living soldiers the dark fairy had under her employ, and how far her influence spread.

The silver-haired Keyblade Master forced those concerns out of his mind as he focused on the task at hand: keeping Maleficent from getting her hands on the Black Cauldron and reawakening its formidable power. He and Mickey stood side by side as they faced off against a horde of Heartless, Leroys, and Dark Elves that emerged from the Dark Elf spaceships as they landed on the surface of Prydain. They had positioned themselves so that each of them could keep one eye on the Cauldron and one eye on the advancing Hellfire forces, to keep them from just opening up a Dark Corridor underneath the thing and stealing it right then and there.

Now if only we can just hold out until reinforcements arrive, Mickey mentally reminded himself as he fired off a Stopza spell at an approaching Leroy before following up with a Fire Strike. Riku brought up a Reflega shield when one of the Dark Elves tried to get in a cheap shot and retaliated with Thundaga Shot, knocking the enemy's laser rifle out of his hands. While the two Keyblade Masters had plenty of experience fighting Heartless swarms and Maleficent's goons, not even they could keep fighting forever. But they were still surprised, however, when a massive fireball shot out of the trees and struck the Cauldron. Mickey and Riku leaped out of the way to avoid being scorched, but the inert mystical artifact was blown to smithereens.

The Hellfire Club troops were just as stunned as the heroes were, and everyone turned to the tree line in concert to find a group dressed entirely in brown robes with chains wrapped around their shoulders and torsos. Interesting outfit choice, Riku noted dryly in the privacy of his own mind. The chains are obviously supposed to signify something, but what? He tabled the question for a later date as the man in the lead spoke, his hood up like his fellow Legionnaires to conceal his face.

"It's a privilege to meet you at last, King Mickey, Master Riku," he greeted. "Regardless of my personal feelings about you, I admire and respect the work you did at Castle Oblivion."

"And how do you know about that?" Riku demanded out loud. While information on Castle Oblivion wasn't exactly kept secret (it had been a key component of stores told about his and Sora's exploits after all), the exact details of what had transpired in what used to be and now was the Land of Departure were far from common knowledge.

"Because I was there myself," the man replied, producing a large, elegantly designed curving blade, with a curved handle to match. "While I cannot say I will particularly mourn your deaths, I can say that your demise will be an improvement upon the universe. Indeed, it will be a blessing that future generations of Keyblade Masters will not have their perceptions skewed by the views of those tainted by Darkness."

"What the hell are blabbering on about?" Riku demanded, letting a little of Vanitas' choice of language rub off on him for a moment. "Have you not been paying attention to the last seven years, or are you just one of those zealots who talk about balance but think that darkness is inherently evil? Well guess what, in case you haven't figured it out by now, light can't exist without darkness, and darkness can't exist without light."

"Oh I'm well aware," the mysterious figure retorted. "My fellow legionnaires and I simply understand that those who actively use Darkness are inevitably corrupted and consumed by it. Such arrogance in thinking that one can control the primordial forces of chaos is a heretical defiance of the laws of nature. And the day is coming when all such offences will be punished. The mouse king will inevitably receive a Howler, and you, young man, will likely be consigned to the Cleansing process." Riku glared at the man in defiance. In his arrogance, their foe had revealed enough key details for him to start figuring out the Legion's plans.

"Zealot it is then," Riku commented with a resigned sigh before charging into battle against the man, Mickey right behind him. The battle was brief, but like his fight against Vexen in Castle Oblivion all those years ago, he got the distinct sense that his opponent was holding back in order to test him for some as-yet-unknown purpose. When he was defeated, the man vanished into the usual portal of light the Coalition had come to expect of the Legion's agents. The rest of the Legionnaires followed soon afterwards, leaving a trail of vanquished monsters and dead Hellfire Club minions in their wake. With the cauldron destroyed, Riku and Mickey could do little except report its destruction to the witches before returning to their Gummi Ship. Once they were aboard, they called Cassim to pass along the information they'd discovered.

Chapter Text

Unknwon World – Unknown Location

September 24th, 2021

"Do we have confirmation that they're getting ready to move?" Madame N.I. asked as she read the report sent by their spies in Galactic Federation territory. They had gotten wind of Maleficent's plan to make a move for the Mind Stone, and as leader of the Legion, she had decided that it was time to take action.

"The report has been confirmed, my lady," the salmon-haired High Praetor answered with a bow. "That witch and her cohorts are on Knowhere now, attempting to bargain with that wretch Tivan for the Mind Stone. Maleficent cannot be allowed to add a second stone to her collection, so I recommend a swift strike to retrieve the stone for ourselves. We were going to take it anyway, she's simply forcing us to accelerate our plans." N.I. nodded, conceding her subordinate's point. That didn't necessarily mean that she was ready for open warfare.

"Be that as it may, High Praetor Aurilam," the raven haired commander in chief of the Legion replied. "But we cannot simply come charging out into the open with each potential target like cockroaches or ants crawling out of the woodwork when the owners of the house drop food on the floor. We need to be cautious. Play it safe." The High Praetor snorted.

"Madame N.I, we've been playing it safe for eight thousand years," Aurilam snapped. "While I understand your reticence towards all-out war, we cannot hide in the shadows any longer now that The Endgame approaches. Now that the Infinity Stones are in play, the game has changed. And if we are going to win, we will need to change our tactics with them." For a moment, N.I. considered her options. On the one hand, she had little doubt that despite the numerical advantage, the Legion would swiftly be crushed in an open conflict. On the other hand…

"Very well," she responded with a sigh of defeat. "We'll begin the use of guerilla tactics to throw our enemies off guard. Take advantage of their ignorance and our secrecy to avoid detection and strike without warning. Take a Cohort to Knowhere and return with the Mind Stone. If Maleficent brings the Tesseract with her, do not attempt to recover it unless you are absolutely certain that you can do so with minimal casualties. I don't want to lost a hundred soldiers over a secondary objective when I can achieve the primary one without casualties."

"As you wish, my Lady," Aurilam replied and withdrew to the mission briefing room of the base to prepare for this strike. N.I. let out a sigh. There was definitely truth to the old saying "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." As General of the Legion, she had to juggle a variety of different jobs to make their inner workings run smoothly. Balancing the rivalries of different Legionnaires, keeping their bases and organization a secret, and advancing their goal of achieving a brighter future for humankind was an exhausting job, and a part of her wished that her predecessor was there to offer her advice.

But unfortunately, the nature of her promotion meant that this wasn't possible. But now that she thought about it, there was something she could do to ease her stress. In a whirlwind of black hair and white fabric, N.I. stood up from her desk and left her office behind. She was headed into the very heart of the facility. A public room set aside for silent contemplation and trading news and advice with fellow Legionnaires. The upper echelons of the Legion had not used the shrine built inside the chamber since Xehanort's demise, but while nobody here was particularly religious, now more than ever, N.I. needed the guidance from the one person that the Legion ever looked to for guidance. She would have to pray to the Foreteller.

Knowhere Mining Station – The Collector's Museum

September 24th, 2021

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Maleficent," the tall human-looking man with flamboyant white hair remarked in what sounded like a bored monotone as he bowed before the inner circle of the Hellfire Club as they marched inside his archives. "My spies have told me much about you. To what do I owe this occaision?"

"Your Infinity Stone," the green-skinned sorceress demanded bluntly, skipping the formalities and getting right to the point. "I know it's locked away in here somewhere, and I need it for my plans." She didn't bother trying to negotiate. The Black Cauldron was going to be her bargaining chip, but thanks to this insolent "Legion", she didn't have time to come up with something to offer in exchange. So she would have to do things the old fashioned way and either recruit Mr. Taneleer Tivan or else take what she wanted by force. For all the collector's hobby of preserving endangered species in the event of potential cataclysms, Tivan was also a ruthless black market deal broker, and he had not lasted this long by being upfront about what he did and did not have. Which was why his expression did not change at Maleficent's pronouncement.

"The Infinity Stones are incredibly rare. Even I, with all my resources, have never been able to find even one." Loki snorted in mock disgust.

"Oh please," he retorted. "I overheard my brother explicitly telling his companions that he had entrusted the Mind Stone to your care after he and his brothers and sisters in arms seized it from a Midgardian terrorist organization. We all know you have it, Tivan, so there's no point continuing this little bit of half-truth laden politeness judo." The reclusive billionaire and xeno-zoologist, finally deciding that the jig was up, placed his hands behind his back. From there, his entire demeanor changed. Gone was the boredom of the idle rich, replaced by the burning coldness of a master manipulator, a chess master examining the board, a predator deciding the best way to kill their prey.

"What do you have to offer me in exchange for the Stone?" he inquired, no longer bothering with hiding the fact that the object was in his possession. "And why should I give it to you?"

"Because there are countless more species in my corner of the universe for you to add to your collection," the dark fairy answered coyly. "As for what I have to offer in exchange, I thought the prospect of unrestricted access to Terran species to add to your collection might arouse your scientific curiosity." The collector's eyes lit up like fireworks at the thought. The remnants of HYDRA had gone to great lengths to collect information from magical shops and abandoned Huntsclan lairs on the strengths and weaknesses of different magical species for one to theoretically capture them, and Maleficent knew that because of the fact that no similar species existed beyond Earth (and Coalition space, but she wasn't about to tell Tivan that), Taneleer would be salivating at the chance to acquire new and unknown creatures for his collection.

"We have a deal," Tivan nodded his head in agreement and ordered his new assistant to fetch the Mind Stone from its vault. While they waited, some members of Maleficent's party had some questions to ask the reclusive collector.

"We're looking for our brother," Kadaj explained as he paced back and forth across the crowded confines of the museum's main room. "You've probably met him, or at least heard of him. Probably in the company of those Ravager filth. Our father had hired them to bring him home to Maveth but they reneged on their deal and kept him, like he was a commodity to be traded or sold. That was thirty three years ago, and we'd like to know where we can find him." Despite The Collector's outwardly calm appearance, his mind was roiling in shock. Surely these three are not related to that rogue, Tivan wondered incredulously to himself. Unless their physical resemblance is more from their mother's side, or maybe it was the other one who inherited his mother's looks, and these three received their father's? And further speculation on the matter was cut short when a familiar voice rang out.

"So you've finally crawled out of hiding at long last, Maleficent," Riku called from somewhere in the Archives. Behind the Hellfire Club guards, a platoon of Coalition soldiers led by Kairi, Donald, Goofy, and Dilan stormed into the archive, blocking their standard escape route. With a token battle cry, the warriors of light charged into battle. Maleficent quickly took charge of the situation, ordering half the troops (consisting of a few scores of Heartless, and about a dozen Dark Elves brought by Malekith for the visit), while ordering Demona, Helga, Diablo, Nebula, and the Leroys to head to the vault and retrieve the Mind Stone. Maleficent had only recently learned to master the teleportation powers of the Tesseract, and as such was not willing to risk abandoning their position, by Cube or by Corridor, until she had the second Infinity Stone in hand.

Kairi broke off to burn her way through the Heartless while Donald and Goofy dealt with the Dark Elves. Behind her, Maleficent turned, only for her drawn to clench in fury and shock as Riku, Sora, and that wretched ex-pawn of Xehanort's, Vanitas, leap down from the upper levels of the museum, the familiar yellow glow of the Mind Stone tucked under Riku's arm. Deciding to take action herself, Maleficent fired off her "Meteors of Heaven" spell at the silver-haired Keyblade Master, only for Sora to leap in front of it and block while Vanitas launched straight into a scepter-against-Keyblade duel with Loki. When her meteor spell dissipated, Sora lunched straight for Maleficent herself. The green-skinned witch brought up a Barrier spell to block his darkness based attacks before parrying a blow from his Keyblade with the edge of her own staff.

"Foolish boy," she jeered menacingly as she knocked him back with a green-tinged Dark Firaga spell. Behind her, Demona, Helga, Diablo, and Nebula "You may have developed some skill with the Darkness after being steeped in it for a few years, but I have been mastering it for decades!" Whatever witty retort Sora may or may not have made was cut off by shouts of alarm from both Coalition and Hellfire troops alike. She turned to find both factions facing off against the rag-wearing pathetic little "Legionnaires" as they called themselves. Maleficent did not care who those fools were or what their motives were, but one thing was perfectly clear and important: they wanted the stones as well. Well, she thought as she conjured a ball of green spell flame in her hands. If it's a fight for the Infinity Stones they want, I'll be happy to oblige them.

Chapter Text

Knowhere Mining Station – Docking Bay

September 24th, 2021

"PUSH FORWARD!" cried United Coalition Army Captain Squall Leonhart as he fired his Gunblade at the advancing line of Dark Elf forces. So far, the invasion of Knowhere was going fairly well. Despite the lack of information about the Dark Elves' strengths and weaknesses, the Coalition army had yet to take any casualties. Nevertheless, Leon was keenly aware that because of the high concentration of Hellfire Club forces, this stroke of fortune could change at any time. After six years and three months of training and fighting together, the soldiers of the Coalition's armed forces moved and fought like a well-oiled machine. Of course, despite the conflicting personalities involved, so too did the armies of the Hellfire Club, although their camaraderie was almost non-existent, replaced by cold professionalism united towards a common goal.

The Coalition Navy had arrived in orbit of the disembodied, emaciated head known throughout the galaxy as Knowhere at just the right angle to take Maleficent's fleet completely by surprise. All but three enemy spacecraft had been swiftly destroyed in the opening salvo of the battle, while Mindy-class Gummi Ships shuttled troops into the station. While Leon's unit was pinned down by a platoon of Dark Elves, General Shang and his wife, Captain Mulan fought their way through a swarm of Heartless along the eastern perimeter of Knowhere, allowing the rest of the strike team easier access into the station. With the landing zone secured, more Gummi Ships full of Coalition soldiers glided into the empty docking bays, disgorging more warriors to join the fight.

From there, Mulan's unit circled back around to where Leon and his men were pinned down, cutting their way through the Dark Elves with frightening ease. Mulan held a deep grudge against Malekith and his people for their killing of her father, and she was inclined to repay them in kind as she fought her way through the elven warriors like a woman possessed. With his unit free to move about the station once more, Leon thanked Mulan for the assist and offered some advice on dealing with her anger over her father's death before taking his squad deeper into the station. With any luck, Sora, Riku, and the others had already struck at the inner circle in this "Collector's" museum.

This meant that all the army had to do was surround the perimeter of the museum while Maleficent and her advisers were busy fighting off the warriors of the Keyblade, and close the net around the villains as tightly as possible. Leon motioned to his unit to keep moving towards the museum. While they worked their way through the abandoned streets, Cloud announced over the radio that his squad had encountered a large compound of human Hellfire Club soldiers bearing some kind of skull and tentacles emblem and wielding energy weapons of unknown make. Leon grudgingly announced that he was close by and would be there shortly. After checking to make sure his troops had overheard the conversation, they moved out towards Cloud's position.

His frustration wasn't with the fact that Cloud needed backup (although he would have bragging rights to saving his ass per the unspoken rules of their little friendly rivalry), but simply because the longer it took to secure the planetoid, the greater chances of the Hellfire Club's leadership getting away with or without the Infinity Stone. Oh well, Leon thought as he charged into the square where Cloud Strife was dual wielding the different components of his Fusion Sword as he danced between two of the unidentified shock troopers, slicing apart their weapons like a hot knife cutting through butter. Just need to hurry up and get these guys taken care of quickly, then. Because of the fact that the mission had been put together in an hour, there hadn't been time for Coalition Intelligence to give the full briefing on just what these stones were. But right now, all that mattered was that these things were phenomenally powerful and needed to be kept out of the hands of Maleficent and her ilk at all cost.

Knowhere Mining Station – Museum Entrance:=

September 24th, 2021

From the moment, the Legion entered the fray, all of Knowhere was thrown into chaos. What few residents who weren't hiding in their homes after the Hellfire Club's occupation of the decomposing Celestial head began were now running frantically for shelter as the fighting spilled out of The Collector's Museum and out into the broad streets and narrow back alleyways of Knowhere. Sora and Maleficent remained locked in combat, with Donald and Goofy jumped in to help their friend. Meanwhile, Kairi had bravely engaged the man clearly in charge of the Legion's troops herself.

The princess of Radiant Garden was beginning to have some suspicions about who the Legion's members were and what it was they wanted. Unfortunately, without solid evidence or a confession from one of their Legionnaires, her theory was little more than idle speculation. So she tabled her thoughts for another time as she dodged a blow from the High Praetor's wicked looking scythe, the pink blade biting deep into the metal of the walkway they stood on. While her opponent pulled his weapon out of the floor by its green handle, she charged forward and caught him with a flying kick to the stomach.

As the man doubled over in pain, Dilan came charging up from behind in an attempt to take out the obviously high-ranking Legionnaire while his guard was down. Unfortunately, the hooded commander wouldn't be that easy to kill, as proven when he whirled around and blocked the former Nobody's lances with the flat edge of his scythe. As he did so, however, the recoil of the block dislodged the High Praetor's hood, sending it tumbling backwards, his pink hair visible for all to see. In a brief respite from his battle with Maleficent while Donald and Goofy kept the witch busy, Sora looked up at the man and felt a surge of recognition as he remembered where he'd met the man before. Castle Oblivion.

"Well, well, well," the former Whirlwind Lancer remarked without a hint of surprise in his voice. "It's been a long time, hasn't it, Marluxia?" Organization XIII's ex-Number eleven smirked in response, not even bothering to hide himself any longer now that the jig was up.

"I haven't gone by that name in a long time, Xaldin," the former Graceful Assassin retorted with a sneer before firing off a wave of energy that sent the Captain of the Radiant Garden Royal Guard sliding backwards along the walkway.

"Oh, I'm well aware of that, traitor," Dilan snapped. "Xemnas may have played us all for fools, but I'm willing to bet that you and Larxene have had ties with this Legion since the very beginning. That your becoming Nobodies was engineered so that you could plant spies in the Organization's ranks and destroy Xehanort's underlings from within."

"Guilty as charged," Aurilam replied smugly. "And the best part is that unlike you, I didn't need to have my Heart consumed by the corrupting filth of Darkness to become a Nobody." Dilan would have asked what that meant, but he knew that there was no way the Organization traitor would be expected to give a straight answer. So he simply lashed out with his lances and called them up into his usual wind shield. While Marlxuia – sorry, Aurilam recoiled from his scythe bouncing off the Aeroga barrier, Kairi went in with a few Firaga spells to keep the former Organization member off balance. While Aurilam was busy fighting Kairi, Dilan came in from behind and forced Aurilam into a corner.

Meanwhile, Sora was facing a bit of a conundrum. Vanitas had broken off from his duel with Loki (ostensibly because he was outmatched, but in reality so he could find a quiet corner from which to relay his informant's latest info-dump to Cassim), while Donald and Goofy had been sidetracked by the intervention of Demona. This left Sora to face Maleficent and Loki alone, and while he knew Maleficent's fighting style well enough (even if she had been training in hand-to-hand combat during her six years off the grid, she still mostly relied on her spell-work), Loki was a complete unknown. Sure, he was aware that the Asgardian prince was Vanitas' mole in the Hellfire Club, but he also knew that Loki needed to put up a decent fight with Coalition forces in order to maintain his position within the organization.

So the Keyblade Master dodged and deflected as the "Mistress of All Evil" and the "God of Lies" backed him into a corner. Sora was only able to get a reprieve when Riku came charging in to lighten his best friend's load, having slipped back to Radiant Garden via Vanitas-summoned Dark Corridor to drop off the package before coming back to help. The Battle of Knowhere continued to rage, even with the additional Coalition troops swarming in after clearing the Hellfire Club forces out of the spaceport. As the number of minions participating in the conflict rapidly dropped, the Club's leadership became more desperate, and the battle itself more chaotic. Friendly fire was happening all around, from hero and villain alike.

The battle clearly lost for them, the Hellfire Club began warping out with Corridors of Darkness, Maleficent, Malekith, and Loki staying behind to cover the retreat of everyone else. Then, as she dove into a corridor of Darkness, Demona inadvertently tripped Maleficent from behind with her tail. The green fairy went down hard on the metal floor, a glass cylinder coming loose from the belt under her robes as she fell. Sora sprinted forwards as the cube bounced off the ground and shattered, sending a small cube sailing through the air. The brunette Keyblade Master dove forward and caught it, oblivious to the consequences that only four in the room fully understood.

In an instant, Sora screamed at the top of his lungs in agony as pain lanced up his arm like fire as a beam of blue energy shot up from the cube in his hand towards the roof of the decaying head. But just before it hit the alien skull's ceiling, it spread outward like water pouring out form a waterfall, revealing what looked like a field of stars, nebulae, and black holes wreathed in electric blue fire. Just when the pain seemed to be dying down, Sora felt the distinct sense of weightlessness as he watched the world whoosh by as he was dragged up along the energy beam. The last thing he heard before consciousness left him was the sound of Kairi frantically screaming his name.

Chapter Text

Earth – New York City

September 24th, 2021

"I've got our lost sheep," came the familiar voice at the end of the phone as the Warden of the Legion received the phone call from her safe house in Manhattan. "Move in and eliminate all witnesses. Protocol 198.4" Warden Lerena nodded as she gestured to the rest of her hand-picked strike team that it was time to move. "Make sure there are no survivors."

"As if I ever leave them," the blonde-haired Legionnaire replied sarcastically. "Don't worry, Marluxia. The evidence will make it look like a robbery gone wrong. We'll have to sacrifice a few of our recent initiates so S.H.I.E.L.D. and the other authorities will buy the deception. Anyone who catches us in the act will be killed and added to the cover up. I've done missions like these a thousand times now."

"Just be careful, Larxene," High Praetor Aurilam remarked teasingly. "Since the invention of the security camera it's been getting harder and harder to manage cover-ups of this scale. Don't do anything too risky. Good luck." With that, the former Graceful Assassin hung up the phone leaving the Savage Nymph to prepare for her strike mission. Lerena smiled an insidious grin. As the Warden of the High Council, she fulfilled the role of a professional hit-man (or hit-woman in her case) for the Legion, doing the dirty work and handling assassinations and cover ups. After doing it for so long, she took a great deal of pleasure in her work. Today was a momentous occasion, but as far as she was concerned it was just another day at the office.

New York City – Longs' Apartment

September 24th, 2021

"Whew," Jake remarked at he landed on the balcony of his apartment. It was ten o'clock at night and he was looking forward to some long-awaited sleep. "That was exhausting. I'm just glad those Hobgoblins were in numbers just small enough for the three of us to deal with." Rose voiced her agreement as she climbed down off his back before he morphed back into human form. It had been a rough night. Jake's sister Haley had been overwhelmed during a skirmish with a group of Hobgoblins at the Magus Bazaar and called Jake for back-up. Needless to say, it had been several hours before he and Rose were able to head home. I guess it's back to the dream charms tonight, Jake thought as he and Rose walked into the apartment.

"I guess we're eating leftovers tonight," Rose commented longingly. Between her job as a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent and his job as a mythology teacher, they hadn't had a chance to have a real home-cooked meal in a week. They both loved their jobs, but sometimes the hours could be a bit tiring at times. Thankfully, Director Hill had given Rose leave for a few weeks, and he'd managed to earn some time off from his teaching job. So for the next two weeks, the Longs were looking forward to sleeping in all day, staying at home all day binge watching their favorite shows on Netflix, and maybe a little extra time in bed.

"I can go heat up dinner while you change out of your combat gear," Jake offered. While a dragon's scales were as hard as diamonds, humans weren't that durable. That was why Rose always went into supernatural battles like this in her own custom outfit. She wore a black leather jacket and gloves over her old Huntsclan uniform, which was lined with Kevlar and gave her better protection in a fight against magical creatures. That and her old Huntstaff.

"Sure," Rose replied as she gave her husband a quick kiss. "I'll get the dream charms ready while I'm at it." With that, she headed towards the bedroom. Jake smiled as he watched her go, thinking of how much she meant to him. He walked into the kitchen and promptly began digging around in the refrigerator to see what they had that they could eat for dinner. After rummaging through some week-old Chinese food, a half-eaten basket of Shwarma, and nearly a dozen unfinished pasta dishes, Jake finally withdrew from the fridge with a Tupperware container full of turkey from the last time they'd had the time to cook dinner. Satisfied with his find, he shoveled the meat out of the container and pulled out one of the less-full pasta dishes. He put a serving of both on each plate and put them in the microwave one at a time.

Meanwhile, Rose walked into the bedroom and moved to take their dream charms out of the night table on her side of the bed. She left one on the table and one on Jake's pillow, then want to put away her Huntstaff. As she opened the closet where she kept her combat gear, her eyes were drawn downward towards the small duffel bag lying on the ground next to the door. Rose sighed. She didn't want to be paranoid, but one of her old friends from her Huntsclan days had called her warning her that she needed to have a travel bag ready to go in case someone came after her. Despite her relationship with Jake and all the good she'd done for the magical community in the last fourteen years, she still had plenty of enemies in the supernatural world.

Her wish with the Aztec skulls to destroy the Huntsclan back in middle school had only ended up killing the adult members with the dragon birthmark. The younger members, who weren't born with the Mark of the Hunstclan and weren't experienced enough to be considered true members, had been spared. Apparently because of their age, not knowing any better, and not being considered full members by the rest of the clan meant that the magic of the Aztec skulls overlooked them. Once she'd regained her memories in Hong Kong, she and Jake had gone around finding everyone to see where they stood on the clan's destruction. A few of them were true believers in the clan's cause, and had gone on to become mercenaries who'd harassed the magical community before being caught and thrown in prison either in a major city or on Draco itself.

The rest however, had joined out of curiosity, peer pressure, or simply out of a desire to seem "cool", and had sworn off harming magical creatures, as she had done. A few even congratulated her on her relationship with Jake. Rose o her head to clear her thoughts and focus back on the present. She was just being paranoid. The bag would be helpful in case of emergencies, but she was confident that she and Jake could handle anyone who came after her. As long as they didn't get involved, they were fine. A flicker of light behind her attracted her attention, and she turned in time to see a wreath of blue fire spread across ceiling of the bedroom, framing a field of stars. Most would be in awe of the sight, but between her position as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, Jake's access to the supernatural community, and her past in the Huntsclan, she recognized the power of the Space Stone when she saw it.

Rose kept her stance and demeanor neutral, but inwardly prepared for a fight. She had no idea if whatever would come out of that portal would be friend or foe. Her eyes narrowed as two masses of blue light, people attempting to pass transport themselves across the universe by harnessing the energy of that cosmic cube descended out of the portal and into her room. One of them hit the ground in a burst of blue fire, setting the bed-sheets on fire, singing the carpet, and generally scorching just about everything in the room. Thankfully the furniture was replaceable and everything that held sentimental value to both her and her husband was either protected by something else or simply spared from the destruction. Rose herself barely brought up a Reflega spell in time.

The other figure, however, landed in a crouch with the grace of a cat. The light faded from the man's body without leaving a scratch on his environment, save for leaving a small patch of burnt fabric beneath the soles of his boots. All the marks of someone who had experience with the Tesseract's power and how to use it properly. While the brown robes were a new addition, her eyes widened in horror as she recognized the man's flamboyant pink scythe and lighter pink hair. Knowing that she had no chance of acting against the intruder's infamously fast reflexes, Rose did the only thing she had time to do before High Praetor Aurilam lurched forward and forced her mouth closed. She screamed.

"ROSE!" Jake shouted in panic as he heard his wife scream. Without even bothering to close the refrigerator, he sprinted for the bedroom. As he raced towards his wife, his mind cycled through all the things that could possibly make her react like that. She didn't have any fears of snakes, spiders, cockroaches, or anything like that. And if a magical creature or entity had dropped by his house, they would have come through the door. That left only one option: there was an intruder in their apartment. Jake's horror only increased when the screaming stopped before he'd even made it to the bedroom, and by the time he made it through the door, the bed was on fire and everything else was scorched, while Rose was nowhere to be seen. Lying at the foot of the bed, however, was a young man in his early twenties, wearing a black and red jacket with matching pants.

Jake was freaking out about Rose's disappearance, but reason quickly reasserted itself. One, the guy at the foot of the bed was unlikely to have anything to do with Rose's abduction (for that was what it obviously was), or the intruders wouldn't have left him behind. Two, even if the man was involved somehow, Jake wouldn't get any answers out of him while he was unconscious. So he moved his unexpected new house-guest and laid him on the couch in the living room before going back and extinguishing the flaming bed. Once the fires had been put out and the smoke detectors turned off, he went back into the living room and dug out some old sheets, lashing them to the couch to keep his guest contained in the event that his intentions were hostile. An hour later, the brunette stirred.

"Where am I?" he wondered aloud as he took in his surroundings.

"Manhattan," Jake answered bluntly as he walked around the couch. "Before I let you go, I have some questions for you." The young man, only about five years younger than Jake himself, looked at him in both confusion and curiosity, with a layer of caution and concern buried underneath. Clearly he knew as much of what was going on as Jake did, but the former American Dragon decided to ask some of the questions he wanted to ask anyway, just to be on the safe side. "An hour ago, my wife went into our bedroom to get changed. I hear her scream, and come running in to find you unconscious on the floor and the rest of the room on fire. Did you have anything to do with that?" The man looked contemplative for a moment, as if thinking through the last thing he remembered to see if he did indeed know anything about what was going on.

"Not that I know of," the guy answered. "The last thing I remember is grabbing this blue cube and being in excruciating pain. The cube opened up this portal on the roof of Knowhere, I start getting dragged up towards it, and the next thing I know, I wake up tied to your couch." Jake sat down on the kitchen chair he'd dragged in for the impromptu interrogation, thinking over what he'd been told. Because dragon senses were sharper than a human's, he could tell when someone was lying from their heart-rate and perspiration, and this young man didn't appear to be lying. With an exhausted sigh, he stood up and untied the makeshift ropes, releasing his guest.

"I still have questions," he explained tensely. "But since you're not a threat, how about we continue this discussion over some food." As much as he was panicking about Rose's disappearance, Jake knew that the guy who'd been left behind in her place was probably hungry if the sound of his growling stomach was any indication.

"Thanks," the young man replied cheerfully, putting on a brave face despite his worries. "My name's Sora."

Chapter Text

New York City – The Longs' Apartment

September 24th, 2021

For a few minutes, the two young men simply ate their meal in tense, awkward silence. Both were burning with questions but too nervous and shaken by recent events to work up the courage to actually say anything.

"So," Jake began nervously, hoping to break the ice. "Where exactly is Knowhere?"

"In relation to home, it was a few hours at warp speed past the edge of Coalition space," Sora answered, cheering up a bit as he did. "In relation to this world… I have no idea." He slumped back in his chair. "The cube thing was supposed to be some kind of powerful artifact called an Infinity Stone, but I have no idea where home is in relation to Earth." Jake's eyebrow quirked up in confusion. He was skeptical of the idea of humans living out in space, but he'd heard enough Huntsclan secrets from his wife to have a few theories as to how that was possible. Then something Sora said popped out in his mind.

"Wait," the former American Dragon interjected. "Did you just say Infinity Stone?"

"Yeah," the Keyblade Master answered. "They're supposed to be immensely powerful magical artifacts…"

"That together with the other five grant the use god-like power," Jake finished. "I've heard of them. Myths and legends about them are scarce even here on Earth, but my wife has a few secret sources for information that the general public has forgotten about. Even the magical community doesn't remember the Stones." While the supernatural forces of Earth strictly enforced their secrecy, Jake felt that since Sora a) wasn't from Earth, and b) knew about magic if his comments about the Infinity Stones were any indication, it was safe to discuss Earth's magical population with his guest as long as Sora agreed to keep the secret.

"Magical community?" Sora inquired with a puzzled look on his face. Jake went on to explain how the supernatural creatures of Earth like centaurs, fairies, etc., had gone into hiding to avoid persecution. He explained how the magical community relied on shapeshifting, misdirection, and memory potions to maintain their secrecy. He even shapeshifted into his dragon form to demonstrate that he was being serious. Not that he really needed to. As his guest later explained, Sora had already seen several different varieties of magic and already believed his host. In retrospect, Jake felt that he just wanted a chance to show off. The moment was ruined, however, when Sora said that Jake's draconic form reminded him of a dragon he knew named Mushu who was about the size of a small serpent.

That broke the tension and kicked off a round of teasing banter that went on for several more minutes. Both young men laughed uproariously as they traded verbal jabs about magic and combat experience. As the laughter died down, the conversation turned to more serious matters. Sora proposed the idea that Rose may have been sucked up into the Tesseract's portal and ended up back on Knowhere. If that was the case, then there were three possibilities as to her fate. She could escape the mining colony alongside the rest of the Coalition army, in which case she had nothing to worry about. She might be captured by the Hellfire Club and either forced to serve them or held hostage to see if they could ransom her. Or she may have ended up in the clutches of the Legion, and nobody knew what could happen to her.

Sora had no idea how to get home, and he was basically stranded on Earth for the forseeable future. Jake sympathized with the younger man's separation from his fiancé, and promised to check with his contacts in the magical community to see if he could get any leads. He refrained from mentioning Asgard for the time being because he was unsure of how to explain the whole "Nine realms" deal to someone who was already used to space travel. So he decided to table that discussion for a later date and see if he could discreetly pop by the Avengers compound upstate to visit Thor and ask for his help in finding Rose and getting Sora home. Their conversation was derailed when the phone began to ring at 1:00 in the morning. Jake looked at the caller ID, and, realizing that the caller in question would only call at this hour if it was an emergency, hesitantly answered the phone.

"You need to get out of there, now!" a woman's voice snapped as the call connected. "They're coming for you, Jake. If you want to find Rose you need to stay alive. Now go!" Jake didn't bother to ask how the woman calling him knew about Rose's abduction. She had her sources and doubtlessly would have known within minutes of the event occurring. He hung up the phone and told Sora that they had to go before running into the bedroom to grab the travel bag Rose had left in the closet. He promised to explain what was happening on the way before ushering his house guest over to the window. The duo quickly clambered out onto the fire escape, where Jake shifted into dragon form and took off into the sky with Sora on his back.

Five minutes later

"Damn dragons," Lerena spat with disgust as she surveyed the empty apartment. "That animal got away." The Legion had been close allies with the Huntsclan since the latter's inception, and most Legionnaires shared the hunters' views towards magical creatures. If only the clan hadn't been wiped out by the Aztec Skulls back in 2007. It would have been good to have more soldiers on their side. Fuming, she stormed out of the apartment while the rest of her strike team searched the place for any indication of where their prey had gone. In anger, she slammed the door behind her as she stepped out into the hallway to think about her next course of action. Unfortunately, the act of slamming the door shut attracted the attention of the Longs' neighbor across the hall.

"No need to be knock so violently, young lady," the middle-aged man commented. Mr. Roberts had served in the air force for years before retiring, and had made firm friends with the young couple when they moved in across the hall. He was also one of the few people outside Jake and Rose's immediate family and friends to know about the supernatural world, having encountered several griffins and dragons while flying during his years of service. "Mr. and Mrs. Long don't have a consistent time frame for their shifts at work, so they may not be getting home for at least another hour. I can tell them you stopped by if you like." Lerena's eyes narrowed as she readjusted her calculations to account for the fact that the man had seen her face.

Before the old pilot could do or say anything, the former Number twelve of Organization XIII charged across the hall and drove her hand into his chest. She yanked back holding a small glowing pink heart in her gloved hands. It wasn't the physical organ that pumped his blood, but the source of his emotions, his memories, his life force. One of the things the Legion had discovered since its inception was that there was more than one way for someone to lose their heart. This was how she and Aurilam had become Larxene and Marluxia after all. But she wasn't interested in creating more Nobodies.

With a sadistic grin she squeezed the man's heart, chuckling softly as he doubled over in pain, clutching his chest. But no amount of mortal medicine could save him now. Her smile widened as the pressure of her hands ground the small pink heart down into fine, charred powder, and the old man tumbled to the floor while the light faded form his eyes. He was dead. Acting quickly, Lerena marched back into the other apartment and informed the rest of her unit of the change in plans. The Longs' place would be left untouched, making it look like they'd simply gone out on a long break. Meanwhile, they'd ransack the old geezer's apartment and put a few bullet holes in him to make it look like a robbery gone wrong. It was simple really. All they had to do now was plant the evidence.

Earth – Albany, New York

September 25th, 2021

Jake couldn't help but chuckle as Sora looked around the restaurant examining his first interaction with Earth society with all the energy of a curious puppy. While an IHOP just outside of Albany wouldn't have been his first choice for showing a Keyblade Wielder the sights of Earth, but Sora appeared to enjoy just taking it all in. Legends of the Keyblade were rare in the magical community, but Jake knew enough to believe his guest when the brunette claimed he was a Keyblade Master. The fact that he summoned his blade as proof had simply been a formality to prove it. They'd spent the night at a safe house Rose had set up in Albany for emergencies, and IHOPwas the only breakfast joint in walking distance of the safe house.

"So," Sora began as he looked over the menu. "What do you think is good here?"

"This place is pure corn syrup and combo heaven," Jake commented. "I've never left the place without feeling disgusted with myself."

"Gee," Sora retorted jokingly. "Well with that ringing endorsement I'm not sure if I've lost my appetite or not."

"Well I haven't," Jake fired back with a laugh. "I'm hungry, I'm tried, I'm worried about my wife, you look like crap, and it's a fifteen minute drive to the nearest car rental agency. I want to stop real quick and eat my emotions."

"Fair enough," Sora replied with a laugh of his own. So the dragon and the Keyblade Master both discussed the menu items that were least likely to leave them feeling like fat sloths afterwards before placing their order. While Sora would have offered to pay for the meal, Earth didn't operate on the same currency as the Daybreak Coalition, so all his Munny was worthless here. He might as well have been broke as far as his situation was concerned. Fortunately, Jake had some ideas for how to get him home. The first plan was to visit this "Avengers" group that had a base nearby. Apparently their scientists were good at figuring out things like this. The other option was Asgard. Apparently, Earth wasn't entirely cut off from other worlds.

Sora still didn't quite grasp what made the Nine Realms different from any other world in the universe, but he at least understood that they had a method of travel that could get him wherever he wanted to go in a matter of minutes. The only drawback was that there was a possibility that Heimdall, the gatekeeper of Asgard who could supposedly see everywhere, might be limited to just the nine realms. Sora was skeptical either solution would work, but it wouldn't hurt to try. While Asgard was designated as Plan B, the young Keyblade Master was excited to meet the Avengers. He was hesitant to reveal the fact that he was from another world to complete strangers, but he was thrilled to be meeting an actual superhero team!

Sure, the Coalition had Big Hero 6 in San Fransokyo, but they still mostly focused on crises on their home world. They still went out and helped people whenever they could, but the transit times between worlds in Coalition space meant that travelling to help out on other worlds was more time-consuming and as a result happened less often than in San Fransokyo, especially since the advent of the Coalition Army lead to increased patrols to stamp out crime in other worlds and protect people from the Heartless. The Avengers, though, operated on a truly international level, flying all over the planet in pursuit of the forces of evil. As the waitress delivered their pancakes, Sora couldn't help but feel a rush of anticipation. Whether they could actually help him get home or not, meeting the Avengers was going to be awesome.

The Lanes Between – U.W.S. Vulpeus

September 25th, 2021

As she was lead back to her prison cell, Rose Long was making plans. The Legion had never seen fit to prevent her from knowing the ship's layout as they lead her to her interrogation and "court martial," and as a consequence of their overconfidence, she had a detailed map of the spaceship locked in the back of her mind. The Legion had been the Huntsclan's primary financial backer and technology supplier, so she knew the basic layout of every one of their interstellar craft. All she had to do now was wait for the right opportunity to escape. And when they reached the elevators, she did exactly that. She waited until the doors had fully closed but before her guards could press the button for the ship's brig. Then she struck.

In the blink of an eye she lashed out and kicked the man on her left in the knee. As he slammed against the wall of the elevator car crying out in pain, she jumped up and contorted her legs through the handcuffs so that her arms were in front of her instead of pinned behind her back. From there, she quickly wrapped the other guard in a choke hold until they slipped into unconsciousness. With one guard out, she incapacitated the injured one with a swift double-handed punch to the face before leaning over and pressing the button for the ship's top deck. It was a risky gamble, she reminded herself as she pick-pocketed the guards for the keys to her handcuffs. But everything worth doing was.

When the elevator doors slid open on the ship's highest level, she sprinted forward with a Reflega barrier in front of her to deflect the spells being fired at her from the platoon of Legionnaires summoned to block her escape the minute she dispatched her escort. She did a flying somersault over the heads of the blockade of soldiers before taking off at a run towards the ship's bridge. As more guards came pouring out of the entrance to the warship's command center, she took a hard left and veered towards the escape pods. She dove into the nearest open pod and slammed on the "Launch" button before any of her pursuers could climb in after her.

The escape pod shuddered violently as it raced way from the ship. Rose quickly strapped herself into the pilot's seat while the pod rocked with the impact of cannon fire from the ship behind her. She poured on the accelerator to get her craft moving faster until she was well out of the larger ship's firing range. When she noticed the radar beeping in alarm to warn of incoming Starfighters, she checked the pod's star charts for the nearest space-faring civilization and plotted a course for Montressor before engaging the escape pod's warp drive with the push of a button. Rose slumped back in her chair with relief as the stars stretched out into streaks of red, orange, blue, white, and yellow outside. She did it. Now she just needed to find a way to get back to Earth.

Chapter Text

Earth – New Avengers Compound; Living Room

September 25th, 2021

"Any idea what this is all about?" Steve asked as he and the rest of the Avengers, both current and retired, were gathered in the common room of Avengers HQ. Thor had called an unofficial team meeting and requested that everyone be there. All the Asgardian would say about the subject of the meeting was that he had an announcement to make. True to form, Tony Stark had already started up a betting pool on the topic. The leading bet was that his wife Jane was finally pregnant. But because of the secrecy, Steve had a completely different theory on what he was. And besides, he wasn't a betting man.

"Nobody knows." And speak of the devil, Iron Man himself sauntered over and plopped himself down in his favorite chair, Pepper Stark joining him in her own seat by his side. "All Point Break said was that he had something important to tell us and he wanted the whole team to be there so he won't have to explain this once. A hundred bucks says Jane's pregnant." If Steve were a betting man, he'd say the odds were favorable that Tony was right, but something in his gut told him that there was something else going on. Not that he wouldn't be happy if Jane and Thor were having a baby. His instincts were simply telling him something different. At last, the rest of the Avengers trickled in and sat according to their own personal preferences.

For all the good they'd done in the last few years, the team's growth had been in relatively small increments. Bucky, Wanda, and Pietro had joined after the battle in Sokovia back in 2015. Former thief Scott Land joined three months after that, and Prince T'Challa of Wakanda signed up a year later. And then in 2017, they were joined by an illegal genetic experiment from outer space who'd been living in Hawaii since 2002. Hope Pym was recruited the following year under the moniker of "The Wasp," leading to the current Avengers roster arrayed before him. Each member of the team had been visiting the compound (along with their significant others in some cases) for the day and were all on hand for Thor's meeting.

Tony and Pepper were naturally seated together. Steve sat opposite them, Sam and Stitch seated on his left hand side, with Bucky and Natasha on his right. Bruce, Betty, T'Challa, and Rhodey sat next to Tony, with Kim and Ron seated in the middle of the lopsided circle opposite Hope and Scott. Wanda sat between Kim and Stitch, while Pietro was couched between Hope and Natasha. Jane sat wedged between T'Challa and Scott opposite the vacant seat usually claimed by Sora. After a few more minutes of waiting, the god of thunder himself walked into the room trailed by two people most of the team had never seen before. One was an Asian-american man with black hair streaked with green, who Clint, T'Challa, and Natasha recognized as Jake Long, husband of S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Rose Long.

The other, however, was a complete and utter mystery to just about everyone. The man's short brown hair spiked out in every direction. His outfit consisted of a black t-shirt with a short-sleeved black and red jacket draped over it, the hood fluttering behind him in the morning breeze coming through the open window. He wore baggy black pants that went down to his ankles and a layer of what looked like armor wrapped around the side of his legs. Red and grey gloves went up to his elbows, while his feet were covered by black and yellow shoes that looked like a cross between a sneaker and a boot. None of the Avengers could ever say that they'd seen him before. All except for one, that is.

"SORA!" Stitch cried as the little blue alien bolted out of his seat and tackled the brunette to the floor, licking him like a dog as his way of a greeting. Everyone else present wore confused looks on their faces at the fact that Stitch apparently knew who this man was. But before either Tony or Steve could ask who this guy was, Thor put his hand up.

"My friends," the prince of Asgard began. "I understand that you all have questions about who our guests are and why Stitch knows them. I cannot answer the latter, but I have a story to tell you all by way of explanation for the former." Once he had everyone's attention, the warrior prince continued. "Eons ago, at the very beginning of Earth's history, mankind lived in peace. In those days, people believed that an unseen land known as Kingdom Hearts was the source of all Light in the world. I am not referring to light as in sunlight, but as the universal force of peace, order, and creation. Kingdom Hearts was said to be protected by a mystical weapon known as the X – Blade, a sword of phenomenal power, greater than anything in the nine realms can ever hope to match."

"But like beings everywhere," Thor went on. "Humankind began to get greedy. Different factions began coveting the light of Kingdom Hearts for themselves. Over time, war broke out between those who sought to defend the light from those who would misuse it, those who actively cultivated the Light's opposite, Darkness, those who sought to end the conflict and achieve a peaceful solution, and those who desired power for its own sake. The conflict came to be known as the Keyblade War, for those who fought in the battles did so wielding man-made facsimiles of the legendary weapon. The war was long and bloody, and eventually, it tore the planet apart, sending fragments of the world hurtling off into space."

"But the light in the hearts of seven maidens who would become known as the Princesses of Heart allowed mankind to survive on the scattered fragments of the planet, of which Midgard is merely the largest. The surviving warriors, as a means of atonement for their actions, turned their Keyblades towards defending the fragments." Thor finished the tale and gave the rest of his teammates time to process the truly massive info-dump he'd just dropped in their laps. Most of the team had looks of awe and curiosity on their faces. Clint and Natasha kept their faces carefully neutral. Steve and Bucky appeared like they were stoically attempting to take everything in. Only Stitch displayed an expression that wasn't analytical or shocked.

"Heimdal cannot see the fragments of Earth that have drifted beyond the nine realms," the alien prince explained. "But he can sense the actions and locations of Keyblade Masters across the galaxy." At this point, the brunette stepped formward. "The reason I called this meeting is because a young Key Bearer named Sora was stranded on Earth last night. I wished to bring him under the protection of the Avengers before HYDRA or any other nefarious groups learned of his presence on Earth." For a moment, everybody sat and stood in silence as they grappled with the ultimate question of whether to accept someone they'd never met.

While it would be the right thing to do, they only had Thor's word that Keyblade Wielders were guardians. Every group had its bad apple, and for all they knew, this guy could be one of them. On the other hand, Stitch clearly knew him and liked him. While Stitch was as bad as Tony when it came to behavior towards the rest of the team, the little blue alien was still a good judge of character. So one by one, they each cast their vote. Tony, Rhodey, Sam, Clint, Kim, Hope, and Pietro all voiced their concerns, but ultimately went along with the majority decision to let Sora stay with them at the compound.

With that decision made, Stitch skittered over to the kitchen and dragged over an extra chair so that Sora could sit down while Thor introduced the rest of the group to Jake Long and explained the abduction of the man's wife by the same faction that orchestrated the attack on Asgard. Once the meeting had concluded, everyone split off to do their own thing. Pepper and Hope stepped out for Stark Industries and Pym Tech conference calls respectively. T'Challa, Bucky, and Natasha went to speak to Jake about figuring out what happened to Rose. Clint, Sam, Rhodey, and Scott walked over to the bar, in need of a strong drink after everything that Thor had just told them. Pietro, Wanda, Betty, and Bruce just decided to deal with the impending mental freak outs later and went to grab something for dinner.

Meanwhile, Tony, Jane, Stitch, Kim, and Ron crowded around the brunette Keyblade Master asking him about the lore and mechanics of the Keyblade. While Sora wasn't sure how much to tell everyone right off the bat, he decided to start with the basics to satisfy everyone for now. Everyone had agreed to let him settle in before they asked him to spill his whole life story, so he stuck with things like the Keyblade's powers, the existence of the Daybreak Coalition, and what little he knew about the lore of Kingdom Hearts. Steve sat alone in the now empty circle of chairs, looking like he wanted to ask Sora a question or two he didn't want to talk about in front of the other Avengers.

Sora was relieved to see Stitch there at the Avengers' headquarters, glad to have another friend so that he and Jake didn't have to deal with everything on his own. Sora's natural charisma and optimism proved to be infectious, if the rest of the team's rapidly warming attitudes towards him were any indication. Sure, almost of half of them still seemed suspicious of him, but that was understandable. Nevertheless, everyone was quickly coming around, and nobody on the team, not even those who still didn't trust him, could honestly say that they disliked him. And so later that night, the twenty-three year old Keyblade Master went to bed feeling slightly better about his situation. His heart still ached to get back to Kairi, but now he had a stable place to stay and more people willing to help him find his way home.

The Land of Departure – Forecourt

September 25th, 2021

"I'm glad you're okay," Ventus greeted as he wrapped his girlfriend in a tight hug once she stepped off the Gummi Ship. "I've missed you." Yuffie responded by planting a long, romantic kiss right on his lips.

"I missed you too, Ven," she replied with a smile. She'd been assigned to gather intelligence leading up to the Battle of Knowhere, and had only gotten three days off for her trouble. She'd spent the first day in Radiant Garden with her friends from the Restoration Committee, and the second day was spent aboard a commercial Gummi Ship here. "Did you…"

"Buy you coffee?" The blonde Keyblade Master finished as he pulled a steam-emitting paper cup from the bag at his feet. "Why yes I did." It had been a running joke between them even before they'd started dating. Since their educations had been stalled by his coma and The Fall, respectively, they'd both been enrolled (largely at the behest of Leon and Aqua, who insisted on the two of them getting a proper education) in the Radiant Garden Academy once the building had been restored. Yuffie grew so bored of the routine on the first day that she had taken to falling asleep in class. One day, she talked Ventus into buying her coffee. Some sarcastic banter, a few more months of coffee later, and the rest was history. Yuffie squealed in delight as she reached down to pick up the coffee, only for the blonde Keyblade Master to pull it back at the last second.

"What are you supposed to say?" he asked sarcastically.

"Caffeine me up, pretty boy," she retorted teasingly before reaching over and snatching the steaming hot cup right out of her boyfriend's hand. "I thought you learned by now never to keep me from my coffee, Ven."

"Must have slipped my mind," Ventus joked back in a tone that clearly suggested that it hadn't. "Although I will say that you without caffeine doesn't even compare to Terra's cooking."

"So I've heard," Yuffie laughed as they sat on the low stone wall that ringed the courtyard of the Land of Departure's castle, headquarters of the Order of the Keyblade. The past six years, while far from perfect, had practically been a golden age compared to the chaos of The Xehanort War. But now, with the resurgence of the Hellfire Club and the emergence of the Legion, Ven thought that it was time that he and the others went out and finally started training apprentices. While he and the others expected to live for years longer, Ventus felt that it was better to start selecting their apprentices now so that if one or more of them were killed in action in the wars to come, the survivors could begin training the next generation of Keyblade Wielders.

But right now, he was simply content to enjoy spending time with his girlfriend on her last day off from her career as a C.I.N. agent before she was sent out to scout for Hellfire Club activity or possible leads on the origins and location of the Legion. So once Yuffie finished her coffee, they walked up to the old training ground on the mountaintop. They'd both spend some time on the practice targets for fun later tonight as a little competition, but for the time being, they were simply content to just sit back and watch the sunset together.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Kairi's Bedroom

September 26th, 2021

The silence of Kairi's room was broken only by the soft rustle of a balled up wad of tissues sailing through the air as Kairi tossed it towards the trash can on the other side of the room. Tears rolled down her cheeks like waterfalls and damped the sheets beneath her as the princess of Radiant Garden laid back sobbing on her bed. It had been two days since the Battle of Knowhere, and there had been no sign of Sora anywhere in Coalition space. If she didn't have confirmation from Vanitas that the cube he'd grabbed only teleported him instead of killing him, she'd have believed her fiancé was dead.

As it was, she had no idea where he was, everyone's focus was directed at the war against the Hellfire Club and the investigation into the stupid Legion, and nobody had the slightest clue how she was supposed to find the love of her life and bring him home. The first day after the battle, she'd gone on the warpath in a panicked frenzy. When she realized that there was absolutely nothing she could do to track Sora down, she became inconsolable with grief. How was she supposed to find him if she had no idea where to start looking? It wasn't like she could get energy readings from Knowhere to search for similar energy signatures from the cube elsewhere in the universe. Malekith had seen to that.

After Sora disappeared, the scales began tipping in the Coalition's favor. Vanitas was able to contain the Cube and spirit it away back to Radiant Garden, where it now rested in the Chamber of Repose deep beneath her uncle's old laboratory. Vanitas' informant warned that it was suicidally dangerous to keep the two Infinity Stones too close together, so Vanitas hid the Mind Stone in a locked box in the castle of the Land of Departure. When Maleficent realized that the battle was clearly lost, Maleficent executed the Collector to keep him from providing Coalition Intelligence with any useful information. And then Malekith used one of those Black Hole grenades to make the mining colony implode in on itself, killing all who lived upon it. Coalition Forces barely made it out in time before the entire decaying alien skull was condensed into a tiny wormhole.

A knock at the door distracted her from her moping, and the door opened to reveal a face nearly identical to her own, only framed by blonde hair instead of red. Without any prompting or greeting, Namine slid onto the bed and gave Kairi a comforting hug.

"We'll find him, Kairi," her Nobody greeted reassuringly. "Don't worry."

"Hard not to when nobody really knows where to start looking," the princess of Radiant Garden retorted sarcastically. "And between everything going on with the Hellfire Club and the Legion nobody even has the time to really look for any clues."

"I know, I know," Namine replied. "But what would Sora do if he was in your place?"

"He'd spend a few hours beating himself up over not being able to protect me," Kairi answered with a chuckle. "Then he'd pick himself up and track me down to the ends of the universe and damn anyone who got in his way."

"Exactly," her Nobody answered. "It's been two days, Kairi. It's time for you to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start hunting." This managed to cheer the princess of Heart up considerably. She wiped the tears from her face as she stood up from the bed. The sorrow in her eyes was gone now, replaced by ironclad resolve.

"Thanks Namine," she said as she gave her "twin" a hug. "I needed that. And you did just give me an idea for starting my search."

"How?" The blonde artist asked. "What are you going to do?" Kairi answered with a grin that promised intense pain on anyone who tried to stop her in her quest to find her fiancé and bring him home.

"I'm going to get Vanitas to arrange a meeting with his informant."

Arendelle – Spaceport

September 26th, 2021

"I wish you didn't have to go," Elsa said as she gave her fiancé one last hug. The date for their wedding was only a month away, and now he had been called out to face a situation that he might not come back from. They stood together at the security checkpoint of Arendelle's Spaceport, saying their goodbyes before the former Flurry of Dancing Flames went off to war. Elsa would have gone with him were it not for the fact that her duties as queen meant that she needed to stay and protect her people in the event the Hellfire Club or the Legion attacked Arendelle.

"I do too," Lea replied forlornly. "But I have to. With Sora M.I.A., Team Keyblade needs all hands on deck." With one of their most powerful Keyblade Masters out of commission, every Keyblade Wielder in the order (all ten of them, excluding Sora) was called out of retirement and into active duty to help defend the known worlds against the threat of the Hellfire Club, and help solve the mystery of the Legion, as well as how exactly Marluxia, of all people, had come to be a leader of this group. It was going to be dangerous, but it was obvious to everybody that it needed to be done.

"Just promise me you'll stay safe," she demanded as she stood on her toes to give him a kiss. "Just promise me you'll come home." Lea was acutely aware that the room was growing colder with his fiancé's every word. He thought he even spotted chunks of frost forming on the windows. Elsa' control over her powers had improved dramatically over the past six years, but her control tended to slip when she was stressed or emotional. Like right now, when he was about to head off to war, for crying out loud! He sight.

"I can't make any guarantees," he admitted sadly. "But I promise I'll do everything I can to stay alive and make it back in time for the wedding." With that, he gave his fiancé one last hug and kiss before he got in line to go through security and into the concourse. He hadn't mastered turning his Keyblade into a Glider form yet, so he was taking a passenger Gummi Liner to the Land of Departure. The Gummi Ship that would drop him off at Terra, Aqua, and Ven's castle was coming in from Twilight Town, so Roxas and Xion had arranged to meet him at the docking bay while the ship was cleaned and refueled in between flights. Sure enough, he arrived at Docking Bay 13 to find the duo sitting on a bench near the boarding ramp with a pizza balanced between them.

Lea smiled as he walked up his surrogate siblings/kids and plopped himself down on the seat next to them, helping himself to a slice of pizza. Roxas and Xion laughed as they teased him about need to ask before he started mooching their food from them. It felt like old times sitting here. As they sat in the spaceport waiting to board their flight, Lea couldn't help but think about how much he missed hanging out with them. After they'd graduated from high school in Twilight Town, he'd gotten a job in Arendelle so he could be closer to his girlfriend. But at the same time, he felt nostalgia as he thought back to all those nights cooking dinner for the three of them, helping Roxas and Xion with their homework, giving them advice on everything from school to dating.

Lea was old enough to be their older brothers, but that didn't mean he was blind to the fact that he was the closest thing they'd ever had to parents. And over time, he'd come think of them like they were his kids as well. They were all still best friends first and foremost, but after everything they'd been through in the Organization, they'd become more than that. They'd become a family. A bizarre and dysfunctional one, but a family nonetheless. What Lea felt was Roxas' and Xion's best quality was that after everything that had happened to them, they still had a degree of childlike innocence in them. He just hoped that they would be able to come out of the coming battles with that innocence intact. Lea may not have been a very superstitious man, but it was obvious to anybody that dark clouds were on the horizon. A storm was coming.

Earth – New Avengers Compound; Roof:

September 26th, 2021

Tony Stark was awake in the early hours of the morning for one reason or another. Whether it was staying up obscenely late for a project or simply having too much caffeine during one of his creative bursts earlier in the week, there was always something to give the billionaire to wander the hallways of Avengers HQ at 2 o' clock in the morning. But tonight was one of those rare nights where it wasn't his creative juices keeping him up. He'd simply woken up in his and Pepper's room in the middle of the night and just didn't feel like going back to bed just yet. So with nothing better to do for fear of having the angry yells of his irately awoken teammates directed at him, he went up to the roof to look at the stars.

He was surprised to find that he wasn't alone up on the roof. The new kid, Sora, the dude who was supposedly this great mystical "Keyblade-wielding" warrior from a chain of masters and apprentices going back to the dawn of human civilization. He was still having trouble wrapping his head around that whole story, and the brunette's answers to his questions last night only added to the genius' confusion. So when he noticed the guy leaning against the railing running around the perimeter of the building, his first instinct was to stay silent and observe. He was still cautious about how genuine this guy really was. So hopefully a rare chance to see how he acted when he thought nobody was looking might help ease those concerns.

As he watched and listened, Tony noticed that the younger man was holding what looked like a pendant made of seashells in his hand. Then he noticed that the railing and concrete beneath Sora's chin looked wet. Tony's suspicion of the kid (despite the fact that he was in his early twenties, Tony still referred to him as kid since he was the youngest one in the building besides Stitch) evaporated almost instantly as he realized what was going on. Poor guy, Tony thought to himself. Here we are worried about security when the kid's just had his whole world turned upside down.

"You miss her, don't you?" Tony commented as he walked over and put a hand on the younger man's shoulder. Sora glanced at Tony with a look that clearly indicated that he was questioning how the billionaire industrialist figured it out. Stark simply responded with a meaningful look of his own that said that it was obvious. "I know how that feels. There was this one time eight years ago where I was fighting this terrorist, called himself the Mandarin. Technically he wasn't who he said he was but that's not important. Anyway, his goons blew up my house and I managed to get Pepper out of the house before it collapsed on top of me. Thankfully, my armor saved my life, but at that point it was pretty much on autopilot. The suit flew me halfway across the country until it ran out of power, and at that point, I had no way of contacting her."

"What I'm trying to say," the "Genius Billionaire Philanthropist" went on. "Is that even if half a country doesn't compare to half the galaxy, I understand how you're feeling right now." That managed to cheer the Avengers' young guest up, and the young man thanked Tony for his surprisingly kind and insightful words.

"Don't mention it, kid," Tony replied. "You'll learn pretty quickly that meaningful and insightful comments from me are about as rare as a four-leaf clover." That managed to get a laugh out of the Keyblade Master, breaking the ice and lightening the mood. After a few minutes of stargazing in which Sora commented on how different the constellations were from his home, Tony started pointing out Earth's constellations, and Sora ended up explaining how most stars represented a world's heart, the conversation turned to the Key Bearer's love life. To his credit, Tony refrained from his usual brand of sarcastic humor as Sora showed him the thalasa shell good luck charm his fiancé had given him years ago, and talked about how it had always symbolized the promise to always find each other no matter what happened.

Tony honestly thought it was a bit cheesy, but he honestly felt that the team could use a little cheese form time to time. Besides, he could tell that Sora really cared about his future wife, and out of respect for the kid's situation, he withheld from joking about the guy's past. They continued to talk about relationships and other similar topics well into the early morning hours, and by the time the sun rose, the rest of the Avengers walked into the living room that morning to find Iron Man and the Keyblade Master passed out on the couches.

Chapter Text

The Kiln – Conference Room

September 26th, 2021

Much more serious circumstances than the last time we met in this room, Loki remarked to himself as he surveyed the faces of the other members of Maleficent's inner circle for signs of a reaction. It was extremely unlikely that any of them would ever allow their thoughts on the loss of not one but two Infinity Stones in the Battle of Knowhere to show so plainly on their faces, but even the most microscopic crack in a single mask could provide him with vital information to help unbalance the Hellfire Club. After their defeat at Knowhere, Maleficent had kept the Kiln on lockdown while she vented her frustration and pondered their next move.

Although the inner circle were all nominally on equal footing with each other, Loki was well aware that in practice it was Maleficent's empire to command as she saw fit, and the rest of them were merely her advisors and subordinates. Although that may not be the case much longer, he mused as he turned to regard one of the never additions to the Club. It was obvious to everyone that Malekith had his own agenda that was incompatible with Maleficents, and anyone with more than half a brain knew that each was preparing their own gambits to have the other eliminated. It was sad, really. According to Hades, in the final days of the conflict between the fledgling Coalition and Xehanort's Organization, the Hellfire Club operated like a well-oiled machine.

But now, the once feared cabal of the wicked and the power hungry had been split down the middle. Battle lines were being drawn, and it was obvious to everyone currently living in what used to be an interstellar prison who had chosen which side. Hades, Cruella, Hamsterviel, and Hook remained loyal to Maleficent, while Demona and Seymour sided with Malekith. Nebula only worked for the highest bidder, and Sephiroth's offspring had no loyalty towards anyone save each other. If Malekith's actions in San Fransokyo and Agrabah were any indication, the Hellfire Club was on the brink of tearing itself apart. All it needed was someone to press the right buttons at exactly the right moments and the two sides would tear into each other like a pack of starving wolves.

"We need to alter our tactics," Maleficent began, snapping the prince of Asgard out of his thoughts. "We have lost not merely the Infinity Stone we hoped to claim, but the one we already possessed as well. With the armies provided to us by HYDRA, Dr. Hamsterviel, and the Dark Elves, I believe the time for discretion and hiding has passed. It's time to step out of the shadows and take what is rightfully ours by force! No more scurrying about in the background like rats through a wall. It's time to start building our empire on the blood and bones of our vanquished foes. We will not simply wait to steal the Stones back at a moment when our enemy's guards are down. Instead, we will lower their guard ourselves. We will invade Radiant Garden, take back the Tesseract, raze their precious city and take the castle as the seat of our new empire!"

Amidst the cheering and discussion of the logistics of the coming invasion, the gears of Loki's mind whirled. He needed to get a message to his contact in Coalition Intelligence somehow and warn him that this attack was coming. He may not be able to totally prevent the loss of life the battle was sure to incur, but he could at least lower the casualties. All he had to do was figure out a way to keep Malekith's armada away from Radiant Garden or else it would be a slaughter. When the meeting concluded, Maleficent called out to him before he could leave the room.

"I have a different task for you, Loki," she told him. "Malekith would sooner destroy the entire world rather than leave the castle intact for us to rule. To that end, he'll be your chauffeur for the assignment. I know this may be hard for you, but I need you to return to the remnants of Thanos' lair and gauge whether the remains of the Chitauri can be added to our armies. Aand while you are there, I want you to set up a base for us there. While I wish to retake the Hollow Bastion as my throne, I'm also a pragmatist. I'm well aware that there is a possibility of failure, and should this invasion fail, the pathetic Coalition will trace our movements back here. So I'm sending you off to scout out a potential fall back point in the event that the Kiln is attacked. Do you understand?"

"Perfectly, old friend," Loki answered. He bowed to the self-proclaimed "Empress of Darkness" and returned to his quarters. Although outwardly stoic and calm, inside, he was fighting to keep his relief from showing on his face. This was better than he could have hoped. While he was uncomfortable about facing the Chitauri again, keeping the Nathalis and the rest of the Dark Elf fleet away from Radiant Garden would be well worth the wait. A pity that half the Dark Elves were being sent to Earth to help HYDRA test the world's defenses, but he was confident that his brother and the armies of Asgard would be more than capable of handling them on the home turf.

The Lanes Between – U.W.S. Anguis

September 26th, 2021

The Command cabins aboard the Anguis, High Praetor Aurilam reflected, were hardly the worst place he'd ever slept. While not as glamorous as the Legion's flagship, the Ava, the Anguis was still one of the most powerful and well-equipped vessel in the Legion's navy, second only to the Vulpeus. It's Spartan living quarters were reminiscent of the private bedrooms in the Castle That Never Was, but unlike that hollow castle full of half-dead abominations, the cabins aboard the Anguis and other vessels like it in the Legion's small but powerful star-fleet radiated warmth in spite of the lack of superfluous decorations. The High Praetor was snapped out of his contemplation by the chime signaling that his call had gone through. With the speed of a cheetah, he quickly got on his knees and bowed.

"Madame N.I.," he began. "Forgive me for my failure. One of the Lost ones escaped our custody. I underestimated her, thinking that her skills had atrophied after years of disuse. I was wrong, and I accept full responsibility for the consequences of my foolishness…"

"The Lost ones are only a secondary priority, High Praetor," N.I. interrupted. "Our first priority is The Endgame. We need the Infinity Stones or else nothing else matters."

"Of course, my lady," the former Graceful Assassin replied. "I'm merely concerned with the fact that she could expose us if given sufficient provocation."

"She will not unless we continue to pursue her, Aurilam," N.I. commented. "She has been content to keep our secrets as long as we have left her alone. We can execute her later. Right now, I have a new assignment for you. Take two Cohorts and retrieve the Mind Stone. Warden Lerena will take another group to retrieve the Tesseract." Aurilam looked up in shock.

"But Madame N.I.," he protested in shock. "Both worlds are heavily guarded around the clock. Even if we have the element of surprise on our side, getting out without any casualties will be next to impossible. We lost enough Legionnaires to that crime-riddled hollow skull. I refuse to sacrifice more of our people's lives as cannon fodder."

"I understand your reservations, High Praetor," the supreme commander of the Legion remarked. "Which is why a distraction has already been planned to ensure that your teams get in and out without sustaining casualties." Aurilam nodded his head in understanding before bidding his commanding officer farewell and signing off from the call. When the image of Madame N.I. fizzled out from the screen, he smiled as he stood up and made his way to the mission briefing room. He had to plan this carefully in order to ensure that casualties were kept at zero. He had some research to do, but he understood what his superior was planning. And with the distraction she had planned, this could actually work.

Earth – New Avengers Compound; Kitchen

September 26th, 2021

Breakfast in Avengers HQ was always an interesting experience. Whether it was Tony attempting to turn the toaster into a robot and inadvertently blowing it up, or the one day where Odin had secretly let the now-reformed Loki out for some exercise and he ended up winning the team's forgiveness through his incredible coffee making skills, there was always something happening in the vicinity of the kitchen in the mornings. But what consistently dragged every team member out of bed in the morning, without fail, was the first breakfast with a new teammate or other resident of the building. Even the team members who lived elsewhere spent the night whenever someone new joined the team.

The roster of the Avengers had changed over the years, with new additions joining and veteran members retiring every three years or so. After the capture of HYDRA leader Wolfgang Von Strucker back in 2015, Hawkeye and the Hulk retired from the team. Clint got a job closer to his family's homestead, while Bruce ended up becoming a teaching assistant at MIT. Tony had long since retired, while Kim and Ron had gradually settled down to start a family together. But despite not being active members, they never hesitated to put their gear back on and jump into the ring when their friends needed them. This particular morning, they had been prepared to sit down and welcome Sora into the fold, only to find him passed out on the couch.

After Tony told them that the kid hadn't fallen asleep until almost three A.M. they decided to let him sleep and have the obligatory life story sharing at lunch whenever the guy woke up. Around one in the afternoon, Sora finally stirred, and Tony dragged him into the kitchen for brunch and sat him down around the large communal table. Most of the team had already eaten, but everybody liked sitting down together whenever there was a new recruit for who they were as a person. Everyone usually had their own spots selected after years of habit and routine, but Tony and Stitch surprised everyone by breaking the mold and sitting on either side of the newcomer.

"So, Sora," Steve began. Although the Avengers didn't have an official team leader, most of the Avengers considered Steve the de facto leader of the group, and so he was always the first one to extend a hand of welcome to the new guys. "We didn't really get a chance for us to get to know you last night. Why don't you tell us about yourself? Where're you from?" Sora was nervous about how the rest of the Avengers viewed him at first, but once he had something to focus on, his anxiety melted away as he started telling the Avengers all about the Destiny Islands and his life there. As he talked about the major events of his life that had happened on the islands, the conversation diverted towards how he'd gotten his Keyblade, which in turn lead to telling the story of his adventures and the fight against both Maleficent and Xehanort.

"Damn this kid's a badass," Tony commented when Sora finished telling the story of his first adventure. "You were what, fourteen? And you 1, killed a dragon; 2, fought the Legions of Hell with no reward, 3, earned the respect and admiration of a sentient mystic weapon that was supposed to be passed on to your best friend until he went off the deep end, and 4, were perfectly willing to kill yourself in order to save the girl of your dreams. Can I just say, Holy shit!" Most of the Avengers were all expressing similar sentiments, although not nearly as profanity filled as Tony. After everyone took a break to get snacks and use the bathroom, Sora continued the story and told the Avengers about his forgotten sojourn into Castle Oblivion.

Natasha and Bucky got haunted looks on their face when they heard how Organization XIII had tried to use him as a weapon by manipulating his memories, but were otherwise silent. From there, Sora told the tale of his second journey, followed by his Mark of Mastery exam. Occaisionally, he had to go off on a tangent to explain different aspects of life in what was now Coalition territory, or to add in backstory on the life of Roxas and Xion, and Terra, Aqua, and Ven's struggles against Xehanort. Adding in the story of Xehanort's final defeat and the explanation of the recent conflict with the Hellfire Club that ended with him being stranded on Earth, it was time for dinner by the time Sora finished his tale.

Reactions were varied throughout the Avengers and their significant others. Rhodey, Sam, Bruce, Betty, Pepper, Jane, Hope, and Scott were all concerned about the fact that he'd only been a teenager when he'd gone through all that chaos and conflict. Natasha, Bucky, Clint, and the Maximov twins were impressed that he'd gone through all that and still managed to maintain his youthful cheerfulness and optimism. Tony, Kim, Ron, T'Challa, and Thor were in awe of Sora's achievements, particular how he'd become a Keyblade Master in all but name by the age of fifteen with absolutely no formal training. Steve, however, looked pensive.

"Hey Sora," Captain America began. "Have you ever heard of a man named Joshua Sweet?" Everyone looked at the super soldier in confusion at why he was asking.

"Yeah," the Keyblade Master replied, an edge of curiosity in his voice. "Kairi mentioned him to me one time after we beat Xehanort. He was a doctor on one of those Tethered world fragments she and Riku went to. Part of some expedition for some guy named Whitmore to find a lost civilization. Why do you ask?"

"Wait a minute," Tony interrupted. "Whitmore… Preston Whitmore! The guy was the primary financial backer for Project Rebirth, right?"

"I knew him," Steve answered. "Whitmore and the expedition crew. He talked about her and Riku a bit. He and the other crew members of Whitmore Industries' expedition to Atlantis formed a secret society for people from eras both Tethered and non-Tethered who knew about the Keyblade and its history."

"And how pray tell did you happen to know all of that, O Captain, my Captain?" Iron Man retorted sarcastically. But despite his flippant demeanor, there was a fire of curiosity in his eyes as his mind began connecting the dots to figure out what his teammate was about to say. With the entire team, plus Sora staring at him waiting for an answer, Steve took a deep breath before responding.

"Because I'm part of it," he said calmly.

Chapter Text

Washington D.C. – S.A.C.K. Headquarters

September 27th, 2021

"So you met Xion?" Sora asked the formerly frozen super soldier as the group walked through the hallways of the S.A.C.K.'s underground headquarters. After explaining the origins and history of the secret society, a man with no eyes named Gordon teleported to Avengers HQ and brought them to the Society's base on the outskirts of Washington D.C. for a tour of the facility and a meeting with the group's leadership. Apparently, the man was part of a race of super-powered people called Inhumans, which Sora thought was awesome. The experiments performed on the original generation of Inhumanity by the Kree, however, less so. The brunette Keyblade Master's thoughts drifted back to the present when Captain America answered his question.

"Yeah," Steve replied. "My wife and I ran into her outside the theater in New York City on our way to see a play called Wicked. It was an adaptation of an old movie from my time, The Wizard of Oz, told from the villain's point of view. Anyway, we were both part of the society at that point so we recognized a Keyblade when we saw one. She was on the run from Organization XIII at the time, and since she hadn't ever really had much in the way of a normal life, we bought an extra ticket for her to come see it with us. She really enjoyed the play. I think it helped her with a lot of stuff that was bothering her too." Sora nodded. Xion had told him about her secret love of the play and how she'd ended up seeing it.

The conversation gradually died down as the group filed into a large conference room for their meeting with the Society's leadership. The Avengers were all hurt that Steve had kept this a secret from them for so long, but they could also understand why and most of them were planning on joining the Society if offered. After all, they were some of the only people who knew, and it wouldn't hurt to have a support network when dealing with the Hellfire Club or the Legion if they eventually showed their faces on Earth. Bucky, Natasha, and T'Challa got a pass on the "being mad about secret keeping" issue, since everyone knew that the three of them had secrets. The fact that they were part of this society with Steve (and T'Challa being part of the council running it) was just par for the course in their cases.

After a few minutes of waiting, a group of six people filed into the room. The first was a bald, muscular African-American man who looked to be in his late mid-fifties. The second was a black haired woman in silver armor who the Avengers apparently knew if the glances she sent them were any indication. The third figure Sora recognized immediately from his Mark of Mastery exam in the Realm of Sleep. The fourth was an enigmatic Asian woman with dark hair braided just above her shoulders. The fifth was a lanky man with short auburn hair and large round glasses, and the sixth was a woman with brown hair who sat next to Steve, who was seated the closest to the empty chairs now taken by the council. From there, introductions were made.

The African-American man now seated at the head of the conference table was Joshua Sweet, one of the society's founding members kept young by Atlantean crystals. The armored woman was Lady Sif, a friend of Thor's from Asgard. The third was Neku Sakuraba, while the fourth was Jiaying, former leader of the Inhuamns. The fifth was Milo, King Consort of Atlantis, and the sixth member of the council besides the Black Panther was S.H.I.E.L.D. co-founder and Captain America's wife, Peggy Rogers, also kept young by Atlantean crystals. Tony was immediately fascinated by the longevity-granting properties of the small teal crystals, and only the fact that Atlantis's existence was a secret kept him from bringing in a few lab junkies to help him study them.

An hour later, the team had been inducted into the Society and were now touring the briefing room for when they needed to send their members on reconnaissance or combat missions when the report came in from S.H.I.E.L.D. (Or rather, the high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents who were part of the club got the update and relayed it to everyone else). Agents of HYDRA (Having fought one himself in Olympus Coliseum, Sora thought that the name was a fitting choice given what he'd been told of the group's history) were making plans to raid the headquarters of the Institute for Infectious Diseases in Lagos, Nigeria to steal an unknown chemical with the potential to be used as a biological weapon in the wrong hands.

Without waiting to be asked, Gordon teleported everyone back to Avengers HQ so they could get their gear and go. Just because they were trying to help their newest member get home didn't mean that they'd forgotten the nefarious groups already in existence on Earth. Tony, Bruce, Thor, and Rhodey stayed behind since the team needed to avoid civilian casualties in such a crowded city, while Hope and Scott felt that their shrinking abilities would only be overkill. Meanwhile, Steve, Natasha, Bucky, Sam, Wanda, Pietro, and T'Challa geared up for battle. Sora didn't have anything but his Keyblade and the clothes on his back, so he was up and ready to go before anyone else on the team was ready. The leadership of the S.A.C.K. had stressed the importance of maintaining the society's secrecy, so rather than have Gordon teleport them across the ocean, they all boarded a Quinjet and set off for Nigeria.

Montressor – Benbow Inn

September 27th, 2021

Sarah Hawkins sighed as she finished wiping the counter as the last of the breakfast rush customers paid for their meals, checked out, and left. She'd hired a few extra hands to keep the Benbow Inn operating at peak capacity in the last six years, but the morning rush with people checking out, asking for assistance, and ordering breakfast all at once was still exhausting no matter how often she had to do it. She wasn't as overworked as she was back when Jim was still in his teenage rebellion/juvenile delinquent phase all those years ago, but running an inn and restaurant out of your home around the clock was still tiring work.

After Jim had returned home from his voyage to Treasure Planet, he gave her the jewels he'd brought back with him for her to sell in order to raise enough money to rebuild the inn. Construction took a little more than a year, during which time she'd hired a few recently unemployed neighbors to help with various tasks from interior decorating to being on the inn's housekeeping staff. After its rebuilding, the Benbow Inn had become a popular tourist destination to visitors of Montressor, and over the years, she'd had to build more extensions to keep up with the demand. Not enough for it to grow into something like one of those upscale resorts on Turo, but enough to ensure that Sarah had enough rooms to deal with the tourist traffic.

The single mother and Innkeeper was jolted out of her nostalgic reminiscing by a bright light coming from outside the inn. She looked up just in time to see a small, flaming spaceship slam into the ground at the edge of the parking dock at the edge of the property. Startled, Sarah raced out the front door and sprinted for the burning craft, which from its size appeared to be an escape pod of some kind. Rolling up her sleeves, she dashed forward to get see if there was anyone inside who needed help. As she neared the impact crater, she saw a young woman, human, with blond hair and blue eyes, climb out of the crater.

"Are you all right?" she called out as she raced forward to help the woman up. The woman appeared confused for a moment, then nodded as she took the innkeeper's hands.

"Yeah," she answered. "Is this Montressor?"

"It is," Sarah replied as she helped the blonde back to the Benbow Inn. Even if the woman appeared to be fine, she still needed to be checked for internal injuries from the crash just in case. Once she got her guest inside, she instructed the concierge to call a doctor before bustling about and getting the necessary equipment to treat the woman's injuries. Cold towels, bandages, pillows to elevate her head and legs, the works. A few hours later, the doctor left, having given the young woman a clean bill of health, and Sarah left her unexpected guest to sleep in peace. From the sound of things, she and her husband were in law enforcement on their home planet, and a criminal gang she had busted a few years ago had come after her for revenge. She'd been abducted, but had quickly managed to escape to safety.

Delbert and Amelia arrived with their children as she closed the door, and she quickly explained the situation to the couple. The captain and the astronomer had gotten married a few months after the Treasure Planet voyage, and Amelia had quickly become a close family friend just like Dr. Doppler had been since Jim was a child. Ameila and Sara had been good friends ever since, As soon as they heard what had happened, both of them offered to help in any way they could. For now though, all they could do was wait until the woman woke up. She hadn't said much about her personal life, but Sara had at least been able to get her name before she drifted off to sleep: Rose Long.

Chapter Text

Earth – Lagos, Nigeria; Institute for Infectious Diseases

September 28th, 2021

The heardquarters of the Institute for Infectious Diseases was in chaos. HYDRA agents, using a garbage truck as a kamikaze battering ram, had stormed the facility and had rendered all of the personnel and visitors unconscious with tear gas. The terrorist group was after a hazardous chemical that had the potential to be turned into a devastating weapon if it fell into the wrong hands. And HYDRA's hands were most certainly the wrong ones, but with everyone in the building who wasn't HYDRA either dead or unconscious, there was nothing anyone could do to stop them from simply marching right through the building. Fortunately for them, the Avengers had been given advance warning about the attack, and help was on the way.

The sound of a sonic boom momentarily distracted the terrorists as Captain America hit the ground at supersonic speeds and smacked a HYDRA agent's head against the window of a nearby car, shattering the glass in the process. He then kicked a truck hard enough that it slid sideways and nocked another HYDRA trooper back before taking down a fourth with a throw of his shield. With a little parkour, he drop kicked one more, then took a moment to survey the area and take stock of the situation. He looked around at the men he'd just incapacitated and noted the guns they were using, what they were wearing, and how many of them were left still standing.

"Body armor," Steve reported as he analyzed their opponents gear and equipment. "AR 15s. I make seven hostiles." As the Captain reported this, Falcon flew up to the roof before using a combination of guns and his wings to eliminate two more foes.

"I make five," he chimed in. Behind him, the Scarlet Witch leaped over the building and used her powers to lower herself to the ground. While she and Black Panther deflected the incoming bullets, Kim and Ron charged in and took out four more terrorists. Bucky sniped the last one from a distance as the rest of the Avengers present for the mission (and Sora) emerged into the now clear courtyard. With the coast clear, Falcon scanned the building with his Redwing drone and reported that Brock Rumlow, a former HYDRA. Agent-turned mercenary, who S.H.I.E.L.D. had identified as the leader of the attack, was on the third floor. Everyone found it curious that HYDRA agents were taking orders from someone who'd defected, and hoped to get some answers about that while they were here.

Armed with the knowledge of the merc's location, Steve had Wanda propel him up to Rumlow, with orders to draw out and contain the tear gas the man had used to evacuate the building. While Wanda used her powers to suck the gas out of the building, Stitch, Falcon and T'Challa shielded her as more HYDRA agents swarmed into the courtyard. When HYDRA agents began storming out of the building in an attempt to escape with their prize, Sora, Quicksilver, and Black Widow quickly thwarted their efforts. Natasha handed the vial that HYDRA had been after to Black Panther for safekeeping until the battle was over. As the fighting wound down, everyone looked up to the sound of glass shattering as Captain America threw Rumlow out the window, where he slammed hard onto the ground below.

"Thanks for the warm-up, everyone," the mercenary known as Crossbones groaned loudly as he struggled to his feet while Steve leaped down to the floor of the courtyard. To everyone's surprise, the more reinforcements arrived as strange dark portals opened up against the facility's outer walls. Out poured what looked like an army of red doppelgangers of Stitch, tall-elf looking things that looked like someone had tried to make a Doctor Who monster Asgardian-style, and a tall man in an all-black outfit that everyone present bar Sora recognized as the uniform of the Winter Soldier. Bucky's old HYDRA uniform.

"Guys," the man in question began over the comms. "We might have a problem." And oh, how right he was. While Steve and Black Panther could keep up with both the man in the Winter Soldier outfit, and Sora could handle a few of those elf-looking things, the Avengers were quickly outmatched. Stitch scrambled back inside the building to look for something to deal with his evil copycats, while Bucky climbed down from his sniper's nest and charged in to assist against this second Winter Soldier. With enemies on every side, outnumbered and under attack, the Avengers did the only thing they could do. They called for back-up.


San Fransokyo – Lucky Cat Café

September 28th, 2021

San Fransokyo's Lucky Cat Café was always busy during the lunch rush, but today it was even more so. Every table was taken, and it was a fifteen minute wait just to be seated. Even those seated had to wait longer for their food, as the small, family-owned cafe was unusually short-staffed today. Thankfully, the loud din of customers chatting to each other or complaining about the service allowed two people seated in the back of the café to discuss important business without fear of being spotted or overheard. To any casual observer, the tall, dark haired man and the red-headed young woman appeared to be a couple. But they were as far from a couple as one could possible be. Especially when the meeting concerned the fate of the woman's fiancé.

"I know about the properties of the Tesseract," Kairi remarked. "Vanitas told me. It's supposed to allow someone to transport themselves anywhere in the universe. So, where could Sora have ended up?" The man who served as Vanitas' spy within the Hellfire Club paused for a moment, as if contemplating her question.

"Truthfully," Loki answered, "I do not know. Unless one is focusing on a destination with all their will, their destination would be entirely random. That was how Johan Schmidt ended up as Xehanort's prisoner, after all. The Tesseract is partly alive, meaning it will not transport someone into a situation that will immediately kill them, like into the heart of a star, or a planet where they cannot breath the atmosphere. That means that your beloved would have to have been sent to a world with an atmosphere rich enough with oxygen for him to breath. And while there are indeed hundreds of thousands of planets out there in the galaxy, the amount where humans could survive is actually a little less than ten thousand."

"Only a little less than ten thousand?" Kairi retorted sarcastically with a groan of frustration. "Great, I was afraid I'd have to comb the entire galaxy planet by planet until I found him." The fear was evident in her voice despite her uncharacteristically bitter tone. She was afraid to lose the man she loved, and she refused to simply wait around for him to find his way back home. But she had no idea where to start looking and the fact that there were almost ten thousand possible places where he could have ended up did nothing to help calm her nerves.

"Worry not," Loki replied. "I have a theory. Maleficent has begun collecting data on this "Legion". She sees them as an obstacle on the road to galactic conquest and seeks to remove them as swiftly and as thoroughly as possible. Anyway, her spies had overheard several high ranking Legionnaires talking about banishing someone they referred to as "The Dark One" to Earth. We both know that the Legion sees any use of Darkness as evil, regardless of the intent behind it, and your betrothed has been relying on dark powers for the last six years. Given that, I believe we've narrowed the man's location down to a single planet. The only question now is how to get there from Coalition Space."

Kairi breathed a sigh of partial relief. She still had no idea where to look for this "Earth" but at least now she had a lead. A concrete idea of where Sora was. Hopefully, Loki at least knew enough for her to piece together her own map. She doubted Maleficent kept a map showing every single planet in the galaxy, but maybe she had enough points on her map for Kairi to start piecing together a plan. She expressed the idea to Loki and while he couldn't promise any results, he agreed to look into it.

"Maleficent doesn't exactly have a map of the universe," he explained, matching up with Kairi's earlier thinking. "But there is a galactic government similar to the Coalition known as the Galactic Federation. Earth was inducted into their ranks a few years ago. We do not know Turos' location in relation to the Coalition, but Maleficent does have a map of where Earth is in relation to Turo. Our spies have indicated that one of the Legion's prisoners escaped and is headed for Radiant Garden through Federation territory. If they can provide you with a map to Turo, then you need only take a Gummi Ship from here to Turo, then from Turo to Earth."

Kairi nodded her head in understanding. Coalition Intelligence sent out scouts every few months to search for new worlds, and from the sound of things, they'd be making contact with Galactic Federation territory soon, and from there, she had a trail to follow back to Sora. She thanked Loki for the information and finished her meal while the Asgardian prince's astral form melted away back to the Hellfire Club's base. He'd given the location of that facility to her as well, with the warning that Maleficent was planning to move between lairs after the attack on Radiant Garden in anticipation of a Coalition attack on the Kiln. Once she'd paid for her lunch, she left the restaurant and headed for the spaceport back to Radiant Garden, texting Riku, Donald, and Goofy asking them to meet her there before she boarded a Gummi Ship home. She had a plan.

Chapter Text

Lagos – Institute for Infectious Diseases

September 28th, 2021

It would take Iron Man and Thor an hour to reach the laboratory, so the Avengers did what they could to buy themselves time. Inside, Stitch was able to hijack the PA system and began playing a recording of Elvis Presley's Aloha Oe. Once the song started playing, the little alien's evil twins started dropping like flies. With them taken care of, the rest of the team was able to redirect their attention on the larger problem of the Dark Elves and the super soldier. Sora and Steve were able to hold off the elven warriors' attacks while Bucky and T'Challa dealt with the copycat Winter Soldier, but between the sheer numbers and the brutal power of the fake soldier, the team was quickly being overwhelmed.

"There's too many of them!" Sora called out as he knocked a Dark Elf across the battlefield with his Keyblade. "We need to figure out a way to contain them and regroup." Though nobody said as much out loud, most of the Avengers agreed that the twenty-three year old Keyblade Master had a point. For all the team's fighting skills and reputation, they were all very clearly outnumbered and outmatched. It would be better to regroup and fight another day than die in a suicidal last stand while HYDRA took what they wanted off the Avengers' cold, dead bodies. Unfortunately, there weren't many options for how to do what Sora was proposing.

"And how are we supposed to do that?" Wanda retorted as she used her powers to telekinetically slam another one into the ground. "It's not like any of us can handle one of these things on our own." She was right, of course. Steve and Bucky could handle one Dark Elf each, while Sora could take two. T'Challa could hold the super soldier at bay but didn't appear to be capable of gaining the upper hand, while the rest of the Avengers who didn't have powers were stuck dodging and dealing with the remaining HYDRA agents to keep them unconscious and out of the fight.

"Well," Sora replied as he Reversed around a HYDRA soldier and knocked him unconscious with a smack to the back of the head with the hilt of the blade. "I'm open to suggestions."

"So," Bucky interjected as he blocked a punch from the other Winter Soldier. "Anybody got any ideas?" As if right on cue, Dark Elf warriors were incinerated across the courtyard as Thor slammed his hammer into the earth. The Hulk leaped down a moment later and swung the Winter Soldier wannabe around like a rag doll (or more accurately, like Loki during the Battle of New York back in 2012) while Iron man hovered above the battlefield, finishing off the remaining HYDRA agents with missiles. With the aid of three additional Avengers, the battle quickly began to swing back in the heroes' favor. Rumlow managed to escape with the knockoff Winter Soldier through a Corridor of Darkness, but since they didn't get away with the stolen chemicals, the Avengers considered the day a win.

"What the hell was that?" Sam demanded once the HYDRA agents had been cleared out. "When did HYDRA decide to try a repeat of what they did to Bucky? Who was that guy anyway? Some guy they grabbed off the street or something?" The original Winter Soldier shook his head as an answer. He had always believed that the inhabitants of the old Siberian HYDRA base had been killed off decades ago. Evidently, today proved that he had been misinformed.

"No," Bucky interjected. "I wasn't the only Winter Soldier. There were five others, created using a super soldier serum stolen from Howard Star, but they were too unstable. Last I heard they were supposed to have been euthanized back in the nineties. Obviously, that information was wrong." Sam and Tony were a little frustrated that Bucky had sat on that secret for so long, but as Sora pointed out, Bucky had no reason to believe that the other Winter Soldiers were even still alive.

Once the local authorities arrived to take the surviving HYDRA agents to prison, the Avengers loaded the remaining Dark Elves into the newly arrived S.H.I.E.L.D. Quinjet to be taken to The Raft, a prison constructed by Director Hill as a replacement to the now defunct S.H.I.E.L.D. penitentiary known only as the Fridge. Once the bad guys had all been carted off to various prisons, the Avengers got back into their Quinjet to regroup at the nearest S.H.I.E.L.D. safe house to cool down and wait for news on the location of HYDRA's remaining bases. It was time to hunt down the remaining HYDRA bases and finally destroy the international terrorist organization for good.

The Underworld – Entrance

September 28th, 2021

Loz couldn't help but shed a few tears in defeat as he and his brothers turned away from the River Styx and started to trudge up the stairs back into the land of the living. Their mission so far was a failure. They had come to the Underworld hoping that by freeing their father's soul from the Underworld, they could bring him back to life. They had gotten the chance to speak to him, but he told them that such a plan was doomed to failure without a body for his spirit to go back to. The only way for him to form a new body was with the use of the remaining DNA samples of the Inhuman entity known as Jenova, last seen hidden away by Xehanort and his followers deep beneath the bowels of Radiant Garden's castle.

Getting in wasn't going to be a problem. Maleficent's impending invasion was the ideal time for them to sneak in, look for Jenova's cryogenically preserved remains, then get out. What worried the children of Sephiorth so much wasn't how to obtain the entity's corpse. It was the possibility that Xehanort or someone from either the Coalition or the Legion had gotten a hold of their grandmother's body and destroyed it. If that turned out to be the case, they'd have no other way to resurrect their father. No! Kadaj thought to himself as he and his brothers climbed out of the land of the dead in sullen silence. If someone has destroyed our grandmother's remains and prevented us from restoring father to life, then we will avenge him and destroy those who would dare oppose our reunion! We will find our lost brother and sister and take revenge on those who seek to keep our family apart!

While sifting through their father's files back in the fortress on Maveth, Yazoo had discovered a letter addressed to their father indicating that they had a sister whose mother had died giving birth to her. Like their lost brother Peter, she had been taken from father and hidden. The mighty Sephiroth had never been able to track down his only daughter. But after some research, Loki had apparently gotten a lead to her location. Apparently, she'd been taken by a group known as that Chaste that was apparently a front for the Legion to operate on Earth. The three brothers could only hope that they could get to her before the Legion could brainwash her towards their juvenile beliefs that everything that used darkness was evil. Then they would be a family again, and the rest of the universe would burn.

Lagos, Nigeria – S.H.I.E.L.D. Safe House

September 29th, 2021

It was quiet in the large apartment as the Avengers continued to sleep as the sun began peeking through the curtains. Bucky and Natasha were curled up together in the master bed, while Sora and Steve were passed out atop air mattresses on the floor of the room. Kim and Ron got a bed to themselves with Tony and Sam passed out at the foot of the bed in sleeping bags. Wanda got her own bed while T'Challa and Pietro got air mattresses of their own. Bruce and Thor took the couches. It had been a restful evening, as S.H.I.E.L.D. took over the legwork of finding HYDRA's newest base so that the Avengers could recover from yesterday's battle.

After the fight, the team had grown a little closer to their newest member. While there was still some lingering distrust towards the young Keyblade Master, most of it had been replaced by friendly camaraderie after yesterday's battle. It was the same as every time someone new was inducted into the team, Steve reflected as he threw on some clean clothes before walking out into the living room. Each time the Avengers recruited a new member, there was always the brief period of wariness as they waited to see if the newbie could be trusted. Over time, the wariness faded to be completely replaced with friendship and acceptance.

From what Steve could tell, Sora was pretty much one of them already, joking around and sharing stories at dinner like he'd been with the team for years. The super soldier emerged into the kitchen to find the Keyblade Master in question sitting at the table staring longingly at a set of photographs he'd pulled out of his wallet, along with the star-shaped charm he'd been carrying around with him. The glint of the light off his cheeks revealed the stain of fresh tears.

"Don't worry," Captain America reassured the newest Avenger as he took a seat next to the brunette Key Bearer. "We'll get you home, kid. You'll be walking down the aisle .on your wedding day in no time" Sora almost jumped, so focused on his photos and the Thalasa shell charm that Kairi had him carry every time he went off into battle that he hadn't noticed the Avenger come into the room.

"I hope so," Sora admitted with a sigh. "I know Thor's heading back to Asgard tomorrow to see if they can find a way to track his brother and use him as an anchor to find Coalition space, but that could take years. I know Kairi can defend herself but I don't want her to wake up every day worrying if I'll come home or not." Steve nodded. He knew how that felt. While coming out of the ice after being asleep for seventy years had felt instantaneous for him, he imagined that Kairi's situation was much the same as how Peggy had felt looking for him after his disappearance. If she hadn't been recruited by the S.A.C.K., she'd probably have presumed him dead and moved on.

And while the young man didn't say as much, Steve knew that was what Sora was really scared of. Even though he and Kairi had been together for six years, the Keyblade wielder was afraid that if it took him longer than a few months his fiancé would be convinced that he was dead and give up looking for him. But from what Steve could tell, that was about as likely to happen as hell freezing over.

"I doubt she'd move on that easily, Sora," he countered reassuringly. "From what you've told me, Kairi sounds like the kind of girl who would never give up on you no matter how long it takes. You always come back to her. You said she waited on that island for a year before she came to look for you on her own, after all. Heck, she'd probably just grab a Gummi Ship and start flying all over the universe looking for you herself." That managed to brighten the young man's mood as he looked down at the prom photos his parents had taken of him and Kairi with a laugh.

"You're right," the Keyblade Master admitted as he put the photos back in his wallet. He smiled as he glanced down at his fiance's old lucky charm and thought of the promise it represented. "When Kairi sets her mind to something, she never gives up. Every time we head into a battle, she always gives me her homemade lucky charm she's had since we were fourteen and makes me promise to give it back to her when we were done. She'll probably turn every planet in the galaxy upside down until she finds me." That got both men laughing at the mental image that comment brought up before Steve got up and walked over to the stove to make coffee and breakfast.

An hour later, the rest of the Avengers all dragged themselves out of bed at various hours. Thor promised to talk to Heimdall and Odin about finding a route towards Coalition territory over s few quickly made Pop Tarts before heading up to the roof to return to Asgard. T'Challa and Sora got into a discussion on Wakanda's knowledge of the Keyblade War while Wanda and Pietro headed up to the roof for a morning workout. Rhodey held Tony back from "upgrading" the toaster while Sam poured himself a bowl of cereal. Bucky and Natasha simply sat on the now vacant couches with raised eyebrows as everyone's morning rituals spilled out of the kitchen into the rest of the safe house.

An hour later, the team was finally cleaning up from their assorted morning messes when J.A.R.V.I.S.'s British-accented voice announced an incoming phone call from Director Maria Hill of S.H.I.E.L.D. Hill informed the team that HYDRA had been tracked back to a hidden compound in Vienna, Italy. To make matters worse, there was a U.N. conference scheduled to take place later that day. With time running out and a bunch of potential assassinations to prevent, everyone scrambled for the showers and struggled into their gear. Within half an hour, the Avengers were on their way northward to Italy. With any luck, they could catch HYDRA by surprise and prevent them from taking advantage of the summit to cause their trademarked chaos.


Chapter Text

Titan's Refuge – Throne of Thanos

September 29th, 2021

The cold breeze of the artificial atmosphere of the Titan's Refuge, more commonly known to its former inhabitants as Sanctuary, swirled around the legs of the newest arrivals as asteroids tumbled through space overhead. This was a world that had been a lifeless, sterile shell long before Thanos first carved out his seat of power here. And it would remain that way long after the visitors had returned from whence they came. Once, this crumbling artificial world of asteroids and warrens had been the command center of the infamous Mad Titan, one of the most feared warlords in the known universe, his might and ambition dwarfing even that of Maleficent and Xehanort themselves. Which was why the latter had hired Sephiroth to assassinate the alien madman to eliminate any potential rivals.

A pity he didn't consider Maleficent worthy enough to be a rival, Loki thought bitterly to himself as he marched through the gravel of the Refuge towards Thanos' throne, Malekith and Nebula flanking him as the Nathalis loomed large and imposing behind them. I might not even be in this position if he had. Of course, without Maleficent to offer him an alliance, Malekith may have attacked Asgard. And my family would surely have been slain. But now was not the time to dwell on what might have been. He forced himself to focus on the task at hand as he marched up the steps towards the imposing chair of the being who had once managed to terrify, torture, and brainwash the prince of Asgard into submission.

He needed to figure out a way to avoid handing the hundred or so Chitauri still living in their carved out warrens beneath Sanctuary's rocky surface over to Maleficent. The Chitauri were all that remained of Thanos' empire, and without the Mad Titan and his lieutenants there to command them, they had gone into hibernation, steadily breeding to keep their numbers up as they waited for orders that would never come. And Maleficent wanted to add them to her growing army, in preparation for the day when the inner circle needed to throw the Dark Elves under the metaphorical bus. Coming back here alone was enough to almost give Loki a panic attack. He had no idea how he was going to deal with interacting with the Chitauri on a daily basis.

He reached the top of the stairs and sat on the throne, feeling around for the buttons he knew were there from the last time he kneeled before this floating chair. The button that allowed Thanos' to summon the Chitauri from out of the catacombs they'd burrowed into the asteroids beneath his feet. Nebula stood on the top step looking around nervously at the planetoids scraping and crashing against each other overhead. Clearly she enjoyed being back here as much as Loki did. Malekith stood a few steps down while his Dark Elves stood in formation at the bottom of the stairs. With a calming breath, Loki found the button and pressed it, sending out a signal that only the Chitauri would be able to hear, giving them a primal command to report to their master's throne.

They came out of the caves in droves, the first ones crawling, then a few more came flying out on their nimble hovercraft as the swarm emerged from the tunnels. The Dark Elf army parted down the middle to offer the insectoid warriors a clear path to throne as the Chitauri legion crawled and scrambled along the gravel pathway up the stairs. When they reached the top of the stairs and found Nebula standing beside the throne and Loki sitting in their master's chair, they all stopped as one. Inwardly, Loki was desperately scrambling to figure out what to do or say that would stop these creatures from joining the ranks of the Hellfire Club's growing army. Fortunately, (or unfortunately, depending on how one looked at it) he needn't have worried. The Chitauri were well aware of Loki and Nebula's betrayal, and reacted accordingly.

The prince and the assassin dodged with reflexes that would have made lightning look slow as the Chitauri began opening fire on the duo and the ones on the ground turned their plasma guns on the Dark Elf army assembled below. As the Chitauri opened fire, Malekith gave the order to attack, and the battle began. Well that was easier than I thought it'd be, Loki thought as he ducked to avoid a piece of a Chitauri hover sled that had been sliced in half by one of the Dark Elf space-craft launched when the beasts began targeting the NathalisOf course, Malekith was probably trying to destroy them for much the same reason that I was, to keep them out of Maleficent's control. No matter, every once in a while my enemies do my job for me.

Loki dodged a head shot from a Chitauri plasma rifle before taking off the offending warrior's head. Behind him, Nebula had leaped from the top of the stairs and began wading through the swarm, cutting down Chitauri two at a time while Malekith's legion cut off the army's retreat. Loki meanwhile, took up the job of keeping the insectoid warriors from escaping up the stairs. Within an hour, every last Chitauri in the Titan's Refuge had been killed. A few Kursed were sent into the catacombs to root out the handful that hadn't answered the summons, having stayed to look after the nest. With the mission accomplished, Loki sat on the throne that had once belonged to Thanos as he waited for word from Maleficent. He had kept the Chitauri from helping Maleficent, but now, it would seem that Nebula and Malekith might be suspicious of his motives.

Vienna, Italy – HYDRA Compound

September 29th, 2021

"What did you find?" Captain America asked as Sora, Natasha and Pietro returned from scouting the defenses of the HYDRA base. The Avengers had arrived in Vienna an hour ago and had followed S.H.I.E.L.D.'s intel to the enemy's lair hidden in the heart of Vienna. Recognizing that rushing in blind would only allow the terrorist group to scatter and regroup elsewhere once again, Steve had sent out Quicksilver and the Black Widow to sweep the base's perimeter defenses and analyze the security of the place. Sora had gone along, and thanks to the Vanish spell Ven had taught him after the Xehanort War, the three of them had managed to walk through the entire base undetected.

"This base is just a small staging area for local HYDRA operations," Black Widow explained. "Also doubles as a training facility for new recruits. No sign of any Leroy clones or Dark Elves, but that could change at any time. The base is only lightly defended, with only one entrance about thirty-something guards. Communications are easy to jam, but they have a direct line to the Siberia facility. That's where they're still keeping the Winter Soldiers. So if we can listen in on the next call, S.H.I.E.L.D. can trace the coordinates of the Siberian HYDRA facility. Once that's done, we can sneak three of us in there and launch a sneak attack from the inside while Stark, Sam, Wanda, and Banner create a diversion outside and draw their attention off the infiltration team."

Steve nodded his head in agreement before beginning to strategize where each team member would be deployed. The team was split into three groups Two to launch a full-frontal assault on the base, while a third would sneak inside the base and cause havoc from within. As Natasha suggested, Iron Man, Falcon, Scarlet Witch, Captain America, and the Hulk would be part of one team, while Black Widow, the original Winter Soldier, Kim, and Ron would be part of the other. Sora, Black Panther, Quicksilver, and Stitch would use the Keyblade Master's invisibility spells to infiltrate the building undetected and sabotage the other defenses and apprehend the HYDRA agents. All they were waiting for now was the signal to go.

Ten minutes later, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Daisy Johnson called to let the Avengers know that the Vienna base had called for help and that S.H.I.E.L.D. had a lock on the coordinates of the Sibera facility, and they were a go for "Operation Overlord." Steve smiled a little at the name. Borrowed from the codename for the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II, it now referred to an international collaborative protocol thrown together by S.H.I.E.L.D. after the destruction of the Triskellion in 2014. It gave the international security network the authority to bypass bucket loads of political and jurisdictional red tape to put together an operation designed to eliminate HYDRA's agents in a single, surgically precise swoop.

So while the Avengers had been fighting the HYDRA bases across Europe, S.H.I.E.L.D. had been busy tracking down every last HYDRA base on the planet. Monitoring the terrorists' movements and gathering up the necessary military forces in preparation for the opportunity to strike once and burn the entire organization to the ground. Sora's arrival and the attack on Nigera finally gave them their chance. While the Avengers charged into battle in Vienna, Italy, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the rest of the world moved in for the kill.

In London, Daisy Johnson led her team of Secret Warriors in an attack on a HYDRA base near Battersea Power Station. Fire, lightning, and liquefied metal flew through the air as Lincoln, Joey, and Shego fought their way through the base with the force of a jackhammer pounding on concrete while Elena "Yo-Yo" Rodriguez flicked across the room incapacitating HYDRA agents in a rapid blur. At a HYDRA base hidden under a bank in Switzerland, Lady Sif cut her way through Dark Elves like a hot knife slicing through butter as bullets and I.C.E.R. pellets flew through the air around her. Back in Vienna, Black Panther moved through HYDRA's troops with the speed, grace, and strength of a predatory jungle cat, his claws downing one agent after another.

In less than two hours, the battle was over. Between S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and a little help from the Defenders in dealing with the New York base, HYDRA's forces had all been routed. Only the Winter Soldier base in Siberia remained. And that was where the surviving terrorists were all gathering even as everyone was debriefed. While S.H.I.E.L.D. was busy doing post-battle debriefs, the Avengers all boarded their Quinjet and made a beeline for the coordinates they'd been given for the Siberian compound. If they hurried, they had a chance to end this threat once and for all and make sure HYDRA's "heads" never again grew back. Steve just hoped they made it there in time.

Radiant Garden – Spaceport Docking Bay #5

September 29th, 2021

Rose couldn't help but feel a sense of wonder as she stepped off the gangplank of Captain Amelia's ship, the R.L.S. Legacy, and into the surprisingly efficient chaos of Radiant Garden's spaceport. After the destruction of the Huntsclan, her knowledge of this corner of the universe was at least a decade out of date. Fortunately, Captain Amelia had been to the Daybreak Coalition before and was able to fill in what she knew of the alliance's history. Once the feline spaceship captain had filled out docking and customs paperwork, she lead the former Huntsgirl through the throng of people boarding and disembarking large gelatinous looking spacecraft towards a train station deep in the mountainside caverns.

As they boarded the train, Amelia explained where they were going. Rose had told Amelia, Delbert, and Sarah the story of what had happened to her (leaving out the Legion's connections to her past, of course) once she'd regained consciousness, and they'd immediately offered to help her find her way home. Amelia and Delbert had some friends here in Coalition Space, the cat-like captain explained as the two women sat in the crowded metal tube of the train as it raced through the spiraling tunnels carved into the mountains outside Radiant Garden's walls towards the city's Market District.

And one of them had gone missing. Rose guessed that this was the young man who had landed in her bedroom from the Tesseract portal. Since It would take at least a week for the Legacy to get to Earth at top speed, an agent of Coalition Intelligence had hired Amelia to transport some friends of her and her husband's associate to Earth and bring the man home. Since she and had stopped on Montressor to drop her family off at the Benbow Inn on the way to meet her new passengers and were going to Earth anyway, she invited Rose to come along on her journey. While Earth had been part of the United Galactic Federation for three years now, not many aliens visited Earth. Which, Rose supposed, was a bit of a relief for S.H.I.E.L.D., since they had to monitor Earth's major spaceports on top of dealing with extra-normal threats like HYDRA, rogue Inhumans, etc.

Still, Earth was beginning to make waves in the intergalactic community, gaining itself a reputation as a planet of resilient warriors, particularly after the Chitauri invasion almost a decade ago. Some other federation worlds looked down on Earth because of its status as a low-tech (by intergalactic standards at least) newcomer, but thanks to the political savviness of Earth's representative Lilo Pelekai, most extraterrestrials left Earth alone. Every attempt made by the criminal underbelly of the galaxy was quickly thwarted by S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, or both. Rose pinched the bridge of her nose to focus herself back on her current situation as the train slowed to a stop and the doors began to open.

Captain Amelia grabbed her passenger's hand to avoid getting separated in the crush of bodies pushing their way out the doors of the train car. Once the stampeding herd of departing passengers had thinned out enough to move freely, Amelia and Rose exited the train and climbed up the stairs up to the city Marketplace. Rose took a moment to survey the changes made to great city since her last visit in awe. Directly before the ledge rose the great castle of Hollow Bastion. To the right, the city's famed Fountain Court stretched across the city as the laughter of children playing in the fountains echoed all the way to the marketplace.

Farther to the left, the Boroughs spread across the circumference of the city, peppered by flashes of green indicative of small gardens set up to keep the city more in tune with nature. The city's power stations had been moved underground to allow the Restoration Committee more room to install more housing for returning survivors of the Fall, and the Palace Gardens spread up and down the steps along the high-walled path leading to the Castle Gates. Beyond the city walls, rivers flowed outward into the mountains across what used to be a desolate and dull, rocky blue landscape but now sported rich soil and lush green grass. And far beyond the city walls was the Dark Depths, the cliff that once overlooked Maleficent's ruined lair at Villain's Vale but now served as the entrance to the spaceport's docking bays.

Chuckling at her guest's slack-jawed wonder, Amelia gently convinced Rose to tear her attention away from the breathtaking beauty of Radiant Garden and follower her down to the Marketplace. Amelia had arranged to meet her client at a local restaurant to discuss the terms of her charter over lunch. They only had to wait about fifteen minutes before a red headed young woman about five years younger than Rose herself walked up to the table. She wore a pink hooded jacket with black lining and fox ears attached to the hood over a white tank top. It was difficult to tell from what she was wearing that she was someone important, but the two grey-clad bodyguards flanking her were a dead giveaway.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Marketplace

September 29th, 2021

The atmosphere in the restaurant was both relaxed and sense at the same time as Princess Kairi and Captain Amelia discussed the terms of Amelia's contract. Kairi agreed to pay the captain her usual rate, promising to pay half once they reached Earth, and the rest upon their return to Radiant Garden. As part of Amelia's charter, the Princess of Heart would be held accountable for anything she damaged aboard the ship, pirate or Hellfire Club attacks notwithstanding. While the conversation was going on, Rose couldn't help but feel that there was something familiar about the Princess of Radiant Garden, but for the life of her she couldn't figure out why she looked so familiar.

Once the business portion of the meeting had been taken care of, Kairi asked Rose how she was handling her situation, and from there, the conversation turned towards Rose' capture by the Legion and what they might want with Sora. Eventually, the conversation turned towards chatting about each other's lives, and soon, the two young women were chatting away like they'd known each other for years. And as they talked, the dots finally connected in Rose's head why Kairi seemed so familiar and the lightbulb went off. Red hair. Keyblade. Pink hood. Fox ears. Ava! Though outwardly calm, Rose was reeling at the fact that she was carrying on a conversation the reincarnation of the Foreteller Vulpeus In all her millennia as an Unchained, she had never again expected to see the face of Foreteller Ava.

Though she knew that Ava had never Unchained herself, Rose was hesitant to broach the subject as she had no idea how much Kairi knew about Kingdom Hearts' cycle of reincarnation worked. Rose was far behind on local news for the last millennia or so, having spent her last several lifetimes on Earth running the Huntsclan, which had been founded by Unchained during the Keyblade War to protect civilians against rogue vampires and other dark creatures that were taking advantage of the chaos of the war and attacking refugees left and right. In her previous lifetime, Rose had eventually realized how far the Huntsclan had fallen from their original purpose.

But before she could do anything about it, the Huntsman had killed her, intending to use the amnesiac period before her next (current) life's twenty-first birthday when her memories returned to break those thoughts out of her. But fortunately for her, she'd met Jake, and the rest was history. She was about to ask a vague question about how much Kairi knew about Ava when the ground shook. The three women raced outside to find large pirate ships bearing the Heartless emblem on their sails flying overhead, raining cannon and spell fire down on the city from above. Panicked screams came from the stairs leading to the burrow as Heartless began spawning all over the marketplace and began attacking innocent bystanders.

Clearly, the Hellfire Club wants their precious Infinity Stone back, Kairi thought to herself as she summoned her Keyblade and raced off into battle, firing spells and swinging her sword at Heartless left and ride as she waded through the franticly fleeing crowds. Captain Amelia drew her plasma pistol and started firing at airborn Heartless whenever they dove down within range. Behind them, Kairi's bodyguards swung their lances and axe at every enemy that came close enough for them to use it, slicing the demonic creatures apart. After a moment of hesitation, Rose decided that hiding her status as an Unchained was no longer an option as she whipped out her long disused Keyblade and charged into battle.

The Land of Departure – Forecourt

September 29th, 2021

Things had been quiet in the Land of Departure lately, and for that, Terra was grateful. No insane Keyblade Masters around stirring up trouble, no nefarious Organization attempting to exploit the castle's secrets for their own gain, just the same tall mountains and golden castle that Terra had lived in for years. Right now, he was currently examining the streaks of white in his hair while his son Littus tossed a ball around the courtyard. Ever since he'd been freed from Xehanort's control his hair had been permanently streaked white, a consequence of being possessed for so long. He'd dyed it brown and cut it to the preferred length to get rid of the uncomfortable reminder of Xehanort's influence.

Judging by how long it was getting and the new streaks of white, it was time for him to get it cut and dyed again. His attention snapped back to the present when he heard Littus say hello. Terra froze as he saw the man formerly known as Marluxia standing at the entrance to the courtyard with a pack of armored warriors, presumably Legionnaires, standing in formation on the low, grass-coated ramp spiraling down the mountainside behind him. At the feet of the former Number eleven was the ball Terra's son had been playing with. Taking stock of the situation, the former Superior acted quickly.

"Littus, stay there," Terra ordered loudly as he raced over and stood next to his son as he glared at the former Organization member.

"Hello traitor," Aurilam remarked coldly as he walked into the courtyard with his iconic pink-bladed scythe over his shoulder.

"Marluxia," Terra replied equally as coldly. Lied to by Xehanort or not, the former Number eleven's human self was still a high ranking operative of the mysterious Legion, had physically and emotionally abused Namine for several months, and attempted to brainwash Sora. He was still the enemy. "I was as much a pawn of Xehanort as anyone else in the Organization. In any case, that's a bit hypocritical coming from you."

"I'm well aware of that madman's deceptions. That's why Larxene and I joined the Organization, to destroy his schemes from the inside. But not, I wasn't referring to the Organization. I was thinking of a far more ancient betrayal. You can't deny your guilt in that, Aced."

Terra's eyes narrowed in suspicion even as they widened in surprise. The secrets of Kingdom Hearts' cycle of reincarnation, how it cleaned the darkness from a heart after death before regurgitating it into a new infant body, were not common knowledge. It was something known to Coalition scientists, of course, but not necessarily something that every person in Coalition space needed to know. It was generally agreed that making such information accessible to the public would only end up sending a wave of soul-crushing angst across the Coalition as people speculated on who their past incarnations had been and what they'd done, or angsted over whether or not every bad thing that happened was because of something they did in a past life.

That would be extremely detrimental to society, and so the information was largely kept quiet. While it was possible that The Legion simply had access to an up-to-date computer database somewhere in the Daybreak Coalition, there were only certain people outside of the Keyblade wielders and their most trusted friends who knew about certain Keyblade Masters being the reincarnations of the Foretellers.

"You're Unchained," Terra guessed, more of a statement than a question. "Aren't you?" Braig had explained the existence of the Unchained in a letter to Kairi (or rather, her past incarnation, Ava, Foreteller of the Vulpeus guild) as quasi-immortal Keyblade Wielders who had gained access to all the memories of their past lives. Recruited by Ava to ensure that Keyblade Wielders would survive the coming war, they had instead gone on to avenge her death when Gula, Foreteller of the Leopardos guild murder her during a peace summit in the capital of Atlantis. They all knew from Braig's (or rather, Ephemer, as he had originally been known) letter that there were more Unchained out there among the stars, but for the last six years they hadn't encountered any. Now Terra was beginning to suspect why they hadn't found them.

"Unchained, Dandelion, different names for the same thing, really," Aurilam remarked as he ran his hands down the edge of his scythe, gingerly testing the sharpness of the blade. "All that really matters now, traitor, is that my fellow Unchained and I will be taking the Infinity Stone in the basement."

"Over my dead body," Terra retorted angrily as he took a step forward, placing himself between the Graveful Assassin and his son. Though only four years old, Littus could understand that these people who had come to their home were dangerous, and following his father's silent instruction, turned and raced up the stairs. As the front doors creaked open, Terra summoned his Keyblade. He would defend his son to his dying breath if that was what it took to keep the former Organization member away from his family.

"Even better," the man formerly known as Marluxia replied as a light flashed in his hands and his scythe was gone, replaced by a wickedly sharp looking Keyblade. Behind the salmon-haired man, his fellow Legionnaires all drew Keyblades of their own as they advanced on him with a furious roar. Terra braced himself to fight the invaders off until his last breath, only to be picked up by a sudden gust of wind and thrown up the stairs through the doors himself. As his son cried out for him, he climbed to his feet in time to see the familiar hexagons of a barrier spell spread across the threshold of the castle from floor to ceiling. While he was grateful to still be alive for his son, his heart froze as he saw two familiar figures standing at the bottom of the stairs with their backs to the door.

"VEN!" He shouted as he watched his surrogate little brother and his ninja girlfriend charge into battle with the Keyblade wielding horde. In the midst of ducking a swing from Aurilam, Ven turned towards the door and shook his head. While the gesture was vague, his eyes conveyed his message perfectly. Don't worry about me, they said. You need to stay alive for Aqua and Kair. We'll hold them off. I called the army. Reinforcements are on the way. With that, the blonde Keyblade Master who had practically been Terra's brother cast another Aerogza spell that blew the doors shut. The last thing Terra saw before the front door slammed closed was Ven and Yuffie facing off against two dozen Keyblade Wielders.

But despite his brother-in-all-but-blood's reassurance, Terra knew that Ven was fighting a losing battle. It was at least an hour of flying to the nearest Coalition base at top speed, and the former Superior of the Organization seriously doubted that one Keyblade Master and a ninja could survive against so many opponents for that long. Xehanort probably could, but he had been a Master for several decades at that point. Ven hadn't even had the title for half of one, and he was nowhere near Xehanort's level. As Terra helped his son into the panic room Aqua had installed for emergencies like this the last time they'd renovated the castle, he couldn't help but silently pray to any deity that was listening that reinforcements would get there quickly.

Chapter Text

Radiant Garden – Heartless Manufactory

September 29th, 2021

Silence reigned as both sides stood off in the bowels of Ansem's laboratory. Organization XIII's former number twelve held in her hands the special container Coalition scientists had been using to keep the Tesseract's massive power contained. Lea held his remaining chakram in his freehand while he held his Keyblade towards the Savage Nymph's head while Dilan and Aeleus slowly circled around the platform until they jumped down onto the ramp leading down to the abandoned containment cells where they and Xehanort used to perform their experiments, cutting off the intruders' escape.

Vanitas and Cloud flanked the enemy from the side while Violet hung back and brought up her largest force field yet to encompass the platform and cut off the only exit. Even brought up a barrier of ice behind Dilan and Aeleus to seal off access to the Chamber of Repose. Kairi, Amelia, and Rose stood directly in front of the enemy troops, ready to charge in and fight. After a few more moments of silent tension, the former Organization member finally spoke. But only this time her comments were not addressed to Lea or any of the warriors and spies of the Coalition, but to the newcomer.

"Hello, traitor," Lerena remarked as she turned her attention to Rose.

"Long time no see, Lerena," the former Huntsgirl retorted.

"How exactly to you two know each other?" Lea interjected.

"Because we fought together during the Keyblade War," Rose replied. "Allow me to introduce Lerena, Warden of the Unchained Legion." The Savage Nymph snarled in response.

"Gee, thanks for pulling back the curtain on us," the woman formerly known as Larxene snarked. "Although I'm surprised given how quickly you spread your legs for a – " whatever insult the former Nobody was about to spew at the younger woman was cut off by a Waterga spell to the gut that sent Lerena flying down the ramp leading to the Chamber of Repose. The other Unchained warriors formed up around her in a defensive formation while the containued used to house the Tesseract clattered to the floor in the middle of the formation. The Unchained all slipped into combat stances as they got ready for the battle everyone in the room knew was coming.

"Remember when I said I'd kill you myself if you made offensive comments about my husband again?" Rose asked rhetorically as she advanced towards her fellow Unchained, Keyblade in hand. "Well the same thing applies to calling me a slut for marrying someone who isn't human. And I have had a very stressful week being abducted by Aurilam and held captive aboard the Anguis, so go ahead. Give me a reason to vent my frustration. Make my day." For a few tense moments, Lerena glared at her old friend, as if expressing doubt that Rose would ever follow through on her threat. The rate of attacks from the Hellfire Club had slowed down considerably if the extended periods between quakes were any indication. Recognizing that her only option left was to cause enough chaos to cover their escape, the woman who used to be Larxene narrowed her eyes.

"Just because you're not part of the Legion anymore doesn't mean nobody cares who you spread your legs for, Rose," she remarked with a deliberate smile on her face. With an enraged snarl, Rose charged forward and the chaos began. Rose, Even, and Lea raced forward and engaged Larxene herself, while Kairi, Dilan, Vanitas, Cloud, and Aeleus stated battling the other Unchained. Now that they knew the true nature of the mysterious Legion, the heroes began to piece together bits of vague comments and writings into a vaguely defined but more clear than before picture of the Unchained Legion's motives. Braig's comments indicated that the Unchained sought to restore the original world by any means necessary. How that involved mass mind control or Night Howlers was another matter entirely, but Kairi supposed that she could always ask Rose later.

The fighting was fierce and intense as the battle raged on. Facing three opponents meant that Lerena had to stay on her toes and move as quickly as she could, even employing her doppelgangers to buy herself some breathing room. But while everyone fought valiantly, the Unchained had eight thousand years of experience over everyone else in the room, and quickly retook the upper hand. After dodging a particularly brutal looking ice shard from Even (who evidently still held a grudge for the disrespect and insults she sent his way back in the Organization), Lerena put her fingers to her mouth and whistled, giving her fellow immortals the signal. On cue, the other Legionnaires fired off Firaga Burst spells that buffeted their opponents with streams of fireballs while they all ran for a Corridor of Light that the former Savage Nymph created at the edge of the platform.

"Even, Strife, Parr, with me!" Vanitas ordered as he drew his Keyblade and charged towards the corridor in pursuit of the runaway Unchained. "We follow them back to their base and hit them where it hurts." Before he passed through the portal, each of them fired of quick texts to their family members (or his boss in Vanitas' case) to let them know what they were doing. They had no idea where this portal would lead or how long it would take to return, but Vanitas was the highest ranking officer there, and he knew an opportunity when he saw one. This was their chance to return fire and strike back at the Unchained Legion. With any luck, they could gather more intel on the Legion at the same time. But the Legion had been keeping them on the defensive ever since they showed up. It was time to turn the tables.

The Land of Departure – Forecourt

September 29th, 2021

Contrary to Terra's expectations, Ventus and Yuffie were able to hold their own. Thanks to their smaller size and greater agility enabled them to weave their way through the attacking Keyblade Wielders like snakes through grass. They blocked and parried every strike that came their way and retaliated in kind, using Aeroga and Mega Flare spells to clear themselves some breathing room. Ven healed himself while knocking opponents off the mountain with Salvation spells, while Yuffie would throw her shuriken to get away from an enemy combatant before using a Curaga spell on herself to heal her wounds. If they had been facing Heartless or any other opponent, they might have actually been able to win.

But unfortunately, they weren't facing Heartless, or Hellfire Club troopers, or even just ordinary soldiers. They were facing the immortal warriors of the Unchained Legion. And because every time a Legionnaire died they were reincarnated (granted they had to wait just over two decades for their memories to return but still), the Unchained could afford to throw everything they had into this attack. For every Unchained Ven and Yuffie knocked over the edge with a Blizzaga spell, two more came charging up the mountain slope into the courtyard. Like the Earth terrorist organization HYDRA, they always came back. And the young couple were quickly being overwhelmed.

Eventually, the pair were forced into the middle of the stairs leading up to the castle. They were surrounded by Unchained on every side as they hastily brought up Reflega shields to protect themselves against the relentless barrage of spell fire and energy blasts from the Legionnaires' Keyblades. One spell after another impacted against the glittering shield as Ven and Yuffie stood inside the large spherical barrier. Both of them were worn down and exhausted. At this point, they knew that even with the aid of Coalition Reinforcements, it was only a matter of time before one of the invading Unchained got in a lucky strike.

"It looks like this is the end, Ven," Yuffie admitted with tears in her eyes as she fed him a continuous stream of Hi-Ethers to keep the shield up. But even that wasn't enough. More and more cracks appeared on the shield every few minutes. Sooner or later, the barrier spell was going to collapse. "I wish there was a way out of this but there's nothing we can do." She looked at her boyfriend and found that he too had tears flowing down his cheeks.

"At least we made the end memorable then," he replied as he blinked away the tears. "We bought Terra the chance to get his kid and the Stone out of here, and delayed these guys long enough for reinforcements to get here in time to stop them from getting the Infinity Stone." He leaned over and kissed her. "I love you, Yuffie," he whispered hoarsely as the Reflega spell cracked even further.

"I love you, too," the "Great Ninja" whispered back as she embraced her boyfriend for the last time. With one last Mega Flare spell, the Reflega shield shattered into a million tiny pieces. The Unchained held their fire as their commanding officer advanced up the steps, curved scythe in hand. Ven and Yuffie could have gone out with one final fight, but they didn't have the energy to do little more than die quickly. And the Glider-mounted Unchained hovering overhead blocked all avenues of escape. At least this way, the last thing they saw would be each other. Ven and Yuffie remained intertwined with their lips locked and eyes closed as Aurilam's scythe ran them through.

Deep Space – Morag; Unchained Base Camp

September 29th, 2021

Lerena fumed as she stormed down the corridors of the Unchained compound on Morag towards the command center. All around her alarms blared and the sounds of combat echoed through the facility. That wretched demon, Vanitas, and his troops had followed her hit squad through the portal back to base. Now they were wreaking havoc all over the place. This was bad, but she trusted her fellow Unchained to hold them at bay and keep them from accessing any truly vital information while she reported the status of the mission to N.I. With a slam of the door, she marched into the command center and stormed over to the communications console. Pushing buttons violently, she put in a call to the supreme commander of the Legion aboard the Ava.

"Get me the Novus Imperator," she demanded as the call went through. "I've got the cube."

Earth – Siberian HYDRA Base; Winter Soldier Chamber

September 29th, 2021

There's too many of them, Sora thought as he reversed out of the way of a blow from one of the Winter Soldiers. Without Thor, we're toast. And indeed, that seemed to be an accurate assessment. Thor had left for Asgard for some formal meeting that he was required to be home for, and while the Hulk was able to handle one or two Winter Soldiers, but when they went up against all five of them, the Avengers were quickly overwhelmed. Since Leroys had been captured at the battles in Lagos and Vienna, even Stitch was having trouble avoiding the fast and furious kicks and punches from the villainous super soldiers.

The Avengers had arrived at the Siberian HYDRA base to find the entire compound seemingly deserted. After combing the corridors for any signs of life, they soon found that not to be the case. They had reached the chamber containing the stasis pods where the Winter Soldiers had been stored to find the five super soldiers and every HYDRA agent in the facility waiting for them. Falcon, Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, Kim and Ron were busy dealing with the mortal HYDRA forces, leaving Stitch, Pietro, Iron Man, The Hulk, Sora, and Bucky to deal with the other Winter Soldiers on their own. And so far, they weren't doing so well.

Captain America was busy facing down an old foe. The Red Skull himself had taken charge of the base, and had been looking forward to a rematch with the Captain ever since their duel aboard the Valkyrie all those decades ago. Their punches flew fast and furious as they brawled back and forth across the cramped and crowded battlefield. But after years of combat training, the original Super Soldiers were too evenly matched to actually do any damage to each other. Meanwhile, Sam, Natasha, Wanda, Kim, and Ron were being slowly but surely overwhelmed by the increasing amount of henchmen. Reinforcements from S.H.I.E.L.D. were at least half an hour away, but Sora didn't think that the team would last much longer if help didn't come sooner.

Suddenly, everything stopped as a glowing portal of light appeared in the middle of the room like a rainbow in the dark. Sora and Natasha immediately tensed, recognizing corridors of Light as the primary method of transportation for the Unchained Legion. But one of them cheered up as they recognized the faces of three of the four new arrivals. Sora's, on the other hand, held an ear to ear grin as Vanitas, Cloud, Even, and Violet emerged from the portal and took stock of their situation. The logo of the soldiers Sora and his associates were fighting was an exact match for the Hellfire Club troops present at the Battle of Knowhere. And the man with the mutated, skull-looking face was clearly the enemy's leader. That left only one course of action.

Before anyone could react, Vanitas warped over to the Red Skull and drove his Keyblade through the HYDRA leader's chest. The terrorist leader's minions all stood still in shock as their leader slumped to the floor with a gaping, bleeding hole in his upper torso. This was all the opening the Avengers needed. With HYDRA's agents too shocked to do anything, everyone else in the room struck. Bucky felled the Winter Soldiers with five quick bullets to their heads, while Pietro ran around knocking out the normal HYDRA troopers with a single running punch. With the aid of Vanitas and his team, the battle was over within ten minutes. Once all the fighting was done, Sora and Vanitas cast Sleep spells on the fallen foes to keep the ones still living unconscious.

"Van!" Sora greeted warmly, happy to see a familiar face. "It's great to see you again. What are you doing? How'd you get here?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing, Sora," his older brother's dark half retorted with a friendly smirk. "How about we find something decent to eat around here and we can all trade stories and figure out what's going on. Sound fair?"

"Took the words right out of my mouth," Tony interjected. "So, Sora, this is your older brother's not-evil-anymore twin. Why the hell does he look like a younger version of you?" Vanitas only quirked an eyebrow in response. Six years of making friends all over the Coalition had taken care of his Xehanort-induced self-esteem issues, so Tony's bluntness did not even remotely faze him. That didn't mean he was okay with being referred to as Ven's "Not-Evil-Anymore twin." He shot Sora a look silently demanding to know why he'd been referred to as such in whatever conversation he'd been discussed in.

"Don't mind Tony," Sora apologized. "He just says whatever comes to mind with no filter between his brain and his mouth." Vanitas smirked in satisfaction as Tony protested only to admit that the accusation was mostly true. "Anyway that sounds like a plan to me." With the tension broken, greetings were exchanged as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents arrived to take the captive HYDRA troopers into custody and clean up the bodies of the Red Skull and his empowered goons. Once all the post-battle cleanup was taken care of, the two teams piled into the Quinjet and headed off for some Shwarma. It was time to catch up.

Chapter Text

The Kiln – Prison Yard

September 29th, 2021

Maleficent was positively livid when Sephiroth's progeny returned to the Kiln without the Infinity Stone. She was so furious that she told the three siblings that they'd outlived their usefulness and ordered them executed. And then they had the gall escape, killing half a dozen Dark Elves on the way out. The loss of Malekith's troops was the only real consolation for today's events. Well, that and Yzma's release from prison in the chaos of the invasion, but Malekith's impending power play was a higher priority. She was walking towards her office to summon her inner circle for a discussion of their recent losses and the rise of this "Legion" when the entire station shook.

As the Mistress of All Evil braced herself against the wall she felt a rare chill of fear as she realized what was going on. They were under attack. Someone, either in the pathetic Coalition or that meddling Legion, had discovered their location and, judging by the increasing frequency of explosions and the sounds of spell and laser fire, had boarded the station intent on either bringing the Hellfire Club's upper echelons to justice or wiping them out. But it was not for herself that she was afraid. Lily was reading in her room while her father cooked dinner. Lily would not understand what was going on, and the shouting, alarms, and shaking would draw her out of her room in curiosity, and then she'd be at risk of being injured or worse, killed, in the crossfire.

I have to get my daughter out of here, Maleficent thought to herself as she frantically teleported upstairs to Lily's room. Grabbing Lily, she teleported up to the communications room and ordered everyone to evacuate the station. While she would have preferred to stand and fight, what little of her military forces remained were still on their way back from the failed invasion of Radiant Garden, while Malekith's fleet was still scouting the Titan's Refuge with Loki and Nebula. As much as it burned Maleficent to admit it, they were sitting ducks right now. Holding their ground in a desperate last stand would only get them all killed and her daughter taken away from her. And that she refused to allow.

She felt a surge of comfort at the familiar "poof" of her husband teleporting into the room.

"Maleficent, babe," Hades greeted calmly. "What's the plan?" He didn't have to ask why she was ordering their cabal to evacuate the abandoned prison complex or why they weren't standing up and fighting back. He knew his wife better than anyone and one thing he learned since he'd met her was that she never did anything without a good reason. If she was ordering the evacuation of their base, it was because she had a plan to regroup and strike back.

"We regroup at Thanos's sanctuary," she replied calmly as she initiated the self-destruct system she'd installed after they'd moved into the facility. "We take stock of our losses, find out as much information about this "Legion" as we can, and then destroy them. They're too big of a threat to us for them to be ignored. They need to be eliminated now before we can have any hope of succeeding in our campaign. We learned that the hard way with Xehanort. We'll scout out their bases and defenses, then we slaughter them all and take back the Infinity Stones."

Hades nodded his head in understanding as he teleported out of the room. He warped all over the former prison making sure everyone in the Inner circle escaped through Dark Corridors to their new base safely. Once everyone had made it out, he poofed away himself. As the smoke faded he found himself standing at the foot of a series of floating metal stairs leading up to a hovering golden throne. Taking Lily in his arms, he watched his wife ascend the steps towards the chair that once belonged to Thanos. When she reached the top of the stairs, Maleficent turned and took her rightful seat on the Mad Titan's throne, directing her gaze first down at her followers, then up towards the stars.

I could get used to a view like this, Maleficent thought to herself as she surveyed the universe above her. She realized now that she had been too hasty in her rush to obtain the Infinity Stones. By neglecting to get proper reconnaissance of potential enemies such as the Legion, she had left herself open to attack. But she always did love the old adage "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger." For she had indeed survived everything the pathetic Daybreak Coalition had been able to throw at her, and emerged from the conflict stronger than ever. This time, she had her priorities straight. She would eliminate all competition, retake the stolen Infinity Stones, retrieve the rest, and then, the universe would be hers.


New York City – Shwarma Restaurant

September 30th, 2021

Vanitas' story was surprisingly straightforward. Sora was expecting a long convoluted explanation to explain how he got to Earth from Coalition Space. But pursuing the Unchained back to their own base during the attack on Radiant Garden only to be thrown out through a random Corridor of Light was so much easier to understand. Thankfully, Vanitas and his team had managed to steal a few of the Unchained Legion's files before they got kicked out, and one of the documents they'd managed to download was a map of Coalition Space in relation to Earth and the Galactic Federation. Sora was thrilled to finally have a map home. And he couldn't help but let out a chuckle when Vanitas told him that Kairi had hired Captain Amelia to bring her to Earth to get him.

"Looks like I'll have to meet her halfway," the Key bearer commented with a hopeful smile. He'd talked with Stitch the other day about getting him a ride offworld, and Stitch had offered Sora a ride in the spaceship of Stitch's creator, Jumba Jookiba, who was also living on Earth. Jumba had taken it to the garage for maintenance, and it wouldn't be done for just under a week, but at least he had a plan. He wasn't just sitting around waiting for bad guys to fight while he waited for Kairi to come pick him up.

"Don't you mean "we'll" be meeting her half way?" Tony interjected. "And here I thought we were friends." Sora looked at the armored Avenger incredulously while Vanitas just smirked knowingly. "Come on, Sora," he went on. "Did you really think we'd let you just jet off halfway across the universe without us? You may not have been here very long, but you're still part of this team. All for one and one for all, am I right? Where you go, we go." Sora smiled and thanked Tony for the gesture.

"But what if S.H.I.E.L.D. needs you guys here on Earth?" Cloud pointed out, concerned that either the Unchained Legion or the Hellfire Club might take advantage of the absence of Earth's mightiest heroes for their own nefarious purposes.

"Which is why only some of us will be going," Steve answered. "We decided that the founding members of the team will be going with him as ambassadors to the Coalition. The rest of the team will be staying on Earth to keep fighting the good fight and protect Earth. Whenever you need their help while you're here on Earth, you'll have the full support of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Avengers, and the S.A.C.K."

"You really should think of a better acronym for your little secret society, you know," Violet commented with a laugh.

"Nobody's ever really been able to come up with anything that's both catchy and sums up our purpose," Steve admitted shyly, drawing another round of laughter from everyone present. "Anyway," Captain America changed the subject as he addressed Vanitas and his team. "When we head off into space, will all of you be joining us?"

"Actually," Vanitas replied. "I think we'll be staying on Earth for a few weeks. From what we know HYDRA is allied with the Hellfire Club, and Maleficent will likely attempt to take more personal control of the survivors now that the Red Skull is gone. Not to mention the fact that the Unchained Legion apparently has ties to Earth. We'll stay and help S.H.I.E.L.D. investigate those connections and search for dormant Hellire facilities waiting in the shadows." Everyone in the room nodded in understanding, and the conversation soon turned to more personal matters as they resumed their meal. The war was far from over, but at least now, they had a plan.

Radiant Garden – Spaceport; RLS Legacy

October 6th, 2021

"Are you ready for this?" Riku asked as he walked in from putting his bags up in his private cabin. After the incident with Silver and his men, Captain Amelia personally ran background checks on every member of her crew that she hired. She refused to allow a repeat of Silver's pirate mutiny. All of them had been briefed on the Daybreak Coalition in advance and sworn to secrecy. The Coalition government wasn't exactly hostile towards outsiders or even remotely isolationist, but they had enough things to deal with making sure the various member worlds stayed on good terms with each other and fighting the Hellfire Club or the Legion to just broadcast their existence to the wider galaxy.

"I've been read for a week now," Kairi answered as she looked out over the rail at the modern Gummi Ships spread out around the spaceport's four other docking bays. While travel between worlds was more common, spaceship traffic was never crowded enough to necessitate the construction of additional terminals. The Daybreak Coalition had been around for six years, but there was always something new to see wherever you went. But where they were going now was completely uncharted territory. To her knowledge, nobody in Coalition space had ever been beyond their small corner of the universe. But they would have to soon.

When Sora used the X – Blade to seal Kingdom Hearts, they all knew that the worlds would begin the process of merging back together into one whole planet. For the last six years, the worlds were all slowly but steadily moving in one particular direction. The movement was infinitesimal, unnoticeable to the people living on each world, but plainly obvious to scientists charged with observing the route, speed, and direction of the migrating worlds. Whatever source was drawing the worlds of the Coalition back towards where they had originally come from kept the suns around which they all orbited moving with them to keep the populations alive. While they'd yet to encounter any other civilizations in this corner of space, they knew it was only a matter of time before they bumped into other inhabited planets.

"Hang in there, Sora," Kairi whispered as she shook those thoughts out of her head to focus on her goal. The Legacy was gliding silently out of the docking bay and up through the gateway into Radiant Garden's atmosphere. Riku, Donald, Goofy, and Rose joined her on the deck watching the blue canyon walls surrounding the city glide silently past. Montressor-built ships like the Legacy were equipped with atmospheric shield generators that produced breathable air for its occupants while travelling through the vacuum of space. So much had changed since they were kids on the Destiny Islands, but one thing that would never change was how she and Sora felt about each other. "We're coming for you."

Chapter Text

The Lanes Between – U.W.S. Ava

September 30th, 2021

The Novus Imperator of the Unchained Legion was furious. While on one hand, the operation to recover the Infinity Stones had been completely successful, that corrupted freak Vanitas and a team of Coalition soldiers had managed to follow Warden Lerena back to their facility on Morag and attack the place. The worst part, however, had to be that the Coalition infidels just had to get their hands on several encrypted files, most of which included both an annotated map of the galaxy and notes on several Unchained safe houses on Earth. Heads would have rolled if the Legionnaires weren't already functionally immortal.

"I accept full responsibility for the fallout of the Coalition raid on Morag, Madame N.I.," Lerena said with an overdramatic bow. "I put too much faith in my detachments ability to keep those heathens away from our files, and now we will all pay the price."

"You were never very good a playing defense, were you, Warden Lerena?" one of the High Praetors commented dryly. "If I'd been in charge of the Morag facility, they wouldn't have even made it past the entrance."

"Well you know what, Commander?" Lerena retorted mockingly. "You weren't in charge because you felt that your position within S.H.I.E.L.D. was too valuable to abandon for, and I quote "some backwater guard post in the middle of knowhere." So you have no right to complain when things don't work out the way we planned. If you're really tired of working at S.H.I.E.L.D. already, I could just drop by Coulson's office and leave some incriminating files on his – "

"Enough," the Imperator interrupted, her voice firm and cold as she looked out at the faces of her inner circle. "We have more important matters to attend to than resurrecting centuries old rivalries. Our attack on the Land of Departure was a costly one. We lost five Legionnaires alone just eliminating that pathetic ninja and the reincarnation of Foreteller Gula. It will take at least two decades for them to return to the fold. In the meantime, the Hellfire Club has learned of our existence. No doubt they will be coming for us in their desire to eliminate all perceived competitors for their goal of universal conquest. If we are to engage them openly, we must bulk up our forces. To that end, I've decided to reactivate the Pantheon Project."

"But Imperator," Aurilam protested. "We cannot be sure that the Hunstclan were even really destroyed." The Huntsmaster had attempted to use the thirteen Aztec skulls developed as a Leopardos WMD during the Keyblade War to destroy all magical creatures back in 2007, only for the traitor, Rose, to turn the tables on him and destroy the Huntsclan. The mortal trainees that had been recruited from all corners of the Earth were unharmed by the curse, as they were not full members of the clan and never would be. The true members of the Hunstclan, in reality a subsidiary of the Unchained Legion, were all eliminated. And the power of the Aztec skulls had apparently prevented them from being reincarnated. "Just because we haven't been able to find them," the man formerly known as Marluxia went on, "Doesn't mean that – "

"High Praetor Aurilam, stop denying the obvious," Madame N.I. interjected. "We all know that the properties of the Aztec skulls blocked Kingdom Hearts from allowing our brethren in the Huntsclan from reincarnating. The Pantheon Project will allow us to change that. Are their any objections?" She looked around the table and found none. "Very well, then let's get to work."

"As you command, Imperator Skuld," Lerena answered as the High Council stood up to leave the room. The raven haired woman in command of the Unchained Legion allowed a small smile to creep its way onto her face at hearing the sound of her true name for the first time in thirty years. While most of her people wore their different identities and faces like masks, nothing could ever compare to the sound of her true name. The one she had when she had first been recruited by Foreteller Ava before the Keyblade War, over eight thousand years ago.