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Chase the Sea

Chapter Text

This world is beautiful. I wish … I wish Terra and Ven were here to see it with me.

Aqua looked around the tiny island she found herself on, basking in the last glow of the sunset. A strangely bent tree caught her eye, drawing it up to the yellow fruits hanging beneath the enormous fronds. Star-shaped fruits. She smiled and pulled out her wayfinder, only for her smile to fade as she remembered her predicament. "Terra … Ven … I hope we're ready for the storm that's coming."

"Hey! Wait up!"

"Too slow, Sora! See ya at the finish line!"

A pair of boys ran down the beach. They crossed beneath a wooden bridge, the finish line apparently, judging by the silver-haired boy's victorious grin. "One more time!" the brunet whined. "You just got lucky!" The other boy's gaze softened and Aqua's heart ached as she thought about Terra's soft smile whenever Ven insists on one more Command Board game.

He spotted her on the bridge. She hesitated for only a heartbeat before hopping down to meet them.

One of the boys – the spitting image of Ven – called himself Sora, and she could feel the light in his heart, as bright and pure as any of the others she's met so far. Riku was a bit more reluctant to give his name, but the sincerity shining in his eyes reminded her of Terra.

Granting one of them the ability to wield a Keyblade would ensure that someone would be left to protect the worlds if the worst came to pass. Keyblade wielders were spread far too thin for her to risk leaving their home range undefended. But she sensed power sleeping in Riku's heart, power he may have inherited from Terra.

She should have known Master Eraqus was wrong not to bestow the title of Master on him.

For a moment, she wondered if she should pass the power to Sora. She dismissed the thought. One Keyblade was enough for any friendship.

Of course, there was something else she could ensure. "Sora, do you like Riku?"

"Of course I like him," he replied, with all the cheerful bluntness of childhood, "he's my best friend!"

"Good." It was probably reckless to ask this of him, to ask one of the pure lights to dive into darkness to keep one Keyblade wielder safe.

Still, she knew she could never forgive herself if Riku ended up like Terra, alone and astray in the darkness, all because she did nothing. "So then, if something happens, and Riku is about to get lost – or say, he starts wandering down a dark path alone – you make sure to stay with him and keep him safe. That's your job, Sora, and I'm counting on you to do it, okay?"

Riku looked confused, as though he couldn't imagine getting lost, but Sora's eyes were wide as he nodded. "Yeah," he whispers, clearly worried by the idea that Riku might someday need protection.

"And Riku?"

"Hm?"

"Your job is to protect Sora. His heart is very special, and you've got to make sure it stays safe, okay?"

"Yeah, of course. Sora's my best friend, too." He stood a little closer to Sora, and she wondered if it might have been wrong to burden them with worries they might never have to face.

Terra's hurt expression flashed through her mind. She should have stood with him, not pushed him away out of fear of the darkness. These boys might never face their troubles, but if they did …

If they did, she didn't want Sora to repeat her mistakes.

She smiled and ruffled their hair to break the tension. They giggled, worries seemingly forgotten, and then they said their farewells. She watched them head to their boat and call up to some sort of deck. Aqua ducked out of sight as a man climbed down and rowed them away.

Sitting on the tree and watching the sunset didn't distract her for long. She was only delaying the inevitable. Armor clad, she summoned her glider and headed for the home of Master Yen Sid, the wisest man she knew of. She needed advice, desperately. Maybe he could help.

Chapter Text

Riku yawned as he lay back in the sand, beneath the shade of the paopu tree. It wouldn't hurt to take a few minutes to nap while Sora and Kairi finish gathering materials for the raft. He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting down into slumber. Down, down ….

His feet touched sand, and his eyes snapped open. Sora stood next to him, laughing about something or other. They both looked up at the same time. Kairi stood in the water, far enough out that it was almost up to her waist. Something was wrong. She reached her hand out with a strangely worried look. Riku took just one step forward before an odd feeling drew his attention to his feet.

The water rushed away.

Tsunami!

Terror squeezed his chest, and he grabbed Sora's hand to run for high ground, but Kairi didn't move. Sora ran toward her first, with Riku on his heels. It was hopeless, it went against every reflex ingrained in them since childhood, but even as the water crashed over them they kept trying to reach her. She stayed in place somehow, still holding her hands out. They couldn't fight the current for long. Sora clung to Riku as they were washed away, struggling to reach the surface.

They gasped for air and helped each other stagger to shore. Sora grabbed Riku's shoulder and pointed up at the sky – at the person falling from it.

Riku looked up, and everything went topsy-turvy. He looked down, except that down was up now, and Sora reached for him as though he could stop him falling through sheer force of will. There were two boys standing beneath him, upside-down like a reflection, but before Riku could tell much more about them than their hair colors – black and blond – the sky rippled and all three of them disappeared.

He drifted down again, farther and farther, and when he finally touched the ground the dark surface peeled away piece by piece, turning into a flock of doves. He covered his face to protect it against the rush of wings and feathers.

He stood on a pillar, a mosaic of stained glass. It seemed sturdier than it should. He was the central figure, leaning against the paopu tree with his eyes closed as though asleep. A circle on either side showed Sora and Kairi. The scene was ringed by paopu fruits and shells, the background a deep, rich blue, and it felt like home.

So much to do, so little time …

The voice was high-pitched, almost squeaky, but somehow comforting.

Take your time. Don't be afraid.

The door is still shut. Now, step forward.

Can you do it?

It was then that Riku snapped into lucidity. He shook his head to clear it. The first few steps were sluggish, like dragging his feet through wet sand, but the feeling passed as he reached the center of the pillar. A series of pedestals appeared, each with a different object floating above it. A shield, a staff, a sword.

Power sleeps within you.

If you give it form …

It will give you strength.

Choose well.

He spared glances at the sword and the staff before reaching for the shield.

The power of the guardian.

Kindness to aid friends.

A shield to repel all.

"No more borders around, or below, or above, so long as you champion the ones you love." Riku smiled. This was what he always wished for, the strength to protect his friends. The shield disappeared in a flash of light.

Your path is set.

Now, what will you give up in exchange?

Nothing ever comes without a price. He picked up the staff.

The power of the mystic.

Inner strength.

A staff of wonder and ruin.

Blue … her hair was blue, wasn't it? He couldn't remember her name now, or maybe he never knew it in the first place, but he remembered sensing something unusual in her. Something that resonated in his heart. He felt the same kind of power from the staff.

Maybe he would look at the sword, too, before making his decision.

The power of the warrior.

Invincible courage.

A sword of terrible destruction.

He'd been taking sword fighting lessons for years, so it should feel natural in his hands, but something about the weight of it was … off-kilter. Like it didn't really belong there. It faded away with another, softer flash of light. The pedestal abruptly sank into the ground … floor? … and the pillar shattered from the outside in, sending him falling once again into darkness.

He landed gently on another pillar, with an orange background this time. The shield appeared in his hand.

There will be times you have to fight.

Keep your light burning strong.

And how am I supposed to fight with just a shield? The chittering black bug-like thing – Shadow – that rose from the ground made him think he didn't have much time to figure it out. A circle of Shadows formed around him. One lunged, and he swatted it out of the air. His swings were pretty clumsy, but he managed well enough to take down most of them.

The few that were left sank into the ground. Darkness spreads from them, covering the ground, and his foot abruptly sank down. He flailed as the darkness swallowed him up, only to realize that he was lying on another pillar.

His breath came in ragged gasps. He shoved himself to his feet just in time to destroy a few more Shadows. A set of stairs appeared, floating in midair and leading to yet another pillar. He tested one cautiously. It seemed as solid as the pillars were, and there didn't seem to be any other way forward, so he took a deep breath and started climbing.

The next pillar was green, and just as empty as all the others.

The closer you get to light, the greater your shadow becomes.

The voice almost startled him. A sudden prickling sensation ran down his back and he looked behind him. There was nothing there but his –

Did his shadow just move?

It turned, and … rose … out of the ground …? Riku backed up slowly, fear morphing into full-blown panic as it grew and twisted into a monster out of his deepest nightmares. Its hair – if it could be called hair – wrapped around its head where its mouth should've been, lines like tear tracks marked its face beneath eyes that were little more than glowing yellow pits, and half of its torso was simply not there. There was just a massive, heart-shaped hole.

Darkside.

But don't be afraid.

And don't forget …

Riku didn't hear the rest of what the voice said. He glanced to the side, but the staircase was gone. He ran to the edge of the pillar and looked down. All he could see beneath was infinite nothing. Dream or no, he didn't want to find out what would happen if he fell.

He swallowed his fear and faced the Darkside. It brought its fist down, shaking the pillar as it sank down to the wrist. Shadows rose out of the pool of darkness, but he tried to ignore them as much as he could, focusing on the Darkside instead.

The head is weak. He realized abruptly that the thought wasn't his, but he didn't have time to figure out where it came from. Running up its giant arm was easy enough. Staying up there for more than a single combo was … not. He grazed it, stepped too far over to compensate. Next thing he knew his shoulder slammed against the ground. A Shadow rose and slashed at him. The wound burned.

Leaping up, he knocked the Shadow away. The Darkside's hands were out of range, to say nothing of its head, hitting its feet wouldn't do a lick of good … there was no helping it – he would have to wait it out.

A few Shadows got too close. He destroyed one and faced another but he spotted a strange light out of the corner of his eye. Reflexively, he blocked it.

He turned his back on the Shadow.

He didn't see the other missile headed for him.

They hit him at the same time. He cried out in pain, barely keeping his feet as he turned –

The Darkside slammed its fist into the pillar again. The shockwave knocked him to the ground. Get up, get up! but he couldn't –

– But don't be afraid

– darkness pooled around him – arm burned shoulder ached –

You hold the mightiest weapon of all.

– yellow eyes loomed over – gone his shield was gone – he couldn't –

So don't forget:

You are the ones who will open the door.


Riku jerked awake with a panicked gasp. "Well, that was weird," he muttered once he'd caught his breath. The two logs on the outcropping were still sitting there, which meant either Sora or Kairi was slacking off. Or maybe both of them.

He grabbed one of the logs and crossed the bridge, noting the pile of wood and rope next to the door that led to the cove on the other side of the island. He smirked. Kairi was only halfway slacking.

Which meant Sora was completely slacking.

"… see 'em all!"

"So what're we waiting for?"

He'll leave you behind.

The sudden pang of jealousy bothered Riku. Yes, most likely Sora would choose Kairi over him. It only made sense, he never showed any interest in other boys and everyone knew he had a crush on her. But that didn't matter, because they'd both stay his best friends anyway.

Deep breath. It's just a thought. I don't have to listen to it. He felt the tightness in his chest loosen, almost reluctantly. Much better.

"Hey," he called out playfully, "aren't you guys forgetting about me? I guess I'm the only one working on the raft." He tossed the log under his arm to Sora as he passed him and stood in front of Kairi. The amusement in his voice belied the mild glare he shot her. "And you're just as lazy as he is."

"Aw, I hoped you wouldn't notice." She giggled, not the slightest bit sorry. "Okay, we'll finish it together. I'll race you!"

He glanced up at her as his butt hit the sand. "What, are you kidding?" he asked wearily, knowing that he and Sora would take the bait anyway. Their eyes met as she called Ready?, neither of them moving, both of them tensing to jump up as soon as she shouted –

"Go!"

They were up before she even started running. Normally, Riku had the advantage when they raced on this side of the island, but his dream left him strangely drained. They reached the door at the same time.

"Alright! I actually tied with you," Sora cheered.

"Only 'cause I'm tired from all the work I've done today," he teased, ruffling Sora's hair.

He ducked out from under Riku's hand, a blush barely noticeable on his cheeks. Riku's heart skipped a beat at the sight. He's just embarrassed, he reminded himself. Sora loved him, just not that way. "Okay, okay, I get it. I'll go gather my stuff."

The afternoon went by quickly. They did finish the raft, despite Sora constantly getting sidetracked by sparring with the other kids. He even managed to take Selphie, Wakka and Tidus down all at once. He was pretty badly bruised by the end of it, but it was still impressive, considering that Riku also had trouble with them.

They ended up with time for a few rounds of sparring before sunset. Sora did his goofy little victory dance as Riku helped Kairi up off the ground. "What's the score now?"

"I dunno, but you're getting better again," Kairi huffed, brushing sand off her skort.

Sora hummed in agreement. "Yeah, Swordmaster Ton had me go back to doing balance exercises, since … you know," he muttered, crossing his arms over his chest self-consciously. Kairi winced sympathetically – she hadn't had quite as much difficulty as him, since her preferred style depended much less on agility, but when she started puberty it took her weeks to get used to her new center of gravity.

"It definitely seems like it's helping," she said, inspecting a darkening bruise on her shin. Riku offered her a potion. She waved him off. "I'm fine. We'll be catching up to you in no time."

Riku frowned as she and Sora climbed up to sit on the paopu tree. You mean you won't need me anymore. He tried to shake off the thought. Why would they ever not need him? They were friends. "That just means I have to work harder to stay ahead of you, keep you on your toes. You two might slack off if I don't."

"Hey!" they both yelled, pouting at him. He raised a challenging eyebrow. The three of them could only keep up the serious act for a few seconds, though. Sora cracked first, then Kairi, and even Riku was laughing by the time he leaned against the tree.

"So, Kairi's home is out there somewhere, right?"

Maybe that's what they were talking about earlier. Kairi didn't remember anything about it, but Sora tended to ask now and again in the hopes that something might've jogged her memory. "Could be," he said, his eyes trained on the horizon. "We'll never know by staying here."

"But how far could a raft take us?"

"Who knows?" It was a question that had plagued Riku ever since he got the idea for the raft. People did sometimes wash up on the Islands from lands unknown, just like Kairi. The sky and the ocean were both infinite, so far as anyone could tell, so maybe they could get to another world that way.

Even if they couldn't, all three of them knew how to navigate by the stars and the sun, so they could find their way back home if necessary. "If we have to," he continued, "we'll think of something else."

"Suppose you get to another world." Kairi giggled, and Riku kept his eyes forward so she didn't see the scowl he was trying to suppress at the implication that his plan wouldn't work. "What would you do there?

Besides find that man I met when I was a kid? Riku bit his tongue. He didn't know anything about magic, but he didn't want to risk losing it. "I haven't really thought about it." It wasn't entirely a lie. "It's just, I've always wondered why we're here on this island. If there are any other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one? If our world is just a little piece of something much greater, then we could've just as easily ended up somewhere else, right?"

Sora shrugged and leaned back on the tree. "I dunno."

Riku held back a fond chuckle. Sora never much cared for abstract thinking, preferring to just jump into things headfirst. It'd gotten him into trouble more than once. "Exactly. That's why we need to go out there and find out. We won't learn anything just sitting here."

"You've been thinking a lot lately, haven't you?" Kairi asked softly.

"Thanks to you," he said, and it wasn't entirely a lie, either. "If you hadn't come here, I probably would've never thought of any of this. Kairi, thanks."

She giggled, and he wasn't sure why it sounded so nervous. "You're welcome."

They started to head back when he stopped and glanced up at the paopu tree. He'd seen Sora looking at the fruits strangely. Probably thinking about Kairi. He wasn't entirely sure what possessed him to climb up and grab one, nor why he gave it to Sora. Maybe he just hoped Sora would take the hint and confess to Kairi, finally ending their other friends' gossip.

He wasn't sure if he should've been disappointed when Sora tossed it aside or relieved.


 The Wayward King

"Oh, Mickey." Minnie held her hand to her heart. She accepted his tendency to run off impulsively long before she married him, and he had made an effort to run off less of late. Still, she couldn't help but feel disappointed when she awoke to find his side of the bed empty this morning.

He was always sensitive to the state of the worlds, even for a Keyblade wielder. Their subjects still saw the same old Mickey, but their closest friends – Scrooge, Donald and Daisy, Goofy and Max, Chip, Dale, and Gadget – had all seen the toll it'd taken on him. He hadn't had a full night's sleep in months, and last night wasn't the first time he didn't come to bed at all.

She pulled her gloves on and put on her crown, tucking the sketch she found on her nightstand in her pocket. It was simple, three crossed rapiers and a tiara, but it meant more to her than all the great works of art in the worlds.

"Come home safe, my love," she murmured. "That's all I ask."

Chapter Text

Sora tied his rowboat and climbed onto the dock. "Hey, Sora!"

"Selphie, what's up?"

"Well, I was talking to Ruby the other day –"

Oh, no, she's being Romantic again. He looked around as subtly as he could, hoping to see Riku or Kairi waving him over, but it seemed he was out of luck. Tidus didn't seem to notice him. He caught Wakka's eye, but Wakka only shot him a thumbs up. He resisted the urge to slap his hand to his forehead.

"So, Sora, have you heard about the legendary power of the paopu fruit?"

He tried to will his blush away. "Uh, yeah, why?"

"They say that if you share it with someone you really care for, it binds you together forever and ever, through eternity." She sighed, and not even Sora was dense enough to not realize that she was hitting on him. "It's so romantic. I gotta try it sometime."

"I guess it is," he mumbled, rubbing his neck as he tried not to think about the paopu Riku tossed to him the night before, "but it's way more commitment than I'm ready for. I mean, eternity is a really long time." He chuckled nervously. "Have you seen Riku or Kairi? We had some stuff we were planning on doing …."

"Well, I saw Riku heading to the far side of the island –"

"Thanks! I'm just gonna say hi to Tidus and Wakka first before I head over." He ran off before she could try to flirt with him again.

"How's it goin', Sora?"

He glared half-heartedly at Wakka. "You left me to Selphie's mercy, dude. Not cool."

"C'mon, man, she's cute. And it's not like you been making any moves on Kairi or anything."

"Wh- I don't – why would I do that?" he sputters. They'd been gossiping again, he was sure of it. He didn't know why anyone would think Kairi would end up with him. He was pretty sure she liked him, but he was also pretty sure she liked Riku, and between the two of them Riku would be the better boyfriend. He was taller, stronger, smarter, he had that silver hair that shimmered when it caught the light just right, and his eyes … his eyes were unfairly gorgeous. Sora would be jealous if he didn't like looking at him so much.

"Anyway," Sora said, after a few too many seconds of Wakka looking at him like he was a particularly solid coconut, "what're you guys up to today?"

"Me and Tidus, we're gonna do a little exploring today. You know, to the secret place at the base of that tree. There's gotta be something there, ya?"

A chill ran down Sora's spine. "No, not really. Vines, rocks, sand, a gap in the ceiling that the wind whistles through sometimes." A door with no handle. He didn't know why, exactly, but ever since yesterday's dream, he had felt the need to keep everyone but Riku and Kairi away from it.

"Really? That's too bad. Well, there's still plenty of places in the jungle we haven't explored."

He let out a relieved sigh as he crossed the bridge to the paopu island, only to feel his breath catch as he set foot on it. For a moment he was back in his dream, staring down the Darkside.

Quit panicking and start fighting, Sunshine.

Hey, Darksides are scary for new wielders.

If they're ever gonna get strong enough to fight him,
they're gonna have to face stuff way scarier than one measly Darkside.

You always gotta be such a pessimistic jerk?

Yeah.

Sora shook it off and greeted Tidus, biting back a scathing retort when he claimed Sora was no match for Riku. It wasn't like he didn't know that already. Still, he couldn't quite shake the feeling that Tidus was also trying to shove him toward Selphie.

Kicking his butt back and forth across the beach a few times did wonders to clear up Sora's sour mood.

By the time he made it to the far side of the island, his annoyance had mostly vanished. "Save me, Riku," he groaned, hanging on his shoulder. "Tidus and Wakka are trying to set me up with Selphie."

"They're probably just glad she stopped making goo-goo eyes at them." Riku patted him on the back sympathetically. He had been a target of her affections more than once. "She'll move on to someone else eventually."

"Can 'eventually' be 'now'?" Sora grumbled, stepping back.

Riku shook his head, chuckling. "We're leaving tomorrow anyway. Speaking of which, we need to name the raft. Any ideas? I was thinking Highwind."

He really didn't need to think about it, because he spent hours last night thinking up names. "How about Excalibur?"

"It's not bad. Kairi, how 'bout you?"

"Nah, the only thing I could think of was Floaty the Second. And considering what happened with Floaty the First …." All three of them winced. "Okay, so how 'bout you two race for it?"

"Yeah!" Sora and Riku lined up by the door. "So, if I win, I'm Captain," he said, knowing full well that neither of his friends would take the title seriously, "and if you win –"

"– I get to …." Riku cut himself off, shaking his head and glaring at the ground as though it'd personally slighted him. "I get to be Captain," he said. He ran a hand through his hair and looked out at the cove when Sora tried to look him in the eye.

"Ready?" He sputtered, trying to ask Kairi to wait, but she didn't seem to notice. "Go!"

They bolted, heading across the rickety, busted bridge. Riku veered off to run along the beach. Fine by him, he could climb faster than Riku anyway. He landed at the end of the zip line and started jumping across the palms. The star marker lit up beneath his hand, reaching it almost at the same time as Riku.

Of course, he couldn't help but look back. Only to check how far behind him Riku was. Certainly not to see the intensity in his eyes that only seemed to come out when they were competing.

His breath caught for a very different reason this time. And then he slipped off the tree and hit the sand.

"You okay?" he heard from above him.

"Fine," he replied, launching himself back into the race. Riku might've slowed down to check that he wasn't hurt, but he wasn't going to throw the race out of pity.

He only made it halfway across the bridge by the time Riku crossed the finish line. "Aw, man. What's the score now? 26-32?"

"Something like that. Alright, we're naming the raft Highwind."

Sora frowned and crossed his arms. "One more race, you got lucky that time."

Riku laughed. "Nuh-uh, I won fair and square, I don't care how much you pout. Besides, it's just a name."

"I don't pout!" he said indignantly. He glanced at the pile of pretty stones that normally served as the rewards for the victor of their races. "Fine, usual prize then?"

"You're on!"

A dozen races later, Kairi looked up from the wayfinder she was fastening together and cleared her throat pointedly. "You know, if you boys spend the entire afternoon racing, you won't have time to gather the stuff on your lists, and we won't have any fresh food during our trip. Do you really want to survive on fish jerky, crackers, and freeze-dried mangos the entire time we're at sea?"

No, they did not. Chagrined, they grabbed their water bottles and ran off. Most of Sora's list was pretty easy. He grabbed a few coconuts from the tree he fell out of before, filled his bottle from the spring by the bridge, caught a few fish.

The mushrooms, though. Those were giving him a headache. He looked for the better part of an hour, checking nearly every shady corner he could find, and he was still one short. It wasn't a huge deal, but he couldn't bring himself to admit that he was defeated by fungus.

There was one spot he hadn't checked.

He paused at the edge of the tunnel to the Secret Place, then ducked under the vines and went in. He didn't think Riku or Kairi had come in here in a while, not with all the work they'd been doing on the raft, so there shouldn't have been any new drawings. Still, he looked around, running his hand over a few of his favorite pictures. The walls were littered with half-remembered dreams, scratched in with one of the sharp rocks strewn about the edges of the tiny cave.

It seemed so much larger when they were kids.

At last, he found one more mushroom near the door. He was about to leave when a pair of old drawings caught his eye.

"Can I draw something?"

Sora fidgeted, leaning his weight from one foot to the other. He really should've thought this all the way through. Riku was already gonna be mad that he brought someone else to the Secret Place without asking, but Kairi wasn't just a regular friend like Tidus or Selphie, she was their best friend. So, that made it okay, right?

Boy, had he been wrong about that. He kneeled down, tracing the lines of his drawing of Kairi with his fingers.

"And it's not like you been making any moves on Kairi or anything."

Sora picked up a rock and started drawing, his heartbeat pounding in his ears, but the finished drawing seemed … not wrong, precisely, but not right either. But why? He did want to be a part of Kairi's life, so why did the thought of sharing a paopu with her make him feel guilty instead of giddy?

Behind you!

There was that strange not-a-voice from his dream, the one that had told him the monsters' names, along with the feeling of being watched. "Wh-who's there?" he asked as he turned around, unconsciously stepping closer to the door.

Someone stood in a darkened corner, beneath some tree roots. A robe, brown and shapeless, was secured by two straps across their chest, and a hood concealed their face. "I've come to see the door to this world."

"Huh?"

"This world has been connected …"

"What're you talking –"

"… tied to the darkness … soon to be completely eclipsed."

Suddenly, Sora wished he'd brought his sword in with him. It was only wood, but it was still a weapon. "Well whoever you are, stop freaking me out like this. Where – where did you come from, anyway?"

"You do not yet know what lies beyond the door."

Beyond the door? The door to … this world? "So you're from an-"

"There is so very much to learn. You understand so little."

He wished the man would stop talking as though he wasn't even there. "Oh yeah? Well, you'll see … I'm gonna go learn what's out there."

"A meaningless effort." One of the man's arms waved dismissively, and for a second Sora wondered if there was even anyone actually in the robe. "One who knows nothing can understand nothing."

There was a retort dancing on the tip of his tongue, but he felt something pulse behind the door. He watched it for a long moment with his heart in his throat. What exactly he had to fear was beyond him. He simply knew that the door was important.

He looked back and the man was gone, without even a footprint to show he was ever there.

Sora returned to Kairi, and with each step he took his unease slipped away. He handed her the food, and she showed him the wayfinder she'd just finished. "I'm gonna make one for each of us," she said excitedly as they took the shortcut back to the dock, "that way, no matter what happens, we can find our way back home."

"Cool!" He frowned as he saw that their boats were the only two left. "Riku went home already?"

"Yeah. I guess he needed a little time to himself." She sighed, sitting on the edge of the dock to watch the sunset. "I hope he's alright."

"He's Riku, he'll be fine. He always is."

They were silent for a few minutes. "You know, Riku has changed."

"What do you mean?"

"Well … hm."

She had that particular frown on her face again, the one that she wore sometimes when the subject of leaving came up. "You okay?"

"Sora, let's take the raft and go – just the two of us!"

If he'd been sitting any closer to the edge of the dock, he would've slipped into the ocean. "Wha- Kairi, why would we do that? We can't leave Riku behind, he's our best friend."

She giggled. "Just kidding!"

The unease Sora felt before returned with a vengeance. "What's gotten into you?" he laughed nervously. "You're the one that's changed, Kairi."

"Maybe …. You know, I was a little afraid at first, but now I'm ready. No matter where I go or what I see, I know I can always come back here. Right?"

"Yeah, of course! That's why you're making the charms, isn't it?"

"Right. That's good." She looked back out at the sunset. "Sora, don't ever change." Why did Kairi keep saying such weird stuff? "I just can't wait. Once we set sail, it's gonna be great."

They rowed back together, and Sora insisted on walking her home. She teased him about being a gentleman all of a sudden. He laughed and said he just didn't want to get in trouble for letting her walk home alone in the dark again.

And if he kept glancing over to make sure her shadow wasn't moving on its own … well, she didn't need to know.


 

A Bumpy Start

"Blast off!" Donald reached out to press the ignition button, bracing himself against his seat in preparation for the –

… down sign …?

Donald only had time to consider yelling at Chip and Dale for pranking them again before the stabilization field dropped and they plummeted through the bottom of the launch bay, screaming the whole way down.

The engines kicked on as they hit open space, and the launch crew were laughing too hard to hear him. He'd yell at them later. For now, they needed to get to Traverse Town.

Chapter Text

"What is wrong with me?" Riku stared at his bedroom ceiling, the entire afternoon running through his mind on repeat. I get to share the paopu with Kairi. What in the world had nearly possessed him to say that? He didn't really want to share a paopu with her, or at least, he wanted to share one with Sora more.

It just would've upset Sora, and probably Kairi, too. Some protector he was turning out to be.

Maybe he should've waited to say goodbye to Sora before he went home. No, it couldn't be helped. He was in one of his moods, and when those hit, being around Sora's relentless brightness tended to make it worse.

He still remembered the first time it happened, when Sora took Kairi to the Secret Place for the first time without asking him.

Riku was mad. He yelled and cried and pushed Sora off his bed. Sora cried and asked if he didn't want to be his friend anymore. His mom sent Sora and Kairi over to Sora's house, saying that Riku just needed some quiet time to himself so he could calm down.

He smiled and touched the drawing hanging above his bed. Him, Sora, and Kairi, playing in the Secret Place. His own apology gift from that afternoon hadn't been nearly as lasting – cookies never were, around children.

There was an idea. He should make some cookies to take with them on the –

KSH-SHshsh-CRASH

"A storm? This early in the season?" Riku jumped off the bed and throws open his window. There was no rain, but the wind was whipping past, and the waves were sure to reach – "The raft!"

In seconds he had his shoes on and climbed out the window. In minutes he was at the dock. Kairi and Sora's boats were already gone. A knot of anxiety twisted in his stomach as he untied his boat and rowed to the island. Sure enough, there were two boats tied to the dock when he got there.

Somehow, that just made the anxiety worse. That and the giant … ball of darkness hanging in the sky?

He spotted Sora running to the paopu island. Kairi must've been over there. He didn't take more than two steps before a dark patch of ground rose up, antennae twitching and unblinking yellow eyes fixing on him. He snatched up his wooden sword and slashed at the Shadow.

Nothing happened, so he ran instead.

Sora glanced back at him right before he stepped on the island. He yelled something, but Riku couldn't hear it over the wind and the thunder. Kairi turned, her eyes wide and fearful. He dodged a Shadow as he reached the bridge. "Sora! Kairi!"

"Riku, I –" she responded, covering her ears as a bolt of lightning struck a tree on the beach. "I'm scared! I told him I wasn't but I am! I just –" she flinched at another lighting strike.

"Told who?" Sora asked, nearly shouting to be heard over the storm. "Kairi, who are you talking about?"

"Kairi, what's going on?" She didn't get the chance to answer. Darkness pooled around all three of their feet, wrapping around and trapping them in place. Kairi gasped and reached for them, but Riku was too far and Sora couldn't quite reach, either.

The darkness twisted up his arms. He couldn't breathe or move or see. Kairi cried out, and he reached for Sora but only felt darkness –

Riku!

Light cut through the darkness, burning everything away, and for a moment it burned him, too. When it cleared he found himself standing alone, with an ache in his heart and a giant, silver skeleton key in his hand. Keyblade ….

Was this the key that man told him about all those years ago?

A Shadow leaped at him. He swung at it, remembering too late that they were invincible. Except the thing staggered as the metal connected with it, and the next strike had it vanishing in a puff of darkness, a pinkish-red heart floating away in its wake. Weird, but at least he knew they could be destroyed now.

Still, his first priority was finding Sora and Kairi. His eyes were drawn to the strange doors in front of the Secret Place. It seemed as likely a place as any other.

It was empty, but darkness leaked out of the bottom of the door in the back of the cave and that couldn't be good. It crashed open, the wave of energy blowing him off his feet. He shook off the disorientation as he pushed himself onto his –

"Wha- what … happened …?"

The island was gone. The sea and sky were gone. The ball of darkness above was growing, and ….

A Darkside was rising up behind him.

His heartbeat doubled, his breath sped up to match. Before he quite knew what he was doing, he was raising his hand into a ready stance, but his sword wasn't in his – the Keyblade appeared in a flash of light. "Well, that's convenient," he muttered, glaring at the Darkside. "Let's see how well you do now."

It slammed its fist into the ground. Riku ran up its arm, delivering a few blows to its head as he made it onto its shoulder. It rumbled and shifted constantly beneath his feet, and he almost did slip off when it started shooting the homing missiles at him.

Fatigue only just started burning in his muscles when it finally slumped over. His feet hit the ground and his knees buckled, but he managed to roll with the landing, leaning against a wrecked chunk of wall as the Darkside howled in defeat.

It drifted up into the darkness. Riku clung to the wood, but the pull was too strong for him to hold on for long. The last thing he saw before he blacked out was the scrap of land that was once his home falling to pieces in the dark.


Something cold and wet slid across Riku's cheek. Great, Wakka probably found another sea cucumber. "Eugh, guys, gross …" he mumbled as he blinked his eyes open. But none of his friends were there, just a big, yellow dog. "Another dream?"

The dog jumps on him, startling him into full awareness. This did not feel like a dream, not even the one from the other day.

He looked around as he stood up. He was in an alley, he thought, but the architecture was completely foreign to him, and he didn't recognize the stars at all. He had to lean onto the wall next to him to steady himself as what, exactly, just happened struck him like a wave. Sora and Kairi were missing, he had no idea where he was or how to get home, and all he had with him were the clothes on his back and a few potions in his pocket. Oh, and a giant, magic key.

Gods grant me strength ….

"Where am I?" The dog chuffed next to him. "Any chance your owner's around here?" Its ear perked up as though it heard something, and it bolted. "Hey, where are you – right, because it can totally answer me," he said as he walked out of the alley. There was no sign of the dog, so he wandered down a wide set of steps leading to some sort of plaza. "I can't believe I'm in another world."

He walked for a while, hesitant to speak to any of the people he passed. A short, choked scream caught his attention as he slipped through a pair of double doors marked "Second District". He ran forward, stopping when a man stumbled around a corner and collapsed.

Before Riku could ask if he was okay, a bright light bloomed over his chest, and a heart appeared above that. It floated away as the man's body dissolved into darkness, but instead of drifting off into the sky like the ones from the Shadows, it gravitated toward the ground. Darkness enveloped it, spreading into a human-like figure with armor and red-tipped claws. Soldier.

Do they … steal hearts?! He rushed forward with his Keyblade raised, but the Soldier vanished and a circle of Shadows rose around him. His Keyblade flashed in the gloom, but the Shadow he attacked melted into the ground. He snarled in frustration, turning to the next-closest one.

One down, two, three …. They didn't last long, but he was still shaken. Where else were these things going to show up?

There were even fewer people here. He stopped by a hotel and a few shops but no one had seen Sora or Kairi, and it seemed that he couldn't walk more than five feet without running into more Shadows.

He made it back to the First District with a heavy heart and a frustrating collection of scratches "Where is everyone?" The streets were empty, and again he only took a few steps before he saw why. He cut through the small pack of Shadows, his breath heaving as he checked to make sure he got them all. "More of them? Where are they all coming from?"

"They'll come at you out of nowhere."

Riku spun around, to see a man walking toward him. "Who are you?"

The man's expression barely changed, as cold and sharp as the heavy pendant resting against his chest. "And they'll keep on coming at you, as long as you continue to wield the Keyblade." Riku almost snapped at him for ignoring his question, but a burst of indignation that didn't seem to be entirely his startled him into silence. "But why? Why would it choose a kid like you?"

"I'm not a kid, I'm fifteen!" Riku glared at him.

"Whatever. Now, let's see that Keyblade." He stepped forward, reaching his hand out.

Riku took a step back and raised his weapon. "You want me to just hand this over without any explanation? I don't think so!"

"All right," the man said as the longest sword Riku had ever seen appeared in his hand, "then have it your way." He swung the giant sword – was that some sort of gun attached to the handle? – and faced Riku with the relaxed focus of a professional fighter.

What had he gotten himself into?


 Light, Dark, Light

Darkness choked the breath from Sora's lungs, it tore through his body and strangled his heart. Kairi's hand was too far for him to reach, but maybe … "Riku!"

[Sora! Hold on!]

The last thing he remembered was someone grabbing his hand, and a blinding flash of light.


[Were you trying to shatter your heart again, idiot?!]

[What was I supposed to do, let his heart drift unprotected in the Realm of Darkness?]

Sora groaned as he woke up. The voices from his dream were arguing and it was giving him a headache. He was lying on another of those stained glass pillars, but this one definitely wasn't one of the ones from his dream. Rather than a woman or himself pictured in the glass, it was Riku, holding a – Keyblade. "Where am I?"

[And if I hadn't pulled you back, what then?]

"Who's there?"

[Huh?]

[I said –]

[No, I thought I heard – Sora, can you hear us?]

"Uh, yeah?" He looked around, but there was just as much nothing here as there was in his dream. "Where are you?"

He was met with silence for a second, until the friendly voice spoke up. [Well, we're kinda inside your heart. Which is inside Riku's heart.]

"What?!"

[Maybe I should start at the beginning ….]

The sarcastic voice sighed in resignation. [It's a good thing you've got nowhere to go, Sunshine. This is gonna take a while.]

Chapter Text

What had he gotten himself into?

The ground swayed under Riku's feet as his opponent took a knee. Hopefully conceding defeat. "Are you gonna … ex…plain …" he panted out as little black spots crowded his vision. When was the last time he ate? "… what … what you …."

 

[C'mon, Riku. Wake up, I'm supposed to be the lazy one.] Riku opened his eyes, then immediately scrunched them shut against the light. He had no idea where he was, but it felt like he was lying in a bed. [You okay?]

"Ask me when I'm fully awake. Feels like my brain is bogged down by pitch," he groaned.

Someone huffed out a laugh. [Told you I could get through to him, Van. … What, you can give me a nickname but I can't give you one? … Why not? … Oh, come on!]

Riku pushed himself up and rubbed his eyes. "Sora?"

"Sora? Who are you talking about?" Sora's image vanished as his consciousness kicked in, leaving behind a girl with a cheerful smile and wide, bright eyes. "I'm the great ninja Yuffie." She looked behind her as a door opened. "I think you might've overdone it, Squall," she said to the man with the strange sword.

"That's Leon."

Leon's entrance drew Riku's eyes to the doorframe. "The Keyblade …."

"Yeah," Yuffie said, pacing across the room. She grabbed a plate of food he didn't recognize and brought it back to him. He smiled gratefully at her – maybe it was just because he hadn't eaten in forever, but it smelled amazing. "We had to get it away from you to shake off those Heartless. They were using it to track you somehow."

"It was the only way to conceal your heart from them," Leon said, picking up the Keyblade. "But it won't work for long. Still hard to believe it'd choose a kid." He swung it, and Riku sensed its annoyance as it vanished from Leon's hand, only to appear in his hand like an insistent cat. "I suppose beggars can't be choosers."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Yuffie scoffed. "Leon's an overprotective grouch, that's all." She laughed at Leon's glare. "You can't seriously deny it."

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Anyway, how much do you know about other worlds?"

"I know they exist. But most people don't believe it."

"Right," Yuffie said. "They've been secret because they weren't connected. Until the Heartless came."

"Heartless … you mean those things with the yellow eyes."

"Exactly. The darkness in people's hearts – that's what attracts them."

Leon looked down at him with an expression he couldn't quite read. "And there is darkness within every heart."

He placed his hand over his own heart. My darkness … is that what brought the Heartless to the Islands?

"Hey," Yuffie said, "have you heard of someone named Ansem?" He shook his head. "Apparently, he was studying the Heartless. He wrote some big report on them."

"That sounds useful. Could I see it?"

"I wish. The pages were scattered when our world fell. We've found a few on other worlds but nothing useful. And who knows where the rest of it is." A dramatic sigh escaped her as she flopped back on the end of the bed. "Aerith thinks the King went to find them."

"King?"

"King Mickey," Leon clarified. "He's an ally and another Keyblade wielder. The Heartless have great fear of the Keyblade. That's why they'll keep coming after you, no matter what."

Had the man he'd met as a kid known this was going to happen? "What … what happens when the Heartless come to a world?" He swallowed past the lump in his throat. "What happened to my friends?"

Leon stared at the wall for a few seconds. Finally, he sighed and leaned against the door. "I really don't know." He looked over at Yuffie. "Hey, I'm gonna go check if our other guests are –"

"Leon, look!"

A Soldier materialized on the other side of the room. "Yuffie, go!" Leon ordered as he stepped forward and summoned his sword. Riku tossed his empty plate aside and summoned his Keyblade. He thought he heard some sort of squawk as Yuffie slammed the door open, but he really didn't have time to worry about it. "What's your name, kid?"

Some part of him wanted to refuse to give his name until Leon stopped treating him like a child, but that would just be … childish. "It's Riku."

"Alright, Riku, let's go!"

 

Riku shoved the Third District door closed and leaned heavily against it as he caught his breath. "'Don't bother with the small fry.' Easy for him to say, his sword is taller than they are." Hesitantly, he crept around a wall blocking the sloping street from a little fountain square.

No Heartless jumped out at him. It wasn't terribly reassuring.

A sudden, metallic crash and two long screams caught Riku's attention. He looked up, eyes widening in alarm as he saw two flailing figures hurtling directly at him. He uttered a curse under his breath as he turned to run. It was futile – his mind went to static as they hit him, and by the time he caught up with himself, he was on the ground beneath a giant, dazed duck and what seemed to be a dog.

Whatever. He wasn't sure he could be surprised by anything anymore.

"The Key!"

"I'm fine," he grumbled, "thanks for asking."

"Gawrsh, sorry about that," the dog said apologetically. "We've just been looking – whoa!" The ground shook as pillars erupted from the ground, blocking off any exit from the square. Clanking metal and dissonant burbling announced the arrival of a half-dozen Soldiers.

"Never mind that," Riku snapped, "we've gotta fight."

As much as it stung his pride, he had to admit it was easier to fight with someone watching his back. At the very least, it gave the Heartless more targets. He wiped his brow as the last one faded. "Finally. Okay, what're we gonna do about these –"

CRASH!

He flinched back as an enormous set of armor hit the pavement hard enough to bounce back up. The spiky-fingered gauntlets and the feet snapped into place against the torso. They slammed back down, kicking up a cloud of dust. A round helmet dropped on top of the whole conglomeration. It stayed still for just a moment before the various bits and pieces started floating and flipping around. The dog gulped. "I think we found the boss," he said nervously, raising his shield.

It stomped toward them. Each step shook the ground. Its hands waved and spun wildly. Riku blocked them whenever he could, but mostly he found himself avoiding the trampling feet.

Then the pieces separated again.

Getting at the feet was easier at least, without the gauntlets constantly swinging in front of them. Of course, that was because the gauntlets were now behind them. It really wasn't much of an improvement. The small tornado the torso apparently liked to turn itself into wasn't helping, either.

He scurried out of the way as it tried to run him over again. "Okay, that spinning is really getting old," he said through clenched teeth. It stopped and wobbled a little as though it was dizzy. He took a deep breath and leaped at it, bringing his Keyblade down hard against the metal.

The shock of the impact numbed his hand, but it was enough.

It rose into the air, shaking violently until the helmet tumbled off onto the ground. A heart rose out of the torso, and the Heartless faded in a swirl of wind.

Riku pushed his hair out of his eyes as his impromptu teammates dusted themselves off. The duck waddled over and examined him critically. "So, you're the one with the Key," he said. "We've been looking everywhere for you."

"Why?"

"They've been searching for you on the King's orders." Leon sauntered over to them, lagging slightly behind Yuffie.

"Well, you found me. What now?"

The dog grinned at him. "Why don't you come with us? We can go to other worlds on our vessel."

It's exactly what he wanted to do, but … he shook his head. "I have to find Sora and Kairi first."

Leon frowned and looked aside. "Riku, go with them. Especially if you want to find your friends. If they were here, we would've known by now. There's no telling where they could've ended up, so your best bet is to look on other worlds."

If they made it off the Island at all. "I guess so," he sighed, staring at the ground.

"But you can't come along looking like that," the duck said, wagging a finger. "Understand? No frowning. No sad face. Okay?"

"Yeah," the dog interrupted, chuckling, "you gotta look funny, like us!"

The duck glared at him for a second. "This boat runs on happy faces."

They were probably just trying to get him to cheer up, but he supposed he could humor them. "Happy, huh?" He couldn't really pull off the stupid grins that came so naturally to Sora, but he could almost hear him threatening to squish his cheeks up into a smile. He looked up, pulling the corners of his mouth into what he hoped looked more like a smile than the grimace it felt like.

They cracked up. "That's one funny face!" the dog laughed.

For some reason, he felt warm inside. Sora and Kairi will like them, he thought. "Okay, I'll go with you guys."

The duck held his hand out, palm down. "Donald Duck."

The dog held his hand out over Donald's. "Name's Goofy."

"I'm Riku," he said, following suit.

"All for one, one for all," Goofy said, smiling. Riku smiled back. Maybe this wasn't going to be as bad as it seemed.


 

Rising Falls

Maleficent raised an eyebrow as the girl who appeared out of the darkness knelt on the ground and traced the mosaic worked into the pavement. "I feel … like I know this place," she murmured, standing back up.

"Is that so?" She reached forward to place a hand on the girl's shoulder, but she flinched back. "Oh, child, no need to be so alarmed. I mean you no harm."

"No offense," she said guardedly, "but the last time I listened to a mysterious stranger in a cloak, my home was destroyed."

"By the Heartless, I imagine? Don't look so surprised, my dear. I came to this world to study the darkness hidden away in the castle beyond, as well as the wealth of knowledge the previous inhabitants left behind. Perhaps," she said, tapping a finger against the gem on the end of her staff, "your arrival here was not entirely an accident."

"What do you mean?" the girl asked, grasping her necklace and staring at the ground.

A smug smirk flitted across Maleficent's face. "To arrive here unscathed through the darkness speaks to the strength of your heart. Such strength is rare indeed. If you help me, I can help you. Surely there is something you wish for?"

The girl frowned thoughtfully. "My friends are … they went missing. Could you find them?"

"Of course I could." She stepped up to the next platform and extended her hand to the girl. "You may call me Maleficent."

The girl hesitated, then grasped her hand. "My name's Kairi."

Chapter Text

"Thank you ever so much for saving me from that dreadful queen." The girl in the blue dress gave a strange little bow, pulling her skirt out and bending her knees. "My name is Alice. At least, that's who I was when I woke up this morning, but I've been changed so many times since that I'm afraid I've quite lost track of myself."

"I … see," Riku said, peeking over a hedge. She made as much sense as anything else in this crazy world. And to think, when he woke up that morning, he was sure that nothing could surprise him anymore. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw nothing but flowers and birds.

He turned around to find her staring at him expectantly. "Uh, I'm Riku. This is Donald, and that's Goofy."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," she said, walking down a path that led into the forest. A short way in the path split in several directions. A tree stood in the middle with a truly absurd number of road signs nailed to it, many of them reading things like Hither and Thither, or Too Far and Not Far Enough, or Half Past Noon. "How very curious. Now, which way to go?"

"That depends on where you're trying to get to."

The four of them looked around, trying to find the source of the voice. "Up here," he called. There in the branches of the tree was a grin. Nothing was attached to the grin, mind you, but Riku had seen so many impossible things in this world that he almost forgot to think it strange.

Alice backed up a few steps so she could look up without craning her neck so much. "Oh! I've certainly seen many cats without a grin, but never a grin without a cat."

Cat eyes and dark purple stripes faded in. The eyes stared through Riku, and he shivered. "An awful lot of hearts around lately. Hearts in darkness, hearts in light, hearts in-between. That's the heart of the problem, isn't it?" His smile became downright smug as he looked back at Alice. "Are you looking to get to somewhere? Or are you looking for somewhere to get to?"

"After dealing with all that nonsense," Alice said, waving her hand in the direction of the Queen of Hearts' garden, "I should rather like to get away from here."

"Then it shouldn't much matter where you go. Any of these ways is a way." The cat turned back to Riku, ignoring Alice muttering to herself about ways and which ones were the Queen's ways. "And you? Where are you trying to go?"

"Actually, I'm looking for a boy with spiky brown hair and a girl with short red hair. Have you seen them?"

"The Cheshire Cat sees much, but says little." Light purple stripes appeared between the dark ones, along with the nose and whiskers. "You always find the things you're looking for in the last place you look, don't you? Well, the trick is to look in the last place first."

"But if he knew where the last place he'd look was, he'd already know where they are," Goofy said.

"A trick that isn't tricky isn't much of a trick, now is it?" As he spoke, he faded slowly, until only his grin remained. "Perhaps you'll find a Key to show you the way. Or you could ask your heart. There isn't much difference." And with that, the grin vanished as well.

Riku sighed in frustration. "Yeah, I'll get right on that." He wandered around the tree, looking down each path in turn. "I guess it really doesn't matter which one we pick."

"It doesn't," the Cat called out from nowhere, "but it does matter that you pick quick."

Donald quacked in alarm. "He's right, the card soldiers are coming. We need to get outta here!"

"Here," Goofy said, pointing to an overgrown path leading deeper into the forest. "Maybe we can lose 'em if we go this way."

"Sounds good to me," Riku said, grabbing Alice's hand as they fled. She was quite a bit younger than him after all, and her dress was completely unsuitable for tromping through undergrowth. It was slow going, having to avoid snagging her skirt on branches and brambles, and Riku wondered who in their right minds would expect a kid her age to keep her clothes clean and tidy.

He was helping her over a stream when a sense of wrongness struck a nerve. Had the trees always been that big? "Is it just me, or are the plants getting bigger?"

A rose turned, bending its … face, he supposed, to look him in the eyes. Because of course it had eyes. "We're getting bigger all the time."

"Does everything around here talk?" he snapped.

"Well, you asked!"

"I didn't ask you!"

Goofy stepped forward and smiled apologetically. "I'm sure he didn't mean to offend you, ma'am." Oh, yes he did. "He was just surprised is all."

An orange trumpet-shaped flower leaned over and sniffed disdainfully, tugging at Alice's skirt. "What sort of flowers are you, anyway? These petals are awfully strange, and you've no fragrance at all."

Alice turned and straightened out her skirt. "You see, we aren't flowers –"

"I knew it!" a pompous purple flower exclaimed. "They must be weeds."

"We aren't weeds, either!" Alice protested, but the flowers weren't listening. The four of them were shoved about by stems and leaves until they tumbled out of the flowerbed. Riku brushed himself off as Donald shouted nigh-unintelligible obscenities at the plants. Sora and Kairi were gonna laugh so hard at him when he told them about this one.

Heck, Sora will probably try to come back and make friends with the flowers. Maybe he could even pull it off. He was certainly sunny enough.

"Oh, dear! However are we to get down from here?" He looked over to see Alice staring over the edge of a massive rock. Relatively massive, anyway. They probably wouldn't even have noticed it if they were their normal size.

The plants to either side were too thick to get through easily, and he didn't want to risk a repeat of the flower incident. He spotted a plant nearby with broad leaves. "Looks like we can climb down this way," he said, testing the closest leaf. It didn't budge, although it felt oddly spongy beneath his feet.

It was easy enough to hop from leaf to leaf, but the impracticality of Alice's clothes reared it's troublesome head once again. Her shoes nearly slipped out from under her, and she teetered on the edge of the leaf. Riku grabbed her hand and pulled her back, only to find himself slipping in a patch of dew and tumbling off himself.

Panic gripped him before his fall stopped quite unexpectedly. He sighed in relief just a little too soon. He was stuck, literally.

"Are you okay down there?" Donald shouted.

Riku shot an annoyed glare up through the massive blades of grass at the edge of the leaf high above. It was difficult enough to understand him when they were standing next to each other. "A spider web broke my fall," he shouted back.

Goofy leaned over the side to look. "Well, that sure was lucky."

The sticky strands began vibrating and a long, hairy leg emerged from behind a piece of a leaf. "Not really!" The spider crept closer as he struggled against the web. If he could just get his Keyblade …. He shouted victoriously as he tore his arm free, summoning it and aiming at the spider in one smooth motion. "FIRE!"

It reared back. Spider silk shriveled and melted, tearing a hole in the web and leaving Riku hanging by a literal thread. Unfortunately, Donald seemed to have the same idea. A second fireball struck the web, melting the thread and sending Riku crashing onto a dew-soaked blade of grass.

He slid down and face-planted into the muddy ground. He sputtered curses as he picked himself up and washed off the mud with a bit of dew. There was one advantage to being small, he supposed.

He trudged along, hollering back and forth with Goofy to make sure he wasn't wandering too far. "Look!" Alice said as they reached the next-to-last leaf. "There's a little door down that path! Perhaps someone there can tell us how to grow back to our normal sizes. I'm ever so tired of being too small or too large all the time."

"Hello?" she called as they entered the door and wandered down a long hallway. "Is there anyone … well now, this is curious. Haven't I seen this place before?"

Riku looked around in trepidation. "Oh, no," he muttered as he spotted the familiar furnishings. When they came to a series of doors opened like nesting bowls, he slapped a hand over his eyes. "Please don't say that's the room with the –"

"Mister Doorknob!" Alice exclaimed. "However did we end up back here?"

"Guys," he gritted out, "once we're done here, we're never coming back."


 

Failure Is the Only Option

Mickey slashed through the last of a pack of Shadows, breathing heavily as he turned his eyes toward the enormous rend in the walls of this world. The mass of darkness swirling around the breach marked the epicenter of the destruction – the only place he could access the Dark Realm.

He knew this world was doomed before he arrived. That was why he chose to come here in the first place, and he had already done everything he could to save as many people as possible, but the shadow of failure still hung over his mind. Stopping this was his job. Never mind that he was only one wielder, or that he literally could not travel between the worlds fast enough to save them all. It didn't help the ache in his heart.

"Wait! Where are you going?" An old soldier stopped him as he ran for the rift in space.

"I gotta get into the Realm of Darkness, and that's the only way!"

"But how will you –"

"Don't worry about me!" Mickey shouted as he ran. "Just make sure all those people get to safety!"

 

("Does that mean you know an exit?"

 

Oops.)