Kairi slashed at the orb in front her, her jaw a grim line of determination.
The sun was hitting Destiny Island's horizon. She had been at it for hours, beads of sweat nearly obscuring her vision as she destroyed orb after orb, sand getting caught in the girl's boots and hoody.
Aqua watched Kairi from the edge of the beach. "Maybe we should stop..." she said, reaching towards the girl apprehensively. Kairi waved her hand away.
She continued to attack. Riku lay on the sand, letting the ocean lap at his toes. He missed the feeling. The boy looked up to see Kairi fighting, though from his perspective she looked to be doing it upside. He sighed, before hopping up and making his way towards the girl.
"Kairi!" he called out. "You can't keep going like this forever."
Kairi stopped, her keyblade falling to her side. She whirled on Riku.
"We can't just leave him like that!" she said. Tears stung at the edge of her vision, but she refused to cry. "We were supposed to get home together! That's what we promised! I have to get stronger!"
Kairi turned back towards Aqua. "Another!" she demanded. Aqua shook her head.
"You won't be any good to him if you hurt yourself," she said. The older girl took Kairi by the hand, leading her away from the beach. Riku followed. They went up to the balcony that looked out across the glittering ocean in its entirety. Terra was there, meditating. He didn't react when the group sat down, deep in thought.
"Take a deep breath," Aqua said. Kairi attempted to do as instructed, but not for very long.
"I'm just sick of being useless!" she blurted out. Riku raised an eyebrow.
"Useless? You're not useless," he said.
"Are you sure?" Kairi replied. "What about that time I got kidnapped? Or the second time I got kidnapped? Or the time I basically died!?" Kairi threw her hands up in the air. Riku scratched at his hair.
"Okay, sure, yeah, that happened. But, you know, what were you going to do about it?"
"I thought I was going to learn how to use a keyblade like all of you to fight back, but apparently that wasn't enough," Kairi huffed, leaning against her hand in defiance.
"Nobody was really teaching us," she continued, referring to Axel, and the time they had spent training together. "Merlin took us to that place, but we basically had to figure things out for ourselves. But now we have not one, but two bonafide keyblade masters here to teach us! And I can take my Mark of Mastery exam. That way I'll be strong enough! To...to..."
Kairi stared at the wooden floorboards of the balcony. Riku tried to change the subject.
"Wait a second. Hitting those orbs is a Mark of Mastery exam?"
Aqua nodded. "It's a test of strength, and your ability to fight against the darkness," she said, as if she were rehearsing Eraqus word for word. "If you're able to do that, you can call yourself a true Keyblade Master."
"For real?" Riku looked as if he had swallowed a bug. "Yen Sid had me neck deep in Sora's heart, fighting off tons of dream eaters, and Xehanort and his cronies so I could get called a Master. You're saying I could have just knocked a bunch of orbs around? I could easily do that!"
Terra finally broke his meditative silence, suddenly snorting with laughter. Aqua's eyes narrowed.
"Excuse me, Terra, but if it's truly so easy, why are we not both Keyblade Masters?" she asked. Terra whirled on the girl, about to say something, but was interrupted by her and Riku's laughter. The boy hung his head in defeat.
"We were soldiers of a war we weren't sure we would fight," Aqua said after settling down. "We were training to fight the darkness, but we didn't know when or where that darkness would appear. That's why it snuck up on us so easily."
"I guess that's true. We were sort of in a trial by fire, weren't we?" Riku replied. "The circumstances were different."
"I wish they weren't...I prefer the orbs."
Aqua looked out at the sunset while the group sat in collective silence. They were still devastated by Sora's disappearance. For a moment, it seemed as if both he and Kairi had made it safely. But then he was gone. The group had tried to come up with a way to find him, but one by one, they were each drawn to their own goals that needed doing. They couldn't wait for the boy forever.
"He'll be back," Roxas had said before he left. "He always comes back."
Kairi admitted it was true before. But she was sick of waiting for him. Worrying about him. It was her turn to do something.
"I know what it's like to lose people you care about," Aqua said, as if hearing her thoughts. "I know better than anyone, Kairi." The girl gave Terra a brief glance before continuing.
"But I know in my heart that Sora isn't lost to us. He's out there. And we'll find him. But we have to be prepared before we go looking for him."
Kairi nodded. Aqua stood up, reaching a hand out to the girl.
"I'll keep training you, of course. You have an innate skill with the keyblade, and your status as a Princess of Heart may make you stronger than we realize. But I will teach you just as Master Eraqus taught us. And that will take a bit of time. Is that okay with you?"
Kairi grabbed Aqua's hand, lifting herself off the ground.
"Yes," she said, her face solemn. Riku put a hand on the girl's shoulder.
"Don't worry Kairi. We'll have your back. This won't be the first time I've had to bail Sora out of trouble," he added, chuckling.
Kairi smiled at her friend. He was right, of course. She wouldn't be alone. She looked out at the sun as it set over Destiny Islands, a renewed determination growing within her.
"Just you wait, Sora. We're going to find you."