Training with Axel and Merlin was a repetitive process, and learning how to use a keyblade was something that looked easier than it actually was. At times, Kairi would look down at the dark screen of her gummiphone before packing it away again. It was a rare opportunity, to have the chance to ask Sora and Riku just how everything worked. But then, she decided to figure things out for herself. She had to.
She had seen heartless plenty of times, from when they first invaded the Destiny Islands to the shadows crawling over Hollow Bastion. There was one, though, that had never stirred fear in her. Because she knew it wasn’t a heartless at all. The moment she had held it in her arms, she knew for certain that she wanted to keep him safe and to protect him at all costs. That time, Kairi’s intuition had been spot on.
The heartless that populated the forests, unfortunately, were unlikely to turn into spiky-haired keyblade wielders that loomed on her mind for longer than she cared to admit.
Merlin had conjured a number of the monsters’ illusory forms, which littered the island for her and Axel to seek and destroy, trimming the time limit that they had each day. Kairi had gotten used to looking alert upon entering clearings, narrow roads, and developing the fighter’s instinc that she envied in Axel a little. He had gotten a head start, after all, in fighting heartless as a member of the Organization.
The distance she had felt from Sora and Riku seemed all the more palpable. That was why Kairi was grateful that in the moments she had to herself, she could write down everything she thought. Sometimes she kept a journal, but mostly, she wrote letters.
From a very young age, Kairi had loved to make up friends to write letters to, simply because she was curious who existed beyond the seas of the Destiny Islands. She loved the ritual of folding up a slip of paper with a kind note, putting it into a bottle, and watching the mail slowly drift out beyond the shores. None of her friends quite understood why that was something that made her happy, when there were other things to do and explore. But Kairi had always watched for something beyond the horizon.
The horizon she faced now was full of uncertainty. That much was made clear by Master Yen Sid and Merlin, who often spoke of a looming battle that would need her and her friends at their strongest. And yet, she was unsure of just how ready she was.
The small collection of letters sealed her feelings in as the days passed, and everything became clearer once the words were put down on paper. She had had a lot of time to herself in the time since the islands had gotten swallowed by darkness, and had counted the things she had wanted to say, one by one.
= = =
“Hey, have you seen the papers on top of my notepad?” Kairi asked. Her heartbeat thrummed with a newfound sense of urgency as she shifted through her belongings, which she had expected to be neatly stacked together, just as she had arranged them.
“Papers?” Axel looked up from where he had just slashed apart a shadow, which had burst into flames after a properly-aimed keyblade strike.
“Yes, I wrote some notes on light blue paper. I can’t have misplaced them…”
“But you wanted those letters to go out, right?” Axel ran a hand through his hair, as if the exchange was the most natural conversation in the world, as opposed to an answer that would take her secrets from the safety of her bag to the four wilds.
The breath Kairi took through clenched teeth seemed to last forever. “You sent them,” she stated placidly.
“Yup, put em’ into some envelopes and took em’ to Merlin himself this morning,” Axel beamed. Suddenly, he got another good look at his training partner, whose brow was furrowed. He had seen that expression on Larxene plenty of times, and it was no less frightening on Kairi.
“I…wasn’t supposed to do that, was I?”
“Axel,” she replied. “We’re going to go get those letters back.” Her ice-blue gaze was as sharp as a pair of his former ally’s daggers. The edge in her voice, barely contained by her calm demeanor, was as apparent as anything. The words ‘or else’ went unsaid, but even Axel knew that they were implied by the princess of heart.
“Wonder what’s in them,” he muttered as they set off.
“Absolutely not,” Kairi bit back. “You’d better get that fact memorized.”
= = =
“I’m sorry, kupo! But the mail’s gone out!” The moogle tugged at its small ears so pitifully that Kairi almost couldn’t say anything back. But the unwelcome news meant that her problems weren’t going away for a while.
“It’s not your fault,” Kairi assured it. She handed it a slice of cake, and watched the small creature perk up before starting to devour a strawberry with a mercilessness she wouldn’t have characterized it with.
Mostly, the fact that a letter to Sora she had never meant to sent was now on its way out into the universe. Riku would be getting a far less embarassing misive, and three other notes, equally heartfelt, would be departing elsewhere as well.
She wanted them all back, and she wanted them returned as soon as possible. Unread.
“Ah, youthful indescretions…” Merlin stroked his beard thoughtfully. The three of them sat around a table at a bistro that the elderly wizard had taken a liking to at the center of Twilight Town. “They always seem to come up in the young charges that I take on. Well, no matter. Perhaps this task can be a form of training as well.”
He pointed to a shop where three young ducklings tended the storefront. “Visit that booth, and tell them that you would like to put together a ship to travel.”
“So we can head into the worlds where these letters were sent?” Her face brightened. Losing them had been nothing short of a nightmare, especially at the thought of someone reading them. But Kairi had never traveled, and the chance to do so was a promise that had yet to be fulfilled. Until now.
“Correct. You should really follow this young miss on an adventuror’s intution!” At the suggestion, Kairi shot a pointed look over at Axel.
Chuckling, Merlin gestured over to her. “Hand me that device, will you?”
As he took the gummiphone, the wizard waved his wand, sending blue sparks floating into the gummiphone’s screen. At once, it lit up and displayed a map of a beautifully-rendered nebula. In space, planets and worlds floated, punctuated by bright golden dots.
“Find those locations, and you’ll find what you seek. But take care, my young friends,” Merlin warned. “Whatever foes the other Seekers of light face loom out there as well.”
“Ah, I can take them. Besides,” Axel added, “we’re going to be getting everything but the kitchen sink thrown at us eventually. Why not take the fight to them early?”
“Axel’s right,” Kairi nodded. “It’s not going to get any easier. And we’ve had a great teacher.” She beamed, and delighted in the fact that the elderly wizard grinned back.
He held up a hand. “A word, Miss Kairi.”
“Alright,” Axel said. “Let me check out the parts for the ship.” He got up, and peered towards the row of shops, pointedly eyeing a stand that sold sea-salt ice cream pops. Kairi knew already that they were going to be getting a ship with a good-powered freezer. But she would accept whatever it took to get Axel to help her, because beggars couldn’t be choosers when it came to allies that would fight by her side.
“Merlin,” she sat down. “You said you had something to tell me?” Wariness crept into Kairi’s voice. Sometimes, the wisdom that she obtained wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear.
“A heart of light is a rare, precious thing,” answered the Wizard. His tone grew grave as he settled into his seat once more. “There will be many foes out to douse it. This I saw in a young King I guided many ages ago. As I said to him, I say to you: You’ll have to stay on your feet and take care if you want to protect those you care for the most.”
“Understood. I…I’ll need to get those letters back. They have a lot of feelings in them,” She looked off into the distance.
“You know, this love business, it’s a powerful thing…” The wizard added knowingly.
“Oh?” Kairi’s nerves, which had been calmed by tea and a mission ahead, were set back on edge.
“ Yes, I'd say it's the greatest force on Earth,” Merlin concluded. “Just goes to show you what the heart is capable of. Well, enough of that, let’s have you on your way.”
As Axel returned and they prepared to head off to worlds unknown, Kairi realized that there was a great deal of things that she feared that didn’t have anything to do with the heartless. And as Merlin had said, there was a great deal to learn. But the world was ready and waiting, and so was she.