Chapter 1: A simple test
Aqua readied her stance, holding Master’s Defender firmly in her hand. Her eyes were focused on Skuld in front of her, the tall girl visibly a mix of nervousness and determination, but she took a deep breath and readied herself, too.
“Rules are clear?” Aqua called out and Skuld simply nodded.
A test fight. No excessive magic, no direct body hits, only showing what kind of skills she had with the keyblade.
“Okay then.” She smiled. She was really looking forward to this, seeing her actual fight, roughly determining what she was lacking and what she already mastered. “I’m counting to three and I will give you the first attack.”
Skuld nodded again. She closed her eyes to take in several deep breaths, trying to find the feeling for this keyblade - it was way larger than Starlight, heavier in a way she wasn’t really used to. It felt weird in her hands, but she had to make the best out of it now. She couldn’t change that now anyways.
“I’m ready.” And she meant it. She wanted this, this was what her heart commanded.
She steadied her stance, gripping the keyblade tight in front of her body, ready to go right into a sprint once Aqua gave her the go.
“Good. One… two… three!”
A final clash between the two keyblades and Skuld tumbled backwards from the force, her keyblade yanking her arm to the side that let her lose balance and ultimately she fell on her back, limbs stretched away from her, the keyblade vanishing in a dark light. She had no strength to get up again, her breath heavy, and she had to close her eyes to collect herself - to gather some energy again.
Aqua twirled her keyblade one last time and stood her ground before she let her keyblade disappear, too. She had to admit Skuld really packed a punch and she would lie if she wasn’t at least a bit exhausted from it. There were a few things here and there that she noticed that could be improved, most of it boiling down to her keyblade handling, and some style techniques that needed some polishing, but nothing really to bad where she feared that she couldn’t handle it.
She was pleased with the result, really.
“You okay?” Aqua walked towards the exhausted girl, a slight concern spreading over her. She tilted her head when she looked down to her, kneeling beside her then to watch over her.
“... Yeah.” Skuld finally said between her deep breaths, opening one eye to see Aqua beside her and closed it again, smiling. “Yeah, I’m good.”
Aqua had to giggle. “Alright then.”
She stood up and held out a hand, Skuld took another deep breath before she opened her eyes completely and took the offer, Aqua helping her lift to her feet again.
They both shared a small laugh, with Skuld still being a bit out of breath, but eventually she asked.
“So, how was I?”
“Hm.” Aqua thought of what she could say - where she could even start with the analysis. “... How about I make us some tea and we talk about it?”
“Oh. Okay, that sounds good.” Skuld said, her exhaustion slowly dying down finally. “I could use something to drink after this actually…”
“I knew it. Let’s go then.”
Chapter 2: Flowmotion
Skuld grinned. This was definitely something she was sure she would win. There was no way Aqua could be that fast with what she had in her repertoire - not in comparison to her wall jumping she prepared.
“So, the one touching the door wins, right?” Skuld wanted to reassure herself, making sure one last time she didn’t miss anything.
“Yes.” Aqua answered her, getting herself in position right beside her. “The first who touches the door wins. No hindering the other on purpose is the only condition.”
Skuld nodded and let her gaze wander to the hallway in front of her. It was probably like 50 to 60 meters til you reached the door? Not a long distance, it could be over in a matter of seconds, so she should be definitely aware of every step she was doing.
But she trained, hard, even if Aqua couldn’t exactly tell her how to improve this technique she tried to master, only giving some tips here and there, but she felt ready. And now she challenged her to prove it.
Something Aqua definitely didn’t back down from. This was too good not to.
“Okay, you ready?” Aqua asked her and Skuld took a deep breath, focusing. She nodded.
“Then I’m going to count down from three.”
They both readied themselves, Aqua drew her keyblade and Skuld brought herself into a position to start sprinting immediately.
This was it.
Skuld was on the edge, her excitement burning.
In just a blink of an eye Skuld ran forward like she has been hunted by a pack of heartless, not looking behind her when she reached the wall of the hallway. She jumped and her feet landed on it, her body engulfed in a blue sparkly glow. Working perfectly!
The moment she wanted to jump to the other wall, Aqua dashed by, with keyblade in hand. On an ice rail that made its way currently through the hallway.
Skuld couldn’t believe her eyes as she jumped to the other side. That’s… !
For a moment Aqua was up ahead, but Skuld caught up to her in no time, the short dashes between the walls giving her a boost in distance so fast.
But of course Aqua knew that. She was prepared.
For a brief moment she collected herself and her body lit up in a faint green light, two strings of light swirling around her.
And then suddenly she was gone.
Skuld widened her eyes as she was suddenly gone from right beside her, frankly looking around to see where she went, all the while she kept up with her own jumping.
She saw her, ahead of her. Teleporting forward on the rail.
Oh no no no, you don’t get this win -
With everything she had she dashed forward, the door was literally oh so close she swore she could already feel it.
Yet suddenly Aqua appeared right in front of her out of nowhere.
Skuld crashed right into her, toppling her and herself, letting them both roll onto the floor, Aqua’s keyblade vanished on the spot.
And they both stretched out their arms to touch the door when they came to a halt - at the same time.
Lying on the floor, Skuld lifted her head and stared at her hand. And at Aqua’s beside her.
Aqua started to giggle, and then laughed. “Draw.”
“I can’t believe this.” Skuld rolled onto her back and covered her face with her hands. “I can’t believe this!”
Still laughing, Aqua lifted herself up and patted over herself, getting the dust off from the crash. She looked down to Skuld and her sight wasn't helping to contain herself.
“Skuld?” She asked as she took a few breaths to calm herself. “... Want to go again?”
Skuld looked through her fingers with one eye and started to grin again, immediately jumping up.
“ Oh , you’re on!”
Chapter 3: Shotlock
Skuld carefully approached Aqua sitting on the window ledge, in the far back of the Main Hall. A blanket was wrapped around her legs, her back pressed against the window frame, and a book she was reading lied in her lap. A pitter-patter was heard against the window, the rain these days not stopping any time soon from the looks of it.
Aqua looked up from the book at the call for her, flipping the book around to give Skuld her full attention.
“You know” Aqua started with a smile. “I told you you don’t have to call me that on off days. Aqua is fine, really.”
Skuld scratched the back of her head, tilting it with an equal smile. “Sorry, habit.”
“It’s okay. I don’t mind.” She glanced at the book Skuld carried in her hand, a finger tucked in between the pages. “... Reading something interesting?”
“Oh! Yeah, I actually wanted to ask you -” Skuld opened the book and skimmed through some of the lines while walking closer to Aqua, who in the meantime made space for Skuld to sit beside her. She took the offer and sat down on the ledge, her finger pointing at one passage. “... This thing here. Actually the whole topic, because I don’t think I got this at all.”
Aqua squinted her eyes at the headline. That Skuld was studying outside of her training hours didn’t surprise her anymore, she couldn’t forbid her from thirsting for knowledge.
“... Interesting choice to read. I understand it’s hard to grasp, explaining this in written form is quite the challenge. I can’t blame the author there.” Aqua put a bookmark in her own book and closed it, putting it completely aside. “So… you want to know about the Shotlock.”
Skuld nodded. “You mentioned it once when we went through the stuff I need to learn. And, well, I kind of got curious what it is now. But I don’t think I really understand.” She pointed at one line. “Here it talks like as if it’s some form of magic spell? But … not really? I don’t know. I’m lost.”
Aqua hummed and tapped a finger against her cheek, listening to Skuld trying to make sense of it. Somewhat, this was adorable.
“I think it’s easier if I show you what it is. Maybe it makes more sense after that.”
She discarded the blanket and stood up, stretching herself for a second before she took a few steps forward, summoning Master’s Defender in her hands. Skuld followed her with her eyes, more than curious of what was about to happen.
In the distance there were still the three training dummies lying around from yesterday’s training, neither Skuld or Aqua finding the need to put them away. And right now Aqua was glad they were still here - they were the perfect targets to show this off.
“I will show you my Shotlock once and you will tell me everything you noticed afterwards, okay?” Aqua glanced over to her side and saw Skuld nodding. Good, she was ready.
In a blink of an eye Aqua focused on the dummies in the distance, jumping up then to hold out her keyblade in front of her and a circle of rainbow-colored magic emerged from her keyblade that made its way equally to the three dummies, hitting them with force. She landed on her two feet again, stood her stance and let her shoulders drop as she looked and walked towards Skuld again.
“So? What did you see?”
Skuld was sitting there with an open mouth.
“You… can shoot rainbows?? Wow, and here I thought you couldn’t get any gayer.” The laugh in her voice was unmissable and Aqua had to smile at that too, returning to the place she sat before.
“Okay… Okay, serious. Hm.” Skuld crossed her arms and recalled in her head what Aqua just showed her. “You… focused on the dummies, channeled energy through your keyblade. Non-elemental magic? Or maybe light magic, I’m not sure there, that was hard to tell. And theeen … all the projectiles hit? They looked like homing shots, considering all three dummies got hit with the equal amount of projectiles. Umm… ”
Aqua nodded through-out Skuld’s explanation. “Good. That’s pretty good. Anything else?”
Skuld was quiet for a bit and then shook her head.
“It’s okay, you’re observation was great.” Aqua patted on her shoulder which made Skuld smile. “Okay. I’m trying to break it down for you. Hm, where to start.”
She thought for a bit, then nodded to herself. “Shotlocks are… a different approach towards magic. It isn’t classified as magic per se, it’s still some form of it regardless, but not like any magic spell you know of. Nothing like Firaga or Cure. It’s… more personal.”
That got her attention. “Personal? What do you mean?”
“No one really has the same Shotlock. They can look similar, sure, but there are a few factors playing into it that it’s very rare that someone has the same as another one. For example, the duration to focus on targets - everyone is different in how many enemies or how long one needs to take the enemy’s position in.” There was a short pause before she spoke again. “And another factor can be the keyblade. Depending on the keyblade, your Shotlock may change. It can feel different and unfamiliar if the keyblade is new in your hands, if you’re learning.”
It gave Skuld a pause and Aqua knew that, letting that sink in first.
“But enough about that - let me try to explain how to actually use it.” She held out her right hand. “Normally when casting magic, you do that with your actual hand, right? And channel this energy through the keyblade, making it stronger.”
A small fire danced in her hand, Skuld could feel the heat even from this small flame. Aqua let it vanish again.
“This would have been a Firaga spell if I let it flow through my keyblade. Pretty devastating for such a small flame. That’s just how powerful keyblades are. … So now what if you skip the hand part and only use the keyblade’s channeling power, basically using the keyblade’s strength alone. And that’s what Shotlocks are.”
Skuld’s face lit up, connecting the dots from what she read and what Aqua told her - slowly, it made sense.
“Now, there are personal and keyblade-bound Shotlocks, the keyblade-bound ones are easier to master, so I’d say we go for this one first. I don’t think you will know a difference yet anyways.” Aqua stood up and offered her hand to Skuld.
“Come on, let’s try it.”
“Oh!” She took the hand and jumped off the window ledge. “Alright.”
The black, heavy keyblade appeared in Skuld’s hand and she moved into position.
“Try to focus the dummies first and when you think you’re ready, try to unleash this channeled focus energy from your keyblade.”
“...Okay. Okay I think I got this.” It was more said to herself than to Aqua.
Skuld took a deep breath and locked onto the dummies. Focusing on three enemies at once was quite the challenge, she had to admit - it was harder than she thought. After a few second she deemed it okay and thought of what Aqua said - channeling only through the keyblade, not going the magic route.
She exhaled. The keyblade felt good in her hands. She could do it.
Two dark, similar shaped like Aqua’s projectiles left the tip of her keyblade and found their way right to the training dummies, knocking them over. Skuld hands shook and her eyes widened.
“I did it?!”
Aqua immediately walked over to her and patted on her shoulder. “Yes! This is definitely something we can work with. Congratulations, Skuld. You learned Shotlock.”
“Ah!” She let her keyblade disappear and beamed, turning to Aqua to give her a hug. “This is incredible. Thank you, Master.”
Aqua giggled. “This was all your work, I just pushed you in the right direction. Now, another try?”
Skuld immediately jumped into position for another round.
Chapter 4: Sometimes, all you need is a friend
Everyone is down from time to time, but you always have to remember that you're never alone with your thoughts.
“Ah, there you are.”
Aqua made her way down the hill from the castle, alongside the splashing waterfall. She approached Skuld sitting at the edge of the mountain, her gaze drawn into the distance, to the slow setting sun at the horizon.
She called out to her again when she came close and Skuld didn’t react to her, carefully touching her shoulder when she decided to sit down beside her, and Skuld finally tilted her head to her direction.
“Oh! Hi, Master.”
Aqua smiled and handed her ice-cream she had been carrying, one for Skuld and one for her. Skuld’s eyes lit up at the sight and happily took it, smiling to her in return.
“You did really great at today’s training and I’m proud of your progress. Seriously, you’re doing well - you deserve a treat.”
“Thank you. I - I try my best, always.”
“I know. I know.”
Aqua took a bite out of her ice-cream, growing silent to appreciate this quiet moment. The setting sun colored the sky in a deep orange, it was definitely not something she wanted to miss seeing.
Still - she couldn’t help but to look over to Skuld.
Her ice-cream started to melt already in her hands, staring down to it, her smile fading. A complete change from what she expressed before. Aqua could feel the sadness coming from her, and it pained her to see her like that.
“Hey, Skuld -” She placed her hand on Skuld’s shoulder again, getting her out of this sad trance. “... Something on your mind?”
She looked up to her and rubbed the back of her head, exhaling deeply.
“Sorry, just… some stuff. Nothing I can really do about now, but it’s still bothering me.”
“Hm.” Aqua turned herself fully to Skuld now, crossing her legs. “Does it help telling me what’s it about?”
Skuld paused for a bit.
“Just… stuff. From my past, thinking about what’s to come - if I ever see them all again. If I ever see this boy again, or what to do when that day ever comes. I feel like… there is still so much to come in my life and sometimes thinking about it - it’s overwhelming.”
She clutched the ice-cream in her hands, biting on her lip.
“Skuld.” Now it was Aqua who paused for a bit, collecting her thoughts. It was hitting Skuld hard, she knew and felt that. “... It’s true that you can’t do anything about it now.”
Aqua turned to the sunset again, exhaling deeply as well.
“But that doesn’t mean that you won’t prepare yourself for the whole picture every day. Every step you take will bring you closer to whatever destiny has planned. Planning so far ahead - sometimes we can’t even process what it even means at this time. Sometimes things go in way different direction than we thought it would take us. Getting overwhelmed by thinking about what the future might bring? That’s completely normal. Even I’m… still sometimes scared to think about that.” She turned to her again and saw the effect of her words taking place. “But if you try to live day by day - you will see the progress you made over time and the future doesn’t seem all that scary and far away anymore. Who knows what life will bring? You will only know it tomorrow, and the day after, and after. So, Skuld -” She smiled to her. “You’re doing good. I believe in you and whatever happens, I will support you whenever I can. You have my promise there. You won’t be alone in this.”
It took a while until Skuld finally nodded, wiping away a few tears gathering in her eyes.
“Aqua, I-... thank you. I -”
“Please.” Aqua scooted closer and embraced her in a hug. “I know you will find them again. And I will always be there for you.”
Maybe the hug was what they both needed, Skuld felt the heaviness in her heart drop and Aqua felt her own bad thoughts vanish for once.
“Now, come on. You’re ice-cream is melting.”
Skuld shifted back and saw her ice-cream in her hand, the previous thoughts already far away. “Oh.”
They both just giggled and continued to watch the sunset, enjoying the last hours of the day.
Chapter 5: Dimension Link
Channeling the powers of the connection to other people isn't always that easy.
Skuld said after she took a long sip from her bottle and sat down at the side of the training’s hall, wiping away the sweat on her forehead from the training she just did. Aqua walked up to her and let her keyblade disappear, tilting her head to the side.
“Hm? Something on your mind?”
“I was wondering - for quite some time now, actually - how do you … ah, how to say that, …” Skuld ducked her head low and tried to express it with her hands. “I know you haven't seen your friends in a while, and I know you care about them, but still I don't see you being sad that you don't see them very often, or see you worry about them, or … maybe I see it wrong, but I wonder … how do you stay so confident in the connection with them? I'm sorry if this is, … um.”
Aqua paused for a bit and decided to sit down beside her.
“... Is that what you're wondering about?”
“Y-Yeah. Is that a stupid question?”
“Skuld, please.” Aqua waved her hands in front of her. “You know you can ask me any question. Stupid or not, even though I believe there aren't any stupid questions."
"I know … and I'm glad. So …" Skuld looked at Aqua and saw her deep in thought.
"Hm." Aqua pondered for a while. There were a few things she could mention here, about her struggles, the years long search for her friends, her worries - but she only shook her head and reached for her pocket, pulling out the Wayfinder she had been carrying since before everything started. Skuld looked at it in awe, having seen it before, but not really asked what it was.
"I made one of each for Terra, Ven, and me, right before the Mark of Mastery Exam. We were always close, inseparable - we trained together even if Ven wasn't on the same level as Terra and I, we ate breakfast together every day, studied and laughed together, one couldn't imagine our lives without each other. And this right here, this wayfinder, gave this connection a physical form. An unbreakable connection. So even if I feel it slipping away -" She held the blue charm up in the air. "- I look at it and I'm reminded that they are always with me, no matter what happens. It resonates with me in my heart. I can feel if there is something wrong, that's how strong our connection is."
Skuld's eyes reflected in the shiny surface of the charm, she could see herself in it. It was almost magical.
"Ooh. I see."
"My Master told me about this star-shaped fruit that is supposed to link your destinies together if you share it, so I based my charm on this. But I believe any item could be used as such a charm, star-shaped or not, as long as it matters to you and you see a connection in it."
Almost as an instinct, Skuld reached to her chest and let her fist linger over the crown necklace she wore, the cold metal pressing into her skin. She let Aqua's words sink in, repeating it on her own in her head.
"You know, actually, this reminds me." Aqua continued and stood up, holding onto the wayfinder in her left hand as she summoned her keyblade in her right. "There is a technique that lets you draw power from the connection you have with other people. Sometimes even people you aren't that close, but still left a mark in your heart. All it needs is an item to channel it from and you being aware of this connection - the stronger the better, of course."
Skuld looked up to her with curious eyes. Whenever Aqua showed her something, it was always something she definitely couldn't miss.
"Power from the connection to other people …? Would that be something like … " My friends are my power." ?"
Aqua giggled. "If you want to call it like that, sure. But keep in mind that you may also be able to draw powers from people you wouldn't consider friends. Be aware of the connections you have with other people and you will notice which you can call powers from and from which not. You will see over time, I'm sure."
"I see." Skuld nodded, excitingly.
"Let me demonstrate you one link. You will notice what I mean."
Collecting herself, Aqua clutched her wayfinder close to her chest and breathed in and out deeply, a light appearing in her hand that engulfed her from head to toe in an instant. And when it vanished again, Aqua was covered in a glittery faint glow. She was pleased with herself and nodded, running into the middle of the hall to make some space.
She knew she only had a limited amount of time to show some attacks to make Skuld clear what it meant to call upon these powers and so she wasted no time.
She started with a dash forward with a barrier surrounding her. When she came to a halt, she charged strength and spinned on the spot to unleash a powerful swirl of light around her, landing gracefully on her feet to strike a pose. She followed with a regular magic attack of a ball of light, watching it as it made its way in circling waves to the target dummy up ahead. It hit it in a flash of light and knocked it over, Aqua nodded and was pleased with it.
Her time was coming short and she knew she had to set for the finisher soon, showing off the dash and circle attack again before she set for the final attack. Collecting herself again, she started to spin, this time the light orbs followed her spins, more and more rhythmically appearing as she went faster over time, the light circle around her growing bigger and bigger - until she came to a halt and the cumulated light orbs locked onto the next training dummy, knocking it over in an instant.
The glow around her faded and Aqua stood her ground, twirling her keyblade one last time before she let it disappear. She walked over to Skuld again, seeing her still stare at her with wide eyes.
"Wow." Skuld immediately said and stood up, frantically gesturing. "That was amazing. It looked similar to some of your attacks you already showed me, but there was still something different about it - like, magical? And so full of light. Maybe … maybe this came from a Princess of Light?"
Aqua had to chuckle at that small analysis. "That is correct. Cinderella is a dear friend of mine and her powers resonate with me the most. Beside Terra and Ven, she's the easiest for me to call upon."
"Oh! Cinderella … I met her before, well. Technically no - uh, anyways. Can I give it a try?"
"Do you have an item that you can use with you?" Aqua tilted her head and saw Skuld nodding, running past her.
"Yes. I have an idea."
Skuld was always quick to jump into new things to try out, so Aqua wasn't surprised at this enthusiasm. "Alright. Take it easy, okay? Keep in mind you already had a training session behind you."
She was already so lost in her thoughts she barely heard Aqua's words, clutching her necklace tight. This could be it - calling upon the powers of the people she was so close to so long ago. Or maybe tracing the connection to that boy she once met, from whom she got this necklace from? So many ideas, so many thoughts she couldn't focus onto one - taking a deep breath, she tried to sort her jumble in her head, calming her excitement.
Aqua meanwhile watched her with a keen eye, letting her try this out on her own first.
Skuld focused, thinking of the encounter, recalling the memory of it. Pictures flashed before her eyes, the sound of his voice, his laughter -
But nothing came.
There wasn't anything different, no matter how much she tried to feel this connection, no additional power flooded through her, no burst of energy came.
Her hand over her chest where she clutched her necklace began to shake, she tilted her head low to focus onto that connection one last time -
But again, nothing happened.
"Skuld, it's okay."
Aqua put her hand on Skuld's shoulder, the uneasiness she felt in the pit of her stomach proving to be true. She shook her out of this trance and Skuld fell against her, catching her before she could slip away from her, helping her back on her feet.
"I'm - I'm sorry, I-"
"You have nothing to apologize for." Aqua sighed in relief as she saw Skuld standing on her own again, the shakiness from her hands gone, but still sadness in her eyes. "We had an intense training session before this, let's call it a day and try tomorrow again, alright?"
Defeated, Skuld nodded. "You're right. I shouldn't push myself that hard."
Aqua was satisfied with that answer, patting on her shoulder one last time. "Come on, help me with dinner and we can rest up for the night. And tomorrow we only focus on that, deal?"
"Yes!" Skuld smiled. "But only if you show me your attacks again -"
"We can arrange that." With a smile, Aqua made her way out of the hall, Skuld following her suit.