Kairi counts on her fingers, mentally listing off what they’ve already done, what isn’t finished, and what she needs to remind Sora to find and Riku to carry. She then nods to herself and smiles down proudly at their raft.
The raft rests on firmly on the sand, a fair bit away from the ocean so the high tides can’t drag it away. Made from wooden logs sawed in half by Riku and Sora, and tied together tightly by her own hands, this raft is going to take them places far beyond the horizon.
She can’t wait.
Kairi ignores the little voice in her head telling her this is a stupid idea, that they can’t go far on a raft. Together, with Riku and Sora by her side, they can go anywhere they want two. Those boys aren’t going to let a silly little thing like logic stop them.
She finished fastening the cloth into a makeshift sail. Tomorrow she’ll get Riku to hold down the last logs so she can nail them down, and then they’ll be just about ready to go.
The walk back to the shed is short, and she stashes the mushrooms Sora found into the cooler her dad lent her.
Her head turns when she hears wood slam against wood, soon followed by a yell and splash. Routine tells her that Sora and Riku are sparring again, and one of them fell into the water. The chuckling and annoyed calls tell her Sora was the unfortunate victim.
Kairi shakes her head fondly. Those two may be the best team and friends anyone has ever seen, but oceans forbid they don’t antagonise each other. A day without a challenge between those two is apparently a day wasted.
While closing the door she distantly wonders what started it this time. Was it Riku showing off his massive ego, or Sora just wanting to fight? It could go either way, really. Especially now.
Kairi frowns and pushes a rock in front of the door with her foot, so it can’t blow open again.
She doesn’t know why, but lately, something has been feeling off. The Islands, her friends, herself, it’s impossible to pinpoint where this is coming from.
It’s like the winds are whispering warnings into her ears, in languages she can’t understand. The earth beneath feels unsteady, the water sluggish and murky. But nothing is physically different or wrong around her. She feels unsettled.
Her thoughts turn to Riku.
Strong Riku, who is arrogant and hot-headed and too big for his shoes. Riku who is loyal, protective, and never hesitates to pull them by their hands to their next adventure.
Riku, who has been changing in ways that scare her.
The shift was subtle, but she can see it plain as day. When he became less hot-headed and more confrontational. When his protectiveness became territorial. When his dreams of reaching other worlds started tipping into an obsession.
Kairi knows he feels confined on the islands. They’re small, and there’s only so much you can explore and discover before it becomes repetitive. She feels the same some days- like there’s an itch inside her skin that can’t be soothed by this world. She wonders on those days if that’s how Riku always feels.
Sora doesn’t seem to understand; he’s happy no matter where he is, as long as Riku and Kairi are there too. His world revolves less around space, and more around relationship and friendship. Kairi knows loneliness is his greatest fear. But her and Riku will never abandon him, never let him feel that empty abyss where he would no doubt drown.
It’s why they’ve all agreed to build their raft and set sail together. They can taste true freedom, out there where the boundaries between land and sea don’t exist. Riku won’t be confined, Sora won’t be lonely, and she wouldn’t have to ever leave them.
…But she might have to leave Riku.
She knows it’s selfish, to ask Sora to set sail without him, and a useless endeavour besides. He would never leave one of them behind. Sora isn’t that kind of person.
Kairi might have to be, to keep them safe. Riku hasn’t done anything to threaten or hurt them, and Sora doesn’t notice anything wrong with him, but with how Kairi has been feeling, with how the world feels like something is peering into it with an eager kind of hunger…
They row home at sunset and she packs her backpack. She needs to ready, no matter what.
Kairi remembers something she heard once as she falls into an uneasy rest.
Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Sora lies on his bed with his arms behind his head, comfortable and content as can be. The evening is quiet and his room dark; he didn’t bother to turn on his light or lamp. The moonlight works fine, and it tints everything blue. It’s peaceful.
Sora doesn’t really think of anything, just lets thoughts drift aimlessly in his head. One catches his attention, and he glances at the toy ship on the bookcase.
I just can’t wait. Once we set sail, it’ll be great.
It’s Kairi’s voice, echoing the excitement he and Riku have felt since they decided to build the raft. Sora lets it roll over him and thinks about what happened today.
It was so weird. He was taking a nap (because Kairi can be a slave driver when she wants to be), and he had the strangest dream. He was standing on bright pillars of mosaic glass, following the instructions of what must have been two different voices, although they sounded so close in likeness.
The first was a voice of warning, gruff like sand and edged with anger and worry.
So much to do, so little time.
The second was a voice of comfort, sleepy and not sounding like it’s all that aware.
Take your time. Don’t be afraid.
Then that big sword appeared, heavier than his wooden one, and he took down the shadows that crawled out of the floor. Afterwards, Sora was sucked into a vortex and onto another pillar, where he opened a door leading to the Islands and those weird questions.
The closer you get to light, the greater your shadow becomes.
The darkness grew.
But don’t be afraid.
His shadow turned against him.
And don’t forget…
It turned into a monster. He had nowhere to run.
He tried to fight it off, but his sword disappeared. Those yellow eyes glared into him, and he got caught in a pool of darkness. In the chaos, the words stood out like a flare.
-But don’t be afraid.
Tendril clung onto him, pulling him deeper.
You hold the mightiest weapon of all.
The monster loomed over him. There was no escape.
So don’t forget:
The darkness swallowed him.
He can still hear the confidence and certainty they spoke with as it all fell apart. Awake and aware, prepared for what’s to come.
You are the one who will open the door.
He woke up with Kairi looming over him. She’s lucky he didn’t pull on her leg and drag her into the water for that. Then again, she’d probably shove his head under the waves in retaliation. Their banter helped take his mind off the frightening dream. And that crazy guy who just appeared in the secret place helped derail the train of thought completely
But now, in the late evening, with nothing but the quiet as company, he can’t help but wonder if that dream wasn’t a dream, but some kind of… warning? Vision?
He’s probably being ridiculous; it’s was just a really weird dream brought on by too many times dunked in the water. He’ll get over it soon enough.
Thunder rang outside his window, and he leaned up to look.
The clouds roll in fast and thick, and he can see the lighting hitting the water from here. It’s going to be rough, he can already see the broken tree branches. No, wait.
“Oh no, the raft!”
Sora is out the window and running to the play island as soon as he can open the lock, ignorant to his mother’s call behold him.
When he gets there, the storm is close to hitting. In the distance is some kind of dark... thing floats, sucking in any moonlight that slips through the clouds. Next to the dock is Riku and Kairi’s rowboats.
The shadow creatures from his dream come into existence in front of him. He gasps at them, shocked. Was his dream real?
He runs between and past them, swinging his wooden blade. It’s useless against the creatures, but he can at least knock them out of his way. He needs to find Riku and Kairi, fast.
Sora spots Riku first, standing on the small island across the bridge, where their favourite tree grows. Riku’s back faces him.
“Where’s Kairi?” Sora asks him, “I thought she was with you!”
Riku doesn’t move. “The door has opened…” He says. Sora hears a faint memory of something similar.
The door is still shut.
He brushes it off. There are more important things to worry about right now.
“The door has opened, Sora! Now we can go to the outside world!” Riku finally turns around. As he turns, Sora sees his gem. It looks misted over and dull, more so than the sea spray and late hour could make it. Not even in a pitch-black would a gem like Riku’s lose its shine.
“What are you talking about?” Riku sounds nuts. Is right now seriously the time for this? “We’ve got to find Kairi!” Sora tries to talk some logic into his friend, but it doesn’t reach him.
“Kairi’s coming with us!” Not if they can’t find her!
It’s no use. Riku’s eyes are blank, like he’s not fully there. Sora feels the hair on his neck rise, and he’s left worried and angry at his blatant disregard. This isn’t like him.
Riku looks up at the dark thing in the sky. It’s gotten bigger.
“Once we step through, we might not be able to come back. We may never see our parents again. There’s no turning back. But this may be our only chance. We can’t let fear stop us. I’m not afraid of the darkness!”
He sounds victorious, like this is supposed to happen, like he can’t have chosen a better way. Riku reaches his hand out to Sora.
A portal forms beneath him and tendrils start climbing up his legs. Riku does nothing to stop them.
Sora runs into it himself and tries to grab hold of his hand. Maybe he can pull Riku away and somehow snap him out of it. Their hands are so close, but only Sora’s really trying. Riku only stands there, frozen. Why isn’t he grabbing hold?
Riku vanishes into the darkness, and something forms in Sora’s hand from a sparkling light.
Key-like in appearance, the thing rests heavily in the hand that Riku should have held.
He doesn’t have time to wonder. More of those shadow creatures show up, and he smacks them away. The Keyblade is more effective than wood and actually does damage to them. He fights off every creature that comes near.
He tries to find Kairi. He needs one of his friends by his side, and she hasn’t been found yet. Something pulls him to the secret place.
It’s quiet in the cavern, and his call rings off the walls with relief.
She stands in front of the door, loose-limbed and swaying. When she turns at his call, her eyes are half-lidded. She looks vaguely scared and confused.
“Sora…” She tries to call back softly and starts walking to him like she’s in a dream. Her hand reaches for him.
The door that has never moved an inch in all of known history, slams open behind her. The wind is so strong, as though the entire storm has been funnelled through the doorway, that it blows Kairi right over. He tries to catch her, but she disappears when she hits his arms. The wind forces him out the tunnel next.
Sora tumbles head over heels with his arms around his head. He can already feel the bumps and bruises that will form from slamming into rock and wood as he crashes into the sand. Or rather the edge of the island that wasn’t there literally a minute ago.
He landed facing the thing in the sky, which he can now see is sucking parts of the island into it. Sora’s in the eye of a tornado and trees are uprooted swiftly and sent swirling up and around him.
He hears something behind him and turns to see another creature from his dreams. The monster that came from his shadow stands in the middle of what is left of his home, tall and more foreboding than anything he has ever felt in his life. Sora gulps and steels his nerves. He can’t falter now.
He summons his keyblade and aims for its hands.
He fights as hard as he can, running from the smaller creatures and avoiding the deadly attacks the massive one throws at him. He’s mid-swing when gravity flips around.
He’s close enough to the ground to grab hold of a rock, while the monster and its friends are sucked away. But Sora can’t keep hold of a crumbling anchor, and soon follows into the darkness beyond.
He falls unconscious and leaves behind everything he knew.
Pluto sniffs around the streets, looking for something that smells far different from the town they’re in. Like sun, sand and salt, with a hint of minerals. It stands out from the wood, metal and stone of the buildings he passes on his quest for this interesting scent.
He marches around the corner and past a pile of crates, right to a boy lying collapsed against the wall. He’s out cold. Pluto blinks at him. He smells like a beach.
Pluto licks at his hand and tastes a layer of salt on his skin. The boy doesn’t wake up, so he licks his face. That does it.
The boy wakes up, looks around blurrily, and mutters, “What a dream…” He closes his eyes again.
Pluto slams his front legs down on the boy’s stomach before he can dare fall asleep. Sora jerks fully awake with a yelp.
“This isn’t a dream!” He cries, looking at his surroundings more thoroughly. Pluto backs up so he can stand, happily panting while Sora tries to figure out his location. “Where am I?” He mumbles.
Sora looks down at the very happy dog. “Oh boy.” He bends down to stare at him more levelly. “Do you know where we are?”
Pluto stares back, then glances away when he catches the sound of something close by. The mystery of the beach scent solved, he bolts away, chasing another adventure.
“Hey…” Sora calls, reaching futilely for the dog. Then seeing him continue to run, Sora runs after him. Maybe the dog can lead him to someone with answers. He follows the dog out of the alley he’s apparently been sleeping in, and into what looks to a town square. It’s quiet with few people hanging around in it. The sky is dark and filled with stars clearer than he’s seen on the Islands.
This is totally weird, he thinks, staring up in awe. The realization then hits him, sudden and hard.
“I’m in another world!”