Disclaimer: not mine
For anyone interested, I have published a novella, based off the fanfic I wrote called Night Woods by Liza Clarke. The characters have changed and it's longer. Look at my profile for more info.
Uni units have begun to open so I'm getting busy sadly.
Riku barely managed not to stumble as he landed, relieved to find he had made it back to Traverse Town. He'd been worried that it wouldn't work, that whatever force was guiding them to from world to world would make him keep moving forward. He looked around but he was alone…
Or not. He looked up and spotted Joshua watching him from a rooftop. It was so easy to leap up and join him, Riku loved the freedom of motion that flowmotion granted. "Joshua," he greeted in return.
"What brings you back so soon?"
Riku grimaced, absently running a hand through his hair, still not used to it being so short. It was strange, they had been de-aged and yet his hair had remained short when it had been long at this age. "This is meant to be a test but…everything in me is screaming it's a trap," he admitted. He didn't know Joshua, wasn't sure what he was after seeing the wings last time, but while he'd been a bit cryptic he had answered questions, more than Master Yen Sid or DiZ had.
"Oh? How so?" Joshua moved to sit on the edge of the roof and Riku sat beside him, explaining everything that had happened since he'd left. "I see…" Joshua leant back on his hands, staring up at the sky. "You're right, it sounds very much like someone is leading you along. You're sure it's not the one testing you?"
Riku nodded. "He swore that we would take the exam together, out emergency method of leaving relies on that. We tried it before leaving here but it didn't work."
Lea slipped away from everyone, not that it was easy. He needed help and he didn't know the people in Radiant Garden well enough. He figured his best bet with Sora and Riku taking some kind of test, was the King. Which meant he needed to get to the Castle, something that would have been very simple before. Riku had used Dark Corridors as a human so theoretically he could too, and he was still wearing his coat so he'd be protected. Plus…it'd be better if he wasn't there when Ienzo woke up.
Sora easily rolled to his feet as he landed, looking around. He grinned as he spotted a familiar figure. "Neku!" he called and the other teen turned to him.
"Sora, you're back."
"Yeah, I think I'm in a bit of trouble," he admitted.
"More black coats?" Neku asked, and Sora nodded.
"And there's this," he pulled at the shirt he'd bought and where an X was marked.
"That's not what you were wearing before." And it was obvious Neku didn't think much of the shirt, but it wasn't like there'd been much variety in Quasimodo's World.
"Pete, you big thug!" Donald snapped as they found the two holding Minnie hostage.
Pete just laughed in response. "'Thug' works for me. We all got a role to play, right?"
"Gawrsh, at least he's honest, in a dishonest way," Goofy offered.
"Silence! No underling of mine shall be insulted so," Maleficent glared at them and Mickey glared right back, Keyblade in hand.
He knew of her attempt on the castle while he was gone during the mess with the Organisation, but how had she gotten in this time? He could feel the Light from the Cornerstone from where they stood in the library.
"I have great plans for dear Pete and for all the Worlds...once I have taken them for my own," she continued.
"Then I've got bad news for you - that day's never gonna come," Mickey told her firmly.
"Perhaps you should take a few moments to reconsider. Or does the queen's life mean nothing to you at all?"
"Mickey! Don't you listen to her! You can't let Maleficent have her," Minnie was cut off as Pete covered her mouth with his hand.
"No! Minnie!" he glared at Pete who shifted nervously but didn't let her go. "All right, Maleficent. Tell us what you want."
Maleficent smirked darkly. "Let me see... Shall I begin with this world? I much preferred it in its darker, more ominous permutation."
"You said it. This place needs some lights-out time!" Pete grinned.
"You're lying, Maleficent," Mickey shook his head. "Not even you would go through this much trouble just for that. What is it you're really after?"
Maleficent sighed and then smiled. "Very perceptive. I presume you are familiar with Xehanort, the man who led me to discover worlds outside of my own?"
"You know him?" He hadn't realised she'd known him as more than Xemnas and an enemy of sorts.
"As do you, I see. Yes, he shared everything with me - how to go about winning a Heart over to the Darkness, and, most gloriously, about the Seven Hearts of Pure Light - the ones that would grant me the power I need to conquer all worlds. However, the worlds were too complex, too much for even me to contain. It seemed I had miscalculated. Then it came to me, of course! I could go about conquering other worlds in my own manner." She paused, smirking slightly as she stared at him. "You do have the "data" for all the worlds, do you not?"
Pete chuckled evilly but still didn't loosen his grip on Minnie. Mickey just needed a small opening to get her away but for once, Pete wasn't messing up.
"And now you will hand it over to me," Maleficent seemed so sure he would.
"What do ya mean?" Mickey asked, playing for time.
"Don't you bozos pretend you don't remember. Me and Maleficent was trapped inside it. Now cough it up!"
"Why do you want the data?" he asked, not entirely sure what she thought she could do with it. Data Sora might not remember their adventures together but he was still Sora. Riku might have been an avatar for the journal's data, but he was also still Riku. She'd almost destroyed him once already with those dreadful bugs.
"I'm afraid that is no concern of yours."
Mickey glared, tightening his grip on his Keyblade.
"Ah-ah-ah... Wouldn't want her Royal Minnie Mousiness to get a boo-boo, now would we?" Pete warned.
"I see you have failed to recognize the futility of your situation. Very well..." The orb at the end of her staff glowed as she moved closer. "Face your doom!" She set a ball of fire at Mickey who raised his Keyblade to block.
Suddenly, two chakrams flew out of a black portal. One pierced the ground, blocking the attack sent at Mickey and the other forced Pete to lose his grip on Minnie.
Minnie pulled further away, going on the attack herself. "Light!"
Maleficent turned away as a pillar of light surrounded Minnie, knocking Pete to the floor. Mickey and Minnie rush to each other and smiled.
"Minnie!" He hugged her close but then released her to face Maleficent. "Maleficent...you lose!"
"Say, uh, milady, I think the pipsqueak's right. We better hit the road!"
Maleficent scowled but touched the orb on her staff. "I now know that what I seek lies within these walls. Trust that I will eliminate you in good time," she warned ominously.
"Hey! Wait for me! Maleficent?" Pete dashed into the Corridor after her. "Waaait!" The corridor closed behind him.
Mickey dispelled his Keyblade and a hooded figure walked out of the shadows toward the weapon stuck in the floor. "You used the darkness to get here? That was reckless," he chided, though a little wary. The person who wielded those weapons had sort of been on their side…but he'd also died. "But gosh, I didn't expect you to save us..."
He watched the hooded man pull the weapon free, slinging it over his shoulder.
His free hand shoved his hood back to reveal it was Axel but… there was something different. "Axel didn't," he smirked. "My name is Lea." He pointed to his head, smiling. "Got it memorised?"
Cloud watched Kadaj tend to his daughter. If someone had told him back then that Kadaj would be a father of two, had lived content as a normal person…Cloud never would have been able to believe it. At least one of the three remnants had had the chance to live a real life. Was it possible the other two were alive somewhere? If they were, he hoped they had found peace.
Riku paced the third district, Joshua was gone, going to see if Sora had come back. There weren't even any…spoke to soon. He summoned his Keyblade as the massive bird like Dream Eater flew into the area, seeing Beat and Rhyme chasing it. "Beat!"
"About time, yo!" he yelled back even as he somehow attacked.
"Beat, what happened to your Dream Eaters?" Riku asked as he summoned his own.
"Don't need 'em when I've got my Game partner. And I don't need you!"
"Oh, here we go again," she shook her head. "Five seconds ago, it was, "Where's Riku"…and now the act?"
"Bwaaah! Don't tell him that." Beat turned to Rhyme who giggled.
The Spellican's face twitched slightly as it hovered in front of them.
"It's so nice to meet you. I'm Rhyme. Riku, right? Sorry my partner's acting like a doofus," she smiled, and Riku couldn't help smiling back as he dispelled his Keyblade.
"I am not! You always gotta go around and...and garnish my reputation!"
"Since when? You burned that bridge all by yourself. Nobody raises his reputation by lowering others."
Riku laughed as he listened to them. Yeah, they were old friends.
"Yo, Riku. You gonna sit there and let her get in my grill?" Beat looked at him, and Riku shook his head.
"Sorry, it's just...you two are cut from the same cloth."
"I know!" she grinned.
"I ain't made of cloth!" Beat laughed.
"Beat looks and talks like a punk, but there's a heart of gold in there somewhere," Rhyme smiled, all of them ignoring the still twitching Dream Eater.
"Yeah. He's come through for me, so I know what you mean," Riku nodded.
"There, see? I'm a…Rhyme! You didn't just call me a punk again!"
The three laughed, sending the Spellican into a fit of rage.
"All right, now we ruffled its feathers." He summoned his Keyblade back as the Spellican dropped into range. "Ready to do this?"
Kairi was relieved to see the ship return only to freeze as an extra passenger emerged, backing away. But Sora had said Axel died helping them, so how?
"Why, hello down there, Sora. I've been waiting," Joshua called, and Sora looked around before looking up.
"You do know you can wait on the ground, right? Come down so we can talk," he called, relieved to have finally found him. Him and Neku had split up to try and find him ages ago.
"Now?" Joshua asked.
"'Now'? What do you mean, 'now'? You're the one who said you were waiting!" Sora shook his head, arms crossed, and Joshua chuckled but leapt down.
"You know you're turning more into Neku every day. But listen, I'm glad you two showed up because…"
"You 'two'? Does that mean Riku's here?" that was a relief. He'd hoped the feeling to come back had been because of Riku.
"Yes. But you and he are still a world apart. He explained what has been happening on his side. I assume you have been having problems as well?"
"Yeah, stupid Organisation and…I keep ending up with this on my clothes, even though I bought a new shirt," he tugged at the cloth.
"Hmm…that is interesting."
Sora stood still as Joshua touched his shirt, feeling a shiver of…something. He knew Joshua was powerful, probably not really human, but he didn't really act it most of the time.
"You and Riku are right to be worried," Joshua admitted. "Riku said you tried to leave but it didn't work."
"Because we're not together," Sora nodded. "I saw Neku but he was alone. They still can't go home?"
Joshua shook his head. "Remember what I told you. Their existence is on the line…and the Reapers are dead set on erasing them for good. But they found refuge in this world, and luckily each other too."
"Right," Joshua started walking and Sora followed. "If Neku and the others want to get back to where they came from, they need to win the "Reapers' Game." It's like a series of missions. Those are the rules of their home ground. Except...this time, the mission is a tough one. They're pitted against a Dream Eater that can summon a hundred more like it. So, I was sort of hoping you and Riku could help us out. You have your Keyblades, and with those, we might still have a chance."
"Well, I'm glad he's here with me," Sora smiled, he wanted to see Riku so badly, but knowing he was in the same World was good.
"Riku's on one side of the Portal, and you're on the other. He might be by your side…he might be a million miles away. You can't measure the distance in time or space. Even without the wall between you, it's hard to say."
Sora nodded. "Don't worry. He's with me, even when it might seem like he's not." He touched his chest.
Joshua smiled and looked away. "Then you two are lucky."
"You and your friend are lucky too, Joshua."
Joshua laughed. "I appreciate you saying that with conviction, even though you have no idea what you're talking about."
"Anyway...Neku and his partner are pinned down in the fountain plaza. I can count on you, right?"
"Always!" Sora grinned at him and then took off.
Sora found Neku and Shiki finishing off some Dream Eaters. An orb of light switched from Neku to Shiki, ending the battle. Shiki held her cat doll close.
"This is starting to wear me down. Can we get a time out?" she asked.
The Spellican waved its wing and summoned a lightning bolt, which struck the ground near Neku and Shiki, actually knocking Shiki into the fountain with a yelp. Out of the lightning
appeared a group of Dream Eaters.
"What?" Neku stared in disbelief until a Tatsu Steed sent a fireball towards him.
Sora dashed in to block it. "Miss me?" he asked with a grin.
"Sora," Neku nodded.
"I'll take it from here!" Sora told them.
"No. I don't need your help."
"'Course you do! Where are your Dream Eaters? How else can you fight?" Sora argued.
"I don't need them anymore," Neku answered even as a dripping wet Shiki got out of the fountain.
"Oh, right, your partner. Well, don't you want to make it out of the Game? Who's gonna help her if you get hurt?"
Neku and Shiki slowly nodded to each other. "Okay, you win. I'll let you do the sweating," Neku smirked.
Sora laughed and launched himself at the Spellican, fighting hard until it took off. "He got away!"
Lea was speaking with a wide-eyed Yen Sid.
"WHAT!?" the other four demanded.
"Absolutely not!" Donald denied.
"I sensed something was amiss nearly the moment Sora and Riku departed. Xehanort must have known what we were attempting before we even began," Yen Sid spoke up.
"But you do know where they are?" Donald asked.
Yen Sid stroked his beard. "You must understand, this examination is in no way how the Mark of Mastery is usually found. However, in light of what they must do next...it was a necessity. If Sora and Riku complete their test, by finding the seven doors corresponding to the seven pure lights, they will return home with a new power. At that point, they will both be true masters. However, the dangers make this more trial than test."
"But are they safe right now?" Mickey demanded. "They would have left the exam if something went wrong." But Merlin had been by earlier and hadn't been happy…
"Considering their ability, I would like to believe that they are. However, all my attempts to locate Sora and Riku end...questionably, Merlin as well cannot pin them down. Xehanort is a devious tactician. There is nothing we can do that he will not, to some extent, be able to predict."
"So..." Mickey stared at his teacher.
"As you can see, the Organisation's members are complete people again. Xehanort will be no different. We cannot afford another moment's hesitation. We must consider any strategy to outwit Xehanort and catch him off guard." He then looked to Lea. "I must warn you again - the road will not be easy."
"Fine. Let's jump right in," Lea answered firmly, never looking at Kairi.
Kairi too was keeping a good distance and one of them between herself and Lea. They would need to work things out if he managed to become one of them.
"I'm sorry, is this a bad time?" Joshua asked as he approached them. "Because that Dream Eater we're after has returned to the other imagining of this world."
"You mean...where Riku is," Sora asked, and Joshua nodded.
"Yes. He and our other friends will do what they can. But we'll just run ourselves in circles at this rate, they've already faced it once before and it simply came here. We need to trap that thing in once place, and then we can finish it."
"Trap it where?" Sora asked.
"The Third District."
Sora, Shiki, and Neku started to run toward the Third District but then Neku hung back a second, puzzling Joshua.
"Tell me…are we really gonna make it home?" he asked softly, not looking at Joshua.
"But Neku, I thought you couldn't afford to lose. Give up on yourself and you give up on the world."
"Right..." he nodded. "So I'll see you there?"
Joshua was surprised. "Me?"
"Yeah. You're my friend. It's your home, too."
Joshua chuckled softly. "Maybe it's you that's turning into Sora."
"Huh?" Neku shot him a confused look.
Riku slumped tiredly, they'd done it by working together, even if they couldn't see the others. He could feel Sora, stronger than he had since leaving Traverse Town the first time.
"Riku," Joshua called as he approached, and Riku looked up at him. "There's something else you need to know."
"Hmm?" he dismissed his Keyblade.
"These two Traverse Towns separated by the Portal... I was under the impression they were parallel worlds, but it looks like I was wrong."
"Wrong how?" he asked, worried.
"That's where it gets tricky. After you and Sora left, Shiki crossed the Portal to join her Game partner. Did you notice Players have a mission timer inscribed on their hands? Well, when she got to the other side, Shiki had more time left on her clock than her partner. And when Beat's partner crossed over from the other side, she had LESS time left," Joshua explained, Riku confused by his concern.
"So time flows differently here and there? So what? That's true of any two worlds. Their home world would be running on a different time axis, too."
"Yes, I understand that. But if these Traverse Towns were parallel worlds, then time would flow the same in both. But it doesn't, ergo they are not parallel worlds."
"You mean there's a past...and a future," Riku asked, confused.
"No. Impossible. The worlds are clearly separate-it's not just time that sets them apart. As you yourself noted, every world flows at its own pace, which tells me that for all their similarities, these are two distinct worlds."
"Distinct worlds?" His Heart sank to his stomach. How could that have happened?
"Yes...but this is all conjecture. It's like the same world imagined by two people. What does that tell you? That we're in..."
"A dream..." he whispered. But who's….
"Yes. Bravo again, Riku. In which case none of this may matter one bit to me or my friends. But to you and Sora, I think it might be a vital clue."
"Yeah…this is a Sleeping World so everyone is sleeping, dreaming. But a dream inside a dream?"
"It seems that way," Joshua nodded.
"How do we tell which is which?"
"That I don't know," Joshua admitted.
"Joshua…is there anything you can do?"
Joshua tilted his head, seeming to think. "Perhaps, but it will be difficult. The portal is no longer usable. And we don't know which world is the dream within a dream."
Riku frowned, there had to be some way to work it out.
Sora sat on the bench, closing his eyes, reaching for Roxas. Joshua was gone, hopefully seeing Riku. There had to be some way out of this mess! He glanced down at his shirt; a new one Joshua had come up with from somewhere. He was really hoping that it meant no one would show up to interfere. He was so done with this exam, he just wanted out and to be safe.
"Easy, you're safe," an unfamiliar voice spoke softly.
He struggled to move, to open his eyes, and then slowly a room he'd once known came into focus. Not…not possible!
"Can you hear me?"
He turned his head, neck throbbing, to find a stranger leaning over him.
"We've given you a potion for your injuries but your throat and neck might still be sore. You're safe in Radiant Garden. My name is Leon."
Radiant Garden…but…he should be dead?