Disclaimer: I do not own the Kingdom Hearts franchise or Final Fantasy VI, VII, VIII, or XIII. This is an amateur work, based solely on my interpretations of the series. The only characters I own are the OCs who appear.

Ch. 2: Committee

On the tiny, warm world of Destiny Islands, there were only a few islands, all in a close-knit chain. Each held different areas. The main island held most of the homes, basic grocery stores, a few cafes...a few parks...that was about it on the southwestern side, anyway. The northeastern side of the main island was the business district. There was one small island set aside off the southwestern coast as a play island for the children. Some of those kids were approaching their mid to late teens, but Destiny Islands, like all worlds, had its fair share of youngsters. The younger kids usually came over right after school let out. The older kids went later, when they had time. Y'know, after their homework was done.

Three of them in particular had more time than most...but at the same time, they had no time at all. Sora, Riku and Kairi. All three of them were wielders of the Keyblade. Only Riku had officially been named a Master. They'd been off their world more than they'd been on it, for the past three years, at least.

Sora wasn't here at the moment. He'd stopped by, sure, long enough to say hi to his parents, Kyle and Anne Hikari, who'd been worried sick about their boy for months. Sora had to take off soon after that, to the sorrow of his mother. He'd said something about needing to "check on Traverse Town" for reasons Riku hadn't been able to fathom at the time.

As for Kairi and Riku himself...well, their parents had to face the facts about them both, too. Riku wasn't looking forward to leaving his family behind again. Their old raft... Riku found himself shaking his head. The idea had been so simple and awfully naive. Three coconuts, five fish, and two bottles of drinking water? Tch. Inside his own head, Riku was scoffing at his slightly younger self, the one who'd started this whole mess.

No, wait...not him. Xehanort. Or whatever the moldy old creep was calling himself nowadays. The boundaries the man had pushed to get to Kingdom Hearts confounded and disgusted Riku. While he'd been in the Realm of Sleep, he'd realized just how dangerous things had gotten when Sora was caught in the man's web of lies and nightmares. Good Lord almighty, was that what he'd been like? No, he told himself firmly. The past is the past. There's no reason for going off and trying to change it. No excuses. No regrets.

Now? Well...here they were.

Riku was waiting on the kids' island with Kairi, watching the sky in the west light up with all sorts of colors, his mind drifting back to happier times...and a tall stranger he'd met here, on the beach of this very same place twelve years ago.

Outside this tiny world...is a much bigger one.

You gotta keep this a secret, okay? Otherwise all the magic will wear off.

How right he was... Riku shifted in his leaning against the bark of the paopu tree and cast a glance over to where Kairi was sitting. "You okay?" he asked.

Kairi's dark red hair blew in the breeze, and for a moment, she didn't answer. Riku had to admit she'd grown real pretty since those happier days three years ago. But all of that childish attraction to her had long since wafted away. She was Sora's.

Has it really been three years? Riku wondered. He and Sora had competed for Kairi back then...and it had gone sour. Kairi was like a sister now. A younger sister he kept an eye on so she wouldn't end up in danger again. To be honest, Riku was fine with that. A sister...yeah, it was that kind of feeling. He'd just been too jealous of Sora's constant high spirits to realize it at the time. He shook himself out of his thoughts when he noticed his friend shifting to look at him.

"Hm?" So she'd heard.

"You all right?" he repeated, more or less.

Kairi beamed and nodded. "Yep." She fell silent for a moment and her thoughts turned inwards as she extended her hand in front of her body. It was a familiar gesture to Riku, and sure enough, with a melodious flash, Kairi's new Keyblade appeared in her hand. "I just...never thought I'd actually be able to go out there with you guys." Kairi's soft smile faded after a second as she stared at the flower-themed weapon. She looked troubled, and after about ten seconds she banished her weapon. "Fighting...I'm not sure how to take it."

"You'll get the hang of it soon enough, Kairi. Besides," Riku added, "You've got me to help you along the way. After all, I am a Master. Right?" He folded his arms behind his head and gave her a halfway grin. Kairi laughed before looking back out at the horizon. "Do you think he'll be okay?"

"Sora? Yeah, he's fine. I swear, he's such a sap sometimes, but he's like a rubber band. He always snaps back into place somehow."

"Hmm..." Kairi put a hand to her chin while she thought over Riku's comment; then she giggled. "Heehee...That's a really good way to put it, Riku!"

"You know it!" They both laughed at each other for a few precious moments...as peaceful a moment as they could hold onto as best friends. From now on, Riku knew, things were going to get chaotic. There was no telling what might happen.

"So...off on a new adventure." Kairi's voice was slightly melancholic, slightly excited, and more than a little nervous. "You think we'll come back okay?"

"Who knows?" Riku shrugged. "We might never come back at all. But hey, when we do, we'll all be heroes!" He thought back again and frowned slightly. "Hey, Kairi?"


"Did you ever meet a lady with...blue hair when you were little?"

Kairi frowned. "Umm...blue hair?"


It took at least two minutes before Kairi hesitantly shook her head. "Sorry...I don't remember. But blue hair does sound...familiar somehow."

Riku waved off her uncertainty with his brand of quiet confidence. "Don't worry about it, all right? It'll come back to you eventually." He sighed. "It's just...she was the one who told Sora to keep me safe, if I started wandering down a dark path all alone."

"That's nice of her."

"And...I think...she was a Wielder, too," he went on slowly. "I just had this good feeling about her when I met her."

Kairi sat up suddenly. "So...maybe she's one of the people the King was talking about in his letter!"

Riku shrugged, refolding his arms over his chest. "Who knows. But we aren't going to find out just sitting around here." He looked up and over his shoulder at his friend. "We've gotta go out and look for those answers."

"Exactly!" Kairi shaded her eyes and peered up at the sky; the first stars were starting to come out now. "Look!" she cried, out of the blue. Startled, Riku jumped and lost his balance, falling over sideways with a loud THWUMP onto the sand. Kairi giggled. "You scare too easily, Riku," she teased.

Riku scowled, busy dusting off his shins and most of his front. "Not funny."

"Seeing you almost get a faceful of sand is."

Riku rolled his eyes and looked up at where Kairi pointed. One of the stars was definitely moving like it was being controlled by something...or in this case, someONE, and it was growing larger as it soared across the sky.

"There he is..." he murmured.

The star quickly grew to a streak of light as the two of them watched, and it curved down towards the play island. Soon they could make out the shape of Sora's Gummi Ship, the Highwind. It descended towards the beach of the island, buffeting back and forth every so often when the wind off the ocean stirred up turbulence.

Kairi cocked her head simply up at the Gummi Ship as she slipped down off the paopu tree's trunk. "Wonder what he's been up to?"

"Lookin' for clues, probably." Riku headed off across the bridge to the stairs down to the beach. "Besides, he never tells me anything." When Kairi didn't move he turned back. "Come on."

"Just a second..." After a moment fiddling around on the paopu tree, Kairi followed him, albeit slightly reluctantly, still watching the Highwind descend for a landing. Riku couldn't help but wonder what she'd been doing, but shrugged it off in the end. It wasn't his business.

By the time they made it to the beachfront, the Highwind was almost ready to land. As the small, brightly-painted ship slowed to a near-hover over the small islet, the breeze from its hover jets stirred up a stiff whirlwind, throwing up sand and seawater as it coasted down towards the beach. Riku and Kairi were forced to shield their faces from the wind-whipped sand.

"Sora!" Kairi yelled once the ship had settled to earth. She was waving wildly. Both she and Riku could see the unmistakable spiky hairdo of their best friend through the dome of the three-person cockpit, and Sora eagerly waved back as he checked on the ship's controls one last time.

When the exit hatch opened Kairi was already running to grab Sora in a tight hug. "Where have you been?!" she demanded.

Sora had frozen in place with an almost comical expression of surprise, his arms outspread. "Uhh...well...looking around in Traverse Town."

"Really? What'd you do there?"

"Just...stuff...y'know...just looking for someone."

Kairi's right eyebrow arched and she put her hands on her hips.

"Oh, quit being dodgy and tell her!" Riku told Sora with a grin.

"Oh, shut up, Riku." Sora rubbed the back of his head. "I just went to Traverse Town to see how things were going, and all the Dream Eaters we met showed up out of nowhere!" He grinned at the stunned and amazed look on both his friends' faces. "Wish you could've been there, Kairi. They're amazing!"

"The Dream Eaters? Really?" Riku asked as they filed on board the Gummi Ship.

"Yep! All of 'em!" The young man gave them his biggest cheesy grin.

"Wow..." Kairi breathed. She was staring around at the ship's interior in amazement. "It's been a while since I've been on one of these..."

"You'd better get used to it, Kairi." Kairi glanced at Sora in confusion...and...oho, thought Riku, is that a little glimmer of love I'm seeing? He barely held back a snicker. Oblivious to Kairi's slight smile and Riku's "casual" lean against the wall, Sora continued, "because this thing's gonna be home while we're on this adventure. "Hey, don't worry, we've got beds and a kitchen and all. It's just really tiny." Kairi nodded. Realizing they were just standing around with nothing to do, Sora went and started climbing up the ladder into the cockpit. "Come on, you guys!" he called. "This is the best part."

For Riku, when he saw what lay inside the cockpit, it certainly was the best part. He stared around at everything open-mouthed. Dials and gauges and holographic displays and glowing conduits for the ship was everywhere, but organized perfectly so that one person or three could help fly the ship. Kairi was also stunned speechless, and when Sora glanced back at them he cracked up.

"What's so funny?" Kairi demanded, snapping out of her daze.

"Your face!" Sora laughed, pointing at Riku, who was still struck dumb. Kairi looked at her older friend and started laughing, too, but had the heart to reach over and snap his hanging jaw shut. Riku blinked and then found the presence of mind to glare half-heartedly at them. "Whatever." He paused to inspect the bridge a little more. "So what does it run on?"

Sora scratched his head while he checked on a few things. "Not a clue. Donald said it runs on happy faces or something. Me? I think it runs on a combination of weird fuel, batteries, and just...light. Smiles are an energy booster. Still, gotta have a good time, right?"

Riku stroked his chin for a second as he studied the readouts scattered across the Gummi Ship's dashboard. "That...makes sense."

"We ready to go, then?"

Riku nodded sharply. He was ready.

"Mm-hm!" Kairi belted herself into the seat to Sora's right, and Riku took the left one.

"Time for another adventure?" he asked his childhood friend.

"Yeah." Sora settled into the pilot's seat and pressed a few buttons, then put one hand on the throttle and one on the Highwind's steering yoke as it lifted up off the ground with a smooth lifting motion like an elevator going up. Tipping the rudder pedals to the right made the ship rotate in place, turning towards the western horizon, where the last few dregs of sunset were starting to fade away. As he began pushing forward on the ship's throttle, Sora glanced back, and over the rising grumble of the rocket engines he cried, "Hang on!" He pulled back on the steering at the same time he shoved the throttle wide open. "We're off to Radiant Garden!"

And with a thunderous roar and a flash of flame, the Gummi Ship rocketed off into the night sky.

Radiant Garden's castle can only be described in one way: massive. The castle, which sat smack-dab in the center of the suburban city, towered high over any other building and could be seen for miles around. It had yet to regain all of its former glory, still rusty and creaky and full of sad shadows on the inside, but there was one place there that had survived more intact than anyplace else.

The library.

It hadn't changed much. If someone were to walk in, they would find themselves dwarfed by towering shelves of books, each one at least seven to eight shelves high, all of them crammed chock-full of thick books. At the far end of the library lay a slightly curving staircase to the upper level, where Ansem the Wise had some of his own research shelved. The stairs swept past a tall row of gleaming floor-to-ceiling windows that glinted gold whenever the sun shone at just the right angle. Since restoration had begun wrapping up on most of the castle, the crews had seen fit to link the castle's central computer system to the library, creating three access terminals and Wi-Fi access to the rebooted World Wide Network.

Near the foot of the stairs lay a large open area with a table and chair, set by for those who wished to read by the light of the sun. At the moment, though, that small table had been dragged off to one side, tucked well beneath the staircase. It'd been replaced by a much larger table, and it was around this one that the expanded ranks of the Radiant Garden Restoration Committee had gathered. Most of them were standing, but chairs were set aside for them to sit at. Their murmuring voices carried throughout the library.

At the far end of it, near the stairs, stood a tall, brooding young man in a black short-sleeved leather jacket and black pants with zippers along the seams of both legs. His slightly shaggy brown hair hung loose, framing a strong, narrow face marred by a single, straight scar that ran from above his right eyebrow and across the bridge of his nose, angling down to just under his left eye. His signature Griever necklace dangled from a platinum chain around his neck. Squall Leonhart, however, (better known to his friends as "Leon",) was not as dark and gloomy as he used to be. His dark sea-blue eyes flitted over the maps and document spread out in front of him while he stood with his arms folded, but every so often he would glance fondly at the young woman standing next to him while he explained something, picking up one thing or another or consulting his PHS, an advanced cell phone. Everybody on the Committee had one, except for Merlin.

In contrast to Leon's black ensemble, his girlfriend Rinoa Heartilly wore blue as her color of choice. It happened to be the color of her the cable-knit duster sweater-vest she wore over a dark tank top and shorts, and that of her arm warmers. Her smile was sweet and still retained the light-hearted innocence she still possessed after ten years of wandering the worlds. She was also a sorceress of daunting power, something that succeeded in scaring even her friends if she got upset or angry enough. When she'd first received her powers Rinoa had found them hard to adjust to, but ten years of wandering had given her some much-needed experience, at the cost of some of her innocence. Fighting monsters for that long will do that to you.

To Rinoa's right just down the left side of the table was a lanky, older man with a sleek, long mane of graying black hair. Primarily swept into a low-hanging ponytail, he'd let his bangs hang down on one side of his face, but not on the other. Green eyes twinkled merrily in a still-youthful face whenever he glanced at the couple he was standing next to. Youthful; a bit odd for someone who had to be at least two years past fifty, but such spirit showed through in his eyes. He wore much simpler clothing than Leon or Rinoa: a light blue button-up shirt worn open over a grey t-shirt that read "Leave This to the Dumb Adults!", while dark brown pants and black work boots completed the odd ensemble. Despite the casual look, Laguna Loire was the most powerful man in Radiant Garden at the moment. As Acting President, he held a position second only to Governor. With Ansem the Wise gone, Laguna had taken up the reins, keeping the politicians off the Committee's back while the restoration continued. He also happened to be Leon's father. They didn't have the best of relationships, though—Laguna was fun-loving and bouncy, a trait Squall hadn't inherited.

Others included Irvine, the typical modern cowboy in his black hat and tan duster, as usual, and Zell, chatting animatedly. Quistis, unfortunately, was elsewhere, helping the reconstruction crews.

Down the table were some of the others. Cid Highwind was right next to Laguna, jawing away on yet another toothpick and going over blueprints for updating the city's defenses. His short, still-blond hair was wrapped by a pair of flight goggles, as always, but this time he'd come dressed in a faded blue t-shirt and old brown cargo fatigues and boots instead of his white shirt, wide yellow belt and baggy blue pants. His flight jacket was tied around his waist. This was Cid's serious outfit, the one he usually wore when he was flying the Shera, his personal airship.

Self-proclaimed "Great Ninja" Yuffie Kisaragi had come dressed in a somewhat skimpy outfit meant for movement at all times. She was yammering away at Aerith about how good her last patrol had been. The gentle, sweet-hearted flower girl still sold her blooms whenever she could, and she was one of the few who could decipher Yuffie's mile-a-minute mouth. The two of them stood near Merlin the Wizard, who looked rather grumpy from Yuffie's chatty disposition as he observed the others. His so-called "animal familiar", Archimedes the talking owl, was thankfully absent. The last time Archimedes attended a Committee meeting had nearly resulted in extra-crispy owl flambé, courtesy of Lea's control over fire and Archimedes' usual insults.

Out of sight, the doors into the library swung open with a creak and footsteps alerted the Committee. "Hey, guys!" Tifa Lockhart, martial arts expert, came around the bookshelves to the meeting just then, garbed as usual in her black leather vest, shorts, black sneakers and duster-tail. "Sorry I'm a bit late; I had to take a call." Tifa was granted greetings from her old friends as she worked her way to an empty spot next to Cloud Strife, resident ex-SOLDIER and Tifa's apparent lifelong crush. Whether the blond, spiky-haired swordsman, who carried a gigantic blade wrapped in bandages called the Fusion Sword (this because it was actually six interlocking blades) actually returned those feelings was between him and Tifa, no one else. Cloud wore his usual black outfit and navy-blue cable-knit shirt. With his arms folded over his broad chest, he looked every bit the brooder he was. It was hard to get a smile out of Cloud even on a good day, but today was one of those rare ones. He looked...lighter, and Tifa's smile of greeting got a small smile and a nod in return.

At the end of the table opposite from Leon was a tall-backed chair, and it was in this chair that the great sorcerer Yen Sid sat. Yen Sid was actually the one who had suggested the meeting, which was why he was here now. As always, he wore his blue robes and conical sorcerer's hat marked with moons and stars. The old man was extremely powerful, and his appearance and facial features demanded respect and emanated mystery. At the moment, his hands were folded on his lap and his head was bowed in an obvious state of deep thought. No one dared disturb him, not even Merlin, even though the two wizards were nearly equal in power.

Down next to Cloud and Tifa, the newest member of the Restoration Committee was in her typical stance; weight shifted off-center on one leg, arms folded and a harsh, blank expression on her heart-shaped face: Sergeant Lightning Farron, dressed in her Guardian Corps uniform: a white and tan coat buckled at the waist over a dusty-maroon knit shirt, blue fingerless gloves with bronze knuckle guards, a short brown skirt over black tight shorts, knee-high brown and rose leather boots, and a red synth-fabric cape than hung from a fastening behind her left shoulder. A small dark red carry pack was strapped to her left thigh. Her badge was a green leather spaulder on her left shoulder emblazoned with the crest of her division and two glowing yellow lines to signify her rank. Her right arm was unadorned save two thick decorative leather bands around her bicep. From the belt at her waist, a large black case crafted from thick fabric hung just above her knees, canted up towards her right. This case, or sheath, held Lightning's weapon; a gunblade called the "Blazefire Saber" that could be switched from firing mode to blade mode. It was as unique and deadly as its owner. Lightning's hair was a light, almost rosy shade of pink, the bangs swept over her right eye in a style similar to Cloud's. However, the rest of her hair had little resemblance to Cloud's gravity-defying spikes. Lightning's was slightly wavy. On her right it hung rather short and relatively straight, styled into a downwards sweep across her forehead down her temple, spiked out slightly at the ends. It was longer on the left, but still a reasonable length for fighting, and lay draped over her left shoulder.

Although she blended in perfectly with the Restoration Committee, the young pink-haired military officer wasn't from Radiant Garden. Her world had been destroyed by the elemental form of chaos, and she'd adopted Radiant Garden as her new home. Lightning's disposition, meanwhile, was like Cloud's and Leon's combined. She was harsh, unwilling to let most people in because of an obviously painful past. Her tone of voice could burn a dragon's scales off if she really got going. However, she was willing to help the Committee, hence the reason she was here in the first place.

"Ugh, where the heck are they?!" Yuffie finally broke off from her spiel to gripe. "I thought the King was supposed to be here by now!"

Yen Sid's eyes opened. The pupils were small in the expanse of the whites, sharp and piercing beneath his thick, almost perpetually frowning brow. He raised his head to gaze sternly at the young ninja. "He will come. Now calm yourself, young lady."

Yuffie gulped and hastily snapped into a sort of salute. "Y-yes, sir!" Yen Sid smiled to himself at her reaction before nodding.

"He's not the only one who's gonna be late," Cloud noted. "Where's Sora?"

"On his way from his homeworld with Riku and Kairi," Leon reported. "What about the others?" He and the rest of the original Committee traded glances of remembrance, all except for Lightning, who ignored them, too absorbed with reading the latest reports being handed out by one of Yen Sid's magic broom-servants. The rest of the group looked at Leon oddly, including Rinoa.

"What 'others'?" she asked.

Leon sighed. "Did you read the reports?" When Rinoa blushed he rolled his eyes and smirked. "They're the three Keybearers who've been keeping to the flanks. You'll meet them once they get here."

Cloud spoke up. "They head off any distracting threats to Sora. Remember, those of us who came back fought alongside them during that battle against all those Heartless." The spiky-haired ex-SOLDIER smiled to himself. "They're different, that's for sure."

"Their world is a strange one," Yen Sid added, drawing everyone's attention.

"How so?" Lightning inquired simply, setting down her folder.

"It is far larger than most of the worlds you and I know, Miss Farron. It is one of the most massive fragments of the original World, home to literally billions of souls; a veritable planet on its own, in fact." Yen Sid sat in silence for a moment before he continued, turning almost perplexed. "About twelve years ago, just after the start of this world's Fall began, that world was somehow thrown through a mysterious rift in time. It seems that while a decade passed for most of the Realm of Light, only a year passed. I cannot fathom why this phenomenon occurred, or how, but that rift in time gave us an unexpected resource," he continued. "Those three wielders of the Keyblade have a much more comprehensive understanding of Xehanort's ambitions than the Chosen One currently possesses. They were present when Xehanort first began to put his plans into motion; before this Garden fell to his evil deeds."

"Waaaiit-wait-wait-wait. So, you're saying…the reason they don't look like old farts, like Old Fart over there," Yuffie said, "is because their world went through some weirdamungo time warp or something?" She tossed a devilish grin at Merlin, who was steaming indignantly.

"That is correct," Yen Sid replied, ignoring the verbal prod unintentionally aimed at him as well as Merlin.

Merlin cleared his throat, interrupting Yuffie's next question. "I take offense to that, young lady!"

Yuffie faced him and put her hands on her hips. "Well, just FYI, last month you turned my hair neon blue! I couldn't get it out for weeks!"

Merlin's beard bristled. "May I remind you that the former was a misfire, and only because you were attempting to create some half-baked concoction while I had my back turned! That toxic brew melted my best cauldron!"

"Oh, yeah?! Last week you turned me into a frog again!"

"Oh, balderdash! That was one of my burglar traps! You triggered that yourself!"

"So that's how you want to roll, do ya?" Yuffie put up her fists. "Bring it, windbag!"

"Oh, stop it, you two," Tifa said.

"But—I-I…" Merlin stammered. He had frozen with his wand raised comically.

"Cut it out." This came from Cloud, of all people.

"Aww, you guyyys…!" Yuffie whined. Tifa pulled out her gloves and Cloud curled his hand around the Fusion Sword's handle. Ninja and wizard both shut up immediately.

"Now then…" Yen Sid rumbled. "Before our gathering was disrupted by such petty squabbles—" he paused to linger on Yuffie and Merlin with a stern but amused glance "—I was considering recent events regarding Sora and Riku's friend Kairi."

"The seventh princess of heart?" Leon asked from down the table. Yen Sid nodded.

"Yes. It would seem that sometime during her life, she was bestowed with the ability to wield the Keyblade."

"Whaaaaat?!" everyone exclaimed (to varying degrees).

"But, hold on…" Laguna spoke up, scratching his head. "What're the princesses of heart, anyway? Heard rumors, but I never really got the memo."

"A valid point." Yen Sid set his elbows on the arms of his chair and laced his fingers together, leaning forwards slightly. "The princesses are seven maidens of the purest heart; Snow White, Jasmine, Belle, Cinderella, Alice, Aurora, and lastly Kairi. Darkness, strangely, does not exist within the hearts of these seven, but with that grace, there comes a rather unsettling power." The sorcerer leaned back again and resumed his former upright posture. "This very castle once played host to the infamous Door to Darkness. I am not sure if it still resides here, or if it has somehow relocated to the abyss. But if all seven of the princesses are brought together, and the light within their hearts unleashed, they can supposedly open that door. What lies beyond it, I'm afraid the records do not exist."

"Sounds like some kinda funky magical mumbo-jumbo to me…" Yuffie mumbled. "Oww!" Aerith had slapped her upside the head.

"You've seen plenty'a weird crap, Yuffie, so stop yer jabberin', siddown and shut yer trap!" Cid demanded. He whacked the table.

Yuffie pouted childishly and propped her chin on her hands over the table. "Okaaayyyy…"

"Geesh, Yuffie. Learn to keep your mouth shut, will ya?" Irvine said.

"Oh, like you're one to talk..." Yuffie retorted.

"As I was saying," Yen Sid spoke up again, "These seven princesses hold immense powers of light. When Kairi came by a Keyblade and earned the ability, I am not sure. But the fact that she has one is portentous indeed."

Everyone jumped when someone new spoke up. "That's right!" said a high, almost squeaky voice.

"King Mickey!"

Leon smiled. "I knew it…"

Around the corner of the bookshelves came the diminutive mouse-monarch Mickey Mouse. He looked rather bashful about all this sudden attention. With him were Donald Duck and Goofy Goof, Mickey's closest pals, who already held the distinction of traveling with Sora for three adventures. Aerith smiled cheerfully. "We missed you!"

"Gosh, guys, sorry I'm late 'n all."

"Hey, no sweat!" Laguna said amiably. "How've things been, Mickey?"

"Welp, Sora's on his way," Mickey said with a grin. "He should be here in a few minutes." An impromptu cheer went up. "As fer the rest…well, let's give 'em a bit. They're comin' from pretty far off."

"That's right. Their world's pretty far away, isn't it?" Rinoa said.

"Yup." Tifa's statement drew surprised looks. "That was the call I had. Last I heard, they're gonna be about ten minutes late. They said their ship's warp drive was acting up."

"Huh. Better take a look at it when they get here," Cid muttered. He jotted down a quick note in a battered notepad with a nearby pen.

"I may be able to help with that," said another voice. This one sounded more digital, and came from the center of their meeting. A three-dimensional projector had been set in the center of the table. As the Committee watched, a flurry of data fragments replaced the information flow. Then, the image of the castle computer's current Master Control Program, a security program named Tron, appeared.

He had changed his appearance. He looked more human than he used to. Instead of the off-white, blue-circuited uniform bodysuit from before and his therefore blue-cast skin, Tron wore a sleeker black outfit with less glowing circuitry. His trademark four-dotted "T" sign was still there, glowing from just below his collarbones, and his head was bare, revealing a well-combed coif of brown hair that was just starting to gray at the temples.

"Greetings, Users." Tron said with a grin and a nod as he turned on the spot to greet them all. "I have some time free, so I figured I might as well assist with the meeting in any way possible." He waved, becoming a bit more enthusiastic when he saw Donald and Goofy. "Donald, Goofy, good to see you again!"

Goofy waved back. "Heya, Tron! Nice duds ya got there."

"An' y'all can thank me for it!" Cid called.

"Hey, whaddaya mean by that?!" Donald quacked.

"Cid installed system-wide updates, courtesy of a young visitor we had recently, named Sam Flynn. My original programming has been improved, so I can utilize my various functions in different ways while using less energy," Tron explained. "I've been debugging and restoring Ansem the Wise's research data, and I'm in charge of deploying Cid's Claymore defense system. Not to mention my usual duties, of course."

Goofy looked a little surprised. "Wow, sounds like you're purty busy in there, Tron."

"I have my days," the AI admitted with a grin, shrugging.

"So what's up?" Leon asked. Tron turned to face him, putting one hand on his hip and scratching his neck with the other in a very human gesture of confusion. "Well…there's been some odd activity logged in that sub-basement you and Rinoa discovered beneath the castle. During the last few days, there've been…odd life signs. Just split-second readings, really. Before any of my scans can get a solid lock, the signatures vanish."

"Probably just the Heartless running around," Yuffie sighed, slurring from sheer boredom. Her staring contest with anyone across the table had utterly failed.

"That could certainly be the case. I'll keep an eye out, though, if you don't mind."

"Not at all, Tron," Leon replied. "Feel free."

"Roger that." Tron vanished, but was replaced by a readout displaying a map of the known worlds. "Oh! One more thing." Two blips showed up in highlighted colors near the world marked as Radiant Garden. One blip was just landing; the other was not too far away from achieving orbit. "I've picked up Sora's ship Highwind on external scans, as well as Gummi Ship Victor-Alpha-Juliet One, christened Starseeker 1. Sora is already on the ground. The others should arrive within the next five minutes."

Leon nodded. "We'll call you in when we're ready."

"Copy that. Tron out."

"Now that's a sweet computer program," Mickey said. "Y'know, I met Tron back when Ansem was still doin' his research."


"Yup! Hasn't changed a bit, 'cept for his new outfit."

"Speaking of change, Mickey," said Yen Sid, "We are here to discuss the role Radiant Garden itself will play in this conflict to come."

"That's right. With the enemy on the move we can't let our guard down like we did ten years ago," Laguna said. "So what's your idea?" he asked Mickey and Yen Sid. "I dunno how the the public's gonna react if we decide to..." he scratched his neck, "well, y'know...fully rearm the Garden Infantry and SOLDIER."

"I do not claim to know the outcome of such a thing, Laguna. Discuss it among yourselves if you wish." Sensing that the conversation was turning elsewhere and more towards Committee matters for the time being, Yen Sid fell silent to watch and listen carefully.

"Laguna...Radiant Garden may not have much of a choice." Leon pointed out. "The Committee's thinned out as it is, even with Tron running the Claymore system."

Lightning frowned; she hadn't had the chance to read the documents on Radiant Garden's military yet. "SOLDIER? Sounds like PSICOM."

"They were the upper level of the army," Cloud explained. "A lot fewer in number than the infantry, but they'd been...enhanced."

"How?" Yen Sid inquired, picking up on this immediately.

"I'm not quite sure." Cloud's face twitched in an rather pained way and the others tuned in to listen. "They're faster and stronger and most of their senses are enhanced by the procedure. All I know is that it involves showers of something called 'mako energy' and some kind of cell enhancement. That's why my eyes glow like this."

As Cloud went through his explanation, Yen Sid began to frown uneasily. Aerith fidgeted where she stood. For a moment, sorcerer and flower girl both traded quick, telling glances and then refocused on Cloud.

"It's potent magical energy," Cloud went on, "but Ansem only allowed it rarely and in controlled doses, as far as I know." He grimaced. "Problem is...SOLDIER's head of science, Professor Hojo, didn't care about that." He gestured to himself. "I got captured by Hojo along with a friend under Ansem's radar, and..." he shuddered and groaned slightly, putting a hand to his head for a moment. "...never mind." Tifa put a comforting hand on his arm.

Cid spoke up. "Far 's I know, there's a lot of folks wantin' better protection even with Claymore defendin' our turf. We barely held Li'l Miss B**** Maleficent's siege back when she tried t' invade last year." There were nods of assent all around, even from King Mickey. "I think restartin' the old army's a real swell idea m'self. That way we'll have people to count on if th' Committee's outnumbered outside of town, eh?"

"Yeah!" Tifa exclaimed.

"Woot! You nailed it, old timer!"

"Hey, watch yer yappin', gal!" Cid blustered, scowling at the young ninja. "I ain't that old!"

Laguna grinned. "Getting there!" he added. Cid whacked him on the back in return, but grinned.

"Anyhow," Cid went on, "I took a gander 'round the ol' airstation over the last couple'a days and found a bunch'a old helicopters an' airships in there."

"Yep! With some good old elbow grease and a little dash of luck, we'll have an air force, too!" Laguna cheered.

"Let's figure the air force out later, Laguna," Leon interjected. "Right now we're trying to figure out the army." He looked to Mickey. "Your Majesty. Do you have any suggestions?"

Mickey didn't answer at first. He stood deep in thought. It was an oddly endearing sight. "Welp, I'd say gettin' SOLDIER back's a pretty swell plan. But...don't be using that mako stuff anymore. I'd rather see an army with folks who can take care of themselves, instead of just a few folks with a whole bunch of stuff inside 'em."

"So...keep SOLDIER, but don't use enhancements like the Labs did. Make it the actual army instead," Laguna repeated back, his hand on his chin in thought.

Mickey nodded eagerly, his big smile back. "Yup!" He spread his arms open. "And if any of the enhanced SOLDIERs come back, y' can ask 'em to come back and help ya train the new folks!"

All the Committee looked intrigued by this idea. "That sounds great, Mickey," said Aerith.

"Yeah, it's perfect!" Yuffie added, thrusting a fist in the air. "Strength in numbers, I always say!"

"Yuffie..." everyone on the Committee groaned.

Yuffie stared around in protest. "What? Was it something I said?"

"No $#%&, short stack!" Cid retorted, once he'd gotten his voice back from the land of Stunned Speechless.

"Cid..." Aerith warned. "Language."

Cid gulped and jawed on his toothpick. Unspoken Rule #3 on the Restoration Committee: Don't mess with Aerith. "Fine, fine. Now, if y'all ain't gonna help me out with gettin' them choppers up 'n ready, I'll do it m'self!" He was met by looks of shock and a debate broke out. Ignoring the haggle, Mickey, Donald and Goofy turned to Yen Sid in the meantime.

While Cid was haggling with Laguna and Leon over the airfleet, Lightning asked coolly to the girl across from her, "How come everyone's scared of you?" Aerith paused for a moment when the argument escalated.

At the other end of the table... "We've got to get this through the Council first, Cid! Just starting it on our own without..." Laguna was saying.

"Without a usable air fleet, there's -" Leon argued.

"But -"

"Hold on - "

Backing out of the whole tizzy, Rinoa folded her arms and waited.

Ignoring them, Aerith clasped her hands behind her back and looked at Lightning with a telling gleam in her eye. "I have my ways."

"So do I." Despite Lightning's harshness, Aerith was a lot easier for her to get along with than anyone else on the Committee. Cid's volley of curses from down the table reinforced her point.

The argument was suddenly interrupted. "Excuse me." It was Tron. "I've detected three people approaching the library from the entrance hall."

Silence fell.

"It's them," Yen Sid spoke.

"Sora." Smiles leaped onto most of the faces who knew him; some outright grins, others just smiles or even smirks.

Donald was almost bouncing. "Oh, boy!"

BAM! went the doors into the library. Footsteps echoed on the floor, along with murmurs from a familiar trio of voices.

"C'mon, Sora - pull it together, you'll be fine!"

"Riku, I'm not cut out for this!" Unbeknownst to the three, some of the Committee heard this; Yuffie had to muffle a giggle.

"You beat the Nightmares with my help, and now we've got Kairi here, too. Chill out, already!"


A girl's voice spoke, the tone soothing. "Hey, you'll be okay."

The second boy's voice chuckled. "Thanks, Kairi."

And here they came. Three young teens. The one on the right was Riku, who wore a white and yellow vest over a zippered black shirt and baggy blue jeans. His hair was silver-gray, not as long as it used to be, but still coming down past the back of his neck.

Then came Kairi, on the left. She wore her usual short, pink tube dress over a white tank top-adventurously girlish, some would call it. A black hood hung off the back of her outfit, while her feet were shod in laced-up sneakers obviously made for running, rather than just worn for sheer fashion. Her shoulder-length dark red hair brought out her smiling bright blue eyes. The Committee could almost sense the light she held inside her and it brought smiles to everyone's faces...though Lightning's was more wistful than warm. "Princess of heart, huh?" she murmured softly to herself. "A lot like Serah..." She looked off into space.

And finally, here came the man of the hour. He hadn't changed a bit since the last time the original Committee had seen him. His brown hair stood up in gravity-defying spikes, and his youthful face was split in his usual cheesy grin as he bantered back and forth with his two best friends. His clothing was the same: A black short-sleeved jacket with shoulder guards, long, puffy shorts with buckles and belts galore fastening two giant red pockets to the sides, a red and blue shirt, big yellow and black shoes and around his neck, the crown necklace he was famous for.

Sora. The Keyblade's Chosen One.

When Sora spotted the Committee he waved hello. "Hey, everybody!"

"Welcome back!" Yuffie exclaimed.

Cid rubbed his nose and grinned at the boy. "Good to see ya, kiddo!"

"Thanks, Cid!" Sora replied. He gestured to either side of him at his friends. "Guys, this is Riku, and this is Kairi."

The two received various greetings from the Committee. Leon walked over with Rinoa at his side, smiling down at Sora. "So you made it," he said by way of a greeting.

Sora grinned and swiped his thumb across his nose confidently, planting his hands on his hips. "What'd you expect?"

Leon smirked. "Nothing less from a certified hero, I guess." He turned to one side and Rinoa through. "Guys, I'd like you to meet a very good friend of mine, Rinoa Heartilly."

Rinoa smiled sweetly and shook hands with the trio. "I've heard a lot about your adventures, Sora."


"Yeah." Rinoa tipped her head to one side, examining Sora with big chocolate brown eyes. "You're the one who fought off the Organization, right? And you freed our home from Maleficent."


"Thank you. That's something we can never fully repay."

Sora fidgeted and a bright red blush darkened his face. "Well...Thanks..."

"Oh, quit being such a sap, Sora," Riku teased. He wrapped an arm around Sora's shoulders and ruffled his friend's spiky hair with his other hand.

"Ah! Hey, quit it!"

Watching the scene, Leon shook his head. "All that fighting and they're still like this..." he murmured. Rinoa tugged him over by the crook of his elbow. "Oh, don't start brooding again, Squally," she teased softly.

"That's Leon..." he replied, but allowed her to land a peck on his cheek.

"Just 'good friends', huh?" Sora's sly voice said out of the blue.

Leon and Rinoa blushed when they realized Sora, Riku and even Kairi were right there with them...and both boys wore big grins. "Fine." Leon sighed. "She's my girlfriend."

"Reeeaaaally..." Sora drew out the vowel knowingly and assumed a "casual" pose with his hands clasped behind his neck.

Rinoa giggled. "Yep, and proud of it!"

Leon sighed and put a hand to his forehead, and Rinoa cuddled up to him, which made them smile at each other. Riku coughed at the sight. It sounded oddly like "Whipped." Sora barely held back a snigger when Rinoa caught that and frowned at Riku. "So what's up?" he asked after a moment had passed.

"Well, we've grown a bit in numbers since last time," said Leon, feeling glad for an opportunity to ease out of the awkward moment. He walked back to the table and motioned at the other side, where several seats stood empty. "Go ahead, those're your spots." Once the trio had taken their seats Leon went on. "You've already met Rinoa. This is Laguna," he said, nodding or gesturing at each person as he said their names, "Irvine, Zell, and..." Leon frowned when he finally reached the young woman with pink hair Sora had noticed over on their side of the table. Finally he put a hand to his forehead. "Crud. I forgot," he finally admitted. The old gang sighed in exasperation.

"Doggone it, Leon, her name ain't exactly hard t' remember!" Cid pointed out. He was about to go on when the woman gave them both a positively icy look.

If looks could kill, he'd be barbecued, was the thought that crossed Sora's mind.

The woman walked over to the three teenagers. "Lightning Farron." She held her hand out to shake, almost stiffly.

"Hi, uh...Lightning." Sora returned the handshake politely like his mom had taught him. Despite being a little naive, Sora could tell this lady wasn't one for sunny small talk. "You're new here, right?"

Lightning went right to the point. "I'm...a refugee. I woke up here after my world was destroyed. Schoolboy there was the first one to find me." Leon scowled darkly at the nickname.

"Schoolboy? I've heard worse." Sora said, not really concerned.

"So've I. So...Sora." She folded her arms and ran an analytic eye over him. "You're the Keyblade's Chosen One, apparently."

When Sora summoned and then banished the Kingdom Key, Lightning merely nodded, since that had been what she was expecting. "Don't screw up," she said bluntly.

Sora grinned. "Don't worry. I won't."

"If he does, Kairi and I can beat some sense into him!" Riku added. The woman's only reply was a small smile and a shake of her head.

"Sora, Riku, Kairi," the voice of Yen Sid boomed. The trio broke off the conversation and turned to look at the wizard. "While I understand the need to...catch up with old friends and make new ones," he said, making Sora and Riku cringe halfheartedly, "there is a more pressing matter at hand. If you would be willing to tell your friends about your most recent adventures, I think it would benefit us all greatly."

Sora nodded, and once everyone was listening, he began to tell the story.

An unknown room, cavernous and cast in shadows...

"So he managed to fight off the forces of darkness. Hmph. He's getting stronger."

A mad cackle. "WAAHAHAhohohoho! That little pipsqueak bashed Xemnas AND Ansem?!" The insane voice blew a razzberry. "Thhbbbpppttt! Bleh! Looks sunnier than that self-help author I blew to shreds last week!"

The first voice turned ominously dark. "Be quiet." Feathers rustled in the dark.

The second one ignored the first, instead eyeing the hologram of Riku, the green glow briefly illuminating garish makeup and bright clothing. "I wonder how strong that kid he's with is. He's got darkness in him, right? Should be fun to toy with, eh?" A moment of silence. "...Saaaayyyy, he kinda looks like you! Same hair color!"

A sound of derision. "I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

"Swoggle me eyes!" blustered a sea captain's voice. "That brat Riku's turned traitor! All for that bunch of bilge rats!"

"Bilge rats indeed, Hooky! Blech! Let me roast the duck, pleeeaaase?" simpered the cackling voice.

A set of new footsteps approached the table, accompanied by the stench of death and the glow of two evil crimson eyes in the darkness. "He will not stand against us for long, jester. I come ever closer to locating my source of ultimate power."

"Fine, finefinefinefine, whatever," the second voice simpered, its owner waving a hand in dismissal. "Just let us all know when you've got it, and we'll have ourselves a nice big...RAMPAGE OF DESTRUCTION!" The voice shot up into an excited shriek of mad glee, then quickly descended as the voice added, "Oh, and don't forget the Heartless. They're so much fun to set loose on the innocent bystanders!"

"What else does one do with tools?" said a calm, deep voice, apparently belonging to an older man of high stature and importance. "We have found several wandering remnants of my old home. Though it no longer remains whole, I have obtained a vital object of leverage against the ones who foolishly stood against the reign of my kind. Even now, these fated ones search for this place, my wandering vessel. But no matter, of course. The darkness will shield it from their prying, make no mistake." A deep laugh echoed. "As for those creatures crafted from darkness, I shall find use for them as more heed our call and join our humble council."

CLONK! Someone ran into something in the dark with a surprisingly hollow thud. "Ow. Umm, why are the lights off in here? Ooh! What's this thing here? Wonder what this button here does..." Something sparked and cast fizzling bolts of electricity over a bulky, beefed-up man somewhere across the room. Bzzt-! Bzzarrp-! Bzzit-!

A slap of a palm against someone's face. "Kro-onnk..." muttered an old woman. "We're trying to figure out a way to get rid of that blasted Kuzco!"

Thud. "Sorry - " Zzzt! "- ma'am!"

"Ugghh..." A heavy sigh of annoyance from the old woman's voice. "Please tell me I'm not the only one dealing with dunderheaded buffoons..."

"He-hey, don't I know it!" a suave, smooth-talking voice interjected as another joined their gathering. "I gotta deal with Pain and Panic...keep Wonderbreath and his high-and-mighty Pops on their toes more than ever nowadays." Something flared red, crackling with flame. "THEY DRIVE ME CRAZY!" The red flare vanished. "But hey, I'm not complaining. We've got ourselves some pretty good odds this time around, y'know, aheheheh...what with them backin' our little deal."

"Old baldy and his circus? Pffft," the insane voice sneered.

"Do not deign to mock the one who has seen fit to gather us together." This new voice echoed eerily with dark power as the group's leader eased into the dim light from the hologram. Clad in a long black robe with a thick streak of dark purple fabric down the front, the woman's skin was pale green, her features sharp and almost beautiful if it weren't for the horned headdress she wore and the gleam of evil in her eyes. She clutched a tall staff topped by a glowing green orb in one long-fingered hand.

Maleficent peered down at the hologram of Sora, Kairi and Riku as they laughed and talked to whomever they were with. "Besides...Xehanort has told me it is high time we put our plans into motion. So...will they be able to bring back those whom that boy has locked away? Or will Xehanort drag him and his princess into the depths of the abyss?" She smiled. "Either way, we may have our own uses for those Keys, won't we?"

It took a while for Sora and Riku to finish explaining their most recent adventure. By the end, Yuffie was practically doing the jitterbug, she had so many questions...and Yuffie-isms.

"OMG, those Dream Eaters sound sooooo CUUUTE!" she squealed when Sora was talking about the frankly adorable creatures he'd met in the Realm of Sleep. "S'pecially those little Meow Wow guys! How many of them were helping you out?"

Sora and Riku both laughed out loud. "More than either of us care to think about, Yuffie," Riku replied for both of them. "But hey, it was a blast, and they were fun to have around in a fight. What more can we ask for?"

Aerith was smiling. "They sound like happy little creatures, don't they?"

"Despite their name, yeah. Though there were plenty of bad ones."

"Oh?" Aerith tilted her head to one side for a moment before she remembered. "Oh! Right, there's two kinds."

"Spirits, the good ones," Sora said readily...

"And Nightmares, the bad guys," Riku finished for him.

"Hold on." Cloud held his hand up suddenly, but it was as if he were listening for a sound none of them could hear, instead of ready to ask a question. His eyes were directed up at the ceiling, roving slowly about, and there was an odd expression on his face. He frowned over at Tifa after a second or two of this. "...do you hear that?" Everyone went silent and listened as carefully as possible, staring up at the air, or at the windows.

Five seconds went by...then ten.


Laguna shrugged. "I don't hear anything."

"Dad, quiet."

"Hey, he called me dad!" Laguna hissed to Cid. Cid grunted, still listening for whatever Cloud had heard.

Mickey was the next to catch something. His big ears twitched slightly, and he began to smile. "Well, I'll be..." the mouse king said to himself.

Tron's voice crackled through. "Victor Alpha Juliet One, approaching Radiant Garden on bearing twenty three degrees, altitude dropping from 65,000 feet at Mach 2."

"Those are Gummi engines." Leon said a few moments later.

"Gummi...those are those ships you use, right?" Lightning said, turning towards Leon's end of the table. "They can travel through space."

Cloud nodded and Tifa explained softly, "The three people we mentioned have their own Gummi Ship, but their home's a long way from here. It looks like they're here right when they said they would be."

Lightning sighed. "Hmph. How practical."

The rumble had grown to the point where everyone could hear it now, and it grew louder by the second. Soon the whole gang could feel it vibrating inside their ribs, while pens and pencils started to roll around on the table's surface, jostled up and down by the growing thunder of rocket engines. Some of the books fell off their shelves in the library aisles, and Leon's cup of coffee nearly tipped over. Cid's did. In fact it fell right off the table, and the pilot swore as it went all over his trousers. "Wh-what the hell?!" Cid blustered. "They gonna land on the front steps or somethin'?!"

Right as he said this something shot past the library windows, gone in a flash and a WHOOSH of disturbed air that rattled the window panes. The thundering continued, only it was starting to wind down as everyone went to look. Through the glint and gleam from the glare of the sun off the glass, the Committee watched as a Gummi ship soared back around from the other side of the castle, settled into a hover below the level of the library windows, and landed with a SWOOSH and a slight bump in the huge courtyard leading up to the front doors of the castle.

"Talk about making an entrance!" Laguna remarked as they watched the ship power down.

It was by no means a large Gummi Ship down at the entrance. The whole craft was only a bit larger than Sora's Highwind, with another fifteen feet added to the horizontal dimensions. But boy, did that make a difference. The main hull of the Gummi ship below them was wide and curved down at the edges, but the underside of the forward two-thirds, and the entire central section from bow to stern were flat. The forward section was bright blue with a golden stripe offset to the right. The rear third of the hull was shaped like two halves of a sausage, split apart by the bubble cockpit and the rudder fins and the two main rocket engines. The pod-shaped sections were a beautiful emerald-green. The weapons - mostly cannons, but a few homing lasers, too - were slung beneath the ship's flat underbelly forwards of the cockpit. Altogether these were a very powerful combination; few enemies would stand a chance. The two rudder fins, one on either side of the cockpit, swept up in a concave curve, white with a blue stripe swooping up the middle. Two larger wings jutted out from the sleek sides of the ship, placed at the same spacing on the hull as the cockpit and rudders. Those implements - the wings, the cockpit, the engines, the fins - were situated at the rear of the Gummi Ship, to ensure plenty of room for its defensive armament. Easy to upgrade and armed to the teeth.

Starseeker 1.

Yen Sid walked up behind them and nodded. "They have arrived."

"Yep! Hey, look! Here they come!" Yuffie yelped. The ship's landing ramp was just visible, and then one, two, three people walked off the ship before heading towards the castle entrance.

Once everyone had gathered back around the table, they waited. And within a few minutes the doors into the library could be heard creaking open again. "Hello...?" a woman's voice called. Three sets of footsteps, one confidently measured, one more feminine with the clack of boot heels, and one distinctly heavy with power approached through the aisles...until the trio from the Gummi Ship appeared around the corner one by one. All three of them were familiar to the Restoration Committee. After all, they'd been guarding Sora's back for several years now.

The first one to enter was their "leader", who stood strong at six feet tall. He wasn't as lanky as Sora, but had a more stalwart build similar to Riku. Nevertheless, he was still on the lean side, with long legs made for quick footwork and muscled arms toned with six to seven years of swordsmanship. His spiky-ended brown hair was thick, like Leon's, only shorter, but better kept, and it flared out slightly at the ends in the back. His bangs were combed up, the ends curling naturally over to the right like short, cresting waves. His angular, square-jawed, expressive features displayed a warm smile that crinkled the corners of his caramel-brown eyes, which were twinkling behind a pair of half-rimmed glasses. Both eyes, if one were to look close enough, were flecked by tiny lines of shimmering silver light. "Hey, everyone. We're back!" he said, before apologetically running his hand through his hair. "Sorry we're late." The young man's voice was expressive, like his face, and somewhat deep in timbre; a tad deeper than Riku's. He was dressed for travel, adventure, and other feats of derring-do. Up top he wore a silver-gray and black athletic jacket over a partially zipped gray vest. Under those two layers was a black and gray t-shirt with a small gray flame motif on the right side of his chest. At his left hip hung a fair-sized gray and black carry case made of obviously tough, waterproof fabric. It was buckled up tight. He also wore grey pants with armored black harness boots. The thick belt around his lower waist was actually a shoulder harness that supported his carry pack; the front of the harness had a few attached pouches for carrying various supplies. Attached to this harness, on the man's left shoulder, was a complex spaulder of odd silver, black and gold armor. The shoulder pad looked slightly like a button, bordered as it was on the crown by a ring of gold metal. All that said, it made for a rather interesting picture. His companions were no less unique.

"Hey, everybody!" The only woman of the trio was slightly shorter and certainly slimmer than her two friends, at around five feet nine inches tall. Her medium-blonde hair was long and thick and shimmered with faint golden-red highlights when the sun hit it right. She kept it tied back in a low, loose knot near the base of her neck. Her face had the gentleness of Kairi's, but also the underlying ice of Lightning's heart-shaped countenance. Her bangs swept down to the right across her forehead; several strands floated free, curving gracefully in front of her cloudy-sky-blue eyes. Her eyes had a vibrant and kind-hearted spirit to them. Despite her slender and gracefully curved frame, the woman's arms, legs and torso were toned and tight with lean muscle built from several years of gymnastics and warrior training. Her attire was slightly different—a zippered white traveling vest highlighted with blue and gold, a deep blue t-shirt, a blue-white bell sleeve on her right arm, a simple blue and white decorative metal greave and spaulder on her upper right arm that held her sleeve up, and fingerless gray gloves with knuckle guards. Her tight-fitting blue denim pants were adorned with a few black belts on the upper and mid thighs that held a few attachable black leather pockets, and the hems were tucked into armored, side-zipped leather boots that came almost up to mid-calf. A split fabric sash of simple white fabric hung from her waist down to the back of her knees. She glanced at her friend in the glasses and cleared her throat sharply. "Ahem!" When her companion looked over she gestured at his face. "You forgot to take off your reading glasses again," she sighed.

"Oops." Some of the younger people in the room snickered as the young man's cheeks turned slightly pink, and he hastily pocketed his glasses. It was a bad habit they all recognized. As far as they'd seen, he'd gone through at least four pairs of spare glasses because he'd gotten them smashed in the heat of a fight.

The last of them folded his brawny arms over his chest as he scanned the group. He was older than the other two by two years, and had short, almost crew-cut black hair and a broad face framed by lush, short sideburns. His narrow eyes were light gray; a few flecks of amber brilliance glinted in their depths. Towering well over six feet, he wore a midnight blue muscle shirt and a ragged-edged zippered black vest underneath a long black trench coat, all of it tight with bulging muscle. His right arm was encased by a complex gauntlet of black and midnight blue metal and protective fabrics. Black cargo pants with a red tribal-style symbol on the left pant leg and lightly armored black combat boots covered the lower half of his body. His face was wide and sharp at the edges, but youthful, and his eyes glimmered energetically, roving quickly around the table. "Wow, Tifa, you weren't kidding when you told us about new faces, were you?" he said with a grin. His voice was a lower baritone than his best friend's, and slightly rough. Sora thought he sounded a bit like that guy from the Grid, Kevin Flynn.

"Who are they?" Lightning demanded, her right hand clenching tight on her gunblade's hilt. She'd never trusted strangers at first glance, and these three were stranger (pun intended) than most. Her keen eyes took note of something common between the three. Around their necks, on simple leather strings, dangled individually stylized necklaces shaped like an angular heart; the heart's point was replaced with a very basic three-pointed fleur-de-lis. That symbol, she remembered from her readings, was the Mark of Mastery. The man in gray's had wings; the woman's had a star behind it, and the brawnier man's had a black letter: Ω, "omega". Somewhere on their clothing was a clip that was the same shape.

"At ease." Yen Sid wore a smile as he glanced in Lightning's direction. Lightning relaxed, albeit reluctantly. "For those of you who do not know them, these are the young Masters I mentioned earlier; Vanner Fyrwinde," he gestured to the young man in gray, "Johanna Stellmaris," the woman, "and Aradorn Thorne." He pointed out the tall, brawny man in black and blue. "Welcome back...Guardians of Light."

To be continued...

A/N: And so the OCs make their official appearance. I have been working on them for years. Further note: This story, though it is first in a series, is the last in the saga. Why did I do this? So that we can go back after this whole shindig is over...and figure out just how these guys got to this point.