A/N: Sorry this took forever. Writer's block plus college plus me being a bit of a lazy a$$ equals hiatus. Blech. Also, I will be using different "variations" of Blinded by Light for most of the OCs' "normal battles" for now, since Lightning is in the party.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Kingdom Hearts or Final Fantasy franchises or their characters. This is a fan work dedicated in honor of the brilliant staff of Square Enix and Walt Disney Studios/Disney Interactive, who are the legal owners of these works. The only thing I own are the original characters.
All Tangled Up
By the time we made it to the coordinates in Master Walt's journal, I'd managed to shoot down a boatload of Heartless ships. I'd lost count around twenty. Or was it twenty-two? Ahh, never mind.
"Well, we're here!" I said as the ship dropped out of the gate over Corona. "Everybody okay back there?"
"You fly…like…a maniac." Lightning's expression was stony when I went to glance over my shoulder. She had her fingers dug into her seat's armrests, and now she crossed her arms so tight she looked like a human pretzel. Her face was white as a ghost's.
I snorted while I flicked a few switches and disarmed the Gummi ship's defenses. "Nah, I'm just really good at it." She turned even paler. "But seriously, you okay? You look as white as a sheet."
"I'm fine," she snapped. "Just give me a minute so I don't…hurl." She had to pause for a moment there, which told me she was serious.
I rubbed my head sheepishly. "Well, uh...sorry about that."
Jo and Ara stayed quiet while the passive tension in the cockpit simmered for a few moments. Then Lightning sighed and managed to get some color back in her face again. "Fly less like an idiot next time and we'll call it even," she said.
"I'll make no guarantees, but all right." To my relief, she nodded.
Phew. Crisis averted, I thought, and swung the ship in towards the world's orbit, prepping the transporter.
We made landing in a sun-dotted forest clearing with Starseeker 1 still orbiting the world high, high overhead. Looking around, I could immediately see why Master Walt had chosen this world as a place to hide his first report. The whole place seemed to bask in the light of the midday sun shining overhead. Birds sang, insects chirped and squeaked, and above our heads the leaves in the proudly soaring treetops rustled in a gentle—ahh, nuts, I'm spouting clichés again. Forget it; you get the picture. This world had a LOT of light.
Beside me, Jo grinned and inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. "Ahh…smell that?"
Ara sniffed and then faked a sneeze. "Doh; I hab allergeez…"
"Oh shut up, you do not!"
Ara gave up and grinned. "You got me."
I shot my best girl friend a teasing grin as I looked around at the forest. "So let me guess, you can practically smell the light around here."
"No, silly; I meant all the flowers! Don't they smell wonderful?"
I snickered. She did have a soft spot for flowers. "You might be a tomboy, Jo, but that was a really girly moment you just had there."
She elbowed me. "Shut up! And you," she exclaimed, pointing at Ara, "not a single word out of you, either!"
Aradorn opened his mouth to reply when Lightning walked past, interrupting him before he could speak. "Stop screwing around and admiring the scenery," she snapped. "It doesn't matter—we're here, and we have a mission to complete."
Aradorn snorted, bringing Lightning's glower to bear on him. "Okay, sure! Let's go hunting for something that we don't know the location of, when there's nobody around!" he suggested sarcastically. He turned to a tree near him and spoke in a loud and obnoxious voice. "Hey, did you see an older guy hide a small book around here sometime in the past thirty-or-so years?" I slapped my palm to my forehead. Not again.
The tree, being a tree, didn't reply.
Lightning turned away, a sharp, sardonic tone in her voice. "And here I was, thinking Keyblade Masters are supposed to be mature wise men." She shook her head. "Figures I'd be stuck with a bunch of immature wise guys instead…"
Ara gaped. "HEY! I'm just tryin' to point out—" he groaned and clenched his teeth. "You know what, fine. Forget it!" He stalked away, muttering curses under his breath.
Johanna sighed. "I'll go after him." She took off in a jog.
I sighed once they were both gone. "Lightning…we aren't ALL smart alecks, y'know." Her replying scoff as she turned and started walking around the edge of the clearing was enough for me to keep going on my little tangent. I caught up and rubbed the scruff of my neck. "Look; Ara's…just deflecting. Well, he's married. He may not always show it, but he misses his wife a lot; he's been out 'on deployment' more than he's been at home for the past year."
"Doesn't he have his phone with him?" Lightning asked. I bobbed my head in a "sort of" motion and pulled out my phone. The gray and black flip phone nestled in my palm was a distant link to home, at best. After a while, just hearing my loved ones' voices wasn't enough…and Ara had the worst hand of all of us put together. He loved Jess more than anything, his "li'l flash-bang" as he called her sometimes. He missed his spitfire bride desperately, I knew that. And when he'd been expecting a smirk or a laugh from one of us, he got shut down by Lightning. The hurt buried beneath the indignant anger in his eyes was there, for sure, but I found I couldn't really blame my current companion for her actions—she was hurting too.
"You know how that feels, being away from family, from loved ones for a long time." I said quietly. I caught her flinch out of the corner of my eye and knew I'd hit pay dirt. "Ara just tends to shrug off missing Jess with humor instead of being a cold, efficient soldier. So don't just assume we're a trio of half-witted mooks who can't behave outside of a fight. We're a team; we stick together come hell or high water."
A reluctant smirk crossed Lightning's lips. "Well, you've got one good strategy. I get the feeling you attract trouble of the worst kind no matter where you go."
"Welllll, maybe." In spite of her slight sneer I took it in good humor and let a lopsided grin spread across my face. "But come on, Lightning! Look around! This place is full to bursting with peace! What's the worst that could ha—oomph! Dyargh-OW! UNH!"
I never got to finish my sentence. In retrospect, I really should've heard the scream from above on the bluff, but I was too absorbed in talking to my female comrade to notice. Next thing I knew I'd been bowled over by a blur of limbs and clothing.
Once I'd gotten hold of my bearings again and screwed my head back on straight I got up. Just struggling to his feet behind a boulder a short distance away was an apparently native resident, and for some reason he looked the part of a Robin Hood-style thief. Riding boots, tan breeches buckled with a strong-looking belt and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up covered by a well-padded aquamarine vest were his basic clothing. In addition, he was carrying a beat-up satchel, probably with something valuable inside judging by the way he was carrying it all close to the chest like a football. His slightly shaggy brown hair was well-kept and a thick but short-cropped goatee added a bit of a carefree look. But as Lightning rounded on the poor fellow and pulled out her gunblade, making sure to have the tip touch his back, being carefree was the furthest thing from the poor guy's mind. He stiffened like a possum playing dead. "Oh, boy…" He turned around, having not seen me or Lightning clearly just yet and a winsome nervous grin spread across his face like melted butter over bread. "Heh-hey guys, easy, this is all just a biiigg…" His smile drooped. "Wait, you're not the Stabbingtons."
"The Stabbingtons?" Lightning inquired. Her sword didn't waver.
"No no, I'm serious, there're these two big tall bandits around here who're called the Stabbington Brothers, worst pair of ugly mugs around. They're not too keen about me making off with…" The man stopped when Lightning's blade edging closer to his face, peering down his nose at the tip of the blade. "Erm, would you mind, ahh…getting that…away? Please? Don't want to, uhh, ruin the good looking fa—"
A scoff from Lightning, and the gunblade's tip bumped the tip of the man's nose. "Save it."
"Shutting up," he squeaked.
"Okay, easy," I said, getting up and dusting my pants off. "I doubt he means any harm...right?" I shot our newcomer a sharp glance.
Standing up, the man gave a shaky grin and nodded as Lightning grudgingly sheathed her gunblade. "Sorry about bowling you over there. Kind of lost my grip on a hanging tree."
I shrugged. Forgive and forget was the best option. "No harm, no foul. I've survived worse. What's your name?"
The guy flinched and then outright stared incredulously. "Wait, you don't know who I am?!"
His extreme, pointedly flat expression told me he wasn't impressed. "Ohhhkay. Since you two aren't exactly, uhhmm, locals," he said, giving me and Lightning an appraising up-and-down look, obviously noting our slightly (but not overly) out of place attire, "...I'll fill you in. Name's Flynn Rider, pincher of valuable objects, a.k.a. the greatest thief in the kingdom." Flynn Rider's introduction came complete with a self-serving grin and a flamboyant pose. "Flynn or Rider is fine."
"I'm Vanner Fyrwinde, Vann for short. This is Lightning. Ah, why'd you jump off a cliff?"
"Fell off," Flynn pointed out. "I had to ditch a rather persistent horse."
"A horse?" I repeated drily, eyebrow raised.
A sheepish look crossed Flynn's face. "Yeeahhh. A Palace Guard horse, big white charger who's way too smart for—" He stopped midsentence as a loud whinny echoed through the forest. "Uh-oh." He looked around frantically and then beckoned. "This way, quick!"
I exchanged a look with Lightning as Flynn dove behind a thick curtain of hanging ivy—a hidden cave. "You okay with keeping an eye on him? He might be useful."
Lightning frowned. "Like I have much of a choice?"
I paused as I was lifting the ivy to follow this Rider character. "Well, you can stay here and guard the ivy from a potentially homicidal horse if you want."
She gave a snort. "You have a way with people, don't you, Fyrwinde?"
"Ehhh, so I've been told," I replied. The sound of hoofbeats rapidly drawing closer put both of us on alert, and we ducked behind the curtain of ivy and moved deeper into the cave just in time. The silhouette of a big horse with an empty saddle appeared through the sunlit ivy, looking around in either direction, ears up and on high alert. Nobody moved for a long, tense moment. What happened next I wasn't exactly expecting; the horse's silhouette ducked down and started sniffing the ground like a dog. What the...? The horse (he or she) moved off on the trail Lightning and I had left, since Flynn's scent was apparently part of it at that point.
Then Flynn gasped…and Lightning and I turned around. This was no cave. This was a tunnel! The tunnel itself was relatively short, and opened up after about ten feet onto a high-walled box canyon with towering golden-red stone walls on almost every side. Trees, shrubs and grass grew wild on the floor of the canyon around a small burbling brook that meandered into a small pond, and right in the center of the whole picturesque scene stood a tower. Just a tower, the top of it exactly like a small house with windows and what could be called a door. Sort of. It was more of a window made to act as a doorway.
The whole place had this air of a long-forgotten secret, something very few people should know about. It was an odd vibe, one that put me a bit on edge.
"Whoa...When did this pop up?" Flynn muttered, edging into the clearing with the two of us on his heels.
"Judging from all the growth on that tower, it's been here at least a decade," Lightning remarked coolly, folding her arms over her chest, obviously not bothered by how Flynn meant to be talking to himself.
Flynn shot my companion a squinty-eyed look. "How do you know that?"
Lightning's icy glare told him not to mess around. "Survival training."
"Ohh..." His expression made me snort. After a moment Flynn broke into a low-profile run towards the tower. But as he drew closer all the sound in the clearing seemed to stop and a dark chill made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. "Flynn, wait-!" I started to call, only to watch Flynn pull up short when a bunch of Shadows suddenly popped out of the earth around him.
(LR FFXIII OST: Crimson Blitz)
I swore under my breath and summoned Archangel and Starseeker. "Come on!" Lightning hauled out her gunblade, and we ran to help. "Flynn, get out of here!" I yelled at him. Obviously not listening, Flynn promptly stood his ground with a focused look on his face, took an almighty swing at one of the Heartless...and missed completely. I had to throw a barrier up around him to keep him from getting gutted by the Shadow's claws, right before all the rest of the monsters jumped us.
Flynn, who'd been bowled over by the Shadow's retaliatory swipe at him, scrambled up and dove for cover behind a convenient boulder. "Never mind! Hiding!"
Lightning and I made sure the goofball was safe with a double barrier before we went to work. I blocked a Shadow that tried to jump me and knocked it backwards with a swing, then spun to gather up a little momentum and brought both Keyblades down on the dark creature, sending it back into darkness. Lightning on the other hand infused her weapon with her namesake (a simple "Enthunder" spell) and went into the fight with deadly precision. Her run was quick and deadly, with no holds barred as she whipped her blade in a quick, deadly combo, each second swing taking down an enemy. Then she backflipped and fired her re-converted weapon at each peak in her three-tier jump, adding another three to her tally. Pretty soon we both were just whirling from enemy to enemy without stopping. There may have only been Shadows and Soldiers, but there were quite a few and they were very persistent...and dodgy. Meaning they loved to pull hit-and-run moves.
"Whoa!" Lightning had to dive to one side to avoid a Soldier's cyclone kick and almost smashed into me. "Persistent, aren't they?" she muttered, flipping her weapon into gun mode and blasting the thing to kingdom come with a volley of shots.
"You said it, not me," I replied quickly, then hurled a sequence of Holy Fire, then Blizzard and finally Thunder at a few Soldiers who were conveniently lined up like ninepins coming right at us. BAM! SHINK! Kraka-BAM! All three spells hit dead on and blew the monsters away like paper in the wind, but I had already moved on to some new targets by then. "Here comes!" I rushed at a nearby group of Shadows and sent them flying in every direction with a whirlwind of one-two swings. "Wind!" A tornado of Aeroga whirled up and dragged them back, before I finished 'em off with Blazing Blast. "So long!" WHAM!
"Showoff..." I heard Lightning scoff, even as she let loose with a full-bore Thundaga that blew half the Soldiers left to kingdom come.
"Like you're any better?" I asked, dismissing Starseeker so I could use Archangel alone. She didn't reply.
We let up and got hemmed in by the few remaining Heartless...on purpose of course. "You ready?" Lightning asked when we were back to back. "Get ready to cast Thundaga."
The Heartless got closer...closer...a little closer... "NOW!" We both thrust our free hands up and brought them down in a quick casting motion, shouting "Thunder!" In a crackle-BLAM of lightning bolts, the remaining Heartless disappeared into the ether.
(End Crimson Blitz)
"Phew..." I wiped the sweat off my brow in the lingering silence. The sounds of birds and insects came back into the clearing, and Flynn soon popped up from behind his boulder.
"Wow, you two sure know how to knock those things a new one!" he exclaimed as if nothing untoward had just happened, though his smile looked more than a little forced.
"Comes with the job," Lightning said before I could.
"Right. So you're mercenaries?"
I scratched my neck awkwardly. "Mercenary" was definitely not my job description. "Er...Not exactly. Me and my other two friends are more...adventurers. We go where we're needed."
Flynn rubbed his chin. "Uh huh. Soldiers of fortune, then?"
"Nah, that's Soldier Girl."
"Don't call me that. It's Lightning." Lightning's tone was biting and shut up both of us very quick.
I swallowed. "Sorry."
"Tch." Lightning turned away, planting her hands on her hips before she sighed. "It's just...an old acquaintance used to call me that. It's nothing."
Finally, Flynn couldn't seem to take the awkwardness anymore. He clapped his hands together with an awkward grin. "Well! Now that that's all behind us, I'm going to go ahead and try to figure out how to get up this tower."
He turned and promptly tried to find a few handholds or footholds on the ivy but failed, slipping back down to the ground. Then he pulled up his satchel and got an 'aha' look on his face as he pulled out two crossbow bolts and used them to start climbing, jabbing the bolts into cracks in the masonry.
As Flynn started climbing Lightning and I walked to the bottom of the tower to watch him climb. After he'd made it about a quarter of the way Flynn paused and looked over his shoulder. "Oh, by the way, sorry folks, I'm gonna go up alone. Can't have three when this is a job for one, y'know?"
I rolled my eyes. "Well that's a bit cocky. Shall we put him in his place?" I asked Lightning.
Her cool smirk was accompanied by "He reminds me too much of Snow-an all-talk hero with a thick skull."
"Wow, hope I get to meet this apparent bozo of yours," I remarked. "On the count of three?"
"Two..." I felt Aero start to buzz and swirl in my fingertips as we both crouched in preparation.
"Three!" As we said it together we jumped and cast an Aerora-class spell under us to give our jumps a big boost. We shot straight past Flynn on his way up and both of us were able to simply put one foot out and step onto the ledge in front of the tower's main entry point.
"Need a hand?" Lightning called softly down to Flynn, who was still trudging his way up the tower. He peered up and his face blanked in surprise for a moment before he turned sullen.
I smirked. "You sure?" I made sure to keep my voice low since there could be someone inside.
"I'm fine!" he replied.
When Lightning started to climb even higher I hissed "Where're you going?"
Lightning looked over. "Up to the roof. If something goes wrong, you've got backup."
"Ohhhkay... Not that anything could go wrong, though."
She gave me a look. "Don't jinx yourself, kid."
"I'm not a kid!" Too late-she was already gone, but I swear I heard her chuckle.
A few moments later Flynn allowed me to help pull him up onto the ledge. "You...really know how to show off...don't you?" he groaned while he was struggling to edge over the outcropping of the ledge into the tower.
"Whatever; come on." I opened the window and we entered the room. It was pitch black except for light that filtered in from outside.
"Hello?" Flynn hissed. I kept half an eye on Flynn while I surveyed the interior...empty, apparently. Whoever lived here was apparently a good painter, though.
Flynn paid me no mind and opened his satchel. "Hello-o, gorgeous..." he cooed, and I caught a glimpse of something shiny in the satchel, deciding to turn away, rolling my eyes.
And that's when everything went south.
There was a loud melodious clanging noise right behind me. I whirled and had just enough time to see Flynn toppling like a fallen tree. "What the-?!" The figure who'd clocked him whirled around with a shriek (a shriek?) and suddenly something big and round and flat and decidedly similar to a frying pan came down on my head with the apparent force of a falling piano. I was out before I knew it.
I hate my life...
A/N: So, that's the update folks! Next up is interrogation, Rapunzel-style, and her introduction to the rest of the team. Not sure if I'll fit the Snuggly Duckling in or not, but that is also a possibility.
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