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“Oh, good, Ursus are here,” Adelle says, tone entirely flat. “Go bears.”

Mateus barely acknowledges she said anything as he and his two cohorts stride into the clearing, but the boy with red hair does tip his hat with a dramatic flourish.

“Fighting the horde of Heartless now is premature,” Mateus says, grabbing the Queen’s podium and pulling himself up onto it, so that he looms over them all. “Let them overrun this place. There are hundreds of hearts in their path, and once all of them have become Heartless, there’ll be more than enough for both Leopardos and Ursus to get their fair share. Everyone wins.”

“Apart from all of these guys,” Eden notes, waving a hand around at the guards, Alice, the Rabbit, and the Queen.

“Everyone who matters wins,” Mateus says, lifting a slender eyebrow. “You’re new, so I’d hardly expect you to understand, but the trifling affairs of other worlds are a very long way beneath the dignity of Daybreak Town. Our purpose is to defeat Heartless and collect hearts -- the more Heartless there are, the better we attain that goal.”

The Queen of Heartless slams her hands down on her podium, either side of Mateus’ feet. “This is an outrage! Off with their heads! Off with their heads!”

“What you’re saying makes a lot of sense!” Eden chirps, putting his hands behind his head. “Can’t argue with that logic. But -- I can’t say I’m one for waiting around. Quicker we thin out that horde, quicker I can buy Luso his ice cream. Thanks for the offer, but we’ll be going now.”

Off with their heads! Off with their -- ...”

Mateus sighs. Eden catches his keyblade appearing in his hand a second before he spins and drives it through the Queen of Hearts’ chest. She shudders, going rigid, an orange and red glow emanating from her chest.

“‘Queen of Hearts?’” Mateus murmurs. “A grandiose moniker, ill-suited for one such as yourself. Be happy. That darkness in your heart may yet serve Ursus.”

Luso starts towards Mateus, only for the red-haired boy to wave his hand, summoning a row of shimmering keyblades to stop him in his tracks.

“Stay right there,” the white-haired girl says, summoning her own keyblade.

Eden’s Chirithy appears, waving a paw at Mateus. “This is an obvious breach of -- …”

“Not at all,” another Chirithy replies, materialising on Mateus’ shoulder. “The Master’s laws do not forbid this in the slightest.”

“Consider this a gift from Ursus,” Mateus says, tugging his keyblade from the Queen’s chest, sending a wave of red rippling out over the clearing. “A foe for you to vanquish while we defeat the horde.”

The Queen stands in place, twitching, staring straight ahead as sparks of light crackle from her chest. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, flakes of shadow start to rise from her shoulders and hair.

“So, you want to distract us while you rake in hearts. It’s possible to be too competitive, Mateus,” Adelle says, summoning her keyblade.

“It’s because of thinking like that that you’re at the bottom of the rankings,” Mateus replies, hopping down from the podium. “Don’t worry. We’ll be sure to complete the mission.”

The three move to the maze’s exit, keeping the wall of keyblades between them. As they leave, the red-haired boy sweeps into a low bow, doffing his hat.

“Let’s follow them,” Luso says, as the keyblade wall vanishes.

No,” Eden’s Chirithy snaps. “You’re needed here.”

At the podium, the Queen is suddenly engulfed in a cloud of darkness, spiralling down to the ground and coalescing into something large and tusked, furred in shadowy black and bright red, with a golden crown on its head. As the last of the cloud vanishes, Eden sees the Queen’s body swaying, just before it vanishes into twinkling lights.

The Rabbit is the first one to scream, and his yell sets off the guards, who flee into the maze, dropping their spears as they go. Only Alice and the little man remain, as Alice eases herself back towards the keybearers.

“A Heartless?” Eden asks.

“The Queen’s own Heartless,” Chirithy replies. “Mateus unlocked the darkness in her heart.”

The Heartless digs one hoof into the ground, looking left and right until its gaze alights on the little man, hurrying towards it.

“Oh, deary me!” The little man says. “I never imagined ...  but it’s not all bad, my dear, we’ll have you back to your old self soon enough, and until then, well, I say you have lovely tu -- …”

The Heartless’ jaws snap open before closing onto him, engulfing him entirely. Eden hears him continue to witter on for a few seconds, before he falls silent.

Alice gasps, covering her mouth. “I say, she just gobbled him up!”

“Sure did,” Eden says. “You should run!”

“Maybe I can find my way back to that mean old doo -- …”

“I don’t care, go away.”

The Heartless chooses that moment to move, lowering its head and charging. Adelle and Luso jump into its path, crossing their keyblades, letting it ram its tusks up against them before shoving it back.

That’s apparently all the prompting Alice needs to run, as she turns tail and sprints out of the maze.

“Reckon I should go with her?” Adelle asks.

“Nah. She’ll be fine,” Eden says, holding his hand out in front of him and summoning his keyblade, the sunlight dancing through its stained glass of teeth, sending blue and green patterns over the grass. “Both of you ready?”

---


Eden has a plan.

“I have a plan,” he says, flinging himself out of the way of the Heartless just before it hits him, leaving it to careen through a hedge before circling back around with surprising agility, charging once again.

Luso moves into its path this time, wedging his keyblade into the ground and letting the Heartless collide with it, digging his heels in as it pushed. “I’m up for hearing it.”

“Okay, so we lure her out of the maze and to the castle,” Eden says, leaping out of the way again as the Heartless turns and breathes out a stream of flame towards him, “and then we set up all the mirrors so that she’s directed through the castle up to the top of the tallest tower, and then we’re waiting there and when she’s not expecting it we shove her off the top. Can’t charge at us if she’s busy falling down. That’s just science.”

“That’s a stupid plan!” Adelle calls from atop a hedge.

You’re a stupid plan!

Adelle shakes her head, reaching for her belt, to the pouch next to her Text, and tugging out three cards. “Just keep her distracted, losers.”

Eden gives an agreeing grunt, and he and Luso start circling, skimming over the ground and darting in just long enough to draw her attention towards one of them, before the other moves in to pull her attention in the other direction.

Adelle waves her hand, the cards hanging in the air in front of her. As Eden passes by, he catches the ornate, gilt drawings on them: Some furry, big-eared, long-nosed thing, with ‘VALOR’ written beneath it; a woman in a shimmery blue dress, with ‘WINTER’ written beneath her; and -- …

Eden loses sight again as he darts in and over the Heartless, batting his keyblade against its side.

“Herd it towards me!” Adelle yells.

Luso drives his keyblade into the ground, levering the Heartless around on one side, as Eden fires off a barrage of criss-crossing beams of light, funneling it towards Adelle as she sweeps her keyblade over the cards.

As the Heartless charges, Adelle drives her glowing keyblade forward, and at the moment the tip of it lands between the Heartless’ eyes, a wave of cold billows outwards, freezing the hedges solid and encasing the Heartless in ice.

It shatters as Adelle drags her keyblade back, and two glowing hearts start to drift away. Chirithy catches them, stuffing them into the pouch he wears around his neck, before landing back on Eden’s head.

Adelle flicks her keyblade, dismissing it into glittering sparkles. “We okay to go?”

“Sure,” Luso says, a little uncertainly. “But, er. What are the people here going to do? They kind of lost both their monarchs on the same day, y’know?”

“Not our problem,” Eden says. “‘Beneath the dignity of Daybreak Town,’ as Mateus’d say.”

---


They find Alice out in the woods, making her way carefully through the briars towards where Eden thinks the Dodo and his dancers are.

“You didn’t run very far,” he notes.

“Oh, I did!” Alice exclaims. “But somehow I just found myself going in circles. This place is terribly confusing.”

“Do you need us to help you back?” Luso asks.

“No, thank you, I think I’m on the right path now,” Alice says, and gives them all a quick curtsey before hurrying away.

Chirithy appears once she’s gone, settling on Eden’s shoulder. “There aren’t any more Heartless in this world. Ursus did a good job exterminating them.”

“We’ve prepared a path for you,” Adelle’s Chirithy adds, appearing at her feet.

“Yes,” Eden’s Chirithy says. “I’d be happy if we never came back to this world.”

---


The Moogle at the Union desk peers at them over his spectacles like they’ve just grown second heads.

“How many hearts did you bring back, again?”

“Five,” Eden says, cheerfully.

“That’s what I thought you said,” the Moogle says. “Well, you get a hundred munny each for your efforts, plus ten munny for every heart. You can share that between yourselves.”

He rummages around for a few moments, producing three small bags of coins and sliding them, inch by inch, over the desk.

As soon as he’s handed over their pay, Adelle snatches Eden’s portion, pocketing it. “That’ll go towards your debt.”

“But there’s nothing left for me,” Eden protests. “That’s so unfair.”

“That’s capitalism, Ed.”

Luso dangles his own bag of coins in front of his face, mouth drooping. “Ursus stole, like, five-hundred Heartless out from underneath us. They must be rolling in munny right now.”

“They’re going to be buying so much ice cream,” Eden adds, mournfully. “Hey, Adelle, buy us ice cream.”

“No.”
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“Okay,” Luso says, reaching into his jacket. “If we’re going to do this, we need to do this right. Here.”

He thrusts an object into Eden’s hand, and another into Adelle’s. Eden glances down at his hand, tilting his head a little.

“... Sunglasses?”

“They’ll make us look cool and professional,” Luso says, putting his on. They almost completely obscure his eyes. Eden shrugs, pulling his on as well.

“Remember, guys, this is serious,” Adelle says, as she puts on her own sunglasses.

---


“I say, have we met before?”

“No,” Eden says, holding out his arm for Luso to scribble a note on (“I didn’t bring a notepad!” “But you did bring a pen?”) “So, just making sure Lu’s got everything right: First name ‘the,’ middle initial ‘M,’ last name ‘Hatter,’ and you say Alice was here having a tea party with you?”

The man in the hat nods. “We had jam!”

“They had jam,” Eden murmurs to Luso. “Not sure what that is, but they had it.”

“Can anybody else corroborate that?” Luso asks.

The man in the hat points down the table, to a mouse sleepily rising out of a teapot.

“Twinkle, twinkle, little bat … how I … how I wonder …” the mouse says, softly.

“That sounds like it could be important, note it down,” Eden tells Luso.

As Luso quickly scribbles the note onto Eden’s forearm, Eden catches Adelle skateboarding past, giving them encouraging fingerguns.

---


They’re questioning a pair of identical men when it happens. A Heartless, spherical save for three tentacles protruding from it, bursts from the undergrowth, followed by two more.

“Heartless!” Luso calls, as Adelle brings her skateboard to a sharp stop and whisks off her sunglasses.

“On it,” Adelle replies.

The two of them summon their keyblades -- Luso’s large, bulky and translucent Warring Leonid; and Adelle’s slender, sparkling Silver Tiger. Eden snaps his own into his hand.

“One each?” Adelle asks.

“One of us should take a picture,” Luso says. “It’s evidence.

“You can do that,” Eden says, and Luso tucks his keyblade under his arm, pulling out his Text and flipping through the pages until he finds a camera function. “Adelle and I will do all the hard work.”

‘Hard work’ is right, it turns out. The spherical Heartless zip around the woods fast enough that forty percent of the battle is chasing them down, and forty percent is fending off rapid attacks from their tentacles. The remaining twenty percent is trying to herd them into places where Luso can take pictures of them.

Eden takes down the first, trapping it in place with a barrage of criss-crossing beams of light and then slicing it in two, and a minute later Adelle freezes the second in place and shatters it with a flurry of thrusts. They converge on the third and batter it to death in short order.

“Did you get any good shots?” Adelle asks, putting her sunglasses back on. Eden adjusts his own pair, now askew and hanging lopsidedly off his nose, so that they sit more comfortably over his eyes.

“A bunch!” Luso says, giving them both a thumbs up.

“Heartless separated from the main horde,” Luso’s Chirithy notes, from his shoulder.

“And of a type not native to this world, I do believe,” Adelle’s Chirithy adds.

“Curious indeed,” Eden’s Chirithy says. “We’ll have to report this to Foreteller Gula.”

The other two make agreeable noises, before all three vanish.

“What’s got them worked up?” Luso asks, shaking his head. “Weird guys. Anyway!”

He nods to Eden, and Eden reaches over to grab one of the twins by the back of his shirt, swinging them roughly towards Luso for further questions.

“So, describe the being you saw exiting the Queen’s castle,” Luso says. "We'll draw the culprit based on what you say."

---


darkball


“This is way better than my drawings, Lu,” Eden says, mildly, peering at his arm.

“Thanks! Sometimes I think of myself as an artist first, and a keybearer second,” Luso replies.

“You have a rare skill.”

“It’s clearly that big spherical Heartless we saw, right?” Adelle asks, leaning over Luso’s head.

“Oh, yeah, deffo,” Luso says.

---


They catch sight of the horde of Heartless in the middle of interrogating a particularly obstinate dodo.

“Moving towards the castle,” Adelle notes.

“Perhaps they’re drawn to the girl,” Adelle’s Chirithy remarks. “Her light shines brighter than anyone else’s here.”

“Speaking of the girl,” Eden’s Chirithy adds, “I understand that this world is a terribly distracting place, but someone please tell Luso to stop dancing so that we may return to the castle and present our evidence before it is overrun by Heartless.”

“But he looks like he’s having fun. We should leave him here forever instead.”

“No, Eden.”

---


Luso slams his hand down on the podium. “So, as you see, Alice could not possibly have been the one to try to steal your heart!”

The Queen doesn’t say anything, having long ago started staring into space, until the small man next to her tugs at her sleeve. “My dear? The trial is over.”

“Hm? Then I shall give my verdict!” The Queen says grandly, leaning forward and gesturing at Alice. “I have listened to all of the evidence given today, and come to the obvious conclusion.”

Eden takes a step to one side, eyes flicking between Luso and the Queen as she pauses for dramatic effect, straightening herself up to her full but not tremendously impressive height.

“Alice, I find you guilty. Off with her head! Off with her head!

Eden sighs, lifting his shoulders into an expressive shrug. “Well, I guess that’s our job done. Bad luck, Alice, goodbye forever.”

“Sorry, not sorry,” Adelle says.

“But this is simply absurd!” Alice protests.

“Sorry,” Adelle repeats, a little more firmly, “not sorry.”

“We should go deal with that horde of Heartless before they get here, I guess,” Eden says, raising his arms over his head and stretching, as Luso shrugs and tosses his sunglasses on the ground, and several guards move to try to drag a reluctant Alice away.

“Now, why would you want to do that?

That’s not the Queen, or Alice, or anybody Eden knew was on this world, yet he still isn’t even remotely surprised when Mateus emerges from the hedge maze, with the red-haired boy in the hat on one side, and a girl with white hair styled into elaborate horns on the other.

“Oh, good, Ursus are here,” Adelle says, tone entirely flat. “Go bears.”
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Day Forty.

Heartless Suppression Mission:
Wonderland.
A large number of Heartless are congregating in Wonderland. Their numbers must be thinned by at least ninety percent to be within safe parameters.


The Lane Between spits Eden, Luso, and Adelle out into a -- a hedge thing? Eden thinks it’s a maze, but if it is, then they’re at the center of it, surrounded by giant, anthropomorphised cards, while a young blond girl stands facing a woman in black and red, raised up high above the rest of the proceedings.

Freyra flicks open her Text, trailing her fingers over it as she brings up the pages on Wonderland. “That’s the Queen of Hearts. Local ruler, nothing to worry about.”

“The small one or the high-up one?” Eden asks.

“High-up one,” Freyra says, showing him the page.

Eden glances at it, and the sketch of a woman in a poofy dress, and back up at the figure overseeing the -- the whatever this is. Something that involves everyone looking very nervous.

“Read the charges!” The Queen of Hearts calls, prompting a rather harried looking rabbit to start shuffling through some papers.

“The, er, the accused, Alice, is charged with breaking and entering, assault, and the attempted theft of Her Majesty’s heart,” the Rabbit says.

“Exactly so! Now,” the Queen says, leaning forward in obvious glee. “Are you ready to hear your sentence?”

Eden feels a weight on his head as Chirithy appears, digging his paws in slightly to get a good grip on Eden’s hair.

“This is called a trial,” Chirithy whispers, slowly and carefully. “It’s a process by which a person accused of breaking the rules has their guilt ascertained and a punishment decided upon.”

“It’s an excuse to argue about stuff while sounding important,” Adelle mutters to Eden’s right, standing on tiptoes to reach his ear.

“Still, the negative emotions that an execution would cause would risk the creation of more Heartless,” Chirithy says, prodding a paw at Eden’s forehead. “One of you should speak up.”

“I agree,” Luso’s Chirithy adds, materialising on his shoulder.

“You would, you’re all the same person anyway,” Eden mutters.

“The culprit behind the attempted theft was most certainly a Heartless,” Adelle’s Chirithy adds, materialising next to her. “We’d be remiss in letting someone else take the blame for it.”

Eden pauses, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Hey, do you guys do this on every mission? Just run errands and stuff instead of hunting Heartless? You -- you ever think that might be why we’re the lowest ranked -- …”

Sentence?” Alice asks. “But there must be a verdict first!”

“Sentence first!” The Queen snaps, slamming a fist down. “Verdict later.”

“But that just isn’t the way!”

Always …” The Queen starts, voice rising, turning red in the face.

“-- Your way, of course,” Alice interjects quickly, holding up her hands placatingly.

The Queen relaxes instantly, smiling benevolently. “Yes, my child. Off with her -- …

“Oh, fine,” Eden mutters, before taking several steps forward. “Hey! Queen Person!”

The court goes deathly silent, as Eden laces his fingers behind his head, giving the Queen of Hearts his biggest, sunniest grin.

“Ahem,” Chirithy says, a little irritably. “Forgive the boy, Your Majesty. We come with a request from Daybreak Town.”

The Queen leans forward, tapping the tip of her scepter (is that made out of cardboard?) against her podium. “Well, spit it out.”

“If it pleases Your Majesty, we’d like to attempt to prove this young girl’s innocence,” Chirithy says. “While she is most certainly an ill-mannered rogue and a degenerate, as Your Majesty has so keenly noticed, we think there may be another culprit behind the shameful attempt to steal your royal heart.”

A rather small man pokes his head out from behind the Queen’s podium. “It would be nice to have some witness testimonies, my dear!”

“If you must, then,” the Queen says, clearly long suffering. “And then afterwards, off with her head!

Eden raises a hand, waving it slightly to catch the Queen’s attention.

“Maybe, if she didn’t do it, she should get to keep her head. She can lose something else,” he says. “Like a foot.”

Off with her foot!

Eden can practically feel Chirithy’s withering glare burning into the top of his head. “I helped,” he chirps, vaguely up in Chirithy’s direction, but gets no response.
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Day Thirty-Six.
 
Foreteller Gula is already waiting at the fountain when Eden arrives, with his Text open in one hand. As Eden approaches, with the rest of his dorm-mates trailing behind him and his Chirithy in his hair, he sees the Foreteller look up, although he keeps the book open.
 
“Eden, right? Your Chirithy informs me that he believes you’re ready for this test,” the Foreteller says, giving Eden a once over. “If you succeed, I’ll authorise you to utilise the Lanes Between and travel between other worlds. Failure will mean you return to training, until such a time as I see fit.”
 
“Sure, sure,” Eden says, waving a hand. “So, what does the test involve?”
 
Gula cracks a quick smile. “I tailor these tests to each keybearer that passes through Leopardos. Given what happened when you arrived, it was easy to figure out what yours should be.”
 
He skims a hand over the page of his Text, and waves it at the air. At first, there’s just a blur in the air, a shapeless distortion, before it stretches up, becoming more solid until it looms like a humanoid bubble over the fountain square. It holds its spot for a moment, before its transparency turns black, like ink pouring into water.
 
It’s the Heartless that Eden encountered on his first day, Eden realises. Or a copy of it, at least.
 
“This Darkside followed you into town,” Gula says. “There are Heartless in this town, but until it appeared, none had strayed out of the depths beneath the town. Whether you drew it here or if it was unfortunate timing, it was certainly a -- unique turn of events.”
 
Gula shuts his Text. “This is only a copy. A replica summoned through the Book of Prophecies. But it’ll do.”
 
Eden takes a step closer to the still Darkside, lifting a hand, brushing his fingers over the shadows. He can’t feel any difference between this and the Heartless that attacked him in town. If it’s a copy, it’s a perfect one.
 
“So, I have to defeat it?”
 
“How you defeat it is as important as whether you can,” Gula says. “This is a test of your competency, after all, not your raw power.”
 
He snaps his fingers, and the copy starts to move, stretching shadowy arms and stubby legs.
 
“Begin!”
 
---

 
The Darkside is slow, but it has its ways of making up for that: Balls of shadow that curve and track Eden’s movements, arcing about to converge on him; pools of darkness spreading from where it hands land, miring Eden if he lands in them; clusters of searing, brilliantly violet beams of light; showers of sparks that scorch his skin and nearly blind him.
 
Eden darts about, this way and that, dancing from rooftop to rooftop as the Darkside tries to corral him into corners with its barrage of attacks. When he can, he leaps in, delivering a few quick slashes with his keyblade, then swinging out of of its reach.
 
It’s while he’s trying to close the distance that the Darkside corners him, trapping him between two pools of darkness, firing off a flurry of beams, screeching towards Eden, turning the air incandescent.
 
He huffs out a split second sigh. “Fine, then.”
 
It isn’t until he drops it that he realises how exhausting the act of Eden Llyx had been. The smile slides off his face; he straightens from Eden’s languid slouch, tipping his chin up; he lets his free arm fall loose and still by his side.
 
He adjusts his grip on his keyblade, just a little, just enough to be allow for finer control, mimicking how Foreteller Gula holds his own blade. That’s almost as liberating as the rest of it: That dropping Eden means he can drop all of his little, novice flaws, the ones that a month of training should have ironed out.
 
He snaps his keyblade into the path of each beam, letting them burn across its filigreed edge and then ricochet back towards the Darkside, one by one. The explosions are forceful enough to shatter the windows of the building he’s standing on.
 
He taps his foot against the roof, testing how solid it is, then pushes off, picking up speed as he rockets past the Darkside. He skids as he lands, driving the tip of his keyblade down into the cobblestones to slow himself down.
 
As a glimmering line appears across its stomach, bisecting it, the Darkside fades into a cloud of black smoke.
 
Eden forces the lopsided smile back onto his face, slouches slightly, and stuffs his hands into his pockets as he turns.
 
“So, that’s a pass, right? Because he was all ’rawr, I’mma gonna eat’cha’ and I was all ‘I shall defeat you!’ and he was all ‘behold, my most powerful technique!’ and ‘pew, pew, pew’ and I was all -- …”
 
“We’ll call it a provisional pass, depending on how you perform on your first few missions,” Foreteller Gula says.
 
Out of the corner of his eye, Eden sees Luso, Izana, Freyra, and Adelle all give him double thumbs up, as Queen adjusts her glasses and Alvis folds his arms.
 
“The mission boards will be updated tomorrow. Feel free to take any lessons at your leisure,” Foreteller Gula tells him, giving him a quick nod. “You’ve tapped into the power of the keyblade. Lesser foes may stand no chance against you, but for more powerful ones, you must combine your strength with those who share your purpose and aspirations.
 
“Remember, there may be others who collect the light, but not all of them share our goals of bringing peace to the world. You must be wary of those who walk a path of darkness. Dismissed.”
 
---

 
There’s an accessory store, the Mog O’Glory, a few streets west of the fountain square. On the chimney, legs dangling over the edge, is a Chirithy, watching the keybearers meander towards the ice cream shop, cheering and congratulating Eden.
 
“Fine, then,” it murmurs, standing and stretching its legs. With a puff of smoke, it vanishes.
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Day Fourteen to Day Thirty.
 
Chirithy insists that the progress Eden made in Milliways not be wasted, so all of Eden’s requests for a day or seven to do nothing in are completely ignored. Instead, Eden’s out in the street behind Leopardos Union every day, with usually several of the other Dormitory members with him, either sparring or going through training drills.
 
Eventually, he gets the hang -- more or less -- of channeling his magic. Thinking of it as a current being directed helps, as does being mindful of the energy around him.
 
As soon as he has that down, Queenie insists on moving his training in a more personalised direction.
 
“Your greatest strength is your speed,” she says. “So we’re going to work on a style that builds off that. Out-maneuver opponents, strike before they can strike you, and keep them at range when you need to put distance between you and them.”
 
Eden rests his keyblade on his shoulders, tilting his head. “Really? Can’t I just relax?”
 
Queenie arches an eyebrow. “No. Alvis, Adelle, do you think you can train Eden, with Izana and I overseeing?”
 
Adelle gives a cheerful shrug. “Sure! If he can keep up with me.”
 
Alvis doesn’t say anything, just folding his arms and glowering. Eden assumes that’s a yes, and given how Queenie nods, it seems she does, too.
 
The next few weeks see Alvis waking Eden at six, just as the sun lights up, and dragging him out of bed. At Alvis’ insistence (although Adelle seems to think it’s an unnecessary inconvenience), they visit the training grounds over at Ursus each day, making use of the wide open spaces, and occasionally beckoning people from Vulpes or Unicornis for friendly spars.
 
(Eden notes that nobody from Anguis is ever at the training grounds, and nobody from Ursus is ever asked -- although he sees Mateus and the rest of Ursus Dormitory 1 watching a few times. At one point, during a long afternoon, he thinks he catches Mateus moving towards him, raring to give the new kid an object lesson in how far behind he is, only for the red-haired boy with the hat to stop him.)
 
Slowly, though, bit by bit, he gets -- better?
 
“Don’t think you’re getting better,” Alvis remarks on day twenty, as Eden’s back hits the ground for the fifth time.
 
“Boo,” Luso yells at Alvis from the sidelines. “Boo. Don’t listen to him, Ed. Boo.”
 
Consistent. Slowly, though, bit by bit, he gets consistent: Instead of techniques that fail as often as they succeed, he succeeds every time; he can shape energy around his keyblade and fire it off in three or four unique patterns without thinking about it for more than a split second; he can sustain his speed for nearly as long as Alvis, and if he knows the terrain, he can even push off without testing the ground first.
 
On day twenty-four, he manages to keep pace with Alvis for long enough for them to duel themselves into a stalemate.
 
(“Don’t flatter yourself,” Alvis says. “If it had come down to endurance, I would’ve won.”
 
“Boo!” Luso calls.)
 
On day twenty-seven, he can do the same with Adelle, although duels with her are as much like dances as they are fights, the two of them weaving and darting around each other, looking for split-second openings, never striking unless they’re sure of an opportunity -- and eventually, Queenie always has to tell them to stop, since she can’t gauge Eden’s progress when the two are speeding around each other.
 
(“Don’t flatter yourself, kid,” Adelle chirps, clambering up onto high ground to ruffle Eden’s hair, then darting away. “I’m just being nice to you, you know? Welcoming-like.”)
 
Chirithy materialises atop his head at the end of the twenty-eighth day, rubbing one plush hand over -- whatever amounts to a chin for Chirithys. “This has taken longer than I’d hoped.”
 
You haven’t exactly been helping much,” Eden points out.
 
“My job isn’t to teach you how to fight,” Chirithy replies. He hops off Eden’s head, settling on his bedside table. After a moment’s pause: “Your dormitory.”
 
“What about them?”
 
“How do you feel about them?”
 
Eden tilts his head at Chirithy.
 
Chirithy nods. “That’s what I thought. Will you tell me if that changes?”
 
“If what changes?”
 
Chirithy makes a noise that might be affirmation, and vanishes, leaving Eden to settle in for sleep.
 
Two more days follow without Chirithy appearing again. When he does, he says he’s told the Foreteller that Eden’s ready for a test.
 
 
Day Thirty-One.
 
Eden has no training today.
 
He throws the ball by his bed at the wall for fifteen hours, apart from an occasional break to find something to drink, then goes back to sleep.
 
 
Day  Thirty-Two.
 
Eden throws the ball again, for another fifteen hours.
 
Then he sleeps.
 
 
Day Thirty-Three.
 
“Shopping!” Luso yells directly into Eden’s ear, an hour before the sun lights up.
 
Eden opens his eyes, staring at the ceiling for a moment as his mind catches up with his body, then remembers to groan irritably, tugging the covers over his head.
 
“C’mon,” Luso protests, grabbing Eden’s arm and tugging him out of bed. “We’ll get you some nicer clothes, and some ice cream.”
 
‘We’ is, apparently, Luso, Adelle, and Freyra, and as soon as Eden’s showered they pull him out the door, down through the library that Leopardos is built above, and out into town.
 
Ice cream comes first, then clothes, then ice cream, then books, then ice cream, then music, then ice cream, then desserts (miscellaneous), and then, finally, one last round of ice cream.
 
“You might just be my favourite customers after today,” the Moogle shopkeeper notes, as he serves them all their extra large helpings.
 
“Funny you should say that,” Adelle says, wryly. “A few people have said that to us today.”
 
“Yeah, I -- I might be out of munny after all the shopping today,” Luso says, checking his pockets. “What about everyone else?”
 
“Two-hundred munny. I’m saving up,” Freyra chirps.
 
“Twenty-four-hundred munny,” Adelle says.
 
Luso blinks. “But you only had eighteen-hundred this morning.”

Adelle waggles her fingers. “Sticky fingers.”
 
Eden pats his pocket. There are a few one munny coins in there, and that’s about it. “Broke.”
 
Luso sighs, slumping. “Adelle, can you pay?”
 
“Fine,” Adelle says, long-suffering. “And since this was all for Eden’s benefit, he can pay me back. He’ll be taking jobs for Leopardos soon, after all -- just give any munny you earn to me. With interest, naturally.”
 
“I don’t know what that is,” Eden says, folding his arms.
 
“Just put your faith in me, then. I promise to be very fair,” Adelle replies.
 
The Moogle turns slightly, peering at Eden. “You’re the newest keybearer?”
 
“Sure am,” Eden says, raising a hand. “What, nobody else has arrived since I did?”
 
The Moogle shakes his head. “Not a single one. Tell you what, you can have your sundae half price today.”
 
“That should make paying back his debt much quicker,” Adelle says.
 
When they’re done, they return to Leopardos, to the dining hall just above the library, already full to bustling by the time they’re there.
 
Chirithy manifests atop Eden’s head as he sits, settling slightly. “Foreteller Gula says he’ll see you at the fountain in three days, two in the afternoon.”
 
“For what?”
 
“For your test.”

Days 8-13

May. 30th, 2017 09:22 pm
arkadia: (Default)
Day Eight.
 
Chirithy meets Foreteller Gula in his chamber, up in the tallest tower of the Union. The Foreteller has his mask on his lap, a book in hand, and his own Chirithy settled on his shoulder.
 
For all that he is a Keyblade Master, with his mask off, Gula doesn’t look any older than his students. He’s short, slight, boyish, with messy blond hair. In the shared memory of the Chirithys, he has always been like this, never changing.
 
“Tell your keybearer I’ve updated his Text with records and notes on Light-elemental techniques from other students,” Gula says, without looking up. “From every Union except Anguis and Ursus.”
 
Chirithy blinks. “Anguis and Ursus haven’t been adding their notes to the record? How is anyone meant to learn -- …”
 
“Anguis has always kept to themselves. Ursus has become a lot more insular in the last few months, too,” Gula says. “I guess Invi and Aced don’t trust anyone these days.”
 
Chirithy considers asking for more, but a sharp look from Gula’s Chirithy warns him not to.
 
“I’ll have Eden start on training himself in these techniques.”
 
“Do,” Gula says, turning a page. “It doesn’t seem like we have much time left.”
 
---

 
Chirithy wakes Eden at noon, with strict instructions to start training. As Eden trudges through the dormitory, he picks up his fair share of helpers: Izana, Alvis and Freyra, the last of which quickly explain that Queenie, Luso, and Adelle are out on a Heartless Suppression Mission.
 
They head to the street behind the Union, and get started on the techniques other students had made notes on -- techniques with names ranging from the grandiose (‘Radiant Raid’) to the vague (‘Glowy Stab Stab Thing’).
 
After an hour, Eden’s footwork and stances are nearly perfect.
 
After eight hours, night has fallen, and Eden has yet to perform even a single one of the techniques, or even a facsimile of one.
 
“These things take time,” Izana says.
 
 
Day Nine.
 
Eden trains -- interspersed with occasional sparring sessions with Alvis -- for eight hours.
 
He fails to perform any of the techniques.
 
 
Day Ten.
 
Eden trains for eight hours.
 
He fails to perform any of the techniques.
 
 
Day Eleven.
 
“These things take time,” Izana says, weakly, as an attempt at ‘Glowy Stab Stab Thing’ produces stabbing but no glowing, or even a single spark of energy.
 
Eden trains for two hours more after Izana leaves.
 
Unsuccessfully.
 
 
Day Twelve.
 
Eden trains for eight hours.
 
He fails to perform any of the techniques.
 
“Let’s take a break and then come back to it,” Queenie says.
 
They take a break and come back to it. Queenie talks him through each technique as best she can, and they practise them for four hours.
 
Eden fails to perform any of the techniques.
 
 
Day Thirteen.
 
“These things take time,” Izana says, and Eden throws a rock at his face.
arkadia: (Default)
Queenie arrives in the morning, opening Eden’s door without knocking to announce that after breakfast they’ll be going to Ursus Union, and its training grounds.

“Can’t we just use the street outside?” Eden asks, throwing an arm over his eyes, but Queenie just shuts the door without replying. “I like the street. Me and those cobblestones really built up a friendship.”

An hour later, they’re on the tram that circles the wall, trundling slowly around towards Ursus. Eden can see it from his window, a building larger than Leopardos’, towering up next to a circular arena.

The tram eventually stops, and Eden has to trudge down the wall’s stairs, following the rest of his dormitory as they chat among themselves. As soon as they’ve entered the training grounds, a wall of noise hits Eden, enough to make him reflexively clap a hand over his ear. Cheering, his mind supplies. They’re expressing support.

Luso tugs him out of the doorway and into the stands, pushing him down onto a seat. The seats are filled with keybearers, clustered together into different unions: The largest group by far are dressed in brown, green, and turqoise, or decorated with bear symbols -- they must be Ursus. Scattered around the rest of the seats are boys and girls in white and red for Unicornis, or pink and purple for Vulpes. Eden notes that he can’t see anybody wearing Anguis’ blues.

“Look, looklooklook,” Luso says, pointing down at the arena and the two people standing there: One brawny, dressed in white with a unicorn design in red across his shoulder; and one tall and slender, his long blond hair tied back into a ponytail, dressed in flowing gold and purple, with a jeweled bear talisman on one hip.

“I’m looking,” Eden says. “Are we -- meant to be cheering for one of them?”

“Sure, I guess. If you’re going to cheer for one, cheer for Orrin. He’s from Unicornis’ second dormitory,” Luso says. “The guy in yellow is Mateus, the dorm leader for Ursus’ first dormitory.”

“Unicornis and Ursus end up fighting here a lot, these days,” Izana says. “Since they’re both vying for the top spot.”

“Honestly,” Adelle says, yawning. “It’s boring to see them brawling here every day.”

“But you can learn something from watching them. Mateus is a light element user like you, Eden,” Queenie says.

Orrin summons his keyblade, a huge thing almost half his size, and Mateus regards him coolly, lifting one hand to beckon him. With a cry, Orrin charges forward, keyblade raised over his head.

Izana grimaces.

“What an idiot,” Alvis mutters.

Mateus doesn’t move, but as Orrin closes in on him, a magic circle opens beneath his feet, carved into the sound in glowing lines. There’s a sharp sucking noise, followed by a crack as Orrin is rooted to the ground, sparks of electricity crackling around him.

Mateus flicks a hand, and Orrin is flung upwards, crashing into another magic circle, hanging in the air. As Eden watches, a half dozen more appear around the arena, slanted at diagonals, drifting sedately through the air. Mateus flicks his hand this way and that, batting Orrin between them.

He leans forward, resting his chin on his hand, and slides one foot beneath his chair. As Mateus twists his hand, holding Orrin in mid-air as the circles converge on him, Eden scrapes the tip of his shoe against the floor, then taps it lightly.

The circles collide with an explosion of light and flame, and Orrin tumbles out of the smoke, landing on his knees, clinging to his keyblade, breathing heavily.

“An adequate diversion,” Mateus says, raising his hand above his head, and summoning into it a keyblade like a golden wing.

The crowd’s cheers rise to a fever pitch as he brings the keyblade down, scything through the air.

Eden leaps forward, trailing after-images as he dives down from the stands and into Mateus’ path, keyblade appearing in his hand. The two blades collide with a wave of force, shoving Eden down onto one knee.

Mateus raises an eyebrow. “What’s this?”

“Sorry,” Eden says wryly, mustering a quick smile. “My hand slipped.”

Behind Mateus, in the front rows, he sees four other keybearers rise. That must be the rest of his dormitory. They’re halfway to their feet when their fifth member, a red-haired boy with a hat tipped over his eyes, holds an arm out in their path.

“Meddling child,” Mateus murmurs.

“Unicorn Dude here has had enough,” Eden says, straining against the ground, pushing Mateus’ keyblade back enough to rise to his feet. “You’ve proven your point, you know? Several points. Like, nine different points. Too many points.

Mateus regards him for a moment, then steps back, flourishing his keyblade. “Raise your keyblade.”

“I really didn’t come here to fight,” Eden says. “Actually, I didn’t want to come here at all.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Izana, Queenie, Freyra, and Alvis hurrying into the arena. Izana raises his hands placatingly as he reaches Eden’s side.

“Sorry, Eden here is new,” Izana says, in his most calming voice. “We should have reined him in.”

Mateus sniffs delicately. “Then you can all step aside. My duel with Orrin here isn’t done. Not until the Chirithys name me as the victor.”

“It is done,” Eden says. “I’m telling you that it’s done. You won. Congrats. We’ll throw a party.”

“Eden,” Queenie says, warningly.

“If you’re not going to move,” Mateus says. “Then I’ll make you move.”

---


Eden’s keyblade spins out of his hand, and lands embedded in the sand on the other side of the arena, as his back hits the ground. Nearby, Alvis is face down, and Izana is sprawled on his side next to him. Freyra is slumped against a wall on the other side of the arena.

Eden feels something hot on his face, just beneath his nose, and reaches over to touch it. It’s a deep red liquid, with a sharp smell that makes his eyes water.

Queenie darts behind Mateus, swinging her keyblade towards him, but a few quick strikes later, she’s on the ground as well, her keyblade spinning across the sand.

Mateus looms over her, keyblade raised, when a voice rings out.

“That’s enough.”

One by one, they appear: Eden’s Chirithy, perched on his chest, then five more, and finally the last one, appearing on Mateus’ shoulder.

“Master Aced requests your presence,” Mateus’ Chirithy says.

“I’m busy,” Mateus replies, brushing some hair out of his face. There are purple marks blossoming around one of his eyes. Eden’s not sure which of them landed the hit.

“Master Aced insists. He needs assistance teaching the lower dormitories,” Mateus’ Chirithy says. “Your work here is done. We’re all in agreement that you’re the victor.”

The other Chirithys nod in unison.

“Fine,” Mateus says, and gestures to the rest of his dormitory, stalking towards the exit.

Eden pulls himself to his feet, forcing himself to ignore his aching legs, making sure he’s standing before Mateus can leave. “Let’s do this again sometime, Matty.”

Mateus doesn’t respond.

Chirithy swings himself onto Eden’s shoulder. “Ursus has an infirmary. We should go there now.”

“I’ll pass. I think I’ve had enough of this place.”
arkadia: (Face)
Day One.

Master Gula. That was, apparently, the yellow-robed keybearer’s name, and as they walked to the South-East of the town, he explained that he was the Foreteller of Leopardos Union, that he would be teaching Eden, that Chirithy -- the little cat, who was now perched on Eden’s shoulder -- would see to his being assigned to a dormitory.

“Why couldn’t I kill that Heartless?” Eden asks, as they make their way through the street. “I saw what I was going to do, in my mind. It should have worked.”

“Summon your keyblade.”

Eden holds out his hand, curling it around the shape of a handle just in time for the keyblade to snap into his hand in a flicker of light and glass. Gula steps closer, tracing one finger over the filigree.

“It’s incomplete,” Gula says, after a moment. “It was probably broken at some point before you came here.”

“I don’t remember.”

“Nobody does, when they come here.”

Chirithy chooses this time to speak, circling around Eden’s neck to his other shoulder. “Travelling between worlds without a corridor of light is traumatic,” he says, gently. “It takes its toll on the traveller. But this is a new start: Your memories from before don’t matter anymore.”

Gula nods. “What matters is the future. The role of a keybearer is to gather light to drive away the darkness.”

“I -- don’t know what that means.”

Gula sighs. Then: “It means that something terrible is coming. The five Unions have to save as many Heartless as we can, collect as many hearts as possible, and defend Daybreak Town. Just be careful of the other Unions.”

“What? You guys don’t get along? Did someone from another Union tell you that your mask looks silly? Because it -- …”

“What I mean is that some don’t aim for peace between worlds. They gather hearts for their own selfish desires. You yourself will have to find out which ones are guardians of light, and which ones are seekers of darkness hiding behind a guardian’s mask.”

Chirithy gives Gula a sharp look. “That’s enough for now, Foreteller Gula. I’m sure Eden appreciates the warning.”

“Not -- not really,” Eden says, voice wry. “Sounds like cryptic nonsense to me. You should try taking classes in clarity.”

He can’t see Gula’s face, but he can tell that he looks less than happy. He keeps walking, guiding Eden through the winding streets of Daybreak Town until they reach a tall building, with a stained glass window of a leopard’s face set into its front.

“This is Leopardos Union. We built it around the town library, so you’ll have access to every book we can gather here. We have dormitories, a cafeteria, even training grounds -- but if you want the best training grounds in the city, you’ll have to go to Ursus Union,” Gula says. “Chirithy will set you up with a guest room for tonight, and tomorrow you’ll meet the rest of your dormitory.”

“Try to make a good first impression,” Chirithy adds.


Day Two.

Eden does not make a good first impression.

But, look, okay, look: Who knows why that is? Maybe they’re just grumpy. Maybe they don’t like new people. Maybe it’s because Eden thought it would be funny to set off the fire suppressant system and douse everyone in water, before announcing, very calmly, that the introductory water party in his honour had began. Maybe it’s just a bad day for them.

Nobody knows. It’s a mystery.

The Moogle librarians hurry to shut off the sprinklers, and in the aftermath, as all the members of Dormitory XIII towel themselves off, Eden thinks to introduce himself.

“I’m Eden! Nice to meet you all.”

The rest of the dormitory eye him like they don’t even know what to say.

One of their Chirithys -- not Eden’s, he notes that his is still settled atop his head -- walks across the top of a bookshelf, shaking his head. “Very immature.”

“Disruptive,” another Chirithy adds from a table.

“Most people would have just said hello,” one girl, black-haired with glasses, remarks, twisting water out of her hair. “I’m Queenie. These are Alvis, Adelle, Luso, Freyra, and Izana.”

She gestures in turn at a tall -- taller than Eden, at least -- young man with scruffy brown hair, glowering at Eden; a silvery-haired girl dressed in bright pink; a tiny young man with long brown hair and a big grin, the only one of the group who seems to actually have appreciated the surprise water party; a young woman with blonde hair tied back in a ponytail; and tall, stocky boy with dark hair and the hood of his red hoodie pulled up.

The blonde -- Freyra -- claps her hands on Eden’s shoulders, giving him a wide grin. “Welcome to Dormitory Thirteen! We’re technically the lowest ranked dormitory in Leopardos, but maybe now that we’ve got an extra pair of hands, we can push ourselves up to the number twelve spot.”

“We should take him on tomorrow’s Heartless suppression mission,” Luso adds. “It can be our first group outing.”

“Pass,” Alvis says.

“Until Master Gula gives him leave to go to other worlds, he has to stay in Daybreak Town,” Queenie says. “Those are the rules.”

Adelle snorts. “Rules are there to be broken, right? I don’t see the problem.”

“The problem is that we’ll all get grounded, and have points deducted -- dragging down not just us but the whole Union -- if we get caught. Which we would be,” Queenie says. “Right, Chirithy?”

“I can guarantee it,” the Chirithy on the bookshelf says.

“How does Leopardos do in the rankings, anyway?” Eden asks. “Ooh, are we at the top? We’re at the top, right. I mean, I’m here, so that’s worth at least fifty extra points. That’s just science.”

“Actually, Ursus is at the top,” Alvis says. “Then Unicornis, Vulpes, Anguis, and finally us.”

Eden blinks at him. “What-a-what, now?”

“We’re at the bottom of the rankings,” Queenie says.

“But Anguis is only ever ahead of us by a couple of hundred points,” Luso adds.

“A couple of hundred,” Eden repeats, slowly. “... I feel victimised by being placed in this dormitory.”

“Sorry, dude,” Luso says. “Even if you are worth fifty points, that’s not going to help us much.”

Eden folds his arms. “And you guys are completely sure I’m not meant to be sorted into Ursus Dormitory One or something? That seems like it’s more my speed.”

“Completely certain,” the Chirithy on the table says. “Master Gula specifically placed you in this dormitory.”

Eden frowns. “I’m going to go turn the sprinklers back on. Back soon.”


Day Three.

Gula’s the last to arrive at the meeting of the Foretellers, and by the time he gets there, Aced is already pacing, and Ira has his hands tightly coiled on the table, while Ava avoids looking at either of them.

They must have fought again. They do at nearly every meeting, lately -- Aced has a talent for finding something to be angry about in everything Ira says.

“Gula,” Aced booms, and Gula looks up at Aced -- far taller than he is, imposingly brawny, with a mask like a bear’s face -- who draws himself to his full height in a somewhat useless attempt at intimidation. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you.”

“About the new recruit?” Gula asks. Aced stiffens in surprise, and Gula sits down, shaking his head. “Don’t look so surprised. You’ve been snatching up every keybearer that comes in to the town.”

“So many, in fact, that your Union no longer has enough beds even for the ones you do have,” Ira adds.

“I know the Master told us to compete, Aced, but you can’t take every new keybearer that appears in town,” Invi says. “I agree with Ira. We have to put a freeze on new Ursus keybearers, at least until you’ve had a chance to build more dormitories for them.”

Aced scoffs. “The Master told us to compete, but the moment any of us beat Ira, he suddenly tells us to slow down,” he says. “At least let me have Gula’s new recruit. I was already on my way there when he swooped in.”

“I did swoop in, though,” Gula says. “So he’s mine now. The Chirithys have already approved it. Besides, one look at that scary bear mask of yours and he’ll run out of town.”

“Please, everyone, don’t fight,” Ava says. “That’s not what the Master would have wanted.”

“The Master’s not here,” Aced replies. “He left, and he and Luxu are never coming back.”

Ava ducks her head. Even with the fox mask hiding her face, it’s obvious to Gula that she’s upset. Aced pauses, as if he’s not sure what to say next, then settles down into his seat.

“The next keybearer to arrive is mine. Then I’ll stop. At least until I have space,” he grunts.

“So be it,” Ira says. “There’s plenty of space around the training grounds for you to expand your Union.”

“I wasn’t asking for your approval,” Aced mutters.


Day Four.

Eden is awoken on his fourth day by the sun blinking to life from its spot on the Eastern horizon, exactly at six am, as usual. The suddenness of it makes him groan and tug the covers over his head, but eventually, when the spots clear from his eyes, he wakes up.

At Chirithy’s suggestion, he wanders town, exploring its mesh of cobbled streets and alleyways. The whole town is a circle, bordered by fifty metre high walls with trams running along the top of them, and positioned around the edges of town, near the walls, are the five Unions.

Eden quickly discovers that Leopardos lies between Anguis and Vulpes. Vulpes he checks out first, by circling west: Instead of being attached to the town library like Leopardos is, the Vulpes Union building sits in the midst of a cluster of cafes and shops, the proverbial social hub of the town.

He doesn’t stick around long enough to see it, instead finding Anguis’ building. Unlike Vulpes and Leopardos, this one doesn’t seem to have any other function, or be situated to draw people from other Unions to it. It’s nestled in a crook in the outer wall, visible but uninviting.

He heads past it to climb the stairs up to the top of the wall. Beyond town, there are hills and valleys, but no other towns that he can see, nor even any villages. Here, on the North-Eastern edge of the wall, he can see the spot where the sun brushes against the horizon.

He can also see the centre of town. The fountain plaza is visible here, and looming above it -- above every building in town -- is a clocktower of glass and stone, the central point of the town. It’s oddly familiar, and although the hands on the clock don’t move (“It’s been broken for a long time,” Chirithy explains,) he has an image in his mind of them ticking.


Day Five.

Chirithy doesn’t appear to tell Eden what to do.

There’s a leather ball about the size of Eden’s palm on his bedside table.

He throws it at the wall.

For fourteen hours.


Day Six.

“We need to test your skills,” Queenie says, in the street behind Leopardos, which seems to function as a makeshift training area for the Union. “Alvis has volunteered to be your sparring partner.”

Eden raises an eyebrow, eyeing Alvis. The boy has several inches on Eden, a broader frame, and, right now, a scowl that suggests that he might not have entirely forgiven Eden for the water party incident.

“... He volunteered for this, didn’t he?” Eden asks.

Queenie arches an eyebrow. Eden presumes that’s a yes.

“We’re not going to let him hurt you,” Izana says, in his everything’s-calm-and-okay voice. “Not badly, at least.”

“Summon your keyblade,” Queenie says. “We’ll do two minutes to start off with.”

Eden sighs, tucking his left arm behind his back, and holding out his right. His keyblade snaps into it with a flash, the glass edge glittering in the sunlight. Queenie nods to Alvis, and he summons his own, gripping it in both hands.

It’s less ornate than Eden’s. Instead of complex filigree and stained glass in shades of blue and green, it’s grey and red, with a guard like a spoked wheel, and teeth like bent, metal pipes spewing grey fumes.

“On my mark,” Queenie says. “Three, two …”

Alvis moves before she’s finished counting. Eden catches a flash of lightning behind him as he speeds across the cobblestones, barely touching them, and his downward strike crashes against Eden’s keyblade, raised in defense.

The moment the two collide, Eden feels the charge, making his skin prickle and the hairs on his arm stand up on end. He jumps back just as electricity arcs out of Alvis’ keyblade, scoring the ground.

He taps the ground with the tip of his foot, testing how solid it is, and as Alvis throws himself towards him again, he pushes off. The world seems to slow, but he sees afterimages of himself, and a trail of dazzling light, as he curves around Alvis.

Alvis blocks his strike, and as Eden makes a second, Alvis swings his keyblade forward to meet it. He’s going to use that lightning-thing again.

He dismisses his keyblade, and Alvis’ swings through empty air, the boy unbalancing himself and stumbling forward, straight into Eden’s fist. As Alvis doubles over, Eden pulls his left hand from behind his back, summoning his keyblade to it, and brings it down towards Alvis back.

Clang. Alvis rights himself at the last second, blocking the blow. Eden takes a step back, tossing his keyblade back to his right hand.

Then Alvis is moving, lightning sparking out of his shoulders as he speeds up the Union building. Eden taps his foot against the ground again, and pushes off, trailing light as he dashes up after him.

He’s faster than Alvis, he realises as he closes the distance between them, then overtakes him, heels digging into the stone of the Union building as he curves around. They clash, then zip around the building and clash again, then again, and again, and again. Each time, Eden has more momentum, knocking Alvis backwards.

It’s between their fifteenth and sixteenth clash that Eden feels his speed giving out, and he realises that while he might be faster, there’s no way he can sustain this speed. He has just enough time to finish the thought before all of his momentum dissipates midway up one of the building’s towers.

Gravity snatches him up, bearing him downwards, and as he falls he sees a streak of lightning diving from the top of the tower and towards him.

He feels Alvis’ power hitting him like a million volts straight to the bones, just before he feels the boy’s weight hit his chest. A split second later, they slam into the ground.

“Ten seconds out,” Izana says, glancing at his stopwatch.

Eden shoves Alvis off him, pulling himself to his feet, only to realise that the reason his legs aren’t hurting is because they feel like they’re made of liquid. He wobbles, then tumbles forward, and lies there as the last seconds tick down.

“That’s two minutes,” Izana said. “Queenie was taking notes.”

“Light elemental magic, but -- basic, at present. Any secondary elements unclear,,” Queenie says. “Light isn’t any of the Foretellers’ specialties, but that’s hardly a unique situation here. They can tutor you in the theory of it, and other students can tutor you in the practicalities of it -- there are three or four other Light wielders in Leopardos, Chirithy will provide details.”

Eden settles his forehead a little more comfortably against the ground and opens his mouth to make a sarcastic comment -- but his mouth is numb, so it just comes out as scathing gibberish.

“You don’t seem able to maintain your use of magic for very long, either,” Queenie says. “Your keyblade is still incomplete, and it lacks adequate power, and you possess insufficient defensive skills. Had this been a genuine fight, Alvis would have torn your heart out within minutes.”

“Still, for your first battle, that wasn’t bad,” Izana adds. “The -- numbness should wear off in a few minutes.”

Alvis snorts, dismissing his keyblade.

“Luso,” Queenie says. “Start doing warm-ups. Once Eden’s back on his feet, you’ll partner with him for another spar. Two and a half minutes.”

Day One.

May. 15th, 2017 11:12 pm
arkadia: (Default)
In ancient times, people believed that light was a gift from an unseen land by the name of Kingdom Hearts.

But Kingdom Hearts was safeguarded by its counterpart, the X-Blade. Warriors vied for that precious light, thus beginning the Keyblade War.

The violent clash shattered the X-Blade into twenty pieces - seven of light and thirteen of darkness. And the only real Kingdom Hearts was swallowed by the darkness, never to surface again.


The jolt is violent.

At first, he thinks he’s falling, but he realises after a moment that he’s drifting through water, landing on his feet upon glass. There’s light filtering from above, playing off the patterns of stained glass, which are slowly becoming clear through the murkiness. A circle ringed in stars, with a unicorn, a snake, a leopard, a fox and a bear staring upwards.

In the centre, a heart with a winged cross. He knows that symbol. There is a twitch in the back of his mind that tells him that he came looking for it, either now or at some point. He wipes one hand over the glass and stares into it, trying to get a good look at himself.

He's humanoid, but smooth, silvery white. He knows that's not how people are meant to look: People have eyes, and noses, and anything except smooth silvery curves. There’s a push at the back of his mind, a reminder that the response here is to be nauseated and horrified.

”What shape appears in your heart?”


The voice is sonorous and totally calm, as if it’s the most simple question in the world, but he doesn’t know the answer. It apparently does, though, as he feels its presence pushing against his mind, and sees a picture of a face framed with a mop of dark hair peering out of a mirror in a room he doesn’t know.

He looks back at the glass. He has eyes now, a nose, a mouth, hair. He’s wearing clothes - jeans, a t-shirt, a hooded jacket with too many zippers, a green keffiyeh around his neck.

”Eden Llyx.”


Something rumbles. Coming up the edge of the glass pillar is a sea of inky black, squirming and crawling, obscuring the glassy faces and curling up over Eden. There are other voices now, overlapping, yelling, and Eden doesn’t understand any of them.

He feels a weight in his hand. A weapon, his mind supplies. His arm moves on its own, lifting it up, and the burst of light spreads outwards, dissolving the sea of darkness around him.

”The Keyblade. The power of light that drives away the darkness.”


Eden turns it, looking at it. The shaft of it is filigreed, ending in a curve of sharp glass. He thinks it's pretty, but he's not sure what that even means.

“It’s time to wake up now.”


He opens his eyes. He’s standing in a town square, by a fountain, as the sun hangs on the edge of the horizon. I came here. He doesn’t remember how. Or why. There are the suggestions of memories clawing at the edge of his mind, but no matter how hard he thinks about them, all he gets are flickers and flashes.

He can't shake the feeling that he's been here before. That he's walked into this town square before, thought about how he couldn't remember getting here, and then -- ...

The air shifts, and a maelstrom of blackness springs up in front of him, something shadowy striding out of it. Something huge and oily, like it was shaped out of darkness, with bright yellow eyes staring down at him.

He switches his keyblade to his right hand and holds it ahead of him, settling his left arm behind his back. It's a familiar stance, and as the monster's arm swings towards him, he flicks his keyblade, deflecting the arm with enough force that it -- and the body it's attached to -- careens across the square.

Heartless, his memory supplies as he gets a good look at the monster. A creature of darkness, formed around a corrupted heart.

The Heartless pulls itself to its feet, preparing to throw itself at him again. Eden taps the ground with his foot, familiarising himself with the shape of the cobblestones, how much force it would take to push himself off the ground and cut straight through the Heartless.

The calculations take a second, and then, as the Heartless barrels forward, he pushes off on one foot, speeding towards the Heartless, swinging his keyblade down -- ...

His back hits the cobblestones hard. For a moment, his mind stutters in confusion, as it tries to reconcile with what happened with the knowledge that that should have worked.

The Heartless takes a step closer, looming over him.

With a crack, the sky splits open, admitting a lightning bolt that crashes into the Heartless, searing layers of shadow away. The Heartless reels back, as a man in yellow robes and a mask like some kind of cat lands, raises his keyblade, and swings it, incinerating the Heartless in a wave of electricity.

Eden pulls himself to his feet, leaning on his keyblade. The yellow-robed man turns, just enough to give him a sidelong look, but doesn't say anything.

“Well, I think that’s enough for starters,” something says. Eden recognises the voice from his dream, and turns to see a small kitten staring up at him. “But, uh. This may be tougher than I thought.”
arkadia: (Symbol)
Long ago, in the age of fairytales, there was a Master of Masters, a man who was possessed of an all-seeing eye that could look into the future. Using this eye, he wrote a Book of Prophecies, and set about the task of guarding and studying Kingdom Hearts, the source of all light.

Knowing that he would one day disappear from the world, the Master of Masters took six apprentices, granting each of them a Keyblade and a name. To five of these apprentices, he gave a copy of his Book of Prophecy, and the last he sent away, never to return to the Master’s town.


Ira, Apprentice of the Unicorn, finds his Master on the cliff overlooking Daybreak Town. His hands are clasped behind his back, and although Ira’s sure he made no sound as he approached, the Master notices him anyway.

His head turns to one side, and Ira finds himself looking at the shadows inside the Master’s hood.

“So,” the Master says, cheerfully. “Did you look through the Book?”

“Yes,” Ira says. “But I’m still -- analysing it.”

The Master gives a half laugh, turning. “Wow. No quick skim for you, huh?”

Ira can’t tell if the Master’s making a joke at his expense or not, but he feels suddenly ashamed anyway, as if he should have been as carefree about it as Ava, or as quick to see all the nuances in the Master’s strange, meandering writing style as Gula or Invi.

“I just -- like to be thorough,” he says, lamely. “But Master, is what it says in the last passage true?”

“Oh, that?” The Master sounds like he’d forgotten all about it. “Bummer, huh?”

“Y-Yes.”

“By the way,” the Master chirps, bright as anything. “If I should disappear one day, I’m counting on you to keep the others calm, ‘kay?”

He sits down on the grass, watching the town again, as Ira struggles for words. “Disappear?”

“Vanish? Dim? Fade?” The Master waggles his fingers in a vague motion that Ira doesn’t quite understand. “Ah, I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just hypothetical talk.”

Ira frowns under his mask. “Okay.”

“This world is full of light,” the Master says, tone suddenly serious. “It’s a world comprised of many smaller worlds, all connected, stretching far as the eye can see.”

As Ira watches, the Master plucks up a ball of dandelion seeds, spinning it about between his fingers.

“One great light protects us all throughout this vast land. All worlds share one light. One fate.”

“I take it you’re talking about Kingdom Hearts?”

“Right on the munny! People believe that the light that is Kingdom Hearts will be here forever, but if it were to disappear,” the Master snaps the dandelion’s stalk, “darkness would envelop the world.”

“I understand,” Ira says. “That’s why you gave us these keyblades. With these, we can spread the teachings of light, and we can protect Kingdom Hearts from the darkness.”

“No, they’re not for protecting Kingdom Hearts. You’ve read the final passage in your Books, right? ‘On that fated land, a great war shall transpire. Darkness will prevail, and the light expire.’”

“Isn’t it our duty to prevent this war from taking place?”

The Master hops to his feet, stretching out his shoulders. “Nah, not -- not possible. You really think you can change the future? We have to think about what happens after.”

“But -- what about the ones who are already here? And the ones who will be here when the darkness comes? Are we to abandon them?”

The Master laughs, meandering past Ira. “Aw, c’mon. You really think the world can be saved by just seven people?” His voice is mocking, as if the very idea is just absurd.

“We could gather more people!” Ira ventures. “With enough keyblade wielders, we could -- …”

“We-e-ell, if you want to give it a shot,” the Master says, and Ira can’t shake the feeling he’s being mocked again.

“I do.”

“Alright!” The Master chirps. “Have fun with that!”


---


“So, I’ll need you to observe the others. Easy-peasy,” the Master chirps, clapping a hand onto Invi’s shoulder.

A Moogle had come to call Invi, Apprentice of the Snake, up to the Master’s study only a few days after Ira had announced that he would be forming Unions of keybearers, whole armies of keyblade-wielding warriors, with the Master’s blessing.

(Or, Invi noted once Ira had told her the whole story, ‘blessing.’)

Truth be told, she hadn’t been sure what to make of Ira’s proposal. But the Master had named him their new leader.

“Don’t be afraid to talk up!” The Master continues. “Even though I say ‘observe,’ you’ll need to be the mediator. Make sure people get along.”

“I understand,” Invi says. “But without you or Luxu, to form and maintain our own Unions is -- it’s a little unnerving.”

“C’mon, lighten up a little!” The Master chirps. “Maybe I’ll never disappear. Or …” He claps one hand to his chest, in an overwrought performance of grief. “Do you … want me to go?”

“No! Of course not!”

“I was just kidding.”

“O-Oh. I see.”

“Look,” the Master says. “I get that change can be hard for everyone. Bu-u-ut, things need to keep moving forward, and you need to keep up, or else you’ll just be left behind. All alone. Again.”

Invi has no idea what to say to that, but the Master’s voice is light and cheerful.

“So, now that you know what the future holds, Invi, what does your heart say? ‘May your heart be your guiding key!’ I say it all the time. You ultimately need to do what your heart feels is right.”

---


Aced, Apprentice of the Bear, treads cautiously into the empty study.

“Been here long?”

The Master’s voice from behind him makes him nearly jump out of his skin. The Master ambles past him, hands clasped behind his back. He walks, painfully slowly, until he reaches his chair to slump down into.

“So,” the Master says, “did you need something?”

Aced blinks. “Don’t tell me you forgot! You called me here!”

The Master laughs, shaking his head. “Relax, I didn’t forget, give me a little credit. I was, er, testing you.” He clears his throat. “Now then: You’re going to be Ira’s right-hand man.”

Aced blinks under his mask. “What?”

He hates, a little, that his voice betrays how disappointed he is.

“Whaaaat?” The Master swings his head about, regarding Aced from within the shadows of his black coat. “Did … did you want to be the leader?”

He’s mocking him. Aced knows the Master is mocking him, and all he can do is feel angry and ashamed and wonder exactly how he disappointed the Master so much that it would be so ridiculous that he’d want to lead.

“N-No! I mean, if you had asked me to be the leader, well, that would be a different story, but I wasn’t trying …”

“You really want to be the leader, huh?” The Master asks, and Aced can just tell that he’s having the time of his life. Aced doesn’t have a chance to reply before the Master’s voice drops from ‘mocking’ into ‘sympathetic.’ “I know you want it, but enthusiasm alone isn’t enough. Any chump can go ‘you, here’s a promotion, good job!’ but that won’t make you a great leader.”

“I agree!” Aced finds himself saying, desperately. “Ira is … is definitely the most worthy … among us …” He finds himself trailing off at the end.

“Awesome! That’s settled, then.”

“Wait, I agreed that he’s worthy, but why do we need a new leader? Are you going to stop teaching us?”

The Master goes still and quiet for a moment. Then, gravely: “Well, I might disappear one day.”

Aced just stares at him.

The Master pauses, then clears his throat irritably. “Well, I might disappear one -- …”

“Disappear?! Why?! Where?!”

“Speak up sooner if you’re listening,” the Master whines. “That was embarrassing for me!”

He sulks for a moment. “In any case, you need to look out for Ira. It might not be what you hoped for, but just remember it’s the most important role, capisce?”

“Huh?”

“Shall I elaborate? Making Ira the leader is all good, but some time later you might think ‘awwww, Ira’s terrible at this!’” Aced can’t help but note that the Master’s impression of him is high-pitched and whiny. “In which case, you might have to step up. Who knows? Your leadership might be just what everybody needs.”

---


Gula, Apprentice of the Leopard, enters to find the Master reading his own Book, making thoughtful, enthusiastic noises.

“Hmm, yes, I see, I see, good …”

“... Master? Should I came back later?”

“Sure.”

Gula is turning to leave when the Master waves a hand at him.

“No, no, no, no, stay, stay. Now here it is …” He tears a page out from the middle of the book and rises, holding it out. “Go on. Read it.”

Gula skimreads it, blinking. “This is from the Book of Prophecies, but -- …”

“Yep. It’s a page none of the others have. And what’s written there is your role: You must find the traitor that lurks among you, and stop them before it’s too late, and in order to help you find the traitor -- …”

“I get it!” Gula says, excitably. “That’s why you gave us all different roles. If anyone deviates from the job they’re given, we can easily conclude that they’re the traitor.”

“Way to steal my thunder, show-off!” The Master teases. His voice goes from joking to sulky in a split second. “It’s not fair. My plan was supposed to blow your mind with its grandeur! Your jaw should have hit the floor at its sheer genius!”

“... Sorry? But was my logic flawed?”

The Master sighs. “No, you’re right. Just remember: Even though there is a traitor, act normal and keep focused. Trust nobody but yourself.”

Beat.

“‘Kay, you have fun with that!” The Master adds.

---


Ava, Apprentice of the Fox, tries to meet the Master’s gaze. The fact that she can’t see his eyes makes that -- difficult.

“What’s written in the Book is going to happen,” the Master says. “The entire world will be lost to darkness. You might be our only hope.”

“But what can I do?” Ava asks.

The Master approaches, looming over her, and slowly settles one hand onto her head. Softly: “Don’t get involved in any battles. Forget the notion of Unions. Find keybearers and then, like the seeds of a dandelion, let them fly to another world. They will keep the light alive.”

“You really think I’m the right person for this?” Ava asks.

“Ava,” the Master says, gently. “You’re the only person for this.”

---


Luxu, Apprentice of the Goat, is the last of the Foretellers to visit the Master.

“So,” the Master says before even greeting him. “That makes you lucky number seven.”

“Er.”

“What? You six, plus me, is seven. Wait, wait, don’t tell me that I don’t count,” the Master says, suddenly all distress. He calms quickly, hopping to his feet, and holds out a hand, summoning a keyblade into it: Black and grey, with a goat’s head carved into the pommel, and a blue eye on one end. “Here.”

Luxu takes it, turning it about in his hand. The eye is moving. “... Gazing Eye?”

“That’s not its name,” the Master says, wryly. “Actually, it doesn’t have one. No name.”

Luxu stares at the keyblade. It’s not so different from those the other apprentices were given, but the Master had always said he wasn’t ready for one. “No Name.”

“Well, ‘gazing’ or not, it does have an eye in it. My eye, to be exact.”

Luxu recoils instinctively.

The Master immediately launches into a performance of anger. “Oh, you think that’s gross, huh?!”

“N-No! Of course not!” Luxu lies.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” the Master says, shrugging. “Anyway, ‘bout your role. You need to pass that keyblade down to an apprentice, and him to his, so that my eye can see into the future.”

“So the Book of Prophecies …”

“Bingo! The fact that it exists means you’ve found a worthy apprentice, passed down that handsome keyblade, and fulfilled your role! Congratulations!”

The Master starts applauding so hard that his chair nearly falls over, canting his head to peer at Luxu as he does so.

“What’s the matter?” He asks eventually. “You did a fantastic job! At least smile a little!”

“But I haven’t done anything yet.”

The Master laughs. “Fair point. You’d better get started. Unfortunately, you’ll have to go it alone, no Book of Prophecies for you. I can’t have you causing any temporal paradoxes.”

“What about the others?”

“Who cares? For now, you, that keyblade, and this box,” the Master jumps to his feet, pulling a heavy box with twenty locks from under a table, “need to stay out of sight.”

“What’s in it?”

“It’s a secret! But, here’s the great bit: You can never, ever open it.”

Luxu rolls his eyes. “Great, now I really want to know.”

“You do, huh? Okay, I’ll indulge you. But you have to promise not to open it.”

The Master beckons Luxu closer, then leans down, whispering into his ear. Luxu feels his stomach drop, and something heavy tighten in his chest, and for a moment, he doubts whether he heard the Master right.

“What? Why?”

“You’ll see.
arkadia: (Default)
“Six o’clock, sixty-four degrees vertical,” Chirithy says while they’re hunting for textbooks in the cavernous depths of the Ursus Union Library, before vanishing into smoke.

Eden summons his keyblade and turns, blocking the downwards strike of a boy with dark brown hair and a wide grin. He can feel as soon as the keyblades hit that there’s no intent to harm behind the blow. He lets his own intent dim, adjusting from cut to bruise.

There’s a girl screaming behind him, keyblade raised as she rushes him. Although he knows he hasn’t been taught it in the last week, Eden knows what to do, as if an instruction manual is being flipped open in his mind. He relaxes his grip on his keyblade just enough to bring the boy ahead of him forward, then grabs him by the front of his t-shirt (‘GO BEARS’ it says in yellow capital letters) and swings him towards the girl.

There’s a crashing noise (“Be quiet in the library, kupo,” the librarian drones). Chirithy reappears on top of a bookshelf, which Eden takes to mean that the peril-of-sorts has passed. Another Chirithy appears on another bookshelf, then five more in rapid succession, each of them identical.

“Please keep your keybearer under control, Chirithy,” one Chirithy says.

“I do try,” the other Chirithy replies, in the exact same smooth purr. “He’s what you would term a wild child. He meant no harm.”

“Disgraceful,” another says.

“That’s unfair. There is value in - …”

As the seven devolve into an argument, the young man sits up, rubbing his head, then shuffling aside to let a rather short girl with short hair and a mole on one cheek up. “You’re not too bad. Hey, Orsina! New guy’s okay!”

“I know, I have access to his records,” says another newcomer, a young woman with black hair tied back severely. She thrusts out a hand. “Orsina, leader of Team Garuda. We received the alert on our Texts that you were due to complete the team. Obviously, we can refuse the addition.”

Eden ignores the handshake, lifting his arm towards the bookshelf instead. His Chirithy - he hopes it’s his, anyway - hops down, running along his arm to settle on his shoulder, tail curled around his neck. “Where are the rest of you? Are they planning a noisy sneak attack when I enter the cafeteria?”

Orsina lifts an eyebrow. “Uzumati, Mecho and Bernat are currently on a Heartless Subjugation mission in the Dwarf Woodlands. You’ll meet them later. This is Arto.”
“Yo, bro.”

“And Kuma.”

“H-hi! It’s very nice to meet you and - …”

“You tried to hit me with a key, this isn’t a nice meeting,” Eden replies sharply. The girl takes a moment to process this before deciding to look ashamed. Now you look outwardly approving but also like you’re considering saying something encouraging, the instruction manual in Eden’s head supplies, and Eden follows it.

“Get your textbooks. We’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping,” Orsina says.

---


It’s not difficult to get a handle on what the rest of Team Garuda are like, Eden finds once they’re all gathered in the dormitory.

Orsina is sharp and severe, and ruthlessly efficient. She seems to always have her Text in hand, organising spreadsheets and data. Uzumati, who Eden thinks is her second-in-command, is quiet and gentle. Arto, Bernat and Mecho spend most of their time together, and seem to take up the most space, being a whirlwind of mischief and chaos between them. Kuma doesn’t seem to want to interact with the group much.

Orsina and Uzumati are insistent about going through the schedules for the week. Classes on the mornings of Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Seven mandatory missions per week per team - Orsina has a whole algorithm set up for the division of labour on that. Each of them cook once a week (Eden will be taking Sundays) and clean once a week (Eden will be on Tuesdays).

They also show Eden the rankings. He’s a little surprised to see Ursus at the very bottom of the rankings, with a significant gap between them and Leopardos in fourth place. With Vulpeus in third and Unicornis in second, the top place is taken by Anguis - and from the looks of it, has been for weeks.

“Team Cagnazzo is the top-ranked team in Anguis,” Orsina says. “You’re likely to encounter them. They like to sabotage other teams, and they just gained their last member yesterday.”

“Best stay away from them,” Arto adds, rushing past. “They’re pretty ruthless. Some of them are kinda weird too, you know? I mean, doesn’t Kuja get cold?”

“Get some sleep,” Uzumati says. “Tomorrow, after classes, we’re taking you on your first mission.”
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