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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.”

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Eden Llyx

August 2017

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