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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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Eden Llyx

July 2017

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