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Mega

Kingdom Hearts: The Antipode Series

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This'll be the topic where I post my AU KH series, Antipode. So what is Antipode, exactly? In a nutshell, it's my take on what would happen if Riku received the Keyblade as originally intended, keeping in mind his personality from the first game and progressing from there. It's less of a role switch and more of a character exploration with a side of Disney love and my own ideas.

I'm not really sure what this forum's policy is on offsite fic links, but for now I'll play it safe and link to the stories because... well, they're long. So...

The Antipode
The first story in the series and KHA's take on the first game. This is where Riku's journey begins as he tastes the freedom outside his island home. But is it really what he dreamed of all those years, and can he look past his own selfishness in order to defend the worlds?

Features an additional world based on Pleasure Island from Pinocchio, a general abundance of Disney, and a different struggle between Sora and Riku than one involving jealousy. Details within. ;)

Fragmented Truths
Takes place directly after the first story and features the introduction of the Organization as well as a certain Replica. With darkness continuing to spread throughout the worlds, Riku, Donald, Goofy, and now Kairi must pick up the pieces and uncover not only the Organization's goals, but what happened to Sora and the Replica's intents.. Features worlds based on the Sword in the Stone, Jungle Book, and Great Mouse Detective to name a few. This fic is a work in progress.

As a random sidenote, Fanfiction.net's text editor likes to smoosh italicized words sometimes. I'm currently going through all the chapters of both fics to fix this. If a few words slip by, I'll try and get to 'em when  I can!

I will probably post future chapters of Fragmented Truths as actual forum comments as well as links, and if my use of links in this post is a problem, I'll see what I can do to rearrange things. I may also post related drabbles that don't fit anywhere into the main narrative just for fun. It depends on how much time I have. :)

The Year Between

Trapped in a digital realm, Riku is oblivious to the perils outside. Kairi struggles to take his place, but in a universe overrun with darkness, she's all but alone. Sora has left to find an old friend, Riku Replica is on the run, and Xion is busy hunting. In the time it takes them to pick up the pieces, the Organization's dark plan nears fruition. AU.

A direct sequel to Fragmented Truths, this story follows the adventures of Kairi, Riku Replica, Xion, Sora and Aqua, with occasional glimpses at Riku. It's probably a more ambitious fic, since it's covering so many perspectives, but it's been fun to write.

Features worlds based on Gargoyles, Monsters Inc., and Pocahontas.
 

Alternate Link: Archive of Our Own. Contains the full series up to this point.

Edited by Mega

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Hey, thanks! Anyway, two new chapters. These chapters are written in Riku Replica's POV, but because he currently thinks he is Riku and I write in third-person limited, he is descried as Riku here. Just thought I would clear that up.

Chapter 33
Chapter 34

I was going to put 33 as a forum post today, but I'm having trouble transferring the text to here without some serious formatting hiccups that'd take forever to fix. I will try to figure out what the deal is. u_u As of now, Chapter 34 has also been revised since I posted it last night.


 

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Since reading offsite is a bit of an inconvenience for people, I've decided to start posting all the Act 1 chapters here as well. But since there are 42 of them, I'm going to squeeze multiple chapters per post and place them in spoiler tags to conserve space.I will continue to maintain the links to both fics, so if you'd like to read ahead, feel free! The early chapters start out similar to KH1, but I promise things start shaking up due to Riku being... well, less of a friendly goofball than Sora. ;)Chapter 1: One Final Sunset

The open sea spread far beyond the horizon, endless and vast. No  landmarks floated from afar, and not a single ship passed by. Sky, land, and sea blended together with nothing to break up the monotony.  Yet, despite this plainness, a boy of about fifteen leaned over the edge of the paopu tree and gazed off into the distance.  He  sighed,  running a gloved hand through his long, silver hair. The view  was nice all right. Every day he’d come out here and just stare into the distance, even though nothing changed. Hadn’t changed, in fact.Day by day, the simple life on Destiny Islands never brought danger or thrills… just endless fun and relaxation. The warm, summer weather and  fantastic views definitely weren’t bad,  and as a vacation  spot, it might be a cool place to hang out. Some  people might even call  it a blessing; Riku just wasn’t one of them. He didn’t budge from the tree’s curved trunk as he listlessly gazed  towards the  surrounding waters. Always there, never changing. Not since  nine years ago had anything new appeared. Those days of meteor showers  and strange visitors were now but a faint memory, yet he still  remembered that  sappy speech word for word. So long as he had the  makings, then through  the simple act of taking… “Hey, Riku!”That  sudden  shouting brought him right back to reality. Leave it to Sora to  shake  things up a bit. Shaking his head, Riku turned to face the boy,  whose  goofy, red shorts and enormous shoes gave him a dorky appearance. The massive grin on his face only added to it, and his spiky hair sure didn’t help. As he approached, Riku rolled his eyes. Judging by the  wooden sword in his hand, Sora probably wanted to go a few rounds. What a  slacker.“Shouldn’t you be gathering supplies?” said Riku, crossing his arms. “C’mon, Sora. I gave my things to Kairi hours ago. Even had time for a few rounds while you were busy goofing off.”Sora  rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. “Well, uh, I got most of the stuff, but then Tidus challenged me to a sparring match. And then Wakka wanted to play ball, and it took forever.”“So, basically, you’re a huge slacker. What else is new?” “Hey!”Riku smirked, sliding down from the tree. Meanwhile, Sora flailed his arms around like an idiot. He just couldn’t take a joke, and the word ‘sarcasm’? Totally not in his vocabulary. Still, he had his sword out. Might as well humor him for a bit.Riku reached for his belt and pulled out his own wooden sword. “So, you up for a round? Might as well do something before it gets too late.” He pointed his sword at a piece of driftwood a few feet away. “But after this, you’d better take care of this log. Got it?”Sora sighed, looking over to the log  with a frown. He  made a face like somebody who’d just tasted old milk.  Then, he looked  back to Riku and nodded. “’Course I’m game!” Lifting his  sword, Sora  crouched into a fighter’s stance. “Just don’t go easy on  me, okay?”Riku laughed, and he pointed his sword straight at Sora’s chest.  “Sure, but don’t blame me if you end up soaked.”And with that, the two boys began. Sora rushed towards Riku with little hesitation, grasping onto his sword tightly with both hands. As he neared, Riku hopped to the side whirling his weapon at Sora with a smirk.WHAM! In  a last ditch attempt at defense, Sora  held up his sword, just barely blocking the force of Riku’s blow. Upon  impact, Riku drew back his  weapon and slid to the side, smacking Sora  firmly on the back. The resulting blow forced Sora in a downward  plummet towards the ground, but he wasn’t down for the count just yet.  Groaning, he pushed himself back  to his feet, quickly scooping his  sword up off the ground and lunging  at Riku without a second thought.Not bad. Unlike before, Sora’s attack successfully hit Riku right in the gut, forcing him back against the trunk of the paopu tree. Beaming, he darted over  to  Riku and raised his sword a second time. But right as Sora prepared  to  strike, Riku thrust his feet forward, nailing Sora with the soles of  his  shoes. This blow knocked him onto his back and gave Riku the  chance to  regain his footing and strike again. Raising his sword, Riku leaped up and away from the tree, landing close to the edge of the  platform.  Leaning forward, he gave Sora a wide smirk and laughed.“What are you afraid of?” he said, waving his sword about. “C’mon, don’t tell me you’re giving up already.”Sora narrowed his eyes.  Scooping up his sword, he charged yet again. Perfect. He always fell  for this trick. Even as Sora drew closer, Riku remained perfectly  still… Then, when Sora thrust his blade towards him, Riku rolled to the side and completely dodged the blow. Sora still didn’t give up. He  crouched down and then took off like a rocket. Once again, he completely fell for it. Leaning back against the paopu tree, Riku watched watched for a few brief moments. Then, he shrugged and hurried forward. They drew closer, and closer, until Riku stopped, smirked, and held out  his leg. Sora continued to run, and then…“Whoa!” Sora lost his footing, fumbling and flailing. He stumbled a few  feet  forward, leaning over the platform’s edge. Seizing this opportunity,  Riku swung his sword around one last time and smacked Sora in the back.One last hit was all it took; the force of the blow forced  Sora right over  the edge of the platform! Seconds later he landed with  an enormous SPLASH! Bits  of water flew upward, striking Riku  in the face, and it wasn’t long  until Sora resurfaced, spitting even  more water up at his friend. The look on his face was priceless. Leaning forward, Riku placed his hands firmly against his hips and grinned.“You still don’t got it.”Sora  groaned, lip quivering. He looked like a little kid more than anything, huffing as he slowly paddled over to the ladder. Soaked from head to toe, he approached the paopu tree and let out a sigh. He looked  over at Riku, then back to the ground, and he stomped his foot.“Aw man. Now it’s zero to one!”Typical. Heaving a sigh, Riku headed over to Sora, who continued to pout. Then, with one hand against his shoulder, he gave him a light shove. “Don’t blame me,” he said. “You’re the one who wanted to go all out.”Immediately,  Sora jerked out from under Riku’s grip and scurried over to the log,  scooping it right up. Instead of just walking off towards the bridge, he  stepped over to Riku and shook himself off, unleashing a small flurry  of droplets in his face. Rolling his eyes, Riku reached up and flicked  Sora in the forehead, but he didn't retaliate this time. Instead, Sora just stomped  over to the bridge without a word. What a sore loser. With a light shrug, Riku trailed behind his friend and shot him a deadpan stare.“Relax,  will you? In case you forgot, we’re leaving soon.” He stopped briefly, gazing back toward the platform before continuing. “For all we know, those other worlds could have something even worse than me.”Frowning, Sora placed a hand against the back of his neck. “Worse than you? Is that even possible? I mean, you could take on the others three to one  and win.” His shoulders sagged. There’s no way I could ever do that. So if we do find some kinda monsters or somebody really tough, I bet you’ll be the one to take ‘em out.”Monsters, huh? Maybe that wasn’t such a stretch. Images of shadowy figures flashed before his eyes. Stained glass platforms and a voice that spoke of doors and finding his inner strength. What did it mean? The boys reached the end of the bridge. When Riku leaned back against one of the palm trees, Sora mimicked him in no time flat. What a dork.“You know, it’s funny that you mentioned monsters…”Sora's eyebrows quirked. “Really? Why’s that?”“Well, last night I had a pretty crazy dream. So crazy, it almost felt real.” He paused. “And there was a monster in it.”Sora’s eyes widened. “A monster? What’d it look like? I mean, it had to be big for you to think it was scary, but did it have huge claws? Sharp teeth?” To  demonstrate this, he held his hands next to his mouth, making little ‘teeth’ with his fingers. Riku shrugged. It was an enormous  shadow with massive arms that unleashed balls of energy and pulled him  into the darkness… Like he’d say that out loud.Nah, he had a better idea.“Sure, it was  big. And, yeah, it had claws, but I think the best  way to  describe it is, well…” Pausing, Riku turned towards Sora and  pointed a  finger directly at him. “The best way to describe that monster  would  be… your face.”Sora’s jaw dropped, and his arms fell to his sides. “Hey! What’s that supposed to mean?!”“Oh, nothing.” He laughed, flicking his hand dismissively. “Come on, Sora, can’t you take a joke? Besides, it was just a dream.”But it was just so vivid… Maybe it was just a coincidence. He took a few more steps before jumping down. “Anyway, enough stalling. Kairi’s waiting for both of us, and you’re the one with the log.”With  a nod, Sora followed Riku, hopping down from the platform and heading  east. A girl with short, red hair sat at the foot of a wooden door just  a  few yards away. When she caught sight of the two boys, she hopped to her feet and gave a little wave. With a spring in her step, Kairi then marched their way and grinned from ear to ear.“I  was wondering  where you two ran off to."  She paused for a  moment, eying the now drenched Sora. “Were you two fighting again?”“Uh, well… yeah.” Sora’s face turned beet red, and he crossed his arms.  “And  I would’ve won if Riku hadn’t tripped me.” Pouting like a preschooler, he glanced at Riku before holding up the log in both hands. “Anyway, I got the log. Think we’re good to go?”Kairi took it and tilted her head. “Well, you did take a while.” After a few seconds of silence, she burst into laughter. "But I think we’ll be okay.” With the log in hand, she slipped behind the door, leaving the boys  alone  for a few short moments. Just long enough to drop off the  supplies and  keep everything in check. There was no way she'd let them  goof off for too long. After all, Kairi had her way of keeping them both on their toes. What would they ever do without her?The door slammed shut, and Kairi returned to the boys in short order. After tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, she looked out to the sea. “You know, it’s getting pretty late. You want to call it a day?”“Sure thing,” said Riku. One look at the sky proved Kairi's point. As the sun dipped below the horizon, a mesh of oranges, violets, and reds spread like wildfire. For all its monotony and for as much as Riku claimed to hate his home, even he'd miss the sunsets once they took off.So why not cherish it while they still had the chance?Turning towards the seaside shack, Riku looked back at his friends. "But before we go, I think we should drop by the paopu tree one last time. You know, for old time's sake."What better way to celebrate the end of one journey and the start of another? Once they set sail, there was no turning back. Luckily, both Sora and Kairi beamed at Riku's words and marched right behind him once he slipped into the shack. In no time flat, they crossed the bridge and returned to the small island and to the paopu tree's curved trunk. Both Sora and Kairi hopped on board, sitting at the very edge. While a part of Riku wanted to join them, he instead leaned back and folded his arms against his chest. A warm breeze swept through the air and rustled the leaves, while a few seagulls cried out in the  distance. Together, the trio listened to the sounds all around them and  gazed into  the endless ocean.And then Riku spoke up, breaking  the silence. “Some things never change.” He shook his head, watching  the rolling waves. “It’s always just the three of us, trapped  on this  island. But just wait… soon, we’ll be out there. Nothing will hold us  back.” Sora leaned forward, peering over Riku’s shoulder. “So, Kairi’s home is out there somewhere, right?”“Could be. We’ll never know by staying here.”Nobody  really knew where she came from, just that she arrived one night as  meteors rocketed down from the sky. With no memories of her previous  home, Kairi’s past remained a mystery. A mystery that had captivated  Riku ever since he was a kid. Though  some people believed that the  outside world was just a legend, Kairi  was living proof that there was more to the world than a small cluster of islands in an infinite sea.“But how far could a raft take us?”Riku tilted his head and lifted one of his arms. “Who knows? If we have to, we’ll think of something else.” A raft wasn’t the sturdiest vessel, even he knew that. If all else failed, he'd seek other options. Anything to get away.This time, Kairi responded. “So, suppose you get to another world.” She giggled. “What would you do there?”“Hmm…” What would he do? Riku hesitated. Countless worlds lay beyond the  horizon, just waiting to be explored. At the same time, those worlds remained a complete mystery. He didn’t know what to expect. “Well, I haven’t really thought about it. It’s just…” He shut his eyes and let out a faint sigh. “I’ve always wondered why we’re here, on this island. If there are any  other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one?” He smirked.  “And suppose there are other  worlds… Then ours is just a  little piece of something much greater. So, we could have easily ended  up somewhere else, right?” They  could have wound up somewhere with room to roam. Somewhere with  adventure and danger around every turn. A world like that would be perfect.But Sora didn't seem quite as enthused. At Riku's words, he flopped down on his back, pulling Riku right back to reality with a quick, “I dunno.”“Exactly.” Rolling his eyes, Riku stepped away from the tree. He lowered both of  his arms to his sides and shot a glare at the sky. “That’s why we need to go out there and find out… Just sitting here won’t change a  thing. It’s the same old stuff, so let’s go.”“You’ve been thinking a lot lately, haven’t you?”Kairi hit the nail on the head. She always did. It was like she could see straight through both him and Sora. It wasn’t like Selphie, whose head was off in the clouds and locked in romantic fantasies; Kairi  knew how to hang with the boys, and she managed to fit into the island  lifestyle with ease. And because she came from another world, she  inspired Riku to dream big. He couldn’t deny it. Maybe it’d be a little sappy to admit, but he owed her this much. “Thanks to you. If you hadn’t come here, I probably would’ve never thought of any of this…” A warm smile spread across his face, and he looked her in the eye. “Kairi, thanks.” Eventually,  they left the sunset sky behind them and headed back towars the bridge. Kairi led the group with Sora at trudging behind her at a snail's pace. Riku trailed at the very end, snickering to himself. In his hand, he clutched onto a fruit shaped just like a star, which he idly tossed up and down. Oh, he had plans for this paopu. A little something  to  keep Sora on his toes.“Sora!” He hurled the fruit at his friend the moment he turned around.Sora  caught the fruit, but just barely. If he hadn’t been quicker, the  paopu  would’ve smacked him in the face. Just thinking about it made Riku smirk, and he pointed a finger directly at Sora's chest. “You wanted one, didn’t you?”“A paopu fruit…?”He strutted past Sora, watching him out of the corner of his eye. “If  two people share one, their destinies become intertwined; they’ll remain a part of each other’s lives no matter what.” He held up his hand, giving a light wave. “C’mon, I know you want to try it.”“What’re you talking—” Instead of explaining, Riku just laughed. He tore off at a breakneck pace and didn't bother looking back; there really was no need. Sora took the bait hook, line, and sinker. And the wide-eyed look on his face when Riku slipped by? Priceless.  They’d accomplished a lot that day. The raft was all ready to go, and soon they’d be off on a new adventure. Just one more day, and they’d  finally taste the freedom they’d always yearned for. Util then, they’d just have to wait. Their parents were probably worried sick, and the sky was getting darker by the minute. Like it or not, they needed to leave, but tomorrow they'd be all set to go. Just a few more preparations, and they'd leave this sorry excuse of an island behind. Yet as the trio made their way home, Riku’s mind drifted elsewhere, to  the vivid dream that still replayed in his subconscious.  The shadows,  the stained glass, and the ominous voice…There had to be more to it. 

x.x.x 

The darkness of the Secret Place surrounded Riku. With only a flashlight to  light the way, he moved  slowly and carefully, placing one hand against  the cave’s wall. He passed  countless chalk drawings from years past, images of daring deeds and grand adventures. But he wasn’t here to reminisce; dwelling on the  past  wouldn’t solve anything.  Instead, he kept going straight until  he stumbled upon a larger, open chamber.Don’t be afraid…Once he reached the middle of the chamber, he stopped, shining the light  along the surface of an unusual door. This door lacked a doorknob or handle of any sort. No slip for mail or a lock to keep it shut. Just a hinge and nothing more. Nobody even knew why it was here or what purpose  it served. Most dismissed it if  they even bothered to enter the cave. Riku, on the other hand,  continued to visit the as the years flew by. 

You are the one who will open the door…

For years it remained untouched and unopened. What lay beyond  its  boundaries remained to be seen, if it hid anything at all. Lowering  his  light, Riku approached the door, reaching out to touch it.  Silently, he tapped his fingers across the surface. Just what was it here for, anyway? It had to be hiding something. If he could just find a way to open it, maybe he’d discover something incredible. “It’s quite fascinating, isn’t it?” Someone was watching him.Riku’s back arched and he pressed his hand firmly against the door’s frame.  Slowly, he looked around the cave, trying to pinpoint the source of the  voice.  It took a moment, but he soon found a strange man leaning  against one of the cave walls. A tattered, brown cloak covered  his entire body, giving him an almost ghostly appearance. A hood obscured his face, and he kept his hands  tucked beneath baggy sleeves.  This man stood motionless and silent.Riku stepped away from the door, narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?” he said. “Didn’t think I’d have company.”The stranger laughed. “Like you, I’ve come to see the door.” Something was off about this. Visitors practically never came to the  islands, much less this cave. It was always his, Sora’s, and Kairi’s secret hideout. Even Tidus and Wakka kept their distance, and they’d  considered exploring several times in the past. So why was this man  here? And who was he? Riku took two steps closer and raised an  eyebrow.“What, you think it’s hiding something?” The man nodded, chuckling under his breath. “It’s not a matter of assumption.” Riku’s eyes widened for a split second. Just what was he getting at? Did this guy actually know about the door? If he did have the answers, then Riku couldn’t let them slip between his fingers. “Tell me. What do you know? If there’s something back there, I have to find out.” “You shall find out soon enough. Already, this world has ties to  something far greater than you could ever understand.” The man slowly  moved away from the wall. “And if freedom is what you seek, then fear not… You’ll find what you’re searching for.” Freedom… it was  something he’d longed for ever since he was a kid. His inner-most desire  and the driving force behind the raft and everything he’d accomplished  so far.The fact that some stranger knew this  didn’t add up.  He’d never visited the islands before, nor did they ever  speak until  now. Riku’s muscles tightened, and his free hand curled into  a fist. He glared at the man, who stood motionless and silent.“How do you even—”In the blink of an eye, the man disappeared. It was as if he never showed up to begin with. Riku took a step back, and a chill ran down his  spine.  Now only he remained in the cave, alone in the dark and still  without  answers. He came to the Secret Place to uncover the door’s  secret.  Instead, he learned nothing. All he got was a heaping load of  confusion  and even more questions than before. Ties to  something greater… What did that man mean? And how would it  lead him to freedom? If something really did lie beyond the door, he’d  have to  open it soon.  Otherwise, he’d miss his chance.TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Chapter 2: Misunderstandings

Morning  came, and Riku returned to the island without hesitation. Even with the raft complete, they still had some work to do. Provisions to gather, plans to make. With their luck, it'd take the whole day to get the job done, and then they'd have to wait until morning to take off.As soon as he arrived, Riku wandered through the wooden door that led to the island's other side. There, he leaned back against the door frame and gazed into the distance. Past the nearby bridge, the bushes, and the  pulley sat the raft in all its  glory. Held tightly together by numerous ropes and topped off with an  enormous sail, this raft was built to carry a heavy load across the sea.  After all, it'd have to carry three  teenagers and all their supplies. Several bottles and plastic bags already sat at the base of  the mast. Given Sora's sluggish pace, Riku couldn't afford to loaf  around; he'd made sure to gather everything at dawn. Only now could he relax.The  door creaked, and Riku slid to the side. Carrying an armful of goods, Kairi emerged with a spring in her step and a smile on her face. She placed her two water bottles and bags of fish off to the side before turning her attention to Riku."You're up early.""Hey, somebody has to pick up the slack." Riku smirked. "Besides, I had nothing better to do.""What would we ever do without you?" Grinning, she gave Riku a light shove."I'd be more concerned if you weren't around." He placed a hand on her shoulder and shrugged. "We'd probably get nothing done if you didn't keep us in line… at least, Sora wouldn't.""Maybe I deserve a gold medal." She laughed. "Not everyone can keep up with you two.""Oh yeah?" Riku leaned forward. "I better step up my game. Don't wanna make things too easy on you."Scooping up her supplies, Kairi rolled her eyes and turned towards the bridge. "I think I can handle it."Without another word, she headed over the bridge and towards the raft without another word, leaving Riku to peer out at the horizon once more.Was Sora sleeping in again?  It was bad enough that he passed out on the beach the day before. If he  didn't get here soon, then Riku'd either have to gather his supplies for him or drag him over himself. Neither option was particularly ideal, but Sora never made things easy."Hey, Riku!"Right  on schedule. The door creaked, as Sora burst on through with a goofy grin plastered on his face. He came empty handed, as expected, and Riku began to clap.  Slowly. The surprise applause prompted Sora to scratch his head. Man, was he clueless."Been wondering when you'd show up," said Riku. "What took you?"Sora  rubbed at the back of his neck, digging the toe of his shoe in the  ground. "Well, my alarm clock kinda broke last night, and on the way here, Tidus wanted a rematch. I couldn't back down!"Riku snickered. "Why am I not surprised?" He turned towards the bridge and pointed in the raft's general direction. "While you've been moping around, Kairi's been waiting for you. You do remember what we're supposed to be doing, right?""Uh…" Both of Sora's arms fell to his sides, and his mouth hung open. "We're getting provisions, right?""Exactly." Lowering his hand, Riku readjusted himself at the edge of the platform. "Also, I've been thinking... our raft needs a name. I kind of like Highwind…  What would you call it?"Sora brought a hand to his chin. "What about Excalibur?"Grinning, Riku replied, "How about—""The usual?""You're on."Right on time, Kairi stepped up to the edge of the bridge and pressed her hands against her hips. As she looked from one boy to the other, sighed and shook her head. "Are you two at it again?""Basically." Riku shrugged. She sure caught on fast. "Think you can be the ref?""All  right, but don't think I endorse any of this." Kairi turned, pointing towards the end of the bridge and  began,  "Let's keep things simple, okay? The first one to reach that tree over there and back is  the  winner. You can take any route to get there." The tree in question stood out from all the rest, due to the bright orange star at its tip. No wonder she picked it as a goal post.Turning towards  Riku, Sora pointed to himself and said, "If I win….uh," both of his  arms  dropped for a moment, "I'm captain! And, if you win…"A faint grin lined Riku's face; he already had the perfect response, something that would really throw Sora through a loop."I get to share the paopu with Kairi.""Huh?"Riku's smirk widened. "Deal? The winner gets to share a paopu with Kairi."Frantically, Sora glanced from side to side. "Wha…wait a minute!"But there wasn't time to talk. Kairi held her arm up high and smiled as she said, "Okay, on my count…"

They had no other choice, really. Within seconds, the race would begin.  Sora  leaned forward, while Riku crouched into a runner's stance. 3…  Riku's eyes scanned the area, quickly planning out an effective route.  2… He  glanced at Sora, who stood perfectly still. 1… Almost there…"Go!"Riku  rushed forward, darting across the bridge and leaving Sora in the dust. The planks rattled and creaked, and he leaped right over one of  the  loose boards. When he reached the end of the bridge, he heard a  loud SPLASH! Sora must've fallen down below. Too bad Riku didn't care to slow down. Continuing on, he climbed up the ladder of a wooden tower and latched onto the  pulley at the top. He had to be leagues ahead by now; Sora'd have to  step up his game if he even hoped to reach the goal in time.He  slid down the rope, watching Sora turn the corner and scramble towards a small hill below. He was catching up fast. When the pulley came to a  stop, Riku sprung onto the top of a palm tree, and then another. He  hurried across the treetops until he finally finally reached his destination. Tapping  the tree, he hurried back, following the exact same route.  Sora reached the goal just moments later and followed him along the path of palms.It didn't last very long. On the way, Sora tripped over his own two feet and plummeted down from the treetop. Unfortunately, Riku refused to back down. He leaped up and grabbed the pulley, returning to the tower within seconds. Then he hopped down to the bridge and dashed all the way back towards the doorway.  On his way, he caught a quick glimpse of  Sora  scurrying through the water below, but it was practically a lost cause. In no time, Riku returned to the entrance and leaned back against the door once again."Guess we're going with Highwind," he said as Sora came to a full stop.Sora  looked downward, kicking his foot into the ground. "Man, now the  score's zero to two…" He turned his head to Riku and then added, "And the paopu…"Riku rolled his eyes. "About that—it was a joke. You should've seen the look on your—"Joke or not, Sora turned away, shoulders sagging.  He stomped across the bridge and only stopped when he reached the gaping hole he'd created. "I'll go ahead and get those supplies now. See you around?""Not like I'm going anywhere soon." Riku sighed. "So relax. And maybe get a sense of humor while you're at it."He  knew Sora had a crush on her. Why else would he give him such a hard  time? It was way too obvious to ignore and way too easy to get a rise  outta him. Then again, Sora wasn't the only one. Get to know a girl long  enough, and it was hard not to develop a soft spot. As Sora walked  away, Riku's eyes drifted shut. Just a few more hours, and  they'd  be all set. Their journey would begin at dawn; no time to worry about feelings.What could possibly go wrong? x.x.x Several Hours LaterThe drifted below the horizon once more. After wasting several hours goofing off with his friends, Riku had made his way up to the tree-house near the Secret Place. At this height, he could see everything  from the small  island with the paopu tree to Sora and Kairi lounging by the docks.  By the looks of it, they were having the time of their lives, just  sitting and chatting. With their supplies gathered  and the raft all set,  it wouldn't be long until they set sail for real.  A part of him wondered if they were as eager as he was.Only one way to find  out. After climbing down from his perch, Riku wandered towards the shore.  He moved slowly and silently, trying not to draw attention to himself. As soon as he could hear the meat of  their conversation, he sat down and crossed his legs. Time to see what they were up to…"You know… Riku's changed."Riku's eyes narrowed, and he pressed his palms into the sand. Where did that come from? He almost wanted to step in, but no. Jumping to conclusions would get him nowhere fast. Instead, he waited in silence. There had to  be more to it. There was no need to panic, not yet; he didn't even know what Kairi had meant."What do you mean?"Kairi looked downward, idly kicking her feet. "Well…""You okay?"For the next few moments, nobody spoke. Riku crossed both of his arms, continuing to watch for a sign of anything. Kairi had to have a reason  to say that."Sora," she said, rocking in place, "let's take the raft and go— just the two of us."Riku jerked forward and sprung to his feet. Just the two of them? When the raft was his idea? And after saying he'd changed… oh, he knew  where this was going. He didn't even need to hear the rest; those few words painted an ugly picture in his mind. What if she didn't want  anything to do with him? What if Sora felt the same way? Clenching his  fists, he stormed towards the Secret Place.When he reached the cave's entrance, his pace slowed. Passing drawing after drawing, Riku pressed on, paying little attention to his surroundings. At the end of  the  chamber, he came to a halt. Just like the night before, the door  remained unopened, but something had changed. Now a Keyhole appeared at its center.Squinting, Riku crept towards the door, continuing to neglect the drawings around him until—He stopped, dead in his tracks. Was that… did they…?One drawing stood out from the rest, both literally and figuratively. Down  by the base of the door appeared a doodle of Sora and Kairi's faces  from  several years back. During his many visits to the Secret Place, Riku had seen the image and thought nothing of it. Those two added it when Kairi first arrived, and that was ages ago. However, something had  changed since last night. In addition to their smiling faces, the Sora  doodle now featured a crudely drawn arm with a paopu fruit. At the sight of it, Riku's heart sank and his blood boiled.First Kairi suggested to leave without him. Then  the old drawing had this lovely new addition? There had to be a  connection. While he was busy planning for the raft, Sora and Kairi probably had their own ideas all along.His fists tightened, and he took a few steps back from the image, slamming one of his hands against the door. "Fine! If you want to leave, that's great. I'll find my own way off of this—"An  eerily familiar chuckle echoed throughout the cave. Riku stopped in his  tracks and his whole body tensed. Out of the corner of his eye,  he  caught a glimpse of brown cloth. When he turned around, his  suspicions were confirmed. That man from before… he came back.Riku said nothing; he simply glared as the man started to speak."Did you truly believe they would wish for you to come? It's been clear for quite some time that they no longer have room for you in their hearts."Leaning forward, Riku raised one of his fists. It didn't matter who this man was; he wasn't in the  mood for  small talk. "What do you know? Unless you've been watching us, I seriously doubt you know anything about them or me."The man shook his head very slowly."Perhaps I have not met them personally, but look at the drawing, the way they spoke so lowly of you. Is it not clear that you were only a means to an  end? They needed the raft... for their own escape. By now, you have very few options…" – he lifted one of his arms and motioned to the door—  "You  could always open the door and find your own freedom, or…" He laughed. "You can risk being abandoned on this island shore… Either that, or take the raft yourself and drift aimlessly at sea, without knowing whether or not you will truly reach the outside world."… The man had a point. If he waited until morning, he could lose the raft and his chance to escape. He'd have to start all over. Taking the raft by himself was far too risky. If he ran out of supplies in the middle of the ocean or stumbled across something dangerous, he'd have no one left to turn to. If the door could lead him to freedom here and now, maybe he wouldn't need a raft. And if he did manage to open it, what harm could it do?With a sigh, Riku turned back to the stranger. "Fine… how do I open this?""It's really quite simple." The stranger took a few steps back before he motioned to the door and then to Riku. "A Keyhole requires a Key. You need only look deep into your heart and the answers will become clear."A Key… Could it be? He shut his eyes, placing a hand to his chest. In your hand, take this Key. And so long as you have the making, then through this simple act of taking, its wielder you shall one day  be…After all these years, he'd held onto the memory. Only now did it add up. The man in his memories wielded a Key-shaped weapon, and he came from the  outside world. Maybe Riku didn't need a raft. Perhaps the  real path to freedom was under his nose this whole time. A Key to unlock the way…He slowly turned his attention towards the door. "So, how exactly do I 'look into my heart'?'"Concentrate," said the man. "Focus on the Keyhole, nothing more… nothing less."So all he had to do was focus… It sounded almost too easy, but he still had to try. Taking a deep breath, Riku closed his eyes. In his mind, he visualized the Keyhole…A pale glow surrounded his hand, spreading further and further. It hardened into something dense and metallic. Even with his eyes closed, he could tell it was a hilt. The glow expanded even further, taking on the shape of a large Key. From behind, Riku heard the man's instructions."Now," he said, "raise your weapon toward the Keyhole."Slowly, Riku lifted the Key and pointed it towards the door. He felt it tremble in his grip before bright beam of light shot forth from the tip, striking the Keyhole's center. A low, creaking sound followed, and the door began to open. The minute Riku opened his eyes, he let out a sharp gasp. Dark tendrils crept out from between the cracks. Thunder roared and lightning flashed up above. A breeze swept through the cave and shoved Riku back. The Key soon vanished.Several pairs of glowing eyes appeared within the shadows. These shadows twisted, contorted, and took  on a life of their own. Razor sharp claws, antennae, and pitch  black  bodies… They looked just like the creatures in his dream, and they crept  closer and closer with each passing second. Thunder and  lightning  sounded off once more, and the fierce winds grew stronger.  Riku winced, and he soon found himself flat against the wall.This wasn't what he had in mind! Not even close. Monsters creeping from the  shadows, darkness all around… Was this really the only path to freedom? The door was open. Now he could go to the outside world. It was everything he'd dreamed of over the years crossed with the stuff of nightmares. A horrible mixture of excitement and dread overwhelmed him at once. Was he  supposed to embrace this new opportunity or fear it?  Pass through the door or flee?Caught in the throes of uncertainty, Riku listened as the man spoke once more…"Well done, Keybearer.You have opened the door, and now this world shall return to darkness!" TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Chapter 3: Disaster Strikes

His wooden sword did  nothing. The monsters evaded each blow, and  they grew more numerous by  the second. Staying in the cave meant risking death, and the man was  nowhere in sight. He couldn't stay here;  the door would have to wait.  Dodging two of the monsters as they leapt up from behind, Riku sprinted towards the cave entrance, and his jaw dropped.  Storm clouds  hovered in the blackened sky. Palm trees shook as the  powerful winds  pushed them from side to side. More of the monsters  emerged all around  him, dozens at a time. With each passing second it  became clearer and  clearer; something had indeed gone wrong.  "Riku!"  Amidst all  the monsters, Sora appeared with his wooden sword in hand  and his eyes  wide. More of the black creatures trailed behind. In spite of his anger, and despite his feelings of betrayal, Riku couldn't  help but worry. His friends… they were still here, and with those  monsters appearing at  every turn, they were all in grave danger. He stood silent and still, and Sora soon came to a stop, swinging his sword at the creatures with no avail.  "Riku, what's going on?" Sora jumped to the side, as a monster lunged at his legs. "Me and Kairi were about to head home, but then all  these monsters  showed up!"  Riku rolled away from two leaping monsters. He didn't even bother with his sword. "Oh, so you actually care, huh?" Three more monsters leaped into the air; Riku stepped aside. "I thought you were leaving without me."  "She was just kidding, Riku!" SLASH. The creatures evaded him, and Sora once again jumped to the side.  "Kidding…" Riku continued to dodge the creatures. "I should've known."  Sora frowned, hopping over one of the monsters. "We can talk about it later! Right now, we've gotta find Kairi!"  Sora was right. If Kairi was still there, she could already be in trouble. Now wasn't the time to bicker and fight.  Riku  turned towards the Seaside Shack and the door to the island's  other  side. The raft was out there somewhere. Kairi could've easily  gone to  check on it.  He glanced to Sora with his eyes narrowed and jaw tight. "Let's split up. I'll take the other side, while you look here. Got it?"  Sora nodded and hurried towards the shore. "Be careful, Riku!"  "I'll be fine!"  More  and more of the black beasts attacked as Riku rushed towards his destination. In front of the seaside shack, creeping up from the shoreline… Everywhere he turned, he found more shadowy bodies and beady, yellow eyes. Even as he reached the path to the other side, they appeared in droves, ready to strike. He barely made it through, as the creatures scraped at the doorway with their dagger-like claws.The other side looked even worse. Pieces of wood filled the water below, replacing the rickety bridge. The pulley tower in the distance  shook  with the wind, as bits and it, too, started to break before his  eyes. The entire area was damp and dead fish floated about in the sea.  At the edges of the platform, and below it as well, the black  creatures  approached, some attempting to climb upwards, others jumping.  He had  nowhere else to turn; in order to avoid the monsters, he dove into the water and swam as fast as his legs could carry him.  "Kairi!" he  shouted, as he shot through the water, dodging bits and  pieces of driftwood and rotting fish. "If you're out here, say something!"  But there was no response, only the sound of the raging winds. The pulley tower collapsed completely once Riku reached the shore, and  several  trees cracked, split, and toppled over. Narrowly dodging a  falling tree, he rushed for the raft.  It was too late. The sacks of provisions had been torn apart, as pieces of dead fish and mushrooms  scattered the place. Shattered glass and dampened sand  replaced the six  bottles they'd gathered. Bits and pieces of an egg  shell covered the  logs along with smeared yoke. Coconuts rolled into  the sea, driven by the force of the wind. Worst of all, the mast had  been split, and the  sail torn into a piece of tattered cloth. All around the fallen trees, the monsters appeared and trudged  towards the raft. Kairi was  nowhere to be seen; all he'd done was waste valuable time. Making a run  for the hill, Riku passed the star-shaped  tree and threw himself through a hole in the stone wall behind it. He  had to find Sora.  He landed near the docks, now reduced to broken planks. Circling  around the  base of the massive tree, Riku glanced from side to side,  keeping his  eyes peeled for Sora. Eventually, he made his way back to  the Secret  Place. Sora was there, dodging countless monsters and  falling debris. "We're too late," said Riku as he came to a stop. "The raft's history, and I couldn't find Kairi."  Sora slid away from two of the creatures, stopping to catch his  breath. He hurried to Riku's side and frowned. "This isn't, good, Riku…  What'll we do?"  She had to be somewhere; there was no way she'd disappear.  Riku took  several steps towards the shoreline, and his flew wide open.  Kairi  emerged from above the Seaside Shack, and she wasn't alone. Three  of  the monsters pursued her, and with no means of fighting, she could  only  run. Grabbing Sora by the arm, he pointed towards the bridge. Kairi  had no weapon, and fighting wasn't her forte. They'd have to do  something! He took off, dragging his friend along with him. "C'mon, Sora!" They hurried towards the Seaside Shack without looking back. So far the coast was clear; the shack remained untouched, as did the bridge.  With  only monsters standing in their way, Riku and Sora hurried inside and up the stairs. For a few short moments, they were safe. But by the minute they  emerged, they saw countless monsters climbing onto the  roof of the  shack. Others grabbed onto the edge of the bridge. As they  scurried  across, Sora and Riku knocked the creatures aside. In the  distance they  eyed Kairi latching tightly to the paopu tree while the  monsters swiped their claws at her. It didn't matter if they couldn't  fight back; once they reached the small island, Riku and Sora tackled  the creatures into the ground.  "Sora, Riku!" Kairi leaned over the edge of the tree, watching her two friends as they struggled to keep the monsters in place. They squirmed and flailed around, eventually sinking into the ground. With no other option, Riku and Sora rolled to their feet and approached their friend.  "Look out!"  A sudden blow from behind sent both boys flying into the tree's trunk. Their upper bodies dangled over the platform's edge; one more hit, and they'd go flying into the sea. The bridge behind them fell  apart,  breaking bit by bit. Now they were all stuck. To make matters worse, the monsters reappeared with three others by their sides, and they slowly enclosed the paopu  tree.  They had no weapons, no armor to protect them. They were all a bunch  of sitting ducks. Their peaceful, island home changed before their very eyes into a treacherous wasteland. There was no escaping from this twisted nightmare; they'd have to face reality. For the first time in his life, Riku felt a sudden weakness overwhelm him. What could he do now?  "Riku! Hey, snap out of it!"  Sora grabbed his shoulder and shook him like crazy. It was just the wake-up call he needed. What  good would worrying do at a time like this? Even with the impending disaster, he couldn't let fear stop him. His friends were in danger and  the door was still wide open, waiting for them to step through. Just standing there, waiting for the monsters to strike, would accomplish nothing. If they were going to make it out of there in one piece, they had to act fast.  Turning to his friends, Riku reached for their hands. "We have to jump! It's the only way."  Both Sora and Kairi nodded. They had no other choice. Though the winds raged on and the wild waves crashed against the shore, perhaps they'd stand a chance in the sea. They had to try. Together, the trio dove into the ocean, leaving the monsters stranded and unable to pursue. The force of the waves knocked them around, pushing them  beneath the water's surface, thrusting them forward, and giving them little chance to stop and think. Despite all this, Riku and the others pressed on, getting closer  and closer to shore.  An immense wave sent them flying into the dampened sand. Drenched from head to toe, Riku and his friends slowly stood and soaked in their surroundings.  Wreckage everywhere. A heap of boards replaced the Seaside Shack, nearly all the trees appeared  mangled and bent. The remains of the dock  had been completely washed away, and up above, an immense orb pulsated and sparked, surrounded by a purple haze.  The monsters reappeared, and the winds intensified. Riku looked towards the approaching mob and squeezed his eyes shut.  There had to be a way to stop them. Some way to protect the things that  mattered… his friends.  If anything happened to them, it'd be his burden  to carry. He opened the door; he listened to that man's words. Somehow, some way, he had to set things right. Keyblade… A blinding light flashed, and Riku suddenly felt a metallic hilt in his grasp. When he opened his eyes, he stared at the  Key in his hand.  Then, without warning, he hurled himself towards the monstrous horde,  hacking and slashing away. It worked. The Keyblade sliced through the monsters, which twitched  and quivered as their bodies faded into black smog. At last, he'd found the strength he needed. Even as the monsters clawed and pounced, Riku fought his way through the masses, clearing a path for his friends.  When the creatures charged with their  claws at the ready, he rolled to the side and knocked them back. When they sank into the ground, he kept  his eyes on his surroundings. Once they resurfaced, he swung his  weapon around in a circular movement,  annihilating their shadowy forms in an instant. Sora and Kairi cheered, and warmth replaced the fear and dread that  briefly wrenched his heart. Now they had no reason to fret. Even if it meant the end of  Destiny Islands, they'd get find a way out, and they'd  begin their real  journey together at last. The door awaited them; surely it'd bring them into the arms of freedom. The time had come to step forth and leave this nightmare behind.  SLASH! Three more monsters met their untimely end, fading into nothingness. At last, they returned to the Secret Place. No more monsters appeared, even as the storm ravaged their surroundings. The coast was clear. No need to fear. Riku laughed, and he approached the cave, lowering the Key to his side.  "Let's go," he said, glancing back at his friends. "We don't have much time."  Sora frowned, inching close behind. "Go where, though? This whole place is covered in monsters!"  "So?" He shook his head. "It doesn't matter. The door's open, Sora. Now we can go to the outside world!"  "Riku, I don't understand." Kairi stood perfectly still, bringing a hand to her lips. "What's happening?"  "Just follow me," he said. "You'll see what I mean…"  "I don't know. Something doesn't feel right…" She shook her head. "What if something happens?"  "It'll be okay, Kairi!" Grinning, Sora placed a hand on her shoulder. "We can trust Riku. He always knows what to do."  Placing a hand on his hip, Riku pointed the Keyblade inside the cave. "C'mon. What choice do we have? Just look at this place. It's falling apart!"The door was their only hope now. Why couldn't she see that? Even if  it'd  brought darkness to their home, there had to be a silver lining.Wincing, Kairi managed a nod. Her eyebrows knit together, and he lips bent into a frown as approached the cave.  What could she possibly be thinking right now? Riku narrowed his eyes and stepped inside, leading his friends along the darkened path. There was nothing to worry about. He knew what he was doing… at least, he had a vague idea. Just a little further and they'd finally be free… Or so he thought.When  he and his friends stumbled into the open chamber, Riku couldn't believe his eyes. The door was shut once more and no Keyhole appeared at its surface. No dark tendrils crept out between the  crevices; it was as if he'd never opened it to begin with.  No, no, no. This wasn't right! There had to be a reason for  it. Maybe he just had to use  the Keyblade again… That's all. There was  no way they'd be stuck on this  island any longer. Not on his life.  "It still doesn't feel right…"  Kairi  slowly stepped past Riku, clasping her hands behind her back.  She stepped right up to the door and brushed her fingers across its  surface. Less than a second later, her hands fell to her sides.   Blinking, Riku took a step towards her. "Kairi, what are you talking about?" She shivered, slowly turning to face her friends. Her expression grew blank, like a lifeless doll, and she took two wobbly steps forward.  Reaching out her hand, she said, "So..ra… Riku—"  The door flew open, and shadows burst forward. A rush of wind flung Kairi towards her friends without another word. Riku jerked forward, ready to catch her, but Sora hurried ahead of him and held out  his arms.  She fell right into him; then, in the blink of an eye, she vanished completely. Both boys flew through the air, tossed out of the cave  by the sheer  force of the wind. They flew higher and higher, until they crashed into a heap of sand. Gritting his teeth, Riku pushed himself up and glanced around.  Dust and debris blew through the air. Darkness surrounded them. They  stood suspended in the sky on a small chunk of  sandy earth in a vast, purple void. The massive orb he'd seen below loomed up above;  countless planks and stones whirled around it. Scattered planks and a  toppled tree were the only remainders of their  island home and the only obstacle between the boys and the beast that  towered before them. Sora gasped. "What is that thing?" It stood at least ten feet tall, maybe even twenty. Its massive, muscular body towered over the wreckage, held up by two spindly, little  legs. A gaping-heart shaped hole lay smack dab in the center of its chest, and two tiny wings  lined its  back. Several twisted tendrils covered its face. With its glowing eyes locked on Riku, the beast raised one of  its massive arms high into the sky, slamming its fist into the ground. With the Keyblade clutched tightly in hand, Riku hurried towards the monster. He knew this thing. It was the same creature that appeared in his dream, only now he'd have to face it for real. It still didn't add up; the storm, the shadows, and Kairi's  disappearance…  it all happened so fast. Now he and Sora stood alone,  face to face with a beast far more powerful than anything they'd faced  back home. Play  time was over, and all bets were off. It was time to  put the Keyblade to  the test. "Stand back, Sora. I'll handle this!" For a few  seconds, the monster stood perfectly still. Then, in an  instant, it lifted one of its massive arms and struck the ground. Upon impact, a pool of darkness surrounded it, and Riku flung himself forward.  He hacked and slashed at the monster's wrist. It left itself completely open and didn't bother to fight back. From the surrounding darkness the Shadows emerged, lashing out at Riku's leg. He whirled around, knocking them aside and then he continued to nail the monster's hand. Piece of cake. Was it even trying? All he'd  have to do is keep hitting his target, and—  WHAM! He hit the ground; one of the Shadows must've caught  him off guard. Groaning, Riku lunged forward, feet-first, and performed a broad swipe with his  Keyblade. Erupting into a blackened haze, the  Shadows vanished  completely. With that out of the way, he turned around  to face the  monster once more. Its arms hung at its sides, and the monster leaned back. The hole in its chest began to glow, sending small, purple shadows trailing  towards Riku. His nearly flew out of his head, and he took off like wildfire. The circular shadows followed closely behind; he couldn't  stop to smell the roses. Instead, he circled around the  monster, keeping his eyes on its fists.  Even though its hands dangled in the air, remained in attack range. He'd just have to strike without being nailed by the homing shadows. When Riku neared the creature's left arm stopped, leaped into  the air, and performed a vertical slash. Upon landing, he rolled forward, narrowly missing one of  the homing shots. He continued to  circle around, performing the same attack once he reached the monster's right arm. It was a bit tedious, but it got the job done. As Riku circled around again, the monster turned towards the mangled tree near the platform's edge. It took two steps forward and raised its arm in the air. Riku stopped dead in its tracks; he caught a limpse of Sora poking his head out from behind the tree. That monster was about to hit him, and he didn't have any way to defend himself!  As the monster's fist came down, Riku took the plunge. He leaped in front of the tree's trunk, and the attack hit him at full force.  "Riku!" Pressed firmly against the ground, Riku squirmed beneath the weight of the  monster's palm. Shadows raked their claws against his cheeks,  and  swatting them away did nothing. Breathing heavily, Riku reached for  the  Keyblade. He wrapped his fingers tightly around the hilt, shoving  the  tip beneath the monster's fingertips. Using all his upper body strength, he lifted the hand high enough to squirm free. Then, he  rolled off to  the side. That was a close one, but it wasn't over yet!Riku took two seconds to catch his breath before rushing for the hand  again. The smaller creatures hurled themselves at his sides,  but it was  no use. A few quick jabs with the Keyblade put them in their  place. His  main focus remained on the hands of the beast, and he  hacked, slashed, and hammered away in a series of rapid combos. It didn't last  long. Riku got in two more hits before the monster bent back, letting  its arms fall to its side. Darkness oozed from its  entire being. The  winds grew stronger, forcing its massive body into  the air. As it  floated towards the enormous orb up above, its body  folded inward, and  it started to fade. Riku stumbled, barely keeping his footing. At this rate, he'd get blown away! Fighting back the powerful breeze, he hurried over to Sora, who  leaned against  the tree. The gusts pushed Riku forward, and he latched onto the trunk tightly with his free hand.  "What's going on?" Sora wrapped both  his arms around the trunk,digging the toes of his shoes in the  ground. The wind grew stronger yet, forcing his legs into the air.  "How would I know?" Dropping the Keyblade, Riku tried to pull himself back to solid ground. He grit his teeth and held on tight. Even while the wind pushed him further back, he reached out for Sora's hand.. "Now's not the  time to ask  questions. Just hang on!"  It was no use. The whirling gusts grew stronger and faster, and their sheer force sent Riku and Sora  flying away from the tree. While they tried to grab onto a piece of driftwood, it was futile; no amount  of strength would keep them anchored to the ground. Though they tried to hold onto one another for as long as they could, the snap of the wind tore the two boys apart, hurling them in  opposite directions. They flew through the sky, further and  further away from the islands. Riku watched as his ruined home  became a small speck in the distance. Then, like a dying star, the islands simply… vanished. TO BE CONTINUED

I will try to post Traverse Town after school. I actually went and did some minor revisions on these chapters as I prepped them for posting, too, and plan on updating the ones on Fanfiction.net to reflect that.

Edited by Mega

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Time for Traverse Town and Wonderland, the latter of which features elements from the Disney film that were omitted from the game. :)Chapter 4: The Journey Begins

Darkness flooded Riku's consciousness. The last thing he remembered was being thrust into the air after thrashing the monster from his dream. But was that even real, or just another dream? Taking a deep breath, he leaned back against a wall and groaned. He didn't even bother to open his eyes. Where he was didn't quite register; soreness overwhelmed his whole body, and he could barely think at all. Slowly, he pressed both of his hands against the ground—solid ground. At least there was that…But suddenly, something changed. Moisture trickled down his cheeks; something wet, slobbery, and warm rubbed up against his face. Raising an arm, he swatted at whatever it was that pinned him down and licked him—at least, that's what it felt like. The response?Bark, bark!In response to the noise, Riku's eyes snapped open, and he swatted at the culprit. An orange dog looked up at him with a huge, dopey smile. Maybe some people would find it cute, but to Riku it was an annoyance at best. He swatted at it again and slowly got up. It just couldn't take a hint. The way it looked at him with its pitiful eyes and lowered its head to the ground did nothing to help its case. Riku just rolled his eyes and sneered."Beat it," he said, placing one hand against his hip.The dog whimpered, prodding Riku's leg with its paw. Once again, Riku pushed it aside with the palm of his hand, and he shook his head. For a second or two, the dog just sat there; then, with a bark, it turned around and scampered away. With that out of the way, Riku took a look around the alleyway.He was in another world.As he glanced around, Riku found no palm trees, nor soft sand. In their place stood barrels and crates stacked upon one another. Rather than the warm breeze of the island, the air that surrounded him was cold and stagnant. And though the starry sky above glistened with familiarity, everything else was foreign… new. Yet, as he looked around, his lips slowly curled into a grin. This was it… he was finally free! Everything around him was new from the brick walls of buildings to the cobblestone path before him.He had no time to lose; it was time to explore his new surroundings.Turning the corner, Riku stopped dead in his tracks. Brightly lit signs and towering lampposts illuminated the town's center. Countless buildings sat close to one another. An Item shop stood at the very bottom of the nearby staircase, and when Riku looked to the side, he found a much taller building. He looked up and read the sign… Jewelry and Accessories? Not exactly his thing, but with every passing moment it became clearer and clearer that this place had a lot to offer.As he descended the steps, Riku caught sight of various people wandering about. Some were young, others old, and… was that a cat? Or maybe some kind of bat. Whatever it was, it was different. Everything was, really. This place was like a dream come true, and he could probably spend hours just looking around and seeing the sights.With so many people here, he could easily ask around. Not for directions; that wasn't an issue, but maybe they'd know what happened to him. How he got here, where his friends went… it still didn't add up. With a quiet 'hm', Riku examined the signs. The shopkeepers probably knew their way around this town. Asking them about Sora and Kairi could point him in the right direction… or slow him down. Shaking his head, he turned away from the shops. How far could they be? He'd probably bump into them somewhere out here.He made his way over to some strange looking mailboxes. They were tall, narrow, and it almost looked like weird tongues hung out of them, like something in a cartoon. Definitely attention grabbing, even if they were kind of tacky. Then again, most of the town had a strange… quirkiness to it.Turning around, Riku came face to face with a kid just a few years younger than him. Clad in sandals, green shorts, and a bright orange vest, this kid frowned and tilted his head."Hey mister," he said. "Are you new around here?" The kid tucked his hands behind his back and shifted in place.Riku shrugged and flicked his wrist. "Could be." He continued along, towards the weird cat… bat creature.It floated up and down with a pair of tiny wings, making the bright red pompom on its head bob up and down. Its eyes were beady, and the creature squinted as Riku approached. It tilted its head and let out a soft, "kupo".Riku raised an eyebrow. "And what are you supposed to be?"The creature held up its stubby arms and bobbed up and down. "I'm a Moogle, kupo. Shadows destroyed my home… I've got nowhere else to go, kupo."Shadows… Riku turned his gaze downward. Did this guy know about those creatures? The islands fell apart the moment they appeared. Could there be some kind of connection? A part of him wanted to ask, but… shaking his head, Riku pressed on, heading towards a set of double doors.A man stood in front of it; he was a bit short and kind of stout, but he smiled as soon as he caught sight of Riku."What's with the door?""This?" The man placed his hand against one of the doors. "Oh, you must be new. In that case, don't worry about this door; it's the world exit, but only those with a vessel may leave.""Vessel, huh? And just what kind of vessel are you talking about?"The man chuckled, tucking his hand in his pocket. "Most people use Gummi Ships to get about, but few of us really need one. You see, Traverse Town exists as a sort of hub. People whose worlds have fallen often wind up here." He held out his hand, gesturing towards the surrounding buildings. "It's grown over time, and in such a big, sprawling place it's easy to get lost. Do be careful, for the shadows lurk even here."Again with the shadows. Rolling his eyes, Riku turned away from the man. All this talk of darkness and shadows did sound kind of serious, but why let it spoil the mood? He wanted to enjoy his newfound freedom, not worry about what-ifs.He passed a nearby restaurant with candle lit tables and Moogle waiters. Right next door, he found the Item Shop. It probably had some handy supplies, but he was short on cash and had potions to spare. No point in dropping by just yet. Instead, he turned around and approached another large door in the distance.A large man sat right in front of it, fast asleep. Was this some kind of a joke? How were people supposed to get around if this guy acted like a human roadblock? Groaning, Riku tried to get around him, but it was no use. The man murmured in his sleep and swiped his arm in the air. An empty bottle rested at his feet. He must've gotten drunk and passed out by the doorway. Shaking his head, Riku turned back towards the steps. He'd try again later.He was running out of places to go down here, but there had to be some other areas in town. As he ascended the steps, he glanced around. Turning the corner, past the accessory shop, he stumbled across another doorway. Nobody stood in the way this time; he could probably pass on through without any trouble. Grinning, he placed his hands on the door and shoved it wide open. Finally, he'd get some new turf to explore.Compared to the First District, this place was huge. Many different shops surrounded him. A suit and dress boutique stood out due to its eccentric sign with a man tipping a green hat. Next door stood a shoe shop, and to his left, Riku caught sight of a hotel with a bright, neon sign. If he needed a place to crash, he'd definitely drop by. For now, he continued along, spotting a clock tower in the distance. It stood several stories tall, with several stained glass windows and a white coat of paint. Maybe he'd check it out in a bit; it looked like a pretty sweet place to explore.He passed the dress boutique and glanced to the side; there he found another small staircase. Down below, he discovered several wooden benches lining the walls of the walkway. Just below the entrance, a small fountain flowed, decorated with elaborate images of trees and flowers. By the looks of it, there wasn't as much to do down there, but it seemed like a pretty decent place to hang out.Well, he had a pretty good idea of where to go now. Leaving the staircase behind, Riku passed the shops and made his way to the hotel. He made it a few feet away from the entrance when the doors flung open, and a strange woman stepped out.She had a sleazy grin on her face and wore pitch black clothing. At the sight of Riku, she stopped dead in her tracks, brushing her bangs out of her face. Riku rolled his eyes and tried to pass by, but the woman clasped her hand on his shoulder and leaned in real close."First time in town, kiddo?"Riku groaned, pushing the woman aside. "So what if it is?"The woman laughed. She reached out for Riku's cheek, trailing her fingernails against his skin. "Care for a nice lady to show you around?"Riku pushed the hand away and gave her a nasty glare. "Thanks, but no thanks. I think I can figure this out on my—"Everything came to sudden a halt as a strange sound of clattering echoed from behind. The woman fell flat on the pavement, and a swirling vortex appeared right above her. From within it, a strange, armored creature appeared. It landed right on her chest and raised a clawed hand into the air. Then, without warning, it tore through her chest, ripping out what appeared to be a heart.The creature wrapped its claws around its prize and leaped back into the air; dark tendrils weaved their way around it, and soon it vanished completely.Riku was speechless. His mouth hung open, and his whole body shook. The woman was gone now; only a small piece of fabric remained. He tried to enter the hotel to speak to a manager, but the shadows surrounding him twisted and contorted, as several pairs of yellow eyes and clawed hands emerged from below. The black creatures that attacked the islands… they were here too?The creatures lunged at Riku, forcing him to roll out of their way. When he came to a stop, he held out his hand; a white glow enveloped it, and in the blink of an eye, the Keyblade returned. Now he'd show them a thing or two.He dove down at the creatures, thrashing and slashing. His swift blows sent the creatures sky high. When they hit the ground, he leaped into the air, driving his weapon down and straight through them—save for the ones that sank below him. They managed to knock Riku around a bit, but he still plowed through them in no time flat. A few jabs, and they faded out of existence.With the crowd of black creatures out of the way, Riku took a deep breath and peeked inside the hotel. Simple wallpaper and a few small vases provided basic décor. A few chairs lined the walls, but as he passed through the hall, Riku quickly discovered that the whole place was empty. In fact, nobody even sat at the front desk. A small note on the counter read: 'No vacancy. We're sorry for the inconvenience.'What a joke. This place was a ghost town. Still, with no one to turn to, he stepped outside. Maybe he could check out the clock tower for a bit. It'd burn up some time. Heaving a sigh, Riku approached the building.More of those black creatures appeared. Just his luck. He let out a groan and took off at full speed. Not even bothering to block their blows, he slashed straight through the mob of monsters. A few latched onto his back, but a quick spin sent them flying into the entrance. Shaking his head, Riku slammed the Keyblade right in their faces. When they finally vanished, he ascended the steps and slipped inside.Unlike the hotel, the contents of this building instantly caught Riku's eye. Everything was brightly colored, from pinks, to yellows to blues. Several cogs and gears spun along the walls. Countless lights flickered and flashed. Every now and then, a bright, pink spring lifted up and down. As Riku passed through this building, no monsters attacked. Unfortunately, there just wasn't much to do there. He spent a few minutes looking around, and then he frowned. So much for that.When he left the clock tower, the coast was clear. Clear and… pretty dull. With nobody to share his experiences with, exploring this new world felt almost empty. Maybe it was the time of night, or perhaps his lingering anxiety. All those people mentioned shadows devouring worlds. Even in this world, the shadows attacked.He made his way back towards the First District without a word. Unfortunately, he hadn't anticipated what waited on the other side.Several more of the creatures piled on top of him the moment he set foot through the door. The sudden impact sent him flying into a nearby building, as claws ripped through his shirt. In order to free himself, Riku slammed his fist against their faces. It knocked them down, and he bashed them around. More appeared in their place.Holding the Keyblade high, Riku rushed through the crowd, passing the Accessory Shop and descending down the steps. Several of the creatures lashed out at him as he passed by. To avoid their dagger-like claws, he swerved around them and struck back if they came too close. At the very bottom, he watched as more of the creatures crept out from beneath the lampposts, mail boxes, and the restaurant's tables. All the people he'd encountered earlier were gone. It was like they'd never been there.A sudden light flashed before his eyes. Each of the creatures vanished a moment later. Riku tensed up as he heard the sound of footsteps from behind."They'll come at you out of nowhere," said a voice, "and they'll keep on coming at you, as long as you continue to wield the Keyblade."Riku spun around. A young man approached him with a scowl on his scarred face. He wore several belts on his right arm, a lion-shaped medallion around his neck, and pitch black clothing, save for his white T-shirt. In his hand, he carried an unusual sword with a gun's trigger. With a fair bit of muscle and a cold exterior, this man looked almost imposing. Tidus and Sora had nothing on this guy, but his attitude left something to be desired.Well, might as well humor him."You don't say." Riku rolled his eyes and propped the Keyblade against his shoulder. "And just why do you care?"The man raised an arm, pointing directly at Riku. "A kid like you doesn't deserve that kind of power. You don't know what you're getting into.""Oh yeah? Don't be too sure. I can handle anything this place throws at me.""Anything?" The man shook his head. "Don't get cocky. Those shadows are nothing compared to what's out there." He pointed towards the world entrance. "This isn't a game.""Doesn't matter." Riku leaned forward. "This Keyblade's mine. If you're jealous, that's your problem."Placing a hand against his forehead, the man groaned. "I don't have time for this." Slowly, and without warning, the man raised his weapon, swiping it through the air. He clutched onto it with both hands and looked Riku straight in the eye. "Guess we'll do this the hard way."Grinning, Riku waved the Keyblade back and forth. If this guy wanted a fight, he'd give him one. "Go ahead. I could always use a real challenge!"The man slowly approached him. Was he going easy on him or something? Narrowing his eyes, Riku ran for the man, ready to strike. Unfortunately, this was a grave mistake. The man slid to the side and nailed Riku with his weapon not once, but twice. The swings sent him straight into the ground, and Riku had very little time to react before the man struck him in the back.He just barely evaded another blow by rolling to the side. Then, he slowly got up and leaped out of the way. That man stood perfectly still. He didn't bother to approach this time. Instead, he raised his palm, and a pale light formed around his hand. Seconds later, he unleashed a flurry of flames that flew straight at Riku!Gasping, he rushed to the side, just narrowly dodging the flames. Once more, the man approached him. Readying his weapon, Riku rushed towards his attacker and leaped into the air; he drove the Keyblade down, aiming for the man's chest.WHAM! The man slid back a few feet, but he quickly retaliated with a flaming blast. Riku didn't have time to dodge. With a THUD, he hit the ground, clothes ablaze, as the man swung his blade. In the midst of the attack, Riku flung himself forward, nailing the man with the soles of his shoes. That same old trick always got Sora. The fact that a guy much older than him took the hit just proved he was full of it. Beating him would be cinch.Rolling to the side, Riku doused the flames, while the man jumped into the air and landed right next to him. SWISH! He swung his blade to the side, but Riku stepped evaded it, swinging the Keyblade right into his back."Come on! I thought you said I couldn't handle it." Riku waved his Keyblade back and forth, smirking. "Or is this 'power' just too much for y—"CLANG! The man whirled around, nailing Riku in the gut. The force of the blow sent him flying into one of the lampposts with a resounding THUD. Wincing, Riku pushed away from the pole and placed a hand against his chest. The man slowly crept towards him again. Why did he move so slowly? Riku took this opportunity to scurry toward him. As Riku neared his target, the man held his weapon out in defense. Then, he retaliated with a swift swing to the gut.More flames singed Riku's chest. Despite his slow movements and bad attitude, this guy… he was strong. Too strong, and he was running out of steam. Groaning, Riku slowly stood up with his knees bent and his back hunched. A river of sweat trickled down his cheek, and he rubbed his free hand against his forehead. He'd have to think of something, or that guy would beat him.He was slowly closing in. Stumbling backwards, Riku looked around for somewhere, anywhere to run. While fleeing wasn't his style, he couldn't afford to lose this Key. If he could just get away from this guy, maybe he'd be all right.Frantically, he glanced around until he eyed the Third District doorway. Nobody stood in the way. Now was the perfect time to make a run for it!He hurried as fast as his aching legs could carry him, throwing himself against the door. It made an obnoxious creak as he passed through, and he shot one final glance at the man as he vanished behind the door. Then he entered the Third District without a second thought.Despite his exhaustion, he did manage to catch a quick glimpse of his surroundings. Compared to the others, the Third District appeared much smaller, completely devoid of any shops. Several lanterns lit the way as well as more lampposts and several smaller lights up above a large balcony. A strange, star-shaped door stood off to the side, and straight ahead he spotted a golden fountain decorated with the image of two dogs sharing dinner together.He took a few steps away from the entrance, when he heard the sudden sound of metal crashing against the pavement. Countless pieces of purple armor shot down from the sky, clattering as they hit the ground. They lie motionless for a few seconds and then, out of the blue, the pieces shot into the air and rapidly assembled. Clawed gauntlets whirled around a metallic torso. Massive boots stomped towards Riku, while a helmet bobbed up and down.Wincing, he grabbed onto his chest with his free hand and shakily lifted up the Keyblade. The armor launched its gauntlets straight at him; he deflected them with his weapon, but the recoil sent him back against the door. Twitching, the armored creature readied another shot. Riku'd have to act quickly if he was gonna avoid getting crushed.He barely managed to push himself back on his feet when the gauntlets went flying. Though he tried to roll out of the way, he ended up collapsing on his chest. He felt the intense pressure of metal slamming into his spine. Then, his surroundings began to blur. He tried to lift himself up with his arms, but it was futile. His eyes slowly closed, as darkness clouded his vision.The last thing he saw was the man from the First District diving right in front of him.TO BE CONTINUED

Chapter 5: The Heartless

"Riku, Kairi! Where are you guys?"As Sora wandered, he continued to call out for his friends. Far from the islands, he had awakened in a strange, new land full of floating stones and flowing water. The stones reached high into the sky, and the water surrounded him from above and below. Some stones moved, others remained stationary, and the whole area was a deep blue. With little room to roam, Sora leaped from one stone to the next, aiming for the top.Riku and Kairi were nowhere to be seen. This place was completely empty… at least, that's what it looked like. However, once Sora got high enough, he spotted a floating platform with a shadowy figure looming near the edge. Eying the figure, Sora quickened his pace, leaping higher and higher. He continued to climb until he finally reached his destination. Then, he gasped.An enormous archway towered above him. A small waterway rested in the center, and four stone columns stood in the back. It looked like something out of a fairy tale, and that's not all! What really caught his attention was the strange woman who stood before him. She wore a long and delicate cloak, and her skin was pale green. Her long and narrow fingers wrapped around a wooden staff, and it looked like she had horns on top of her head!She looked directly at him with her bright, yellow eyes. With a faint smile on her greenish face, she held out a hand and motioned for him to come closer. Sora hesitated for a moment, and then he took a step forward.He tilted his head and rubbed the back of his neck. This lady sure looked strange and… kind of creepy, but on the other hand, maybe she could help! And right now, any company was better than nothing.After a moment's pause, he finally spoke up."Who're you?"

x.x.xGawrsh, d'you think he's okay?He better be!Aw, relax, guys. That may have been close call, but at least we found him before it was too late.You mean—At first Riku remained still, just listening to the sound of constant chatter all around him. His muscles throbbed, his back ached, and his breathing was extremely heavy. Despite all that, he was still alive. That's what really mattered.A cushy softness replaced the rough feeling of cement against his back. Warmth replaced the chilly night air. Moaning softly, Riku's fingers twitched. It took some serious effort to lift his heavy eyelids, but he soon found himself face-to-face with a young, teenage girl who leaned over him with a frown.If it weren't for her black hair and silver headband, she'd look almost like Kairi. This girl wore a yellow scarf around her neck, a green tank top with buckled straps, and a pair of brown shorts. The sleeves of her fingerless gloves and some kind of netting covered most of her forearms, and she wore a pair of long, white stockings.Whoever she was, maybe she was the one who saved him. Right now it was hard to tell, but once Riku set up, she said, "You okay?"Groaning, Riku forced a nod. "I'm… I'm just fine." He took a deep breath. "But just who are you?""Me?" She smiled, placing her hands on her hips. "I'm the Great Ninja Yuffie!""Right." Riku shook his head, running a hand through his bangs. If she was really a ninja, she sure didn't act like one… or dress like one either.But for as quirky and strange as Yuffie seemed, she wasn't the only one who caught Riku's eye. Standing right next to her were two goofy looking animals. One looked like a giant duck, who wore dark blue clothing with way too many zippers. He looked at Riku with a furrowed brow and a frown on his bright, yellow beak. The duck tapped a webbed foot and looked up at the other oddball in the group… a skinny dog that stood on two legs. Heck, his body looked almost human.This dopey looking dog had two buck teeth, huge eyes, and a stupid looking grin along his long, peach snout. He wore a green sweater, baggy pants, and two white gloves. He and the duck both slid closer to the bed as Yuffie stepped aside. Then, the dog chuckled and waved."Hiya!" he said. "My name's Goofy! And this fella here— "—he pointed at the duck— "is Donald!"Riku groaned, inching towards the edge of the bed. "That's nice, but here's a real question. Just where am I and how did I get here?""I can answer that."The man from before leaned up against the door with his arms crossed and his eyes locked on Riku. The Keyblade sat right next to him, propped against the door frame. Seeing this, Riku sneered."I'm listening," he said, looking towards his weapon.With that, the man stepped away from the door and scooped up the Keyblade. As he held it up, a flash of light surrounded it, and reappeared in Riku's hand."You're lucky I wasn't too far behind, kid. After you were attacked by that Heartless, Yuffie and I had to hold it off. We barely managed to get you out of there alive.""Heartless, huh?"Is that what it was called? And whatever it was, could it have been the same as the shadows and the large beast that attacked the islands? Only one way to find out. "Is that thing anything like the shadows I keep hearing about?"Goofy nodded. "A-yup! The Heartless are nasty fellers who feed on the darkness in peoples' hearts!""And that's not all," said the man. "The Heartless don't just feed on peoples' hearts… they feed on worlds. That's why you came here—this town exists for those who have lost their homes. And even here it's not safe.""Yeah, I've kind of noticed." Rolling his eyes, Riku pushed himself off the bed, lowering the Keyblade to his side. "But that still doesn't explain much… like why I have this weapon in the first place, or why you attacked me.""Oh, that?" Yuffie laughed. "It was the only way to protect you, but I think Leon went a little bit overboard."Leon shook his head. "It's not like there was much of a choice. Besides, he's the one who refused to cooperate." He placed a hand to his forehead, heaving a sigh. "Look, kid, the Keyblade chooses its master. As for why, your guess is as good as mine; the point is, it chose you. The Heartless fear the Keyblade. As long as you carry it, you'll be at their mercy...""Ahem!"Donald stepped forward with his arms crossed. He gave Leon a quick sneer and then turned his attention to Riku. "There's something else! We've been given orders by our king to search for the 'Key'. And since you're here…""What Donald's tryin' to say…" Goofy placed a hand on Donald's shoulder, "is that we need yer help! See, the King told us to stick with ya, so maybe you can help us look for 'im!""It'll have to wait," said Leon, drawing his weapon. "We may have held back that Heartless, but it's still out there. The longer we sit here, the greater the risk." He raised a hand, motioning towards Riku. "Come on, we've wasted enough time as it is." Turning to Yuffie, Donald, and Goofy, he then added, "You too."A lot still didn't add up. Why the heck did those nimrods need his Keyblade, and just who was this king? He still had a ton of questions to ask, but if the Heartless were coming, stalling wouldn't help.He lifted his Keyblade and stepped away from the bed. "Fine by me. Think I owe the Heartless for that stunt it pulled, anyway."With that, Leon turned towards the door, resting his weapon against his shoulder. Both Donald and Goofy drew their own weapons, some kind of staff and a shield. Yuffie pulled out an enormous shuriken, fitting for a ninja. Once everyone had their weapons at the ready, they headed outside and onto the veranda.There was no time to take in the surroundings, for the Heartless soon arrived.Two armored Heartless dropped onto the veranda and started twitching and stomping in place. Leon made the first move, knocking them down into the waterway below. He and Yuffie hopped down and continued to fight, even as more Heartless emerged from portals suspended up above.As Leon tore through the countless Heartless, he shot a quick glance at Riku and the others. "We'll take care of the small fry; you go look for their leader!"Nodding, Riku threw himself over the edge of the veranda, landing just a few feet from the Heartless. Donald and Goofy followed closely behind, though they nearly fell over as they hit the ground. Some of the Heartless trailed behind them as they passed through the alleyway. Armored Soldiers kicked and twirled, while Shadows pounced and lashed out with their claws.Riku didn't bother; he weaved his way around barrels and crates, striking only when the Heartless came too close. Occasionally he'd catch glimpses of flames and ice crystals shooting through the air and hear the scraping of metal against metal from behind. Did those two nimrods actually know how to fight? He didn't bother to stop and check. Instead, he kept his eyes peeled for this so-called leader, eventually reaching a door at the alley's end."Slow down, will ya?"Looking over his shoulder, Riku spotted Donald and Goofy approaching from behind. He rolled his eyes and placed his hand against the door. "Not my fault if you can't keep up.""Why, I oughta…!"He stepped outside the alley, returning to the Second District, and he took a quick look around. The whole place was deserted and practically lifeless. No Shadows or Soldiers snuck up from behind as he, Donald, and Goofy circled the area. Something didn't feel right; where were all the Heartless? It seemed almost too convenient, and apparently those idiots felt the same way.Goofy frowned, scratching his head as he looked around. "Gawrsh, do ya think it's some kinda trap?"Riku shrugged, and he made his way towards the stairs. "Who knows? If it is, I think I can handle it."But before he reached the steps, the ground began to shake, knocking the trio right off their feet! Pillars of stone shot up from the ground, blocking the steps and the entrance into the alleyway.Once the shaking ceased and Riku regained his footing, he stopped and stared. A metallic torso plummeted to the ground, followed by gauntlets, boots, and finally a helmet. The pieces bounced up off the pavement and they quickly snapped together, reassembling the enormous Heartless that attacked him before. Riku took a step back and raised his weapon, watching as Donald and Goofy slowly stood up and positioned themselves at his sides. The leader had finally arrived, and it was time to settle the score.Each piece of armor spun about in the air, and the Heartless slowly trudged towards Riku and the others. He didn't hesitate to attack, rushing straight for the armor with his Keyblade held tightly in hand. As a gauntlet shot down, he leaped into the air and nailed it with his weapon. This knocked the gauntlet back a few feet, but the Heartless was hardly down for the count; launching its metallic fists, it sent Riku flying into one of the benches. All the while, Donald and Goofy watched the ongoing struggle."Is this feller supposed to be their leader?" said Goofy, ducking behind his shield. "Sure looks like a tough one, a-hyuck!"Donald rolled his eyes, waving his staff about. "It doesn't matter! Let's go get 'im!"About time they stepped in. Riku quickly rolled to the side as one of the boots flew at him from the side. He slipped behind the Heartless and nailed the torso from below, while a fireball clashed with a gauntlet, and one of the boots got knocked around by Goofy's shield. Not bad, for a duo of clumsy morons, but he wasn't about to let them steal the show.Though he tried to get a clear shot at the torso, the Heartless quickly whirled its gauntlets and stomped its feet. This spinning attack sent Riku, Donald, and Goofy on a collision course with each other. They bumped into one another and landed face-down on the pavement. They didn't even have time to flee before it leaped into the air and hurled all of its parts right on top of them. They all cried out in pain, and the Heartless stepped back."Why you…!"Donald rushed to his feet and went on a wild rampage towards the Heartless. He squawked and flailed as he neared his attacker, and the tip of his staff gleamed with an orange glow. Leaping into the air, he launched a barrage of fire right at one of its boots. He then slammed his staff against the boot in a rapid string of combos. Goofy followed suit, flinging his shield at the other leg. It struck with a series of clanging sounds and ricocheted right back to him. Goofy repeated this attack again and again before he hurried on over and finishing the job with a spinning technique. With their combined effort, they completely trashed the two boots.Once again, they weren't half bad, but Riku soon rushed ahead of them and took a dive for the gauntlets. He dragged the Keyblade right across the middle and rolled to the side once it hit the ground. The Heartless whirled its gauntlets once more, but he slid out of its path and avoided the hit. Then, he hurried beneath it and drove the Keyblade's tip right into its palm. One gauntlet vanished, but the remaining hand struck Riku from behind and sent him flying into the wall.He cringed, as his back ached with an agonizing pain. Slowly, he stepped away, but a sudden green glow enveloped his body and caught him completely off guard. A few feet away, Donald waved his staff and smirked. Was that his doing? The spell alleviated his pain; it worked even better than a potion! For as silly as he looked, Donald's magic grew more impressive by the second. Smirking faintly, Riku hurried back to the Heartless. Only a few pieces remained.Nearing the Heartless, he spotted the remaining gauntlet as it flew towards Goofy's back. Before it could strike, Riku leaped up from behind and slashed straight through it. The two halves fell to the ground and vanished completely."Gee, thanks!" Goofy flung his shield at the torso and grinned. "I owe ya one, a-hyuck!""You can thank me later," Riku said, as he began his assault on the torso. "We're not done yet!"He got in a few good hits before the body started to whirl around like a tornado. In order to avoid this spinning strike, Riku took off, dashing and darting out of its path. If it came too close, he'd block it with his Keyblade. For the most part, it got the job done. The Heartless did knock him around a little bit, but a sudden surge of electricity nailed it from above, and Goofy's shield slammed into its back. Their surprise attacks gave Riku the opportunity to strike from below.And that was all it took. A final strike from the Keyblade caused the body to quiver and shake. The head rolled down and crashed into the pavement, melting into a hideous, black ooze. A purple glow surrounded the torso, and a strange sound resonated within. A bright light shot forth from where the head once stood, and an enormous heart emerged from within. Riku gasped as the massive heart floated up into the sky and vanished without a trace. Soon, the torso hit the ground and vanished completely.Finally, the Heartless 'leader' was no more.x.x.x"So, that's when this huge, black thing attacked! I dunno what it was, but after Riku beat it, we got separated."Sora now stood within a dimly lit chapel. Stone columns circled the entire room, and various swirls and symbols decorated the walls. The farthest wall bore a heart-shaped insignia with little thorns in its center. The woman Sora'd encountered earlier stood on the platform right below it. She remained silent for a moment, and then she nodded."I see," she said, stepping closer to Sora. "It's quite unfortunate that you and your friends were separated in such an untimely manner. You have my sympathy."Sora nodded, glancing towards one of the walls. "Yeah… And just when we were gonna set sail, too! I sure hope they're okay, wherever they are…"The woman smiled, gently placing a hand upon Sora's shoulder. She leaned towards him ever so slightly, and said, "Worry not, child. While your world may have perished, it is likely that your friends have not. In fact, I may be able to aid you in your search."Sora's eyes lit up, and he immediately smiled. "You really mean it, Maleficent? That'd be great!" He paused for a moment. "But how come you'd do something like that? We just met, and…"Maleficent shook her head, giving his shoulder a light pat. "Now, now. It would be my pleasure to assist you." She turned towards the insignia again, taking a few steps forward. "However, in return, I do have a small favor to ask of you. A request, if you will.""What kinda favor?""It's quite simple," she said. "Far from here, you will find a most unusual world. A place where things are seldom what they seem and everyone is mad. In this world, there is a young girl, a prisoner of a fierce tyrant known as the Queen of Hearts. The poor girl is destined to lose her head for a crime she did not commit… that is, unless she is rescued before her sentence is carried out. That is where you come in.""Me?" Sora paused for a moment, and his jaw dropped. "You mean… you want me to rescue her?"Maleficent nodded, looking Sora straight in the eye. "Precisely. The Queen would never expect a boy such as you to interfere. Why, you would be a hero…"A hero… Sora paused, glancing up at the ceiling as he thought over Maleficent's words. He'd never seen himself as a hero before. If anything, he always figured Riku'd be the one to perform daring deeds and save the day. On the other the hand, this would finally be his chance for a real adventure. If he could save this girl, he'd not only help somebody else out, but Maleficent might lead him to his friends! There was no way he could back down."Okay, Maleficent. You can count on me!" He placed his hands behind his head and grinned. "I've never really saved anyone before, but it could be fun. Besides, it'd be a great way to surprise Riku and Kairi!"Maleficent chuckled. "Come along, then. I shall lead you to this world." She paused, tapping her staff against the floor. "However, you must remain perfectly silent when approaching the queen. Unwanted attention may lead to that poor girl's demise. Should anything unfortunate occur…" A green glow surrounded her hand, forming a wing-shaped sword. "You will need a means to protect yourself. Consider it a gift.""Whoa…" Sora took the blade and carefully turned it over a few times. The dark colors and eyeball on the hilt gave it a sinister appearance, but there was no denying how cool it looked! He gave it a few test swings and then pointed it up towards the torchlight for a better look. This so beat his wooden sword from back home.He lowered the sword and turned to Maleficent with a smile. "Thank you. I don't' know what to say!""Think nothing of it." She placed her hand on Sora's shoulder once more. "Now then, let us leave for Wonderland. There is so much to do and such little time to waste."With that, she struck the ground with her staff, summoning several green flames that rapidly wrapped themselves around Sora and herself. Oddly, the flames didn't even burn; they weren't even warm. These flames acted more like a portal than anything, pulling Sora and Maleficent far from the castle in Hollow Bastion. Soon, the fire consumed them completely, and it started to fade away.Soon he'd be off on a real journey.x.x.x"You know, you never told me why this Key's so important."Riku stood in the First District of Traverse Town, leaning against the exit door. His arms were crossed, and his expression stern, as he looked towards Leon, Donald, Goofy, and Yuffie. After the defeat of the Heartless leader, the group immediately returned to this safer district in order to discuss things further. At the moment, Leon remained quiet, while Donald and Goofy looked towards one another with puzzled expressions. Finally, Leon stepped forward, lowering arms to his side."They say the Keyblade possesses a great power," he said, "one that could bring peace…or destruction.""And it only chooses somebody with a strong heart." Yuffie smiled. "It's not something that can be used by just anybody."Shrugging, Riku stepped away from the door. Power, huh? That was right up his alley. Already it'd proved a million times more useful than his dinky, wooden sword. Not only that, but he'd waited years just to get his hands on it. Still, it sounded like there was more to it. Would being 'chosen' give him added responsibility? Those two nimrods got put on a mission to find him, so it seemed pretty likely. Still, it never hurt to ask."I've got no problem with power, but just what am I getting into?""Well," said Donald "the King says you're the 'Key to our survival'! That's why we need your help.""Yup. And maybe you're just what those other worlds need, a-hyuck!"Riku shook his head. "If you're looking for a hero, you've got the wrong guy. I may have this Key, but I've got more important things to deal with." Like finding Sora and Kairi, exploring the outside world… that's all that really mattered. "Still, there's something I need to know: Just what happens to the worlds once the Heartless get to them?"Frowning, Leon placed a hand to his forehead. He remained silent for several seconds, and then he lowered his hand. "The worlds disappear, and if you're lucky, you end up in another world. If not… you, too, become a victim of the darkness."A victim of the darkness…? Riku looked away, letting Leon's words sink in. What if Sora and Kairi were gone? It'd be his fault. Kairi vanished right before the islands went down, so for all he knew, something terrible could've happened to her. On the other hand, he saw Sora right before the wind whisked him away, and he and Kairi wouldn't go down that easily. If anything, they were probably out there waiting for him. All he'd have to do is find a way to reach them.Riku turned around and shrugged. "Well, that could be a problem, but I don't know… Just why should I go with you guys? It sounds like you two need me a lot more than I need you."Goofy frowned, bringing a hand to his chin. "Well, ya see…"Donald grabbed Goofy by the arm and pulled him close. He leaned into his ear and whispered something. Riku couldn't make out the whole thing, just the word 'stubborn' jumbled up with some incomprehensible squawking.When Donald finally let go of Goofy, he looked up at Riku with a smile. "You know, we've got a Gummi Ship! We'll be traveling to a lot of worlds, so if you come with us, you won't be stuck.""That's right!" Goofy spread his arms, probably to get the point across. "Why, it'd be a real adventure for ya! There's all kinds of other worlds out there, and we won't be stopping 'til we find the King!""An adventure, huh…" Riku paused, placing a hand against his neck. The whole reason why he opened the door was to see other worlds. Maybe this'd put him on the right track. Sure, he'd have to deal with these morons, but their ship would make things convenient. If he tagged along, he'd be getting a free ticket across the universe. And, heck, maybe he'd run into his friends on the way. If nothing else, Donald and Goofy would be a convenient means to an end. He could put up with them for a little longer.He clenched one hand into a fist, smirking. "Fine, I'll tag along, but don't think this has anything to do with you two. I've got my own agenda."Donald rolled his eyes, but he still managed to smile. "Then that settles it! We'll blast off in a bit, but first we oughta get ready."Pulling out his staff, he winked. "I might even teach you some magic. It'll be real dangerous out there, and that Key's only gonna take you so far.""Hey, I'm game." Donald's magic was pretty impressive, after all. "I'll take whatever you can throw at me.""Then there's just one more thing…" Donald's expression twisted into a scowl, and he crossed his arms. "No meddling!""Donald's right!" Goofy frowned "We can't be lettin' on that we're from other worlds or there could be serious trouble. That means no sharin' anything about the Heartless, the Key, or even the mission."With so many rules being thrown at him, Riku almost considered staying in town. He barely knew these guys, and already they were grating. If they were going to be this strict, he'd have a rough journey ahead of him. Still, just because they gave him orders didn't mean he'd actually follow them. They could keep their rules and their mission. If they needed him so badly, they'd just have to deal.He held up his hand and rolled his eyes. "Whatever you say, Donald. I guess I'll play along."The next phase of his journey was about to begin. Though he didn't know what to expect in the worlds beyond, one thing was clear: he'd have to face new and exciting challenges. The Heartless were numerous, and they attacked countless worlds. His friends were still missing, and they could be just about anywhere. It was a lot to take in after his simple island life, but he was ready for whatever the worlds had in store.If only he had better company.TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Chapter 6: Through the Rabbit Hole

After a bit of shopping and a short briefing on fire magic, Riku, Donald, and Goofy departed from Traverse Town. Needless to say, travel via Gummi Ship was nothing like rowing boats or floating on rafts. If anything, Riku felt like he was in the middle of a sci-fi flick. All sorts of dials, levers, and buttons lined the control panel at the front of the cockpit. A radar screen just below a large window pinpointed various targets, such as asteroids, enemy ships, and distant worlds. Through the windows, Riku caught a glimpse of the blackened void between the worlds. Other than a few twinkling stars and large hunks of space rock, it was pretty empty.Donald currently sat at the controls, eyes locked on the main window, while Goofy surveyed the display screen. He occasionally pointed out objects of interest and warned Donald when obstacles and enemies came too close. Sometimes, they'd fire the ship's lasers to blast through huge chunks of space rocks. Riku occasionally turned to watch them, but for the most part he kept his focus on the side window, silently gazing out into space.A thud from behind broke the silence, followed by the pitter patter of little feet. Riku blinked, as a small cricket hopped up onto his shoulder and tipped his hat. He looked pretty well dressed for a bug, wearing a neat little coat, white gloves, and fancy shoes."Pleased to meet you!" said the cricket. "Cricket's the name, Jiminy Cricket. And you must be the Keybearer."After a moment, Riku nodded. "That's me all right. These morons," he pointed at Donald and Goofy, "decided to drag me along for their 'mission'." He paused, and then he added, "So what's your story?"Goofy chuckled, and he looked at Riku with a ridiculous grin. "Gawrsh, I can't believe we didn't introduce ya sooner! Jiminy's the royal chronicler, which means he'll be writin' down everything about our journey."Shooting a glance back at Goofy, Donald said, "Come on, Goofy! You're supposed to be the navigator!"With another soft chuckle, Goofy turned back to the display screen, muttering "oops" under his breath. Groaning softly, Riku focused on Jiminy once more. He reached into his little coat, revealing a small journal.For a moment he placed it down on Riku's shoulder, as he tucked the umbrella away. Afterwards, he pulled out a small ink pen and reached for the journal, cracking it wide open. He flipped through the pages, which were full various notes and illustrations. While Jiminy skimmed through the journal, Riku caught eye of a few points of interest, namely entries on "Shadow Heartless", Traverse Town, and the "Guard Armor". Once Jiminy reached a blank page, though, he looked back up at Riku with a puzzled expression."Say, son, what's your name?" he asked, stroking his chin. "It'd be silly to title your entry as 'Keybearer', after all."An entry? Well, that was new. Still, it's not like there was any harm in saying it. "It's Riku."Jiminy nodded, jotting down "Riku" at the top of the page before speaking again. "So, Riku, where are you from?""Nowhere important," he said, leaning back in his chair. "I lived on an island all my life, and it grew old real fast. Let's just say I'm glad to be out of there." Riku shook his head and continued to look out the window, while Jiminy jotted down a few more notes. This guy was awfully nosy, especially when Riku's past was none of his business. Still, if he was the royal chronicler, then it kind of made sense. Occasionally Riku glanced over to Jiminy, who quietly wrote in his journal, but otherwise he was quiet once more.A few minutes later, Jiminy held up his journey for Riku to see. "How's this sound?"Riku looked down at the journal, skimming the entry over. It read, "A self-confident youth. Cast away from his island home, he now travels with Donald and Goofy in search of their King. Despite the circumstances, he doesn't seem to miss his world. He now faces a great responsibility as the Keyblade's chosen wielder."Well, well. This guy pretty much nailed him. The entry only needed some info on his friends and a few jabs at Donald and Goofy, and it'd be perfect. Or close to perfect, anyway; that bit about responsibility didn't sit well with him. Still, he nodded. Might as well give credit where it was due."Splendid!" Jiminy smiled and tipped his hat. Then, he hopped off of Riku's shoulder and scurried towards the back of the ship without another word. What an oddball.A moment later, Donald and Goofy frantically started pressing buttons and pulling levers. The ship began to slow, while an image popped up on the radar. It looked like a giant sphere with a red and white heart pattern all over its surface. Heart shaped hedges and a towering castle stood on top, while a cluster of trees and a small house sat near the bottom. The word "Wonderland" appeared below the image. Riku fixed his eyes on the screen, and Donald and Goofy turned to face him."This is it!" said Donald, pointing to the image. He then pointed to the front window, where a large, round object appeared in the distance. "We'll be arriving shortly, so you better get ready. And remember, no meddling! We're here to look for the King."Both Donald and Goofy turned back to the controls. They narrowed their eyes, and the two began to rapidly press buttons. Once they finished, Donald reached for a lever in front of him and gave it a hard pull. All at once, the ship jerked back a bit and then shot forward, rocketing forward at an even quicker speed than before. The intensity of the ship's movement forced Riku, Donald, and Goofy against the back of their seats. Everything outside the window began to blur until even the stars appeared to be nothing more than streaks in the air.Then, a few moments later, the ship came to a stop. Riku jerked forward, gazing out the window. Not too far from the ship floated a large world completely identical to the image on the screen. Everything from the checkered patterns to the distant castle matched up. This was it, a new world to explore. Grinning, Riku paid close attention to the world's features. He'd so have to check out the castle and the surrounding hedge maze. The whole place looked drastically different from Traverse Town, and just looking at it filled him to the brim with excitement.Once the ship came close enough to the world, it stopped. Donald looked at the radar, then down at the world before looking to Riku once more."This world doesn't have an entrance," he said, "which means we can't just land." He pressed a few more buttons, and then looked past Riku and towards the back. "Chip, Dale! Get out here!"Two small chipmunks scurried over to Donald without a moment's hesitation. They looked almost identical to one another, other than the shape and color of their noses. One had a huge, red nose and a pair of buck teeth, while the other's was small and black, like you'd expect from a rodent. Leaping onto the control panel, the two chipmunks gave a salute. Riku watched them intently. Just what could two rodents do?"Listen up!" Donald looked down at the chipmunks with a serious scowl. "This world has no entrance, so you two'll have to watch the ship, understand?"The two chipmunks nodded, and the one with a red nose hopped up and down "Aye, aye, sir!"The black-nosed chipmunk followed suit, landing with a bit of a stumble. Both of the chipmunks looked to Donald and Goofy, who proceeded to undo their seatbelts. Riku watched their movements carefully and then proceeded to do the same. Free from his seatbelt, Goofy stood up and smiled at the two rodents. Donald slid out of his seat, and Riku followed suit. With the trio up and raring to go, the two chipmunks darted over to a button that read, "Transport".Eying the button, Riku looked over to Donald. "So, how exactly are we going to leave? Jumping's obviously out, otherwise we'd probably get ourselves killed."Donald shook his head, snickering under his breath. "That's an easy one! You see that button? All they've gotta do is press it, and we'll be sent right into the world! It's quick and easy.""But it sure takes gettin' used to!" Goofy added, rubbing the tip of his nose. "Ya gotta be careful 'bout eatin' when ya use the transport, or ya might get dizzy."Riku shook his head, placing a hand on his hip. "I'll deal.""In that case," Donald said, "let's get a move on! The King won't wait forever, you know!"Nodding, the two chipmunks jumped up and onto the button and landed with a soft click.The ship's engines whirred, and a dim light wrapped around Riku and the others. It spread from the ground up, covering their entire bodies, and soon everything began to shake. Donald and Goofy held onto one another, while Riku looked around the shaking ship.In the blink of an eye, he shot down through an empty, black space. Everything seemed to spin and blur, and it got to the point where Riku snapped his eyes shut. Goofy wasn't kidding about the dizziness; this was insane!This continued for a few seconds, but an abrupt flash of light brought the trio to a standstill. Everything slowed down in an instant, and Riku opened his eyes. They'd made it into Wonderland in one piece, but there was just one problem…They weren't on solid ground!The trio slowly fell through a narrow chamber, lined with purple walls. Stumbling through the air, they passed floating tables, chairs, and even the occasional lamp! Goofy chuckled and flopped on his back, while Donald flailed about. He reached for a nearby table, but it quickly passed him by. Riku, on the other hand, remained still, peering down past the assorted desks, chairs, and scattered books. Down below, the floor looked like a tiny speck and nothing more.They continued to fall for a little bit longer. Riku managed to land in a rocking chair for a moment, but it quickly spun upside-down and sent him plummeting once more. He crossed his arms and glared at the ground below. The corridor around him grew narrower by the second, and the purple wallpaper transitioned into bricks. A few potted plants floated on by, and Donald slid off of a mirror with an upside-down reflection. Scratching his head, he let out a sigh, and soon he flipped upside-down"What kind of world is this supposed to be?" He grumbled and groaned. "It looks like nonsense to me."Goofy rolled onto his side with a smile. "Beats me, but it sure is funny!" He chuckled, eying a crackling fireplace along one of the walls. "Gawrsh, I wonder how they lit that fire…""Does it matter?" Riku crossed his arms. "This world's called Wonderland. Do you really expect it to make sense?"They drew closer to the floor, and its oddly shaped tiles came into view. Shaking his head, Donald squirmed towards Goofy. Once again, he flipped upside down. They'd be hitting the ground any second now, and Goofy continued to recline."Goofy! You might want to get up, before we…"THUD. By the time Donald spoke up, it was already too late; Goofy crashed face-first into the tiled floor. He winced at first, and it took a moment for him to move, but soon he was back on his feet with that stupid grin of his. Seeing this, Riku shook his head and leaned back against one of the walls. He'd landed with ease, and he watched as Donald fell flat on his rump. Now that they'd landed, it was time to get moving. Together, they quickly scanned their surroundings."Looks pretty empty," Riku said as he eyed the countless flower paintings on the walls.And indeed it was. The only real decorations were the paintings, and they were all pretty plain. On the opposite side of the room, however, he spotted a doorway lined with a red curtain that lead into a winding hallway. Smirking, Riku stepped through the curtain and into the hall. From behind, he heard Donald's frantic squawking."Just what d'you think you're doing, Riku?" Donald scurried behind him, wildly waving his staff. "You're supposed to stick with us!"Although he gave Donald a passing glance, Riku kept moving… at least until he reached the end of the hall. Once he reached the door, he turned around. Those morons were right behind him now, and Donald's whole face looked scrunched up like a prune.He rolled his eyes. "Hey, if you can't keep up, that's your loss." Turning back to the door, Riku flung it open, only to find another door… and then another. What a pain. Once he finally found an opening, he slipped into the next room.Tacky wallpaper caught his eye. It was bright pink with flat images of furniture here and there. He spotted a fireplace and some paintings of carrots, and a rabbit-shaped clock hung above the doorway. But no matter where he looked, Riku couldn't find a way out. There were no other doors, just rabbit themed decorations and a small, round table as the room's centerpiece.…Or maybe not. As Riku passed the table, he did find a doorway, but it was way too small for someone like him. Maybe a mouse could squeeze through, but a human? No way. Heaving a sigh, Riku knelt down next to the door. There had to be a way to get through…"Gawrsh."He heard footsteps from behind. Donald and Goofy must've caught up. Riku turned around and, sure enough, they were headed right for him."Looks like a dead end!""No kidding." Donald glanced around the room, tapping a webbed foot. "How're we supposed to find the King when there's no way out?"Riku shook his head. He wasn't about to give up. After all, there was a door; it was just too small, but that didn't mean they couldn't get through it. Rather than call it quits, he reached for the doorknob and turned it to the right. It didn't open, but it did respond in an unexpected way.Its eyes opened widely, and it let out a loud "OUCH!" Riku immediately froze, snapping his hand away from the knob, while Donald and Goofy gasped in shock. The Doorknob blinked a few times, and then it yawned. Somehow it didn't seem so surprised to see the trio, although it did look them over a few times before moving its knob around a few times."I'll say, you're the second boy to wake me up today. I don't suppose you're chasing a rabbit too, are you?""A rabbit?" Riku paused, and then he shook his head. "No, but these guys"—he pointed at Donald and Goofy—"are after their Ki—"Before Riku could finish, Donald whacked him with his staff. "Remember, no meddling!" He tucked the staff away and added, "We're just looking for a way through. Everything's too small."Oddly, the Doorknob laughed, pointing the tip of its knob at the nearby table. "Oh, that's simple! Try the bottle, and you'll go out like a candle."Goofy looked over to the table and tilted his head. "Gawrsh, d'you mean that bottle over there'll shrink us?""Exactly!" said the Doorknob. It smiled and let out another yawn. "It's the perfect solution to any impassable problem."Oh great, a pun. Groaning, Riku stood up and approached the table. If the bottle was the only way to go, he'd have to take his chances. Sure, shrinking didn't make much sense, but neither did talking doors or Donald's magic. Scooping up this bottle, he glanced at the label, which read "drink me". A small box sat right next to it, full of star-shaped cookies that said, "eat me" in colored frosting."Well," said Donald, walking up to the table, "what's it say?"Riku shrugged. "Just 'drink me'."Goofy took one last look at the door, which spoke no more. Instead, it closed its eyes and began to snore. Chuckling, Goofy raised a finger to his mouth and gave a soft 'shh' before he moseyed over to the others."D'ya really think it's safe?"Shrugging, Riku lifted the bottle to his mouth. "Only one way to find out."He didn't hesitate to chug the whole thing down. As he drank, his body grew smaller and smaller. With one sip his head reached no higher than the table top, and it didn't stop there. Again and again his body grew smaller, while his surroundings appeared to grow. Eventually, the bottle became far too large to hold onto, and it fell flat on the floor. Now he was roughly the size of the bottle and definitely small enough to pass through the door.Donald and Goofy gasped, staring at the now shrunken Riku. He groaned and crossed his arms, staring right back at them. At his current size, Riku could easily fit into the palm of their hands or get crushed by their feet. Despite all this, he smirked at the two, who leaned close to the ground."So," he said, pointing to the bottle, "you two going to drink this or what?"Frowning, Goofy reached for the bottle and looked it over. He gulped, glancing over to Donald with a worried frown. When Donald started tapping his foot, Goofy took a deep breath and brought the bottle to his mouth. Just like Riku, he started to shrink with each sip. All the while, he laughed. Leave it to Goofy to find the whole thing funny."Gawrsh, it kinda tastes like cherry tart!" His body continued to shrink. "…No, maybe more like custard." He scratched his head, becoming even smaller. "…Maybe with a bit of pineapple and roast turkey, a-hyuck!"He fumbled the bottle, letting it roll onto the floor. Now Goofy stood just a tad taller than Riku, and when he looked up at Donald, he instantly jumped back and covered his mouth with his hands. Was he really that scary? No matter what the size, Donald still looked ridiculous in Riku's opinion.Unlike Goofy, Donald didn't take the time to look over the bottle. Instead, he scooped it up and immediately gulped down the remaining fluids. When he finished, he stumbled around until the bottle's wait made him fall face down on the floor. Now they were all set.When Riku approached the snoozing door, he found that he still couldn't open it. It was fast asleep, and waking it up would probably set it off. Luckily, he caught sight of another opening in the corner and headed its way. He and the others made it about halfway, but the sudden appearance of dark corridors stopped them in their tracks.A group of Heartless fell flat on the floor. One had a large, round body and massive arms that it swung from side to side. The two other Heartless were much smaller, and their red and blue bodies bobbed up and down. They both wore a tall, yellow hat with a curled tip and had skinny little legs. The trio immediately drew their weapons and charged.Both of the mage Heartless launched bursts of flames and shards of ice at the trio. They had to move quickly to avoid being frozen or burned. The larger Heartless rushed forward, knocking Riku over with its bulbous belly. When he tried to fight back, his Keyblade did nothing. Then, it knocked him away with the swing of its fist. He bumped right into the table.The blue Heartless hovered overhead, and it fired an icy barrage. Riku slid out of its path and scooped up his weapon. If this thing fought with ice, then maybe a little heat would get the job done. Plus, it'd give him a chance to try out his new magic. Grinning, Riku held out his Keyblade, as the tip began to smoke. A flick of his wrist sent a blazing blast straight at the Heartless, and its body ignited. The flames tore right through it, and only a heart remained.Donald's blizzard magic knocked the red Heartless into a wall, trapping it in a cluster of ice. He leaped up and slammed his staff into the crystals, and the Heartless quickly vanished. Now, only the Large Body remained.Riku lunged for its chest and slammed his Keyblade into its gut, but it still did nothing. The Heartless knocked him forward and leaped into the air. When it landed, a shockwave spread across the ground, and Riku cried out in pain. Just then, he caught a glimpse of Goofy's shield, which flew into its back and knocked it flat on its belly. Was that its weak spot?When Riku lashed out from behind, the Heartless trembled and kicked its stubby legs. He and Goofy nailed it several times with their weapons until it got back on its feet and knocked them away with its powerful arms. Flames seared its back, as Donald pitched in. Together, the trio evaded its shockwaves, charging attack, and those obnoxious arm swings. Whenever they got the chance, they'd hurry behind it and unleash their attacks.Their combined efforts trashed the Heartless, and the path became clear once more. Dismissing his weapon, Riku headed for the opening.Until Donald stepped right in front of him and narrowed his eyes. "Riku…" He shook his staff, and then, suddenly, he smiled. "Good job using your magic. Aren't you glad I—"Riku stepped around him and passed through the opening, ignoring Donald's angry ranting as he passed through to the other side. When he and the others emerged, they found themselves surrounded by green, and lots of it. Heart-shaped hedges towered over heard, and a winding path of greenery wrapped around them. Riku spotted a few heart-shaped bushes with roses that were dripping with red paint, for some reason.He approached the large archway and peered around the corner. There, he spotted a very busy courtyard full of giant card soldiers, a white rabbit with a waistcoat, a little girl, and a fat, ugly queen. By the looks of it, there was some sort of ceremony going on. The cards stood in single file lines on each side of the courtyard, and the Queen sat high above them at a podium."I wonder what's going on," he said, watching the proceedings.Donald shrugged and walked up behind him. "Who knows? It's none of our business.""Well", said Goofy, scratching his head, "what if they know where the King is, Donald? Maybe they could help us out!"Sighing, Donald glanced at the crowd beyond the hedge and back to Goofy. He tapped his foot placed a hand against his beak. "But it looks like they're in the middle of something, and you know the rules!"Riku groaned. "I don't see how asking them counts as 'meddling'. If your mission's that important, then we might as well give it a shot.""Wait a second, fellas!" Goofy pointed to the podium. "It looks like they're startin' somethin'."The little girl gazed up at the podium with a frown on her face. She wore a simple, blue dress and had long, golden hair. Up above, a large, glaring woman leaned over the podium's edge, while a tiny little man tapped her on the arm. Both the woman and man wore heart-patterned clothes, not to mention crowns. The strange, card soldiers held tightly onto spears and axes. They came in hearts and spades. Off to the side, the white rabbit looked down at his pocket watch and sighed.The Queen addressed the crowd in a booming voice. "Now that that little nuisance has been taken care of, let the trial begin!"Gasping, the little girl looked from the Queen to the rabbit, the cards, and back again. "I'm on trial? But why?"Scowling, the Queen slammed her fist against the podium . "The girl is the culprit. There's no doubt about it. And the reason is...because I say so, that's why!"As the conversation went on, Riku clenched his fists and shook his head. Did that old hag really think a kid could cause so much trouble? She looked completely innocent, and the Queen didn't even explain what went wrong. Either the Queen was insane, or she was missing the point. Both the Queen and the girl argued with one another, even when the King tried to fan the flames. With a scowl, Riku took a step forward, ready to go in there and deal with things himself. This was getting ridiculous.He didn't get very far before Donald grabbed him by the arm and pulled him back. "Riku, stop! This is none of our business!"Sneering, Riku yanked his arm out of Donald's grip and continued forward. "So what? That queen has serious issues, and I thought you guys wanted to find your King.""Well yeah," Goofy said, "but that queen sure doesn't look like the friendly sort. Maybe we better wait 'til they finish.""So much for being in a hurry…" Riku shook his head, and he continued through the courtyard. At first he said nothing and listened to the raging argument between the girl and the Queen. Behind him, both Donald and Goofy waved their arms at him and gestured towards the archway. He stayed put. Meanwhile, the Queen cleared her throat and addressed the crowd."The court finds the defendant...guilty as charged! For the crimes of assault and attempted theft of my heart...""You can't be serious."Immediately the Queen, the girl, and the cards turned their attention to Riku. Furious, the Queen SLAMMED her fist against the podium, while the King beside her frantically waved his hands. The girl gasped, while the cards raised their weapons and stood tall and alert. All the while, both Donald and Goofy exchanged worried glances. The two hesitated, eying the card soldiers and the angry queen, but soon they followed Riku, stopping right behind him."What is the meaning of this?" said the Queen, while the little king fanned her with one of his hands.Riku crossed his arms. "You know, I could ask you the same thing…""You dare question me?" The Queen pointed her staff at Riku, while the King continued to fan her."Now, dear," he said, "it wouldn't hurt to explain to the boy. It's an honest question.""Very well. " Heaving a deep sigh, the Queen nodded, leaning back in her seat. "This vile girl tried to steal my heart!" As she spoke, her tone grew increasingly harsh and increasingly loud. "Anyone who dares to defy me shall lose their head, this girl is no exception!""Gawrsh, ya think she's telling the truth? That girl sure doesn't look like a Heartless.""Who knows?" Donald said, shaking his head.Meanwhile, Riku rolled his eyes. "Really? That's funny, because the way I see it…""Silence!" The Queen bared her teeth and looked him straight in the eye. "All ways are my way!"Donald looked up at Riku and shook his head. "Riku, let's go! You'll only get us in trouble if you keep this up."But he continued regardless of Donald's warning, stepping past the girl and right up to the podium. "The way I see it, you're just a fat, bad-tempered old tyrant, and—"SLAM! Before Riku could finish, the Queen pounded the podium and glared intensely at him. The pink tone of her skin now burned a fierce red, and her whole body shook with rage."You imbecile!" She raised her staff and pointed at the trio. "I've had enough. For your defiance, you all shall lose your heads!"Without another word, the Queen raised her staff and pointed it directly at the trio, while the girl gasped in shock. Almost instantly, the cards turned towards Riku, Donald and Goofy. They gripped tightly onto their razor-sharp spears and battle axes and surrounded the trio. Grinning wildly, the Queen rubbed her hands together and watched as the cards leaped into the air, and the battle began.TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Chapter 7: Beware the Shadows

When Sora arrived in Wonderland, Maleficent gave him very basic instructions. Find Alice in the Queen's Courtyard and keep an eye out for a 'Cheshire Cat'. Since his arrival, he'd made zero progress on his mission. First, he got distracted by the white rabbit and had a friendly conversation with the talking door. Then, when he tried to sneak into the courtyard, the Queen of Hearts caught him! He barely got by with the excuse that he was just passing through. One wrong move, and he could've been seriously hurt by those cards.He made his way through an unusual forest, passing giant mushrooms and colorful flowers. All around him stood enormous trees, reaching so high that he couldn't even see the treetops when he looked into the air. The dirt path before him split into many different directions, making it difficult to navigate the forest. How was he gonna get back to the courtyard if he kept getting lost? Maybe he should've just waited outside. Then again, he could always look for that Cheshire Cat on the way back.A giant, red flower caught his eye. Maybe he could ask for help? Though there were signs on some of the trees, they contradicted each other. Some said 'up', some said 'down', others 'in' and the rest of them 'out'. Some of these signs were all on one tree!Frowning, he scratched his head. The flower stood completely motionless with its petals closed. Maybe it couldn't even talk in the first place, but if doorknobs and cards could, there was always a chance. Slowly, he crept up to the flower and opened his mouth. He was just about to speak when he caught a glimpse of someone in the corner of his eye. Freezing in place, he looked over his shoulder…Kairi stood just a few feet away with a smile on her face and her hands behind her back. She didn't move an inch, and she stayed perfectly silent. Sora's eyes widened, and his arms fell to his side. Was Kairi here all along? Rather than think things through, he rushed right at her."Kairi! When'd you get here?"As he drew closer, Sora reached out for her. Kairi, on the other hand, shook her head, and her smile faded. Once Sora came within a few inches of her, she vanished in the blink of an eye. Seconds later, he plummeted down to the ground and got a face full of dirt.He dusted himself off and slowly stood, but no matter where he looked, he couldn't find Kairi. It didn't even make sense… Was he just seeing things? Sora looked down to the ground and kicked a small stone to the side. Maybe he was just lonely… Whatever the case, he couldn't forget about his mission. Not when Maleficent and Alice were both counting on him!He trudged back over to the flower and poked at its petals. At first it didn't budge, but soon its drooping stem straightened, and its petals opened to reveal a face! Blinking, the flower leaned closer to Sora and tapped its chin with a leaf."What a strange little flower you are."Sora tilted his head. "Uh, actually, I'm not a—""And look at those petals!" The flower ruffled Sora's hair, shaking its head with a tiny little frown. "Or are you perhaps a thistle? What an absolutely dreadful thought!"Squinting, Sora pushed the leaves away. "But I'm not a flower!" He shook his head, smoothing out his hair with his other hand. "Look, I was gonna ask… d'you know where I can find a cat? Or maybe the way outta here?""You mean a dandelion?" The flower paused. "Weeds aren't welcome here…" Its eyes widened, and it leaned even closer to him. "Are you a weed?"This wasn't working. Sora rapidly shook his head and took a step back. "No, no! I'm not even a plant! And I'm looking for, uh…" What was it that Maleficent said? Raising a hand to his chin, Sora took a moment to consider this. He was supposed to give his regards to… "A Cheshire Cat, that's it!""I'm afraid the only cats I know are dandelions, and if you're not a flower, then you must be a weed!" Puffing out its stem, the flower raised its leaves and began to shout, "Get out, you vile fiend!""Wait!" Sora stepped back, clutching onto his face tightly with both his hands. "I'm not gonna hurt you! Look, isn't there anything I can do to prove it? I was just asking for help…"The flower stopped moving and looked Sora in the eye. "Well…" it said, "Do you have an ether?""An ether?" Reaching into his pockets, Sora began to shuffle through the contents. He pulled out a few odd things—well, he had some munny, at least, and—oh, hey! A potion. More munny, a Hi-Potion, but no ether. Frowning, he looked up to the flower and raised his hands in defeat. "Sorry, but all I've got are some potions…""In that case," the plant said, leaning closer to him. "It's best if you…" Suddenly, it pushed Sora back. "Scoot! Go on, now, before the other flowers find out about this!""—Whoa!" Sora stumbled forward and narrowly kept his footing. He glanced back at the flower, which began to straighten itself and close its petals once more. With a frown, Sora turned away and continued forwards, heading down one of the other paths.This time he went to the right, passing more greenery, from bushes to more of those strange flowers—flowers he wouldn't mess with now. Occasionally he passed a tree stump or two and some more flowers and mushrooms, but no cat or exit appeared in sight. Instead, he found more trees, each with even stranger signs, such as "yonder" and "around".He caught glimpses of eyes beneath the shadows of the leaves. Each time they appeared, Sora would stop and stare, only for the eyes to blink and disappear. His shoulders sagged, and he kicked at the dirt. For a little while longer, he continued down the path, but soon he came across the same red flower from before. …Was he going in circles?His train of thought was interrupted, when a strange voice began to sing.'T'was brillig, and the slithy toves, did gyre and gimble in the wabe…'"Hey!" Sora whirled around. "Who's there?"'All the mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe…'Brillig? Mome raths? What was that supposed to mean? He scratched his head and tried to figure it out. No luck."What're you talking about?"A pair of bright eyes and an enormous grin appeared between the tree branches. Sora jumped back and pulled out his sword. In response, the creature started laughing. It didn't make any sudden moves; all it did was stare and smile. Lowering his sword, Sora stepped up to the tree."Who're you?""Who indeed." Strange, purple rings appeared all around it. Pointed ears formed just above its eyes, while a light muzzle and nose appeared around the toothy grin. When paws and a tail appeared, the creature's form became all too clear. This thing was a talking, purple cat! "Now, you were looking for something?"Sora gasped, pointing up at the tree. "You… you're the Cat!" Had he been watching the whole time, maybe? Or maybe he was hiding…The cat lifted a paw and waved his finger. "A Cheshire Cat.""So it is you!""Is it?""Well, you just said—""Mm, one moment." The cat stood up, reaching for its head, and then it pulled it right off of its body! Then it stood right on top of it and continued to speak. "Poor Alice… About to lose her head, and her hero isn't in sight."Sora's pointed at the cat's head and then at his body. "How did you"— he stopped at the mention of Alice and immediately frowned, narrowing his eyes. "Hey, I'm here! I just didn't want to cause any trouble, so I thought I'd…""Wait?" The cat's feet grasped onto his head, and he flipped over. Now he stood on his hands, while his head and tail switched places. "Oh, but if you wait, it may already be too late… But then, you aren't really here to save her, are you?""Course I am!" Sora jerked forward, and he puffed out his chest. "Maleficent told me all about the Queen, so I'm gonna go rescue her!""Maleficent?" Yet again the cat laughed, returning to his resting position. "Mm, so you're staying close to the shadows… I'd be careful, then. You wouldn't want to get lost.""What're you talking about?""Oh," said the cat, "I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise. You see…" The cat's body slowly began to fade. "The Cheshire Cat has all the answers, but doesn't always tell. Search the shadows to your heart's content …" – now even the rings began to fade—"Or perhaps let the shadows search for your heart." Only the grin remained, as the Cheshire Cat sang, "And the mome raths outgrabe…"With that, the cat vanished completely, leaving Sora alone in the middle of the woods. At first he remained still, gazing up at the tree where the cat once stood. What did he mean by 'shadows'? Sure, Maleficent was a bit on the eerie side, but she'd been nothing but kind to him so far. It didn't make sense!Sora brought a hand to his chin, and he tried to sort through the Cat's diddle. Before long, he lowered his hand and shook his head, heaving a soft sigh. Maybe the cat was just messing with him. Trying to set him off! Those riddles probably didn't mean a thing, and besides, he still needed to rescue Alice. Worrying about creepy wordplay wouldn't get him anywhere.With that in mind, Sora took another look around. That red flower, the tree… all signs pointed to where he started. He'd have to work his way back through this topsy turvy forest, but maybe it wouldn't be so bad. If he kept going straight and ignored the signs, he'd probably make it back to the courtyard in no time. Why, he'd get there in a jiffy, and then he'd rescue Alice and save the day!With his head held high and a smile on his face, Sora marched through the woods with newfound hope and determination. Soon, he'd be back with Riku and Kairi. Then nothing would tear them apart!TO BE CONTINUED

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Chapter 8: Croquet and Confusion

Flames singed the bodies of the card soldiers as Riku, Donald, and Goofy fought their way through the masses. Spades swung their battle axes, while hearts charged forward with their razor-sharp spears. Riku found himself ducking and dodging almost constantly, and he barely had time to retaliate with Keyblade combos and fire magic.

Goofy's shield whirled through the air, knocking down several cards like bowling pins. He leaped on top of them and spun around, sending them flying into the air. Then, bolts of lightning struck down from the sky, making the cards twitch and jerk as they fell to the ground.

As Riku ran towards the Queen, he ducked below a spade's axe and leaped over a charging heart. When too many cards drew close, he blasted them with his magic and knocked them away. Then, when he reached the podium, he leaped into the air and slammed his weapon against the Queen's back. She let out a blood curdling scream and fell forward, kicking her legs in the air. The heart cards panicked.

Meanwhile, Alice frowned, turning her attention to the King. "How positively dreadful!"

"Goodness, yes! Oh, there must be a proper way to resolve this…"

The battle waged on for a few more minutes, as lightning flashed and the sound of metal clashing echoed through the courtyard. Then, redder than before, the Queen of Hearts finally regained her footing, grinding her teeth and clenching both her fists tight. She took a deep breath, lifting her staff when the King placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Now, dear," he said, "perhaps we could resolve this in a nonviolent way, hm? Those boys don't seem to be giving up, and the cards can only take so much…"

"Hmm." The Queen moaned, and she slowly lowered her staff. "Very well." She took a deep breath and turned towards the rabbit, pointing her staff at his instrument. The rabbit quickly nodded and lifted his horn.

The trumpet signal immediately stopped the cards in their tracks. Riku, Donald, and Goofy lowered their weapons and turned toward the podium. With a faint smile, the rabbit lowered his horn before taking another deep breath.

"Attention!" he said. "The Queen of Hearts"— he paused, looking back at the King—"and the King have a decree."

Groaning, Riku lowered his hand, as the Keyblade vanished in a flash of light. He took a few steps forward and looked up at the Queen. "A decree, huh?"

Looking down at Riku and the rest, the Queen propped up her head with her free hand. "Yes… We have a change of plans!" She paused briefly, glancing over to the King before adding, "Now, do you play croquet?"

"Croquet?"

Riku stared at the Queen. After all that fighting, she wanted to play a game? If that's how it was going to end, then why not do it from the start? Croquet wasn't even an exciting game, either. Straightening his back, Riku lowered his hands and turned to Donald and Goofy, who both stared at one another. All the while, the Queen tapped her fingers on the podium, letting out a sigh.

"She can't be serious," Riku said. "Come on…"

"It's no use." Donald shook his head. "The longer we stay here, the longer it'll take to find the King! We can't afford to stick around."

"Gawrsh…"

With a smile on his face, Goofy stepped up to the podium. He tucked away his shield and then pointed at the Queen, chuckling a bit. "I love croquet! Why, I remember tryin' to play it with my boy Maxie!" He paused, scratching his head. "Course, he sure didn't seem happy about it."

Riku's jaw ropped. "You have a son?"

"Sure do!"

Donald groaned, tapping his foot. "Ahem…"

The Queen didn't give them a chance to back down. She raised her staff into the air and said, "Then let the game begin!" Looking down to Alice, she added, "And as for you… Cards! Return this girl to her cage."

Without a word, the cards straightened, rushing into a single file line. Putting their weapons aside, they marched towards Alice, who stepped back on the platform, holding her arms out in front of her. It was no use; the cards surrounded the platform and pulled her down to the ground. Then, they dragged her over to a golden cage, shoving her inside.

With Alice locked away, the cards returned to their single-file line, while the Queen grinned. She slid down from the podium, just barely landing on her own two feet. The King followed suit, leaping down next to his wife after a moment's hesitation.

The Queen of Hearts turned to the others and raised a hand into the air. "Now, proceed this way, and then we'll get started. That's not a request!"

Nodding, the King began to wave his arms about. "Yes, to your places." He rushed on over to the cards, then to the rabbit, "By order of the King, hurry now!"

The cards moved first, marching towards the archway on the opposite end of the courtyard. They turned the corner without another world, while the rabbit held out his horn and blew with all his might. Several brightly colored birds trotted out from behind the podium, chuckling and squawking as they stumbled around. A case appeared in a puff of smoke, and the rabbit scuttled around, shoving each of the birds into the case. Once he collected them all, he followed the cards out of the courtyard and around the corner, pushing the case along.

Looking towards the trio, the Queen pointed at the archway. "That includes you three!"

Riku rolled his eyes, and he looked over to Donald and Goofy with a small frown. "Well," he said, "looks like we've got no choice. C'mon." Already he began to head for the archway, and he only stopped long enough to give Goofy a deadpan stare. "Thanks a lot."

"You're welcome!"

Shaking his head, Donald stomped right behind Riku and Goofy, muttering and groaning under his breath. Most of what he said was inaudible, but a few words, such as "palooka" and "croquet" caused Goofy to chuckle a bit. As they left the courtyard, the Queen bounded right along, passing each of them with the King at her side. Unlike earlier, the redness in her face vanished completely, and instead she smiled as she skipped.

The King and queen led the trio through the winding hedge maze. It seemed to go on forever; no matter where they turned, they encountered more and more hedges and dripping rose bushes. Riku sighed as he followed along. Croquet was not his idea of fun, and the fact that Goofy dragged them into this didn't help. He'd be glad when this was over, so they could either move onto the next world or try and find other places to explore.

Eventually, they reached a wide, open field. There, the rabbit let go of the case and blew his horn like crazy. Each of the cards spread far apart, hopping into the air and landing on both their hands and feet. They bent their bodies to form little arches, and the birds started to chirp and trill, bobbing their heads all around.

Riku, Donald, and Goofy each watched this display, while the King once again scurried about, shouting instructions to any stragglers. Once the cards were in their places, the Queen made her way towards the birds. Pulling up her sleeves, she scooped up a bright red bird. After swinging it a few times, she reached for its neck and gave it a tug; the bird giggled, and its neck straightened.

Watching the Queen, Goofy stepped up to the container, eying the many colored birds. They game in pinks, yellows, blues, and even greens. Rather than taking just one, Goofy reached for two, the green and the blue.

Both birds fluttered their wings as he lifted them out. The blue one leaned towards the case and kicked its feet. Tilting his head, Goofy released it and held up the green one right above his head. He squinted, placing a hand on its neck. With a soft 'gawrsh' he yanked it straight. Then he stepped over to the Queen and waited.

"Looks like we're up," said Riku, scooping up the yellow bird. Its first response was to stick out its tongue and flapped its wings in his face, but Riku just groaned and clamped its beak shut. He pulled its neck straight, and then he joined the others.

This left Donald, who stood still for a moment, arms crossed and a scowl on his face. Regardless of this oddity, though, he eventually sighed, yanking the pink bird out of the case, only to find it kicking and laughing nonstop. Though he tried to pull its neck, the bird only continued to laugh, squirming and running in place.

The Queen of Hearts glared at the stubborn bird. "Silence!"

Even then, it kept on spouting noise until Donald, much like Riku, slammed its beak shut.

With the mallets all set up, the rabbit wandered over to the group, carrying a purple pillow. Four small balls sat on the pillow, each one matching the color of the mallets. Oddly, these balls were covered with fur and quills. Once the rabbit placed them in the ground, it became clear that these weren't just any balls. They were a bunch of sleepy hedgehogs. Didn't this count as animal abuse?

With her mallet in hand, the queen skipped up to her ball, a little, red hedgehog. Its eyes widened, and it ducked as the Queen slowly lowered the bird's head close to its rear. She shut her eyes and swung the bird by its legs, but she completely missed the mark. She did this once again, but it was still no use. Her aim was awful; there was no way she'd win.

Unfortunately, the King scurried over to the ball and pushed it along. Gasping, the hedgehog curled up and shot forward, rolling rapidly towards the cards. As it flew on by, the cards hopped right on top of it, ensuring that she didn't miss a single goal. Several spades in the background cheered. Then, when the ball passed through its final target, it uncurled and plopped down on its chest.

Needless to say, the Queen of Hearts beamed at the praise from the cards—and the King. She lifted one hand into the air, waving at her spectators before blowing them a kiss. Even Goofy joined in the praise, at least until Donald yanked him down to eye level and shook his head. In response, Goofy muttered a soft 'oops' and lowered his hands. Riku, too, shook his head at this sight, pointing at the nearby cards.

"I don't know about you, but I'm starting to get sick of this queen," he said. "I bet she couldn't hit that ball even with her eyes open."

Goofy frowned, taking his bird and stepping forward. "Careful, Riku. Ya wouldn't want to make her mad again! She's almost as bad as Donald on a bad day, a-hyuck!"

Groaning, Donald rolled his eyes. "Come on, Goofy. You're up!"

"I know!" Goofy continued walking until he reached his ball. He looked back to Donald and Riku and over to the Queen with a smile. "Here, lemme show ya how it's done!" Pulling his shoulders back, Goofy held up the bird, adding, "Ya gotta be loose, relax!" Taking a deep breath, he moved both his feet apart. "With your feet apart, and… Ten o' clock"—he began to move his bird into all sorts of directions as he spoke—"Two o' clock, quarter to three! Tour Jete—"

The Queen let out a groan, and her face reddened. "Will you get on with it?"

"Oops!" For a moment, Goofy paused, holding his bird above his head. "Sorry, ma'am!"

With a sheepish smile, Goofy held tightly onto the bird's legs and swung it straight for the ball. His aim was nearly spot on, but there was just one problem; right as the bird neared its target, it bent its neck up and out of the way. Briefly, Goofy stopped and scratched his head, but he didn't give up just yet. Instead, he gave the bird another swung.

But the bird still didn't cooperate. Tilting his head, Goofy brought his mallet to eye level.

"Gawrsh," he said, "can't ya work? Pretty please with a cherry on top?"

But the bird's only response was more laughter. At this point the Queen stormed towards Goofy, placing both of her hands on her hips. She glared down at him, watching as Goofy frowned and pointed at the laughing bird. The Queen yanked the bird out of his hands and sneered.

"You, sir," she said, "forfeit your turn!"

The King trotted over to Goofy, giving him a gentle nudge. "Go on now, go on. By order of the King!"

With a soft moan, Goofy slowly made his way back to the others. He looked down at the ground, frowning as he stepped up to Riku and Donald. Both of them shot nasty glares at the Queen. Even if Goofy was kind of an idiot, how could a cheater like the Queen boss him around? Riku groaned and took a step forward, but Donald slid up in front of him, holding out an arm to the side.

"I'll go," he said. "She can cheat all she wants, but there's no way I'll let her treat Goofy like this!"

Shrugging, Riku stepped back, allowing Donald his turn.

Donald stomped on up to his ball, dragging the bird at his side. Before even lifting it, he gave the bird's neck a second tug to make it extra straight. From there, he wrapped his fingers around the two legs and pulled the bird up and over his head. Brow furrowed, he hopped up into the air, bringing the bird straight down at the ball—except, like Goofy's, it bent its neck away from its target. Its wings fluttered about, and instead of just missing the ball, it began to float in mid air, dragging Donald along with it. It dragged Donald's rear right along the grass until he held out both his feet to land and yanked the bird down.

Oh, but it didn't end there. Donald clutched tightly onto the bird's neck and shook it violently, muttering and squawking furiously. In return, the bird kicked about, and its tiny wings still fluttered as Donald shook and shook the creature left and right. After a few more shakes, he yanked its neck again and thrust it forward, but the ball hopped to the side when the beak neared its back. This prompted Donald to go off on an insane rant, until the Queen interrupted him.

"Enough! You forfeit your turn, just like that blithering imbecile before you!"

Without another word, Donald pulled his bird up close, looked it in the eye, and then threw it at the case. After that, he stomped back over to Riku and Goofy with his hands clenched tightly into fists.

"That little…" His face turned beet read, and he pointed at the remaining ball. "Your turn, Riku. Let's get this over with."

Smirking, Riku tossed his bird aside. "Don't worry," he said. "I've got an idea."

With the bird out of the way, Riku held out his hand and summoned the Keyblade. Donald and Goofy both gasped, but soon the two of them grinned right at him; they must've caught on. After all, if the Queen could cheat, why couldn't he? Lowering the Keyblade to his side, Riku stepped up to his ball. He smirked at the Queen, who gnashed her teeth. Then, he slammed his weapon against the ball, sending it flying toward the goals.

But things didn't go as planned. As the ball neared its first goal, the card immediately flattened itself on the ground, making the ball roll right over it. Other cards hopped out of its path or slid to the side. Soon the ball missed one goal, then two, and then three! The fourth card flattened itself much like the first, but when the ball neared the fifth it didn't roll past it or over it; no, this ball actually made it through the goal! The ball bumped into a rosebush, and then the little hedgehog held up its paws and giggled. Dismissing the Keyblade again, Riku approached the Queen and crossed his arms.

But the Queen showed no sign of amusement. No, she glared and pointed at Riku before turning to the last card, the very card that allowed the ball to pass through. Rather than yelling just yet, she stomped right on up to that card, grabbed it by the arm, and pulled it up real close. The card winced, slowly bringing both of its hands together and twiddling its thumbs as the Queen locked eyes with it. Then, she threw the card back to the ground and pointed at the spades.

"Off with his head!"

The King darted around, shouting orders at the card soldiers. "Off with his head, off with his head!" He reached out with his fan and began waving it around. "By order of the King, you heard what she said!"

Two spades emerged from the group, marching side-by-side. One spade grabbed the guilty card's left arm, while the other grabbed the right. The two spades silently dragged it along; as they left the field, the card gazed back at its comrades with tears running down its cheeks. The other cards, however, didn't display a single sign of sympathy.

With that out of the way, the Queen stomped on up to Riku, puffing out her chest and leering down at him. Even then, he continued to smirk, leaning right in her face. He kind of expected this.

She took a deep breath and said, "What did you think you were doing? That is not how you play croquet!"

"So?" Riku shook his head, taking a step to the side. "I figured I'd beat you at your own game… cheating. Might as well level the playing field somehow."

Goofy stepped forward, frowning. "Riku's right! Those mallets weren't even cooperatin'! How're we supposed to play when we can't even hit the balls?"

"And who ever heard of playing croquet with birds?" Donald leaned forward with a scowl, tapping a webbed foot. "This whole thing's cheap!"

The Queen opened and closed her fists, glancing from Riku, to Goofy, and then to Donald with a grimace. "You…all of you! How dare you question me?"

Riku laughed, leaning forward with both hands held out. "Hey, you said it yourself. All ways are your way… I'd say that includes cheating."

"Why…!" The Queen tensed up again, raising a finger to her neck and dragging it across. "I've had enough! Off with their heads, all of—"

Suddenly, a voice began to sing, "He took his vorpal sword in hand: Long time the manxome foe he sought…"

Two bright, yellow eyes appeared on top of the Queen's crown, followed by an enormous grin. "So rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood awhile in thought." Several purple rings appeared, followed by the plump, furry body of a cat.

The Cheshire cat gazed down at the Queen and laughed, watching as she shrieked, flailing her arms about in an attempt to remove him from her head. Still, he stayed put, shifting his gaze to Riku, Donald and Goofy. Then, he said…

"She's gone, you know."

Goofy placed a hand to his chin, staring at the cat. "Who's gone?"

The Cat shook his head, moving to lie down atop the Queen's crown. "Why, Alice," he said, raising a paw in the air. "In other words… the 'culprit'!"

All at once, the Queen stopped in her tracks and let out a scream. "What?"

"Who? Where? Why?" He lowered his paw and shook his head. "Or perhaps how? Whatever answers you seek, look to the shadows. That's certainly what he did."

Riku gasped, and his eyes widened. "He?"

With a flick of his tail, the cat said, "You might know him. Short, careless, and far too nice for his own good! He could stand to be a bit more… mad."

Short, careless, too nice for his own good… That description fit Sora to a T. Did that mean he was here, too? But if that was the case, why would he even—

Riku took off running without as much as a warning. He couldn't afford to stay here if his best friend was around. From behind, he heard Donald's obnoxious squawking and overheard the Queen shouting orders, but he didn't look back. There just wasn't time. He had to catch up somehow.

He rushed through the maze at a brisk pace, not even bothering to check his surroundings. While he occasionally ran into a few dead ends, it didn't take him very long to return to the courtyard. That's when he stopped and fell to his knees.

An empty cage lay on its side. The lock sat a few feet away. There was no sign of Alice anywhere… or Sora.

All of the sudden, it felt like he had a ton of bricks on his shoulders. What if the cat was right?

What if Sora did kidnap her?

TO BE CONTINUED

 

 

Chapter 9: Teamwork and Trickery

"Oh, goodness! Could you please slow down?"

Sora ducked beneath the doors of the bizarre room, chewing on a cookie as he rushed into the hall. This time, however, he wasn't alone. As he hurried towards the entrance, he held tightly onto Alice's hand. He'd managed to rescue her while the Queen and her soldiers were off somewhere else, but he couldn't afford to sit still at a time like this! For all he knew, she could be following right behind them. There was no way he'd risk Alice's safety for convenience.

Looking back at Alice, though, he said between chews, "Uh, s'rry! But we've godda— " he paused briefly, swallowing, "We've gotta get outta here! It'll be okay, though! You'll see."

"But what are we running from?" Alice frowned. "Why, that old queen is busy playing croquet with that other boy!"

Sora stopped in his tracks, looking back at Alice with a puzzled expression. "Other boy? What d'you mean?"

"Well," said Alice, placing her pinky to her chin, "a strange boy and his companions tried to stop the trial, but that Queen… oh, it was dreadful! She sent her cards to behead them, but they were far too strong. It was almost like magic!"

Frowning, Sora picked up the pace again, while Alice followed beside him. "But what did he look like?"

Alice raised a brow, tilting her head up in thought. "Well, he had the most peculiar hair… silver, and very long for a boy! Why, he—"

They reached the end of the hall when several green flames emerged from the floor, burning higher and higher with a fierce crackle. Maleficent emerged from the flames with a faint smile on her face. In one hand she held her staff, and she beckoned for Sora and Alice to come closer.

Sora remained perfectly still at first. Silver hair… long silver hair! It had to be Riku, there was no doubt about it. But, wait, did that mean he just missed him? First Kairi, and now this! What was he gonna do? It took a soft tap on the shoulder from Alice to bring him back to reality.

"Here she is." Stepping forward, Sora let go of Alice's hand and smiled. "I rescued her, see? And get this, Maleficent… she says she saw someone with silver hair!" Grinning a little, he closed one hand into a fist and raised it up into the air. "That means that Riku might be here!"

"Riku?" Alice looked to Sora, tilting her head again. "Is he a friend of yours?" Pausing, she looked back to Maleficent and slowly curtsied. "Hello, miss… Maleficent?"

Stepping forward, Maleficent placed a hand on Alice's shoulder and said, "Hello, child." She turned to Sora, adding, "So she encountered one of your dear friends. Oh, what a shame, then, that we have to leave so soon. "

"Leave?" Sora frowned, looking down at the floor. "But if it is Riku, then maybe I can find him, and he can come with us! Then we can find—"

Shaking her head, Maleficent raised her staff into the air. "There's simply no time. If we stay much longer, then the Queen will doubtlessly send reinforcements of the darkest variety. I'm sure you're familiar with the creatures that attacked your home."

Sora gasped, peering up at Maleficent. "You mean those monsters? I… I guess," – he drooped a little—"we can go. But how will I know when he'll turn up next? If that's really him, I mean."

"Worry not," she said. "As a reward for your heroism, I will ensure that you are reunited with your friends in due time."

Alice folded her hands together and frowned. "But where are we going?"

"To a wondrous place," Maleficent said, tapping her staff against the floor. "You shall see very soon, my dear."

Flames burst up from the floor once again, crackling and smoking as they encircled Sora, Alice, and Maleficent. Alice gasped as the fire wrapped itself around her ankles. Sora closed his eyes and frowned while the flames crawled up his legs. Maleficent, on the other hand, continued to smile when the flames swallowed her entire form from the bottom of her cloak to the tip of her horns. Before long the flames covered their entire bodies, slowly beginning to fade as they left the strange and unusual Wonderland to return to Maleficent's stronghold.

x.x.x

Alice was nowhere in sight. The only evidence of her escape was the busted cage and the lock beside it. With no witnesses besides the Cat, Riku, Donald, and Goofy quickly returned to the Bizarre Room. It didn't take long to get there, but when they did, they still didn't find any leads. The whole place was completely deserted; no Heartless attacked, and that Doorknob was still fast asleep.

With a groan, Riku climbed onto a chair and crossed his arms. Donald and Goofy followed close behind. Together, they skimmed the room for any unusual signs. Unfortunately, they still didn't find anything. Sure, Alice and the boy could be hiding somewhere, but was it really worth the effort to skim every nook and cranny? They probably left already, and it'd be hard to catch up at this rate.

Riku looked up at the table when a familiar voice started singing again.

"And, as in uffish thought he stood, the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame…" In the midst of his song, the Cheshire Cat appeared, resting his face in his paws. "Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!"

Donald sneered at the Cat's singing. "Whaddaya talking about this time?

"Oh, nothing," said the cat, "and everything. That's for you to decide. Either way, I suggest you climb up here, that is, if you wish to enjoy the view."

"What's there to view?" Riku rolled his eyes. "So far, there's been no sign of Alice or anyone else, not even the 'shadows'."

The Cat laughed. "Didn't you know? Shadows just love the light. The brighter the light, the stronger the shadow… Allow me to demonstrate." With a snap of his fingers, the Cheshire Cat summoned a small flame in the palm of his hand, holding it still for a moment. "Now is the time to jump, you know."

Riku rolled his eyes. "So you can make fire, so what? I still don't see any shadows."

"Mmm, not yet, anyway." Lifting his hand, the Cheshire Cat tossed the small flame up at one of the lights on the ceiling. The light flashed, and an enormous shadow appeared on the ground.

The shadow peeled away from the floor, stretching into a tall, lanky shape. It juggled two purple batons with its papery arms, and its hook-like feet scraped the ground as it trudged towards the table. Its head was made up of several faces stacked on top of each other, and its whole body had a black and red motif. It moved slowly and steadily, bobbing up and down with each step. Whatever this thing was, it sure didn't look stable.

At the sight of the Heartless, Riku instantly jumped back, followed by Donald and Goofy. They drew their weapons and turned their attention to the Cheshire cat, who continued to laze about.

"I hope you've prepared for the worst," he said. "If not? Too bad!"

"Why, you…!" Donald pointed his staff at the Cat. "You tricked us, didn't you?"

"Tricked?" The Cat shook his head, repositioning himself so that he stood on his hind legs. "Perhaps, perhaps not, but you know…" he pointed down to Riku, "you might be needing this."

The Heartless continued to approach. It lumbered slowly but persistently, forcing Riku, Donald, and Goofy to move further back. Oddly, it turned away from the trio and stomped over to the stove, juggling with each step. All the while, the Cheshire Cat slid over to the table's edge and leaned down, pointing his paw at Riku. A faint blue light spread from the cat's claw and to Riku's Keyblade, while a cold chill swept around him. Small snowflakes fell from the tip and onto the floor, melting instantly. Both Donald and Goofy leaned over the Keyblade, and Goofy chuckled.

"Gawrsh," he said, "new magic! Guess that feller ain't so bad after all."

Nodding, Donald turned to the Heartless and raised his staff. "Looks like it'll come in handy, too. See for yourselves!"

Flames from the stove ignited the batons, and the Heartless headed back towards the table. Raising its arms, it hurled several fireballs at the trio, forcing them to scurry out of its path. The constant barrage of flames kept them on their toes, forcing them to hide beneath the chairs and within the fireplace to avoid being torched. Ducking below the table, Donald hurled frozen crystals at the baton. As the ice clusters collided with their target, the flames died down.

One of them burned brightly. Though Riku tried to douse its flames with blizzard magic, only fire emerged from the Keyblade's tip. He tried again and again, but each time he flung flames at the Heartless. Then, when it came close enough, it swung its burning baton right at him; he just barely managed to deflect the blow, leaping back to gain some distance.

Why wouldn't the magic work? It'd been a cinch to unleash his fire magic from the get-go. How could blizzard spells be any different? There had to be a trick to it. Some way to toggle spells the way that Donald did so effortlessly. Off to the side, he caught Donald firing more frozen blasts up at the Heartless' chest. Goofy followed it up by hurling his shield at its legs; it bounced off. Groaning, Riku rushed back into the fray.

As he dashed towards the Heartless, he dragged the Keyblade's tip against the floor. Then, when he came close enough, he leaped into the air, driving his weapon against the bottom of its torso. It just barely collided, making the Heartless bob back and forth, flailing its paper thin arms. Then, it bent down and struck Riku's back, sending him flying towards a wall. He managed to land on his feet, crouching before he slipped out of the path of its dangerous flame attacks.

He tried to strike its body again, but the Heartless stomped out of the way; it stood way too tall to get a clear shot. While he tried to nail its loop-shaped legs, striking the knees did absolutely nothing. The Heartless swiped its batons once more, and Riku hopped out of the way. If he was going to nail this thing, he'd need to get up higher or drag it down to his level.

CLANG! The force of Goofy's shield sent the Heartless down on its knees, and it sat motionless for a few short moments. In that time, he and Donald lashed out at its torso with magic and fierce combos. It was wide open, ready for attacks… No way he'd miss his chance. When Riku neared the helpless Heartless he spun around, driving the Keyblade right into its chest. Then, he shoved it forward. The Heartless fell backwards, but then it sprung back to its feet and slammed both its weapons into the ground.

A blazing shockwave knocked Riku flat against one of the chairs. Flames danced around his shirt, and he had no choice but to stop, drop, and roll. He took a deep breath and got back on his feet, watching the Heartless trudge closer and closer. Up above, he heard someone whistle.

"Hey, Riku!"

Riku looked up, eying Donald, who motioned him over with the wave of his hand. He stood on top of the table and fired away with his icy spells.

"Up here, hurry!"

Nodding, Riku made a made a mad dash for the table. When he reached the top, he stood by Donald's side and watched the Heartless carefully. Taking a quick glance at his Keyblade, he tried to fire a blizzard spell again; just like before, he shot flames. It still didn't make sense! If he could just get the spell down…

Donald tapped him on the shoulder. "Riku, focus!" He pointed his staff at the Heartless and blasted it with another spell. The ice crystals wrapped around the Heartless' torso, freezing it for a split second. "Blizzard magic's a lot tougher to use. You've gotta really picture the ice freezing your enemies."

"You make it sound so easy." Focus… Riku closed his eyes and took a deep breath. So he'd have to picture the spell overtaking the Heartless. It wasn't a matter of flinging his weapon around. In the back of his mind, he pictured ice crystals overwhelming his enemy, stopping it dead in his tracks.

"Now's your chance!"

The Heartless raised both its batons, ready to pound them into the table. That's when Riku rushed over to the edge and slammed the Keyblade against its chest. A white glow at the tip spread all around its body, coiling around its shoulders and reaching for its arms. Large chunks of ice formed in place of the glow, freezing the Heartless in place. Then, he sent it toppling backwards with a powerful swing.

Goofy hurried over, as the Heartless fell to its knees once more. Riku and Donald soon joined him on the floor. Together, they furiously struck, hammered, slashed, and bashed the Heartless with all their might. Donald clobbered its face with his staff, while Goofy slid behind it and delivered a spinning blow. Eventually, the ice broke, and the Heartless got back on its feet. Luckily, its movements slowed tremendously; it was probably running out of steam.

Slowly and steadily, the Heartless approached the stove, lighting its batons ablaze. Donald reached over to Riku's arm, dragging him down to eye level. He pointed his staff at the Heartless.

"Let's get 'em! If we both use our magic, that oughta finish it off."

Riku nodded. It was worth a shot. Even if he couldn't stand Donald, he was a powerful magician. If the two combined their power, they'd probably turn it into a giant icicle. Smirking, Riku readied his weapon, focusing hard on his magic once more. The Heartless turned away from the stove and headed their way. That's when they both unleashed a whirlwind of ice and snow that flew forward and engulfed the Heartless from head to toe.

Its body froze completely. Icicles crept down its limbs, while frost coated its many faces. The Heartless stiffly wobbled back and forth, and then it fell forward, shattering into a million pieces as it hit the ground. Each of its remaining pieces melted away into a black, bubbling ooze. A glowing heart flew through the air and vanished. Finally, they'd trashed the Trickmaster.

"We did it!" Goofy hopped up and down with an enormous smile on his face. "Y'know, we really make a great team once we start workin' together like this!"

Donald nodded, stepping closer to the table. "I hate to admit it," he said, "but you're right." Stopping for a moment, he looked back at Riku with a small smile on his beak. "Not bad for a first time! If you keep at it, you'll be usin' Blizzaga in no time! But…" His smile waned, and his expression shifted into a sneer. "You better get your act together, Riku. We could've gotten in big trouble, you know!"

Riku groaned, joining Donald by the table. "But we didn't." He climbed up onto the chair, then to the tabletop. "Anyway, looks like Alice is gone, Cat. Now what do you—"

He looked around, but the Cat was nowhere to be found. Not even his toothy grin appeared, and he sure wasn't singing Jabberwocky any more. Frowning, Riku stepped over to the 'Drink Me' bottle and surveyed the area. Donald and Goofy joined him. No matter where they looked, they found no sign of the Cheshire Cat. Once again, they were on their own.

"Gawrsh, looks like that Cat feller left. He didn't even say goodbye!"

"Somehow, I'm not surprised." Groaning, Riku turned to face the golden box next to the bottle. The cookies inside it said "Eat Me". So if drinking the bottle made them small, maybe a cookie would bring them back to their regular sizes. If that was the case… Riku leaned over the edge of the box and scooped up a cookie.

"Anyway, we might as well get going, and I think…" He stumbled a bit, dropping the cookie on the table's surface, "This cookie might just get us back to the right size."

Kneeling down, Goofy reached for the cookie and ripped off a small chunk. "I guess it's worth a try!" He slipped the chunk into his mouth, making a pleased noise as he chewed. "Gawrf, it tafstes greaff!"

As soon as he swallowed, Goofy rapidly started growing. He let out a loud yelp as he grew, stumbling down from the table and collapsing on the floor. There he kept growing until he finally reached his regular size. With a soft moan, he stood up, and his eyes whirled around in dizziness. Both Riku and Donald tore off their own cookie chunks and gobbled them down. Like Goofy, they returned to their original sizes in a heartbeat.

And it was then that the Doorknob spoke again.

"I'll say," he said, "can't you keep it down? I'm having a difficult time sleeping with all that racket out there."

The trio turned their attention to the Doorknob, which let out another yawn. His mouth opened wide, revealing a keyhole inside. Before he knew it, Riku felt himself being jerked towards the Keyhole as a bright, white light formed around the Keyblade's tip. Stars floated all around it, and a beam of flew right into the Doorknob's mouth. Following the sound of a soft click, the light began to fade, and the Keyhole vanished completely. Then, the Doorknob shut its mouth and drifted back into sleep.

Holding out the Keyblade, Riku said, "What was that about?" It didn't make sense. Sure, his weapon was a key and all, but what was that light, and why did that Keyhole just… disappear? Frowning, he looked over to Donald and Goofy, who both shrugged.

"Beats me," said Donald, stepping away from the door, "but I'm guessin' it's got something to do with what the King said. The Key to our Survival… maybe we can ask Leon the next time we see him. He'd know!"

"Yeah…" Riku began to walk towards the room's entrance, dismissing the Keyblade. He continued to frown as he neared the exit, but not because of the Doorknob. Not even close. Cracking the door open just a smidge, he said, "You know, I wonder who that boy was. The one they kept talking about. It wasn't just the cat… the Doorknob said something about him, too."

"Probably one of the bad guys." Goofy followed Riku to the door, and Donald trailed close behind him. "Sounds to me like he captured that poor Alice girl! And that Cat did say somethin' about them shadows…"

"Anyway, let's get goin'. We've still got a lot of worlds to see, and the King's counting on us!"

x.x.x

When Maleficent led Sora back into the chapel, he quickly discovered that they weren't alone. A big, round table sat at the center of the room, covered by a purple cloth. And that's not all! Several different people sat around it. They weren't like anything he'd ever seen before! As Sora crept closer to the table, he looked all around, gasping at the strange and especially cool people all around him.

First he spotted what looked like a pirate captain. He wore a huge, feathered hat on his head and a bright red coat. In fact, his whole outfit was a mix of reds and whites. The pirate wore one of those funny scarf things around his neck, and his black hair reached down to his shoulders. But what really caught Sora's eye was the razor sharp hook in place of his hand. This guy had to be the real deal!

A really skinny man stood right next to him. He wore a big, black turban on his head, a cape that reached down to his feet, and a black and red robe. Oh, and his shoes were curled at the toes. Compared to the pirate, he looked almost scary with his beady little eyes and twisted looking beard. He sneered as Sora approached, clutching his golden, cobra staff tightly in hand.

As he came closer, Sora spotted two very strange people. One of them looked like he was made out of a potato sack! His huge, round body was held up by two stubby little legs, and his arms looked pretty stubby, too. His eyes were empty holes, and his lips looked like they had stitching all over them. Next to him sat a plump woman with purple skin and short, white hair. She wore a shell around her neck and red lipstick, but what really stood out about her were the tentacles. It looked like she was part squid! Or maybe octopus.

Finally, next to the… sack stood one final addition to the group. He was a tall and pale man with flames for hair! His skin was kind of blue, and his eyes a bright yellow. For clothes, he wore a black toga with a single skull emblem by his right shoulder. He stood with his arms crossed as Sora and Maleficent finally reached the table.

"Whoa!" Sora gasped and grinned at the people all around him. "So these are your friends, Maleficent?"

"Friends?" The strange sack laughed, dropping both a pair dice on the table. "You think I'd be friends with these—"

The man in the turban quickly turned to the sack, stepping up to him with a sneer. "Silence," he said in a quiet whisper. "Surely you recall what Maleficent told us earlier." The bag groaned, while the man in the turban turned to face Sora, a twisted smile lining his face. "Yes, we are… friends of Maleficent, and you must be the boy. She spoke so fondly of you."

"Really?"

"Of course," said the purple woman, lacing her fingers together. "Why, it sounds like you're quite the hero, short stuff."

Sora laughed nervously, rubbing the back of his head. "Well, I dunno about that…"

Smiling, Maleficent stepped past Sora, stopping behind the others at the table. She raised a hand into the air, gesturing towards all the people around her.

"The beings you see are not unlike yourself. At one point or another, they were dignified heroes of their worlds, each with their own goals and ambitions…" She quickly looked back at the group, watching as some, like the fire-headed man gave her irritated looks. In return, the pressed a finger to her lips and returned her attention to Sora. "Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending, nor does every hero triumph over evil. Take this man—" – she motioned towards the pirate—"for example. Once a proud, pirate captain, he lost his hand thanks to the antics of a cruel child by the name of Peter Pan."

Gasping, Sora immediately turned to the pirate. "Is that really true?"

Instantly the pirate slammed his hand on the table. "Every last word! That blasted Pan didn't just take me hand, he feed it to a crocodile that's hunted me ever since!"

Sora frowned, looking down at the floor. "I'm sorry…"

Meanwhile, Maleficent continued. "As for this woman…" She pointed to the purple woman, who smiled in return. "At one point in time, she was the proud ruler of a land called Atlantica. However, she was banished by the cruel tyrant known as King Triton, who stole the crown."

"You've got that right!" Frowning, the woman pushed herself away from the table. "And why, you ask? Old Triton was afraid, when all I did was help those poor, unfortunate souls in the kingdom!"

"That's so not fair!" Looking up, Sora continued glared at no one in particular, and he crossed his arms with a huff. "You guys don't seem that bad! Maybe a little different, but you're so cool!" He stepped closer to the table, pointing to the pirate. "I never thought I'd actually see a pirate for real, and you…" Turning away from the pirate, he faced the man with the flaming hair. "Your hair's awesome! Is that real fire?"

Chuckling, the man said, "Well, what can I say? When you're hot, you're hot."

Stepping away from the table, Maleficent approached Sora with a smile. "Each of us share a common goal; we wish to create a miracle, one that will affect all worlds. To do this…" Pausing, she turned back to the table, as a dim, green light appeared on the center. The light revealed an image of Alice, and Sora quietly frowned. "We desperately need your help."

Sora peered up at Maleficent, bringing a hand to his chest. "But what about Riku and Kairi? You said that if I saved Alice—"

"Fear not, my dear child. We will gladly reunite you with your friends once we uncover their location." Maleficent shook her head, pointing at image on the table. "Consider this a mere request, a favor, if you will… And besides, in doing so, you will become an even greater hero than you are now."

For a moment, Sora remained silent, gazing down at the floor. This was all so weird. All these strangers wanted him to save the world? Real heroes that got the short end of the stick… were they really counting on him? What could he do that they couldn't?

On the other hand, he really enjoyed his adventures in Wonderland, even if it was kind of a bumpy ride. He got to see a new world, meet all kinds of new people, and he saved the life of a girl who could've lost her head thanks to that mean Queen. If helping these guys meant seeing even more worlds, it'd probably be a lot of fun. And if Alice saw Riku in Wonderland, maybe he'd bump into him, too! This really seemed like a win-win situation. He'd help out some heroes, explore new places, and be a hero. A real hero!

It took a moment, but he soon turned back to Maleficent with a huge grin.

"I'll do it."

TO BE CONTINUED



There is also a New Chapter for Fragmented Truths, featuring a Sora vs Zexion fight. ;) Thus concludes today's update bonanza.

 

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Got some new chapters for Fragmented Truths.

Chapter 38: At Wit's End
In this chapter, Riku uncovers a mysterious note that leads to a grueling battle against a familiar face.


Chapter 39: Breaking Point

Next, the Riku Replica grapples with Xemnas' orders while XIII delivers heartbreaking news. Meanwhile, Naminé and Axel have a heart to heart.

 

Chapter 40: Oblivion's Call

It's the beginning of the end as Riku and friends depart for the final battle.

 

Chapter 41: Powerless

Meanwhile, Sora faces off against Xemnas. But is he strong enough to succeed?

 

I don't have any more chapters from the first fic to post as forum text yet, but I'll try and format stuff soon. It's just really time consuming. In other news, I have revised the beginning to Fragmented Truth's first chapter to make it a bit more engaging. Enjoy!

Edited by Mega

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Fragmented Truths has been completed! Here are the last few chapters...

Chapter 44: Truth At Last
Chapter 45: Memories Unchained
Chapter 46: What Lies Ahead

And the next fic has been going strong.

The Year Bewtween

Summary: Trapped in a digital realm, Riku is oblivious to the perils outside. Kairi struggles to take his place, but in a universe overrun with darkness, she's all but alone. Sora has left to find an old friend, Riku Replica is on the run, and Xion is busy hunting. In the time it takes them to pick up the pieces, the Organization's dark plan nears fruition.

This fic centers on the main cast, exploring their struggles over the year between Act 2 and the next fic, Act 3. It's broken up into segments focusing on Kairi, Donald, and Goofy, Sora and Aqua, Riku Replica and Naminé, Xion, Riku, and XIII/Roxas and is planned to include worlds based on Monsters Inc., Pocahontas, Gargoyles, and a couple other surprises. Right now, I'm on the Monsters Inc. world.

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The Year Between is now complete!

Want to read the whole series in one convenient place? You can find it all here on Archive of Our Own! Starting with the next story, I will be posting the chapters here on the board for those who don't wanna go all the way to fanfiction.net.

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