My Brother's Keeper

Chapter 3

As Sora gazed out the window of the carriage, he had already explained to Leon about the slap-mark on his face. Leon gave his fair share of words in disappointment, ditching Leon in the Square and about how things could've been different if he'd had proper form.

Sora tuned him out after the first three words left his mouth. He let his mind wander off to the scene back in the Square. Due to his already given knowledge about combat and where to make effective injuries, he knows for a fact that Jesse didn't kill that man. Just enough to make a warning to the man. Let him know she's under his protection. Still, the blood and violence, it shocked Sora how he so easily underestimated it all. But it only made him more determined to learn how to properly fight. Also because he never really needed to fight.

Looking back, the more Sora analyzed the lessons and blocks and parries Leon taught him, the more he felt he was getting ripped off. Compared to how Jesse fought and how fluid yet deadly his moves seemed, it made Sora realize that form wasn't the main point of fighting, but how to strike down your opponent. If Sora had gone into a fight with the moves Leon taught him, he'd be down after his beginning words as Leon taught him to start every fight.

Sora sighed as they entered through the gates leading into the castle. Pulling his hood over his head, Sora readied himself. The carriage stops and Sora threw open the door for himself. He slams it shut behind him, the bang echoing through the courtyard.

"Hey!" Leon called. "What gives?"

Sora ignored him and marched up the brick steps into the castle without a word.

He made sure to avoid the doorway leading into the foyer where his mother usually spends her time reading novels and rushes up the steps, disappearing into his room.

Throwing his cloak to the floor, Sora walks into his bathroom, pours some water into the bowl poised in front of his mirror and wets a cloth. Placing it gingerly on his skin, he winces before the cool moisture tames the heat from the hand mark.

If his mother were to find out about this, she'd never let him into the marketplace again. And even if he were to manage to convince her, she'd send out the entire guard entourage along with him.

Sitting on the vanity stool, Sora runs through his head on what to do about Leon. He'd spent too many years with him to assume he's only ripping the family off of money. He wouldn't get fired, and simply not just on Sora's suspicions. The thought of having him replaced or at least set aside for another day of separate training, didn't seem too bad. But Sora had a feeling his parents would be less than willing in letting in a villager come into the castle without a proper background check. And with the battle in the marketplace bound to come up somehow, Sora knew Jesse would be exiled from the castle. Not to mention he'd have to consult with Jesse first to see if he even wanted to come to the castle. With the way he acted with Leon, and even when he met Sora, it's clear he has problems with authority.

Sora would have to sneak out from the castle, whether with or without his parents' consent. But to do that, resolved back to his mother not seeing the mark or else the idea with be shot straight to hell.

Looking back in the mirror, the washcloth was already proving its worth. The marks were diminishing, and redness fading. Hopefully it'll look like something of an accidental scratch before dinner.

Quickening his pace to hurry home, Roxas stays to the side of the dirt road as on-goers pass him by. His hood up, he peeks to the side and sees no sign of anyone following him. As he makes it to the fork in the road, he takes a sharp right and onto the familiar trail to the woods to his home.

Passing the familiar forest trails leading to the many of his many set snare traps, Roxas turns a cheek, more important things at hand.

Soon his home comes into view and she quickens his pace still until he walks up the stone steps. Barging through the door, Roxas flips off his hood as he continues up the steps in a bee-line for Xemnas' Study; of which he spends most of his time, leaving Saix basically in charge of everything. The only time he emerges from it, and even rarely then, is when he wants to spar with Roxas or teach him a new deadly move.

"Hey, Jesse!" Demyx calls from a bedroom, but Roxas ignores him.

As he continues down, he hears Saix call him this time. "Jesse! Get down here!"

Axel open another bedroom door, curious by the commotion, and sees Roxas waling with a determined destination. Leaning against the doorframe, he smirks as he sees Roxas pass him by.

"Jesse!" Saix yells to him.

But Roxas has already grasped the bras knob the thrust open the door, his pace not stopping until he reaches the wide desk of his study, Xemnas reading a novel, the back of his hand resting against his cheek, his hair is long, reaching to about mid-back, silver in color, and some of it falls over his shoulders. His orange eyes swaying across as he continues to read. It wasn't until Roxas came right up to the desk that his eyes flicked up to him.

"Ah, Jesse, please come in." he says in his usual calm voice. "Did you have an interesting day at the market?" he asks as he folds his book closes his book.

Roxas took off his bureau and tossed it aside onto an armchair. "In a way."

"Jesse!" Saix hisses from the doorway. "Get out of here." He speaks through grit teeth.

"But I just thought dad would want to hear of my interesting day at the marketplace." Roxas speaks with a rhetorical tone.

"No one cares." Saix hisses as he's about to grab Roxas' arm.

"Even about the part where I ran into Prince Sora?" Roxas shouts the last part so everyone's head turns to them in the study.

Looking back at Xemnas' shocked face, in a blink it goes back to its usual calm posture as he pushes himself up from the seat. Walking around, Saix moves back as if exiled back by an invisible force. Xemnas drapes an arm around Roxas' shoulder, smiling a mischievous grin.

"You ran into the Prince this afternoon? Please Jesse, tell me all about it." Xemnas leads Roxas out of the study, as they pass Saix, Roxas gives him a sly smile.

Xemnas gathered everyone at the dining table. No one said a word as Xemnas and Roxas entered the room. Xemnas took his spot at the head of the table, Roxas taking the seat to his right, Saix to the left. The other members gathered at the table, looks of nervousness on their faces. It was rare for Xemnas to come out of his secluded study unless it was to give retribution. Sometimes it was something different, but everyone always got on edge because it was usually punishment.

"The reason why I've gathered you all here is because Jesse, has some special news to tell us."

Everyone took their seats and looks of admiration and jealousy travel across the table as Roxas was sitting at the head of the table. A sly smile on his face, Xemnas stood behind him, gripping the back of the chair.

"It would seem that he had a run in with his majesty, Prince Sora." Gazes turn to Roxas, who holds his smile as he gazes at Axel and Demyx, giving them a reassuring yet indiscriminate nod of his head. "Now, Jesse, why don't you tell us about that experience?"

Roxas clears his throat. "Uh well, it was as Oliver's tent after he helped me settle a deal. He told me he wants to learn how to fight." Roxas paused long enough to insert air quotes, hooking his fingers like raptor claws. "Then he said something about how what they teach him in the castle is not real fighting, so since he paid for my things, he said I owe him. And I then agreed to teach him to fight."

"And what exactly will you gain by teaching that spoiled runt our moves?" Larxene says with an accusing tone.

"Well, my lonely witch-had," Roxas says, earning a few snickers among the teammates. "If I can gain enough of his trust, with his birthday coming up, he might invite me to the castle. No doubt there will be a celebration."

Xemnas chuckles as he places a hand on Roxas' shoulder. "You brilliant child!" he pulls Roxas close, caressing his cheek. "You have that same conniving mind that made me the leader of this organization."

"Yet he's never even attempted to kill the King." Xigbar murmurs.

"What?!" Xemnas snaps.

"I just don't understand why you don't just storm the castle and take the king out."

"Xigbar!" Saix shouts to him.

"Well for one, there are guards, everywhere." Zexion chimes in.

"Xemnas would be too easily recognizable." Axel adds.

"And one does not simply waltz into the castle, dumbass." Vexen says.

"Unless escorted, or welcome by the members of the royal family." Xemnas finishes. He turns to Roxas. "Well done, Jesse. I have taught you well."

"So what should I do with Sora? I assume you don't want him learning our moves." Roxas says.

"True, and while a few basics wouldn't hurt, you do whatever it takes for him to trust you." Xemnas breaks off from Roxas and starts to walk around the table. Each member growing rigid as Xemnas passes them by. "This is the perfect opportunity for you, my son, to infiltrate the castle and take down the King. And what better way than on his son's birthday."

"What would be a better way of revenge, Xemnas?" Roxas asks. "Killing the king, or his son?"

Looks turn to Roxas, suspicion and curiosity on their faces. "Elaborate, Jesse." Xemnas urges on.

"If you think about it, he's already lost one son." Roxas starts, trying to see if he imagined the sudden looks of nervousness. "If he lost another, wouldn't it possibly break him? Imagine, the King devastated by the loss of both sons, on their birthday. The family's all he's got. With the loss of one son, he's bound to be more protective of his other. But if he's gone, what else is there for him, or the Queen. Something's bound to snap."

Xemnas ponders on his suggestion, grasping his chin. "If, you think you can handle it, if you wish, you mays strike down both the King and the royal family."

A smile crawls across Roxas' face as he takes in Xemnas' words. "Thank you father. Thank you so much."

"So, when are you and the Prince meeting?" he asks as he makes his full circle around the table.

"Well, after a scruff in the marketplace, and the Prince winding up getting backhanded, He might stay clear of the marketplace, but there's a definite chance he'll sneak out."

Xemnas nods. "Very well. See to it that you get there by noon. Knowing his duties and responsibilities, he'll be done by then. You are to set up a meeting point in the woods, in secret. From there, you will teach him. But remember to remain elusive."

"Yes, father." Roxas obeys.

"Very good. Now all of you, get some sleep." Xemnas dismisses them.

"Well wait, Jesse." Demyx speaks up. "Isn't your birthday coming up soon?"

Roxas thinks little of it, but as he's close to the door, he notices the members shooting Demyx a glare. Demyx knows he did something wrong, yet he refuse to back down. He continues to stare at Roxas, some form of pleading in his eyes. So Roxas speaks on his behalf. "I can't think of a better present than finally ending his royal highness' reign."

Everyone's shoulders seem to relax. Roxas breaks their gaze as he leaves the room.

It makes Roxas curious to know what it is about his birthday that makes everyone so nervous. Through the years he's heard several whispers about the Prince's birthday as well. Yet Roxas never knew the official date of the Prince's, something about the two made the members more, cautious around him.

When he was younger, Roxas remembers how the members seemed to be as joyous as they could be on his birthdays, but now as he reaches the age of seventeen, they seem to be more nervous. He can't count on his fingers the number of suspicious looks he gets as he walks down the hall, trains and studies. He does his best to ignore them, his own nagging feeling of suspicion germinating in his gut.

As he reaches his room, he looks to see his burlap sack on his bed. He'd already given Vexen his wire and tubing, and with plenty of food leftover, Xaldin actually gave him a look of approval.

Roxas swipes the bag to the floor. He goes to his closet, throws open the double doors and shoves aside his few items of clothing to find his rack of weapons.

Several knives with different blades with different purposes, two bows he crafted with the help of Axel, two dozen arrows, a pair of axes and a lance. With the night overtaking the kingdom, he preps himself for the day ahead.

Sora's hand mark had swelled down as he bounds down the steps to dinner. Walking into dining room, the kitchen staff had just set down his father's favorite meal, his mother calmly sipping a cup of tea. Shaking off his nerves, Sora walks in and greets his parents.

"Hello mother, father." He says as he kisses his mother hello.

"Hello sweetheart." His mother greets.

"Son." his father speaks.

An uneasy feeling of nerves pooled into Sora's stomach as he took his seat and the maids set down his plate of food. Sora was just about to take his second bite of potatoes when his mother spoke up. "So how was your fight in the marketplace, honey?"

Sora choked on his bite and had to swallow several gulps of his drink before he could regain composure. "Uh, uh . . . well . . . I . . ." he stutters.

His mother and father looked to him, both with such distinct poker faces, he couldn't tell if his father was on his side or not. He realizes he was babbling, so he stopped and took a deep breath. With no more meaningless words pouring out of his mouth, he placed his hands in his lap.

"What did Leon tell you?" He asks.

"Squall." His mother corrects.

"He likes to be called Leon, sometimes." Sora counters.

"Sora," His father's voice chimed in. "what happened in the marketplace."

Sora exhales deeply and swallows thickly. "These men were harassing a woman, and no one was helping her." He brings his gaze to meet his father's. Hoping he'll catch the reason of his intentions, Sora hopes his eyes help in his plea. "I needed to step in. And then, it didn't go as, planned. So a new friend I made stepped in and took them down easily."

His nerves creep as his parents don't say anything, intending he needs to explain himself more.

"I realize it was wrong of me to start a fight, but I couldn't just stand by and do nothing." Sora goes on. "The things they were saying to her were just, grossly disgusting. I understand you're upset by me, and I do deserve a punishment, but please, this is just one time, it won't happen again. But this if, anything, proves that I need better training than just Squall. The way my, friend, took down that man, who was five times his size, it proved to me that the teaching I've been giving are useless when it comes to dealing with problems in the village."

His mother and father exchange a look between them and his mother tosses aside a set of letters in aggravation. A sense that she'd given up. Sora looks to his father who sets aside a glass of wine. "Look son, we understand, and we're proud of you for standing up for others. But part of being a warrior is knowing what fight is yours. Also, this has given us thought that, maybe the way we teach things here in the castle does counter with the things learned in the village."

Sora looks to his father, hope igniting in his chest.

"So, after your mature display, we've decided to allow you to go to through the village unsupervised. However there will be guards on patrol in the area."

Sora looks to his father who smiles, his mother, while she still looks hesitant, nods in agreement.

A smile comes across his lips as he catapults from his seat to his mother, swinging his arms around her neck and pulling her into a tight embrace. "Thank you." He says. "Thank you." Over and over he repeated it. "Thank you, mom. Dad. This is incredible!" he runs around to give his father a hug and his father pats his back. "So, um, there's something else also." Sora added as he takes is seat again. "My friend, offered to teach me, but we didn't get a chance to decide an official time and place."

"Would he consider coming to the castle?" His father asks.

"I don't know. I mean the way he and Squall talked, he doesn't seem to keen following to authority." Sora answers.

"Do you two have a day when you're starting?" His mother asks as she resumes reading her letters.

"Uh, I guess tomorrow. I mean the fact that we haven't made anything official gives him another reason to come back to talk to me." Sora says.

"Alright, I'd advise you to go around nine o'clock." His mother says. "Do you know where he lives?"

Sora pauses. "Um, no, but he said he's not allowed to have friend over. Strict parents."

His mother looks to him, Sora simply shrugs his shoulders. It was thankfully enough for his mom to go back to her reading. Sora could tell when his mom was doing one of her undercover evaluations of new friends Sora makes. He could feel her judging him already given he's from the village and managed to take down three to four men.

The thought briefly making Sora rethinking the whole thing, but once more, he lets it go.

After dinner, Sora retreated to his room as the workers cleaned off the table. As he approached his room, a maid comes out of the bathroom. "Sir, your bath is ready."

Sora nods and shuts his door behind him after giving her a smile. Soaking in the hot water, his bare knees tucked against his chest, Sora scrubs off the dirt and sweat from today, and even washes his hair. Wrapping himself in a towel, Sora walks out to find a night tunic laid out for him. Crawling between the sheets, the quilt spread out provides instant warmth.

Sora looks out his three paneled window. The bare skeletal remains of the trees tap the window, as if begging to be let in. A full moon peaked out from behind a turret, a luminescent halo surrounding it, casting away all demons of the night. The thought of him actually learning to fight, excites him.

Suddenly, he hears the hinges of his door as it opens. He hears the rustle of clothing and then the feeling of a hand pressing down on the corner of the mattress. A moment later and he felt his mother's lips brush his temple. The remnants of that morning spritz perfume invaded Sora's nostrils, an airy blend of apricots and field flowers in full bloom.

Even after Sora's mother left his room, the calmness she had brought with her remained, soothing Sora's nerves and robbing the pressing darkness of its powers.

In its place, sleep closed in to claim him.

A cool breeze rushes through the village refreshing everyone as the sun sits at high noon. A burlap sack filled with food and a canteen of spring water, and a leather bag filled with the weapons Roxas was going to let Sora use on their day of training.

He's stopped by Oliver's tent to tell him to inform Sora to follow the trail of twigs Roxas broke off from naked trees.

Roxas now sits on a tree stump, sharpening his knife. A steady stream flows down along an outcropping of rocks Roxas always perches on to hunt fish. This is one of his biggest sacrifices in getting the plan rolling. This clearing in the woods was one of the few places no one, not even the members of the organization knew about. Axel was the only one who he brought with, but still he rarely comes along, knowing when Roxas leaves to take this trail, it's to be alone.

With his hair covered by his beret, cloak hanging off a dogwood branch, Roxas kept checking the cut he'd received from a mission last night. Still slightly stinging from the breeze. The gauze has not yet bled through, but he packed extra just in case it gets worse during the training.

Will Sora even find his way? If he doesn't, then Roxas is left with the burden of tracking him down. Then again it shouldn't be that difficult to find an idiot stumbling around in the woods, cracking twigs and snapping branches.

Though it's a surprisingly short time before Sora appears. He pushes aside the branches of some foliage and steps into the clearing.

"Nice to see you can follow directions." Roxas mocks.

Sora shoots him a smirk glare as Sora removes his cloak and hangs it on the branch with Roxas. He was wearing a short-sleeve tunic and black pants with leather hunting boots. Compared to Roxas' where they pinch and blister his toe, his looked form-fitting but comfortable.

"This place is so cool." Sora complements.

"Thanks, it's one of the few places I get good game."

"Cool. So, how's it going?" Sora asks as he approaches Roxas.

Roxas looks to Sora, as if looking for the trap. "What's happening right now?" Roxas asks.

"I'm befriending you. Sort of." Sora answers. "I read a book last night. Some of it."

"Maybe if you'd read it to the end, it would've said we don't need to do this." Roxas retorts.

"Good news, my parents don't think you're insane."

Roxas quirks an eyebrow at him as he sets aside his knife. "What?"

"Well, they found out about the fight, undoubtedly through Leon, and after a series of conversations are too elaborate to go into, they said I can go through the kingdom without being supervised by my guards."

"Ah," Roxas says as she unzips the leather bag. "So now you're a semi-free bird?"

"Ha-ha. At least I managed to give you a good name for my mom. She might even let me take you to the castle if you behave."

Roxas' head perks up. "Really?"

"Yeah, oh, which reminds me, would you mind coming to the castle?" Sora asks.

"No not at all." Roxas answers nonchalantly.

"Oh, and you're welcome by the way. I told my mom you have strict parents so you can't have anyone over."

Roxas looks to him in surprise. "How'd you find out ab out that?"

Sora looks to him, eyebrows raised. "I didn't. It was just a cover-up."

"Well, you're dead on." Roxas admits. "So how about we begin?"

"Sure." Sora says as he follows Roxas to a small dirt circle at the epicenter of the clearing.

"So let me just say that it's an honor to be your teacher, Sora." Roxas starts. "But be advised, I'll throw a lot at you. Everything I've learned from my own mentors," he flinches as he removes his leather jacket. "And my own bruises." He pats his arm to ensure a tight wrap.

"What happened?" Sora asked with concerned eyes.

"The job." Roxas vaguely answers. "Now, combat is about controlling conflict, putting the battle on your terms. You should always be acting, never reacting. Now step forward."

Sora steps forward, flexing his fingers.

"How much training have you had?" Roxas asks, taking a fighting stance.

"A little." Sora answers.

Roxas raises an eyebrow in question, a sly smile on his lips. In an instant, he rushes a fisted hand towards Sora, who blocks with his forearm, but Roxas spins down and sweeps a leg, kicking Sora's legs out from underneath him. Sora lands flat on his back with a grunt.

"Uh, ow." He says.

"Good block." Roxas says as he offers a hand up. "But you need to be quicker. Try to anticipate your enemy's next move while you're fighting."

Sora grunts and rubs his head as he's pulled to his feet. Despite his conscious screaming not to show Jesse how weak he seemed, he didn't care at the moment. Had he known Jesse would be this kind of teacher, he'd brought along armor.

"What exactly do they teach you, at the castle?" Roxas asks.

"Uh, just how to block, parry and push off. I was taught to strike, then back away."

"So, like jab them, then run?" Roxas snickers.

"Their whole point was to stun the enemy, then run as fast as you can. The whole point was to get out of that situation." Sora snaps.

"Understandable." Roxas still snickers. "Come on, again."

For the next few hours, Roxas showed Sora all of the available weapons he had. The different styles of bows and what they're good for, how to steal another man's weapon and on looting another person for salvage. They'd spent the entire afternoon based around combat, and Sora picked up well he was a fast learner, just like Xemnas said Roxas was. By three o'clock, Roxas had shown Sora all of the basics, and while Sora was still learning, he seemed to show promise.

They now sit on the ground, under the shade of a weeping willow the remains of their lunch of fish, berries and cinnamon rolls cast off to the side. Roxas had pulled out Larxene's knife collection and was showing Sora the blades of each knife and the purposes they had. Roxas pulled out one of Larxene's favorites, a clip-point blade. The blade was concavely formed to make the tip thinner and sharper. The sharp tip is useful as a pick, or for cutting in tight places.

"So the back edge of the clip may have a false edge that could be sharpened to make a second edge. If it is sharpened, in increases the knife's effectiveness in piercing." Roxas explains. He flips the blade over on both sides and Sora looks to it with intrigued eyes.

"What about that one?" he points to a knife that's blade shrinks down to an exquisite tip.

"This one is known as a needle-point blade." Roxas says as he exchanges the knives. "It's symmetrical, highly tapered, twin-edged blade is often seen in fighting blades. Its long narrow point offers good penetration but is liable to breakage if abused. Although most people call it a knife, this design may also be referred to as a stiletto or dagger due to its use as a stabbing weapon."

After a few more samples, Roxas lets Sora pick his favorite, and shows him some techniques on how to flip the weapon from blade to hilt and how to block, swipe and pierce.

"Alright, so we'll count a solid touch from the blade as a strike." Roxas says.

Sora widens his stance and rolls on the balls of his feet. Roxas walks towards him, the resolve he feels to kill him blazing into something hard and bright in the face of his courage. Roxas' blade whistles through the air, and Sora leaps back to dodge the blow. Spinning, Roxas taps him with the hilt before Sora can raise his arms in defense.

"My point." Roxas says, not bothering to hide his smirk.

Sora circles him. "Lucky shot."

Roxas lashes out again, but Sora's ready. Blocking him with the middle of the blade, he whirls beneath Roxas' outstretched arms and slams the hilt into his thigh.

Pride keeps Roxas from swearing at the pain. Instead, Roxas sweeps his feet out from under Sora. He flips in midair and rolls forward as he lands, coming up with his knife ready. The controlled grace of his movements would make Leon proud.

"You're fast. That's good." Roxas says, advancing towards Sora.

"I learn from the best."

They lock, parry, and break apart. "Aw, you're gonna make me cry." Roxas teases.

Sora was strong and quick, but Roxas knows he doesn't know how to anticipate the unexpected. Roxas steps back, inviting an attack, and Sora charges forward, swinging the knife like a butcher slicing the head from a sheep. Roxas waits until the last second, then drop to the ground and ram Sora with his shoulder. Sora's forward momentum carries him over the top of Roxas and he lands face-first in the grass.

Sora spits dry blades of grass from his mouth, and swears, but a new respect for Roxas in his eyes.

Roxas laughs like he can't help it. Sora couldn't believe it. He was actually smiling, laughing, teeth and all. Had he ever seen Roxas smile before? No, he realized, because right now, it was such a jarring thing to witness that for a moment it felt as though he was sharing the woods with a stranger. Sora stares at him, a smile flitting across his lips.

"You need to be ready for an opponent who does the unexpected." Roxas offers Sora a hand up. Sora takes it, closing his fingers over Roxas without breaking their gaze. "Nice work."

With just a few hours of daylight left, Sora was eager to get to try and use a bow. Given their size, and the small blood spots, Roxas decided it was best to leave them at his house. Thankfully, he was given advice from Axel to hide some in the woods long ago; managing to slide by with the lie that he'd simply lost them.

The sun is drowning beneath the weight of a purple twilight as Sora follows Roxas as he leads him through bushes, across streams until the come to a secluded tree. Its skinny trunk and thin, graceful branches reach for the heavens as if hoping to scrape the stars. Roxas steps into a bush that hugs the base of a tree, its branches curving like a bell, its leaves brushing the ground. Beneath it, a small hollow space rests, where Roxas pulls out a bow and a sheath containing seven arrows. Roxas hands the sheath to Sora while he retrieves the bow.

"Why do you hide them?" Sora asks.

"Uh, I just like to keep some in the woods in case I ever find myself needing a weapon or if one breaks while I'm hunting." Roxas answers.

"I don't know Jesse, you seem to know these woods like the back of your hand." Sora points out.

"Years of exploration." Roxas says as he knots the string. "Better safe than sorry."

Sora had a feeling he was lying to him, but rather than ask another question and let that iron-gate guard of his snap back into place, Sora keeps quiet as he follows Roxas again to a small secluded spot surrounded by a thin wall of trees.

Roxas climbs up a tree and plucks an apple, dropping it in Sora's hands. Roxas slings the sheath of arrows off his back and leans them against the trunk, then goes over and sets the apple on the stump of an old tree.

Walking back and takes the bow and hands it to Sora. "Alright, from here to that apple is about ten yards. Let's see what you can do."

Roxas stands back while Sora loads an arrow and stands sideways. He brings the arrow up, pulling back the string and taking aim. Roxas studies his form, good. Sora lets the arrow fly, but it pulls up short, sinking into the root of the stump. Sora sighs and Roxas hands him another arrow.

"Try and aim higher." Roxas instructs.

After another shot, and another, one arrow landed higher in the stump, the other flying over the apple and landing in a pile of twigs. Sora sigh in aggravation.

Roxas perks a smile. "Takes time Sora." He taps Sora's shoulder with another arrow. "Remember the kingdom wasn't built in a day."

"I can do this. One more time." Sora insists as he nocks the arrow. Roxas pulls another one from the sheath.

"Okay, show me what you know. How do you stand?" Roxas asks.

"Body sideways, left foot forward, straight spine."

"Now what?"

"I nock the arrow." And the arrow connect with a soft tip.

"Watch your fingers." Roxas instructs. "Draw to your cheek. Remember the three checkpoints."

"Tip of your nose, mouth and chin." Sora reminds.

"Good. Keep both eyes open."

Sora takes a deep breath and pulls it up to his nose. He aims higher, cradling the bow between the crook in his thumb and pointer finger. Tilting his elbow up, he exhales.

Letting the arrow shoot, it pierces the apple and knocks it off the trunk. Sora smiles broadly.

"Nice shot Sora." Roxas compliments.

"Thanks."

Night has nearly reclaimed the sky when the boys finally decide to call it in. Sora helps Roxas hide the bow and arrows, then they make their way back to the clearing where they pack and head back to the village. Sora asking Roxas all different kinds of questions about the weapons they'd trained with today, Roxas adding a few new tips to the combat practice.

As they walk into the village, both pull their hoods over their heads. They cross the bridge and into the North roads. Their plan to visit Oliver again was quickly changed as the sound of galloping horses drew their attention to the gates.

Roxas' heart jars as he recognizes the emblem of the Radiant Garden Kingdom. Sora's eyes widen in surprise.

The king, Ansem, was wearing a long-sleeve brown tunic with puffy disks underneath a brown unbuttoned vest. Around his neck he wore a scarf with the Garden's emblem at the end. His hair was blond and worn long and slicked back. He also sports a short mustache and goatee. His eyes are bright orange, beaming with an importance and determination as he gallops on horse towards the palace.

Beneath the collar of his tunic, a small spit of white, probably bandages.

Sora steps near the roads and follows them towards the caste. Roxas steps back into the shadows of the stalls until the pass.

"Wasn't that the king of Radiant Garden?" Roxas asks, pretending to seem curious.

"Yeah," Sora answers, his attention still on the men. "I need to get back. Thanks for the lessons, let's do it again tomorrow." He tries to finish as he walks backwards towards the castle.

Roxas nods and gives him a thumbs up.

Sora smiles and turns, running toward the gates. "I'll see ya', Jesse!" He calls over his shoulder.

Roxas stares at the castle as the rest of the men on horse enter through the gates to the kingdom. Pivoting on his heels, he speed walks back home.

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