In The Beginning
I’ve been having these weird thoughts lately…
Like, is any of this for real…?
The sound of waves slowly lapping against the shore pierces the silence of Sora’s dreamscape. His eyes are closed, but the bright, relentless cheerfulness of the sun shining above him pierces through, bathing all of his perceptions in orange light. It should bother him, interrupting the comforting darkness that rests just behind his eyelids, but somehow the light warms him, and the thought of darkness is…
You are the one who will open the Door.
As soon as the words appear, images flood Sora’s imagination: A stained glass platform, an ornate door that somehow carries a hint of menace about it, a sword worthy of a champion of the light…
And a monstrous shadow springing forth from his own silhouette.
This memory is unpleasant, but Sora finds himself unable to escape it, unable to open his eyes, and the orange light that once filtered through his eyelids begins to fade as darkness encroaches, a darkness dotted with yellow points of light that could be inhuman eyes…
“Sora, wake up!”
The voice startles the boy, but it also seems to have an effect on the darkness that is threatening him, sending it scurrying back, replacing it with the light.
Sora opens his eyes, finally fully returned to the world of the living. The sky is the same bright blue overhead, and a glare in the corner of his eye suggests the sun has not yet moved into the center of the sky. Morning is not over yet.
The time for rest clearly is, though.
“C’mon, Sora, just wake up already!” the voice that drove away the darkness demands, a giggle breaking up the seriousness of the command. It is a voice he recognizes, and cherishes with all his heart. “Lazy bum!”
“Man, Kairi,” Sora protests, sitting up. From his new point of view he can see the clear blue waves of the ocean lapping at the pristine white sands of the shoreline. “Can’t a guy get some rest around here?”
He turns around to continue the conversation. Kairi is standing before him now, hands clasped behind her back. She is dressed for play, in a white tank top and purple shorts. A nearly mischievous grin adorns her face, eyes sparkling. Her red hair, just a little above shoulder length, frames her face.
“It’s still morning, sleepy head,” she counters, one hand coming from behind her back to wave a lecturing finger. “If you were tired, you should have just slept in! Riku would have understood.”
“Yeah, I guess I just wanted to be here,” he replies, rising to his knees. “With how serious Riku has been about this project lately…”
“I understand,” Kairi agrees, walking past him to stand on the edge of the shore, far enough away from the surf that her shoes do not get wet. “But I guess your body wasn’t as ready to start working as you thought it was.”
“Right,” Sora agrees, plopping his butt back into the sand and staring out at the waves, occasionally sneaking glances at his friend from the corner of his eye. She is quiet now, a contemplative look on her face as she gazes out. It’s the same look he sees on her face in school when she’s working on something. Something is on her mind. “I kinda wish I had just stayed awake though. I had this really freaky dream. I think something was, like, chasing me. Something, I dunno… Dark.”
“You probably just ate too many eggs for breakfast,” Kairi suggests, not taking her eyes off of the horizon. Her voice sounds distant, almost like she is barely there. This level of contemplation is something rare, Sora knows, but for some reason, it frightens him. In a moment of pure clarity, he just knows that he has to get Kairi’s mind back from where it has drifted to.
So, he decides to go with an old favorite.
“Hey, Kairi,” Sora asks, resting his arms on his knees. “What do you remember about your home? Where you came from, I mean, before that…”
“Before the meteor shower twelve years ago?” she finishes for him, familiar with this line of questioning, a conversation that has been had many a time. “The day I came here, the night you found me on this very beach?”
“Uh, yeah,” Sora answers, suddenly feeling that he has overstepped some boundary he was unaware existed. Kairi’s answer to the question of her place of origin is usually quite curt, almost like she doesn’t ever want to speak of it. The quiet thoughtfulness of her response now is enough to indicate to Sora that something is different, something has changed.
“No, I have no memory at all of where I was born,” she admits, some of the dreaminess peeling away from her voice, returning it to its normal tone. “As far as I know, I popped into existence at four years old, right here on this beach. I realize that’s ridiculous, but… I have no other explanation.”
“But, uh, what if you could go back?” Sora continues, suddenly more desperate for her response than ever before. “Just to visit your home… Would you?”
For a moment Kairi just continues to stare out at the surf, then she turns to face Sora once more, half-smiling. “Well, Sora, first of all, these islands are my home. As far as I’m concerned, everything important in my life is going to happen here, with my family and my friends.”
“If it were just to visit though, just to see it…” Kairi continues, the distant expression returning to her face. “Yes, of course I would go. It would be interesting, maybe even wonderful. But, truthfully, no matter what that place is like, I’d only be happy if I could come back here. Back to my real home.” She turns to face him and graces his eyes with a fond grin. “And you’d have to come with me, of course.”
“You know I would Kairi,” he promises, smiling up at her. The grin has returned, and something inside his chest grows warm and content, a feeling that has been appearing more and more lately, and always when Kairi is looking at him. He suspects it is significant. “I’d love to see where you came from.” He stands now, moving past her to the waves, water gently licking at his yellow shoes, half a size too big, but worn out of courtesy to his grandmother, who had gifted them to the boy for Christmas. He throws his arms out wide, encompassing the whole of the horizon. “In fact, I want to see every world out there! And when we’re finished with the raft…”
“You mean if!” a voice from behind, deep and mellow, interrupts. “The raft is never going to get finished if you two are just standing around being lazy.”
Sora turns away from the shore then, facing Riku, his best friend ever since he can remember.
The boy, older by one year, is holding a large log under his arm, pressed into the yellow fabric of his sleeveless shirt. He’s wearing blue pants that fall just above the ankle, shoes that combine the colors of black, yellow, and blue, and his black gloves, somewhat unreasonable in the weather of the islands, but cool nonetheless. His blue eyes gaze accusingly at Sora and Kairi from under the bangs of his silver hair, worn longer than Kairi’s, just past his shoulders, and his mouth is twisted in an amused smirk that on him, somehow seems nearly cruel.
“Hey, don’t put this one me,” Kairi protests, giggling. “I was just trying to get Sora here in gear.”
“Traitor!” Sora cries out, trying to sound as wounded as possible by this “betrayal”. The laugh that accompanies the word gives him away though, and soon all three of the teens are laughing it up on the shore.
“Nice try, but I know you’re secretly just as lazy as he is!” Riku accuses, shaking his head at the girl. “In fact, the combined laziness of the pair of you would probably just slow us down on our trip. I’m tempted to take off without you, save myself the grief.”
“Oh yeah?” Sora says in mock challenge, stepping up to the older boy. “You wouldn’t last two days without us to boss around! Without anyone to give orders to, you’d just…”
Sora is interrupted, rather violently, when Riku tosses the log at him, lobbed underhand, but still heavy and possessing plenty of momentum. Startled, Sora catches the log, but in the process loses his balance, sending him crashing butt-first into the sound. A grunt escapes his lips as he lands.
The others laugh at him, and after a moment of embarrassment, Sora joins in. After all, what’s a little light-hearted joke between friends?
“What can I do, oh wise and diligent leader, to prove myself to you?” Kairi asks, mock-bowing slightly.
“I think at this point, you’re beyond convincing me,” Riku replies teasingly. “No, I’m fairly certain that I should just go it alone!”
“How about I do prove myself worthy?” Kairi continues, her voice hardening, as if she is becoming tired of this back-and-forth game. “I’ll race you. Both of you!”
Riku snorts. “Yeah, right.”
“Sure Kairi,” Sora adds with an accompanying eye roll. “C’mon.”
“Are you refusing my challenge?” the red-head asks defiantly, hands on hips. “Scared that you’re gonna get beaten by a girl?”
“Yeah, yeah, Kairi,” Sora answers, flipping the log into the soft sand.
“Well, I’m going whether you two are brave enough to face me or not! On your mark…”
The boys look at each other, each with an incredulous look in their eyes, as if they cannot believe this is actually happening. But behind that look is another, brighter spark of mischief, just waiting to spring forth.
As Kairi prepares her stance, both boys subtly shift, muscles coiling like jungle predators ready to pounce. Kairi notices this in her peripheral vision, but remains unworried. She may not be as good at fighting as the boys, but she is confident in her speed, especially as she is starting from a superior position.
Even as Kairi begins, the two boys leap into action, arms and legs pumping, carrying them down the beach at top speed. Kairi shrieks a bit in surprise, but recovers quickly and is after them. Riku takes an early lead, a fierce look in his eye despite the whimsical nature of the event.
Sora is right behind him, and Kairi is neck and neck with the boy. The pair look at each other and begin to laugh, cementing the goodwill nature of the match. Ahead, Riku hears this outburst and begins one of his own, his steps faltering slightly as he does. Soon, the other two are right behind him, a golden trio running side by side down the beach, carefree as birds taking wing.
It is a moment that they all should take care to enjoy, for soon the days of laughter and joy and light will end for them.
Darkness approaches them, but they remain unaware. Ignorance may be bliss, but neither can last forever.
You are the one who will open the Door…
Eventually the trio tires out, all three of them collapsing in the sand at the other end of the beach, taking heaving breaths to replenish themselves after spending so much energy on their race.
“I guess we’ll have to call that a tie, huh?” Kairi asks, still puffing heavily. “After all, nobody really won.”
“There wasn’t even a finish line,” Sora points out, clearing some sweat coated strands of chocolate brown hair out of his eyes.
“At least it got the two of you moving,” Riku says, his breathing already almost regulated again. “If we want to take maximum advantage of our vacation time, we’ll have to set out in a few days. That’ll give us about five weeks, I figure, before we turn back for home.”
“Five weeks?” Sora asks incredulously. “Do we have enough supplies for that long?”
“We do if the two of you have all been storing things up like I told you,” Riku answers, his tone indicating that failure to have been stocking will result in maximum disappointment.
“I have,” Sora says defensively, and Kairi chimes in that she is ready too.
“Good,” Riku congratulates the pair, clamping one hand on Sora’s shoulder. “Now all that’s left is to build the raft. I’ve gathered most of the wood.”
“I’ve got the sail taken care of,” Kairi adds. “My dad has a bunch of old sailor stuff from when my grandpa was young. It’s in my boat now.”
“Good thinking Kairi,” Riku says to the girl, winking at her. Sora notices this, and a strange spark of something unpleasant strikes momentarily in his stomach and chest. “I guess now we just need a rope to tie on the sail.”
“I can get it!” Sora volunteers immediately, eager to move on from the strange feeling that just gripped him.
“Good hustle Sora,” Riku teases, giving the younger boy a wink not unsimilar to the one Kairi just received from him. “You may earn your place on this voyage yet.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Sora mutters back sarcastically, but the grin on his face belies his true emotions. “I’ll be back with that rope in less than an hour.” He rises and, with a final nod to his best friends, sets off down the beach.
“See you then!” Kairi cheerfully calls after him.
Sora gets about halfway down the beach when he realizes that, in point of fact, he has no idea where he can secure a rope. In all his eagerness, he had forgotten that crucial fact, and now he may very well be facing humiliation.
It’s become more and more evident of late that Riku is having trouble taking him seriously. Sora would put this down to the fact that Riku is older, only a year out from graduating, except that the boy seems to take Kairi more seriously than anything. Except this raft voyage, anyway. Well, Sora decides that he is just going to have to prove to his companion that he is to be taken very seriously.
Sora continues his walk, eventually finding himself on the path from the beach to a nearby pier where the kids of the islands often congregate. Walking along the path, lined with tall grass and the colorful flowers that grow on the small island, Sora has always felt at peace, and now is no different. Something about this island, and the larger one that his house, and all residents of the islands, occupy, has always calmed him, even if the smallness of it all is beginning to chafe.
He hears the sound of something large and thin moving through the air with speed as he walks up the steps to the pier. Though all of the children of the islands seem to have their weapons of choice, only one could be making that sound.
Tidus, a boy nearly two years Sora’s junior, stands on the pier, barefoot and wearing blue shorts, one leg longer than the other, and a yellow vest. He has foregone a shirt today, and his chest, still scrawny from youth, seems to be developing a musculature. In his hand rests the long pole he calls his sword. This is a rather generous description, as the “weapon” is really nothing more than the handle of a broom.
“Hey, Sora!” Tidus calls cheerfully as he sees Sora reach the top step of the pier, still swinging his sword through the air, satisfied with the noise it makes as he does so. “Nice day today, yeah?”
“Uh, yeah, it is,” Sora agrees, somewhat cautiously. Tidus, while probably an okay guy at heart, is known around the island as something of a brat, and it is a reputation that Sora has seen him earn time and again. “A nice summer day.”
“Yep,” Tidus says somewhat distractedly, focusing once again on his “swordplay”. After a moment though, he looks back up at Sora, a mischievous look in his eyes that somehow comes across a lot worse than similar looks Sora has received from his friends today. “So, are you still planning on that raft trip? You, and Riku, and Kairi?”
“Yeah, Tidus, we are,” Sora answers casually, trying to head off what he knows is coming. “It’s coming together very nicely actually. In fact, I’m here looking for…”
“It’ll never work!” Tidus teases, dropping his sword hand to his side and placing the other hand on his hip. “Trust me, I go sailing with my dad all the time, and there’s just no way a dinky little raft is gonna get you anywhere, especially not to some ‘other world’ that probably doesn’t even exist! I give it a day before you three are back here, crying about how your dreams are ruined.”
“You’re wrong Tidus,” Sora protests, stepping up to the smaller boy and jabbing a finger in his skinny chest. “Our raft is going to take us to a whole other world, you’ll see! Actually, you won’t, because you’re too scared to ever try something that brave!”
“Who are you calling scared?” Tidus charges back with, batting Sora’s finger away with his hand. “I’m not scared of anything. Especially not you. In fact, I bet I could beat you right now, in a sword fight!”
“Really?” Sora shoots back, refusing to be intimidated by a fourteen year old. “If that’s what you want, fine. My sword is back in my canoe, but I’ll meet you on the beach in twenty minutes, and then we’ll see who’s brave and who isn’t.”
“Okay, sure,” Tidus agrees, his voice shaking a bit. “We’ll see.”
“Sure will!” Sora says as a finisher, turning to head back down the steps, before realizing that he can possibly kill two birds with one stone here. “And bring some rope. From one of your father’s boats, I know he keeps one on this island.”
“Why would I need…?”
“Just do it, okay?” With that, Sora walks down the stairs briskly, taking them two at a time.
About nineteen minutes later, both Sora and Tidus are on the beach, not too far from where Sora had taken his nap earlier, both ready to duke it out. Tidus has his pole with him, gripped one-handed, while Sora carries his own wooden sword, created by himself with help from Riku’s uncle. It looks more like an actual sword than Tidus’s weapon, with a pointed blade and cross guard, and Sora has plenty of training with it, from sparring with both Riku and a few other kids around the island. The fight before him is looking to be an easy one.
“So before we start, I gotta ask,” Tidus says, already in his battle stance. “Why the rope?”
“Because when I win, I get that rope,” Sora explains, crouching into his own battle stance, both hands on his sword. “Deal?”
“Yeah, whatever,” Tidus agrees, smirk still on his face. “After all, it’s not like you’re gonna beat me anyhow!”
We’ll see, Sora thinks as he takes a step towards his opponent, already getting ready for the first strike.
Tidus makes the first move actually, running at Sora with his sword swinging. Sora blocks one blow, takes a step back, blocks a second blow, then charges in seconds later.
Tidus, still recovering after putting most of his strength into the last two swings, is surprised by the move, and he frantically tries to backpedal, only to end up getting hit twice in the chest by Sora’s sword. The boy cries out in surprise and sidesteps.
Sora’s momentum, thoroughly committed to the third blow he thought he’d land, takes him a few steps away from his opponent, leaving his back exposed. Tidus takes advantage of the distraction, catching Sora’s flank with a solid blow. The older boy cries out in pain, but recovers in time to turn back and block a second blow.
Tidus grunts and pushes forward, gripping his sword in his left hand as well as his right in an attempt to get leverage over Sora, who has both hands grasping the hilt of his weapon. But Sora has two years and quite a bit of muscle on him, and forces the boy back a few steps.
Tidus knows he could dig his heels in and try to keep this contest of strength going, but he realizes that in the long run, he’s going to lose. So, he disengages, hoping Sora will be caught off balance.
But Sora is actually already prepared, maintaining his footing. Realizing that the advantage is now his, he pushes forward, swinging hard for Tidus. The younger boy cannot block the blow, or the one that follows. Finally, the third swing in the combination connects with his torso, forcing him back a few steps.
“Oh, man!” he cries out, clutching the red skin of his stomach. “That hurts!”
“Enough to convince you to give up?” Sora asks, dropping back into his ready stance. “Because I could go longer.”
“No, no,” Tidus concedes, dropping his sword so both of his hands can clutch at his stinging torso, red marks still stinging where he’d been hit. “You win, I lose. You’re the brave one.”
Despite being satisfied with victory, Sora cannot help but feel for the younger boy clutching his stomach in front of him. “Hey,” he says, dropping his own sword and moving to rest a hand on Tidus’s shoulder, “You’re plenty brave just for stepping up to fight. You might have lost, but at least you decided to show up and fight.”
“Thanks Sora,” Tidus says, looking up at him with a grin.“And I’m sorry for making fun of your raft. I’m sure you’re gonna get out of here and go see other worlds, no problem.”
“With that rope we will!” Sora agrees.
About twenty minutes later he finds Riku and Kairi in the cove, surrounded by raft supplies and munching on sandwiches. Sora grins at the sight, hungry and a bit weary from his earlier fight. He drops the rope by the rest of the supplies and takes a seat by his friends.
“Nice to see you’ve got some use,” Riku teases as Kairi hands him a sandwich, which the boy bites into eagerly.
“Be nice!” Kairi orders, though the small smile on her face gives away the amusement she takes from the comment. “Now we can start building.”
“Indeed we can,” Riku agrees, standing up and grabbing a log.
“Can I at least finish lunch first?” Sora asks, causing his friends to burst out laughing.
For the rest of the afternoon the trio assembles their vessel, pulling together all of its disparate elements into an actual vessel worthy of the high seas. Maybe.
Riku organizes the process and lifts the heaviest pieces, while Sora mostly does grunt work along with Kairi. After about three hours, they are ready for a test drive.
Riku and Sora strip off their shirts and guide the raft into the water while Kairi sits atop it, still wearing all of her playclothes and threatening to do nasty things to the boys if they get her sent into the drink.
“Anything happens Kairi, I’ve got you,” Sora assures her, grinning. The look he gets in return almost causes him to stumble over the next wave, but he manages to retain his balance. Riku laughs, but Kairi doesn’t, seemingly caught up in something else that Sora can’t decipher.
The vessel is declared seaworthy after about an hour, after all three manage to get aboard without tipping it over, and gets dragged back to the shore to await launch.
“Sun’s setting,” Riku observes as he slips his shirt back on, wet spots forming where he hasn’t adequately toweled. “Wanna go watch on the islet?”
The islet is a small mass that rests just off the main beach, connected to it by a wooden bridge. The land is dotted by palm trees, with one even curving over to provide a perfect sitting spot. Sora and Kairi clamber up onto it, while Riku just leans against it coolly.
For a few moments the trio just watch the setting sun paint the sky in hues of purple and orange, content to silently observe.
But something is bothering Sora, a comment heard earlier in the day that he just can’t shake.
“Are we really sure a raft can take us to another world?” he asks, breaking the silence and causing two heads to swivel towards him. “I mean, I know we tested it to hold up in the ocean, but…”
“It’ll do the job, Sora,” Riku cuts him off, waving a gloved hand dismissively. “I promise you, that raft can take us to another world.”
“But, okay, so once we leave the islands, how do we know when we’ve found Kairi’s world?” Sora continues, all of the doubts he’s had about the vessel popping into his mind like a factory of doubtful jack-in-the-boxes. “And are you sure a dinky wooden raft can take us away from here, or are you just saying that because you think it’s…”
“Enough, Sora,” Riku says, nearly hisses in fact, with finality. He is no longer leaning casually against the palm trunk, but stands facing Sora and Kairi, his eyes hard with either determination or rage. “We’re getting off this world, we’ll find Kairi’s home, and if the raft can’t do it, we’ll find another way! I promise you that.”
All is silent for a few moments as the two boys stare at each other intensely, Riku’s eyes seeming to dare Sora to express another doubt. Sora says nothing, and eventually Riku breaks his stare and returns to his previous, relaxed stance.
“So, what will we do, then?” Kairi asks after a moment, breaking the silence with an innocent sounding question. “On another world I mean. Do we just explore it, or…”
“Not sure,” Riku answers, his voice indicating that it’s a very good question, an almost complete tonal flip from his snapping at Sora earlier. “In fact, I actually think that it isn’t important what we find out about other worlds. Just as long as we get off this one.”
“What’s so wrong with this world, though?” Kairi asks, leaning forward and folding her hands together. “I like it here. It’s our home.”
“It’s so small though,” Riku replies in a near-whisper. “So small and isolated, surrounded on all sides by the ocean… Too small for me, I think.”
Silence reigns another minute, and Riku is the one to break it this time.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about why we’re here,” the older boy continues, sounding spacey as he gazes out into the sunset. “Why this island, why us? Why me? I could have just as easily ended up anywhere else in the universe, all of us could have. So, really, I just have to know.”
“You’ve thought a lot about this, huh?” Kairi says in a low voice, as if she’s afraid that speaking too loudly will pop whatever bubble Riku is currently residing in.
“For quite some time now, actually,” Riku answers, a grin popping up on his face. “Maybe ever since you came to the islands, Kairi, from wherever you used to be. The night of the meteor shower.” He turns to her, his smile becoming even more pronounced, his eyes sparkling somehow. “In a way, you’re the inspiration for all of this. You’re my inspiration.”
The quietness that results from those words weighs somehow heavy on the other two. The dark feeling from earlier and the light feeling that Kairi brings are colliding in Sora now, as he watches Riku look at her. He can only dart his gaze back and forth from Riku, who looks more content now than Sora can remember seeing him in a long while, and Kairi, who seems almost unsure, the small smile on her face a bit unsteady.
Kairi, meanwhile, just can’t help but want that look off of Riku’s face. “Thanks, I guess. Or, you’re welcome. Whatever, I guess.”
A yawn bursts from Sora’s mouth, and he almost isn’t sure whether it’s real or fake. He rolls with it though, hoping to break up the awkwardness. “Man, I’m beat. I think it’s time to head in, before I fall asleep right on this palm tree!”
“Yeah, I’m pretty tired too,” Kairi agrees, her voice shaking a bit. “Long day, lots of activity.”
“Okay then, if you guys are going, so am I,” Riku says, pushing off from the trunk of the palm tree. He offers his hand up to Kairi, who takes it and lets the older boy help her down. Sora just jumps, no assistance required or wanted.
Kairi takes off briskly down the bridge, her shoes clacking softly as she crosses it. Sora moves to follow her, but Riku holds out his arm and stops him from moving any further.
“You go on ahead,” Riku explains when Kairi turns back to see why her friends aren’t following. “Sora and I have, uh, guy stuff to talk about. We’ll catch up in a minute. Promise.”
Kairi nods and turns to walk away, rolling her eyes to herself as she does so. Boys, huh?
“What is it?” Sora asks, taking a step back, suddenly uncomfortable.
“I’ve got something to show you,” Riku kind of explains, shouldering passed his friend and heading for a nearby coconut tree. He crouches down, and while Sora cannot see, appears to grab something hidden behind its trunk.
He returns to Sora, holding a yellow fruit shaped like a star in his hand. It’s about the size of his palm, and while Sora vaguely recognizes it as a fruit he’s seen before, he’s unsure just what it is.
“I take it you have no clue why I have this, huh?” Riku asks, bemused. Sora shakes his head in the negative. “It’s a paopu fruit. You know the legend, right?”
Suddenly, the knowledge floods into Sora’s mind. The legend of the paopu fruit states that…
“If two people share a paopu, then their destiny’s become intertwined forever,” Riku explains, “No matter where they go, or what they do, they’re connected.”
“I remember now,” Sora says quietly, “We learned about this legend in school, on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. It’s just a legend though, right?”
Riku shrugs, a bit of a grin on his face. “Maybe.”
Sora is super unsure of what to say now, with Riku looking at him the way he is and offering a destiny intertwining fruit. Riku is a good friend, and always has been, but Sora definitely doesn’t…
“I figured you’d want to test it out with Kairi,” Riku says, mercifully breaking up his best friend’s thought progression.
Unfortunately, he’s also managed to throw him into an entirely new, almost as terrifying one.
“What makes you think…? Me and Kairi…? Kairi and I are just, we…”
“Relax, Sora,” Riku chuckles lowly, smirking. “You don’t have to freak out so much, I was only kidding. Gee, man, you seriously need to calm down!”
Riku’s chuckle becomes a full-bodied laugh, and he walks away still laughing, placing the paopu fruit in Sora’s hands as he does so.
Sora stares after him for a full minute, eyes narrowed and cheeks red.
“What is that guy’s problem?” he says aloud, switching his indignant glare to the fruit resting in his hands. “How could he even…?”
Sora suddenly stops, his mind confused but nevertheless full of memories that he and Kairi have shared, the feeling in his stomach when she laughs with him or looks at him. Perhaps Riku has a point, and all this time, all of his life he’s just been…
“Nah!” he says, tossing the fruit away, not giving one single hoot where it lands. What was he thinking? He must be extremely tired, he realizes as he nearly stalks across the wooden bridge back to the beach, to have entertained such a thought.
Kairi is his friend, nothing more, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.
Hell, if Sora has his way, nothing will ever really change. Not him, not Kairi, not Riku, not anything in his life will change one bit.
Nothing ever really changes in Disney Castle, Telary muses to himself as he walks through the gardens briskly, the hem of his blue wizard robe with white star-patterns trailing along behind him. The sun is not even fully up yet, just peeking over the horizon and tinting the sky a pleasant orange. Telary has read, however, that early morning walks help one maintain one’s magical balance, connecting the mage with the energies of the sun. Whether or not it is actually a true fact, or just something someone made up to sell magic books, it sounds mystical enough, and no way is Telary going to pass up an opportunity to work on his magical balance.
Telary is an apprentice wizard with the Disney Castle Mage Corps. This is a very fancy title for a group that really only exists to give Master Donald a seat at council meetings. There’s really only one official member after all, with Telary technically a part of the group as a trainee.
For two years now, ever since his early graduation from the school down in Mouseburg just beyond the castle walls, he has been learning the practice of the mystical arts from Donald Duck, Head Magician of Disney Castle, and a close personal friend to King Mickey. The first year was full of fairly intense magical study and practice, and Telary is certainly proficient now in quite a few spells. The second year, however, has so far involved less studying of the mystical arts, and more doing whatever it is Donald orders him to do.
The wizard has repeatedly attempted to explain away the menial tasks as beneficial to one’s connection with magic, but Telary has figured out for himself that Donald just likes to have an errand boy. You don’t graduate a year early while doing several other student’s homework in addition to your own without being intelligent.
The boy is content to serve however, until the day that Master Donald sees fit to elevate him to full Court Magician status. He still fulfills several daily duties, such as recharging the magic of the mop servants, and the occasional special request from Master Donald, such as waking him up this morning so he could sneak off into town to get a birthday present for his girlfriend Daisy, which he had forgotten about until Telary reminded him before bed last night. He’d taken Goofy, Captain of the Disney Castle Guard Corps, which was actually a real organization with about half-a-dozen members, with him, and had assured Telary he’d be back before Daisy awoke.
Feeling a bit peckish after his stroll, Telary heads down into the castle’s main kitchen, where several cooks are already hard at work on the day’s breakfast.
He snags an apple from a fruit bowl, but before he can bite into it, a tap on his shoulder sends him spinning around.
“I’m sorry I thought it was okay to take I’ll pay you back I swear!” he blurts at breakneck speed to the small rabbit cook before him.
“Relax,” the cook says in a surprisingly deep voice for such a little guy. Then again he might not actually be as small as Telary thinks, considering the boy is even a few feet taller than Captain Goofy, not even counting the few spikes in his otherwise close-cropped red hair. Anyway, the cook is carrying a tray covered by a silver bowl, under which is presumably some kind of breakfast dish. “You can eat whatever you want. But first, you gotta bring King Mickey his breakfast.”
Telary sighs in relief at not being considered a dirty lowlife thief. Then he realizes that he has basically just been give an order by a kitchen hand. “Um, I’m sorry, but that’s not really my job, actually,” he points out sheepishly, trying hard to keep his voice from shaking. “I mean, that’s probably something you’ll want a mop to do.”
“Look, pal,” the kitchen staffers says indignantly, pointing a furry white finger up at Telary’s face, “There aren’t any mops around, and you’re just standing there, swiping fruit from the kitchen. So are you gonna take this tray up to the king, or am I gonna bash you over the head with it?”
Telary thinks for a moment that the tiny cook couldn’t possibly even reach his head to bash it with the tray, but decides not to argue the point. He just takes the tray in his own arms and heads for the stairs to the colonnade.
It’s beginning to become apparent to Telary that he might have a problem with letting others push him around, and he’s not entirely sure what to do about it.
The walk down the colonnade is pleasant, though, even burdened as the boy is with the tray of food. Red rugs run continuously down a hall coated in plush blue carpeting, and large windows along the wall to Telary’s left let in the light of the morning sun.
He passes a mop servant that he could hand off the delivery task to, but decides to press on, as he enjoys the king’s company. King Mickey is, in fact, maybe the only person besides his wife the queen to really appreciate Telary’s efforts around the castle.
Telary finally reaches the door to the throne room, a massive blue construction not really suitable for any of the folk of Disney Castle. He doubts that anyone, save Willy the giant, who was apparently related to the original carver of the thing, could even attempt to open it.
Luckily, there is another way in, and Telary raps on the door in the right spot, causing the inset normal sized door to swing open. Normal sized for a regular inhabitant of the castle, anyway. Telary still has to duck a bit so as to not bump his head.
He keeps his head bowed in deference as he walks down the long red carpet, contrasted nicely against the white marble of the main floor. He knows that at the end of the carpet is a raised platform also done in red, on which rest two thrones: One for King Mickey, and the other for Queen Minnie.
“Good morning, Your Majesty,” Telary says as he enters, loudly so that his voice will carry all the way to the other end of the chamber. Like the door that leads into it, the Royal Audience Chamber is almost comically too large for a world that boasts such generally short inhabitants. “I was in the kitchen and decided to bring up your breakfast. Well actually this really grumpy rabbit ordered me to, so…”
The fact that the king has not yet said anything in greeting, or indeed made any noise at all, is putting Telary off a bit, but then who is he to question the noise level of royalty? The silence does make him nervous, however, so he decides to fill it with a bit of babbling.
“Now, when I said grumpy, don’t think I meant he was, like, unreasonably angry or anything,” he continues, unwisely breaking the filter between his brain and his mouth completely. “So there’s no need to like, call human resources on him. Though really it is none of my business at all who a king can or cannot call upon HR to investigate. Just don’t feel the need to do it on my behalf or anything, Your Majesty.”
By now he realizes that he has reached the end of the carpet, and one step up will take him up onto the raised throne platform. He knows, according to the Official Book of Court Etiquette in Disney Castle, which he makes sure to reread once a year just to freshen up on, despite the fact that no one else really seems to follow the rules set forth in it, that he cannot step onto the platform without express royal permission. But in light of the King’s almost unnatural silence, he’s almost willing to try. Almost.
Instead, to err on the side of caution, he merely raises his head. When his eyes arrive at two empty thrones, he gasps in surprise.
Telary knows for a fact that King Mickey has taken his breakfast in the Royal Audience Chamber nearly every morning since before he can remember, and so he had just assumed that his orders were to bring the tray here. But what if he made a mistake, and King Mickey is in fact still in his bedroom, or in the library, and what if by the time he figures out where to actually go the food is cold and…?
The noise that pierces the veil of silence in the air is fearsome to Telary’s ears, and he cries out in alarm, even as the silver breakfast tray falls from his fingers. Miraculously it lands very graciously, with nary a thud and nothing spilled. The lid isn’t even disturbed. It’s really the only spot of good luck Telary is going to have all day.
Telary frantically searches the room for the source of the noise, and finds it in moments. Pluto, a large yellow dog that King Mickey has called his companion for far longer than Telary can remember, emerges from behind the king’s throne, black ears drooping beside his head. Clutched in his mouth is something flat and cream colored. It is oust definitely not this morning’s Mouseburg Gazette.
Cautiously, making sure not to trip on the still lidded tray, Telary steps onto the throne platform without express permission for the first time in his life. Slowly he reaches out a hand towards Pluto, and the dog drops what it has in its mouth. An envelope, to be sure, sealed with the king’s personal seal.
Telary crouches to the floor and, arm still extended as far as it can go, tentatively picks up the letter. Rising back up to his full height, he contemplates the envelope in his hand. Should he open it? His first impulse is to give the envelope to Master Donald, but with both him and Captain Goofy gone, the only true authority figure left is Queen Minnie, and she’s still in her bedchamber! Telary knows that, no matter how urgent the situation may turn out to be, he could never go into the queen’s private rooms.
After a few seconds, an idea sparks in Telary’s mind. Certainly he can’t go into the queen’s chambers, but he definitely knows someone just surly enough to try.
The castle gym is definitely not a place that Telary finds himself at very much. Physical fitness is all well and good, of course, but Telary’s methods of staying in shape tend more towards eating strictly and making sure to take walks. In fact, even a lot of the knights of the Disney Castle Guard Corps tended to not spend much time down there. Often when asked, they would reply “Too many stairs,” which is probably not going to give anyone a glowing opinion of the DCGC. Their position and duties are mostly ceremonial, however, so really physical fitness is not a major requirement.
Tell that to the single apprentice currently in the DCGC Knights of Tomorrow program, who spends so much time down here that it is perhaps a bit unhealthy, an unusual fitness center irony. Mornings before school, afternoons just out of school, even occasionally in the middle of the night, Azlyn seems determined to spend every free minute down in the gym.
Telary can hear her now as he steps through the door into the large room, divided into three sections. The whole floor is unlit with the exception of the back left corner, where Azlyn is going at it with a punching bag.
She looks to be in the zone as Telary approaches her, her blue tank top’s back soaked in sweat, likewise the back of her close-cropped blonde hair. She goes at the bag with a series of three jabs, takes a step back, and then repeats. Every third repetition, she adds in a kick, just to mix things up.
Unwisely, Telary steps up on the mat. Azlyn instantly detects the shift in weight, turns, and without thinking lets loose a jab. Straight to the young apprentice mage’s nose.
“Yowza!” he cries, clutching his face even as blood begins to stream down it. The envelope is spared a bloody bath by him dropping it to the ground. Soon enough he finds himself joining it, tripping over his robe and falling back-first onto the thankfully cushioned mat.
“Whoa, Telary!” Azlyn cries out, taking a step back and panting heavily, the exertion of her exercises catching up with her. “Watch what you’re doing. Next time I might hit you someplace worse!”
“Worse dan my node?” Telary asks through the hands cupping his mouth, voice distorted by the pinch he’s giving his nose to keep the blood in.
“Oh, here ya go,” she says, grabbing a white towel from a rack nearby and throwing it to the mage-in-training. He catches it and immediately puts it to use. Azlyn crosses her arms and glares down at him. “Big baby.”
“Whadda I doo?” Telary asks. “How can I maeg id stop?”
“I don’t know, Tel,” Azlyn replies with major sarcasm-voice. “Whatever could a magician do to heal one of his injuries?”
“Oh, ride,” Telary says sheepishly. “Cure!” A green light appears over him, and in seconds, the bleeding is stopped and his nose rests completely straight.
While this is going on, Azlyn notices the letter Telary dropped, and notices the seal it’s emblazoned with even more.
“What’s this?” she asks, turning it over in her hand. “Where’d you get it? Why in is it so wet?”
Telary answers his friend’s questions in order as he gets back to his feet. “A letter from the king that I don’t know the contents of, I found it in the throne room, it’s damp because it was in Pluto’s mouth.”
“Yuck!” Azlyn says. She and the king’s pooch have a bit of a history. “What was that mutt doing with a letter from the king in his mouth?”
“I don’t know, actually,” Telary admits, sniffing deeply just to make sure his nostrils are in good working order, unfortunately picking up the sweaty scent of the exercise complex as well. He grimaces. “I’m not about to open something so official looking without royal permission. Who knows what kind of…? AZLYN, STOP!”
The mage-in-training lunges forward, but the apprentice knight easily sidesteps, tearing open the envelope with the nails of one hand. She extricates the letter, written out in King Mickey’s neat script, and begins reading. About halfway through, Telary lunges for her again, but she already has one hand up to block him. He pushes against her, but her stance is strong, and her arm has reaped the benefits of so many hours training, proving all of his efforts useless.
“Oh my god, Telary!” she exclaims when she’s done reading the letter, letting up the pressure on his chest. “This is serious. Like, really serious. Oh, wow!” Telary honestly isn’t sure whether she is alarmed or just excited.
“Well if it’s serious as all that,” Telary says, snatching the letter from his younger friend’s now relaxed grip, “Then you see why we have to bring it to… Queen Minnie!”
“Are you kidding?” Azlyn asks condescendingly, a hungry look already invading her eyes. “This could be our big chance to prove ourselves, that we’re worthy! We can’t tell anyone about this!”
“But… Master Donald!”
“Oh, let that old quackbag stay in the dark for once,” Azlyn replies dismissively.
“Oh, please, he’s about as qualified to do real knight duties as I am to be a beautician.”
“What’s she gonna do? C’mon, Telary, I think you’re losing it here!”
“Trust me, you’ll be losing something,” comes a squeaky voice from behind, as unmelodious as… As a quacking duck.
Azlyn whirls around to see that Minnie, Donald, Goofy, and Daisy are standing just on the edge of the mat. The queen looks concerned, Goofy just sort of seems sad, and Donald Duck has his arms crossed, foot tapping impatiently, and a look in his eyes that suggests trouble is coming.
“Oh,” Azlyn breathes, her cheeks reddening maddeningly quickly. “Uh, hello everyone! I think I have something that uh, that you all should see!”
It’s all Telary can do to keep from fainting from the tension.