Chapter 2: Haunting Memories

Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, Disney, Square Enix, or any of their properties, characters, or logos. This story is made solely for fun.

There was a tense atmosphere in Yen Sid's personal chambers as he presided over the gathering, having called together all of the current Keyblade Wielders to inform them of some more recent developments in their war against the darkness. Including King Mickey, who had returned to the Mysterious Tower less than an hour ago, there were five people present aside from the wizard himself. While Sora was still exchanging whispers with Kairi and Riku from time-to-time, Lea hadn't spoken since they arrived, and the mouse appeared hesitant to break the wall of empty silence that engulfed the room.

Lea let out a yawn as he sat down, sitting in the opposite direction so that his arms were resting on the back of the chair. "Call me paranoid for saying this, but something tells me you two didn't call us up here in the middle of the night to tell us a bedtime story."

"Save us the sarcasm." Riku said before turning his attention the blue robed master, narrow blue eyes meeting the old man's stone like gaze. "Although, we can always leave it to him to say what the rest of us are thinking. Does this have anything to do with those things Master Xehanort spoke of?"

"Although we have been preparing for the day of reckoning, this current affair does not relate to the gathering of the Thirteen Seekers of Darkness." The wizard shook his head slowly as he pondered how to properly answer, his face unreadable. "No, that which we have decided to bring to your attention this evening relate to an evil far older than he."

Mickey clapped his gloved hand together, forcing the group's attention onto himself while earning an irritable wince from his former teacher. Although the familiar grimace once scared the mouse king, he remained surprisingly composed. "It's something we thought would eventually be lost to time so long as no one knew the truth, and yet now we have no choice but the face it."

"Yes, time is of the essence. We do not know how far things have been set into motion, but it would be most unwise for us to stall longer than necessary."

"Will someone just tell us what's going on?" Sora interjected, earning a gentle nudge from Kairi for his manners. Despite this, the outburst caused by childlike impatience appeared to have burst through the two-way conversation.

Mickey exchanged an uncharacteristically stern gazed with his former mentor before nodding resolutely, the smallest of gestures being noticed by Riku. The king cupped a hand and cleared his throat, calmly surveying the group. "I'm glad all of you could make it this evening, but unfortunately, my return is not related to your training. We have some important matters to discuss."

"You looked a little panicked when you first got here. I figured something was up soon as you got off the ship." Lea added, his perpetually lax expression sharpening ever-so-slightly.

Kairi appeared nervous for a second, but her expression subsided as she felt a gloved hand cradling her own. A shadow of a smile graced her beautiful features while she exchanged glances with her best friend. "What is it, your majesty?" she pressed the king.

"During my investigations throughout several different worlds, I noticed that Xehanort's growing power has begun to adversely affect the balance of light and dark in the universe."

Sora eagerly leaned forward in his chair, his grip tightening. "That sounds kind of like what happened when Maleficent and Pete appeared in Disney Castle."

"Very similar, but in this case it would appear that the effects are much more widespread." The elderly wizard explained, gently sliding his hand across the surface of his crystal ball. The orb ignited with a flash before revealing the image of twelve black cloaked figures. "As you know, the darkness brought about by the original Organization XIII once overtook this place, allowing Nobodies and Heartless to infest this world, even though it was protected by my magic."

The young, silver-haired master cast a pensive gaze at the magical projections that hovered above the ball. "And you're saying it's worse this time?"

"Oh yes, things have grown far worse that you could imagine. Say for a moment that a person had an untapped darkness within their heart, but has repeatedly been forced to suppress it for fear of repercussions." Yen Sid waved his hand in a circular motion, causing an image of a generic human to appear, a dark cloud passing overhead causing darkness to burst forth from the figure's body. "The sinister shroud created by Master Xehanort's rebirth weakens that resistance to evil, prompting an individual to release their own darkness."

Mickey nodded in agreement. "As you know, this is often the process that creates the Heartless, for when an individual's heart gives into the darkness, it becomes a monster like the ones you guys have been fighting for quite some time."

Sora shrugged nonchalantly, although he looked slightly ashamed of his own thoughts. "I don't mean to sound rude, but this kind of thing happens all the time. Terrible as it is, that's exactly why we fight, am I right guys?"

"You're clearly missing the point." Riku shook his head with a disapproving look, remembering that his friend could often by slow on the uptake. Although the younger teen opened his mouth to argue, he quickly elaborated. "Xehanort's presence is making it so that this happens more often, and a lot easier than before. Am I right?" he looked to the elders for approval.

"Precisely, young master..." the wizard nodded slowly before causing the conjured visuals to vanish into a puff of smoke. "However, far worse has happened as a result of this festering evil. The king will now explain."

"Among the worlds exist several seals that were created to stop the spread of shadow, including the Cornerstone of Light that protects my world. As you already know, Maleficent has managed to penetrate this barrier many times due to the growing darkness weakening its power."

"Didn't you just get through saying that Xehanort has nothing to do with this?" the spiky-haired brunette questioned.

"And he doesn't, at least not directly." The mouse monarch suddenly appeared as if he were concealing a sense of anger, a rare emotion for him that had not been seen in force since Goofy was injured at Radiant Garden. "When Maleficent attacked Disney Castle during your Mark of Mastery exam, she took something or great importance from my personal study... An ancient book known as the Tome of Oblivion."

Kairi blinked, appearing lost for the moment. "What exactly makes this book so dangerous to take? Was it filled with some kind of powerful magic, or something?"

Seeing his old apprentice so distraught, Yen Sid spoke in his place. "In a way, yes. The pages of that volume contained many secrets concerning the history of Disney Castle, among which was the tale of a dark being who once attempted to drown all worlds in darkness, the same ambition that Master Xehanort carries within his twisted heart."

"Wait a minute. Why are you guys so worried about Maleficent finding out about this?" Sora looked between them with a bewildered expression. "It's obvious whatever kind of plans this monster had didn't go so well."

"Otherwise, the whole universe would be trapped in darkness right now." Lea chimed in, taking a moment to stifle a yawn.

The wizard took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, knowing that the truth was bond to come out no matter what. "Some things are not as simple as you may think. Just as the Heartless cannot be purified by anything but a Keyblade, the darkness itself does not vanish completely no matter how much one tries to extinguish it."

"It began quite some time ago... Back when I was still a young sailor working for Big Bad Pete on his riverboat." Mickey added, his head bowing in sorrow as he remembered the events long past. "In the early days of Disney Castle, the original king forged a device known as the Cornerstone of Light to extinguish the darkness from our world."

Riku raised his head a little higher, his own curiosity piqued. "Wait, so there was a king before you! Who was it?"

When the room fell silent, Yen Sid laid eyes on his student once more, knowing full well that the boy still had trouble talking about it. "The previous ruler of the light was a Rabbit by the name of Oswald, a most humorous and light-hearted fellow, and a dear friend to us both. He was loving and selfless king, always seeking new ways to bring peace and prosperity to his people. You see, this is what drew him to become my very first apprentice..."

Mickey let out a weary huff, looking as though he were holding back. "What he wanted most was to ensure that the light would always shine most brightly, and so he used his creation to draw even the smallest evils from the corners of our world and expel the darkness into the void of space."

"Your world seems like a really nice place, so it looks like he succeeded." Sora piped up, his cheerfulness fading when their somber mood did not dissipate. The young man scratched his head with a half-smile. "Um, did I miss something?"

"You guys mind telling us what happened to all the darkness that was expelled from Disney Castle?" Riku interrupted suddenly, his question eliciting mixed reactions from the others. While his friends appeared to be lost in thought, the other two masters were pleasantly surprised by his intelligence, although they knew he was the most knowledgeable about such things.

"Smart lad!" the elderly mage raised an eyebrow, looking halfway between impressed and intrigued by the sudden outburst. Despite this, his neutral countenance quickly returned. "As I have stated before, light and darkness are very much like two sides of a single coin. One cannot exist without the other, and neither can be fully destroyed due to the natural balance that has existed since the dawn of time."

The king clenched his fists still tighter. "The darkness which was driven away by the Cornerstone's light grew in the void between dimensions, slowly absorbing power from other worlds so that it could become stronger. As it evolved over time, this immense evil gained a sense of consciousness as it was exposed to people like Master Xehanort, slowly becoming aware of itself and even its origins."

Yen Sid closed his eyes as he remembering the monster's face. "Steeped in negative emotions, the creature's anger bred unimaginable rage and jealousy towards the light and those who dwelt within it. To fill the void of endless suffering, the monster gathered pieces of primordial worlds long destroyed by time to create its own world, shaping the monstrous landscape into a cruel mockery of the world that had rejected him. The monster named itself the Shadow Blot, and the twisted plane of existence he created out of spite became known to us as the Wasteland..."

Kairi placed her hands on her knees as she pondered the thought, looking shaken by it. "I always believed that everyone has to have some good in them, but this monster lacked even a heart. It just seems sad that any creature could live such an empty existence."

"Maybe if he had a friend like you, things wouldn't have turned out so bad. People become stronger when they're surrounded by the people who care most about them, am I right?" Sora placed a hand around her shoulder and smiled, eliciting a blush from the princess and a pair of knowing expressions from his remaining friends.

The wizard's expression became grim once more. "Pity him, not... The Phantom Blot was created from darkness, and so that is his true nature. He is a destructive being with no fear or mercy, desiring only to drag all that exists into never ending darkness. Truly a kindred spirit to Maleficent, and perhaps even more foreboding than Master Xehanort himself."

"Wait just a minute, will ya?" Lea waved a hand in the air to gain their attention. "What I wanna know is how this thing was stopped the first time? I mean, how did this crazy Bunny King you people keep talking about manage to beat something so powerful?"

"Oswald was the original King of Disney Castle! I would prefer you didn't sully his name by being so nonchalant about this." the current king drew himself up to his full height, the unyielding presence strangely powerful despite his small stature.

The former nobody sat back down lazily, shaking his hands in exasperation. "Sheesh, you made your point, mouse-man."

Sora stood up, looking uncomfortable in the face of the king's unusual behavior. "C'mon guys, let's calm down. I'm sure he didn't mean any offense... I'm sure he's just curious like the rest of us."

"What he said..." Lea agreed with a sweeping motion of his hand. It wasn't as if he purposely tried to be snarky all the time, it just came natural after doing it for so long.

"I'm sorry for overreacting... Its just that he was a very old friend of mine in the early days." Mickey responded, looking down as if he were ashamed of his own behavior. After a moment, the group looked on in surprise as the mouse's tears landed on the ground at his feet. "The truth is, King Oswald and Queen Ortensia both lost their lives fighting that monster, and even then they were unable to destroy it."

"Are you okay, your majesty?" Sora took one step forward, only to be stopped by his silver-haired friend.

Riku lowered his hand and quietly walked over to the king, standing behind him while silently knowing that this gesture of support was all he could give. Although Mickey recovered moments later, the young Keyblade Master instead turned his attention to the wizard. "Master Yen Sid, will you tell us what happened?"

The elderly master's gaze settled on the young bearers of light before moving towards his former apprentice, who returned the gesture with a reluctant nod. "As we have told you before, the Blot's desire to consume everything in darkness led him to lash out at the light dwellers. The great conflict that ensued is perhaps the greatest disaster that has ever come to this world, and it all began one fateful night when the creature returned to the Realms of Light."

Mickey nodded briskly. "As soon as the darkness materialized into our plane of existence, King Oswald set off with Queen Ortensia to investigate."

"They soon contacted me upon deducing the creature's origins, and together we assembled an army of Keyblade Wielders from several worlds in order to combat this threat." The wizard paused as he remembered the faces of so many friends he had lost in this long forgotten age. "In these days, the Heartless had not yet emerged, yet the Blot managed to give shape to darkness itself using its own power. The soulless phantoms he created possessing the ability to drain the very life force from victims to increase their master's power. It was... ... ... Most terrifying..."

"That's horrible!" Kairi placed a hand in front of her mouth to stifle a gasp, earning a concerned look from her friends.

Riku folded his arms with a disgusted look. "Hold on! You're saying there was an army of Keyblade users fighting this monster, and you guys still couldn't destroy it for good?"

"Who were these people, and what happened to them?" The brunette blurted out, causing Mickey to cringe. Despite this, the young hero was too engaged with the story to consider his own manners or tact, although for a change the others seemed not to notice.

Yen Sid stroked his beard solemnly, his eyes closing momentarily. "Oswald was the first student of mine to attain the rank of master, and the others were students that had learned the way of the Keyblade under our shared tutelage." He took a deep healing breath, exhaling slowly as if to unload all of his emotions. "Verily... Not a single one survived the war!"

A wall of silence engulfed the room, falling onto the gathering like a blanket made of lead. It was heavy and uncomfortable, the true extent of which could be seen by the saddened expressions of the room's occupants. Even Sora's upbeat personality had been deflated by this revelation, his mind racing as he imagined all the people around him disappearing into the darkness. The notion was also felt by his remaining friends, who seemed to be thinking the same thing, and the old wounds sealed deep within the hearts of Mickey and his master appeared to have reopened like a deep cut that never truly healed.

Lea was the first to find his voice again, although despite his attempts at renewed nonchalance, even he had been dumbstruck by the revelation. "If you weren't able to stop that demon, than who the Hell was it?"

"You misunderstand, for the story is not yet finished." the old man regained his usual composure as well, letting the others recover a moment longer before speaking again. " Despite what those such as Xehanort and the Shadow Blot are so keen to believe, a human's heart is worth much more when true courage and resolve is shown. It was through this selfless sacrifice that all worlds were able to survive."

Mickey stood forth, looking proud despite his sadness. "At the cost of their hearts, the combined Keyblade Wielders created a force that the Blot was unable to devour. His power could swallow worlds, but even that monster was unable to feed on something so pure."

"But how did they manage to do it!?" Riku questioned, looking both intrigued and in awe of what was being said.

The wizard inclined his head respectfully. "Years passed, and we were no closer to winning this war than when it first began. Realizing that they had no choice but to go to the source of this evil, the young ones beseeched me to open a doorway that would allow them to access the Wasteland where the demon lived. I advised against it, but they refused to listen."

"Oswald came to see me one last time, the day before they began the attack." the king spoke nostalgically, the pain evident in his tone. "It was the last time I ever saw him..."

"That last battle in Wasteland against the Blot was the very last time I raised my Keyblade to fight, and a long battle it was." Yen Sid placed his hand together on the desk. "In the end, only Oswald and myself remained alive, the only survivors now placed against insurmountable odds, staring death in the face as the monster bore down upon us."

"And yet you managed to get through it all in one piece." Lea added with a low whistle, his respect for the old man growing considerably.

The silver-haired teen stepped in front of him before addressing the wizard. "You said that your apprentices helped you by creating some kind of light. How did this happen?"

Yen Sid actually seemed to consider the question deeply, his eyebrows furrowing as the gears began turning in his mind. It was strange to see the mage so puzzled, and yet he was. "I have long understood the workings of magic and thus am able to comprehend many things that other people would not..." he began slowly, his eyes widening. "And yet what happened that day is one of few, true miracles that I have witnessed in my life!"

Sora blinked confusedly, but even after all this time, he appreciated more than anyone else what it was like to witness the most amazing things "So you're saying that..."

"It happened so suddenly." the old mage put in, his stony expression flickering to amazement for a fraction of a second. "While those brave children fell in battle, the hearts of my beloved students endured, and bestowed King Oswald and myself with a power the likes of which I have never seen since that day."

"And that was enough to stop this Blot guy!?" the former Axel questioned with fascination.

He continued the story, disregarding the interruption, "The power of my eight deceased pupils granted us miraculous strength, but Master Oswald realized during this time that our victory was still far from guaranteed. I refused at first, but my old friend insisted that he was willing to give up everything to see this battle through to the end..."

When the wizard fell quiet once more, Sora found himself burning to know the rest. "So what happened after that?" he beckoned, his hands quaking in anticipation.

"It was then that Master Yen Sid called upon an ancient spell... One that would put a stop to the Blot's evil and ensure a future for everyone." King Mickey spoke up, his sudden input surprising his companions after being silent for so long. "Fueled by the power of King Oswald's heart, and those of the remaining eight Keyblade Wielders, they sealed the Shadow Blot away behind a magic doorway."

The elderly wizard found his voice once more. "The hearts of those brave Keyblade Wielders became the nine keys to that door, which then scattered throughout the worlds to prevent anyone from opening the seal. Using my magic, I also isolated the Wasteland from the other realms of darkness so that no one wandering in the shadow worlds would accidentally stumble upon that accursed place, and unwittingly encounter the horrors slumbering beneath those forgotten soils."

Kairi swallowed the lump that had begun to form in her throat. "What about the book that was stolen from Disney Castle? How does it relate to this situation?"

Mickey shuffled to stand beside his mentor's desk. "Years after beginning my training with Master Yen Sid, I was crowned the second king of Disney Castle. He then handed me the Tome of Oblivion to protect with my life, knowing that it was the only written record of the Blot Wars. It was our intention that this struggle be forgotten by all but us few."

"But why even write a book about it, if you wanted to keep the whole thing a secret?" Sora shrugged, looking surprisingly innocent.

"As the surviving Keyblade Master of that struggle, I took it upon myself to chronicle the events of the Blot Wars so that the brave deeds of those heroes would be immortalized in some manner of speaking, using magic to encrypt certain details so that not just anyone would be able to learn the full truth. The means to access these pages was something I only shared with Master Mouse."

"Although the battles are chronicled in detail, an ordinary reader would simply be lead the believe that the Blot would remain sealed forever. Unfortunately, this is not the case." the king clenched his gloved hands again.

Yen Sid nodded slowly. "The secret portion of the book reveals the true fate of my companions' hearts, and their continued existence as keys to the seal."

"And now Maleficent knows, too!?" Riku burst out, the idea shocking his two oldest friends.

"I have sensed the seal around Wasteland has been breached, and the presence responsible is very familiar, being that of the evil fairy and her assistant. Due to the information contained within that book and the nature of this sudden disruption, we have reason to believe that they have not only broken my encryption, but are plotting to find the keys as we speak!"

The spiky-haired brunette raised his first, aggressively stomping his foot on the floor. "Do you know where these keys are? If so, we've gotta go and protect them as soon as possible!"

"And that is why I have called you all here tonight." the wizard concurred, pleased that they had put it all together quickly. He clapped his hands softly to conjure the images of Master Xehanort and Maleficent in his crystal ball, an image of his tower appearing between them. "We now fight a war on two fronts, and the noose tightens with each passing moment."

Lea stood up suddenly, casting off his stiffness. "Man, looks like we'll get some real action after all. Sounds like a nice change of pace."

"Don't take this so lightly!" Mickey hopped in place twice, his impatience surfacing. "You may be new to this, but you're a Keyblade Wielder like the rest of us. You have a responsibility to uphold on behalf of all worlds. This isn't supposed to be fun!"

"All right, I get it." the fiery redhead shrugged off the second lecture before addressing the actual situation. He snapped his fingers twice to gain the attention of the eldest of their group. "So old-timer, what do you have planned for us, now?"

Riku exhaled grumpily in response to the older man's impertinence. "Don't be so impatient."

"Sheesh, first I get chewed out by the mouse, and now I'm getting lectured by the kids?"

"I'm sure he's just in a hurry to get out there and fight the good fight, am I right?" Sora added in.

"You know it, kid." Lea replied smoothly, exchanging a quick fist bump and arm lock with the younger Keyblade Wielder. "I'm itching to make it up to you guys for the things that happened when I was a Nobody, and this gives me the opportunity to be the hero for a change. This time, I'll be the man on top, kiddies... Got it memorized?"

Kairi walked over to join the boys. "You guys can count on me, too. I won't be left behind ever again!"

"Not like we'd let you!" her spiky-haired crush added, his smile lifting away all of her doubts..

The wizard watched his young charges profess their confidence, feeling somewhat proud that they were still able to speak so brazenly despite all of the things they had endured over the last year or so. The change of mood even lifted Mickey's spirits, even though he had been dwelling over the situation only moments before. It brought a familiar smile to the mouse king's face, and he couldn't help but feel that same level of inspiration shared by his younger companions. It almost reminded him of the way he was so long ago.

After taking in the atmosphere for a bit, Yen Sid raised a hand towards the others, his gesture immediately bringing the meeting back to order. The wizard cleared his throat as the focus returned to himself, waiting for all chatter to subside before speaking once more. "Now then, one of the main concerns I harbor concerning this situation, is our current lack of knowledge."

Sora raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that? You just told us the story, so it's not like we're going in clueless, or anything crazy like that."

"Indeed... Yet there is one crucial thing that we do not know, and that is the location of the keys themselves. We can assume that Maleficent and her minions also remain unaware of where to find them, which may buy us some time."

"I can't be that bad. Do you know where any of them ended up?" the silver-haired teen asked.

"It is very hard for me to say." Yen Sid fingered the end of his beard, his frown deepening in thought. "Over time, my journeys led me to the first of the nine, and yet I allowed it to remain where it was in the hopes that the truth would never see the light of day."

The red-haired fire-user made a sweeping gesture with his black gloved hand "Then what're we waiting for? Then let's go get the thing and be done with it, unless of course, you'd rather those creeps find it first."

King Mickey remained firm. "That will be out first step to take, but keep in mind that it was only by chance that we found one. The real problem is the very nature of its existence."

Sora placed his hands on his upper legs and leaned in. "Which would mean, what now?"

The elderly mage frowned again. "The keys were originally spawned from the hearts of my students who gave their lives to ensure peace, and yet when we discovered the first key, it had bonded with a simple object, bestowing certain supernatural qualities upon the item in question. We fear that the other keys may have done the same, which only complicates the situation."

"Whatever they are, these things could already belong to people, and they might have already figured out a way to use the power for themselves." Riku deduced, causing the wizard to raise his eyebrow in respect.

"That was our original hypothesis, although we did not bother seeking the others, confident that no one else would learn the secret. At the time, I believed it in our best interest to keep the past buried where it was, yet now we are left with little option but to gather and protect the legacy of my departed friends."

"Which is why we're going to have to split up our party into two teams." Mickey called out in a businesslike tone.

Sora gave him a respectful yet playful salute, looking less like a brave soldier and more like a child playing army with his friends. "I'm on board no matter what you need us to do. So what's the plan, your majesty?"

"Riku and I will continue our investigation into Xehanort's plot while searching for signs of his activities. The last time we saw him, he was still searching for a Thirteenth vessel to complete his new Organization XIII."

The former syndicate member unfolded his arms, cracking his shoulder back into place with a push. "Don't envy the jerk who gets stuck in that role. I was a part of the organization for the best years of my life, and frankly it's a pretty horrible job."

"Well, it's not like Nobodies had a ton of choices for jobs, am I right?" Sora shrugged, knowing that his own alternate self had been among the thirteen seekers once, too. "The good news is that Xemnas wasn't able to infect most of you guys with Xehanort's heart."

"Tell me about it... It was bad enough being forced to do all of the icky jobs." Lea pulled Sora into a headlock, dropping the struggling boy into the nearest chair. "Still, I wouldn't have met my best friend if I hadn't stuck around, so in retrospect it might've been worth it."

Yen Sid watched them with a stoic look. "I admire the companionship that exists between you, my young Keyblade Wielders... Nevertheless, it is time that we get down to business."

"That's right. I've already made the arrangements, so we have no time to lose." The king placed his hands on his hips with a similar expression to his former mentor. "While my team continues our search for Master Xehanort, Sora and Lea will head back to Disney Castle aboard the Gummi Ship to seek out the only known key. Report back here once you have it, and the rest of us can meet to decide what our next move will be."

The Princess of Heart immediately picked up on her lack of inclusion. "What about me?"

"I believe it would be best if you remain here to continue your training." the wizard explained. "Your skills with the Keyblade are rudimentary at best, and you have yet to master the basic use of elemental magic."

Sora stepped in front of her with a pleading expression. "C'mon Master Yen Sid, you can't leave her out of this when she's been training her butt off for so long. I didn't know anything about the Keyblade early on, and had to learn everything through experience."

The elderly master raised a thick, gray eyebrow in surprise. "You wish to put a friend in unnecessary peril? As a Princess of Heart, it is imperative that she be able to protect herself in case the new organization makes a move to claim one of the Seven Pure Lights."

"I understand that you guys wanna stick together, but he's absolutely right about the dangers involved." Mickey added with a concerned frown.

Riku looked conflicted, but after a moment's hesitation, he shook his head. "If you care about her safety, it might be smart for her to stay here and gain some more experience."

"Real experience isn't something you can get by sitting around here and practicing. And it's not like she'll be alone!" the spiky-haired hero argued back, clenching a fist tightly. "Kairi's been working so hard to fight alongside us after sitting on the sidelines. It was hard for everyone, but now we can stand together as friends just like we always did before!"

"Sora..." Kairi muttered his name affectionately. She stepped forward assertively surprising the wizard. She summoned her Destiny's Embrace with a wave of her hand, tightening her grip on the handle of the Keyblade. "This time, I'll use my power to protect everyone else!"

Lea glanced between the two factions and shrugged again. "I guess it can't be helped." he spoke with a sly expression, clapping his hands on the shoulders of the two youngest heroes. "You guy's don't need to worry, cause I'll be there to look after them both."

"Forgive me if I am still uncertain." the elderly mage observed them pensively for several seconds before slowly exhaling a deep sigh. "Very well then, it appears you three will not be convinced otherwise... It is against my principles to force any of my students to obey, regardless of the situation." he gave them a dismissing gesture. "Do as you wish!"

"I'm not sure about this." Riku rounded on his best friend with a sigh of his own, making the young master seem much older than he was. "But I'll respect your choices. You better not let anything happen to her." He glanced at the fiery-haired man. "That includes both of you!"

"Chill out, Master Uptight." Lea responded, waving his hands in mock fear.

"I might have been against it, but I'm sure she'll be well-protected either way!" Mickey pointed to the star-shaped window in the corner of the room, revealing the presence of a familiar Gummi Ship speeding their way. "I've provided two of the best to escort you on this important mission!"

The others reached the window over just in time to see the vessel land beside the tower, a pair of familiar figures jumping down from the cockpit. Goofy and Donald were decked out in their traveling gear, weapons in hand and at the ready as they looked up towards the window.

"Your majesty, we're back!" Donald quacked loudly, springing into a loyal salute.

The dog man stumbled as he climbed down from the ship, falling into a tumble and humorously landing on both feet, slightly dazed but completely unharmed. "Hyuck... Hey Sora! Good ta see ya again!" he waved frantically.

"Hey guys, glad you made it!" Sora waved back, looking as if he wanted to run downstairs and embrace his two old travel buddies.

He turned back to face the king, who replied with a cheerful nod before addressing the newly-formed team. "Looks like you kids got a ride to catch... I apologize for not being able to go with you, but both of our jobs are equally important, and we gotta carry them out together!"

"Don't worry your majesty, you can count on us!" he responded, breaking into a run as he bolted from the room excitedly.

Kairi bid them goodbye with a smile and a wave before followed after Sora, quickening her own pace in an attempt to catch up. closely followed by Lea, who seemed much less enthusiastic due to his more relaxed demeanor. The fiery-haired man made a pointing gesture at his remaining allies before heading to the stairs, calmly following after the others at a leisurely pace. For some reason, he couldn't help but think about the days he spent with Roxas on missions, and their afternoons sitting atop the clock tower in Twilight Town. There were two of them back then, but for some reason it felt nostalgic having three people on the team.

Suddenly Lea winced as he felt a pain in his head followed by the image of a black-haired Kairi floating through his mind. "Ugh... What was that?"

"Is there something wrong?" Riku asked, noting the older man's previous uttering.

"Nah, I just realized I'm gonna be stuck with those lovebirds and the two stooges for a while." he joked, quickly slipping through the door in an attempt to escape the strange sensation.

The silver-haired master turned to face the others, but stopped midway as he too felt the jolt of pain, the memory of a strange dark-haired girl appearing in his mind once more. He had never seen her before either, yet for some reason the scene floating through his mind showed them both holding a conversation, and even stranger was her odd resemblance to Kairi. Riku tried to ignore the occurrence, but for some reason, all he could think about was Ansem the Wise's lecture to him about the "Chain of Memories". It was almost haunting... ... ...

Meanwhile...

Pete stood in a gigantic room large enough to conduct a basketball game, the metal floor and shining walls giving it a futuristic ambience slightly reminiscent of Space Paranoids. The main part of the floor was white with black tiles covering the walls, with a gray and black design on the center of the space. A ring of large pillars decorated the main office space, each adorned with an orb providing light. A pair of couches situated closer to the entrance, while the back wall was comprised a giant window overlooking the dismal city below. At the end of the room stood what appeared to be some kind of desk or control panel, surrounded by a metal shell shaped like a horseshoe, and a single chair occupied by the ruler of this world.

"I'm telling ya, everything she said was one-hundred percent true... Dis discovery of ours is gonna give ya everything we promised, and then some!" Pete beckoned his new benefactor, earning a thoughtful expression from the man.

Bearing down on him from behind the raised desk was a young man with cold pitiless blue eyes, and blonde hair styled with a few strands dangling over his face. He wore an expensive white business suit with a black shirt underneath, both covered by a similarly patterned white jacket slightly resembling a lab coat. Despite Pete's constant rambling the last hour or so, he had listened quietly, only pausing to ask questions if something interested him.

"So, uh... What do ya say to our offer, Mr. Shinra?" the overweight cat finished lamely, the other man's silence unnerving him a bit.

Rufus Shinra stood up and turned his back to his visitor, staring through the window into the chaotic streets below. He was indifferent to the screams and gunfire that occasionally echoed through the night. "I am grateful for your assistance. It has been... most valuable... in ensuring my continued control of this world."

Pete groaned, having grown impatient with his stalling. "All we're askin' for is some help pumping out dem Heartless. It's a pretty good deal, that is, if ya want a seat o' power when Maleficent and me is in charge!"

The young CEO continued on as if he had not been disrupted. "The information you shared with Hojo on how to produce those creatures has proven useful in instilling fear in those who would rebel against the Shinra Corporation... It takes too much money to do it like my old man. A little fear does well to control the minds of the common people."

"Well I'm glad yer so happy with the results, but enough of dat prattle!" the giant cat reiterated. "Tell me what ya think about the new deal we got going here? Sounds pretty snazzy, right?"

Rufus Shinra remained unmoved as he shifted around in his seat. "So far I've kept my end of the bargain: In exchange for producing the Heartless on a mass scale, you allow me to use them for my own vendetta. Even if you are telling the truth about this mythical phantom, I still don't understand the new deal. How does the presence of this so-called monster affect our current arrangement?"

"Dis Shadow Blot fella is offerin' us all the power in the universe, and all we gotta do is set him free. Now dat's pretty dang simple and straightforward far as I'm concerned."

The young man turned to face his visitor, his empty stare sending chills down his spine. "And what concern of that of mine?"

"So long as you lend us support in settin' the monster free, Maleficent is willing to give you and the rest of yours a share of the prize when every world in this big wide universe becomes ours for the taking." Pete let out a loud, obnoxious laugh. "Pretty sweet deal, ain't it rich boy?

The executive locked gazes with his unwanted guest. "Allow me to explain this in a way you'll understand..." he began slowly, causing Pete to flinch slightly at his callousness. "This world belongs to me, but to challenge the universe would mean risking what I already have. Do what you wish with the other worlds, I have no interest in them."

"You seem ta forget, that as long as yer using the darkness to keep this place under your thumb, there's bound to be some do-gooders out there who wanna stop ya. Dere's this group of kids that's been houndin' ole Maleficent for a while now, and they're bound to show up here eventually to do the same to you!" Pete stomped his foot irritably. "What do ya say to that, kiddo?"

"Shinra Vessels and Heartless are constantly patrolling the airspace around this world. The chances that anyone will be able to penetrate Gaia VII's defenses while piloting a craft is nonexistent, and even if they survive, ground forces are prepared to strike. You'll find we're a bit more cautious than you."

"Now see here, you rotten little ankle biter, yer gettin' too big for your britches! These are the kids who beat down Maleficent once before!" The hulking goon snapped one of the room's pillars with a swing of his fist.

Pete stumbled back as a bullet shot ricocheted inches from where his foot had been, his entire body becoming encased by a pyramid-shaped structure composed entirely of energy moments later. He pounded against the walls of the miniature prison, finding them surprisingly resilient despite his own prodigious strength. Rufus Shinra put away his shotgun looking as if he had just swatted a bug, the sound of another person's footsteps catching Pete's attention. A man with spiky red hair wearing a dark blue suit stepped out from behind the barrier, a strange metallic rod held loosely between his fingers, and a smirk like that of a Cheshire Cat.

"Is this overweight thug bugging you, Mr. Shinra?" the new visitor asked, looking highly amused by the sudden, and most notably violent, turn of events.

"I ain't dat plump, you scrawny little misfit!" Pete bellowed, conjuring his own barrier and expanding its range to shatter the prison. "You punks got a lot a nerve, pickin' a fight with me! Why I oughta break you guys in half, or flatten the tires on yer cars at least."

Rufus sat back down with a dour expression, snapping his fingers over his shoulder. "Please escort Mr. Pete from my office immediately, Reno."

The blue-clad man twirled his Electro-Mag Rod between his fingers, pressing the end into their visitor's plump backside, causing him to jump as he was hit with a zap of electricity. "You heard the man. Time to go, feline Frankenstein!" he jeered, tugging the large toon roughly as he wrapped a hand around his shoulder.

Pete yanked his arm free while using the darkness to rip open a portal. "Yer gonna live ta regret this, I'm tellin' ya that! Don't expect no help from us if those rotten do-gooders come knocking!"

"You may have provided the information on how to utilize the Heartless, but you also lack the resources to produce the numbers Maleficent desires. That's why you came to my world to begin with, am I right? If the worst truly does come to pass, you may have no choice but to assist me once more."

"Hear that? I'm no expert on this, but it sounds like you need us just as much as we need you guys." Reno added mockingly. The man raised a foot and booted Pete headfirst into the Dark Corridor. "And don't let the door hit you on the way out!"

The corrupt CEO straightened the wrinkles on his jacket, looking completely indifferent by his visitor's less than friendly departure. After stowing his weapon away in the inside of his coat, Rufus re-buttoned the top of his suit and crossed the room, stepping past his bodyguard without so much as a backwards glance. Reno's energetic and mocking demeanor did little to amuse him at the moment, but he regarded the elites of his fighting force to be useful to the company's ability to maintain a firm grip over the City of Midgar, and all of Gaia VII.

"You, uh... don't really trust those guys, do you?" he asked the boss with a note of distaste.

"It doesn't matter whether or not I do, so long as the Shinra Group remains on top. I am curious about these people he mentioned." As the he reached the door, the CEO paused another moment, turning to get a better view of his companion. "Alert the Turks of potential security breeches and have them double the security forces in the immediate vicinity."

"No problem, boss." Reno inclined his head slightly as he watched the other man leave. "Say, where are you off to right now?"

"I need to speak to Professor Hojo immediately... It's not your concern." Rufus answered, the slamming of the door behind him and signaling the end of their short conversation.

As the Shira executive headed downstairs, Pete continued his run through the Corridor of Darkness, his annoyance having reached its limits. He dealt with enough verbal abuse everyday working for Maleficent, but the last thing he wanted was to suffer the same from everyone else he was forced to be in contact with. The large toon continued his run through the swirling shadow matter, having become quite accustomed to using the inter-dimensional tunnels are a means of transportation due to years of experience. He had done his jobs for the night and decided to return to the Wasteland.

After what felt like forever, the lumbering cat touched down on solid ground once more, landing face first before the door of Dark Beauty Castle. The surrounding still gave him the creeps, especially since the first floor was home to those monstrous statues, but he was more concerned about the evil fairy's reaction to their benefactor's less than hospitable reaction. He heard voices coming from the castle's grand entry hall beyond the doors, slowly creeping forward to hear better, but accidentally stumbling through the entry as he leaned on the aged doors.

Maleficent stopped speaking to whoever was present, her attention shifting to her assistant. "I see you have returned, dear Pete... Perhaps you came to inform me of your success in mustering our remaining allies to the cause."

"Uh... ... Define the word, success?" Pete began slowly, earning an angry scowl from the sorceress.

"As expected, you're as worthless as ever!" she snapped, causing him to flinch in fear of the punishment that was certain to follow.

"Hey hey hey, no need to blow your top, Miss Horn-headed-turn-into-a-Dragon." a scheming voice spoke from the darkness, the sarcasm in his tone present. The presence of blue fire illuminated the man's sharp features as he stepped out of the shadows, revealing the face of the Lord of the Dead.

"What the Heck are you doin' here?" the anthropomorphic cat walked over to the group.

Hades took a seat on a large chair situated in the hall, leaning on his hand with a sleepy expression. "Things were going kinda slow at the old coliseum, so I says to myself 'Hey, why not see what Dragon Breath and the Fat Cat are up to?' So here I am now..."

"I summoned him here, and he agreed to lend his support to our cause once more." Maleficent swept past the Greek God with a look of disdain. When no one spoke up, she advanced on the lazy deity. "Perhaps this time, you might feel more compelled to personally involve yourself in the festivities... What say you?"

"What I says, is that you need to find someone else to do your dirty work. I came down here to hang around, take in the atmosphere, watch some people get hurt... Y'know, good stuff like that." he spoke a mile a minute, sounding as arrogant and relaxed as ever. "Was never big on the whole gettin' my hands dirty thing. You know what I'm saying, Male-babe?"

"Well I see you haven't changed any." Pete let out a low chuckle in response to his master's ensuing irritation, covering his mouth in fear as he eyes settled on him.

"Like I always say, a real bad guy let's other people do the fightin' for 'em." Hades explained. "When you're the boss, you're the man! I mean, the big bad dude doesn't need to handle the grunt work, or else they ain't really the top dog, you feel me?"

Pete angrily rounded on the deity. "Jus' cause I do the footwork, doesn't mean I ain't the big man?"

Maleficent tapped her staff against the stone floor, her expression going from livid to mere irritation. "Since you seem to keen on expressing yourself, perhaps you care to explain to me why your mission was less than successful?"

She began stepping towards him, causing the lumbering henchman to panic slightly. "Now hold on there, I didn't say it was a completely failure." he waved his hands protectively in front of his body. "I'd say about half of 'em agreed to help us out, although I couldn't find some of the others. I'd say we got a pretty good start, though."

"When they see the power we plan to unleash firsthand, the others will no doubt flock to our cause. If not, they will face the same fate as anyone else who would dare defy my will."

"You got dat right, sister!" Pete boasted, standing his hunched frame up a little straighter.

"It seems I'm not the only one around here who's got friends on the other side..." a deep voice spoke, his figure remaining hidden in the shadows.

Pete looked over his master's shoulder as if noticing for the first time the remaining silhouettes standing behind Hades. "Hey, looks like I'm not the only one who was out recruiting today." he squinted at the man who just spoke. "Though it looks like this guy's built like a stick. Better not break 'em by accident." he let out a booming laugh.

Maleficent gestured towards the shadowed man with an evil smirk. "You shouldn't be so quick to judge a person by appearance alone, my dull-witted Pete. This gentleman has a fascinating connection with the darkness, therefore I saw it imminent that we would eventually join forces. Naturally, he found the prospect most interesting, and furthermore, he possesses rather intriguing powers that may yet benefit the cause."

The lanky figure twirled a top hat in between his fingers, placing the article on his head with a wide grin, visible even through the darkness. "You got that right, polyester player... I've got magic the likes of which you never seen, and that ain't no joke!"

Pete took a step back to get a better look at the remaining people his superior had summoned to the meeting, her beady eyes first settling on a tall man with long dark hair and glasses wearing red headphones around his neck and a black suit. The bad lighting made it almost impossible to read the man's expression, he carried himself with an air of confidence. The second was a short, slightly plump figure wearing a dress, with messy shoulder-length hair and large eyes. The third was the most striking, a humanoid villain standing at near twenty feet tall, with what appeared to be a small, long-eared animal perched on its shoulder. There were a few more, but he couldn't make out much detail due to the bad lighting.

Maleficent moved so that she was standing in the center of the room, shoving her minion aside without further acknowledgement. "I thank you all for coming tonight, my allied forces." The evil fairy thrust her arms in the air dramatically, her tattered cloak billowing outwards like the wings of a demon. "With our combined resources, we shall cover all worlds in everlasting darkness, and reshape them however we desire! This universe will be ours!"

Faint murmurs erupted from the shadowed figures as she made the announcement, the assembly talking amongst each other as Hades and Pete watched on. Being acquainted with the sorceress and her methods, her two most familiar allies were not as affected. As the wind from the endless drifted in through the open door, the candles lighting the Grand Hall were snuffed out, leaving the room in total darkness once more. Maleficent let out a chortle of laughter, knowing full well that this was only a preview for the future of all that lives.

Meanwhile...

"Looks like we finally made it! Sora stretched his arms outwards while cracking his knuckles.

Kairi leaned over him to see out the window, her eyes growing wide with a sense of wonder as she laid eyes on the gigantic castle. "So this is Disney Castle, right? It's looks like a really nice place to visit, like something out of a child's dreams."

"It's all right..." Lea stood up, taking a second to snap the kink in his neck back into place. "I didn't get a good look the last time I was here, but the place has it's good points."

The brunette exited the ship, landing on his feet beside it. "I heard from the king that there's a lot more to this world than just the castle, including an amusement park and a ton of other places to have fun. Too bad we're here on a mission, huh guys?"

"A good time for me is a bar of Sea-Salt ice cream and a nice bed to nap in." the fire user strolled past him, taking a moment to admire the clear blue skies before giving his friends a solid pat on the back. "Not to mention spending time with your buddies. In my opinion, you don't need anything else to have some real fun."

Sora looked up at the castle behind them, realizing for the first time that they had landed away from the main structure in a place he hadn't see before. "You guys parked a little far, didn't ya?" he addressed the pilots. "Aren't we going to the castle to find that key?"

Donald Duck marched up to his human friends. "Oh, that's right! You haven't seen much outside of the castle, have you?" he squawked, earning a nod from Sora.

"Actually, we're headin' somewhere else this time." Goofy added with a shake of his head. "It's quite a long walk from the Disney Town, so we'll gettin' a ride. If ya'll would follow me, we gotta get to the meeting point fast."

Goofy and Donald led the way through the streets of Disney Town, the colorful buildings and bustling streets filled with several toons that Sora vaguely recognized from his trip through the Timeless River. He noticed that humans seemed to attract quite a bit of attention due to the world being mostly populated by anthropomorphic animals, but the strangers were pleasant nonetheless, happily waving and imparting pleasant greetings as they went about their daily business. Like the castle itself, the other buildings were whimsical and often unsymmetrical, but the town itself had a certain charm to it.

As they walked on Sora looked down and noticed Kairi's hand dangling beside his, quietly resisting the urge to reach out and hold it. "So, you excited for your first real mission?"

"I guess you could say that." she replied, her smile bright and warm as ever. The redheaded girl looked off into the distance for a moment before turning back to face her friend. "It's like I said before: I won't just stand around while everyone else protects me like before. This is my opportunity to protect you guys for a change!"

Lea walked past them, looking back with a crafty smirk. "Don't go getting ahead of yourself, princess. Things can get really rough out here in the field, and you don't wanna get to confident before getting a taste of the action."

Kairi responded by sticking her tongue out, the gesture surprising her friends. Normally she wouldn't have been so blatantly rude, but being around her friends again made her less uptight about everything. "I still owe you for kidnapping me, Axel."

"That was so funny I forgot the laugh." The former Organization member replied smartly. "Good one, but I wasn't quite myself back in those wilder days, so it really doesn't count."

"Wilder days? You mean a few months ago?" Sora half-joked, earning a series of giggles from his best friend, while Lea resisted the urge to roll his eyes.

"Say what you want, I was just trying to warn Princess here, that goals are never as easy to accomplish as they are to talk about. It wasn't anything personal, if that makes you feel better."

The Princess of Heart looked down at her own feet as she thought about what he said, before returning his gaze. "You're definitely right about that." she began, suppressing a grimace. "But I would really appreciate it if you would stop calling me princess, and call me Kairi instead."

Lea ran a hand through his spiky hair before walking on ahead. "Sure, it's all the same to me." Sora opened his mouth to say something else, almost walking into the taller man's back as the group procession came to a swift stop.

"Well lookie here... There's our ride!" Goofy pointed across the street, their eyes gravitating towards a large stretch limo.

The giant car was a royal purple color and especially large even by human standards, being built to accommodate even folks of Pete's immense size. The body of the vehicle was lined in gold, ending in a hood ornament shaped like a dollar sign. As they took in the aesthetics, the front seat door opened to reveal an anthropomorphic dog roughly Goofy's height, though his plump frame and light tan fur were in direct contrast with the latter's dark coloring and skinny build. The man also appeared somewhat older, having a balding scalp and wearing a neatly ironed suit, giving him the vibe of a stern and dignified server.

Donald was the first to greet the newcomer. "I see you made it early... Good job, Duckworth."

"Excellent to see you again, Master Donald. I do hope Miss Daisy and the others are doing well." The canine butler replied, acknowledging him with a bow of his head as he walked around the car, opening the doors for the group. "Mr. McDuck looks forward to seeing you all. Please get in so we can be on our way."

As the others began filing into the transport, Sora found himself full of questions. "So Donald, is this guy your butler or something?"

"No, he's Uncle Scrooge's butler." the duck replied, hopping onto the back seat and shuffling over so that his friends would have more room.

Goofy went next, followed by Sora, who conveniently found himself situated between his two travel buddies, and directly across from Kairi. Lea off the side, looking out the window with a bored expression, despite the fact that the ride hadn't even started yet. Once they were all buckled in, the middle-aged chauffeur closed the doors behind them, returning to the driver's seat and closing the soundproof window that separated him from the passengers.

Kairi looked out the window before turning her attention to the others, focusing instead on their duck friend. "So Donald, are we going to see your uncle?"

"Yup, and it's da first time I've been back home in a while." Donald replied, sounding more excited than he intended.

Goofy gave them a loud hyuck noise before speaking up. "His Uncle Scrooge lives in a giant mansion in Duckburg over yonder. He practically built the town himself, though he's always off working on some kinda money-makin' business."

The group continued their conversation as the car continued, falling quiet on occasion as Duckworth dutifully took care of the driving. After piloting a Gummi ship between worlds, hiking around on foot, and swimming through oceans, Sora found the change of pace to be quite relaxing. He had never been in a limousine like this before, and was still surprised at how large it was on the inside. After roughly ten more minutes, the car entered a forest, emerging twenty minutes later in an open road leading downhill. They had been traveling for about a half an hour, but their destination now stood dead ahead.

Sora peeked out the window just in time to see the settlement up ahead, consisting of several house resembling those they had seen around Disney Castle, but in a more uniform color scheme. A large suspension bridge could be seen leading over the river that branched off of the western side of the city, although the most striking detail was the large hill that towered over the settlement, on which stood a large manor house and a gigantic larger-than-life building with a dollar sign painted on the side.

"Is this Duckburg!?" Sora asked, his eyes immediately gravitating towards the hillside. He leaned against the window, not even waiting for an answer. "Whoa, what's that big structure towering over everything?"

Kairi let out a stifled giggle as he started asking more questions, happily taking in all of the childlike qualities that made her like him all the more. After a minute or so, she gently nudged his arm. "I'm sure we'll be able to visit again some other time, then we can see all the sights for ourselves."

Donald let out a quack before trying to tackle some of his friend's questions. "This is the place I was born, and that giant building on the hill is Uncle Scrooge's money bin."

"He's that rich?" the brunette stuttered, silently wondering how much could fit in that building.

Goofy chuckled in his awkward yet lovable manner. "The richest duck in the world is what they call 'em, though if ya wanna be more accurate, I'd venture say it's more like richest guy in at least ten worlds. Wouldn't ya agree?"

"I guess that makes sense. He's got businesses going in several worlds from what I remember, and that includes his new shop in Radiant Garden." Sora spent a second thinking. "Didn't it have something to do with selling Sea Salt ice cream?"

Although the others prepared to resume the conversation, Lea was growing tired of sitting quietly. "I like sea salt ice-cream as much as the next guy, but that's beside the point." The fire user folded his arms tapping his foot against the plush carpet of the limo. "Before we get there, why don't you guys tell us how this relates to finding the first key."

"You'll find out soon enough." Donald squawked, earning a series of slow nods from his partner.

"Yes siree, the king told us not to say nothin' bout it until we reach the mansion."

Sora smiled humorously as the older man snorted. "Weren't you the one telling Kairi to be patient earlier? Maybe you should take your own advice."

"Whatever you say kiddo..." Lea responded, kicking his feet up as the limo continued it's steady trek towards their destination on the hill.

Note to Readers: That's chapter two down. I'm still trying to see whether or not the support is here for me to continue writing this, so don't forget to REVIEW and tell me what you think. As always, I apologize for any typos that slipped through my proverbial net. If you have any ideas or contributions, I am the kind of writer who has taken advice from his reviewers and readers in the past, since I always strive to make my story the best it can be. That being said, I hoped everyone enjoyed this second installment.

Note that the character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit was Disney's first star cartoon character, predating even Mickey Mouse. Extra points if you guys recognize any of Maleficent's new group.