Author's Notes: …what can I say? The sequel to Court of Souls…is here. IT'S HERE! Well, the prologue, anyway, with more soon to follow. This is gonna be a big one folks (even I don't know how long, as portions of the outline still aren't finished) and I hope we can all hang on for the ride. I'm back from my vacation, I've been accepted into college, I'm getting a job, and I'm paying AOL that damn twenty-three dollars a month to keep my Internet, even if, due to having only dial-up, my time is limited of a day.

But yes, it is a time of change, and new pathways. Or is it a time of endings? I don't knooooow…you'll just have to look below. :D

Anyway, the usual warnings: if you haven't read CoS, then don't even try reading this. You'll be damn confused. Also, characters will cuss now and then and they will bleed. Plus, time has passed, for certain, and that means the kid gloves are coming off in some respects. This IS rated the way it is for a reason. Not only that, but I'll still go at a rather slow pace (for more than one reason now), but, like always, I do intend to finish this. It is a personal thing, really, that I always finish whatever I start (and I do mean this, even for certain fics that have been sitting on the shelf for a while). Reviews are, of course, welcome, but flamers and stalkers and rabid monkeys will be ignored and, more than likely, laughed at. My muses (points to Ryu Soma and Chibi Shido, back from the dead) would also like to point out that I do not take requests/demands to have certain events happen, certain scenes, certain couples, or to change anything that has already happened. Though unfinished, this fanfiction is dictated by the outline alone and that's not about to change.

Whew! Enough with the doom and gloom! We're all here for the enjoyment of it, right? So…enjoy! D


Reign of Dreams




"…I let you down

You trusted me, believed in me

and I let you down

Of all the things I hid from you

I cannot hide the shame

And I pray someone, something will

come, to take away the pain

There's no way out of this dark place

No hope, no future

I know I can't be free

But I can't see another way

I can't face another day."

…"No Way Out", Brother Bear


Prologue: The Price We Pay

How did this happen?

The clouds were dark, pregnant, and full to bursting, yet still the rain had not come. Cool, glistening droplets would have been a succor upon the land, a reason for the people to cry. The wet would hide their tears, would give them an excuse to mourn with all the abandon they wished so desperately to display. There really was nothing else to be done, all that was left being this deep, heartbreaking sadness, the like of which hadn't been felt since wars of decades past. No one was spared the sorrow, the festering despair that spread across the land like an abysmal plague, hurting and scarring with wounds that would never disappear.

The Crowned Prince was gone…kidnapped, lost, murdered, the grisly possibilities went on and on. How long had they been searching? How long had all the people of the kingdom sought and questioned and demanded with all their hearts to have their beloved Prince returned? It seemed centuries, the previous days of happiness but faded memories felt in the few times the sun seemed to shine. In other, neighboring kingdoms, such deeply felt loss was a foreign thing, but their Prince was precious beyond measure. For his kindness, for his bravery, for his insecurities and rebelliousness; for his young wisdom and also young mistakes; for the way that, whatever task he was set to, he would put all of himself into it, willing it to be done with a manner that was both rash and gentle. He had been so young…just reaching his eighteenth year…there had been such promise in him, for more than just the throne.

So very much more…he had been the first Keybearer to appear in an Age, carrying with him one of three items of power linked to all that is, though few knew of this outside of the King and his closest council.

It was the reason for so many things, the Key that he carried. For a 'normal' Prince to disappear was a tragic and terrible even in itself, but for him to have wielded a Keyblade as well…the implications stretched farther than the kingdom, to the very existence of all worlds. The Key marked him as one needed to guard the lives of all, as one destined for greatness should he have the strength to find it and face it. He had a purpose and in all the people had been born an indomitable will to protect him.

But then…he had disappeared, so very few clues left as to why. It had seemed hopeless in the first few days of searching, the questions traveling in endless circles with no answers to be found. A cryptic message, a sign of struggle, a lingering trace of unidentifiable magic, and the slow, still-continuing disappearance of stars from the sky. Everything had seemed so hopeless, no chance, no way for the wrong to be put to rights, for some hope to be seen in this hour of darkest despair.

So that…that was why they were taking this action now. Even after two weeks of questioning, the prisoners had given no explanation for their obvious involvement. They could not produce a reason for the Prince's disappearance, nor could they find an excuse for their own actions and motives. None that could be believed or trusted. All that was known was the fact that they, in a very direct way, were responsible for what—as everyone seemed to feel in their hearts—was the death of their Prince.

That was why…

It was mid-afternoon, but none could discern this as they stood in the courtyard of the castle, the rolling clouds above black and heavy, obscuring the sun that had been absent for days upon days. The white, many-tiered structure itself seemed dimmer, its elegant lines more shallow, seeming to hang heavy in the weighted air. Its colors were faded, almost, the blue of the towers reduced to an old, worn appearance when they were normally bright and glistening. Below, every being from the city that could fit on the grounds was there, crowded behind sturdy rope and wood divides. Knights in full ceremonial armor were placed along the dirt path, both to keep the rabble at bay and prevent the prisoners from escaping as they walked past.

There were bets going on amongst the seedier civilians as to what would happen first: a mob-powered lynching of the accused, or a frantic, utterly futile escape attempt.

As tensions and anticipation grew to almost unmanageable heights in the courtyard, a different kind of anxiety was growing within the castle. A troop of a dozen of the most accomplished knights accompanied the highest ranked court wizard, he being the only being on the planet who could undue the magic seal on the prisoners' door. As they neared it, even the most stalwart guards tightened their grip on their weapons, eyes keen and bodies ready.

It was the highest security cell in the kingdom, contained deep within the bowels of the palace. There were no windows of any kind, air circulated through by tiny holes in the top of the walls, sealed magically so that, if a prisoner was capable of shape-shifting, they could not escape through them. The door itself was wider than average, arched in a curved pattern, runes and symbols carved into the wall around it. Its surface also carried many magic designs, twisting and turning and twining around each other, the bright, iridescent markings actually moving on their own, even going so far as to change color as the magic continually recreated itself, preventing any tampering of the seal.

Only Duncan Duck, the most powerful magic-user in the land and one of King Matthew Mouse's most loyal and closest friends, knew how to remove the binding spell. They had been forced to seal the door with a spell rather than an actual lock, considering the identities of Prince Mickey's murderers.

They were both Keyblade Masters as well.

Many knew the Keybearer legend. The majority preferred to immerse themselves in the brighter half of the tale, reveling in the heroic exploits of a past Bearer who saved worlds. But, just as all knew of the light, they too knew of the darkness. Bearers had destroyed worlds as well, and brought ruin upon the peoples of the Light. They could be terrible, doom-callers that stole the lives of many.

They had to be ones such, for what other kind of creature could cause the loss of their beloved Prince and yet still wield a weapon of power?

White-feathered brows furrowed in concentration, Duncan placed the tip of his silverwood, Wizard's Realm wand on the very center symbol of the door, tracing a shining white line down to bisect several special characters. As he passed through each one—a star, a moon, a sun, a comet, and the crest of the realm—the designs split apart, horizontal pillars of stone pulling aside at the same time. In the end, both halves of the door had been absorbed into the frame, leaving the way into the cell clear.

Calmly nodding to Duncan, the Captain of the Royal Knights, Gloria, took the fore position, her deadly Hero's Realm halberd at the ready while her droopy years pricked forward to catch the slightest sound. Surprisingly, there was the smallest orb of pale blue light within the cell, magically produced when magic should not have even been possible.

Especially considering both prisoners had glass-like, deep purple shackles around their wrists, formed of energy and loose enough to allow movement around the room, but not within five feet of the door. Even more than that, they were supposed to prevent magic use of any kind, the first of many defenses within the cell itself. Others included sound circles embedded in the walls, which recorded the words they spoke to each other, transmitting them to Duncan's crystal ball in the observatory. Not that it had been of much use.

Being Keyblade Masters, they had simply switched the languages they spoke in, somehow aware when he was close to deciphering one.

Narrowing her chocolate brown eyes at the sphere, Gloria walked to the center of the room, looking back and forth at the opposite walls to which the prisoners were chained. "Explain this."

"I'm sorry, but I don't like the dark," the younger one said softly, smiling an apologetic smile that no one could bring themselves to believe. "I had to make something."

"But how?" Duncan had to ask, a tad angrily. No being had ever been able to produce a spell within this space. Not even he could use magic once he stepped within, which was why he remained at the door.

"Well, it was really tough," he began, but the other boy interrupted him, saying several quick words in a language none of them could understand. Once the exchange was over, the brown-haired one glanced at them askance, an unreadable expression in the deep, sapphire blue depths of his eyes. Young eyes, and yet not, full of experience and pain and sorrow, as well as the greatest strength to be found in overcoming the greatest darkness.

It was hard to believe that one such as he could have committed the atrocity that he had.

The silver-haired teen, appearing to be older by about a year, spoke up then, maturing voice smooth and even. "You came here for a reason. What is it?"

"Your punishments have been decided," Gloria said at once, meeting what might have been a glare with her own dark gaze. "You are to come with us."

"Fine," he replied at once, all unruffled calm. He got easily to his feet, the blindfold over his eyes not seeming to hinder him in the least. Upon their capture, they had been searched, of course, but he had fought like a demon out of the fiery depths to keep the obstruction over his eyes, unrelenting until Duncan had promised that it would be returned. That was a great mercy to Gloria's eyes, one that she believed was undeserved.

But many had wondered as to the reason for his vehement protection of his blindfold and what lay hidden under his always closed lids.

The younger boy stood as well, just as calm as his companion. He seemed the more innocent of the pair, but not always. They both appeared to have equal amounts of youth and age in them, signs of hard, desperate battle very early in their lives, and yet a time of happiness afterward that restored a little of what had been lost.

And yet…they had…

Gloria covered the silver-haired Bearer, while her trusted lieutenant took his companion. She tapped the energy chains with the tip of her extended halberd, a sound like chimes flitting through the air as there came an abrupt flash and shifting of energies. At once, his wrist and ankles alone carried the shackles, loose enough for him to walk but still tight enough to prevent him from attacking. Behind her, Gloria heard the same sound and knew the same had been done to the second boy. Motioning for him to walk, the other Knights cleared the way as the two prisoners were led—surrounded on all sides—through the winding, dimly-lit corridors of the castle, out through the main hall, and onto the grounds.

At once, a great cry rose from the masses, a wailing roar that was an even mix of grief and the purest anger. Both boys flinched beneath the barrage, though the silver-haired one not as much. Their names were called again and again, the mantra almost a death knoll that thundered through the oppressive air and into the furious heavens above.

Although, these were not the prisoners' true names. In the weeks that they had been in custody, not once had they given their names. This had been one of the main accusations against them.

If they were innocent, what reason did they have to hide who they were? Their Keyblades hadn't even been seen again since the Bearers had been found at the scene of the crime, even though there had been several hours between their capture and the placement of the chains upon their bodies and their hearts. They could have at least attempted to escape, yet they had not.

It was another damaging fact against them: why stay, when so many were against them? When they knew what would be their eventual fate?

With so many unknowns, the court had given them designations, as they needed something to place on the Records.

"Kakios, Kakios, Kakios," the masses jeered at the silver-haired one, sobs and screams of fury accompany each call, just as they did to the cries of, "Athanasios, Athanasios, Athanasios," to the younger teen.

The names were titles of legend, fabled to have been given to twin brothers who had been born Keyblade Masters in times long ago. Their futures had been bright enough in the beginning, but the pair had turned towards the darkness, seeking power and the void over truth and the light. They had wrought destruction upon many, many worlds, until the day—or so it was said—that an ancient ancestor of the King's own line defeated them with his own bestowed Key, casting their darkness-washed weapons back into the Heart of All Worlds until they could be purified and called forth once again.

It seemed now as though that effort had been wasted. Here again were those twisted by darkness, though now none remained to take from them the tools of light they had tainted.

So this…this was the only way.

They were led to the raised gallows at the center of the courtyard, the almost ancient devices brought forth once again for a purpose that had been nearly non-existent in their civilized, peaceful kingdom. Peaceful, until this had occurred. Much time had been spent, scared and devastated officials without direction, lost now that the Prince was gone and his parents still journeying on the other side of the planet. Messengers had been sent, but none had returned and, in lost desperation, this recourse had been chosen.

The masses seemed to desire it with an intensity that bordered on madness, as evident by their screaming voices and the hatred that was almost palpable in the air.

The silver-haired one was first, his partially hidden expression stony as he stood, immovable as a mountain, the noose slipped over his head by a cautious, trembling guard. It could be supposed that the warrior was trembling from fear, or from anticipation, or even both in equal amounts. Gloria would have done this herself, but she was securing the area around the gallows, holding back the crowd by sheer force of will, her heart steeling itself for what she was about to see.

Though she knew they deserved it, a part of her would never find happiness in death.

The other boy was next, eyes downcast and full of shadow. He looked so young…too young. Too vulnerable, too unlike what everyone knew him to be. It almost made the people even angrier, their abhorrence of him seeming to grow as he so obviously lied to them, untruth in the very lines of his body. Shouts of "Yes, yes!" rose as a rope was secured around his neck as well, the second guard pulling it taunt and not seeming to care about the jerk of the teen's body, the small, scared inhale of breath and the clenching of his bound hands before him.

His companion, however, caught every movement and murmured a few worlds only they could hear, his voice calm and gentle, yet full of a regret that, had Gloria and Duncan been able to hear it, the faint traces of their own doubt would have grown and been amplified.

"It'll be okay, Sora. We knew what we had to do."

As he spoke, lightning flashed once more in the darkened heavens above and the first tears of the sky began to descend, the executioner placing his hand on the switch release, ready to drop the wooden planks out from under them and end this hellish nightmare of guilt and accusation and loss that could not be borne. Just before that final moment, the younger boy, Sora, whispered in reply, eyes falling shut.

"I know, Riku, I know. But I wish…I wish it didn't have to be like this. I wish…we hadn't won."

"…me, too."

And then the executioner's hand fell.