(a/n: If you have any complaints, please read my bio page before you make them.)
The waves were choppier.
It was something Riku couldn't help but notice as he pulled on the oars, trying hard to keep his boat on course for the children's island as the wind whipped his hair into his face. Storm's coming, he thought as he glanced to the east, where the banded clouds were coming from.
Storms were a normal occurrence on Destiny Islands; what else could one expect when living on an island chain? So Riku wasn't worried about it at all as he made it to the dock and jumped out, taking extra care to lash his boat securely to the pole. Then he made his way down the beach to the waterfalls, where Sora and Kairi were waiting for him.
"Getting windier," he greeted cheerfully as he walked up. Sora was sitting on the bank of the waterfall pool, trying to fend off Kairi as she playfully splashed him. Both looked up and grinned at him when he spoke.
"There's a storm on the way," Sora answered, wincing as Kairi splashed him again.
"Anyone can tell that," she scolded. Walking back to the bank, the redhead tucked a stray lock of wet hair behind her ear and stuffed her feet into her sandals. "Mayor Fushigi told me to go back to the mainland if it starts raining," she continued. "He says this storm's gonna be big, and he doesn't want me caught in it. Some people from the mainland even came and told us to evacuate, but the Mayor doesn't think it'll be that bad."
" Heh, it never is," Riku said. "Still, leaving if it starts raining sounds reasonable to me. The mayor's usually right about these things, and the wind has picked up quite a bit."
"Y'all are no fun," Sora griped as he stood up. The three started for the path to the cove, where their little secret was kept. "It might be fun to ride out a storm out here."
"A small one, maybe," Riku snorted. "But even you can tell that this is gonna be big."
Sora shrugged. "I just hope we're able to get the raft done today." His sapphire eyes sparkled as he folded his arms behind his head and stared up at the gray sky. "I can't believe we're so close to finishing it! Then we'll be able to go to other worlds!"
"Since when were you so excited about it?" Riku teased as Kairi giggled at them. "It was my idea."
The brunette smirked. "I guess you're rubbing off on me, Riku. What a scary thought."
"Why, you—" Riku dove for Sora, but the brunette was already running, twisting his head around to laugh as Riku landed fast first in the sand. The older boy was up in a flash and chasing him, though, and Sora had to turn around and focus more on running.
Riku caught up to him easily, and when Kairi finally reached them, breathing hard and nearly choking on her giggles, the two were wrestling in the cove's surf. "Come on, guys," she said between pants. "Cut it out! We've got…a raft…to build."
"Okay, Kairi," Riku answered as he pulled Sora into a headlock. "We'll get started just as soon as Sora cries 'Uncle.'"
"No way!" the brunette grunted, struggling desperately to break Riku's hold. But the older teen only pulled it tighter, and after only a few seconds, Sora had to yell, "All right! Uncle! Uncle!"
"That's more like it." Riku released him and smoothly stood, trying to brush the wet sand out of his hair. "So what's on the supply list today, Miss Foreman?"
Kairi giggled again. "That's Forewoman," she corrected as she took a crumpled piece of paper out of her pocket and attempted to smooth it out. "Let's see…today we need some rope and seven logs, one of them being a thin log that we can use as a mast. I've got a sheet that we can use for a sail. Sora, did you get the sticks we needed for crosspieces?"
"They're in my boat."
"A lot of good they're doing us there," Riku said.
"Oh, shut up!" Sora made to tackle Riku, but the older teen smoothly stepped to the side, and this time it was the brunette who wound up face down in the dirt.
"Be sure to pick up your sticks while you're collecting logs," Riku said with a smug grin, and then he took off.
The teens spent the better part of two hours scouring the island for suitable wood, but they had found only four logs when the first drops of rain fell from the darkening sky. "Looks like we're not gonna get the raft finished today after all," Kairi said as the boys rejoined her in the cove. "We'd better get home."
"After we drag the raft up under the coconut trees," Riku replied. "We don't want the storm to wash it away, after all." He grabbed one end of the unfinished raft. "Come on, Sora, a little help would be nice."
"Oh! Uh, right!" The brunette quickly grabbed the other end and helped Riku drag it further up the beach.
"Geez, Sora, you need to stop spacing out so much," Kairi admonished as they hurried back around the island to the dock. The wind was much stronger here than it was in the sheltered cove, and the trio stared in dismay at the rough waves, each one more than enough to push a boat far off-course or even tip it over.
"Now what are we supposed to do?" Sora griped as one of the waves washed over the dock, threatening to take their boats with it. "We can't row through this; we'll drown!"
"No, we won't," Riku said. "We certainly can't stay here, at any rate. Look, we can use the extra rope from the raft to tie our boats together so that we don't get too far apart. That way we can be close by each other if one of the boats tips over."
"Good idea," Kairi said, pulling the rope off her shoulder. "I'm glad I decided to bring it along; it'd take too much time to go back and get it." She handed it to Riku, who then set to work tying the boats together, a job complicated by the waves that kept crashing over the dock. After ten minutes of trying, he finally managed to thread the rope under the front seat of each boat and knotting tightly to the boats on each end.
"Let's go," he said, jumping into the lead boat and grabbing his oars.
Sora and Kairi followed suit, and somehow the three made their way across the rough waters to the main island, though it took them much longer than usual. When at last they made it to the town dock, all three were soaked to the skin and shivering with cold as the wind and stinging rain pelted their skin. Instead of splitting up, all three made their way to Sora's house, which was closest.
"Sora!" his mother Sara scolded as soon as they pushed open the door and trooped in. "You shouldn't have stayed out so long; I was getting worried about you."
"Heh, sorry Mom," the brunette said with a grin. "We were on the side that was sheltered from the wind, so we didn't realize it had gotten so rough."
"And your wet to the bone, too," Sara fretted, hustling back into the hallway and soon returning with an armload of towels. "Don't be heading home tonight, you two," she said to Riku and Kairi as they began to dry off. "This storm's a big one, and you don't need to be out in it."
"Don't worry," Riku said with a laugh. "If we were planning on going home, we would have gone by now."
"The winds are too strong," Kairi added.
Sara nodded. "Well, I just hope your parents don't worry too much," she said.
Riku laughed that off, but Kairi bit her lip. The mayor had been rather protective of her ever since she had come to the islands, and she hated to worry him. But there was nothing she could do about it, so she simply followed Sora as he beckoned her and Riku into his living room and picked up a game of cards.
The cards kept the young teens amused for two hours as the sky outside grew darker and the wind howled ever stronger. Kairi was constantly winning, and soon Riku simply gave up and watched with amusement as Sora tried to even the score.
"Got any twos?"
"Dang," the brunette murmured, reaching for the deck. As he did, the lights abruptly went out.
Kairi jumped and squeaked, and even Sora dropped his cards in surprise. "Pansies," Riku laughed as he picked up the younger teen's fallen cards.
"It just surprised me," Sora replied indignantly.
"So now what do we do?" Kairi asked, putting her hand down on the top of the deck. "It's too dark to play cards without the lights."
Sora frowned as he leaned back in the chair. "You're right, it is. And it's only about four o'clock in the afternoon. Man, that's some storm."
As if to punctuate his words, the strongest gust of wind yet rattled the house, howling through the attic. At the same time, several loud bangs resounded from upstairs, and all three teens jumped in fright, staring up at the ceiling.
"Relax, kids," Sara said as she came in and set a candle on the fireplace mantle. "The force of the wind in the attic simply made all the closet doors blow open. It's done that before during a storm like this."
"Oh yeah," Sora said. "I…I remember that." He still looked unnerved, though, and Kairi patted his shoulder in reassurance.
"Come on," she said. "Let's find something else to do."
But with no electricity, their options were limited, and after several minutes of grousing and complaining, the trio finally settled on attempting a game of Hangman by candlelight. Sora's mother stayed in the kitchen most of the time, and when she joined them after half an hour she brought sandwiches with her. "I figured that with the power out all the meat would rot, and it's about dinnertime anyways," she explained with a smile.
"Thanks, Mom!" Sora exclaimed, grabbing the sandwich on the top and stuffing it in his mouth. "So is there a 'c'?" he asked, somehow still legible around the chunk of bread and meat in his mouth.
Kairi scrunched her nose in disgust as Riku answered, "No, there's no such letter as 'shi," and marked an arm on the man.
"Sora, please chew and swallow before you talk," Sara admonished as she sat down to watch the game.
The brunette had the decency to at least look embarrassed, and the game continued on for a little while longer with the interruptions coming when something banged against the house. These noises fast became status quo, though the people sheltering within had no idea what was causing them. Rain streaked the windows, blurring any view, and darkness had coming early, further obscuring the relentless storm that plagued them. Though none of them spoke of it, their worry was clear by the looks on their faces: Riku's scowl, Kairi's outright nervousness, Sora's fidgeting, and Sara's expressionless mask.
They ate their sandwiches in silence but for the noises of the storms and the short questions and answers for the game, and when they were all done, Kairi volunteered to take the napkins and plate back to the kitchen. As she stepped over to the sink, her feet splashed into water, and she froze, dread filling her stomach as she put the plate down and carried her candle over to the door.
Water was pouring through the crack between the door and its frame, starting halfway between the knob and the floor, and it was fast filling the kitchen. "Sora!" she cried, dropping her candle to the floor in fright as she ran back into the living room. "Riku! Mrs. Sara! The ocean!"
"What?" they all cried at the same time, standing up. Riku came halfway across the room to meet her. "What is it, Kairi? What about the ocean?"
"It's…it's…" She pointed at the doorway behind her. "It's in the kitchen." At that second, another gust of wind hammered the house, bringing another loud band from outside along with the distinct crack of splitting wood. The four occupants stood and stared at each other in horror for several long seconds, and only another crack and the subsequent shudder that ran through the structure spurred them into action.
"Oh my God, we're gonna die!" Kairi moaned, sinking to the floor in despair.
"We are not going to die," Sara snapped, already pulling open a closet and rummaging through it. Riku jumped and whirled around to stare at the water seeping into the living room from the kitchen, the water that had just snuck up on his bare feet.
"Guys…" he said nervously, and Sora and Kairi turned to stare at the water as well. "I think we should be moving upstairs now…"
"When the house is about to fall apart?" Sara asked, emerging from the closet with four life-jackets in hand. "That would only be inviting death. We can't stay here, kids, so we're moving to higher ground."
"What?" they chorused, with Sora adding, "Mom, we can't go outside, we'll be killed!"
"That's not for certain," she answered. "But if we stay here, we will be killed, and that's for certain. So hurry up and put these on. Riku, you stay with Kairi; keep a hand on her at all times so you don't lose each other. Sora, you stay with me. If you can find something to grab a hold on, do so. If you find a boat, so much the better."
As they pulled the life-jackets on and buckled them tightly, Sara led them through the hall to the main foyer and the front door, which was also spewing water from the cracks. "There's a star observatory on Metford's Mound about three miles inland," she said. "We'll have to make for that; I'm sure it's the sturdiest structure around."
"Three miles?" Riku echoed, but Sara held up her hand to forestall any further argument.
"We don't have a choice," she said, staring into each of their eyes in turn. "We can do this. Are you ready?"
The three teens looked at each other and nodded, though their faces revealed that they were scared to death. Kairi reached out and gripped Riku's life-jacket tightly, and Sora did the same to his mother's. Sara nodded grimly at them and reached out to open the door.
As soon as she unlatched the door, it flew open of its own accord, banging into the wall hard enough to crack it. The gush of wind and water that poured through swept the group off their feet and washed them back down the hall. Sora gasped as his shoulder hit the stairwell painfully, then choked and sputtered, spitting out the water that flooded into his mouth. He tightened his grip on his mother's jacket, and his arm wrench painfully as she was swept past him, but he kept his hold on her, and soon the pressure lessened as she stood up and pushed her way through the water. "You okay?" she asked as he sat up and rubbed his shoulder.
"I'll be fine," he replied. "Where's Riku and Kairi?"
"We're here!" Riku answered as he pushed his way upstream to the stairs. "The water just sent us back a little further." He looked at the door with something close to panic in his aquamarine eyes. "Mrs. Sara, I don't think—"
"We can do this," she interrupted, her tone allowing no room for argument. "Come on." After helping Sora to his feet, she led the way through the churning waters to the door, and then out into the tempest.
Kairi's heart quailed at the thought of following, but Riku wasn't slowing down, and she didn't dare let go of him. The wind increased as they drew closer to the door, as if it was determined not to let them out, to let them escape. Kairi gritted her teeth and she made it onto the front porch and clung tightly to Riku. We can do this, we can do this, she chanted to herself. The wind was jerked her around, though, and even Riku was having trouble keep his feet. The rain was so heavy and the wind was flinging it so hard that she could barely see Sora and Sara, though they were just a few feet in front of her. Find a boat, her mind told her. A boat, a raft, driftwood, something!
Riku led the way off the porch, and suddenly they were in waist-deep water, struggling for footing in the shifting sand below and constantly being blown off course. Through the whipping rain Kairi could catch glimpses of the ten-foot cliff that back much of the island's beaches. The ground on top was still above the water, and Kairi felt her hopes rise just a little. If we can make it there, we can get out of here! she realized. We'll be in the trees; surely they'll block the wind a little. Then getting to the observatory will be easy.
But getting to the shelf of land was more difficult than anything she could have imagined. The wind was pushing at them, constantly blowing them to the side, screaming in its fury and sending debris flying all around them. Several times she was forced to duck underwater, as some piece of wood or branch or large picture frame came flying dangerously close, and even there she hoped that the swirling, chaotic currents didn't drive some piece of shrapnel or driftwood into her body. And those waters were steadily rising, even as they inched nearer to the shelf.
Time slowed down, and hours seemed to pass before they reached the cliff, though it could have only been minutes. Kairi spent the whole time focused on only two things: hang on to Riku and get to the cliff. The next she was aware of was Riku pushing her forward, though she didn't relinquish her grip on him, and the feel of mud and roots under her fingers. Desperately, she scrabbled for a foothold, and with her free hand she grabbed a sturdy root and pulled herself up. Beside her, Riku was doing the same, and together they scrambled up the small cliff.
She had gotten her arm on the level ground at the top when Riku slipped, his root tearing away and the mud offering no purchase as he slid back into the eagerly lapping waves. "Riku!" she screamed, refusing to let go even as her hold on the top of the bank began to slip. I'm not going to lose him this way, I'm not!
Then someone grabbed her arm, and she looked up into Sara's panicked face. Sora was right beside his mother, sliding onto his belly to reach done and grab Kairi's waist, and together they hauled the slim girl up the cliff. Beside her, Riku found another hold, and with a little more help from Sora and Sara, the two made it up to the top of the shelf. Without bothering to stop for thanks or other chitchat, they started farther inland in a desperate race to stay ahead of the floodwaters.
If any of them had thought the shelter of the trees would make their trek easier, they were very wrong. The wind was blowing the tree tops almost parallel to the ground, and they bent over further with every gust. Branches and palm leaves were constantly snapping off all around them, and the foursome had to shield their heads from the flying debris even as they tried to hold on to each other. Sara still held the lead, taking them slightly to the left until they hit the road that led to the observatory. Then they simply followed it, each one clinging to someone else and making sure that one of them was clinging to a tree at all times, since the wind was constantly sweeping them off their feet. They could only hope that that tree, like so many others around them, wouldn't fall.
There was no telling how long they stumbled through the darkness, but after years that could have been an hour, Kairi realized something else. She was sloshing through far more water than usual. "Guys!" she yelled, barely able to hear herself over the wind. "The ocean! It's catching up to us!"
Somehow, Sara must have heard her, for she called back, "Don't worry, sweetheart, we're almost there! We'll be safe soon!"
Kairi could only bite her lip so hard she tasted blood and trudge on, her arms encircling Sora's waist and Riku's arms clutching her own. "Don't worry," the older teen breathed into her ear. "We'll be fine. Just keep moving forward."
Kairi swallowed and nodded. After another indeterminable length of time, though it was much shorter than the time before, they reached a high fence, or rather the wreckage that used to be a fence. Hope leapt at last into the foursome's hearts, for they recognized what little was left of the border; they had at last reached the observatory.
"Come on!" Sara yelled, and they made a break for it. A howling gust of wind chose that moment to whip around them, and Kairi staggered to the side, almost taken off her feet by the force. But Sora's hand grabbed her arm, and Riku kept her steady from behind, though all three were dragged off course by the force of nature.
"You're okay," Sora assured her, and together they continued to struggle across the wide lawn that surrounded the observatory. They were going uphill, and though they left the floodwaters of the ocean behind, they found they had to contend with the floodwaters of the rain pouring down the hill, along with chunks of debris, branches, and fallen tree trunks from above them.
But Sara led them true; she kept them in front of the observatory, which blocked the worst of the water flow, and before they knew it, they were standing on the porch, clinging to dangerously leaning rails while Sara pounded on the door. It seemed to take forever for anyone to respond, and she pounded, and pounded again before it opened at last, revealing Mayor Fushigi's round, frightened face.
"S-Sara!" he gasped, opening the door wider to allow her to lead the teens inside. "And Sora, Riku—Kairi!" He bounded forward to sweep her into a crushing hug, mindless of the water and blood that dripped off her. "My dear, I was so worried about you!" He stepped back to look her over, and Kairi took the opportunity to do the same to her companions.
All of them were bleeding, bruised, and still looked frightened, but nothing serious seemed to be wrong, despite the fact that Riku's still-bare feet were a mess.
"H-how'd you get here?" Fushigi asked at last. "You didn't really just walk through the storm, did you?"
"I'm afraid we did," Sara said. "We didn't have a choice; the roof was about to fall on our heads, and the ocean was closing in around us."
Fushigi stared at her with utter disbelief written all over his face for several seconds, and then he shook his head. "And you're all alive," he said, coming forward to hug her. "Praise God."
"So why are you here, Mayor?" Riku asked as they stepped apart.
"Many of the townspeople decided to come up here when the power went out," he replied, beckoning them further into the observatory. "We couldn't get word to those of you on the beach, though; the ocean was already rising. All we could do was hope for the best."
"Are my parents here?" the silver-haired teen asked next.
Fushigi hesitated, looking at the floor, and then he shook his head. "We haven't heard from them," he said. "But you all must be exhausted from your ordeal; come, we have beds further inside. I'm sure someone would be more than willing to let you have a couple."
Kairi's heart fell at his words. No I'm sure they're fine, no but we'll hear from them soon, I know. Just we haven't heard from them. No assurances. It was then that Kairi realized, deep in her gut, that this was far more than a normal storm.
This was the storm that would change their lives forever.
The sky was clear blue and cheerful the next morning when the refugees at the shelter awakened. It was mocking them, Kairi felt, mocking the devastation that was plain and clear all around them. Debris was stacked tall against the hill-facing side of the observatory, and trees that hadn't fallen were bent by the pressure of the water, permanently pointing down the hill.
Kairi's stomach twisted at the sight of the damage this far inland, but what really frightened her was the tight look on Riku's face. Morning had come with no word from his parents or any of the others who had stayed in the town, and from the way things looked, even here, there was little hope for their survival.
She went with him as he and Sora climbed down the hill to the town, despite the fact that Fushigi wanted her to stay away. Her friends needed her now, and she wasn't going to let them face the truth alone.
The ocean was still high that morning, and soon the teens were forced back by the waters, unable to get close to the town to survey the damage. They weren't allowed to try again until the next day, and it was then that the waters had subsided back to their normal level, and the town could begin its assessment of the damage.
"This sucks," Sora said as he kicked the ground where his home had once stood. The understatement of the century, Kairi thought; Sora's house had been completely wiped away, with nothing left but a bit of wood here and there.
But how much worse it was for Riku, who had lost more than his home. His parents' bodies had been found in the wreckage that had used to be their house last evening. Riku no longer had anything, or anyone, to return to. And he wasn't the only one; Tidus' mom had died, Irvine's body was found washed up on the beach about a mile to the south, and countless others hadn't survived the catastrophic storm that had befallen them.
The landscape had changed as well; much of the cliff that had saved the lives of the foursome that night had collapsed, leaving large bowl-shaped indentions pockmarked along it. Drifts of sand had piled up on roads; even a large fishing boat had been driven ashore on the Children's Island. There was nothing anyone could do about those changes; they simply carved a new road around the dunes, new paths were made up the cliffs, and even the fishing boat was simply left beached on the island, with small repairs made so that the children could play in it safely.
Nothing would ever be the same about life in Destiny Islands, but the people there would persevere. Long had they dodged the bullet with large storms, and it seemed they were overdue for this one. Many had died, but those who survived kept on, picking up the pieces and starting they're lives over.
Only Riku never seemed to get over the storm. He rebuilt his house, and all the villagers pitched in to help as they did with everyone, but he lived there alone, seeming to prefer his solitude, and rarely did he return to the children's island.
So it was with surprise that Sora found him there one day six months later. "Hey!" the brunette called as he pulled his boat up to the dock. "What's up, Riku?"
The older teen never moved his gaze from the horizon. "I've been thinking," he said quietly. "Remember that raft we were building before the storm? Let's start it again."
"And risk getting caught up in something like that?" Sora plopped down on the ground and leaned back. "No way."
"We won't. Those storms are periodical and you know it. If we simply choose a time when they don't come, we'll be fine."
"If you say so," Sora replied, rolling over and lazily drifting off to sleep.
"I will go beyond that horizon," Riku murmured, though the brunette was no longer listening. "Beyond the edge of the world, to another world where no one has to suffer."
He would start on the new raft tomorrow.
Dedicated to the survivors and refugees of Hurricane Katrina. May you persevere through this troubled time and find happiness.
Dedicated to those who didn't make it. May you all fly to heaven on your newfound angel's wings.
Dedicated to everyone who makes a difference. The rescue workers, the Red Cross workers, the volunteers, the one who donate food, water, ice, canned good, money. God bless you all and keep you safe.