Sephiroth stared into the beady eyes glowing before him. He could see no heart behind those eyes, nothing that could feel or touch. His jaw clenched at the thought; the thing deserved nothing but a swift end.
The black Heartless bared its fangs and bounded to the right. Sephiroth dodged left and brought his long Masamune blade up to slice into the shadowy creature's stomach. It vanished into thin air with a shriek.
"Too easy," the silver-haired man grunted, his glowing, all-green eyes glinting in the dark room. His long wing stretched out from his left shoulder, a snow-white shape in the oppressive darkness.
"I'll make it more challenging for you then," a voice echoed from some hidden corner.
Sephiroth was suddenly attacked from behind by a dozen sword-wielding Dark Soldiers. He turned just in time to dispatch the nearest one before it got too close. A whirl of slashes brought down most of them, but Sephiroth was aware of the remaining enemies circling him, trying to box him in. He spun again.
He brought Masamune up with great force to drive the point of his weapon into the chest of the Dark Soldier behind him. But he had misjudged the distance in the dim light, and the creature ducked, causing Sephiroth's sword to become embedded far into the black wall.
The fiend smirked, its yellow eyes glowing in triumph.
Sephiroth growled and released the hilt of his weapon, diving towards the soldier's throat with his hands. Dead bones snapped under his fingers, and he grabbed the Heartless's weapon before it even fell to the ground. He used it to block the attacks of the two remaining enemies, the sparks from their blades lighting the room briefly.
With a sharp cry, Sephiroth defeated one with a slice across the belly. He took that soldier's weapon as well, testing the weight of the swords, one in each hand. The final enemy looked ready to retreat, but Sephiroth lunged forward and drew both blades across the exposed throat. The wound didn't have time to show any gore before the creature vanished into the ether.
Sephiroth threw the lesser swords onto the ground and reached for the Masamune, freeing it from its place in the wall with a jerk of his wrist.
The room was suddenly flooded with light, revealing two figures by the far wall. The old man in a blue hat and tunic clapped his hands.
"Well done," Merlin said. "Though it seems you forgot where the wall was. Maybe you need more blind practice. What do you think, Sir Goofy?"
The strange-looking dog at the wizard's side shrugged. "Looked like he was doin' good to me. A little too good, ya huck."
"Maybe I didn't forget the wall, and I was just bored," Sephiroth retorted, crossing the training room to reach his mentors.
It had been two weeks since Sephiroth had left Radiant Garden to reside at the King's castle. His training had begun immediately; there was much to learn. Merlin and another, more dour magician named Yen Sid had been assigned by King Mickey to oversee Sephiroth's training in the battle and magic arts. The King's two stalwart companions, Donald and Goofy, were also on hand to help.
The training room was the perfect place to begin his instruction. Deep in the lower levels of the castle, the magically charged room could be altered by a skilled mage to create any environment or battle they wished. And although the battles looked and felt real, there was no actual danger.
When Sephiroth had told Sora about it, the boy had chuckled something that sounded like, "Danger room."
"Bored, eh?" Merlin raised a bushy eyebrow. "Would you rather concentrate on your spell casting?"
Sephiroth sighed. "No, sir." He was definitely more at ease with physical battles than magical ones. Ever since the fight for his heart outside the walls of Radiant Garden, where he'd destroyed the entire Dark Army with a single spell, Sephiroth had been wary of using his magic. It was too dangerous, he thought, too reckless.
"Perhaps you'd like to continue studying the ancient texts in the library?" the wizard continued to needle. He knew how Sephiroth hated reading through those difficult, often crumbling, pages.
The silver-haired man grimaced.
"I got an idea," Goofy spoke up. "I promise ya it won't be boring. Here, take this." He reached into his pocket and took out a small object, which he dropped into Sephiroth's hand.
He examined it. "An egg?" The white shell felt smooth in his bare hand; since his angelic transformation, Sephiroth had no need for gloves, and was discovering more tactile sensations every day.
Goofy nodded, that stupid grin stretching his face, pointing to the egg. "Let's call it Sora."
"Fine." Sephiroth held the egg between his thumb and forefinger. "So?"
"So…" Goofy poked Merlin in the ribs. "Here comes some Heartless."
Sephiroth spun around to see the gigantic shapes of four Large Bodies looming above him. Instinctively, he jumped straight into the air, using his single white wing to aid his leap, and struck the enemies in the back where they were weakest. Within moments, the Heartless were gone.
He brushed some shoulder-length strands of silver hair from his eyes, sighing heavily. "That was child's play. Is this sort of thing supposed to keep me occupied?"
"I dunno." Goofy pointed to the ground by his feet. "Why don't ya ask Sora?"
"Hmm?" Sephiroth glanced at the floor where the fragile egg was smashed to pieces, the yellow yolk dribbling out of its shell. He must've dropped it in his haste. "I don't understand," he said, furrowing his brow.
The King's warrior scratched the back on his neck with a gloved hand. "It was suppose' to be a lesson, Seph," he mumbled.
"I think what Goofy was trying to show you, in his own way," Merlin said in a gentle voice, "is that you may be a great fighter, but you still need to learn how to defend." The mage pointed with a crooked finger to the cracked egg. "If you have someone depending on you in battle, like Sora for instance, your first concern should be for his safety, not your enemies' defeat."
"I see." Sephiroth dropped his gaze to the poor shattered egg, his eyes darkening with guilt. If that had been the real Sora, he would have let the boy down completely. "You're right. I'm sorry."
"Nothin' to be sorry about," Goofy said with a cheerful smile. "We just gotta try harder, right?"
Merlin stroked his long white beard, muttering to himself, "Perhaps I can enable the training glamours to simulate allies. That way, you could practice as if you were part of a team."
Sephiroth nodded, his eyes still downcast. "Yes, please, let's continue." He gripped the hilt of his sword in a white-knuckled grip. "I still have much to learn."
Merlin flicked his eyes to Sephiroth's tense hands. "Why don't you take a break instead, my boy? I believe we've badgered you enough for one day."
The one-winged angel looked up, his electric green eyes wide with surprise. "But I haven't…"
"Learned to be a Guardian instantly?" Merlin laughed. "This isn't something to be rushed. Get some rest for now." He opened a door with a wave of his hand and a whisper of magic. "The Kingdom wasn't built in a day, you know," he said, hobbling out of the training room.
Goofy followed, giving Sephiroth a sympathetic shrug.
The silver-haired man gave the blank room one last glance before leaving to return to his quarters. His room was high in the western turret, and as Sephiroth climbed the twisting staircases that wound their way through the castle's floors, he was greeted by an array of creatures who lived and worked for the Royal Court. There were the twin chipmunks who acted as the king's mechanics; they squeaked happily at him before scurrying off down to the hangar. The Queen bustled past in her elaborate gown, and Sephiroth bowed to the small mouse. She gave a smile and a wave before hurrying on. Then, outside the banquet hall, Sephiroth ran into Sir Goofy's son, Max.
"Hey there, Seph," the young dog said without a trace of his father's strange accent. "They're almost done serving dinner. Aren't you hungry after getting put through the paces?"
He gave the friendly child a small smile and sniffed the air. "What's on the menu today?" he asked.
"Squash soup, fresh greens, and that chewy bread with the little spicy things on top." Max licked his lips and patted his belly. "I already pigged out."
Sephiroth smiled politely, but in truth, he couldn't stand the vegetarian diet the castle provided. The reason behind the meatless kitchen was obvious: many of the King's subjects were animals. Imagine, he thought, what Donald would do if he were served roast duck. The image almost made him chuckle aloud, but he shook it from his head.
"I don't feel hungry," Sephiroth answered.
"Okay, see you later," Max said, waving as he started down the long marble hallway.
The one-winged angel hurried past the banquet hall, down a corridor, through the courtyard, and finally began the step ascent up the narrow staircase that led to his room. Along the way, mindfully keeping his wing folded close in the tight space, Sephiroth daydreamed about Aerith's beef stew and fried chicken.
Oh, the things he'd do for some real food.
Sephiroth pushed open the heavy wooden door at the top of the stairs and entered his modest quarters. He'd been offered more spacious rooms when he had arrived, but he had assured King Mickey that the snug room was to his liking. An oak bed covered in a white coverlet dominated the room. There was a writing desk and chair on the opposite wall; a stack of spell books sat on the scarred desktop. A small dormer window looked out over the misty plains outside the castle walls. It was simple, and Sephiroth didn't mind it.
Beside the stack of books on the desk, a pale blue orb glowed softly. Sephiroth picked up the shimmering ball and concentrated. The crystal was the mechanism through which Sora and Riku could communicate to Sephiroth, light-years away. The silver-haired man gazed into the small orb, and Sora's smiling face came into view.
"What's up, Seph?" his recorded voice said. "I haven't heard from you in awhile. Hope everything's going okay. Just want to let you know that Riku and I will come and visit in a few days. I already asked Mickey, and he said it would be fine. So see you soon!" The boy leaned forward and whispered, "The sooner, the better. School is really sucking." Sora grinned, then whipped his head around at something unseen behind him. "Crap, my mom just came home. Can't have her see me talking into a crystal ball." The message ended abruptly.
With a sigh, Sephiroth returned the orb to its place on the desk and unbuckled the leather straps that criss-crossed his chest. Ever since he'd pulled the Masamune free from its place in the Dark Realm, he needed to carry a sheath for the massive blade. A magnet harness, not unlike the one Cloud used for the Buster, did the job. He placed the weapon carefully against the wall within easy reach of the bed. He reached for a non-existent shirt hem to pull over his head, then gave a bark of laughter when he remembered he hadn't worn a shirt in weeks. It would be awkward with his single wing, and besides, he never felt the cold anymore.
"Not the cold in air, at any rate," he mumbled aloud as he divested himself of his battle leathers and boots. He'd been given the defensive garments when he'd arrived, and they only seemed to come in black. Sephiroth smirked; he could finally wear dark clothes without the girls bemoaning his choice. But then again, he wouldn't really mind hearing their voices, even if it was to jeer at him…
He folded the leather trousers and placed them at the foot of his bed.
Sephiroth considered going to the window to look out over the plains as the sun set, but it was the same every day: Never too bright, never too cloudy, never rainy, never humid. Everything about the castle was clean and pleasant, but still…
Sometimes, being the only humanoid creature in the entire world made Sephiroth feel isolated. Well, there were the wizards, but they were hardly his peers. It seemed Yen Sid and Merlin usually kept him in the dark about the strange, magical world they inhabited, perhaps for his own good.
Sephiroth slipped between the crisp bed sheets, his mind filled with memories of his friends back in Radiant Garden. The citizens who populated the castle were very courteous towards him, but Sephiroth felt as if something was missing. Something important.
He closed his eyes and concentrated on his memories of a familiar face.
A soft whisper floated into his ear. "Are you lonely, Seph?"
Sephiroth furrowed his brow. He imagined he could feel Zack's long, silken hair trailing along his face, as if the man was really there. But no, this was just a memory, or perhaps a ghost.
"I miss them, Zack," he said softly, turning towards that warmth. He felt sinewy arms wrap around his shoulders, and he buried his face into the crook of a soft-skinned neck. "I'm all alone here."
"I'm here, aren't I?" Zack snorted indignantly. "What am I, chopped liver?"
"Are you even real?" Sephiroth murmured, combing his fingers through that thick mane of hair. He couldn't ever remember a time he'd touched Zack like this in life, but now, it seemed childish to worry over something like a simple thing that he needed so much. "Is this all in my head?"
Strong, gloved hands tightened their hold on his back, holding him closer. Sephiroth curled into Zack's embrace, wishing his old friend could be here to help him with all these new abilities, all this new responsibility.
"I am real," Zack hissed. "I swear I am. Sweet Shiva, can't you tell?"
Sephiroth ventured to open his eyes, taking in the sight of Zack's spirit sprawled out on the bed as if he belonged there. His military uniform was in perfect condition, his wild black hair falling into his face. It couldn't be anyone else.
"I'm sorry," the silver-haired man whispered. "Of course you're real. I have no reason to doubt you. You've always been true to me, Zachary."
Zack gave him a faded, lop-sided grin. "Nah, not always. That one time, I promised I'd handle it if the Darkness ever got a hold of you." He ducked his head, his dark eyes averted. "I just wasn't strong enough to do it. What happened to you was all my fault."
"Ridiculous," Sephiroth retorted. "You were so much stronger than I—" He reached out to lift Zack's chin, but his hands passed through the man's image. "You're fading," Sephiroth gasped.
"Yeah, sorry. It's getting harder…to maintain a form," Zack struggled to say. "I'm trying my best, but…"
"Don't apologize for anything," Sephiroth soothed. "It's a miracle you can come even sometimes." He gazed at the flickering form of Zack's tightly drawn face. "Does it pain you to appear like this?"
"Nah, it's cool," he answered with a smile.
Sephiroth knew it was a lie, but he couldn't bring himself to admonish his friend. He tried to reach out and touch Zack's arm, but the man was no longer corporeal, and his fingertips grasped only air.
"Listen, I have something important to tell you," the dark-haired man said, coming in and out of view. "I might not be able to come back here for awhile, so pay attention." Zack frowned seriously. "You're not alone." His form flickered out of focus before coming back again. "Not for long…" Out, then in. Sephiroth leaned forward to catch every strained word. "…another, you hear…?" Zack shouted as he came back.
Sephiroth's eyes widened. "What do you mean? Another what?"
"In snow…" Zack's voice faded completely along with his image, and Sephiroth fisted his hands in the sheets.
"Zachary, are you there?" he called. Sephiroth's voice echoed against the stone walls of his room. "Zack?" Only silence. He sighed, dragging a hand through his silver hair. "Thank you," he whispered, hoping his friend could still hear him. "Rest now. I'll figure it out. Don't worry."
He rubbed his eyes and laid his head down on his pillow. "In snow…" he murmured to himself in the growing darkness. It never rained at the castle, let alone snowed. What could Zack have meant?
"Losing my mind," Sephiroth whispered, shutting his eyes tight and forcing sleep to come.
Moonlight streamed in through the small window, painting Sephiroth's sleeping face. A single snow flake suddenly flew against the pane of glass before melting just as quickly.
Author's Note: Hi! I've started putting my notes at the end of chapters because it's less annoying, I think. I mean, hopefully you guys wanna get right to the story. So you probably just skip my blah blah blahing anyway. OK. So. Here it is, the sequel to Like Ghosts in Snow. This story's going to be different because now Seph is at the Disney Castle, and it's a strange new world, and it's a little creepy/cheery. I'm basing the setting on the real Disney, which I both love and fear, so I hope other Disney-philes will have a good chuckle at some of the things that happen there. This story's also going to be a little more happy. Well, at least for Seph. Poor Seph! I really screwed him in the last story...no nookie or nothing. So a lot of crazy surprises are in store for you guys. I hope you like these new installments, and please please please tell me what you think! Reviews are the oil that makes my engine run.