Mirror and Image
Sora slowly opened his eyes, the bright light of the gummi ship fading after letting them land safely. He, Donald, and Goofy were currently in a forest of some kind with trees he had never seen before. He was used to seeing lush palm trees like at his home on Destiny Islands, or rich jungles like Tarzan's world or Simba's. He had even seen incredibly tall pine trees at Beast's castle, but these trees were different. Some where an almost white bark with pieces peeling off. Other trees were short fat and curled around each other and yet others were tall and stocky.
"Huh," Sora commented, smiling. With a quick leap, he started to climb. These trees were much easier for climbing than the palm trees back home. There were lots of branches to support him and give him handholds as he made his way up.
"Sora," Donald called, "what do you see up there?"
"Hang on, I'm not at the top yet!" he called back down.
"Gawrsh, be careful!" cautioned Goofy.
Still smiling as memories of back home and climbing filled his mind; Sora finally reached the peak of the tree. "I see a castle in the distance!" he called down. "It's shorter and fatter than Beast's, but still impressive. There's a town just outside its walls, but I can't see it too well!"
"Come back down so we can figure out what to do!" Donald replied.
Nodding to himself, Sora started hopping and dropping off the tree. This new world was proving to be a fairly cool place. Each world they went to was unique and different, but had such charm. There hadn't been a single world he went to that hadn't had its own inviting flavor.
"Hey, Donald," Sora asked as he dropped the last ten feet. "What kind of trees are these? I haven't seen anything like them before."
The mage raised an eyebrow, but patted one of the light colored trees next to him. "These are birch trees." He pointed to the tree Sora had just climbed. "Those are oaks. They normally grow where seasons change."
"Well its warm today ain't it?" Goofy smiled up to the speckles of sunlight filtering through the trees. "We must be in one'a the warm seasons, then."
"So I guess we should head to town?" Sora suggested. "Find out where we are, what's going on, the usual?"
"Where you are is Sherwood Forest," came a new voice with an accent different than what Sora had ever heard before. "The town you saw was Nottingham."
"Hi!" he greeted, looking around. "Thanks, we've been a little lost." Finally, he spied the speaker, standing on a low branch. It was a fox with a bushy tail. He wore a well-worn green tunic and his hat bore a feather on one side.
"You chaps certainly don't look like you're from around here."
"We're not," Donald said. "We were thinking of going into town and gathering some information."
"Well," The fox said, clasping his hands together, "around here information can cost you. How much munny do you have?"
Sora and Goofy looked to Donald, who always kept a tight budget, a habit picked up from his Uncle Scrooge. However, suspicious by nature, Donald raised an eyebrow before severely downplaying how much they had. "About 1,000 munny."
The fox's eyes grew wide. "Oodalali!" He hopped down and Sora could see a bow strung around the fox's torso and a quiver by his side. "Nottingham's not seen that sort of munny in some time!"
"Now hold onna minute," Goofy said, scratching his head, "why do you need to know how much we got on us?"
Sora raised his eyebrows, looking to the fox again. The tunic was threadbare and patched. The belt holding the quiver around his waist was thinning though the bow and arrows looked like they were in top condition. His hat was also patched and there were holes and tears in the material.
"Ah!" Sora immediately grabbed the munny pouch from Donald's waist. "You must be down on your luck!" Without hesitation, he reached into the pouch and pulled out half of their munny, considerably more than they needed, and much more than what Donald had said, and gave it to the fox. "Will that help?"
The fox looked at the surprising amount of munny, his face an odd expression of shock, gratitude, and awe. "Oodalali," he whispered. "Nottingham really needs more people like you around." He pocketed the cash and swept off his hat into a grand bow. "My name is Robin Hood. Thief of Nottingham, Irritation to the Sheriff of Nottingham, Thorn in Prince John's side, and Hero of the People."
Sora blinked. "Huh?"
"Gawrsh, how can someone who fights the good guys be a good guy?"
"Yeah," Donald agreed, nodding. "Aren't the authorities supposed to maintain order, keep the peace, and so on?"
"In another country, perhaps," Robin agreed. "Now, I've introduced myself, how about you, strangers?"
"Oh, sorry about that," Sora smiled pointing to himself. "I'm Sora, this is Donald and Goofy. We're looking for some friends of ours."
"As it happens, I'm also looking for a few friends of mine," Robin smiled, his tail swishing behind him. "Why don't I take you to my camp and we can discuss things properly instead of just lollygagging here on the road?"
While none of the three knew what "lollygagging" was, they agreed and Robin led them deep into the forest, around hills, through brush, up trees, and finally under a waterfall. The trip was so round about that none of the three thought they'd ever find their way around.
"Hey there, Rob, it's about time you got back, I was getting worr-" Sora and company turned to see a huge bear in a similar tunic to Robin's towering over them.
"Woah," Sora muttered.
"Now Robin, when did our customers get invited back to our hideout?" The bear looked stern looking down on them, hands on his hips and ready to do some pounding.
"Come now, Little John," Robin greeted the bear in a friendly manner, putting an arm around a giant forearm.
Goofy gulped. "Little John?"
"I assure you," Robin continued over Goofy, "these patrons of mine are of a rare breed. Without even knowing what's going on, they willingly gave me half of their munny."
"Which was what?" Little John grumbled, "A farthing?"
Robin merely raised an eyebrow and put a pouch into the bear's large paw.
"Well now," Little John looked inside and did some mental calculations. "This is probably more than year's wages for most townfolk."
Sora blinked. "Is it really that much? I know we've been saving to buy some interesting things back at--" he couldn't exactly say Hallow Bastion-- "where we normally get supplies, but that's usually enough for a few nights at a good inn and a few good meals. Numbers may not be my strong point--" Donald scoffed. He'd been trying to keep Sora's education going, but the boy had no aptitude sometimes-- "but I thought that'd be enough to, I don't know, help out for a while. I didn't realize that the exchange rate here was so different."
"Boy," Little John whistled, "you must normally shop somewhere real expensive, because this just might be enough to save the town!"
"Huh??" All three asked. Really, nothing was being explained!
"Have a seat," Robin offered a log; "This will take some time."
The first obstacle in explanations was the concept of "taxes". Sora had real trouble understanding that people in power took tiny portions of income in order to help support itself. He had never dealt with finances back home beyond buying items for himself. Even then, he had been told the final amount and just paid up. Donald was appalled by this; going into a long rant about how many times Sora had probably been jipped.
After that, came the explanation of how taxes were far too high for the shire and that the Sheriff, a cruel wolf who would stoop to anything, would come by every day to take money from the townsfolk.
"But do the high taxes mean that this Prince John needs the money for something?" Sora had asked.
This earned the explanation of Prince John. Originally, William was supposed to inherit the throne. But he died in battle, so the title of King was passed to the next in line, King Richard the Lionhearted. But he was currently off on a Holy War, a Crusade to reclaim the Holy Land. (Sora was wise enough to not ask about that... he'd get confused again he was certain...). So his little brother, Prince John, was acting as regent and basically doing everything he could to get more and more munny. He claimed it was all going to help his brother in the Crusade, but everyone knew it was just going to lavish parties and frivolities.
Nottingham had been a decent little town. They were the last stop before going through Sherwood Forest, and travelers always spent a little munny in town to restock before negotiating the supposedly haunted woods. But once Prince John started taxing the heart and soul out of the people of the country, the town started to fall on hard times. While still better off than many of their neighboring villages, they were feeling the pinch. So Robin had done the only thing he could think of. He gave up his lands, his title, everything, to become Robin Hood, outlaw and thief who robbed the rich who dared travel through the forest, and give every single ounce of what he stole to the poor people.
When Prince John himself had arrived, well, it was only for natural for Robin to steal directly from the source of their misfortune. Awards for his capture kept growing, but nobody dared turn them in.
"Gawrsh, that's quite a pickle you have goin' on around here."
"It gets worse," Little John growled as Robin looked away. "Prince John has recently gotten these strange mercenaries to help him out; and nothing we do seems to stop them. Now they have Maid Marienne and Friar Tuck in jail, as well as most of the townsfolk"
"Mercenaries?" Donald asked.
"Yeah, some of them are these strange little black things with yellow eyes. They seem to slip into the ground and sneak up right behind you. Then there are these weird archers that seem to produce arrows out of thin air, but they have a strange symbol on their hoods."
"Strange symbol?" Sora asked. Looking around, he grabbed a stick and started drawing on the ground. "Does it look like this?"
"By Jove, yes," Robin exclaimed, "Have you fought these blaggards before?"
Sora nodded. "Yes, they're called Heartless." At last, familiar ground! "Regular weapons don't work all that well on them. You have to use magic."
"Alas, magic is not as common here as other shires," Robin lamented in an over active drawl.
Little John chuckled deeply. "Yeah, too bad for them ol' Rob here's the best archer in the whole world."
Sora and his friends perked up. "Really? Can you show us something? I've never seen bows and arrows, not where I come from. What do you do? Can I try?"
"Easy, there pal," Little John said expansively. "If Rob here performed every time he was asked, we'd never get anything--" He was stopped when said fox put a hand over his friends large mouth. Without a word, Robin pulled out an arrow from his quiver and cocked it, looking around before drawing his bow.
"Do you see that limb stump on the other side of the camp?" he asked. Sora looked where the arrow was pointing.
"All the way over there??" he asked, not sure he was looking at the right place. "My magic doesn't even go that--"
There was a thwang sound, followed immediately by a high pitched whistle, and the punching sound. Sora spun back, and lo, the arrow was dead center on the stump! He and Goofy both whistled.
"Showoff," Donald muttered.
"Wow! That was really cool! Can I try?" Donald hung his head in defeat.
"Gawrsh, Sora, I think them bows and arrows better be left to the people who know how to use it. Yuh might hurt someone with that thing."
The young teen slouched. "Aww..."
"Anyway," Donald added, his arms crossed. "We came here for a reason, didn't we?"
"Oh! Right!" Sora spun back to the fox and the large bear. "I'm looking for my best friends, Kairi and Riku. Kairi is sweet and soft spoken with dark hair; and Riku's all attitude with pale blue, almost white hair. Have you seen either of them?"
The two looked to each other before turning sad faces to Sora. "Sorry, mate, we haven't met anyone in the shire with those kinds of descriptions."
Sora sank visibly, heaving a deep sigh. Kairi had been kidnapped. There was no sign of Riku anywhere they went. A hand appeared on his shoulder and by his hip. Goofy and Donald said nothing, but it was enough for Sora.
Straightening, he smiled to Robin and Little John. "Okay. Since we know how to fight the Heartless, why don't we tag along with you guys for a while?"
"Sire, taxes are pouring in, the jail is full, and oh! I have good news. Friar Tuck is in jail."
The lion prince roared. "Friar Tuck!! It's Robin Hood I want!"
"But, sire," Sir Hiss placated, "Not even the Heartless are able to find him in the woods. It would be far better--"
"Shut up, Hiss! You cantankerous asp!" The lion flailed about, toppling piles of gold coins as he continued on his tirade. "What good is it all if that insolent twerp is still alive! Oh, I'd give all my gold just to see him hang from the gallows. Did you hear that, Hiss? All of it!!"
"Sire, pleassse," Hiss replied, dodging the occasional claw from Prince John. The lion ignored him, however, instead degrading to throwing things, whatever was handy; bags of coins, ink bottles, boxes, none were free from his grasp. He even overturned the table, the object spinning several times in the air before cracking on the stone floor. Still not satisfied, John dug his claws into the throne he had just been sitting in, bowling it over and stomping on it. He only stopped when he heard a satisfying crack.
"Sire," the snake hissed tentatively, "that was your mother's throne..."
True to the cue, at the mention of his mother the spoiled prince plopped onto the ground, holding an ear with one hand and sucking the thumb of his other with a loud "Mm-mm-mm-nnnnnn" sound that reverberated around the walls of the giant room. Hiss turned around to hide the roll of his eyes. He hated that noise. Trying to avoid it, he slithered to the other side of the room, gathering up the scattered coins and beginning the painstaking process of restacking them.
"... Did you say Friar Tuck?" John said after an indeterminate amount of time.
"Did I? Oh, yes, I did." Hiss feared what the prince would say next.
"Oodalali! That's perfect!"
Hiss paused. "Sire?" he questioned.
"Yes, you idiotically silly serpent," he answered expansively. "I'll use that fat friar as bait, don't you see. Robin Hood will have to come out when he finds out we're to hang him."
That sent all kinds of warning bells off in Hiss. "But sire! Hang Friar Tuck? A man of the church?" Was he insane? The church had equal, if not more, power than the royalty of any country! The two superpowers were always vying for who had the top spot. Killing a man of the cloth, even just a lowly friar, was putting oil on a fire.
"Yes, my cowardly eel in snake's clothing, and when Robin Hood shows up for that inevitable rescue..." his voice dropped an octave. "My men will be... ready..."
"So this is the castle?"
"Yes, Sora, this is the castle," Little John replied with a sigh of a teacher answering a stupid question.
"It's very squat."
"Sora! Manners!" Donald hissed.
"But it is!" the teen protested.
"Ahyuck, it sure ain't as big as Disney Castle," Goofy agreed.
"Is that from where you hail?" Robin asked as he pulled various cloths out from a pack.
"Ahyup!" Goofy said proudly.
"So what are we doing again?" Sora asked. Little John put a hand on his forehead, trying to forestall a headache.
"We're going to reconnoiter," Robin replied.
Robin finally straightened. "You need to work on you diction, don't you lad? We're going to spy on the castle; get information; learn the guard and patrol routes; that sort of thing."
"But..." Sora drew out, still trying to follow, "wouldn't they shoot you with an arrow as soon as they see you? It's pretty open inside the walls, how would you stay hidden?"
"That easy," Robin replied. "I don't." With a flick of the wrist, the giant brown patched canvas was wrapped around the fox, hiding all his clothing. A scarf was also added, and a hat even dirtier and patchier than the one Robin normally wore. A rusted tin cup appeared in his hand, and black glasses were added to complete the ensemble. Robin stooped forward, putting his weight on a shaky cane. "Alms for the poor, governor?" he drawled, sounding as old and decrepit as he now looked.
"... Woah," the trinity replied, awed by the transformation.
"Sora and Little John will have to stay behind," Robin said, "Donald and Goofy, pick your costumes."
"What? Why can't I come?" Sora demanded indignantly.
"Because lad, I've seen elephants, hippos, rhinos, dogs and cats of all sorts, storks, badgers, mice, roosters, and owls. I've occasionally seen zebras, and once I saw a tiger. But Sora, I've never seen an animal like yours before. Neither will have the Sheriff, and that will only increase the danger."
"Oh," Sora replied, slouching slightly. "I see what you mean."
"Don't worry, Sora," Goofy said brightly. "You'll get yer shot later, okay?"
"That's right," Donald agreed, pulling out a shabby looking shirt that was at least three sizes too big for the water fowl and shrugging it on.
"Come on, kid," Little John said, putting a giant paw on the boy's shoulder. "I'll show you where we can watch."
Sora followed Little John to an ancient looking tree, thick enough to climb and tall enough to just barely see over the walls of the castle. It was a fair distance away, too far to jump, but not far enough for an arrow if needs be. Sora marveled that, large as the tree was, it could support the weight of the massive bear. Still, he crawled to a higher branch, not wanting to get caught underneath if the branch really didn't hold John's weight. Shimmying further on the branch, he finally could see through the canopy and into the courtyard of the castle.
Robin Hood the beggar was talking with an animated, if obviously overweight, wolf with a brass star on his tunic. The pair was standing by an odd collection of wood that had recently been thrown together, and hanging from its highest beam was a rope, looped into some kind of noose. The two vultures adorning it gave the distinct impression of something very bad, and Sora found himself swallowing hard. Scanning the courtyard, Sora soon spied his two friends. Goofy, in the attire of a merchant, looked like he was trying to sell potions to the scruffy looking jackal archers, who were clearly ignoring him. Donald, also dressed as a beggar, was clear across the courtyard, annoying a stable boy cat. The Keyblade Master wished he could hear the conversations, but they were too far away.
It wasn't long, however, before he saw Robin straighten - even from his distance, before quickly hunching over and recovering.
"Little John, what do you think could have happened to make Robin stand up like that?"
"Don't know, kid," Little John replied, "but you can bet for sure it wasn't good news. Hey, look!" The giant bear pointed, and Sora swung his head around to see the far side of the courtyard, where Donald had been. Out from the stables came a mane-less lion, dressed in blue furred robes with an overly large crown on his head.
"Who is that?" Sora queried.
"Prince John himself. What's he doing out at this time of day. It's sunset almost!"
Sora crawled further, wanting desperately to hear what was going on. It was to no avail, however, and he could only watch and hope he could read the body language.
The lion prince rode out, making a direct beeline to the wood contraption with the looped rope, and began orating, about what Sora still couldn't hear. The fat wolf replied, smiling and gesticulating with confidence. One of the vultures swooped down and landed on the base of the contraption, pulling at a lever. The wolf fell through - a trap door obviously - and rolled his eyes; Sora could see that even from the distance. Prince John didn't seem to react to that, instead eyeing Robin the beggar, who was slowly hobbling back out the castle. And odd grin came over John's muzzle, and he made some kind of gesture with his paw.
The jackal archers immediately jumped into action, diving from their positions on the parapets and their patrols and landing on the fox. Sora watched in dismay as he saw Robin fight gallantly but to no avail. There were too many, as rhino axemen and hippo spearmen seemed to crawl out of the woodwork.
"Little John! He's been captured!" Without waiting for a reply, Sora nimbly jumped and climbed his way down the giant oak, only briefly hearing a "Hey, wait!" filter down from above.
The Keyblade appeared in his hand, and he raced along the perimeter of castle, making his way to the main gate and turning sharply as he almost slid past it. He took cover behind a convenient pile of hay, looking around to see if he had been spotted before he would charge.
Sora paused, not familiar with the female voice. He spun around and saw a vixen, dressed exquisitely.
"Sire," she was saying, prostrate at Prince's John's horse. "Please, I beg of you to spare his life! Please, have mercy!"
"For heaven's sake, child, why?"
"Because I love him, sire."
John blinked at that, the lion clearly not expecting the turn of events.
"Love? And does the blaggard return your love?"
"Marienne my darling, I love you more than life itself," the fox replied, his head held high in spite of the many ropes and chains that bound him.
Sora felt an odd pull at his heart, like a string had been plucked. The words, the feeling, conveyed a meaning that hit him very hard, and the young teen marveled at the strength of heart people possessed. He'd seen it before, with Belle and Beast, with Aladdin and Jasmine, with Cloud and Tifa. Love gave hearts so much strength! He hoped that he would find something like that one day. The image of Kairi passing through his mind, however, made him shake himself back to reality.
"Your words do not fall and a heart of stone," Prince John was saying, an overdramatic lilt in his voice. His face turned hard. "But traitors to the crown must die!"
"Traitors to the crown??" Robin spat, "That crown belongs to King Richard! Long live King Richard!"
"Enough!" John shouted over Robin's proclamation. "I am king! I am! Me! Me! Guards! Heartless! Kill him!"
On cue, a rhino in a black mask and axe walked up. Drums were sounding from somewhere, and Marienne was dragged away, screaming and pleaing for mercy. Under her feet, shadows and archers lifted themselves from the earth, twitching and anxious to eat the heart of someone as strong as Robin Hood.
Unable to watch anymore, Sora raced out from his hiding place, seeing Goofy and Donald do similar things.
"Back off!" Lightning ripped through the courtyard, startling everyone and effectively getting their attention. "Let him go!" Sora demanded.
"The fabled Keyblade Master..." Prince John whispered in awe, staring at the Keyblade. "A thousand gold crowns to the man who captures that creature!!" That said, he wheeled his horse and galloped back to the stables, away from the fight.
"I got it!" Donald immediately started unleashing his magic, alternating between fire and blizzard attacks. Goofy similarly ran into the fray, eyes covered as always as he charged (literally) blindly at the troopers. Sora did the same, unleashing several combos and often launching the Heartless into the air, either for one of his famous aerial combos or to throw the poor enemy to one of his friends. Robin Hood was helpless, tied as he was, and Sora worked his way as quickly as he could to his new friend to free him. Robin dodged this way and that; the fox also making his way to Sora. How long it took, Sora didn't know, but finally he was able to reach Robin and made short work of the ropes and chains.
"That's a very interesting sword, lad," Robin said, tackling the nearest jackal archer and stealing his bow and quiver. "I'd love to hear the story behind it."
"Any time," Sora said confidently as he swung at another wave of shadows. They were always easy targets.
The archer Heartless proved to be more difficult; their bows and arrows gave them a range that not even Donald's magic could reach, and Sora found he spent equal amounts of time dodging their arrows as he did fighting the shadows.
A large shadow loomed over Sora, and he spun around just in time to see the hilt of a sword ram into his stomach, the weapon connected to the overweight wolf with a star. Sora went flying, the blow hurting him badly. Goofy tossed a hi-potion to him before charging at the wolf, but was quickly knocked aside. Donald moved in, casting a lightning spell, but the wolf proved to be surprisingly agile, dodging the deadly bolts. He made a beeline to Sora, still trying to catch his breath from the blow.
"We got him now!" the wolf cried.
"Oh Sheriff!" Robin, who had previously been dealing with the jackal archers, dropped twenty feet from one of the parapets and landed on the giant wolf, comically pulling the hat down over the Sheriff's face, making him temporarily blind. Sora took the opportunity to finally drink his hi-potion and get a breath. With the wolf stunned, all three of them launched an assault, throwing magic, techniques, and blows on the wolf even as Robin climbed back up to the parapets to deal with the archer Heartless.
When his hat was finally off his face, the Sheriff swung his sword in an impressive arc, throwing Sora and the others back. Not about to take another hit, Sora jumped and quickly ran in circles around the wolf, teasing him by coming in close before scooting away. It distracted the Sheriff enough that he paid no notice when Goofy and Donald took the opportunity to attack.
Robin Hood jumped down again, again blinding the Sheriff and providing an opportunity to attack him mercilessly.
"Aw, man, how much stamina does this guy have?" Sora complained as the wolf freed himself again and started swinging.
"Probably almost as much as Pete's," Donald offered as he backed away slightly, having run out of magic for a time. Goofy covered by throwing his shield at the Sheriff. Sora followed up by jumping up and starting an aerial combo, getting a good dozen blows in before he was knocked back. Robin did his hat maneuver once more, and the trinity moved in a third time.
When the fat wolf broke free again, he at last showed signs of tiring. Sora pressed the attack, not wanting any last minute surprises, and pushed the Sheriff further and further against a stone wall. Finally, with a Thundaga from Donald, the bully Sheriff fell, stars swirling over his head.
"Whew," Sora sighed, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead. "That was harder that I thought."
"Come on, everyone!" Robin called, clear across the courtyard at the castle gates. "This way, before there are reinforcements!"
Donald and Goofy made it first, having been at the middle of the courtyard at the time. They beckoned for Sora to hurry, and the teen rolled his eyes; he was already running as fast as he could, thank you.
He pushed even further, however, when he saw the castle gates lowering, the iron crossworks imposing and threatening to cage the Keyblade Master. Just as he thought he would reach safety, however, something slithered along the ground and wrapped around his legs. Pitching forward, whatever had wrapped his legs quickly worked up his body; and something bit into his shoulder.
Rolling in the dirt, Sora finally got his hands on the prevention of his escape: a snake. Irritated and more than a little pressed for time, he swung his arm and pitched the snake high into the air and jumped to strike again with his Keyblade - sending the animal up into orbit, he hoped, and again raced for the lowering gates. The delay had served its purpose, however, and the impressive sounding clang reverberated throughout the courtyard, blocking him from his friends. Sora didn't have time to process the shock, however, as something thick and heavy landed on the back of his head, and he took his turn to join the Sheriff in the land of unconsciousness.
Donald wearily leaned against a tree, taking deep and even breaths. When Sora had suddenly appeared, Little John had quickly gone about securing an escape route, one which Donald was very grateful for, though at the time, the bear had had to drag both Donald and Goofy away from Sora's prostrate form. Now that they were safe at Robin Hood's camp, they were able to take stock of their situation. Little John had, of course, gotten out without a scratch. Donald and Goofy would be fine with a good nights rest (though with Sora missing, that didn't seem a likely possibility), but Robin had been injured more than he'd initially let on. There was blood mixed in with his red fur. His battle on the parapets had required full attention, but Robin had kept half an eye on the battle with the sheriff, jumping in when necessary since he could surprise the large hulking wolf.
Taking one more deep breath, Donald summoned his staff. "Robin!" he called out, casting a Curaga and draining the last of his magic.
Said fox sat up in surprise as the bell-like flowers appeared above his head and his wounds closed. Little John looked at his partner in shock, waving a hand between the flowers and Robin as if to see if there were any strings.
"I say!" Robin exclaimed, looking himself over. "That magic of yours comes in handy!"
Donald let out a small sigh. He really didn't feel up to explaining the particulars of magic. It was hard enough explaining some of the finer details to Sora and the mage didn't really want to take on any new students at the moment.
"I'm a-worried about Sora," Goofy stated. "That guy hit Sora pretty hard on the head an' I don't think he's been hit in the noggin' as often as I have."
Donald scowled. "I should have cast a cure spell on him immediately," he grumbled. "Now we don't even know where he is."
"Probably the jail," Robin supplied, still looking at his healed injuries. "That's where they're keeping Friar Tuck for now." The archer's face darkened. "He's going to be hung in three day's time."
"So that's why there were gallows," Little John whispered, starting a fire and putting a pot on the small blaze to start cooking. "I was hoping..."
"I know, Little John," Robin nodded. "I know. It's probably a trap to lure me out."
"The folks I talked to did mention they were awaitin' for someone," Goofy added, looking thoughtful. "But I got the feeling it wasn't you they were awaitin' for."
"Sora!" Donald squawked. "They must have known he was coming somehow!"
"But how?" Little John asked. "They can't even predict when Robin's going to appear, so how could they prepare for a kid that only got here a few hours ago?"
"His heart," Donald explained, scowling into the fire. "Sora has a very strong heart and the Heartless are always attracted to strong hearts like his. They probably knew the instant he arrived."
"We gotta do something. We can't just leave Sora there."
"I agree," Donald nodded. "But we don't know where he is. Besides, they can't separate him from his sword, so he should be fine." Of course, there was that lingering doubt.
"Speaking of that sword," Robin interjected, "I've never seen one like that before."
Goofy smiled, his chest puffing in pride. "That's 'cause Sora's the Master of the Keyblade!"
"Keyblade!" Little John and Robin exclaimed.
"The Bringer of Chaos is that boy?!" Little John added.
Goofy and Donald sighed. They hadn't had that bad a reaction to the word "Keyblade" since Ariel's father in Atlantica. They had been lucky that most of the worlds they had visited had positive stories of the Keyblade or no stories at all. Evidently this was not the case with Sherwood Forest.
"Look," Donald sighed again, "there are two legends around the Keyblade. One is that the bearer brings ruin, yes, but the other is that the bearer brings salvation. Sora is doing everything he can to bring salvation."
"Salvation?" Little John growled. "That boy arrives and Robin gets captured, Friar Tuck's going to hang, Maid Marrienne's under tighter house arrest if she hasn't been thrown in jail, the town is almost completely dead, and there's still no sign of King Richard! And you're trying to tell me that that boy is going to save us?"
Robin put his small hand on the large bear's arm. "Little John," he said, looking seriously up at his friend, "that lad didn't cause any of that. He willingly gave us half of their munny, he dove into battle without hesitation to save me, and has been nothing but honourable since arrived. Calm down and look at what's happened with a clear eye, not one of legends."
"Look," Donald sighed, "no matter what you think of Sora, whether you want his help or want him to leave, we're going to have to get him out of jail."
"It seems to me," Goofy added, "that if ya want to save yer town, you'll need to get the townsfolk in jail outta jail."
"They're right, Little John," Robin agreed, nodding. "We're the only one's left in town and that's not much of a town. If we free the people of Nottingham, give them the munny Sora gave us so that they can pay their taxes and stay out of jail, we'll be back to having a fighting chance."
"But Robin! The Keyblade--"
"I've seen the wielder in action," Robin interrupted. "He's a good lad." The quick archer smiled before playfully hitting Little John in the shoulder. "You're usually more pragmatic than this."
The large bear scowled. "Alright, alright! So how do we go about this jail break?"
Returning from the land of unconsciousness proved to be quite difficult. Sora tried several times, but could only manage small fragments.
"Lock him in with the others."
"But, he's the Keyblade Master! He'll bring dessstruction to this world!"
"Do as your king tells you! I know what I'm doing!"
And then later:
"Have you ever seen an animal like that?"
"No. But I was watching from the window, this kid fights like the devil!"
"Not much of a devil, if he got captured. They beat him pretty bad, too."
"Here, where's the water?"
"Too bad Friar Tuck isn't here to bless him..."
Sora couldn't quite piece it all together, and his head was protesting loudly every time he tried to think or remember what happened. Everything hurt, and just the concept of motion would send him into intense pain. Finally, however, he worked himself up to "awake," and he opened his bleary and blurry eyes to see where he was.
There was music, a guitar of some kind stringing a melancholic tune with and equally melancholic voice.
"Every town, has its ups and downs.
"Sometimes ups, outnumber the downs.
"Not in Nottingham.
"I'm inclined to believe, if we weren't so down,
"We'd up and leave. We'd up and fly if we had wings for flyin'!
"Can't you see the tears we're cryin'? Can't there be some happiness for me?
"Not in Nottingham."
The sheer sadness of the song welled up in Sora. There was a despair in where he was that he'd felt only a few times before; when he'd learned that Riku's body was no more, when he and everyone else had thought that Goofy had died, when Cloud talked about the darkness, and when he thought about never seeing Riku and Kairi again. The feelings and memories became heavy, suffocating. It felt like he was drowning; only surpassed by the pounding of his head. A tear strolled down his face and into his hair, and only then did he realize a paw of someone was stroking his forehead.
"Easy, lad. You had a hard knock on your noggin."
His vision clearing, Sora looked up to the kind but aged face of a rabbit, framed with rags and round glasses.
"What happened?" he croaked, his voice dry and hoarse.
"Sh, don't talk for now," the rabbit said softly, still stroking his bangs. "We're trying to see if we can scrounge up a potion for you. It won't do nearly enough good, but it'll be a start."
"Mama, I found one!" Another rabbit came into view, holding an old and crusted glass. He wore a blue patched tunic, and had a hat that looked suspiciously familiar.
"Isn't that Robin's?" Sora asked. His head split with the effort, and he winced against it.
"Oodalali! Mama, he knows Robin Hood!"
"Shh, Skippy, can't you see he's hurting?" the mother rabbit scolded. She popped the cork of the bottle and gave it a sniff. "It's a little stale, lad, but it's all we've got. Here." Gently, the rabbit lifted Sora's head and tilted the bottle to his lips. The potion was indeed stale; it's taste now sour and acidic. The teen almost coughed it up, but resisted the urge and held it down.
The healing was slower than normal, but within a few minutes, Sora's vision finally settled down, and he felt less sore and hurt. Slowly, he sat up with the help of the mother rabbit.
"How long was I out?" he slurred, still feeling horrible.
"As long as they threw you in here, and that was yesterday," replied the mother.
"Where are my friends? Donald and Goofy and Robin?" The strength was returning slowly, but Sora was disheartened to see that the various bruises that had appeared on his body were not disappearing in the slightest.
"They were never caught," said another voice. Sora turned slowly to see the owner of the voice of the song; a tall rooster. "They didn't even bother going after them, went straight for you."
Sighing in relief, Sora said, "At least they're okay." He paused, looking around. He was in a dungeon of some kind. There must have been at least three dozen prisoners, all chained to walls or to each other, all in rags and threads of clothes, all thin and ragged and in desperate need of a meal from the looks of it. The room wrapped around in a circular fashion, and Sora was propped against the central column, a chain latched around his neck, wrists, and feet, restricting his movement immensely. Well, someone obviously thought he was some wildly dangerous person. Then again, Sora could be when pressed.
His head started to throb again, not as loud as before, and he inched his hands up to rub his temple.
There was a thrumb of guitar strings, and Sora looked up to the rooster. "Your song..." he started slowly.
"Oh, I'm a minstrel, a traveling musician, singing for my fare. Prince John said I didn't have a license to sing in Nottingham, and he threw me in here."
"That's terrible," Sora said, sagging back against the cold stone behind him.
"It's nothing new; everyone in here has some kind of similar story. Half the town is in here, and the other half is gone. There isn't really much left for the shire."
"That's not true," slurred Sora. The ache and pain was annoying, the affects of the stale potion weren't enough; he hadn't recovered enough energy. "You have Robin Hood."
"Saving a town that just about doesn't exist anymore? How's he going to steal from the rich and give to the poor if the poor are all in jail?"
Sora shook his head, and a wave of nausea swept over him. He held his head but pressed on. "It doesn't work that way. You can't just rely on him and Friar Tuck to solve all your problems. If this Prince John guy is really so bad, you should all stand up to him, elect someone else to be regent or something. It's not just your shire that's being taxed, right? It's your entire world. You should fight for it. Don't give up. If you do, it really is... all over..."
The nausea overtook him, and it was all Sora could do to turn to the side and wretch somewhere other than his clothes. The chipmunks would hate to clean the stains of it, and he'd hate to worry Donald and Goofy is they thought he was seriously hurt. Which, frankly, he was, but still.
He actually felt better afterward, and finally he looked to his hands, willing to the Keyblade to appear. With his hands so close together the handle was a tight fit when it appeared, and he was more than a little surprised when he heard the oos and ahs of his fellow captives. But then, Robin had said that magic was scarce in this world. Tugging at his chains, Sora lifted the Keyblade above his head and closed his eyes. He could feel the magic in his heart, not much but it was enough. He pictured bell-shaped flowers and green leafs, the color of health.
The power washed over him even as what was left of his magic vanished. With it went the pain and the bruises; strength gurgled up in him like a stream, starting at his toes and bubbling and laughing its way up. It stopped at his chest. Sora's head still throbbed, but now with not nearly so much intensity. It wasn't a complete heal, but it was better than nothing.
"Ah, much better."
Sora hunched forward as the Keyblade disappeared and saw that everyone was staring at him, wide eyed and slack jawed, everyone backing away.
"What?" he asked innocently.
"He's a warlock!" someone whispered.
"The guards said he would bring ruin to the shire!"
"... Huh?" Sora blinked. "No, no, wait, it's not like that. I came to the... shire," he stumbled, the word unfamiliar to him, "to look for two of my friends that are missing. I learned what was going on here and thought I could help. Robin Hood said--"
"So you are in cahoots with that traitorous thieving scoundrel!"
All eyes snapped to the heavy oak door, flabbergasted to see the Prince himself at his full, regal, if short, height. "That's an excellent start," he added. "Guards, you know where to take him."
Two brutish looking rhinos each grabbed an arm and hoisted, the comparatively light Sora being dragged like a feather.
"Hey! Let go! Put me down! Get your hands off me!" Sora punctuated his protests with writhes and jerks, trying to get leverage to slow down the tugging, but was only replied with the heavy thud of the oak door as it slammed closed behind him.
Everyone was silent, still processing what they had seen and heard.
The minstrel thrummed his guitar.
"Sometimes ups, outnumber the downs.
"Not in Nottingham."
Robin Hood and his little band planned their jailbreak through the night. It was not going to be easy. While there was strength in numbers and having the townsfolk on their side once freed would be an asset in that regard, the townsfolk weren't fighters. They were farmers and merchants. So once they were rescued, the plan was going to have to be run. What worried Robin, however, was that they didn't know were Friar Tuck, Maid Marienne, or Sora were being held. Tax evaders were always kept in the jail, but "traitors" could be held somewhere else. Possibly under special guard. Too make matters worse; they didn't have time to properly reconnoiter the compound.
There was also an issue of focus. While their new compatriots of Donald and Goofy had proven to be valuable assets in battle, there was no question that their first priority was Sora, though they were highly sympathetic for the townsfolk and wanted to help. Without a doubt, Sora was tops on their minds.
The jail break was going to have to be that night. There was no way they were going to give Prince John or the Heartless two full days to fortify their positions. Plus, Goofy and Donald didn't want Sora under Prince John's thumb for any longer than necessary.
Their plans weren't magnificent. They could be better, but they just didn't have the time. Once they had plans settled, they went to bed for the day. They needed rest for their activities that evening, even if Donald and Goofy were very worried.
Sora's mind was currently very, very fuzzy. The lingering aches and pains of the previous day were a distant, distant memory, along with just about anything negative he'd ever felt, like the loneliness without Riku and Kairi and Donald and Goofy. The desperate need to find his friends and King Mickey. And other things he couldn't quite think of. No, Sora was in a very fuzzy and pleasurable state at the moment; like he was just waking up from a gooood dream, but still in that cozy, warm place where you didn't even need to move to feel happy.
It was in this hazy euphoria that a voice would whisper questions. "Why are you here in Shhherwood Forest?"
Of course, Sora needed time to process what "here" meant. "Here" wasn't the hazy happiness he was currently firmly ensconced in. "Here" was defined as Sherwood Forest. But he wasn't in a forest. He was in a room constructed from wood and stone in a pleasant euphoria.
"I'm not in a forest," he replied, wondering why the question hadn't made proper sense.
"Why have you come to this shire?"
Sora's brows furrowed in confusion. There was one thing bugging him about the question. "What is a shire?"
There was a hissing growl and Sora's hazy happiness floundered for a moment before once again leaving him in a fuzzy pleasant place.
"Why have you come here?"
Ah! Finally, an easy question. "I was brought here by those two guards."
Pouting briefly, Sora wondered why that hissing voice was so displeased. He'd been answering each question honestly. It wasn't his fault the questions were so silly. Besides, all these questions were distracting him from his hazy happiness.
"Do you know where you are?"
Well that was a stupid question. "That short, fat castle."
"Yeah," Sora nodded. "Beast's castle is tall and skinny, Mickey's castle is tall but kinda wider, Maleficent's was just huge, but it was supposed to be Ansem's originally. So this castle is short and fat."
The hissing voice sputtered and stuttered.
In his happy euphoria, Sora could almost feel Donald swatting him. "Was that rude to say?"
"Wasss that...?" The hiss cleared his throat. "You are in Nottingham."
Sora nodded. "Nottingham," he repeated; then blinked. "So is Nottingham the castle or the town?"
"Did I say something wrong? Is that why I'm in a dungeon?" Sora was becoming aware of his surroundings again. He was in a stone room, yes, but he remembered the chains from when he had woken up. And he could feel chains now. They weighed down his wrists and ankles. That didn't match with the happy haziness he floated in.
With what sounded like snap, the image of his room changed and he was surrounded by clouds.
"Who ssaid anything about a dungeon? Now, what is your objective here?"
Sora frowned, a sudden need to be cautious rising up through his euphoric feelings. He was on a world and even if he didn't always succeed, he needed to not interfere with it. It was his responsibility as they Keyblade bearer, and it was something he did take seriously.
The pleasant almost-awake feeling washed over him again.
"What is your goal?"
"To find," Sora hesitated, hazy and happy as he was feeling, before he continued, "my friends."
"Riku...Kairi..." That's right! He had to find them! He needed to know that they were alright! And what about Goofy? Donald? Robin Hood? They were his friends also. He'd been separated from...The fuzzy happiness increased, washing over his being, burying his need to help others and hiding his desire to see his closest friends. He was back in that just-waking-up moment, feeling that all was okay once more.
"Sssire," Hiss whispered, "he's not going to stay hypnotized for long at this rate."
"I don't care!" Prince John growled, his eyes narrowed and angry. "I want to know why he's here and what he plans to do."
"Why not just hang him?" the reptile asked, never breaking eye contact with the strange Keyblade Master for fear of him breaking the spell. "It would prevent whatever he's planning and any disaster he brings with him."
"You stupid serpent! That imbecile Pete who gave us the Heartless warned us about this devil! Weren't you listening?"
"Sire, you had me stuck in a basket."
"Repulsive reptile! I will not be ordered around by that fat cat! I will have information to use against him and force that idiot to do my bidding!" Prince John gave a cruel chuckle. "I'll use him to make sure that my brother never returns!" He suddenly glared at Hiss. "Which means I need information!"
Hiss sighed. "Yess, sire."
Goofy peeked over the stone wall, through the leaves and branches. It was almost one o'clock in the morning and neither he nor Donald had slept that well during the day. They rested certainly, but sleep? No. They had both been too worried. They had not been separated for this long since they had crashed on to the jungle world of Tarzan. They knew he could take care of himself. His ability with the Keyblade was proof of that, he was a master swordsman. Nobody could separate him from that mystical blade, so he wasn't helpless, but they just didn't know. The tenuous uncertainty was absolutely horrid.
"A-hyuck," Goofy mumbled, watching the vultures and jackal archers as they weaved their pattern across the courtyard. It was getting close to time for the various guards to change shifts. Goofy and the others had been watching as the guards slowly started to droop with exhaustion. The Sheriff was off in the distance, sleeping in front of the locked gate to the tower-like jail. "I think it's getting on time to get in," he whispered, ducking beneath the stone wall. Robin was currently sliding an old orange sock over his nose, his fur obscured with a purple cloak matching that of the vultures.
Sure enough, one of the vultures clunked his staff just in front of them, proclaiming the time, the clock tower chiming to agree with him.
Little John quickly grabbed the vulture and Robin grabbed the large staff/axe and took the vulture's place amongst the guards of the courtyard. Turning, the wily fox winked at them as he just about made a beeline for the Sheriff.
Goofy watched from behind the stone wall, Little John next to him and Donald perched on his back. Robin's performance was spot on, from the vulture's drawl, to the vulture's obvious stupidity. He rocked the Sheriff to sleep and easily slid off the keys to the jail cell from the Sheriff's belt.
Glancing around, Robin quietly opened the door to the jail cell just a crack before winking to the stone wall Goofy and the others were hiding behind. Robin then crept silently over to the other vulture and his voice was heard across the courtyard. "Jeeehosiphats, Trigger." Naturally the sudden sound had the desired affect. The vulture, Trigger, unleashed a ricocheting arrow that had all eyes of the guards and archers on the flying projectile and diving for cover. Goofy, Donald, and Little John took this as their opportunity to sneak into the jail.
While the Sheriff woke abruptly from his pleasant nap, he went to deal with the trigger happy vulture and Robin easily snuck into the jail as well.
"Little John," Robin whispered, his disguise discarded. "With your strength and Donald's magic, you two go to the main jail cell and free the townsfolk. Goofy and I will start looking for Friar Tuck and Sora."
"Just be careful, Rob," the large bear gently grasped the fox's shoulder.
Donald was scowling, obviously wanting to help look for Sora, but instead he glared at Goofy. "Don't go getting knocked out again," he quacked, "I don't want to go through that ever again."
Goofy smiled, a warm feeling spreading over his heart. Donald and Sora had both been frightened to death and scared silly when he had been unconscious at Hallow Bastion. That they cared so deeply for him always made happy tingly feelings all over his body.
"Don't you worry, Donald," he replied, still smiling, "I'll bring Sora back."
"Come on, Goofy."
With that, they separated.
Friar Tuck let out a long sigh. He'd been locked up in this cell for the better part of a week with very little food and water. All because his temper got the better of him when the Sheriff tried to take money from the church. He had certainly been justified, but he didn't exactly play the part of a pious priest as he was supposed to. After watching the townsfolk suffer for years under that no-good, thieving Prince John, and then have the Sheriff take munny from the poor box of all places, well, the Friar's last thread of goodwill disappeared. So here he was, sitting in rotting hay, his arms numb from being suspended over his head in chains and a heavy iron ball attached to his leg.
There were footsteps in the hall and Friar Tuck looked up to see Prince John himself, with his slippery servant Hiss leading a hypnotized boy-thing into the cell. The old badger let up a small prayer, for what, he wasn't sure, but Friar Tuck had been leaning heavily on his faith recently.
The two guards accompanying them set the boy down, still in Hiss's hypnotic gaze, and chained him more heavily than they had Friar Tuck. Heavy iron balls were on both of his feet. His arms were locked together as in stocks, and where quickly chained above his head while his waist was also chained. The Friar raised a bushy eyebrow. Just how dangerous was this skinny, hypnotized, and very beaten boy?
"Sssire?" Hiss whispered, his voice thick in exhaustion. "I've been concentrating on him all day. May I now ressst?"
Prince John growled in frustration. "A whole day under your gaze and he still tells us nothing! Either he's an idiot, or he's been trained for interrogations! The sheer cheek of this boy!"
"Oh al--" The lion paused, a light bulb almost visible above his head, before the Prince looked at the boy with one of the cruelest smiles the old Friar had ever seen. Friar Tuck said nothing, but his eyes narrowed. What were they going to do to that poor boy-thing? He offered up another prayer.
"Hiss, make sure that when he sees his friends again, he kills them!"
"Stop sniveling and do it!" the Prince roared before hastily exiting the cell, letting it lock behind him.
Hiss sighed, but didn't dismiss the two guards. The snakes gaze on the boy seemed to intensify.
Friar Tuck glared at the snake, wishing all sorts of unimaginable horror to rain down on the slippery serpent. Making a boy kill his friends? The cruelty of it! It would break anyone's heart and spirit! And Prince John, the foul blaggard, had just ordered that this boy do such a horrid, ghastly, terrible, horrendous, atrocious...! There were many passages in the Good Book for such a cruel, malevolent, evil being and Friar Tuck could call up every one of them.
"How are you?" Hiss hissed.
The boy-thing had a faint smile on his face. "Happy," he replied.
"Tell me of your friends."
"Riku and Kairi are my best friends. They--"
"No," Hiss interrupted. "Tell me of those you travel with."
"Donald and Goofy?" The boy hesitated. "They found me after I had been separated from Kairi and Riku. They helped me look for them. We," hesitation again, "We've been through a lot together."
Friar Tuck raised an eyebrow at the hesitation. Was the boy resisting? Had he been resisting like that all day? No wonder Prince John was in such a foul mood.
"Have they ever made you sad? Or angry?"
"Oh, Donald and I argue all the time. It's actually kinda fun trying to ruffle his feathers." The boy's smile widened. "Goofy always trying to mediate between us. You wouldn't think of him as much of a fighter because he's so kind, but he's very loyal. So's Donald, but he doesn't like to show it."
"Have they ever hurt you?"
The smile disappeared. "Goofy...almost died once." Tears slipped briefly down the boy's cheek and Friar Tuck offered a benediction. This boy must have been there when this Goofy had almost perished, and Friar Tuck had given enough prayers for the dying that he never wanted others with him when he did his rights on the sick. For a boy to have to watch someone come close to dying. Friar Tuck felt great sympathy.
"What did you do?" Hiss asked.
The boy's face twisted into a dark frown. "I went after them. The Heartless who did it. Riku and Kairi have already had to suffer because of the Heartless. I won't let Donald and Goofy go through what they had to go through."
Hiss smiled and Friar Tuck knew the boy had made a mistake. By showing that anger, even a little, Hiss had the crack he needed to make the boy-thing go after his very own friends that he swore to protect. "No," the badger whispered. "Father in heaven, no."
One of the guards turned and smacked him across the face.
"Well," Hiss whispered, "your friends are in danger. Heartless are taking on their shape and coming after you." Hiss smiled. "You must defeat the Heartless who dare take on the shape of your comrades."
"No," the boy whispered. "You're wrong."
"You've seen it, haven't you? They've been captured and Heartless have started to take their shape. The Heartless must be defeated, mustn't they?"
Suddenly, despite the weight of the numerous chains, the boy-thing stood, his head down, and his shoulders shaking in apparent rage.
"That's right," Hiss kept whispering. "Feel that anger. Feel that rage. Direct it at those who masquerade as your friends."
The boy looked up, glaring, his eyes clear of any hypnotic gaze. "My mind may be easy to control," he growled, a blade appearing in his hands, "but you will never control my heart!" The blade arced, a faint trail of light behind it, and the chains surrounding both him and Friar Tuck shattered. Another swing and the two guards were slammed against the wall, and the third swing came down with bone-crunching accuracy on the shocked snake, knocking Hiss out in one blow.
The strange blade disappeared and the boy looked tiredly at the old Friar. "Hi," he said amicably. "I'm Sora. You must be Friar Tuck. Robin was worried about you."
"Hello, son," the old badger replied trying to rub feeling back into his wrists and offering up thanks for the miracle. "I'm so glad that that vile reptile didn't get to you."
Sora wavered on his feet before falling to his knees. Friar Tuck rushed to his side.
"Like I said," the boy mumbled, "I won't let anyone control my heart. Asking questions is one thing. Telling me what to do is something else."
"Son, are you alright?" Friar Tuck put a hand to the boy's forehead. Thankfully, there was no fever, but the boy was covered in bruises. "You look like you've been facing the wrong end of a staff."
Leaning back, Sora looked up and smiled weakly. "They caught me yesterday and have been showing me various hospitalities. I haven't had anything to eat all day and that snake's magic on me was very...draining."
"I can imagine," the old badger looked through his robes. He had been searched when they brought him to this jail, but the Friar hoped that some of his potions were still there. However, Sora surprised him again by once more summoning his fancy blade. Now that Friar Tuck had a good look at it, he was wide-eyed. It looked like a key. The Keyblade of ruin. Friar Tuck glanced back at the boy. This scrawny boy was the bringer of chaos? No, he couldn't be.
"Um, Friar Tuck?"
"Yes, son?" the old badger replied, putting a gentle hand on the boy's shoulder.
"I'm outta magic. I don't suppose you have any potions do you?"
"Magic? Well I don't know much about magic, but I'm afraid all my possessions were taken when I came here, aside from my faith."
"Okay," Sora replied. Taking a deep breath, the boy shakily got to his feet and sliced the door open. "My magic will come back in time. Since I don't feel very welcome here, why don't we be on our way? Robin's very worried about you."
"He's not the only one I'm worried about, lad."
Sora and Friar Tuck turned to the doorway to see Robin Hood standing there, concern etched on his face.
Behind the fox was a tall dog that went rushing to the boy, a bottle of something in his hand.
As Sora drank, his bruises faded and Friar Tuck could feel the power starting to radiate off the boy. "Thanks, Goofy." Sora looked around, worry starting to appear on his face. "Where's Donald? And Little John? Are they okay?"
"Just fine lad," Robin answered, putting a hand on his shoulder. "They're freeing the townsfolk now."
"They'll be fugitives," Friar Tuck interrupted. "Until their taxes are paid, they'll be wanted men. We can't all hide in the forest, even with the Lord providing."
Robin offered a sly grin, wrapping the fat Friar in a warm hug. "Don't worry about that," he replied. "Sora here donated a healthy sum of munny. And, with the lad feeling better, I think we should pay a visit to Prince John."
"Not till the people are safe," Friar nodded. "They'll be blameless that way."
"Great!" Sora downright chirped. "So what do you need us to do?"
"Look!" Goofy shouted, pointing. Tuck peered out the door just in time to see the tail of Hiss slithering up the spiral stairs, off to warn the lion Prince John.
"He'll sound the alarm!" Sora shouted, taking off after the snake. "We've got to stop him!"
"Friar," Robin said quickly, tossing the badger a set of keys, "help Little John free the prisoners!"
Friar Tuck only paused long enough to offer a prayer to the saints before taking off in the opposite direction, looking for the giant bear.
Sora was fast, but the fox Robin proved to be just a bit faster, even with his smaller legs. "It's a race," the fox was explaining. "Hiss is heading straight for Prince John, he'll be sounding alarms any time he sees rhinos or hippos. We have to stop him before he can shout out. If he lets even one person know we're here, the entire castle will be locked down, and life will be much, much more difficult after that."
"Okay," Sora nodded, hot on the thief's heals.
The snake was fast, and agile to say the least. When they exited the stairway, Sora found himself in a maze of hallways. Hiss darted left and right, his speed and comparatively small form making him hard to follow. The archer Robin was far better suited for eyeing things from a distance; and so Sora let him lead, following his fast footwork, Goofy trailing a bit further behind.
"There!" Robin called, "See how he's slowing, he's about to call for help."
Sora felt the magic in his heart at last, and he wasted no time whipping out his Keyblade. "Deep freeze!"
The snake froze in place, and both Robin and Sora dove to grab him. The ice broke apart at the last instant, however, and their resulting tumble let Hiss slither ahead.
"No good," Sora mutter, again taking off in pursuit. Twice more they were able to stop the snake from calling reinforcements, but it was proving that Hiss was just a little to fast for them. They needed more speed, especially when the object of their chase started jumping to ledges.
The trio burst into a cavernous room; Sora recognized it as the one he had been interrogated in. Off in a corner, however, he saw something that was too good to be true.
"A skateboard!" Sora changed direction and grabbed the wheeled plank of wood and shot off with a running start. A few pushes with his feet and he not only caught up to Robin Hood and Goofy, but easily surpassed them. He gave a cheery wave to the fox's startled gaze before zooming ahead. Keeping up with the hypnotist was easy now, almost laughable, and Sora had no problem using his sword to whack the snake every time he slowed. It was a game now, as far as Sora was concerned, and he even took the time to do a few tricks on the various ledges Hiss lead him through before quickly catching up and using his Keyblade to smack the snake again.
Of course, having as much fun as he was, he didn't realize that they were approaching the Prince's private bedchambers, and the sudden announcement of a thick oak door in his face ended the game rather quickly. The crash was resounding, and the skateboard was shattered to pieces.
Robin appeared almost instantaneously, and dove forward, grabbing Hiss even as the serpent tried to escape. Nimbly, Robin wrapped and knotted the snake around a sconce before grabbing the noble's hat and stuffing it over his mouth.
"Ah, ah, ah," he said, shaking his index finger. "No alarms from you."
Goofy finally caught up, huffing. "Wow, you guys sure are fast when yuh wanna be," he gasped.
"Shh!" Robin whispered. "We're right outside Prince John's bedchambers."
"Gawrsh, then we better get outta here and join up with the others," Goofy whispered, his gloved hands covering his mouth.
"No," Sora replied, finally extricating himself from the crash. "We have to stop John from abusing his authority."
The fox looked at him for a moment, an odd look on his face, before finally grinning widely. "I like the way you think, lad. What do you say we rob some royalty?"
"I got it," Donald raised his staff, and a dozen yellow flowers appeared over the heads of the prisoners, their green leaves falling to the ground as they healed everyone in its vicinity. "That's the last of my magic," he said to the giant bear. It would be at least another ten minutes before he could feel the magic in his heart again. Sighing, the duck shifted the staff in his hand and (wincing at the depravity of the use) used it like a wrench to break the chains on a string of raccoons.
Little John was staring out the window, always glancing for some kind of signal.
"There he is," he said finally. "And he's got the kid with him."
"That boy-thing is alright?" Donald turned to see a fat badger in plain brown robes.
"Sora? You saw Sora?" Donald asked, thrilled at the news.
"Yes, my son," the badger replied. "He and Robin went running off after Hiss."
"Good to see you again, Friar," Little John said, patting the shoulder of the badger. Friar Tuck buckled under the strength of the gentle blows. "I'm cooking when we get back to Sherwood."
The badger laughed.
"Who is Hiss?" Donald asked again, obviously having not been heard.
Little John looked out the window again, and ducked just in time to avoid an arrow plunge into the wood of a support. The giant beat easily notched it out and looped the attached rope through an iron hook. "I may not be as good as Rob, but watch this piece of action." He pulled out a bow and cocked the arrow, making sure the rope was still secured to the fletching. Sighting, Little John drew and fired the arrow through the iron bars of the window, back to wherever it came from.
"Who is Hiss??" Donald demanded, now getting frustrated.
"Alright every body," Tuck said loftily. "We have a large collection of munny that needs to be redistributed. It's coming down from heaven even as we speak. Will you help us find proper homes for this poor and lonely munny?"
Everyone gave a resounding "Yes!"
Little John started tugging on the rope, now a giant loop, and lo, through the window came the weighted sacks of gold.
Thoroughly irritated now, Donald squawked and jumped up and down, one fist raised and the other swinging back and forth at the ready. "Oh phooey! No one ever listens to me and I want to know who this Hiss is and if Sora is alright and what--"
"Shh!" an elderly rabbit hushed. "Do you want us to get caught?" she demanded.
The quack that Donald gave was too vulgar to be repeated, and finally he skulked off to a corner to brood; tapping his foot impatiently.
Much later the Friar joined him and, with some gentle coaxing, calmed the duck down long enough to explain what he knew of the "boy-thing" Sora.
Sora once thought that being a pirate was cool. The idea of sailing around and having adventures and sword fighting and the other assorted staples of the like always put a spark in him. When building the raft on the island, he'd often proposed making it a pirate ship before Riku would ubiquitously shoot the idea down. After landing in Port Royale, however, he learned how deplorable the truth really was, and lost interest in the career choice entirely.
Now, however, he was revisiting some of his old musings. A pirate's life may not have been for him, but maybe a thief's life would. He could be like Robin Hood; stealing from the rich to give to the poor, sneak around at night, have adventures, outwit the bad guys, and come out not only ahead but rich.
They were in Prince John's - formerly King Richard's - bedchambers, and were sneaking around grabbing every bag, box, sack, and pillowcase of munny that could be had. Sora was having the time of his life, seeing how close he could sneak to the snoring and cantankerously noisy lion to snatch some gold and hand it off to Goofy, who would smartly tie it off onto the rope conveyer belt that Robin and someone in the prison had constructed and help push it down even as Sora or Robin would hand another bag.
John proved to be a snorer, but also someone who muttered in his dreams. The entire party froze when he shouted "Robin Hood!!" sitting up and grabbing something in the air before flopping back onto the thick mattress. "I'll get him... I'll get..." and then the snoring would begin anew.
There was a collective sigh of relief, and the three quickly got back to work. It was long work, tiring as Sora's arms became sore from constantly hefting the weighty bags to Goofy, who was clearly tiring from lifting the heavy loads over his head to tie them. Robin was nonplused, not showing a lick of strain, and Sora felt a surge of jealousy whenever he saw that. It was just more proof that he needed to get stronger in order to find Riku and Kairi. Those thoughts gave him determination, and he received a new vigor in robbing the lion blind.
There was a loud gong sound, and Sora nearly jumped out of his skin. Robin pointed and Sora could see it was the drone of a clock tower bell. He remembered similar rings in Traverse Town when he was younger, the bell opening the Keyhole of the world. This clock read five o'clock in the morning, and he could see the pinking of the skies to indicate the approach of dawn.
Thankfully, there weren't many bags left, and he helped Goofy tie them up.
Robin was not done, however, for he had spied two sacks in the arms of the sleep-talking prince.
Sora watched as the fox snuck over, having not problem procuring the first, hid under the pillow, and handing if off. The second bag took more finesse, as it was in the prince's tight embrace.
"Mmm... Mummy," the sleeping lion murmured. Sora balked as he watched the prince, a grown lion, start to suck on his thumb, noisily generating "Mm-mm-mm-nnnn" sounds that seemed to echo off the walls of the room.
"Prince John's nothing more than a spoiled child," Sora whispered to Goofy.
"Ahyuck, some royalty is like that, Sora," the dog replied. "They're born with a gold spoon in their mouth, and they just come ta expect everything to go their way."
"That's... sad," Sora said, an odd feeling in his heart. "How can his heart ever grow strong if he only gets what he wants?"
"That's why Prince John over there keeps throwing tantrums; he doesn't know what else to do."
At last, Robin was able to finagle the final bag out of the lions grasp. "Move, move!" he whispered harshly, even as he boldly leapt off the balcony and caught the line.
"Gawrsh, that's quite a jump," Goofy offered, looking down.
"Scared?" Sora asked.
"Well, maybe a li-- YAAA-HOHO-HOIYYY!" Sora kicked his friend out over the balcony, watching him swim in the air for several seconds, flapping his arms violently before the got caught in the rope. Sora stood on the balcony, getting ready to follow suit when--
"Eyah! I've been robbed! I've been robbed!! Guards! Rhinos! Heartless! Stop them! Stop them!!" The lion wrapped his tail around the foot of the bed and grabbed the rope, bracing himself. Sora quickly jumped onto the rope, his weight along with the bags and Robin and Goofy pulling at the bed across the room and onto the balcony; stopped only by the rail, and that was only briefly as the bed began to tilt.
"Sora lad, get moving!" Robin called out, even as he began swinging one arm in front of the other to speed up trip to the jail room, Goofy close behind. Sora quickly followed suit, cursing his sore arms as he knew it was slowing him down. The Prince's cries for guards seemed to be working, jackal archers were starting to fire arrows, as were the Heartless.
Glancing at the jail, Sora saw a giant brown paw push out one of the iron bars, giving enough of a hole for Sora and the others to crawl through. Little John stuck his head out, grabbing the rope and giving an enormous pull. Sora looked back just in time to see the bed finally real off the balcony, John letting go of it and instead clutching the rope for dear life. Without the resistance the rope conveyer belt turned into a rope slide, with Sora and the others careening to the jail. Robin nimbly managed to sweep in; but Goofy face planted on the wall next to the window, plowing through threw it and leaving a Goofy-hole in his wake. Sora tried to fair better, swinging his legs up and aiming for the window. It wasn't to be, however; something banged into his leg and he jackknifed, his ribs snapping against the bars before finally rolling into the circular prison cell.
"Ow..." he muttered.
"I got it!" Yellow flowers bloomed over Sora's head, and he looked up to see his favorite duck, his wand over his head.
"Donald! You're alright!"
The fowl cracked the teen on the head. "And you're in trouble again! I can't leave you alone for five minutes and you have the entire world chasing after you! Aw, phooey; you'll never learn, will you? Why I ought to--"
"Sorry, Donald, you can lecture me later," Sora said, grabbing his friend's feathers and pulling as he raced after Robin and the others out of the cell, to the stairwell where the escape had started, and down to the entrance of the jail.
Outside was the large presence of the Sheriff of Nottingham, his sword poised high above his head just about to strike. Sora only had enough time to skid to a halt and duck down, Donald acting as a pillow to avoid the strike. The pair rolled in opposite directions and pulled out their respective weapons.
"Goofy!" Robin called. "Help the Friar and Little John get the villagers out!"
"Ahuyp! Gotcha!" the knight ran off, leaving Sora, Robin, and Donald to deal with the wolf sheriff.
"It won't be so easy this time!" the Sheriff said, swinging his sword again. Half a dozen Heartless welled up from the earth, and on command attacked the fighting trio. They scattered further apart.
Sora leapt up to the overhang above the door of the jail, scanning the courtyard. The Heartless were multiplying, clearly at the control of the fat wolf. Judging that, Sora jumped back down into the fray, only bothering with a shadow if it jumped up directly at him, instead making a beeline for the source of the annoyance. The Sheriff saw this and leapt to the side. "Not this time!" Switching sword hands, the Sheriff blocked Sora's strike, pushing against it and sending the Keyblade Master back into the air.
Sora back-flipped, recovering quickly and raised his Keyblade over his head. "Thunder!"
The magic did its job, the Sheriff was stunned enough to stop summoning Heartless, and with a quick sweep of fire Donald decimated the tiny troops. Robin perched himself on the overhang as Sora had done earlier, having stolen a bow from somewhere. "Lad, find me some quivers! I'm running out of arrows!"
"Right!" Sora jumped and did a quick combo on the Sheriff before darting off around the perimeter. The jackal archers were running this way and that, trying to get a good shot at three targets that were constantly moving. It wasn't long before Sora had knocked out and then collected six different quivers, each filled with arrows, and dashed back to the jail entrance.
"Is this enough?" Sora asked playfully.
"We'll find out in half a tick, won't we?" Robin quipped back, drawing no less than three arrows and cocking them all at once. Sora watched in awe as the fox drew and fired all three arrows, their trajectories perfectly aligned with three different Heartless archers, turning them into black smoke and freed hearts. "I'll handle the archers; you try to get that Sheriff to stop getting reinforcements."
Sora saluted his understanding and ran back to the giant wolf, who was giving Donald a run for his money.
"Reflect!" the hexagonal shields appeared long enough for Donald to grab a hi-potion for himself. Sora ran for the wolf, again jumping into the air and performing a combo, determined to land as many blows as possible. Donald followed up with a Thundaga and then a Blizzaga before running up and thwacking the wolf on the head.
The Sheriff darted back, giving ground and garnering time as he raised his hand up into the air. This seemed to be the cue, as another horde of Heartless began to appear. Growling, Sora shouted "Gather!" using the magic to get the shadows all in one place. "Donald, they're yours!"
Sora took a running start and jumped onto the back of the wolf. The Sheriff jumped up and down, trying to shake off the teen but to no avail. Sora used the time to add Kairi's keychain to his Keyblade, turning it into the Oathkeeper, and using it to mercilessly whack and thwack on the Sheriff's head. "Take a hint and stay down, will ya?" he half pleaded.
"Not on your life!" the Sheriff replied, finally getting an arm on Sora and throwing him off.
"Sora, lad, down!"
Sora tucked into a ball and dodge rolled, looking up to see three arrows where he had previously landed.
Not one to question an order like that, Sora continued to dodge roll, arrows tracing his path. He stopped only when his head hit a wall - having been so busy dodging he hadn't been looking where he was going. His vision blurred briefly, but he was able to shake it off. Through sheer luck he'd managed to find a blind spot of the archers, and he tentatively looked around. The Sheriff was across the courtyard but making a beeline for him. Donald was using Reflectaga to parry the arrows while darting to a safe place. Robin was harder to pin down, but Sora finally spotted his tail in a stack of hay. Had he run out of arrows again? Geez, six quivers wasn't enough?
The Sheriff was upon him now, and Sora jumped as high as he could to avoid the sword swing. He was just a hair off, however, and the blade caught his feet, cutting in deep and ruining his landing. Sora limped away, needing time to cast a healing spell, but the fat wolf wasn't going to give him the time. Sora guarded several times, only barely pushing back the Sheriff's powerful blows. Seeing an opening, Sora swung into a ground combo, ending with an explosion.
"Back off!" he shouted, and limped further away. The Sheriff was stunned, but he needed distance and another archer blind spot to heal. Finally crawling to one, he lifted his Keyblade above his head and cast a Curaga. His magic depleted, he looked over to the offensive haystack.
"Don't tell me you ran out of arrows?" he demanded indignantly.
"Of course I did," Robin replied. "Those Heartless are innumerable, and they just keep coming. I need to get more quivers."
Sora growled. "How many do you need?"
"Depends on how many there are, doesn't it?" Robin quipped.
"Great," Sora muttered, mulling the problem over and waiting for the feeling of magic in his heart again. There were only so many things he could do, thank you; and getting umpteen quivers for Robin, fighting constantly generating hordes of Heartless, and whittling down the Sheriff of Nottingham's ridiculous stamina was just a bit much for Sora's plate to fit. Exhaling a puff of air explosively, he peaked out again. The Sheriff had managed to come out of his stun and was swinging his head this way and that, looking for something to hit with his sword.
If Goofy were here, then he could just use his Valor and use two Keyblades to pound sense into the wolf; but he was off helping Little John and Friar Tuck getting the townspeople out of harms way just as quick as they could. Wait, speed...
Where was Donald? Sora spotted him by the door of the jail. Perfect.
Sora boldly ran from his hiding place and towards the duck. He faintly heard a shout of surprise from Robin but paid it no head. "Light!" Donald disappeared, and he could feel the water fowl's presence wrap around him, Wisdom changing the color of the clothes that the Three Fairies from Princess Aurora's world had given him. He had the added bonus of the transformation temporarily blinding the archers, and he made quick use of that.
Leaping up to the parapets, Sora's feet barely touched the earth as he whipped through the last of the jackal archers, knocking them out and collecting every single quiver in sight. Arms weighed down with the weight of all those arrows, he raced down and tossed them to Robin, calling out, "Hope this is enough!" before gliding back to the Sheriff.
The speed was marvelous; he should have thought of it sooner. The giant wolf was certainly strong, and surprisingly agile, but not overly fast. Sora ran in circles, bits of blue light trailing off him and adding to the Sheriff's confusion. Sora cast three Thudagas followed by a Blizzaga and then moved in for an aerial combo, landing a hefty dozen blows before landing and repeating the pattern. He could feel the Sheriff's strength drop like a rock under the onslaught, and Sora continued to press, not wanting the wolf to get the opportunity to summon more Heartless. Chancing a glance back, Sora was glad to see that Robin was making quick work of them, the quivers proving to have an ample supply of arrows for the time being. Sora continued to skid around the Sheriff, now completely turned around and dizzy, and began another combo, this time on the ground, and finishing with a perfectly timed explosion.
Stars finally appeared over the Sheriff's head, and he landed with a crash that shook the earth under the teen's feet. It was just in time, too, as the magic of Wisdom finally dissipated and Donald reappeared next to his friend.
"Did we finally do it?" Sora asked, breathing heavily after the exertion.
"I think so, now let's get outta here and help the others escape," Donald squawked, his small form racing across the courtyard. Sora followed suit, not about to be caught short this time, and they quickly rejoined the other party of Goofy, Little John, and Friar Tuck. The trio were loading the villagers on an oversized hay cart, hauling in bunches in the case of the giant Little John.
"Let us help!" Sora called, grabbing the aged rabbit who had helped him before and hoisting her onto the cart. Little John took position at the front of the cart as Robin Hood provided cover fire, the fox using his superfluous number of arrows to prevent the hippos and rhinos from getting too close. Sora, Donald, and Goofy quickly got into an assembly line and handed villagers to each other and tossing them into the cart.
"That's the last of them!" Robin called.
"This ain't no hayride," Little John shouted, a large grin on his face, "let's GOOOOOO!!" In two massive tugs the overstuffed cart was moving and they were all running for the castle gates.
Prince John could be seen, shouting orders and profanities as he saw his various plans go up in smoke.
"Close the gates! For heaven's sake close the gates!" he roared.
Someone, somewhere, grabbed an axe and chopped at the rope. In three swings it snapped, and the gates began their perilous decent. Sora and the others were well clear of the gate, and were actually laughing at the idea of the castle locking themselves inside when the old rabbit cried out.
"Stop! My baby!"
Sora and Robin simultaneously skidded to a halt and turned around, seeing a tiny rabbit hopping as fast as he could to the gate.
"Mama, Mama; wait for me!" he pleaded.
Without thinking, Sora raced back the way they had come, Robin inches ahead of him as the pair ran back under the gate. Robin grabbed the child and Sora cast Reflectaga to ward off the arrows. There were a terrible thunking sound, and Sora turned to see that the iron gates had once again closed.
"Just like before," he muttered, annoyed. Goofy and Donald were there, Robin handing off the little rabbit to the knight.
"Keep going," Robin was saying, "don't worry about us."
"Whaaaat?" Donald cried out. "You've got to be kidding me."
"Robin, up!" Sora immediately started climbing the iron, motioning for Robin to do the same. The fox scurried up, and not a second too soon as at least a dozen axes were foisted into where they had just been standing. Looking around, Sora spied a rope and took hold of it, waiting for Robin to catch up and grab on before the pair took off. Robin held his legs out and planted them in the faces of several guards before the rope slowed, indicating it was going to complete its period. The pair let go and landed on a parapet. Robin led the way as they raced through new corridors of the castle.
"Any idea where we're going?" Sora asked, dodging and blocking arrows as previously unseen jackal archers started firing.
"Roughly," Robin replied as he shot an arrow from one of his multiple quivers and snagged an archer in his hood, pinning him to a wooden archway. "I've done enough sneaking around this castle. There's a narrow window that's perhaps thirty meters above the moat. If you don't mind heights and if you know how to swim, it's probably the only way out."
"I grew up playing on an island," Sora answered. "I think I can manage."
The pair took a sharp right turn, and then a left, dashing through what looked to be an enormous and obviously unused dining hall, and down another narrow corridor. Up a staircase, and through a few more corridors unmolested, they reemerged along the parapet perimeter of the courtyard where they were immediately assaulted be a solid rain of arrows. Dodging was dicey, but they managed before ducking into another stairwell.
"We keep going up!" Sora called out, only barely keeping up with the agile fox. "And these look familiar."
Robin didn't answer as he skidded to a halt. Sora couldn't break quiet as fast and as a result ran into the small fox, the pair pitching forward and crashing gloriously through a thick oak door.
Looking up, Sora rolled his eyed. "We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere; we're back in Prince John's bedroom."
That was when the floor underneath them rumbled. Out on the balcony a great wind swept into the room, slamming the door shut and then pushing Robin and Sora against it. With a shockwave for a landing, a lizard like creature landed; its belly and hind legs round and fat, spreading out into a tail with sharp spikes on the end. From the back of the creature two wings extended from the shoulders and at the end of the long neck was a long-snouted lizard-like face with a forked tongue and sharp teeth.
"A dragon," Robin whispered. Sora glanced at the lizard again and noticed a familiar symbol on its forehead.
"No," he replied, "a Heartless." Sora had a brief moment to reflect on how everything in this world was economical in being short and stout were other worlds favored long and elegant. The dragon he had faced with Mulan was long and flexible. Even Maleficent had been a balanced proportion. But this world liked short and fat.
That was about all the musings Sora had time for before the Heartless dragon opened its mouth and breathed white-hot fire towards them. Sora quickly cast a Reflega and once the fire died away, both he and Robin rolled out of harms way. "Defense!" Sora cried out, casting an Aeroga spell on Robin. While the fox was swift and accurate, Sora wasn't sure how many hits the archer could take.
Keyblade in hand, Sora looked carefully at the dragon, letting the mystic blade guide him. "Robin! Aim for that spiked tail!"
"You sure, lad?"
Sora leapt forward, landing a series of blows on the named appendage. The dragon roared in pain, rising up off the ground with a few strong beats of its wings before whipping its tail around, sending Sora flying back. "Yup," he called back. "That kind of reaction is usually a sign of a Heartless's weak spot."
Robin nodded, reaching for his many quivers. Nodding, Sora focused his attacks on the oversized lizard's face and snout. He didn't want any more of that fire coming out, and it would distract the dragon from Robin's arrows. Thunder was the best in keeping the beast distracted, but it didn't do as much damage as a well aimed Blizzard spell. Sora stayed airborne as much as he could to stay within reach of the dragon's head, letting himself be hit from time to time to get height again.
When the dragon's wings started glowing, Sora realized that a temporary withdrawal was in order. He dove at Robin, casting a Reflect around them as the dragon lifted itself into the air and swung not only its spiked tail, but also cast out fire even hotter than last time in a deadly whirwind of flames and spikes. It landed briefly before once more lifting into the air for its painful inferno.
"This is a trifle different than I'm used to, lad," Robin gasped, both huddling in a corner to avoid the dragon's attack.
"I don't think the tail is going to get us anywhere anymore," Sora agreed. He closed his eyes, letting the Keyblade guide him once more.
"The wings, lad," Robin stated, a step ahead of him. "We need to stop these little vortexes of his."
Nodding, Sora replied, "Sounds about right." With that he cast a Curaga on Robin, who was looking worn and then leapt up; using a berserk rage to pommel at the wings once the dragon was on its feet again. Meanwhile, Robin dashed around the room, proving to be the best archer in all of Sherwood Forest as his arrows poked holes through both wings and, if the wings were folding right, putting two holes in each wing. The Heartless dragon was able to do two more of its deadly infernos, but it soon couldn't even flap its shredded wings.
Sora stood by Robin, both of them panting. The dragon was finally starting to wear down. If Sora was reading things right, it would only take a few more critical blows to defeat it.
"I'm almost out of arrows, lad," Robin stated. Indeed, he only had one quiver left, whatever they were going to do; it was going to push both of them to their limits.
The Heartless dragon still howling in pain, Sora and Robin stood back to back, Robin aiming arrows and Sora aiming his Keyblade. The nimble archer shot off the last of his arrows in fast succession, each aiming for a vital point that they'd been attacking, as Sora used the magic left in his heart to encase each deadly projectile in a bright light, the only real way to fight darkness.
Howling once more, the fat dragon let loose a lethal inferno, but Robin and Sora where no longer there. Both were up in the air as Sora now used his mystic blade to supply arrows of pure light for Robin to fire at the injured dragon, penetrating its eyes and face. With the dragon almost defeated, Sora handed his Keyblade to Robin, who used the unusual blade as an arrow to deliver the final blow.
Roaring, the short, fat Heartless dragon finally fell, dissolving into dust with a bright flash of light. Sora could already feel the Keyblade returning to his hand, so he instead let it return to his heart. Panting, he glanced at Robin. The small fox was also out of breath, but there was a certain smile on his face.
"Sora, lad, you're welcome to help me out anytime you want."
Laughing, Sora put a hand on Robin's shoulder. "I'm glad you approve. Now let's get out of here."
That was when the acrid smell of smoke started to fill the room. Both turned to see that the castle was on fire, no doubt, thanks to the dragon's toxic breath and the various wooden pieces of furniture in the room. Unfortunately, the fire had spread through the oak door and into the hall beyond. And it was hot. Very hot.
"Great," Sora mumbled.
"No worries, lad, let's go." So Sora raced after Robin again as he nimbly leapt up to the archway above the balcony, and then through a window and into the burning castle, leaping through holes in fiery tapestry, ducking under falling beams. "The window we want isn't far," Robin called back between coughs. Smoke was everywhere.
"I'm not sure going up is such a good idea!" Sora replied. "Smoke rises!"
"We're almost there, lad, don't worry." And, true to his word, Robin stopped in front of the window they'd been headed for before the dragon distracted them. Sora peeked out. It was a thirty meter drop, but at least there was water at the bottom. He got ready to jump when Robin quickly pulled him back inside an arrow sailing through where his head was.
"You've gotta be kidding me!" Sora protested then coughed.
"I'm not all that pleased either," Robin agreed, also coughing. His eyes were watered with the smoke, as was Sora's. "A moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one." Robin eyed the window. "Take a deep breath on your way down and swim for the edge of the moat."
Coughing, Sora nodded. After all his time in Atlantica, he was considered himself a fairly good swimmer, so getting from point A to point B would be a piece of cake. What was concerning him was Robin. He didn't know how well the fox could swim.
Glancing back, Sora exhaled and then dove out the window. As he fell through the air, he took as deep a breath as he could before diving into the water, his feet hitting the bottom harder than he would have liked. He stayed still as he watched arrows puncture the water's surface along a trail that he would have swum to the water's edge.
A few seconds later Robin crashed through, but it appeared he couldn't take the breath that Sora had on the way down, for he immediately went right for the surface. After a gasping breath and struggling through exhaustion to swim for the bank, Sora reached up and grabbed Robin's tail, dragging him under. Both watched as arrows once again pierced through the water's surface, poking a hole through Robin's hat as it gently floated up.
Looking around underwater, Robin grabbed a reed and used as an improvised snorkel. Given that Sora's lungs were starting to burn as well, he followed Robin's lead and grabbed a reed. With two small reeds nearly invisible in the dawn, Sora and Robin swam quickly for shore. They headed for a part of the bank that was overgrown with shrubs and trees, providing excellent cover for slipping out of the water. What surprised both of them was who was waiting for them.
Donald and Goofy immediately latched onto Sora, practically dragging him onto the grassy bank. Little John was a might stronger and lifted Robin out of the water and into the waiting blankets that Maid Marienne had for them. Sora wasn't entirely sure when the vixen had escaped, but Robin was clearly glad to see her.
"Let's get you out of here," Little John whispered. Together, the small group slid into the shadows of the approaching dawn.
On the way back to camp, Donald insisted on giving both Robin and Sora a good medical check up, diagnosing smoke inhalation, numerable bruises and injuries, and of course, exhaustion. Naturally, he had gone about doing more complicated magic spells to dry them off and then heal them, but by they time they got back to Robin and Little John's home behind the waterfall, it appeared that the campsite was bustling with activity. The six of them looked in awe at all the townsfolk they had saved, as well as several others who had deserted Nottingham. They were all celebrating. Friar Tuck was passing out munny to pay the taxes; the minstrel was singing upbeat songs with an improvised band behind him; people were dancing, laughing, and having fun.
When Robin Hood and Little John arrived, the townsfolk swarmed them, congratulating them, thanking them and being very welcoming. Some even recognized Sora and dragged him into the festivities.
"He throws an angry tantrum if he cannot have his way!
"He calls for mum and sucks his thumb and doesn't want to play.
"Too late to be known as John the First he's sure to be known as John the Worst
"A pox on the phony king of England!
"Sniveling snaviling, blithering blathering, weasely beesaly..."
Sora learned the hard way that, while he may fantasize about dancing with Kairi, you couldn't be expected to do well what you've never done before. He lost track of how many toes, paws, and shins he stepped and kicked. It only irked him further to see Goofy and Donald appeared to be naturals. He finally pulled away and settled for nibbling on something everyone had called "crumpets."
Robin appeared by his side, a cup of something in his hand. "The Keyblade Master is said to be the Bringer of Chaos," he said calmly, sipping.
"Eh? Robin, I would never--"
"Now, now, lad; let me finish," the fox interjected, waving a hand. "I was going to say that you learn things about people when you fight with them. You've got heart lad."
"The most heart I've ever seen in a child your age. You've got power the like I've never seen before. So what was the first thing you did? You dropped what you were doing and gave us half your munny, and then further put off your search for your friends to get me out of a pinch. No Bringer of Chaos would do that." Robin took a large gulp of his drink and exhaled slowly. "I've never met anyone quite like you, except maybe Maid Marienne. I like you, lad. If you ever need my help, give a holler."
Sora grinned, happiness bubbling up in him. "I will."
The biggest shock came a bit later. The party suddenly parted as a regal lion with a massive main of hair stepped forward. It was the shouts of "Long live King Richard!" and the bowing that tipped Sora, Donald, and Goofy off to the fact that this was the king that everyone had been waiting for.
Friar Tuck came up and bowed, kissing the king's cloak before the lion gently waived him off, making a beeline for the fox thief. King Richard led Robin and Little John off. As they walked, Robin turned and quickly motioned for Sora and his friends to join them. They walked to a (relatively) secluded section of camp and turned to watch the townsfolk celebrate so many things.
Sora was the first to break their silence. "So, why is it that everyone's here at Robin's camp when nobody was supposed to know where it was?"
"Ahyuck, that Friar there started guiding folks when we headed back to check up on you and Robin." Goofy smiled. "I'm sure glad you're okay, Sora. Donald and I were getting worried."
"What happened back there, Rob," Little John asked. "Why'd that castle catch on fire?"
"We faced a dragon," the fox replied. "A Heartless dragon. In its dying breath, it set everything around us aflame."
"At least the people won't be stuck in jail anymore," Donald mused, "they have the money to pay Prince John's taxes now. And then some."
Robin let out a small sigh. "Little John, I think we're back to robbing the rich to feed the poor."
"I say, I don't think that's necessary," the regal lion spoke up.
"So you're that King Richard everyone's been talking about?" Goofy asked.
"Yes," the lion nodded. "I am Richard, and my little brother John has really made a mess of things while I was gone, from what I hear tell."
"It would appear so, sire," Robin agreed, bowing.
The king smiled and Sora couldn't help but think that this king looked a little like Simba. "Rise, Robin of the Hood. You have served my people well. I restore you to Robin of Locksley, and return to you all that my brother has managed to steal. My brother's laws and taxes are now vetoed, and I will investigate everything to the fullest extent."
Robin and Little John bowed deeply, unable to otherwise express their gratitude.
Behind them the crowd of people continued to cheer, "A pox on the phony king of England!", singing and dancing.
"Oodalali!" Maid Marienne exclaimed, rushing into Robin's arms. "My love, I am so happy for you!"
"Marienne, my darling," Robin said, taking the vixen's hands and suddenly grinning foolishly, "will you marry me?"
"Oh yes! Of course!" Marienne flung her arms around her beau.
"And for our honeymoon," he continued, "France, Italy, sunny Spain!"
"Yes, why not?"
"And we'll have six children."
"Six? Oh, a dozen at least!"
Richard laughed, slapping Sora on the back. "It would seem that I'll have an outlaw for an in-law."
Sora merely smiled. Turning, he nodded to Donald and Goofy. This world was finally back to the way it was supposed to be. It was time for them to move on. There had been no hint of Organization XIII; no leads on Kairi, Riku, or King Mickey. But another world was finally happy. That was all that really mattered.