At long last, this is it.

For all those who have served and or are serving in the armed forces, this chapter is dedicated to you. Thank you for keeping our liberties protected, our skies clear, and our hopes raised. Godspeed and come back home. Happy Veterans Day.


Epilogue: A "Knight" to Remember

A set of spiky brown hair were hardly visible behind the curtain of steam that was rising from the large basin of cool water. Vapors sizzled in the air adding moisture to the rather hot atmosphere. As the residue settled, the locks of brown hair gave way to the same ol' blue piercing eyes. A smiled graced the boy's face and he lifted the steel and blew the steam from it. Smoke rose from the chimney, dissipating into the air as it circled around the golden city. It had been four years since the revival of Radiant Garden and change was already imminent. For starters, Sora's hair had lengthened but his razor blade spikes were still unruly. His eyes were more mature as his experience became his teacher. The things they saw would never be forgotten. He still looked out for adventure and excitement, leaping for a chance at every opportunity, dangerous or not. Sora lifted his head to catch a breath of crisp air. He was now doing part-time work as a blacksmith that had once supplied Leon's store with swords. It was quite the turn of events for a once young boy who wanted his first sword. Now he was making hundreds of them, daily. He stared at each sword that was cooling outside. They were marvelous blades, perfectly fit for battle and durable for years to come. Sora turned around, grabbing a hammer that was sitting on the scorched wooden table. Taking the blade to the anvil he pounded, flattening the metal. The clanking metal reminded him of the battlefield and all the fights he had been in. Sora wiped the beads of sweat that dampened his forehead.

I can't believe so much has changed. Only if he were here to see it…

Yes, the change was drastic, but it was for the better. Three years had gone by and homes were finally completed much to the delight of the king. Population grew, nearly doubling the previous census. Buildings were now in the process of being erected. Construction workers were paid generously and though the treasury would face a deficit, it was worth it in the end. Buildings would promote trade and access to the city. They wouldn't face a downturn for long.

Sora pounded his hammer once more against the plate of steel that lay piping hot on the anvil. Though it was hard work and the heat was sometimes unbearable, he enjoyed his job of churning out fine quality weapons. Tomorrow, he would start on the spears. They were a lot easier to make than swords. The wooden shafts were already made with only the spear heads needing to be made.

Sora returned to his work, pounding on the steel, he felt a set of eyes watching him. Turning around, he found a young boy standing across from him his eyes wide like the ocean. He wore a curt blue hat with a white feather sticking from the top. A white letter was in his hand, Sora immediately recognizing the royal seal.

"Can I help you with something?" Sora asked as he placed the hammer on the table and approached the boy.

There was no response, Sora finding the boy in awe of the weaponry that surrounded him. Sora smiled, wondering if this kid had ever held a weapon before. Probably not. He was quite young and possibly no older than eight years old. Sora placed a hand on the boy's shoulder, shocking him out of his trance.

"Oh, sorry," the boy sputtered. "I uh…have this letter from the castle for you, sir."

He reached out his hand, slipping the note into Sora's grasp. Sora broke open the seal and unfolded the contents. He reread it twice, smiling all the while, recognizing it had to be Kairi's handwriting. Goodness, he hadn't heard from here in a while. As a matter of fact, he hadn't seen here in a while. How long had it been?

Clearing his throat, he turned his gaze to the little boy and tossed him a coin. A bright smile dressed the boy's face and he held on the coin, clutching it tightly in his fist. Wishing Sora a good day, he rushed off.

Sora refolded the letter, tucking it into his pants. Apparently time had passed him by and it had taken a little boy to remind him that today was the exact date he had killed Maleficent and saved Radiant Garden. Sora sighed also remembering the other end of the tale. While most bards sang of his bravery, courage, and exploits, those songs only reminded him of the fallen Leon and the missing Riku. Those with religious backgrounds said he exiled himself to a life of repentance and shame; his only companion was solitude. Riku wasn't the moping around type. He was restless and adventure seeking. How would a messenger of darkness ever believe in spirits and gods? A tiny smirk crawled its way onto Sora's face believing Riku, instead, went to Naxos. There was this gut feeling. Hopefully this time of peace didn't dull his instincts.

He yawned and returned to his work, deciding to the end the day after this last sword was made. He'd find time later on in the week to finish the last batch. Being ahead of schedule was really benefiting. The spiky brunette took the hammer and slammed it down on the metal blade, pounding away at the faults. He could remember Merlin talking about refining techniques using fire way back when he and Riku took their first magic lessons: "iron is full of impurities that weaken it. Through forging, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword." He chuckled, that had been years ago. Sora lifted the sword in the air, using his gloved left hand. The sunlight reflected off the blade, the glare nearly blinding him. He gently swung the sword a few times, checking to see if the blade had stuck to the hilt. Setting it outside for cooling, he doused the workstation, getting rid of sparks and cinders. He blew away the ash with his hand. Done, he locked the door behind him.

-KH-

Sora walked home, like he did every day. His one-story home was close by the weapons boutique, four blocks to the west. The moment he had turned eighteen, his old property was entitled to him. The house didn't stand, burned down by the Heartless raid. The construction workers did a fine job in restoring it, raising up a home that paralled his past. It wasn't as big as before with Sora opting to carve space for a peach tree.

Sora walked past the weapon's boutique, stiffling an amused laughed as he stood outside the window watching Yuffie personally test some of the weapons. Cloud was in there as well, leaning against the wall, arms crossed, and head down. Sora guessed he was probably asleep, not a wise decision to do while Yuffie throws weapons around. Yuffie jumped off the counter and flung a knife forward. It sped through the air and hit the wall, right beside Cloud's head. The man smirked, taking the weapon and firing it right back to Yuffie who ducked under the table. Sora whistled and stuck his hands in his pockets, knowing Yuffie just barely held on to life. Sora walked away, needing to get home before the afternoon was wasted.

The road home was filled with people, all who would be attending the ball. Bright colors on cloth were being looked at as well as gold and silver accessories. Children were running about, looking for fun while escaping their mothers who wanted them still in order to fit on pants. Sora walked briskly remembering his childhood. Though he lost his parents, his home, and had to live out of a makeshift shelter, he enjoyed the freedom and indepedence that came along with it. Seeing these kids run free put a smile on his face. He was just about to the turn the corner, when he felt a slight tug on his pants.

"Um...mister, have you seen my mommy?" a little boy asked. His cheeks were puffy and there faint traces of red in his eyes. He was shaking visibly and his distressed eyes were on the verge of tears.

Sora lowered himself until he could meet the boy's gaze. Reaching out, he placed a warm hand on the kid's shoulder. Sora smiled that cheesy, vibrant smile of his to calm the boy, grinning wider as the boy's smile started to slowly return. "Don't cry little guy. My name is Sora. I haven't seen your mommy but I can help you look for her. How does that sound?"

The little boy rapidly nodded his head with newfound hope, his tears drying just before hitting his cheeks. He wiped his face and took Sora's hand for him into a clearing away from busy shoppers. His little legs stuggling to keep up with Sora's stride but he found it easier to keep up using a quick walk/jog.

"What does your mommy look like?" Sora asked as he lifted the struggling boy over his shoulders. The child held on to Sora's brown spikes, grasping them with his small hands.

"She's really pretty and has long hair and she's really nice. She's the best mom in the world!" the boy proudly said.

Sora smiled as he remembered his own mom. She was really pretty and had long hair, too. Sora turned his head looking particularly for mothers who were frantically looking for their children. There were many people out shopping and bodies were being thrown all over the place like bread to the birds as they ran from one vendor to the next. Talk of sales, bargains, and discounts filled the air. The noise in the marketplace was deafening and he strained to hear the boy talk above his head.

"Oh, Sora's he's such a cutie!" a squeal could be heard from behind.

Sora stopped dead in his tracks, turning around to find a streak of red hair tucked under a hood and the smell of strawberries.

"Princess!?"

"Shhh...not so loud," Kairi whispered putting a finger over his lips.

"Right, sorry," Sora apologized as he turned his head right and left to make sure he didn't attract any unwanted attention.

"It's okay," Kairi answered looking atop her friend's head to the little boy toying with Sora's spikes. He looked fascinated as he tried to smother them down, only to find them stick back up. "I knew you were busy but I didn't know you were this busy."

"What?!" Sora asked suddenly feeling a tug that reminded him of the little guy on his shoulders. His face turned red and he immediately threw his hands out, waving them, trying to convince Kairi that he was not getting busy. "This little guy just lost his mommy, that's all. I'm not married or anything. See?" Sora slipped off his glove and showed Kairi his bandless finger. "I didn't do anything."

Kairi smiled. She loved giving Sora a hard time and since they haven't been seeing much of each other, Kairi was yearning to check up on him.

"Sora?" a little voice said.

"What's up? Did you find your mommy?"

"No, not yet," the boy said as he pointed a finger at Kairi. "But, she's really pretty like my mom."

Kairi giggled as she took hold of the little boy's hand. "My name is Kairi. I wish I was your mom. You're so adorable!" Kairi gently pinched the boy's soft fluffy cheeks.

"OH MY GOSH, HUNNY! I FOUND YOU!!!"

Sora turned and found a woman with long hair running up to him. She grabbed the boy off his shoulders and gave him a tight hug. "Oh my baby. I was so worried sick. Are you ok?"

"Yeah. I'm fine, mommy. Sora and Kaiwi were helping me find you."

"Kairi? The princess?" the mother gasped. She turned around frantically finding the princess standing before her. She quickly shuffled to her knees despite Kairi's protests. "Thank you so much for finding my baby boy. I don't know what I would have done if I had lost him."

"We're just happy you found him," Kairi said with Sora nodding in approval.

The mother and son walked away, the boy turning around for a quick second to reveal a grin wider than Sora's.

Sora and Kairi waved back, watching the family slip into the multitude of townspeople.

"We'll I guess I had better go, Kaiwi. Looks like my job here is done," Sora said as he dusted off his hands, a light chuckle escaping his lips.

"Don't you even start!"

Sora grinned at her, the joke still funny.

"I'll get you back for this. TONIGHT!" Kairi yelled as Sora began walking away.

"Huh? What's going on tonight?"

Kairi felt her heart jump to her throat, a gasp taking all her breath away. Sora didn't get the note? The messenger didn't relay the message? He didn't know?

"Just kidding."

-KH-

Sora paced around his room, his head hung and a worried look on his face. In deep thought, he unconsciously turned around before hitting the wall, his legs still moving him forward. This had been going on for a while, intensifying with each passing hour. It was now dusk and the sun was giving way to the stars. The majestical moon would soon make its appearance, sparkling its radiance across the sky.

Sora kept pacing, his mind filling his head with doubt. He walked passed the mirror, paying no attention to the reflection showing a rather handsome young man with chocolate brown spikes, traces of blue eyes, and a red flowing cape. Sora knew what he was wearing- a red tunic and pants with golden yellow embroidry and a cape that flowed down to his knees. Boy, he hated it! The workmanship was wonderfully made, Sora could see. He found similarities between himself and the tailor. Both had a knack for their jobs with hands able to make something out of nothing. The stitching was tight and the seams wouldn't open. It reminded Sora of how the leather was coiled around the hilt of a blade providing not only comfort but grip. A sword felt comfortable in his hands, this clothing not as much. He wished he could revert back to his old usual black attire along with the gloves and shoes. Currently he felt like he could not move, the collar choking his neck, the cape pulling him down.

Sora sighed irritably as he looked out his bedroom window. He had a great straight-a-way view of the castle. It was lit up with lights, a row of hanging lanters illuminating the road that led up to the main gates. From the flickering fires, Sora could see a trail of carriages and horses. Looks like the guests were arriving on time. Sora reached into his pocket, feeling for the invitation. Maybe if we was lucky, he could leave early. Kairi wouldn't mind, he hoped.

Sora locked his door as he stepped outside into the cold air. Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he began walking. It wouldn't take him too long to get the castle and the walk would provide him enough time to get back his wits. He looked like a feathering frilly- a stuck up royal who enjoyed wordly lavishings. He would rather dress as a farmer rather than in these clothes. At least farmers were strong willed, hardworking, and efficent. They knew how to tend to the land, manage the seasons, and churn out delicious peaches. Frillies sat, ate, and grew fat. Sora knew sitting around all day wasn't the lifetyle for him. He was all about action and adventure. Growing fat didn't appeal to him either. Those situps and pushups Leon put him through were something Sora did not want to waste.

The teen kicked aside a pebble that was lying in his path and it bounced off the street into an alley. He found himself in no festive mood, the purpose of attending this ball evaded him. There was no special holiday, he recalled. So what was going on?

He raised his head as he heard loud voices in front of him. Apparently he had reached the castle steps and was now waiting for enterance. The people were being funneled through the gate, the guards bellowing orders and directions. Sora felt a strong hand grab his left shoulder and he instantly turned around to see the old guard, Nestor, right behind him.

"This way, boy," the soldier pointed.

"Where are we going?" Sora asked as he stepped out of the line. He was rushing just to catch the old man. In the back of his mind, he had remembered Nestor's old glare and his rough persona. That had changed though, in time, into a mutual respect formed between the two. Nestor had grown to tolerate Sora walking the streets and, in return, Sora kept his head down and his smile straight.

"I've got special orders from the princess to escort you to her," Nestor grunted as he pulled back an old brown wooden door. The walkway was quite dark but it didn't deter the old man for a moment as he lit a torch using a flint. "Let's go." Nestor used his offhand as a guide as he led Sora down the pathway. Neither one said a word as their boots clanked along the rocky ground. Sora kept his gaze downwards, mindful of bumps and branching twigs that would have tripped him up. Nestor threw his hand over his shoulder, signaling for Sora to stop. They had come to a dead end. Nestor blew out the torch and pushed strongly against the wall. There was a small creak as the wall gave way, a beam of light nearly blinding Sora.

"Where is this?" Sora asked as he closed his eyes tightly.

"We're at the basement of the castle," Nestor answered him. "Kairi's upstairs."

-KH-

Sora gently knocked on the door, hoping it was loud enough for Kairi to hear. He didn't want to attract attention. It would look really bad for a boy to be wandering the castle halls unattended, especially outside the princess' room. The doorknob turned suddenly and the door opened to reveal a warm smile and a purple set of eyes.

"Sora, you came!" Kairi greeted with a bright smile and a hug as she pulled him into her room.

"Yeah, of course, though I have no clue why I'm here."

Kairi smiled as she stared at him. His red clothing looked nice on him, a brighter and more uplifting than his usual drab black. Not to say that Sora didn't look in black, but the change of scenery was more than welcome. It had been so long since they talked, their unexpected meeting in the marketplace was too short to do some catching up.

"I wanted this to be a surprise but I guess I could tell you now."

Sora quirked his eyebrown eager to know what Kairi was planning. He had gotten to know her through these years and the one thing he had come to expect was that Kairi was full of surprises. She wasn't any ordinary princess or a pushover to have her life dictated by her royal status. She was bold with a hint of spice. Sora had a feeling this was going to be unexpected.

"Every princess needs an escort to the ball," Kairi started. Sora shook his head knowing the norms and traditions. "So that's why I want you to be my escort and date to the ball."

Sora stood there, gawking. His jaw had dropped and his eyes were wide exposing all the blue of his iris. Judging from his posture, the surprise had caught him off guard. This was truly unexpected and true to form, Kairi once again showed her boldness to bypass tradition and normalcy.

"I...I don't know," Sora answered the moment he caught hold of himself. In his mind, he would have said yes, yet the request was unprecedented. Who ever heard of a teen commoner escorting the likes of royalty, let alone the king's only daughter? He had to say no, protect his head and Kairi's reputation.

"Please, Sora," the princess begged.

Sora grimaced as he closed his eyes. He hated to see her beg. That usually led to puppy dog eyes and a little frown. Sora had known kids used the trick well but Kairi was on a different level. As if she had practiced in front of the mirror, she had the ability to get what she wanted. Oh, how he hated when she did this. Sora closed his eyes tight as he dodged the sight of Kairi's frown. He thought he was in the clear until Kairi placed her hand softly on his arm, nudging him to say yes. Ah, Sora hated being the bad guy.

"I have a plan, Sora. I know this will work."

Surprise, surprise. Sora sighed as he nodded his head. At least, he was saved from breaking the girl's heart. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

"I'll just have daddy knight you!"

"Wait-what?"

"Yeah, as a royal knight you can escort me and no one would mind. Worse comes to worse, you could say you'll protect me from potential suitors and pervy old men!"

Sora smiled as Kairi let out a little giggle. He threw his hands up, defeated. Kairi would make a great diplomat the moment she claims the throne. Her ability to work around situations to get what she wanted was unbelievable to the point where Sora had no choice but to follow.

-KH-

The trumpets defeaned his ears as he stood arm in arm with Kairi at the top of the staircase. The king and queen had just been introduced, the eyes of every citizen on them. Everyone wore all smiles. They bowed and shook the king's hand, while kissing the hand of the queen. Sora gulped, wondering how his introduction would turn out. He feared the akward silence that would follow and the embarassment that Kairi would undergo. Goodness, he hoped Kairi knew what she was doing. The trumpets once again blared loudly, making his spikes stand up straighter than they already were.

"Presenting her royal highness, the princess of Radiant Garden, and her escort, the savior of Radiant Garden."

Kairi nudged Sora's elbow, directing him to start walking. Sora felt the urge to smile but had to restrain himself. This was a duty after all and he could not make light of this situation. The trumpets were still sounding and coupled with the applause and flirtatious whistles, the noise rivaled the sound of battle. Sora had never heard anything so strong. It felt like thunder in his body and he swore his legs were shaking. Sora and Kairi approached the stage where the the king and queen were seated on their thrones. After bowing respectfully, Kairi stood by her father's side, a bright smile and bright eyes not once leaving Sora. Sora shivered feeling the akwardness around him.

"Sora!" the king's voice boomed.

The teen stood straighter, his arms tight as they hung by his side. Jaw clenched and all seriousness about him, Sora stared unafraid into the king's eyes.

"Kneel!"

Sora lowered himself unto his knees, his eyes fixated on the ground. Above him the king rose from his seat and threw aside his cape. As he approached the boy, he gripped the hilt of his sword, slowly taking it out of it's scabbard. Sora's heart began to beat faster, as he immediately recognized the sound. It was the sound of a drawn blade, the final moments of life until a mute death. There was no mistaking it. Sora knew this sound. It sound that could make blood freeze over, that could make the heart beat like a drum, or make the neck hairs stand on end. There was none like it in the world.

Sora could feel the cold sharp blade rest on his shoulder.

"I, Creon, king of Radiant Garden, on this day, hereby welcome Sora into the brotherhood of knightship to serve, protect, and to be a pillar of light that will forever keep Radiant Garden strong. Do you, Sora, accept?

Sora looked up and smiled as the king gave him a quick wink. He could hear the murmur of the people behind him and one child in particular whispering "yes".

"I accept."

"Then arise, Sir Sora."

Sora stood to his feet and was immediately pulled into a tight hug from Kairi. Before he could wrap his arms around the girl, he felt her lips on his. It caught him off guard but as he slowly settled into it, he couldn't help but to thank God or whoever was up there for sending her to him. She had changed his life, gave him hope, and surprised him in front of the whole city.

Kairi broke the kiss, a blush covering her face as a whooping holler erupted all around them. Choruses of 'oohs and aahs' filled the room, Sora responding with a quick kiss to Kairi's cheek.

"That was quite a surprise," Sora whispered into her ear before pulling his face away from hers. "Thank you."

"I love you, Sora."

"I love you, too."

Music began to the fill the hall, the guests forming a ring into the middle of the room. Alcoholic spirits were passed around and food was being shoveled onto plates.

"Yeah! Let's party!" Yuffie yelled as she captured Sora in a headlock. "Way to go kiddo! Leon would have been proud!"

Sora laughed as he fought off Yuffie and pushed her into the dancing crowd. This was going to be some night!

"Come on, let's dance!" Kairi said as she dragged him into the middle of the circle.

"What? We have to dance, too?"

END


Now here comes my favorite part!!! For those of you who stuck by this story for these eleven long months, I thank you! Thanks for your patience to put up with me and for the wonderful reviews, compliments, suggestions, and inspiration. I really appreciate them! It was long time coming but thanks for sticking it out with me. You guys are real troopers.

Big ups to:
BlacAngel
Craxuan
Kisdota-The Freak Gamer
Shire Folk
Virgil Theart
lalalaniebug
dearlybelovedangel
Redeeming Endeavor
Mistrelia of the Ice
O.I
dark angel of hearts
chickenman00712
vballqueen1792
NinjaSheik
Topaz Tsubasa

Above all, I hope I gave you something decent and fun to read and I hope you never lose sight of where your imagination could take you. Keep on writing (cause I love to read).

Rock out, party hard, live hardcore