A/N: Hello and welcome to Kingdom Hearts: Shadow of an Empire. I do apologize for taking so long, but for me, the first chapters are always the most difficult. Hopefully, you'll find it to be worth the wait. Now let's just jump right in, shall we?
Shadow of an Empire
A Kingdom Hearts novel
Takes place three years after One More Adventure
Chapter 1: Happy News
Queen Kairi Hikari, now twenty-one years old, ran through the halls of Hollow Bastion as fast as her legs could carry her, desperately trying to find her husband. They had been talking about this for quite some time now, and at long last, it had finally happened! He was going to be so excited!
Three years had passed since the Horned King had attempted to rule all worlds through the power of Kingdom Hearts, and since then, no major crisis had come to threaten the worlds. Sora and Kairi had been left largely at peace, content just to manage their own kingdom. They had even been able to discuss a very important matter that had the potential to shake the very foundations of Radiant Garden... and all worlds, for that matter.
They had discussed the prospect of children.
It was an ill-guarded secret that Sora and Kairi had always wanted a child, and they had spoken of it often since their marriage three years ago. And while it was true that Sora and Kairi almost seemed made for parenthood, one grim thought had always stopped them:
What if their child was a Keybearer?
Cases of keyblades passing from generation to generation had not been unheard of in the days of old, when Keybearers had roamed freely across the worlds in their attempts to control the ever-present threat of darkness. The power of wielding the keyblade would be passed on from parent to offspring, and the offspring would be expected to carry the parent's mantle as a protector of the worlds. That had always put Sora on edge when it came to children. He didn't want his own child to grow up with the heavy burden of being a Keybearer. Kairi had agreed that she wouldn't want to worry about her child the way she often worried about Sora, but then she had contended that being the Keyblade Master was a very large part of what Sora was. He had been meant to carry that mantle, and it suited him well. If his child was anything like him, then he or she would have no problem with being a Keybearer.
Sora hadn't been able to argue with that logic, and in reality, he hadn't really wanted to. He had always wanted to be a father, and Kairi had wanted to be a mother for just as long. Thus, as Kairi sprinted through every hall and corridor of her home, trying her hardest to find Sora, she had a proud grin upon her face.
Their dream had finally come true.
After searching the grounds of Hollow Bastion for a few minutes, Kairi finally found her husband in the castle courtyard, looking up pensively at the commemorative statue of Merlin the Magician. It was a large statue, and very lifelike, standing ten feet tall and depicting the old wizard with a good-natured smile on his face. It had been completed only two months after the Horned King's defeat, and the following inscription had been scored upon a plaque attached to the statue's base:
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MERLIN THE MAGICIAN:
POWERFUL WIZARD, WISE TEACHER, AND DEAR FRIEND.
A grim smile forced its way onto Kairi's lips. Merlin had been a dear friend, and had served as a source of guidance during the first two months of Sora and Kairi's reign. It was only fitting that Kairi share this happy news with Sora while standing in the shadow of Merlin's statue.
Sora turned toward the doorway and cried out in surprise as Kairi rushed over to him and threw her arms around him, nearly bowling him over as she did so. When Sora regained his balance, he returned Kairi's embrace with a befuddled expression on his face. "Whoa, Kairi, what's got into you?"
"Sora," Kairi told him, bouncing up and down with excitement even as Sora held her, "I've been feeling really weird and bouncy lately, and kind of light-headed... so I went to see the doctor this morning, and..."
"Uh-huh." Sora nodded. He remembered Kairi saying something about going to the doctor early that morning, but he had no idea of what could be wrong with her. His eyes grew wide, anticipating what terrible malady his wife could possibly be inflicted with. "What did the doctor say?"
"Sora..." Kairi choked out, though she was so overwhelmed by emotion that she could do little else. She hugged Sora more tightly, her voice cracking as she whispered, "I'm pregnant."
Kairi watched Sora carefully as he took in this information, watching his every little facial expression that told her that his brain was working hard to soak in the full meaning of the words. For a fraction of a second, a pang of doubt pierced her heart as Sora processed everything that a child would mean for them, and she wondered if being a father was what Sora had wanted after all...
After that fraction of a second, Sora broke out into a huge grin. His wild, almost explosive joy dominated his every facial feature as he exclaimed, "Kairi, that's great!" And then he kissed her, lifting her off the ground and spinning around once before he set her back down and hugged her even more tightly than before. When he finally drew back for a breath of air, Kairi could almost see the tears of pure joy welling up in his eyes even as he laughed out loud. "Oh Kairi," he exclaimed, "do you know what this means?"
Had Kairi any doubts left about whether having children was a good idea, they were all dead and buried as she looked into Sora's bright, overjoyed eyes. His good cheer was hopelessly contagious, and Kairi found herself smiling and laughing right along with him. "Uh-huh." she nodded. "You're gonna be a daddy."
"I'm gonna be a dad!" Sora repeated as he squeezed Kairi even harder, holding her so tightly that for a moment that she was afraid she would be unable to breathe. But his arms were so strong, and his chest was so warm... Kairi closed her eyes and hoped for a moment that this embrace would never end.
Sora continued to hold Kairi close, kissing the top of her head and running his fingers through her soft auburn hair. "Oh Kairi," he whispered fondly. "I love you--and I will love our baby--more than anything else in the worlds."
"I know, Sora." Kairi told him as calmly as she could, though the elation of their impending parenthood had caused their bodies to tremble and their minds to buzz with a rush happy thoughts, anticipations for the future. "And we love you too."
Sora's grin somehow managed to grow wider, and a tear of utter paternal bliss finally managed to escape his eye and roll down his cheek. "Yeah..." he murmured, placing a hand on Kairi's stomach, where he knew a brand new life was developing... a life that he had helped to bring about.
The sun shone brightly upon the towering spires of Disney Castle, and a gentle breeze caused the golden flags atop each of these towers to flutter in the wind. A butterfly or two drifted lazily in the sky, wings softly fluttering in the sunlight. The skies were clear and bright, and there was even a bit of romance in the air as Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow enjoyed a picnic for two in the soft, green grass of the tranquil courtyard.
The peaceful outer atmosphere did not in any way reflect what was going on inside.
King Mickey sat alone in the Hall of the Cornerstone as he often did, quietly meditating. He had sensed no great darkness in the worlds since the Horned King's defeat three years ago, but one couldn't be too careful in such dangerous times. After all, there was still at least one major threat still at large. Maleficent had not been seen, alive or dead, since her appearance in The Castle That Never Was nearly six years prior, which set the king on edge. Mickey had a sinking suspicion that she was still out there somewhere, though she was most certainly not in the former lair of Organization XIII.
Mickey had searched that castle himself several times.
Still, while Mickey was one of the most clairvoyant of all Keyblade Masters, he was not omniscient; he could only do so much. He continued to spend many hours in quiet meditation, pausing only to occasionally eat, rest, or spend time with Queen Minnie (Disney Castle practically governed itself, so there was little concern there). Having just finished a sumptuous afternoon meal with his queen, King Mickey was hard at work once more.
For the first few minutes, Mickey felt nothing. Even with the Cornerstone of Light amplifying his powers of meditation, it took time for even the most blatant of darkness to come to Mickey's attention. He lingered for a moment longer, waiting for that first little fragment of prophecy to hit.
It hit, and it hit hard.
It came first as a voice, a soft whisper in the deepest recesses of Mickey's heart. Somewhere, so far away that even Mickey could not fathom it, a great darkness was gathering. The voice Mickey heard in his meditation was soft, venomous, and somehow familiar.
"Remember your early teachings, Anakin. All those who gain power are afraid to lose it."
King Mickey perked up his ears. Anakin? The name was familiar enough... a boy in a galaxy far away, with dreams of becoming a mighty warrior... Jedi, they were called.
"If one is to understand the great mystery, one must study all its aspects, not just the dogmatic, narrow view of the Jedi."
Mickey was thoroughly interested now. He hadn't given that other galaxy so much as a second thought since that dreadful incident just before Sora and Kairi's wedding. He wondered what had become of it since his departure... it seemed to have been under a good deal of political stress at the time.
Mickey opened his heart to this vision, and he could hear more voices.
"Know the power of the Dark Side."
"I think Chancellor Palpatine is a Sith Lord."
"The Sith and the Jedi are similar in almost every way."
"Don't listen to him, Anakin!"
"He could actually... save people from death?"
"There is much fear that clouds your judgment."
"Soon, I will have a new apprentice... one far younger and more powerful."
"Remember what you told me about your mother? And the sand people?"
King Mickey now clutched his hands to his head, silently imploring the voices to cease. Though he tried with all his might to cut off his meditation, it was as though the information was being force-fed directly to his heart. The voices went on, faster, louder...
"Annie... I'm pregnant!"
"Anakin is the father, isn't he?"
"Please... just help me save Padmé."
"I have the power to save the one you love! You must choose!"
"Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose."
"Anakin... you're breaking my heart!"
"You turned her against me!"
"It seems... in your anger... you killed her."
"Obi-Wan... there's good in him. I know... there's still..."
"Henceforth, you shall be known as Darth... Vader."
King Mickey tried to stand, to flee this quiet room of meditation, but he only fell to his knees again in agony. His head was about to split open, and his heart was burning with conflicting energies of light and darkness. The voices would not stop, and the king feared that he would go mad. But at last, out of the droning of a thousand nameless voices, a friendly voice called out to him.
King Mickey was jolted from his trance and whipped around faster than the eye could follow. Queen Minnie was standing at the foot of the stairs leading up to the audience chamber, her face beaming with delight. "I'm sorry if I'm interrupting anything, but you just have to hear this!"
Mickey laughed out loud with sheer relief. Interrupting? She had just saved him from madness! Nevertheless, Minnie's blissful mood aroused his curiosity, and he raised a brow as he approached her. "What is it, Minnie?" he asked.
"Sora and Kairi just contacted us!" Minnie exclaimed. "They're going to have a baby!"
"What?" Mickey gasped, scarcely able to believe it. This was certainly a pleasant surprise! Mickey had always known that Sora and Kairi would one day have a child, but to hear that it was actually happening... it was the most joyous news he'd heard in a long time. And, though he did not express it aloud, this particular child interested him. The offspring of the Keyblade Master and the seventh Princess of Heart... even in the olden days when Keybearers were everyday sights, such a union had never been heard of. Keybearers had once harbored a tendency to marry their own kind, and the Princesses of Heart had once done the same. The child of Sora and Kairi had far too much potential to be taken lightly. He did not tell Minnie this right away... that could wait until a later time. For now, all he asked was, "Does anybody else know?"
"You're the first one I've told. Kairi said that Sora was about to tell Riku about it. I thought we could tell Donald and Goofy together--maybe that way we can keep them from getting too excited."
King Mickey chuckled at this. "Probably not. Especially not Donald. You know how he gets around babies."
Minnie nodded and flashed her king one of her most beautiful smiles. "That's true--and I can't imagine Daisy being able to stay very calm either. They'll probably have the baby shower all planned out before we even get to Radiant Garden!"
The monarchs of Disney Castle shared a good laugh at this before Mickey took his queen by the hand. "Come on, Minnie." he told her. "You know everybody's gonna want to go say hi to the expecting parents."
"I know I do!" Minnie affirmed as she and Mickey ascended the stairs into Disney Castle's audience chamber. But even as they walked off to tell their friends of the fantastic news of Sora and Kairi's child, Mickey's thoughts once again turned to his disturbing meditation. Mickey had no doubt that the voices he'd heard had truly come from that other galaxy far far away. But if such terrible things were happening, what could he have possibly missed in only three years?
Probably, Mickey presumed, a very good deal.
The world of Prydain had been relatively peaceful since the Horned King's death three years ago. A new High King had been crowned soon after Sora and company had departed from the world, and his new castle, Caer Dathyl, had been under construction since then. It was to be located in the Eagle Mountains, decently far from the mountains surrounding Annuvin, and as far as anyone knew, the Horned King's realm was abandoned still.
Thus, it was only a friendly visit that brought Master Riku and his apprentice, Taran, to the quaint little cottage of Caer Dallben. More specifically, it was a chance for Taran to see Eilonwy again.
While Riku, now twenty-two years of age, had changed little over the course of three years, both Taran and Eilonwy had done a bit of growing up. Taran, now a strapping lad of sixteen years, had trained much in the ways of being a Keybearer, and had even begun to use basic magic (King Mickey himself had instructed him in this, since Master Riku's mystical knowledge lay strictly in the dark arts). Taran showed promise as a warrior, and even Eilonwy had commented on his newfound maturity. "There's something different about you..." she had said. "It's--well, I can't quite say. I mean, unless you told someone they'd never guess you were an assistant pig-keeper. Not that you aren't a good assistant pig-keeper, because I'm sure you're the best in Prydain, but now there's something more."
Eilonwy herself had developed into a fine young woman. She was still quite talkative, and indeed still had a tendency to say whatever happened to be on her mind, but she had not been without her own subtle changes. Since the Horned King's downfall, she had come to dwell at Caer Dallben, and had taken upon herself the duties of scullery maid. Dallben cared for her just as he had for Taran, and in due course, she had come to love the old farmhouse. Her feelings toward Taran remained the same, and she looked forward to his visits. These were few and far between, but when they did occur, Taran would often stay in Prydain for as long as a month before returning to Disney Castle. While Taran would keep mostly to Caer Dallben during his stays, Riku (who often accompanied Taran) would spend his days exploring all over Prydain. Before long, he would know more about the world than most of its own inhabitants.
And so it was that Riku found himself wandering through the Forest of Idris, the massive woodland just outside the Horned King's domain. Huntsmen of Annuvin had once roamed free here, but since their passing, the forest was a relatively safe place for an experienced Keyblade Master to explore. The woods were calm as Riku made his way slowly and surely through the undergrowth, hardly making a sound as he went.
Suddenly, Riku felt a small vibration in his coat pocket. Someone was calling him now, of all times? Riku sighed as he removed his cell phone from his pocket. "Hello?"
"Riku! Guess what!"
Riku was taken aback. Sora was on the other end of the line, and he sounded as though he were having some sort of heart attack. "Okay, I give up." Riku replied casually. "What?"
"You're not gonna believe this!" Sora exclaimed. Riku could only imagine what had gotten Sora so excited. He got his answer soon enough.
"Guess who's gonna be a dad?"
Riku's eyes threatened to pop from their sockets. His mouth flapped uselessly for a moment, and he very nearly dropped his cell phone. When he finally regained his power of speech, he shouted, "No way! Are you really?"
"Yup! I just found out a few minutes ago!" Sora said happily. Riku could picture with perfect clarity Sora's trademark grin that must have been on his face as he delivered this news. "Isn't it great? You're practically an uncle!"
"Absolutely!" Riku assured him, though in reality, it was only half true. Yes, he was happy that Sora was having a child, after they'd been threatening to do it for so long. But he could not help but feel a sharp pang in his heart knowing that Sora and Kairi were about to start a family, and he remained completely alone. He let none of this show in his voice, however, as he asked, "So how soon can I stop by?"
"Anytime." Sora answered. "I think King Mickey and the rest of the guys form Disney Castle were planning on coming too. So feel free to just show up."
"Okay, Sora. I'll see you and Kairi soon." Riku told him.
"See ya, buddy." Sora replied before hanging up. Riku stuck his phone back in his pocket, and a corridor of darkness opened up before him. He wondered what Taran and Eilonwy would say when they heard about this.
At Caer Dallben, all was relatively peaceful. Of course, it was never too peaceful when Taran and Eilonwy were together. Although a far cry from their quest three years ago, Taran and Eilonwy were having a little adventure of their own.
It was springtime in the world of Prydain (and in most other worlds, for that matter; no matter how far apart they were, most of the worlds somehow managed to keep their seasons--and even their times--almost perfectly synchronized). The apple orchards of Caer Dallben were in full bloom, and the droning of bees filled the air. The apple trees here were some of the most majestic in all the worlds, their towering trunks and far-reaching branches filled to capacity with fat, juicy apples.
Today, Princess Eilonwy had decided to climb one.
Now, Eilonwy and Taran were standing at the foot of one of the grandiose apple trees. Eilonwy looked it over once before clambering onto the first of the thick branches about five feet off the ground. "I'm going to climb to the very top of this tree." she declared as she continued her ascent. "That's the trouble with trees--they change every year and you have to go about learning them again."
Taran crossed his arms and raised a brow. "Must you go to the very top?" he questioned. "What if one of the branches were to give way?"
"Taran of Caer Dallben, you talk as though I'd never climbed a tree before in my life." Eilonwy retorted, going ever higher into the tree. "I'm perfectly capable of handling myself."
Taran opened his mouth for a moment to gainsay her, but he quickly thought better of it. Eilonwy had an indomitable will of her own, and once she got an idea into her head, there was little point in arguing. Taran could only sigh and watch with apprehension as Eilonwy stubbornly made her way higher into the tree. On and on she climbed, and Taran nearly breathed a sigh of relief. She was almost at the top now, so perhaps she could finally come down and--
Taran's heart froze in his breast. The thin branch at the top of the apple tree had snapped under Eilonwy's weight, and the princess now found herself rushing to meet the hard, unforgiving ground below. She shut her eyes tightly, wondering whether she was quite high enough for the fall to kill her as she came down, down, down...
Eilonwy opened her eyes to find herself alive and unharmed. Taran had managed to catch her, and was now smiling at her and shaking his head. "I warned you not to climb so high." was all he said as he set her down firmly on solid ground.
Eilonwy was speechless for a moment. When she finally spoke again, her words were soft and even a bit unsure. "Taran of Caer Dallben... I do believe you've just saved my life."
"Would you have done any less for me?" Taran asked her, his smile getting brighter.
"I suppose not." Eilonwy answered, catching Taran in a grateful, affectionate embrace. Taran had little time to return this gesture before he heard a corridor of darkness open up behind him. Riku emerged from the corridor and sealed it behind him.
Taran and Eilonwy were surprised, to say the least.
"Master Riku?" Taran questioned, releasing Eilonwy and turning to face his master. "You've returned early."
"I've got a good reason." Riku assured him. "You remember Sora and Kairi from Radiant Garden, right?"
Taran and Eilonwy both nodded. "Yes." Taran answered.
I'm gonna stop by for a while. You coming or staying?"
Taran's eyes widened in shock for a moment. "A baby? Of course I want to come!"
"And I want to come too!" Eilonwy added.
Riku shook his head. "Sorry, Eilonwy. I would take you, but I have strict orders from Dallben not to let you leave the world. We don't want to disrupt the world order any more than we already do."
Eilonwy crossed her arms and huffed, "Of course I would have to miss out on something this important."
Taran placed his hand on Eilonwy's cheek and turned her face toward his. "I'm sure it's nothing. It isn't as though the baby is being born--it's just to celebrate that it will be born. I'll return soon, and I'll be sure to tell you all about it."
Eilonwy seemed to feel better after hearing this. "Very well, Taran." she said with a nod before adding, "But be sure you don't leave anything out."
"I won't." Taran reassured her as Riku opened up a corridor of darkness. The two Keybearers stepped inside, and as they did so, a single thought passed through Taran's head.
If he knew Sora and his friends as well as he thought he did, then this was going to be quite a celebration.
A/N: Well, there you go. It's the first chapter: nothing too fancy, a little on the short side. As always, if you have questions, feel free to ask, and your comments are always welcome. It is my hope that this third volume of my saga will manage to garner 100 reviews when it is finally finished. One More Adventure came tantalizingly close, but not quite close enough. I have faith that this time, we can pull it off.
Until next time, Lord Moldybutt signing off.