"Leon? Your majesty?"

Squall took his weight off of the wall and leaned it against Tron's console instead. He nodded to King Mickey.

"We're here, Tron."

"Extremely luckily," Mickey added. The dash drive had spit him out right over Hollow Bastion, giving Mickey the impression that someone was looking out for him. "What do you have for us?"

Tron pretended to clear his throat.

"Ahem. I've finished defragmenting the files you requested. Some of the data was corrupted beyond repair, but eighty-six percent is intact."

Windows began opening on the screen as Tron continued speaking.

"It is of interest that the files were repeatedly accessed both before and after the approximate date that Ansem the Wise was replaced by Xehanort."

A window with a time-use log corroborated before he moved on.

"The original entries made during Ansem's time concern the details of an artificially created heartless, an Emblem Heartless."

A window opened containing notes and sketches of exotic weapons.

"It was a super-machine of sorts, similar to Shinra's bipedal Metal Gear project in that it was intended to be laden with weapons and armor of every specialization without sacrificing mobility or logistics capability. It-"

Mickey cut him short and asked for a picture.

"There are several jpegs and PDFs, but none could be recovered. There is a single text entry dated after Ansem the Wise left, however."

A new window opened to display an entry into a file labeled "PoH."

It read simply,

Assimilation subroutine functional.

Trial will demonstrate further.

"Ansem" better know what he's doing.

Mickey frowned as tersely as the note. Whatever had attacked the Highwind had fit the bill of a super-weapon pretty well, but it was always better to the enemies for sure. Those pictures were the kind of surety he needed if he was going to make an informed decision.

"Continue," he sighed.

"Almost all of the entries created after the text file deal exclusively with a member of the Palace Guard."

A picture appeared of a young man with a military cut standing at attention for an official picture. Mickey noted the all-black cloak that the Organization had adopted as their uniform, and remembered his first visit to the kingdom with a pang of nostalgia. He had passed within several feet of so many of Ansem's personal escorts and adopted students that he had almost certainly met the majority of his future enemies in a single night. And now there was another person to add to the list.

Leon squinted at the image.

"He looks familiar. What's his name?"

Tron made another throat clearing noise, which only annoyed them.

"Hak. His name was purged from all official records along with all state-issued identification upon his reassigning to a clandestine program."

Mickey's frown deepened. "A Super Heartless and an elite soldier in the same file. How are they related, and why was Xehanort so interested in them?"

Leon shook his head. "Tron, I was here a few days ago looking through outdated arrest warrants and APBs. Could you bring them up again?"

"Of course. One moment."

The computer hummed and Mickey gave Leon a worried stare.

"You recognize him from arrest warrants?"

Leon mumbled, "maybe."

The computer hum died away and Tron faked a thinking noise.

"Hmm. I've compiled a list of every picture you looked at, but there are over two-hundred of them. There is good news though. The pictures were drawn by a computer program rather than by hand."

Leon wasn't so sure. "How is that good news?"

"The computer used adjectives as its data to draw features. If you describe him with some, I can sort them by relevance."

It was the best they had to go on, so Leon tried, "Military."

"Twenty matches."

Mickey tilted his head as he looked at the picture again.

"Average weight."

"Twenty matches."

Leon tried, "Athletic."

"Twenty matches."

"Military kinda' covers that," the king added.

They thought in silence until Mickey said, with a slight tremor in his voice, "Harmless?"

"Two matches."

Both appeared on screen. One they recognized instantly. Tron continued.

"Both individuals were sought out for the same crimes. It is possible that they were the same person."

He wasn't great at telling digital faces apart unless they had signatures, and he had guessed wrong. The two figures were certainly different people.

Mickey covered his mouth and, with low expectations, mumbled, "Crimes?"

Tron, cheerful as ever, read off the list.

"Collectively, they were wanted for four counts of attempted murder, four counts of corporate espionage, twenty counts of extortion, Twenty counts of breaking and entering, Twenty-four counts of kidnapping, twelve counts of domestic terrorism, Twenty-four counts of battery upon a minor, twelve counts of petty theft, twelve counts of destruction of property, twenty counts of arson, fifty-four counts of sexual harassment, and ninety-two counts of disturbing the peace."

Leon folded his arms. "No kidding."


.The crystal ball shifted to a kitchen.


A pancake fell out of the sky and soon found itself bound upward again. Sora and Kairi watched with interest as it pulled off a full three-hundred and sixty degree rotation. The Chef caught it and yet again it was flying through the air, this time attempting a triple back-flip. The pancake landed again, only for a moment, and upped the ante as it began a triple back-flip-360-barrel roll. By the time it ended up on their plates, they were positive that it had died of fright, and would therefore have no objection to being cut up and eaten, just like its also-acrobatic soul mate, which was on Sora's plate. They feasted together the way only old friends and new lovers can, talking with their mouths full and laughing so hard they cried. Why not? They'd cried for every other reason before.

Later, in the town, they had calmed. The morning got the best of them, so they started the day with Kairi's window shopping and Sora's head scratching. The pavement gave way to a cobblestone path decorated with every sort of shop for the cosmopolitan. They browsed and tested, queried and fitted, and tried on sillier articles for amusement until it was time to spend some money on the closest thing to sea-salt ice cream they could find. Paopu Slushies were not in short supply, and the cobblestone paths had nowhere else to lead in Destiny Islands. But of so many places to find a drink, it seemed that maybe, just maybe they would have found a safe one. Or at least found one other than the cart that sat easily in reach by a recently repaired gazebo.


.qp.


Diablo knew how to catch an eye. Where he learned, he couldn't say, but he knew how. A tilt of his head just so, a flick of the eyes, just a little bit of will, and... there they were. Sora and Kairi changed their course and came straight to him, trusting fully in his name tag, which actually belonged to the salesman he was wearing. They were smiling and laughing about something that wouldn't matter in a moment. Ah, youth.

"Paopu Slushies, anyone?"

Sora paid him to die with several munny- a fitting end for a fool- and the two of them took the drinks they were given without question. Diablo couldn't resist getting a little excited. The honor of killing with ease the same child that had defeated so many before was one to be cherished. He would remember the moment for his whole life. But only if it worked. Diablo refrained from licking his lips.

"What should we drink to?" Sora asked.

Kairi sighed. "The heat?"

Sora laughed. "Good enough."

They clanked their cups together, knocked their heads back with uncouth giggling, and for a tense moment only chugged. It was hot, after all, and Diablo watched with contained professionalism as they gulp, gulp, gulped it all down.

"Wow there, kids. Don't drown yourselves!"

They ignored him, and for a moment he worried that they might not have enough. Sora and Kairi came up for air and licked their lips clean. Diablo's mind blanked. "Want some more?"

"No, thanks!" Sora blurted. "That hit the spot pretty well." He handed his cup back and reached for Kairi's. "How about you Kairi?"

She had just enough time to frown before her stomach knotted up and doubled her over onto the pavement.

Diablo chuckled and gave Sora a wink. "If you say so."

Sora gaped at him, or maybe his jaw went slack, and he joined Kairi as a heap, still as the grave, head cracking on the cobblestone unpleasantly. Diablo smirked to himself.

"Brains always beat brawn."

He walked into a nearby alley before anyone took notice of the fallen heroes and, with a hop and a shake, he was out of his skin and airborne.


.qp.


You feel a brush as the air in the room is disturbed. Master Yen Sid has returned, and he takes his seat before you have time to look up.

"Master Yen Sid! They-"

You gesture wildly at the crystal ball.

"And this is all happening now! You didn't tell me that!"

He shrugs, majestically as usual. "What have I missed?"

Trying to match his casual tone, but without wanting to seem careless, you get a hold of yourself (suddenly remembering as well that you yelled at him) and reply, "The keybearers drank a potion."

He stares at the crystal ball, which is showing Sora and Kairi's crumpled forms on the ground.

"Hmm."

He leaves it at that, like it's not a problem.

"Sir?"

"Do not worry so much. I'm sure something will come up."

The crystal ball begins to shift and he adds, "Ah. Here we are."

In the new image, a doctor, complete with stethoscope and white lab coat, and two EMTs, complete with uniforms and a potion bottle each are taking a walk along a cobblestone road. The three of them are chatting about how lucky they are to have stumbled across two elixirs.

Your jaw slacks considerably and you eye Master Cid with suspicion.

"Did you make that happen?"

He shakes his head. "No. That kind of thing happens on its own around the keybearers."


.Your mind steps into the orb and you watch with interest.


"Maybe it's my lucky day, huh?"

"It happens, I suppose."

The doctor held out an open hand. "Here, let me see."

They turned into an alleyway while he examined the bottle.

"It's high quality glass," he mused. "Someone might want this back."

The male EMT took it back.

"Whatever happened to finders keepers?"

The doctor shrugged. "Police happened."

They chuckled and exited the alleyway into a plaza with a recently repaired gazebo and-

"Doctor! Look!"

The trio of health experts ran to the keybearers' sides and traded glances. One of the EMTs held up an elixir.

"Two and two? Coincidence anyone?"

The doctor crouched down and took Kairi's pulse while the other EMT did the same with Sora. They traded grim looks and he said, "Give one here."

He pressed it to Kairi's lips, and again the other EMT mimicked on Sora. When the potions were done, they backed away and waited. A crowd had gathered by now, and the air was tense, silence almost at hand save for murmured questions and askew glances at the doctor.

"Will they be alright? What's happening?"

The medics didn't answer, and were about to lose faith in their potions when Sora suddenly shrieked and shot up, fully awake, swinging his keyblade at phantoms. The crowd gave him all the room he needed with a gasp.

"Feeling alright?" The doctor quipped.

Sora blinked at the white coat and turned to Kairi without answering.

"Kairi? Hey!" Hey pointed his blade at the doctor.

"What happened? The slushies…"

He swiveled around to see the unmanned cart behind him, then rounded on the doctor again.

"Why isn't Kairi awake?"

"Sora?"

Kairi sat up slowly, not nearly as vexed. Her hair settled into place nicely and her posture restored itself instantly, but her brow stayed furrowed, like it was wrestling a headache.

"I don't feel so good."

Sora's hand raced the doctor, and he helped her up to her feet, where she swayed unsteadily. All the beauty in the world wasn't helping her features in the face of an obvious malaise, and her eyes were wondering without relation to reality, not seeming to lock on anything.

"Kairi, are you alright?"

She turned her head to him and fell onto his shoulder.

"I want to go home," she said into his chest

The crowd parted instantly, fervor for the wellbeing of the local heroes getting the best of them. Sora wiped ice cold sweat from his brow, hiding his own terrible condition, and slung Kairi's arm over his shoulder.

"Don't worry about a thing, Kairi. We'll be there in no time."

She hummed an acknowledgement, and they set off with the crowd following them. The doctor was at their side instantly, and he dismissed the EMTs graciously.

"Enjoy your break. I'll be fine with the mayor's staff."

They nodded, and stood where they were, not sure what to do.

The crystal ball stayed as well, watching while they stared at the ground where Kairi and Sora had been inches from death only moments ago. Life and death, two sides of a coin, just around the corner of life. They mused over it quietly together until one, the man, asked.

"Someone poisoned them?"

The other EMT shook her head. "Dark times."

They kept staring at the ground, not sure why, but sure of something.

"Wait."

The woman took a sudden step back.

"Whoa."

"Why are their shadows still there?"


Because that's an awesome way to end a chapter!

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