Title: Pandora's Box

Genre: Adventure/Drama

Rating: Let's call this an R.

Status: 1/1, 16208 words, which translates to a horribly long oneshot. Didn't want this to end up unfinished, so.

Characters/Pairing: Sora/Kairi/Riku (ménage à trois), a couple of OC's

Warnings: Rather dark. Implied sex.

Notes: Drama! Comedy! Action! Violence! Gratuitous use of the present tense! It's all right here! Spoilers in a roundabout way for KHII. Basic magical concepts combed from the Final Fantasy series, should be easy to figure out, but additional notes are at the bottom.

Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts and all affiliated characters belong to Square Enix. This is a work of fiction and is not for profit; it is for personal enjoyment only.


The King's loyalty is to his Kingdom, and to his Kingdom first and foremost.

- Chapter III, Section I, Art. 1, the 12th Constitution of the Kingdom of Disney, ratified 3021 A.H.W.


I. Valor


The whispers drift about, here and there, hiding beneath children's tongues and lurking between old wives' knitting needles. Autumn comes with its sprinkling of dusty gold and violent orange, and among the fallen leaves the stories dance, stroking suspicions awake. Sometimes a child or two would find a piece of shining glass, rose-coloured and black-lined, and his playmates would hush and tell him to drop it, to leave it behind, for their parents told them so.

The mark of the devil, they chatter curiously, the mark of a fallen soul, the remains of a blackened heart.

They say that underneath the massive marble and majestic white of Disney's dusk-winged castle, there is a shadow that lurks, chained and wailing and inhuman. A Heartless, the Paladins say when the children ask them, but Heartless are a myth, a legend used to frighten children who refuse to go to bed when told. It's right up among the legends that the sky once crumbled and rained down shining shards of stars, or that the King and Queen keep a Heartless defender safely hidden and tucked away - or even that story that the children made up once, about the Dark Knight, something to amuse themselves around the campfire. No-one believes them, of course, and the fact that the Paladins' faces twitch with something like suppressed humor reinforces their disbelief.

Roxas and his friends don't believe it, and at all of his eleven years old he believes that there is something else under there. His father had taught him rationality and the saying "Kid, to see is to believe," - after all, hasn't he been named after some great level-headed hero in a war almost a century earlier? And his name, the meaning behind it, it has to count for something -

"They're changing shifts!" the figures next to him huddle excitedly, and small glass marbles imbued with Fire - 20 munny apiece, took most of their summer's collective earnings - change hands. Besides him, Daniel grins and pats him on the back. We'll go down in history, he said earlier, rubbing his hands and looking up at the massive silhouette, heroes, or somethin', setting rumors back in their place.

A flicker of uncertainty flares in his gut, but Roxas is never one to back down from a challenge, the prospect of grandeur, of stories that would be told about him. He nods, and holds out his hand.


"Catch!"

Sora sometimes wished Kairi would watch what she's throwing and where she's throwing them; the breath gusted out of him in one large oof and the glare he threw back at her was cheerfully ignored. "You don't throw bottles like these around," he groused, popping the lid open and taking a long draught.

The redhead smiled beatifically and handed - handed! Sora's brows creased - the other bottle of iced tea to the Riku, who, apparently, was busy trying to figure out if his bangs were to fall straight across his face or softly to one side. Kairi then proceeded to snatch a pair of scissors from the top of her bureau and snapped it across the older teen's face.

Riku made a sound not unlike a siren dying. Sora watched the strands of silver hair float down and neatly attach themselves to the front of Riku's shirt.

"I don't trust boys with nicer hair than me," Kairi explained, mostly to Sora, because Riku was starting to tremble.

"Kairi," Sora started, with a patience he didn't know he had until he had started living in close quarters with the two of them, "He looks he's been attacked by Cid armed with scissors - when he's drunk."

"It's not so bad," the redhead pleaded with him. Why she was pleading with him when clearly it was the victim who needed calming down was beyond Sora. "He still looks dashing."

"Kai, you chopped off his bangs so badly that torn lettuce has neater sides."

"Maybe you should stop it with the comparisons, sky-boy," she hissed, and shot him a Look that promised retribution. Riku had not said a word since, but he was eyeing the both of them with a sort of malevolence that he reserved for Elemental Spellcasting practicals. Sora instinctively moved out of immediate range of his Keyblade swing.

"We-ell, I'm sure with a couple more snips, you'd be fine," he amended quickly, because he really did want to live longer, thanks.

Riku dived for Kairi first – who, in the interest of self-preservation, tugged Sora in front of her as a human distraction and made a break for the kitchen. He decided that retribution would come slowly and painfully, regardless of how she yelled that he'd make it up to him.

(Though he knew that the three of them would forgive each other anyway, because that's what they always did.)

Three adults of legal age, living together, acting like children. It would've raised some eyebrows, but Destiny Islands was so diverse that while some people may disapprove, the other half would be patting them on the back.

They started visiting him more and more after he and Riku fell from the sky two years ago, if only to help each other adjust to a life split between saving the world and saving some sense of normality. Wake up, go to school, save the world (or any world, Riku was the one who was picky), rinse, repeat ad nauseaum. Riku always went with him, just to make sure that 'You don't cry again when we meet up, god, that was embarrassing…', and Kairi was always waiting for them at the end of a mission with a first-aid kit and a powerful Curaga. Sometimes it was the three of them who went, the two Masters training the Princess, and sometimes it would just be a Master and Princess instead.

It was risky, it got more and more dangerous every time, and it was his life, simply that.

And then Sora had turned eighteen, of legal age, and everything started to get complicated.

He was officially acknowledged as a Keyblade Master by the King of Disney, which started his deluge of insane coverage of both local and international media. He'd seen the same thing happen to Riku, but how his best friend managed to stay under the radar was something of a work of genius.

He publicized everything that he did – the mundane things, from where he shopped and where he trained, to brand of curtains he had in his flat and what kind of hobbies he enjoyed (cooking and folding origami, and for the former, he and Kairi were elated). This drew away the public's eye from what they supposed were the boring things, which was the entire Mastery of the Keyblade business. It was brilliant, but Sora wasn't sure he had the requisite absence of shyness that Riku had; that hopeless git loved the camera and thrived on it.

The two of them were closely scrutinized along with Riku, and once or twice tabloid headlines ran on their 'love triangle'. To their chagrin, however, Riku always made a show of buying those issues and laughing at the in public, debunking their assumptions more or less. But when Sora was declared another Keyblade Master, the newspapers screamed.

Kairi was caught up in the heat of it, bashed this way and that, because she was almost never seen without the company of either or both of them. Why did she deserve their company? Who was this – this lowly girl whom these two were always with?

For the safety of his family, Sora insisted that he move out. His mother had cried so much that she ran out of tears, and his father told him how proud he was of his oldest boy, along with a stern warning not to get himself killed. He gave his older sister a keystone to protect her own home and family from any Heartless attack, and to his younger brother he gave one of the Protectga charms that he had picked up, along with a cell phone that had specifically been modified to allow interuniversal calls.

The last thing he did was set up a permanent Heartless ward around their home, anchored to him, as long as he lived, and he hoped that it would be enough. Riku was all-too-happy to let him move in into his sparsely-used flat, which had been given to him by his father (regional manager of a chain of luxury hotels, Riku supposed that when he was born he had been gnawing on a silver spoon) on his own eighteenth.

It wasn't ideal. He and Sora usually fought over the trivial things, and when they fought either the foundations shook with their shouting matches or it was dead silent with the weight of mutual silent treatments. But somehow, they got used to it, and Sora eventually came to the conclusion that he didn't want living any other way.

And then, for some cosmic reason – Sora liked to think that whoever was living upstairs wanted some entertainment - they found out that the place where Kairi had drifted from almost twelve years ago was Radiant Garden, when it had fallen from the Siege of Maleficent. Leon claimed that she was, in fact, the heir apparent to the throne.

The Mayor's status in the public eye shot up when he sent his adoptive daughter (Her Royal Majesty, The Crown Princess Kairi) to live under the protection of two Keyblade Masters.

Then, what wasn't ideal, suddenly seemed perfect.

Kairi's presence was enough to diffuse the amount of testosterone floating around and nurse the injured pride that almost always came after it. She was a master at making them do what she wanted to happen, and it resulted in a dictatorship in their household – a dictatorship that he and Riku didn't mind at all. It was nice to think about fixing the washing machine or cooking lunch instead of what strategy to use or what spell to cast in the face of death.

It also helped Sora adjust socially, in the face of the loss of three years of his teenage life to a war that he primarily fought. Riku had no problem, because he was Riku, and Kairi had spent her time here, in Destiny Islands, waiting for them to come home. He loved Kairi; he knew that even while he was travelling from world to world – but when he saw Riku again, for the first time in two years since shutting him inside Kingdom Hearts, he realized that he loved him the same way: with all his heart, with everything.

Sora didn't begrudge Riku Kairi. He himself knew that the heart was a finicky thing and to try to force it into something was suicide, and he found out that didn't mind. Riku, to his credit, loved the both of them as fiercely as he could. He found this out in the middle of a dinner when the silver-haired boy turned, gave him a Look, and matter-of-factly pressed a kiss to his lips. And then he proceeded to do the same thing to a Kairi who was, at that time, wheezing with laughter. (And she returned it, because apparently the two had been going at it behind his back for some time, and it had only been earlier that day that Riku had picked up the courage to show Sora how he felt. Sora threw a bowl of macaroni in Kairi's face before kissing Riku back, and before the night ended they had one thoroughly trashed dining room and none of them had clothes on.)

And their princess had always, always, loved her protectors, and for the longest time, she had been anguished because all she could do was wait while the both of them traipsed off to save some crumbling world only god-knows-where.

That, in a way, was that. They could have gone on with their lives living that way.

Then everything had gone to hell when the word got out that King Mickey had made Sora heir presumptive. Riku told Sora that politics is one of the worst arenas in the world to fight in, and he agreed completely.

Their relationship was put under intense public scrutiny. If Radiant Garden and the Kingdom of Disney made an alliance, the resulting power would be enough to bring an entire world to its knees, both politically and physically. Disney was an advocate of peace, as it was the primary governing world in their network of Worlds this side of the universe, but still – some whispered about a complete takeover.

Sora, however, was aware of the fact that he didn't need any political alliances to bring any world to its knees. He held the Keyblade. He had the unconditional backing of another Master and a Princess of Heart. If he wanted, he could lay waste to an entire dimension in less than a day by opening Kingdom Hearts and letting the Heartless inside storm out.

That was something the media didn't focus on, and it was something he kept private to himself. That much power didn't come without a great price – one of the reasons why he was so calm in the midst of this storm was that Riku was anchoring him, sharing that responsibility, and that Kairi –

The doorbell rang.

Sora looked up from where he had Riku pinned down, both of them relaxing when Kairi yelled that she was to get it.

And the both of them immediately got to their feet and rushed down when Kairi yelled again.

Standing in the doorway were two figures, each dressed in the formal white of Disney office. Kairi retreated behind the two of them, Sora and Riku, who stood side-by-side, curious and ready to drive these officers out, if need be.

"What do you want?" Riku asked brusquely, stepping forward.

"Sir Riku, Knight-in-name of Disney," the nearer of the two started, unrolling a sheet of parchment, "You are under arrest," Sora didn't like how the officer's eyes flickered in his direction, "For suspected treason against His Majesty, the Crown Prince of Disney."


And he called this woman Pandora, because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread.

But when he had finished the sheer, hopeless snare, the Father sent glorious Argus-Slayer, the swift messenger of the gods, to take it to Epimetheus as a gift. And Epimetheus did not think on what Prometheus had said to him, bidding him never take a gift of Olympian Zeus, but to send it back for fear it might prove to be something harmful to men.

- ll. 82-88, Hesiod, Works and Days


II. Wisdom


The Cornerstone's chamber is, surprisingly, cool and dry. None of this warming business people had always talked about when confronted with the greatest source of White Magic in the entire kingdom. It just feels...clean, somewhat. And there is this nagging feeling at the back of his head, the slight clenching at the bottom of his heart. He has no idea what the hell it is supposed to mean, only that he thinks someone had already mentioned it to him. Perhaps over dinner or in school or wherever he was far too distracted by other things to listen.

Roxas grips the fire marbles tightly in one hand and takes the stairs two steps at a time, and he hears the Throne slide shut above him. He knows the guards will hear the grind of marble on marble, and the Casters will feel the shift of the protective wards, but his rudimentary Silencing ward should hold fast for an hour more or so.

His father says he inherits his spellcasting abilities from his grandmother. He hasn't seen the Queen cast anything just yet (though rumors fly far and wide of her supposed powers, just as the rumors of her and the King's apparent immortality run rampant), but he supposes it's something important, because the Crown Prince has regular schedules for his training with the Court Magician (and no-one else in the Kingdom does). He's picked up a couple of skills here and there, but the Magician tells him that he's particularly aligned with protection and elemental spells. A Healer? Maybe. A Caster? Probably. A Summoner? Definitely not. For some reason, his summons to various spirits just suck. He's born to help himself, not call on the higher ones for it.

Roxas tests the wards, waving a hand at the key ones. It's hard, controlling magic without a focus, but his parents give him a keychain of the kingdom's crest and tell him that he'll get one at the right time.

The wards are fine. Roxas tucks his fire marbles in a pocket, and continues on.

The Cornerstone, anchor and source of the castle's (and by extension, the dimension's) wards, is a great globe of glass almost as large as him. Bands of white spin around inside, and when he lays a hand on it, his palm burns with cold. He flinches, hissing, and steps away. He's getting more and more nauseous by the moment, and the feeling lessens in direct proportion to the amount of distance he puts between it and him.

He looks around, ignoring the Stone for the time being. The rumors say that there's a secret entrance somewhere in the Castle; somewhere unknowable, unreachable, and Roxas knows only one place here that fits that description.

He walks further into the room, where the glow of the Cornerstone dulls into a faint grey, where the shadows start to creep across the marble floors. He stops, a little stunned, a lot curious. The marble melts into stone, here, and the stone melts into jagged rock. There's the grit of sand under his shoes, and the smell of the ocean wafts around him like smoke from the Paladins' cigarettes. He crushes a fire marble in his hand; with the flame dancing on his palm, the drawings on the rocks are thrown into relief.

Scribbles, words, some that he can't even read. Stars, boats, fish. Stick people. He squints, and tries to read a word; he stops before he can say it. He'd heard one of his guards say that a couple of times, and he got reprimanded by the King himself for using such uncouth (albeit archaic) language.

Two crude faces, each handing the other a star. Roxas' brow knots. This was very like one of the storybooks the library had to offer. He wonders if it goes the same way too, but before he can process that thought, a loud crack cuts across the front of his mind.

He stumbles back; he's stepped on one of the halves of the fire marbles. He chides himself as much as a eleven-year-old can. The future King shouldn't be too scared easily.

Roxas then notices, in the middle of the rock formation, there's a door. It's oddly shaped, it doesn't even look anything remotely like the doors of the Castle (and he compares it to something like the stone in the middle of an apple), and it doesn't have anything that looks like a handle.

He pushes on it. It gives, just a little, but meets resistance. He decides that it's locked, and disappointment (panic) shoots through him. He's gone so far, and is inevitably in a lot of trouble - only to find a stupid locked door. He can't think of anything taught to him that opens locks, and when he throws another fire marble at the door it bounces off harmlessly.

So there was a key. The problem is, he doesn't have it.

But you do.

He swings around in panic; has one of the guards noticed his absence? Had they interrogated his friends?

There's no-one there, but when he looks back, he almost trips. There's a...something at his feet, large and swordlike, if not for a compound hilt that he's never seen before (but looks familiar), and not for the blade that's as wide as a rapier's but as full as the grip itself. There's a cutout of steel attached at the end, a crown fashioned out of the negative space.

He picks it up. He recognises the emblem swinging from what he supposes is the thing's pommel. It almost looks like - he pats himself over, frantically, for that keychain that his parents gave him. It isn't anywhere, and Roxas comes to the bizarre conclusion that the keychain attached to the thing in his hand is the very same one that had been entrusted to him.

Roxas hefts the odd sword. It's relatively light for its weight, and cool metal in his hands. On impulse he assumes finestra, pointing the blade forward and the hilt close to his to his head. It's the first position his father teaches him, and it's the default position that he always returns to (a weakness that his teacher still has to correct).

He yells when light gathers at the sword's point and coalesces into a straight beam, aimed at the door's unusually large keyhole.

Since when - ?

The light dies. Roxas grabs at the tip of the weapon and jerks his hand back, blood welling across two fingers; the edges of the steel cutout are sharp and they belie the toy-like appearance. It's a real weapon, he realises, but his thoughts are cut short once again when something in the door clicks in the silence of the room. He watches, disbelievingly, as the rocks around the door shift and dissolve into smooth flat marble, as the sand underneath his feet sink into the floor.

Roxas shifts into alber, stepping back with the weapon's odd blade pointing to the ground. Fool's guard, he remembers his father telling him, and the position his teacher favours he take. An illusion that he's open attack only when he's ready to strike at a moment's glance. He starts concentrating his mind into casting a basic Invis.

The wall also disappears, dissolves into nothing, and in the shadows where the Cornerstone's light doesn't reach, something stirs.


"This is unbelievable," Riku muttered, looking up from his chair and sighing. "Damn vultures."

Kairi snapped shut the volume of Disney Constitution that she had been flipping feverishly through. "Vultures are too light terms for the lot of them, the goddamned sons-of-bitches."

Sora and Riku stared at the Crown Princess of Radiant Garden, and they cracked identical smiles. Kairi was stunning in her brashness, sometimes. It was a side of her that had been surfacing more-and-more, now that Riku was embroiled in a case of staggering implications.

His detractors were crafty. They had taken testimony from Radiant Garden (Hollow Bastion, back then), of Riku's hand in the long Siege of Maleficent, and together with his Keyblade Master duties and activities, they had twisted it into something that would give even Riku's staunchest supporter pause.

How could someone who had singlehandedly felled the Garden's monarchy be trusted with two of the most important royal figures in the present?

Thus the chain of questions propagated itself, and an inquest into the Fall of the Garden was made. The original Ansem Reports were now in sealed storage in the Radiant Garden castle vault, and only Kairi had the authority to reopen them.

And now that the Crown Princess had reasserted her authority over the Garden monarchy, some of the leaders of the Garden questioned her capacity. It turned out that Ansem had turned down the position of Regent in pursuit of science, but the resulting battle for the throne ended up so twisted and bloody that by the time Maleficent had attacked a year later, there was still no Regent.

Maleficent's reign needed no regent; she had claimed the position of the Throne shortly after she won. Ansem had never taken outright responsibility for the Heartless outbreak – instead, he had dove straight into trying to rectify it, thus dropping off the map – and so the rumors that the creation of Heartless was Maleficent's, and that she had been grooming Riku to take her place, ran rampant.

Some of the Garden's current Parliament members would not bow before someone as young as Kairi. They insisted that she prove her lineage, which Leon promptly testified to – he and Ansem had sent the girl away on the onset of the Siege, in order for her to not get killed, and for her to be able to reclaim the Throne once the Wielder of legends released the World from the evil that held the Garden firmly in its clutches.

They were sensible men and they didn't believe in legends. They didn't even believe in the Keyblade until Sora, in a fit of frustration, summoned his own Keyblade and presented it to them in anger.

And thus the rumors about the Keyblade started.

The Wielder of legends, the first to arrive, turned out to be the Gardens' downfall. Riku demonstrated more than enough power to be able to wipe out an entire army. Even through the trials, the King – who could wield a Keyblade - had enough authority to let the two of them leave and save another World from dying.

But then, even those from the very World they were saving were questioning their purpose. These Masters seemed too far at ease in defeating those Heartless that had plagued them for so long. How could those young whippersnappers win where thousands of their own battle-hardened couldn't?

Too much power in an individual's hands, they said. Too dangerous to be left alone.

"They don't have enough evidence, Riku," Kairi said heavily, pillowing her chin on her arms, sinking behind the row of books piled high on her desk. "The Disney constitution has an entire section on the King's Guard, and that's where you two seem to fall in. King Mickey is protecting the two of you with all that he's got."

"'Seem to' isn't good enough for them, they'd find a dozen loopholes to work with. They'd aim for the King next, find some fault in the Constitution and say that it's his fault," Sora grumbled from where he was standing by the window overlooking the Castle Gardens. "Paperwork, who needs those. We're just doing our job and they swoop in, you know?"

"Yeah," Riku snorted, face darkening. "You'd think they'd have anyone else who'd save them if the Heartless would suddenly come knocking on their door? No-one! If we never arrived, they'd all be dead by now, little black shadows crawling over their decaying asses."

"Riku, shut up," Kairi suddenly stood up, books falling over from their stacks; Riku and Sora shot her a questioning gaze.

The door swung open. A terrified maid was frozen in the hallway, and she dropped the tray she was holding when she realized the most dangerous trinity of this time had caught her eavesdropping – and without a pause she disappeared from sight.

Kairi ran after her.

"Unless Kairi kills her, what I said would get out, wouldn't it?"

"Would you stop talking like that?" Sora said irritably as he picked up the silverware on the floor, but they both knew that he was right. That was how the press worked, after all, and freedom of speech was something they couldn't touch.


III. Master


He casts the Invis without another thought, light honeycombing around him in a protective bubble. It's marginally easier, he realises, because the weapon is focusing and grounding his magic at the same time. Like a portable keystone, only lighter - but Roxas shakes himself out of his mind trying to figure out what on earth is going on.

There's the earsplitting screech of steel being bent, resounding across the room. Roxas frantically casts another Invis and stumbles back, the blade light and familiar in his palm. The Cornerstone's bands start to whirl furiously, and his shadow lengthens and dances against the far wall.

He points the weapon in the direction that he can see the shadows moving.

"S-stay back!"

It doesn't.

Roxas feels cold sweat trickle down his spine. Energy coalesces into the tip of his sword, focusing into the heat of a Firaga, and he finds out that the spell doesn't drain his reserves as much as without the unusual weapon. This is a lucky break, he thinks, because now he can defend himself. (The rational part of his brain insists that he get out as soon as he can; the other half cajoles him into staying.)

The thing's footsteps are light, but Roxas can feel him come closer, just as he can tell that his grandmother (his Queen)is in the vicinity. It's an innate ability of powerful magic users, and he just knows that the moving shadow is even more powerful than the Court Magician himself.

His hands tremble, and the Firaga shoots off into the darkness.

There's a flash of light, and the fireball bounces off dull black metal; the thing is revealed to be not a thing, but...a person.

Roxas yells, tumbling onto his rear, and he immediately regrets the Silencing ward that he's cast. It's to wear off in thirty minutes or less and he doesn't dare to spare the energy needed to break its ties to the Castle wards. He doesn't dare look away, either. The rumors were true! His parents kept a Heartless in the basement and he is to pay dearly for his interference in something that wasn't supposed to come to light.

"...you - " the person rasps, and he comes forth into the light of the Stone. The Stone starts keening; the bands spin fast, and nausea washes over Roxas. He stares at the figure and instantly recognises the ceremonial white and braided gold of full court uniform. His mind draws a blank at this, the figure - he - certainly didn't look like the Heartless of lore.

And he stares, because the pointed end of whatever the figure's holding is pressing against the skin of his jugular.

"Pleasedon'tkillme," he cries out, and the action moves his neck, and tests the blade's sharpness. Roxas feels the stinging pain of a small cut, and by instinct he casts another Firaga wordlessly, throwing the stranger against the far wall. He scrambles to his feet and frantically wipes two fingers across his neck - they come away bloody.

He fervently prays to whatever higher being that he isn't going to get killed, and he casts Wall on himself, mentally gathering energy again to perform an Aeroga and involve his remaining fire marbles somehow.

"That...would - " A pause, " - be useless, if I were...you." His voice is dry and torn at the edges; it's like the user is still getting used to the idea of having and actually using his vocal cords from years of disuse.

Roxas shifts to finestra once again.

The figure comes back into the light, dusting off nonexistent dust from his jacket. He's wearing a white cloak, Roxas realises, adrenalin rushing to his fingertips and gathering magic there. White cloaks, as far as he could remember, are reserved for immediate members of the royal family. He can feel a headache coming on, and fighting with a headache isn't the best of ideas.

"Don't fight me, and I won't fight you," the person said, and as if it proves his words, points his blade down. Roxas doesn't trust him, and his own weapon remains raised and pointed at the other's throat. "Still your Keyblade."

The tone of voice - that authoritative and severe voice - is enough to make Roxas quail and take another step back. He lowers - "Keyblade?"

"That's what we're holding," he replies, amusement clearly showing through the curve of his lips. His voice grows stronger, but it doesn't get any less hoarse; Roxas resists the urge to cover his ears to block out that terrible sound. "You don't know what that is?"

"Keyblades are a myth," Roxas scoffs, the 'keyblade' disappearing from his grip, and the look on the other person's face stops his next words cold in his throat. The mysterious man looks at him - really looks at him, up and down - and his own black-wrought Keyblade dissolves, drips from his hand, and melts into the shadows.

"What year is it?" the figure asks wearily, rubbing his wrists, and Roxas tells him.

It is heart wrenching to watch, the crumpling of face and slack jaw of someone who had just been told a terrible truth, but Roxas can't bear looking away. The other rubs at pale arms and keeps on making little spluttering noises like he couldn't believe what he had just heard.

"A hundred years..."

A hundred what? Roxas wonders, and figures he shouldn't ask.


When Sora asserted his powers as heir presumptive, combined with his reputation as one of those who held the fate of entire Worlds in his hands, chaos broke out into the political arena. There were some who quailed when faced with someone so young and with so much clout, but there were still some who challenged him and his ideals.

He was tired. He took the headlines ('Wielders to betray their Liege!') and made them into things that he could call on whenever his detractors insomuch as looked in his direction. He knew where their home Worlds were, where the Keyholes were (all it took was one point with his Keyblade and darkness would spill back over and that was a line of thought he couldn't bear thinking along the lines of – not now) and he made sure that they knew that.

On the reading of the decision of Riku's trial, every single significant political party spanning the forty Worlds under the Disney Treatise was present in the courtroom.

It had been a short but terrible struggle of power. Sometime near the end, when the other Worlds decided to throw in their say about the subject, King Mickey had called the three of them into his private chambers and spoke to them alone.

"I am withdrawing my backing in this case," he had said, and Sora, understandably, was outraged.

"But King Mickey - !"

"The Treatise has decided to step in," the mouse king continued, speaking to his reflection in his floor-to-ceiling window, and Sora could barely make out his outline in the sunlight. "I must remain impartial. And so must you, Sora, Kairi, since you hold very important royal seats."

"Are you asking us to leave Riku to those bastards?!" Sora cut in, but a hand on his wrist stopped him from bursting into a torrent of expletives. Riku shook his head.

"Radiant Garden is not part of the Disney Treatise, Your Majesty," Kairi reminded him. "The Garden will do as it wishes, and we will stand behind Riku."

"You will have to deal with the fallout if Riku is found guilty," Mickey replied, turning to peer at her over his shoulder.

The red-haired Crown Princess shook her head. "He won't be. He's innocent."

"So you say. However, I will not retract my statement." Mickey finally turned fully, to face them, and his expression was that of faint sadness. "I cannot risk the Treatise falling apart. My duty is not to a sole individual, but for the better good of the kingdom itself. I'm sorry."

"I know that," Sora snapped. "I've read the Constitution twice over."

"Sora, be quiet, you're not helping," Riku spoke up for the first time since the King made his announcement. "It's okay."

"It's not - "

Kairi crossed her arms and moved closer to stand next to the two of them. "Sora, friendship can only go so far," she said quietly, looking at him sideways. "One of the responsibilities of the one in charge is the fact that he has to be the one to make the tough decisions."

"Then how about you?" Riku cut in. "This basically started in the Garden. I made it fall, Princess." At the title, Kairi flinched, but kept quiet. "It's hard to believe that you'll have the backing of your entire kingdom."

She smiled at him. "It's not like you didn't help rebuild it by rescuing Sora, right?"

"Kairi, keep it real, like hell the people would believe that - "

"Can we leave now, Your Majesty?" Sora raised his voice, anger bubbling through him with the way things were going. "If you have nothing to add. I'd like to keep working on Riku's defense."

At this, King Mickey looked truly guilty, and for a split second, Sora felt pity for him. And then he realized that if he was crowned King, he'd have to make similar decisions, and that pity dissolved back into anger. Why was he made heir presumptive again?

"Of course. I will have a private word with Riku before you leave, though."

Thus the conversation ended, and thus the end of Riku's trial had begun.

Kairi's words held true all throughout. The Ansem Reports were presented as evidence that Maleficent couldn't possibly have been the one to unlock the secrets of the Heartless, and thus Riku couldn't have known how to summon them, since she was the one who summoned his entire army in the first place. He was just put in charge of them, that was all.

Sora testified that he knew of nothing that Riku had done that would amount to treason; he had no idea why the initial case was treason against him, of all things.

The charges that Riku was consorting with the Crown Princess of Radiant Garden against Disney was one of the hardest to defend against. Radiant Garden had not made any step after its freedom to ally with any political power yet, and the prosecution had seen it as preliminaries for a move against Disney.

Kairi herself had cited the uselessness of such an advance. The Garden was still getting back on its feet after the War. Why would it risk the wrath of the Treatise it so badly needed help from?

The issue of the Masters' power had been ruled out of scope of the royal court. They had none in their laws, after all, about Keyblade Masters and how they should protect their territories. It would be a different matter for the public, however, once the verdict would be read for all.

"By the power vested upon me by the King and his People - "

Kairi, dressed in full court uniform as dictated by Radiant Garden tradition, held hands tightly with Riku. The missing third of their inseparable party had been held up by, as the rumors had flown, more of their enemies en route.

" - declare Sir Riku, Knight of the Kingdom of Disney, innocent of all charges -"

The whispering drifting about the courtroom swelled into audible argument, and cameras broadcasted Riku burying his face into a crying Kairi's shoulder, trembling with palpable relief.

" – this eleventh of October, two-thousand, eight hundred, and ninety - "

The doors to the courtroom burst open.

It was a guard.

A Paladin, specifically, belonging to the Royal Guard. He was disheveled, and his sword and scabbard was missing.

"The King – King Mickey – His Majesty - "

"Speak, messenger!" The scribe barked out.

"His Highness – he -- has been assassinated, your Graces," the terrified guard babbled out. "In his chambers!"

Panic broke out in the courtroom at once, and not just one person tried to get out through the doors. Accusations were thrown left and right and all of them clamored to retry Riku, who looked stricken at the news of the monarch being killed.

Kairi was trying in vain to calm the people down. It was fairly impossible for Riku, who had been under almost constant supervision for months, and who was here, right before their very eyes, when the news came out, to have had any hand in the supposed assassination. They weren't even sure it was one yet! Where was the proof?

And yet the prosecution kept yelling. The Chief Justice said nothing, because he just had a heart attack and his fellow Justices were trying to help him get assistance.

"See? This is proof! The boy orchestrated all of this!"

"The King would not fall so easily!"

"Only a Wielder can kill another Wielder!"

"Have you all become such disgraces to humanity that you would find fault even in justified innocence?" A familiar voice rang from the back, quiet but authoritative, and it carried to the four corners of the room. It belonged to someone who had apparently learned proper wording, that verbal swordfight in the royal courts. It belonged to someone who knew what he was talking about, to someone that had the presence of mind to keep calm during this time. Or someone who –

"You disgust me."

The courtroom fell silent, and the attendees slowly turned, a sea of faces rippling, to the back. But the door was ajar, and His Royal Majesty, the Crown Prince, was nowhere in sight.


But he took the gift, and afterwards, when the evil thing was already his, he understood.

For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness which bring the Fates upon men; for in misery men grow old quickly. But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men.

- ll 97 - 101, Hesiod, Works and Days


IV. Final


The shadows on the floor start flickering again, and Roxas notes with panic that his own shadow is melting into the approaching ones. He whirls around and runs towards the Cornerstone, but the great white globe is dimming rapidly. The keystone of the castle wards is dimming and Roxas doesn't need a Mastery in Runes to know that this means something terrible is going to happen.

"A century..."

The figure's white cloak flaps, flutters, and billows behind him as an unseen wind picks up in the room, and suddenly the Aeroga doesn't seem like a good idea after all. He feels the wards tingle and some of the lesser ones snap. His shadow is moving underfoot of its own accord and the Silencing ward is due to run out in ten, maybe five minutes. It's not looking good and Roxas decides that he's going to take any and all punishments that his father will dole out on him if he survives. He's counting on the latter option.

The shadows cross each other, and to his horror, they start crawling up the walls, around corners, on the ceiling. One side of the room is still lit by the Cornerstone's flickering light, but the other half gleams with something black and not entirely dark. Roxas is pinned in between, unable to move, because he finds out (to his chagrin and to his pain) that stepping back towards the light pours ice-cold magic into his veins, while walking towards the darkness burns with the intensity of a smith's forge.

And the figure roars, nails on a glass and fury incarnated, and the Cornerstone answers him by imploding within the glass ball and being engulfed in a white column of light that breaks through the ceiling and the Throne.

Everything is grey, now, and Roxas realises that he can move. And so can his adversary.

Roxas spreads his fingers and casts another Invis. The Heartless - because there's only one thing that can control darkness, in the legends, and he decides that Heartless can't be judged by appearance (even if they did wear court uniform and even if they did wear the insignia of the royal family) - summons his unusual weapon once again (Keyblade Keyblade Keyblade no they don't exist) and shoots a volley of black fireballs in his direction.

The eleven-year-old dodges, leaping to the side and retaliating with a Blizzara. The ice pushes up a jagged path in the marble; the Heartless dodges it easily and suddenly, Roxas finds himself face-to-face with him - it. Whatever this was, it wasn't the same person who told him to stand down earlier.

"Curiosity does really kill the cat, you know?" It whispers in its nail-on-glass voice, and Roxas's eyes water with the amount of power it radiates. He brings up his feet and plants in firmly in the Heartless' chest, kicking it as hard as he can...and it only skids back a couple of metres before smiling at him.

That kick was enough to send a Paladin tumbling across the far wall, once. Roxas pants with exertion and clenches his fists, summoning the strength to cast another second-tier spell once again. He dares look over his shoulder - the Cornerstone is lost in the light that it emits, and with startling clarity it hits him; the Cornerstone is charging up. It's a phenomenon he found, once, in a Paladin's handbook, under the section of Class Seven events - events that should not happen, under any circumstances.

Roxas doesn't need a Mastery in Sword Handling, either, to know that whatever is happening now is a Very Bad Thing.

Looking back is a mistake, he finds out, because in the second that it took to take a glance at the blinding column of light, the Heartless manages to cross the room, tackle him to the wall, and go from finestra to his throat at bladepoint.

"Aren't you so young," it says, white teeth glowing a little in the light from the other side. "So very...young to be a Wielder?"

"N-not a wil - whatever the hell you're t-talking about," Roxas hisses as much as someone who's pinned to the wall with the very real threat of decapitation in his face can. "M-my father's going to kill you - "

"Do tell," and the smile widens into a grin with far too many teeth, and Roxas feels his shoulders start to sink into the wall. The wall's dissolving and he's sinking back and he can see the shadows bursting into ribbons that reach from floor to wall behind his captor. "We've got plenty of time, kid."

And a spot of light suddenly appears between them.

They both blink at it, before it widens and glows and crackles with divine white magic; it's a Holy and it's trapped the Heartless in that merciless circle of light. Or so he hopes, because as he dives for the side once again it breaks free, easily, of that sacred lightning and catches him by the waist.

Roxas struggles as much as he physically and magically can. He calls Frost - black ice, designed to freeze the opponent in place and shatter with one physical hit - to his fingertips and casts it with as much willpower as he can - but the Heartless just laughs, raspy, hoarse, dreadful into his ear.

"Prince - !"

He sees the source of the Holy spell and he almost cries in relief; his personal Paladin guard is sprinting towards the both of them, swords and shields gleaming. At their head is the Court Magician, staff in hand, feathers trailing behind him. "Your Majesty - !"

And then that dark weapon is back across his throat, the sharp point of the heart cut into the negative space digging into the same spot earlier. Roxas doesn't doubt that it draws more blood this time, and he cries out. "Help!"

"Don't move," the creature growls at his guards, taking a step back and dragging Roxas with him. "Your prince would be better off with a head than without, wouldn't he?"

The Paladins hesitate at this. The Heartless laughs wildly, its hair brushing against Roxas' cheek.

"Let him go!" the Court Magician stamps his feet and quacks shrilly, his staff pointing in their direction and glowing with an unreleased spell.

"I am making the demands, Magician of the Court," its voice rings out in the crumbling room, and the duck stops short in his tracks, eyes going round with apprehension and something that approaches surprise. "Stand down. Need I remind you where my blade points? Or shall I draw the blood of your Prince?"

Roxas blinks at the shift into archaic grammar, pulled flush against that stiff uniform with razor-sharp steel blade cutting into his neck. He's only heard that kind of language in schools, spoken by old and wilting professors and tutors. Formality has been the language of royalty, it occurs to him, and even as the monarchy moves forward such tradition as this still holds sway. Thus, the Court Magician backs away and clears his throat.

He replies with a question. "And what in recompense do you ask of?"

"None that you can give, Magician."

And Roxas' heart sinks as he realises this may go far beyond than a simple case of breaking and entering into places he shouldn't. A hostage situation by an unknown suspect inside the Castle itself was bad enough, but now that the Cornerstone was recharging itself and the wards were failing one by one -

"And yet I may intercede," the duck interjects, the tip of his staff starting to glow dangerously again.

The Heartless responds by dragging him deeper into the other side of the room, and Roxas' footsteps feel hotter with every one he takes. The nausea comes back with a vengeance, and he can't help but stumble back. It catches him, and props him up, its weapon not moving more than half an inch from the side of his neck.

"Those who have imprisoned me," Every word drips with acid poison, and the Magician flinches. Roxas can't even fathom someone with that much hatred. "I can feel them in this world still. Wielders both. Bring them to me, or I will break this Kingdom. I have already broken the Cornerstone; time flies and so does your wards, Protectors of the Crown."

At this the Magician takes in a sharp breath and whirls towards the Stone. A Paladin drops his sword in astonishment. Breaking the Cornerstone is not a light accomplishment that anyone can make, because in a hundred years, it has never failed them, and it served the wards faithfully. Now the column of light that engulfed it so brightly is thinning out, and the bands slow and freeze into place.

The wards fall.

Roxas jerks to his feet at what happens next - something - no, someone - else has taken full control of the wards before the enchantments can completely fall, and he knows it's someone powerful.

"A successful Recharge does not guarantee your survival, does it not?" the Heartless snickers, and the Magician turns back to the two of them, fear painting his face with wide eyes and an open mouth. "Rather, the opposite."

Recharge - the Stone's primary precaution; whenever there is a transfer of the wards that kept Darkness out, it would use stored power to strengthen the wards before going into hibernation in order to protect itself. The logic is that when the Castle is attacked and staying inside is not prudent any longer, a person strong of will can become the Cornerstone's substitute as they fled the building. Thus the dimension's wards are kept safe even if the Stone itself is not.

Cornerstones can be rebuilt. Lives lost cannot.

"There are no living Wielders in this time!" the Magician finally finds his voice, loud, desperate. "Those are just legends, nothing more!"

"So I'm a living legend, then?" it replies, disbelievingly. "And so is the kid?"

"What do you - "

The room trembles, and marble starts cracking free of the ceiling, showering them with dust. The Cornerstone looks like a bright useless bauble in the middle of the room. The shadows dance around their feet, and Roxas hopes fervently that he's just imagining the beetle-yellow eyes.

The Paladins scatter around the room. The Heartless holding him captive waves his free hand and Roxas feels magic spiral up and hears part of his royal guard yell in surprise and then - silence.

"My guard," Roxas gasps in horror, and he falls limp with shock against the Heartless.

"They're not dead," it whispers into his ear, and it hoists him up with an arm. He goggles at the statement, and opens his mouth to ask what on earth has happened, but he finds himself cut off again. This time it's because the remaining Paladins suddenly shift their swords, holding it tight in front of them, and the Magician sinks to his knees.

The broad-shouldered King himself descends the stone steps, holding an item in his right hand that is a myth: a Keyblade. And not only any Keyblade, but an immediately recognizable one, from history books and old wives' tales, dating back to the Second Siege of Maleficent itself.

And the fury that alights his face is terrible to behold.

"Let my grandson go," he murmurs quietly (quiet but strong enough to carry about the room), raising the blade and aiming it straight at him, almost at Roxas, and his heart chokes up his throat in fear. The Heartless tenses imperceptibly, and the blade at Roxas' throat presses close. He feels the blood trailing down his collarbone.

And then the creature holding him captive speaks, nails scraping on glass. "Your grandson?" it asks incredulously, hand digging into Roxas' forearm. The vitriol in its voice thickens into something almost tangible, and Roxas shivers as his captor lets out a bark of a laugh. "Your grandson," it repeats, as if tasting the word, and the laugh turns into full-fledged hysteria. "Liar."

Roxas blinks, but the Keyblade in his grandfather's hands tremble.

He is being whirled around and suddenly he is facing the one he freed, and for the first time he sees his captor's face close-up. Heart-shaped face framed with choppy brown and startlingly blue eyes that stare back at him in the mirror every morning.

Yes, that is it; it is like looking at a future version of himself, perhaps five years into the future, perhaps -

And he stumbles back, horrified, and the figure lets him go without another move.

He backs away and feet fall over themselves but there are two hands steadying him, and the familiar cologne that he associates with his grandfather washes over him like something that cleanses him. He feels like he's been dirtied by the brown-haired (Heartless? Human? Such hatred had no place in a human's heart) man's hands, but for some reason -

"We are going to have to talk later, Roxas," his grandfather tells him tightly, before almost shoving him into the Paladin guard behind them, and he is being tucked safely into white cloaks and held behind glinting steel swords. Roxas swallows, and does not think about what that talk will entail; he only knows that his grandfather is furious and grounding him until he comes of age would probably be the least of his worries. He could easily take his father angry, but his grandfather...? Never.

"Roxas?" The figure laughs, throws its (his) head back, one long line of unsupressed joy - and smouldering blue eyes settle on his father. "You named him Roxas?"

"His mother did," the King replies tersely, shifting into a one-handed finestra. It occurs to Roxas that he's never seen his grandfather fight - or mostly that he had never seen the royal patriarch outside of the required formal affairs. His stance is perfect, Roxas notes, peering out from his remaining Guard.

"Oh, I'm sorry," the brown-haired man (boy, Heartless) replies sarcastically. "I'm out of the times, what can I say."

"You don't speak to His Royal Highness like that!" Again, the Magician cuts in, and the man slants him a curious look, before pointing his own Keyblade in the magician's direction.

"I'll damn well talk to him how I want," he snarls, and the shadows underneath the duck's feet roil like boiling water. "Right, Riku?"

There is silence after that, because no-one in the Kingdom dares call the King by his long-given name; it just wasn't done. Roxas blanches and the Guard tenses in front of him.

And with that the man sprints, dark ribbons of black marking his every step, towards the King - who actually meets him, step for step. The two Keyblades clash and the sound of metal on metal fills the room, together with a bout of whispering that Roxas can't seem to keep in his head. Whispering, screaming, squirming, living -

"For a century I was a skeleton in your closet, right?" The figure says tauntingly, and Roxas is frozen in fear as they clash weapons, the man's cloak billowing white like a sail on a summer day. The King is brutal in his moves, but the other is faster than his eye can follow.

"For a century you two kept me chained besides my biggest strength and my biggest weakness. You knew that I wouldn't be able to stand being next to the Stone. You knew that I would be immobilized by pure light. You knew it could have killed me."

"You would have gone renegade!" The King hisses, sending a Firaja crackling light in his direction. The man dodges, and retaliates with a Dark Blizzaga. "We would not have had you destroy our home."

"Who the hell said I was going to destroy it?" he asks irritably, thrusting his Keyblade and kicking his feet out even as the King dodged, clearly intending to knock the royal Patriarch off his feet. Roxas stares; it's like the King anticipates what the man's movement is next and he easily leaps and counters with a Keyblade to the side.

"You were going insane," the King answers softly, tiredly. "You were going where none of us could follow."

Roxas tries to make sense of this, he really does, because his grandfather looks older than he had ever been, and that is saying something - and what the man says next rips the word out of the tip of his tongue.

"I'm a Keeper of the Worlds," he spits the title out like something bitter, "I'm a Keyblade Master, the same as you, the Keyblade Master whom you threw your responsibilities on because you were weak enough to let darkness claim you. I'm the one who skipped through countless Worlds and slayed the Heartless you sent to me and gave up my heart to save the one I loved. Did you really think I would go insane just like that?"

The King answers without hesitation. "Yes."

Sora, Roxas thinks frantically. Sora. A name that pops up into conversation during balls and functions and is immediately shushed, a name that he sometimes hears his father yelling at his grandparents, a name - it is just a name and yet -

"Your grandson knows who I am," the figure says almost happily, if not for the sickening undertone of malice. "Good kid."

Roxas shrinks into the Paladin guard; he hasn't noticed that he's said the name aloud. Sora chuckles, and turns into his direction. He blinks and his grandfather is there, cloak billowing as he blocks the path. "You won't touch him."

"Insanity isn't contagious, dumbass."

Against all his fears and shakiness a snort escapes out of Roxas' mouth, and the silver-haired monarch stiffens perceptibly. They all fall silent, but still, a small smile curls up Roxas' lips.

Beside him one of the Paladins lets out a startled yell before getting tackled by something that's definitely not human. Shadows in the crude form of a man, lemon-yellow circles for eyes and twitching antennae like a giant bug. Adrenalin rushes through his veins and Roxas can't bear to watch as his Guard gets picked off one-by-one. "Break ranks!"

The Paladins scatter. The King turns back to them and he roars. "Protect the Prince!"

It barely carries over the ruckus that follows, because right then the ceiling (the Throne) starts crumbling and it falls, down in the middle, covering everything with dust and rubble and blocking the view from the fight going on in the other side of the room.


The manhunt for the Crown Prince – no, the King - of Disney started an hour after the news of King Mickey's assassination broke out.

Sora had started running five minutes earlier. He already knew that Mickey had died; those who shared the keys to Kingdom Hearts were blessed with the knowledge of each other's well-being. He'd shattered more than a few of the Castle's stained-glass windows in his flight, if only to distract the Guard that had been rapidly mobilizing themselves.

He knew that once the news broke out, the public eye would shift from Riku and Kairi to him. That last, final yell before he made his statement - Only a Wielder can kill another Wielder! – would see to that and more.

There was no reasoning with these brutes. Not when they had more than enough evidence to dredge up. His shifts into his Antiform were getting more and more worse, and more and more of the Worlds he had saved had seen him dance death among the Heartless with inky skin and yellow irises. The more he thought about the fiasco of Riku's trial, and what they had put the three of them through, the more he became angry at being so damn helpless.

He saved the world countless times over. And yet, he couldn't save the ones who counted the most.

He assumed Finestra and summoned the Kingdom Key. He did still have his job -

"Sora!"

Sora whirled around, Keyblade already gathering a mottled Firaga at the tip, only to see Kairi run into the cave followed by a panting Riku.

"Knew you'd come here," she breathed harshly, bracing her hand against a rock wall for support.

"How - ?"

"What'd you expect?" Riku cut in, straightening up. "Kairi, shut up for a moment, going through the Corridors would've taken a lot out of you."

Sora blanched and lowered his Keyblade. "You what?"

"You shut up too, we were just following you, you dumbass," the silver-haired Knight hissed. "God. Why'd you run? It'd make you more suspicious!"

"If I didn't, you'd get attacked again," Sora replied, looking worriedly at Kairi, before raising an eyebrow. "Oh, right, was I supposed to shut up? I'm so sorry for talking."

"Smartass," Riku muttered, checking him over for any sort of injury. "Come on, we're taking you back."

Sora was going to set a record for exclaimed interjections at this point. "What?"

"Would you rather the Paladins take you back?" Kairi pointed out, hitching up the full skirt she wore and kicking off her heels. Sora was surprised that she still could stand, giving that she, a Princess of Heart, went through the darkness of the Corridors. "We'd be more gentle, for one."

"Are you serious?" He felt his heart sink down to his stomach. His two best friends were going to turn him in. He wasn't really sure if 'best friends' was the right term to think of them as.

"Of course we are," Riku was the one who answered. "No matter where you go, you're a wanted man; there's no one in a five-World radius who doesn't know your face. They knew the King of Disney very well. They'd lynch you on sight, Sora."

"I'd rather spend my life running than being imprisoned, thank you," he snapped back, Kingdom Key charging up a Firaga once again.

"I don't think you get what I'm sayi – Sora, what is that?"

In the moonlight that shone down from the gap in the rocks of their so-called 'Secret Place', Sora watched Riku's face twist in horror.

"What."

"I know that spell. That's a Dark Firaga." He paused, hands gesturing frantically. "Capital d."

Sora…stared. At Riku, and then at the fire gathering and setting the metal ablaze.

"Sora, I can only cast that when I'm in my Dark form," he could discern the pitch of Riku's voice was going up. "You're not supposed to be able to cast that."

"Your bias against dark spells is showing, Riku."

There was a pause after that, and Sora let the Firaga fizzle out and die. Riku's eyes shone bright aquamarine in the dark, staring at him.

"Sora, what happened?" That was Kairi, and she sounded more frightened than she had ever been. It took a lot to scare Kairi, this he knew. But what was so horrible about - ?

"The Heartless wards across three Worlds had fallen," Riku cut in, his voice hardening. "Their Keyholes had been unlocked."

"And I should react to that why…?"

"Three of my accusers came from them. All dropped their charges a week before my last trial."

"Okay?"

"Those three Worlds were ones that you had visited at least once."

Sora made a face. "You're reaching, Riku. What happened had to happen."

"I might be reaching, but once your detractors put them together, it's going to add fuel to the fire! Sora, what the hell are you doing to yourself?"

He kept silent. He wanted to answer that he had no idea, that he just wanted so much that the two of them lived happily ever after, that after all these years his hero complex had only grown larger –

The Kingdom Key in his hand disappeared, predictably, and he didn't need to look to know that it was in a very startled Riku's hands. No matter. He had another one; all Masters could call this one, intrinsically, because all Masters had this in common - they all skated the edge of light and darkness at least once in their lifetimes. Keyblades held great power, but their force of will and hearts - metaphysical force turned magical, quintessence turned real - were even more powerful, and such power could turn either way...

"No!" Kairi's voice echoed across the walls and Sora looked up in time to see her fall to her knees. Riku braced his free hand against a rock wall and stared.

"Did you know that the King was killed with a Keyblade, Sora?"

He opened his mouth to answer, but the Thundaga that came from Riku's Keyblade doesn't give him a chance, and the moon shining heart-shaped above was the last thing he saw before blacking out.


V. Antiform


Light from the Throne Room shines over them, and Roxas coughs while watching his unharmed guard join forces to remove the rocks that has trapped their King with that - with that -

Boy.

The Magician helps with a few well-placed Aerogas, and he watches over tensely in the ever-growing hole, waiting for those creatures can get out.

The Captain of the Guard comes running towards then, a long line of impeccably dressed Paladins behind him. "W-what - !"

"The King is under here," the Magician replies, and the Captain turns white. He starts barking out orders to the Paladins, what are you standing there for, help them! and call backup, we don't know what's under there - and Roxas thinks he can just climb out and hurry away, so that he can't get in any more trouble than he is in now; he clambers out hurriedly (with the help of some awed Paladins) and finally steps back on smooth, unbroken marble.

The problem is, they're not white. They're mottled with rapidly-growing blank, and he feels two new hostile magical signatures pop into place.

The rocks shift, at first, but there's an explosion and that boy shoots up out of the dust, landing neatly on the carpet in front of the demolished Throne. The King is not far behind him, actually tearing apart an intact part of the floor in a burst of electricity before landing in much the same way.

Roxas stumbles backward, and suddenly finds himself surrounded by hundreds of those same things who attacked his Guard.

"Heartless, leave him!" Sora yells, and Roxas is stunned to find out that they actually pause for a fraction of the moment...before continuing to advance towards him.

heart strong heart strong will strong beating heart

Tears sting the back of his eyes as he gathers energy for a Thundara, but then that boy yells clear across the hall once again. "Use your damn Keyblade, kid!"

Key -

He barely has to think before the weapon shimmers into his closed fist, and he raises it up over his head as he yells a Thundara. The magic dances over the black Heartless and stops them, even if only for a moment, and adrenalin floods his system once again.

"Roxas!" he hears his grandfather call his name, but he's too preoccupied in keeping himself alive to respond. Something like fighting like this is so simple, so natural, and when he twists back death sings from the silver Keyblade in his hand. It invigorates him, the Keyblade taking the latent energy left and channeling it back into his magical reserves. "Roxas!"

There's a metallic crash to his right. The floating Heartless tower (of dried-blood red and black and yellow) is now embedded in the far wall, and with a swipe of his Keyblade Sora incapacitates it. "You little bastards, listen to your commander - Riku! Area spells!"

"I'm not that old to forget!"

The King stands with his feet braced wide and swings his Keyblade over his head, cutting a swathe of destruction with the most powerful multiple Aero that Roxas has ever seen. Paladins are pouring into the Throne Room like ants, now, white uniforms and the glint of steel everywhere.

This is what chaos sounds like, Roxas thinks, as he struggles to stay alive. His Guard has been separated from him by that writhing black mass of Heartless, and he's thankful to the high heavens that he's able to focus his magic on something substantial. It keeps him moving.

He barely has time to raise his Keyblade to block when one of the larger Shadows lunges at him. It never connects, because now there's a hand grabbing him roughly and holding him tight against crisp white cloth - he looks up at his savior and his words die in his throat.

A bubble of Reflect shimmers around him and Sora, his Keyblade outstretched. Roxas notices with a start that it's now the same design as his own - only that metals used had been inverted.

"Jump when I say so," the brown-haired man mutters, and they both tense (though Roxas entirely misses the point of what Sora thinks they're doing, because his own physical skills aren't impressive), "Now!"

He yells in surprise as they leap fifteen feet in the air, and for a moment, he almost feels like he's flying.

Flying over hell, he thinks, because at the height of their leap Sora points his Keyblade at the Heartless horde, screams something at the Court Magician, and casts a Thundaga.

The Magician's shields around their allies come up just in time to protect them from the lightning storm Sora calls. Roxas' brain goes into overdrive because he knows that they're staying up in the air longer than they should be, but before he can process this Sora slings him back into the fray with a yell. "Slide!"

Again, the thought barely comes to mind when Roxas is suddenly doing what he says, his shoes frictionless and leaving a trail of white sparks. It's like skateboarding without the skateboard, and it only takes him three seconds to get the hang of whatever the hell this new ability is.

The section of the wall behind the fallen Throne blasts inward, and he manages to avoid the larger chunks and blast away the smaller ones. Something - has night fallen? - something peers inside and if nightmares had eyes, Roxas was sure this is what they'd look like. It's as high as the wall that had crumbled (a good twenty feet), grotesque, and powerful; he can see the Castle Gardens and the lighted lampposts through the heart-shaped cavity in what passes for its abdomen.

The Captain of the Guards rally his troops behind him, and the Court Magician is nowhere in sight.

"Roxas, where are you - !" the King yells hoarsely, rubbernecking wildly in all directions until Roxas yells back at him.

"Grandfather!"

"Get out into the Gardens! Quickly!"

Roxas does, or at least, tries to, because the nightmare made real moves to block his way. He has no idea how something that large can block something as small and as fast as he's become, but it's doing a fine job of it. "I - I can't!"

"Riku, who holds the wards?!" Sora's voice cuts in from the far side of the Hall.

"The Magician - " and the King punctuates this with a Keyblade being driven through two Heartless at once.

"Where is he?"

"Trying to find his Healers - what are you going to..." He trails off, and the look of horror in his face is something that Roxas never wants to see again. He follows his grandfather's line of sight and it stops, pinned, on what he's looking at.

A heart traces itself around Sora, who's standing inside a great circle of Heartless, Keyblade pointing downwards and morphing into the same matte-black Keyblade that he wielded earlier. And then the carpet under his feet fades into black, and when the other Master looks up, there's black crawling across the bridge of his nose like ink spreading through water.

"No!" And then Roxas can't stop watching as the King sprints to Sora and tackles him into the ground. The marble returns to normal, and they both disappear under a mound of squirming Heartless.

"Your Majesty!"

"Grandpa!"

Roxas screams, and dives for them, tracing white out of the soles of his feet. The Captain of the Guards would later tell him that what he had done would inevitably be the fabric of legends, because it's an attack that Paladins are taught to defend against since the Great Heartless War a century prior.

Roxas doesn't remember doing anything special. All he does is screams and begs with all his heart for the strength to protect the ones dear to him.

And his heart grants it.

Afterwards he feels his reserves drain at an alarming rate, and before he can fall to his knees the one he saves catches him.

"Roxas," the King says, the Way to the Dawn shining green as he casts something that feels like a Curaga. "Roxas - "

"He's going to be fine," Sora snorts, face coming into his field of vision. He looks younger, now, for some reason, bathed in the light of the Throne Room and in the arcing magic of a Wall. The brown-haired man (Wielder, Master) looks up. "The Captain looks like he's going to have a coronary, Riku."

"What the hell were you trying to pull earlier?" his grandfather hisses in reply, grip tightening almost painfully around him.

"Proving my loyalty."

"Proving your loyalty!? Doing that could have killed you!"

"At least that would finish the job you started, right?" The poison in his words lances almost visibly through the reigning monarch, and he looks stricken.

"That was never - "

"Shut up." Sora's tone is menacing and brooks no argument. "Save your breath."

But the King presses on, and his hand shoots out to clasp around the Keyblade Master's wrist. "That was never what we intended."

Roxas feels his hand start to sink into the marble tile. The floor is roiling in black again, as the immediate area around Sora starts to crackle with dark magic - almost pure darkness. "Then what? Why else would you stick me in the cooler for a century, why else would you rob me of my life, my - "

"It was either this or you be executed, Sora!" The emotion in his grandfather's voice clenches around Roxas' heart, and even Sora gives pause to what he's trying to explain. "Do you think I could have just stood there while you died in front of the entire Kingdom? Do you think Kairi would have allowed that? The public had demanded that you die. It was our only choice."

"And I suppose you forgot me in your basement," he says, dryly, but Roxas could feel his anger ebb away into somewhere underneath the surface.

"We planned to release you when the ruckus was completely forgotten."

"So you say." The reply is tight, and the conversation is over.

Sora stands up, and turns his back to them. "The Heartless are attracted to what the Cornerstone has kept hidden from their senses - your hearts. They'll try to overrun the entire dimension if I don't seal them off now. I have to repair the damage I've done by deactivating your huge snow globe."

"You'll have to reopen Kingdom Hearts."

"That's the plan."

"No."

Roxas tries to speak, but his vocal cords decide not to cooperate and he lets out something that sounds like a whine to his ears. The King immediately turns to face him.

"Shh. It's all right, Roxas."

"Kidlet's inherited double wielding," Sora comments distantly. "That attack earlier - he used it against you, once."

"I know."

The wards anchoring the Reflect start to unravel. Roxas decides to tell his mind that Sora did not just refer to something that he had never done before in his entire life, and he raises a hand to strengthen the shield.

"Enough magic, kidlet," A hoarse voice says, and a cool hand is placed on his forehead. "Your magical reserves are low and you can't fight to replenish them. Riku'll take you to a safe place."

"Stop talking like you're going to die."

"Stop talking like you know how I feel."

"Because I do, you idiot! You're not the only Keyblade Master, Sora! I know how it feels, I know how every step feels like it's taking you closer to insanity – I was the one to fall into the darkness, and believe me, I know."

There's a charged silence after that.

"Your Majesty!" Roxas recognises the voice as the Court Magician's, and he winces at the following, "Prince Roxas!"

"Dewey, calm down," the King replies, more than a little irritated. "Are the wards still intact?"

There's a stilted pause. "I'm not holding them."

"Oh, god," his grandfather clutches at his chest, and Roxas manages to catch himself before falling completely to the floor. He's sure that he felt the wards being caught by someone, earlier, when the Cornerstone released it, but who -

"The wards are safe," the brown-haired man says simply, standing up and ignoring the resulting explosion of words and questions from the Court Magician. "Magician, shield them; tell your apprentices to shield themselves and any ally they come across."

"You don't have the authority - "

"Shut up," Sora snarls, levelling his Keyblade with the duck's face. The Magician opens his mouth to argue but in moments, there's a stronger stacked Wall around them. Outside their protective bubble the younger Keyblade Master disappears into the Heartless horde - and in seconds his grandfather gets to his feet and follows him, shouting.

"Grand - "The Court Magician moves in front of him, and Roxas doesn't have any doubts who the winner will be if he tries to test his mentor's abilities.

The ground shakes, and there's suddenly black and white lightning arcing over the entire hall; the same feeling from when that heart traced itself around Sora's feet returns with a vengeance. The Darkside roars and charges towards them -

"Light!"

When Roxas finds out that he can move again, when he can see - he realises that there's a new presence, and the sheer energy that emanates from that powerhouse makes him stagger. The room is now clear of Heartless and full of confused and wounded Paladins, of white bodies amidst the rubble and the cracked ground. He can now actually see the white walls and matching ambient light washes over everything like a purifying spell.

And in the middle of the Hall stand three figures: brown, silver . . . and red.


It wasn't true. Whatever notions of warmth issuing from that cold globe of light was just not true. Kairi was imagining a confinement rather than a prison, but this was just – unthinkable. Cruel, to anyone who was not a Princess of Heart. Cruel to the boy lying catatonic in the withered throne at the far end of the room.

She gathered her skirts and crossed the stone floor in an instant, dropping to her knees in front of the massive throne. Tears stung the edge of her eyes as a hand brushed against the icy metal of the manacles that held his wrists fast to the armrests; but she knew that the Cornerstone held him more securely than any other restraint can.

"Hey," She started in a strained voice. "Guess what. He's – he's beautiful, Sora."

Her voice echoed off the walls and she felt despair clench around her heart. There was absolutely no response from the face tilted just a foot away from hers, blue eyes blank and mouth slightly open; a parody of the former Keyblade Master.

"He has your eyes," she continued, blinking back the tears. "But he has the most beautiful red hair, you know? He's made his first friend today, he's so friendly with the children at the Palace. Oh, he's perfect, Sora, love, he's so perfect, I wish you could know him. I wish you could see him. I wish I told you about him, before…before this - "

His hands were cold.

She couldn't stop the tears from falling.

"I wish - "

Kairi stiffened, and she twisted around. Sora had taught her how to listen for movement, how to gauge that change in sound – and Riku was standing there, shadowed in the Cornerstone's light, breathing quite heavily.

"How long have you been standing there?"

"Not long," he answered, crossing the room and standing next to her, not raising his eyes. "I didn't think I'd be able to make it back out if I stayed too long next to that – to that – thing," he said, jerking his head towards the Stone.

Kairi turned back to Sora. "Won't they miss you up there?"

"I just finished declaring today as a World holiday. They're distracted enough. I can always say I wanted to find you."

"Was that what you wanted?"

She heard Riku heave a sigh and the cool whisper of heavy white cloak against stone floor as the silver-haired Wielder knelt beside her. "No. I wanted to - "

"See," they said at the same time.

And for the first time since descending into the Cornerstone's room, Riku lifted his gaze to see what state their best friend and lover was in.

Riku and Kairi had come back, their chase across Worlds after the renegade Prince finished, with the promise that Sora would never trouble them again. It was true, after a fashion. The populace took this to mean that Sora had been executed, and thus they had been pacified. Riku took charge of the Kingdom for the moment, and by the end of the maximum interregnum for a Regent to be elected, the people had trusted him enough to lead them.

His detractors were momentarily satisfied with him. In time, Riku dealt with them, and none dared to go against him afterwards.

Kairi had been crowned the Queen when she turned twenty. None had been surprised when she presented her and Riku's son; their ménage à trois was well known. Most had expressed their relief that it wasn't hers and that dark Prince's son, because who knew how would that boy would turn out, with those kind of genes?

Riku had proposed to her on her twenty-first, after her coronation, to circumvent that line in her Constitution that voided her status as heir apparent if she were to wed another one in line to a throne. It was more of a public declaration of something that she had known for years.

She loved her, her him, and they belonged to each other for the rest of their lives, as romanticized by the media.

They both knew otherwise.

Riku lay down his Keyblade and swore that he would keep peace. It allayed the fears of the general public about a Keyblade Wielder taking the highest position in their monarchy, and in time, would restore trust to them.

It was also in honor of Sora.

Sora, who by the King's suggestion – on the day that he retracted his support – had been kept under lock and key and light here in the depths of Disney Castle.

The King himself had seen it coming. Sora was frightening in his intensity of devotion, and decades of handling the Keyblade had given the King enough experience to predict a rough approximation of the paths open to Sora should his friends come under attack. It was up to Riku and Kairi to find out which one he would take, seeing that they knew him the best.

They didn't execute him; the thought never once crossed their minds.

Instead, they brought him here, still unconscious from Riku's Thundaga – and with infinite care, dressed him in the full court dress fitting his title, and ceremonially bound him to the chair that would both imprison him and keep him safe from the prejudiced public. Until they forgot about the negative implications of the Keyblade, there he would be interred, the Crown Prince sitting on his throne, waiting.

The King had judged correctly. Even Riku couldn't bear to stay in the same room as the Cornerstone for more than an hour. Someone like Sora, who could open Kingdom Hearts at will, who used the Dark Keyblade, would not last fifteen without losing coherent thought. They would have to gamble on the probability that the purity of Light clashing against his innate darkness would not kill him.

And now, as they saw the results -

Kairi couldn't bear seeing that expression on someone she loved so dearly, and she bent her head, one hand finding Riku's, the other still holding Sora's – and she squeezed the both of them tightly. It was a few moments before she realized that it wasn't just the sound of her crying that echoed across the room, but Riku's as well.

"Oh god, Sora," he whispered hoarsely, and Kairi saw him interlace his free hand with Sora's other one, "I'm sorry, I miss you so much, I'm so, so sorry…"

He tugged his hand from Kairi's, reaching up to close Sora's vacantly-staring eyes, so for all the world it looked like the Master (the boy, the other third of their lives) was sleeping peacefully, dressed in full court uniform, waiting for the day when the world stopped hating the things they didn't understand and sobered up.

But until then, right now, there would just be them, her, Sora, Riku, here – three children, holding hands, crying for the sacrifice they had made for the world to get there.


Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar, and did not fly out at the door; for ere that, the lid of the jar stopped her, by the will of Aegis-holding Zeus who gathers the clouds.

- ll 89-105, Hesiod, Works and Days


VI. Sora


The whispers drift about, here and there, hiding beneath children's tongues and lurking between old wives' knitting needles. Summer arrives with its offerings of sweltering heat and cool blue skies, and along the sand the pounding surf sometimes brings thalassa shells to the beaches, smooth and promising.

The King has lifted the state of calamity from the dimension; the defences that Radiant Garden has sent proves to be indispensable. The night of the Heartless outbreak is the stage for what is claimed as the best display of arms and cooperation that the Alliance has ever seen. The monarch had led his kingdom admirably, and such mistakes in dimensional defences shall never be repeated again.

"Mistakes in dimensional defence," Sora snorts over his coffee. "What a load of bull."

Roxas knows the truth.

Once everything had died down, once the Queen had recharged the wards and replaced them in the Cornerstone, once his parents had arrived from their courtesy tour, taken him aside, and given him the worst scolding of his entire eleven years on earth - his grandfather called a meeting of the immediate royal family.

And he explained everything.

"What're you going to call what happened, then?" Roxas reaches for the syrup and pours it onto his pancakes.

The man shrugs. "Something not so prissy." He sets down the newspaper and tilts his head, pretending to think. "They should probably warn against leaving and forgetting stuff in their basement, don't you think?"

They both laugh, lightly, because that's still quite a sore subject. Roxas still can't get it around his head that his grandfather looks only five years older than him, that his grandmother is a mythical Princess of Heart, and that the King, right now, is just the crown Regent.

He can't even wrap his mind around the fact that he, himself, is a Keyblade Wielder.

"What's your schedule today, kidlet?" Sora asks, setting his cup down and wincing under his breath. "Damn it, I keep forgetting what hot feels like."

"Uh," he starts, trying to remember what exactly he's supposed to do. And then he groans when he does. "History. I have history and sciences today."

"You know more about history than the castle historians do."

"I know!" Roxas stabs his fork through two pancakes sullenly. "But it's not like I can tell them what I know."

The brown-haired Master bobs his head and slouches on their kitchen island. "For now. Don't keep things like this in your basement."

The conversation tapers off into a companionable silence after that, broken occasionally by a cook or two politely asking them if they need anything else. They both get that the cooks are trying to usher them out (more on Sora's part than him, because the elder Wielder can keep them preoccupied with laughter for the entire time that they're supposed to cook lunch), and they sidle into one of the main Corridors together.

"...can't I go with you this time?"

Sora laughs, a rich, warm sound that's been hidden under all that raspiness, and ruffles his hair. "You're not getting out of your studies that easily. Tell you what - I'll tell Max that your next Sword Handling session is with me. That okay with you?"

Roxas sulks a little, but he can't deny that the promise of training with a Keyblade Master - and a friend - brightens up his day like nothing else can. There's a bounce in his step as he accompanies Sora to the Gardens, jumping a little in the beams of sunshine streaming through the columns and puddling on the floor.

One of the doors along the corridor opens.

"Ah, Roxas - "

"Mother!"

He sprints across the floor and launches himself at the Crown Princess, hugging her around the midriff tightly. Her scolding is still fresh in his mind, but he knows that they both know that he's never pulling off something like that ever again.

She still has her arm around his shoulders when she focuses on the brown-haired Wielder, and the smile on her face is slightly apprehensive still.

"This is the first time we've met out of schedule," he says smoothly, inclining his head.

"Surely it won't be the last," she replies, and the hand on his shoulder tightens briefly before letting go. He watches as his mother drops into a slight curtsy. "My husband and I would like to dine with you someday, when your calendar is free, Your Majesty."

"I look forward to it."

His mother nods, and turns to Roxas. "Daisy is waiting for you in the Library."

"I - " Roxas falters. "I wanted to see Sora off."

"Roxas, your manners," she admonishes, and he colours and turns to apologise hastily to Sora. Sora waves him off, smile warm and nothing like the Heartless he first thought he was.

"It's all right," he says. "I've gone without a title for almost a hundred years. It's okay to slip up now and then."

"Are you sure it is no trouble, Your Majesty?" his mother asks, quickly. "If he is being a nuisance…"

Roxas starts to make a face at being referred to as a nuisance, but once again, Sora shakes his head and walks up to them, ruffling his hair when close enough. "He's the farthest thing."

There's silence for a moment, as if his mother is considering this, but the smile that blooms on her face is enough to make Roxas relax. "All right. I'll send word to Daisy that you'll be late, dear."

With another curtsy, she disappears back into the door where she came from, and Roxas looks up from his bow just in time to see the door close.

"Come on, kidlet," Sora calls, and he's already at the end of the corridor. Roxas runs to catch up, and they go out into the Gardens' walkways together, heading towards the edge, where the King's personal garden is situated.

It's a riot of colour: blue hydrangeas here, red roses there, and yellow sunflowers with their crowns turned towards the morning. He can hardly believe that this garden led to where Sora's personal Gummi Ship (A Gummi Ship! The backbone of communication throughout the universe, and Sora's ship, though archaic in design, is still one of the most powerful ships in existence.), the Highwind, a small, light craft with enough firepower to bring down a Heartless fleet. They did really exist.

Heartless.

And he, Roxas, as a Wielder, was supposed to protect the Kingdom from them.

"What're you frowning about, Roxas?" Sora doesn't stumble over his name now, like he did when they first talked to each other after the incident.

"Am I really a - "

The ship comes into view, shining colourful against a backdrop of the forest behind the Castle. "Yes, you are."

Roxas swallows the nervousness bubbling up in his chest. "But I can't even fight that well. How can I measure up to…"

You, he wants to say, legendary Sora, ender of the Heartless War.

"You don't have to, Roxas," he says, gently, crouching and looking at him at eye level. "You protect who you want to protect in your own way. It doesn't take a Keyblade Master to do that."

And that makes Roxas' throat dry up and lunge at him, throwing his arms around the man's shoulders and bury his face in his neck. Sora returns the hug, and the two of them stay like that for what feels like weeks, because Roxas can't draw any comfort from anyone who doesn't know how much of a weight being a Wielder is on his young shoulders.

He's also the first to pull back, scrubbing across his eyes with a sleeve.

Sora doesn't get up immediately. He fiddles with his hands, for a moment, and he looks to be pulling something out of his sleeve. "Give me your hand."

Roxas does so, and in his outstretched hand, Sora drops two keychains: one that looks like five thalassa shells woven into a star, the other a dark metal charm of a crown. He looks up, curious.

"The next time you summon your Keyblade, use these," he explains, using his hand to close Roxas' fingers around them. "They're from your grandmother. And one of her friends," he adds, as if an afterthought.

Roxas has never used other keychains than the one that his parents gave him, and he tells Sora this. Sora just smiles and stands up. "You call them by name: Oathkeeper and Oblivion. Try to use them at the same time – it's more awesome that way."

He laughs, and Roxas laughs with him, holding onto the charms tightly.

"Be good, kidlet," he says, ruffling his hair one last time as a farewell, Keyblade shimmering into existence in a fist. Roxas nods enthusiastically, staying well out of the way of the landing zone, where people are rushing back-and-forth with last-minute precautions and adjustments.

But a thought, a frightening question occurs to him, and he calls out before the engines start heating up and the volume drowns his voice.

"Will you come back?"

To the King and Queen who kept him imprisoned, to a world that shunned him a century prior, to world that still didn't know that he had come back -

"The King's loyalty is to his Kingdom," he quotes, absently, swinging what he calls the Inverse Keyblade and letting it rest on his shoulder. "And to his Kingdom first and foremost."

The Keyblade Master looks back at him, and the circlet on his head glints kingly gold in the sunrise.

"My loyalty is to my heart," Sora says with finality. "My heart is loyal to my friends. And my friends . . . are my kingdom."

Roxas stares at him, even as he turns around and waves a hand in dismissal, even as he calls to the Captain of the Guards and the Court Magician. He then knows, for certain, that he will return, no matter how long it takes.

He will go back home.


Additional notes: Finestra and Alber are real sword fighting stances from European schools. The former is called Ochs (Ox) in the German School; the term Finestra (window guard) is from the Italian one. Alber (Fool) is from the German School as well. It would make sense for the heir apparent to learn basic sword fighting skills.

Healers are specialized in healing magic; Casters (short for Spellcasters) are specialized in offensive magic. They can be compared to White and Black Mages, respectively. Summoners summon Espers to fight for them in battle. Paladins are special job classes that recur in the Final Fantasy series. In this universe, they serve as the royal Guard.

Invis is a white magic spell from the original Final Fantasy; it adds 40 to the target's Evasion attribute and can be stacked. Firaja is a fourth-tier Fire Spell from FFXI. Dark spells cast the elemental equivalent of the original plus a possibility of status ailments. Frost causes the Freeze ailment; the target is paralysed and a physical attack in this state will result in a KO.

Full court uniform looks something like this (remove spaces, etc) http: // dies-irae . oxyhost. com /images/ art/ pb1. png. I imagine that Disney really is a kingdom, thus exists the constitutional monarchy. A constitutional monarchy differs from an absolute monarchy in the fact that the former's reigning monarch is bound by a constitution and more often than not serves as a ceremonial figurehead (the monarch still bears considerable political sway, however); the latter's monarch has all political power vested upon him/her.

Heir apparent means that the person is, by tradition, next in line to the throne (i.e, he/she is the firstborn of the family line, the equivalent of a Crown Prince or Princess), and most probably, cannot be deposed. Heir presumptive means that the person is next in line to assume the throne, but his or her position is not secure because a heir apparent might still be born.

Hesiod is a Greek poet from the latter half of the eighth century B.C. His works serve as a major source of Greek Mythology.