A/N for returning readers only: This chapter has been edited because of narrative and flow issues. ^^; I think it's loads better now, so please re-read it.

NOTE: Text in italics at the beginning of chapters is text taken straight out of the book, as written by Master Xeni. ;)

Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, or anything related, except for the characters introduced in this chapter.

"Go on, read the next part already!"

"I'm going, calm down—"

"Oh my GOSH, there's pictures in here!"

"SHHHHH!"

"Sorry. . ."

+*~o~oO The Keyblade Wars: Trial by Fire Oo~o~*+

I took my first apprentice a few years after earning the rank of Master. I should have known better than to accept that rowdy redhead before I had more experience in training apprentices, but after a while, she showed me she was more than worthy of the title of Keywielder... When I took my second apprentice, I had feared that her impulsive nature and his proud demeanor would clash, but to my surprise, they became the best of friends. I was truly concerned about my third apprentice; he was such a quiet boy, I'm sure both he and I worried he would often be left out of the group, but my eldest apprentice surprised me yet again by taking the younger boy under her wing. The three quickly became inseparable, their bond stronger than I could have ever imagined…

If anyone approached the grand castle in the center of the Land of Departure that day, they would have been met with the sound of clashing metal and flying spells. A gorgeous summer day like that only meant one thing to the four inhabitants of the castle: Outdoor training.

The resident Keyblade Master watched her two eldest apprentices duel each other, sharp gray eyes darting between the trainees as they clashed. A hint of a smile was visible in her features as she saw that the two combatants were evenly matched. Her youngest apprentice, a few years younger than the other two, watched the duel with interest, murky green eyes following the conflict. He wasn't much of a fighter, so he had opted to stay out of this particular match.

"Stop shooting fire at me and hit me!" the male taunted, returning his navy-and-silver Keyblade to his side in his typical battle stance after blocking a fairly large fireball. His sturdy build suggested that he was a physical battler, more adept at close-range combat rather than the magic-based attacks his opponent was assaulting him with.

His more lightly-built opponent stopped attacking but kept a safe distance away from him, holding her charcoal-and-gold Keyblade above her head and her other hand out in front of her, palm facing down. "Why?" she asked nonchalantly, tipping her head to one side so her bright red hair would fall out of her eyes, "Can't take a little heat, Atrum?"

"Giant fireballs aren't usually considered a 'little' heat, Flamma," Atrum shot back, a smirk growing on his tan face. "If you were a real warrior, you'd fight up close!"

"You're just scared you'll get burned," Flamma purred, a cat-like grin accompanying her remark. "If you were a real warrior, you wouldn't be scared of getting up close."

The smirk faded from Atrum's face, his taunt having obviously failed. "Cheater!" he called.

"Coward!" she retorted.

"Hothead!"

"Hey!"

Xeni and her apprentice couldn't help but laugh at the older teenagers' antics.

"Don't let him get to you, Flamma!" The younger apprentice called.

"Why are you helping her?" Atrum complained.

Always the same, the Master thought to herself, ever since they met. She was brought out of her thoughts as an abrupt gust of wind blew past her, followed by a thud and a loud cry of "Hey, that was totally uncalled for!," and another bout of laughter from the third apprentice. Tucking her dark blue-gray bangs back into place behind her ear, Xeni found Atrum on the ground, pointing his Keyblade at a hysterically laughing Flamma, who was at least a good ten feet away.

"How was that uncalled for?" Flamma asked, a hand over her mouth as she tried to contain her snickers.

"You tripped me, then sent me flying with an Aeroga!" Atrum protested, dismissing his Keyblade, "I thought we agreed on fighting up close!"

"I was up close, dummy," Flamma said with a roll of her eyes. Dismissing her Keyblade, she walked over to where the black-haired male was still sitting on the ground, and held out a hand towards him. "You're just too stubborn to get out of the way." Atrum took her hand and stood up, mumbling a reluctant "thank you."

"That was awesome you guys!" cheered the young apprentice. The smaller, light brown-haired boy ran up to the older pair, sporting an ear-to-ear grin. "That was a good shot, Flamma."

"Thank you very much, Lumen," Flamma said, ruffling the younger boy's hair despite his mild protests.

"But she cheated!" argued Atrum, pointing accusingly at the redhead. "We decided on fighting up close!"

"I was up close," the girl reminded him. "There's a difference between 'physical combat' and 'fighting up close'."

"She has a point," agreed the brunette.

"Well you know what? You guys," Atrum began, gesturing at both the apprentices, "are just a bunch of know-it-alls."

"Maybe you should fall asleep in class less often," Flamma teased.

"Or maybe Flamma hit you too hard!" Lumen suggested with a grin.

"Hey! I'll have you know I can take much harder hits than she can—"

"Uh huh," Flamma interrupted, donning her catlike grin, "this is totally supported by your performance just now."

"That was a fluke!"

As the three teenagers laughed, the Master took a moment to look over her apprentices. Flamma was obviously the eldest, standing at least an inch or two taller than Atrum, and nearly a foot taller than Lumen, the youngest. The three had been training together for five years, but anyone watching them now would think they had been friends their whole lives.

"Why don't you three head into town?" The elder Keywielder called, "You have had enough training for today. Go on," she added when her apprentices all raised their eyebrows at her in unison, "You three deserve some time off." The three apprentices looked at each other, then bowed to her, uttering quick 'thank you's before excitedly heading off towards the nearby town.

After they left, Master Xeni realized with a slight shock that the eldest two would be taking their Master Qualification Exam very soon, and that Lumen was going to have to wait a few years to follow after his friends. She knew Flamma and Atrum would probably wait for him, but she still felt some slight pity for the younger apprentice… But that was not the time to worry about that. The Keyblade Master headed towards the end of the tall plateau the Castle sat on, and watched her apprentices race each other down the slope, wondering if that thought had ever crossed their minds…

+*~o~oOo~o~*+

"Wow, they sound a lot like us," Ven commented, shifting his position on Aqua's bed.

"What do you mean?" Aqua asked, looking up after making sure she marked the page.

"Well," Terra began, "There are three apprentices. There's three of us."

"And one is a lot less younger than the others," the blonde added. "And he won't get to take the MQE at the same time the others do."

"They used to live here too," Aqua pointed out.

"Whoa, what if this was one of their rooms?" Ven asked excitedly, making the mattress bounce up and down.

Terra shrugged. "Who knows? There's a million rooms in this castle already."

"Well, go on, keep reading!" Ven urged, "I wanna know what the Master was—"

The sound of footsteps silenced the youngest apprentice, and the three of them froze, staring at the door in alarm. If master Eraqus catches us out of bed, we're in serious trouble! Aqua thought. She quickly jerked her head towards her closet, closing the book and placing it under her pillow as the person she assumed was her Master lightly knocked on the door. Getting the message, the two boys quickly and quietly scurried across the room and hid in the cramped closet as Aqua crossed the room to open the door. As she expected, Master Eraqus was standing on the other side of the doorway.

"Someone's up late," the older man remarked, a slight smile on his scarred face.

"I couldn't sleep," Aqua admitted, forcing herself not to glance at her closet. "I went out to the library to read, I just got back."

"Ah, I see," Eraqus said, nodding understandingly, "Don't stay up too long, we have training tomorrow." Aqua nodded, and the Keyblade Master turned to leave, but Aqua's curiosity got the best of her.

"Master?"

"Yes?"

"Why are…you still up?"

The corners of Eraqus' mouth curved upwards into a knowing smile, and he said, "I couldn't sleep. I was going out to the library to read." With that, the Keyblade Master turned and left a confused Aqua behind him, humming a nameless tune to himself as he continued down the dark hallway.

A/N: Hope that was a bit better then the last one. :)

Atrum likes to complain. Nyahahahah. X3

If you would like to see EXACTLY what the apprentices and their Master look like, stay tuned to my profile, as I will be posting links to their appearances there eventually. ^^

Reviews are love, they make me type faster 3