Vast Earth Protecting Bonds. Dancing Waters Forming Bonds. Swift Wind Returning to Bonds.
Terra's skin crawled.
Uncomfortable, he woke from shadowy dreams that bordered on the edge of nightmares, waiting for his thumping heart to slow down in his chest. Rubbing his torso and grimacing, he glanced around for the disturbance. Why was he suddenly so…uneasy?
It wouldn't be the first time he felt this way. And normally, if he even felt just a tiny bit edgy, there was a reason. Something flitted on the edges of his conscious, barely out of reach, brushing soft tendrils along the tips of his thoughts. Right before he managed to snatch it—he almost had the elusive thing!—a soft knock sounded on his door.
Frustrated as his concentration crumpled, he jumped out of bed and opened his door. His sarcastic, angry remark died on his tongue as he beheld Aqua, dressed fully for training, gazing at him evenly with her steady azure eyes.
"…What?" He grumbled at last, drawing himself up to his full height, shaking off the last remnants of sleep that clouded his mind.
The female Keybearer shifted restlessly, one hand folded into a fist over her heart. Terra felt another nervous prickle trail down his spine. She always seemed to find comfort in the beat that resounded within her chest when she was anxious.
It was late. Lessons with Master Eraqus were still far off. Dawn was even farther away. What could be making her so antsy?
"What? Aqua, what's wrong?" Terre repeated, keeping his voice calm so he wouldn't startle her.
"It's Ven," she blurted suddenly, averting her eyes.
Terra's body tensed as he fought off an unexpected shiver. Had he woken up because he somehow sensed that Ven was…?
"What? What about Ven?" He demanded, too worried to be gentle or polite. His mental system took fear and transformed it into something powerful and useful—anger. Directed towards the problem, naturally.
Aqua shook her head. "He's not in his bed."
"You were looking for him because…?"
"Just checking up on him," she retorted defensively. "Can we please get back to what's at hand?"
The warrior nodded, crossing his arms. "Relax. He's not in the Castle?" The white citadel with its golden chains connecting to various mountain peaks was huge after all, and only four people lived within its walls.
"I looked everywhere that seemed sensible."
"This is Ven we're talking about. He's not sensible in the slightest," Terra remarked icily. Aqua was unbothered by his tone, instead, she looked thoughtful, nervously brushing her blue hair from eyes the same color.
"Right. I'll look everywhere I can."
"I'll try outside. He might just be training alone. I've done it before," he said in a placating tone, seeking to reassure her. Aqua absently agreed, quietly taking off down the ivory-and-gold gilded hallway, moonlight glinting off of her silver armor.
Terra ducked back into his room and hastily changed his outfit, somehow expecting the worst, but hoping for the best. He was hopelessly pessimistic sometimes. Jamming his shoulder-guard on, he slipped down the stairs as quietly as his size allowed—he was the brawniest and largest of the apprentices after all—moving like a large jungle cat. He stalked off into the gardens that surrounded the castle, peering this way and that, deciding to check the trio's usual stargazing spot.
The courtyard was a handsome, elegant place. It consisted of gray stone flowerboxes loaded with foliage that bloomed all year, proudly displaying plants of a dozen and more colors. The green grass was strong and lush as only wild grass could be—and yet there was no gardener. The Land of Departure's perfect summery weather guaranteed the growth of any flora, anywhere.
The stars were pinpricks of light, varying in size, dappling a dark blue canopy. The sun hadn't yet dared to even touch the horizon, and the full moon hung in the sky, shedding its pale radiance everywhere. Shadows became unfamiliar, even in such a well-known and loved area, causing the male Keyblader to scowl at every shape.
The stargazing spot was empty, as was Eraqus's usual meadow chosen for outdoor exercises. Terra was becoming irritated, his senses on hyper alert for something that might signal danger. Like a Keyblade connecting with—
Startled, he froze in place, every muscle locking instinctively together. He waited. The sound came again. The teeth of a weapon colliding with sack and wood. Terra bolted down the pathways, eyes glaring daggers everywhere, and if looks could kill, there'd not be a live plant in the garden left.
Turning a corner, he crouched low and summoned his Keyblade, hating how it had to appear so brilliantly, streaming light and causing the shadows nearby to flicker. It would give away his presence, the wretched thing!
Terra relaxed as he scanned the scene before him. It was an overgrown corner of the Castle's courtyard, a little less cared for. Something about it made Eraqus unhappy to be near. Apparently some event had happened here a few years past that made the effective King of the Land of Departure melancholy. The angel fountain had a touch of ancient Greek to its features as it spewed water from its bow in a long silver stream. Someone had tidied up the area—and even swept the leaves from the lone tree stuck in autumn back towards its own roots.
The muted crash came again, this time with a viciousness to it that surprised him, since Terra knew who it was causing the "quiet" clamor, by some standards.
Ventus was there all right, twirling his Keyblade around the ends of his fingers in his peculiar battle stance, weapon pointed backwards. He gripped the handle tightly, sky blue eyes dark with frustration, repeatedly pounding on the bedraggled target dummy that Eraqus used for practice, when the disciples didn't spar with one another, that is. Three other "corpses" littered the garden corner, piled unceremoniously on top of one another, all bits of broken wood and torn cloth.
A volley of blows faster than Terra could track collided with the dummy, and with a resounding crash! it toppled down, its thick stem broken unevenly in half. Terra raised his eyebrows, not saying anything as the youngest protégé began shredding what was left of the practice item, swinging his arm from side to side with strong, though angry and thus imperfect, movements.
"You can attack all you want," Terra commented dryly, straightening and crossing his broad arms. He leaned casually against the stone basin of the fountain, pretending to survey its clear depths—besides the single red leaf floating on its surface—and not Ventus. "It's already dead, unless you're the kind to rip the limps off of your enemies after they're already gone."
"Terra." There was a soft scuffle as Ven approached, and all of the energy seemed to have left him. Eyes that had once burned with a frantic fever were dull and bleached, and the warrior felt a thrill of fear shoot down his heart as he looked at his friend's reflection and saw a black-blue gaze staring back.
Ven had only had such dead eyes when he had first arrived in the Land of Departure, a few years ago.
Saying without looking up, "What are you doing out here?" Terra waited for a response, and when none came, he added quietly, "It's late."
The fountain's pool showed Ven sighing, shoulders slumped, tugging at his black-and-white checkered wristband as if it was the source of his problems. "I'm just…" As he stared away, Terra wished Aqua was here. She always knew how to handle him when he got like this.
Placing one hand on his shoulder, Terra smiled softly. "Just what?"
Sighing, Ven opened his mouth to speak, but the sound of grass sliding over metal made them both turn towards the entrance.
Aqua was standing there, looking shocked, then relieved as she spotted Ven. A grin flashed across her serious features. "Ven!" She darted quickly to their side, checking either of them for…something. Terra guessed she was searching for injuries. As it were, she had to tug several splinters out of Ven's face and hands, thanks to the shattered and decimated wooden dummies.
A green glow signaled the appearance of a Cure spell, and once she was satisfied, Aqua took a step back. "Ven," she began softly, almost pleadingly. "What's the matter?"
Terra nodded, letting his eyes drift around the garden. They settled on a bronze leaf flapping in the gentle breeze, the only non-green tree that he could see.
Taking a slow, deep breath, the blonde Keybearer exhaled noisily. "I just…your Master Qualification Exam is in less than a week…"
Blinking, Terra's stoic expression shifted into surprise, then sympathy as he understood Ven's plight. Only he and Aqua were participating in that Exam. Ventus was not old enough, nor was he experienced enough.
"That doesn't matter; we'll still be Terra and Aqua. Right?" Aqua looked towards him for support, and he nodded.
"Of course. We're not going to change."
Ven hissed suddenly. "Not going to change? How long?" His tone became positively acidic at the end.
"How long…what?" There it goes, Terra thought, watching Aqua's fingers fold over her heart as she tentatively questioned her young friend.
"How long until I can take the Exam?" It was more of a demand than a question.
Saving Aqua from this one, Terra inserted his answer. "As far as I know, a year, maybe? Possibly less?"
"…How can I manage without you guys?" Ven's voice shattered at the end, quavering like a loose strand of spider web caught in a typhoon. Threatening to send it hurling out to sea and sky, to be lost forever.
"Oh, Ven," Aqua closed her eyes and smiled. She pulled their blonde companion into an embrace, and Terra caught them both in a bear hug, actually lifting the pair off of the ground. He allowed a large grin to spread over his usually composed features as they both laughed helplessly.
"I can't breathe!" Ven moaned theatrically, clawing dramatically at his chest.
Aqua just giggled breathlessly and Terra's rumbling chuckle joined in with his friends. A warm feeling spread in his heart, chasing away the last stubborn tendrils of apprehension, as if a phoenix had just opened its fiery wings again.
"I promise, unless we just have to go somewhere, Terra and I will stay here with you until you're a Master," Aqua lightly took Ven's face in her hands, making him see the strength of her dedication in her azure stare before letting go.
Normally, Terra would be annoyed that she had just spoken for him. This time, he didn't care. "That's right, unless Master Eraqus says otherwise."
Ven sniffed and gave a watery grin. "T-Thanks guys. I feel kind of selfish now."
"I don't think you're selfish," Terra informed him. "You know what? Both of you, come with me."
Aqua tilted her head curiously. "Where are we going?"
Terra glanced back at her as he began walking away, seeking a gap in the stone wall that enclosed the courtyard. "Somewhere special, you'll see."
Ven followed wordlessly, and after a moment, Aqua caught up and trotted obediently at his heels. Fighting off a strange self-conscious feeling, Terra succeeded in locating a side road up one of the high arching hillsides. It took some hard hiking, though the path was short, and he often turned to help his compatriots up the more difficult climbs.
Everyone but Terra was gasping for breath by the time they reached the summit, and Ven opened his mouth—likely to complain—but instead a gasp came out. Aqua's followed a second behind.
Terra smirked and looked towards the sky. The heavens were closer than they normally appeared, and each star was almost fist-sized. They glittered a variety of gorgeous colors, not all of them just white or silver, seeming to give off as much illumination as the moon itself.
The moon wasn't even starting to set yet. They had a lot of time, Terra reasoned.
The hilltop was oddly flat, with no trees on its peak to obstruct the view. It was a very old site that Terra had actually forgotten about over time. He used to come here back when he was envious of Aqua's talents and just wanted to be alone.
Now, he was willing to let others see his time-lost hideout, looking exactly the same as it had years and years ago.
Ven promptly fell on his back, gawking up at the night sky with eyes as large as dinner plates. Aqua laughed behind her hand, exchanging a fond look with Terra. As their gazes met, another shiver lazily ambled down his spine, and this time he didn't chase it away.
He lay there, next to Ven, with Aqua on his other side. He kept his arms folded behind his head, just star-watching, surveying everything that happened in the celestial plain above them.
After a quiet period, where the only sound had been their combined breaths, Terra murmured, "See those stars up there?" It was an easy, obvious question.
"Yeah," Ven answered whilst Aqua nodded once.
"As long as these stars exist, we'll always be best friends."
"Well, what if they go out?" Ven inquired, his voice sounding very small compared to the vastness of space above them.
"That's an easy one," Aqua replied in a whisper. "Then, we'll be the stars."
"Yeah. The sky will never be dark with the three of us. Especially with Ven as the sun." Terra teased lightly.
"No, Aqua's the sun," Ven argued, shifting at his side, shoulder-guard brushing the grass and tiny flowers beneath them.
"Fine, then Terra's the moon," Aqua countered with a smile.
Terra caught them both in his embrace without sitting up, for once not restraining his more sentimental side.
His unease was instantly back, tenfold.
"Then Ven's the sky that can hold us all together. We'd fall without you," the eldest apprentice stated.
"You were without me before."
"And it still didn't feel right, did it?" Aqua muttered to Terra. "We always knew someone was missing."
"We're best friends, right? Isn't that what Terra said?" Ven inquired, lifting his head a little to see Aqua better.
"The best. Maybe I could…" The female Keybearer trailed off, and Terra glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. She had a thoughtful expression on her face, her gaze distant.
Ven was strangely still. Curious. Terra redirected his attention towards the blonde.
And found him fast asleep.
"Let's get him to bed," Terra said after a while. Aqua started, surprised, before nodding. Standing in one smooth motion, he bent to take Ven in his arms, holding the blonde easily. He felt as if he weighed nothing. Aqua stayed at his side as they traversed the rocky path down.
"No wonder you're so muscular," Aqua panted, grinning at Terra as she leaped over a jagged stone.
He smiled but didn't reply.
Once they were back in the main garden of the Castle, the pair slowed their pace, slowly meandering along.
"Terra…did you mean what you said back there?"
"It means a lot to Ven…and me…that you care so much." Aqua gazed at the young blonde asleep in Terra's arms, then at Terra himself, and he met her eyes fearlessly.
"Well, you mean a lot to me," Terra said softly. "Both of you." A world without them was unthinkable.
They dropped Ven off in his room, succeeding in their endeavors to at least remove his bronze armor from his thin frame. Aqua followed Terra to his room, and then paused outside the door.
They hovered awkwardly for a moment. Then:
"Good night, Terra. Thanks for coming with me." And Aqua smiled the brightest smile he had ever seen from her.
Embarrassed, but trying to hide it, Terra dipped his head, unable to return her steady stare for once. "No problem. Any time. Good night, Aqua."
She closed her eyes for a second, as if contemplating something, but with a shake of her head and one final wave, she departed for her room.
Terra waited until he heard her door close with a quiet click. Then he removed his training outfit, getting back in bed and absently marking off a day from his calendar that he had forgotten to do earlier.
Only a few more days, and he'd have his Master Qualification Exam with Aqua.
His heart soared, but when he finally entered the comatose world of dreams, the tendrils that had been brushing his mind and thoughts all night finally settled.
A vision flickered, blindingly bright, across his sight.
An image of himself.
With yellow eyes.
And in the waking world, Terra shivered, dismissing it as a nightmare.
I actually really loved writing this. I positively adored it. I hope you do too! Terra has some form of clairvoyance-sight, apparently, which you'll notice if you play/watch Birth by Sleep. I find it fascinating.
Reviews are very much appreciated!