~*A Villain of A Sort*~
Something mysterious this way comes…
Musical Inspiration: The Land of Departure's Battle Theme
T e r r a was not well known for his patience.
Wait, no, that would be an understatement. Terra was not known at all to be a patient person; in fact, he was probably the embodiment of tense energy. His enormous amount of self-control kept him frozen in place as his shadow-cobalt eyes glittered with a suppressed fervor.
"Don't look so irritated," Aqua, the lone female Keybearer of the Keyblade Disciple trio informed him. She flicked her short blue bangs from azure eyes, running her fingers up and down his bared arms, checking for any more scrapes—or worse, cracked bones. "You and Ven need to ease up during your training bouts."
Snorting, the brown-haired warrior replied dryly, "It's hardly my fault that Ven tripped and sent us both down the side of the mountain."
"That's what you get for practicing so near the edge," Aqua briskly said, flicking some green Cure magic onto a tiny bruise that Terra hadn't even noticed. "Lucky for you that rock was in the way of your fall."
Smiling, Terra just shook his head. He knew her attitude only stemmed from her concern for her friends, and she was probably doing her best not to appear "motherly". The truth was, the female Keybearer was indeed very much like either an older sister or the mother neither of them remembered well.
"How's Ven?" He asked casually, stepping away so she'd quit her fussing.
"I fixed him up already." Aqua crossed her arms and rocked on her armored heels. The sunlight that almost always shone in the Land of Departure reflected a bright silver gleam back to Terra's eyes from her shoulder-guards, momentarily blinding him.
"Well, he needs to get back over here," the eldest Keyblader grumbled.
"Why? So you can pound him again?"
Terra opened his mouth to counter her statement, but just then, rapid footsteps approached the quarrelsome pair. Ven skidded to a halt in front of them, scrunching up grass and dirt under his heels. His sky-blue eyes were wide with shock, blonde hair just now springing back into shape, since it wasn't battling the wind anymore.
"Ven? What's wrong?" Terra demanded, sensing something was amiss.
"I-I-" Taking a deep breath, Ventus blurted, "There's some kind of shadowy shape moving around the Castle!"
"What?" Aqua and Terra both gasped.
"Are you sure it wasn't a stray animal from the forest?" Aqua queried urgently. The landscape below them was filled with rivers and valleys and trees after all, maybe it was a lost bear or a hungry wolf. The wild beasts weren't that big of a deal to one that could bend the elements to their will, and thus it wasn't something they spent their time worrying about.
"It didn't look like an animal! It looked like this guy in a black cloak and—there he is!" Ven pointed wildly over their shoulders, and Terra whipped around, quick eyes darting everywhere. His gaze settled on a dark robed figure, the edges trimmed with gold and crimson, its face hidden from view. All he could see from the angle he was currently at was a mass of dark blue bangs that covered the entire side of its visible features.
Terra narrowed his eyes, striding towards the intruder and calling loudly, "Halt! Who goes there?" It was horribly cliché, but it seemed appropriate, considering the circumstances. No one that was friendly ran around in such a sinister, billowing costume after all.
The enigma performed a double take, and when Terra's Keyblade flashed to his grip, he took two quick steps back. "H-Hold on, who are you?"
"I'm Terra, but that's not important. Who are you?" The brown-haired warrior growled, with Aqua and Ven hovering at his sides, ready to attack at a moment's notice.
"O-Oh, hey, look! Keybearers…You must be apprentices. Now, everyone just relax and put your keys down." The figure's voice was considerably lighter and more nervous sounding than Terra had expected, and he glared as the mysterious man raised his hands as if to fend off a blow. "I've just gotta…" Suddenly he bolted, rocketing off towards the castle.
"Oh no you don't!" Ventus was gone before Terra or Aqua could restrain him, twirling his Keyblade on the edges of his fingers in his peculiar battle stance.
"Ven, no! It could be dangerous!" Aqua started after him, and Terra followed behind.
Why would he want to go to the castle?
There was a blinding flash of light, and Ven threw his hands up to instinctively shield himself from its ruthless brilliance. The enigmatic man was gone, but Terra's quick eyes picked out movement in the radiant glimmer as it faded.
The doorway to the castle had just slid closed.
"C'mon!" Terra made to follow, but Aqua grabbed his shoulder.
"No, we need to slow down. We'll creep up on him," the female murmured in his ear. She repeated her message to Ventus, and the trio carefully inched inside of the castle, trying not to make a sound on the white tiles. This was easier said than done, thanks to the armor that covered their shoes and some portions of their clothing.
Terra knew every corridor in the Castle by heart. Every twist, every turn, every stairway. The elegantly furnished citadel that was their home was composed of mostly vivid jewel colors with lots of ivory shades. With some almost identical hallways, it would be an easy manner for anyone that was new to the place to get lost.
This unfathomable man was no exception.
Despite his head start, the threesome caught up to him on the second level. They moved silently, Terra hunching over as far as he dared, slinking across the floor like a hunting wildcat. His eyes were narrowed, concentrating on the figure before him.
The dark robed man shifted his shoulders, causing his cloak to rustle. He looked very much like a flummoxed bird. Or at least his actions did.
"Master Eraqus, he's the next person," he muttered to himself. "And here I was thinking dealing with another Master would be easy."
Another Master? Terra thought. How many Masters has he "dealt with"?
Aqua stepped lightly from his side, springing nimbly until she was directly behind the enigma. He whirled around as she lifted Rain Fall and pricked his shrouded throat.
"Great, the apprentices are here. Look, I don't have time to play with you right now, I've gotta go for the head honcho!" protested the mysterious being.
"You mean Master Eraqus? What do you want with him?" Aqua asked coolly. Terra and Ventus strode up to her side, and the Cloaked Man shrank back from them, his face still completely obscured.
"Does it really matter? It's not like it concerns you."
Ven took a threatening step forward, fists clenched. "If it's got to do with the Master, it's got to do with us!"
The Cloaked Man raised his hidden hands. "Now, that's not true! I mean if the Master decided to get up at night for some cheese and crackers, it's not exactly anyone's bus—"
"Enough fooling around! Tell us or we'll make you!" Terra growled, brandishing Earth Shaker and causing the enigma to skulk away some more.
"N-Now, hang on. We can discuss this like civil—"
Breaking off with a yelp, the Cloaked Man leaped over their heads with a startling amount of agility as Terra lunged for him. Snarling and whipping around, the eldest apprentice was just in time to see a black cape flap around a corner.
Pelting off, Ven vanished from view right after him, pounding down the corridors. The metallic clank-clank-clank of his metal heels echoed loudly in the hallways. Terra and Aqua nodded at one another before giving chase, relying on their knowledge of the Castle to capture the shadowy specter that obviously was up to no good.
The room before them split off into three separate pathways with two levels above, visible to everyone courtesy of a spiraling staircase. Terra craned his neck and spotted the Cloaked Man haring along, looking more and more to him like some kind of ruffled raven or crow, surprisingly light on his feet. Aqua pushed past him, taking the steps two at a time, with Terra charging up after her.
Where was Eraqus anyway? There was a good chance that he was in his personal chambers, or his study. If that failed, he was most likely in the library…
"Gotcha!" Ven's exultant cry made both of them skid to a halt as the blonde sprang towards the dark enigma. Whirling to face him, the figure flexed his fingers and called on something from the arcane realm of magic and light and shadow.
Terra's eyes widened in horror as Darkness roared up out of the floor, whooshing and hissing like an angry pantheon of snakes, claiming Ventus's form in its purple embrace. Aqua shrieked and he just gasped, knowing that no matter how fast he ran he would be too slow too slow too slow!
Regardless, Terra dived on the spot Ven had vanished, landing with a thump just as the last tendril disappeared. Ventus was gone. A fury unlike anything he had ever known surged through him, and swinging Earth Shaker, he used his Keyblade to cleave the Cloaked Man from his shoulder to his hip, slashing viciously.
Unfortunately the enigma darted back, avoiding a potentially fatal blow, but the Keyblade's teeth still caught him. He yelped, clenching his front and stumbling backwards. He almost fell over the rail but he shook himself and crouched low to the ground to avoid a burst of Blizzard magic from Aqua.
"Where is he?" Terra roared, twirling his weapon and slicing so hard that the air whistled as if in pain. The Cloaked Man kept one hand on his chest to hold the tear in his robe together, stepping farther away, and the brown-haired warrior felt his invisible gaze on the Keyblade in his grip.
"What did you do to Ven?" Aqua's tone was deathly quiet, stalking towards the enigma as he continuously retreated from her.
"I didn't do anything! He's okay, I just moved him down a level. See?" There was an almost panicky tone in the Cloaked Man's voice now, and he gestured wildly with his free hand down below them.
Terra peered over the edge, cautiously keeping an eye on the cornered specter, and spotted Ven tripping over his own feet. The blonde looked disoriented, but there wasn't a scratch on him. When he looked up and met his gaze, Terra was relieved to find that his eyes were clear and blue and undoubtedly Ventus's.
"We're done playing games now. Either tell us what you want, or—"
Interrupting Terra, the Cloaked Man spluttered out, "You guys were playing? Fine, I guess it's my turn to play a game now! First one to find me before I find the Master gets to…well…haven't thought of that yet."
Aqua and her earth-named companion gawked at his almost casual tone as Ven continued to climb the stairs, clank-clank-clanking his way up.
"I'll figure it out when we get the game going. Starting…"
Ventus was only heartbeats away.
"Now!" The Cloaked Man waved his free arm and created another blinding glare of Light, and though Ven and Aqua closed their eyes and raised their hands to shield themselves, Terra only squinted. He sensed an odd cold sensation nibbling on the edges of his conscious—his burning rage that his friend might have been hurt having been (reduced?) to an all-consuming cold—that took the edge off of the harsh glow.
You won't escape me, he vowed.
Terra broke past the radiance, which seemed to surprise the now limping enigma, and succeeded in clipping his uninjured shoulder.
"W-Whoa what's with the deadly force? I haven't hurt any of you!"
For a second, hesitation crept into Terra's mind and settled there like a lazy housecat. It was true; the Cloaked Man had shown no hostility or otherwise harmed the three protégés.
But he's looking for Eraqus! Terra reminded himself.
"This isn't deadly force."
Cocking his head to the side, the black-robed figure shrugged, and then seemed to regret it, judging by the sharp intake of breath that followed. "Oh, that's comforting," he complained.
Ducking down low, the shadowy specter disappeared, the same strange dark oval that had swallowed Ventus claiming him. He reappeared on the other side of the room, moving quickly down another hallway.
Terra turned to his companions, and saw Aqua fussing over Ven. The fleet-footed boy shook her off and exclaimed, "If we don't catch him in time, what will he do to the Master?"
"I'm not going to let that happen," hissed the lone female. She shoved past Terra and was already halfway gone before the broad-shouldered male could even form a sentence.
Aqua was puzzled.
The black-cloaked man was drawing energy from the arcane realms, of that she was certain—and with her expertise in magic, she had no trouble detecting it—but his energy felt different than Eraqus's. The disturbance in the unseen magical plane rippled across to her, but it was just that, a ripple. It was coming from the center of a huge lake—the Castle—and impossible to properly track as it spread in a circle.
She had no choice but to head for the middle and hope she would find the disturbance there.
The enigmatic shadow was stealthier and quicker than she had thought, and Aqua left both Ven and Terra behind as she followed the invisible pulses that signified the presence of the mysterious being. She ended up running up, around, and down stairway after stairway as she pursued the intruder.
Once, she heard him muttered somewhere beyond her, "Whoa, this castle looks bigger on the inside…"
Excitement sent her muscles sparking as she cornered her quarry in a long hallway. Aqua paused, listening, and she could pick up Ven's swift footfalls accompanied by Terra's heavier steps. Her friends had managed to keep up with her. Or at least, well enough.
She frowned to herself as she magically locked the two doors the black-cloaked man hadn't entered. The only other path left was the flight of stairs to the—
The tower was where Eraqus was. Aqua slammed open the door, unable to help a wince as it loudly crashed against the wall, rounding a corner of stairs just as Terra gasped, "Slow down!"
Ven was behind her in an instant, looking worn out but determined. She remembered how he had told her, whilst the figure confronted Terra, that the Darkness had left him feeling cold and out-of-sorts. That would explain the weariness in his stride.
Terra reminded her very much of a bear as he followed them doggedly. A bear trailing after two wolves that could easily outpace him. Slower than them in speed but their betters in endurance.
Aqua opened the tower door just in time to see the mystery man reaching inside of his ebon robe, the folds rustling ominously. Master Eraqus had his gray Keyblade drawn and was facing him, his scarred face rigid and grim.
All three of the Keyblade Disciples thought at once:
He's attacking Master Eraqus!
Aqua, Ven, and Terra bodily tackled the black-cloaked figure to the ground, grappling with whatever was in his hand. Darkness licked her bare skin, and she shivered at its frosty touch. As they wrestled, the enigma gasping as their weight pressed against his wound, Eraqus shouted loudly, earning their attention.
"What is the meaning of this?"
They all comically froze at once, Terra only moving a single time to reposition his choke hold on the bedraggled would-be assassin.
"Master Eraqus, he's an intruder and—"
"He snuck into the Castle trying to—"
"I saw him sneaking around outside the—"
"Enough!" Eraqus snapped. He sighed, his brief anger fading from his eyes as he gazed down at them. "Speak for yourself," he ordered, addressing the mysterious male.
All that emerged was a strangled choking sound.
Once he was freed, the man forced himself to stand, shaking himself so that his robe fell into place. He extended a battered brown parcel topped with a golden star ribbon towards Master Eraqus. The three apprentices flinched as one, as if it was a bomb set to blow.
You never knew.
"I…got your delivery…"mumbled the equally battered figure.
Terra, Aqua, and Ventus's mouths dropped open. "Delivery?"
"From a Master Yen Sid. Not exactly on time, though," continued the dark-robed delivery man.
Eraqus took it wordlessly, looked over it with expressionless eyes, and then lifted his stern gaze. A frown was tugging down both corners of his mouth, giving him a hard look. "Well. You have completed your delivery, and I thank you." A pause. Then he said in a tone that would allow no argument, "You've trained my students as well, it would seem. Off with you, then!"
Aqua winced. It sounded as if he was demanding instead of politely sending him away.
The courier bowed low, and her heart stung in sympathy for him as he stiffened against the pain the action caused. "Y-Yes, sir." Only when he was just beyond the door did he turn around, disappearing down the steps.
The surroundings finally made themselves known to the female Keybearer as she registered them. Deep, rich colors and book shelves…desks and fine paintings…this was certainly Eraqus's personal chambers. It was surprising that the door hadn't been locked.
Or maybe it had.
Troubled, Aqua inquired, "Couldn't we heal his wounds? It's our fault that he's hurt." Technically, it was Terra's. She had been aiming to subdue, but her friend's attacks could be enough to kill the poor courier.
Her brown-haired companion was aware of this, shifting uneasily. "He could have just told us."
"We didn't really let him," Ven replied guiltily.
Eraqus answered Aqua's question. "I'm afraid not. The healing arts are Light aligned, and will do little for a being of Darkness. The Darkness can only heal so much itself as well." His eyes were following his magician apprentice's as she stared after the black-robed man.
Aqua said slowly, "So you're letting him heal on his own." Unhappy with the prospect, she tore her gaze away and focused on her Master.
He sighed, folding his arms across his chest, scowling at the floor. He looked cross and irritated. "You are dismissed."
This was completely unlike Eraqus. "But Master-" Aqua objected, only to be silenced with a glare.
"C'mon, Aqua," Terra muttered. Ven shepherded her towards the steps, his blue eyes as thoughtful as the eldest apprentice's.
Is the Master…afraid of Darkness?
Aqua knew he had a prejudice against the shadows that should be engraved in her own mind, but it wasn't. Not quite. She pulled away from her friends and called, "I'll meet you guys in the Training Room!"
She was relieved when they didn't follow. Bolting down the familiar corridors as fast she could, breathing hard, the girl burst past the doors and arrived outside. The sun was beginning to set, and she wondered how long they had spent chasing the mail courier.
Glancing around, Aqua said, "Are you out here? I'm sorry we hurt you, we didn't know…If you're still here, I'll try and heal you!"
Silence, except for the birds. Feeling foolish, the girl turned back towards the Castle.
"That's nice of you," a tired but amused sounding voice laughed behind her.
Turning, Aqua beheld the bedraggled not-so-enigmatic man a few feet from her. With his tattered robe and slightly hunched stance, he resembled an exotic crow with a broken wing.
She hesitantly stepped towards him, her courage flaring as her heart reacted to his presence. She trusted her heart, and it told her he wasn't an enemy.
A little late for that, she mused.
Aqua put her hands over his chest and breathed, "Cure."
She felt the green energy tugging at her strength, flowing from her fingers and brightly illuminating his dark cloak. Even though she put all of her remaining vigor into it, the spell seemed to be…slipping. Her magic couldn't find a hold, tripping and struggling around his physical being. It was as if he were something else entirely from her. Alien.
Regardless, even though the effort left her breathless, she succeeded in at least sealing the wound so he wasn't bleeding—but now that she thought about it, she had seen no blood either…
"Hey, thanks for that. But you better get inside before your Master…"
"Right. Yes. I'm sorry again." Aqua smiled and she stepped back, walking towards her home. She turned at the last second and asked the courier, "Who are you?"
"Me? Nothing special, just a simple messenger."
This was a request from CrimsonDarkness 0013, and I have to admit, I'm scared. The "courier" is actually Crimson's original character—The Messenger. I have a horrid time writing OCs. I mean if I screw a canon character up that's bad enough, but when you screw up an author's character that you actually know and respect…
But I hope you enjoy nonetheless, or I seriously owe you another story. That's my policy.
Anyway, reviews are appreciated!