Chapter 1 - Ventus
Land of Departure, Three years before Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep
"Terra. Terra, wake up. Now."
Terra groaned and rolled on to his side, mentally berating himself for his laziness. He didn't want to get up. It was too early. He shouldn't have needed to get up for another hour, but Aqua persisted, shaking his shoulder.
"Come on, Terra. Get up, or Master Eraqus will have us landscape the entire world for the next month. After we finish training."
'Motivation enough,' he mused, opening his eyes and forcing himself to sit up. "I'm up, I'm up. Now get out so I can get dressed."
Without arguing, Aqua left, and he hefted himself out of bed, his limbs sore. Consistent daily training did that, but it was easier to warm up once you were in the habit. He dressed quickly, slowing down only when he got his elbow caught in the sleeve of his shirt. Strapping on his armor, he headed off, jogging lightly to wake himself up. In less than ten minutes, both apprentices were standing outside, waiting.
The Land of Departure was the training ground and home of Master Eraqus, where he trained his apprentices. During the day, it was a beautiful thing to see; the white castle standing prominently amongst the lakes and trees, the two golden chains connecting it to the mountaintops. Early in the morning, before the sun rose, it was something else entirely. The light of the approaching sun stretched across the sky, the eastern horizon glowing yellow, branching out into green and then in to shades of blue that darkened as they reached over their heads and behind the castle.
To Terra, the Land of Departure was more than just home. It was a sanctuary from the horrors of the life he had left behind. His first few years as an apprentice had been spent updating the maps Eraqus kept, so he had explored and memorized the layout of most of the world. Aqua had spent a lot of time there too; mostly out on training missions.
After about ten minutes, when Terra was on the verge of falling asleep on his feet, the door behind them opened, and they turned in attention. Eraqus emerged, looking critically at them. The master was getting on in his years, his appearance a bit feeble and weak, but that was no excuse to underestimate him. 'Master Eraqus could probably take on an army and still come out smelling like roses. He wouldn't even break a sweat.' He lingered at the door, his back to them, before he vanished inside again. When he reemerged, he was pulling a boy behind him.
The odd pair stopped in front of the apprentices, who remained still, carefully observing the boy. Something about him tugged at the back of Terra's mind, but he ignored it. He was young; probably no older then he had been when he had first met Aqua. His clothes were half black and half white, his armor a yellowish and silver chunk of metal on his shoulder. He had blond hair and blue eyes, and looking at him, a shiver ran up the oldest apprentice's spine. The boy's eyes were dark and lifeless, giving off the impression that he was dead.
Eraqus cleared his throat, and his students returned their attention to him. He gestured to the boy. "This is Ventus. From this day forward, he's an apprentice, just as you are. Today, your training will be to look after him."
Terra titled his head a bit, questioningly. "What about you, Master?"
"I've handled this one enough," the Master smiled wryly, but his eyes betrayed his confidence. They read frustration, a look that Terra recognized from his younger days. His patience had been exhausted, so he was dumping the problem onto his more youthful apprentices. "I'll leave you to it."
He watched his master leave, not breaking eye contact with his back until the door blocked it from sight. With a sigh, he glanced sheepishly over at Aqua, and then turned to Ventus. The boy was staring blankly at them, his mouth open slightly, not even blinking once. Terra fought off the urge to poke him, wondering if he would topple over if he did. He looked unsteady on his feet, but not to the point where he was wobbling.
Aqua took the initiative and spoke up. "It's nice to meet you, Ventus."
There was no reply. He just continued to stare at them, blank and empty.
"Are we sure he's alive?" Terra asked, and got elbowed for it.
"Of course he is! Don't say such stupid things!"
Looking at the boy again, he wasn't so sure. His eyes radiated emptiness, and Terra cringed. "He looks pretty dead to me," he mumbled absently, staring off in the distance. The sun was closer to rising, turning the sky farthest from its position a light purple.
Aqua was appraising the kid, leaning forward to get a better look at him. She waved her hand in front of his face, and his head turned slightly, but it wasn't much of a reaction. "I'm not sure what do to," she admitted.
"Let me try." Closing the distance between them, he snapped his fingers in front of Ventus. Slowly, the boy blinked, but only once. "Well, now we know he's breathing."
She elbowed him again. "Be polite. He can still hear us."
"I'm beginning to wonder about that…"
Ventus blinked again, this time without any stimulus, and they turned back to him, startled. He blinked again, accompanied by a questioning sound. 'He looks likes someone who just woke up from a long nap and he doesn't remember how he ended up there.' He noticed that the boy's eyes were lighter, like someone had lit a match in a dark room but had yet to turn on the lights. 'He's alive, alright, but not entirely there.'
Aqua tried again. "Hello, Ventus. Can you hear me?"
Terra rolled his eyes. "He's not deaf, Aqua."
"It's worth a shot."
Ventus turned his head slowly in her direction, blinking lazily. She smiled, but he didn't react further.
She sighed. "I give up. I see why Master Eraqus dumped him on us."
"You know, we're going to have to treat him like a two year old. I don't think he knows anything."
Aqua looked at him, confused. "You think? I mean… he does look… out there… but it's not like he's been living in a bubble for all his life, right?"
"He'll need us to teach him. That's all I'm saying."
"Don't tell me. It's your 'I know these kinds of things' ability. Are you sure you're sure?"
Terra sighed. He'd mentioned it to her before, but he'd never actually told her. He had clairvoyance, the ability to look into the future, a power he couldn't control. It sent images to his mind of things that were going to happen and it always seemed to be right. 'I'll be the first to admit, it sounds like a crazy ability, but it works, whether I like it or not. And most of the time, I don't like it. This time, though, I know. Ventus needs us to teach him.' "I'm sure I'm sure, alright?"
"Well, we should probably show him around, then."
"If he can walk."
She glared. "Of course he can walk. How do you think he got here?"
"With the way Master Eraqus was dragging him," Terra replied with a shrug, "I'm not sure…"
Aqua turned back to Ventus. "Come on. We'll show you the castle. It's a lot bigger than it looks. Okay?"
The boy just blinked, another questioning sound issuing from his half open mouth. Rolling her eyes, Aqua grabbed his wrist lightly and started dragging him along, Terra walking beside her.
"I never knew babysitting was in the job description when I signed up," he mused with a smirk.
"Then you shouldn't have sighed up," Aqua replied shortly, "You were younger then this when you became a-ACK!"
The female Keyblade wielder was instantly yanked backwards, vanishing from his line of sight with a shriek. Glancing back he saw that Ventus had passed out, dropping to the ground, his weight catching the unprepared apprentice off guard. He laughed as she sat up and brushed her windswept hair off her face.
"Very funny," she growled, and that only made him laugh more. "Help me with him. He's heavier than he looks."
Shaking his head with a bemused smile, he picked the kid up in his arms, shifting the added weight until he had a steady hold. Nodding that he was ready, they went into the castle, Aqua leading the way to open doors. It took a little searching to find the new apprentice's room, but when they did, Terra was tempted to drop him unceremoniously on the bed. 'He is heavier than he looks. If I had to carry him any longer, my arms would probably fall off.' They closed the door when they left, walking down the hall a bit before they started talking.
"I feel bad for him," Aqua muttered.
Terra was rolling his shoulders. "I feel bad for my arms."
She elbowed him in the ribs. "Can you take conversation seriously for once?"
"With you?" He pretended to think about it. "Never."
They descended into laughter, with Aqua threatening to push him down the stairs if he didn't smarten up. Their conversation echoed off the open spaces and empty walls of the castle interior. It was a big place for only the three - now four - of them, but it was home.
Clearing his throat, Terra's face scrunched up in an attempt to be serious. "Why do you feel bad for him, anyway?"
"Something must have happened to make him like that. No one can be born like that, or grow up that way, so something horrible must have happened to him."
An awkward silence passed between them, both silently acknowledging the concept.
"Whatever it is," he grumbled, "it's not our business to know."
"But what if we can-!"
"We can't do anything to change it. What's past is past. All we can do now is help him get over it."
Aqua didn't look satisfied with that answer, resting her hand against her chest. Terra resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Aqua only did that when she was anxious about something and he realized how much it was bothering her, but it seemed to him like she was blowing the situation out of proportion.
"Listen," he grumbled, talking slowly to sort out his words, "it seems to me like his memory might have been affected by… whatever it was, so he may not remember. If he does, we'll ask him about it, or we could see if Master Eraqus knows anything."
Aqua glanced over at him, her eyes unreadable, and she smiled. "Maybe. Thanks, Terra."
"Never mind," she laughed, and hopped down the stairs ahead of him. "Let's go."
Ventus was asleep for the rest of the day, and the two other apprentices used their time wisely. They spent the rest of the morning and all of the afternoon training, each of them taking turns to check on their sleeping comrade. As Master Eraqus had locked himself up in his rooms, neither of them saw much of him, so the time spent in the castle was as much of a break as they would get.
Terra, flexing and massaging his sore muscles, used the time to think. He had a lot on his mind, and most of it involved Ventus. 'He seems like a good enough kid. A little blank, maybe, but the can be dealt with. Problem is, I've seen this before. I've seen him like this before, and somehow I know he'll be fine. It's that clairvoyance acting up again.' He rubbed his temples, walking with his eyes closed until he hit his unarmored shoulder on a corner. He cursed under his breath for a minute before he sighed heavily and leaned up against the wall.
"You've been pushing yourself a little too hard, Terra," Aqua said firmly, expressing her concern as she caught up to him, "You need to get some rest."
"It's late, anyway, so no complaints. I'm going to sleep, and you'd be smart to do the same." Without waiting for a reply, she walked off, covering her mouth with her hands as she gave a silent yawn.
Rolling his eyes after her, he went back to his room, still in the same state of mess it had been in when he'd left it in the morning. Peeling off his armor, he stacked it neatly on the table next to his bed and dropped himself on the mattress, kicking his armored boots lazily to the floor. He usually did that: sleeping in his clothes until he got enough energy to change out of them. He closed his eyes and was beginning to drift off when it came.
Sitting up with a jerk, Terra gasped for air, startled, and then placed his hand against his face, trying to clear his head. It wasn't the suddenness of what he saw that startled him, and it wasn't a violent image that he'd seen, though his clairvoyance often showed him such things. It was the emotions associated with it that surprised him, smothering him like a thick blanket.
He'd seen himself, with Aqua and Ventus, and the three of them were smiling, laughing at some joke the future him wasn't telling the present him. What had startled him was the overpowering and pure happiness, and he could feel in his heart that he was the happy one, finally having found something to make his life complete.