*sniff*

You guys! I missed you so much! It's been about a year since I started this story and it only has 15 chapters! Q_Q (16 now, I suppose).

But have no fear! I have returned! I've gotta formally thank all those who reviewed even when I wasn't around. It really lifted me up! I wrote and extra long chapter for you guys to make up for my insolence..! Ohh, I hope I haven't lost any readers. I go totally nuts for reviews and pageviews. XC

Thanks again you guys. I'll finish this story, I swear!


.:Xion's POV:.

.

I must have accidentally set my alarm last night, because it went off at 10:00. Curse my stupidity. My hand reached over and whapped it off.

It seemed to be some kind of omen that I had to get up, though, because the sounds outside my bedroom were unmistakable. Everyone in the house was up but me.

Ugh. Great.

I pushed myself out of bed, glanced at myself in the mirror (bedhead) and shuffled to my bedroom door.

All the fun at the boardwalk yesterday really had me spent (even though I didn't buy anything. Haha, get it?). After my nap on the train, I was probably the most energetic one in our group… and also couldn't sleep come that night. So, of course, I stayed up till one in the morning reading my tenth good book of the summer.

And then I had trouble waking up at my normal time.

It was a feat to get up at 10, even.

I made my way – slowly – out into the hallway… but the second my foot touched the rug floor Sora was in my face, yelling.

"XIONNN!" He announced, jumping around. I winced.

"WHAAA?"

"GET READY! TODAY'S THE DAY!"

"Whaa?" My mouth was hanging open slightly in confusion and shock. WHAT was he talking about?

Dad, in his slippers, came padding up the stairs and placed a hand on my crazy brother's shoulder. "Calm down, son," he mumbled, obviously still in a morning mood like me. "Everyone in town can hear you."

Sora didn't seem to calm down much. His eyes remained wide and a grin stayed spread across his face (he was even bouncing up and down a little) – but he did stop yelling. I'll give him that.

Dad turned to me.

"Xion," he said, newspaper wedged under his arm. "Got a call earlier this morning. I'm leaving to work at a factory inDawnCityfor a few days this afternoon."

I nodded, not sure whether or not I should be sad. This wasn't a new story. "Okay, Dad," I said and smiled at him slightly.

Sora immediately began talking again, cutting off whatever further conversation Dad and I would have shared. "XION!" He grinned, shaking me by my shoulders.

Dad chuckled and began walking back downstairs.

I groaned. "Whaaat?"

"We're going to the beach again today! You have to get dressed!"

"Now? It's Ten AM!" Dang it. Something told me I shouldn't have been up so late last night.

"I know! But everyone's gonna be there!" He stopped shaking me and ran to the door of his room, probably thinking of getting dressed himself.

"At Ten?"

"I don't know. Maybe in a couple hours. But we're going!"

Another moan managed to escape me before I could stop it. "Do I have to?"

"YES!" His voice became muffled as he entered his room and closed the door, clearly looking for me to do the same.

Dang.

It was a hectic morning already.

I turned around, grasped my doorknob, and went back into my room to get dressed as instructed. What was so special about today? We just went to the beach yesterday.

When I'm tired I'm not exactly the best outfit-chooser, so I picked out some black shorts and an orange novelty t-shirt. Probably looked like I was dressed for Halloween or something stupid like that. Jeez.

And then I was out in the hallway again, hearing Sora… downstairs? Already? He was like like some kind of magic or something.

"XION!" He was yelling up at me, to the sound of clinking plates. "I'm making you a sandwich!"

Whaat? A sandwich? How long were we going to be out?

Either way, I rushed downstairs, snatching the knife and marshmallow spread from my brother. Every time he made me a sandwich, it involved something gross like Fluff or another thing made of pure sugar.

I wouldn't allow him to taint my food that way.

Plus I didn't even need to pack a lunch.

"Sora," I said, trying to make my voice sound soothing. It was a feat, considering the confusion I was in. "I do not need a sandwich."

"You suuure?"

"Yes."

My brother took off towards the exit. "C'mon then! C'mon c'mon!"

"Wh—" I didn't even have enough time to get the question out before Sora was back into the kitchen, dragging me to the door, and putting on his shoes. "Ahhh wait!" It took a lot of effort to tug my arm from Sora's grasp.

"Do you need a sandwich now?" Sora scoffed at me, rolling his eyes. "Psh, girls."

"No!" I barked. "Why are we even leaving? It's—" I looked at my wrist.

Shoot. No watch.

Sora grinned at me.

Ah, now I felt like a loser.

"At least let me get my phone, huh?" I snapped, backing up before turning to go once again up the stairs and into my room. What was this even about? Going to the beach? Sora's never even been this interested in it before. Sure, he loves it, but not this much. He's literally dragging me around.

"HURRYYY!" He yelled from downstairs, as if to prove this.

Yikes.

No later than a second after my fingers closed around my cell phone it vibrated wildly, making me jump.

Huh?

I flipped it open to look at the message.

Hey, Xion :)
Waiting for you at the beach~ Can't wait
to see you, girl!

From: Yuna

To: Me

I kinda stared blankly at the message for a second – but Sora snapped me back to reality.

"HEL-LLOOO!"

"I'm coming, Jeez!" I yelled back down, shoving my phone in my pants pocket and running down the hallway.

I knew I had Yuna's number, but I wouldn't have suspected in a million years that she'd text me. What was that all about?

And how did she know we were going to the beach?

Okay. Officially creepy.

The second I made it all the way downstairs Sora was opening and slamming the door, running outside. "Hurry, Xion!" he called, impatiently jumping up and down in his green shirt and cargo shorts. All right, all right. Heard it the first time.

I slipped into some flip flops and followed the hyper boy out. He, (like always) began running ahead of me, hardly looking back.

"Everyone's gonna be there! Kairi and Namine and Riku and—"

"I get it, I get it!" I said, chuckling as Sora took off down the street, waaaay ahead of me. I was walking. I mean, I didn't even know where we were going. It didn't matter.

What really stood out in his sentence, though, was Riku.

So he'd be there. It felt like a while since I'd…

"Sora! Wait up!" I called suddenly, laughing and trying desperately to catch up with my madly sprinting brother.

X

(TT_TT)

X

((I really need to stop with the cheap cuts.))

I was falling behind Sora until we reached Roxas's house on the edge of our neighborhood. Apparently this (mysterrrrious) event was so big that everyone was going, including my cousin and Yuna and… well… Everyone. Yeah.

My brother was slamming on Roxas's front door like the apocalypse was coming hard and fast around the corner, while yelling for him to come out in a very Sora-ish way.

"ROXASSSSSS COME OUT NOWWWWW IT'S TIMMMEEE YOU PROMISED YOU'D BE REEEEEADYYY!"

"And I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow the house down," I added, standing on the sidewalk and chuckling.

I always thought Roxas's house was a lot more trim and pretty than ours – the kind with the little gardens in the front, the green lawn, the yellow paint..

Ours was more of the old one you tend to steer away from in case it turned out to be a crack house cleverly placed in a decent neighborhood.

Then again, the differences could have been due to our parents. Roxas had the… well, if I haven't mentioned it before… the controlling, you-don't-want-to-be-around parents. They were constantly on Mom's and Dad's backs for leaving us alone all the time.

As if on cue to my thoughts, Mrs. Koizumi ((A/N I may change the last name at some point. XD)) answered the door, decked out in heels and glasses and momwear. She looked as much like Roxas as she always did (her face, anyway), despite her short cut black hair. Obviously dyed that way – but my mom did the same thing, so I wouldn't be one to judge.

Sora instantly shaped up, as he should have.

"Er, hi Auntie Mary," he greeted politely, not up for some kind of rant about how ratty he was looking that day.

"Hello Sora, Xion. Roxas is upstairs cleaning his room, he'll be down as soon as he's finished."

"Can't I finish later?" The voice of our cousin called from far up the stairs, which were visible from view of the doorway.

His mom tapped her foot impatiently. "To go on this trip, you promised you'd clean your room thoroughly."

"I'll do it later!"

Annoyed huff. "Then hurry downstairs! The door is open and it's letting bugs in!"

Sora and I stood awkwardly, shuffling our feet into the dirt as Aunt Mary raised her voice. She was a work-at-home mom, who used the computer often. Sora and I once deduced that she always dressed nicely because she never got to do so every morning to get ready for work like other people.

I digress. Roxas came bounding down the stairs moments later to greet us, smile on his face.

"Sorry 'bout that. Bye mom!" He waved to her without looking back, spurring me and Sora to do the same – plus a friendly nod in her direction. Anything to not get her angry at us.

"Stay safe!" She called as we began walking. Roxas barely nodded in acknowledgment.

Auntie went back inside and shut the door by the time we were halfway down the street, and all of us breathed a sigh of relief in total unison. Seriously though. Under her watchful eye is so creepy.

"So," Roxas said, grinning. "Can't 's gonna meet us there, right?"

"Everything's alllll planned out," Sora replied smoothly. What? What was planned out? And how come everyone knew what was going on but me!

"Sweet," my cousin chuckled. "Can't wait, it's gonna be the coolest thing."

"What!" I snapped, finally breaking. I couldn't go on forever not knowing, know what I mean?

"Didn't you hear?" Roxas questioned, Sora already picking up the pace and moving on ahead of us. I felt like I was in a terrible sitcom. "There's a tournament on the beach."

What? "What kind of tournament?"

"A Ninja Tournament! It's the first annual one or something – isn't that awesome! I'm not gonna compete, but.."

Okay, what? What? A ninja tournament? "What!" I repeated my thoughts out loud to my cousin, naturally confused. "I don't even… who even knows what that game is!"

Come to think of it, I wasn't sure what the game was myself. It sounded really familiar, but I couldn't put my finger on when and where I heard of it.

The blonde shrugged. "I dunno, but it's popular enough. I saw the poster the other day. See? There's one."

I followed his pointing finger to see that – yeah, I'm shocked too – there were three or four posters put consecutively next to each other on the wall of a brick building. I couldn't exactly read them, but it didn't take too much guessing to figure out what they'd say.

This thing was more serious than I thought. Sora actually brought me out for a reason. Whoa.

What a shock.

"This is… pretty dumb," I muttered. Probably still irritable from not getting enough sleep – but honestly! Think about it! A volleyball tournament I could get. But… Ninja? For real?

Still… though it was the complete most random thing in this town since the Struggle, you had to give them some credit. It would be fun to watch.

Roxas shrugged in response to my biting comment. "I guess. But it's gonna be cool." True enough.

Sora was already far ahead of us – and now that I looked I could see him.. over at the ice cream store. Buying… Y'know, I'll give you three guesses.

"XION!" He called to me, waving. Roxas and I were just barely close enough to hear his high powered yell. "WHAT FLAVOR D'YOU WANT!"

"SEA SALT!" I replied, voice level equal to his. It was only the singular flavor I get every time.

"MAKE THAT TWOO!" Roxas added. Of course. Roxas and I loved sharing sea salt ice cream. When we were younger we used to head to the top of the Clocktower and eat it – but the entrance was closed last winter and we hadn't done it since. Axel came too until he started getting jobs. Then he just… stopped.

An exchange took place over the counter just as we approached Sora, and he handed us our ice cream – but not without taking a bite out of mine.

"Hey!" I hissed. He chuckled.

"Have a nice day – losers," the employee at the window growled to us, before Sora could aptly reply. Whoa. Talk about good business strategy. I turned my head to look at who made the comment.

Vivi?

Since when was he working here? The short kid was obviously scowling at us even though his face was obscured by the hood of his sweatshirt. There was even the movement and shadow of him sticking his tongue out at me.

"Aren't you a little young to have a part time job?" I questioned – though really I should have said nothing at all. Call it a slip of the tongue.

He flipped me off. How nice.

"Why so serious, Son?" Sora questioned, laughing loudly at his own Dark Knight reference that made no sense in the context.

"No reason. Shaddup," Vivi snapped at us in return. Roxas arched an eyebrow.

"Riiight. Well, it's been a pleasure doing business with you, Vivi."

The three of us turned away and continued along the sidewalk, trying not to glance back until we were a decent distance away from the ice cream window. Sora managed to make the situation worse by yelling something when we were on our way.

"I thought ice cream men were supposed to be JOLLY!"

Roxas and I stopped and cringed, waiting for the angry tirade that would come from his snide remark. But none came. Lucky break there.

"Please don't provoke him," I muttered to my brother. "You know he's in with Seifer."

"Seifer can suck it," Sora scoffed. Oh please.

"Whatever."

And on we walked.

It was mostly in silence – since we were all eating icy treats. I had to focus on not letting mine drip all over my fingers, of course, which was enough to restrain me from talking at all. Despite this silence and the seemingly slow pace of our long walk, the parking lot to the beach was soon in sight from a distance… and on the horizon, the ocean sparkled.

"Finally!" Roxas chuckled, being the first to speak as he chomped off the last of his ice cream. I'm incapable of biting into the popsicles, myself. "Anyone got the time?"

I whipped out my phone after switching my ice cream stick to only one hand. Mine appeared to be barely dented.

Hey, I'm slow at eating ice cream, all right?

"Almost 11," I replied, glancing briefly at the wallpaper clock. Sora chewed on his empty popsicle stick excitedly.

"We have an hour, then, right? This tournament's gonna be the shit!"

I rolled my eyes at him – how many times have I done that today alone? – and stuffed my phone back into my pocket. The parking lot was closer now. I could see the sand from behind the coarse bushes that lined the entrance – and, in the distance, I could catch some sort of giant structure placed on the beach next to the boardwalk. For the tournament no doubt.

When we were nearer to the parking lot Sora and Roxas took a detour to throw away their popsicle sticks (at least they don't dump them on the ground) but somehow got into an argument and took off in a race to settle the matter. Naturally, I wouldn't follow them. They were headed for the site of the tournament, so I could catch up to them later anyway.

To finish my ice cream I stood next to the trash can, surveying the cars parked by the beach. Sora said everyone would be at the tournament. Was it really that important? I probably wouldn't have been there if he didn't drag me out of bed, sooo…

Eh, it didn't matter. It would be pretty fun to be a part of the audience, cheering everyone on. I wondered briefly who would participate in the whole production. Namine said Riku was amazing at Ninja – so maybe he'd be competing! He'd definitely win. What if I bought him some sort of 'congrats for winning' present?

Heh. Not a bad idea, Xion.

Suddenly, a familiar jeep ((A/N That's the type of car, right? :C)) pulled up – and the very sight of it made my heart jolt. It was Riku's jeep!

Before heading to a parking space it pulled up right in front of me and the tinted window to the passenger seat rolled down…

To reveal Namine.

"Hey Xion!" She greeted, smile on her face. "What're you doing, standing here all by your lonesome?"

My eyes flickered to the driver's seat, only to find Namine's blonde mom grinning at me as well. So… no Riku?

"Just finishing this up," I chuckled back, holding out my ice cream. I took a couple licks as if to demonstrate my ambition to complete this quest. Namine laughed.

"Ok, we can walk to the beach together! This is gonna be so awesome!"

"I know right!"

Nam gave me a little wave as her mom drove off to find an empty space to park – and I took that time to eat the rest of my ice cream as quickly as I could. This left me with a terrible brain freeze.

Crap! I usually only got those while drinking!

Namine and her mom approached to find me moaning in pain, clutching my head.

"…You ok?" Namine questioned. I nodded weakly.

"Augh, brain freeze!"

My friend laughed out loud again, making me wonder what it was that I did that was so funny. Her mom chimed in.

"Okay, Namine. You can go to the beach with Xion. Just be sure to keep in touch, all right?"

"'Kay, Mom. Thanks!"

"Yeah, thank you," I added, trying to sound as sweet as possible despite the freezing cold pain. But, ah, it was dying down now.

Namine and I began our trek, pushing through the spiny bushes (ouch) to reach and begin walking on the white, powdery sand. Her mom stood behind us with a smirk on her face as she watched us go.

"So is Roxas here?" Namine questioned. She tilted her chin up to glance out over the beach. "Or… or Sora?" It sounded like she added the second name to make it appear as if she cared about anyone other than Roxas.

"Yeah, he and Sora took off. They should be by the stage-thingy over there.. I think.." Was that a stage? I could barely tell.

"Omigosh! This is gonna be SO exciting! I've been waiting for this for SOO long!"

I let out a quick breath of exasperation. How'd I miss all the propaganda about this tournament? How long had it been advertized? Namine was generally more well-informed than me, due to her often more charismatic nature. She didn't pay much attention to the other 'acquaintances' she got, however, since she enjoyed hanging out with our own group, but make no mistake, a lot of people knew her.

Kind of different from me. I don't have many other friends outside our inner group.

"So…" I began, clearing my throat. "Is Riku here? I thought that was his car."

"Nah, that's my mom's car, remember?" Namine chuckled. On the surface, it appeared that she took no notice of my peculiar question. I normally didn't ask too much about Riku. "He stayed home today. Not feeling well I guess."

Can't argue with that, I suppose. I almost stumbled while trekking through the thick sand, face red from embarrassment (how could I ASK that question? She probably thinks I'm obsessed with her brother or something!) but Namine caught me by the arm with a chuckle. I laughed it off as well, something I tend to easily do.

But still.

"Ooh! The stage is so close!" Namine giggled, excited out of her mind. Come to think of it, though, I was feeling excited too. I'd never been around for the "first annual" anything.

"I gotta admit, this will be fun," I smiled, slipping one hand into my pocket. "Look, there's already a crowd gathering!"

It was true, naturally. We were approaching the stage from behind (there was a giant Ninja banner hanging from it) but even from our angle we could see people from the sides and hear the tremendous bustle. The town really knew how to advertize.

Except just not to me, of course.

The boardwalk was filled with people as well, which made it a feat for Namine and me to climb onto it and actually begin walking. But we did. I saw Namine scan her eyes through the groups of people – while I took the time to glaze my eyes over the kiosks to see if Roxas and Sora were there. Or anyone else for that matter. Too bad Riku wasn't around..

"I'm starving!" Namine announced after deducting that Roxas wasn't around (this is just my speculation, here, but c'mon.) "I missed breakfast this morning 'cause I was so busy."

"Busy with what?" Nam was always busy.

"I was serving at a pancake breakfast – that one to benefit the new tram track being built!"

Okayyy… didn't hear about that one either. "Oh… sorry I missed it," I replied, actually feeling sorry. "You didn't have time to eat breakfast because you were too busy serving it?"

"Yep!"

"Well… we can get some." I didn't remember if I'd had any breakfast either, but I could've gone for a snack anyway. Nam and I pushed through the crowd of people to the stand we frequently went to, 'Smoothies Plus'. The name implies that they serve more than just smoothies, which they do – but their classic Strawberry Banana Mix is all I ever get there anyway.

Unfortunately, there was quite the line at Smoothies Plus, so much that it kind of had to curve over to avoid the groups travelling along the boardwalk in masses. It looked like less of a line and more of a huge heap of people standing together. Namine and I were troubled by this.

"Maybe we could skip it?" I questioned, frown crossing my face as I observed the size of the line and tried to somehow calculate how long we'd be waiting.

"I'm starved though!" Namine sighed in obvious anguish. She crossed her arms and tapped her flip-flopped foot in thought. "This is the only even remote breakfast place. Look, maybe you can secure us a spot or something, find Roxas and Sora…"

"While you wait in line?" I completed Namine's sentence with an even deeper frown and a shake of my head. "No way! You can't brave this alone!"

She chuckled. "I guess. Thanks Xion."

And then we began to wait. And wait. I checked my phone periodically to make sure time was actually passing. I scuffed lines into the ground with my foot every so often to assure myself that the line was actually moving.

Needless to say, I'm bad at waiting and Smoothies Plus isn't large enough to suit this many customers.

The crowd seemed to be thinning out just slightly behind us, as they most likely began to take their seats or find a spot on the beach or whatever they were doing. Where was Sora? Could they already be sitting? From where we stood I could get an awesome view of the front of the stage through brief breaks in the wave of pedestrians.

It was, indeed, a stage sitting on the beach at low tide. Almost like a runway but not quite, since it was wider and shorter. There were no "chairs", per se, but colorful towels set on the sand everywhere to mark of spaces chosen by people. I immediately cursed in my mind for not bringing a towel myself. Sora didn't either.

Banners hung from every lamp post in sight and one large, readable flag saying "Ninja Tournament" flew from the front of the stage as well. It was a nice setup for something that wasn't around yesterday.

I looked back to see that the line had barely moved. Ugh. Clock, please tell me time still exists. A glance at my phone wallpaper proved that it was 11:10 and, yes, time had not yet run away. Good. I was about to strike up some casual conversation with Namine (who appeared to be texting) when, suddenly, (yes, as sudden as that), someone pulled me out of the line. Just pulled me out.

Not kidding.

At first, in this crowd, I felt a pang of fear. C'mon, isn't it natural? It could be a rapist, or a pedophile. Or some crazy person that's about to kill me between the two kiosks they pulled me over to.

"Xion! Soo glad you made it!"

Huh—ah. It was Yuna, of course. "Hi! I greeted happily, straightening my back. The fear instantly disappeared from within me as I saw her smiling warmly, lifting one hand to wave. It didn't escape my view, however, that the girl appeared to have some… arm candy.

A specific type of arm candy that I didn't like. The kind whose name was Seifer.

Since when is Yuna hanging out with that guy? My happy beam quickly turned into a look of sour confusion, but Yuna missed this completely.

Seifer seemed kind of smug (which didn't help matters) while Yuna laughed and patted my shoulder. Everything about her pretty much made her seem like a parent figure, y'know?

"Great to see you! I was looking around for you but didn't see you here. Did you just arrive?"

"Uh.. yeah," I muttered, taking my eyes from the douchebag next to Yuna. My hand went up to brush some of my black hair (growing out) behind my ear. "My friend and I. We just arrived." Talk about awwwkward.

"Awesome – so, I just signed you up. You were one of the last spots and I barely got there in time."

It took a moment for me to register the magnitude of her comment.

"Oh, cool. Yeah. Namine and I w— Wait, WHAT?"

"I signed you up. For the tournament." Yuna seemed confused that I was confused. Wow, confusing. "It starts in just a little while, so I can lead you backstage to get ready."

"WHAT?" I repeated, feeling rather like a skipping record. What? What? What?

"You're number 30, since only 30 people can fit on the stage with enough room to play. C'mon, let's go! Bye Seifer~"

She touched Seifer's cheek before taking my hand to bring me (still in shock) along, off the boardwalk and towards the stage. The crowd… almost seemed to part in front of us with Yuna in the lead. I heard Seifer's voice fading as we moved.

"Good luck, Xion!" There was a weird quality to his voice – seeming nearly fake.. or… or a little angry, even. A weird feeling to get from a nice comment. Still, though. Since when did SEIFER say NICE things?

"Okay, this is gonna be good," Yuna smiled, approaching the stage. I could see now that there were stairs in a stepladder-like fashion that led behind the black curtain.

"WHY would you sign me up for this?" I yelped, then, unable to control my utter shock. Normally I try not to have outbursts with new friends (so I can keep them) but COME ON. She signed me up to be a public spectacle without my knowledge!

"Shh, not so loud. Oh. Well," Yuna began, brushing off my explosion with a simple 'shh'. "I'm helping out with this project and needed to find some people to do it. We were short around three entries… and you seemed like you'd like it!" Insert smile here.

Really. Really? Seemed like I'd LIKE it? She barely KNEW me! I was completely speechless.

We arrived backstage, which wasn't very big at all but it was packed with people – every contestant, talking and assuring who would win (each person betted on themselves, of course.) The whole place was filled with boxes and seemed rather creaky and wooden and unpainted. I was squeamish in the area, but Yuna seemed perfectly fine as she led me surely to a pile of papers and picked out the one that said "30" on it in big bold letters.

I was still having trouble believing that all of this was actually going on. "I don't think I can—"

"Oh, you'll do fine. Now stand in the group with the others, we're ahead of schedule so I'm going to explain the rules to everyone," Yuna patted my shoulder for the second time – and her tone of voice nearly convinced me that it'd be fun to participate in this disaster. "We changed them a little for this."

I somehow ended up (stumbled?) in the middle of the huge group of contestants as Yuna went to the front of us, with the back of the curtain behind her, clapping her hands to get our attention. "All right, we're gonna start a little early, folks. Here are the rules!"

Someone nudged me, and I looked over to find Demyx standing there grinning at me, sporting the number 16 on his chest. His long and bizarre mullet-like hairdo was pulled back in a small and low ponytail, probably due to the heat.

"Didn't know you liked this kind of stuff, Xion!" He said to me, bouncing up and down a little in anticipation. "Sweet, amirite?"

"Um… I was kind of forced into it…"

"Well whatever! You got guts I guess."

"Thanks…"

"…and by then, you'll all be onstage," Yuna was in the middle of saying. Shoot, my chat with Demyx made me miss the beginning of her explanation. "Ok!" She called. "Now here are the rules on how to play." The small audience shifted on their feet with anticipation to what changes to the rules would be made. "It's mostly the same as it usually is. Stand in a circle, and try to hit the hand of one of the people next to you using only one motion of your own hand. Get it? You only get one move until everyone gets a chance to make a move all around the circle, and then it comes back to you. If you so choose, you can use that move to jump somewhere else on stage, but you are only allowed one jump. After you make a move, you must freeze in that position, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Moves go in numerical order and must be kept under 5 seconds in length to keep it all moving." Yuna smirked, leading me to believe that she's the one that devised most of this. It was just that kind of smirk. "You have to start in a circle, but it could end up in any shape due to the option to move. I suggest you memorize your number because of this. When your hand gets hit, crouch on the stage until the next round is called, then exit onto the beach through the latter to the left."

There was a pause – since, of course, it was a lot to take in.

"Any questions? No?" Yuna barely gave any time to ask anything before she was turning around to face the curtain instead of us. "Then let the games begin~."

A voice travelling through a microphone and loudspeakers could be heard. "Please return to your designated seats. The Tournament is about to begin."

Yuna then pushed the curtains aside and stepped onstage – only giving us a brief glance of all those sitting on the beach to watch before the black shroud closed behind her. I got a sinking feeling.

It was a lot of people.

"Ladies and gentlemen of Twilight Town!" Yuna called, then, when she apparently must have reached the podium. She had quite a good announcing voice. "Are you ready for the first annual NINJA TOURNAMENT?" A cheer arose from the crowd. Not deafening, but enough to remind someone (like me) that a decent amount of people were going to be watching. "Then I guess we should give it up for the contestants!" Another cheer that almost drowned out Yuna's voice occurred as she continued. "You placed your bets, you made your choices – and now, let's see them! Contestant number one, with chances of 2-1!" A kid from our group ran through the curtain onstage. "Contestant number two, with chances of 5-1!" Yet another ran out of the backstage area to be viewed by all.

EH? We were being betted on? And where'd they get those odds from?

As Yuna was calling out numbers and the crowd was cheering, my phone vibrated, making me jump and whap my pocket to make it stop. I got a few curious looks from contestants.

Ah, but.. retrieving my phone proved that I had gotten a text from Namine.

Whered you go? :(

From: Namine

To: Me

I didn't even have time to start typing a reply before Yuna was only seconds away from calling my number. Backstage had emptied itself pretty quickly and soon I was the only one remaining.

"And, finally," Yuna called, using her impressive announcer voice. "The underdog, with odds of slim to none… Number 30!"

…Slim to none! It took a second for me to recover from being offended by this to realize I had to be running onstage. So… I ran onstage. Sigh.

I could only imagine the reaction of everyone when they finally discovered where I was.

In the circle of players there seemed to be only one spot left between contestants 29 and 1, so I stood there and waited for Yuna to continue. She turned around and shot me a thumbs up.

"There you have them! Your contestants! Last chance to place bets is right this very second, at the betting booths by the corners of the area! The playing starts at the horn!"

We stood there for what felt like hours, sweating. Or at least I was. Maybe I should just purposefully lose early. Nobody betted on me anyway since my chances are so terrible…

But – y'know, for some reason, when the horn sounded, almost echoing in the late morning air….

I won't lie. I felt competitive.

So, when the first set of moves went around the circle, my blood started pumping. A few people got knocked out of the round, making them crouch with dissatisfied looks on their faces. The circle was already beginning to scatter, since some strategically used their moves to jump away from others. When my turn arose, my hands tense and I lunged at number 1….

And hit his hand.

He was out. The contestant (a boy, older than me presumably) shot me a look of disbelief before crouching.

Hah.

"Round one is complete! Losers exit the stage! Round two will consist of two cycles!" Ah, there was Yuna's voice again. It and the crowd seemed kind of muted and muddled and the horn sounded and everyone started up. The circle tightened slightly, and number 29 got knocked out before me… which pretty much gave me a free pass. I lunged for number 2, but he dodged and retaliated by trying to hit me – so, naturally, I sprung back and avoided this assault.

Hey, this was pretty fun!

"Round three! Three cycles!" Ah, so they must increase the cycles every round. My heart pounded in my ears, and despite my racing breath a smirk remained on my face for this game. For round three, I counted quickly before the bell sounded. 21 remaining.

For my next turn I tried again to hit 2, but he once again jumped back and turned around to try and hit 3. Now people were getting into the swing of things and didn't even need 5 seconds to think. The moves were heading around quickly – so quickly that 28 would have hit me if I didn't move a fraction of a second later. Due to this I jumped as far away as I could (couldn't risk getting almost hit again!) to find number 2 jumping closer to me, a determined look on his freckled face.

Oh no he won't.

"Round four! Four cycles! 15 remaining!"

The game went on. 2 tried to knock me out of the game but I ended up jumping forward and hitting his hand – and as soon as I performed the action he sighed in disgust and crouched. I grinned smugly. Yes, I felt competitive indeed.

In round five, someone was hit but tried to keep playing anyway – and the referee had to come onstage and drag them off. (I was almost embarrassed FOR them. Jeez.) Periodically I glanced to Demyx to find that he was doing pretty well, and was often segregated from the group closer to the center. Now, however, there wasn't really a circle at all. It was just random contestants scattered about the stage.

By round six there were only 5 people left, but we were the best of the best.

Yeah.

I was one of them.

Aren't you proud of me?

I was remembering then how I won the short ninja game at Namine's house not too long ago. Maybe I was so good I could even beat Riku…!

No, no. I had to keep my head. Getting too cocky is what makes people lose.

Only a small portion of the stage was being taken up, now, since of course there were only a few left. I almost got knocked out twice in just round six – but luckily didn't. We progressed into the middle of round 7 without losing a single person – but then we lost number 9, who had been persevering well. I was just realizing now that almost every contestant was a boy, but among the finalists there were two girls. Me, of course, and another girl with similar short black hair that I'd never seen before, number 20. She was shorter than me.

Though, yes, she seemed fast and skillful, Demyx knocked her out in round 8 – and then it was only three. Me, Demyx (16), and number 10. I kept feeling compelled to jump back, so I wouldn't get hit and knocked out this late in the game (I didn't want to lose NOW, of all times!) but I resisted, glancing back at Demyx. He didn't seem to be trying to hit me, ever. He only aimed for 10, so I did the same – and soon we were both ganging up on the one remaining boy other than us. It didn't take long for us to knock them out. Yuna immediately brought the microphone to her mouth to speak, just as 10 sighed and left the stage.

"It's down to the two final contestants, 16 and 30, at round 9! Who will win this battle? How long will the final round last?"

The crowd went wild. Guess they actually wanted to know. I looked a Demyx with a smirk, and he grinned widely.

"Good luck!"

"Same to you!" I felt like this round was going to last a long time. We were both pretty good, and had lasted this long… but still, it seemed to me like I'd win. As clumsy as I normally was, it seemed like I had a gift for playing Ninja. It seemed like I was destined to win. A spark went off in my heart, jumpstarting it into a fast beat.

The horn sounded.

X

(=w=)

X

~Mystery POV~

((A/N Yes I'm doing it again. T^T So sorry…))

"I don't care what you say!" I screamed, smashing my fist against the brick wall. The alley was just dark enough for no one to see us, even in daylight. I don't know about hearing, however.

"B-but..!" Rikku began, chewing her nails nervously. "She…!"

"I don't care!" I repeated, grinding my teeth, trying to prevent myself from shaking in rage.. "If she doesn't like us, she doesn't join us. What kind of retarded crap were you thinking by SIGNING HER UP FOR THAT STUPID CONTEST?"

"Y-Yuna said she'd like it…!" The blonde beauty was frowning deeply now, almost whining. Everyone was dying for my approval and praise – yet, how, tell me, did they expect to get it when they refused to use their BRAINS?

"I don't care what Yuna said!"

A slight pause. Rikku's pout deepened as I thought about a punishment… or a solution… or…

"Fine. We'll see how she reacts. If it's bad, you, Yuna, AND Paine will take the fall. You got that?"

"Y-yes sir!"

"Now get the hell out of my sight."

"Rodger that!" Rikku turned on her heel and ran out of the alley as fast as she could manage with me staring laser beams down her back (well not literally, but I might as well have been).

When I was alone, I stood there in the alleyway and rubbed my forehead with my palms in exasperation. Riku seemed like the only one with half a mind around here.

X

(^w^)

X

.:Xion's POV:.

.

I guess it's safe to say I was wrong.

Yeah, I mean, I said the battle would last a really long time. It…

I'm embarrassed to admit it only lasted one cycle. I aimed a blow at Demyx but got too close apparently – because his next move struck me in the hand faster than I could react.

…Yeah.

My eyes widened, and I involuntarily let out an audible, "Aww!" How could it have been over that quickly? And I lost to… HIM? Seems like my hunch was totally wrong…

Demyx laughed and shook my hand, as the crowd went totally nuts.

"THERE you have it, folks!" Yuna called. "The winner of the Ninja Tournament! Number 16! Collect winning bets at the betting booth you applied in!"

Demyx had to yell over all the talking in the crowd for me to hear him. "You're like, totally an actual Ninja now!"

"A what?" I called, tilting my head. Was he kidding?

"Like, an honorary Ninja, know what I mean?"

Yuna tapped the microphone as the security guard came onstage with a giant belt, shining gold and silver with fine-looking leather straps – rather like the Struggle Tournament belt but not quite the same. Different colors. They handed the belt to Demyx and he held it above his head in triumph.

Despite my disappointment in losing, a smile crawled across my red-flushed face and I began to clap as well, along with everyone else, before ducking back and taking my leave from the stage.

Demyx did a good job, after all. I had to congratulate him by clapping, in the very least.

I had barely even reached the ground, breathing heavily from all the excitement, when Namine rushed up to me – closely followed by Roxas, Sora (with Kairi under his arm), and a distracted-looking Axel.

"THAT WAS AMAZING!" She gasped, grabbing me by my shoulders and shaking me violently.

I laughed loudly and pushed her hands off as gently as I could, but she and all the others (except Axel) just kept raving.

"I didn't know you signed up for this!" Roxas grinned. I shrugged.

"Neither did I." But I sure loved it.

"Who knew you'd do so well when your odds were that low?" Sora added, Kairi nodding in agreement.

"Omigosh, Xion! I can't believe you're so good at Ninja!"

"Um… those odds were made up, guys—"

"We should be heading back," Axel said suddenly. His skinny arms were crossed, and he was clothed in a black long sleeved shirt despite the heat. What, wasn't it like… 90 degrees?

"Hey, Axel…" I greeted cautiously, confused by his abrupt comment. "Haven't seen you in a while." I smiled. He shrugged.

"Just been kinda busy with everything. Good job up there. Like I said, we should beat the crowd."

"Um.. okay!" I agreed, trying to sound upbeat. "Yeah, don't wanna get caught in a giant group of people leaving!"

"Right!" Kairi nodded. "Byeee, beach!" She called to (apparently) the location we were leaving just as we started walking.

"Beat you to the parking lot!" Sora challenged Roxas without even a moment to spare.

"You're on!" Our cousin nodded – and they took off again – but this time with Namine following.

"Bet I can beat you guys this time!"

I chuckled to myself and began to jog after them, not matching their speed. Sheesh, I can never run as fast as those guys.

X

(TAT)

X

Sora rushed right into the house ahead of me, slamming the door in his wake – making me chuckle at his hurry. As I approached the doorstep, however, I saw something sitting on the corner of the marble stairs.

Eh?

I walked over and picked it up.

A small box sat in my hand, about the weight of a cell phone and the size of a small box of crayons – totally wrapped in wrapping paper as if it was for Christmas.

Absentmindedly, I turned it around in my hands. Whaa? Who was this for?

Oh—

'Xion' was scribbled on the wrapping in nearly unintelligible writing – so naturally I opened it with a grin to find a large, high-tech black watch inside.

Whoa.

For ME?

Today was just a bundle of fun. My already existent grin widened as I put it on immediately – but taking it out of the box revealed a typed note inside.

.

Sorry.

.

Huh. Must have been from Roxas, since he's the one that broke my watch. That's really nice of him!

The watch fit my arm and wrist well, just the right size and weight for me… it seemed almost like it was all custom made. Happily I walked into our house.

"Hey, Sora! Check this out!"

The door shut quietly behind me.


WOW! That's a huge weight off my shoulders!

I hope this chapter was worth waiting that many months for. TT^TT Maybe no chapter can make up for that kind of irresponsibility...

At any rate, yeah, I added more thoughts of our mystery villain. Got any guesses as to who it is? And why did Yuna have arm-candy-Seifer, do you think? :O

Ah, but how silly of me. These questions are meant to be asked in...

THAT WEIRD NARRATION! ^-^

Oh, how I've missed this..

.

WILL Dad be returning soon?

WILL the Struggle Tournament even occur?

WILL the mystery perv show himself?

WILL Xion be 'Recruited'?

WILL the reason for Seifer and Yuna's companionship be REVEALED?

AND most of all, WHERE is Riku and WHY can't he get out of the house?

.

I can't thank you guys enough!

- Sono ^-^;