And he's back! And the best way to apologise for a hiatus is with an 8,000+ word chapter, amirite?

~~~ The Land Of Departure, As They Remember It ~~~

"As I remember it..." Terra said, nodding to himself. "It began... well, I suppose the best place to begin is when you ran to the hill for the meteor shower, Ven,"

"Why is that so important?" Ven frowned.

Terra shared a knowing glance with Aqua.


Flash back!

"A meteor shower!" Ven yelled gleefully, dashing out of his room and down the corridors of the dormitory.

"METEOR!" Ven yelled, blitzing past the sleeping Aqua's room.

"Ohcrapnotagainwhere?" she shrieked, jolting up in her bed. She spun around in sleepy panic, which was a mistake considering how tangled her legs became in her sheets.

Good evening, her head said to the floor.

How good of you to drop in, the floor replied merrily.

In Terra's room, the eldest Keybearer was deep in some engaging, nocturnal physical activity. "One hundred and one dalmations..." Terra said through gritted teeth, focused on his vertical push-ups. "One hundred and two dalmations..."


"I didn't do it!" Terra yelled back, his hands slipping in surprise.

Oh, how nice it is to have so many guests, the floor said happily.


Back to the present!

"No reason, that's just, you know, where it began," Terra shrugged. "Anything important happen on your race up?"

Ven scratched his neck. "Uh..."


Do rings count?

"Hmm... go watch the rare celestial event which may not occur again for years... or hit something shiny... decisions..."

After a moment of consideration, Ven decided it was stupid to waste time doing a routine training exercise he practiced every day – but then he was distracted by how shiny they were.

"You talkin' to me?" he asked the rings, swaggering up to them, fingers flexing for his Keyblade. "I don't see anyone else here, you must be talkin' to me."

Crouched a crop of rock, Terra and Aqua stared bewildered at the scene.

"Should... one of us do something?" the girl asked unsurely.

"Are you kidding?" grinned Terra. "This is hilarious."


Back to the present!

"Not really," Ven shrugged. "Just watched the meteors, then fell asleep."

"Oh yeah..." Aqua giggled.


Flash back!

Aqua looked down at Ven's sleeping face with a smile, while Terra fumbled for a marker. Opportunities like that must never be wasted! Sadly, Ven woke up with a start as Aqua approached.

Terra sighed. 'Face-graffiti will have to wait another day,' he mused to himself, as he walked up to them, overhearing the other boy's words to Aqua. "You ever wonder what stars are made of? Where light comes?"

"Well, they say –" Aqua began, before the eldest Keybearer decided to drop in his two cents.

"- That every star up there is a world," he said, causing Ven to turn in surprise to see him. "That light is their heart, and it's shining down on us like a million lanterns. In other words, they're just like you, Ven. Limitless and full of possibilities," he grinned, and added, "Even though they look small and dim from where we're standing."

Ven frowned. "Was that a compliment or an insult?"

"Both," shrugged Terra.

Stepping in before a round of light bickering could pick up, Aqua glanced between the two of them. "That reminds me! Since our Mark of mastery exams are tomorrow..." she smiled and pulled three star-shaped charms from behind her back. "I made good luck charms!"

Terra caught his as she tossed it to him and studied it with a grin, and Ven looked between it and Aqua. "For me too?" he asked hopefully.

"Of course. One for each of us," she said, tossing him the green charm which he snatched out of the air eagerly.

"Hey, so this is what you were working on last week?" Terra asked, looking up from his charm.

Aqua paused awkwardly. "Uh…"


Flash further back!

Aqua focused her power into the coloured metal that would form the body of her charms, the 'connection' magic she had created already so familiar and easy for her to use. In a moment, the charm was complete, and she smiled with a job well done. All that was left was to fashion them into the star shape she had envisioned so long ago.

There was a knock on her door, and Aqua froze. "D-don't come in!" she yelled. "I-I'm changing!"

Which was exactly the wrong thing to say, as she heard Terra chuckle. "Oh? You do realise that's only more incentive for me to come in, don't you?" he said lecherously, opening the door and stepping forward.

Right onto a rushing Seeker Mine.

Aqua covered her ears as the explosion hurled Terra out of her room. Glancing at her stunned friend, she shrugged. "Well, that'll teach you to respect a girl's –"

"Guys! Are you okay?" Ven yelled, running towards Terra.

"Ven! Watch out, there are-" Aqua's warning was cut short as a Seeker Mine rushed underneath Ven's feet and launched him explosively into the air. He hit the ground with a thud as she covered her face with her hands and groaned. Well, at least it couldn't get much worse –

Footsteps made her freeze, and she looked up in horror to see Master Eraqus rush franticly for them. "Aqua! What happened! Are we under-"

"Master, no!"


Back to the story!

"So that's why he confiscated all our good commands!" Terra said as comprehension dawned.

"That sucks, and I had just gotten the hang of Tornado too..." Ven held up the charm in the air and grinned. "Though I can let it slide under the circumstances..."

"It wasn't only my fault, you know! That was just strike three," Aqua insisted.

"What were strike one and two, then?" Ven frowned.


Strike two!

Terra narrowly avoided a swipe from Ven's Keyblade as their training session sped up a notch. Grinning, the older Keybearer spun around and brought his Earthshaker into a collision course with Ven, who was caught flat-footed. Biting back an ineffectual curse, the blonde-haired boy managed to bring his key up to block, but the force of the blow send him hurtling backwards, sprawling on the ground.

Terra winced as he saw his friend collapse, but knowing his friend, he was sure the fight was far from over. "Giving up already? I thought you were stronger than that," Terra taunted, trying to provoke Ven into action.

Ven glared at him before bursting into an evil grin and snatching up his Wayward Wind. "I'm just getting started!" A gust of wind rushed around his Keyblade as he hurled it at his friend with a shout. "Wind Raid!"

Terra quickly raised his own key to guard, taking the full force of the attack for a moment before pushing it away from him, sending it sailing away from him and spinning into the distance. He braced himself for the return attack... and was confused to find that there was none.

"Uh..." Terra glanced at Ven, who was himself looking around the courtyard for his Keyblade. "Okay, you need to work on your aim," Terra sighed. "What if you're fighting an enemy for real and this happens?"

Ven stared at the castle. "Frankly, I'm more worried about the fact that it seemed to make a bee-line for-"

There was a crash and the sound of breaking glass. "My back!" Eraqus howled. "Who in the name of the Light is throwing Keyblades!"


Back to the story!

"That wasn't that bad!" Ven insisted. "One Cura and his spine was re-aligned, no big!"

Aqua smiled ruefully. "Yes, but he was still on edge after... strike one."


Strike one!

Aqua and Ven were lounging in the gazebo on the hilltop, an elegant spot to quietly watch the sunset. They were snapped out of their thoughts when they heard someone quickly approach. Glancing back, they saw Terra, a wide, giddy grin on his face.

"This cannot end well," Aqua said. Ven nodded.

"Hey guys, guess what?" Terra said quickly as he made his way towards them. "I got a surprise for you!"

"Did you make something?" Ven asked, curious.

"Sort of. I've been practicing magic, actually," Terra said modestly, but both Aqua and Ven could feel the barely contained smug pride radiating off him. "See, I know you like fireworks, and I know you like meteors, and I thought... how can I combine the two in a memorable way? Then, when I was fusing a Brutal Blast with a Magnega, something amazing happened."

"Oh lord..." Aqua groaned under her breath, dreading what was about to unfold.

The same couldn't be said for Ven, who was leaning forward on the bench excitedly. "What did you make? Let's see it!"

Terra grinned and raised his hand, his Keyblade appearing in a flash of light. "Prepare to be blown away! Meteor!"

The air shuddered and a blazing slab of rock burst into existence above their heads, plummeting down towards them.

"What have you done?" Aqua shrieked.

"I thought it would have longer range!" Terra yelled as the air began to burn.

"You didn't test it?"

"Put it back put it back put it back!" Ven shouted.

"I don't know how I don't know how I don't know how!"


And it had been such a nice gazebo too.

The three Keyblade wielders pulled themselves from the smoking crater, coughing up dust and rubbing sand away from their eyes. "I think I swallowed about half a brick..." Aqua groaned.

"Consider yourself lucky," Terra winced, dislodging some chunks of rock from places he'd rather not mention.

"Terra..." Ven said slowly.


"That. Was. Awesome! Do it again!"

"No!" Aqua yelled. "Definitely not, no way –" She paused, then sighed. "You already recast it, didn't you?"

"I may not have thought all of this through," Terra admitted as the blazing slab of rock plummeted towards them once again.


Back to the story!

"I miss the gazebo..." Aqua sighed as Terra scratched his neck sheepishly. Deciding to change the subject, he inspected his good-luck charm.

"A star, huh? Like a shooting star?" he asked, tilting it to see the dim light of the lanterns play across the surface of the charm.

"Well, not exactly," Aqua replied. "I remembered a story Master Eraqus told me once. Somewhere out there, there's a tree with star shaped fruit, and the fruit represents an unbreakable connection. So as long as you and your loved ones have charms shaped like it, nothing can ever drive you apart. You will always find your way back to each other." She smiled at the two boys, but paused. "... Technically, I think you're supposed to make them with seashells," she admitted with a sheepish look. "But I did the best with what I had."

Terra grinned and shook his head. "Oy, sometimes, you are such a girl."

"What do you mean, sometimes?" she demanded, before an evil grin spread across her face. "What? You forget that I'm a girl? Or do you pretend that I'm... not?" Terra bristled at her implication as she glanced over at the blond Keybearer. "Hey Ven, better watch out, Terra likes to pretend that-"

Terra stepped forward and hoisted her up on his shoulder fireman-style, ignoring her squeal of protest. "Okay, see, its comments like that which gets you thrown off the side of the cliff," he said, marching towards the edge of the hilltop.

"Nooo, not the cliff!" Aqua squirmed, batting at his back ineffectually. "Put me down!"

"Put you down?" smirked Terra, turning around so Aqua was looking down the cliff wall, eliciting a giddy shriek from her. "Put you down off the side of the cliff, right? Hey Ven, what do you think?"

"If it's not made out of seashells, is it still a good luck charm?" Ven suddenly blurted out, tearing his eye from his gift.

Aqua paused, and tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Well... that – Terra, put me down," she ordered, and Terra quickly obliged. Rubbing the ache out of her side, she looked at Ven. "I suppose it remains to be seen, but..." She leaned forward, as if to share a prized secret with the two of them. "I did work a little magic on it."

Ven's eyes brightened. "Yeah? Like what?"

Aqua smiled, and raised her charm up to the starlight. "An unbreakable connection..." She froze and glanced at them guiltily. "Also, unlimited minutes to friends on the same network. Don't tell anyone though, I didn't mean to do it and I'm not sure how legal it is."

"Awesome, I needed to get a new plan anyway," Terra grinned, finding new appreciation for his Wayfinder.

"Wait, isn't that magicommunications fraud?" Ven asked, realising the problem.

"Relax man, that's what friends are for!" Terra replied, slapping him on the back. "Now, anyone want to spar?"

"No, I'm good," Aqua smiled.

"Yeah, I'll pass," Ven replied.

Terra's shoulders slumped a little. "Y-you sure?" he asked hopefully. "I mean, come on... practice makes perfect, right?"

"It's fine Terra!" Ven grinned excitedly. "Trust me, you guys are ready."

"Thanks, Ven," Aqua smiled.

"You guys are gonna win this," the boy continued.

"Good to see you're confident about us," Terra chuckled.

"Yeah! You guys are gonna give it a hundred and ten tomorrow. You guys are gonna clean up and take it home," Ven continued, picking up speed. Terra and Aqua glanced nervously between themselves as he began to stare vacantly into the distance.

"You guys are going to kick but while taking the names of bubblegum chewers. You guys are gonna-"

"Easy Ven..." Aqua said warily, patting him on the head. Like a light switch, the boy went silent and yawned.

"Right, overtired..." he apologised, blinking tiredly. 'Dammit, why do I always fall asleep from a hair mussing?' "But what I mean is..."

"We know. It's just like the Master says," Aqua agreed. "Power is born from the heart."

"Doesn't he just say that as a thinly veiled reference to the Command Board?" Terra frowned.

Aqua paused and considered it. "Well, it's not entirely... okay, yes. Yes it is."

"He does love him some Monopoly..." Ven sighed, before yawning. "I'm heading back, I'm bushed..." he announced, giving a half-wave to his friends as he began walking towards the gate.

Terra chuckled and followed. "Bushed? Seriously, what are you, fifty?"

"Hey shut up, it's not my fault I 'm always stuck playing Command Board with the Master while you guys are training in other worlds..."

As the two boys began another round of light bickering, the third of their group spared one last glance at the stars. Toying with her charm, Aqua smiled.

Maybe with this... we can be...

"Together... always..."


Pause in the story!

"And that would be the last night we ever spent beneath the same stars," the three of them said in unison.

"Hey, don't interrupt me," frowned Aqua.

"Just making an observation," Terra shrugged. "It was Ven that made it sound all wistful and sad."

"I was just adding some introspection," Ven said defensively.

"It's depressing."

"Your face is depressing."

"So's your mom."

"Reeeal mature, you two," sighed Aqua. "Anyway..."


Flash back!

Before they knew it, they were standing in the grand hall, in anticipation for the Mastery exam. Eraqus smiled to himself to see his apprentices so determined, feeling a swell of pride at the sight. He glance to the side to see his old estranged friend, Xehanort, look between the apprentices with equal interest, the old master's gaze lingering on Terra for a moment.

With a sinking heart, Eraqus was reminded of the words he had shared with Xehanort, of the old master's concern over Terra's control of darkness. If anyone knew how alluring and difficult the darkness could be, it was Xehanort, having struggled with it for years in self-imposed exile. The old man had implored Eraqus to stay impartial and be cautious with his eldest apprentice, lest the boy stumble away from the path of balance in search for power.

"Not one, but two of the Keyblade's chosen are standing here today, but this is neither a competition nor a battle for supremacy," Eraqus announced. "Not a test of wills, but a test of heart. Both of you may prevail, or neither," he said firmly, before cracking a small smile. "But I'm sure our guest, Master Xehanort, did not come all this way just to see our youngest prospects in years fall short of the mark. I trust you are ready?"

Terra and Aqua nodded firmly, and with a thrust of his Keyblade, Eraqus summoned his power of light into the trial his students had to face.

A trial Xehanort was sceptical about, to say the least. "Stationary orbs of light, Eraqus?" he whispered with a raised eyebrow. "Really?"

"I want to challenge them," replied the Master. "They have taken all other trials with ease, but seem most uncomfortable when I present my balls."

The apprentices flinched. "Master, please call them orbs, or something!?" Aqua begged.

"Semantics won't do you much good in the heat of battle," Eraqus said sternly. "I trust you are ready? Then let the examination begin!"

Terra and Aqua nodded and readied their keyblades while Xehanort sighed. Flexing his fingers, he reached out with his darkness to touch Eraqus'...

He winced, shaking his head, and reached out to the orbs dammit, channelling a dark aura into them. Darkness met light, and chaos was introduced to order, causing the orbs to shudder and prowl the hall. The two examinees only allowed themselves a moment of surprise before they steeled themselves and charged for the targets.

"Xehanort..." Eraqus said warningly, giving his guest a stern look. The older master simply blinked, an innocent expression on his face.

"Who, me?" he asked, the picture of ignorance.

"Xehanort, I do not take kindly to you latching onto my balls without prior warning," Eraqus said. "However, I will permit it this once, for old time's sakes."

"Oh god!" Ven cried from the distance, overhearing them.

Xehanort blanched, trying to word his response. "Duly noted..." he said uneasily, turning back to watch the Trial.

Terra and Aqua were easily cutting down the orbs, but their random movements were difficult to predict. One of them rushed towards Ven, who seemed to be spacing out for some reason. "Ven!" they yelled, catching his attention just in time for him to spot the orb and bat it away without a second to spare.

"Sorry! Zoned out for a second there!" he shouted apologetically. "Don't mind me; just go on with the trial!"


Pause in the story!

"Why were you zoning off like that anyway?" Aqua asked.

"O-oh..." Ven grinned sheepishly, scratching his neck. "I, uh, I was thinking that Xehanort was a dinosaur... because he's so old..."

Terra stared at him. "... Why?"

"Continuity," Ven said defensively. "Anyway..."


Flash back!

With Ven's help, short work was made of Eraqus' ba- orbs, and they stood before him in preparation for the next step. "That was unexpected, but it was a good test, one I chose to let unfold," Eraqus said appraisingly. "It is important to keep a still heart in any circumstances, especially if someone interferes when they are only meant to oversee," he said pointedly.

Xehanort rolled his eyes.

"Which brings us to your next trial," Eraqus continued. "You two will face each other in combat. Hold nothing back, for when equal powers clash, their true nature is revealed."

"That is so true," Xehanort nodded in agreement.

"Brr..." Ven shuddered, feeling an inexplicable chill.

"Begin!" Eraqus shouted.

Terra and Aqua charged forward, weapons clashing. With a shove of his Earthshaker, Terra managed to force Aqua back, but rather than go on the defensive, she sprang forward and lashed out in a quick counterattack, forcing him to leap back.

Terra landed poorly after that swipe, and as Aqua pressed the advantage he realised he was going to lose. Unbidden, a gout of darkness burst into life in his palm, ready for him to strike with a devastating blow on his enemy... Aqua?

Terra froze. "No!" He snarled, forcing the darkness back. "No chance in ~jangle~!"


Pause in the story!

Terra blinked. "Jangle? I sure as ~jangle~ didn't say... wait..."

Aqua cleared her throat to get his and Ven's attention, then shook a jar she was holding. "Swear jar."


"What..." Terra stared at the jar, its presence not quite computing in his mind. "But I wasn't swearing for the fun of it. It was part of my driving out of the darkness, choosing friendship over power that lead to me saying-"

"We all heard what you said, and it does not bear repeating, thank you," Aqua said firmly.

Ven started laughing as Terra gaped in shock at her. "B-but that's not fair! Ven can't swear at all! That jar is solely for me!"

"C'mon, it's not so bad," Aqua smiled. "All the proceeds go to a good cause!"

Terra brightened up. "Yeah?"

Aqua's smile turned into an evil grin. "Yeah. Soap to wash your mouth out."

Ven burst into sniggers as Terra sighed. "Whatever. Anyway, we all remember how the rest of that fight went..."


Flash back!

Eraqus stood before his two apprentices, eying them appraisingly. "You have both done admirably, and have both shown great skill. Both of you have shown qualities that deserve praise and recognition..."

"They both passed?" Ven asked excitedly.

Xehanort burst into a coughing fit that sounded suspiciously like he was forcing back laughter. Eraqus looked at him with narrowed eyes until his old friend calmed down. "Ahem, excuse me," Xehanort apologised, waving his hand. "Do go on."

Eraqus kept his eye on him a moment longer before continuing. "… As I was saying, although you both impressed me with what I have seen, only Aqua has shown the Mark of Mastery."

As one, Terra, Aqua and Ven's minds went blank with shock. The floor could have vanished from underneath all three of them and they wouldn't have noticed.

"Terra, you failed to keep the darkness within you sufficiently in check," Eraqus said sternly. "But, there is always next time. That is all." Turning, Eraqus looked at his other apprentice. "Aqua, as our newest Keyblade Master, you are entitled to certain knowledge. Please wait here for further instruction." With that, Eraqus and Xehanort exited the hall, leaving the three apprentices alone.

"Hey..." Aqua began, turning to Terra, but was at a loss for words. Any condolences she could give would just ring hollow, seeing as she had succeeded where the Masters had decided he had failed.

"Terra, I'm sorry," Ven said, not sure what to say either.

"The darkness..." Terra murmured, staring at his left hand. "Where did it come from?" He clenched his fist, then turned his back to his friends. "Sorry," he said gruffly, pulling on a pair of heavy duty headphones as he brushed past them. "I need some time alone..."

"Oh no... he's put on his emo phones..." Aqua murmured as the brown-haired Keybearer stormed out of the hall, pangs of regret in her heart. "I always hate it when he puts those on. He looks so sad and brooding... who knows what he's listening to?"

"George Michael," Ven said instantly, deadpan.

Aqua blinked and looked at him "W-what?"

"He's listening to George Michael," Ven said without a trace of humour in his voice. "He says it helps him think. "

Aqua stared at him, then shook her head. "No. There's no way that's true."


Well I guess it would be nice~! If I could touch your body~!

I know not everybody ~ has a body like you~!

"There's darkness inside of me... but so what?" Terra asked himself as he brooded to the soothing, honeyed baritone of George Michael on the steps of the castle. "I know I'm strong enough to hold it back...

"Yes, you are indeed strong," a voice said.

But I gotta think twice~! Before I give my heart away~!

"AHEM!" the voice loudly cleared its throat and Terra pulled the earphones off, turning with some surprise to see Master Xehanort approach. "Like I was saying," the old master continued. "You haven't gone wrong at all. The darkness is nothing to fear."

"Master Xehanort! What do you mean?" Terra asked, confused and somewhat hopeful for advice.

Xehanort gave him a reassuring look. "Eraqus is blinded by the light," he explained. "He does not see the true strength you hold because of that darkness. Fear not, Terra. You were awesome." The Master frowned slightly. "Do you kids still say that? 'Awesome'? I fear I may be out of date on the slang nowadays..."

Terra nodded dumbly, and Xehanort smiled, satisfied.

"Darkness cannot be destroyed. Only channelled," he continued, his hands waving mysteriously. He paused, then added for upmost clarity, "Channelled through your heart. So, you know, go ahead and dive right in."

Terra stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Well, it goes against everything my master and father figure has taught me for years... but you make a strong argument," he said, convinced.

"Awesome," Xehanort said, trying not to laugh, then awkwardly held up a hand. Terra stared at it for a second, before the old Master grinned sheepishly. "I, uh... It's for a high-five. Do you kids still do that?"

"Not generally, no," Terra shrugged.

Xehanort dropped the hand, embarrassed. "I see, thank you. I've just been absent for a while-"

"Oh no, I know how it can be, slang and stuff," Terra nodded. "Tough to keep track of."

"Kinda need someone to give me a few pointers here and there," the old man began to ramble.

"Oh, no, yeah, it's cool."

"Ah, so kids still say 'cool'?" the master asked brightly, latching onto the new word.

Terra scratched the back of his neck. "Sorta, but don't put too much emphasis on it, just keep it casual-"

"Keep it cool," grinned the man.

"Hey, exactly," Terra nodded. "You got it!"

Then the bells of the great hall rang out, summoning them for an emergency.

"I gotta..." Terra began, pointing back at the castle.

Xehanort nodded in understanding. "Good luck." Terra turned and ran back up the steps before he heard the old master call after him again. "Oh, and Terra?"

He turned to see Xehanort giving him a thumbs up. "Remember to go ahead and dive into that darkness of yours. Just keep it cool!" he said with a creepy grin.

"... Thanks...?" Terra decided to book it before things got any weirder, running into the castle.

Xehanort watched the young apprentice leave, and opened up a dark corridor to make his own exit. "Hmm... it appears I still have much to learn about being young again..." he mused to himself as he disappeared into the shadows.


Pause in the story!

"Wait, wait, hold on... Xehanort was telling you darkness is awesome to use?" Ven gaped.

"Are you really that surprised?" Terra shrugged despondently.

Ven shook his head and pulled out his journal. "No, it's just, look at this! It's a letter from Xehanort to the Master!"

Terra picked up the offered page and read it, Aqua scanning it over his shoulder.

Terra's eyes were filled with anger. "'Worried about my darkness'... He sabotaged me! Son of a ~jangle~!" He paused, then looked over at Aqua, her swear jar in hand. "Oh come on, that one was barely a swear!"

Aqua shrugged. "I'd like to agree, but rules are rules."

"Do you have any more of those reports?" Terra frowned as he put some munny into the proffered jar. "I've got a few myself..."

"Sure," Ven nodded, passing Terra his journal. The older Keyblade wielder scanned them quickly, before coming across the ninth report and freezing.

"He... that's what he's after..." he whispered, horrified. "He wants me to fall to darkness – all so he can get inside my body!"

Aqua and Ven gasped in horror.

"That's – that's unspeakable!" Aqua shivered.

"I think I'm going to be sick!" Ven shuddered. "Don't worry, Terra, we're here for you! We won't let that he-cougar get you!" Aqua nodded fiercely, a look on her face promising hell for their false master.

Terra saw the resolve him their expressions and smiled despite himself. "Thanks, I..." he paused, as their words caught up with his brain, and suddenly he went pale. "Wait, he-cougar? What? No! What are you two thinking!? He wants to posses me!"

"You are not an object, Terra, no matter what Xehanort thinks," Aqua insisted, squeezing his shoulder reassuringly. "You are not anyone's to own!"

"N-no! Dear lord, no!" Terra freaked, standing up swiftly. "That's not what I... he's trying to replace his own body with mine! Turn me into some kind of vessel so he can live longer, not what you two... how could you even think... Oh good lord, now I can't stop thinking about- GAH!"

Aqua and Ven blinked and glanced at each other as Terra silently screamed the mental image out of his head, hands covering his face to deny all sight. "Uh... sorry," Ven said lamely, "But you did kind of phrase it weirdly..."

"Y-yeah, simple mistake to make," Aqua said, laughing it off uneasily.

Terra whipped a hand from his face and held up a finger. "No. Quiet time. We move on from this, and never speak of it again. Understood?"

Aqua and Ven nodded swiftly, and Terra sat back down. "Now, as I was saying..." he began, resuming his side of the tale.


Flash back to... a rose scented... bedroom?

"So feel free to dive right in..." Xehanort purred, the light of a hundred candles in the bedroom glistening off his muscular, well oiled chest as his shirt slipped seductively from his shoulders. "I'll be waiting~"


Pause the story! Dear lord, pause the story!

Terra screamed. "Dammit you two, you've ruined everything forever!"

Ven glanced at Aqua, who shrugged, preparing an Esuna spell in the vain hope it would cleanse Terra's mind of the nightmare within. He curled up on the ground as the spell washed over him, covering his eyes with his hands and moaned hauntingly. "Terra? You okay?" Ven asked hesitantly.

Terra nodded, his face still buried in his hands.

"Maybe... I should begin?" Ven suggested.

Terra nodded gratefully.


Flash back to Ven's perspective!

Ven sighed as he lay on his bed, thinking about the day. Normally he was able to relax whenever he practiced with his training Keyblade, but today, using the gift his older friend had given him just reminded him about how worried he was about Terra.

"Why did I say all that stuff yesterday?" he groaned. "I must have look like such an idiot..."

A bell rang, summoning him for an emergency. Ven was about to get up when a chuckling voice caused him to freeze. "That's pretty much the status quo, Ven."

Ven spun around, staring at the masked boy who had somehow appeared from nowhere in his room. "Who-? Where did you come from?"

"Your mom," the masked boy shot, chuckling. "Heh, it's funny because it's true."

Ven scowled. "Yeah? Well, try saying that to me without that stupid mask on!"

The mysterious stranger cocked his head at Ven. "Hmm? Oh sure, no problem," he replied, reaching back to the back of his helmet before pausing, seeming confused. "Huh? What's this?" he asked, pulling his hand out and flipping Ven the bird. "Well, would you look at that? It's for you!"

"Y-you're a jerk!" Ven retorted lamely, then growled. "Ah, forget you," he said, turning to leave.

"You know who else is a jerk?" the boy's voice called after him. "Terra."

Ven's eye twitched a little. "Like you know anything about Terra."

"I know he's leaving," the boy shot back, a smirk undoubtedly on his face. "You that flicker of darkness during the fight... but more importantly..." the masked boy said darkly. "You saw his face. A guy that angry, he knows this isn't his home anymore. He's going to ditch this place the first chance he gets. And ditch you along with it."

"No he wouldn't!" Ven yelled, spinning around to face the stranger.

"He's doing it right now!" the masked boy laughed like it was some huge joke. "No lie; as we are speaking he is on his way out. But hey, don't believe me!" he shrugged, leaning against the wall. "After all, with him out of the picture you get a monopoly on Aqua's attention! She's gonna need a shoulder to cry on, that's for sure, and you'll be right there for her. Yeah... that's what I'd do," he nodded to himself, and then looked over at Ven, who was paralysed by the masked boy's words. "It's a pretty sweet gig, don't you think? Screw Terra! Let the ungrateful jerk go, what do you say?"

Ven stared at him, wide eyed, then turned on his heels and raced out into the castle halls. "TERRA!"

"Figured you'd say that," Vanitas chuckled, disappearing into a portal of shadows.


Pause in the story!

"And that's how I got acquainted with our good friend Vanitas," Ven sighed, frowning at the memory.

Terra, having composed himself, nodded soberly, musing over Ven's recounting of the meeting. Not having met Vanitas, the key wielder wasn't sure how to react, especially seeing his friend so depressed at the mere thought of that memory. He didn't know what to do, except to say -

"What a dick!"

Terra blinked in surprise and turned with an equally shocked Ven... to stare at Aqua, who clapped her hands over her mouth, horrified.

"I-I mean..." she began, trying to recover.

Terra snatched up her jar and shook it with a vengeance. "Swear jar! Swear jar!"

"That was barely as swear!" she protested.

"Yeah, just like you're barely a hypocrite!" Terra shot back with a victorious grin. "Now pay up! We've got a lot of soap to buy!"

"Fine!" she grumbled, digging into her pocket for some change, forcing it into the jar which chimed a happy ~jangle~. "Anyway, I think this is where I come in..."


Flash back!

"... And that's the gist of our ancestor's greatest defence," said Eraqus. "Pretty nifty, huh?"

Aqua scratched her neck. "So, wait, afterwards everyone inside is forced to..."

"Play a children's card game, yes," Eraqus nodded.

"B-but... that's lame," Aqua protested.

"Exactly," her Master said with a sly smile. "It's designed to dissuade the darkness from encroaching the land. The arrogance of dark beings compels them to preserve their dignity at all costs, after all."

Aqua nodded in understanding. "Clever... but what if there was some sort of evil group, or perhaps organization, that doesn't have any concern over their own dignity? Like, they can't feel embarrassed?"

Eraqus stared blankly. "That would never happen."

"Yeah, I suppose you're right," Aqua nodded in agreement.

There was a flare of light, as well as a chiming noise behind him, and suddenly the emergency bells began ringing.

"What is that?" Eraqus asked, confused and a bit annoyed at the interruption.

"That's the crystal phone, Master," Aqua reminded him. "Remember? You hooked it up to the emergency bells? So you would be able to hear it anywhere?"

"Ah! Yes, of course!" Eraqus nodded, turning to face the crystal screen behind his throne.

Aqua sighed, wondering when would be the next time she'd have to remind him of that fact, when Terra rushed to her side. "Hey, what did I miss?"

"Nothing yet... where's Ven?"

Terra shrugged, and they turned their attention to the Master.

"Very well, I will send my pupils to investigate..." Eraqus was saying to the shining communication crystal. "Yes, I understand... Uh huh... well, why don't you build a fence... well, what about that apprentice of yours? ... Hmm, I suppose... no, I cannot spare one of them... no, he needs to stay put... you know why!"

Aqua and Terra glanced uneasily at each other as they overheard Eraqus' argument grow more heated.

"No, not even for a day... you live in the middle of nowhere, you should have stocked up on beets before... yes, Aqua and Terra will be busy... now that is preposterous... oh, not this again... If you keep bringing that up I will hang up... alright... yes, I understand. I apologise as well... Indeed. Farewell."

The crystal faded and Eraqus let out a sigh before walking back to his two apprentices. "I'm sorry you had to overhear that..." he said. "That was my old friend Yen Sid. Though he is Master no more, he treats the tides of light and darkness as his garden," Eraqus explained, somewhat tiredly. "And, like any old man easily irritated by trespassers on his lawn, he keeps a sharp eye out for trouble. What makes me concerned, however, is that this time his worries are legitimate."

Aqua and Terra stood a little sharper as their master's face grew solemn.

"The Princesses of Heart are in danger, not just from the darkness as you may assume, but a new threat: One that feeds on negativity. Yen Sid calls them... 'The Unversed'."

"I see... so what do we do when we encounter this new breed of lifeform?" Aqua asked.

"... You kill them," Eraqus said, as if it should have been obvious.

"Can do," Terra nodded.

"B-but, shouldn't we stop and question where they are coming from?" Aqua insisted.

Eraqus shrugged. "Sure, so long as it's an 'attack-first-ask-questions-later' type of question. Like, 'ew, how do I get this ichor off my boots?' That sort of thing."

"How do we get it off our boots, just so we know?" Terra asked.

"Baking soda," their Master said simply.

"But..." Aqua protested.

"Trust me, Aqua," Eraqus said reassuringly. "It may seem ineffectual, but soaking in water with a dash of baking soda will prevent any but the worst stains from affecting your clothes while you're on the road. Then, once you get to a civilised spot, you will at least be presentable even if you don't find a Laundromat nearby." He paused, seeing her exasperated look. "Oh right, you're concerned about the ethical ramifications of the Unversed. Well, trust me on that too. We're pressed for time and manpower, what with Xehanort missing..."

"Master Xehanort... is missing?" Terra asked, confused.

The Master nodded. "I was trying to set up a group chat when I was speaking to Yen Sid, but he's listed as offline on his profile. He never goes offline. I think he has a bit of an obsession," he rambled, going off on a tangent, half to himself, half to the world in general – particularly a certain hack of a fanfic author who can't even sit down for five minutes to finish one measly paragraph. "Really, it's sad to know he dedicates so much time to pointless endeavours on it. I pity anyone who would waste all their free time on a computer like he does."

Terra didn't notice this rant, too confused about the timing of the older master's vanishing. "But, wait, hold on, I just saw him two minutes ago!"

Eraqus blinked. "Really? Hmm, all right, I'll double check." He pulled out a crystal from his pocket and dialled a number, holding it out so his students could hear too.

}} The number you are trying to reach has FALLEN INTO DAAARKNESS! or may have their crystal powered off. To leave a message, SURRENDER TO THE DAAARKNESS! after the tone. {{


Eraqus stared at the crystal silently for a moment, before looking back up at his students. "... Okay, new objective to the plan. Find Master Xehanort."

"Right," Terra nodded, turning to leave at once, but the Master cleared his throat to catch his attention.

"Terra, consider this an opportunity. A second chance to change my mind."

"... Wanna run that by me again?" Terra asked after a confused pause.

Eraqus placed his hand on his apprentice's shoulder. "You know I think of you as my own son, and if I could have my way, I would name you Master in a second..." Here, the Master sighed, shaking his head. "But how can I, Terra, when you are so obsessed with power?

"Remember, there is more to being a Master than personal strength. You cannot obsess over your own needs, because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. As long as you know this, you shall know the path you must take. So long as you follow that path, the darkness will have no sway over you, and you shall boldly go where no man has gone before."

"You make a strong argument," Terra said, convinced. "I promise I'll make you proud."

Eraqus gave him a stern smile. "Then make it so."

'I will prove my worth. I will, once and for all, earn my rightful title as Master of the Keyblade,' Terra swore to himself, marching through the corridors of the castle with his resolve as strong as stone. 'I will make my Master proud. But first...'

He snapped on his headphones and began to click his fingers.



"Master, before I leave, can I have my higher level commands back?" Aqua asked politely.

"Well Aqua, that's a good question," Eraqus replied, tapping his cheek in thought. "Let me pose one to you. Can the welts on my personal extremities from that ill-advised mine the other day allow me to sit down for longer than fifteen minutes at a time?"

Aqua winced. "Um... no?"

Eraqus nodded coolly. "Hmm... then I suppose... no. No you cannot have your higher commands back."


"Let this be a lesson to you, Aqua, about restraint. Even as a Master you have much to learn. We all do, the path of Mastery is one with no conclusion save the one you create yourself." He paused as a thought came to him. "Speaking of which... make sure to keep an eye on Terra."

"Terra?" Aqua frowned.

"I said it would be a second chance for him, and I meant it," Eraqus said firmly, looking her straight in the eyes. "But, should he stray into a darker path, bring him to me before the darkness can take him. I..." And it was here he broke eye contact, looking away as to avert his gaze from an omen as he continued to speak, a slight waver in his tone. "I could not bear to lose him. To lose any of you. Promise me this."

"I promise, Master, but it won't come to that," Aqua answered, full of confidence. "He's not as weak as you think." Eraqus smiled back and nodded. But the shadow didn't leave his face completely, and Aqua paused, realising one of the possible reasons. "Master, I couldn't help but notice..." she said, "You were rather icy when you spoke with Yen Sid. Has something happened?"

Eraqus blinked, before chuckling ruefully. "Ah, Aqua. You are as perceptive as ever. You are correct. In all honesty, he's said some things about you three that I... cannot lightly forgive."

"W-what?" Aqua gasped, shocked that the wizard would speak ill of anyone behind their backs. She knew him as stern but fair, so why...?

"I did not want to burden my students with what he had said..." Eraqus said sadly. "But as a fellow Master, I suppose it is your right to know. To tell you the truth... this is just plain crazy, but... he keeps insisting to me that you three are... oh, I can't even say it..." he trailed off, shaking his head in exasperation, with a hint of sadness.

"Master, please," Aqua insisted. "If there is something he doubts in us it's our duty to set the record straight."

"Yes, you are correct," Eraqus agreed, smiling before becoming serious. "Well, to put it plainly... he has suggested to me in the past that you, Terra and Ven are in a mutual polygamous relationship."

"That's..." Aqua squeaked, eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlamps.

"A few slots short of a command deck, I know," nodded Eraqus. "I mean, really? You and Terra are more like parents to Ven, and above all else you are as close as siblings! I can't imagine the sort of bizarre scenario that would bring up what Yen Sid is suggesting and frankly, I'm surprised that he, of all people, would imagine it in the first place!"

"Yes... well..." Aqua said, eyes glancing at the exit. "Sometimes people... see things in others that... aren't there..."

"Which is why we must always trust the light, to illuminate the truth," Eraqus nodded sagely.

Aqua decided it was best not to bring up the thought that the light could be blinding. 'Thank you, blinding light.' She thought.'I love you more than Zero Gravity.'

Fortunately, at that moment Ven darted through the hall, giving Aqua an excuse to escape the conversation. Pity that she was so distracted, because otherwise she would have caught the look of panic on the younger Keybearer's face and realised something was wrong much sooner.


"Terra!" Ven yelled as he raced into the castle's courtyard, desperate to get his friend's attention before it was too late. But Terra didn't turn, didn't even acknowledge his presence, too busy marching towards his duty as the gateway out of the world exploded into light in the sky above them.

And singing under his breath to his iPod. "Wake me up~ before you go-go~! Don't leave me hanging on like a yo-yo~!" His attention was garnered, however, by a fist to the back of the skull. Unfazed due to his prodigious hard-headedness, Terra finally turned to see Ven panting with exertion. "Oh hey Ven, what's up?"

"Terra!" the blond boy said quickly, before taking a colossal breath. "There was this guy in a mask and he was wearing tights or something maybe meat or maybe he had no skin it was weird but he was all saying things that are totally not true but it freaked me out and he had a mask and he was swearing and he was a total jerk and he said you were gonna leave and never come back and even though he was wearing a skirt I-"

"Whoa! Slow down there bud," Terra said, ruffling the younger keybearer's hair.

A jolt of panic gripped Ven's heart. No, not the hair ruffling! His bane! His siren song! His kryptonite! As much as he tried to fight it, he found his eyelids marching ever downwards, his concentration slipping with no hope of remaining awake. "I... un... no!" Ven refused to succumb, snapping out of his daze. "Terra, I need to tell you -!"

"Shh..." Terra whispered, ruffling his hair a little more insistently. "Sleepy time now, Ven."

It was a valiant but futile effort on the part of the boy, as nothing at that moment could have helped Ven's eyes win the battle to remain open. "'M not a kid..." he mumbled, before drifting off to sleep on his feet.

"D'aw..." Aqua cooed at the sight from the stairs. "Sleeping like an angel."

Glancing up at the newly minted master, Terra's grin slipped a bit as he realised how long it could be before he returned with the right to become master himself. "Hold the fort while I'm gone, alright?" he whispered to Ven, nudging him in the arm. The boy replied only with a noisy snore, dead to the world. "I'll take that as a yes..." chuckled Terra, activating his armour.

Clad in his golden, earthy armour to shield himself from the oppressive darkness of the Lanes Between, he sent his Earthshaker soaring behind him in a practiced throw. It came rushing back to him in its golden glider form, which he leaped onto and accelerated, blazing right through the gateway.

The noise of the Keyblade glider roused Ven, who blinked blearily and glanced around, before looking up and freezing. "Oh for the love of frick!" he swore, seeing Terra disappear into the gateway. In that moment, his mind was made up, and activated his armour, just like he had practiced so many times before.

Master Eraqus frowned, worried, while Aqua smiled at the sight and tried to pretend she wasn't blatantly checking him Ven out. 'Hey, his armour looks good on him.'

"Aqua, perhaps intervention at this moment would be prudent-" Eraqus began... when Ven hurled his Keyblade into the air behind him. Aqua ducked and narrowly dodged it. The Master was not so lucky. "My kidney!" he cried, toppling over while grasping his side. "What is it with him and my kidney!?"

With a flash of light, the Keyblade transformed into its glider form, and Ven leaped atop it. 'Hey cool, his glider is a surfboard. Suits him,' Aqua thought as Ven began to gain height.

"Aqua..." Eraqus hissed, trying to pull himself up.

"Okay, that's weird..." Aqua muttered as Ven raced directly towards the gate to the Lanes Between. "Why is he heading... oh snap." She froze as Ven vanished with a flash of light into the warp gate, before nervously glancing at her exasperated mentor. "Master, correct me if I'm wrong but Ven's not really supposed to -?"

"GO!" Eraqus yelled, clutching his back and pointing wildly at the gate.

"R-right!" Aqua nodded quickly and jumped off the stairs, activating her armour and gracefully landing in her glider. Tilting it towards the closing gate, she punched the accelerator and raced into the Lanes Between, the pathway closing behind her as she disappeared into the darkness of subspace.

"Well... shoot," Eraqus sighed, shaking his head at the now empty Land of Departure. "Now who will I play the Command Board with?"

~~~{Land of Departure, As They Remembered It – End}~~~

Varanotes: Who indeed?

Writing wacky!Xehanort is so much fun, you have no idea. He's endearingly weird and charming, but just as evil and plotting as canon, make no mistake. I'm playing with the idea of a spin-off where he's the main character. Gonna finish this little ditty first though!

But wow, this chapter really kicked my ass. Future chapters will not take as long as this one, trust me. The main issue that ate up all my time was trying to figure out how to approach the writing in a way I was satisfied with, and not just a psudo-script format. It's getting there, plus the next chapters will be shorter, focusing on only one character at a time until we reach Radiant Garden.

Gonna be getting back into college soon too, so we'll see how updates go from here on out. Work comes first, I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean I'm not also dedicated to my fics!

Hit that review button, and see you soon!