Author's Note: As a warning to anyone who reads this, when I rated this M, I meant it. This comes from the deepest, darkest depths of my insanity. To give you an idea, this story, from start to finish, will include murder, suicide, pedophilia, and incest, to name a few.

This was inspired by a number of things. First of all, Amilcare Ponchielli's 'Dance of the Hours'. Yes, the one from Fantasia with the ballet dancing hippos and alligators. There will be five chapters, each based on a time of day portrayed in the song. Second influence is 'White Knight' by The Infinite Dani-Chan Replika, for reasons most obvious if you read it. The third influence is Hamlet. Yes, that Hamlet. Not saying why. I'll become obvious later.

Well, enjoy my twisted mind.

The darkness of their surroundings threw everything into disarray, wiping all sense of continuity and coherency from the world. Looming trees made the sky black, darkening out the moon and whirling their leaves through the air. Scattered footsteps in the burst gave the semblance of hopelessness, trapped rats in a cage without boundaries. There were no colors but black and red; the blazing torch lights, his companion's midnight hair, and the red blood that melded and spilled over his clothes. They cuddled close together in their hiding place, crying silently against his companion's shoulder.

"They're closing in on us. We don't have much time. When I tell you, you have to run."

He wailed, the sound muffled as his companion pressed his face closer to his shoulder. "I don't want to leave you! You said we were going to stay together!"

"Things changed. We can't escape together."

"You promised!"

His companion chuckled. "Sorry. It's a promise I'll have to break. Be a good boy for me, won't you?" Giving him a last pat on the head, his companion stood up and jumped out of their hole, giving him one last sad look. "You need to run now."

Shouts came from all around them, distorted echoing that was too garbled to make out, but he couldn't will himself to move, staring at his companion's back and his own bloodstained hands. Shadowy figures emerged from the trees all around them, seemingly spawned from the wood itself. His companion held his ground, his back to the hole, but the message was clear: run. Run and don't stop running.

It was too much to bear. He began to shake, the little ripples rolling through his skin to form bigger, more agonizing tremors until he thought he was going to throw up. There was nothing he could do to stop the tears flooding his eyes, filling his vision with blurred shapes. He was staring at a childish drawing from a forgotten past, one that was so far back that it was no longer real. A scream escaped his lips as he sprang to his feet and bolted out of the hole, running in the opposite direction at a speed that startled him. Foreign hands grabbed at him, restraining him, and he cried, their touch like fire across his skin.

More yelling joined his and the hands loosened enough for him to yank himself free. His companion's voice rose above all others, clear in the otherwise muddled world. "Run, Ven! Don't stop running!"

He did just that, racing as fast and far as his legs could carry him. He ran and ran, faster and faster until his legs gave out and his mind shut down.

Twisted Hours

Chapter 1 - Dawn

Ventus woke up with a jolt, moving so swiftly that it disrupted his precarious position on the edge of the bed. He rolled off the soft mattress with a yelp of surprise and hit the floor, his legs tangled up in the sheets and still on the bed. Carefully, he extricated himself from them and curled up on the floor, enjoying the effects of the frigid stone on his overheated body. It helped him calm his tense nerves and bring him back to reality.

It was only a dream, nothing real about it. That was what he told himself every morning when the dream would make his heart race and his muscles scream. His mind was only making it real, making him feel the adrenaline that this dream person called upon. He had never needed to run for his life, and he would have never done so in such a cowardly manner. Ven could say one thing about himself that the dream person could not: he was brave.

Relaxed enough to stand up, he did so and began his morning routine, starting with his stretches. The stretches were too important to skip; as he'd learned from the cramps he encountered each time he decided he didn't have time. In his line of work, keeping in top physical form was the difference between life and death. He switched from legs stretches into pushups and sit-ups, mentally noting that he needed a haircut when his unruly blond mop persisted in flopping into his eyes. He'd ask Aqua for one during their afternoon break.

When his stretches were complete, he made his bed, laid out his clothes and went across his room to the tub. His room wasn't big enough to have a separate washing room, so he made sure his door was locked before he checked the temperature and slipped in, his nightclothes abandoned across the floor. The tub, a large wooden basin, was quickly being outgrown by the teen, necessitating him to hug his knees while he sat contemplating things.

As usual, his dream raised the most questions. Where was it taking place? When was it? Who had his companion been? Why had he risked his life to save the dream Ven? What had they meant to each other that they would promise to stay together? Not all the details were questions, though. It was clear to him whose blood had been on the dream Ven's hands.

"But what does it mean?" he grumbled, closing his eyes. "Why am I seeing something painful like that? It has nothing to do with me, right?" Still, his heart always ached to hear their parting words, knowing what would happen to them time and again in his dreams.

Washing quickly, he cleaned up the bath as much as he could before folding his dirty clothes and placing them on a chair. There were maids to clean for him while he worked, but he wanted to do as much as he could to make their load lighter.

He was in the middle of dressing into his usual clothes, beige pants, black shirt, armored chest plate, and black and white jacket, when there was a knock on his door. "Come on, Ven! We'll be late!"

"Coming!" he shouted back, tugging on his shoes before racing to the door.

The main hall of Ven's home was a throne room of sorts, constructed for the royal family in place of a castle. They believed in living modestly, taking as little from the environment as they could manage, and so a large building served as their home, as well as that of the servants and the royal guard. Ven belonged to the latter group, accompanied by his friends, who by some strange coincidence all had blue eyes.

Terra was the oldest of the group, the tallest, and the strongest, earning him the rank of captain. He carried himself with a stern dignity, but everyone who knew him thought he was incredibly kind. Many of the townsfolk, the women mostly, ogled over him when they saw him, but Terra took it in stride. His brown hair was even messier than Ven's and Aqua was constantly reprimanding him for coming to work with bed head.

Aqua was Terra's second-in-command, and kept everyone, including the captain, in line. Despite her serious disposition, she cared deeply for her friends, garnering her a frightening reputation from any who dared cross her. She had a habit of constantly combing her blue hair with her fingers, trying to gauge when she needed her next haircut.

Sora was a bit younger than Ven, but just as talented. He was an up and coming star, developing his skills with astonishing speed, but no one envied him. His happy personality was infectious and he had a strange penchant for helping people, going so far to ignore orders to do so. That quality made him one of Ven's closest friends.

The four knights gathered in the throne room, running final checks on their morning preparations before the royal family arrived. When the trumpets sounding their entrance blared, the guard snapped to attention, watching out of the corners of their eyes as the king and his children took their places.

The king was getting on in years, but he was kind and wise, knowing his people well. His face was covered in scars from his years in battle and he showed them off proudly, his black hair pulled back. Like the building he had chosen to reside in, his clothes were modest as well, a long white jacket trimmed with royal colors the only sign of his rank.

His children, the prince and princess, looked almost nothing like him. Prince Riku had long silvery hair and thick muscles rivaling Terra's, Ven knowing he did just as much training to get them. His face was much sterner than his father's was, and Ven secretly wondered if he ever smiled. Princess Kairi was the other extreme, always smiling and happy, dainty in comparison. From the way he always stared at her flowing red hair, it was easy to tell that Sora had a crush on her.

The king waved his hand, signaling them at ease. "Captain, the morning report, please."

Terra stepped forward and dropped to one knee. "Your Majesty. The riots in the southern country have been quelled and reconstruction efforts are beginning there now. The northwest country has successfully recovered from the forest fires of last summer and send word that their harvest is expecting double the surplus amount. The eastern country has sent word to Radiant Kingdom that they wish to renegotiate the fishing rights. They expect to have a draft delivered within a week if the offer is accepted."

"Very good. It seems all is well with the kingdom," he smiled, glancing at each of his children in turn. The king took the three steps down from the thrones and placed a hand on Terra's shoulder. "I commend you, Captain, for such admirable work. All of you have done excellent jobs."

"Thank you, Your Majesty," they chorused, bowing.

Lifting his head slightly, Ven saw Prince Riku stand up and leave, glaring coldly at Terra over his shoulder before he vanished from sight.

Vanitas opened his eyes slowly, wishing his head wasn't throbbing so horribly first thing in the morning. He had gotten used to waking up in the morning, thought it was impossible to tell the time of day underground. The windows of his room let in the light of the streetlamps, the only light in his world, which were being lit as he woke. He'd lived underground so long that his golden eyes no longer needed time to adjust.

Lying in bed, he lifted his hands and stared at them, visually tracing the white scars that dashed diagonally down his palms. The dream of his past always reminded him of those particular scars and their meaning, proving to him that he was never dreaming. He was living the nightmare.

Shrugging himself out of bed, he wobbled on his feet, wiping the sleep out of his eyes before he began his morning routine. Lighting a lamp, he tossed the sheets lazily back on his bed and headed to the bathroom. Living underground had one advantage: running water. The subterranean castle had been constructed to divert water through natural cracks, meaning that there was an unstoppable flow of water and a persistent noise that accompanied it.

Having not slept in any clothes, Vanitas stepped directly into the flow of icy water. The reaction was almost instant, the water pouring across all the scars on his body, the cold liquid searing across the fragile skin like a fire through dry grass. He gripped the rock wall with his hands, crying out against the pain that radiated from his healing wounds. They stung, all over his chest, his back, his arms and his legs, mingling reactionary tears into the stream's flow. Finally, the pain faded into numbness and he got out, judging himself sufficiently clean.

Hauling his dripping body back into his room, he ruffled the water out of his slick midnight hair, feeling it run streams down his pale face. He dropped himself onto his bed and began searching across the dirt floor for his clothes, trying to remember where he had tossed them the night before. He found his undergarments, black boots, and black jeans, but his shirt was mysteriously missing. Grumbling, he leaned across the bed's surface and found it, draped over a moving object.

With a chuckle, he picked it up, creature and all, and sat it on the bed. The creature relinquished the red fabric, tilting its head at him as he pulled it on. It was blue and squishy, with pointed arms and legs and a pointed face, two jaggedly bent antenna sticking out of the back of its head. Its two unblinking red eyes looked angry, but it was genuinely curious, moving jerkily to his side as he tucked his shirt into his pants.

Holding it in his arms, he stood up. "Breakfast time."

The largest room in the underground castle was the dining room, though the logic behind that was unfathomable. The castle itself held a large number of serving staff, but that particular room only served three people. Even then, Vanitas only had permission to eat in there if the Master was absent and, luckily from him, the Master was far from an early riser. When he arrived, the room was already occupied, the seat at the far end of the table pulled back. Even from across the room Vanitas could tell who it was and he made his way down towards her.

Princess Xion's title was only for show, as she was not blood relation to the Master, but if anyone in the underground city deserved the title of princess, it was her. She was the most beautiful girl anyone had ever seen, but Vanitas had seen her on the surface, and the underground lights did not do her justice. Thought it was unnecessary, she kept her beautiful black hair cropped short, showing off her tomboyish features. Also, in contrast to others who lived underground, she insisted on wearing shorts and tank tops, claiming that the cool air was good for her skin. That attitude made her seem self-centered, but she did have a kind side that she reserved for Vanitas and the Master.

Vanitas pulled out a chair and placed the creature on the table. As he sat down, it jerked its way over to Xion's plate, grabbed a piece of toast and savagely shredded it, ravaging the pieces until they were scattered across the table. It then proceeded to waddle along the tablecloth, its hands whipping out to grab the pieces and shove them in its mouth. Xion giggled as she watched it work while Vanitas prepared his own breakfast, piling food onto his plate before taking his seat.

"How do you come up with creatures like these?" she asked, her delighted eyes locked on the little blue thing, "They're so entertaining."

He shrugged. "They're effective for their job. Whether they're entertaining or not wasn't really the point."

"I like these ones," she commented, reaching out to touch it. It paused in its work and stared at her, continuing its slight jerking movements until her skin came into contact with it. It stretched up slightly to meet her palm before sinking into a blue puddle on the table. She laughed. "Vanitas!"

"You were asking for it," he smiled crookedly, spreading butter on his toast, apathetic to the fact that it was cold. The knife slipped and poked into his hand, a sharp pain flaring up his arm. He dropped the knife to the table and pressed his fingers to the spot, grimacing against the flares that accompanied it. Though it only made him feel worse, it was a reminder.

"You missed your hands again?" Xion asked, folding her own on the table. "I thought you stopped forgetting."

He sighed, rubbing his palms together. "I'm far from perfect. I'll run them after I set up, or just remember tomorrow." Standing up, he held hand over the table. The creature came to him, cuddling for a moment before it melded to his skin and vanished. He wiped its breakfast into a napkin and emptied it into his mouth. Finally, he grabbed a piece of toast and walked out, waving over his shoulder.

The back of the castle led into a cleverly crafted stone courtyard, but Vanitas paid it no mind as he walked towards the back wall. The castle boundaries met with the cavern wall, dark rock that arched up and away far above his head. A door was built into the wall, and behind it lay a long ladder leading up to the surface. It was the only way up from the cavern, making it the only reason anyone still lived underground; no one outside the Master's circle knew of its existence and those that did were bound to secrecy.

The ladder took nearly an hour to climb on regular days. Vanitas usually did it in half, but the adrenaline in his system from the knife incident made him faster, letting him reach the top in a third. The tunnel's entrance was concealed in a poisonous bush so no one would find it. Vanitas had taken a vaccine for it, so he ignored it and took up his place in the tree above.

Placing his hands against the bark, he unleashed some of his power, watching the blue puddles slide their way to the ground. Within a minute, he had nearly a hundred of the creatures looking to him for orders.

"Spread out," he commanded, and they went, "We have work to do."

Vanitas had always hated living underground. It was cold, dark, and depressing; all things he couldn't stand. He loved being outside, hearing the sounds of nature, feeling the wind blowing around him. It made him feel complete, something he hadn't been since that fateful day in their past. His past, and Ven's as well. The last time they had been together haunted his memory and stalked him through his dreams. That memory of his past taunted him, as if to say 'we know you tried, but you didn't try hard enough and look what happened. You can't live with it, can you?'. The first few night he'd had that dream had been the most agonizing. He wanted to scream, cry and throw something at a wall, but he hadn't. It hadn't been possible.

The first few days apart from Ven had been like torture. Vanitas had worried about him constantly, not knowing if he had escaped or if he had and was dying somewhere. It had torn his heart apart, knowing he had broken his promise, not only to Ven but also to himself. He had sworn he would protect Ven no matter what, but it hadn't happened. His last memory of Ven would always be his wide frightful eyes staring up at him, blue eyes filled with tears that he could never dry.

His worry for Ven had stopped a few days later, when the real torture had begun. Vanitas had the scars as permanent memories of that. They had wanted information, clues to where they could find something, but he never heard what they had said or understood what they meant. He had believed it would be endless. Death would have been a blessing, but they made sure not to kill him. He lost track of time, measuring it only in pain. It had scarred him for life, physically and emotionally.

Then the Master had come. The Master found him, took him underground, and raised him there. Underground had become his haven, where no one could touch him. Being an understudy to the Master was like royalty; all the underground people adored and revered him. Those that didn't feared him, and they had every reason to. Vanitas' strength was near legendary, and the monsters he could create and command at will were even more frightening.

Under normal circumstances, it would have made anyone happy. But Vanitas wasn't anyone and it certainly didn't make him happy. He was apathetic to the whole situation. Somewhere along the line, he had just lost the ability to care.

Vanitas had been placed in charge of watching the princess, despite his young age. The princess was younger than he was, and it was the Master's orders, so he couldn't refuse. Not that he wanted to: the princess was nice to him, nicer than anyone else had since he lost Ven, including the Master. She treated him like he was human, which no one else did. He didn't even see himself as human, but she saw past his battered body and went straight for his heart. She could see his weak point, something he wanted no one else to find, so he protected her without question.

His exact orders were to 'protect the princess at all costs'. The meaning behind it was clear; he was expendable, she was not. Somehow, it didn't bother him. He was still too broken, inside and out, to care. He felt like some kind of drone, following orders without knowing what they meant or wondering why. It was, in a sense, comforting.

Xion liked being topside as much as he did, so she often dragged him to the surface with her whenever she wanted to play. Neither of them knew anyone up there and no one else was allowed to know about the entrance, so they spent all their time up there together. Xion liked running through the grass, climbing trees, and generally doing things that Vanitas always viewed as being boyish, but she didn't care.

"I do what I like," she had declared when he brought up the question, "And I like climbing and running, so that's what I do."

On one particular morning, they went above ground as usual, the ten-year-old boy hauling the princess out after him. The sun had been shining, the sky cloudless, and all he could think about was taking a nap. His sleep the night prior had been poor, tormented with memories of the past and strange creatures crawling around in his head. However, he knew that Xion needed watching and he pushed himself to stay awake, forcing his eyes open each time they tried to close. He kept on his feet, walking around after Xion to get his blood pumping to keep himself attentive. She eventually fell into step with him and they took a walk, wandering around through the trees and grasses.

"I think…" she mentioned out of the blue, "That you like being up here as much as I do."

"What makes you say that?"

"Something in your eyes. When we're down there, your eyes look haunted and dark, like a creepy black cat. But up here, your eyes look like they're reflecting the sunlight." She giggled. "Even when they're half shut."

He smirked. "A creepy black cat, huh?" he muttered, ruffling his spiky black hair.

"You do! You're colored like one already!"

He sighed. "You're right about one thing. I do like being up here, but it's not the sunlight that keeps me here. It's the wind."

"The wind? Why's that?"

"It makes me feel free. I feel like I can do anything I want. It's supporting me, picking me up and making me soar," he said, arms spread wide as though a breeze would come along and carry him like a bird, "Like I can get away from all of the things I promised to do and just be me. Down there, there's no wind. Just dead air. It strangles me."

Xion smiled. "You remind me of my sister."

"You have a sister?"

"Had. I don't know if she's alive anymore. She probably died sometime long ago. It's been a long time since I've seen her, but she always seemed like she just wanted to fly away, not a care in the world."

"Hmm. I never knew that."

"What about you? Any family?"

Something stung his hands, and for a moment, he wondered if it was guilt. "A… a brother. But it's been a long time. Far too long."

Xion didn't reply, and he figured she had seen his expression and decided against it. Somehow, he was grateful for it. He actually started believing that she cared before he shook the thought from his brain. No one cared about him except himself. Not even the Master, who had saved his pitiful life, really cared about him. He was a resource. He would be thrown out when he was no longer useful.

A sound caught his ears and he grabbed her wrist, pulling her behind the closest tree before he dropped to his knees, pushing her down with him. She opened her mouth to ask him what was wrong, as her senses weren't as tuned, but he clamped his hand against her lips and pressed her against his side, ignoring the flares of pain the contact sent through his bandaged body.

As he had guess, it was two people walking along through the trees, two men by the sound of it. They were joking and laughing about something and Vanitas had wondered briefly if they were drunk. With the way they were laughing, it certainly sounded like it. It brought back painful memories, reminiscences of when he'd been captive. The men who had tried to beat the information out of him sometimes came in drunk, and they would beat him nearly to death before someone sober would come and knock some sense into them, literally. It was a memory he had tried to forget but couldn't, and he didn't realize how much it angered him until Xion yelped in pain, his grip on her wrist becoming too painful.

He snapped out of his thoughts and became suddenly aware that the drunk laughing had stopped. There was some indistinct mumbling before the footsteps started coming back their way. With only a split second to make a decision, he got up, pulling Xion with him. The two men caught sight of them and took chase and, as Vanitas had feared, were gaining on them.

Everything went downhill when Xion tripped. Her feet went flying out from under her and she dropped face first into the grass. Still holding onto her, he fell too, and the men finally caught up to them.

"Children? Aww, I was hoping for something fun…"

"Are you blind, ya nitwit? One of them's a girl."

The first one laughed. "Right! A little girl. Commere, girly, we won't hurt ya… much…"

Vanitas scowled and clambered to his feet, catapulting himself at the approaching man. The man was too drunk to move in time and the two went toppling to the ground. Xion scrambled to her feet, staring at the scene in horror.

"Run, damnit!" Vanitas screamed, looking in her direction. She did so, but the distraction cost him. The second man came from the side and kicked him, his boot clunking the young boy on the head. Not only did it disorient him, but old wounds reopened and blood began streaming down his face. The first man recovered and picked him up, throwing him at a tree. Vanitas was fairly light, having spent most of his life suffering malnutrition and being locked up, and the drunk man didn't have to throw him hard to cause a lot of pain.

He hit the tree hard and heard something snap. He didn't have time to realize that it was some of his bones before he blacked out, images of the strange creatures from his dream flashing before his eyes.

When he did wake up, the sun was on the horizon, casting a pale orange glow across everything. Everything, including the little blue monsters sitting on the ground only inches from his face. He was too tired to be afraid, but he felt that he didn't need to. One of the little creatures plodded over to him and licked him, wiping some of the blood off his face. Something fell from its mouth and landed on his face, sliding down his cheek and onto his nose, where he could see what it was. It was human flesh, the skin clearly visible on it. He didn't even try to scream. There was nothing bad about it.

He knew instantly what the creatures had done. They had killed the two men, and in the pale sunlight, he could see the red splatters covering all of their bodies in different designs. It almost made him happy.

The creature finished licking his face and all of them came to him, cuddling up against him. He smiled; they were warm, and their contact tickled. Within second all of them were asleep and he felt himself drifting off as well, though he could hear Xion's voice in the distance and feel the Master's footsteps on the ground.

'What should I call them, these creatures? I don't know what they are, except that they come from me… I…don't know? I'm not smart enough, I guess. Then… what was that word? The Master said it… I'm 'unversed' in many things… It means I don't know… Unversed, then. I'll call you Unversed. At least, until I figure out what you are.'

The Unversed, they chorused in the back of his mind, connected only by thought, we shall be the Unversed, a part of you. That's all we need.

Vanitas took his place up in the tree, staring down through the poison bush at the tunnel. It was ironic, in a way. The Master believed that the outside world was poisonous, tricking people into thinking that they were above all things, that they had a right to step on anything and anyone they pleased. That's why the bush was there; to keep anyone who had seen the outside world from coming back and telling them that it was better than the Master led them to believe. Only three people had the vaccine in their systems: the Master himself, for obvious reasons; Xion, as the Master wanted to keep her wrapped around his fingers, content; and Vanitas, so he could protect the princess and keep on top of surveillance. The only thing that stood in the way of their hole was the bush, and it was only a bush, something easily cut down if you had the resources and a fair number of expendable people.

From his branch, he had a good view of the surroundings, only obscured by the other trees. There, he closed his eyes and waited, feeling his Unversed spreading away from him, their presences an extension of his thoughts.

"Now all I have to do is wait for him to get here…"

Ventus' earliest memory was the dream, and his name. He had woken up not knowing where he was or who he was, and that had been the most puzzling experience of all. After that, his earliest memory was breaking out into tears. It made sense to him; the dream had scared him and he was only around four years old at the time. Seeing that much blood and feeling that much pain would be agonizing for anyone.

That was the first time he met Terra and Aqua. They had come running into his room in a state of panic, wondering what the problem was. When they found him crying, Aqua had hugged him and Terra had patted his head, ruffling his hair when he started to calm down. Though they were not much older than he was, they did what he thought parents would have done. In that moment, they had become family to him, his big brother and sister, or as Sora called them 'the big bother and sitter'.

At the time they found him, both Terra and Aqua were orphans, taking care of themselves in the only way they could. Terra was planning to apply for a position working for the royal family, but Aqua hadn't been sure. She wanted Terra to find something more suited to his talents. Terra proved her wrong. Bandits attacked the town not long after Ven began living with them, and Terra fought back bravely. The bandits were captured without breaking anything or hurting anyone. It was then that Terra had been asked to join the Royal Guard. He agreed on the condition that Aqua and Ven joined him.

For anyone else, the demand would have been outrageous, but Terra had a rare gift. He had the ability to call upon a Keyblade, a powerful weapon that could do practically anything in the right hands, the only hands allowed to wield them. Keyblades determined the flow of power in the world, Aqua told him, so anyone wielding a Keyblade was to be revered for their skills. They were the best of the best at what they did, no matter what that was.

It later proved to be a good thing that Terra had dragged them with him. Both Ventus and Aqua had shown the ability to summon Keyblades, and all three of them quickly rose in the ranks. The rise had brought them all they had ever asked for and more, but it never tainted their friendship. In fact, Aqua proved to be more of a mother to them than before, making sure they did their duties and finished their chores on time. By the time Terra made Captain, Aqua became his capable second-in-command. Neither of them seemed to want it any other way.

Ven was the only one Terra ever explicitly told that he had a crush on Aqua. He did love her very much, but he was always too nervous to tell her. Aqua knew about Terra's feelings, though how she knew was a mystery. Ven had asked her, but she said it was 'women's intuition', whatever that meant. Whatever the case, neither of them talked about it, both worried that it would ruin their relationship if they talked about it.

Sora had joined the Royal Guard not long after Terra and Aqua's promotion, adding another Keyblade wielder to their ranks, and the four made up the Guard's highest-ranking officers. It was hard work, but they all helped each other out, which helped to alleviate some of the strain.

Ventus was happy. It was the one thing in his life that made him feel complete. He had people he could call his family, people who looked after him and who he could help in return. There was nothing else he needed.

"Another day of forest patrol," Terra grumbled as they trapped into their armor, beginning their weekly routine. "You know, I wonder how many times we have to go out there before someone gets the hint. No one's ever out there."

Ven chuckled. "You never know, Terra. We might find a herd of cannibal trees headed for town." He struck a distressed pose, one hand trying to strap on his blue and bronze chest plate. "'Oh no, we'll be eaten alive! Help, someone, the trees are attacking us!'"

"That's enough out of you two," Aqua scolded, though the laugh was audible in her voice. She went over and helped Ven with his armor, already decked out in her own. "You know that forest patrol is important."

"But aren't we in peace time?" Sora asked, looking around the dividers that had been set up between each armor locker.

Terra snorted. "Yeah, tell that to the raiders. We're at peace with Radiant Kingdom, not them, the lawless bastards. I swear, next raider or bandit I see is gonna get a huge helping of ass-kicking from me and my friend," he grunted, summoning his Keyblade. The heavy brown and gold metal weapon hit the ground with a thump as he set it on end, his armored hand resting on the guard. "Teach those sons a-"

"Terra, enough. What if the King came in here and heard you talking like that?" Aqua snapped.

He paled considerably. "Y-yes. You have a point. Patrol it is. Are we ready?"

"Yes," Sora answered, walking out from behind his divider, grey and gold armor strapped on carefully, "As always."

Aqua finished strapping on Ven's chest plates, giving him a light pat on the back. "We're done here, too."

"Then let's head out," Terra instructed, dropping his helmet into place on his head. He led the way out of the room, cape flowing behind him.

Vanitas knew who was coming before the footsteps even reached his ears; the Unversed made sure of that. "It's about time. I don't have all morning."

His companion reached up and pulled the hood off his beige cloak, revealing silver hair to the sunlight. "Neither do I. Let's begin."