Author's Note: I'm pleasantly surprised by how basically steady this is going so far. The real challenge for me will be creating an exciting storyline for later chapters not covered in as much detail by the game. But I'll do my best, though updates might take a bit longer. Where are my reviews though people? I mean, if the story sucks I understand, but I thought I might have at least a bit more from people by now. It's just nice to know what people think is all. Ah well, perhaps almost everybody, like me knows how these kinds of fics tend to stagnate and die after a certain point and you're afraid this will wind up the same way and thus don't feel like expending any energy on it till you see different. If so, that's understandable enough. I'll try not to let you down.

But if you have questions or comments, once again, leave a review and I will respond. Thanks.

CHAPTER 3:A Stranger's Tale

"Ready or not!" Riku said, slapping the edge of the wooden sword against his palm. The rules of the game were simple: whoever lasts the longest wins. It required a skillful blend of finesse, strength and resistance to getting beat with a stick repeatedly, of course.

Sora bent his knees, gripping the hilt of his "sword" tightly with both hands, no doubt preparing himself for the inevitable clash.

Never get anywhere stiff like that...

Vaulting into the air, Riku dove over Sora's head, evading the reach of his first swing, while reposing behind him to deliver his own with a rapid spin. Sora had jumped forward as well, however, narrowly escaping Riku's attack.

Now facing each other once more, Riku struck out just as Sora lunged forward, the force of the collision knocking them both backward.

Sora swung at him again, but Riku parried it with his spin, using the momentum to slash at him once more while his blade was knocked away. But his attack narrowly missed as Sora sank lower, quickly bashing Riku in his exposed ribs and following it up with a firm lunge to his gut and a spinning slash across his chest.

"Rrrah!" Riku grunted, staggering backwards.

Am I just worn out from everything else today? Feels like a welt is already forming... Focus!

It was true, Sora was a lot stronger than the kids that usually came at him. After all, he had been fighting Riku since they were little. Something was bound to rub off. Fights with him were actually a workout. But it was more than that, Riku decided. She was watching. His gaze shifted briefly towards Kairi for a moment, who sat on the bridge watching their battle nervously with those beautiful deep blue eyes.

"Come on, Riku!" Kairi called out.

Jumping to avoid further attack from Sora, Riku's shoes landed hard amidst a burst of white sand, while Sora put some distance between them, holding his sword across his back as he ran.

"What, giving up already?" Riku taunted him, his sword in a relaxed hold just above his shoulder as he beckoned with his free hand.

"As if!" Sora scoffed, spinning on his heels and rushing toward Riku, preparing his strike as he ran. Throwing all his weight into a lunge, Sora's face turned from determination to regret as he hit nothing but air, Riku kicking his legs out from beneath to fall to his back. And that could only mean one thing. With Sora already overcommitted, Riku sprang back up, his legs ramming hard into the boy's chest, winding him.

He fell for it

"Come on!" Riku pressed, now standing behind Sora.

Despite the ache in his chest, though, Sora quickly threw a clumsy swing back towards him, but Riku simply jumped forward, dodging the blow.

"You can take him, Sora!" Kairi shouted.

"Hey!" Riku exclaimed, turning around. "Who's side are you on, anyway?"

Kairi giggled guiltily. "I wonder," she said with a devious smile. Her face was blushing, however, betraying the cool attitude she displayed.

Riku rolled his eyes as he spun around and struck out towards Sora, who jumped backward to avoid it, mimicking Riku's earlier maneuver.

He's starting to get flighty... I don't wanna have to chase him around the tree all night... How can I end this?

But Sora made the mistake rushing forward without an opening and Riku's backhanded strike caught him right across the chin, slapping his head backwards as he struggled to stand. His eyes looked watery as they narrowed in rage, warm blood trickling down his neck.

Riku jumped backwards and held his sword out as Sora's slammed into the sand, striking up a burst of dust. He could feel the sweat being shaken out of Sora's messy hair as he came at him once more, bringing the sword down on Riku's again and again, trying to break his block.

"My turn!" Riku snarled, slapping Sora's sword out of the way as he jumped up and slammed it down into his shoulder, spinning his whole body around as he fell to one knee, barely even gripping the sword. But the kid recovered fast and his arm came flying back at Riku, just barely missing as he jumped away.

Riku could tell Sora was getting mad. Really mad.

Riku slashed forward, but the blow collided with Sora's hammer strike, their wrists numbing from the blow. Once more jumping over Sora to evade his follow up attack, Riku balanced on the trunk of his favorite paopu tree, his sword hanging loosely at his side.

"You still don't got it," Riku chided, shaking his head. Sora was running at him, carrying his sword across his back. Rather than risk falling into the water below, Riku jumped back into the sand, just barely blocking Sora's blow from above as he jumped and struck down at him.

Riku countered with a wide slash which hit Sora across the chest and then jumped to the side to avoid the retaliatory strike. The kid had been hitting the sand an awful lot today.

Sora doubled back in a short circle around one of the trees but was met by a backhanded strike from Riku's sword.

"Gah!" Sora gasped, his lungs burning from the exertion.

Once more the pattern repeated itself, Riku jumping backwards after his first strike while Sora vaulted into the air to deliver an uppercut. Today just wasn't Sora's day, it seemed.

Landing on one knee, Riku watched Sora carefully as he fell back to the sand, who turned around and ran away.

"What are you afraid of?" Riku called out.

But the maneuver had only been to trick him. Sora reposed rapidly, throwing his weight into another strike, once more faced with a guarding blade which parried the blow, however. Another desperate lunge only garnered the same result.

His feet shuffling along a circle, Sora kept Riku busy whilst he forced him across, catching him around the bend of the tree and landing another strike on his arm. Not wasting the opportunity, he followed it up with a fierce lunge straight into Riku's gut.

Riku clenched his teeth at the pain, using every ounce of focus to throw himself backwards to the ground. The impact on his back was hard to be sure, but it was a lot better than taking anymore blows from Sora's stick. He didn't manage to hit him often, but when he did, it hurt like hell.

It's over

Once more, Riku sprang back to his feet, using his legs like a battering ram. Only this time, Sora dove to the side, evading the blow.

"Go, Sora!" Kairi cheered, raising her arms.


They ran in opposing circles for a moment, neither one ready for the other's strike. Riku delivered a quick one, hoping to Sora off guard, but he dodged it. Losing track of his surrounding though, he ran into the trunk of the tree, hurriedly shaking off the pain from his shoulder as he avoided another of Riku's spinning strikes. He swung hard into Riku's chest, however, causing the young man to hop back onto the paopu trunk for a breath.

Upon reentering the fray, Riku landed squarely in front of another tree, managing to knock away Sora's lunge who had been waiting for him there. Sora evaded his spinning strike, knocking him to his back with a downward slash which Riku turned into another springing kick.

This time, however, Sora had no time to evade and Riku's shoes kicked hard into his ribs as he barreled through him back to his feet. He staggered for a moment, shaking his head as his vision blurred.

How much more can he take?

Holding his stomach, Sora ran away, pursued by Riku who followed him around the few trees which littered the small outcropping. Seeing he wouldn't escape him, Sora spun on his heels and struck out hard, meeting Riku's at the same time in a shower of splinters. There were definitely notches forming in those swords.

In such a close quarters struggle, Sora dazed Riku with a blow to the chin, following it up with a lunge and a backhanded strike which knocked him to the ground. Grunting from the pain, Riku pushed his hands forward and struck out, once more catching Sora in the deadly path of his legs, this time in his lower back though. He recovered quickly enough, however, coming at him again with a barrage of strikes which Riku blocked and parried, waiting for a chance to counterattack.

But Sora knew better than to wait for that, seeming to adopt a hit and run strategy as he turned on his heels and dashed away, taking Riku around the trees again. When Riku lunged forward and missed, Sora spun around and swung his weapon down into a block.

Rather than waste time with a counterattack though, Riku jumped around behind him, evading Sora's reach and reposing with a spinning strike. The attack missed, however, as Sora ran forward, doubling back for a quick lunge into Riku's chest. Trying for another blow to his ribs, Riku fell backward and kicked up, but Sora had had enough of those shoes and ran sideways to avoid the rebound. He came down again where Riku stood, but went wide as Riku jumped behind him and delivered a backhanded strike, just missing Sora who doubled back to take out an overextended Riku.

I'll just have to take it in order to come out on top

He didn't even deflect the blow as Sora's stick whacked him upside the head. But Sora had made the mistake of over committing to his lunge again, and this time when Riku's back hit the sand and he sprang up, his legs firmly connected with Sora's ribs, pushing through him to land on his feet whilst Sora fell to the sand hard, solidly beaten.

"Ohhhhhh," Sora groaned in pain as he pushed himself up shakily. He put a hand out as if to say, "No more," but was finding it hard to breathe. His ribs were probably aching by now.

"Here," Riku said breathlessly, offering a sweaty hand to pull the boy up. He was feeling it too.

"Sora! Are you okay?" Kairi exclaimed, rushing towards the prostrate boy and throwing her arms around him gently.

What? I win the match and Kairi goes over to him? Figures

Sora's head fell to a slump as his defeat settled in. "Now the score's 0 to 1," he complained, kicking up a clod of sand in frustration. He felt Kairi against him, however, and smiled at her.

"Don't worry about it, Sora," Riku said comfortingly. "You'll get stronger. After all," he added, barely able to contain his laughter. "Tidus will always be around for you to beat on!" he blurted out.

"What?" Sora exclaimed, his face red. "Say that again!"

But Riku just smiled.

"You guys really went at it today," Kairi mused. "You weren't just putting on a good show for me right?" she asked in mock suspicion.

"Huh?" Sora muttered in confusion, but before he could say more, Riku interjected.

-"You're right. Sora only let me beat him so he could win a hug from you," Riku explained matter-of-factly. "Right, Sora?" he asked with a gleam in his eye.

"Hey, that's not-" Sora protested.

Riku threw his head back for a good long laugh, at Sora's expense, of course. And Kairi couldn't help but giggle herself.

"Hey you guys," Kairi asked suddenly, pointing out at the horizon. "Let's watch the sunset together!"

"Alright," Sora agreed as the pair plopped down on Riku's leaning paopu tree.

Did they always sit so close? Riku wondered.

Riku joined them and leaned back against the trunk, his arms folded across his chest as he stared out at the sea, the setting sun's rays turning the waves a deep orange. He had been doing a lot of that this past week.

An audible sigh escaped the throats of Sora and Kairi as they watched the dwindling light contentedly. Riku glanced down at this arms, purple welts forming in a few places as well as a fresh scab on his shoulder.

"So..." Sora began uncertainly. "Kairi's home is out there somewhere, right?"

"Could be," Riku said simply, never taking his eyes from the horizon. "We'll never know by staying here."

"But how far could a raft take us?" Sora asked skeptically, leaning his head out for a look at Riku.

"Who knows?" Riku admitted with a wave of his hand, shaking his head slightly. "If we have to, we'll think of something else," he offered.

"So, suppose you get to another world," Kairi chimed in. "Hehe, what would you do there?" she asked with a giggle, giddy with excitement as she dangled her legs over the water below.

Riku opened his mouth to speak but realized there were no words. "Hmm..." he muttered simply. "Well, I haven't really thought about it," he admitted finally. "It's just...I've always wondered why we're here on this island. If there are any other worlds out there, why did we end up on this one? And suppose there are other worlds... Then ours is just a little piece of something much greater. So, we could have just as easily ended up somewhere else, right?" he explained wistfully, turning to face his friends for the first time since they had sat down.

"I don't know," Sora shrugged, swinging his legs up as he laid his down on the trunk.

"Exactly," Riku said pointedly, a little deflated by Sora's apparent disinterest. "That's why we need to go out there and find out." He pushed off from the trunk and strode over to the edge of the tiny outcrop. Restless. "Just sitting here won't change a thing. It's the same old stuff," he continued, shaking his head. "So let's go."

Kairi looked toward Riku, her face concerned. "You've been thinking a lot lately, haven't you?" she asked softly.

"Thanks to you," Riku agreed, turning towards her. Why did her eyes look sad? "If you hadn't come here, I probably would've never thought of any of this. Kairi, thanks."

"You're welcome," she replied cheerfully, turning her attention back to the sunset once more. A twilight haze had already settled over the sky.

"Well, I'm tired, let's call it a night," Sora mumbled, dropping down from the branch and back to the sand.

"Yeah, it is getting late. We'll finish up tomorrow," Kairi agreed, jumping down to follow him.

"Sora!" Riku called out as he followed behind, stopping him to let Kairi go past. She glanced backward to see what was up, but continued on nonetheless.

As Sora turned to face him, Riku threw the paopu fruit he had been saving to him. Sora scrambled to catch it, holding it out from his chest in bewilderment.

"You wanted one. Didn't you?" Riku asked, pointing toward the star-shaped fruit.

"A paopu fruit?" Sora mumbled with distaste.

"If two people share one, their destinies become intertwined," Riku reminded the young man, striding past him across the bridge. "They'll remain a part of each other's lives no matter what. C'mon, I know you want to try it," he teased with a wave of his hand.

"What are you talking-" Sora demanded, holding the thing away like it was a dead animal or something.

But Riku just laughed to himself as he continued walking away, taking off in a run back to the shack to catch up with Kairi on the beach below.

Grabbing his oar, Riku hopped into one of the small boats near the pier, quickly undoing the knot and pushing off, setting the boat out into deeper water. Leaning back, he sunk the oar into the waves, pulling it back repeatedly to gain momentum.

He could see Sora and Kairi nearby in their boats, trailing behind him. He smiled back at them before returning his attention to the approaching landmass. "Hey, remember-get back here as early as you can tomorrow. There's still work to do."

I hope that man is out drinking or something... I'm in no mood to deal with him

When he had reached the shoreline, he hopped out into the shallow waves and ran the boat up the beach the rest of the way to the docks. There he took the rope and tied a knot round the pier to secure the craft. It seemed Kairi and Sora had disembarked on another beach. Oh well.

"I guess were not walking home together..." he muttered.

As his wet shoes trudged through the sand, he savored the feeling of the cool air against his skin. He liked the night. He couldn't seem to sleep for very long, so he often took long walks out in the dark, listening to the sound of the wind, gazing up at the sparkling stars. Sometimes he found Kairi awake too and the two of them would lay on the beach and watch for meteors. He never told Sora though, and wasn't sure if she ever mentioned it.

Suddenly, however, Riku felt uneasy, though he wasn't quite sure why, and he snapped to attention, on edge. Something up ahead came into focus and he stopped. It looked like...a figure. Yes, someone was walking slowly up the hill, concealed by a hood. But it was eerie. Because the hem of the cloak covered their feet, it made whoever it was look as if they were simply gliding across the ground. Riku shuddered, though it wasn't a cold night at all.

What's with this guy? What's he doing out here like this? Don't tell me Wakka's playing some kind of joke on me

Curious, he crept toward the mysterious figure, careful to keep his steps quiet. As he approached, however, and the outline of a large man could be clearly discerned beneath the folds of that cloak, Riku's eyes darted around for a weapon, his hand settling on the hilt of the wooden sword hanging from his belt.

I can't think of anyone here who would act this way... Who are you?

Seeing no better option than the direct approach, Riku decided to make himself known.

"Hey!" he called out, his voice almost causing him to jump as it rang out in the dead night air.

The figure stopped, but otherwise made no move. It seemed to be waiting.

"What are you doing out here?" Riku asked impatiently, his eyes narrowed.

"Going to and fro over this tiny world, and walking the length of it," the figure spoke finally, still not turning around. It was a rich, deep voice. And one that Riku, in all his years on the islands, had never heard before. Just who did this guy think he was?

This world?

"Well, there's nothing of interest that way," Riku said with a wave of his hand.

"Is that so?" the figure replied unassumingly.

"That's right. Over that hill is just a small city filled with small-minded people. Trust me," Riku explained a bit bitterly. "There's nothing to see there."

"But there are things of great value which cannot always be seen with the eyes alone-much like the heart, for example," the voice countered.

"So you're searching for something then," Riku ventured. "Have you really come from another world?" he pressed, holding his breath.

"I have been to many. But what would you know of other worlds?" the figure retorted, turning to face him at last, looking down at him from the hill. The gesture turned out to be pointless, however, as the face lay in complete shadow, obscured by the deep brown cloak it wore.

Nonetheless, Riku couldn't help but feel like the eyes which lay beneath that hood were fixed upon him now, scrutinizing him intently. Unable to make a reply to the question, Riku looked away.

"I thought as much," the figure said knowingly. "You cannot possibly imagine the wonders which lie beyond the door," the voice replied.

If he really is from another world...why did he come here? What could he possibly want in this place?

Riku felt his mouth water. "How?" he muttered breathlessly, his fingers tingling. "Tell me how."

"This world is connected-tied to the darkness," the figure explained cryptically. "But so long as the door remains shut, you will never escape and your efforts will be meaningless," the voice added and Riku's eyes went wide, a gasp escaping his throat.

It can't be! The door?

"Yeah? Well, I'm gonna get out there and find out for myself!" Riku declared, clenching his fist. "Me and my friends."

"There are costs to such knowledge," the figure cautioned.

"Whatever the price, I'm prepared to pay it," Riku pledged.

The voice chuckled derisively for the first time. It was a horrid, unnatural sound that made Riku feel awful. "Your words are as foolish as your mind."

"Are you calling me a fool?" Riku demanded, drawing his wooden sword.

Could I really take him? He's big... But he doesn't appear to be armed...

"But what about your friends?" the voice retorted once the fit of laughter had subsided. "Will you force them through with you? To penetrate the darkness is to embrace an existence of solitude."

Riku pursed his lips, taken aback by the suggestion as his sword arm fell limp to his side.

"But come now, this is nothing for children. You are too afraid. Go home to your friends, boy," the voiced challenged. "Play with your toy swords and ships."

Riku grit his teeth angrily, his fist tightening around the hilt of his stick. It was obvious this guy either didn't know who he was, or was so confident in himself he didn't care. Closing his eyes to clear his thoughts, Riku shook his head and fixed his gaze back on the hooded figure above once more. Only, suddenly it wasn't there anymore, as if they had simply vanished.

Huh? But where did they-

Riku took off running up the hill, digging his feet in and kicking off to gain distance as quickly as possible. Reaching the top, he whirled around bewildered, searching for any sign of the mysterious visitor. Finally resigning himself, he kicked up a patch of grass in frustration, a deep sigh escaping his lips.

"He's probably just some crazy hermit," Riku reasoned to himself. "That's why I've never seen him before. Someone who didn't want to be found. It doesn't matter though. We have our raft. We'll load the rest of the supplies tomorrow and set sail. Then we'll be rid of this place for good.

"Coward!" Riku spat for good measure, pausing a moment to listen to the night air before finally turning towards the nearby street to head home.