Chapter Twenty: Shattered Reality

Riku

Riku paced his jail cell while Sora was calmer, his friend just leaning against the back wall with his arms over his chest. At least ten minutes passed since Gregory left with Steph; ten agonizing minutes. He imagined that she was getting ready for the wedding to Nathaniel, Gregory's nephew. But if things worked out the way Riku imagined they would, he believed that Steph wouldn't live very long. As soon as the people accepted that Nathaniel was a legitimate king, Steph would be out of the picture.

But Riku and his friends…they'd be out much sooner than that. Gregory was only keeping them alive so that Steph wouldn't ruin the wedding. As long as their lives were at stake, she wouldn't do anything reckless. And that was what scared him. Steph could not marry Nathaniel.

"Er, Riku?" Sora asked from his spot as the silver-haired teen continued pacing.

"What is it, Sora?"

"I guess now would be a good time to tell you that I snatched the cell keys off the guard before he threw me in."

Riku stopped pacing immediately, his aqua eyes growing as he looked over at his best friend. "…Yeah, that would have been good to know about ten minutes ago," Riku agreed, his expression fading from shocked to aggravated. Why didn't Sora tell him that sooner?

"Sorry," Sora said with a sheepish smile, pulling out the keys from behind his back. "I figured it would be good to wait till we were sure the guards were away."

At that, Riku started smirking. "Look at you, actually thinking ahead instead of jumping into something impulsively," he complimented. Sora must have matured in the time that Riku was away, at least in battle tactics.

"Thanks, I think."

"Now, if you don't mind, I'll take those keys from you," Riku said, walking to Sora and taking the keys out of his grasp. No more messing around. It's time to bust out of here. When he was at the front of the bars, he managed to jiggle the key into the lock. After a little bit of turning, the door clicked and opened softly.

Sighing a breath of relief, Riku opened the door and walked out. He couldn't help but look around to see if there was a guard rushing in to see that he escaped, but nobody came. The coast was clear. Riku opened the cell next to his and let Queen Andrea out before he moved onto Mr. Bottomsworth's cell. As soon as they were free, he looked around at his friends. It was the four of them against any guards that stood in their way.

Did they even have a chance against the army Gregory would send against them? That hopeless thought left Riku's mind as he focused instead on his determination to save Steph. It didn't matter what happened, just as long as they tried. Steph was in trouble, and she needed to be saved.

"C'mon," he said after a few moments. "We've got a wedding to crash."

*…*…*…*…*…*

Steph

This isn't how my wedding day was supposed to be, I thought to myself, tears flooding my eyes as I gazed at myself in the mirror. I was already in the dress that was provided for me, which fit perfectly. Solid white dress, strapless with a sweetheart neckline. There was a white bow in the middle of my back, the belt separating the plain top from the bottom, which flowed outwards and had faint silver flower designs in it. It was an absolutely gorgeous dress. But this was all wrong.

Nathaniel wasn't somebody that I loved. I considered him to be a close friend before I knew his true intentions: he wanted to become king more than anything else, even if he had to be married to me. This was going to be terrible. And there was nothing that I could do, because my friends were being held in Gregory's jail cells. If I did anything, they'd get hurt. Now, I understood that Gregory probably wouldn't let them live no matter what I did. But I couldn't be the cause of their deaths. I just couldn't.

"Y-your Majesty?"

Wiping at the tears that leaked out of my eyes, I turned my head towards the door to see an old friend, one of my closest maidservants. "Susana," I said weakly. It had been a long, long time since I saw her. On formal occasions, she always did my hair for me. That must have been why she was here now.

"Forgive me, Princess," Susana said shyly, dipping her head in sadness as she walked into the room further and shut the door behind her. "But…I've been sent to do your hair for you, and to make sure that you're not delaying."

"I won't fight against you," I responded quietly, walking over to the seat in front of the mirror, careful as I sat down in my dress. "I know you don't have a choice any more than I do." She clearly didn't want to do this; I knew that she wasn't just putting on an act. She was too genuinely sorrowful right now.

Nodding faintly, the maidservant walked over and stood behind me. She ran her fingers through my straight brunet hair before looking into the mirror in front of us. That was where she saw my reflected face, which still had a few tearstains on it. "Oh, princess," she sighed sadly, running her fingers through my hair again. "I'm so sorry…"

"It's okay," I whispered, shaking my head faintly. It wasn't really okay, but what else was there to say? "Let's just do what we need to do, okay?"

Again, Susana nodded. "I'll need to just throw it back in a nice bun," she said, reaching for my hairbrush on the desk. "They're impatient. And then make-up too…"

"I can do that. …I know that if we don't do this quickly, you'll get punished." That was the last thing that I wanted for somebody that I considered to be a friend. I was doing this to protect some of my other friends who were in worse danger, but Susana wasn't safe too. If she ticked them off, they could do whatever they wanted with her.

Susana looked at my reflection with soft eyes, her green orbs showing both compassion and sorrow. "You would have made such a good queen on your own," she said softly. "You're very kind."

"And so are you," I responded quietly. As she started working on my hair, I was careful not to move my head as I put on eyeliner and mascara. That was all that I cared about right now. I wouldn't overdo it; I would put on just enough makeup for them not to scold me for trying to ruin this wedding.

Susana finished with the bun a minute or two later, also putting a tiara on the top of my head. There was no veil to hide my face; the tradition in Cadia was that the bride only wore a veil if she had a father walk her down the aisle. Obviously my father wasn't coming to this wedding. He couldn't for some reason. And because of that…hope was lost.

My friend wordlessly stepped away, allowing me to examine my hair for myself. It was pulled back like a normal bun, but with the mirror she handed me, I could see the back. She did fine braids for certain strands of the bun. It was gorgeous.

"I must go report that you're prepared," Susana said quietly, gazing at me one last time before she turned and exited the room.

And then I was alone again.

I carefully rose out of my seat, careful not to trip on my dress or shoes. What was I supposed to do with myself now? I was going to be wed to somebody I didn't even like, while the person I did like was in a jail cell. If I hadn't met him, he wouldn't have been in this mess right now. It would have saved him from so much trouble if he didn't get attached to me…

Groaning softly to myself, I lifted my hands to my face so that I wouldn't have to look in the mirror and see my sorrow. Riku was going to die, wasn't he? And even if I was saving him temporarily by not causing trouble, his death would still be because of me. I shouldn't have let him come to this world with me. I should have pushed him away…

"Girls as beautiful as you shouldn't be crying," a voice said gently.

I lifted my head out of my hands, looking at the door as I was intruded on yet again. But this was the absolute last person that I expected to see standing there. "Riku!" He was here? But how?

It didn't matter. I ran towards him, tripping over my dress slightly when I was right in front of him. Fortunately, his arms were there to catch me. He wrapped his strong arms around me as I clung to him, the tears flowing either from happiness or sorrow at the situation. But there was now reason to be sorrowful; we didn't need to go through with the wedding.

Riku smiled faintly, looking down at me as I buried my face in his shoulder. "And as beautiful as you look," he continued quietly. "I'm afraid that there's not going to be any wedding today."

"Ha," I laughed softly. I lifted a hand to my face, wiping at my tears before I looked back up at Riku. "Shockingly, that doesn't bother me too much." It wasn't like I wanted to get married in the first place.

"I figured it wouldn't," he responded, lifting a hand and wiping at the tears that I missed. All that I wanted to do was savor the warmth of his soft fingers against my face, but I knew now wasn't the time to get lovesick. There were other people in the room as well.

Looking over Riku's shoulder, I saw my mom, Sora, and Mr. Bottomsworth. But my mom's expression…I wasn't sure how to read it. She looked only half-surprised to see me and Riku intimate with each other. To think I always gave her the impression nothing was going on between me and Riku because I was supposed to marry royalty…well, we had bigger problems now.

"So, Sora, you have any other bright ideas?" Riku asked his friend, releasing me somewhat as he turned to look at his best friend. One arm stayed around my shoulders as we all shifted our gaze to the brunet.

"Um…kick Gregory's butt?" he said with a small shrug.

"Works for me. Let's get going." Riku released me completely then, though his fingertips briefly ran over my bare back. The touch nearly caused me to shiver, but looking at my mom made that desire go away. She wasn't in favor of this…was she?

"Um…it's gonna be a little hard for me to fight in a wedding dress," I stated, motioning down to my dress as I stated the obvious.

"There's no time to get changed though," Mr. Bottomsworth said. "We must move quickly and defeat Gregory."

"He's right," Riku agreed, looking back to me and looking me in the eye. Upon seeing my nervousness, he set his hands on my shoulders. "It'll be okay," he promised softly. "I'll protect you."

But…the last time you protected me, you got captured for me. I don't want that to happen again; I should able to defend myself. "Riku…"

"We cannot linger here any longer," Queen Andrea interrupted, her voice stoic. "Gregory and Nathaniel are waiting in the chapel; I'm certain of it.

"Okay. Let's go. I'll lead the way, Sora take the back of the pack."

"Okay," Sora said in response to Riku. And then we were off to our destination.

Stealth wasn't even necessary with rushing to the chapel. There were no guards in the hallways. Absolutely zero. What did this mean for us? Gregory didn't know that my friends escaped their cells, or else he would have had all his soldiers searching for them. But was Gregory throwing caution out the window now by not having any guards walking through the halls? It didn't make sense that he would let his plan just collapse like that. Something was wrong. I could feel it.

The doors to the chapel were shut, and inside, I knew there was more than just the pews and the altar. Gregory and Nathaniel were there. Riku glanced at me briefly, seeing my anxiety. But this time, there wasn't time for him to comfort me. He lifted his hand, counting down to when he would do his next action. He shoved the doors open when he reached zero, the young man rushing in with me and my other friends right behind him.

And what did we see?

Gregory, Nathaniel, and the priest were standing at the front, and all the pews were empty. There were no soldiers waiting for us in here, either. What the heck? I thought it'd be a set-up or something…

"I'm…surprised," Gregory confessed, taking a few steps away from the altar so that he was standing in the aisle between the old-style pew rows. "I hadn't expected a jail-break."

"You didn't expect a lot of things," Riku spat. "What, did you really think that we'd go down without a fight?"

"No…I just assumed that the fight wouldn't come right now. I believed you would fight when you were led to your deaths. ..Tell me, how did you escape your cells?"

"That's for us to know and for you to never find out," Sora said, summoning his Keyblade to his grasp.

Gregory only hmphed, folding his arms over his chest as he took a few steps closer. "What a pity," he said. "And here I thought we could have a wedding without catastrophic failure."

"Well, you thought wrong," Sora responded boldly, stepping up to be at the front of the group. He seemed ready for a fight, yet Riku didn't summon his Keyblade yet. I didn't summon either of my weapons yet either, unsure as to what was going to happen. "You can still surrender easily enough, though."

The villain laughed. "Why on earth would I do that? My soldiers are on their way right now to crush this resistance."

I grunted, eyes widening as my hands curled into fists. "That's why you've been talking to us," I realized aloud. "You were giving your soldiers time to get here…"

"While you are naïve, you clearly are intelligent," Gregory complimented. "That intelligence will make you a wonderful queen." As my eyes narrowed, he continued speaking. "Now, that rebellious nature of yours…That will need to change. The threatening of your friends will persuade you to be a good puppet, hm?"

"That's really cheap," Andrea said lowly.

"Do I look like I care?" Gregory responded with a shrug. The answer was obvious: he didn't care, just as long as his plans worked.

The door suddenly opened behind us with a bang, making all of us nearly jump out of our skin. "Ah, here are those soldiers now," the villain said with a smirk.

But the one person who walked through those doors was not a soldier. He was not an enemy, either.

Dad.

Terry looked at my group of stunned friends before he looked back up at Gregory, who was equally stunned. "What, were you expecting somebody else?" he asked the man.

"…"

"Oh, you were expecting your soldiers?" Terry continued. "Sorry, but they won't be able to make it."

"What did you do?" Gregory asked lowly, rage starting to show in his voice.

"I didn't do anything. Unless you count recruiting a powerful sorcerer to cast a sleep spell on all your soldiers is something you'd hold me responsible for."

The door to the left of the altar opened suddenly, and in walked the sorcerer that Terry referred to: Merlin. And beside him was another friend.

"And I took the liberty of informing King Mickey of Disney Castle about your plan, since I'm sure whatever you're scheming went beyond this world."

"You…"

"Outsmarted you?"

"…Actually did something."

"I did," Terry confirmed. He walked forward, stepping between me and my mother as he set a hand on both of our shoulders. "I stood by the sidelines for too long. It's time that I protected my family, the same way that they've tried protecting me." He looked down at me, squeezing my shoulder. "And besides," he continued. "I'm not about to let my daughter get married for politics. When she marries, it'll be for love. And I'll be the one walking her down the aisle."

Gregory was silent for a few moments, arms still folded across his chest for a few moments before they went back down to his sides. "Oh, are you done?" he asked upon hearing nothing. "I wasn't sure you would ever stop blabbering on."

"Just making up for lost time," Terry said with a shrug. "I've got a lot to say."

"We all do," Andrea agreed. She lifted a hand to the on her shoulder, giving it a light squeeze in gentleness. "But before we can move on, we've got more business to attend to. Starting with you, Gregory."

"Oh, I'm petrified," he said sarcastically.

"You should be," Riku said in seriousness. He stepped further ahead of everyone, his Keyblade finally appearing in his grasp. "You just don't get it, do you Gregory? It's eight against two. Your plan failed."

"I won't accept defeat!" he roared, suddenly infuriated. My eyes widened automatically as Gregory shot off a ball of Darkness at Riku. I wanted to cast a shield around him instinctively, but he quickly lifted his Keyblade and deflected the orb. He whacked it away, the orb destroying some pews off to our left. With that clear threat, all of us summoned our weapons. I chose my bow and arrow, for obvious reasons. I couldn't fight very well in my dress.

But maybe I wouldn't have to fight at all. Riku and Sora both ran forward to fight Gregory, while my mom and dad ran to take on Nathaniel. That left only me and Mr. Bottomsworth. "…Do you know how to fight at all?" I asked him, turning my head to look at my tutor.

"I know some self-defense magic," he responded. "Unfortunately, that is the extent of my abilities."

"I don't know if you'll need to use them much anyway," I confessed, looking back at the fights and seeing my mom send Nathaniel flying into the altar. Wow was that a good hit, I thought in awe. But then my eyes darted to her weapon. "A Keyblade!" I gasped. She had one too?

"I'm just as stunned as you are, Your Majesty," Mr. Bottomsworth confessed.

No kidding, I thought to myself, cringing when I looked over at Riku's battle and saw him take a hit from Gregory. Sora was also knocked down, struggling to get up. He was taking too much time. Gregory saw that Sora was the more vulnerable of the two and he spun around, hurrying over to Sora while he prepared to stab him.

He didn't get the chance to do that. Instinct took over me completely as I lifted my bow and arrow and shot, my aim deathly accurate. The arrow hit Gregory's chest, right at his heart.

In total and utter shock, Gregory turned his head and looked at me. My eyes reflected the same shock, a thought crossing my mind immediately: I just killed another human being. Death took Gregory away, the man falling to the ground completely before he started fading away.

"Uncle!" Nathaniel cried, his voice echoing in my ear. I felt ill at the shout. "Uncle". I didn't only kill a villain; I also killed somebody's only remaining family. But I did it to save a life. Was that…okay?

"Your Majesty," Mr. Bottomsworth voice said In my ear, his hand gently shaking me to try and snap me out of my shock. "You need to sit down."

No, I thought in silence, shaking my head as I watched Nathaniel run over to the fading body. The fight was over now, and so was Gregory's life. My feet carried me forward as my bow loosely hung in my hand, and I stopped by Gregory and Nathaniel as everyone else did the same.

No words were spoken, because there was nothing to say. Though Gregory's cruelty was real, so was Nathaniel's grief. I didn't believe that Nathaniel was so evil, not nearly as evil as his family. He just wanted to rule his home world to do what was best for them, even if he had to get there following a dark path. He believed the end would justify his means.

His eyes darted up to me suddenly, rage and grief in them. With a cry, he quickly rose to his feet and sent his sword towards my stomach in order to return what I just did to his uncle.

I didn't have time to respond, but somebody else did. Terry grabbed onto the back of Nathaniel's shirt and pulled him a step away so that his sword didn't also pierce me. But to protect me, Terry also dealt the final blow. His Keyblade pierced Nathaniel's back as he was yanked away from me, all the action taking place in a mere second. Nathaniel gasped, and then fell, fading away into darkness.

My wide eyes went up to my dad, and his eyes were slightly larger than normal as he looked back at me. He was startled by what nearly happened, but I was startled by what did happen. Nathaniel didn't deserve to die. He was misled. If his grief hadn't controlled him at that moment…if he hadn't threatened me, he could have survived this day.

"Steph, honey," my mom said, suddenly standing in front of me as her hands found my cheeks. "Look at me now, okay? Listen…There was nothing you could have done differently. This was how things unfolded."

But…he didn't deserve it, I thought blankly, looking back up at my mom's bright blue eyes. Seeing there was no getting through to me right now, my mom simply wrapped her arms around me, cradling my head with her hand as she rocked me a little bit. I knew I was in shock; I knew I wasn't thinking clearly and that my mom was right. There was nothing that could have been done differently.

I felt another pair of arms wrap around me, though the embrace wasn't just for me. My dad stood to the side and had his arms wrapped around both me and Andrea, his head ducked a little bit to sit atop mine in a way to comfort me. And it worked; my family was back together again, for the first time in over ten years. All I could do now was hope that it stayed this way.

Never again did I want to go through all the agony separation caused.

*…*…*…*…*…*

I was left alone after the battle for a little while by my parents, who were speaking to Mr. Bottomsworth about everything that happened. He was a trusted advisor, after all. But my parents didn't go too far; they were in my suite still, sitting on the couches. But because the couches were in my bedroom and I wanted some privacy, I went into Riku's room and laid down on the bed. It was warm, even if he wasn't there at first.

Eventually he did come in and join me though, leaving Sora to speak to King Mickey and Merlin somewhere else in the castle. They were sticking around for some reason I didn't know. It hardly mattered; I had other things on my mind at the moment.

"Oh Steph," Riku sighed softly, sitting down on the edge of the bed and setting a hand on my back as I laid on my side and faced away from him. "…I'm sorry."

I nodded faintly against the pillow, rolling over carefully to face Riku. "Nothing different could have happened," I said quietly, repeating what my mom repeatedly told me earlier.

"You're right, it couldn't have," he agreed. "…You have great instinct, you know. You saved Sora from a very serious situation."

"I just…acted without thinking."

"Steph, sit up for a minute," Riku requested gently. I did as he said, also scooting over so that he could sit beside me instead of sitting on the edge. He did just that, moving over and sitting close to me as he asked a question. "Are you upset that you took a life, or upset about Nathaniel?"

"Hm," I laughed softly, though it wasn't a happy laugh. "All of the above. …But I'm really upset about Nathaniel." I turned my head, looking over at Riku with soft blue eyes. "He was so much like me, Riku. He was going through the same struggle."

"What do you mean?"

"He grew up in Cadia, and he wanted so desperately to be a good king to them, even if he had to go by his uncle's dark methods in order to get that position. And I was the same way with my dad; I took a dark path in trying to recover him to reach this happy ending with my family. …I could have turned out the same way he did so easily, Riku."

Riku nodded faintly, understanding. "I know what you mean," he said softly. "I've been through the same thing. I walked the path of Darkness a long time ago, but now I'm blessed with this life. I know things could have easily been different."

"It doesn't seem fair that we would get a chance to live better lives now and Nathaniel doesn't," I confessed, setting my head on Riku's shoulder. My eyes shut in sadness, moisture growing behind my eyelids again. "…I guess, my real question is…what are we supposed to do now?"

"We keep living," Riku responded softly, his head turned towards me as he gazed down at me. "Life goes on, even in the face of tragedy."

Yeah, I guess so, I silently agreed. Riku leaned his head down, giving me a kiss on the top of my brunette hair. His lips lingered for a few seconds before he pulled back. Though I didn't know it, somebody was standing in the door.

"Sorry for interrupting," a voice said from the doorway. I lifted my head off Riku's shoulder instantly, turning it to see that King Mickey was the one who spoke. "But all of us are gonna go to Master Yen Sid now, and we think you two should come."

"Master Yen Sid?" Riku questioned.

"Yeah," a new voice said. The source of the voice, Terry, stood behind King Mickey. "Master Yen Sid has a lot of answers to the questions you had a while ago, Steph. About your past, and about ours."

"Is now really the time to be looking into that?" I asked softly.

"Now's the perfect time to look into it," Terry responded gently. "The Kingdom is in Mr. Bottomsworth's capable hands for a while."

"…Why can't you just explain it to us?" Riku asked, though his voice wasn't harsh anymore. My dad earned his trust by now.

"Honestly, I hardly have the answers," my dad responded. "There's a lot more to this situation than I understand, but King Mickey says that Master Yen Sid knows everything."

The room was silent for a moment, but then I spoke. "Okay. Let's get going."

The two men in the doorway nodded before they walked away, letting me and Riku alone for a few moments. I got off the bed easily now that I was dressed in jeans and a sweater instead of the wedding dress. If we were going to be travelling, then it was definitely good I was dressed casually.

"This really doesn't make any sense," Riku mumbled, though it was loud enough for me to hear.

"What do you mean?"

"Master Yen Sid is involved in big world events, not the triflings of kingdoms and stuff like this," he responded, shaking his head as he looked at me. His next words sent a chill down my spine, nervousness flooding to my heart along with fear. "This has to be something much larger than we could ever imagine."

With that in mind, we travelled to Master Yen Sid's Tower, which was actually in Twilight Town. That was pretty weird; I had never known that such a place existed so close to my home town. Still, we didn't bother going through town to get there; we flew the ship right there and went to the top of the tower.

It was me, Riku, Sora, King Mickey, and my parents. Mr. Bottomsworth was taking care of Cadia and Merlin had to return to Radiant Garden to take care of some business. Apparently he wasn't needed here anyway. He wasn't such a large acting force in the wellness of all the worlds, though he did help where he could.

But my mind was getting off track now, probably so that I could avoid my nervous thoughts as we entered Master Yen Sid's room. He sat at his desk and looked at each of us with stern eyes as we entered in, and though I heard he was a good man, he looked awfully frightening. He hardly paid any attention to me, though, and the same went for Riku, Sora and King Mickey. The only two that he focused on were my parents, Andrea and Terry, as they stood right in front of the desk and the rest of us stood off to the side.

Master Yen Sid looked directly at them and spoke to them, and them alone.

"I was wondering when you would finally resurface, Terra and Master Aqua."

*…*…*…*…*…*

Author's note: I know what you're thinking. "WHAT? WHAT?" Yeah, I thought so. xD That's where the story ends, with that cliffhanger that some of you will want to kill me for. But have no fear; there is ANOTHER story coming out to pick up where this one left off. It will be the third and final story connected to these characters.

But instead of posting a brand new story, I'm gonna continue it under this title. I lost followers last time I started a brand new story, so I won't make that mistake again. Until I start posting the new chapters though, this one will be marked as complete. As for when the new chapters are going to be up…I'm not entirely sure. I started working on it a while ago, but since then, I've also begun other projects that take priority. I promise I will do everything in my power to finish this though.

Until next time :)

Peanut