Author's note: So sorry this is coming late to you guys. It's been a crazy, crazy semester. Hopefully now I'll have some time to devote to this story again. As of now, I'm hoping to give you monthly updates. Stick around, it's gonna be a wild conclusion of the trilogy!
PS—This story ignores the most recent developments in the KH series with DDD because the story was conceptualized before that came out.
Chapter One: Deception
"…It's hard to even know where to start," Master Yen Sid said, uncharacteristically not having all things planned out. Who would blame him, though? He just dropped a bombshell on us; my parents weren't King Terry and Queen Andrea. They were Terra and Master Aqua, whoever they were.
"Introductions would be best," Sora said, lifting a hand and running it over the back of his spiky head as a confused expression remained on his face. "We're all lost over here."
Not "all" of them were lost, but Sora was obviously referring to himself, Riku, and me. King Mickey was also stand with us, even if he wasn't clueless. He stepped forward, facing all of us as he spoke. "Terra and Master Aqua were the Keyblade wielders of the generation before you," he explained. "They fought the forces of Darkness about fourteen years ago, when the real Master Xehanort was around.
"Fourteen years ago? Sora was four then, and I was five," Riku said. He shifted his gaze to Terra, who was looking at him in return. Suddenly, something clicked in Riku's mind. "That was the time when I started getting really curious about the worlds, because I ran into two people who came from other worlds on the Islands…"
"Wait, Terra, you went there?" Andrea—or Aqua, asked her husband in confusion.
"Yeah, I did. I remember now…that was where I chose my successor."
"Riku was your chosen successor, Terra," Master Yen Sid intervened. My eyes widened at that, my gaze going back and forth between my father and Riku. Both of them seemed surprised, but slowly, recognition set in.
"I knew you looked familiar when I first saw you," Riku said after a few moments.
"I wasn't lying when I said I hadn't met you," Terra said. "I didn't remember my past with you then."
"This is all really confusing," I finally said. Though it probably wasn't my place to speak, I had to intervene. If they were going to talk about some past that involved both Riku and my father, then it would be best to get it done clearly. It wasn't good that I was feeling so lost in the first two minutes of the conversation.
"It would be best to start from the beginning, then," Master Yen Sid decided. "I shall explain everything, since Terra and Master Aqua's memories may still be fuzzy.
"Fourteen years ago, another Keyblade Master named Master Eraqus took three students under his wing. Aqua and Terra were the eldest of them. They competed in a test to become Keyblade Masters, though there was a possibility both of them could receive the title. Only Aqua received the Mark of Mastery due to Master Eraqus's judgment that nobody who wielded Darkness was fit to be a Keyblade Master.
"However, Terra did not willingly use the Darkness as an advantage. During the test, Master Xehanort was also there, and he stirred up Terra's Darkness so that he would fail the test. After the test, Master Xehanort vanished and the three Keyblade wielders all left their home world to search for him. Master Xehanort, though a series of events and manipulations on his part, revealed his plan: he would possess Terra's young, fit body so that he could achieve all his life's goals."
"And he did it," Terra mumbled bitterly, lifting a hand to his head as he looked down at the ground.
"He did possess Terra while his Darkness made him vulnerable, but a heart of Light took residence in Terra and allowed him to not be swallowed completely. That is, until Master Aqua found him possessed by Xehanort with little control."
"I fought him," Aqua recalled, her memories returning to her as well.
"You hoped it would free him, but during the fight, Xehanort tried unlocking his heart to force Terra to leave him. The only result was that he lost consciousness and sank into the Realm of Darkness. It was then you jumped in after him and saved Terra's body and sent it back to the Realm of Light so that he could survive. You sank deeper into the Realm of Darkness. You remained there for over ten years."
"But…I was there too, I think," Terra said, slowly lowering his hand as he looked back at Master Yen Sid.
The Master only nodded sternly. "That is correct. Master Aqua attempted to save you, but she only saved your body by sending you back to the Realm of Light. By the time you were in the Realm of Darkness, your heart was extracted by the Darkness while Xehanort's and Master Eraqus's remained in your body."
"We travelled the Realm of Darkness together for over ten years, trying to find a way out," Aqua filled in, her bright blue eyes wide as she looked at Terra. "And it was there that we fell in love and…" She shifted her gaze to me then. "…We had a child."
It was obvious that they were referring to me. "…I was born in the Realm of Darkness?" That was completely impossible. Wasn't it? First off, I grew up believing that I lived my whole life in Twilight Town. Less than six months ago, I was told that was a lie; I was really born in Cadia as a princess but lived in Twilight Town with a false mother for most of my life. Now I was being told another story? Would this one actually be the truth?
"That can't be possible," Riku said in my stead. "You said it yourselves; all of this took place fourteen years ago. Steph is eighteen."
"But…Terra and I have aged more than fourteen years too," Aqua said, looking around at everyone. "We're twenty years older than when we left the Realm of Light."
"This makes no sense," Sora mumbled.
"It does when you factor in everything, like where they were, and who did what."
"Where we were?" Terra repeated.
"Who did what?" Aqua inquired.
"What do you mean, Master Yen Sid?" King Mickey asked.
"For one thing, the flow of time is different in the Realm of Darkness," he explained. "One year here could be a year and a half there. But the flow of time has also been different from world to world. The time difference between worlds has accelerated in the past few years."
"Really?" Sora asked, his voice expressing confusion. I didn't blame him; I was confused too.
"Yes," Master Yen Sid confirmed. "There are two worlds in particular that have had time passing faster than the rest of the worlds: Twilight Town and Cadia." He focused his stern, serious eyes on Sora then. "Sora, how long was Riku away from the Islands in Cadia."
He thought about it briefly, lifting a hand to his chin. "…About four months," he decided.
Riku grunted. "I was in Cadia longer than that. It was closer to five and a half months."
"Thus you see my point," Master Yen Sid said gravely. "Time has sped up for those worlds, and though it's not a dramatic change, it's enough to account for the few years extra that Master Aqua, Terra, and Stephanie have aged."
"Why is the time flowing differently? Is that because of the person you referred to earlier?" Aqua asked.
The old Keyblade Master only nodded faintly, lowering his head as his eyes shut. Whoever this person was, it must have been serious. "Master Xehanort," he said after a few moments.
Everyone but me, King Mickey, and Master Yen Sid grunted at the name. Their reason was that this wasn't news to them, but I simply had no clue who Master Xehanort was. They just said he wanted to possess Terra's body; was that why they were freaking out. Riku's hand moved to grip my shoulder, his grip very tight. When I looked back and saw his expression, I felt myself become afraid. Whoever Master Xehanort was, he was bad news.
"I know this is a lot to take in, so I'll explain," King Mickey said, taking over where Master Yen Sid left off. "You guys know that Master Xehanort ended up possessing Terra's body while Terra and Aqua were both in the Realm of Darkness. Well, Master Xehanort lost his memories of his past life because of Eraqus's influence in his heart. So he lived his life as an apprentice under Ansem the Wise and studied hearts, the hearts of worlds, and the Darkness. Somewhere along the way, he lost his heart."
"And that's where Ansem, Seeker of Darkness, and Xemnas come in," Riku surmised.
"Right," the mouse agreed. "Whenever a person loses their heart, they turn into both a Nobody and a Heartless. But…There's somethin' else, too." He shifted his gaze to Master Yen Sid then, allowing him to pick up on the information session again.
The old man had his arms folded across his chest, serious as he spoke. "When a person's Heartless and Nobody are killed in that order, it allows their Somebody to return. And because you killed Xehanort's remnants in that order, the old Master Xehanort has returned. In fact, he's actually been back a few years now. Ever since Xemnas's defeat."
"What's he been doing all this time?" Sora asked in bewilderment.
"Manipulating Terra and Aqua, for one thing," King Mickey said as he looked at the couple. "The flow of those worlds wasn't always different; Master Xehanort influenced them to speed up time. I can also guarantee that he was the one to give you all false memories concerning your pasts so that you'd remain ignorant of him."
"But…why? What's he up to?"
"That, we do not know," Master Yen Sid said. "That's something for all of you to figure out. Xehanort must be found, and stopped. Whatever his plot is, he has been working on it for years. That makes it all the more deathly."
"And there's something else," Mickey added. I fought the urge to groan. My head was already spinning from all this, and it always seemed like there was something more that they needed to add. "…Master Xehanort isn't the only person back. When the Somebody returns, so do their Heartless and Nobody."
Riku's death grip on my shoulder tightened. "…Ansem's back."
"He is," King Mickey said, his voice full of sympathy for Riku. "And Xemnas as well."
"This is just great," Sora mumbled. "What are we supposed to do? Where do we even start?"
"Start by searching the worlds for leads on any form of Xehanort," Master Yen Sid decreed. "Do not travel alone and be on guard at all times. I have no doubt that now that you all know of his return, Master Xehanort will move into action."
The Keybladers in the room nodded, though I didn't do anything. Was Master Yen Sid's order directed at me too? I wasn't a Keyblade wielder, after all. I was the daughter of two Keyblade wielders…yet I didn't receive their power. I didn't know enough about Keyblades to be able to discern why that was, but now wasn't the time to bring up that question. Besides, I had a lot more questions that I would ask at the right time.
"Thanks for your help, Master Yen Sid," King Mickey said, bowing in respect. I came out of my thoughts quickly and noticed Riku's hand was gone from my shoulder as he, along with everyone else, also bowed. I joined in quickly, not because I was thankful for the words Master Yen Sid said, but because he was a wise man who deserved respect.
The Master only nodded to us, and I knew that was our cue to leave. King Mickey started out since he was the most comfortable with Master Yen Sid and this tower, my parents following as I trailed behind with Riku and Sora.
This is all so freaky, I thought as we walked down the stairs. This man, Master Xehanort, manipulated my parents' lives, and mine, so that we would have no idea who he was. Now, I just had absolutely no idea what the truth was. Did I grow up in Twilight Town like I remembered, or were my memories lies? How long did I live in the Realm of Darkness with my family? How did we escape? And how exactly did we slip into the roles Xehanort had placed for us?
And, a more general question: Would I ever be able to grasp the truth?
After the meeting, all of us but King Mickey went to Destiny Islands. Riku didn't take me aside at all like I half-expected him to do. I was silent after the talks, but then again, most people were. My parents—Aqua and Terra—went off on their own on the Gummi ship and spoke to each other about their past, or what they could recall of it. Riku and Sora only spoke briefly, saying that they would all go to the play Island and speak there about their strategy. And that Kairi would be a part of it.
There was no mention of me, and I wasn't sure whether to be glad or not. I wasn't sure if this was a fight I wanted to be a part of. But at the same time, did I really have a choice? What did I have left anymore? There was no life waiting for me. I was no princess in Cadia, and my life in Twilight Town was gone along with my "mother", Isabella. Isabella…for some reason, I couldn't get her off my mind. I watched her die, and despite the treachery she committed, I called her "Mom". I really did love her.
We were standing by the Papou tree as Riku and Sora spoke to Aqua, showing her a map of the worlds and explaining what state the worlds were in today. Though Kairi wasn't speaking up, she was a part of the conversation as well. I remained a few feet away, looking at the map but not taking in anything. I had too much on my mind for that.
The hands that suddenly appeared on my shoulders made me nearly jump out of my skin. But it was a gentle touch, so I didn't freak out too much. I turned my head and looked over my shoulder, seeing that it was my dad.
"Let's go for a walk," he said softly, though he didn't wait for a response. He gently turned my shoulders, as well as my body, as we started towards the bridge. I had no reason to protest it anyway; it wasn't like I had actually been paying attention to the conversation going on. And the way things were going, they probably wouldn't notice I was missing. It seemed like I was going back to being invisible again.
It wasn't until my dad and I made it to the other side of the Island that he spoke again. "Tell me everything that's on your mind," Terra said.
"Ha, where do I even start?" I asked weakly, glancing over at him as I stopped walking. We didn't bother going across the broken bridge; we stopped in the area right before it. We'd just stand and talk. "…Was it all a lie, Dad? What's true and what isn't?"
"Well," he started, a weak smile appearing on his lips. "You are our daughter, Steph." That much was comforting, but his expression became serious as he continued. "And your mom and I are Keyblade wielders. …her natural hair color is actually blue; have you noticed the roots before? She had just been dying it blonde for years."
"Dad…" I said, my voice cautious as I was afraid to step on his toes. "I just need the really important stuff right now. How long were we in the Realm of Darkness? Where did I actually grow up? Will I ever actually remember any of it?"
He sighed, though it wasn't because of offense. He was trying to figure out how to answer me. "We were in the Realm of Darkness for four years, from what I can recall. One day, a door of light just randomly appeared. We walked through it and…" He lifted a hand to his head, eyebrows furrowing as he glared down at the ground. "…I don't remember exactly how we shifted into our new lives. Within that year, though, we became the King and Queen of Cadia. When you were five, Isabella threw her coup and took you to Twilight Town. I remained there with you as her husband until she tried to kill me off a year later."
"So, I mostly remember the truth," I said, though it was partially a question. "We actually lived those lives, even if they were lies?"
"That's right," Terra confirmed with a nod. "Our lives may have been lies, but your memories aren't. Not this time." He stepped forward, gazing at the ocean while I gazed at his back. "The most dangerous lies are the ones that have a bit of truth mixed in with them. When you can't discern what's true and what isn't, you're bound to either throw out the whole thing as a lie or accept it all as truth. Steph…You need to learn not to settle for either solution. It will only lead you astray."
Yeah, I'll try to do that, but… "What exactly is my role in this anymore? I'm not a Keyblade wielder, and I have no connection to this Xehanort guy."
"As much as I hate to say it…I think you're going to be dragged into this no matter what you decide your role to be."
"Then what's the point of even making a choice?" I asked in frustration. I was getting desperate now; I had to have at least a little control of the events in my life.
Terra looked over at me, his expression showing a bit of disbelief. "The point is that once you have your decision made, you have something to stand firm in. Stand up for something; that way you won't be deceived so easily."
"Your responses really make no sense, Dad," I mumbled. "I meant that if my path is already set, why even bother deciding whether I want to be a part of the conflict or not?"
"I know what you asked," he responded. "And I don't have an answer to that one. It's something that you'll have to discover for yourself."
A sigh left my lips at that, my shoulders slumping as I shook my head. Great. That was just one more thing I had to add to my growing list of things I needed to discover. I was only eighteen, but I felt the need to figure out all of life's questions right away. Life wasn't going to wait for me to patiently figure them out, or so it seemed. At the thought of my age, another question popped up. "This all started when I was seventeen," I said aloud, eyebrows furrowed as I looked towards the ocean. "That was when Olaf, Tristan, Gregory, and Isabella started seeking power. What role did they have in Xehanort's scheming?"
"My guess is that Master Xehanort didn't care much about them just as long as they wreaked havoc on the worlds," Dad thought. "And Isabella in particular…She must have known of Xehanort's existence. She was the first one to hint that you weren't a princess in Cadia."
"Huh?" I asked dumbly, not getting it.
"When you turned eighteen, you were supposed to receive certain powers," Terra explained. "And when you didn't get them, that led you to searching for me. Isabella told you to ask me because I was the one who was closest to realizing that there were no powers for you to receive. She actually really helped us regain ourselves, now that I think about it."
She did, I thought as my heart leaped. I wasn't sure if it was leaping in joy or in sadness, though. I knew that everything she ever did was very calculated; telling me to search for my father to lead me to the truth must have been a part of the plan already. But she was so cruel to me as well…she tried to get me to sink into Darkness, didn't she? Or maybe, through those trials, she was trying to strengthen my Light in the only way that she could have.
Maybe…she truly did love me. At least a little.
"I'll leave you to your thoughts for a little while," he said after a minute or two of silence. He approached me and leaned his head down, giving me a gentle kiss on the top of my head before walking through the doorway to go back to the other side of the Island. Most likely, he wanted to go rejoin the others and figure out what their plan was. I was still extremely grateful that he pulled me aside and spoke to me for a while. It proved that no matter what the circumstances were, I would always be my father's daughter.
Once I was truly alone, I wasn't sure what to do with myself. Walking around was a good idea. Better than standing around, anyway. I started walking for the wooden bridge, gaze pointed downward as I watched my footing. I was watching, but not thinking. Just as I stepped onto the broken piece of the bridge, I recalled that a long time ago, Riku told me that the bridge was broken.
I only managed a squeak in surprise as the bridge broke, and because most of my weight had been on that piece, I went toppling down along with it. A rough grunt left my lips as I landed on the broken plank, my jeans also getting soaked with ocean water as I sat on my knees. "Ugh," I groaned, though it was mostly out of frustration. It was because of pain too, because obviously that hurt, but I had faced worse injuries.
I forced myself off my knees and onto my feet, my sneakers quickly filling up with water now that I was standing. That's even better, I thought sarcastically. I took a step forward, though my knees gave from underneath me. I fell down into the ocean again, this time catching myself with my hands as well. "Spoke too soon," I mumbled to myself. I was hurt worse than I thought. I wordlessly pushed myself off my hands and summoned my sword to my grasp. Skilled with magic by now, I had no problem focusing on my inner strength and casting a Cure spell on myself. The pain in my legs went away immediately.
Still, I didn't bother rising to my feet. I sat back on my legs and let the water stay over me. Now that I thought about it, the water was actually pretty soothing. It didn't matter if my jeans got super soaked or not; I still had clothes at Kairi's house from the time I lived here before. That must have been seven or eight months ago. It was so weird to think it all happened so long ago.
But the past wasn't something I could keep my eyes set on. There was a new threat now, and he wouldn't wait for anyone. Xehanort manipulated me and my family, and he would do it again whenever he wanted to.
Master Xehanort was back, and he wouldn't show mercy.