A/N: Welcome, readers all, to the latest of my most strange ideas. As usual, Kingdom Hearts is not mine.
This takes place somewhere post KHII, but the story doesn't really depend too much on Kingdom Hearts as much as it does on what is seen here in this first chapter.
The rest will explain itself as the story unfolds, so for now... read on people. Riku's latest adventure because of me awaits you below.
Riku was bored. It seemed like ages ago now that he and Sora had taken down Xemnas, the Organization and their misguided attempt to create an artificial Kingdom Hearts. They'd returned home to the Destiny Islands but Riku had quickly found that after having tasted life outside this small world, wanderlust gripped him and he wanted to be back out there again. Staying here just aggravated his boredom.
Fortunately, Sora had the same feeling, and since the King had long since brought Sora's Gummi Ship back to him, Sora was free to come and go as he pleased. Whenever Sora left the world, Riku had constantly made a pest of himself until Sora let him come along too.
This had left him in Radiant Garden without much to do. Sora and Kairi had told him where and when to meet them to leave again, then left him to it. The two of them never strayed far from each other – the sap was almost like glue between them.
Riku might have been jealous, but he also knew better. Kairi had chosen Sora, what place was it of his to butt in on that?
So he left them to it and wandered the town almost aimlessly. Then something caught his eye through the windows of a house he passed. It looked like a deck of cards shuffling themselves, but there seemed to be too many of them. A glance ahead to the door told him this was Merlin's house, so a deck of cards shuffling itself was hardly remarkable.
One of the cards flicked out though, holding itself up in the window beside him. He gave it a cursory glance, passed on, then stopped dead. It hadn't been a normal playing card he'd seen, and the word on it...
Riku stepped back to look. The card was still floating in the window, the rest of the deck behind busily arranging itself in some odd formation.
The card pictured a horseman in black armour, holding a similarly black standard. The visor of the armour was raised to show a skull, and on the standard there was a white flower, with 'XIII' in one corner.
Around the horsemen were depictions of various people of various social rankings from times gone by, commoners, priests, kings, all either dead or dying. Below this morbid scene was a single word written on the bottom of the card.
To be certain it wasn't just a coincidence, Riku moved to one side of the window. The card turned to face him. He tried moving to another window, and the card followed, presenting itself at the next window.
Riku didn't normally scare easily, but there was something unnerving about this. A deck of cards that shuffles and lays itself out as this one was doing was normal given some of the many magical oddities Merlin had picked up. But this was far from normal, even by Merlin's standards.
He considered going inside to see what the card would do, but decided against it. Some of Merlin's artefacts were well known to be more dangerous than they seemed. Instead, he returned to the original window to examine the cards that had now finished laying themselves out.
It was a curious arrangement. There were four corners all separate from each other, defined by three stacks. Each of them was topped by a King, Queen and Knight card, and each of the four corners had a different symbol – Cups, Pentacles, Swords and Staves. Almost like the four suits in a regular deck of cards.
But there was more – in the center of them there were two more cards, face up. Both of them were like the Death card, showing a scene with a word beneath it. The lower one was labelled 'The Tower', and sure enough its scene a tower. It was short and squat, appearing to have no more than four floors judging by the windows, and was oddly square. Over the door at its base was 'XVI'
Above it was the other card, labelled 'The Magician'. This one showed a figure that was similar in appearance to Merlin, though with a harsher expression and a fierce black beard that seemed to be an extension of the hair on his head. Above his head was the sign for infinity, an eight on its side, and in one corner of the scene there was 'I'.
To one side of this arrangement of cards, there was a small stack of cards face down. By what he could see, Riku judged that the three stacks making up each corner must have had all the cards of their suits in them. The corner for Cups was opposite the corner for Swords, and the Pentacles were opposite Staves. All of them were the same distance from The Tower and The Magician in the center.
Then the Death card slotted itself into the face-down stack of cards, and the other cards began to move of their own accord. Riku watched, intrigued.
The Kings and Queens rose up above each stack, remaining level with each other, just as The Magician now hovered above The Tower. Below each of the Kings and Queens, the Knights waited, and below them, a new card appeared, the Page.
Next, the top card of the stack rose up, revealing itself to be The Fool, depicting a medieval style court jester on it, reminiscent of the Jokers in a normal deck of cards. It placed itself on the outside of the corner for the Staves suit.
Now the cards for the Swords began to rise. They arranged themselves in neat lines on one level, all below their Page. The Page moved up to join the King and Queen for a moment, then descended to the level of the cards below. After a few moments, two of the Swords cards moved to just beyond The Fool outside, while two of each began to journey to each of the other corners, with two remained behind.
Next the same procedure happened with the Cups, except four remained in their corner, and none went to the outside. As the Cups travelling toward the Swords corner met with the Swords coming the other way, the next card from the face-down stack flew up and hung in the air between the two corners on Riku's left, the Swords nearest to him and the Staves furthest. This one was labelled The Sun, which of course depicted a stylized sun. Between rays shooting from it at the top, 'XIX' was shown.
It was almost as if The Sun was representing a dawn and this arrangement was representing some kind of... game of life. Sure enough, the card for The Sun slowly made its way in an arch, just as a real sun would in the day time sky.
As its dawn continued, the Swords reached their destinations and settled in stacks just inside each corner, then not long after the cards for the Pentacles suit also rose, waiting for their Page to meet their royalty and come back down. Like the Swords and the now arriving Cups, they also split up. Only one remained at the Pentacles corner, while the rest travelled in threes to the other corners.
The Staves were the last to rise. Unlike the other suits, all but three remained in their corner, the rest waiting with the Page. Meanwhile the Page of Swords had joined the two Swords outside the Swords corner, though for what reason he couldn't see clear.
Riku continued to watch, fascinated now rather than unnerved, the sudden appearance of the Death card momentarily forgotten.
As the game before him progressed on its own, more cards began to move around. One of the two Swords at each of the other corners began a journey back to their own corner, as did the Pentacles not long after. What were their roles in this strange game? Messengers? Traders?
The Staves that had left their suit corner had made it to the corners for the other suits, where they met with the Pages of that suit before turning around and heading back again. The Stave that had gone to the Swords of course met their Page out with the two other Swords outside their corner.
Now the Death card was no longer constantly facing him, Riku regarded the game playing itself out before him for a bit longer, then looked around and then finally inside Merlin's house. There was no one around at all. He hesitated for a moment, then let himself in, found a chair and sat opposite the window he'd been watching from. The various cards like The Sun had turned around to face him so he could still see their faces. It was as if the cards were somehow... aware of him.
The game continued to play itself out before him, with The Sun making its way across their sky to mark time. When evening fell, the various cards all returned to their respective suit's corner, except for the Swords who seemed to wait until the others had returned before they made their own way back. By the time they were leaving, The Sun was all but touching the table, and the next card of the deck appeared opposite it – The Moon. It was similar to The Sun, but the face on the stylized moon was somewhat disapproving. Also like The Sun it had lettering above that read 'XVIII'.
The Sun returned itself to the deck as the last Swords returned to their corner, and the cards became still but for The Moon making her way across the night sky. During the night the card labelled The Fool travelled from the Swords corner to the Staves corner. Riku again found himself wishing he knew why The Fool, like the other cards, travelled from corner to corner.
It seemed like only too soon that Death appeared again, hovering before him almost menacingly again. But that was all it did, it faced him for a time until The Sun returned to oppose the moon, then Death was back into the stack of face-down cards.
This second game-day played out differently. All four corners roused with dawn, and all the of each suit flocked to the center and The Tower. Even The Fool joined them. It was at least early morning when they gathered in the large gap between The Tower on the table, and The Magician floating further above.
The numbered cards of the Swords suit, from two to ten and including the Ace, all gathered up above them as if working on something, while all the others remained below. The Kings and Queens gathered together, only rarely mixing with the other cards. The Fool, interestingly, joined The Magician during this time.
As it grew close to mid-morning, the cards all joined the Swords above them until midday, where they went up further. This left them directly below The Magician. The Fool came back down to join them, his meeting with The Magician done.
The Pages, Knights, Queens and Kings of each suit went to the corners of this invisible floor they were on, each of them to the corner closest to where their corners had been on the table. Riku noticed that the seven of Pentacles and the four of Staves both joined their respective royalty, while the remaining cards all seemed to gather and mix with each other without apparent pattern. Some grouped up, then split apart, others wandered around. Some few went to The Fool, who remained in the middle of it all, then went around.
Then it all stopped as all cards turned to one group of cards. Riku counted the numbers on the four cards and added them together, noting they added up to 21. There seemed to be something going on here, but without knowing more about the game he was watching it was impossible to tell.
The cards returned down a floor, but this time there was some kind of arrangement to them. The four cards that had become the center of attention on the floor above joined the Kings and Queens now, along with of course their Pages and Knights.
After a time, The Sun's course showed it was getting late, and the cards began to head back to where they had been at the start of the day – all except those same four cards who'd attracted the attention. They instead went up to join The Magician, where after a delay each of them vanished in turn.
Another card emerged from the face-down stack now, labelled The Chariot. It depicted, of course, a chariot, drawn by two sphinxes, one black, one white, and with 'VII' above the charioteer's head. It headed to the window Riku had watched from earlier, vanishing as it hit the window. Moments later it reappeared, with another card in tow. Riku recognised it as one of the cards that had vanished.
The Chariot repeated this twice more, only the first time it headed to Riku's left and vanished in mid air, and the second time to his right. Riku suspected he knew what was coming next, but didn't move out of the way.
The Chariot delivered the third of the four replacements, with only one left to bring. Death once more appeared from the stack, hovering before him. This time though, it turned to face the Chariot after 'looking' at him for only a moment, and then returned to the stack. Now The Chariot's card turned to face him, sending an eerie chill up his spine.
The Chariot headed right for him. It disappeared when it met his chest, and Riku felt a chill all over now. The Chariot emerged from his chest, once more with a card in tow. It did not go directly to one of the corners though, pausing when it reached the edge of the table to face him again. It moved aside so Riku could see the card behind.
It was the Ace of Staves, and the image on this card was of a person holding a single wooden stave. Riku peered closer, then let out a shocked gasp. The person was him, there was no mistaking it.
The Chariot moved in front of the card again and turned to go to the Staves corner. Riku felt as if he was being dragged after it somehow while also remaining perfectly still. He tried to reach for the Ace of Staves card, but Death appeared one more time from the stack, placing itself between him and the card.
When the Ace of Staves card was deposited with the other Staves in their corner, Riku blacked out.