I finally decided to post up another story. I wanted to get a good feel of this one first before I finally posted it but I think I've finally started developing it the way I really wanted to. I'm looking for a beta for the story so if anybody's up to filling that role, I'd appreciate it.
I hope you all enjoy it.
Pairings: Akuroku, Soriku, TerraVen, LeonxCloud
Disclaimer: I do not own Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy or any of the Disney characters. Pity.
Chapter One: The Stirrings of Trouble
In the depths of the ocean lay a kingdom that remained unknown to the humans up above, outside of legends. This kingdom was known as Atlantica, home to the merfolk, who were quite content with their lives away from the humans.
Atlantica was ruled over by the wise King Triton, who did everything in his power to protect his people from all perceived threats, from up above and down below.
It was currently the threats down below that caused the King the greatest amount of concern.
For that reason, he had called the head of his guard, the young Cloud Strife, to discuss the matter.
King Triton heard someone approaching and he came face to face with a serious-looking blonde with glowing blue eyes and an equally as magnificent blue-green tail.
"You called for me, Sire?" Cloud queried as he floated in front of the King's throne.
"I wanted to speak to you about the current Heartless activity. It's getting worse, isn't it?" the King asked for confirmation.
"Unfortunately," Cloud reported. "They haven't crossed the borders of the kingdom yet but I fear it is only a matter of time until they do. They're waiting for something."
"The question is: what?" the King voiced his opinion. He hated the thought of the growing problem getting any worse. "We didn't have any problem with the Heartless just three years ago. What changed?"
'Three years ago was when Sora first got his Keyblade,' Cloud kept his thoughts to himself. As much as he wanted to deny it, he couldn't deny the possibility that the Heartless had arrived, attracted to the light exuding from the hearts of Cloud's three brothers: Sora, Ventus and Roxas.
King Triton observed the young swordsman with compassion. He knew what the blonde was thinking about. He had always been well-tuned with Cloud's feelings, especially after he had taken Cloud and his brothers under his wing after their parents had died over twelve years ago in the same incident that had cost him his Queen.
Cloud, only eleven years old at the time, had become the guardian of his three younger brothers, with Sora being only six and the twins, only four. King Triton had empathized with the boy who had been forced to grow up too fast and did all that he could to help the boy handle his new responsibilities.
It had grown even more difficult for the twenty- three year old to watch over his siblings as not only did they all wield Keyblades but they were also willful teenagers. Cloud couldn't keep as close an eye on them anymore.
"It's difficult raising teenagers, isn't it?" King Triton empathized.
"How you raise seven of them, I do not know," Cloud admitted, causing the King to chuckle in amusement.
"I had help," the King countered. "You know, if you only asked, there would be many a person who would be willing to help you, Cloud. You are quite popular with the ladies, it seems."
"Sora, Ven, and Roxas are my responsibility. No one else could possibly hope to understand them the way I do," Cloud answered, resistant to the idea of giving anyone else any sway over his siblings, especially when they were Keybearers. They already had too much attention focused on them for that.
"You're worried that they would mistreat them for having the Keyblades," King Triton realized.
"It is no secret that many people blame them for the arrival of the Heartless. It is all I can do to ensure that no one tries to harm them," Cloud declared. It was only Cloud's reputation as the fiercest warrior in all of Atlantica that kept anybody from acting out their ill will towards his brothers.
"They are blinded by their fear. If they really knew them, they would see that Sora, Ventus, and Roxas mean them no harm," the King stated.
"Well, until they open their eyes, there is no way I'm letting anybody near the three of them," the overprotective big brother declared, crossing his arms.
King Triton shook his head in exasperation. At this rate, the three teenagers would remain with only Ariel and Flounder for friends.
For the most part, the three brothers seemed content with that, but the aged King could see their loneliness hidden behind the brave faces.
It would take more than a friend or brother's love to fill the hole in the Keybearers' hearts.
He quickly pushed those thoughts from his mind. They were still discussing a serious situation.
"Speaking of your brothers, I believe it may be best if we keep them far from the Heartless. The last thing we need is for them to catch the eyes of the Dark Forces. One Keybearer in one world is odd enough. Three is virtually unheard of. If they fall into the wrong hands, it could spell disaster for us all" the King declared.
"I'll let them know to stay within the borders of Atlantica," Cloud declared, knowing that they weren't going to be pleased with the thought of being restricted. They all had an unfortunate love for exploration, one that Cloud had once shared and lost due to tragic circumstances. 'Please, just this once, listen to me,' he silently pleaded.
"They're staring at us again," a lithe, spiky-haired blonde with a sleek silvery white tail commented as he and his companions swam through the marketplace.
"They're always staring, Ven, you think you'd get used to it by now," his younger twin, Roxas, who looked just like him except for the fact that he possessed a darker grey tail.
"That doesn't mean I have to like it," Ven answered sulkily. He missed the way he and his brothers used to be treated: like they were normal. Ever since they got their Keyblades, people had started avoiding them like the plague. The only ones who ever gave them the time of day was Cloud, Ariel, Flounder, Sebastian, and the King.
Being treated like outcasts in their own home was something that would have driven Roxas and Ven absolutely mad had it not been for Sora's ever present optimism, Cloud's silent love, and Ariel's affection. They kept them from becoming overwhelmed by all of the negative attention.
"Just ignore them. It's their loss if they refuse to see how special you are," the red-haired Princess encouraged them.
"Yeah, we're real special," Roxas groused. "That's why everyone thinks we're a sign of the oncoming apocalypse or something."
"Well, people are stupid if they can't see that we're just like them. So we can use a Keyblade... it's not a crime," Sora inserted. He never let people get him down and he made sure that neither Roxas nor Ven caved under the pressure. He may only be two years older than them but he was still their big brother and he would look out for them as best as he could. He wouldn't let Cloud bear that burden alone.
"Cheer up, you two. We came out to have a little fun, didn't we?" Ariel reminded them. Roxas and Ven glanced at each other. She had a point. There was no way they were going to let anyone get in the way of that.
"So where are we off to today?" Ven asked Ariel, who was the usual one who decided on their adventures.
"I was thinking that we could go to explore the Sunken Ship today," Ariel proposed quietly, scanning the faces of her three friends for any hint of disapproval.
"That's fine with me," Sora chirped happily. Ven was quick to agree as well.
Roxas looked a little reluctant, but seeing how the other three seemed so excited to do that, he didn't have the heart to deny them. "Let's go," he conceded and they all cheered in excitement, rushing off.
They didn't notice a worried looking Sebastian watching them swim away. He should probably tell the King. The teenagers were going awfully close to the borders of the kingdom without any knowledge of the Heartless threat. This was sure to spell out trouble.
Cloud slipped out of his home with a small puzzled frown. His brothers weren't there. They hadn't mentioned any plans to go out. Then again, plans could always change.
'I just wish they would at least leave a note...' he thought to himself with a frustrated sigh. 'And they wonder why I worry so much...'
As he was returning to the castle to resume his guard duties, he saw Sebastian swim over.
"Is there something I can do for you, Sebastian?" he asked the court composer and - Ariel's reluctant babysitter - curiously.
"I just thought you should know... Ariel and your brothers are headed to the Sunken Ship," Sebastian reported nervously.
Cloud frowned. He thought that he'd warned his brothers to stay away from anything that had to do with humans. It was dangerous... especially now with the Heartless so close by.
"Thanks, Sebastian," he stated as he changed his course towards the Sunken Ship.
He knew, on a normal basis, his brothers were more than capable of taking care of themselves but with the rising trouble, Cloud wasn't willing to take any chances. He was going to put a stop to their unintentionally reckless behavior before it had the chance to get them into danger.
"Hey, look what I found!" Sora exclaimed excitedly, as he rushed over to his brothers. He held out three necklaces, each with a different pendant. "Aren't they cool?"
Roxas quickly took the necklace with a shuriken pendant, eyeing it with fascination. "I like it," he agreed, admiring the way the metal glinted in the light.
"Me too," Ventus agreed, taking the necklace that looked like a heart mixed with a cross. "Humans make such interesting things, don't they?"
"Yeah!" Sora agreed with a grin, perfectly happy with the necklace with the crown pendant.
"Don't let Cloud or the King hear you say that," Roxas stated. "They hate everything to do with humans."
"They can't be all that bad," Ariel mused as she joined them, her own discoveries already packed away in her little bag.
While she had lost her mother to the humans, with the Keybearers losing both of their parents, they had all been too young to really remember anything. Therefore, the trauma hadn't taken as great a hold on them and they didn't hate the humans like Cloud and the King did. The three brothers were wary of them, yes, but they weren't scared of them.
"There's no real way of knowing, right? We haven't met any humans," Sora commented with a simple shrug. They had only heard stories, for the most part, from their teachers who tried to warn them away from the humans and from Scuttle, Ariel's annoying seagull friend whose tales were a little farfetched.
"If Cloud had his way, we will never get the chance to," Roxas added his two cents. He was the one closest to their eldest brother, as they were both relatively quiet individuals, but even he thought Cloud was a little too overprotective of them. They were well on their way to becoming adults. They didn't need to be treated like they were fragile and defenseless.
"Do you want to see a human?" Ven asked his brother curiously, noting the wistfulness in Roxas' voice.
"Maybe a little," Roxas admitted. "Just so I can see what they're like for myself instead of needing to depend on the opinions of others. For all I know, they could have been telling us complete lies."
"You never like leaving any mystery unsolved, Rox," Sora grinned. It was one of Roxas' most interesting traits. It led them to get into many great adventures.
Roxas just smirked before he paled as he realized they were no longer alone.
In the time they had spent at the Sunken Ship, they had managed to attract a large amount of Heartless. There were Search Ghosts, Sea Neons, Screwdrivers, Dark Balls and Aqua Tanks.
"We're fucked," Roxas whispered. Even if they were all fully capable of fighting there were a lot more Heartless present than they had ever had to fight before. He didn't know if they would be able to get out of this alright.
"We're only fucked if we give up before we even try," Sora declared, summoning his Keyblade, a simple Kingdom Key.
"We just have to fight our hardest," Ven agreed, summoning his Wayward Wind.
"I suppose that's all we can do," Roxas sighed as he summoned Oblivion and Oathkeeper. He didn't really know why he had two Keyblades while his brothers only had one but he found that it suited him perfectly. He fought best with both in his hands.
"I'll help too," Ariel stated. She was proficient in fighting as well, thanks to Cloud. He believed that Princesses should be able to defend themselves as well, but out of all seven Princesses, it had been Ariel who had taken to his teachings the most. She specialized in using magic but her physical attacks weren't shabby either.
"Then let's go!" Sora let out a battle cry as he lunged straight at the Heartless, confident in their ability to come out of the situation okay.
Ven took on the Dark Balls, his speedy attacks the most useful against the slow Heartless.
Roxas tackled the Aqua Tanks, his vicious and strong blows more than a match for the bulky Heartless.
Sora handled the Search Ghosts and Screwdrivers, his balanced fighting style of both magic and physical attacks serving him well.
Ariel, on the other hand, fought the Sea Neons, where magic was the quickest and most proficient way to deal with the pests.
They fought long and hard, working as a unit, until finally, they had defeated all of the Heartless that had attacked them.
"I can't believe we did it," Sora panted, more than just a little exhausted.
"We were lucky," Roxas remarked, clutching his side. He had taken a rather bad hit there. It would definitely bruise.
"Indeed you were," a grave voice spoke out and the four teenagers whirled around to see Cloud floating there, anger burning in his eerie eyes.
'Shit,' all three Keybearers thought, flinching away as their brother approached them.
"Cloud..." Roxas tried to speak up but Cloud held up his hand to silence him.
"We'll talk about this at home. First, we need to get the Princess back to the palace," the guard stated firmly and the teenagers could only obey Cloud's orders and follow him away from the ship.
'We're in so much trouble,' Ven thought. They knew Cloud wouldn't be happy with their decision to go to the Sunken Ship but they hadn't thought the situation would get this bad. They had never imagined a Heartless attack. That made their transgression so much worse.
Cloud had never been more scared in his life as he had sensed the presence of the Heartless in the same vicinity as his brothers. He had feared the worst as he had rushed over. He was relieved to see that they were fine, if not a little worse for wear, but he was also angry. If they hadn't wandered so far from home in the first place, they would have never got in this mess.
As they got closer, the three Keybearers were once again subject to the unwanted attention courtesy of the other merfolk.
"What trouble did they get into this time?"
"They even got the Princess caught in their mess. Do they have no shame?"
"Poor Cloud has to deal with them on a daily basis. He should just leave them alone. They're old enough to take care of themselves. He shouldn't have to throw his life away to babysit them..."
The three brothers cringed at every statement but it was the last statement that made Cloud snap.
He paused in his trek and shot all of the onlookers a scathing look.
"If you have nothing useful to say, you better keep your mouth shut before I shut it for you," he warned them, seething with rage at their callous statements. Who were they to demean his brothers like that?
The merfolk quickly averted their eyes in the face of the guard's anger before swimming away, leaving the area clear, and thankfully, much more peaceful as the brothers, and Ariel, made their way towards the palace.
"Thank you," Ven whispered to Cloud, eyes downcast. He blinked in surprise as Cloud placed a hand on his head in his own special form of affection.
"You're my brothers. I won't let anyone speak ill of you, especially in front of me. No matter how harsh I get, you know I will always love you, right?" Cloud declared while he kept his eyes focused straight ahead of him. There was a faint hint of red splashed across his cheeks as he spoke. He didn't often speak such sentimental things because it was embarrassing.
That, more than anything, helped the three brothers be at ease, because they knew that even if they were in a great deal of trouble, Cloud was only trying to look out for them.
King Triton was waiting outside for them when they finally arrived at the Palace, his six other daughters waiting alongside him.
"Ariel!" her eldest sister, Aquata, called out, rushing over to come collect her. She gave the three brothers a reprimanding glare for having got Ariel in trouble before bringing the young redhead to where the other sisters were waiting, ready to coddle her.
"Thank you, for bringing them back, Cloud," the King stated, giving his youngest daughter a scolding look. She had the grace to look remorseful for her reckless behavior.
Cloud simply nodded, more focused on getting his own brothers home at the moment.
"If I may, Sire, I would like to request a week off," he spoke up after a moment's tout.
"May I ask why?" the King wondered.
"I intend to spend that time with my brothers. It appears we have much to discuss," Cloud stated. He not only intended to speak with them but he was going to train them further well. They had handled themselves well today but if there had been any more Heartless... Cloud didn't even want to think about that. He wasn't going to let that happen, no matter what.
King Triton nodded in acceptance, understanding Cloud's feelings. "Take all the time that you need," he granted the request.
"Thank you," Cloud answered with a bow before turning to Sora, Ventus and Roxas. "Come."
They agreed silently, bidding the King and Princesses farewell before they slipped away towards their own home.
Sora, Ventus and Roxas glanced at each other nervously as they waited for Cloud to start speaking.
Anything was preferable over the silence.
"Cloud?" Ventus called out, willing the elder blonde to turn to face them.
"I told you to stay away from anything that had to do with humans, didn't I?" Cloud finally spoke up, his voice sharp.
"Yes," Roxas admitted, looking chastised.
"Then why did you go to that ship?" Cloud demanded to know, glowering at the lot of them.
"We were just curious. It wasn't like the humans were going to come back for it," Sora stated.
"That doesn't matter. You went to a sunken one today, what's to stop you from going up to the surface one day, hmm? Humans are trouble. You don't want to have anything to do with them or their creations. It's too dangerous," Cloud told them firmly.
"It's not like we're just going to go looking for the humans one day. We just wanted to explore a little," Ventus tried to defend them.
Cloud sighed in frustration. "Just promise me that you will be careful. If anything were to happen to you..." he started, eyes darkening at the thought of all of the horrible consequences that could come of his brothers encountering humans.
"We will, Cloud. You don't need to worry," Roxas promised, the most responsible of the three younger brothers.
"I'll hold you to that. Keep in mind that if I ever find out that you deliberately disobeyed me and went to the surface, there will be severe consequences, am I clear?" Cloud stated firmly. Sora, Ven, and Roxas nodded simultaneously.
"You're not just angry about us being near the ship, are you?" Roxas noted. He'd seen the fear in Cloud's eyes when he'd approached them at the ship. It was far more than what it would have been if it had to do with the humans. After all, Cloud possessed more anger towards the humans than fear and he wouldn't tell his brothers why.
"The number of Heartless are increasing at the borders of Atlantica... And you were only a little distance away. I had planned to warn you away from going near the border today only to find you right where you shouldn't have been instead. I was scared... I had hoped to keep you out of the eyes of the Darkness. Keybearers here aren't common as you well know... I would have preferred it to stay that way," Cloud explained, running a hand through his hair.
"I'm sorry, Cloud... We didn't know," Sora apologized, feeling horrible for putting his brother through all of that panic.
"It's alright, just... Don't do it again. Try to lay low for a while, okay?" Cloud urged them.
"We can do that," Ven promised and Cloud let out a relieved smile.
"Thank you," he answered.
"That's why you asked for a week off, didn't you?" Roxas noted. "To keep us out of trouble."
Cloud nodded. "We haven't got to spend much time together recently, with me being so busy. I thought this would be a good opportunity for us to catch up... And to give you all some much needed training. You did good today but you could do better. I want you ready for any possibility, you got it?"
"Yes, sir," the three younger brothers chorused with matching grins. It always amused them to see Cloud turn into a drill sergeant. It may mean that they would be going through an incredibly harsh training regimen but it also meant that they would be spending a whole lot more time as a family, something that had been sorely missed recently.
"Good," Cloud responded, a rare soft look in his eyes.
Keybearers... There were Keybearers in Atlantica.
Ursula had heard the rumors but she hadn't believed them. After all, what were the chances that there would even be a single Keyblade wilder in a small world like Atlantica? Now she found out there wasn't just one, but three. That didn't bode well for her plans at all.
How was she supposed to take over Atlantica if the Keybearers were there to kill off all of her beloved Heartless?
She would have to do something about them but she didn't know what.
First and foremost, however, she needed to report to Maleficent. The evil fairy would want to know about this particular turn of events.
A/N: So, what do you think? Is it good? Is it bad?