Chapter Ten: Getting Backup

"So where are you from?" Ven asked Terra after they had been traveling through the Lanes Between for a long while. The silence had started growing awkward.

"A world known as The Land of Departure," Terra explained. "It's gone now."

"I'm sorry," Ven apologized. So they both knew the pain of losing their world.

"Don't be." Terra replied. 'It's all my fault...'

Ven shot Terra a concerned look. He could tell that there was something bothering the human but he didn't feel that he had any right to pry. They didn't know each other that well...

When thinking on how he had so readily taken to traveling with a complete stranger, Ven could understand what Terra had been trying to warn him about. He didn't know anything about Terra and Terra didn't know anything about him. It was a dangerous gamble but Ven had faith in his decision. Terra may be a complete mystery to him but Ven could see that the other boy had a good heart. It may be clouded by anger and guilt, but he knew Terra was a good man. That's all that mattered to him.

"I'm sorry if I brought up any bad memories," Ven apologized as he saw how tense Terra still was after he had answered that question. It was clear that he was wallowing in thoughts of the past.

"It's alright, Ven. You couldn't have known," the brunette answered.

"So where are we off to now?" Ven changed the subject, hoping to distract Terra from his dark thoughts.

"Disney Castle. I have some allies there that we can call on to help us," Terra reported. They had better chances of finding Ven's loved ones if there were more of them searching.

"What's Disney Castle like?" Ven queried. He was curious about all of the different worlds. He had never imagined he would ever get to see any other world outside of Atlantica.

"It's beautiful," Terra admitted. "It's one of the very few places that remains untouched by the Heartless. They have the Cornerstone of Light that keeps their world untouched by the forces of darkness."

"If only other worlds were so lucky," Ven sighed sadly, thinking of Atlantica. If they had something like the Cornerstone of Light, Ursula may have never succeeded in invading. Then again, if there had been no darkness present in the world, would Ven and his brothers have ever gained their Keyblades?

'Is that really a bad thing?' Ven mused to himself, thinking back to the harsh treatment he and his brothers constantly suffered from at the hands of the other merfolk. Taking one arm from Terra's waist, Ven made the instinctive move to summon his Keyblade, sighing as it, once again, failed to come to him.

"What's wrong?" Terra queried.

"It's nothing, really," Ven denied, eyes still trained on his empty hand which was still contorted as if to hold the Keyblade.

"Ven, tell me," Terra insisted. "If something is bothering you, I'll try to do what I can to help."

"I was just thinking about why the Keyblade chose me. Was it a mistake?" Ven admitted.

"I don't know why you were chosen, Ven, but I don't believe it chose wrong. Your heart is a clear indication of that. If what you told me of the reception you've had back home the fact that the light within you still shines so brightly gives me an idea of your true strength. The Keyblade picked you for a reason. I know it must have been hard for you dealing with all of the hardships that come with bearing the Keyblade, but don't start losing hope now," Terra declared. He didn't want Ven's light to die.

"I'll try not to," Ven said. He had to believe that things had worked the way they had for a reason. As Ariel had always said, he was going to stay positive. He was beginning to sound like Roxas.

A wave of sadness passed through him at the thought of his twin brother. This had been the longest they had ever been separated. Ven was more than a little worried about him. What if the darkness had found him? Roxas could usually take care of himself, being the most vicious of the three Keybearers but without his Keyblades, how would he fare?

"We'll find them, Ven," Terra easily assessed what Ven was thinking about. "Just have a little faith."

Ven nodded. For now, that was all that he could do until they got a lead.

'I wonder if this is how Cloud feels every time we get ourselves into trouble,' Ven mused before he started feeling guilt all of this time he had been fretting about Sora, Roxas and Ariel. He hadn't given much thought to their eldest brother. The last time he had seen Cloud was back in Atlantica, and to his knowledge, that was where the eldest blonde had remained. Had he fallen with everyone else in Atlantica?

As the true severity of the situation and the true nature of Ven's loss finally caught up to him, all that the blonde could do was rest his head against Terra's back, glad for the helmet that masked his face. He didn't want anyone to see his tears.

Terra turned his head to look at the grieving blonde, silently wishing that he could do more to comfort the boy but knew that as long as they were traveling through the Lanes Between, he couldn't afford to let himself be distracted too much. He would address the situation once they arrived at Disney Castle.

KHKHKHKH

In the depths of Disney Castle, two Keyblade Masters were conversing over what would be the best course of action in the fight against the darkness, when a duck in sorcerer's clothing rushed into the office.

"Your Majesty, pardon the interruption, but Master Terra has come to see you. He's brought somebody else with him," Donald, the Royal Mage, declared, bowing to King Mickey and Aqua.

"Terra always travels alone," Aqua mused. She had once suggested they travel together but Terra had denied her. He said he was better off working alone. She felt that he was punishing himself for nearly falling to the darkness by embracing solitude. So hearing that he chose to have any company whatsoever, seemed odd to her.

"He says that he needed your help," Donald stated.

"We better go see. Terra never asks for help," Mickey responded as he and Aqua both left the office to go meet Terra.

When they arrived in the gardens, they found Terra talking quietly to a down-trodden young blonde whose cheeks were stained with dry tears.

"I'm sure your family and friend are okay, Ven. If they're anything like you, then there is no way that they've fallen to the darkness. We'll find them. I already promised you, didn't I?" Terra said, placing a comforting hand on the diminutive boy's shoulders.

"But what if they have?" Ven asked tearfully.

"Then we'll just have to save them from it, now won't we?" Terra stated. He really had no idea how they could possibly do that but he would try anything to cheer Ven up. He didn't like the sight of the boy so upset. The blonde was better off with a smile on his face.

"Do you really think we could do that?" Ven wondered, eyes shining with hope.

"I don't know," Terra admitted. "But we can try."

Ven nodded, feeling a little better. He couldn't give up on everyone before he had the chance to find them or at least learn what happened to them. They wouldn't give up on him.

They turned when they heard footsteps approaching to see a mouse, duck and a beautiful blue-haired woman walking up to them. A tall, humanoid dog was quick to join the group.

"It's good to see you again, King Mickey, Aqua, Goofy, Donald," Terra greeted them all with a polite bow. "I'm sorry I missed the meeting earlier. I got a little... sidetracked." His eyes trailed over to his unfamiliar companion, giving the group a good idea of what had led him astray. Ven looked a little sheepish.

"It's alright, Terra. We all know that you would never miss any meeting unless something important came up. Would you mind introducing your young friend?" Mickey inquired.

"Ven, meet King Mickey, a Keyblade Master and the king of Disney Town. Next to him is Aqua, my childhood friend and another Keyblade Master. The duck and dog over there are Donald and Goofy. They are the Royal Mage and Head of the Royal Knights, respectively. Everyone, meet Ven. I found him in the Enchanted Dominion," Terra dished out the introductions.

"The Enchanted Dominion?" Aqua repeated with a frown. "That world has been fallen for years. How could you have found him there?"

"A witch sent him there from his original world. I don't know all of the details but I know it has something to do with his Keyblade since she wrested control of it away from him," the brunette declared seriously. This made everyone alarmed. The thought of none being able to steal a Keyblade from its rightful owner was no laughing matter. They had never heard of such a case before.

"So I take it you need our help finding the one who stole the Keyblade?" Aqua asked curiously.

"That's part of it," Terra admitted. "Ven wasn't the only one sent away by the witch. His brothers and one of his friends were cast away as well. I promised to help him find them but I can't do it alone."

"We'll try our best," Mickey promised. He felt for the young blonde. Seeing how much the situation seemed to be weighing on Ven, the King didn't have the heart to refuse. "Could you describe your family and friend to us? Anything you can give us could be helpful."

"Well, there's Sora, my older brother. He has really spiky brown hair and blue eyes just like mine. He'll most likely be wearing a necklace with a crown pendant on it," Ven started out. "Then there's Roxas. He should be relatively easy to recognize. He looks like me except he'll have a necklace with a X-shaped pendant. Lastly, there's Ariel. She isn't related to us so she won't look like me like Sora and Roxas do, but she also has blue eyes. She also has bright red hair and she has a really beautiful voice. I'm not sure if that's helpful but it may help you out a little."

"Wait a minute, a red-haired woman cast out from her world?" Aqua repeated, frowning in consideration. "I recently got a report from Aladdin of Agrabah that they found a girl with that kind of description just a couple of days ago."

"Really?!" Ven exclaimed, eyes glowing in excitement. He couldn't believe that they had a lead already. It gave him hope for finding the others.

"I was just going to go investigate the matter," Aqua admitted. "I've already let Aladdin know of my impending arrival."

"Then Ariel will be safe," Ven breathed in relief. Knowing that at least one of his missing companions being safe gave him hope for the others. Maybe all was not as lost as he thou get it was.

"I told you there was nothing to worry about," Terra smiled warmly. Ven nodded happily. Now all he had to do was find Sora and Roxas, wherever they may be.

"Donald and Goofy, you two will go off in the Gummi ship and search for Sora and Roxas as well. I'll be using the Star Shard. The more people we have to seek out Ven's brothers, the better," Mickey reported. He had a feeling there was a lot more to the situation than a bunch of missing teenagers. They had been cast out for a reason. The Darkness witnessed them as a threat and Mickey wanted to know why.

"Thank you," Ven smiled, grateful for all of the help. Finding everyone amongst all of the many worlds was bound to be difficult but as long as they remained vigilant and had help, Ven had a strong belief that they would all be together again.

"Donald, Goofy, I have a recommendation for you. Head for Destiny Islands. There's a Keybearer there... one of my making. He may be willing to help us out as well," Terra suggested. He knew how much Riku wanted to get off the island. This may just be his chance.

"That sounds like a plan," Goofy agreed. It looked like all of the networking everybody was doing with the other worlds was finally paying off.

With everything set up, the group split up with one goal in mind: find the castaways and reunite them. After they succeeded with that, they could finally get some answers.

KHKHKHKH

"Are you feeling better now, Ven?" Terra asked as they went through the Lanes Between.

"Yes, sorry for worrying you," Ven apologized.

"It's okay to cry once in a while," Terra stated. "But don't lose hope, okay? You look best with a smile on your face."

Ven was glad for the helmet hiding his face as he couldn't help but blush at the older boy's kind words.

"Thank you," he spoke shyly. "So, I've been meaning to ask. We were going through the Lanes Between for an awfully long time before arriving at Disney Castle. Did it really take that long just to get there?"

"No. I took the long route," Terra stated. "I wanted to take a look at the other two dead worlds that used to house the Princesses of Heart. Since I found you in one, I had hoped we could find the others in those worlds, but all I could sense coming from them was Darkness. There is no new life exuding out of it."

"Oh..." Ven voiced his disappointment. So much for that lead. "Where are we going now?"

"Traverse Town," Terra said. "Many people who have fallen from their worlds end up there. We may find some luck there."

"I hope so," Ven said brightly.

The comfortable atmosphere between the two of them was shot when a newcomer invaded their space: a boy wearing black and red armor.

"Vanitas!" Terra spat angrily.

"Long time no see, Terra. Who's your new friend?" Vanitas drawled, floating nonchalantly in front of them, blocking their path.

"That's none of your business," Terra retorted, wanting to protect Ven from catching the dark Keybearer's attention. He wouldn't let the bastard take his Light.

"Touchy," Vanitas tutted. "Don't tell me that you're still upset with me? Come on, we're practically brothers. After all, we're both favored by Master Xehanort."

"I don't want anything to do with either of you," Terra insisted. "Now leave before I decided to rip you apart, limb from limb."

"Your temper has gotten worse over the years and with it, your darkness. You may try to ignore it but it's there," Vanitas mused. Before Xehanort had lost his heart, he had expressed his will that Terra be brought back into the darkness, Vanitas aimed to make that a reality. Now, split into a Heartless and a Nobody, Xehanort was serving to be a double threat and he was striving to deal the largest blow against the Light. In order to do that, he needed all pawns in place...

"Shut up!" Terra snapped, his voice gaining a feral quality to it. He didn't notice how Ven flinched at it.

Ven didn't want to be here. He felt like he was getting caught in something he had no purpose being in. Everything about this Vanitas screamed dangerous and Ven didn't want to catch his attention. Not to mention, Terra's rage completely terrified of him. He knew how strong the older boy was and he really didn't want to witness it again when the Keyblade Master was in such an unstable mood.

"You can't deny it," Vanitas insisted. "You can feel the darkness bubbling underneath the surface, can't you? It calls out to you."

"It doesn't," Terra denied but his voice wavered. He surreptitiously glanced at Ven. He had been feeling the darkness more recently... Especially around the blonde. His light was addictive... and Terra wanted it.

Vanitas caught the subtle action and the smug air around him only grew more. So the diminutive boy with Terra was the cause of Terra's recently growing darkness. How intriguing...

Suddenly blitzing forward, Vanitas grabbed Ven before Terra could do anything.

"Let me go!" Ven protested the treatment, trying to push himself away from the dark stranger. Unfortunately with his arms pinned to the side Ven couldn't do anything. His legs weren't nearly strong enough yet to cause any damage if he tried to attack with them. With their helmets on, he couldn't even effectively headbutt his assailant either.

"No can do, small fry," Vanitas answered. "Now let's get a good look at you."

"No, wait!" Terra protested as Vanitas deactivated Ven's armor, leaving Ven in his basic clothing instead, leaving him vulnerable to the darkness within the Lanes Between. However, a surprising incident occurred as Ven began to glow with light, providing a barrier between him and the darkness surrounding him.

"Beautiful..." Vanitas breathed in awe. Neither Ven nor Terra knew if the dark armored boy was referring to Ven himself or his light. "I can see why Terra keeps you so close."

"Let him go, Vanitas. He's got nothing to do with this!" Terra exclaimed. The dark part of him was snarling viciously. Who was Vanitas to glance at what was his so covetously?

"I think he's got a lot to do with this," Vanitas countered, tightening his hold on the former merman. Ven could only wince and squirm more. "His light is greater than what most humans could ever hope to possess. You most likely hoped that by being near his light, you could push your darkness away completely, didn't you? It's having the opposite effect, though, am I right? He makes your darkness grow. You crave his light more than anything. If he stays with you, he will only end up devoured in the end. Surely, you know that."

"I would never hurt Ven," Terra insisted, horrified at the thought.

"But you don't deny your feelings towards him," Vanitas smirked. "Face it, Terra. He's better off without you. I'd be more than willing to take him off your hands..."

At that point, Ven had managed to get an arm free from Vanitas' hold and he used that moment to punch his captor as hard as he could, succeeding in breaking his mask.

Vanitas let out a cry of pain, staggering back, giving Terra the opening he needed to take Ven back, activating the blonde's armor once more.

"You bitch," Vanitas growled, glaring at Ven. "You'll pay for that."

Ven barely registered the threat. He was too busy marveling over how much Vanitas resembled Sora. Now that he thought about it, he sounded a lot like Sora too... The main difference was that Vanitas had black hair and gold eyes instead of brown hair and blue eyes. It was eerie...

"If you even dare try to lay a finger on Ven again..." Terra growled, letting Vanitas make his own conclusions about what Terra would do to him if he were to act out again.

Vanitas knew that if he pushed Terra's buttons any further, it would be dangerous for his own health, he decided to be smart and retreat. His eyes fell on Ven.

"I hope we meet again, Ven. Try not to get devoured before that, okay? I've still got to pay you back for that punch..." Vanitas sneered, wiping a trace of blood from his lip before he faded into the darkness.

"Are you okay, Ven?" Terra asked urgently.

"I'm fine," Ven answered,sounding a little shaken. "Who the hell was that?"

"Vanitas...he's an enemy, as you can obviously see. He's the protégé of the man who destroyed my world," Terra admitted.

"Oh..." Ven murmured, eyes downcast. No wonder Terra had been so angry.

"About what Vanitas said about me..." Terra began, so undoing uncertain. Ven was quick to brush it off.

"Don't worry about it,Terra. I don't believe anything that he said. He was only trying to build distrust between us, right? I'm not going to change my opinion of you just because one guy made some outrageous claims about you. I know you have darkness in you but I believe that you're stronger than either you or Vanitas believe. You won't let it get the best of you," Ven insisted, making Terra look at him with surprise.

"How can you be so sure? You don't even know me all that well," Terra remarked, puzzled.

"I can feel it in my heart," Ven declared with a smile. "You went so much out of your way to help a complete stranger with his attempt to reunite with his family. That, more than anything, tells me that you're a good man. You could have abandoned me at any timeout you've stuck by me this long and have helped keep me from losing hope. I don't care if you have darkness within you. Everybody has it. It's what part of you that you chose to listen to more that makes all of the difference."

Terra stared at Ven, an unreadable look on his face. He didn't really know what to feel. No one had ever told him that before. Aqua and Master Eraqus had always tried to burn it into his mind that the darkness was evil and that he should try to stifle his completely. On the other side, he'd had Master Xehanort trying to show him the true value of embracing the darkness. Now here was Ven saying that it was okay to have his darkness and that he didn't need to choose one side completely as long as he knew which path he truly wanted to follow?

The lack of judgment on Ven's part was refreshing and Terra couldn't help but like the blonde even more at his acceptance.

"Thank you, Ven. I appreciate your faith," Terra smiled. His resolve to keep his darkness under control was even stronger now and he would do everything in his power to ensure that Ven would never get caught in the crossfire if his darkness did get the better of him. He shuddered at the thought of what would happen if his darkness did overwhelm him. He had a feeling that if it did, Ven would be the primary target...