With Xehanort fled out of necessity – he still has other times to appear, after all – my Heartless at least temporarily defeated, and both Data-Sora and Charlie destroyed to the same blade, all fell silent in the great expanse of the Keyblade Graveyard. What had started with an innocuous visit to help Mickey debug the Journal had at last come to an end.
The indistinct image of Aqua gave Terra a knowing, almost sly look, then winked at me before she vanished entirely. If nothing else, we had given her a new hope that she hadn't been forgotten, and in due time we'd come for her.
Terra looked to me wordlessly, nodded, then threw his Keyblade skyward to call his Glider. "Don't go getting yourself into any more trouble," he told me in parting just before it arrived. He took it back up to the rock where he'd stood waiting, though he didn't stop there right away – Roxas was up there, and I can only guess he asked Terra for a lift back down again.
"Don't forget what I told ya earlier," Mickey told me. "I gotta go do something about this thing."
"Do you know what to do with it?" I asked him.
"More or less. Don't ask questions, Lee. As Yen Sid told me – you're not the only one who has an idea of what's gonna happen." He paused to look speculatively at Tron and added, "I think I'll take you along with me. I gotta get you back to Radiant Garden's datascape anyway."
"I'm heading that way too," Axel said. "I'll go too."
Mickey shook his head though. "You wouldn't be able to travel the same way safely. Best to go with him."
"That brings up an interesting question," Riku remarked, watching the oddly mismatched pair head off behind a rock formation. "Just how do you plan to get everyone back? Your Glider isn't going to take all of us."
"Just ask Neku?" Goofy suggested.
"It won't work," Roxas said, sounding subdued. "Neku won't talk to me. I think he's taking the loss of his brother hard."
"Despite what he did?" Donald sounded sceptical.
"They were still brothers," Roxas replied. "That, and I got the idea it's the first time any of them have ever been destroyed."
"I can't get my book to answer me either," Sora said.
"Well, Liam?" Riku asked me.
"Give me a moment. I'm working on it," I answered. "The easiest solution would be to take the Gummi Ship again."
"Which is back at Destiny Islands," Sora pointed out. "Some use it does us there. If we could get word to Xion..."
"Use a corridor."
"You're not serious."
"I didn't mean all of us. Riku can still use them, and now there's no pressure on me I could probably figure it out if I really wanted to. One of us just has to drop in on him, pick up the ship and fly it here."
"I'll go. I know how to fly a Gummi Ship." Riku stopped, then brightly added, "Well, not entirely, but there's a first time for everything, isn't there? I just need to know where to go."
"Oh, god," Sora groaned. "Does anyone want a bet on how many times he gets lost? Or how many pieces it gets here in?"
"If you're that bothered by it, I'll put you into a corridor so you can take it yourself."
Sora stopped objecting after that. I gave Riku a few directions, remembering where to find the Graveyard in relation to the Disney Castle, then he left to retrieve the Gummi Ship.
I don't know exactly what Mickey did with the X-Blade. For all I know, he has it kept somewhere safe in his Castle, although I get the distinct impression he's destroyed it. Whatever he'd done with it, I reluctantly conceded it was probably better in his hands than mine now the danger had passed.
Despite Sora's misgivings about Riku's piloting skills, we didn't have all that long to wait.
As they had before, Donald and Axel ended up in discussion over magic – I don't know what they found so fascinating about it, but maybe they were just more involved in how it worked, while I tend to focus on just using it. Goofy joined them, and I suspect even picked up a bit more magic of his own.
Sora and Roxas found nearby rocks useful when they started talking. The fact that this Roxas was, technically, his own Nobody gave them something to talk about. Roxas did leave Neku's book with me before they got too deeply involved in their quiet discussion.
Neku's book was blank inside though, except for the ever present words just inside the front cover.
"Do you want to talk about it?" I asked the book.
'Leave me alone Liam,' he answered. 'Just keep me safe and don't bother me.'
"Suit yourself. But if you change your mind, you know I'm here."
'Just go away. I don't particularly like you right now.'
"It's not as if I was the one to do it," I protested.
'If it hadn't been for the first words you wrote in my book, this wouldn't have happened. I'd say that lays the blame squarely on you. Now leave me be.'
What could I say to that? He had a point.
There wasn't much said once Riku picked us up, except for Sora's insistence that I take over from him as pilot. I think for the most part, much as adventures can be fun, they were more relieved this one was over. I can't say I blame them. Between Charlie and my Heartless alone, it hadn't exactly been as easy to go through as the previous adventures.
We stopped by Radiant Garden, all trooping on in to catch up with our friends there. Demyx, despite Axel's prediction otherwise, was not too sulky at being left out, but he did insist that if we didn't take him with us next time, he'd invite himself along.
I won't go into all that much detail on the visit there, since most of it was taken up by trying to tell everyone what had happened, frequently punctuated with corrections from the others where they remembered differently. We did conveniently skip over how Sora ended up with us, since the knowledge of his book and mine were something we didn't exactly want everyone to know.
We paused a second time at the Disney Castle to drop off Donald and Goofy, during which I headed to the room Mickey's computer was in. Unsurprisingly, Mickey was already there.
"Giving it another go?" I asked him as I entered.
"I figure this time we won't have the same trouble," he answered. "Tron's giving me a hand this time. It's slow progress, since we gotta debug a lot of it again, and without Data-Sora's completely intact copy of the Datascape we don't have a baseline to work with, but we're getting there."
"I hope you'll excuse me if I don't offer to help this time. Once was bad enough, and I really should be getting back before long."
"That's alright," he grinned. "I wasn't going to let you this time. You're the one who caused the trouble, after all."
"Me? Would I do a thing like that?"
"Of course you would – it's what you do best!"
Our last port of call was, of course, the Destiny Islands. It was late evening when we got there, so we didn't have all that long. Sora and Riku were understandably weary, so while they headed home I spent the evening with Xion recounting what happened. Again. It sometimes seems that I'm forever retelling what I get up to.
Sora invited Roxas to stay with him, until Riku pointed out he didn't have the room at home with Xion staying there and instead offered him a room at his own place. Sora didn't seem too happy about that, but when it was suggested the alternative was for Xion to move in with Riku instead, he became even less happy about the idea. I got the impression that he really didn't want to miss out on all the mischief I'd been told he and Xion could get into being identical twins.
Later on of course, Xion also went back to shore to get some sleep. Despite what I'd said to Mickey, I decided to stick around for a time. There's a kind of serenity about the Islands that helps wash away worries. Given that I was going to have to persuade Roxas it had been kind of necessary to leave him behind, and get back to my own life back home, I wanted at least a little calm time to bear me through it.
When the skies started to become touched with the golden light of dawn, I was joined up on what Roxas had called Riku's Rock by an early riser – Riku himself.
"Still here?" he asked in that quiet voice everyone seems to use in the small hours of the morning. "I thought you'd have gone home by now."
"Trying to get rid of me, huh?" I teased.
"Would I do a thing like that? Your Nobody isn't going to be too happy to see you, you know."
"I know. That's one of the reasons I'm still here. I want a nice peaceful buffer against it."
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you about, Liam. You remember back in the Underworld, I told you I was aware of what happened while my heart was separate?"
"Of course. Why bring that up?"
"I heard what you said to Mickey about the Mark of Mastery. I've got to go to Yen Sid, haven't I?"
"Not exactly, and not yet. There's some time yet before that happens, and in any case I understand he'll send for you and Sora."
"And you as well?"
"Why me? I'm already a Master, remember? Eraqus saw to that – or haven't you read that far into my story yet?"
He gave a wry laugh, "I haven't had the chance to read all that much of it actually. I read a bit last night, I just got to the part where I nicked your Keyblade off you. I'd like to have seen just how bad you were when you were blasting your way through Hollow Bastion's basement puzzle."
"You know what I'm like when I'm irritable. I just happened to be a bit more demonstrative about it at the time."
"True enough. Anyway, I was thinking. You had Ventus and Xehanort watching when you took the Mark of Mastery, didn't you?"
"Xehanort was there in his official capacity as a Master, I believe. Eraqus conferred with him for a time before he finally decided who made the mark."
"Close enough. So why shouldn't you be there to see us take it?"
"Are you inviting me to come see you take the Mark? As a kind of inspirational guide?"
"Why not? Besides, that way if anything happens you'll be right on hand."
"What happens there will be your story, Riku – yours and Sora's."
"Yeah, but your presence changed a lot, remember? What if something unexpected comes up?"
"Then it'll be a good test of your abilities, won't it?" He looked a little disappointed by that, but I figured there wouldn't be any harm done in being present. "I'll be there to watch," I promised him. "I could hardly do any less for you now, could I?"
"Does your boyfriend know you flirt with me?" he asked a little suspiciously.
"Probably. He will by the time he reads this. I know him though, he'll understand. Now, I think I better get going. Much as I'd like to watch a sunrise, I've got a lot to do."
"Just a moment," Riku held me back, quickly climbing the nearby tree. "Don't get the wrong idea this time," he warned me, then threw a Paopu fruit at me. "I thought you might want to share one with him," he explained.
"Sure you don't want to share it with me yourself?" I asked with a sly grin.
"Just go, Liam!" he answered with a flush creeping up his face.
I was not entirely as willing to start my long journey home, knowing it had taken several hours to get from our world to the nearest world of the Lanes Between in the first place. Don't ask me why it's so far away. I suspect Neku's involved somehow, but he won't tell me.
In what I suppose was an attempt to put it off, I decided there was no harm in dropping in on Yen Sid, frequently finding excuses along the way to drop in on nearby worlds to make sure all was well. Which it was, of course. It isn't all that far to his tower though.
Since I was feeling a little lazy once I'd landed outside I just used my magic to Teleport to the top room instead.
"Most people use the door," Yen Sid observed, unruffled as always. "It at least announces their presence in advance."
"Since when do I do things the normal way? Mickey suggested I drop in on you before I headed back."
"I thought that might be the reason for your visit. There are three reasons I asked him to make that suggestion. First... these were found in Traverse Town," he told me, picking up a small box from beneath his desk and sliding it over to me.
Inside was a curious collection of items. A thick yellow wristband with no markings on it, what appeared to be a small mp3 player but with nothing connected to it, a black hat with a small skull on it, and strangely out of place among them, what appeared to be a miniature version of Cloud's Sword.
"Where in town, and how long ago?" I asked, examining each in turn.
"The Fourth District, just after you entered the datascape."
"Fourth?" I exclaimed with some surprise. "There is no fourth district."
"There is now – along with a fifth."
"Then that means-" I broke off, recognising some of the items now. The first two belonged to Neku – the real Neku, at least. The hat, though I haven't played much of The World Ends with You, I recognised as belonging to another of the characters that makes their appearance in Dream Drop Distance. The last was still a mystery to me though. The two districts along with these items had appeared in advance, in preparation for that story to happen.
"I see," Yen Sid nodded, apparently understanding. "You cannot speak of it yet."
"It wouldn't be prudent to. I know very little about the events surrounding them, and I can't say for sure how they've been affected by me."
"Perhaps in time then."
"Maybe. I think you ought to return these where you found them. The people who they belong to will be looking for them before long. What's next?"
"A matter that concerns you – and your world – directly. The Heartless know where you hail from, Liam. It is only a matter of time before they reach you, though the distance be vast."
"Then I'll just have to be ready for them, won't I? Don't worry about my world. I have a few plans that will make it hard for any Heartless that arrives."
No, I'm not telling what they are. They work best if not known about.
Yen Sid let that pass without comment. "Then the last matter... you have had a long journey, and face another one to return home. My train awaits you at the base of the tower, and will take you to the station nearest your home. It will at least allow you to rest safely for a time on your return journey."
"Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but your train is going to be a bit out of place back home, you know."
"Those who see it will be encouraged not to be concerned about it," he replied with a faint smile. "I instilled that into it early on, when it became necessary to visit other worlds. Only those who have use of it will notice it. That is why you did not notice it when you arrived here."
The sly old dog. And I thought I had powerful magic behind me. Just the idea of some of the things he's capable of is enough to dwarf my own.
And now you know the tale of my most recent misadventure. It's been a long story since it all started, hasn't it? But the story isn't done yet – there's more to come just as soon as it happens, and naturally I'll tell of my involvement in those when it happens.
For now though... well, I do have all these other stories to finish writing. Onward to the next one!
See you next time!