Alright, let's get started with this, shall we? As usual, Kingdom Hearts is still not mine, so aside from all the things that Neku and I have added for whatever reason, most of what follows is not mine.
Now this story, not that you need me to tell you, is the fourth story in what's become known as the Metastory Series. For those who haven't read the previous three (in which case, why are you reading this one first?) Neku is a book with the power of altering reality, who by my own accident caused me to live through Sora's life and have it turn out vastly different. There's more to it than that of course, but I'm not recounting all three stories right here.
This story is also a collaborative effort between me – that's StarLion to those of you reading this online, and Liam to those of you reading the copy Mickey wants to put in his library – Neku and Roxas, with assistance from Jiminy Cricket, who is chronicling the adventures of Sora, Riku and Xion. Along with whatever I get up to at the same time. We don't pay nearly enough respect to the little fellow for the fine work he does or the detail he manages to capture.
We're also working on this as events unfold, so for those of you reading online instead of the finished volume, what you read has probably happened very recently. Because we kinda have to wait until we have enough to put up in the form of a chapter, sometimes updates will come quicker, and other times slower.
Finally, before we begin, I want it fully understood that a lot of what follows was most certainly not my idea. With the exception of Riku asking me to drop in and watch him take his Mark of Mastery exam under Yen Sid, I had no intentions of meddling here unless it became necessary. However as is so often the case, I figured without the many deviations from the original story caused by me alone, if not by Roxas too.
So with that lengthy preamble aside... let's begin.
There's something to be said about the fun of adventures, and even I'll concede that once I get a bit of time to rest and settle back into a normal (or what passes as normal for me) life again, I start longing for it again. Adventures are addictive things, they have ways of sinking hooks into you to drag you back for more.
That being said, after I'd finally got back home from dealing with Charlie (See 'Metacoded') I was looking forward to a nice long time in which I could enjoy a rest. And persuade Roxas not to take me to task for leaving him behind during that particular adventure, but lets not touch on that here.
I had reasoned that I would have a nice break from having to go haring around all over the place after Heartless and Nobodies and other assorted madmen who lust after a heart-shaped moon. A nice break before I'd have to drop in on Yen Sid to watch the Mark of Mastery test.
And certainly a very long time before the I had to be too concerned about Yen Sid's warning that the Heartless know where my home world is. Not that they'll be getting there any time soon; once I got through the initial time out I set about leaving all manner of interesting things in the Lanes Between to persuade them there are other places to play. I won't let the Heartless set foot on my world if I can stop them.
But that's another story, and one that fortunately isn't going to be written until one of them finally does manage that.
As a Keyblade Master myself, I'm naturally obliged to make occasional trips out and about to check on the worlds, make sure there's nothing up, catch up with my friends and the like. I always stop in to see Mickey and Yen Sid on those trips and not too long ago, by sheer coincidence – or so I thought – when I paid a call on Yen Sid, it turned out Mickey was also present, and this is where our story truly begins.
"Ah, Liam," Yen Sid greeted me, magicking up – what else – a cup of tea. I've never mentioned it to him, but the ones he creates never taste quite the same as the real thing. "We were just talking about you."
"We?" I asked, then spotted Mickey who had previously been concealed by the chair he'd been sat in. "Well isn't this a rare thing? When was the last time we three were in the same room together?"
"Y'know, I don't think we ever have been actually," Mickey replied. "Roxas with ya, by any chance?"
"Nah, he's gone off on his own again. He gets bored from time to time and decides to go exploring on his own. I can't really say no, not since Neku arranged for him to be alerted if something comes up I need him for."
"He remains a convenient friend," Yen Sid noted. "But we need not call Roxas here just yet. It is you specifically we need speak of, and of what is to come."
"Now hold on right there," I held up one hand. "You both know I'm not revealing anything I know about even possible futures. I thought I told you that already."
"I am referring more to what you have already revealed. You know of course that the time for Sora and Riku to take the Mark of Mastery is due?"
"I hadn't known the exact time, but I assumed it'd be coming up in due course. Why mention it?"
"Well, y'see Liam..." Mickey started, then faltered slightly when I looked to him. In all the time I've known Mickey, I've never known him to do that. I know there are a few people out there who think I can be fairly intimidating at times, but I don't make a practise of biting people's heads of.
Readers of the past stories know that I once claimed to have future sight though it often got exposed as a fraud. Roxas is the one who really got that, gifted to him in limited form by Neku. But in spite of that, I had a momentary premonition, and I suspected I knew exactly what was coming next.
"No," I said firmly. "Absolutely out of the question."
"At least hear us out," Yen Sid said, and grudgingly – very grudgingly, if I was right – I waited to hear what they had to say.
"Y'know I'm always kinda busy, right?" Mickey started again. "You don't get to be the King by doing nothing, and after having to run off and leave Minnie behind a few times... well, it just doesn't feel right to ask her to handle things for me again. There's always things she puts off for me to handle when I get back, and that just makes things even busier for me." He stopped, looking almost worriedly at me.
"Go on," I prompted, not trusting myself to say any more just yet.
"Welp, you know Master Aqua is kinda... still lost in the Realm of Darkness, and we're not even certain if Terra ever made master or not, even if it was under Master Xehanort. Obviously Xehanort and Eraqus are unavailable too, and that means we're down to two Keyblade Masters left."
"And I, as you know, have chosen to doff that title. I am master no more," Yen Sid said.
"So you want me to handle the Mark of Mastery instead. I knew this was going to come up."
"Then you'll do it?" Mickey asked.
"Don't be absurd. I've got responsibilities at home, let alone my responsibilities as a Master myself. I don't pretend to know what you have to put up with as a King, but I'd be willing to bet there are times I'm just as busy as you are."
"But you're the only other Master-"
"Listen to me," I cut him off. "If it were not for me, I could say with absolute certainty that you, Yen Sid, despite your insistences to the contrary, would take up the mantle of Keyblade Master again to put Sora and Riku to the test. I know I've interfered before, and that things would have turned out differently if I hadn't, but I'm not going to do that now. If Riku still wants me to be present when he takes the test, I'll be there, but I won't submit to this absurdity."
"You have a duty as a Keyblade Master, Liam," Yen Sid told me reprovingly.
"Don't give me that. As I recall, though best not to ask how, Xehanort once talked about the duties. A Keyblade Master can choose – emphasis there on 'choose' – to take on students and train them up to pass the mark on to them, or they can choose to go out into the greater world and ensure the balance of light and dark is maintained. You both know that's what I've been doing, we discuss it often enough."
"D'ya think I don't do that either?" Mickey snapped, suddenly very irritated. Not that he pulls it off very well. Sorry Mickey, but it's true, you just can't sound irritated very well. "D'ya think I just ruled my castle and the town? Why d'ya think Radiant Garden's residents know about the Lanes Between? Not just because they've travelled them, but because I rely on them to keep a watch out! Them and Yen Sid both watch the worlds, certainly better than you do 'cause you gotta travel four hours just to reach the rest of the worlds, you're that distant! If anything comes up that we can't handle, we gotta hope we can hold out long enough for you to show up, and even then... well, you know the lengths we had to go to just to deal with Charlie. You bring your own share of troubles to the scene with Neku and his relatives."
Being berated by Mickey is a novel experience. I've been shouted at, yelled at, berated and more by many people, but by far the strangest has to be Mickey.
He took me completely off guard with his sudden outburst at me, and I knew even as he said it that what he was saying was true. Well, maybe not all true, I'll grant Charlie caused a little trouble, but him aside the books haven't actually done that much. Sora respects the one who came to him, Saisha, the same way I do Neku, so the two of them don't often get involved.
Mickey took a deep breath, appearing to calm himself back down again.
"You cannot deny he has a point, Liam," Yen Sid said calmly. "While we all obviously appreciate your efforts, and understand you like to keep up with your many friends across the worlds, it must be conceded that it has been... somewhat superfluous."
"Even if I were to go through with this – and I'm not saying I will, mark you – I don't have anywhere to take them for their training or exams, and I don't have a very good idea of what they need to go through. I can't take them to my world – far too many questions would be raised if I did that. To my knowledge, there's nowhere safe I can use anywhere with the possible exception of the tower of Hollow Bastion, and even that needs a lot of fixing up before it's safe again."
"We kinda thought of that before you got here," Mickey told me. "We couldn't decide where was best, but we narrowed it down to two options. Yen Sid suggested using the Hall of the Cornerstone, 'cause at least then you'd be able to use some of its protective effects if you needed, but I reckon you might be better off if we loaned you his tower."
"You'd... actually do that?" I asked, taken aback.
"Reluctantly, yes," Yen Sid agreed. "I would prefer not to be inconvenienced with this happening here, but as we were unable to decide, we felt it should be left up to you."
"And then only if you can persuade me to do it in the first place. No, I'm sorry," I said as Mickey started to object again. "But I'm just not convinced you have to leave this to me. If I know you'd handle it were I not around, I see no reason to change that," I told Yen Sid. "You know far more about the Mark of Mastery than me, you've had a past student yourself who made the mark and you certainly know more about what needs to be done than I do."
"I think you should do it," a quiet, though familiar voice said from one of the windows. Neku was leaning against it, having appeared without bothering to let us notice him. He loves to surprise people by seeming to show up out of nowhere or making them think he's been there all along.
"Oh come on, not you too," I said half-heartedly. "I know you've been listening, and you know even more about why I won't do it."
"Be realistic Liam," he replied. "That would only happen if you and I had never met at all, or at least if you'd never written those first words in my book. A lot has happened since then that shouldn't have."
"At least what happened is still recognisable to anyone who knows what should have happened," I countered. "Same goal, different means, and when you get right down to it, it's the goal that counts, not the means."
"By that logic, it doesn't matter if you handle the test then, because who does it is just the means – it's the goal of their exams that matters," Neku replied.
"I think he's got ya there, Lee," Mickey said.
"Tell me that isn't your only reason, old friend," I asked Neku, ignoring Mickey's comment.
Neku sighed and muttered something in the language of the books. I've tried several times to wrap my head around it, but its unbelievably complex compared to our own language. I can just about manage to say 'Good morning', and that's about it.
"Think of it this way Liam. Strictly speaking, this is all your story, right? That means it diverged from the original one the moment you and Sora ended up trading places, and the only reason the original still affects your story is because you're too stubborn to let go. You and Roxas – you both could have changed the course of the story so much if it hadn't been for that. Who knows, maybe you'd have been able to eliminate the Organization without ever going to Castle Oblivion – but you both insisted on trying to stick to what you thought was supposed to happen. Let it go, Liam. Carve your own path for a change."
"If I do though, I'll-"
"I'll handle that," Neku cut me off. "I'm not letting you run about without Roxas again, not after Charlie."
"Going to cover for you, yes. Gods know I certainly know you well enough by now, and if you're still going to be a pain I'll even offer you this. Instead of picking from their suggested locations and having you underfoot, I'll arrange to create you a place – in the Keyblade Graveyard maybe, where you can guarantee you won't be disturbed unexpectedly – where you can handle it. Your own tower or castle or whatever."
There was silence in the tower following this. I hadn't expected Neku to side against me, or his own argument for my doing this, but given how neatly this all fit together I started to suspect there'd been a conspiracy against me to persuade me.
"Don't be absurd," Neku told me, picking up on that. Yen Sid and Mickey both looked puzzled.
"Never you mind," I told them, then sighed. "Alright, I give up. Obviously I'm not going to stop you from pinning this on me. Since you've all bullied me into this, you can all contribute to getting me set up, otherwise you'll never hear the end of this. You," I pointed to Yen Sid, "Clearly know what has to be done and what I have to do, and all the rest of it. Whatever form you prefer, prepare it, get it together and have it ready for me to peruse before the two of them get there. Neku, go create that tower. Nothing ornate, just what we'll need. Mickey, you can go and fetch them on your way back home."
"There is... one other thing," Yen Sid told me as Neku vanished and Mickey headed for the door. "Mickey! Wait a moment."
"If you leave now you will miss this, and you need to hear it."
"Am I going to like hearing this?" I asked him flatly.
"I cannot say. I do not know you as well as Neku does, but in any case, you will not merely be testing Sora and Riku. Xion will also be joining them."
"Three. You want me to take on three students. If I hadn't already agreed to do this... Go on, Mickey. Go get the three of them, and I hope you're not planning to try and pin Kairi on me as well while I'm at it."
"No. Her time has not yet come," he replied. "But it will, in due course. I will collect the information you will require Liam, and watch the Graveyard from here for the signs that Neku has completed work. Once it is there, I will send it all on to you."
"Just as long as I've got time to look into it before the three of them arrive," I said, heading for the door. "I hope you don't come to regret doing this to me," I added before I left.