Sprawled out on a grassy hill with warm sun in his face and nothing but open sky above him, Sora was a picture of lazy bliss. The bustle of the city was only a murmur on the wind, as distant and vague as his obligations, and he attempted his best impression of moss in peace. A bee hummed by his nose and landed delicately on a nearby flower, pausing to consider the boy and the flowers crushed beneath him. It darted away an instant later, narrowly missing a furry paw that had appeared out of the grass to swat at it. A yellow cat head appeared next, which scowled as it watched its would-be prey escape. The cat turned to Sora instead, and prodded his side lightly.

"Hey, Sora, shouldn't we be leaving soon?" it asked. The cat received no response. He hopped onto the boy's chest and stared down into his face. "Sora."

Sora gave a deep sigh, which startled the cat on top of him only a little bit.

"We don't have to leave yet," said Sora, his voice dreamy and content, blue eyes on the sky. The breeze tousled his hair affectionately and encouraged the tall grass to tickle his tan arms and legs, just on the verge of itching.

"Cloud gave you the morning off, not the whole day."

"Hm, well," was all Sora had to say to that. He made no motions toward getting up, and the cat settled down into a more comfortable position on top of him, tucking in his feet and tail. Sora's hand came up to scratch the cat's head, which prompted a purr.

"Cloud will be mad if we're late," the cat tried again after a long moment, though he was enjoying the head scratching very much.

"Cloud will be mad either way because he likes to be grumpy. So we might as well take our time, I think."

"We have work to do."

"We?" Sora lifted his head to peer at the cat with a raised eyebrow. "What work do you have to do, Roxas? As I recall, I'm the only one doing the work. All you do is sit around like a lazy bum."

The cat stood with a dignified harrumph and jumped down. Sora gave a good-natured chuckle and finally sat up. "Alright, alright," he conceded, "we'll go back." He stood and stretched with a yawn, then gathered up his bike.

Roxas jumped up into the basket attached to the bike's handle bars and they set off. Once on the thin dirt path, the bike picked up speed as gravity pulled it along until they were absolutely tearing down the hill, avoiding potholes and rocks with a deft lean to one side or another and laughing as only dust was left where he had been a blink ago. They were a blur of red and blue and brown to any bird, squirrel and tree sprite that happened to look their way. Every small rock in the road had Roxas nearly flying out of his seat in the basket, and he dug in his claws and clung for his life, something he had grown very used to by now.

"Sora!" he howled, "You're going too fast! We're going to die!"

Sora only laughed his usual carefree laugh, gave a joyous 'whoop!' and pedaled faster. But Roxas should have expected as much, really.

Quiet grassy hilltops gave way to bustling cobblestone streets and crooked rows of wooden buildings, and at last they had to slow somewhat to avoid a crash. Roxas was able to relax slightly, though his ears were still plastered against his head and his tail fur stuck out as thick as Sora's arm. Sora sped down winding roads and bridges, expertly dodging both stationary and moving obstacles with glee, making wild sharp turns, and accepting the various calls from the people he passed, both friendly greetings and frantic cursing about his recklessness.

He skidded to a halt in front of a familiar building squished between its neighbors. Red-brown walls were criss-crossed by timber framing, and a large, dirty front window proclaimed 'Cloud's Delivery' in faded lettering. Sora rolled his bike down the thin alley next to the building to the garage behind the shop. He unlocked the wooden garage door and set his bike in its designated spot next to Cloud's gleaming motorcycle.

Next to the garage, a rickety staircase zig-zagged up the wall to the balcony landings of the second and third floors of the building, which held Sora and Cloud's apartments, respectively. On the other side of the staircase was a screen door leading into the shop, which Sora made his way through with Roxas trotting at his heels.

"I'm back!" Sora called, letting the screen door snap shut behind him to further announce his arrival.

The back door led immediately into a small kitchenette complete with a sink, table, cupboard, and small ice box. Every flat space was covered in a mess of some kind—papers, cardboard boxes, stray cups, fliers, postcards, rolls upon rolls of packing tape, and odd knickknacks always seemed important enough to keep around, all accented with loose strands of short, coarse yellow cat fur courtesy of Roxas. The walls were bare except for the large calendar full of neat markings in red and black pen that Sora was never allowed to touch, and the clock showing exactly how late Sora was.

Roxas jumped up onto the table and settled himself in one of the empty boxes. Sora headed straight for the ice box and peered inside, hoping that some kind of food had miraculously appeared since the last time he had checked it. He found only the mostly empty jar of milk and wedge of cheese that had been there when he'd left, although the cheese wedge had been partially diminished. Sora stuck his tongue out at the sight and shut the door. Useless.

"You're late."

Sora looked up to find Cloud in the doorway leading to the main office, arms crossed over his chest and regular scowl etched into his face. Though thin and not exactly tall, Cloud struck a rather intimidating figure all the same due to the air of mild fury constantly radiating from him. He looked like a man who could kill you very easily and whose ever-thinning patience was the only thing keeping him from doing so. Cold eyes fixed Sora with a glare like two knives waiting to be thrown.

Sora responded with his best charming smile and rubbed the back of his neck absently.

"Well, at least I'm here, right? So, whatta we got?"

Despite his best efforts, Cloud was never able to intimidate Sora much. He made an expression that could almost be described as an eye-roll, then turned and headed back into the office with Sora bouncing along behind him.

The office was much like the kitchenette in that every surface was covered in clutter and a little bit of cat hair. But the piles were slightly neater, and while seemingly haphazard, there was definite organization to the mess which its owners knew well enough.

Cloud picked up a clipboard from the desk and looked it over.

"Average load today, mostly south." He handed Sora a neat list and indicated the necessary packages among the piles of boxes lining the walls like tired cardboard soldiers awaiting orders.

"Tch, this is it? This won't even take two hours!" Sora pocketed the list and gave Cloud a grin.

"Be that as it may, you'd better get going. The streets will be crowded today because of the parade."

Sora's eyes lit up immediately. "There's a parade? Since when? Like with magicians and elephants and people on stilts? That's so cool! I want to go!"

"No, you're thinking of a circus. It's a military parade. Just a bunch of soldiers marching around." Sora visibly deflated. "There've been fliers out for weeks about the streets in the northern district closing for it, didn't you see them?"

"Oh, those green ones that are everywhere? I never read them because they looked boring. No eye-catching picture or anything."

"We have one on the table in the kitchen, how have you not read it?" Cloud's brow twitched in annoyance.

Sora shrugged. He couldn't help if a flyer looked boring. "Anyway, I'm off."

"Are you going to change your shirt? Or put on the company vest?" Cloud gestured to the bulky tan vest hanging on the coat rack next to the front door. It was constructed out of the stiff, itchy material used for potato sacks, with 'Cloud's Delivery' printed in bold black letters across the back.

Sora made a face at the vest like he'd just eaten a worm. He looked down at his own clothes, a slightly dirty blue-and-white striped t-shirt and brown, knee-length shorts with lots of pockets.

"Nah, this is fine," he concluded. Sora gave a dismissive wave of his hand and started carrying the packages to be loaded onto his bike as if the conversation were over. And Cloud supposed it probably was. His brow settled into a defined furrow as he wondered how exactly he ended up with such an employee.

"There should at least be people on stilts," Sora mumbled to the boxes on his way out back the door. Cloud heard him and shook his head in exasperation.

Outside, Sora strapped the larger boxes to the back of his bike and put the smaller packages in the front basket. Roxas appeared and hopped back into his place in the basket when Sora finished, sitting on top of the packages.

"Cloud said there's going to be a parade!" Sora informed him.

"I know. There've been flyers about it for weeks."

"Yeah yeah, whatever."

Sora rode out of the back alley, and then they were back to racing through the streets. Up and down winding roads, across wide and narrow bridges, through skinny back alleys, past railway tracks, and over hills, Sora flew all across the city.

He was the reason for Cloud's Deliveries reputation as the fastest and most reliable delivery business in town. Anything you needed transported somewhere else, and any time you needed it to be there, Sora was always ready to take it and deliver it on time or earlier. The trickier the timetable, the more complex the route, the better, thought Sora. It was more of a challenge that way and made it more fun. People had grown used to the crazy kid with the little yellow cat and his crazy bike, and while his speed was alarming to pedestrians and automobile drivers, there had yet to be any sort of serious crash because of it.

The first few stops on Sora's list were fairly close, and their deliveries standard. Package given, signature and gratitude received. The next batch required him to cross one of the high bridges over the railway tracks and, from the western district, ride up into the steeper hills of the southern district.

The southern district was rather poorer than the rest of the city, with cramped buildings stacked on top of each other haphazardly in a great pile. Streets were narrow and meandered around as if constructed from a map drawn by a child. It was a lively area, though, and it seemed there were always games or discussions on porch stoops or someone calling to friends passing on the street, or children darting about underfoot involved in their own antics.

Many of the people Sora passed knew him by sight and called out greetings to him, which he returned. The southern district had the best hills, so of course Sora came by as often as he could.

The only issue was the dirt sprites, which grew large in that part of town as they collected dust and grime, and were strong enough to cause more trouble than usual. They gathered in corners and gutters and empty rooms where they went about with their mischief. Lately, they had taken to the steep rooftops where they managed to dislodge and throw the flat clay roof tiles. Pedestrians had to be careful not to get hit by falling roof tiles, and warning notices were displayed every few blocks. Sora had swerved his bike to avoid being hit many a time, and he was certain the dirt sprites had marked him out in particular to hit, being a fast-moving target and therefore a challenge. Roxas told him he was an idiot.

Sora avoided exactly two falling roof tiles with ease as he rode about, and, laughing, told the dirt sprites that they had to try better than that. Looking up, Roxas could see their dark shapes scuttling about indignantly.

Their last stop in the area was up a steep flight of stairs, and while carrying his bike up them had been difficult, riding them back down again had been Sora's favorite part. Incidentally, it had been Roxas' least favorite part.

Their next scheduled stop was to Cid's mechanic shop. Cid Highwind's mechanic shop, which didn't exactly have a proper name and which people mostly referred to as 'Cid's' was a sturdy stone building made up mostly of garage. A small square sign hung from a short rod above the door with a picture of a wrench and a gear, and was just about the only official declaration that this building offered some kind of service.

When Sora pulled up, he could hear the clanging of metal on metal and the gruff shouting of a gravelly voice. He parked his bike against the wall and stood in the doorway, took a deep breath and shouted "Hello!" as suddenly as he could. The resulting startled shout and crash of something being dropped was exactly what Sora had been aiming for, and he laughed.

"That damn kid! Always yellin' his goddamned head off! Appearing out of nowhere! Who the hell does he think he is! He's lucky I didn't saw my fuckin' arm off! Well what are you sittin' around on your ass for! Go see what he wants—And get that shit-eatin' grin off your monkey face!"

A moment later a boy not much older than Sora, though quite a bit taller, appeared from within the garage, still grinning. He had tan skin made darker still from smudges of dirt and grease, and shaggy blond hair that had been bleached further by excessive amounts of time spent in the sun. His overalls were permanently dirty and his work boots were tired, but his smile was wide and friendly and crinkled his eyes in a handsome way.

"Heya Sora," he said. "What's new?"

"Not much, Tidus. I've got the boxes you ordered," Sora answered with a smile.

Tidus nodded and the two of them started unhitching the boxes from Sora's bike.

"You got him pretty good, you know," Tidus chuckled. "He was holding all these poles—who knows what for—but he had his arms full of all these really long poles, and then you jump out, and I swear he jumps—actually jumps—and throws the poles all over the place. It was hilarious."

The two of them paused in unloading the boxes and laughed at the grumpy mechanic and his unfortunate characteristic of being easily startled.

"Quit yer yappin'! I can hear you, ya know, ya lazy dumbasses!" Cid's cranky shouting carried out of the garage, and while it didn't stop the two from laughing, it did spur them on to carry the packages inside.

The inside of the garage was significantly darker, and it took Sora a moment for his eyes to adjust. When they did, he found Cid near a work table taken up by several large, recently-dropped poles. He was a stocky, muscular man in his middle age with a thick neck and a pinkish sort of face. He wore a shirt that may have once been blue and a pair of pants held up by a complicated utility belt. At his feet lay a large, fierce-looking red dog with a spiked collar.

"Hey Cid!" Sora called cheerily from behind the box in his arms.

"That's Mr. Highwind to you, brat. Just set those down by that table there." They did so and Cid walked over to inspect them. The dog got up and followed him, sniffing the boxes in interest, then sniffing Sora in interest.

"Sign here, please." Sora handed Cid a paper to sign and a pen. Cid scribbled a signature and gave it back, then barked at Tidus to get back to work.

Sora crouched down and scratched the dog's ears enthusiastically. The dog responded with equally enthusiastic tail-wagging and attempted to lick as much of Sora's face as possible.

"Hi Red," Sora cooed at the dog as he rubbed his head and sides. "How are you today? Has it been a tough day? Is everyone yelling and dropping things? It must be hard on your delicate little ears!" The dog gave a loud and frankly ferocious-sounding bark and Sora laughed.

"Stop talking to that dog like he's a baby," Cid snapped as he went back to his work fiddling with the poles. "You keep doing that and he's gonna start thinking he is a baby. Then he'll get soft, and what use is he gonna be at guarding the shop!"

"Aww, but he is soft!" Sora replied, talking to the dog. "So soft and fluffy, aren't you, Red? But you have to guard the shop! And you're very good at it! No one wants to steal anything because they know how strong you are! I know, I know! You are so tough! Everyone is impressed!" The dog continued to cover Sora in slobber, loving the attention.

"Stop that! Red, get over here." Cid slaped the side of his leg.

But Red perked up suddenly and froze, pupils large and eyes focused unwaveringly on the doorway.

"Red, get over here! What's he looking at—aw dammit, now the cat's here."

Sure enough, Roxas was sitting in the doorway, looking inside with equal measures curious and cautious. Red crouched down, waiting to pounce, and gave a low growl.

"What're you always bringing that damned cat around for?" Cid barked. "You know Red gets all worked up. I never seen 'im get so worked up about a cat as he does about that one. He's trained not to, doesn't even chase squirrels, but he's always after that cat!"

Sora stood up and grinned. "It's because Roxas is special," he said, as if it were obvious. He grabbed Red's collar to make sure he didn't bolt off after Roxas.

"Yeah, well something's special alright," Cid grumbled to his tools.

"Hey are you guys going to the parade later?" Sora asked.

"Naw," Tidus answered, "the old man won't let me."

"Yer damn right I won't let ya! We got work to do! I'm not letting you laze around just cuz we're all supposed to get excited about the military. Damn foolish waste of an afternoon, if you ask me. Like we're supposed to be excited about war just cuz some idiots march around in uniform."

"You really think there's going to be a war?" Sora asked.

"Ugh, don't get him started! I'll never hear the end of it!" Tidus moaned. But it was too late.

"Do I think there's going to be a war!" Cid spat. "With Alexandria having that blood-thirsty cow of a noble that they do, of course we are. If Sephiroth doesn't get his act together and show some goddamned diplomacy once in a while we'll have no choice! Idiot nobles don't know how to do a damned thing. They just sit around in their fancy houses drinkin' tea all day while hard-workin' folks like myself foot the bill. Hah! If I ever see any of those Jenova boys I swear I'll pop 'em right in the jaw. Maybe they'll be more diplomatic with their jaws wired shut. Hah!" Cid screwed some bolts into place emphatically.

"They drink tea?"

"What? Why is that the one part you listened to? If you're gonna be an idiot, why'd you even ask?"

Sora shrugged. "I dunno, just curious, I guess."

"About the tea?" Tidus asked.

"I wonder what kind they drink."

Tidus paused in thought. "Probably something that goes with biscuits," was his conclusion.

"Biscuits, huh?"

"Rich people eat biscuits, don't they?"

"Well whatever is it, I'm sure it tastes like piss!" Cid barked. "Now get the hell outta here."

"Okay," Sora chirped. "I'll see you later. Bye Tidus!"

"Bye Sora!"

Sora left the garage and hopped back on his bike and Roxas hopped back into the basket.

"So, what'd he say?" Sora asked as they rode off.

"What'd who say?" Roxas shot back, digging his claws into the basket as they turned a corner.

"Red. What'd he say? Did you talk to him?"

Roxas made a frustrated noise. "No! I didn't talk to him! I can't talk to other animals! You always ask and it's always the same answer."

Sora chewed his lip, unsatisfied. "Maybe you aren't trying hard enough."

"That has nothing to do with it! That's not—Watch out for that woman! Jeez, you almost hit her!"

"No I didn't. We weren't even close."

"Yes you were, she was—tch never mind."

"Anyway, maybe you just need to practice talking to other animals more. Then you might get it."

"Talking to you is close enough to talking to an animal."

"Hah! That's good coming from you, Roxas!"

"Yeah well you—There's a car coming! Are you even looking where you're going?"

"So you're not going to try talking to other animals?" Sora asked, disappointed, as he made a sharp swerve. "I wanna know what Red is saying."

"It doesn't work like that, I keep telling you. Besides, he's not even saying anything. Dogs don't form language like people do. You got your greeting barks, you got your warning barks, you got your 'I'm-an-idiot-dog' barks, and that's pretty much it."

"So you can talk to him!"

"Anyone could come to that conclusion about dog barks! I can't talk to him! I wouldn't even want to!"

"Fine, fine. You're such a spoil-sport, you know that?"

"Whatever, you're the one who never listens," Roxas grumbled.

The next stop Sora had to make was close to the city's central train station. The train happened to pull up just as he finished delivering the package, rumbling, screeching, and billowing smoke, and Sora and Roxas were caught up in heavy foot traffic of people departing and boarding the train as they passed. Though Sora tried to weave as carefully as he could through the crowd (not that it seemed that way to Roxas) he found himself swerving and skidding, whisked about by the sea of anxious people.

Just when he thought he was free, he lurched to a halt as a large woman rushed in front of him with rolling luggage and a brood of children holding hands trailing behind her. The abrupt stop nearly threw Roxas out of the basket, and it was only his claws embedded in its fiber that kept him from flying. The woman didn't appear to have noticed that Sora was there at all, or that they had all come quite close to being seriously injured.

"Eeh! That surprised me!" Sora exclaimed as he watched the group force their way through the crowd almost violently toward the train, practically throwing people aside in their haste.

"You'd better take care not to get trampled, kid," a voice chuckled behind him. "Your little kitten could've died."

Sora couldn't help but blink in surprise at the tall, wiry young man suddenly towering over him. His hair was a shocking red mane and beneath each bottle-green eye was a dash of tattoo like a semi-colon. He had a wide, mocking grin and carried a small bag over his shoulder.

"I'll keep that in mind," Sora said, on the brink of outright staring.

"Make sure you do. There are few things more terrifying than a person late for a train, you know. And being trampled to death seems like such a pathetic way to go, don't you think?" The man's grin widened, but it was only a little sinister.

"Definitely," Sora agreed. "It wouldn't be a heroic death at all. Are you alright, Roxas?"

Roxas was huddled in the basket, ears flattened against his head and tail thicker than ever. He gave the stranger a baleful glare.

"Is that his name? Roxas? Can I pet him?" the man asked, reaching a hand toward him. Roxas growled.

"You probably shouldn't," Sora warned. "He doesn't like other people much."

"That's too bad. I'm usually pretty good with animals." He let his hand drop, expression turned to disappointment.

"Nah, don't take it personally. He's just picky when it comes to people he likes. He has to get to know you first."

"Well I'm nothing if not a man who can bounce back from rejection, even from so fair a creature." His crooked grin reappeared, and Sora returned it. Roxas continued to glare.

Then a loud, wailing lump of large bags collapsed in a heap at their feet. They all watched as a figure disentangled itself from the luggage and turned into a young man about the same age as the first, though not nearly as tall, with light-colored hair cut in a curious, modern sort of style.

"Axel! How could you leave me with all the bags!" he moaned at the first man. "They're heavy and this crowd is a nightmare. And most of this is your stuff anyway!"

"Oh? Didn't you say you wanted to carry them all?" the red-headed man blinked, not an ounce apologetic. "I could have sworn you did."

"I said no such thing!" his companion squawked. "Don't turn your laziness into my failure! I'm not here to be the bag-boy, you know, and even Siax said—" His diatribe fell away abruptly, having noticed Sora and the cat. His face flicked to a smile like a light switch. "Hi! I'm Demyx, nice to meet you!" He grabbed Sora's hand and shook it enthusiastically, as if that was what he had come for.

Sora's smile was bemused but entertained. "I'm Sora. And this is Roxas."

"Aw what a cute kitty cat! Look at him in his little basket!"

Roxas was immediately on the defensive again and snarled at Demyx's approaching hand coming in to pet him. Demyx snapped his hand back with a startled yip.

"And I am Axel, at your service" said the first man with a flourished bow.

"Are you two new in town? Looks like you just got off the train."

"Indeed we are," Axel replied in a lofty voice. "Demyx and I are but two humble traveling performers wandering from city to city, seeing the world and providing entertainment where we can. At last we have arrived in this wonderful city-state of Nomura, though I doubt we will stay long. Ours is a rootless nature, you see. We never stay anywhere for long."

"Performers? Really? What do you do?" Sora's eyes brightened with excitement.

"An easier question to answer would be 'what don't we do?'" Demyx declared. "We are well versed in song, dance, story-telling, juggling, and magic. Few can match our talented diversity!"

"Magic? Ohoo that's so cool! I want to see!"

"And so you shall, my friend, and so you shall! A better show you'll be hard-pressed to find!" Axel said with a friendly clap on Sora's shoulder. "We are called the Flurry of Dancing Flames and the Melodious Nocturne!" He gestured dramatically for emphasis. "Make sure to memorize that."

"Eh? How could I memorize that? That name is way too long!"

"What are you talking about?" Demyx balked. "It's a perfect name! It took us a long time to come up with it, you know."

"You definitely need a better one. That one stinks."

Demyx's eyes widened, horrified, and Axel raised his thin eyebrows.

"And what would you suggest?" Demyx asked, quite concerned.

"I dunno. Something catchier. How can you market such a long name for a show? It wouldn't fit on any banners. And traveling shows need to have good banners."

"That's true that's true!" Demyx cried. "How could we not have thought of that! We won't have a good banner! And then no one will come to our shows!"

"Well, anyway," shrugged Sora, "I'd better get going. Work to do. I'll see you around!"

"Wait! What about our name? The Flame of the Dancing Nocturne? The Melodious Flurry of Flame? Dancing Music Fire?"

"They just keep getting worse! I have to go, though. I'm sure you'll think of something. I can't wait to see your show, whatever it's called! It was nice meeting you!"

"I'm sure we'll meet again," Axel said with a salute.

Sora rode off as Demyx stressed through a whole set of possible new names. Narrow green eyes followed Sora's retreating figure until he disappeared through the crowd.

"There was something odd about that kid, don't you think?" Axel asked.

"I've got it! The Water and Fire Musical Variety Show!"

"Tch, whatever you want. Let's just get out of the train station already." He adjusted the small bag over his shoulder and set off through the busy mob of people.

"Hey wait! How did I get stuck with all the bags again! Get back here! These aren't even mine!"


The only packages left to deliver were in the northern district. In direct contrast to the southern, and different even from the western and eastern districts, the northern district was a refined, rich, and outrageously clean part of the city. Buildings were taller, larger, less cramped, and constructed of more stone and glass than wood, many with neat green lawns and tall fences. Long blocks of proud apartments lined major boulevards, made of practical, even lines, some with more elaborate facades than others, but all with windows and stylish iron balconies aligned. The sidewalks were wider and the streets straighter, with wrought-iron lamp posts twisted into complicated designs.

While the north was nowhere near as hilly as the southern district, it was certainly constructed on an incline, with neighborhoods rising higher in tiers the further north you went. At the top of this large hill, overlooking everything, was the Jenova mansion, the house of the governing nobles of the city. It was an impressive structure, bigger than the whole block of buildings on Sora's street, and could be seen from almost anywhere in the northern district.

Looking up, Sora could see the mansion, but it wasn't his main focus. He dashed about the tidy streets and stately homes, for it seemed rich families ordered things more frequently than anyone else. The streets were fairly crowded, though, obviously getting ready for the parade, but mostly getting in Sora's way. People walked slowly and in large groups and petty officers had started roping off certain sections. Sora wasn't exactly tired, but the incline certainly wasn't easy on a bike, and with the crowds, the going wasn't the fastest. Roxas, at least, was pleased by this.

Eventually, Sora dropped off the last of his packages. Finally able to enjoy the parade, Sora zipped down the hill with a bike free of extra burdens. He could hear cheers and marching tunes played by trumpets and drums already. They reached the main plaza before the procession did, which gave Sora time to lock up his bike and find a good spot. The latter was easier said than done, however, as the sidewalk was quite densely packed with people who all seemed to be unreasonably tall. And since the parade apparently lacked people on stilts, this was a problem.

Sora pushed and squeezed his way through the crowd as best he could while Roxas weaved expertly through people's feet behind him. Eventually, Sora was able to make a spot for himself behind two people in the front of the crowd. One was very tall and the other very fat, but Sora could see the parade through a nook created by their elbows. Roxas settled down on Sora's feet.

The procession finally reached their stretch of the road, with trumpets blaring and drums pounding patriotically. The sound of hundreds of pairs of feet marching in time was steady and firm, accented with the clop of horse hooves scattered throughout. The street became a stream of green and silver uniforms, shouldered bayonets, and ruddy faces trying their best to look forward stoically instead of smiling arrogantly at the people cheering for them.

There was a small cluster of highly-decorated soldiers on horseback riding between a break in the troops, and the crowds cheered wildly as they passed. The man with the most distinguished uniform, quite probably a general of some kind, rode ahead of the others on a fine black horse. Unlike almost every other person involved with the parade, this man did not seem at all happy to be there; A murderous frown darkened his features underneath his uniform cap, intensifying the fierce scar that ran across his face.

The next troops that passed wore uniforms of green and black, clearly identifying them as the renown mage troops. Sora studied them closely, for all things magic were ceaselessly interesting to him. Unlike the combat troops, who all displayed a general uniformity when it came to size and physical build, the mage troops were far more varied. While there were a few with a strong physique, many were tall and thin, others quite small, and some a bit plump. But all had a confident gleam in their eye betraying their unusual and extraordinary abilities. At their head was a well-decorated woman on horseback with short blue hair peeking out from under her cap. She looked bored, though she was trying her best to hide it.

After these troops was apparently the cavalry, and the sound of horse hooves preceded the troops themselves.

There was some shouting somewhere in the crowd behind Sora, as if someone had started a fight. A few people started shoving at each other, which jostled the others around them. Because everyone was so closely packed together, the shoving in one area rippled and increased like a wave to create rough pushing in another, and Sora was squished uncomfortably. A particularly violent thrust propelled Sora forward through the people in from of him, and he found himself quite suddenly sprawled in the street a shockingly far distance from the crowd he had just been part of. He looked up and saw several rows of oncoming cavalry horses moments away from trampling him. The closest horse reared at the sight of Sora, and the person riding gave a startled yelp. Sora scrambled to get out of the way, but the horse's hooves were flying and coming back down fast.

The crowd watching gave a collective gasp.

Strong arms wrapped themselves around Sora's waist and snatched him out of the way. The rearing horse landed on all fours again with a thud, but no bone-crunching accompanied it. Bewildered, Sora found that he was now out of the street and on the curb of the sidewalk. The crowd around him had parted slightly, giving him room, and they all peered down with worried faces.

For a brief, upside down moment where anything was possible, Sora wondered if Roxas had managed to save him somehow. But when he looked up, it was into jade-green eyes in a handsome pale face framed by longish silver hair.

"Are you alright?"

Blinking, Sora saw that the face belonged to a boy a little older than him, wearing a well-tailored white silk shirt and a concerned frown.

Sora thought about it, but it seemed that all his body parts had indeed been rescued, so he nodded.

The crowd watching gave a collective cheer.

The boy stood and offered Sora his hand, which he accepted. Sora brushed himself off and gave the boy tremendous smile.

"Thank you so much. That would have been a terribly un-heroic way to die."

The boy gave him an odd look. "Yes, I suppose it would have been." He paused, looking at the people around him as if suddenly self-conscious, and swallowed uncomfortably. "Well, I'm glad you're unhurt. Goodbye." And with that, the boy turned sharply and left. The crowd parted for him easily, but seemed to close up again when he had passed through.

"Wait!"' Sora called after him. "Who said you could leave!" But the boy had already gone.

A cat's howling alerted Sora to Roxas pawing at his feet. He scooped the cat up into his arms and together they made their way through the crowd and back to his bike, having seen enough of the parade.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Roxas said once they were far enough away from everyone, purring to keep his nerves at bay.

"Yeah me too. It was so exciting!"

"What?" Roxas snapped. "Exciting! You could have been killed!"

"Yeah, but I wasn't! All thanks to that mysterious masked man! I wonder who he was!" Sora was grinning like a fool, stars in his eyes and bounce in his step.

"Sora, he wasn't wearing a mask."

"Yeah, well he should have been. If he's going to run away and be mysterious, he might as well wear a mask. Plus, I've always wanted to say something like 'who was that masked man?' and now I got to."

There was a pause before Roxas responded.

"You might have hit your head harder than I thought. We should go home so you can lie down."