I don't own anything associated with Kingdom Hearts. It belongs to Square Enix/Disney
And here's the first chapter to The Shrouded Path's sequel! I've set it to a T rating for now, but it may go up to M depending on how future chapters go. I'll give a heads-up before it does, so that any lurkers will still be able to find the story after, plus there will always be a warning in the beginning ANs if the chapter's an M-rated one.
On another note, for anyone who's been on my profile and saw Last One Standing in the upcoming section, that has been placed on indefinite hold. I'm afraid it'll end up being too similar to this story.
Anyways, that's enough from me.
The sun was rising in the world. Between the golden glow of the light and the savannah grass, the brown lion looked absolutely regal as he made his way through the Pridelands. He was a large, handsome fellow with hard blue eyes, and a full mane that covered the entirety of his neck all the way down to his shoulders. His claws were sheathed, but he walked with a certain manner that suggested he was ready for violence at any moment.
The lion paused, taking a deep sniff before looking back. Two other lions followed him, one around the same age, and the other a mere cub. The cub, by itself, was fairly normal, but the older lion, or lioness to be accurate, was different than any seen on this world before – she was blue. Placed together with the brown lion and the yellow cub, they made an odd trio.
"Where to, Terra?" The cub bounded up to the brown lion, wrenching his head back as to actually look at his face.
Terra grunted. "Doesn't matter, Ven. We can just walk around for a bit, get into the swing of things. The Master didn't give us any particular goals."
Without meaning to, Ven glanced back at the reason why: Aqua. The blue lioness was currently looking around, studying the world with nervous eyes. This was her first foray off their homeworld in almost eight months.
Ven sighed. That was because it had almost been eight months since Silent Hill, and only now did the Master and Terra agree she was ready for this again. Aqua, of course, when told a few months ago that she wasn't ready, had fervently disagreed - even if it was quite obvious that the Master and Terra were right. She would have followed them off-world if Ven hadn't stepped in, and even then, she hadn't been happy with it.
But it had been best for her, he told himself.
Upon seeing her nervousness, Terra immediately fell back, nuzzling her neck just as a real lion would. It was hard to label the exact relationship between the two. Certainly, it seemed to run deeper than any friendship, but at the same time, Ven wouldn't necessarily say it was romantic. It was somewhere between the two, something that had been warped and transformed by their time in Silent Hill. Like a lot of things.
"Come on," Terra said to her. "Me and Ven will show you around."
With a nod, Terra ordered Ven to take the lead, the eldest apprentice preferring to stick by Aqua's side. Ven did so with gusto, bounding this way and that, dashing back when he got too far away from his decisively slower companions. Aqua followed steadily, though Terra's path was a bit more indirect. He kept stopping to check behind them, ensuring that nothing was sneaking up on them.
But despite Terra's inability to relax, they were in a good mood, the Pridelands being the favourite world of both Ven and Terra. Ven liked it because, well, who wouldn't like to be a lion? Terra liked it because of the respect his mane and strength brought him, and because animals – even temporary ones - were naturally more physically affectionate than people. Terra had developed a real craving for physical contact over the months and appreciated any opportunity to express it.
On the other side of things, they'd also chosen this world for Aqua. Having claws to fall back upon in case Rainfell somehow failed to respond would surely put her at ease.
"That dark land over there," she was saying, "what is that?"
"The Elephant Graveyard. We're not going there," Terra said.
"It's just a few hyenas," Ven said. "We can take them, Terra!"
"We're not going."
Terra's lip curled back, displaying his fangs, and Ven backed off. Aqua, seeing this, interrupted before Terra actually got angry. "So," she said, "how do I use my keyblade like this?"
Terra's snarl immediately disappeared as his mouth closed over the handle of Earthshaker. He couldn't speak clearly with a giant key in his mouth, so his instructions became nothing more than grunts and muffled growls as he dipped and swung in an elaborate dance. Aqua watched, pretending she could understand him.
"Terra." Terra paused in order to listen to Ven. "You look like an idiot."
Earthshaker disappeared. "Hey, I do not! Right, Aqua?"
Aqua, who had been giggling a moment before, took on a deer-in-the-headlights expression. "Well, err, you look perfectly fine, Terra."
Terra's eyes narrowed, and his tail lashed playfully. "You're lying."
"What, me?" Aqua lifted a paw, beckoning to herself. "Of course not!"
Terra's chuckle was more like a low rumble. "Yes, you are."
"I am – Terra!"
With a good-natured growl, Terra pounced. Aqua squawked as he knocked her to the ground, and he pranced around afterwards with nothing less than a smirk. Aqua huffed, the fur on her back rippling as she looked away from Terra, clearly intending to be the mature one in this situation. But of course, Terra couldn't have that. He sunk into a hunting crouch, and swatted at her ears until she retaliated.
"Terra!" She lashed out at the older apprentice, who skilfully leapt out of range. "Knock it off!"
Terra only ran around her and yanked her tail.
That got her up. With a muffled roar, she lunged, tripping over her own paws and smashing into the ground in front of Ven. For his part, he tried really hard not to laugh. Really hard.
"It's a bit different than just walking. You'll get used to it," Ven told her, poking her nose.
Terra returned, dropping onto his belly in front of her. "Come on, Aqua," he whined. "Run with us!"
Aqua looked at Ven. "Is getting used to this that hard?"
He shook his head. "Nah, soon it'll be second nature."
Terra stood the same time Aqua did, and the eldest apprentice bounced from paw to paw like a puppy. He butted Aqua in her side and then took off, Ven copying him a second after. In their wake, Aqua followed wobbly, staring at the ground as tried to control where she placed her paws. This meant that naturally, Terra and Ven had to take advantage of her distraction and lightly tackle her.
They rolled across the grass, Ven tumbling out of the mix and leaving just the older apprentices. Aqua hissed, on her side as Terra danced around her. He stuck his muzzle right into her face, ducking back when she snapped at him. She found her footing then and chased after him, and Terra laughed as he led her on a merry hunt.
As the other two ran through the savannah, Ven wandered to a nearby waterhole. He lapped up the liquid, his tongue sending circles of ripples across the otherwise still surface. It was only when he had swallowed his last mouthful that the water settled, allowing him to see another lion's reflection. It was neither of his friends, but a silver lion, one without a mane but still older than himself. The lion was sitting near the water's edge, hunched forwards like a vulture.
Ven swung around. "Hey," he said, "I'm Ven. What's your name?"
The silver lion said nothing, just continued to stare at him with his golden eyes. The lion was close to Ven, a few strides away, but there was enough of a distance that Ven felt the urge to move closer.
"Are you from around here?" Ven asked. "I don't think I've seen you before."
Again, there was no answer. The lion stood, eyes still on him, stepping forwards.
"You don't talk much, do you?" Ven said.
His ears twitched as he heard Terra happily shouting something to Aqua. With a purr, he turned in that direction, searching for his friends.
It was then, out of the corner of his eye, that he saw the silver lion's claws unsheathe.
There was no time to run. The lion lunged, canines flashing, claws extended. They slashed through Ven's flank, splattering the grass with red, and teeth snapped shut just an inch away from his neck. Ven screamed in pain, rolling with the impact, head going underwater before he stopped. He thrashed, kicking up plumes of white spray, calling Wayward Wind to him instinctively. Through the curtain of water that he had created, the other lion emerged, aiming for his jugular.
He brought Wayward Wind down hard, straight on the other lion's head, and his body created a huge splash as he fell. Ven leapt onto the other's back and ran for shore.
And the lion came after him. The golden eyes flared, and then a dark flame wreathed the lion's head, making Ven flinch back. He brought Wayward Wind up again, meeting the lion's attack, and there was a strange, metallic clang.
The lion rushed past him, and pivoted around on the balls of his paws. Facing Ven, he pawed at the ground like a bull.
Ven backed away, ears flat against his head. This isn't possible . . .
But as Ven stared the other lion straight in the eye, it became impossible to deny.
The silver lion had a keyblade too.
The lion charged, his sabre-like keyblade flashing through the air in a line of rippling black. Darkness coated the keyblade, making it glow faintly, and leaving a dark streak behind it. Ven dropped his keyblade and dove between the other's paws, twisting his body and reaching out with his claws. They carved a few fine lines through the other's belly, and the silver lion roared in response.
The silver lion reared, preparing to bring his full weight down on Ven, but that plan was stopped by a brown blur. Head tucked, fangs bared, Terra slammed into Ven's attacker, and the two tumbled along the ground.
"Ven!" Aqua ran up to him while he was healing himself. "Are you okay?"
Any answer he had was drowned out by Terra's roar.
Eyes now yellow and pulsating with his own dark aura, Terra flung himself at the silver lion, not even bothering to summon his keyblade. The silver lion blocked Terra's first swipe, but Ven saw his entire body quiver from the force. The second one, he blocked too, but it left the keyblade out of position, and Terra's third swing went over it and straight into the side of his head. The impact literally knocked the keyblade out of the lion's mouth, and Terra wasted no time. Grabbing the lion's head in both paws, he lunged forwards and sunk his teeth into the shoulder.
They fell to the ground, Terra spitting and clawing all the while. He pounced upon the other lion, locking his teeth into the spine as his claws turned the chest into a bloody mess. And he didn't stop, didn't show any signs that he was even considering it. Aqua sunk back, ears flat against her head as she watched.
Ven shrieked, "Terra, stop!"
Terra either didn't hear him or ignored him, and continued to maul his opponent. Desperately, Ven turned to Aqua, who was shivering with fear.
"Aqua, tell him to stop!"
Aqua didn't acknowledge him, but continued to stare straight ahead at the fight. Her muscles were locked in place, tense, and her fur stood on end. In her eyes, Ven could see the reflection of Terra's aura, and he understood immediately.
With his own small roar he summoned the light, and the purity temporarily burned away Terra's darkness. Both he and the silver lion twitched violently, shutting their eyes against the onslaught.
Aqua snapped out of her daze almost the same second the darkness was gone. "Terra, stop it!" she begged, approaching him. "It's done!"
Her words did what Ven's could not and growling, Terra opened his mouth and released the other lion. He turned to look at them, the fur on his face matted with blood. His jaws were still open and a few strings of red saliva dripped from his teeth.
Darkness exploded from the other lion, knocking Terra away. Terra scrambled to his feet, snarling, eyes shining with bloodlust, but the silver lion had already fled into a portal, leaving them behind.
Terra stared at the place that the lion had disappeared, breathing heavily. Aqua and Ven glanced at each other, silently asking whom it should be that approached him. They agreed on Ven, seeing as he was the one who was attacked, and he crept up to Terra's side, taking great care not to actually touch the larger lion.
"Terra . . ." his voice came out as a squeak. His eyes scanned the length of Terra' body, and his stomach flip-flopped with the urge to be sick. It wasn't just on Terra's face that the blood laid, but on his paws, his stomach, splattered across his chest . . . had the other lion really lost that much?
"Terra," he said again, stronger. Terra said nothing, but his breathing softened a bit.
He said Terra's name one last time, and then the brown lion acknowledged him. He tipped his head slightly, words leaving him in a low rumble. "Who was that?"
Ven swallowed. It's Terra, he reminded himself, he's safe. "I don't know," he said, smacking his lips, mouth oddly dry. "He just came out of nowhere."
"That's not good enough, Ven." There was a hard note in Terra's tone, a warning.
"I don't know who he is."
He and Aqua waited with baited breath for Terra's reaction. The tension grew with each moment, until Ven was backpedalling towards Aqua. Terra turned suddenly, making them all jump, but he calmly said, "We're going home."
Aqua didn't argue, but Ven meekly said, "The Master wanted . . ."
"I don't care what Eraqus wants," Terra said. "We're going home."
"Terra . . ."
There was the explosion they had been waiting for. Terra had whipped around, slamming down unsheathed paws in front of Ven, his yellow eyes blazing. Knowing better, Ven kept his mouth shut, as did Aqua.
"Let's go." Terra flicked his tail and a dark portal opened, beckoning them home.
But Aqua would have none of it. She didn't growl or hiss, but whined like a kicked dog, fur puffing up again. Her claws were out, legs trembling with what Ven suspected was an urge to run. Terra glanced at her and then with a frustrated growl, dismissed the portal.
"Come on," he said gently, nuzzling Aqua's neck again. "We'll fly."
Terra made them change and take off there in the open, his desire to get them home much stronger than any desire to maintain any secrecy. So, there on the Pridelands, they departed as humans, flying high into the sunlight. For a few brief moments, Ven saw Terra plain: eyes golden, jaw clenched, face glistening with blood. But then the gold armour consumed him, and Terra's face was hidden behind cold metal.
The journey was one of silence. Ven and Aqua didn't want to speak to Terra, wary of setting him off again. They could have spoken to each other, but Terra's presence loomed over them, suffocating them, squeezing them until they could hardly breathe. So they departed silently, travelled silently, and arrived silently. And once they did, Terra herded them into the castle, slamming the door behind them.
The sound brought Master Eraqus running, and he stopped short at the sight of them. "What . . .?"
"Ven was attacked by a stranger for no particular reason," Terra said. His golden helmet snapped around to face his Master. "And this just happens to be the first day Aqua is back in the field . . ."
The accusation was clear. Ven saw Eraqus stiffen and swallow hard before grating out, "Terra, I would never deliberately place you in harm's way."
A pause. Then Terra laughed. "Right." He stormed past his Master, clipping his shoulder as he walked by.
Eraqus stared after the eldest apprentice, the lines of his face deep from sorrow. He looked very, very old in Ven's eyes, as if age was finally catching up to him. The old Master then looked to the younger apprentices, neither of whom had defended him.
"I would never deliberately place you in harm's way," Eraqus repeated, desperate.
In a small voice, Aqua said, "We know."
Ven nodded in agreement. They did know – Terra included. It was just hard to handle the concept that their Master wasn't the epitome of wisdom and knowledge they had thought he was; and in Terra's case, hard to cope with the knowledge that Master Eraqus had sent them to Silent Hill.
Aqua sighed. "I'll check on Terra," she said quickly, scurrying past her Master. Ven shrugged apologetically, and then left for the comfort of his room.
There was the distant sound of doors closing, and then Master Eraqus was alone.