The Interference: Across Time and Space
Now that you are a Master, there is one secret in particular you must know.
Aqua carried Ventus on her back through the dark ruins of The Land of Departure. Ventus was limp, his heart asleep and barely aware enough to send them here. Terra was nowhere to be found. Master Eraqus...
Should anything happen to me, and you find the legion of darkness at our doorstep... I ask that you take my Keyblade and use it to lock this land away.
The throne room of the castle. Aqua seated Ventus on the central chair. His expression was, surprisingly, one of contentment – which was very Ventus, Aqua thought. His face seemed to say, "Yeah, things are tough right now, but there's still hope. All is not lost; far from it."
Generations of Keyblade Masters have been charged with keeping this land safe. Light and darkness exist in balance here, and there are those who would abuse such neutral ground. This is why our predecessors devised a certain... trick.
Aqua picked up Master Eraqus's black Keyblade, the Master Keeper, and walked around to the back of the thrones. There was a hidden Keyhole embedded in the back of the central throne. She'd walked back here a hundred times and never seen it. But now that she knew about its existence, it was as clear as day, shining even in the dim light of the dark castle.
Just use the key, and this land will be transformed. From that day forward, all who visit this land will be lost to oblivion, none ever able to solve the mystery. None, Aqua, except you.
It was perfect, then. Ventus probably picked this place because it was home, but Aqua could make sure that no one would find him... until Aqua found his sleeping heart.
Aqua thrust the Keyblade toward the Keyhole, shooting a beam of light straight into the magical gateway. The entire room was engulfed in a white light.
When the light faded, the room had changed. Instead of a dark crumbling castle, the room was an immaculate, brightly lit white. There was only one chair now, the one Ventus sat upon, and glowing chains ran along the floor and the walls from that chair.
It looked lonely, utterly empty save for its sole occupant, but it would be safe. And once she found Terra, they could start looking for Ventus's heart, and they'd be back to wake him up before he knew it.
Aqua froze. An unfamiliar voice was in the room.
She stepped to the side and saw a strange figure wearing a black cloak, its back to her. The voice sounded like it belonged to a young man.
Whoever it was, he was holding a golden spaulder and a Keyblade.
Aqua looked down at Ventus. His Keyblade and Keyblade Armor were suddenly missing.
Aqua looked back up at the figure just in time to see the stranger look back over his shoulder. Beneath the hood was nothing but more blackness. That was all Aqua got to see before he was running for the door.
"Wait!" Aqua shouted, brandishing her former Master's weapon.
The stranger blinked out of existence. Then, a second later, he reappeared a little further towards the door, still running.
Aqua gave chase.
With the mysterious stranger's repeated blinking out of existence, he managed to elude Aqua all the way out of the newly transformed castle. The cloaked figure burst out the front doors of the castle, with Aqua close behind.
Beyond it was a path of earth floating in an abyss, and then nothing. There was nowhere else to run.
"STOP!" Aqua screamed, and the stranger did. He did not turn to face her.
She stepped closer, holding her Master Keeper Keyblade at the ready. "I am Master Aqua," she declared. "Return my friend's belongings... or pay the price."
The stranger didn't respond, so she took another step closer. Then she heard a sound, like two hands clapping. Then there was a flash; red light and electricity danced around the figure, obscuring him completely.
"I know who you are, Aqua."
The figure turned around, now wearing Ventus's armor.
"I just don't give a damn."
The Keyblade Master unconsciously lowered her weapon a bit, so shocked was she. "What... what in the world?"
"Oh, don't worry," the newly armored stranger said calmly, testing the weight of Ventus's Keyblade in his hand. "I only plan to borrow it."
Still faltering, Aqua said, "But that's impossible. A Keyblade is bound to its chosen. They're impossible to steal!"
"Wrong, actually!" the mysterious figure replied. "They're very difficult to steal. It's much easier if you can perform alchemy. But it also helps immensely if the original owner is currently a vegetable."
Aqua let out a cry of rage and twirled the Keyblade once. Three great bolts of lightning shot down from the sky and struck the ground around the stranger in a triangular formation.
"You'll give back my friend's armor and Keyblade, or I'll take them from you," Aqua stated menacingly.
The stranger chuckled, barely fazed by Aqua's intimidation attempt. "Sorry. I'm afraid I can't do that. No, it's physically impossible for me to do that now..."
The mysterious figure reached up to the helmet of Ventus's armor and lifted it off his head. This time, Aqua lowered her weapon entirely and took a reflexive step back. Ventus's face stared back at her. It was a perfect recreation, except for the eyes, which were strangely... reptilian. The slit irises stood out against the grinning face of her friend.
"This armor and Keyblade are a part of me now," the Ventus clone explained, "and I am a part of them. I take off this armor, I die." A hard look suddenly came over the fake-Ventus's features. "And I have come too far to let that happen."
Aqua could only ask one question at that moment. "Who are you?"
The Ventus clone grinned and put the helmet back on. "Call me Kronos."
A short silence followed, where Aqua couldn't think of anything to say. This was the second time in as many hours that she was forced to stare into the face of her friend as an enemy. First Vanitas, now this...
"Aw, don't look so mad," Kronos said in a reassuring tone that was anything but. "I care nothing for Xehanort's χ-blade or your friend's broken little heart. All I want is the power to enact my revenge."
"Revenge on what?" Aqua muttered. She hardly cared, but she figured she could get the upper hand if she caught him off-guard while monologuing.
Ventus looked out into the abyss beyond the floating isle. "About 11 years from now, a boy named Alexander is going to come into these worlds and change everything. He's the one responsible for destroying the timeline where I was born, erasing everyone who ever lived there."
Kronos looked back at Aqua. Even through the face-mask, Aqua could feel the hatred coming from him. "I will make him pay. You will not stop me."
Aqua, at last, steeled herself and readied for combat. "Even if that's true, this isn't the way. Justice shouldn't start with evil acts like this. And vengeance will only drag you down into the darkness and destroy you both." She'd seen it happen not too long ago.
"Oh, believe me, that's the idea," Kronos replied smugly. Out of nowhere, Kronos's right arm crackled with red light. "Whoops, that's my cue!"
Kronos turned around and held out his hand. Red light shot out of his hand and seemed to stab into the air, creating ripples that became a dark, crimson opening in space. It was unlike any portal Aqua had ever seen, and its very presence felt unnatural, like it didn't belong in this universe at all.
"Time for me to go," Kronos said simply, moving to enter the portal.
Aqua quickly ran after him. Kronos wouldn't escape so easily, not when she could simply follow him through the portal!
"I'd reconsider following me, Aqua," Kronos said, stopping just in front of the dark gateway. Aqua came to a halt, realizing that the stranger's guard was still up. "This gateway," Kronos went on, "leads to 11 years in the future. But right now, your friend Terra, or rather Terranort, is getting ready to terrorize Radiant Garden. Now, if you disappear from history for 11 years, who do you think is going to stop him? The fallout would be bad for the worlds, certainly, but more importantly... that would be a paradox."
Aqua's conviction only faltered a little. So far, she only had this thief's word that time travel was even possible, let alone happening right now. But all this stranger's knowledge was starting to unnerve her.
How could he know where Ventus would be hidden before she triggered the Land of Departure's trick? How could he know about what happened to Terra at the Keyblade Graveyard? If she went to Radiant Garden right now, would she really find Terra's body and Xehanort's heart? If that was the case, how could she possibly choose one friend over the other? And if everything Kronos said was true... what would happen if she made the wrong choice?
"Sorry," Kronos apologized sarcastically, disappearing into the portal. "You can't be in two places at once."
Kronos was gone, but the portal lingered, as if taunting Aqua for her indecision.
Aqua was overcome with dread. Was this it, then? Was she going to have to let Kronos go with her friend's prized possessions, as well as his very identity?
A strange warping sound from the side interrupted Aqua's thoughts, forcing her to turn to face it. Another portal was appearing, this one with swirls of green instead of red. This one didn't feel quite as awful as the other one – its very presence felt strange, but not downright wrong like Kronos's portal.
When the portal reached its full size, something stepped out... and Aqua nearly screamed, scrambling away from what she was seeing.
"It's okay, it's okay!" her mirror image said quickly. "I'm you, from the future."
This Aqua looked the same as her in absolutely every respect. Even the eyes were the same. That didn't make her any less shocked by what she was seeing. Seeing a clone of your friend twice in one day was one thing. Seeing a clone of yourself was yet another thing.
"There's not much time to explain," the other Aqua said. Then she paused. "Wow, this is weird. I remember being you, hearing me say the things I'm saying right now..." She shook her head and got back to business. "Look. Time travel is possible. You can go after him without causing a paradox, as long as you come back here to this exact place and time once you're done. It's something called a 'stable time loop.'"
Aqua tried her best to steady herself, looking between the red portal and her clone. So confused was she, she couldn't help but wonder if this was another trick, another deception caused by some other malevolent spirit like Kronos.
The other Aqua reached into her inventory and pulled out a spaulder and a Keyblade. They were Ventus's, exactly the ones Kronos had just absconded with. "You go and get his Keyblade and armor back. I'll return these to him, and then go after Terra to make sure history doesn't change."
Aqua looked down at the Keyblade and back up into her own eyes. "This..." she mumbled, finally speaking. "This is... really happening."
The other Aqua – Future Aqua – smiled and nodded in response.
The red portal crackled and shrunk a little bit.
"You have to go," Future Aqua said sternly. "It's going to be crazy at first, but just find Alexander. He'll guide you from there."
"Okay," Present Aqua barely whispered. She stared into the portal, the gateway to an insane new adventure that she barely understood.
"Go!" her future self ordered.
With all the blind determination of a base jumper, Aqua jumped into the red portal. She was instantly swept up in the swirling tide of red energy, carrying her forward into the future.
Where this path led, she didn't know. But she had a purpose. And a name.