Each seated upon a discarded machine, surrounding the one table in the workshop that wasn't covered in scrap metal, and armed with fresh tea and cookies provided by Lucca's mother, the four strangers got to work piecing together the events of the last couple of days.
But first, Lucca decided – since it was her house and therefore she would lead the discussion – they had to get to know each other. Where had they come from, and how were they all connected to this?
As each member of the group introduced themselves, explained where and when they hailed from, and related how they'd each encountered one of the three Keyblade thieves, it quickly became clear that, even though they were each from different times and different worlds, they all had one thing in common.
"So, basically, each of us is connected to Alexander somehow," Lea summarized after a few minutes of discussion.
"I don't know who he is," Aqua clarified, "but I have heard the name. I was told to go looking for him by my, um, future self."
Lea rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah... Time travel. Yeesh."
Lucca couldn't suppress a chuckle. "Greenhorns, all of you," she said jokingly.
"As long as somebody can make some sense outta all this," Goofy admitted, "I guess I'm alright with it."
"Can I ask you all something?" Aqua cut in. "What is Alexander made of that's so..." She trailed off for a moment, not sure of her choice of words. "What I mean is, why is Alexander so important that my future self wanted me to find him?"
There was a short awkward silence. Out of the four people in the discussion, only three of them were aware of the Interference phenomenon and the truth about their worlds.
"W-Well, you heard what Kronos and the others were saying," Lucca answered, filling the silence as quickly as she could. "They obviously have a grudge against him. Me too, it sounds like. They must be a consequence of our adventures through this world's timeline."
"Then why aren't they going after you?" Aqua pointed out.
Lucca didn't yet have an response for that. She was starting to appreciate the position Alex, Edward, and Alphonse were in when they'd entered their world...
Lea, however, groaned and rolled his head back in annoyance. "Rrrgh, fine, I'll break the ice." Looking squarely at Aqua, he stated, "We're all characters in a story, and Alexander is someone from the outside. Our world's weren't real; they were fiction. Alex made them real and became a part of them."
Aqua's reaction was about what you'd expect.
Unfortunately, Goofy, Lea, and Lucca all had plenty to say about exactly how sane it was.
Goofy's main point was about Alex's ability to know people he'd never met, to know and change future events. Alexander's foreknowledge was too perfect, too beat-by-beat to leave many explanations. Aqua brought up the possibility of time travel (since the issue was on everybody's minds), but Lucca pointed out that Alexander would have to somehow experience it to know what happened before traveling back in time to be a part of it – an idea that somehow made less sense than Alexander being some kind of magical outside observer.
Lea also brought up the fact that the Interference event caused ripple effects throughout the World. Xemnas, Yen Sid, Merlin, Mickey – all the "wise guys" of their world, as Lea put it – were instantly given knowledge the second Alexander showed up. Lucca concurred, since Gaspar at the End of Time had already known of the Interferences when they first met. For whatever reason, wise men completely unconnected with Alexander knew of Alexander.
But in spite of that, Aqua remained reasonably skeptical. "Have you even seen this 'Real World'? Do you just accept everything he says without question?"
"No, of course not!" Lucca almost shouted, a little louder than she'd meant to be, to the point where it created an awkward pause. "I mean... It doesn't matter what we think about this Interference stuff. He has proven himself."
"What do you mean?" Aqua asked.
Lucca paused, and looked up at the second floor balcony, at the door to her mother's room. "He... He knows how to get the best ending possible in our stories, and... makes sure we reach them."
"He changes things, too," Lea added, "usually for the better. He saved me when I was about to sacrifice myself."
"And that's just what he's been doin' with his mind," Goofy declared. "This whole time, he's been fightin' alongside us and tryin' his best. And you shoulda seen him when he was gettin' started, as a total rookie!"
Lucca's eyes widened in amusement. "Oh, I would have loved to see that."
Lea laughed. "Yeah, he could stare down a bad guy no problem, but actually fighting? Eh..." He twirled his hand in a 'so-so' gesture.
As the three of them shared in laughter, Aqua couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Wait, wait, wait. I think we're getting off-track here. So... You're saying it doesn't matter because..."
"Because all he's done is help us," Lucca finished. "Sure, he lies at first, and he only admits the truth when you force him to, and he's bossy at times, and rude, and has a problem with emotions, as well as a total martyr complex, and..."
Lucca had the presence of mind to realize she was dragging on a bit, and decided to wrap up her point.
"The point IS... When you balance out everything about him, the good and the bad... Alexander comes out as good. He's caused a lot of trouble, but he's also done everything he can to fix the problems he causes. Because of that, I... we trust him."
Aqua sighed and lowered her head, trying to get her thoughts in order. "And... since this is another one of his problems, he'll help us with it?"
"Well, yeah. And really, we need him," Lea remarked. "Three weirdos from beyond the void travel across time and space to steal three sets of armor and Keyblades that are literally impossible to steal." He chuckled nervously. "Sounds like an Alexander-level problem to me."
Goofy nodded. "Even if he doesn't know what's goin' on like he knows our stories, all his knowledge has gotta help somehow."
"Not to mention, he's become pretty powerful with all these adventures he's been having," Lucca commented. "I can only imagine what he's like after this fourth journey."
Aqua shook her head, her eyes closed. "Fine... Fine. This whole Interference thing is crazy, but... If he's that essential to all this, then I guess I can't ignore it."
The room was silent for a few more moments... before Lea at last broke through it. "Well, at least we're past that hurdle."
Lucca smiled. "Let's see what else we can figure out, then."
Sadly, there wasn't much else they could put together. There were too many ambiguities and unknowns in this whole equation. Who and what were Kronos, Themis, and Hyperion exactly? How did they know what they know? What was their connection to Alexander? How were they able to wield Keyblades? How could they use alchemy? If they were part of Guardia's timeline, where and when were they from? Were there more like them? What was their plan? Why did they use terms like 'brother' and 'sister,' and what was the significance of those words? Theories abounded until the sun began to set, but nothing concrete surfaced. Eventually, the only question Aqua was at all concerned with became: What should the four of them do right now?
"Welp, our mission is to go find Alex, help him finish whatever he's caught up in, and get him up to speed on this whole thing," Goofy reported.
"That will take too much time," Aqua argued. "The thieves aren't going anywhere near Alex's current world. We should head after them directly. They mentioned a world called Amestris. We should head there after him."
Lucca sighed in exasperation. "We already went over this, Aqua. We need Alex."
Aqua shrugged. "Then go find him. I'll go after Kronos myself."
Lea stood up, stretching a little as he did so. "Look, even if going after them alone wasn't kind of a bad idea–"
"I've been doing just fine so far."
"–I don't think Amestris is... uh, connected right now."
Aqua blinked a couple of times. "What?"
Lea sat back down and grabbed a spare sheet of paper and a pen. "Goofy and I have been traveling from world to world on a path towards Haven, where Alex is." He drew a circle that he marked 'Twilight Town,' then a line downward, then two lines splitting off the first to each side. On the right side, he drew a circle and marked it 'Guardia.' "This is where we are now, one world away..." He extended the line past Guardia and ended it at another circle marked 'Haven.' "...from Alex."
Lucca stared down at the crudely sketched portion of the World Map. "So where's Amestris in all this?"
Lea grimaced. "Normally, a sequence of worlds like this forms a ring of sorts – two worlds on the side and one on each end." He looked up at Aqua for a second. "Unless things were different 11 years ago."
"Uh, no..." Aqua mumbled, caught a little off guard by the question. "They were... are... still like that..."
"Right." Lea lifted the pen over to the spot in the 'ring' across from Guardia. "Well, where a fully connected world should be, there's just..."
He drew a great, swirling ball of black ink where Amestris should have been.
"...a cut-off world. No connections. Completely covered in a bubble of dark."
"You mean..." Aqua gasped. "The gateway? Closed?"
"Same thing happened to Twilight Town during our last adventure," Goofy explained. "It went away, then reconnected a little bit later. Maybe this one will too."
"But until then..." Lea shrugged, and sat back away from the paper. "We can't really go there. And I don't think Kronos has much of a chance either, especially if Alex sealed the major Dark Corridor there."
Aqua scowled. "Kronos got to Castle Oblivion before it was Castle Oblivion. I don't think something as simple as the gates between worlds is going to stop him."
Lucca put a hand to her temple. "Right. Whatever that red glowing portal is, it's powerful stuff."
Lea shrugged. "Not sure what else to tell you, Aqua. We can't go there. We don't even know if Kronos is there yet. But we CAN go to where Alex is and get him."
"Isn't that what your future self said to do anyway?" Goofy pointed out.
The Keyblade Master from the past remained silent for a few moments. After all this talk and explanation, their only option was to go hunt down a madman with dark powers that somehow had the necessary foreknowledge and background knowledge to make sense of this new time-bending threat, while the real enemy was free to pursue their potentially existence-ending goals of which the four of them currently had no knowledge.
"I don't like this," was all she said.
Lucca was overjoyed to learn that Goofy and Lea had a spaceship.
Taban and Lara, surprisingly, were more than willing to let Lucca go on this adventure. Taban had figured that she'd be off inventing a spaceship or a teleporter or something to find Alex anyway, and Lara was just proud of her daughter's strength and willingness to risk herself for others. They worried for her safety, and would pray every day for her safe return, but they would send her off with encouragements and support.
Aqua knew she could have used her Keyblade Glider and armor to travel the space between worlds, but decided it would be more convenient to travel as a group (and more interesting to see how people got around 11 years in the future).
Goofy was happy to welcome Lucca and Aqua aboard.
Lea was a little reluctant to let Lucca tag along. Aqua was a proven Master of the Keyblade, but Lucca was just a civilian as far as he knew. That is, until Lucca demonstrated her Fire magic and Wondershot marksmanship. Then there was no question.
The four of them united, Lea fired up the engines of their Gummi Ship and set off towards the world of Haven at a decent clip.
Lucca stared out at the expanse of space, utterly spellbound. The space between worlds was very different from how the night sky looked – it was an aurora of many swirling, shifting colors dotted with stars. To see it and know that there was another world for every star in space... Needless to say, she was having a moment.
Aqua, on the other hand, was more curious and concerned. A few hours ago, she'd been traveling through the space between worlds in her own time. It had looked slightly different, and she hadn't seen any Gummi Ships traveling between the stars. Overall, it was another sign of how jumping forwards 11 years was just jarring.
The travel time was spent mostly in quiet with little chatter, mainly Goofy entertaining Lucca by answering her questions about Gummi Space. Aqua just stared out into the void while Lea piloted the ship. Lea looked over to Aqua briefly, wondering if he should start a conversation to break some more ice, but all too soon did the world of Haven approach outside the cockpit.
The world of Haven, from the point of view of Gummi Space, was an interesting abstraction of the lands below. Clearly visible on top was the great city itself, surrounded by a glowing shield wall and with the Baron's palatial tower obnoxiously jutting up from the center. The rest of the world was represented by a dark, torn-up desert wasteland dotted with rock formations.
"That's our target?" Aqua asked as they approached. "That's where Alexander is?"
"Yup," Goofy replied.
"Merlin warned us that this place is dark," Lea said, "darker than we're used to. We'll probably want to tread lightly until we find Alex and figure out what's going on down there. And remember – no telling anyone we're from another world."
Aqua narrowed her eyes at him. "I've done this before, you know."
Lea shrugged. "I'm talking to the one who's actually new at this."
"Hey, I'm not an idiot," Lucca pointed out. "If you'll recall, I went on an adventure throughout all of time, which is actually pretty similar to traveling to new worlds..."
Lucca's rant was cut off by a repeated bleep bleep from the cockpit's systems. An icon of a telephone blinked on the HUD. Someone out there was contacting their ship directly.
Thinking it could be any number of allies – the King, Chip and Dale, even Merlin – Goofy let the call through.
A video feed appeared before them, showing a pale, thin man in a dark room. His hair was a dark blond, his eyes were yellow, and he wore a black coat with red trim.
Lea nearly jumped out of his seat. "Vexen?"
"Even, actually," the man in the video replied. "Don't get my Nobody and my Heartless mixed up, now."
Everyone except Aqua was on edge immediately. Lucca recognized the style of one of Ansem's Heartless apprentices. Goofy, while having no memories of the events of Castle Oblivion, knew deep down in his heart that this man was bad news. Lea simply had way too much history with the former Chilly Academic. But Aqua had barely any knowledge of this man.
"Who are you, and why are you contacting us?" Aqua said calmly, but firmly.
On the other end of the transmission, Even leaned in to the screen, staring straight at Aqua. "Well, aren't you a curious specimen. I thought hearts like yours had been eliminated a decade ago. Perhaps Xehanort was not quite as thorough as we thought."
This caught Aqua off guard. "Eliminated...?" A very important question, one she'd been trying to ignore for the sake of her own sanity, rose to the surface: What happened to HER 11 years ago?
"Just passing by, Even," Lea lied lamely, trying to stall for time until they were close enough to disembark onto Haven. "Don't you have experiments to run, Heartless to manage, that sort of thing?"
Even grinned. "As a matter of fact, I do. But I suspected that people like you – friends of that retched brat – might try coming by to check in on him sooner or later."
"Dunno what you're talking about," Lea muttered. "Just sightseeing." Just a little longer, and they could get down there.
Goofy checked the ship's radar to see if there were any Heartless ships approaching. There were a couple of blips off in the distance, but they didn't seem to be moving.
"Was my Nobody such a fool that you think you can lie to me?" Even inquired. "I knew this was a possibility, and naturally I have a plan to counter it. Setting up scouts to watch the gateways between worlds was the first step."
Lucca stepped up to the screen. "You won't win, you know. Alexander beat two of you geezers already."
Even's grin disappeared in an instant, replaced with angered determination. "That was because they didn't take him seriously. I do. If I see a threat..."
On the radar, a red blip appeared, overlapping the green blip that represented their own ship. The sound of a Heartless warping in was heard somewhere inside.
"...I remove it."
Before anyone could react, Aqua was already out of the cockpit and running into the other rooms of the small ship. She reached the engine room quickly. Whereas before it was basically completely empty, now there was a single creature. It was a small monkey-like creature with glowing yellow eyes. Covering its right hand was a glove of syringes – a tiny syringe for each finger, each syringe filled with a glowing, sparking purple substance.
In the creature's left hand was a beeping steel orb with a blinking red core.
The bomb went off with a deafening BOOM, blowing Aqua back and tearing out most of the engine room from the rest of the ship. The Gummi Ship went careening towards Haven, completely out of control.
Lucca found Aqua and helped her back to the cockpit, fighting against the force of the vacuum of Gummi Space pulling at them. Most of the ship's systems were damaged from the blast, and Goofy and Lea were panicking at the controls.
"Engines?!" Lea shouted over the howl of the vacuum effect.
"Completely gone!" Goofy responded.
"I'm not sure that ever worked!"
"Oh come on!"
Aqua cast a healing spell on herself and reached for her Keyblade Armor spaulder. But she hesitated. She could get out in one piece, but that would leave the other three stranded.
Lea looked up at the view of Haven rushing towards them. He then glared down at the Gummi Ship controls. "How about the teleporter? We still have that?"
Goofy checked quickly. "Yeah!" he replied. "But without a lock on, we could end up anywhere on that world!"
"No choice!" Lea shouted back, and slammed the button.
In the bright light of morning, four beams of green light haphazardly shot down into Haven City. Each went into a different district of the city.
Somewhere in the Slums, Goofy landed. He immediately lost his balance and fell on his backside with a comical shout. The civilians around him expressed surprise at seeing him, but then hurried along as if wanting to avoid anything new or troublesome today.
To the west, in North Town, was where Lucca ended up. She seemed to be in the street leading up to the Stadium, amidst a crowd of people. A few strangers took interest as she appeared out of nowhere, but Lucca had the presence of mind to make herself scarce before people started asking too many questions.
To the south, along the Port, Lea appeared. Not very many people were there except for some dock workers and a couple of Krimzon Guards. Thankfully, Lea was currently behind some shipping crates. After seeing the armored guys with guns, he decided to lay low for a bit.
And in the center of the city, in one of the Bazaar blocks, Aqua materialized behind a set of market stalls. More than a few civilians noticed her, but Aqua simply stood there and took in her surroundings, taking note of everything she could.
For a city, it was not as well maintained as Radiant Garden had been. It was likely that the majority of the city lived in a state of poverty. The major exception was the gigantic tower that overlooked just about everything.
Over the din of the crowd, she could hear an announcement system – the Baron's voice coming from one of the propaganda stations – shouting threats and orders at the people. Technology being used to monitor and rule over a city of subjects. Yes, that was a little darker than she was used to.
Looking around at the people staring at her, the big difference between their appearances was obvious: the ears. Long, elf-like ears were the norm, and her normal rounded human ears were the exception. No matter where she went, she'd stand out unless she wore a hood.
Aqua's observations were cut short by the burning, meteoric remains of their Gummi Ship flying over their heads and crashing down somewhere to the east.
The resulting explosion was seen from all over, sending pieces of Gummi flying all over the city.
Lea watched wide-eyed at the spectacular crash, and groaned as he witnessed a few Gummi pieces landing in the water of the Port. "There goes our ship." The few Krimzon Guards nearby left to investigate the crash, so Lea made his move and left, looking for somewhere more convenient to hide.
In a North Town alleyway, Lucca was furious. "That's the second awesome ship that's crashed to pieces on me!" She stomped her foot. "Come on! Am I cursed or something?"
In the Slums, Goofy put his hands on his head and frowned. This was even worse than that time they'd crashed into Deep Jungle. Maybe, just maybe, they could find the pieces of the ship and put it back together again... but this was a big city!
And back in the Bazaar, Aqua remained calm as she had been taught. This was a problem, yes, but at least they had survived Even's sabotage. Getting back together and gathering information was the top priority right now – rebuilding the ship could come later.
They were here now, the four of them in Haven City. Their mission: To find Alexander Karsath and render support, so that he in turn could help them solve the mystery of Kronos, Hyperion, and Themis.
"One thing at a time, I guess," Aqua said to herself, and she set off into the city.
The Interference: Across Time and Space
To be continued in The Interference IV, Book 2: Dark Wastelander