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Chapter XLVIII: Old Friend

Sora and Kairi left the room later in the night when both Tipo and Chaca headed for bed. Outside in the kitchen-dining room, Chicha worked diligently in cleaning up the dishes. For a pregnant woman, Chicha worked fast and efficiently, much to Sora and Kairi’s surprise. However, Chicha wasn’t without help; a stocky looking man in a green poncho stood nearby, drying and setting the dishes and silverware aside. Sora figured the man was probably Chicha’s husband.

Both the Keyblade-wielding teens slid by the kitchen, trying their best not to disturb the working couple. But Chicha must have some supernatural power, for not even silence could go unnoticed by her. She turned and greeted them.

“Hey, there,” Chicha said, drying off her hands with a towel. She dragged her husband, who was still holding onto a few plates, over to Sora and Kairi. “Pacha, these are the two young travelers that will be staying for a bit.”

Pacha placed the plates on a nearby counter and dried off his hands. “We have guests? Oh, and you’re just kids too!” he turned to Chicha. “Honey, you didn’t tell me we had guests over.”

“Uh, yes, I did,” Chicha said, raising her eyebrows in question at the same time. “I told you while we were eating? And I told you how I bumped into them and everything.”

“Right!” Pacha exclaimed, trying to escape from impending trouble. “Now, uh, what are your names… uh, kids?”

“I’m Sora?”

“?and I’m Kairi.”

“Sora and Kairi, huh,” Pacha repeated. “Ah, okay. I have a question, umm… where are you two from? And, uh… where are you two heading?”

Sora and Kairi looked at each other. No way we should tell them about the Keyblades, the darkness, Maleficent, the Heartless, the Nobodies, and all that junk! Sora told himself. I doubt they would believe it anyway… From Kairi’s facial expression, Sora figured she was thinking the same thing. What else could they do but to make something up?

“We’re, umm?”

“Not from around here,” said Kairi. “We’re uh, from an island away from here…”

Sora eyed Kairi cautiously. Kairi eyed back and shrugged.

“An island?” Pacha repeated, more to himself. “How did you guys get here then?”

“W-we…” Sora droned. Think! “Umm, we were kind of exploring on a raft… and we stumbled onto here. So, yeah, we decided to have a look around.”

“Nice thinking,” Kairi whispered from the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah, and…” Sora continued. “A-and, umm… we’re just on our way out. You know, to explore and stuff?”

“Uh huh,” Kairi added. “Gonna get something to eat too… and, uh?”

“If you want, I can show you kids around the village,” Pacha suggested wittily. “I can tell just by the way you two talk and act that you’re definitely not from around here.”

Sora shrugged casually and stepped out of the cottage. “Like we said.”

It was dark outside, but there were still some people, mostly vendors, around the village square. Evidently, even if Sora and Kairi wished to “tour” the area, doing so at night was not at all logical. Nonetheless, unbeknownst to Pacha, all Sora wanted to do was to find the world’s keyhole. It was generally the same for Kairi, though the girl was much more inquisitive and wished to do some actual exploring. Bound by duty, Sora had to remind Kairi why they were on the world in the first place.

Whatever happened to the carefree Sora? Kairi asked herself. It wasn’t the first time she asked the question either. Over the past years, Sora’s role as the chosen Keyblade master entangled him in a universe of turmoil. Kairi could see the gradual changes. Even though Sora was still fairly naïve and happy-go-lucky at times, the “serious” Sora seemed to appear more often recently. And it really bothered Kairi, even if all she could do at the time was look on. It pained her.

“Is there something wrong, Kairi?” Sora asked out of the blue. “You look a little stressed.”

Really? Kairi rubbed her face to try and loosen herself up.

Sora smirked and continued to walk alongside her while Pacha walked a few feet up ahead. But he kept his attention on Kairi. “Hey, if it’s about me being really boring right now, I’m sorry.”

“H-huh, w-what?” Kairi stammered.

“We can’t spend our time here window-shopping, Kairi,” Sora groaned, almost in a whining tone. “We’ve got work to do, remember?”

“I know,” said Kairi. “Can’t we at least get something to eat?”

“I know just the place!” Pacha interrupted. “Come with me, you two.”

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In the corridors of an exotic appearing community, a dark portal opened. Riku stepped out, eager to see some light after a prolonged travel through the abyss. Riku sneered at himself. How ironic was it that he could not stand staying in the dark and required the rays of the sun. His hands emitted potent dark auras as his physical being was linked with the powers of darkness.

A stray tear dripped from Riku’s eyes and evaporated into the air before it could reach his hands. Why did I come back to this? Riku felt the question sift through his mind. It was a question he could not answer. For the sake of his friends, his family, his home… He had to. For him, desperate times call for the most efficient way to deal with things. For nearly two years, the power of darkness had not failed him. If it meant burning his heart out, changing his physical appearance until he becomes another entity…

Riku shook his head violently to get rid of any weak thoughts. He yanked his Way to the Dawn out and sprinted noiselessly down the halls. He felt that this was the right world to go to, as if his Keyblade actually told him to come here. Still, after his ineffective search in Port Royal, Riku had his doubts. Nonetheless, it was still necessary to search this world for an open keyhole. Who knows, the Heartless or the Nobodies could carry out a full-scale assault at any moment.

“Who’s there?”

Guards, Riku noted to himself as he leapt up towards the ceiling as silently and as smoothly as he could. A guard, patroller, or official of some sort dressed in a heavy, red robe slowly approached the spot where Riku was standing moments ago. The man wore a giant yellow, mask-like hat over his head, covering a great portion of his face. If Riku could get a look at the eyes, he could tell if the man was either a veteran guard or a harmless official.

For the time being, Riku could not risk getting himself into a fight. He had work to do. But the man would not move from the spot. Damn him, Riku cursed to himself. He had to do something before he loses his footing and grip along the crevices of the ceiling.

“Sleep,” Riku whispered softly.

A few radiating red lines traversed from one of Riku’s hands towards the man, wrapped around the man’s face, and slowly faded away. Almost instantly?and without remonstration?the man made a small gurgling noise and dropped to the floor, snoring quietly afterwards. Riku slipped down from the ceiling and examined the sleeping dupe.

Riku found no weapons on the man and decided that the man was probably no more than an official or some sort of other rank in the enclosed community he was in. Resuming his plans, Riku took off again down the hall until he reached an elevator.

Up or down?

Riku mashed the “up” button of the elevator and stepped in. If he could get a high enough aerial view, maybe he would know where to look. But when Riku stepped out onto the next floor, he found himself surrounded with… dormitories? Some of the doors were open and drowsy snores could be heard from inside.

Where the heck am I? Riku pondered, almost annoyed out of his mind. This place seemed nothing like a place Heartless would attack unless this world is somehow linked with others in some way. Riku thought for a moment and decided to enter one of the open rooms…

“Wh?” Riku almost spurted out.

The sleeping young man, appearing slightly older than Riku, was none other than…

“L-Leon?” Riku coughed.

Riku spoke a little too loudly though, as Leon jolted awake and immediately tossed a dagger in Riku’s direction. Riku dodged to the side to avoid the serrated object, feeling the wisp of air brushing past his cheek at the same time. The dagger struck the wooden frame of the door, but much to Riku’s surprise, the dagger was thrown hard enough that the air cut his cheek.

Leon’s Gunblade at the time was already pointed towards Riku, but was dropped when Leon gasped loudly. Leon, still in his battle clothes, in his fur-ruffed, black leather jacket, chained and belted leather pants, and his signature Griever necklace, stared in awe at Riku, whom he recognized right away. Sora’s descriptions of Riku matched right away, which clicked within Leon’s mind.

“A friend of Sora’s, right? You must be Riku,” Leon noted quietly and calmly. He picked up his Gunblade and hesitated for a brief moment. “Are you Riku? Or are you Xehanort in Riku’s body?”

“I’m Riku,” Riku murmured right away, wiping a trickle of blood from his cheek. “Not anyone else. You’re Leon right? Sora mentioned you quite a few times.”

Leon walked over to the doorframe and wrenched out the dagger he threw at Riku.

“You can call me Leon. But here, I’m Squall Leonhart.”

“Squall?” Riku reiterated. “Why’d you change your name before then?”

“Long story.”

Leon sat on his bed and cracked his neck. He muttered something that Riku could not hear and leaned his head on the wall.

“Anyway,” Leon sighed as he continued. “What brings you here, Riku?”

Riku summoned his Keyblade and jabbed the tip into the ground defiantly. Leon raised his eyebrow in an interesting fashion and grunted as he was quite impressed to see yet another Keyblade.

“I’m looking for this world’s keyhole,” said Riku. “The Heartless have returned.”

Leon closed his eyes and got up from his resting position. “Isn’t that Sora’s job?”

Riku’s eyes flared for a split second. “He’s busy,” Riku said quickly. “King Mickey, Sora, and I are splitting the work load. Each of us is trying to seal as many keyholes as we can to block off the Heartless.”

“Riku,” Leon interrupted. “You can’t block off the Heartless for good. As long as?”

“?As long as darkness exists in people’s hearts there will be more Heartless, yes, I know…” Riku muttered. “It’s just… my world has been trashed by the Heartless already and… I just want to wipe as many of them out as I can.”

“And sealing the keyholes will do the trick?” Leon joked. “I’m kidding. Look, feel free to look around, Riku. I do have to tell you, though, that this world, my world, was destroyed by the Heartless many years ago just like the Heartless destroyed yours recently. And yes, sealing the keyholes will help restore the balance between light and darkness eventually. But no matter what, Riku, whenever the balance is upset by a surge in the darkness in people’s hearts, there will be no stopping the Heartless from coming back.”

Riku listened intently. It was grave facts, facts that Riku already knew but could do nothing about. Mickey knew just as well, and so did Sora. So what were they doing now? What good could mere Keyblades do against something that cannot be vanquished?

“What do you suggest I… err, we, the King, Sora, Kairi, and I do then?”

Leon shifted his feet. “Kairi’s in on this too?”

Uh, oops. Too late for Riku to take back his words. “Yeah, she’s with Sora right now. Or at least I hope she still is.”

“A princess of heart out fighting the Heartless… how paradoxical,” Leon sighed. “Usually it is the Heartless that hunt the princesses of heart, not the other way around.”

“Kairi has her own Keyblade,” Riku added.

Oh, wow, Leon remarked. “That’s… quite interesting. Well, Riku, you better be careful here in Balamb Garden. You’re in a closed academy right now and there is security in nearly every corner. Watch your step here. In the morning, I will meet you by the lobby, and you can tell me what’s been happening ever since the Heartless returned.”

A story telling session. Great, Riku thought. He rolled his eyes in indifference. But based upon the opinions of Mickey and Sora, Leon was a stanch ally. Riku only hope that he could fare well in Balamb Garden and Sora and Kairi fare just the same wherever they are.

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