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Kingdom Hearts: Soul Crossed




Chapter 4: Of Princes and Thieves



Sherwood Forest



     Braxis watched Kairi fall to the ground, her body crashing in slow motion to him.  It was almost a pity she'd been that easy to outsmart.  He'd half-hoped she would see through the disguise, if only so he could take on both Keyblade wielders at once.  His plan had been almost perfect as usual, and she'd fallen just as intended.  The only flaw was that Sora was not with them.  A minor problem, but things rarely go completely right.

     His hand still crackled as time went back to normal.  The power was exhilarating and he reveled in it.  He was the best among the Hunters.  He was strong, skilled, and always prepared.  He was also bored.  He'd watched over the two as Restin had wanted, hiding himself in rags to keep in the prince's good graces.  He'd been secretly pleased when they'd escaped, glad to have something of interest again.  He had hoped a battle with the Keyblade Masters would be more of a challenge.  So far he was disappointed.

     "Kairi!"  Sora's panicked voice carried over the screaming masses quite well.  Braxis looked up to see the boy struggling to get through the crowd. Let's make this easier and get rid of any interference.   He raised a paw, lightning surged off it and began to shoot down, hitting the ground near the spectators.  Peasants and guards screamed and fled quickly, leaving just two fighters: Sora and a very large bear.  Braxis called for the Soulless, his pets coming to his aid.  "Keep the bear busy and away from the others," he said and watched them slither away.  He wanted this to be an even match.  It was the only true way to test his skill against his opponent.

     There were no words between the two as the Keyblade Master closed the gap on Braxis, rage and worry on his face as his Keyblade swung at his target.  Braxis spun away, bringing out an oak staff that parried the blow, giving Braxis enough time to dance away.  The staff was surprisingly sturdy, meeting Sora's Keyblade with each attack and turning it away.  The magic coursed through it and Braxis shot fire at Sora.  The boy countered with an ice spell and steam rose between them.

     "Not bad, boy.  But you'll have to do better to get by me."  Braxis gathered shadows from the staff, flinging them towards Sora.  They swirled around the boy, whipping into a frenzy as Sora stepped back.  He held his paw out, squeezing it to bring the shadows together.  He heard the boy yelp in pain a few times as they closed in around him.

     A loud cry came from within the shadows and suddenly the Keyblade came flying out of them, whipping end over end.  Braxis twisted sideways, narrowly avoiding the blade as it spun by.  He turned, following its path as he felt his magic falter.  It spun out, then came flying back at him.  Braxis continued his spin, watching as it missed him again and he saw Sora charging out of the corner of his eye, catching the Keyblade upon its return and leaping at Braxis, the Keyblade locked over his shoulder.

     Braxis knew the blow was coming and he did the only thing he could think of.  He allowed his momentum to take over, falling backwards just as Sora's slice passed over his head.  Braxis crashed to the ground, pain briefly shooting up his back.  Thankfully, Sora's momentum carried him over Braxis and he was forced to roll as he landed, coming up in a crouch with the Keyblade at the ready.  Braxis eyed the fox with new-found respect.  That had been close.  

     Braxis pulled on his magic again, this time a column of earth rising in front of him.  He sent a ball of power into it that broke it apart, sending several medium chunks of rock soaring at Sora.  Sora countered, creating a swirling barrier of wind that whipped the chunks away from him and behind.  He then charged at Braxis, ducking under another rock chunk and swinging at him.  Braxis managed to pull up a shadow shield in time, but it still hurt as the blade made contact and Braxis was knocked back by the blow.  He winced, jumping back and launching a ball of light at Sora's feet that exploded.  Sora was forced to stop, shielding his eyes from the glare, and was caught in the chest by another column of earth that sent him flying backwards.  He crashed to the ground, saved from major harm by the wind barrier that dissipated just after he landed.

     Braxis gasped, unable to press his advantage because of the pain he was in.  The boy was as good as he'd heard and that disturbed him.  Braxis had never lost a battle.  He had been trained to win, and that was what he did.  He was now very grateful that he'd knocked out the other two.  He was not equipped to deal with three skilled sword fighters, especially two wielding Keyblades.  He needed to end this and fast.

     Taking in the pain, he drew fire to his palms, firing one after another at the boy as he was trying to get back up.  Sora rolled to one side, calling on lightning that shot down at Braxis.  Once again, Braxis's shadow shield saved him from lethal harm, but he felt the pain again.  He called on the earth, bringing it above him to deal with the remainder of the strikes, then formed ice shards that shot up from the ground, creating ghostly spires amongst the green field.  They cut through Sora's fur as he dodged away.

     His magicks were being drained from all this fighting, and he was going to run out if he kept going.  He needed to save what he had left for emergencies now.  Braxis raced out of his earth shield, closing the gap between himself and Sora.  He wasn't a great close-combat fighter, but he could hold his own against this so-called hero.

     He could see the blood running down Sora's fur as his staff met Sora's Keyblade in a series of thrusts, parries and maneuvers.  Sora was the better swordsman, but he was hampered by the injuries.  Braxis kept driving him around their dueling arena, though he was tiring.  It was going to be a matter of who made a mistake first, and it happened to be Braxis.  He feinted one way, but slipped in doing so, and his parry came too late.  The Keyblade connected with the staff and sent it flying out of reach.  Braxis stared up at the cocky smile on the boy's face, despite the wound, and Braxis couldn't wait to wipe it off.  He had to be patient, for his last magical attack would have to be perfect.  He wasn't about to admit defeat to this child.

     He never got the chance.  As Sora advanced, several Soulless appeared around him, their distinctive red eyes glaring as they attacked the Keyblade wielder.  He fought back, destroying a few, but his moves were too slow and they quickly took him down as he fell unconscious.

     Braxis was furious.  "What are you doing?" he cried, forcing himself to a standing position.  He had never felt so cheated.  The battle was his to fight.  He never used outsiders.  "Get off him.  Now!"  The Soulless turned, the tendrils on their head twitching as they stared him down.  They got off Sora, and Braxis snarled.  "Now disperse!"  They stared at him, twitching and moving, but they stayed on the battlefield.  It unnerved Braxis.  They had never disobeyed him before.  "I said go!"

     Instead, they swarmed, surrounding him quickly.  Braxis's eyes widened in fear, confused.  He spun, realizing how many there were.  He had no weapon, and not enough magic to destroy them all.  Why are they turning on me now?

     He got his answer as Prince John arrived in the courtyard, laughing as his toadies followed.  "They won't listen to a commoner like you now.  They are under my command."  The lion was smiling as he rubbed his paws together.  "Soulless!  Destroy Robin Hood!  Destroy them all!"  

     Braxis looked around, trying to see a way to stop them.  Only the big bear was still up and fighting, and he had his hands full.  Braxis dodged one attack, getting slashed by a second and another blow shattered his shadow shield.  They clawed into his fur and the wounds came fast.  He dropped to one knee, panting.  Braxis sighed, knowing he had one shot.  After all, he refused to lose, especially like this.  He pulled on the last of his magic and it shot into the air.  All he could do now was hope.  Dizziness fell over him and he used his hands to steady himself, unable to defend himself anymore.  He watched as the Soulless came at him, leaping to tear into their prey.

     A rush swept over him and someone landed in front.  He watched as Kairi cut through the Soulless right at its emblem, destroying more as they came.  Relief swept over him.  His healing had worked.  He closed his eyes, hoping not to black out.

--------


     When the energy flooded Kairi and she regained consciousness, her first thought was that she was going to tear the panther to shreds.  Her first chance at proving herself, and he'd suckered her.  She shoved herself to her feet, looking around for him.  She wanted blood.

     Her opinion changed when she saw the creatures that looked like Heartless swarming in on him.  Her first instinct was to leave him to his fate out of spite, but that washed away in the briefest of moments and she was running toward him.  She sliced through three of the creatures, leapt over the panther and caught one of them in midair, her Keyblade meeting resistance for only a second before it vaporized.  

     "Beware the Soulless," the panther wheezed and she could tell he was in bad shape.  "They're very dangerous when they're angry."

     "I'll keep it in mind," she said, anger lacing her voice.  She kept between him and the creatures he called Soulless, slicing one and catching a second with a glancing blow.  "Can you run?"

     "I don't run," came the reply and she cursed the man for a fool.

     "Fine, just stay behind me."  The minions kept appearing and she destroyed them as they tried to take her.  They were adjusting strategies on her, trying to see what it would take to get through her.  A couple came around, but the panther beat them off with his fists despite his injuries.

     She felt Sora's presence as he entered the fray, grateful for the help.  "Sorry I'm late," he said, steel in his voice but also a bit of joy she couldn't help but notice was directed at her.  "I wanted to be fully prepared."  

     "Next time, don't wait so long or I'll finish it all for you," she shot back.  She and Sora flanked the panther.

     "Wouldn't want you to have all the fun, now would I?"  Sora flourished his Keyblade and cut down another Soulless.

     "As much as I'd like to agree, do you two think you can deal with them on your own?" the panther asked.  

     His question was answered as Robin and Little John joined in.  "No, but all of us together should be able to."  Sora reached back, handing an ether to him.  "Think you can cover us?"    

     Kairi wasn't sure it was wise to give their enemy any help.  She didn't trust him not to attack again once the threat was over.  He nodded though, downing it and casting a healing spell on himself as the Soulless swarmed in.  She could hear Prince John yelling for their heads, but she settled on the more immediate threat, attacking the Soulless as they presented themselves.  The battle became her focus, and she was only vaguely aware of anything other than the fight between the Soulless and her friends.  

     It wasn't just the basic Soulless either.  Some of the snake Heartless joined in, as well as Shadows and a few larger Soulless that reminded Kairi of the Defenders from Hollow Bastion.  Their shields had lions as well, though these were flat on the shields.  They looked more like the rhino guards Prince John had around the castle, and Kairi might have mistaken them for another group of them, save for the insignia of the Soulless burned into the armor's shoulder, the glowing red eyes, and the large spikes protruding from the back that made it almost impossible to get a successful strike on them.  They held back for the most part, letting the others wear the group down.

     She occasionally darted over to help Robin or Sora, then dealing with those that tried to tear her apart while her back was turned.   Her friends returned the favor, but in the melee she didn't always know who did what.  Twice she was cut deep, but healing magic from the panther brought her back to full strength.  Somehow, in the middle of the fight, he'd retrieved his staff, and it allowed him to focus his magic into much deadlier strikes.  She wasn't about to ask him how he'd done so in the middle of the melee.  She let him deal with the larger creatures, since his magic could penetrate their defenses.

     Prince John was howling in rage, though his whine took away from any dignity he may have carried. It urged Kairi on, knowing deep down they were going to win.  After a few more minutes, the clearing was empty save for the five of them, Prince John and his two followers. A hand rested on her shoulder and she looked up at the panther. "Thank you for saving me," he said, though she could tell he was not comfortable saying so.

     Kairi shrugged off his grip, still not sure she should trust him but she nodded. "You're welcome." She couldn't keep the anger out of her reply.  The pain he'd caused was too raw.

     He took it in stride, turning to Prince John. "You shouldn't have betrayed me."

     "I...I was told to, Braxis. I was told I could have your army if I did...you know how it is..." Prince John was twitching and stammering, but the fury in his fear was very evident. "The man in blue and silver armor said you needed to be removed..."

      Kairi's eyes widened. She remembered someone like that from the islands. She turned to Braxis as he roared in anger, starting toward Prince John. Sora got in his way, trying to talk him out of it, and Robin had to help hold the man back.  Kairi joined in, not wanting him to hurt her new friends.

     "Sssire, I think we should beat a hasssty withdrawal." The snake said.

     "Yeah," agreed the Sheriff, "he who runs away and all." He sheathed his sword and both started to run, but John remained behind.

     "No...I will not be made a fool of again!" His fear fled as the Heartless rose up around him. "Heartless!  I don't care what it takes! I will give anything to be rid of these fools once and for all!"

     "Don't!" Kairi yelled, knowing what he was asking, but they converged on him. Kairi thought for a moment that they were stealing his heart, but instead he began to grow. Kairi had never seen Heartless do anything like this.  More Heartless rose and absorbed in. Prince John's skin changed to a dark black, rippling as the limbs that were so weak and frail changed, muscling over. His eyes turned silver and white and his fangs grew in length.  "Oh no..." When the Heartless stopped, a lion three times Prince John's size stood before them, growling from all fours. It roared, shaking the ground, and Kairi dropped to the grass as it leapt over them. They were already weakened from the earlier battle, and she felt lost, not sure how they were going to stop him now.


-------


Sora could only watch, mouth agape, as Prince John transformed. He didn't have much time to react, his footing shaky with every roar or jump.  He stumbled to his feet, knowing they would have to find a way to stop him before it was too late.  The lion reminded Sora of the time he had to face Cerberus at the Coliseum with Donald and Goofy, and, maybe they could defeat it in the same way.  "Aim for the head!" he yelled as he rushed in.

     The lion roared as Sora ran in, a shockwave coming from it knocking him back.  He managed to land on his feet and he cast Aero to shield himself from the second wave.  Lightning crackled and rained down around the lion, striking it in the face.  That only made it angrier and it roared again.  Braxis dodged away, but the shockwave tore through the grass, leaving nothing but dead earth behind it.  Kairi raced in, her Keyblade slashing at the legs as she ran by.  She came for a second pass and was forced to dodge back as it swiped at her.

     Two arrows flew past Sora, embedding in the lion's flank.  It cried out, shook them off and kept coming.  Sora raced for the back legs, slicing at one and then trying to climb up the other.  Prince John shook his leg and Sora clung to it, trying to hang on.  He lost his grip and flew off, Little John catching him to break his fall.  Kairi hurried over as Braxis kept it distracted and helped Sora up.  "I don't think hitting the head will work," she muttered as she turned back.  Braxis was leading it away, dark blades shooting from his hands at the head.   Prince John slowed under the assault, but it was more annoyance than pain in his roars.

     "He can't be indestructible," Little John said, staring at the lion.  "I'm gonna help Rob.  You two let me know when you have a plan."  And with that he lumbered off.

     Kairi glanced at Sora, smirking.  "He doesn't know you very well if he thinks you're the planning type.  You normally just rush in and hope it all works out.  I was shocked you thought of something to stop the execution."

     Sora glowered a little, but she was right.  Most of the time, he fought with his heart, not his head.  Lightning crackled as Braxis shot at the lion in a desperate attempt to keep him back, hitting all over the head and body.  Most seemed to do nothing more than irritate him, but his shoulder dipped a little when one hit the small of the back.  "Did you see that?" he cried.

     "The back is the weak point!"  Kairi yelled.  Then she cursed.  "But we can't just keep tossing spells at it.  We need to get up there!"

     Sora nodded.  Before, with Cerberus, he'd been able to climb up the back legs and avoid the chomping teeth of the three-headed beast.  The lion seemed to know its back was weakest and tried to keep it out of reach from any trying to get at it.   They needed a way up there.  They needed to be able to fly.

     Braxis cried out as a swipe sent him flying.  He barely hung onto his staff as he crashed near Sora and Kairi.  Sora stared at the staff and a light went on in his head.  "Can you cast Aero?"  When Braxis nodded, a little confused, Sora explained his plan.  While the normal spell created a wind shield, maybe they could use it to propel him up on the creature's back.

     "It might work, but we'd need two people to work the spell on a third.  Preferably someone light," Braxis shouted over another roar, indicating Kairi.  

     "Me?"  Kairi looked more than a little petrified.  "You want to try this plan out, something you haven't done before, on me?"  

     Sora allowed a quick glance over Braxis's shoulder, making sure his new friends were still okay before turning to Kairi.  "You wanted to be more involved in the fighting," he teased.

     "Involved, yes.  But if you miss, I'm going to be falling fast with no way to stop myself."

     "We'll take good care of you," Braxis said.  "If we don't, I doubt any of us will live to regret it."

     Those words were ice water on Sora's soul and Kairi nodded, a little afraid.  "Here," Sora said, handing the Ultima Weapon to her, the blue and gold gleaming.  "Use both at the same time to inflict as much damage as you can before he can react."  

     She took it from him tentatively, very unused to the weight, and Sora clapped his hands on her shoulders.  "You can do this."  

     Kairi nodded, holding both Keyblades close to her body as Braxis and Sora began casting.  Wind whipped around her body, her hat flying off as she lifted off the ground, hovering momentarily.  Sora felt the strains of draining his magic like this, and he had to focus only on what he was doing, not having any idea if Robin and Little John were still fighting.  Kairi shot upward from the spell, soaring into the air.  She flew toward the Heartless Lion, and he heard Braxis shout "Now!"  They moved the wind with her, and let her drop.  Kairi shrieked at first, but she brought both Keyblades in front of her, slicing at the back of Prince John right before she landed.  She wasn't attacking with any kind of skill the way she would have with only hers, but Prince John roared in pain, trying to shake her loose from the attack.  

     She struggled to keep her balance and Sora worried she'd fall off, but she readjusted, even jumping to stay on as she cut him up.  There was a high-pitched whine and a loud pop, and then the darkness faded under Kairi's feet.  She hadn't expected that, and she fell backwards, both Keyblades falling from her grasp.  Sora was moving in an instant, racing across the grass and he leapt, catching her and they landed in a heap, Sora on top of Kairi.  "Who says I can't plan?" Sora teased.

     "So you got lucky.  Big deal."  But she was smiling and he felt a thrill from it that he couldn't describe.  "Uhm...Sora?"

     "Yeah, Kairi?"

     "You can get off me now..."  

     She shoved him back and he let himself fall, feeling completely embarrassed.  "I'm sorry, Kairi..."  He hadn't wanted to get up, had wanted to kiss her right then and there, no matter who was watching.  He'd never felt this way before, even when he'd wanted to share a paopu with her.  He just knew he wanted to hold her and never let her go again.

     Kairi gave a soft grin, but she also looked a little uncertain and Sora kicked himself for making her feel awkward.  Thankfully, Little John broke in and cut through the tension as he congratulated Kairi for taking the beast down.  Sora grinned as Kairi gave him a pleading look for help.  Let her enjoy the glory for once.  She's earned it.

     Suddenly, he remembered Braxis and whirled around, but the panther was gone and not a trace of him remained.  "Too bad," he muttered, "I would have liked to thank him for the help."  He knew it couldn't have lasted, but for the briefest of time, he'd been a useful ally.

     Sora heard a little sniveling and turned to see Prince John trying to crawl away from the others before anyone noticed.  So he survived all that.  Sora was content to let him run with his tail between his legs. Robin, however, was not and gave chase, but a large lion in armor got to him first.  "B...Brother...welcome back..."  Prince John tried to say, forgetting he still wore the crown, which the older lion snatched off the coward's head.  Robin and Little John had both dropped to one knee and bowed and Sora felt he should do the same as both he and Kairi bowed.  "I...I didn't expect you back so...so soon, Richard," Prince John stammered.

     "Indeed."  The true king placed the crown on his head.  "I've heard quite a bit about what you've been up to in my absence.  Now, do tell me where I can find Marian."  And Richard gave a toothy grin, brandishing his fangs, that scared Prince John into a faint.

-----
                      
      Kairi was still absorbing the whirlwind of events that had happened since the arrival of the King back from the Crusades.  After Prince John came to, he led them to the secret room that he'd stashed Marian in.  Robin had been overjoyed and alternatively professed his love and apologized for not showing up sooner.  He'd hardly let her stray from his sight since, and the two began planning their wedding.  Prince John, Sir Hiss, and the Sheriff had been sent to prison, along with the Sheriff's two vulture henchman, for their treason against the crown.  Most of the rhino guards had either fled or made amends with the King.  The Heartless and Soulless had slipped into the darkness for now, though Kairi was sure they'd be back.  And no one had seen a whisper of Braxis since the fight.  The panther had vanished back to wherever he'd come from.  At least, that's what she thought.  He'd had no reason to stay and be caught.

     She stared at her reflection, scowling at the dress she'd been stuck in.  Wedding or no, she still didn't like that she had to be in a dress in this realm and she longed for the green outfit she'd had for some time here.   At least it wasn't the billowy one she'd been stuck in when she'd first arrived.  The main bodice of the dress was pale blue, with a silver under-bust corset that hugged her form.  The sleeves were the same silver and they were fitted to the elbow before billowing outward to the wide and draping cuffs.  The skirt was the same pale blue on the sides and back with a silver panel in the front.  And pale silver edging along the hem.  It flared out from the hip so it didn't cling to her, then hung down nearly to the ground with small vertical folds that opened up when she walked and spread in a graceful circle when she spun.  

     The headpiece she had with it fitted around her brow, with holes for her ears to poke through.  It rose up several inches, then curved around the sides with the shape of her head.  It was higher on the sides than in the front and back where it had a gentle curved drop.  It was also silver with a pale blue veil that was attached at the brow and draped over the top to hang halfway down her back.  

     She brushed the fabric of the skirt, trying to make it feel right to her, but nothing seemed to make her happy and she finally gave up in frustration and sprang to her feet, knocking over the chair in the process.

     In truth, it wasn't the dress that was bothering her and she knew it.  Without a gummi ship, they had no way to leave this world until someone found them, and while she appreciated their generosity and hospitality, she missed her other friends.  It also delayed any chance she had of finding the people responsible for this whole mess and stopping them before they attacked someone else.

     And then there was Riku. He was another part of her worry. Not only did she wonder if he was alright, but she also feared what was growing in her heart.  Being around Sora lately was bringing up some pretty strong feelings, ones she wanted to pursue at times, but she also had some of those same feelings for Riku and she felt she'd be betraying him if she acted on them with Sora.  It had built a level of confusion and frustration in her that only practicing with the Keyblade could bring down.

     Namine was also an ever-present feeling in her mind, though it got no stronger than a whisper.  She knew her Nobody was out there, the other part of her self searching to become whole with her again.  She asked if Sora felt Roxas at all, and he said no.  She wondered why her connection was stronger with her Nobody.  It was another question she could not answer.

     Lastly, she missed seeing herself in the mirror.  Being a lioness had been fun for a while, but she missed her true face staring back at her.  She couldn't get used to the idea that this proud creature was the same person she was inside.  

     A soft knock came at the door.  "Kairi?  Are you decent?"  

     "Come in, Sora," she said, turning to face him.  He was wearing a fine, white linen shirt, lace dripping from the cuffs, silver laces at the neck, loosely tied.  Over top he wore a forest green top, trimmed in more silver, and embroidered along the edges with tiny, silver leaves and vines. A simple white cap sat between his fox ears. He had kept the silver chain with the crown on it.  A soft flush came to her cheeks at seeing him like this.  "Is it time?" she asked to cover up her feelings.

     Sora gave her a goofy grin, then nodded, snapping out of his brief daydream.  "Yeah.  We better hurry down.  We don't want to be late for the ceremony."  He bowed and crooked his elbow, acting the perfect gentleman.  

     "Wow, someone's been teaching the scrawny kid I grew up with some manners," she teased.

     "Hey!" Sora blushed and she knew she was right.  It was kind of sweet that he had gone to the trouble for it.

     There was another knock and a soft clearing of a throat.  Robin stood in the doorway, decked out in his formal wear.  A long-sleeved white silk shirt, with layers of lace at the cuffs, topped by a forest green tunic with a high collar, clasped at the throat with a gold, circle pin, engraved with tiny arrows and birds. The tunic itself was embroidered much as Sora's was, with a pattern of vines and leaves around the edges, in a deeper shade of green than the tunic itself. This was belted with a brown leather belt, with a gold clasp. His green, feathered cap sat between his ears, adorned now with an elegant, white feather. Kairi gave him a quizzical look.  "Shouldn't you be getting ready for something important?"

     "Yes, M'lady, but I figured I wouldn't get another chance to give this to you afterward."  He handed her a small box bound in fur dyed a mixture of purple and red.  "A little gift in thanks for all you've done."

     "Robin...I can't accept this.  I would have helped for nothing."

     He placed it in her paw, not taking no for an answer.  "Think of it as my contribution to helping a Keyblade wielder become the best she can be."  Kairi opened it and saw a keychain inside with a small green leaf at the end.  "There have always been texts of those who wield the Keyblades and what will follow them.  But I believe that you are using them for good and I am glad to be able to help.  I believe the Oo-de-lally will be in good hands with you, Princess."  Kairi smiled, clasping the keychain.  For the first time, she didn't mind what he'd called her.  

     "Sora.  I read something else in the texts that might help.  There is a legend that says that the Keyblade Master can bridge worlds through his heart.  I hope this helps you continue your quest."  He handed a set of leather-bound papers to Sora, then clasped Sora's paw in his own and Kairi's in the other.  "I am truly glad to have met you both.  Because of you, I was able to find Marian again."

     "You would have found her eventually," Kairi said, "Love finds a way."  Robin smiled, gave a bow, and ducked out of the room.

     Sora watched her as she stared down at the keychain in her hand.  "Go on.  I know you want to try it out.  I remember feeling the same way when I first got a new one."

     Kairi willed her Keyblade into existence, not sure what to expect.  Part of her had grown attached to the original design and would be sad to see it go.  However, she unattached the paopu chain and attached the Oo-de-lally to the Keyblade.  Where the chain attached sprouted another leaf, and the hand guard turned wooden.  Vines wrapped around the shaft in arcs of two shades of green on opposite sides of the shaft until it reached the Key portion as the shaft of the blade changed immediately, going from golden wood to sturdier, stronger, darker wood.  The flowers vanished and in its place were sharp thorns that angled out from the arc of the vine.  Leaves sprouted out in certain places from the shaft, the arcs, even the thorns.  Two small leaves, no bigger than the one on the Keychain, emerged from the tip of blade.  

     Kairi felt the power from the Keyblade almost immediately.  Sora grinned, staring at it.  "Wow...pretty neat Kairi."    

     She swung it around, getting a feel for it.  It was sturdier, though a bit heavier than her first, which meant it could do more damage.  She sent it away, not wanting to ruin her dress for the ceremony.   "What do you think he meant about bridging worlds with your heart?"

     "I dunno, but I think we should try.  It beats sitting around here."

     Kairi was glad he felt the same way.  "Let's do it then."

     The ceremony was a beautiful wedding.  Maid Marian looked stunning in her white dress and Kairi could tell everyone had hoped for this outcome between the two.  The roguish Robin Hood had won over the people with his desire to keep them free, no matter the cost, and his devotion to Marian was obvious.  Though they'd been apart since they were younger, their love had never died.  It made Kairi think of the time she'd lost while Riku and Sora were gone.  Maybe....maybe she hadn't lost her chances after all.  

     Robin and Marian raced out of the church, hurrying to the carriage that awaited them.  On her way, Marian tossed the bouquet and it landed shockingly in Kairi's lap, causing her to go beet red and avoid looking around as people cheered again.  She chose to focus on the carriage as it dwindled away into the afternoon sun, coached by Little John and a young boy named Skippy. At least we helped someone find happiness. Until her own journey ended, hers would have to wait.

     She let the crowd disperse, making small talk with Friar Tuck, who assured her they would always be welcome if they chose to stay.  She politely declined, saying they had to make their way home.  She didn't want to say too much, not sure how much Robin and Little John had told the others about her and Sora.  

     It was late in the day when Kairi and Sora were finally able to extract themselves from the peasants who felt the need to shower them with praise as well.  Kairi kept deflecting it to Robin Hood, but her modesty was put to the test by the amount of congratulations they were getting.  She felt like she was floating when they made their way to a large open field.  She had never felt so accomplished before.  They had both changed back into the green outfits they'd had while in Robin Hood's group, the other outfits not made for fighting.

     Sora sat on the ground and crossed his legs as best he could.  He had been studying the area Robin marked for him in the papers and to bridge the worlds required deep concentration.  Kairi watched him as he sat, unmoving, and she fidgeted back and forth, antsy.  Should it take this long?  She wasn't sure how long he was sitting there, but she was glad for the light breeze that helped keep her cool in the sunlight.  

     After a long wait and three different position changes, Sora's eyes snapped open.  He gasped and panted, his shoulders heaved and a light shot from his chest.  Color flared into existence: blues, reds and purples mingling to create a doorway to a road made of multiple colors.  It shone with an ethereal light that sparkled all around.  The portal itself looked as though it was created by a mirage of heat, hazy and shifting in the air.  Sora stood, needing Kairi's help to stay upright.  She stared, making sure he wasn't going to collapse.  Though he wasn't physically tied to the doorway anymore, he looked like he was still drained.

     "Are you sure we should do this?" she asked.  She was anxious to get back into the fray, but not at his expense.

     "I'll be alright.  I just...need a minute."  He kept his paws on his knees, sucking in air for a bit. Kairi thought she saw a shadow out of the corner of her eye and stood up, drawing her Keyblade.  There was nothing in the field but the portal, though, and she dismissed it again.  Must be the after-effect of such a long battle... She turned back to Sora, who hadn't noticed the exchange at all "I didn't expect it to hurt so much..."  He stood, wiping his forehead.  "But I'm okay."

     "Let's go then before it closes."  She helped him through the portal, her skin tingling for a moment, and then she felt the solid ground of the rainbow road underneath her.  Sora breathed in, perking up, and Kairi watched as the portal closed on Sherwood Forest.   Once it was completely shut, Sora seemed back to his old self again.

     "So...Sora...how do we change back?"  Sora's eyes widened and Kairi realized he hadn't thought of that. "You didn't have a plan??"

     He shook his head.  "I forgot.  Donald's magic usually transformed us back and forth.  I don't know what we're going to do.  Maybe we'll find someone on the other side who knows how?"  Kairi smacked her forehead.

     There was a small rush and light swirled around Kairi's body.  The magic wrapped her up in its warm embrace and rushed through her.  When she opened her eyes, she was staring at her human hands again and was back in her old outfit from the Islands, the pink dress that hugged her form.  She didn't have time to ask Sora how it had happened.  "Or allow someone who knows of magic's many ways to do it for you."

     A figure stood just down the road, dark-skinned and wearing a much finer outfit than the one he'd been wearing while serving Prince John. He wore a burnt-amber cloak with the hood down with old fashioned gold accents and gold trim.  In the center of the cloak was a sphinx done in all gold.  He wore a blood red silk shirt done in the old-fashioned style with a low v-necked collar and puffy sleeves that were held in check by a button at the wrist.  His slacks were brown and a little loose and covered brown leather boots.  He wore black gloves with a silver trim on them and had a gold chain with the odd Soulless design around his neck. There was no mistaking that voice though.  "Braxis..." Kairi brought out her Keyblade again, ready for a fight.  "I thought I saw someone around the portal."

     "Yes, well, my way home was not available either," he said, sweeping out his cloak in dramatic fashion.  Kairi wasn't impressed and neither was Sora.  Braxis held up his hands, his staff vanishing to prove his point.  "I'm not here to fight, Keyblade wielders.  This is not the place for such things."

     Kairi held herself at the ready.  "We should trust you?  You tried to kill us."

     "No, my job was only to contain, not destroy," he sighed.  "Restin put me in charge to keep watch over you.  That was all.  However, I didn't know he planned to remove me in the process."

     "So what are you planning now?"

     "An alliance.  Temporary, of course, until I can find my way home.  Restin is after you two as well, and anything that hinders him is along with my plans."  Braxis kept himself still, trying to look as unthreatening as possible.  "Besides, you intrigue me."

     "What do you mean?" Sora asked, lowering his Keyblade.  Kairi was not so forgiving, but she had no doubt Sora's skill would allow him to recover.

     "You could have let the Soulless tear me apart," he said to Kairi, staring out from under his black hair, "and yet, you risked your own safety to help me.  You included an enemy in your plans, and even gave me a chance to recover my magic.  It was extraordinarily foolish thing to do and I have never known someone to do so.  And yet, it worked.  It is a puzzle I must unlock.  I wish to see more of you, Keyblade Masters.  I wish to learn your secrets of strength, and if I must join you to do so, then that is what I will do.  I will join you until I am ready to face you again."

     Kairi could not believe the arrogance oozing from him.  The idea of his that he could just come along as though nothing had happened.  And yet, there was something genuine about his words.  Kairi's own Keyblade faltered and she glanced at Sora.  "Well?"

     Sora shrugged, his Keyblade vanishing.  He put his hands behind his head in typical fashion.  "I think you can beat him up if he tries anything."  He gave Kairi one of his patented grins.

     "Sora!  I'm serious!"

     "So am I," he said.  "Look, we might be able to handle whatever comes our way, but I've learned the more friends you can make, the better off you are.  And if he tries anything, we stop him."

     It's never that simple. She doubted she could convince Sora of that right now, and they were wasting time in an unstable area.  Once they reached the next world, she intended to pull him aside for a severe tongue-lashing.  Sora had gone over to welcome Braxis to the group, but Kairi's eyes met the dark skinned man's own green ones.  She held up the Keyblade, a silent threat more powerful than her words could ever be, then let it vanish as she went to join the two of them.

--------

Space

     Namine's eyes widened and she bolted upright in her chair.  "I've lost her."

     "What do you mean?" Roxas asked, turning to face her.  

     Namine shook her head, trying to think of how to describe what she just felt.  "One second, I could feel her consciousness.  The next it just...blinked out.  As though it hadn't been there to begin with."

     "Is she...?"  Riku's voice was strained and he half-turned from the pilot's seat to look back   

     Namine shook her head.  "I don't think so.  There'd have been more pain before I lost her if that was the case."  In truth, she didn't know what to think, but she didn't want Riku to panic right now.  And if you should find out the worst later?  She didn't want to answer that question.  Not now.  Please come back Kairi.  Give me something good to say. She didn't give voice to her own fears.  No need to make the others worry more.  "She's just gone."

     "So what do we do now?"  Roxas asked, clenching a fist in his opposite hand before leaning on it.  

     "We stay on course," Riku said.  "We can't go gallivanting around and hope to run into them.  We keep going to Radiant Garden and see if Cid has found anything on this Restin guy."

     Roxas didn't say anything, but Namine could see the blonde boy tensing.  She wasn't sure what it was about these two that rubbed each other the wrong way, but she wished she could get them to stop acting like anything the other said was a personal insult.  They had more in common than they cared to admit.

     It didn't help that Namine was getting antsy as well.  Twice they'd had to stave off Heartless attacks on the way to Radiant Garden and both times it had caused a delay.  The in-between times were even worse.  Riku was piloting, so he had to be focused, but Roxas didn't have the courage to say much to her.  It was obvious he was thinking about her and some other time it might have been cute.  However, if she couldn't keep up a conversation with him, she was left alone with her own worries.

     She had tried to focus in on the feeling of Kairi when they'd first left the Islands, hoping to be able to draw Kairi and, by doing so, find out where she was.  Nothing had come onto the page.  She'd blamed the weak connection at first, hoping that if it strengthened, her power would as well.  But even as Kairi felt stronger, she still couldn't draw anything about her other half.  She hadn't admitted it to the others, but she wondered if she'd be any good at all now.  If that part of her power wasn't working, she might not have any magic in her.

     That led to a fear that as Kairi got strong enough, she'd simply fade away.  It was stupid and irrational, given she had to be with Kairi the last time to join back with her, but she couldn't shake it.  It wasn't becoming part of Kairi that bothered her, either.  She wasn't supposed to be here at all.  It was the thought that it would happen when she was needed with the others that shook her to the core.  

     A soft fizz and a pop from the console near her brought her away from those troubled musings.  She slid over, hearing another fizz, and she tapped on the glass a bit.  Sparks sprayed from it and Namine threw herself back as smoke and fire began to pour from the terminal.  She gasped and stepped aside as Roxas raced by, covering it up to kill the fire before it got out of control.

     "Namine!  Are you okay?"  Roxas asked.

     "Fine, just hurt my pride.  That's all."  She dusted herself off, coughing a bit.  "Riku, I think we took more damage from that last fight than we thought!  Might want to check around and see if anything else is going to blow on us."

     Riku did a check to make sure no Heartless were in the area, then set the gummi ship on auto-pilot and got up.  The three of them methodically checked each system for damage.  "Donald's gonna kill me," Riku muttered as Namine walked by.

     Namine gave him a brief smile.  "Don't worry.  If what I know of Cid is correct, he'll be able to fix it up in no time."

     "Assuming we make it there in one piece," Roxas said as he slumped against the wall.  "If the Heartless don't take us out, this bucket of parts may come apart on its own."

     "Do you have a better idea for getting to Radiant Garden?"  Riku asked.

     "...no."  Namine knew Roxas was used to traveling by portal, not through space.  

     "Then we make due with this."  Riku turned, then cursed as he hurried back to the controls, leaping over the back of the chair.  Alarms started blaring and he shut down the auto-pilot as the cabin shook, knocking Roxas and Namine off their feet.  "Heartless!  Dead ahead!"  He cursed as he pulled the ship into a dive, trying to outmaneuver the new threat.  He brought the ship into a spin, bouncing Namine's head against her seat and she gripped it to keep control, her other hand holding onto her dress.  "What hole did they pop out of?  They weren't there a minute ago."

     Namine put a death grip on the chair as Riku went through his evasion, bouncing her about the cabin until he leveled off long enough for her to crawl in and buckle herself down.  She rubbed her forehead, feeling a welt grow and she glanced at Roxas, who was looking a bit green.  Namine's stomach wasn't feeling so stable either.

     "I think...I got them," Riku said, giving a soft chuckle.  His mirth was short-lived as the cabin rocked twice.  Namine squealed and gripped her seat and the cabin was filled with sirens.  Riku threw the ship upward, yelling at the controls, but Namine couldn't hear him over the blaring.  

     "Namine!"  Roxas yelled over his shoulder.  "The shields are weakening!  Can you do anything on your end to strengthen them?"  The cabin rumbled again and she caught a glimpse of a Heartless ship disintegrating as she turned, trying to pull up the information on the console in front of her.  The image came up, then shuddered and the screen went blank.  She cursed.

     She fought to try and get anything up on her screen, but it remained dead.  "I've got nothing!"  The cabin shuddered weakly as one Heartless ship exploded too close to the gummi ship.  "Roxas, try and reroute power from other unnecessary systems!"

     He slammed the console.  "Something's been damaged!  It's not responding!"

     "Keep trying!  I've almost shook this last one!"  Riku cried out, but as he spun again, the gummi ship listed.  It rocked backwards and the Heartless ship slammed into theirs.  The shields collapsed as the ship exploded and Namine's world shifted as the room spun out of control.  "We've lost one of the engines!  Hang on!  I'm gonna try and get us down safely!"

     Namine was confused, then she could see a world coming up.  It was Radiant Garden.  Riku fought with the controls, but the panel in front of him erupted and he cried out, trying to shield his face.  The alarms were inconsequential now and Namine knew they were in trouble as Riku fell forward and didn't move.  Roxas leapt out of his seat, trying to help steady things, and Namine unbuckled herself, ran over and worked her magic to try and heal Riku.

     "Steering's unresponsive!  So are the other systems!"  Roxas called.  Namine glanced up, seeing Radiant Garden on the screen coming closer and closer with no way to slow down.  They were going to get to the Garden, all right.  They were going to crash right into it.
Well the wait was long, but I finally finished chapter 4. I hope people enjoy this newest chapter.

Also, I have a piece of fan art for this section. My wife :iconayas-shadow: has drawn a picture of the Oo de Lally Keyblade found here: [link]

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:icondj-skylark:
DJ-Skylark Featured By Owner Jul 13, 2010
You are one of the few people that I can say does Sora/Kairi right. You are one of the few Sora/Kairi writers who bothered to show Kairi as a capable person in her own right. :3

What can I say? The characterization, damn good, the action, damn good, over all, the whole writing is Damn Good.

Moarplz? :D
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:icontymestalker:
Tymestalker Featured By Owner Jul 14, 2010
More is in the works as we speak ^^
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:iconhorsez219:
horsez219 Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
any new chapters??
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:icontymestalker:
Tymestalker Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2010
Not yet, but hopefully soon. ^_^
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:iconragnarok-shadow:
Ragnarok-Shadow Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010
Awesome chapter, and great job on the fight!

I like the new keyblade too, very creative.
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:icontymestalker:
Tymestalker Featured By Owner Jun 21, 2010
Thanks a lot ^^
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