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Now I Will Step Forward

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Kairi woke up with a feeling. 

 

She had to go to the play island. 

 

As she changed into her school uniform, she stole glances out her bedroom window, the outline of the play island barely visible in the rising sun. Something was there, calling to her heart. 

 

Kairi bit her lip in indecision. 

 

She had been avoiding the play island. It wasn’t the same without Sora and Riku. Nothing was the same without them. Though she remembered the storm that had destroyed their world the night the heartless came, it seemed that no one else on the islands remembered that night. It had been a strong, but normal storm. As such, to the rest of the islanders, Sora and Riku had simply disappeared overnight. 

 

Kairi had been questioned when she managed to row herself back to the mainland, but she had been asleep for most of the grand adventure. She couldn’t even begin to explain, much less have the answers that the Islanders hoped for. Not for her own foster parents, nor for Sora’s or Riku’s parents. She had tried to come up with an explanation and started with where it had all started: the raft. But she couldn’t get very far before she broke down in tears, and then the adults drew their own conclusions. 

 

She protested that they weren’t dead. Sora had promised. And Sora always kept his promises. She knew he had gone to find Riku, and he would be back. 

 

But the words to explain all that never came, and eventually the adults left her alone. She’s grieving, they would say. Kairi supposed she was. Sora had said that things would never change between the three of them, but they had. Their connection had been broken. 

 

A sudden pang in her heart reminded her of the play island. This wasn’t the time to get lost in broken connections. Not if she could reforge them. 

 

Her mind made up, Kairi changed out of her uniform, putting on cropped shorts and a sleeveless top instead. She had told Sora that she had been ready to set sail, but she quickly came to realize how vastly unprepared she was.  She wouldn’t be caught unaware this time. A few essentials, paper and pens, as well as the potions and ether that Aerith had given her in Traverse Town all went into her backpack. It was all she needed. 

 

She didn’t have much time. Her mom would be checking on her any minute now. A pang of guilt caused Kairi to hesitate at the window. She loved her foster parents and she hated that this might cause them to panic again. She quickly made another decision and pulled out paper and a pen.

 

“Going to find Sora and Riku. You know they’ll just get distracted if left to their own devices. I’ll be back soon. I promise. --Kairi”

 

Then she rolled out her bedroom window, hopped across the roof and climbed down the rose trellis. Their yard was connected to the beach, where she had docked her rowboat. 

 

She was halfway across the water before the sun finished rising. 

 

Kairi pulled her boat up into the dock, tying it off just like Riku had shown her, then leaped up onto the worn wooden boards. It was a school day, so no one else would be here. 

 

But she also got the feeling that she wasn’t alone. 

 

Taking a deep breath, she trudged ahead. It didn’t look like there was anything amiss on this side, but she, Riku, and Sora had been building their raft on the far side of the island. So maybe if the feeling she had meant their return, they might be there. 

 

She pushed the door between the two sides open, barely daring to breathe. The last time she had rowed over here to check on the raft, the monsters had shown up. And she definitely didn’t want that again. 

 

The far side of the island was still in the shade. The sun wouldn’t reach it for hours yet, so it was also a few degrees cooler. She shivered, berating herself for now packing a jacket as well.  

 

She glanced over to where the raft had been, unsurprised to find that whatever was left of it was in shambles. All their hard work...

 

But there was something else on the beach. It looked like blue fabric. 

 

Kairi sprinted over. 

 

The blue hair of a young woman was the first thing she noticed, and a flash of memory startled Kairi for a moment. 

 

The memory faded before she could really process it, but it left behind the feeling that she knew this person. 

 

Kairi could trust her. 

 

But she supposed she had to make sure the woman was okay first. 

 

“Hey.” Kairi knelt down, gently pushing the woman over and was relieved to see her breathing. “Um... Wake up? Please?” 

 

The woman coughed and blinked her eyes open, revealing a shade of blue that matched her hair. 

 

“Good!” Kairi exclaimed. “You’re--”

 

In a flash, the woman went from half asleep to wide awake. A light flashed and then the woman was holding some sort of blade that she lashed out with. Kairi yelped and fell backward into the sand, raising her hands to defend herself. 

 

“Oh. I’m sorry.” 

 

At the words, Kairi slowly lowered her hands, peeking up to see the woman offering an apologetic smile. The blade Kairi had flinched from was nowhere to be seen.

 

Shaking her head, Kairi stood. “I’m sorry. I’m sure you weren’t expecting someone looming over you.” 

 

“I--er--” The woman shook her head. “Where am I? I thought the worlds were restored. Is Destiny Islands still--”

 

Kairi shook her head even more, almost giving herself a headache in the process. “No no! The worlds were restored. Sora and his friends... and Riku-- they did something. And then the worlds went back to how they were before.” She motioned around her. “I’m--er-- I’m not sure where you think you are, but this is Destiny Islands.”

 

Kairi glanced back up at the woman’s face and was even more startled to see tears streaming from her eyes. “I’m sorry! Is this not where you meant to go?! Are you hurt? Is something wrong?” She sat her bag down, digging through it for the potions and ethers she knew were there. “Hang on, I think I got som--oh! Here it is!” She held out the potion. 

 

Shakily, the woman took it. She held it in her hand for a moment, looking confused and overwhelmed. “Thank you. I-- I didn’t mean to come here, but I’m glad I did.” She then offered Kairi a smile that reminded the redhead a lot of Riku. It was bright if a little reserved. Maybe not as carefree as Sora’s, but Riku’s true smiles always felt earned. 

 

She missed them so much. 

 

Kairi grinned through the pang of hurt in her heart. “I’m glad too.” She held out her hand. “My name’s Kairi!”

 

“Kairi?” The woman’s eyes widened at the name. “But you were... Aren’t you from Radiant Garden?”

 

“Huh?” Kairi tilted her head. “Where’s that?”

 

The woman hesitated for a second before shaking her head. “Never mind. I must be thinking of someone else.” She shook Kairi’s hand. “I’m Aqua.” 

 

Kairi felt a sudden pang at the name, which sounded so familiar.

 

“What brought you out here, Kairi?” Aqua asked, opening the potion bottle and taking small sips. 

 

“Huh? Oh!” Kairi grinned. “I just felt that this was the place I had to be today. Especially if I wanted to find my friends.”

 

“Your friends?”

 

“Yeah. Sora and Riku.”

 

“Oh.” Aqua’s brow furrowed. “The boys who helped Mickey?” 

 

Kairi blinked in confusion. “I--I think so? I know Donald and Goofy were looking for their King, but they didn’t mention a name, so--”

 

“Definitely Mickey,” Aqua explained with a grin. “But the last time I saw Mickey and Riku was in the realm of darkness.”

 

Kairi’s heart leapt at the mention of Riku. “Wait! You saw Riku? He’s okay?” 

 

The woman looked down. “He’s--well... I’m not sure if okay is the right word. Especially if he’s trapped in that place. But he’s alive. He was running towards the door to help close it. I think Sora was on the other side.” 

 

“Oh.” That must have been why Sora had been so desperate. If he had just seen Riku--

 

Sora would find him. She had to believe that. 

 

And she could help. 

 

“I have to find them,” Kairi said, picking up a nearby stick to doodle in the sand. “They’re my best friends.” The vague image of a castle took shape in the loose sediment. 

 

“I have to find my best friends, too,” Aqua said. After a quiet moment, she picked up another stick and added a moat and a few flowers to the picture. “Well--at least one of them. But I promised the other I’d be there when he woke up. He’s never gonna let me hear the end of it.” 

 

“We can go together!” Kairi exclaimed. “I think--no, I know I was supposed to find you this morning. And I did! That must mean something.”

 

“Kairi, I...” Aqua trailed off, and Kairi recognized the tone. It was the same tone her mother used when forbidding her from doing something dangerous. 

 

Like ever even thinking about going off on an adventure with her friends. 

 

“I know,” Kairi said. “It might be dangerous. But I’m going to find them anyway. It would just be easier if I had some help.” 

 

Aqua’s grim face broke into a small smile. “You’ll just try to follow. Won’t you? Just like--” Cutting herself off with a sad smile, Aqua nodded. “Okay. I guess I could also use some help.” 

 

Kairi couldn’t help the grin that spread over her face. They were going to do it. They were gonna find Sora and Riku, and Aqua’s friends too. 

 

Aqua then looked back at Kairi, giving her the impression that she was being studied.

 

“Someone has already passed the power to you.”

 

“Power?”

 

“To wield a keyblade.” Aqua held out her hand again. A light flashed, before revealing a silver key-shaped blade. It looked a bit like Sora’s but more angular. “Like this.”

 

Kairi gasped. “You think I can wield one too?” 

 

“Hmm...yes. In theory. It would depend on who gave you the power though. Do you remember ever touching a keyblade before?” 

 

Kairi shook her head, even as part of her told her that she had. It was the same part of her that trusted the woman on instinct. 

 

“Try summoning it,” Aqua advised. “I found that it helped to close my eyes the first time I tried to summon my keyblade. It made it easier to focus. Then concentrate with all your heart.”

 

Kairi did as suggested, closing her eyes and feeling with all her heart. Wishing for it. A way to help Sora. To find Riku. A power to protect her friends forever. 

 

Her hand suddenly felt heavier, and when she opened her eyes, she gasped at the sight. 

 

It was beautiful. A bright red blade decorated with flowers faded to gold and blue at the hilt, with an ocean wave decorating the guard. The colors and the ocean wave reminded her of her home here on the islands. 

 

The keyblade felt right in her hand. A name came to her as well: Destiny’s Embrace.  

 

“Oh!” Aqua exclaimed. “But that’s--” she cut herself off with a light chuckle and glanced back at Kairi narrowing her eyes at a spot just under Kairi’s chin. Instinctively, the redhead reached up to hold at the charm she always wore. Her original good luck charm; something that kept her safe. 

 

“Master always did say to be wary of accidental passings of power,” Aqua murmured, looking thoughtful. “I just thought he said that cause he thought Terra or Ven would do something. I guess I’m just as bad.” 

 

“Huh?” Kairi blinked in confusion. Who was Aqua’s master? Was it someone Sora met on his journey?

 

“It’s nothing.” Aqua stood up and stretched but then collapsed when she tried to take a step, clutching her stomach. 

 

Kairi jumped up, almost offering another potion when a loud rumble echoed around the play island. “Was that--”

 

“I think all that time is catching up to me,” Aqua huffed, sitting down and flinching when her stomach growled again. “I’m so hungry.”

 

“Oh, uh... hang on!” Kairi reached into her bag and pulled out the single granola bar she always kept in her bag in case of food for emergencies. She should have thought about grabbing more from her house before she left. Passing the granola bar over, she then turned her attention to the Coconut Trees. Sora and Riku always had luck when hitting the tree to get a ripe one. Maybe--

 

The blade felt a little strange in her hands when she lifted it, but she had seen Sora do this a hundred times. How hard could it be? She swung overhead, aiming for the large trunk of the tree. 

 

And missed. 

 

Kairi glared at the trunk. It was huge, how could she have missed?!

 

“Try swinging your blade horizontally instead of vertically. You’ll get a wider range that way.” 

 

Kairi glanced back, finding Aqua observing her quietly. She felt her face heat up, embarrassed at having failed on the first try. But still--

 

She swung, switching her angle so she hit the tree sideways. It stung a bit, but she managed to keep a hold of her blade. 

 

One ripe coconut fell beside her. 

 

“I did it!” Kairi grinned, holding up her yellowish reward. “If we can just get it open--”

 

“Throw it over here!” Aqua called out. 

 

Kairi did as asked and threw it towards Aqua. The older woman summoned her blade, smacking the coconut so fast Kairi barely saw her move. But the result spoke for itself when two clean coconut halves fell to the ground. 

 

“Woah...” Kairi glanced up at her new friend. “Please teach me how to do that.” 

 

Aqua chuckled. “You’ll have to start small and build up to it. If you’re serious about going with me--”

 

“I am.” Kairi was determined. 

 

Aqua nodded. “Then we can start your training now--er-- if you don’t have somewhere else you need to be.” She took another bite of the granola bar. “Parents? Or your grandma?”

 

Grandma? Right. She told me stories. Kairi had nearly forgotten the old women until Sora had mentioned the fairy tale. 

 

For now, though, she shook her head. “No. I need to find my friends first. I can’t just wait for them to come home. If I can wield a keyblade too, I should be at their side.”

 

Aqua let out another smile, and Kairi guessed she had said something right. “Okay then. First off, you gotta figure out how to best hold the blade. I noticed you sort of crouched with it earlier. Was that comfortable?”

 

“Um...” Kairi frowned. “It’s how Sora held his.”

 

“If it’s uncomfortable, you’re not gonna move naturally with your blade.” Aqua picked up the coconut, taking a sip of the cool water. “Here, try this.” She summoned her own blade, and stood in a more relaxed stance, keyblade held slightly away from her body and her free hand held out. 

 

Kairi mirrored the stance. If felt slightly better, but still not quite right. Thinking, she widened her legs a little and crouched a bit more. There. That felt right.

 

After testing it with a few swings, Aqua showed her some basic movies, ones Kairi had seen Sora do as well when they fled Hollow Bastion. Except Sora’s swings had been wild and enthusiastic, but occasionally clunky in execution. In comparison, Aqua’s were clearly more practiced, her blade cutting through the air with grace and ease. 

 

By mid-afternoon, Kairi could comfortably swing her keyblade with some degree of accuracy, and could also cast a small but effective fire spell. She even managed to light a fire in order to cook several fish she had grabbed out of the water for Aqua, who was still hungry. 

 

“Mickey said it had been ten years. It didn’t really feel that long, but I suppose it could have been worse,” Aqua murmured quietly while eating. 

 

“You were trapped? In the realm of darkness?” Kairi frowned. Wasn’t that where Aqua had said Riku and the King might be? But if Aqua could get out then-- “How’d you escape?”

 

To her disappointment, Aqua shrugged. “By accident, I think. One moment I was lying on the beach of Destiny Islands, but it was in the realm of darkness, and then I was falling. Only to wash up here, I guess.” 

 

“Huh...” Well. She knew Riku would be okay. She hoped. He was the strongest physically out of the three, and the most determined. 

 

He had to be okay. Him and Sora both. 

 

“So... do you have any idea where you would like to start looking?” Aqua asked. “I know where one of my friends is, but I’m really hoping I can find the other before we go wake him up. Sora and Riku might be easier to find.” 

 

Kairi thought about it. If Riku was in the realm of darkness, she supposed it would be easier to find Sora first, though she had no clue where to start. 

 

But--

 

“Hollow Bastion,” Kairi said. “Sora has some friends there. Leon and a few others. Maybe they’ll know how to find him.” 

 

Aqua frowned. “I’ve never heard of that place, but I’m sure we can find it.” 

 

It wasn’t until the sun started to set in the sky that Aqua felt strong enough to begin their adventure. She summoned her angular sliver blade again. “This is technically my Master’s keyblade. My own is resisting my call for some reason.” Aqua looked troubled by the thought, but then she threw the keyblade into the air. 

 

It seemed to disappear for a moment before coming back, the form having shifted on its return. The vehicle in front of her reminded Kairi a bit of a bicycle, except this one didn’t have wheels. The seat was long though, with plenty of room for two. 

 

“That’ll work.” Aqua swung a leg over the seat and then tapped the space behind her. “I guess we’ll have to take our chances without armor in the lanes between.”

 

Kairi nodded, climbing on behind Aqua. “Sora and his friends used something called a gummiship. I think we can ask Leon about it when we get there.”

 

“Sounds like a plan.” Aqua then nodded at Kairi. “Since you have a better idea of where we might be headed, would you like to open a path?”

 

“Huh?” Kairi blinked. “How?”

 

“May your heart be your guiding key.”

 

The words rang through Kairi’s head, as if they may once have been part of another story. She thought on them, then held her blade out. Hollow Bastion.  Another place she felt strangely drawn to. 

 

A light shot from her keyblade, creating a portal in front of them. 

 

Kairi gasped in astonishment that it had actually worked, then shared a grin with Aqua. 

 

As they sped through the gate, Kairi couldn't help but let out an excited laugh. No more waiting for her friends to come home. She would find them. And then they would go home together. 

 

---

 

A hooded figure walked along the beach of the mainland, staying out of sight of the groups of frantic people looking for the same girl he was supposed to keep an eye on.  

 

Saïx was going to kill him. Literally. His life as a nobody gone in a snap because Saïx was definitely going to kill him. 

 

He let out a groan and lowered his hood, revealing his blonde hair to the hot sun. No point in trying to remain incognito if he couldn’t even find his target.

 

“Kairi!” A female voice called out, “I wonder where she went.” 

 

A girl ran past Demyx’s location. And then he got an idea...

 

Girls really weren’t all that different from each other right? Would Saïx really know the difference if he just kept tabs on a different girl? 

 

Confident in the belief that his plan would totally work, Demyx began to follow the girl with the bobbed hair. 

 

Saïx would never know.