“Ki-eraaa! It’s time for breakfast!”
Kiera blew a raspberry and peeled her eyes open. Ventus was standing in the doorway, smiling at her dorkily. Kiera groaned and flipped over.
“Okay, okay, I’ll be there in a second…”
Ventus grinned and took back off down the hallway. Kiera groaned elongating before dragging herself out of bed.
“That dream again…” she thought.
“She’ll leave you, you know-“
Ventus halted in his tracks and slowly backed up. In one of the more tiny vacant rooms in the castle, a boy with a black and red bodysuit and mask leaned casually up against the wall.
“Once she’s become keyblade Master, she’s never gonna want to come back” the boy continued.
“What? Who are you?” Ventus asked.
“A friend…” the boy replied.
“Well, however you are, Kiera would never abandon me!” Ventus rebuttled.
“But do you really know that?” The boy asked, “Once someone has tasted the freedom of venturing to other worlds, they will never want to return to ole boring home.”
“No, she promised me she would come back! She’s my best friend, she would never lie to me!”
“She may not have intended to lie to you. But she will have a hard time keeping that promise.”
“Get real, I think you’re the one who’s lying!”
The boy chuckled.
“Once your friends have taken that exam, everything will change. You will see their true colors: Aqua, Kiera, Terra…They won’t really be who you think they are.
You might be able to save her though…if she doesn’t pass that exam. After all, she’s too young to take it anyway.”
“What? Wait, what are you talking about?”
The boy chuckled.
“I’m just here to give you a little warning. If she passes that exam, she will change; and if she changes, she will leave you in the dust…”
Ventus snapped back to reality and saw Kiera adjusting her shirt and belt straps as she stumbled down the hall.
“You okay? You look worried” she stated.
Ventus shook his head then nodded.
“Yeah, just a bit nervous for you guys today, that’s all.”
“What’s there to be nervous about, silly? You’re not taking the exam. You have nothing to worry about!”
“Well, you know, you’re my friends. It’s kind of my job.”
Kiera chuckled and grabbed his hand.
“Come on, I’m starving!”
Finally, the time had come at last: The Mark of Mastery Exam. Kiera, Aqua, and Terra stood in the main hall, straight and strong, in front of a grand, almost throne-like chair, where their master, Eraques, rose from it.
“Today you will be examined for the Mark of Mastery,” Eraqus announced, “Not one, not two, but three of the Keyblade’s chosen stand here as candidates. This is neither a competition nor a battle for supremacy— not a test of wills, but a test of heart. All of you may prevail, or neither.”
Eraques gestured to a stranger, who sat in a chair to his right.
“But I am sure our guest, Master Xehanort… did not travel all this way to see our youngest prospects in years fall short of the Mark. I trust you are ready.”
Kiera glanced at Master Xehanort longer than perhaps she should’ve. Xehanort was old, apparently equally as old as Eraqus, but unlike Eraqus, didn’t age well. He was completely bald, shaven clean, with a gray chin-stache and beady yellow eyes. Xehanort met her eyes and Kiera quickly turned away. She didn’t like him. She had bad vibes about him, though she had no evidence to support why. But she certainly didn’t like the looks he was giving Ventus, sneering as he watched him.
“Yes” Terra and Aqua said in unison.
Kiera didn’t answer immediately. When she stopped dwelling on their visitor, anxiety was setting in. Her knees buckled slightly, and she was feeling anxious.
“Kiera, are you ready?” Eraqus asked again, this time more softly.
Kiera didn’t reply. She could hear her master’s previous statement echo in her mind.
“…see our youngest prospects in years fall short of the Mark.”
Terra and Aqua were barely old enough to be eligible for this exam. Kiera was twice as young as they were. Then, Aqua leaned over.
“You’ll do fine, Kiera” She whispered to her.
“Its just like our training” Terra added, “No different.”
Kiera looked over her shoulder, where Ventus was standing in the back corner, watching. He grinned. Kiera smiled back. She looked back at her Master, and nodded.
“Yes, with all that I am.”
Eraqus nodded and smiled.
“Then let the examination begin.”
Golden orbs appeared, standing as training dummies of sorts. They were to test the keyblade wielders physical skill. Kiera, Aqua, and Terra summoned their keyblades, glimmering in the light through the windows. They got into their fighting stances as the orbs began to rotate. Then there was a low rumble of thunder. Suddenly, the orbs vibrated and their colors violently turned into dark purple. The contestants gasped in surprise.
“Darkness? Here?” Kiera thought, alarmed.
Even Eraqus was shocked at this turn of events, but he didn’t call off the test. Aqua, Terra, and Kiera were on their own.
One of the orbs seemed to converge towards Ventus. Ventus summoned his keyblade and effectively took it down. However, another one snuck up behind him.
“That’s not supposed to happen! They’re supposed to be attracted to us!”
“Ven! Look out!”
Kiera front flipped behind him and whirled around, striking the orb. Ventus jumped and ran around the orb to strike it. Finally, it fizzled.
“Ven, it’s not safe here. Something’s gone wrong and they seem to be attracted to you. You need to leave!” Kiera warned.
“No way! You’ve been waiting for this your whole life! I’m not gonna miss it!” Ventus rebuttled.
“Kiera’s right. Being a Keyblade Master’s gonna mean nothing if you end up hurt!” Terra insisted, taking out another orb.
“I’m not leaving! I can handle myself!” Ven persisted.
The orbs were vibrating again, this time lashing out fierce lighting strikes. Kiera front rolled to avoid the attacks, then cast Thundara to harm the orbs surrounding her. Aqua was graceful, defeating her enemies with little-to-no strife, while Terra was more aggressive, but still effective and using only what was required. Kiera stood close to Ventus, making sure he remained unharmed during the trial. Master Eraqus and Master Xehanort watched with no comment. Although Eraqus’ expression was firm, and hard to interpret, Xehanort remained intrigued.
After a while, the orbs seemed to be separating out Terra and Aqua, and half of them converged onto Kiera. Kiera was handling herself well, until some of them snuck up behind her. Ventus noticed and was going to defend her, however paused. The masked boy’s words echoed in his mind:
“You might be able to save her…if she doesn’t pass that exam. After all, she’s too young to take it anyway.”
Ventus froze, unable to determine what he wanted to do. One of the orbs vibrated again, charging up for a super attack. Before Ventus could make a decision, he instinctively cried:
But it was too late. Kiera whirled around to dodge it, but the orb had already lashed out. She was struck hard in the shoulder and she tumbled back. Eraqus suddenly leaned forward in his seat, as if he was almost going to call off the match. Kiera hastily got up, hissing through her teeth at the seering, burning sensation on her shoulder. Hastily, she covered the wound with her large, white shirt collar and announced with a grunt:
Ventus frowned, a wave of guilt washing over him.
At last, all the orbs were gone. The first part of the test was complete. Aqua, Terra, Kiera, and even Ventus panted for a moment, then straightened. Master Eraqus stood up.
“That was unexpected… but one must keep a still heart even in the most trying of circumstances. It was an excellent test, one I chose to let unfold. Which brings us to your next trial. Aqua, Terra, please step forward.”
Kiera quietly retracted to the sidelines with Ventus, while Aqua and Terra remained. Ventus and Kiera quietly giggled and gave each other a high-five. Thus, commenced the second test.
“Now, Terra and Aqua, the two of you will face each other in combat. Remember, there are no winners– only truths, for when equal powers clash, their nature is revealed. Begin.”
Terra and Aqua summoned their keyblades.