The Bell Tolls
Kiera opened her eyes. Her eyelids felt heavy, but soon, the brightness of the mid-day sun awakened her. She sat up. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see a bandage wrapped around her right shoulder. She touched it.
“What happened?” She wondered.
Then, she jumped a little. She saw Ventus sitting next to her bed. However, he seemed to be asleep. Kiera couldn’t help but chuckle, confused, but amused. She put a hand on his shoulder and gently shook him.
“Ven, wake up sleepyhead!”
Ventus stirred and opened his eyes. Kiera swung her legs over to the edge of her bed and put her hands on her hips.
“What are you doing, snoozing in here?” She teased.
Suddenly, Ventus’ eyes widened with glee and embraced her.
“Kiera! You’re okay!” He exclaimed.
Kiera rubbed the back of her head, sheepishly.
“Yeah, of course I’m fine! What happened?” She asked.
“It was really strange. Master Eraqus seems to think you were infected by something during the exam” Ventus replied.
“Infection? What kind of infection?”
“Some kind of darkness infection.”
Kiera then remembered the Mark of Mastery Exam, and fighting Terra.
“Wait! What happened to Terra? Is he alright? Did I hurt him!?” She cried.
“No, no! He’s perfectly fine-!”
Ventus paused, suddenly frowning, concerned. Kiera frowned as well. Something wasn’t right.
“Ven, what happened?”
Just then, Aqua opened the door and walked in.
“Oh! Good! You’re awake, Kiera!” She declared.
Her mind seemed occupied.
“What’s up, Aqua?” Ventus asked.
“Master Eraqus wants us all back in the throne hall. He’s going to tell us who passed the exam” Aqua responded, “Come on!”
Kiera and Ventus exchanged looks. They still seemed eager to learn the results. At the same time, they were worried that not everything would be a clean-cut pass.
All of the keyblade wielders once again stood in the hall. Xehanort and Eraqus stood in front of the thrones, Terra, Aqua, and Kiera standing straight and still in front of their masters, and Ventus on the sidelines. Eraqus spoke:
“We have deliberated and reached a decision. Terra, Aqua, Kiera, you all performed commendably. However, only Aqua has shown the Mark of Mastery.”
Kiera’s heart sank all the way down to her stomach and turned over in sickening ways. Eraqus looked at Terra.
“Terra, you failed to keep the darkness within you sufficiently in check” he said, firmly.
Kiera glanced at Terra. Once again, the blood drained from her friend’s face and his mouth hung open in horror. Then, he bent his head down in shame. Eraqus glanced at Kiera. He was softer in his words:
“Kiera, you showed great valience in both parts of your test. However, because of the incident of your injury, it proved to tip the scale too far, and became both an unfair advantage and danger for you and Terra.”
Kiera lowered her head. She felt nauseous with distress.
“It’s all my fault. Not only was I careless in hurting myself, but I ruined Terra’s chances of becoming Master as well.”
She tightened her fists and held back the tears of disgrace. Ventus looked on, then turned away, distraught, and disappointed.
“There is always a next time” Eraqus attempted to encourage, “Each of you will get another chance in due time. That is all. Aqua, now that you are Keyblade Master, you are entitled to certain knowledge. Please wait here for further instruction. The rest of you are dismissed.”
Everyone nodded, and departed the room.
When Ventus, Kiera, and Terra exited, Kiera closing the door behind them. Terra stood in place for a hot moment, still taking in everything that just happened. Ventus walked up to him.
“Terra…I’m sorry” he said simply.
Kiera stood by Ventus and looked up at Terra.
“The darkness…Where did it come from?”
Kiera and Terra went into their quarters and shut the door behind them. Ventus slumped into his bed. He held up a wooden keyblade, hand carved, with Terra’s name etched onto it. Then, he glanced over at his nightstand, where a small red box with golden ribbon sat. He sighed, replaying the Exam in his mind, trying to find something he could’ve done to change the outcome. He thought of Kiera, how he failed to step in to prevent her from getting hurt.
“No…I chose to…”
Ventus jumped and sat up suddenly. The masked boy had appeared, once again casually leaning against the wall.
“Told ya” the boy remarked, “Though, that may not have made any difference now.”
“You again!?” Ventus hissed, hostily.
The boy scoffed.
“I should’ve known you’d have a crush. You, a naive little kid who knows nothing about the real world.”
“I know plenty!” Ventus snapped, “And it’s not a crush! She’s my best friend, that’s all.’
“Is that right? Some friend you are.”
“But…You might have a chance at redeeming yourself…”
Suddenly, the large, golden bell on the top of the castle chimed. It was a startling sound. Ventus had never known that bell even worked, he never heard it ring before!
“Better hurry Ventus, or you’ll never see Terra again.”
“What? Get real! I can see Terra any time I want!”
“Like right now? He’s leaving you behind, just like Kiera. And by the time you catch up, he’ll be a different person.”
“No, neither of them passed the Exam. They aren’t going anywhere!”
“Are you sure about that?”
“Look–Whoever you are– you don’t know the first thing about Terra and Kiera! We’ll always be a team! You trying to pick a fight, or what?”
“Oh grow up. Is that what you call friendship? You’ll never know the truth unless you go out and look for yourself. Come on, what could you possibly know when you’re stuck here, looking at nothing but what’s in your tiny little world?”
The masked boy raised his hand. A portal suddenly appeared, swirling with black and purple. Without another word, he stepped through, then disappeared. Ventus thought back to Terra and Kiera, back when they were training, one of his earliest memories of living in the Land of Departure.
He remembered getting battered hard. He started to cry, but he felt a hand on his. There was Kiera, giving him a smile of encouragement.
“Don’t be sad. It’s just a training session. Terra didn’t mean anything by it” she said, “He just likes to rough-house, isn’t that right, Terra?”
Terra grinned, rubbing Ventus’ head playfully. Ventus grunted a bit confused, but also feeling affectionate.
“Of course! It’s tough love!” Terra declared, “Come on hot stuff, let’s try again.”
Ventus looked at Kiera. Kiera nodded.
“Go on. I’ll be cheering for you!”
Ventus grinned. Then, he got up, and tried again.
Suddenly, Ventus whirled around.
“Terra! Kiera!” he shouted, then sprinted out of the room.
Kiera had decided to take a walk around the castle, as it was quiet, so she could get her brain going and could think. When she rounded to the door to the throne hall, she could hear voices coming from inside, as well as a bright light. Kiera stared at the door for a long moment.
“I shouldn’t look. It’s probably Aqua and Eraqus, and only for Keyblade Masters” she thought.
Then, the curiosity began eating away at her. Finally, in silent protest to herself, she leaned forward to watch in the small view of the keyhole.
“And inasmuch as you are now Keyblade Master, you must always be conscious of-” began Ereques.
Suddenly, the bell on the top of the castle rang. Kiera shook. She had never heard it ring before.
“What is that?” asked Ereques.
A light appeared behind the center throne. Eraqus headed towards it. Terra rushed in out of nowhere.
“What happened!?” he said breathlessly.
“I don’t know…why isn’t Ven here?” said Aqua.
“How did he get in there? And…that’s a good point…where is Ventus?” Kiera thought.
“Very well then, I will send my pupils to investigate…Yes I understand…Farewell” said Ereques to the light.
Then, it faded out.
“Of course! That’s his method of communication” she thought, “He must be speaking to someone important…”
The two straightened as Ereques walked towards them.
“That was my dear old friend Yen Sid. As you know, he is a master no more. But he still keeps a close eye on the tides of light and darkness. His counsel serves as signposts on the road we wielders of the keyblade must walk. All the more reason for concern. For he tells me the Princesses of Heart are in danger. Not only from the forces of darkness as you may assume, but also from a new threat, one that feeds on negativity. Fledgling emotions that have taken monster form; Yen Sid calls them ‘Unversed’-.”
“Unversed?” Kiera thought, “Monsters?”
Suddenly, Eraques raised his head.
“Kiera, I need you here as well.”
Kiera jumped. Her cheeks went bright red. Terra and Aqua glanced over their shoulders. Sheepishly, Kiera widened the door. She clumsy sprinted in, too embarrassed to look at her peers.
“-As wielders of the keyblade, you are tasked with striking down any who would upset the balance of light and darkness. The Unversed are no exception. I tried to pass this news on to Master Xehanort, but my repeated attempts to reach him have failed.”
“Hmph! Good riddance” Kiera selfishly thought.
“I doubt there is any connection, and yet…This all troubles me” continued Ereques.
“Master Xehanort is gone?” asked Terra.
“So here we are. I need you two to get this situation under control. Eliminate the Unversed and find Master Xehanort. I have unlocked the Lanes Between. You may use these forbidden pathways to travel between this world and countless others. The darkness looms closer than usual within these spaces. But your armor will protect you. Lastly, remember that order must be kept. You cannot tell anyone there are other worlds. No go! And fulfill your duty.”
“Yes master!” replied the three in unison.
As they started to leave, Eraques stopped Terra and Kiera.
“Kiera, Terra, I want you two to travel together” he stated.
“Wait, what?” Terra asked in surprise.
“Kiera is very capable of taking care of herself, but she’s still young; and after the spectacle of the Exam, I need someone to watch over her.”
Terra and Kiera exchanged looks. Kiera was glad to be traveling with someone, but was it really a wise thing to do? After causing him to fail the exam? Then, Terra nodded.
“Yes master” he replied.
“Master,” Kiera added, “What about Ventus? He and I could go together. He’s been working just as hard as any of us! I promise I can look after him and keep him safe, and he can look after me!”
“Ventus is not ready for the outside worlds,” he stated, “In time, perhaps he will be prepared enough for what’s out there. But for now, he will be safer here.”
Kiera frowned. Terra glanced at her sympathetically. He knew Ventus and Kiera were always together. It was going to be hard for her to leave him…
“You are dismissed, Terra.”
Terra nodded again, bowed in respect, then departed.
Kiera turned to Eraques. Eraques waited until Terra left before speaking.
“-I meant what I said by wanting someone to look after you, but I have one other reason,” he continued, “-I need someone watching over Terra as well.”
“You mean, you want me to spy on him?” Kiera exclaimed, uncomfortably.
“It’s just a precaution,” Eraques replied, coolly, “If he attempts to reach out to darkness again, I want you to bring him home immediately.”
Kiera thought for a moment, then begrudgingly agreed. However, she added:
“I don’t think it’s necessary, but I’ll do it. Terra is mature and stronger than any of us in many ways. He’s not as weak as you think.”
After a bow, Kiera turned away, and exited the room.
Suddenly, Ventus came bounding in. He was breathless and anxious.
“Woah, Ven!” Kiera exclaimed, “Where’s the fire?”
“There you are, Kiera! Where’s Terra?” Ventus demanded.
“Uh, er, outside.”
Then, Ventus burst the door open and ran out.
“Ven, wait!” Kiera shouted and gave chase behind him.
Aqua had already left by the time Kiera and Ventus made it to the courtyard.
“Terra!” Ventus shouted.
Terra turned calmly around.
“It’s okay,” he said cooly, rubbing Ventus’ head, “I’ll be back soon.”
Ventus and Kiera watched him walk to the center. Ventus wasn’t satisfied. Terra looked over his shoulder to Kiera.
“Kiera, you ready?” He asked.
“What? You too?” Ventus asked in surprise.
Kiera turned around and rubbed the top of his head, similar to Terra.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be back before you know it. I promise” she responded, smiling.
She wanted to say more. She wished Ven could’ve come with her, and she wanted to tell him that. However, Terra was eager to leave. Terra smacked his side-shield piece, which ran all the way down his left arm. There was a flash of light. Terra was suddenly clad in a suit of armor, composed of gold, bronze, and chocolate brown. In front of him was some kind of glider with colors matching his suit. He lept onto it as a light portal appeared in the sky. With one last glance at his friends, Terra lifted himself into the air, and disappeared into the portal. The portal remained open.
Looking at the shoulder-shield on her right shoulder, Kiera smacked it. She was surprised at what appeared. Her suit was carmine red, pink, and silver. Her vehicle was drastically different from Terra, appearing more like an adequate spaceship rather than a glider. Without hesitation, she hopped in. She pulled it upwards, and she flew inside the portal. With one last glance at Ventus, the portal closed behind her. Their true journey was about to begin.