Queen Minnie had asked him to deliver something to Merlin in Radiant Garden as he was leaving Disney Town, and of course Ven couldn't say no. She - and everyone else - in the town had treated him well; he considered all of them friends already, and he knew he'd be back to see them after this whole problem was wrapped up. Doing a favor for the Queen wasn't a problem at all, and even better it was to Radiant Garden, perhaps his favorite world he'd been to so far.~~~~~
He had to be careful about landing, though - there were so many people in the town that observing the world barriers took more care there than any other world. The only place that was almost guaranteed to be safe was, ironically, the forecourt of the castle itself. Not in front of the doors, but the area was big enough and had so many out of the way nooks and crannies that it wasn't difficult to land his glider and dismiss his armor in one of them and then just wander out into the main flow of traffic. His armor disappearing back into the space it when when he didn't need it, Ven was about to step out from behind his cover when he heard a door slam very nearby. Ducking back behind the corner, he peeked around it to see where the noise came from.
Ven almost burst out laughing at the sight. There was one of the guards he remembered - he hadn't gotten his name, but it was the bigger one, with brown hair - walking steadily away from the door to the castle proper. Two teenaged boys dangled from his grasp, two teenaged boys that were entirely too familiar to Ven, and that he wasn't at all surprised to see in this situation. Lea was flailing and yelling, his words too indistinct for him to make out entirely, while Isa just hung there in resignation, arms folded over his chest. The big man reached the halfway point in the forecourt before swinging both arms and pitching the boys forward about six feet, making them bounce on the marble and land in completely undignified positions, Lea holding his rear and turning around to gripe behind them at the grown man while Isa just got to his feet a little stiffly. Whatever they'd been trying, it clearly hadn't left Isa in a good mood, as he bent down to grab Lea's arm and drag him mercilessly to his feet and away from the castle, Lea ignoring his best friend and continuing to curse behind them.
Ven just chuckled until they were on the stairs, out of sight, then jogged out of his hiding place after them.
They weren't all that far away; Isa hadn't managed to drag Lea any farther than the landing halfway down the stairs before the redhead revolted, now facing his friend with an earnest expression on his face and gesticulating wildly. "-can totally do this, Isa! We've just gotta-"
"Got to what?" In contract, Isa was more of a lineface than ever, his lips pressed thin as he watched the flailing redhead. "Distract them again? They're not going to fall for it. Face it, Lea, we're never getting in that castle unless we learn how to fly."
"I can do that."
Both boys turned to face the new voice, and Lea's face broke into a grin at the sight of the blond before him, rushing forward to snag him around the neck with his arm. "Ven! Man, it's good to see you, you just disappeared!" The Keyblade user managed to stop Lea from giving him a noogie, but it was a close thing.
Isa, though, was more focused on what Ven had said. "You can do what? Fly? That's impossible, no one can fly."
Popping Lea's arm off his neck, Ven raised a hand to try and fix his hair (and failing) as he responded. "Okay, I can't, but I can fly my glider. You guys should be able to ride it too, or at least hang on to it."
The wicked look in Lea's eyes was back full-tilt as he faced Isa, grinning almost manically. "See? We've got our way in. This'll be a cinch with Ven as a lookout. Wait a minute-" and his expression rapidly shifted to near-accusing as he turned to Ven again "-why didn't you tell us this last time we saw you?"
Ven shrugged. "It just never came up. But what are you guys trying to do? There's a lot of stuff I won't help you with, you know."
"Che, it's nothing bad, no matter what those sticks-in-the-mud up there say," Lea countered, waving off any objections. "We just want to get in there and look around! They say there's a great big room full of machines in there that are on all the time and no one we know's ever seen it. We want to be the first!"
"So you... don't want to steal stuff, right?"
"Hey, what's the-"
"No," Isa firmly interrupted with a deadpan look at Lea. "We just want to check it out."
Ven looked back at the castle behind them, studying it for a minute, checking for any windows. There weren't many - but a flash of light from nearly the top of the building caught his attention, and he smiled. "Okay - I'm in."
"Ow! Isa, quit kicking me!"
"If you would just stop wiggling-"
"Guys, be quiet, you're not helping here!" Ven was trying his best to maneuver the glider to the window and wasn't doing a horrible job at it, but the bickering Lea and Isa were getting into was more distracting than he cared to admit. The glider simply wasn't big enough to support three of them, so - after Ven reassured them that he could catch them if something went wrong - Lea and Isa had agreed to hang on to the front for the short time it took Ven to lift them straight up the wall to the window. Both of them had their entire torsos draped over the front of the glider and their arms tangled in the metalwork so they weren't in danger of falling unless they did something really stupid, but their legs dangling below were apparently more of a problem than they'd thought it would be.
"Almost there- five more feet-!"
And then they were there. Ven guided the glider up to the top edge of the open window to give them room, and Lea reacted first, swinging his legs through the opening and letting go of the transport in one fluid motion, landing on the floor with a soft bump. Isa wasn't quite as graceful, but he didn't hurt himself and didn't have a moment of nearly falling off. Once they were safely inside, Ven backed the glider up a few feet, then sent it running at the window in a suicide charge, his mental link with it dissolving just before it hit the stonework and sending him tumbling through it into a roll that brought him to his feet.
The room they'd landed in was bare except for a carpet on the stone floor; marks on the floor and walls showed where furniture and decorations had once been hung, but someone had cleared them out for some reason. Lea was already moving for the only door in the room to wrench it open as Isa straightened his jacket and followed. Ven shook his head briefly and went after them.
Only to bump into Isa.
Who bumped into Lea.
Who bumped into the same large, brown-haired man that had been guarding the door and no longer was. Instead he was standing in the hallway just outside the door, arms folded across his chest, plainly waiting for them to emerge.
The world was in ruins, the sky twisted and dark and all around them. Their home was physically broken, parts of the building gone and the windows broken, debris everywhere she looked. There was no way she could fix this - but Ven had led her here, so here she would leave him, until she could come back for him.
The Masters' thrones on the low dias in the Great Hall would be best. Her own room was gone entirely, and the path to Ven's was broken and shattered, unsafe to tread with an unfamiliar Keyblade in her hands and her little brother slung across her back. Leaning Master Keeper against the chair on the right, Aqua turned around and gently let Ven fall from her back into the chair, then turned around to settle him more comfortably. She folded his hands into his lap, straightened his posture - it wouldn't do for him to have a stiff back when he woke up-
It all hit her suddenly, so suddenly that she couldn't stop a half-strangled sob from escaping. ven wasn't supposed to be this lifeless doll; he was supposed to be filled with happiness and earnest intentions and grand yet humble dreams. Their master should be here, not dead with the attempted blood of one of his students on his hands, his blood on another of his students, his best friend and brother the culprit behind it all. He should be here, her partner, her best friend-
What had happened to him?
Ven was well settled now, but Aqua hesitated after taking Master Keeper in her grasp once again. When she sealed the Keyhole, she didn't know what would happen to their world, whether it would survive intact, whether it would be fixed, whether it would change. This would be her last chance to find answers - if there were any left to find.
She had to see for herself. "Wait for me, Ven. I'll be back in a moment." Brushing her hand over his spiky hair once more time, Aqua left the Hall, moving slowly through the corridors, one eye always open for unsteady architecture.
Unlike her room and Ven's, Terra's was located in a section of the castle that was still standing and relatively undamaged. Even the Master's room hadn't been so lucky; it seemed to still be there, but a slab of alabaster had fallen in front of the corridor it was located on, and there was no way she could cut through it without using Keyblade moves that would have damaged the surrounding architechture even more. To reach Terra's room, she had to duck under a couple of columns and pick her way over a pile of debris from the ceiling crumbling, but it was still there when she reached it - and more importantly, steady enough to not fall to pieces when she set foot in it. The place was a mess, though. The window had blown in, leaving glass shards everywhere, and Aqua was very glad for her thick boots as she gingerly crossed the wooden floor. The room hadn't been safe from the shaking that had clearly ravaged the place and almost all of Terra's smaller possessions were on the floor, books out of the bookshelf, his lamp overturned, chair toppled, personal decorations tumbled off the walls. Papers were everywhere, and she began carefully and methodically gathering them up, spying the scribbled writing on them that was clearly Terra's signature. It had taken so long for her to learn how to read it...
She straightened the papers into a pile on the desk, then started to gather the books as well. Terra had never been as great a reader as her or the master, but all four of them had kept their own titles in a bookshelf (or three) in their room, along with the general castle library. She inspected each one carefully, wondering if one of them was more Darkness-themed than she was expecting - but no, every book that came to her hand was familiar, ones that she'd seen him read or given to him herself as gifts. Books of tales, mostly, and histories, legends of chivalry and valor. Stories a Keyblade Master should aspire to, helping the weak and protecting the defenseless. None of them had false jackets, and when she flipped through a couple of the more well-worn ones, there were no annotations on any page, no notes, and the wear was clearly because of how loved the book was rather than anything else. Her hands were trembling a little as she fought back tears, replacing the last book on the shelf and turning to the papers once more.
Aqua settled on Terra's bed, ignoring the plaster dust that had fallen there during the destruction as she turned page after page, looking for anything that could help. Terra learned mostly by doing, but he also seemed to remember basic facts better if he repeated them, which meant that much of what she was holding was his own notations of books the master had assigned them to study, place names and historical dates. More than one page had a crude diagram of a timeline or an interpersonal relationship chart; she paused to look at one of those, noting it seemed to be a web of people situated on a world - not one that was familiar to her, the names entirely foreign. She shuffled it to the back of the stack, eyes continuing to roam the words below her - and then she felt her heart stop, her breath hitch, her fingers tighten on the sheets as she read the words on the next page. She could barely believe what she was seeing.
"It's too soon. I've known her for years but it's still too soon. We grew up together, we trained together, we fell out of trees together - how do I tell her I want to change all that? We're so comfortable like we are, it's frightening to think about what could happen if I say something and she doesn't accept it. And what will Ven and Master Eraqus think? Would they be okay with this or would it be horrible to them? But Aqua's the important one here, she's just so perfect. She's beautiful and she doesn't even see it, she's so strong, and confident, and she's smart and caring. She's always there for you even when you don't want her to be. I can't imagine life without her around, even after we're Masters. It wouldn't be the same. Being a Master is my dream, but I want that dream with her in it, too. I know a world's only supposed to have one Master, but maybe this once it can be different. I'll talk to Master Eraqus and Master Yen Sid after the exam. I'll talk to Ven, too. And then maybe... maybe I can talk to her."
The rest of the pages slid from her numb fingers to flutter quietly to the floor, and Aqua was unable to care about catching them. Terra... cared for her? Like that? As more than a friend, and not as a sister? They'd been around each other so long, had had so many adventures together - she could clearly remember the time he wrote of, with them falling out of trees. Or really, he'd fallen out of the tree, and she had started screaming for the master when he didn't get up again. It was a good thing his head was so hard...
There was so much about him that was dear to her, so many things that she didn't want to comprehend how she would live without. His laugh, especially as he teased Ven. A good, intense training session where neither of them held back, both of them ending up sweaty and panting but extremely fulfilled. Studying together in the library, helping him make notes on facts while he made sure she took a break once every couple of hours. Making ridiculously sugary midnight snacks in the kitchen when they were younger, before the master found out and banned them from it on the principle that they ended up staying up until nearly dawn and then slept through their classes the next day.
That look in his eyes when their gazes met, hundreds of times a day, that never seemed to go away.
"Soon, Terra," she whispered, blinking her eyes rapidly to clear them of the filling tears that she wouldn't let fall. Not yet. "I'll be there for you soon - just let me make sure Ven's safe. And then... we can talk about this."
Reaching down to retrieve that one piece of paper, she folded it carefully into a little square, tucking it in her pouch as she moved to the door. Her hand found Master Keeper once more and Aqua stepped out of the room, ready to fulfill her promise to both her boys.