Osan didn't own the only dry goods store on Riva. He didn't even own the biggest. Far from it, in fact, but it had always been enough for himself, and his small family. He'd never dreamed of anything bigger, or grander; he was the sort of man who liked a close, cozy, comfortable life. A simple life.

Maybe that was why Fate chose his store, that cold, grey winter morning.

It was early; not many people were out at that hour, but Osan had always liked to get things opened early; it gave him plenty of time to think, as he went about his morning ritual. Which was why he was startled to hear the sound of a lively young voice outside.

"This place is open! Let's ask here." The voice had a strange accent.

The voice that replied - deeper, older, but it seemed good-natured enough - had an even stranger accent. "Sure, Sora."

More foreigners had been coming to Riva since Osan was a child. Even Nyissans, and - most bizarrely of all - Angaraks. Osan had seen them around from time-to-time, even if few of them had ever poked their heads into his little store. Unfortunately, none of the people he'd seen had prepared him for this.

The first person through his door was young, no more than fourteen or fifteen. The smile on his face was open, and honest, and if it hadn't been for the rest of the boy's appearance, he might have been set at ease.

Hair that looked like it had been attacked by some hideous monster. Arms and legs, hard with muscle, and half-bare. His clothes were black, for the most part, with bizarre accents and attachments, and things that Osan couldn't even begin to put a name to.

His companions were worse. A giant, talking... duck? And... dog? His mind failed at that point. Nothing he'd seen in his entire life - not even that time some years ago when King Belgarion had protected Riva from what would have been a literally devastating storm - had prepared him for that.

He fainted.

----

Thankfully, Sora was able to catch the man before he hit the ground. He knew how much it hurt to impact against stone, and unconscious, the man couldn't break his own fall.

Reflexively, he looked around for the cause of the faint - Heartless, Nobodies, something.

"Is he all right?" Goofy asked, as he did the same. His shield was apparent on his arm, and Donald already had his staff out, and a spell ready - Thundara, Sora guessed, from the very faint smell of ozone in the air.

"I don't see anything," Donald said, before Sora got a chance to reply.

"I think he's okay," Sora said, right on the heels of Donald's words. The Keyblade came into his hand, almost of its own will. Sora laid the man carefully on the ground, and then straightened into his favourite low fighting stance, both hands on the Keyblade for extra power in the stroke.

Moments passed, and nothing showed up.

"D'ya think... he maybe just fainted?" Goofy suggested into the silence. "People do that sometime y'know. It's not always the Heartless or anything."

Sora blinked at Goofy. "You think so?" he asked.

"He's right," Donald spoke up. "That's probably what this is." He relaxed his stance, but he looked a bit grumpy.

Sora relaxed himself, letting the Keyblade vanish in a flash of light.

"I guess we should try to wake him up." He started to bend down again, but he didn't get a chance to even start, because at that exact moment, he heard a shout from beyond the door, and less than a moment later, the stout wooden door exploded inwards.

It was only through sheer reflex that Sora was able to call up the barrier around himself.

"Reflect!" The air around him shimmered for a moment, as the shrapnel was deflected. It was fortunate that Donald and Goofy were behind him - and that he was right on top of the unconscious man.

For a moment, it was as if time had slowed down. The tall man on the other side of the door was glowing - and so was his huge sword. He wasn't quite lunging into the shop, but it was close. Sora started to dodge, and then he didn't have time to worry about tall, angry-looking men.

There was a familiar inky shadow rising up from the corner nearest the door.

"Look out!" he shouted. He dove under the tall man's reach, and came up in a roll, slicing through the Heartless with one swing. But it was only starting, he knew. More were coming.

-------

Garion was having a wonderful dream. It was a very homey kind of dream. He was in the Vale, at Aunt Pol's cottage, and it seemed like his entire extended family was there, including a few he didn't quite recognise, but somehow knew all the same.

He was on his third helping of Aunt Pol's delicious roast goose - somehow, there was enough for everybody, and then some - and talking with Silk.

"Garion, you should wake up," the little man said. It jarred at Garion's consciousness a little, because it wasn't the sort of think Silk said in normal conversation.

"Pardon me?" Garion replied, unsure if he'd heard right.

"I said, wake up." The tone wasn't Silk's normal voice, either. Something wasn't quite--

Belgarion, WAKE UP!

Garion's eyes flew open, and he was sitting up in bed before he was fully awake. I didn't do it! He managed to keep the thought in his mouth only by force of will, realising at the last second that he did not want to wake Ce'Nedra.

Shut up, a familiar voice replied. Now get ready. Something's happening.

Garion didn't even have a chance to ask 'what.' The roaring sound that filled his ears was like a thousand thunderclaps - and it was probably heard all over the world. That guess was confirmed in the next moment.

"GARION! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!?"

"GARION! What in the name of the Gods is going on?!"

One voice was his grandfather's. The other was Aunt Pol's. They were followed very shortly by several others, all saying roughly the same thing.

"It wasn't me!" Even he realised that his voice sounded almost plaintive as he answered all those calls. There was a long moment of leaden silence, and then all at once, Garion realised the implications of the fact that that sound wasn't him.

Biting off a curse, he leapt out of bed, and into some leggings. He got his tunic on as he ran from the room, and hopped into his boots on his way to the throne room.

The Orb was growing brightly when he reached it, and there was a deep thrumming sound coming from it. Garion could feel its peculiar exultation, and a deep anger in it, as he grabbed Iron-Grip's sword. He didn't bother with the scabbard, carrying the blade bare as he fled out into the early winter morning.

He barely noticed the startled looks on his guards as he ran by, heading for the city, following, he realised, the pull of the Orb, and the faint sound he could still hear there.

"Garion, be careful!" Aunt Pol's admonition came as he skidded around a corner, bringing his destination into sight. A chill ran down his spine, suddenly; the street seemed much darker than it should, even at this hour.

He shook it off as he reached the door, which was, of course, closed. So he did the first thing that came to mind. He leveled his sword at it.

"Burst!" he commanded, directing his will at the door. It exploded inward, away from him. A split second later, he heard a rush of will, and a young voice shouting,

"Reflect!" The air flashed and shimmered in front of a wild-haired boy, crouched over an older man. There were two other figures in the shop, but he couldn't make out the details through the dust and shrapnel.

For a brief moment - as soon as he set eyes on the boy in the shop - the Orb seemed deliriously happy. Then, as the boy shouted again - "Look out!" - Garion saw a shadow in the corner of his eye. There was a flash of light in the boy's hand (accompanied by a surge of will), and it turned into something long, and metallic - a sword? - as the boy swung it through the shadow.

He didn't have time to say anything though, as the shadow disintegrated, because there was another one forming in another corner. Garion cleaved it in two, and it seemed like that was the cue for the battle to begin in earnest.

By unspoken agreement, they all worked to protect the unconscious man on the floor. The shadows (what were those things?!) swarmed out of the corners, countless hordes of them. Just when Garion thought they were gone, another wave would come pouring out of the dark places. The Orb sang with glee each time one of the shadows was vanquished.

At one point, Garion wound up back-to-back with the wild-haired boy, slicing through the shadows. The boy has extremely agile, dodging and moving through the shadows with the expertise of someone much older.

And the boy wasn't the only will-worker in his group. Garion sensed it the most from the one who looked like a duck (and that would have thrown him a bit, if he weren't in the middle of a life-and-death battle), but the other (a dog? Had they been caught partway through a shapechange?) seemed to have some ability as well.

And still the shadows came. Between the four of them, they managed to keep the shadows off the unconscious man - and mostly off of each other. But every once in a while, through the sheer pressure of numbers, one or two of them got past Garion's defenses, their sharp claws deep scratches. He knew he'd be spending some time in recovery when this was done.

And suddenly, it was done. No more shadows were coming. Seconds passed, and still no more came. The boy relaxed before Garion did, ad turned to face him.

"Thanks for the help!" he said with a huge grin. There was something completely guileless about that expression. The Orb seemed very smug. "I'm Sora. This is Donald and Goofy." The boy - Sora - pointed at first the duck, and then the dog, and then he frowned. Abruptly, he raised his sword (which looked like a giant key of all things) into the air. Garion felt him gathering his will.

"Heal!" It was completely unexpected, but quite suddenly, all of Garion's injuries were gone. As were Sora's, as were those of the others'. Garion had never seen anyone do that before. he hadn't even thought it could be done. Sora relaxed his arms with another guileless grin. "That's better. You're pretty good," he commented.

"You're not bad yourself," Garion replied. These people didn't seem to be enemies. The Orb's rage had died with the last of the shadows, and at the moment, it seemed almost... exultant? "I'm Garion," he added, almost as an afterthought. For some reason, it seemed right to give this boy his childhood name.

And that right there made him suspicious.

All right, he said, directing his thoughts at the voice. What's going on? Who is he?

He's the Keyblade Master. You have to be very careful here. If he's the wrong one, he could bring disaster to the world.

Wrong one?! Garion almost yelped mentally.

Calm down. The Orb likes him, so it should be all right.

Is he supposed to be here? Garion asked.

Yes and no. It's complicated, Belgarion. His coming is a bad sign, but he should be on your side. Take them back to your castle, and call the others. You'll need them.

And then the voice was silent, no matter how much Garion prodded at it.

-----

Sora had just finished introductions with his new friend, when a whole bevy of soldiers just about appeared in the doorway.

"Your Majesty!" one of them exclaimed. It was the first clue Sora got that indicated that his new friend was royalty. "There are things in the streets! They're attacking people." Sora saw Garion's eyes narrow, and the grip on his sword tighten.

"Were they like shadows?" Garion asked. "Small?"

"Yes, your Majesty," the soldier replied. But it didn't matter; Sora knew the answer before he spoke. It was the same answer it always was.

"Heartless," he said, cold anger tight in his voice. "They're called Heartless. Come on!" Garion didn't need a second invitation, and Donald and Goofy were, as always, right behind Sora as he pushed his way out past the guards.

"Who--" he heard behind him.

"They're friends," Garion cut the soldier off. "See to him-" Sora glanced back to see Garion nodding at the man on the floor "-and get people into their houses. And then there were Heartless.

Different Heartless now, not just the poor Shadows. Bigger, faster, stronger, it made no difference. Sora was used to this sort of battle.

"You're the king here, right?" Sora called to Garion, in a brief moment of respite. He received a short nod in reply. "Get your people out of the streets! The soldiers too. They can't do anything against the Heartless."

He had to assume that either Garion had followed his advice, or the Heartless had gotten to the people, because there were no more people in the way after a little while.

One large Heartless appeared, with immense shoulder guards, and a blue-black robe, and burning red eyes, and what looked like a giant meat-cleaver in one hand. That one took more effort. In the end, Sora had to heal everyone again.

"Do they every stop coming?" Garion asked. Sora shook his head.

"Even in places where they should have, they haven't," he replied, a little bitterly, thinking of places like Hollow Bastion, and the Coliseum. To his side, Donald's breath was rasping heavily, and Goofy wasn't doing much better. And this was after healing.

Garion frowned, and Sora didn't blame him. The Heartless were a terrible menace. And there were always more of them. Countless more. It was an uneasy fact that Sora had had to come to terms with, that all the people who had become Heartless when their worlds were destroyed.... probably hadn't been restored. Not when there were still so many Heartless around. It gave him a sense of grim responsibility.

"Do you know a safe place?" Sora asked. "Donald and Goofy aren't doing too good, and I can't keep healing us much longer." They had to fend off another flurry of Shadows before Garion was able to answer.

"The Citadel should be safe," he said. Sora glanced up towards the castle. It was still a way off, but not too far... He nodded.

"Look after Donald. I'll clear the way." There was time for Garion to say "How-?" and for Donald to squawk "I can take care of myself!" And then Sora dove into a clump of Heartless, and summoned the power of Valour.

------

Garion gaped as Sora - who wasn't in any better shape than the rest of them - dove headfirst into a knot of those shadows - Heartless, Sora called them. It was suicide. He drew his breath to protest, and then there was a sound like shattering glass. It took him a moment to realise that the sound was in his ears and in his mind, and in that moment, Goofy had vanished, and Sora - suddenly wielding two blades, and wearing red - was slicing his way through what was left of the clump of Heartless with inhuman speed.

There was a constant hum of Will coming from Sora, strong and steady. The boy as already advancing towards the Citadel, laying waste to all in his path.

"Come on," he called back. "I can't keep this up for very long!" But Garion was already following, the strange duck-man Donald at his side.

In spite of Sora's fury, there were still Heartless in the path, shadowy creatures to be struck down by Garion's sword, or Donald's Will. The duck-man seemed to battle almost purely with his Will, calling down lightning, or fire, or ice. It struck Garion as an odd way of fighting, but it seemed to suit Donald; the duck-man didn't seem particularly strong, and he was small as well.

The assault of the Heartless cut off abruptly as they crossed the threshold of the Citadel. At the same time, Sora collapsed to his knees, the second blade vanishing, as his clothes faded to their original black. Goofy was there too, somehow reappearing as they emerged into safety.

Garion looked behind him, and was astonished to see a completely Heartless-free street. He started going out for a look, only to be stopped by a surprisingly - or maybe not-so - strong hand on his leg.

"Don't," Sora said, deadly seriousness written on his young features. "They'll come out again as soon as you get near. And there'll be more of them again."

"More?" Garion asked incredulously. Sora nodded.

"They regenerate over time and distance. They come out of every shadow."

"...Where do they come from?"

"Nobody knows," Goofy said, speaking up with that curious accent of his. "Not fer sure, anyway."

"Ansem made them, dummy," Donald spoke with great conviction, and a little irritation; he reminded Garion oddly of Beldin for a moment - greatly watered down.

"Not all of them," Goofy countered. "Even he didn't know where the first ones came from."

"So he says," Donald huffed.

"It doesn't matter where they come from," Sora interrupted. "We just have to get rid of them." Sora climbed to his feet; it seemed like he'd gotten his wind back.

"I can agree with that," Garion said grimly. Before he got a chance to say anything further, Kail came running into the entry hall.

"Sir, there's something I think you should come see. It's in the Hall," he said, apparently before noticing Garion's odd new companions. "Er..."

"They're friends, Kail. What's going on?" Garion waved the incipient questions away.

"I'm really at a loss to describe it," Kail replied. "It's probably best if you see it for yourself. It's not hurting anyone yet, but who knows how long that'll last?"

That was all it took to get Garion moving again, this time trailing a trio of odd people. He noted that Sora's blade had vanished somewhere, and wondered when that had happened.

Immediately upon entering the Hall, he saw what Kail had been talking about. And apparently, so did his new friends.

"Gummi point!" The cry, filled with joy and relief came from three voices, and Garion found himself suddenly dragged into the glowing green circle. It was about three feet across - just barely big enough for the four of them to squeeze in.

And he felt immediately refreshed. All of his wounds healed, all of his reserves of power, and energy filled. He gasped.

Garion's first thought was, Where was this when we were chasing after the Orb? Or my son? He hadn't actually been expecting an answer, but he got one.

The universe hadn't been fixed yet, so they couldn't be here, Belgarion. It was his old friend.

They? Garion asked, seizing immediately on the opportunity. There are more?

A few more, here and there in the world, the voice replied. But don't depend on them.

And then it was gone again. Garion sighed, and sank into his throne. He was healed, and refreshed, but he still felt somehow weary. He'd thought this was all over. No more battle between Light and Dark, just a safe, comfortable life for his family, plenty of peace and quiet...

"GARION!" His self-pitying thoughts were cut off by the high-pitched screech of his wife's voice.

Uh-oh. He braced himself. The flurry of red hair and green gown came into view shortly after her voice reached him, and then the berating began.

It started with the obvious - Garion, inconsiderate oaf that he was, had had to gall to wake his beloved wife up before the crack of dawn. In the cold. And he hadn't even had the courtesy to put the blankets back on her. Much less leave her with a kiss!

He managed to open his mouth and take a breath to respond before she moved on to the second point. He had even less time by the third. The fourth point had some legitimacy to it - Grandfather and Aunt Pol and everyone had been talking to her while he was off gallivanting around the city.

He could feel Sora shrinking back next to him - Donald and Goofy had somehow managed to retreat - as Ce'Nedra continued her tirade. By the time she hit 'you didn't buy me a present,' the boy was close enough that Garion felt him start. A moment later, something small and metallic - that felt suspiciously like jewellery - was pressed into his hand.

Startled, he glanced down at Sora, only to receive a sly wink. Garion held his breath, preparing. As soon as his wife stopped for a breath of her own, he spoke.

"Actually dear, I do have something for you." That stopped her dead cold, and Garion knew that if he could just keep her from regaining her momentum, everything would be all right. He held out the piece of jewellery - which turned out to be an intricately worked bracelet, with a beautiful golden-yellow stone of a sort he'd never seen before placed in it.

"Oh, Garion, it's beautiful!" Ce'Nedra gasped, and beamed at him in one of her characteristic changes of mood. She slipped it on over her wrist, and although Garion would have sword that it was too big for her, it fit perfectly. She held the stone up to the light studying it.

Garion was immediately suspicious. He cast a glance back at Sora, and again, the boy winked at him, adding a cheeky grin this time. He hadn't heard anything, but that didn't necessarily mean much; he'd been very distracted at the time. And he already had ample proof that Sora was talented.

Before Ce'Nedra could raise a fuss again, Garion worked to head her off. "Ce'Nedra, I'd like to introduce you to our guests." This was it. The moment of truth. Things could degenerate again, or they'd be just fine. When Ce'Nedra turned, and gave them all her most dazzling smile, Garion breathed an internal sigh of relief. Everything would be fine, for now.

Introductions were made all around, with some confusion as to the rank and titles of their guests - Sora was introduced more formally by his friends as the 'Keyblade Master,' and suddenly Garion had a better understanding of that strange blade - blades? - the boy had been wielding.

It was all sorted out in the end though, at least to the satisfaction of his wife, which was all Garion needed for the moment.

Soon, they were all ensconced in the council chamber. The normal activities of the day had been suspended in the favour of something of a council of war. Ce'Nedra had begged out after fifteen minutes; she wanted to make sure the children were okay. Garion didn't blame her, especially not after Sora had given a particularly graphic description of what the Heartless could do.

It was a little disturbing to listen to him blithely describe the horrible little creatures. It would have been worse, Garion was sure, if he couldn't see the pain and determination etched into his young friend's face. All throughout the meeting though, there was something nagging at the back of Garion's mind. Something he was forgetting. Something he was supposed to do.

"--So is there nothing we can do against them?" Kail was asking Sora. The wild-haired boy shook his head.

"I'm afraid not. Ordinary measures won't work against them. Your very best warriors might be able to take them out for a little while, but they'll just come back." Kail paled.

"Come back?" he asked.

"A-hyuk. Yeah. Unless you have a Keyblade like Sora here, or that shiny sword of Garion's, you can't kill them permanent-like," Goofy answered. "Not even me and Donald can do that."

Garion was following the conversation with half his mind, the other half bent on figuring out what he'd forgotten, until he heard that.

"What?" His voice mingled with Sora's higher-pitched exclamation.

"Oh yeah," Sora said a moment later. "That must be why it seemed happy to see us. Maybe it's another Keyblade in disguise." Garion blinked at him; it took the Rivan King a moment to process Sora's statement. He glanced around the room; it was only himself, the trio, and Kail at the moment, and a quick scan showed a miraculous lack of spies in the area.

"The Orb spoke to you?" he asked softly. Kail's face was even whiter than before.

"Was that what it was?" Sora asked. "It seemed... when we were killing Heartless..." He gave Garion and oddly sharp, penetrating look.

Whatever Garion might have said in reply was interrupted by a voice in his mind.

"Garion! What's keeping you? What's going on out there? Your aunt is very worried; if you don't answer me, you'll be hearing from her!" It was Grandfather. And suddenly, Garion remembered what he was supposed to do. He didn't know what providence of the Gods had had Grandfather call him instead of Aunt Pol, but he thanked whoever happened to be listening.

"It's very, very complicated, Grandfather. Get Aunt Pol, and Durnik, and Grandmother, and maybe even the twins. I think the Vale is safe, but outside, I'm not sure." Garion replied.

"What are you talking about?" Belgarath asked sharply.

"I'll explain it when you get here. We might want to call a emergency session of the Alorn Council - and select others - while we're at it. This could be bad." Garion tried to impress on his Grandfather just how dire the situation was. There was a long silence.

"All right. We'll be there as quickly as possible. Garion leaned back in his chair with a sigh of relief as communication with his Grandfather cut off.

"...Garion?" Kail asked. Garion smiled.

"It's all right. I was just talking with Grandfather. They're on their way. I've asked them to assemble to Alorn council as well," Garion said. Somehow, the fact that everyone was gathering again made it all seem slightly better.

-------

With Donald and Goofy's help, Sora was able to at least explain the basics of the Heartless to Garion, and his friend Kail. Sora felt kind of bad for Kail; the poor guy just got paler and paler as he explained. He seemed especially disheartened by the fact that almost nothing could permanently do away with the Heartless.

And then Goofy made an almost casual comment about it - and things got confusing for a while. When it was over, Sora had just one thing to ask.

"So, who's coming?" Garion smiled at him.

"My extended family," he said. "And some friends." Sora blinked. Garion's family?

I wonder how strong they are? Something - like a voice in the back of his head - made him think that they must be very strong; the same something seemed to be telling him to trust Garion. To trust his new friend's judgment.

And then it almost seemed like there was a snort.

Not very subtle, are you? something whispered.

What? Sora thought. And then there was silence. Had it been his imagination? Unbeknownst to him, his brow was furrowing in thought.

"Sora?"

"Is something wrong Sora?" Donald and Goofy spoke nearly simultaneously. Sora looked up.

"Uh... I... I don't think so," he said. But he wasn't sure. "Don't worry," he smiled. "I'm fine." But there was a lingering doubt; what had that voice been? It sounded familiar, almost like his own thought, but... not. And then there was the other one. His attention was drawn outside himself again when he heard Garion sigh.

"Well," Garion was saying. "It looks like there's not much we can do until everyone else gets here," he said.

"Of course there is!" Sora countered. "We can fight the Heartless! There shouldn't be too many of them left, even if they keep coming." He couldn't say how he knew that; instinct, experience, wishful thinking?

"This is the only city here, right?" he asked. "So we should be able to defend it. We should..." His mind worked. Maybe they could borrow some Gauntlets from Hollow Bastion? It wouldn't take them long to get there and back in the Gummi ship. The Gummi ship...

Sora frowned. He was right on the verge of an important thought. He could feel it. Right on the edge of some idea. A good idea. What was it? If he could just think of it...

Use the Gummi ship to bring people here!

It was one of those voices again, but Sora didn't care; his whole face brightened with a huge grin.

"We can use the Gummi ship!" he exclaimed.

"...Sora?" Garion asked.

"To bring everyone here!" He couldn't be blamed if he sounded just a little smug. There was a flurry of congratulation from Donald and Goofy. Sora kept grinning. It was a very good idea - even if it had come from a voice in his head.

"Sora?" Garion cut in again. "What's a Gummi ship?" Sora just stared at him. How could anyone not know what a Gummi ship was? He boggled, having almost forgotten the fact that, a few years ago, he wouldn't have known a Gummi ship if it hit him in the head.

Donald seemed to have come to the same conclusion.

"What are you, stupid?" he squawked impatiently. "Everyone knows what a Gummi ship is!"

"That's not true Donald," Goofy interjected. "I mean, lots of people don't know about Gummi ships. Most worlds don't even have Gummi blocks."

"Hmph." Donald scowled, but Sora immediately felt a bit guilty.

Of course most people don't know about Gummi ships. He'd just gotten so used to his friends at least knowing about that sort of thing, and it seemed like he'd known Garion for far longer than one morning.

As if that thought reminded it of the fact that he hadn't eaten yet, Sora's stomach growled. The sound broke the tension that had suddenly suffused the room, and people strated relaxing again.

"Why don't we get some breakfast?" Garion suggested. "We can join Ce'Nedra and our children." Sora blinked.

"You have kids?" Garion didn't look old enough to have kids yet. Come to think of it, Sora didn't think he knew anyone who had kids. Except now, it seemed, Garion.

It was weird.

------

Almost as soon as breakfast started, Garion had a bad feeling. Ce'Nedra was in a good mood, thanks to the trinket Sora had produced (and why hadn't Garion thought of that tactic before? Ce'Nedra couldn't hear sorcery, which made it almost perfect... The thought made Garion feel oddly guilty), and everyone seemed to be getting on well. Sora even seemed to have little trouble understanding Wolf. But he couldn't shake the feeling.

He realised the source of the feeling sometime after most of the actual eating was over, and Sora started sharing his version of what Garion suspected would grow to become the Battle of Riva.

"...I had to jump up to a roof before I was able to jump high enough to hit the thing, and it's a good thing Garion was there, because I totally missed the Heartless coming from under me, and that thing was pretty big." Sora illustrated with broad gestures as he spoke. The casual way h described feats clearly impossible to ordinary men left Garion a little astounded.

And then he saw the looks on his children's faces, and he wanted to smack his head into the table. He didn't know which was worse: the slight blush and the sparkle in Beldaran's eyes, or the dawning hero worship in Geran's.

The analytical part of him pointed out that it was only natural; Sora looked to be only a couple of years older than Geran, which made him seem accessible. More than that, it made his exploits both more and less extraordinary in the eyes of other young people.

With a purely internal sigh, Garion started planning to head them off.

You don't have to do that. It was his old friend again.

Haven't you been chatty lately, Garion grumbled back. Out in the 'normal' world, Donald and Goofy were adding to Sora's tale.

Sometimes, it's necessary. Like I said; don't worry about them. It'll be sorted out.

By you? Garion's voice was laced with irony.

The Keyblade Master makes his own Destiny, the voice replied. And the it fell silent. Again. Once more leaving Garion desperately curious. Unfortunately, he wasn't given much time to think about it. Shortly after breakfast finally concluded, people started trickling into the Citadel. It was, of course, because of the Heartless.

There was a great deal of confusion for a while, so much so, that Garion didn't even notice that Sora had slipped away until he started hearing certain things from the city. Briefly alarmed, he'd sent out a probing thought - only to find the bright, tightly focused mind of his young friend, laying waste to the bizarre, twisted things threatening his city.

By the time Garion was finally free to join him, Sora was already strolling back into the Hall, looking none the worse for the wear, a broad grin on his face, and a sparkle in his eyes.

"We found the safe spots in your city, Garion," Sora said casually, as he stepped into the refreshing green light of the Gummi point.

"You mean that the Citadel's not the only safe place?" A spark of hope rose in Garion. Maybe he wouldn't have to spend all his time fighting off this menace.

"Donald drew up a map," Goofy offered. "You're city's so big that we kinda needed it." The duck-man was, once again, in the worst shape of the three, but the Gummi point restored him almost as quickly as it did the others.

"Here." Donald's tone was curt, and irritable as he handed the paper over. It was surprisingly neat. "I don't see why I had to draw the darn thing," he muttered. "Stupid thing. It's not fair..." He trailed off into muttering, and Garion wasn't sure he wanted to know exactly what was being muttered.

"Just tell people to stay away from these places," Sora said, pointing to the shaded-in areas of the roughed-out outline of Riva. "That's where the Heartless are."

Garion already knew, from Sora and his friends' earlier explanation, that unless compelled by some powerful outside force, the Heartless usually kept to the places they had 'claimed.' Garion considered the map. Some of those places were residential districts. He frowned.

"What about the people living there?"

"As long as they stay in groups, and don't go out at night, it should be okay," Sora said, seriously. "But people need to be careful. Any shadow can hold the Heartless."

Garion nodded. If he put his best men in the streets to look after things...

"I'll write a decree," he said. "I'll have to set a curfew..."

By that afternoon, the decree had been made. Garion had expected a fair amount of grumbling, but much to his surprise, there had been almost none. The Heartless had them all scared.

People living in the dangerous areas had been given the option to move out for the duration - with family, or friends, or even to the Citadel if they had nothing else. Garion wasn't sure if he was more surprised that any had, or that more hadn't.

He was taking a moment to breathe - just a moment - when Sora found him again.

"Are you ready to go?" the boy asked.

"What?" Garion looked up at him. "Go where?"

"To the Gummi ship. To get your friends, of course. Donald and Goofy are already waiting on board." Sora's big grin was infectious; Garion found himself smiling back.

"Where is this ship of yours?" he asked. He'd made a few inquiries during the day; there were no new ships in the harbour, and nobody had seen anything coming ashore on the coast.

Sora's grin got bigger. "Come on," he urged. "You'll see." Garion didn't need any more urging; his curiosity was eating at him, ad he knew that he could trust Sora.

"All right," he agreed, getting up. Sora lead him over to the Gummi point, and dragged him in. Suddenly, Garion made the connection: Gummi point, Gummi ship...

And then there was a soft noise as Sora's Will enveloped them both. There was green light, and the world vanished. Garion had some sense of motion, and when the world came back, he was surrounded by stars.

That was his first impression, at least, but as the moments passed, he realised that he was on solid ground, and there were chairs, and something big, and curved, and mostly blue out one side... It suddenly came to him that that was his planet down there. He recognised the outline of Riva, half-hidden by clouds above it.

The world turned slowly under them - or maybe they were going around it, but as Garion watched, he saw the ocean to the west of Riva go by, and the eastern coast of Mallorea came into view.

"Wow."

Sora, Donald, and Goofy were kind enough to let him gape out the windows at the stars, and the sun, and the world that was his home, but after a few minutes, they go down to business.

There was no doubt in Garion's mind where to go first - the Vale was the obvious choice. It was incredibly strange to give directions from so far above - and incredibly amazing.

Sora and Donald squabbled for a bit over who got to steer the machine - the ship - but it didn't last long. In the end, it was Sora who, at Garion's direction, moved the ship over the Vale.

It occurred to Garion, as they were getting close - relatively speaking; he could tell that the distances here were greater than any he'd previously encountered - that he ought to let people know that they were coming.

"Sora, can you hold on a minute?" Garion asked.

"Sure," Sora said, directing the ship to a stop.

"Oh, what now?" Donald griped.

"I need to let my family know I'm coming," Garion replied.

"Grandfather?" he called, directing his thought down at the planet. Out of old habit, he did it carefully, keeping 'noise' to a minimum. Though if there were any Grolims left in the Western world, he doubted that they would ever think to look up here.

"Garion?" Belgarath's voice was surprised. "Where are you?

Garion grinned.

"Look up. Way up." He waited; he knew his Grandfather would get it soon.

"How did you get up there?!" Belgarath exclaimed. Yelped actually came closer to the truth.

"Actually, we're on our way down to the Vale right now."

"We?" Belgarath asked. Garion's grin widened; this was actually kind of fun.

"You'll see."

"All right, we can go down now," Garion said. Sora was giving him an odd look.

"...I was going to let you use our communication stuff, but you managed it by yourself, didn't you?" he asked. "I could tell."

"What d'ya mean, Sora?" Goofy asked.

"Didn't you guys hear that?" Sora asked. Donald crossed his arms and glared.

"I didn't hear anything," he said crossly.

"Neither did I." Goofy sounded much more concerned than Donald.

That sort of confirmed Garion's suspicions; Donald and Goofy were at best only minorly talented, although he'd rather expected Donald at least to hear it.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "I was just letting my Grandfather know we're coming." Meanwhile Sora's steering had kept the ship directly over the Vale. Donald and Goofy were rapidly pushing buttons on their panels.

"Got it!" Donald exclaimed triumphantly. "Two Gummi points!" Suddenly, there was huge map occupying one side of the huge window that stood over their heads. Garion saw immediately that it was the Vale - the outline, at least. There were two glowing green points - one right by Aunt Pol's cottage, and one by Belgarath's tower.

"Which one should we go to?" Goofy asked.

"Hang on." Once again, Garion sent his thoughts towards the Vale.

"Grandfather, where are you?"

"At your Aunt's cottage. Garion--" Garion cut the conversation off again.

"That one." He pointed to the glowing spot by the cottage. "Er, how are we...?"

"It's easy!" Sora said. "Everybody stand together..." Donald and Goofy were apparently familiar with the procedure, and Garion joined them crowding around Sora. Once again, he found himself enveloped in Sora's Will, and green light swirled up beneath them, taking them down.

------

The place they came down in was, to the casual eye, unremarkable. There was a house, and a garden, all buried under the snow. Some trees as well, and rolling hills, that were probably grassy in the summer...

But Sora wasn't a casual observer - he hadn't been since that day on his island, when everything fell apart. Maybe even longer, if he was honest with himself. And there was something about this quiet, wintry place that reminded him of the Hundred Acre Wood. A sense of peace, of continuity.

"GARION!" A peace which was shattered almost as soon as they’d resolved back into the world, by a tall, beautiful woman dressed in blue.

Beside him, Sora felt Garion start. There was something distinctly guilty in his stance.

"Uh, hello Aunt Pol," he said. And that was the last word he got in for the next few minutes, as 'Aunt Pol' proceeded to berate Garion. It was a different kind of scolding than he'd gotten from his wife though. 'Aunt Pol' seemed much more knowledgeable, and distinct in her concerns.

When it was over though, she sighed, and held out her arms, drawing Garion into a hug.

"Now why don't you introduce me to your friends? The Old Wolf mentioned you were bringing other people, but he didn't give me any details..." She looked a bit cross at that.

"That's, uh, because I didn't give him any," Garion replied. For a second, it seemed like 'Aunt Pol' was going to get angry again, and then she sighed.

"Oh, Garion," she said, giving him another hug. "Take your friends inside; we can get everyone's introductions done at once," she added, apparently changing her mind.

And so Sora, Donald and Goofy were bundled into the house, along with Garion. The first thing Sora noticed, was that it was warm, and smelled good.

He hadn't really noticed the cold outside - weather never bothered him much, he'd found - until he came inside. But the warmth inside the house was comfortable in a way that defied words. He smiled.

-------

It had started snowing again, as Polgara invited her nephew and his friends inside. She - and everyone else in the house - had been alerted to their arrival by the unsubtle noise coming from just outside.

Belgarath had just been explaining that they should expect more people than just Garion. He was irritatingly vague about it, but they'd all assumed they'd have more time to figure it out - or to get more information from Garion.

When the sound hit them, Polgara had taken it upon herself to investigate - it was her house after all. She could admit some comfort from the massed Wills of her family behind her, just in case. There were hostile forces still about in the world, and caution had never hurt anyone.

Thankfully, it was Garion out there, along with an odd-looking trio, none of whom seemed dressed for the weather. Especially not the wild-haired boy, with bright blue eyes. Even as she berated Garion - mostly for not keeping them informed, and a little for not dressing warmly enough - she sent out a very light, probing thought to the trio. She was surprised to find a very bird-like mind in one of them, and a dog-like mind in the other, but what was most surprising was that it almost seemed like there were two minds in the wild-haired boy's head.

The sensation floated in and out, and then faded completely, but it wasn't fooling Polgara. She sent out a lightning-quick thought, aimed at catching whoever it was, and following that mind back its source.

Whoever it was must have been better than she'd thought, though, because he'd somehow managed to completely slip away, leaving no easily detectable traces of himself behind.

She would, she decided, as she shepherded the small group into her cottage, have to just stay on guard.

Unfortunately, that decision came about three seconds too late; it was only through consummate skill - and several millennia of experience - that Polgara managed to not stare at the duck-man. Or the dog-man. That would explain the odd thoughtforms she'd sensed earlier.

---------

Garion, for one, was glad to be in out of the cold. For one thing, it meant that Aunt Pol's scolding was over for now. For another, it meant he was in out of the cold. Because they'd left by such unconventional means, it hadn't occurred to him to dress for the cold.

Which reminded him.

"Sora, are you all right?" he asked, bearing in mind the amount of bare skin the young man sported.

"Huh? Oh, yeah, I don't really notice the cold," Sora replied. Garion didn't get a chance to comment on that though, because Belgarath was approaching them like a thundercloud.

"Garion--" he started.

"Leave it, Father. I already scolded him," Aunt Pol interjected.

"But Pol--!" he exclaimed.

"One wonders why you feel the need to chastise them twice." Poledra's tone was dry; she could manage that tone almost as well as the voice in the back of his head. "There's surely a reason, if you give them a chance to explain."

That made Garion curious; explain what? He didn't get a chance to ask just yet though, because he was pressed into performing introductions all around. As it seemed that everyone in the Vale had turned out, that actually took some time.

To Garion's relief, Sora, Donald, and Goofy didn't seem to have any trouble remembering names; he got the impression that they'd been through something like this before. Possibly many times before.

"So, what did you want us to explain, Grandmother?" Garion asked politely, once they were all sitting down.

"The nature of that glowing spot outside the cottage," Poledra replied.

"And the one sitting right inside my tower," Belgarath added. "And you'd better have a good explanation for this. You know you don't change the Vale."

"But I didn't do anything!" Garion protested. "It was--" He cut himself off, and frowned. "...Where do Gummi points come from?" he asked, turning to his new friends. A trio of shrugs chorused at him.

"Not even the King knows that, and he's an expert," Donald said. On some level, it really amazed Garion that he was able to get normal speech out through his beak. He really wanted to know why Donald and Goofy seemed suck halfway between human form and animal. He hadn't asked, because he knew it'd be rude but...

Well, what else was Belgarath for?

Wait. The King?

"...Which King?" Garion asked.

"Why, King Mickey of course," Goofy replied. "Of Disney Castle. ...I guess ya haven't heard of him out here, have ya?" Garion shook his head.

"That's too bad. ...Hey, maybe you'll get a chance to meet him!" Sora grinned, and the suggestion seemed to cheer Donald and Goofy as well.

"What's this King of yours-- Did you hear that?" Belgarath demanded, cutting off his own question, and flying out of his seat. It was a redundant question; of course Garion had heard that. He didn't think anyone in the room could have missed it.

They were all headed for the door out, and somehow Sora managed to get there first.

"Organization XIII!" he exclaimed. The Keyblade appeared in his hand in a burst of light that illuminated the entire yard - and the black-robed figure standing some twenty feet from the door.

"Grolim!" Garion growled. It seemed almost as if Iron-Grip's sword sprang into his hands in the same mysterious way that Sora's blade came to him. The Orb's angry glow was more than enough to light everything up - including the scarred face previously hidden under the hood.

As if realising that the hood no longer did him any good, the Grolim pushed it back, revealing a face that only bore superficial resemblance to the Angarak race.

The blue hair was the first thing that stood out, although Garion supposed that it could have just been reflecting the Orb. But everything else... Was just off. And there seemed to be something more that was missing, some key thing that Garion just wasn't picking up on.

"Hail Godslayer," the Grolim said in a deep, even voice. "This has nothing to do with you, so I advise you to stay out of it."

"There's only one of him," Durnik observed mildly from behind Garion. "And plenty of us. I think we can take one funny looking Grolim." But Sora was already charging ahead, with the kind of speed that anyone could envy. Garion felt the Grolim clench his Will, but his cry of warning came too late, as Sora impacted with an invisible barrier - oddly reminiscent of the one Sora had created when Garion first met him, come to think of it - that the Grolim created with a single, meaningless syllable.

And suddenly, the world seemed to slow down. For some reason, Garion felt almost paralyzed, as Sora snarled at the Grolim, pushing at the barrier with his blade.

"You should know better, Roxas," the Grolim said. He was silent for a long moment, and looked almost sad. "I'd heard from Demyx what had happened, but I had to see for myself. I suppose some would find it sad, but traitors have to die."

"Why do you people keep saying that to me?!" Sora shouted. Garion felt him rapidly gathering his Will, more, and more, and when Sora finally released it, it was with a shout that rang to the Heavens, and he brought his blade down on the barrier with a brilliant arc of light, slicing right through the barrier.

The Orb sang in resonance with it.

When the light faded, the Grolim was gone, leaving only a wisp of dark shadow on the ground.

"He got away again," Sora sighed angrily. He kicked the snow impotently, and there was an uncharacteristically bitter look on his face.

"What do you mean he got away?" Belgarath asked sharply, elbowing his way past Durnik, and Garion, and Sora's friends. The old man waded uncaringly through the snow (that Sora was somehow still sanding on top of, Garion noted absently), to stand beside the young man.

"He's not dead," Sora said. "He got away. They always do."

"How?"

"I don't know." Sora shook his head.

Why couldn't I help him? Garion tossed the thought at the part of his mind that his friend had always occupied before, in the random hope that he'd have something to say.

There was no answer.

--------

When Garion's grandfather - Belgarath, Sora thought his name was - came out and started asking questions, he was, at first nothing but annoyed.

That didn't change much over the next few minutes.

"Why won't you believe me?!" he finally exclaimed. "I don't know how they do that thing. Just that I can't. People on the Light side can't do it." And how did he describe the bitter, choking taste in the back of his throat, the one that he somehow knew meant that that Nobody had walked down the dark paths, escaping him again?

And then, suddenly, his friends were there, good old dependable Donald and Goofy, arms wrapped around his shoulders.

"Gawrsh Sora, you don't have to be that upset," Goofy said. "Everybody's okay, right?"

"Yeah!" Donald said. "Don't worry, we'll get 'im!" He punched the air in a fierce gesture. It made Sora smile again.

"I guess," he said with a sigh. "But I really wish one of them would just tell me--" He sighed again. It occurred to him that he'd better apologise; Garion's grandfather was just trying to help, after all.

"Sorry Belgarath," Sora said, turning to the old man. "I guess I was just kind of frustrated. They always do that," he explained. "Show up, and say things, and then disappear again. They hardly ever even stand and fight." That's what frustrated him the most sometimes. If he could just have one, good clean fight, without any of this stupid running away business, he was sure he could make one of them talk.

"So it wasn't a Grolim?" Belgarath glanced back at the group by the house. Garion's Aunt Pol shook her head.

"No, it was definitely a Grolim," she said. "But I have to admit, there was something that seemed a bit off..."

"Are Grolims people?" Sora asked, abruptly.

"Well, technically yes," Belgarath admitted grudgingly. "But most of us would prefer not to think so."

"Well then maybe he used to be a Grolim," Sora said with a shrug. The conclusion came to him without even thinking about it, as if it had been placed neatly in his mind. "Organization XIII are Nobodies, and Nobodies aren't people. They used to be people though. It's complicated," he added, when he realised that everyone was staring at him.

Belgarath opened his mouth again - probably to ask another question - but he was interrupted before he got the chance.

"One wonders why you're talking out in the cold." It was Garion's grandmother, Poledra. She was standing just inside the door; unlike everyone else, it seemed that she'd never stepped out.

"Uh... That's a very good question, dear," Belgarath replied. "Come along Sora. We can continue this conversation inside." The others were already responding to Poledra's admonition, and filing back inside.

As usual, Sora hadn't even noticed the cold.

As soon as the door closed behind them, Belgarath tried to draw Sora back into a discussion about that Organization XIII member.

"Just a moment, Father," Garion's Aunt Pol interjected. She interjected herself between Sora and Belgarath just as easily. "There's something I have to deal with first."

"But Pol, this is important!" Belgarath protested. She nodded.

"It is, but there's something more important that needs to be dealt with first." She turned sharp eyes on Sora. "Did you know you have another mind overshadowing your own?" There was a collection of gasps from the others in the room.

"Are you sure Pol?" Belgarath asked, before Sora could get a chance to answer. Polgara nodded.

"I'm positive," she said. "Whoever's doing it is very good, but I noticed him when they first arrived."

"Do you think it could have been that Grolim?" Garion asked.

"It's quite possible," Polgara replied.

"Wait a minute," Sora interjected. "So, you're saying that those guys can just... go into people's heads? He could have been reading my mind this whole time?!" His voice cracked on the last word. Polgara nodded.

"That's terrible!" Goofy exclaimed.

"Ooh! If I had him right here, I'd--!" Donald said, making a strangling motion.

"You want some help?" Garion offered grimly. "You can do something about it, right Aunt Pol?"

It was as if Garion's words shined a ray of hope on Sora. If Polgara could do something about it, maybe he didn't have to be worried about it. Something in him seemed to say that it was a very bad idea, but Sora ignored it.

"Of course I can." The smile Polgara gave Sora was warm, and reassuring. "I've done it before. This shouldn't take too long. Why don't we sit down, Sora?"

"All right," Sora agreed.

-------

Polgara lead Sora over to a pair of her comfortable chairs, and let him sit. A glance back at her family told her that they were ready to run interference, in case that Grolim had any friends.

"Are you ready?" she asked.

"I think so," he replied. There seemed to be some conflict in him, which wouldn't surprise her if he was fighting off an alien mind. Polgara took a deep breath, gathered her Will, and moved delicately into Sora's mind.

There was no evidence of the other mind on the surface, which was about what she'd expected. She had to go deeper, if she wanted to find the second mind. She had to be careful not to damage his mind.

It wasn’t an easy process, but Sora's mind was such a bright, shining thing that she thought that when she finally found the other, it would be easy to differentiate.

That's what you think.

It was her first hint of the other mind, and she tried to latch onto it. It slipped away again, be she had a feel for it, now, and she could follow it.

I didn't want to do this. Suddenly, the other mind was speaking quite clearly to her. But you've come too far. Idiot.

Polgara had a moment to feel outrage it had been centuries since anyone had called her idiot and meant it.

And then she was falling. It felt very much like plunging into a deep, warm ocean, complete with the slight taste of salt. For a long time, she fell through dark water, head first. Looking down - ahead of herself - she could see what looked like a great stained glass window. The image that it held, oddly enough, was Sora. Donald and Goofy were there, too, and a boy and a girl who were unknown to her.

At the last possible second, Polgara's body righted itself, and her feet came to rest gently on the stained glass.

"What is this place?" she whispered to herself. There was a sense of potential here, and it almost seemed as if she could very faintly hear a chorus of voices chanting something.

A moment later, Polgara's stomach clenched. Sra was there too, just picking himself up off the ground.

"This place again," she heard him mutter.

"This wasn't supposed to happen yet." The third voice was coming from somewhere behind here. She turned, and at the same time, Sora spun, his Will calling that strange blade of his back to his hand.

"You shouldn't have interfered." The speaker was a hooded figure, dressed much like the strange Grolim out in the snow, but he was much smaller, about the same size as Sora.

"Get out of Sora's mind, Grolim," Polgara said. Her voice took on a hard, dangerous edge, and as she spoke, she gathered her Will.

Much to her surprise, the Grolim responded with a snort, and without so much as a word, he produced a pair of blades, of the same sort Sora wielded.

They moved fast. Incredibly fast. Each blow they exchanged sent up sparks, and flashes of light. Words were exchanged, words that Polgara was sure she was missing the full meaning of.

Sora was very good, but it quickly became clear that the Grolim had the advantage. Two blades, and far less compassion. Polgara knew she had to do something. She already had the gathered will for it, but what could she do inside Sora's mind? One thing came to mind. She didn't have the luxury to think it through properly; it seemed like Sora was in trouble.

"Sleep!" she called out, directing her Will towards the Grolim with a gesture. But even as she did so, she felt something going wrong. The world twisted around them, and Sora toppled over, fading into the ground.

The Grolim stopped mid-slash, and turned to stare at her.

"You idiot." He reached up, hand still holding his blade, and tossed his hood off, to reveal a very un-Grolimlike face. Sandy hair rose in wild spikes above deep blue eyes, the same shade as Sora's.

Polgara was shocked. If it weren't for the hard, flat look to his eyes (and the wildness of his hair), this black-robed boy could have been any of the many boys she'd raised over the centuries.

"Coat. It's not a robe, it's coat." There was a cynical edge to the boy's voice, which was also coloured by impatience and sullenness. The boy looked about, and Polgara could feel him casting his Will about, searching for something.

"What's going on?" Polgara demanded. "Who are you?" The boy frowned at her - or rather, the frown he was already wearing deepened.

"Haven't you figured it out yet? You come after me, and you fall into Sora's mind. You try to put me to sleep, and it hits Sora. Do I need to go on?" His voice grew more and more mocking as he went on. Realization slowly dawned on Polgara.

"You're part of Sora?" she asked incredulously. She'd heard of people with multiple personalities - even encountered a few - but they were just all fragments of the same mind. This sandy-haired boy seemed to be completely apart from Sora - his own mind, his own face, his own powers...

The boy clapped sarcastically. "You've got it almost right," he said. "Now do us a favour, and get out of our mind."

Polgara hadn't been expecting it, and so she was pushed back by the boy's will. Back, and out, and away...

She came to with a gasp.

-------

To say that Garion was alarmed when both Aunt Pol and Sora toppled over was something akin to saying that the ocean was a bit damp, or Greldik was occasionally inebriated.

"Aunt Pol!" His cry came simultaneous with Donald and Goofy's exclamations of "Sora!"

"Stand back, all of you," Poledra's firm command was instantly obeyed; there wasn't any question of that. Garion felt his grandmother's Will flicker over both of them, and then she drew back.

"They're in no danger, yet," she assessed. "But none of you are to interfere. One is not even sure of exactly what's going on."

Whatever it was, it didn't seem to take very long. Aunt Pol woke up with a gasp not thirty seconds after Grandmother delivered her pronouncement.

"Aunt Pol, are you all right?" Garion asked.

"What happened?" Belgarath cut in. But Aunt Pol didn't respond. She was just staring at Sora, and after a moment, Garion figured out why.

There was a flash of light, and suddenly, it wasn't Sora lying slumped in the chair anymore. The hair was still wild, but it was lighter now, a sandy-blond colour quite a bit like Garion's own. The boy's clothes were different too, less baggy, and covering more.

He opened his eyes, and straightened up, and impassive look on his face. He blinked, and looked around.

"I suppose you're going to want an explanation," he said.

"Yes, young man, we do," Polgara replied. With the way the Orb was humming in his mind - a warning, it almost sounded like - Garion had to agree. The boy gave them all a faint smirk.

"What's in it for me?" he asked, leaning back in the chair. It was a simple armchair, if well-stuffed and comfortable, but somehow, this new boy made it seem like a throne.

"Well--" Belgarath started, putting on one of his nastier looks.

"Don't bother with threats," the boy said. "This is Sora's body too. Anything you do to hurt me, will hurt him too."

That killed about all of the half-dozen or so ideas in Garion's head.

"I wouldn't even be here right now if it weren't for her." The boy leveled a look at Polgara. "I guess I should thank you," he added, after a moment. His smirk softened into a smile. "It's weird, but I never thought I'd..." He shook his head.

"So who are you?" Durnik interjected.

"Roxas," the boy replied.

"That's what the Grolim called Sora," Garion said, with narrowed eyes.

"Not bad," Roxas complimented. He glanced at Aunt Pol. "I think he's smarter than you." He sighed. "All right. Get me something to eat, and I'll talk."

Garion was still reeling from what Roxas had just said - was he really smarter than Aunt Pol? He was pretty sure Roxas was just trying to provoke them, or confuse them, but could be sure?

Belgarath was faster. He scooped some of Polgara's very good stew into a bowl, and held it out to Roxas. The boy took it with a nod. He curled up in the chair with his bowl of stew, looking suddenly a lot more like a boy, and a lot less like a king holding court.

"What happened to Sora?" Goofy asked. His voice sounded terrible, lost and dejected. Donald didn't look any better.

"Don't worry Donald, Goofy. He's still here." Roxas put his hand over his heart. "Polgara just accidentally put him to sleep for a while."

"He'd better be okay," Donald warned. "Or I'm gonna take it out on both of you!"

"I'm not going to hurt him," Roxas said. "That would be stupid."

"I thought you were going to talk if you had food," Aunt Pol cut in acidly.

"I am talking," Roxas replied. "Never said it'd be to you. Thanks for the food." He set the empty bowl down on the table.

"That wasn't a Grolim," he started up again, after letting the rest of the room boil a him for a few moments. "At least not anymore. I don't know what a Grolim is, so I couldn't tell you if he was one to begin with."

"So what is he then?" Belgarath asked crossly. Garion couldn't blame him. This new boy was as different from Sora as night was from day. About all they had in common was their physique, and their eyes.

And maybe, that was the point, Garion realised suddenly.

"He's a Nobody," Roxas was answering. "Like me," he added off-handedly. "...But I guess I'm different now."

"In what way?" Poledra asked.

"I'm whole again. Past that, it's really none of your business." The look in Roxas' eyes offered pain at best if they argued. While his family might have doubted him, Garion at least knew what Sora was capable of. It stood to reason that this other boy who seemed to share his body was about as capable.

"All right," Garion agreed, ignoring the pained look in Belgarath's eyes. "What about that other man?"

"Saix," Roxas said with a shrug. "The Luna Diviner. The Organization's Number VII. That good enough for you? I don't know who he used to be."

"What do you mean by that?" Belgarath asked, pouncing on the opportunity to ask something. Roxas gave him another of those looks, and Garion suspected that if his Grandfather had been a lesser man, he'd be feeling very much lesser just then.

"He used to be Somebody," Roxas said. Garion caught the odd emphasis, and immediately connected it with the odd way that both Sora and Roxas had said Nobody before.

"But what does that mean?" Belgarath asked.

"I didn't say I was finished, did I?" Roxas asked. "Shut up, or I won't tell you." Belgarath grumbled a bit after that, but he kept his mouth shut.

For his part, Garion was rather amazed. He could count the people who had the nerve - and lack of manners - to talk to his Grandfather like that on one hand. He wondered if all of Roxas' confidence came from being in the same body as Sora - somebody they didn't want to hurt - or if he was always like that.

"You know about the Heartless." This time when Roxas spoke, he was looking directly at Garion. Garion found himself nodding. "Good. Then you, Donald, and Goofy can explain to the rest of them later. The short version," he continued, "is that Heartless are the hearts of people who've fallen into darkness. There are a number of ways to get there that I won't bother going into.

"When a Heartless is created, what's left - the body and soul of the former person - usually vanish into nothingness." He paused for a moment, to let that sink in. He needn't have waited though; Garion's eyes widened even as he finished speaking.

"Do you mean--" he started, and then cut himself off.

"What do you think?" Roxas asked in reply. "They're gone. No trace left. Just.... faded away."

Garion felt sick. Sora hadn't explained this part; maybe he didn't really know it. But the thought of that happening to his people... The whole thing was made worse by the matter-of-fact, almost impassive way that Roxas spoke.

"Sometimes though, people who had strong hearts - strong wills - manage to pull themselves through. To claw their way back into some semblance of existence. Those are Nobodies. Most of them aren't strong enough to manage more than a semblance of human form. Only the very strongest - in all the worlds - still manage to look human. You can ask your questions now," Roxas added, after a moment. Belgarath obviously didn't need any encouragement.

"You called yourself a Nobody," Poledra said, interrupting her husband almost before he got started. "And yet you share a body with Sora. Is he, too a Nobody then?" Roxas shook his head.

"No. I'm his Nobody. We-- I-- Sora's a special case."

That didn't surprise Garion. He'd had that feeling since shortly after he'd met Sora. And he was more than familiar with 'special cases' himself.

"If you're his Nobody, then that means Sora's heart was lost to darkness," Durnik observed shrewdly. "But..."

"He's bright, and shiny, and you'd think it's impossible," Roxas filled in. "You can ask him about it when he wakes up."

"What's Organization XIII?" Belgarath asked. Roxas shifted in the chair again, straightening his posture. Once again, the chair almost looked like a throne.

"The ruling body of Nobodies," he said.

"You were in Organization XIII, weren't you?" Goofy suddenly observed. "That's why they keep calling Sora 'Roxas.' But why would they cal him-- you a traitor?"

"Because he left, dummy," Donald said, before Roxas got a chance to reply. "Right?" Roxas nodded.

"Unlike the others, I didn't have any memories of who I used to be," he said. "And I wanted to know why."

That sounded all-too-familiar to Garion. From the looks on his family's faces, it did to them, too.

"Why what?" he asked, curiously.

"This." Roxas held out his hand, and in a flash of light – with a surge of Will - there was a Keyblade in his hand. It wasn't the blade he was used to seeing with Sora, but was instead something more elaborate, more beautiful. Silvery-white, fading to gold, and blue and purple on the end.

Garion took a half-step back, and he felt the almost reflexive gathering of his family's Wills. Oddly, the Orb seemed suddenly less hostile towards Roxas. Roxas rolled his eyes.

"I needed to know why I was chosen by the Keyblade." He opened his hand, and the blade vanished in another flash of light. "But that's not really any of your business."

-----

Polgara was growing increasingly frustrated - and working very hard to keep that frustration under control. Roxas had been very good about answering all their questions - with as little information as he possibly could.

"Whose side are you on?" she asked finally.

"Sora's," Roxas replied. "Not that I have any other options anymore, but I did choose this, in the end." He seemed a bit sad about that, and Polgara had to wonder-- And she knew she'd get no answers from this hard-eyed boy.

"I'm not going to tell you anymore. I'm not supposed to. I'm not supposed to be here right now," Roxas said. He turned to look at Garion.

"Not very subtle, is he?" he asked, tapping the side of his head, and giving a sly grin. Garion's eyes widened, and so did Polgara's.

"Oh." She wasn't entirely sure who said it. Roxas rolled his eyes.

"I think I understand why now," he muttered. Polgara saw her father frown.

"But if we fixed the Universe, and there's only one purpose left--"

"Things still have to happen the way they're supposed to happen, or else we'll be back where we started," Garion cut in. "...Right?" Belgarath shut his mouth.

"That.... makes sense..." he mused. All at once, Polgara felt a surge of pride for her nephew. Garion was still growing so much. He'd come a long way from the boy on Faldor's farm.

She didn't think anyone else noticed, but she saw Roxas' eyes flick to the bowl on the table. It was an almost instinctual reaction now, to pick up the bowl, and refill it.

"Thanks," Roxas said, as she silently handed him a second bowl. He seemed rather startled, and Polgara felt suddenly sympathetic for him. For everything that was going on, he was still just a boy. Roxas looked up at her between bites, and gave her a wry smile, almost as if he knew what she was thinking.

"Number XIII," Roxas said suddenly, still looking down at his food. "That's me."

------

Garion felt an odd sort of sympathy for Roxas; he knew all about having different names, and how that could affect a person. Even though he'd been 'Belgarion' for decades, it was still sometimes hard to think of himself that way.

"Are we done with this now?" Roxas asked, looking up from his bowl again. "I really can't talk about any more."

"I guess," Belgarath said grudgingly. Roxas seemed to relax back into the chair. His explanation - however brief - did help Garion understand a few things though. Like the regal air that had come over Roxas a time or two. Garion's Grandfather slumped into one of the other chairs.

"So, uh, when's Sora going to come back?" Goofy asked. Garion felt bad for the odd dog-man, and the bad-tempered duck-man, Donald. They seemed kind of lost without Sora.

Roxas closed his eyes, and Garion heard a whisper of Will from the boy. It was directed in at himself, and if Garion hadn't been paying attention, he might have missed it.

"Not for a while," Roxas finally said, opening his eyes, and giving a soft sigh. "He will wake up though, I promise."

"We'll just have to do our best without him," Donald said. "We can still fight the Heartless!"

"He mentioned them as well," Poledra cut in, glancing at Roxas as she spoke. "One would like to know what these 'Heartless' are."

"Well..." Donald replied. And then he started explaining. It was long, and convoluted, and filled with interjections from Goofy. Garion listened bemusedly to a description taht, in the end, wasn't all that different from what they - and Sora - had given him.

"They really are that bad, Grandmother," Garion added, at one point. "I can kill them as long as I have the Orb, but otherwise, Sora's the only one who can, permanently." He glanced at Roxas, who was staring into the fire, a somber look on his face. He seemed to be ignoring them.

"Roxas as well, I'd imagine." Donald and Goofy both nodded.

"That what the Keyblade does," Donald stated matter-of-factly.

"I'm pretty sure there was more to it than just that, Donald," Goofy said.

"Aww, that stuff doesn't matter," Donald replied, dismissing whatever-it-was. "Sora's not like that."

"But he's asleep right now," Roxas cut in suddenly, looking back at the rest of them. His eyes reflected the fire like glass. "Are you so sure about me?"

"Well..."

"Uh..."

"I am," Garion said, surprising himself. "You said that you're on Sora's side, right?" Roxas nodded once. "That makes you on our side. And whatever it is that Donald and Goofy are talking about, would it be safe to assume you're not 'like that' either?" It was a little convoluted - especially since Garion wasn't even sure what they were talking about - but he thought he got his point across.

Roxas gave him a wry smile. "Like I said, smart." He went back to staring at the fire. For a long moment, the crackling of the fire was the only sound in the room. Then Donald yawned.

Like a disease, the yawn spread around the room, hitting first Goofy, and then Garion himself, and spreading through everyone else, until it finally hit Roxas.

"That's enough of that," Aunt Pol said. "I think it's time for everyone to go to bed. A good night's rest will do us all a world of good." Garion couldn't help but agree; it seemed that the almost frantic energy that had carried him from the sudden awakening that morning - had it only been that morning? - had suddenly drained out of him. He didn't protest as Aunt Pol herded him off to bed, and he noticed that nobody else did, either.

----------------

The next morning, Polgara was up early - earlier than everyone else, she hoped. For one thing, she wanted to make breakfast. For another... Well. She really just needed some time to think.

She was rather disappointed then, to hear low voices speaking out in the living room. She recognised one easily; it was her mother. The other took a moment - for her to process the unfamiliarity, and the lack of a truely strange accent, and she had it pegged - Roxas.

The voices quieted further, and then died as she approached.

"It's nothing you need to know about, Polgara," her mother said as she came into sight. Polgara's mouth shut automatically around her questions; she'd been obeying her mother for too long to drop the habit now.

"Yes Mother," she replied, although not without a bit of a sigh.

"Don't be like that, Polgara," Poledra chided. "You know how things have to be. Now go make breakfast; that always makes you feel better."

The worst part, Polgara reflected, as she set water to boil, and laid out the bacon and eggs, was that her mother was right. As she cooked, she hummed softly to herself, an old Wacite melody that hadn't been heard in centuries. She'd always been fond of it; it was a sad song, overall, but unlike the majority of Arendish songs, it had a unequivocally happy ending.

Roxas had looked different, this morning. He was curled up in the same chair as he'd been the night before, but there was something about that was... Polgara frowned slightly, as she thought about it. There was something less guarded about him. His eyes had been softer than she remembered, especially in that odd mindscape she'd first met him in.

Her tune shifted as she slid the diced onions into the scrambled eggs. She heard a small sound coming from behind her in the kitchen. It was so unobtrusive, that she almost didn't realise that it wasn't a normal sound.

Oddly, she didn't need anything else to tell her who it was.

"Why don't you set the table, dear?" she said to the lost boy behind her. "Dishes are there, and silverware is there." She pointed out the locations, and a few moments later, she heard a soft rattling. Roxas, it seemed, made no sound when he walked - or so little that Polgara couldn't pick it up.

It struck her that that little 'sound' she'd heard must have been the way he normally announced himself. Almost like clearing his throat.

"Where are the napkins?" The quiet voice surprised Polgara; Roxas moved with so little noise, and his presence was very unobtrusive, that when he actually said something, it was startling.

"In the cupboard, over there," Polgara replied, indicating the cupboard with a finger. Roxas nodded, and continued the task she'd given him. The soft clink of silverware being set in place was comfortingly domestic.

Soon, the smell of breakfast began permeating the cottage. Polgara knew it wouldn't be long before her family began trickling in.

The parade started with her mother, who came in silently, and sat in her usual spot. Next up was Durnik, some minutes later, and he was followed by a pair of yawning daughters.

On their heels came Garion, and on his came Donald and Goofy, Sora's strange friends. Last, and quite possibly least came her father, who promptly sat down beside her mother.

Roxas moved without being told, to help serve breakfast, before taking his own seat, between Garion and Donald. Belgarath started to open his mouth, but he shut it before he even got a word out, at the dual sharp looks of his wife and daughter.

Polgara wasn't certain what had prompted Roxas' helpfulness - whether it had been Poledra, or something in himself, or some combination of both - but she wasn't going to question it.

Breakfast proceeded, slowly, over mostly normal talk. She heard the first girlish giggle part way through the meal. It was quelled even before she glanced over at her daughters. It came again, in a chorus this time, combined with some whispered words in her daughters' own Twin language.

She felt, more than saw the rolled eyes hidden under Roxas' spiky hair. She was mildly comforted by the fact that she hadn't heard any bells around them - and that Roxas didn't seem to show any interest. Her daughters were just approaching 'that age,' when boys might stop being icky.

"Don't worry." The thought was very subtle, like a quiet whisper on the surface of her mind. "They're not my type." Polgara caught a confused glimpse of a girl with very pale golden hair, and then brilliant red hair, black leather, and fire, before she was cut off.

Polgara exchanged looks with her family. Roxas was good - much more subtle than Sora had been, even in their brief acquaintance.

When breakfast was over, Polgara saw her mother give Roxas a look, and then the boy got up, and started helping with the clean-up.

"We'll help too!" It was a chorus of three voices, and a belated fourth, as Goofy elbowed Donald in the side. The other two voices were, of course, Polgara's own daughters.

"No, you won't," Poledra spoke up. "If you wish to help, one has other chores for you. There are things besides the dishes that need doing."

"Ah, if you don't mind, Poledra, I need to borrow those two for a while," Belgarath cut in, indicating Donald and Goofy. "I want to talk to them about a few things."

"Well gawrsh, Belgarath," Goofy replied. "We wouldn't want to be uh, shirking ou-- oof!" This time, it was Donald who elbowed Goofy. Somehow it didn't surprise Polgara that the duck-man wanted to avoid chores. Ducks were always lazy, except when it came to what they viewed as their own interest.

"That one is wild, Polgara." The touch of her mother's thought was old, and familiar. "A lone wolf, in a very real sense." Put together with what Roxas had actually told them last night, Polgara understood.

Humans and wolves weren't really so different, in a lot of ways. Both were predators, and both were pack animals. But a predator outside the pack was a danger to more than just the prey.

Her mother gave her a small nod, and so Polgara set about the delicate task of integrating a loner into their rather odd little pack.

They were halfway done with the dishes - Roxas washing, Polgara drying - before the boy finally spoke.

"This is the first time I've actually done this," he said.

"Oh?" Polgara replied, encouraging him to go on.

"Yeah," Roxas nodded. "I can access Sora's memories of it, and there are some false memories, but nothing real." The last part of that caught Polgara's attention immediately.

"False memories?" she asked carefully. Roxas scowled.

"I don't want to talk about it. It's done now, and I know they're false, and I know that if I ever see that man in the real world, I'll kill him." It was fortunate for Polgara's dishes that Roxas was scrubbing a pot just then, a solid, cast-iron thing, and not something more delicate, like a plate, or a cup.

A part of her wanted to smile; this wasn't the first time she'd heard a little boy say something like that. Of course, even though Roxas - and by extension, Sora - seemed to be about the same age Garion had been then, he was, in a lot of ways, older.

She didn't know the whole story, but she knew enough to know that there was blood on those still slightly outsized hands - and that it didn't seem to bother him in the slightest. In spite of his clear anger, the way Roxas had revealed his plans to kill the man who'd given him false memories was so matter-of-fact, as if one more life was nothing.

Roxas handed her the pot, and carried on as if he'd said nothing. That was when Polgara began to get an inkling as to his nature. He didn't want sympathy, much less pity. He gave information he thought a person needed to understand what he was doing - and leave him to it.

This task was going to be harder than she'd thought.

So, you understand your responsibility. Polgara managed not to jump, but only just barely. It was only very seldom that the voice of Necessity had ever directly spoken to her.

What do you mean? she asked it.

You brought him here. He's your responsibility.

And then she understood. What had seemed like a very minor thing in the grand scheme of things could have very long-ranging consequences. Roxas had sad it himself - he wasn't supposed to be here like this. It was supposed to be Sora here.

The implications of that were suddenly dizzying. Polgara suspeced that it was only because, in a way, Sora still was there that saved the Universe from spiralling into another catastrophe.

Abruptly, she realised that she'd stopped drying, and Roxas was staring at her.

"Figured it out yet?" he asked, just a touch sarcastic. He was holding out a still slightly-dripping pan to her. Slowly, Polgara took the pan. She gave one short nod.

"Good." He didn't say anything more, and Polgara, strangely enough, didn't feel like making him talk. Maybe it was because she was feeling slightly shaken. Or maybe because she was standing next to what could hve been - were it not for a small, incidental technicality - the cause of another split in the Purpose of the Universe. Who was now, apparently, her responsibility.

She continued drying.

-----

At first, Garion didn't understand the purpose of his Grandmother's chores. He did them anyway, of course, because it was what he did. And he'd long since learned that most people in his family did little without purpose - even if that purpose was actually to air out the bedding.

One of the admittedly many things his Aunt Pol had been right about over the years was that simple chores let the mind wander - they were great for thinking. Garion found his mind wandering back to the previous night, and the sudden - unexpected - appearance of Roxas.

There was something that bothered him about the whole thing. He wasn't sure what it was, only that it was something someone had said, or done. He turned the events of last night over in his head, as he helped Durnik air the bedding in the cold, bright winter morning.

Slowly, he considered each action, each word, turning them over, and rejecting them in turn, as they failed to fit his disquietude. He almost asked Durnik, but something told him that this was something he had to work out for himself. It was important, somehow, especially to him, of all his family.

He frowned slightly, as he shook out another quilt, and draped it over the quietly defrosted-and-dried line out in the yard. His mind circled around that thought for a while. He kept trying to reject it, but for some reason, he just couldn't get himself to let it go. So as he shook out the sheets that went with that quilt, he let himself dwell on it for a while.

What was there last night that could pertain especially to him? It was right there, on the edge of his awareness, he realised, as he ran over a particular segment of conversation. He paused as he reached for another sheet, as the implications of a chance comment of Roxas' struck him.

'I'm not supposed to be here right now.'

Garion felt suddenly sick.

"Are you alright? Garion?" Apparently it showed, because Durnik was walking over to him, quickly.

"Durnik..." Garion started. Even his voice sounded ill. "Do you think we'd notice it if the Universe split again?" Durnik stopped short.

"Garion? What are you saying?" he asked carefully.

"Think about what Roxas said last night," Garion replied. "'I'm not supposed to be here,'" he quoted softly. Durnik's eyes widened slightly, and the blood drained from his face.

"Pol--" he was far from stupid; as soon as Garion pointed it out, he'd known his old friend would make the connection. When they both turned to head back inside, Garion was surprised to find the way blocked by Poledra.

"One thought you might have figured it out by now. She's fine. The Universe is still intact - thanks to a technicality - but she must now tend to the responsibilty she's created for herself." When Durnik looked like he might protest, Poledra put her hands on her hips. "The boy won't do anything. He's as aware of the situation as you are - moreso, in fact."

Garion found himself nodding; somehow, that made sense.

"I think it'll be all right, Durnik," he said, reaching to put an arm on the older man's shoudler. "We'd have heard it if anything happened. And i think the Orb, at least, would have noticed if the Universe split again."

As if that mention had attracted its attention, the Orb then proceeded to show Garion just what would have happened if the Universe had split again. It wasn't pleasant, to say the very least; if they'd somehow, against all odds managed to survive, they'd certainly have had to find a new planet to live on.

He was also informed in no uncertain terms that the Orb was very glad that there hadn't been another 'accident.'

"And now," Poledra was saying, "one would like it if the two of you would finish airing out the bedding."

Durnik and Garion exchanged a wry look. It was pretty clear where Polgara had inherited at least a few of her character traits from. There was nothing they could really do, at that point, but to finish the chore they'd started.

Garion knew they were both worried about Aunt Pol - Durnik probably even more than he was, come to think of it - but he didn't think that Grandmother would let any harm come to her.

Seemlingly satisfied with their industriousness, Poledra left a few minutes later, probably to check on the chores she'd left the others to do.

"What do you think?" Garion asked quietly, a few minutes after Poledra had left.

"I think we need to be careful," Durnik replied after a few moments. "Now that I think about it, maybe Roxas not telling us things has saved the Universe. He knows things the rest of us don't, but if we learn them at the wrong time, one of us could do something to set of another accident - and none of us want that."

Garion nodded; that was about what he'd figured himself. It was good to hear it from someone else though, especially from someone like Durnik, who'd been something of a rock his entire life.

"For the sake of argument," Garion said. "The Universe is fixed, so to speak. Back on track. What makes you think an accident could happen again?" On one hand, he hoped Durnik wouldn't say what he was thinking. On the other hand, if there were more ways...

"It happened the first time, didn't it?" the older man said wiht a shrug. "There's no reason it couldn't happen again."

"Except that people like us are here to stop it," Garion added. Durnik nodded. Garion felt it on the edge of his awareness as his old friend sent out a tendril of thought to check on Polgara anyway; better to be safe than sorry, after all.

-----

It seemed to Roxas that no sooner had they finished the dishes (and for the first time, his fingers really felt raw and tingling from the harsh dishsoap, and wasn't that novel?), than they had to start on lunch.

"Everyone's been working hard this morning, dear," Polgara said serenely. Aside from that one moment of disequillibrium when she realised just what she'd done (hey, he'd tried warning her. It wasn't his fault she didn't want to listen), she seemed to always be serene.

Roxas wasn't stupid though; calm waters hid troubled depths, as the saying went. He was sure that if you scratched the surface, you'd find one severely rattled lady.

A pang of sympathy hit him. It took him several long moments to figure it out, and then he frowned at himself. Having a heart was much harder than he'd thought.

Or maybe it was just him? Would the others have this same kind of trouble? He was pretty sure they at least remembered what it was like. He had to learn everything from scratch.

Everything. Because everything was different, with a heart. The world seemed brighter, more vivid, even if the edges of things were fuzzier (or maybe Sora just needed glasses; how could he tell?).

Roxas suppressed a sigh as he passed Polgara a wheel of cheese. In spite of everything, he still had mixed feelings about being-- Well, what do you call a Nobody who's part of his Somebody again?

A whole person? the increasingly familiar voice suggested.

Shut up, Roxas suggested. He'd first heard the voice when he was staring up at Sora in that pod, DiZ behind him, implacable and full of hate. That was what had ultimately made him rejoin with Sora, not anything DiZ had said, or any flicker of feeling he himself had had.

Without being asked, he pulled a large knife from the block, and made short work of the vegetables Polgara produced from somewhere.

When Polgara's daughters (a pair of girls who giggled, and babbled at each other whenever they looked at Roxas) came in from their chores, she set them to work as well.

By the time the others began trickling in (or, more accurate, Roxas knew, Poledra let them trickle in), lunch was ready to be served.