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    This is the sixth entry in the Keys to the Kingdom series. Reading out of order can cause confusion and brain explosion! If you haven't read the first entry, click here!


    Chapter 5: Training

    Early rising was not Mia’s thing. She never woke up any earlier than nine on a weekend or summer day, and the internal alarm clock that woke her up at six for school usually switched off the moment school let out. So you can imagine Mia’s annoyance when she woke up to find the black-haired girl from yesterday sitting on her stomach at four o’clock in the morning.

    “Why are you sitting on me and why are you doing it at four o’clock in the morning?” Mia grunted.

    “’Cause you wouldn’t wake up any other way,” the girl, Yuffie, chimed. “Leon wanted me to train you, so we’re doing this the ninja way! This sort of entails waking up at four o’clock in the morning.”

    “Ninja way…? You’re a ninja?” Mia would have thought it was cool if she wasn’t still trying to wake up.

    “Only the best this side of the ‘verse,” Yuffie giggled. “Now get up before I get angry. We have a lot of things to do and not a lot of hours in the day to do them. Chop, chop!” She jumped off Mia’s chest and skipped out.

    Mia flopped tiredly out of bed and onto the floor with a moan. Hauling herself up, she stumbled to the wall where the keyblade leaned.

    “Leave it!” Yuffie’s voice drifted in from the hallway.

    Too tired to argue, Mia changed course and teetered after the girl.

    Out in the foyer, Yuffie looked around. “This’ll do.”

    “This’ll do for what?” asked a voice from behind Mia.

    She turned. The voice belonged to Tifa, the other woman in Yuko’s shop. She too looked a little drowsy.

    Yuffie put a hand on Mia’s head. “I’m gonna train her! According to Vin-chan, she needs it all kinds of bad.”

    Tifa laughed out loud. “First, Vincent would eat you alive if he heard you call him ‘Vin-chan’—”

    “Oh, he knows he loves me,” Yuffie retorted with a grin.

    “Second, why did you have to have her up at four o’clock in the morning?” Tifa stretched, running a single gloved hand through her hair. Mia hadn’t been able to appreciate Tifa’s beauty next to the beauty of Yuko, but she could now. She had the subtle charm of the girl next door.

    Yuffie frowned. “Why is everybody asking me that today?”

    Mia yawned heavily, too tired to say anything. Yuffie smacked her in the back of the head. “No yawning! Yawning makes you sleepier!”

    Tifa laughed and sat down beside the fountain to watch the torture that Yuffie called training.

    Things went from easy to not-so-easy then to “oh my God, I’m going to die”. The ninja girl was strangely accommodating at first, going from summoning the keyblade from thin air (something that Mia found much easier than expected) to simple combat moves. They started out just by slashing slowly at the air, tai chi style.

    Yuffie quickened the pace faster than Mia could keep up, however, throwing in more and more complicated moves as time went on. Tifa pitched in a little, showing Mia (using Yuffie as a model) places to hit where it would really hurt with minimal effort.

    Then Yuffie and Mia were sparring, and Yuffie held very little back. Mia got a little better each time, but a “little better” wasn’t very much. By the tenth round, she was able to stay “alive” for about half a minute. Comparatively much better than the five-second scuffle she’d had with Roxas two days previously, but still pretty awful compared to most people in Radiant Gardens. And she was still only able to block Yuffie’s gigantic shuriken. The girl never gave Mia the chance to attack.

    So Mia had to do something she had never really done before: get creative on the fly. Everything Mia did was usually meticulously planned, but she began to realize that fighting was a lot like a form of physical debate with someone who made up answers to suit their needs. The comparative should have been obvious right off the bat. Why she hadn’t seen it before was beyond her. She’d debated with idiots before, and a fight would kind of be like that. Only this time, she’d have to lower herself to the idiot level as well.

    “Alright,” said Yuffie, working out a kink in her shoulder. “Let’s go through this again. Got the timer, Tifa?”

    Tifa nodded in the affirmative, holding the digital watch aloft. “Ready? FIGHT!”

    Yuffie charged. Mia had figured out at the second time Yuffie usually started out straightforwardly like this. Normally, Mia blocked. Now, she dropped to her knees. The shuriken swept over her head and Yuffie lost balance with a squeak.

    Mia stabbed forward with the Keyblade. Yuffie somersaulted forward, and the Cupid’s Arrow went right in between her legs. Mia jumped up, blocking Yuffie’s next blow. Tifa cheered, whistling.

    Yuffie grinned, looking like she was actually having fun this time. They came at each other again, blocking and countering, jumping around each other. Five minutes passed, and Mia and Yuffie were still going at it.

    The commotion of the extended sparring lesson brought the attention of a few of the castle’s other inhabitants. Leon showed up and hung out for a while, looking as entertained as Tifa, but left when Aerith appeared and spoke briefly with him about something.

    “Leon’s usually busy,” Yuffie explained as she attempted to sneak past Mia’s defenses. “He’s sort of the mayor of Radiant Gardens now. He doesn’t have enough time to just hang out and chat. Not that he doesn’t try, I mean.”

    Mia laughed as she dodged an incoming blow. “Leon doesn’t really strike me as the slacker type.”

    “Well, he hasn’t been until lately. Maybe it’s ‘cause he’s got so much responsibility now. We help him out as much as we can, but he just seems sort of tired nowadays. He’s got so much on his plate, what with finding the other Keyblade Masters.”

    “He said that the king dude made these locks last year,” Mia shouted over the sound of her key and Yuffie’s shuriken colliding. “Why didn’t you guys go out and find them then?”

    “Because the Keyblades didn’t actually choose anyone until two weeks ago. And the radar that Yuko-sama was making for us wasn’t ready until last week. By then it was too late for the first one chosen, and almost too late to save you.”

    And with that, Yuffie slipped past Mia’s key and tapped her gently on the head with the flat of her giant shuriken. “Time!” she called.

    Tifa checked the stopwatch. “Almost ten minutes!”

    “Great! Water break!”

    The two girls walked over to the fountain, where someone had set up a water cooler and a bunch of paper cups. Yuffie snagged one, filled it almost to the brim, and downed it like a shot.

    Mia filled a cup and sat down by the fountain next to Tifa. “So, Yuko…”

    “Oh, you met her, then?” Yuffie asked, refilling her cup.

    Tifa nodded. “Yeah. We met at her shop yesterday.”

    Yuffie wrinkled her nose. “I don’t know what to think of that woman. She’s nice enough, sure, but when it comes to that business of hers, she sees everything with one eye. She’d make her grandmother pay for prescriptions if it meant grabbing some extra stuff for her little junk collection she calls a treasure trove. I lost my favorite pair of nunchucks to that loon for the radar thing, and she took Tifa’s ribbon, too.”

    “Cloud gave it to me when we were kids,” said Tifa regretfully.

    “I heard you mention this ‘Cloud’ yesterday. Who is he?” asked Mia.

    Tifa’s face turned the color of a stoplight. Yuffie leaned on the older woman’s head. “Cloud is Tifa’s sweetheart,” she giggled. “They were friends back when they were bathtub-rim tall.”

    The woman blushed harder and brushed her raven hair behind her ear. “It’s been almost a year since I saw him last.”

    “Cloud left Radiant Gardens last year looking for his archrival or something,” Yuffie explained. “Tifa’s been waiting for him to come back home ever since.”

    “How romantic!” Mia giggled, taking a sip of water. “I wish I had someone that was that loyal to me.” She glared off into space. “But no… all I wind up crushing on is a guy who tries to rape me.”

    Both of the other women looked alarmed. Mia told them about what had happened the day before yesterday with Seifer.

    Yuffie looked at Mia with pity, and then her face split into a grin. “Well, there’s a simple solution to that.” Off Mia’s confused look, she continued. “Get even! It’s a moral imperative.”

    Mia scoffed. “Seifer practically runs… ran… the town. How am I supposed to get even with a guy that almost everyone worships?”

    Yuffie stood, producing her giant shuriken. She threw it in the air and then caught it, striking a ninja-esque pose. “Get stronger!” she answered. Standing up straight again, she smiled. “I’ll show you something cool you can do with your keyblade.”

    Mia picked it up and held it out in front of her.

    “Concentrate on the tip.”

    “That’s all?”

    “Concentrate and wait!”

    Mia concentrated, staring at the tip hard enough to burn holes in it. And then a big white orb of light appeared on the tip and shot off. She screamed as the orb ricocheted off the wall and slammed into the chandelier above their heads, lighting up the crystals and sending little flecks of glowing light down on their heads. The force of the ball of light had pushed her back and onto the floor.

    Tifa whistled appreciatively. “I didn’t know Pearl could do that…”

    “Neither did I,” Yuffie humphed. “Pretty though.”

    “Cool,” Mia muttered.

    And then Leon entered once more through the front door. “Girls, I hope she’s—” He paused as he registered the sparkles falling from the ceiling. “Okay… who turned the entrance hall into the glitter factory and then blew up all the machinery?”

    Mia coughed and stood. “Um, yeah. Sorry about that, Leon.”

    He shook his head, holding his hand up. “It’ll go away. Hopefully.” Leon turned his quiet gaze to Yuffie. “Do you think she’s set?”

    “As set as she’s going to be in one day,” Yuffie answered. “She’s getting really good, Leon, you need to see her.”

    “I will soon enough. The Heartless are back.”

    Mia knew that she should probably be steeling herself for her first big battle. But the only thing that she found herself thinking was simply two words. “Not again.”


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