am I?" Aya asked. The words were lost on the air, providing no sound or motion other than making her red hair bob in time with her words. "Hello?" she tried again, calling out with no more effect than the first time. Wherever she was, she knew two things about it. First, it was dark. Not just dark, but an inky black cave darkness that made it impossible for her to see anything. Second, it was silent. So silent that it hurt her ears to strain and search for even the tiniest noise. "Is there anyone there?" she called out, almost begging for someone to respond.
<I am here, child.> a voice told her, echoing through her mind. She looked around again, but was still able to see nothing, let alone anything that could have spoken.
"You can hear me?" Aya asked, pondering it for a moment. How could anyone hear her when she couldn't even hear herself? "Am I dreaming?" she concluded. Only someone like her would jump to that answer so quickly, because obviously that had to be what it was. It was a strange dream, but had to be a dream nonetheless.
<This is not a dream. I will assure you of that. You are here for a reason, because soon you'll have need of a great strength. But not yet. For now you only need to open your eyes, Aya.>
Somehow she hadn't realized they were closed until she was told. Opening her golden brown eyes, Aya found herself floating just above a platform of stained glass, engraved with her own image, as well as her three best friends. She drifted down towards it, landing on it much more gracefully than she could have managed in Real life. "This is a Heartstation." The words were automatic. She'd played Kingdom Hearts enough to know, despite her mother's admonishment that she wasn't allowed to.
<Indeed it is. You
"Who are you?" Aya asked, interrupting whatever the voice was about to say next, making another attempt to locate the source of the voice, now that she could see around her. Only inky blackness greeted her eyes, filling the air around the Heartstation like a fog, swirling black and purple as far as she could see.
<That isn't important. I'm only a wanderer in the darkness. What is important right now is that you listen.>
Aya stopped searching. What did it matter? It was only a dream, after all. "Fine. Speak." She told the voice, sounding more confident than she felt.
<There are things you have forgotten, Aya. Things and people. And you're the only one who can help them. But in order to help them you'll need a part of yourself that's been locked away.> the voice paused, letting the last part sink in. <Will you come to the center of the platform for me?>
"This is crazy. Crazy, and a dream, and fine, I'll do it." Aya walked over to what she figured was roughly the middle. As soon as she did, a spotlight lit where she stood, making even the rest of the Heartstation seem dark in comparison. Aya blinked, looking up towards the light but ended up with spots in her eyes, and so looked back out to the horizon.
<This is neither crazy nor a dream, Aya, I assure you once more. But I don't have much longer. My power is limited, and it's taking a lot for me to do this.> With that said, a silver orb of light descended in front of her, chipped and fragmented in many places. <If I gave you all of yourself at once the shock might leave you incapacitated. For now, this small piece will have to do. Take it.>
Aya stared at it for a short time, studying it. It wasn't much smaller than a baseball, or she figured if it were fully together that it wouldn't be. It reminded her of a child's nightlight, not putting much light out, but enough that she could tell it was glowing. Reaching out, she took it in the palm of her hand, watching as it dissolved, spreading a warm light across her entire body.
<You have no formal training, but your instinct will have to suffice. The time draws near when you will have to use your power. For now we must part. You are waking.>
"So this was a dream!" Aya shouted accusingly. Even if she knew it was she felt a little hurt that the voice had lied to her. It was a shame, too, because the dream just started to get interesting.
<No. I promise you. It is as real as anything else in the cosmos. And you'll be called upon soon, Aya. It will be your time to fight.> She was drifting off, which she found weird. She'd never fallen asleep in a dream. Her vision went foggy again, and Aya was thrown back into the soundless and sightless void that she had started in.
"Aya, wake up!" she was finally jolted awake by a brunette who she collided with. Alex cursed as she retreated away from the desk, holding her head painfully and screwing up her face before she started laughing.
"I probably deserved that for standing that close." Alex commented. She grinned at Aya, reclaiming her position in the half circle of friends as they waited for Aya to leave the last of her daze.
"Probably." Joey agreed, brushing his black bangs out of his face as Alex came over to his left side, giving a final small grumble of protest at her injury.
"We thought you were never going to wake up!" Misa chided. "You were out cold in dreamland, not that the teacher cared since we weren't doing anything today." Her blue eyes shone with happiness, even as she glared at Aya. "But you're awake now!"
"So, what was the dream about?" Alex asked, having sufficiently recovered from the blow to her head. She grabbed her backpack from behind her, letting it hang loosely from one arm.
" Aya blinked. It was right there at the back of her mind, but she couldn't seem to place what had happened exactly. "Don't remember." She admitted with a shrug as she collected her own backpack from behind her desk. "What does it matter? Hello? The last day of school? It's now officially summer break? So what are we doing standing around here when we could be at my house?"
"We were waiting on you, Sleeping Beauty." Joey teased. A small blush passed over Aya's face and she laughed. "Oh. Yeah, I guess it wouldn't be any good to go to my house without me
" she admitted, laughing.
"But now we can go!" Misa cheered, starting to make a run for it. Not too long after, the three others followed her out the door and left the school, walking the short way to Aya's house. Alex and Misa stopped by their house to drop off their backpacks and, in the typical fashion of their mothers, ended up coming out with a basket of food.
Alex laughed as she rejoined Aya and Joey, who were waiting out on the porch. "I swear, Mom thinks we're going to starve if we don't have her cooking." She commented, sitting with them and waiting as Misa got out of her school uniform. Alex never took any time at all changing, but somehow when you put Misa in front of her closet, no matter if she was putting her uniform on in the morning or casual clothes, it took her at least 10 minutes longer than Alex to get dressed.
"What'd Jen pack up this time?" Joey asked, peeking into the basket.
Alex listed off the contents. "Ham and cheese sandwiches, a bag of chips, pasta salad, and some kind of soda."
Misa emerged then from the house wearing her favorite blue dress and some sandals, and the others got up in preparation to leave. Alex looked over what her sister had chosen and sighed. "I just don't get how it takes you 10 minutes to put on a dress and do the buckles for a pair of sandals." She commented, shaking her head.
As they left Alex's house, Dauphin Island promised the four teenagers that the rest of the day would be as beautiful as it began. There wasn't a cloud in the sky as far as they could see, and they made it to Aya's house without a hitch. The rest of the day was spent doing what they often did on the first day of break. They played video games and other time killers as they talked about their summer plans. Just as they had gotten everything layed out for their summer, Alex glanced out the window. "Aw man, it's already sunset. Mom and Mum will be hysterical if we're not back by dinner."
Misa laughed. "Remember when James came home last summer covered in burrs because he'd had to run through some to get home in time?"
Alex joined her sister's laughter. "Yeah. I also remember that we had to help him get uncovered before we could start dinner."
Joey rolled his eyes. "You two are the weirdest sisters." he told them, standing up. "And I should be getting home too."
Aya nodded. "Everyone knows the plan for tomorrow, right?"
"The beach, no later than 10." Misa recited. "Just like all our first days."
The next day all four teens woke to gray skies, but it didn't change any of their plans. As long as it wasn't raining their summer adventures would continue. The sun was hidden behind the unbroken expanses of clouds, sweeping to meet all four edges of the horizon. That morning Alex was the first to arrive, having done nothing with herself except for throw on some jeans, a t-shirt and some shoes and running a brush through her hair before leaving her house. She sat patiently on the rock that marked where the wooden planks of the Boardwalk met the first hint of the sugar sand beach. After a while Misa joined her, running up the boardwalk.
"You left me!" she whined, hopping onto the rock and pouting as she sat next to Alex. "I thought we agreed that we'd leave together, because you know that I don't like walking the boardwalk alone! What if an alligator ate me?"
"There aren't alligators or crocodiles in the marsh under the Boardwalk." Alex reminded her.
"What if they migrated there since Winter Break?" Misa shot back. "Besides, why did you come out so early today? We didn't have to be here until 10. There's a whole hour until everyone else will be here."
"So?" Alex shrugged, staring off into the distance.
Misa shook her head. "I've known you for 10 years, Alex, and I still don't know why you always come here so early." She commented, gazing off into the distance.
" Alex thought about it for a second. "It's difficult to explain. Every day looks a little different than the day before. You can chalk it up to whatever you want to. Beach erosion, different clouds, different angles of the sun, but everyday there's a view that won't ever be duplicated again. Just
." She paused again. "Be quiet for a minute. You have to really look at it, Misa. You can't just stare at it without soaking any thing in, I mean you really have to let yourself see everything. It's really special right now. Gray skies usually comes together with rain, but today it's... different."
In response Misa just stared at her sister, judging how crazy she had gone.
Alex glanced over at Misa and laughed, standing up on the rock. "Trust me, Misa." She said, moving behind her and taking her head, turning it out to face the sea. "Have a Circle of Life moment. Just look at everything. Soak it in. Sometimes it's almost possible to forget where you are." She dropped back down to her seat, happy to see her sister at least trying to see what Alex always made a point of seeing. However, before Alex thought her sister really understood they were interrupted by Aya's shouts. Everyone else was here early too.
"We're here!" Aya shouted, running down the boardwalk, Joey just a bit behind her. "Have you been waiting long?"
Alex jumped off the rock, feet landing happily in the sugar sand beach. "Nah. Not too much longer than normal, really." She waited for Joey to join their circle before asking the pinnacle question of the summer. "So, which way are we going?" she asked.
"We went that way last summer, but never really got further than the little rock alcove." Aya noted, pointing off to the left of the boardwalk.
"Well, that means we could either keep going left in hopes of finding out what's further along than where we got, or we could go the opposite way and start exploring to the right of us." Joey noted.
"But both options sound really interesting!" Misa whined. "How are we going to choose?"
"Flip a coin?" Alex and Aya said in unison, before grinning at each other.
Joey rolled his eyes. "You two are freaky when you do that, you know?" he asked, fishing in his pockets for a coin. "Alright, Heads we go left, tails we go right. Sound fair?" Joey didn't wait for confirmation before flipping the coin in the air, letting it land in the sand.
"Tails." Misa said, looking off to their right. "So, the unexplored way." They set off the way that had been chosen As the day wore on nothing of particular interest happened. Aya found a Sacajawea dollar buried in the sand, Joey and Alex started a sand fight, and through the entire day Misa kept looking off to the sea, trying to figure out what her sister meant. The skies got progressively darker as they kept walking, but never rained until they were on their way home across the boardwalk.
"What a time to start pouring." Joey groaned, pushing the hair out of his eyes. "Well, looks like this is where we part." He said, coming to a fork in the road, leading off in a different direction than the girl's houses. "See you."
The third day of break showed no sign of letting up, and by the time their first weekend came around the skies had been shifting between a light gray and pitch black, the rain never letting up entirely. On Friday they finally made the phone rounds and got everyone together at Aya's house.
"It's like it's nighttime." Alex peeked out the window, frowning. "Except for, unless everyone's clocks broke, it's supposed to be noon."
"The weather's gone crazy." Joey agreed. "I've never seen us get a rainstorm like this."
Aya sighed. "You're all going to get soaked going home." She joined Alex by the window as her mom, Ringo, passed through.
"I wouldn't have any objections to them spending the night." She suggested. "I'll just ring up everyone's parents!" and, without any further warning, she had disappeared into the kitchen, black hair just barely visible from around the corner as she started dialing up their parents.
Joey rolled his eyes, laughing. "I love how she doesn't even really ask." He squeezed in between the two girls. "She just dashes off to do it."
Aya shrugged. "That's Mom for you." She mumbled as Misa joined them as well.
The silence that fell was broken only by the thunder outside until a much louder explosion cascaded over their ears, the sky staying just as dark as it had been. The four turned around, staring at the basement door, where they knew the sound had come from. As they expected a blonde boy emerged from the basement, plumes of smoke rising with him before he shut the door, coughing.
"Mom's going to get mad if you do your experiments in the house, Even." Aya stated, turning back towards the window.
"Well, I don't see how I can do them outside right now!" he complained, walking past them to the coat rack to use one of the towels that they had been using to dry off when they first came. He wiped himself down before dejectedly sitting on the couch. "I didn't realize you three were here." Even commented, noticing Alex, Joey, and Misa for the first time since he'd come upstairs.
The three gave small acknowledgment of his hello, having already returned their gazes to the window. "It'll never stop at this rate." Joey commented, stepping away from his seat and, having grown bored of watching the weather, sat on the couch with Even, flipping through channels on the television.
"Well, it can't get much worse, can it?" Misa asked, sighing as she joined Joey, who had found some show about ghosts.
"So, it's lunch time. How about we go raid your fridge, Aya?" Alex asked, standing. That was enough to get their minds off the weather, at least temporarily.
That night, as their parents had no issue with the three spending the night at Aya's house, they gathered in her room, whittling away the night with stupid slumber party games. "Alright, Aya. Truth or Dare?" Joey asked.
The red-head took too long mulling it over before answering. "Dare."
Joey grinned. He'd been hoping she'd say that. "I dare you to... go outside. I dare all of you to."
"That's not how Truth or Dare works!" Misa complained. "You can't dare all of us!"
Joey just shrugged. "Well, if you want to be a chicken you can stay here."
Misa shook her head. "N-no, I don't want to
" she mumbled.
"I'll do it." Alex said, standing up. "I'm not scared of a little rain."
The three girls were caught off guard. "But it's not just a little rain! It's pouring out there! Not to mention pitch black!" Misa complained.
"And you, Aya? Are you read to face your destiny?" Joey grinned, and his mouth didn't seem to match the words.
Aya blinked. "Huh?"
Joey rolled his eyes. "I asked if you were too scared to go out?"
She was sure he had said something else. But no. That was crazy. "Fine. I'll do it."
"Final chance, Misa." Joey offered, standing with the other two.
Misa nibbled at her lip, pouting. "Fine. But only because I don't want to be left alone." She stood, brushing her blue dress free of snack crumbs.
"But first I think we need to get some better clothes on. These will get soaked." Alex said, looking at the three others in their pajamas.
Misa nodded. "Out of the room, Joey. You can use the bathroom to change." she told him.
As soon as their were properly outfitted, the four crept past both Even Junior and Ringo's rooms, unlocking the front door with ease. Alex was the first to peek out. "I think it stopped raining." She noted, stepping onto the porch.
"Still as dark as before, though." Aya said, retrieving a flashlight from a shelf near the door.
"W-what it there's something out there?" Misa whispered.
"Like what? The neighbor's dog?" Joey ushered her our the door, closing it behind him. "Anyone else up for some night time exploring?"