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Fanfiction ► Casting a Fortune for the Future [KHML]



press △ to sora
Apr 29, 2015

At the end of his time in Scala ad Caelum, a weary Master Ephemer makes a desperate plea in the face of inevitable calamity.
casting a fortune for the future.

The waves of Scala ad Caelum crashed at Ephemer’s feet. A nightly breeze rustled through his white curls and kissed his skin cold at the shore. He closed his eyes at the sensation washing over him, and prayed the wind would lift him free from the land and carry him far off and away. But when his eyes opened, the same still churning dark sea greeted him and little more. Behind him the town center loomed as it climbed in step-like tiers reaching toward the stars.

He awoke alone into a blank and empty world, but in time more and more hearts gathered there. Life was passed down time and time again until the land was filled with a thriving people. Societies grew and branched through the city, each a congregation fighting for its own sake and future. Now Scala bustled with life, with culture, with progress…

And yet he never stopped feeling alone.

His heart ached even now, just as it had the moment the lifeboat pod hissed opened and he found himself in an endless dead sea—everything washed away. All that loss and ruin, all those broken worlds… Try as he might to move on, to build something new, an irreparable change tore through him—

He could never unlearn just how fragile it all was.

In a single moment he’d watched the town he’d spent his whole life in—his entire world—break before him. All those homes and houses, the hills stretching as far as the eye could see, the countless lands in the long beyond they only saw glimpses of through the Book… gone. Daybreak Town once used to be thriving, everywhere Ephemer looked there was endless potential to find a friend, to connect with someone, to learn their stories. A world brimming with life… enough to wage a war. He tried to recall their many faces, and not just his fellow wielders, but the civilians running the shops and stalls, the bakers rising early to make fresh bread, the gardeners tending to the public parks… Dead hearts washed away in the tide.

Living through ruin like that, there was no return to a true sense of safety. Even if Ephemer told himself he’d found safe haven and community at last, that he was no longer alone… the reality lingered in the back of his mind all the same: none of this will last. Try as he might, and he had so many times over the years, over changing from a Me to an Us, from an Us to a Family, from a Family to a Society—it didn’t matter. He could not cloud his vision.

Buildings that once seemed unshakable now a breeze from crumbling. Carved cliff-sides in the grand scheme of things mere seconds from eroding into the sea. He knew in time even the many statues of his younger self “triumphing” over his worst moment that littered Scala ad Caelum would one day be little more than dust. But it wasn’t just the structures and monuments, the people who made them, too… Everyone was destined to leave this world, everything ephemeral.

Ruin befalls us all, eventually.

How then could he bear not knowing even more than he did? In the beginning it was only through the Book he could ever let himself live in the now, positive that nothing bad would happen to those he cherished again. So long as he didn’t read too far into the future, he could breathe once more, even if momentarily. Despite spending most of his youth dreaming about reading the Book of Prophecies and learning all there was to know, he managed to abstain his hand from too many page turns. It worked, it gave him a few good years. If only he’d been stronger…

But the birth of his first child, even in his despondent state, shifted the currents in his heart. From the second he held them in his arms and their tiny hand wrapped around his pinky, Ephemer had to know. And so he read and he read and he read. Everything that was going to come to pass. Clung to it like a life preserver in a stormy sea. He believed if he could simply know everything he could plan against every eventuality. In time, with enough cosmic knowledge, he could prevent loss from happening ever again.

That, too, worked for a while.

Secured with a fountain of knowledge, Scala ad Caelum entered an era of prosperity and growth, technology and progress. It was through that progress and knowledge that they first discovered it while excavating the city core—the Astral Plane, a completely unknown frontier connecting existence and non-existence… It astounded the Founders, and while Ephemer was among them at the time, it did not surprise him. For of course the Book had led him there, its discovery the final note of a page. No, their true founder’s shock came later, when he turned to see what came next—

And found only blank pages.

Aside from a scant few lines here and there, most of the book covering the remainder of their era was simply… unwritten, and the despair soon found its way back through his veins. How could there simply be nothing left, no clue to guide them? Just a terrified lonely little boy facing an endless empty blank unknown again. Ephemer believed he understood that nothing lasted and yet he found himself surprised there was still something left for him to learn he could lose.

That’s what it always came back to in the end anyway: loss. It didn’t matter the shape, the form, the time or the era. Destined or by chance, fate or coincidence, death awaited all. And surely, as it had for every era that came to an end before them, it was what awaited their glorious empire in those blank pages. The End of Everything They Knew. He felt it, and he was sure the societies did, too.

With no recourse but to delve ever farther into the Astral Plane, their only signposted direction to head in, the societies took to sending their own representative wielders to plumb its depths. What they found was something remarkable—fragmented memories spanning many worlds, but not just of their pasts, but also their presents and their futures—knowledge, all contained in figurine-like “Pieces”. So long as they continued to gather these pieces, they’d be able to stitch together boundless foresight about what would come to pass.

Far beyond the scope of that little old Book.

The people rejoiced, believing their time in the dark unknown would soon be over, that death itself may even one day be over. The more pieces gathered, the closer they would come to knowing all there was to know, and with that, a path to an endless era of prosperity. But with every society collecting this forbidden knowledge for the sake of themselves, it didn’t take long for the promise of that golden unseen paradise to become something the people coveted.

Ephemer understood it. On some level maybe he even believed it was human nature, that it was in a sense inevitable. Perhaps the endless cycle of cataclysm that befell humanity was not a fault of the stars, but of themselves. After all, what were the Societies if not Unions by another name? What was Scala if not the ghost built on the ruins of Daybreak Town? Yes, he understood it all too well.

For so long he believed it was the righteous thing to do himself. He encouraged The Founders—his heir society—to search out as many pieces as they could find as well. Believed the only way they could prepare for the future was by knowing it, by intimately discovering the secrets of their world. It was the only way to ensure their continued legacy, the only way to thwart the terrifying unknown of χ. Of course every society believed the same, as they continued to grow and grow and grow.

Yes, he believed in Scala’s new mission. Believed in it so much he forgot the old one.

But now? Hm…

On his way down to the shoreline that night, passing along the cobblestone streets, a familiar feeling struck him. Everywhere he looked people bustled about: stalls selling their wares, guards keeping watch, baristas pouring nightly pick-me-ups at the cafe. So many people belonging to so many different societies, all collecting pieces for themselves… It was as if he had lived this all before in some other now forgotten bygone world—and a dark sensation echoed in his heart:

a world brimming with life, enough to wage a war…

Well now, as the cold waters lapped at his feet—his time in the world coming to a close—Ephemer realized how foolish he’d been: so lost in his fears, he’d forgotten his true pursuit. So scared of death he forgot what he was living for, what he’d always been living for. That small seed of hope that kept him alive even when faced with an empty dead sea—a chance for reunion.

For the longest time he went on, believing it to be the only way, that so long as he kept surviving, one day the tide would bring them back to him. The other half of his heart. His long lost best friend…

It never did. No matter how many nights Ephemer waited along the shore. No matter how many other drifters came to find refuge there. Time and time again he’d stand at the beach and wait. The tide would come in and take the shore out with it. He’d sink bit by bit into the sand, the earth inching up his feet, nothing ever coming to meet him. Once he sunk past his ankles, he’d leave only to try it all over again another night.

Every time he’d stare at the horizon and ask in time with the waves: just where are you? where are you? where are you? And the tide would go out, with no answers to give.

A cycle he subjected himself to over and over, until tale came from some of the drifters of a world of endless sea and sky—a world beyond. They spoke of it as if it were visions of some kind of afterworld, a land for the dead to linger, where countless stars could be found whispering. A domain they believed they could only hope to glimpse in the depths of sleep…

Ephemer sighed, weary and worn. He’d sunk to his ankles while reminiscing, and the cold raised his flesh. He turned to look back at his empire, at Scala ad Caleum, as it towered in steps ascending toward the sky. All that progress, all that knowledge, and still not enough. Tears pricked along his eyes as he stared long and hard at the clouds hanging out of reach above the central tower.

If I had reached the heavens, would I have found you there?

Now it was far too late for him to ever know. With every society focused on hoarding pieces and cosmic knowledge for themselves, they’d long abandoned any plans for the expansion of The Stairway. They didn’t want to find what waited beyond death, they wanted to avert it from ever happening. While it shaped their skyline, their city structure, their culture, The Stairway was little more than a discarded monument now. Much like himself.

While they once were able to freely communicate and collaborate together, it was as if the societies no longer shared a language. They grew distrustful of each other now that they all believed to have something the others wanted. Darkness was growing in their hearts, and it would continue to grow and fester the longer they fought over the astral bounty. While Ephemer had tried to steer them away, to course-correct the dangerous path he inadvertently put them on, all his words fell useless to their ears. Nothing he could say could help them unlearn either.

So they ignored his pleas and continued on, claiming it was to fill in the gaps of the unwritten era, of those terrifying blank pages, and for the second time Ephemer realized how powerless he was in the face of what had been put in motion—a machine that would continue to turn long after he’d leave this world, until the gears ground together into catastrophe. Standing on the precipice of that a second time in his one life gave him pause.

Ephemer couldn’t help but wonder… was the Book really what was destined to come to pass? Or was it simply the instructions to a grand and complex design that he was incapable of perceiving? Had it not already been written—not already been instructed to him—would they have ever found the Astral Plane to begin with? Would the societies have turned?

He had to remind himself that the Book did not come into immaculate existence. It was not some mysterious relic given by the divine, born out of Kingdom Hearts. The Book was authored. And the darker question remained: if the Book was little more than instructions to a grand machine, what final outcome was it intending to produce?

All his search for knowledge and he still couldn’t fathom it.

And he couldn’t help but wonder if everything he was doing, even now as he fought to undo it, was just the intended, designed, chain of reactions needed to bring the machine to its next stage. The thought frightened him to his very being—a mental cage where no matter what action he chose he might be unwillingly playing into the devil’s hand. But what choice did he have left? Left unchecked the darkness festering in the societies—the hoarding of cosmic knowledge for the sake of their continued legacy—would bring about The End, not just of Scala ad Caelum but of the entire Greater World all over again.

The Societies were scared for Scala’s future and their place in it, the unknown of the pages sprouting doubt in their hearts, but they didn’t truly believe the universe was threatened by their actions. The scale was imperceptible to them. Such a thing was simply unfathomable to someone who hadn’t lived it. But Ephemer had. The experience stained his heart so irreversibly… The very mark and fear that lead to all of this.

Yes, Ephemer would never be able to unlearn how fragile the world really was…

But now his last hope rested in that same fragility—the empire he built needed to crumble, for the sake of the World.

His heart ached with grief, a force so strong it eroded him, with every step he took to enact his own design. The more he needed to treat people like pawns on a board, the more his own heart wounded and withered, but it was the only way left. The only hope they had of keeping the World alive.

They’d been so blinded by the blankness of their era they’d forgotten what it all still lead to beyond it—the final passage of the Book.

On that fated land, a Great War shall transpire.
Darkness will prevail, and the light expire.

If that was truly the grand machine’s intended outcome—the endpoint everything was constructed toward enacting—then he had no other option. No matter what it cost, he would be there at the end to rewrite it, and give back the future that was stolen from them all. Try as he might though, Ephemer knew he couldn’t accomplish it alone, and there was only one person he trusted with his heart enough to follow through.

Everything was set in place for The Revision, every thing but one.​

Ephemer’s gaze fell from the heavens. When he looked back at Scala ad Caelum below it, it struck him how it was little more than a sandcastle sprouting out of the beach. Something he worked hard to make, yes, but also something so… temporary. Never really built to last. One strong gust of wind could bring the whole thing down.

Almost as if a part of him had been guided to build it solely so it could be broken.

Had that been true of Daybreak Town as well? Had its founding only been done in service of grooming child soldiers for a war? Was all of this just to produce the right pawns and conditions for a cosmic struggle that had been waged longer than time? Ephemer didn’t know. Couldn’t know. No matter how much insight he gained, he could never understand the intent of the author’s heart, of the so-called “Master”. All Ephemer knew was that he felt hopeless against His Will, and that was more than enough reason to fight—with all his heart.

And fight with all his heart he had, eroding so much of himself in order to try and change the course of things there was little left now, what still remained surely to cease after making his final move. As Ephemer faced the dark sea for the last time, the very waters he’d awoken alone in, he found he did not fear death. A realization that nearly broke him, having suffered so long terrified of it, having been pushed into desperation to avert it. Like a cruel joke, his heart was finally ready to embrace it, as if it had come to an understanding his mind couldn’t parse for itself.

But perhaps his mind couldn’t forget his strongest wish over the long, long years of his life: to see them again. At the end of his heart now, he had no choice but to reconcile the fact that, once his entire life, they were now destined to live in separate ones. All Ephemer could do now was hope that somehow, against everything, they’d still hear his plea.

He knew it was foolish, to hinge everything he planned on a chance that somewhere out there their heart would hear his call and answer his prayers. That they’d arrive and bring about the calamity needed to stop the machine in its tracks and sunder Scala ad Caelum from history before the Societies’ rampant darkness spun out—initiating another Great War among themselves and destroying everything. Yes, it was foolish, but after a lifetime of a desperate pursuit of all knowledge, ending it by begging for a miracle felt strangely fitting to him.

At the end of it, his friend… they always were his seed of hope.

And so, as the light gathered in his hand, he called upon that hope, upon his wishes and dreams and desires. He pulled forth the memories lying dormant in his heart of their time together and threaded them with the light. Brighter and brighter it grew until, in a flash of radiance, he wrapped his fingers around the hilt of an old, worn Keyblade with a star-shaped blade.

A small fond smile curled his lips as Ephemer regarded his Starlight Keyblade, now fully evolved over the years. Even though it’d been ages since he’d even wielded one, much less this one, his Keyblade fit in the groove of his palm as if it hadn’t even left. Maybe, in some ways, it never did. While he’d long passed down the Master Defender to a line of Successors, Starlight had always been his. He had no use to call upon it for so long, and yet it sprung forth in his hand as if it had been there all along, waiting for him.

He held the blade up to the sky like he had in his sun-kissed youth. The clouds began to stir, spiralling around the tower until all at once they dispersed as if a heavy wind bloomed out from the center, revealing a sheet of black glittered with countless shining stars. The waves ceased, and the waters surrounding Scala turned to a glass stillness, mirroring the resplendent night.

Ephemer stared hard into the eternal sea and sky before him. The horizon blurred and vanished, nothing but stars left in his glossy eyes. With all his heart, he cast his Keyblade out into the dark, his desires rippling and distorting the stars as they skipped along the water’s edge. Starlight shooting across the endless night, Ephemer closed his eyes and made his life’s final wish.

The wind picked up and pushed against his back. Its currents slipped through the fabric of his clothes, raising them until he felt almost weightless. When Master Ephemer opened his eyes, he watched as his form—his existence—began to unwound. His skin glowed and bled specks of light; they caught in the gusts and drifted out over the sea like tiny seeds. More and more he shed parts of himself, and while it all floated away in the breeze, a peaceful smile washed over him at last.

As the wind finally lifted his dandelion soul free from the mortal land and carried him far, far away, Ephemer held on strong to his heart’s final loving hope through it all.

Please, my friend, wherever you are…
follow the star of your heart—
back to me.