Chapter 1: Sunset Horizons
Sand whipped through Ventus' spiky golden hair as he watched his friend teeter over the edge of the short sandy cliff and drop off backward toward the waves of the ocean twenty feet below. As Ignis hit the water's surface with a splash, Ventus grinned and twirled his plastic sword in his hand.
Ventus leaned over the edge of the cliff as Ignis quickly resurfaced in the water and paddled over to the shore below, spitting up a mouthful of the salty water and trying to brush his short red hair away from his forehead.
“Hey!” Ventus shouted to him from atop the sand dune, “how many times have I beaten you now?”
Ignis stomped up the dune, still dripping wet from his fall. He planted his feet firmly in the soft sand and glared intensely into Ventus' bright blue eyes. “Not as many times as you think you have.”
“I can count thirty-five,” Ventus recited, holding out his fingers as if he was counting in his head.
“No way! That's not even close. There's no way you could have won that many times when you don’t even hold your sword the right way.” Ignis pointed angrily at Ventus' sword, which the blond boy held in a reverse grip. Making fun of Ventus' grip had become like its own sport to Ignis.
“Obviously I'm doing something right,” Ventus responded with a smirk, waving his sword in front of Ignis' face.
Ignis picked up his own sword from the sand, where he had dropped it in their last fight, and swung it through the air. “All right, you're asking for it! Let's go again. I'm not holding back this time. You're going down.”
Ventus raised his sword into a battle stance to retaliate, but as soon as he took a step forward, a girl's voice called to the two boys from across the beach.
“Hey, Ven, Ig, cut it out! I can't believe I leave for five minutes and you're already fighting!” Maris sprinted up the dune to the two boys, her brown hair blowing wildly in her face from the wind.
Ignis smirked at Ventus and made a baby face as if to say, “Do you want to give up?”
Ventus snorted quietly and focused his attention on Ignis. He didn't care what Maris thought, he needed to beat Ignis again. There was no way he was being called a chicken for backing out from a fight. Ignis gave Ventus a quick wink to show his understanding that the battle would continue.
The two were just about to clash again when Maris finally reached them, waving her arms through the air and shouting half in excitement and half in exasperation, “I've got ice cream.”
Ventus and Ignis immediately dropped their swords and turned to face Maris. Their eyes were aglow at the thought of a bar of delicious sea-salt ice cream. The two boys sprinted over to Maris, like pets rushing to a treat.
However Ventus paused, noticing that there were only two ice cream bars in Maris' hands. “Where's Humus?” he asked, “wasn't he with you?”
Maris stopped, panting from her run across the beach. “Yeah, but he got tired from running. He's coming.”
Ventus looked out toward the horizon and spotted Humus plodding along in the distance, another two ice cream bars in his hand. Before Ventus had a chance to turn around, Ignis snatched one of the ice cream bars from Maris' hand and shouted, “Dibs! You get the one Humus is carrying.”
“Hey!” Ventus shouted, “No fair, I was-”
“No excuses; I called dibs,” Ignis said flatly.
Ventus made a sour face, but didn’t reply, honoring the sacred law of dibs.
Humus took another minute to walk to the top of the hill. He was shorter and stouter than Ventus or Ignis, with curly brown hair hanging in his face. As he walked, Ventus stood in place, glaring at Ignis, who was mockingly tasting his delicious ice cream bar.
“Aaaaaand here’s your ice cream, Ventus,” Humus said with a big grin as he reached the group.
Ventus shot one last dirty look at Ignis and then happily snatched up his ice cream. The four friends meandered their way back down the hill as they ate, talking and joking.
Ventus, always a quick eater, was almost done with his ice cream bar before anyone else was close. As he took a rather large lick of ice cream, he noticed there was inscription on the stick underneath the blue ice cream. The word WINNER was written in black ink. Upon seeing the word, Humus’ eyes widened with glee.
“Why does it say winner?” Ventus asked.
“You get a free bar!” Humus exclaimed. “If you turn in a winner stick you get a free bar of sea salt ice cream the next time you go to the shop.”
Ventus grinned. “Awesome.” Then he narrowed his eyes at Ignis. “And I think it’s fitting that the winner of our duel got the winner stick.”
“Hey,” Ignis growled, “No fair, I could have just as easily taken Humus’ second bar.”
“That reminds me, I think I’ll give my free bar to my good friend Humus, since he was kind enough to carry my bar all the way here for me.” Ventus’ cocky smile was spreading from ear to ear.
Maris and Humus couldn’t contain their grins as they watched Ventus tease Ignis.
“What, hey!” Ignis growled. With a swift shove, Ignis almost caused Ventus to drop his winner stick. The conflict quickly escalated as the two boys began to sword-fight with their mostly-eaten ice cream bars. Ignis finally decided that he had had enough, and he tackled Ventus to the ground, knocking sand everywhere.
As he smacked the ground, Ventus reached out an arm and dragged Humus off his feet. The three boys rolled across the beach in their struggle, all three attempting to reach their feet and prevent the others from doing so. Seeing the boys rolling toward her, Maris attempted to hop over the flailing mass of limbs, but caught her leg and went tumbling down into the brawl. Maris let out a squeal, which caused the boys to flinch in surprise. All four laughed as they pried each other apart from the tangle of limbs and sprawled out panting on the sandy beach.
As he stretched out his limbs, Ventus’ eyes focused upward, onto the radiant sky above, glowing golden with the soft illumination of the sunset. The sun was perpetually setting over their small town, but to Ventus that never took away the sheer beauty of it. Ventus shut his eyes and let the sound of the waves calm his mind. For what seemed like eternity, the entire world was silent, aside from the soothing sound of the waves.
Humus broke the peaceful silence. “Hey, Ventus…”
“You really stink at fighting with an ice cream stick.”
“Holding it backward just doesn’t work. Don’t ever try to defend yourself with one of those, okay?” Humus chuckled.
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
Ignis laughed and smirked at Ventus.
“Hey, Ignis, don’t even make me start about your sword-figting,” Ventus challenged.
For a moment it looked as if Ignis was going to start another fight, but then he lay his head back and snickered. “Okay, okay.”
Maris, obviously eager to change the subject, chimed in, “The sunset sure looks nice today.”
All four looked up near the golden ball of light overhead.
“Yeah,” all three boys agreed.
Ignis remained silent for a moment, but then added, “But, you know, I think it would be nice if the sun wasn’t setting once. You know what I mean?”
Humus and Maris stared blankly at Ignis, but Ventus could see where this was going.
“Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like if the sun did set below the horizon? Darkness. Night. I’ve read about it. They say you can see the lights of hundreds of worlds dotting the night sky. And as nice as twilight is, I’d like to see that, just once. Haven’t you ever thought about that?”
Humus shrugged. “Not really. We don't need any more darkness; that stuff is bad news.”
Maris looked pensive, but she nodded in agreement with Humus.
“Really? Nobody? Man, now I just look weird.”
“No, I know what you mean,” Ventus said slowly. He had been thinking the same thing for days – no, weeks now. “I’d like to see it too.”
Humus spun around and gripped Ventus by the shoulders, shaking him vigorously. “Don't tell me you're turning to darkness, Ventus!”
All four laughed, Ventus’ a wheezing dizzy laugh.
“Ha, like I'll ever turn to darkness. Get real.”
“So I suppose you all just assume I’m long gone to darkness, then?” Ignis taunted.
“Well…” Humus began sarcastically.
“Don’t be dumb,” Maris interrupted. “We just couldn’t stand to see our little Veny-weny talking all dark and gloomy. Right?”
“Veny-weny?” Ventus repeated with horror, a deep pit forming in his stomach. From the mile-long grin on Ignis’ face, he could tell that this nickname was going to stay with him for a very long time.
“Of course,” Ignis said, wrapping his arm around Ventus’ shoulder and tugging on his cheek, “because we wouldn’t want any harm to come to our dear little Veny-poo, precious little thing that he is.”
“Okay, that’s it!” Ventus growled, diving out of Ignis’ reach and snatching up his plastic sword from the sand, “someone’s asking to get beat up.”
“Oh ho ho,” Ignis shouted, grabbing his sword before Maris could interfere, “it is so on.”
The two boys leaped into fighting stances and dove at each other while Humus and Maris sat stunned in the sand by their side. Their sparring continued for what seemed like hours, long beyond when either of the two could remember what the fighting started over. Still, neither boy was willing to concede defeat, so the play-fighting continued, interspersed with laughing commentary from the two spectators perched in the sand.
All the while the golden sun hovered in the sky above, casting long shadows of the four friends on the shimmering sand.