[A/N: Okay, I know this is a bit late, but I do have a pic of Riku and Hakujou as they are at the begining of this chapter: http://lamianights.net/images/riku_searching.jpg Enjoy! Feel free to email me (provided in my profile) and let me know what you think...or to yell at me to do a sequel.]
Riku sighed, looking out over the bleak terrain. Thankfully it was night and he could do without the blindfold for a bit. He'd gotten pretty profecient at getting around without using his eyes. Most times he relied on Hakujou to show him the area and help guide him around, but on moonless nights like these, he prefered using his own eyes. He sat on a small outcropping of rocks and looked around. This was just one more fine mess they were in.
"Hakujou, what was it that old woman said about getting past the Swallowing Sands?" Riku said over his shoulder. The Shadow in his backpack stirred a bit.
She said to move quickly around the circular patterns in the sand, the creature said. Riku just nodded and looked back out at the desert before him. He couldn't see any circular patterns at all.
"I don't see anything," he complained.
Well, perhaps daylight would be better, Hakujou offered.
"Oh, yeah, that's a wonderful idea. Just can't wait for that there sun to rise," Riku prattled off sarcastically, "and sear my eyeballs right out of my skull. Gee, Hakujou, you come up with the best ideas ever."
Okay, so you don't like that plan. However, if the sun were up, I could see the patterns and just tell you where they were or show you a mental picture of their location, the Shadow replied.
"Remember what happened last time we tried that during daylight?" the young man asked. "I think it would probably be best to just wait for sunrise and then you can just guide me through."
Sounds good to me, the Heartless said. So, what do we do till the sun's up?
"I don't know. It figures, though," Riku sighed, "I finally get a night where I can see and there's nothing out there worth looking at."
Oh, I don't know, the sand is kind of pretty at night, Hakujou answered.
"Then why don't you go for a stroll and let me know if the sand feels pretty when it swallows you," the young man quipped. He got up and walked to the edge of the sand and looked around. "Maybe if I just run for it."
Well, it's not that long a stretch, but what about the sand worms? the Shadow asked.
"I'll have to chance it. Sora's just in the next world and we're not getting any closer just hanging around here," Riku replied. He tied the blindfold to the backpack's strap and sighed. "Ready?"
Go for it, the Heartless answered. Riku nodded and took off at top speed across the wasteland. He could sense the worms moving under the sand, but wasn't too concerned about them bothering him. Hakujou was watching over his shoulder. Circular pattern ahead.
"What?" Riku asked.
Circular pattern. Jump! the creature yelped in Riku's mind. The young man leapt across and hit the ground rolling. He quickly found his footing and began running again, feeling the worms coming behind him. Now he was a tad concerned. Riku blinked seeing someone in front of him. It was a young girl crouched on the ground and crying. He never stopped, just grabbed her as he ran by and kept going. The girl clung to him as he manuevered through the desert with Hakujou's help. Once on the other side, he dropped the kid on her butt and started to walk away.
"Wait," the girl called. Riku stopped, but didn't look behind him.
"I'm in a hurry, kid," he said. "You're welcome, though. Next time, don't play in strange sandboxes."
"Don't leave me, please," the girl cried. Riku sighed and lowered his head. Why did these things always happen to him? He motioned for the girl to follow him, then continued walking. The kid skipped along beside him. "My name's Mika. Do you have a name?"
"Riku," he answered simply. He really didn't want another person to look after, but he couldn't believe someone would leave a kid alone out here. "What were you doing by yourself?"
"My aunt didn't want me anymore so she left me in the Swallowing Sands," Mika answered. "She said someone would come along eventually."
"Yeah, I've had family like that, too," Riku said. "I can't keep you, though. Where's there nearest town? I'll take you there."
"Straight ahead," the girl answered. "Are you really going to leave me?"
"Hopefully with a nice family," the young man answered. He stopped and looked down at her. The girl looked up and gasped. Riku just frowned. "I'm not from this world. I'm just passing through it to find my friend."
"Why do your eyes shine like that?" Mika asked.
"Because I use to be a Heartless," Riku answered. The child looked puzzled.
"What's a Heartless?" she asked. Riku blinked. He felt Hakujou shift around in the bag.
She's kidding, right? the Shadow asked.
"You're kidding, right?" Riku echoed. The girl shook her head. Riku took the backpack off, knealing down, and, after a small struggle, pulled Hakujou out and held him up in front of the girl. "This is a Heartless. Well, this one's kind of small and not very tough. Come to think of it, its not much help either. You sure you've never seen one before?"
"Nope," Mika answered. She reached over and pet the Shadow. "Does it have a name?"
"I call it Breakfast," Riku replied. The girl giggled, making him smile a bit. "Actually, its name is Hakujou."
"I like Breakfast better," the child said. "So, you use to be like him?"
"It," the young man corrected. "And yes I was, in a way. I wasn't the same species as Hakujou, but I was Heartless all the same."
"Oh, but you got your heart back?" the girl asked. Riku shrugged, letting the Shadow go so it could crawl back in the bag.
"I'm not sure if I did or not. Sometimes I think I did, because I care about my friends and other things," he said softly, "but other times, I think I'm still just looking for my heart. Maybe Sora will know where it is."
"Who's Sora?" Mika asked. Riku put the backpack on and stood up.
"You ask a lot of questions," he commented.
"I'm a kid, it's what I do," the girl answered. The young man just sighed and started to walk away. Mika quickly caught up to him and took his hand. Riku was about to pull away, but just let her hold his hand. Afterall, maybe things would be different today if his parents hadn't pulled away so much. The girl needed comfort right now, not to be pushed away. He looked down at her and sighed. Poor kid looked dead on her feet. Riku stopped and looked up at the sky, noticing it was getting lighter. He let go of the girl's hand and retied the blindfold around his eyes. Mika touched his arm. "Why are you doing that?"
"The light hurts my eyes. You'll have to guide me now till we get to town, then Hakujou can take over," Riku answered. The girl wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly.
"I don't want you to leave," she cried. Riku rubbed his temples. He just knew someone up there hated him. He patted the girl on the back and looked around. Maybe he could just hit her with something and make a run for it. He sighed, knowing he couldn't do that.
"I can't take you with me," he said, now trying to pry the kid off of him. "Besides, I'm not very fatherly. I'm kind of mean. I like picking on those smaller than me, just ask Hakujou. You just wouldn't like me, kid. So, let go and let's find a nice family to stick you with."
"Why can't I go with you?" Mika pouted.
"Because it's dangerous," Riku answered. "I'm sorry, but I can't take you with me."
"Fine," the girl said, letting go. Riku nodded and walked in the direction she had said town was. Mika just followed along and eventually took his hand again. Riku just smiled and let the girl lead him to town. He could feel the heat of the sun on his face now and sighed. He use to love watching the sunrise, now he hid from them. Life and destiny make people do funny things, he decided. He followed the girl around, letting Hakujou tell him where they were going. To stop people from staring at him, he pulled his jacket's hood up. It also helped keep the light out. He felt the girl stopped leading him around. She squeezed his hand gently. "We're at a tavern. I thought you could get something to eat."
"You're hungry, eh?" Riku asked, looking down in the general direction of where the girl was.
"Yeah," she answered. "After breakfast, I'll show you where my other aunt lives. She's nice."
"Will she take you in?" the young man asked. He didn't want to leave the girl with just anyone. Afterall, he wouldn't be there the next time someone left her out in a desert to be worm food.
"Yeah," the girl said again, leading Riku into the tavern. He noticed it was fairly dark in here and moved the blindfold a bit to test the light. Happy it was dark enough, he removed the cloth from his eyes and looked around. The place seemed clean enough. He felt a tug and looked down, seeing the girl hadn't noticed he'd removed the blindfold. He followed her to a table and sat down, setting the backpack down by his feet. The waitress came by and took their orders and then wandered off to the kitchen. Riku saw the girl was staring at him.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing. I was just wondering where you came from and where you're going. I'll bet you're a prince from some far away land and you're looking for your lost princess, right?" Mika said, perking up a bit.
"Uh, no. I'm a vagabond from a far off world looking for my best friend," Riku chuckled.
"Were you cursed so that you couldn't see light anymore?" the girl asked.
"Something like that," the young man answered. The waitress came by and set their food down, which the girl heartily dug into. Riku raised an eyebrow. "You'd better be careful, inhaling your food like that."
"But it's good," Mika replied.
"You mean you can actually taste it eating that fast? Will wonders never cease," Riku laughed.
"What about Hakujou? Aren't you going to feed him?" the child asked.
"No, it doesn't eat people food," Riku answered. "Besides it won't need to be fed for awhile yet."
The rest of their breakfast was eaten in silence. Afterwards, Riku paid the waitress and he and the girl left. He hissed as the sunlight hit his eyes and quickly tied the blindfold on, then let the girl lead him through the town to her aunt's home. One tearful farewell later and he was on his way again to the world's doorway. He sighed softly, moving the backpack around to his chest. The Shadow within it wriggled a bit and poked its head out, looking around. Riku gave the bag and the Heartless a hug.
You miss her, don't you? Hakujou ventured.
"Yeah, I guess so," Riku answered softly.
You don't even know her, the Shadow replied.
"I know, but she just reminded me of—no, nevermind. Forget it," the young man muttered.
She reminded you of Sora, the Heartless said.
"Remember what I said about reading my mind?" Riku asked.
That it's rude and an invasion of your privacy, Hakujou answered.
"Yeah, but I believe my exact word was 'don't'," the young man answered. "I think we're close to the door, I can feel its presence."
I feel something else, the Shadow said. Trouble.
"Yeah, I feel them now," Riku replied, setting the bag down near a tree and called the two keyblades forth. He took a fighting stance as large Shadow-like creatures appeared. Riku blinked at the mental image he was sent from the Heartless. Well, these were new. "Hakujou, know anything about these?"
They're not like any Shadows I know, the small creature replied. Riku could feel its concern and fear. They're Nobody. They're nonexistant. Be careful, Riku.
"Advice noted," the young man said. He drew on the power of the Blending Stone and twirled the keyblades in front of him, combining them into one powerfully destructive weapon. A symbol of a heart appeared on the ground, surrounding him, and Riku seemed to split. His physical half was wailing away on the strange Shadows, while his mental side was watching from the trees. This had become the normal way of fighting for Riku. Allowing himself to split while joining the keyblades, all thanks to the Blending Stone. His mental half didn't have a problem with light at all, so that was pretty handy. It helped to be able to see the enemy, since he usually left Hakujou somewhere out of the way.
After what seemed like hours, the tall Shadows finally stopped appearing. Riku leaned against a nearby tree, panting softy. He looked down at the massive keyblade in his hand and willed it to split, letting his body become whole again. He'd learned pretty quickly that it rarely let him have both together or both split. He looked around, more out of habit than the actual ability to see through the blindfold. Things were quiet now, too quiet. Even his mind seemed devoid of sound. He walked toward the tree where he'd left the bag and Hakujou.
"Hey, Breakfast, you didn't run out on me, did you?" Riku called out, knealing down and picking up the backpack. He felt a long jagged tear down the back of the bag. He felt around on the ground and found the supplies and clothes he usually kept were broken, torn, and all other means of detroyed. He continued searching for the small Shadow. "Hakujou?"
I'm over here, came the Heartless' weak thoughts. Riku pulled the blindfold off, not caring how much the light hurt right now. He saw the creature lying there and crawled closer. Hakujou didn't move or blink as the young man approached him. Riku gently poked his friend.
"Hey, enough kidding around. It's time to go," he said softly, feeling the moisture building up in his eyes.
I don't think I'll be going any further, the Shadow whispered softly in Riku's mind. The young man sighed softly.
"I need you, Hakujou," he replied.
You haven't needed me for a long time. You won't need me to find Sora or save all the worlds. Remember, I'm one of the bad guys deep down, the Heartless answered, his mental voice getting fainter. Remember when we first met and you kept throwing rocks at me, thinking I was after the king. Those were good times.
"Yeah, they were good times," Riku agreed, tears rolling down his cheeks from beneath the blindfold. "I don't want to be alone."
You won't be, once you find Sora. Go complete you destiny, Hakujou said.
"What if I give you energy?" Riku asked, picking the little creature up. He unbuttoned his shirt and cradled the Heartless against his bare chest, trying to tempt it to feed. "Please, Hakujou, let me help you."
You already did, the Shadow said. Riku gave the small Heartless a gentle hug as it's body faded into sparkles. A pink heart rose up and hovered for a moment before Riku. As long as you remember me, I'll be with you.
"I know," Riku replied. He reached up and touched the heart briefly before it floated up into the sky. Sighing softly, Riku wiped the wetness from his cheeks and stood up. The time for mourning could come later when the worlds were finally free of darkness. He locked onto the door's location and walked toward it. It didn't take him long to find it and the area seemed clear. Opening the world's door, Riku stepped through and found himself emersed in a rain-soaked city. He pulled his hood up and strolled toward the open area before him. Rain splashed all around him, letting the streets fill with a thin layer of water. He looked up at the buildings and saw one was covered in large tele-screens. The image of a girl flickered across one, reminding him briefly of Kairi. He hadn't tought of her in a long time, he realized. He wasn't lost in his thoughts long before he sensed danger nearby.
Tall Shadow-like creatures began rising out of the water. Riku frowned. These were the same kind of creatures that had taken Hakujou from him. They were the ones that had begun hunting him. They were the ones that were after Sora. They were the ones that were really starting to piss him off. He felt his mental half pull away, floating to the tops of the building to be his eyes.. There were hordes of these creatures surrounding him. He brought his keyblades into being and glared at the multitudes of the deformed Heartless before him. His mental half sensed something powerful happening and looked up into the skys as the clouds rolled back, revealing several shooting stars. The familiar heart pattern surrounded Riku's physical half and he smirked as the Heartless backed away. His mental half removed the blindfold and gazed down at the streets. Riku had only one thought on his mind, only one question for these creatures.
[To M-i: denouement n. 1. a. The final resolution or clarification of a dramatic or narrative plot. b. The events following the climax of a drama or novel in which such a resolution or clarification takes place. 2. The outcome of a sequence of events; the end result. Sorry, folks. This was the final chapter of this story. I'll write other stories, don't worry. Be patient, I'm a college student and a comic book writer/artist with a heavy work load. I'm glad you all enjoyed this and I hope to expand my ideal of the Kingdom Hearts world.]