The Heartless can't see in the light. During the day their eyes are blind to everything except the light of people's hearts, the keyblade and keyholes, and the darkness of their own kin. It is in the shadows and the night that their eyes become usable, although not quite in the same way as humans. Colors become muted, almost shades of gray, white, and black. It is a vision of what the worlds could become as they are slowly consumed by the Heartless. Only the brightest of colors are distinguishable to them.

How is this important? It seems so trivial a subject, doesn't it? Few people ever found an interest in studying the Heartless. Even I wouldn't have cared all that much for them, had it not been them and their maker that had so radically altered my life.

Every day is the same. Each day, a meaningless blur of gray moments turned hours, each cold and emotionless. I thought I had escaped the darkness years ago, but somehow I still feel trapped within its world, its memory.

When I had last glimpsed the light, I had been filled with foolish hopes. I had thought that once I escaped the darkness and returned home, everything would return to how it once had been. The memories would fade away, the images and sensations change into a half-forgotten dream. Five years have passed since then. The events in that time have proven to me how very wrong I had been, how very little I had known. Someone had once told me there will always be a light in the darkness. I wonder if I will ever find that light again, if I will ever waken from this nightmare.      

I'm in the city of lost angels...or demons, I suppose, in my case. It was a name adopted during the years of the rapid destruction of the worlds and their people. The survivors were drawn as refugees to these crossroads. It's raining. I can feel the wet drops touch my skin, trickle down my hair and face; I can hear it splash in the growing pools at my feet. As I stand, the wind rolls against me in bales and tosses the folds of my clothes.

I sense a familiar power growing closer to where I stand. It's strange, to say the very least- I had not felt it in years, but I know there is no mistaking the feel of its energy. I feel another power surge from the shadows.

Obviously the Heartless recognize it too.

As I await its coming, I am gripped with another sensation...what is it? Anticipation?

What...or who is it that I suddenly desire to see? To know is still alive? After all these years....

The Heartless have emerged, surrounding him. I sense the drawing of a keyblade...wait.

Two keyblades?!?

He looks up.

Does he see me? Recognize me?

I wasn't an enemy, and I would prove this so. Doubtless he was capable of defending himself against the group of Heartless but nonetheless....

I caste a spell from where I stand, seeing even through my blindfold and across the empty space between us the clear blue outline of magic. A heart encircles the figure and the Heartless, and the creatures vanish as the enchantment hits them. I pull the dark fabric away from my face and look down...

Despite the rain and howl of wind I can still hear his voice, cutting through the air like a knife.

"Where's Sora?"

Meteors shower in the night sky behind me.

I wonder...had it been much to ask...

...to use the word "hope"?

###

It had begun, she remembered, on the beach exactly where she sat now. The sun had been setting against the horizon, painting bright colors across the sky. The emotions she had felt those long years ago had faded until she could barely recall them. No longer were they tangible sensations that flowed from her heart and overwhelmed her being until she could cry for hours on end without stopping; the well of emotions had slowly trickled to a stop as the years passed. Yet they would never truly be gone; they were simply waiting dormant for the catalyst that would again free these buried feelings.

She was lying in the sand, her body stretched out on its warmth and her face turned towards the sky. Her eyes were closed, and her feet were stuck out just far enough into the surf as to be brushed by the chill waves. A shadow fell between her and the sun and she flicked her eyes open.

"Enjoying yourself?" asked a cool, female voice. Long orange hair fell over her shoulders from a black ribbon and she was dressed in an ankle-length skirt. Kairi stared at the newcomer for a moment, then propped herself up on her elbows.

"I was just thinking."

"Hmm....you seem to be doing a lot of that lately. And I suppose you've completely forgotten that you've been assigned babysitting duty with me?"

"What? That was today?"

Leena put her hands on her hips in reproach.

"I see. So why am I not surprised?

She looked down at Kairi critically for a moment, and then sat down beside her.

"What's bothering you?"

Kairi hesitated.

"Nothing..." She started slowly, but Leena cut her off.

"I won't accept 'nothing' for an answer, Kairi, and you know it."

An uncomfortable pause of silence ensued before Leena decided to speak again.

"Don't tell me you're still thinking about...well..." Leena trailed off, unsure of how to word this tactfully. Kairi finished the sentence for her.

"Sora's and Riku's disappearance?" Kairi asked. "Well, in a way-"

"After five years? We all know how much you cared about him but really, that can't be healthy."

"You didn't let me finish." Kairi cut off in impatience. "I was going to say-"

"Heads up!"

Two pairs of eyes fell with stunned alarm as a blitzball hit the ground barely a foot away from them, sending up a spray of yellow sand. A blond teenager in an open shirt and pant/shorts ran up to them, retrieving the ball with a grin.

"Sorry ladies!"

They watched as he ran back up the beach to where a round of Blitzball was in play.

"The islands were doomed the day Tidus discovered Blitzball." Leena stated dryly.

Kairi grinned.

"I remember when Tidus' obsession had been fighting with that wooden sword of his. Strutting around the beach, picking duals with anyone he could convince...he hadn't even been that good." She finished with a laugh.

"Riku had beaten them all, hadn't he? Practically a legend among the kids."

"I guess so." Her fleeting moment of lightheartedness had disappeared with the mention of Riku's name.

Back at the game, Tidus was trying to convince a reluctant boy in a red and gold bandana to join his team. A fishing net was slung over the boy's shoulder and a large pink and white dog was romping at his heels.

"How are things going between you and Serge?" Kairi asked, hastily changing the subject. "Have you told him how you feel about him yet?"

Leena sighed. "I don't think I can."

"Why not? You like him, don't you?"

"Yes, but I think he likes someone else. That girl from the next village, Kid." She paused. "You've seen her."

Kairi nodded.

"At the last Spring Festival. How strange; the boy who never strings three words together into a sentence and the girl who kicked arse like no one would ever believe-it's hard to picture them as a couple."

"Not really." Leena said, a trace of gloom evident. She stood up.

"They're waiting for us back in the village. Are you coming?"

"I'll be with you in a minute." Kairi called as Leena walked up the path.

"Alright. Just don't be too long."

Leena soon disappeared around the bend.

Kairi stood up, brushing the sand from her clothes and long hair. Her mind still dwelled on the conversation that she had begun to have with Leena about Riku and Sora and their "disappearance" from the island.

She tried not to worry too much about them. She knew she simply couldn't agonize over that which she had no control over. Wallowing in self-pity and her own misery...where would that get her? What would things be like for her now if she had done that for the past five years?

And still...

It was a lot easier to say things than to do them, she thought ruefully. Where was Sora now? Was he all right? And Riku? And all those other people she had met, in Traverse Town or Hollow Bastion?

Then sometimes she wondered: why was it always up to Sora to save the world to take care of his friends? Why couldn't she do more to help him? It had been the same back then as it was now. Here she was, enjoying life at the Destiny Islands while Sora was probably risking his neck for the universe. Why couldn't she do more?

She clasped her hands behind her back and stared up at the sky, reflecting on these thoughts.

A pinpoint of burning white light seemed to form in the distance. It grew bigger as it fell from the heavens and finally landed somewhere out in the ocean. A meteor? Something about meteors tugged at Kairi's memory but she couldn't remember what it was. All she could recall was that it was something important, vitally so.

She shook her head, clearing it. Leena was waiting for her; there was time to think deeper on this later.

Babysitting duty was usually easy enough for the two of them. Take the children down to the beach, Kairi would say. Find something to entertain them for a few hours.

Being with the younger kids of the community reminded Kairi of her own time spent with Riku and Sora when she had first come to the islands. The word had been spread that she had moved to the islands, but that wasn't completely true. A seven-year-old, all alone, without any known relations or friends... no one had even seen her before or could claim to have seen her arrival... she had just showed up one day.

In any case, the fact that she had not come from any part of the Islands had been more than enough to intrigue the local children, especially Riku and Sora. They had been so fascinated with the idea of lands outside of their island. After that first day, things had just seemed to click between the three of them. Kairi had always considered herself friends with everyone she knew, but even she could have told that there was something special about this particular friendship.

As they got older, everyone had seemed to think that she and Riku would end up a couple. She wasn't sure when that had happened, but she had never thought of Riku in that way. It just seemed too weird. It had been different with Sora. It had always been different with Sora, although she hadn't realized it at first. She remembered a conversation that she had had with Sora, only a little before that fateful night.

"Sora, let's take the raft and go-just the two of us!"

The words had seemed to come out of nowhere. Even as she had spoken, guilt had seeped into her mind. How could she think that? How could she even consider leaving Riku behind? Wasn't he as important to her as Sora? Yet, another part of her mind had liked the idea of this adventure being something special, shared just by the two of them.

Then she had found out about the race over the paopou fruit...

Oooh, she could have smacked them both for being such idiots. But again, that little part of her mind had been flattered Sora would race so hard for her.

"Poshuu!!!"

The dog that had accompanied Serge earlier was racing along the waves with several of the kids. Serge sat over by the docks, untangling fishing net; Kid was there too, talking to him. Watching them, Kairi realized that Leena was right- it wasn't so hard now, seeing them together as a pair. She felt sorry for Leena; she knew the girl had always harbored a crush on her childhood friend.

Yet she also felt some thing else: regret. Would she and Sora ever be able to be together like that again?

###

It wasn't until that evening that she got another chance to be alone. All the children had been hauled off to their homes in the village as the shadows had lengthened upon the beach, marking the end of the day; Kairi was the last one to remain. The sun had disappeared over the edge of the ocean and the night sky was filled with bright stars.

Stars. It was difficult to imagine that every one of those pinpoints of light was another world. Which one was Hollow Bastion, where Leon and Yuffie and Aerith had grown up? Or Traverse Town, where Sora had said that he had first met Donald and Goofy? The brightest stars formed constellations that she had learned to identify in the years that she had lived on the Destiny Islands. Stars...worlds...heartless.... now she remembered!

Meteor showers appeared in the sky when Heartless have taken a world's heart. Yet, hadn't Sora locked the door of Kingdom Hearts years ago? The walls of the worlds should have been erected...

Kairi took a sharp intake of breath.

Something had happened to Sora. To the worlds. His journey had changed nothing. The Heartless were still out there and Sora was gone and had been gone for nearly five years ...

She remembered the last words he had spoken to her.

~I'll come back to you. I promise!

Sora wasn't coming back. Her hands clenched into tense fists at her sides as tears spilled down her cheeks. She was furious: with the Heartless, Ansem, everything that had ruined their lives and taken Riku ...

Most of all, she was angry with herself for having been so completely useless these past five years.

~I'll find you Sora. Whatever it takes...

She dropped her gaze from the sky to the sand at her feet.

~...I'll find you and Riku...

Light pored from her right hand and a baton appeared, clasped between her fingers. Not nearly so large as Sora's keyblade it was, nonetheless, quite definitely a key. Approximately the length of a mage's staff, it was gold and enameled in white, rose, and purple. She had barely time to wonder at this when the faint blue out line of a door appeared in the air before her. Looking through it, there seemed nothing on the other side but the sky and waves. However, if she looked at it from an angle, the air rippled like water or the surface of a still lake.

A door to another world; there was no other explanation for it. She gaped at it, but quickly recovered and took a deep breath. This was the chance she had been waiting for; it was now or never. Closing her eyes, she stepped through the door.

~this time...I'll fight.