Another chapter at last! I have promised not to give up on this fic, and I still don't plan to. Special thanks to Ariana Aislinn for her beta help! And thank you to all of you for your continued support.
Reverse Side of Darkness
By: Koorino Megumi
Chapter 55: The Gatekeepers
"Guess what, guess what, Old Mister!"
The six Keyblade Masters listened hard as the new scene began, as always, with sound alone. This particular voice was clearly that of a young girl's, but even as they concentrated on it, none of the members of the group was able to recognize it--save one.
"Haven't I asked you not to call me that anymore, Iri?"
Several of the Keyblade Masters couldn't help their surprise at the revelation of the girl's identity, although they supposed that they should have been expecting it by now. And this second voice, in contrast to the young Iri's, was unmistakable. Despite the number of years that must have passed since this memory, the scientist sounded exactly the same as ever.
"My name is Mister Ansem, remember? And whatever you might think, I'm nowhere near old yet..."
The light began to fade as the man spoke, bringing the scene slowly into focus. Everyone easily recognized the room as one that they had been in just a little earlier that same day, although it felt like it had been a long time indeed since then. Ansem's laboratory apparently hadn't changed much over the years. It was a room filled with metal surfaces, concrete floors, plain walls, machines, and desks strewn with papers. In this memory, Ansem himself was in the middle of it all, crouching on the floor at the foot of a large metal contraption. He was wearing long white gloves that went halfway up his arms, but both of his hands were lost within the workings of a machine that, after a moment, they were also all able to recognize--the machine that Ansem would later use to project an image of himself to other worlds.
A small, dark-haired girl was standing just behind him. Even though the man was sitting on the ground, the top of her head only came halfway up his back. "But you're so big, and you have funny hair!" she declared, reaching out a hand to twirl some of said golden hair around her finger.
"Iri." The exasperation was clear in the man's voice, but he seemed unable to untangle himself from the machinery in order to deal with the girl properly.
"Well, you do." The girl pouted, but then she seemed to remember what she had come for and brightened up. "But guess what!"
"Not now, please, Iri. Can't you see that Mister Ansem is busy?"
Iri pouted more resolutely than ever now, her bottom lip protruding in a manner clearly intended to manipulate the soft-hearted. "But I did something really amazing!"
"I'm sure you did, Iri." Ansem replied, not even looking back at her masterful puppy dog face. His eyes were completely riveted on the machinery. "And I would love to hear all about it later, but right now-"
He was cut off by a sudden whir from the machine. The previously-dormant contraption began to shake and clatter with the sounds of moving parts inside, and several dials and levers started to glow and flash in at least four different colors.
"Old Mister!" Iri cried in alarm. "Your hands!"
It was clear from her expression that she thought some sort of monster had just come to life--with the scientist's hands buried in its mouth. But Ansem just laughed, withdrawing his hands to throw them around Iri in a hug, heedless of the odd, oily, green goo that covered the gloves. "I've done it!" he declared. "Do you see that, Iri?" He gestured at the glowing, whirring contraption. "I've done it! It works! It works, it works, it works!!" He let go of the girl, standing up and dancing rather awkwardly around the room--until he tripped over his lab coat and wound up flat on the floor, laughing even while holding his head from the pain of its sudden meeting with the concrete. "It works!"
For a moment, Iri just watched him, very confused by his behavior, before she finally turned her attention to the glowing machine. She reached out a hand toward a button that was bright red. "But what is it? What does it do?"
"Iri, NO!" Ansem screamed, surging back to his feet and yanking her hand away. He looked as surprised as she did at his unexpected roughness. "I'm sorry," he apologized, "But this is not for you to use. Iraki needs to be the one to use it, and I can't risk you touching anything and causing an accident that would jeopardize that."
Iri scowled at those words, snatching her hand back from the man. "But why not me?" she protested, "Old Mister, today I learned how to-"
"Now, no buts, Iri," Ansem interrupted, "You've always known that this is how it has to be. So, be a good girl and fetch Iraki for me, would you? I need to run some tests."
"But I learned-"
"Later, Iri. All right? I'll listen to you as long as you want later. But right now, I need to see Iraki. Understand?"
As Iri's expression hardened in anger and she turned to hurry away, the light brightened to overtake the scene, eventually fading to show the six Keyblade Masters to each other. All of them were looking at Iri with a mixture of sad and regretful expressions.
"Iri," came the voice of voices before any of them could speak. "Are you jealous of Iraki?"
Iri herself was standing stiffly, her hands fisted at her sides and her own expression a mask. She scowled before opening her mouth to give an answer that none of the others could hear or even interpret from her lips.
"Is that true?"
"Iri," Sora started, but she cut him off with another scowl.
"I don't even want to hear it, least of all from you," she stated, looking Sora in the eye as she spoke. "My past is my business. That's all."
"But what you've just said is our business," Riku broke in.
She whirled on him. "Oh, shut up! As if it'll affect the rest of you if I fail. You don't need me for the door anyway. You've already got two White Keyblade Masters!"
"Don't say that, Iri," Iraki pleaded softly.
Iri gave her a cold stare and said nothing. Iraki looked down.
"You guys, this is really no time to fight," Kiru started. "We need-"
But his words cut off abruptly even as his mouth continued to move--the silence had returned. Everyone looked up together, wondering what the voice would say now.
And, as expected, it returned. "Kiru...Iraki...Iri... You have all passed. But the path is not yet open. You must complete the last part of your deal before you may continue your path."
Everyone looked at each other in confusion at that.
"Uh...congrats!" Sora exclaimed to the three, blinking in slight surprise when he realized that sound was back. "But I guess-"
"But what?" Iri demanded, obviously in a very bad mood after her trial. "What deal!?"
Sora scratched his head. "Well, in order to come help you guys, we sort of had to agree to...uh...what exactly was it that Voice said? We have to watch..."
"We have to watch the Gatekeeper of light go through," Riku finished, his expression a bit grim.
"But who is that?" Iri asked. "Who else would have to do this?"
"Well..." Kairi spoke up uncertainly. "We thought the Gatekeeper of darkness was probably Ansem, right? Since he's with Aros--the 'final key.' So the Gatekeeper of light must be..."
But she was cut off by the light flaring up again, hiding them all from each other's view for a moment before the first words of the last trial of the Path of Cleansing reached their ears.
"HE WON'T DIE!!!"
Mickey hesitated at the scream, his blade just short of Aros's chest. "Aros?"
The desperation in the boy's eyes was clearly visible as he stared up at the mouse, shaking with effort, as if just looking at him were taking all the energy he had. "I will...he won't..." he stuttered, cringing and flailing in pain as he spoke. "My head...make him...get rid of...ahhhh!!!"
The desperation in the boy's eyes disappeared as suddenly as it had come, and a smirk formed on his face. "He's telling the truth," Ansem taunted from Aros's lips, the boy's voice dual once again. "This body might die, but that won't stop me any more than it did the last time. I'm sure that I can find another host easily. Perhaps Riku can be persuaded again--for the sake of his friends, of course. Or that Iraki seemed quite ready to give in to the darkness, don't you think? Which would you prefer I take, if you're going to strip me of this body?"
Mickey's eyes widened as he listened to the man's words, the point of his sword still hovering just short of Aros's chest. "You lie," he ground between his teeth.
Ansem smirked. "Would you like to test that theory? I always thought you shrunk back from that sort of science."
The mouse king let out a frustrated cry, and Ansem brought up one arm as Mickey watched in anger, unable to force him to stop. Aros's hand grabbed the blade of the sword, but surprisingly, he didn't move it from pointing at his heart.
"Let go of the sword, Your Majesty," the man ordered, his voice dripping with disdain.
"You aren't getting away!" the king cried resolutely.
Ansem raised an eyebrow. "I always liked a good experiment," he said, almost conversationally. The mouse tensed. "So how about this? If you don't kill the boy or let go of the sword, I will kill him for you."
Mickey yanked on the sword before the man had even stopped speaking, trying to pull it away, but Aros's body began to glow with black energy, Ansem using the darkness to boost his strength so that he could keep the sword firmly in place.
"Which?" he asked, smirking again. "Which will you choose? I hope you remember that, either way, I escape. The only question is, what vessel will I have when I destroy the door to the light?"
The mouse couldn't speak. He continued pulling on the sword with all his strength, but to no avail. He turned desperately, hoping to find that the others had finished the Heartless by now, but the new wave was already upon them. No one would help him.
"No answer? Then let this be your decision." And Ansem pulled the sword forward.
"You will be important, one day."
When the six children heard the voice of many voices, they assumed that it was addressing them. But wasn't that a strange thing to say? Here they were, knowing that they were all keys and on the path to open the door to the light, and it was telling them that one day they would be important?
"That's why I'm here. That's why I've done all this. Are you telling me...I've succeeded?"
The familiar voice of the blond scientist caught them by surprise as well--especially when it was followed by words spoken in his same voice, but coming from right next to them instead of distantly, as the first voice had.
"Oh dear...what is this?"
Everyone waited in anticipation for the light to fade and the scene to come into focus. When it did begin to dim, it was only slightly, as if whatever was controlling this world were taunting them. Silhouettes became visible, very slowly transforming themselves into six Keyblade Masters and one very tall scientist.
Ansem looked just the same as when they'd last seen him—which was not what they were expecting, assuming this was yet another memory. He was the same height, with the same hair, and even wearing the same outfit. In fact, he still looked a bit tattered and scratched. The strangest observation of all, however, was that he was looking right at the six Keyblade Masters.
"Why are you here?" he asked, blinking at them, "Shouldn't you be ahead by now?"
Everyone was too busy staring to react right away.
"Ansem?" Kiru was the first to find his voice. "You're real!"
Ansem frowned at him. "Well, of course I am. As real as all of you." Then he smiled as if in understanding. "Ah, you did not think I would follow, did you? You thought my part was over! So did I, for a bit, but as it turns out, there's something more that I'm supposed to..."
He trailed off when another voice--many voices, all speaking in unison--interrupted him.
"You still understand nothing. You are the Gatekeeper. That is fate. And you are here because it is time for the choices."
Ansem's voice--not the real Ansem's, but instead the distant voice that they were now able to identify as being the unseen Ansem from this odd memory--sounded very confused. "The choices?" The lips of the scientist before them did not move, confirming their suspicions that he was real while the one who was speaking was not.
"Is this your memory, Ansem?" Iri asked. "Is that what we're hearing?"
The real Ansem blinked at her. "A memory? Oh, why...it could be!" he affirmed. "Is that what the Path of Cleansing is? A purging of some sort of memory? I thought it would be a test of some kind, but-"
"The choices," interrupted the voice made up of many, still speaking in the memory. "A Gatekeeper always has influence over his keys. But you are but one Gatekeeper of two. Any influence that you claim will also belong to your rival."
There was a brief silence as the six all looked expectantly at the scientist for an explanation.
"It is a memory, isn't it?" Iraki asked.
"What was that about influence?" Kairi said at the same time.
Although Ansem winced, he did not have a chance to respond before the Ansem that was just a voice echoed her question.
"What do you mean...'influence?'"
"One choice," the many-toned voice responded immediately. "One choice for each type of key. Three choices in total. And three for the other Gatekeeper. You can shape the keys with a word each."
The real scientist was beginning to look very agitated at this point. "Well, I think that's about enough of my memory!" he cried. "We should be looking for a way out, don't you think? You all have a door to the light to find, so-"
"Shh!" Iri eyed him. "Don't you get it? This memory is the Path of Cleansing. We couldn't get out before it ends even if we wanted to. Which we don't."
Ansem cringed, his expression a bit desperate. "But this is so misleading! If you knew what really happened-"
"Shh!" Iri repeated even as the many-layered voice in the memory began to speak again.
"A word. You can choose what one side will have and the other will lack. And the other Gatekeeper will do the same. Will the silver key of light be strong and the silver key of darkness be weak? Will the white key of light be smart and that of darkness dull? Three choices for you. Three choices for your opposite. Six words in total."
"But...but I don't understand," Ansem's voice protested, "You say three, but there are four keys. There have always been four keys."
"When did this happen?" Riku asked softly, afraid to miss a word but needing an answer. "How long ago did you find all of this out?"
For his part, the real Ansem was beginning to look rather pale--even for him. "Long ago," he replied, waving a hand cryptically. "Before any of you were born."
"So did you actually go through with it?" Iri demanded, eyeing him severely. "Did you control us with these...words?"
The others' eyes widened.
"You mean..." Sora started.
"What? You don't get what they're saying?" Iri asked. "They're making a deal for influence--over us!" She tried to step through the nothingness toward Ansem, but her feet would not go forward. Scowling, she demanded again, "So did you?"
"There are only three different keys," stated the voice of voices. "The universe is so wrong now...nothing is as it should be. The black and the silver are but one key--two people instead of four. You have three choices. Will you make these choices and allow the other Gatekeeper to make three in return?"
"And if I don't?"
"Tell me you didn't," Iri pressed.
"The light is sealed. The darkness will soon be open. This choice is yours and yours alone. If you do not wish to make the choices, then the other Gatekeeper will make no choice. So, will you make your three choices?"
"You old fool, tell me you didn't!" Iri cried, reaching for Ansem though she was unable to move any closer to him.
The real scientist would not meet any of their eyes. He turned away, looking out into the light that was their only surroundings. "I am sorry...all of you," he murmured, very softly.
Only half of them heard it. At the same moment, an identical voice said, "I will choose."
The light flared up with those words, hiding them from each other's sight now. And, as everyone but the scientist himself expected, the voice spoke to the real Ansem this time.
"Ansem, was it right for you to make those choices?"
The light faded again, enough for the group to see each other--and the horrified look on the tall man's face. He shook his head and then opened his mouth to respond with words that they could not hear.
"Is that true?"
He nodded, and the light engulfed them all again.
The words were quiet but harsh, full of determination. And most importantly, spoken in Aros's voice alone.
Mickey stumbled, falling back to a sitting position with his sword in his hand, as all the force that had been pulling on it was suddenly gone.
For a moment, the mouse had no idea what had happened. Even looking at the boy, he couldn't explain it. Aros had let go of the king's sword, but the Black Keyblade was back. And it was now protruding from the boy's stomach.
The blond turned, very slowly, at the mouse's cry. His hand was still gripping the hilt of his weapon, holding it inside of him. His face was strained with pain, but there was a smile on his lips.
"I figured it out," he stated, his tone blank, almost distant. He winced against the pain. "Now I know why he couldn't beat you. Why he left me in control all this time. It's so obvious."
Mickey stared at Aros's face, lit with a half-smile and an expression split between pain and wonder. The mouse pulled himself up, sword still in his hand, and moved to the youth's side. "Aros..." He hesitated, not sure what even to ask. "What...are you doing?"
Aros's smile widened, though there was still pain behind it. "I'm keeping him inside." He laughed, but the sound cut off almost immediately, the youth wincing and putting a hand to his head. "He's stuck in there," Aros continued in a voice that was growing as strained as his expression. "Because I figured it out. He can't use the Keyblade."
Mickey's eyes widened. "But what does that-"
Aros laughed again, just for a second--enough to cut the mouse off. "Right now, this Keyblade would steal my heart, but I can stop it from doing that. He can't." His smile grew a little ironic. "Sora could've stopped the Black Keyblade, too, but he never thought that he could control it. He spent all his strength fighting against it instead, and he lost his heart! I guess Ansem was right about one thing--if you don't know, you'll never understand. But I do. And he can't stop me."
The king opened his mouth to speak, his heart twisting at the sight he was now witnessing. But before he could even get a word out, the boy surged to his feet, yanking the Keyblade out of his gut in one swift move.
In that moment, Mickey the king of Sovereign's Palace was glad that he was himself and not his opposite. In the back of his mind, he had been wondering if the boy--or Ansem--would try something tricky, though he hadn't known what. And so when Aros made his move, he was ready and did the only thing he could do--struck out with his sword to try to stop him.
The Black Keyblade mostly blocked the hit, but Aros had needed to move too quickly, and the angle of the block was all wrong. As a result, the tip of the king's sword plunged into the boy's shoulder. The youth cried out in pain, but he also took a swing with the Black Keyblade. The mouse had to drop his sword to avoid the strike; he couldn't block as long as his weapon was still caught in Aros's shoulder. As Mickey moved to grab his sword again, Aros took the tip of it in his bare hand, forcing the weapon out and immediately taking off at a run toward the very front of the hall.
Mickey followed him, firing a light spell to slow him down. Aros stumbled, but the mouse's efforts were to no avail. Even as the king got a hand on his leg, the boy was tumbling into the portal. And, just like that, he was gone, leaving the mouse staring after him, a bloody sword on the ground behind him and an army of Heartless creeping up on him.