caelestis -e [belonging to heaven , coming from heaven]; n. pl. as subst. [things in heaven, heavenly bodies]. Transf., [belonging to the gods, celestial, divine, superhuman]; as subst., esp. plur., [the gods].

Act I, Scene One: Caelestis:  A shred of light.

            Riku hadn't been able to find the road again.

            The road that had led him into darkness.

            Riku had already reached the end of that road.

            "We call it…Caelestis.  Ironic, huh?"

            Yeah, ironic, thought Riku presently, remembering the time he had come into the city.  The time when he came across the first person that had not attempted to kill him.

            "Coming from heaven…ironic.  This is the city of fallen angels, all right."  And the man had laughed, and patted Riku's shoulder, and left.

            And that had been almost three years before.  Riku's numerous escape attempts had ended in failure.  Once you entered Caelestis, there was no way out.  Or maybe Caelestis was all that existed.  Maybe this void with no shred of light was all that lay beyond the sealed Door to Darkness.

            Riku pushed his way past a pair of lovers who apparently were lacking completely in modesty.  Finally he was inside.  Finally he left the freezing night for the choking, heavy air of the club Liberi.  He removed his jacket to expose dark blue clothes hugging a near-starved body.  In this, Riku had adopted the look of most Caelestis inhabitants.

            Most people were drawn out, long and thin, faces and all.  Clothes, especially for women, were tight, revealing, and more times than not shimmered.  Everything seemed dark—eyes were dark, hair was dark, moods were dark.

            Everyone carried a large chip on his shoulder.  Not once had Riku heard a kind word uttered since he had first arrived.  The masses pushed by each other, perhaps even purposely stepping on each other.  Thievery and assault went on just as frequently as conversation.  Dead bodies lying abandoned on the street…well, Riku had seen his fair share of those.

            Nobody cared about anything but himself.  The eternal night of the city was a time to chase after pleasure—whether this be obtained in the glittering casino or deep within one of the numerous brothels.  Men and women alike gorged themselves on strong alcoholic drinks and expensive food.  Some people showed this by their large bellies, but most of them were older men who had long given up on impressing anyone.

            In appearance, Riku blended in.  In behavior, however, Riku rarely succeeded.

            The nineteen-year-old forced himself to grimace and began to rudely shove at those clogging the stairway down into the large room filled with jazz and smoke.  If he had politely slipped through, people would have noticed.  This way, he was invisible.

            Over the many months, Riku had learned what not to do.  Don't say thank you, don't cough in the smoke, don't pretend to like the music no matter how good it is.  Right now Riku was working on ignoring the beautiful women parading around the open floor between tables; if your eyes wandered for more than ten seconds, they considered you a customer.

            He came to the bar and slid up onto one of the stools, his forearms setting heavily on the polished, obsidian-like surface.  He reached in his front pocket and found out that his wallet was still there.

            A disinterested waiter walked over and stared blankly at him.

            "Get me…a beer and a plate of…whatever you're serving tonight."  Sometimes Riku was surprised at how much he sounded like everyone else.  His voice was very deep now, always rumbling within his throat.

            "House special," called the waiter dimly and stumbled off into the back.

            Riku let his hard blue eyes take in the room.  The ceiling was high; the carpets and curtains of red velvet; the air filled with gray-brown smoke; the packed booths had cushioned chairs and wooden tables covered in beer stains.  Along the wall farthest from the stairs was a slightly raised stage.  On it, a dumpy looking man rolled his fingers over a grand piano, a skinny boy plucked at a bass, and a few nondescript characters were blowing away at saxophones and trumpets.

            Riku tried not to give it away, but the music here was the only enjoyable thing he'd yet encountered since leaving his friends at the Destiny Islands almost four years ago.  The fight against Sora certainly hadn't been pleasant.

            But he was a man, now, and he could take it.  He'd decided to seal up the Door to Darkness because he had had to atone.  His sins against his friends—his sins against the entire universe, even—had been grave.  The only hope he had for Sora and Kairi's happiness was to shut the Door, with him inside or out.

            When it arrived, Riku took a gulp of his drink (he'd given up sipping, because it, too, drew attention).   Images of battles with Sora rushed to his mind and he inwardly shuddered.  He felt a pain in his chest.

            Good, he thought.  He still had a heart somewhere.  He had done his best to conceal it with darkness, but it wasn't gone altogether.  Good.

            Of course, the shreds of his heart were probably more than existed in the whole rest of Caelestis.  And because Riku fancied himself such a horrible person, this thought was depressing.

            Suddenly, at the top of the stairs, the door flung open to let in the rainy, bitter night.  People were screaming, and there was the all-to-familiar sound of blood being spattered on pavement.

            Murmurs arose in the crowd.

            "Shut that damn door!" screeched a woman at the bottom of the stairs.  "The Heartless'll come in here!"

            The crowd grew louder.  The girls on the floor backed up against partners, looking around worriedly.

            A heavyset man who apparently was responsible for keeping open the door came tripping down into the main room, his eyes darting from person to person.

            "They're attacking!  I've never seen it so bad!" he screeched.  He was close enough for Riku to see how the sweat glued his thin hair to his head, how he was panting, how blood dripped down his leg.  "Everyone's going to die!"

            "You old drunk," said a surly woman.  "The Heartless are always attacking.  Go outside and let them shut you up for good."

            "What—What if they come inside?" this time it was a younger woman, close up against a man who didn't seem to mind at all.

            "Those damn monsters—!"

            "We're all going to die anyway…"

            "They've never come inside before; why would they now?"

            "If we die, it'll just add to their numbers!"

            Riku stopped to eat his food (some indistinguishable group of flavored substances) and dropped his tab on the plate.  The waiter, who was successfully ignoring the loud argument, snatched up the money before anyone else could, and happily stalked off to recycle the dirty plate.

            Riku slipped his coat back on and spun around on the stool.  A fistfight had broken out, with the man from outside right in the middle and a mob right on top of him.  The victim's face was already bruised and bloodied, and it seemed he'd long ago lost his stamina for such an engagement.

            "Hold on!" came a faint but strong voice.

            The forty or so people in the room all turned their heads to look at the newcomer.  She was a lovely, short, slim young lady with dark chestnut skin and raven hair.  She was wearing a backless, sleeveless black dress with a knit shawl over her presumably cold shoulders.  She ran forward now, down the stairs on three-inch heels (and flawlessly).

            "Stop it!"  She hurried forth to stand in the midst of the mob, which, thankfully, had stopped for the time being.

            "What do you care?"

            "I…" she was recovering her breath.  Riku watched her carefully, gaining interest by the second.  He sensed something from this girl, but he couldn't put a finger on it.  Now she stood cockily, one hand on one smooth, round hip.  "He's my commission for tonight.  Leave him alone."

            "This?" said one disbelieving offender, holding the collar of his now unconscious prey.  Chuckles ripped through the crowd.  The man snickered and dropped the casualty before the focus of the club returned to normal.

            Riku approached the woman swiftly.  He watched her crouch over the man and heard her mumble something like, "You've done it again."

            She sensed him at last when the material of his coat shifted audibly.  She spun and looked at him with fierce, determined eyes.

            Riku just stared back.  He couldn't explain the feeling racing through his veins as their eyes met.  Her eyes were hard and focused, much like his—but totally different from any eyes he had encountered in Caelestis.

            "Who are you?" she asked, her eyes taking him in with equal excitement and interest.

            "I…I'm Riku."

            "Riku…well…if you have time to stare at me like that, then you have time to come back to my place."  She stood up and adjusted her shawl.

            Oh no, he thought; was she just another one of those?

            "Get him," she ordered.  "Come on, now."  She flashed a quirky smile for any onlookers and began for the exit.

            Riku easily plucked up the man.  The burden was a little much, but Riku had always been powerful, his body ever muscular and thin.  The stairs were awkward, but he really wanted to keep up as the woman slipped out the door.

            Really, she was just a wisp of a thing; she was shorter than most people, and her face was a smooth oval, but somehow she had an air of maturity that prevented her from seeming, in any way, a child.  There was something about her that he couldn't dare lose, so he shifted the two hundred pound man slung over his shoulder and hurried.

            The woman took the main street for a while before switching to a confusing path that involved climbing over hobos and ducking under low overhangs (a major problem for the more than six feet of Riku).  Finally, the woman pushed a key into the lock of a large apartment complex that was on the fringes of the brothels district.  They came to a stairwell where she inserted another key (which she retrieved from another place on her person), and another keyhole came up at the top of the stairs and there were two others just to get into the small, sparsely decorated front room of the apartment.

            The woman was constantly looking from here to there, behind her, and in front of her.  At most noises she gave a start.  However, once they were all locked up again in the apartment, she cooled considerably.  Her shawl fell to the floor.

            "Get him on the bed.  I wonder if he's still alive."  This last part she mumbled to herself as she disappeared into an adjoining room.

            "He's alive," Riku said, searching for a bed.  He went to the door opposite the one his companion had disappeared into and found himself in a small but lushly decorated bedroom, complete with a three-inch red carpet and a bed with silvery silk sheets.

            The woman came in at last, in her hands a steaming bucket of water and some cloth.  She immediately went to attend to the unconscious drunk, who was barely breathing.

            "Is he going to make it?" Riku wondered, slinking back towards the wall.

            "I…I don't know."  She wrung the cloth out and began to wipe the dried blood and dirt from the man's face.  She lowered her head to the chest.  "He's breathing.  I think he's just passed out."

            "Is it true?" Riku said.

            "Is what true?"  Her dark hands plunged back into the steaming water.

            "Him…  He's your customer?"

            She let out a light sort of chuckle.  "Heh.  Yeah, he has been a couple times.  He's mostly a raving drunk, but…but he's never hurt me…"  The way she said it, not getting hurt seemed like a rare thing.  "When I was coming by I saw him go into Liberi screaming.  It's happened before…I knew they would gang up on him again—they always do."

            Riku considered her carefully.  She had frozen in the middle of what she was doing.  Her eyes were on the man's face as he slowly came awake.

            "Um, could you just head into the kitchen for a few minutes?  I'll take him out of here."  She stood, still not facing the young man behind her.

            Riku nodded and did as the woman had asked.  He shut himself up in the kitchen and sat down at a wooden table on a single chair.  He noticed she had only the bare necessities—cupboards, a small refrigerator, and a hot plate.  The room itself was very small.  The bedroom had been the largest room so far in this place.

            Riku heard some muffled talking and thumping growing nearer.  In less than ten minutes, he heard the front door squeak open.

            Riku was very thirsty, so he headed over to the refrigerator.  Inside was an unopened bottle of wine, some fruit and prepared sandwiches, as well as a large jug of water.  Had he been anyone else in this wretched city, he would have taken the lot and hurried far away with it.

            Had he been anyone else.

            Riku shut the refrigerator door and decided to wait to ask permission.

            He occupied himself with strolling around the kitchen, remarking inwardly about how clean the girl kept it.  He stopped at the yellow-white electric light hanging from the top corner.  It was giving off an annoying buzz, humming and sputtering as it shed its uneven waves over the room.

            Riku caught himself watching as the lines between light and darkness rose and fell across the whitewashed walls.  He himself had tried to hang onto that wavering light.  He himself had failed and, ultimately, ended up…

            "Are you still here?" called a voice, brimming with hope and worry all at once.

            She'd returned.

            "Yes, has he gone now?"  Riku stepped out into the living area, where he found his host draped tiredly on a couch.

            "I helped him downstairs.  I was going to take him back to his place, but he said he was all right.  He even gave me some munny."  Her lips curved into a half smile.  "First time anyone's paid me for being considerate in this place."

            Riku was reflective.  He still had the hood of his coat up, his face still shrouded.  He was towering over her as she sat across the room.

            Her head came up slowly to meet the visible shines in his eyes.  Riku criticized himself for thinking her such a simple-faced girl before; he noticed, now that she was under the rays of her chandelier, that she was in fact quite striking.

            "Riku…" she began.  She smacked her violet-painted lips together, thinking.

            "I don't know your name," he pointed out suddenly for lack of anything else to say.  He wanted her to speak, to keep listening to that voice that held something he'd not heard for years.

            "Avarielle."  Her eyes revealed something wistful.  "I don't know if anyone else here even knows that."


            "Just call me Ava," she said.  "If you can't pronounce it."

            "I can…just let me have a few tries.  Avarielle… Avarielle… Avarielle…see?  I've got it."

            She gave him a smug look from over her nose.  "All right.  Well, if you're in a hurry, you can just use Ava."  The young woman put both hands around her long hair and guided the little waves down over the back of the reclining chair.  "Come on and sit down."

            Riku already knew that her orders were orders.  He came to rest on a small sofa perpendicular to the way she was facing.  Carefully, he took down his hood to reveal shoulder length blue-silver hair.

            "Riku."  She slid her knees beneath her and her arms and face over the armchair, so she was nearly leaning over him.  "To find someone like you in this city of sin…"  She reached out, almost like she wanted to touch his face.

            "I didn't know there was someone else…" he mumbled, taking her hand.

            "You have it too, then…"

            "A shred of light…"