Summary: A being tied to Sora is awakening and now more than ever the Keyblade Master is needed. Only, no one seems to know where he is. How are Riku and Kairi tied into all of this and who are the Non-Existent Ones?
Disclaimer: I don't own Kingdom Hearts or any of its characters. They're all property of Squaresoft and Disney.
Chapter Sixteen: Echoes of Truth
Beyond the doors of the throne room was a hall of a design that was an abnormal melding of castle and cavern. The ceiling, like the throne room, was rocky and black with smooth stalactites that hung low enough for any passer-by to easily walk into if she wasn't careful. Kairi found herself ducking multiple times in order to avoid banging her head against the jagged spikes.
Ahead of her was Riku, and somewhere in this palace was Enigma. Something that Hades had said had caused him to run off. Seeing him flee without another word was something that made Kairi worry.
Kairi paused when she thought she heard a sound. Her eyes scanned the hall, and she found nothing out of the ordinary. She felt slightly relieved, but her fear still remained. At every turn she half-expected some malicious creature to leap forward and attack her. How Riku or Enigma could be so calm in this place was beyond her, but if they continued to trudge forward, then she would follow. She wasn't going to be left behind--never again.
Riku stopped when something ahead had caught his attention. "Enigma!"
At the mention of his name, Enigma turned, and hefrowned as the pair ran towards him. Kairi caught a glimpse of him over Riku's shoulder, and although she was worried, she started to grin. He carried that same blank expression as usual, apparently no longer bothered by whatever had made him run before.
Enigma waited for Riku and Kairi at a corner. When the two reached him, Riku shot Enigma an irritated glare. "Thanks for waiting for us. What was that all about back there?"
Enigma turned away. "It was nothing."
Riku rolled his eyes and stepped in front of Enigma to block his path. "That's not going to work. What is it?"
There was silence as Enigma stared at Riku, all the while fighting to rein back the storm of emotions that was raging within him. The confidence that Riku boasted was the final nail, and Enigma shoved past the boy, propelling Riku backwards. Silently Enigma stalked the halls ahead as Riku stumbled and caught onto the wall. Kairi stood, watching Enigma leave, and felt her heart race.
Kairi stepped forward, stopping beside Riku. "Enigma!"
He was already several meters away, but the steps he took were slower compared to the speed Kairi was accustomed to watching him walk at. He stopped in mid-stride and tilted his head in her direction. Kairi gave Riku one final glance before running to Enigma's side. She came to a halt when she was a few paces away from him and held her hands together near her waist, unsure of what to do with them.
Enigma was always like a stonewall, impenetrable with no method of getting through, but there were also always those cracks, the subtle weaknesses that made him so easy for Kairi to read. When she looked into his eyes, she saw the emotions that he was trying to sort--foreign emotions that scared him.
Kairi lowered her eyes and tried her best to smile. "Please…" She found herself unable to give words to her feelings.
She looked up and caught his gaze. There'd been no real visible change over his demeanour, but Kairi could see that he was calm now. His gaze pulled away from hers and was directed over her shoulders, meaning Riku was most likely behind her. She glanced back to see Riku watching her closely. There was no anger in his eyes when he looked at her--simply disappointment. Riku smiled when she looked at him, but there was no emotion behind his smile.
Riku stepped beside Kairi and brought his attention to Enigma. "Well? Spill it? Something about a gathering and neo?"
"N-E-O," Enigma corrected him. Riku rolled his eyes heavenward. Without waiting to hear whatever cynical retort Riku had on the tip of his tongue, Enigma continued, "It stands for Non-Existent One."
Recognition dawned in Riku's eyes. "You told me about them before."
"Right, back in the Forgotten World…" There was a distant look in Enigma's eyes as he recalled the conversation. "You also told me of how you thought Heartless were born, which was incorrect."
Enigma shook his head. "Never mind… just know that there are certain cases with certain people when they undergo a change, or a 'metamorphosis' to put it more dramatically--they become something more. The change from living to Heartless, for example--the heart is consumed by the darkness, and both body and soul are lost."
"But there are cases where the body exists without the heart," Riku murmured.
Kairi turned to stare at him, and even Enigma seemed surprised. "How in the world do you know that?" she asked.
For a moment, Riku didn't seem to hear her. He had the look of a man whose mind was off in another world. Kairi became worried and reached out to touch him on the shoulder. Her hand brushed against his arm, jolting him back to reality. He nearly jumped, and his sudden alertness caused both Enigma and Kairi to take a step back in precaution.
"What? Oh, um, I read about it, back in Hollow Bastion. Ansem's Thirteenth Report…"
Kairi flinched at the mention of Ansem and nodded. Aerith had mentioned about how extensive Hollow Bastion's library was and that it'd been Ansem who'd gathered the books together. It wouldn't surprise her if she went into the library and found a few books written by the sage himself.
"Okay, so the NEO are like shells?" Kairi asked.
Enigma gave Riku one final disapproving look before pulling his attention towards Kairi. "Yes, they have no hearts."
"And since the Unknown are shells, that means the NEO and the Unknown are the same," Kairi surmised.
A corner of Enigma's lips twitched, and he slowly shook his head. "Very close, but there's just a few differences between the NEO and the Unknown… The NEO are shells that have wills of their own. They're ancient beings. The Unknown are shells as well, but in some cases they aren't. Shells or not, the Unknown do not have any free will of their own."
Kairi's eyes flicked from Enigma to Riku. "So what are you and Riku? Unknown or NEO?"
Enigma blinked several times, taken aback by her question. He looked over at Riku and met his questioning gaze. There was a long silence as he considered the answer, and finally he shook his head. "I… don't know."
The trio remained silent as they pondered the question. Unable to ascertain an answer, Riku shook his head. He looked over towards Enigma, and another question came to mind, one that had been bothering him since they'd left the throne room.
"You haven't told us why you just ran off."
Enigma's eyes were to the ground as Riku regarded him. For a long moment, Enigma looked as if he were considering what to say. "Hades said that it was someone from the NEO who approached him." Enigma shook his head and then smiled as if laughing at himself.
"Hades could be lying," Kairi pointed out.
Enigma shrugged. "He could be… or he could be telling the truth."
Sensing his agitation, Kairi laid a hand on his arm and saw him relax again. He looked at her hand for a moment, but said nothing. He didn't meet her gaze, but there was a barely perceptible smile on his face. It was a nice feeling to know that she had the power to temporarily alleviate his fears. Kairi caught movement from the corner of her eye and saw Riku looking at his hands. Reluctantly, Kairi pulled her hand away.
Riku looked up and let his hands drop to his side. "Should we go back and get the information from Hades?" he asked.
Kairi waited for Enigma to make his decision. It would be ultimately up to him on what they should or shouldn't do. She saw that he was staring at Riku, most likely thinking over the suggestion, turning it over in his mind and weighing the pros and cons. Enigma looked very much like Sora whenever he was confused. Thinking of all those times when Sora would try to make a decision and come up with a blank made her turn away from the two boys to hide her widening grin.
Kairi quickly buried her mirth and turned back to the boys. It'd been Enigma who had spoken.
"Whatever we ask him could come out as a lie. It'd be a waste of time."
"So what now? We go back to Hollow Bastion?" Riku asked.
Enigma nodded and pulled out the Oathkeeper. The weapon spun in his hand before his grip settled firmly around its hilt. Light motes shimmered from the keyblade and faded away when they hit the ground. Enigma pointed his weapon ahead of him, and a thin thread of energy jumped from the key, flying several meters ahead and then spreading upwards and stopping short of the ceiling. The energy began to push outwards, forcing a rift to form, and when the light faded, the huge tear in space was large enough to allow all three to pass at once.
Lowering the Oathkeeper, Enigma looked back at Riku and Kairi. They began moving towards the rift, Riku passing with a simple nod at him and disappearing. Kairi followed. She paused, looking back to see that Enigma was still there, and when she was reassured that he was right behind her, she entered the darkness.
It was cold, but he did not feel the cold. He only felt pain. It wasn't physical pain. No, that could have been remedied with a few cure spells. This pain that he felt deep inside, that ached and made him feel so hollow, couldn't be easily cured.
Sephiroth didn't move. All strength had been drained from him. Now he was just an animated doll that walked and spoke when it was required of him. All of the adults had left him alone, forgotten the small child, and Sephiroth had managed to escape the crowds of pretenders. They didn't care as much as he did.
Why wouldn't it stop hurting?
A blast of cold wind stung his face. He held his hands over his ears, feeling the bite of the cold most strongly there. With the howling of the wind coupled with his hands over his ears, he never heard the approaching footsteps. Someone tapped him lightly on his right shoulder, and he sighed. He looked back, expecting to see an adult ready to berate him. He managed to smile when he saw that it was Cloud.
"Hey," Cloud greeted.
Cloud stood there awkwardly, his hands clenching and relaxing. Sephiroth, even at his young age, could readily read body language with ease and knew that Cloud was waiting for Sephiroth to accept him. The silver haired boy gestured for Cloud to sit beside him. Cloud slowly moved to the edge of the balcony and sat. He, like Sephiroth, had no fear of falling.
The wind continued to howl, and Cloud shivered, wrapping his arms around him. Sephiroth felt a twinge of guilt. Cloud noticed his stares and threw his hands to his sides. As always, Cloud wanted to prove that he was just as tough, if not tougher than Sephiroth. It almost made him laugh.
"Hey Seph… you okay?"
Sephiroth saw the genuine look of concern on Cloud's face. It was a level of caring that no one else had shown him in these past few days. Knowing that there was at least one person who cared for him in this world…it made him happy.
"Yeah, I'm okay. Just kinda tired."
"And cold?" Cloud asked with a slight curve of his lips.
Sephiroth managed to laugh. "No, you big baby. If you're cold, then why don't you just go back inside?"
"I'm not cold!"
"Yeah right. Don't blame me if you catch some fatal disease up here."
Cloud shot up and scowled. "I won't because I'm not gonna catch anything!"
In his angry tirade, Cloud never noticed his footing, but Sephiroth noticed.
His outburst had been meant to warn the boy, but it only served to startle Cloud. Sephiroth felt as if time had slowed just for him to watch his best friend, his brother, fall to his death. The horror that was on Cloud's face when he realized that he was going to fall was burned forever onto his mind. The boy cried out, flailing his arms, and Sephiroth, for a split second, could do nothing but watch.
Cloud's voice made something inside of him snap. He leapt forward, catching Cloud's outstretched hand. He fell onto his stomach and nearly slid over the edge as Cloud's weight dragged him down.
I can't let him die!
Sephiroth grabbed onto Cloud's outstretched arm with his other hand and began pulling him up. All his grief, all his sorrow and fears welled up as he strained to heave the boy up. His face was turning red at the effort. "You idiot!" he hollered.
The boy winced. "I'm sorry!"
When Cloud was at level with the balcony, he managed to haul himself over the edge. Sephiroth was still gripping onto Cloud's hand tightly, glaring at him. "How could you be so stupid!?"
Angry tears welled in Sephiroth's eyes as he tightened his hold on Cloud's hand. "You could have died! I would have--"
--Been left alone.
"All alone." He mouthed the words.
His eyes opened as he felt the cold. He looked down to see the familiar shape of his home become larger and larger as he descended from the sky. His large black wing, coupled with certain forms of magic, kept him from plummeting to his death, but it was his own will that kept the cold nonexistent, just as he'd always done in the past.
He wondered if Cloud would sense him again this time. He was a master at masking his own presence from others, but there was something between him and Cloud. It was an odd connection, one that had survived all the betrayals and pains of the past.
Landing on the balcony, Sephiroth tucked his wing and watched as his black feathers were picked up by the wind. He smiled as he headed for the stairwell, one hand resting on the Masamune.
Their return had been heralded with various forms of "welcome back" and "good to see you again!" Kairi had been the one who relayed the story to Squall, being careful to exclude certain parts she didn't deem necessary to recount. After that was over, the trio was free to do as they pleased. Kairi had immediately whisked Enigma away, and Riku had been left on his own.
Riku returned to his room in order to relax. It was still in the same state of disarray as he'd left it in before. He considered cleaning the mess and realized that he really didn't want to do anything. The idea of Enigma and Kairi being together crushed the energy Riku had left. The boy sat on the edge of his bed and thought of sleeping, but while he felt too tired to do anything, he was also wide-awake. Hundreds of thoughts of Kairi were streaming through his mind.
The boy toyed with the idea of him being in place of Enigma, kissing Kairi in the library, holding her hand on the balcony. Unlike Enigma he would have appreciated her affections, and he would have returned them with no hesitation.
Riku scowled at his thoughts. So many years had passed since he'd realized he cared for Kairi as more than just a friend. He wanted her to love him, but it'd always been someone else--no, not just someone else, it'd always been Sora. It'd always been Sora who caught her attention, and it was Sora and Sora only who Kairi loved.
Riku's gaze drifted over to the armchair, sitting upright and pushed against the wall.Think about your feelings carefully.
There was no need to consider whether or not he loved Kairi. It was only a question of whether or not he was willing to simply let go. He stood, letting his irritation roll off him, and headed for the door. He'd go some place else and do something else that wouldn't require too much thinking. Maybe he should just talk to someone who would understand. He thought of Aerith and wondered where she would be. She liked books and so he decided to head for the library.
Finding it wasn't too difficult; Riku was beginning to familiarize himself with the halls of Hollow Bastion. He entered through the upper level and found it empty, a book laid open on one of the tables. Its brown pages were wrinkled, and the words were written by hand and not printed through a machine. He frowned, realizing that he was becoming too interested in a stupid book, and pulled his gaze away from it. Riku headed for the railing and swept his eyes over the lower level, but saw no sign of the woman in pink.
"Aerith?" he called out, hoping that she might be hidden behind a shelf. There was silence.
His gaze settled on the fallen shelves that had never been righted--the remaining traces of his battle with Sephiroth. He looked away and brought a hand to his heart. He still bore the scar from that battle. Looking back on it now, he realized just how much of an idiot he'd been to think that he was actually strong enough to take on someone like Sephiroth.
You survived his attacks, and that is all that matters in the end.
Riku scowled, but it was Ansem who merely brushed away his irritation. It was because of Ansem that he had nearly slipped last time. He'd managed to force Ansem into silence at the time. The sage had seen the logic in remaining quiet and not revealing himself to the others. Now, with no one around, there was no need to remain cautious.
"I don't need you to patronize me," Riku growled. "Why can't you just shut up?"
It was my knowledge and my help that aided you several times in the past.
"I think I would have been better off without your help," the boy muttered. He looked back over to the railing to ensure that there was no one about to listen to his conversation. When he felt safe, he moved towards the table, his eyes landing once again on the book.
The book you see before you is mine. I had scattered its pages across the worlds to prevent others from gaining access to my knowledge.
"Your journal?" Riku questioned. He moved towards a chair and sat, noticing for a moment that it was still warm. Someone must have been reading Ansem's journal moments earlier. He picked up the leather bound book and tried the best he could to make out the sage's writing. Riku had never read any of the man's works, but every word felt oddly familiar. He supposed it was some side effect of having two minds in the same body. It made sense that if Ansem could access his memories, then Riku should be able to do the same.
Once again, Keyblade Master, you've presumed wrongly.
Riku clamped down his urge to roll his eyes and went back to reading the journal. The beginning was boring; there were only entries on how Ansem's days had gone. Then there was something about Sephiroth and Maleficent. He was somewhat surprised to learn that Sephiroth had been a general of Ansem's army. Occasionally, Riku would pause in his reading and wonder if the man who'd written these words was the same man who was occupying his body.
He'd been halfway through the journal when he came across the reports. It was almost amusing to read Ansem's over-excited thoughts at being able to learn something new or when he was about to come across a breakthrough.
'Those who lack hearts... I will call them the Heartless.'
Riku's fingers tightened around the edges of the book. Ansem, the father of all Heartless, sharing his body. This new tidbit of information explained why he could suddenly command the Heartless, but to have someone like Ansem inside him all the time… Riku scowled. This was why he could never tell his friends. They would only hate him.
'The Keyblade is said to hold phenomenal power. One legend says its wielder saved the world, while another says that he wrought chaos and ruin upon it.'
"That's me, isn't it?" Riku asked. He shut the book and let it drop on the table. Loose papers flew from the table and fluttered to the ground.
"I'm that Keyblade Master that stupidly let darkness into his heart and brought chaos and ruin to every world I visited."
There is more than one Keyblade Master.
"But Sora saved the worlds!"
And now you are saving worlds.
"Shut up!" Riku shot up, throwing his hands over his ears.
Deny the truth as you will, but the possibility still exists.
"I don't want to hear this!" Riku screamed. He kicked the chair away and turned to leave the library. He came to a halt when his eyes fell upon the exit. There stood Aerith, one hand held over her mouth. The shock in her gaze was all too clear.
Riku squeezed his eyes shut and waited for her to speak.
Hmmm yes, it's been a while, a very long while. All I really have nothing to say in my defence save for what I already wrote in my profile. This chapter's dedicated to all of you who have stuck for all the way. It really means a lot to me.