I promised I'd be there for you, to be the one to protect you this time. And yet…
Kairi looked up at the spot, where he was sitting just a moment ago, trying to recall his voice, his words, his smile. But Sora was gone and it was all her fault. He had to use that power to save her and bring her back; again. And yet you sacrificed your life, your very being, just to save me.
She heard the footfalls of the others, running across the bridge in a hurry. What will I say to them? What could I say to them? To Riku? She looked towards them, but couldn't find the silver-haired boy among those running towards her.
"Kairi!" Aqua's voice was the first she heard. "What happened?"
"He is…" She couldn't finish the sentence. She couldn't say it aloud. If she did so, it would've been final.
"He is gone," Mickey answered the question instead. Kairi nodded, trying to fight back her tears with little success. Naminé went over to her, pulling her into a hug.
"What do you mean he's gone, Your Majesty?" Donald looked at the King, completely baffled by the unfolding events. "Gone where?" Mickey looked at his court wizard and shook his head sadly. It took the mage a few seconds to understand, and let out a painful cry-like sound. "Sora…"
Kairi peered over Naminé's shoulder, looking for Riku. He was still down at the beach, looking silently at the spot, where his friend was sitting a minute ago. He just stood there, hands curled into fists, not giving any signs of understanding what was going on around him. Then again, the boy was much paler than usual, and Kairi knew him well enough to read his eyes. He himself was on the verge of collapsing. She had never seen him so distressed.
She forced herself to look away. She couldn't bear to see the always so calm and composed Riku like that. Because if even he was lost in sorrow, that really did mean that there was no hope for them. She looked at the others. Hayner, Pence, and Olette stood at the entrance of the wooden shack, not sure what was going on. Terra, Ventus, Roxas, Xion, Lea, and Isa were halfway through the wooden bridge, looking utterly confused themselves. Aqua was a step ahead, keeping her hand in front of her heart, as if her chest was aching. Mickey, Donald and Goofy were on the small island, closest to where Sora was sitting before he disappeared. And Naminé was there with her, trying to sooth her pain.
"But why?" Lea cried suddenly, looking at the others with a wild confusion. "I've never seen anything like this! He just up and disappeared! What happened with him? What do you mean he's gone? This is—"
"Lea, calm down" Isa said and put his hand on the other man's shoulder, shaking his head slowly. Lea, who was ready to start yelling again, let his hands fall and closed his eyes.
Aqua stepped beside Mickey and looked at the small King, "This is related to the Power of Waking, is it not?"
Mickey sighed and gave a short nod. "Yes, I think so. But I am not sure either, guys."
"Let's ask Master Yen Sid about it" Terra declared suddenly. "He is bound to know something about this."
"Yeah," Roxas and Ventus nodded in union. Then, Roxas added, "Many of us, including me, can be here, because of Sora. I won't let him take the fall. He deserves his happy ending, more than any of us." everyone nodded in agreement; Kairi too. She thanked Naminé, and gave Riku a dauntless nod, surprising the boy, who still hasn't moved away from the beach.
"To the gummi ship!" Donald declared, pointing towards the Highwind. Everyone quickly marched towards it. Kairi joined the group, but halfway through, she realized that Riku was still just standing there. She turned back, and looked at the boy. Riku… Before she could've done or said anything, someone put their hand on her shoulder. It was Aqua.
"I think you should talk to him," the Keyblade Master said softly. She paused and they watched him for a few seconds before she would continue. "You might be the only one, who could reach him right now."
Kairi nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah. Go on ahead, and we'll catch up later!"
Aqua left and she walked down to the spot, where Riku was standing. He was shaking softly his breath was ragged. For a couple of seconds, neither of them spoke. She leaned closer, touching his back with her forehead. "I am so sorry, Riku. This is all my—"
"This is all my fault!" Riku declared suddenly. "If I had taken Mickey's side after the battle, if I had discouraged him from doing anything reckless, then he might still be… still be here!" suddenly, Riku turned around and hugged her. "Kairi I'm so sorry!" he said, sobbing. "I couldn't stop him! I couldn't stop my best friend, even though I should've! I have… failed"
"That's not true Riku" She said firmly. "You haven't failed him. And we… we will find him. I know we will." Even though she herself felt terrible, seeing Riku like that had made her steel her heart and cast aside any negativity. One of them had to be optimist at that moment.
They didn't move for a short while, but Riku finally let go of her and took a step back, wiping off his tears. "Let's go ask Master Yen Sid," Kairi offered with a smile. "He'll definitely know what to do."
Riku nodded and returned the smile, albeit it wasn't a confident one. "Yeah. Let's do that."
- O - O - O - O - O -
The Keyblade Graveyard had regained its original appearance, as if nothing had happened there. No Name, the Keyblade of his Master lay there, thrust into the ground at the small crossroads between the thousands and thousands of ancient blades.
He reached down and pulled the Keyblade out, looking at it with a sense of content he hasn't felt for a very long time. Finally, back where it belongs. He had waited for this moment for so long. It was like the end of a very long dream before the moment of waking.
The wind howled and dust covered the distant road for a second before a figure – dressed in a unique, ceremonial garment – stepped out of nothing. He heard the steps of three more individuals, closing in from the various roads. They wore similar outfits. Oh how much he had longed to see them all again.
The one in front of him donned the mask of a unicorn. He slowly approached him and arrived just at the same time as the others. Ira, Aced, Invi, and Gula; those four were his long lost friends.
"Did you summon us back?" the man named Ira asked.
"Yep" he said and looked at the other man as he glimpsed at the sword in his hands. No Name, the Keyblade of their Master.
"Is that you Luxu? You look different."
"Haven't heard that name in a long while" he replied, pulling back the hood of his black cloak, revealing his face. "These days they call me Xigbar, but hey, whatever suits you." he said with a cocky cheerfulness in his voice.
"Is it… really you?" Invi, the girl under the serpent mask asked.
"Yeah, but some time ago, I had to cast my old form away." Luxu explained. "Been through plenty more semblances since, but it's still me underneath it all."
"What happened?" Aced, the large man under the bear mask demanded angrily. "Why are we here? You tell me!"
"I had a role to play" Luxu replied, raising the Keyblade in his hand. "And after all these years, it's done."
"What role?" Invi queried, taking a step closer, but Luxu did not give an answer. He looked around, as if he was looking for someone.
"I guess Ava didn't make it after all."
"Meaning what?" Gula asked from behind him. He was the shortest of the group, and donned the mask of a leopard.
"I told her, clear as day, what it is I had to do."
"And is that why you decided to exclude her?" Gula retorted.
"As if! Ava had her own mission, and she carried it out."
"I've heard enough!" Aced snapped. "Luxu, what was your role?"
Luxu's smiled widened and he looked upon the large black box he brought with him. Protecting this box was also his objective during all this time. But the time for all that secrecy was finally coming to an end.
"I hope you like long stories…"
- O - O - O - O - O -
When the group entered the study of Master Yen Sid, the aged sorcerer was standing by the windows staring at the starlit sky, his hands clenched behind his back.
"Master!" Riku said immediately, as he and the rest of the large group entered the chamber, which seemed to be just large enough to have everyone inside comfortably.
"I know why you are all here," Yen Sid said with much gravity to his voice as he turned around and walked to his desk to sit down. "You've come to me in hopes of gaining further knowledge about the Power of Waking, so that you might try to save Sora."
"You bet!" Donald said valiantly.
"Please Master, if ya know anythin' about Sora, tell us!" Goofy added.
Yen Sid looked at them for a second then let his eyes fell and shook his head slowly. Riku's legs shook as he suddenly felt an unbearable heavy burden fell upon his heart. "I am sorry, but even my knowledge is greatly limited. The Power of Waking is a very powerful, but dangerous tool, and has many uses, as you've experienced."
"We've used it to awaken the sleeping worlds" Riku replied, and Yen Sid gave a slight nod. "But that's not the true potential of this power, is it?"
"The Power of Waking allows the user to use his heart to its fullest potential. Through this power, one might traverse hearts to reach other worlds, or nurture and heal other hearts back to life. One example of this would be unlocking the hearts of the sleeping worlds, thus bringing them back to the Realm of Light."
"So how is this power so dangerous, Master?" Aqua inquired. "We could use the power of the Keyblade to complete any of these tasks, can we not?"
"The power of the Keyblade certainly a pre-requirement to accomplish any of these feats" Yen Sid stated calmly, stroking his grey beard. "But a heart, even if it is strong, is a fragile thing. Using this power properly is dangerous, let alone trying to abuse it in any ways."
"What do you mean by that?" Riku demanded. "What did Sora ever do?"
"At the Keyblade Graveyard" Yen Sid asserted "I am not completely sure what had happened, but I do remember feeling a sense of loss and sorrow, far too great to comprehend it completely. It was as if you had all fallen and Xehanort had won."
"That did happen" Naminé nodded firmly. "That is how Sora traversed to the Final World and met with me."
"Yes…" Terra agreed. "I do remember conversing with Naminé. She warned me about you guys and the coming battle. But it is all very hazy now."
"But Sora didn't disappear after that, did he" Riku disagreed.
"No, but he came for me, after everything" Kairi sobbed quietly. Everyone fell silent and peered at the girl, standing beside the wall, far from everyone. "This is all because of me. Had I protected myself when Xemnas tried to take me, or when Master Xehanort struck me down, Sora wouldn't have…"
Kairi broke down in tears and the girls all hurried over to her, to offer her some comfort. The boys too felt heartbroken. Riku wished he could've said something, anything. But to be frank, he himself wasn't sure about his feelings. He certainly didn't feel any enmity towards the girl or thought she'd be the reason for what happened to their friend. He just couldn't say anything, for in that moment he was just as lost and frightened, as Kairi was.
"Why would you have us learn something so dangerous then?" Riku turned back to Yen Sid, pushing all the sorrow aside. "If you knew it was this dangerous, why didn't you warn us?"
"Would that have changed anything?" the Master asked in a rather serious tone. Riku wanted to answer, but he suddenly realized Yen Sid was right. Without this power, they couldn't have saved Terra, Aqua or Ventus. They couldn't have defeated Master Xehanort. And even if Sora knew of the consequences, he would've gone to save Kairi, no matter the cost. There was no denying it. This was Sora's fate from the beginning.
"So we know why" Lea said. "But we don't know what happened or where Sora is gone to."
"Master, is there any chance we can save Sora?" Riku asked.
"Not that I know of. As I said, my knowledge is very limited. I am quite sure that when Sora had disappeared, all of your felt as if parts of your heart were torn out you, yes? I too, felt that."
Everyone nodded and Aqua turned to Yen Sid. "What was this feeling?"
"It was Sora's heart disconnecting from everyone else's. It means, he is no longer part of our either the Realm of Light, Dark or In-Between. He is lost and gone to a place, where we cannot reach him. He faded out of existence."
"And if he faded out of existence, nothing binds him to the world anymore." Xion stated, earning a look from the others. "Including the connections he had made. Sort of like what happened to me."
Yen Sid nodded gravely.
"But you are still here," Roxas interrupted, patting her softly on the shoulder. "So that means there must be a way to bring Sora back!"
"Can't we just use the Power of Waking to find him?" Lea asked.
"That would rely on connecting with his heart..." Riku said gloomily. "And we all know that we cannot reach his heart anymore."
"I am afraid that is correct," Yen Sid claimed softly, bowing his head. "All we can do now is to believe in Sora. Believe that if there is a way to return home, he will find it."
A few minutes later, the group gathered in front of the tower under the starlight sky. They all seemed shaken and struck by the events. This wasn't the ending they had expected; it wasn't how it was supposed to be. Nobody could believe that Sora was absent. Many of them were alive and well because of the boy, and now that the tables have turned, they couldn't even repay him.
"We have to believe in him, everyone!" Mickey said, trying to be as positive as he could be.
"An' I for one believe he'll be back!" Goofy added. "Remember the day we met him, Donald?"
"Yeah, we thought he wouldn't stand a chance!"
"But he came through," Riku smiled sadly. "He always did."
"I choose to believe in him as well" Xion nodded. "He remembered me, when everyone else forgot. He believed in my heart, when I thought I had none."
"He will be back" Roxas said assuredly. "I used to part a part of him, so I know he will."
"And when he's back, he is going to get an earful for making us all so worried" Olette said brightly.
"So what do we do now?" Hayner asked the question after a few seconds of deep silence. "I mean, we're not going to sit here, waiting for him, are we?"
Lea looked at him and stretched his arms lazily. "Of course not! I for one need a big dinner after today."
"Glad to see you still have your appetite" Isa nodded. "But I agree I could grab a bite as well."
"We should be returning home as well" Aqua declared, sending a smile at Ven and Terra.
Riku looked at them. He felt as if he had to say something, anything. For a second he felt the presence of his friend, almost saw him standing beside Kairi. Instead, she looked back at him and sent him an encouraging smile. And that smile was like a helping hand, helping him burden that heavy weight. "Everyone. Thank you." Riku said. "For now, we can only hope that Sora will his way home."
"If there's anything" Terra said. "Reach out to us, and we'll swoop in to help."
"We're with ya as well! Better get that memorized!" Lea added with a grin.
And so with that, the Guardians of the Light and their friends have said their goodbyes and set out to their respective homes. Aqua, Terra and Ventus returned to the Land of Departure; Roxas, Xion, Lea, Isa, Hayner, Pence and Olette traveled to Twilight Town; and Naminé was taken to Radiant Garden by Mickey, Donald and Goofy on their way back to Disney Castle. At the end, only Riku and Kairi remained there, waiting in silence for the last of their friends to depart.
When the last of their friends had departed, Kairi turned to the boy. "Riku" she said hesitantly.
"I choose to believe in him as well, Kairi" the boy said, giving her a brighter smile than before. "I know he will."