You… Not you…
I don't want to fight. I don't want to fight you! I can't…
Shouldn't we be fighting together? Shouldn't we be fighting a common enemy?
Could it be true? Are you, too, fighting against yourself?
Then I will. I will stand up and fight. Together, we will conquer the evil within you!
Why, you ask?
Because…I want you back.
I don't know what it was that got into me. That day started off as unassuming as any other. There wasn't anything unusual in the sky; it was the same brilliant blue as it always was, with a few clouds, puffy and white. The beach seemed itself, too; it was long and white and warm, as usual. Even the air lacked a special feel to it. No, there were no external influences pushing me to the Secret Place that day. It was something on the inside.
My heart had been very precious to me ever since Sora carried it with him during the first part of his journey. Even though my body had lost all signs of life, I was able to survive under his care. He protected my heart and, later, at great risk to himself, restored it to its home.
From the time on, I have taken my heart more seriously; it is not mine alone anymore. My heart is connected to his. We are one, Sora and I. Are hearts are connected.
So I listened to my heart, if that was indeed what guided me that fateful day.
And on that day not too far out of the ordinary, I did not perform my ordinary routine. I did not rendezvous with my friends for breakfast. In fact, I skipped breakfast altogether and headed straight to the cave after throwing some clothes on. Had I a mother—or anyone at all to look after me—I might have been forced to be more responsible. But I had no mother, and I looked after myself.
That day was a little after the one year anniversary of the Islands' restoration. No one else had any recollection of our home's destruction and rebirth, though. I suppose it was their good fortune; sometimes I had memories of our world shattering and being pulled, piece by piece, into the vacuum of darkness…
I tried not to remember.
On the anniversary, I had half anticipated something special would happen. It was even a dark and stormy day. I thought Fate, Destiny, God—whatever—would step up to the plate and show me some sort of sign that my friends' battle was going well. Or going at all, even…
Sora… Riku… Where were they? Were they together, or as separated from each other as I was from them? Were Donald and Goofy around? Was that Ansem guy really gone for good?
Questions… So many questions!
And not one answer in the bunch.
Still…I never gave up the hope that all of us would someday be reunited. Not for one day in that entire year. After all, what would I be without my hope? Most likely, I would have ended up a huddling mass of broken humanity, or something as pitiful as that. I had to keep confidence alive. If Sora were connected to me strongly at all, I did not want him to know my hope had wavered, even for an instant.
I put myself in charge of Sora's support squad.
Even then I was a cheerleader, always on the sidelines…
No thoughts like that. My hope was a flickering candle inside my heart. I had to protect it or…or everything might crumble. Never give up hope, Kairi. Never give up hope. I'm ashamed to admit it, but there were times when I had to repeat that to myself. Times when I couldn't sense Sora so strongly. Times I began to worry—began to worry, let me emphasize. I never gave up hope, did I? No, I didn't. Not once during that year. It was only later that the cold wind blew into my candle's chamber…
Alas, I'm ahead of myself. Far, far ahead.
There was that ordinary day when I went to the Secret Place. It was fairly dark there, since the sun was busy lighting the other side of the island. I should have brought a lantern with me, but I guess a fifteen-year-old kid is not so great at planning ahead when she gets a message directly from her heart.
Suddenly…there was light.
It was a white light, somewhat muted, coming from the back of the cave. I realized it was emerging from a small door that had materialized out of the stone. I dug my feet into the sand and looked all around me. I couldn't see anyone else. I clenched my right hand into a tight fist and let the nails dig into the skin. It hurt. All right, I wasn't dreaming.
My heart beat fast. A glowing white door was surely a clear sign of something. Fate, Destiny, and perhaps even God had all gathered here to deliver me into my role. Hadn't they? Hadn't they? I was sure. And I was ready, too.
Would I see Sora?
This thought sent me running. Before my thoughts had an opportunity to collect themselves, my feet were stumbling and my hands were headed for a crash landing with the door.
The thing is, though, I never touched anything.
I fell right through.
I think the door wasn't really a door at all. I think it was just a chunk of my world that had been removed—temporarily, I hope—in order to facilitate things. The door I saw was truly a gateway into another dimension, one into which I fell and in which I continued to fall.
Everything around me was a blinding white. I had to close my eyes tight to avoid premature blindness.
I thought there must have been some sort of cosmic mistake. Where was Sora, grinning with his arms open, ready to hold me? Where was Riku, armed with his classic smirk and some snide comment about how long it took me to find them?
Where were my friends?
"Is this…some kind…of…sick…joke…?" I managed to wheeze out. It was only when I opened my mouth that I realized the air was more than thin in that place. I could hardly breathe, and speaking turned out to be an exhausting endeavor.
The one who should open the Door is in trouble…
What was that? Had my sanity left me? I was hearing voices—well, a voice. It was loud and booming, echoing inside my head. I managed to pull my hands up to grip at my temples.
"What?" I tried asking. It was hard to make sense out of anything, as I kept right on falling. My body kept twisting and spinning and I soon lost recognition of horizontal from vertical. On top of everything, the lack of oxygen getting to my brain was sending me into a dreamlike state.
You will assist him in his quest…
The one who will—wait, you mean Sora! I had given up trying to talk; it was a terrible waste of air. If I could hear his (her?) thoughts, then surely the otherworldly being could tap into mine. You want me…to help him…?
I will bestow upon you a new identity…
Wait. What, exactly, was wrong with the one I had already?
You will still be aware of your true self…
Well, that was the very least he could do for me.
But do not reveal the truth to anyone…
Why couldn't I?
For the truth can be a dangerous thing…
My eyelids involuntarily snapped open. The piercing white light burned, and I wanted desperately to cry out. I would have, to, but there was barely enough air in my lungs to remain conscious. My relief came a split second later, when everything around me went the color of a moonless midnight.
The first difference I noticed about the new world was the smell. I cannot, however, accurately describe the scents to you now. For the smells, along with the sights and everything else, I became quickly accustomed to and no longer would take any special notice of.
Human beings have such a remarkable capacity for adaptation.
I remember coming awake slowly, my nose hard at work, and the precise moment my eyes met a world of dark gray. That frightened me. I worried I really had gone blind and sat up so fast with panic that I threw my heavy coverings from me and was soon bathed in the morning's light. Relief washed over me, along with the sun's rays flittering through the paper wall.
Wait… Paper? Was that wall really made of crisscrossing wood and paper?
I left my warm futon to investigate. My bare feet trotted on the mats that covered the floor. Tatami mats, I knew—wait, how did I know that? Come to think of it, how did I know that my bed, which consisted of a flat mattress and thick comforter and that sat on the floor, was called a futon? I had never heard these words before in my life.
I clutched the side of my head. I was the same Kairi. The same shoulder-length red hair shined down to about my shoulders. I was still short and thin as bamboo—but what was bamboo? Anyway, my hands and feet were the same.
All right, so I didn't look any different. I didn't feel too different, either, except perhaps a little hungry. I had been a fool to skip breakfast, after all.
I went to the paper wall I was originally after. With a little investigation, I found that it slid over quite nicely. I manipulated the panels until they showed me a pane of glass. Beyond this was a dipping valley and mountains!
I stumbled back at the sight of them. I was absolutely sure I had never seen mountains outside of books. Absolutely. One hundred percent. Completely, utterly, and totally certain I had never seen a mountain in my life. Yet, here I was, situated in a place surrounded by beautiful, tree-covered peaks…
I immediately jerked my head over. It was only later that I realized it was not only my name that drew my attention, but also the sound of my mother's commanding voice. But…mother? I had never had a mother. I had never had any parents or family in the least.
Looking at that slightly annoyed brown-haired and blue-eyed woman, as she stood in the open doorway, recognition flashed inside my mind. Mother…? Yes…this woman, attempting to look as imposing as possible at just over one hundred and fifty centimeters, was my beloved mother, who had raised me on her own since my father abandoned us years and years ago.
"Did you just get out of bed?" she asked me, gesturing angrily at a small black box on the floor beside the futon. I went and picked it up. It told me that it was nine o'clock in the morning. I could read it, although I'd never seen such a contraption before.
"Yes, Mother," I admitted.
She surprised me when her solid expression cracked into a smile. "Eh? What's with the formalities?"
"Hmm?" I tried helplessly.
"Well, daughter, you had better hurry up and get dressed and pack your things, since you claimed you were too tired for such chores last night. Your grandparents have been waiting for a while now to eat breakfast, and you know I have to be on that ten-thirty train or I'll be late for work."
And somehow I knew that she had only managed to get half a day off at work, whatever that meant. She and I had traveled here, to my grandparents' house, on Saturday night, and had to be back home this afternoon, which was Monday afternoon.
"Hurry up, Kairi-chan," my mother called over her shoulder as she left me to pack and dress. I thought I heard her mutter, "And she told me she was going to wake up early this morning…"
I slid the door shut when she was gone and found a small sack with some clean clothes in it. The clothes were presumably mine since they fit just right. I pulled them on: a pair of white shorts, a short-sleeved purple shirt with a delicate white rose printed on the front—wait, rose? Even the simple representation of a rose was beautiful. I wondered what a real one was like. Did it have a sweet smell?
I gathered up my belongings that were scattered about. There was the alarm clock, which I had apparently forgotten to set (whatever that meant, exactly); my pajamas, which I had been wearing upon waking up; dirty clothes that I must have used over the weekend; a worn teddy bear, which conjured up a warm feeling… There were also a few magazines scattered about, featuring beautiful young people.
I picked up one that seemed to be about music, and flipped through the pages. I stopped at a picture of a woman with shoulder-length black hair sitting on a couch in the middle of an empty room. Her dark eyes especially were very striking. "Utada Hikaru," I read aloud. "Hikari…" Apparently it was the name of her latest single. The ad made her appear very beautiful… I found myself wanting to buy the CD—that was if I didn't own it already.
In the silence, I could hear people's muffled voices nearby. I realized I had become distracted and shoved the magazines and books in with the rest of my things. Then I scurried out into the hall, dove into my slippers, and trotted to breakfast. There was an elderly couple seated at a low table in the next room. I bowed deeply to them without thinking; it was instinct. They nodded to me.
"Sit down, dear," my grandmother said, deep wrinkles emerging around her mouth and eyes as she spoke.
I kept my face down and humbly took my seat. My mother was next to me. I looked up to see all the delicious food laid out for us, and was astounded. So much food! It was a bigger meal than I had ever seen—and it was breakfast. There were many dishes; rice, eggs, meat…
"Let's eat!" we chanted together.
The food turned out to be more delicious than it looked.
I was sad to bid farewell to my grandparents, who were very sweet people. "Eat, eat! You look like you could fall over any minute you're so pale!" my grandmother had chided me with over and over again as we ate. I had just laughed, and followed her directions quite happily, indulging myself in the flavors, each of which produced a mixed sensation of novelty and familiarity inside my mouth.
Grandfather walked Mom and me to the train station. He even carried my bag. Grandmother stayed behind, giving me a final embrace at the front door. She said it was because she had so many dishes to take care of; Grandfather said later that she was getting arthritis in one knee and couldn't walk very far, and even for short distances she had a bit of a limp.
I believed it was nothing to be ashamed of, that it was just a part of growing older, but apparently my grandmother thought differently. The two adults with me talked to each other as we made our way down the narrow, winding streets lined with stone walls. A car would pass, or perhaps a family laden with shopping bags. We would stop and bow our heads to them, and my grandfather would exchange a good word with each bunch. To one he could only say, "My, your dog is looking very healthy today!" I had to stifle a giggle; I knew somehow that Grandfather wasn't particularly fond of the man or his dog. They both had nasty tempers.
I waved my last goodbye to my grandfather out the train window. The train car jolted to a start. The scenery began to rush by faster and faster. I sat up on my knees and watched, intrigued. My mother glanced up from her newspaper once or twice, shook her head, and returned to reading. I suppose I looked like a fool with my face practically pressed against the glass. Yet, our compartment was mostly vacant, so I suppose I spared Mom any true humility.
I couldn't help being intrigued. Everything was just so new. From the rooftops to the trees to the mountains… I should have been frightened to travel at such speeds inside a big metal box, but I was surprisingly calm throughout the trip. Even when the train squeaked during the sharp turns, I did not worry too much. I was quite proud of myself.
Eventually, my knees became sore. I turned around and sat the correct way next to my mother. She was squinting intently at the fine print of some article, and making a tsk sound with her tongue. I chose to dig around in my bag for a while. I found the same music magazine I had been looking at before and started reading. The remainder of the trip passed quickly this way.
When we left the train station in our hometown, which was a suburb of Japan's capital, Tokyo, my mother asked me some questions I wasn't sure how to answer.
"How do you like it here, Kairi-chan? Are you excited about starting at your new school?"
I just nodded meekly. I had never heard of Japan before a second ago, when I 'remembered' that's where we were. Any city on this new world be as strange as another, so I didn't see why it mattered. I dug through my brain, trying to find some new memories that would be helpful.
Wait. All right. We used to live in Sapporo, which was the capital of the northernmost island in Japan, Hokkaido. I had graduated from junior high school there and then we moved down here to be closer to grandmother and grandfather. Now it was the end of spring break and the new semester would be starting soon.
"You studied so hard to get into your new high school," Mom was saying. "I'm really proud of you."
Hearing her sincere words of praise, I could not help but blush. So is this what it's like to have a mother? It's…wonderful…
We walked for a while, around two kilometers, following the twisting streets. I followed my mother closely since I had no idea which way to go. Even she had to stop and turn around a couple times. "This neighborhood…I'm still not quite used to it," she admitted, looking embarrassed.
We finally arrived at a tall apartment building (it looked to be around ten stories). Our apartment was on the seventh floor. All those cement steps were a grueling challenge. I was very glad when my mother turned the brass key into the lock and we stepped inside the modest room. I shuffled out of my shoes and went for the far corner, which had a desk and small table. The area was decorated with a few posters. I realized it was my 'room'.
My mother dropped her things on her way to the bathroom. She emerged with freshly combed hair and a business jacket over her white-collared shirt. "I have to hurry to work," she told me as she went about replacing her shoes. She picked something up from the top of the empty shoe cabinet and threw it at me. I caught the object, which turned out to be another key.
"That's yours now, so take care of it. I left some money on the kitchen counter, so you can go buy something for lunch at the konbini," she said. "I'm off work at six, so you can do me a favor and start the rice around then."
"Okay, I will. See you later, Mom."
"I'm leaving now!" she called, shutting the door behind her.
I was left alone.
Konnichi wa, minna-san! Ogenki desu ka? I hope you enjoyed this chapter, the beginning on my latest story. I'm really pumped about it, because I get to incorporate some experiences from my trip to Japan, as well as the knowledge I'm collected from my years-long interest in the country (more than five years now…I'm totally nuts). I have been studying Japan for a long time, but I still can't guarantee everything will be 100% accurate, although I am also doing supplemental research online to get my story as correct as possible. I am not Japanese (as much as I might wish to be), so forgive me any errors I may make with this and feel free to point them out.
I'm thinking it would be kind of cool to teach everyone a few things about Japan every chapter, so here's my first lesson (I'm excited!): The room where Kairi woke up is actually based on the room where I stayed at my host family's home. Japanese houses today are, for the most part, Western style, but usually have a washitsu, or Japanese-style room, with tatami mat floors and shoji (the walls with the wooden frame with translucent paper applied to one side). There is also the tokonoma, or decorative alcove, where there is some sort of display with a scroll on the wall and some pottery, a flower arrangement, etcetera on the raised floor. Staying in that room was a wonderful experience. When I went in and they told me that's where I would stay, all I could say was, "It's very beautiful," and it truly was. I should put up pictures for you guys to see…
A few last notes. I'm going to try to use metric measurements as opposed to standard (why it's called standard, I don't know; only a few countries mess their kids up by making them think in feet and inches…) In this chapter, I described Kairi's mother's height as "about one hundred fifty centimeters," which is somewhere around five feet. Two kilometers is between a mile/a mile and a half. Oh, and I got to use one of my favorite words here near the end: konbini. It means 'convenience store.' Isn't that just so kawaii?? Oh, yes, and kokosei means high school student. ^_^