Author's Note: Yes it's been a long time between updates, hasn't it? Well I have worse news for you: the next update will not be until the end of May. Why? A.P. tests in two months! I have to get ready! Three stories will be up on hiatus and three stories will continue running until they have accumulated enough chapters between them. You should know which ones I'm talking about. Well anyways, here's a good long one. It probably won't make sense but please try to understand. I'm trying to get the story going without dumping too much information in with each chapter. Forgive me if I confuse you.
Copyrights: All characters and settings belong to Square-Enix and Disney. Tetsu, Lyath, and people whose names you don't recognize probably belong to me. The storyline is mine. I have changed it slightly to fit what I've learned about Kingdom Hearts II but it is still my own story and will have nothing to do really with Kingdom Hearts II. Understand that.
Warnings: I have learned a bit of macabre imagery and violence. Nothing too bad yet but this is the beginning of sorrow.
Rain of Sorrow
Chapter 14: Romancing the Past
The rhythm of the turning wheels rocked the train compartment gently, making short work of those who thought to stay awake during the two hour-long ride from Twilight Town to Land of Dragons. Everybody, that was, except Tetsu. He was the only one who knew how to handle physical exhaustion. Obviously.
Goofy's snores were horrendous, jarring to one's ears, as his head continuously knocked against the wide window. Occasionally he hiccupped and muttered something utterly unintelligible. Zidane had his back to the window on the opposite couch, his right arm hanging over the side. He was drooling, spittle dribbling down the corner of his mouth, as he slept with his mouth wide open. His tail twitched continuously, slapping the floor every so often; sometimes he whacked Tetsu on the leg as he shifted in his sleep. Tetsu glared at the man out of the corner of his eye, disgusted and yet amused by the thief.
Across from him were Sunami and Kairi. They had been talking quietly for the first half-hour of the train ride, but eventually they began to doze off. He wasn't surprised they were gone so quickly, though; he knew Sunami had never gone through something as physically exhausting as a fight and a mile-long sprint to the train station, and he didn't even want to imagine what Kairi had gone through.
Tetsu scowled. Dammit, he hated thinking about her. The very name set him frothing with fury.
"I hate you."
"I hate you, too."
Why did that one conversation, that one moment, keep echoing in his mind? He wanted to forget it but his mind wouldn't let him. What was it trying to tell him?
He sighed and leaned back in his seat, closing his eyes and trying to sleep. But he couldn't slip away into the bliss of slumber as the others did; his eyes just wouldn't close and his mind was still wound-up with the nasty street fight he was involved in. Tetsu opened his eyes and decided to study the ceiling, trying to immerse himself in the feathery delicate patterns that decorated the train. But questions plagued him, winged daggers stabbing into his mind, and Tetsu was forced to pluck one out of the maelstrom.
Who am I? Am I Sora? Am I Lyath? Or am I somebody else? But who could that be? Why can't I be myself, just…Tetsu?
And what is this beast inside me? What are you? What do you want with me? How did you get in me? Do you even exist…or am I imaging things?
Tetsu froze. Something within him stirred but it was not his mind taunting him. It was a multi-toned voice, a thought of many shades.
Release. Release me from the earthly vessel that is you so that I may soar into the skies and join my brethren. They await me, and peace will never be until you release me.
Sweat beaded on his forehead and rolled down his face. Tetsu quickly wiped his face with his arm and tried to consider his position. He must be going mad. He must. He knew he wasn't talking to himself. He didn't even know the word 'brethren' was part of his vocabulary, and knew very well that it never was…until that…that thing with ten voices spoke. Or did it speak? Was he just imagining things? Has his world finally turned upside down? Maybe the car crash he was involved in knocked him unconscious and this was all a dream. Maybe it was a dream. Maybe he was imagining himself sitting in this train, talking to himself, while trying very hard not to stare at the red-haired girl sitting in front of him.
This was just wrong.
I know what you don't know. I have done and seen what you have not. You do not remember all that has taken place but I do, and you will never know until you know who you are. Who you were. And who you will be.
"Why don't you stop being such a wise-ass and tell me what the hell you're doing in my body?" Tetsu hissed angrily.
I am dead.
All that remains is my essence, my soul. I have slept for years, having never flown up to join my kind up among the stars. But then came power, extraordinary power. I was suddenly awake and aware of who I was, what I was, and where I was. I discovered I was trapped, caught in a body of limitations, a cage with walls that seem so fragile yet were unbreakable. And yet there was a flaw. My kind is of perfection and so I sought to find the source of the flaw and fix it. But the power that awoke me was still there and I, in my foolishness, grasped it to mend the wound. Instead it exploded and I was thrown back into darkness, the darkness of your heart and soul, waiting for another moment, another chance, to perfect the living prison before escaping it.
"You make absolutely no sense. You want to fix your prison before escaping it?"
We abide by laws not like your own, human. For instance, we know nothing of time. What was past was past and though we may reflect on it, it does nothing to us or for us. We think not about the future. Our minds, hearts, and souls are firmly set on the here and now. Back then I was awake. Now I am awake again. I closed my eyes against the explosion, and opened them in the midst of battle. You disturbed my sleep and I became alive. But alive I became to something so futile and pathetic. Here I am, on a meaningless journey, coming and going without a chance to stop and wonder how I became this way, and why I am forced to watch behind the eyes of a pitiful human, instead of the eyes that encompass the skies.
"Some show of appreciation you have for you 'prison'," Tetsu retorted scathingly. "Why can't I get rid of you? I'm not schizophrenic!"
Dragons covet treasure. Once we set our eyes on the fated treasure, we never let it go-
"Excuse me?" Tetsu could not believe the voice in his mind just said what it just said. "Did you say dragon? Look. I didn't ask for some disembodied voice in my head in the first place! I didn't ask to wake up in the middle of some stupid city, did not ask to be run over by some fucking car, did not ask to have the blasted Organization stalk me, and I most certainly did not ask to look like two different boys all at once! And now you, you singsong turd of a voice who can control me on whim, go out on your way to call yourself a dragon? I didn't ask for this! I mean, nothing can get worse than this, can it? I hope not. I'm of a mind to jump off the train right now and end this-"
The past cannot be helped. That was then. This is now. I am a dragon and I will not deny my identity, not like the way you do yours. But I did not ask for this, either. I know your life; it is crueler than most, but my life has been just as cruel. Would you like to know?
As I said, dragons covet treasure. Once a treasure, always a treasure. In my lifetime I have gathered gold, crowns of kings, swords of heroes, rings, goblets studded with precious stones, platters laced with silver, golden girdles of princesses, any treasure you can imagine that's made of something precious to your kind and mine. And yes, I have also taken in princesses themselves, although it was unfortunate that one black witch dragon got to the princess Aurora long before I even realized she was alive. But as is such, I continued to hoard more and more wealth, until my home in the deep earth was overflowing with gold. For I could not be sated. All dragons are born with the desire to find the one treasure that would soothe their souls and allow for their easy destruction by those empty-headed fools of knights, princes, and heroes who could not bring themselves to face the wrath of a real dragon awaiting its one true treasure. I have fended off those brave, reckless, and foolish for my treasure could not be found. And so I waited, waited and coveted. As the ages of humans and creatures passed by like pages of a book, I hoarded more and desired more.
But all good things must come to an end. I was slain before I could find the treasure I desired. My brethren had long since gone, every one of them having found the one thing that made them care less about the world and even less about themselves. One, I recall, had a wondrous, large gemstone that glowed, although I remember very well it was stolen from him by a minute yet impeccable thief. He was killed in his rage, the rage that comes with the separation. I died in an enchanted sleep cast by a sorcerer. I was the last of the dragons and I died still wanting, still needing. Unlike the others, I could not let go. I was bound to this Universe, a soul in the wind, vengeful and vile and corruptive. Who knew what became of my treasures and my body with the invaluable dragon scales and heartstone. I only cared that I could not climb up to the heavens where my brethren were and join them as stars. I could not…because my treasure was not found.
I wandered aimlessly, shamelessly taking over other creatures, including humans, and using them to provoke and create war. I was in a bloodlust, each minute feeling my rage grow with intensity as my desire for my treasure grew. Word spread of an evil thing in the wind and finally a king set out to capture me. He was an inventor, brilliant and thoughtful, but also foolish and reckless. He did capture me, but he chose to seal me in a living vessel, to make sure I could never break away. And so I am bound. Bound to you.
I slept within you, my rage hindered and contained by the barriers that could never be broken with mere dragon fury. After touching upon the power and awakening within you, I simply waited, sleeping on and off and studying from the shadows. I wanted to escape your body, shed myself of my earthly existence, but I could not. I could not escape the curse of earthly treasure and I could not escape the curse the king blessed me with, the curse of being bound to you. A dragon becomes one with its treasure before the release comes but how could I become one with the treasure I desired if I was locked inside you, Human?
"I don't believe this-"
But you met her. You met her, Human, and the hope that was fading was rekindled.
"'Her'? Wait a minute…" Tetsu's mind was flying ten times faster than the train's speed and he was coming to a less-than-satisfactory conclusion. "No, that's impossible. That's ridiculous! You don't mean-"
Something seized his head and jerked it down, tearing his eyes away from the ceiling. Then he was searching, looking about frantically, encompassing the whole of the room with a vision sharper and more vibrant than his own.
Treasure. My treasure. I have found it. It is mine. Mine!
Tetsu's eyes locked on Kairi's sleeping form and something flared up in him, a monstrous, raging form. Fire coursed his veins and Tetsu felt himself tremble, shake as the thing within him shook.
You have led me to the treasure I could not have found had I been alive. Nothing else matters to me now, Human. She is my treasure, mine and mine alone! How could I have been so blind? All of my life, from my inception until now, I had thought treasure was cold and shiny, things made by hands far more delicate than mine. I thought treasure was gold, precious stones, magic, princesses-
"Lucky for you," Tetsu growled through gritted teeth; he couldn't jerk his head away and he really didn't want to look at her, "she is a Princess. Strike one."
You are not listening. I know why. But that does not matter now. Nothing else matters, not magic, not gold, not weaponry, not artificially formed objects, not even titles. Princess or no, she is the treasure I could not find while I was alive because she was not even born when I died! Don't you get it? She is the true treasure, the treasure of all treasures! That is why so many others seek her. That is why I must protect her! All who dare to touch her must die!
"Easy there, horny dragon," he hissed, gripping the edge of his seat tightly. Tremors were racing through his body, taking control of him. He realized it was the dragon, its rage and its obsession, that was controlling his body. He hoped that it was the dragon alone. "Easy there…"
Don't tell me what to do! I have found my treasure! She is right there, so near yet so far. I am not even a dragon, but a soul, a soul trapped inside a human. I cannot become one with my treasure as all others have, I cannot revel in its light, its beauty, its everlasting power as my brethren had theirs. I am forced to study behind your eyes, always desiring but never able to touch. Curse you! Why did the king lock me away in your pathetic existence? Why?
"What the hell are you talking about, you sick disgusting dragon? How the hell can you-"
We dragons are different from you humans! We know what you don't know! I know what you don't know! And I know what you deny knowing. Oh yes, I know so much about you Tetsu, so much and more; I could destroy you right now if I could. You know what I mean, don't you? Not physically but this world is not defined by all things physical. I will destroy you, pull you apart piece by piece from the inside, until you end up destroying yourself. Oh yes, if I cannot have the treasure I will destroy my prison from within, until I am free-
"You will not touch her!" Tetsu hissed. The voice was pounding and his eyes were beginning to hurt as he tried to do something about the voice. Shut it up, maybe. "You will never, ever, touch her!"
You think you can stop me, Human? Do you really think you and your pitiful weapon can stop the wrath of a dragon? Mock me all you will but that will not stop me.
"Just shut up. Get out of my head and get back to sleep. Stop it. Stop it now, I mean it. Stop it and just shut up. I don't know what you're doing to me but if you don't stop now-"
What can you do? Nothing! You are nothing without me! NOTHING! SHE IS MINE AND MINE ALONE, HUMAN-
"SHUT UP! GODDAMN IT, JUST SHUT UP!"
The train rocked on its wheels and the passengers all shook and jumped to their feet at the cry of agony piercing through the previously quiet, air-conditioned atmosphere within the train's steel skin. They looked at each other, startled out of their wits. What was going on?
Kairi, whose dream of Sora was edging on a nightmare, jumped to her feet, her mind fuzzy but jolted. She was still groggy but she was slowly becoming aware of the others. Goofy and Zidane had already yanked their weapons out, both crouched low and ready to counter any danger that would present itself. Sunami had gone pure white; she was clutching Kairi's left arm tightly, cutting off blood flow, and her eyes were locked onto something. Someone. Kairi saw the look on the girl's face, followed her line of sight.
She stared. Kairi didn't realize her whole body was shaking as her sight blurred with tears. She wiped them away angrily with the back of her right hand, cursed herself silently for trying to cry when there was no reason to but they kept coming, trying to spill out of her. And then Kairi realized why. These hot tears of memory told her enough, just enough to make her shake with the pain and misery taking control of her body.
She hated Tetsu. She hated him so much for what he did to her. What he was doing to her.
Tetsu was kneeling down on the floor before her, clutching his head and making small odd sounds of restraint beneath his sunburnt hair. He kept rocking back and forth on his feet, whispering and hissing and cursing. His body shook continuously with what looked like pain. He was in pain, continuous horrid pain.
The very sight, the very image of it weakened her. Kairi felt her legs shake uncontrollably as a hot, gushing feeling rushed through her. It was horrible; she was overwhelmed as echoes of the forgotten past resounded before her. Again, it was happening again, with him, with…
She slowly slid down to the floor on her knees, felt the tears streaming down her face. No, it couldn't be happening again, not the confusion, not the feeling of being pulled apart in a hundred different directions, not the terrible consistent aching in her heart, not the…no…not the…
"Kairi, what are you doing?" Riku asked as he walked up to her side. "It's getting dark, Kairi, we should go in-"
She shook her head, just wished he could go away. "Quiet."
While he looked on questioningly, she knelt down and gently touched the surface of the water. She closed her eyes as the cool sea water flooded her school shoes and tried to calm the heated sadness lodged in her throat.
And then Kairi let go. She let go of the world around her and focused on the lump in her throat and the painful beating of her heart. She called out across the sea and into the stars up in the darkening sky, called with her heart for the one boy she loved so much.
'Sora, Sora, where are you? Sora, come back to me. Sora…I'm still waiting. Sora…you promised. You promised to come back to me. Please…come backcsome back Sora, come back…'
Faintly she heard Riku sloshing through the rising waters towards her but she ignored the hand he placed on her shoulder. She didn't want to go in, wanted to stay there and call for him until the tide overwhelmed her and the sea pulled her away.
'Sora, I love you. Please come back to me, please-'
She gasped, opened her eyes abruptly and fell down into the cold sea. She felt arms go around her and pull her back to her feet. She looked up.
"Riku, what are you doing here?" she asked.
"Waiting for you to snap out of it," he answered. "What were you doing?"
Kairi shook her head, grimaced as she felt the sopping ends of her hair touch her bare shoulders. She shivered slightly as the night wind blew her and pushed her against Riku.
"C'mon," he whispered into her ear. "Let's go home."
Kairi nodded miserably. "I can't hear him, Riku. I can't feel him. I thought we were connected. Aren't we?"
Riku was contemplative as he pulled off his school jacket and placed it around her shoulders. "I don't know. I don't know anymore. It's all so…so confusing. Auron said he'd tell us if Cid sent word about King Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Sora but there's been nothing. I'm sorry, Kairi. I don't know."
She sighed, nodded as they trudged through the sand. "Then who…"
She looked back towards the dark ocean and stopped. Riku paused and waited expectantly for her to continue. When she didn't, he asked, "Who what?"
"I…I was calling," she said slowly. "I was calling for Sora…and…I heard my name."
Riku narrowed his eyes as he stared at her. "Someone called your name? Who was it?"
"You don't know? It wasn't Sora?"
Was it Sora? Kairi didn't know. She closed her eyes, whispered, "Wait."
'Sora, Sora, was that you? Sora-'
Kairi. Kairi, it's me. Don't forget me, okay? Remember me.
She felt herself falling, landed on the sand, sobbing as the pain exploded from her heart. She heard Riku calling her name, calling over and over again but she couldn't stop, wouldn't stop, not until the lump in her throat disappeared.
It wasn't Sora.
"Lyath…" she whispered, looking at Tetsu's shaking form. "Lyath, was what you? Was that you calling me? Please…tell me…"
She reached out, tentatively, and let her fingers touch the side of Tetsu's face under his bangs. He automatically slapped her hand away, hissed angrily.
"Don't touch me."
And Kairi cried.
Sunami looked up at Goofy and Zidane. They had no idea what had just taken place, and they didn't think they'd ever know.
"Why are we going to Ancient Greece first?" Riku asked rather pointedly as he stared out the window and watched Traverse Town diminish as each second passed and the train pulled them further away.
"It's all about death," the Cheshire Cat grinned. He stood up, made circles and then sat down again, shifting comfortably, on Riku's head. "Always about death. It's not just Greece. Everywhere reeks of it."
"Must you speak such comforting words?" Naminé muttered as she leaned back in her seat and stared up at the train's dim lights. "There's life as well as death."
"But," the Cheshire Cat countered, "what life doesn't tell death does."
"I don't like it one bit," Donald declared. "If we're going to see Hades again-"
"Which is exactly what we're doing," Auron interjected.
"-then I'm-what!" Donald jumped to his feet indignantly. "Not Hades! I've had enough with Hades and his dog!"
"But like the Cat-" Auron really didn't like the Cheshire Cat and he made it apparent but the purple and pink Cat was extremely oblivious to it. Riku considered it being 'thickheaded' but Naminé secretly applied that to the silver-haired young man as well. "- said, death tells us what life doesn't. We haven't seen Sora. Therefore, we have to ask Hades if Sora has passed his way. Of course, it could be very dangerous, given the relationship between the two-"
"If you call it a relationship," Donald snorted. "If it wasn't Sora beating up Cerberus, it was Hades throwing fire at the three of us!"
"Beyond the River Styx lies answers, answers for the ear and answers for the heart and the answers for the restless wanderer who walks when he shouldn't," the Cheshire Cat literally sang out. "So many questions, so few answers, oh what do we do, what do we do?"
"How do you shut the Cat off?" Auron grumbled as he sunk into the high collar of his red coat. "I would like some sleep-"
"But do you need it?" the Cheshire Cat interrupted. "Do you?"
"One more word…" Auron hissed. The Cat turned his head and grinned.
"Shall you slumber while I speak or shall I slumber while you speak?" he continued while standing up again and making circles on Riku's head. "Something to hide behind your eyes, Auron? Yet another holder of secrets? Troubles will remain while we ignore the past but romance it and it will spill its tales to you."
"Storyteller now, Cheshire Cat?" Naminé asked softly. "Why are you coming with us?"
"I told you, I have no place to go. Wonderland is gone and done, but my song is left unfinished. I will sing until I have lived my song. And then I will be finished," the Cat answered, then began humming an erratic tune that made Riku's ears bleed.
"That does it," Auron muttered angrily, rising to his feet.
Then he froze. Naminé stared at the solid, unmoving figure of the warrior. His hand was halfway to his waist, where she was sure his katakana was. Riku, whose face was set against the Cheshire Cat's humming, sat stock-still. The air conditioner in the train compartment was blowing but his long silvery hair didn't move. Donald Duck, who was gripping his staff tightly against the Cat's humming, had half-slid out of his seat to silence the Cat but he remained glued to the seat.
In essence, everyone and everything had frozen in time. Except Naminé and the Cheshire Cat.
"What did you do?" she whispered, her eyes narrowing. "It's been long since I've seen this happen. Is this train coming under attack?"
The Cat stopped humming. "Shadow, shadow of the heart and soul, who's the most truthful one of all?"
"You realize your time here is growing shorter every day?" the Cat said slowly, his singsong voice dulling with the seriousness in his face. His insane smile had vanished, too, as he stared intensely at Naminé. They sat in the middle of the train compartment on the floor, Naminé kneeling in front of the cat; her dress compromised her position and comfort greatly but she had no choice. The others in the compartment were still frozen in time.
She nodded. "Yes."
The Cat turned his head slowly and cocked it to one side. "Why didn't you do as you should have two years ago?"
"Because…" She felt her voice falter, drew in a shaky breath, then forced herself to answer. "Because…I wanted to live."
"So did he," the Cat replied. "And yet…he lives no more."
"We are not the same," Naminé retorted.
"But you are both Non-Existent."
"What does that matter? We can still breathe, think, see, touch, hear, taste, and-"
"You cannot live on soul alone. The soul isn't everything, Naminé. You need to find a heart, or else you will fade. Don't you wonder at the Organization's violence? They know. You have to go to Hades in the Underworld and ask if Sora has passed his way as a specter. If not, we still have a chance, a chance to find him and have him open the Door of Light. If Hades now holds him, then we are forced to find another way."
"And what is that?"
The Cat flicked his tail about. "Simple. We destroy the Organization and the Heartless forces. It will be hard, and so much will be lost, but if we can, we destroy the Darkness one by one until none are left standing against us."
Naminé shook her head in shock and horror. "We won't survive."
"If Sora is with Hades…" the Cat said quietly, "then Riku will need to use the Keyblade again, won't he?"
The blonde woman nodded. "But he denies it. Auron told me. Riku doesn't want to touch the weapon. He thinks he's at fault for everything."
"Riku was the original Keyblade Master," the Cheshire Cat corrected. "We had better hope he can open the Door if Sora can't. And if he does, you can gain a heart."
"Or lose it," Naminé countered. She made a fist. "The Light can dissolve me like it did to Ansem."
The Cat shook his head again. "You stand a better chance of gaining a heart than losing yourself. You have lived here long enough and you have attained near-human status. All you are missing is a heart. Have you forgotten?"
Naminé frowned. "No, of course not-"
"I think you did. Living with those who can feel in ways you cannot has rubbed off on you, yes? You can now react to anything as a real human can, although you still cannot truly feel."
She frowned. "You sound like…you sound like DiZ, when he mocked me…for loving Sora…"
The Cat grinned, his white teeth flashing. "We are nearing Ancient Greece. But we still have time. Oh yes, we have time. You have time to tell me…everything you have done…two years ago."
Naminé glared at the Cat's sardonic smile. "I won't tell you."
"But how do you remember what DiZ told you?"
"Because…I didn't erase all of my memories."
"But you know enough."
"I won't push it on the others. The links are still there. I only want to start the chain reaction, so that they can regain the memories on their own-"
"Pushing won't help. Shoving won't, either. Two years you have been absent from the Universe. Months ago you washed up on the shores of Destiny Islands. This I know because the Cat sees what others don't. You were gone for nearly two years, a mighty long time, I think. The links are scattered too far; you have to force them to come together in ways I can't even begin to imagine. In fact…your little escapade had disrupted the links in that boy's mind-" the Cat nodded towards Riku "-in such ways that he relives now the horrors of his past."
"In sleep?" she asked, her eyes widening with horror. Naminé turned to Riku in shock. "Have I…?"
"You have to ask him yourself," the Cat said quietly as he rose to his feet and padded his way to Riku's feet. He leaped up onto the young man's lap, then proceeded to pull his way up onto Riku's head. "There is darkness in him, as there is darkness in you. Darkness…that comes with sin."
"What do you know of sin-" Naminé began sharply but the Cheshire Cat began humming again. This time it was a screeching racket, and she quickly clapped her hands over her ears to stopper the horrid sounds.
"That does it," Auron muttered angrily, rising to his feet. "Shut up now damn Cat or I will break the window and throw you out!"
The Cat stopped humming only to regard Auron with a lazy eye. "Would you now? I am your guide, your light down the dark path of searching and seeking. Would you really want to rid yourself of my presence?"
"Well if you don't shut up," Donald said, coming to Auron's defense, "I will set you on fire!"
"As long as he's not on my head," Riku added. "Cheshire Cat, why are you here with us if you're going to drive us mad?"
"If you think I'm crazy, you clearly don't know enough of this new world, Riku," the Cat said with a rather sneaky smile. "The Universe has changed much since that fiasco of yours two years ago. I shall guide you and show you what has happened since the long sleep of the years had taken its toll on you and your friends."
We are approaching Ancient Greece. Please return to your seats. We will be arriving in ten minutes.
Everyone looked up at the loudspeaker installed right above Auron's seat.
"Shall I escort you all along?" the Cheshire Cat was heard saying. "Shall I show you what has become of the Universe?"
Donald sat down on the seat, his face suddenly despairing.
"What has happened since we were gone?" he whispered.
The Cat's smile was unrelenting in its scornful brilliance.
"Shit, it's cold."
"What did you expect? Sunshine and palm trees? Deal with it, Tetsu."
"I don't need to hear from the likes of you-"
"Oh give me a break! Since when did you start complaining?"
"Since when did you start getting all uppity?"
"Yeah, well same here!"
An icy wind howled.
"Why does it have to be cold-"
"Look whose talking now-"
"Shut up! Just because I'm the one stuck walking around in a dress-"
"I've got no sleeves-"
"Stay out if this, Zidane!"
The blond man wilted and literally sunk into the deep snow.
"Ugh," Sunami groaned. "Will you two quit it? You sound like that one couple who always fight outside-"
"WE'RE NOT MARRIED!"
The brunette sighed and smacked herself in the face. "Why do I even try…"
Goofy shrugged. "Der…'cuz it's the right thing to do? Who knows what's out here…"
He gave a long sweeping arc to the snowy landscape surrounding them. The snow was melting; everybody could see that but snow was still there. Kairi, rubbing her arms briskly against the cold, stopped to see small pink buds wavering against the winter breeze on the branches of a dark, seemingly dead tree.
"Sakuras," Tetsu said quietly, coming up next to her. She raised an eyebrow at him and quickly backed away. "Cherry blossoms."
He trudged onward through the snow, leaving her scrambling and cursing after him. Kairi muttered angrily as her shoes sank in the white snow; she had forgotten it was February, and that this was no tropical getaway.
Next time I should just go and boil my head in Agrabah! How could I forget that it's still snowing in the Land of Dragons? Why is it so cold…
Kairi found herself making very strained noises in the back of her throat and quickly stopped. She sighed, then found herself angrily cursing the weather again as another breeze blew through the cold landscape. Goofy was shouting something as he bounded through the snow, something about a dirt road. Sunami was busy tugging her orange jacket around her tighter while Zidane, swinging his tail about and sending up snow everywhere, whistled loudly and very annoyingly. And where the hell was Tetsu-
Something heavy and cold dropped on top of her and she sputtered as ice entered her mouth. She looked up at a tree heavily laden with clumps of snow and glared as she brushed the snow off of her hair. Unfortunately most of the snow had melted as soon as it came into contact with her body and she started shivering uncontrollably as she hurried after the others, quite forgetting Tetsu in an attempt not to catch hypothermia and die in the middle of nowhere. Why was the train station built so far away from Land of Dragon's cities?
Kairi yelped when something heavy landed on her again. She froze, then blinked when she realized it wasn't as cold as expected, nor as wet. Wait, it wasn't even snow to begin with…
She peeked over her shoulder at Tetsu, who strode by her without much of a glance.
"If you do want to die, you can give it back to me," he said while Kairi tugged his still-warm coat around her. She pulled it on, yanking it up her arms and crossing her arms tightly as she followed him through the snow. "But if you don't want to die…"
"If you want some show of thanks, you're not getting it," she snapped, then hurried past him. She hoped he didn't see the blood rising in her cheeks, and cursed herself quietly as she fell in step with Sunami.
Why did he have to look like two people at once? Why couldn't he just look like Sora and leave it at that? Why did he have to look so much like Lyath, too? Why is he confusing me? Argh, I hate him! I hate him, I hate him, I hate him-
"A-hyuk!" Goofy suddenly shouted, leaping through the snow. "That there's Mulan's village! C'mon!"
He floundered through the snow, tossing the cold white matter everywhere; the knight literally blitzed his way down the hill they were on, revealing a dark dirt path underneath the layers and layers of late winter snow. That was when Kairi noticed faint smoke trickling upwards, climbing tentatively into the chilly air.
"Life at long last!" Zidane crowed and ran after Goofy, leaving Kairi, Sunami, and Tetsu to watch them.
"They make me sad," Tetsu quipped with sarcastic heavy-heartedness. Kairi glared at him. Every word he uttered seemed to just get on her nerves.
"You make me sad, too," she snapped and half-ran down the dirt trail Goofy cleared. Sunami watched her disappear below the rise and then looked at Tetsu, raising an eyebrow questioningly in the process.
He scowled but his eyes never left her vanishing form, until Sunami decided to ask, "So, what's going on between you two-"
"Nothing!" Tetsu retorted, turning on the brunette. She held her breath as the familiar face of someone from her past flashed across his face. "If you get any ideas…"
"What ideas?" she asked innocently. Tetsu grimaced.
"Forget it. I never said anything."
"And I'll keep that in mind," Sunami said sarcastically as they descended down the hill after Goofy, Zidane, and Kairi. In the distance they could see the walls of a village. It was a big village, more like a town actually, with many buildings within its walls. Frozen fields, untouched to thaw for spring planting, surrounded the village and spread for at least two miles, with farm houses scattered amongst them. There were people moving in and out and around the town, people wearing heavy winter clothing and moving about in lively fashion. There was a steady stream of people crawling into and out of the nearby snow-laden forest, those returning laden with timber and kindling.
Goofy, who was ahead of Zidane by leaps and bounds, was exclaiming randomly as he barged down the cold dirt road towards the town. People on and near the road gradually stopped all activity to stand up straight and regard the stranger in bright orange and green attire with curiosity. Then they saw the blond young man with the long tail running after the brightly-dressed stranger. Then there was the tall, beautiful red-haired woman clutching the oversized black coat around her tightly. And behind her was another woman with wavy brunette hair and clothing that didn't quite seem adequate for the winter. Next to the woman was a tall young man with sunburnt brown hair and fierce blue eyes. He was wearing a black, short-sleeved shirt with long black pants and black boots, which was definitely out of place for such a time in the winter season but the observers were probably able to deduce that the black coat belonged to him and not to the redhead.
Goofy stopped short meters before the town gates and stood up straight. A man on a regal white mare was approaching him from within. The man was stern, with a rigid riding position, and a tense stance. He was obviously a military man, and a nervous one, too, with the way his eyes kept darting about.
"General Shang!" Goofy yelled loudly, sweeping his hat off his head and bowing low. "Glad ter see you again!"
"Goofy? You're alive?" the man demanded, shocked. He then looked up at the entourage following the knight. "And are they with you?"
"A-hyuk, that's right!" Goofy said with a nod as he straightened himself. "It's been a while, Shang, hasn't it?"
"Far too long for our good, Goofy," the man named Shang said softly as the others approached. "These are dangerous times. Come inside the walls; we're nearing curfew and one would not want to be locked out when curfew comes."
"Why, what's happened here?" Goofy asked curiously while the stragglers caught up. Shang was sweeping over the group of five with a studious eye. He focused on the lithe red-haired woman for a minute longer, then noticed how tense the tall man had suddenly become. He forced his eyes off of her to turn to Goofy.
"Who are they, Goofy?" Shang asked, while the people of the town all around them gradually resumed their business.
"This here's Zidane, from Holler Bastion," Goofy said, pointing at each person as he listed them. "That's Kairi, the Seventh Princess of Heart. That's Sunami, from Twilight Town. And that there's Tetsu an' we don't know where he's come from!"
Tetsu was scowling. "Don't I feel so special-"
"You egotistical narcissist," Kairi muttered, receiving a heated stare from Tetsu. Fighting the conflicting emotions within her, she returned his eyeballing with a glare, resulting in a staring contest in which everybody present was presently ignored and forgotten.
"If they keep this up," Zidane remarked after what seemed like five minutes of eternity had passed, "we'll never get anywhere. Literally."
Shang was staring at them-at Kairi, really. "Let me get this straight. She's a princess?"
"Technically. I don't know," the blond man quipped in reply. "Figuratively speaking, she's way prettier than a princess."
"And where do I go?" Sunami demanded with a scowl. "Are you saying I'm ugly?"
"Yes-uh, no!" Zidane yelped, backing away quickly and falling over a thick, solid lump of ice. "No, no, I didn't mean it!"
Shang sighed. "Mulan's going to have a field day for sure. Follow me."
"Since when, since when, did you decide to-to-to…."
Kairi was at a loss for words. The Fa household seemed as lively as ever, although it was regrettable that Mulan's grandmother had passed away a year ago. With Mushu running around, irritating the hell out of a lazier Khan and with Crickee at his heels chirping all the while, one might think that all really was well since the last time she had met Mulan.
Well, there was one problem. Squared.
"Two years is a long time," Mulan's father, Fa Zhou, said solemnly and with pride, coming to Mulan's defense almost immediately. "They're like little angels."
"Going through the terrible twos," Mushu declared to Sunami as he sat on the stone bench near a bare tree leaning over a small wild stream passing through the garden. He was hugging his tail and stroking it gently as he spoke. "I mean, man, if you thought you had it tough, you ain't seen nothing yet! Tugging at my tail all the time…and that girl tried to eat me! Lucky Crickee was there or I would have never made it!"
Zidane, who didn't know Mulan as well as most of the others, was busy exploring the length and breadth of the large home Shang had taken them to. Tetsu hovered at the gates, apparently not comfortable of being within walls within walls, and obviously disliking the number of people in the vicinity. Goofy was chatting happily with Shang and Mulan, and Sunami was busy listening to Mushu telling his tales and having a laugh with…
I can't believe Mulan decided to have kids! Kairi thought, watching the two rather cherubic two-year-olds tugging at Sunami's fingers while she smiled. If this happened, then what about the other worlds? What happened to the people? What happened to their worlds?
Then Mulan's mother, Fa Li, who had been watching over the children, swept up the young boy while Sunami gently lifted up the girl. The two women whispered, then took the children into the house. Kairi watched them go with a raised eyebrow; how did Sunami gain her trust so quickly?
But then she turned back to Mulan, Shang, Fa Zhou, and Goofy, who were now all carrying grim expressions. Curious as to why, she inched towards them, wondering what it was they were talking about.
"…the winters have been hard on us," Fa Zhou was saying. "Two years of utter coldness and the sun does not shine on many days of the season. And there have been news of Mongols gathering outside the Great Wall."
"The Emperor hasn't done anything yet," Mulan continued. "But an outsider came to town a few days ago, looking for me. He was part of the original army two years ago, so he knew who Sora was-"
Kairi perked up and visibly moved closer towards them. Shang watched her carefully but Mulan took no notice.
"-and he told me the Mongols have the assistance of Heartless. I don't know of this is true but if it is, we won't be prepared for it. The Heartless have been attacking on and off for the better part of two years and with a really bad winter this year, I don't know how we can pull it off-"
"Well, Tron an' Wunderland are gone and all…" Goofy mused sadly. "Can't afford to lose another world-"
"Tron was two years ago," Mulan said smoothly, although she did look surprised at the news about the other world. "But what about Wonderland?"
"Last I heard," Goofy explained, "Alice's heart was taken again but Wunderland was obliterated. I think, though, her body's safe. Yeah, it was taken out of Wunderland before it was overrun. It's at Holler Bastion, I think."
"Well this ain't good at all!" Mushu exclaimed, appearing suddenly on Mulan's head. "We gotta go warn the Emperor about this!"
He then swung his head to Kairi. "Whoa! And what are you doing here?"
Kairi bit her lip, then answered, "We're looking for S-Sora."
She stopped almost immediately, wondering at her hesitation in uttering his name.
"Well, he certainly hasn't passed this way," Mulan said, shaking her head. Her eyes were sad. "I'm so sorry, Kairi."
She sighed. "That's what everybody's been saying. I mean, where did he go? How can…how can he disappear like that? I wish I knew what happened two years ago at the castle…"
Goofy nodded sadly. "Yeah, me, too."
Shang blinked at Goofy. "Weren't you there?"
"I dunno. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't. I can't remember. Dunno why."
Mulan tapped her chin thoughtfully. While she was thinking, Fa Zhou stepped in. "Let us go in. Perhaps you should go to the Emperor tomorrow. Perhaps he knows something of where Sora has gone."
Kairi sighed while Goofy nodded. "Sure, why not?"
"I'll go with you," Shang declared. "Just in case you run into trouble."
Goofy nodded happily but Kairi saw the longing look on Mulan's face. Poor Mulan; just when she thought her life had settled and she could raise a family with Shang in peace, Kairi, Goofy, and their three companions just had to come along looking for Sora. Sparks of another journey, another venture. But it was too late for Mulan now.
But Mongols allying with Heartless? This was new.
"Goofy," Kairi said as everyone started gravitating towards the buildings within the walls of Mulan's home, "shouldn't we send word to King Mickey about this?"
Zidane and Tetsu stopped and looked at Kairi, surprised at her sudden suggestion. Goofy was shocked, too, and embarrassed.
"Gwarsh," he said. "How could I have forgotten that?"
"Oh. My. God."
There very few things that surprised Riku. He wasn't one to be easily stunned or scared shitless by anything that popped out from around the corner, nor was he often shaken by horrible, grisly news.
But this…this was monstrosity of the likes he could never, ever put words to. How could this have happened? How could so much horror and evil taken place in a span of just two years? How was this possible?
The Cheshire Cat had spoken true about the changes in the Universe. Outside the safe, unchanged walls of Traverse Town, beyond the horizon of Destiny Islands, lay changes that he knew he should have noticed. It had begun in Hollow Bastion yet he missed it. He missed all the signals and it was all there, laid out for him.
'Darkness, darkness everywhere. It radiates wherever you go. This world is tainted, perhaps forever. Hades is remarkable.'
Shut up, you hag. I don't want to hear anything from the likes of you!
The train whistled as its wheels grated against the collecting rust on the train tracks and pulled away from the train station. Riku was of the mind that it was getting away from the station as fast as possible and he wasn't one to blame it. The train station itself was a debacle; mold and moss riddled the once-smooth marble walls. Cracks and layers of dust and dirt muddled the white walls and he didn't even want to know what he was walking on; it looked like worse than shit. Literally.
And it was empty. The train station was devoid of life. There was nobody leaving the train with them nor was there anyone waiting to board the train. It was lifeless. And beyond the train station…
…the streets of Corinth were empty. A stale wind trickled through the heavy dust and soot that had come to settle on the cobblestone ground and the buildings stood gaunt and shadowed by evil times. The skies were dull; the sun was a sickly yellow circle against smoggy clouds. Somewhere a door was creaking and swinging back and forth on its hinges, unchecked by neither a doorknob and lock, nor a human. There were no humans.
They were the only ones alive. Ancient Greece was dead.
"What the holy fuck…" Auron muttered as he took a step forward and adjusted the spectacles on his nose. He didn't expect this, either, apparently.
Donald dropped his staff. "How-how-how-"
"I told you once, I told you twice, better think again before you roll the dice," the Cheshire Cat hummed on top of Riku's head. "I warned you, I warned you, but did you take me seriously? No, oh no, you didn't believe me one bit. I know what you don't know, and I know what must be done, but too late, oh too late for Ancient Greece-"
"Be quiet," Auron snapped. "What you're saying is all full of useless nonsense. Open your mouth when you have something more intelligent to tell us."
Naminé took a tentative step forward, tightening her hold on her sketchbook. Her arms were shaking as her wide eyes took in the horrid sight. There was a look on her face, something indescribable but painful. She looked sideways at the Cheshire Cat and a small frown formed on her face.
"What now?" Donald asked dejectedly. "I mean…look at this."
He waved his left hand about in a sweeping motion as he bent over and picked up his staff. He shook it and watched unhappily as dust and dirt trickled off his weapon.
"We should find Hercules, for one," Auron said softly, scanning all the streets. "Where would the Coliseum be?"
Riku immediately turned left and the others, surprised as they were at his knowledge, followed him. Auron dropped back immediately, setting the flat part of his katana on his shoulder and tightening the grip. He peered at the world from above his spectacles, scrutinizing every shadow they passed by. Donald continually whacked the palm of his hand with his staff, while turning his head this way and that. He was clearly visibly unhappy with what was going on. This was Ancient Greece. He knew the people and he knew the world. What the hell happened here?
Where did the people of a whole world go? How could they have just…vanished, like that?
'I have seen widespread destruction of such kind only a few times in my life and never any after I began my war with that friend of yours.'
You got a problem with Sora, Ansem? Is that it? You've always had a problem with him. What the hell are you talking about?
'A world does not normally fall silent while collapsing into entropy. What's keeping Ancient Greece alive?'
And why do you care?
'It is my universe as much as it is yours. I have every right to be curious, every right to assess the situation in each world-'
Oh shut up.
Riku grimaced as he stepped on something solid and it gave way under his weight with a hollow crack. He looked down and froze.
"Riku?" Naminé asked worriedly, coming to his side. "What is…it…"
She fell silent, stared as well.
A bone. A human leg bone. Part of a larger skeleton, covered in the dust and dirt of the streets yet still there, its dirty ivory skull gaping up at them. It looked like it was smiling.
The Coliseum, too, was in decay. Its once-glorious walls were unwashed and cracked; moss and lichen grew in a scattered pattern over the carvings depicting the deeds of the heroic gods and Hercules. The high-rising columns were showing signs of aging; cracks ran through the grooves like veins. The golden doors were rusting over; clumps of hard brown material stuck to the doors, making it appear warty. The steps were littered with dead plant material and refuse; it was revolting, utterly revolting to look at.
And surrounding the premises of the Coliseum, Riku noticed, were more bones. Not just human bones. Horse bones. Dog bones. Even the skeletons of minute birds. The trees were scraggly, blackened, and none of them grew leaves. They were dead, for all purposes. Then Riku stared. From one of the larger trees, hanging by its arms, was a half-rotten corpse. It looked like a soldier; the rusting copper armor had not been removed from the body. The flesh was rotting but there were no flies.
Even the flies were gone.
Then bile rose in the back of his throat, and Riku quickly turned away, fighting down the urge to vomit. But in his mind he was so disgusted he nearly lost his war with his stomach.
What happened here?
"This is…" Naminé whispered, carefully keeping her eyes away from the trees, "horrible. How could Ancient Greece become so…"
She couldn't even finish the sentence; her voice shook as she carefully sidestepped the strewn bones of what looked like a child.
"Like I said," the Cheshire Cat whispered, no longer smiling, "the Universe has changed. You tend to see only perfection, but perfection does not exist. You tend to see beauty…but two years and you will not see it that way again. Time marches, Time overruns, and we have lost the fight against it. You think the war has been halted for two years, just to wake you out of your endless sleep? Then you are truly foolish, if-"
"Well I didn't expect this," Auron snapped, gesturing with his free hand to the tree. "Not this level of destruction! I have seen destruction at its very worst but this? And for two years? Then where's Hercules? Phil? Meg? Maybe Pegasus, even? Where did they go? They wouldn't abandon Ancient Greece even if their lives depended on it-"
"Maybe they did because their lives did depend on it," Riku suddenly said. He turned to the others and raised an eyebrow at the shocked expressions on their faces. Well except for the Cheshire Cat, who was still sitting on his head. "No, really, I mean it. You know we're not superheroes. When danger comes, people will run. A few of the braver ones will stay and fight, but most people will run. You know it. We may be braver but I will run if there is no hope. If they're not here…I understand. But do you?"
He looked at them, each one of them. "Cat, what about the rest of the Universe? What happened to them?"
"Fear. Fear reeks wherever you go. Fear and darkness and death. That is the Universe you face."
Naminé closed her eyes tightly. "How, though? How did we lose control?"
"The Light is led by the Keyblade Masters," the Cheshire Cat said. Riku waited but the Cat spoke no more. But it nagged him, nagged him until-
'He talks of what you were unable to do, which was to accept the Keyblade when it first came to you.'
What? Then am I-
'"Riku," Auron spoke, "can you still wield a Keyblade?"
He turned to the older man and his eyes narrowed. He could, couldn't he? He had used the Keyblade before but it was not a power he was willing to use again. No, he would not touch something so pure and so full of Light. Never again. But still…he could, couldn't he? If he tried…
"No. I can't. We need Sora."
"But what about King Mickey?" Donald asked the Cat.
"His Keyblade he did not lose. But his Keyblade was given."
"Given!" Donald demanded. "What do you mean by that!"
"His Keyblade was given to the ones who can wield. What do you think?"
The wizard frowned. "His Majesty never told us this! How could he have hidden this from us?"
"Two years," Naminé blurted. "Two years can cause many things to slip the mind."
Riku snorted. "You think I'd forget that?"
"And me," Donald added. "I wouldn't forget anything. Especially when it involves the Keyblade."
"No, but let's see if they've forgotten," Auron said, walking ahead and up the stairs. His boots crunched through a skull but he ignored it. He touched the door and grimaced at the rust. Then he banged at the door. "Hello? Anyone alive in there?"
"Alive?" Riku snorted, then bit his tongue. Maleficent, you damn bitch!
"Hello? Open up!"
Riku sighed. He then walked up and shoved the doors open.
He was met with the pointy end of a spear.
"Riku?" Megara gasped, dropping the spear. "What are you doing here-Naminé? Auron? Donald? And…"
"Cheshire Cat's the name, making riddles is my game," he said with a smile, doing a handstand on Riku's head.
"Except he's done nothing but scare us," Donald muttered.
Meg couldn't speak. Her hands twitched but there was no spear to hold onto. The woman looked ragged; she was gaunt, her clothes hanging off her body. Her brown hair was piled high on her head but it was all tousled. She looked exhausted.
"Meg?" Naminé said softly, "Meg, its okay. It's only us. Calm down now."
"C-calm down?" she said, her voice faint and shaking. "You've only been gone two years. Where were you? Where were you when we needed you?"
"Meg," Auron said calmly, "Meg, calm down. Meg, where's Hercules? Where's Phil? What happened here? Where is everybody?"
"Everybody? Phil? Hercules?" Meg fell on the ground. "Hercules? Hercules? If you were here, Hercules wouldn't be gone! He wouldn't be off doing the work of evil if you didn't go disappear into thin air for two years! He wouldn't be down there-" she pointed to the ground "-working his ass off despite everything he worked for just to keep me and Phil alive! Where were you? Where were you when the Heartless and the Organization restarted their war? Where were you when they swept through the streets of Corinth, purging every building of its people? Where. Were, You!"
Riku stared at her. She had given a hell of a speech but nothing stood out of it, except for Hercules. Hercules…doing the work of evil? What!
"Meg," Riku said, walking quickly to her and kneeling beside her. "Meg, what happened to Hercules? Where is he? What happened?"
"What happened!" a voice rocketed throughout the dusty and dirty courtyard. "I tell you what happened, you dirty scalawag-Riku?"
Phil bolted in from the main building, holding a short blunt sword. "What-how?"
"Phil," Auron said coldly, turning towards the satyr." Where is Hercules? What happened to him?"
"Herc?" Phil suddenly looked mad. "I tell you! That damn Pete came in with Heartless and the next thing I knew, he and Hades had gone and released the damn Titans! Then the Organization –or whatever's left of it after Sora ran through it-came in with the Nobodies and a whole war started on this damn planet!"
"Two years," Naminé whispered. "Two years for all…all of this?"
She waved a hand to the once-clean and glorious courtyard. The walls were crumbling, cracked in places. Now blast marks were visible. Where plaques once hung on the walls, filled with illustrious names and rankings, now there were only chips and cracks and moss. The copper braziers were rusted over and some had fallen over and left there. Neglected.
"Two years is a very long time," Meg said, her voice stronger now. "Two years. Do you have any perception of time? So much destruction, dragged over such a long period of time, leaves nothing to be saved. It really is over. Wherever you went, we were forced to fight for ourselves but…we lost. Ancient Greece…lost."
"I know time," Naminé whispered. "We're looking for Sora. And if we find him, he can open the Door, and change everything, just to the way it was."
"It's not a matter of romancing about those nostalgic, nostalgic times," the Cat hummed abruptly. "It's not about looking back, of thinking far, far back. It's time to move forward, through darkness and through light. Who will we meet and who will we save?"
Riku nodded. "Meg, Phil, where's Hercules?"
"You wanna know the goods on Hercules?" Phil snapped. "Well I'll tell you. Two words: he's working for Hades now. And there's nothing you can do about it unless you can bargain the crap out of Hades. Got the whole contract and everything. Just like Cloud."
Riku jerked, startled by the memory.
'Under contract. Typical of Hades. Good luck.'
"His Majesty will receive the message by tomorrow, at the very least and if the weather holds," Fa Zhou's words during dinner echoed in her mind. "He will know. In the meantime, all of you should get some sleep. We have prepared the guest rooms for you. Tomorrow morning Shang will take you to the Forbidden City, where you may meet the Emperor and tell him what you are up to."
Tomorrow…they will meet an emperor. Tomorrow, the search continues. Tomorrow, will they hear news of Sora? Or even find him?
"Finding you…" Kairi whispered as she struggled through the snow, "is proving harder than I thought, Sora. You had better make up a good explanation for why you disappeared two years ago. You had better tell me why it was so hard for you to come back to me…after everything you've said-"
He was close, so close. She was so afraid, frightened, but she did nothing as he came closer and closer. He looked nervous, too, was as scared as she was. They were both frightened. Frightened of what they were feeling.
"Lyath," she whispered.
"Damn it!" she screamed into the night. She took several deep breathes as she glared at the empty rice fields behind the Fa home. A hard winter. The snow was thick and the winds unmerciful. She pulled the jacket Fa Li loaned to her tighter around her body and shivered. A hard winter…
"The Mongols have something the Huns do not have," Shang said seriously, looking at Goofy as he spoke. "They are expert horsemen and they have many archers. If it is true they have allied themselves with the Heartless, then we will be in worse trouble than last time. Archers on horseback supported by Heartless is a dangerous combination. And I think they know it."
"The Heartless destroy," Zidane said between mouthfuls; he was devouring everything he could reach at the table and he was ignoring all the warning signals sent to him by everyone who knew he lacked table manners. "The Mongols, don't they conquer?"
"Conquer and destroy," Sunami whispered and shivered. "It sounds…horrible."
"And it should," Fa Zhou said calmly. "The Huns had done enough long ago. But now, we've had a hard winter. It came much too early and wiped out almost all of our rice crops. All the other villages, towns, and cities throughout the kingdom are suffering as well. And the winter is lasting far too long, at least at this strength. The winter should have lessened by now but it hasn't. Something is terribly wrong."
"What could go wrong?" Kairi muttered. "What else could possibly go wrong? Besides Riku and Naminé appearing one day at the shores not knowing how they got there or what happened for the last two years. Besides the Heartless invading Destiny Islands. Besides the Organization splitting us up at Hollow Bastion. Besides…besides Sora not coming home. Not appearing where people know him. Not saving us when the war is picking up where it left off. Besides…besides…him. Why him? How did I forget him? How could I have forgotten him? Why? Why-"
"Are you done? It's fucking cold and you're just standing there talking to yourself. Are you done now? Can I escort you back inside?"
"Why you!" Kairi screamed, whirling around to see Tetsu standing there watching her. "Why did you have to come into my life? Haven't I suffered enough already? Haven't I had my mind, my memories, my heart, my whole life torn and tossed about? Haven't I had enough with being a plaything, enough with being the helpless, stupid princess who's been waiting day and night for her damn prince to come home? Haven't I had enough already, waiting for Sora day and night, waiting for him to fulfill his promise? And then you had to come! You had to come looking like Sora, using the Keyblade with the charm I made and gave to him! You-"
"Am sick and tired of hearing you scream at me like this day in and day out!" Tetsu snapped, striding through the snow towards her. She backed away, stumbling over uneven ground as he drew near. "Tired of trying to figure out who the fuck I am! At least you know who you are! It's much more tiring wandering around trying to figure out why everybody's trying to either kill you or pin you as a savior! I'm nobody! I'm no one. I did nothing to deserve all of this, the ones who want to kill me and the ones who want me to save them! I am nobody, my name's not mine, my weapons-I don't even know where they came from! I stole this coat from a man I killed and I don't even know why he tried to kill me! All I know is that more of his friends are after me, too. Why? I don't even know! So don't you start yelling at me, Kairi! Don't!"
They were standing face to face, their breaths mingling together and fogging the air. She gripped the coat tightly, to the point her hands hurt. He was trembling, his face laced with anger.
"Stop comparing me to your Sora," Tetsu spat. "I'm not Sora. I don't care about what happened between you and him long ago. That's the past. I'm trying to deal with the now. And you're not helping."
"The past is with us, wherever we go," she hissed. "It's the past that makes us who we are. Sora was my life then, and he is now."
"You're forgetting someone," he replied. "Lyath."
Kairi paled. Then anger flushed through her. "Shut up! You know nothing about Lyath so shut the hell up! You have no idea-"
"You have no idea," Tetsu interrupted. "Who are you looking for, Kairi? Who is it you want to see again? The people you look for now aren't what they were in the past. Two years is a long time. Just stop comparing me to someone you knew two years ago. He won't be anything like what you think he is. He's not your Sora."
"How do you know? You know nothing!"
She turned and pushed deeper into the night.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?" she heard Tetsu demand. "Where the hell are you going, Kairi? Get back here!"
"Just leave me alone!" she yelled back. "I don't want to deal with the likes of you right now-"
"What are you talking about?" she snapped, turning her head to him. "Who are you to order me about-"
"Kairi, get back here!"
Something moved in the darkness. Kairi froze and quickly turned her head back. Her breath puffed up into the air, then the little clouds rose up rapidly as her heart quickened. There was something out there.
It snorted. A horse. Metal clanked against itself. An armored horse.
A long stick became visible in the night. A sword. The heavy breathing. A man.
Slowly the sword came towards her. She quickly backed away, as fast as possible, but hit something warm and soft. And solid. It moved abruptly and she pulled away again.
"No…" It was Tetsu. But he was too far away. Too far away and too late to do anything.
"Don't move," a harsh, stony voice hissed through the night as the sword rested on her shoulder. Its sharp edge, she knew, was facing her neck. "Don't move."
The moon suddenly seemed to move a little higher. Because now Kairi realized what she had run into.
Three horsemen. All armed. They were not a part of the kingdom.
The Mongols were here.
Cid was muttering to himself about the latest prank Louie, Huey, and Dewey pulled on him when someone tried to open the doors to his store. Cid sighed. Damn the triplets! He still had to figure out how to undo the bit of magic they created; somehow they had charmed his doors into not opening from the outside. This forced Cid to get on his feet and answer the door each and every time. And not only that; they put the seal on his trapdoor, too! He couldn't go in and out through the Moogle Shop upstairs if he wanted to.
Damn triplets. He should make a list of everything they did wrong before sending it over to Disney, where it will be waiting for Donald when he comes back from his little trip around the Universe-
"Coming, coming!" Cid yelled out. "Dammit, be patient, why don't you? Geezes."
He smacked himself mentally for thinking too much, tossed the newspaper he was reading aside, and got to his feet. He went to the doors and yanked them open. "What the hell do you want-"
"Hello, Cid. Do you have time for a chat?"
Cid gaped. The toothpick he was chewing on fell.
"Your Majesty? What are you doing here?"
King Mickey stepped into the store.
"Doing a little bit of searching myself. Going on my own journey. Trying to fit in the pieces of a puzzle. Something's not right, Cid, and I'm going to find out why."
"What's not right, Your Majesty?"
Author's Endnote: Yes, and I leave you all on a cliffhanger. And a hiatus. Rain of Sorrow will be on hiatus until the end of May. I'm sorry. Please review. Thank you.