A/N: Ermmm.... *checks 'last updated' stats**whistles* A whole year, eh? Ehheheh... yes, well, I am so, so, so, so, so sorry for that T_____T it's practically inexcusable, I know, and anyone reading this A/N right now, you are saints and you all deserve cake and cookies and plushies and my eternal gratitude.
My best excuse is that, September 2007, I was captured by the Junior Year Dragon, which took me into its lair and forced me to do homework and use every other waking moment to study for SATs and SAT IIs and APs and all of ridiculous drivel that will hopefully help me get into a good college. :) On the upside, I escaped with a 2210 on my SATs, a 710 and 770 on my SAT IIs, and two 4s and a 5 on my AP tests, as well as five As and two Bs for the year. Eh? Eh? So my lack of updating was put to good use, I promise!!
And as for the summer, I spent a total of three days at home. Yes. I was at the Governor's School of the Arts for creative writing for 9 days, and then family vacationing at the beach for a week, and a day later I was on a plane, headed for a six-week adventure in South Korea. And then I returned home, school started, and what have you. But I'm getting my but back on track! In part, thanks to my lovely beta LeSecret, who was very patient, until I really needed to get into gear, at which point she sent many threatening emails and promised to blow up my house if I didn't update. :) JK JK but she did help, in more ways than just proofreading the chapter. :) THANK YOU!! *hug*
So, in case anyone's forgotten what in the HELL is going on in this story, here's a little refesher:
Sora spoke slowly, thoughtfully, as if the idea had just struck him. "Choose… choose someone, maybe one or two vampires, from your clan… and send them here. We'll negotiate with them. We'll try to end this peacefully…"
Riku almost couldn't believe his ears. He was overcome with a refreshing wave of relief, and a smile bloomed on his face. "Sora… we can do this. I know we can…"
Basically, everyone is dying, Sora is falling apart at the seams, Riku's heart is breaking, Sephiroth is plotting (fufufu, *hint*), and the knights and vampires are preparing to negotiate. :) If that's still not enough, you can check out chapter 26.
Again, I'm so so so so sorry. This story is almost done, though! Two more chapters after this to go. Well, more like one chapter, and a surprise at the end. ;)
"You have to let me go!" Riku's voice rang in the ancient stone hall, strong but ragged with passion, a bell with a battered tongue.
"Riku—" Sephiroth's voice was just as strong, twice as clear.
"You have to!"
"You're not going."
"Yes I am!"
"No you're not!"
It was like two unstoppable, indestructible forces driving into each other; two swords made of the strongest steel, caught in a deadlock, blade hitched on hilt, neither man willing to yield. Currently, they stood frozen, each pair of aqua eyes glaring heat at the other, waiting to see who would be consumed by flames first. They could have waited until the end of time, and by then the argument would have become meaningless anyway.
So Riku spoke. "Who's going to stop me?"
A deathly stillness fell across the hall, across the audience of clansmen. Sephiroth stared, his eyes unsettling, unreadable, and then he laughed, a dark, chilling laugh that made Riku jerk, take a step back, uncertain. "Dear brother," Sephiroth all but purred, "dear, deluded brother." He shook his head, slinking towards Riku, whose every muscle had tensed at Sephiroth's first movement. "You're not going."
Riku seemed frozen, but only for a moment, as the fire flared again in his eyes. "Why not? I arranged this meeting," he challenged, taking the final step between them until he was flush against his brother. He was forced to look up, as Sephiroth was a half a head taller than he, but that did little to dampen his fervor. "I have more right than anyone to be there! I need to be there! Sora's my…" The word died in his throat.
"Lover?" Sephiroth supplied, his tone hinting at mockery. Riku's eyes narrowed dangerously, and he opened his mouth to respond, but Sephiroth plowed on. "That's exactly it," he hissed, no longer mocking. "Sora. You're too involved in this, too emotionally involved. You have an allegiance to the other side; you can't be expected to properly parley."
"Then I won't say anything," Riku said hurriedly, growing desperate. Despite his brave words, he knew that Sephiroth could and would keep him from going to the meeting if his brother so desired. "Just let me be there, let me—"
"Come on, Sephiroth," another voice spoke up, a familiar voice that ignited a spark of hope inside Riku. He glanced at Kadaj, who had stepped forward from the rest of the clan. "Riku's right; he does have a right to be there—"
"Kadaj." Riku looked back at Sephiroth; his hope fled in fear of the utter loathing in those lucid aqua eyes. No, Riku inwardly moaned. Kadaj's protests fell suddenly silent; undoubtedly he sensed the hatred as well. His idolatry of Sephiroth versus his loyalty to Riku—the former was winning out over the latter. He didn't want to upset Sephiroth, not to that extent. Or perhaps it was more a means of self-preservation than a desire to please Sephiroth.
Another vampire stepped forward then, taller than Kadaj, his hair falling in the loosest of waves down his delicate shoulders. "I believe Sephiroth is in the right here," Yazoo said, his voice cool and liquid. "Riku has too much at stake in these negotiations; he is too emotionally invested in them. We cannot afford him messing this up, especially if we want to reach not only peace, but peace that is beneficial to both sides." He spread his arms and sighed tiredly. "Surely, we've been existing in 'peace' for centuries—but our side has been existing in secret, in the shadows, subjugated and inferior, forced to live off of cattle lest we disturb the 'peace.'" The last words left his lips in a sneer. "It is time for a change, and this is the greatest opportunity yet, but we need representatives who are levelheaded, open-minded, and with our best interests at heart."
Riku bit his tongue. There was no arguing with Yazoo's logic, and as he saw other heads in the crowd nod their agreement, his last, faint pulses of hope completely stilled.
"Riku." A hand fell on his shoulder, heavy and cold. He glared bitterly at Sephiroth, but said nothing. "Yazoo, Azzurra," Sephiroth flicked his gaze over Yazoo's female counterpart, hovering nearby, "and myself will go first. Once things have begun, we may be able to call you and a few others in. But we have to handle this very delicately, and you are not the picture of delicacy at the moment."
The tightness in Riku's chest unwound slightly, enough to allow a tense exhale through his nose. "Fine," he bit out. "I won't interfere, until you deem necessary," he stepped back and made a mocking show of respect, bowing deeply at the waist, "dearest brother." Then, he vanished.
That had been hours ago; or at least, it had felt like hours to Riku. Now he was pacing up and down the forest's edge, a little more calmly now, but still anxious. The sun had been peeking over the tops of the trees when Riku had arrived at the forest; now it was drooping towards the hills. The hills, beyond which was Sora's castle. Sora's castle, where negotiations were being made that could change the course of human-vampire relations forever. He hoped, with some hostility, that his absence was being put to good use, that his cousins' level heads and his brother's power were efficient enough tools to settle things for good, and settle them for the better.
Riku sighed and finally stopped his pacing. Exhausted by anxiety and so much movement, he collapsed at the base of the tree that still held on to a few of its leaves. The rest of the forest was basically bare. Everything was bare: the trees, the fields—perhaps the whole world, stripped naked by winter's winds. At least, it seemed that way to Riku. He sighed again.
Time crawled slowly by. He tipped his head back and counted the leaves on the tree. One, two, three, four… ten. Ten leaves, shriveled and browned. Ten poor, pathetic leaves. Now nine; one detached and drifted down over Riku's head, landing at his side in the grass. He absently studied the withered veins on the leaf, the veins that were normally healthy and soft and thick, now so void of life. He looked down at his own wrist, but though his skin was paper-white he couldn't see the spiderweb of veins beneath it, a web that he felt should have been there. He knew he had them—he thought he had them; he had blood, in varying amounts depending on the last time he'd eaten, but he had it. So he had to have veins. Only things with veins could die. Like vampires, like leaves, and humans…
Like Roxas, like Cloud, like Sora's parents, like Sora—
He picked up the leaf, held it close to his face. Nine left on the tree, soon to fall, soon to die, just like this one. They were already half-dead, already dying. It was only a matter of time
Everything was dying.
"Sora… we can do this. I know we can…"
He tossed the leaf; it landed but a foot away, close enough to mock him.
Yes, they could. Things could change. They could do it. There would be no war, no more bloodshed, no more violence, no more pain.
"Sora… everything will be okay. …I promise."
"You can't promise something like that."
No, Sora was wrong. Riku could promise something like that. It would happen. It was happening right now. Things were changing for the better. He trusted Yazoo and Azzurra and, grudgingly, Sephiroth. He trusted Sora and the knights, who were all under Sora's control now. Now that his brother and father were dead. Riku's eyes screwed shut. Sora…
Blood. His vampire nose picked it up before the smoke, but in time he could smell them both, entwined on the wind.
Riku sat bolt upright as a deathly chill wormed down his spine. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. Something was…
Riku jumped as the left side of his body fell, weighted down by a hand on his arm, a hand that had appeared out of thin air. He turned, his eyes widened. "Kadaj…"
Kadaj was filthy, ash and blood on his porcelain skin, his clothes torn, hair tangled, eyes glassy. There was a gaping hole in the front of his tunic, a gaping, bloody hole, hanging limply to reveal a gash in his chest. A gaping, bloody gash. A gash the size of a stake.
Something was very, very wrong
"Riku, go!" Kadaj rasped.
"Go?" Riku's mind raced. "Go where? What happened? Kadaj—"
"Get away from here!" Kadaj hissed, his grip on Riku's arm tightening. "Go, far away… the castle, they turned on us they…" A cough racked his words. Scarlet splattered from his paler-than-usual lips. They were practically blue. "The humans ambushed us—killed Yazoo and Azzurra on the spot. We had a few guards waiting around the perimeter, they moved in when Azzurra screamed, and more came after, but there were too many humans… Hunting tools…a-and…" Another cough tore up his throat. He was trembling all over. He turned his eyes on Riku, terrified, pleading. "Riku, go, get far, far away from here… it's too dange… it…"
Riku was stunned. More than stunned; he was frozen. His insides had turned to ice, so cold it burned, and his heart was struggling against the frost, struggling to move and beat but the cold was taking hold and making it hurt and… "S… Sora," he finally sputtered. "What about Sora?"
Some of Kadaj's typical fierceness flared up in his dimming eyes. "Sora?" The way he snarled the name made Riku sick inside. "Sora led the ambush!"
"No…" Riku wouldn't believe it. Absolutely refused to—
"Seph… Sephiroth told me. I got there later but…he told me. Sora attacked first. Sora and that redheaded bastard… sons of bitches…" Kadaj collapsed heavily onto his knees, curling in on himself.
"Kadaj!" Riku knelt beside him, a hand on his shoulder. His eyes were wide, his jaw slack, his heart racing now, breath short, throat dry, and nonononono…
Kadaj brandished a gloved hand at him. "Go!"
Riku vanished. But he didn't escape to safety as Kadaj had requested, demanded, pleaded he do; rather, he went to the castle. He had to. He had to see this for himself. He had to see Sora. He had to make things right. He'd promised to fix this.
"You can't promise something like that."
The hell he couldn't.
What an unfortunate choice of words.
If Satan had ever planned to unleash Hell on earth, Riku was convinced that that time was now. He landed in the courtyard of the castle—the crumbling courtyard of the burning castle. The sun was setting, but Riku was sure that wasn't the only reason the sky was red. Thick, viscous, liquid, as if sympathizing with (or mocking) the poor souls below, smudged gray with ashy smoke, dotted orange with floating embers. Aside from the crackling of flames and the pops of hot rock, everything was eerily silent. Riku barely breathed.
There were bodies everywhere, tossed between and crushed beneath bits of rubble, wooden beams, chunks of stone. The pale corpses of his kin were gored with stakes; the ruddier bodies of the humans were covered in oozing bite marks. All, both vampire and human, sustained reddish burns and bleeding cuts and obvious broken bones, their clothes lacerated, their hair tossed about their lolling heads, their skin patched with filth of all kind. Ruined by battle.
Riku only paid these a glimmer of attention, a superficial onceover, nothing connecting with his brain until his eyes fell upon the center of the courtyard. There, he saw a tall, silvery figure hanging heavily over a smaller one. Then the silvery one collapsed, slid to the ground like a ragdoll, its angelic face rolling so that vacant eyes stared at the sky. Dead? Riku couldn't tell from his vantage point, but he thought it was a safe assumption. The smaller figure, back turned to Riku, was unmistakable…
Sora jerked, but otherwise didn't move. Riku started running to him. He stumbled over a rock, over an arm, over his own feet; how could he not, with the world tilting on its axis as it was? He shook his head, tried to clear his vision, tried to will away the utter aching in his chest, and finally…finally…
He drew up short a few feet from Sora, too afraid to get closer. It hurt to acknowledge that.
All noise fell away, all peripheral motion ceased—the crackling fires, the floating embers, the rising smoke, the crumbling castle. There were only he and Sora and the blood-red sky yawning endlessly overhead, like a mouth waiting to swallow them whole.
"Sora… Sora, what happened?" He hated the way his voice wavered.
Sora turned then. He seemed to go in slow motion. First his head, Riku could trace his profile, then his neck, showing more of his face. His lips were turned up in a smile, lifting his cheeks, his eyes like blue crescents. His eyes were sad. A sad, tragic smile. Riku's heart started to break.
Then his body turned. Riku could see the crook of his elbow, arm bent as if touching his chest. Sora turned a little more, then a little more, still in slow motion, standing in this soundless, lifeless world, lifeless except for himself and Riku. Then Sora was finally facing Riku and Riku's fractured heart stopped beating.
Sora's fingers, skin split and dirty, were wrapped around the hilt of a stake. The stake was buried deep in his chest. Blood dripped, crawling along his fingers, down his wrist. Though his jaw trembled, Sora continued to smile.
His knees buckled. Riku lunged forward with inhuman speed, ran into place just as Sora collapsed. Riku collapsed with him and wound up kneeling on the ground, Sora cradled in his arms.
"Sora," Riku shook him gently, urgently, "Sora, Sora…"
Sora reached up and curled his fingers around Riku's shirt. "Riku…" he murmured. He sounded tired, almost sleepy. Sora had never looked so young and helpless, so ancient and weary.
"Sora, what happened?" Riku tried again, his eyes stinging.
Sora nuzzled Riku's stomach with his nose. The stake in his chest jabbed at Riku's side, and Riku's stomach churned. Then Sora looked up at him, still smiling. "Riku, I killed them…" he murmured. Blood dribbled down his chin from the corner of his mouth.
"Why? Why…" Riku was trembling, which made speaking difficult. "Why did this happen?"
Sora shook his head and clutched Riku's tunic more tightly. "I killed… he… killed my parents…" He angled his neck as if trying to see over his shoulder. Riku glanced sideways and saw the figure from before, the one that had been looming over Sora, the one that had dropped like a stringless marionette to the ground. His chest heaved at the sight.
"You killed my brother?" He gazed down at Sora, who was looking up at him again.
"Yeah…" Sora continued to smile that sad, distant smile. Riku wanted him to stop.
Sephiroth had been… he'd been right. And now he was dead. Because Riku hadn't listened to him? Sora had betrayed him. No, Sora loved him. Did he? He loved Sora. He… Sephiroth was dead. Everyone was dead. Like the autumn leaves. His family was dead. Sora was dying. It was all Riku's fault! It was… wrong. It was all so, so wrong.
Sora flinched when something dripped onto his face. Riku's tears created clean dots on Sora's soiled skin, then streaks as they rolled down the contours of his nose and cheeks. Sora reached up and dusted the backs of his fingers under Riku's eyes, wiping away his tears. "Don't cry Riku…"
"Sora…" He choked on the name, and it came out thick and garbled, colored by sadness and growing anger. He wanted to escape his own skin, within the confines of which was brewing a hellish storm. His flesh crawled with the pain, his bones ached, and his blood pounded against his veins, his skin hot with it.
"Riku…" Sora's grip tightened more, his knuckles white so that the blood and dirt were a stark contrast to their canvas. And then—
And then he went limp, and the life fled his eyes.
Riku grew deathly still. He stopped breathing, stopped thinking, stopped feeling, suspended in time and space, as if in a vacuum, where it was so quiet and he was so alone
—and then the world came crashing down, and he screamed.
A/N: Well, y'all knew it was coming. D: Poor Sora, poor Riku. This is a very complicated story; I'm sorry if anyone's forgotten the finer points since I've left it alone, but hopefully it'll all come together nicely in the end.
In the meantime, DUDE ffn has like completely REVAMPED during my absence and I CAN'T FREAKING NAVIGATE THIS THING ANYMORE. *pulls at hair* Aw well, I'll figure it out. Also, (sorry to any McCain supporters out there, but) YEAH OBAMA 08. :)
That is all.