A young man walked away from the fortress of Radiant Garden, holding a key-like sword at his side. The General impassively watched him leave, not caring one way or another what happened to him. It didn't matter to Kaze II. He had a job to do, and that was more important than anything else in the multiverse—even more so than love of friends and hatred of enemies.
Kaze knew love, but he knew hate much more intimately.
Kaze loved his mother, and she had loved him, but as far as love went, that was all he truly felt.
Kaze hated his father, also named Kaze. He hated that his father was a hero. He hated that his father was a great wizard and sword fighter. He hated that his father wielded the Keyblade and, as such, was hailed by dozens of worlds as a savior. The reason he hated that was because before his mother even knew that she was carrying him, his father had to go and kill himself fighting the Heartless' god. He hated that his father gave up the fight and let himself be consumed by the darkness, leaving his mother to forever grieve his loss.
Kaze hated and loved his teacher and mentor, his Uncle Nanaki, at the same time. The red beast was kind to him, cared for him, and taught him how to use his offensive magic, but Nanaki had fought alongside his father during his adventures. His praise was always, "You look just like your father" or "Your father couldn't have done this better" or "You sound just like your father when you say that." And, of everyone in the world, there was no one Kaze less wanted to be than his father.
Kaze hated his commander, General Tsuchi. Tsuchi had fallen in love with Kaze's mother, but Kaze's father won her heart. And, as long as she held on to her lover's memory, Tsuchi could never have her. The general took that out on Kaze ever since he entered Tsuchi's army. Tsuchi hated Kaze Sr. and as such hated his son equally, and the feeling was more than mutual.
When his mother was buried, he took one of the few Gummi ships left and headed for another world. None of his attempts to find a place bore fruit. All of them knew his father, and, as such, he couldn't stay there without sharing space with his father's memory.
And, of course, there was the fact that, despite everyone's claims that his father's actions had brought them into decline, the Heartless were still present in force.
And, more so than even his father, Kaze hated the Heartless.
The Path to Twilight
By Akino Ame and Ryan Griffin
Disclaimer: Kingdom Hearts belongs to Disney and Square Enix. Batman Beyond belongs to Warner Bros. Akino owns Bruce McGinnis; Ryan owns Kaze II.
Continuity: What continuity? Part of the Kingdom Hearts Origins universe (Ryan's), not strictly canon for the Brick Ballads universe (Akino's). At this rate, AU for Kingdom Hearts canon.
Note: This will have spoilers for the as-yet unfinished Kingdom Hearts Origins, and maybe for Kingdom Hearts II. Don't say we didn't warn you.
Chapter One: Summon the Heroes
There was a general consensus among the McGinnis children that if they were ever going to slip past their parents, they had to display skills in stealth on par with their father's. If they wanted to get past each other, however, they had to be far better. They had to be the culmination of seventeen years of training with some of the greatest superheroes the world had ever seen. Whoever tried to get past a younger McGinnis would have to be Batman. Fortunately for Bruce Warren McGinnis, he was.
He pulled the mask over his head and activated the stealth mode before carefully stepping out into the hall. His parents were still at work, so the only ones he had to worry about were his younger sister and brother, Rena and Vincent. Vincent's door was wide open, his room a mess, his homework abandoned, and his soccer ball missing. As long as he was outside, there was nothing to worry about. Bruce turned his attention to his sister's room. The door was closed, so it wasn't as easy to tell if she was busy. Quietly, he stood against the wall and placed two fingers on her door. The audio receptors picked up her side of a phone conversation:
"So what about you and James?" Rena asked. There was a gasp and then, "Seriously? Lynn, he really said that?" Despite himself, Bruce grinned. He doubted Uncle Matt knew his daughter was that serious with Barbara Gordon's great-grandson. No, Rena wouldn't be a problem; she was too caught up in her and her cousin's love lives to notice.
He walked to the old grandfather clock and opened the tunnel to the Batcave. But as he made his way down the stairs, he heard panting and shouting. He tensed and let a batarang drop into his hand. If this was an intruder, they'd be in for trouble.
He ran down, prepared to throw the batarang, but he pulled himself back when he saw it was only Vincent training with the androids. Vincent, however, didn't, and threw two batarangs in Bruce's direction. He ducked out of the way and nearly landed on the soccer ball left on the floor, completely caught off-guard by his little brother's skill. He did not know the fourteen-year-old was capable of this.
Vincent shut off the android and readied another batarang before Bruce deactivated the invisibility. "Oh, it's just you."
"What are you doing?" Bruce questioned.
"What does it look like?" Vincent asked, wiping his forehead. "I'm training."
"Training for what?"
"For that," he answered, pointing at the red bat emblazoned on Bruce's chest. "It's just the same as Uncle Matt did—if you can't fight, I'll have to take over. Akira-sensei's helped me with my training."
"Why do you think you'll need to fight?"
"You've heard Mom and Dad," Vincent replied, his brown eyes unusually hard. "They know you're pushing yourself too hard. Even Uncle Matt's tried talking to you after the Ronin thing, and he can't get through to you. Dad's thinking about taking you off the streets since you can't handle it, and I know I've got to be ready to take over when I'm old enough."
"I can handle it," Bruce protested, but Vincent snorted.
"Yeah, right. Tell that to Dad. Even Grandpa Bruce would have pulled you off."
"He will," promised Rena from behind.
"I thought you were on the phone," Bruce commented.
"I told Lynn I'd call her back," Rena answered. "You have to stop doing this to yourself. You know it's not helping. You just put Dad, Uncle Matt, and Grandpa Bruce on too high a pedestal, and you think you've got to live up to it. Didn't Uncle Matt tell you to find your own path?"
"Well, what if this is the path I choose?" His younger siblings gave him cynical looks. He was only saved by the voice of Green Lantern Kai-ro over the radio:
"Green Lantern to Batman, report to Metropolis. We have a situation."
"I'm on my way," Bruce answered. Looking back at his brother and sister, he said, "I got a call. I have to go. Tell Mom and Dad where I went."
"Fine," Vincent replied, kicking his soccer ball after him as he left.
Bruce sped on his way to Kai's coordinates, never so happy to leave his sister and brother. They'd been on his case for weeks, ever since he'd lost that battle against the rogue samurai, Ronin. Two civilians had been injured in the battle, and Ronin had escaped. Uncle Matt, the police commissioner, had tried to assure him that his mistakes in fighting were all right and that he needed to stop overworking himself in trying to be the best—but "tried," unfortunately, was the key word there. Uncle Matt's words were hardly reassuring, and Bruce left without understanding anything he'd tried to say. And Vincent and Rena were no help either, constantly pulling things like this. He knew that he was a bit of a perfectionist, but what was wrong with that? As the fourth Batman and third "Batman Beyond," he had a lot to live up to, so why shouldn't he try to make his predecessors proud?
His thoughts were cut off by a smoking crater in the middle of Metropolis, dangerously close to the Metro Tower. He quickly jumped to the ground and joined the rest of his team at the site. Kai was scanning the wreckage with his ring, and Polaris and Dusk were on crowd control. Apparently, they'd been the only ones on duty.
"Is everything okay?" Bruce checked.
"Batman, I'm glad you're here," Kai answered. "Polaris and Dusk have crowd control covered, but I need your help. Everyone else is busy with the crisis in Chong-Mai."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I'm having a hard time getting any readings. Something crashed, and I want to see if there are any survivors."
"I'm on it," Bruce answered, switching to an ultraviolet filter in his mask. He could see the ship that had crashed—a small, odd spacecraft of some kind—but he couldn't see any pilot or anything. There weren't even bodies of bystanders. "That's strange. There were people around; there should be bodies or survivors."
"I don't like this," Kai commented, pulling Bruce back. "Don't get any closer."
Suddenly, a small black creature leapt out of the crater and landed in front of them. It stared at them with yellow eyes, its antennae twitching. Several more jumped out of the crater as well, and Bruce switched through all the different filters in his mask. Not a single one registered these odd creatures. He was tempted to suggest that perhaps they were illusions when they attacked.
The little shadow creatures were ferocious, with sharp claws that gave Bruce a freezing sensation every time they scratched him. His suit never tore, but it didn't matter. Those things seemed to breach right through to his soul. He felt weaker and weaker the more he fought them.
The civilians had fled in a panic, but it didn't deter the Shadows. They took chase, even while the JLU fought back. Kai blasted one with a particularly strong beam from his ring, causing the Shadow to explode into small green energy spheres. Turning to the others, Kai shouted, "They're strong, but their defense is weak! Hit them as hard as you can!" Bruce took that advice and took the circular blade from the center of his belt. This caused enough damage to make another Shadow explode into green spheres, which disappeared as soon as he ran through them, seemingly recovering his injuries and fatigue.
The Shadows, however, were not that easily beaten. One managed to plunge its claws into a civilian's heart. It pulled out a glowing heart-shaped object. The heart disappeared, and the civilian herself became a Shadow as well.
"That's how they multiply?" Polaris asked in horror.
"What do we do?" Dusk checked.
"There's nothing human in these Shadows," Kai answered solemnly. "We have to do whatever we can to keep the rest of these people safe." He gestured toward the green spheres, which were slowly disappearing. "Each time you destroy one, they release those spheres, along with some gold ones that look like money of some kind. Those spheres boost your recovery, so be sure to absorb them when you can." They nodded in agreement before unleashing hell on the remaining Shadows. Kai's ring beams, Polaris's blue light bolts, Dusk's staff, and Bruce's batarangs hit Shadows left and right until they were finally gone. Around a dozen people had been killed by the Shadows, but thankfully, no others had fallen.
"Damn Chong-Mai," Dusk muttered. "They had to make a mess so big that most of the League had to go take care of it."
"If the Shadows show up again, we can call Warhawk, Aquagirl, Shinobi, and some others out of retirement," Kai warned. "But I think that was the last of them. Judging by the size of that ship, the first Shadow came alone. It must have reproduced using the survivors of the crash. And if that's so, then there had to have been a large number of survivors."
"But how could anyone survive being hit by that ship?" Bruce asked. "It made a crater that large!"
Kai climbed into the crater and started inspecting the ship, carefully touching it rather than scanning with his ring. "It must have been gravity and the ship's energy that caused it. The ship itself is very soft, gummy."
"Are you sure it's safe?" Polaris questioned.
"I'm positive," Kai answered. "The Shadows were the only thing we had to worry about. I'll get this into the hangar so we can study it when everyone gets back. Maybe we can figure out where those Shadows came from."
"Looks like it'd be Apokolips," Dusk commented. Bruce had to agree with her, but Kai shook his head.
"It's not Apokolips. Barda and Orion would have mentioned something on this level. No, this is from another planet. Possibly another world entirely."
"Like the Justice Lords?" Bruce suggested, remembering his grandfather's files.
"No," Kai replied. "No, I think their Earth was destroyed with their version of the Thanagarian Invasion. Remember, the Justice Lords lost their powers, so they wouldn't have been able to fight them off. And I think we would have heard of something earlier if their world was causing trouble. I think this is a new one." He sighed. "Superman will want to know."
It didn't take very long for Kai to haul the strange ship out of the crater and into the Metro Tower's hangar. Carefully, everyone searched it for weapons and origins. Polaris searched the computer and called Kai over.
"It's the destination coordinates," he informed. "I think this ship was headed somewhere before it crash-landed on Earth."
"Good work," Kai complimented. "Now, let's transfer these coordinates over to our computers and see if we can figure out where they were headed."
But the moment his datapad connected with the ship's computer, the engines started again. A dimensional wormhole very similar to a boom tube opened and started sucking everyone in. Kai created a force field around himself, Dusk, and Polaris, but he couldn't reach Bruce in time. Batman IV fell backwards through the wormhole before hitting the ground with a thud. In front of him, the portal started to close. He got up and ran for it, but it was too late. The portal closed, leaving him in the middle of a destroyed city with more Shadows closing in.
He pulled out his blade and started slashing away at the Shadows until they exploded into green spheres and gold pieces. He was sure to absorb as many of the green ones as he could, and some gold ones he absorbed found their way into a compartment on his belt as smaller pieces of gold. He was careful to stay where he was as he fought; there was always the chance that Kai and the others would reopen the portal, and he wanted to be close when it happened. But the Shadows kept pushing him farther and farther back. They kept clawing at him, and soon even the green spheres weren't enough to keep him going. He collapsed onto his back with a Shadow on his chest.
This is it, then, he realized as the Shadow plunged its claws into his heart. He felt cold all over. I'm going to become one of them. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he remembered arguing with Vincent and Rena earlier, telling him he was pushing himself too hard. Vincent was already training to be Batman if Bruce got taken off the streets—what would happen if Bruce became a Shadow? What would Vincent do then? There would be no suit and no way to prove what had happened.
I'm sorry, he thought desperately as the Shadow pulled on his heart.
It all happened so fast that Bruce could barely register it. One second, the Shadow was pulling his heart out of him and his vision started to blur and darken, and the next, a black-haired boy was standing over him with a large key-like sword in his hands. Green and gold spheres entered Bruce's body, giving him enough strength to sit up.
The other boy handed him a bottle of some kind of liquid before turning around to face the Shadows. "Drink that Hi-Potion before you try anything. We're going to need a lot of strength to fight off these Heartless fuckers."
"You mean the Shadows?" Bruce asked, quickly taking a sip of the Hi-Potion. It was disgusting, but it brought back his strength. He finished it all before standing and arming himself with his blade.
"Shadows, Heartless, same difference," the boy answered. "You can thank my dear old deadbeat dad for not taking care of them when he had the chance." He swung his key and destroyed another Heartless. When it died, it released bubbles and a red-and-gold sphere with the usual gold and green spheres. "Got enough magic for a Blizzard spell, plus an Ether. We'll need a lot more, but as long as we absorb what the Heartless release, we should be okay. Think you can handle them?"
"My blade worked last time," he replied. "I just need to be sure I don't fall again."
The other boy destroyed another few Heartless before passing Bruce several bottles. "Here. Hi-Potions and a couple of Elixirs. I have a lot of them in stock."
"No problem. Now let's get these bastards."
Bruce and the boy fought melee-style against the Heartless, reducing the entire front line to a pile of spheres and bubbles. When his blade didn't work, Bruce threw batarangs or punched and kicked his way through. The other kid used his key and fired fire, ice, and lightning spells whenever he had the power. Between the two of them, the Heartless didn't stand a chance.
Bruce tried to catch his breath as the other boy absorbed the last of the spheres and bubbles. He suddenly cried out, "Oh, cool!" and turned to Bruce, who was about to take out a Hi-Potion. "No, wait, save that. I just learned a Cure spell." He pointed his key at Bruce and released a flash of green magic that worked just as well as the spheres and Hi-Potions. "That should have done it."
"Anytime. Anyway, I'm Kaze."
Kaze raised an eyebrow. "You were born with that name?"
Bruce debated evading the subject, but decided against it. Hell, who would Kaze tell? It wasn't like they were from the same world. "My real name is Bruce Warren McGinnis, but that's only when I have my mask off or when a few Justice League members are around."
"Justice League?" Kaze repeated. "Never heard of them."
Bruce blinked. "Okay, this is going to be a long story, then."
"We'll trade histories on the way back to my ship," Kaze decided. "I'd take you to Radiant Garden, but I really don't want to have to put up with the people there again, so I hope you don't mind if we head to Traverse Town."
Bruce gave him an utterly lost look. "I guess that's okay…"
"Don't worry," Kaze explained. "Radiant Garden is a settlement here. It's mostly sort of a military outpost against the Heartless, since there are so many around. Traverse Town is another world."
"Another world? I thought I just got pulled through to another planet! I didn't think it was this bad!"
"Your world knows how to travel to others?"
"Well, sort of. It happened once a long time ago. Mostly we worry about interplanetary trouble."
Kaze whistled. "That's impressive that you can travel beyond your planet. So what about this Justice League of yours?"
"Well, they're a superhero organization, for lack of a better explanation."
"Ah," Kaze answered. "Okay, I've seen one of those before. I get it. So your League battles whatever threatens your world?"
"That's it exactly. My biological grandfather, Bruce Wayne, was one of the original founders. He was the first Batman. Fifty years later, my father took over. Then my uncle did for a couple of years before becoming commissioner of the police, and finally me."
"Oh, a legacy." Kaze's tone was rather blunt. Bruce raised an eyebrow.
"Yeah. Why? Is there a problem?"
"Not really. I just have a few issues with Kaze I—my father, even though he hardly deserves the title. Years ago, he was chosen to save the world from the Heartless, but he fell into the darkness himself. My mom, Hino, was left in Radiant Garden to learn his fate secondhand from my uncles. Because he utterly screwed up, I was chosen to clean up his mess. Damn bastard. Everyone says I'm just like him—same face, same name, same fucking Keyblade. Damn."
"It's the exact opposite with me," Bruce confessed. "Everyone says I try too hard to be like my dad. It got to the point that my uncle and my dad want me to give up. They think I'm going to get myself killed."
"Guess both of us are screwed up," Kaze admitted. He stood up. "Well, Bruce, we'd better get to Traverse Town if we're going to find any clues to where your world is. You could probably use a new weapon while we're there."
Bruce looked at his blade, which was horribly dented. Kaze's Keyblade, on the other hand, hardly looked battle-scarred. "Where am I supposed to get a new one? My grandfather created everything in the original Batman suit and taught my father how to build this one."
"We could probably synthesize," Kaze commented. "I heard the Moogles talking about it. We take some of the items we picked up, give them the right amount of munny, and they'll make just about any weapon we need."
"A circular blade with invisibility capabilities compatible with my suit?"
Kaze winced. "Maybe we'd just better see if they can fix and upgrade it."
It was a few hours later when they were in the Gummi ship, heading for Traverse Town. Bruce was surprised at first to see that it was the same type of ship the Heartless had arrived to Metropolis in, but once he got over the initial shock, he was quickly absorbing every technical aspect about it, determined to learn how to pilot it.
"You handle this very well," Kaze said to his new shipmate, "Most of the worlds I've been to; the people are amazed that I've got a machine that can fly through the air, let alone in space."
Bruce gave out a laugh. "You should see the Batmobile. Compared to that, this is a child's toy."
Kaze rolled his eyes. "Batmobile? Do you just name everything you use 'Bat-something?'"
"I refuse to be mocked by a guy who battles with a giant key," Bruce deadpanned.
"Points to you. In any case we…" Suddenly, he checked the gauges. "Shit."
"What's wrong?" Bruce asked.
"Traverse Town will have to wait. The engine's starting to malfunction. A Heartless ship nicked me before I had to land. Looks like it did more damage than I thought..." he sighed, "And there's only one place that can service this bird…" Kaze looked incredibly dejected as he said, "We're going to have to visit the happiest place in the multiverse…"
The Batsuit always made people give way to fear and respect. He looked like a dark apparition, a demon of sorts.
Kaze was nowhere near normal himself. Stealth had never figured into his equation, as his outfit was a bright silver jumpsuit outlined with black designs, with a gold sleeveless jacket and headband. Standing next to each other, they were as different as day and night, and, outside of a combat situation, both looked rather silly.
Silly, however, was just about the only word you could use to describe the residents of this world.
They had landed in the middle of what seemed to be a Renaissance fair populated by humanoid animals. And, oddly enough, said animals had huge eyes and oddly exaggerated features, such as their snouts or ears.
Amiably, Kaze strolled up to a blacksmith, a grizzled old goat, who warily pointed the way to through a throng of other animals. Kaze exchanged a few gold pieces, before turning to Bruce, "I never get the hang of this place… My sense of direction is terrible once I'm out of the ship."
"This is… a very strange world."
"So I've been told. Then again, where I come from, talking animals aren't uncommon, so I can't tell the difference."
As Bruce followed Kaze, he realized the boy was different in this world. Despite his earlier unwillingness to enter the world, once he was here, he seemed pleasant enough. Children in particular seemed drawn to him, and he typically gave them candy or some other trinket he had in his pocket. However, they all kept an appreciable distance from Bruce, which was made more evident when he approached Kaze and his admirers dispersed immediately.
"So, why were you anxious about coming here?" Bruce said, "You seem happy enough with these people."
"It's relative. The place tends to bring out the best in a person. Five seconds in and you feel relaxed, happier, ready to give to your fellow man… unfortunately, it's kind of a let down once you leave… plus, I'm not thrilled about what I have to do here. I hate asking Uncle Walt for help…"
"Uncle Walt?" Bruce asked.
"You'll see…" Kaze smiled forlornly.
As they walked on, they came to the gates of a huge castle. The guards, which tended to be dogs, raised their weapons at the travelers, but once Kaze lifted his Keyblade, the gates opened and the guards turned from hesitant to jubilant. A good number of them chuckled and patted Kaze on the back, as they ushered him in.
However, they all looked at Bruce with obvious disdain.
"You look like a Heartless," Kaze explained, "I know you're a human, but…"
"The mask stays on," Bruce said simply.
"I figured it would. No matter. Uncle Walt will understand…"
Passing a few corridors, Kaze approached a set of doors hundreds of feet high. He rapped on the door, and from the giant doors, a smaller door opened up. Bruce felt incredibly awkward as he followed Kaze into the room.
It was a classic throne room, enormous, with hundreds of gold and silver statues and extravagant paintings throughout the room. The largest painting, above the thrones, showed a man who looked exactly like Kaze holding a Keyblade over his head. Next to the man were a red lion-like beast and a mouse wearing a blue cape.
Said mouse, oddly enough, was sitting on the throne.
Ignoring all propriety, the mouse got up and jumped up to hug Kaze. Kaze took the hug awkwardly.
"You've grown so much over the last few years…" the mouse said wistfully, patting the boy's side before ending the hug, "How are you doing? I heard about your mother. It's a real pity."
"She left before her time…" Kaze said wistfully.
"Ah well, what's done is done. Come, where are my manners… I must provide refreshments for you and your guest…" though the mouse said this with a hint of caution.
"There's no need. This is Bruce, known as Batman, and a hero in his world. Bruce, this is King Walter of the Magic Kingdom."
Bruce raised an eyebrow, "He's your 'Uncle Walt'?"
Kaze nodded, "Got an odd set of uncles throughout the worlds. My Uncle Nanaki's up on that mural."
The puzzle pieces clicked in for Bruce, "Ah." He then genuflected towards Walt, "It's an honor to be here."
"Oh, bother that," Walt swatted Bruce's knee and gestured that he get up, "I'm not YOUR king, any more than you're my hero. Different worlds and all that. You're a friend of Kaze's… how did you meet anyway?"
"He is lost, gone from his world. I'm attempting to bring him back," Kaze said.
"Oh my. I'll get Fauntleroy from the library. He should have some star charts available. Don't worry, if we've heard of your world, we'll be able to get you back."
"Thanks," Bruce said. "And if you can't?"
Walt sighed, "I honestly don't know." He shook his head. "I hate being King. I'm expected to know everything, especially given all that I've seen. People think that just since you've been to the dark heart of the universe and back that you know everything!" Kaze clenched his fists at that.
"Anything else you need?" Walt asked.
"My ship's engine is malfunctioning. Some maintenance would be nice…"
"Oh, don't you worry! I'll have a team on it immediately. Don't you worry! In the meantime, make yourselves at home. I'll have rooms made up and food sent right away! I'll have to get Fauntleroy, that old duck's got his finger on the pulse of the universe more than anyone…"
Kaze nodded as he turned and left the room. Bruce went to follow him, but King Walt nudged him.
"Listen, I have to ask you something…"
"I trust Kaze, so I'm sure you're really a hero... but why would a hero dress in black with the visage of a bat?"
Bruce smiled. "Because criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot…"
King Walt let out a laugh at that, before scurrying off to find his scholar. Bruce turned and went to find the Keybearer.