Chapter 74

Darkness. Riku was drowning in darkness. He knew not where he was, what he was doing, or which way up even was. Hell, he wasn't even sure he had a body. All he knew was that he could feel the darkness surrounding him. The darkness of his own heart. The unrelenting power that had the capability to do great good, or great evil.

The darkness that Xehanort's Heartless called its home.

"Give in, Riku," Riku heard the Heartless whisper, his voice seeming to come from everywhere at once. "Give in to the darkness….." As the creature spoke, Riku could feel himself slipping further and further away, drifting deeper into shadows. "Become darkness itself!"

"NO!" With the strength of his will and the courage in his heart, Riku broke free of Heartless control, and the darkness that surrounded him retreated to the depths of his heart from whence it came. As the shadows faded away and light returned to him, Riku's consciousness slowly began to return as well.

"So this is the famous Riku, huh?" he heard someone say, though he didn't know who. "Nice to put a face to the name."

"Dude is ripped!" chirped an immature young boy's voice. "How do I get arms like that?"

"Three square meals a day, and a rigorous fitness routine," answered a voice that sounded way too cheerful. "Also, having flesh helps."

"I remember this kid," Riku heard someone growl, his tone low and gruff. "He was at Hollow Bastion. He got in my way when I came for Belle. Then he nearly killed me."

"He tried to kill the big scary, menacing monster?" another man spoke up, this one sounding slightly slurred in his speech, with the hint of an accent. "Don't judge the lad too harshly. I'm sure he just wanted your pelt for the long winter ahead."

"Shut up."

"Shutting up."

"So this kid gets captured by the Empire," said another man, this one sounding just a little bit cynical. "But then manages to break out, steal a ship, and make his way here?" The man sniffed in amusement. "Not bad."

"Guess he's as good as they say," said an unmistakably female voice. "You think Sora could pull off something like that?"

"Sora doesn't exactly have….." he heard from the first one who had spoken.

"Common sense?" the drunk one supplied.

"I was gonna say finesse, but yeah that works too."

"Hey," the female called. "I think he's waking up!"

Riku's eyes slowly began to drift open, the haze clearing from his head and, with a tired groan, the boy woke from his slumber. As Riku's vision began to clear, he noticed the figures of people standing over him. Slowly he began to make them out, and he could only describe them as the most colourful assortment of characters he had ever seen. He picked out a white-haired man with what looked like dog ears protruding from his scalp, a man dressed provocatively as pirate, a large hairy monster that looked oddly familiar, a young dark-skinned man that wore a small red hat, a woman of foreign origins, a boy wearing orange and a steel headband, and lastly….

"Hello there!" an actual skeleton greeted loudly.

"AAAAAHHHHH!"

Dark Auras exploded from Riku's hands, and the crowd of freaks leapt away from him in alarm. In a swift motion Riku leapt to his feet, standing atop the table he had apparently been laying on, and whipped out his dark Keyblade. "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Easy kid!" the young dark-skinned man in the small red hat implored, holding out his hands peacefully. "No one's gonna hurt you!"

"I wouldn't say that," the dog/man growled, licking his fingers and snuffing out the small blue flame at the end of one of his ears.

Riku looked back and forth wildly between all of them, his Keyblade held in his unique stance, realizing he was currently surrounded. "Who are you people?!" he demanded, keeping them at bay with his deadly weapon. "Where am I?!"

"You're in Disney Castle," the hairy beast explained carefully. "You flew here in a ship. Remember?" The revelation slowly dawned on Riku as the memory flooded back to him. That's right; he did arrive at Disney Castle. After flying for weeks on end with little food or sleep in his stolen ship he had finally arrived at his destination of Disney. The lack of food or sleep must have finally caught up with him then, and that was when he must have passed out.

Riku's memory cleared up but his weapon remained raised on the strangers. "Who are all of you?" he demanded again.

The surrounding group then looked at each other, and they seemed to come to the same agreement, nodding at each other in confirmation. One by one they raised their arms, much to Riku's confusion. Then in a sudden and unexpected burst the room was filled with light, and Riku was forced to close his eyes from its blinding brilliance.

When the light faded, Riku dared to open his eyes. What he saw when he opened them made his jaw drop. In the hands of every man, woman, and strange creature in the room, was a Keyblade. They were of many different shapes and sizes, but without a doubt they were the same mystical weapons as the one he held in his hand. The names of each one whispered through his mind, and he knew then and there they were the real deal. "See that?" the pirate pointed out, twirling his Keyblade once in his hand. "We're all on the same team here."

"Go us!" the boy in orange cheered.

But Riku was not easily moved to trust. "Hate to break it to you," he said, keeping his own Keyblade ready. "But you're not the first freaks I've met with Keyblades lately. And let me tell you, those guys weren't exactly friendly." At this the other Keyblade wielders looked at each other in confusion.

"Wait," the dog/man suddenly. "You mean the Chasers?" Riku's eyes widened slightly.

"Oh, yeah. Those guys suck," the boy in orange sighed.

"Always with the 'we're gonna kill you and take your Keyblades'," the skeleton mimicked with a shake of his skull. "And the matching armour? Talk about tacky."

"We're no friends of them, Riku," the foreign woman assured him lowering her bright coloured Keyblade. "You can trust us." Despite her words Riku remained on alert, though in his head he was considering his options. These guys seemed earnest enough, strange as they were, and the fact that they hadn't attacked him yet despite outnumbering him was a good sign too. Before he knew it, his Keyblade lowered in his grasp.

"Riku?"

Everyone, including Riku, turned to the doorway, where Sora now stood, looking at his best friend with a great big grin. "Riku!"

Riku's eyes widened at the sight of Sora, and a few seconds later his Keyblade vanished. "Sora….." He hopped off the table and immediately ran for his friend, as did Sora. As soon as they were close enough, the two embraced each other in a tight hug. "I can't believe it! You're actually here!

"You can't believe it?" Sora laughed, hugging his best friend tightly. "Last I saw you were laid out by Vader! I thought I was never going to see you again!"

The other Keyblade bearers watched the reunion with silent appreciation. "Aww," Jack Skellington sighed, wiping an imaginary tear from his eye socket. "Nothing like platonic love."

"Let's hope it's that way," Jack Sparrow muttered with his arms crossed. "Or Kairi's in for a rude awakening."

"What does that mean?" Naruto asked curiously.

"Nothing," Mulan answered quickly and crossly.

Sora and Riku pulled back from one another with big grins on their faces. "Are you okay?" they both asked at the same time. "I've got so much to tell-" Realizing they were saying the same thing the two boys burst out laughing, and suddenly it was just like old times between them. "Guys," Sora then called to his Keyblade companions. "Could you give us a minute?"

They were all too happy to oblige. "You know where to find us," Aladdin said before he and the others started filing out of the room. On the way out the Beast brushed past Riku, and gave the boy a hard glare, quickly reminding the boy just why the hairy creature looked so familiar. Soon the doors closed behind them, and the two friends were left alone.

"Sooooo," Riku started carefully. "Let's start with them."

Sora chuckled lightly. "Sit down, Riku. This is probably going to take a while."

And it did. For nearly an hour Sora sat there with his newly returned friend and explained in detail all the things that happened since the two of them were separated. From the last time they had seen each other to this very moment, Sora tried to leave nothing out. He explained that the reason for these new wielders of the Keyblade was the need to combat the new threats that had arisen; from the Horned King and Maleficent to the ever expanding Galactic Empire, and the new and terrible might of the Chasers. He told him all that he had learned about the Jedi, the Keyblade War, and the unfortunate fate of Donald and Goofy. He detailed his adventures as well: his travels on other worlds, the retaking Radiant Garden and joining the Rebel Alliance.

Riku had his own tales to tell of course since escaping Darth Vader and the Empire. He told of the alien hunter that Vader had sent after Sora, something the boy had already encountered a few times. Riku already knew of the violent Chaser menace that had arisen. All three of the armoured warriors had paid Riku a visit on his travels, each encounter worse than the last. Why they wanted him, Riku didn't know. Sora did though, and filled his friend in on the terrible truth.

"They want my heart?" Riku asked with bafflement. Sitting on a chair at the table he had been laying on earlier, the silver-haired boy tried to come to turns with what was being told to him. "But…why?"

Sora frowned sadly. "Xehanort's Heartless," he answered grimly. "You know it's always been with you, sleeping in your heart. They want him. With both Xemnas and his Heartless the Chasers can remake Xehanort as he once was. The one that started the Keyblade War. Apparently he's more powerful than anything we've ever faced. So if he comes back….."

"Game over," Riku finished, absentmindedly touching his chest. Finally hearing the truth about just what the Chasers wanted from him, and learning that he was the key for the return of their dark master, weighed heavily on him. He could almost hear the dark laughter of the Heartless within him.

"Alright then….then it sounds like to put a wrench in their plans, all we have to do is make sure they don't get me." Riku smirked victoriously. "After all, no Heartless, no Xehanort. Right?" Sora smiled brightly. He had just told Riku something that would have shaken anyone else to the core. But not Riku. Like any other challenge, Riku faced it head on. It was one of the things Sora always admired about his friend.

"Yeah. And with us protecting you, you won't have a thing to worry about!" Riku blinked in surprise.

"Excuse me?" he repeated indignantly. "Who says I need protection? If you'll recall, I've been doing just fine on my own. Took on three Chasers and I'm still standing."

"Sounds like you just got lucky all those times," Sora noted snidely. "Tying Charon to a rocket, Brisen being fought off by Sephiroth, and trapping Aradan in virtual Twilight Town? Don't get me wrong, that's some luck. Hope it rubs off on the rest of us."

"Smart ass," Riku chuckled. "Don't worry. You can still keep your leader position. Seems like it would be pretty tiring anyway."

"Oh give me a break," Sora chuckled.

"No, no. It's cool. Take center stage. I'll just stay on the sidelines and away from your brilliant glow with Kai-…Oh!" Riku then slapped his forehead. "I can't believe it's taken me this long to ask. Where's Kairi?"

The smile dropped from Sora's face almost immediately after Riku asked that question. He became deathly quiet and averted Riku's gaze, something Riku immediately picked up. "Sora?" he asked in concern, and when his friend didn't answer him an immense feeling of dread crept up on Riku. "What's happened?"

After a silence that seemed to go on forever Sora finally met Riku's eyes again, and his blue eyes were filled with sorrow. "Come with me….."

KHKHKHKH

RIku looked down at Kairi as she lay sleeping in the infirmary bed, a grief-stricken expression covering his handsome features. He held her hand gently, stroking it with his thumb, but there was no response from her. She might as well have been a corpse. He had long been awaiting his reunion with Sora and Kairi, but he certainly didn't think it would turn out like this. "I'm sorry, Riku," Sora apologized, standing in the room with the other Keyblade wielders. "I tried to keep her safe. I really did. But…..it just wasn't enough."

"It was our fault too," the Beast stated on behalf of the other wielders. With the guilt weighing down on all of them it was hard not to feel responsible. "We shouldn't have let her out of our sight."

Riku had said nothing since he entered the infirmary, and if possible Sora felt even worse than before. "I'm so sorry, Riku. I did everything I could but-"

"Sora," Riku suddenly interrupted. "I know more than anyone how much you care about Kairi. I know you never would have let anything happen to her if you could help it." Riku looked at Sora now. "She's alive. That's all that matters now." Sora nodded slowly, but was not all together convinced himself.

"You know, we contributed quite a bit as well," Jack Sparrow cut in, and was rewarded with a swift elbow to the ribs by Beast.

Sora came to stand beside Riku as he looked down at Kairi. "She would have loved to see you again," Sora told him, and Riku smirked in amusement. That smirk vanished just as quickly as it began. They were all three of them together again, and yet they weren't.

"Why would they do this to her?" Riku questioned, gently letting go of Kairi's hand. "Why would Maleficent target Kairi? To get to you?"

It was a viable thought, but Sora knew it was more complicated than that. "No, nothing like that," he answered, and decided how best to tell Riku. "Do you remember the Princesses of Heart?"

Riku frowned then. "Yeah….."

"They're after them again, Riku; Maleficent and the Horned King. They're trying to open Kingdom Hearts again using their power." Sora looked down at Kairi's peaceful sleeping face. "Which means they need Kairi too. That's why they did this to her. They must have thought it would make her easier to kidnap."

"Turns they out they were wrong," Mulan said with a stern look.

The news left Riku speechless. In fact he seemed to go a bit pale after Sora's explanation. He looked from Sora back to Kairi, and he continued to stare at her. What was going on in his head no one knew. "You're…sure they're after the Princesses again?" he asked.

"They already have the other six," Beast explained with a melancholy tone, knowing that his own love was one such captive. "She's the last one."

Riku still continued to look down at Kairi. "You're absolutely sure about that?" he asked again, his voice raising a bit on volume.

"Yeah," Aladdin replied with a frown and a bit of attitude. "Pretty sure."

Riku then placed both hands on Kairi's bed, leaning against it, shaking his head back and forth. "No, no, no, no, no," he whispered.

"Riku?" Sora asked, surprised by his friend's reaction. "Riku, what's going on?"

At Sora's question Riku closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, and then let it out in a sigh. He looked down at Kairi again, sweet gentle Kairi, and he clenched his fists.

"Sora," he began carefully. "There's something you should know."

KHKHKHKH

In the cold reaches of space the seemingly perpetual silence was soon to be interrupted. It appeared like a phantom but was large enough to blot out the sun itself; a massive black castle the likes of which the galaxy had never seen. It phased into existence from a once empty region of space, and came to rest in orbit just over the world of Disney.

"Disney Castle in sight!" Gantu announced from his controls, successfully bringing the Castle that Never Was out of its warp drive procedures.

Pete rested his arms on his console and sighed blissfully. "Home sweet home….."

Staring out of the viewport of the castle's main bridge Maleficent and the Horned King laid eyes on Disney Castle, and both smiled wickedly, for both knew that it was here that their prize lay helpless. "Finally," the Horned King breathed, his decrepit smile widening. "The time has come. We will crush this pitiful castle and take Kairi all in one fell swoop."

"Excellent," Maleficent chuckled with a cruel sneer. "Take us in quietly. With luck they will never see us coming."

"Right, cause a giant black flying castle is totally inconspicuous," Gantu mumbled, though of course not loud enough for anyone to hear before he started the descent into the world of Disney.

"Master," Nero the Sable suddenly spoke up, and with him was Rinoa Heartily, dragging with her the fabled magic mirror. She was as silent and obedient as ever as she placed the ghastly-faced mirror before them. "Perhaps it would better serve us to see exactly what they are up to down there. Make sure we have the element of surprise."

"Excellent idea," the Horned King agreed, and turned to Maleficent with a smirk. "Do the honours."

The witch smiled mockingly at him before she stepped up to the magic mirror. It stared back at her with an almost bored expression. "Mirror, mirror from the dark," she recited. "Show to me the Princess of Heart!" The mirror rolled its eyes but obeyed none the less, and in a show of swirling colours and magic an image began to take form on the glass surface. The interior of Disney Castle soon came into view, and laying on one of their beds was Kairi herself, sleeping calmly and peacefully. "Perfect," Maleficent sneered as she laid eyes on the girl. "She is still a victim of the Sleeping Death."

"And there are her protectors," the Horned King chuckled as the various Keyblade bearers came into view. They were crowded around Kairi's bed, no doubt worried sick over her. But the Horned King suddenly frowned when one of them he did not recognize came into view. "Who is that?"

"That's Riku," Maleficent gasped in surprise, and her lips quickly twisted into a snarl. "What is he doing there?"

"So that's Riku," the Horned King grasped, now looking at the silver-haired boy with much more interest. He seemed to be talking to the other Keyblade bearers about something. "The Keyblade wielder of darkness. And your former boy toy if I recall correctly." He sneered in amusement, and Maleficent fixed him with a deadly glare.

"Seems he's finally crawled out from whatever rock he's been hiding under," she muttered, turning her attention back to the mirror. Maleficent suddenly smiled then, a dark wicked smile. "This is perfect. We can take out all the Keyblade bearers in one fell swoop. Sora, Riku, the King, and the entire rabble they've collected."

"And then the last Princess of Heart will be ours," the Horned King finished with a deadly grin.

"Sora," they suddenly heard Riku say in the mirror. "There's something you should know." The boy took a deep breath before he dared to continue. "It's about the Princesses."

The smiles fell from both Maleficent and the Horned King's faces. They looked at each other curiously before they leaned in closer to the mirror, listening intently…..

KHKHKHKH

A chill suddenly went down the spine of Inuyasha. He looked around the room for the source of his discomfort, but could find nothing. "What about the Princesses?" Sora asked of Riku, urging him to continue his explanation.

Trying to choose the best way to explain, Riku soon stood up straight. Whatever the boy was about to say, it clearly weighed heavily on him. "Do you remember back in Hollow Bastion?" he asked Sora. "When Xehanort's Heartless was controlling me, and you learned that Kairi's heart was resting inside you?" Riku looked at Sora now, his teal eyes to Sora's blue ones. "You stabbed yourself with that dark Keyblade in order to get it out. Do you remember that?"

How could Sora forget? Almost two years ago he had done what Riku had said. After discovering that Kairi's then missing heart had actually become one with his own, Sora pierced his own heart with another Keyblade in order to restore Kairi's heart to her own body. It worked, but Sora had turned into a Heartless as a result.

"I'm sorry," Aladdin suddenly interrupted with a wave of his hands. "You stabbed yourself with a Keyblade?"

"Damn, Sora. Pretty hardcore!" Naruto commented in awe.

"Pfft. If I had a nickel for all the times I stabbed myself…." Jack Skellington put in rather unnecessarily.

"Yeah, of course I remember that," Sora confirmed to Riku, not sure where he was going with this. "What about it?"

"Xehanort's Heartless made that dark Keyblade from the hearts of the other six Princesses," Riku continued to explain. "It contained all their power. Together with Kairi's heart it was used to open Kingdom Hearts." Riku looked down at Kairi again, and wondered if she could hear what was being said in her comatose state. If so, then this was for both her and Sora.

"When you stabbed yourself with that Keyblade you unintentionally transferred all that power into Kairi's heart. And when Kairi's heart returned to her body, it took all that power with it."

Sora mouth fell open in shock at this new information. That day played in his head over and over again. His mind lurched, not fully comprehending what was being told to him. "What are you saying?" he asked Riku.

"I'm saying there are no seven Princesses of Heart anymore," Riku stressed. "There's only one." They both looked down at Kairi now as the full weight of Riku's words began to sink in.

"Kairi is now the one and only key into Kingdom Hearts."

KHKHKHKH

"WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATTTTTTTTT?!" Maleficent and the Horned King screamed in unison.

"Ooooohh boy," Pete whimpered, bracing for the worst.

Riku's entire explanation was heard from beginning to end through the magic mirror, and the revelation left both dark masters reeling. "How can this be?!" Maleficent raged, green flames practically billowing off her as her outrage reached full peek. "All this time it's just been her?!"

"Then the other Princesses," the Horned King realized with a murderous snarl. "They're useless!" With an enraged shout he threw the magic mirror aside, and the ghastly face within it screamed in alarm as it fell off its stand, crashing to the floor. "All that time gathering them," the sorcerer growled, his fist clenching tightly. "It was all for nothing! If we had just had just known it was all Kairi all along we could have taken her right away! And we wouldn't have been running around-"

The Horned King suddenly stopped himself, a new realization slowly dawning on him. His red eyes widened in shock, his fists unclenching before he rounded to the very person who lead him to the Princesses in the first place.

Rinoa's brown eyes widened in terror as her master looked straight at her.

"You knew this," he whispered in bewilderment. "You've known this whole time. You've been leading me on a wild goose chase all this time!" Rinoa flinched at his raised voice, but did not budge as the Horned King marched up to her, livid with fury. "Why?! Why would do this?!" As he shouted at the small woman the answer actually came to him like a bolt of lightning.

"You were trying to buy Sora time," he realized with a growl. "You lead me to the other Princesses knowing full well they were useless to me, and knew Sora would recognize the threat! You've been leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for him this entire time!" Red eyes boring into her, the Horned King got right in his apprentice's face. "After everything I've done for you? I took you in when your world was destroyed! I saved you from the Heartless! And this how you repay me?!"

Even in the face of the dark lord's righteous anger, Rinoa stood her ground, but her eyes were to the floor as always. "You saved me," she whispered quietly and, for the first time in her life she stared back at the Horned King with defiance. "And you caged me."

SLAP

Rinoa was sent crashing to the floor with a cry, clutching her throbbing cheek. The Horned King loomed menacingly over her, withdrawing the arm he backhanded her with, shoulders shaking with rage as he glared down at her with his violent red eyes. Rinoa's eyes widened as he advanced on her again, and thinking quickly she threw out a quick spell. The bridge was filled with blinding light, and all the villains were forced to cover their eyes. When they opened them, Rinoa was gone, the doors to the room already sliding closed.

The Horned King's jagged teeth ground together. He turned to Nero, his only remaining servant. "Find her!" he snarled. "Bring her to me alive!" Nero bowed obediently and, in a swirl of shadows and darkness, vanished into thin air.

Swiveling back to the task at hand the Horned King let loose a mighty roar. "FULL SPEED TO DISNEY CASTLE!" he bellowed, much to the fright of Gantu and Pete as they hurriedly set about the controls. "SEND IN ALL THE HEARTLESS! EVERY LAST ONE! KILL EVERYONE THERE AND BRING THE PRINCESS TO ME!"

Maleficent watched as the Horned King screamed orders, her eyes narrowing dangerously before she set her view on the rapidly approaching Disney Castle.

KHKHKHKH

"Are you kidding me?" the Beast exclaimed upon hearing Riku's story, staggered like everyone else over the news. "So you're saying the other Princesses don't even matter?"

Riku shook his head solemnly. "No," he answered quietly. "Ever since Hollow Bastion it's always just been Kairi." Everyone turned their attention to the sleeping princess now, as if the revelation would suddenly awaken her.

"I can't believe it," Sora whispered as he gazed down at Kairi in a new perspective. "Kairi, does she-?"

"No, she doesn't know," Riku provided before Sora could finish.

"Then how do you know?" Mulan asked on behalf of everyone else's curiosity. Riku internally sighed.

"Back when I was with Diz," he recalled. "I mean, Ansem the Wise, he asked me to monitor the Princesses of Heart. He wanted to see if opening Kingdom Hearts had in anyway affected them. I didn't mind; it gave me a chance to check up on Kairi." As Riku brought up past memories he idly looked back at the comatose Kairi before continuing.

"I didn't expect to find anything. They were all alive, and they all seemed healthy enough. But it turns out there was a change. Out of the seven Princesses of Heart, six of them had completely lost their power. Not one of them noticed or realized it had happened, but whatever power they might have held on to had completely dried up. It was just gone. All except for Kairi." Sora now looked down at Kairi as well.

"Kairi had actually grown stronger. Out of seven Princesses, not only was she the only one to retain her power, but she had actually gained phenomenally more of it. Ansem worked out what had happened. Kairi now had the power of all seven Princesses of Heart within her. There was no outward change, so not even she knew about it. But the power has always been inside her."

Inuyasha nudged Aladdin. "That explains the flip out in Tortuga," he whispered, referring to the time they witnessed Kairi exhibit such power, and the young man nodded in agreement.

"B-But this is crazy!" Sora exclaimed, not as easily convinced. "You mean all along….you could be wrong, right?"

"You mean could Ansem the Wise be wrong?" Riku reiterated skeptically. "It's all true. The evidence all adds up to it. Sora, she turned you back from Heartless. Where do you think the power came from to do that?" Sora grimaced, and in his heart he knew what Riku was saying was true. "I never wanted to tell you guys," Riku went on solemnly. "I never thought I would need to. I guess I hoped….people would just leave her alone."

"We have to move on Maleficent now," the Beast suddenly cut in rather abruptly.

"Well, we were gonna do that anyway," Jack Sparrow reminded. "Remember? We were all pretty fired up about it."

"You don't get it!" Beast exclaimed, looking pretty desperate and distressed. "Maleficent and the Horned King took the Princesses because they think together they can open Kingdom Hearts." Beast then turned to Aladdin, the only one there who shared in his turmoil. "What do you think is gonna happen to them when they find out they can't?" Aladdin's eyes widened in horror when he realized what Beast was getting at.

"He's right," Mulan agreed despondently. "We need to take the fight to those two now more than ever."

Riku looked at Sora now and, as expected, the news had the boy reeling. "Sora?" Riku asked carefully. "Are you okay?"

But Sora was far from okay. He had just learned that Kairi, sweet gentle Kairi, was now the very key to potentially destroying the universe. If she was target before she was an even bigger one now. He remembered their talk on the Shera just before they dropped her off, and how all they ever wanted now was to be left in peace. Sora clenched his fist, tangling them up in Kairi's bed sheets. What were the chances of them being left alone now?

All of the sudden there was a loud boom heard from somewhere far off, followed by the whole castle suddenly shaking, and Sora was abruptly snapped out of his thoughts. "What the?" Sora gasped in alarm as he steadied himself.

"What was that!?" Naruto exclaimed.

No sooner was the question asked when the door to the infirmary suddenly opened, and a very haggard looking Daisy Duck came through. "Everyone, come quick!" she quacked urgently. "Something terrible is happening! Queen Minnie needs all of you!" Another distant explosion rocked the castle, and Sora and Riku looked at each other before nodding in confirmation.

"Lead the way!" Sora quickly replied and together with his friend Riku and the other Keyblade wielders rushed out of the infirmary, leaving Kairi and King Mickey behind to see what trouble had come to Disney Castle.

As they ran through the halls after Daisy they quickly found that Disney Castle had erupted into chaos. Servants and royal knights and walking brooms were running through the halls in various states of panic and urgency. The once tranquil castle had been gripped with fear, but from what Sora did not know. He hoped the answers would come when they suddenly came upon Queen Minnie, who was in the middle of giving instructions to a contingent of her royal guards. "Open the gates. Get everyone inside," she ordered firmly. "Make sure everyone is in safely before they close. Now go!" After several salutes from the knights they rushed off to do the Queens bidding, leaving Minnie to sigh tiredly.

"Your Majesty!" Sora called out as they came rushing at the Queen, coming to a halt before her. "What's going on? This place is a madhouse!"

"Sora, it's awful!" Queen Minnie cried out, her strong front quickly crumbling. "We're under attack!"

"What?" Sora gasped. "By whom?"

"Sora," Aladdin suddenly called from a nearby window, looking out of it with concern written all over his face. Everyone else soon joined him in looking outside, and what they saw answered all questions.

Directly over Disney Town, massive in size and terrifying to behold, was the Castle that Never Was. The great black floating castle had settled directly over Disney Town, and was raining down a merciless barrage of death and destruction. Powerful laser cannons bombarded the town, blowing up shops and homes in violent explosions. Fires from the blasts ravaged the structures, large plumes of smoke rising into the air. The defenseless citizens could only run in the face of such danger. In droves they ran cross the Pluto Planes to reach the safety of Disney Castle, where the gates had opened to welcome them on Queen Minnie's orders.

The castle would soon prove to be the least of their worries.

Marching across the Pluto Plains, just beyond the fleeing citizens, were thousands upon thousands of Heartless. A black tide of innumerable yellow eyes made up a massive army. Dozens of different Heartless types could be seen. Hundreds of small Shadow Heartless marched alongside the clunky Knight Heartless, and the feral snarls of the Omega Heartless could be heard for miles. Towering above their smaller brethren were Behemoth Heartless, shaking the ground with every massive step, low guttural roars sounding off from their massive jaws. High above the marching army, filling the sky and letting out loud shrieks were swarms of Wyvern Heartless. What had to be every single Heartless at Maleficent's disposal was now on a full on collision course with Disney Castle.

"Son of a monkey's uncle," Jack Skellington cursed in his own peculiar way.

"I've…..never seen so many," Mulan whispered dreadfully.

"Ideas, anyone?" Jack Sparrow asked in a hopeful cadence. "Cause I got nothing. Most of my plans involve pirate ships."

"The Cornerstone of Light will keep them out, right?" Beast questioned.

"That many?" Queen Minnie fretted, wringing her hands nervously. "I-I'm not sure."

Riku narrowed his eyes. "We have to evacuate."

"The whole town?" Daisy gasped.

"There's no choice," Riku stated, shaking his head stubbornly. "We can't fight those kinds of numbers. We need to start cramming as many people onto gummi ships as possible. Kairi, the King, everybody. My shuttle should still work, so we can take that too. Sora, you said the Shera was in orbit? Maybe we can get them to…..Sora?" While Riku had been making plans he hadn't noticed until now that Sora was now storming his way down the hall. "Hey! Sora?" Riku called, and quickly went after his friend. The rest of the group looked at each other in confusion before following after them.

"Hey Sora! Wait!" Riku called, catching up to Sora and matching the boy's brisk pace. "What are you doing? Where are you going?"

"I'm going out there," Sora answered without any hesitation.

Riku's jaw dropped. "Are you nuts?!"

"I'm not running," Sora growled as he marched his way down the halls. "I'm done running from them. That's all we've been doing, and so many people have gotten hurt along the way because of it; Kairi included. I've taken on a thousand Heartless before, I can do it again."

"This is more like ten thousand!" Riku tried to get across.

"Dudes!" Sora and Riku suddenly stopped and turned to the other Keyblade wielders, and to Naruto who had just called out. "There are nine of us!" he suddenly realized. "That's like, a thousand each!" Sora and Riku blinked.

"I don't agree with the math," Mulan noted dryly before she smirked. "But if you're going out there, then so am I."

Riku blinked again. "Wait…."

"Count me in," Jack Skellington announced with a flashy pose. "An audience of this scale simply cannot be ignored!"

"Try and stop me," Inuyasha grinned, slamming his fist into his palm. "I was going out there anyway, but if you want to come along, that's cool too."

"Just wait a minute here!" Riku tried to say again.

"If Belle's in that castle, then there's only one way to get to her," the Beast grumbled, and his fanged mouth formed a smirk. "I'm in."

"Make that double for me," Aladdin assured, thumping his chest and grinning. "Jasmine's been waiting long enough."

Everyone then turned expectantly to Captain Jack Sparrow, who had so far remained quiet, arms crossed with a sour look on his face. "Now as far as bad ideas go," he drawled. "This one is right up there with making a bargain with Davy Jones."

"Thank you!" Riku sighed despite not understanding the reference. "I-I think."

"Yup. So, I've decided if I can get out of that one unscathed, I could probably survive a few hundred thousand Heartless." Captain Jack grinned saucily as Riku's jaw nearly dropped to the floor. "All aboard then, eh?"

Sora's smile couldn't have been any wider than it was at that moment, watching all other his worldly friends volunteer to stand beside him. "Guys," he whispered, and quickly had to wipe his eyes on the back of his wrist. "Thank you."

"Ugh, please don't start crying," Beast reprimanded.

"Yeah, we're about to have an epic battle," Naruto reminded. "Don't ruin it!"

"I don't think I have enough bullets," Jack Sparrow noted as he checked in his small ammo pouch.

"Can we just slow down for a second!" Riku finally snapped, gaining everyone's attention. "You're seriously going to go out there and take on ten thousand Heartless by yourselves?"

"Is there an echo in here?" Aladdin asked jokingly.

Riku slapped his forehead. "We're out gunned, we're out manned, we're out….everything! This is stupid. Just think for a second before you do anything reckless."

"Kid, you haven't been with us long," Mulan chuckled with a hand on her hip. "But stupid and reckless is kinda our thing."

"I defy you to find someone better at it," Jack Skellington challenged with a skeletal grin. Riku felt like pulling his hair out. What was wrong with these people?

"Sora," he appealed to his younger friend again. "You know this is a bad idea. Going out there is absolutely crazy!"

"I know!" Sora informed with a big grin. "They'll never see it coming."

"Sora-"

"I know you're worried, Riku," Sora suddenly cut off before Riku could continue. "You don't need to be. My heart's not weak enough to be done in by a few Heartless. It's strong with my team, with Kairi." Sora looked down sadly. "With Donald and Goofy." Whatever Riku was going to say died in his throat when Sora mentioned his two lost friends.

"Disney Castle was their home, and if they were here today they would be doing everything in their power to protect it. I'm not about to let them down and let Maleficent and the Horned King have their way anymore. Not here!" Everyone was quiet as the boy made his case. "We were given these Keyblades for a reason, Riku. All of us. And it wasn't so we could run away and hide when things got too rough. It was so that when they did, we were there to put a stop to it, to make sure no one else has to suffer."

Sora stepped up to Riku, looking up at his friend with a fierce look in his eye. "I know I wasn't the Keyblade's first choice," he said. "I know it was meant to go to you, not me. But I'm gonna make good on it. Here, today. "

Naruto sniffled a little. "I know we said no crying, but-"

"Don't you dare," Inuyasha cut off.

Riku looked down at Sora, speechless in the face of the boy's noble stand. During Riku's absence it seemed that Sora had really changed. The immaturity, the recklessness; those were all still there, but it was the look in Sora's eyes that really struck Riku. They were so fierce, so powerful that Riku had a hard time looking into them.

Riku sighed tiredly. "This is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas," he mumbled. And then a smirk came across his face. "Count me in."

The grin that spread across Sora's face was as bright as could be, and he and Riku promptly clasped hands tightly. As close as brothers, they were ready to take on the world. "Your Majesty," Sora addressed the flabbergasted Queen Minnie and Daisy. "Hide Kairi and King Mickey in the Cornerstone room. They'll be safest there. We'll deal with this."

"Let's kick the tires and light the fires!" Jack Skellington cheered.

"What does that mean?" Mulan asked as they started off.

The Skellington shrugged. "I don't know. Saw it in a movie." Together the Keyblade wielding warriors made their way for the Disney Castle gates, leaving a speechless Queen Minnie behind them.

"They're insane….." Daisy whispered in disbelief. A slow smile came across Queen Minnie's face.

"No," she said, wiping a tear from her eyes. "They're the Keyblade wielders."

KHKHKHKH

The massive army of Heartless marched unhindered across the Pluto Plains on a direct course for Disney Castle. Thousands in number, their every approaching step sounded like thunder. Destroyers of worlds, they had set their sights on a new target. And at their backs was the all imposing Castle that Never Was. Big, dark, and brimming with power, it stood as the antithesis of Disney Castle, and spilled forth its legions to put an end to its foe once and for all.

And Disney Castle would answer its challenge.

They walked out from the gates of Disney Castle, nine of them in total, walking side by side, and heading straight for the dark army. Nine warriors from different creeds and different walks of life, gathered to together in a united purpose to face the evils that no one else could. They were the Keyblade wielders. The first and last line of defense.

"Wow," Aladdin chuckled as he walked with his hands in the pockets of his baggy pants. "There's a lot more than I thought there were."

"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" Beast questioned with a smirk.

"I'm on my, like, fifth thought," Naruto admitted with an embarrassed grin.

"Careful. That's a lot more thinking than you're used to," Inuyasha remarked snidely.

"Got to say," Mulan mentioned idly as she stared up into the clear blue sky. "Never pictured myself going out like this."

"Torn apart by monsters and surrounded by people I don't like?" Jack Sparrow spelled out before he shrugged. "This is pretty much what I envisioned."

"Fear not, my friends," Jack Skellington announced with a flourish of his bony hands. "While this will be our greatest performance yet, it will not be our last! An all-star ensemble like this? How can we not succeed?"

"So this is your A-team, huh?" Riku chuckled to Sora, amused by the antics of the other wielders. "They suit you."

"Thanks!" Sora beamed, completely missing the meaning behind Riku's words. The spiky haired boy then steeled his eyes and smiled. "You ready?"

"No," Riku answered with a shrug and a smirk. "But let's do it anyway."

Now that they were several yards away from Disney Castle, the Keyblade bearers stopped walking. They stood side by side against the oncoming storm, none of them moving, none of them faltering. Ahead and closing fast was the Heartless mass. The ground shook with the approaching footsteps of every creature of darkness. They were so close they could hear the hungry snarls and the guttural moans, all while the Castle that Never Was floated ominously at their backs, where Sora was sure Maleficent and the Horned King were watching. It was time to give them a show.

"They want this castle," he shouted to all who could hear him. "They want to rule the universe. They want to take Kairi. Well, here's what I have to say to that…." Sora raised his hand and pointed directly at the dark castle in the distance, hoping that the two dark overlords within could hear what he said next. "If they want the universe, they have to go through us!"

One by one the heroes all outstretched their arms towards the approaching enemies, and in several bright flashes of light appeared their individual Keyblade. They appeared one after the other; Wishing Lamp, Nindo, Follow the Wind, Kingdom Key, Way to the Dawn, Rumbling Rose, Tetsusaiga's Fang, Hidden Dragon, Pumpkin King. Keyblades filled the hands of every wielder, all of them pointing directly towards the monsters before them as an open challenge. The summoning of their weapons sent the Heartless into frenzy, and with several loud and hungry roars, the Heartless charged full speed at the heroes. Rushing and swooping, slithering and lumbering, the Heartless made a thundering stampede towards the unmoving Keyblade wielders.

Sora gripped his Keyblade in both hands as everyone adopted their own unique fighting stance. As the charging Heartless drew closer and closer they stood as one. It was only when their enemies were right on top of them that Sora gave the order…..

"TAKE EM' DOWN!"

With a united shout that rose even above the thundering army before them, the nine Keyblade wielding warriors charged straight for the Heartless.

The battle for Disney Castle had begun…..