Disney Castle was the crown jewel of the known galaxy. Ever since its founding, when the gleaming white walls and the sparkling blue towers were raised, it has stood as a symbol of peace and hope. In that no matter how dark and bleak the times may seem, there was always a place where the light would never stop shining. But now that light was threatened by the forces of darkness, bringing something to Disney Castle it had never seen in its short history.
With the Heartless clamouring outside the walls of her castle and the heroes of light moving to engage them, Queen Minnie had her own job to do. They had spared every gummi ship possible in order to get all civilians off-world, until only she and her most loyal subjects remained, and she would need their help if they were to get out of this alive. She marched her way down the red carpet of the massive throne room, her normally adorable face reflecting solid determination. The Queen of Disney Castle knew what was at stake here today and would do her absolute best to live up to her royal title.
Quickly stepping up to her husband's throne, she pressed the secret button under the armrest, and stepped back as the whole pedestal slid way to reveal a secret staircase leading downward: the chamber of the Cornerstone of Light.
"Quickly, get them inside," Minnie ordered in a hurried tone. Merlin was there as well and, using the power of his magic, the old wizard levitated the beds of both Kairi and King Mickey in mid-air, and with skillful precision he guided them down the steps of the secret chamber. He followed right behind them with a fretful Daisy Duck on his heels.
Queen Minnie watched them go down with apprehension. Under the light of the Cornerstone was where they would be safest, but she feared it would not be enough. This was why she had a backup plan. Once again donning a determined expression, she turned to face those whom she had assembled before her. They were a collection of dog men, clad head to toe in clumsy clunky armour, and armed with swords and shields, the latter of which bore the King's crest. There were a hundred of them at least, filling the audience chamber, and awaiting instructions.
"Knights of Disney Castle!" Minnie shouted loud enough for all the men to hear. "You are the bravest and most courageous soldiers that this Castle has ever seen. You were trained by Captain Goofy himself…..and if he were here today he would be proud of each and every one of you." The Queen's hard front softened slightly. "Kairi cannot fall into the hands of our enemies, or it will be the end for all of us. She needs you now. Your King needs you now!" She closed her eyes. "I need you now." The Queen of Disney Castle then clasped her hands together.
"Please….keep them safe."
"Yes ma'am!" the knights decreed in unison, a declaration that echoed off the massive walls.
Smiling with pride, Queen Minnie bowed in gratitude. "Thank you," she whispered. "And…..good luck." With that she headed down the steps to the Cornerstone chamber, and the pedestal slowly closed shut behind her.
With another furious shot Sora cut down three Heartless that were before him, only for another five to take their place immediately after. Those five were dispatched just as quickly by Riku's Keyblade. Cutting through the dark army with lethal efficiency were the nine Keyblade warriors. Sora and Riku, along with their otherworldly allies of Beast, Mulan, Jack Skellington, Naruto, Inuyasha, Aladdin, and Captain Jack Sparrow ripped their way through the endless tide of Heartless, Keyblades singing as the creatures of shadow fell by the dozens. They moved as a unit; slicing, dicing, clawing and hacking through the army until they were dead center of it. With the delicious hearts of the Keyblade bearers in their midst the Heartless had stopped their march on Disney Castle, and now all ten thousand of them bore down on the heroes.
Now in the thick of the Heartless mass, the Keyblade wielders huddled back to back. The Heartless surrounded them on all sides, circling them cautiously, snarling and growling for fresh hearts to eat. "So," Aladdin said, quickly cutting down a Shadow that tried to pounce on him. "What's the plan here?"
"Plan?" Riku repeated before blasting a Dark Aura at a Knight. "I thought this was the plan?!"
"Technically the plan was to come out here," Jack Sparrow reminded as he parried a Knight's sword arm before cleaving it in two. "We never did work out the next part."
"You want a plan?" Inuyasha asked as he sliced through three Heartless at once. "Never stop not dying!"
"I don't think I can apply to that plan," Jack Skellington pondered idly before stabbing an Omega Heartless that tried to sneak up on him.
"We need to thin out their numbers!" Mulan shouted over the Heartless growls. "Take out as many of them as we can."
"So basically keep killing them until there are none left!" Sora restated in the middle of slicing a Shadow clean through.
"That's simple and easy to remember," Beast growled, snapping his jaws at any Heartless that tried to get close. The Keyblade wielders looked at each other, the same thought going through all their minds, and each of them smiled.
"See you on the other side, mates," Jack Sparrow cracked wise with a golden toothed smile.
"Whoever kills the most chooses dinner for the next month," Inuyasha announced in eager anticipation.
"Ohoho, get ready for a month of ramen!" Naruto laughed with a great big grin.
"SCATTER!" Sora shouted and, almost immediately after shouting it, his friends burst forth into the Heartless mass in various directions, ripping right through them with their Keyblades. Each wielder spread out through the enemy army and the defeated Heartless hearts that were rising in the air by the dozens told Sora they were making quick work of them.
But to Sora's surprise, and eventual relief, Riku was still at his side. "Sticking with me?" Sora asked playfully.
Riku smirked. "Always." And with two rigorous shouts the two best friends dove side by side into the Heartless, cutting through them with lethal efficiency. The two boys backed each other up in a way only brothers forged through friendship could do. All of their techniques gathered from both of their journeys were brought to bear in the biggest battle of their young lives.
Meanwhile in the skies above Disney Castle where the Wyvern Heartless swarmed by the hundreds, the intergalactic airship known as the Shera suddenly broke through the clouds and rejoined the planet's atmosphere. Their airspace invaded, the Wyverns let out several loud and intimating shrieks before they fell upon the Shera like a swarm of locust. The dragon-like Heartless clung to the ship's hull by the dozen.
Ron backed nervously away from the glass viewport of the Shera's bridge as Heartless clung to the outside of it, pecking and scratching, trying to force their way inside. He could have sworn they were all looking straight at him. "Have you sent a distress call to the Alliance?" Leon demanded, taking charge as the Rebel crew of the Shera hustled about.
"Message is away," Aerith reported from a console while wearing a headset. "But it will be some time before they can get here." Leon cursed at the news.
"Then we're just going to have to hold out until they can," he growled.
A crack appeared on the viewport window as the Wyverns pecked at it furiously. "Could we maybe start now?" Kim suggested urgently.
"Not to worry, young'uns," Cid declared at the wheel of his ship with a confident grin and his trademark swipe across his nose. "Shera's got a few tricks up her sleeve yet." He promptly kicked a nearby button, and the airship suddenly lit up with ten thousand volts of electricity coursing across the outer hull. The Heartless shrieked in pain as they were severely electrocuted before exploding into dark particles, and suddenly the Shera was Heartless-free.
"You want a piece of my ship?" Cid asked with a chomp on his toothpick. "Come and get it!" Slamming his fist down on another button the Shera underwent a startling transformation. Gatling guns and missile pods unfolded from various compartments on the hull, latching into place, turning the once noble airship into a vessel of war. In no time at all the ship was suddenly armed to the teeth. With another swarm of Wyverns descending on them once again, the Shera opened up with a merciless barrage of fire from its newly acquired weaponry. Lasers and missiles tore into the airborne Heartless, destroying dozens at a time, swatting them out of the sky as if they were insects.
Meanwhile floating just outside the battle but still an ever present threat was the Castle That Never Was. Holding a steady altitude over the smouldering remains of Disney Town the occupants watched as the fight unfolded just below them. "Well, it wouldn't be a finale' without a little theatricality," Maleficent mused as she stared out the viewport window of the castle's bridge.
"Are they not simply delaying the inevitable?" the Horned King chuckled with his hands clasped behind his back. "Or do they really think that they can win?"
"Either way they will all be dead soon," Maleficent assured, relishing the thought of Sora falling beneath a tide of Heartless.
"Uh, Maleficent?" The dark witch was suddenly approached by her bumbling henchman Pete, who greeted her cautiously. "Can I, uh, talk to you for a minute? Please?"
"What is it?" Maleficent hissed impatiently. "Can't you see I'm busy here?"
Pete unconsciously gulped. "Uh, y-yeah. That's what I, well, wanted to talk to you about." Deciding that cautiously was the best way to approach this, Pete went on. "It just seems like we're, um, destroying a lot of this place, d-don't you think? I mean, w-we've blown up nearly all of Disney Town."
"And your point is?" Maleficent asked with growing irritance.
"Well…..I always thought we were in it to rule Disney Castle. N-Not destroy it. Wasn't that always the plan?"
"What are you babbling about?" Maleficent finally demanded. Alarms were going off in Pete's head about pressing further but he had to.
"I-It's just…..this is my home!" he finally blurted out. "This is where I was born! I don't want to destroy it! Look, down there." He pointed down into one of the Disney Town neighbourhoods. "That's the spot where I kissed my high school sweetheart Peg for the first time. Oh! And down there! That's where I used to sail my old steamboat! Oh! And look. That's the house that I grew up in….." No sooner had Pete pointed it out that one of the castle's laser cannons promptly blew the house to smithereens.
"Sorry," Gantu apologized sheepishly.
"Listen to me you brainless buffoon," Maleficent growled as she rounded to face Pete, who fearfully took a few steps back. "I am mere moments away from galactic conquest and you dare to bother me about the fate of this one little mud ball? This world is and always has been a blight on all our plans. If I want to destroy this world and everyone in it then that's exactly what I'll do!" Pete's big eyes widened in horror. "And if you aren't enough of a man to see this through, everything that I have worked for, then get out!"
The bridge was silent then, Pete left speechless, his big jaw hanging open with a dumbstruck expression. That expression soon became more like that of a wounded puppy. His big eyes then fell to the floor and, still under Maleficent's spiteful glare, he quietly shuffled out of the way, heading for the door.
On the way out he locked eyes with his partner Gantu, who looked on in sympathy but, ever the soldier, knew he had his orders, and so looked back down to his console. Alone and unwanted, Pete left the bridge, the doors sliding shut behind him.
Maleficent sniffed disdainfully. "Imbecile," she spat.
"Oh believe me," the Horned King whispered, taking on a far more deadly tone of voice. "I know what it's like when servants disappoint you…."
Rinoa ran breathlessly through the halls of the Castle That Never Was as fast as she could manage. The vessel was massive, some sections not even discovered yet. It would be very easy to get lost in if one wasn't careful. The castle was cold and empty and even within the darkness of its halls no Heartless roamed, the majority of them engaged in the battle outside. But it wasn't Heartless that were hunting her. It was something much worse.
After running for what seemed like hours Rinoa ducked around a nearby corner, breathing heavily. With sweat creasing her brow she dared herself a moment to catch her breath. Her small angel wings pressed against the wall behind her; she hoped against hope she had lost him.
A chill went through Rinoa's spine as his voice cut through the darkness. Nero the Sable: the deadliest of the Horned King's elite Tsviet soldiers. Rinoa had always been afraid of Nero, even more so than his terrible master. The Horned King commanded the darkness, but Nero seemed like he was spat out from the darkness itself. "You think you can hide from me in the shadows, Rinoa?" she heard him say. "The shadows are where I make my home. They whisper to me. They tell me where you run….where you hide…." Rinoa shut her eyes tight, trying her best not to make a sound as Nero's calm voice continued to taunt her.
"I must admit, Rinoa, I always thought you were such a pathetic little thing. You were always so quiet, so docile, so unassuming. But I underestimated you, we all did. To think that all this time you were playing us. You aided in the capture of six innocent young girls knowing they would be useless to us, all for the hope that you could buy Sora some time. That's so…cold." A chuckle echoed through the darkness. "I didn't think you had it in you."
Rinoa's fist clenched at his words. It was all true. From the moment the Horned King discovered the power she possessed, she knew that one day and one day soon she would be forced to locate the seven princesses that together would open Kingdom Hearts, and it was with that same power that she knew it would only take one. So she devised a daring plan. A plan to keep the Horned King and his allies busy by leading them to the six powerless princesses first rather than the Princess they would actually need. After all, it would take much longer to gather six girls than just one, and she hoped by then someone would be able to stop him.
Rinoa hung her head woefully. Her plan had resulted in many innocent girls being torn from their homes and their loved ones but in the end it had worked. Sora and his allies recognized the threat of Maleficent and the Horned King and had rallied to stop it. If anyone could end this madness it was him. And though she herself may be beyond redemption, if the universe could be saved as a result of her actions, she would gladly do it again.
Stirring from her thoughts, Rinoa tried to stealthily look around the corner where she was hiding to see just where her pursuer was. When she peered carefully down the dark hallway she expected to see Nero, but instead she found nothing. No trace of the man anywhere. But she was sure she heard his voice coming down that corridor. Where did he go?
Rinoa soon got her answer when she turned forward again and came face-to-face with Nero himself, hanging upside down from the ceiling like a bat. "Hello there," he greeted tonelessly. His sudden appearance made Rinoa scream in alarm and she barely had time to avoid the tendril of pure darkness that erupted from Nero's body. It crashed harmlessly into the wall behind her, giving Rinoa the opportunity to once again run away from the metal-winged man, fleeing deeper into the darkness of the castle.
Nero made no effort to follow her just yet. Instead, metal fingers unfolded from his steel angel wings, which reached for two heavy pistols latched onto his hips. Pulling the pistols from their holsters they clicked at the ready. "And the hunt is on….."
As the Disney Castle battle raged on the surface of the planet it was in the coldness of space that a new threat would emerge. In a flash of light speed the impossibly large Super Star Destroyer Executor dropped from its warp jump upon arrival at its destination. Like a bringer of doom the flagship of the Imperial navy settled into direct orbit over the world of Disney.
"There it is," Darth Vader whispered as he stared out the window of the Executor's bridge. "Disney Castle. After months of searching it is finally within my grasp." His black hand reached out as if to grab the world before him, and clench his fist around it tightly. Such would be the fate of Mickey's kingdom. Swallowed by the might of the Empi-
A familiar feeling came over Vader then. He sensed a presence on that planet. A presence he had not felt for the longest time. "He's down there," the dark lord realized in whisper. "I can feel it…."
"My lord." Vader was torn from his deep thoughts when Admiral Piett stepped forward to address him. Vader looked towards Disney World one last time before he turned to Piett, and the two men were soon joined by General Darius as well. "Our radar has picked up several gummi-class ships leaving the planet's atmosphere," Piett reported dutifully with hands clasped behind his back. "They appear to be evacuating."
"That's impossible," Darius argued, in a confused tone. "They couldn't have known we were coming."
"I don't believe it's us they're running from," Piett answered. "Our surface scans have detected a large concentration of Heartless signatures, as well as the vessel that tried to break through the Radiant Garden blockade several months ago."
"The witch," the general realized, putting it all together before turning to Darth Vader. "They're under attack."
Vader was silent for quite some time, his harsh breathing the only sound coming from him. "General, prepare for ground assault," he ordered Darius. "Once mobilized on the surface engage the Heartless immediately."
"Engage the Heartless?" Piett repeated perplexed. "Would it not be simpler to wait until they wipe each other out? Or we could position the Executor for an orbital bombardment and-"
"The Keyblade bearer is down there," Vader cut off, Piett and Darius both surprised at the news. "If the Empire is to rule this galaxy he cannot be allowed to fall. We will secure the situation on the surface, take the planet, and take him into custody." The Sith lord then strode off with large hurried steps, sweeping past both Imperial commanders. "When we arrive on the planet put down any resistance encountered."
General Darius frowned uncertainly beneath his helmet. "We, sir?"
"Yes," Vader responded with another harsh breath before he made to leave the bridge. "I will deal with this one personally….."
Rinoa narrowly avoided yet another bullet fired by Nero as she ran through the castle as fast as her legs could carry her, but no matter how fast she ran she could not seem to lose her pursuer. Using his powers of the shadows Nero could warp instantaneously through the darkness; from the walls to the ceiling and back again. The Tsviet was literally everywhere at once and she could not escape him. Rapid fire bullets rained down on her, missing her by mere inches. In this deadly game of cat and mouse Nero was just toying with her.
"Isn't it time you took responsibility for your actions?" Nero's voice echoed everywhere. "What's the point in running? Do you really want to live that badly? What do you have to live for?"
A bullet whizzed by Rinoa's cheek but still she kept running.
"There's nowhere you can go. Nowhere can you hide. After all the things you've done did you really think that there was some way you could live through this?"
Another bullet struck the ground just before her.
"Well I've got some bad news for you, Rinoa. There isn't."
Finally, after all the taunting and the playing, one of Nero's bullets found its mark, nailing Rinoa right in the back of her shoulder. The winged girl screamed in pain, the bullet piercing clean out the other side of her shoulder, leaving a small hole in its wake.
Leon felt a sudden shock go through his very soul.
The man nearly stumbled from where he stood on the Shera's bridge, his eyes widening in shock at what he had just experienced. It was as if something somewhere was calling out to him. Leon's eyes widened in realization, his jaw slackening fbefore he rushed to the Shera's viewport window to view outside. His eyes locked on the Castle That Never Was.
"It can't be….." he whispered to himself, but somehow he knew. He just knew.
She was alive.
"Head for that castle!" Leon suddenly shouted loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Uh, come again?" Cid asked as he furiously turned the ship's wheel to avoid incoming Heartless.
"Land at that castle now!" Leon ordered again as he marched for the wheel deck.
"The one covered in Heartless and laser cannons, whose current occupants are the masters of evil?" Cid continued to pander incredulously. "Yeeeeeah, a big negatory on that one, good buddy. We got enough to worry about without knocking on Maleficent's front doo-HEY!" Leon abruptly body checked Cid from his position on the wheel and sent him sprawling to the floor, leaving Leon free to grasp it himself, and with a mighty spin of it the Shera pulled a sudden turn which nearly knocked everyone off their feet, and now the airship was on a direct course straight for the Castle That Never Was.
"Leon, what are you doing?!" Aerith cried as everyone saw just where he was taking them.
"He's gone crazy," Ron decided, hastily doing up his chair's seatbelt.
"It's always the quiet ones." Rufus whimpered within his shirt pocket.
"Are you out of your mind!?" Cid shouted jumping to his feet and trying to wrestle the wheel away from Leon, but the man would not be budged, gripping the wheel tightly and firmly and keeping it on its intended course, a fierce and determined look in his eye.
As the Shera neared the dark castle the vessel's automated defensive ordnance took notice. Laser cannons set their targeting systems upon it and in a flurry of purple lasers open fired on the approaching ship. To Leon's credit he was able to avoid most of the firepower, but it was not enough, and in a harsh explosion a laser struck one of the Shera's engines.
The ship rocked from the impact as power went offline throughout and, when the smoke cleared, the Shera crew realized they were still heading straight for the castle like a rocket, only there was no turning back now. There wasn't even any slowing down. "Oh crap baskets," Cid gasped. "EVERYBODY BRACE FOR IMPACT!"
"Why did she have to go and say that?" Pete mumbled to himself as he drudged his way through the empty and silent Castle That Never Was. The sound of battle could be heard just outside the walls and Pete tried to block it out. He knew it was his home burning down there. "I know we're all about ruling the universe and all," he continued to lament in dejection, "but I thought when all was said and done we'd just kick Mickey off his throne and take it ourselves." Pete happened to stop by a small window, and he peered down into the smoldering ruin of Disney Town below with great remorse.
"I never wanted this," he confessed in a whisper. "I just…I just missed my home…." Pete stood there in silence for a few seconds, wondering just how he had gotten to this point, when he suddenly heard something. He frowned in confusion and looked out the window again. Something was coming towards the castle. Something on fire. He didn't know what it was but it was getting bigger as it drew closer. And bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and-
Pete's big eyes widened with terror.
The fat cat henchman ran screaming as fast as his big body would allow, and dove out of the way just as the Shera came crashing through the wall. Like an airborne battering ram the airship plowed its way through the metal walls in a shower of fire and shrapnel, plowing through anything that came in its path. With a metallic groan the lifeless ship came to rest within the gaping hole it had created, smoke billowing from its damaged engine.
With a grunt of effort Pete pushed a piece of debris off of himself and shook his head to clear his senses. Once he did he looked in astonishment at the crashed ship before him. But that awe quickly turned to anger when he saw the ship's ramp lower. "Hey! Are you crazy or something?!" he shouted while waving a clenched fist. "You could have killed me! Thirty-mile long castle and you have to crash right where I was standing?!"
"GET OUT OF MY WAY!" Leon roared as he charged down the ramp with Gunblade drawn, and the ferocious look on his face that immediately drained Pete's courage. A firaga spell erupted from Leon's hand, and with a yelp Pete dropped to the floor to avoid it, leaving Leon to hurriedly use the cat's big butt as a step stool and rush off into the darkness of the castle.
"Leon, wait!" Aerith called after him as the rest of the Shera crew stumbled out of the wreckage in various states of disorientation, but Leon was already long gone.
"Ugh, I think we'll need to exchange insurance information with Maleficent," Yuffie groaned as she clutched her aching head.
Aerith bit her lip in worry, and quickly turned to the dizzy pair of Kim and Ron. "Go after him. Hurry!"
"You got it," Kim replied once she regained her bearings. "Come on, Ron!" Her friend gulped in fear but nodded none the less, and the two teens quickly rushed off after Leon, stepping just like he did off of Pete's butt just as he was about to rise before following down the path they saw Leon take.
"Grrrrrrrrr! Okay, that's it!" Pete hollered springing to his feet and looking absolutely furious, his attention set on Aerith and Yuffie. "I'm having reeeeeaaallly bad day, and I need someone to take it out on! So thank you, ladies, for volunteering!" Placing two fingers in his mouth Pete whistled shrilly, the sound echoing off the castle chambers and almost immediately several dark portals opened around him. Dozens of Omega Heartless appeared to his beck and call, snarling and savage every one of them.
Aerith summoned her staff, Yuffie drew her shuriken, and a team of Rebel Alliance soldiers armed with blaster rifles filed out of the Shera to support them. Pete slammed his fist into his palm and grinned dastardly. He was gonna enjoy this….
"To your left!" Riku yelled at Sora.
"Which left?" Sora shouted back and as swung his Keyblade through the Heartless army.
"You only have one left!" Riku shot back in the middle of blasting a Heartless point blank with a Dark Aura.
"But is it my left or your left?" Sora asked again as he stood back to back with Riku.
"My left is going into your face if you don't focus!" Riku snapped, and Sora grinned apologetically. The grin quickly fell when with a thunderous footstep the two of them were confronted by a massive Behemoth Heartless. It bared its massive tusks and razor sharp teeth at them, bellowing loudly in challenge.
"You want this one or should I take it?" Riku asked as he readied his Way to the Dawn.
"Neither," Sora replied smirking, getting his own Keyblade ready as well. "We'll take him toget-"
In a fiery explosion one of the legs of the Behemoth Heartless was blown clean off, and it let out a roar of anguish. All but a stump remained, and with only three to stand on the Heartless collapsed to the earth with a loud crash. This all came as much shock to Sora and Riku, for neither of them that had done it.
"What was that?!" Riku exclaimed in surprise once he regained his bearings, but Sora had no answers either. But he knew just how to get them. He quickly rushed to the fallen Behemoth, which was already starting to fade away, but before it dissolved completely Sora rushed up its massive body until he stood atop its head, where he was granted a view of the whole battlefield before him.
And when he saw just what had attacked the Heartless, his blood ran cold. "No….."
"TROOOPERS!" General Darius hollered before the massive gathering of Imperial forces landing on the surface of Disney World. His Stormtroopers stood before him, in rank and file accordingly, all of them armed to the teeth with various advanced weaponry ranging from blaster rifles to rocket launchers, their numbers easily in the thousands. Within their ranks, standing at about twenty metres tall, were giant quadruped machines. Massive metal beasts that lumbered on four legs, armed with only the most powerful of laser cannons mounted on what could be considered its 'head'. These were the Empire's all terrain armoured transports, often referred to simply as AT-ATs. One such machine's cannons were smoking from a recently fired shot.
"You stand here today as the first Imperials to set foot on this world!" Darius shouted before the gathered army at his command; a single black armoured Stormtrooper before a sea of white. "You are the vanguard of our conquest of this world! Too long these witches and wizards have stood in the way of galactic order! Too long we have allowed this Heartless plague to run rampant across our galaxy! Too long has Disney Castle stood as a symbol against our might!" General Darius pointed directly at the army of Heartless before them.
"Our enemies are gathered before us! And when they stare down the barrels of our rifles and see the gleam in our armour, they will know that this galaxy belongs to the Empire!"
The Stormtroopers raised their weapons and roared in one united shout.
The troopers roared again.
They roared louder still.
"For the glory of the Emperor, CHAAAAAAARGE!"
With a mighty battle cry that raised high and loud over the field of battle the forces of the Empire surged forth. Thousands of Stormtroopers charged across the Pluto Planes, the sheer number of them enough to kick up a cloud of dust in their wake. The massive AT-ATs lumbered alongside them with heavy metal steps, their cannons charging for the inevitable battle. High in the skies above, only now breaking free of the cloud cover, were squadrons of Tie Fighters. From land and from air, the Galactic Empire made all speed for the opposition.
The Heartless army, perhaps sensing the danger or eager for the fresh bevy of hearts that had suddenly appeared, rallied together and, with roars and screeches from various Heartless forms, the creatures of darkness began a massive charge towards the incoming Stormtrooper forces. All ten thousand of their number stampeded like mad. From the Behemoths on the ground to the Wyverns in the sky, all Heartless rushed to meet the Stormtrooper charge.
Once they were close enough, the Stormtroopers soon stopped their charge and, when General Darius gave the order, the front line unleashed a merciless barrage of blaster fire. An endless stream of red lasers from trooper rifles and AT-AT cannons tore into the Heartless lines. Hundreds upon hundreds of Heartless were blown apart at once, enough to fill the sky with their floating defeated hearts. But even this was not enough to stem the tide of darkness. Superior in number, the Heartless continued to charge forth under the barrage, some literally crawling over their dying. With close combat, inevitability the Stormtroopers ceased their laser barrage and, in yet another united war cry, they too broke off into a mighty charge. The rush of both armies was like thunder to all who heard it. Legions of Stormtrooper white and host Heartless black washed across the planes like two great tidal waves. Two of the greatest threats to the galaxy were heading for a full on collision.
In a moment that would go down in history, the white tide met the black.
Across all fronts the two armies collided in a clash of steel and flesh that echoed for miles. Harsh close-quarter fighting erupted immediately as both sides relentlessly tore into one another. Casualties began mounting on both sides. Heartless exploded from point blank lasers; Stormtroopers were cut down by Heartless claws. Rifles were used as clubs; troopers' hearts were devoured and added to the Heartless numbers. Behemoths thrashed through Imperials with their mighty tusks; AT-ATs unleashed unrivaled firepower or simply trampled through any opposition. Up above, the Tie fighters and Wyvern Heartless met in high-speed dogfights, where Wyverns were blown apart by lasers and Tie fighters were torn to shreds in fiery explosions.
The true war for Disney World had only just begun.
"What is happening?!" Maleficent demanded with fury in her voice as she watched from her fortress as the Imperial forces clashed with her own.
"The Empire?" the Horned King snarled in disbelief beside her. "Here?! Impossible!" Tie fighters were swarming outside the Castle That Never Was, and the floating fortress was rocked as the nimble attackers opened fire on them. The walls held firm but the lasers didn't let up.
"Seems pretty possible to me," Gantu noted unhelpfully from his control panel.
"Shut up!" Maleficent snapped in irritancy. "Activate all exterior defenses! NOW!" With a hurried nod Gantu went back to his controls and, with several button presses and lever pulls, did what was asked.
Outside, the Castle That Never Was underwent a startling transformation. Walls and panels slid away on the dark castle's exterior, revealing a vast array of deadly and advanced armaments. Turbo cannons, missile pods, point-to-point defense lasers; all of these emerged from various compartments. Already imposing before, Maleficent's dark headquarters was now armed to the teeth, looking more like a battle station than anything else. Now geared for war, the Castle That Never Was set to work. Targets were locked on and acquired, and then a storm of firepower was unleashed upon all Imperial ships. Tie fighters were blown out of the sky by the dozens from a combination of lasers and guided missiles. Any that got close were swiftly eradicated, ensuring the castle owned its own airspace.
Nero paused for a brief moment in his walk when he heard explosions occur just outside the castle walls, along with what he could have sworn was the sound of laser fire. Something was happening out there. Something that perhaps even his master did not expect. But there would be time for explanations later. He still had a task to complete after all.
The masked man turned his attention back to the blood on the corridor floor, a trail of which he had been following ever since wounding the fair Miss Heartily earlier. So far she had managed to elude him. For being such a meek young thing she was surprisingly resourceful. But it was only a matter of time now.
The blood trail led to somewhere Nero did not expect to be. The chamber where the (Ex) Princesses of Heart were still being kept. They still slept upright within their glass coffins, all of them arranged in a circle around the room, with one coffin remaining empty. Within the center of the room, radiating with dark energies was the Horned King's Black Cauldron. Nero could feel the awesome power from within it. It dwarfed even his own. It was an odd place for the girl to run. The blood trail led straight to this room, and that's where it ended, with no Rinoa in sight. But she was here. Nero could feel it.
"I know you're here, Rinoa," he said to the room as he began to walk about, looking around for any sign of her. "This has been amusing but I'm afraid it's time for the games to end. The Horned King wishes you to pay for your deceit. So I'm going to give you a chance to give yourself up peacefully. Come on out, and no one has to get hurt."
Silence took the room then. The seconds ticked by with no answer or sign from Miss Heartily. Wherever she was she wasn't making it known. Nero sighed in disappointment. "Have it your way." His gun wings unfolded and he leveled them on a new target.
Two heavy pistols were now aimed directly at the skull of Alice of Wonderland.
"If these women truly have lost their powers," Nero said keeping his guns trained on the sleeping blond girl. "Then they are of no use to our plans and should be simply be disposed of. And I'm more than willing to carry it out." Alice slept soundly unaware of her mortal peril at that moment, but there was still no sign of Rinoa.
"You're the one who lead us to them, Rinoa, knowing full well they would be unable help us. Whatever happens to them is on you." The pistols clicked at the ready. "I'm going to count to three, and if you don't show yourself by then, I'm going to start killing them one…..by…..one. Starting with her."
With his guns pointed directly at the sleeping Alice's head Nero began his count. "One…." He whispered indifferently. "Two…" The triggers began to be pulled down. "Thr-"
Nero raised his guns up away from Alice's forehead, and turned to face the newly revealed Rinoa. There she stood just behind him; her one hand clutching her still bleeding shoulder while the other one was clenched tightly into a fist. Worn and haggard, her expression was one of quiet resignation.
"Don't hurt them," she begged him, barely staying standing from both blood loss and exhaustion. "Please…..I'll go quietly…..just don't hurt them…." Nero might have smiled if he could remember how.
"There's a good girl," he whispered coldly as he stepped right up to her; an angel of death before one of the light. "I know my master wished me to bring you to him alive, but I believe you have wasted enough of his time already." Nero leaned in, placing his face only inches away from that of Miss Heartily's.
"I'm going to kill you now, Rinoa," he told her darkly. "And when I'm done with you, I'm going to kill the Princesses. Every last one of them." A single tear rolled down Rinoa's cheek.
Nero righted himself again, and his metal wings unfolded once again to reveal his pistols. Both of them now squared themselves on Rinoa's forehead. "Die knowing that it was you who sentenced them to such a fate….." Broken and defeated, Rinoa awaited the fate that was about to be brought down upon her. Her life had been one of terror and persecution where she had been forced to do great evil, but she could at least take solace in the fact that she had tried to do the universe a bit of good in the end. With those last sad thoughts, Rinoa closed her eyes…..
The doors to the chamber were suddenly kicked open.
Rinoa's eyes widened in shock as Nero hastily turned his guns upon the intruder, but the girl with angel wings stayed rooted to the spot. That voice….she knew that voice. Hearing it again brought back a flush of old memories. Memories from another time; from a life she had all but forgotten.
"Squall?" she whispered.
And there he stood, wielding the same weapon she remembered, pointing it straight at Nero. "Get away from her you son of a bitch," Leon growled darkly.
"Well, isn't this a surprise?" Nero noted emotionlessly as he and Leon stood in a standoff against one another. Even with the Leon's timely appearance, the Tsviet was as steady as ever, keeping his dual pistols locked on the man. "Commander Squall Leonhart, I presume? Yes, we know all about you. Son of Radiant Garden, hero of its people. It's truly an honour to meet you. I only wish it wasn't under such…tense circumstances."
"You get away from her," Leon rumbled again, both hands clenching his Gunblade. "Or I'll melt your damn face off." Steam rose from his weapon even as he spoke the words.
"Amusing," Nero said in reply but so far neither man made a move, locked in a stalemate. "You don't know who you're interfering with. If you did, you wouldn't be so hasty to stop me. Do you even know who this girl is?" Leon fell silent then, but with the glances he was throwing Rinoa every so often it was all Nero needed to piece the puzzle together.
"You do know her, don't you?" Nero asked in amusement. Leon's grip tightened on his Gunblade but again he said nothing. "Well, this is quite the reunion then, isn't it? Yes, of course. You're both from that pitiful mud ball you call a planet, aren't you? It really is a small universe. Old friends perhaps?" Nero glanced over to Rinoa with a mocking cocked eyebrow. "Or was it more?" Rinoa bristled under his gaze, all but giving Nero the answer he was looking for.
Turning back to Leon, Nero cocked his head in question. "I wonder then, Mr. Leonhart, if you would be interested to know just why this girl is with us in the first place. Would it fascinate you to know she has been helping us this entire time? That she's the reason we've been able to find the Princesses of Heart wherever they may be?" Leon's gaze hardened, and his eyes came upon Rinoa again, and the girl lowered her eyes in shame, unable to meet his gaze. "I wonder, Mr. Leonhart, would you still be here if you knew just what she had done?"
Leon was silent then, his hands still tight on his Gunblade. Soon though his eyes turned to Rinoa then, and it was then the winged girl looked back at him. It was all the explanation Leon needed.
"All I know is there's someone standing between me and someone I hold very dear," Leon said softly before his burning his turned back to Nero. "And I'll cut down anyone who keeps her from me." His choice made, Leon grit his teeth. "Now get out of my way!"
Tears welled up in Rinoa's eyes. "Oh Squall….."
Nero, however, was less than impressed. He was silent at Leon's declaration, still holding fast in his standoff with the man. Then, unexpectedly, Nero withdrew his two pistols, holding them up as if to surrender. "Very well then, Mr. Leonhart," he coolly whispered. "The hard way it is then…."
With those last words Nero was suddenly surrounded by his own darkness, completely enveloping him within a sphere of pure shadows. Rinoa stumbled backwards in surprise, and Leon immediately shifted into his combat stance, watching with widening eyes as the sphere grew bigger and bigger. The candles that lit the chamber were snuffed out one by one, casting the room into a nearly impenetrable darkness from which Leon could barely see. But he saw clearly what happened next.
From the ball of shadows in which Nero encased himself, a massive, thin, sharp robotic leg emerged, plunging itself into the floor. It was followed soon by another, and another, until six deadly steel limbs stemmed out from the dark energy. As the darkness surrounding Nero began to dissipate, Leon prepared himself for whatever was coming out, but nothing could have prepared him for the horror that Nero had become.
Emerging from the darkness as if a chrysalis was the body of a massive insect. A thorax supported by its six metal legs, a twisted amalgamation of nature and science with a bit of darkness thrown in to boot. Leon and Rinoa were forced to look up as it towered above them, where they saw that this horrible creature, rather than having a head of its own, had a person growing out of it. His upper body sprouting from the front of the thorax, looking down at the alarmed interlopers, was Nero.
"Now then," Nero whispered calmly, his transformation complete. In several flashes of dark energies, floating cannons appeared in mid-air around him, and locked their sights on Leon and Rinoa. "Shall we begin?"