Hello. My name is Ri2. My name may or may not sound familiar to you readers, since I've been lurking around this fandom for the last few months, but it doesn't matter that much. What does matter is that I'm here, and I have a story to tell.

This will be my first tale in the Kingdom Heart section. If it's received well, I hope to tell more stories here, for I have many ideas I'd like to write out if I have the chance.

But if you're reading this, you didn't come here to see boring author expositions. You came to see your favorite characters doing stuff for your enjoyment. And here they are, doing just that. Enjoy.

Disclaimer: All characters and locations in this story owned by Disney and Square Enix. Hats off to them. If you have hats. If not, poor you.

It began as it had in a familiar scene seen at the end of a familiar game and at the beginning of so many, many other fanfics.

Two adolescent boys stood atop a small plateau rising from the water just a few meters off the shore of a small island full of wooden structures and caves for a child to play in, connected to a cliffside ledge of said island by a wide wooden bridge. The boys looked out over the great, shining sea from their perch, a tropical tree bent just in the right way for a person to sit on its trunk, with fruits that, due to some quirk of evolution, were shaped like stars dangling from the tree's leafy heights. One boy sat on the bent trunk, the other leaning on it right next to his friend.

"Nothing's changed, huh?" asked one boy, who could understandably be mistaken for a woman at first glance due to his rather long and shiny mane of hair that might or might not be naturally silver, even though his chest (mostly covered by a black sleeveless jacket and pale white and yellow vest) was most unquestionably flat.

"Nope. Nothing will," said his companion happily, a cheerful blue-eyed brunette with oddly spiky hair and colorful (though mostly black) clothes with a disturbing amount of belts attached to it, as well as a rather neat silver crown necklace hanging from a chain around his neck.

Laaaaaame, whined a voice in the back of the brunette's head (or heart, or somewhere) which, if it were an actual person and not a voice, would look a good deal like the aforementioned brunette, only blond. He practically just got back from maybe the biggest adventure of his life which caused who knows how much emotional trauma to you and him and everyone else, and he's already bored? Wow, isn't this kind of behavior what started everything to begin with? Then again, I guess if it hadn't I wouldn't exist…or not-exist or whatever the hell it is I do.

You can't blame the boy, whispered another, much darker voice, this one lurking in the back of the other adolescent's head (or heart, or somewhere). His heart has always been filled with wanderlust. It is what opened him to darkness in the first place. And it is what will drown him in it again…

Yeah, yeah, said the unimpressed blonde voice, having gotten used to the slightly deranged ranting of his host's best friend's 'guest' (The kind of guest that never cleans up after himself, plays loud music at night and earns you complaints from the neighbors, hosts big parties which trash your house and earn you visits from the police, and worst of all, just won't leave no matter what you do.) in the couple of months since he had ceased to have a body of his own and made his permanent home in the back of his host's mind (or heart, or wherever.). He didn't miss having a body of his own as much as he thought he would, though having to share one with his Other could be rather trying sometimes. You say the same thing about my mom's cookies.

That woman couldn't possibly have made such succulent treats without the aid of a higher power! The other voice raved. The power of-

Darkness, right. Or more like sugar and baking flour. Lots of sugar. And chocolate, can't forget that.

Mmm, chocolate… both of them thought, drooling. Or would have drooled, if they had mouths. Or saliva glands.

"What a small world," the girly-haired adolescent, Riku, continued, having tuned out the dialogue between his best friend's and his own 'Others', as both boys had found necessary to do on occasion since they had arrived home lest they go mad (Or appear that way to others. They had all had waaaayyy too many appointments with the school psychiatrist for their own liking and had to deny many accusations that they were schizophrenic, something that was actually quite close to being true.).

"But part of one," Sora pointed out. "That's much bigger."

Far bigger than you can imagine, crooned the voice in Riku's head, also known as Xehanort. (Or Ansem, or Xehanort's Heartless, or 'Riku's Annoying Split Personality that Won't Go Away')

Shut up, grunted the voice in Sora's head, also known as Roxas. (Or BHK, or the Key of Destiny Number XIII, or 'The Little Nobody that Is' (Don't ask))

"Yeah," Riku agreed profoundly.

They watched the sun setting off in the distance for a moment, before Sora looked up at his slightly older friend. "Hey Riku…what do you think it was—the door to the light?" He was, of course, referring the strange light which had appeared on the beach in the Realm of Darkness where he and Riku had been dumped after their greatest battle ever (Together, that is. In Sora's opinion, Sephiroth had been slightly more difficult to defeat.) and had taken them home to the Destiny Islands.

I'd like to know too, murmured Xehanort. So that I may destroy it or seal it shut forever! Hehehehehahahahaha!

Shut up, Roxas grunted again.

Riku chuckled and slid off the tree, landing next to Sora. "This," he said, tapping Sora's chest.

"This?" Sora asked in surprise, putting a hand over where Riku had touched him.

"Yeah. It's always closer than you think," Riku told him.

Wow, Sora thought in amazement, a smile lighting up his face. So the door to the light was inside my crown necklace all along! Who would have thought?!

Both Xehanort and Roxas groaned at Sora's rather embarrassing misinterpretation. Oh, Sora… Roxas sighed.

Foolish child! One who knows nothing can understand nothing! Xehanort crowed sinisterly. As if this silly 'door to the light' could really be contained within something so flimsy as a little crown trinket! Or as if it belongs in the heart, either…light has no place there! After all, DARKNESS IS-

The heart's true essence, I know, I know, you've said it a million times, said an exasperated Roxas.

Their minds were taken off the contemplations of the strange light which had brought Sora and Riku home from the Realm of Darkness by the voice of the third (or, counting their split personalities, fifth and sixth) and final member(s) of their little group, Kairi. (And the other personality in the back of her mind, or heart, or wherever, known as Namine, or the Memory Witch, or the Creepy Girl who Always Wears White for Some Reason and Stares at You with Biiiig Blue Eyes that Never seem to Blink, Ever.) "Sora! Riku!" Kairi called as she ran over to them across the bridge from the main island, waving and holding something in her left hand.

Roxas! Namine called from within Kairi.

She's so hot, Sora thought to himself, taking in her auburn hair and cute pink outfit with a bizarre number of zippers.

She's so hot, Roxas agreed, although he was referring more to the blue-eyed blonde look-alike of Kairi in a white dress whose image he saw overlapping the girl.

She's so hot, Riku thought, just thinking of Kairi, although he admitted Namine was rather good-looking as well. (Not that he saw her at the moment, but still.)

Not my type, grunted Xehanort, scoffing at the hormone-driven foolishness of his host, sworn nemesis, and sworn nemesis's split personality. It wasn't that he didn't think Kairi or Namine weren't good-looking for their age, but they were far too young for his 'sophisticated' interests. Sure, he was evil, but it's not like he was a sexual deviant or anything.

Kairi reached her two male best friends and stopped; head bowed and shoulders heaving as she tried to catch her breath. "Hey, what's up?" Sora asked in concern.

"Look," Kairi said, holding out the object in her hand. It was a glass bottle with a rolled-up letter inside. The letter was sealed with a very familiar emblem, three black circles arranged in such a way as to look like the big-eared head of a certain mousy king.

"From the King?" asked a surprised Sora. He quickly took the bottle from Kairi, popped out the cork, and slipped the letter out into his hand and unrolled it. Kairi and Riku, and their split personalities, leaned over to read the letter along with him.

Dear Sora, Riku, and Kairi, The letter cheerfully began, written in a surprisingly plain, almost messy style of handwriting one would not expect from a ruler of King Mickey's caliber. What's up? It's been a couple months since Donald, Goofy and I headed home, and I figured you might want to hear what's going on around the worlds, since you've probably settled in to your old lives on your island home as much as you can.

("If by settled in he means people have stopped wondering where the heck we were for so long, gotten our families to stop locking us in our bedrooms to make sure we don't mysteriously vanish again, and somehow managed to integrate ourselves back into the school system…albeit with a ridiculous amount of homework and education to catch up on…then yeah, I guess we have," said Sora. "Although I think a lot of people still seem to think we're crazy since we spend so much time talking to voices in our heads…."

You're not crazy, Roxas said. I mean, if you were, then I'd just be a figment of your imagination, which I'm not…or am I?)

The worlds are going back to normal. Everything's calmed down quite a lot since we stopped Organization XIII. Heartless sightings have dropped significantly, and I haven't heard so much as a peep out of those Nobodies. (And with ears as big as mine, that's saying something!) Of course, the forces of evil being what they are, I'm sure they're all regrouping under a new leader or powerful figure to prepare for their next, inevitable strike against the Realm of Light. (Hopefully not for a while, though. I mean, it'll take a long time to recover from the blow we've given them!)

(What's all this 'we' talk? Roxas complained. He barely did anything! We did practically all the work!

Xehanort had something to add as well. And the forces of evil are far from beaten! We will rise again to dominate the universe soon enough! Hehehahaha-

"Xehanort, I'm reading, cut it out," Riku growled.

Oh, sorry Riku.)

Since the number of hostile forces seems to have decreased so much at the moment, I think now's as good a time as any to begin constructing that inter-world transit system I've been planning for ages. If the Heartless or other dark forces should strike again, it'll be to our advantage to have as big a network of allies as possible, instead of having everyone trapped behind world barriers and unable to form new friendships or to call each other for help if they need it. It's time for all our worlds to be united instead of sealed away…it'll be hard, and I'm sure a lot of people will object to this, but I think it's time. The old 'world order' is too limiting and needs to be changed to let everyone come together, since none of us should be alone if a new threat should arise.

(Speaking of which, how'd this letter get here, anyway? Namine wondered. I mean, there's not only the world barrier in the way, but…Disney Castle's a long, long way from here. Out in space. Light-years away. And then it had to not only get through the barrier after crossing such a vast expanse, but survive reentry into the atmosphere, and somehow navigate the ocean currents to reach the islands. How'd it get here?

Xehanort scoffed. Foolish witch! The ways of the worlds are far more vast and intricate than you can possibly imagine.

But you don't know either, Roxas pointed out.

Nonsense! I know all things! The evil spirit boasted.

Except what the door to the light is…or Mom's secret cookie recipe…or where you really came from and how you wound up in Radiant Garden one day where you were found by Ansem the Wise, naked and without memories… Roxas pointed out.

SILENCE! The embarrassed Xehanort barked.

"Guys," their three hosts growled under their breath.

Sorry, shutting up.)

To form this union, and celebrate our latest victory over the forces of evil, I'm inviting delegates from all the most powerful worlds to Disney Castle so that they may meet each other and see for themselves the benefits of contact with worlds beyond their own so they can decide whether or not to be an active participants in the new order. Only the most underdeveloped or vulnerable worlds will be left out of this summit meeting for their own safety and to preserve their fragile way of life, and will be placed under protection of the Disney Kingdom until they are able to make contact with us on their own. Since it's due to a great extent to you three's efforts that the worlds are now as safe as they are, I saw no reason not to invite you to join the summit as well, not just as guests of honor but as official representatives of the Destiny Islands. Plus, a lot of the dignitaries from the other worlds will probably be friends of yours, and I'm sure you'd love to see them again! (Plus, your being there might go a long way in convincing them of the necessity of this alliance, you know?)

(Ah, so he wants to use us as political pawns, Xehanort purred. Just like a politician. "Well, of course he's a politician," Kairi muttered. "He's in charge of a huge kingdom. He can't run around willy-nilly with a Keyblade anymore, can he?"

"Yeah, Queen Mickey's probably keeping him on a tight leash to make sure he never runs off again," Riku joked, which led to all of them pausing for a moment and picturing Queen Minnie putting Pluto's leash around the King's neck to keep him close by. After giggling at that thought, they continued reading.)

While your attendance would be appreciated, you are by no means required to come. I'm sure we can get by without you…somehow. Even so, I've dispatched a Gummi Ship to the Islands. I couldn't spare anyone to drive it, even Chip or Dale, so it's set on autopilot. If you want to come and your parents are okay with it (I'm sure they're glad to have you back, so it might be a problem to ask to leave again), you can fly it to Disney Castle yourselves, all three of you. Sora or Riku know the way, and if you get lost its coordinates are still programmed into the ship's computer. If you decide not to come or your parents don't let you go, you can keep the ship anyway…just as something to use if you ever get the urge to come visit us. You're welcome anytime.

In any event, the ship should arrive at about noon tomorrow, your time. You'll need to lower the world barrier to let it in though, since you raised it after Donald and Goofy and I headed home. How you decide to use it is up to you, but if you can't come to the summit please send a message back to us using the bottle this letter came in so we'll know not to expect you.

Best wishes and hope to see you guys again soon, your old pal King Mickey

"What's a summit?" asked a confused Sora once they finished reading the letter. "I thought that's like a really high place. What does it have to do with dignitaries from all over the worlds?"

"Wrong summit," Riku told him. "The one King Mickey's talking about here is a meeting between the most important people from all over to negotiate some kind of…I dunno, alliance or something."

"Well, that's good, isn't it?" Kairi asked. "I mean, that means all the worlds, or most of them, will be connected to each other again, instead of separated. It's the next step towards making all worlds one again, like they were supposed to be once…if that old story my grandma used to tell me is true."

"It could also really disrupt a lot of people's lives," Riku countered. "Most people everywhere have thought for the longest time that there's only one world, and so thought themselves special because their world was that one. To suddenly learn out of the blue that there isn't just one world, but so many that they're almost impossible to count, almost as many as there are stars in the night sky, and that their world is just one tiny, almost insignificant speck in that vast universe of life, would be a huge shock. It means they aren't alone in the universe anymore, and they're not special, just one more place out of millions or billions with people living on it. I imagine that would shatter lots of belief systems…not to mention their societal, government or economic systems could be totally reshaped if not ruined due to new trade routes and massive influxes of tourism which would no doubt result from easy and open access between the worlds." His friends stared at him for a moment. He frowned. "What?"

"You've been listening to Xehanort too much," Sora complained. "Or political science class."

"Hey, I have to listen to something since I can't just have a nice friendly chat with the voice in my head like you guys," Riku protested. "Because whenever he has something to say it's Darkness this and Darkness that and how soon all worlds will be drenched in, guess what? Darkness. Talk about a one-track mind."

It will one day, Riku, Xehanort whispered gleefully. One day! And I do not have a one-track mind.

Yes you do. And anyway, if you do ever manage to take control of Riku again, we'll just whup your ass, Roxas pointed out.

Again, Namine added.

Silence, curs!

"Well, I still think it would be a good idea to go," Sora voiced again. "I know it's only been a few months, but I really miss all the friends I've met while looking for you guys, especially Donald and Goofy. I'd love to see them again…and I'd love for you guys to meet them, too!"

"Yeah, a lot of them sounded really…interesting," Kairi said diplomatically. "But I would like to see them for myself."

"Well, I don't really object to going," Riku admitted. "Even if I'm not sure this summit is completely a good idea. We'll have to ask our parents first, though." He looked almost sour at the idea of having to request permission to go somewhere, due to the independence he had experienced since leaving the Islands…even if a lot of it had come at the price of loneliness.

"Do you really think they'll let us go?" Kairi asked. "Seeing as we haven't even really been back that long?"

I doubt it, Roxas said. Mom has attachment issues, and gets panicky just over us leaving for school every morning. And I think learning that she technically has two sons now is making her even more overprotective of us.

Hmmph, as if they could keep you from going anyway if you really wanted to, Xehanort sneered. What can they do, lock you in your rooms? As if that will do anything when you wield the power to unlock any barrier that stands in your way!

They could tie us up, Namine pointed out.

"Why would they do that?" asked a confused Kairi.

Well, that's what the Organization did to me sometimes when I kept wandering too far from my room… she said quietly. There was an awkward silence after this, as none were sure what to say in reply to that.

"So, anyway," Sora said quickly. "We'll ask our parents if we can go. We won't miss any school since it's the weekend starting tomorrow, and we'll probably be back before next week. And it's not like we're going to be missing for a whole year…again…right?"

And if they say no, Roxas half-joked, We can always go anyway and have Namine make them forget we were ever gone when we get back.

And so they asked, and so, predictably, they were denied. Despite Roxas' half-serious suggestion, Namine did not brainwash anyone, and they agreed it was probably for the best if they abided by their parents' decision for the moment, annoying as it might be. As instructed, they sent an apologetic letter explaining why they couldn't come in the bottle the King's message had arrived in and tossed it out to sea, wondering all the while how the heck said bottle would get back to King Mickey if his castle was several light-years away.

Up to this point, dear reader, other than the weirdness with the split personalities (or Others) I am sure this tale does not seem that much different from similar ones which also begin something like this. I assure you, however, that from this point forward, events will unfold in ways you can't possibly have imagined.

The next morning, each of the three (or six, if you want to get technical) friends woke up and got ready for the new day in their own fashion.

Sora slept in until ten in his rather messy room until woken by the mouth-watering aroma of his mother's pancakes, causing him to leap out of bed and almost fall down the stairs in his eagerness for breakfast. Both Sora and Roxas were glad to see that their mother had remembered to set an extra place this time, so that when Sora was done shoveling pancakes down his throat he could switch places with Roxas and allow the blonde to eat his share at a slightly less frenzied place. Neither of them quite understood how the process of body swapping worked, or how appetite didn't seem to transfer over with the swap, but they had gotten rather accustomed to doing it after one rather heart-stopping moment when they had gotten into the shower one morning as Sora and came down for breakfast as Roxas, resulting in them almost getting stabbed to death with a spork by their paranoid and somewhat crazy mother. And, after a period of adjustment, she had gotten used to it as well…though there was really no need for her to make extra clothes just for Roxas, was there? It wasn't as if he needed to change clothes, ever, since they just appeared on him whenever he swapped with Sora…but it was still a nice touch, which both of them appreciated. After finishing with breakfast, they showered and headed on out, after assuring their mother repeatedly they weren't going to go missing for another year, or be consumed by darkness as the world was destroyed (again), or have to save the universe, or anything like that.

Kairi got up much earlier than Sora did, in a much neater (and fancier) room, with the rather recent addition of drawings plastered to the walls made by her more artistic 'sister'. Her parents hadn't adjusted quite as well to the thought of having a second 'daughter' as Sora's mother did, but that's because Sora's mother was somewhat crazy and Kairi's parents less so. Half the time they tried to pretend Namine didn't exist in hopes that by ignoring her she would go away. The rest of the time they spent occasionally trying to exorcise Namine from Kairi's body, thinking she might be some sort of dangerous spirit threatening their daughter's soul, but since none of those attempts really got anywhere they just gave up and did their best to get used to the new girl living under their roof (with only the smallest amount of brainwashing necessary)…even if it did cost more than they expected to get Namine her sketchpads. She seemed to fly through two or three a week in her eagerness to capture every aspect of her new, colorful world on paper, a tremendous contrast to the whitewashed, hollow walls of the Castle that Never Was and Castle Oblivion which still haunted her and Kairi occasionally in rather inconvenient and terrifying shared nightmares. The girls' parents hadn't quite reached the point of making a separate meal for their new daughter, so Kairi compensated by switching places with Namine halfway through breakfast and packing an extra-large lunch for school. (Since school cafeterias, no matter what the world, are universally unhealthy and fattening.) Of course, since there was no school on this particular day, after showering, getting dressed, and eating breakfast, she just packed a lunch to go and left, after assuring her parents several times she wasn't going to vanish on another adventure or get kidnapped by evil black-cloaked villains or lose her heart or anything like that.

Riku woke up midway between Kairi and Sora in his own room, which if anything was even messier than the brunette's, after a long night of being pestered by Xehanort in dreams which were less nightmares than incredible annoyances. His home life with his parents where aforementioned evil guest was concerned had both its advantages and disadvantages when compared to those of his best friends. On the plus side, he didn't have to bother with extra clothes or meals since he was never ever under any circumstance whatsoever going to swap bodies with Xehanort again. Ever. On the down side, that meant he had to attend frequent visits to the school psychiatrist to explain why he frequently screamed "SHUT THE F#$ UP!" to voices that weren't really there in class, banged his head against walls and desks regularly, and occasionally just gave hateful glares to almost everyone else in the world, which did not help in making the rumors that he and his best friends were schizophrenic go away. Additionally, his parents seemed to be somewhat scared of him and never went anywhere near him without draping their bodies in as many holy icons as they could think of in hopes that it would repel or banish the evil demon within Riku. None of said icons worked, or ever would, but they still tried out of desperation and fear that Xehanort would one day, rip their hearts from their chests while they slept and devour them, as said evil spirit had threatened to do one time when Riku's control over his mouth slipped by accident. Riku would have been more bothered by this if he had ever really been on close terms with his parents, but he hadn't, so he found this behavior more irritating than downright saddening. He ended up making breakfast for himself, as he always had even before he had condemned Destiny Islands to the darkness and cast him and his friends out across the stars, and made sure to spread out some marmite on his toast because he knew Xehanort despised it so. (Not that Xehanort actually ate it when he did, but since they shared the same brain…or heart…or something space, he still experienced many of the same stimuli Riku did, including taste.) He didn't even need to promise his parents he wasn't going to vanish when he left, though some days he felt like they would be happier without him. In fact, they had actually been almost enthusiastic last night at the possibility of Riku leaving to attend King Mickey's summit…but since Riku would never leave his friends behind, never again, their inability to leave meant he was staying behind too. So when Sora and Kairi had said their parents forbade them to leave, Riku said the same thing had happened to him. Let it never be said that Riku did not care for his friends deeply.

In any event, all three (or six) friends got up at their own pace, got ready for the new day, and met up at the docks around eleven where they rowed together out towards the 'playground' island to meet the coming Gummi Ship.

Hey, just because they weren't going to the summit didn't mean they couldn't accept King Mickey's generous gift, right?

Once the trio (or sextet) had reached the island, it was a simple matter of lowering the world barrier as King Mickey had requested. All they needed to do was enter the Not-So-Secret Spot and play around with the glaringly obvious Keyhole on the door that never opened using their giant keys (Ignoring Xehanort's frenzied murmurings of Doors and Hearts and Eternal Darkness as they did so) until there was a satisfying 'click' not unlike the sound of a lock being opened, as well as a few shooting stars racing across the sunny sky to indicate that their world had been connected to the much larger universe beyond…for now, anyway. Sure, in the process they were practically inviting Heartless or any other unsavory types in…but Heartless seemed to have figured out how to get through the barriers anyway during Sora's year-long nap (assuming they hadn't always been able to do that, which made sense come to think of it, and also meant it would probably be more imperative than ever for all the worlds to unite if the barriers were doing more harm than help by letting the Heartless in and keeping anyone who could help out), so it probably wasn't that much bigger of a risk than leaving the barrier shut would have been. And besides, how could the ship get through the barrier if it wasn't opened?

Since it was still not quite noon, they whiled away the hour by sparring, racing each other around the island, more sparring, building sand castles which Riku would then knock over laughing malevolently, still more sparring, seeing who could cast the biggest Fire spell, and, you guessed it, more sparring. (Hey, the boys had to keep in shape somehow. Gym class was boring for kids who could split buildings in half, fly, slay over a thousand enemies in one go, defeat giant monsters, etc. And Kairi needed the practice if she were ever going to reach Sora and Riku's level since, as she had adamantly said several times, she didn't want to be a defenseless and helpless little girl if she was somehow ever kidnapped again. Which would probably happen sooner or later, considering how weird their lives were.)

And so they wasted time goofing around and beating the shit out of each other until the sun had reached its zenith and the Gummi Ship arrived at last. At first it had seemed like just another shooting star, a bit later in appearing than its cousins, until its trajectory altered and came hurtling towards them, decelerating as it cooled off from reentry until it was practically gliding over the waves as it approached the island, landing gently on the beach just a few feet away from them with very little impact save for a small displacement of sand.

Sora smiled as he examined the ship, for its shape brought back fond memories: a cubical red body with a long yellow-striped cylindrical nose cone like a rocket ship sticking out of the front and a pair of yellow and red-tipped rocket engines attached to the sides. A pair of small cannons was mounted on either side of the nose, with the small landing gear pads jutting slightly out of the ship's underside between them. A dome-shaped cockpit rose from the top of the vessel, with three seats inside, and the familiar seal of the Disney Kingdom marked on the side of the ship's hull. It was a classic Kingdom model, just like the one he had first rode in with Donald and Goofy after their adventure began.

The Gummi ships we had in the Organization were much cooler, Roxas complained.

"Why did you need Gummi ships if you could portal places?" Sora asked.

To show off. And building them gave us something to do. There wasn't a lot to occupy us in the city in between missions, Roxas explained. Other than beating the shit out of each other, of course. Or getting on each other's nerves.

"So, this is it, huh?" Riku asked, rubbing the ship's hull. "Looks a lot dinkier than the one the King left in."

"Well, that's because we customized it extensively," Sora explained. "Guess he couldn't spare it and had to send us an older model."

"Well, I think it's still nice," Kairi said. She poked the ship and was surprised when the hull sank in slightly from the pressure of her touch before springing back out when she removed her finger, wobbling a bit and causing the whole thing to vibrate slightly. "What?!"

"They're called Gummi ships for a reason," Riku said with a smirk.

So, whenever we decide to use it we're riding through deep space in something basically made out of jelly? Asked an alarmed Namine, who had never really had an opportunity to use a Gummi vessel before now.

"Nah, it's much more durable," Sora claimed. "And you can eat spare blocks if you run out of food on a long voyage."

His friends stared at him, as did their split personalities, as did Roxas. "You…ate Gummi blocks?" asked a disturbed Riku.

"Sure, they're kind of chewy but really sweet and juicy! Like big chunks of candy!" Sora said with a grin, leaning against the ship's hull and sinking into it slightly.

Dude, even I've never eaten Gummi blocks. And I've done tons of crazy stuff with Axel whenever I was bored, said an incredulous Roxas.

"I don't think candy that big is exactly healthy, Sora," said an uneasy Kairi.

"Yeah, Donald said the same thing," admitted Sora. "Until he started nibbling on Goofy one day…and decided it was better than starving or resorting to cannibalism."

Riku shook his head in amusement. "You have such weird friends," said the girly-haired boy with an evil megalomaniac lurking in the back of his mind that had at one point betrayed his friends and engulfed his world in darkness.

So, let's take her for a spin, suggested Roxas.

"Uh, why?" asked a confused Kairi. "I thought we had agreed to stay home. Our parents told us to."

"They told us not to leave this world," Riku said slowly, a grin growing on his face. "They didn't say we couldn't explore it a little…with our new Gummi ship!"

Excellent, Riku…using duplicitous means to get what you desire without technically breaking the rules. The darkness is growing within you…it's only a matter of time before you succumb completely! Xehanort declared madly, and was ignored by all.

I'm not sure this is a good idea… said an uncertain Namine.

Aw, come on Namine, it'll be fun! Roxas encouraged her. Besides, I know you want to see more of this world. And what better way to do that than from the air? Think of all the wonderful vistas you can draw…

"I even brought a couple sketchpads, as always," Kairi added. "You know, just in case you got a drawing urge."

Well…okay, Namine said finally. But we can't be gone for too long, or our parents will think we ran away after all.

"Excellent," said a gleeful Riku. "I'll drive."

"No you won't," argued Sora. "I will! I've had the most experience!"

"Yeah, at crashing," Riku said with a smirk.

"That was just the one—okay, three—times! And those crashes were taken totally out of context by Donald!" Sora protested. "And besides, it's not like YOU'VE ever driven a Gummi Ship, since you spent most of your time warping here and there through dark portals!"

"Well, at least both of you have been able to travel PERIOD instead of poor old me," said Kairi grouchily, pouting heavily.

We can portal too now, if you switch over to me, Namine pointed out.

"Yes," Kairi agreed. "But it still doesn't mean I know how to fly a Gummi Ship."

After a good deal of arguing, mocking laughter from Xehanort (although he didn't know how to fly a Gummi ship either), absolute refusal to let Roxas drive because from Namine's stories from her days in the Organization they knew Roxas was, if anything, an even worse pilot than Sora, they finally settled the matter by wrestling physically on the ground, rolling about in the sand, and bopping each other in the head a few times with respective giant keys. In the end, Sora won, much to Riku's frustration and Kairi and Namine's relief because now they could get GOING already and explore the other side of the world, see other islands, and maybe even find some of the small continents sparsely located here and there around the globe according to the maps in atlases and geography class.

And so they climbed up the side of the Gummi ship, which obligingly molded itself into a ladder for them and creeped Riku and Kairi out, and hopped into the cockpit, where Sora enthusiastically (perhaps a little too much so) took the driver's seat and buckled himself in. Riku manned the weapons station (Not that he expected to encounter any hostiles, but who wouldn't want to fire off a laser cannon for fun? Although Xehanort seemed a little too eager for him to test the guns on inhabited areas) and Kairi took navigation, because, as she and Namine put it, "Someone has to know where the heck we're going and make you stupid boys ask for directions if we get lost."

"All systems go!" Sora reported as he activated the ship, glancing over all the complicated flashing lights as if he actually knew what half of them meant. "Ignition on!" The twin rocket engines roared to life, flames blasting out from their rears. "Activating antigrav!" The ship slowly levitated off the ground, generating a force which pushed away the sand beneath it in every direction and caused the nearest trees to shake and rustle in a nonexistent breeze. "And we have liftoff!" Retracting the ship's landing gear, Sora spun the steering wheel and twirled the ship around as it accelerated, sending it in an arc which just barely missed a nearby cliff and sent them shooting out to sea, leaving a sonic boom in their wake and cutting a trail through the water. "Woohoo!"

"Sora, was it necessary for you to narrate all that?" asked Riku with a raised eyebrow.

"Yes," Sora and Roxas said at once, sticking their tongue out at Riku.

Juvenile dolts, Xehanort retorted, flicking them off.

"Stupid boys," Kairi and Namine sighed, rolling their eyes.

Back on the beach, another (but far saner and much less important) boy-girl-boy trio stood gaping in disbelief as they watched their three friends, who they had slowly began to think crazy like almost everyone else at school ever since they returned from…somewhere…vanish into the distance in a spaceship just like the ones in the wild stories they had told them.

"Whoa," said the red-haired Wakka, his precious Blitzball dropping into the sand, forgotten.

"They were telling the truth after all…" said an astonished Selphie. "They've been to other worlds…and now the aliens are abducting them again!" She shrieked and ran off, flailing her arms wildly and screaming about the black yellow-eyed monsters returning to probe her and make everything disappear again. In her frenzied panic she snapped a poor tree in two and smashed a rock in half with her flying nunchuku as she ran about madly in circles. Tidus and Wakka stared at her for a moment before turning their attention back to the spaceship, which was already so far away they could barely see it anymore, the churning sea subsiding from the vessel's fading wake.

"Aw man!" the blonde Tidus snapped, throwing his wooden sword to the ground angrily. "Why can't anything exciting ever happen to us?! Other than those horrible yellow-eyed black aliens coming back and making us all disappear again, I mean. That was more terrifying and very unpleasant than exciting."

As if on cue, another spaceship suddenly appeared out of the skies, hurtling towards the little island at terrific speed and trailing a tremendous gout of fire and smoke. Tidus and Wakka screamed and dove out of the way as the ship crash-landed several meters away, the shockwave from impact sending them (and a great deal of sand) flying as it skidded and bounced violently across the beach and smashed into a nearby cliff, crushing its front in and scattering bits and pieces of itself everywhere. Tidus and Wakka, covered in sand, pulled their heads out of the dunes they were buried in, only to duck back in when a large section of the ship exploded, sending pieces of what looked oddly like colorful bits of candy flying everywhere. The boys cautiously waited several seconds to make sure the foreign object wasn't going to explode again and slowly pulled themselves out of the sand, staring in amazement at the smoking and badly wrecked object from another world (which oddly enough looked vaguely like a red motorcycle. Sort of.). They stared at each other in disbelief. Then Wakka looked skyward and said, "Why can't some hot babes fall out of the sky, too, mon?"

Again as if on cue, something that could be considered a hatch fell off the side, releasing more foul, choking smoke and spilling three burnt, soot-covered tiny women (each of which was oddly attractive) out onto the sand, coughing and hacking as they tried to clear their lungs and breathe in some fresh air.

One of the women, who had red eyes and a pair of small black wings and might have been white-haired under all that soot, punched another one, who might have been blond with swirly green pupil-less eyes and a scarf that seemed to sprout wings at the ends, knocking her out cold as she slammed her head against the hull of the burning ship. "I told you she was never to be let near the wheel again," said tough-girl (And possible Goth, if the clothes she was wearing had always been black instead of being charred completely by the wreck) informed the third woman coldly.

"Sorry," the third, who might have been a brunette with one blue eye and one green eye and had most of her hair back in a long rattail down to her ankles apologized. "She promised she'd do better this time…"

"And you believed her?" the tough-girl said in disbelief. "Great, now we're stuck on some backwater world totally off the charts that probably doesn't have any treasure whatsoever. We'll probably be stuck here forever and be forced to mate with whatever inbred hicks live here to reproduce instead of doing it with the more civilized and appealing males back in Fairyworld.."

Both Wakka and Tidus looked at each other gleefully, shouted "THANK YOU!" to whatever benevolent force had granted their wish, and ran over to introduce themselves to the miniature (but very attractive) ladies. Selphie, forgotten by her friends, continued running around in circles and screaming until she ran into a wall and knocked herself out.

Back with our other trio, er, sextet…

"Sora, can't you level this thing out?" Namine, who had switched places with Kairi for the moment, asked, frowning and squinting as she tried to make out an almost microscopic pod of whales in the ocean below. "We're too high up, I can barely see (or draw) anything from up here."

"What do you think I've been trying to do for the last few minutes?" asked Sora, his voice betraying a hint of anxiety. "This thing seems to be rising all on its own! I'm not even sure I'm actually steering it anymore!"

"What?" asked an alarmed Riku. "Give me that!" He knocked Sora's hands away from the wheel and tugged on it experimentally. "It's stuck! It won't move!"

There was a brief flash of light as a worried Namine swapped places with Kairi again, who unbuckled herself and leaned over in between Sora and Riku, who were frantically tugging at the wheel as the Gummi ship flew higher and higher, an altimeter on the control panel showing they were several thousand feet away from the planet's surface and getting closer to the edge of the atmosphere. "Uh, guys, what's that blinking light there?" she asked.

They both looked. Sora's eyes widened, for this one at least he knew for certain. "That's the autopilot! The ship's driving itself!"

Riku sighed in exasperation. "Wow, guess the King must have really wanted us to come to that summit if he's resorting to a crooked trick like this."

I knew he had it in him! Xehanort cackled. At this rate, it won't be long before he goes mad with power and becomes a depraved tyrant, casting all the Realm of Light into DARKNESS!

Sora, if you swap with me I can portal us out of here, Roxas urgently informed his brother Other.

"Yeah, but if you do we'll lose the ship! I mean, I don't want to get dragged away from home just yet, especially not since it'll just make our parents think we're dead or have run away or something, but it means we might never get another chance to travel the worlds again!"

We could just PORTAL to those others worlds, you know, Namine pointed out.

"Yeah, but the more we do that the more we risk losing our hearts, since we're not creatures of darkness," Riku pointed out. "Well…not completely, anyway. And while I'm sure we could travel a lot using Roxas and Namine's portalling ability, since they technically have hearts now there's no telling what'll happen to Sora and Kairi if we use the Dark Corridors too much."

Sounds like an excellent idea to me, Xehanort said gleefully. Do it! Submit to the darkness!

"No," Riku said flatly.

"I won't abandon this ship if we don't have to, we just got it!" Sora said stubbornly. He messed with the control panel for a few moments, the tension building as they rose higher and higher through the atmosphere. "The controls aren't responding, whatever triggered the autopilot must have locked them out."

"Well if that's the case," Kairi asked, summoning her flowery Keyblade. "Why don't we just unlock it?"

Sora grinned. "Great idea!" He and Riku called their Keyblades as well and got out of their seats to get a better angle, all three pointing the tips of the mystical weapons at the control panel and began gathering power…

Only for them to lose concentration as the Gummi ship broke free from the last vestiges of the planet's atmosphere and enter the colorful, shifting infinity of interspace, allowing them to see what was awaiting them in orbit.

Warships. Fighters of all colors and shapes. Cruisers. Ghost pirate ships. Hunters and Hunter-Xs. Reaper's Wheels. Tremendous wedge-shaped battleships. No less than FIVE moon-sized Dreadnoughts. An entire armada of Heartless and Nobody space vehicles circling the planet in an enormous belt like the rings of a gas giant, floating ominously as if waiting for the command to unleash utter destruction on the helpless world below. As their ship approached the waiting ring of orbital death machines, the Disney crest peeled off the hull outside, revealing the elongated heart-shaped emblem with a barbed-wire X across it, the sign of the Heartless.

Sora said a very bad word, which was indicative of how bad the situation was since very bad words were usually Riku or Roxas' department.

"There's…there's so many of them…" Kairi whispered, horrified.

"Damn it!" Riku shouted angrily, pounding his fist on the unresponsive control panel. "It was a trap! That letter wasn't from King Mickey at all, just a trick to get us to lower Destiny Islands' barrier and leave it completely helpless! I KNEW there was something wrong with that message; it didn't smell a thing like His Majesty!"

Xehanort cackled insanely. Magnificent! I don't know if I could have done better myself! And now, your pitiful world will be consumed by darkness FOREVER! Again!

I…I don't understand… whispered a confused and horrified Roxas. The Heartless and Nobodies HATE each other…they rip each other to shreds on principle! Why…why are they working together?!

"We'll have to figure that out later," Kairi resolved. "Right now we have to get back to the surface and close the barrier back up again! It might not be able to stop all of the forces on those ships from portalling to the surface, but at least all these ships will be unable to do anything like bombard the world from orbit or something!"

Swap with me, Riku…I'll make sure your friends make it to safety… Xehanort promised, a very, very evil grin on his nonexistent saying otherwise.

"Hell no!"

I'll do it, Namine said. Kairi, switch-

"Wait!" said Sora suddenly. "Do you guys smell something?"

Riku frowned and sniffed the air a few times, surprised his heightened senses hadn't noticed it before. "Hey, yeah…now that you mention-" His voice cut off as he suddenly collapsed, falling unconscious due to the almost odorless nerve gas that had been pumped into the cockpit ever since the ship had left orbit. Kairi was next to succumb, and Sora, struggle valiantly though he did, soon joined his friends, the last thing he saw was the shrinking form of his homeworld as the Gummi ship holding them captive flew past the ring of warships and out into deep space, the last thing he heard Roxas' frantic pleas for him to wake up…

I told you this wouldn't be what you expected, didn't I dear readers?

Three bodies lay still in the Gummi ship's cockpit as it flew silently through the swirling and colorful reaches of interspace, past asteroids and nebulae, drifting blocks of Gummi and floating islands, shattered ruins and remnants of destroyed worlds, and more worlds and stars than one could count just from the night sky.

The three bodies were joined by three more presences, however, as each body's respective 'guest' manifested outside their host's form and desperately tried to wake their Others up. (Well, Roxas and Namine did anyway.) "Sora! Sora!" The blond-haired, blue-eyed Roxas said desperately, trying to shake his 'twin' and feeling nothing but frustration as his transparent arms passed right through Sora's body, for while projecting himself out of Sora he was little more than a ghost. "Come on bro, wake up!"

"Roxas, I don't think we can," Namine said anxiously, nervously wringing her hands. "That gas must be really potent; I can barely feel Kairi at all."

"Is it poisonous?!" asked an alarmed Roxas. If it were, that might mean he didn't have much time left to exist. Since he and Sora shared the same body, if one died, so did the other, and if Sora were poisoned…

Namine shook her head quickly. "No, I don't think it's fatal, thank goodness. I…I wouldn't want to lose Kairi, now that I'm one with her again. Just like…I would never want to lose you, Roxas." She smiled at him. Blushing somehow despite his lack of blood due to his being a noncorporeal spirit, Roxas smiled back.

"Very touching," Xehanort said with a sneer, reminding them he was still there. Since he was not a near-exact clone of his host like Roxas and Namine were, he was a far taller and intimidating figure than Riku (not that Riku couldn't be intimidating if he tried). He loomed over them, arms crossed over his bare chest and the Heartless emblem fastened over his torso, the ends of his long coat fluttering in a nonexistent wind. His long white hair and glowing yellow eyes reminded the former Nobodies far too much of the expired Superior of the Organization they had both been a part of, Xemnas…which was no surprise, seeing as how Xemnas was Xehanort's Nobody. But Xehanort, as a Heartless, possessed the emotion Xemnas did not, a cold malevolent hateful fury burning in his eyes and a malicious smile on his face rather than the visage of a man who, try as he might, could not express any real feeling other than the emptiness yawning inside him, and all other Nobodies. "But ultimately futile! Now that my keeper has been rendered unconscious, his brainwaves suppressed in dreamless sleep, I am free to take full control of his body once again….and when I have flesh once more, I will slaughter your helpless Others and cast you Nobodies back into the oblivion from which you were spawned!"

"Uh, but if you possess Riku's body, won't you be helpless too, since his body's still paralyzed from the nerve gas like ours are?" Roxas pointed out.

There was a long, awkward moment. "Oh," Xehanort said, looking rather lost and disgruntled. "Well…er…" His eyes lit up. "I'll just have to destroy you two, then. Since we are all three spirits, our attacks can damage each other, possibly to the point of total discorporation. If I eliminate you two, the resulting psychological damage to your hosts, as well as the incredible power loss they will suffer due to your destruction, will be incomparable! Their weakness will make it that much easier for me to conquer Riku's heart once more and have my revenge on those accursed Keybearers!" Grinning evilly, he summoned his halberd in a burst of darkness.

"Namine, get back!" Roxas said gallantly, stepping forward and summoning his trademark Keyblades, radiant Oathkeeper and dark Oblivion. "I've been waiting a long time for this, Heartless…"

"As have I, Nobody," Xehanort spat.

"Roxas, wait!" Namine said suddenly. "Didn't Riku tell us there's something we should do if Xehanort should ever become a real threat again if he were ever somehow incapacitated? Some technique DiZ or the King taught him to decrease Xehanort's power and make him easier to control?"

"Huh? Oh yeah, that's right!" Roxas realized, his Keyblades vanishing as he stepped back beside Namine. "Now, how'd that go again…"

"Ha! Don't be preposterous, no technique can lessen my darkness!" Xehanort boasted, until he saw the two Nobodies fix him with steely eyes and mocking grins. "NO! DON'T!" he cried in horror, realizing they weren't bluffing.

It was too late. Roxas and Namine opened their mouths…

And began to sing. "It's a world of laughter, a world of tears-"

"NOOOO!" Xehanort howled in rage and terror, his halberd vanishing.

"It's a world of hope, and a world of fears-"

"Not…that…SONG!" Xehanort moaned dramatically, falling to his knees in pain, his power draining from him.

"There's so much that we share, that it's time we're aware"

"Curse you Riku! Curse you King! Curse you DiZ!" Xehanort wept, bitter tears falling down his cheeks as the song echoed throughout the cockpit. "I will have vengeance for this!"

"It's a small world after allll!"

And so the Gummi ship continued on its merry way, silent save for Roxas and Namine's singing and Xehanort's screams of anguish.

It was not until some hours later that the duo stopped their singing, judging the whimpering, cowering, rocking Xehanort to be no threat for the time being. By that point, the ship had left the Realm of Light altogether, passing through the intermediary zone inhabited by the single large planet which contained Traverse Town, Twilight Town, Castle Oblivion, some other features of note, and the orbiting moon on which the great sorcerer Yen Sid lived and into the very edge of the Realm of Darkness. There, just within the borders of the universe where light never shined and darkness reigned supreme, on the edge of even greater darkness which crushed all who journeyed into it unprepared, lay a single world, a world without sun or stars or anything at all to light up its empty, pitch-black skies.

The World that Never Was.

It was not too long, really, since they had last been in this place, when Sora and Riku had toppled the Organization utterly, doing tons of property damage in the process. Roxas and Namine knew this world well, since it had been their home ever since they were conceived…if you could call a great city devoid of life and hope and a great floating castle full of Nobodies who ranged from either being completely unemotional to pretending as if they had feelings to harboring ridiculously homicidal tendencies to almost clinical depression home. It had not been a very happy place to exist, if you could have called their form of being back then existing.

They had left it in the dust, barely giving it a second thought in the aftermath of their great victory and rejoicing in their new, vibrant world of colors and tastes and sensations and real, genuine, honest emotion. Why bother reminding oneself intentionally of such an awful, dead place as the World that Never Was when you had a paradise such as the Destiny Islands to live in? Despite all the good times they (okay, just Roxas really) might have had in this place, neither of them missed it in the slightest. And neither of them was happy to be returning there.
Especially since it had changed since they had abandoned it.

"What happened here?!" Roxas asked in disbelief, looking out across the vast, seemingly endless expanse of Dark City in amazement.

"It's like…a whole new world," Namine agreed, shaking her head slowly.

And so it was. When last either of them had seen it, Dark City had been a dismal place full of towering dark skyscrapers, many of which had lights on but nobody was home. (Both literally and figuratively, since the world was inhabited by Nobodies.) The streets had been empty save for wandering Nobodies looking for some sense of purpose or anything to fill the gaping void of their existence whenever they were not on call for their masters in the Organization, and tremendous packs of Heartless, drawn to this world by the incredible darkness of this place and the hearts making up the great moon-like form of Kingdom Hearts the Organization had constructed high above their floating castle. They roamed the streets and back alleys of the city, lurking in the depths of the darkest shadows, waiting for prey in the form of any Nobody foolish enough to wander their way by itself…or for even more succulent prey, stray hearts from the great collection they all yearned for which hung above them all, tastes of the magnificent conglomeration which was itself but a pale shadow of the TRUE glory…of their true home, far off but near, the deepest darkness enshrouding the heart of all things.

But that moon was gone now, absorbed by Xemnas in his mad plans to gain himself a new heart and to grant hearts to all Nobodies…a plan that would have been nobler had it not been for the methods used to gain those hearts….the lives destroyed, the worlds shattered, the hearts claimed by darkness…all to build a Kingdom Hearts of their own and allow them to be whole once more. The ends did not justify the means.

And in the end, it had all been for naught anyway. DiZ's machinations and the power of the Keyblade had seen to that, shattering the heart-moon and forfeiting so many more hearts to darkness, and finally bringing an end to Xemnas himself. The Organization had died that day, and the hopes of all Nobodies with it, save for Roxas and Namine.

But something new had clearly taken its place. The empty, dark skyscrapers were now lit up from within and without by streetlights, spotlights, illuminated windows, and great neon signs and electronic billboards which crackled with life instead of being dead and dark. Speeders and flying vehicles or machines sped through the city high above the streets, but not above the highest skyscraper, for there is where much larger vessels patrolled, Cruisers and battleships floating over the city, shining searchlights down on the teeming populace to make sure all was well…and to keep things in order through intimidation, no doubt.

And what of this populace? Why, none other than Heartless. More Heartless ran through the streets than Roxas had ever seen before. There were thousands of them, millions even, migrating all over the place on some errand or other, herded by larger, more powerful Heartless to keep the smaller ones in line. There were Nobodies as well, but they were in the minority (which wasn't a surprise; there had always been fewer of them than Heartless). What was really strange, though, was how groups of Nobodies and Heartless packs passed each other frequently on their errands through the cities and didn't even make any motions at attacking each other. It was almost as if the instinctual enmity between the two species had been completely forgotten. The fact that vessels and vehicles either bearing the Heartless emblem or the Nobody insignia occupied the same airspace without opening fire at each other further emphasized this point.

Something was very wrong here. The city looked more alive than either Roxas or Namine could ever remember seeing it…but all those down below were dead, inhabitants of the worlds who had once lived only for their hearts or bodies to be swallowed by the darkness, leaving them as little more than empty shells or unstoppable monsters. So how had both come to dominate this city, and in such vast quantities at that?

"Fascinating…" Xehanort whispered as he came to join Namine and Roxas at looking out through the cockpit dome, revived by the darkness here. "What a marvelous world we have here…one completely overrun by darkness, yet still habitable…in a fashion." He grinned ghoulishly. "I think I rather like it here."

"I don't," said Namine timidly, glancing out at a nearby skyscraper they passed which had a large digital billboard of a Shadow Heartless sipping from a pack of blood, GOT HEART? Glowing in big red letters underneath it as it ripped more blood out of a screaming victim and devoured its heart. "I never liked it here, and I like it even less now."

"Who's responsible for all this?" wondered an incredulous Roxas as fighters much like the ships that had been surrounding Destiny Islands when they had left it behind flew by them in great droves.

Before they could speculate any further on the person responsible, a loud groan from behind them told them that their hosts were waking up. "Uhhh…what?" Sora asked, grimacing as he rubbed his head, feeling like his skin was on fire. "Ow…what hit me?"

"Some kinda nerve gas," Roxas said, kneeling next to his brother. "You okay?"

"Yeah…just a sec…Curaga!" Tinkling green bells appeared overhead and sprinkled green glitter down on them, healing their aches and pains and speeding up the awakening process.

The first thing Riku did when he was fully conscious was glare at Xehanort's projection. "Okay you, get back in here!" He spread his arms out.

"This isn't over!" Xehanort cried as he found himself inexorably drawn into Riku's body. "You can never get rid of meeeee!" He was gone. Visually anyway, now he was back in Riku's head or heart or wherever where he belonged.

"Where are we?" Kairi asked, rubbing her head. She stared in horror when she saw the vista outside their cockpit, the transformed Dark City…brighter now, but somehow even darker in essence than ever before. "Please tell me I'm hallucinating or something."

"Afraid not," said Namine. "This is all real."

"This is ridiculous," said a stunned Sora, looking out at the huge city, at the seemingly endless armies of Heartless and Nobodies patrolling the streets, at the hundreds of ships and vehicles flying by, bristling with weapons and filling up the skyline beneath the watchful spotlights of the huge battleships floating high above in the empty, starless sky. "We trashed this place. I thoroughly remember trashing it. How'd they rebuild it so fast, even worse than before?!"

"And for that matter," agreed Roxas. "Who rebuilt it? Who managed to get the Heartless and Nobodies to work together for once instead of using or fighting each other?"

"I know," Riku said in a voice far too calm and quiet, staring straight ahead out the front of the dome. "There's only one person who could have, now."

They turned to look. And then all things became clear.

The Gummi ship, still following its preprogrammed flight plan, was carrying them towards its final destination. At one point, it had been the Castle that Never Was, headquarters of Organization XIII. But that castle had crashed down during Sora and Riku's final battle with Xemnas, crumbling along with the madman's ambitions and ill-gained hearts. But a certain someone had clearly rebuilt it, raising it back into the skies above Dark City, better than new. Or, perhaps I should say worser.

The castle, once an austere and lifeless white, had been repainted and reconstructed with a techno-gothic theme in mind. Now it was almost completely black, save for the immense blood-red neon Heartless emblem glowing on the castle's central keep, as well as on each one of its towers, of which there were many, jutting out from the sides of the central keep on spike-lined supports and growing on top of each other, their tops curved inward like claws reaching at the keep, which rose incredibly high above all the other towers. Said keep had several large protrusions growing from its sides in the shapes of horrific grinning demon heads, yellow eyes glowing brightly amidst the black spiky walls of the castle. The keep's structure narrowed as it grew higher, more and more small towers and crenellations jutting out of its sides as it rose, until its tip was like a hideously barbed arrow aimed into the endless void that was the sky, as if to pierce it and bring forth even greater darkness. Spotlights mounted here and there pivoted back and forth constantly, creating sweeping beams of light which cut paths through the sky and on the city, illuminating the myriad ships which swarmed around the castle, coming and going constantly from its many hangars. Yellow and red jagged lines ran up the sides of the castle like power conduits, indicating the flow of energy throughout the massive structure. Dark clouds swirled around the jagged peak of the keep, crackling and glowing unearthly supernatural colors as green and purple lightning lanced down and occasionally struck the towers. A swirling green vortex of fire hung behind the castle as a backdrop, moving wherever it did and adding to the pulsating glow of evil which radiated from every inch of it.

But that enough did not tell them the identity of the architect behind all this. No, that was obvious when they saw the thorns.

Enormous black roots sprouting thorns curled and twisted their way around many of the towers, constricting them and keeping them locked forever in their grasp like great spiked tentacles. They hung down from the castle's underside as well in great droves, a huge tangled mass sprouting from the revolving spiky disk-shaped apparatus housing the impressively powerful antigravity devices keeping the entire castle airborne.

"Maleficent," Riku hissed as if it were the vilest curse word.

"I guess it was too much to have hoped she got eaten by the Heartless, huh?" Kairi asked with a sigh.

"She did say that when we won, she'd take the castle for herself…" Sora said, his shoulders sagging at the enormity of what had happened since they had last left this world. "Guess she meant it."

"That bitch!" Roxas said angrily. "All my old stuff was still in there!"

It was not long before the ship landed in one of the enormous docking structures extending from the myriad towers of the dark castle, setting down gently on a platform all to itself. This was because otherwise there wouldn't be room for the welcoming committee waiting at the dock to greet them.

The trio—sorry, sextet—stared out apprehensively, at the many, many, many Heartless and Nobodies waiting for them. Closest to the platform were the most expendable, Shadows, Neoshadows, Soldiers, Dusks, and Creepers. The more powerful creatures of darkness stood in ranks behind the disposable ones; there were Large Bodies, Darkballs, Guard and Opposite Armors, Invisible, every variety of the color-coded music-themed spellcasting Heartless, Wizards, Armored Knights, Assault Riders, Bolt Towers, Cannon Guns, Fortunetellers, Graveyards, Living Bones, Morning Stars, Grim Reapers, a Trickmaster or two, a few pairs of Volcano Lords and Blizzard Lords, Dark Thorns, Prison Keepers, Berserkers, Dragoons, Sorcerers, Gamblers, and Samurai. Sharpshooters and Sniperwilds were mounted on nearby towers and other high ledges and thorned roots, giving them the optimal view of the ship and the targets inside. Air Soldiers, Angel Stars, Gargoyles, Wyverns, Aeroplanes, Hook Bats, swarms of Rapid Thrusters, Surveillance Robots, and even a Storm Rider circled overhead, along with several Nobody mechanoids in the form of Speeders, Floaters, and Missilers. And if that weren't enough, at the very back of the enormous army, close to where the docking platform went inside a large hollowed-out hangar, were no less than four Darksides, three Twilight Thorns, and two Kurt Zisas. Just to make things really difficult.

All in all there had to be at least four thousand Heartless and Nobody monsters waiting for them outside their ship, if not more, more than any of them had ever beaten in one sitting.

The cockpit opened, the ship fulfilling the last instruction in its programming. And in doing so, Sora, Roxas, Riku, Xehanort, Kairi, and Namine found themselves all too exposed to the endless horde of monsters, all of which no doubt wanted them to die very badly so they could take their hearts. Both Sora and Riku said very bad words this time.

"Uh…guys?" Kairi asked nervously. "What do we do?"

If we switch and I open a portal, Namine said nervously, having recombined with her host just like Roxas as the ship came in for a landing. Those snipers and the aerial brigade and the ranged attackers on the ground will blast us to smithereens before we can even think of getting out of here. Not even Sora, Roxas and Riku can deflect bolts from that many angles…

"Hey, don't be so sure," Sora said. "Xemnas tried a similar trick, bombarding us with laser shots from every angle almost simultaneously."

Yeah, but there was only one of Xemnas, and he was already getting tired from the long fight, Roxas pointed out. There are THOUSANDS of these guys, with an unbelievable array of different attacks rather than standardized laser shots…and there's more than enough of them so that we might miss just one bolt from all the pressure, or let the ones who rely on more physical attacks get too close, and then… He trailed off, the inevitable conclusion of such an event looming horribly in their minds. Even the strongest Reflega spell we have or Riku's Dark Shield won't stand up to such a barrage long enough for Namine or me to switch and open a portal. Sora gritted his teeth, knowing this was truth. There was still another option, fuse with Riku and Kairi to Drive into Final Form, but…even Final Form had its limits, and Maleficent would probably be able to easily call in enough reinforcements to overwhelm him, if she could so easily call out this many just to form a welcoming committee. And besides, there was always the possibility that one of his darkest fears might come true…that he might Drive and accidentally become what he hated most…to lose himself forever in the unspeakable darkness of his Anti Form, and possibly take his best friends with him.

No, he could never do that. But…was the alternative any better?

Riku, Xehanort whispered. Just switch with me, Riku…and I'll make all these naughty creatures go away…

"No! I'd rather die than unleash you again!" Riku snarled.

Xehanort laughed. That may be what is about to happen, Riku…and when you die, I will be free to roam the worlds again, and use this vast army Maleficent has gathered to my advantage. Think carefully. Time is running out.

Riku gritted his teeth and glanced at his companions. "Sora?"

"Yeah?" asked the brunette.

The girly-haired one gave him a hard look. "This might be it."

He nodded unhappily. "Yeah. I know."

Riku's Keyblade, Way to the Dawn, appeared in his hand. "Then we'll go out fighting, right?"

Ultima Weapon formed in Sora's hands. "Right."

"Don't forget me," Kairi said, taking out her own Keyblade.

"How could we? We could never forget you," Sora said seriously.

"Which is why when we make our move and draw all their attention to us, you have to switch with Namine and get out of here immediately," Riku agreed.

"What?!" Kairi and Namine screamed. "No way! I'm not leaving you guys!"

"You're too important to us, Kairi, Namine…and everyone else, too!" Sora said with great determination. "Somebody needs to survive this! Somebody needs to let the King know that Maleficent's built up her power here; somebody needs to sound the alarm! And at the moment, the best person to do that is you!"

Kairi hesitated. "Sora…Riku…"

Roxas… Namine said uneasily.

You have to, Roxas said fiercely. Doesn't matter if we die, as long as you make it out okay. That's all that matters.

"Kairi!" said Sora. "Promise me than when the time comes, you'll run, okay? And don't look back!"

"Sora…"

"Promise me, Kairi!"

"…All right…" she whispered, caving in. She began to cry, fearing this was the last time she would ever see her friends again. "I'll run."

Sora nodded. "Okay then. Riku, Roxas, you ready?"

"Ready!"

Ready.

"All right. On three, then-"

"Hold!" a familiar high; cruel voice rang out across the loading dock. "Surely you're not going to do something foolish, now are you?"

"Well, of course they are," said an equally familiar voice, though this one was deeper, gruffer and less refined. "They're just dumb brats, what do they know?"

Riku's nostrils flared and his pupils dilated, recognizing the dark scent instantly. "You…"

The ranks of Heartless and Nobodies parted, all of them bowing, even the mighty Kurt Zisas, as a huge chariot the size of the Gummi ship rolled out across the platform, dragged by a pair of immense purple Behemoths, lightning crackling off their horns and tusks. In the chariot were several bodyguard Defender Heartless and Sorcerer Nobodies, along with a rather large and fat vaguely catlike creature wearing light blue armor over a red suit made for his thick form. They were clustered around a tall, spiky throne mounted on a large stone platform taking up a large part of the chariot.

Seated in that throne was an inhuman woman, her body veiled in a dark ragged cloak, her face and hands a pale green with horns growing from her head in place of hair. A pitch-black raven with evil eyes sat on her shoulder, cawing and staring hungrily at the seemingly doomed heroes. She carried a tall, thin black scepter with a green crystal ball at its top, and wore a thinly veiled smug smile that seemed to say she was on top of everything and had triumphed over all that had been thrown at her, even these latest nuisances.

Maleficent, the mistress of evil, had returned, mightier than ever.

Her smile growing, Maleficent stood up from her throne. The stone platform it was mounted on glowed and began to levitate off the chariot, Pete and some of the bodyguards hopping on quickly before they could be left behind. "Welcome, Sora, master of the Keyblade; Riku, Traitor to the Darkness; and Kairi, Seventh Princess of Heart. Welcome, all, to…"

The instant she says 'your doom' or 'your demise' or something like that, we charge at her and take out anything that gets in our way, Roxas told Sora. He nodded silently in agreement. Riku tensed beside him, clearly having the same thought. Xehanort watched gleefully, waiting for the freedom he was certain drew near. Kairi and Namine took a deep breath, preparing to make the switch…

And all six were surprised by what Maleficent said next.

"…My wedding!"

Sora and Riku, who had been in the process of leaping at her, stumbled. "Huh?!"

"What did she just say?!" Kairi cried.

Maleficent smiled broadly. "Welcome to my wedding!"

"WEDDING?!" the adolescents screamed.

"That's right, kiddoes!" Pete said proudly. "Maleficent and I are getting married, and you're invited!"

Who among you dear readers saw that coming? Told you this would be interesting.