Okay! First update on this account in a long time… I mentioned that I was on the fence about actually finishing this, and some concerned people took the time to message me about it, so I pulled up all my old files and got to work. I hope this at least provides some closure. :)

I apologize for leaving it so long, and I'm sorry for any excessive typos- it's been a long time since I've had anything to send to my old beta, and I'm too ashamed to bother her with anything at this point!

Should I warn about character death? Half the cast is already dead anyway, haha. (Had to go back and find a poem I like to keep it consistent :) )

"The Grave said to the Rose,
"What of the dews of dawn,
Love's flower, what end is theirs?""

- The Grave and The Rose, Victor Hugo

"Looks like they vacated," Larxene said sourly as she pulled the door off of the refrigerator, pointedly ignoring the turok-han that snarled and leapt aside as she nearly hit him with it.

"Which isn't surprising," Xigbar reminded her from across the room where he had been examining books and magazines left on the table. "These aren't a bunch of fledglings. They know what to expect-"

"And I wonder why that is," Marluxia said sarcastically, shooting the eye-patched vampire a haughty look.

"It's because they're not morons. Every demon in the city is gone or underground- even you could have comprehended the signs, Marluxia, and that's saying something," Xigbar said with a disdainful sneer. He turned to the rest of the group, more composed and respectful as he added, "I'm just saying… maybe we should hold off if they're already expecting us."

"You're only saying that because you want to help out your little boy toy," Larxene said sharply. "Like he'll return your misguided feelings you if you pull strings for him." She giggled behind her hand as the other vampire's face tightened.

"Silence," Saix ordered from the entryway. He glanced to their superior, who hadn't deigned to cross the threshold, before returning his attention to the rest of the Palliata and the small army of turok-han that were accompanying them. "Search everywhere. Do not destroy a thing until you are certain it holds no value to us."

"Oopsie!" The blonde vampire covered her mouth and popped up one of her legs in a mockery of childish innocence before proceeding to tear through the rest of the rooms- presumably causing just as much destruction as she had in the kitchen- with Vexen, Marluxia, and Xigbar each following in tow.

"You had better not let Xigbar into the runt's room. We will never get him back out," Vexen commented snidely to the others, earning mirthless chuckles from the other two and a dark glare from the scarred, eyepatched old vampire in question.

"Xigbar," Saix called, summoning the vampire back into the living room and kitchen area while the rest combed through the bedrooms and bathrooms.

"Yes?" he asked as properly as he could muster, still seething on the inside.

"I am extending a warning to you. Should your faith to the Palliata become questionable, we will not hesitate to execute you with the rest of the heretics and traitors to our kind."

"You don't have to worry about that," Xigbar assured him, his lip curling slightly. "Whatever personal feelings I might have had, they don't mean anything in the face of a betrayal like this. I've only ever been loyal," he reminded Saix, willing him to remember the countless times prior that he had served the organization in assassinating threats and rivals, how many times he had turned in lower ranked members for conspiracies or insidious activity.

"I recall as much," the blue haired vampire said with a short nod. "I have confidence that when the moment comes, you will act in the correct manner," he added with a piercing glare. "All the same, your target is not to be the youngest of Leon's flock. You are not to make contact with him at all during the course of our meeting. He will be Larxene's charge."

The vampire licked his pale, dry lips. "Saix, I'd like to prove my loyalty. What better way than exterminating the cause of your suspicion of me with my own two hands? Right?"

"An admirable desire, certainly," Saix said emotionlessly. "But it is not to be left to chance, and we have no concerns of Larxene hesitating at the killing blow. The sooner we can destroy their magic-wielder, the sooner the entire uprising is crushed."

"Who will I be targeting, then?"

"You and Marluxia will be tasked with Riku and the werewolf aligned with them. You may decide how to divide the work as you wish."

Xigbar's face remained impassive as he gave Saix a sharp nod, his gloved hands flexing in agitation.

"Are you bothered by these orders?" the blue-haired vampire asked with narrowed eyes, his tone testing.

A smirk pulled at his scared lips. "You know how fond I am of working with Marluxia," he said with a hint of humor.

Saix didn't smile- he never smiled, not to Xigbar's knowledge, at least- but his mouth grew slightly less tight and he seemed prepared to accept the other vampire's displeasure as stemming from his comrades. "He is… a devious one," he agreed softly, his eyes burning in the direction of the pink-haired vampire, as if his gaze could pierce the walls that separated them.

Xigbar nodded, thankful for the spotlight being shifted from him. For a moment, he found himself grateful for the pink-haired vampire's conniving ways; clever though he could be, Marluxia couldn't keep suspicion from arising as he repeatedly sought to manipulate those around him and advance his position within the organization. It was more than a little satisfying to note that the higher ups had their eyes on the vampire and his scheming.

Within moments the rest of the Palliata began filtering back in, none having any luck with their searches.

"Clearly, they've hidden everything of consequence," Marluxia complained. "It could not be far-"

"We haven't the time to search for some hiding place," Saix disagreed quickly, his displeasure at the suggestion apparent in his tone. "It would likely be enchanted for protection as well."

"Then we have no surprises for them at all?" Larxene whined.

"I wouldn't say that," Xemnas said from the hallway, his lips curving up slightly.

"Oh, but it's so much more fun if it's personal," the impish blonde said pleasantly.

"I imagine this might be of some importance," Vexen announced to the rest of the vampires, sauntering slowly down the hallway. He held up a slip of paper between two fingers, retrieved from a bedroom. "It contains an address and a name."

"So?" Larxene bit out, her tone mocking and scathing. She had always liked Vexen the least, had tormented him off and on for the last few centuries, and was always displeased to see him actually making himself useful. Her eyes narrowed at the tiny scrap of paper, sincerely hoping that the other blond had once again leapt to some useless conclusion and would wind up berated by the superior as a result.

"It belonged to the Slayer," he added with a self-satisfied grin. A not-so-subtle glance at Larxene let him know that she was as aware of his success as he was, which only served to boost his mood further. He handed the address to Xemnas with a slight flourish, already knowing that his standing with the powerful vampire had just increased.

The room was uncomfortably silent. Zexion was mouthing words as he thumbed through pages of a monstrously thick book, his eyes darting so quickly that Sora doubted he was actually reading anything at all; Axel was checking blades and weapons for perhaps the hundredth time, periodically shaking his head as if to stir himself from his thoughts and put his mind on the tedious task at hand.

Sora wasn't sure if he was expected to make some fierce speech to rouse everyone and ready them for battle, or if it was his place to, or if he could. His own stomach twisted and turned with apprehension, as if his body itself was aware that the end could be approaching.

"Are you going to tell them?" Sora asked tentatively, his voice the barest of whispers by Riku's ear. He worried about being overheard in the silence, but after a moment's glance at the others he concluded that they were probably too caught up in their own thoughts to hear him at all.

"I would feel terrible to go into this with such a secret," the vampire admitted. "But I don't see any point in going into great detail." He spared a glance at the brunet, his confliction evident in his expression. "It would only press on Demyx's mind, and Axel's, perhaps to the point of distraction."

The brunet swallowed thickly. "Good point." He did not want to think of Axel and the other vampires having to worry for him in the midst of fighting; he could picture, all too easily, one of them taken down in a moment of distracted concern for him.

"I had a dream earlier," Riku said with a sigh, turning toward the rest of the group and waiting until each person's attention was on him.

Leon was the first to speak; he had known Riku for all of his life as a vampire, had seen him dreaming and knew very well what they could mean. "What happened? You saw the outcome?"

Riku could see them waiting, breathless. "No… I did not," he told them apologetically, receiving soft sighs and stiff smiles in response. "I don't remember much, to be honest," he continued, "but I happened to see one of our own weapons being turned against us. Those shooting stake-knives," he clarified, his gaze shifting to Axel.

"Th-the knives? They take them?" He was staring at the duffel back that held a couple dozen of the devices. "Like, during the fight? From us? Should we hide them? Not use them?"

"I don't think so," Sora interjected, shaking his head. "Any weapon of ours, any tool, could be used against us. That doesn't make it not worth using… it just means that we'll have to be a little more careful with them."

"I agree," Roxas said simply, his arms crossed as he swung gently from side to side. "I doubt most of the bullheaded turok-han they bring will even think to pick up something as small as one of those knives," he said lowly. "They lack finesse. Our axes, spears, swords- these are things they could find and use to great effect," he warned, "but that possibility does not render them unusable for us. We need such things."

"The variety in our arsenal is one of our few advantages," Leon added, his chin resting on steepled fingers. "For a brief time, each new and unexpected weapon will afford us a bit of surprise. I don't think we can dismiss the shock benefits of a handful of flame-throwers, chakrams, and flying stakes."

"Your dream brought this up," Axel said with a nod, "but it's something we should have considered from the start. A sword doesn't care who's wielding it," he sighed. "And it's not like we can carry everything on us at once anyway," he added a bit more brightly.

"We'll hide everything?" Demyx suggested softly, tucking a piece of hair behind his ear.

"Yes," Leon said with a nod.

"Hidden but easily accessible, if you know where to look," Roxas stated, directing his comments to Leon and Axel, who had already begun looking for places to discretely hold weaponry.

"We must remember what is where," Riku said softly, slipping the thin, disc blade of a chakram into a crack in the wall. Axel grunted in response, and each person made sure to note aloud where they tucked stakes, axes, spears, daggers, tiny bottles of holy water, and everything else possible for use. Weapons were hidden under loose stones in the floor, behind sconces, in the crevices between bricks, and even behind the creeping ivy that blanketed areas of wall.

"We can't keep them from picking up something if we drop it," Zexion said when they had finished. "Or stumbling onto on their own. But hopefully things will not go as you saw," he said with a soft smile.

"Yeah, I'd hate to get stabbed with one of those things," Demyx agreed, suppressing a shudder at the thought. "Who was it that got knifed?" he asked suddenly, staring at Riku and clearly hoping that it wasn't himself.

"Sora," the vampire confessed, his shoulders slumping as expressions went from mild concern to outright alarm. "But non-lethally," he added quickly, trying to calm a ranting Axel and a strangely upset Roxas. "In the leg," he explained, gesturing to a spot on his own thigh for emphasis.

"Leg wounds can be very lethal," Axel protested, glaring at Sora like he intended to be wounded there. "One nick to a major artery-"

"If I come out of this with a stab to my leg, I'll be happy," the Slayer said flatly. "We've got more important things to worry about. Like everyone staying safe, and being careful, and kicking the Palliata's collective ass so hard that they go six feet under for good."

Sora was pleased to note that he had gotten a few chuckles and appreciative noises. As he watched Demyx fidget nervously, the haze of magic already dancing around his fingertips, and Axel shakily light two cigarettes at once, the teen decided that it would be best for them to go into this on as high of a note as possible.

Granted, he wasn't expecting cheers and giant grins, but a positive outlook would certainly be better than approaching it all grim-faced.

"As much as I hate that I've brought all of this onto you guys," he began, slowly coming to stand in the middle of a loosely formed circle, "there's no one in the world I'd rather be with right now. You're my family," he added softly, smiling fondly as he looked at each of them.

"Don't feel bad," Demyx said quickly, his bright eyes wide and worried. He was wrapped around Sora in a heartbeat, embracing him in a fierce hug that threatened to bruise his ribs; the slayer could feel the vampire's trembling. "You didn't drag us into anything! Family is supposed to look out for each other. And I'm glad we're that kind of family."

Sora and Roxas shuffled a bit and agreed, unsure of how to follow that up, and Leon nodded.

Axel, long-limbed as he was, took it upon himself to wrap his arms around everyone and force them all closer. It wasn't much of a group hug- Zexion was tugged closer by Demyx, but he just stood there and let himself be tenderly squeezed by the vampire, and Leon, Riku, and Roxas were stiff and awkward as they wound their arms around each other- but it felt right to Sora. They were a strange collection of individuals, unrelated by age and species and blood, but they had created something strong and worthwhile nonetheless.

And he would be damned to let it be ruined by the likes of the Palliata.

There was suddenly a sound, similar to the noise of small wind chimes, but with a decidedly worrisome note. He couldn't place his finger on it, but something in the way it echoed that made the hairs on the back of his neck raise.

He turned just enough to see Zexion's mouth moving, and though he couldn't make out the words, he realized what the noise signified. One of the human's magical barriers had been broken, triggering the alarm; Sora inhaled sharply, finding himself panicked at how quickly everything was happening.

There was a palpable malevolence in the air, flooding in from every direction. Sora could feel, from every corner, the oppressive air of murderous intent. It triggered in him a primal feeling that was accompanied by his hair raising and his skin prickling, a sense of being hunted and cornered, a fight for life about to begin.

There was no preamble. No orchestrated entrance or theatrical affair, which Sora had been expecting to some extent. Just the sudden presence of figures- too many figures, all cloaked in black- pouring in through the doorways and some even crawling down the walls.

At first, Sora could not even discern which of them were Palliata and which were simply turok-han.

Sora found himself swarmed within seconds, a dozen turok-han reaching out with their cold, burning hands, ready to snap and crush any limbs they happened to grab.

He barely saw Leon as he shot after one of the figures with single-minded focus, landing a swift punch to the jaw that knocked the hood of its black cloak off; it revealed a snarling vampire with a mess of bright blue hair and sharp, golden eyes. The scar across his face was twisted as the vampire snarled and lunged for Leon. The two tore into each other with a brutality that was stunning, acting as though they had been embroiled in vicious combat for ages rather than having just begun.

Sora slammed a stake into one of the turok-han and ducked through the empty space left by its dissolving corpse, escaping the press of enemies. He scrabbled at the wall, pulling out two bottles of holy water and one of the projectile, stake-tipped knives.

He hurled one bottle into the face of a particularly ferocious turok-han, pleased when he crumbled to the floor, howling and scratching at his eyes. He launched the knife into the chest of another that was not three feet away- it stabbed straight through, flying into the neck of the one standing behind it and sending a spray of dark blood high into the air.

Another shattered bottle of holy water gave Sora the chance to slip away again, and without the urgent matter of dealing with turok-han encircling him, he was able to get his bearings.


The Slayer found himself toe-to-toe with Demyx, who was sporting a gash across his left eye and a splatter of blood across his chest- thankfully, it did not seem to be his own.

"Demyx! What's-"

"Oh, no, no, no," a high, tinkling voice rang from above. "This is going to be our dance, runt," she hissed, venom in her eyes and voice alike. "No cutting in!"

A barrage of thin, needle-like daggers whizzed in Sora's direction, deflected at the last second by a shadowy barrier that vanished in a billowy plume of smoke as quickly as it had appeared. Demyx grinned smugly at the blond girl's perplexed anger.

Larxene snarled as she noticed Zexion tucked in a corner some way behind the rest of the vampires. "Two magic wielders? No matter," she said with forced coolness, smirking and darting toward Zexion, four knives appearing in each of her hands.

Demyx leapt after her without a second thought, leaving Sora to his search for Xemnas.

The teen could already feel his blood boiling; his anger was stoked by the sights surrounding him- Axel, snarling and yelping as he faced the pink-haired vampire; Riku, deflecting shots from a convincingly fierce Xigbar; Roxas deftly dodging ice and inventive tactics from a gaunt blonde vampire, even with one of his legs coated in red from the jagged bite of a demonic minion.

Leon and the scarred, blue-headed vampire tumbled and chased around the room with reckless speed, clearly in their own world, doing battle on an entirely different plane from the rest of them. And above all of the noise, Sora could hear the cackling of the sadistic blonde vampire as she flung knives at Demyx and Zexion, the overburdened human doing the best he could to fight her off while stymieing the surge of turok-han that pressed at magically sealed doorways.

But still… Xemnas was nowhere to be found. Sora scanned every area of conflict, never once finding the menacing leader of the Palliata.

"Sora," Riku panted, suddenly at his side. "Xigbar said something… about a summoning. Xemnas is preparing to summon a demon."

At once Sora felt a pointed tip pressing against his back. "The north wall," the one-eyed vampire whispered gruffly, emphasizing his words with a light shove of the crossbow. And then he whirled on Riku, haphazardly taking aim and letting the bolt fly.

Riku ducked the shot easily and glanced and the northern entrance, beyond which half a dozen turok-han milled frustratedly, barred from entering by a thin, faintly shimmering barrier. And beyond them, Sora now knew, was Xemnas.

He grabbed an axe from its hiding place, grateful for its heft and size. While he normally prized accuracy and ease of concealment for his weapons, he desired something a bit more… destructive.

He stepped through the barrier, feeling a gentle tingle run down his back, and swung into the thick crowd of turok-han. He didn't count how many he sliced into, didn't care to wonder; he just hacked into as many as he could, only noting the resistance against his blade before the axe won out.

It wasn't long before a layer of ashen dust lay around him, accompanied by dismembered, writhing bodies that were slowly bleeding out. Sora sneered and wiped the sweat from his forehead before it could run into his eyes, already resuming his search for the Palliata's leader.

He combed the stretch of northern wall, never finding any sign of Xemnas or the demonic summoning he was apparently staging. For a brief moment, Sora was overcome by the worry that Xigbar had purposefully led them astray and was not as sympathetic to their cause as he had appeared.

Sora slipped back into the building and spotted Zexion weakly holding off a rabid turok-han while Demyx bore the brunt of Larxene's attacks. The slayer took careful aim and flung his axe at the creature, the spinning blade sinking deep into its back and stunning it, allowing the human to quickly sever its neck with a focused slice of shadowy magic.

The brunet was ready to find Xigbar again and hold him down while he forced more precise answers from him when he turned and caught sight of the exact person he was pursuing- a shock of white hair stood out against skin that managed to be pearly while retaining some of its original brown coloring.

"Now, perhaps it is time to put this charade to an end," a cold, condescending voice rang out above the din. Within moments each of the Palliata had disengaged from their opponents, retreating back in line with their leader.

Some were better off than others, the Slayer noted with a quick scan. While the ferocious, blue-haired vampire was heavily cut and bleeding, he still seemed ready for more; the sickly looking blond, however, was clearly on his last legs. Roxas had done a number on him, apparently managing to remove a finger or two as well as catch one of the vampire's arms on fire.

"It is time to unveil your true opponent for tonight, Slayer," Xemnas said with an elegant gesture to a gaggle of turok-han on his left.

There was a quiet gasp from those on Sora's side as one of them brought forth a young girl, bound at the ankles with her wrists tied behind her back. The dirty, soft pink tatters that she wore looked to have been a pair of pajamas not so long ago.

Everywhere that the cloth was missing, her skin was covered in red carvings. Up and down her arms and legs were interweaving lines and symbols, made with the long, fluid strokes of a knife. All lead to her torso, where elaborate shapes had been lightly carved into her neck, over her chest, and on her abdomen. Patterns made by her own blood decorated her entire body, leaving only her face, which was red from crying and smudged with dirt and blood, uncut.

It was only after moments of being dazed by her appearance that the Slayer saw the raspberry red hair and felt a shiver of unfortunate recognition run up his spine.

"Kairi!" he cried out in surprise, alarming all of his comrades. The high school girl's shaking stilled and she dared to open her eyes, which had been resolutely screwed shut for the last hour to block out as much of her abusers as possible. Her relief in simply seeing a familiar face was heartbreaking to the brunet.

"Sora! Oh my God, Sora, these people are insane," she sobbed, her face flushed red and streaked in tears, both dried and fresh. "Help me! Please! Sora, please!" She continued to cry, repeating the same pleas over and over, growing softer and more muddled by choked sobs as she went on.

"Why do you have her?" the Slayer questioned angrily, his jaw clenched and his hands curled into tight, shaking fists. "What use is she to you? Let her leave! She has no part in this!"

"It would appear that she does," the ashy blonde vampire said with a smirk. "I'm so glad that I stumbled across her address in your room. You seem to care a great deal for her."

"The rest of them also seem to quite concerned for her simply being one measly, unfamiliar woman," Marluxia noted.

Larxene let out a high, spiteful laugh. "The werewolf must be breaking out into a sweat just from seeing her like this, because I swear the stench has doubled. Maybe they're related? These garish red colors can't be too common," she hissed, grabbing a fistful of Kairi's hair and twisting it until she screamed.

"Stop it! I barely know her! She's not important," Sora argued quickly, hoping to get the sadistic blonde to cease her tortures. He glanced from the redheaded girl to the rest of the vampires and their army in waiting. "I just think it's cowardly for you to bring some unrelated girl here to hide behind. You don't think you can beat me on your own? You have to come with a trick up your sleeve?"

The white-haired leader of the cohort smiled and tilted his head, the gesture empty of emotion. He gave the Slayer a measured stare before stating, "Every great summon requires a sacrifice."

With that he took Kairi from Larxene and before Sora could even take a full breath, the vampire had flung the girl to the side. She screamed as she arced through the air, falling almost in slow motion to all who were watching.

Demyx, who had been the closest to the massive well, took bounding leaps toward her falling body, only to arrive at the low stone wall seconds too late to catch her before she dropped out of sight and into the darkness.

He had barely time to turn back around before Larxene was on him, trying to wrestle him into the now rumbling well, too.

"She's always so impatient," Marluxia said in something of an apology as he flew toward Axel. He carried with him a short-handled sickle, its shimmering silver blade making the werewolf snarl uncontrollably. They made slow, sinuous movements as they circled each other, neither letting his gaze leave the other.

"Kairi! We have to get Kairi," Sora whispered to Riku, while Leon left his side to meet Saix.

"There's no time," Riku hissed, gripping the Slayer's arms and urging him to focus on the vampires that were assailing them and the impressive number of the turok-han, which were making each fight incredibly uneven.

Sora glanced up and saw Xigbar drawing near, clearly marking Riku, and Xemnas withdrawing to watch the battles, clearly feeling no need to lower himself to a hand-to-hand fight if his forces did not require it.

It made the brunet sneer- this was an insult and rage that was new to him. He gave his boyfriend's arm a brief squeeze, finding his worried, cerulean eyes with his own and giving him a clear indication of his intentions.

Before Xigbar could descend on them both, the Slayer took off, darting between the fighting pairs.

He reached the side of the well and leaned half way over it, cursing as he was unable to see to its depths. The deep rumble and sloshing of water was ominous, and with Kairi bound as she was, he knew there wasn't much time left for her, if she was still alive at all.

"Slayer!" was all the heads up he received before seeing two daggers whizzing toward him. He leaned back just in time, catching a glimpse of the cackling blonde vampire responsiblejust before finding himself in the cold, terrible, and familiar grip of a turok-han.

The Slayer struggled to keep the arms wrapped around his chest from crushing the air out of him or snapping his ribs. He let out a frustrated scream at being so close to saving her and so delayed. The teen was ready to heave himself over into the well with the demon attached until he saw a streak of tan jump cleanly into the opening first. He watched, shocked, before remembering the situation he was in and throwing his head back to crash into his captor's.

With a quick surge of strength he spun and loosened the demon's grip enough to tear him off. Sora shoved the turok-han forward onto its knees, and with it bracing the well wall and standing back up, he aimed a well-timed a kick at its head.

His steel-toed foot slammed into the demon's skull just as it rose above the wall's top, pushing its neck into the rough stone until it cracked and burst open. Another kick, placed right at the back of the neck itself, severed the turok-han's head nearly completely, the few remaining strands of flesh holding it on apparently not enough to keep the creature from dissolving.

Sora bent over to look inside the well and saw a half-transformed werewolf with Kairi clinging to his back slowly climbing up; he was using the blocks of stone that randomly jutted out from years of the earth shifting and holes where chunks had fallen out as footholds for his roughly padded, thick fingered hands and feet.

Assured that- for the moment at least- she was out of harm's way, Sora knew he had to return to the clash dominating the floor.

He heard Larxene's angry outburst and wicked laugh as she pursued Demyx throughout the room, swiping at him with lightning charged attacks and flinging knives at both him and Zexion, who was casting spells both in her direction and toward whatever turok-han or Palliata member seemed to be getting the better of one of their allies at that moment. Zexion, for his part, looked exhausted already, the numerous and powerful magics he was working draining him more than he was used to. Demyx, however, looked more fierce than Sora had ever seen or imagined him to be- where he had drawn watery figures to help do the fighting from, the brunet had no idea. Larxene was barely able to get within ten feet of him before being deflected away by a torrent or mobbed by a battalion of liquid beings.

After finding a way past them, Sora was nearly bowled over by Axel, who was so entangled with the pink-haired vampire that the two rolled across the floor like a single entity. There was an ear-paining yowl as Marluxia's blade sank deeply into one of the werewolf's shoulders, steaming and burning on contact; a second later the rust-colored lycanthrope had wheeled and bitten down hard enough on the vampire's leg to crunch through his knee, producing a scream just as pained as his own earlier one.

The Slayer dodged the writhing, snarling pair, now clear enough of the other dueling warriors to see Roxas, Leon, and Riku holding their own against other vampires. Roxas was managing to fend off the attacks of Vexen's turok-han as well as what appeared to be a demon under his vocal control. The grossly malformed, oversized, human-esque creature was spewing some dark grey liquid that appeared to whither anything it touched, leaving the blonde vampire to ferociously hack at it with a halberd that kept him at a safe distance. The other end of the handle had been sharpened, in Axel's preferred way of creating a multifunctional weapon, that he used to periodically stake the turok-han that circled and approached him from behind.

Riku was fighting hand-to-hand with Xigbar, each dealing blows that were almost unbelievable in their intensity. The older vampire quickly knocked any weapon that Riku withdrew from his hands, smartly keeping their fight on a playing field of sheer strength, endurance, and speed rather than advantageous tools.

Leon and Saix could scarcely be seen. Every so often Sora would see one slam into a wall, or the floor, or a column, but each would immediately rise and find his enemy again, both moving so fluidly and speedily that watching their fight was akin to finding where a darting wasp had flitted off to while you were blinking.

And Xemnas was still watching.

An unearthly howl filled the room as Sora began fighting his way through a mob of turok-han to reach Xemnas. A quick glance and he knew why.

Roxas stood battered but triumphant above the rapidly withering and disintegrating form of the blonde Palliata vampire. His skin had turned dark and brittle, breaking and falling off as the aged vampire fell to his knees, still grasping at the shaft of the broken spear that had been rammed through his chest.

With one last rattle his form began to fall apart, settling into a pile of fine, dark grey dust on the floor.

Sora felt his heart soar at Roxas' victory, and he managed to kill the next three turok-han with one blow apiece. But for each that he killed, two more arrived to push him back, forcing the Slayer further away from the Palliata's leader.

He growled in frustration as he hacked through what seemed to be an endless supply of vampires, never growing any closer to his target. Sparing a moment to glance up from his work, Sora found his eyes locked with the steely gold of Xemnas'; the vampire's stare was, above all, amused. But there was also disdain, and disgust, probably hate, and… something that reminded the teen of fear.

The slayer winced at the ear-piercing shriek that suddenly filled the room, echoing unpleasantly off of the tall, stony walls.

Larxene was heaving and gasping, holding onto her profusely bleeding shoulder. She screamed as she looked down and spotted a stake half-buried in the joint, effectively putting her arm out of commission. She threw her other arm up across her body for defense, knives in hand, as she furiously tried to pinpoint her attacker.

Bright blue eyes widened in surprise and her stance dropped for a split-second as the vampire's gaze finally settled on a bruised and bleeding Kairi, who had managed to stumble across at least one of their weapon stashes. The girl stood with her legs spread apart, her shoulders squared and determined, and strands of her matted hair in her face; she already held another spring-loaded stake with both hands, the tip aimed at the blonde vampire.

"Bitch," she snarled as she hit the switch, sending the wooden spike whizzing toward Larxene.

The vampire dodged and whirled beneath the stake, turning to target the redhead, who had already dropped the now useless hilt and pulled out a long knife.

She was saved from confrontation with the vengeful vampire by the same werewolf that had pulled her from the well. He caught Larxene's arm in his jaws and spun, twisting the limb violently in the manner of rolling crocodiles tearing apart their prey.

Her shriek was deafening. Wild-eyed, she managed to slam one blade into the werewolf's back, aiming for his spine. She stabbed again and again, managing to land several blows against the sinuous werewolf's roiling form. With one last yelp turned whimper, the wolf collapsed on the floor, earning a choked sob from the redheaded girl huddled in the nearest corner.

Demyx wasted no time, barreling into Larxene and heaving her away from the werewolf's motionless form.

It was harder to track her frantic movements now; Demyx could already tell that his eye was likely too far gone to ever heal properly, the gash running across it too deep and the tissue of the eye too delicate. But he was satisfied to see that she was heavily battered as well- one arm left hanging limp from the redheaded girl's lucky shot, the other barely functional after the werewolf's attack, her sheer exhaustion from being repeatedly assaulted by magic.

He pulled a stream of water from the pulsing, shaking well, nearly distracted for a moment by the smell of blood in it. With a sudden surge of resolve he whipped it in the blonde vampire's direction, catching her in the ribs and flinging her against the wall. Mercilessly, he struck her again and again with the long cord of water, knowing that each blow was cracking ribs and breaking skin.

He stopped before delivering the blow that would surely have separated her upper body from the rest of her, taking in a shaky breath to calm himself. She was unconscious, bruised and broken in a pile against a wall smeared with her own blood.

Demyx let the water splash to the floor, deciding that it was enough. For now. He turned to find the redheaded girl- Kairi, as Sora had called her- but she was no longer crouched in the corner.

With a low curse, the young vampire scanned the room; finding no sight of the girl, he began weaving his way back to Zexion, praying that the human was still holding up against the onslaught.

Sora slammed a stake into one of the last turok-han, pleased to see their numbers finally running thin. Two of the Palliata were down, most of their minions had been killed off, and he was closer than ever to finally reaching the root of it all.

The teen turned and found the cold, judging gaze on him again. His voice was hollow and contemptuous. "A pity that you neglected the well in favor of chasing me," he taunted, disappearing in a flutter of robes and reappearing on the opposite side of the room.

Sora growled and buried his fist in the nearest wall, frustrated as he realized that he was no closer to catching the vampire than when he had begun chasing him. Xemnas moved frightening quickly- faster even than Saix and Leon did. One step seemed to take him ten yards, much to the slayer's dismay.

Reluctantly, the brunet darted back toward the center of the room, only pausing to twist the head of a weakened turok-han from its shoulders before it could harass Zexion any further. The human gave him a grateful, if exhausted, smile before returning to his conjuring.

There was one last, fierce rumble from deep within the well, followed by churning water spilling over its walls. The fighting quieted slightly, the remaining turok-han backing away warily and the rest of the vampires looking on in varying degrees of horror, awe, and, in Xemnas' case, amusement. For him, it seemed the show had finally begun.

It was as if the earth below was heaving for breath, rocking the entire building. The ground groaned as the greater demon tore forth from the chasm, its first long and sickly sticky claws hooking over the edges. A throaty howl echoed up from the depths, filling the air with a cry that suited a demon breaking into a new world.

Even as the top of its head began to rise from the hellhole, strings of thick slime stretched between its many twisted horns and its dozen or so eyes spinning wildly as it surveyed the new realm, Sora kept his unyielding gaze on Xemnas. The vampire was staring him down, looking every bit the calculating puppet-master that the slayer now saw him as.

At once the massive head burst free, completely shattering whatever remnants of the well's wall that had been left. Dozens of yellowed eyes ringed the demon's head and snout, all standing out against its mottled red skin. The area around the well cracked and shuddered as the beast shook and rolled, trying to break free of both the cylindrical stone opening that confined it and the rapidly closing portal between their worlds.

Its very breath leaked with a slow moving green gas, drifting between its teeth and hovering in the air like clouds of poisoned fog. It swung its head from side to side, its numerous eyes fixated on the Slayer. Sora only spared it a glance, his thoughts still occupied by the Palliata and its leader.

"Slayer, it would probably be in your best interest to engage our guest, Zeohn," Xemnas said in a mockery of pleasantness. "Of course, he is not your only visitor tonight," he continued cordially. "We sent a welcoming committee downtown earlier tonight- just to keep your city on its toes," he said through a fanged smile. "They should be joined any moment now by one of Zeohn's peers. I believe Archal is taking the scenic route through the countryside, however."

"I'm not here for them," Sora spat, barely sparing a glance at the seething demon. "I'm here to cut off the head of the snake."

"While your desire to fight me personally is flattering, it is misguided. You are, in comparison to the great slayers of old… a weakling," he hissed venomously.

"So weak that half a dozen of the strongest vampires the Palliata has to offer came to see me killed," the brunet bit back.

Xemnas' eyes darkened briefly, and then he smirked viciously. He swept down the crumbling steps, his long, black cloak trailing on the ground behind him. Not a hair was out of place. "You are a failure. A pathetic mockery of the challenge that your kind are supposed to serve to us. You have managed to survive thus far by luck and a dependence on traitors of our kind, but that ends tonight."

The demon shrieked, as if protesting its summoner forcing it to wait while he spoke. Xemnas paid it no mind, his golden eyes locked on to the slayer as he slowly paced closer. "I will not see you turned," the vampire growled, displaying more emotion now than Sora had seen at any time before. "And, though you are too inferior for me to even consider finishing with my own hand, I have selected one of the great demons for you to die against. Consider it my parting gift," he said with a false graciousness. "We usually do not kill slayers directly, but when we do… we make it memorable."

Sora considered the great demon, still working to free itself and descend upon him, and then shot one last determined glare at Xemnas before asking Axel for a weapon.

The redhead already had something in hand, as though he had known what the slayer would need before he even asked. Sora caught the spear that Axel tossed his way, immediately recognizing it as the one recently gifted from the naga.

In construction, it was very similar to the one that Anik had given him immediately after helping his people- a full six feet long, made of ironwood, its blade in a shape reminiscent of a teardrop. What Anik's spear had lacked, however, was the faint blue aura surrounding the blade and the faintly glowing runes carved all along the shaft. The runes seemed to gain life as his fingers passed over them, shimmering and touching the slayer with a magic that was deep and primal and invigorating.

He could feel its energy flooding into him, could feel his tired muscles renewed; there was a low thrum in his ears, and it was as though he could sense the weapon speaking to him. It called to something in his blood, letting his body know exactly how it wanted to be used, telling his limbs exactly what to do.

And he listened. Without an ounce of hesitation, without even slowing his pace, he met the great demon head-on.

Before his enemies or allies could react, he slammed the spear directly into the top of the beast's nose, pushing down until the tip came through the bottom of its jaw. With its mouth pinned shut, he caught yet another spear- albeit one without the ancient magic of the first- and furiously jabbed it into each eye that he could reach.

As much as the demon struggled, it was too restricted by the tunnel-like well it had come through to get out of the Slayer's reach. Its maw was securely sealed by the ancient naga spear, shutting in the noxious gas that it threatened to bellow; the most it could do was thrash, splitting the floor and further cracking the side of the well, but never managing to break free from the Slayer's vicious assault.

Finally, Sora punctured an eye and felt the flesh behind the blade give way slightly. With an enormous push, he shoved the spear nearly fully into the creature's head. He gave the blade a spin, and then a sharp cut to the side, and then a twist, before jamming the weapon in as far into the massive skull as he could.

Without pause, he dislodged the spear given to him by the naga from the demon's head and took a step back. He regarded the stunned and debilitated creature before sinking the runed spear deep into the demon's face, the blade moving through its hard flesh and bones as easily as a knife could slice through an egg.

The runes blazed as thick blood welled out of the wound, heating the liquid and causing the flesh to steam and curl. The demon screamed in agony as its blood boiled and popped beneath the surface of its skin, its body smoking as it was seared from within by the intense magic emanating from the spear.

Knowing that it had done all that it needed, Sora wrenched the spear back. He smiled to himself as he noticed that the weapon was pristine, not a speck of blood or gore marring the blade or shaft. The demon lurched, and Sora watched coolly as the listing, sinking body soon dipped out of sight and into the well, disappearing through the gateway that it had been summoned through.

The confrontation with the demon had, in total, probably lasted a minute or less.

Sora straightened and faced Xemnas, a part of his heart swelling triumphantly at the noticeable shock on the vampire's face. The vampire snarled something at Saix, his voice rough and the language foreign to the teen's ears.

With a brief spell and a soft glow of his hands, the feral looking vampire summoned an impressively sized claymore- the sword was nearly as long as he was tall, and the blue-haired vampire's gaze fixed on Sora with the intensity of an enraged beast.

Simply holding the massive weapon seemed to push Saix further into his frenzy; his fangs seemed larger and sharper, his form more hunched and wild. As he heaved the claymore above his head and prepared to charge the young slayer, an arrow pierced his side.

Marluxia and Xemnas both looked on in stunned silence as the berserk vampire sagged slightly from the shot, his zeal for battle temporarily overcome by surprise.

"Best to nip that in the bud," a gruff voice said from Sora's left. "He's about ten times worse with that damn sword of his," Xigbar said with a grimace.

"You would stand with them?" Marluxia cried suddenly, his face contorted by a mix of rage and disbelief. His two remaining allies seemed to share his sentiment, each boring holes into the eye-patched vampire with his burning gaze.

"I'm sure as hell not sticking with you idiots," Xigbar sneered. With that, he raised his crossbow and sent a bolt at Larxene's head, smirking as she barely managed to dodge it.

Sora turned and offered a teasing grin at the Palliata's superior, who was watching in stunned disbelief as his hierarchy of command disintegrated before him. Suddenly, the vampire let out a vicious snarl.

Xemnas was on him in a flurry, his black cloak billowing like the wings of a nightmarish bat. "You think yourself strong?" he accused in a whisper, his cold hand tight around the teen's neck. He jerked him sharply, forcing the slayer to drop the spear and pry against the hand on his throat.

A bottle of holy water shattered against the vampire's head, soaking his white hair and half of his face, which began to steam slightly. Xemnas cursed and turned to Riku, his grip on the slayer loosening just enough for the brunet to wriggle away.

There was a gargling scream from somewhere to their left, where Axel had finally been able to snap his jaws around Marluxia's neck. Blood bubbled out of his throat and mouth as the werewolf crunched down, grinding his jagged teeth to cut through the vampire's spine. All the while he made garbled pleas for mercy and the opportunity to join them, swearing his loyalty to the slayer even as Axel severed his neck, the screaming, grasping vampire quickly coming apart.

Sora could see Demyx nursing a fallen Zexion, and Leon and Roxas were aggressively pursuing Saix with help from Xigbar. The turok-han had vanished, the Palliata was gone, and Xemnas was facing them alone now, all of his minions and puppets and tricks used up.

The vampire seemed to know it, too.

"You," he snarled, looking at Riku and Sora in turn. "You will ruin everything."

Sora didn't even see the ancient vampire move- he was fast, almost invisible as he darted from one place to the next. Within seconds, Xemnas had sent him spinning, crashed him into a wall, slammed him into the floor, and then turned to do the same to Riku.

Sora was barely able to get to his feet and tackle the vampire quickly enough to keep him from slamming Riku's head into the stone floor a fifth time.

He rolled across the floor with Xemnas, a howl escaping him as the vampire sank his jaws into the crook of his shoulder with crushing strength. It burned like acid from the bite alone, but then Xemnas ripped away with enough force to take a chunk out of the teen's flesh. Sora let out a ragged scream as he felt blood pumping out of the gaping wound.

He scrabbled for something, anything, to use as a weapon. Finding nothing in arm's reach, he was forced to scratch at the vampire's eyes and ears, hoping to cause enough pain and annoyance to prevent Xemnas from biting him again. He had managed to tear off the tip of one of the vampire's ears before Riku was back again, kicking Xemnas off of him and swinging a small axe with the intent of taking off the vampire's head.

Sora tried to stop the steady flow of blood from his shoulder with one hand, crawling and searching for the spear that he had dropped, or a chakram left on the floor, or anything at all.

Xemnas leapt down in front of him, reaching the rune spear before the brunet could grab it and laughing triumphantly. His hair was wild from fighting, blood from his torn ear coating his white locks; he also sported a handful of cuts from his brawl with Riku, although Sora worried when he saw the axe in Xemnas' hand and no sign of his boyfriend.

The vampire languidly stooped to pick up the spear, smiling darkly, before snarling and hurling it as far as he could. He stared at his hand with fury in his eyes- his flesh still smoked from where the runes had seared themselves into his palm.

Sora grinned at the Palliata leader's misfortune and shot up, catching the vampire under the chin with a sharp blow that sent him reeling, if more from shock rather than actual harm.

In the brief opening left by his attack, Sora ran for a stash of weapons, quickly grabbing the first thing his fingers touched- a stake. He wheeled to find the vampire and was alarmed to find him fighting an already battered Riku, Axel's slumped form and a weakly moving Demyx laying only some feet away from the two.

Sora leapt on the vampire from behind, attempting to jam the stake into his chest. Xemnas merely shook him off, shoving him back with enough force to send him sprawling into a wall. The teen was woozy, both from blood loss and the collision, but he scrambled out of the rubble with a haggard determination.

He was halfway to Xemnas when he saw the vampire turn, meeting his eyes with the most vindictive look that Sora had ever seen. He felt tears prick his eyes instantly; there was no mistaking that kind of malice or what it meant.

With a cruel smile, Xemnas turned and swung the axe up in an arc, catching a weary Riku square in the stomach. The young vampire's eyes widened in pain and astonishment as he was lifted off of the ground by the sheer force of the blow, the blade slicing up his abdomen until it caught on the base of his ribcage.

Xemnas yanked the axe out roughly, splattering the ground with Riku's blood. While he gasped on the ground, writhing and trying to hold his stomach closed, the ancient vampire prepared another swing- one meant to decapitate.

Sora collided with Xemnas with the force of a tidal wave, implacable and undeterrable.

For a moment, the stake was forgotten, left sitting on the ground beside them as he gave himself over to his rage. He took the vampire's head in his hands and slammed it into the stone floor, each crack of bone against rock only serving to fuel his fury. All he could think of was throttling Xemnas, choking him, flaying him open and then pouring holy water into every crack and crevice that he could find. He punched him repeatedly in the mouth, unheeding of his knuckles as they grew bloody and the skin was shredded into ribbons by the vampire's fangs. He didn't stop until he felt teeth give way beneath his fist.

As the vampire's cold, hard hands reached to push him off, Sora set to snapping the vampire's fingers, not even paying attention to the bloody howls that it earned. He scraped and tore at the vampire's face and chest with a sharp piece of stone that had separated from the floor when Xemnas's head was smashed against it. He jabbed it deep into the crook of the vampire's neck, the same delicate spot where Xemnas had viciously bitten him, feeling extremely pleased as blood spurted out around the rock.

Then in a moment of clarity, he grabbed the axe- it was still coated in Riku's blood, sending a fresh surge of fury coursing through the brunet. He swung down, growling in frustration as the blade was stopped an inch into the vampire's throat.

Xemnas pushed back against the axe until it was out of his neck, blood beginning to bubble and leak from the gash there. He groaned as he managed to throw it to the side, sitting up to crash his head into the slayer's and sending the boy sprawling backward.

He rose quickly, hunched and wild looking, one hand pressed against his throat to stanch the bleeding.

Sora staggered up as well, holding the recently rediscovered stake firmly in hand as he lunged at the vampire again. They both moved more weakly now, fighting just to stay upright.

Sora grew increasingly aggravated as Xemnas managed to dodge nearly every strike he made, the stake never getting more than an inch into the vampire's flesh before he slipped away, or kicked the slayer hard enough to gain a bit of distance between them.

Sora darted after the vampire again, ready to pursue him when he inevitably ducked and skirted away; but this time, Xemnas met him head on. The slayer gasped quietly as he found himself embroiled in a close struggle, the vampire trying to wrestle his stake away from him.

Long seconds passed, neither able to gain the upper hand on the other.

"I hate you," Sora whispered, more venom in each word than he had thought possible. He hissed as Xemnas dug his thumb into one of his wounds, the pain almost wrenching enough to make him let go.

"Because I killed your lover?" the vampire spat, a crooked, leering smile twisting his bleeding lips.

"He isn't-"

"He just passed, Slayer," the vampire cooed, his cold, golden eyes briefly staring somewhere past the teen's right shoulder. "And you missed it," he added in a venomous hiss, his eyes entirely too gleeful for the situation.

Sora's heart fell. He was certain it had disappeared as well, because all he could feel at the moment was an empty pressure in his chest. He was too frightened to turn and look for himself, unable to stop imagining that he would see just ash and dust surrounded by blood.

With a quick, powerful backhand to the face, Sora was sent stumbling back. Xemnas straightened, once again appearing certain of his victory.

"You have failed all of them," he chuckled, sweeping back his blood-matted hair triumphantly. "Foolish human! Your kind is too easy to manipulate. Your precious lover still clings to existence," he said with a derisive laugh. "He will get to see you die like the-"

Xemnas went silent at the faint sound of something whizzing through the air, appearing alarmed until he saw Sora wince and sway unsteadily as one leg began to pour blood. He stumbled and teetered, trying to remain on guard against the vampire but barely able to keep from crumpling to the floor.

The leader of the Palliata chuckled, the noise low and scathing, as he traced the weapon's path back to the redheaded girl crouching in the corner. Her hands were over her mouth and tears streamed down her face as she stared at what she had done.

"You're still live, girl? And you aid your saviors by striking them with their own weapons," he mused. "Perhaps when I am finished with disposing of these traitors, I will turn you. A fitting end to the night," he murmured, his gaze drifting back to Sora as he toyed with the stake, "as I will need to… rebuild my ranks," he added, disdainfully glancing at the corpses around him.

In two steps he had closed in on the slayer, smiling as he drove Sora's stake into the teen with enough force to send him to the floor. The impact was enough to shock the brunet, the pain from the intense, focused blow like that of a bullet hitting a Kevlar jacket- but rather than the piercing, spine-severing stab that he had every reason to expect, Sora felt the pressure slip to the side. The stake tip tore through his clothing and dug deeply into his flesh, but rather than burrowing straight through and into his organs, it kept moving, the weapon dragging through the skin and muscle over his rib cage, leaving a wide gash rather than a deep stab.

"This is the price to be paid for challenging us," Xemnas announced to the room, though it was largely empty.

With no one left to watch him, no one of importance to challenge him, he openly swayed, one hand firmly against the slowly leaking gash in his throat.

Sora watched Xemnas' unsteady movement as he slowly meandered away, appearing torn between finding where the girl had scampered off to now and looking for Saix, if he still existed. Sora's satisfaction grew as he noticed that blood loss was getting to the ancient vampire- the back of his head was thoroughly soaked, a long trail of red ran from his neck to his foot, and the wound in his shoulder was drenched.

The slayer took a deep, quiet breath and laid still, moving imperceptibly slowly as he grasped the stake in hand and waited, praying silently that Riku could hold on long enough for this to be over.

Xemnas was weakened. He wasn't thinking clearly. Sora had no doubt that at any other time, the vampire would have realized his mortal strike had not had its intended effect. But he was ambling, oblivious to the slayer still watching him.

The vampire turned back on his heel, wavering slightly from the motion.

Sora kept his eyes lightly closed so that he could make out shadows and movement from beneath his eyelashes. He could feel the vampire coming closer, knowing that he was desperately in need of blood to replenish what had been lost and apparently had given up on eating Kairi.

Sora waited. It was the hardest thing, lying there as still as possible and just waiting. But finally he felt the trembling vampire clamber on top of him, seeking out his already bleeding wounds, as his fangs had been knocked out by the slayer earlier.

Before he touched the tip of his tongue to the sluggish flow of blood from the teen's shoulder, he paused. Xemnas had lived a long time, even for a vampire, and considered himself above being truly fazed or stunned at this point. There was little that he hadn't seen or done, little that he did not already know.

But he went stock still as he saw the silver chain and pendant that had slipped out of the human's shirt when he fell. It was subtle- but then, most of the ancient relics gifted to the vampires by the First were. Xemnas felt his chest heave uncontrollably for probably the first time in a thousand years. It was such a base reaction, a physical response to the sheer proximity to the crown, the unfathomable luck of finding it here.

In a way, the vampire realized, it was good that his followers had been killed off. Otherwise, he would have had to do it himself. He extended a shaky hand toward the deceptively small, ordinary-looking piece of metal; the closer he got to it, the more he recognized the sensation and power of it as something akin to the holy grail of his kind.

"Oblivion," he whispered with reverence, feeling, down to the very bottom of whatever of his soul was left, that this was his destiny. It had all come to pass solely for this, the moment when he could truly achieve the goal of all that became vampires- immortality without limit. His fingertips were just centimeters away from the legendary crown when the vampire suddenly felt a peculiar pressure in his chest.

It was as though his heart had been hooked and then ripped away, leaving only a vortex of nothing where it should have been. It was an empty feeling, devoid of even the cold that he had grown used to. He stared at the human, licking his lips slowly, already beginning to feel his body dying all over again.

Sora shuddered at the vampire's stare. Golden eyes continued to bore into him even as the skin around them began to take on the appearance of ashy sandpaper, an almost palpable intent behind them. He would have preferred Xemnas to lash out, to berate him, to curse him, to scream, to sob, anything. Anything would have been better that the slow, quietness of the moment as the ancient vampire's form decayed and dried into dust.

It was only at the last second that Xemnas's stare left the teen's face, instead dropping to gaze longingly at his necklace before his eyes, too, withered into nothing and then fell into ash and dust with the rest of him.

Sora could breathe again. He rolled onto his stomach and crawled toward Riku, coughing at the remains of Xemnas that still lingered in the air. The silver-haired vampire was deathly still, only his eyes showing any signs of life. His gaze slowly followed the brunet as he came closer, telling Sora everything that the vampire could not physically say.

The teen sat on his knees, unsure of what to do. The last time Riku had been grievously injured they had had the naga there to help, dozens of swift, skilled hands to piece him back together. Now there was only Sora, trying his best to wipe his own blood into the vampire's mouth and hold the long, deep slice up his abdomen together.

He recalled the last thing that Xemnas had said, a word that had sparked something within him. Sora wasn't sure if it was an epiphany or just his mind growing less and less coherent as he slowly succumbed to his numerous injuries, but he slipped his necklace off and carefully lifted Riku's head to put it on him.

The slayer waited, feeling hot tears streaming down his cheeks, for something to happen. But none of his cuts sealed, and his splintered bones and bruises weren't set right. None of his blood reversed its flow and returned to his body. Riku's eyes were still on him, hopeful, and Sora didn't know what to do.

He was grateful as another presence joined them, his red-ringed eyes meeting hers and asking for direction.

Kairi had settled down on the other side of the vampire, placing her hands on the enormous slice up his middle to assist in holding it shut.

"I found these in one of the hiding places with all the s-swords and stuff," she said shakily, trying to wipe her nose on her shoulder. She gestured with a jerk of her head toward a number of bottles she had dumped on the ground. There were a number of long, tattered strips of cloth as well. "I found some scraps," she explained. "Maybe we can wrap him really tight. Tourniquet. I-is any of that stuff medicine?"

Sora nodded and found one of the familiar bottles of white-green powder from the naga. He scooped a handful into his mouth, grimacing at the taste, and put his arm over the vampire's mouth so that one of his cuts dripped blood down into Riku's slightly parted mouth.

While he tried to replenish the vampire's lost blood, Kairi carefully wound the strips of cloth around his middle, tying them tightly to staunch the flow and hold the wound closed. As soon as she finished she apologized for the sloppy work in addition to shooting Sora in the leg, burying her face in her red-stained hands.

The slayer laughed softly and thanked her, then asked her to try and check on the others.

Sora watched while she tended to Axel and Demyx and Zexion, checking their pulses and slowly dragging each of them onto clean stretches of floor to wrap up any large wounds they had.

"I'm going to go look for the guy that carried me out of the well," she told Sora after finishing with the three. "He must have crawled away somewhere," she said worriedly, looking to the crimson-stained spot on the floor where he had fallen while fighting Larxene.

"Be careful," Sora advised, glancing around the room worriedly.

"It's funny," the girl said with a nervous laugh as she passed him. "I don't know what could really scare me at this point." She padded out one of the stone entryways, stepping carefully to avoid broken glass and small rocks as she followed a faint trail of smeared blood.

Sora sighed, worrying for his old classmate before looking back at Riku. He had no great expectations for the vampire's healing- it would certainly take far longer for him to recovery from this than the time he had been struck by Rangarok, if he fully recovered at all- but he hoped that his blood would help repair the vampire fast enough that moving him before dawn wouldn't be so dangerous.

After another ten minutes or so of careful feeding, Sora was able to breathe easier. Riku had regained enough strength to clamp his mouth to his arm and draw blood for himself, though he sucked slowly and weakly.

He didn't keep track of the passage of time- could not have. Only this moment mattered, and as far as Sora was concerned, it was all that had ever been. He didn't want to dwell on what had just happened or consider the immediate future. His mind swam at the prospect. But this- this was manageable, if painful.

Eventually, the sound of hurried footsteps on stone forced him out of that line of thinking. He was jolted back to the present, unable to block out the rest of the world any longer.

"Leon! Roxas," he said with a relief that almost brought him to tears. "I… I've been trying," he said softly, shivering as he cradled Riku's head in his lap.

"Sora," Roxas said with wide eyes. "You look terrible. Stop feeding him at once," the vampire said sharply, immediately but tenderly separating the slayer and the vampire from each other.

"He needs it!" Sora cried, trying to shove the blond away but finding that his arms were too slow and heavy to do much with.

"You're so weak, Sora," the vampire said in alarm, noticing that the teen could barely raise a hand against him. "You're lucky your heart hasn't stopped! You've barely any blood left in you for you," he spat, eyeing the empty bottle of blood-replenishing powder.


"Listen to him, Sora," Leon warned from his place beside Demyx. "Rest now. We'll handle everything. You've done enough," he added softly, his eyes gentle as he again gave him the order to rest.

Sora was startled at how easy it was to listen. He was laid down beside Riku, a wad of cloth shoved under his head for comfort's sake. He was tired to the bone and all he could feel in every direction was ache.

The teen let his eyes slip shut but fought sleep; he strained his ears to listen, finding the voices of his family the most comforting thing in the world right now.

"No, he'll need more than that," he heard Roxas say quickly.

Mumbling from Leon.

"I can't believe it." Xigbar's voice, only more gravelly than usual and without any of its typical teasing.

"Get over here and put your hand on this," was Roxas again.

Sora could feel the vibrations through the floor as the old vampire made his way over. "Xemnas is gone. Marluxia, Vexen, Larxene. It's… unbelievable."

"Demyx didn't kill Larxene, did he?" came Roxas' surprised voice.

"No, I did." Leon's familiar bass.

"Who was the other werewolf? Where'd that guy go?" Xigbar asked.

"Not sure," Roxas replied.

"I still can't believe it," Xigbar was saying. "This is… world changing stuff. What is Sephiroth gonna think about all this?"

Sora could still hear, but now the words were all melding together, becoming an endless string of sounds that he couldn't decipher. His eyelids were too heavy to lift, his mind too exhausted to process any more stimuli. The brunet turned his head fitfully, trying to fight off the growing pull of sleep.

A hand ran across his forehead, smoothing back his hair and then coming to rest against the side of his face. A rumble of words, indistinguishable but soothing in their warmth and softness, made the slayer sigh and relax slightly. Unable to manage another thought, Sora let himself slip into unconsciousness.

There's more! I had more written for this one, but… I don't know, it seemed pretty wordy and like a lot to disgest, so I broke it up. I think one more chapter for wrap up and then an epilogue (or I'll just lump the family reunion in with the rest of the after-battle stuff). Either way, it'll all end up here in some lumpy form!

And I'm sorry if it's disappointing at all for those of you that have been waiting so long. :( I just… there are a lot of things I would do entirely differently if I could do this over from the start. But! This was the path I had thought out originally, as weird and convoluted as it is, so…

Oof, sorry if the formatting turns out all funky- a bunch of my stuff is getting changed in the uploader D: