Castle Oblivion was unquestionably a marvel of architecture, logistically and aesthetically. The former clarification of its status it achieved by its very nature; the Castle's location at the extreme edge of existence was a testament to the enduring nature of the universe, after all. The top floor, farthest from the ground which served as the Castle's foundation, was thus the part of the castle closest to being devoured by darkness at any given moment. And yet the whole remained, allowed to showcase the other facet of its unique and incomparable architecture: its very form and substance. Even twisted beyond recognition from its original form, Castle Oblivion maintained an imposing and morbidly beautiful exterior, its crenellations, turrets and countless other attributes breathtaking in their cohesiveness, despite their apparent ignorance of the laws of physics. The interior: a stark white series of halls and rooms, minimalist in appearance and furnishings, but captivating in their ivory tranquility.

This tranquility was broken only on the thirteenth floor, by spots of red – spots of blood. Naminé's blood. The young Nobody cowered on the cold metal floor, bleeding from a cut across her cheek and avoiding the livid gaze of her oppressor. Marluxia, the Graceful Assassin, Lord of Castle Oblivion, stood over her, regarding her with an expression of distaste. "Tell me, little witch," he spat. "Do you care nothing for your own well-being?" Naminé was silent, trembling as she raised a hand to her wound – her movement her only sign of life.

Marluxia would not have this insubordination. With a sudden, deliberate thrust of his arm, he grabbed Naminé by the shoulder, pulling her roughly to her feet and taking her chin forcefully in his hand. Her frightened blue eyes mirrored his furious glare – in color alone. "You defied Larxene, and in doing so allowed Sora to face her unrestricted. You stood in her way to protect him." Marluxia held her there a moment longer, and backhanded her with his free hand. Another bruise was added to Naminé's already marred features, and she was cast roughly to the ground. "Because of you, another member of the Organization has fallen, and that is tantamount to killing her yourself!" Marluxia turned his back on her then, and gave an exaggerated, theatrical sigh. "The things I do for you, Naminé. I feed you, clothe you, shelter and educate you. Is it too much to ask that you earn a little of it?"

Naminé lay on the ground, absorbing the question and watching her blood turn to darkness and evaporate, leaving nothing behind to suggest its existence. It reminded her just how fragile her time in the worlds was, and forced a pained "No, sir. No, it's not." Tears stung her eyes, and she struggled to hold them back.

Marluxia turned to face her. "Are you sure you mean that?" He wore a small smile, almost taunting her with a simple twitch of the muscles in his face. "After all," he continued, affecting a curious tone, "don't you feel the slightest bit of…hesitation?" Naminé looked up at him from her crumpled position below, confused. Marluxia continued, maintaining his façade of innocent questioning. "Meddling with someone's memories…that changes a person, do you know that? What they believe. How they behave." He stopped, inches from the quivering girl. "Who they are."

Naminé painfully raised her head to meet Marluxia's eyes, willing herself not to burst into tears. There was only one right answer, and even then the worst of it wasn't over. "No, sir. I serve the Organization, and the mission comes before everything." The sentence was like a stake in her chest, being pounded an inch deeper with every word as she acknowledged her helplessness.

Marluxia took a knee, bending to Naminé's level, and gently stroked her bowed head. She flinched at his touch, but said nothing. "You feel absolutely nothing regarding your treatment of Sora?" Naminé did not respond for several seconds. Then, choosing her words carefully: "Nothing at all." Marluxia's caresses lost their gentleness, as his hand made a fist in her hair. He stood, yanking Naminé to her feet. She screamed at the sudden pain, and felt her eyes overflowing as the torment broke her. Marluxia shifted his grip to the back of her neck, constricting his hand and allowing barely enough room to breathe. He forced Naminé to look him in the eye.

"Damn right you don't. You're a Nobody – no heart, no feelings." Marluxia slackened his grip, and moved his hand to Naminé's tear-streaked face. "You can pretend all you like, but you will never truly feel an emotional response to me, to anyone, or to anything. Those tears? Salt water, and nothing more." So saying, Marluxia raised his other hand. Holding Naminé's head in his hands, he closed his eyes, channeling a fraction of his own power into her. "Let's get you cleaned up for your hero, shall we?" he murmured. A soft pink glow enveloped Naminé's head, and results manifested within seconds – the cut on her face sealed, the bruises faded, and the blood was wiped clean. When Marluxia lowered his hands, Naminé looked none the worse for her abuse.

"Now that we've established your lack of emotions, you should have no trouble redeeming yourself." Marluxia stepped back from Naminé, and snapped his fingers. His form blurred, splitting in two, and in an instant a mirror image of Marluxia stood next to the real one.

"Sora and his companions have reached this floor of the castle," both Marluxias said at once, their voices reaching Naminé in stereo. "I'm depending on you to put an end to this, once and for all. My copy will tell you what to do." The Marluxia on the left summoned a portal of darkness, disappearing through it. The other Graceful Assassin approached Naminé, taking her hand. She stood frozen in terror, held in place by the copy's calculating gaze, and found the courage to speak. "What does the Lord of the Castle require of me?" she asked, in resignation at delivering the oft-repeated line.

The false Marluxia smiled, leading her to the center of the room. "All in good time. Come – your hero approaches."

So Sora did. Naminé had orders to erase Sora's memories and destroy his heart; to the shock of everyone present, however, Sora had accepted this fate. This he had done, even after Naminé had refused. It was the first time she had stood up to Marluxia, and it would not be the last. A brief exchange later, the room that had been Naminé's torture chamber was a war zone. Unseen to Marluxia, the downtrodden, abused Nobody had fled, slipping around a corner – any corner – in the long hallway leading away from the room. Naminé collapsed as soon as she left the hall, sobbing uncontrollably. For the past several days, she had been forced to systematically strip away the memories of someone she didn't even know; did that make her as bad as Marluxia, even if it was against her will? She didn't think so, but the slightest notion of it kept her shackled to the sterile floors in despair. When finally she opened her eyes, she stretched out her hand, summoning a small portal as Axel had taught her in secret. From this she withdrew her beloved sketchbook and a box of crayons, her only escape from the horror within Castle Oblivion.

Naminé opened the sketchbook, flipping to her latest picture – Sora, Donald, and Goofy standing defiantly before Marluxia. At first, she spared it only a passing glance. But as she turned the page, something clicked within her, and a radical thought came:

"I drew this after lunch today…didn't I just see it happen?"

Suddenly Naminé stirred, getting to her knees and turning to the latest empty page in her sketchbook. Why hadn't she noticed this before? She wiped her face clean of her tears, which no longer flowed. With an uncharacteristic expression of barely-contained rage and iron resolve developing on her face, Naminé selected a pink crayon and began to draw.

Marluxia watched the battle through the eyes of his copy, and breathed a sigh of manufactured contentment. "It seems like only yesterday I was first setting foot in this castle. How the time flies."

He was standing in what could be considered the attic of Castle Oblivion – an extradimensional space linked to the rest of the Castle by the door his double now guarded. The immaculately white platform on which he stood terminated in four pillars and a drop into an endless void – gray as far as the eye could see, with not even the swirling consistency of fog to give the illusion of anything beyond the field of battle.

"I'm not about to lie to myself. That's exactly what this place will become, once Sora carves his way through my Absent Silhouette." Marluxia's assessment of the battle was accurate, and based entirely on his own machinations. The Silhouette could hold its own for a while because that was what it was designed for – a temporary obstacle to the Keyblade Master's quest. Marluxia certainly wasn't about to kill him now – let alone indirectly – after all the time and resources he had devoted to the boy's corruption.

Marluxia waved a hand carelessly, and wisps of nothingness coalesced behind him into vines. The vines twisted and wove together, blossoming here and there and creating an armchair of plants from which Marluxia could watch the show unfold. Reclining in the floral seat, the Graceful Assassin took the next few minutes to reflect on the events which led him here.

His earliest memory was of his fall from grace. Marluxia had been a man of some importance in his former life, to put it mildly; "some importance" meaning "populations lived and died by his command." The 78th Lord of Valentine Town, across from that locale's Halloween counterpart, to be exact. And while the lifeblood of that world was love, unconditional and beautiful, Lamuria had seen and embraced its darker side: lust, manipulative and desirous; envy, destructive and hateful. His life had revolved around fulfilling these short-term goals – constant and instant gratification in a world that, in his perception, was designed for these things.

Avarice begets avarice, and Valentine Town was a tragic example of this universal truth. Lamuria's thirst for fulfillment was bottomless. The visual arts were in constant demand at the Manor of Roses, and were the first to be exhausted. In mere months, the walls and corridors were full to bursting with paintings, sculptures, and all the best that Valentine Town's creatively gifted had to offer. Lamuria would gaze on each one for no more than a day before he had seen all he believed he could see. The practitioners of visual beauty worked themselves to death on pain of torture, seeing greater merit in expiring through their greatest joy. And when the last of the great masters suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of painting his last work at swordpoint, Lamuria demanded more.

His next obsession would be theater, and from there he would progress to music and thence to literature. Passion came and went in a world devoted to it, until at last Lamuria discovered flowers. Flowers were different from any other kind of beautiful thing, in that they endured. A single plant produces many seeds, and Lamuria had a staff of gardeners working constantly to expand his therefore immortal gardens. While the walls of his estate moved ever outward to accommodate a world's beauty, the people of Valentine Town suffered unimaginably. Gone were the beautiful things in life. Gone were the best and the brightest and the handsomest of the town's inhabitants. All these things had long since been locked away behind Lamuria's doors. Deprived of almost everything that made life worth living, Valentine Town slowly withered and died.

And then the Heartless came.

The fate of Valentine Town was almost merciful. The few who had not starved to death or taken their own lives were torn apart quickly, their hearts consumed by the relentless tide of darkness. These remaining citizens were spared any further torment. Little did any of them know that that of their Lord was just beginning.

Marluxia closed his eyes, his grip on the chair's arms tightening and crushing some of the vines. "That was the day that beauty died," he recalled bitterly. His guards – what few of them hadn't deserted – had crumpled beneath the assault of the living darkness. The creatures had swarmed through the halls of the Manor of Roses, desecrating every surface with their touch; even the walls and ceilings were alive with the things, which inadvertently ripped paintings to shreds, toppled statues, and shattered stained glass windows in their mad search for hearts.

Lamuria's had been a spectacular prize – the darkness within practically begged to be released. His death marked the end of a world that celebrated love and beauty in all its forms. But what Marluxia regretted, upon waking, was not the tragic destruction of such a formerly idyllic and blissful realm. Not that in itself. Rather, he had been livid just thinking about the destruction of all he once gazed upon appraisingly. His galleries. His courtyards. His banquet halls, his stained glass windows, his statues. Most devastating was the loss of his gardens, once thought immortal in their splendor.

That, Marluxia reflected, was the reason why he had come to embrace the nothingness. A matter subject to much discussion within the ranks of the Organization was the nature of its operatives' nonexistence. "An attribute for each greater Nobody, apparently reflective of the nonperson's…psyche. Preferences. Lifestyle. What have you." In Marluxia's eyes, the attribute of flower was his chance at regaining beauty in his life, and at using it to his advantage. "After all, was there any sense in letting it just sit there? What a fool that Lamuria was."

And besides, now that he didn't age, Marluxia had all the time in the world to rebuild his collection. He had the Garden of Futility in the Castle that Never Was, attended to with greater care than afforded most people. The Blind Gallery had been added to Castle Oblivion on his orders, and he had up to this point kept Naminé working around the clock to fill it. "All she ever does is draw. She should be thankful." He had the appreciable items. All that was missing was the capacity to appreciate them – a heart. Nothing could bring Marluxia joy anymore, he found – without emotions, none of his collection could ever truly make him happy. "But in the end, isn't there a whole universe out there for my entertainment? I can't imagine boredom ever being a problem again." With a sigh, Marluxia turned his attention back to Sora's battle, hoping to chase such conflicts from his mind with thoughts of impending victory.

All was as planned; the Absent Silhouette was clearly slowing. Here it would stagger at a blow from Sora's Keyblade; there it would stumble in the act of dodging. Its strikes grew sluggish, weaker with each passing second.

Marluxia nodded his acceptance. "That's that, then. I've toyed with him long enough." As he rose from his improvised chair, preparing for the assault, a voice echoed forth from the surrounding emptiness.

Why so hasty, my Lord?

With a violent start, Marluxia whirled, searching for the source of the voice. "…The hell? There shouldn't be anyone else in here!" Marluxia summoned his scythe, insurance against any and all danger. "Show yourself!" he commanded.

As you wish.

From out of the mists of nothingness, a Nobody emerged. It was a Nobody unlike any Marluxia had ever seen – at least ten feet tall and willowy, humanoid yet otherworldly. Great silver wings unfolded from its back, and it levitated, having no legs to speak of. A beaklike helmet, emblazoned with the insignia of Organization XIII, hid its face from the nose up, its expression only visible in its mouth. By all appearances it was female, a characteristic its alto voice reinforced.

This is a day of reckoning for those who lack hearts, Marluxia. From your desires and from the nothingness have I come to ensure your destiny is fulfilled.

Marluxia eyed the angelic Nobody warily. "And how are you to do this? What if this is nothing more than a ruse?"

The Nobody shook its head, a thin smile frozen on its obscured face. You may call me Spectre. For almost as long as you have, I have served the Organization faithfully in every capacity. I have worked against the Keyblade wielder and the forces of light, and I stand before you, unarmed and vulnerable, to offer you my existence in service to your crusade. So saying, the Nobody knelt, bowing its head and exposing its neck to Marluxia.

Marluxia regarded this new arrival appraisingly, weighing his options. "I could always refuse. I can't be sure of this one's intent. Although..." He stumbled suddenly, a shock passing through him. That was it, then - the Absent Silhouette had fallen. Another copy rose to taunt the hero, and through its eyes Marluxia saw, incredibly, that Sora looked none the worse for the battle that had just ended. He turned back to the Nobody, still kneeling. "I may have some use for you yet," declared the Graceful Assassin. "You may fight by my side."

Spectre rose from its position of subservience, still smiling. I shall do better than that, my lord. I shall carry you into battle. Have a seat.

Marluxia, unsure, moved back to the armchair of plants. No sooner had he reached it than it stretched out its vines for him, wrapping his legs in constrictor-like coils. Marluxia's immediate reaction was panic - what could possibly turn his beloved greenery against him? He readied his scythe, preparing to cut himself free.

Peace, Marluxia. My intentions are strictly honorable. Marluxia hesitated a moment, watching the Nobody work. Vines were enveloping his entire lower body, yet they did not move to crush him. Rather, they seemed to be conforming to his body, holding him in place while avoiding discomfort. "Carry me into battle..." Marluxia was becoming intrigued. Suddenly, he found himself rising, borne skyward by some mysterious force. Looking down, he saw Spectre kneeling below him, lifting him onto the Nobody's back. Nothingness began to swirl around them ominously, as in a gathering storm, and it was from this nothingness that Spectre drew even greater power. As Marluxia looked on in wonder, his new servant doubled, then tripled in size; its entire body gained thick white armor, and its arms extended and sharpened into deadly claws. Within minutes, Marluxia rode at the head of a massive, floating, machinelike creature, its sole remaining humanoid feature the constantly smiling face at its front.

Spectre's voice echoed in Marluxia's head: Does this suit you, my lord?

Marluxia took all this in, allowing an incredulous grin to spread across his face. " this is the true power of nothingness! But it could do with some...personalization." With this thought, the vines around Marluxia exploded with life, or a facsimile born of nothing, blossoming into a massive pink flower that surrounded him. He then took his scythe in both hands; after a moment's concentration, it separated into two blades, which he handed down to Spectre. With a flash of dusky pink light, they combined with the great clawed arms of Marluxia's servant, forming horrifically sharp claws like those of a praying mantis. The preparations were now complete. Marluxia found for the first time in what seemed forever that he was genuinely excited; now, he believed, Sora's quest was at an end. He was not tired from creating the Absent Silhouette, nor did his union with Spectre exhaust him. Today above all other days, Marluxia felt invincible. He closed his eyes once more, watching the scene unfold in the anteroom. Sora had finally made up his mind to face him in battle, and approached the door devoid of all fear.

Marluxia chuckled; it seemed like the right thing to do. "I'm going to genuinely enjoy this," he murmured. "Spectre, hide yourself for the moment. I want to savor every second of Sora's dawning despair." Without a word, Spectre vanished, leaving Marluxia seemingly floating in midair. A glance toward the room's sole entrance told Marluxia that the door was slowly opening.

"Let him come," though Marluxia smugly. "Let him see how hideously outmatched he really is!"

Upon opening the door to Marluxia's chamber, Sora was momentarily dazzled by a flash of whitest light. It was not the pure light that he represented; this light was born of the void, the absence of all else creating a blinding vista of emptiness. The young Keyblade Master shook it off, dashing through the doorway toward his destiny. His footsteps were lost in the endless gray abyss, their sound lacking anything to even echo off of. Sora stopped on the outer edge of a massive white arena, ringed with four tall columns and inlaid with an intricate yet lifeless design of a white rose. He skidded to a halt and looked around; at first glance, the room was empty. A single pink petal fell in the middle of the room, and Sora could barely contain his shock when he looked up to discover its source. Marluxia, the Graceful Assassin, Organization XIII's Number XI, hovered thirty feet above the boy, glaring down at him with cold fury - yet his voice bespoke triumph.

"Soon the emptiness will shatter your heart..." Marluxia began, indicating the infinite vacuum in every direction. "Here in this world of nothingness!"

The last syllables of his challenge died away, swallowed by a gray tornado bearing hundreds of petals. The storm of nothing completely obscured Marluxia, its winds pushing Sora to the edge of the battlefield. It raged for merely ten seconds, but no more was necessary. When Sora finally opened his eyes, even his adventurer's heart was shocked at the figure before him. His enemy stood astride a gigantic Nobody, armored and armed to be more than a match for him. His expression of wonder and horror was reflected in the long, pink, wickedly sharp blades that the Nobody possessed in place of hands, and Marluxia himself seemed a part of this formidable beast. Marluxia raised both hands in victory, and issued what he thought would be one of many future denunciations of the light:

"As lightless oblivion devours you - drown in the ever-blooming darkness!"

Marluxia rode into battle astride his new servant, assured of his victory now that his plans were back on track. From atop the veritable force of nature that Spectre would prove to be, Sora looked laughably small; his Keyblade seemed nothing more than a sewing needle from Marluxia's point of view.

"This looks promising indeed...let's see how this works, shall we?" Marluxia opened his mouth to order Spectre to attack, but was interrupted when the towering Nobody did exactly that.
Sora went for a direct assault, leaping straight between the scythe-arms and aiming for Spectre's head. Before he was even halfway to his destination, he was batted aside effortlessly by the flat of the left blade. The boy's cry of pain brought a perverse satisfaction to Marluxia, who delighted in such seamless integration between his desires and current events. Your thoughts are my directives, my lord, confirmed Spectre.

Marluxia regarded Sora carefully, watching him twist in midair and land on his feet, skidding slightly. A gesture in his direction sent Spectre gliding toward him, closing off any escape. With another flourish, several petals detached from the Graceful Assassin's floral throne, reforming into three rosebuds that swooped down to surround Sora. The Keyblade master had mere seconds to notice this before one of them fired a concentrated bolt of pink energy at him. He bent over backwards to avoid it, nearly falling with the suddenness of the maneuver; soon he was forced to give ground, deflecting blasts with his Keyblade as Marluxia advanced.

Spectre backed Sora almost against a column, and Marluxia was almost disappointed at how quickly things had turned in his favor. "Here I stand, effectively waiting for him to die. Where's the value in such an easy victory?" Marluxia briefly contemplated calling off the rosebuds, but immediately found that that would be unnecessary. Sora got lucky - one of the blasts he deflected reduced a rosebud to burning, falling petals. A hole in Marluxia's offense had opened up, and Sora dove straight through, leaping at and slashing another rosebud to pieces. Satisfied at this new challenge, Marluxia willed Spectre to attack.

No sooner had Sora turned around than a scythe-arm sliced his vision in two. He barely managed to leap back, then threw his Keyblade past the pink blade to deal with the third rosebud. It exploded into a shower of petals, and Marluxia prepared to summon three more. A grunt of surprise - or possibly pain - from Spectre alerted him to a troubling new development. Spectre drew its arm back, revealing to its master a crack in the blade where the Keyblade had grazed it. Looks of comprehension came to Sora and Marluxia at roughly the same time - mixed with determination in the former and shock in the latter.

I am not invincible, my lord. Attack! Marluxia knew this to be imperative, and ordered Spectre to charge the boy. The great machinelike Nobody roared across the battlefield, intending to knock Sora into oblivion, but the boy saw this coming. "Graviga!" Sora cast the spell and rolled out of the way; the magical force brought Spectre to the ground. It dug its scythe-arms into the immaculate floor to slow itself, but the weakened right blade snapped under the stress. Only a collision with a column stopped its slide. The impact jarred Marluxia's body, nearly throwing him from his position. As Spectre took to the air once more, Marluxia's hands gripped its surface indignantly. "Must I sacrifice the pleasure of killing you?" he demanded, advancing on Sora once more.

Spectre hovered at an angle, unbalanced by the loss of a blade. As such, its attacks were clumsier, due to the necessity of recalibrating its flight. Slash after slash sent Sora rolling and leaping to protect himself, none scoring a significant hit; as Spectre stopped to right itself, Sora struck. In a daring gambit that shocked even Marluxia, Sora hurled his Keyblade at Spectre's good arm, jumping after it. The weapon hit Spectre's own, and Sora caught it as it rebounded, defying the very laws of physics to stay in the air as he attacked. With each strike, cracks spiderwebbed in the pink blade, until finally it shattered. Spectre was now left with sparking, jagged, useless pieces of metal instead of blades, and this infuriated Marluxia to no end. "What kind of servant are you?" he thought. "It's as if you're not even trying!" He summoned his scythe again, and drew it back for an attack on Sora. "Must I do everything myself?"

Spectre stopped suddenly, motionless even as Sora jumped, grabbed its side, and began climbing toward the Graceful Assassin. Perhaps that is for the best, it responded. Its voice aroused anger in Marluxia, which quickly gave way to unease. "What do you mean?" he said out loud, as Sora stood and ran to get to Spectre's head. "Spectre? What is the meaning of this?" Sora stopped, halfway between Spectre's head and Marluxia and looking from one to the other. A sudden chill ran through Marluxia, who set about summoning rosebuds in a panic. "WHAT IN KINGDOM HEARTS' NAME ARE YOU?" he screamed as Sora swung for his head.

Suddenly Marluxia's surroundings were gone - different, rather. Instead of a formless gray void, he found himself in what looked like a massive wire-frame globe - or cage - surrounded by black and blue emptiness. Looking down, he saw his lower body disappearing into a black-and-purple mass that segued into a great platform - a new battlefield. At the other end of the platform was Sora, apparently just as surprised as Marluxia at the change in surroundings. After a moment of initial wonder and confusion, Sora staggered back in amazement, staring at something above Marluxia's head. Marluxia turned to see what it was.

Spectre towered over him, easily a hundred feet high. It had changed - now it had taken on the appearance of a spindly angel, four wings beating, whipping up a maelstrom around them. Its face was still shrouded in shadow, save for a frozen smirk that chilled Marluxia to the bone. Most unsettling was its chosen weapon - it wielded a gigantic version of Marluxia's scythe. Sora shook off his shock first, rushing Marluxia with Keyblade at the ready. Quickly, Marluxia swept his hand through the air, drawing wind from around him and blasting Sora back in a storm of petals. As Sora recovered, Marluxia directed a quick thought toward Spectre. "I ask again, what are you? What is your purpose? Where did you come from?"

Silence greeted him. Marluxia summoned a squadron of rosebuds to slow Sora's renewed assault, all the while trying to summon his scythe. It was useless - the weapon remained in Spectre's hands, and as a result Marluxia was left wide open to Sora's Keyblade strikes. The boy's resilience was remarkable - even deprived of his memories from his journey through Castle Oblivion, he fought like he had something precious still to live for. He would be burned and blasted by the rosebuds, and yet would always carve through them. Storms of petals would push him back, but he would return when they had died down. Marluxia's best efforts were inevitably rewarded with a blow to the side...a cut across his arm...a broken bone. Dodging a barrage from a rosebud, Sora dropped to the ground, rolling and coming up with a swing of his Keyblade. The impact snapped Marluxia's leg with a visceral CRACK, sending the Graceful Assassin to the ground, screaming in anguish. In absence of tears, choked gasps dogged his every breath. And yet he would always heal; some internal hatred or resolve compelled him to laboriously rise to the challenge, his battered body soaking up abuse from Sora.

"Impossible..." he thought despairingly, his breath coming in ragged gasps as his ribs (and a collapsed lung) healed. "No matter what I do, Sora keeps coming. It's as if it's his destiny to defeat me!"

WRONG! roared Spectre after a long silence. Destiny is not followed - it is made! All shall be revealed to you through this ultimate lesson! Marluxia whipped his head around, surprised at the voice of his former servant - his new torturer. "Why do you keep me here? Who are you to-" His chest was ripped violently apart in his moment of distraction. Before he could even look back, Sora had leaped half the length of the platform, throwing his Keyblade mid-jump. Marluxia could only look at it - it stuck straight through his torso, piercing his absence of a heart. Darkness seeped from the wound as it throbbed in unbearable pain - a pain that doubled when Sora ripped the Keyblade from his adversary's body. Marluxia's cry of defeat and immeasurable agony was almost lost to the empty space around him; suddenly, time stopped, freezing the sound so that it constantly echoed in his ears. His own screams mingled with Spectre's icy voice pronouncing his doom.

I shall tell you who I am, Marluxia. I am all that you valued, come to betray your stubborn, selfish excuse for existence. Beauty, twisted beyond recognition. Innocence, driven to vengeance. You end here, by the hand of your desire... Suddenly, the voice changed to one that was all too familiar. A small, yet strong voice. One that bespoke years of pain and perseverance.

Naminé's voice.

"Just as I shall one day end by Kairi's."

And as time returned to its normal flow, as a look of terror spread across his pale, perfect face, in Marluxia's last moments of dawning comprehension, the angelic Nobody's smile became a horrifically victorious grin. The avatar of nothingness raised the scythe; Marluxia barely had time to glimpse his expression of mortified defeat reflected in the pink blade before it fell with devastating finality, ripping the hole in his chest even wider. Darkness, infused with dusky pink petals, poured forth from the wound. The Graceful Assassin shuddered violently on the blade, his power failing to save him and finally abandoning his ruined body. He was dead already - he simply refused to accept it; to accept that his own cruelty had bred such ruthless retribution, to admit that he had died as much by his own hand as his own weapon. With a monumental effort, he raised his head to see his victorious opponent. To Sora, the scythe strike looked like a deliciously ironic accident. He would never know the truth - and somehow, the thought that his defeat would be misremembered infuriated Marluxia even more. He would die, and he would die humiliated.

Spectre vanished behind him, leaving Marluxia alone. Agony ripping at his every nerve, he reached for Sora one final time, the remaining embodiment of his suffering; but by then he could no longer hold on to his futile simulacrum of existence. His physical form flickered once, twice, and finally dissolved, a scattering cloud of darkness and petals all that remained of the Lord of Castle Oblivion.

So it was that beauty died once more.

Axel reappeared in the highest hallway of Castle Oblivion, clutching his side, stumbling and catching himself against a wall. "Whew! Sora's a tricky one, that's for sure. I'll be keeping an eye on him in the future..." There was a great rumbling noise from beyond - Axel lifted his head toward the end of the hall, and cracked a smile. "That'll be flowerboy. Won't the boss be pleased..." Something crumpled on the ground caught his eye. A few steps farther revealed its identity: Naminé lay seemingly motionless on the ivory floor, surrounded by sheets of paper. Axel broke into a half-run, falling to his knees next to her. "Yo! Naminé! Say something! Talk to me..." Her chest rose and fell as he shook her, and Axel breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time, he noticed the contents of the paper surrounding Naminé. On one, there was a drawing of Sora, Donald, and Goofy standing defiantly before Marluxia. Another showed the door at the end of the hall opening, Sora standing ready to enter. Gradually, the drawings grew more elaborate and detailed; one showed Marluxia astride a massive machinelike Nobody, with Sora dismantling it violently. Another showed a similar-looking angelic Nobody behind Marluxia, as Sora ran to do battle.

Axel chuckled. "Huh. Guess she had to let it all out somehow." One final picture caught his eye. He laid Naminé down and picked it up, studying it carefully. It was a drawing of Marluxia, his face contorted in torturous anguish, his chest pierced with his own scythe. Black and pink crayon covered the middle of the picture, as if Naminé had haphazardly scribbled Marluxia out. Axel shuddered, noticing a broken pink crayon on the ground. He stood up abruptly, dropping the picture; it landed on its front side, revealing another drawing opposite it. It seemed to be an endless white space, an egg-like containment chamber dominating the middle of it. A message was scrawled across the top:

"Take me here."

"Don't need to tell me twice," Axel mused. He opened a portal and picked up Naminé, carrying her on his shoulder. Halfway through the portal, he stopped; after a moment's thought, he snapped his fingers. As the portal closed behind them, the pictures caught fire and burned away. The moments leading up to her blackout would forever be a blank in Naminé's memory.

Perhaps it was for the best.

Eight months without an update. That's unforgivable. No amount of apology can undo that, and I present to you the longest chapter yet as some small form of atonement. I felt Naminé deserved some measure of retribution; I also felt that there was more to her than any of the Organization ever let on. Maybe it was for their own safety as much as hers.

Larxene before the end of the month. I'm considering Xion, per the request of AswaxSora.

Love and thanks to all the readers,

Zellarius Burvenia