Prologue

The historians all say that everything started when His Royal Majesty Ansem the Wise decided to take on six apprentices. To be specific, he had taken on the six boys to aid him in his studies regarding the nature of Hearts with particular emphasis on the effect of Darkness upon the mysterious things. His six apprentices, Xehanort, Dilan, Braig, Even, Aeleus, and Ienzo, did not disappoint. King Ansem had held a nation-wide examination to pick out the six brightest minds among the thousands of youngsters who lived in his kingdom, and those six teenage prodigies had bested the rest. They proved to be worthy of the King's respect, being proficient in the sciences, and also possessed curious minds that served them well in their relentless pursuit of knowledge.

And who could forget? All six didn't easily form emotional attachments to others, and were perfectly willing to leave the comforts provided to them by their homes and families immediately upon receiving notice of their success in the examinations. Basically, they had the makings of great men of science - a lack of feelings, and minds that were close to overflowing with a curiosity that could only be described as dangerous.

Xehanort, the pastor's son, was the group of apprentices' de facto leader, having taken charge of the other five whenever they had work to do. The others respected him, and of the six, he was Ansem's favorite.

Dilan, the drunkard's son, was the apprentice with the strangest ideas, which often turned out to be just that little bit better for their research's progress. Many times, dead ends in their experiments had been demolished by his simple ideas, often born out of a moment's creativity.

Braig, the soldier's son, was an easy-going person who excelled at... obtaining subjects for their experimentation. The others never bothered asking just how he had managed to get a hold of so many 'willing' people for their research, and of course, they couldn't be bothered to ask.

Even, the studious son of a teacher, was book-smart and rather ingenious. Sometimes, it seemed that King Ansem was the one struggling to keep up with his razor-edged intelligence, rather than the other way around.

Aeleus, the farmer's son, was a natural at the agricultural sciences. His muscled bulk also served the others' purposes well when it came to dealing with difficult subjects.

Ienzo, the quiet son of a tailor, never really spoke much, but made up for it by producing respectable results from his tasks. Rarely did he fail in any tasks that he was given, and he was particularly good at mentally-breaking their subjects if necessary.

Obviously, all of the above facts should be regarded with a weary mind, and could possibly be entirely false. The historians have minds which serve their master's wishes best, and it wasn't long after he started his research that King Ansem's historians found themselves serving an entirely new master.

Or maybe, masters would be a more appropriate word.

After all, shortly after the mysterious disappearance of King Ansem, his six apprentices assumed power over his kingdom, casting out his wife who was with child at that time. Only later did the six of them realize their error, and despite their frantic efforts, the knight who had been tasked with taking the dethroned queen away to be discretely killed had eloped with her, and her child.

The six usurpers eventually forgot about their little problem, and within months, they had transformed the kingdom of Radiant Garden into a soulless empire, which they all held in their collective grip. Their research into the nature of Darkness and Hearts had allowed them to gain some deadly knowledge, which they used to render themselves, and their closest allies, practically immortal.

They removed their own Hearts, and became into Darkness-filled shells of their former living selves.

They became Nobodies, and so the Dark Empire was formed, governed jointly by the six former apprentices. Historians noted down this series of events under a heading of 'Modern Imperialism', and one-by-one, members of the government who refused to serve the Nobodies' wishes were either killed, or subjected to horrifying tortures and experimentation by the six.

Soon, they took on seven more members, and the Dark Empire renamed its governing body from the 'Council of Six' to 'Organization XIII'. Entire legions of lesser Nobodies were created, as well as swarms of strange creatures called the Heartless, that served to maintain the stability of the Dark Empire. Innumerable citizens were forcibly removed from their homes in the middle of the night, and hauled-off to the castle once known as Hollow Bastion, but which was now named 'Castle Oblivion'.

Within the castle's maze-like interior, the aforementioned people were stripped of their Hearts, and split into their being's two halves - a Nobody and a Heartless. The Organization's scientists, both of them being Nobodies themselves, conducted extensive research into the production of more Nobodies, and the various methodologies of manipulating Darkness to serve their needs. By the time the Organization was done with their sinister agenda, the kingdom once known as Radiant Garden, full of life and happiness, was a kingdom of Darkness, filled with empty homes and patrolled by more Heartless and Nobodies than anyone could have counted by themselves. Even the world of Gaia was re-named as 'The World That Never Was', a symbol of the Nobodies' triumphant rise to power.

Eventually, even the remnants of all Radiant Garden civilization were demolished, as Castle Oblivion expanded its architecture, and soon enough, the enormous castle was surrounded by sprawling complexes and cities. But here was the catch - all those cities and complexes were all empty, and were only inhabited by Nobodies and Heartless.

Within months of their initial moves, neighboring worlds were attacked by swarms of Heartless and Nobodies, and the worlds' Hearts consumed by Darkness. One-by-one, worlds like Olympus Coliseum, Halloween Town, Agrabah, Atlantica, Neverland, Pride Lands, Land of Dragons, and Deep Jungle were destroyed, a token amount of their inhabitants imported to Castle Oblivion for further experimentation.

However, problems soon arose when their thirteenth member, a boy who was in his teens, and who was being groomed for a future role as a full-fledged Nobody, vanished.

This caused some unrest among the Organization, as they realized that the boy's transformation into a Nobody hadn't yet finished. It was extra as disturbing when the Organization's twelve remaining members realized that the boy had been stolen out of Castle Oblivion itself, despite the castle's formidable internal defenses. They had counted fifty-eight corpses of various species forming a trail to the Castle's main doors, and from there, it became clear that the abductors had escaped via a portal or Gummi Ship of some sort. The most suspicious of all was that none of their lesser Nobodies nor Heartless had reported any intruders in the castle, until after the alarms rigged inside the boy's room had been tripped. This implied an inside job, and the Organization realized, at that point of time, that maybe, just maybe, their empire wasn't all that invincible.

Very obviously, this meant that someone from the outside of their kingdom would be able to use him and unlock his memories, therefore possibly exposing their kingdom's weaknesses to any of the rebellious factions that existed off-world. Hundreds of people who had escaped from the Organization's take-over of Radiant Garden had settled on other worlds, and the Organization hadn't yet managed to catch any of them.

But with the boy gone, things were a whole new ball game, altogether.

xxx

Stars glinted in a cloudless night sky, as black as death and as silent as a tomb save for the sounds created by Mother Nature. Insects played their roles in a forest's nocturnal orchestra, while at a beach close to the forest's edge, waves lapped gently at the seashore, their rhythmic motion creating a soothing series of soft rushing noises, that merely served to further enhance the tranquility of the night.

On the beach, light years away from The World That Never Was, two people sat watching the stars, not saying anything to each other. Their expressions were anything but tranquil, and their Hearts were aching with sadness.

In front of their eyes, a star blinked out, its light disappearing like a light bulb that had been blown. The space it had once occupied momentarily seemed to be even darker than the obsidian sky surrounding it, but within seconds, all had returned to normal, as though nothing had happened at all.

"A star's gone out," said the male of the two, in a quiet voice.

"The Organization is relentless," noted his female companion, in a sad tone of voice, "And there's nothing we can do to stop them..."

"Don't worry, we've still got our last hand to play in this game. All isn't lost yet..."

The woman, dressed in a flowing pink dress, turned to look at her companion, decked-out all in black leather clothes and belts, "Do you think they succeeded? Castle Oblivion is extremely well-secured."

"The castle's defenses are all made to protect it from external assaults. An attacking force appearing right inside its rooms? They shouldn't be expecting that."

"But what about the scouting missions? You know what the scouts reported!"

"I know, I know," said the man wearily, "The Organization's Labyrinth, the traps, the Nobodies and Heartless guarding the place... But the people we sent there were the best, and they wont let us down!"

The woman sighed, "As it is, they're already an hour late. For all we know, the Organization could be tracing how we opened those two portals to their world right now..."

"Those captive Nobodies were useful only for one use, Aerith. They allowed us to force open two portals for brief periods of time, and nothing more than that."

They both fell silent, laying back on the cool sand and watching the night sky, wondering if the Organization would be destroying any more worlds that night. So many had already perished, so many worlds devastated by the Darkness...

Suddenly, out of the blue, a portal of Darkness materialized at the pier, three people lurching out of the dark corridor that had linked two worlds for some time. Two of the people seemed to be conscious, and were carrying a third between them. The portal sparkled with electricity and pulsed with energy for a moment, before collapsing in on itself, and erasing all traces of its existence.

"Cloud!" cried Aerith, jumping up and running towards the three newcomers, "Sephiroth!"

"It's alright!" called back one of the two conscious figures, "Get Merlin and DiZ over here! He's out, but he'll be back to consciousness soon!"

Aerith ran off towards a hut on the beach, as the three new arrivals walked off the pier, heading towards the hut themselves.

"You actually managed to get him!" exclaimed the man who had been sitting with Aerith, "The others didn't make it?"

"No, Leon," replied the other newly-arrived man flatly, "Our target here took out six of them before we knocked him out, and the rest were taken out by the Nobodies and Heartless in the Labyrinth. We left just in time to avoid being confronted by Xemnas and the other Organization members themselves."

"That close, huh?" asked Leon, as he saw the motionless teenage boy they were holding, "He's the one?"

"That's him," affirmed Cloud, nodding his head, "Number XIII, Roxas."

Any further conversation was prevented by Aerith's return, and the joining of their company by a man dressed in the blue robes of a master mage, as well as a man swathed in bandages and wearing red robes, who surveyed the situation with a jaundiced yellow eye.