Chapter Ten:

A Tale Under the Full Moon

~XOX~

"They cling to their love as their only home, their only solid strength…"

Cold, northern breeze no longer hum a peaceful lullaby, and the clamor of crickets and other nocturnal creatures were instantaneously brought to a halt. The dead of night manifested itself into a dreadful melody known as silence. Roxas could only glare at the hooded figure standing in front of him amidst the tainted shrubs. "What the fuck are you doing here, Axel?"

"Easy, easy…"—the entity known as Axel wave his hand—"…there." A set of crimson-blood locks protruded like stage curtains as soon as he pulled his hood down only to frown upon receiving no dose of reaction from the younger boy. "Long time no see to you too, Bro. Nice to know you haven't forgotten your dear, old pal, but I see all those years of imprisonment must've made you so stingy."

"Don't give me this bullshit! I will never forget your betrayal! When you let them capture me all those years ago, you were no longer my friend."

"Oh… guess you still…got it memorized, he he." Axel drops down his gaze while rubbing the back of his neck. "I…I know what I did was unforgivable, but you gotta understand the situation back then, bro." Despite his usual, trademark grin, a certain emotion briefly crossed his countenance before he wiped it off quickly with a sarcastic tone. "It's just that one asshole was hella strong, y'know. I…couldn't bring myself to save you that time."

Roxas continues to glare at him.

Axel sighed and slumps his shoulders. "Okay, I'm just making excuses now, aren't I?"—"Even though it's the truth"—"Yeah, I'm a useless piece of shit, and yes, I'm a fucking pussy who doesn't deserve to call himself a 'vampire'," The blond teen continues to hold an incomprehensible expression. His lips were pressed together in a perfectly, straight line. Axel spoke again, this time, his voice becoming softer. "And…I know it's gonna be hard to believe me when I say this, but…there wasn't a day that passed without me regretting what I did. It's fucking suffocating, man! Like—Dammit! Stop making me say all these mushy, disgusting crap! It's totally out of character. Bottom line is I'm sorry."

At the very least, he managed to relieve the intense furrow on Roxas' brows. His sigh of relief was short live, however, when Roxas asks these next striking words, "You could've done something to rescue me. Now you show yourself after twenty-two full moons, and you expect me to let it all slide just like that?"

"There are a lot of things wrong in your judgments, Roxas. First of all, I don't expect you to forgive me that easily, but I'm still here apologizing, aren't I. Secondly, you have no idea the countless times I've thought about saving you, but I'm not that stupid. I can't do it by myself nor do I have the Organization's backing. I mean, we're talking about the Kingdom Hearts Corporation here: The moment I step on their backyard, I'm shredded meat." He took the liberty to close in on him. "Besides, that's all in the past. While everyone stepped on you like shit…I was your only bud. You couldn't have forgotten about that, right?"

Roxas stood silent for a moment, shifting uncomfortably on his feet. His eyes then drifted from the ground to the door of the shack where a certain beauty is sleeping in peace. Axel noticed this and his smirk widened. "Don't tell me you didn't like all of it one bit: you becoming a prisoner there, that is. It's cuz of that; you're able to meet that girl, right?"

The half vampire snapped his head back towards the red head at the mention of Naminè. His fists tightened in vigilance, and the same glare from before reappears on his face. Axel chuckles knowingly, "For the record, I'm not planning on doing anything to her, unless I want my head ripped off. I've spied on you a couple of times in this forest, but you were usually too busy picking flowers like a teenage girl to sense me that I almost couldn't hold my laugh. Now I know why." The taller vamp laughed deliberately at the memory while Roxas narrows his eyes further.

"Then, what the hell are you doing here for?!" he spat, "To watch me pick more flowers?"

Axel stops laughing in an instant. Green-lit eyes finally direct towards him as though the main gravity of the whole conversation pulled him back to his original intention. "I didn't have the nerve to face you. I didn't have the courage, and even now I still don't. Just came here to deliver a very important message. I'm sure you'd really wanna know."

"What is it," Roxas demanded.

"That girlfriend you got there?" Axel shook his head and sigh. "Hate to break it to you, but the Organization's already found out about your escape. She's no longer protected by the corporation, so now they're coming after her."

Roxas' eyes widened and he stepped back instinctively, but Axel didn't give him a chance to respond as he began to talk in a hurry, "We've wasted our time chit-chatting. They'll be here any minute now!" Axel raised his hand to his friend. "Come with me, Roxas. We'll start all over again like good ol' times. I'm not the same weak pussy-bastard like before, and I promise I can protect you. Come on!"

"But, I—" He glanced back at Naminè's location.

"Roxas, snap out of it! We've no time for your lusting on that girl! This so-called 'love' you feel is just your imagination. This is reality, and reality says the head administrators of all vampires are about to break all hell lose in this place! You should know better than to get in their way. Right now, I'm risking my head to save your sorry little ass so let's go!"

Regardless, Roxas didn't budge. His posture remain as unmoving as a stone, and his piercing, ocean eyes stares straight into Axel's own anxious orbs. "No," The vampire's voice sounded deep and threatening; definite and strong, "I will not leave Naminè." His aura and determination were enough to reel the taller figure backwards. It's the first time Axel see him willing to fight for someone other than his self; to stand his ground for the sake of a human being whom they have formerly shared a grudge against. For a moment, Axel was pissed off but eventually closed his eyes followed by a long, heavy sigh.

"Y'know, when you were kidnapped back then, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't do anything. I was weak. The only thing I could think of to help you is to train more. Worked my ass off all these years preparing for the day when I can finally come save you. I wanted to become stronger to protect you. But, here you are disobeying me of all people like a rebellious, spoiled brat. Guess I'm not the only one who's changed. Before I know it, my little, crybaby Roxy who used to pee his pants is all grown up," with a pretentious sniff, he finishes his sentence as a smile, one Roxas never thought his best friends can make, cast upon his face. It is sad, sincere, and gentle, "You look like you don't need any protection." Like a passing star, that once in a lifetime presentation of emotion fades away with Axel's subsequent words, "You know I will do anything to help you. Anything. But, not this." He reluctantly summoned the dark, swirling portal. "I'm also part of the Organization. Not fighting you right now is the least I can do—oops, they're here. Good luck." And, like a shooting star indeed, he took off in a burst of compressed air and of unspoken farewell.

Without warning, an object sparking with electricity was suddenly thrown towards Roxas. He was fortunate enough to dodge it before another glimmer shot pass his eyes. Its speed may have been too fast for ordinary humans, although Roxas, with his unnatural perception distinguished the diamond-shaped arrows and swiftly back flipped once then spin horizontally mid-air to avoid the series of shots. The moment he landed back on his feet, his advanced sensitivity apperceives five dark entities among the foliage.

"Wowee! Those were some sick moves," a feminine voice piped in and the blond teen immediately recalls the electrifying knives earlier. There's only one savage nymph who can pull off that weapon from thin air. On cue, Roxas slowly stood up and organized a fighting stance in case either one of them make a wrong move. "How boring. But, that's expected from the last member of the Organization, right? Ro-xas."

"I beg to differ, Larxene: He has never truly been one of 'us'," a pink-haired man appears a few feet behind her, causing the younger spectator to growl lightly.

As if the sinister presences weren't enough, a third portal manifested on the opposite side of Roxas followed by, "Only when you didn't treat him like an outcast, Marluxia."

"Zexion too?" another grumble resonates inside Roxas' mind, already irritated from the simultaneous arrival of the vampires associated in his past life. "Like you're the one to talk, Bookworm, you're late," the graceful assassin suspended his train of thoughts before a different snicker barge into the scene, "Hey hey hey! Now that is just rude, guys. We gotta show us a proper greeting for our long lost rookie." He turns his attention to the Dhampir. "Heya, Roxas! Did you miss us?" "Xigbar the Freeshooter," Roxas thought bitterly as he recognized the uncanny accent which evoked in his mind the diamond bullets earlier. "Oh dear, don't you think it's cruel shutting us down like that? Here we are payin' ya a visit even though you didn't bother writing us a letter. Oh well, we'll forgive you for that. Thanks to you, we don't have to do that 'dirty job'."

Demyx, who's been hanging around in the sidelines, sighed in disappointment, "Aw, and I was so looking forward for my human buffet tonight."

Larxene looked around and sniffs the air, "Where the hell is Axel?!"

"Beats me," the Melodious Nocturne replied only to be smacked by the savage female, "What the hell was that for?!"

"You said to beat you."

"That's enough, Larxene, Demyx! We have far greater things to prioritize than salvage in your insolence!" Xaldin barked after them then turns his attention to Roxas, "Now, Roxas, I will jump straight to the point: We have come for the girl you have taken custody. Step aside."

Xigbar comments in the background, "Yeah, 'gotta hand it to ya: as the outcast, you did a pretty good job bringing the bitch to us."

In front of the cabin, the youngest of all the vampires stood rigid, unyielding, as though all of their taunting flash from one ear to the other. Fear slightly gripped his mind, but it was merely a speck compared to the fear that would come if their dirty hands even touch one strand of his woman's hair. Like a relentless grit fortified by a powerful glare and tight fists directed at their presences, he proclaims, "You can't have Naminè! I WON'T LET YOU HAVE HER!"

Xigbar bursts out in amusement, "Kiddo, the only thing you'll ever save us from is boredom. You know you ain't got no chance, so just give yourself a favor and hand over the girl already!"

Larxene, nonetheless, couldn't be anymore happier. She yawned and stretched her arms. "And, here I thought I'll be considerate enough to accept you back to the Organization as my target practice." Then, in a swirling blue light, she summons electrified kunais between her fingers and flips them around in place. "Then again, let's have it your way. More pain for you means more fun for me!" And like some of her vampire companions, she slices her knife through the air and forms her fighting stance.

What sounded like a heartbeat resonated inside Roxas. He deliberately touched his chest with his enclosed fist. There is nothing else in his mind now other than Naminè; her name, her scent… "I'll protect you, Naminè…" Her angelic smiles flash in his thoughts. The way she had looked at him, her gentle, healing touch, and the tears that wept for him, the arms that accepted everything about him, it transformed into his source of strength. It somehow gave birth to an indescribable power so mighty, it is foreign to him yet he grabbed onto it—anything that could help him carry out the only thing he wishes for in the world. He made the girl a promise once above that plated roof, under the starry night sky, even the moon was their witness, and for sure as hell he'll never allow anyone or anything that will force him to break it."I'll protect you…I swear I'll protect you with my life!" At that moment, a large key appears in his hand. This time, it is white. That's right; Roxas has an oath to keep.

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Tifa flinched and instantly stand up from the roof. A strong breeze suddenly shook the leaves of the trees surrounding them and their shuddering shapes stretched as far as her eyes can see. She caught a glimpse of shadow moved along the swaying branches with a sharp sound of wind. It was as though 'they' are still trying to hide their presences, but the woman has long been expecting 'them'. "I knew it. They've come," She thought. After all the major uproar that had transpired in the Kingdom Hearts Corporation, this was the perfect chance for the enemies to attack.

Meanwhile, a rather stiff and broad figure sat upon a massive chair. While commotion continue to rumble outside the office, with KHC Guards gushing to and fro in and out the building, Ansem bound himself in that position for nearly the whole day and now night has come to take its toll. All power in that room were shut off so no lights can seep through other than the faint sound of voices and footsteps that seems to be coming nearer. Then, the door of Ansem's office finally opens. The crack on the door permitted the entrance of light that deprived the room for hours. It spread on the floor to reveal the shadow of two tall figures.

"You finally called for me, Master Ansem the Wise," one of them said.

Ansem's ears seem to perk from that familiar voice, and he slowly stood up from the comfy of his chair and turns to welcome them with his passive, salmon eyes. "Aye, first class SOLDIER…Angeal Hewley, an elite secret weapon of Kingdom Hearts. And, I see you've brought along your apprentice."

The shorter, black-haired male beside Angeal saluted the superior officer by standing tall and bumping his right fist on his chest. "Zack Fair, Sir!"

Ansem nodded him in acknowledgement but his focus went back to the higher military commander in front of him. "Indeed, it has been seven years since I ordered you to lead the arrest of a special 'artifact'. Mother Nature is cruel to have made humans remarkably weak and I had initially thought we would have no match against such powerful foes as the vampires. But, it was mainly thanks to SOLDIERs and your exceptional… skills that our company strived towards success." The wise man gestured them to come inside with his head, yet his hand remained behind him. He continues, "I am aware of the great 'sacrifice' you have to bear, but I'm afraid I am left with no other options."

"I understand," Angeal bluntly stated, earning him a confused look from his student to which his commander responded with a wordless eye contact between the two. Angeal then added his trademark motto that he has always directed to Zack, "If you want to be a hero you need to have dreams and honor," looking back towards their wise elder, he finishes his inspiring speech, "I've dedicated my life to serve humanity no matter the cost."

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"The legendary Keyblade?! B-But, that's impossible!" Demyx surprisingly exclaimed. The other members were also momentarily baffled yet the emotionless, vampire side of them kept them solid as statues. Roxas looks at the said over-sized key in his hand. "So, that's what it's called."

Pissed for no reason, Larxene wasted no time to throw him one of her knife again. Roxas saw this coming and quickly shielded himself with his new-found weapon. It dropped uselessly to the ground but the moment he unblocked his vision, both the nymph and freeshooter had closed in on him to slash their respective weapons which repeatedly clashes against his in loud, resonating clinks. Yet, despite the advantage of wielding this so-called "legendary Keyblade", Roxas found himself no match against two experienced opponents, thus he was gradually delivered backwards but still manages to keep his feet to the ground. That is until Larxene, who's capable of rapid attacks, managed to sneak her foot in and landed it hard on Roxas' flank.

On the sidelines, Demyx watches reluctantly and Marluxia, bored out of his mind, stares at Zexion and asks, "Aren't you going to jump in?" upon which the enigmatic schemer replies, "My apologies. I do prefer to keep my hands clean."

Roxas grunted as he was forced a couple of yards to the side, but the duo didn't allow him enough time to recover as Xigbar seem to like giving the poor vampire a tough, close-range combat with his twin arrowgun rifles by following him. And Larxene, although farther away, continues to aim a series of knives at his direction. These simultaneous attacks had Roxas reeling all over the place. He had no choice but to lean on the defensive tactic by blocking Xigbar's assaults and then back-flipping numerous times to dodge Larxene's electrified, flying kunais. There's no time to think, Roxas needs to find a way to get himself and Naminè out of there. He luckily distanced himself from the one-eyed sharpshooter to clash once again with the savage female.

They seemed to have switched roles: Xigbar is now the one shooting a continuous barrage of bullets while Larxene is having a one-on-one combat against Roxas who uses all parts of his body to dodge, kick and swing his keyblade around. The field they are battling on didn't cover too much area since Roxas prefers to keep a close eye on the entrance of the cabin where Naminè lies unaware of the fight occurring right now just outside her sanctuary. He needed to maintain his position between the blood-suckers and the girl. Just the desperate thought of keeping her safe supplied him with enough energy to land a vengeful kick on the savage nymph which sends her sliding several feet back. She smiled, fortunately blocking it with her arms to reduce the harmful impact.

"Haa!" On the other hand, Xigbar closed in once again with a rough yell. He let out a few projectiles every second as he swung the sharp part of his rifle towards the Dhampir. Their encounter lasted in a flash when both delivered a kick to the stomach at the same time, causing the two rivals to fly backwards in the air. Xigbar dropped to the ground while Roxas, collided on the cabin wall and then bounces off, leaving a destroyed mass of wood behind him. The remaining strength on his left foot and right knee stopped his whole body from hitting the ground all the way. He then used the white Keyblade in his right hand to support him in that position.

Although the fight has been going on for ten minutes, it was only until the strident noise and vibration created from Roxas' collision penetrated the entire shack, shocking Naminè from her peaceful slumber. She instantly sat up and run to the wooden exit.

"Since when did you learn how to fight?" Xigbar grumbled as he casually lifted himself off the ground. He spit out some blood. "You were nothing more than the Organization's outcast." The other Organization members observe the whole battle because they underestimated Roxas' abilities and didn't think it would take all six of them to take him down. But, seeing the younger member cough and then slowly yet meticulously stand up to regain his stance was beyond their expectations. Naturally, he should have been unconscious by now considering his obvious lack of experience in combat and physical training. Now they have no idea where that weakling suddenly got his strength from.

To Roxas, it was all about reflexes and instincts. He attacks when he sees a chance and dodges when he needs to. He wipes the blood dripping on the corner of his lips and sent them all a threatening glare.

"What's going—" Naminè gasp at the scene beheld in front of her. She didn't even have time to finish her sentence when someone instantly trapped her in his buff arms. Everything that occurred after that seemed to went on in a blink of an eye: Roxas snapped his attention towards her, got up, and rushed to her and Xaldin who is holding her hostage, but before he can take a step, Larxene used his temporary distraction to target him, throwing two knives that successfully pierce pass his ankle and thigh. The spiky boy winced a bit but it did not stop him not even for a split second as he continues to rush to the young girl's side. The electricity scorched through his flesh, but ignored it like it was nothing. In just as rapid speed, Xaldin threw Naminè to Marluxia and used the force of Roxas' lunge and the power of the wind to knock a potent punch on his face, dispatching the young lad back a couple yards away.

Naminè had no idea what's going on. One second she was standing in front of the shack door then next thing she knew her shoulders are being grasped so tightly. Behind her is Marluxia who smirked at the instantaneous defeat of the younger vampire. They gazed at him lying there above a pile of debris, unconscious, as dust flew in balloons around him. Naminè is speechless. Her lips quivered open and her visage wrinkled to a horrified look towards the lifeless body of her beloved Roxas.

Xaldin humped and turned away. "Let's go," he ordered the others.

"Stop."

Zexion, Xaldin, Demyx, Marluxia, Xigbar, and Larxene stop in their tracks. "Don't…touch…" they heard, and then were caught by surprise to find him slowly standing, heaving heavily as he did so.

Naminè was relieved to see him moving, yet fear continues to enclose her in invisible chains. "Roxas…"

"Don't you dare…" Roxas continues, his forehead dripping in blood to hide the sinister cerulean orbs underneath, "…TOUCH HER!" Then he lunges towards them.

"You son of a bitch. Don't you know when to give up," Xigbar complained as he reloads his rifle. Demyx jumped in this time alongside Larxene, but Roxas was already ahead of them. He somehow transported right on their faces the moment they open their eyes from blinking, and then he blew the duo out of his way by one swing of his keyblade. However, Roxas had lost all his concentration to the young female they dare to so much take away from his life. He was blinded. Larxene, Demyx, and Zexion grabbed that opportunity to surround him, then, like dexterous circus trio, they stab him simultaneously and then kept their weapons pierced inside his already damaged body. Blood splashes in all directions with Roxas coughing more blood. The insurmountable amount of injuries rendered him senseless that Naminè's scream of his name was unheard. The Organization smiled. This time, they made sure to keep him nailed permanently in place.

"Hmp, you are still weak…" Marluxia pointed, "Finish him."

"Consider it done." Xaldin prepares one of his lances. He aimed that sharp, skinny object midair without touching it, and then, like striking an arrow, the lance was released. Everything seemed to have went on in slow motion like time itself was set off to stand still; to watch in details the events unfolding before it. Naminè spur out of Marluxia's grip while Roxas tears one hand out of the blades. The bright full moon shined above them in bloody red—tainted, ominous, a phantom of the night. The youths reach out for each other, and then…

If silence is a tangible apparition, Roxas would have wanted nothing more than to kill it because the sound of the piercing of flesh and bone, and the agonizing splatter of blood is clear and deafening in his ears. Naminè's fingers almost brush Roxas' bruised hand by centimeters but it fell. Just like that, her hand, her healing touch he so eagerly needed right now fell right in front of his very eyes. The Organization members could only gape in disbelief. None of them were fast enough to prevent it and the long lance successfully pierced through Naminè's abdomen and the whole world stop. The once peaceful cricket chirps stop, the howling of the wind stop, and Roxas stopped as well with his arm still outstretched in front of him. Roxas, whose eyes remain wide open, felt her warm, crimson blood sprinkle on his cheeks.

After a long pause, Xaldin finally broke through the dead silence, "This has nothing to do with you in the first place. If you had only obliged with us, none of this would have happened. Look at her, Roxas, she's dead." His blunt words became another addition to the weapons stuck all over Roxas' body. It somehow mentally slapped him back to reality as his open mouth and entire frame started to quiver. "Does it hurt?" the Whirlwind Lancer spat, his eyes glowing menacingly, "To hear the truth from the same man who slayed her."—He began to pace about—"Those things they call 'feelings'. It's a nuisance. Tell me…" Xaldin turns to the boy again whose dirty blond bangs cast shadows over his eyes. "Do you hate me? Do you want to kill me? Heh…Consider this a lesson for Heartlesses like us: To hold something very dear will only serve as a burden, and in the end, the power of love is nothing more than a mere human sentimentality, a stuff of poetry. It passes, it changes. It never lasts."

Larxene look at the ground warily, having felt a slight tremble on the earth, but it suddenly grew stronger and, next thing she knew, the woman was pushed away like a discarded doll. She screams and so did the rest of her teammates who followed after her. It was like a tremendous force field has suddenly encircled Roxas. The multiple weapons that had punctured the boy in place were airborne. Xaldin covered his eyes from the dust and debris. He slightly peeks through his arms and gasp as he found himself staring directly into two, beastly golden robs. A chill he has never felt before crawled up his spine. Some of the blade remains in Roxas' body but he didn't seem to consider it. He marches towards Xaldin, revenge filling his head in every step he took, and the overwhelming desire to crush his bones by his own cold hands drove him mad.

Marluxia humped in revulsion as he summons a long scythe, "Hmp, you are all a disgrace to the Organization. To be thrown off so smoothly like flies swapped by a breeze. Pathetic."

"Acting all cocky now, huh," Xigbar heaved beside him while he attempts to get back on his feet, "Be my guest."

Roxas wasted no time to charge with his single keyblade. He involuntarily let out a raging war cry as he approached the fallen dark-haired foe, but his weapon suddenly clashed upon a different target: Marluxia's scythe. Elegant rose petals swirl around that pink-haired assassin, igniting a brief flashback in Roxas' disheveled mind a vision of the time when he and Naminè once embrace each other on a field of red tulips. That momentary distraction gave Marluxia an opening and he manages to swing his weapon hard against the white key within Roxas' grasp. It flew in fast, circular motions in the air before it struck the ground with a metallic thud. Then, the Keyblade disappeared. Defenseless, weak, and distraught, Roxas was flung like a rag from Marluxia's subsequent kick. He landed, however, next to his unmoving angel.

Naminè lies on her bleeding stomach. Her once pure, satin dress had been colored with filth. Roxas lies on his back. His feet are pointed in the opposite direction of Naminè's but their heads lay close to each other, presenting Roxas the chance to stare at his beloved's face for one final moment. Even at death, she is still beautiful. "Naminè…" he whispered. The golden color in his eyes shimmered into the blue shade of the ocean, yet there was no longer any spark left after that. Only a blank stare on her long eyelashes ornamented with Naminè's last glittering tears. Using what was left of his strength, he carefully move his bloodied hand to her face, imprinting feather-light touches along her pale cheeks, nose, and pink lips. What's the use of living anymore when the one person he cherishes most in the world is—"Roxas," a familiar feminine voice emerge in his head and his eyes snap.

"It's over." Marluxia raise his scythe in preparation for the final blow. "You should have never—"

At that moment, all the Organization members were flabbergasted. Marluxia didn't have time to process the situation. He turns his head behind him to find that Roxas was suddenly no longer on the ground but had taken a position behind him. The pink-haired man then looks down and saw that his upper body is slipping off his abdomen.

Roxas finishes the assassin's judgment "…killed her." His back faces the half-bodied vampire who detonated a final bloody scream. The assassin's comrades could only gawk in utter shock. No, they could care less about their fallen companion, but they stared at the dark figure remaining, looming before them. In both of his hands are two shimmering black and white objects stained in crimson. In both of his hands are two Keyblades.

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Tifa gently push the innocent civilians. "Follow the red sign and hide in there for the time being. Just make sure you don't come out until we got everything under control."

"Thank you, Ma'am," said a tired, middle-aged woman.

Olette recognize Naminè's tutor and nodded at her while clinging to her mother. "But, Lady Tifa, what about you?" the auburn teenager asked worriedly, seeing as the long-haired woman doesn't seem to have any plans of following them.

Tifa could only smile and then her eyes narrows as she glances up at the end of the hallway. "I can take care of myself. Now, go! I still have a 'guest' to attend to."

Understanding her vague hint, their terror intensified, and without further a due, the two maids scurried off to the direction of the aforementioned evacuation chambers. They were gone after awhile just in time for a walking giant to suddenly arrive at the end of the dreaded hallway. An extraordinary man wearing a long, black cloak trudges upon the marbled floor; the attire apparently veils great muscular structures. Every step he took sends a painful crush on the stone floor. He has orange tresses protruding upwards behind his head like a lion, and upon his visage is a daunting frown.

"What took you so long? I've been waiting my ass out here," Tifa tease, apparently unfazed from his incomparable size.

As though his silent intimidation wasn't enough, the giant releases a black and red weapon from thin air. It loomed behind him massively as if it was a combination of a sword and axe. Nonetheless, it looked heavy enough to crush a boulder, more or less, Tifa's skull.

"What's the matter? Cat got your tongue." Tifa sneered and she poses in a fighting stance.

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"At last!" Xehanort maniacally laughs, "Sixteen years of playing charades in front of that old fart, I have found it…" A scream echoed in the corridors of the building followed by a second earsplitting noise of the red alarm. But it did not stir the man for he has other plans up his sleeves. As though the god of hell has gifted him with the perfect opportunity, the mad scientist finally made his move. There he was standing by the entrance of a white room encircled by a round wall. Hanging on the wall are heart-shaped pillars. The floor was intricately designed with whiter figures shaped into chains acting as direction lines that lead to the focal point at the center of the room. Upon it stood a massive structure fashioned into what looks like a closed rose bud which complimented the entire room with its similarly clear, whitish color. "For five-hundred years, this chamber has long been hidden…the Chamber of Waking…" Xehanort commences another fit of laughter but his joy was short-lived when he turns back to the single entrance and saw two cloaked figures walking his way.

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The table seemed to have turned. Not a single one of them is moving along upright. Demyx is currently carrying an unconscious Larxene on his injured shoulder. Marluxia's half corpse is left disintegrating on a corner before it spontaneously pulverizes into ashes. Xaldin continues to apply pressure on his broken head, and Zexion was left to think of another plan of action.

"Shit! We have to retreat," Zexion exclaims, closing his lexicon to cast a portal.

Xigbar incessantly shot a series of projectiles towards the approaching vampire, or monster, which he, in turn, casually slaps away with the two opposing blades. The Freeshooter glances at Zexion in disinclination. "But, we need the Princess of Hearts, otherwise Saix will—"

Zexion cuts him off while he brought Xaldin's arm on his shoulder. "I'll take responsibility! Besides…"—he stole a glance at Roxas who continuous to block Xigbar's diamond bullets. The scent of dark aura surrounding that creature is stronger than everything he's ever encountered—"…I don't think we can win."

The other guy looks at Naminè then Roxas, crunching his countenance in irritation. "Pity…"

Zexion closed the brawl in one swift cast of magical illusion. Roxas blinks his eyes, and in a flash, the enemies have fled through the portal, leaving the lone avenger in his own bloody mess.

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A vortex of black wind materializes near a set of shrubs and out stumbles an agitated ruby-haired male. "Pweu, that was a close call." Axel wipes a sweat off his face and looks up only to capture a pair of blue eyes.

"A pleasure to find you here, Axel. Why the frantic face?" asked the blond-haired man.

"Cut the crap, Luxord," Axel replied annoyingly, "Where are the others?"

Luxord gave an injudicious shrug. "I'm afraid I've no clue regarding each of the member's whereabouts, although Saix and Vexen have indeed progressed with the plan…anyways, we have company."

The two vampires instantly spin to their flank, and just as Luxord predicted, three distinguished members of the Kingdom Hearts Corporation foolishly emerge out in the open. Zack froze upon meeting them. They haven't even gone that far from the building and already his group has come across two notorious entities of the dark. He was about to summon his sword when Angeal obstructs his path. "Zack! Take Master Ansem with you and find the heiress. Protect them at all cost! THAT'S AN ORDER!"

Zack felt a moment of hesitation. He could not see the face of his instructor from behind his head, yet as a SOLDIER, he is entrusted with a high obligation. He must comply. Hence, Zack took Ansem by the arm and led the elder away from what will surely become an enormous clash between vampires and a formidable, human warrior.

Luxord was about to follow them but Angeal intercepts him, saying, "Your business is with me." Vexed, Luxord raised his hand and, in a smooth motion, a deck of card fluttered between his grasp.

"Is that suppose to be your weapon?" the human warrior scoffed, "Unfortunately, you're not the only one who can pull off that trick," and he summons his own weapon, magically materializing an enormous Buster Sword in a wave of light.

Axel's eyes widened upon recognizing the man, the wide rectangular sword, and that odd armor he wore. No other human can master the same skill reserved solely for the vampires. This man is undeniably that special type of human. "Seven years…" Axel mumbles. His surprised expression promptly converted to that of a sadistic grin before snapping his fingers to call forth for his own weapon: two twin Chakrams burst into flames fueled by the rage that Axel had long been suppressing. "Look what we have here, Roxas' kidnapper. I guess fate isn't just a fairytale after all." Luxord step forward, but Axel raised his Chakram to prevent him from assisting any further. "Don't butt in. This is my fight."

A moment after they left, Zack and Ansem could make out the sound of metal clashes and deep grunts produced in the battle. Nonetheless, the duo continues to hustle towards the forest. Ansem the Wise has given up his usual, calm demeanor and has succumbed to anxiousness and worry. Though wise as everyone perceive him to be, the old man did not foreseen this day of retribution, especially when he is still around; the day when the vampires will successfully infiltrate the company that was ironically created to demolish them from the surface of the planet. How did it come to this? It is happening again; the same Day of Judgment like the period when the vampires attacked the corporation sixteen years ago on the night of Aqua's labor, his own daughter whom he failed to protect.

"Those sneaky little blood-suckers will find out."

Ansem shut his eyes as though he is experiencing an incredible ache upon recalling Tifa's words. As much as he hates to admit it, the black-haired woman might be right after all. He had overestimated his intuition that the opinions of others had become nothing more than inferior to him. He has long established a verdict that he is always right, and that, in order to uphold an excellent leadership, a Hearts cannot be anything less than perfect—At least that's what his father taught him to be, and that's what he became. Therefore, he saw nothing wrong in enforcing that same law to his granddaughter. But, now…his once solid beliefs are wavering.

"Someday—maybe even sooner, they'll find out about her existence."

No. Ansem the Wise is wrong. His chest tightened at the prospect that, at any moment in the past, the vampires may have already captured his one and only family and imprisoned her like what he had done to one of their kinds. But, the worst has yet to be discovered. Later on, the duo reaches the border of the forest and beyond that is cliff upon which only grass grew and swayed gently along the ocean breeze. On the edge of that clearing, they made out two figures: One who is wearing a dark cloak seems to be caressing someone in his arms, and the second figure was the one lying like a lifeless, bloody corpse against his chest. By squinting his eyes, Ansem finally recognize them.

"Oh, Naminè, oh my granddaughter, Naminè…" Ansem the Wise broke down in tears and fell on his knees. Zack was taken aback by his sudden actions. He wanted to walk to the two figures to inquire their identity. Yet, for some reason he just couldn't move. Zack is stuck between the wailing old man and the mysterious figures. At first, he suspected that the person wearing that black cloak is a vampire, but as he observes more closely, he figured that person cannot possibly be the same heartless creature. There were these glittering lines cascading down his pale cheeks and it was only afterwards that Zack comprehended that they were, in fact, tears; the tears of hopeless misery from a human who just lost a very important part of his being. Looking back at Ansem again, Zack concludes that he just can't leave his side.

Ansem clasp his hands together and prayed and prayed like never before in his life like a lost lamb searching desperately for the end of this nightmare, pleading, begging for forgiveness. More than anything, he wanted to believe that what he is seeing—that what had befallen upon his own beloved granddaughter—is a lie, a mere hallucination, a side-effect of all the stress of aging. Ansem took the initiative to glance over a second time, but there it was again, the same scene that struck him like a thousand bullets. Then, he realized that this is his punishment. A wretch like him does not deserve the illusion that will obliterate this merciless reality. He must bear this. He must. Fate has planned it all along.

He watched in silent sympathy as the hooded figure tightened his grip around the girl. His hand brushes the hair on her face, implanting soft, tender kisses on her forehead, cheeks, and lips. He is shivering. Ansem could tell from that distance for he too is trying his best not to shatter completely. The look on the boy's face was a sight that will forever etch in Ansem's memory.

The lance in Naminè's stomach vanished just as Roxas' Keyblades disappeared after the Organization left. However, blood continuous to pour heavily from her laceration. Roxas sobbed, "I promised I'd protect you. I promised! But, I—it's my fault, it's my fault, it's my fault."

"Shh…"

"Naminè?!" The strange thumping in Roxas' chest momentarily thundered, indicating his surprise at the sound of Naminè's voice. He suddenly stopped his cries upon realizing that she is still somewhat alive. Naminè continues to speak in a coarse yet soft whisper, "You did protect me. You protected my heart…"—her left fist clench in the middle of her chest—"…and now…they can never have it." Her eyes were only half-way open and her vision of his handsome face is blurry, so she reaches out, attempting to touch his left cheek but seem to find it difficult to do so, so Roxas immediately grab her hand and press it against his face. The boy slightly turns his head to inhale her floral aroma and kiss that slender palm. "Roxas, you are my heart. The fact that you are still alive…means I'm alive."

"NO! I…I'm sorry" The vampire burst into tears. "I'm so sorry."

Naminè felt warm liquid fall on her face. Despite not being able to see him well, she can imagine his expression, but those beautiful blue eyes seems to be the only clear image she can remark. They have always fascinated her. They were the part of Roxas that she first saw in the glass room, the part about him that she remembered first after her grandfather erased her memories. The orbs used to be empty and so shallow that any human emotions were impossible to see for they were buried too deeply within. But now, they have surfaced and they are showing her just how much he truly and madly care for her. She smiles at this yet it incites tears upon her own sapphire eyes. The pain on her body had lasted, and now she can only feel nothing but numbness. Naminè knows it too well; her time is approaching, but at the very last moment she wants to assure Roxas, "Don't cry…we will meet again. It may not be in this world…but, someday soon. It's…a promise…"

It's only been a month since she returned to Twilight Town. She could tell just by glancing at the same beautiful full moon over Roxas' head which had watched over them ever since the beginning when she left Destiny Islands. She remembered clearly how she, Kairi, Selphie, and Tidus used to complain how summer vacation will be over in a month. But, time has passed. It looks like summer vacation is over. She remembered also how she once dreamt to be in the arms of the person she loves. Looking at the boy in front of her pouring his heart out, he fulfilled one of these dreams, and that alone is enough.

"No no no no, open your eyes, Naminè!" Roxas shook her slightly, her sudden silence scaring him, "Don't leave me, please. You're the only one…" "I need you."

Hearing his desperate pleads, another memory flashes in Naminè's mind. She remembers what the maid referred him, what his grandfather and the whole world thinks of him. He had been judge all throughout his life that he too began to believe in their words. "You are not a monster…remember who you really are, Roxas…how special…you really are…" Naminè slid her finger to his forehead. "Forget the sadness. Forget the pain," she thought.

Afterwards, the flaxen-haired girl, with her last withering strength, pulled herself up so she could properly whisper against his ears…

The forbidden words between a vampire and a human, "I…love…"

~XOX~

"…a strength that is almost stronger than death."


Author's Note: DON'T CLOSE THIS BROWSER FROM TOTAL FRUSTRATION AND UTTER DEPRESSION JUST YET—Are you all absolutely certain Naminè is really going to die just like that after everything they've been through?! D8 Find out my decision on the next, final chapter of "Red Tulips"! Hwuahahaha! So until then, I hope you guys continue to lend me a hand! I'm still stuck massively editing past chapters. Just can't believe I used to write like that back in 2009. Seriously! I feel so ashamed that I have you guys suffer through all those cheesy, unrealistic, sucky-written chapters. I didn't realize I was such an amateur back then—Urg! But, oh well. Glad I've improved over the years. After reading over my former writing style, I can't face my old reviewers anymore so I understand why most of them have probably fully given up on this story. *sad sigh…* Note: Angeal Hewley and Zack are characters of FFVII: Crisis Core. Also, the top and bottom quote were excerpts from the synopsis of V.C. Andrews' best-selling book, Flowers in the Attic because I cannot think of any other quotes that would match this chapter so I practically just grabbed a random book near me and—wala! Most importantly, each Org. members shall be portrayed accurately as in the games, in terms of their speech, weapons, abilities, etc. For example, Zexion's keen "scent" detection is applied here.

On the other hand, I SUPER DUPER HATE MYSELF! JFOIAUEJFLKDJWI! Since when have I gotten used to writing so descriptively?! I used to write in a rush and often had to push myself to make chapters longer—not the other way around. IDK WTF happened cuz now I have to constantly remind myself not to go overboard with 100 million words—seriously! That's why I had to cut this chapter again! This was supposed to be the grand f*cking finale and after that, I'm through! Done with "Red Tulips" forever; Ka-pish! Bye bye! *slump on chair* …Sorry about that…That's just my over-exhausted side speaking. I'm happy that there are still those who leave a comment every time I update a new chapter. Thank you. But, I'm upset that even though the previous chapter was supposed to be the most romantic, awesome-az moment of the whole entire story, it received the least amount of reviews! What's going on, guys?

THE ULTIMATE-MEGA-OMG-FAITHFUL REVIEWER AWARD GOES TO…EternallySky WHO HAS ACHIEVED THE HIGHEST, TOP SPOT FOR SUPPORTING THIS STORY THE LONGEST EVER IN THE HISTORY OF MANKIND! BTW, MY OLDER BROTHER WAS THE ONE WHO CAME UP WITH THE AWESOME ACTION SCENES YOU JUST READ UP THERE AND I MERELY CAME UP WITH THE ROMANCES AND DIALOUGES IN BETWEEN. SERIOUSLY, HE DESERVES HALF THE CREDITS! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

Of course, I can't say that my new reviewers are less important. There have been many times when I feel like I wanted to give up the story, but it's because all of you have been giving me such insurmountable encouragements, I can't help but strive forward. You don't know just how much I truly appreciate reading all of your complements. It makes me feel soooo *sniff* special…*blows nose* I'm gonna totally miss you guys. *cries*