Moving Forward

The flames died away; the heat and pain lessened; and the darkness gave way to a gray emptiness. No one, not a single soul, was there with him. Axel stared down at his body; it seemed complete, and still covered by an organization Black Cloak. No – No, this can't be right! I should be – There's not supposed to be – All at once the emptiness of the void rushed up and hit Axel square in the gut. He sank to his knees, and wept.

He was utterly, and completely alone.

Eventually the tears dried and gave way to a solemn acceptance of his fate. After all, Nobodies were never completely alive, why should they be granted a complete death? Some time passed (though how much was impossible to determine) and Axel's thoughts began to drift back to his life. Heartbreakingly, he could not recall any memories from a time before the Organization. They were there – he knew they were – but out of reach. This saddened him even more; only there were no more tears to shed.

Roxas.

Of his remaining memories, Axel could only bare to relive those of his time with Roxas, his only true friend. Maybe, he thought, maybe if things had been different, and neither of us was a Nobody, we could have been real friends. With Hearts. Maybe… We were real friends, he reminded himself. Those feelings were real!

Nobodies cannot feel anything.

I did! I felt his friendship!

To feel requires a Heart, an artifact that you lack.

I had a heart! So did Roxas!

Roxas was special; you are delusional.

Go away.

You can never be rid of me ___.

That's not my name.

Would you rather go by 'Axel', the name of your incomplete self?

Shut up! Go away!

As long as there is a single thought in your head, I will –

"I said shut up!" Axel screamed with hidden fury. Fire radiated out from his body in a wave that dissipated at a six-foot radius; hands were clamped tightly around the cross-shaped center handles of his chakram. The voice in his head no longer spoke, an altogether depressing prospect, for he was suddenly alone again.

"Maybe… maybe I am delusional." He slumped back down. "No, Axel, you are not delusional," came a gruff voice from somewhere in the void.

Axel sprang to his feet again, summoning his chakram once more (or had he never put them away?), ready to fight. "Who's there?" A deep chuckle echoed out of the gray void, followed by the image of a man dressed in an ornate red-and-black robe. His face was also obscured by red bandages, Axel noticed as the image became more defined and real.

"Forgive me. In a former life, I was called 'Wise', but I am undeserving of that title now - have not been for almost a decade. I am now known to all as 'DiZ'."

"DiZ, huh? Yeah, I know you. You gave Lexeaeus and Zexion some trouble back in Castle Oblivion right?"

DiZ grinned a wicked grin. "Yes, I think I had something to do with that."

The chakram vanished, and Axel sat back down. "Well, here we are, pal: in Hell. Got it memorized?" Even his catchphrase failed to lift his spirits – that is, if he even has one.

"No, not Hell. Purgatory. Or something similar."

"Whatever, point is: we're stuck here." Axel looked up at his strange companion. "How can you stand it?"

"What, this place? I've lived in worse."

"No, not that – well, yeah – but the voices: your thoughts al screaming to be heard at once. How can you stand the ceaseless, maddening noise in you head, where every thought you have has to be fought for over all the others, and that if you slip up, for even a second, you mind drive yourself insane?"

DiZ's face remained as stoic as ever. "I learned a long time ago to shut out all of my fears and doubts and insecurities." Axel looked away shamefully. "Perhaps talking will ease you mind."

"Yeah, maybe…" But Axel remained silent for a long time, staring off into the emptiness. DiZ waited patiently; it gave him time to think about why he was here, and why Axel was here, and if he should be more affected by this place than he was.

"I miss… Roxas," Axel admitted quietly.

"Who? …Oh, Sora's Nobody."

"No, Roxas! He was more than just somebody's Nobody, he was my friend. And a good person."

"You… miss him… a lot?" DiZ asked carefully.

"Yes."

"You kamikazed to save Sora. Or was it Roxas?"

"…A little – a lot, actually – of both. I knew Roxas was never coming back, so I wanted to protect that person that he had become."

"Then you…"

"Yes."

The conversation ended there. Neither spoke to each other for what seemed like days. DiZ eventually joined Axel on the ground, though facing away from him. Time passed slowly, if at all, in this realm. There existed no features by which to judge distances, and no source of light in the sky. The light appeared omnidirectional (if it was indeed light) and so cast no shadows.

"You know, I was once the beloved ruler of my world, "DiZ said suddenly.

"Oh, yeah?" Axel replied apathetically. "What happened?"

"My apprentices stole my research, cast me out, and took my name. Outraged, I gave up my name – and with it, my personality, and became… this." He gestured down at himself.

"What happened next?"

"I set out to get revenge, and killed myself in the process."

More time passed.

"Where do we go from here?" Axel asked.

"We move forward, that's the only way out of this place."

"Which way is forward?" Axel swung his head from side to side dramatically.

"Any direction, so long as it is away from here, and not the way we came."

Axel smiled at this, even thought it wasn't a joke. "Good point."

As the two of them got up to leave, light fell gently on their skin, this time from a specific direction. "That is the way forward." The both stared at the light; DiZ was even compelled to remove his bandages.

"Never forget," DiZ said.

"Forget what?"

"Your friends. Your dreams. Yourself. And that you are no longer a Nobody, Axel. You have a Heart." Axel beamed. He had chosen to keep that name, instead of his original, just as DiZ had.

Both stood shoulder to shoulder and took one step toward the light. It grew brighter. Another step. Brighter. A few more. The light nearly engulfed the two of them. As they took the final steps into the light, all of Axel's thoughts quieted and focused on one person whose name he uttered one final time.

"Roxas."