Like a gentle sigh in the face of a hurricane, the icy hand of death had extinguished the wind forever. The heavens were soon to pour, rain catching on the face of the breeze, the skies bleeding tears, weeping. And the earth heaved. From the depths of a well, fury bellowed, and like churning magma Terra tore the helmet from his head. Master Xehanort wanted to see the power of a keyblader embracing the darkness? Of dwelling on revenge and hatred as a source of power? He damn well had it now. Ventus was still as the grave. Aqua was never going to be the same. Terra snarled. Who was he kidding? He'd never be the same either. The three proud heroes were only alive in memories now. No one had really survived the darkness. Aqua would never be the same. Ventus was dead. Terra licked at a phantom coppery taste on the top of his mouth.
Ventus was dead. Ventus. Dead, and gone. Here lies a child. Here lies an apprentice in over his head. He did his best.
Terra was snapped back into reality by Aqua's gaze. They'd been staring at each other, and she wasn't crying anymore. Her face was resolved as shock, stunned, disbelieving. Maybe she was in denial.
Terra wasn't. He only growled and crunched loose rock under his feet as he turned away from her and charged at the uprising Master Xehanort had summoned as his fortress. A field of keys, bodiless graves for their past owners, rushed past him as he stripped off the metal on his body. Armor was just in the way now. He didn't need to live. Aqua didn't need to live. No one was in any shape to go back to a normal life. Just like Master Eraqus had said, the chicken was involved, but the pig was committed. Terra was committed. He'd kill Xehanort and Vanitas, tear them limb from limb if he had to. And he'd do it now. Terra struck out with newfound claws at the side of the cliff and pulled himself up with strength he'd never had. Master Xehanort wanted darkness. Master Xehanort would see it face to face.
Aqua watched silently as Terra died. His deep blue eyes turned hazel, then gold. Then irisless. And Terra was gone. Ven was still in her arms, so still. So in the now, and not moving. She gaped at Terra's pained and twisted and unfamiliar face, and she felt alone for the first time since Eraqus had brought them all together as his pupils. Alone after everything they had done together. Terra turned away from her, his heartless, soulless eyes shifting to the cliff. He was going to leave her, to find his revenge. She was dead to him. Ventus was dead. And then Terra was gone, stripping his armor, scaling the rock face. Aqua looked back into Ven's unseeing eyes.
"C-cura," she stumbled through tears. "C… C-c-cura. Cura!" But magic didn't work on the dead. Her efforts turned to sobs. Slow, grating, lonely sobs. The endlessly dark sky above them responded in kind, showering the cracked desert and drowning out her own tears. Nothing she could do here would matter now. No one would see her mourn. No one was left. She stroked the icy blond locks on his head and quieted to a murmur. Terra wasn't Terra, and Ventus was dead. He was perfectly preserved, still screaming for help, still too young to even consider for mastery. A clash rang out on the cliff above her, and lightning split the sky. Vanitas, the treacherous one, was struggling with the golden eyed anger that Terra had become while Master Xehanort was ascending, out of reach.
She looked back into his eyes, as far in as she could see, as close to his soul as she could make hers. "Ventus," she whispered "Ventus, I'm sorry. You shouldn't have been here. I know you wanted to come, but I never should have let you. I told you, the Paopu was supposed to bring us together. We were supposed to…" She mopped tears away with an armored hand, only to have them replaced again instantly. Only to wish for Ventus to be alive for one more minute. Only for Ventus to hear her.
"Ven… I would do anything to take all of this back. I would give up the keyblade, Ven. If I could I would do it, I swear. Ven, I love you."
She planted her kiss on his frozen lips, her hand on his frozen cheek, her affection, her heart, in his empty shell.
"Ven…" she looked up at Vanitas and Terra, fighting thoughtlessly, wasting time until Xehanort was done. He'd won already. A clean victory, two kills without a single strike.
"Why did it have to end this way, Ven?"
He didn't answer. Sparks flew off keyblades high above her. Lightning roared.
"In another life, it wouldn't have happened this way. We'd still be together, Ven. Terra would still be Terra." Ven, silently screaming, didn't respond.
"In another life." She laughed weekly through tears. "In another life, Terra wouldn't fall into darkness." She sniffled and laughed again while her sanity took a sick leave.
"I wouldn't be so… so girlish like you always said."
Her laughter turned to sobs again as she added, "You wouldn't be so stupid! Ven, why did you do that? Why?!"
Vanitas was fast, but his feet couldn't carry him away from land. Terra was everywhere his enemy stepped, burning with rage, scything with claws, striking with the key. Striking again. Striking again. Striking until Vanitas made his last mistake. Terra caught an opening that buckled the traitor over. It was a feign to draw him in, he knew, but he moved anyway. Vanitas lashed out with an ice spell that Terra parried, and that was it. He clocked the traitor across the jaw, knocking his faceplate loose. And there he was: another, younger Xehanort. Son or clone didn't matter. Terra lashed out harder, redoubling his efforts, wanting blood. Vanitas was pushed back to the edge of the cliff, the same side Ventus had been unceremoniously dropped off of before. How poetic. Terra pressed harder and they fell into a blade grapple. He heaved hard and heard the loose gravel slipping under his enemies boots; saw the resolve in his eyes wavering. The grapple broke and they were back to swordplay. Terra struck faster, waiting for Vanitas to feign again. He always did, and he was always convincing. He swayed to the left; so far Terra could have sworn that it was a slip. But Vanitas was just waiting for terra to commit his weight. He already had a parry planed. Terra had an even better plan. He shoved his keyblade into the ground and broke his footing loose from under the traitor. The slab cracked free and dropped away instantly, and Xehanort's apprentice was left falling from the sky, clawing for a foothold in… well, vain. He wouldn't live through it, Terra was sure. But his rage still burned. Ventus was still dead. Ventus. Dead.
Aqua laughed as Vanity fell. "Look at that, Ven. He's terrified." She chuckled even harder as his arms cartwheeled about, trying to grab for the nearest clod of dirt that was falling with him. He was panicking, screaming, and pissing himself. He was done and over with. She slid out from under her fallen comrade and set him gently on the ground.
"I'll just be a moment, Ven."
A dull thud led her to Vanitas. He was broken beyond repair, but still just alive enough to suffer, to feel death coming. She stopped over him, keyblade pointed down at him, dragging over his twisted red and black breastplate. The scrapping was sharp in contrast to the pattering drops of rain sprinkling his face, mudding his eyes. He coughed blood and tried to raise an arm to defend himself. She struck it down, adding another bone to the list of brokens.
"Don't talk to me, traitor."
She stood there, savoring his pain, watching him writhe as his thoughts slowly resolved into the obvious conclusion that he was going to die, that Master Xehanort truly did not care for him, that he had chosen the wrong side. Aqua laughed, this time in earnest, this time in spite. Vanitas had nothing left. He knew exactly what she was feeling; only he was dying, and she was not.
"I hate you, Vanitas."
His shaking head and stuttering, ragged breathing turned her way slightly.
"Everyone hates you, now. I just thought you should know that. We despise you."
He sucked in a breath with tremendous effort, just enough air to whisper, "I wasn't the one who brought him."
She raised her blade for the coup de grace, just high enough that she spotted Terra. He was high up on the cliff top, watching through those brand new eyes of his.
"For what it's worth," Vanitas gasped. "I'm-"
After the swish of air and muted squish cut him short, there wasn't a need for apology. "Words."
She spit on his face, for what little difference it made in the rain. Revenge was a bittersweet fruit, tempting if sour. She raised her keyblade again to try for more, just to be sure, she justified. Wouldn't want to leave the job unfinished. But a hand on her side stopped her short. She gasped at the last keyblader she had ever expected to encounter, and he nodded back.
Mickey looked from her sword to Vanitas' still form, and then into Aqua's teary eyes. He couldn't tell because of the rain, or maybe he could. He didn't show either way.
"You've already got him, Aqua. It's alright."
She lowered her keyblade to her side and adjusted a strand of hair that was escaping, brushing it behind her ear. "Ven-"
She stared at Vanitas longer, weighing the morality of revenge against honor. Did she owe it to Ven to kill Xehanort's apprentice, or did she owe it to herself to not kill a defenseless person?
Mickey stepped forward and felt for his pulse. "Help me lift him up. He's still alive."
The skies clapped above them with overactive lightning, and the rain pounded harder. Aqua didn't move.
Mickey glared at her, scolding. "It's not his fault, Aqua. If you or Terra had been Master Xehanort's apprentice, it would be Vanitas helping me carry you. He deserves a second chance."
She scowled, betraying her beauty entirely. "Ventus doesn't get a second chance!"
Mickey hefted Vanitas up slightly with a grunt that was muffled by the torrent. "That can't be helped, Aqua. We can only make light with what we have."
"It doesn't matter."
Mickey dropped Vanitas and looked Aqua in the eyes again. Her gaze was on Xehanort's form, transcending everything.
"Don't be so sure," Mickey replied. "We've got tricks up our sleeves too. I'll tell you all about it later. First I need you to help me."
He got under Vanitas and pushed, surprisingly strong for his size. "Now come on! Hurry!"
She stepped to his side and shared some of Vanitas' weight, but stopped and looked back to Ven. He was alone, cold, wet. Dead.
Mickey's hand on her shoulder (she was crouched next to him still) brought her back to his gaze. "There's nothing we can do for him now, Aqua. We can come back later. I'm sorry."
She nodded. "Alright. Where are we going?"
Mickey sighed and pulled a shrunken gummi ship from his pocket. "Radiant Gardens. We're going to erase his memories… and give him a new master."
Aqua nodded. She didn't agree with the idea at all, but following a king's orders was easier than thinking at the moment. She nodded again -"Okay"- and then looked back to Ven, or what was left of him. She looked back up the cliff, to Terra, or what was left of him. She gathered her resolve one last time, and in a moment of meta-feeling, consoled herself that she could still go on.
Or what was left of her.