Chapter XII:

Sacrifice

Everyone in The Castle That Never Was froze on the spot. Axel's last words hung in the air and rapidly ran through everyone's minds. Sora was the first to act. He turned on his heels, grabbing Roxas and Xion's wrists, and jerking his head at Axel for him to follow. The small group dashed towards the exit of the castle, no longer fearing if they would get away in time. The only thing that mattered was if they got to Kingdom Hearts in time.

If the Dark Colossus devoured Kingdom Hearts, all of Sora's hopes would be lost. The hearts inside would be gone forever. It wouldn't matter if he remembered the girl Xion told him about; he would never see her or Riku again.

Luckily, as they ran, they heard Xemnas order the Organization to go up to the Altar of Naught. It was going to have to be a last stand against the giant Heartless if they hoped to save Kingdom Hearts. But Sora knew, deep down, that even with the entire Organization combined, they wouldn't be able to stop the Dark Colossus. He and Riku - and probably that girl - had tried and failed. The Organization was mostly dark, so how could the balance be restored if darkness fought darkness?

Only a strong light would be able to silence the excess darkness that was the Dark Colossus. Those Key-Bearers, Sora thought. Where are they? Perhaps they could help.

"Axel!" Roxas shouted, breaking Sora's thoughts. "Why did it take Xigbar? He's a Nobody, no heart!"

"I dunno," Axel replied, still exhausted from the previous running and the full-out sprint he was in now. "I think it wants to consume everything and have all the power in the universe."

The group fell into silence as they reached Nothing's Call. They were soon running down the bridge and landed on the streets of The World That Never Was.

"I've got this," Axel declared and opened a Corridor of Darkness, but Xion grabbed his shoulder before he could go inside.

"Look," she said, pointing up towards Memory's Skyscraper. Sora turned to look, expecting to see the Dark Colossus coming at them, but that wasn't what it was at all. A brightly colored Gummi Ship - one that Sora knew very well: Highwind - was lowering towards the ground. He knew that he had left the ship with Master Yen Sid, so the only people who could have it were the other Key-Bearers.

He turned to explain this to the others, but saw the smiles of recognition on their faces. So they had all met them. That would definitely make things easier. The four Organization members silently agreed to wait for them to land. What Sora knew was needed was finally here.

The four Key-Bearers appeared, coming over the hill towards the castle. Upon seeing them, Xion briskly walked forward, straight to the girl Sora recognized as Suki.

"You're all okay," Xion said softly, seeming grateful. She looked at them and addressed them all by name. "Hiro, Paka, Mei… Suki. Do you still remember-"

"Yes," the violenette answered. "Hiro did too, but I don't know why…"

"I was wondering about that too," Xion replied. "I think it's because he never met Sora. When you saw him, - hadn't been forgotten, right? Well, it doesn't really matter. We have to hurry!"

"Yeah!" Axel called to them, looking impatient. "The Dark Colossus could be here any minute! Let's go!" Before anyone said another thing, they all entered the Corridor of Darkness.

The corridor reopened at the Altar of Naught, which had by some miracle not been affected by Xemnas' corridor disabling act, probably because it was outside. Sora was first to step out, followed by Roxas, then Xion, Suki, Paka, Hiro, Mei, and finally Axel. They had a rather large group now, so all of them combined could defeat the Dark Colossus, right? But something told Sora that wasn't true. They needed just one more thing… or rather, two more people.

"Suki," Paka said, nudging her, "don't you have something to do?" Suki reached into her pocket and pulled out a small, folded piece of paper. She looked at it, then hesitantly looked up at Xion.

"Go ahead," she encouraged, absently grabbing Roxas and Axel's hands. "I'm ready."

Suki walked over to Sora and slowly started unfolding the paper.

"Sora… this belongs to you," she told him. "It's something very dear and close to you. Xion made me take it a while back when I met her. She said your friend's name might not be inside you anymore. Maybe this will help." She flipped the paper over and handed it to him. He took it and stared at it for a moment.

He could easily recognize himself and Riku back home on the little islet with the Paopu Tree. There was a large space in between them, large enough to fit a person. He stared at that spot for what felt like a long time, thinking back on all the flashbacks he'd had, trying to remember the girl.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Xion let go of Roxas and Axel's hands and come to his side. Tentatively, she reached out and touched his shoulder. But when his vision blacked out this time, the image in his mind was as clear as day. He saw the girl as she smiled and opened her mouth.

'Don't ever forget: I'm always with you.'

Xion let go and Sora's vision returned, his eyes still locked on the empty space between himself and Riku. Slowly, the girl's image faded into the drawing until it became a recognizable person.

"Kairi," he stated softly. He couldn't remember much about her, but he knew her name. He remember her, at least.

Happy expressions appeared on the Key-Bearers' faces, but Xion, Roxas, and Axel looked torn. Sora watched as Xion left his side to go to her friends.

"I'm going to have to go now," she told them, "before it's too late."

"Are you sure, Xion?" Roxas asked, sounding saddened despite the fact that he was a Nobody. "Now that we remember you and Kairi, you can both exist." Xion shook her head.

"We could," she agreed. "But I wouldn't be the same. I am who I am because of Sora's memories of Kairi. Taking that away would change me back into the puppet I really am."

"I guess you're right," Roxas sighed. "But I don't like having to say good-bye again."

"Don't worry. I'm more of a part of Sora now than I ever have been. I'll never really be gone. I'll always be in his heart, and so will you." She paused and turned to Axel. There was a short silence between them before Xion finally spoke. "I'm glad I actually get to say good-bye to you this time."

"Yeah, better than dragging you back here and having you run off again," Axel chuckled, but it seemed forced. "Well, don't ya get all sappy with me like you did with Roxas."

"I missed you, Axel."

"I 'missed' you too, if I can say that. You go on, though. Guess I'll just have to talk to you through Double XIII."

Xion gave a sad smile, then pulled the two boys into a hug. After a moment, she pulled away. She walked over to Sora and glanced back at Roxas and Axel one last time before holding out her hand. However, she paused and looked over to the Key-Bearers.

"Thank you all so much." She turned her attention to Sora. "Oh, one more thing. When he comes back, Tell Riku I said thanks for everything. He'll know what I mean."

Sora nodded and grabbed Xion's hand. His vision didn't black out and he watched as Xion's body began to glow. It became brighter and brighter until he was forced to look away. The entire Altar of Naught was enveloped in light for a moment, and when it suddenly dimmed, Xion was gone.

"Sora…?" Mei began hesitantly, taking a step towards him. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he answered, his throat a little dry. "I remember now. Everything." He paused and looked down at his chest, placing his hand over his heart. "Thank you, Xion."

"Sora." The brunette looked up at Roxas to see him unzipping his cloak to reveal his usual attire.

"I think I have to be whole now," Roxas continued, discarding his cloak to the ground. "That way you can open Kingdom Hearts and get this show on the road."

"Oh, so now you're going to ditch me?" Axel muttered. "What a day." Roxas laughed lightly, looking at him.

"You know I have to," he replied. "I wasn't supposed to exist in the first place, much less come back a second time. Xion made me realize that."

"Yeah… too bad I have no where to go. But hey, at least Mr. Hero's still around. I guess I'll have to settle with him. Man, it stinks not being able to feel…"

"Axel, you have feelings. You have to."

"Sure, sure. Well, you do, I'm certain about that. So do what you gotta do before you start crying or something." Axel paused a moment to look at Sora. "And you'd better be nice to your Nobody! I'm still around to get ya if you don't." He smiled a little, then started to look back at Roxas, but couldn't seem to bring himself to do it. So he just waved at the blonde, staring at the ground.

Sora quickly tore off his cloak so that he was in his regular clothing too. If Roxas wasn't in the Organization anymore, then neither was he. Double XIII was no more. Roxas walked over to Sora, a broken grin on his face.

"I just remembered something," the Nobody said as he stopped in front of his Other. "I'm gonna get to be with Naminé again. So you better take better care of Kairi this time!"

"Don't worry, I will," Sora assured him. Roxas spread out his arms and light glowed from him like it had with Xion. Roxas soon faded to nothing as Sora grew brighter, and then the light died away and Roxas was gone too.

"This has really put a damper on my day," Axel commented, folding his arms and looking away. "Open Kingdom Hearts so something happy will happen for a change."

Sora nodded and started to turn to the other Key-Bearers when suddenly there was a loud crash and the entire castle shook. Sora stumbled forward but remained standing, then started looking around.

"W-What was that?" Suki asked, grabbing onto Hiro's hand.

"Over here!" Paka shouted. He was over to the edge of the platform, overlooking the streets in front of The Castle That Never Was. The others came over and looked to where he was pointing.

"Is that the Organization?" Hiro asked.

"Yeah," Sora replied. "But I thought Xemnas told them to come up here."

"He must've changed his mind," Axel reasoned. "The threat's down there." There was a short silence as everyone realized what he meant. They looked closer and could see a large, dark mass making its way through the city.

"It's that Heartless, isn't it?" Mei asked, but no one had to answer her to know it was.

Most of the Dark Colossus' body was hidden by the many tall buildings in The World That Never Was, but part of its back reached over the tops so it was visible. That was all that could be seen, but that was enough to make everyone realize the severity of the situation.

"Organization XIII isn't enough to stop it," Sora stated quietly. He pulled back and looked up at Kingdom Hearts.

After a short moment, he turned back to the others.

"Suki," he called to get her attention. She spun around and so did her friends. "Really, all of you. Thanks so much for trying to fix things. You've done a lot of stuff to help me. Now I need you to do one more thing." His Keyblade appeared in his hand. "I need your help unlocking Kingdom Hearts."

The four nodded and summoned their Keyblades as well. They came to Sora's side, Suki and Mei on either side of him, Hiro and Paka on the outside. They raised their Keyblades and pointed them at Kingdom Hearts. Suki, Mei, Paka, and Hiro's weapons each fired a thick beam of light that collided together much like what happened when they locked a Keyhole. Sora's Keyblade then fired a beam straight into the intersection of the others', making a bigger and brighter beam than ever before shoot to Kingdom Hearts. When the light touched the moon, there was a loud boom much like a thunder clap and a brilliant light flashed from it, blinding the Key-Bearers and Axel.

When it was a little less bright, Sora forced himself to open his eyes to see two orbs that had retained their blinding light. They floated from Kingdom Hearts down to the platform of the Altar of Naught, hovering just above the ground. They flashed briefly, then the whole area dimmed. In the place of the two glowing orbs were two figures sprawled out on the ground.

Sora stared at them almost in disbelief as they stirred, slowly beginning to push themselves off the ground. He slowly took a couple steps toward them, and they lifted their heads. When their eyes met, he couldn't move forward anymore.

"Sora?" Kairi whispered, seeming to be stunned as well.

"You did it," Riku said quietly, grinning at the brunette as he and Kairi stood.

Without a word, Sora dashed forward and threw his arms around his two best friends. It didn't take them long to hug him back.

"Kairi. Riku," Sora breathed, so happy to see them that his voice cracked a little bit. "I'm so glad you're okay! I missed you so much."

"We knew you could do it, Sora," Kairi told him. "I wasn't afraid when I felt myself disappear. I knew you'd get our hearts back."

"Now everything's right," Riku added. "We're back, the Dark Colossus is gone, and everything is balanced again."

Sora's embrace around his friends loosened slightly, and he started to step away. Riku cocked his head at him.

"You did get rid of it, didn't you?" he asked. Sora couldn't answer, just looked away uneasily. Kairi swallowed hard, but reached out and took his hand.

"It's okay," she assured him. "We can get rid of it together… can't we?" She sounded unsure, and with good reason. If they hadn't been able to beat it the first time, how could they now?

That was when Riku and Kairi's eyes fell on the other four Key-Bearers, who still had their Keyblades drawn and had been watching the scene with humbled expressions. Before anyone could ask, Mei stepped forward.

"Riku, Kairi," she began, "it's nice to meet you. The King told us a whole bunch about you. My name's Mei, and these are my friends Suki, Paka, and Hiro. The King asked us to help you."

"So we're gonna kick that Heartless' big, dark, stupid butt!" Hiro finished confidently, giving a little slash with his Keyblade, SuperStar. This made everyone laugh a little, making almost everyone forget about the danger lurking outside the castle.

But not everyone completely forgot. Although he'd been watching everything unfold, Axel had kept one eye on the Organization's fight down below. Things had been going poorly, and he was able to count one by one as each member seemed to disappear after going in to face the Dark Colossus. He turned his attention away from the ground below for just a moment to half-smile at the laughing Key-Bearers, and when he looked back, the streets of The World That Never Was were empty.

He glanced back at Sora and the others before scanning everything he could see from the Altar of Naught. By the time he'd looked all the way around and back to Kingdom Hearts, everyone had become aware of the large shadow forming on the ground. Axel looked at the heart-shaped moon to see a giant, almost dragon-like creature flapping its huge, translucent wings to guide it to Kingdom Hearts.

"The Dark Colossus!" Axel exclaimed in unison with Sora, Kairi, and Riku, who'd also just noticed it.

The Dark Colossus was several hundreds of feet tall, and that was probably half the size of its length. Its head was large enough to cover the Altar of Naught, and it had razor sharp teeth poised in a permanent snarl. Two horns curved off the top of its head, one a very dark blue, and the other a deep, almost black red. Other than the Heartless symbol on its forehead and its glowing, yellow eyes, everything was pitch black. On its chest was a hollow hole with strips of flesh barring it up like a jail cell. Each foot on its four, muscular legs had three long, sharp talons, and its tail split into three separate parts at the end connected by thin webbing. Each tail had a claw-like horn on its tip.

However, the strangest thing about the gargantuan Heartless was the spot between two of its four large spikes on its back. A purple glow seemed to emit from it, and though it was too far away to be seen, Sora, Riku, and Kairi knew cracks split from this spot like shattered glass. Right before Riku and Kairi had been run through by the Dark Colossus' claws, they had crashed a hole into the Heartless' back, creating a crater. The spot had seemed to get worse over time, and surely the dark creature was not far from splitting apart.

The Dark Colossus flapped its mighty wings towards Kingdom Hearts, its jaws apart and ready to tear into the massive collection of hearts.

"We have to stop it!" Paka cried, starting to run forward and raise his Keyblade, but Riku grabbed his arm and held him back.

"We can't attack it from here," the silvernette replied. "It could crush this entire castle in one swing."

"We have to get it away from Kingdom Hearts," Suki said. "But how?"

"It goes after the most powerful thing in the universe," Sora explained. "It won't be interested in us until Kingdom Hearts is gone."

"But if Kingdom Hearts is gone, won't this world disappear?" Mei asked.

"Yep. That's why we have to get out of here," Axel answered. "There aren't any other worlds you can go to, but if you could open a corridor to the Realm of Twilight, you might fare better against it. At least, better than if I opened a Corridor of Darkness for you."

Sora gave a nod, understanding. He waved his hand through the air to open a Corridor of Twilight, but before anything could appear, an earth-shattering tremor shook the castle and a wave of darkness pushed everyone off their feet. Sora hit the ground on his front side, but he was quick to pull himself up to his knees and look up at Kingdom Hearts. Darkness was pouring from it and the Dark Colossus was slashing and snapping at it, like a lion devouring its prey. Without even thinking, Sora stood up and gripped his Keyblade with both hands, and with a grunt aimed it at the Heartless to fire a beam of light. The light erupted from his blade and made direct contact with the crater in its back, causing it to roar and snap its attention to everyone standing on the Altar of Naught.

Glad that he'd diverted its attention but frustrated knowing he'd made a bone-headed move that could get them all killed, Sora opened a Corridor of Twilight.

"Get in!" he shouted, grabbing Mei's wrist and ushering her inside. "Hurry!" He shot a glance up at the Dark Colossus, seeing that it was flying straight at them. Suki pulled Paka inside the Corridor of Twilight after Mei had entered, and Kairi and Riku were helping Hiro to move quicker since, due to his light weight, he'd been thrown the farthest by the tremor.

Something hot flashed just behind Sora and he spun around. Axel had his chakrams in his hands and had shot a fireball at the Dark Colossus to keep it back. The brunette's expression grew concerned as he recognized this situation.

"Axel," he started, but Axel cut him off.

"Stop wasting time!" he yelled, throwing another fireball. "Get out of here!" Hiro was about to step into the corridor when he heard this, and he stopped in front of the corridor. Kairi whispered his name and Riku continued to try to push the young boy inside, but he wouldn't budge.

"Axel," he called out quietly. "Aren't you coming?" There was a heavy silence and Axel froze in the middle of throwing one of his chakrams. After a moment, the redhead sighed and glanced over at him.

"What do I have to live for?" he replied sullenly. "Somebody's gotta hold that monster back… huh, well more like Nobody."

"No, I'm not going to let you do this again!" Sora exclaimed, starting forward. Riku gave up on Hiro and rushed to his friend, holding him back. Hiro, now without resistance, followed the older brunette's lead and ran toward Axel. However, a wall of fire sprang up between the Key-Bearers and the Nobody, forcing the youth to stop.

"Axel!" he shouted again, but the other didn't look at him. His attention was focused on the Dark Colossus and holding it off again.

"Just get outta here," he told him firmly.

Sora broke free from Riku's grasp and went up behind Hiro, placing his hands on his shoulders. Hiro seemed surprised at first, then realized that they had to let Axel go. It was his own choice, and there was nothing anyone else could do about it.

Riku and Kairi exchanged looks before glancing at the Keyblade Master, who nodded his head toward the Corridor of Twilight. His friends understood and disappeared in the portal, and Sora led Hiro towards it. By this time, the entire platform was covered in shadows, the Dark Colossus coming nearer and nearer. Just in front of the corridor, the spiky brunette paused and looked back at Axel one last time.

"Are you sure you don't have a heart?" he asked, making the redhead smirk.

"Even if I did, would it matter?" The wall of flames shot up higher, blocking Axel and the Dark Colossus from view. Sora swallowed hard, then pushed Hiro forward into the Corridor of Twilight, following right behind.