This is my first Kingdom Hearts fanfiction. But I switch through fandoms a lot. I had heard of the series and knew about it quite a while ago, but I've only recently become obsessed with it due to a friend of mine telling me about "Demyx Time". I just loved it and set out to learn more about the series and play some of the games. I really liked KellyJane's version of Vexen, and so naturally, I ended up becoming a Vexen fan...and also a fan of 411.

I've debated for a long time about whether to write this fic, because I'm really nervous about it. I don't know how long it will last or anything, but...I just really want to get it out there. But enough about me...

STORY WARNINGS! PLEASE READ!

1.) If you're looking for smut/lemon/random sex scenes, this ain't it. In fact, there may not be any sex scenes at all. It is rated T...for now.

2.) Rating may go up in the future. This story may eventually contain some gore, language, and descriptions of...very bad things.

3.) Beware the OOC. I'm not very confident in my characterizations of any of the characters at all. And it is my belief that in order for MarVex to work at all, one or both of them must be at least slightly OOC.

4.) This story is horribly AU as of the English release of Birth by Sleep. It's just inevitable.

I also apologize for the lack of Vexen in this first chapter. Don't worry-we'll see plenty of him in chapter 2. Plus, I really needed to work on Marluxia, since he's the more difficult character for me to write.

At one point, there are also a few tiny, tiny, tiny suggestions of XigXal and LexZex. Tiny enough that if you hate those couples, you can just completely overlook them. But I do kind of like them myself.

All characters, things, exc. (C) to Square-Enix/Disney. All I own is Borealis. But at least I get a world all to myself!

(-)

Chapter 1: The Formation Process

Sometimes I wish I could rearrange my mind. I wish I could pull it back and chop its little sparking neurons apart, reduce it to its basic elements, so that it would only be capable of skimming the surface. I wish I could look at that tree and just see a tree-see a beautiful work of nature gently rustling in the natural breeze. I wish I could lie under its shadow and think about the sky, imagining what might lie beyond it, imagining the wonders the rest of the world might hold. I wish I could enjoy your gift without knowing that it was made out of nothingness and that it would dissolve in another five minutes. You'd never accept the fact that you'd just killed two innocent bystanders for no reason. I wish I could say that as I turned to leave, the sight of the spot where we shared so much and discovered so much and spent so much time together filled me with the memory of a wistful regret. But I can't.

The golden leaves ruffled, clanking against each other with little metallic clinks, in place of their usual watery leaf-rustle. It had to be left behind. I would never be able to move forward if I allowed these things to stand in my way.

A pair of wide blue eyes flashed through my mind, a vision of a vision, the image so far removed, it was the ghost of a television screen. But there was a concept tied to it with silvery threads-hope.

There were rosy cheeks bubbling into tissuey pink meaty masses, transforming again, into a girl locked in her room, screaming an unexpected noise, searching for the strings she had forgotten existed, but were pulling on the edges of her skin her with all their might. That noise...that terrible noise...the creaking, stretching, cracking... A sound like a herd of moose dying, spidery streaks of black violently twitching back…jerking up and down... Screaming for release, tearing at the walls of plaster that stood in my way. The slowly crackling walls… Feeling those walls softly give way under my hands. The Impetus.

Things were different now. The instant I took my first breath, I knew I had made a mistake. But I had to get out of here. This stasis would never accomplish anything.

I have come to understand you better. And that, I believe, was the only purpose. Decisions have been made, and paths have been furrowed. I can see them plainly again, the crystal energies twined around each other, and thus, another question has been answered. I want to live with you again. I want you to live together again too. The time for rejection and masking has passed.

And this is a path I must travel alone. Alone…

(-)

The day Lumaira Arcaetius lost his heart, a mild tremor ran through the floorboards of an apartment complex in Borealis. The residents looked up briefly from their cleaning, their knitting, their finances, only to murmur a quick exchange about an earthquake and earthquakes being virtually unheard of in this portion of the world before returning to their previous occupations. None of them would notice when a giant black creature shot up towards the sun, only to be met by a deadly streak of purple fire, tumbling out of the sky, dissipating before it even hit the ground.

Borealis itself was a little-known world located near the outer ridges of Hollow Bastion—a small yet densely populated region which the Heartless had eagerly taken to. Its Heartless population was more controlled and easily maintained, so the creatures of darkness easily blended in with the city's natural urban ecosystem…along with rats and spiders.

With a swift whooshing tuck and the tack of shiny shoe soles meeting metal, a figure dressed all in black landed atop one of the city's tall building frames. His dark graying ponytail flared out behind him, and two long, oddly-shaped purple guns swung from his hands on either side of him. A wry smirk graced his scarred face as he stared at the spot where the Heartless had just disappeared. It had been a powerful Heartless at that—a being too large and oppressing for the likes of this measly little world. Weak in its moment of birth, he'd been able to take it out with one exceedingly well-aimed shot, and now… he was free to scout out the Nobody he was sure it had left behind.

Xigbar, the Organization's second member, was in charge of finding new and powerful Nobodies for their own benefit—the powerful shells left behind after a creature with an exceptionally strong heart lost that heart to the Darkness. Being a Nobody himself, he could sense the presence of other nearby Nobodies, and right now, he was sure there was one somewhere in this city. And apparently, quite a powerful one. Although he couldn't feel emotions, a flicker of a memory that may have been excitement sparked through Xigbar's nerves. His fingers twitched at the triggers of his guns with eagerness. He might even have a genuine Organization-caliber Nobody on his hands this time. He waited, one foot pressed against the edge of the building atop which he was perched, for the signal to come again.

Then…a ripple pulsed out over the city, across the cream-cobbled streets, straight through the tallest and sturdiest buildings without a shiver. The essence of Darkness.

Xigbar shoved off from the building, sailing through the air from roof to roof with acrobatic leaps towards the source of the pulsation. The little running energy-bubbles in the atmosphere started getting closer and closer together, almost rolling over each other in their frequency as he came nearer and nearer to the center. He started to hear something—faint high-pitched squeaks, something growling. A small grin appeared on Xigbar's face, just below his eye-patch. They were screams. People were screaming, crying, attempting to run away…this really was quite the catch.

He paused atop the slightly domed roof of a military museum for a moment to scope out the territory. A particularly powerful pulse rippled over him, so dense he could almost taste the Darkness in it. He could smell it, even without Zexion's acute sense of scent. He crouched a little to feel the wave as it passed over and through him like an invisible crest of water. Ahh…what a delightfully refreshing sensation… Closing his one good eye against the ripples of Darkness, he noticed that they weren't coming in exactly regular intervals. They were sudden swoops…swipes… Slashes… A force of darkness…a force of darkness was being actively used.

Another scream tore through the pulsating air of the city, and Xigbar ripped his own eye open again just in time. A glush of red liquid spurted out from underneath a striped awning, running in drops from the edge of something large and pink, as if it were a paintbrush. And when it immediately swung back up, Xigbar instantly recognized it as a weapon—a weapon of darkness—an enormous, pink, blood-stained scythe.

A person—a being—slung it over one shoulder as if it was nothing more than a baton, and froze, waiting, watching, and empty. It was a male, Xigbar could tell, from its broad shoulders and wide chest area, although its pink fluffy hair left him slightly confused. A simple brown jacket, blue shirt, and black pants covered it, completely out-of-place with its brightly-colored hair and scythe. Aside from those two unusual features, it could've easily been taken for a regular everyday Borealis citizen. But Xigbar knew, as soon as he laid his one eye on it. This was no everyday citizen. This wasn't even a human being. This was a Nobody…and one of the highest level.

Apparently, it had been on a purposeless rampage, blindly slaying everyone in its path for lack of a better thing to do with a giant weapon and a pool of darkness within. He would have to intercept, not only on the part of the Organization's scouting patrol, but also since this certain Nobody was drawing just a little too much attention to itself with its brainless bloodbath.

Purpose… He could almost imagine Lord Xemnas saying. It now lacks a purpose. Its rage is driven by pure confusion and lack of employment. We can give it purpose. We can put it to use. It is ours.

The Organization had just welcomed its tenth member less than a month ago, and many of the elder members were wondering just how many others they were planning on adding before it was all over and done with. But as far as Xigbar was concerned…the more the merrier.

Bringing his body down to his knees, bending his feet back, boots stretched over the dome structure, he prepared himself for the opportune moment to strike. And just in time…it came.

A small band of law enforcement officials had arrived in a square-shaped vehicle—finally, someone had survived and had been smart enough to call the police (or whatever the Borealis equivalent to police were). They hurriedly filed out, raising neon blue shotgun-type devices with spiked and wiry tips.

"Alright!" One near the front called out, presumably the chief. "Drop your weapon! We've got you surrounded! One move and we'll be forced to-"

Unfortunately for the cops, their normal human reflexes were no match for the two powerful creatures of darkness hiding in plain sight before them. With one lightning-fast backwards movement, the pink-haired Nobody sliced its scythe through the air…and without a sound, took the chief's head clean off, leaving his body to plop lifelessly to the ground beside it.

Now! The rest of the squad barely had a second in which to gasp or scream before bullets of purple dark energy pierced straight through their bodies, perfectly on target. Xigbar couldn't help but crack a grin for kicks as he somersaulted through the air. I'm really on top of my game today!

It was the Nobody he was concerned with, of course…but these pesky Borealis law officers couldn't be allowed to remain alive after witnessing something like this. He wouldn't be able to recruit this Nobody right in front of them…and attempting to divert them was just too much trouble. If all went according to plan, they'd both be teleporting out of here before anyone else took notice.

Xigbar landed effortlessly in the midst of the carnage, and the pink-haired Nobody, immediately confused and alarmed by his sudden appearance, whirled around and swung his scythe at him. Xigbar back-flipped out of the way. Crossing his two guns in front of his chest, he blocked the Nobody's next lunging attack. For a split-second, he got a good close-up view of its narrow shock-blue eyes and its smooth face…before it launched itself into the air again, twirling its scythe around its nimble body as if it was a simple little flag.

Amazing! Xigbar thought, even as he dodged continuing swipes, lunges, and flying stabs. To be able to wield that weapon so gracefully even though it's only existed for a few minutes. This one's coming with me, no matter what!

He would have to really concentrate this time in order to find an opening. A pause in the barrage enabled him to fire a volley of shots in the Nobody's direction, but its extremely quick reflexes allowed it to dodge every one of the zooming bullets. It whirled the scythe around, in front and then behind, twirling and swishing it through the air in a deadly bladed dance. A few stray bullets rebounded off its long, rotating green handle with a pathetic little clink. Coming a bit closer, the edge of the blade just barely missed Xigbar's cheek by a couple of inches. He grimaced. Almost ended up with a second cheek-scar to match the one I already got! Heh. Now this is a fight! I can't wait to see this guy once he's properly trained. I think I'm going to have to kick this up another notch…

Xigbar decided he would have to use more than just his raw fighting skills to win this battle…next time, he'd have to use his full power. But for now, he'd have to get that Nobody's attention and make it focus on something else besides battle.

"Hey, yo! Why are you attacking me, anyway? I finished off the fuzz for ya."

The Nobody lunged at him again, swinging his scythe down with swift force. Xigbar purposely stayed put and blocked it again with his double-gun shield. "Or is it just 'cause you got nothing better to do?"

This time, he noticed those blue eyes widen just a smidgeon. The Nobody hesitated for a moment before leaping away—and it also didn't immediately attack.

Xigbar clenched his hands over the handles of his guns. This was exactly what he had been waiting for. He had simultaneously activated this new Nobody's mind and momentarily stunned it by forcing it to think. He could almost sense its brain switching on and churning as it struggled to process his question and come up with an answer.

This one would have its memories…that was certain from its power level and its personal turn towards darkness…however, it would take a while before those memories settled in and came into place once again. The beginning existence of a Nobody was always disconcerting to the person existing within it. The transition into a heart-less shell of darkness always tended to leave the body in a state of mind-wiped shock for a bit. This may have been the first time this particular Nobody had even tried to seriously think. As far as Xigbar knew, it hadn't even yet spoken its first word…as of right now, it might not even be capable of responding at all, even if its brain did arrive at an answer.

Its stagger didn't last for too long, though, and soon enough, it was dashing to the side, once again attempting to outmaneuver him and slice his back open. Xigbar easily catapulted out of the way.

"Think about it!" he continued, putting a taunting chuckle into his voice for dramatic effect. "What is your purpose anyway? What is this supposed to accomplish? If you kill everyone off, then you'll just end up alone…and you'll snuff out faster than you sprang to life. And attacking like this can't even satisfy your anger…because you can't even feel anger anymore, can you?"

The Nobody paused again…it stood with its legs spread, brown lace-up boots pressing against the cracked and bloodstained gray concrete of the street. Its arms lowered just a little bit, letting the enormous scythe droop down an inch. Its pink mop of a head lowered, searching the pebbles of the ground for a moment, scanning them as if trying to find the answer there.

Its head popped back up the instant Xigbar catapulted off the striped awning he'd been resting on and hit the ground a few meters in front of him. Once again, bullets were ricocheting off the metallic edge of a whirling scythe as they attacked and retreated, back and forth, back and forth. Xigbar was really just extending the battle at this point—it was the best duel he'd fought in quite a while.

"Don't you want to channel this power?" He yelled above the continued sounds of clanking and explosions. "You can put it to good use, instead of just whipping it around senselessly. You've got real talent, man, and I'd hate to see it wasted, y'know? Don't you want to…be something?"

Another pause. The pink-haired Nobody froze for another locked-up moment, and this time, Xigbar knew it was the moment he needed.

In the blink of his companion's long lashes, he melted into the ground in a pool of black and blue-purple, instantaneously teleporting behind it. The stunned Nobody barely had a millisecond to begin to turn around before Xigbar lunged at it with his full body weight, pinning it to the rough street and, at last, bringing its killing spree to an end.

It struggled for a minute, but eventually relinquished itself to Xigbar's firm grasp on its shoulders and ankles, letting its arms fall limply at its sides. The giant scythe dissipated in a cloud of darkness the moment it touched the ground.

Finally, he could get a good, long look at it. It was fairly young—Xigbar would say in its early twenties—with a smooth and effeminate face, despite the unattractive grinding of its teeth at this moment. That signature pink hair fell in little wisps to its shoulders, bangs falling over the neon blue eyes. Here's proof if there ever was that beauty is only skin-deep.

Xigbar chuckled a little again. He might as well make his victory a little more tangible. After all, he had to show this Nobody that the Organization was stronger than it…that there was no use trying to resist.

"See?" Xigbar lowered his voice now, in case there were any people still left inside houses nearby. "You are a Nobody. But that's not an insult. I'm a Nobody too. There are others like us—several others. Join us, and become part of a force much grander than this pitiful little planet. Join us, and your power will be put to good use, for the benefit of us all."

Its narrow eyes blinked as if trying to process this information, its hands curling into fists beside it with effort and tension.

"I beat you, didn't I?" Xigbar continued, arranging his features into a half-friendly, half-threatening smile. "I can overcome you. If you come with me, our Organization will be able to teach you these things…secret powers and techniques to channel and refine your power even further, to the absolute best of its abilities. But we will also teach you how to use it—and not to use it recklessly. Your talents will be employed towards an attainable goal—a noble goal for the sake of yourself, myself, and all other sentient Nobodies like us."

The eyes widened a little against the dull gray rock of the ground. Good. He was getting through to it. He knew that it could understand, though it hadn't yet given any sign of it. This had happened with the other two as well.

"Do you want to feel that anger you seem so unfairly deprived of? Do you really want a satisfying revenge? Do you want to feel that thrill of victory?"

Carefully now, Xigbar pulled back, off of the semi-paralyzed Nobody, knowing that it wouldn't try to attack him again now. It lied there flat on its back, craning its neck slightly to keep the pony-tailed sniper in sight.

"Come," Xigbar demanded, holding out his hand. "We'll give you the life you've been searching for."

There was a moment's hesitation again, as the Nobody sat itself up, staring at him with fuzzy thought. It blinked again, twice in succession…before hoisting itself to its booted feet…and placing its bare hand in Xigbar's black glove.

He grabbed it tightly, cracked another sideways grin, and an instant later, they were engulfed in a dark corridor. The darkness exploded out from around them, stretching its tentacles above its bulb before it disappeared again, taking the two of them with it…leaving an empty, stilted, blood-soaked Borealis street in its wake.

The memory of pride coursed through Xigbar's system as he hurtled through the dark energy streams, holding tight to the hand of his newest recruit. For a moment, his smile almost seemed genuine. Success was a sweet taste, even when you'd lost your taste buds. That was excellently handled, if I may say so myself, Xigbar patted himself on the back. Yes, yes. That was the most fun I've had on a mission in ages. Ahhhhhh…Xemnas would be proud.

(-)

Saïx scowled as he led the pink-haired young man up the spiraling blue-white staircase towards the very top of The Castle that Never Was, tucking his materials firmly under one arm. Just yesterday afternoon, if the artificial clocks installed in the castle's walls could be trusted, that jackal Xigbar had returned from his routine cleanup mission in Borealis with this Nobody, assuring him that he was just the kind of Nobody they'd want to employ. He'd taken out a whole street full of Borealis citizens, including their police chief, and had even given him a run for his munny. From his appearance, it was hard to believe…but Lord Xemnas had faith in Xigbar, and so Saïx would have to have faith in him as well.

The Nobody hadn't said a word yet…he was just following along, periodically glancing to the right or left to get a view of the rest of the castle and the nonexistent city below. No one had ever thought anything would come from that sorry little rat-hole of a world—they'd even considered just destroying it once they'd amassed enough power and resources—but here was something standing in the way now and proving them wrong. Saïx silently resented having to pull up that world's file again and leave it open as a potentially useful source, but he knew he'd do it anyway. He always did it. No matter what had to be done, he always did it.

He had to admit, he had a few trepidations about this fresh Nobody, especially since he seemed "blanker" at this point than the other two had been. Before Demyx's initiation, the little chatterbox had been asking question after question, sometimes just to get on Saïx's nerves…and Luxord had just been calmly courteous. This one seemed to be glaring at him somehow, as if trying to say "What the hell are you doing with me, blue-haired freak?" with his eyes. Or at least that's how Saïx interpreted it. He couldn't wait to hand him off to Lord Xemnas. Then he could go back to being a simple secretary for the day.

The stack of papers under his arm were identification forms—they would be filled out during and after the naming ceremony to confirm the new Nobody's identity and document his arrival into the Organization. There were a few forms in here that he was supposed to read and sign—contracts, if you would. It made the elder members laugh to think of the Organization as issuing such "business" papers, but Saïx knew that without this kind of administrative work, new recruiting would easily get out of hand…especially with someone like Xigbar heading the operation. Another reason, Saïx recalled, that he and Lord Xemnas were thinking about permitting Xaldin to become part of the recruitment force. Sometimes their dear Number Two needed a little looking after…

The unnamed Nobody yawned behind him, and Saïx picked up the pace. Thankfully, a few moments later, the two of them arrived at the castle's open roof balcony, where Xemnas was waiting.

Saïx's boots tapped against the blue marble as he made his entrance, though the new Nobody's squishy brown soles made no noise at all. He made a short bow and prodded the Nobody into doing the same, an action for which he displayed a certain resentment.

The leader of the Organization stood just in front of the balcony's edge, framed by a starless black expanse of a sky, arms folded behind his back. Coupled with the blackness of his outfit, his spiked silvery hair and yellow eyes stood out even more. A tiny smile graced his lips as he moved forward a few steps, pushing off from the balcony rail.

"Ah, Saïx. You've brought the new recruit to me. Prompt as always."

Saïx nodded his head, respectfully. "Of course, Superior."

Xemnas turned to the new Nobody this time, addressing him directly. "My apologies for not coming to welcome you properly when you arrived yesterday. I have been a bit occupied as of late. I am Xemnas, founder of this Organization and your new leader."

The Nobody nodded to indicate comprehension, though he still didn't say a word. He stepped forward to meet him, as if sensing that he had been called forth. Their eyes met.

Aaaugh! Saïx's mind couldn't help but screech, in a reactionary panic. Stop doing that!

The Nobody was glaring straight at Xemnas in the same resentful manner that he'd been glaring at him on the stairs. But Xemnas only smiled back, with an expression that would have sent chills down any normal human's spine.

"I understand Xigbar has plenty of faith in your abilities. He said you can summon a large scythe."

With one sweeping motion and a small circle of light, the curved green handle of a giant pink scythe appeared in the Nobody's right hand. Saïx tightened his grip on the papers in his hands, wary and ready to step in to intervene at any moment. But everything was under control. Xemnas only nodded with recognition and approval, and the scythe dissipated once again.

"Welcome to our Organization," Xemnas continued, slightly beckoning for the Nobody to come closer. "It is time for you to receive your new identity…your purpose and your reason for being. Come."

The Nobody took another few steps forward, stopping about a foot and a half in front of the Organization's leader. Saïx moved into place on the side, a good vantage point from which to observe and document. He barely remembered the day he and Axel had been put through a similar ordeal. Nowadays, naming ceremonies were more…ceremonious. More congratulatory. Most of the original six hadn't exactly been pleased with him and Axel's inception. But enough about that.

"State your original name," Xemnas spoke, confident that this Nobody would have remembered his Other's name at this point.

He closed his eyes, and with a simple minute gesture from Xemnas's hand, large, clear letters appeared around his body, spelling out a name… "Lumaira".

Lumaira? Saïx wrote it down. It was a fairly long name. Most of the other Organization members had mercifully short original names: Rould, Myde…Isa and Lea. How was he going to make a new name out of "Lumaira"? It was even longer than "Aeleus". The form now read "Other's name: Lumaira, Origin: Borealis."

However, Xemnas's cold smile was still in place. The seven letters crammed around the pink-haired Nobody were almost a challenge to him.

There was a pause, whether for thinking or just for dramatic effect, no one could tell. Then, one little sweep from the Superior's hand sent the letters spinning and mixing around each other…a clear red "X" appearing between them, towards the end, as they finally came to a stop and settled, each turning red after the other, as if the X had infused the other letters with dye.

Saïx stared at the letters for a while, trying to read the name of their new member. "…Mar-lucks-ee-ah?" he pronounced. "Mar-loo-ksee-ah?"

"Marluxia." Saïx was surprised when an unexpectedly deep voice burst out of the newly-named Nobody, pronouncing his own name like he'd known it was his name for a long time already. "Mar-loo-sha".

"Ah," he replied, turning back to the form to write the new name down (along with its all-important pronunciation). "I understand."

"That's three syllables, Saïx" Xemnas added, teasingly holding up three fingers. "Mar…loo…sha."

"I've got it, I've got it!"

The Superior chuckled a bit, putting on a show. Marluxia only stared back, this time questioningly.

With another vague gesture and a whooshing cloud of darkness, a long black coat appeared in Xemnas's hands…followed by gloves, boots, and a pair of pants. "Your uniform, Marluxia. You will put this on and renounce your common Nobody identity for the remainder of your existence. As of now, you are a member of our Order. The 11th Order, as of today, for you are our Number Eleven."

Xemnas handed the uniform to Marluxia, who bowed his head slightly. "Yes, Xemnas."

"You will refer to me as your Superior from now on, Marluxia."

"…Yes, Superior."

Swiftly, Xemnas gestured towards the jacket again, switching the topic. "You'll find that it fits perfectly, and to your personal tastes. All our uniforms are formed out of the darkness to suit those that wear them."

Marluxia fingered the material for a moment, feeling out its texture and weight.

"Tomorrow you shall begin your formal training, and by the end of the week, you should form your elemental bond. Saïx will give you further instructions as to what this means and how to prepare for it. As for now, you are dismissed…I hope to see great things from you in the future."

Marluxia only nodded again, silently, as Xemnas moved away, turning back to examine his new uniform again.

Great, Saïx mentally resented. I have to give instructions to the newbie again.

"Saïx…" The blue-haired Nobody turned quickly when he recognized that his lord was speaking to him now, in a hushed voice. "We will be unable to assemble today. Have Xigbar show him around and introduce him tomorrow."

"Y-Yes, sir." Saïx was a little unsure why this was such hush-hush information. Marluxia probably wouldn't even know what that meant, or even care about it if he did know what it meant.

"Make sure you keep an eye on him."

That goes without saying.

"I've got a feeling about this one."

Saïx's thoughts ground to a halt. A feeling…? That couldn't be good. He trusted his lord's hunches, and he'd had his reservations about Marluxia already. From what Xigbar had told him, he seemed especially violent…plus, the way he had been glaring at them…

He nodded, firmly. "Yes, Lord Xemnas. I will not let him out of my sight. I will make sure he can do nothing to harm us."

"Good."

With a few more vague words of congratulations and welcome, Xemnas sent Marluxia off, with Saïx leading him once again, back down the stairs. And as he tucked his papers securely back under his arm, Saïx decided that as soon as he returned to his own room, he'd be making a few "special" notes on their pink-haired new member's sheet.

(-)

The only thing I can recall from that time was the need. I had been born with this need…some kind of thirst for revenge. This need was what drove me for the first few days of my new life, and I can remember nothing else. Xigbar may tell me about the spectacular fight we had, or Saïx may recall the day I was named…but those remain absent from my now complete file of memories.

The pieces began to fall into place just after that naming period. I remembered who I once had been. I remembered where I once had lived. I remembered his life, bit by bit. He had left me his vendetta, and I know why now. But today, I fight for my own advancement, not to satisfy a grudge that isn't even mine anymore.

They called me "violent" when I first met them…Xigbar, Saïx… But I didn't feel violent or "unstable" at all. My very first memory of this life is waking up in a light blue bed, in a room with white walls…my room now. I stood up and just stared around at the patterns on the walls, at the carved backboard of the bed, and at the little bedside table beside it, until a man with ragged blue hair and a long black coat came in to speak to me.

Saïx told me everything then. I suddenly noticed that I was wearing one of those long black coats too. He told me I'd joined this Organization without my even knowing it…although he said they'd gotten my "consent". He said I was being "very talkative" today, and that was a good sign. He told me about what I was, and the limits and conditions of being me. Then he told me that another man named "Xigbar" was coming to pick me up in two hours for my introduction and the beginning of my training. And after he left, that's when all the memories began to flood back at once.

I remembered anger…frustration…confusion…and most of all, desire. I remembered a sort of bubbling elation…mystic awe…wonderment… And then disappointment. Pain. Fear and panic. Shame. Three different kinds of pain all at once. Then more anger. Lumaira's life flashed through my mind—a whole lifetime summed up in the span of forty-five minutes.

It would be too much for any normal person to handle, but since I couldn't actually feel those emotions I was remembering, it only affected me on the surface. It was like watching a bland documentary of someone else's life…only that someone else used to be you. It was a pack of knowledge and background information only. Nice to know…useful to remember and know how to replicate…but this person wasn't me.

I'm not Lumaira. I am Marluxia. I am better and stronger than Lumaira could ever be. And I will prove it.

(-)

At precisely 3:00 that afternoon, according to the castle clocks, Marluxia stepped out of his room into the hallway, glancing around for any sign of another black-cloaked figure with an eye-patch. He didn't remember too much about Xigbar, since he hadn't been entirely conscious when he'd encountered him, but he knew somehow that he had an eye-patch…and two large guns.

Marluxia had been placed in a room in the east wing of the castle, on the fifth floor. As far as he knew, there were no other occupied rooms in this hallway—just a bunch of empty, dusty walls. There was a lot of empty space in the Castle that Never Was for some reason. Marluxia guessed it was either to make sure they had plenty of room for any additional members, or it was just some ridiculous symbolic gesture indicating the empty life of a Nobody. But in any case, he was all by himself up here. It was so empty, every little sound reverberated off the walls, echoing for up to a minute…and so Marluxia heard Xigbar coming long before he caught sight of him.

The tap-tap-tapping of boots against smooth marbled floor bounced down the long hallway a moment before the dark figure appeared at the end. By the time he got up close, another one of those wry grins was spread across Xigbar's face.

"Aw, I should've just popped up and scared you. This way's no fun."

Marluxia raised an eyebrow. "You would've risked getting a giant blade in your stomach."

"But it would've been worth it." Xigbar cocked his head a little to the side. "So you're talking now and everything, huh? Excellent. You get all your memories back?"

Marluxia faintly nodded. "Pretty much."

"I knew it."

Marluxia averted his eyes a little as Xigbar pointedly fixed his expression into one of smug pride. If there was one thing he knew about Xigbar from everything he'd heard of him and from what he'd been told about his own recruitment, he was quite hung up on the fact that he'd been the one to find him and bring him here. His high would probably pass, but Marluxia anticipated another week or so of having to deal with Xigbar popping up every time he did something successfully, as if to take credit for his accomplishments.

"Haha, and ol' Saïx was all worried that you wouldn't be up to the task—since you couldn't speak, you'd been off on a rampage and all that. Look at the difference a day can make!"

"Yes," Marluxia lamely agreed. "Quite a difference." Especially considering, as far as I knew, I hadn't even been alive until today.

"Alrighty then!" Xigbar clapped him on the back, which made him slightly uncomfortable. "Let's get you set. Normally, we have a whole Organization gathering to welcome new members, but we can't this time for some reason. They asked me to show you around so you can meet everybody. I said no problem, man, I love noobs." He gave a short laugh, which only sent off even more "uncomfortable" signals in Marluxia's head. "Fortunately, I got everyone to go to the Grey Area so they're all in one place and we don't have to go hunt 'em down. Though I'll have to show you around the rest of the castle eventually. But as of right now, this is all you need to know."

Xigbar led Marluxia down the corridor (still with an arm around him, much to his trepidation) and around several more bends. They had to climb down a staircase in a large open-air column, and as they did, Marluxia looked down and tried to spot the bottom.

"It goes all the way into the ground," Xigbar told him when he noticed his gaze. "You wouldn't want to fall off this stairway, oh nooo siree. Fortunately, though, I can teleport. Haha!"

Why is he laughing? Marluxia found himself wondering. Obviously, he doesn't really find it funny. Is he just trying to make me at ease? If that's the case, it's having the opposite effect. And as Marluxia followed along, trying to figure out Xigbar's motivations, he barely noticed when they stepped down another long corridor and into a large room.

When he noticed their surroundings again, they were in a lounge-type area, including four sofas and two tables, all in the same muted bluish-grey color, of course. The floor was also dull blue and studded with glass panels, and various strange "technological" designs crawled across the walls. The back wall was made of giant glass panels, so that you could stand in front of it and look out at the black starless sky, as well as the blocky constructs of a few other parts of the castle.

And of course, one of the first things Marluxia noticed was that the room was filled with other people in black coats, standing or sitting around in the area…and they all turned to look at the two of them as they stepped into the center of the room. Marluxia wasn't daunted at all, though he wasn't particularly interested in getting to know any of these people. His gaze went completely past them as he scanned the black swirling sky and the castle pieces. It was, after all, the first indication he'd had that there was any kind of world outside of the castle. He briefly wondered if he could get Xigbar to bring him outside…before his eyes accidentally fell into the radar of another set of slim green ones.

"Well, would you look at pink-head here."

Marluxia blinked and focused, to realize that the voice was coming from a skinny guy leaning against one of the glass panels, with hair so red and spiky it looked like it had exploded out of the back of his head.

"You must be the new member. What's your element—sugar? Nail polish? Glitter?"

Marluxia finally had a use for his anger memories and conjured up a death glare to shoot in the red-head's direction. "You had better quit that attitude before I slice your throat open—then you won't have anything to say at all, will you?"

"Geez." The young man held up his hands, a motion which Marluxia only vaguely registered as backing off. "It was just a little joke, nothing meant by it. I like you hair, really. It's almost as cool as mine!"

Marluxia kept his death glare focused. "And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Joke, joke again. Gee, someone's touchy. Oh, boy, not another one of those… I've had enough of you uptight types."

"I'm not uptight—I just know my own worth. Just because I'm the newest member here doesn't mean that I'm weak or any less worthy than you."

"Hey," the other man shrugged. "If I'd known you were going to get all defensive about it, I wouldn't have-"

"It doesn't matter-either way, you shouldn't be saying those things, period!"

"Well excuse me for-"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Dudes, chillax." Xigbar finally intervened, cutting out between them, arms raised. "Look at you two going at it when you don't even know each other's names yet."

Not like I care, Marluxia thought, though he knew at this point to keep his mouth shut.

"Heh heh, yeah." The spiky red-head scratched the back of his head, casually…that thing must get awfully itchy. "Sorry about that. How 'bout we call it a truce?"

He stuck out his hand, and Xigbar nudged Marluxia forward to shake it…though part of Marluxia didn't want to give it up so easily. He knew he'd be made to work with this guy in the future, though, and if he made enemies now, things would get really difficult…

Their gloved hands met, and Xigbar couldn't help himself from chiming in with an explanation. "This is Axel, Numero Eight. Axel, Marluxia."

"Cool name," Axel commented again as they pulled away. "Really, sorry about that. I bet you'll make a great member in no time."

"Yeah." Marluxia couldn't bring himself to apologize, but he wanted to make some kind of peace with Axel anyhow. "I look forward to working together sometime." Thankfully, the introductions kept rolling, and so Marluxia didn't have to deal with the repercussions of his empty statement.

"Hey!" Another voice piped up from the sofa on the right. "Speaking of Number Eight, I'm Number Nine! Hey-a!" A young man with sandy blond hair that stood straight up in the center turned around and waved from where he'd been sitting, plucking at a giant blue stringed instrument.

"That's-"

"Demyx!" The guy called, completely interrupting Xigbar's introduction. "I'm Demyx. Nice to meet you. Do you play any instruments?"

"Uh…no." Marluxia practiced his frown, hoping to successfully convey his utter disinterest in the subject.

"Aww, that's too bad." Demyx turned to gaze back at his enormous blue guitar-thing with a slightly disappointed expression. "I've been wanting to form a band in the Organization for a while now, but I'm the only one who plays. It would be hard to get a balanced sound with a sitar and a flute or something anyway."

A flute? Marluxia practiced his scowl. Why does everyone think I'm a complete pansy just because I have pink hair?

"I play the trumpet, occasionally," Xigbar chuckled. "Just to humor him."

"Yeah, hey, why don't you ever form a band with me, Xiggy?" Demyx complained.

"Cause I don't want the responsibility, kid. I play when I want to play—I'm not getting myself tied down to anything."

Meanwhile, Marluxia's gaze slid over to the man standing next to Demyx, who hadn't said a word yet. He was large and well-built, with black braids gathered in a ponytail on the back of his head, along with a pair of unusually long sideburns. He glanced up when he noticed Marluxia looking at him and offered his hand. Maluxia took it for another hand-shake, and surprisingly, Xigbar was too busy chatting with Demyx to notice.

"I extend my welcome," he spoke, in a gruff and serious voice. "My name is Xaldin." They separated, and Xaldin stared down at him, as if sizing him up. "Xigbar tells me you're a good fighter. I respect that. Though I'll have to see your skills in action first before I accept you as one."

Marluxia nodded his head a bit. A challenge, huh? "I'll be sure to live up to your expectations."

Xaldin's thick eyebrows bristled a bit. "…You had better."

"Hey, yo!" Xigbar turned around just as the two were about to walk off in their separate directions. "Looks like you already met Xaldy here without my help."

Xaldy? Marluxia stared, questioningly, as Xigbar easily strode up next to the large man and flung a comparatively small arm over his shoulder. How can he allow him to call him that? Xaldin seems like someone with a little more respect for himself than that. But Xaldin didn't seem to mind at all. He only crossed his arms, solidly.

"He's our Number Three, you know, right after me, so we're pals and all. Isn't that right, Xaldy?"

Xaldin gave Xigbar a little sideways glare, but he didn't deny it.

Xigbar chuckled again and gave one of Xaldin's braids a little twirl before stepping back to Marluxia's side. "Well, well, we better be moving along."

"But Xiggy…!" Demyx called, not entirely finished with their argument.

"I'll be back later, geez!"

Demyx started complaining, something about handing off assignments and pulling stunts, and Axel got started, arguing back with him, while Xaldin only sat down on one of the opposite couches and rolled his eyes.

"Let's migrate over here, shall we?" Xigbar pulled Marluxia away from them, into a much quieter…and seemingly oblivious corner.

One young man was sitting on another couch, engrossed in a thick book, while another very large, beefy man stood over him, protectively. The big man turned his head as they approached, like some kind of guard dog alert to a potential trespasser.

"Hey, relax, dude. Just here to introduce our newest member," Xigbar told him, though from Marluxia's viewpoint, this guy seemed like the type that really never relaxed.

He said nothing and only turned towards them, clenching his hands at his sides. He had short, slightly curled auburn hair and a big square jaw, which was also clenched at this moment.

"This is Lexaeus," Xigbar explained, gesturing vaguely to him. "Number Five. He doesn't say much. But he doesn't need to. Just look at that face. That just says it all, doesn't it?" Xigbar chuckled again, and Marluxia found himself wondering why someone didn't just pound him into the nice smooth floor already.

Lexaeus simply nodded a bit to Marluxia and mumbled a low "welcome." And so, Marluxia did the same.

"Don't pick on him, Xigbar," a smooth voice came from the couch. "Or you'll have me to answer to."

"No, no, not to worry," Xigbar brushed it off. "Just doing the introductions. We're all set here."

"Oh, well…" The young man on the couch finally looked up from his book, revealing a face partially covered by overhanging gray-blue hair. "I guess I had better introduce myself as well."

Marluxia moved himself forward again for more hand-shaking.

"Zexion," the young man stated. "Number Six. I trust you'll work hard for our Organization."

"I will. I will work my hardest for my sake and for the sake of all Nobodies…" I believe that was something Xemnas said…wasn't it?

Zexion frowned a little, as if detecting that Marluxia was just regurgitating something that had already been said to him. His expression was one of curious concentration. "Hmm…you smell like a fresh spring morning. How interesting…"

Marluxia pulled away, even more confused and somewhat disturbed. He…he smells people? There's something wrong with that…

"Zexion's got a sixth sense for those kinds of things," Xigbar explained. "Did your Other like spring a lot or something?"

"I…can't recall," Maluxia admitted…though in reality, he did remember Lumaira loving nature, especially plants…so that might have had something to do with the supposed "spring" smell he had.

"Well, I assume you like warm weather, plants, and flowers," Zexion confirmed. "It will be interesting to have a member with the powers of spring."

Xigbar glanced around the room, at a bit of a loss, just as Zexion was returning to his book. "Looks like we're short a few numbers, here… Where are Cardman and the Vex?"

Cardman and the Vex? Marluxia wondered. Those can't be their real names…

Zexion glanced back up, putting on a half-annoyed face. "Luxord is out on a mission. He's doing his first solo mission right now, so it's really important. Saïx is supposed to assess his performance and all that. And Vexen is at the C.O. facilities. He left yesterday."

Xigbar shrugged, half to Marluxia, half to himself. "Ah, well. You'll have to meet the two of them later. Luxord's our Number Ten-the newest just before you—I'm sure you'll be going out on a few missions with him. He's polite and a bit formal…a bit cryptic at times, but not bad. And Vexen is just…well, Vexen. You'll catch him skulking about here after he gets back."

"…Skulking?" Marluxia questioned.

"Er, yeah…" Xigbar scratched the lobe of his pointed ear. "He's uh…well… You know the guy, Zexion, how would you describe Vexen?"

Zexion turned a page in his book, haphazardly. "He's Vexen."

"Well there you have it."

Obviously, there's something odd about this guy that they all know about, Marluxia thought. Something indescribable…?

"Alrighty then!" Xigbar spoke loudly, gesturing widely with one arm. "That's us. Organization XI. I suppose I should give you a grand tour of the castle now…eh…I don't wanna."

"I'll do it!" Demyx suddenly and unexpectedly volunteered, jumping up from the couch. "I wanna go on the castle tour!"

"What's this?" Xigbar leaped backwards, clutching his hollow chest in utterly feigned shock. "Our Demyx just volunteered to do something? In his right mind? Wait, I need to take a photograph of this rare and wonderful occurrence!"

"Oh, lay off it," Demyx waved at him. "I just want to go for a walk around the castle. I'm bored. If it was actual work, that would be a different story."

"Oh, boy," Axel chuckled to himself. "Good thing Saïx isn't watching us now…or is he…?"

Demyx glanced around frantically. "He's not, is he?"

"No, no, go on—I was just messing with you."

"Whoo!" Demyx called. He threw his arms into the air, and his sitar dissipated into a stream of sparkling blue magical particles. "I get to show you around, Mar…Marlo…Marlin…what was your name again?"

Marluxia practiced his annoyed huff. "That's Marluxia. How is it that none of you can remember my name correctly?"

"Sorry…it's kinda long," Demyx admitted. "Most of us have nice short names."

"So we're just gonna call you Marly from now on, okay?" Xigbar grinned, stepping up next to him.

Marluxia growled a little, hoping that would give them the picture that he hated that name. Unfortunately, without any feelings, they couldn't be afraid or take the warning seriously.

"Marly it is!" Demyx agreed. "C'mon, Marly, I'll show you the recreational sector first!"

Marluxia only ground his teeth, trying to drown out the sight and sound of the excited mullet-headed boy. He really wasn't looking forward to a castle tour with this idiot…but what had to be done had to be done. At least afterwards, he'd know more about the inside of the castle…maybe memorize its layout…and try to get outside. And as much as it pained him, Demyx was two ranks higher than him, as of now. As of now, he was at the bottom…though he hoped to start climbing that ladder very soon. As far as he could tell, if Saïx was Number Seven and second-in-command to the Superior, he could easily make himself third-in-command, even as Number Eleven.

Marluxia faintly nodded as Demyx came to his side. "Well…then let's get this show on the road."

"Follow me!"

Marluxia stared after Demyx's retreating form as he ran down the Grey Area hallway…and with narrowed eyes, envisioned him bowing and running after him, as a servant. Yes…that was what he wanted…what he needed. And he'd do anything in his power to get there.

(-)

Marluxia met Luxord the very next day when he came back to the Grey Area for his first mission assignment. The gentlemanly blond was sitting on the same couch Zexion had been sitting on the day before, reading a hand of cards that he had fanned out in his hand.

"Ah," he said, rising as Marluxia approached. "You must be Marluxia, our Number Eleven. You fight with a scythe, don't you? And you came from a small world called Borealis."

Marluxia nodded his head, a bit wary, though his face and body language didn't show it. "How did you know all that?"

"The cards tell me many things…" Luxord collapsed his hand of cards and held the deck in one hand. "They also tell me that we shall not have the opportunity to work together today, but it will indeed come to pass. It is a pleasure to meet you. My name is Luxord."

"They told me about you yesterday," Marluxia told him. And now I know why Xigbar calls him Cardman. "Can you see the future or something?"

"Oh, no." Luxord scratched his bead a little, thoughtfully. "Time may be my element, but I do not possess the ability to see forwards into the future without turning the time forward myself. But the cards…they can be used to predict many things." His eyes narrowed, almost sinisterly. "And something I also saw about you… In two days' time, you are going to make a terrible mistake. A mistake which you can never reverse."

Marluxia raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? And how often are your cards generally wrong?"

Luxord bowed just a tiny bit. "I am simply giving you fair warning. I cannot control the fate I see in the cards. I am merely their conveyor."

"I see." And so, Marluxia decided right then that Luxord was another member he didn't particularly care for. If this quack was going to go around making ridiculous prophesies about him, he couldn't expect him to be all buddy-buddy with him, no matter that they were number partners.

That day, Saïx got Axel to take Marluxia out to teach him the basics of recon mission procedure, much to both of their dismay. They spent the whole afternoon basically evading each other's comments and restraining themselves from getting into another argument. Not to mention that they both found the mission exceedingly boring.

The next day, Xaldin took him to the training grounds in the castle's front lobby for combat training drills, which was actually quite enjoyable. Xaldin had been quite impressed with his skills in combat. Marluxia had been put through several drills designed to test and develop his awareness and his balance of offense and defense. He was a very swift and powerful fighter, though he needed work on his control. But by the end of the training session, he could almost beat Xaldin in an honest-to-goodness duel.

And in the category of magic, he also made surprising progress. Finally, on the third day, Zexion was drafted to teach Marluxia about magic usage…and to coax out his more latent abilities. He took him out to an unidentified forest area, apparently away from any civilization and any chance of accidentally harming something. The secretive young man had actually been late to their location, portaling in about five minutes after Marluxia.

"Please excuse my tardiness," he spoke, raking one hand through his giant face-bang. "I was assisting Vexen in moving some equipment back into the lower laboratories."

Vexen…? Oh, yeah, the one I haven't seen…

As Zexion stepped forward, handing him several flat, multicolored objects and droning on about solar power or something, Marluxia couldn't stop his mind from wandering. That's why I haven't exactly felt settled yet, he realized. I still haven't met all of the Organization's members. This "Vexen" fellow has been away…but if Zexion was just helping him move things, that must mean he came back, right? Is he going to come to the Grey Area to meet me today? The way they were talking about him… "he's just Vexen"… It's like there's something about him that's strange that they all know about and won't tell me. I don't know him yet…but he could end up being a threat.

"Did you get all that? You haven't said a word." Zexion's cool voice faded back to his attention as his lecture concluded.

"Oh…yes," Marluxia smoothly answered, and promptly, the flat objects burst into color-coded streams of light, flying around and absorbing into his system. He let out a tiny gasp, feeling their presences bouncing around and welling up within him.

"The first time is always a little strange," Zexion admitted. "But you'll soon get used to that sensation. I happen to enjoy it quite a bit."

Magic, Marluxia realized, tapping his chest a little and getting his bearings. Those things were different types of magic, and now they've all gone inside of my body…meaning I should be able to use them now.

"Alright, then," Zexion lazily gestured with one hand towards a tree. "Cast Thunder on that tree."

It took Marluxia a little while to pick out which of the energies pinging around in his body was "Thunder", but he managed to catch it, channel it into his right arm…and then release it from his fingertips, watching as a line of lightning bolts rained down from the sky, striking the tree dead center. A few of its higher branches came crashing to the grass below with a muffled, rustling thump.

Zexion crossed his arms. "Good. Now cast Aero on the one next to it." Five seconds later, the second tree was having its branches whipped about in a small tornado of wind.

Zexion nodded approvingly, and with one swift hand gesture, a small black shadow Heartless appeared. "Try to use Fire on anything here, and the whole place is going up in smoke. So I want you to cast Fire on this Heartless. It's only an illusion, though, not a real Heartless. That's my specialty."

Marluxia nodded and picked out the fire energy, blasting it at the illusion-Heartless with everything he had. The vision of the little black creature erupted into crackling flames and disappeared in a cloud of liquid darkness.

"Ah. Good." Zexion's voice was even and distant. "One more to go." With one black glove and the sweep of a sleeve, he pointed backward…to a small bed of cosmos flowers next to the first tree. "For your final test…you must cast Blizzard on these flowers."

Marluxia automatically began to raise his arm. The Blizzard magic was the only energy left in him now, since apparently Zexion had only given him one of each.

But when he pulled it to the surface and prepared to release it…suddenly, he couldn't. The fibers of his arm just froze. The magic halted in its tracks at the edges of his fingertips, and he could feel it sliding, like a coating of water, back down his arm. I can't… he realized. I can't do it.

Zexion cocked his head a little. "What's the matter? Finish them and let's be on our way. There's no time for hesitation."

Marluxia's head dropped away from the sight of the brightly-colored little blooming plants. Maybe if he didn't look at them, it would be easier. Desperately, he tried to summon the Blizzard magic back into his hand. It only tugged up a little bit…before retreating to a spot just below his elbow. He couldn't do it. But why…? He'd had no problem zapping the tree.

The lightning didn't destroy the tree, he attempted to rationalize. Neither did the wind. Trees are tall and hardy. But if I cover these flowers with ice…if I freeze them…they will die.

"I am growing impatient, Number Eleven," Zexion spoke again, using Marluxia's number as a warning. "Just hurry up and cast the magic. You did it perfectly the previous times."

Marluxia forced his eyes closed as another one of those dreamlike visions began to pass through his mind…one of those memories. No! He berated himself. This isn't the time to be thinking about that failure Lumaira's life! But he couldn't help it. The visions were sweeping over him so powerfully that he couldn't even attempt to suppress them now…

A tiny buttercup growing between the concrete cracks of a sidewalk…a single rose lying on a table, wrapped in transparent plastic. Rain beating down on the tiny yellow bell… A bouquet of roses hitting the wall with a fluttery smack, shedding petals all over the floor… The dead, drooping little buttercup. A voice calling his name, telling him to hurry up and get inside and stop staring at that silly flower. Sweeping up the brown, crumbling rose petals… No. No… NO.

The cosmos patch began to rise. Their stems lifted from the ground, raising them several feet into the air instantly, as if the rest of them had simply been waiting underground. They began to multiply, bursting into bloom as soon as they left the dirt, spreading out like an infection. Zexion calmly stepped aside as they swept past him, blanketing the forest floor, twining around tree trunks, choking the life out of small bushes.

"No!" Marluxia cried aloud, and when he did, a fresh shower of cosmos followed, filling tree branches, eating through holes in the wall, burying small animals.

One white cosmos even dropped onto Zexion's hair. He quickly flicked it off and held out one hand. "Marluxia! Calm yourself! Calm yourself, we're done!"

"Uh…" Marluxia finally looked up, letting this world come back into focus. He'd blacked out in his memories for a moment there and hadn't even noticed. He returned to a world absolutely overgrown with multicolored flowers. He even felt them around the ankles of his boots. Did I make them grow like that? I didn't know there was a type of magic that could do that.

A tiny smile graced Zexion's face as he lightly stepped through the flower carpet. "We may return now…with the fortunate report that you've discovered your element."

"Element…?" Marluxia now remembered…each member of the Organization had his own elemental power. So these flowers…were the result of his element?

"Plants," Zexion clearly stated. "Or more specifically, flowers. You didn't flinch at attacking the trees, but couldn't bring yourself to harm the flowers. Then, when I tried to force you to do it, you lost control. I knew it. That is why I put you through this specific trial—to bring out your powers." Zexion nodded and gestured again to open a dark corridor. "You will need more training, of course, to better learn how to control your element and apply it best. But for now, let's return. Superior will be pleased with your progress."

Marluxia followed him, a bit perplexed and lost from his encounter just now…but just before he stepped into the returning dark corridor, he looked back at the flower-world behind him…and cracked a context-appropriate smile.

My power… He thought. My power is incredibly strong and beautiful. …Soon, flowers will cover the rest of the worlds…just like this one.

(-)

If Marluxia had had a heart, he would have been feeling very good that evening. Happy…probably humming a little tune. As it was, he just had the satisfying knowledge of being accomplished…but that would do nicely instead.

A few of the Organization members had teased him about his new powers (particularly Axel and Xigbar), but the majority had sent their congratulations and expressed their hopes in his future. He knew his element was extremely valuable…and already, his head was filling with ways in which he could use his newfound control over flowers to achieve all sorts of strange and diabolical things…when suddenly, something else was brought back to his attention.

As he was walking up the stairs back to his room, he passed by Zexion and Xaldin, who were on their way down…and caught a snatch of their conversation in the process.

"Yeah, he's still in the lower labs," Zexion said. "I suspect he won't come up again for another few days."

"Is that really necessary?" Xaldin's gruff voice responded. "I understand that his work is important, but not showing his face for six days straight…"

"I know what you mean…sometimes, I think…"

Though before Marluxia could find out what Zexion thought, the two of them disappeared into one of the lower corridors and his voice drifted away. It wasn't hard to figure out who they were talking about, though, and the presence came flooding back into Marluxia's mind, overtaking any of his former thoughts about power and horticulture.

Vexen…I won't get to meet him for another couple of days…? He clenched one gloved fist at his side. Part of this just seemed extremely insulting to him. Someone had to have told this guy by now that they had a new member. Zexion at least had seen him recently. He knew, and yet he didn't even care to come out of his little hidey-hole and say "nice to meet you". It didn't matter how important this "work" of his was—as the newest member, he was just as—no, he was more important!

"Lower laboratory"…he remembered where that was. He searched through the mental map he'd filed away from when Demyx had given him the grand tour. The lower laboratory was on the second basement level of the castle, in the left wing, one of the large doors emblazoned with a warning sign along with the typical Nobody symbol. He could get there in no time. It really wasn't hard to navigate.

For a moment, Marluxia stood at the threshold of his hallway, glancing down it, considering. He was kind of looking forward to relaxing in his room for a while and cooking up some plans from the comfort of his own bed… But no. No. He took one solid step away from home base again, heading back down the same steps he'd just climbed. No. He was going to go take care of this right here and right now. He was going to find this Vexen man and confront him. He wasn't going to stand for this treatment anymore.

Marluxia strode down the steps of the central staircase, down several levels, the ends of his coat swishing out behind him. I don't care, he told himself. If I get in trouble with Saïx for entering the lab without permission. I'm not going to lie around for another two to three days waiting to meet someone who could potentially pose a threat to me. This is ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. And Xemnas should've called a meeting. If this guy didn't want to meet me, he should've forced him to! I'm a member of this Organization and I deserve the same treatment as any other member!

Already, he could tell that this man was someone he would definitely not get along with…but even through all of his personal ranting, he found himself…immensely curious. After all, what kind of crazy person would lock himself up in a laboratory for days on end? In either case, the path was clear. He had to do this.

Marluxia looked up, finally, to realize that he'd arrived in front of the giant metal door. He gave it a patented scowl. Of course, the door was sealed shut. He'd have to find a way to force it open somehow. Fortunately, he'd taken a moment to examine his options earlier.

There was magic, of course, but he had none of that now, and who knows if it would have been powerful enough. There was stabbing a hole straight through the door with his scythe, which would probably work, only then he'd be in even worse trouble for destroying the Organization's property (…though Xigbar did seem to be able to get away with that quite a lot). And then…there was the new little trick he'd just developed that afternoon.

Marluxia stepped forward, to the tiny keyhole on the lab's left sliding door…and held out one hand. Slowly, a little green vine began to grow straight out of his palm, slithering like a live snake into the keyhole and wriggling itself into the correct position. Tiny thorns clicked out to fill the grooves and ridges where the lab key would fit, growing and expanding with a barely-audible stretching noise. Finally, the keyhole was full of stiff, sturdy plant, and Marluxia broke the vine off from his palm, a white rose springing into being where he detached it. He smiled to himself, proudly. It didn't hurt at all, he found. It felt no worse than releasing a bit of magic. And his power could do some pretty amazing things.

Now even more confident in his abilities and his worth, Marluxia gripped the end of his new rose-key with absolutely certainty…and twisted it until it clacked into place, sweeping the ominous sliding door aside.

Immediately, he coughed a little as a strange low haze swept around his body, escaping in wisps out the opened door. He had to blink a few times to get his eyes adjusted to the smoky film and the dim lighting in here.

I'll have to search around a bit to find him, he realized. I can't believe this insufferable man…even making me look for him after I've broken into his sanctuary. Just what is his problem?

Marluxia pressed one arm to his pink bangs, effectively shielding his face from any other oncoming clouds of mist. And what is with this smoke anyway? How can anyone stand this environment for more than five minutes?

Maybe Vexen was some kind of alternative life form…one that didn't mind the smoke…an android, perhaps. That was it. He had to be a robot. That was why no one could describe him, why he hadn't yet appeared, why he didn't care about greeting their new member. He was only programmed to work.

Maybe I'll be able to use this robot to my advantage, Marluxia thought. I came at a good time, then. If I can get a hold of it…figure out how it works…I can even restructure it to do my bidding.

Carefully, he made his way through the lab, which was actually quite large. He passed tables piled high with papers, a counter jammed full of glass beakers, test tubes, and other strange, swirly containers, a large crate-type thing, an enormous machine which involved a conveyor belt and some type of screen, various bent, twisted metal shapes, and disturbingly enough, a wall full of cages, from which a series of low grumbling sounds was rolling.

Well, just what I'd expect from a laboratory.

Suddenly, Marluxia noticed something moving amongst the mist, next to a line of large machines that looked like computers. Something was…swaying…

"Augh!" Suddenly, it lunged towards him, whipping appendages and spiraling in the air, just glancing by his right shoulder. Marluxia turned to see a long white figure half-flying half-dancing away into the distant mist, towards the door.

Just a Dusk, he realized. Nothing to be concerned about. He'd already beaten up a small hoard of these lesser minion Nobodies during his combat training, and he was made to understand that some of the Organization members used them to perform minor tasks for them. This one had probably been helping out in the lab. But had it been standing there next to the computers the entire time…?

Marluxia narrowed his eyes against the mist again, and carefully moved in the direction from which the Dusk had come. A little more…there… There was another door there, cracked open. The Dusk must have come from that room, leaving the door open. He'd have to check it.

Carefully, cautiously, Marluxia reached out, pressing the door open with one hand. It made no noise as it swung open, revealing a second, somewhat smaller room. He soundlessly stepped inside. And froze.

It was much less smoky in here, though a few little clouds were beginning to filter in…and so, the view was perfectly clear. The same kinds of metallic piles of random equipment were leaning against the side walls. Piles of wires and packages of unidentified material…tall, humming silver chests…scattered papers, long printouts spread haphazardly, tables and chairs, another case-type box… But something about this room was very, very…very different.

At the far end were two enormous…tanks of some sort, filled with vaguely pink fluid. Tiny objects were suspended inside them, too small for Marluxia to make out at this distance. But the one thing that was unmistakable…was the tall black-clothed figure standing in front of them. His back was turned, straight blond hair reaching to his shoulder-blades, his coat so long it touched the floor like a dress.

Vexen… Marluxia was ready to just march on up and confront him, loudly announce his arrival, demand an explanation…but somehow, for now, he couldn't. Vexen was doing something… Something really strange was going on here, and he wanted to see.

The man had both of his gloves removed…and he was pressing his bare hands to the bases of the tanks, one to each, connecting to some type of pad.

A handprint-scanning device? Marluxia guessed. But what happened next would confuse and shock him even more.

Vexen extended his arms…and suddenly, a concentration of light erupted from his chest with so much force that his hair fluttered back a bit. It shone around his figure, highlighting his waist and straightened arms. It even seemed that it was travelling down his arms, racing and pulsing through his system as if across two wires, down to his hands, down to his fingers…down, into the tanks to which he was connected.

Marluxia could only gape on as he watched the light—the power—the magic—the whatever this was—pump from the blond man's body into the pink tanks for another couple of minutes…draining…from him into whatever was contained within.

For a second, the pink substance flashed a couple of times, as if becoming infused with this light…and then, suddenly, he yanked his hands away. The light made a sharp crackling noise, as if being broken apart, and immediately, it reversed its flow, shooting up Vexen's arms and burying back into his chest. He clutched the spot tightly, staunching the wound, and waiting for it to stop.

Marluxia was completely stunned. What…what was that? His mind whirled with possibilities. Vexen was obviously giving some type of power to something…but what, and for what reason? I'm getting the sense…that I shouldn't be seeing this…

But it was too late now. It was too late for anything. The light flickered out, and Vexen removed his hands with a little groan.

Move! Marluxia's mind yelled at him. You need to get out of here! Catch him on the way out! This isn't the time or place to be…! But once again, it was too late.

Vexen turned. And for the first time, they came face-to-face…in silent shock and the memory of horror.