5. Seeking Solace
From Darkness and Despair
First, everything hurt. Being kicked out of your body by the person who possessed you isn't a pleasant experience. Riku learned that the hard way. It was like losing an arm, but much worse. If you lost an arm, you'd know right away. Riku had lost his whole body, but he didn't feel very different. He just felt like he was lost.
Second, he didn't know where he was. It was dark all around, but it wasn't the kind of darkness that could be cured with good night vision. It was evil, foul, surrounding him and squeezing him until he felt like he would burst. It was the darkness he had embraced, the darkness that had led him on his path, and the darkness he had allowed to consume him. The same darkness that Ansem embodied, the darkness that had taken his body away.
He felt like an idiot. Everything he had done had turned around and worked against him. He had tried to save Kairi, but Sora was the only one who could. He had wanted to stand on his own, not being jealous of Sora all the time, but his jealousy had only led him into combat with his best friend. Worst of all, he had been so eager to leave and see other worlds, he had forsaken the power that would have taken him there, no strings attached. Instead, he chose darkness, a path of pain, suffering, and loss, and now all of those things were enforcing their full payment.
'Why? Why did I think I was making the right choices? I haven't been able to do anything, and all I've done is cause the people who actually care about me pain. I've given up my chance to set things right, and I've let this lunatic take over my body. I can't fight back, I can't run away; I've lost…'
"You've lost, hmm? Interesting choice of words…"
In the darkness, Riku sat up, without even realizing that he had been lying down. "Who's there?"
"Does it matter? Anything would be better than nothing in here."
'I don't trust this. Who else could be in a place like this other than me?'
"You have very good instincts. Warrior-like, if I'm correct, which I expect I am. In your position, I wouldn't trust me either."
"Enough games! Show yourself!"
The voice let out a deep, dark laugh. "Very well…"
Riku felt a flat surface form under his feet and he covered his eyes as tendrils of darkness swarmed away from it, revealing a powerful bright light. He was standing on a platform in the middle of a dark nothingness, alone. Taking a moment, he looked the platform over. It was a stained glass picture, so intricately detailed it seemed almost unreal.
It was an image of two sleeping boys around his age, one right side up while the other was upside down. The first was a blond boy with clothing that was half black and half white, a jacket over a sweater and a thick shirt, baggy pants, and what looked like metal running shoes. The other, much to Riku's surprise, looked a lot like Sora, with the exception of a few things. This boy had black hair and was wearing a red version of the suit Riku had gained from his darkness. There was also a metal brace of sorts around his jaw, but there seemed to be no use for it.
Both of the images were wielding Keyblades, which only added to Riku's confusion. The blond was wielding his, a grey and black Keyblade, backhanded, and the design of it seemed to facilitate wielding it in that manner. The other was wielding a Keyblade that instantly reminded him of his own sword, Soul Eater, with the two demonic eyes that started out at him from the glass and the dark red and black that coloured its gear like form.
The image's background had a desert area at the bottom, littered with Keyblade-like images. Above that, obscured by the sleeping forms, were symbols he didn't recognize. One was a spliced gear, the keychain of the darker boy's Keyblade, and another was a fragment of something encircled by feathers, the keychain of the blonde's Keyblade. In the center was two of Sora's Keyblade, crossed over a heart. The border was split in half as well, one half bordered by something resembling the Heartless Emblem and the other half bordered by a misshapen kind of heart.
"What… is this?"
"A very good question. You seem to be full of them."
This time the voice sounded closer and, looking up, he saw the dark-haired boy from the stained glass platform, emerging from a swirl of darkness with a smirk on his face.
"Just who exactly are you? And why do you look like Sora? You sound like Sora too…"
He seemed surprised, if only slightly. "Sora? He must be the one who gave me this form."
"Enough riddles! Answer me!"
"Very well, then," he said with another laugh, "My name is Vanitas, though that will have no meaning to you. I, like you, have chosen… or rather, been created into a path of darkness."
Riku snarled. "I don't want anything to do with darkness!"
"I can understand why. The darkness has destroyed everything you hold dear, leaving you with nothing," Vanitas said in a mocking tone, gesturing overdramatically with his hands.
"What do you want?"
"I'd like to understand you a bit better. It may help me with one of my own problems."
Riku wasn't convinced. "You already said that I don't trust you, even more so now that I've seen your face."
"Do I really bother you that much? Please, I'm harmless."
"And why do I feel like you're lying?"
Vanitas shrugged. "Here, in this place, you are protected. As long as he's watching," he pointed at the blond on the platform, "I can't do a thing to harm you."
"And who's he?"
"None of your business."
"Then I have nothing to say to you."
Vanitas laughed. "Really? You wouldn't like to find out why you're weak?"
Hearing this, Riku snapped. He summoned his Soul Eater and charged at Vanitas. In response, Vanitas summoned his Keyblade and blocked. All of Riku's attempts to attack were blocked or deflected. 'Why can't I beat him? Why can't I win?'
"You lose because that's how you are! That's why we're the same. People like us aren't meant to be heroes! We are, and we'll always be, the dark, unspoken half of those we hate, those we envy! We can never overcome them, and they can never be rid of us!"
Furious, Riku tried to attack again, but nothing worked. Vanitas was skilled, much more than he was, and his Keyblade seemed to give him added power. "Stop talking! Get away from me! You and your cursed Keyblade!"
Vanitas only laughed louder, sounding crazier by the second. "Yes, curse and hate thing you are! Hate the very power you yourself possess! All of it will only serve to empower you. That hatred and despair can only make you that much stronger!"
"Never!" Riku shouted back, attacking Vanitas with all his strength. Still, his attacks were deflected as though they didn't exist. Out of breath, he stumbled backwards and dropped onto his knees, fingers grinding against the glass. 'Why…?'
"Because you're exactly what you hate. You've become the very thing you were tasked to destroy. That's why the light rejected you, why the Keyblade rejected you and why you were drawn here… to me…" Vanitas kneeled down to be level with him. "Your power, the power of your Keyblade exists in light. It exists with the power to dispel darkness. But you embraced the darkness you were meant to destroy, and that Keyblade lost its interest. You lost the favour of the person who granted you that power." Reaching out, he lifted Riku's head up with the tips of his fingers. "That's why the only one who can accept you is me."
Riku slapped his hand away, feeling shivers crawling their way down his spine. "Then I don't want acceptance. Stay away from me. You're a monster, and I want nothing to do with you."
"Of course I'm a monster," Vanitas smirked. "What other creature could survive out here, the way I do? I can see it in your eyes. You hate me. You hate everything that I am."
"Of course I do."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it."
Riku could only stare in disbelief as Vanitas stood up and walked to the edge of the platform. "You're insane."
"There could be no other explanation for it, am I right? That's what you're thinking, correct? Well, you're dead wrong, and around a person like me, those are two things I would never want to be: dead or wrong."
"Then what exactly are you?"
Vanitas turned back to him with his greasy smile. "The embodiment of pure evil. Evil that loves to take away that which is most valuable to people. Preferably lives when I can get my hands on them."
"You can't hurt me."
Vanitas, for the first time, scowled, glaring at the stained glass. "Yes, I'm aware. This bratty runt still haunts me, even when I finally believed I was free from him."
"Then you are what you hate."
Riku stood up, smiling slyly. "You hate your opposite, whoever this person is. You're a part of him, and he's everything you hate. Not only that, but I'm willing to bet he acts just like Sora, and you hate that even more. You hate it because you look like the people you hate the most."
"And you're absolutely correct," Vanitas replied, unaffected. "I am what I hate, and you're starting to become one too: a know-it-all who thinks he understands, who thinks he can somehow turn the tables on me and defeat me. But believe me, you can't. So don't even try.
"Well, I think I've just about proven my point, and I think I see in you exactly what I've been looking for. So, to thank you for putting up with my little game, I'll give you a present. Catch." In a sharp movement, Vanitas threw his Keyblade at Riku. Without thinking, he held his Soul Eater up to block and, in a flash, his sword was gone, replaced by the dark enigma's Keyblade. "From me to you."
"I don't want your stupid Keyblade!"
"You don't have a choice but to accept. Your heart is filled with darkness and will not accept a Keyblade of the light. But, a Keyblade of light is what you have, so I've helped it along a bit. Now you wield both a Keyblade of light and a Keyblade of darkness. I trust you'll put them to good use."
"Take it back!"
"We'll always be watching, Riku. The eyes of that blade are unblinking, unflinching, and our eyes will be the same, keeping watch over you. Like it or not, that is your right, your destiny, and our will. I'm interested to see how far you'll take your power, so I'll be watching you. My eyes will never looks away, nor will the eyes of my master, the one man you truly hate…"
Riku, with all his might, tried to hurl the Keyblade back at Vanitas, but it stuck to his hand, glued to it. He tried to shake it off, but it didn't budge, its eyes burning themselves into his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to fight it off, but its power brought with it an endless fog, and the inescapable sounds of Vanitas' dark laughter.
He fought and fought, until finally the fog of darkness began to clear, allowing his mind to straighten out. He heard someone calling to him, but after his last encounter, he wasn't sure he wanted to answer.
"Hey, are you alright? Come on! Hey! This is no place to be taking a nap!"
Knowing he could escape it no longer, Riku opened his eyes and the sight before him made him believe for a moment that he was still dreaming. Staring down over him was the largest mouse he had ever seen, with huge round black ear and white gloves.
"Hey, it's good to see you're okay," he said happily, his voice high-pitched and squeaky.
Riku looked around and saw nothing but darkness. "Where am I?"
"You're in the Realm of Darkness, on the other side of the door to Kingdom Hearts."
"Hmm… So, this is darkness, huh? Frankly, I'm not impressed."
The mouse laughed. "Oh, I forgot to introduce myself. I'm Mickey Mouse, King of Disney Castle."
"King…" It took his mind a moment to catch up. 'Wait, King? The King Donald and Goofy were looking for? That King?' "S-sorry, Your Majesty. I-I didn't realise… I'm Riku."
Mickey smiled. "It's nice to meet you, Riku, but I have to wonder, how did you end up here?"
"It's a long story…" he muttered, scratching the back of his head in embarrassment.
"I'm sure we've got time. Say, Riku, I'm looking for something while I'm here, so why don't you tell me the story while we search?"
"A-are you sure you want my help?"
Nodding his consent, Riku stood up. From his new vantage point, much higher than that mouse king's, he saw that there was a hill up ahead, and something beyond it was giving off light. "Your Majesty, what is that?"
"I don't know. I was going to go see what it was when I found you. Would you like to go see it together?"
He couldn't help but smile. "I'd love to." Together, they ran over to the hill and climbed to the top, where the ground levelled off and then dropped. Off in the distance, on the other side of the drop, a bright light shone, filling the bleak darkness around it with brilliant white streaks. "It's beautiful. What it is?"
"It's the light within the darkness."
"Light… within darkness?"
"Uh-ha. 'Even within the deepest darkness'," King Mickey quoted, "'You can always find that little bit of light.'"
'Light…within darkness. Good with in evil? Maybe… I'll show you, Vanitas. I don't need the power of your dark Keyblade. I'll reclaim the light, and the Keyblade I was meant to have. You can rely on darkness all you want, but I won't rely on you. I'll find my own path, one that I choose to take without any regrets. Now… all we need to do is find a way out…'