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MASK OF THE INFERNO

By The Infiniator

Disclaimer:

Other than a few original characters that will be introduced over time, I do not own any of the characters portrayed in this story, or anything related to Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy, or Disney. Square Enix and Disney are the masterminds behind this amazing franchise, not me. All rights reserved.

Author's Note:

I was inspired to pen this story after having played "Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep," as well as a few other games. Believe it or not, but the "Mass Effect" series has also been a huge inspiration for this one. Additionally, I just recently watched some old Disney flicks that have yet to make appearances in the "Kingdom Hearts" universe, so I plan on adding them myself.

This story will jump around in time, but nothing like Season 5 of "Lost" or anything like that. I'll try to make it as easy as possible for you to know where and when in time things are occurring. For the most part, I'll use italics for flashbacks and anything else that's not taking place in the present, such as the Prologue below. Meanwhile the present story will be written in regular font. If I don't like this format or decide to change it, I'll make sure to let you guys (and girls) know of any alterations.

And lastly, thank you all for taking the time to check out my story. I really plan on staying committed to the completion of this narrative and have great things in mind for her. Believe me, I have something grand in mind for this baby. Your comments, questions, and concerns are always welcome and appreciated. And do not be afraid to judge harshly – sometimes it makes for the best motivation.

Alright, enough with the pleasantries. Let's do this.


- Prologue -

The Wanderer


"A man who casts no shadow has no soul."

Standing poised upon the precipice of a colossal canyon formation, the Wanderer gazed out over an endless expanse of barren wasteland. For reasons he could not explain, dusk seemed an almost eternal phenomenon here in this place, for he had been basking in the warm rays of the setting sun for what seemed like ages. The slight breeze that had begun to flow from the North was mildly refreshing, especially in a humid environment such as this one. Gusts of wind blew gravel and rocks past the Wanderer as his coattails leisurely flailed in the brisk air. Overall, the scene before him was beautifully tranquil, which was exactly why the Wanderer found it ironically poetic that such a serene setting was currently the backdrop of a brutal war.

Hundreds of feet below him, countless men and women were embroiled in a fierce conflict with one another, with lives lost by the second. War was nothing new to the Wanderer. He had witnessed the horrors of war first-hand, he himself having claimed countless lives for as long as he could remember. Millions dead, millions more tragically scarred, it would seem as if eventually people would realize the error of their ways and adopt a doctrine of peace. But the Wanderer knew otherwise. He had come to realize long ago that there was one absolute truth about the Universe – war is inescapable.

And this did not apply simply to humans, but was true of all living things. "War makes the world go 'round." Hardened and cold, the Wanderer felt indifferent about the growing tragedy unfolding below him, nor did he care about what these people fought for. Currently he was toying with the idea of interfering in the warfare. If he wanted to he could end the conflict and make all their problems go away in an instant. The Wanderer could not recall the last time he had wiped out so many lives at once. It would make good sport. A planetary implosion was a mesmerizing sight, one that had always fascinated the Wanderer. The fact that he possessed the ability to put out so many lights all at once seemed almost cruel to him. Almost.

But alas, the Wanderer did not indulge himself in such petty conflict. It was beneath him. No, he chose instead to allow events to play out on their own and let fate take its course. Although he was slightly curious as to the nature of the weapon each individual below was using – each and every combatant wielded what looked like a giant key, something he had never come across during all his years of travel – the Wanderer decided it was not worth further investigation. And so he turned away from the edge of the cliff and left the world and its people behind him.

Many years passed after that. The Wanderer had roamed the Universe for eons, traveling from world to world and experiencing everything that the scope of existence had to offer. From the most primitive of cultures to the most technologically advanced civilizations, the Wanderer had seen things most ordinary people could only dream of. Some might consider this lifestyle "living the good life," but the Wanderer saw things differently. Contrary to what some might believe, he had no real reason for traveling the stars. He had no purpose, no ambitions, no goals to fulfill. He wasn't soul searching for he had no soul to begin with, nor did he have an expiration date, for death feared him. He was a nomad without a destination. Sometimes the Wanderer would ponder his own existence, only to become enraged at the thought of his endless torture. Thus, he merely went wherever his travels took him and hoped the next world offered him more than the last. Today they brought him to a sun swept beach.

Upon arriving at the new world, the Wanderer could not ignore the touch of nostalgia he felt, for the scene before him was oddly similar to the one he had experienced back on the plateau. The beach was completely deserted save for a young man standing at the edge of a wooden pier, staring out at the endless ocean before him. Normally the Wanderer did not reveal his presence to just anyone, preferring to stay in the shadows. However, there was something different about this boy, something the Wanderer felt warranted closer inspection. The Wanderer took a moment to take in his surroundings before proceeding. Behind him was a lush jungle filled with various trees and plant-life. Turning back toward the pier, the Wanderer noticed a small, wooden rowboat docked on the shore tied to one of the columns that supported the pier. Inside, the oars rolled back and forth as the small craft swayed in the water. Satisfied there was nothing else of interest, the Wanderer strode down the pier toward the boy, who, other than briefly glancing at him, did not seem to pay the Wanderer much mind. They stood side-by-side, admiring the twilit sky and the dark-blue ocean.

"You're not from around here," declared the boy without taking his eyes off the horizon, a cool breeze passing through his snow-white hair.

The Wanderer stood with his arms behind his back. "What makes you say that?"

The boy looked up as a flock of seagulls fluttered over them. "We don't get many visitors here."

The Wanderer nodded. "No, I'm not from around here."

The boy pointed out at the sea. "You come from out there, don't you?"

"In a sense, yes."

"So, there are other worlds out there?"

The Wanderer nodded again.

"How many?"

"More than you can imagine."

"And where do you come from?"

"You are correct in assuming that I am not of this world."

The boy took a seat on the edge of the pier, allowing his feet to dangle just above the water's surface. "Is there a reason you wear that thing on your face?"

"Is there a reason you stare out at the ocean by yourself?" countered the Wanderer.

The boy looked down at his hands. "I know there's more to life than just these islands, you know? I know in my heart that I'm not meant to stay stuck here. I know with absolute certainty that I'm destined for something greater than this insignificant existence." The boy's gaze returned to the ocean. "But first I need to get out of here."

The Wanderer saw much of himself in the boy. He too was once a youthful spirit, curious about what lay beyond his home and what secrets the Universe kept. "In order to fulfill your destiny, you must first embrace it, not allow it to embrace you."

The boy looked up at the Wanderer. "How do I do that?"

The Wanderer returned the boy's stare, their eyes locking. "Young man, you have a touch of destiny about you, of that I am certain. I foresee that you will have a significant impact on the course of Universal events. However, in order for these events to come to fruition, you must take action. How you go about doing so is entirely up to you."

The boy looked down for a second time, seemingly processing the Wanderer's words.

"Reflect on this knowledge." The Wanderer turned around to make his leave. "For one day it just might prove useful."

There was a moment of silence before the boy spoke again.

"Maybe we'll meet again someday."

The Wanderer chuckled. "In another life, perhaps."

The boy thought about something for a moment. "You never answered my question," he declared suddenly.

The Wanderer was halfway down the pier. He stopped and turned to face the boy. "Why do I wear this mask?"

The boy nodded.

The Wanderer took one last look at the sun just over the boy's shoulder. "I don't. It wears me."

And so the Wanderer continued his endless journey into the farthest reaches of existence, drifting from world to world as the decades slowly drifted by. Eventually he came across a small town nestled at the foot of a colossal castle. Barely visible in the distance was a mountain chain that seemed to run on for miles. The town was quiet, with only a few citizens out on the streets. The Wanderer spotted a few shops scattered about the central square, providing everything from clothing to travel supplies to weapons. Additionally, various areas of the town seemed heavily industrialized, with numerous machines, all with differing purposes, powering individual areas of the town. The Wanderer even passed an enormous factory with a complex reactor of sorts located at the heart. Overall, the community seemed adequately provided for.

Strolling through the castle town, the Wanderer noticed a young girl in a pink dress watching him. Intrigued, he made his way to her. "Good afternoon."

The girl had long brown hair with a red bow. Her green eyes briefly scanned the Wanderer's face, no doubt pondering the apparatus that concealed it. "Hello," she spoke in a soft, friendly tone. "You must be new in town."

The Wanderer nodded. "Just passing through," he declared. "I must say, your home is quite beautiful. If I may inquire, have you lived here long?"

"Yes," replied the girl, cheerfully. "All my life actually."

The Wanderer cared nothing about this girl's life. He was merely making small talk before getting to the reason why he had approached her in the first place. "I noticed that all the machines powering the town are all linked to that castle. Is there some sort of ruler who resides there?"

The girl nodded. "Ansem the Wise. Although, he's not really our 'ruler.' He's more of a sage-king. He watches over the town and makes sure everything runs smoothly. He's a very nice man."

The Wanderer looked up at the castle. For reasons he could not explain, he felt drawn to it. "I'm curious. Would it be at all possible to meet with this Ansem the Wise?"

"Of course. His doors are always open to the people. The gate is just over there." She pointed past the Wanderer towards the castle gates.

"Thank you for kindness Miss . . . ?"

"Oh," she giggled. "It's Aerith."

"Thank you, Aerith. You've been a big help."

The Wanderer turned around and made his way toward the castle gates. There was a familiar feeling lingering in the air, like a déjà vu of sorts, but he could not quite place why. Whatever the reason, he held on to the idea that for once his travels had led him somewhere worthwhile. It was not mere coincidence he had arrived in this place. No, something great was taking shape here in this small, castle town. The gears of fate had begun to spin. Finally, after centuries of ceaseless wandering, he had discovered something of value.

The Wanderer was greeted at the castle gates by a tall, broad-shouldered man wielding a silver lance. His name was Dilan, and he was one of the castle's Royal Guard. Dilan wore his long black hair in dreadlocks and kept it in check via a ponytail. The Wanderer recalled Dilan scrutinizing him very carefully before allowing him access to the castle proper.

Dilan escorted him through the upper echelons of the castle, which seemed to reach up far into the clouds. As they traversed the winding corridors of the immense bastion, the Wanderer began to notice that the further into the castle they went, the more the scenery changed from luxurious to industrial. Decorations such as paintings and sculptures were replaced with masses of wires and tubes that hugged the walls and ran in various directions. The Wanderer surmised that they must be powering specific parts of the castle. No doubt whatever work took place within these walls required massive amounts of energy to power. The Wanderer was genuinely impressed.

After a few more minutes, Dilan stopped in front of a large door. "We are here," he said, his back to the Wanderer.

Switching his lance from his right hand to his left, Dilan cleared his throat a few times and made a quick attempt at adjusting his uniform. Then he placed his feet together and straightened his back so that he stood at attention, before finally knocking on the door. The Wanderer was again impressed; Ansem the Wise clearly commanded the respect of his subjects.

"Yes?" asked a voice from inside.

"My lord, your guest has arrived," stated Dilan sternly.

"Ah, yes, of course. Send him in."

Dilan opened the door, stepped inside, and bowed his head. "Your guest," he said, motioning for the Wanderer to enter.

The Wanderer stepped into the office, a circular room whose walls were made up almost entirely of bookshelves crammed with volumes of giant manuscripts. Sitting behind a desk shaped like a crescent moon was a blonde-haired elderly man in a white lab coat. Underneath the coat he wore a dark gray vest, white collared shirt, and a violet ascot. Draped over his shoulders was a red sweater of sorts.

"Thank you, Dilan. That will be all."

"My lord." Dilan bowed once more before exiting the room and shutting the door behind him.

The Wanderer could sense him standing guard on the other side, ready to strike should anything unpleasant unfold, but he paid the man no mind; he was not here for violence, only reconnaissance.

"Good afternoon," Ansem had said, meeting him in front of the desk and extending his hand in welcome. "I am Ansem the Wise, ruler of Radiant Garden."

The first thing the Wanderer noticed about Ansem the Wise was that the pleasant tone in his voice was genuinely sincere; a rare trait amongst people. The second thing he noticed was that Ansem's bright orange eyes were true. They say that a person's eyes are the gateway to their soul – never more had this rang true. Should Ansem ever lie to anyone, his eyes would give him away, but the Wanderer felt that he never needed to lie, thus nullifying the handicap. The Wanderer accepted his hand and the two exchanged a firm handshake.

"It is an honor to make your acquaintance."

"Please, sit."

The Wanderer did so, as Ansem made his way around the desk to his own chair.

"So, Dilan tells me you have only been with us for a short amount of time."

The Wanderer nodded. "Yes."

"Are you planning on staying long?"

The Wanderer scanned the room, his eyes shifting from the small chemistry set on Ansem's desk to the drawing boards situated behind him. "Radiant Garden is a beautiful place. Perhaps I will stay, if it is right for me."

"I see. And what, may I ask, brought you to Radiant Garden in the first place?"

"No particular reason," answered the Wanderer. "I am merely a . . . traveler by nature."

Ansem nodded. "Hmm, well in that case one could argue that it was fate that brought you here."

The Wanderer was intrigued by Ansem's comment. "How so?"

"While I am the ruler of this land and watching over the people is my primary responsibility, I am also a scholar in many fields of study, as you have no doubt already noticed," explained Ansem, chuckling as he motioned towards the very drawing boards the Wanderer had been eying only moments ago. "Most recently I have been looking into the science of inter-dimensional travel and the possible existence of other worlds. However, there has yet to be any real scientific breakthrough pertaining to this particular field of study, so my research is mostly just based on theories. I was planning on abandoning the subject altogether, but then I received word that a 'mysterious traveler' had arrived in town, and, well . . . I must admit the adventurer in me became slightly optimistic."

"So you believe me to be of another world?"

"I apologize if I am mistaken, but you certainly fit the bill," Ansem said. "A 'traveler by nature' as you so put it. And, if I may be blunt, there is a certain . . . air about you. A foreign air. Dilan noticed it too. He mentioned it to me, but it wasn't until I actually met you that I could understand what he meant."

The Wanderer said nothing.

"I can't quite place what exactly it is, but from the moment you walked into this room, I got the impression that you are not from around here. And I don't mean in the local sense."

The Wanderer chuckled. "If you only knew," he thought. He always found it amusing that people could easily detect that he was a foreigner from another world, yet not once had anyone ever suspected his true nature, despite the sinister looking mask attached to his face, staring them right in the eye. But the Wanderer took the humble approach. "Am I that easy to read?"

Ansem couldn't help but smile. "My my. I can hardly believe this is happening. All those years of sifting through volume after countless volume of theoretical dissertations and engaging in hapless experiments, and just like that, the evidence just walks through my door." He was eying the Wanderer as if he were some sort of marvelous specimen.

"Sometimes in life things have a funny way of working themselves out," said the Wanderer.

"Indeed they do," replied Ansem. "Indeed they do. Tell me, would you mind spending the night here in the castle? I would very much enjoy becoming acquainted with one another. You are no doubt curious as to the work that goes on here, and I have already made it blatantly evident that I would like to pick your brain about your traveling endeavors. It would be mutually beneficial and possibly even pivotal in scientific advancement."

The Wanderer considered Ansem's offer. As much as he felt he was meant to be here, he could not explain why. Perhaps the decades of aimless wandering had made him hopelessly optimistic that this world actually had something of value to offer him. What if I am wasting my time here? he mused.

"I will consider it," answered the Wanderer at last, neither accepting nor declining the invitation. "I need time to . . . reflect."

"Reflect?" asked a confused Ansem.

"Yes," said the Wanderer, without elaborating.

Ansem nodded, slightly disappointed, but did not pursue the matter further. However, he cheered himself up quickly and rose from his seat. "Whatever you decide to do, I am glad we had the chance to meet. You have no idea how enlightening this five minute conversation was for me. For that, I thank you."

The Wanderer stood up and shook Ansem's hand. "It was an honor to have met you, Ansem the Wise."

Ansem walked the Wanderer over to the door and opened it for him.

Out in the hall, Dilan was standing at attention. He bowed the second Ansem emerged from the office. "My lord."

"Dilan, would you kindly escort our guest back to town?"

Dilan nodded. "Of course."

Ansem patted him on the shoulder. "Thank yo-" Something down the hall had caught his attention. "Ah, Xehanort! You're just in time. Come, I'd like you to meet someone."

The Wanderer turned to see whom Ansem was talking to. A young man in a lab coat similar to Ansem's had just turned the corner, an open portfolio in his hand. He looked up from his notes and made his way over to them. The moment the Wanderer laid eyes on the boy, all doubt about remaining in Radiant Garden instantly vanished.

"This is my newest apprentice, Xehanort," said Ansem, introducing the boy.

The young man nodded toward the Wanderer. "Hello."

The Wanderer was momentarily speechless – a rare occurrence for him.

Xehanort fixed the Wanderer with an awkward stare after a moment of no reply. "Um, Is everything alright?" he asked.

It was unmistakable. The Wanderer could not believe his eyes. Standing before him was the same boy he had met on the sun-swept beach all those years ago. The boy who dreamt of leaving the confines of his small world, the boy who yearned for more, the boy whom the Wanderer had told was destined for great things. He had not been lying. The boy on the island had given off an unusual aura, one the Wanderer had easily recognized as unique. It did not matter that the boy standing before him was different in appearance than the boy on the beach. This boy had the same aura as the one on the beach. They were one and the same. And now their paths had crossed again.

"I . . . Yes, everything's fine," answered the Wanderer at last. "I'm sorry . . . have we met before?"

Xehanort chuckled at the thought as he turned around, his eyes back on his notes. "In another life, perhaps."

Radiant Garden now had the Wanderer's full attention.


Opening Theme Song: "Edge Of The Earth" by 30 Seconds To Mars