Chapter Two: Secrets
I remained sitting in the ocean on my knees on the backside of the play island, nothing but the soft ocean breeze and waves creating noise. After I fell through the broken bridge and healed myself, I just sat down in the water and stayed there. There really was no better place for me to go, really. I didn't even have a home anymore.
My identity was gone as well. I wasn't Steph, Princess of Cadia, and I wasn't Steph, the girl from Twilight Town who did well in school and had surprising battle skills. I was just Steph. Whoever she was.
My eyes widened at the call, my head turning to look up at the bridge where it came from. But the person who called to me wasn't standing there anymore. Riku jumped down from the bridge and splashed into the water by me, kneeling down without caring about his own clothes. "What happened? You okay?"
"I'm fine," I assured him, seeing the worry and confusion in his aqua eyes. "I just forgot about the broken bridge, and once I was down here, I didn't feel like getting up. That's all."
"How long have you been sitting here?" Riku asked next, full of questions as always.
I shrugged. "A little while. I lost track of time."
"What are you sorry for?" I asked in confusion. He hadn't done anything wrong.
"For getting caught up in this Xehanort business. I wanted to talk to you as soon as that was done, but your dad beat me to it."
Oh, that. Again, I shrugged. "It's okay."
His eyes studied me, and after a few moments, I turned my head to look forward again. Riku's gaze was intense, just because he was so worked up over everything that was happening. "…Do you want to talk about it?" he asked after a moment.
"I dunno what there is to say," I responded softly. "I just got told that my life is a lie, again. I don't know where I'm supposed to go, or what I'm supposed to do now…"
"That's not something you go through only with your situation," Riku stated. He lifted a hand, setting it on my cheek as he gently turned my face towards him again. "It's something everyone struggles with. Figuring out what they're meant to do with their lives, where they're supposed to be and what to do." His thumb stroked my cheek, his aqua eyes soft on me as he spoke only a few more words. "You're not alone, Steph."
A faint smile appeared on my lips at the words that were spoken to me. Thinking about it, Riku was right. Everyone struggled with the type of general questions I was asking. I would still have to find a place to live, but at least I wasn't alone in trying to figure out what my destiny was. "Thanks," I said softly, lifting a hand to Riku's on my face. I gently curled my fingers around it, wanting to hold onto him for a little while.
His grunt was the response to my gratitude, and after that, he didn't say anything. We were still sitting (or kneeling, in Riku's case) in the water, but it didn't matter too much.
After a half minute of silence, though, Riku spoke again. "There's something you should know."
"Hm?" I hummed in question.
"More details from my past," he said lowly. "I have a feeling a lot of it is going to resurface now that Xehanort and his remnants are back."
You're going to tell me about your past? I thought in shock. Riku kept a really tight lid on that; all that I knew was that he had a past that he regret. And that he hurt Sora and Kairi in the past. The rest of the details were so vaguely given that I couldn't even recall them at that moment.
"I was fifteen when this world was swallowed by Darkness," Riku said as he looked ahead of us. "I actually was the one to cause it."
Well, I wasn't expecting that. "What?" I asked, looking over at him in shock. He didn't bother responding, only continuing.
"I had made a deal with a shady figure that if he gave me the ability to leave the Islands, then I'd lead him to the heart of the world. Later this man tried to use me again. The Darkness started consuming me out there, making me thirst for power. When I felt desperately weak, I accepted his offer to give me more power without hesitation. …He ended up possessing me."
"Who is this?" I whispered, feeling afraid. I never imagined Riku's past would have been that bad.
"Ansem, the Seeker of Darkness…Master Xehanort's Heartless who has come back to life again."
"I'm sure that he'll say some things to try and get under my skin whenever we meet him," Riku said without looking at me. "I want you to be prepared to hear the worst."
"Whatever happens, be on your guard." He finally looked over at me, eyebrows furrowed as his gaze was deathly serious. "He'll try to get inside your head. He may even try using you to get to me…But I won't let him. I won't let that happen. I promise."
"…Okay," I said with a small nod, unsure what else to say. But if we were dealing with a villain that terrible…I couldn't help but feel afraid despite Riku's promise that nothing would happen.
Riku pushed himself up, offering both of his hands to me as he moved to stand in front of me. Let's get out of the water, his expression seemed to say.
I accepted both of his hands and rose to my feet, my eyes staying locked on his. There was something that he wasn't saying; I could just sense it. "What aren't you telling me?" I asked him gently. Was it something concerning his past?
Judging by his surprised expression, I figured that it wasn't anything like that. He shook his head, still grasping my hands. "Just that I should have sensed something was wrong with Cadia," he responded. "I mean, I sort of noticed something felt off one day, but I never could have suspected any of this…"
"What did you notice that didn't seem right?"
"Well…do you remember that one day where we went into town and you saw everything for the first time?"
Memories immediately came to the surface of my mind as I nodded. "Of course." How could I ever forget that day? My classes were cancelled, so Riku and I explored Cadia for the first time. It had been fun until I was ganged up on by some creeps and Riku dragged me back to the castle.
"Well, there were things that I noticed in Cadia from other worlds. Like the stuffed animals named Mushu and Rajah. And the girl with really, really long blonde hair, and the random frog…All of them are from other worlds. Well, Mushu and Rajah weren't stuffed animals in their original worlds, but you get what I'm saying. Xehanort recycled material from other worlds when creating the structure of Cadia."
"Wait a second," I said quickly, confused. "You're saying Master Xehanort didn't just dupe me and my family, but he also created things to be a certain way in that world?"
"Or he created the actual world and shipped people off to live there while wiping their memories so they wouldn't know anything was wrong."
"That's Xehanort for you," Riku responded lowly. I had to nod faintly in agreement. From all that I heard, Xehanort sounded like a truly despicable man. This plan must have been set in motion a long time ago though, since my dad was certain the world existed twelve years ago. That was after Master Xehanort took my dad's body, but before he turned into a Heartless and Nobody. "…Anyway, we've come up with a plan of sorts to try and track him down. Your parents knew of another world that Sora and I never heard of that Master Xehanort lured them to before, so it would be best to start looking for him there."
"What world is it?" I asked out of curiosity.
"The Keyblade Graveyard." I shivered at the name, not at the coldness of my clothes. That name…It just seemed so ominous.
"We're all leaving right away."
"Even Kairi," Riku confirmed with a nod, though his eyes showed that he was wondering about another question. "You can either stay here or come along."
"I'll come." There was no guarantee that we'd find Master Xehanort at this world anyway. And besides, the last time I was alone on this world, I was kidnapped. I was probably safest by Riku's side, even if he was running into danger.
"I had a feeling you'd say that," Riku said softly, glancing away. He had probably been hoping that I'd stay away, but I had my reasons for coming along.
"Hey," I said gently, lifting my hand and setting it on his arm. "I'm coming along because I feel safe with you. I'll be fine, okay?"
"Okay," he said with a small nod, though he didn't seem convinced. He didn't get another chance to protest.
"The Keyblade Graveyard will have to wait," a new voice said from the bridge above us. Both Riku and I looked up, seeing Aqua standing there. Her expression showed fear, her skin paler than usual. Something was wrong. "Terra and I just remembered something. Come with us."
Castle Oblivion. That was what Riku called it. This world wasn't in a realm that I was used to. It stood on its own, at the end of a long path. It was eerie, even at a distance. But this was where my parents brought us all. And by "all", I meant me, my parents, Riku, Sora, and Kairi. Mom explained that this was originally her home world, but she transformed it into this castle in order to protect something important. She couldn't say what it was, but Terra knew what was waiting inside.
"We'll need to stay together," Aqua said lowly as we approached the castle. "Master Eraqus told me that anyone who enters this place is lost in oblivion."
"But…Sora and I both made it out of there alive," Riku said in confusion.
"You did?" Aqua immediately responded in worry, Sora asking a question at the same time.
"We did?" Sora asked, confused.
Riku nodded to both of them.
Aqua grunted. "Then we need to hurry. He may not be safe after all…" She took at a run while Terra took off right behind her. The move surprised all of us, since she was the one who just said we'd need to stick together.
Before I could run after her, I heard a rough grunt behind me. I turned around immediately, my blue eyes widening drastically when I saw Sora. He stood still now, hands grasping his head and digging into his hair. He was in pain.
"Sora?!" Kairi cried in worry. When Sora swayed on his feet, she wrapped her arms around his side to support him. One hand sat on his chest while the other was on the side opposite her. "Sora, what's wrong?"
There was no response though. Sora suddenly lost consciousness and Kairi had to hold all his weight. She and I gasped at the exact same time as she started losing her grip on him. Though we were stunned, Riku was quick to do what was necessary. He appeared on the other side of Sora and wrapped his arm around his taller shoulders as he said to Kairi: "I got him."
"Riku, what's happening?" Kairi asked shakily as she let go of her boyfriend.
"My guess? His heart reacted to Castle Oblivion."
"What happened here at Castle Oblivion?"
"It's a long story…" he said, shifting his gaze to the castle as my parents opened the large doors and ran through them.
Though I was interested in the story, I quickly figured out that if I didn't run after my parents now, I wouldn't be able to enter the castle and see whatever was hidden inside. "I'm going after my parents," I said. I didn't wait for a response. I started running towards the castle so that I could catch up to them, and by the silence of the people behind me, I figured that it was alright with the two of them that I was going. It didn't really matter what was okay with them anyway; I was already going.
"Wait for me!" I cried as I ran through the doors. I made it just in time; my parents had just been about to go through the doors that were at the end of the plain white room. They halted when they saw me, glancing at each other as if to say, Should we let her come along. "I'm not about to get left behind," I said as I closed the distance between me and them.
After a moment, Terra spoke. "Alright, stay close."
We worked our way through the castle, the path straightforward enough. Each doorway that we opened only led to a set of stairs that we had to climb up to be on the next floor. It wasn't until we reached the thirteenth floor that there were actually other rooms that we had to go into.
"It's here somewhere," Aqua breathed, standing in the middle of one of the plain white rooms as she looked around.
"What exactly is 'it'?" I finally asked, doubled over slightly because we just ran to get all the way up here.
Neither of my parents answered. With an exasperated sigh, I sank down to my knees to catch my breath. Why were they being so secretive about this? It didn't make sense. They knew that they could trust all of us. Though Riku and my dad didn't get along at first, they were alright now. Especially since Dad was the one who gave Riku his Keyblade in the first place.
Aqua touched a wall and a bright light emitted from a large section of the wall, fading away after a moment to reveal a doorway. "He's in there," she said breathily.
"Then let's go in," Terra said, stepping forward and grasping one of the handles. His wife nodded and grabbed the handle on the other door. Both of them opened their doors at the exact same time and looked into the room.
Looking past her, I could see that there were three empty chairs in the room.
"Ven's gone. Terra…" She looked over at him, eyes wide with worry.
Who's Ven? I wanted to ask. But the silence was too tense for that.
"…We'll find him, Aqua," Terra said after a moment, wrapping his arm around her shoulder. "But not here. We need to get out of here and check on Riku and the others."
After a few moments, my mom nodded weakly in agreement. The two of them turned around and started walking towards me. Without waiting for them to catch up completely, I turned around and started walking the way that we came in through. Whoever Ven was, he wasn't here, and he was supposed to be.
"Ven's our best friend, like a little brother," Terra finally explained as we walked. "He lost his heart at the end of the last fight against Xehanort but his body was preserved. Aqua put his body in that room for safe-keeping."
"…Oh." That was all that I could think to say, but after a moment, another question came up. "Why didn't you just tell us that?"
"If Xehanort managed to keep an eye on us for the last eighteen years, then if we said anything specifically about Ven, he may have come searching for him," Aqua stated. "We didn't want to take any chances. "
"Oh," I said again, nodding. That made sense.
The rest of the way down the tall building, my parents spoke to each other. They were trying to figure out what happened to Ven, but they really had no idea. The best guess that they came up with was that Master Xehanort somehow found him and obtained him in order to lure Terra and Aqua to him.
Whether he had bait or not, though, Terra and Aqua were going to seek him. He had to realize that. He was responsible for the lives that we lived, the lies that we believed to be truth. For that crime, he would suffer dearly. I didn't want revenge, necessarily. I wanted justice, for me and for my family.
But mostly, I wanted hope for a future where we weren't being manipulated. That future wouldn't exist unless Master Xehanort was gone.
There was no doubt in my mind: Master Xehanort needed to die. The real question was, would I have the strength to end his life if that time came? Could I kill a human being not out of reflex like I did with Gregory, but make a conscious decision to end a life?
All these were questions that I kept to myself. I probably didn't have anything to worry about. This fight belonged to my parents because they fought Xehanort over ten years in the past. They'd be the ones to end it too.
We exited the castle and saw Riku, Sora, and Kairi sitting over to the side. Sora was conscious again and looking okay, though a little dazed.
"Everything okay over here?" Aqua asked as we approached them.
All of them rose to their feet and nodded, though Riku spoke since he was a natural leader. "Everything's fine," he said calmly, though Kairi still gazed at Sora with worry.
"What happened?" Terra inquired.
"Sora has some buried memories with this castle. Being near it caused him to pass out. He's alright."
"Sora?" Aqua asked, wanting to take his word for it.
"I'm okay," he said with a small nod.
"Okay then. Let's all head back to the ship. It's time to head to the Keyblade Graveyard."
My parents, the natural leaders in the situation, started forward without waiting. For some reason that made my heart sink. I grew up knowing my dad as Terry, and when I knew my mom, she was Andrea. And they were both normal…sort of. They were the same people now that they were my whole lives—that is, Andrea was always Aqua and Terry was always Terra. But I felt like I was losing my parents all the same.
There's no place to run away from this feeling either, I thought blankly. No place at all.
While I was in my daze, I felt two arms wrap around my gently. When I blinked, I recognized the person who was in front of me, and had been for a few seconds before he hugged me. Riku.
He never was one to give hugs too quickly, but he hugged me totally randomly. The fact that he was so in tune with what I needed made tears surface in my eyes. I turned my face and let it hide in Riku's shoulder, my arms wrapping around his lower torso. "I don't know anything anymore," I murmured, certain that he was wondering what my deal was.
"Hang in there," he whispered.
"I don't even know how to do that anymore…"
"Yes you do," Riku said softly, gently pulling back from the embrace as his hands found my shoulders. He looked into my moist blue eyes, and with all sincerity, spoke again. "Stay by my side."
The words made my heart leap. I understood what he was saying in those simple words. As long as I stayed by his side, I'd weather the storm. But he would also travel the storm with me so that I wouldn't be alone. "Riku…"
"Trust in me," he requested, moving his hand to stroke a small strand of brunette hair out of my eyes. "I'll make sure you make it through this, and I'll be there at the end of it too. I'm not going anywhere."
"It's been a while since you said anything like that," I whispered without thought. For such a long time, we hadn't gotten along. But now…It was completely different. It was like Riku was a new person. Or rather, he was Riku, but at his best.
"I lost myself, for a long time," Riku responded softly, aqua eyes sad at the mention. "I lived in fear of losing everything, especially you. But I lost myself to that fear…Now I'm okay again, though. I won't let fear consume me."
"…Stay by my side."
He did a double take. "What?"
"Stay by my side," I repeated. "I won't let you lose yourself again to fear."
"Mm," Riku hummed with a small smile. His hand, which remained on my cheek after he brushed my hair away, moved a little further back so his fingers were in my hair as he gently pulled my face towards his. Though I knew what was coming, my heart still was racing a hundred miles an hour.
His eyes shut as mine did the same, his lips connecting with mine in a kiss. It had been a very long time since we actually kissed. Way too long. And even if we were doing it while standing in the middle of a path in this weird realm, it didn't matter. All that mattered at that moment was the two of us.
Both of us pulled back at the same time, though we stayed within a foot of each other. He gazed into my eyes and I gazed into his. Never had I wanted to say the words "I love you" so badly. But we never said it before, and I didn't want to bring it up now while we were in a place like this. Or a situation like this, for that matter. Even if we didn't say the words, though, I believed I saw it expressed in his eyes. Maybe he felt the same that I did.
"Hey lovebirds!" a voice called from a fair distance. Riku turned around and looked in that direction while I looked past him to see Sora standing at least twenty-five yards away. "You comin'?"
"Yeah, coming!" I called when Riku was silent. One of my hands moved to grasp Riku's before the two of us started walking.
"I'm gonna kill him for that," Riku mumbled after a few moments of silence. When I looked up at him, I was shocked to see that he was blushing. Riku blushing? That wasn't something I saw often, or ever.
"At least he's alright now," I said, squeezing Riku's hand. The brief silence that was his response worried me. Turning more serious, I looked back up at him. "He is okay, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he's good," Riku assured me with a nod. "I'm surprised though; he didn't regain memories or anything being close to this place; he just passed out. It's weird."
"What happened here?"
"Hmph," he hummed, smirking slightly in bitterness. "That's a story for another day."
"Okay then," I agreed. "Another day." I'd hold him to that, because I wanted to know more about the past with my friends. They were basically all I had left.
But even with how much I lost, I couldn't ignore how much I still had. My parents were still alive and caring, even if they were a little distant because of their focus on this mission. Perhaps even more important than my parents was Riku. He was my best friend, the person I could trust with absolutely anything and I know that I wasn't being a burden to him.
Someday I would find the courage to say "I love you." Someday soon.