Chapter Three: Old Faces
Sentimental thoughts quickly abandoned me when the six of us reached our new destination. I wasn't the only one who was horrified at the wasteland that was known as the Keyblade Graveyard. Only my parents had been here before; even Sora, Riku, and Kairi hadn't been here before. I knew I certainly hadn't. Or had I? My memories could have been altered by Xehanort, or something crazy like that. That was unlikely though since my dad said I had true memories but a fake identity.
Now wasn't the time to be sorting that out, anyway.
The reason we came to the Keyblade Graveyard was because this was the place that Master Xehanort lured Aqua, Terra, and Ven so many years ago for their final fight. As far as Aqua and Terra knew, this was the only world that held significance to the old Master. If he was going to be anywhere, then hopefully it was here. They couldn't run around from world to world blindly searching for him. That would be a waste of time.
The six of us stood in the middle of a crossroad, Keyblades split into four different, large groups around us. I had seen what they looked like from the sky; it was a square with four quadrants. Aqua said that there was a Keyblade War here a long time ago, but she didn't know anything about it.
Whatever happened, it was devastating, I thought sadly, gazing around as I stood next to Riku and Terra. Each of those Keyblades once had a Master, but now, that Master was dead. So many people lost their lives, and for what? What caused this destruction, this desolation?
"It's a pity."
We all gasped at the new voice, heads turning sharply behind us to see that we weren't alone. A single man was walking towards us, leaning forward a little as he walked with his hands clasped behind his back. He was bald, not frail, and intimidating even at a distance. His gold eyes were what threw me off the most.
"Xehanort," Aqua said lowly, stepping towards the front of the group along with Terra.
"That's Master Xehanort, Aqua," he corrected, stopping several yards away and holding his position. "Don't tell me you've forgotten your manners in the past twenty years."
"You're one to talk," Terra said with a grunt. "It's Master Aqua."
"Not to me," he responded without missing a beat. "I never declared her a Master. Though I did see the potential in you to declare you a Master…your loyalty to your Master of the Light was a hindrance. He is a much larger threat than you ever will be, Terra."
"What are you talking about?"
"You don't understand what happened, boy? Don't fret, I will remind you. I overtook your body after our final fight, but Aqua met me in Radiant Garden and forced me to take drastic action. I tried extracting your heart, but we sank into Darkness together, in your body.
"Aqua dived in to save you, but she could only save your body. She launched me back into the Realm of Light, safe. There was one problem, though. With Master Eraqus's death, his heart joined with this body as well. While you sank into the Darkness, he remained in the body to counter my heart's Darkness."
"So where is he?" Aqua cried.
"I honestly do not have an answer," Master Xehanort responded. "While in Terra's body—or rather, my young body, I lost my heart. I suppose that your Master's heart had no place to go but Kingdom Hearts when that happened."
"So…he's truly gone," Terra said lowly. He grunted, curling a hand into a fist by his side. He was awfully worked up over that fact, though I didn't completely understand why.
"No Master to save you this time," the Master said with the faintest smile. An evil smirk. I fought the urge to shiver, hearing the low growls of every person around me. "I lost my young body when I turned into a Heartless. You regained it when you returned to the Realm of Light. But now's the time when I'll take it back. And this time, I'll be able to use it to accomplish my main goal."
"Which is?" Riku inquired, voice tense.
Master Xehanort hmphed. "The X-blade."
Never heard of it, I thought immediately, confused. Looking over at Riku and Sora, their expressions were also confused.
There was no time to focus on that though; the enraged voice of my mom disrupted my thoughts. "What did you do with Ven?!"
Ven? What did he have to do with this?
"Not a thing," Xehanort said. "In fact, I've been searching for him for a long time but he has vanished so that even I cannot find him. It's alright, though, I've found a new X-blade candidate."
His eyes narrowed so that he was looking at only one person in the group. Me.
Everyone noticed; it was obvious. "What?" Kairi hissed, finally speaking.
"A daughter of Terra and Aqua," he continued. "She has inherited a strong faith and dedication to the Light from her mother, but has also inherited the Dark tendencies of her father." My mouth fell open as his small smile grew. "I have taken the time to study my subject well."
The implications of that were huge. He had been studying me. Watching me. I knew that he manipulated my life along with my parents, but I thought they were the target. I never imagined that I would be his biggest focus.
"There's a flaw in your plan," I managed. "I don't wield a Keyblade."
His smile faltered.
"I assumed that you were your mother's successor," he said as his eyes danced over me. "And that you suppressed your ability to wield the Keyblade because you weren't being taught that you could wield it."
"We never gave her a Keyblade," Terra said, glancing back at me briefly before quickly shifting his gaze back to Xehanort. "We didn't want that life for her."
"Yet her destiny has attracted her to be surrounded by all these Keyblade wielders," Xehanort stated as his confident smile started returning. "It's no matter. Stephanie can be my successor." I gasped. "It'll further set in stone her connections to the Darkness."
Everyone was silent. Presumably, it was from shock and anger. But mine was caused by fear. Xehanort had his eyes set on me. Riku said a few weeks ago that I wasn't ready to fight a super villain, and now I believed he was correct. This wasn't a battle that I was ready to face.
"We won't let you get your hands on her," Sora finally said. His Keyblade appeared in his grasp as he further backed up that statement with a threat. Riku and Kairi also followed up and summoned theirs. I was the only one without a weapon in my hands, but only for a second. My sword faithfully appeared in my grasp as I kept my eyes on Xehanort.
"Some things just happen, boy. You cannot save everyone."
Sora grunted weakly, as if Xehanort's comment struck a nerve.
"Stephanie," he continued, speaking directly to me. "You're welcome to join me now and prevent the possible injury of your friends and family."
"As if we'd even consider that option," Riku spat for my sake.
"Then we'll fight over her," Xehanort said as he summoned his Keyblade to his grasp. My heart started racing even faster than before. The threat was even more clear now that he had a weapon in his hands. All I could do was hope that we were ready to face this battle.
But it became obvious that we wouldn't all be battling Master Xehanort. Darkness suddenly appeared on the ground surrounding us as Neoshadows arose from the slime , surrounding all of us.
Only Heartless, I thought, nearly sighing in relief. Heartless, I could handle.
Everyone's thoughts seemed to coincide. Aqua and Terra, who were familiar with Master Xehanort's tactics, ran forward to face him. The four of us teens were left with facing the Neoshadows.
"Remember what I said, Steph," Riku said lowly, getting into his stance. "Stay with me."
"Mm," I hummed with a nod.
Staying with Riku was much easier said than done, though. Things got fairly chaotic right from the get-go. Neoshadows weren't the easiest Heartless to battle; they were skilled with slinking down into the ground and then rising up behind your back and slashing at you with their sharp claws. It was hard to choose a strategy to face them as well; I could try to use my bow and arrow, but then they would sink into the ground and sneak up on me and it would have been better to have my sword.
So, to keep a balance of distance-fighting and sword-to-claw combat, I kept using my sword for near attacks and magic for attacks that were further away. I managed to hit my stride and stand well on my own as my friends also found their groove.
As we all got comfortable, however, we also got more distant. Every once in a while, I saw Riku trying to get closer to me but getting blocked by Heartless. "I'm alright!" I would assure him every once in a while. Sora and Kairi were doing the same with each other, since they were separated as well.
But what's the point of this? I thought as I slashed through another Heartless. Xehanort was after me, yet he seemed content fighting my parents and having me distracted with the Heartless. It countered everything he said just a minute ago.
BAM! Something hard hit my head, and it wasn't the claw of a Heartless. I stumbled forward a few steps, looking over my shoulder to see who or what was responsible for striking me.
The Heartless left me alone as I faced my new enemy, a man that I had never seen before. He had three distinct spikes, one on the top of his head and the other two on the sides. His long silver hair was perfectly straight as it went down his back, much longer than my hair. And behind him was an intimidating Heartless that seemed to have more consciousness than any Shadow I had ever faced.
"Ansem!" Riku cried several yards away.
Ansem? The man who possessed him in the past?! My eyes widened as my gaze darted to Riku, seeing him standing amidst a large group of Neoshadows. He immediately overcame his shock of seeing his past demon and started swinging his Keyblade, trying desperately to get to me.
Though I knew nothing about Ansem's skills in battle, he looked intimidating enough with a body that was clearly in shape and yellow eyes that threatened to pierce my heart. My first instinct was to run away from him and to Riku. That was probably what Riku wanted anyway.
A hand grasped my neck before I could move away. Ansem was far too quick for me. I gasped in shock, immediately starting to struggle as Ansem lifted me off the ground. I had been in a position like this before, a long time ago with one of the men who tried to steal Cadia from my mom. It felt like a lifetime ago. And it really was, because those villains were nothing compared to the one in front of me.
"Ansem, let her go!" Sora cried, slashing through his own Heartless to try and help me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw another figure appear and grasp the front of Sora's shirt. "What?!"
"You shall not interfere. We will go together." The man grunted and tossed Sora up in the air, also summoning vines to keep him occupied.
"Xemnas has impeccable timing, don't you agree?" Ansem asked me lowly, his voice showing some form of enjoyment.
"What do you want?" I gasped.
He chuckled. "Your allegiance."
"Not gonna happen."
"Pity. I suppose we'll have to proceed with our back-up plan, then."
Ansem turned swiftly to the side, releasing my neck when he threw me. I collided with the dusty ground roughly, losing my grip on my sword when I rolled two times before stopping on my stomach. Now that I was finally able to breathe, I automatically lifted a hand and touched my neck with my fingers as I gasped for a breath.
"What's the back-up plan?" I dared to ask, coming across as braver than I felt. It couldn't be helped that I shrank back a little bit when Ansem started approaching me.
"You'll find out soon enough."
He stopped walking, not lifting a finger to try and harm me. It was then that I realized that he didn't need to. Sitting up with one hand on the ground supporting me, I fought the urge to shiver when that hand suddenly became frigidly cold. When I looked down to try and figure out why that was, I had to bite my tongue to hold back a scream.
I was sitting in a puddle of Darkness, and that hand was now being gripped by vines of Darkness. I tried yanking it out immediately, also attempting to move my legs to get me out of this mess. But they were already entangled as well.
"Riku!" I yelped in fright, looking past Ansem to see that Riku was nearly through the Heartless that were in his path.
Riku managed to break through just in time to see me sink into the Darkness and leave the battlefield. He was too late.
Cold. That was always what I seemed to sense whenever I was unconscious. The cold always attempted to suffocate me, and chill me to the core. Most times that coldness was only felt in my heart.
This time, the coldness was literal. The air was frigid, and though there was no wind, it was hard to imagine a cold more biting than this.
Shivering heavily, I started to get a grip on my surroundings. This wasn't a dream world; it was reality. I was curled up on the ground, huddled to try and conserve body heat as much as I could. This cold was something that I never felt before…Or maybe it was vaguely familiar. Despite the frigidness, I was able to think clearly enough to recognize where I was.
"The Realm of Darkness," I gasped, opening my eyes finally and receiving visual confirmation. All that I could see in front of me (other than my own breath) was blackness. I hadn't been to this area of nothingness before; I could sense that much. Just the vibe that this place had made me want to burst into tears. Such sorrow hung in the air. Loneliness. Desperation. It took away every happy thought I could have had, not that there was much to be happy about right now.
There was no person connected to the voice that was heard all around me.
"It has been quite some time since you were in this Realm," he continued. "But you recognized it quickly."
"How am I here?" I asked, feeling dazed. "Why am I here?"
"You are here because I sent you here. The reason should be clear enough."
At that moment, I recognized the person who was speaking. "You're Ansem, Seeker of Darkness," I realized aloud.
"Yes," Ansem said evenly.
Slowly, I picked myself off the ground. The cold made me wrap my arms around my torso tightly. Instead of focusing on the shivers, though, I tried to focus on this conversation I was now holding with Riku's biggest enemy. "I don't get it. Why can't I see you?"
"You don't need to. There is only one thing that you need to do now."
That wasn't the answer that I expected.
"You've been sent to the Realm of Darkness," Ansem continued. "A place that you cannot escape from on your own. That leaves you with only one option."
"Ask you for help," I finished for him.
"Once again, very intelligent deduction," he said, his chuckle surrounding me. "Yes, you will need to adopt my Darkness in order to escape."
"You seriously expect me to believe that?!" I hollered at the black sky. "There's no guarantee that you'd let me leave this place even if I did accept your help."
"Perhaps. But it is guaranteed that you will not leave this place without assistance. It's a risk that you'll have to take."
"As if! Didn't you hear me in the Realm of Light? I'm not helping you guys. My path is the path of Light."
"You would rather die in the path of Light than live in Darkness?"
I swallowed hard. I wanted to live, so badly, but…But I couldn't give into him. "I don't believe that the path I'm taking will lead to death," I said after a moment. I shut my eyes briefly, but then opened them as I gazed at the sky with more determination. "The Light can't have abandoned me…not now. It'll guide me out of here."
Instead of showing amusement at my faith in the Light, Ansem was growing annoyed. "You're so naïve," he growled.
"Maybe," I agreed. "But like you said, I'm also intelligent. I know the Light has saved me in the past. And I know the Darkness that you're offering only destroys. So I'll put my faith in the Light over your Darkness any day."
"We'll see how you feel after rotting away in this Realm for a while," Ansem said darkly.
Silence lingered in the air after that. I had nothing else to say, and apparently Ansem had given up with tempting me to accept his powers. Either he was still watching or he had left me entirely. No matter the case, I felt very alone.
To try and break through the loneliness, I started thinking about my past. Memories from this Realm flashed before my eyes. Memories of my father and mother finding a calm area and teaching me how to walk. My mom, teaching me to cover my eyes whenever Dad had to go fight Heartless. My dad, having his arms wrapped around me whenever I slept each night in order to keep me safe.
Tears started flowing. This wasn't the kind of childhood I imagined myself having. I was only living in the Realm of Darkness for maybe four years of my life, but those four years were the key of my development. It was the only time when I was raised by Aqua and Terra and not Andrea and Terry. It was the only time that the three of us were truly aware of our identities.
The air became even more frigid as the sad memories invaded my mind and sucked my confidence and security away. I curled up on the ground again, shivering as I attempted to become warm again. If I thought happier thoughts again…If I had confidence in myself, then the cold would fade.
I lingered for a long time before I realized that happy thoughts weren't going to get me out of this place. Even if I had the most optimistic thoughts in the world that took away the cold air, I wasn't going to magically get whisked away from this place. I needed to try and discover a way out of here, and I only had one idea of how to do that: Walking.
Picking myself up off the ground, I didn't even bother looking around. Everything was completely dark; there was no way that I could see which way was the right way to go. If there even was a right way to go. Walking had to be better than just being curled up on the ground.
So I started walking. I started thinking over everything that happened in my life. I had two parents that loved me very much. They'd fight for me and give up everything just to keep me safe and happy. My friends were the same way. One year ago, I didn't have Riku, Sora, and Kairi as my friends. They were some of my only friends now, except for one friend in Twilight Town. Out of the four friends I had, I considered one of them to be more valuable than all the others.
Riku. It was chance that we met. I was a cashier at a store in Twilight Town, where he frequently bought his potions. A lot happened after that, but in the end of it all, we became a couple. We had plenty of squabbles along the way, but we also had a lot of teasing, joking around, and affection. And love. Neither of us said we loved each other but it came across in our actions.
I needed to make it out of here, to tell him how much I loved him.
Time didn't flow normally to me. I just kept walking and walking, whether it was for an hour, ten minutes, or ten hours. I just walked until I couldn't go any further.
"Just a minute to rest," I breathed, my breath appearing in front of me. Sitting down on the ground, I tried to regain some energy. But then I laid down for the same reason. My eyes also shut. That was all that it took.
I lost consciousness.
Again, time seemed distorted. As did my atmosphere. As I started coming to again, the air didn't feel nearly as cold as it did before. It wasn't nearly as suffocating.
And then I noticed something else that was both startling and comforting: Somebody was carrying. And they were walking, so they were taking me somewhere. It wasn't Riku, that was for sure. They were too small for that.
"Who are you?" I mumbled. And what are you carrying me for? Where am I, and why do I feel so weak?
After a moment's pause, the person answered me.
Author: Thanks for the reviews, guys! Affy, I picture Aqua with blue hair as well. :P Let's just assume that her blonde hair faded and Steph's too wrapped up in everything to note it. (:
See you guys in a month!