Chapter VII: Return to Hollow Bastion
While there is life, there is hope.
~Marcus Tullius Cicero

The Gummi Ship plowed smoothly through the emptiness of space. It was headed toward a destination that had already been pre-programmed into its navigation system before Yen Sid had handed the ship over. Sora, comforted by the familiar soft whir of the ship's engines, lay upside down in one of the pilot chairs, letting the new Ansem report dangle from his limp hand. This new report had added a whole different layer of confusion to the subject of Ansem. New questions crowded inside Sora's mind-Who was this "Ansem the Wise" that signed these new reports compared to the Ansem from the first set of reports? What was the connection? And who was the "he" this new Ansem talked about?

A few hours into flight already, and Sora had already mulled these ideas over endlessly to no new conclusion. Since this new report was titled "2", Sora figured, just like the old reports, there must be more of these and they might hold the answers to these questions.

"Geeze, Sora, how do you even know the guy who wrote those papers was even named Ansem?" Donald asked, ambling his way into the cockpit. "You're just gonna trust a random piece of paper just because it says it's written by another Ansem?"

"Well..." Sora wriggled in his seat, attempting a shrug. "I guess so... I haven't had a reason to doubt these reports yet!"

"Until now." Donald smirked.

"Yeah, until now.." Sora admitted.

Donald looked beyond, out through the viewport. "Looks like you might be able to ask someone who has a clue."

"Huh?" Sora rolled his head to look out into space, but found that he couldn't from his position. With a deft twist, he rolled to the floor, and pulled himself up over the control board, looking out at a world he couldn't forget—wide, blue swaths of land crowned by an enormous castle, its top most ramparts poking through the clouds:

Hollow Bastion.

Sora took it back. He must have forgotten about this world, because there was simply was no way this could be the same place. The Hollow Bastions streets—STREETS!-that he currently walked through reminded him nothing of the last time he was here, when all he knew was the endless castle and its water-filled, misty surroundings.

Hollow Bastion now almost looked like a town. While in orbit, Sora had gotten a fairly good view of it. The Castle itself was actually just the center of a network of streets and houses that spread out in a circle on all sides. The town seemed to be built on varying plateaus, with rivers and waterfalls working their way down the levels in a fashion that had to have been built. Those tamed rivers must have been the source of the great pools of water surrounding the Castle last time he was here. The edges of the town were starkly noted, with imposing walls that stretched up to cover the highest points on all sides. Outside the walls was endless blue-rock ground, stretching out in canyons and ravines, as far as could be seen. The only trees or vegetation seemed to be cultivated within the city, which, compared to the outside, was rather colorful. Seeing it at ground level, Sora was awed by the people that bustled through the streets and the tall cranes that stood around the Castle, lifting pieces of stone or supplies to be used in fully reconstructing the ancient building.

"Garwsh! It all looks so different now!" Goofy marveled, the same awe evident in his face. Sora was thrilled. Hollow Bastion just seemed so...alive! It clamored, chattered and was generally unrecognizable as the hopeless, mist-covered place it had once been.

"I hope Leon and the gang are doing okay!" Donald spoke up, looking down upon the lower parts of the town.

Sora smiled. "I bet they were the ones who put all this together!"

"Sora?!" Sora turned to his name just in time to see a black blur dive at him, tackling him to the ground.

"A heartless!" Goofy exclaimed, pulling forth his shield.

"What? No, silly, it's me!" the black form sat up straight, lounging on Sora's chest. "Yuffie! The great Ninja!"

"Yu...ffi..e...?" Sora wheezed, noting that it was, indeed, the young ninja girl, clad in a black jacket and shorts, eyes still bright and wide as ever.

"The one and only!" Yuffie grinned a smile that overtook her entire face, and flicked Sora on the nose. "Who else would'yah expect?"

"How's everybody else gettin' along?" Goofy asked, welcoming.

"Great!" Yuffie nodded emphatically. "We've been rebuilding the town for awhile now. I always told 'em we'd see you guys again!"

"We may...never meet again...but we'll...never forget each other." Sora grumbled.

Yuffie laughed. "Was that supposed to be Leon? 'cause it sucks!"

Donald and Goofy snorted. "Well...it...might have...been better...if you weren't still..." Sora mumbled and motioned.

"Oh! Right!" Yuffie snorted, climbed off of Sora, and helped him to his feet. "Everybody's working at stuff over at Merlin's house! C'mon!"

Sora brushed himself off. "Where's that?"

Yuffie grabbed his wrist and started dragging him, Donald and Goofy following up behind. "It's justa hop, skip and a jump away!"

To Yuffie, Sora soon learned, those hops, skips and jumps were all down ledges, across streams, and at one or two points, over some heads. Within minutes, they stood before a wide, wooden house, with a dome that opened for a large telescope to poke out of it.

Yuffie disappeared into the house, kicking the door with her foot, "Hey, guys, guess who!"

Sora slowly walked through the door into the house Donald and Goofy in tow, while Yuffie bowed regally at their entrance. "Welcome to the Hollow Bastion Restoration Committee!"

Inside the house it was a pleasantly warm, with a fire crackling beside a large dining table surrounded by many chairs of varying shapes and sizes. Different bookshelves and papers lay scattered about that Sora somewhat recognized from Merlin's old house in Traverse Town, and a large computer system, very much unrecognized, stood up against one wall, The chair in front of the monitors spun around and Cid leaned back in a typical Cid-greeting(or acknowledgment). "Damn, kid! What a surprise. It's been awhile."

"Sora!" Aerith cheered as she walked through an inner doorway, a tray of teacups in her hands. "Welcome! It's so good to see you again!"

"I knew it." Sora jumped to hear someone speak beside him, and for the first time noticed Leon leaning against the wall beside the door.

"Knew what, Leon?" Sora responded, smiling to see all his friends, already slipping into the familiarity.

"Awhile back, everyone suddenly remembered the three of you, all at the same time." Leon replied, looking at Sora only as much as seemed absolutely necessary.

"Wait...you remembered?" Sora balked. "You guys had forgotten us?"

"Gee, thanks..." Donald mumbled.

Leon shrugged. Aerith replied for him. "It was the strangest thing. For most of the year, no one remembered you. Then, recently, we all remembered-and no one could recall when we had first forgotten."

"A year?" Sora paused. "Wait a second! Is that how long we've been gone?"

"You mean you don't remember?" Aerith intoned, placing her tray on the table.

"What? You gotta a brain made of swiss cheese or somethin'?" Cid snorted.

"We were sleepin'!"Goofy replied with his typical exuberance

"Sleeping? For a year?" Leon raised a single, skeptic eyebrow.

"Well, ah," Sora rubbed the back of his neck. "That's our best guess...we just woke up in these..things..." he trailed off, not quite sure how to describe much else of what had happened in Twilight Town.

"Well, no matter for now!" Aerith beamed and hoisted a new tray, this one filled with pastries and cookies. "You three must be quite hungry after all that time! Sit down and help yourselves!" Sora hadn't noticed when or how Aerith had left, retrieved the snacks and returned in record time, but his stomach, which he suddenly noticed for the first time was not very pleased, convinced him not to care and, instead, race Donald to the dining table.

"Damn! I believe your whole big nap, 'cause not even Yuffie eats that fast-" Cid chortled, watching Sora, Donald and Goofy more-or-less inhale Aerith's food. "-so you three musta beenasleep for a year."

Sora smiled sheepishly and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. "So what's been going on around here?"

"Hollow Bastion's got a problem, a big problem." Leon responded, glancing out the window.

"Like Heartless-and-Nobodies level of problems!" Yuffie added.

Sora swatted Donald's hand away from a blueberry something-or-other. "You guys know about the Nobodies?!"

Cid sighed and swung back to his computer. "Hard not to, when they're just starin' us down from outside the walls. That old wizard knows his stuff; 'least enough to tell us what they were."

"Sounds like you could use our help!" Sora replied.

"We were hoping you three might give us a hand around here." Leon answered.

Sora cracked his knuckles and pushed his chair back from the table, grinning, all the trays and plates empty. "Like we're gonna say no?"

Leon harrumphed and walked out of the house, clearly expecting Sora to follow. "I forgot who I was dealing with."

Just as Leon exited, Merlin, large tome in hand, entered from the back of the house. "Oh! I thought all this racket might be you three! At least Yuffie isn't swinging from the ceiling beams again..."

At this, Yuffie jerked, almost falling from the chair she had been using to reach for the rafters of the house, just out of Merlin's view. She motioned for Sora to not say a thing, and poked her head out from around the bookcase separating her from Merlin. "Sora and the gang said they're gonna help out!"

"Splendid! We'll be counting on you!" Merlin lifted his book."You're actually just in time, Sora. Remember Winnie the Pooh?"

"Of course I do!" Sora replied, worriedly. "Did something happen to his book?"

"No...not exactly. Somewhere between here and Traverse Town, I found that, somehow, new pages were missing from the book, quite distinct from those you had found before." Merlin stroked his beard. "It's still a mystery to me how this occurred, but I think it would be prudent for you to keep your eyes peeled for more of these mysterious pages."

Sora nodded vigorously, "Of course!"

"Ahem." Leon, stepping back inside and rapped on the open door.

"Oh, right! Sorry Leon!" Sora quickly acknowledged and followed the older man outside with Donald and Goofy. Aerith waved farewell and started to clean the table as Yuffie slipped off her chair again and provoked Merlin's very interested attention. Cid yelled over his shoulder, out of the open door: "And watch out for the town's Claymore defense system! It pack a huge-ass punch!"

The wall of Hollow Bastion, while imposing and easily more than twice as wide as Sora was tall, was far from completely rebuilt in several places. Enormous gaps, ringed in by collapsed wall and broken rubble as if monstrous siege machines had pummeled their way into the city decades ago, allowed for easy entrance into the city. These damaged portions were surrounded by small, walled-in and gated baileys atop the wall. At the ground level, temporary fortifications in the form of earthworks and ramparts separated the outside of the city from the inside.

Leon, standing within the upper bailey with Sora, Donald and Goofy, gestured at abandoned construction equipment and tools. "We've tried to rebuild these sections of the wall, but because of that-" Leon gestured to a telescope that was focused out into the blue-rock plains beyond the city. "You might see why we've found that to be difficult."

Goofy took the scope in his hands and peered through. "Gawrsh, Sora! You'd better take a good look at this!"

It took a moment for his eyes to focus, but when Sora peeked through the lens, he found himself staring into a mass of black with dots of yellow. Pulling the focus back a little, Sora's mouth dropped open to see that he was staring into what was, essentially, an ocean of Heartless. Occasionally, within the mass, Sora spotted a swiveling silver form—a Nobody, a Dusk. They writhed and swarmed around what appeared to be a broken-down castle in the distance, with some stragglers dotting the canyon that seemed to link the swarm to Hollow Bastion.

"It's too dangerous for our workers to spend much time repairing the wall." Leon glared down at the collapsed fortifications. "The town's defense system, along with our policing teams and Merlin's magic, does a well-enough job of keeping the occasional Heartless group that appear inside the walls under control, but outside of our defenses..."

"Sounds like our expertise!" Donald brandished his wand.

Leon smirked. "I figured as much."

"We've taken care of Heartless before." Sora took another look into the telescope. "It's these Nobodies, though, that I'm not really sure about..."

"You called?"

Sora felt his skin crawl as a deep voice oozed its way into his ears. The Oathkeeper came impulsively to his hand, with Donald, Goofy and Leon following his lead. The four faced their backs to each other, quickly scanning the surroundings for where the voice—that horrifically familiar voice—had come from.

"Who's this, Sora?" Leon grunted.

Sora felt his heart racing. It was the man.

"Yes...Sora." The deep voice seeped in from every direction. "The doubtless time I spoke of has now arrived."

The man from Hollow Bastion's Grand Hall. The Unknown.

Across the dilapidated wall, within the opposite bailey, darkness took physical form and six cloaked figures appeared. Sora started, recognizing the cloaks as those worn by the man in Deep Jungle and the man in Agrabah, And of course, the Unknown man who had beaten Sora to a pulp in the Grand Hall—those who Sora now recognized as-

"Organization XIII!" Donald accused.

Hollow laughs rang across the gap. The Unknown raised his arms. "I believe it may be occasion for celebration!"

In the distance, a deep rumble was heard. Sora looked around confusedly, absently judging if he could make the jump across the gap to reach the six figures, as Leon dove to the edge of the bailey and glowered out towards the plain. "Damn. They're coming." In one motion, Leon grabbed a rope that Sora had not noticed until now, and gave it a sharp pull. From deep within the upper limits of the bailey, a great bell rang out. Sora heard commotion within the city, as the rumble became louder.

Sora ran to the edge of the bailey, over the gap, and leaned out to see what had caused Leon's reaction. He gripped the Keyblade tighter as his eyes fell upon a rampage of Heartless and Nobodies, swarming towards the gap in the walls. The creatures moved not by simply walking, but in the form of what Sora could only describe as a wave, monsters crawling and pouring over each other, rolling ever closer, attempting, it seemed, to crash upon the walls like a flood against the beach.

While Sora had been watching the approaching force, Leon had climbed down to stand behind the ground-level defenses, at the head of a small force that had appeared from within the town. Leon cocked his gunblade and swung in into a defensive posture, the militia behind him readying themselves as well. Looking up, Sora's heart swelled in anger as the six cloaked figures of Organization XIII simply stood and watched the approaching attack. The yellow eyes of the Unknown leader turned to stare at Sora, and he swore he might've seen a glinting row of teeth turned upwards within the dark. Sora's emotions rolled as violently as the approaching waves at the injustice. How dare these six monsters just sit and watch this destruction that they had caused unfold?

Glaring down at the Heartless, Sora twirled the Keyblade and, catching Donald and Goofy's readied glances, prepared himself to jump into the swarm. Just as his feet left the ground, however, he felt something drastically change. Something warmed within him, as Donald and Goofy disappeared from his view. His concern spiked, but he had no time to register the emotion as he was blinded, suddenly, by an explosion of light that seemed to come from himself. Sora felt a rush and when the light cleared, he felt the cold metal of another blade in his left hand. It took him a moment, still mid-jump, to realize that he now held two blades—Oathkeeper and his original silver and gold Kingdom Key—and that his clothes had become almost entirely red. Sora's emotions felt high, adrenaline pumping through his body. This must be one of the "Drive Forms" Yen Sid had talked about! Sora grinned. Perfect timing.

Valor Form.

Sora finished his jump, twirling and twisting in the air, before crashing perfectly on the ground; Kingdom Key supporting his landing, Oathkeeper lifted behind his head. Pebbles and small pieces of rubble jumped into the air from the force of his stop. He looked up into the onslaught and leaped in, as if the Heartless were waves back home, turning and spinning the Keyblades in a circle around him. Leon's men cheered and charged, fending off the hungry claws of the approaching shadow Heartless.

Sora felt himself act more on instinct than any form of planning. He felt confident and zealous, swinging both of his Keyblades in tight, deft movements that banished both Heartless and Nobodies. He spun and blocked, striking out, jabbing out, before returning to a ready position-only to strike out again. Sora's muscles felt tight, like springs ready to release or rubber bands about to snap. Every slash exploded like lightning, with barely a conscious thought.

Through the swarm of creatures, Sora heard the deep, thick voice again. "The Keyblade...a truly marvelous weapon; were it only in more...capable hands." followed by more empty chuckles.

Through the thinning Heartless, Sora saw that the six figures still stood watching the chaos of the fight. Launching himself off a nearby Nobody—more solid than a wispy Heartless—Sora began to jump and climb his way up the craggy, collapsed wall to the opposite bailey. From his higher vantage point, Sora vaguely noticed Leon's militia bravely fighting the Heartless. Leon was in the thick of it, dispatching Heartless with great swings, followed up by gunshots from his blade.

Sora paid little attention to the battle, though, as his focus was upon the six figures ahead. Scrambling hand and foot up the face of the wall, Sora took both Keyblades in hand and prepared to launch himself into the midst of Organization XIII. Just as he took to the air, blades raised to slash, the Unknown leader nodded and, imperceptibly fast, a figure to his right sprung at Sora's approaching jump. Before Sora could adjust himself, the cloaked figure manifested an enormous white and blue spiked Claymore in his grip and soundly backhanded Sora with it.

Barely able to raise the Keyblades to block the attack, Sora felt pain roar up over his entire body. He was immediately sent crashing straight into the ground below, colliding into it with a great smash that dispersed dozens of Heartless. He immediately felt his body drain and one of the Keyblades disappear, as he tried to catch the breath that had been so soundly knocked out of him. He faintly heard the sound of the ending battle around him, and Goofy's concerned—and confused- cries, as Sora tried to pull himself up. Gasping, he looked up to find the Unknown leader's yellow eyes boring down into him, chillingly reminiscent of what had occured in the Great Hall.

"What a shame..." the Unknown seemed to sigh. "And here I thought we could be friends."

In one moment, darkness overcame five of the six of the figures and they disappeared. The remaining one vaulted off of the bailey and slid down the remnants of the damaged wall on only his feet. Upon reaching the bottom, he stepped briskly out of the slide and called a long, rifle-like weapon to one hand and pointed it, close range, at Sora's forehead. Too exhausted to respond, Sora simply stared up at the figure, noticing this Organization XIII member was thin and slight, with a tall hood. Suddenly, a blast of ice knocked the rifle out of Sora's face and Donald roared: "Hey! What's the big idea!"

The figure shrugged and flexed his hand, weapon disappearing with the movement. "Oopsy-daisy!"

"I suggest you get moving." Leon's no-nonsense voice commanded, his own weapon cocked at the figure while his militia tended to their wounded or mopped up the remaining Heartless.

"Now, really, do you think that's polite? Shutting me down like that?" The cloaked figure spoke in a tone of playful apathy, with just a hint of an accent that Sora associated with the surfers of the west coast of Morningheath, his home.

"You might want to listen to him..." Sora coughed.

"As if!" The figure threw his arms up. "You can talk all you want, but it won't change a thing. None of you even know what the deal here is, do you?"

Sora finally found enough energy to summon the Keyblade, but paused. What was the deal with the Organization? Yen Sid had only warned they were trouble, but why? What were they after? Why hadn't they fought this battle, too? Why sit back and watch?

"I shouldn't have to repeat myself." Leon interjected, face made of stone. "Move."

The Organization member chuckled, but to Sora, it sounded only as if he was trying to imitate a laugh. "Nice face! I could see that working if I were just any old dude-'cept, I'm not. Me, I'm with the Organization. Nothing 'any old' about me."

"Tough talk for someone who just stood on the sidelines while his flunkies did the fighting." Sora responded angrily.

"Oh dear..." The Organization member looked back and forth among Leon, Sora, Donald and Goofy. "I think you all got the wrong impression. We might need to remind you, Roxas, how tough the crowd you're dealing with really is."

Sora glared determinedly up at the cloaked character. "What do you mean by remind me? And who's Roxas?"

Again, the tall man chuckled emptily. "That right! He used to give that exact same look!"

Sora glanced in bewilderment at Leon and his friends to see if they had any idea what this guy was going on about.

They didn't.

Donald suddenly charged at the figure. "Let's get him!"

The cloaked man, extremely fast, just wagged his finger at Sora and disappeared into darkness, warning "Be a good boy now!" just as Donald dove towards his vanishing form. The duck mage tumbled onto the earth and pounded his fists against the ground. "Rats! He got away!"

Leon sheathed his gunblade on his hip and turned to survey the damage against his men and barricades. "I'd ask you what that was about, Sora, but it doesn't look like you have any better idea."

Sora breathed out and fell back against the ground. He certainly didn't.

Number I looked out over the perfectly circular, flawlessly white room. From his seat atop the tallest throne, he had a complete view of every other lower throne in Where Nothing Gathers, both the ones empty and the ones filled.

"The Hero of Light seemed quite shocked..." Number III spoke up, a mockery of disgust in his voice—the only thing Number III still attempted to imitate. "It's ten years too early for a child like that to wield the Keyblade."

"Eh, well isn't that good for us! Now the little sap will obediently keep on, like a little puppy of the light!" Number II grinned widely, almost as if he enjoyed this charade.

Without tone, Number VII interrupted. "If he doesn't, we will have no further use for him."

"Not even as entertainment?" Number X fanned out a deck of cards.

Number IX's thin voice spoke up, "Pick a good card for me! Relax, everyone, it'll be fine."

Number II snorted. "Those are some bold words, coming from you! So if anything happens, you'll cover it, eh?"

"Huh? Me!?" Number IX ran his fingers through his hair awkwardly. "No, ah, wrong guy-work isn't really my thing..."

"Stop this." Number III announced. "Acting as if you have hearts does nothing but mislead us."

"There goes all my entertainment..." Number X mumbled.

"Gentlemen..." Number I finally deigned to interrupt. "The Wielder of the Keyblade has embarked on a new journey...let us make sure it is one he not easily forget."

Without response, Number I watched his...fellows...disappear, one by one, all but he himself. He steepled his fingers, studying the whiteness of the room. If all it took to awaken the boy's ire was a simple devilish smile, the manipulation of this child would be quite elementary indeed.

What foolish emotions.

The rest of the day Sora and friends spent was with the restoration committee, rebuilding and helping around the city. They patrolled the gaps in the walls as the construction workers toiled on the repairs, and helped to move rubble that had been knocked free during the battle, among which another "Secret Ansem Report" had been found.

While there had been few casualties in the Battle at the Gap—Leon had trained his men well to defend against the animalistic instincts of the Heartless- in the evening, Sora found himself walking the city with Leon to bring the heartbreaking news to the few families that had lost heroic men to the Heartless.

That night, in the homeliness of Merlin's house, Sora lay awake in his makeshift cot, He was watching Leon sitting rigid in front of the fire, silently staring into it for most of night. Aerith sat beside him, quietly knitting in a rocking chair; a silent, mourning, companion. As Sora twisted over, he caught noticed Cid asleep in his desk chair, Yuffie dozing against the table, Merlin snorting in his sleep with a book across his lap and Donald and Goofy snoring beside him. Sora couldn't help but smile to himself, desperately thanking whoever was out there for these people who were like family. Not just those who were here with him, but also those-like Riku-who he was on his way to find and like Kairi, who was waiting for them.

Secret Ansem Report 7:

While beings born of darkness and those lacking hearts may find them convenient, it is dangerous for other to make much use of the Corridors of Darkness. Darkness erodes the heart.

In search of a place to proceed with my research and planning-away from prying eyes-I found myself in Twilight Town. It is a quiet village, forgotten in a chasm between light and darkness. I situated myself in the basement of an abandoned mansion standing beyond the woods.

My underground research resulted in one new discovered after another.

When a Heartless is born, the body and mind left behind are reborn into this world as a different being.

These beings possess different intentions than their Heartless brethren, and while it is unclear what these sentient 'things' are after, it would appear they are responsible for much bedlam in the world.

My erstwhile friend the King and his subjects, along with a Hero wielding the Keyblade, are battling the Heartless even as a new threat approaches.

This new threat...they have a fitting name, I suppose.

These non-beings: "Nobodies"

A great number of nobodies have lost human form, as have the Heartless. Yet the Nobody born of someone with a strong heart retains its shape, with but the faintest visible changes.

It appears my betrayers have retained their human form as Nobodies, and are gathering more followers in hopes of furthering a new scheme.

Organization XIII, formed of 13 Nobodies, with my betrayers at its core, has divided into two...they are said to be carrying out some sort of research.

Seeking to uncover the plans of this Organization, I have decided to head for where six of its members have gathered. Towering over the outer limits of the realm between darkness and light: Castle Oblivion.

~Ansem the Wise

WOW! This took so long, I've been so caught up with so many other things over vacation!

Anyway, this was going alright, but halfway through it really picked up and I realized why I missed writing so much! This chapter almost wrote itself!
I'm sorry for the lack of updates! The next chapter will be pretty long. I've had to adjust the Land of Dragons...thoroughly.