It was a slightly odd name for any location, world, nation, or city. Apparently it was the name of a city in Ireland back on Earth, which was why Axel had almost gone nuts from jealousy when he found out where Demyx's mission was taking him. Honestly, Demyx would have really preferred to go to Ireland, or to let Axel take the damn mission, because this Sligo, while still a city, was nowhere near Earth. He wasn't even completely sure it was in the same galaxy. And while there was a notable Euro-Celtic influence to the local architecture and decor (this was a highly successful colony world, after all, and one mostly populated by the descendants of Earth's old Ireland), there was no getting around how high-tech and futuristic it was...and abandoned. There was just plain no getting around the whole "abandoned" thing. It was the entire reason Demyx was here at all - reports had come from elsewhere in the world that a good chunk of the population of Sligo had packed up and fled to other cities in a big hurry, bearing confused reports of shadows that had suddenly turned deadly, and the rest of the city's population had simply disappeared, along with every single ground-based team that had tried to investigate. It was no great surprise that Xemnas would be keenly interested - if Heartless had gotten in and taken out two-thirds of the population of a city of a million plus, it would be a gold mine for the Organization - but, of course, that meant sending Demyx in first to make sure it really was Heartless.
Demyx was not interested at all in being the next ground-based investigator to disappear without a trace. Unfortunately, being the go-to recon man, and having a reputation for surviving things that would kill most people repeatedly, left him without a whole lot of choice in the matter. Besides, the thought of what six hundred thousand hearts would do for Kingdom Hearts was a little exciting...less and less exciting the closer he got to the city proper. The more he saw of the city, the more he thought he could wait a little longer to get his heart back. He wasn't even really within the city limits yet, and he was already as far in as he ever wanted to get. The sun was only just starting to set, but the city was already so dark with shadows it might as well have been full night already.
All right, man up already. This is just a recon mission, not a hunt with a quota. If shit gets too deep, you can bolt without shame - but you have to actually get in there first. Xemnas is going to have your balls if you run home without even setting foot in the place unless you have at least one broken bone. Since Demyx didn't want to lose any more body parts, especially parts that couldn't be replaced by high-tech prostheses, he swallowed hard and continued past the outer monorail tracks, into the city itself.
His opinion of the place immediately worsened, if that was possible - there was absolutely no sign of life anywhere, even insects, but there was evidence of past life all over the place. There were vehicles sitting in the road abandoned, and a few buried in the side of buildings, as if their owners had died or disappeared at the wheel while in motion. No lights were on anywhere, but mechanized walkways were still in perfect working order, and a public computer terminal spoke up with "Welcome to Monorail Eire, Sligo East station! For today's arrivals and departures from this station, please say one! For a current list of delays, please say two! For the next departure to another station, please name the station!" as he passed, even though its display was dead dark.
"Dublin," Demyx said purely for the hell of it, certain that a planet populated by Irish expatriates had to have a Dublin somewhere. That, and a computer terminal with an Irish accent was the least scary thing he'd encountered so far, and would probably stay that way.
"Which Dublin station are you going to? Dublin Northwest, Dublin East, Dublin Portside, Dublin Center City, Dublin Spaceport -"
"Dublin Center City."
"We're sorry. All departures from Sligo East to Dublin Center City have been canceled temporarily. For the next departure to another station, please name -"
"We're sorry. All departures from Sligo East to Dublin East have been canceled temporarily. For the next departure to another station, please name -"
"Which Cork station are you going to? Cork North, Cork South."
"We're sorry. All departures from Sligo East to Cork South have been canceled temporarily. For the next departure to another station, please name the station."
The novelty of talking to an Irish railway computer had already worn off, so Demyx abandoned it and headed deeper into the city, every sense alert for...well, anything. He had no idea what could have wiped out most of the city with no warning and no clue, but whether it was Heartless or not, he didn't want to meet it. Hell, if there were six hundred thousand Heartless lurking around, they should be visible, and they just weren't...but plague wouldn't have been so quick or so invisible, and violence would never have been so silent. It almost had to be Heartless...but where were they? He turned a corner at random, simply because straight ahead would take him deeper into the shadows and it was better lit around the corner, and stopped dead at the sight of the nearest wall.
Or, more specifically, the graffiti on it. The graffiti that said DEMYX GET YOUR LIGHTSABER in large, unmissable block letters.
Who, by all the gods, could have written that? How did they know his name, or that he owned a lightsaber? How did they know that he would ever come here and see the message? How? This...just plain wasn't...it couldn't be...how could...it was impossible. But it was awful damn hard to deny it was there. Swallowing hard, he backed slowly through a portal to his own room at the castle and retrieved his lightsaber from the drawer he kept it in. There was weird shit going on, and it seemed wise to take the warning seriously even if it was part of the weird shit.
The writing on the wall was still there when Demyx returned. He paused for a moment to consider the ominous significance of the phrase "writing on the wall", then ignited the lightsaber and continued very carefully down the abandoned street, pausing after every step to watch and listen for danger, any danger, and quite possibly multiple dangers. At least he had one ally in this ghost town, or thought he did - though for all he knew, the message had been left for him by whatever evil mastermind had caused this disaster, with an eye towards luring him in specifically for whatever unfathomable and likely horrifying reason. After Malenisa and Unktehi, he was perfectly prepared to believe it.
He stopped suddenly at the sight of another graffiti-covered wall. DON'T WORRY DEMYX, this one said. YOU'LL BE OKAY. JUST KEEP GOING. A little ways beyond that, a third message read I'll MEET YOU AT PIER 9. Demyx swallowed hard, slightly but not terribly reassured by those messages, and wondered again who was leaving them for him and why, not to mention where Pier 9 was. Well, any pier had to be near the water somehow, and this was a port town...and Demyx, being Demyx, could navigate his way to any body of water larger than a small lake from fifty miles away blindfolded. And fortunately, it seemed to be more or less straight ahead of him, albeit still some miles away.
It was just getting so very dark all of a sudden. It was a good thing the message-writer had told him to get his lightsaber first and foremost, or else he would most likely have run home already. The lightsaber was probably the only artificial light left in the city, and natural light was getting very sparse. Funny, it didn't seem like he'd been here long enough for the sun to even set all the way, and even if it had, it shouldn't be this dark yet...
The road he was on ended abruptly, at a T-intersection. To his growing lack of surprise, there was another message for him on the wall in front of him, starting with a very helpful arrow pointing left. KEEP THE LIGHTSABER ON, was written underneath the arrow. COUNT THE SHADOWS. MAKE SURE EVERYTHING ONLY HAS ONE - ESPECIALLY YOU.
He would have liked to swallow hard, but his mouth was suddenly too dry to do so. That...sort of sounded like Shadow Heartless, but...Shadows were weak and flimsy, not that dire of a threat (at least to him, and how could the message-writer know his name and that he owned a lightsaber and not what he was?), and if there were enough of them around here to wipe out a large city, they would have to have made their presence known by now. Besides, Shadows didn't hang around anywhere, pretending to be real shadows, until it was time to strike...they weren't that smart. So what in all the worlds could...
He turned to the left, and the cold glow of the lightsaber revealed a pair of skeletons on the sidewalk, both perfectly intact and cleaned of every last scrap of flesh, their clothing ripped to shreds and a ring still on one of their fingers. Demyx threw up on the spot, most of the vomit landing in a particularly dark shadow - and disappearing instantly. What fell outside the shadow remained untouched.
All he could do for several moments was stare at what remained of the puddle of vomit, at the unnaturally clean line where the shadow began, and at the two skeletons - at the far edge of the shadow. Then he backed away slowly, his eyes fixed on the shadow, and carefully extended the lightsaber into it. The shadow didn't lighten - it seemed to swirl around the blade, as if the shadow was a living thing trying to avoid the light. When he moved the blade around, the shadow kept swirling, but it seemed to avoid where the lightsaber had already been, as if some of it had died where the blade had touched it. That was mildly encouraging. "But what the fuck is it?" he whispered, edging carefully between the deepest shadows on either side of the street, and trying not to be sick again as he saw another skeleton - a dog this time, stripped bare, with collar and leash still intact.
There was yet another message on the next wall, though it was nothing like as clear or helpful as the previous messages. "Vashta Nerada," Demyx read aloud to himself, shaking his head slightly. "That makes no sense at all..." But lacking any other directions, or better ideas, he kept going, the lightsaber in front of him at all times, keeping as far away from any unusually dark shadows as he could, occasionally whirling around just to make sure none of those dark shadows had attached themselves to him, and trying hard to keep his stomach in line as he passed more and more bare skeletons. The only reason he hadn't simply bolted yet was the promise from the message-writer to meet him, her, it, or them at Pier 9, wherever that was, and it seemed a less compelling reason with every step he took.
TRUST ME, DEMYX, the next message read. YOU'LL BE OKAY. Demyx just stared blankly at it for a moment, then let out a sickly laugh as he followed the arrow beneath it.
Most of the messages after that were simply arrows, which he followed religiously, carefully edging his way around every shadow, occasionally slashing at one that looked suspicious; sometimes they writhed and swirled away, and sometimes they proved to be ordinary shadows. He had lost all track of time, other than that it had to be full night by now, and all he could see was what was lit by the glow of the lightsaber. How long had he been here? How far had he gone? How many skeletons had he passed so far? He had no idea; all he knew was that the skeletons had long ago stopped turning his stomach. They held no shock or horror value anymore, simply because they were everywhere. "Why am I still going?" he finally said to himself, stopping in his tracks. "This just has 'not going to end well' written all over it. This is just a recon mission. I'm supposed to bail out when shit looks too dangerous. Not stay on the orders of a weirdo psychic graffiti artist."
As he'd expected, he suddenly saw another message on the wall. PLEASE KEEP GOING, it read, complete with another arrow. Demyx sighed heavily, wondering whether he was ever going to get a satisfactory answer at the end of this or if he was going to be eaten by carnivorous shadows first. TRUST ME, YOU WILL BE OKAY, said the next wall, and Demyx spent a good twenty seconds wondering if he even knew any swear words strong enough to cover how he was feeling right then. Eventually, he gave up and kept going, following the arrows and cursing himself for an idiot the whole time. "Who are you?" he finally demanded of the next wall, but this time, there was no prerecorded answer, just an arrow.
Demyx wasn't sure how long after that he really started to doubt his sanity, but it couldn't have been long. After all, he was not only behaving in a manner he knew was completely stupid for a very flimsy reason, he was talking to walls and expecting an answer to be written on them. And all too often, there it was. Was he being watched or something? If so, by whom? He was the only living person left in Sligo, so far as he knew - every other human being he'd passed had been a skeleton. Where the hell was he going? Who was writing these damn messages? Was anyone, or was he hallucinating them all? Was there even a real Pier 9? Were the shadows really swirling around his lightsaber, or was he hallucinating that too? Was he even still alive, or had he been eaten down to a skeleton by those shadows a few miles back and was now continuing as an unwitting ghost? It seemed as likely as anything...
While he was distracted by his own thoughts, he suddenly tripped in a pothole and went sprawling. There was a brief flash of pain in his left hand, and - oh...oh, blessed Gods. His hand had gone into one of those patches of shadow, and...well, now all the artificial skin was gone. Just gone. It was down to bare gears and circuits. All he could think, while he stared at the all-too-clean line between what had never touched the shadow and...what had, was Thank the Gods it wasn't my right hand. And thank the Gods that everything that had touched the shadow was artificial, because if any actual flesh had touched it...well, it wouldn't be flesh anymore, just bone. Shivering slightly at the narrow escape, he picked up his lightsaber and kept going, in the direction the last arrow had pointed.
There was another message. COUNT THE SHADOWS, again. Demyx glanced behind himself, the lightsaber still in front of him, and realized he had two, one much darker than the other.
"Oh, Gods, help me!" he screamed aloud, slashing wildly at the second shadow behind him. It swirled away from him and broke contact, and he ran in a blind panic, suddenly stopping short when he encountered more skeletons. Running blindly was a good way to run right into another one of those shadows and never come out the other side...but blessed Gods, he had to get away from the one that was following him; it was already re-forming and oozing closer...swallowing hard, he eyeballed the other edge of the shadow in front of him and portaled past it, hoping that the damned shadow couldn't follow him through.
Well, he'd closed the portal quickly enough that the one that had been behind him couldn't catch up. It was the one he'd just passed that seemed to be getting ideas.
Gods help me.
He kept the lightsaber pointed at the ground, turning in a tight circle that seemed to discourage the shadow temporarily, then edged away carefully, always glancing behind himself. He also glanced at the walls for guidance, but there were no more encouraging or helpful warning messages, only arrows. At least there were still arrows, but...blessed Gods, he felt abandoned. This proved it; whoever was writing him those messages was not trying to help him or protect him, just lure him into a gruesome death. At least having every square inch of flesh ripped off him at once should be a lot faster, and consequently less painful, than having it ripped off him over a period of several hours...blessed Gods, why hadn't he just gone home? Because he could sense the water was only a block away now, and he just had to see who was waiting for him at Pier 9...there was another shadow following him now. He slashed at it, driving it back, and hurried as fast as he dared towards the shore. Following the arrows around one corner - and then the next corner -
Pier 7, the sign announced, still hanging proudly over a dock lined with abandoned seacraft of various descriptions, not to mention more skeletons. The next sign to the right said Pier 6, so Pier 9 had to be to the left...just past Pier 8...and...there was no one there. Only more skeletons. More skeletons, and...well, the circle of light from his lightsaber. Beyond that circle of light, the shadows seemed very, very dark indeed. Dark and very hungry. "Okay," he whispered to himself, cold sweat trickling down his face and stinging his eyes. "I'm gonna count to one, and if no Gods suddenly appear to save me, I am going right the fuck home. And pray these damn shadows can't follow me...one..."
There was a sudden grinding noise behind him, as if some element of the abandoned machinery had either found an operator or come to life by itself. Demyx whirled around to see a faint light in midair, that somehow spread a much wider glow than his lightsaber...that kept growing brighter and brighter with every mechanical grind, and it took on an actual shape, like the bubble light you might find on a police car, only white. And...it was attached to something, that was slowly materializing along with it. A...box. A blue box.
If a God had actually decided to answer his prayer with a personal appearance, he was not going to question a thing about that appearance. Though he might question whether a God had actually come down in a blue box to save him, or if one had just sent a representative.
The box finished materializing completely, and now a door could be seen quite clearly on the front of it, not to mention windows, and a sign that said "Police Public Call Box". Whatever God was responsible for sending this, they had an odd sense of humor, but he was sure as Hell not going to argue about it. He was just wondering whether to open the door himself or wait for whoever or whatever inside to open it when whoever was inside beat him to the punch; it turned out to be a tall, thin, reasonably ordinary-looking man in a brown pinstripe suit and red Converse, who looked just as confused by Demyx's presence as Demyx was by his, and downright nonplussed by the condition of the city around them. Was this the graffiti artist who'd left the messages that led Demyx here? If so, he didn't look any too threatening, but the man started talking before Demyx could ask. "Excuse me, but do you know when the next monorail for Dublin Spaceport is?" he asked, with a distinct British accent, that simultaneously made perfect sense and no sense at all.
"Um...I'm...fairly sure that all monorail service into or out of Sligo has been canceled temporarily...because I'm, well...pretty sure that you and I are the only living people in town right now," Demyx said, holding off a complete mental breakdown at arm's length, unconsciously jabbing his left thumb over his shoulder. "By the way...um...you probably really don't want to go in there right now, because the shadows can and probably will eat you. Um...but you probably already know that...do you? Were you the one writing all those messages? I mean...I did meet you at Pier 9..."
Judging from the expression on the man's face, he had no idea what Demyx was talking about, among other things. "...Are you a Jedi Knight?" he asked, which was possibly the last thing Demyx had expected.
"...Am I...what? No; how could I...I mean, I thought you...didn't you write those messages? I just happen to own a lightsaber...and I brought it with me because you - or - whoever wrote those messages - told me to..." The mental breakdown was starting to close the gap, and whenever Demyx glanced back at the city, he wanted to run for his life; instead, he settled for edging a little closer to the blue box.
"Oh. I was wondering, because if you were, you would be awfully far from home right now, wouldn't you?" the man said, as if the whole part about being eaten by shadows had totally escaped him. "If you're not, how did you manage to get a...your hand...is not supposed to look like that, is it."
"Blessed Gods, no. It's not," Demyx said, not really intending to be so short but kind of restricted to either short or bitchy. "It's supposed to have this nifty artificial skin over it, and then a glove on over that, except the shadows fucking ate them both off. I'm just lucky it wasn't my other hand, because that's actual flesh and blood and I don't want to have to replace that too."
"The shadows," the man repeated softly, suddenly taking things with a seriousness Demyx found far more appropriate than talking about Jedi Knights right now, and glancing around as if he was just noticing the skeletons and the too-dark shadows around them. "The Vashta Nerada..." There was that phrase again, that had been written on a wall somewhere and that Demyx couldn't work out the meaning of for love nor money. "How could a swarm that large...take over an entire city..." Looking deeply perturbed, he took a few steps closer to Demyx, examining the ground just behind him - no doubt checking for an extra shadow. More cold sweat started running down Demyx's face. "All right," he finally said. "If you're sure you're the only person left -"
"Everyone else has either been eaten or run for it," Demyx said, taking a moment to count his shadows himself. Thankfully, he didn't have more than the light sources could account for. "I'm just an investigator...I shouldn't even still be here."
"Right, right...you'd better come with me."
Demyx didn't need any further encouragement to follow the man into the blue box, not daring to extinguish the lightsaber until he heard the door shut behind them. Thankfully, it was big enough to hold the two of them without being too cramped... "...Oh. Blessed Gods." He struggled mightily to come up with something more intelligent to say, but was coming up dead dry. "It's..."
"Bigger on the inside?" the man finished for him, quite cheerfully, as if he'd totally forgotten there was a city full of carnivorous shadows just the other side of that door. To be honest, so had Demyx. "That's what everyone says the first time they see it. Anyway, welcome aboard the TARDIS, Mr...ah..."
"Demyx. Demyx Ghatori." Demyx rubbed his forehead with the back of his left hand, still staring at just how big and how...technologically advanced this room was, and accidentally gave himself a nasty scratch. "Ow. Anyway, what's your name?"
"Me? I'm the Doctor."
"...You know, that's not what most people ask. Most people ask 'Doctor who?'"
Cold wind surrounds me, sends a shudder down my spine,
There's a shadow right in front of me, I don't know if it's mine
You know, I got all your messages, I got your writing on the wall,
I must have been too blind to see, or the writing was too small
That's the beginning of the title track of the Young Dubliners' album Breathe. I took that CD into work one day, or more than one day, popped it into whatever CD player was closest to where I was working, and set it on repeat. And when I wasn't doing anything particularly mentally taxing, I was often trying to think up scenarios for how Demyx could meet the Doctor...and having that second line drilled into my head on a regular basis. And that third line, immediately afterward. Those two lines, from a 16-year-old album by a not-particularly-popular band, are responsible for this story. The name of the band may or may not have anything to do with the setting being a high-tech Irish colony world.
Surprisingly enough, I kicked this sucker out in two days. Go me.
Incidentally, this is not the least bit canon, unless and until I decide otherwise, just a fun aside. My KH canon is weird enough without bringing Doctor Who into it.