The Interference Re:Coded
It had all started with a little scrutiny.
Alexander, the Interference of their worlds, had already left for his own home – the "Real World" that had existed before theirs. Which was probably the right thing to do. Alexander probably had a family on the other side; people that would miss him if he was gone for too long. No one knew what the rules for this Interference phenomenon were, but it was probably the sort of thing that was meant to be kept secret.
With the events of the video game Kingdom Hearts II closed, everyone else went their separate ways. Sora, Riku, and Kairi remained on their island world, home at last after many years stranded elsewhere. Axel was transported to the world of Radiant Garden, where – after some long talks with Squall and the rest of the Restoration Committee – he was allowed to stay and help rebuild. As for Mickey Mouse, Donald, Goofy, Chip, Dale, and Jiminy Cricket; they all returned to Disney Castle.
There, in the comfort of their own home, Jiminy had taken the time to look back at the journals he'd written – the chronicles of Sora's first and second adventures. Every detail of two fantastic journeys was now sitting quietly in those two books, or at least they should've been. The truth was, the only thing written in the first journal had been a single sentence:
The rest of the pages were blank.
Who exactly was this Naminé? Jiminy didn't know, but he figured that these were the only words this book was meant to hold, and it was time to close it for good.
Until he saw, in the very last page of the book, the second sentence:
'Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.'
Those were the words that started yet another journey.
King Mickey, in his wisdom, realized that an utter lack of words didn't mean the journal was empty. He commissioned Chip and Dale to set up a device that could represent the worlds inside the journal as data.
When they used it, however, they immediately discovered that the data was corrupted. Software bugs taking the forms of blocks and Heartless were rendering analysis impossible. Fortunately, they had a way in of sorts – the data version of a young Sora was inside, uncorrupted by the bugs. With his representation of the Keyblade, they were able to debug the journal and restore the data worlds.
Of course, the journey involved was a little more complicated than that.
Jiminy's journal, having attained some sort of sentience in the machine, compartmentalized its data into a different form to protect itself from the bugs. It decided to take on the data representation of Riku wearing a dark cloak. Of course, Mickey and the gang didn't figure this out until they found themselves trapped INSIDE the journal, brought in by Data-Riku. They had to team up with Data-Sora to find a way back out.
Unfortunately, Maleficent and Pete had come out of hiding and stumbled upon Mickey Mouse's little project. Not quite understanding what they were dealing with, the devilish duo got trapped in the data worlds as well. They ended up making things worse, their actions culminating in the corruption of Data-Riku in the bugged representation of Hollow Bastion.
Data-Sora was forced to perform one final super-debug throughout the entire journal. In doing so, they managed to reveal the source of the bugs, and it was a doozy: The data representation of Sora's Heartless, from when he'd lost his heart in Hollow Bastion, was the ultimate culprit of the journal's corruption! It was feeding on all the bugs that Data-Sora was debugging, and it wished to escape into the real world as a powerful new Heartless!
The Heartless managed to knock out Pete and Maleficent, but Data-Sora overcame the monster's incredible power in one long final battle. With Mickey's help at the very end, Sora separated the Heartless from the rest of the bugs and destroyed it for good.
With the journal completely debugged, everyone was able to escape from the data world. Unfortunately, it also meant that Data-Sora would lose his memory of this adventure as the journal restored itself to normal.
One bittersweet goodbye later, and the Disney characters found themselves back in Mickey's study.
Mickey sat in his chair, looking at the monitor. Donald and Goofy stood on either side of him, and Chip, Dale, and Jiminy Cricket stood on the table itself, all of them also watching. On the screen was a cartoonish sprite of Sora, jumping up and down beneath the words, "Thank you!" A sweet gesture from the inhabitants of the datascape.
As they took a collective breath, a thought occurred to Goofy. "Hey, ya know... we never did figure out that mysterious message."
Donald let out something between a sigh and a moan. Goofy was right, but they'd hit a complete dead-end now that the journal and its contents were restored.
The duck tapped his fingers on the desk for a while, then cried out as the monitor suddenly flickered with new activity. Multiple windows opened themselves on the screen – a few of them were views of Data-Riku in a white space, and the rest were scrolling data readouts in red text.
"Guys, big news," the voice of Riku announced from the machine. "A new world has showed up inside the journal."
This surprised the group. "What do you mean?" Goofy asked.
"I've found another door leading to extra data," Data-Riku explained. "Somebody must have added it once all the other data was restored."
An excited look appeared on Mickey's face. "And if we explore THAT world...!"
The Data-Riku on the screen nodded. The window showing his face resized itself to allow room for another one to appear below it. This new window showed the message, 'Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.' "Then we should get some answers about this message."
"Great!" Mickey exclaimed. "Let's ask Sora to–"
Donald gasped and put his hands over his beak.
"When we fixed the data," Goofy pointed out, "everything in the journal went back to the way it started, remember?"
Jiminy Cricket looked thoughtful. "Which means that Sora's journey through the datascape – it never happened to him. Why, now he's just the same boy he was before he met any of us."
"I'm fine, my partition isn't affected," Data-Riku interjected. "But Sora – we can't send him out there when he doesn't know what's going on."
Donald and Goofy drooped in resignation. Mickey looked at everyone and got a little worried himself. But as he sat in his chair, staring at the table, an idea came into the mouse's mind. "Chip, Dale. Do you think we could get Jiminy's second journal and load it into the datascape?"
The two chipmunks looked extremely surprised. "What? What do you want to do that for?" Chip wondered aloud.
But Dale was not nearly as questioning. Turning to Chip, he said, "Maybe... Hey, you think we could use the-" The two chipmunks lowered their voices to excited whispers for a few seconds. Then, they turned to Mickey simultaneously and saluted. "WE'RE ON IT!" they said simultaneously, and ran off the table.
The cricket remaining on the table looked up to Mickey. "Pardon me, Your Majesty, but what do you want with the second journal? There aren't any missing pages or hidden messages in that one."
Mickey nodded. "But it does have one thing that can help us solve this mystery!"
Everyone gave the King a confused look.
There was a collective "Aah!" of understanding around the table. But the Data-Riku on the monitor looked confused. "Who is Alexander? There's no mention of him anywhere in the journal."
Mickey Mouse smiled. "That's because he wasn't part of Sora's first adventure, only the second one. He's actually a visitor from a reality beyond ours, which means he has special knowledge of our world."
Goofy caught on to Mickey's reasoning. "Right! This whole datascape thing might've been part of a game!"
Donald finished the thought. "If Alex played it, he'll know what to do here!"
Mickey nodded. "Alex has done a good job of guiding Sora in the past. We might be sending Sora out there blind, but we won't be sending him alone."
"So..." Jiminy said, "you want to take Alexander from my second journal and put him into the datascape?"
"Alex left for his own world," Mickey explained. "This is the only way to get his knowledge now."
"Good thing we can do it!" Chip's voice rang out from below.
Chip and Dale hopped up onto the table, the two of them carrying a device that looked like a golden button with a gear around it. Scurrying as quickly as they could, they dropped it onto the table next to the machine. Chip jumped onto the button and immediately jumped off. In a giant puff of smoke, the button had expanded into a small glass container similar to the larger one housing Jiminy's first journal. A thick tangle of wires connected the smaller module to the main machine.
Chip and Dale inserted Jiminy's second journal into the container and pressed a switch on the main console's keyboard. A bright, piercing light shot down from the top of the module and hit Jiminy's journal.
On the main screen, all the other windows except Data-Riku's view left the screen. Pictures of worlds like Twilight Town, The Land of Dragons, and Port Royal appeared on the screen as data was loaded into the system.
"The second journal is loaded," Data-Riku announced. "...No bugs in this one."
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Mickey smiled and looked up at the monitor. "Riku. Can you help me get back into the datascape one more time?"
With the night of Twilight Town fading away to the dawn above him, Alexander Karsath slunk out of his apartment. He made sure to be as quiet as possible as he slipped out his front door and locked it behind him.
The boy - dressed in a green T-shirt, blue jeans, and black sneakers - was as apprehensive as he was determined. Today was the sixth day of his adventure in Twilight Town, which meant it was also the all-important sixth day of Kingdom Hearts II. And Alexander was ready for what lay ahead.
After checking to make sure there wasn't anybody on Market Street, which there shouldn't be at this hour, he swiftly ran down the stairs and started making his way to the Usual Spot. He'd already prepared the note he was going to leave there - it was his last thing to do before he headed for the mansion.
But as he rounded the corner from Station Heights into the back alley, he was met with a curious sight. An extremely familiar, but curious sight.
Standing with his back to him, holding a blue Keyblade out to his side, was unmistakably Mickey Mouse. The iconic Disney character wasn't even wearing the black Organization coat, instead donning his normal traveling clothes.
"Alexander," Mickey said slowly. "This was the day that your journey began. I know... because I was here, too."
Finally, Mickey turned around to face Alexander, smiling. "It's time for the truth."
The young, almost-15-year-old Alex just stared blankly. "Uh," was his eloquent response.
Mickey approached Alexander casually, dismissing the Keyblade as he walked up to the boy. "I know you're from another world, Alex. I know this was originally a video game for you."
This didn't seem to make Alexander any more comfortable. "Oh...!"
"You've got knowledge that no one else in all the worlds does – and now I need you to use that knowledge to help us out!" The mouse held his gloved hand out in an offering gesture. "What do you say?"
Instinct took over at that point. This was all too sudden for Alex to process what the heck was going on, but a part of him knew there was no way he'd pass up a chance to help King Mickey. He quickly and nervously shook Mickey's hand. "O-Of course! Anything, anything you need." But then he retreated a bit, his brain catching up to him, and said, "Ah, but I've got some stuff to do today, and..."
"Don't worry, you'll be back in time to go on your adventure," Mickey promised him.
Alex's brain demanded HOW? But his mouth uttered, "Alright."
Mickey turned around and stood still for a few seconds. Then, all of a sudden, a bright flash of light occurred in the alleyway, right in front of the mouse. Where there was nothing before, there was now a bright blue portal in the ground, surrounded by rings of... what looked like numbers, data, and code.
"Come on!" Mickey called out, and jumped into the portal. Alexander nervously walked to the edge and peered down, but the portal looked little more than a pool of swirling blues and greens. He had no idea what this was or where it led, so he was going to have to take a leap of faith on this one.
He didn't think Mickey Mouse would lead him into a deathtrap, but the paranoid part of Alex's mind wouldn't stop screaming at him.
Finally, Alexander shut his eyes tight and willed himself to jump into the portal. A tingling sensation passed over him as he disappeared into the blue light, the portal closing behind him.
His eyes were still closed, but Alex could tell he was in freefall for a few seconds before he suddenly... was standing on solid ground again. Not falling to his death.
Alexander dared to open his eyes. He blinked a couple of times, and realized he was in a completely different place.
He was in Traverse Town.
An avid Kingdom Hearts player like himself would find the First District impossible to miss. And he was standing in the exact middle of it, right in front of the stairs leading up to the accessory shop.
Like in Twilight Town, Alex was rendered dumbstruck by the realization of 'I'm here, I'm actually here!' He turned around in circles several times, taking in all the sights and the detail that the game never had.
Eventually, though, his logical thought processes caught up to the rest of him and asked the obvious question: "Why are we here?" Traverse Town was part of the first game only, wasn't it? He'd shown up at the beginning of the second Kingdom Hearts game – he knew that for a fact. What did King Mickey Mouse want in an old world?
And where was His Majesty anyway?
"Alex!" the mouse's voice rang out from above him. Alexander climbed the stairs and turned to see Mickey Mouse walking out from the alley on the left side of the shop.
Coming out right behind him was the one and only Sora, protagonist of Kingdom Hearts. The first Kingdom Hearts. Sora was in his original get-up from the first game, and looked exactly as young and confused as Alex remembered. What was going on?
"Great!" Mickey exclaimed with a wide smile. "Now I have both of you together!"
Sora and Alex were equally lost – that was to say, very lost. Sora asked the first questions: "Where am I? How'd I get here? And who are you?"
"The name's Mickey," the Disney mouse explained. "I've come here from another world." He gestured at Alex. "This is Alexander. I brought him here from yet another world."
"Seriously?" Sora asked incredulously, putting a hand to his chin.
Mickey stood between the two youths and looked back and forth at them. "Ya see, I brought you both here because somebody left me and my friends a message – 'Their hurting will be mended when you return to end it.' And you two are the only ones with the power to solve this mystery."
"Me? Why me?" Sora wondered.
"Ditto..." Alex muttered. He'd never heard of this mysterious message before.
As if to answer their questions, two things happened at once. A bright light appeared in Sora's hand, taking the form of the Keyblade, while darkness covered Alex's hand and solidified into the Lockshield.
"Woah!" Sora exclaimed, only barely familiar with the weapon in his hand.
Alex gulped, suddenly very nervous. "Um..." He didn't know much more about his weapon, and having it summon itself on cue put him very much on alert.
Sora and Alex looked at each other. Neither of them knew much, but they could somehow tell that the two weapons were connected, probably in a way they had yet to understand.
Mickey nodded at the reveal of the Keyblade. "Good. You lost your memory, but not your powers. Will you help me, Sora? I need to know the truth."
The Keyblade disappeared, and Sora put his hand on the side of his head. "...Gosh, but this is so weird. I don't even know you... Err, do I? Something about you does seem vaguely... Nah." He shook his head and became thoughtful again. "So this truth you're after, does it have to do with me?"
Mickey became concerned, which surprised Alexander. "Honestly, I'm not sure," the mouse replied. "But whatever it is, I get the sense it's something you need to know."
Sora nodded. "Hmm, fair enough..." He grinned at the diminutive King. "Alright, Mickey. Lead the way!"
With a chuckle, Mickey said, "Thanks, Sora!" He turned toward the other young man. "And what about you, Alex? Are you willing to help me find the truth?"
Alexander took a deep breath and sighed. There was so much about this he didn't understand, but one question reigned over them all. "Why do you need me?"
"Like I said before," Mickey stated, "I need your special knowledge to solve this mystery completely. You have context and perspective nobody else has. What's more..." He looked at Sora. "My friends and I aren't entirely sure what we're sending you into. But you might know it once you see it, and if you do, I'm counting on you to guide Sora."
Alex drooped a little. "You're not coming with us?"
Mickey shook his head. "I can't follow you, but I promise I'll be keeping an eye on you remotely."
The young man put a hand to his forehead. This entire situation was screwed up, and a part of him complained that going on this adventure was probably going to get him killed. It was one thing facing down Nobodies and Saïx when he could reasonably deduce exactly what was going on. It was another thing entirely to jump headfirst into an entirely unknown situation.
"I know this is all a little hard to swallow," Mickey added.
Alex lowered his hand and looked at Mickey. The youth wasn't sure how to feel about the little guy. The mouse was being frustrating with how little information he was sharing, but at the same time... Alex had a feeling he'd do the same thing himself in the King's situation. It was hard, but he was going to have to trust Mickey Mouse unconditionally on this one.
"Okay," Alex said finally. "I'm in. Let's solve this mystery."
"That's great!" Mickey replied. "Now, just hold out those weapons of yours." The mouse summoned his own Star Seeker Keyblade and raised it into the air. In front of the boys, a glowing, magical keyhole appeared where Mickey pointed.
Alex glanced worriedly at Sora, but the hero was already holding his Keyblade out towards the mysterious keyhole. Alexander swallowed and took on a similar pose with his Lockshield.
Rings of light closed in on the tip of Sora's Keyblade and the face of Alex's Lockshield. When they closed entirely, bright beams of light shot forth from both weapons and entered the keyhole simultaneously. There was a bright flare of light, and Alex could feel that strange tingling sensation again as the light blinded him entirely.
It took a few seconds for Alex's vision to clear up. When it did, though, he knew exactly where they'd teleported to.
Sora looked around. "So you think the truth's hiding somewhere in here, Mi... Mickey?" The mouse was nowhere to be found.
Alex sighed. "Mickey said he wasn't coming with us." He laughed nervously. "Heh, I guess that's why he sent me...?"
The young men looked around at the room they'd found themselves in. It was an almost perfectly rectangular room, a hallway leading up to a door. Everything except the door – the walls, the floor, the stairs leading up to the door, the pillars lining the room – were perfectly white. The door at the end of the room, the only door they could bother accessing, was tall and a pale yellow color.
Sora turned to Alex. "So... Alexander, right?"
"Yeah..." The young man had one of those 'I-can't-believe-this-is-happening' moments just then. The real Sora addressing him – even if it was the younger version for some reason – was more than a little surreal. "But... I guess you can call me Alex for short."
Sora nodded. "Right. Alex. So, you know where we are?"
Alexander felt slightly relieved. Finally, a question he could answer! "Actually, yes. This place is–"
He was interrupted by a strange, loud noise, like the sound of space warping around them. From nowhere, a figure dressed in a black Organization coat faded into view between the boys and the door.
Alex visibly jumped in surprise. Sora got into an aggressive stance. "Huh? Who are you?" the hero demanded.
"Me?" the black-robed figure asked, a male voice coming from the darkness under the coat's hood. "I'm nobody."
"Oh HA HA," Alexander cut in sarcastically, putting on his bravest face. He knew this had to be a humanoid Nobody of some kind, judging by the black coat.
The Nobody seemed to ignore him. "In this place, to find is to lose and to lose is to find. That's the way of things in Castle Oblivion."
"Castle Oblivion?" Sora echoed.
"Yeah, I was just about to say that," Alex muttered.
The Nobody looked directly at Sora. "Here you will meet people you know. People you miss." There was another flare of light, and then there was something in Sora's hand where there wasn't before. It was a Castle Oblivion card, with a portrait of the Destiny Islands world on its front. "Use that card and press on. You will find the truth that sleeps."
Then the figure faded from view, completely disappearing. "H-Hey!" Sora shouted, but it was no use. He stared at the card in his hand. "Use it how? Yeesh... That guy sure knew how to get under my skin."
Alex narrowed his eyes at where the Nobody had just been. "He's just being mysterious to creep you out." He folded his arms and thought for a moment. "As a matter of fact, what he said was good for us. We're looking for truth – he said there's truth to be found. That means we're on the right track."
"You really think so?" Sora wondered aloud.
"I know so," Alexander replied with a grin. Then he laughed and shrugged. "I dunno. Honestly, I've just had enough of getting creeped out by jerks in black coats."
Sora laughed. "Yeah..." He looked at the card in his hand again, then at the door ahead. "Do you know what we're supposed to do?"
If it works exactly how I remember it, Alexander thought to himself. "I'm... pretty sure that card opens the door. What we find is, well, an illusion of a world based on the card. We'll have to get through that world-illusion-thing to make progress, I think."
Sora scrutinized the card and scratched the back of his head. "How does that work?"
"Magic," Alex deadpanned.
The Kingdom Hearts hero grinned. "Works for me!" He walked up the stairs to the door, and Alexander followed.
"Let's start this thing?" Alex half-asked, looking at Sora as he approached the door itself.
"Yep," Sora replied. He held up the card to the door. A dense fog surrounded them for a moment, and then there was a bright flash of light from the door. This time, Alex had the sense to cover his eyes.
When the light faded, they were in a completely different room. No longer symmetrical, this large, spacious area had paths and higher plateaus. There were several projections of images from Destiny Islands on the walls, but other than that the architecture and coloring of the room was exactly the same as Castle Oblivion. This was not the full-scale illusion from Chain of Memories, Alexander realized, but a view into the illusion itself.
Sora looked around, apparently confused by what the card had done. "What happened?"
The Nobody appeared out of nowhere again. "That card you used will allow you to see people. Illusions, who come from Jiminy's journal – the very same data you fixed."
"I fixed what?" Sora asked, still confused. "Who's Jiminy?"
"Data?" Alex also repeated. "What does the journal have to do with this?"
"Oh, my mistake," the Nobody muttered. "Did someone hit the reset button on your memory? And you," he added, looking at Alex, "you must be completely new here. Just the same, you'll remember the folks you meet in this room."
Sora traded out confusion for indignation. "That makes zero sense. So we're going to meet these... illusions, and then..."
"Do whatever you want," the Nobody finished.
"Huh?" Sora mumbled.
"There's no script you have to follow. The journal's the closest thing you've got, but that doesn't mean you'll see the things it says." The Nobody shook his head. "And you know, who really cares? Everything that happens here, everything you meet is an illusion."
"So we can just do whatever," Alex muttered, trying to sum up the Nobody's point.
"Anything you want," the Nobody insisted. "But remember – the things that you find depend on the actions you take."
With that, the Nobody disappeared again. Sora tried to reach out – "Hey, come back!" – but the enigmatic figure was gone too quickly. "He's gone."
Alexander scowled. He'd acted tough before, but now things had gone back to not making sense. This was not part of any game he'd ever played, so the Nobody's words were actually mysterious instead of just being cryptic. Alex found that rather infuriating.
Sora looked up the path and became surprised. "Hey, is that...?"
Up ahead was none other than Selphie, Sora's friend from the islands. Or rather, the illusion of her provided by Castle Oblivion. Not that it looked like an illusion – it was a real odd juxtaposition, having the real flesh-and-blood Selphie standing amongst the white walls and pictures of Destiny Islands.
"Selphie!" Sora exclaimed. "What are you doing in a place like this?"
The girl looked incredibly confused. "Uh, hello? I practically LIVE on this island."
"This... 'island?' You mean 'castle,'" Sora corrected her, looking around at the room.
Selphie gave Sora a sad smile and shook her head. "No, I mean 'island,' but we can make-believe it's a castle if you want."
Sora folded his arms and suppressed a sigh. "I'm not sure I'm the one playing make-believe here..." He looked to Alex and whispered, "He said everything that happens here is an illusion. I wonder what Selphie sees. Unless..." He put a hand to his head. "...she's the illusion?"
The young girl looked at Alex. "Sora, who's your friend here?"
Alex jumped a little. "Oh! I'm, uh, new here. Alex... is the name. I'm just visiting."
Sora gave Alex a look. Alex responded by whispering back, "If she is an illusion, better just play along, right?"
"You boys are acting so WEIRD today!" Selphie remarked. Focusing on Sora, she added, "And where have you been, anyway? Would you look at the island? We're up to our ears in blocks!"
Alexander had somewhat noticed the blocks before, but he'd just assumed they were part of the illusion. Now that he looked at the red-and-black, five-cubic-foot blocks, he realized that they looked incredibly out of place, even for Castle Oblivion. And every nook and cranny of this room was practically filled with the things.
Sora folded his arms as he regarded the obstacles. "Blocks... Didn't I... Nah, can't be."
Selphie frowned. "This is totally ruining my day. Do me a favor and find out where the blocks came from."
The Keyblade Wielder shrugged and nodded. "Okay!"
Selphie smiled back. "Thanks, and good luck. I expect a thorough investigation!"
Sora and Alex took their leave and headed for one group of blocks obstructing the path to the right. There wasn't much chance of climbing over or moving around them – they filled the path from wall to wall. Alex tried pushing against the blocks, but they didn't budge.
Then Sora summoned his Keyblade and gave the blocks his best whack. The blocks in the arc of his swing were crushed and disappeared into nothing.
"Woah!" Alex exclaimed. "Okay, let me try." He summoned his Lockshield and gave one of the remaining blocks a slice from the blade of his shield. His swing was weak, however, and the shield simply glanced off.
Alexander swung again, with more force this time, and the block shattered and faded away. "Whew! Okay, that's cool." He glanced at Sora as he cleared out the rest of the blocks in their path. "But you're definitely stronger than me right now."
"Yeah, I don't know," Sora said with a shrug. "I've only had this thing for, like, an hour. But I feel like I've had it for much longer."
"Like you're Level 60 while I'm just Level 5?" Alex muttered.
With the blocks clear, the duo was able to continue through the room. Almost immediately past the wall of blocks was Wakka, one of the other Destiny Islands residents.
"Hey! Sora!" Wakka called out as the boys approached. "Things are getting' hairy here, ya? You okay, brudda?"
Sora wasn't sure how to respond. "Um... It's... been an... interesting day?" Playing along seemed like the best option, but Sora was clearly uncomfortable with it at that moment.
Alex waved meekly. "Hey. Alex. Visiting."
"That's great," Wakka replied dismissively. "Hey, could you check up on Tidus for me? He went to investigate the blocks."
"You can't do it yourself?" Alexander asked before he could stop himself.
Wakka shrugged. "He can't have gone too far, but you know him."
Sora nodded knowingly. "Might've gotten into some trouble. Sure, we'll check on him."
"That's great! Thanks." With that, Wakka walked away.
Then, out of nowhere, the Nobody appeared in front of them. "Don't let your memories rule your actions," the Nobody remarked. "Not when there are other possibilities to be found – other stories waiting to unfold."
The Nobody disappeared again. Sora frowned and turned to Alex. "Any idea what he's talking about?"
Alexander didn't answer immediately. He had some idea of what the Nobody was referring to. He knew what was supposed to happen in Kingdom Hearts II, for example, but there was the possibility he could change things with his actions, interfere with the natural course of events. Was the Nobody trying to urge them to do the same thing?
"I... dunno," Alex replied lamely. "Maybe. Maybe not."
The room ended a ways beyond Wakka, but there were platforms leading higher up in the room they could follow. Sora naturally jumped up each platform to get to the higher ground, but Alex had to do some serious climbing, something he wasn't quite used to at all.
The platforms led to a bridge formed of green blocks that faded in and out of existence, spanning the distance between the two tallest vantage points in the room. Tidus was standing on the otherwise unreachable platform.
The drop below the makeshift block bridge frightened Alex a little, so he was hesitant to cross the bridge that threatened to disappear beneath him. Sora, on the other hand, had no problem making it across with the right timing.
"That's okay..." Alex said after Sora crossed the bridge. "I'll just wait here..." There wasn't anywhere else to go in the room, Alex reasoned to himself.
Sora approached Tidus. Alex couldn't quite hear what they were talking about. Tidus seemed mischievous, like he knew something they didn't. Sora seemed surprised.
Then both of them got into a fighting stance. Alex could only watch in shock as the two friends dueled it out right there on the platform – Tidus with his staff, Sora with his Keyblade. But Sora was fast and strong; only a few whacks from his Keyblade later, and Tidus called out for mercy.
Sora and Tidus exchanged a few words after that. Tidus pointed in Alex's direction, and Sora followed with his eyes.
Alexander pointed at himself questioningly. Tidus shook his head and pointed again in Alex's direction.
Alex looked over his shoulder. Right behind him, completely unnoticed until now, was the black-robed Nobody. As soon as Alex flinched, however, the Nobody disappeared.
"What the...?" Alex's world went fuzzy for a moment, then it went dark.
They were back in the entrance hall, where they'd started. The Nobody appeared in front of them once more. "Well?" it asked. "Did you have fun hanging out with the ghosts?"
Alex rolled his eyes. Sora folded his arms and looked away in an indignant manner. "Hey, don't say 'ghosts!' Sure, something was a little off, but they're still my friends."
"You don't say?" the Nobody asked, suddenly sounding amused. He leaned in a little towards the boys and said, "What were their names again?"
Alex's eyes went wide.
Sora scoffed at the Nobody. "Pfft, that's easy. There was–" And then Sora cut himself off. "What... No, no, I know them!"
"Oh no," Alex said very quietly, holding his head in his hands. "Oh no no no no no. It... It just happened five seconds ago!" He wracked his brain for images, names, answers, but nothing came up. The last five minutes were simply gone – or at least, he assumed there were five minutes missing, because the last thing he remembered was Sora opening the door.
Their memories had been tampered with.
The Nobody stopped leaning in, but he now had a smug air of self-satisfaction about him. "Like I said – everything in this castle is an illusion. Your actions may lead to true endings or paradoxes, and each outcome will stay with you in the form of a card."
There was a new card in Sora's hand – a completely blue Castle Oblivion card with the same Destiny Islands picture as the one that had created the world-illusion.
The Nobody shook his head. "But once the illusions vanish, you'll forget all about your little reunion as if it never happened."
"What?" Sora exclaimed. Alex just stood there, shaking in anger.
"Hey, no big deal," the Nobody responded sarcastically. "The fact that you can't remember them just means they weren't important to you to begin with."
"Oh SHUT UP already!" Alexander suddenly shouted, pointing at the Nobody. "Don't pretend this wasn't your doing – that this wasn't your idea all along; your trap!"
The Nobody held his hands up defensively. "Woah, a little sensitive much? You're blowing this way out of proportion. These are illusions. Any memories you created with them aren't worth keeping anyway."
"That's a lie!" Sora exclaimed. "My friends are important to me! Okay, so maybe I forgot who they are... and what happened... But it'll come back to me. Just watch!"
"Hmm. If you say so," the Nobody responded noncommittally.
There was a flash of light, and five new world cards appeared in Sora's hands. Alexander took a deep breath and looked over Sora's shoulder at them. Sora didn't seem to know them, but Alex recognized them as Traverse Town, Wonderland, Olympus Coliseum, Agrabah, and Hollow Bastion.
"All of these were created from the data in the journal," the Nobody explained. "And all of them will show you more illusions. But from now on, they won't be your friends. You're fresh off the island, which makes them total strangers."
The Nobody put a hand on his hip. "Here's a fun little thought. The folks you're about to meet? You can use and abuse them all you like."
Alex glared at him. "Like you're abusing us?"
"Perhaps..." the Nobody said slyly. "And what do you care? They're all strangers, and illusions at that. Just empty bits of data. They can't tell what's real. They'll look at this castle and see the world they call home. Anyway, the truth would be wasted on them. They're only there until they're not."
They couldn't see his face, but it seemed like the Nobody was grinning. "See where I'm going with this? You can break the little hearts they don't have, and forget right away. No hurt feelings, no baggage." The Nobody looked directly at Alexander. "You can take out all your anger on them and walk away. It's 100% guilt-free."
Sora slumped a little. "No, it's not."
"Oh?" the Nobody said.
"I could never be mean to somebody I just met," Sora muttered. "If I hurt them, I'd regret it. And... even if I didn't remember what I did, the regret would stay with me. ...That's what you mean by hurt feelings, right? Why would I want to carry around that kind of hurt?"
The Nobody nodded. "And with that, you've arrived at the first question." And he disappeared.
"Huh?" Sora mumbled. "I really don't get that guy."
"He seemed to get us," Alexander growled. "Got into our heads pretty good there."
Sora looked at the cards in his hands. "So... These cards will show us people we don't remember meeting?"
"That you don't remember meeting," Alexander corrected him. "I know I haven't met..." He stopped himself. "At least, I think I haven't..." Suddenly, he wasn't sure about anything anymore.
"Either way," Sora replied, "that actually sounds kind of fun."
"FUN?" Alexander yelled, slightly panicked now. "FUN? Since when is having our minds messed up FUN?"
Sora flinched at Alex's sudden reaction. "Woah, Alex. You okay?"
"No," Alexander muttered, putting his face in his hands. "No, I'm not. I'm NOT a fan of having my mind... my memories played with." Alex walked over to the stairs and took a seat there. "...I'm not sure I can do this."
"But..." Sora said, walking up to where Alex sat, "we promised Mickey..."
"Mickey didn't know what he was sending us into," Alex immediately objected. But he hesitated after that. Yes, they HAD promised Mickey they'd get to the bottom of this. Alexander sighed and held his head. "I don't know..."
"You said we were on the right track," Sora pointed out. "Isn't that still true? Isn't the truth through these cards?"
Alexander closed his eyes and stayed silent for a second. "There's gotta be another way..." he muttered under his breath.
Sora grimaced and looked at the door ahead. "We can't let this scare us. No matter how much it hurts, we'll just have to face it head-on. People are counting on us to pull through."
But Alex couldn't get the story of the Chain of Memories game out of his head. Running headlong into a memory-altering trap had nearly made Sora and his friends the puppets of Organization XIII. It didn't appear to be the same situation here, but... with his memories in an unknown state, Alex just couldn't be sure.
The young man lowered his head. "I'm sorry, Sora. I can't."
Sora was quiet for a little while. Then he faced the door with new determination. "Then I'll have to." The Keyblade hero walked to the door and held up one of the Castle Oblivion cards. Mist gathered around Sora, there was a bright flash, and the young man disappeared.
Leaving Alexander all alone in the castle's entrance hall.
Alex slammed a fist against the railing of the stairs in frustration. This was it, then? This was the extent to which he could help anyone in this world? He'd gotten all excited about his brand new Lockshield and joining up with Sora, Donald, and Goofy, and now he was cowering in the corner!
He hated this feeling, of having his newfound courage crushed by fear. He'd fought Saïx head on, for crying out loud! Why couldn't he do THIS?
"If it isn't the traveler from another journal," a voice interrupted his thoughts.
Alex flinched and stood, facing the Nobody that had appeared before him. "You again."
"Who else would it be?" the Nobody said sarcastically, with a shrug.
Narrowing his eyes, Alex very seriously replied, "Naminé."
Immediately, all of the Nobody's cool composure was gone, replaced by surprise and anger. "How did you–"
"Memories, Castle Oblivion, it doesn't take much to connect the dots," Alex said angrily, biting on every word. "So, what, this secret that Mickey sent us to find – it has something to do with her?" When the Nobody didn't answer right away, Alex added, "Well? Am I right on the money?"
"Pretty smug for a guy who was feeling sorry for himself a moment ago," the Nobody retorted. "So what if you're right? You still chickened out."
That stung, but Alex felt like he was on a roll, so he kept going. "What, is that annoyance I hear? I thought Nobodies didn't feel anything because they had no hearts. Or am I wrong about you... Roxas?"
Almost instantly, there was a Keyblade pointed just an inch away from Alex's forehead. It took Alex a second to realize it was the Oathkeeper Keyblade.
"You really want to go down this road?" the Nobody said calmly.
Alexander couldn't get himself to move, just frozen in fear as he stared down the weapon. At this distance, he could see how sharp the outside edges along the length were. Alex swallowed reflexively.
Finally, the Nobody lowered the Keyblade. "That's what I thought. For all your knowledge, you're too WEAK to follow us."
Yet another flash of light occurred, and Sora appeared back in the middle of the room in a daze. The Nobody dismissed his Keyblade and disappeared before Sora regained his senses.
Sora ran a hand through his spiky hair. "Hmm... That guy in the black coat wasn't kidding... Ugh, why can't I remember who I met in there?"
Alex grimaced, but chose not to mention his own encounter with the Nobody. "That's Castle Oblivion for you, unfortunately."
"It's not just that," Sora added. He put a hand lightly over his heart. "I feel funny. There's this... squeezing in my chest."
Alex swallowed, but didn't say anything. He'd been feeling a similar pain the whole time Sora had been gone, but he couldn't put a word to it.
"...I know," Sora finally said, his head lowered sadly. "It's heartache. I miss them."
That was it. But Alex's heartache hadn't really been about missing anyone... It'd been shame of himself, anger at himself for not doing what he knew was right. A different heartache.
Sora suddenly perked himself up. "But wait... If I really forget completely, I shouldn't miss anyone. Which means... I DO remember some part of it!"
Alex wasn't reassured by this. "But... our memories still got messed with."
The Keyblade hero smiled at Alex. "The memory is gone, but the feeling's still there, isn't it? With the right trigger, I'm sure it would all come back. We just gotta keep looking."
"But..." Alex winced and looked at the door. "I... I don't know, Sora."
Sora just kept smiling and walked up the stairs toward the door. "That's okay. I'll figure it out for the both of us."
"WHAT? But-! RRGH!" Alex smacked his forehead in frustration and glared at Sora. "I shouldn't let you do this alone! I agreed to help! I...!"
Alex trailed off. He lowered his head, and then dropped to the stairs in a sulk. "I want to help, but I can't. I... won't."
But Sora just walked over to Alex and kept smiling. "C'mon, I know you're not like that. You just need some time to rest, okay?"
Alex shifted away, more to hide the tears welling up in his eyes than any other reason.
"You didn't know what you were getting into, I get that," Sora reassured him. "Neither of us did. Now, maybe I'm the kind of person who can keep going despite that... But you're not me. Maybe you just need to work yourself up to it, y'know. Mentally prepare yourself."
Alex lifted his head up from his sulk and thought. Sora had a point there.
Sora went back towards the door. "You take a break and get yourself ready." Before holding up the next card, he glanced back at the kid over his shoulder. "Then we'll solve this mystery together. Okay?"
The traveler finally looked at Sora, his expression part surprise and part humility. "...Okay."
With that agreement between them, Sora held up the Wonderland card up to the door. Mist closed in around him as the room got temporarily brighter, and then Sora disappeared into the illusion beyond the door.
Alone once again, Alex sat, rested, and reflected. But instead of anger or shame, there was just one thought on his mind, one that repeated over and over.
The young man allowed himself to smile a little. "Sora's a good friend to have," he said quietly.