Chapter 13: Xehanort's True Ambitions
I regret nothing more than this. Nothing was worse than this. I never messed up worse than I did here—but in hindsight, I'm not sure I could have done anything else, I'm not sure that it could have turned out differently.
Does that make my actions excusable? Am I less responsible if I had no other real choice?
Something inside of me says no.
I had less than no luck in finding Vanitas by myself, so when I left the light-filled islands Riku and Sora inhabited and entered the Lanes, I was not unhappy to hear Master Xehanort's voice greet me with his strange telepathy.
"Master Terra. Something has occurred. We must speak at once." My heart skipped a beat during his salutation, but then sank with the ominous tone of voice he used.
I wasn't sure if he could hear me, but I replied anyway, "Yes, Master Xehanort."
I prepped my Glider to cast magic, and thought about that dusty, windy place where I'd met Master Xehanort before.
But just before I could cast, I saw another portal flash into existence in the middle of the Lanes to my left. A second later, a green blur shot out of it and away from me.
I didn't have time to examine the figure closer or confirm that it was Ven (though who else could it have been?) before it was gone.
I wanted to follow, maybe talk to Ven if I could catch up to him, but Master Xehanort had sounded urgent.
So instead, I cast the portal and zoomed into the world of desert spires where Master Xehanort awaited me.
He stood on a different plateau than last time, but the same weak sun shone down on us and the same dust-filled wind buffeted my flight as I drew near. He had his head bowed and his hands clasped behind his back. I couldn't be sure if it was just me, or if he really did look even more bent-backed than before.
When I came within his view, he lifted his head like he could sense me coming and pierced me with his orange eyes. I flew up to him and was about to dismiss my armor and glider when he held up a hand.
"There's no time to lose!" His composed mask flickered briefly, and guilt showed in his face, the emotion not a welcome one to see in his usually controlled gaze. "Ventus has stumbled across the secrets of his origins."
I immediately straightened, the words driving every lingering peace from my thoughts. "Ven? I just saw him. He passed right in front of me. What happened?"
"He found me as I was searching for Vanitas, and it seemed to trigger some of his memories. I, of course, would not tell him what happened while he was my apprentice. But it seemed that my reticence could not stop several of the repressed memories within him. And though it is truly me he should hold anger towards, Ventus blamed Eraqus for withholding this information. He's on his way to the Land of Departure as we speak. If you could have seen the fury in his eyes…" Master Xehanort closed his eyes briefly. "I'm certain he is capable of anything. I fear Ventus may attempt to force the full truth out of Eraqus."
"Ven would never," I said automatically, but I was terrified that it wasn't true. Ven's past was the one thing he ever got truly upset about. If he learned Master Eraqus had known this whole time what had happened to him…
"Regardless of what you think, Master Terra, I would insist that you hurry back and see to your friend's safety." Again, I thought I saw regret in his eyes before he gathered himself back together. "If I knew I was the cause of an injury to him once again…"
Master Xehanort didn't have to finish. "Of course I'm going, Master. Thank you for calling me."
He didn't give any farewell except another exhortation to "Hurry, Master Terra!"
So away I went, back up into the sky, where I cast a portal, and let worried thoughts speed me through it.
By the time I got there, things had gotten out of control.
The figures that stood in the courtyard became visible as Master Eraqus and Ven as I came close enough to identify them, but the truly worrying thing was that Master Eraqus had his Keyblade, Master Keeper, summoned, and it was raised—pointing straight at Ven.
I don't think I've ever moved as fast as I did then.
In the time it took for me to speed closer, I saw Ven take two, hesitant, unbelieving steps back. And I heard Master Eraqus say words I never thought I'd hear in my wildest dreams: "Forgive me, Ventus… But you must exist no more."
With those terrifying words, Master's Keyblade began to glow with the familiar light magic that I'd been used to seeing him use for years. He brought it up to target Ven directly, who stood, immobile, while my heart flew into my throat.
There was no time to process how this had gotten so bad. No time to do anything but dismiss my Glider and leap down, my every cell beating with the need to protect Ven, Earthshaker now raised.
When the light of Master's first magic strike had faded, that's where I found myself; standing a guard in front of my best friend, defending him from my blinking, off-guard Master. "Terra?" He breathed, his expression slipping into shock.
"Master," I said, the word burning my tongue, my every thought trying to deny the magic I'd just deflected—attack magic, the kind that could kill—"Have you gone mad?"
But his voice changed quickly back to resolve, and his eyes became cold. "Terra, step aside."
Though his words were laced with danger, the tone I never dared disobey in my years training under him, I glared back, my Armor dissipating. "No!"
"That was an order, Terra." I could see the anger rising in his eyes—anger at me, at Ven. What had happened to degrade things this far? "Will you not heed your Master?"
My own anger rose to meet his, and I didn't have the presence of mind to try and contain it. "I won't!"
Eraqus' gaze fractured, and he exhaled, deeply, his expression turning despairing. "Why do all my attempts to reach you fail?" His eyes squeezed shut with the emotion, like he wanted nothing more than for this to be a dream, like I did.
Again, Master exhaled, this one tight and stained with sadness. "If you can't find it in your heart to obey…" He opened his eyes with what looked like great effort. "…Then you will have to share Ventus' fate."
And to my utter surprise and horror, Master closed his eyes again, and a tear escaped down his scarred face. It was then that I recognized the other emotion which had been in his voice: grief, tinged with loss, something I'd never seen him wear before. It struck me dumb, straight to the core.
But it was that moment of shock that nearly killed us.
Because even before the tear had disappeared, Master opened his eyes again and charged with a yell, his Keyblade low, his face again filled with conviction and the tinges of anger.
I raised Earthshaker just in time, and felt Ven flinch behind me as our Master collided with me, our blades sparking.
They had barely made contact before he drew Master Keeper back to wind up and slash again, starting a flurry of attacks that I could barely keep up with. Sparks shot off from our blades' meeting points, but before any of them disappeared, we had separated and reengaged. I didn't dare move my feet for fear of leaving Ven unprotected, and so Master hammered on me, blow after blow after blow, each harder than the last.
I knew I couldn't hold him off for long like this, stationary, but when Ven gathered himself and shouted, "Enough, Terra!" I felt anger plant my feet more firmly and my resolve became even more iron-clad.
"He's right…" Ven said, and the words felt like daggers—only these daggers seemed to inspire more anger than pain, and I let myself snap at him.
I shifted my feet to better block Eraqus' next attack, and it seemed like I could see Ven's stunned look. "Terra…"
Neither he nor I had a chance to continue, for Master did the thing I feared most, and leapt back with a cry, white magic again forming on the edge of Master Keeper.
I couldn't even really block it, and it knocked me back, my feet skidding on the familiar tiled courtyard where I had fallen and gotten up and won sparring matches and lost them more times than I could count. Ven, behind me, having no Keyblade summoned to block, fell back, slightly dazed, at my side.
But he was still breathing when I ignored common sense to look at him and pull him to my side, his feet barely supporting his weight. He was stunned though, blinking, unaware of Master, who I saw was completely cloaked in bright white flames. Our Master was gathering power to attack again, I knew.
And I knew I couldn't beat him.
Not like this, not with Ven to protect—and not, I realized with a pang that was no longer horror, without letting my anger go.
I'd always been stronger when I let myself feel, even Master had used to admit it, but it had never been worth it to let myself drift closer to the darkness in exchange for power.
Now, it just might be.
Why Master was ready to—was going to—kill Ven wasn't something I could dwell on. Master certainly wasn't going to wait long enough to explain it to me, and even if he did, I still couldn't let anything happen to Ven. Nothing warranted that. Nothing.
I could never let anything happen to Ven. Ever. Not while I had breath in me.
The darkness is nothing to fear, Master Xehanort's voice echoed in my head. You still have strength inside you, more than you know. I had felt the power, when I fought Braig. I had only hurt the guardsman in order to save Master Xehanort—I couldn't have done it otherwise. It had gotten out of control for only a moment back then, but I knew better now; I was stronger, I could make sure it didn't go too far.
Darkness couldn't be my enemy if it allowed me to protect what matters.
Ven's weight seemed lighter with this realization, my Keyblade's hilt colder. Darkness can't be my enemy if it allows me to protect what matters. The thought repeated in my head, and sunk into my bones, my would kill Ven if I didn't do anything. I couldn't let that happen. I wouldn't.
The resolution inspired the anger to rush from roaring in the back of my mind to rage through my very veins. My heart was simultaneously on fire and frozen solid, my world narrowing to two facts:
Master is going to kill Ven.
I will never let that happen.
Eraqus was still glowing, humming with his light, magic sizzling in preparation to strike, but I realized he wasn't the only one; black tendrils were beginning to seep from my hands, my shoulders, rising up to cloak my body and hone Earthshaker's edge.
Eraqus froze when he saw it, and I felt his magic falter, if just a little. "Has the darkness taken you, Terra?" The surprise and grief were gone from his voice—only anger remained.
But my fury was greater, darker than his could be.
"You may be my Master," the words rose unbidden, "But I will not… let you hurt my friend!"
The darkness surged from me, raw, eager, dangerous. I held my Keyblade up in readiness to let it go.
Eraqus drew back his own blade to begin another strike, but I preempted him.
I turned Earthshaker to point behind me and cast a portal, my mind flying to the islands I'd just left. Somewhere safe. Ven would be safe there.
Ven was still swaying, held up only by my grip on him, more aware than before but still stunned, and I took advantage of that weakness to shove him back, towards the growing light of the portal.
The movement seemed to rouse him, and he stumbled to his feet just before the portal opened completely.
I could almost feel him reach out a restraining hand, and his voice held a note of panic when he called to me.
But I didn't look back, and felt the portal sizzle as it carried him away just before he could finish his protest. Just stay there, Ven. I'll come get you after.
And then it was just me and Eraqus.
There was no conversation, no further orders to stand down, no explanations for his earlier ruthlessness. That was fine; I didn't ask for any. On my part, the few whispers inside me that wanted to try to convince him to explain and not fight him were silenced by the fury seeping from my heart to my head. It consumed me, filled my limbs and burst from me in the black magic which I'd so recently have been horrified to see.
But at that point, I didn't care. All that I cared about was protecting Ven from Eraqus' wrath.
If you'd ever told me I'd have to, any day before that one, I would have laughed in your face. I'd never have entertained the thought.
But there I was, and in that moment, I didn't care if this seemed more like something out of a nightmare than reality.
I had sparred against him before, many times in that past couple years since my brute strength had become enough to make basic matches against Aqua or Ven one-sided. I'd still sparred them for their practice and for my magic techniques, but Master had been my main opponent more often than not in recent months.
So I was accustomed to his movements, his tricks and feints and speed.
What I wasn't acquainted with was the great, blinding force of his full magic power.
Eraqus wasn't holding back at all, and his magic was a constant, growing presence, its movements dictated only by his thoughts. I had almost no way of guessing how the white chains and flashes of his magic would attack at any given moment, and I knew that without the instinctive power of the darkness, he would have defeated me easily.
But the dark power growing within me had just as much strength as he did, if not more, and it felt so familiar and right that I barely had to think to control it.
In a way, it almost had a mind of its own; blocking Eraqus' beams and forming fiery black darts in retaliation, the magic drawn from me easily and without leaving magic drain behind.
I could meet Eraqus blow for blow with the darkness whispering strength to my strikes and speed to my feet and what seemed almost like clarity to my head. I knew that, straight out, no magic involved, I was stronger than my opponent, especially with the darkness filling me.
That didn't mean that it was an easy fight, though.
In hindsight I could recognize a feeling deep within me, something that flinched every time I truly thought about what I was doing, who I was fighting. I could ignore it at the moment, but afterwards it was glaringly obvious. I wasn't completely unaffected by Master's sudden betrayal of Ven—if that was even what had happened. I didn't know. How could I know, how could I understand, when I never got the full picture? If I never could examine all the facts? Beneath the anger, I was torn with confusion and foreboding. But the darkness obscured all that, stopped me from acknowledging it until it was too late.
I met Eraqus' Keyblade with my own, and used the momentum to spin with dark magic swirling around me to knock away the whips of light that he sent my way. I slammed back into him, his blade deflecting mine at the last second. He retaliated by flicking his blade in short swipes around my head, but I didn't flinch; he hadn't committed to any of them, I saw where his weight rested and how he moved. I wanted, in a disconnected way, to goad him into making a full attack, see if I could get him to respond with the anger I knew he felt. He had to feel it, had to be gripped with something besides righteous determination—there was no other way he would have been driven to attack Ven, otherwise. I told myself that if he was affected by it too, if he could channel fury into something pure and useful, then so could I. And I could still fulfill some of his standards.
But I said nothing, and felt some of the dark tendrils rising from me flash up in a guard against more of his white magic, allowing me to focus on his blade. Master Keeper was longer than my own Keyblade, thinner and faster and just as lean and dangerous as Eraqus himself could be. I had to accommodate its longer length in my own attacks, had to step quicker aside and stay closer to him to nullify its advantage, but I did so without thinking. It was only natural after all the years of practice analyzing opponents and all the sparring matches against him. I blocked strike after strike with short movements, hoping to tire Eraqus out and then finish him—Drive him back, I amended, in the moment not disturbed by how easily the violent thought had risen. I only wanted to stop him from trying to hurt Ven. Nothing more.
It was easy to forget that, though, as I moved and spun and struck and blocked and had more darkness swell within me subconsciously with every passing moment. It was easy to ignore my common sense and just focus on the fight, think no further than the next attack or the next defense.
I pushed the dark magic out in a wave as Eraqus came close to making contact with my side, and he slid back on the smooth courtyard, unhurt but still delayed in his offense. I took the break to fly back in, though it might have been wiser to stop and catch my breath in whatever pause I could get. Eraqus met me hastily, his guard not as complete as it could have been, and I began driving him back, each of my strikes forcing his feet another step back, each white blast of his magic met and overwhelmed by my dark one.
I wasn't really conscious of it all. Or I was, but in a very removed way. What I was mostly aware of was the pounding fury in my ears as I tried to process what had brought me there, as I tried to come to terms with how Ven had sounded scared, and it was the fault of the man in front of me. The anger filled me, made it easy to move and retaliate and block and slash with strength and without having to think about what I was doing. I could just let the anger fuel me to follow my instincts, the natural tendencies I'd developed after years of practice, Earthshaker singing through the air and flashing with sparks as it collided with Eraqus' blade.
Though I didn't look at his face, I knew it was a blank mask, a flat glare of concentration and impenetrability—against most people, it would have been intimidating to have his dark gray eyes unwaveringly pinned on them, and they would be unable to focus. But I was more than used to having him stare me down as we fought. (I didn't think of how his eyes used to crinkle at the edges when he found me and Ven falling into another scrape, how they used to soften when he would watch Aqua patch us up after sparring matches.)
With a yell, Eraqus sprung with surprising agility forward, surrounded by his magic, and though I managed to block, I was in turn forced back several steps. He followed up with swift stabs, but my limbs moved with more speed than I thought possible and I blocked them all. As soon as he settled his weight, I ducked and slammed my shoulder into his stomach, and Eraqus fell back. A white whip of his magic flew up to greet me when I moved forward, but I deflected it and prevented him from regaining his equilibrium. The next strike I swung impacted, and I felt Earthshaker ram into his side, not biting into his magic-strengthened armor but driving the air from him in an explosive rush. Before I could press my advantage, a flash of white stunned and blinded me for a moment, long enough for him to stand once again and come after me, much faster than the gray in his hair hinted. I blocked, and retaliated, feeling a pillar of strangely white fire blast into existence behind me. I dove to the side as it flickered closer, hovering just above the ground, chasing me away from Eraqus so he could calm his breathing slightly. I scowled and summoned a dart of dark purple magic to dispel it, and sped back towards my opponent.
He was unprepared for me, and my attack was as natural as breathing—Take every advantage your enemy gives you, Terra—and Eraqus flinched under my strikes. I didn't really process how Eraqus was faltering and stumbling as I slammed over and over into him, sped on by darkness and the thought of Ven's unbelieving retreat from our Master minutes before. I advanced with steady steps, driving Eraqus back towards the castle, our magic clashing in its own battle, my dark tendrils moving independently of my thought and swirling with ruthless, violent slashes against Eraqus' shields.
He stumbled to a stop at the base of the stairs leading to the pristine castle where I'd lived, and reality loomed in front of me, reminding me of watching Ven fly down those steps with a grin on his face, of seeing Aqua wave from the open doors to welcome Ven and I in, and of hearing Master call us down to start another drill. The buzzing rage faltered, and sadness sunk into my heart. The memories faded and I was left blinking, the magic around me fading as I forgot to feed it.
And it was then, when the dark anger finally receded from my brain and let me think, let me process what was in front of me, that I froze, horror and denial and fear screeching in my ears and replacing the fire of fury with the cold dread of reality. The lack of the darkness in my muscles left them feeling empty and weak, or maybe it was the dismay that did that.
Master Eraqus stood across from me, a wicked parody of our earlier positions, only this time it was him who looked overwhelmed, who had been beaten back by my attacks. His posture was stooped, in a way I had never seen before, his face paling and panting, one hand clutching his chest as he wheezed—pain was written across his features, in his wavering stance. I could see wounds, bruises already rising, leftover traces of my dark magic ghosting across the slowly lowering edge of Master Keeper, like Master lacked the energy to banish it with his own light. Like I'd hurt him too badly for him to possess the strength to fight back against its influence.
My Master stood across from me, stumbled and beaten by my own Keyblade, wounded and wavering because of my attacks, brought low by my rage.
And the horror from this fact seemed to pull my breath out of my lungs faster than I could comprehend, taking my heart with it to leave a gaping dark abyss inside my chest which wept with guilt and panic and grief.
"Master… What—what have I done? I-I…" There wasn't an excuse, an explanation that could fill that gap, nothing could offer placation for this, for my lapse. I'd let darkness take me, again, I'd been fooled into thinking I could control it, I had embraced the power in my heart that Master had always been trying to teach me to repress, and it had done this—No, I had done this, I had hurt Master. "…I just… wanted to keep V-Ven safe," I'm sorry, please forgive me, Master, I didn't want this, you were right all along, I'm not worthy of the Mark, not worthy to be your apprentice, I did this, please forgive me, Master.
"No," Master gasped out, clutching his chest, his eyes wearily, blearily, making their way to my face. "You were right.
"I failed you, Terra." He spoke my name with incredible stability, astounding composure—I even thought that he might have sounded apologetic, but that was impossible, I was the one at fault here, I had hurt him.
The words were almost more painful than the space where my heart was supposed to be. I tried to open my mouth in denial, tried to gather words to express my guilt, my fault, but he inhaled a hitching breath, and spoke first.
"Perhaps I've no one to blame but myself for the darkness inside you," He spoke softly, in words more slurred by pain and exhaustion than I'd ever heard from him, his eyes filled with a pain that didn't seem totally physical. He dropped his gaze, Master Keeper sinking lower towards the ground with it. "And now I've done worse—"
I realized, distantly, that I had released Earthshaker, that I was stumbling forward to reach him, to help him, to stop him from taking any of this blame on himself when I was the only one at fault, Master's every word like a knife.
"—Raised my Keyblade against you and Ventus."
I was almost within arm's reach of him now, but as Master shuddered, barely able to keep himself upright, I was the one who stumbled to my knees, now with grief seizing my head and dragging my gaze down, my tongue unable to form the denial that thrummed inside me. I just shook my head, trying to grasp at the feeling, trying to push it into a thought so I could force it to come out as a statement to stop Master from sounding so haggard and guilty and hurt, to make his wounds disappear and make them come to me instead, the one who really deserved them.
I failed at that, too, and Master kept going, his voice chopped with pain and guilt. "It is my heart that is darkness."
My every cell was jolted into an electric motion with those words, and I leapt up, eyes flying to see his, denial springing to my lips as the hand that clutched his chest spasmed with the admission, only to have something else stop me before I could get there.
As if summoned by the word, there was a flash of darkness from behind him, a flare of that familiar purple-black fire splayed across his back, and Master's hand suddenly went lax, his posture straightening for the slightest second in shock, eyes flying open in an instant of agony.
Then, in a moment that felt somehow endless, Master Keeper slipped from his fingers and tumbled to the stone of the courtyard, landing with uneven clangs that echoed through me louder than any bell toll; the four final tones of our battle, the last clear sounds that reached my ears.
And Master fell just after it to his knees with his eyes closing and his limbs going limp in the worst, unstoppable way. For a wild millisecond, I thought his magic energy had been replenished, for there was bright light coming from him again—only these lights were inside him, the brightest in his chest, and they didn't grow into attacks but instead seemed to leech Master's existence away.
In a movement that was as fast as my body could respond but still too slow, I reached for him, tumbling to my knees in front of my Master to try and catch him, try and stop him from fading, from being lost.
But my extended arms met only air, and the lights that had been Master Eraqus' magic shattered against me, weightless and intangible yet as painful as any arrow.
The lights that had been Master's scattered into the air, leaving me there in the courtyard on my knees with my hands out to reconcile nothing but empty air and the dead, dull Master Keeper on the ground where my Master had dropped it.
I kept staring for a moment, waiting for my eyes to stop showing me false images of an empty space where Master had been, waiting for something to meet my outstretched hands.
But nothing did, and I shrunk back, no amount of denial enough to erase what my every sense told me was true.
Master was gone.
And suddenly my heart existed inside of me again, and it was throbbing with anguish, every beat that passed without Master in front of me sinking grief into my veins, my organs, my limbs, and my breath. "No," I whispered, but the word did not fill the air where Master Eraqus had been—if anything, it made things worse, because after it left my throat something else rose to replace it, a burning, clawing lump growing bigger by the second. For a reason I didn't want to think about, the lump spread heat up past my throat to pound behind my eyes.
My lack of oxygen sucked the strength from me, and I fell onto my hands and knees, barely able to catch myself from meeting the ground completely. My sorrow stopped choking me and instead forced tears from my eyes, and the lump turned into an anguished plea of, "Master Eraqus!"
He did not respond. No one did. It was only me and the heart-rending pain that I had caused in the first place.
Or that was what I thought, until a footstep sounded against the courtyard ahead of me, then another, until they stopped in front of me.
"What a sight."
I recognized the voice. Or maybe that's not quite true—I identified the speaker, but in that moment with a burning, throbbing regret mixed with grief choking me, it was like a filter had been removed; and Xehanort's voice, still raspy and hard-edged, was tinged not with advice and knowledge but with frigid disappointment and reprimand. And he sounded almost nothing like the man I thought I knew.
"Why do you trouble yourself with remorse, Master Terra?" I could finally hear the maliciousness hidden under his rough tone, and the honorific before my name did not give me a jolt of encouragement or pride, but rather a feeling like my insides were shrinking rapidly.
"The man was bent on doing harm to your friend, his own pupil!" Were it not for the pounding in my ears that somehow made his betrayal that much clearer, I might have believed his words. "Ventus would have been killed were it not for your intervention."
And I was reminded quite suddenly that just before Master had collapsed, darkness had struck him one last time—but I knew it hadn't been my own. The final blow had not been mine.
It had been Xehanort's.
I didn't quite understand how, but suddenly the grief clawing at my heart was overshadowed by a great surge of hatred, of pain. I had trusted him. All that time. I had trusted him with everything. I had followed him, yearned for his advice and direction, neglected my own duties and Master in favor of his twisted words. Ever since I'd left, I'd been doing so for him, driven by his views, for his goals, following his path and losing sight of myself and the ideals Master had tried so hard to instill in me and my own convictions and self-restraint. That knowledge sent a shock of electricity through me, and my head snapped up to meet him, his golden eyes unflinching and untroubled and piercing, as always. Killing Master had meant nothing to him.
"Why?" I was ashamed that my voice cracked with the word, but now betrayal and grief were again seizing my muscles with their consuming grip. Why would you lead me on all this time, why would you hide this? Why did you betray Master, who you trained with as an apprentice? Why did you betray your duty as a Keybearer?
Why did you kill my Master?
Xehanort did not respond. His gaze remained inscrutable, and after a moment, he just turned away to stride towards the pristine, painfully empty castle of my home. "You know, at times I find your progress quite striking." There was disappointment there, in his tone, in the way his eyes had flashed at me before he'd turned away. "But you still fall short."
His words hurt, and I was angry that I couldn't ignore my lingering, instilled desire to please him. His disappointment shouldn't have hurt me. It was good that I failed his standard, because whatever standard that was, if it was one that condoned the murder of Master, it wasn't something I wanted to be held to.
But Xehanort seemed aware of my rising anger, inspired by the tense, conflicted voices at war in my head—Xehanort guided you, encouraged you, he killed Master, he helped you, he killed Master. "I know you feel it. Let all that anger out, my boy. Just give your heart over to darkness!"
A part of me, one that thrummed with righteous hatred and whispered that my magic hadn't cast the final hit against Master, that Xehanort embraced the darkness and was tainted, wanted me to attack him and get revenge, stop whatever this plot was that he had put in motion, stop him from achieving whatever end he had in mind. The other part of me clung stupidly to false encouragements and advice and support that now felt hollow no matter how hard I tried to recapture their original veracity. So, unable to dismiss my memories but also unable to ignore my inner burning betrayal, I forced myself to rise and summoned Earthshaker again, but waited to attack. "What do you mean?" My voice was stable, regardless of the energy flowing through me.
"You're still so blind…" Xehanort murmured, almost to himself, and his voice had lowered to disappointment, but when he turned to me his eyes remained focused. "Then I must make you see."
Xehanort spread his hands to encompass the world around us, eyes upraised, then flicked his hands down in a clear dismissal of the land. "Come to the place where all Keyblade wielders leave their mark on fate—" for one second I thought he was extending a hand in invitation to me, a conciliatory gesture, but then, in an expanding glow of purple-black magic, Xehanort's thick, twisted Keyblade appeared in his fist, and he held it in front of him as a wordless challenge. "—The Keyblade Graveyard!"
The part of me that still wanted to believe him began to fade as I looked into his golden, haunting eyes. There was only cold, cruel ambition in them, not encouragement or support. How had I ever trusted him?
"There," he continued, and a perverse pleasure entered his tone, "You will watch your dear Ventus and Aqua meet their ends, and the last light within you will finally die!"
I had not even processed the horror of his last statement before a dangerous burst of magic sizzled across his gray Keyblade, and I was too busy trying to understand his words to stop him as Xehanort swung his blade straight up and unleashed a giant burst of dark magic of a magnitude I'd never seen or felt before up into the sky where it swirled into black hole that tainted the blue skies into something leeched of color and dying. I found my breath and made myself inhale as the magic concentrated into one dot, then exploded into a giant black mass that blocked out the entire sky with the force of a typhoon. The wind began swirling; the constantly temperate air was filled with the black reek of the sludge-like magic. I unconsciously tried to step back, get a view on the extent of the destructive magic, but it kept expanding, a black field crackling with pure darkness, desperate in its need to consume everything with a roar and vengeance. The force of it shook my bones, thickened the air, and sent shock waves through the rock beneath my feet and the unshakable foundation of the white and gold castle where Aqua and Ven and Master and I had resided for so long. It raged, a void growing larger by the second, shaking with its power and vibrating with darkness as it began to destroy my only home.
"You won't need this as a home anymore, boy!" Xehanort had lowered his Keyblade, confident in the strength of his magic, unruffled by the gale of the destruction, eyes penetrating me to the core and issuing a threat—a threat that I couldn't match with my home trembling and breaking apart around me. I still tried, my anger disrupted by the confusion and fear that I couldn't suppress, and scrambled for traction to chase after the bent-backed Master. "No! Xehanort!"
But he just turned and calmly walked away, a seeping, coiling black portal unfolding itself from space to embrace the triumphant, plotting Keybearer. The portal and he disappeared before I could reach it, the dark portal vanishing in a curl of black that only rose to join the destructive force raging overhead, less controlled than a rabid animal.
I forced myself to stop, knowing he was gone, hit over and over again with my failure. Master, I'm sorry, I couldn't stop him, Master, I let him do this, I trusted him.
The Land of Departure—my home, the place where I'd been training for years, the place where I'd met Aqua and Ven and learned all I knew about the Keyblade and magic and the other worlds and my place in them—was breaking.
The smooth, sturdy white marble courtyard around me was cracking, jagged fractures as the earth below it was ripped up into the whirling storm above me. The white arches and walls that circled me were torn by the gale winds, metal supports and links whipping into the air from their places to join the whirlwind swirling higher. The power of the storm was even enough to affect the castle itself, and I could only watch as the towers, connected to the main court only by magic and the white walkways between them, began to shake and then break away from each other. In the light, their marble exteriors looked like old, spotted slate, something dirty and outdated and not the perfect, clean walls I knew they were. One by one, the towers splintered apart from the castle, their masses rising as if by some unseen puppeteer's slow command, leaving only the largest building where the Great Hall and the atrium resided and the closest tower. But the dorms, the storage rooms where Ven would drag Aqua and I to explore for hours, the kitchens, the armory—they were all gone, vanished into the black mass above. Below me, the courtyard continued to crack, the earth trembling as if it felt fear too, and behind me, I knew that the pathways and staircases leading off into the hills and ponds and training grounds would be breaking as well, more and more of my home crumbling and shaking and being overturned.
I kneeled in the middle of it all, strength having deserted me, and the destruction I was faced with wherever I looked seemed to mirror the splinters and cracks that seemed to be splitting my heart into as many pieces as the land around me. I was being destroyed along with my home; guilt and darkness and pain and weakness tearing me apart just as Xehanort's magic ate away at the Land of Departure. I found myself unable to do anything but stare around in mute horror at the destruction, every piece of it a brutal accusation that this was my fault.
I stayed there and watched my world break for what felt like hours, horror and shame freezing me to the spot. I might have stayed there forever had I not thought of training with Ven and Aqua on the pieces of ground that were currently being torn up into the sky, thinking of our matches and our jokes and our conversations, and suddenly, purpose shot through me faster than lightning.
"There, you will watch your dear Ventus and Aqua meet their ends."
The words seemed to force the broken pieces inside my chest back together, inspired my blood to start circulating again and my lungs to inhale.
Xehanort intended to kill Ven and Aqua, just as he had Master Eraqus.
It was a whisper, at first, slipping out of my mouth before I thought of it, a resolution that sunk teeth into my limbs with tension and strength again. "No!" When I repeated it, it was a yell.
Xehanort would not get them too. I would die before I let that happen.
It seemed like something flickered to life inside me then, some warm, light-filled feeling, a small flame of determination that felt familiar and driving. I took a breath of the heavy air, and it filled me with strength. The despair and guilt weighing on my shoulders didn't decrease, but somehow they were easier to bear, and I straightened up with resolution blazing within me.
Ven… Aqua... The only two people left in all the worlds who I trusted completely, who I had to protect. My two best friends, who kept me moving when I felt like I couldn't, who supported me in spite of my weakness and darkness. I had been separated from them since we left the Land of Departure, and so much had changed—but that didn't matter now. All that mattered now was stopping Xehanort from hurting them.
"I won't let him hurt you."
A/N: Wow, that was long. That took forever. Both to write and read. Gah. Sorry!
But thank you for reading! This has been one wild, challenging journey to write this fic, and the end is finally drawing near! It's intimidating. I sure hope I do justice to the wonderful end of BBS.
Thank you, miano53 and TerraxAqua for reviewing!
I have not even started the next chapter yet, but I will have it up in the next month or so. It's going to be a lot, but I will get it together. The final installment may be in two or maybe even three parts, but I'll know next time I post-if anything changes in my estimate, I'll update my profile.
Thank you again for choosing to read my fic! :)