The Interference: Trials of Remembrance
Axel wasn't getting along with Leon, though not for lack of trying on Axel's part. He'd tried everything he could to get on the Radiant Garden Restoration Committee's good side:
He'd started calling himself Lea, his original name.
He'd gotten out of that imposing black trenchcoat and put on more stylish (and comfortable!) traveler's gear.
He'd answered every single question they had for him about Organization XIII and their original plans for this world, or at least as many questions as he had answers.
He'd done everything that they asked him to do, even the demeaning grunt work.
And he'd put every ounce of his natural charm to work on proving he was really a nice, okay guy.
It seemed to be finally paying off, kinda. The open-minded ninja Yuffie was the first one to start treating him with a little more respect. Aerith still seemed to be wary of him, but her natural kindness compelled her to give Lea the benefit of the doubt. Merlin the wizard seemed to be able to tell between an honest turncoat and a liar, so Lea was fine by him. And Cid just didn't give a damn either way, so long as Lea kept his fire abilities far away from Cid's stuff.
But Leon... Lea didn't even know what to do about him. Leon couldn't stand to be in the same room with him at times, and other times the man was constantly questioning what Lea did at every minute of every day. For Leon, it seemed, the former Organization member was still on trial.
Part of Lea couldn't blame the guy – if Xemnas had showed up out of nowhere and said, "I've reformed and I'm ready to help in any way I can," Lea would also be pretty freaking suspicious, even if Mickey was there to confirm it like he had with Lea. But that didn't make Lea's job any easier.
Lea made an honest effort, but his personality just seemed to rub Leon the wrong way. He'd once joked that maybe the source of the tension was the fact that their names were so similar. "Lea" sounded like the first syllable of "Leon." He'd had enough trouble when there was "Axel" and "Alex," and now this!
Leon didn't so much as smirk at that. "Tough crowd" didn't begin to describe it.
So when Lea trudged his way into Merlin's house on the fifth day, he was understandably displeased to see Leon there, frowning at him. Today's frown was more severe than usual.
Lea knew better than to try being funny. "Alright, what work needs doing today?" he asked plainly. It was probably going to be more grunt work.
From the way Leon hesitated, sighed, and frowned even more at Lea, that apparently wasn't the case. "We've... got something... big for you today," Leon muttered.
Cid spun around in his seat at the computer terminal and gave Lea a flat look. "I'll give ya the details since Leon's here gonna take too long stutterin'."
Leon shrugged nonchalantly, which was a far better reaction than his usual response to Lea's friendly jabs. This was just unfair!
"There's a lot about the ol' Hollow Bastion castle that we've got left to restore, or at least dig out from under the rubble," Cid explained. "Up until last night, we thought we knew 'bout all the places we had left to find."
"Yeah," Lea replied, "I told you about some of them."
Leon stepped forward. "There's a hole in the wall near the rampart. Leading to an area we didn't know about... and you didn't mention."
Lea could only raise his hands in a gesture of innocence. "Hey, the Organization didn't tell me everything."
"Whatever," Cid muttered. "Yuffie went in and did a little scouting, and it seems it gets deep into the mountain. That's where all the engine stuff is beneath the castle. But she also found some other stuff, and that's where you come in." Cid reached down and picked up a fairly large metal box-like thing, with a pair of shoulder straps on one side.
"I found some electrical stuff and white doors!" Yuffie announced from behind Lea, startling him. He hadn't noticed the ninja enter Merlin's house. "Cid took a look and said they were parts of a computer mainframe, one that Tron isn't even connected to. And the doors looked suspiciously like some of the Organization's stuff."
Lea looked back at her, then at Leon. "Well this is news to me!" he said defensively. "I knew the Organization operated here, but no idea anyone actually set up shop!"
"We believe ya," Cid said, hauling the box over to Lea. When all he got was an awkward silence in response, Cid added, "Well, I do anyway. Anyway, take this with ya."
The ex-Organization member took the bulky device and, after looking at it for a bit, strapped it to his back. "Let me guess. I'm going in there to finish exploring."
"Yep," Cid confirmed. "And if you find any computer terminals down there, find it and plug this in. It's a wireless reciever that Tron can pick up."
Lea tried not to grimace. This WAS more or less grunt work. Bigger than anything else he'd done since getting here, but still kinda grunt work. He was just finishing the job because no one else really wanted to.
Or... maybe they were letting him do this as a gesture, even though they could easily do it themselves. Leon's cynicism was really starting to get to him.
Oh well. Now was not the time to be annoyed.
Glancing over his shoulder at the bulky metal box on his back, Lea said, "I'm gonna assume the whole 'plugging in' process is foolproof, or else you wouldn't be letting me do this."
Cid grinned and went back to his computer, saying, "AND I reinforced it. It's impact-proof AND fireproof! Though I wouldn't be surprised if you STILL managed to find a way to break it."
Lea tightened the straps a bit and looked at the gang. "Okay. Anything else?"
"That's it," Leon said flatly. "Get it done."
Lea gave Leon a mock salute in return. "Yessir." He quickly left the house, glad to be out of Leon's company.
Alright, now what was all this about a hole in the wall?
There WAS a big hole. Not in the castle walls – in a part of the stone cliff the castle was built on. This particular hole, tall enough for a person and a half, was just a few feet away from where the cliff stopped and the ramparts began.
Lea whistled. "That's a big hole."
He examined the actual damage itself. If the rubble just inside was any indication, this entrance had been created from the outside. Something or someone had come to this very spot, where Lea was standing, and smashed the wall inward.
This was more than a little suspicious. But what choice did he have? The Restoration Committee was trusting him with this task, and if he wanted any chance of getting on their good side...
Lea walked forward. Some pipes and a severely twisted and broken ladder was just inside, leading down into a deep black hole. There was probably a whole network of caverns down there.
It was a good thing there wasn't any such thing as fall damage in these worlds.
Lea just jumped down. The cavernous shaft led him down to quite a depth before depositing him on a rocky floor, lit by veins of blue and purple ore in the walls. Behind him and in some places in the ceiling were bits of the brown pipes that the castle's engines seemed to use. There was no way back from here, but there was a dark path forward leading deeper into the caves.
The path led into a small pool of water fed by a tiny stream, below a steep outcropping of rock. Lea climbed up and followed the way to the right, past a pair of pillars that formed an entranceway. Just past the pillars was a grander room of the cave, filled with rocky platforms formed high above the ground floor below.
From where Lea was standing, he could see the opposite cliff he was supposed to reach via the platforms. Right up against the wall was a door colored an off-white sort of shade... almost exactly like the doors in Castle Oblivion.
"Great," Lea muttered to himself sarcastically. "The Organization had even more secrets. What a surprise."
Lea wasn't exactly a master of the High Jump, but he managed to find a path by following the platforms along the outside wall, which put him in the right position to jump up and climb up to the cliff with the door.
Normally this would be pretty tough, making his way through a dark cave all by himself... But because Alexander had sealed the Dark Corridor with his Lockshield, almost no Heartless or Nobodies could spawn in this world anymore. Not 100% of them – closing the major Dark Corridor just prevented them from both entering and leaving the world – but once they had dealt with the stragglers that were trapped on this world, they were effectively Heartless-free.
It was almost kind of... boring. Other than the fact that he was exploring some old mysterious Organization XIII secret, there wasn't much of anything... exciting about this job.
With a sigh, Lea put his hands on the grand double doors and pushed them open. And then he froze in place, staring at what was just beyond the door.
"Sup," said the eye-patched man on the other side.
Lea jumped back and summoned his chakrams in bursts of fire. Regaining his heart hadn't changed his powers much; if anything, he'd gotten stronger. He couldn't have taken on Xigbar when he was a Nobody, but now? Maybe.
Xigbar (or was it Braig now?) immediately put his hands up. "Hey, hey dude. I'm not here to fight."
"You always bring trouble," Lea spat. "What's your scheme now?"
Braig gave a little flourish and bowed, gesturing to the caves behind him. "To give you the grand tour." He rose back up and looked directly into Lea's eyes. "Welcome to the Cavern of Remembrance."
Lea came to a realization. "You're the one who made that hole?"
Braig scoffed. "What, I can't take on a hollow rock wall? Come on, we're ex-Organization."
Lea just shook his head and took another step back. This was waaaay too weird. "There are... so many things wrong with this situation."
There were a few very awkward moments of silence between the two, before Braig spoke up. "I know, I know. You have a million questions. You don't trust me. But..." The former number II actually sighed. "I just want to talk. Follow me to the end of this thing, and I'll answer all of your questions along the way. Deal?"
Now, Lea was confused. This was not like Xigbar... or rather, Braig to act at all. No smirk, no sneer... He looked kind of vulnerable.
Eventually, Lea decided that, if there was a trap coming down the line, he would be strong enough to get out of whatever Braig set up. He dismissed his fiery chakrams and said, "Fine. I've got a job to do, anyway."
"Excellent!" Braig declared, grinning again. "Let's get going, then."
Beyond the door was a mineshaft with a large drop in front of them and several areas above them that they couldn't reach yet. There was a door on the other side of the chasm in front of them, but there were no visible platforms they could use other than the brass pipes spanning the whole thing.
As Lea studied the area, looking for a way across, he glanced at Braig and said, "Okay, question number one."
"Shoot," Braig replied.
Lea looked back across the chasm. "Why are you still alive? I thought we'd killed you."
Sora gave Xigbar one final blow with his Keyblade, knocking him back to the ground. The space-warped arena returned to its normal configuration.
Xigbar stood up shakily and pointed one of his guns at the group of Sora, Donald, Goofy, and Axel. But he could only keep it up for a few seconds before he collapsed to his knees, and the gun fell out of his hand.
"Why did you call me Roxas?" Sora demanded, still in his fighting stance.
Xigbar chuckled darkly. "Wouldn't you like to know..." he mocked the Keyblade weilder.
Wisps of darkness and nothingness appeared around the Nobody's body, his body slowly fading away. Sora dropped his stance and ran towards Xigbar. "Hey, wait!"
By the time Sora reached him, the Nobody was gone.
Axel lowered his chakrams. "Well, that's that."
Braig cackled at that. "Are you serious? You faked your own death back in Castle Oblivion, but you couldn't tell when I did it in front of you?"
"We passed by the Proof of Existence," Lea pointed out. "Your headstone showed you were dead. I suspected, sure, but that convinced me."
"Okay," Braig admitted, "so maybe I covered a few more details than you did."
Lea frowned and focused on how to cross the chasm ahead. He still couldn't figure it out – there were no platforms or ledges that would let them get across, other than the thin pipes that hung in the middle of the chasm, and those weren't exactly platform material.
Smirking, Braig looked at Lea and said, "Let me help you with that."
The former Organization member snapped his fingers, and the world went black for a second. When Lea could see again, the room had changed structure. Now, parts of the rock wall were jutting out, creating a perfect staircase up to the other side.
Lea rolled his eyes and jumped down to where the staircase started. "So that makes you the last Nobody in the Organization, then," he remarked.
"Nope!" Braig declared. "I'm back to my normal self, like you."
As sudden as that revelation was, Lea figured as much. He hadn't suspected in any empirical way, but something about Braig so far had seemed more genuine than Xigbar was. Not that Braig was a very genuine sort of guy to begin with, but it was all relative.
The two of them climbed the stairs to the top, and Braig space-warped the area again to return it back to normal. Ahead of them was a door leading further into the cavern.
Lea looked back at Braig. "You certainly didn't need my help for this."
Braig shook his head. "The cavern's not the point of this. I just wanted to get you down here, away from your Restoration buddies."
"For an ambush?" Lea asked accusingly.
"To talk," Braig insisted. "We're, like, the last people left in the Organization. Face it, Lea – we're the closest thing we have to 'friends from the good old days.'"
Lea chuckled. "Yeah, good times. Hey, remember that time I went rogue and everyone was out to kill me? You were Xemnas's right-hand man - what was his reaction to all that? I always wondered."
Braig's mood suddenly went sour. "Dude, don't get me started on the boss-man. Just don't."
This reaction surprised Lea, but he decided to let the matter drop for now. "Okay, then here's a question: How did you become a full human being again?"
Braig nodded. "Alright, that's good. Well, first, you gotta realize that the other five Heartless – the ones for me and the rest of the apprentices – well, they're still out there. Or they were, anyway."
Lea froze. "Seriously?"
"Hey, you'll probably never see 'em," Braig assured him. "Alexander's destroyed two of 'em – going on three, probably – and I'm a whole person again. Ienzo's in a bit of an awkward place, but hey, that's how the cookie crumbles."
"So, getting back to why you're human again..."
"Right, right. So, right now Alex is up against Even's Heartless, right?" The former Nobody paused for a second. "Uh, lemme back up. The Heartless got all kinda... obsessed with Alex, right? His dark powers drew all of us toward him, his family, the worlds he visited..."
Lea thought back to the strange kid that had saved his life. The kid from another world, the one who knew everything that was going to happen leading up to Xemnas's downfall, had prevented him from performing a fatal limit break in the final act of Sora's journey. Last he'd heard, Alex had gone back to his own world – the Real World, so to speak – but Braig seemed to be saying otherwise. "Alex has been really busy, huh?"
"You could say that," Braig admitted. "It's kind of our fault – he started going to new game worlds specifically to draw us out..."
Lea rolled his eyes. "Human. Why are you human?"
Braig laughed. "Man, I'm just getting off track everywhere!"
The path they were currently on ended at a strange point. They were in front of a grand machine built into the rock wall. Three blocks of the machine faced the duo at different angles, each machine possessing a brass valve at the front.
"I did want your help for this part," Braig said. "You gotta activate all three of these valves at the same time, or it won't work."
Lea summoned his chakrams and tossed one at the valve on the right. The valve budged a bit, and some steam escaped from the machine as it began to move. Braig brought out his Arrowguns and fired at the remaining two valves, getting them to move as well. After a little while of this treatment, there was a great shuddering throughout the cave, and the machines continued to operate on their own without Lea and Braig's manual assistance.
"What did that do?" Lea asked.
"That got all the machines in this cavern moving," Braig explained. "And that means some new paths have opened."
Lea slumped. "So we're backtracking, then."
"Yep. So, to answer your question," Braig said, dismissing his Arrowguns away, "let's just say my Heartless self wised up."
"Braig, Ienzo," Even's Heartless stated, looking at his two remaining comrades through the portal connecting Haven with the dark realm. "I assume that this world is now connected to the others now, since you're able to communicate."
Ienzo's Heartless nodded. Even nodded back and continued, "I've been in this world for a little less than a year now, but it seems that Alexander had already spent more time than that before I had arrived. I suppose I was lucky to have arrived before this moment at all."
Braig's Heartless looked at Even from under his cloak's hood and said, "So, dude, what's the deal with Alex in this world?"
Even smirked. "He's a captive of the current despot... as well as his own mind, and he's had Dark Eco pumped into him every day for about a year now." He slowly lost his smirk. "With very few results."
Ienzo tilted his head to the side slightly. "...Dark Eco?" he said in a soft, calm voice.
Even reached toward the desk in his new office and picked up a small vial filled with a violet, glowing plasma. "Dark life force, it seems. It is quite peculiar, even with all of the tests I've done with it. Normally it kills or severely damages whatever it touches, but Alexander and another prisoner have been almost unaffected by it." He tossed the vial through the portal, and Ienzo caught it.
Ienzo studied the vial for a moment, but then looked back up at Even. "You say he's been injected with this darkness manifest for nearly a year now?"
Even scowled. "If the records are correct, it'll be exactly a year as of tomorrow. It'll be the second year for the other prisoner."
Ienzo nodded. He was silent for a moment after that, but he finally said, "You need to dispose of him."
"What?" Even responded, slightly taken aback.
"If the last two encounters have been any indication," Ienzo replied calmly, "then we can see that Alexander has an annoying habit of making a strong comeback from whatever almost defeats him. For Dilan, it was the darkness that nearly took control of him. In Elaeus's scenario, Alexander was literally killed but brought back to life through a time paradox. If that remains the trend..."
Even scowled. "...But his potential..."
"Then rip out his heart and be done with it, dude," Braig said with a shrug. "But hey, it's your show. We ain't gonna come in there and take over. We gotta worry about what we're gonna do when our turn comes."
"Your turn isn't going to come," Even snapped. "I'm going to master Alexander's power and then destroy him once he's reached the end of his usefulness. I'm not going to wait until the final clash like those other fools."
There was silence from the other two apprentices for a couple of moments, but Ienzo slowly replied, "Those other fools were our fellow students at one point." He held up the sample of Dark Eco. "We'll research this a bit more with our resources. Best of luck to you, Even."
The portal's darkness broke apart into many wispy tendrils and dissipated into the air.
Back within the darkness, the Heartless that was once Braig slumped a little. "We're never going to see him again, are we?"
Ienzo turned to Even with a flat expression. "You think Alexander will revive himself and defeat Even?"
"H-Hey, you're the one who brought up all those points!" Even sputtered.
"I was simply offering advice," Ienzo pointed out. "What were you thinking?"
Braig threw up his hands and started walking away. "That this wasn't exactly our best plan ever."
"I was pretty lucky that my Nobody had also wised up and faked his defeat. That way, my Heartless could meet up with my Nobody, and I could become a whole person again!" The former apprentice stopped, turned towards Lea, and performed a small bow. "And that's the story of why I'm back to normal."
Lea smirked. "So, long story short, Alex was kicking ass and taking names, so you turned tail and ran before it was your turn."
Almost instantaneously, Braig's grin turned into a mask of rage. The former Freeshooter grabbed Lea by the collar and shouted, "It wasn't that easy! Do you have any idea how long I've been doing this? How many deals and promises I've made? This isn't something you can just run away from, Lea!"
Lea pulled away from Braig and assumed a semi-defensive stance. "Yeesh, Braig," he muttered. "The Organization's over. We're alive. Let's move on already."
Braig... just laughed. It was a slow, pained kind of laugh. "As if." He sighed and motioned for Lea to follow. "C'mon. Let's get to the end of this."
Lea tried to get Braig to expand upon what he'd just implied, but Braig was suddenly less talkative for a good portion of the journey through the cavern. Which was just as well, because the journey was more challenging than it had been up to this point.
The ultimate goal, it seemed, was to climb to the top of the mineshaft in the center of the cavern. But each level was blocked off by machinery, so they needed to go into the mining areas surrounding the main mineshaft in order to ascend the long way around.
The whole area was a platforming nightmare, but Braig's space-warping abilities proved to be incredibly handy in places where Lea simply couldn't climb around obstacles. Many pistons, drills, and conveyors blocked their path, but at least there weren't any Heartless to attack them. The journey wasn't necessarily very difficult or taxing, but it was long and time-consuming.
Along the way, Braig asked Lea a few questions about what happened at The World That Never Was. Since Braig had been mostly forthcoming with his answers, Lea answered honestly in kind: That he was fated by the game to sacrifice himself, but Alexander's interference resulted in Lea rediscovering his own heart in the destruction of the fake Kingdom Hearts.
Braig chuckled. "Ha! That's funny. He didn't need to do that."
"What do you mean?" Lea asked irritably, a little miffed that Braig was laughing about his survival.
"When a Nobody is defeated and the Heartless heart is already out there, they automatically go back together," Braig said. "If you'd died where you were supposed to, you would've just revived a few days later."
Lea was silent for a little while as he took this information in. Then his eyes went wide. "Wait a minute..."
"Of course," Braig went on, "if it's the other way around – the Nobody, then the Heartless – then it gets a little tricky. The body has no heart to find yet, so it disappears into the Realm of Nothingness. Which means that Dilan, Aeleus, Even, and Ienzo are kinda stuck in a bad way..."
Lea turned to face Braig. "But Xemnas... I mean, Xehanort. His Heartless was destroyed, and now his Nobody..."
Braig grinned as Lea figured it out, but the grin soon disappeared. "Yeah, that's kind of a problem."
Lea held a hand to his head. "Great. Just great."
They came to another set of white doors. Braig went forward to open them, while Lea stood back and lamented this new revelation. Braig put his hands on the double doors and said, "Hey, at least you know now instead of finding out later, right? Aren't you glad I got you down here?"
Lea didn't say anything in response.
The doors opened, and the area before them was unlike anything else in the cavern. White marble walls and columns were in front of them, not unlike the halls of Castle Oblivion. The wall on their right was completely missing except for the pillars, showing a rising waterfall behind them.
"Excellent! We're getting close!" Braig declared.
Lea stepped into the hallway with Braig. "Woah. So the Organization really did have a base here. And it's hidden in the rising falls, so no one can really find it..."
"It was really more Xemnas's personal thing," Braig remarked. "It's not much of a base – there's only one room that really matters."
Lea and Braig continued to walk forward through the hall... until they were stopped by a bright barrier appearing before them and behind them. Several Dusks warped into existence nearby.
"...Buuut important enough to get its own guards," Braig added.
There were a few tense moments as the Dusks regarded the two ex-Organization members. Lea leaned over to Braig and quietly muttered, "I thought Alexander had closed the Dark Corridor here..."
"Doesn't really work if the Nobodies stay here the whole time," Braig replied, not bothering to lower his voice. "These Nobodies have been ordered to guard this place at all cost."
Lea swallowed. He could sense that these were very high-level Nobodies, and that there were many more waiting in the wings. "Well, maybe they'll let us by..."
The Dusks leaped at them all at once, forcing Lea and Braig to dodge. "Yeah," Lea growled, "I didn't think so either!" He summoned his fiery chakrams and attacked the closest Nobody.
Braig brought out his Arrowguns and fired a few shots at two of the Dusks. "This is another part I wanted your help with! Ready to make this a two-player game, Lea?"
The Dusks were dispatched with relative haste, despite their high level, but then a group of Assassin Nobodies appeared. Lea glanced at the device on his back and groaned. "I really hope this thing's impact-proof like Cid said..."
After that last expression of annoyance, Lea got his head in the game and attacked. He tossed a spinning chakram at one of the Assassins. With a little flourish of his hand, the chakram exploded in a large fireball, dealing a large amount of damage to the enemy Nobody. Another Assassin came up behind Lea, raising its bladed appendages to slash at him. Lea quickly turned around and slashed at the Nobody with his other chakram, attacking too quickly for the Nobody to retaliate.
Braig warped out of existence for a second, and then he reappeared upside-down on the ceiling. He fired on every Nobody in quick succession from above, too high for the other Nobodies to really do anything about it.
A couple of Samurai joined the fray. Above them, Braig's Arrowguns clicked uselessly. "Whoops, gotta reload!"
"For the love of..."
It was a long, hard-fought battle through a gauntlet of Nobodies. Every single type of Nobody appeared before them – Dancers, Sorcerers, Gamblers, Snipers, Dragoons, Berserkers, Creepers, Assassins, Samurai, and Dusks. Every single one of them was of a much higher level than anything Lea had ever encountered before, making them an absolute pain to kill.
As much as he hated to admit it, he really was lucky that Braig was there. Braig's Arrowguns were extremely effecting, not only at covering Lea from the sidelines but also damaging and destroying Nobodies outright. When Braig had to reload, however, was when Lea really had to watch his back.
He'd gotten into one-on-one showdowns with Samurai – and barely won.
He'd picked all the right cards with the Gamblers – except once, which got him turned into a card for a while.
He'd dodged the Snipers' shots – mostly because Braig somehow shot their bullets out of the air.
He'd incinerated the Dragoons – eventually, when they weren't jumping all around the battlefield.
Every Berserker and Sorcerer brought Lea to the brink of his health, but they'd managed to defeat each one before they could deal a finishing blow.
And with the Dusks, Creepers, and Dancers all swarming the battlefield to give their more powerful counterparts support, the entire battle was a mess for two ex-Organization members to take on.
But they did it. After traversing three separate battlegrounds in the hallway and surviving countless waves of Nobodies, Lea and Braig stood at the grand doorway at the other end of the long hall. It was a tall, ornate entranceway, with the Nobody emblem decorating the top of the doors.
While Lea was rubbing his bruises and biting back the awful taste of several Hi-Potions, Braig went on ahead and opened the doors.
The doorway opened up to a rather strange sight – what appeared to be a circular white platform creating a gap in the rising waterfalls. There was a short downward staircase in front of them leading to a great circular depression in the platform. Along the inner walls, reaching all the way around the circular platform, were endless amounts of circuitry. Electric blue lines traced down from the outside walls to a stand in the center, on which several monitors were placed.
"We have arrived!" Braig announced. "The Garden of Assemblage." He walked down the staircase and towards the computer monitors in the center.
Lea finished nursing his wounds and stepped through the doorway. "This is it?" he asked, looking around. "This is what we came down here to see?"
Braig didn't answer immediately. Instead, he stepped up to the largest monitor and starting touching it. There was no physical keyboard in sight, so there was a touch-screen interface for the operating system Braig was now handling. Miles of text scrolled by that Lea didn't understand, but soon there was a loud rumbling from around the Garden of Assemblage.
One by one, large keyhole-shaped portal structures came forth from the rising falls, settling around the upper edge of the platform. Each portal had a different glowing symbol – the weapon of one of the Organization members – and there were thirteen portals in all.
Braig continued to touch the monitor and said, "A little something Xemnas put in place to remember us by. You go through those portals, you'll get a little digital sample of each of us."
Lea stepped up to the computer. "So, this is that mainframe stuff they were talking about..."
Braig chuckled. "Yeah, he also thought it'd be a good idea to have a secondary base. Doesn't really matter now, since msot of the old Organization is unsuitable for his needs..."
Lea... just sighed. Braig was obviously trying to hint more secrets, but it was just starting to get exasperating. "Braig, stop hinting and start telling already. This schtick is starting to get irritating."
Braig kept typing for a few seconds, then stopped. He thought for a little bit, and said, "Did you know that Nobodies eventually grow their own hearts?"
"The hell?" was Lea's only available response.
Braig nodded. "And while that heart is growing, you could theoretically influence it to become whatever you want. That was the real purpose of Organization XIII."
"To... what?" Lea muttered.
Braig gestured at all of the portals. "To create thirteen incarnations of Master Xehanort. Each Nobody gets infused with some of Xehanort's heart, and the rest of the heart that grows turns that Nobody into one of Xehanort's thirteen."
"That's...!" Lea was at a loss for words. "That bastard!" He'd known that Xemnas had decieved each and every one of them for over a year, but this was absolutely insane!
"It didn't work with you guys – the old Organization," Braig explained. "Most of you were too independent. Not desperate or weak-willed enough to just roll over and become Xehanort. The whole infusion thing just fizzled on a few of you."
Lea put his hands to his head, trying to steady himself after this revelation. He felt... violated, and that was the only way to put it. Xemnas, all along, was trying to transform them into...
Then what Braig said earlier came back to the fore. Xehanort was coming back. "Does that mean... he's still trying to do that? Make his thirteen without us?"
Braig smirked and typed a little more on the computer monitor. Just ahead of the monitor stand, on the opposite wall from the staircase, a large section of the wall slid away to reveal another downward staircase.
"Well, that concludes our tour," Braig stated. "This shortcut will get you back to the town." He started to walk towards the newly opened exit. "Do whatever computer stuff you need to do. I'll catch ya later."
Braig disappeared through the new exit, leaving Lea alone with the heavy piece of machinery on his back... which he had nearly forgotten about.
Lea took off the machine and set it next to the monitor stand. Now that he took a closer look, there was some connection cables all neatly coiled up and plugged into Cid's machine. The cable split into multiple different types of connectors, probably just in case he could only find one slot. After a little bit of searching, he found a similar port for one of the cables in the monitor stand, and he plugged it in.
Cid's machine came whirring to life. A part of the top folded out, and a signal dish rose up and started blinking. At the same time, a great deal of activity appeared on the multiple monitors.
After about a minute of Lea wondering what was going on, a voice called out, "Connection established. Hello, Lea."
Lea blinked. "Tron?" he sputtered. "I was carrying you this whole time?"
"Yeah, sorry about that," Cid's voice came from the machine. One of the monitors switched to what appeared to be a camera feed of Merlin's house, from the perspective of Cid's terminal. Cid, Leon, and Aerith were there. "There's a lot about that thing I didn't tell ya."
Lea folded his arms and glared up at the monitor. "Like what?"
Cid suddenly became nervous. "Like... the fact that... well..."
"There was an audio recorder that was running the whole time," Leon said.
"WHAT?!" Lea exclaimed.
Cid sighed, which came across as a rush of static. "I didn't wanna do it, but Leon insisted. He wanted to... see what you'd do."
Lea glared through the screen at Leon. "You still don't trust me, huh?"
"The recording is coming across the network now," Leon said coldly. "Whatever's in that data will settle the question once and for all."
This gave Lea pause, as well as some reason to be concerned. If they'd been recording the entire journey through the Cavern of Remembrance... then they'd know that Lea had been traveling and speaking with Braig, an ex-Organization member. Hopefully, Lea's interactions proved that he and Braig were no longer allies... but he didn't know if Leon would see it that way.
At this point, Tron's voice cut into the conversation. "Users, I think you should see this."
On the main monitor, a feed from within the Radiant Garden castle appeared. It was of the Heartless Manufactory.
In the center of the Heartless Manufactory, a rectangular piece of the floor was giving away, forming a ramp leading down below. Just in front of the newly made ramp stood a man in a black coat, who started to walk down into the mysterious depths.
Aerith leaned in. "Did anyone know that was there?"
Leon glared at Lea. "Lea, what did you do down there?"
Lea just stared at the black-coated man for a second, before coming to a realization. "Dammit, Braig!" he shouted, running past the computer equipment and down into the shortcut.