The wind howls, dry dust flying through the air, obscuring, much of the scarred landscape.
The empty canyon is massive, filled with flat, dry empty fields of sand and stone, as well as rising mesas and columns of natural stone.
That was all this world truly was:
Fields of stone and rising earth.
Once, it might have been something else, something greater.
Now, it was broken, scarred and pitted with wounds that would never heal, and acted as a reminder. A reminder of those who sought power, of those who wished to protect the innocent…
And those who simply destroyed for the sake of destroying.
The wind begins to die down. The dust starts to settle.
And what had been hidden by the wind and dust is revealed.
The scarred, dry land is filled with rows, upon rows, dozens upon hundreds upon thousands…
Of broken, shattered, rusted, ruined and forsaken and forgotten…
Each is unique, no two shaped even similarly, the only thing they all share in common is the basic design of hilt guard, blade, and blade tips acting as 'key teeth'.
Curiously, they all lack keychains.
The rows of endless Keyblades are the second reminder of this worlds' scars and a hint of its' former purpose.
As the battleground for war.
Twice has these ruined planes known of the horrors of war.
The first battle between Keyblade wielders and masters left not only this desolate ruined landscape in the condition it was, but shattered the once whole world.
Now there were only smaller worlds…
Islands adrift in a sea of darkness.
And the second time…
While on a much smaller scale, it had one point been the most critical battle this dead world had the misfortune of serving as the playing field. This battle threatened to unleash a second war of Keyblades, only this time with nothing to hold any of them back. But, it would not have been a true war…but a proxy war.
The combatants, if they had been summoned, would have served as puppets to the all-powerful Keyblade Master who manipulated events with almost godlike ease. This ancient master would have watched the war lay out, waiting for the fighters to dwindle until only he remained.
As the ultimate winner of a war he had started, and never fought in. Through manipulation of only three, he would have ruined all. But while these threes ultimate destines were final and cruel…
They overcame the impossible and stopped the old master's plan for war and glory.
…not without dire costs.
Only one item of interest remained in this empty graveyard of lifeless keys. Far out, away from the rusted and broken keys…
It kneeled on the cracked and lifeless ground.
Its form was covered from head to foot in armor.
The upper torso was gold while the rest of its midsection was red. Its shoulder pauldrons were both gold and brown and slightly spiked. Its gauntlets had twin red blades rising near its elbow while the glove of the gauntlet was gold. Its legs were covered in brown armor with gold guarding and lines, reaching down to its gold and red greaves, long red blades jutting up from behind his golden boots. A black and gold cape fluttered softly against its kneeling form. Its helm was gold with a large black visor that covered and hid its entire face, with twin red 'wing tip' prongs rose up.
And this armor kneeled before its own Keyblade, both hands gripping the bottom of the hilt guard for support.
It was a mighty weapon, long as its wielder was tall, the hilt guard a royal blue with the bottom ends jutting out slightly. The blade itself was an ancient golden brown, the very end having three blades jutting out on both sides with a flat circular tip. Key like, but still a mighty weapon.
No name for this Keyblade was more appropriate then Ends of the Earth.
Once, this armor was shining and pristine, the armor of a true Keyblade wielder who once held the title 'Earth Knight'.
Now, after ten long years, its colors had faded away, and rust was beginning to form on certain areas, specifically around the joints, chest, and even in certain spots on the helm.
The rusted suit seemed to exude an air of regret and misery.
What once had been the armor of a proud warrior…
Was now nothing more than a lingering sentiment.
The wind blew harshly, causing the torn and tattered cape to ruffle slightly
Though the armor was in poor condition, there was still a certain air about it.
An air of pain, regret...
The wind howled harshly, carrying a blinding wave of dust in its path, obscuring everything.
Through the dust and the wind…
A figure emerged.
Slowly but surely, moving closer towards the sleeping sentiment, and revealing more of itself as it did.
The figure was short, hunched over and stooping. A simple brown cloak covered their whole form, two belts crossing over their chest, embedded with metal studs. The hunched figure continued to slowly shuffle towards the motionless armor, the wind's howl the only sound.
After several moments, the figure stopped.
He stood across the armor, in silence.
"I have come to see the remains of this world…"
"This world…is the source."
The voice, deep and dry, echoed through the endless canyons.
"The root of both darkness and light…"
The slumbering sentiment remained where it was…
And ever so slightly, almost beyond notice…
The finger's over the hilt of its Keyblade twitched.
The figure went on.
"The remnants of a vast world that had once been…"
"Until never-ending war consumed it…"
"Eclipsing it in total darkness."
Silence for a moment. The figure watched as the helm of the sentiment twitched. And then he went on.
"But from that darkness…A light was born…And so from this broken, dry wasteland of vast earth….a sea of worlds was born."
The figure raised the sleeve of his cloak's right arm.
"And so from ruin…"
He raised his left sleeve.
The figure lowered his left sleeve, but kept the right raised, and pointed towards the stirring armor.
"And in a strange way…You are a reflection of this world."
The helm of the armor rose further, until the visor was lined with the hood of the figure, black glass peering into dark folds. From the throat of the armor, strange sounds emerged.
The fingers twitched over the hilt of the blade.
The fingers….then flexed before tightening over the guard.
"Xe…ha…nort…is that you?"
The Sentiment slowly began rising up, the joints of its legs and arms cracking, small bits of rust falling off. Its cape fluttered in the wind, but the living armor never took its gaze off the robed figure ahead. More sounds echoed from within the creature.
With a sudden burst of speed it had not possessed before, the Lingering Sentiment ripped the Keyblade from the ground with a furious metallic howl of, "XEHANORT!" The living armor charged forward with such power and momentum the dust that covered the dry land exploded away by the sudden propulsion. The Sentiment cleared the distance between itself and the robed figure in the ticks between a second, the mighty Keyblade Ends of the Earth pulled back and brought down hard-
And cutting through empty air and shattering the ground.
The Sentiment stood alone, its blade jammed into the earth where the hooded figure had been standing.
The figure was gone.
As if he had never been there.
The Lingering Sentiment turned its helm from side to side, looking from corner of never-ending wasteland to the next, but it could not spot the one who filled it with such fury.
The creature extended its hand and ripped its Keyblade free from the dirt, and then it turned-
Just as a being of black walked through it.
The Sentiment flicked and jerked back-
Yep, hard to believe there are so many worlds out there besides our own. The light is their hearts, and it's shining down on us like a million lanterns-
You're too young to know now-
The darkness... Where did it come from-
There's darkness within me... So what does that matter? I know I'm strong enough to hold it back-
I'm a peacekeeper, not a tyrant-
I was consumed by anger...hatred. That was the power of darkness-
The darkness...will never have me-
I'm no hero, trust me-
I went astray-but no more-
The last echo of memories long buried was uttered in unison as the Lingering Sentiment howled with fury and pain. The creature stumbled, nearly falling to its knees as it clutched its helm. The memories died down, but the rage did not. The rage would never die, for it was the fuel that sustained the living armor.
Though a creature of anger, it could not be blinded so easily. It turned around in a flourish of its cape…
Staring at the back of the figure in black.
It was a tall man, broad-shouldered and strong looking, hidden in a cloak as black as midnight. Slowly, the unknown figure turned their head, hidden gaze looking over his shoulder to meet the Sentiment's.
And the Unknown spoke.
"So, you too are incomplete…and yet…"
The Lingering Sentiment took a single step forward, metallic groans issuing from within it.
The Unknown turned entirely to face the armor.
"That's a familiar sound."
The Lingering Sentiment was confused. Was this Xehanort? If so then who…
The creature clenched its free fist at its side tightly.
It did not matter. All that mattered…
Was the one standing before it.
The Unknown raised his hand before himself.
"You are not a being rejected by the light and dark…"
The Lingering Sentiment took a single step forward, grip on the Ends of the Earth tightening.
"You are…even less than nothing."
Though the living armor could not see this Unknown's face or truly hear his words…
It could sense the sneer in them.
The Sentiment's reaction was so fast even it was surprised by its speed. The armor charged forward in a sudden leaping charge, Keyblade thrust out before it, aimed straight for the chest of the Unknown. The cloaked figure simply stood his ground, and just as the Sentiment reached it, a flash of a grin could be seen under the darkness of its hood-
And the Ends of the Earth once more simply cut through empty air.
The Sentiment slid back to the ground from the air, dust and displaced earth tearing apart under its greaves. The living armor's helm snapped from one direction to the next. A low metallic hiss echoed from inside its throat.
What was this-
The Sentiment's helm jerked to the left.
There, in the distance, with one black boot propped on a shattered boulder, was the figure in the black cloak. The Sentiment turned its body to follow its visors gaze. The figure ahead chuckled loudly. "Looks like you missed." The figure quipped.
Something was wrong.
That voice was familiar…
But it was not the voice from only a few moments ago…
The figure chuckled again, much more loudly this time.
But then he paused in his cackling.
"Well, actually you're half right."
The voice…those words…
The figure seemed to see the Lingering Sentiment's confusion and this only prompted him to laugh again.
"Oh come on! You have to remember me! I mean, I like to think I left a mark…"
The figure raised his hand to his hood and pulled it away…
The Sentiment froze where it stood…
As a single amber gaze met its visor, along with a wide, mocking grin.
"You left a few on me."
The Sentiment's hands shook with unbridled fury, the Keyblade following suit.
"You…" It snarled.
The hair was longer and streaked with gray, and a patch covered his right eye.
But it remembered that arrogant grin.
With a furious metallic screech, the Lingering Sentiment charged forward, Keyblade drawn back over its helm with both hands on the hilt.
The one-eyed man sneered in the face of what was an imminent death blow.
"Heh. Time for a tag out."
The enraged Sentiment did not heed or care for this one's words, only that his smug grin be smashed into blood and torn flesh-
But he vanished in a sudden hum and flicker, like a mirage.
The Sentiment's Keyblade stopped in its tracks, the living armor staring at the empty space the one-eyed man had previously been.
Its rage burned and simmered, mixing with confusion, but refusing to die down.
It understood now.
He was manipulating the Sentiment, mocking it.
The Sentiment froze at the sound of the voice.
But unlike the three before it…
This voice was unfamiliar.
"Mindless swinging your Keyblade."
Behind the Sentiment.
The creature whirled around, its fury overpowering its confusion.
But only for a moment.
The man across from him wore the same black cloak as the one-eyed man and the Unknown…
And like the one-eyed man he had lowered his cloak's hood, revealing his face.
Long blue hair framed a dispassionate, amber gaze…
With a long healed, jagged 'X' crisscrossing over what was once a handsome visage.
The blue-haired man went on.
"Never understanding the rage of your weapon will consume you."
The Lingering Sentiment took a single step forward, helm cocking slightly as it did.
Who was this?
The blue haired figure merely turned to look away from the Sentiment…
And like the one-eyed man before him, his form flickered, and shimmered away, fading away like a mirage.
The Lingering Sentiment turned its helm, looking in all directions, but the ones who had appeared before it were gone.
As if they had never been.
"Typical, isn't it?"
The Sentiment froze stiff.
And so the new voice went on.
"Just when you think you know someone, they surprise you."
The Lingering Sentiment shuffled in place, slowly turning its entire body around to face the owner of the new voice.
"Your entire existence is defined by your hatred of Xehanort…"
The Sentiment faced the voice…
And saw it was a boy.
Or rather, a young man, no younger than twenty at best, cloaked in the same black garb as the ones before him, his young and handsome face deeply tanned…
His long spiked locks and bangs a silvery gray…
And his eyes…
Like the burning cores of the deepest and hottest flame.
But where there had only been rage…
Was now uncertainty.
The youth only chuckled.
"Where there was once rage and conviction in your…voice, there is now only confusion."
The youth extended a gloved hand towards the Sentiment, amber eyes flashing with dark mirth.
"Do you even understand why you loathe Xehanort?"
The question alone was enough to reignite the Sentiment's seemingly endless rage. "He…stole…everything…from me!" The living armor howled, a sound like rusted nails dragging over glass.
The creature's outburst failed to affect the youth. He only smirked in response.
But it was not him who responded.
"You've no one to blame but yourself."
The Sentiment jerked.
This was the first voice that had spoken.
The armor whirled to its left-
And where it expected to see a hunched figure in a cloak of brown-
Stood a tall man garbed in a cloak of silver and black, the edges lined with yellow. White gloves covered his hands, black boots identical the ones worn by the previous four who had arrived…
Skin darkly tanned, unnaturally so…
Long hair a mix of gray and silver, with three spike like crowns, one of each side of his head, the third atop…
And his eyes…
Deep orange flares.
And across his chest…
A curious emblem of red and black…
With an 'X' stamped over it.
The man sneered at the Sentiment before going on.
"You struggled throughout your journey, resisting the darkness within your heart, but allowing it to fester and spread, uncaring of the consequences, only acknowledging the strength it gave you."
The man raised his own arm out, a single finger extended.
"But in the end, your fear won out…and you could not control the darkness…allowing another to bend your flesh and bone to their whim."
The Sentiment snarled and raised its Keyblade-
"But are these experiences truly yours?"
The armor stopped dead.
It whirled around to the right of the still smirking youth…
And the fury burned hotter.
Across from him, dressed in the black cloak of the youth, but taller, and firmer, with his dark silver locks longer, spikier and more unruly then the youths…
Was a face too familiar…
And yet different.
Where there was once dark cobalt eyes, now only dark orange glared back.
The Unknown went on.
"You remember the rage and agony of having your heart consumed by another's…But what are you exactly? A shell that walks, but does not breath…Feels rage and nothing else…"
The Unknown began waving his hands before himself, punctuating each word with a gesture.
"But you have no heart…no soul…and even the shell that carries you is not a true body…So how can you call these memories and feelings yours…if you yourself do not truly exist?"
The Sentiment was frozen stiff.
What were they saying?
"What the gist of this is dude…"
The armor craned its helm to gaze just past the darkly grinning Unknown, watching the one-eyed man emerge from empty space, his own face twisted in a demented grin as well.
"Is that just because you think you're the one who experienced all those memories…doesn't mean you are."
The Lingering Sentiment felt its grip on its Keyblade loosen.
The one-eyed man chuckled, rubbing the cheek under his amber eye.
"Who needs an identity anyway?" He mused to himself.
This time the Sentiment was not surprised when the fourth voice continued from behind it, only a few paces away from the first speaker.
"So in a sense…you are simply a remnant…an echo…" Spoke the blue-haired man with amber eyes.
The youth sneered as the Sentiment's grip on its Keyblade completely loosened, the mighty weapon striking the ground with a dull 'thump'. And so what he said next only perfected the moment:
"A lingering sentiment…that will soon become a fading sentiment."
The reaction from the Sentiment itself-
Was most expected.
The Sentiment unleashed the loudest howl yet, its helm tossed back, arms upraised, before charging in a sudden dash and tackling the grinning youth to the dead ground under them. The Sentiment gazed down on the sneering youth, its rage pushed to the furthest limits it did not know it had possessed. The Sentiment drew the hand that held its Keyblade back, fingers clenched into a tight fist-
And brought the fist down in a thunderous blow to the boy's face, once.
Each time, the Sentiment screamed with fury.
And the youth laughed.
When the Sentiment struck his face again-
The boy's face became the orange eyed man, his laugh deepening.
The next blow saw his face become the Uknown's, the laugh morphing in a dry baritone chuckle.
The next revealed the one-eyed sniper when the rusted gauntlet pulled back, his laugh high-pitched and mocking.
The next blow saw the laughter silenced as the scarred man gazed emptily upon the Sentiment, his amber eyes uncaring and empty.
The Lingering Sentiment drew its fist back, the limb shaking as it gathered all its power into the next blow…
And with one final scream, it lunged forward-
The face that gazed back up at the Sentiment was one unfamiliar…
And yet familiar.
Another boy, but with paler skin, his hair a much lighter white in contrast to the silvery gray of the ones before…
And his eyes…
A light blue of the sky.
The Sentiment's fist shook still, but did not move.
The boy gazed up at the Sentiment for a beat-
And then sneered.
A sudden burst of force sent the Sentiment into the sky above without a sound, and the armor struck the ground with such force the ground cracked from the impact and the metal of its body squealed in protest.
Very slowly with deliberate ease, the youth rose up, brushing the dirt off his black cloak, his amber gaze never leaving the fallen Sentiment. Once his cloak was free of dust, he slipped his hands behind his back and began to approach the still armor. As he did, his form flickered.
Gone was the youth, replaced by the orange eyed man dressed in black and silver.
Then his form flickered as well and gone was he, replaced by the Unknown.
And once he reached the Sentiment, his form flickered one last time…
And where there had been a young boy was now…
A very old man dressed in a cloak of black and silver, his form hunched over with his hands behind his back, his head bald, a silver goatee adorning his chin, his darkly tanned skin wrinkled and cracked…and his eyes.
The old man grinned, a cruel grin, a smile that promised no hope.
The old man gazed down on the Lingering Sentiment, still grinning as he raised his boot and brought it down on the creature's chest.
The armor jerked but made no sound.
So the old man spoke instead, his voice like leafs over a fire.
"And so the final truth dawns upon you: Your existence, if it truly was yours, is defined by mine. As long as I live, so shall you, for it is your rage towards me that sustains you, even as the shell of your body rusts away, eventually to crumble."
He raised his hands before himself, fingers twitching, eager to grasp something, anything, as his grin became hungry.
"But before that…I shall finally win, my boy. For this rage that fuels you will eventually consume you…and so, while your body has long submitted, your heart swallowed in darkness…your mind, shall finally submit."
He lowered his hands behind his back, his grin growing wider.
"And on that day, you will seek me out as memory becomes reality. All before you will fall to your Keyblade as you scream my name in vengeance that will never be attained. You shall be a blight upon all worlds you touch…for they shall crumble and die."
The old man removed his boot from the armor's chest, but never took his horrible gaze away from its helm.
"Only then will the memories be no more…and reality will reveal itself before you. You will see what you have wrought…And you lingering sentiment…will become a fading sentiment. Only then will you finally move on…While I keep on living..."
The old man turned his back on the Lingering Sentiment, hands once more resting behind his back.
"Forgive an old man for seeming exceptionally cruel, Terra…but I felt the need to revel in what victories I achieve…For even by some miracle my existence does come to an end, did I not tell you of the many roads I could take?"
The old man grinned.
"But the true victory for today, is that I have finally settled our…property dispute. And so, even if this brittle vessel dies, I shall indeed live on…"
The old man turned…
But his face was old no longer.
Young and handsome, skin deeply tanned, hair dark silver, with burning amber eyes, and yet not the same face of the youth before…
The now young man continued to grin…
But his final words did not.
The Lingering Sentiment lay on its back for the longest time, the wind howling around it. Very slowly, the living armor rose to its knees, helm bowed, as if it had indeed submitted to defeat and resigned itself for things yet to pass. Before finally…
"You are wrong…Xehanort…"
"If your existence…defines mine…then so my existence…defines yours…"
The Sentiment raised its hand before itself.
"I will not fade…I will endure…"
Light danced around its palm, and dozens of glowing cubes encircled its wrist.
"And on that day…When my memory of the only thing I know for real… you… will drive me on to other worlds…I will find you…"
The cubes burst and the Ends of the Earth reappeared in the Sentiment's hand.
"And I will have my vengeance."
The Lingering Sentiment adjusted its grip on the Keyblade, reversing the weapon so that it was aimed towards the dead earth under it, and drove it deep into the ground.
The armor leaned upon the blade…
And returned to slumber.
The world was quiet, and still.
But only for the time being.
What inspired me to write Lingering Vengeance about three years ago was a simple question I asked myself:
Why did the Sentiment attack Sora and his friends? Why did it know he was not Riku, but confuse him for Xehanort?
Maybe it couldn't tell.
Maybe Terra's sentiment had lost what little grasp on reality and sanity it had left in the decade between Birth by Sleep and Kingdom Hearts II.
I wrote Lingering to try and capture that notion. At the time, I thought I failed.
This is the second attempt.
I dedicate this to everyone who ever took the time to sit down and read Lingering Vengeance back then and now, and everyone who has ever read any of my work on this site.
I would not be where I am in my writing without all of you.